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´╗┐Title: Roundabout to Boston (from Literary Friends and Acquaintance)
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Language: English
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by William Dean Howells


During the four years of my life in Venice the literary intention was
present with me at all times and in all places. I wrote many things in
verse, which I sent to the magazines in every part of the
English-speaking world, but they came unerringly back to me, except in
three instances only, when they were kept by the editors who finally
printed them. One of these pieces was published in the Atlantic Monthly;
another in Harpers Magazine; the third was got into the New York Ledger
through the kindness of Doctor Edward Everett Hale, who used I know not
what mighty magic to that end. I had not yet met him; but he interested
himself in my ballad as if it had been his own. His brother, Charles
Hale, later Consul-General for Egypt, whom I saw almost every moment of
the two visits he paid Venice in my time, had sent it to him, after
copying it in his own large, fair hand, so that it could be read. He was
not quite of that literary Boston which I so fondly remembered my
glimpses of; he was rather of a journalistic and literary Boston which I
had never known; but he was of Boston, after all. He had been in
Lowell's classes at Harvard; he had often met Longfellow in Cambridge; he
knew Doctor Holmes, of course; and he let me talk of my idols to my
heart's content. I think he must have been amused by my raptures; most
people would have been; but he was kind and patient, and he listened to
me with a sweet intelligence which I shall always gratefully remember. He
died too young, with his life's possibilities mainly unfulfilled; but
none who knew him could fail to imagine them, or to love him for what he


Besides those few pitiful successes, I had nothing but defeats in the
sort of literature which I supposed was to be my calling, and the defeats
threw me upon prose; for some sort of literary thing, if not one, then
another, I must do if I lived; and I began to write those studies of
Venetian life which afterwards became a book, and which I contributed as
letters to the 'Boston Advertiser', after vainly offering them to more
aesthetic periodicals. However, I do not imagine that it was a very
smiling time for any literary endeavorer at home in the life-and-death
civil war then waging. Some few young men arose who made themselves
heard amid the din of arms even as far as Venice, but most of these were
hushed long ago. I fancy Theodore Winthrop, who began to speak, as it
were, from his soldier's grave, so soon did his death follow the earliest
recognition by the public, and so many were his posthumous works, was
chief of these; but there were others whom the present readers must make
greater effort to remember. Forceythe Willson, who wrote The Old
Sergeant, became known for the rare quality of his poetry; and now and
then there came a poem from Aldrich, or Stedman, or Stoddard. The great
new series of the 'Biglow Papers' gathered volume with the force they had
from the beginning. The Autocrat was often in the pages of the Atlantic,
where one often found Whittier and Emerson, with many a fresh name now
faded. In Washington the Piatts were writing some of the most beautiful
verse of the war, and Brownell was sounding his battle lyrics like so
many trumpet blasts. The fiction which followed the war was yet all to
come. Whatever was done in any kind had some hint of the war in it,
inevitably; though in the very heart of it Longfellow was setting about
his great version of Dante peacefully, prayerfully, as he has told in the
noble sonnets which register the mood of his undertaking.

At Venice, if I was beyond the range of literary recognition I was in
direct relations with one of our greatest literary men, who was again of
that literary Boston which mainly represented American literature to me.
The official chief of the consul at Venice was the United States Minister
at Vienna, and in my time this minister was John Lothrop Motley, the
historian. He was removed, later, by that Johnson administration which
followed Lincoln's so forgottenly that I name it with a sense of
something almost prehistoric. Among its worst errors was the attempted
discredit of a man who had given lustre to our name by his work, and who
was an ardent patriot as well as accomplished scholar. He visited Venice
during my first year, which was the darkest period of the civil war, and
I remember with what instant security, not to say severity, he rebuked my
scarcely whispered misgivings of the end, when I ventured to ask him what
he thought it would be. Austria had never recognized the Secessionists
as belligerents, and in the complications with France and England there
was little for our minister but to share the home indignation at the
sympathy of those powers with the South. In Motley this was heightened
by that feeling of astonishment, of wounded faith, which all Americans
with English friendships experienced in those days, and which he, whose
English friendships were many, experienced in peculiar degree.

