Infomotions, Inc.Literary and Social Essays / Curtis, George William, 1824-1892



Author: Curtis, George William, 1824-1892
Title: Literary and Social Essays
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LITERARY AND SOCIAL ESSAYS

BY

GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS







CONTENTS


EMERSON
_Homes of American Authors, 1854._

HAWTHORNE
_Homes of American Authors, 1854._

THE WORKS OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
_North American Review_, Vol. XCIX., 1864.

RACHEL
_Putnam's Magazine_, Vol. VI., 1855.

THACKERAY IN AMERICA
_Putnam's Magazine_, Vol. I., 1853.

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
Hitherto unpublished. Written in 1857.

LONGFELLOW
HARPER'S MAGAZINE, Vol. LXV., 1882.

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
HARPER'S MAGAZINE, Vol. LXXXIII., 1891.

WASHINGTON IRVING
Read at Ashfield, 1889. Printed by the Grolier Club, 1892.




EMERSON


The village of Concord, Massachusetts, lies an hour's ride from
Boston, upon the Great Northern Railway. It is one of those quiet New
England towns, whose few white houses, grouped upon the plain, make
but a slight impression upon the mind of the busy traveller hurrying
to or from the city. As the conductor shouts "Concord!" the busy
traveller has scarcely time to recall "Concord, Lexington, and Bunker
Hill" before the town has vanished and he is darting through woods and
fields as solitary as those he has just left in New Hampshire. Yet as
it vanishes he may chance to "see" two or three spires, and as they
rush behind the trees his eyes fall upon a gleaming sheet of water. It
is Walden Pond--or Walden Water, as Orphic Alcott used to call
it--whose virgin seclusion was a just image of that of the little
village, until one afternoon, some half-dozen or more years since, a
shriek, sharper than any that had rung from Walden woods since the
last war-whoop of the last Indians of Musketaquid, announced to
astonished Concord, drowsing in the river meadows, that the nineteenth
century had overtaken it. Yet long before the material force of the age
bound the town to the rest of the world, the spiritual force of a single
mind in it had attracted attention to it, and made its lonely plains as
dear to many widely scattered minds as the groves of the Academy or the
vineyards of Vaucluse.

Except in causing the erection of the railway buildings and several
dwellings near it, steam has not much changed Concord. It is yet one
of the quiet country towns whose charm is incredible to all but those
who, by loving it, have found it worthy of love. The shire-town of the
great agricultural county of Middlesex, it is not disturbed by the
feverish throb of factories, nor by any roar of inexorable toil but
the few puffs of the locomotive. One day, during the autumn, it is
thronged with the neighboring farmers, who hold their high festival
--the annual cattle-show--there. But the calm tenor of Concord
life is not varied, even on that day, by anything more exciting than
fat oxen and the cud-chewing eloquence of the agricultural dinner. The
population of the region is composed of sturdy, sterling men, worthy
representatives of the ancestors who sowed along the Concord shores,
with their seed-corn and rye, the germs of a prodigious national
greatness. At intervals every day the rattle, roar, and whistle of the
swift shuttle darting to and from the metropolitan heart of New
England, weaving prosperity upon the land, remind those farmers in
their silent fields that the great world yet wags and wrestles. And
the farmer-boy--sweeping with flashing scythe through the river
meadows, whose coarse grass glitters, apt for mowing, in the early
June morning--pauses as the whistle dies into the distance, and,
wiping his brow and whetting his blade anew, questions the
country-smitten citizen, the amateur Corydon struggling with imperfect
stroke behind him, of the mystic romance of city life.

The sluggish repose of the little river images the farmer-boy's life.
He bullies his oxen, and trembles at the locomotive. His wonder and
fancy stretch towards the great world beyond the barn-yard and the
village church as the torpid stream tends towards the ocean. The
river, in fact, seems the thread upon which all the beads of that
rustic life are strung--the clew to its tranquil character. If it were
an impetuous stream, dashing along as if it claimed and required the
career to which every American river is entitled, a career it would
have. Wheels, factories, shops, traders, factory-girls, boards of
directors, dreary white lines of boarding-houses, all the signs that
indicate the spirit of the age, and of the American age, would arise
upon its margin. Some shaven magician from State Street would run up
by rail, and, from proposals, maps, schedules of stock, etc., educe a
spacious factory as easily as Aladdin's palace arose from nothing.
Instead of a dreaming, pastoral poet of a village, Concord would be a
rushing, whirling, bustling manufacturer of a town, like its thrifty
neighbor Lowell. Many a fine equipage, flashing along city ways--many
an Elizabethan-Gothic-Grecian rural retreat, in which State Street
woos Pan and grows Arcadian in summer, would be reduced, in the last
analysis, to the Concord mills. Yet if these broad river meadows grew
factories instead of corn, they might perhaps lack another harvest, of
which the poet's thought is the sickle.

  "One harvest from your field
     Homeward brought the oxen strong.
   Another crop your acres yield,
     Which I gather in a song,"

sings Emerson, and again, as the afternoon light strikes pensive
across his memory, as over the fields below him:

  "Knows he who tills this lonely field,
     To reap its scanty corn,
   What mystic crops his acres yield,
     At midnight and at morn?"

The Concord River, upon whose winding shores the town has scattered
its few houses--as if, loitering over the plain some fervent day, it
had fallen asleep obedient to the slumberous spell, and had not since
awakened--is a languid, shallow stream, that loiters through broad
meadows, which fringe it with rushes and long grasses. Its sluggish
current scarcely moves the autumn leaves showered upon it by a few
maples that lean over the Assabet--as one of its branches is named.
Yellow lily-buds and leathery lily-pads tessellate its surface, and
the white water-lilies--pale, proud Ladies of Shalott--bare their
virgin breasts to the sun in the seclusion of its distant reaches.
Clustering vines of wild grape hang its wooded shores with a tapestry
of the South and the Rhine. The pickerel-weed marks with blue spikes
of flowers the points where small tributary brooks flow in, and along
the dusky windings of those brooks cardinal-flowers with a scarlet
splendor paint the tropics upon New England green. All summer long,
from founts unknown, in the upper counties, from some anonymous pond
or wooded hillside moist with springs, steals the gentle river through
the plain, spreading at one point above the town into a little lake,
called by the farmers "Fairhaven Bay", as if all its lesser names must
share the sunny significance of Concord. Then, shrinking again,
alarmed at its own boldness, it dreams on towards the Merrimac and the
sea.

The absence of factories has already implied its shallowness and
slowness. In truth it is a very slow river, belonging much more to the
Indian than to the Yankee; so much so, indeed, that until within a
very few years there was an annual visit to its shores from a few sad
heirs of its old masters, who pitched a group of tents in the meadows,
and wove their tidy baskets and strung their beads in unsmiling
silence. It was the same thing that I saw in Jerusalem among the Jews.
Every Friday they repair to the remains of the old temple wall, and
pray and wail, kneeling upon the pavement and kissing the stones. But
that passionate Oriental regret was not more impressive than this
silent homage of a waning race, who, as they beheld the unchanged
river, knew that, unlike it, the last drops of their existence were
gradually flowing away, and that for their tribes there shall be no
ingathering.

So shallow is the stream that the amateur Corydons who embark at
morning to explore its remoter shores will, not infrequently in
midsummer, find their boat as suddenly tranquil and motionless as the
river, having placidly grounded upon its oozy bottom. Or, returning at
evening, they may lean over the edge as they lie at length in the
boat, and float with the almost imperceptible current, brushing the
tips of the long water-grass and reeds below them in the stream--a
river jungle, in which lurk pickerel and trout--with the sensation of
a bird drifting upon soft evening air over the tree-tops. No available
or profitable craft navigate these waters, and animated gentlemen from
the city who run up for "a mouthful of fresh air" cannot possibly
detect the final cause of such a river. Yet the dreaming idler has a
place on maps and a name in history.

Near the town it is crossed by three or four bridges. One is a massive
structure to help the railroad over. The stern, strong pile readily
betrays that it is part of good, solid stock, owned in the right
quarter. Close by it is a little arched stone bridge, auxiliary to a
great road leading to some vague region of the world called Acton upon
guide-posts and on maps. Just beyond these bridges the river bends and
forgets the railroad, but it is grateful to the graceful arch of the
little stone bridge for making its curve more picturesque, and, as it
muses towards the Old Manse, listlessly brushing the lilies, it
wonders if Ellery Channing, who lives beyond, upon a hill-side sloping
to the shore, wrote his poem of "The Bridge" to that particular one.
There are two or three wooden bridges also, always combining well with
the landscape, always making and suggesting pictures.

The Concord, as I said, has a name in history. Near one of the wooden
bridges you turn aside from the main road, close by the Old Mause
--whose mosses of mystic hue were gathered by Hawthorne, who lived
there for three years--and a few steps bring you to the river and to
a small monument upon its brink. It is a narrow, grassy way; not a
field nor a meadow, but of that shape and character which would
perplex the animated stranger from the city, who would see, also, its
unfitness for a building-lot. The narrow, grassy way is the old road,
which in the month of April, 1775, led to a bridge that crossed the
stream at this spot. And upon the river's margin, upon the bridge and
the shore beyond, took place the sharp struggle between the Middlesex
farmers and the scarlet British soldiers known in tradition as
"Concord fight". The small monument records the day and the event.
When it was erected Emerson wrote the following hymn for the ceremony:

APRIL 19, 1836.

 "By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
  Here once the embattled farmers stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.

 "The foe long since in silence slept;
    Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
  And Time the ruined bridge has swept
    Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

 "On this green bank, by this soft stream,
    We see to-day a votive stone,
  That memory may their deed redeem,
    When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

 "Spirit that made these heroes dare
    To die, or leave their children free,
  Bid Time and Nature gently spare
    The shaft we raise to them and Thee."

Close under the rough stone wall at the left, which separates it from
the little grassy orchard of the Manse, is a small mound of turf and a
broken stone. Grave and headstone shrink from sight amid the grass and
under the wall, but they mark the earthly bed of the first victims of
that first fight. A few large trees overhang the ground, which
Hawthorne thinks have been planted since that day, and he says that in
the river he has seen mossy timbers of the old bridge, and on the
farther bank, half hidden, the crumbling stone abutments that
supported it. In an old house upon the main road, nearly opposite the
entrance to this grassy way, I knew a hale old woman who well
remembered the gay advance of the flashing soldiers, the terrible ring
and crack of fire-arms, and the panic-stricken retreat of the
regulars, blackened and bloody. But the placid river has long since
overborne it all. The alarm, the struggle, the retreat, are swallowed
up in its supreme tranquillity. The summers of more than seventy years
have obliterated every trace of the road with thick grass, which seeks
to bury the graves, as earth buried the victims. Let the sweet ministry
of summer avail. Let its mild iteration even sap the monument and conceal
its stones as it hides the abutment in foliage; for, still on the sunny
slopes, white with the May blossoming of apple-orchards, and in the
broad fields, golden to the marge of the river, and tilled in security
and peace, survives the imperishable remembrance of that day and its
results.

The river is thus the main feature of the Concord landscape. It is
surrounded by a wide plain, from which rise only three or four low
hills. One is a wooded cliff over Fairhaven Bay, a mile from the town;
one separates the main river from the Assabeth; and just beyond the
battle-ground one rises, rich with orchards, to a fine wood which
crowns it. The river meadows blend with broad, lonely fields. A wide
horizon, like that of the prairie or the sea, is the grand charm of
Concord. At night the stars are seen from the roads crossing the
plain, as from a ship at sea. The landscape would be called tame by
those who think no scenery grand but that of mountains or the
sea-coast. But the wide solitude of that region is not so accounted by
those who live there. To them it is rich and suggestive, as Emerson
shows, by saying in the essay upon "Nature", "My house stands in low
land, with limited outlook, and on the skirt of the village. But I go
with my friend to the shore of our little river, and with one stroke
of the paddle I leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and
the world of villages and personalities behind, and pass into a
delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted
man to enter without novitiate and probation. We penetrate bodily this
incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element; our eyes
are bathed in these lights and forms. A holiday, a villeggiatura, a
royal-revel, the proudest, most heart-rejoicing festival that valor
and beauty, power and taste ever decked and enjoyed, establishes
itself upon the instant". And again, as indicating where the true
charm of scenery lies: "In every landscape the point to astonishment
is the meeting of the sky and the earth, and that is seen from the
first hillock, as well as from the top of the Alleghanies. The stars
stoop down over the brownest, homeliest common, with all the spiritual
magnificence which they shed on the Campagna or on the marble deserts
of Egypt." He is speaking here, of course, of the spiritual excitement
of Beauty, which crops up everywhere in nature, like gold in a rich
region; but the quality of the imagery indicates the character of the
scenery in which the essay was written.

Concord is too far from Boston to rival in garden cultivation its
neighbors, West Cambridge, Lexington, and Waltham; nor can it boast,
with Brookline, Dorchester, and Cambridge, the handsome summer homes
of city wealth. But it surpasses them all, perhaps, in a genuine
country freshness and feeling, derived from its loneliness. If not
touched by city elegance, neither is it infected by city
meretriciousness; it is sweet, wholesome country. By climbing one of
the hills, your eye sweeps a wide, wide landscape, until it rests upon
graceful Wachuset, or, farther and mistier, Moriadnoc, the lofty
outpost of New Hampshire hills. Level scenery is not tame. The ocean,
the prairie, the desert, are not tame, although of monotonous surface.
The gentle undulations which mark certain scenes--a rippling
landscape, in which all sense of space, of breadth, and of height is
lost--that is tame. It may be made beautiful by exquisite cultivation,
as it often is in England and on parts of the Hudson shores, but it
is, at best, rather pleasing than inspiring. For a permanent view the
eye craves large and simple forms, as the body requires plain food for
its best nourishment.

The town of Concord is built mainly upon one side of the river. In its
centre is a large open square, shaded by fine elms. A white wooden
church, in the most classical style of Yankee-Greek, stands upon the
square. The Court-house is upon one of the corners. In the old
Courthouse, in the days when I knew Concord, many conventions were
held for humane as well as merely political objects. One summer day I
especially remember, when I did not envy Athens its forum, for Emerson
and William Henry Channing spoke. In the speech of both burned the
sacred fire of eloquence, but in Emerson it was light, and in Channing
heat.

From this square diverge four roads, like highways from a forum. One
leads by the Courthouse and under stately sycamores to the Old Manse
and the battle-ground, another goes directly to the river, and a third
is the main avenue of the town. After passing the shops this third
divides, and one branch forms a fair and noble street, spaciously and
loftily arched with elms, the houses standing liberally apart, each
with its garden-plot in front. The fourth avenue is the old Boston
road, also dividing, at the edge of the village, into the direct route
to the metropolis and the Lexington turnpike.

The house of Mr. Emerson stands opposite this junction. It is a plain,
square white dwelling-house, yet it has a city air and could not be
mistaken for a farm-house. A quiet merchant, you would say,
unostentatious and simple, has here hidden himself from town. But a
thick grove of pine and fir trees, almost brushing the two windows
upon the right of the door, and occupying the space between them and
the road, suggests at least a peculiar taste in the retired merchant,
or hints the possibility that he may have sold his place to a poet or
philosopher--or to some old East India sea-captain, perhaps, who
cannot sleep without the sound of waves, and so plants pines to
rustle, surf-like, against his chamber window.

The fact, strangely enough, partly supports your theory. In the year
1828 Charles Coolidge, a brother of J. Templeman Coolidge, a merchant
of repute in Boston and grandson of Joseph Coolidge, a patriarchal
denizen of Bowdoin Square in that city, came to Concord and built this
house. Gratefully remembering the lofty horse-chestnuts which shaded
the city square, and which, perhaps, first inspired him with the wish
to be a nearer neighbor of woods and fields, he planted a row of them
along his lot, which this year ripen their twenty-fifth harvest. With
the liberal hospitality of a New England merchant he did not forget
the spacious cellars of the city, and, as Mr. Emerson writes, "he
built the only good cellar that had then been built in Concord".

Mr. Emerson bought the house in the year 1835. He found it a plain,
convenient, and thoroughly built country residence. An amiable
neighbor of Mr. Coolidge had placed a miserable old barn irregularly
upon the edge of that gentleman's lot, which, for the sake of
comeliness, he was forced to buy and set straight and smooth into a
decent dependence of the mansion house. The estate, upon passing into
Mr. Emerson's hands, comprised the house, barn, and two acres of land.
He has enlarged house and barn, and the two acres have grown to nine.
Our author is no farmer, except as every country gentleman is, yet the
kindly slope from the rear of the house to a little brook, which,
passing to the calm Concord beyond, washes the edge of his land,
yields him at least occasional beans and pease--or some friend,
agriculturally enthusiastic and an original Brook-Farmer, experiments
with guano in the garden, and produces melons and other vines with a
success that relieves Brook Farm from every slur of inadequate
practical genius. Mr. Emerson has shaded his originally bare land with
trees, and counts near a hundred apple and pear trees in his orchard.
The whole estate is quite level, inclining only towards the little
brook, and is well watered and convenient.

The Orphic Alcott--or Plato Skimpole, as Aspasia called him--well
known in the transcendental history of New England, designed and with
his own hands erected a summer-house, which gracefully adorns the
lawn, if I may so call the smooth grass-plot at the side of the house.
Unhappily, this edifice promises no longer duration, not being
"technically based and pointed". This is not a strange, although a
disagreeable fact, to Mr. Emerson, who has been always the most
faithful and appreciative of the lovers of Mr. Alcott. It is natural
that the Orphic Alcott should build graceful summer-houses. There are
even people who declare that he has covered the pleasant but somewhat
misty lawns of ethical speculation with a thousand such edifices,
which need only to be a little more "technically based and pointed" to
be quite perfect. At present they whisper, the wind blows clean
through them, and no figures of flesh and blood are ever seen there,
but only pallid phantoms with large, calm eyes, eating uncooked grain,
out of baskets, and discoursing in a sublime shibboleth of which
mortals have no key. But how could Plato Skimpole, who goes down to
Hingham on the sea, in a New England January, clad only in a suit of
linen, hope to build immortal summer-houses?

Mr. Emerson's library is the room at the right of the door upon
entering the house. It is a simple square room, not walled with books
like the den of a literary grub, nor merely elegant like the
ornamental retreat of a dilettante. The books are arranged upon plain
shelves, not in architectural bookcases, and the room is hung with a
few choice engravings of the greatest men. There was a fair copy of
Michael Angelo's "Fates", which, properly enough, imparted that grave
serenity to the ornament of the room which is always apparent in what
is written there. It is the study of a scholar. All our author's
published writings, the essays, orations, and poems, date from this
room, as much as they date from any place or moment. The villagers,
indeed, fancy their philosophical contemporary affected by the
novelist James's constancy of composition. They relate, with wide
eyes, that he has a huge manuscript book, in which he incessantly
records the ends of thoughts, bits of observation and experience, and
facts of all kinds--a kind of intellectual and scientific ragbag, into
which all shreds and remnants of conversations and reminiscences of
wayside reveries are incontinently thrust. This work goes on, they
aver, day and night, and when he travels the rag-bag travels too, and
grows more plethoric with each mile of the journey. And a story, which
will one day be a tradition, is perpetuated in the village, that one
night, before his wife had become completely accustomed to his habits,
she awoke suddenly, and hearing him groping about the room, inquired
anxiously,

"My dear, are you unwell?"

"No, my love, only an idea."

The library is not only the study of a scholar, it is the bower of a
poet. The pines lean against the windows, and to the student deeply
sunk in learned lore or soaring upon the daring speculations of an
intrepid philosophy, they whisper a secret beyond that of the
philosopher's stone, and sing of the springs of poetry.

The site of the house is not memorable. There is no reasonable ground
to suppose that so much as an Indian wigwam ever occupied the spot;
nor has Henry Thoreau, a very faithful friend of Mr. Emerson's and of
the woods and waters of his native Concord, ever found an Indian
arrowhead upon the premises. Henry Thoreau's instinct is as sure
towards the facts of nature as the witch-hazel towards treasure. If
every quiet country town in New England had a son who, with a lore
like Selborne's and an eye like Buffon's, had watched and studied its
landscape and history, and then published the result, as Thoreau has
done, in a book as redolent of genuine and perceptive sympathy with
nature as a clover-field of honey, New England would seem as poetic
and beautiful as Greece. Thoreau lives in the berry pastures upon a
bank over Walden Pond, and in a little house of his own building. One
pleasant summer afternoon a small party of us helped him raise it--a
bit of life as Arcadian as any at Brook Farm. Elsewhere in the village
he turns up arrowheads abundantly, and Hawthorne mentions that Thoreau
initiated him into the mystery of finding them. But neither the Indians
nor nature nor Thoreau can invest the quiet residence of our author with
the dignity or even the suspicion of a legend. History stops short in
that direction with Charles Coolidge, Esq., and the year 1828.

There is little prospect from the house. Directly opposite a low bluff
overhangs the Boston road and obstructs the view. Upon the other sides
the level land stretches away. Towards Lexington it is a broad,
half-marshy region, and between the brook behind and the river good
farms lie upon the outskirts of the town. Pilgrims drawn to Concord by
the desire of conversing with the man whose written or spoken eloquence
has so profoundly charmed them, and who have placed him in some pavilion
of fancy, some peculiar residence, find him in no porch of philosophy
nor academic grove, but in a plain white house by the wayside, ready to
entertain every comer as an ambassador from some remote Cathay of
speculation whence the stars are more nearly seen. But the familiar
reader of our author will not be surprised to find the "walking
eye-ball" simply sheltered, and the "endless experimenter with no past
at my back" housed without ornament. Such a reader will have felt the
Spartan severity of this intellect, and have noticed that the realm of
this imagination is rather sculpturesque than pictorial, more Greek
than Italian. Therefore he will be pleased to alight at the little
gate, and hear the breezy welcome of the pines and the no less cordial
salutation of their owner. For if the visitor knows what he is about,
he has come to this plain for bracing mountain air. These serious
Concord reaches are no vale of Cashmere. Where Plato Skimpole is
architect of the summer-house, you may imagine what is to be expected
in the mansion itself. It is always morning within those doors. If you
have nothing to say, if you are really not an envoy from some kingdom
or colony of thought and cannot cast a gem upon the heaped pile, you
had better pass by upon the other side. For it is the peculiarity of
Emerson's mind to be always on the alert. He eats no lotus, but
for-ever quaffs the waters which engender immortal thirst.

If the memorabilia of his house could find their proper Xenophon, the
want of antecedent arrowheads upon the premises would not prove very
disastrous to the interest of the history. The fame of the philosopher
attracts admiring friends and enthusiasts from every quarter, and the
scholarly grace and urbane hospitality of the gentleman send them
charmed away. Friendly foes, who altogether differ from Emerson, come
to break a lance with him upon the level pastures of Concord, with all
the cheerful and appreciative zeal of those who longed

 "To drink delight of battle with their peers
  Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy."

It is not hazardous to say that the greatest questions of our day and
of all days have been nowhere more amply discussed, with more poetic
insight or profound conviction, than in the comely, square white house
upon the edge of the Lexington turnpike. There have even been attempts
at something more formal and club-like than the chance conversations
of occasional guests, one of which will certainly be nowhere recorded
but upon these pages.

It was in the year 1845 that a circle of persons of various ages, and
differing very much in everything but sympathy, found themselves in
Concord. Towards the end of the autumn Mr. Emerson suggested that they
should meet every Monday evening through the winter in his library.
"Monsieur Aubepine", "Miles Coverdale", and other phantoms, since
generally known as Nathaniel Hawthorne, who then occupied the Old
Manse; the inflexible Henry Thoreau, a scholastic and pastoral Orson,
then living among the blackberry pastures of Walden Pond; Plato
Skimpole, then sublimely meditating impossible summer-houses in a
little house upon the Boston road; the enthusiastic agriculturist and
Brook-Farmer already mentioned, then an inmate of Mr. Emerson's house,
who added the genial cultivation of a scholar to the amenities of the
natural gentleman; a sturdy farmer neighbor, who had bravely fought
his weary way through inherited embarrassments to the small success of
a New England husbandman, and whose faithful wife had seven times
merited well of her country; two city youths, ready for the fragments
from the feast of wit and wisdom; and the host himself, composed this
club. Ellery Channing, who had that winter harnessed his Pegasus to
the New York _Tribune_, was a kind of corresponding member. The news
of this world was to be transmitted through his eminently practical
genius, as the club deemed itself competent to take charge of tidings
from all other spheres.

I went, the first Monday evening, very much as Ixion may have gone to
his banquet. The philosophers sat dignified and erect. There was a
constrained but very amiable silence, which had the impertinence of a
tacit inquiry, seeming to ask, "Who will now proceed to say the finest
thing that has ever been said?" It was quite involuntary and
unavoidable, for the members lacked that fluent social genius without
which a club is impossible. It was a congress of oracles on the one
hand, and of curious listeners upon the other. I vaguely remember that
the Orphic Alcott invaded the Sahara of silence with a solemn "saying",
to which, after due pause, the honorable member for blackberry pastures
responded by some keen and graphic observation; while the Olympian host,
anxious that so much good material should be spun into something, beamed
smiling encouragement upon all parties. But the conversation became more
and more staccato. Miles Coverdale, a statue of night and silence, sat,
a little removed, under a portrait of Dante, gazing imperturbably upon
the group; and as he sat in the shadow, his dark hair and eyes and suit
of sables made him, in that society, the black thread of mystery which
he weaves into his stories, while the shifting presence of the
Brook-Farmer played like heat-lightning around the room.

I recall little else but a grave eating of russet apples by the erect
philosophers, and a solemn disappearance into night. The club struggled
through three Monday evenings. Plato was perpetually putting apples of
gold in pictures of silver; for such was the rich ore of his thoughts,
coined by the deep melody of his voice. Orson charmed us with the
secrets won from his interviews with Pan in the Walden woods; while
Emerson, with the zeal of an engineer trying to dam wild waters, sought
to bind the wide-flying embroidery of discourse into a web of clear
sweet sense. But still in vain. The oracular sayings were the unalloyed
saccharine element; and every chemist knows how much else goes to
practical food--how much coarse, rough, woody fibre is essential. The
club struggled on valiantly, discoursing celestially, eating apples,
and disappearing in the dark, until the third evening it vanished
altogether. But I have since known clubs of fifty times its number,
whose collective genius was not more than that of either one of the
Dii Majores of our Concord coterie. The fault was its too great
concentration. It was not relaxation, as a club should be, but tension.
Society is a play, a game, a tournament; not a battle. It is the easy
grace of undress; not an intellectual full-dress parade.

I have already hinted this unbending intellectual alacrity of our
author. His sport is serious--his humor is earnest. He stands like a
sentinel. His look and manner and habit of thought cry "Who goes
there?" and if he does not hear the countersign, he brings the
intruder to a halt. It is for this surprising fidelity and integrity
that his influence has been so deep and sure and permanent upon the
intellectual life of the young men of New England; and of old England,
too, where, in Manchester, there were regular weekly meetings at which
his works were read. What he said long ago in his preface to the
American edition of Carlyle's _Miscellanies_, that they were papers
which had spoken to the young men of the time "with an emphasis that
hindered them from sleep", is strikingly true of his own writings. His
first slim, anonymous duodecimo, _Nature_, was as fair and fascinating
to the royal young minds who met it in the course of their reading, as
Egeria to Numa wandering in the grove. The essays, orations, and poems
followed, developing and elaborating the same spiritual and heroic
philosophy, applying it to life, history, and literature, with a vigor
and richness so supreme that not only do many account him our truest
philosopher, but others acknowledge him as our most characteristic poet.

It would be a curious inquiry how much and what kind of influence the
placid scenery of Concord has exercised upon his mind. "I chide
society, I embrace solitude," he says; "and yet I am not so ungrateful
as not to see the wise, the lovely, and the noble-minded, as from time
to time they pass my gate." It is not difficult to understand his
fondness for the spot. He has been always familiar with it, always
more or less a resident of the village. Born in Boston upon the spot
where the Chauncey Place Church now stands, part of his youth was
passed in the Old Manse, which was built by his grandfather and in
which his father was born; and there he wrote _Nature_. From the
magnificent admiration of ancestral England he was glad to return two
years since to quiet Concord and to acres which will not yield a
single arrowhead. The Swiss sigh for their mountains; but the Nubians,
also, pine for their desert plains. Those who are born by the sea long
annually to return and to rest their eyes upon its living horizon. Is
it because the earliest impressions, made when the mind is most
plastic, are most durable? or because youth is that golden age
bounding the confines of memory and floating forever--an alluring
mirage as we recede farther from it?

The imagination of the man who roams the solitary pastures of Concord,
or floats, dreaming, down its river, will easily see its landscape
upon Emerson's pages. "That country is fairest," he says, "which is
inhabited by the noblest minds". And although that idler upon the
river may have leaned over the Mediterranean from Genoese and
Neapolitan villas, or have glanced down the steep green valley of
Sicilian Enna, seeking "herself the fairest flower", or walked the
shores where Cleopatra and Helen walked, yet the charm of a landscape
which is felt rather than seen will be imperishable. "Travelling is a
fool's paradise," says Emerson. But he passed its gates to learn that
lesson. His writings, however, have no imported air. If there be
something Oriental in his philosophy and tropical in his imagination,
they have yet the strong flavor of his mother earth--the underived
sweetness of the open Concord sky, and the spacious breadth of the
Concord horizon.




HAWTHORNE


Hawthorne has himself drawn the picture of the Old Manse in Concord.
He has given to it that quiet richness of coloring which ideally
belongs to an old country mansion. It seemed so fitting a residence
for one who loves to explore the twilight of antiquity--and the
gloomier the better--that the visitor, among the felicities of whose
life was included the freedom of the Manse, could not but fancy that
our author's eyes first saw the daylight enchanted by the slumberous
orchard behind the house, or tranquillized into twilight by the
spacious avenue in front. The character of his imagination, and the
golden gloom of its blossoming, completely harmonize with the rusty,
gable-roofed old house upon the river-side, and the reader of his
books would be sure that his boyhood and youth knew no other friends
than the dreaming river and the melancholy meadows and drooping
foliage of its vicinity.

Since the reader, however, would greatly mistake if he fancied this,
in good sooth, the ancestral halls of the Hawthornes--the genuine
Hawthorne-den--he will be glad to save the credit of his fancy by
learning that it was here our author's bridal tour--which commenced in
Boston, then three hours away--ended, and his married life began.
Here, also, his first child was born, and here those sad and silver
mosses accumulated upon his fancy, from which he heaped so soft a bed
for our dreaming. "Between two tall gate-posts of rough hewn stone
(the gate itself having fallen from its hinges at some unknown epoch)
we beheld the gray front of the old parsonage, terminating the vista
of an avenue of black-ash trees." It was a pleasant spring day in the
year 1843, and as they entered the house nosegays of fresh flowers,
arranged by friendly hands, welcomed them to Concord and summer.

The dark-haired man, who led his wife along the avenue that afternoon,
had been recently an officer of the customs in Boston, before which he
had led a solitary life in Salem. Graduated with Longfellow at Bowdoin
College, in Maine, he had lived a hermit in respectable Salem, an
absolute recluse even from his own family, walking out by night and
writing wild tales by day, most of which were burnt in his bachelor
fire, and some of which, in newspapers, magazines, and annuals, led a
wandering, uncertain, and mostly unnoticed life.

Those tales among this class which were attainable he collected into a
small volume, and apprizing the world that they were "twice-told",
sent them forth anew to make their own way, in the year 1841. But he
piped to the world, and it did not sing. He wept to it, and it did not
mourn. The book, however, as all good books do, made its way into
various hearts. Yet the few penetrant minds which recognized a
remarkable power and a method of strange fascination in the stories
did not make the public nor influence the public mind. "I was," he
says in the last edition of these tales, "the most unknown author in
America". Full of glancing wit, of tender satire, of exquisite natural
description, of subtle and strange analysis of human life, darkly
passionate and weird, they yet floated unhailed barks upon the sea of
publicity--unhailed, but laden and gleaming at every crevice with the
true treasure of Cathay. Bancroft, then Collector in Boston, prompt to
recognize and to honor talent, made the dreaming story-teller a
surveyor in the custom-house, thus opening to him a new range of
experience. From the society of phantoms he stepped upon Long Wharf
and plumply confronted Captain Cuttle and Dirk Hatteraick. It was no
less romance to our author. There is no greater error of those who are
called "practical men" than the supposition that life is, or can be,
other than a dream to a dreamer. Shut him up in a counting-room,
barricade him with bales of merchandise, and limit his library to the
ledger and cash-book and his prospect to the neighboring signs; talk
"Bills receivable" and "Sundries Dr. to cash" to him forever, and you
are only a very amusing or very annoying phantom to him. The
merchant-prince might as well hope to make himself a poet, as the poet
a practical or practicable man. He has laws to obey not at all the
less stringent because men of a different temperament refuse to
acknowledge them, and he is held to a loyalty quite beyond their
conception.

So Captain Cuttle and Dirk Hatteraick were as pleasant figures to our
author in the picture of life as any others. He went daily upon the
vessels, looked and listened and learned, was a favorite of the
sailors as such men always are, did his work faithfully, and, having
dreamed his dream upon Long Wharf, was married and slipped up to the
Old Manse and a new chapter in the romance. It opened in "the most
delightful little nook of a study that ever offered its snug seclusion
to a scholar". Of the three years in the Old Manse the prelude to the
_Mosses_ is the most perfect history, and of the quality of those
years the _Mosses_ themselves are sufficient proof. They were mostly
written in the little study, and originally published in the
_Democratic Review_, then edited by Hawthorne's friend O'Sullivan.

To the inhabitants of Concord, however, our author was as much a
phantom and a fable as the old pastor of the parish, dead half a
century before, and whose faded portrait in the attic was gradually
rejoining its original in native dust. The gate, fallen from its
hinges in a remote antiquity, was never rehung. "The wheel-track
leading to the door" remained still overgrown with grass. No bold
villager ever invaded the sleep of "the glimmering shadows" in the
avenue. At evening no lights gleamed from the windows. Scarce once in
many months did the single old knobby-faced coachman at the railroad
bring a fare to "Mr. Hawthorne's". "_Is_ there anybody in the old
house?" sobbed the old ladies in despair, imbibing tea of a livid
green. That knocker, which everybody had enjoyed the right of lifting
to summon the good old pastor, no temerity now dared to touch.
Heavens! what if the figure in the mouldy portrait should peer, in
answer, over the eaves, and shake solemnly its decaying surplice! Nay,
what if the mysterious man himself should answer the summons and come
to the door! It is easy to summon spirits--but if they come?
Collective Concord, moving in the river meadows, embraced the better
part of valor and left the knocker untouched. A cloud of romance
suddenly fell out of the heaven of fancy and enveloped the Old Manse:

 "In among the bearded barley
  The reaper reaping late and early"

did not glance more wistfully towards the island of Shalott and its
mysterious lady than the reapers of Concord rye looked at the Old
Manse and wondered over its inmate.

Sometimes in the forenoon a darkly clad figure was seen in the little
garden-plot putting in corn or melon seed, and gravely hoeing. It was
a brief apparition. The farmer passing towards town and seeing the
solitary cultivator, lost his faith in the fact and believed he had
dreamed when, upon returning, he saw no sign of life, except,
possibly, upon some Monday, the ghostly skirt of a shirt flapping
spectrally in the distant orchard. Day dawned and darkened over the
lonely house. Summer with "buds and bird-voices" came singing in from
the South, and clad the old ash-trees in deeper green, the Old Manse
in profounder mystery. Gorgeous autumn came to visit the story-teller
in his little western study, and, departing, wept rainbows among his
trees. Winter impatiently swept down the hill opposite, rifling the
trees of each last clinging bit of summer, as if thrusting aside
opposing barriers and determined to search the mystery. But his white
robes floated around the Old Manse, ghostly as the decaying surplice
of the old pastor's portrait, and in the snowy seclusion of winter the
mystery was as mysterious as ever.

