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Title: A Small Boy and Others
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A SMALL BOY AND OTHERS

[Illustration: Henry James and his Father
From a daguerreotype taken in 1854]

       *       *       *       *       *

              BOOKS BY HENRY JAMES

       PUBLISHED BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS


     A SMALL BOY AND OTHERS        _net_ $2.50
     THE OUTCRY                    _net_  1.25
     THE FINER GRAIN               _net_  1.25
     THE SACRED FOUNT                     1.50
     THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, 2 vols.       2.50
     THE BETTER SORT                      1.50
     THE GOLDEN BOWL, 2 vols.             2.50

         NOVELS AND TALES. NEW YORK EDITION
              24 vols., _net_ $48.00

       *       *       *       *       *


A SMALL BOY AND OTHERS

BY

HENRY JAMES

NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
1913


COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS


Published March, 1913

[Illustration: Publisher's logo]



A SMALL BOY AND OTHERS



I


In the attempt to place together some particulars of the early life of
William James and present him in his setting, his immediate native and
domestic air, so that any future gathered memorials of him might become
the more intelligible and interesting, I found one of the consequences
of my interrogation of the past assert itself a good deal at the expense
of some of the others. For it was to memory in the first place that my
main appeal for particulars had to be made; I had been too near a
witness of my brother's beginnings of life, and too close a participant,
by affection, admiration and sympathy, in whatever touched and moved
him, not to feel myself in possession even of a greater quantity of
significant truth, a larger handful of the fine substance of history,
than I could hope to express or apply. To recover anything like the full
treasure of scattered, wasted circumstance was at the same time to live
over the spent experience itself, so deep and rich and rare, with
whatever sadder and sorer intensities, even with whatever poorer and
thinner passages, after the manner of every one's experience; and the
effect of this in turn was to find discrimination among the parts of my
subject again and again difficult--so inseparably and beautifully they
seemed to hang together and the comprehensive case to decline mutilation
or refuse to be treated otherwise than handsomely. This meant that
aspects began to multiply and images to swarm, so far at least as they
showed, to appreciation, as true terms and happy values; and that I
might positively and exceedingly rejoice in my relation to most of them,
using it for all that, as the phrase is, it should be worth. To knock at
the door of the past was in a word to see it open to me quite wide--to
see the world within begin to "compose" with a grace of its own round
the primary figure, see it people itself vividly and insistently. Such
then is the circle of my commemoration and so much these free and
copious notes a labour of love and loyalty. We were, to my sense, the
blest group of us, such a company of characters and such a picture of
differences, and withal so fused and united and interlocked, that each
of us, to that fond fancy, pleads for preservation, and that in respect
to what I speak of myself as possessing I think I shall be ashamed, as
of a cold impiety, to find any element altogether negligible. To which I
may add perhaps that I struggle under the drawback, innate and inbred,
of seeing the whole content of memory and affection in each enacted and
recovered moment, as who should say, in the vivid image and the very
scene; the light of the only terms in which life has treated me to
experience. And I cherish the moment and evoke the image and repaint the
scene; though meanwhile indeed scarce able to convey how prevailingly
and almost exclusively, during years and years, the field was animated
and the adventure conditioned for me by my brother's nearness and that
play of genius in him of which I had never had a doubt from the first.

The "first" then--since I retrace our steps to the start, for the
pleasure, strangely mixed though it be, of feeling our small feet plant
themselves afresh and artlessly stumble forward again--the first began
long ago, far off, and yet glimmers at me there as out of a thin golden
haze, with all the charm, for imagination and memory, of pressing
pursuit rewarded, of distinctness in the dimness, of the flush of life
in the grey, of the wonder of consciousness in everything; everything
having naturally been all the while but the abject little matter of
course. Partly doubtless as the effect of a life, now getting to be a
tolerably long one, spent in the older world, I see the world of our
childhood as very young indeed, young with its own juvenility as well as
with ours; as if it wore the few and light garments and had gathered in
but the scant properties and breakable toys of the tenderest age, or
were at the most a very unformed young person, even a boisterous
hobbledehoy. It exhaled at any rate a simple freshness, and I catch its
pure breath, at our infantile Albany, as the very air of long summer
afternoons--occasions tasting of ample leisure, still bookless, yet
beginning to be bedless, or cribless; tasting of accessible garden
peaches in a liberal backward territory that was still almost part of a
country town; tasting of many-sized uncles, aunts, cousins, of strange
legendary domestics, inveterately but archaically Irish, and whose
familiar remarks and "criticism of life" were handed down, as well as of
dim family ramifications and local allusions--mystifications
always--that flowered into anecdote as into small hard plums; tasting
above all of a big much-shaded savoury house in which a softly-sighing
widowed grandmother, Catherine Barber by birth, whose attitude was a
resigned consciousness of complications and accretions, dispensed an
hospitality seemingly as joyless as it was certainly boundless. What she
_liked_, dear gentle lady of many cares and anxieties, was the "fiction
of the day," the novels, at that time promptly pirated, of Mrs. Trollope
and Mrs. Gore, of Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Hubback and the Misses Kavanagh and
Aguilar, whose very names are forgotten now, but which used to drive
her away to quiet corners whence her figure comes back to me bent
forward on a table with the book held out at a distance and a tall
single candle placed, apparently not at all to her discomfort, in that
age of sparer and braver habits, straight between the page and her eyes.
There is a very animated allusion to one or two of her aspects in the
fragment of a "spiritual autobiography," the reminiscences of a
so-called Stephen Dewhurst printed by W. J. (1885) in The Literary
Remains of Henry James; a reference which has the interest of being very
nearly as characteristic of my father himself (which his references in
almost any connection were wont to be) as of the person or the occasion
evoked. I had reached my sixteenth year when she died, and as my only
remembered grandparent she touches the chord of attachment to a
particular vibration. She represented for us in our generation the only
English blood--that of both her own parents--flowing in our veins; I
confess that out of that association, for reasons and reasons, I feel
her image most beneficently bend. We were, as to three parts, of two
other stocks; and I recall how from far back I reflected--for I see I
must have been always reflecting--that, mixed as such a mixture, our
Scotch with our Irish, might be, it had had still a grace to borrow from
the third infusion or dimension. If I could freely have chosen moreover
it was precisely from my father's mother that, fond votary of the finest
faith in the vivifying and characterising force of mothers, I should
have wished to borrow it; even while conscious that Catherine Barber's
own people had drawn breath in American air for at least two generations
before her. Our father's father, William James, an Irishman and a
Protestant born (of county Cavan) had come to America, a very young man
and then sole of his family, shortly after the Revolutionary War; my
father, the second son of the third of the marriages to which the
country of his adoption was liberally to help him, had been born in
Albany in 1811. Our maternal greatgrandfather on the father's side, Hugh
Walsh, had reached our shores from a like Irish home, Killyleagh, county
Down, somewhat earlier, in 1764, he being then nineteen; he had settled
at Newburgh-on-the-Hudson, half way to Albany, where some of his
descendants till lately lingered. Our maternal greatgrandfather on the
mother's side--that is our mother's mother's father, Alexander Robertson
of Polmont near Edinburgh--had likewise crossed the sea in the
mid-century and prospered in New York very much as Hugh Walsh was
prospering and William James was still more markedly to prosper, further
up the Hudson; as unanimous and fortunate beholders of the course of
which admirable stream I like to think of them. I find Alexander
Robertson inscribed in a wee New York directory of the close of the
century as Merchant; and our childhood in that city was passed, as to
some of its aspects, in a sense of the afterglow, reduced and
circumscribed, it is true, but by no means wholly inanimate, of his
shining solidity.

The sweet taste of Albany probably lurked most in its being our admired
antithesis to New York; it was holiday, whereas New York was home; at
least that presently came to be the relation, for to my very very first
fleeting vision, I apprehend, Albany itself must have been the scene
exhibited. Our parents had gone there for a year or two to be near our
grandmother on their return from their first (that is our mother's
first) visit to Europe, which had quite immediately followed my birth,
which appears to have lasted some year and a half, and of which I shall
have another word to say. The Albany experiment would have been then
their first founded housekeeping, since I make them out to have betaken
themselves for the winter following their marriage to the ancient Astor
House--not indeed at that time ancient, but the great and appointed
modern hotel of New York, the only one of such pretensions, and which
somehow continued to project its massive image, that of a great square
block of granite with vast dark warm interiors, across some of the later
and more sensitive stages of my infancy. Clearly--or I should perhaps
rather say dimly--recourse to that hospitality was again occasionally
had by our parents; who had originally had it to such a happy end that
on January 9th, 1842, my elder brother had come into the world there. It
remained a tradition with him that our father's friend from an early
time, R. W. Emerson, then happening to be in New York and under that
convenient roof, was proudly and pressingly "taken upstairs" to admire
and give his blessing to the lately-born babe who was to become the
second American William James. The blessing was to be renewed, I may
mention, in the sense that among the impressions of the next early years
I easily distinguish that of the great and urbane Emerson's occasional
presence in Fourteenth Street, a centre of many images, where the
parental tent was before long to pitch itself and rest awhile. I am
interested for the moment, however, in identifying the scene of our very
first perceptions--of my very own at least, which I can here best speak
for.

One of these, and probably the promptest in order, was that of my
brother's occupying a place in the world to which I couldn't at all
aspire--to any approach to which in truth I seem to myself ever
conscious of having signally forfeited a title. It glimmers back to me
that I quite definitely and resignedly thought of him as in the most
exemplary manner already beforehand with me, already seated at his task
when the attempt to drag me crying and kicking to the first hour of my
education failed on the threshold of the Dutch House in Albany after the
fashion I have glanced at in a collection of other pages than these
(just as I remember to have once borrowed a hint from our grandmother's
"interior" in a work of imagination). That failure of my powers or that
indifference to them, my retreat shrieking from the Dutch House, was to
leave him once for all already there an embodied demonstration of the
possible--already wherever it might be that there was a question of my
arriving, when arriving at all, belatedly and ruefully; as if he had
gained such an advance of me in his sixteen months' experience of the
world before mine began that I never for all the time of childhood and
youth in the least caught up with him or overtook him. He was always
round the corner and out of sight, coming back into view but at his
hours of extremest ease. We were never in the same schoolroom, in the
same game, scarce even in step together or in the same phase at the same
time; when our phases overlapped, that is, it was only for a moment--he
was clean out before I had got well in. How far he had really at any
moment dashed forward it is not for me now to attempt to say; what
comes to me is that I at least hung inveterately and woefully back, and
that this relation alike to our interests and to each other seemed
proper and preappointed. I lose myself in wonder at the loose ways, the
strange process of waste, through which nature and fortune may deal on
occasion with those whose faculty for application is all and only in
their imagination and their sensibility. There may be during those
bewildered and brooding years so little for them to "show" that I liken
the individual dunce--as he so often must appear--to some commercial
traveller who has lost the key to his packed case of samples and can but
pass for a fool while other exhibitions go forward.

I achieve withal a dim remembrance of my final submission, though it is
the faintest ghost of an impression and consists but of the bright blur
of a dame's schoolroom, a mere medium for small piping shuffling sound
and suffered heat, as well as for the wistfulness produced by
"glimmering squares" that were fitfully screened, though not to any
revival of cheer, by a huge swaying, yet dominant object. This dominant
object, the shepherdess of the flock, was Miss Bayou or Bayhoo--I
recover but the alien sound of her name, which memory caresses only
because she may have been of like race with her temple of learning,
which faced my grandmother's house in North Pearl Street and really
justified its exotic claim by its yellow archaic gable-end: I think of
the same as of brick baked in the land of dykes and making a series of
small steps from the base of the gable to the point. These images are
subject, I confess, to a soft confusion--which is somehow consecrated,
none the less, and out of which, with its shade of contributory truth,
some sort of scene insists on glancing. The very flush of the uneven
bricks of the pavement lives in it, the very smell of the street
cobbles, the imputed grace of the arching umbrage--I see it all as from
under trees; the form of Steuben Street, which crossed our view, as
steep even to the very essence of adventure, with a summit, and still
more with a nethermost and riskiest incline, very far away. There lives
in it the aspect of the other house--the other and much smaller than my
grandmother's, conveniently near it and within sight; which was
pinkish-red picked out with white, whereas my grandmother's was
greyish-brown and very grave, and which must have stood back a little
from the street, as I seem even now to swing, or at least to perch, on a
relaxed gate of approach that was conceived to work by an iron chain
weighted with a big ball; all under a spreading tree again and with the
high, oh so high white stone steps (mustn't they have been marble?) and
fan-lighted door of the pinkish-red front behind me. I lose myself in
ravishment before the marble and the pink. There were other houses
too--one of them the occasion of the first "paid" visit that struggles
with my twilight of social consciousness; a call with my father,
conveying me presumably for fond exhibition (since if my powers were not
exhibitional my appearance and my long fair curls, of which I distinctly
remember the lachrymose sacrifice, suppositiously were), on one of our
aunts, the youngest of his three sisters, lately married and who,
predestined to an early death, hovers there for me, softly spectral, in
long light "front" ringlets, the fashion of the time and the capital
sign of all our paternal aunts seemingly; with the remembered
enhancement of her living in Elk Street, the name itself vaguely
portentous, as through beasts of the forest not yet wholly exorcised,
and more or less under the high brow of that Capitol which, as aloft
somewhere and beneath the thickest shades of all, loomed, familiar yet
impressive, at the end of almost any Albany vista of reference. I have
seen other capitols since, but the whole majesty of the matter must have
been then distilled into my mind--even though the connection was
indirect and the concrete image, that of the primitive structure, long
since pretentiously and insecurely superseded--so that, later on, the
impression was to find itself, as the phrase is, discounted. Had it not
moreover been reinforced at the time, for that particular Capitoline
hour, by the fact that our uncle, our aunt's husband, was a son of Mr.
Martin Van Buren, and that _he_ was the President? This at least led the
imagination on--or leads in any case my present imagination of that one;
ministering to what I have called the soft confusion.

The confusion clears, however, though the softness remains, when,
ceasing to press too far backward, I meet the ampler light of conscious
and educated little returns to the place; for the education of New York,
enjoyed up to my twelfth year, failed to blight its romantic appeal. The
images I really distinguish flush through the maturer medium, but with
the sense of them only the more wondrous. The other house, the house of
my parents' limited early sojourn, becomes that of those of our cousins,
numerous at that time, who pre-eminently figured for us; the various
brood presided over by my father's second sister, Catherine James, who
had married at a very early age Captain Robert Temple, U.S.A. Both these
parents were to die young, and their children, six in number, the two
eldest boys, were very markedly to people our preliminary scene; this
being true in particular of three of them, the sharply differing
brothers and the second sister, Mary Temple, radiant and rare,
extinguished in her first youth, but after having made an impression on
many persons, and on ourselves not least, which was to become in the
harmonious circle, for all time, matter of sacred legend and reference,
of associated piety. Those and others with them were the numerous
dawnings on which in many cases the deepening and final darknesses were
so soon to follow: our father's family was to offer such a chronicle of
early deaths, arrested careers, broken promises, orphaned children. It
sounds cold-blooded, but part of the charm of our grandmother's house
for us--or I should perhaps but speak for myself--was in its being so
much and so sociably a nurseried and playroomed orphanage. The children
of her lost daughters and daughters-in-law overflowed there, mainly as
girls; on whom the surviving sons-in-law and sons occasionally and most
trustingly looked in. Parentally bereft cousins were somehow more
thrilling than parentally provided ones; and most thrilling when, in the
odd fashion of that time, they were sent to school in New York as a
preliminary to their being sent to school in Europe. They spent scraps
of holidays with us in Fourteenth Street, and I think my first childish
conception of the enviable lot, formed amid these associations, was to
be so little fathered or mothered, so little sunk in the short range,
that the romance of life seemed to lie in some constant improvisation,
by vague overhovering authorities, of new situations and horizons. We
were intensely domesticated, yet for the very reason perhaps that we
felt our young bonds easy; and they were so easy compared to other small
plights of which we had stray glimpses that my first assured conception
of true richness was that we should be sent separately off among cold or
even cruel aliens in order to be there thrillingly homesick.
Homesickness was a luxury I remember craving from the tenderest age--a
luxury of which I was unnaturally, or at least prosaically, deprived.
Our motherless cousin Augustus Barker came up from Albany to the
Institution Charlier--unless it was, as I suspect, a still earlier
specimen, with a name that fades from me, of that type of French
establishment for boys which then and for years after so incongruously
flourished in New York; and though he professed a complete satisfaction
with pleasures tasted in our innocent society I felt that he was engaged
in a brave and strenuous adventure while we but hugged the comparatively
safe shore.



II


We were day-boys, William and I, at dispensaries of learning the number
and succession of which to-day excite my wonder; we couldn't have
changed oftener, it strikes me as I look back, if our presence had been
inveterately objected to, and yet I enjoy an inward certainty that, my
brother being vividly bright and I quite blankly innocuous, this
reproach was never brought home to our house. It was an humiliation to
me at first, small boys though we were, that our instructors kept being
instructresses and thereby a grave reflection both on our attainments
and our spirit. A bevy of these educative ladies passes before me, I
still possess their names; as for instance that of Mrs. Daly and that of
Miss Rogers (previously of the "Chelsea Female Institute," though at the
moment of Sixth Avenue this latter), whose benches indeed my brother
didn't haunt, but who handled us literally with gloves--I still see the
elegant objects as Miss Rogers beat time with a long black ferule to
some species of droning chant or chorus in which we spent most of our
hours; just as I see her very tall and straight and spare, in a light
blue dress, her firm face framed in long black glossy ringlets and the
stamp of the Chelsea Female Institute all over her. Mrs. Daly, clearly
the immediate successor to the nebulous Miss Bayou, remains quite
substantial--perhaps because the sphere of her small influence has
succeeded in not passing away, up to this present writing; so that in
certain notes on New York published a few years since I was moved to
refer to it with emotion as one of the small red houses on the south
side of Waverley Place that really carry the imagination back to a
vanished social order. They carry mine to a stout red-faced lady with
grey hair and a large apron, the latter convenience somehow suggesting,
as she stood about with a resolute air, that she viewed her little
pupils as so many small slices cut from the loaf of life and on which
she was to dab the butter of arithmetic and spelling, accompanied by way
of jam with a light application of the practice of prize-giving. I
recall an occasion indeed, I must in justice mention, when the jam
really was thick--my only memory of a schoolfeast, strange to say,
throughout our young annals: something uncanny in the air of the
schoolroom at the unwonted evening or late afternoon hour, and tables
that seemed to me prodigiously long and on which the edibles were chunky
and sticky. The stout red-faced lady must have been Irish, as the name
she bore imported--or do I think so but from the indescribably Irish
look of her revisited house? It refers itself at any rate to a New York
age in which a little more or a little less of the colour was scarce
notable in the general flush.

Of pure unimported strain, however, were Miss Sedgwick and Mrs. Wright
(Lavinia D.), the next figures in the procession--the procession that
was to wind up indeed with two foreign recruits, small brown snappy
Mademoiselle Delavigne, who plied us with the French tongue at home and
who had been introduced to us as the niece--or could it have been the
grandniece?--of the celebrated Casimir, and a large Russian lady in an
extraordinarily short cape (I like to recall the fashion of short capes)
of the same stuff as her dress, and Merovingian sidebraids that seemed
to require the royal crown of Frédégonde or Brunéhaut to complete their
effect. This final and aggravational representative of the compromising
sex looms to my mind's eye, I should add, but as the creature of an
hour, in spite of her having been domiciled with us; whereas I think of
Mademoiselle Delavigne as flitting in and out on quick, fine, more or
less cloth-shod feet of exemplary neatness, the flat-soled feet of Louis
Philippe and of the female figures in those volumes of Gavarni then
actual, then contemporaneous, which were kept in a piece of furniture
that stood between the front-parlour windows in Fourteenth Street,
together with a set of Béranger enriched by steel engravings to the
strange imagery of which I so wonderingly responded that all other art
of illustration, ever since, has been for me comparatively weak and
cold. These volumes and the tall entrancing folios of Nash's
lithographed Mansions of England in the Olden Time formed a store
lending itself particularly to distribution on the drawingroom carpet,
with concomitant pressure to the same surface of the small student's
stomach and relieving agitation of his backward heels. I make out that
it had decidedly been given to Mlle. Delavigne to represent to my first
perception personal France; she was, besides not being at all pink or
shy, oval and fluent and mistress somehow of the step--the step of
levity that involved a whisk of her short skirts; there she was, to the
life, on the page of Gavarni, attesting its reality, and there again did
that page in return (I speak not of course of the unplumbed depths of
the appended text) attest her own felicity. I was later on to feel--that
is I was to learn--how many impressions and appearances, how large a
sense of things, her type and tone prefigured. The evanescence of the
large Russian lady, whom I think of as rather rank, I can't express it
otherwise, may have been owing to some question of the purity of her
accent in French; it was one of her attributes and her grounds of appeal
to us that she had come straight from Siberia, and it is distinct to me
that the purity was challenged by a friend of the house, and
without--pathetically enough!--provoking the only answer, the plea that
the missing Atticism would have been wasted on young barbarians. The
Siberian note, on our inmate's part, may perhaps have been the least of
her incongruities; she was above all too big for a little job, towered
over us doubtless too heroically; and her proportions hover but to lose
themselves--with the successors to her function awaiting us a little
longer.

Meanwhile, to revert an instant, if the depressed consciousness of our
still more or less quailing, educationally, beneath the female eye--and
there was as well the deeper depth, there was the degrading fact, that
with us literally consorted and contended Girls, that we sat and strove,
even though we drew the line at playing with them and at knowing them,
when not of the swarming cousinship, at home--if that felt awkwardness
didn't exactly coincide with the ironic effect of "Gussy's" appearances,
his emergence from rich mystery and his return to it, our state was but
comparatively the braver: he always had so much more to tell us than we
could possibly have to tell him. On reflection I see that the most
completely rueful period couldn't after all greatly have prolonged
itself; since the female eye last bent on us would have been that of
Lavinia D. Wright, to our connection with whom a small odd reminiscence
attaches a date. A little schoolmate displayed to me with pride, while
the connection lasted, a beautiful coloured, a positively iridescent and
gilded card representing the first of all the "great exhibitions" of our
age, the London Crystal Palace of 1851--his father having lately gone
out to it and sent him the dazzling memento. In 1851 I was eight years
old and my brother scarce more than nine; in addition to which it is
distinct to me in the first place that we were never faithful long, or
for more than one winter, to the same studious scene, and in the second
that among our instructors Mrs. Lavinia had no successor of her own sex
unless I count Mrs. Vredenburg, of New Brighton, where we spent the
summer of 1854, when I had reached the age of eleven and found myself
bewildered by recognition of the part that "attendance at school" was so
meanly to play in the hitherto unclouded long vacation. This was true at
least for myself and my next younger brother, Wilky, who, under the
presumption now dawning of his "community of pursuits" with my own, was
from that moment, off and on, for a few years, my extremely easy
yokefellow and playfellow. On William, charged with learning--I thought
of him inveterately from our younger time as charged with learning--no
such trick was played; he rested or roamed, that summer, on his
accumulations; a fact which, as I was sure I saw these more and more
richly accumulate, didn't in the least make me wonder. It comes back to
me in truth that I had been prepared for anything by his having said to
me toward the end of our time at Lavinia D's and with characteristic
authority--his enjoyment of it coming from my character, I mean, quite
as much as from his own--that that lady was a very able woman, as shown
by the Experiments upstairs. He was upstairs of course, and I was down,
and I scarce even knew what Experiments were, beyond their indeed
requiring capability. The region of their performance was William's
natural sphere, though I recall that I had a sense of peeping into it to
a thrilled effect on seeing our instructress illustrate the proper way
to extinguish a candle. She firmly pressed the flame between her thumb
and her two forefingers, and, on my remarking that I didn't see how she
could do it, promptly replied that I of course couldn't do it myself (as
_he_ could) because I should be afraid.

That reflection on my courage awakes another echo of the same scant
season--since the test involved must have been that of our taking our
way home through Fourth Avenue from some point up town, and Mrs.
Wright's situation in East Twenty-first Street was such a point. The
Hudson River Railroad was then in course of construction, or was being
made to traverse the upper reaches of the city, through that part of
which raged, to my young sense, a riot of explosion and a great shouting
and waving of red flags when the gunpowder introduced into the rocky
soil was about to take effect. It was our theory that our passage there,
in the early afternoon, was beset with danger, and our impression that
we saw fragments of rock hurtle through the air and smite to the earth
another and yet another of the persons engaged or exposed. The point of
honour, among several of us, was of course nobly to defy the danger, and
I feel again the emotion with which I both hoped and feared that the red
flags, lurid signals descried from afar, would enable or compel us to
renew the feat. That I didn't for myself inveterately renew it I seem to
infer from the memory of other perambulations of the period--as to which
I am divided between their still present freshness and my sense of
perhaps making too much of these tiny particles of history. My stronger
rule, however, I confess, and the one by which I must here consistently
be guided, is that, from the moment it is a question of projecting a
picture, no particle that counts for memory or is appreciable to the
spirit _can_ be too tiny, and that experience, in the name of which one
speaks, is all compact of them and shining with them. There was at any
rate another way home, with other appeals, which consisted of getting
straight along westward to Broadway, a sphere of a different order of
fascination and bristling, as I seem to recall, with more vivid aspects,
greater curiosities and wonderments. _The_ curiosity was of course the
country-place, as I supposed it to be, on the northeast corner of
Eighteenth Street, if I am not mistaken; a big brown house in "grounds"
peopled with animal life, which, little as its site may appear to know
it to-day, lingered on into considerably later years. I have but to
close my eyes in order to open them inwardly again, while I lean against
the tall brown iron rails and peer through, to a romantic view of
browsing and pecking and parading creatures, not numerous, but all of
distinguished appearance: two or three elegant little cows of refined
form and colour, two or three nibbling fawns and a larger company, above
all, of peacocks and guineafowl, with, doubtless--though as to this I am
vague--some of the commoner ornaments of the barnyard. I recognise that
the scene as I evoke it fails of grandeur; but it none the less had for
me the note of greatness--all of which but shows of course what a very
town-bred small person I was, and was to remain.

I see myself moreover as somehow always alone in these and like New York
_flâneries_ and contemplations, and feel how the sense of my being so,
being at any rate master of my short steps, such as they were, through
all the beguiling streets, was probably the very savour of each of my
chance feasts. Which stirs in me at the same time some wonder at the
liberty of range and opportunity of adventure allowed to my tender age;
though the puzzle may very well drop, after all, as I ruefully reflect
that I couldn't have been judged at home reckless or adventurous. What I
look back to as my infant license can only have had for its ground some
timely conviction on the part of my elders that the only form of riot or
revel ever known to me would be that of the visiting mind. Wasn't I
myself for that matter even at that time all acutely and yet resignedly,
even quite fatalistically, aware of what to think of this? I at any rate
watch the small boy dawdle and gape again. I smell the cold dusty paint
and iron as the rails of the Eighteenth Street corner rub his
contemplative nose, and, feeling him foredoomed, withhold from him no
grain of my sympathy. He is a convenient little image or warning of all
that was to be for him, and he might well have been even happier than he
was. For there was the very pattern and measure of all he was to demand:
just to _be_ somewhere--almost anywhere would do--and somehow receive an
impression or an accession, feel a relation or a vibration. He was to go
without many things, ever so many--as all persons do in whom
contemplation takes so much the place of action; but everywhere, in the
years that came soon after, and that in fact continued long, in the
streets of great towns, in New York still for some time, and then for a
while in London, in Paris, in Geneva, wherever it might be, he was to
enjoy more than anything the so far from showy practice of wondering and
dawdling and gaping: he was really, I think, much to profit by it. What
it at all appreciably gave him--that is gave him in producible
form--would be difficult to state; but it seems to him, as he even now
thus indulges himself, an education like another: feeling, as he has
come to do more and more, that no education avails for the intelligence
that doesn't stir in it some subjective passion, and that on the other
hand almost anything that does so act is largely educative, however
small a figure the process might make in a scheme of training. Strange
indeed, furthermore, are some of the things that _have_ stirred a
subjective passion--stirred it, I mean, in young persons predisposed to
a more or less fine inspired application.



III


But I positively dawdle and gape here--I catch myself in the act; so
that I take up the thread of fond reflection that guides me through that
mystification of the summer school, which I referred to a little way
back, at the time when the Summer School as known in America to-day was
so deep in the bosom of the future. The seat of acquisition I speak of
must have been contiguous to the house we occupied--I recall it as most
intimately and objectionably near--and carried on in the interest of
those parents from New York who, in villeggiatura under the queer
conditions of those days, with the many modern mitigations of the
gregarious lot still unrevealed and the many refinements on the
individual one still undeveloped, welcomed almost any influence that
might help at all to form their children to civility. Yet I remember
that particular influence as more noisy and drowsy and dusty than
anything else--as to which it must have partaken strongly of the general
nature of New Brighton; a neighbourhood that no apt agency whatever had
up to that time concerned itself to fashion, and that was indeed to
remain shabbily shapeless for years; since I recall almost as dire an
impression of it received in the summer of 1875. I seem more or less to
have begun life, for that matter, with impressions of New Brighton;
there comes back to me another, considerably more infantile than that of
1854, so infantile indeed that I wonder at its having stuck--that of a
place called the Pavilion, which must have been an hotel sheltering us
for July and August, and the form of which to childish retrospect,
unprejudiced by later experience, was that of a great Greek temple
shining over blue waters in the splendour of a white colonnade and a
great yellow pediment. The elegant image remained, though imprinted in a
child so small as to be easily portable by a stout nurse, I remember,
and not less easily duckable; I gasp again, and was long to gasp, with
the sense of salt immersion received at her strong hands. Wonderful
altogether in fact, I find as I write, the quantity, the intensity of
picture recoverable from even the blankest and tenderest state of the
little canvas.

I connect somehow with the Pavilion period a visit paid with my
father--who decidedly must have liked to take me about, I feel so rich
in that general reminiscence--to a family whom we reached in what struck
me as a quite lovely embowered place, on a very hot day, and among whom
luxuries and eccentricities flourished together. They were numerous, the
members of this family, they were beautiful, they partook of their
meals, or were at the moment partaking of one, out of doors, and the
then pre-eminent figure in the group was a very big Newfoundland dog on
whose back I was put to ride. That must have been my first vision of the
liberal life--though I further ask myself what my age could possibly
have been when my weight was so fantastically far from hinting at later
developments. But the romance of the hour was particularly in what I
have called the eccentric note, the fact that the children, my
entertainers, riveted my gaze to stockingless and shoeless legs and
feet, conveying somehow at the same time that they were not poor and
destitute but rich and provided--just as I took their garden-feast for a
sign of overflowing food--and that their state as of children of nature
was a refinement of freedom and grace. They were to become great and
beautiful, the household of that glimmering vision, they were to figure
historically, heroically, and serve great public ends; but always, to my
remembering eyes and fond fancy, they were to move through life as with
the bare white feet of that original preferred fairness and wildness.
This is rank embroidery, but the old surface itself insists on
spreading--it waits at least with an air of its own. The rest is
silence; I can--extraordinary encumbrance even for the most doating of
parents on a morning call--but have returned with my father to "our
hotel"; since I feel that I must not only to this but to a still further
extent face the historic truth that we were for considerable periods,
during our earliest time, nothing less than hotel children. Between the
far-off and the later phases at New Brighton stretched a series of
summers that had seen us all regularly installed for a couple of months
at an establishment passing in the view of that simpler age for a vast
caravansery--the Hamilton House, on the south Long Island shore, so
called from its nearness to the Fort of that name, which had Fort
Lafayette, the Bastille of the Civil War, out in the channel before it
and which probably cast a stronger spell upon the spirit of our
childhood, William's and mine at least, than any scene presented to us
up to our reaching our teens.