I drifted about with him in his gondola, and refreshed myself, long
a-hungered for such talk, with his talk of literary life in London.
Through some acquaintance I had made in Venice I was able to be of use to
him in getting documents copied for him in the Venetian Archives,
especially the Relations of the Venetian Ambassadors at different courts
during the period and events he was studying. All such papers passed
through my hands in transmission to the historian, though now I do not
quite know why they need have done so; but perhaps he was willing to give
me the pleasure of being a partner, however humble, in the enterprise. My
recollection of him is of courtesy to a far younger man unqualified by
patronage, and of a presence of singular dignity and grace. He was one
of the handsomest men I ever saw, with beautiful eyes, a fine blond beard
of modish cut, and a sensitive nose, straight and fine. He was
altogether a figure of worldly splendor; and I had reason to know that he
did not let the credit of our nation suffer at the most aristocratic
court in Europe for want of a fit diplomatic costume, when some of our
ministers were trying to make their office do its full effect upon all
occasions in "the dress of an American gentleman." The morning after his
arrival Mr. Motley came to me with a handful of newspapers which,
according to the Austrian custom at that day, had been opened in the
Venetian post-office. He wished me to protest against this on his behalf
as an infringement of his diplomatic extra-territoriality, and I proposed
to go at once to the director of the post: I had myself suffered in the
same way, and though I knew that a mere consul was helpless, I was
willing to see the double-headed eagle trodden under foot by a Minister
Plenipotentiary. Mr. Motley said that he would go with me, and we put
off in his gondola to the post-office. The director received us with the
utmost deference. He admitted the irregularity which the minister
complained of, and declared that he had no choice but to open every
foreign newspaper, to whomsoever addressed. He suggested, however, that
if the minister made his appeal to the Lieutenant-Governor of Venice,
Count Toggenburg would no doubt instantly order the exemption of his
newspapers from the general rule.

Mr. Motley said he would give himself the pleasure of calling upon the
Lieutenant-Governor, and "How fortunate," he added, when we were got back
into the gondola, "that I should have happened to bring my court dress
with me!" I did not see the encounter of the high contending powers, but
I know that it ended in a complete victory for our minister.

I had no further active relations of an official kind with Mr. Motley,
except in the case of a naturalized American citizen, whose property was
slowly but surely wasting away in the keeping of the Venetian courts. An
order had at last been given for the surrender of the remnant to the
owner; but the Lombardo-Venetian authorities insisted that this should be
done through the United States Minister at Vienna, and Mr. Motley held as
firmly that it must be done through the United States Consul at Venice. I
could only report to him from time to time the unyielding attitude of the
Civil Tribunal, and at last he consented, as he wrote, "to act
officiously, not officially, in the matter," and the hapless claimant got
what was left of his estate.

I had a glimpse of the historian afterwards in Boston, but it was only
for a moment, just before his appointment to England, where he was made
to suffer for Sumner in his quarrel with Grant. That injustice crowned
the injuries his country had done a most faithful patriot and
high-spirited gentleman, whose fame as an historian once filled the ear
of the English-speaking world. His books seemed to have been written in
a spirit already no longer modern; and I did not find the greatest of
them so moving as I expected when I came to it with all the ardor of my
admiration for the historian. William the Silent seemed to me, by his
worshipper's own showing, scarcely level with the popular movement which
he did not so much direct as follow; but it is a good deal for a prince
to be able even to follow his people; and it cannot be said that Motley
does not fully recognize the greatness of the Dutch people, though he may
see the Prince of Orange too large. The study of their character made at
least a theoretical democrat of a scholar whose instincts were not
perhaps democratic, and his sympathy with that brave little republic
between the dikes strengthened him in his fealty to the great
commonwealth between the oceans. I believe that so far as he was of any
political tradition, he was of the old Boston Whig tradition; but when I
met him at Venice he was in the glow of a generous pride in our war as a
war against slavery. He spoke of the negroes and their simple-hearted,
single-minded devotion to the Union cause in terms that an original
abolitionist might have used, at a time when original abolitionists were
not so many as they have since become.