Occasionally Emerson or Ellery Channing or Henry Thoreau--some poet,
as once Whittier, journeying to the Merrimac, or an old Brook-Farmer
who remembered Miles Coverdale with Arcadian sympathy--went down the
avenue and disappeared in the house. Sometimes a close observer, had
he been ambushed among the long grasses of the orchard, might have
seen the host and one of his guests emerging at the back door and,
sauntering to the river-side, step into the boat, and float off until
they faded in the shadow. The spectacle would not have lessened the
romance. If it were afternoon--one of the spectrally sunny afternoons
which often bewitch that region--he would be only the more convinced
that there was something inexplicable in the whole matter of this man
whom nobody knew, who was never once seen at town-meeting, and
concerning whom it was whispered that he did not constantly attend
church all day, although he occupied the reverend parsonage of the
village and had unmeasured acres of manuscript sermons in his attic,
besides the nearly extinct portrait of an utterly extinct clergyman.
Mrs. Radcliffe and Monk Lewis were nothing to this, and the
awe-stricken observer, if he could creep safely out of the long grass,
did not fail to do so quietly, fortifying his courage by remembering
stories of the genial humanity of the last old pastor who inhabited
the Manse, and who for fifty years was the bland and beneficent Pope
of Concord. A genial, gracious old man, whose memory is yet sweet in
the village, and who, wedded to the grave traditions of New England
theology, believed of his young relative Waldo Emerson, as Miss Flite,
touching her forehead, said of her landlord, that he was "_m_, quite
_m_", but was proud to love in him the hereditary integrity of noble
ancestors.

This old gentleman--an eminent figure in the history of the Manse and
in all reminiscences of Concord--partook sufficiently of mundane
weaknesses to betray his mortality. Hawthorne describes him watching
the battle of Concord from his study window. But when the uncertainty
of that dark moment had so happily resulted, and the first
battle-ground of the Revolution had become a spot of hallowed and
patriotic consideration, it was a pardonable pride in the good old man
to order his servant, whenever there was company, to assist him in
reaping the glory due to the owner of a spot so sacred. Accordingly,
when some reverend or distinguished guest sat with the pastor in his
little parlor, or, of a summer evening, at the hospitable door under
the trees, Jeremiah or Nicodemus, the cow-boy, would deferentially
approach and inquire,

"Into what pasture shall I turn the cow tonight, sir?"

And the old gentleman would audibly reply:

"Into the battle-field, Nicodemus, into the battle-field."

Then naturally followed wonder, inquiry, a walk in the twilight to the
river-bank, the old gentleman's story, the corresponding respect of
the listening visitor, and the consequent quiet complacency and
harmless satisfaction in the clergyman's bosom. That throb of pride
was the one drop of peculiar advantage which the pastor distilled from
the Revolution. He could not but fancy that he had a hand in so famous
a deed accomplished upon land now his own, and demeaned himself
accordingly with continental dignity.

The pulpit, however, was his especial sphere. There he reigned
supreme; there he exhorted, rebuked, and advised, as in the days of
Mather. There he inspired that profound reverence of which he was so
proud, and which induced the matrons of the village, when he was
coming to make a visit, to bedizen the children in their Sunday suits,
to parade the best teapot, and to offer the most capacious chair. In
the pulpit he delivered everything with the pompous cadence of the
elder New England clergy, and a sly joke is told at the expense of his
even temper, that on one occasion, when loftily reading the hymn, he
encountered a blot upon the page quite obliterating the word; but
without losing the cadence, although in a very vindictive tone at the
truant word, or the culprit who erased it, he finished the reading as
follows:

 "He sits upon His throne above,
    Attending angels bless,
  While Justice, Mercy, Truth--and another word
        which is blotted out--
    Compose His princely dress."

We linger around the Old Manse and its occupants as fondly as
Hawthorne, but no more fondly than all who have been once within the
influence of its spell. There glimmer in my memory a few hazy days, of
a tranquil and half-pensive character, which I am conscious were
passed in and around the house, and their pensiveness I know to be
only that touch of twilight which inhered in the house and all its
associations. Beside the few chance visitors I have named there were
city friends occasionally, figures quite unknown to the village, who
came preceded by the steam-shriek of the locomotive, were dropped at
the gate-posts, and were seen no more. The owner was as much a vague
name to me as to any one.

During Hawthorne's first year's residence in Concord I had driven up
with some friends to an aesthetic tea at Mr. Emerson's. It was in the
winter, and a great wood-fire blazed upon the hospitable hearth. There
were various men and women of note assembled, and I, who listened
attentively to all the fine things that were said, was for some time
scarcely aware of a man who sat upon the edge of the circle, a little
withdrawn, his head slightly thrown forward upon his breast, and his
bright eyes clearly burning under his black brow. As I drifted down
the stream of talk, this person, who sat silent as a shadow, looked to
me as Webster might have looked had he been a poet--a kind of poetic
Webster. He rose and walked to the window, and stood quietly there for
a long time, watching the dead white landscape. No appeal was made to
him, nobody looked after him, the conversation flowed steadily on as
if every one understood that his silence was to be respected. It was
the same thing at table. In vain the silent man imbibed aesthetic tea.
Whatever fancies it inspired did not flower at his lips. But there was
a light in his eye which assured me that nothing was lost. So supreme
was his silence that it presently engrossed me to the exclusion of
everything else. There was very brilliant discourse, but this silence
was much more poetic and fascinating. Fine things were said by the
philosophers, but much finer things were implied by the dumbness of
this gentleman with heavy brows and black hair. When he presently
rose and went, Emerson, with the "slow, wise smile" that breaks over
his face, like day over the sky, said, "Hawthorne rides well his horse
of the night."

Thus he remained in my memory, a shadow, a phantom, until more than a
year afterwards. Then I came to live in Concord. Every day I passed
his house, but when the villagers, thinking that perhaps I had some
clew to the mystery, said, "Do you know this Mr. Hawthorne?" I said
"No," and trusted to time.

Time justified my confidence, and one day I, too, went down the avenue
and disappeared in the house. I mounted those mysterious stairs to
that apocryphal study. I saw "the cheerful coat of paint, and
golden-tinted paper-hangings, lighting up the small apartment; while
the shadow of a willow-tree, that swept against the overhanging eaves,
attempered the cheery western sunshine." I looked from the little
northern window whence the old pastor watched the battle, and in the
small dining-room beneath it, upon the first floor, there were

  "Dainty chicken, snow-white bread,"

and the golden juices of Italian vineyards, which still feast
insatiable memory.

Our author occupied the Old Manse for three years. During that time he
was not seen, probably, by more than a dozen of the villagers. His
walks could easily avoid the town, and upon the river he was always
sure of solitude. It was his favorite habit to bathe every evening in
the river, after nightfall, and in that part of it over which the old
bridge stood, at which the battle was fought. Sometimes, but rarely,
his boat accompanied another up the stream, and I recall the silent
and preternatural vigor with which, on one occasion, he wielded his
paddle to counteract the bad rowing of a friend who conscientiously
considered it his duty to do something and not let Hawthorne work
alone; but who, with every stroke, neutralized all Hawthorne's
efforts. I suppose he would have struggled until he fell senseless,
rather than ask his friend to desist. His principle seemed to be, if a
man cannot understand without talking to him, it is quite useless to
talk, because it is immaterial whether such a man understands or not.
His own sympathy was so broad and sure that although nothing had been
said for hours his companion knew that not a thing had escaped his
eye, nor had a single pulse of beauty in the day or scene or society
failed to thrill his heart. In this way his silence was most social.
Everything seemed to have been said. It was a Barmecide feast of
discourse, from which a greater satisfaction resulted than from an
actual banquet.

When a formal attempt was made to desert this style of conversation,
the result was ludicrous. Once Emerson and Thoreau arrived to pay a
call. They were shown into the little parlor upon the avenue, and
Hawthorne presently entered. Each of the guests sat upright in his
chair like a Roman senator. "To them" Hawthorne, like a Dacian king.
The call went on, but in a most melancholy manner. The host sat
perfectly still, or occasionally propounded a question which Thoreau
answered accurately, and there the thread broke short off. Emerson
delivered sentences that only needed the setting of an essay to charm
the world; but the whole visit was a vague ghost of the Monday-evening
club at Mr. Emerson's--it was a great failure. Had they all been lying
idly upon the river brink, or strolling in Thoreau's blackberry
pastures, the result would have been utterly different. But imprisoned
in the proprieties of a parlor, each a wild man in his way, with a
necessity of talking inherent in the nature of the occasion, there was
only a waste of treasure. This was the only "call" in which I ever
knew Hawthorne to be involved.

In Mr. Emerson's house, I said, it seemed always morning. But
Hawthorne's black-ash trees and scraggy apple-boughs shaded

                           "a land
  In which it seemed always afternoon."

I do not doubt that the lotus grew along the grassy marge of the
Concord behind his house, and it was served, subtly concealed, to all
his guests. The house, its inmates, and its life lay, dream-like, upon
the edge of the little village. You fancied that they all came
together and belonged together, and were glad that at length some idol
of your imagination, some poet whose spell had held you and would hold
you forever, was housed as such a poet should be.

During the lapse of the three years since the bridal tour of twenty
miles ended at the "two tall gate-posts of rough-hewn stone", a little
wicker wagon had appeared at intervals upon the avenue, and a placid
babe, whose eyes the soft Concord day had touched with the blue of its
beauty, lay looking tranquilly up at the grave old trees, which sighed
lofty lullabies over her sleep. The tranquillity of the golden-haired
Una was the living and breathing type of the dreamy life of the Old
Manse. Perhaps, that being attained, it was as well to go. Perhaps our
author was not surprised nor displeased when the hints came, "growing
more and more distinct, that the owner of the old house was pining for
his native air". One afternoon I entered the study, and learned from
its occupant that the last story he should ever write there was
written. The son of the old pastor yearned for his homestead. The
light of another summer would seek its poet in the Old Manse, but in
vain.

While Hawthorne had been quietly writing in the "most delightful
little nook of a study", Mr. Polk had been elected President, and Mr.
Bancroft, in the cabinet, did not forget his old friend, the surveyor
in the custom-house. There came suggestions and offers of various
attractions. Still loving New England, would he tarry there, or, as
inspector of woods and forests in some far-away island of the southern
sea, some hazy strip of distance seen from Florida, would he taste the
tropics? He meditated all the chances, without immediately deciding.
Gathering up his household gods, he passed out of the Old Manse as its
heir entered, and before the end of summer was domesticated in the
custom-house of his native town of Salem. This was in the year 1846.
Upon leaving the Old Manse he published the _Mosses_, announcing that
it was the last collection of tales he should put forth. Those who
knew him and recognized his value to our literature trembled lest this
was the last word from one who spoke only pearls and rubies. It was a
foolish fear. The sun must shine, the sea must roll, the bird must
sing, and the poet write. During his life in Salem, of which the
introduction to _The Scarlet Letter_ describes the official aspect, he
wrote that romance. It is inspired by the spirit of the place. It
presents more vividly than any history the gloomy picturesqueness of
early New England life. There is no strain in our literature so
characteristic or more real than that which Hawthorne had successfully
attempted in several of his earlier sketches, and of which _The
Scarlet Letter_ is the great triumph. It became immediately popular,
and directly placed the writer of stories for a small circle among the
world's masters of romance.

Times meanwhile changed, and presidents with them. General Taylor was
elected, and the Salem collector retired. It is one of the romantic
points of Hawthorne's quiet life that its changes have been so
frequently determined by political events, which, more than all others,
are the most entirely foreign to his tastes and habits. He retired to
the hills of Berkshire, the eye of the world now regarding his movements.
There he lived a year or two in a little red cottage upon the
"Stockbridge Bowl", as a small lake near that town is called. In this
retreat he wrote _The House of the Seven Gables_, which more deeply
confirmed the literary position already acquired for him by the first
romance. The scene is laid in Salem, as if he could not escape a strange
fascination in the witch-haunted town of our early history. It is the
same black canvas upon which plays the rainbow-flash of his fancy, never,
in its brightest moment, more than illuminating the gloom. This marks
all his writings. They have a terrible beauty, like the siren, and their
fascination is as sure.

After six years of absence Hawthorne returned to Concord, where he
purchased a small house formerly occupied by Orphic Alcott. When that
philosopher came into possession it was a miserable little house of
two peaked gables. But the genius which recreated itself in devising
graceful summer-houses, like that for Mr. Emerson, already noticed,
soon smoothed the new residence into some kind of comeliness. It was
an old house when Mr. Alcott entered it, but his tasteful finger
touched it with picturesque grace.

Not like a tired old drudge of a house, rusting into unlionored decay,
but with a modest freshness that does not belie the innate sobriety of
a venerable New England farm-house, the present residence of our
author stands, withdrawn a few yards from the high-road to Boston,
along which marched the British soldiers to Concord bridge. It lies at
the foot of a wooded hill, a neat house of a "rusty olive hue", with a
porch in front, and a central peak, and a piazza at each end. The
genius for summer-houses has had full play upon the hill behind. Here,
upon the homely steppes of Concord, is a strain of Persia. Mr. Alcott
built terraces and arbors and pavilions of boughs and rough stems of
trees, revealing--somewhat inadequately, perhaps--the hanging gardens
of delight that adorn the Babylon of his orphic imagination. The
hill-side is no unapt emblem of his intellectual habit, which
garnishes the arid commonplaces of life with a cold poetic aurora,
forgetting that it is the inexorable law of light to deform as well as
adorn. Treating life as a grand epic poem, the philosophic Alcott
forgets that Homer must nod or we should all fall asleep. The world
would not be very beautiful nor interesting if it were all one huge
summit of Mont Blanc.

Unhappily, the terraced hill-side, like the summer-house upon Mr.
Emerson's lawn, "lacks technical arrangement", and the wild winds play
with these architectural toys of fancy, like lions with humming-birds.
They are gradually falling, shattered, and disappearing. Fine
locust-trees shade them and ornament the hill with perennial beauty.
The hanging gardens of Semiramis were not more fragrant than
Hawthorne's hill-side during the June blossoming of the locusts. A few
young elms, some white-pines and young oaks, complete the catalogue of
trees. A light breeze constantly fans the brow of the hill, making
harps of the tree-tops and singing to our author, who, "with a book in
my hand, or an unwritten book in my thoughts", lies stretched beneath
them in the shade.

From the height of the hill the eye courses, unrestrained, over the
solitary landscape of Concord, broad and still, broken only by the
slight wooded undulations of insignificant hillocks. The river is not
visible, nor any gleam of lake. Walden Pond is just behind the wood in
front, and not far away over the meadows sluggishly steals the river.
It is the most quiet of prospects. Eight acres of good land lie in
front of the house, across the road, and in the rear the estate
extends a little distance over the brow of the hill.

This latter is not good garden-ground, but it yields that other crop
which the poet "gathers in a song". Perhaps the world will forgive our
author that he is not a prize farmer, and makes but an indifferent
figure at the annual cattle-show. We have seen that he is more nomadic
than agricultural. He has wandered from spot to spot, pitching a
temporary tent, then striking it for "fresh fields and pastures new".
It is natural, therefore, that he should call his house "The
Wayside"--a bench upon the road where he sits for a while before
passing on. If the wayfarer finds him upon that bench he shall have
rare pleasure in sitting with him, yet shudder while he stays. For the
pictures of our poet have more than the shadows of Rembrandt. If you
listen to his story, the lonely pastures and dull towns of our dear
old homely New England shall become suddenly as radiant with grace and
terrible with tragedy as any country and any time. The waning
afternoon in Concord, in which the blue-frocked farmers are reaping
and hoeing, shall set in pensive glory. The woods will forever after
be haunted with strange forms. You will hear whispers and music "i'
the air". In the softest morning you will suspect sadness; in the most
fervent noon a nameless terror. It is because the imagination of our
author treads the almost imperceptible line between the natural and
the supernatural. We are all conscious of striking it sometimes. But
we avoid it. We recoil and hurry away, nor dare to glance over our
shoulders lest we should see phantoms. What are these tales of
supernatural appearances, as well authenticated as any news of the
day--and what is the sphere which they imply? What is the more subtle
intellectual apprehension of fate and its influence upon imagination
and life? Whatever it is, it is the mystery of the fascination of
these tales. They converse with that dreadful realm as with our real
world. The light of our sun is poured by genius upon the phantoms we
did not dare to contemplate, and lo! they are ourselves, unmasked, and
playing our many parts. An unutterable sadness seizes the reader as
the inevitable black thread appears. For here genius assures us what
we trembled to suspect, but could not avoid suspecting, that the black
thread is inwoven with all forms of life, with all development of
character.

It is for this peculiarity, which harmonizes so well with ancient
places, whose pensive silence seems the trance of memory musing over
the young and lovely life that illuminated its lost years--that
Hawthorne is so intimately associated with the Old Manse. Yet that was
but the tent of a night for him. Already, with the _Blithedale
Romance_, which is dated from Concord, a new interest begins to
cluster around "The Wayside".

I know not how I can more fitly conclude these reminiscences of
Concord and Hawthorne, whose own stories have always a saddening
close, than by relating an occurrence which blighted to many hearts
the beauty of the quiet Concord river, and seemed not inconsistent
with its lonely landscape. It has the further fitness of typifying the
operation of our author's imagination: a tranquil stream, clear and
bright with sunny gleams, crowned with lilies and graceful with
swaying grass, yet doing terrible deeds inexorably, and therefore
forever after of a shadowed beauty.

Martha was the daughter of a plain Concord farmer, a girl of delicate
and shy temperament, who excelled so much in study that she was sent
to a fine academy in a neighboring town, and won all the honors of the
course. She met at the school, and in the society of the place, a
refinement and cultivation, a social gayety and grace, which were
entirely unknown in the hard life she had led at home, and which by
their very novelty, as well as because they harmonized with her own
nature and dreams, were doubly beautiful and fascinating. She enjoyed
this life to the full, while her timidity kept her only a spectator;
and she ornamented it with a fresher grace, suggestive of the woods
and fields, when she ventured to engage in the airy game. It was a
sphere for her capacities and talents. She shone in it, and the
consciousness of a true position and general appreciation gave her the
full use of all her powers. She admired and was admired. She was
surrounded by gratifications of taste, by the stimulants and rewards
of ambition. The world was happy, and she was worthy to live in it.
But at times a cloud suddenly dashed athwart the sun--a shadow stole,
dark and chill, to the very edge of the charmed circle in which she
stood. She knew well what it was and what it foretold, but she would
not pause nor heed. The sun shone again; the future smiled; youth,
beauty, and all gentle hopes and thoughts bathed the moment in lambent
light.

But school-days ended at last, and with the receding town in which
they had been passed the bright days of life disappeared, and forever.
It is probable that the girl's fancy had been fed, perhaps indiscreetly
pampered, by her experience there. But it was no fairy-land. It was an
academy town in New England, and the fact that it was so alluring is a
fair indication of the kind of life from which she had emerged, and to
which she now returned. What could she do? In the dreary round of petty
details, in the incessant drudgery of a poor farmer's household, with
no companions of any sympathy--for the family of a hard-working New
England farmer are not the Chloes and Clarissas of pastoral poetry, nor
are cow-boys Corydons--with no opportunity of retirement and cultivation,
for reading and studying--which is always voted "stuff" under such
circumstances--the light suddenly quenched out of life, what was she
to do?

"Adapt herself to her circumstances. Why had she shot from her sphere
in this silly way?" demands unanimous common-sense in valiant heroics.

The simple answer is, that she had only used all her opportunities,
and that, although it was no fault of hers that the routine of her
life was in every way repulsive, she did struggle to accommodate
herself to it--and failed. When she found it impossible to drag on at
home, she became an inmate of a refined and cultivated household in
the village, where she had opportunity to follow her own fancies, and
to associate with educated and attractive persons. But even here she
could not escape the feeling that it was all temporary, that her
position was one of dependence; and her pride, now grown morbid, often
drove her from the very society which alone was agreeable to her. This
was all genuine. There was not the slightest strain of the _femme
incomprise_ in her demeanor. She was always shy and silent, with a
touching reserve which won interest and confidence, but left also a
vague sadness in the mind of the observer. After a few months she made
another effort to rend the cloud which was gradually darkening around
her, and opened a school for young children. But although the interest
of friends secured for her a partial success, her gravity and sadness
failed to excite the sympathy of her pupils, who missed in her the
playful gayety always most winning to children. Martha, however,
pushed bravely on, a figure of tragic sobriety to all who watched her
course. The farmers thought her a strange girl, and wondered at the
ways of a farmer's daughter who was not content to milk cows and churn
butter and fry pork, without further hope or thought. The good
clergyman of the town, interested in her situation, sought a
confidence she did not care to bestow, and so, doling out a, b, c, to
a wild group of boys and girls, she found that she could not untie the
Gordian knot of her life, and felt, with terror, that it must be cut.

One summer evening she left her father's house and walked into the
fields alone. Night came, but Martha did not return. The family became
anxious, inquired if any one had noticed the direction in which she
went, learned from the neighbors that she was not visiting, that there
was no lecture or meeting to detain her, and wonder passed into
apprehension. Neighbors went into the adjacent woods and called, but
received no answer. Every instant the awful shadow of some dread event
solemnized the gathering groups. Every one thought what no one dared
whisper, until a low voice suggested "the river". Then, with the
swiftness of certainty, all friends, far and near, were roused, and
thronged along the banks of the stream. Torches flashed in boats that
put off in the terrible search. Hawthorne, then living in the Old
Manse, was summoned, and the man whom the villagers had only seen at
morning as a musing spectre in his garden, now appeared among them at
night to devote his strong arm and steady heart to their service. The
boats drifted slowly down the stream--the torches flared strangely
upon the black repose of the water, and upon the long, slim grasses
that, weeping, fringed the marge. Upon both banks silent and
awe-stricken crowds hastened along, eager and dreading to find the
slightest trace of what they sought. Suddenly they came upon a few
articles of dress, heavy with the night-dew. No one spoke, for no one
had doubted the result. It was clear that Martha had strayed to the
river and quietly asked of its stillness the repose she sought. The
boats gathered around the spot. With every implement that could be of
service the melancholy search began. Long intervals of fearful silence
ensued, but at length, towards midnight, the sweet face of the dead
girl was raised more placidly to the stars than ever it had been to
the sun.

 "Oh! is it weed or fish or floating hair--
  A tress o' golden hair,
  O' drowned maiden's hair,
    Above the nets at sea?
  Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
    Among the stakes on Dee."

So ended a village tragedy. The reader may possibly find in it the
original of the thrilling conclusion of the _Blithedale Romance_, and
learn anew that dark as is the thread with which Hawthorne weaves his
spells, it is no darker than those with which tragedies are spun, even
in regions apparently so torpid as Concord.




THE WORKS OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE


The traveller by the Eastern Railroad, from Boston, reaches in less
than an hour the old town of Salem, Massachusetts. It is chiefly
composed of plain wooden houses, but it has a quaint air of past
provincial grandeur, and has indeed been an important commercial town.
The first American ship for Calcutta and China sailed from this port;
and Salem ships opened our trade with New Holland and the South Seas.
But its glory has long since departed, with that of its stately and
respectable neighbors, Newburyport and Portsmouth. There is still,
however, a custom-house in Salem, there are wharves and chandlers'
shops and a faint show of shipping and an air of marine capacity which
no apparent result justifies. It sits upon the shore like an
antiquated sea-captain, grave and silent, in tarpaulin and duck
trousers, idly watching the ocean upon which he will never sail again.

But this touching aspect of age and lost prosperity merely serves to
deepen the peculiar impression of the old city, which is not derived
from its former commercial importance, but from other associations.
Salem village was a famous place in the Puritan annals. The tragedy of
the witchcraft tortures and murders has cast upon it a ghostly spell,
from which it seems never to have escaped; and even the sojourner of
to-day, as he loiters along the shore in the sunniest morning of June,
will sometimes feel an icy breath in the air, chilling the very marrow
of his bones. Nor is he consoled by being told that it is only the
east wind; for he cannot help believing that an invisible host of
Puritan spectres have breathed upon him, revengeful, as he poached
upon their ancient haunts.

The Puritan spirit was neither gracious nor lovely, but nothing softer
than its iron hand could have done its necessary work. The Puritan
character was narrow, intolerant, and exasperating. The forefathers
were very "sour" in the estimation of Morton and his merry company at
Mount Wollaston. But for all that, Bradstreet and Carver and Winthrop
were better forefathers than the gay Morton, and the Puritan spirit is
doubtless the moral influence of modern civilization, both in Old and
New England. By the fruit let the seed be judged. The State to whose
rough coast the _Mayflower_ came, and in which the Pilgrim spirit has
been most active, is to-day the chief of all human societies,
politically, morally, and socially. It is the community in which the
average of well-being is higher than in any State we know in history.
Puritan though it be, it is more truly liberal and free than any large
community in the world. But it had bleak beginnings. The icy shore,
the sombre pines, the stealthy savages, the hard soil, the unbending
religious austerity, the Scriptural severity, the arrogant virtues,
the angry intolerance of contradiction--they all made a narrow strip
of sad civilization between the pitiless sea and the remorseless
forests. The moral and physical tenacity which is wrestling with the
Rebellion was toughened among these flinty and forbidding rocks. The
fig, the pomegranate, and the almond would not grow there, nor the
nightingale sing; but nobler men than its children the sun never shone
upon, nor has the heart of man heard sweeter music than the voices of
James Otis and Samuel Adams. Think of Plymouth in 1620, and of
Massachusetts to-day! Out of strength came forth sweetness.

With some of the darkest passages in Puritan history this old town of
Salem, which dozes apparently with the most peaceful conscience in the
world, is identified, and while its Fourth of July bells were joyfully
ringing sixty years ago Nathaniel Hathorne was born. He subsequently
chose to write the name Hawthorne, because he thought he had
discovered that it was the original spelling. In the introduction to
_The Scarlet Letter_, Hawthorne speaks of his ancestors as coming from
Europe in the seventeenth century, and establishing themselves in
Salem, where they served the State and propitiated Heaven by joining
in the persecution of Quakers and witches. The house known as the
Witch House is still standing on the corner of Summer and Essex
streets. It was built in 1642 by Captain George Corwin, and here in
1692 many of the unfortunates who were palpably guilty of age and
ugliness were examined by the Honorable Jonathan Curwin, Major Gedney,
Captain John Higginson, and John Hathorn, Esquire.

The name of this last worthy occurs in one of the first and most
famous of the witch trials, that of "Goodwife Gory", in March, 1692,
only a month after the beginning of the delusion at the house of the
minister Parris. Goodwife Gory was accused by ten children, of whom
Elizabeth Parris was one; they declared that they were pinched by her
and strangled, and that she brought them a book to sign. "Mr. Hathorn,
a magistrate of Salem", says Robert Calef, in _More Wonders of the
Invisible World_, "asked her why she afflicted these children. She
said she did not afflict them. He asked her who did then. She said, I
do not know; how should I know? She said they were poor, distracted
creatures, and no heed ought to be given to what they said. Mr.
Hathorn and Mr. Noyes replied, that it was the judgment of all that
were there present that they were bewitched, and only she (the
accused) said they were distracted. She was accused by them that the
_black man_ whispered to her in her ear now (while she was upon
examination), and that she had a yellow bird that did use to suck
between her fingers, and that the said bird did suck now in the
assembly." John Hathorn and Jonathan Curwin were "the Assistants" of
Salem village, and held most of the examinations and issued the
warrants. Justice Hathorn was very swift in judgment, holding every
accused person guilty in every particular. When poor Jonathan Gary of
Charlestown attended his wife charged with witchcraft before Justice
Hathorn, he requested that he might hold one of her hands, "but it was
denied me. Then she desired me to wipe the tears from her eyes and the
sweat from her face, which I did; then she desired that she might lean
herself on me, saying she should faint. Justice Hathorn replied, she
had strength enough to torment these persons, and she should have
strength enough to stand. I speaking something against their cruel
proceedings, they commanded me to be silent, or else I should be
turned out of the room". What a piteous picture of the awful colonial
inquisition and the village Torquemada! What a grim portrait of an
ancestor to hang in your memory, and to trace your kindred to!

Hawthorne's description of his ancestors in the Introduction to _The
Scarlet Letter_ is very delightful. As their representative, he
declares that he takes shame to himself for their sake, on account of
these relentless persecutions; but he thinks them earnest and
energetic. "From father to son, for above a hundred years, they
followed the sea; a gray-headed ship-master, in each generation,
retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of
fourteen took the hereditary place before the mast, confronting the
salt spray and the gale, which had blustered against his sire and
grand-sire. The boy also, in due time, passed from the forecastle to
the cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned from his
world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with the
natal earth." Not all, however, for the last of the line of sailors,
Captain Nathaniel Hathorne, who married Elizabeth Clarke Manning, died
at Calcutta after the birth of three children, a boy and two girls.
The house in which the boy was born is still standing upon Union
Street, which leads to the Long Wharf, the chief seat of the old
foreign trade of Salem. The next house, with a back entrance on Union
Street, is the Manning house, where many years of the young
Hawthorne's life were spent in the care of his uncle, Robert Manning.
He lived often upon an estate belonging to his mother's family, in the
town of Raymond, near Sebago Lake, in Maine. The huge house there was
called Manning's Folly, and is now said to be used as a meeting-house.
His uncle sent Hawthorne to Bowdoin College, where he graduated in
1825. A correspondent of the Boston _Daily Advertiser_, writing from
Bowdoin at the late commencement, says that he had recently found "in
an old drawer" some papers which proved to be the manuscript "parts"
of the students at the Junior exhibition of 1824; among them was
Hawthorne's "De Patribus Conscriptis Romanorum". "It is quite brief,"
writes the correspondent, "but is really curious as perhaps the only
college exercise in existence of the great tragic writer of our day
(has there been a greater since Shakespeare?). The last sentence is as
follows (note the words which I put in italics): 'Augustus equidem
antiquam magnificentiam patribus reddidit, _sed fulgor tantum fuit
sine fervore_. Nunquam in republica senatoribus potestas recuperata,
postremum species etiam amissa est.' On the same occasion Longfellow had
the salutatory oration in Latin--'Oratio Latina; Anglici Poetae.'"

Hawthorne has given us a charming glimpse of himself as a college boy
in the letter to his fellow-student, Horatio Bridge, of the Navy,
whose _Journal of an African Cruiser_ he afterwards edited. "I know
not whence your faith came; but while we were lads together at a
country college, gathering blueberries, in study-hours, under those
tall academic pines; or watching the great logs as they tumbled along
the current of the Androscoggin; or shooting pigeons and gray
squirrels in the woods; or bat-fowling in the summer twilight; or
catching trouts in that shadowy little stream which, I suppose, is
still wandering riverward through the forest--though you and I will
never cast a line in it again--two idle lads, in short (as we need not
fear to acknowledge now), doing a hundred things that the faculty
never heard of, or else it had been the worse for us,--still it was
your prognostic of your friend's destiny that he was to be a writer of
fiction." From this sylvan university Hawthorne came home to Salem;
"as if," he wrote later, "Salem were for me the inevitable centre of
the universe."

The old witch-hanging city had no weirder product than this
dark-haired son. He has certainly given it an interest which it must
otherwise have lacked; but he speaks of it with small affection,
considering that his family had lived there for two centuries. "An
unjoyous attachment," he calls it. And, to tell the truth, there was
evidently little love lost between the little city and its most famous
citizen. Stories still float in the social gossip of the town, which
represent the shy author as inaccessible to all invitations to dinner
and tea; and while the pleasant circle awaited his coming in the
drawing-room, the impracticable man was--at least so runs the
tale--quietly hobnobbing with companions to whom his fame was unknown.
Those who coveted him as a phoenix could never get him, while he gave
himself freely to those who saw in him only a placid barn-door fowl.
The sensitive youth was a recluse, upon whose imagination had fallen
the gloomy mystery of Puritan life and character. Salem was the
inevitable centre of his universe more truly than he thought. The mind
of Justice Hathorn's descendant was bewitched by the fascination of a
certain devilish subtlety working under the comeliest aspects in human
affairs. It overcame him with strange sympathy. It colored and
controlled his intellectual life.

Devoted all day to lonely reverie and musing upon the obscurer
spiritual passages of the life whose monuments he constantly
encountered, that musing became inevitably morbid. With the creative
instinct of the artist, he wrote the wild fancies into form as
stories, many of which, when written, he threw into the fire. Then,
after nightfall, stealing out from his room into the silent streets of
Salem, and shadowy as the ghosts with which to his susceptible
imagination the dusky town was thronged, he glided beneath the house
in which the witch-trials were held, or across the moonlit hill upon
which the witches were hung, until the spell was complete. Nor can we
help fancying that, after the murder of old Mr. White in Salem, which
happened within a few years after his return from college, which drew
from Mr. Webster his most famous criminal plea, and filled a shadowy
corner of every museum in New England, as every shivering little man
of that time remembers, with an awful reproduction of the scene in
wax-figures, with real sheets on the bed, and the murderer, in a
glazed cap, stooping over to deal the fatal blow--we cannot help
fancying that the young recluse who walked by night, the wizard whom
as yet none knew, hovered about the house, gazing at the windows of
the fatal chamber, and listening in horror for the faint whistle of
the confederate in another street.

Three years after he graduated, in 1828, he published anonymously a
slight romance with the motto from Southey, "Wilt thou go with me?"
Hawthorne never acknowledged the book, and it is now seldom found; but
it shows plainly the natural bent of his mind. It is a dim, dreamy
tale, such as a Byron-struck youth of the time might have written,
except for that startling self-possession of style and cold analysis
of passion, rather than sympathy with it, which showed no imitation,
but remarkable original power. The same lurid gloom overhangs it that
shadows all his works. It is uncanny; the figures of the romance are
not persons, they are passions, emotions, spiritual speculations. So
the _Twice-told Tales_ that seem at first but the pleasant fancies of
a mild recluse, gradually hold the mind with a Lamia-like fascination;
and the author says truly of them, in the Preface of 1851, "Even in
what purport to be pictures of actual life, we have allegory not
always so warmly dressed in its habiliments of flesh and blood as to
be taken into the reader's mind without a shiver." There are sunny
gleams upon the pages, but a strange, melancholy chill pervades the
book. In "The Wedding Knell", "The Minister's Black Veil", "The Gentle
Boy", "Wakefield", "The Prophetic Pictures", "The Hollow of the Three
Hills", "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment", "The Ambitious Guest", "The
White Old Maid", "Edward Fane's Rose-bud", "The Lily's Quest"--or in
the "Legends of the Province House", where the courtly provincial
state of governors and ladies glitters across the small, sad New
England world, whose very baldness jeers it to scorn--there is the
same fateful atmosphere in which Goody Cloyse might at any moment
whisk by upon her broomstick, and in which the startled heart stands
still with unspeakable terror.

The spell of mysterious horror which kindled Hawthorne's imagination
was a test of the character of his genius. The mind of this child of
witch-haunted Salem loved to hover between the natural and the
supernatural, and sought to tread the almost imperceptible and
doubtful line of contact. He instinctively sketched the phantoms that
have the figures of men, but are not human; the elusive, shadowy
scenery which, like that of Gustave Dore's pictures, is Nature
sympathizing in her forms and aspects with the emotions of terror or
awe which the tale excites. His genius broods entranced over the
evanescent phantasmagoria of the vague debatable land in which the
realities of experience blend with ghostly doubts and wonders.