I find that I draw from the singularly unobliterated memory of the
particulars of all that experience the power quite to glory in our
shame; of so entrancing an interest did I feel it at the time to _be_ an
hotel child, and so little would I have exchanged my lot with that of
any small person more privately bred. We were private enough in all
conscience, I think I must have felt, the rest of the year; and at what
age mustn't I quite have succumbed to the charm of the world seen in a
larger way? For there, incomparably, was the chance to dawdle and gape;
there were human appearances in endless variety and on the
exhibition-stage of a piazza that my gape measured almost as by miles;
it was even as if I had become positively conscious that the social
scene so peopled would pretty well always say more to me than anything
else. What it did say I of course but scantly understood; but I none the
less knew it spoke, and I listened to its voice, I seem to recall, very
much as "young Edwin," in Dr. Beattie's poem, listened to the roar of
tempests and torrents from the nobler eminence of beetling crags and in
exposure to still deeper abysses. I cling for the moment, however, to
the small story of our Vredenburg summer, as we were for long afterwards
invidiously to brand it; the more that it so plays its part in
illustration, under the light of a later and happier age, of the growth,
when not rather of the arrest, of manners and customs roundabout our
birthplace. I think we had never been so much as during these particular
months disinherited of the general and public amenities that reinforce
for the young private precept and example--disinherited in favour of
dust and glare and mosquitoes and pigs and shanties and rumshops, of no
walks and scarce more drives, of a repeated no less than of a strong
emphasis on the more sordid sides of the Irish aspect in things. There
was a castellated residence on the hill above us--very high I remember
supposing the hill and very stately the structure; it had towers and
views and pretensions and belonged to a Colonel, whom we thought very
handsome and very costumed, (as if befrogged and high-booted, which he
couldn't have been at all, only _ought_ to have been, would even
certainly have been at a higher pitch of social effect,) and whose son
and heir, also very handsome and known familiarly and endearingly as
Chick, had a velvet coat and a pony and I think spurs, all luxuries we
were without, and was cousin to boys, the De Coppets, whom we had come
to know at our school of the previous winter and who somehow--doubtless
partly as guests of the opulent Chick--hovered again about the field of
idleness.

The De Coppets, particularly in the person of the first-born Louis, had
been a value to us, or at any rate to me--for though I was, in common
with my elders then, unacquainted with the application of that word as I
use it here, what was my incipient sense of persons and things, what
were my first stirred observant and imaginative reactions,
discriminations and categories, but a vague groping for it? The De
Coppets (again as more especially and most impressively interpreted by
the subtle Louis) enjoyed the pre-eminence of being European; they had
dropped during the scholastic term of 1853-4 straight from the lake of
Geneva into the very bosom of Mr. Richard Pulling Jenks's select resort
for young gentlemen, then situated in Broadway below Fourth Street; and
had lately been present at an historic pageant--whether or no
celebrating the annals of the town of Coppet I know not--in which
representatives of their family had figured in armour and on horseback
as the Barons (to our comprehension) de Coup or Cou. Their father was
thus of the Canton de Vaud--only their mother had been native among
ourselves and sister to the Colonel of the castellations. But what was
the most vivid mark of the brothers, and vividest on the part of the
supersubtle Louis, was his French treatment of certain of our native
local names, Ohio and Iowa for instance, which he rendered, as to their
separate vowels, with a daintiness and a delicacy invidious and
imperturbable, so that he might have been Chateaubriand declaiming Les
Natchez at Madame Récamier's--O-ee-oh and Ee-o-wah; a proceeding in him,
a violence offered to his serried circle of little staring and glaring
New Yorkers supplied with the usual allowance of fists and boot-toes,
which, as it was clearly conscious, I recollect thinking unsurpassed for
cool calm courage. Those _were_ the right names--which we owed wholly to
the French explorers and Jesuit Fathers; so much the worse for us if we
vulgarly didn't know it. I lose myself in admiration of the consistency,
the superiority, the sublimity, of the not at all game-playing, yet in
his own way so singularly sporting, Louis. He was naturally and
incorruptibly French--as, so oddly, I have known other persons of both
sexes to be whose English was naturally and incorruptibly American; the
appearance being thus that the possession of indigenous English alone
forms the adequate barrier and the assured racial ground. (Oh the queer
reversions observed on the part of Latinized compatriots in the course
of a long life--the remarkable drops from the quite current French or
Italian to the comparatively improvised native idiom, with the resulting
effect of the foreign tongue used as a domestic and the domestic, that
is the original American, used as a foreign tongue, or without inherited
confidence!)

Louis De Coppet, though theoretically American and domiciled, was
_naturally_ French, and so pressed further home to me that "sense of
Europe" to which I feel that my very earliest consciousness waked--a
perversity that will doubtless appear to ask for all the justification I
can supply and some of which I shall presently attempt to give. He
opened vistas, and I count ever as precious anyone, everyone, who
betimes does that for the small straining vision; performing this office
never so much, doubtless, as when, during that summer, he invited me to
collaborate with him in the production of a romance which _il se fit
fort_ to get printed, to get published, when success, or in other words
completion, should crown our effort. Our effort, alas, failed of the
crown, in spite of sundry solemn and mysterious meetings--so much
devoted, I seem to remember, to the publishing question that others more
fundamental dreadfully languished; leaving me convinced, however, that
my friend would have got our fiction published if he could only have got
it written. I think of my participation in this vain dream as of the
very first gage of visiting approval offered to the exercise of a
gift--though quite unable to conceive my companion's ground for
suspecting a gift of which I must at that time quite have failed to
exhibit a single in the least "phenomenal" symptom. It had none the less
by his overtures been handsomely _imputed_ to me; that was in a manner a
beginning--a small start, yet not wholly unattended with bravery. Louis
De Coppet, I must add, brought to light later on, so far as I know, no
compositions of his own; we met him long after in Switzerland and
eventually heard of his having married a young Russian lady and settled
at Nice. If I drop on his memory this apology for a bay-leaf it is from
the fact of his having given the earliest, or at least the most
personal, tap to that pointed prefigurement of the manners of "Europe,"
which, inserted wedge-like, if not to say peg-like, into my young
allegiance, was to split the tender organ into such unequal halves. His
the toy hammer that drove in the very point of the golden nail.

It was as if there had been a mild magic in that breath, however scant,
of another world; but when I ask myself what element of the pleasing or
the agreeable may have glimmered through the then general, the outer and
enveloping conditions, I recover many more of the connections in which
forms and civilities lapsed beyond repair than of those in which they
struggled at all successfully. It is for some record of the question of
taste, of the consciousness of an æsthetic appeal, as reflected in forms
and aspects, that I shall like best to testify; as the promise and the
development of these things on our earlier American scene are the more
interesting to trace for their doubtless demanding a degree of the finer
attention. The plain and happy profusions and advances and successes, as
one looks back, reflect themselves at every turn; the quick beats of
material increase and multiplication, with plenty of people to tell of
them and throw up their caps for them; but the edifying matters to
recapture would be the adventures of the "higher criticism" so far as
there was any--and so far too as it might bear on the real quality and
virtue of things; the state of manners, the terms of intercourse, the
care for excellence, the sense of appearances, the intellectual reaction
generally. However, any breasting of those deep waters must be but in
the form for me of an occasional dip. It meanwhile fairly overtakes and
arrests me here as a contributive truth that our general medium of life
in the situation I speak of was such as to make a large defensive
verandah, which seems to have very stoutly and completely surrounded us,
play more or less the part of a raft of rescue in too high a tide--too
high a tide there beneath us, as I recover it, of the ugly and the
graceless. My particular perspective may magnify a little wildly--when
it doesn't even more weirdly diminish; but I read into the great hooded
and guarded resource in question an evidential force: as if it must
really have played for us, so far as its narrowness and its exposure
permitted, the part of a buffer-state against the wilderness immediately
near, that of the empty, the unlovely and the mean. Interposing a little
ease, didn't it interpose almost all the ease we knew?--so that when
amiable friends, arriving from New York by the boat, came to see us,
there was no rural view for them but that of our great shame, a view of
the pigs and the shanties and the loose planks and scattered refuse and
rude public ways; never even a field-path for a gentle walk or a garden
nook in afternoon shade. I recall my prompt distaste, a strange
precocity of criticism, for so much aridity--since of what lost Arcadia,
at that age, had I really had the least glimpse?

Our scant margin must have affected me more nobly, I should in justice
add, when old Mrs. L. passed or hovered, for she sometimes caustically
joined the circle and sometimes, during the highest temperatures, which
were very high that summer, but flitted across it in a single flowing
garment, as we amazedly conceived; one of the signs of that grand
impertinence, I supposed, which belonged to "dowagers"--dowagers who
were recognised characters and free speakers, doing and saying what they
liked. This ancient lady was lodged in some outlying tract of the
many-roomed house, which in more than one quarter stretched away into
mystery; but the piazza, to which she had access, was unbroken, and
whenever she strayed from her own territory she swam afresh into ours. I
definitely remember that, having heard and perhaps read of dowagers,
who, as I was aware, had scarce been provided for in our social scheme,
I said to myself at first sight of our emphatic neighbour, a person
clearly used to exceptional deference, "This must be a perfect
specimen;" which was somehow very wonderful. The absolute first sight,
however, had preceded the New Brighton summer, and it makes me lose
myself in a queer dim vision, all the obscurities attendant on my having
been present, as a very small boy indeed, at an evening entertainment
where Mrs. L. figured in an attire that is still vivid to me: a blue
satin gown, a long black lace shawl and a head-dress consisting in
equally striking parts of a brown wig, a plume of some sort waving over
it and a band or fillet, whether of some precious metal or not I forget,
keeping it in place by the aid of a precious stone which adorned the
centre of her brow. Such was my first view of the _féronnière_ of our
grandmothers, when not of our greatgrandmothers. I see its wearer at
this day bend that burdened brow upon me in a manner sufficiently awful,
while her knuckly white gloves toyed with a large fan and a vinaigrette
attached to her thumb by a chain; and as she was known to us afterwards
for a friend of my Albany grandmother's it may have been as a tribute to
this tie that she allowed me momentarily to engage her attention. _Then_
it predominantly must have been that I knew her for a dowager--though
this was a light in which I had never considered my grandmother herself;
but what I have quite lost the clue to is the question of my
extraordinary footing in such an assembly, the occasion of a dance of my
elders, youthful elders but young married people, into which, really, my
mother, as a participant, must have introduced me.



IV


It took place in the house of our cousins Robert and Kitty Emmet the
elder--for we were to have two cousin Kittys of that ilk and yet another
consanguineous Robert at least; the latter name being naturally, among
them all, of a pious, indeed of a glorious, tradition, and three of my
father's nieces marrying three Emmet brothers, the first of these the
Robert aforesaid. Catherine James, daughter of my uncle Augustus, his
then quite recent and, as I remember her, animated and attractive bride,
whose fair hair framed her pointed smile in full and far-drooping
"front" curls, I easily evoke as my first apprehended image of the free
and happy young woman of fashion, a sign of the wondrous fact that
ladies might live for pleasure, pleasure always, pleasure alone. She was
distinguished for nothing whatever so much as for an insatiable love of
the dance; that passion in which I think of the "good," the best, New
York society of the time as having capered and champagned itself away.
Her younger sister Gertrude, afterwards married to James--or more
inveterately Jim--Pendleton, of Virginia, followed close upon her heels,
literally speaking, and though emulating her in other respects too, was
to last, through many troubles, much longer (looking extraordinarily the
while like the younger portraits of Queen Victoria) and to have much
hospitality, showing it, and showing everything, in a singularly natural
way, for a considerable collection of young hobbledehoy kinsmen. But I
am solicited a moment longer by the queer little issues involved--as if
a social light would somehow stream from them--in my having been taken,
a mere mite of observation, to Kitty Emmet's "grown-up" assembly. Was it
that my mother really felt that to the scrap that I was other scraps
would perhaps strangely adhere, to the extent thus of something to
distinguish me by, nothing else probably having as yet declared
itself--such a scrap for instance as the fine germ of this actual
ferment of memory and play of fancy, a retroactive vision almost intense
of the faded hour and a fond surrender to the questions with which it
bristles? All the female relatives on my father's side who reappear to
me in these evocations strike me as having been intensely and admirably,
but at the same time almost indescribably, _natural_; which fact
connects itself for the brooding painter and fond analyst with fifty
other matters and impressions, his vision of a whole social order--if
the American scene might indeed have been said at that time to be
positively ordered. Wasn't the fact that the dancing passion was so out
of proportion to any social resource just one of the signs of the
natural?--and for that matter in both sexes alike of the artless
kindred. It was shining to us that Jim Pendleton had a yacht--though I
was not smuggled aboard it; there the line was drawn--but the deck must
have been more used for the "German" than for other manoeuvres, often
doubtless under the lead of our cousin Robert, the eldest of the many
light irresponsibles to whom my father was uncle: distinct to me still
being the image of that phenomenally lean and nimble choreographic hero,
"Bob" James to us always, who, almost ghost-fashion, led the cotillion
on from generation to generation, his skull-like smile, with its accent
from the stiff points of his long moustache and the brightly hollow
orbits of his eyes, helping to make of him an immemorial elegant
skeleton.

It is at all events to the sound of fiddles and the popping of corks
that I see even young brides, as well as young grooms, originally so
formed to please and to prosper as our hosts of the restless little
occasion I have glanced at, vanish untimely, become mysterious and
legendary, with such unfathomed silences and significant headshakes
replacing the earlier concert; so that I feel how one's impression of so
much foredoomed youthful levity received constant and quite thrilling
increase. It was of course an impression then obscurely gathered, but
into which one was later on to read strange pages--to some of which I
may find myself moved to revert. Mere mite of observation though I have
dubbed myself, I won't pretend to have deciphered any of them amid the
bacchanal sounds that, on the evening so suggestively spent, floated out
into the region of Washington Place. It is round that general centre
that my richest memories of the "gay" little life in general cluster--as
if it had been, for the circle in which I seem justified in pretending
to have "moved," of the finer essence of "town"; covering as it did the
stretch of Broadway down to Canal Street, with, closer at hand, the New
York Hotel, which figured somehow inordinately in our family annals (the
two newer ones, the glory of their brief and discredited, their flouted
and demolished age, the brown Metropolitan and the white St. Nicholas,
were much further down) and rising northward to the Ultima Thule of
Twenty-third Street, only second then in the supposedly ample scheme of
the regular ninth "wide" street. I can't indeed have moved much on that
night of revelations and yet of enigmas over which I still hang
fascinated; I must have kept intensely still in my corner, all wondering
and all fearing--fearing notice most; and in a definite way I but
remember the formidable interest of my so convincing dowager (to hark
back for a second to _her_) and the fact that a great smooth white cloth
was spread across the denuded room, converted thus into a field of
frolic the prospect of which much excited my curiosity. I but recover
the preparations, however, without recovering the performance; Mrs. L.
and I must have been the only persons not shaking a foot, and premature
unconsciousness clearly in my case supervened. Out of it peeps again the
riddle, the so quaint _trait de moeurs_, of my infant participation.
But I set that down as representative and interesting, and have done
with it.

The manners of the time had obviously a _bonhomie_ of their
own--certainly so on our particularly indulgent and humane little field;
as to which general proposition the later applications and
transformations of the bonhomie would be interesting to trace. It has
lingered and fermented and earned other names, but I seem on the track
of its prime evidence with that note of the sovereign ease of all the
young persons with whom we grew up. In the after-time, as our view took
in, with new climes and new scenes, other examples of the class, these
were always to affect us as more formed and finished, more tutored and
governessed, warned and armed at more points for, and doubtless often
against, the social relation; so that this prepared state on their part,
and which at first appeared but a preparation for shyness or silence or
whatever other ideal of the unconversable, came to be for us the normal,
since it was the relative and not the positive, still less the
superlative, state. No charming creatures of the growing girl sort were
ever to be natural in the degree of these nearer and remoter ornaments
of our family circle in youth; when after intervals and absences the
impression was renewed we saw how right we had been about it, and I feel
as if we had watched it for years under the apprehension and the vision
of some inevitable change, wondering with an affectionate interest what
effect the general improvement in manners might, perhaps all
unfortunately, have upon it. I make out as I look back that it was
really to succumb at no point to this complication, that it was to keep
its really quite inimitable freshness to the end, or, in other words,
when it had been the first free growth of the old conditions, was to
pass away but with the passing of those themselves for whom it had been
the sole possible expression. For it was as of an altogether special
shade and sort that the New York young naturalness of our prime was
touchingly to linger with us--so that to myself, at present, with only
the gentle ghosts of the so numerous exemplars of it before me, it
becomes the very stuff of the soft cerements in which their general mild
mortality is laid away. We used to have in the after-time, amid fresh
recognitions and reminders, the kindest "old New York" identifications
for it. The special shade of its identity was thus that it was not
conscious--really not conscious of anything in the world; or was
conscious of so few possibilities at least, and these so immediate and
so a matter of course, that it came almost to the same thing. That was
the testimony that the slight subjects in question strike me as having
borne to their surrounding medium--the fact that their unconsciousness
could be so preserved. They played about in it so happily and serenely
and sociably, as unembarrassed and loquacious as they were unadmonished
and uninformed--only aware at the most that a good many people within
their horizon were "dissipated"; as in point of fact, alas, a good many
_were_. What it was to be dissipated--that, however, was but in the most
limited degree a feature of their vision; they would have held, under
pressure, that it consisted more than anything else in getting tipsy.

Infinitely queer and quaint, almost incongruously droll, the sense
somehow begotten in ourselves, as very young persons, of our being
surrounded by a slightly remote, yet dimly rich, outer and quite kindred
circle of the tipsy. I remember how, once, as a very small boy, after
meeting in the hall a most amiable and irreproachable gentleman, all
but closely consanguineous, who had come to call on my mother, I
anticipated his further entrance by slipping in to report to that parent
that I thought _he_ must be tipsy. And I was to recall perfectly
afterwards the impression I so made on her--in which the general
proposition that the gentlemen of a certain group or connection might on
occasion be best described by the term I had used sought to destroy the
particular presumption that our visitor wouldn't, by his ordinary
measure, show himself for one of those. He didn't, to all appearance,
for I was afterwards disappointed at the lapse of lurid evidence: that
memory remained with me, as well as a considerable subsequent wonder at
my having leaped to so baseless a view. The truth was indeed that we had
too, in the most innocent way in the world, our sense of "dissipation"
as an abounding element in family histories; a sense fed quite directly
by our fondness for making our father--I can at any rate testify for the
urgency of my own appeal to him--tell us stories of the world of his
youth. He regaled us with no scandals, yet it somehow rarely failed to
come out that each contemporary on his younger scene, each hero of each
thrilling adventure, had, in spite of brilliant promise and romantic
charm, ended badly, as badly as possible. This became our gaping
generalisation--it gaped even under the moral that the anecdote was
always, and so familiarly, humanly and vividly, designed to convey:
everyone in the little old Albany of the Dutch houses and the steep
streets and the recurrent family names--Townsends, Clintons, Van
Rensselaers, Pruyns: I pick them up again at hazard, and all
uninvidiously, out of reverberations long since still--everyone without
exception had at last taken a turn as far as possible from edifying. And
what they had most in common, the hovering presences, the fitful
apparitions that, speaking for myself, so engaged my imagination, was
just the fine old Albany drama--in the light of which a ring of mystery
as to their lives (mainly carried on at the New York Hotel aforesaid)
surrounded them, and their charm, inveterate, as I believed, shone out
as through vaguely-apprehended storm-clouds. Their charm was in various
marks of which I shall have more to say--for as I breathe all this
hushed air again even the more broken things give out touching human
values and faint sweet scents of character, flushes of old beauty and
good-will.

The grim little generalisation remained, none the less, and I may speak
of it--since I speak of everything--as still standing: the striking
evidence that scarce aught but disaster _could_, in that so unformed and
unseasoned society, overtake young men who were in the least exposed.
Not to have been immediately launched in business of a rigorous sort
was to _be_ exposed--in the absence I mean of some fairly abnormal
predisposition to virtue; since it was a world so simply constituted
that whatever wasn't business, or exactly an office or a "store," places
in which people sat close and made money, was just simply pleasure,
sought, and sought only, in places in which people got tipsy. There was
clearly no mean, least of all the golden one, for it was just the ready,
even when the moderate, possession of gold that determined, that hurried
on, disaster. There were whole sets and groups, there were
"sympathetic," though too susceptible, races, that seemed scarce to
recognise or to find possible any practical application of moneyed, that
is of transmitted, ease, however limited, but to go more or less rapidly
to the bad with it--which meant even then going as often as possible to
Paris. The bright and empty air was as void of "careers" for a choice as
of cathedral towers for a sketcher, and I passed my younger time, till
within a year or two of the Civil War, with an absolute vagueness of
impression as to how the political life of the country was carried on.
The field was strictly covered, to my young eyes, I make out, by three
classes, the busy, the tipsy, and Daniel Webster. This last great man
must have represented for us a class in himself; as if to be "political"
was just to _be_ Daniel Webster in his proper person and with room left
over for nobody else. That he should have filled the sky of public life
from pole to pole, even to a childish consciousness not formed in New
England and for which that strenuous section was but a name in the
geography-book, is probably indeed a sign of how large, in the general
air, he comparatively loomed. The public scene was otherwise a blank to
our young vision, I discern, till, later on, in Paris, I saw--for at
that unimproved period we of the unfledged didn't suppose ourselves to
"meet"--Charles Sumner; with whose name indeed there further connects
itself the image of a thrilled hour in the same city some months before:
the gathering of a group of indignant persons on the terrace of a small
old-world _hôtel_ or pavilion looking out on the Avenue des Champs
Elysées, slightly above the Rond-Point and just opposite the
antediluvian Jardin d'Hiver (who remembers the Jardin d'Hiver, who
remembers the ancient lodges of the _octroi_, the pair of them facing
each other at the Barrière de l'Étoile?) and among them a passionate
lady in tears over the news, fresh that morning, of the assault on
Sumner by the South Carolina ruffian of the House. The wounded Senator,
injured in health, had come to Europe later on to recuperate, and he
offered me my first view, to the best of my belief, not only of a
"statesman," but of any person whomsoever concerned in political life. I
distinguish in the earlier twilight of Fourteenth Street my father's
return to us one November day--we knew he had been out to vote--with the
news that General Winfield Scott, his and the then "Whig" candidate, had
been defeated for the Presidency; just as I rescue from the same limbo
my afterwards proud little impression of having "met" that high-piled
hero of the Mexican War, whom the Civil War was so soon and with so
little ceremony to extinguish, literally met him, at my father's side,
in Fifth Avenue, where he had just emerged from a cross-street. I remain
vague as to what had then happened and scarce suppose I was, at the age
probably of eight or nine, "presented"; but we must have been for some
moments face to face while from under the vast amplitude of a dark blue
military cloak with a big velvet collar and loosened silver clasp, which
spread about him like a symbol of the tented field, he greeted my
parent--so clear is my sense of the time it took me to gape _all_ the
way up to where he towered aloft.



V


The not very glorious smoke of the Mexican War, I note for another
touch, had been in the air when I was a still smaller boy, and I have an
association with it that hovers between the definite and the dim, a
vision of our uncle (Captain as he then was) Robert Temple, U.S.A., in
regimentals, either on his way to the scene of action or on the return
from it. I see him as a person half asleep sees some large object across
the room and against the window-light--even if to the effect of my now
asking myself why, so far from the scene of action, he was in panoply of
war. I seem to see him cock-hatted and feathered too--an odd vision of
dancing superior plumes which doesn't fit if he was only a captain.
However, I cultivate the wavering shade merely for its value as my
earliest glimpse of any circumstance of the public order--unless indeed
another, the reminiscence to which I owe to-day my sharpest sense of
personal antiquity, had already given me the historic thrill. The scene
of this latter stir of consciousness is, for memory, an apartment in one
of the three Fifth Avenue houses that were not long afterward swallowed
up in the present Brevoort Hotel, and consists of the admired
appearance of my uncles "Gus" and John James to announce to my father
that the Revolution had triumphed in Paris and Louis Philippe had fled
to England. These last words, the flight of the king, linger on my ear
at this hour even as they fell there; we had somehow waked early to a
perception of Paris, and a vibration of my very most infantine
sensibility under its sky had by the same stroke got itself preserved
for subsequent wondering reference. I had been there for a short time in
the second year of my life, and I was to communicate to my parents later
on that as a baby in long clothes, seated opposite to them in a carriage
and on the lap of another person, I had been impressed with the view,
framed by the clear window of the vehicle as we passed, of a great
stately square surrounded with high-roofed houses and having in its
centre a tall and glorious column. I had naturally caused them to
marvel, but I had also, under cross-questioning, forced them to compare
notes, as it were, and reconstitute the miracle. They knew what my
observation of monumental squares had been--and alas hadn't; neither New
York nor Albany could have offered me the splendid perspective, and, for
that matter, neither could London, which moreover I had known at a
younger age still. Conveyed along the Rue St.-Honoré while I waggled my
small feet, as I definitely remember doing, under my flowing robe, I had
crossed the Rue de Castiglione and taken in, for all my time, the
admirable aspect of the Place and the Colonne Vendôme. I don't now
pretend to measure the extent to which my interest in the events of
1848--I was five years old--was quickened by that _souvenir_, a
tradition further reinforced, I should add, by the fact that some
relative or other, some member of our circle, was always either "there"
("there" being of course generally Europe, but particularly and
pointedly Paris) or going there or coming back from there: I at any rate
revert to the sound of the rich words on my uncles' lips as to my
positive initiation into History. It was as if I had been ready for them
and could catch on; I had heard of kings presumably, and also of
fleeing: but that kings had sometimes to flee was a new and striking
image, to which the apparent consternation of my elders added dramatic
force. So much, in any case, for what I may claim--perhaps too idly--on
behalf of my backward reach.

It has carried me far from my rather evident proposition that if we saw
the "natural" so happily embodied about us--and in female maturity, or
comparative maturity, scarce less than in female adolescence--this was
because the artificial, or in other words the complicated, was so
little there to threaten it. The complicated, as we were later on to
define it, was but another name for those more massed and violent
assaults upon the social sense that we were to recognise subsequently by
their effects--observing thus that a sense more subtly social had so
been created, and that it quite differed from that often almost complete
inward blankness, in respect to any circumjacent, any constituted, order
to the exhibition of which our earlier air and our family scene had
inimitably treated us. We came more or less to see that our young
contemporaries of another world, the trained and admonished, the
disciplined and governessed, or in a word the formed, relatively
speaking, had been made aware of many things of which those at home
hadn't been; yet we were also to note--so far as we may be conceived as
so precociously "noting," though we were certainly incorrigible
observers--that, the awareness in question remaining at the best
imperfect, our little friends as distinguished from our companions of
the cousinship, greater and less, advanced and presumed but to flounder
and recede, elated at once and abashed and on the whole but _feebly_
sophisticated. The cousinship, on the other hand, all unalarmed and
unsuspecting and unembarrassed, lived by pure serenity, sociability and
loquacity; the oddest fact about its members being withal that it didn't
make them bores, I seem to feel as I look back, or at least not worse
bores than sundry specimens of the other growth. There can surely never
have been anything like their good faith and, generally speaking, their
amiability. I should have but to let myself go a little to wish to cite
examples--save that in doing so I should lose sight of my point; which
is to recall again that whether we were all amiable or not (and,
frankly, I claim it in a high degree for most of us) the scene on which
we so freely bloomed does strike me, when I reckon up, as
extraordinarily unfurnished. How came it then that for the most part so
simple we yet weren't more inane? This was doubtless by reason of the
quantity of our inward life--ours of our father's house in especial I
mean--which made an excellent, in some cases almost an incomparable,
_fond_ for a thicker civility to mix with when growing experience should
begin to take that in. It was also quaint, among us, I may be reminded,
to have _begun_ with the inward life; but we began, after the manner of
all men, as we could, and I hold that if it comes to that we might have
begun much worse.

I was in my seventeenth year when the raid and the capture of John
Brown, of Harper's Ferry fame, enjoyed its sharp reverberation among us,
though we were then on the other side of the world; and I count this as
the very first reminder that reached me of our living, on our side, in
a political order: I had perfectly taken in from the pages of "Punch,"
which contributed in the highest degree to our education, that the
peoples on the other side so lived. As there was no American "Punch,"
and to this time has been none, to give small boys the sense and the
imagination of living with their public administrators, Daniel Webster
and Charles Sumner had never become, for my fancy, members of a class, a
class which numbered in England, by John Leech's showing, so many other
members still than Lords Brougham, Palmerston and John Russell. The war
of Secession, soon arriving, was to cause the field to bristle with
features and the sense of the State, in our generation, infinitely to
quicken; but that alarm came upon the country like a thief at night, and
we might all have been living in a land in which there seemed at least
nothing save a comparatively small amount of quite private property to
steal. Even private property in other than the most modest amounts
scarce figured for our particular selves; which doubtless came partly
from the fact that amid all the Albany issue there was ease, with the
habit of ease, thanks to our grandfather's fine old ability--he had
decently provided for so large a generation; but our consciousness was
positively disfurnished, as that of young Americans went, of the
actualities of "business" in a world of business. As to that we all
formed together quite a monstrous exception; business in a world of
business was the thing we most agreed (differ as we might on minor
issues) in knowing nothing about. We touched it and it touched us
neither directly nor otherwise, and I think our fond detachment, not to
say our helpless ignorance and on occasion (since I can speak for one
fine instance) our settled density of understanding, made us an
unexampled and probably, for the ironic "smart" gods of the American
heaven, a lamentable case. Of course even the office and the "store"
leave much of the provision for an approximately complete scheme of
manners to be accounted for; still there must have been vast numbers of
people about us for whom, under the usages, the assault on the
imagination from without was much stronger and the filling-in of the
general picture much richer. It was exactly by the lack of that
filling-in that we--we more especially who lived at near view of my
father's admirable example--had been thrown so upon the inward life. No
one could ever have taken to it, even in the face of discouragement,
more kindly and naturally than he; but the situation had at least that
charm that, in default of so many kinds of the outward, people had their
choice of as many kinds of the inward as they would, and might practise
those kinds with whatever consistency, intensity and brilliancy. Of our
father's perfect gift for practising _his_ kind I shall have more to
say; but I meanwhile glance yet again at those felicities of destitution
which kept us, collectively, so genially interested in almost nothing
but each other and which come over me now as one of the famous blessings
in disguise.