For the rest, I fancy it was very well for us to be represented at Vienna
in those days by an ideal democrat who was also a real swell, and who was
not likely to discredit us socially when we so much needed to be well
thought of in every way.

At a court where the family of Count Schmerling, the Prime Minister,
could not be received for want of the requisite descents, it was well to
have a minister who would not commit the mistake of inviting the First
Society to meet the Second Society, as a former Envoy Extraordinary had
done, with the effect of finding himself left entirely to the Second
Society during the rest of his stay in Vienna.


One of my consular colleagues under Motley was another historian, of no
such popularity, indeed, nor even of such success, but perhaps not of
inferior powers. This was Richard Hildreth, at Trieste, the author of
one of the sincerest if not the truest histories of the United States,
according to the testimony both of his liking and his misliking critics.
I have never read his history, and I speak of it only at second hand; but
I had read, before I met him, his novel of 'Archy Moore, or The White
Slave', which left an indelible impression of his imaginative verity upon
me. The impression is still so deep that after the lapse of nearly forty
years since I saw the book, I have no misgiving in speaking of it as a
powerful piece of realism. It treated passionately, intensely, though
with a superficial coldness, of wrongs now so remote from us in the
abolition of slavery that it is useless to hope it will ever beg
generally read hereafter, but it can safely be praised to any one who
wishes to study that bygone condition, and the literature which grew out
of it. I fancy it did not lack recognition in its time, altogether, for
I used to see it in Italian and French translations on the bookstalls. I
believe neither his history nor his novel brought the author more gain
than fame. He had worn himself out on a newspaper when he got his
appointment at Trieste, and I saw him in the shadow of the cloud that was
wholly to darken him before he died. He was a tall thin man, absent,
silent: already a phantom of himself, but with a scholarly serenity and
dignity amidst the ruin, when the worst came.

I first saw him at the pretty villa where he lived in the suburbs of
Trieste, and where I passed several days, and I remember him always
reading, reading, reading. He could with difficulty be roused from his
book by some strenuous appeal from his family to his conscience as a
host. The last night he sat with Paradise Lost in his hand, and nothing
could win him from it till he had finished it. Then he rose to go to
bed. Would not he bid his parting guest good-bye? The idea of farewell
perhaps dimly penetrated to him. He responded without looking round,

       "They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
        Through Eden took their solitary way,"

and so left the room.

I had earlier had some dealings with him as a fellow-consul concerning a
deserter from an American ship whom I inherited from my predecessor at
Venice. The man had already been four or five months in prison, and he
was in a fair way to end his life there; for it is our law that a
deserting sailor must be kept in the consul's custody till some vessel of
our flag arrives, when the consul can oblige the master to take the
deserter and let him work his passage home. Such a vessel rarely came to
Venice even in times of peace, and in times of war there was no hope of
any. So I got leave of the consul at Trieste to transfer my captive to
that port, where now and then an American ship did touch. The flag
determines the nationality of the sailor, and this unhappy wretch was
theoretically our fellow-citizen; but when he got to Trieste he made a
clean breast of it to the consul. He confessed that when he shipped
under our flag he was a deserter from a British regiment at Malta; and he
begged piteously not to be sent home to America, where he had never been
in his life, nor ever wished to be. He wished to be sent back to his
regiment at Malta, and to whatever fate awaited him there. The case
certainly had its embarrassments; but the American consul contrived to
let our presumptive compatriot slip into the keeping of the British
consul, who promptly shipped him to Malta. In view of the strained
relations between England and America at that time this was a piece of
masterly diplomacy.