But from its poisonous flowers what a wondrous perfume he distilled!
Through his magic reed, into what penetrating melody he blew that
deathly air! His relentless fancy seemed to seek a sin that was
hopeless, a cruel despair that no faith could throw off. Yet his naive
and well-poised genius hung over the gulf of blackness, and peered
into the pit with the steady nerve and simple face of a boy. The mind
of the reader follows him with an aching wonder and admiration, as the
bewildered old mother forester watched Undine's gambols. As Hawthorne
describes Miriam in _The Marble Faun_, so may the character of his
genius be most truly indicated. Miriam, the reader will remember,
turns to Hilda and Kenyon for sympathy. "Yet it was to little purpose
that she approached the edge of the voiceless gulf between herself and
them. Standing on the utmost verge of that dark chasm, she might
stretch out her hand and never clasp a hand of theirs; she might
strive to call out 'Help, friends! help!' but, as with dreamers when
they shout, her voice would perish inaudibly in the remoteness that
seemed such a little way. This perception of an infinite, shivering
solitude, amid which we cannot come close enough to human beings to be
warmed by them, and where they turn to cold, chilly shapes of mist, is
one of the most forlorn results of any accident, misfortune, crime, or
peculiarity of character, that puts an individual ajar with the world."

Thus it was because the early New England life made so much larger
account of the supernatural element than any other modern civilized
society, that the man whose blood had run in its veins instinctively
turned to it. But beyond this alluring spell of its darker and
obscurer individual experience, it seems neither to have touched his
imagination nor even to have aroused his interest. To Walter Scott the
romance of feudalism was precious for the sake of feudalism itself, in
which he believed with all his soul, and for that of the heroic old
feudal figures which he honored. He was a Tory in every particle of
his frame, and his genius made him the poet of Toryism. But Hawthorne
had apparently no especial political, religious, or patriotic affinity
with the spirit which inspired him. It was solely a fascination of the
intellect. And although he is distinctively the poet of the Puritans,
although it is to his genius that we shall always owe that image of
them which the power of The Scarlet Letter has imprinted upon
literature, and doubtless henceforth upon historical interpretation,
yet what an imperfect picture of that life it is! All its stern and
melancholy romance is there--its picturesque gloom and intense
passion; but upon those quivering pages, as in every passage of his
stories drawn from that spirit, there seems to be wanting a deep,
complete, sympathetic appreciation of the fine moral heroism, the
spiritual grandeur, which overhung that gloomy life, as a delicate
purple mist suffuses in summer twilights the bald crags of the crystal
hills. It is the glare of the scarlet letter itself, and all that it
luridly reveals and weirdly implies, which produced the tale. It was
not beauty in itself nor deformity, not virtue nor vice, which engaged
the author's deepest sympathy. It was the occult relation between the
two. Thus while the Puritans were of all men pious, it was the
instinct of Hawthorne's genius to search out and trace with terrible
tenacity the dark and devious thread of sin in their lives.

Human life and character, whether in New England two hundred years ago
or in Italy to-day, interested him only as they were touched by this
glamour of sombre spiritual mystery; and the attraction pursued him in
every form in which it appeared. It is as apparent in the most perfect
of his smaller tales, _Rappaccini's Daughter_, as in _The Scarlet
Letter, The Blithedale Romance, The House of the Seven Gables_, and
_The Marble Faun_. You may open almost at random, and you are as sure
to find it as to hear the ripple in Mozart's music, or the pathetic
minor in a Neapolitan melody. Take, for instance, The _Birth-Mark_,
which we might call the best of the smaller stories, if we had not
just said the same thing of _Rappaccini's Daughter_--for so even and
complete is Hawthorne's power, that, with few exceptions, each work of
his, like Benvenuto's, seems the most characteristic and felicitous.
In this story, a scholar marries a beautiful woman, upon whose face is
a mark which has hitherto seemed to be only a greater charm. Yet in
one so lovely the husband declares that, although it is the slightest
possible defect, it is yet the mark of earthly imperfection, and he
proceeds to lavish all the resources of science to procure its
removal. But it will not disappear; and at last he tells her that the
crimson hand "has clutched its grasp" into her very being, and that
there is mortal danger in trying the only means of removal that
remains. She insists that it shall be tried. It succeeds; but it
removes the stain and her life together. So in _Rappaccini's
Daughter_. The old philosopher nourishes his beautiful child upon the
poisonous breath of a flower. She loves, and her lover is likewise
bewitched. In trying to break the spell, she drinks an antidote which
kills her. The point of interest in both stories is the subtile
connection, in the first, between the beauty of Georgiana and the
taint of the birth-mark; and, in the second, the loveliness of
Beatrice and the poison of the blossom.

This, also, is the key of his last romance, _The Marble Faun_, one of
the most perfect works of art in literature, whose marvellous spell
begins with the very opening words: "Four individuals, in whose
fortunes we should be glad to interest the reader, happened to be
standing in one of the saloons of the sculpture-gallery in the Capitol
at Rome." When these words are read, the mind familiar with Hawthorne
is already enthralled. "What a journey is beginning, not a step of
which is trodden, and yet the heart palpitates with apprehension!
Through what delicate, rosy lights of love, and soft, shimmering
humor, and hopes and doubts and vanishing delights, that journey will
proceed, on and on into utter gloom." And it does so, although "Hilda
had a hopeful soul, and saw sunlight on the mountain-tops". It does
so, because Miriam and Donatello are the figures which interest us
most profoundly, and they are both lost in the shadow. Donatello,
indeed, is the true centre of interest, as he is one of the most
striking creations of genius. But the perplexing charm of Donatello,
what is it but the doubt that does not dare to breathe itself, the
appalled wonder whether, if the breeze should lift those clustering
locks a little higher, he would prove to be faun or man? It never does
lift them; the doubt is never solved, but it is always suggested. The
mystery of a partial humanity, morally irresponsible but humanly
conscious, haunts the entrancing page. It draws us irresistibly on.
But as the cloud closes around the lithe figure of Donatello, we hear
again from its hidden folds the words of "The Birth-Mark": "Thus ever
does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over
the immortal essence, which, in this dim sphere of half-development,
demands the completeness of a higher state". Or still more sadly, the
mysterious youth, half vanishing from our sympathy, seems to murmur,
with Beatrice Rappaccini, "And still as she spoke, she kept her hand
upon her heart,--'Wherefore didst thou inflict this miserable doom
upon thy child?'"

We have left the story of Hawthorne's life sadly behind. But his life
had no more remarkable events than holding office in the Boston
Customhouse under Mr. Bancroft as collector; working for some time
with the Brook--Farmers, from whom he soon separated, not altogether
amicably; marrying and living in the Old Manse at Concord; returning
to the Custom-house in Salem as surveyor; then going to Lenox, in
Berkshire, where he lived in what he called "the ugliest little old
red farm-house that you ever saw", and where the story is told of his
shyness, that, if he saw anybody coming along the road whom he must
probably pass, he would jump over the wall into the pasture, and so
give the stranger a wide berth; back again to Concord; then to
Liverpool as consul; travelling in Europe afterwards, and home at last
and forever, to "The Wayside" under the Concord hill. "The hillside,"
he wrote to a friend in 1852, "is covered chiefly with locust-trees,
which come into luxuriant blossom in the month of June, and look and
smell very sweetly, intermixed with a few young elms and some
white-pines and infant oaks, the whole forming rather a thicket than a
wood. Nevertheless, there is some very good shade to be found there; I
spend delectable hours there in the hottest part of the day, stretched
out at my lazy length with a book in my hand or an unwritten book in
my thoughts. There is almost always a breeze stirring along the side
or the brow of the hill."

It is not strange, certainly, that a man such as has been described,
of a morbid shyness, the path of whose genius diverged always out of
the sun into the darkest shade, and to whom human beings were merely
psychological phenomena, should have been accounted ungenial, and
sometimes even hard, cold, and perverse. From the bent of his
intellectual temperament it happens that in his simplest and sweetest
passages he still seems to be studying and curiously observing, rather
than sympathizing. You cannot help feeling constantly that the author
is looking askance both at his characters and you, the reader; and
many a young and fresh mind is troubled strangely by his books, as if
it were aware of a half-Mephistophelean smile upon the page. Nor is
this impression altogether removed by the remarkable familiarity of
his personal disclosures. There was never a man more shrinkingly
retiring, yet surely never was an author more naively frank. He is
willing that you should know all that a man may fairly reveal of
himself. The great interior story he does not tell, of course, but the
Introduction to the _Mosses from an Old Manse_, the opening chapter of
_The Scarlet Letter_, and the _Consular Experiences_, with much of the
rest of _Our Old Home_, are as intimate and explicit chapters of
autobiography as can be found. Nor would it be easy to find anywhere a
more perfect idyl than that introductory chapter of the _Mosses_. Its
charm is perennial and indescribable; and why should it not be, since
it was written at a time in which, as he says, "I was happy?" It is,
perhaps, the most softly-hued and exquisite work of his pen. So the
sketch of "The Custom-house", although prefatory to that most
tragically powerful of romances,

_The Scarlet Letter_, is an incessant play of the shyest and most airy
humor. It is like the warbling of bobolinks before a thunder-burst.
How many other men, however unreserved with the pen, would be likely
to dare to paint, with the fidelity of Teniers and the simplicity of
Fra Angelico, a picture of the office and the companions in which and
with whom they did their daily work? The surveyor of customs in the
port of Salem treated the town of Salem, in which he lived and
discharged his daily task, as if it had been, with all its people, as
vague and remote a spot as the town of which he was about to treat in
the story. He commented upon the place and the people as modern
travellers in Pompeii discuss the ancient town. It made a great
scandal. He was accused of depicting with unpardonable severity worthy
folks, whose friends were sorely pained and indignant. But he wrote
such sketches as he wrote his stories. He treated his companions as he
treated himself and all the personages in history or experience with
which he dealt, merely as phenomena to be analyzed and described, with
no more private malice or personal emotion than the sun, which would
have photographed them, warts and all.

Thus it was that the great currents of human sympathy never swept him
away. The character of his genius isolated him, and he stood aloof
from the common interests. Intent upon studying men in certain
aspects, he cared little for man; and the high tides of collective
emotion among his fellows left him dry and untouched. So he beholds
and describes the generous impulse of humanity with sceptical courtesy
rather than with hopeful cordiality.

He does not chide you if you spend effort and life itself in the
ardent van of progress, but he asks simply, "Is six so much better
than half a dozen?" He will not quarrel with you if you expect the
millennium to-morrow. He only says, with that glimmering smile, "So
soon?" Yet in all this there was no shadow of spiritual pride. Nay, so
far from this, that the tranquil and pervasive sadness of all
Hawthorne's writings, the kind of heartache that they leave behind,
seem to spring from the fact that his nature was related to the moral
world, as his own Donatello was to the human. "So alert, so alluring,
so noble", muses the heart as we climb the Apennines towards the tower
of Monte Beni; "alas! is he human?" it whispers, with a pang of doubt.

How this directed his choice of subjects, and affected his treatment
of them, when drawn from early history, we have already seen. It is
not, therefore, surprising, that the history into which he was born
interested him only in the same way.

When he went to Europe as consul, _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ was already
published, and the country shook with the fierce debate which involved
its life. Yet eight years later Hawthorne wrote with calm ennui, "No
author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a
romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no
mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a
commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is happily
the case with my dear native land." Is crime never romantic, then,
until distance ennobles it? Or were the tragedies of Puritan life so
terrible that the imagination could not help kindling, while the pangs
of the plantation are superficial and commonplace? Charlotte Bronte,
Dickens, and Thackeray were able to find a shadow even in "merrie
England". But our great romancer looked at the American life of his
time with these marvellous eyes, and could see only monotonous
sunshine. That the devil, in the form of an elderly man clad in grave
and decent attire, should lead astray the saints of Salem village, two
centuries ago, and confuse right and wrong in the mind of Goodman
Brown, was something that excited his imagination, and produced one of
his weirdest stories. But that the same devil, clad in a sombre
sophism, was confusing the sentiment of right and wrong in the mind of
his own countrymen he did not even guess. The monotonous sunshine
disappeared in the blackest storm. The commonplace prosperity ended in
tremendous war. What other man of equal power, who was not
intellectually constituted precisely as Hawthorne was, could have
stood merely perplexed and bewildered, harassed by the inability of
positive sympathy, in the vast conflict which tosses us all in its
terrible vortex?

In political theories and in an abstract view of war men may differ.
But this war is not to be dismissed as a political difference. Here is
an attempt to destroy the government of a country, not because it
oppressed any man, but because its evident tendency was to secure
universal justice under law. It is, therefore, a conspiracy against
human nature. Civilization itself is at stake; and the warm blood of
the noblest youth is everywhere flowing in as sacred a cause as
history records--flowing not merely to maintain a certain form of
government, but to vindicate the rights of human nature. Shall there
not be sorrow and pain, if a friend is merely impatient or confounded
by it--if he sees in it only danger or doubt, and not hope for the
right--or if he seem to insinuate that it would have been better if
the war had been avoided, even at that countless cost to human welfare
by which alone the avoidance was possible?

Yet, if the view of Hawthorne's mental constitution which has been
suggested be correct, this attitude of his, however deeply it may be
regretted, can hardly deserve moral condemnation. He knew perfectly
well that if a man has no ear for music he had better not try to sing.
But the danger with such men is that they are apt to doubt if music
itself be not a vain delusion. This danger Hawthorne escaped. There is
none of the shallow persiflage of the sceptic in his tone, nor any
affectation of cosmopolitan superiority. Mr. Edward Dicey, in his
interesting reminiscences of Hawthorne, published in _Macmillan's
Magazine_, illustrates this very happily.

   "To make his position intelligible, let me repeat an anecdote which
    was told me by a very near friend of his and mine, who had heard it
    from President Pierce himself. Frank Pierce had been, and was to the
    day of Hawthorne's death, one of the oldest of his friends. At the
    time of the Presidential election of 1856, Hawthorne, for once, took
    part in politics, wrote a pamphlet in favor of his friend, and took
    a most unusual interest in his success. When the result of the
    nomination was known, and Pierce was President-elect, Hawthorne was
    among the first to come and wish him joy. He sat down in the room
    moodily and silently, as he was wont when anything troubled him; then,
    without speaking a word, he shook Pierce warmly by the hand, and at
    last remarked, 'Ah, Frank, what a pity!' The moment the victory was
    won, that timid, hesitating mind saw the evils of the successful
    course--the advantages of the one which had not been followed. So it
    was always. Of two lines of action, he was perpetually in doubt which
    was the best; and so, between the two, he always inclined to letting
    things remain as they are.

   "Nobody disliked slavery more cordially than he did; and yet the
    difficulty of what was to be done with the slaves weighed constantly
    upon his mind. He told me once that, while he had been consul at
    Liverpool, a vessel arrived there with a number of negro sailors, who
    had been brought from slave States, and would, of course, be enslaved
    again on their return. He fancied that he ought to inform the men of
    the fact, but then he was stopped by the reflection--who was to
    provide for them if they became free? and, as he said, with a sigh,
    'while I was thinking, the vessel sailed.' So, I recollect, on the old
    battle-field of Manassas, in which I strolled in company with
    Hawthorne, meeting a batch of runaway slaves--weary, foot-sore,
    wretched, and helpless beyond conception; we gave them food and wine,
    some small sums of money, and got them a lift upon a train going
    northward; but not long afterwards Hawthorne turned to me with the
    remark, 'I am not sure we were doing right after all. How can these
    poor beings find food and shelter away from home?' Thus this ingrained
    and inherent doubt incapacitated him from following any course
    vigorously. He thought, on the whole, that Wendell Phillips and Lloyd
    Garrison and the Abolitionists were in the right, but then he was
    never quite certain that they were not in the wrong after all; so that
    his advocacy of their cause was of a very uncertain character. He saw
    the best, to alter slightly the famous Horatian line, but he never
    could quite make up his mind whether he altogether approved of its
    wisdom, and therefore followed it but falteringly.

      "'Better to bear those ills we have,
        Than fly to others that we know not of,'

   "expressed the philosophy to which Hawthorne was thus borne
    imperceptibly. Unjustly, but yet not unreasonably, he was looked upon
    as a pro-slavery man, and suspected of Southern sympathies. In
    politics he was always halting between two opinions; or, rather,
    holding one opinion, he could never summon up his courage to adhere
    to it and it only."

The truth is that his own times and their people and their affairs
were just as shadowy to him as those of any of his stories, and his
mind held the same curious, half-wistful poise among all the conflicts
of principle and passion around him, as among those of which he read
and mused. If you ask why this was so--how it was that the tragedy of
an old Italian garden, or the sin of a lonely Puritan parish, or the
crime of a provincial judge, should so stimulate his imagination with
romantic appeals and harrowing allegories, while either it did not see
a Carolina slave-pen, or found in it only a tame prosperity--you must
take your answer in the other question, why he did not weave into any
of his stories the black and bloody thread of the Inquisition. His
genius obeyed its law. When he wrote like a disembodied intelligence
of events with which his neighbors' hearts were quivering--when the
same half-smile flutters upon his lips in the essay _About War
Matters_, sketched as it were upon the battle-field, as in that upon
_Fire Worship_, written in the rural seclusion of the mossy Manse--ah
me! it is Donatello, in his tower of Monte Beni, contemplating with
doubtful interest the field upon which the flower of men are dying for
an idea. Do you wonder, as you see him and hear him, that your heart,
bewildered, asks and asks again, "Is he human? Is he a man?"

Now that Hawthorne sleeps by the tranquil Concord, upon whose shores
the Old Manse was his bridal bower, those who knew him chiefly there
revert beyond the angry hour to those peaceful days. How dear the Old
Manse was to him he has himself recorded; and in the opening of the
_Tanglewood Tales_ he pays his tribute to that placid landscape, which
will always be recalled with pensive tenderness by those who, like
him, became familiar with it in happy hours. "To me," he writes,
"there is a peculiar, quiet charm in these broad meadows and gentle
eminences. They are better than mountains, because they do not stamp
and stereotype themselves into the brain, and thus grow wearisome with
the same strong impression, repeated day after day. A few summer weeks
among mountains, a lifetime among green meadows and placid slopes,
with outlines forever new, because continually fading out of the
memory, such would be my sober choice." He used to say, in those
days--when, as he was fond of insisting, he was the obscurest author
in the world, because, although he had told his tales twice, nobody
cared to listen--that he never knew exactly how he contrived to live.
But he was then married, and the dullest eye could not fail to detect
the feminine grace and taste that ordered the dwelling, and perceive
the tender sagacity that made all things possible.

Such was his simplicity and frugality that, when he was left alone for
a little time in his Arcadia, lie would dismiss "the help", and, with
some friend of other days who came to share his loneliness, he cooked
the easy meal, and washed up the dishes. No picture is clearer in the
memory of a certain writer than that of the magician, in whose
presence he almost lost his breath, looking at him over a dinner-plate
which he was gravely wiping in the kitchen, while the handy friend,
who had been a Western settler, scoured the kettle at the door.
Blithedale, where their acquaintance had begun, had not allowed either
of them to forget how to help himself. It was amusing to one who knew
this native independence of Hawthorne, to hear, some years afterwards,
that he wrote the "campaign" _Life of Franklin Pierce_ for the sake of
getting an office. That such a man should do such a work was possibly
incomprehensible to those who did not know him upon any other
supposition, until the fact was known that Mr. Pierce was an old and
constant friend. Then it was explained. Hawthorne asked simply how he
could help his friend, and he did the only thing he could do for that
purpose. But although he passed some years in public office, he had
neither taste nor talent for political life. He owed his offices to
works quite other than political. His first and second appointments
were virtually made by his friend Mr. Bancroft, and the third by his
friend Mr. Pierce. His claims were perceptible enough to friendship,
but would hardly have been so to a caucus.

In this brief essay we have aimed only to indicate the general
character of the genius of Hawthorne, and to suggest a key to his
peculiar relation to his time. The reader will at once see that it is
rather the man than the author who has been described; but this has
been designedly done, for we confess a personal solicitude, shared, we
are very sure, by many friends of Nathaniel Hawthorne, that there
shall not be wanting to the future student of his works such light as
acquaintance with the man may throw upon them, as well as some picture
of the impression his personality made upon his contemporaries.

Strongly formed, of dark, poetic gravity of aspect, lighted by the
deep, gleaming eye that recoiled with girlish coyness from contact
with your gaze; of rare courtesy and kindliness in personal
intercourse, yet so sensitive that his look and manner can be
suggested by the word "glimmering;" giving you a sense of restrained
impatience to be away; mostly silent in society, and speaking always
with an appearance of effort, but with a lambent light of delicate
humor playing over all he said in the confidence of familiarity, and
firm self-possession under all, as if the glimmering manner were only
the tremulous surface of the sea, Hawthorne was personally known to
few, and intimately to very few. But no one knew him without loving
him, or saw him without remembering him; and the name Nathaniel
Hawthorne, which, when it was first written, was supposed to be
fictitious, is now one of the most enduring facts of English
literature.




RACHEL


One evening in Paris, we were strolling through that most Parisian
spot the Palais Royal, or, as it was called at that moment, the Palais
National. It was after the revolution of February; but, although the
place was full of associations with French revolutions, it seemed to
have no special sympathy with the trouble of the moment, and was as
gay as the youngest imagination conceives Paris to be. There was a
constant throng loitering along the arcades; the cafes were lighted
and crowded; men were smoking, sipping coffee, playing billiards,
reading the newspapers, discussing the debates in the Chamber and the
coming "Prophete" of Meyerbeer at the opera; women were chatting
together in the boutiques, pretty grisettes hurrying home; little
blanchisseuses, with their neatly-napkinned baskets, tripping among
the crowd; strangers watched the gay groups, paused at the windows of
tailors and jewellers, and felt the fascination of Paris. It was the
moment of high-tide of Parisian life. It was an epitome of Paris, and
Paris is an epitome of the time and of the world.

At the corner of the Palais Royal is the Comedie Francaise, and to
that we were going. There Rachel was playing. There she had recently
recited the "Marseillaise" to frenzied Paris; and there, in the vestibule,
genius of French comedy, of French intellect, and of French life, sits
the wonderful Voltaire of Houdon, the statue which, for the first time,
after the dreadful portraits which misrepresent him, gives the spectator
some adequate idea of the personal appearance and impression of the man
who moulded an age. You can scarcely see the statue without a shudder.
It is remorseless intellect laid bare. The cold sweetness of the aspect,
the subtle penetration of the brow, the passionless supremacy of a figure
which is neither manly nor graceful, fill your mind with apprehension and
with the conviction that the French Revolution you have seen is not the
last.

The curtain rises, and Paris and France roll away. A sad, solitary
figure, like a dream of tragic Greece, glides across the scene. The
air grows cold and thin, with a sense of the presence of lost
antiquity. The feeling of fate, vast, resistless, and terrible, rises
like a suffocating vapor; and the hopeless woe of the face, the
pathetic dignity of the form, assure you, before she speaks, that this
is indeed Rachel. The scenery is poor and hard; but its severe
outlines and its conventional character serve to suggest Greece. The
drapery which hangs upon Rachel is exquisitely studied from the most
perfect statue. There is not a fold which is not Greek and graceful,
and which does not seem obedient to the same law which touches her
face with tragedy. As she slowly opens her thin lips, your own blanch;
and from her melancholy eyes all smiles and possibility of joy have
utterly passed away. Rachel stands alone, a solitary statue of fate
and woe.

When she speaks, the low, thrilling, distinct voice seems to proceed
rather from her eyes than her mouth. It has a wan sound, if we may say
so. It is the very tone you would have predicted as coming from that
form, like the unearthly music which accompanies the speech of the
Commendatore's statue in "Don Giovanni". That appearance and that
voice are the key of the whole performance. Before she has spoken, you
are filled with the spirit of an age infinitely remote, and only
related to human sympathy now by the grandeur of suffering. The rest
merely confirms that impression. The whole is simple and intense. It
is conceived and fulfilled in the purest sense of Greek art.

Of the early career and later life of Rachel such romantic stories are
told and believed that only to see the heroine of her own life would
be attraction enough to draw the world to Paris. Dr. Vernon, in his
_Memoires d'un Bourgeois_, has described her earliest appearance upon
the Boulevards--her studies, her trials, and her triumph. That triumph
has been unequalled in stage annals for enthusiasm and permanence.
Other actors have achieved single successes as brilliant; but no other
has held for so long the most fickle and fastidious nation thrall to
her powers; owning no rival near the throne, and ruling with a sway
whose splendor was only surpassed by its sternness.

For Rachel has never sought to ally her genius to goodness, and has
rather despised than courted the aid of noble character. Not a lady by
birth or breeding, she is reported to have surpassed Messalina in
debauchery and Semiramis in luxury. Paris teems with tales of her
private life, which, while they are undoubtedly exaggerated, yet serve
to show the kind of impression her career has produced. Those modern
Sybarites, the princes and nobles of Russia, are the heroes of her
private romances; and her sumptuous apartments, if not a Tour de
Nesle, are at least a bower of Rosamond.

As if to show the independent superiority of her art, she has been
willing to appear, or she really is, avaricious, mean, jealous,
passionate, false; and then, by her prodigious power, she has swayed
the public that so judged her as the wind tosses a leaf. There has,
alas, been disdain in her superiority. Perhaps Paris has found
something fascinating in her very contempt, as in the _Memoires du
Diable_ the heroine confesses that she loved the ferocity of her
lover. Nor is it a traditional fame that she has enjoyed; but whenever
Rachel plays, the theatre is crowded, and the terror and the tears are
what they were when she began.

Rachel is the greatest of merely dramatic artists. Others are more
beautiful; others are more stately and imposing; others have been
fitted by external gifts of nature to personify characters of very
marked features; others are more graceful and lovely and winning; most
others mingle their own personality with the characters they assume,
but Rachel has this final evidence of genius, that she is always
superior to what she does; her mind presides over her own
performances. It is the perfection of art. In describing this peculiar
supremacy of genius, a scholar, in whose early death a poet and
philosopher was lost, says of Shakespeare: "He sat pensive and alone
above the hundred-handed play of his imagination." And Fanny Kemble,
in her journal, describes a conversation upon the stage, in the
tomb-scene of "Romeo and Juliet", where she, as Juliet, says to Mr.
Romeo Keppel, "Where the devil is your dagger?" while all the tearful
audience are lost in the soft woe of the scene.

This is very much opposed to the general theory of acting, and the
story is told with great gusto of a boy who was sent to see Garrick,
we believe, and who was greatly delighted with the fine phrasing and
swagger of a supernumerary, but could not understand why people
applauded such an ordinary bumpkin as Garrick, who did not differ a
whit from all the country boobies he had ever seen. It is insisted
that the actor must persuade the spectator that he is what he seems to
be, and this is gravely put as the first and final proof of good
acting.

This is, however, both a false view of art and a false interpretation
and observation of experience. Shakespeare, through the mouth of
Hamlet, tells the players to "hold the mirror up to nature"--that is,
to represent nature. For what is the dramatic art, like all other
arts, but a representation? If it aims to deceive the eye--if it tries
to juggle the senses of the spectator--it is as trivial as if a
painter should put real gold upon his canvas instead of representing
gold by means of paint; or as if a sculptor should tinge the cheeks of
his statue to make it more like a human face. We have seen tin pans so
well represented in painting that the result was atrocious. For, if
the object intended is really a tin pan, and not the pleasure produced
by a conscious representation of one, then why not insert the
veritable pan in the picture at once? If art is only a more or less
successful imitation of natural objects, with a view to cheat the
senses, it is an amusing game, but it is not a noble pursuit.

It is an equally false observation of experience; because, if the
spectator were really deceived, if the actor became, in the mind of
the audience, truly identical with the character he represents, then,
when that character was odious, the audience would revolt. If we
cannot quietly sit and see one dog tear another, without interfering,
could we gravely look on and only put our handkerchiefs to our eyes,
when Othello puts the pillow to the mouth of Desdemona? If we really
supposed him to be a murderous man, how instantly we should leap upon
the stage and rescue "the gentle lady". The truth is, to state it
boldly, we know the roaring lion to be only Snug, the joiner.

All works of art must produce pleasure. Even the sternest and most
repulsive subjects must be touched by art into a pensive beauty, or
they fail to reach the height of great works. Goethe has shown this in
the _Laocoon_, and every man feels it in constant experience. One of
the grand themes of modern painting is the great tragedy of history,
the Crucifixion. Materially it is repulsive, as the spectacle of a man
in excruciating bodily torture; spiritually it is overwhelming, as the
symbolized suffering of God for sin. If, now, the pictures which treat
this subject were indeed only imitations of the scene, so that the
spectator listened for the groans of agony and looked to see the blood
drop from the brow crowned with thorns, how hideous and insupportable
the sight would be! The mind is conscious as it contemplates the
picture that it is a representation, and not a fact. The mere force of
actuality is, therefore, destroyed, and thought busies itself with the
moral significance of the scene. In the same way, in the tragedy of
"Othello", conscious that there is not the actual physical suffering
which there seems to be, the mind contemplates the real meaning which
underlies that appearance, and curses jealousy and the unmanly passions.

Even in a very low walk of art the same principle is manifested. A man
might not care to adorn his parlor with the carcass of an ox or a hog,
nor invite to his table boors muzzy with beer. But the most elegant of
nations prizes the pictures of Teniers at extraordinary prices, and
hangs its galleries with works minutely representing the shambles.
Here, again, the explanation is this: that the mind, rejecting any
idea of actuality in the picture, is charmed with the delicacy of
detail, with lovely color, with tone, with tenderness, and all these
are qualities inseparable from the picture, and do not belong by any
necessity to the actual carcasses of animals. In the shambles, the
sense of disgust and repulsion overcomes any pleasure in light and
color. In the parlor, if the spectator were persuaded by the picture
to hold his nose, the thing would be as unlovely as it is in nature.
Imitation pleases only so far as it is known to be imitation. If
deception by imitation were the object of art, then the material of
the sculptor should be wax, and not marble. Every visitor mistakes
the sitting figure of Cobbett, in Madame Tussaud's collection of
wax-works, for a real man, and will very likely, as we did, speak to
it. But who would accost the Moses of Michael Angelo, or believe the
sitting Medici in his chapel to have speech?

There is something unhandsomely derogatory to art in this common view.
It is forgotten that art is not subsidiary nor auxiliary to nature,
but it is a distinct ministry, and has a world of its own. They are
not in opposition, nor do they clash. The cardinal fact of imitation
in works of art is evident enough. The exquisite charm of art lies in
the perfection of the imitation, coexisting with the consciousness of
an absolute difference, so that the effect produced is not at all that
which the object itself produces, but is an intellectual pleasure
arising from the perception of the mingling of rational intention with
the representation of the natural object. We can illustrate this by
supposing a child bringing in a fresh rose, and a painter his picture
of a rose. The pleasure derived from the picture is surely something
better than wonder at the skill with which the form and color of the
flower are imitated. Since imitation can never attain to the dignity
and worth of the original, and since we live in the midst of nature,
it would be folly to claim for its more or less successful copy the
position and form of a great mental and moral influence.

Of course we are not unmindful of the inevitable assertion that if
certain forms are to be used for the expression of certain truths, the
first condition is that those forms shall be accurately rendered.
Hence arises the great stress laid by the modern schools upon a
rigorous imitation of nature, and hence what is called the
pre-Raphaelite spirit, with its marvellous detail. But mere imitation
does not come any nearer to great art by being perfect. If it is not
informed by a great intention, sculpture is only wax-work and painting
a juggle.

It is by her instinctive recognition of these fundamental principles
that Rachel shows herself to be an artist. She is fully persuaded of
the value of the modern spirit, and she belongs to the time by nothing
more than by her instinctive and hearty adaptation of the principles
of art which are illustrated in all other departments. There is
nothing in Millais's or Hunt's paintings more purely pre-Raphaelite
than Rachel's acting in the last scenes of "Adrienne Lecouvreur". It
is the perfection of detail. It was studied, gasp by gasp, and groan
by groan, in the hospital wards of Paris, where men were dying in
agony. It is terrible, but it is true. We have seen a crowded theatre
hanging in a suspense almost suffocating over that fearful scene. Men
grew pale, women fainted, a spell of silence and awe held us
enchanted. But it was all pure art. The actor was superior to the
scene. It was the passion with which she threw herself into the
representation, with a distinct conception of the whole, and a
thorough knowledge of the means necessary to produce its effect, that
secured the success. There was a sublimity of self-control in the
spectacle, for, if she had allowed herself to be overwhelmed by the
excitement, the play must have paused; real feeling would have invaded
that which was represented, and we should, by a rude shock, have been
staring in wonder at the weeping woman Rachel, instead of thrilling
with the woes of the dying, despairing Adrienne. She seems to be what
we know she is not.

Rachel's earlier triumphs were in the plays of Racine. Certainly
nothing could show the essential worth of the old Greek dramatic
material more than the fact that it could be rendered into French
rhyme without losing all its dignity. If a man should know Homer only
through Pope's translations, he could hardly understand the real
greatness and peculiar charm of Homer. And as most of us know him in
no other way, we all understand that the eminence of Homer is conceded
upon the force of tradition and the feeling of those who have read him
in the original. So, to the reader of Racine, it is his knowledge of
the outline of the grand old Greek stories that prevents their loss of
charm and loftiness when they masquerade in French rhyme. They have
lost their sublimity, so far as treatment can effect it, while they
retain their general form of interest. But it is the splendid triumph
of Rachel that she restores the original Greek grandeur to the drama.
We no longer wonder at Racine's idea of Phedre, but we are confronted
with Phedre herself. From the moment she appears, through every change
and movement of the scene until the catastrophe, a sense of fate, the
grim, remorseless, and inexorable destiny that presides over Greek
story, is stamped upon every look and nod and movement of Rachel. It
is stated that, since the enthusiasm produced in Paris by Ristori,
Rachel's Italian rival, the sculptor Schlesinger has declared that his
statue of Rachel which he had called Tragedy was only Melodrama after
all. If the report be true, it does not prove that Rachel, but
Schlesinger, is not a great artist.

It is this simplicity and grandeur that make the excellence of Rachel
in the characters of Racine. They cease to be French and become Greek.
As a victim of fate, she moves, from the first scene to the last, as
by a resistless impulse. Her voice has a low concentrated tone. Her
movement is not vehement, but intense. If she smiles, it is a wan
gleam of sadness, not of joy, as if the eyes that lighten for a moment
saw all the time the finger of fate pointing over her shoulder. The
thin form, graceful with intellectual dignity, not rounded with the
ripeness of young womanhood, the statuesque simplicity and severity of
the drapery, the pale cheek, the sad lips, the small eyes--these are
accessory to the whole impression, the melancholy ornaments of the
tragic scene. Her fine instinct avoids the romantic and melodramatic
touches which, however seductive to an actor who aims at effect, would
destroy at once that breadth and unity which characterize her best
impersonations. Wherever the idea of fate inspires the tragedy, or can
properly be introduced as the motive, there Rachel is unsurpassed and
unapproachable. Her stillness, her solemnity, her intensity; the want
of mouthing, of ranting, of all extravagance; the slight movement of
the arms, and the subtle inflections of the voice which are more
expressive than gestures, haunt the memory and float through the mind
afterwards as the figure of Francesca di Rimini, in the exquisite
picture of Ary Scheffer, sweeps, full of woe, which every line
suggests, across the vision of Dante and his guide.

There was, naturally, the greatest curiosity and a good deal of
scepticism about Rachel's power in the modern drama, the melodrama of
Victor Hugo, and the social drama of Scribe. But her appearance in the
"Angelo" of Victor Hugo and in "Adrienne Lecouvreur" of Scribe
satisfied the curiosity and routed the scepticism. It was pleasant
after the vast and imposing forms, the tearless tragedy of Greek
story, to see the mastery of this genius in the conditions of a life
and spirit with which we were more familiar and sympathetic. It was
clear that the same passionate intensity which, united with the most
exquisite perceptions, enabled her so perfectly to restore the Greek
spirit to the Greek form, would as adequately represent the voluptuous
southern life. If in the old drama she was sculpture, so in the modern
she was painting, not only with the flowing outline, but with all the
purple, palpitating hues of passion.