There were "artists" in the prospect--didn't Mr. Tom Hicks and Mr. Paul
Duggan and Mr. C. P. Cranch and Mr. Felix Darley, this last worthy of a
wider reputation, capable perhaps even of a finer development, than he
attained, more or less haunt our friendly fireside, and give us also the
sense of others, landscapist Cropseys and Coles and Kensetts, and
bust-producing Iveses and Powerses and Moziers, hovering in an outer
circle? There were authors not less, some of them vague and female and
in this case, as a rule, glossily ringletted and monumentally
breastpinned, but mostly frequent and familiar, after the manner of
George Curtis and Parke Godwin and George Ripley and Charles Dana and N.
P. Willis and, for brighter lights or those that in our then comparative
obscurity almost deceived the morn, Mr. Bryant, Washington Irving and E.
A. Poe--the last-named of whom I cite not so much because he was
personally present (the extremity of personal absence had just overtaken
him) as by reason of that predominant lustre in him which our small
opening minds themselves already recognised and which makes me wonder
to-day at the legend of the native neglect of him. Was he not even at
that time on all lips, had not my brother, promptly master of the
subject, beckoned on my lagging mind with a recital of The Gold-Bug and
The Pit and the Pendulum?--both of which, however, I was soon enough to
read for myself, adding to them The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Were we
not also forever mounting on little platforms at our infant schools to
"speak" The Raven and Lenore and the verses in which we phrased the
heroine as Annabellee?--falling thus into the trap the poet had so
recklessly laid for us, as he had laid one for our interminable droning,
not less, in the other pieces I have named. So far from misprizing our
ill-starred magician we acclaimed him surely at every turn; he lay upon
our tables and resounded in our mouths, while we communed to satiety,
even for boyish appetites, over the thrill of his choicest pages. Don't
I just recognise the ghost of a dim memory of a children's Christmas
party at the house of Fourteenth Street neighbours--they come back to me
as "the Beans": who and what and whence and whither the kindly
Beans?--where I admired over the chimney piece the full-length portrait
of a lady seated on the ground in a Turkish dress, with hair flowing
loose from a cap which was not as the caps of ladies known to me, and I
think with a tambourine, who was somehow identified to my enquiring
mind as the wife of the painter of the piece, Mr. Osgood, and the so
ministering friend of the unhappy Mr. Poe. There she throned in honour,
like Queen Constance on the "huge firm earth"--all for _that_ and her
tambourine; and surely we could none of us have done more for the
connection.

Washington Irving I "met," with infant promptitude, very much as I had
met General Scott; only this time it was on a steamboat that I
apprehended the great man; my father, under whose ever-patient
protection I then was--during the summer afternoon's sail from New York
to Fort Hamilton--having named him to me, for this long preservation,
before they greeted and talked, and having a fact of still more moment
to mention, with the greatest concern, afterwards: Mr. Irving had given
him the news of the shipwreck of Margaret Fuller in those very waters
(Fire Island at least was but just without our big Bay) during the great
August storm that had within the day or two passed over us. The
unfortunate lady was essentially of the Boston connection; but she must
have been, and probably through Emerson, a friend of my parents--mustn't
she have held "conversations," in the finest exotic Bostonese, in New
York, Emerson himself lecturing there to admiration?--since the more I
squeeze the sponge of memory the more its stored secretions flow, to
remind me here again that, being with those elders late one evening at
an exhibition of pictures, possibly that of the National Academy, then
confined to scant quarters, I was shown a small full-length portrait of
Miss Fuller, seated as now appears to me and wrapped in a long white
shawl, the failure of which to do justice to its original my companions
denounced with some emphasis. Was this work from the hand of Mr. Tom
Hicks aforesaid, or was that artist concerned only with the life-sized,
the enormous (as I took it to be) the full-length, the violently
protruded accessories in which come back to me with my infant sense of
the wonder and the beauty of them, as expressed above all in the image
of a very long and lovely lady, the new bride of the artist, standing at
a window before a row of plants or bulbs in tall coloured glasses. The
light of the window playing over the figure and the "treatment" of its
glass and of the flower-pots and the other furniture, passed, by my
impression, for the sign of the master hand; and _was_ it all brave and
charming, or was it only very hard and stiff, quite ugly and helpless? I
put these questions as to a vanished world and by way of pressing back
into it only the more clingingly and tenderly--wholly regardless in
other words of whether the answers to them at all matter. They matter
doubtless but for fond evocation, and if one tries to evoke one must
neglect none of the arts, one must do it with all the forms. Why I
_should_ so like to do it is another matter--and what "outside
interest" I may suppose myself to create perhaps still another: I
fatuously proceed at any rate, I make so far as I can the small warm
dusky homogeneous New York world of the mid-century close about us.



VI


I see a small and compact and ingenuous society, screened in somehow
conveniently from north and west, but open wide to the east and
comparatively to the south and, though perpetually moving up Broadway,
none the less constantly and delightfully walking down it. Broadway was
the feature and the artery, the joy and the adventure of one's
childhood, and it stretched, and prodigiously, from Union Square to
Barnum's great American Museum by the City Hall--or only went further on
the Saturday mornings (absurdly and deplorably frequent alas) when we
were swept off by a loving aunt, our mother's only sister, then much
domesticated with us and to whom the ruthless care had assigned itself
from the first, to Wall Street and the torture chamber of Dr. Parkhurst,
our tremendously respectable dentist, who was so old and so empurpled
and so polite, in his stock and dress-coat and dark and glossy wig, that
he had been our mother's and our aunt's haunting fear in _their_ youth
as well, since, in their quiet Warren Street, not far off, they were,
dreadful to think, comparatively under his thumb. He extremely
resembles, to my mind's eye, certain figures in Phiz's illustrations to
Dickens, and it was clear to us through our long ordeal that our elders
must, by some mistaken law of compensation, some refinement of the
vindictive, be making us "pay" for what they in like helplessness had
suffered from him: as if _we_ had done them any harm! Our analysis was
muddled, yet in a manner relieving, and for us too there were
compensations, which we grudged indeed to allow, but which I could
easily, even if shyly, have named. One of these was Godey's Lady's Book,
a sallow pile of which (it shows to me for sallow in the warmer and less
stony light of the Wall Street of those days and through the smell of
ancient anodynes) lay on Joey Bagstock's table for our beguilement while
we waited: I was to encounter in Phiz's Dombey and Son that design for
our tormentor's type. There is no doubt whatever that I succumbed to the
spell of Godey, who, unlike the present essences, was an anodyne before
the fact as well as after; since I remember poring, in his pages, over
tales of fashionable life in Philadelphia while awaiting my turn in the
chair, not less than doing so when my turn was over and to the music of
my brother's groans. This must have been at the hours when we were left
discreetly to our own fortitude, through our aunt's availing herself of
the relative proximity to go and shop at Stewart's and then come back
for us; the ladies' great shop, vast, marmorean, plate-glassy and
notoriously fatal to the female nerve (we ourselves had wearily trailed
through it, hanging on the skirts, very literally, of indecision) which
bravely waylaid custom on the Broadway corner of Chambers Street. Wasn't
part of the charm of life--since I assume that there _was_ such a
charm--in its being then (I allude to life itself) so much more
down-towny, on the supposition at least that our young gravitation in
that sense for most of the larger joys consorted with something of the
general habit? The joy that had to be fished out, like Truth, from the
very bottom of the well was attendance at Trinity Church, still in that
age supereminent, pointedly absolute, the finest feature of the
southward scene; to the privilege of which the elder Albany cousins were
apt to be treated when they came on to stay with us; an indulgence
making their enjoyment of our city as down-towny as possible too, for I
seem otherwise to see them but as returning with the familiar Stewart
headache from the prolonged strain of selection.

The great reward dispensed to us for our sessions in the house of
pain--as to which it became our subsequent theory that we had been
regularly dragged there on alternate Saturdays--was our being carried on
the return to the house of delight, or to one of them, for there were
specifically two, where we partook of ice-cream, deemed sovereign for
sore mouths, deemed sovereign in fact, all through our infancy, for
everything. Two great establishments for the service of it graced the
prospect, one Thompson's and the other Taylor's, the former, I perfectly
recall, grave and immemorial, the latter upstart but dazzling, and
having together the effect that whichever we went to we wondered if we
hadn't better have gone to the other--with that capacity of childhood
for making the most of its adventures after a fashion that may look so
like making the least. It is in our father's company indeed that, as I
press the responsive spring, I see the bedizened saucers heaped up for
our fond consumption (they bore the Taylor-title painted in blue and
gilded, with the Christian name, as parentally pointed out to us,
perverted to "Jhon" for John, whereas the Thompson-name scorned such
vulgar and above all such misspelt appeals;) whence I infer that still
other occasions for that experience waited on us--as almost any would
serve, and a paternal presence so associated with them was not in the
least conceivable in the Wall Street _repaire_. That presence is in fact
not associated for me, to any effect of distinctness, with the least of
our suffered shocks or penalties--though partly doubtless because our
acquaintance with such was of the most limited; a conclusion I form even
while judging it to have been on the whole sufficient for our virtue.
This sounds perhaps as if we had borne ourselves as prodigies or
prigs--which was as far as possible from being the case; we were bred in
horror of _conscious_ propriety, of what my father was fond of calling
"flagrant" morality; what I myself at any rate read back into our rare
educational ease, for the memory of some sides of which I was ever to be
thankful, is, besides the _general_ humanisation of our apprehended
world and our "social" tone, the unmistakeable appearance that my father
was again and again accompanied in public by his small second son: so
many young impressions come back to me as gathered at his side and in
his personal haunts. Not that he mustn't have offered his firstborn at
least equal opportunities; but I make out that he seldom led us forth,
such as we were, together, and my brother must have had in _his_ turn
many a mild adventure of which the secret--I like to put it so--perished
with him. He was to remember, as I perceived later on, many things that
I didn't, impressions I sometimes wished, as with a retracing jealousy,
or at least envy, that I might also have fallen direct heir to; but he
professed amazement, and even occasionally impatience, at my reach of
reminiscence--liking as he did to brush away old moral scraps in favour
of new rather than to hoard and so complacently exhibit them. If in my
way I collected the new as well I yet cherished the old; the ragbag of
memory hung on its nail in my closet, though I learnt with time to
control the habit of bringing it forth. And I say that with a due sense
of my doubtless now appearing to empty it into these pages.

I keep picking out at hazard those passages of our earliest age that
help to reconstruct for me even by tiny touches the experience of our
parents, any shade of which seems somehow to signify. I cherish, to the
extent of here reproducing, an old daguerreotype all the circumstances
of the taking of which I intensely recall--though as I was lately turned
twelve when I figured for it the feat of memory is perhaps not
remarkable. It documents for me in so welcome and so definite a manner
my father's cultivation of my company. It documents at the same time the
absurdest little legend of my small boyhood--the romantic tradition of
the value of being taken up from wherever we were staying to the queer
empty dusty smelly New York of midsummer: I apply that last term because
we always arrived by boat and I have still in my nostril the sense of
the _abords_ of the hot town, the rank and rubbishy waterside quarters,
where big loose cobbles, for the least of all the base items, lay
wrenched from their sockets of pungent black mud and where the dependent
streets managed by a law of their own to be all corners and the corners
to be all groceries; groceries indeed largely of the "green" order, so
far as greenness could persist in the torrid air, and that bristled, in
glorious defiance of traffic, with the overflow of their wares and
implements. Carts and barrows and boxes and baskets, sprawling or
stacked, familiarly elbowed in its course the bumping hack (the
comprehensive "carriage" of other days, the only vehicle of hire then
known to us) while the situation was accepted by the loose citizen in
the garb of a freeman save for the brass star on his breast--and the New
York garb of the period was, as I remember it, an immense attestation of
liberty. Why the throb of romance should have beat time for me to such
visions I can scarce explain, or can explain only by the fact that the
squalor was a squalor wonderfully mixed and seasoned, and that I should
wrong the whole impression if I didn't figure it first and foremost as
that of some vast succulent cornucopia. What did the stacked boxes and
baskets of our youth represent but the boundless fruitage of that more
bucolic age of the American world, and what was after all of so strong
an assault as the rankness of such a harvest? Where is that fruitage
now, where in particular are the peaches _d'antan_? where the mounds of
Isabella grapes and Seckel pears in the sticky sweetness of which our
childhood seems to have been steeped? It was surely, save perhaps for
oranges, a more informally and familiarly fruit-eating time, and bushels
of peaches in particular, peaches big and peaches small, peaches white
and peaches yellow, played a part in life from which they have somehow
been deposed; every garden, almost every bush and the very boys' pockets
grew them; they were "cut up" and eaten with cream at every meal;
domestically "brandied" they figured, the rest of the year, scarce less
freely--if they were rather a "party dish" it was because they made the
party whenever they appeared, and when ice-cream was added, or they were
added _to_ it, they formed the highest revel we knew. Above all the
public heaps of them, the high-piled receptacles at every turn, touched
the street as with a sort of southern plenty; the note of the rejected
and scattered fragments, the memory of the slippery skins and rinds and
kernels with which the old dislocated flags were bestrown, is itself
endeared to me and contributes a further pictorial grace. We ate
everything in those days by the bushel and the barrel, as from stores
that were infinite; we handled watermelons as freely as cocoanuts, and
the amount of stomach-ache involved was negligible in the general
Eden-like consciousness.

The glow of this consciousness even in so small an organism was part of
the charm of these retreats offered me cityward upon our base of
provisions; a part of the rest of which, I disengage, was in my fond
perception of that almost eccentrically home-loving habit in my father
which furnished us with half the household humour of our
childhood--besides furnishing _him_ with any quantity of extravagant
picture of his so prompt pangs of anguish in absence for celebration of
his precipitate returns. It was traditional for us later on, and
especially on the European scene, that for him to leave us in pursuit of
some advantage or convenience, some improvement of our condition, some
enlargement of our view, was for him breathlessly to reappear, after the
shortest possible interval, with no account at all to give of the
benefit aimed at, but instead of this a moving representation, a far
richer recital, of his spiritual adventures at the horrid inhuman inns
and amid the hard alien races which had stayed his advance. He reacted,
he rebounded, in favour of his fireside, from whatever brief
explorations or curiosities; these passionate spontaneities were the
pulse of his life and quite some of the principal events of ours; and,
as he was nothing if not expressive, whatever happened to him for inward
intensity happened abundantly to us for pity and terror, as it were, as
well as for an ease and a quality of amusement among ourselves that was
really always to fail us among others. Comparatively late in life, after
his death, I had occasion to visit, in lieu of my brother, then in
Europe, an American city in which he had had, since his own father's
death, interests that were of importance to us all. On my asking the
agent in charge when the owner had last taken personal cognisance of his
property that gentleman replied only half to my surprise that he had
never in all his years of possession performed such an act. Then it was
perhaps that I most took the measure of his fine faith in human
confidence as an administrative function. He had to have a _relation_,
somehow expressed--and as he was the vividest and happiest of
letter-writers it rarely failed of coming; but once it was established
it served him, in every case, much better than fussy challenges, which
had always the drawback of involving lapses and inattentions in regard
to solicitudes more pressing. He incurably took for granted--incurably
because whenever he did so the process succeeded; with which
association, however, I perhaps overdrench my complacent vision of our
summer snatches at town. Through a grave accident in early life country
walks on rough roads were, in spite of his great constitutional
soundness, tedious and charmless to him; he liked on the other hand the
peopled pavement, the thought of which made him restless when away.
Hence the fidelities and sociabilities, however superficial, that he
couldn't _not_ reaffirm--if he could only reaffirm the others, the
really intimate and still more communicable, soon enough afterwards.

It was these of the improvised and casual sort that I shared with him
thus indelibly; for truly if we took the boat to town to do things I did
them quite as much as he, and so that a little boy could scarce have
done them more. My part may indeed but have been to surround his part
with a thick imaginative aura; but that constituted for me an activity
than which I could dream of none braver or wilder. We went to the office
of The New York Tribune--my father's relations with that journal were
actual and close; and that was a wonderful world indeed, with strange
steepnesses and machineries and noises and hurrying bare-armed,
bright-eyed men, and amid the agitation clever, easy, kindly, jocular,
partly undressed gentlemen (it was always July or August) some of whom I
knew at home, taking it all as if it were the most natural place in the
world. It was big to me, big to me with the breath of great vague
connections, and I supposed the gentlemen very old, though since aware
that they must have been, for the connections, remarkably young; and the
conversation of one of them, the one I saw oftenest up town, who
attained to great local and to considerable national eminence
afterwards, and who talked often and thrillingly about the theatres, I
retain as many bright fragments of as if I had been another little
Boswell. It was as if he had dropped into my mind the germ of certain
interests that were long afterwards to flower--as for instance on his
announcing the receipt from Paris of news of the appearance at the
Théâtre Français of an actress, Madame Judith, who was formidably to
compete with her coreligionary Rachel and to endanger that artist's
laurels. Why should Madame Judith's name have stuck to me through all
the years, since I was never to see her and she is as forgotten as
Rachel is remembered? Why should that scrap of gossip have made a date
for my consciousness, turning it to the Comédie with an intensity that
was long afterwards to culminate? Why was it equally to abide for me
that the same gentleman had on one of these occasions mentioned his
having just come back from a wonderful city of the West, Chicago, which,
though but a year or two old, with plank sidewalks when there were any,
and holes and humps where there were none, and shanties where there were
not big blocks, and everything where there had yesterday been nothing,
had already developed a huge energy and curiosity, and also an appetite
for lectures? I became aware of the Comédie, I became aware of Chicago;
I also became aware that even the most alluring fiction was not always
for little boys to read. It was mentioned at the Tribune office that one
of its reporters, Mr. Solon Robinson, had put forth a novel rather oddly
entitled "Hot Corn" and more or less having for its subject the career
of a little girl who hawked that familiar American luxury in the
streets. The volume, I think, was put into my father's hand, and I
recall my prompt desire to make acquaintance with it no less than the
remark, as promptly addressed to my companion, that the work, however
engaging, was not one that should be left accessible to an innocent
child. The pang occasioned by this warning has scarcely yet died out for
me, nor my sense of my first wonder at the discrimination--so great
became from that moment the mystery of the tabooed book, of whatever
identity; the question, in my breast, of why, if it was to be so right
for others, it was only to be wrong for me. I remember the soreness of
the thought that it was I rather who was wrong for the book--which was
somehow humiliating: in that amount of discredit one couldn't but be
involved. Neither then nor afterwards was the secret of "Hot Corn"
revealed to me, and the sense of privation was to be more prolonged, I
fear, than the vogue of the tale, which even as a success of scandal
couldn't have been great.



VII


Dimly queer and "pathetic" to me were to remain through much of the
after time indeed most of those early indigenous vogues and literary
flurries: so few of those that brushed by my childhood had been other
than a tinkling that suddenly stopped. I am afraid I mean that what was
touching was rather the fact that the tinkle _could_ penetrate than the
fact that it died away; the light of criticism might have beat so
straight--if the sense of proportion and the fact of compassion hadn't
waved it away--on the æsthetic phase during which the appeal was mainly
_by_ the tinkle. The Scarlet Letter and The Seven Gables had the deep
tone as much as one would; but of the current efforts of the imagination
they were alone in having it till Walt Whitman broke out in the later
fifties--and I was to know nothing of that happy genius till long after.
An absorbed perusal of The Lamplighter was what I was to achieve at the
fleeting hour I continue to circle round; that romance was on every
one's lips, and I recollect it as more or less thrust upon me in amends
for the imposed sacrifice of a ranker actuality--that of the improper
Mr. Robinson, I mean, as to whom there revives in me the main question
of where his impropriety, in so general a platitude of the bourgeois,
could possibly have dwelt. It was to be true indeed that Walt Whitman
achieved an impropriety of the first magnitude; that success, however,
but showed us the platitude returning in a genial rage upon itself and
getting out of control by generic excess. There was no rage at any rate
in The Lamplighter, over which I fondly hung and which would have been
my first "grown-up" novel--it had been soothingly offered me for
that--had I consented to take it as really and truly grown-up. I
couldn't have said what it lacked for the character, I only had my
secret reserves, and when one blest afternoon on the New Brighton boat I
waded into The Initials I saw how right I had been. The Initials _was_
grown-up and the difference thereby exquisite; it came over me with the
very first page, assimilated in the fluttered little cabin to which I
had retired with it--all in spite of the fact too that my attention was
distracted by a pair of remarkable little girls who lurked there out of
more public view as to hint that they weren't to be seen for nothing.

That must have been a rich hour, for I mix the marvel of the Boon
Children, strange pale little flowers of the American theatre, with my
conscious joy in bringing back to my mother, from our forage in New
York, a gift of such happy promise as the history of the long-legged Mr.
Hamilton and his two Bavarian beauties, the elder of whom, Hildegarde,
was to figure for our small generation as the very type of the haughty
as distinguished from the forward heroine (since I think our categories
really came to no more than those). I couldn't have got very far with
Hildegarde in moments so scant, but I memorably felt that romance was
thick round me--everything, at such a crisis, seeming to make for it at
once. The Boon Children, conveyed thus to New Brighton under care of a
lady in whose aspect the strain of the resolute triumphed over the note
of the battered, though the showy in it rather succumbed at the same
time to the dowdy, were already "billed," as infant phenomena, for a
performance that night at the Pavilion, where our attendance, it was a
shock to feel, couldn't be promised; and in gazing without charge at the
pair of weary and sleepy little mountebanks I found the histrionic
character and the dramatic profession for the first time revealed to me.
They filled me with fascination and yet with fear; they expressed a
melancholy grace and a sort of peevish refinement, yet seemed awfully
detached and indifferent, indifferent perhaps even to being pinched and
slapped, for art's sake, at home; they honoured me with no notice
whatever and regarded me doubtless as no better than one of the little
louts peeping through the tent of the show. In return I judged their
appearance dissipated though fascinating, and sought consolation for the
memory of their scorn and the loss of their exhibition, as time went on,
in noting that the bounds of their fame seemed somehow to have been
stayed. I neither "met" them nor heard of them again. The little
Batemans must have obscured their comparatively dim lustre, flourishing
at the same period and with a larger command of the pictorial poster and
the other primitive symbols in Broadway--such posters and such symbols
as they were at that time!--the little Batemans who were to be reserved,
in maturer form, for my much later and more grateful appreciation.

This weak reminiscence has obstructed, however, something more to the
purpose, the retained impression of those choicest of our loiterings
that took place, still far down-town, at the Bookstore, home of delights
and haunt of fancy. It was at the Bookstore we had called on the day of
The Initials and the Boon Children--and it was thence we were returning
with our spoil, of which the charming novel must have been but a
fragment. My impression composed itself of many pieces; a great and
various practice of burying my nose in the half-open book for the strong
smell of paper and printer's ink, known to us as the English smell, was
needed to account for it. _That_ was the exercise of the finest sense
that hung about us, my brother and me--or of one at least but little
less fine than the sense for the satisfaction of which we resorted to
Thompson's and to Taylor's: it bore me company during all our returns
from forages and left me persuaded that I had only to snuff up hard
enough, fresh uncut volume in hand, to taste of the very substance of
London. All our books in that age were English, at least all our
down-town ones--I personally recall scarce any that were not; and I take
the perception of that quality in them to have associated itself with
more fond dreams and glimmering pictures than any other one principle of
growth. It was all a result of the deeply _infected_ state: I had been
prematurely poisoned--as I shall presently explain. The Bookstore,
fondest of my father's resorts, though I remember no more of its public
identity than that it further enriched the brave depth of Broadway, was
overwhelmingly and irresistibly English, as not less tonically English
was our principal host there, with whom we had moreover, my father and
I, thanks to his office, such personal and genial relations that I
recall seeing him grace our board at home, in company with his wife,
whose vocal strain and complexion and coiffure and flounces I found none
the less informing, none the less "racial," for my not being then versed
in the language of analysis.

The true inwardness of these rich meanings--those above all of the
Bookstore itself--was that a tradition was thus fed, a presumption thus
created, a vague vision thus filled in: all expression is clumsy for so
mystic a process. What else can have happened but that, having taken
over, under suggestion and with singular infant promptitude, a
particular throbbing consciousness, I had become aware of the source at
which it could best be refreshed? That consciousness, so communicated,
was just simply of certain impressions, certain _sources_ of impression
again, proceeding from over the sea and situated beyond it--or even much
rather of my parents' own impression of such, the fruit of a happy time
spent in and about London with their two babies and reflected in that
portion of their talk with each other to which I best attended. Had
_all_ their talk for its subject, in my infant ears, that happy
time?--did it deal only with London and Piccadilly and the Green Park,
where, over against their dwelling, their two babies mainly took the air
under charge of Fanny of Albany, their American nurse, whose remark as
to the degree to which the British Museum fell short for one who had had
the privilege of that of Albany was handed down to us? Did it never
forbear from Windsor and Richmond and Sudbrook and Ham Common, amid the
rich complexity of which, crowding their discourse with echoes, they
had spent their summer?--all a scattering of such pearls as it seemed
that their second-born could most deftly and instinctively pick up. Our
sole maternal aunt, already mentioned as a devoted and cherished
presence during those and many later years, was in a position to share
with them the treasure of these mild memories, which strike me as having
for the most part, through some bright household habit, overflowed at
the breakfast-table, where I regularly attended with W. J.; she had
imbibed betimes in Europe the seeds of a long nostalgia, and I think of
her as ever so patiently communicative on that score under pressure of
my artless appeal. That I should have been so inquiring while still so
destitute of primary data was doubtless rather an anomaly; and it was
for that matter quite as if my infant divination proceeded by the light
of nature: I divined that it would matter to me in the future that
"English life" should be of this or that fashion. My father had
subscribed for me to a small periodical of quarto form, covered in
yellow and entitled The Charm, which shed on the question the softest
lustre, but of which the appearances were sadly intermittent, or then
struck me as being; inasmuch as many of our visits to the Bookstore were
to ask for the new number--only to learn with painful frequency that the
last consignment from London had arrived without it. I feel again the
pang of that disappointment--as if through the want of what I needed
most for going on; the English smell was exhaled by The Charm in a
peculiar degree, and I see myself affected by the failure as by that of
a vital tonic. It was not, at the same time, by a Charm the more or the
less that my salvation was to be, as it were, worked out, or my
imagination at any rate duly convinced; conviction was the result of the
very air of home, so far as I most consciously inhaled it. This
represented, no doubt, a failure to read into matters close at hand all
the interest they were capable of yielding; but I had taken the twist,
had sipped the poison, as I say, and was to feel it to that end the most
salutary cup. I saw my parents homesick, as I conceived, for the ancient
order and distressed and inconvenienced by many of the more immediate
features of the modern, as the modern pressed upon us, and since their
theory of our better living was from an early time that we should renew
the quest of the ancient on the very first possibility I simply grew
greater in the faith that somehow to manage that would constitute
success in life. I never found myself deterred from this fond view,
which was implied in every question I asked, every answer I got, and
every plan I formed.

Those are great words for the daydream of infant ignorance, yet if
success in life may perhaps be best defined as the performance in age of
some intention arrested in youth I may frankly put in a claim to it. To
press my nose against the sources of the English smell, so different for
young bibliophiles from any American, was to adopt that sweetness as the
sign of my "atmosphere"; roundabout might be the course to take, but one
was in motion from the first and one never lost sight of the goal. The
very names of places and things in the other world--the marked opposite
in most ways of that in which New York and Albany, Fort Hamilton and New
Brighton formed so fallacious a maximum--became to me values and secrets
and shibboleths; they were probably often on my tongue and employed as
ignorance determined, but I quite recall being ashamed to use them as
much as I should have liked. It was New Brighton, I reconstruct (and
indeed definitely remember) that "finished" us at last--that and our
final sordid school, W. J.'s and mine, in New York: the ancient order
_had_ somehow to be invoked when such "advantages" as those were the
best within our compass and our means. Not further to anticipate, at all
events, that climax was for a while but vaguely in sight, and the
illusion of felicity continued from season to season to shut us in. It
is only of what I took for felicity, however few the years and however
scant the scene, that I am pretending now to speak; though I shall have
strained the last drop of romance from this vision of our towny summers
with the quite sharp reminiscence of my first sitting for my
daguerreotype. I repaired with my father on an August day to the great
Broadway establishment of Mr. Brady, supreme in that then beautiful art,
and it is my impression--the only point vague with me--that though we
had come up by the Staten Island boat for the purpose we were to keep
the affair secret till the charming consequence should break, at home,
upon my mother. Strong is my conviction that our mystery, in the event,
yielded almost at once to our elation, for no tradition had a brighter
household life with us than that of our father's headlong impatience. He
moved in a cloud, if not rather in a high radiance, of precipitation and
divulgation, a chartered rebel against cold reserves. The good news in
his hand refused under any persuasion to grow stale, the sense of
communicable pleasure in his breast was positively explosive; so that we
saw those "surprises" in which he had conspired with our mother for our
benefit converted by him in every case, under our shamelessly encouraged
guesses, into common conspiracies against her--against her knowing, that
is, how thoroughly we were all compromised. He had a special and
delightful sophistry at the service of his overflow, and never so fine a
fancy as in defending it on "human" grounds. He was something very
different withal from a parent of weak mercies; weakness was never so
positive and plausible, nor could the attitude of sparing you be more
handsomely or on occasion even more comically aggressive.

My small point is simply, however, that the secresy of our conjoined
portrait was probably very soon, by his act, to begin a public and
shining life and to enjoy it till we received the picture; as to which
moreover still another remembrance steals on me, a proof of the fact
that our adventure was improvised. Sharp again is my sense of not being
so adequately dressed as I should have taken thought for had I foreseen
my exposure; though the resources of my wardrobe as then constituted
could surely have left me but few alternatives. The main resource of a
small New York boy in this line at that time was the little sheath-like
jacket, tight to the body, closed at the neck and adorned in front with
a single row of brass buttons--a garment of scant grace assuredly and
compromised to my consciousness, above all, by a strange ironic light
from an unforgotten source. It was but a short time before those days
that the great Mr. Thackeray had come to America to lecture on The
English Humourists, and still present to me is the voice proceeding from
my father's library, in which some glimpse of me hovering, at an opening
of the door, in passage or on staircase, prompted him to the formidable
words: "Come here, little boy, and show me your extraordinary jacket!"
My sense of my jacket became from that hour a heavy one--further
enriched as my vision is by my shyness of posture before the seated, the
celebrated visitor, who struck me, in the sunny light of the animated
room, as enormously big and who, though he laid on my shoulder the hand
of benevolence, bent on my native costume the spectacles of wonder. I
was to know later on why he had been so amused and why, after asking me
if this were the common uniform of my age and class, he remarked that in
England, were I to go there, I should be addressed as "Buttons." It had
been revealed to me thus in a flash that we were somehow _queer_, and
though never exactly crushed by it I became aware that I at least felt
so as I stood with my head in Mr. Brady's vise. Beautiful most decidedly
the lost art of the daguerreotype; I remember the "exposure" as on this
occasion interminably long, yet with the result of a facial anguish far
less harshly reproduced than my suffered snapshots of a later age. Too
few, I may here interject, were to remain my gathered impressions of the
great humourist, but one of them, indeed almost the only other, bears
again on the play of his humour over our perversities of dress. It
belongs to a later moment, an occasion on which I see him familiarly
seated with us, in Paris, during the spring of 1857, at some repast at
which the younger of us too, by that time, habitually flocked, in our
affluence of five. Our youngest was beside him, a small sister, then not
quite in her eighth year, and arrayed apparently after the fashion of
the period and place; and the tradition lingered long of his having
suddenly laid his hand on her little flounced person and exclaimed with
ludicrous horror: "Crinoline?--I was suspecting it! So young and so
depraved!"