Besides my old Ohio-time friend Moncure D. Conway, who paid us a visit,
and in his immediate relations with literary Boston seemed to bring the
mountain to Mahomet, I saw no one else more literary than Henry Ward
Beecher. He was passing through Venice on his way to those efforts in
England in behalf of the Union which had a certain great effect at the
time; and in the tiny parlor of our apartment on the Grand Canal, I can
still see him sitting athletic, almost pugilistic, of presence, with his
strong face, but kind, framed in long hair that swept above his massive
forehead, and fell to the level of his humorously smiling mouth. His
eyes quaintly gleamed at the things we told him of our life in the
strange place; but he only partly relaxed from his strenuous pose, and
the hands that lay upon his knees were clinched. Afterwards, as he
passed our balcony in a gondola, he lifted the brave red fez he was
wearing (many people wore the fez for one caprice or another) and saluted
our eagle and us: we were often on the balcony behind the shield to
attest the authenticity of the American eagle.


Before I left Venice, however, there came a turn in my literary luck, and
from the hand I could most have wished to reverse the adverse wheel of
fortune. I had labored out with great pains a paper on recent Italian
comedy, which I sent to Lowell, then with his friend Professor Norton
jointly editor of the North American Review; and he took it and wrote me
one of his loveliest letters about it, consoling me in an instant for all
the defeat I had undergone, and making it sweet and worthy to have lived
through that misery. It is one of the hard conditions of this state that
while we can mostly make out to let people taste the last drop of
bitterness and ill-will that is in us, our love and gratitude are only
semi-articulate at the best, and usually altogether tongue-tied. As
often as I tried afterwards to tell Lowell of the benediction, the
salvation, his letter was to me, I failed. But perhaps he would not have
understood, if I had spoken out all that was in me with the fulness I
could have given a resentment. His message came after years of thwarted
endeavor, and reinstated me in the belief that I could still do something
in literature. To be sure, the letters in the Advertiser had begun to
make their impression; among the first great pleasures they brought me
was a recognition from my diplomatic chief at Vienna; but I valued my
admission to the North American peculiarly because it was Lowell let me
in, and because I felt that in his charge it must be the place of highest
honor. He spoke of the pay for my article, in his letter, and asked me
where he should send it, and I answered, to my father-in-law, who put it
in his savings-bank, where he lived, in Brattleboro, Vermont. There it
remained, and I forgot all about it, so that when his affairs were
settled some years later and I was notified that there was a sum to my
credit in the bank, I said, with the confidence I have nearly always felt
when wrong, that I had no money there. The proof of my error was sent me
in a check, and then I bethought me of the pay for "Recent Italian

It was not a day when I could really afford to forget money due me, but
then it was not a great deal of money. The Review was as poor as it was
proud, and I had two dollars a printed page for my paper. But this was
more than I got from the Advertiser, which gave me five dollars a column
for my letters, printed in a type so fine that the money, when translated
from greenbacks into gold at a discount of $2.80, must have been about a
dollar a thousand words. However, I was richly content with that, and
would gladly have let them have the letters for nothing.