This is best manifested in the "Angelo", of which the scene is laid in
old Padua and is, therefore, full of the mysterious spirit of
mediaeval Italian, and especially Venetian life. Miss Cushman has
played in an English version of this drama, called the "Actress of
Padua". But it is hardly grandiose enough in its proportions to be
very well adapted to the talent of Miss Cushman. It was remarkable how
perfectly the genius which had, the evening before, adequately
represented Phedre, could impersonate the ablest finesse of Italian
subtilty. The old Italian romances were made real in a moment. The dim
chambers, the dusky passages, the sliding doors, the vivid contrast of
gayety and gloom, the dance in the palace and the duel in the garden,
the smile on the lip and the stab at the heart, the capricious
feeling, the impetuous action, the picturesque costume of life and
society--all the substance and the form of our ideas of characteristic
Italian life, are comprised in Rachel's Thisbe and Angelo.

There is one scene in that play not to be forgotten. The curtain rises
and shows a vast, dim chamber in the castle, with a heavily-curtained
bed, and massive carved furniture, and a deep bay-window. It is night;
a candle burns upon the table, feebly flickering in the gloom of the
great chamber. Angelo, whom Thisbe loves, and who pretends to love
her, is sitting uneasily in the chamber with his mistress, whose name
we have forgotten, but whom he really loves. Thisbe is suspicious of
his want of faith, and burns with jealousy, but has had no proof.

A gust of wind, the rustle of the tapestry, the creak of a bough in
the garden, the note of a night bird, any slightest sound makes the
lovers start and quiver, as if they stood upon the verge of an
imminent peril. Suddenly they both start at a low noise, apparently in
the wall. Angelo rises and looks about, his mistress shivers and
shrinks, but they discover nothing. The night deepens around them. The
sense of calamity and catastrophe rises in the spectator's mind. They
start again. This time they hear a louder noise, and glance helplessly
around and feebly try to scoff away their terror. The sound dies away,
and they converse in appalled and fragmentary whispers. But again a
low, cautious, sliding noise arrests them. Angelo springs up, runs for
his hat and cloak, blows out the candle upon the table, and escapes
from the room, while his mistress totters to the bed and throws
herself upon it, feigning sleep. The stage is left unoccupied, while
the just-extinguished candle still smokes upon the table, and the
sidelights and footlights, being lowered, wrap the vast chamber in
deeper gloom.

At this moment a small secret door in the wall at the bottom of the
stage slips aside, and Thisbe, still wearing her ball-dress, and with
a head-dress of gold sequins flashing in her black hair, is discovered
crouching in the aperture, holding an antique lamp in one hand, a
little raised, and with the other softly putting aside the door,
while, bending forward with a cat-like stillness, she glares around
the chamber with eager eyes, that flash upon everything at once. The
picture is perfect. The light falls from the raised lamp upon this
jewelled figure crouching in the darkness at the bottom of the stage.
Judith was not more terrible; Lucrezia Borgia not more superb. But,
magnificent as it is, it is a moment of such intense interest that
applause is suspended. The house is breathless, for it is but the
tiger's crouch that precedes the spring. The next instant she is upon
the floor of the chamber, and, still bending slightly forward to
express the eager concentration of her mind, she glances at the bed
and the figure upon it with a scornful sneer, that indicates how
clearly she sees the pretence of sleep, and how evidently somebody has
been there, or something has happened which justifies all her
suspicion, and then, with panther-like celerity, she darts about the
chamber to find some trace of the false lover--a hat, a glove, a
plume, a cloak--to make assurance doubly sure. But there is nothing
upon the floor, nothing upon the table, nothing in the bay-window,
nothing upon the sofa, nor in the huge carved chairs; there is nothing
that proves the treachery she suspects. But her restless eye leads her
springing foot from one corner of the chamber to the other. Speed
increases with the lessening chance of proof; the eye flashes more and
more fiercely; the breast heaves; the hand clinches; the cheek burns,
until, suddenly, in the very moment of despair, having as yet spoken
no word, she comes to the table, sees the candle, which still smokes,
and drawing herself up with fearful calmness, her cheeks grow pallid,
the lips livid, the hands relax, the eye deadens as with a blow, and,
with the despairing conviction that she is betrayed, her heart-break
sighs itself out in a cold whisper, "_Elle fume encore_".

In this she is as purely dramatic as in other plays she is classical.
But neither in the one nor the other is there a look, or a gesture, or
a word, which is not harmonious with the spirit of the style and the
character of the person represented.

This is pure passion as the other is implacable fate. There is
something so tearfully human in it that you are touched as by a
picture of the Magdalen. Every representation of Rachel is preserved
in your memory with the first sights of the great statues and the
famous pictures.

In the French translation of Schiller's "Mary Stuart", a character
which may be supposed especially to interest Americans and English,
Rachel is not less excellent. The sad grace, the tender resignation,
the poetic enthusiasm, the petulant caprice, the wilful, lovely
womanliness of the lovely queen, are made tragically real by her
representation. Perhaps it is not the Mary of Mignet nor of history.
But Mary Queen of Scots is one of the characters which the imagination
has chosen to take from history and decorate with immortal grace. It
cares less for what the woman Mary was, than to have a figure standing
upon the fact of history, but radiant with the beauty of poetry. It
has invested her with a loveliness that is perhaps unreal, with a
tenderness and sweetness that were possibly foreign to her character,
and with a general fascination and good intention which a contemporary
might not have discovered.

It has made her the ideal of unfortunate womanhood. For it seemed that
a fate so tragic deserved a fame so fair. Perhaps the weakness which
Mary had, and which Lady Jane Grey had not, have been the very reasons
why the unfortunate, unhappy Queen Mary is dearer to our human
sympathies than the unfortunate Lady Jane. Perhaps because it was a
woman who pursued her, the instinct of men has sought to restore, by
the canonization of Mary, the womanly ideal injured by Elizabeth.

But, whatever be the reason, there is no question that we judge Mary
Queen of Scots more by the imagination than by historical rigor; and
it is Mary, as the mind insists upon having her, that Rachel
represents. She conspires with the imagination to complete the ideal
of Mary. It is a story told in sad music to which we listen; it is a
mournful panorama, unfolding itself scene by scene, upon which we
gaze. Lost in soft melancholy, the figures of the drama move before us
as in a tragic dream. But after seeing Rachel's Mary we can see no
other. If we meet her in history or romance, it is always that figure,
those pensive eyes, forecasting a fearful doom, that voice whose music
is cast in a hopeless minor. It is thus that dramatic genius creates,
and poetry disputes with history.

Jules Janin says that Rachel is best in those parts of this play where
the anger of the Queen is more prominent than the grief of the woman.

This is true to a certain extent. It was not difficult to see that the
fierceness was more natural than the tenderness to the woman Rachel,
and that, therefore, those parts had a reality which the tenderness
had not. But the performance was symmetrical, and, so far as the mere
acting was concerned, the woman was as well rendered as the Queen. The
want of the spectacle was this, and it is, we fully grant, the defect
of all her similar personations: you felt that it was only intellect
feigning heart, though with perfect success. The tenderness and
caprice of the woman, and the pride and dignity of the Queen, are all
there. She would not be the consummate artist she is if she could not
give them. But even through your tears you see that it is art. It is,
indeed, concealed by its own perfection, but it is not lost in the
loveliness of the character it suggests, as might be the case with a
greatly inferior artist. You are half sure, as you own the excellence,
that much of the tender effect arises from your feeling that Rachel,
as she represents a woman so different from herself, regards her role
with sad longing and vague regret. When we say that she is the ideal
Mary, we mean strictly the artistic ideal.

The late Charlotte Bronte, in her novel of _Villette_, has described
Rachel with a splendor of rhetoric that is very unusual with the
author of _Jane Eyre_. But in the style of the description it is very
easy to see the influence of the thing described. It has a picturesque
stateliness, a grave grace and musical pomp, which all belong to the
genius of Rachel. Even the soft gloom of her eyes is in it; a gloom
and a fire which no one could more subtly feel than Miss Bronte. Her
description is the best that we have seen of what is, in its nature,
after all indescribable.

As the fame of an actor or singer is necessarily traditional, and
rapidly perishes, it is not easy to compare one with another when they
are not contemporaries, for you find yourself only comparing vague
impressions and reports. Of Roscius and Betterton we must accept the
names and allow the fame. We can see Reynolds's pictures, we can hear
Handel's music, we can read Goldsmith's and Johnson's books; but of
Garrick what can we have but a name, and somebody's account of what he
thought of Garrick? The touch of Shakespeare we can feel as well as
did our ancestors, and our great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren
will feel it as fully as we. But the voice of Malibran lingers in only
a few happy memories, and we know Mrs. Siddons better by Sir Joshua's
portrait than by her own glories.

It is, therefore, impossible to decide what relative rank among
actresses Rachel occupies. Mrs. Jameson, in her _Common-Place Book of
Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies_, says some sharp things of her, and
Mrs. Jameson is a critic of too delicate a mind not to be heeded. The
general view she takes of Rachel is, that she is not a great artist in
the true sense of the word. She is a finished actress, but not an
artist fine enough to conceal her art. The last scene of "Adrienne
Lecouvreur" seems to Mrs. Jameson a mistake and a failure--so beyond
the limits of art, a mere imitation of a repulsive physical fact; and
finally she pronounces that Rachel has talent but not genius; while it
is the "entire absence of the high poetic element which distinguishes
Rachel as an actress, and places her at such an immeasurable distance
from Mrs. Siddons, that it shocks me to hear their names together".

It may be fairly questioned, whether a woman so refined and cultivated
as Mrs. Jameson may not have judged Rachel rather by her wants as a
woman than by her excellence as an artist. That the terrible last
scene of "Adrienne" is a harrowing imitation of nature we have
conceded. The play is, in truth, a mere melodrama. It is a vaudeville
of costume, with a frightful catastrophe appended. But as an artist
she seems to us perfectly to render the part. She does not make it
more than it is, but she makes it just what it is--a proud, injured,
and betrayed actress. Whether the accuracy of her imitation is not
justified by the intention, which alone can redeem imitation, will
remain a question to each spectator. Mrs. Jameson also insists that
Rachel's power is extraneous, and excites only the senses and the
intellect, and that she has become a hard mannerist.

In our remarks upon this celebrated actress we have viewed her simply
as an artist, and not as a woman. She appeals to the public only in
that way. Perhaps the sinister stories that are told of her private
career only serve to confirm and deepen the feeling of the intensity
of her nature, she so skilfully represents the most fearful passions,
not from the perception of genius alone, but from the knowledge of
actual experience. Certainly no woman's character has been more freely
discussed, and no public performer of any kind ever sought so little
to propitiate her audience. She has seemed to scorn the world she
fascinated; and like a superb snake, with glittering eyes and cold
crest, to gloat over the terror which held her captives thrall. Hence
it is not surprising to one who has seen her a great deal, and has
felt the peculiarity of her power, to find in Lehmann's portrait of
her--which is, perhaps, the most characteristic of all that have been
taken--a subtle resemblance to a serpent, which is at once fascinating
and startling. Mrs. Jameson mentions that when she first saw her in
Hermione, she was reminded of a Lamia, or serpent nature in woman's
form. As you look at Lehmann's portrait this feeling is irresistible.
The head bends slightly forward, with a darting, eager movement, yet
with a fine, lithe grace. The keen, bright eyes glance a little
askance, with a want of free confidence. There are a slim smoothness,
a silent alertness, in the general impression--a nervous, susceptible
intentness, united with undeniable beauty, that recall the deadly
nightshade among flowers and Keats's "Lamia" among poems. The portrait
would fully interpret the poem, She looked the lovely Lamia upon the
verge of flight, at the instant when she felt the calm, inexorable eye
of criticism and detection. In a moment, while you gaze, that form
will be prone, those bright, cold eyes malignant, that wily grace will
undulate into motion and glide away. You feel that there is no human
depravity that Rachel could not adequately represent. Perhaps you
doubt if she could be Desdemona or Imogen.

Rachel is great, but there is something greater. It is not an entirely
satisfactory display of human power, even in its own way. Her triumph
is that of an actress. It is only an intellectual success. For however
subtly dramatic genius may seize and represent the forms of human
emotion, yet the representation is most perfect--not, indeed, as art,
but as a satisfaction of the heart--when the personal character of the
artist interests those emotions to himself, and thus sympathetically
affects the audience. Rachel's Mary is a perfect portrait of Mary; but
it is only a picture, after all, that expresses the difference in
feeling between the impression of her personation and that which will
be derived from another woman. The fiercer and darker passions of
human nature are depicted by her with terrible force-power. They throb
with reality; but in the soft, superior shades you still feel that it
is emotion, intellectually discerned.

Such facts easily explain the present defection of Paris from Rachel.
Ristori has come up from Italy, and with one woman's smile, "full of
the warm South", she has lured Paris to her feet. There is no more
sudden and entire desertion of a favorite recorded in all the annals
of popular caprice. The feuilletonists, who are a power in Paris, have
gone over in a body to the beautiful Italian. They describe her
triumphs precisely as they described Rachel's. The old ecstasies are
burnished up for the new occasion. In a country like ours, where there
is no theatre, and where the dramatic differences only creep into an
advertisement, such an excitement as Paris feels, from such a cause
and at such a time, is simply incredible. It is, possibly, as real and
dignified an excitement as that which New York experienced upon the
decease of the late lamented William Poole.

There are various explanations of this fall of Rachel, without
resorting to the theory of superior genius in Ristori. Undoubtedly
Paris loves novelty, and has been impatient of the disdainful sway of
Rachel. Her reputed avarice and want of courtesy and generosity, her
total failure to charm as a woman while she fascinated as an artist,
have, naturally enough, after many years, fatigued the patience and
disappointed the humane sympathies of a public whose mere curiosity
had been long satisfied. Rachel seemed only more Parisian than Paris.

But when over the Alps came Ristori, lovely as a woman and eminent as
an artist, then there was a new person who could make Paris weep at
her greatness upon the stage, and her goodness away from it; who, in
the plenitude of her first success, could shame the reported avarice
of her fallen rival by offers of the sincerest generosity. When
Ristori came, who seemed to have a virtue for every vice of Rachel,
Paris, with one accord, hurried with hymns and incense to the new
divinity. We regard it as a homage to the woman no less than a tribute
to the artist. We regard it as saying to Rachel that if, being humane
and lovely, she chose, from pride, to rule by scornful superiority,
she has greatly erred; or if, being really unlovely, she has held this
crown only by her genius, she has yet to see human nature justify
itself by preferring a humane to an inhuman power. The most splendid
illustration of this kind of homage was the career of Jenny Lind in
America. It was rather the fashion among the _dilettanti_ to
undervalue her excellence as an artist. A popular superficial
criticism was fond of limiting her dramatic power to inferior roles.
She was denied passion and great artistic skill; she was accused of
tricks. But, even had these things been true, what a career it was! It
was unprecedented, and can never be repeated. Yet it was, at bottom,
the success of a saint rather than that of a singer. Had she been a
worse or better artist the homage would have been the same. If the
public--and it is a happy fact--can love the woman even more than it
admires the artist, her triumph is assured.

We look upon the enthusiasm for Ristori by no means as an unmingled
tribute to superior genius. We make no question of her actual womanly
charms. Even if appearance of generosity, of simplicity, and sweetness
were only deep Italian wile, and assumed, upon profound observation
and consideration of human nature and the circumstances of Rachel's
position in Paris, merely for the purpose of exciting applause, that
applause would still be genuine, and would prove the loyalty of the
public mind to what is truly lovely. It was our good-fortune to see
Ristori in Italy, where, for the last ten years, she has been
accounted the first Italian actress. She has there been seen by all
the travelling world of Europe and America. It is not possible that so
great a talent, as the Parisians consider it, could have been so long
overlooked. We well remember Ristori as a charming, natural, simple
actress; but of the surpassing power which Paris has discovered
probably very few of us retain any recollection.




THACKERAY IN AMERICA


Mr. Thackeray's visit at least demonstrates that if we are unwilling
to pay English authors for their books, we are ready to reward them
handsomely for the opportunity of seeing and hearing them. If Mr.
Dickens, instead of dining at other people's expense, and making
speeches at his own, when he came to see us, had devoted an evening or
two in the week to lecturing, his purse would have been fuller, his
feelings sweeter, and his fame fairer. It was a Quixotic crusade, that
of the Copyright, and the excellent Don has never forgiven the
windmill that broke his spear.

Undoubtedly, when it was ascertained that Mr. Thackeray was coming,
the public feeling on this side of the sea was very much divided as to
his probable reception. "He'll come and humbug us, eat our dinners,
pocket our money, and go home and abuse us, like that unmitigated snob
Dickens," said Jonathan, chafing with the remembrance of that grand
ball at the Park Theatre and the Boz tableaux, and the universal
wining and dining, to which the distinguished Dickens was subject
while he was our guest.

"Let him have his say," said others, "and we will have our look. We
will pay a dollar to hear him, if we can see him at the same time; and
as for the abuse, why, it takes even more than two such cubs of the
roaring British Lion to frighten the American Eagle. Let him come, and
give him fair play."

He did come, and had fair play, and returned to England with a
comfortable pot of gold holding $12.000, and with the hope and promise
of seeing us again in September, to discourse of something not less
entertaining than the witty men and sparkling times of Anne. We think
there was no disappointment with his lectures. Those who knew his
books found the author in the lecturer. Those who did not know his
books were charmed in the lecturer by what is charming in the
author--the unaffected humanity, the tenderness, the sweetness, the
genial play of fancy, and the sad touch of truth, with that glancing
stroke of satire which, lightning-like, illumines while it withers.
The lectures were even more delightful than the books, because the
tone of the voice and the appearance of the man, the general personal
magnetism, explained and alleviated so much that would otherwise have
seemed doubtful or unfair. For those who had long felt in the writings
of Thackeray a reality quite inexpressible, there was a secret delight
in finding it justified in his speaking; for he speaks as he writes
-simply, directly, without flourish, without any cant of oratory,
commending what he says by its intrinsic sense, and the sympathetic
and humane way in which it was spoken. Thackeray is the kind of "stump
orator" that would have pleased Carlyle. He never thrusts himself
between you and his thought. If his conception of the time and his
estimate of the men differ from your own, yon have at least no doubt
what his view is, nor how sincere and necessary it is to him. Mr.
Thackeray considers Swift a misanthrope; he loves Goldsmith and Steele
and Harry Fielding; he has no love for Sterne, great admiration for
Pope, and alleviated admiration for Addison. How could it be otherwise?
How could Thackeray not think Swift a misanthrope and Sterne a factitious
sentimentalist? He is a man of instincts, not of thoughts: he sees and
feels. He would be Shakespeare's call-boy, rather than dine with the
Dean of St. Patrick's. He would take a pot of ale with Goldsmith, rather
than a glass of burgundy with the "Reverend Mr. Sterne", and that simply
because he is Thackeray. He would have done it as Fielding would have
done it, because he values one genuine emotion above the most dazzling
thought; because he is, in fine, a Bohemian, "a minion of the moon", a
great, sweet, generous heart.

We say this with more unction now that we have personal proof of it in
his public and private intercourse while he was here.

The popular Thackeray-theory, before his arrival, was of a severe
satirist, who concealed scalpels in his sleeves and carried probes in
his waistcoat pockets; a wearer of masks; a scoffer and sneerer, and
general infidel of all high aims and noble character. Certainly we are
justified in saying that his presence among us quite corrected this
idea. We welcomed a friendly, genial man; not at all convinced that
speech is heaven's first law, but willing to be silent when there is
nothing to say; who decidedly refused to be lionized--not by sulking,
but by stepping off the pedestal and challenging the common sympathies
of all he met; a man who, in view of the thirty-odd editions of Martin
Farquhar Tupper, was willing to confess that every author should
"think small-beer of himself". Indeed, he has this rare quality, that
his personal impression deepens, in kind, that of his writings. The
quiet and comprehensive grasp of the fact, and the intellectual
impossibility of holding fast anything but the fact, is as manifest in
the essayist upon the wits as in the author of _Henry Esmond_ and
_Vanity Fair_. Shall we say that this is the sum of his power, and the
secret of his satire? It is not what might be, nor what we or other
persons of well-regulated minds might wish, but it is the actual state
of things that he sees and describes. How, then, can he help what we
call satire, if he accept Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's invitation and
describe her party? There was no more satire in it, so far as he is
concerned, than in painting lilies white. A full-length portrait of
the fair Lady Beatrix, too, must needs show a gay and vivid figure,
superbly glittering across the vista of those stately days. Then,
should Dab and Tab, the eminent critics, step up and demand that her
eyes be a pale blue, and her stomacher higher around the neck? Do Dab
and Tab expect to gather pears from peach-trees? Or, because their
theory of dendrology convinces them that an ideal fruit-tree would
supply any fruit desired upon application, do they denounce the
non-pear-bearing peach-tree in the columns of their valuable journal?
This is the drift of the fault found with Thackeray. He is not
Fenelon, he is not Dickens, he is not Scott; he is not poetical, he is
not ideal, he is not humane; he is not Tit, he is not Tat, complain
the eminent Dabs and Tabs. Of course he is not, because he is
Thackeray--a man who describes what he sees, motives as well as
appearances--a man who believes that character is better than
talent--that there is a worldly weakness superior to worldly
wisdom--that Dick Steele may haunt the ale-house and be carried home
muzzy, and yet be a more commendable character than the reverend Dean
of St. Patrick's, who has genius enough to illuminate a century, but
not sympathy enough to sweeten a drop of beer. And he represents this
in a way that makes us see it as he does, and without exaggeration;
for surely nothing could be more simple than his story of the life of
"honest Dick Steele". If he allotted to that gentleman a consideration
disproportioned to the space he occupies in literary history, it only
showed the more strikingly how deeply the writer-lecturer's sympathy
was touched by Steele's honest humanity.

An article in our April number complained that the tendency of his
view of Anne's times was to a social laxity, which might be very
exhilarating but was very dangerous; that the lecturer's warm
commendation of fermented drinks, taken at a very early hour of the
morning in tavern-rooms and club houses, was as deleterious to the
moral health of enthusiastic young readers disposed to the literary
life as the beverage itself to their physical health.

But this is not a charge to be brought against Thackeray. It is a
quarrel with history and with the nature of literary life. Artists and
authors have always been the good fellows of the world. That mental
organization which predisposes a man to the pursuit of literature and
art is made up of talent combined with ardent social sympathy,
geniality, and passion, and leads him to taste every cup and try every
experience. There is certainly no essential necessity that this class
should be a dissipated and disreputable class, but by their very
susceptibility to enjoyment they will always be the pleasure lovers
and seekers. And here is the social compensation to the literary man
for the surrender of those chances of fortune which men of other
pursuits enjoy. If he makes less money, he makes more juice out of
what he does make. If he cannot drink Burgundy he can quaff the
nut-brown ale; while the most brilliant wit, the most salient fancy,
the sweetest sympathy, the most genial culture, shall sparkle at his
board more radiantly than a silver service, and give him the spirit of
the tropics and the Rhine, whose fruits are on other tables. The
golden light that transfigures talent and illuminates the world, and
which we call genius, is erratic and erotic; and while in Milton it is
austere, and in Wordsworth cool, and in Southey methodical, in
Shakespeare it is fervent, with all the results of fervor; in Raphael
lovely, with all the excesses of love; in Dante moody, with all the
whims of caprice. The old quarrel of Lombard Street with Grub Street
is as profound as that of Osiris and Typho--it is the difference of
sympathy. The Marquis of Westminster will take good care that no
superfluous shilling escapes. Oliver Goldsmith will still spend his
last shilling upon a brave and unnecessary banquet to his friends.

Whether this be a final fact of human organization or not, it is
certainly a fact of history. Every man instinctively believes that
Shakespeare stole deer, just as he disbelieves that Lord-mayor
Whittington ever told a lie; and the secret of that instinct is the
consciousness of the difference in organization. "Knave, I have the
power to hang ye," says somebody in one of Beaumont and Fletcher's
plays. "And I do be hanged and scorn ye," is the airy answer. "I had a
pleasant hour the other evening," said a friend to us, "over my cigar
and a book." "What book was that?" "A treatise conclusively proving
the awful consequences of smoking." De Quincey came up to London and
declared war upon opium; but during a little amnesty, in which he
lapsed into his old elysium, he wrote his best book depicting its
horrors.

Our readers will not imagine that we are advocating the claims of
drunkenness nor defending social excess. We are only recognizing a
fact and stating an obvious tendency. The most brilliant illustrations
of every virtue are to be found in the literary guild, as well as the
saddest beacons of warning; yet it will often occur that the last in
talent and the first in excess of a picked company will be a man around
whom sympathy most kindly lingers. We love Goldsmith more at the head
of an ill-advised feast than Johnson and his friends leaving it,
thoughtful and generous as their conduct was. The heart despises
prudence.

In the single-hearted regard we know that pity has a larger share. Yet
it is not so much that pity is commiseration for misfortune and
deficiency, as that which is recognition of a necessary worldly
ignorance. The literary class is the most innocent of all. The
contempt of practical men for the poets is based upon a consciousness
that they are not bad enough for a bad world. To a practical man
nothing is so absurd as the lack of worldly shrewdness. The very
complaint of the literary life that it does not amass wealth and live
in palaces is the scorn of the practical man, for he cannot understand
that intellectual opacity which prevents the literary man from seeing
the necessity of the different pecuniary condition. It is clear enough
to the publisher who lays up fifty thousand a year why the author ends
the year in debt. But the author is amazed that he who deals in ideas
can only dine upon occasional chops, while the man who merely binds
and sells ideas sits down to perpetual sirloin. If they should change
places, fortune would change with them. The publisher turned author
would still lay up his thousands; the publishing author would still
directly lose thousands. It is simply because it is a matter of
prudence, economy, and knowledge of the world. Thomas Hood made his
ten thousand dollars a year, but if he lived at the rate of fifteen
thousand he would hardly die rich. Mr. Jerdan, a gentleman who, in his
_Autobiography_, advises energetic youth to betake themselves to the
highway rather than to literature, was, we understand, in the receipt
of an easy income, and was a welcome guest in pleasant houses; but
living in a careless, shiftless, extravagant way, he was presently
poor, and, instead of giving his memoirs the motto, _peccavi_,
and inditing a warning, he dashes off a truculent defiance. Practical
publishers and practical men of all sorts invest their earnings in
Michigan Central or Cincinnati and Dayton instead, in steady works and
devoted days, and reap a pleasant harvest of dividends. Our friends
the authors invest in prime Havanas, Rhenish, in oyster suppers, love
and leisure, and divide a heavy percentage of headache, dyspepsia, and
debt.

This is as true a view, from another point, as the one we have already
taken. If the literary life has the pleasures of freedom, it has also
its pains. It may be willing to resign the queen's drawing-room, with
the illustrious galaxy of stars and garters, for the chamber with a
party nobler than the nobility. The author's success is of a wholly
different kind from that of the publisher, and he is thoughtless who
demands both. Mr. Roe, who sells sugar, naturally complains that Mr.
Doe, who sells molasses, makes money more rapidly. But Mr. Tennyson,
who writes poems, can hardly make the same complaint of Mr. Moxon, who
publishes them, as was very fairly shown in a number of the
_Westminster Review_, when noticing Mr. Jordan's book.

What we have said is strictly related to Mr. Thackeray's lectures,
which discuss literature. All the men he commemorated were
illustrations and exponents of the career of letters. They all, in
various ways, showed the various phenomena of the temperament. And
when in treating of them the critic came to Steele, he found one who
was one of the most striking illustrations of one of the most
universal aspects of literary life--the simple-hearted, unsuspicious,
gay gallant and genial gentleman; ready with his sword or his pen,
with a smile or a tear, the fair representative of the social tendency
of his life. It seems to us that the Thackeray theory--the conclusion
that he is a man who loves to depict madness, and has no sensibilities
to the finer qualities of character--crumbled quite away before that
lecture upon Steele. We know that it was not considered the best; we
know that many of the delighted audience were not sufficiently
familiar with literary history fully to understand the position of the
man in the lecturer's review; but, as a key to Thackeray, it was,
perhaps, the most valuable of all. We know in literature of no more
gentle treatment; we have not often encountered in men of the most
rigorous and acknowledged virtue such humane tenderness; we have not
often heard from the most clerical lips words of such genuine
Christianity. Steele's was a character which makes weakness amiable:
it was a weakness, if you will, but it was certainly amiability, and
it was a combination more attractive than many full-panoplied
excellences. It was not presented as a model. Captain Steele in the
tap-room was not painted as the ideal of virtuous manhood; but it
certainly was intimated that many admirable things were consonant with
a free use of beer. It was frankly stated that if, in that character,
virtue abounded, cakes and ale did much more abound. Captain Richard
Steele might have behaved much better than he did, but we should then
have never heard of him. A few fine essays do not float a man into
immortality, but the generous character, the heart sweet in all
excesses and under all chances, is a spectacle too beautiful and too
rare to be easily forgotten. A man is better than many books. Even a
man who is not immaculate may have more virtuous influence than the
discreetest saint. Let us remember how fondly the old painters
lingered round the story of Magdalen, and thank Thackeray for his
full-length Steele.

We conceive this to be the chief result of Thackeray's visit, that he
convinced us of his intellectual integrity; he showed us how
impossible it is for him to see the world and describe it other than
he does. He does not profess cynicism, nor satirize society with
malice; there is no man more humble, none more simple; his interests
are human and concrete, not abstract. We have already said that he
looks through and through at the fact. It is easy enough, and at some
future time it will be done, to deduce the peculiarity of his writings
from the character of his mind. There is no man who masks so little as
he in assuming the author. His books are his observations reduced to
writing. It seems to us as singular to demand that Dante should be
like Shakespeare as to quarrel with Thackeray's want of what is called
ideal portraiture. Even if you thought, from reading his _Vanity
Fair_, that he had no conception of noble women, certainly after the
lecture upon Swift, after all the lectures, in which every allusion to
women was so manly and delicate and sympathetic, you thought so no
longer. It is clear that his sympathy is attracted to women--to that
which is essentially womanly, feminine. Qualities common to both sexes
do not necessarily charm him because he finds them in women. A certain
degree of goodness must always be assumed. It is only the rare
flowering that inspires special praise. You call Amelia's fondness for
George Osborne foolish, fond idolatry. Thackeray smiles, as if all
love were not idolatry of the fondest foolishness. What was
Hero's--what was Francesco di Rimini's--what was Juliet's? They might
have been more brilliant women than Amelia, and their idols of a
larger mould than George, but the love was the same old foolish, fond
idolatry. The passion of love and a profound and sensible knowledge,
regard based upon prodigious knowledge of character and appreciation
of talent, are different things. What is the historic and poetic
splendor of love but the very fact, which constantly appears in
Thackeray's stories, namely, that it is a glory which dazzles and
blinds. Men rarely love the women they ought to love, according to the
ideal standards. It is this that makes the plot and mystery of life.
Is it not the perpetual surprise of all Jane's friends that she should
love Timothy instead of Thomas? and is not the courtly and
accomplished Thomas sure to surrender to some accidental Lucy without
position, wealth, style, worth, culture--without anything but heart?
This is the fact, and it reappears in Thackeray, and it gives his
books that air of reality which they possess beyond all modern story.

And it is this single perception of the fact which, simple as it is,
is the rarest intellectual quality that made his lectures so
interesting. The sun rose again upon the vanished century, and lighted
those historic streets. The wits of Queen Anne ruled the hour, and we
were bidden to their feast. Much reading of history and memoirs had
not so sent the blood into those old English cheeks, and so moved
those limbs in proper measure, as these swift glances through the eyes
of genius. It was because, true to himself, Thackeray gave us his
impression of those wits as men rather than authors. For he loves
character more than thought. He is a man of the world, and not a
scholar. He interprets the author by the man. When you are made
intimate with young Swift, Sir William Temple's saturnine secretary,
you more intelligently appreciate the Dean of St. Patrick's. When the
surplice of Mr. Sterne is raised a little, more is seen than the
reverend gentleman intends. Hogarth, the bluff Londoner, necessarily
depicts a bluff, coarse, obvious morality. The hearty Fielding, the
cool Addison, the genial Goldsmith, these are the figures that remain
in memory, and their works are valuable as they indicate the man.

Mr. Thackeray's success was very great. He did not visit the West, nor
Canada. He went home without seeing Niagara Falls. But wherever he did
go he found a generous and social welcome, and a respectful and
sympathetic hearing. He came to fulfil no mission, but he certainly
knit more closely our sympathy with Englishmen. Heralded by various
romantic memoirs, he smiled at them, stoutly asserted that he had been
always able to command a good dinner, and to pay for it; nor did he
seek to disguise that he hoped his American tour would help him to
command and pay for more. He promised not to write a book about us, but
we hope he will, for we can ill spare the criticism of such an observer.
At least, we may be sure that the material gathered here will be worked
up in some way. He found that we were not savages nor bores. He found
that there were a hundred here for every score in England who knew
well and loved the men of whom he spoke. He found that the same red
blood colors all the lips that speak the language he so nobly praised.
He found friends instead of critics. He found those who, loving the
author, loved the man more. He found a quiet welcome from those who
are waiting to welcome him again and as sincerely.




SIR PHILIP SIDNEY


Wearied of the world and saddened by the ruin of his fortunes, the
Italian Count Maddalo turned from the street, which rang with tales of
disaster and swarmed with melancholy faces, into his palace. Perplexed
and anxious, he passed through the stately rooms in which hung the
portraits of generations of ancestors. The day was hot; his blood was
feverish, but the pictures seemed to him cool and remote in a holy
calm. He looked at them earnestly; he remembered the long history of
which his fathers were parts, he recalled their valor and their
patience, and asked himself whether, after all, their manhood was not
their patent of nobility; and stretching out his hands towards them,
exclaimed: "Let me feel that I am indeed your son by sharing that
manhood which made you noble."

We Americans laugh at ancestors; and if the best of them came back
again, we should be as likely to laugh at his wig as listen to his
wisdom. And in our evanescent houses and uneasy life we would no more
have ancient ranges of family pictures than Arabs in their tents. Yet
we are constantly building and visiting the greatest portrait gallery
of all in the histories we write and read; and the hour is never lost
which we give to it. It may teach a maid humility to know that her
mother was fairer. It may make a youth more modest to know that his
grandsire was braver. For if the pictures of history show us that
deformity is as old as grace, and that virtue was always martyred,
they also show that crime, however prosperous for a time, is at last
disastrous, and that there can be no permanent peace without justice
and freedom.

Those pictures teach us also that character is inherited like name and
treasure, and that all of us may have famous or infamous ancestors
perhaps without knowing it. The melancholy poet, eating his own heart
out in a city garret, is the child of Tasso. Grinding Ralph Nickleby,
the usurer, is Shylock's grandson. The unjust judge, who declares that
some men have no rights which others are bound to respect, is a later
Jeffries on his bloody assizes, or dooming Algernon Sidney to the block
once more for loving liberty; while he whose dull heart among the new
duties of another time is never quickened with public spirit, and who
as a citizen aims only at his own selfish advantage, is a later Benedict
Arnold whom every generous heart despises.

From this lineage of character arises this great convenience--that as
it is bad manners to criticise our neighbors by name, we may hit them
many a sly rap over the shoulders of their ancestors who wore turbans,
or helmets, or bagwigs, and lived long ago in other countries. The
Church especially finds great comfort in this resource, and the backs
of the whole Hebrew race must be sore with the scorings they get for
the sins of Christian congregations. The timid Peter, the foolish
Virgins, the wicked Herod, are pilloried every Sunday in the pulpit,
to the great satisfaction of the Peters, Virgins, and Herods dozing in
the pews. But when some ardent preacher, heading out of his metaphors,
and jumping from Judea and the first century into the United States
and the nineteenth, disturbs Peter's enjoyment of his ancestor's
castigation by saying vehemently to his face with all the lightning of
the law in his eye, and its thunders in his voice, "Thou art the man!"
Peter recoils with decorous horror, begs his pastor to remember that
he and Herod are sheep who were to be led by still waters; warns him
not to bring politics into the pulpit, to talk not of living people,
but of old pictures. So the poor shepherd is driven back to his
pictures, and cudgels Peter once more from behind a metaphor.