A fainter image, that of one of the New York moments, just eludes me,
pursue it as I will; I recover but the setting and the fact of his brief
presence in it, with nothing that was said or done beyond my being left
with my father to watch our distinguished friend's secretary, who was
also a young artist, establish his easel and proceed to paint. The
setting, as I recall it, was an odd, oblong, blank "private parlour" at
the Clarendon Hotel, then the latest thing in hotels, but whose ancient
corner of Fourth Avenue and--was it Eighteenth Street?--long ago ceased
to know it; the gentle, very gentle, portraitist was Mr. Eyre Crowe and
the obliging sitter my father, who sat in response to Mr. Thackeray's
desire that his protégé should find employment. The protector after a
little departed, blessing the business, which took the form of a small
full-length of the model seated, his arm extended and the hand on the
knob of his cane. The work, it may at this time of day be mentioned,
fell below its general possibilities; but I note the scene through which
I must duly have gaped and wondered (for I had as yet seen no one, least
of all a casual acquaintance in an hotel parlour, "really paint"
before,) as a happy example again of my parent's positive cultivation of
my society, it would seem, and thought for my social education. And then
there are other connections; I recall it as a Sunday morning, I recover
the place itself as a featureless void--bleak and bare, with its
developments all to come, the hotel parlour of other New York days--but
vivid still to me is my conscious assistance for the first time at
operations that were to mean much for many of my coming years. Those of
quiet Mr. Crowe held me spellbound--I was to circle so wistfully, as
from that beginning, round the practice of his art, which in spite of
these earnest approaches and intentions never on its own part in the
least acknowledged our acquaintance; scarcely much more than it was ever
to respond, for that matter, to the overtures of the mild aspirant
himself, known to my observation long afterwards, in the London years,
as the most touchingly resigned of the children of disappointment. Not
only by association was he a Thackerayan figure, but much as if the
master's hand had stamped him with the outline and the value, with life
and sweetness and patience--shown, as after the long futility, seated
in a quiet wait, very long too, for the end. That was sad, one couldn't
but feel; yet it was in the oddest way impossible to take him for a
failure. He might have been one of fortune's, strictly; but what was
that when he was one of Thackeray's own successes?--in the minor line,
but with such a grace and such a truth, those of some dim second cousin
to Colonel Newcome.



VIII


I feel that at such a rate I remember too much, and yet this mild
apparitionism is only part of it. To look back at all is to meet the
apparitional and to find in its ghostly face the silent stare of an
appeal. When I fix it, the hovering shade, whether of person or place,
it fixes me back and seems the less lost--not to my consciousness, for
that is nothing, but to its own--by my stopping however idly for it. The
day of the daguerreotype, the August afternoon, what was it if not one
of the days when we went to Union Square for luncheon and for more
ice-cream and more peaches and even more, even most, enjoyment of ease
accompanied by stimulation of wonder? It may have been indeed that a
visit to Mrs. Cannon rather on that occasion engaged us--memory selects
a little confusedly from such a wealth of experience. For the wonder was
the experience, and that was everywhere, even if I didn't so much find
it as take it with me, to be sure of not falling short. Mrs. Cannon
lurked near Fourth Street--_that_ I abundantly grasp, not more
definitely placing her than in what seemed to me a labyrinth of grave
bye-streets westwardly "back of" Broadway, yet at no great distance
from it, where she must have occupied a house at a corner, since we
reached her not by steps that went up to a front door but by others that
went slightly down and formed clearly an independent side access, a
feature that affected me as rich and strange. What the steps went down
to was a spacious room, light and friendly, so that it couldn't have
been compromised by an "area," which offered the brave mystification,
amid other mystifications, of being at once a parlour and a shop, a shop
in particular for the relief of gentlemen in want of
pockethandkerchiefs, neckties, collars, umbrellas and straw-covered
bottles of the essence known in old New York as "Cullone"--with a very
long and big O. Mrs. Cannon was always seated at some delicate white or
other needlework, as if she herself made the collars and the neckties
and hemmed the pockethandkerchiefs, though the air of this conflicts
with the sense of importation from remoter centres of fashion breathed
by some of the more thrilling of the remarks I heard exchanged, at the
same time that it quickened the oddity of the place. For the oddity was
in many things--above all perhaps in there being no counter, no rows of
shelves and no vulgar till for Mrs. Cannon's commerce; the parlour
clearly dissimulated the shop--and positively to that extent that I
might uncannily have wondered what the shop dissimulated. It
represented, honestly, I made out in the course of visits that seem to
me to have been delightfully repeated, the more informal of the
approaches to our friend's brave background or hinterland, the realm of
her main industry, the array of the furnished apartments for
gentlemen--gentlemen largely for whom she imported the Eau de Cologne
and the neckties and who struck me as principally consisting of the ever
remarkable Uncles, desirous at times, on their restless returns from
Albany or wherever, of an intimacy of comfort that the New York Hotel
couldn't yield. Fascinating thus the implications of Mrs. Cannon's
establishment, where the talk took the turn, in particular, of Mr. John
and Mr. Edward and Mr. Howard, and where Miss Maggie or Miss Susie, who
were on the spot in other rocking chairs and with other poised needles,
made their points as well as the rest of us. The interest of the place
was that the uncles were somehow always under discussion--as to where
they at the moment might be, or as to when they were expected, or above
all as to how (the "how" was the great matter and the fine emphasis)
they had last appeared and might be conceived as carrying themselves;
and that their consumption of neckties and Eau de Cologne was somehow
inordinate: I might have been judging it in my innocence as their only
_consommation_. I refer to those sources, I say, the charm of the
scene, the finer part of which must yet have been that it didn't, as it
regularly lapsed, dispose of _all_ mystifications. If I didn't
understand, however, the beauty was that Mrs. Cannon understood (that
was what she did most of all, even more than hem pockethandkerchiefs and
collars) and my father understood, and each understood that the other
did, Miss Maggie and Miss Susie being no whit behind. It was only I who
didn't understand--save in so far as I understood _that_, which was a
kind of pale joy; and meanwhile there would be more to come from uncles
so attachingly, so almost portentously, discussable. The vision at any
rate was to stick by me as through its old-world friendly grace, its
light on the elder amenity; the prettier manners, the tender personal
note in the good lady's importations and anxieties, that of the
hand-made fabric and the discriminating service. Fit to figure as a
value anywhere--by which I meant in the right corner of any social
picture, I afterwards said to myself--that refined and composed
significance of Mrs. Cannon's scene.

Union Square was a different matter, though with the element there also
that I made out that I _didn't_ make out (my sense of drama was in this
case, I think, rather more frightened off than led on;) a drawback for
which, however, I consoled myself by baked apples and custards, an
inveterate feature of our Sunday luncheon there (those of weekdays
being various and casual) and by a study of a great store, as it seemed
to me, of steel-plated volumes, devoted mainly to the heroines of
Romance, with one in particular, presenting those of Shakespeare, in
which the plates were so artfully coloured and varnished, and complexion
and dress thereby so endeared to memory, that it was for long afterwards
a shock to me at the theatre not to see just those bright images, with
their peculiar toggeries, come on. I was able but the other day,
moreover, to renew almost on the very spot the continuity of
contemplation; large lumpish presences, precarious creations of a day,
seemed to have elbowed out of the Square all but one or two of the minor
monuments, pleasant appreciable things, of the other time; yet close to
University Place the old house of the picture-books and the custards and
the domestic situation had, though disfigured and overscored, not quite
received its death-stroke; I disengaged, by a mere identification of
obscured window and profaned portico, a whole chapter of history; which
fact should indeed be a warning to penetration, a practical plea here
for the superficial--by its exhibition of the rate at which the
relations of any gage of experience multiply and ramify from the moment
the mind begins to handle it. I pursued a swarm of such relations, on
the occasion I speak of, up and down West Fourteenth Street and over to
Seventh Avenue, running most of them to earth with difficulty, but
finding them at half a dozen points quite confess to a queer stale
sameness. The gage of experience, as I say, had in these cases been
strangely spared--the sameness had in two or three of them held out as
with conscious craft. But these are impressions I shall presently find
it impossible not to take up again at any cost.

I first "realised" Fourteenth Street at a very tender age, and I
perfectly recall that flush of initiation, consisting as it did of an
afternoon call with my father at a house there situated, one of an
already fairly mature row on the south side and quite near Sixth Avenue.
It was as "our" house, just acquired by us, that he thus invited my
approval of it--heaping as that does once more the measure of my small
adhesiveness. I thoroughly approved--quite as if I had foreseen that the
place was to become to me for ever so long afterwards a sort of
anchorage of the spirit, being at the hour as well a fascination for the
eyes, since it was there I first fondly gaped at the process of
"decorating." I saw charming men in little caps ingeniously formed of
folded newspaper--where in the roaring city are those quaint badges of
the handicrafts now?--mounted on platforms and casting plaster into
moulds; I saw them in particular paste long strips of yellowish grained
paper upon walls, and I vividly remember thinking the grain and the
pattern (for there was a pattern from waist-high down, a complication of
dragons and sphinxes and scrolls and other fine flourishes) a wonderful
and sumptuous thing. I would give much, I protest, to recover its lost
secret, to see what it really was--so interesting ever to retrace, and
sometimes so difficult of belief, in a community of one's own knowing,
is the general æsthetic adventure, are the dangers and delusions, the
all but fatal accidents and mortal ailments, that Taste has smilingly
survived and after which the fickle creature may still quite brazenly
look one in the face. Our quarter must have bristled in those years with
the very worst of the danger-signals--though indeed they figured but as
coarse complacencies; the age of "brown stone" had just been ushered in,
and that material, in deplorable, in monstrous form, over all the vacant
spaces and eligible sites then numerous between the Fifth and Sixth
Avenues, more and more affronted the day. We seemed to have come up from
a world of quieter harmonies, the world of Washington Square and
thereabouts, so decent in its dignity, so instinctively unpretentious.
There were even there spots of shabbiness that I recall, such as the
charmless void reaching westward from the two houses that formed the
Fifth Avenue corner to our grandfather's, our New York grandfather's
house, itself built by him, with the happiest judgment, not so long
before, and at no distant time in truth to be solidly but much less
pleasingly neighboured. The ancient name of the Parade-ground still hung
about the central space, and the ancient wooden palings, then so
generally accounted proper for central spaces--the whole image
infinitely recedes--affected even my innocent childhood as rustic and
mean. Union Square, at the top of the Avenue--or what practically then
counted for the top--was encased, more smartly, in iron rails and
further adorned with a fountain and an aged amateur-looking constable,
awful to my generation in virtue of his star and his switch. I associate
less elegance with the Parade-ground, into which we turned for
recreation from my neighbouring dame's-school and where the parades
deployed on no scale to check our own evolutions; though indeed the
switch of office abounded there, for what I best recover in the
connection is a sense and smell of perpetual autumn, with the ground so
muffled in the leaves and twigs of the now long defunct ailanthus-tree
that most of our own motions were a kicking of them up--the semi-sweet
rankness of the plant was all in the air--and small boys pranced about
as cavaliers whacking their steeds. There were bigger boys, bolder
still, to whom this vegetation, or something kindred that escapes me,
yielded long black beanlike slips which they lighted and smoked, the
smaller ones staring and impressed; I at any rate think of the small one
I can best speak for as constantly wading through an Indian summer of
these _disjecta_, fascinated by the leaf-kicking process, the joy of
lonely trudges, over a course in which those parts and the slightly more
northward pleasantly confound themselves. These were the homely joys of
the nobler neighbourhood, elements that had their match, and more, hard
by the Fourteenth Street home, in the poplars, the pigs, the poultry,
and the "Irish houses," two or three in number, exclusive of a very fine
Dutch one, seated then, this last, almost as among gardens and groves--a
breadth of territory still apparent, on the spot, in that marginal ease,
that spread of occupation, to the nearly complete absence of which New
York aspects owe their general failure of "style."

But there were finer vibrations as well--for the safely-prowling infant,
though none perhaps so fine as when he stood long and drank deep at
those founts of romance that gushed from the huge placards of the
theatre. These announcements, at a day when advertisement was
contentedly but information, had very much the form of magnified
playbills; they consisted of vast oblong sheets, yellow or white, pasted
upon tall wooden screens or into hollow sockets, and acquainting the
possible playgoer with every circumstance that might seriously interest
him. These screens rested sociably against trees and lamp-posts as well
as against walls and fences, to all of which they were, I suppose,
familiarly attached; but the sweetest note of their confidence was that,
in parallel lines and the good old way, characters facing performers,
they gave the whole cast, which in the "palmy days" of the drama often
involved many names. I catch myself again in the fact of endless
stations in Fifth Avenue near the southwest corner of Ninth Street, as I
think it must have been, since the dull long "run" didn't exist then for
the young _badaud_ and the poster there was constantly and bravely
renewed. It engaged my attention, whenever I passed, as the canvas of a
great master in a great gallery holds that of the pious tourist, and
even though I can't at this day be sure of its special reference I was
with precocious passion "at home" among the theatres--thanks to our
parents' fond interest in them (as from this distance I see it flourish
for the time) and to the liberal law and happy view under which the
addiction was shared with us, they never caring much for things we
couldn't care for and generally holding that what was good to them would
be also good for their children. It had the effect certainly of
preparing for these, so far as we should incline to cherish it, a
strange little fund of theatrical reminiscence, a small hoard of
memories maintaining itself in my own case for a lifetime and causing
me to wonder to-day, before its abundance, on how many evenings of the
month, or perhaps even of the week, we were torn from the pursuits of
home.



IX


The truth is doubtless, however, much less in the wealth of my
experience than in the tenacity of my impression, the fact that I have
lost nothing of what I saw and that though I can't now quite divide the
total into separate occasions the various items surprisingly swarm for
me. I shall return to some of them, wishing at present only to make my
point of when and how the seeds were sown that afterwards so thickly
sprouted and flowered. I was greatly to love the drama, at its best, as
a "form"; whatever variations of faith or curiosity I was to know in
respect to the infirm and inadequate theatre. There was of course
anciently no question for us of the drama at its best; and indeed while
I lately by chance looked over a copious collection of theatrical
portraits, beginning with the earliest age of lithography and
photography as so applied, and documentary in the highest degree on the
personalities, as we nowadays say, of the old American stage,
stupefaction grew sharp in me and scepticism triumphed, so vulgar, so
barbarous, seemed the array of types, so extraordinarily provincial the
note of every figure, so less than scant the claim of such
physiognomies and such reputations. Rather dismal, everywhere, I admit,
the histrionic image with the artificial lights turned off--the fatigued
and disconnected face reduced to its mere self and resembling some
closed and darkened inn with the sign still swung but the place blighted
for want of custom. That consideration weighs; but what a "gang," all
the same, when thus left to their own devices, the performers, men and
women alike, of that world of queer appreciations! I ought perhaps to
bear on them lightly in view of what in especial comes back to me; the
sense of the sacred thrill with which I began to watch the green
curtain, the particular one that was to rise to The Comedy of Errors on
the occasion that must have been, for what I recall of its almost
unbearable intensity, the very first of my ever sitting at a play. I
should have been indebted for the momentous evening in that case to Mr.
William Burton, whose small theatre in Chambers Street, to the rear of
Stewart's big shop and hard by the Park, as the Park was at that time
understood, offered me then my prime initiation. Let me not complain of
my having owed the adventure to a still greater William as well, nor
think again without the right intensity, the scarce tolerable throb, of
the way the torment of the curtain was mixed, half so dark a defiance
and half so rich a promise. One's eyes bored into it in vain, and yet
one knew it _would_ rise at the named hour, the only question being if
one could exist till then. The play had been read to us during the day;
a celebrated English actor, whose name I inconsistently forget, had
arrived to match Mr. Burton as the other of the Dromios; and the
agreeable Mrs. Holman, who had to my relentless vision too retreating a
chin, was so good as to represent Adriana. I regarded Mrs. Holman as a
friend, though in no warmer light than that in which I regarded Miss
Mary Taylor--save indeed that Mrs. Holman had the pull, on one's
affections, of "coming out" to sing in white satin and quite
irrelevantly between the acts; an advantage she shared with the younger
and fairer and more dashing, the dancing, Miss Malvina, who footed it
and tambourined it and shawled it, irruptively, in lonely state. When
not admiring Mr. Burton in Shakespeare we admired him as Paul Pry, as
Mr. Toodles and as Aminadab Sleek in The Serious Family, and we must
have admired him very much--his huge fat person, his huge fat face and
his vast slightly pendulous cheek, surmounted by a sort of elephantine
wink, to which I impute a remarkable baseness, being still perfectly
present to me.

We discriminated, none the less; we thought Mr. Blake a much finer
comedian, much more of a gentleman and a scholar--"mellow" Mr. Blake,
whom with the brave and emphatic Mrs. Blake (_how_ they must have made
their points!) I connect partly with the Burton scene and partly with
that, of slightly subsequent creation, which, after flourishing awhile
slightly further up Broadway under the charmlessly commercial name of
Brougham's Lyceum (we had almost only Lyceums and Museums and Lecture
Rooms and Academies of Music for playhouse and opera then,) entered upon
a long career and a migratory life as Wallack's Theatre. I fail
doubtless to keep _all_ my associations clear, but what is important, or
what I desire at least to make pass for such, is that when we most
admired Mr. Blake we also again admired Miss Mary Taylor; and it was at
Brougham's, not at Burton's, that we rendered _her_ that
tribute--reserved for her performance of the fond theatrical daughter in
the English version of Le Père de la Débutante, where I see the charming
panting dark-haired creature, in flowing white classically relieved by a
gold tiara and a golden scarf, rush back from the supposed stage to the
represented green-room, followed by thunders of applause, and throw
herself upon the neck of the broken-down old gentleman in a blue coat
with brass buttons who must have been after all, on second thoughts, Mr.
Placide. Greater flights or more delicate shades the art of pathetic
comedy was at that time held not to achieve; only I straighten it out
that Mr. and Mrs. Blake, not less than Miss Mary Taylor (who
preponderantly haunts my vision, even to the disadvantage of Miss Kate
Horn in Nan the Good-for-Nothing, until indeed she is displaced by the
brilliant Laura Keene) did migrate to Brougham's, where we found them
all themselves as Goldsmith's Hardcastle pair and other like matters. We
rallied especially to Blake as Dogberry, on the occasion of my second
Shakespearean night, for as such I seem to place it, when Laura Keene
and Mr. Lester--the Lester Wallack that was to be--did Beatrice and
Benedick. I yield to this further proof that we had our proportion of
Shakespeare, though perhaps antedating that rapt vision of Much Ado,
which may have been preceded by the dazzled apprehension of A Midsummer
Night's Dream at the Broadway (there _was_ a confessed Theatre;) this
latter now present to me in every bright particular. It supplied us, we
must have felt, our greatest conceivable adventure--I cannot otherwise
account for its emerging so clear. Everything here is as of yesterday,
the identity of the actors, the details of their dress, the charm
imparted by the sisters Gougenheim, the elegant elder as the infatuated
Helena and the other, the roguish "Joey" as the mischievous Puck. Hermia
was Mrs. Nagle, in a short salmon-coloured peplum over a white
petticoat, the whole bulgingly confined by a girdle of shining gilt and
forming a contrast to the loose scarves of Helena, while Mr. Nagle, not
devoid, I seem to remember, of a blue chin and the latency of a fine
brogue, was either Lysander or Demetrius; Mr. Davidge (also, I surmise,
with a brogue) was Bottom the weaver and Madame Ponisi Oberon--Madame
Ponisi whose range must have been wide, since I see her also as the
white-veiled heroine of The Cataract of the Ganges, where, preferring
death to dishonour, she dashes up the more or less perpendicular
waterfall on a fiery black steed and with an effect only a little
blighted by the chance flutter of a drapery out of which peeps the leg
of a trouser and a big male foot; and then again, though presumably at a
somewhat later time or, in strictness, _after_ childhood's fond hour, as
this and that noble matron or tragedy queen. I descry her at any rate as
representing all characters alike with a broad brown face framed in
bands or crowns or other heavy headgear out of which cropped a row of
very small tight black curls. The Cataract of the Ganges is all there as
well, a tragedy of temples and idols and wicked rajahs and real water,
with Davidge and Joey Gougenheim again for comic relief--though all in a
coarser radiance, thanks to the absence of fairies and Amazons and
moonlit mechanical effects, the charm above all, so seen, of the play
within the play; and I rank it in that relation with Green Bushes,
despite the celebrity in the latter of Madame Céleste, who came to us
straight out of London and whose admired walk up the stage as Miami the
huntress, a wonderful majestic and yet voluptuous stride enhanced by a
short kilt, black velvet leggings and a gun haughtily borne on the
shoulder, is vividly before me as I write. The piece in question was, I
recall, from the pen of Mr. Bourcicault, as he then wrote his name--he
was so early in the field and must have been from long before, inasmuch
as he now appears to me to have supplied Mr. Brougham, of the Lyceum
aforesaid, with his choicest productions.

I sit again at London Assurance, with Mrs. Wallack--"Fanny" Wallack, I
think, not that I quite know who she was--as Lady Gay Spanker, flushed
and vociferous, first in a riding-habit with a tail yards long and
afterwards in yellow satin with scarce a tail at all; I am present also
at Love in a Maze, in which the stage represented, with primitive art I
fear, a supposedly intricate garden-labyrinth, and in which I admired
for the first time Mrs. Russell, afterwards long before the public as
Mrs. Hoey, even if opining that she wanted, especially for the
low-necked ordeal, less osseous a structure. There are pieces of that
general association, I admit, the clue to which slips from me; the drama
of modern life and of French origin--though what was then not of French
origin?--in which Miss Julia Bennett, fresh from triumphs at the
Haymarket, made her first appearance, in a very becoming white bonnet,
either as a brilliant adventuress or as the innocent victim of
licentious design, I forget which, though with a sense somehow that the
white bonnet, when of true elegance, was the note at that period of the
adventuress; Miss Julia Bennett with whom at a later age one was to
renew acquaintance as the artful and ample Mrs. Barrow, full of manner
and presence and often Edwin Booth's Portia, Desdemona and Julie de
Mortemer. I figure her as having in the dimmer phase succeeded to Miss
Laura Keene at Wallack's on the secession thence of this original
charmer of our parents, the flutter of whose prime advent is perfectly
present to me, with the relish expressed for that "English" sweetness of
her speech (I already wondered why it _shouldn't_ be English) which was
not as the speech mostly known to us. The Uncles, within my hearing,
even imitated, for commendation, some of her choicer sounds, to which I
strained my ear on seeing her afterwards as Mrs. Chillington in the
refined comedietta of A Morning Call, where she made delightful game of
Mr. Lester as Sir Edward Ardent, even to the point of causing him to
crawl about on all fours and covered with her shawl after the fashion of
a horse-blanket. That delightful impression was then unconscious of the
blight to come--that of my apprehending, years after, that the
brilliant comedietta was the tribute of our Anglo-Saxon taste to Alfred
de Musset's elegant proverb of the Porte Ouverte ou Fermée, in which
nothing could find itself less at home than the horseplay of the English
version. Miss Laura Keene, with a native grace at the start, a fresh and
delicate inspiration, I infer from the kind of pleasure she appears to
have begun with giving, was to live to belie her promise and, becoming
hard and raddled, forfeit (on the evidence) all claim to the higher
distinction; a fact not surprising under the lurid light projected by
such a sign of the atmosphere of ineptitude as an accepted and condoned
perversion to vulgarity of Musset's perfect little work. How _could_
quality of talent consort with so dire an absence of quality in the
material offered it? where could such lapses lead but to dust and
desolation and what happy instinct not be smothered in an air so
dismally non-conducting? Is it a foolish fallacy that these matters may
have been on occasion, at that time, worth speaking of? is it only
presumable that everything was perfectly cheap and common and everyone
perfectly bad and barbarous and that even the least corruptible of our
typical spectators were too easily beguiled and too helplessly kind? The
beauty of the main truth as to any remembered matter looked at in due
detachment, or in other words through the haze of time, is that
comprehension has then become one with criticism, compassion, as it may
really be called, one with musing vision, and the whole company of the
anciently restless, with their elations and mistakes, their sincerities
and fallacies and vanities and triumphs, embalmed for us in the mild
essence of their collective submission to fate. We needn't be strenuous
about them unless we particularly want to, and are glad to remember in
season all that this would imply of the strenuous about our own
_origines_, our muddled initiations. If nothing is more certain for us
than that many persons, within our recollection, couldn't help being
rather generally unadmonished and unaware, so nothing is more in the
note of peace than that such a perceived state, pushed to a point, makes
our scales of judgment but ridiculously rattle. _Our_ admonition, our
superior awareness, is of many things--and, among these, of how
infinitely, at the worst, they lived, the pale superseded, and how much
it was by their virtue.

Which reflections, in the train of such memories as those just gathered,
may perhaps seem over-strained--though they really to my own eyes cause
the images to multiply. Still others of these break in upon me and
refuse to be slighted; reconstituting as I practically am the history of
my fostered imagination, for whatever it may be worth, I won't pretend
to a disrespect for _any_ contributive particle. I left myself just
above staring at the Fifth Avenue poster, and I can't but linger there
while the vision it evokes insists on swarming. It was the age of the
arrangements of Dickens for the stage, vamped-up promptly on every scene
and which must have been the roughest theatrical tinkers' work, but at
two or three of which we certainly assisted. I associate them with Mr.
Brougham's temple of the art, yet am at the same time beset with the
Captain Cuttle of Dombey and Son in the form of the big Burton, who
never, I earnestly conceive, graced that shrine, so that I wander a
trifle confusedly. Isn't it he whom I remember as a monstrous Micawber,
the coarse parody of a charming creation, with the entire baldness of a
huge Easter egg and collar-points like the sails of Mediterranean
feluccas? Dire of course for all temperance in these connections was the
need to conform to the illustrations of Phiz, himself already an
improvising parodist and happy only so long as not imitated, not
literally reproduced. Strange enough the "æsthetic" of artists who could
desire but literally to reproduce. I give the whole question up,
however, I stray too in the dust, and with a positive sense of having,
in the first place, but languished at home when my betters admired Miss
Cushman--terribly out of the picture and the frame we should to-day
pronounce her, I fear--as the Nancy of Oliver Twist: as far away this
must have been as the lifetime of the prehistoric "Park," to which it
was just within my knowledge that my elders went for opera, to come back
on us sounding those rich old Italian names, Bosio and Badiali, Ronconi
and Steffanone, I am not sure I have them quite right; signs, of a
rueful sound to us, that the line as to our infant participation _was_
somewhere drawn. It had not been drawn, I all the more like to remember,
when, under proper protection, at Castle Garden, I listened to that
rarest of infant phenomena, Adelina Patti, poised in an armchair that
had been pushed to the footlights and announcing her incomparable gift.
She was about of our own age, she was one of us, even though at the same
time the most prodigious of fairies, of glittering fables. That
principle of selection was indeed in abeyance while I sat with my mother
either at Tripler Hall or at Niblo's--I am vague about the occasion, but
the names, as for fine old confused reasons, plead alike to my pen--and
paid a homage quite other than critical, I dare say, to the then
slightly worn Henrietta Sontag, Countess Rossi, who struck us as
supremely elegant in pink silk and white lace flounces and with whom
there had been for certain members of our circle some contact or
intercourse that I have wonderingly lost. I learned at that hour in any
case what "acclamation" might mean, and have again before me the vast
high-piled auditory thundering applause at the beautiful pink lady's
clear bird-notes; a thrilling, a tremendous experience and my sole other
memory of concert-going, at that age, save the impression of a strange
huddled hour in some smaller public place, some very minor hall, under
dim lamps and again in my mother's company, where we were so near the
improvised platform that my nose was brushed by the petticoats of the
distinguished amateur who sang "Casta Diva," a very fine fair woman with
a great heaving of bosom and flirt of crinoline, and that the ringletted
Italian gentleman in black velvet and a romantic voluminous cloak who
represented, or rather who professionally and uncontrollably was, an
Improvisatore, had for me the effect, as I crouched gaping, of quite
bellowing down my throat. That occasion, I am clear, was a concert for a
charity, with the volunteer performance and the social patroness, and it
had squeezed in where it would--at the same time that I somehow connect
the place, in Broadway, on the right going down and not much below
Fourth Street (except that everything seems to me to have been just
below Fourth Street when not just above,) with the scene of my great
public exposure somewhat later, the wonderful exhibition of Signor
Blitz, the peerless conjurer, who, on my attending his entertainment
with W. J. and our frequent comrade of the early time "Hal" Coster,
practised on my innocence to seduce me to the stage and there plunge me
into the shame of my sad failure to account arithmetically for his
bewilderingly subtracted or added or divided pockethandkerchiefs and
playing-cards; a paralysis of wit as to which I once more, and with the
same wan despair, feel my companions' shy telegraphy of relief, their
snickerings and mouthings and raised numerical fingers, reach me from
the benches.