Before I left Venice I had made my sketches into a book, which I sent on
to Messrs. Trubner & Co., in London. They had consented to look at it to
oblige my friend Conway, who during his sojourn with us in Venice, before
his settlement in London, had been forced to listen to some of it. They
answered me in due time that they would publish an edition of a thousand,
at half profits, if I could get some American house to take five hundred
copies. When I stopped in London I had so little hope of being able to
do this that I asked the Trubners if I might, without losing their offer,
try to get some other London house to publish my book. They said Yes,
almost joyously; and I began to take my manuscript about. At most places
they would not look at me or it, and they nowhere consented to read it.
The house promptest in refusing to consider it afterwards pirated one of
my novels, and with some expressions of good intention in that direction,
never paid me anything for it; though I believe the English still think
that this sort of behavior was peculiar to the American publisher in the
old buccaneering times. I was glad to go back to the Trubners with my
book, and on my way across the Atlantic I met a publisher who finally
agreed to take those five hundred copies. This was Mr. M. M. Hurd, of
Hurd & Houghton, a house then newly established in New York and
Cambridge. We played ring-toss and shuffleboard together, and became of
a friendship which lasts to this day. But it was not till some months
later, when I saw him in New York, that he consented to publish my book.
I remember how he said, with an air of vague misgiving, and an effect of
trying to justify himself in an imprudence, that it was not a great
matter anyway. I perceived that he had no faith in it, and to tell the
truth I had not much myself. But the book had an instant success, and it
has gone on from edition to edition ever since. There was just then the
interest of a not wholly generous surprise at American things among the
English. Our success in putting down the great Confederate rebellion had
caught the fancy of our cousins, and I think it was to this mood of
theirs that I owed largely the kindness they showed my book. There were
long and cordial reviews in all the great London journals, which I used
to carry about with me like love-letters; when I tried to show them to
other people, I could not understand their coldness concerning them.

At Boston, where we landed on our return home, there was a moment when it
seemed as if my small destiny might be linked at once with that of the
city which later became my home. I ran into the office of the Advertiser
to ask what had become of some sketches of Italian travel I had sent the
paper, and the managing editor made me promise not to take a place
anywhere before I had heard from him. I gladly promised, but I did not
hear from him, and when I returned to Boston a fortnight later, I found
that a fatal partner had refused to agree with him in engaging me upon
the paper. They even gave me back half a dozen unprinted letters of
mine, and I published them in the Nation, of New York, and afterwards in
the book called Italian Journeys.

But after I had encountered fortune in this frowning disguise, I had a
most joyful little visit with Lowell, which made me forget there was
anything in the world but the delight and glory of sitting with him in
his study at Elmwood and hearing him talk. It must have been my
freshness from Italy which made him talk chiefly of his own happy days in
the land which so sympathetically brevets all its lovers fellow-citizens.
At any rate he would talk of hardly anything else, and he talked late
into the night, and early into the morning. About two o'clock, when all
the house was still, he lighted a candle, and went down into the cellar,
and came back with certain bottles under his arms. I had not a very
learned palate in those days (or in these, for that matter), but I knew
enough of wine to understand that these bottles had been chosen upon that
principle which Longfellow put in verse, and used to repeat with a
humorous lifting of the eyebrows and hollowing of the voice:

       "If you have a friend to dine,
        Give him your best wine;
        If you have two,
        The second-best will do."

As we sat in their mellow afterglow, Lowell spoke to me of my own life
and prospects, wisely and truly, as he always spoke. He said that it was
enough for a man who had stuff in him to be known to two or three people,
for they would not suffer him to be forgotten, and it would rest with
himself to get on. I told him that though I had not given up my place at
Venice, I was not going back, if I could find anything to do at home, and
I was now on my way to Ohio, where I should try my best to find
something; at the worst, I could turn to my trade of printer. He did not
think it need ever come to that; and he said that he believed I should
have an advantage with readers, if not with editors, in hailing from the
West; I should be more of a novelty. I knew very well that even in my
own West I should not have this advantage unless I appeared there with an
Eastern imprint, but I could not wish to urge my misgiving against his
faith. Was I not already richly successful? What better thing
personally could befall me, if I lived forever after on milk and honey,
than to be sitting there with my hero, my master, and having him talk to
me as if we were equal in deed and in fame?

The cat-bird called in the syringa thicket at his door, before we said
the good-night which was good morning, using the sweet Italian words, and
bidding each other the 'Dorma bene' which has the quality of a
benediction. He held my hand, and looked into my eyes with the sunny
kindness which never failed me, worthy or unworthy; and I went away to
bed. But not to sleep; only to dream such dreams as fill the heart of
youth when the recognition of its endeavor has come from the achievement
it holds highest and best.