But the fairest use of these old pictures is to make us feel our
common humanity, and to discover that what seems to us a hopelessly
romantic ideal of character is a familiar fact of every day. Heroism
is always the same, however the fashion of a hero's clothes may alter.
Every hero in history is as near to a man as his neighbor, and if we
should tell the simple truth of some of our neighbors, it would sound
like poetry. Sir Philip Sidney wore doublet and hose, and died in
Flanders three hundred years ago. His name is the synonym of manly
honor, of generous scholarship, of the finest nobility, of the
spiritual light that most irradiates human nature. Look at his portrait
closely; it is no stranger that you see; it is no far-off Englishman.
It is your friend, your son, your brother, your lover. Whoever knew
Wendell Phillips knew Philip Sidney. It is the same spirit in a thousand
forms; a perpetual presence, a constant benediction: Look at his
portrait and

 "The night shall be filled with music,
    And the cares that infest the day
  Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
    And as silently steal away."

The gray walls, the red and peaked roof of the old house of Penshurst,
stand in the pleasant English valley of the Medway, in soft and
showery Kent. Kent is all garden, and there, in November, 1554, Philip
Sidney was born. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, was a wise and honest
man. Bred at court, his sturdy honor was never corrupted. King Edward
died in his arms, and Queen Mary confirmed all his honors and offices
three weeks before the birth of his oldest son, whom, in gratitude, he
named Philip, for the queen's new Spanish husband. Philip's mother was
Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, sister of the
famous Earl of Leicester, sister also of Lord Guildford Dudley and
sister-in-law of Lady Jane Grey. The little Philip was born into a sad
household. Within fifteen months his grandfather and uncle had been
beheaded for treason; and his sorrowing mother, a truly noble and tender
woman, had been the victim of small-pox, and hid her grieving heart and
poor scarred face in the silence and seclusion of Penshurst. On the
south side of the house was the old garden or plaisance, sloping down
to the Medway, where, in those English summers of three hundred years
ago, when the cruel fires of Mary were busily burning at Smithfield,
the lovely boy Philip, fair-featured, with a high forehead and ruddy
brown hair, almost red--the same color as that of his nephew Algernon--
walked with his shy mother, picking daisies and chasing butterflies,
and calling to her in a soft, musical voice; while within the house
the grave father, when he was not away in Wales, of which he was lord-
president, mused upon great events that were stirring in Europe--the
abdication of Charles V., the fall of Calais, and the accession of
Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England. The lordly banqueting-hall,
in which the politics of three centuries ago were discussed at Penshurst,
is still standing. You may still sit upon the wooden benches where
Burleigh, Spenser, Ben Jonson, James I., and his son Prince Charles
have sat, and where, a little later, the victim of Prince Charles's
cruel son, Algernon Sidney, dreamed of noble manhood and went forth a
noble man; while in those shady avenues of beech and oak outside,
smooth Edmund Waller bowed and smirked, and sighed compliments to his
Sacharissa, as he called Dorothy Sidney, Algernon's sister.

At the age of eleven Master Sidney was put to school at Shrewsbury, on
the borders of Wales, of which country his father was lord-president.
His fond friend, Fulke Greville, who was here at school with him, and
afterwards wrote his life, says that even the masters found something
in him to observe and learn. Study probably cost him little effort and
few tears. We may be sure he stood at the head of his class, and was a
grave, good boy--not good as calves and blanc-mange are, but like wine
and oak saplings. "My little Philip," as his mother tenderly calls
him, was no Miss Nancy. When he was older he wrote to his brother
Robert, then upon his travels, that "if there were any good wars he
should go to them". So, at Shrewsbury he doubtless went to all the
good wars among his school-mates, while during the short intervals of
peace he mastered his humanities, and at last, when not yet fifteen
years old, he was entered at Christ Church, Oxford.

Great good-fortune is the most searching test of character. If a man
have fine friends, fine family, fine talents, and fine prospects, they
are very likely to be the sirens in whose sweet singing he forgets
everything but the pleasure of listening to it. If most of us had come
of famous ancestry--if our father were a vice-regal governor--if the
sovereign's favorite were our uncle, who intended us for his heir--if
a marriage were proposed with the beautiful daughter of the
prime-minister, and we were ourselves young, handsome, and
accomplished--and all this were three hundred years ago, before the
rights of men and the dignity of labor had been much discussed, we
should probably have come up to Oxford, of which our famous uncle was
chancellor, in a state of what would be called at Oxford to-day
extreme bumptiousness. But Philip Sidney was too true a gentleman not
to be a simple-hearted man; and although he was even then one of the
most accomplished as well as fortunate youths in England, he writes to
Lord Burleigh to confess with "heavy grief" that in scholarship he can
neither satisfy Burleigh's expectation nor his own desire.

In the month of May, 1572, Philip Sidney left Oxford, and after
staying a short time with his parents, following the fashion of young
gentlemen of rank, he crossed over into France in the train of the
Earl of Lincoln, who was Queen Elizabeth's extraordinary ambassador
upon the subject of her marriage with the brother of Charles IX. of
France. The young king immediately made Sidney a gentleman of the
bedchamber, and Henry of Navarre found him a fit companion for a
future king. The Paris that Sidney saw had then twice as many
inhabitants as Boston has to-day. Montaigne called it the most
beautiful city in the world, and it had a delusive air of peace. But
the witch Catherine de' Medici sat in the smooth-tongued court like a
spider in its web, spinning and spinning the meshes in which the hope
of liberty was to be entangled. The gay city filled and glittered with
the wedding guests of Henry and the king's sister Margaret--among
others, the hero of St. Quentin,

Admiral Coligny. Gayer and gayer grew the city--smoother and smoother
the court--faster and faster spun the black Italian spider--until on
the 23d of August, the Eve of St. Bartholomew, the bloodiest deed in
all the red annals of that metropolis was done, and the young Sidney
looked shuddering from Walsingham House upon the streets reeking with
the blood of his fellow Huguenots.

That night made Philip Sidney a man. He heard the applause of the
Romish party ring through Europe--he heard the commendation of Philip
of Spain--he knew that the most eloquent orator of the Church,
Muretus, had congratulated the pope upon this signal victory of the
truth. He knew that medals were stamped in commemoration of the brutal
massacre, and he remembered that the same spirit that had struck at
the gray head of Coligny had also murdered Egmont and Home in the
Netherlands; had calmly gazed in the person of Philip upon De Sezo
perishing in the fire, and by the hand of Philip had denounced death
against all who wrote, sold, or read Protestant books; and he knew
that the same spirit, in the most thriving and intelligent country of
Europe, the Netherlands, was blotting out prosperity in blood, and had
driven at least a hundred thousand exiles into England.

Pondering these things, Sidney left Paris, and at Frankfort met Hubert
Languet. Languet was not only a Protestant, but, at heart, a
Republican. He was the friend of Melanethon and of William of Orange,
in whose service he died. One of the most accomplished scholars and
shrewdest statesmen in Europe, honored and trusted by all the
Protestant leaders, this wise man of fifty-four was so enamoured of
the English youth of eighteen that they became life-long friends with
the ardor of lovers, and Languet left his employment, as Fulke
Greville says, "to become a nurse of knowledge to this hopeful young
gentleman".

As they travelled by easy stages across Germany, where the campaign of
Protestantism had begun, they knew that the decisive battle was yet to
be fought. Europe was silent. The tumult of Charles V.'s reign was
over, and that great monarch marched and countermarched no more from
the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Charles had been victorious so long
as he fought kings with words of steel. But the monk Martin Luther
drew the sword of the spirit, and the conqueror quailed. Luther
challenged the Church of Rome at its own door. The Vatican rained
anathemas. It might as well have tried to blow out the stars; and all
the fires of the furious popes who followed Leo were not sharp enough
to consume the colossal heresy of free thought. But king and emperor
and pope fed the fire. The reign of terror blasted the Netherlands,
and when it had succeeded there, when Italy, Austria, and Holland
surrounded the states of Germany, Philip knew it would be the smothering
coil of the serpent around the cradle of religious liberty. But the
young Hercules of free thought throttled the serpent, and leaped forth
to win his victorious and immortal race.

We can see it now, but Sidney could not know it. To him the future was
as inscrutable as our own to the eyes of thirty years ago. Yet he and
Languet must have discussed the time with curious earnestness as they
passed through Germany until they reached Vienna. There Sidney devoted
himself to knightly games, to tennis, to music, and especially to
horsemanship, which he studied with Pagliono, who, in praise of the
horse, became such a poet that in the _Defence of Poesy_ Sidney says
that if he had not been a piece of a logician before he came to him,
Pagliono would have persuaded him to wish himself a horse.

At Vienna Philip parted with Languet, and arrived in Venice in the
year 1573. The great modern days of Italy were passed. The golden age
of the Medici was gone. Lorenzo the Magnificent had died nearly a
century before, in the same year that Columbus had discovered America.
His son, Pope Leo X., had eaten his last ortolan, had flown his last
falcon, had listened to his last comedy, and hummed his last tune, in
the frescoed corridors of the Vatican. Upon its shining walls the
fatal finger of Martin Luther, stretching out of Germany, had written
"Mene, Mene." Beneath the terrible spell the walls were cracking and
the earth was shaking, but the splendid pope, in his scarlet cloud of
cardinals, saw only the wild beauty of Raphael's Madonnas and the
pleasant pages of the recovered literature of pagan Greece. When
Sidney stepped for the first time into his gondola at Venice, the
famous Italian cathedrals and stately palaces were already built, and
the great architects were gone. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, who had
created Italian literature, lived about as long before Sidney as we
live after him. Cimabue and Giotto had begun; Raphael and Michel
Angelo had perfected that art in which they have had no rivals--and
they were gone. Andrea Doria steered the galleys of Genoa no more, and
since the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope and the West Indies, the
spices of the Indian sea were brought by Portuguese ships into the
Baltic instead of the Adriatic. The glory of the Lombards, who were
the first merchants of Europe, had passed away to the descendants of
their old correspondents of Bruges and Ghent, until, with its five
hundred ships daily coming and going, and on market days eight and
nine hundred; with its two thousand heavy wagons creaking every week
through the gates from France and Germany and Lorraine, Antwerp
reigned in the place of Venice, and the long twilight that has never
been broken was settling upon the Italy that Sidney saw.

But the soft splendor of its decline was worthy its prime. The
universities of Bologna and Padua, of Salerno and Pisa, had fallen
from the days when at Bologna alone there were twenty thousand
students; but they were still thronged with pupils, and taught by
renowned professors. When the young Sidney came to Venice, Titian was
just tottering into the grave, nearly a hundred years old, but still
holding the pencil which Charles V. had picked up and handed to him in
his studio. Galileo was a youth of twenty, studying mathematics at
Pisa. The melancholy Tasso was completing his _Jerusalem Delivered_
under the cypress trees of the Villa d'Este. Palestrina was composing
the masses which reformed church music, and the Christian charity of
Charles Borromeo was making him a saint before he was canonized. Clad
in the silk and velvet of Genoa, the young Englishman went to study
geometry at Padua, where twenty years later Galileo would have been
his teacher, and Sidney writes to Languet that he was perplexed
whether to sit to Paul Veronese or to Tintoretto for his portrait.

But he had a shrewd eye for the follies of travellers, and speaks of
their tendency to come home "full of disguisements not only of apparel
but of our countenances, as though the credit of a traveller stood all
upon his outside". He then adds a curious prophecy, which Shakespeare
made haste to fulfil to the very letter. Sidney says, writing in 1578,
"I think, ere it be long, like the mountebanks in Italy, we travellers
shall be made sport of in comedies." Twenty years afterwards,
Shakespeare makes Rosalind say in "As You Like It", "Farewell,
Monsieur Traveller. Look you; lisp, and wear strange suits. Disable
all the benefits of your own country. Be out of love with your
nativity, and almost chide God for making you that countenance you
are, or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola."

But in all the gayeties and graces of his travel, Philip Sidney was
not content to be merely an elegant lounger. He never forgot for a
moment that all his gifts and accomplishments were only weapons to be
kept burnished for his country's service. He was a boy of twenty, but
his boy's warmth was tempered by the man's wisdom. "You are not over
cheerful by nature," Languet writes to him; and when Sidney sat to
Paul Veronese, and sent his friend the portrait, Languet replies: "The
painter has represented you sad and thoughtful."

He had reason to be so. He had seen the Massacre of St. Bartholomew,
as many a young Sidney among ourselves saw the horrors of Kansas
thirty years ago. He did not believe that a little timely patting on
the back was statesmanship. If Spain were crushing the Netherlands,
and hung upon the southern horizon of Europe a black and threatening
cloud, he did not believe that the danger would be averted by gagging
those who said the storm was coming. He did not hold the thermometer
responsible for the weather. "I cannot think," he wrote in May, 1574,
"there is any man possessed of common understanding who does not see
to what these rough storms are driving by which all Christendom has
been agitated now these many years." He did not suppose, as so many of
us in our ignoble days, that while men were the same, the tragical
differences which had been washed out with blood in all other ages
could be drowned in milk and water in his own.

In 1575 Sidney returned to England. Every author who writes of this
period breaks out into the most glowing praises of him. Indeed, he is
the choice darling of English history. The only discordant note in the
chorus of praise came long afterwards in the voice of the pedantic
dandy Horace Walpole, who called Goldsmith "an inspired idiot". This
is not surprising, for the earnestness and heroic simplicity of Sidney
were as incomprehensible to the affected trifler of Strawberry Hill as
the fresh enthusiasm of his nephew Arthur to Major Pendennis. The Earl
of Leicester, who seemed to love his nephew more than anything except
his own ambition, presented his brilliant young relative to the queen,
who made him her cup-bearer. Sidney was now twenty-one years old--the
finest gentleman, and one of the most accomplished scholars in
England. His learning was mainly in the classics and in languages; yet
he confesses that he could never learn German, which was then hardly
worth learning, and in his correspondence with Languet is very
distrustful of the Latin, in which language they wrote. But in urging
him to grapple with the German, Languet says to him, and it is a
striking proof of the exquisite finish of Sidney's accomplishment,
"I have watched you closely when speaking my own language (he was
a Burgundian), but I hardly ever detected you pronouncing a single
syllable wrongly."

In Sidney's time the classics had few rivals. After reading Dante,
Petrarch, Ariosto, Boccaccio, with Sanazzaro's _Arcadia_, in Italian;
Rabelais, Froissart, and Comines, in French; Chaucer, Gower, and the
_Mirror for Magistrates_ in English, what remained for an ardent young
student to devour? When Sidney came home, Montaigne--whom he probably
saw at the French court--was just writing his _Essays_ at his chateau
in the Gironde. The Portuguese Camoens had only just published his
great poem, to which his own country would not listen, and of which no
other had heard. The Italian Tasso's _Jerusalem_ was still in
manuscript, and the Spanish Ponce de Leon was little known to Europe.
All was yet to come. In Spain, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon;
in France, Corneille and Racine and Moliere, Fenelon and Bossuet,
Rousseau and Voltaire; in Germany, everything except the Niebelungen
and Hans Sachs's rhymes. When Philip Sidney kissed Elizabeth's hand as
her cup-bearer, William Shakespeare, a boy of eleven, was grinding out
his trousers on the restless seats of the free grammar-school at
Stratford; young Francis Bacon, a youth of sixteen, was studying in
France; a poor scholar at Cambridge, Edmund Spenser was just finishing
his studies, and the younger brother of an old Devonshire family,
Walter Raleigh, had just returned from campaigning in France; indeed,
all the literature of modern times was subsequent to Philip Sidney.
The young man shone at court, fascinating men and women, courtiers,
scholars, and divines; and in a few months was made special ambassador
to condole with the Austrian emperor upon the death of his father.
Upon this embassy he departed in great state. His mission, was
supposed to be purely complimentary; but he was really the beautiful
eye with which England and Elizabeth, becoming the head of the
Protestant movement, watched the disposition of the Protestant
princes. On his way home, Sidney passed into the Low Countries to see
William of Orange. He came, resplendent with chivalric magnificence,
accompanied by the flower of English nobility, and met the grave
William, who had been the richest citizen in the Netherlands, clad in
an old serge cloak, and surrounded by plain Dutch burghers. But it was
a meeting of men of one mind and heart in the great cause, and neither
was disturbed by the tailoring of the other. The interview was the
beginning of a faithful friendship, and among all the compliments
Sidney received, none is so lofty and touching as that of William, the
greatest man in Europe, who called him in their correspondence,
"Philip, my master."

In 1577 Sidney was home again. He had a right to expect conspicuous
advancement, but he got nothing. This was the more disagreeable,
because living at Elizabeth's court was an expensive luxury for a poor
gentleman's son who had magnificent tastes. His father, Lord Henry
Sidney, was lord-deputy of Ireland, but he was also an honest man,
and, like most honest men in high public office, he was not rich. He
wrote to Philip, begging him to remember whose son, not whose nephew,
he was; for Philip's companions, the golden youth of the court, blazed
in silks and velvets and jewels, until the government had to impose
laws, as the subjects had brought luxury from Venice, and Elizabeth,
who died the happy owner of three thousand dresses, issued a solemn
proclamation against extravagance in dress.

At such a time, the brilliant nephew of Uncle Leicester would have
been a quickly ruined man if he had not been Philip Sidney. He bowed
and flirted at court, but he chafed under inaction. A marriage was
planned for him with Penelope Devereux, sister of the famous Earl of
Essex, one of the thousand fair and unfortunate women who flit across
the page of history leaving only a name, and that written in tears.
But Philip's father grew cool in the negotiation, and Philip himself
was perfectly passive. Yet when a few years afterwards the lady vas
married to Lord Rich, who abused her, Sidney loved her, and wrote the
sonnets to Stella, which are his best poetry, and which Charles Lamb
so affectionately praised.

But while he loitered at court, beating all the courtiers with their
own weapons in wit, in riding, in games, at tournament, the tales of
American discovery shed a wondrous glamour upon the new continent.
Nothing was too beautiful for belief, and the fiery feet of youth
burned the English soil with eagerness to tread the unutterable Tropics.
Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth to follow Magellan around the world,
and he went in a manner consonant with the popular fancy of the
countless riches that rewarded such adventures. His cooking-vessels
were of silver; his table-plate of exquisite workmanship. The queen
knighted him, gave him a sword, and said, "Whoever striketh at you,
Drake, striketh at us." A band of musicians accompanied the fleet,
and the English sailor went to circumnavigate the globe with the same
nonchalant magnificence with which in other days the gorgeous
Alcibiades, with flutes and soft recorders blowing under silken sails,
came idling home from victory.

Philip Sidney, his heart alive to all romance, and longing to be his
companion, saw him sail away. But he turned and saw the black Italian
spider, whose sting he had seen on Bartholomew's Eve in Paris, still
weaving her stealthy web, and seeking to entangle Elizabeth into a
match with the Duke of Anjou. The queen was forty-six, and Mounseer,
as the English called him, twenty-three; and while she was coaxing
herself to say the most fatal yes that ever woman said--when Burleigh,
Leicester, Walsingham, all the safe, sound, conservative old gentlemen
and counsellors were just ceasing to dissuade her--Philip Sidney, a
youth of twenty-five, who knew that he had a country as well as a
queen, that the hope of that country lay in the triumph of
Protestantism, and that to marry Mounseer was to abandon that hope,
and for the time betray mankind--Philip Sidney, a youth who did not
believe that he could write gravely of sober things because he had
written gayly of ladies' eyebrows, knowing as the true-hearted
gentleman always knows that to-day it may be a man's turn to sit at a
desk in an office, or bend over a book in college, or fashion a
horseshoe at the forge, or toss flowers to some beauty at her window,
and to-morrow to stand firm against a cruel church or a despotic
court, a brutal snob or an ignorant public opinion--this youth, this
immortal gentleman, wrote the letter which dissuaded her from the
marriage, and which was as noble a triumph for Protestantism and human
liberty as the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

I cannot follow this lovely life in detail, nor linger, as I would,
upon his literary retirement.

The very name of Sidney's _Arcadia_ is aromatic in the imagination,
and its traditional place in our literature is unquestioned. In our
day it is very little read, nor is it a very interesting story. But
under its quaint and courtly conceit its tone is so pure and lofty,
its courtesy and appreciation of women so hearty and honorable; it has
so fine a moral atmosphere, such noble thoughts, such stately and
beautiful descriptions, that to read it is like conversing with a
hero. So there is no better reading than the _Defence of Poesy_, that
noble hymn of loyalty to intellectual beauty. Hallam well calls Sidney
"the first good prose writer" in our language, and scarcely had he
finished in his _Defence_ an exquisite criticism of English poetry to
that time than the full choir of Elizabethan poets burst into

                 "the songs that fill
  The spacious times of great Elizabeth
          With sounds that echo still."

In 1582 Philip Sidney married the daughter of Walsingham, but in his
retirement, whether steadfastly watching the great struggle upon the
Continent or listening to the alluring music of far-off seas, he knew
that the choice days of his life were passing, and if a career were
not opened for him by the queen, he must make one for himself. William
of Orange had been murdered; Elizabeth promptly succeeded him as the
active head of the Protestant world; Philip of Spain was the great
enemy. Strike him at home, said Sidney; strike him at sea, but strike
him everywhere; and he arranged with Drake a descent upon Spanish
America. He hurried privately to Plymouth to embark, but at the last
moment a peer of the realm arrived from the queen forbidding his
departure. The loyal gentleman bowed and obeyed.

But two months after his fleet sailed, on the 7th of November, 1585
(about the time that William Shakespeare first came to London),
Elizabeth appointed Sidney governor of Flushing, in the Netherlands.
He went thither gladly on the 18th, with three thousand men, to strike
for the cause in which he believed. He had already told the queen that
the spirit of the Netherlands was the spirit of God, and was invincible.
His uncle, the Earl of Leicester, followed him as commander-in-chief.
The earl was handsome at tournaments, but not fit for battle-fields,
and Sidney was annoyed by his uncle's conduct; but he writes to his
father-in-law, Walsingham, in a strain full of the music of a noble
soul, and fitly precluding his end: "I think a wise and constant man
ought never to grieve while he doth play, as a man may say, his own
part truly."

For that he was always ready. In the misty dawn of the 22d of
September, 1586, a force of three thousand Spaniards stole silently
along to the relief of Zutphen, on the river Isel. Sidney, at the head
of five hundred cavalry, rode forward to meet them. In the obscurity
the battle was sharp and confused. Seeing his friend Lord Willoughby
in special danger, Sidney spurred to the rescue. His horse was shot
under him and fell. Springing upon another, he dashed forward again
and succored his friend, but at the instant a shot struck him below
the knee, glancing upward. His furious horse became unmanageable, and
Sir Philip was obliged to leave the field. But as he passed slowly
along to the rear of the soldiers, he felt faint with bleeding, and
called for water. A cup was brought to him, but as he was lifting it
to his month he saw a dying soldier staring at it with burning eyes.
Philip Sidney paused before tasting it, leaned from the saddle, and
handed it to the soldier, saying to him in the same soft, musical
voice with which the boy called to his mother in the sunny garden at
Penshurst, "Friend, thy necessity is yet greater than mine."

He was borne on to Araheim, and lived in suffering for twenty-six
days. He conversed pleasantly and called for music, and said at last
to his brother, whom he had loved as brothers seldom love: "Love my
memory; cherish my friends. Their faith to me may assure you they are
honest. But, above all, govern your will and affections by the will
and word of your Creator, in me beholding the end of this world with
all her vanities." "And so," says old Stowe, with fond particularity,
"he died, the 17th day of October, between two and three of the clock
in the afternoon."

 "The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
    And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
  Await alike the inevitable hour.
    The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

This is the story of Philip Sidney. A letter, a book, a battle. How
little to justify his unique fame! How invisible his performance among
the illustrious events of his prodigious age! Yet is not the instinct
of the human heart true; and in the stately society of his time, if
Bacon were the philosopher, Shakespeare the poet, Burleigh the
counsellor, Raleigh the soldier, Drake the sailor, Hooker the
theologian, Essex the courtier, and Gresham the merchant, was not
Philip Sidney as distinctively the gentleman? Heroes stood beside him
in clusters, poets in constellations; all the illustrious men of the
age achieved more tangible results than he, yet none of them has
carved his name upon history more permanently and with a more diamond
point; for he had that happy harmony of mind and temper, of enthusiasm
and good sense, of accomplishment and capacity, which is described by
that most exquisite and most abused word, gentleman. His guitar hung
by a ribbon at his side, but his sword hung upon leather beneath it.
His knee bent gallantly to the queen, but it knelt reverently also to
his Maker. And it was the crown of the gentleman that he was neither
ashamed of the guitar nor of the sword; neither of the loyalty nor the
prayer. For a gentleman is not an idler, a trifler, a dandy; he is not
a scholar only, a soldier, a mechanic, a merchant; he is the flower of
men, in whom the accomplishment of the scholar, the bravery of the
soldier, the skill of the mechanic, the sagacity of the merchant, all
have their part and appreciation. A sense of duty is his main-spring,
and like a watch crusted with precious stones, his function is not to
look prettily, but to tell the time of day. Philip Sidney was not a
gentleman because his grandfather was the Duke of Northumberland and
his father lord-deputy of Ireland, but because he was himself
generous, simple, truthful, noble, refined. He was born with a gold
spoon in his mouth, but the gold is only the test. In the mouths of
the base it becomes brass and iron. George IV., called with bitter
irony the first gentleman in Europe, was born with the gold spoon, but
his acrid humors turned it to the basest metal, betraying his mean
soul. George Stephenson was born with the pewter spoon in his mouth,
but the true temper of his soul turned it into pure gold. The test of
a gentleman is his use, not his uselessness; whether that use be
direct or indirect, whether it be actual service or only inspiring and
aiding action. "To what purpose should our thoughts be directed to
various kinds of knowledge," wrote Philip Sidney in 1578, "unless room
be afforded for putting it into practice so that public advantage may
be the result?" And Algernon Sidney said, nearly a century later: "I
have ever had it in my mind that when God cast me into such a
condition as that I cannot save my life but by doing an indecent
thing, he shows me the time has come wherein I should resign it." And
when that time came he did resign it; for every gentleman
instinctively serves justice and liberty. He feels himself personally
disgraced by an insult to humanity, for he, too, is only a man; and
however stately his house may be and murmurous with music, however
glowing with pictures and graceful with statues and reverend with
books--however his horses may out-trot other horses, and his yachts
outsail all yachts--the gentleman is king and master of these and not
their servant; he wears them for ornament, like the ring upon his
finger or the flower in his button-hole, and if they go the gentleman
remains. He knows that all their worth came from human genius and
human training; and loving man more than the works of man, he
instinctively shuns whatever in the shape of man is degraded,
outraged, and forsaken. He does not make the poverty of others the
reason for robbing them; he does not make the oppression of others the
reason for oppressing them, for his gentility is his religion; and
therefore with simple truth and tender audacity the old English
dramatist Dekkar calls Him who gave the name to our religion, and who
destroyed the plea that might makes right, "the first true gentleman,
that ever breathed".

But not only is Philip Sidney's story the poem of a gentleman, it is
that of a young man. It was the age of young men. No man was thought
flippant, whatever his years, who could say a good thing well, or do a
brave thing successfully, or give the right advice at the right
moment. The great men of the day were all young. At sixteen Bacon had
already sketched his _Philosophy_. At seventeen Walter Raleigh had
gone to find some good wars. At seventeen Edmund Spenser had first
published. Before he was twenty, Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma,
and the greatest general of Sidney's time, had revealed his masterly
genius. At twenty-one Don John of Austria had been commander-in-chief
against the Moors. The Prince of Conde and Henry of Navarre were
leaders while they were yet boys. At twenty Francis Drake sailed, a
captain, with John Hawkins; and at twenty-one the Washington of
European history, to whom an American has for the first time paid just
homage with an enthusiasm and eloquence of Sidney describing his
friend--at twenty-one William of Orange commanded an army of Charles V.

When England wanted leaders in those tremendous days that shaped her
destiny, it did just what America did in those recent perilous hours
that determined hers--she sent young men with faith in their hearts
and fire in their veins--not old men with feathers in their hats; and
everywhere it is the young men who have made history. At thirty-two
Alexander wept for another world to conquer. On his thirty-seventh
birthday Raphael lay dead beneath his last picture. At thirty-six
Mozart had sung his swan-song. At twenty-five Hannibal was
commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian armies. At thirty-three Turenne
was marshal of France. At twenty-seven Bonaparte was triumphant in
Italy. At forty-five Wellington had conquered Bonaparte, and at
forty-eight retired from active military service. At forty-three
Washington was chief of the Continental army. On his forty-fifth
birthday Sherman was piercing the heart of the American Rebellion; and
before he was forty-three Grant had "fought it out on this line" to
perfect victory. Young men! Of course they were young men. Youth is
the main-spring of the world. The experience of age is wise in action
only when it is electrified by the enthusiasm of youth. Show me a land
in which the young men are cold and sceptical and prematurely wise;
which in polite indifference is called political wisdom, contempt for
ideas common-sense, and honesty in politics Sunday-school
statesmanship--show me a land in which the young men are more anxious
about doing well than about doing right--and I will show you a country
in which public corruption and ruin overtakes private infidelity and
cowardice, and in which, if there were originally a hope for mankind,
a faith in principle, and a conquering enthusiasm, that faith, hope,
and enthusiasm are expiring like the deserted camp-fires of a retiring
army. "Woe to a man when his heart grows old! Woe to a nation when its
young men shuffle in the gouty shoes and limp on the untimely crutches
of age, instead of leaping along the course of life with the jubilant
spring of their years and the sturdy play of their own muscles!" Sir
Philip Sidney's was the age of young men: and wherever there are
self-reliance, universal human sympathy, and confidence in God, there
is the age of youth and national triumph; just as whenever Joan of Arc
leads the army, or Molly Stark dares to be a widow, or Rosa Bonheur
paints, or Hattie Hosmer carves, or Jenny Lind sings, or Mrs. Patten
steers the wrecked ship to port, or Florence Nightingale walks the
midnight hospital--these are the age and the sphere of woman. Queen
Elizabeth's was the age of young men; but so it is always when there
are young men who can make an age.

And ours is such an age. We live in a country which has been saved by
its young men. Before us opens a future which is to be secured by the
young men. I have not held up Sir Philip Sidney as a reproach, but
only for his brothers to admire--only that we may scatter the glamour
of the past and of history, and understand that we do not live in the
lees of time and the world's decrepitude. There is no country so fair
that ours is not fairer; there is no age so heroic that ours is not as
noble; there is no youth in history so romantic and beloved that in a
thousand American homes you may not find his peer to-day. It is the
Sidneys we have known who interpret this Philip of three hundred years
ago. Dear, noble gentleman! he does not move alone in our imaginations,
for our own memories supply his splendid society. We too have seen, how
often and how often, the bitter fight of the misty morning on the Isel
--the ringing charge, the fatal fall. A thousand times we saw the same
true Sidney heart that, dying, gave the cup of cold water to a
fellow-soldier. And we, for whom the Sidneys died, let us thank God for
showing us in our own experience, as in history, that the noblest traits
of human character are still spanned by the rainbow of perfect beauty;
and that human love and faith and fidelity, like day and night, like
seed-time and harvest, shall never, never fail.




LONGFELLOW


In the school readers of half a century ago there were two poems which
every boy and girl read and declaimed and remembered. How much of that
old literature has disappeared! How much that stirred the hearts and
touched the fancies of those boys and girls, their children have never
heard of! Willis's "Saturday Afternoon" and "Burial of Arnold" have
floated away, almost out of sight, with Pierpont's "Bunker Hill" and
Sprague's Fourth-of-July oration. The relentless winds of oblivion
incessantly blow. Scraps of verse and rhetoric once so familiar are
caught up, wafted noiselessly away, and lodged in neglected books and
in the dark corners of fading memories, gradually vanish from familiar
knowledge. But the two little poems of which we speak have survived.
One of them was Bryant's "March", and the other was Longfellow's
"April", and the names of the two poets singing of spring were thus
associated in the spring-time of our poetry, as the fathers of which
they will be always honored.

Both poems originally appeared in the _United States Literary
Gazette_, and were included in the modest volume of selections from
that journal which was published in Boston in 1826. The chief names in
this little book are those of Bryant, Longfellow, Percival, Mellen,
Dawes, and Jones. Percival has already become a name only; Dawes, and
Greenville Mellen, who, like Longfellow, was a son of Maine, are
hardly known to this generation, and Jones does not even appear in
Duyckinck's Cyclopaedia. But in turning over the pages it is evident
that Time has dealt justly with the youthful bards, and that the
laurel rests upon the heads of the singers whose earliest strains
fitly preluded the music of their prime. Longfellow was nineteen years
old when the book was published. He had graduated at Bowdoin College
the year before, and the verses had been written and printed in the
_Gazette_ while he was still a student.

The glimpses of the boy that we catch through the recollections of his
old professor, Packard, and of his college mates, are of the same
character as at every period of his life. They reveal a modest,
refined, manly youth, devoted to study, of great personal charm and
gentle manners. It is the boy that the older man suggested. To look
back upon him is to trace the broad and clear and beautiful river far
up the green meadows to the limpid rill.

His poetic taste and faculty were already apparent, and it is related
that a version of an ode of Horace which he wrote in his Sophomore
year so impressed one of the members of the examining board that when
afterwards a chair of modern languages was established in the college,
he proposed as its incumbent the young Sophomore whose fluent verse he
remembered. The impression made by the young Longfellow is doubtlessly
accurately described by one of his famous classmates, Hawthorne, for
the class of '25 is a proud tradition of Bowdoin. In "P.'s
Correspondence", one of the _Mosses from an Old Manse_, a quaint fancy
of a letter from "my unfortunate friend P.", whose wits were a little
disordered, there are grotesque hints of the fate of famous persons.
P. talks with Burns at eighty-seven; Byron, grown old and fat, wears a
wig and spectacles; Shelley is reconciled to the Church of England;
Coleridge finishes "Christabel"; Keats writes a religious epic on the
millennium; and George Canning is a peer. On our side of the sea, Dr.
Channing had just published a volume of verses; Whittier had been
lynched ten years before in South Carolina; and, continues P., "I
remember, too, a lad just from college, Longfellow by name, who
scattered some delicate verses to the winds, and went to Germany, and
perished, I think, of intense application, at the University of
Goettingen." Longfellow, in turn, recalled his classmate Hawthorne--a
shy, dark-haired youth flitting across the college grounds in a coat
with bright buttons.

Among these delicate verses was the poem to "An April Day". As the
work of a very young man it is singularly restrained and finished. It
has the characteristic elegance and flowing melody of his later verse,
and its half-pensive tone is not excessive nor immature. It is not,
however, for this that it is most interesting, but because, with
Bryant's "March", it is the fresh and simple note of a truly American
strain. Perhaps the curious reader, enlightened by the observation of
subsequent years, may find in the "March" a more vigorous love of
nature, and in the "April" a tenderer tone of tranquil sentiment. But
neither of the poems is the echo of a foreign music, nor an exercise
of remembered reading. They both deal with the sights and sounds and
suggestions of the American, landscape in the early spring. In
Longfellow's "April" there are none of the bishops' caps and foreign
ornament of illustration to which Margaret Fuller afterwards objected
in his verse. But these early associated poems, both of the younger
and of the older singer, show an original movement of American
literary genius, and, like the months which they celebrate, they
foretold a summer.