The second definite matter in the Dickens connection is the Smike of
Miss Weston--whose prænomen I frivolously forget (though I fear it was
Lizzie,) but who was afterwards Mrs. E. L. Davenport and then, sequently
to some public strife or chatter, Mrs. Charles Matthews--in a version of
Nicholas Nickleby that gracelessly managed to be all tearful melodrama,
long-lost foundlings, wicked Ralph Nicklebys and scowling Arthur Grides,
with other baffled villains, and scarcely at all Crummleses and
Kenwigses, much less Squeerses; though there must have been something of
Dotheboys Hall for the proper tragedy of Smike and for the broad
Yorkshire effect, a precious theatrical value, of John Brodie. The
ineffaceability was the anguish, to my tender sense, of Nicholas's
starved and tattered and fawning and whining protégé; in face of my
sharp retention of which through all the years who shall deny the
immense authority of the theatre, or that the stage is the mightiest of
modern engines? Such at least was to be the force of the Dickens
imprint, however applied, in the soft clay of our generation; it was to
resist so serenely the wash of the waves of time. To be brought up thus
against the author of it, or to speak at all of the dawn of one's early
consciousness of it and of his presence and power, is to begin to tread
ground at once sacred and boundless, the associations of which, looming
large, warn us off even while they hold. He did too much for us surely
ever to leave us free--free of judgment, free of reaction, even should
we care to be, which heaven forbid: he laid his hand on us in a way to
undermine as in no other case the power of detached appraisement. We
react against other productions of the general kind without "liking"
them the less, but we somehow liked Dickens the more for having
forfeited half the claim to appreciation. That process belongs to the
fact that criticism, roundabout him, is somehow futile and tasteless.
His own taste is easily impugned, but he entered so early into the blood
and bone of our intelligence that it always remained better than the
taste of overhauling him. When I take him up to-day and find myself
holding off, I simply stop: not holding off, that is, but holding on,
and from the very fear to do so; which sounds, I recognise, like
perusal, like renewal, of the scantest. I don't renew, I wouldn't renew
for the world; wouldn't, that is, with one's treasure so hoarded in the
dusty chamber of youth, let in the intellectual air. Happy the house of
life in which such chambers still hold out, even with the draught of the
intellect whistling through the passages. We were practically
contemporary, contemporary with the issues, the fluttering monthly
numbers--that was the point; it made for us a good fortune, constituted
for us in itself romance, on which nothing, to the end, succeeds in
laying its hands.

The whole question dwells for me in a single small reminiscence, though
there are others still: that of my having been sent to bed one evening,
in Fourteenth Street, as a very small boy, at an hour when, in the
library and under the lamp, one of the elder cousins from Albany, the
youngest of an orphaned brood of four, of my grandmother's most
extravagant adoption, had begun to read aloud to my mother the new,
which must have been the first, instalment of David Copperfield. I had
feigned to withdraw, but had only retreated to cover close at hand, the
friendly shade of some screen or drooping table-cloth, folded up behind
which and glued to the carpet, I held my breath and listened. I listened
long and drank deep while the wondrous picture grew, but the tense cord
at last snapped under the strain of the Murdstones and I broke into the
sobs of sympathy that disclosed my subterfuge. I was this time
effectively banished, but the ply then taken was ineffaceable. I
remember indeed just afterwards finding the sequel, in especial the vast
extrusion of the Micawbers, beyond my actual capacity; which took a few
years to grow adequate--years in which the general contagious
consciousness, and our own household response not least, breathed
heavily through Hard Times, Bleak House and Little Dorrit; the seeds of
acquaintance with Chuzzlewit and Dombey and Son, these coming thickly
on, I had found already sown. I was to feel that I had been born, born
to a rich awareness, under the very meridian; there sprouted in those
years no such other crop of ready references as the golden harvest of
Copperfield. Yet if I was to wait to achieve the happier of these
recognitions I had already pored over Oliver Twist--albeit now uncertain
of the relation borne by that experience to the incident just recalled.
When Oliver was new to me, at any rate, he was already old to my
betters; whose view of his particular adventures and exposures must have
been concerned, I think, moreover, in the fact of my public and lively
wonder about them. It was an exhibition deprecated--to infant innocence
I judge; unless indeed my remembrance of enjoying it only on the terms
of fitful snatches in another, though a kindred, house is due mainly to
the existence there of George Cruikshank's splendid form of the work,
of which our own foreground was clear. It perhaps even seemed to me more
Cruikshank's than Dickens's; it was a thing of such vividly terrible
images, and all marked with that peculiarity of Cruikshank that the
offered flowers or goodnesses, the scenes and figures intended to
comfort and cheer, present themselves under his hand as but more subtly
sinister, or more suggestively queer, than the frank badnesses and
horrors. The nice people and the happy moments, in the plates,
frightened me almost as much as the low and the awkward; which didn't
however make the volumes a source of attraction the less toward that
high and square old back-parlour just westward of Sixth Avenue (as we in
the same street were related to it) that formed, romantically, half our
alternative domestic field and offered to our small inquiring steps a
larger range and privilege. If the Dickens of those years was, as I have
just called him, the great actuality of the current imagination, so I at
once meet him in force as a feature even of conditions in which he was
but indirectly involved.

For the other house, the house we most haunted after our own, was that
of our cousin Albert, still another of the blest orphans, though this
time of our mother's kindred; and if it was my habit, as I have hinted,
to attribute to orphans as orphans a circumstantial charm, a setting
necessarily more delightful than our father'd and mother'd one, so
there spread about this appointed comrade, the perfection of the type,
inasmuch as he alone was neither brother'd nor sister'd, an air of
possibilities that were none the less vivid for being quite indefinite.
He was to embody in due course, poor young man, some of these
possibilities--those that had originally been for me the vaguest of all;
but to fix his situation from my present view is not so much to wonder
that it spoke to me of a wild freedom as to see in it the elements of a
rich and rounded picture. The frame was still there but a short time
since, cracked and empty, broken and gaping, like those few others, of
the general overgrown scene, that my late quest had puzzled out; and
this has somehow helped me to read back into it the old figures and the
old long story, told as with excellent art. We knew the figures well
while they lasted and had with them the happiest relation, but without
doing justice to their truth of outline, their felicity of character and
force of expression and function, above all to the compositional harmony
in which they moved. That lives again to my considering eyes, and I
admire as never before the fine artistry of fate. Our cousin's guardian,
the natural and the legal, was his aunt, his only one, who was the
cousin of our mother and our own aunt, virtually _our_ only one, so far
as a felt and adopted closeness of kinship went; and the three,
daughters of two sole and much-united sisters, had been so brought up
together as to have quite all the signs and accents of the same strain
and the same nest. The cousin Helen of our young prospect was thus all
but the sister Helen of our mother's lifetime, as was to happen, and was
scarcely less a stout brave presence and an emphasised character for the
new generation than for the old; noted here as she is, in particular,
for her fine old-time value of clearness and straightness. I see in her
strong simplicity, that of an earlier, quieter world, a New York of
better manners and better morals and homelier beliefs, the very elements
of some portrait by a grave Dutch or other truth-seeking master; she
looks out with some of the strong marks, the anxious honesty, the modest
humour, the folded resting hands, the dark handsome serious attire, the
important composed cap, almost the badge of a guild or an order, that
hang together about the images of past worthies, of whichever sex, who
have had, as one may say, the courage of their character, and qualify
them for places in great collections. I note with appreciation that she
was strenuously, actively good, and have the liveliest impression both
that no one was ever better, and that her goodness somehow testifies for
the whole tone of a society, a remarkable cluster of private decencies.
Her value to my imagination is even most of all perhaps in her mere
local consistency, her fine old New York ignorance and rigour. Her
traditions, scant but stiff, had grown there, close to her--they were
all she needed, and she lived by them candidly and stoutly. That there
have been persons so little doubtful of duty helps to show us how
societies grow. A proportionately small amount of absolute conviction
about it will carry, we thus make out, a vast dead weight of mere
comparative. She was as anxious over hers indeed as if it had ever been
in question--which is a proof perhaps that being void of imagination,
when you are quite entirely void, makes scarcely more for comfort than
having too much, which only makes in a manner for a homeless freedom or
even at the worst for a questioned veracity. With a big installed
conscience there is virtue in a grain of the figurative faculty--it acts
as oil to the stiff machine.

Yet this life of straight and narrow insistences seated so clearly in
our view didn't take up all the room in the other house, the house of
the pictured, the intermittent Oliver, though of the fewer books in
general than ours, and of the finer proportions and less peopled spaces
(there were but three persons to fill them) as well as of the more
turbaned and powdered family portraits, one of these, the most antique,
a "French pastel," which must have been charming, of a young collateral
ancestor who had died on the European tour. A vast marginal range
seemed to me on the contrary to surround the adolescent nephew, who was
some three years, I judge, beyond me in age and had other horizons and
prospects than ours. No question of "Europe," for him, but a patriotic
preparation for acquaintance with the South and West, or what was then
called the West--he was to "see his own country first," winking at us
while he did so; though he was, in spite of differences, so nearly and
naturally neighbour'd and brother'd with us that the extensions of his
range and the charms of his position counted somehow as the limits and
the humilities of ours. He went neither to our schools nor to our
hotels, but hovered out of our view in some other educational air that I
can't now point to, and had in a remote part of the State a vast wild
property of his own, known as the Beaverkill, to which, so far from his
aunt's and his uncle's taking him there, he affably took them, and to
which also he vainly invited W. J. and me, pointing thereby to us,
however, though indirectly enough perhaps, the finest childish case we
were to know for the famous acceptance of the inevitable. It was
apparently not to be thought of that instead of the inevitable we should
accept the invitation; the place was in the wilderness, incalculably
distant, reached by a whole day's rough drive from the railroad, through
every danger of flood and field, with prowling bears thrown in and
probable loss of limb, of which there were sad examples, from swinging
scythes and axes; but we of course measured our privation just by those
facts, and grew up, so far as we did then grow, to believe that
pleasures beyond price had been cruelly denied us. I at any rate myself
grew up sufficiently to wonder if poor Albert's type, as it developed to
the anxious elder view from the first, mightn't rather have undermined
countenance; his pleasant foolish face and odd shy air of being
suspected or convicted on grounds less vague to himself than to us may
well have appeared symptoms of the course, of the "rig," he was
eventually to run. I could think of him but as the _fils de famille_
ideally constituted; not that I could then use for him that designation,
but that I felt he must belong to an important special class, which he
in fact formed in his own person. Everything was right, truly, for these
felicities--to speak of them only as dramatic or pictorial values; since
if we were present all the while at more of a drama than we knew, so at
least, to my vague divination, the scene and the figures were there, not
excluding the chorus, and I must have had the instinct of their being as
right as possible. I see the actors move again through the high, rather
bedimmed rooms--it is always a matter of winter twilight, firelight,
lamplight; each one appointed to his or her part and perfect for the
picture, which gave a sense of fulness without ever being crowded.

That composition had to wait awhile, in the earliest time, to find its
proper centre, having been from the free point of view I thus cultivate
a little encumbered by the presence of the most aged of our relatives,
the oldest person I remember to have familiarly known--if it can be
called familiar to have stood off in fear of such strange proofs of
accomplished time: our Great-aunt Wyckoff, our maternal grandmother's
elder sister, I infer, and an image of living antiquity, as I figure her
to-day, that I was never to see surpassed. I invest her in this vision
with all the idol-quality that may accrue to the venerable--solidly
seated or even throned, hooded and draped and tucked-in, with big
protective protrusive ears to her chair which helped it to the effect of
a shrine, and a large face in which the odd blackness of eyebrow and of
a couple of other touches suggested the conventional marks of a painted
image. She signified her wants as divinities do, for I recover from her
presence neither sound nor stir, remembering of her only that, as
described by her companions, the pious ministrants, she had "said" so
and so when she hadn't spoken at all. Was she really, as she seemed, so
tremendously old, so old that her daughter, our mother's cousin Helen
and ours, would have had to come to her in middle life to account for
it, or did antiquity at that time set in earlier and was surrender of
appearance and dress, matching the intrinsic decay, only more
complacent, more submissive and, as who should say, more abject? I have
my choice of these suppositions, each in its way of so lively an
interest that I scarce know which to prefer, though inclining perhaps a
little to the idea of the backward reach. If Aunt Wyckoff was, as I
first remember her, scarce more than seventy, say, the thought fills me
with one sort of joy, the joy of our modern, our so generally greater
and nobler effect of duration: who _wouldn't_ more subtly strive for
that effect and, intelligently so striving, reach it better, than such
non-questioners of fate?--the moral of whose case is surely that if they
gave up too soon and too softly we wiser witnesses can reverse the
process and fight the whole ground. But I apologise to the heavy shade
in question if she had really drained her conceivable cup, and for that
matter rather like to suppose it, so rich and strange is the pleasure of
finding the past--the Past above all--answered for to one's own touch,
this being our only way to be sure of it. It was the Past that one
touched in her, the American past of a preponderant unthinkable
queerness; and great would seem the fortune of helping on the continuity
at some other far end.



X


It was at all events the good lady's disappearance that more markedly
cleared the decks--cleared them for that long, slow, sustained action
with which I make out that nothing was afterwards to interfere. She had
sat there under her stiff old father's portrait, with which her own, on
the other side of the chimney, mildly balanced; but these presences
acted from that time but with cautious reserves. A brave, finished,
clear-eyed image of such properties as the last-named, in particular,
our already-mentioned Alexander Robertson, a faint and diminished
replica of whose picture (the really fine original, as I remember it,
having been long since perverted from our view) I lately renewed
acquaintance with in a pious institution of his founding, where, after
more than one push northward and some easy accommodations, he lives on
into a world that knows him not and of some of the high improvements of
which he can little enough have dreamed. Of the world he had personally
known there was a feature or two still extant; the legend of his acres
and his local concerns, as well as of his solid presence among them, was
considerably cherished by us, though for ourselves personally the
relics of his worth were a lean feast to sit at. They were by some
invidious turn of fate all to help to constitute the heritage of our
young kinsman, the orphaned and administered _fils de famille_, whose
father, Alexander Wyckoff, son of our great-aunt and one of the two
brothers of cousin Helen, just discernibly flushes for me through the
ominous haze that preceded the worst visitation of cholera New York was
to know. Alexander, whom, early widowed and a victim of that visitation,
I evoke as with something of a premature baldness, of a blackness of
short whisker, of an expanse of light waistcoat and of a harmless pomp
of manner, appeared to have quite predominantly "come in" for the values
in question, which he promptly transmitted to his small motherless son
and which were destined so greatly to increase. There are clues I have
only lost, not making out in the least to-day why the sons of Aunt
Wyckoff should have been so happily distinguished. Our great-uncle of
the name isn't even a dim ghost to me--he had passed away beyond recall
before I began to take notice; but I hold, rightly, I feel, that it was
not to his person these advantages were attached. They could have
descended to our grandmother but in a minor degree--we should otherwise
have been more closely aware of them. It comes to me that so far as we
had at all been aware it had mostly gone off in smoke: I have still in
my ears some rueful allusion to "lands," apparently in the general
country of the Beaverkill, which had come to my mother and her sister as
their share of their grandfather Robertson's amplitude, among the
further-apportioned shares of their four brothers, only to be sacrificed
later on at some scant appraisement. It is in the nature of "lands" at a
distance and in regions imperfectly reclaimed to be spoken of always as
immense, and I at any rate entertained the sense that we should have
been great proprietors, in the far wilderness, if we had only taken more
interest. Our interests were peculiarly urban--though not indeed that
this had helped us much. Something of the mystery of the vanished acres
hung for me about my maternal uncle, John Walsh, the only one who
appeared to have been in respect to the dim possessions much on the
spot, but I too crudely failed of my chance of learning from him what
had become of them.

Not that they had seen _him_, poor gentleman, very much further, or that
I had any strong sense of opportunity; I catch at but two or three
projections of him, and only at one of his standing much at his ease: I
see him before the fire in the Fourteenth Street library, sturdy, with
straight black hair and as if the Beaverkill had rather stamped him, but
clean-shaven, in a "stock" and a black frock-coat--I hear him perhaps
still more than I see him deliver himself on the then great subject of
Jenny Lind, whom he seemed to have emerged from the wilderness to listen
to and as to whom I remember thinking it (strange small critic that I
must have begun to be) a note of the wilderness in him that he spoke of
her as "Miss Lind"; albeit I scarce know, and must even less have known
then, what other form he could have used. The rest of my sense of him is
tinged with the ancient pity--that of our so exercised response in those
years to the general sad case of uncles, aunts and cousins obscurely
afflicted (the uncles in particular) and untimely gathered. Sharp to me
the memory of a call, one dusky wintry Sunday afternoon, in Clinton
Place, at the house of my uncle Robertson Walsh, then the head of my
mother's family, where the hapless younger brother lay dying; whom I was
taken to the top of the house to see and of the sinister twilight
grimness of whose lot, stretched there, amid odours of tobacco and of
drugs, or of some especial strong drug, in one of the chambers of what I
remember as a remote and unfriended arching attic, probably in fact the
best place of prescribed quiet, I was to carry away a fast impression.
All the uncles, of whichever kindred, were to come to seem sooner or
later to be dying, more or less before our eyes, of melancholy matters;
and yet their general story, so far as one could read it, appeared the
story of life. I conceived at any rate that John Walsh, celibate, lonely
and good-naturedly black-browed, had been sacrificed to the far-off
Robertson acres, which on their side had been sacrificed to I never knew
what. The point of my divagation, however, is that the Barmecide banquet
of another tract of the same _provenance_ was always spread for us
opposite the other house, from which point it stretched, on the north
side of the street, to Sixth Avenue; though here we were soon to see it
diminished at the corner by a structure afterwards known to us as our
prosiest New York school. This edifice, devoted to-day to other uses,
but of the same ample insignificance, still left for exploitation at
that time an uncovered town-territory the transmitted tale of which was
that our greatgrandfather, living down near the Battery, had had his
country villa or, more strictly speaking, his farm there, with free
expanses roundabout. Shrunken though the tract a part of it remained--in
particular a space that I remember, though with the last faintness, to
have seen appeal to the public as a tea-garden or open-air café, a haunt
of dance and song and of other forms of rather ineffective gaiety. The
subsequent conversion of the site into the premises of the French
Theatre I was to be able to note more distinctly; resorting there in the
winter of 1874-5, though not without some wan detachment, to a series
of more or less exotic performances, and admiring in especial the high
and hard virtuosity of Madame Ristori, the unfailing instinct for the
wrong emphasis of the then acclaimed Mrs. Rousby (I still hear the
assured "Great woman, great woman!" of a knowing friend met as I went
out,) and the stout fidelity to a losing game, as well as to a truth not
quite measurable among us, of the late, the but lugubriously-comic, the
blighted John Toole.

These are glimmering ghosts, though that drama of the scene hard by at
which I have glanced gives me back its agents with a finer intensity.
For the long action set in, as I have hinted, with the death of Aunt
Wyckoff, and, if rather taking its time at first to develop, maintained
to the end, which was in its full finality but a few years since, the
finest consistency and unity; with cousin Helen, in rich prominence, for
the heroine; with the pale adventurous Albert for the hero or young
protagonist, a little indeed in the sense of a small New York Orestes
ridden by Furies; with a pair of confidants in the form first of the
heroine's highly respectable but quite negligible husband and, second,
of her close friend and quasi-sister our own admirable Aunt; with
Alexander's younger brother, above all, the odd, the eccentric, the
attaching Henry, for the stake, as it were, of the game. So for the
spectator did the figures distribute themselves; the three principal,
on the large stage--it became a field of such spreading interests--well
in front, and the accessory pair, all sympathy and zeal, prompt comment
and rich resonance, hovering in the background, responsive to any call
and on the spot at a sign: this most particularly true indeed of our
anything but detached Aunt, much less a passive recipient than a vessel
constantly brimming, and destined herself to become the outstanding
agent, almost the _dea ex machina_, in the last act of the story. Her
colleague of the earlier periods (though to that title she would scarce
have granted his right) I designate rather as our earnest cousin's
husband than as our kinsman even by courtesy; since he was "Mr." to his
own wife, for whom the dread of liberties taken in general included even
those that might have been allowed to herself: he had not in the least,
like the others in his case, married into the cousinship with us, and
this apparently rather by his defect than by ours. His christian name,
if certainly not for use, was scarce even for ornament--which consorted
with the felt limits roundabout him of aids to mention and with the fact
that no man could on his journey through life well have been less
eagerly designated or apostrophised. If there are persons as to whom the
"Mr." never comes up at all, so there are those as to whom it never
subsides; but some of them all keep it by the greatness and others,
oddly enough, by the smallness of their importance. The subject of my
present reference, as I think of him, nevertheless--by which I mean in
spite of his place in the latter group--greatly helps my documentation;
he must have been of so excellent and consistent a shade of nullity. To
that value, if value it be, there almost always attaches some question
of the degree and the position: with adjuncts, with a relation, the zero
may figure as a numeral--and the neglected zero is mostly, for that
matter, endowed with a consciousness and subject to irritation. For this
dim little gentleman, so perfectly a gentleman, no appeal and no
redress, from the beginning to the end of his career, were made or
entertained or projected; no question of how to treat him, or of how
_he_ might see it or feel it, could ever possibly rise; he was blank
from whatever view, remaining so under application of whatever acid or
exposure to whatever heat; the one identity he could have was to be part
of the consensus.

Such a case is rare--that of being no case at all, that of not having
even the interest of the grievance of not being one: we as a rule catch
glimpses in the down-trodden of such resentments--they have at least
sometimes the importance of feeling the weight of our tread. The
phenomenon was here quite other--that of a natural platitude that had
never risen to the level of sensibility. When you have been wronged you
can be righted, when you have suffered you can be soothed; if you have
that amount of grasp of the "scene," however humble, the drama of your
life to some extent enacts itself, with the logical consequence of your
being proportionately its hero and _having_ to be taken for such. Let me
not dream of attempting to say for what cousin Helen took her spectral
spouse, though I think it the most marked touch in her portrait that she
kept us from ever knowing. She was a person about whom you knew
everything else, but there she was genially inscrutable, and above all
claimed no damages on the score of slights offered him. She knew nothing
whatever of these, yet could herself be much wounded or hurt--which
latter word she sounded in the wondrous old New York manner so
irreducible to notation. She covered the whole case with a mantle which
was yet much more probably that of her real simplicity than of a feigned
unconsciousness; I doubt whether she _knew_ that men could be amiable in
a different manner from that which had to serve her for supposing her
husband amiable; when the mould and the men cast in it were very
different she failed, or at least she feared, to conclude to
amiability--though _some_ women (as different themselves as such
stranger men!) might take it for that. Directly interrogated she might
(such was the innocence of these long-extinct manners) have approved of
male society in stronger doses or more vivid hues--save where
consanguinity, or indeed relationship by marriage, to which she greatly
deferred, had honestly imposed it. The singular thing for the drama to
which I return was that there it was just consanguinity that had made
the burden difficult and strange and of a nature to call on great
decisions and patient plans, even though the most ominous possibilities
were not involved. I reconstruct and reconstruct of course, but the
elements had to my childish vision at least nothing at all portentous;
if any light of the lurid played in for me just a little it was but
under much later information. What my childish vision was really most
possessed of, I think, was the figure of the spectral spouse, the dim
little gentleman, as I have called him, pacing the whole length of the
two big parlours, in prolonged repetition, much as if they had been the
deck of one of those ships anciently haunted by him, as "supercargo" or
whatever, in strange far seas--according to the only legend connected
with him save that of his early presumption in having approached, such
as he was, so fine a young woman, and his remarkable luck in having
approached her successfully; a luck surprisingly renewed for him, since
it was also part of the legend that he had previously married and lost a
bride beyond his deserts.



XI


I am, strictly speaking, at this point, on a visit to Albert, who at
times sociably condescended to my fewer years--I still appreciate the
man-of-the-world ease of it; but my host seems for the minute to have
left me, and I am attached but to the rich perspective in which "Uncle"
(for Albert too he was only all namelessly Uncle) comes and goes; out of
the comparative high brownness of the back room, commanding brave
extensions, as I thought them, a covered piazza over which, in season,
Isabella grapes accessibly clustered and beyond which stretched,
further, a "yard" that was as an ample garden compared to ours at home;
I keep in view his little rounded back, at the base of which his arms
are interlocked behind him, and I know how his bald head, yet with the
hair bristling up almost in short-horn fashion at the sides, is thrust
inquiringly, not to say appealingly, forward; I assist at his emergence,
where the fine old mahogany doors of separation are rolled back on what
used to seem to me silver wheels, into the brighter yet colder half of
the scene, and attend him while he at last looks out awhile into
Fourteenth Street for news of whatever may be remarkably, objectionably
or mercifully taking place there; and then I await his regular return,
preparatory to a renewed advance, far from indifferent as I innocently
am to his discoveries or his comments. It is cousin Helen however who
preferentially takes them up, attaching to them the right importance,
which is for the moment the very greatest that could possibly be
attached to anything in the world; I for my part occupied with those
marks of character in our pacing companion--his long, slightly equine
countenance, his eyebrows ever elevated as in the curiosity of alarm,
and the so limited play from side to side of his extremely protrusive
head, as if somehow through tightness of the "wash" neckcloths that he
habitually wore and that, wound and re-wound in their successive stages,
made his neck very long without making it in the least thick and reached
their climax in a proportionately very small knot tied with the neatest
art. I scarce can have known at the time that this was as complete a
little old-world figure as any that might then have been noted there,
far or near; yet if I didn't somehow "subtly" feel it, why am I now so
convinced that I must have had familiarly before me a masterpiece of the
great Daumier, say, or Henri Monnier, or any other then contemporary
projector of Monsieur Prudhomme, the timorous Philistine in a world of
dangers, with whom I was later on to make acquaintance? I put myself
the question, of scant importance though it may seem; but there is a
reflection perhaps more timely than any answer to it. I catch myself in
the act of seeing poor anonymous "Dear," as cousin Helen confined
herself, her life long, to calling him, in the light of an image
arrested by the French genius, and this in truth opens up vistas. I
scarce know what it _doesn't_ suggest for the fact of sharpness, of
intensity of type; which fact in turn leads my imagination almost any
dance, making me ask myself quite most of all whether a person so marked
by it mustn't really have been a highly finished figure.

That degree of finish was surely rare among us--rare at a time when the
charm of so much of the cousinship and the uncleship, the kinship
generally, had to be found in their so engagingly dispensing with any
finish at all. They happened to be amiable, to be delightful; but--I
think I have already put the question--what would have become of us all
if they hadn't been? a question the shudder of which could never have
been suggested by the presence I am considering. He too was gentle and
bland, as it happened--and I indeed see it all as a world quite
unfavourable to arrogance or insolence or any hard and high assumption;
but the more I think of him (even at the risk of thinking too much) the
more I make out in him a tone and a manner that deprecated crude ease.
Plenty of this was already in the air, but if he hadn't so spoken of an
order in which forms still counted it might scarce have occurred to one
that there had ever been any. It comes over me therefore that he
testified--and perhaps quite beautifully; I remember his voice and his
speech, which were not those of _that_ New York at all, and with the
echo, faint as it is, arrives the wonder of where he could possibly have
picked such things up. They were, as forms, adjusted and settled things;
from what finer civilisation therefore had they come down to him? To
brood on this the least little bit is verily, as I have said, to open up
vistas--out of the depths of one of which fairly glimmers the queerest
of questions. Mayn't we accordingly have been, the rest of us, all
wrong, and the dim little gentleman the only one among us who was right?
May not his truth to type have been a matter that, as mostly typeless
ourselves, we neither perceived nor appreciated?--so that if, as is
conceivable, he felt and measured the situation and simply chose to be
bland and quiet and keep his sense to himself, he was a hero without the
laurel as well as a martyr without the crown. The light of which
possibility is, however, too fierce; I turn it off, I tear myself from
the view--noting further but the one fact in his history that, by my
glimpse of it, quite escapes ambiguity. The youthful Albert, I have
mentioned, was to resist successfully through those years that
solicitation of "Europe" our own response to which, both as a general
and a particular solution, kept breaking out in choral wails; but the
other house none the less nourished projects so earnest that they could
invoke the dignity of comparative silence and patience. The other house
didn't aspire to the tongues, but it aspired to the grand tour, of which
ours was on many grounds incapable. Only after years and when endless
things had happened--Albert having long before, in especial, quite taken
up his stake and ostensibly dropped out of the game--did the great
adventure get itself enacted, with the effect of one of the liveliest
illustrations of the irony of fate. What had most of all flushed through
the dream of it during years was the legend, at last quite antediluvian,
of the dim little gentleman's early Wanderjahre, that experience of
distant lands and seas which would find an application none the less
lively for having had long to wait. It had had to wait in truth half a
century, yet its confidence had apparently not been impaired when New
York, on the happy day, began to recede from view. Europe had surprises,
none the less, and who knows to what extent it may after half a century
have had shocks? The coming true of the old dream produced at any rate a
snap of the tense cord, and the ancient worthy my imagination has, in
the tenderest of intentions, thus played with, disembarked in England
only to indulge in the last of his startled stares, only to look about
him in vague deprecation and give it all up. He just landed and died;
but the grand tour was none the less proceeded with--cousin Helen
herself, aided by resources personal, social and financial that left
nothing to desire, triumphantly performed it, though as with a feeling
of delicacy about it firmly overcome.

But it has taken me quite out of the other house, so that I patch up
again, at a stroke, that early scene of her double guardianship at which
my small wonder assisted. It even then glimmered on me, I think, that if
Albert was, all so romantically, in charge of his aunt--which was a
perfectly nondescript relation--so his uncle Henry, her odd brother, was
her more or less legal ward, not less, despite his being so very much
Albert's senior. In these facts and in the character of each of the
three persons involved resided the drama; which must more or less have
begun, as I have hinted, when simple-minded Henry, at a date I seem to
have seized, definitely emerged from rustication--the Beaverkill had but
for a certain term protected, or promoted, his simplicity--and began, on
his side, to pace the well-worn field between the Fourteenth Street
windows and the piazza of the Isabella grapes. I see him there less
vividly than his fellow-pedestrian only because he was afterwards to
loom so much larger, whereas his companion, even while still present,
was weakly to shrink and fade. At this late day only do I devise for
that companion a possible history; the simple-minded Henry's annals on
the other hand grew in interest as soon as they became interesting at
all. This happened as soon as one took in the ground and some of the
features of his tutelage. The basis of it all was that, harmless as he
appeared, he was not to be trusted; I remember how portentous that truth
soon looked, both in the light of his intense amiability and of sister
Helen's absolute certitude. He wasn't to be trusted--it was the sole
very definite fact about him except the fact that he had so kindly come
down from the far-off Beaverkill to regale us with the perfect
demonstration, dutifully, resignedly setting himself among us to point
the whole moral himself. He appeared, from the moment we really took it
in, to be doing, in the matter, no more than he ought; he exposed
himself to our invidious gaze, on this ground, with a humility, a quiet
courtesy and an instinctive dignity that come back to me as simply
heroic. He had himself accepted, under strenuous suggestion, the
dreadful view, and I see him to-day, in the light of the grand
dénouement, deferred for long years, but fairly dazzling when it came,
as fairly sublime in his decision not to put anyone in the wrong about
him a day sooner than he could possibly help. The whole circle of us
would in that event be so dreadfully "sold," as to our wisdom and
justice, he proving only noble and exquisite. It didn't so immensely
matter to him as that, the establishment of his true character didn't;
so he went on as if for all the years--and they really piled themselves
up: his passing for a dangerous idiot, or at least for a slave of his
passions from the moment he was allowed the wherewithal in the least to
indulge them, was a less evil for him than seeing us rudely corrected.
It was in truth an extraordinary situation and would have offered a
splendid subject, as we used to say, to the painter of character, the
novelist or the dramatist, with the hand to treat it. After I had read
David Copperfield an analogy glimmered--it struck me even in the early
time: cousin Henry was more or less another Mr. Dick, just as cousin
Helen was in her relation to him more or less another Miss Trotwood.
There were disparities indeed: Mr. Dick was the harmless lunatic on that
lady's premises, but she admired him and appealed to him; lunatics, in
her generous view, might be oracles, and there is no evidence, if I
correctly remember, that she kept him low. Our Mr. Dick was suffered to
indulge his passions but on ten cents a day, while his fortune, under
conscientious, under admirable care--cousin Helen being no less the
wise and keen woman of business than the devoted sister--rolled up and
became large; likewise Miss Trotwood's inmate hadn't at all the
perplexed brooding brow, with the troubled fold in it, that represented
poor Henry's only form of criticism of adverse fate. They had alike the
large smooth open countenance of those for whom life has been
simplified, and if Mr. Dick had had a fortune he would have remained all
his days as modestly vague about the figure of it as our relative
consented to remain. The latter's interests were agricultural, while his
predecessor's, as we remember, were mainly historical; each at any rate
had in a general way his Miss Trotwood, not to say his sister Helen.