I found nothing to do in Ohio; some places that I heard of proved
impossible one way or another, in Columbus and Cleveland, and Cincinnati;
there was always the fatal partner; and after three weeks I was again in
the East. I came to New York, resolved to fight my way in, somewhere,
and I did not rest a moment before I began the fight.

My notion was that which afterwards became Bartley Hubbard's. "Get a
basis," said the softening cynic of the Saturday Press, when I advised
with him, among other acquaintances. "Get a salaried place, something
regular on some paper, and then you can easily make up the rest." But it
was a month before I achieved this vantage, and then I got it in a
quarter where I had not looked for it. I wrote editorials on European
and literary topics for different papers, but mostly for the Times, and
they paid me well and more than well; but I was nowhere offered a basis,
though once I got so far towards it as to secure a personal interview
with the editor-in-chief, who made me feel that I had seldom met so busy
a man. He praised some work of mine that he had read in his paper, but I
was never recalled to his presence; and now I think he judged rightly
that I should not be a lastingly good journalist. My point of view was
artistic; I wanted time to prepare my effects.

There was another and clearer prospect opened to me on a literary paper,
then newly come to the light, but long since gone out in the dark. Here
again my work was taken, and liked so much that I was offered the basis
(at twenty dollars a week) that I desired; I was even assigned to a desk
where I should write in the office; and the next morning I came joyfully
down to Spruce Street to occupy it. But I was met at the door by one of
the editors, who said lightly, as if it were a trifling affair, "Well,
we've concluded to waive the idea of an engagement," and once more my
bright hopes of a basis dispersed themselves. I said, with what calm I
could, that they must do what they thought best, and I went on
skirmishing baselessly about for this and the other papers which had been
buying my material.

I had begun printing in the 'Nation' those letters about my Italian
journeys left over from the Boston Advertiser; they had been liked in the
office, and one day the editor astonished and delighted me by asking how
I would fancy giving up outside work to come there and write only for the
'Nation'. We averaged my gains from all sources at forty dollars a week,
and I had my basis as unexpectedly as if I had dropped upon it from the

This must have been some time in November, and the next three or four
months were as happy a time for me as I have ever known. I kept on
printing my Italian material in the Nation; I wrote criticisms for it
(not very good criticisms, I think now), and I amused myself very much
with the treatment of social phases and events in a department which grew
up under my hand. My associations personally were of the most agreeable
kind. I worked with joy, with ardor, and I liked so much to be there, in
that place and in that company, that I hated to have each day come to an

I believed that my lines were cast in New York for good and all; and I
renewed my relations with the literary friends I had made before going
abroad. I often stopped, on my way up town, at an apartment the
Stoddards had in Lafayette Place, or near it; I saw Stedman, and reasoned
high, to my heart's content, of literary things with them and him.

With the winter Bayard Taylor came on from his home in Kennett and took
an apartment in East Twelfth Street, and once a week Mrs. Taylor and he
received all their friends there, with a simple and charming hospitality.
There was another house which we much resorted to--the house of James
Lorrimer Graham, afterwards Consul-General at Florence, where he died. I
had made his acquaintance at Venice three years before, and I came in for
my share of that love for literary men which all their perversities could
not extinguish in him. It was a veritable passion, which I used to think
he could not have felt so deeply if he had been a literary man himself.
There were delightful dinners at his house, where the wit of the
Stoddards shone, and Taylor beamed with joyous good-fellowship and
overflowed with invention; and Huntington, long Paris correspondent of
the Tribune, humorously tried to talk himself into the resolution of
spending the rest of his life in his own country. There was one evening
when C. P. Cranch, always of a most pensive presence and aspect, sang the
most killingly comic songs; and there was another evening when, after we
all went into the library, something tragical happened. Edwin Booth was
of our number, a gentle, rather silent person in company, or with at
least little social initiative, who, as his fate would, went up to the
cast of a huge hand that lay upon one of the shelves. "Whose hand is
this, Lorry?" he asked our host, as he took it up and turned it over in
both his own hands. Graham feigned not to hear, and Booth asked again,
"whose hand is this?" Then there was nothing for Graham but to say,
"It's Lincoln's hand," and the man for whom it meant such unspeakable
things put it softly down without a word.