That summer bad been long awaited. In 1809, Buckminster said in his
Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard College: "Oar poets and historians,
our critics and orators, the men of whom posterity are to stand in
awe, and by whom they are to be instructed, are yet to appear among
us." Happily, however, the orator thought that he beheld the promise
of their coming, although he does not say where. But even as he spoke
they were at hand. Irving's _Knickerbocker_ was published in 1809, and
Bryant's "Thanatopsis" was written in 1812. The _North American
Review_, an enterprise of literary men in Boston and Cambridge, was
begun in 1815, and Bryant and Longfellow were both contributors. But
it was in the year 1821, the year in which Longfellow entered college,
that the beginning of a distinctive American literature became most
evident. There were signs of an independent intellectual movement both
in the choice of subjects and in the character of treatment. This was
the year of the publication of Bryant's first slim volume, and of
Cooper's _Spy_, and of Dana's _Idle Man_. Irving's _Sketch Book_ was
already finished, Miss Sedgwick's _Hope Leslie_ and Percival's first
volume had been issued, and Halleck's and Drake's "Croakers" were
already popular. In these works, as in all others of that time, there
was indeed no evidence of great creative genius.

The poet and historian whom Buckminster foresaw, and who were to
strike posterity with awe, had not yet appeared, but in the same year
the voice of the orator whom he anticipated was heard upon Plymouth
Rock in cadences massive and sonorous as the voice of the sea. In the
year 1821 there was the plain evidence of an awakening original
literary activity.

Longfellow was the youngest of the group in which he first appeared.
His work was graceful, tender, pensive, gentle, melodious, the strain
of a troubadour. When he went to Europe in 1826 to fit himself more
fully for his professorship, he had but "scattered some delicate
verses to the winds". When he returned, and published in 1833 his
translations of "Coplas de Manrique" and other Spanish poems, he had
apparently done no more. There was plainly shown an exquisite literary
artist, a very Benvenuto of grace and skill. But he would hardly have
been selected as the poet who was to take the strongest hold of the
hearts of his countrymen, the singer whose sweet and hallowing spell
was to be so deep and universal that at last it would be said in
another country that to it also his death was a national loss.

The qualities of these early verses, however, were never lost. The
genius of the poet steadily and beautifully developed, flowering
according to its nature. The most urbane and sympathetic of men, never
aggressive, nor vehement, nor self-asserting, he was yet thoroughly
independent, and the individuality of his genius held its tranquil way
as surely as the river Charles, whose placid beauty he so often sang,
wound through the meadows calm and free. When Longfellow came to
Cambridge, the impulse of Transcendentalism in New England was deeply
affecting scholarship and literature. It was represented by the most
original of American thinkers and the typical American scholar,
Emerson, and its elevating, purifying, and emancipating influences are
memorable in our moral and intellectual history. Longfellow lived in
the very heart of the movement. Its leaders were his cherished
friends. He too was a scholar and a devoted student of German
literature, who had drunk deeply also of the romance of German life.
Indeed, his first important works stimulated the taste for German
studies and the enjoyment of its literature more than any other
impulse in this country. But he remained without the charmed
Transcendental circle, serene and friendly and attentive. There are
those whose career was wholly moulded by the intellectual revival of
that time. But Longfellow was untouched by it, except as his
sympathies were attracted by the vigor and purity of its influence.
His tastes, his interests, his activities, his career, would have been
the same had that great light never shone. If he had been the ductile,
echoing, imitative nature that the more ardent disciples of the faith
supposed him to be, he would have been absorbed and swept away by the
flood. But he was as untouched by it as Charles Lamb by the wars of
Napoleon.

It was in the first flush of the Transcendental epoch that Longfellow's
first important works appeared. In 1839, his proseromance of _Hyperion_
was published, following the sketches of travelcalled _Outre-Mer_. He
was living in Cambridge, in the famous house in which he died, and in
which _Hyperion_ and all of his familiar books were written. Under the
form of a slight love tale, _Hyperion_ is the diary of a poet's
wandering in a storied and picturesque land, the hearty, home-like
genius of whose life and literature is peculiarly akin to his own. The
book bubbles and sings with snatches of the songs of the country; it
reproduces the tone and feeling of the landscape, the grandeur of
Switzerland, the rich romance of the Rhine; it decorates itself with
a quaint scholarship, and is so steeped in the spirit of the country,
so glowing with the palpitating tenderness of passion, that it is still
eagerly bought at the chief points which it commemorates, and is
cherished by young hearts as no prose romance was ever cherished before.

_Hyperion_, indeed, is a poet's and lover's romance. It is full of
deep feeling, of that intense and delighted appreciation of nature in
her grander forms, and of scenes consecrated by poetic tradition,
which belongs to a singularly fine, sensitive, and receptive nature,
when exalted by pure and lofty affection; and it has the fulness and
swing of youth, saddened by experience indeed, yet rising with renewed
hope, like a field of springing grain in May bowed by the west wind,
and touched with the shadow of a cloud, but presently lifting itself
again to heaven. A clear sweet humor and blitheness of heart blend in
this romance. What is called its artificial tone is not insincerity;
it is the play of an artist conscious of his skill and revelling in
it, even while his hand and his heart are deeply in earnest. _Werther_
is a romance, Disraeli's _Wondrous Tale of Alroy_ is a romance, but
they belong to the realm of Beverley and Julia in Sheridan's _Rivals_.
In _Hyperion_, with all its elaborate picturesqueness, its spicy
literary atmosphere, and imaginative outline, there is a breezy
freshness and simplicity and healthiness of feeling which leaves it
still unique.

In the same year with _Hyperion_ came the _Voices of the Night_, a
volume of poems which contained the "Coplas de Manrique" and the
translations, with a selection from the verses of the _Literary
Gazette_, which the author playfully reclaims in a note from their
vagabond and precarious existence in the corners of newspapers
--gathering his children from wanderings in lanes and alleys, and
introducing them decorously to the world. A few later poems were added,
and these, with the _Hyperion_, showed a new and distinctive
literary talent. In both of these volumes there is the purity of spirit,
the elegance of form, the romantic tone, the airy grace, which were
already associated with Longfellow's name. But there are other
qualities. The boy of nineteen, the poet of Bowdoin, has become a
scholar and a traveller. The teeming hours, the ample opportunities
of youth, have not been neglected or squandered, but, like a
golden-banded bee, humming as he sails, the young poet has drained all
the flowers of literature of their nectar, and has built for himself a
hive of sweetness. More than this, he had proved in his own experience
the truth of Irving's tender remark, that an early sorrow is often the
truest benediction for the poet.

Through all the romantic grace and elegance of the _Voices of the
Night_ and _Hyperion_, however, there is a moral earnestness which is
even more remarkable in the poems than in the romance. No volume of
poems ever published in the country was so popular. Severe critics
indeed, while acknowledging its melody and charm, thought it too
morally didactic, the work of a student too fondly enamoured of
foreign literatures. But while they conceded taste and facility, two
of the poems at least--the "Psalm of Life" and the "Footsteps of
Angels"--penetrated the common heart at once, and have held it ever
since. A young Scotchman saw them reprinted in some paper or magazine,
and, meeting a literary lady in London, repeated them to her, and then
to a literary assembly at her house; and the presence of a new poet
was at once acknowledged. If the "Midnight Mass for the Dying Year" in
its form and phrase and conception recalled a land of cathedrals and a
historic religious ritual, and had but a vague and remote charm for
the woodman in the pine forests of Maine and the farmer on the
Illinois prairie, yet the "Psalm of Life" was the very heart-beat of
the American conscience, and the "Footsteps of Angels" was a hymn of
the fond yearning of every loving heart.

During the period of more than forty years from the publication of the
_Voices of the Night_ to his death, the fame of Longfellow constantly
increased. It was not because his genius, like that of another
scholarly poet, Gray, seldom blossomed in song, so that his renown
rested upon a few gem-like verses. He was not intimidated by his own
fame. During those forty years he wrote and published constantly.
Other great fames arose around him. New poets began to sing. Popular
historians took their places. But still with Bryant the name of
Longfellow was always associated at the head of American singers, and
far beyond that of any other American author was his name known
through all the reading world. The volume of _Voices of the Night_ was
followed by similar collections, then by _The Spanish Student_,
_Evangeline_, _The Golden Legend_, _Hiawatha_, _The Courtship of Miles
Standish_, _The Tales of a Wayside Inn_, _The New England Tragedies_,
_The Masque of Pandora_, _The Hanging of the Crane_, the _Morituri
Salutarnus_, the _Keramos_. But all of these, like stately birds

 "Sailing with supreme dominion
  Through the upper realms of air,"

were attended by shorter poems, sonnets, "birds of passage", as the
poet called his swallow flights of song. In all these larger poems,
while the characteristics of the earlier volumes were more amply
developed and illustrated, and the subtle beauty of the skill became
even more exquisite, the essential qualities of the work remain
unchanged, and the charm of a poet and his significance in the
literature and development of his country were never more readily
defined.

Child of New England, and trained by her best influences; of a
temperament singularly sweet and serene, and with the sturdy rectitude
of his race; refined and softened by wide contact with other lands and
many men; born in prosperity, accomplished in all literatures, and
himself a literary artist of consummate elegance, he was the fine
flower of the Puritan stock under its changed modern conditions. Out
of strength had come forth sweetness. The grim iconoclast, "humming a
surly hymn", had issued in the Christian gentleman. Captain Miles
Standish had risen into Sir Philip Sidney. The austere morality that
relentlessly ruled the elder New England reappeared in the genius of
this singer in the most gracious and captivating form. The grave
nature of Bryant in his early secluded life among the solitary hills
of Western Massachusetts had been tinged by them with their own
sobriety. There was something of the sombre forest, of the gray rocky
face of stern New England in his granitic verse. But what delicate
wild-flowers nodded in the clefts! What scent of the pine-tree, what
music of gurgling water, filled the cool air! What bird high poised
upon its solitary way through heaven-taught faith to him who pursued
his way alone!

But while the same moral tone in the poetry both of Bryant and of
Longfellow shows them to be children of the same soil and tradition,
and shows also that they saw plainly, what poets of the greatest
genius have often not seen at all, that in the morality of human life
lies its true beauty, the different aspect of Puritan development
which they displayed was due to difference of temperament and
circumstance. The foundations of our distinctive literature were
largely laid in New England, and they rest upon morality. Literary New
England had never a trace of literary Bohemia. The most illustrious
group, and the earliest, of American authors and scholars and literary
men, the Boston and Cambridge group of the last generation--Channing,
the two Danas, Sparks, Everett, Bancroft, Ticknor, Prescott, Norton,
Ripley, Palfrey, Emerson, Parker, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Holmes,
Whittier, Agassiz, Lowell, Motley--have been all sober and
industrious citizens of whom Judge Sewall would have approved. Their
lives as well as their works have ennobled literature. They have
illustrated the moral sanity of genius.

Longfellow shares this trait with them all. It is the moral purity of
his verse which at once charms the heart, and in his first most famous
poem, the "Psalm of Life", it is the direct inculcation of a moral
purpose. Those who insist that literary art, like all other art,
should not concern itself positively with morality, must reflect that
the heart of this age has been touched as truly by Longfellow, however
differently, as that of any time by its master-poet. This, indeed, is
his peculiar distinction. Among the great poetic names of the century
in English literature, Burns, in a general way, is the poet of love;
Wordsworth, of lofty contemplation of nature; Byron, of passion;
Shelley, of aspiration; Keats, of romance; Scott, of heroic legend;
and not less, and quite as distinctively, Longfellow, of the domestic
affections. He is the poet of the household, of the fireside, of the
universal home feeling. The infinite tenderness and patience, the
pathos, and the beauty of daily life, of familiar emotion, and the
common scene, these are the significance of that verse whose beautiful
and simple melody, softly murmuring for more than forty years, made
the singer the most widely beloved of living men.

Longfellow's genius was not a great creative force. It burst into no
tempests of mighty passion. It did not wrestle with the haughtily
veiled problems of fate and free-will absolute. It had no dramatic
movement and variety, no eccentricity and grotesqueness and
unexpectedness. It was not Lear, nor Faust, nor Manfred, nor Romeo. A
carnation is not a passion-flower. Indeed, no poet of so universal and
sincere a popularity ever sang so little of love as a passion. None of
his smaller poems are love poems; and _Evangeline_ is a tale, not of
fiery romance, but of affection "that hopes and endures and is patient",
of the unwasting "beauty and strength of woman's devotion", of the
constantly tried and tested virtue that makes up the happiness of daily
life. No one has described so well as Longfellow himself the character
and influence of his own poetry:

 "Come read to me some poem,
  Some simple and heart-felt lay,
  That shall soothe this restless feeling,
  And banish the thoughts of day.

 "Hot from the grand old masters,
  Not from the bards sublime,
  Whose distant footsteps echo
  Through the corridors of Time.

       *       *       *       *       *

 "Such songs have power to quiet
  The restless pulse of care,
  And come like the benediction
  That follows after prayer."

This was the office of Longfellow in literature, and how perfectly it
was fulfilled! It was not a wilful purpose, but he carefully guarded
the fountain of his song from contamination or diversion, and this was
its natural overflow. During the long period of his literary activity
there were many "schools" and styles and fashions of poetry. The
influence first of Byron, then of Keats, is manifest in the poetry of
the last generation, and in later days a voluptuous vagueness and
barbaric splendor, as of the lower empire in literature, have corroded
the vigor of much modern verse. But no perfumed blandishment of
doubtful goddesses won Longfellow from his sweet and domestic Muse.
The clear thought, the true feeling, the pure aspiration, is expressed
with limpid simplicity:

  "Strong without rage; without o'erflowing, full."

The most delightful picture in Goldsmith's life is that of the youth
wandering through rural Europe, stopping at the little villages in the
peaceful summer sunset, and sweetly playing melodies upon his flute
for the lads and lasses to dance upon the green. Who that reads "The
Traveller" and "The Deserted Village" does not hear in their pensive
music the far-away fluting of that kind-hearted wanderer, and see the
lovely idyl of that simple life? So sings this poet to the young men
and maidens in the soft summer air. They follow his measures with
fascinated hearts, for they hear in them their own hearts singing;
they catch the music of their dearest hope, of their best endeavor;
they hear the voices of the peaceful joy that hallows faithful
affection, of the benediction that belongs to self-sacrifice and
devotion. And now that the singer is gone, and his voice is silent,
those hushed hearts recall the words of Father Felicien, Evangeline's
pastor:

  "Forty years of my life have I labored among you, and
  taught you
  Not in word alone, but in deed, to love one another."

It is this fidelity of his genius to itself, the universal feeling to
which he gives expression, and the perfection of his literary
workmanship, which is sure to give Longfellow a permanent place in
literature. His poems are apples of gold in pictures of silver. There
is nothing in them excessive, nothing overwrought, nothing strained
into turgidity, obscurity, and nonsense. There is sometimes, indeed, a
fine stateliness, as in the "Arsenal at Springfield", and even a
resounding splendor of diction, as in "Sandalphon". But when the
melody is most delicate it is simple. The poet throws nothing into the
mist to make it large. How purely melodious his verse can be without
losing the thought or its most transparent expression is seen in "The
Evening Star" and "Snow-Flakes".

The literary decoration of his style, the aroma and color and richness,
so to speak, which it derives from his ample accomplishment in
literature, are incomparable. His verse is embroidered with allusions
and names and illustrations wrought with a taste so true and a skill
so rare that the robe, though it be cloth of gold, is as finely flexible
as linen, and still beautifully reveals, not conceals, the living form.

This scholarly allusion and literary tone were at one time criticised
as showing that Longfellow's genius was really an exotic grown under
glass, or a smooth-throated mocking-bird warbling a foreign melody. A
recent admirable paper in the _Evening Post_ intimates that the kindly
poet took the suggestion in good part, and modified his strain. But
there was never any interruption or change in the continuity of his
work. _Evangeline_ and _Hiawatha_ and _The Courtship of Miles
Standish_ blossom as naturally out of his evident and characteristic
taste and tendency as _The Golden Legend_ or the _Masque of Pandora_.
In the _Tales of a Wayside Inn_ the "Ride of Paul Revere" is as
natural a play of his power as "King Robert of Sicily". The various
aspect and character of nature upon the American continent is nowhere
so fully, beautifully, and accurately portrayed as in _Evangeline_.
The scenery of the poem is the vast American landscape, boundless
prairie and wooded hill, brimming river and green valley, sparkling
savanna and broad bayou, city and village, camp and wigwam, peopled
with the children of many races, and all the blended panorama seen in
the magic light of imagination. So, too, the poetic character of the
Indian legend is preserved with conscientious care and fit monotony of
rippling music in _Hiawatha_. But this is an accident and an incident.
It is not the theme which determines the poet. All Scotland, indeed,
sings and glows in the verse of Burns, but very little of England is
seen or heard in that of Byron.

In no other conspicuous figure in literary history are the man and the
poet more indissolubly blended than in Longfellow. The poet was the
man, and the man the poet. What he was to the stranger reading in
distant lands, by

    "The long wash of Australasian seas,"

that he was to the most intimate of his friends. His life and
character were perfectly reflected in his books. There is no purity or
grace or feeling or spotless charm in his verse which did not belong
to the man. There was never an explanation to be offered for him; no
allowance was necessary for the eccentricity or grotesqueness or
wilfulness or humor of genius. Simple, modest, frank, manly, he was
the good citizen, the self-respecting gentleman, the symmetrical man.

He lived in an interesting historic house in a venerable university
town, itself the suburb of a great city; the highway running by his
gate and dividing the smooth grass and modest green terraces about the
house from the fields and meadows that sloped gently to the placid
Charles, and the low range of distant hills that made the horizon.
Through the little gate passed an endless procession of pilgrims of
every degree and from every country to pay homage to their American
friend. Every morning came the letters of those who could not come
in person, and with infinite urbanity and sympathy and patience the
master of the house received them all, and his gracious hospitality
but deepened the admiration and affection of the guests. His nearer
friends sometimes remonstrated at his sweet courtesy to such annoying
"devastators of the day". But to an urgent complaint of his endless
favor to a flagrant offender, Longfellow only answered, good-humoredly,
"If I did not speak kindly to him, there is not a man in the world who
would." On the day that he was taken ill, six days only before his death,
three schoolboys came out from Boston on their Saturday holiday to ask
his autograph. The benign lover of children welcomed them heartily,
showed them a hundred interesting objects in his house, then wrote his
name for them, and for the last time.

Few men had known deeper sorrow. But no man ever mounted upon his
sorrow more surely to higher things. Blessed and beloved, the singer
is gone, but his song remains, and its pure and imperishable melody is
the song of the lark in the morning of our literature:

  "Type of the wise who soar but never roam,
   True to the kindred points of heaven and home."




OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES


In 1817 Bryant's "Thanatopsis" was published in the _North American
Review_. Richard Henry Dana, the elder, who was then one of the
editors, said that it could not be an American poem, for there was no
American who could have written it. But it does not seem to have
produced a remarkable impression upon the public mind. The planet rose
silently and unobserved. Ten years afterwards, in 1827, Dana's own
"Buccaneer" was published, and Christopher North, in _Blackwood_,
saluted it as "by far the most original and powerful of American
poetical compositions". But it produced in this country no general
effect which is remembered. Nine years later, in 1836, Holmes's
"Metrical Essay" was delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at
Harvard College, and was as distinct an event in literary circles as
Edward Everett's oration before the same society in 1824, or Ralph
Waldo Emerson's in 1837, or Horace Bushnell's in 1848, or Wendell
Phillips's in 1881. Holmes was then twenty-seven years old, and had
just returned from his professional studies in Europe, where, as in
his college days at Cambridge, where he was born, he had toyed with
many Muses, yet still, with native Yankee prudence, held fast the hand
of Aesculapius. His poem, like the address of Emerson in the next
year, showed how completely the modern spirit of refined and exquisite
literary cultivation and of free and undaunted thought had superseded
the uncouth literary form and stern and rigid Calvinism of the Mathers
and early Boston.

The melody and grace of Goldsmith's line, but with a fresh local
spirit, have not been more perfectly reproduced, nor with a more
distinct revelation of a new spirit, than in this poem. It is
retrospective and contemplative, but it is also full of the buoyancy
of youth, of the consciousness of poetic skill, and of blithe
anticipation. Its tender reminiscence and occasional fond elegiac
strain are but clouds of the morning. Its literary form is exquisite,
and its general impression is that of bright, elastic, confident
power. It was by no means, however, a first work, nor was the poet
unknown in his own home. But the "Metrical Essay" introduced him to a
larger public, while the fugitive pieces already known were the
assurance that the more important poem was not a happy chance, but the
development of a quality already proved. Seven years before, in 1829,
the year he graduated at Harvard, Holmes began to contribute to _The
Collegian_, a college magazine. Two years later, in 1831, appeared the
_New England Magazine_, in which the young writer, as he might himself
say, took the road with his double team of verse and prose, holding
the ribbons with unsurpassed lightness and grace and skill, now for
two generations guiding those fleet and well-groomed coursers, which
still show their heels to panting rivals, the prancing team behind
which we have all driven and are still driving with constant and
undiminished delight.

Mr. F. B. Sanborn, whose tribute to Holmes on his eightieth birthday
shows how thorough was his research for that labor of love, tells us
that his first contribution to the _New England Magazine_ was
published in the third or September number of the first year, 1831. It
was a copy of verses of an unpromising title--"To an Insect". But that
particular insect, seemingly the creature of a day, proved to be
immortal, for it was the katydid, whose voice is perennial:

  "Thou sayest an undisputed thing
   In such a solemn way."

In the contributions of the young graduate the high spirits of a
frolicsome fancy effervesce and sparkle. But their quality of a new
literary tone and spirit is very evident. The ease and fun of these
bright prolusions, without impudence or coarseness, the poetic touch
and refinement, were as unmistakable as the brisk pungency of the
gibe. The stately and scholarly Boston of Channing, Dana, Everett, and
Ticknor might indeed have looked askance at the literary claims of
such lines as these "Thoughts in Dejection" of a poet wondering if the
path to Parnassus lay over Charlestown or Chelsea bridge:

 "What is a poet's fame?
    Sad hints about his reason,
  And sadder praise from gazetteers,
    To be returned in season.

 "For him the future holds
    No civic wreath above him;
  Nor slated roof nor varnished chair,
    Nor wife nor child to love him.

 "Maid of the village inn,
    Who workest woe on satin,
  The grass in black, the graves in green,
    The epitaph in Latin,

 "Trust not to them who say
    In stanzas they adore thee;
  Oh, rather sleep in church-yard clay,
    With maudlin cherubs o'er thee!"

The lines to the katydid, with "L'Inconnue"--

 "Is thy name Mary, maiden fair?"--

published in the magazine at about the same time, disclose Holmes's
natural melody and his fine instinct for literary form. But his
lyrical fervor finds its most jubilant expression at this time in "Old
Ironsides", written at the turning-point in the poet's life, when he
had renounced the study of the law, and was deciding upon medicine as
his profession. The proposal to destroy the frigate Constitution,
fondly and familiarly known as "Old Ironsides", kindled a patriotic
frenzy in the sensitive Boston boy, which burst forth into the noble
lyric,

  "Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!"

There had been no American poetry with a truer lilt of song than these
early verses, and there has been none since. Two years later, in 1833,
Holmes went to complete his medical studies in Paris, and the lines to
a grisette--

  "Ah, Clemence, when I saw thee last
   Trip down the Rue de Seine!"--

published upon his return in his first volume of verse, are a charming
illustration of his lyrical genius. His limpid line never flowed more
clearly than in this poem. It has the pensive tone of all his best
poems of the kind, but it is the half-happy sadness of youth.

All these early verses have an assured literary form. The scope and
strain were new, but their most significant quality was not melody nor
pensive grace, but humor. This was ingrained and genuine. Sometimes it
was rollicking, as in "The Height of the Ridiculous" and "The September
Gale". Sometimes it was drolly meditative, as in "Evening, by a Tailor".
Sometimes it was a tearful smile of the deepest feeling, as in the most
charming and perfect of these poems, "The Last Leaf", in which delicate
and searching pathos is exquisitely fused with tender gayety. The
haunting music and meaning of the lines,

  "The mossy marbles rest
   On the lips that he has pressed
     In their bloom,
   And the names he loved to hear
   Have been carved for many a year
     On the tomb",

lingered always in the memory of Lincoln, whose simple sincerity and
native melancholy would instinctively have rejected any false note. It
is in such melody as that of the "Last Leaf" that we feel how truly
the grim old Puritan strength has become sweetness.

To this poetic grace and humor and music, which at that time were
unrivalled, although the early notes of a tuneful choir of awakening
songsters were already heard, the young Holmes added the brisk and
crisp and sparkling charm of his prose. From the beginning his
coursers were paired, and with equal pace they have constantly held
the road. In the _New England Magazine_ for November in the same year,
1831, a short paper was published called the "Autocrat of the
Breakfast Table". The tone of placid dogmatism and infallible finality
with which the bulls of the domestic pope are delivered is
delightfully familiar. This earliest one has perhaps more of the
cardinal's preliminary scarlet than of the mature papal white, but in
its first note the voice of the Autocrat is unmistakable:

   "Somebody was rigmarolling the other day about the artificial
    distinctions of society.
   'Madam,' said I, 'society is the same in all large places. I divide
    it thus:
    1. People of cultivation who live in large houses.
    2. People of cultivation who live in small houses.
    3. People without cultivation who live in large houses.
    4. People without cultivation who live in small houses.
    5. Scrubs.'
    An individual at the upper end of the table turned pale and left the
    room as I finished with the monosyllable."

"'Tis sixty years since", but that drop is of the same characteristic
transparency and sparkle as in the latest Tea-Cup.

The time in which the _New England Magazine_ was published, and these
firstlings of Holmes's muse appeared, was one of prophetic literary
stir in New England. There were other signs than those in letters of
the breaking-up of the long Puritan winter. A more striking and
extreme reaction from the New England tradition could not well be
imagined than that which was offered by Nathaniel Parker Willis, of
whom Holmes himself says "that he was at the time something between a
remembrance of Count D'Orsay and an anticipation of Oscar Wilde".
Willis was a kindly saunterer, the first Boston dandy, who began his
literary career with grotesque propriety as a sentimentalizer of Bible
stories, a performance which Lowell gayly called inspiration and
water. In what now seems a languid, Byronic way, he figured as a
Yankee Pelham or Vivian Grey. Yet in his prose and verse there was a
tacit protest against the old order, and that it was felt is shown by
the bitterness of ridicule and taunt and insult with which, both
publicly and privately, this most amiable youth was attacked, who, at
that time, had never said an ill-natured word of anybody, and who was
always most generous in his treatment of his fellow authors.

The epoch of Willis and the _New England Magazine_ is very notable in
the history of American literature. The traditions of that literature
were grave and even sombre. Irving, indeed, in his Knickerbocker and
Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane, and in the general gayety of his
literary touch, had emancipated it from strict allegiance to the
solemnity of its precedents, and had lighted it with a smile. He
supplied a quality of grace and cheerfulness which it had lacked, and
without unduly magnifying his charming genius, it had a natural,
fresh, and smiling spirit, which, amid the funereal, theologic gloom,
suggests the sweetness and brightness of morning. In its effect it is
a breath of Chaucer. When Knickerbocker was published, Joel Barlow's
"Hasty-Pudding" was the chief achievement of American literary humor.
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner were not yet "the wits of
Hartford". Those who bore that name held it by brevet. Indeed, the
humor of our early literature is pathetic. In no State was the
ecclesiastical dominance more absolute than in Connecticut, and
nothing shows more truly how absolute and grim it was than the fact
that the performances of the "wits" in that State were regarded
--gravely, it must have been--as humor.

For a long time there was no vital response in New England to the
chord touched by Irving. Yet Boston was then unquestionably the chief
seat of American letters. Dennie had established his _Portfolio_ in
Philadelphia in 1801, but in 1805 the _Monthly Anthology_, which was
subsequently reproduced in the _North American Review_, appeared in
Boston, and was the organ or illustration of the most important
literary and intellectual life of the country at that time. The
opening of the century saw the revolt against the supremacy of the old
Puritan Church of New England--a revolt within its own pale. This
clerical protest against the austere dogmas of Calvinism in its
ancient seat was coincident with the overthrow in the national
government of Federalism and the political triumph of Jefferson and
his party. Simultaneously also with the religious and political
disturbance was felt the new intellectual and literary impulse of
which the _Anthology_ was the organ. But the religious and literary
movements were not in sympathy with the political revolution, although
they were all indications of emancipation from the dominance of old
traditions, the mental restlessness of a people coming gradually to
national consciousness.

Mr. Henry Adams, in remarking upon this situation in his history of
Madison's administration, points out that leaders of the religious
protest which is known as the Unitarian Secession in New England were
also leaders in the intellectual and literary awakening of the time,
but had no sympathy with Jefferson or admiration of France. Bryant's
father was a Federalist; the club that conducted the _Anthology_ and
the _North American Review_ was composed of Federalists; and the youth
whose "Thanatopsis" is the chief distinction of the beginning of that
_Review_, and the morning star of American poetry, was, as a boy of
thirteen, the author of the "Embargo", a performance in which the
valiant Jack gave the giant Jefferson no quarter. The religious
secession took its definite form in Dr. Channing's sermon at the
ordination of Jared Sparks in Baltimore in 1819, which powerfully
arraigned the dominant theology of the time. This was the year in
which Irving's _Sketch Book_ was published. Bryant's first volume
followed a year or two later, and our distinctive literary epoch
opened.

Ten years afterwards, when Bryant had left New England, Dr. Channing
was its most dignified and characteristic name in literature. But he
was distinctively a preacher, and his serene and sweet genius never
unbent into a frolicsome mood. As early as 1820 a volume of Robert
Burns's poems fell into Whittier's hands like a spark into tinder, and
the flame that has so long illuminated and cheered began to blaze. It
was, however, a softened ray, not yet the tongue of lyric fire which
it afterwards became. But none of the poets smiled as they sang. The
Muse of New England was staid and stately--or was she, after all, not
a true daughter of Jove, but a tenth Muse, an Anne Bradstreet? The
rollicking laugh of Knickerbocker was a solitary sound in the American
air until the blithe carol of Holmes returned a kindred echo.

Willis was the sign of the breaking spell. But his light touch could
not avail. The Puritan spell could be broken only by Puritan force,
and it is the lineal descendants of Puritanism, often the sons of
clergymen--Emerson and Holmes and Longfellow and Hawthorne and
Whittier--who emancipated our literature from its Puritan subjection.
In 1829 Willis, as editor of _Peter Parley's Token_ and the _American
Monthly Magazine_, was aided by Longfellow and Hawthorne and Motley
and Hildreth and Mrs. Child and Mrs. Sigourney, and the elder Bishop
Doane, Park Benjamin and George B. Cheever, Albert Pike and Rufus
Dawes, as contributors. Willis himself was a copious writer, and in
the _American Monthly_ first appeared the titles of "Inkling of
Adventure" and "Pencillings by the Way", which he afterwards
reproduced for some of his best literary work. The _Monthly_ failed,
and in 1831, the year that the _New England Magazine_ began, it was
merged in the New York _Mirror_, of which Willis became associate
editor, leaving his native city forever, and never forgiving its
injustice towards him. In the heyday of his happy social career in
England he wrote to his mother, "The mines of Golconda would not tempt
me to return and live in Boston."

This was the literary situation when Holmes was preluding in the
magazine. The acknowledged poets in Boston were Dana, Sprague, and
Pierpont. Are these names familiar to the readers of this essay? How
much of their poetry can those readers repeat? No one knows more
surely than he who writes of a living author how hard it is to
forecast fame, and how dangerous is prophecy. When Edward Everett
saluted Percival's early volume as the harbinger of literary triumphs,
and Emerson greeted Walt Whitman at "the opening of a great career",
they generalized a strong personal impression. They identified their
own preference with the public taste. On the other hand, Hawthorne
says truly of himself that he was long the most obscure man of letters
in America. Yet he had already published the _Twice-told Tales_ and
the _Mosses from an Old Manse_, the two series of stories in which the
character and quality of his genius are fully disclosed. But although
Longfellow hailed the publication of the first collection as the
rising of a new star, the tone of his comment is not that of the
discoverer of a planet shining for all, but of an individual poetic
pleasure. The prescience of fame is very infrequent. The village gazes
in wonder at the return of the famous man who was born on the farm
under the hill, and whose latent greatness nobody suspected; while the
youth who printed verses in the corner of the county paper, and drew
the fascinated glances of palpitating maidens in the meetinghouse, and
seemed to the farmers to have associated himself at once with
Shakespeare and Tupper and the great literary or "littery folks",
never emerges from the poet's department in the paper in which
unconsciously and forever he has been cornered. It would be a grim
Puritan jest if that department had been named from the corner of the
famous dead in Westminster Abbey.

If the Boston of sixty years ago had ventured to prophesy for itself
literary renown, it is easy to see upon what reputations of the time
it would have rested its claims. But if the most familiar names of
that time are familiar no longer, if Kettell and poems from the
_United States Gazette_ seem to be cemeteries of departed reputations,
the fate of the singers need not be deplored as if Fame had forgotten
them. Fame never knew them. Fame does not retain the name of every
minstrel who passes singing. But to say that Fame does not know them
is not dispraise. They sang for the hearers of their day, as the
players played. Is it nothing to please those who listen, because
those who are out of hearing do not stop and applaud? If we recall the
names most eminent in our literature, whether they were destined for a
longer or shorter date, we shall see that they are undeniably
illustrations of the survival of the fittest. Turning over the noble
volumes of Stedman and Miss Hutchinson, in which, as on a vast plain,
the whole line of American literature is drawn up for inspection and
review, and marches past like the ghostly midnight columns of
Napoleon's grand army, we cannot quarrel with the verdict of time, nor
feel that injustice has been done to Thamis or to Cawdor. There are
singers of a day, but not less singers because they are of a day. The
insect that flashes in the sunbeam does not survive like the elephant.
The splendor of the most gorgeous butterfly does not endure with the
faint hue of the hills that gives Athens its Pindaric name. And there
are singers who do not sing. What says Holmes, with eager sympathy and
pity, in one of his most familiar and most beautiful lyrics?--

 "We count the broken lyres that rest
    Where the sweet waiting singers slumber,
  But o'er their silent sister's breast
    The wild flowers who will stoop to number?
  A few can touch the magic string,
    And noisy fame is proud to win them;
  Alas, for those that never sing,
    And die with all their music in them!"

But as he says also that the capacities of listeners at lectures
differ widely, some holding a gallon, others a quart, and others only
a pint or a gill, so of the singers who are not voiceless, their
voices differ in volume. Some are organs that fill the air with
glorious and continuous music; some are trumpets blowing a ringing
peal, then sinking into silence; some are harps of melancholy but
faint vibration; still others are flutes and pipes, whose sweet or
shrill note has a dying fall. Some are heard as the wind or sea is
heard; some like the rustle of leaves; some like the chirp of birds.
Some are heard long and far away; others across the field; others
hardly across the street. Fame is perhaps but the term of a longer or
shorter fight with oblivion; but it is the warrior who "drinks delight
of battle with his peers", and holds his own in the fray, who finally
commands the eye and the heart. There were poets pleasantly singing to
our grandfathers whose songs we do not hear, but the unheeded voice of
the youngest songster of that time is a voice we heed to-day. Holmes
wrote but two "Autocrat" papers in the _New England Magazine_--one in
November, 1831, and the other in February, 1832. The year after the
publication of the second paper he went to Paris, where for three
years he studied medicine, not as a poet, but as a physician, and he
returned in 1836 an admirably trained and highly accomplished
professional man. But the Phi Beta Kappa poem of that year, like the
tender lyric to Clemence upon leaving Paris, shows not only that the
poet was not dead, but that he did not even sleep. The "Metrical
Essay" was the serious announcement that the poet was not lost in the
man of science, an announcement which was followed by the publication
in the same year (1836) of his first volume of poems. This was three
years before the publication of Longfellow's first volume of verses,
_The Voices of the Night_.