The good Henry's Miss Trotwood lived and died without an instant's
visitation of doubt as to the due exercise of her authority, as to what
would happen if it faltered; her victim waiting in the handsomest manner
till she had passed away to show us all--all who remained, after so
long, to do him justice--that nothing but what was charming and touching
could possibly happen. This was, in part at least, the dazzling
dénouement I have spoken of: he became, as soon as fortunate
dispositions could take effect, the care of our admirable Aunt, between
whom and his sister and himself close cousinship, from far back, had
practically amounted to sisterhood: by which time the other house had
long been another house altogether, its ancient site relinquished, its
contents planted afresh far northward, with new traditions invoked,
though with that of its great friendliness to all of us, for our
mother's sake, still confirmed. Here with brief brightness, clouded at
the very last, the solution emerged; we became aware, not without
embarrassment, that poor Henry at large and supplied with funds was
exactly as harmless and blameless as poor Henry stinted and captive; as
to which if anything had been wanting to our confusion or to his own
dignity it would have been his supreme abstinence, his suppression of
the least "Didn't I tell you?" He didn't even pretend to have told us,
when he so abundantly might, and nothing could exceed the grace with
which he appeared to have noticed nothing. He "handled" dollars as
decently, and just as profusely, as he had handled dimes; the only light
shade on the scene--except of course for its being so belated, which did
make it pathetically dim--was the question of how nearly he at all
measured his resources. Not his heart, but his imagination, in the long
years, had been starved; and though he was now all discreetly and wisely
encouraged to feel rich, it was rather sadly visible that, thanks to
almost half a century of over-discipline, he failed quite to rise to his
estate. He did feel rich, just as he felt generous; the misfortune was
only in his weak sense for meanings. That, with the whole situation,
made delicacy of the first importance; as indeed what was perhaps most
striking in the entire connection was the part played by delicacy from
the first. It had all been a drama of the delicate: the consummately
scrupulous and successful administration of his resources for the
benefit of his virtue, so that they could be handed over, in the event,
without the leakage of a fraction, what was that but a triumph of
delicacy? So delicacy conspired, delicacy surrounded him; the case
having been from the early time that, could he only be regarded as
sufficiently responsible, could the sources of his bounty be judged
fairly open to light pressure (there was question of none but the
lightest) that bounty might blessedly flow. This had been Miss
Trotwood's own enlightened view, on behalf of one of the oddest and most
appealing collections of wistful wondering single gentlewomen that a
great calculating benevolence perhaps ever found arrayed before
it--ornaments these all of the second and third cousinship and
interested spectators of the almost inexpressible facts.

I should have liked completely to express them, in spite of the
difficulty--if not indeed just by reason of that; the difficulty of
their consisting so much more of "character" than of "incident" (heaven
save the artless opposition!) though this last element figured bravely
enough too, thanks to some of the forms taken by our young Albert's wild
wilfulness. He was so weak--after the most approved fashion of
distressing young men of means--that his successive exhibitions of it
had a fine high positive effect, such as would have served beautifully,
act after act, for the descent of the curtain. The issue, however
(differing in this from the common theatrical trick) depended less on
who should die than on who should live; the younger of cousin Helen's
pair of wards--putting them even only as vessels of her attempted
earnestness--had violently broken away, but a remedy to this grief, for
reasons too many to tell, dwelt in the possible duration, could it only
not be arrested, of two other lives, one of these her own, the second
the guileless Henry's. The single gentlewomen, to a remarkable number,
whom she regarded and treated as nieces, though they were only daughters
of cousins, were such objects of her tender solicitude that, she and
Henry and Albert being alike childless, the delightful thing to think of
was, on certain contingencies, the nieces' prospective wealth. There
were contingencies of course--and they exactly produced the pity and
terror. Her estate would go at her death to her nearest of kin,
represented by her brother and nephew; it would be only of her
savings--fortunately, with her kind eye on the gentlewomen, zealous and
long continued--that she might dispose by will; and it was but a
troubled comfort that, should he be living at the time of her death, the
susceptible Henry would profit no less than the wanton Albert. Henry was
at any cost to be kept in life that he _might_ profit; the woeful
question, the question of delicacy, for a woman devoutly conscientious,
was how could anyone else, how, above all, could fifteen other persons,
be made to profit by his profiting? She had been as earnest a steward of
her brother's fortune as if directness of pressure on him, in a sense
favourable to her interests--that is to her sympathies, which were her
only interests--had been a matter of course with her; whereas in fact
she would have held it a crime, given his simplicity, to attempt in the
least to guide his hand. If he didn't outlive his nephew--and he was
older, though, as would appear, so much more virtuous--his inherited
property, she being dead, would accrue to that unedifying person.
_There_ was the pity; and as for the question of the disposition of
Henry's savings without the initiative of Henry's intelligence, in that,
alas, was the terror. Henry's savings--there had been no terror for her,
naturally, in beautifully husbanding his resources _for_ him--dangled,
naturally, with no small vividness, before the wistful gentlewomen, to
whom, if he had but _had_ the initiative, he might have made the most
princely presents. Such was the oddity, not to say the rather tragic
drollery, of the situation: that Henry's idea of a present was ten
cents' worth of popcorn, or some similar homely trifle; and that when
one had created for him a world of these proportions there was no honest
way of inspiring him to write cheques for hundreds; all congruous though
these would be with the generosity of his nature as shown by the
exuberance of his popcorn. The ideal solution would be his flashing to
intelligence just long enough to apprehend the case and, of his own
magnanimous movement, sign away everything; but that was a fairy-tale
stroke, and the fairies here somehow stood off.

Thus between the wealth of her earnestness and the poverty of her
courage--her dread, that is, of exposing herself to a legal process for
undue influence--our good lady was not at peace; or, to be exact, was
only at such peace as came to her by the free bestowal of her own
accumulations during her lifetime and after her death. She predeceased
her brother and had the pang of feeling that if half her residuum would
be deplorably diverted the other half would be, by the same stroke,
imperfectly applied; the artless Henry remained at once so well provided
and so dimly inspired. Here was suspense indeed for a last "curtain" but
one; and my fancy glows, all expertly, for the disclosure of the final
scene, than which nothing could well have been happier, on all the
premises, save for a single flaw: the installation in Forty-fourth
Street of our admirable aunt, often, through the later years, domiciled
there, but now settled to community of life with a touching charge and
representing near him his extinguished, _their_ extinguished, sister.
The too few years that followed were the good man's Indian summer and a
very wonderful time--so charmingly it shone forth, for all concerned,
that he was a person fitted to adorn, as the phrase is, almost any
position. Our admirable aunt, not less devoted and less disinterested
than his former protectress, had yet much more imagination; she had
enough, in a word, for perfect confidence, and under confidence what
remained of poor Henry's life bloomed like a garden freshly watered. Sad
alas the fact that so scant a patch was now left. It sufficed, however,
and he rose, just in time, to every conception; it was, as I have
already noted, as if he had all the while known, as if he had really
been a conscious victim to the superstition of his blackness. His final
companion recognised, as it were, his powers; and it may be imagined
whether when he absolutely himself proposed to benefit the gentlewomen
she passed him, or not, the blessed pen. He had taken a year or two to
publish by his behaviour the perfection of his civility, and so, on that
safe ground, made use of the pen. His competence was afterwards
attacked, and it emerged triumphant, exactly as his perfect charity and
humility and amenity, and his long inward loneliness, of half a century,
did. He had bowed his head and sometimes softly scratched it during that
immense period; he had occasionally, after roaming downstairs with the
troubled fold in his brow and the difficult, the smothered statement on
his lips (his vocabulary was scant and stiff, the vocabulary of pleading
explanation, often found too complicated by the witty,) retired once
more to his room sometimes indeed for hours, to think it all over again;
but had never failed of sobriety or propriety or punctuality or
regularity, never failed of one of the virtues his imputed indifference
to which had been the ground of his discipline. It was very
extraordinary, and of all the stories I know is I think the most
beautiful--so far at least as _he_ was concerned! The flaw I have
mentioned, the one break in the final harmony, was the death of our
admirable aunt too soon, shortly before his own and while, taken with
illness at the same time, he lay there deprived of her attention. He had
that of the gentlewomen, however, two or three of the wisest and
tenderest being deputed by the others; and if his original estate
reverted at law they presently none the less had occasion to bless his
name.



XII


I turn round again to where I last left myself gaping at the old
ricketty bill-board in Fifth Avenue; and am almost as sharply aware as
ever of the main source of its spell, the fact that it most often blazed
with the rich appeal of Mr. Barnum, whose "lecture-room," attached to
the Great American Museum, overflowed into posters of all the theatrical
bravery disavowed by its title. It was my rueful theory of those
days--though tasteful I may call it too as well as rueful--that on all
the holidays on which we weren't dragged to the dentist's we attended as
a matter of course at Barnum's, that is when we were so happy as to be
able to; which, to my own particular consciousness, wasn't every time
the case. The case was too often, to my melancholy view, that W. J.,
quite regularly, on the non-dental Saturdays, repaired to this seat of
joy with the easy Albert--_he_ at home there and master of the scene to
a degree at which, somehow, neither of us could at the best arrive; he
quite moulded, truly, in those years of plasticity, as to the æsthetic
bent and the determination of curiosity, I seem to make out, by the
general Barnum association and revelation. It was not, I hasten to add,
that I too didn't, to the extent of my minor chance, drink at the
spring; for how else should I have come by the whole undimmed sense of
the connection?--the weary waiting, in the dusty halls of humbug, amid
bottled mermaids, "bearded ladies" and chill dioramas, for the
lecture-room, the true centre of the seat of joy, to open: vivid in
especial to me is my almost sick wondering of whether I mightn't be rapt
away before it did open. The impression appears to have been mixed; the
drinking deep and the holding out, holding out in particular against
failure of food and of stage-fares, provision for transport to and fro,
being questions equally intense: the appeal of the lecture-room, in its
essence a heavy extra, so exhausted our resources that even the
sustaining doughnut of the refreshment-counter would mock our desire and
the long homeward crawl, the length of Broadway and further, seem to
defy repetition. Those desperate days, none the less, affect me now as
having flushed with the very complexion of romance; their aches and
inanitions were part of the adventure; the homeward straggle,
interminable as it appeared, flowered at moments into rapt
contemplations--that for instance of the painted portrait, large as
life, of the celebrity of the hour, then "dancing" at the Broadway
Theatre, Lola Montes, Countess of Lansfeldt, of a dazzling and unreal
beauty and in a riding-habit lavishly open at the throat.

It was thus quite in order that I should pore longest, there at my
fondest corner, over the Barnum announcements--my present inability to
be superficial about which has given in fact the measure of my
contemporary care. These announcements must have been in their way
marvels of attractive composition, the placard bristling from top to toe
with its analytic "synopsis of scenery and incidents"; the synoptical
view cast its net of fine meshes and the very word savoured of
incantation. It is odd at the same time that when I question memory as
to the living hours themselves, those of the stuffed and dim little hall
of audience, smelling of peppermint and orange-peel, where the curtain
rose on our gasping but rewarded patience, two performances only stand
out for me, though these in the highest relief. Love, or the Countess
and the Serf, by J. Sheridan Knowles--I see that still as the blazonry
of one of them, just as I see Miss Emily Mestayer, large, red in the
face, coifed in a tangle of small, fine, damp-looking short curls and
clad in a light-blue garment edged with swans-down, shout at the top of
her lungs that a "pur-r-r-se of gold" would be the fair guerdon of the
minion who should start on the spot to do her bidding at some desperate
crisis that I forget. I forget Huon the serf, whom I yet recall
immensely admiring for his nobleness; I forget everyone but Miss
Mestayer, who gave form to my conception of the tragic actress at her
highest. She had a hooked nose, a great play of nostril, a vast
protuberance of bosom and always the "crop" of close moist ringlets; I
say always, for I was to see her often again, during a much later phase,
the mid-most years of that Boston Museum which aimed at so vastly higher
a distinction than the exploded lecture-room had really done, though in
an age that snickered even abnormally low it still lacked the courage to
call itself a theatre. She must have been in comedy, which I believe she
also usefully and fearlessly practised, rather unimaginable; but there
was no one like her in the Boston time for cursing queens and
eagle-beaked mothers; the Shakespeare of the Booths and other such would
have been unproducible without her; she had a rusty, rasping, heaving
and tossing "authority" of which the bitterness is still in my ears. I
am revisited by an outer glimpse of her in that after age when she had
come, comparatively speaking, into her own--the sight of her,
accidentally incurred, one tremendously hot summer night, as she slowly
moved from her lodgings or wherever, in the high Bowdoin Street region,
down to the not distant theatre from which even the temperature had
given her no reprieve; and well remember how, the queer light of my
young impression playing up again in her path, she struck me as the
very image of mere sore histrionic habit and use, a worn and weary, a
battered even though almost sordidly smoothed, _thing_ of the theatre,
very much as an old infinitely-handled and greasy violoncello of the
orchestra might have been. It was but an effect doubtless of the heat
that she scarcely seemed clad at all; slippered, shuffling and, though
somehow hatted and vaguely veiled or streamered, wrapt in a gauzy sketch
of a dressing-gown, she pointed to my extravagant attention the moral of
thankless personal service, of the reverse of the picture, of the cost
of "amusing the public" in a case of amusing it, as who should say,
every hour. And I had thrilled before her as the Countess in
"Love"--such contrasted combinations! But she carried her head very
high, as with the habit of crowns and trains and tirades--had in fact
much the air of some deposed and reduced sovereign living on a scant
allowance; so that, all invisibly and compassionately, I took off my hat
to her.

To which I must add the other of my two Barnumite scenic memories, my
having anciently admired her as the Eliza of Uncle Tom's Cabin, her
swelling bust encased in a neat cotton gown and her flight across the
ice-blocks of the Ohio, if I rightly remember the perilous stream,
intrepidly and gracefully performed. We lived and moved at that time,
with great intensity, in Mrs. Stowe's novel--which, recalling my prompt
and charmed acquaintance with it, I should perhaps substitute for The
Initials, earlier mentioned here, as my first experiment in grown-up
fiction. There was, however, I think, for that triumphant work no
classified condition; it was for no sort of reader as distinct from any
other sort, save indeed for Northern as differing from Southern: it knew
the large felicity of gathering in alike the small and the simple and
the big and the wise, and had above all the extraordinary fortune of
finding itself, for an immense number of people, much less a book than a
state of vision, of feeling and of consciousness, in which they didn't
sit and read and appraise and pass the time, but walked and talked and
laughed and cried and, in a manner of which Mrs. Stowe was the
irresistible cause, generally conducted themselves. Appreciation and
judgment, the whole impression, were thus an effect for which there had
been no process--any process so related having in other cases _had_ to
be at some point or other critical; nothing in the guise of a written
book, therefore, a book printed, published, sold, bought and "noticed,"
probably ever reached its mark, the mark of exciting interest, without
having at least groped for that goal _as_ a book or by the exposure of
some literary side. Letters, here, languished unconscious, and Uncle
Tom, instead of making even one of the cheap short cuts through the
medium in which books breathe, even as fishes in water, went gaily
roundabout it altogether, as if a fish, a wonderful "leaping" fish, had
simply flown through the air. This feat accomplished, the surprising
creature could naturally fly anywhere, and one of the first things it
did was thus to flutter down on every stage, literally without
exception, in America and Europe. If the amount of life represented in
such a work is measurable by the ease with which representation is taken
up and carried further, carried even violently furthest, the fate of
Mrs. Stowe's picture was conclusive: it simply sat down wherever it
lighted and made itself, so to speak, at home; thither multitudes
flocked afresh and there, in each case, it rose to its height again and
went, with all its vivacity and good faith, through all its motions.

These latter were to leave me, however, with a fonder vision still than
that of the comparatively jejune "lecture-room" version; for the first
exhibition of them to spring to the front was the fine free rendering
achieved at a playhouse till then ignored by fashion and culture, the
National Theatre, deep down on the East side, whence echoes had come
faintest to ears polite, but where a sincerity vivid though rude was now
supposed to reward the curious. Our numerous attendance there under this
spell was my first experience of the "theatre party" as we have enjoyed
it in our time--each emotion and impression of which is as fresh to me
as the most recent of the same family. Precious through all indeed
perhaps is the sense, strange only to later sophistication, of my small
encouraged state as a free playgoer--a state doubly wondrous while I
thus evoke the full contingent from Union Square; where, for that
matter, I think, the wild evening must have been planned. I am lost
again in all the goodnature from which small boys, on wild evenings,
could dangle so unchidden--since the state of unchiddenness is what
comes back to me well-nigh clearest. How without that complacency of
conscience could every felt impression so live again? It is true that
for my present sense of the matter snubs and raps would still tingle,
would count double; just wherefore it is exactly, however, that I mirror
myself in these depths of propriety. The social scheme, as we knew it,
was, in its careless charity, worthy of the golden age--though I can't
sufficiently repeat that we knew it both at its easiest and its safest:
the fruits dropped right upon the board to which we flocked together,
the least of us and the greatest, with differences of appetite and of
reach, doubtless, but not with differences of place and of proportionate
share. My appetite and my reach in respect to the more full-bodied Uncle
Tom might have brooked certainly any comparison; I must have partaken
thoroughly of the feast to have left the various aftertastes so separate
and so strong. It was a great thing to have a canon to judge by--it
helped conscious criticism, which was to fit on wings (for use ever
after) to the shoulders of appreciation. In the light of that advantage
I could be _sure_ my second Eliza was less dramatic than my first, and
that my first "Cassy," that of the great and blood-curdling Mrs. Bellamy
of the lecture-room, touched depths which made the lady at the National
prosaic and placid (I could already be "down" on a placid Cassy;) just
as on the other hand the rocking of the ice-floes of the Ohio, with the
desperate Eliza, infant in arms, balancing for a leap from one to the
other, had here less of the audible creak of carpentry, emulated a
trifle more, to my perception, the real water of Mr. Crummles's pump.
They can't, even at that, have emulated it much, and one almost envies
(quite making up one's mind not to denounce) the simple faith of an age
beguiled by arts so rude.

However, the point exactly was that we attended this spectacle just in
order _not_ to be beguiled, just in order to enjoy with ironic
detachment and, at the very most, to be amused ourselves at our
sensibility should it prove to have been trapped and caught. To have
become thus aware of our collective attitude constituted for one small
spectator at least a great initiation; he got his first glimpse of that
possibility of a "free play of mind" over a subject which was to throw
him with force at a later stage of culture, when subjects had
considerably multiplied, into the critical arms of Matthew Arnold. So he
is himself at least interested in seeing the matter--as a progress in
which the first step was taken, before that crude scenic appeal, by his
wondering, among his companions, where the absurd, the absurd for
_them_, ended and the fun, the real fun, which was the gravity, the
tragedy, the drollery, the beauty, the thing itself, briefly, might be
legitimately and tastefully held to begin. Uncanny though the remark
perhaps, I am not sure I wasn't thus more interested in the pulse of our
party, under my tiny recording thumb, than in the beat of the drama and
the shock of its opposed forces--vivid and touching as the contrast was
then found for instance between the tragi-comical Topsy, the slave-girl
clad in a pinafore of sackcloth and destined to become for Anglo-Saxon
millions the type of the absolute in the artless, and her little
mistress the blonde Eva, a figure rather in the Kenwigs tradition of
pantalettes and pigtails, whom I recall as perching quite suicidally,
with her elbows out and a preliminary shriek, on that bulwark of the
Mississippi steamboat which was to facilitate her all but fatal
immersion in the flood. Why should I have duly noted that no little
game on her part could well less have resembled or simulated an
accident, and yet have been no less moved by her reappearance, rescued
from the river but perfectly dry, in the arms of faithful Tom, who had
plunged in to save her, without either so much as wetting his shoes,
than if I had been engaged with her in a reckless romp? I could count
the white stitches in the loose patchwork, and yet could take it for a
story rich and harmonious; I could know we had all intellectually
condescended and that we had yet had the thrill of an æsthetic
adventure; and this was a brave beginning for a consciousness that was
to be nothing if not mixed and a curiosity that was to be nothing if not
restless.

The principle of this prolonged arrest, which I insist on prolonging a
little further, is doubtless in my instinct to grope for our earliest
æsthetic seeds. Careless at once and generous the hands by which they
were sown, but practically appointed none the less to cause that
peculiarly flurried hare to run--flurried because over ground so little
native to it--when so many others held back. Is it _that_ air of romance
that gilds for me then the Barnum background--taking it as a symbol;
that makes me resist, to this effect of a passionate adverse loyalty,
any impulse to translate into harsh terms any old sordidities and
poverties? The Great American Museum, the down-town scenery and aspects
at large, and even the up-town improvements on them, as then
flourishing?--why, they must have been for the most part of the last
meanness: the Barnum picture above all ignoble and awful, its blatant
face or frame stuck about with innumerable flags that waved, poor
vulgar-sized ensigns, over spurious relics and catchpenny monsters in
effigy, to say nothing of the promise within of the still more monstrous
and abnormal living--from the total impression of which things we
plucked somehow the flower of the ideal. It grew, I must in justice
proceed, much more sweetly and naturally at Niblo's, which represented
in our scheme the ideal evening, while Barnum figured the ideal day; so
that I ask myself, with that sense of our resorting there under the rich
cover of night (which was the supreme charm,) how it comes that this
larger memory hasn't swallowed up all others. For here, absolutely,
_was_ the flower at its finest and grown as nowhere else--grown in the
great garden of the Ravel Family and offered again and again to our deep
inhalation. I see the Ravels, French acrobats, dancers and pantomimists,
as representing, for our culture, pure grace and charm and civility; so
that one doubts whether any candid community was ever so much in debt to
a race of entertainers or had so happy and prolonged, so personal and
grateful a relation with them. They must have been, with their
offshoots of Martinettis and others, of three or four generations,
besides being of a rich theatrical stock generally, and we had our
particular friends and favourites among them; we seemed to follow them
through every phase of their career, to assist at their tottering steps
along the tight-rope as very small children kept in equilibrium by very
big balancing-poles (caretakers here walking under in case of falls;) to
greet them as Madame Axel, of robust maturity and in a Spanish costume,
bounding on the same tense cord more heavily but more assuredly; and
finally to know the climax of the art with them in Raoul or the
Night-Owl and Jocko or the Brazilian Ape--and all this in the course of
our own brief infancy. My impression of them bristles so with memories
that we seem to have rallied to their different productions with much
the same regularity with which we formed fresh educational connections;
and they were so much our property and our pride that they supported us
handsomely through all fluttered entertainment of the occasional Albany
cousins. I remember how when one of these visitors, wound up, in honour
of New York, to the very fever of perception, broke out one evening
while we waited for the curtain to rise, "Oh don't you hear the cries?
They're _beating_ them, I'm sure they are; can't it be stopped?" we
resented the charge as a slur on our very honour; for what our romantic
relative had heatedly imagined to reach us, in a hushed-up manner from
behind, was the sounds attendant on the application of blows to some
acrobatic infant who had "funked" his little job. Impossible such
horrors in the world of pure poetry opened out to us at Niblo's, a
temple of illusion, of tragedy and comedy and pathos that, though its
_abords_ of stony brown Metropolitan Hotel, on the "wrong side," must
have been bleak and vulgar, flung its glamour forth into Broadway. What
more pathetic for instance, so that we publicly wept, than the fate of
wondrous Martinetti Jocko, who, after befriending a hapless French
family wrecked on the coast of Brazil and bringing back to life a small
boy rescued from the waves (I see even now, with every detail, this
inanimate victim supine on the strand) met his death by some cruel
bullet of which I have forgotten the determinant cause, only remembering
the final agony as something we could scarce bear and a strain of our
sensibility to which our parents repeatedly questioned the wisdom of
exposing us.

These performers and these things were in all probability but of a
middling skill and splendour--it was the pre-trapèze age, and we were
caught by mild marvels, even if a friendly good faith in them, something
sweet and sympathetic, was after all a value, whether of their own
humanity, their own special quality, or only of our innocence, never to
be renewed; but I light this taper to the initiators, so to call them,
whom I remembered, when we had left them behind, as if they had given us
a silver key to carry off and so to refit, after long years, to sweet
names never thought of from then till now. Signor Léon Javelli, in whom
the French and the Italian charm appear to have met, who was he, and
what did he brilliantly do, and why of a sudden do I thus recall and
admire him? I am afraid he but danced the tight-rope, the most domestic
of our friends' resources, as it brought them out, by the far stretch of
the rope, into the bosom of the house and against our very hearts, where
they leapt and bounded and wavered and recovered closely face to face
with us; but I dare say he bounded, brave Signor Léon, to the greatest
height of all: let this vague agility, in any case, connect him with
that revelation of the ballet, the sentimental-pastoral, of other years,
which, in The Four Lovers for example, a pantomimic lesson as in words
of one syllable, but all quick and gay and droll, would have affected us
as classic, I am sure, had we then had at our disposal that term of
appreciation. When we read in English story-books about the pantomimes
in London, which somehow cropped up in them so often, those were the
only things that didn't make us yearn; so much we felt we were masters
of the type, and so almost sufficiently was that a stop-gap for London
constantly deferred. We hadn't the transformation-scene, it was true,
though what this really seemed to come to was clown and harlequin taking
liberties with policemen--these last evidently a sharp note in a
picturesqueness that we lacked, our own slouchy "officers" saying
nothing to us of that sort; but we had at Niblo's harlequin and
columbine, albeit of less pure a tradition, and we knew moreover all
about clowns, for we went to circuses too, and so repeatedly that when I
add them to our list of recreations, the good old orthodox circuses
under tents set up in vacant lots, with which New York appears at that
time to have bristled, time and place would seem to have shrunken for
most other pursuits, and not least for that of serious learning. And the
case is aggravated as I remember Franconi's, which we more or less
haunted and which, aiming at the grander style and the monumental
effect, blazed with fresh paint and rang with Roman chariot-races up
there among the deserts of Twenty-ninth Street or wherever; considerably
south, perhaps, but only a little east, of the vaster desolations that
gave scope to the Crystal Palace, second of its name since,
following--not _passibus æquis_, alas--the London structure of 1851,
this enterprise forestalled by a year or two the Paris Palais de
l'Industrie of 1855. Such as it was I feel again its majesty on those
occasions on which I dragged--if I must here once more speak for myself
only--after Albany cousins through its courts of edification: I remember
being very tired and cold and hungry there, in a little light drab and
very glossy or shiny "talma" breasted with rather troublesome
buttonhole-embroideries; though concomitantly conscious that I was
somehow in Europe, since everything about me had been "brought over,"
which ought to have been consoling, and seems in fact to have been so in
some degree, inasmuch as both my own pain and the sense of the cousinly,
the Albany, headaches quite fade in that recovered presence of big
European Art embodied in Thorwaldsen's enormous Christ and the
Disciples, a shining marble company ranged in a semicircle of dark
maroon walls. If this was Europe then Europe was beautiful indeed, and
we rose to it on the wings of wonder; never were we afterwards to see
great showy sculpture, in whatever profuse exhibition or of whatever
period or school, without some renewal of that charmed Thorwaldsen hour,
some taste again of the almost sugary or confectionery sweetness with
which the great white images had affected us under their supper-table
gaslight. The Crystal Palace was vast and various and dense, which was
what Europe was going to be; it was a deep-down jungle of impressions
that were somehow challenges, even as we might, helplessly defied, find
foreign words and practices; over which formidably towered Kiss's
mounted Amazon attacked by a leopard or whatever, a work judged at that
day sublime and the glory of the place; so that I felt the journey back
in the autumn dusk and the Sixth Avenue cars (established just in time)
a relapse into soothing flatness, a return to the Fourteenth Street
horizon from a far journey and a hundred looming questions that would
still, tremendous thought, come up for all the personal answers of which
one cultivated the seed.



XIII


Let me hurry, however, to catch again that thread I left dangling from
my glance at our small vague spasms of school--my personal sense of them
being as vague and small, I mean, in contrast with the fuller and
stronger cup meted out all round to the Albany cousins, much more
privileged, I felt, in every stroke of fortune; or at least much more
interesting, though it might be wicked to call them more happy, through
those numberless bereavements that had so enriched their existence. I
mentioned above in particular the enviable consciousness of our little
red-headed kinsman Gus Barker, who, as by a sharp prevision, snatched
what gaiety he might from a life to be cut short, in a cavalry dash, by
one of the Confederate bullets of 1863: he blew out at us, on New York
Sundays, as I have said, sharp puffs of the atmosphere of the
Institution Charlier--strong to us, that is, the atmosphere of whose
institutions was weak; but it was above all during a gregarious visit
paid him in a livelier field still that I knew myself merely mother'd
and brother'd. It had been his fate to be but scantly the latter and
never at all the former--our aunt Janet had not survived his birth; but
on this day of our collective pilgrimage to Sing-Sing, where he was at a
"military" school and clad in a fashion that represented to me the very
panoply of war, he shone with a rare radiance of privation. Ingenuous
and responsive, of a social disposition, a candour of gaiety, that
matched his physical activity--the most beautifully made athletic little
person, and in the highest degree appealing and engaging--he not only
did us the honours of his dazzling academy (dazzling at least to me) but
had all the air of showing us over the great State prison which even
then flourished near at hand and to which he accompanied us; a party of
a composition that comes back to me as wonderful, the New York and
Albany cousinships appearing to have converged and met, for the happy
occasion, with the generations and sexes melting together and moving in
a loose harmonious band. The party must have been less numerous than by
the romantic tradition or confused notation of my youth, and what I
mainly remember of it beyond my sense of our being at once an attendant
train to my aged and gentle and in general most unadventurous
grandmother, and a chorus of curiosity and amusement roundabout the
vivid Gussy, is our collective impression that State prisons were on the
whole delightful places, vast, bright and breezy, with a gay, free
circulation in corridors and on stairs, a pleasant prevalence of hot
soup and fresh crusty rolls, in tins, of which visitors admiringly
partook, and for the latter, in chance corners and on sunny landings,
much interesting light brush of gentlemen remarkable but for gentlemanly
crimes--that is defalcations and malversations to striking and
impressive amounts.