It was one of the disappointments of a time which was nearly all joy that
I did not then meet a man who meant hardly less than Lowell himself for
me. George William Curtis was during my first winter in New York away on
one of the long lecturing rounds to which he gave so many of his winters,
and I did not see him till seven years afterwards, at Mr. Norton's in
Cambridge. He then characteristically spent most of the evening in
discussing an obscure point in Browning's poem of 'My Last Duchess'. I
have long forgotten what the point was, but not the charm of Curtis's
personality, his fine presence, his benign politeness, his almost
deferential tolerance of difference in opinion. Afterwards I saw him
again and again in Boston and New York, but always with a sense of
something elusive in his graciousness, for which something in me must
have been to blame. Cold, he was not, even to the youth that in those
days was apt to shiver in any but the higher temperatures, and yet I felt
that I made no advance in his kindness towards anything like the
friendship I knew in the Cambridge men. Perhaps I was so thoroughly
attuned to their mood that I could not be put in unison with another; and
perhaps in Curtis there was really not the material of much intimacy.

He had the potentiality of publicity in the sort of welcome he gave
equally to all men; and if I asked more I was not reasonable. Yet he was
never far from any man of good-will, and he was the intimate of
multitudes whose several existence he never dreamt of. In this sort he
had become my friend when he made his first great speech on the Kansas
question in 1855, which will seen as remote to the young men of this day
as the Thermopylae question to which he likened it. I was his admirer,
his lover, his worshipper before that for the things he had done in
literature, for the 'Howadji' books, and for the lovely fantasies of
'Prue and I', and for the sound-hearted satire of the 'Potiphar Papers',
and now suddenly I learnt that this brilliant and graceful talent, this
travelled and accomplished gentleman, this star of society who had
dazzled me with his splendor far off in my Western village obscurity, was
a man with the heart to feel the wrongs of men so little friended then as
to be denied all the rights of men. I do not remember any passage of the
speech, or any word of it, but I remember the joy, the pride with which
the soul of youth recognizes in the greatness it has honored the goodness
it may love. Mere politicians might be pro-slavery or anti-slavery
without touching me very much, but here was the citizen of a world far
greater than theirs, a light of the universal republic of letters, who
was willing and eager to stand or fall with the just cause, and that was
all in all to me. His country was my country, and his kindred my
kindred, and nothing could have kept me from following after him.

His whole life taught the lesson that the world is well lost whenever the
world is wrong; but never, I think, did any life teach this so sweetly,
so winningly. The wrong world itself might have been entreated by him to
be right, for he was one of the few reformers who have not in some
measure mixed their love of man with hate of men; his quarrel was with
error, and not with the persons who were in it. He was so gently
steadfast in his opinions that no one ever thought of him as a fanatic,
though many who held his opinions were assailed as fanatics, and suffered
the shame if they did not win the palm of martyrdom. In early life he
was a communist, and then when he came out of Brook Farm into the world
which he was so well fitted to adorn, and which would so gladly have kept
him all its own, he became an abolitionist in the very teeth of the world
which abhorred abolitionists. He was a believer in the cause of women's
rights, which has no picturesqueness, and which chiefly appeals to the
sense of humor in the men who never dreamt of laughing at him. The man
who was in the last degree amiable was to the last degree unyielding
where conscience was concerned; the soul which was so tender had no
weakness in it; his lenity was the divination of a finer justice. His
honesty made all men trust him when they doubted his opinions; his good
sense made them doubt their own opinions, when they had as little
question of their own honesty.