Holmes's devotion to the two Muses of science and letters was uniform
and untiring, as it was also to the two literary forms of verse and
prose. But although a man of letters, like the other eminent men of
letters in New England, he had no trace of the Bohemian. Willis was
the only noted literary figure that ever mistook Boston for a seaport
in Bohemia, and he early discovered his error. The fraternity which
has given to Boston its literary primacy has been always distinguished
not only for propriety of life and respectability in its true sense of
worthiness and respect, but for the possession of the virtues of
fidelity, industry, and good sense, which have carried so far both the
influence and the renown of New England. Nowhere has the Bohemian
tradition been more happily and completely shattered than in the
circle to which Holmes returned from his European studies to take his
place. American citizenship in its most attractive aspect has been
signally illustrated in that circle, and it is not without reason that
the government has so often selected from it our chief American
representatives in other countries.

Dr. Holmes, as he was now called, and has continued to be called,
practised his profession in Boston; but whether because of some
lurking popular doubt of a poet's probable skill as a physician, or
from some lack of taste on his part for the details of professional
practice, like his kinsman, Wendell Phillips, and innumerable other
young beginners, he sometimes awaited a professional call longer than
was agreeable. But he wrote medical papers, and was summoned to
lecture to the medical school at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire,
and later at Pittsfield in Massachusetts, while his unfailing charm as
an occasional poet gave him a distinctive name. Holmes's felicity in
occasional poems is extraordinary. The "Metrical Essay" was the first
and chief of the long series of such verses, among which the songs of
'29, the poems addressed year after year to his college classmates of
that year, have a delightful and endless grace, tenderness, wit, and
point. Pegasus draws well in harness the triumphant chariot of '29, in
which the lucky classmates of the poet move to a unique and happy
renown.

As a reader, Holmes was the permanent challenge of Mrs. Browning's
sighing regret that poets never read their own verses to their worth.
Park Benjamin, who heard the Phi Beta Kappa poem, said of its
delivery: "A brilliant, airy, and _spirituelle_ manner varied with
striking flexibility to the changing sentiment of the poem, now deeply
impassioned, now gayly joyous and nonchalant, and anon springing up
into almost an actual flight of rhapsody, rendered the delivery of
this poem a rich, nearly a dramatic entertainment." This was no less
true in later years when he read some of his poems in New York at
Bishop Potter's, then rector of Grace Church, or of the reading of the
poem at the doctors' dinner given to him by the physicians of New York
a little later.

Holmes's readings were like improvisations. The poems were expressed
and interpreted by the whole personality of the poet. The most subtle
touch of thought, the melody of fond regret, the brilliant passage of
description, the culmination of latent fun exploding in a keen and
resistless jest, all these were vivified in the sensitive play of
manner and modulation of tone of the reader, so that a poem by Holmes
at the Harvard Commencement dinner was one of the anticipated delights
which never failed. This temperament implied an oratorical power which
naturally drew the poet into the lecture lyceum when it was in its
prime, in the decade between 1850 and 1860. During that time the
popular lecture was a distinct and effective public force, and not the
least of its services was its part in instructing and training the
public conscience for the great contest of the Civil War.

The year 1831, in which Holmes's literary activity began, was also the
year on whose first day the first number of Garrison's _Liberator_
appeared, and the final period of the slavery controversy opened. But
neither this storm of agitation nor the transcendental mist that a few
years later overhung intellectual New England greatly affected the
poet.

In the first number of the "Autocrat" there is a passage upon puns,
which, crackling with fun, shows his sensitive scepticism. The
"Autocrat" says: "In a case lately decided before Miller, J., Doe
presented Roe a subscription paper, and urged the claims of suffering
humanity. Roe replied by asking when charity was like a top. It was in
evidence that Doe preserved a dignified silence. Roe then said, 'When
it begins to hum.' There are temperaments of a refined suspiciousness
to which, when the plea of reform is urged, the claims of suffering
humanity at once begin to hum. The very word reform irritates a
peculiar kind of sensibility, as a red flag stirs the fury of a bull.
A noted party leader said, with inexpressible scorn, 'When Dr. Johnson
defined the word patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel, he had
not learned the infinite possibilities of the word refa-a-r-m.'"

The acridity of this jest is wholly unknown to the "Autocrat", who has
moved always with reform, if not always with reformers, and whose
protest against bigotry is as searching as it is sparkling. Not only
has his ear been quick to detect the hum of Mr. Honeythunder's loud
appeal, but his eye to catch the often ludicrous aspect of honest
whimsey. During all the early years of his literary career he flew his
flashing darts at all the "isms", and he fell under the doubt and
censure of those earnest children of the time whom the gay and clever
sceptics derided as apostles of the newness. When Holmes appeared upon
the lecture platform it was to discourse of literature or science, or
to treat some text of social manners or morals with a crisp Poor
Richard sense and mother wit, and a brilliancy of illustration,
epigram, and humor that fascinated the most obdurate "come-outer".
Holmes's lectures on the English poets at the Lowell Institute were
among the most noted of that distinguished platform, and everywhere
the poet was one of the most popular of "attractions". There were not
wanting those who maintained that his use of the platform was the
correct one, and that the orators who, often by happy but incisive
indirection, fought the good fight of the hour abused their
opportunity.

It was while Holmes was still a professor, but still also touching the
lyre and writing scientific essays and charming the great audiences of
the lecture lyceum, that in the first number of the _Atlantic
Monthly_, in November, 1857, the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table"
remarked, "I was just going to say, when I was interrupted," and
resumed the colloquies of the _New England Magazine_. He had been
interrupted twenty-two years before. But as he began again it was
plain that it was the same voice, yet fuller, stronger, richer, and
that we were listening to one of the wisest of wits and sharpest of
observers. Emerson warns us that superlatives are to be avoided. But
it will not be denied that the "Autocrat" belongs in the highest rank
of modern magazine or periodical literature, of which the essays of
"Elia" are the type. The form of the "Autocrat"--a semi-dramatic,
conversational, descriptive monologue--is not peculiar to Holmes's
work, but the treatment of it is absolutely original. The manner is as
individual and unmistakable as that of Elia himself. It would be
everywhere recognized as the Autocrat's. During the intermission of
the papers the more noted Macaulay flowers of literature, as the
Autocrat calls them, had bloomed; Carlyle's _Sartor Resartus_ and
reviews, Christopher North's _Noctes_ (now fallen into ancient night),
Thackeray's _Roundabout Papers_, Lowell's _Hosea Biglow_--a whole
library of magazine and periodical literature of the first importance
had appeared. But the Autocrat began again, after a quarter of a
century, musical with so rich a chorus, and his voice was clear,
penetrating, masterful, and distinctively his own.

The cadet branch of English literature--the familiar colloquial
periodical essay, a comment upon men and manners and life--is a
delightful branch of the family, and traces itself back to Dick Steele
and Addison. Hazlitt, who belonged to it, said that he preferred the
_Tatler_ to the _Spectator_; and Thackeray, who consorted with it
proudly, although he was of the elder branch, restored Sir Richard,
whose habits had cost him a great deal of his reputation, to general
favor. The familiar essay is susceptible, as the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries show, of great variety and charm of treatment.
What would the Christian Hero, writing to his Prue that he would be
with her in a pint of wine's time, have said to "Blakesmoor" and
"Oxford in the Vacation"? Yet Lamb and Steele are both consummate
masters of the essay, and Holmes, in the "Autocrat", has given it a
new charm. The little realm of the Autocrat, his lieges of the table,
the persons of the drama, are at once as definitely outlined as Sir
Roger's club. Unconsciously and resistlessly we are drawn within the
circle; we are admitted _ad eundem_, and become the targets of the
wit, the irony, the shrewd and sharp epigram, the airy whim, the
sparkling fancy, the curious and recondite thought, the happy
allusion, the felicitous analogy, of the sovereign master of the
feast.

The index of the _Autocrat_ is in itself a unique work. It reveals the
whimsical discursiveness of the book; the restless hovering of that
brilliant talk over every topic, fancy, feeling, fact; a humming-bird
sipping the one honeyed drop from every flower; or a huma, to use its
own droll and capital symbol of the lyceum lecturer, the bird that
never lights. There are few books that leave more distinctly the
impression of a mind teeming with riches of many kinds. It is, in the
Yankee phrase, thoroughly wideawake. There is no languor, and it
permits none in the reader, who must move along the page warily, lest
in the gay profusion of the grove, unwittingly defrauding himself of
delight, he miss some flower half hidden, some gem chance-dropped,
some darting bird. Howells's _Letters_ was called a chamber-window
book, a book supplying in solitude the charm of the best society. We
could all name a few such in our own literature. Would any of them, or
many, take precedence of the _Autocrat of the Breakfast Table?_

It is in this book that the value of the scientific training to the
man of letters is illustrated, not only in furnishing noble and strong
analogies, but in precision of observation and accuracy of statement.
In Holmes's style, the definiteness of form and the clearness of
expression are graces and virtues which are due to his exact
scientific study, as well as to the daylight quality of his mind.

The delicate apprehension of the finer and tenderer feelings which is
disclosed in the little passages of narrative in the record of the
Autocrat and of his legitimate brothers, the Professor and the Poet,
at the Breakfast Table, gives a grace and a sweetness to the work
which naturally flow into the music of the poems with which the diary
of a conversation often ends. These traits in the Autocrat suggested
that he would yet tell a distinct story, which indeed came while the
trilogy of the Breakfast Table was yet proceeding. _Elsie_ _Venner_
and the _Guardian Angel_, the two novels of Holmes's, are full of the
same briskness and acuteness of observation, the same effusiveness of
humor and characteristic Americanism, as the _Autocrat_. Certain
aspects of New England life and character are treated in these stories
with incomparable vivacity and insight. Holmes's picture is of a later
New England than Hawthorne's, but it is its lineal descendant. It is
another facet of the Puritan diamond which flashes with different
light in the genius of Hawthorne, Emerson, Lowell, Whittier,
Longfellow, Holmes, and Judd in _Margaret_. For, with all his lyrical
instinct and rollicking humor, Holmes is essentially a New-Englander,
and one of the most faithful and shrewd interpreters of New England.

The colloquial habit of the Autocrat is not lost in the stories, and
it is so marked generally in Holmes's writings as to be called
distinctive. It is a fascinating gift, when it is so restrained by
taste and instinctive refinement as not to become what is known as
bumptiousness. Thackeray, even in his novels, is apt to drop into this
vein, to talk about the persons of his drama with his reader, instead
of leaving them to play out their part alone. This trait offends some
of Thackeray's audience, to whom it seems like the manager's hand
thrust into the box to help out the play of the puppets. They resent
not "the damnable faces" of the actors, but the damnable sermonizing
of the author, and exhort him to permit the play to begin. Thackeray
frankly acknowledged his tendency to preach, as he called it. But it
was part of the man. Without the private personal touch of the
essayist in his stories they would not be his. This colloquial habit
is very winning when governed by a natural delicacy and an exquisite
literary instinct. It is the quality of all the authors who are
distinctly beloved as persons by their readers, and it is to this
class that Holmes especially belongs.

It is not a quality which is easily analyzed, but it blends a power of
sympathetic observation and appreciation both of the thing observed
and the reader to whom the observation is addressed. The Autocrat, as
he converses, brightens with his own clear thought, with the happy
quip, the airy fancy. He is sure of your delight, not only in the
thought, but in its deft expression. He in turn is delighted with your
delight. He warms to the responsive mind and heart, and feels the
mutual joy. The personal relation is established, and the Autocrat's
audience become his friends, to whom he describes with infinite glee
the effect of his remarks upon his lieges at table. No other author
takes the reader into his personal confidence more closely than
Holmes, and none reveals his personal temperament more clearly. This
confidential relation becomes even more simple and intimate as time
chastens the eagerness of youth and matures the keen brilliancy of the
blossom into the softer bloom of the fruit. The colloquies of the
Autocrat under the characteristic title of "Over the Tea-Cups" are
full of the same shrewd sense and wise comment and tender thought. The
kindly mentor takes the reader by the button or lays his hand upon his
shoulder, not with the rude familiarity of the bully or the boor, but
with the courtesy of Montaigne, the friendliness of John Aubrey, or
the wise cheer of Selden. The reader glows with the pleasure of an
individual greeting, and a wide diocese of those whom the Autocrat
never saw plume themselves proudly upon his personal acquaintance.

In this discursive talk about one of the American authors who have
vindicated the position of American letters in the literature of the
language we have not mentioned all his works. It is the quality rather
than the quantity with which we are concerned, the upright, honorable,
pure quality of the poet, the wit, the scholar, for whom the most
devoted reader is called to make no plea, no apology. The versatility
of his power is obvious, but scarcely less so the uniformity of his
work.

It is a power which was early mature. For many a year he has dwelt
upon a high table-land where the air is equable and inspiring, yet, as
we have hinted, ever softer and sweeter. The lyric of today glows with
the same ardor as the fervent apostrophe to "Old Ironsides" or the
tripping salutation to the remembered and regretted Clemence; it is
only less eager. The young Autocrat who remarked that the word "scrub"
dismissed from table a fellow-boarder who turned pale, now with the
same smiling acuteness remarks the imprudent politeness which tries to
assure him that it is no matter if he is a little older. Did anybody
say so? The easy agility with which he cleared "the seven-barred gate"
has carried him over the eight bars, and we are all in hot pursuit.
For just sixty years since his first gay and tender note was heard,
Holmes has been fulfilling the promise of his matin song. He has
become a patriarch of our literature, and all his countrymen are his
lovers.




WASHINGTON IRVING


Forty years ago, upon a pleasant afternoon, you might have seen tripping
with an elastic step along Broadway, in New York, a figure which even
then would have been called quaint. It was a man of about sixty-six or
sixty-seven years old, of a rather solid frame, wearing a Talma, as a
short cloak of the time was called, that hung from the shoulders, and
low shoes, neatly tied, which were observable at a time when boots were
generally worn. The head was slightly declined to one side, the face was
smoothly shaven, and the eyes twinkled with kindly humor and shrewdness.
There was a chirping, cheery, old-school air in the whole appearance,
an undeniable Dutch aspect, which, in the streets of New Amsterdam,
irresistibly recalled Diedrich Knickerbocker. The observer might easily
have supposed that he saw some later descendant of the renowned Wouter
Van Twiller refined into a nineteenth-century gentleman. The occasional
start of interest as the figure was recognized by some one in the passing
throng, the respectful bow, and the sudden turn to scan him more closely,
indicated that he was not unknown. Indeed, he was the American of his
time universally known. This modest and kindly man was the creator of
Diedrich Knickerbocker and Rip Van Winkle. He was the father of our
literature, and at that time its patriarch. He was Washington Irving.

At the same time you might have seen another man, of slight figure and
rustic aspect, with an air of seriousness, if not severity, moving
with the crowd, but with something remote and reserved in his air, as
if in the city he bore with him another atmosphere, and were still
secluded among solitary hills. In the bright and busy street of the
city which was always cosmopolitan, and in which there lingers a
tradition, constantly renewed, of good-natured banter of the losel
Yankee, this figure passed like the grave genius of New England. By a
little play of fancy the first figure might have seemed the smiling
spirit of genial cheerfulness and humor, of kindly sympathy even with
the foibles and weaknesses of poor human nature; and the other the
mentor of its earnest endeavor and serious duty. For he was the first
of our poets, whose "Thanatopsis" was the hymn of his meditations
among the primeval forests of his native hills, and who, in his last
years, sat at the door of his early home and looked across the valley
of the Westfield to the little town of Plainfield upon the wooded
heights beyond, whose chief distinction is that there he wrote the
"Waterfowl"; for this graver figure was the poet Bryant.

If in the same walk you had passed those two figures, you would have
seen not only the first of our famous prose writers and the first of
our acknowledged poets, but also the representatives of the two
fundamental and distinctive qualities of our American literature, as
of all literature--its grave, reflective, earnest character, and its
sportive, genial, and humorous genius.

At the time of which I speak another figure also was familiar in
Broadway, but less generally recognized as it passed than either of
the others, although, perhaps, even more widely known to fame than
they. This was Cooper, who gave us so many of the heroes of our
childhood's delight, but who at this time was himself the hero of
innumerable lawsuits, undertaken to chastise the press for what he
believed to be unjust and libelous comments upon himself. Now that
the uproar of that litigation is silent, and its occasion forgotten,
it seems comical that a man for whom fame had already rendered a
favorable judgment should be busily seeking the opinion of local
courts upon transitory newspaper opinions of him-self and his
writings. It is as if Dickens, when the whole English-reading
world--judges on the bench and bishops in their studies, cobblers
in their stalls and grooms in the stables--were all laughing over
Pickwick, should have sued the _Eatanswill Gazette_ for calling him
a clown. Thackeray pronounces Cooper's Long Tom Coffin one of the
prizemen of fiction. That is a final judgment by the chief-justice.
But who knows what was the verdict in Cooper's lawsuits to vindicate
himself, and who cares? When Cooper died there was a great
commemorative meeting in New York. Daniel Webster presided, and
praised the storyteller; Bryant read a discourse upon him, while
Irving sat by his side. One of the triumvirate of our early literature
was gone, and two remained to foresee their own future in the honors
paid to him. Indeed, it was to see them, quite as much as to hear of
their dead comrade, that the multitude assembled that evening; and the
one who was seen with the most interest was Irving, the one in whom
the city of New York naturally feels a peculiar right and pride, as
the most renowned of her children.

If I say that he made personally the same impression that his works
make, you can easily see the man. As you read the story of his life
you feel its constant gayety and cheerfulness. It was the life of a
literary man and a man of society--a life without events, or only the
events of all our lives, except that it lacks the great event of
marriage. In place of it there is a tender and pathetic romance.
Irving lived to be seventy-six years old. At twenty-six he was engaged
to a beautiful girl, who died. He never married; but after his death,
in a little box of which he always kept the key, was found the
miniature of a lovely girl, and with it a braid of fair hair, and a
slip of paper on which was written the name Matilda Hoffman, with some
pages upon which the writing was long since faded. That fair face
Irving kept all his life in a more secret and sacred shrine. It looks
out, now and then, with unchanged loveliness from some pensive
passage, which he seems to write with wistful melancholy of
remembrance. That fond and immortal presence constantly renewed the
gentle humanity, the tenderness of feeling, the sweet healthfulness
and generous sympathy which never failed in his life and writings.

He was born in the city of New York in 1783, the year in which the
Revolution ended in the acknowledgment of American independence. The
British army marched out of the city, and the American army, with
Washington at the head, marched in. "The patriot's work is ended just
as my boy is born," said the patriotic mother, "and the boy shall be
named Washington". Six years later, when Washington returned to New
York to be inaugurated President, he was one day going into a shop
when the boy's Scotch nurse democratically stopped the new republican
chief magistrate and said to him, "Please your honor, here's a bairn
was named for you". The great man turned and looked kindly on his
little namesake, laid his hand upon his head, and blessed his future
biographer.

The name of no other American has been so curiously confused with
Washington's as that of Irving. Many a young fellow puzzles over the
connection which the name seems vaguely to imply, and in other lands
the identity of the men is confounded. When Irving first went to Europe,
a very young man, well-educated, courteous, with great geniality of
manner and charm of conversation, he was received by Prince Torlonia,
the banker, in Rome, with unusual and flattering civility. His
travelling companion, who had been treated by the prince with entire
indifference, was perplexed at the warmth of Irving's welcome.
Irving laughingly said that it only proved the prince's remarkable
discrimination. But the young travellers laughed still more when the
prince unconsciously revealed the secret of his attentions by taking
his guest aside, and asking him how nearly he was related to General
Washington.

Many years afterwards, when he had become famous, an English lady and
her daughter paused in an Italian gallery before a bust of Washington.
"And who was Washington, mamma?" asked the daughter. "Why, my dear, I
am surprised at your ignorance," answered the mother, "he was the
author of the _Sketch Book_." Long ago in Berlin I was talking with
some American friends one evening at a cafe, and observed a German
intently listening to our conversation as if trying his ability to
understand the language. Presently he said to me, politely, "You are
English, no?" But when I replied "No, we are Americans"--"Americans!"
he exclaimed enthusiastically, grasping my hand and shaking it warmly,
"Americans, ach! we all know your great General Washington Irving."

Irving's father was a Presbyterian deacon, in whose heart the sterner
traditions of the Covenanters lingered. He tried hard to teach his son
to contemn amusement, and to impale his youth upon the five points of
Calvinism, rather than to play ball. But it was John Knox trying to
curb the tricksy Ariel. Perhaps from some bright maternal ancestor the
boy had derived his sweet gayety of nature which nothing could
repress. His airy spirits bubbled like a sunny fountain in that
some-what arid household. He read at ten a translation of the _Orlando
Furioso_, and his father's yard, doubtless trim and well kept as
beseemed a deacon's yard, became at once a field of chivalry. Candles
were forbidden him in his chamber, but when he made the acquaintance
of _Robinson Crusoe_ and _Sindbad the Sailor_, he secreted lights to
illuminate his innocent revels with those immortal playmates.

The amusements which were permitted were of too depressing a character
to be tolerated by the healthy boy, who, like the duck taking to the
water from under the wing of the astonished hen, sometimes escaped
from the serious house at night by dropping from a window, and with
a delight that must have torn his father's heart with anguish had
he known it, tasted the forbidden fruit of the theatre. It was a
Presbyterian boy who tasted it then; but in the same city many years
afterwards it was a Quaker boy whom I knew who was also enamoured of
the play. "John," said his grieved father, "is this dreadful thing
true that I hear of thee? Has thee ever been to see the play-actress
Frances Kemble?" "Yes, father," answered the heroic John. "I hope thee
has not been more than once, John," said the afflicted father. "Yes,
father," replied John, resolved to make a clean breast of his sins,
"more than thirty times." It is useless to try to prevent blue-birds
from flying in the spring. The blithe creatures made to soar and sing
will not be restrained. The same kind Providence that made Calvin made
Shakespeare. The sun is higher than the clouds, and smiles are as
heaven-born as tears. In Emerson's poem the squirrel says to the
mountain:

 "You're not so small as I,
  And not half so spry;
       *       *       *       *       *
 "If I cannot carry forests on my back
  Neither can you crack a nut."

It was in vain to try to thwart the young Irving's genius. Yet the boy
who a little later was to light with rosy cheer the air which, as
Wendell Phillips said, was still black with sermons; who was to give
to our literature its first distinctly humorous strain, and innocently
to amuse the world, was somehow or other, as he said, "taught to feel
that everything pleasant was wicked".

If that were so, what a sinner Washington Irving was! If to make life
easier by making it pleasanter, if to outwit trouble by gay banter, if
with satire that smiles but never stings to correct foibles and to
quicken good impulses; if to deepen and strengthen human sympathy, is
not to be a human benefactor, what makes one? When Dr. Johnson said of
Garrick that his death eclipsed the gayety of nations, he did not mean
merely that the player would no longer make men laugh, but that he
could no longer make them better. "If, however," said Irving--and
Willis selected the words for the motto of his second volume of verse
published in 1827--"I can by a lucky chance, in these days of evil,
rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart
of one moment of sadness; if I can, now and then, penetrate the
gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human
nature, and make my reader more in good-humor with his fellow-beings
and himself, surely, surely I shall not then have written entirely in
vain."

That cannot be said to have been the spirit of any American author
before Irving. Our colonial literature was mainly political and
theological. You have only to return to the early New England days in
the stories of Hawthorne, the magician who restores with a shuddering
spell that old, sombre life, to understand the character of its
reading. The books that were not treatises upon special topics all
seemed to say with one of the grim bards of Calvinism:

    "My thoughts on awful subjects roll,
            Damnation and the dead."

Literature, in its proper sense, there was none. There was no
imaginative creation, no play of fancy and humor, no subtle charm of
the ideal life, no grace and delight of expression, which are
essential to literature. The perpetual twilight and chill of the New
England Puritan world were an arctic winter in which no flower of
poesy bloomed and no bird sang. One of the French players who came to
this country with Rachel says, in his journal, with a startled air, as
if he had remarked in Americans a universal touch of lunacy, that he
was invited to take a pleasure-drive to Greenwood Cemetery. Evidently
he was not familiar with Froissart's epigram nor with the annals of
the Puritan fathers, or he would have known that their favorite
pleasure-ground was the graveyard. Judge Sewell's Journal, the best
picture of daily New England life in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, is a portrait framed in black and hung with thick crape. It
is a register of funerals--a book which seems to require a suit of
sables for its proper reading.

The early Christians dwelt so often and so long in the catacombs that
when they emerged, accustomed to associate life with the tomb, they
doubtless regarded the whole world as a cemetery. The American Puritans
inherited the disposition from their early confessors, and so powerful
was the tendency that it laid its sombre spirit upon the earliest
enduring poem in our literature, and the fresh and smiling nature of
the new world was first depicted by our literary art as a tomb:

                                        "The hills,
  Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun; the vales
  Stretching in pensive quietness between;
  The venerable woods; rivers that move
  In majesty; and the complaining brooks
  That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
  Old ocean's gray and melancholy waste,
  Are but the solemn decorations all
  Of the great tomb of man."

"Thanatopsis" is the swan-song of Puritanism. Indeed, when New England
Puritanism could sing, as for the first time it did in the verse of
Bryant, the great change was accomplished. Out of strength had come
forth sweetness. I am not decrying the Puritans. They were the stern
builders of the modern world, the unconscious heralds of wider
liberty, and a kindlier future for mankind. But

 "God works in a mysterious way
  His wonders to perform,"

and never more mysteriously than when he chose as the pioneers of
religious liberty in the New World those who hung Quakers, and as the
founders of civil equality those who permitted only members of their
own Church to vote.

Irving was not a studious boy. He did not go to college. He read some
law at sixteen, but he read much more literature, and sauntered in the
country about New York with his gun and fishing-rod. He sailed up the
Hudson, and explored for the first time the realm that was presently
to be his forever by the right of eminent domain of the imagination.
New York was a snug little city in those days. At the beginning of the
century it was all below the present City Hall, and the young fellow,
who was born a cosmopolitan, greatly enjoyed the charms of the modest
society in which the Dutch and the English circles were still somewhat
separated, and in which such literary cultivation as there was was
necessarily foreign. But while he enjoyed he observed, and his
literary instinct began to stir.

Under the name of "Jonathan Oldstyle", the young Irving printed in his
brother's newspaper essays in the style of the _Spectator_, discussing
topics of the town, and the modest theatre in John Street and its
chance actors, as if it had been Drury Lane with Garrick and Mrs.
Siddons. The little town kindly smiled upon the lively efforts of
the Presbyterian deacon's son; and its welcome of his small essays,
the provincial echo of the famous Queen Anne's men in London, is a
touching revelation of our scant and spare native literary talent.
The essays are forgotten now, but they were enough to bring Charles
Brockden Brown to find the young author, and to tempt him, but in
vain, to write for _The Literary Magazine and American Register_,
which the novelist was just beginning in Philadelphia, a pioneer of
American literary magazines, which Brown sustained for five years.

The youthful Addison of New Amsterdam was a delicate lad, and when he
came of age he sailed for France and the Mediterranean, and passed two
years in travelling. Napoleon Bonaparte was emperor, and at war with
England, and the young American, despite his passport, was everywhere
believed to be an Englishman. Travelling was hard work in those days
of war, but the cheery youth proved the truth of the proverb that a
light heart and a whole pair of breeches go round the world. At
Messina, in Sicily, he saw Nelson's fleet pass through the strait,
looking for the French ships; and before the year ended the famous
battle of Trafalgar had been fought, and at Greenwich in England
Irving saw the body of the great sailor lying in state, wrapped in his
flag of victory. At Rome he made the acquaintance of Washington
Allston, and almost resolved to be a painter. In Paris he saw Madame
de Stael, who overwhelmed him with eager questions about his remote
and unknown country, and in London he was enchanted by Mrs. Siddons.
Some years afterwards, when the _Sketch Book_ had made him famous, he
was presented to Mrs. Siddons, and the great actress said to him, in
her deepest voice and with her stateliest manner, "You've made me
weep." The modest young author was utterly abashed, and could say
nothing. After the publication of his _Bracebridge_ Hall he was once
more presented to her, and again with gloomy grandeur she said to him,
"You've made me weep again." This time Irving received the solemn
salute with more composure, and doubtless retorted with a compliment
magnificent enough even for the sovereign Queen of Tragedy, who, as
her niece Mrs. Fanny Kemble said of her, never laid aside her great
manner, and at the dinner-table brandished her fork and stabbed the
potatoes.

Irving returned from this tour with established health--a refined,
agreeable, exceedingly handsome and charming gentleman; with a
confirmed taste for society, and a delightful store of interesting
recollection and anecdote. With a group of cultivated and lively
friends of his own age he dined and supped and enjoyed the town, and a
little anecdote which he was fond of telling shows that the good old
times were not unlike the good new times: One morning, after a gay
dinner, Irving met one of his fellow-revellers, who told him that on
the way borne, after draining the parting bumper, he bad fallen
through a grating in the sidewalk, which had been carelessly left
open, into the vault beneath. It was impossible to climb out, and at
first the solitude was rather dismal, he said; but several of the
other guests fell in, in the course of the evening, and, on the whole,
they had quite a pleasant time of it.

In the midst of this frolicking life, and growing out of it, Irving's
real literary career began. With his brother William, and his friend
James K. Paulding, who afterwards wrote the _Dutchman's Fireside_,
and was one of the recognized American authors of fifty years ago, he
issued every fortnight a periodical, which ran for twenty numbers, and
stopped in the midst of its success. It was modelled upon the
_Spectator_ and Goldsmith's _Citizen of the World_, describing and
criticising the manners and morals of the town with extravagant humor
and pungency, and a rollicking independence which must have been both
startling and stimulating.

Perhaps, also, the town was secretly pleased to discover that it was
sufficiently important to be worthy of such bright raillery and
humorous reproof. _Salmagundi_ was only a lively _jeu d'esprit_, and
Irving was never proud of it. "I know," said Paulding, writing to him
in later life, "you consider old Sal as a sort of saucy, flippant
trollope, belonging to nobody, and not worth fathering." But,
nevertheless, Irving's genius was trying its wings in it, and pluming
itself for flight. _Salmagundi_ undoubtedly, to a later taste, is
rather crude and cumbrous fun, but it is interesting as the immediate
forerunner of our earliest work of sustained humor, and of the wit of
Holmes and Lowell at a later date. When it was discontinued, at the
beginning of 1808, Irving and his brother began the _History of New
York_, which was originally designed to be a parody of a particular
book. But the work was interrupted by the business difficulties of the
brother, and at last Irving resumed it alone, recast it entirely, and
as he finished it the engagement with Matilda Hoffman ended with her
death, and the long arid secret romance of his life began.

Knickerbocker's _History_ was published just before Christmas, 1809,
and made a merry Christmas for our grandfathers and grandmothers
eighty years ago. The fun began before the book was published. In
October the curiosity of the town of eighty thousand inhabitants was
awakened by a series of skilful paragraphs in the _Evening Post_. The
art of advertising was never more ingeniously illustrated. Mr.
Fulkerson himself would have paid homage to the artist. One day the
quid-nuncs found this paragraph in the paper, It was headed,

   "DISTRESSING.

   "Left his lodgings, some time since, and has not since been heard
    of, a small elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and
    cocked hat, by the name of Knickerbocker. As there are some reasons
    for believing that he is not entirely in his right mind, and, as
    great anxiety is entertained about him, any information concerning
    him left either at the Columbian Hotel, Mulberry Street, or at the
    office of this paper, will be thankfully received.

   "P. S.--Printers of newspapers would be aiding the cause of humanity
    by giving an insertion to the above.

   "_October 25th._"

This was followed within a fortnight by another ingenious lure:

   "_To the Editor of the Evening Post:_

   "Sir,--Having read in your paper of the 26th October last a paragraph
    respecting an old gentleman by the name of Knickerbocker, who was
    missing from his lodgings, if it would be any relief to his friends,
    or furnish them with any clue to discover where he is, you may inform
    them that a person answering the description was seen by the passengers
    of the Albany stage early in the morning, about four or five weeks ago,
    resting himself by the side of the road, a little above Kingsbridge.
    He had in his hands a small bundle, tied in a red bandana handkerchief.
    He appeared to be travelling northward, and was very much fatigued and
    exhausted.

   "_November 6._                             A Traveller."

Ten days after came a letter signed by Seth Handaside, landlord of the
Independent Handaside:

   "Columbian Hotel, Mulberry Street.

   "Sir,--You have been kind enough to publish in your paper a paragraph
    about Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was missing so strangely from his
    lodgings some time since. Nothing satisfactory has been heard from the
    old gentleman since, but a very curious written Book has been found in
    his room in his own handwriting. Now, I wish you to notice him, if he
    is still alive, that if he does not return and pay off his bill for
    board and lodging, I shall have to dispose of his Book to satisfy me
    for the same."

This is very simple jesting, but at that time it was very effective in
a town that enjoyed the high spirits of _Salmagundi_. Moreover, the book
which was announced in this lively strain was as unprecedented as the
announcement. It was a very serious time and country, and the work of
the small elderly gentleman who carried a little bundle tied in a red
bandana handkerchief appeared in the midst of the sober and dry effusions
of our Puritan literature, and of an eager and energetic life still
engrossed with the subjection of a continent and the establishment of
a new nation. It was the work of a young man of twenty-six, who lived
fifty years afterwards with constantly increasing fame, making many and
admirable contributions to literature. But nothing that followed surpassed
the joyous brilliancy and gay felicity of his first book, which was at
once acknowledged as the wittiest book that America had produced.

Knickerbocker's _History_ is a prolonged and elaborate and audacious
burlesque of the early annals of New Amsterdam. The undaunted Goth of
the legend who plucked the Roman senator by the beard was not a more
ruthless iconoclast than this son of New Amsterdam, who drew its grave
ancestors from venerable obscurity by flooding them with the cheerful
light of blameless fun. To pass the vague and venerable traditions of
the austere and heroic founders of the city through the alembic of a
youth's hilarious creative humor, and to turn them out in forms
resistlessly grotesque, but with their identity unimpaired, was a
stroke as daring as it was successful. But the skill and power with
which this is done can be best appreciated by those who are most
familiar with the history which the gleeful genius burlesques.

Irving follows the actual story closely, and the characters that
he develops faithfully, although with rollicking caricature, are
historical. Indeed, the fidelity is so absolute that the fiction is
welded with the fact. The days of the Dutch ascendency in New York
are inextricably associated with this ludicrous narrative. It is
impossible not to think of the forefathers of New Amsterdam as
Knickerbocker describes them. The Wouter Van Twiller, the Wilhemus
Kieft, the Peter Stuyvesant, who are familiarly and popularly known,
are not themselves, but the figures drawn by Diedrich Knickerbocker.
In comical despair, the historian Grahame, whose _Colonial History_
is still among the best, says of Knickerbocker: "If Sancho Panza had
been a real governor, misrepresented by the wit of Cervantes, his
future historian would have found it no easy matter to bespeak a
grave attention to the annals of his administration."

The gayety of this blithe genius bursting in upon our staid literature
is irresistible. Irving's temperament, his travels, his humor, gave
him a cosmopolitan point of view; and his little native city, with its
local sense of importance, and its droll aristocratic traditions
springing from Dutch burgomasters and traders, impressed his merry
genius like a complacent Cranford or Tarascon taking itself with a
provincial seriousness, which, to his sympathetic fancy, was an
exhaustless fountain of fun. Part of the fun to us, and perhaps to
Irving, was the indignation with which it was received by the
descendants of the Dutch families in the city and State. The excited
drawing-rooms denounced it as scandalous satire and ridicule. Even
Irving's friend, Gulian Verplanck, nine years afterwards, deepening
the comedy of his remark by his evident unconsciousness of the
drollery of his gravity, grieved that the author's exuberance of
genuine humor should be wasted on a coarse caricature. Irving, who was
then in Europe, saw Verplanck's strictures just as he had written _Rip
Van Winkle_, and he wrote to a friend at home that he could not help
laughing at Verplanck's outburst of filial feeling for his ancestors,
adding, in the true Knickerbocker vein, "Remember me heartily to him,
and tell him that I mean to grow wiser and better and older every day,
and to lay the castigation he has given seriously to heart."