I recall our coming on such a figure at the foot of a staircase and his
having been announced to us by our conductor or friend in charge as
likely to be there; and what a charm I found in his cool loose uniform
of shining white (as I was afterwards to figure it,) as well as in his
generally refined and distinguished appearance and in the fact that he
was engaged, while exposed to our attention, in the commendable act of
paring his nails with a smart penknife and that he didn't allow us to
interrupt him. One of my companions, I forget which, had advised me that
in these contacts with illustrious misfortune I was to be careful not to
stare; and present to me at this moment is the wonder of whether he
would think it staring to note that _he_ quite stared, and also that his
hands were fine and fair and one of them adorned with a signet ring. I
was to have later in life a glimpse of two or three dismal
penitentiaries, places affecting me as sordid, as dark and dreadful; but
if the revelation of Sing-Sing had involved the idea of a timely warning
to the young mind my small sensibility at least was not reached by the
lesson. I envied the bold-eyed celebrity in the array of a planter at
his ease--we might have been _his_ slaves--quite as much as I envied
Gussy; in connection with which I may remark here that though in that
early time I seem to have been constantly eager to exchange my lot for
that of somebody else, on the assumed certainty of gaining by the
bargain, I fail to remember feeling jealous of such happier persons--in
the measure open to children of spirit. I had rather a positive lack of
the passion, and thereby, I suppose, a lack of spirit; since if jealousy
bears, as I think, on what one sees one's companions able to do--as
against one's own falling short--envy, as I knew it at least, was simply
of what they _were_, or in other words of a certain sort of richer
consciousness supposed, doubtless often too freely supposed, in them.
They were so _other_--that was what I felt; and to _be_ other, other
almost anyhow, seemed as good as the probable taste of the bright
compound wistfully watched in the confectioner's window; unattainable,
impossible, of course, but as to which just this impossibility and just
that privation kept those active proceedings in which jealousy seeks
relief quite out of the question. A platitude of acceptance of the poor
actual, the absence of all vision of how in any degree to change it,
combined with a complacency, an acuity of perception of alternatives,
though a view of them as only through the confectioner's hard
glass--that is what I recover as the nearest approach to an apology, in
the soil of my nature, for the springing seed of emulation. I never
dreamed of competing--a business having in it at the best, for my
temper, if not for my total failure of temper, a displeasing ferocity.
If competing was bad snatching was therefore still worse, and jealousy
was a sort of spiritual snatching. With which, nevertheless, all the
while, one might have been "like" So-and-So, who had such horizons. A
helpless little love of horizons I certainly cherished, and could
sometimes even care for my own. These always shrank, however, under
almost any suggestion of a further range or finer shade in the purple
rim offered to other eyes--and that is what I take for the restlessness
of envy. It wasn't that I wished to change with everyone, with anyone at
a venture, but that I saw "gifts" everywhere but as mine and that I
scarce know whether to call the effect of this miserable or monstrous.
It was the effect at least of self-abandonment--I mean to visions.

There must have been on that occasion of the Sing-Sing day--which it
deeply interests me to piece together--some state of connection for some
of us with the hospitalities of Rhinebeck, the place of abode of the
eldest of the Albany uncles--that is of the three most in our view; for
there were two others, the eldest of all a half-uncle only, who formed a
class quite by himself, and the very youngest, who, with lively
interests of his own, had still less attention for us than either of his
three brothers. The house at Rhinebeck and all its accessories (which
struck our young sense as innumerable,) in especial the great bluff of
the Hudson on which it stood, yields me images scarcely dimmed, though
as the effect but of snatches of acquaintance; there at all events the
gently-groaning--ever so gently and dryly--Albany grandmother, with the
Albany cousins as to whom I here discriminate, her two adopted
daughters, maturest and mildest of the general tribe, must have paused
for a stay; a feature of which would be perhaps her juncture with the
New York contingent, somewhere sociably achieved, for the befriending of
juvenile Gussy. It shimmers there, the whole circumstance, with I scarce
know what large innocence of charity and ease; the Gussy-pretext, for
reunion, all so thin yet so important an appeal, the simplicity of the
interests and the doings, the assumptions and the concessions, each
to-day so touching, almost so edifying. We were surely all gentle and
generous together, floating in such a clean light social order, sweetly
proof against ennui--unless it be a bad note, as is conceivable, never,
_never_ to feel bored--and thankful for the smallest æsthetic or
romantic mercies. My vision loses itself withal in vaster
connections--above all in my general sense of the then grand newness of
the Hudson River Railroad; so far at least as its completion to Albany
was concerned, a modern blessing that even the youngest of us were in a
position to appraise. The time had been when the steamboat had to
content us--and I feel how amply it must have done so as I recall the
thrill of docking in dim early dawns, the whole hour of the Albany
waterside, the night of huge strange paddling and pattering and
shrieking and creaking once ended, and contrast with it all certain long
sessions in the train at an age and in conditions when neither train nor
traveller had suffered chastening; sessions of a high animation, as I
recast them, but at the same time of mortal intensities of lassitude.
The elements here indeed are much confused and mixed--I must have known
that discipline of the hectic interest and the extravagant strain in
relation to Rhinebeck only; an _étape_, doubtless, on the way to New
York, for the Albany kinship, but the limit to our smaller patiences of
any northward land-journey. And yet not the young fatigue, I repeat, but
the state of easy wonder, is what most comes back: the stops too
repeated, but perversely engaging; the heat and the glare too great, but
the river, by the window, making reaches and glimpses, so that the
great swing of picture and force of light and colour were themselves a
constant adventure; the uncles, above all, too pre-eminent, too
recurrent, to the creation of a positive soreness of sympathy, of
curiosity, and yet constituting by their presence half the enlargement
of the time. For the presence of uncles, incoherent Albany uncles, is
somehow what most gives these hours their stamp for memory. I scarce
know why, nor do I much, I confess, distinguish occasions--but I see
what I see: the long, the rattling car of the old open native form and
the old harsh native exposure; the sense of arrival forever postponed,
qualified however also by that of having in my hands a volume of M.
Arsène Houssaye, Philosophes et Comédiennes, remarkably submitted by one
of my relatives to my judgment. I see them always, the relatives, in
slow circulation; restless and nervous and casual their note, not less
than strikingly genial, but with vaguenesses, lapses, eclipses, that
deprived their society of a tactless weight. They cheered us on, in
their way; born optimists, clearly, if not logically determined ones,
they were always reassuring and sustaining, though with a bright brevity
that must have taken immensities, I think, for granted. They wore their
hats slightly toward the nose, they strolled, they hung about, they
reported of progress and of the company, they dropped suggestions, new
magazines, packets of the edible deprecated for the immature; they
figured in fine to a small nephew as the principal men of their time
and, so far as the two younger and more familiar were concerned, the
most splendid as to aspect and apparel. It was none the less to the
least shining, though not essentially the least comforting, of this
social trio that, if I rightly remember, I owed my introduction to the
_chronique galante_ of the eighteenth century.

There tags itself at any rate to the impression a flutter as of some
faint, some recaptured, grimace for another of his kindly offices (which
I associate somehow with the deck of a steamboat:) his production for
our vague benefit of a literary classic, the Confessions, as he called
our attention to them, of the celebrated "Rosseau" I catch again the
echo of the mirth excited, to my surprise, by this communication, and
recover as well my responsive advance toward a work that seemed so to
promise; but especially have I it before me that some play of light
criticism mostly attended, on the part of any circle, this speaker's
more ambitious remarks. For all that, and in spite of oddities of
appearance and type, it was Augustus James who spread widest, in default
of towering highest, to my wistful view of the larger life, and who
covered definite and accessible ground. This ground, the house and
precincts of Linwood, at Rhinebeck, harboured our tender years, I
surmise, but at few and brief moments; but it hadn't taken many of these
to make it the image of an hospitality liberal as I supposed great
social situations were liberal; suppositions on this score having in
childhood (or at least they had in mine) as little as possible to do
with dry data. Didn't Linwood bristle with great views and other
glories, with gardens and graperies and black ponies, to say nothing of
gardeners and grooms who were notoriously and quotedly droll; to say
nothing, in particular, of our aunt Elizabeth, who had been Miss Bay of
Albany, who was the mother of the fair and free young waltzing-women in
New York, and who floats back to me through the Rhinebeck picture,
aquiline but easy, with an effect of handsome highbrowed, high-nosed
looseness, of dressing-gowns or streaming shawls (the dowdy, the
delightful shawl of the period;) and of claws of bright benevolent steel
that kept nipping for our charmed advantage: roses and grapes and
peaches and currant-clusters, together with turns of phrase and scraps
of remark that fell as by quite a like flash of shears. These are mere
scrapings of gold-dust, but my mind owes her a vibration that, however
tiny, was to insist all these years on _marking_--on figuring in a whole
complex of picture and drama, the clearest note of which was that of
worry and woe: a crisis prolonged, in deep-roofed outer galleries,
through hot August evenings and amid the dim flare of open windows, to
the hum of domesticated insects. All but inexpressible the part played,
in the young mind naturally even though perversely, even though
inordinately, arranged as a stage for the procession and exhibition of
appearances, by matters all of a usual cast, contacts and impressions
not arriving at the dignity of shocks, but happening to be to the taste,
as one may say, of the little intelligence, happening to be such as the
fond fancy could assimilate. One's record becomes, under memories of
this order--and that is the only trouble--a tale of assimilations small
and fine; out of which refuse, directly interesting to the
subject-victim only, the most branching vegetations may be conceived as
having sprung. Such are the absurdities of the poor dear inward
life--when translated, that is, and perhaps ineffectually translated,
into terms of the outward and trying at all to flourish on the lines of
the outward; a reflection that might stay me here weren't it that I
somehow feel morally affiliated, tied as by knotted fibres, to the
elements involved.

One of these was assuredly that my father had again, characteristically,
suffered me to dangle; he having been called to Linwood by the dire
trouble of his sister, Mrs. Temple, and brought me with him from Staten
Island--I make the matter out as of the summer of '54. We had come up,
he and I, to New York; but our doings there, with the journey following,
are a blank to me; I recover but my sense, on our arrival, of being for
the first time in the presence of tragedy, which the shining scene,
roundabout, made more sinister--sharpened even to the point of my
feeling abashed and irrelevant, wondering why I had come. My aunt, under
her brother's roof, had left her husband, wasted with consumption, near
death at Albany; gravely ill herself--she had taken the disease from him
as it was taken in those days, and was in the event very scantly to
survive him--she had been ordered away in her own interest, for which
she cared no scrap, and my father, the person in all his family most
justly appealed and most anxiously listened to, had been urged to come
and support her in a separation that she passionately rejected. Vivid to
me still, as floating across verandahs into the hot afternoon stillness,
is the wail of her protest and her grief; I remember being scared and
hushed by it and stealing away beyond its reach. I remember not less
what resources of high control the whole case imputed, for my
imagination, to my father; and how, creeping off to the edge of the
eminence above the Hudson, I somehow felt the great bright harmonies of
air and space becoming one with my rather proud assurance and
confidence, that of my own connection, for life, for interest, with
such sources of light. The great impression, however, the one that has
brought me so far, was another matter: only that of the close,
lamp-tempered, outer evening aforesaid, with my parent again, somewhere
deep within, yet not too far to make us hold our breath for it, tenderly
opposing his sister's purpose of flight, and the presence at my side of
my young cousin Marie, youngest daughter of the house, exactly of my own
age, and named in honour of her having been born in Paris, to the
influence of which fact her shining black eyes, her small quickness and
brownness, marking sharply her difference from her sisters, so oddly, so
almost extravagantly testified. It had come home to me by some voice of
the air that she was "spoiled," and it made her in the highest degree
interesting; we ourselves had been so associated, at home, without being
in the least spoiled (I think we even rather missed it:) so that I knew
about these subjects of invidious reflection only by literature--mainly,
no doubt, that of the nursery--in which they formed, quite by
themselves, a romantic class; and, the fond fancy always predominant, I
prized even while a little dreading the chance to see the condition at
work. This chance was given me, it was clear--though I risk in my record
of it a final anticlimax--by a remark from my uncle Augustus to his
daughter: seated duskily in our group, which included two or three dim
dependent forms, he expressed the strong opinion that Marie should go to
bed--expressed it, that is, with the casual cursory humour that was to
strike me as the main expressional resource of outstanding members of
the family and that would perhaps have had under analysis the defect of
making judgment very personal without quite making authority so.
Authority they hadn't, of a truth, these all so human outstanding ones;
they made shift but with light appreciation, sudden suggestion, a
peculiar variety of happy remark in the air. It had been remarked but in
the air, I feel sure, that Marie should seek her couch--a truth by the
dark wing of which I ruefully felt myself brushed; and the words seemed
therefore to fall with a certain ironic weight. What I have retained of
their effect, at any rate, is the vague fact of some objection raised by
my cousin and some sharper point to his sentence supplied by her father;
promptly merged in a visible commotion, a flutter of my young companion
across the gallery as for refuge in the maternal arms, a protest and an
appeal in short which drew from my aunt the simple phrase that was from
that moment so preposterously to "count" for me. "Come now, my dear;
don't make a scene--I _insist_ on your not making a scene!" That was all
the witchcraft the occasion used, but the note was none the less
epoch-making. The expression, so vivid, so portentous, was one I had
never heard--it had never been addressed to us at home; and who should
say now what a world one mightn't at once read into it? It seemed
freighted to sail so far; it told me so much about life. Life at these
intensities clearly became "scenes"; but the great thing, the immense
illumination, was that we could make them or not as we chose. It was a
long time of course before I began to distinguish between those within
our compass more particularly as spoiled and those producible on a
different basis and which should involve detachment, involve presence of
mind; just the qualities in which Marie's possible output was apparently
deficient. It didn't in the least matter accordingly whether or no a
scene _was_ then proceeded to--and I have lost all count of what
immediately happened. The mark had been made for me and the door flung
open; the passage, gathering up _all_ the elements of the troubled time,
had been itself a scene, quite enough of one, and I had become aware
with it of a rich accession of possibilities.



XIV


It must have been after the Sing-Sing episode that Gussy came to us, in
New York, for Sundays and holidays, from scarce further off than round
the corner--his foreign Institution flourishing, I seem to remember, in
West Tenth Street or wherever--and yet as floated by exotic airs and
with the scent of the spice-islands hanging about him. He was being
educated largely with Cubans and Mexicans, in those New York days more
than half the little flock of the foreign Institutions in general; over
whom his easy triumphs, while he wagged his little red head for them,
were abundantly credible; reinforced as my special sense of them was
moreover by the similar situation of his sister, older than he but also
steeped in the exotic medium and also sometimes bringing us queer echoes
of the tongues. I remember being deputed by my mother to go and converse
with her, on some question of her coming to us, at the establishment of
Madame Reichhardt (pronounced, à la française, Réchard,) where I felt
that I had crossed, for the hour, the very threshold of "Europe"; it
being impressed on me by my cousin, who was tall and handsome and happy,
with a laugh of more beautiful sound than any laugh we were to know
again, that French only was speakable on the premises. I sniffed it up
aromatically, the superior language, in passage and parlour--it took the
form of some strong savoury soup, an educational _potage Réchard_ that
must excellently have formed the taste: that was again, I felt as I came
away, a part of the rich experience of being thrown in tender juvenile
form upon the world. This genial girl, like her brother, was in the
grand situation of having no home and of carrying on life, such a
splendid kind of life, by successive visits to relations; though neither
she nor Gussy quite achieved the range of their elder brother, "Bob" of
that ilk, a handsome young man, a just blurred, attractive, illusive
presence, who hovered a bit beyond our real reach and apparently
displayed the undomesticated character at its highest. _He_ seemed
exposed, for his pleasure--if pleasure it was!--and my wonder, to every
assault of experience; his very name took on, from these imputations, a
browner glow; and it was all in the right key that, a few years later,
he should, after "showing some talent for sculpture," have gone the
hapless way of most of the Albany youth, have become a theme for sad
vague headshakes (kind and very pitying in his case) and died
prematurely and pointlessly, or in other words, by my conception,
picturesquely. The headshakes were heavier and the sighs sharper for
another slim shade, one of the younger and I believe quite the most
hapless of those I have called the outstanding ones; he too, several
years older than we again, a tormenting hoverer and vanisher; he too
charmingly sister'd, though sister'd only, and succumbing to monstrous
early trouble after having "shown some talent" for music. The
ghostliness of these æsthetic manifestations, as I allude to them, is
the thinnest conceivable chip of stray marble, the faintest far-off
twang of old chords; I ask myself, for the odd obscurity of it, under
what inspiration music and sculpture may have tinkled and glimmered to
the Albany ear and eye (as we at least knew those organs) and with what
queer and weak delusions our unfortunates may have played. Quite
ineffably quaint and _falot_ this proposition of _that_ sort of resource
for the battle of life as it then and there opened; and above all
beautifully suggestive of our sudden collective disconnectedness (ours
as the whole kinship's) from _the_ American resource of those days,
Albanian or other. That precious light was the light of "business" only;
and we, by a common instinct, artlessly joining hands, went forth into
the wilderness without so much as a twinkling taper.

Our consensus, on all this ground, was amazing--it brooked no exception;
the word had been passed, all round, that we didn't, that we couldn't
and shouldn't, understand these things, questions of arithmetic and of
fond calculation, questions of the counting-house and the market; and we
appear to have held to our agreement as loyally and to have accepted our
doom as serenely as if our faith had been mutually pledged. The rupture
with my grandfather's tradition and attitude was complete; we were never
in a single case, I think, for two generations, guilty of a stroke of
business; the most that could be said of us was that, though about
equally wanting, all round, in any faculty of acquisition, we happened
to pay for the amiable weakness less in some connections than in others.
The point was that we moved so oddly and consistently--as it was our
only form of consistency--over our limited pasture, never straying to
nibble in the strange or the steep places. What was the matter with us
under this spell, and what the moral might have been for our case, are
issues of small moment, after all, in face of the fact of our mainly so
brief duration. It was given to but few of us to be taught by the event,
to be made to wonder with the last intensity what _had_ been the matter.
This it would be interesting to worry out, might I take the time; for
the story wouldn't be told, I conceive, by any mere rueful glance at
other avidities, the preference for ease, the play of the passions, the
appetite for pleasure. These things have often accompanied the business
imagination; just as the love of life and the love of other persons, and
of many of the things of the world, just as quickness of soul and sense,
have again and again not excluded it. However, it comes back, as I have
already hinted, to the manner in which the "things of the world" could
but present themselves; there were not enough of these, and they were
not fine and fair enough, to engage happily so much unapplied, so much
loose and crude attention. We hadn't doubtless at all a complete play of
intelligence--if I may not so far discriminate as to say _they_ hadn't;
or our lack of the instinct of the market needn't have been so much
worth speaking of: other curiosities, other sympathies might have
redressed the balance. I make out our young cousin J. J. as dimly aware
of this while composing the light melodies that preluded to his
extinction, and which that catastrophe so tried to admonish us to think
of as promising; but his image is more present to me still as the great
incitement, during the few previous years, to our constant dream of
"educational" relief, of some finer kind of social issue, through
Europe.

It was to Europe J. J. had been committed; he was over there forging the
small apologetic arms that were so little to avail him, but it was quite
enough for us that he pointed the way to the Pension Sillig, at Vevey,
which shone at us, from afar, as our own more particular solution. It
was true that the Pension Sillig figured mainly as the solution in cases
of recognised wildness; there long flourished among New York parents
whose view of such resources had the proper range a faith in it for that
complaint; and it was as an act of faith that, failing other remedies,
our young wifeless uncle, conscious himself of no gift for control or
for edification, had placed there his difficult son. He returned with
delight from this judicious course and there was an hour when we
invoked, to intensity, a similar one in our own interest and when the
air of home did little but reflect from afar the glitter of blue Swiss
lakes, the tinkle of cattle-bells in Alpine pastures, the rich
_bonhomie_ that M. Sillig, dispensing an education all of milk and honey
and edelweiss and ranz-des-vaches, combined with his celebrated firmness
for tough subjects. Poor J. J. came back, I fear, much the same subject
that he went; but he had verily performed his scant office on earth,
that of having brought our then prospect, our apparent possibility, a
trifle nearer. He seemed to have been wild even beyond M. Sillig's
measure--which was highly disappointing; but if we might on the other
hand be open to the reproach of falling too short of it there were
establishments adapted to every phase of the American predicament; so
that our general direction could but gain in vividness. I think with
compassion, altogether, of the comparative obscurity to which our
eventual success in gathering the fruits, few and scant though they
might be, thus relegates those to whom it was given but to toy so
briefly with the flowers. They make collectively their tragic trio: J.
J. the elder, most loved, most beautiful, most sacrificed of the Albany
uncles; J. J. the younger--they were young together, they were luckless
together, and the combination was as strange as the disaster was
sweeping; and the daughter and sister, amplest of the "natural," easiest
of the idle, who lived on to dress their memory with every thread and
patch of her own perfect temper and then confirm the tradition, after
all, by too early and woeful an end.

If it comes over me under the brush of multiplied memories that we might
well have invoked the educational "relief" I just spoke of, I should
doubtless as promptly add that my own case must have been intrinsically
of the poorest, and indeed make the point once for all that I should be
taken as having seen and felt much of the whole queerness through the
medium of rare inaptitudes. I can only have been inapt, I make out, to
have retained so positively joyless a sense of it all, to be aware of
most of it now but as dim confusion, as bewildered anxiety. There was
interest always, certainly--but it strikes me to-day as interest in
everything that wasn't supposedly or prescriptively of the question at
all, and in nothing that _was_ so respectably involved and accredited.
Without some sharpness of interest I shouldn't now have the memories;
but these stick to me somehow with none of the hard glue of recovered
"spirits," recovered vivacities, assurances, successes. I can't have
had, through it all, I think, a throb of assurance or success; without
which, at the same time, absurdly and indescribably, I lived and
wriggled, floundered and failed, lost the clue of everything but a
general lucid consciousness (lucid, that is, for my tender years;) which
I clutched with a sense of its value. What happened all the while, I
conceive, was that I imagined things--and as if quite on system--wholly
other than as they were, and so carried on in the midst of the actual
ones an existence that somehow floated and saved me even while cutting
me off from any degree of direct performance, in fact from any degree of
direct participation, at all. _There_ presumably was the interest--in
the intensity and plausibility and variety of the irrelevance: an
irrelevance which, for instance, made all pastors and masters, and
especially all fellow-occupants of benches and desks, all elbowing and
kicking presences within touch or view, so many monsters and horrors, so
many wonders and splendours and mysteries, but never, so far as I can
recollect, realities of relation, dispensers either of knowledge or of
fate, playmates, intimates, mere coævals and coequals. They were
something better--better above all than the coequal or coæval; they were
so thoroughly figures and characters, divinities or demons, and endowed
in this light with a vividness that the mere reality of relation, a
commoner directness of contact, would have made, I surmise,
comparatively poor. This superior shade of interest was not, none the
less, so beguiling that I recall without unmitigated horror, or
something very like it, a winter passed with my brother at the
Institution Vergnès; our sorry subjection to which argues to my present
sense an unmitigated surrounding aridity. To a "French school" must have
been earnestly imputed the virtue of keeping us in patience till easier
days should come; infinitely touching our parents' view of that New York
fetish of our young time, an "acquisition of the languages"--an
acquisition reinforcing those opportunities which we enjoyed at home, so
far as they mustered, and at which I have briefly glanced. Charming and
amusing to me indeed certain faint echoes, wavering images, of this
superstition as it played about our path: ladies and gentlemen, dimly
foreign, mere broken syllables of whose names come back to me, attending
there to converse in tongues and then giving way to others through
failures of persistence--whether in pupils or preceptors I know not.
There hovers even Count Adam Gurowski, Polish, patriotic, exiled,
temporarily famous, with the vision of _his_ being invoked for facility
and then relinquished for difficulty; though I scarce guess on which of
his battle-grounds--he was so polyglot that he even had a rich command
of New Yorkese.



XV


It is to the Institution Vergnès that my earliest recovery of the sense
of being in any degree "educated with" W. J. attaches itself; an
establishment which occupied during the early 'fifties a site in the
very middle of Broadway, of the lower, the real Broadway, where it could
throb with the very pulse of the traffic in which we all innocently
rejoiced--believing it, I surmise, the liveliest conceivable: a fact
that is by itself, in the light of the present, an odd rococo note. The
lower Broadway--I allude to the whole Fourth Street and Bond Street
(where now _is_ the Bond Street of that antiquity?)--was then a seat of
education, since we had not done with it, as I shall presently show,
even when we had done with the Institution, a prompt disillusionment;
and I brood thus over a period which strikes me as long and during which
my personal hours of diligence were somehow more than anything else
hours of the pavement and the shopfront, or of such contemplative
exercise as the very considerable distance, for small legs, between
those regions and the westward Fourteenth Street might comprise.
Pedestrian gaping having been in childhood, as I have noted,
prevailingly my line, fate appeared to have kindly provided for it on no
small scale; to the extent even that it must have been really my sole
and single form of athletics. Vague heated competition and agitation in
the then enclosed Union Square would seem to point a little, among us
all, to nobler types of motion; but of any basis for recreation,
anything in the nature of a playground or a breathing-space, the
Institution itself was serenely innocent. This I take again for a note
extraordinarily mediæval. It occupied the first and second floors, if I
rightly remember, of a wide front that, overhanging the endless
thoroughfare, looked out on bouncing, clattering "stages" and painfully
dragged carts and the promiscuous human shuffle--the violence of
repercussions from the New York pavement of those years to be further
taken into account; and I win it back from every side as, in spite of
these aspects of garish publicity, a dark and dreadful, and withal quite
absurd, scene. I see places of that general time, even places of
confinement, in a dusty golden light that special memories of small
misery scarce in the least bedim, and this holds true of our next and
quite neighbouring refuge; the establishment of M. Vergnès alone darkles
and shrinks to me--a sordidly _black_ interior is my main image for it;
attenuated only by its having very soon afterwards, as a suffered
ordeal, altogether lapsed and intermitted. Faintly, in the gloom, I
distinguish M. Vergnès himself--quite "old," very old indeed as I
supposed him, and highly irritated and markedly bristling; though of
nothing in particular that happened to me at his or at anyone's else
hands have I the scantest remembrance. What really most happened no
doubt, was that my brother and I should both come away with a mind
prepared for a perfect assimilation of Alphonse Daudet's chronicle of
"Jack," years and years later on; to make the acquaintance in that work
of the "petits pays chauds" among whom Jack learnt the first lessons of
life was to see the Institution Vergnès at once revive, swarming as it
did with small homesick Cubans and Mexicans; the complete failure of
blondness that marks the memory is doubtless the cumulative effect of so
many of the New York "petits pays chauds," preponderantly brown and
black and conducing to a greasy gloom. Into this gloom I fear I should
see all things recede together but for a certain salient note, the fact
that the whole "staff" appears to have been constantly in a rage; from
which naturally resulted the accent of shrillness (the only accent we
could pick up, though we were supposed to be learning, for the extreme
importance of it, quantities of French) and the sound of high
vociferation. I remember infuriated ushers, of foreign speech and
flushed complexion--the tearing across of hapless "exercises" and
_dictées_ and the hurtle through the air of dodged volumes; only never,
despite this, the extremity of smiting. There can have been at the
Institution no blows instructionally dealt--nor even from our hours of
ease do any such echoes come back to me. Little Cubans and Mexicans, I
make out, were not to be vulgarly whacked--in deference, presumably, to
some latent relic or imputed survival of Castilian pride; which would
impose withal considerations of quite practical prudence. Food for
reflection and comparison might well have been so suggested; interesting
at least the element of contrast between such opposed conceptions of
tone, temper and manner as the passion without whacks, or with whacks
only of inanimate objects, ruling the scene I have described, and the
whacks without passion, the grim, impersonal, strictly penal
applications of the rod, which then generally represented what was still
involved in our English tradition. It was the two theories of
sensibility, of personal dignity, that so diverged; but with such other
divergences now on top of those that the old comparison falls away. We
to-day go unwhacked altogether--though from a pride other than
Castilian: it is difficult to say at least what ideal has thus
triumphed. In the Vergnès air at any rate I seem myself to have sat
unscathed and unterrified--not alarmed even by so much as a call to the
blackboard; only protected by my insignificance, which yet covered such
a sense of our dusky squalor. Queer for us the whole affair, assuredly;
but how much queerer for the poor petits pays chauds who had come so far
for their privilege. _We_ had come, comparatively, but from round the
corner--and that left the "state of education" and the range of
selection all about as quaint enough. What could these things then have
been in the various native climes of the petits pays chauds?

It was by some strong wave of reaction, clearly, that we were floated
next into the quieter haven of Mr. Richard Pulling Jenks--where cleaner
waters, as I feel their coolness still, must have filled a neater
though, it was true, slightly more contracted trough. Yet the range of
selection had been even on this higher plane none too strikingly
exemplified; our jumping had scant compass--we still grubbed with a good
conscience in Broadway and sidled about Fourth Street. But I think of
the higher education as having there, from various causes, none the less
begun to glimmer for us. A diffused brightness, a kind of high
crosslight of conflicting windows, rests for me at all events on the
little realm of Mr. Pulling Jenks and bathes it as with positively sweet
limitations. Limited must it have been, I feel, with our couple of
middling rooms, front and back, our close packing, our large
unaccommodating stove, our grey and gritty oilcloth, and again our
importunate Broadway; from the aggregation of which elements there
distils itself, without my being able to account for it, a certain
perversity of romance. I speak indeed here for myself in particular, and
keen for romance must I have been in such conditions, I admit; since the
sense of it had crept into a recreational desert even as utter as that
of the Institution Vergnès. Up out of Broadway we still scrambled--I can
smell the steep and cold and dusty wooden staircase; straight into
Broadway we dropped--I feel again the generalised glare of liberation;
and I scarce know what tenuity of spirit it argues that I should neither
have enjoyed nor been aware of missing (speaking again for myself only)
a space wider than the schoolroom floor to react and knock about in. I
literally conclude that we must have knocked about in Broadway, and in
Broadway alone, like perfect little men of the world; we must have been
let loose there to stretch our legs and fill our lungs, without
prejudice either to our earlier and later freedoms of going and coming.
I as strictly infer, at the same time, that Broadway must have been then
as one of the alleys of Eden, for any sinister contact or consequence
involved for us; a circumstance that didn't in the least interfere, too,
as I have noted, with its offer of an entrancing interest. The interest
verily could have been a _calculated_ thing on the part of our dear
parents as little as on that of Mr. Jenks himself. Therefore let it be
recorded as still most odd that we should all have assented to such
deficiency of landscape, such exiguity of sport. I take the true
inwardness of the matter to have been in our having such short hours,
long as they may have appeared at the time, that the day left margin at
the worst for private inventions. I think we found landscape, for
ourselves--and wherever I at least found vision I found such sport as I
was capable of--even between the front and back rooms and the
conflicting windows; even by the stove which somehow scorched without
warming, and yet round which Mr. Coe and Mr. Dolmidge, the
drawing-master and the writing-master, arriving of a winter's day, used
notedly, and in the case of Mr. Coe lamentedly, to draw out their
delays. Is the dusty golden light of retrospect in this connection an
effluence from Mr. Dolmidge and Mr. Coe, whose ministrations come back
to me as the sole directly desired or invoked ones I was to know in my
years, such as they were, of pupilage?