I should not find it easy to speak of him as a man of letters only, for
humanity was above the humanities with him, and we all know how he turned
from the fairest career in literature to tread the thorny path of
politics because he believed that duty led the way, and that good
citizens were needed more than good romancers. No doubt they are, and
yet it must always be a keen regret with the men of my generation who
witnessed with such rapture the early proofs of his talent, that he could
not have devoted it wholly to the beautiful, and let others look after
the true. Now that I have said this I am half ashamed of it, for I know
well enough that what he did was best; but if my regret is mean, I will
let it remain, for it is faithful to the mood which many have been in
concerning him.

There can be no dispute, I am sure, as to the value of some of the
results he achieved in that other path. He did indeed create anew for us
the type of good-citizenship, well-nigh effaced in a sordid and selfish
time, and of an honest politician and a pure-minded journalist. He never
really forsook literature, and the world of actual interests and
experiences afforded him outlooks and perspectives, without which
aesthetic endeavor is self-limited and purblind. He was a great man of
letters, he was a great orator, he was a great political journalist, he
was a great citizen, he was a great philanthropist. But that last word
with its conventional application scarcely describes the brave and gentle
friend of men that he was. He was one that helped others by all that he
did, and said, and was, and the circle of his use was as wide as his
fame. There are other great men, plenty of them, common great men, whom
we know as names and powers, and whom we willingly let the ages have when
they die, for, living or dead, they are alike remote from us. They have
never been with us where we live; but this great man was the neighbor,
the contemporary, and the friend of all who read him or heard him; and
even in the swift forgetting of this electrical age the stamp of his
personality will not be effaced from their minds or hearts.


Of those evenings at the Taylors' in New York, I can recall best the one
which was most significant for me, and even fatefully significant. Mr.
and Mrs. Fields were there, from Boston, and I renewed all the pleasure
of my earlier meetings with them. At the end Fields said, mockingly,
"Don't despise Boston!" and I answered, as we shook hands, "Few are
worthy to live in Boston." It was New-Year's eve, and that night it came
on to snow so heavily that my horse-car could hardly plough its way up to
Forty-seventh Street through the drifts. The next day, and the next, I
wrote at home, because it was so hard to get down-town. The third day I
reached the office and found a letter on my desk from Fields, asking how
I should like to come to Boston and be his assistant on the 'Atlantic
Monthly'. I submitted the matter at once to my chief on the 'Nation',
and with his frank goodwill I talked it over with Mr. Osgood, of Ticknor
& Fields, who was to see me further about it if I wished, when he came to
New York; and then I went to Boston to see Mr. Fields concerning details.
I was to sift all the manuscripts and correspond with contributors; I was
to do the literary proof-reading of the magazine; and I was to write the
four or five pages of book-notices, which were then printed at the end of
the periodical in finer type; and I was to have forty dollars a week. I
said that I was getting that already for less work, and then Mr. Fields
offered me ten dollars more. Upon these terms we closed, and on the 1st
of March, which was my twenty-ninth birthday, I went to Boston and began
my work. I had not decided to accept the place without advising with
Lowell; he counselled the step, and gave me some shrewd and useful
suggestions. The whole affair was conducted by Fields with his unfailing
tact and kindness, but it could not be kept from me that the
qualification I had as practical printer for the work was most valued, if
not the most valued, and that as proof-reader I was expected to make it
avail on the side of economy. Somewhere in life's feast the course of
humble-pie must always come in; and if I did not wholly relish this, bit
of it, I dare say it was good for me, and I digested it perfectly.


   Act officiously, not officially
   Confidence I have nearly always felt when wrong
   George William Curtis
   Give him your best wine
   Love and gratitude are only semi-articulate at the best
   Made all men trust him when they doubted his opinions
   Quarrel was with error, and not with the persons who were in it
   The world is well lost whenever the world is wrong
   Women's rights

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Roundabout to Boston (from Literary Friends and Acquaintance)" ***

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