The success of Knickerbocker's _History_ was immediate, and it was the
first American work of literature which arrested attention in Europe.

Sir Walter Scott, who was then the most famous of English poets, and
was about to publish the first of the Waverley Novels, was delighted
with a humor which he thought recalled Swift's, and a sentiment that
seemed to him as tender as Sterne's. He wrote a generous acknowledgment
to the American friend who had sent him the book, and in later years
he welcomed Diedrich Knickerbocker at Abbotsford, and the American has
given a charming and vivid picture of Scott's home and its master.

But the success of his book did not at once determine Irving's choice
of a career. He was still a gilded youth who enjoyed the gay idleness
of society, and who found in writing only another and pleasant
recreation. He had been bred in the conservative tradition which
looked upon livelihood by literature as the deliberate choice of Grub
Street, and the wretchedness of Goldsmith as the necessary and natural
fate of authors; but it is droll that, although he recoiled from the
uncertainty of support by literary labor, he was willing to try the
very doubtful chances of office-holding as a means of securing
leisure for literary pursuits. He offered himself as a candidate for
appointment as the clerk of a court in the city. By tradition and
sympathy he was a Federalist, but he had taken no active part in
politics, and his chance was slight. He went to Albany, however, and
in a lively letter he paints a familiar picture of the crowd of
office-hunters who, he says, "like a cloud of locusts, have descended
upon the city to devour every plant and herb and every green thing."
He was sick with a cold, and stifled in rooms heated by stoves, and
was utterly disgusted, as he says, "by the servility and duplicity and
rascality I have witnessed among the swarms of scrub politicians who
crawl about the great metropolis of our State like so many vermin
about the head of the body politic."

Again the good old times were apparently very much like the good new
times. Thirty-nine years after Irving's discomfiture in trying to get
a public office, Hawthorne was turned out of one that he held, and
wrote to a friend: "It seems to me that an inoffensive man of letters,
having obtained a pitiful little office on no other plea than his
pitiful little literature, ought not to be left at the mercy of these
thick-skulled and no-hearted ruffians." The language is strong, but
the epithets are singularly well-chosen. The distinctive qualities of
the ringleaders, whether of high or low degree, in the degradation of
public trusts into private and party spoils, have never been more
accurately or effectively described than by the words "thick-skulled"
and "no-hearted".

The story of the sturdy beggar who asked General Jackson to give him
the mission to France, and finally came down to a request for an old
coat, well illustrates a system which regards public office not as a
public trust, but as private alms. The service of the State, whether
military or civil, is an object of high and generous ambition, because
it involves the leadership of men. But if Irving and Hawthorne thought
that what is called office-seeking is disgusting, it was not because
the public service is not noble and dignified, but because we choose
to allow it to be so often dependent, not upon fitness and character,
but upon the personal or political favor of the "thick-skulled" and
"no-hearted".

But the problem of a career was soon solved. In the year 1810 Irving
formed a business connection with two of his brothers, and the next
five years were passed in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington,
forming various literary plans, looking out for his business
interests, sparkling in society; and when war with England began,
serving upon the governor's military staff as Colonel Washington
Irving. In the spring of 1815 he sailed to roam again through Europe,
but the illness of his brother compelled him to remain in England in
charge of the business. "London," as a shrewd and celebrated American
recently said, "was then as it is now, the social centre of the
world." Irving saw famous men and women, and his charming sweetness
and humor opened all doors and hearts. But the business fell into
distress, then into disaster, and in the beginning of 1818 the house
failed. He was now thrown wholly upon his literary resources, which
did _not_ fail, and in the spring of 1819, when he was thirty-six
years old, the first number of the _Sketch Book_ was issued in New
York.

The merry, exuberant, satirical Diedrich Knickerbocker was transformed
into the genial, urbane, and tender-hearted Geoffrey Crayon. Our
fathers and grandfathers knew him well. They had been bred upon
Addison and Goldsmith, the essayists and the poets of the eighteenth
century, and in Geoffrey Crayon they recognized and welcomed another
member of that delightful literary society. He was all the more
welcome that he was an American--one of themselves. The bland and
courteous Geoffrey, indeed, had few rivals among his countrymen.
In our little American world of letters at that time he came and
conquered. Bryant's "Thanatopsis", had been published only two years
before; Halleck's and Drake's lively but strictly local "Croakers"
were still appearing, and Edward Everett had just hailed Percival's
first volume as authorizing great expectations.

But prophecy is always dangerous. The year before, Sydney Smith had
said, in the _Edinburgh Review_, "Literature the Americans have
none--no native literature we mean. It is all imported. They had a
Franklin, indeed, and may afford to live half a century on his
fame. There is, or was, a Mr. Dwight, who wrote some poems, and his
baptismal name was Timothy. There is also a small account of Virginia
by Jefferson, and an epic poem by Mr. Joel Barlow, and some pieces of
pleasantry by Mr. Irving. But why should Americans write books, when
a six weeks' passage brings them, in their own tongue, _our_ sense,
science, and genius, on bales and hogsheads? Prairies, steamboats,
grist-mills are their natural objects for centuries to come. Then,
when they have got to the Pacific Ocean, epic poems, plays, pleasures
of memory, and all the elegant gratifications of an ancient people who
have tamed the wild earth, and sat down to amuse themselves. This is
the natural march of human affairs." As the sarcastic Yorkshire canon,
sitting on the Edinburgh Olympus, wiped his pen, the _Sketch Book_
was published. The good canon was right as to our small literary
product, but even an _Edinburgh Review_ could not wisely play the
prophet.

This Mr. Everett also discovered, for his "great expectations" of
Percival were not fulfilled. A desponding student of our poetry
recently sighs that Percival is a forgotten poet, and then, seizing a
promiscuous assortment of names, exclaims that Charles Sprague,
William Wirt, Washington Irving, and Jack Downing may be referred to
as forgotten authors. But this is the luxury of woe. Why should not
Percival be a forgotten poet? That is to say, what is there in the
verse of Percival that should command interest and attention to-day?
He was a remarkably accomplished man and a most excellent gentleman,
and his name is very familiar in the reading-books of the time when
grandfathers of to-day were going to school. But he was a noted poet
not because he took rank with his contemporaries--with Byron and Scott
and Keats and Shelley and Coleridge and Wordsworth--but because there
were very few Americans who wrote verses, and our fathers patriotically
stood by them.

Yet because the note of a singer of another day is not heard by us, it
does not follow that he did not touch the heart of his time. Grenville
Mellen is a forgotten poet also, and Rufus Dawes and John Neal and
James G. Eastburn. If the gentle reader will turn to the pages of
Kettell, or any early American anthology, he will seem to himself to
be walking among tombs. Upon each page might be suitably inscribed,
"Sacred to the memory" of almost every one of the singers. But can we
say with honest reproach, "forgotten poets"? The loiterer in the wood
hears the song of the wood-thrush, but is the hermit-bird wronged, or
is his song less sweet, because it is not echoed round the world? Is
Fame to be held responsible for not retaining the name of every
minstrel who loiters by and touches his harp lightly, and sings a
sweet song as he passes on? Is it a hard fate to give pleasure to
those who listen because those out of hearing do not applaud?

Many an author may have a tone and a touch which please the ear and
taste of his own day, and which, as characteristic of a time, may be
only curious to a later taste, like the costumes and dances of our
great-grandmothers. But young America, sauntering at the club and at
Newport, would not willingly wear the boots of Beau Nash, nor even the
cloak of Beau Brummel. The law which provides that nothing shall be
lost is equally observable in the realm of literary fame. Is anything
of literature lost that deserves longer remembrance? or, more properly,
can it be lost? A fair answer to the question can be found in the reply
to another, whether delving in Kettell, or in any other anthology,
reveals treasures dropped by Fame as precious as those she carries.

There are two ways in which authors survive: one by the constant
reading of his works, the other by his name. Is Milton a forgotten
author? But how much is he read, compared with the contemporary
singers? Is Plato forgotten? Yet how many know him except by name?
Irving thus far holds both. Time, like a thrifty husbandman, winnows
its wheat, blowing away much chaff, but the golden grain remains. This
is true not only of the whole multitude of authors, but of the works
of each author. How many of them really survive in the anthology only?
_Astoria_ and _Captain Bonneville_ and _Mahomet_ and other books of
Irving will disappear; but _Knickerbocker_ and _Rip Van Winkle_ still
buffet the relentless wave of oblivion, and their buoyancy is
undiminished.

As for Sprague--a mild, genial, charming gentleman, who carried his
simple freshness of nature and of manner to the end, and about whose
venerable head in State Street always shone the faint halo of early
poetic renown--his literary talent was essentially for a day, not for
all time. But what then? On Christmas Eve we hear the passing music in
the street that supplies for us the song of the waits. Distant and
melodious, it pensively recalls the days and the faces and the voices
that are no more. But the singers are not the same waits that we heard
long ago; still less are they those that the youth of a century ago
heard with the same musing melancholy. But the substance of the song,
and the emotion which it awakens, and the tender pathos of association
--these are all the same. Sprague was a wait of yesterday, of last year,
of fifty years ago. Others sing in the street the song that he sang,
and, singing, they pass on, and the sweet strain grows fainter, softer,
and fainter and fainter, and the echoes answer, "Dying, dying, dying,"
and it is gone.

See how tenderly Mr. Stedman speaks of the troubadours who are singing
for us now, whose names are familiar, who trill and twitter in the
magazines, and in tasteful and delicate volumes, which seem to tempt
the stream of time to suffer such light and graceful barks to slip
along unnoted to future ages. But the kindly critic's tone forecasts
the fate of the sparkling ventures.

Moore tells us of the Indian maids upon the banks of the Ganges who
light a tiny taper, and, on a frail little chip, set it afloat upon
the river. It twinkles and dwindles, and flashes and expires. Mr.
Stedman watches the minor poets trimming their tapers and carefully
launching their chips upon the brimming river. "Pleasant journey," he
cries cheerily from the shore, as if he were speaking to hearty
Captain Cook going up the side of his great ship, and shaking out his
mighty canvas to circumnavigate the globe. "Pleasant journey," cries
the cheery critic; but there is a wistful something in his tone that
betrays a consciousness of the swift extinction of the pretty perfumed
flickering flame.

So scant, indeed, was the blossom of our literature when the _Sketch
Book_ was published, that even twenty years later, when Emerson
described the college Commencement Day as the only tribute of a
country too busy to give to letters any more, Geoffrey Crayon, with
the exception of Cooper, had really no American competitors. Long
afterwards I met Mr. Irving one morning at the office of Mr. Putnam,
his publisher, and in his cordial way, with a twinkle in his eye, and
in his pleasant husky voice, he said, "You young literary fellows
to-day have a harder time than we old fellows had. You trip over each
other's heels; there are so many of you. We had it all our own way.
But the account is square, for you can make as much by a lecture as we
made by a book." Then, laughing slyly, he added, "A pretty figure I
should make lecturing in this voice." Indeed, his modesty forbade him
to risk that voice in public addresses.

Irving, I think, made but one speech. It was at the dinner given
to him upon his return from Europe in 1832, after his absence of
seventeen years. Like other distinguished Americans who have felt
the fascination of the old home of their ancestors, and who have not
thought that a narrow heart and a barbaric disdain of everything
foreign attested the truest patriotism, he was suspected of some
alienation from his country. His speech was full of emotion, and his
protestation of love for his native land was received with boundless
acclamation. But he could not overcome his aversion to speech-making.
When Dickens came, and the great dinner was given to him in New York,
Irving was predestined to preside. Nobody else could be even
mentioned. He was himself conscious of it, and was filled with
melancholy forebodings. Professor Felton, of Harvard, compared
Irving's haunting terror and dismay at the prospect of this speech to
that of Mr. Pickwick at the prospect of leading that dreadful horse
all day.

Poor Irving went about muttering, "I shall certainly break down. I
know I shall break down." At last the day, the hour, and the very
moment itself arrived, and he rose to propose the health of Dickens.
He began pleasantly and smoothly in two or three sentences, then
hesitated, stammered, smiled, and stopped; tried in vain to begin
again, then gracefully gave it up, announced the toast--"Charles
Dickens, the guest of the nation"--then sank into his chair amid
immense applause, whispering to his neighbor, "There, I told you I
should break down, and I've done it."

When Thackeray came, Irving consented to preside at a dinner if
speeches were absolutely forbidden. The condition was faithfully
observed, but it was the most extraordinary instance of American
self-command on record. Whenever two or three Americans are gathered
together, somebody must make a speech; and no wonder, because somebody
always speaks so well. The custom is now so confirmed that it is
foolish and useless to oppose it.

I remember a few years since that a dinner was given to a famous
American artist long resident abroad, and, as the condition of the
attendance of a distinguished guest whose presence was greatly
desired, the same agreement was made that Irving required at the
Thackeray dinner. It was a company of exceedingly clever and brilliant
men, but the gayety of the feast was extinguished by the general
consciousness that the situation was abnormal. It was a fruit without
flavor, a flower without fragrance, a symphony without melody, a
dinner without speeches. But the dinner of which I speak, when the
condition of Irving's presence was that there should be no speeches,
was the great exception. It was the only dinner of the kind that I
have ever known. But Irving's cheery anecdote and gayety, the songs
and banter of the company, the happy chat and sparkling wit, took the
place of eloquence, and I recall no dinner more delightful.

However scant was our literature when the _Sketch Book_ appeared, it
is a mistake to suppose that Irving owes his success to English
admiration. That was, undoubtedly, very agreeable to him and to his
countrymen. But it is well to correct a misapprehension which is still
cherished. Many years ago an English critic said that Irving was much
more relished and admired in England than in his own country, and
added: "It is only recently critics on the lookout for a literature
have elevated him to his proper and almost more than his proper place.
This docility to English guidance in the case of their best, or almost
their best, prose writer, may perhaps be followed by a similar
docility in the case of their best, or almost their best, poet, Poe,
whom also England had preceded the United States in recognizing." This
comical patron is all the more amusing from his comparative estimate
of Poe.

If it were true that Irving's countrymen had not recognized and
honored him from the first, it might be suspected that it was because
they were descendants of the people who showed little contemporaneous
appreciation of Shakespeare. But it is certainly creditable to the
literary England which was busy idolizing Scott and Byron, that it
recognized also the charming genius of Irving, and that Leslie, the
painter, could truly write of him, "Geoffrey Crayon is the most
fashionable fellow of the day."

But while the English appreciation of Irving is very creditable to
England, English conceit must not go so far as to suppose that it was
that appreciation which commended him to his own countrymen. At the
time when Sydney Smith wrote the article from which we have quoted
there was apparently an almost literary sterility in this country, and
the professional critics of the critical journals were, as Professor
Lounsbury says in his admirable _Life of Cooper_, undoubtedly greatly
affected by English opinion. But there was an American reading public
independent of the few literary periodicals, as was shown when
Cooper's _Spy_ was published at the end of 1821, the year in which
Bryant's first volume of poems and Dana's _Idle Man_ appeared. Cooper
had published his _Precaution_ in 1819, a book which Professor
Lounsbury is one of the very few men who are known to have read. He
was an unknown author. But the _Spy_ was instantly successful. Some of
the timid English journals awaited the English opinion, for Murray had
declined, upon Gifford's advice, to publish the book. But a publisher
was found, and England and Europe followed America in their approval.
Cooper always said, and truly, that it was to his countrymen alone
that he owed his first success, and his biographer concedes that the
success of the _Spy_ was determined before the opinion of Europe was
known.

Nearly three years before, in May, 1819, the first number of Irving's
_Sketch Book_ was published. He sent the manuscript to his brother, who
had regretted Irving's refusal of a government place in the Navy
Board, and to whom he wrote, "My talents are merely literary, and all
my habits of thinking, reading, etc., have been in a different
direction from that required for the active politician.... In fact, I
consider myself at present as making a literary experiment, in the
course of which I only care to be kept in bread and cheese. Should it
not succeed--should my writings not acquire critical applause--I am
content to throw up the pen, and that to any commonplace employment.
But if they should succeed, it would repay me for a world of care and
privation to be placed among the established authors of my country,
and to win the affection of my countrymen."

The first number of the _Sketch Book_ was published simultaneously in
New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Its success was
immediate. In September, 1819, Irving wrote: "The manner in which the
work has been received, and the eulogiums that have been passed upon
it in the American papers and periodical works, have quite overwhelmed
me ... I feel almost appalled by such success." The echo of the
acclamation reached England. Murray at first declined to publish it,
as he had at first declined Cooper's _Spy_. But when England
ascertained that the American judgment was correct, and that it was a
popular work, Murray was willing to publish it.

The delightful genius which his country had recognized with joy it
never ceased proudly and tenderly to honor. When, in 1832, he returned
to his native land, as his latest biographer, Mr. Warner, records,
"America greeted her most famous literary man with a spontaneous
outburst of love and admiration." It was in his own country that he
had published his works. It was his own countrymen whose applause
apprised England of the charm of the new author; and it is a humorous
mentor who now teaches us that it was our happy docility to English
guidance which enabled us to recognize and honor him.

Was it docility to the same beneficent guidance which enabled us to
perceive the genius of Carlyle, whose works we first collected, and
taught England to read and admire? Did it enable us, also, to inform
England that in Robert Browning she had another poet? Was it the
same docility which enabled us to reveal to England one of her most
philosophic observers in Herbert Spencer, and to offer to Darwin his
most appreciative correspondents and interpreters in Chauncey Wright,
John Fiske, and Professors Gray and Wyman? There are many offences to
be scored against us, but failure to know our own literary genius is
not one of them.

Indeed, there is not one great literary fame in America that was not
first recognized here. Not to one of them has docility to English
literary opinion conducted us, as is often believed. Bryant and Cooper
and Irving, Bancroft and Prescott and Motley, Emerson and Channing,
Longfellow, Hawthorne, Lowell, Whittier, and Holmes were authors whom
we were content to admire and love without knowing or asking whether
England had heard of them, or what she thought of them. The
"greatness" of Poe England may have preceded us in recognizing. That
is an assertion which we are not disposed to dispute. But Walter Scott
was not more immediately popular and beloved in England than was
Washington Irving in America; and American guidance led England to
Scott quite as much as English guidance drew America to Irving.

The first number of the _Sketch Book_ contained the tale of _Rip Van
Winkle_, one of the most charming and suggestive of legends, whose
hero is an exceedingly pathetic creation. It is, indeed, a mere
sketch, a hint, a suggestion; but the imagination readily completes
it. It is the more remarkable and interesting because, although the
first American literary creation, it is not in the least
characteristic of American life, but, on the contrary, is a quiet and
delicate satire upon it. The kindly vagabond asserts the charm of
loitering idleness in the sweet leisure of woods and fields against
the characteristic American excitement of the overflowing crowd and
crushing competition of the city, its tremendous energy and incessant
devotion to money-getting.

It is not necessary to defend poor Rip, or to justify the morality of
his example. It is the imagination that interprets him; and how
soothing to those who give their lives to the furious accumulation of
the means of living to behold that figure stretched by the brook, or
finding nuts with the children, or sauntering homeward at sunset!
Later figures of our literature allure us--Hester Prynne, wrapped in
her cloak of Nersus, the Scarlet Letter, Hosea Biglow, Evangeline,
Uncle Tom, and Topsy--but the charm of this figure is unfading. The
new writers introduce us to their worlds, and with pleasure we make
the acquaintance of new friends. The new standards of another literary
spirit are raised, a fresh literary impulse surrounds us; but it
is not thunder that we hear in the Kaatskills on a still summer
afternoon it is the distant game of Hendrick Hudson and his men; and
on the shore of our river, rattling and roaring with the frenzied
haste and endless activity of prosperous industry, still Rip Van
Winkle lounges idly by, an unwasted figure of the imagination, the
constant and unconscious satirist of American life.

He seems to me peculiarly congenial with the temperament of Irving.
He, too, was essentially a loiterer. He had the same freshness of
sympathy, the same gentleness of nature, the same taste for leisure
and repose. His genius was reminiscent, and, as with all humorists,
its climate was that of April. The sun and the shower chased each
other. Irving's intellectual habit was emotional rather than
thoughtful. In politics and public affairs he took no part, although
office was often urged upon him, as when the friends of General
Jackson wished him to go as representative to Congress, or President
Van Buren offered him the secretaryship of the navy, or Tammany Hall,
in New York, unanimously and vociferously nominated him for mayor, an
incident in the later annals of the city which transcends the most
humorous touch in _Knickerbocker's History_. He was appointed
secretary of legation in England in 1829, and in 1842, when Daniel
Webster was secretary of state, minister to Spain.

But what we call practical politics was always distasteful to him. The
spirit which I once heard laugh at a young man new in politics because
he treated "the boys" with his own good cigars instead of buying bad
ones at the saloon--the spirit which I once heard assure a man of
public ability and fitness that he could never reach political office
unless he pushed himself, and paid agents to buy votes, because no man
could expect an office to be handed to him on a gold plate--the spirit
which, to my knowledge, displayed a handful of bank-notes in the
anteroom of a legislature, and exclaimed, "That's what makes the
laws!"--this was a spirit which, like other honorable men and
patriotic Americans, Irving despised.

He was a gentleman of manly feeling and of moral refinement, who had
had glimpses of what is called "the inside" of politics; and, as he
believed these qualities would make participation in politics
uncomfortable, he abstained. To those of us who are wiser than he, who
know that simple honesty and public spirit and self-respect and
contempt of sneaking and fawning and bribery and crawling are the
conditions of political preferment, Irving, in not perceiving this,
must naturally seem to be a queer, wrong-headed, and rather
super-celestial American, who had lived too much in the heated
atmosphere of European aristocracies and altogether too little in the
pure and bracing air of American ward politics and caucuses and
conventions. To use an old New York phrase, Irving preferred to stroll
and fish and chat with Rip Van Winkle rather than to "run wid der
machine".

The _Sketch Book_ made Irving famous, and with its predecessor,
_Knickerbocker_, and its successor, _Bracebridge Hall_, disclosed the
essential quality of his genius. But all these books performed another
and greater service than that of winning the world to read an American
book: this was the restoration of a kindlier feeling between the two
countries which, by all ties, should be the two most friendly
countries on the globe. The books were written when our old bitterness
of feeling against England had been renewed by the later war. In the
thirty years since the Revolution ended we had patriotically fostered
the quarrel with John Bull. Our domestic politics had turned largely
upon that feeling, and the game of French and English was played
almost as fiercely upon our side of the ocean as upon their own.

The great epoch of our extraordinary material development and
prosperity had not opened, and, even had John Bull been friendlier
than he was, it would have been the very flattery of falsehood had he
complimented our literature, our science, our art. Sydney Smith's
question, "Who reads an American book?" was contemptuous and
exasperating. But here was an American who wrote books which John Bull
was delighted to read, and was compelled to confess that they
depicted-the most characteristic and attractive aspects of his own
life with more delicate grace than that of any living Englishman.

It was Irving who recalled the old English Christmas. It was his
cordial and picturesque description of the great holiday of
Christendom which preceded and stimulated Dickens's _Christmas
Carols_ and Thackeray's _Holiday Tales_. It was the genial spirit
of Christmas, native to his gentle heart and his happy temperament,
which made Irving, as Thackeray called him, a peacemaker between the
mother-country and her proud and sensitive offspring of the West. He
showed John Bull that England is ours as well as his.

"Old fellow," he said, "you cannot help yourself. It is the same blood
that flows in our veins, the same language that we speak, the same
traditions that we cherish. If you love liberty, so do we; if you will
see fair play, so will we. It is natural to you, so it is to us. We
cannot escape our blood. Shakespeare is not your poet more than ours.
If your ancestors danced round the Maypole, so did our ancestors in
your ancestors' shoes. If Old England cherished Christmas and New
England did not, Bradford and Endicott and Cotton were Englishmen, not
Americans. If old English life and customs and traditions are dear to
you, listen to my story, and judge whether they are less dear to us."
Then, with a merry smile, the young stranger holds out his hand to
John Bull, and exclaims, "Behold, here is my arm! I bare it before
your eyes, and here it is--it is the strawberry-mark; come to my
bosom, I am your long-lost brother."

It was an incalculable service which Irving rendered in renewing a
common feeling between England and America. It was involuntary,
because in writing he had no such purpose. He was only following the
bent of his own taste, and his works reflected only his individual
sympathies. But it was this very fact--it was the English instinct in
the American, the appreciation native in the heart of the Western
stranger of the true poetic charm of England--which was the spell of
the magician. Irving had the same imaginative enthusiasm for
traditional and poetic England that Burke had for political England.
Indeed, it is an England which never actually existed except in the
English and American imagination. The coarse, mercenary, material
England which Lecky photographs in his history of the eighteenth
century was the same England in which Burke lived, and which his
glowing imagination exalted into the magnificent image of
constitutional liberty before which he bowed his great head. So with
the old England that Irving drew. He saw with poetic fancy a rural
Arcadia, and reproduced the vision with airy grace and called it
England. No wonder that John Bull was delighted with an artist who
could paint so fascinating a picture, and write under it John Bull's
portrait.

To change a word in Marvell's noble lines, when Irving was in England

 "He nothing common saw or mean
  Upon that memorable scene."

Only an American could have seen England as he described it, and
invested it with an enchantment which the mass of Englishmen had
neither suspected nor perceived. Irving's instinct was that of
Hawthorne afterwards, who called England "Our Old Home". There is a
foolish American habit growing patriotically out of our old
contentions with England, and politically out of our desire to
conciliate the Irish vote in this country, of branding as servile and
un-American the natural susceptibility of people of English descent,
but natives of another land, to the charm of their ancestral country.
But the American is greatly to be pitied who thinks to prove the
purity of his patriotism by flouting the land in which he has a
legitimate right, the land of Alfred and Runnymede, of Chaucer and
Shakespeare and Milton, of Hampden and Cromwell, of Newton and Bunyan,
of Somers and Chatham and Edmund Burke, the cradle of constitutional
liberty and parliamentary government. If the great body of the
literature of our language in which we delight, if the sources of our
law and politics, if the great exploits of contemporary scholarship
and science, are largely beyond our boundaries, yet are legitimately
ours as well as all that we have ourselves achieved, why should we
spurn any of our just and hereditary share in the great English
traditions of civilization and freedom?

Irving returned to America in 1832, and here he afterwards remained,
except during his absence as minister in Spain. In an earlier visit to
that country he had felt the spell of its romantic history, and had
written the _Life of Columbus_, the _Conquest of Granada_, and the
_Chronicles of the Alhambra_. During all his later years he was busy
with his pen, and, while the modest author had risen to the chief
place in American literature, its later constellation was rising into
the heavens.

But his intrinsic modesty never disappeared either from the works or
the character of the benign writer. In the height of his renown there
was no kind of presumption or conceit in his simple and generous
breast. Some time after his return from his long absence in Europe,
and before Putnam became his publisher, Irving found some
disinclination upon the part of publishers to issue new editions of
his books, and he expressed, with entire good humor, the belief that
he had had his day.

It is doubtless true, as _Blackwood_ remarked, with what we may call
_Blackwood_ courtesy, when Mr. Lowell was American minister in
England, that Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Addison, Pope, and so many
more "will not be replaced by Mr. Washington Irving and Mr. Lowell".
But it is equally true that, since Swift, _Blackwood_ cannot find in
English literature political satire more trenchant, humorous,
forcible, and effective than the _Biglow Papers_, and nothing in Swift
more original. It is said that it is ludicrous to compare the mild
humor of Rip Van Winkle with the "robustious fun of Swift". But this
is a curious "derangement of epitaphs". Swift has wit, and satiric
power, and burning invective, and ribaldry, and caustic, scornful
humor; but fun, in any just sense, he has not. He is too fierce to be
funny. The tender and imaginative play of Rip Van Winkle are wholly
beyond the reach of Swift.

Irving and other American writers are not the rivals of their British
associates in the literature of the English language--they are worthy
comrades. Wordsworth and Byron are not Shakespeare and Milton, but
they are nevertheless Wordsworth and Byron, and their place is secure.
So the brows of Irving and Cooper, of Bryant and Longfellow, and of
Lowell, of Emerson and Hawthorne do not crave the laurels of any other
master. The perturbed spirit of _Blackwood_ may rest in the
confident assurance that no generous and intelligent student of our
literature admires Gibbon less because he enjoys Macaulay, or
depreciates Bacon because he delights in Emerson, or denies the sting
of Gulliver because he feels the light touch of Knickerbocker. It is
with good fame as with true love:

  "True love in this differs from gold and clay,
   That to divide is not to take away."

In the year that Irving published the _Sketch Book_, Cooper published
his first novel, and two years before Bryant's _Thanatopsis_ had been
published. When, forty years afterwards, in the last year of his life,
the last volume of the _Life of Washington_ was issued, Irving and
Bryant and Cooper were no longer the solitary chiefs of our
literature. An illustrious company had received the torch
unextinguished from their hands--Whittier, Hawthorne, Emerson,
Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, Parkman, Mrs.
Stowe, had all taken their places, yet all gladly and proudly
acknowledged Irving as the patriarch. It is our happy fortune that
these names, of which we are all proud, are not those of men of
letters only, but of typical American citizens. The old traditions of
the literary life, the mad roystering, the dissipation, Grub Street,
the sponging-house, the bailiff, the garret, and the jail, genius that
fawns for place and flatters for hire, the golden talent wrapped in a
napkin, and often a dirty and ragged napkin, have vanished in our
American annals of letters. Pure, upright, faithful, industrious,
honorable, and honored, there is scarcely one American author of
eminence who may not be counted as a good and useful citizen of the
Republic of the Union, and a shining light of the Republic of Letters.

Of Washington Irving, as of so many of this noble company, it is
especially true that the author was the man. The healthy fun and merry
satire of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the sweet humor and quick sympathy
and simple pathos of Geoffrey Crayon, were those of the modest master
of Sunnyside. Every literary man of Irving's time, whether old or
young, had nothing but affectionate praise of his artless urbanity and
exhaustless good-nature. These qualities are delightfully reflected in
Thackeray's stories of him in the _Roundabout Papers_ upon Irving and
Macaulay, "the Goldsmith and the Gibbon of our time".

"He came to one of my lectures in Washington," Thackeray says, "and
the retiring President, Mr. Fillmore, and his successor, Mr. Pierce,
were present. 'Two kings of Brentford smelling at one rose,' said
Irving, with his good-natured smile. In his little bower of a home at
Sunnyside he was always accessible. One English newspaper man came and
introduced himself, and partook of luncheon with the family, and,
while the host fell into a little doze, as was his habit, the wary
Englishman took a swift inventory of everything in the house, and served
up the description to the British public, including the nap of his
entertainer. At another time, Irving said, 'Two persons came to me,
and one held me in conversation while the other miscreant took my
portrait.'" Thackeray tells these little stories with admiring
sympathy. His manly heart always grew tender over his fellow-authors
who had no acrid drop in their humor, and Irving's was as sweet as
dew.

It is late for a fresh compliment to be paid to him, but the London
_Spectator_ paid it in 1883, the year of his centenary, by saying,
"Since the time of Pope more than one hundred essayists have attempted
to excel or to equal the _Tatler_ and _Spectator_. One alone, in a few
of his best efforts, may be said to have rivalled them, and he is
Washington Irving." The _Spectator_ adds that one has surpassed them,
"the incomparable Elia".

Irving's temperament, however, was much more congenial with that of
the early essayists than Charles Lamb's, and his pictures of English
country life in _Bracebridge Hall_ have just the delicate, imaginative
touch of the sketches of Sir Roger de Coverley. But in treating
distinctively English topics, however airy and vivid his touch may be,
Irving is manifestly enthralled by his admiration for the literary
masters of the Anne time, and by the spirit of their writing. It is in
the Knickerbocker world that he is characteristically at home. Indeed,
it is his humorous and graphic fancy more than the sober veracity of
history which has given popular and perpetual form to the early life
of New York, and it is Irving who has enriched it with romantic
tradition such as suffuses the story of no other State.

The bay, the river, the city, the Kaatskill Mountains, as Choate said
of Faneuil Hall and Webster, breathe and burn of him. He has charmed
the Hudson with a peculiar spell. The quaint life of its old Dutch
villages, the droll legend of Sleepy Hollow, the pathetic fate of Rip
Van Winkle, the drowsy wisdom of Communipaw, the marvellous
municipality of New Amsterdam, and the Nose of Anthony guarding the
Highlands, with the myriad sly and graphic allusions and descriptions
strewn all through his books, have made the river Irving's river, and
the state Irving's state, and the city Irving's city, so that the
first instinctive question of every lover of Irving from beyond the
state, as he enters Central Park and beholds its memorial statues, is,
"Where is the statue of Irving?"

Unhappily, echo, and not the park guide-book, answers. There is,
indeed, a bust, and, in a general sense, "Si monumentum" may serve for
a reply. From that point of view, indeed, Westminster Abbey, as the
monument of English heroes in letters and arms, in the Church and the
State, would be superfluous. But the abbey is a shrine of pilgrimage
because of the very fact that it is the burial-place of famous
Englishmen. The Central Park, in New York, is already a Walhalla of
famous men, and the statue that would first suggest itself as
peculiarly fitting for the Park is of the New-Yorker who first made
New York distinctively famous in literature--the New-Yorker whose
kindly genius first made American literature respected by the world.

Reversing the question, "Where be the bad people buried?" the
wondering pilgrim in the Park asks, "Where be Irving and Bryant and
Cooper?" They were not Americans only, but, by birth or choice,
New-Yorkers, and the three distinctive figures of our early literature.
It was very touching to see the venerable Bryant, in the soft May
sunshine, when the statue of Halleck was unveiled, standing with bare
head and speaking of his old friend and comrade. But who that listened
could not see, through tender mists of years, the grave and reverend
form of the speaker himself, transformed to marble or bronze, sitting
serene forever beneath the shadowing trees, side by side with the poet
of Faust and the worshipper of Highland Mary?

But Bryant would have been the first to name Washington Irving as the
most renowned distinctively American man of letters whose figure,
reproduced characteristically and with simple quaintness, should
decorate the Park. To a statue of Washington Irving all the gates
should open, as every heart would open, in welcome. That half-humorous
turn of the head and almost the twinkling eye, that brisk and jaunty
air, that springing step, that modest and gentle and benign presence,
all these could be suggested by the artist, and in their happy
combination the pleased loiterer would perceive old Diedrich
Knickerbocker and the summer dreamer of the Hudson legends, the
charming biographer of Columbus and of Goldsmith, the cheerful gossip
of Wolfert's Roost, and the mellow and courteous Geoffrey Crayon, who
first taught incredulous Europe that beyond the sea there were men
also, and that at last all the world must read an American book.

Irving was seventy-six years old when he died, late in 1859. Born in
the year in which the Revolution ended, he died on the eve of the
civil war. His life exactly covered the period during which the
American republic was an experiment. It ended just as the invincible
power of free institutions was to be finally demonstrated. His life
had been one of singular happiness, both of temperament and
circumstance. His nature was too simple and gentle to breed rivalries
or to tolerate animosities. Through the sharpest struggles of our
politics he passed without bitterness of feeling and with universal
respect, and his eyes happily closed before seeing a civil war which,
although the most righteous of all wars, would have broken his heart.
The country was proud of him: the older authors knew in him not a
rival, but a friend, the younger loved him as a father. Such love, I
think, is better than fame. On the day of his burial in the ground
overlooking the Hudson and the valley of Sleepy Hollow, unable to
reach Tarrytown in time for the funeral, I came down the shore of the
river which he loved and immortalized. As the train hastened and wound
along, I saw the Catskills draped in autumnal mist, not concealing,
but irradiating them with lingering and pathetic splendor. Far away
towards the south the river-bank on which his home lay was Sunnyside
still, for the sky was cloudless and soft with serene sunshine. I
could not but remember his last words to me, more than a year before,
when his book was finished and his health was failing: "I am getting
ready to go; I am shutting up my doors and windows", and I could not
but feel that they were all open now, and bright with the light of
eternal morning.




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