I see them in any case as old-world images, figures of an antique stamp;
products, mustn't they have been, of an order in which some social
relativity or matter-of-course adjustment, some transmitted form and
pressure, were still at work? Mr. Dolmidge, inordinately lean,
clean-shaved, as was comparatively uncommon then, and in a
swallow-tailed coat and I think a black satin stock, was surely perfect
in his absolutely functional way, a pure pen-holder of a man, melancholy
and mild, who taught the most complicated flourishes--great scrolls of
them met our view in the form of surging seas and beaked and beady-eyed
eagles, the eagle being so calligraphic a bird--while he might just have
taught resignation. He was not at all funny--no one out of our immediate
family circle, in fact almost no one but W. J. himself, who flowered in
every waste, seems to have struck me as funny in those years; but he was
to remain with me a picture of somebody in Dickens, one of the Phiz if
not the Cruikshank pictures. Mr. Coe was another affair, bristling with
the question of the "hard," but somehow too with the revelation of the
soft, the deeply attaching; a worthy of immense stature and presence,
crowned as with the thick white hair of genius, wearing a great gathered
or puckered cloak, with a vast velvet collar, and resembling, as he
comes back to me, the General Winfield Scott who lived so much in our
eyes then. The oddity may well even at that hour have been present to me
of its taking so towering a person to produce such small
"drawing-cards"; it was as if some mighty bird had laid diminutive eggs.
Mr. Coe, of a truth, laid his all over the place, and though they were
not of more than handy size--very small boys could set them up in state
on very small desks--they had doubtless a great range of number and
effect. They were scattered far abroad and I surmise celebrated; they
represented crooked cottages, feathery trees, browsing and bristling
beasts and other rural objects; all rendered, as I recall them, in
little detached dashes that were like stories told in words of one
syllable, or even more perhaps in short gasps of delight. It must have
been a stammering art, but I admired its fluency, which swims for me
moreover in richer though slightly vague associations. Mr. Coe practised
on a larger scale, in colour, in oils, producing wondrous neat little
boards that make me to this day think of them and more particularly
smell them, when I hear of a "panel" picture: a glamour of greatness
attends them as brought home by W. J. from the master's own place of
instruction in that old University building which partly formed the east
side of Washington Square and figures to memory, or to fond imagination,
as throbbing with more offices and functions, a denser chiaroscuro, than
any reared hugeness of to-day, where character is so lost in quantity.
Is there any present structure that plays such a part in proportion to
its size?--though even as I ask the question I feel how nothing on earth
is proportioned to present sizes. These alone are proportioned--and to
mere sky-space and mere amount, amount of steel and stone; which is
comparatively uninteresting. Perhaps our needs and our elements were
then absurdly, were then provincially few, and that the patches of
character in that small grey granite compendium were all we had in
general to exhibit. Let me add at any rate that some of them were
exhibitional--even to my tender years, I mean; since I respond even yet
to my privilege of presence at some Commencement or Commemoration, such
as might be natural, doubtless, to any "university," where, as under a
high rich roof, before a Chancellor in a gown and amid serried admirers
and impressive applause, there was "speaking," of the finest sort, and
where above all I gathered in as a dazzling example the rare assurance
of young Winthrop Somebody or Somebody Winthrop, who, though still in
jackets, held us spellbound by his rendering of Serjeant Buzfuz's
exposure of Mr. Pickwick. Long was I to marvel at the high sufficiency
of young Winthrop Somebody or Somebody Winthrop--in which romantic
impression it is perhaps after all (though with the consecration of one
or two of the novels of the once-admired Theodore of that name, which so
remarkably insists, thrown in) the sense of the place is embalmed.

I must not forget indeed that I throw in also Mr. Coe--even if with
less assured a hand; by way of a note on those higher flights of power
and promise that I at this time began to see definitely determined in my
brother. As I catch W. J.'s image, from far back, at its most
characteristic, he sits drawing and drawing, always drawing, especially
under the lamplight of the Fourteenth Street back parlour; and not as
with a plodding patience, which I think would less have affected me, but
easily, freely and, as who should say, infallibly: always at the stage
of finishing off, his head dropped from side to side and his tongue
rubbing his lower lip. I recover a period during which to see him at all
was so to see him--the other flights and faculties removed him from my
view. These were a matter of course--he recurred, he passed nearer, but
in his moments of ease, and I clearly quite accepted the ease of his
disappearances. Didn't he always when within my view light them up and
justify them by renewed and enlarged vividness? so that my whole sense
of him as formed for assimilations scarce conceivable made our gaps of
contact too natural for me even to be lessons in humility. Humility had
nothing to do with it--as little even as envy would have had; I was
below humility, just as we were together outside of competition,
mutually "hors concours." _His_ competitions were with others--in which
how wasn't he, how could he not be, successful? while mine were with
nobody, or nobody's with me, which came to the same thing, as heaven
knows I neither braved them nor missed them. That winter, as I recover
it, represents him as sufficiently within view to make his position or
whereabouts in the upper air definite--I must have taken it for granted
before, but could now in a manner measure it; and the freshness of this
sense, something serene in my complacency, had to do, I divine, with the
effect of our moving, with the rest of our company, which was not
numerous but practically, but appreciably "select," on a higher and
fairer plane than ever yet. Predominantly of course we owed this benefit
to Richard Pulling himself; of whom I recall my brother's saying to me,
at a considerably later time, and with an authority that affected me as
absolute, that he had been of all our masters the most truly genial, in
fact the only one to whom the art of exciting an interest or inspiring a
sympathy could be in any degree imputed. I take this to have meant that
he would have adorned a higher sphere--and it may have been, to explain
his so soon swimming out of our ken, that into a higher sphere he
rapidly moved; I can account at least for our falling away from him the
very next year and declining again upon baser things and a lower
civilisation but by some probability of his flight, just thereafter
effected, to a greater distance, to one of the far upper reaches of the
town. Some years must have elapsed and some distinction have crowned
him when, being briefly in New York together, W. J. and I called on him
of a Sunday afternoon, to find--what I hadn't been at all sure of--that
he still quite knew who we were, or handsomely pretended to; handsomely
in spite of his markedly confirmed identity of appearance with the
Punch, husband to Judy, of the funny papers and the street show. Bald,
rotund, of ruddy complexion, with the nose, the chin, the arched eye,
the paunch and the _barbiche_, to say nothing of the ferule nursed in
his arms and with which, in the show, such free play is made, Mr. Jenks
yet seems to me to have preserved a dignity as well as projected an
image, and in fact have done other things besides. He whacked
occasionally--he must have been one of the last of the whackers; but I
don't remember it as ugly or dreadful or droll--don't remember, that is,
either directly feeling or reflectively enjoying it: it fails somehow to
break the spell of our civilisation; my share in which, however, comes
back to me as merely contemplative. It is beyond measure odd, doubtless,
that my main association with my "studies," whether of the infant or the
adolescent order, should be with almost anything but the fact of
learning--of learning, I mean, what I was supposed to learn. I could
only have been busy, at the same time, with other pursuits--which must
have borne some superficial likeness at least to the acquisition of
knowledge of a free irresponsible sort; since I remember few either of
the inward pangs or the outward pains of a merely graceless state. I
recognise at the same time that it was perhaps a sorry business to be so
interested in one didn't know what. Such are, whether at the worst or at
the best, some of the aspects of that season as Mr. Jenks's image
presides; in the light of which I _may_ perhaps again rather wonder at
my imputation to the general picture of so much amenity. Clearly the
good man was a civiliser--whacks and all; and by some art not now to be
detected. He was a complacent classic--which was what my brother's claim
for him, I dare say, mostly represented; though that passed over the
head of my tenth year. It was a good note for him in this particular
that, deploring the facile text-books of Doctor Anthon of Columbia
College, in which there was even more crib than text, and holding fast
to the sterner discipline of Andrews and Stoddard and of that other more
conservative commentator (he too doubtless long since superseded) whose
name I blush to forget. I think in fine of Richard Pulling's small but
sincere academy as a consistent little protest against its big and easy
and quite out-distancing rival, the Columbia College school, apparently
in those days quite the favourite of fortune.



XVI


I must in some degree have felt it a charm there that we were not, under
his rule, inordinately prepared for "business," but were on the contrary
to remember that the taste of Cornelius Nepos in the air, even rather
stale though it may have been, had lacked the black bitterness marking
our next ordeal and that I conceive to have proceeded from some rank
predominance of the theory and practice of book-keeping. It had
consorted with this that we found ourselves, by I know not what
inconsequence, a pair of the "assets" of a firm; Messrs. Forest and
Quackenboss, who carried on business at the northwest corner of
Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, having for the winter of 1854-5
taken our education in hand. As their establishment had the style, so I
was conscious at the time of its having the general stamp and sense, of
a shop--a shop of long standing, of numerous clients, of lively bustle
and traffic. The structure itself was to my recent recognition still
there and more than ever a shop, with improvements and extensions, but
dealing in other wares than those anciently and as I suppose then quite
freshly purveyed; so far at least as freshness was imputable to the
senior member of the firm, who had come down to our generation from a
legendary past and with a striking resemblance of head and general air
to Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Forest, under whose more particular attention
I languished, had lasted on from a plainer age and, having formed, by
the legend, in their youth, the taste of two or three of our New York
uncles--though for what it could have been goodness only knew--was still
of a _trempe_ to whack in the fine old way at their nephews and sons. I
see him aloft, benevolent and hard, mildly massive, in a black dress
coat and trousers and a white neckcloth that should have figured, if it
didn't, a frill, and on the highest rostrum of our experience, whence he
comes back to me as the dryest of all our founts of knowledge, though
quite again as a link with far-off manners and forms and as the most
"historic" figure we had ever had to do with. W. J., as I distinguish,
had in truth scarcely to do with him--W. J. lost again on upper floors,
in higher classes, in real pursuits, and connecting me, in an indirect
and almost deprecated manner, with a strange, curly, glossy, an anointed
and bearded, Mr. Quackenboss, the junior partner, who conducted the
classical department and never whacked--only sent down his subjects,
with every confidence, to his friend. I make out with clearness that Mr.
Forest was awful and arid, and yet that somehow, by the same stroke, we
didn't, under his sway, go in terror, only went exceedingly in want;
even if in want indeed of I scarce (for myself) know what, since it
might well have been enough for me, in so resounding an air, to escape
with nothing worse than a failure of thrill. If I didn't feel that
interest I must clearly not have inspired it, and I marvel afresh, under
these memories, at the few points at which I appear to have touched
constituted reality. That, however, is a different connection
altogether, and I read back into the one I have been noting much of the
chill, or at least the indifference, of a foreseen and foredoomed
detachment: it was during that winter that I began to live by
anticipation in another world and to feel our uneasy connection with New
York loosen beyond recovery. I remember for how many months, when the
rupture took place, we had been to my particular consciousness virtually
in motion; though I regain at the same time the impression of more
experience on the spot than had marked our small previous history: this,
however, a branch of the matter that I must for the moment brush aside.
For it would have been meanwhile odd enough to hold us in arrest a
moment--that quality of our situation that could suffer such elements as
those I have glanced at to take so considerably the place of education
as more usually and conventionally understood, and by that
understanding more earnestly mapped out; a deficiency, in the whole
thing, that I fail at all consistently to deplore, however--struck as I
am with the rare fashion after which, in any small victim of life, the
inward perversity may work.

It works by converting to its uses things vain and unintended, to the
great discomposure of their prepared opposites, which it by the same
stroke so often reduces to naught; with the result indeed that one may
most of all see it--so at least have I quite exclusively seen it, the
little life out for its chance--as proceeding by the inveterate process
of conversion. As I reconsider both my own and my brother's early
start--even his too, made under stronger propulsions--it is quite for me
as if the authors of our being and guardians of our youth had virtually
said to us but one thing, directed our course but by one word, though
constantly repeated: Convert, convert, convert! With which I have not
even the sense of any needed appeal in us for further apprehension of
the particular precious metal our chemistry was to have in view. I taste
again in that pure air no ghost of a hint, for instance, that the
precious metal was the refined gold of "success"--a reward of effort for
which I remember to have heard at home no good word, nor any sort of
word, ever faintly breathed. It was a case of the presumption that we
should hear words enough abundantly elsewhere; so that any dignity the
idea might claim was in the first place not worth insisting on, and in
the second might well be overstated. We were to convert and convert,
success--in the sense that was in the general air--or no success; and
simply everything that should happen to us, every contact, every
impression and every experience we should know, were to form our soluble
stuff; with only ourselves to thank should we remain unaware, by the
time our perceptions were decently developed, of the substance finally
projected and most desirable. That substance might be just consummately
Virtue, as a social grace and value--and as a matter furthermore on
which pretexts for ambiguity of view and of measure were as little as
possible called upon to flourish. This last luxury therefore quite
failed us, and we understood no whit the less what was suggested and
expected because of the highly liberal way in which the pill, if I may
call it so, was gilded: it had been made up--to emphasise my image--in
so bright an air of humanity and gaiety, of charity and humour. What I
speak of is the medium itself, of course, that we were most immediately
steeped in--I am glancing now at no particular turn of our young
attitude in it, and I can scarce sufficiently express how little it
could have conduced to the formation of prigs. Our father's prime
horror was of _them_--he only cared for virtue that was more or less
ashamed of itself; and nothing could have been of a happier whimsicality
than the mixture in him, and in all his walk and conversation, of the
strongest instinct for the human and the liveliest reaction from the
literal. The literal played in our education as small a part as it
perhaps ever played in any, and we wholesomely breathed inconsistency
and ate and drank contradictions. The presence of paradox was so bright
among us--though fluttering ever with as light a wing and as short a
flight as need have been--that we fairly grew used to allow, from an
early time, for the so many and odd declarations we heard launched, to
the extent of happily "discounting" them; the moral of all of which was
that we need never fear not to be good enough if we were only social
enough: a splendid meaning indeed being attached to the latter term.

Thus we had ever the amusement, since I can really call it nothing less,
of hearing morality, or moralism, as it was more invidiously worded,
made hay of in the very interest of character and conduct; these things
suffering much, it seemed, by their association with the
conscience--that is the _conscious_ conscience--the very home of the
literal, the haunt of so many pedantries. Pedantries, on all this
ground, were anathema; and if our dear parent had at all minded his not
being consistent, and had entertained about us generally less
passionate an optimism (not an easy but an arduous state in him
moreover,) he might have found it difficult to apply to the promotion of
our studies so free a suspicion of the inhumanity of Method. Method
certainly never quite raged among us; but it was our fortune
nevertheless that everything had its turn, and that such indifferences
were no more pedantic than certain rigours might perhaps have been; of
all of which odd notes of our situation there would, and possibly will,
be more to say--my present aim is really but to testify to what most
comes up for me to-day in the queer educative air I have been trying to
breathe again. That definite reflection is that if we had not had in us
to some degree the root of the matter no method, however confessedly or
aggressively "pedantic," would much have availed for us; and that since
we apparently did have it, deep down and inert in our small patches of
virgin soil, the fashion after which it struggled forth was an
experience as intense as any other and a record of as great a dignity.
It may be asked me, I recognise, of the root of "what" matter I so
complacently speak, and if I say "Why, of the matter of our having with
considerable intensity _proved_ educable, or, if you like better,
teachable, that is accessible to experience," it may again be retorted:
"That won't do for a decent account of a young consciousness; for think
of all the things that the failure of method, of which you make so
light, didn't put into yours; think of the splendid economy of a
real--or at least of a planned and attempted education, a 'regular
course of instruction'--and then think of the waste involved in the so
inferior substitute of which the pair of you were evidently victims." An
admonition this on which I brood, less, however, than on the still other
sense, rising from the whole retrospect, of my now feeling sure, of my
having mastered the particular history of just that waste--to the point
of its actually affecting me as blooming with interest, to the point
even of its making me ask myself how in the world, if the question is of
the injection of more things into the consciousness (as would seem the
case,) mine could have "done" with more: thanks to its small trick,
perhaps vicious I admit, of having felt itself from an early time almost
uncomfortably stuffed. I see my critic, by whom I mean my representative
of method at any price, take in this plea only to crush it with his
confidence--that without the signal effects of method one must have had
by an inexorable law to resort to shifts and ingenuities, and can
therefore only have been an artful dodger more or less successfully
dodging. I take full account of the respectability of the prejudice
against one or two of the uses to which the intelligence may at a pinch
be put--the criminal use in particular of falsifying its history, of
forging its records even, and of appearing greater than the traceable
grounds warrant. One can but fall back, none the less, on the particular
_un_traceability of grounds--when it comes to that: cases abound so in
which, with the grounds all there, the intelligence itself is not to be
identified. I contend for nothing moreover but the lively interest of
the view, and above all of the measure, of almost any mental history
after the fact. Of less interest, comparatively, is that sight of the
mind _before_--before the demonstration of the fact, that is, and while
still muffled in theories and presumptions (purple and fine linen, and
as such highly becoming though these be) of what shall prove best for
it.

Which doubtless too numerous remarks have been determined by my sense of
the tenuity of some of my clues: I had begun to count our wavering steps
from so very far back, and with a lively disposition, I confess, not to
miss even the vaguest of them. I can scarce indeed overstate the
vagueness that quite _had_ to attend a great number in presence of the
fact that our father, caring for our spiritual decency unspeakably more
than for anything else, anything at all that might be or might become
ours, would have seemed to regard this cultivation of it as profession
and career enough for us, had he but betrayed more interest in our
mastery of _any_ art or craft. It was not certainly that the profession
of virtue would have been anything less than abhorrent to him, but that,
singular though the circumstance, there were times when he might have
struck us as having after all more patience with it than with this, that
or the other more technical thrifty scheme. Of the beauty of his
dissimulated anxiety and tenderness on these and various other suchlike
heads, however, other examples will arise; for I see him now as fairly
afraid to recognise certain anxieties, fairly declining to dabble in the
harshness of practical precautions or impositions. The effect of his
attitude, so little thought out as shrewd or as vulgarly providential,
but in spite of this so socially and affectionally founded, could only
be to make life interesting to us at the worst, in default of making it
extraordinarily "paying." He had a theory that it would somehow or other
always be paying enough--and this much less by any poor conception of
our wants (for he delighted in our wants and so sympathetically and
sketchily and summarily wanted _for_ us) than by a happy and friendly,
though slightly nebulous, conception of our resources. Delighting ever
in the truth while generously contemptuous of the facts, so far as we
might make the difference--the facts having a way of being many and the
truth remaining but one--he held that there would always be enough;
since the truth, the true truth, was never ugly and dreadful, and we
didn't and wouldn't depart from it by any cruelty or stupidity (for he
wouldn't have had us stupid,) and might therefore depend on it for due
abundance even of meat and drink and raiment, even of wisdom and wit and
honour. It is too much to say that our so preponderantly humanised and
socialised adolescence was to make us look out for these things with a
subtle indirectness; but I return to my proposition that there may still
be a charm in seeing such hazards at work through a given, even if not
in a systematised, case. My cases are of course given, so that economy
of observation after the fact, as I have called it, becomes inspiring,
not less than the amusement, or whatever it may be, of the question of
what might happen, of what in point of fact did happen, to several very
towny and domesticated little persons, who were confirmed in their
towniness and fairly enriched in their sensibility, instead of being
chucked into a scramble or exposed on breezy uplands under the she-wolf
of competition and discipline. Perhaps any success that attended the
experiment--which was really, as I have hinted, no plotted thing at all,
but only an accident of accidents--proceeded just from the fact that the
small subjects, a defeated Romulus, a prematurely sacrificed Remus, had
in their very sensibility an asset, as we have come to say, a principle
of life and even of "fun." Perhaps on the other hand the success would
have been greater with less of that particular complication or
facilitation and more of some other which I shall be at a loss to
identify. What I find in my path happens to be the fact of the
sensibility, and from the light it sheds the curious, as also the
common, things that did from occasion to occasion play into it seem each
to borrow a separate and vivifying glow.

As at the Institution Vergnès and at Mr. Pulling Jenks's, however this
might be, so at "Forest's," or in other words at the more numerous
establishment of Messrs. Forest and Quackenboss, where we spent the
winter of 1854, reality, in the form of multitudinous mates, was to have
swarmed about me increasingly: at Forest's the prolonged roll-call in
the morning, as I sit in the vast bright crowded smelly smoky room, in
which rusty black stove-shafts were the nearest hint of architecture,
bristles with names, Hoes and Havemeyers, Stokeses, Phelpses, Colgates
and others, of a subsequently great New York salience. It was sociable
and gay, it was sordidly spectacular, one was then, by an inch or two, a
bigger boy--though with crushing superiorities in that line all round;
and when I wonder why the scene was sterile (which was what I took it
for at the worst) the reason glooms out again in the dreadful blight of
arithmetic, which affected me at the time as filling all the air. The
quantity imposed may not in fact have been positively gross, yet it is
what I most definitely remember--not, I mean, that I have retained the
dimmest notion of the science, but only of the dire image of our being
in one way or another always supposedly addressed to it. I recall
strange neighbours and deskfellows who, not otherwise too objectionable,
were uncanny and monstrous through their possession, cultivation,
imitation of ledgers, daybooks, double-entry, tall pages of figures,
interspaces streaked with oblique ruled lines that weirdly "balanced,"
whatever that might mean, and other like horrors. Nothing in truth is
more distinct to me than the tune to which they were, without exception,
at their ease on such ground--unless it be my general dazzled,
humiliated sense, through those years, of the common, the baffling,
mastery, all round me, of a hundred handy arts and devices. Everyone did
things and had things--everyone knew how, even when it was a question of
the small animals, the dormice and grasshoppers, or the hoards of food
and stationery, that they kept in their desks, just as they kept in
their heads such secrets for how to do sums--those secrets that I must
even then have foreseen I should even so late in life as this have
failed to discover. I may have known things, have by that time learnt a
few, myself, but I didn't know _that_--what I did know; whereas those
who surrounded me were all agog, to my vision, with the benefit of their
knowledge. I see them, in this light, across the years, fairly grin and
grimace with it; and the presumable vulgarity of some of them, certain
scattered shades of baseness still discernible, comes to me as but one
of the appearances of an abounding play of genius. Who was it I ever
thought stupid?--even when knowing, or at least feeling, that sundry
expressions of life or force, which I yet had no name for, represented
somehow art without grace, or (what after a fashion came to the same
thing) presence without type. All of which, I should add, didn't in the
least prevent my moving on the plane of the remarkable; so that if, as I
have noted, the general blank of consciousness, in the conditions of
that winter, rather tended to spread, this could perhaps have but had
for its best reason that I was fairly gorged with wonders. They were too
much of the same kind; the result, that is, of everyone's seeming to
know everything--to the effect, a little, that everything suffered by
it. There was a boy called Simpson my juxtaposition to whom I recall as
uninterruptedly close, and whose origin can only have been, I think,
quite immediately Irish--and Simpson, I feel sure, was a friendly and
helpful character. Yet even he reeked, to my sense, with strange
accomplishment--no single show of which but was accompanied in him by a
smart protrusion of the lower lip, a crude complacency of power, that
almost crushed me to sadness. It is as if I had passed in that sadness
most of those ostensibly animated months; an effect however doubtless in
some degree proceeding, for later appreciation, from the more
intelligible nearness of the time--it had brought me to the end of my
twelfth year; which helps not a little to turn it to prose. How I gave
to that state, in any case, such an air of occupation as to beguile not
only myself but my instructors--which I infer I did from their so
intensely letting me alone--I am quite at a loss to say; I have in truth
mainly the remembrance of _being_ consistently either ignored or
exquisitely considered (I know not which to call it;) even if without
the belief, which would explain it, that I passed for generally
"wanting" any more than for naturally odious. It was strange, at all
events--it could only have been--to be so stupid without being more
brutish and so perceptive without being more keen. Here were a case and
a problem to which no honest master with other and better cases could
have felt justified in giving time; he would have had at least to be
morbidly curious, and I recall from that sphere of rule no instance
whatever of the least refinement of inquiry. I should even probably have
missed one of these more flattering shades of attention had I missed
attention at all; but I think I was never really aware of how little I
got or how much I did without. I read back into the whole connection
indeed the chill, or at least the indifference, of a foreseen and
foredoomed detachment: I have noted how at this desperate juncture the
mild forces making for our conscious relief, pushing the door to Europe
definitely open, began at last to be effective. Nothing seemed to matter
at all but that I should become personally and incredibly acquainted
with Piccadilly and Richmond Park and Ham Common. I regain at the same
time the impression of more experience on the spot than had marked our
small previous history.

Pitiful as it looks to these ampler days the mere little fact that a
small court for recreation was attached to our academy added something
of a grace to life. We descended in relays, for "intermission," into a
paved and walled yard of the scantest size; the only provision for any
such privilege--not counting the street itself, of which, at the worst
of other conditions, we must have had free range--that I recover from
those years. The ground is built over now, but I could still figure, on
a recent occasion, our small breathing-space; together with my then
abject little sense that it richly sufficed--or rather, positively, that
nothing could have been more romantic. For within our limit we freely
conversed, and at nothing did I assist with more interest than at free
conversation. Certain boys hover before me, the biggest, the fairest,
the most worthy of freedom, dominating the scene and scattering upon
fifty subjects the most surprising lights. One of these heroes, whose
stature and complexion are still there for me to admire, did tricks of
legerdemain, with the scant apparatus of a handkerchief, a key, a
pocket-knife--as to some one of which it is as fresh as yesterday that I
ingenuously invited him to show me how to do it, and then, on his
treating me with scorn, renewed without dignity my fond solicitation.
Fresher even than yesterday, fadelessly fresh for me at this hour, is
the cutting remark thereupon of another boy, who certainly wasn't
Simpson and whose identity is lost for me in his mere inspired
authority: "Oh, oh, oh, I should think you'd be too proud--!" I had
neither been too proud nor so much as conceived that one might be, but I
remember well how it flashed on me with this that I had failed thereby
of a high luxury or privilege--which the whole future, however, might
help me to make up for. To what extent it _has_ helped is another
matter, but so fine was the force of the suggestion that I think I have
never in all the years made certain returns upon my spirit without again
feeling the pang from the cool little voice of the Fourteenth Street
yard. Such was the moral exercise it at least allowed us room for. It
also allowed us room, to be just, for an inordinate consumption of hot
waffles retailed by a benevolent black "auntie" who presided, with her
husband's aid as I remember, at a portable stove set up in a passage or
recess opening from the court; to which we flocked and pushed, in a
merciless squeeze, with all our coppers, and the products of which, the
oblong farinaceous compound, faintly yet richly brown, stamped and
smoking, not crisp nor brittle, but softly absorbent of the syrup dabbed
upon it for a finish, revealed to me I for a long time, even for a very
long time supposed, the highest pleasure of sense. We stamped about, we
freely conversed, we ate sticky waffles by the hundred--I recall no
worse acts of violence unless I count as such our intermissional rushes
to Pynsent's of the Avenue, a few doors off, in the particular interest
of a confection that ran the waffle close, as the phrase is, for
popularity, while even surpassing it for stickiness. Pynsent's was
higher up in the row in which Forest's had its front--other and dearer
names have dropped from me, but Pynsent's adheres with all the force of
the strong saccharine principle. This principle, at its highest, we
conceived, was embodied in small amber-coloured mounds of chopped
cocoanut or whatever other substance, if a finer there be; profusely,
lusciously endued and distributed on small tin trays in the manner of
haycocks in a field. We acquired, we appropriated, we transported, we
enjoyed them, they fairly formed perhaps, after all, our highest
enjoyment; but with consequences to our pockets--and I speak of those
other than financial, with an intimacy, a reciprocity of contact at any,
or at every, personal point, that I lose myself in the thought of.



XVII


I lose myself, of a truth, under the whole pressure of the spring of
memory proceeding from recent revisitings and recognitions--the action
of the fact that time until lately had spared hereabouts, and may still
be sparing, in the most exceptional way, by an anomaly or a mercy of the
rarest in New York, a whole cluster of landmarks, leaving me to "spot"
and verify, right and left, the smallest preserved particulars. These
things, at the pressure, flush together again, interweave their pattern
and quite thrust it at me, the absurd little fusion of images, for a
history or a picture of the time--the background of which I see after
all so much less as the harsh Sixth Avenue corner than as many other
matters. Those scant shades claimed us but briefly and superficially,
and it comes back to me that oddly enough, in the light of autumn
afternoons, our associates, the most animated or at any rate the best
"put in" little figures of our landscape, were not our comparatively
obscure schoolmates, who seem mostly to have swum out of our ken between
any day and its morrow. Our other companions, those we practically knew
"at home," ignored our school, having better or worse of their own, but
peopled somehow for us the social scene, which, figuring there for me in
documentary vividness, bristles with Van Burens, Van Winkles, De
Peysters, Costers, Senters, Norcoms, Robinsons (these last composing
round a stone-throwing "Eugene,") Wards, Hunts and _tutti quanti_--to
whose ranks I must add our invariable Albert, before-mentioned, and who
swarm from up and down and east and west, appearing to me surely to have
formed a rich and various society. Our salon, it is true, was mainly the
street, loose and rude and crude in those days at best--though with a
rapid increase of redeeming features, to the extent to which the spread
of micaceous brown stone could redeem: as exhibited especially in the
ample face of the Scotch Presbyterian church promptly rising just
opposite our own peculiar row and which it now marks for me somewhat
grimly a span of life to have seen laboriously rear itself, continuously
flourish and utterly disappear. While in construction it was only less
interesting than the dancing-academy of Mr. Edward Ferrero, slightly
west of it and forming with it, in their embryonic stage, a large and
delightfully dangerous adjunct to our playground, though with the
distinction of coming much to surpass it for interest in the final
phase. While we clambered about on ladders and toyed with the peril of
unfloored abysses, while we trespassed and pried and pervaded,
snatching a scant impression from sorry material enough, clearly, the
sacred edifice enjoyed a credit beyond that of the profane; but when
both were finished and opened we flocked to the sound of the fiddle more
freely, it need scarce be said, than to that of the psalm. "Freely"
indeed, in our particular case, scarce expresses the latter relation;
since our young liberty in respect to church-going was absolute and we
might range at will, through the great city, from one place of worship
and one form of faith to another, or might on occasion ignore them all
equally, which was what we mainly did; whereas we rallied without a
break to the halls of Ferrero, a view of the staringly and, as I
supposed dazzlingly, frescoed walls, the internal economy, the high
amenity, the general æsthetic and social appeal, of which still hangs in
its wealth before me. Dr. McElroy, uplifting tight-closed eyes, strange
long-drawn accents and gaunt scraggy chin, squirming and swaying and
cushion-thumping in _his_ only a shade more chastely adorned temple, is
distinct enough too--just as we enjoyed this bleak intensity the more,
to my personal vision, through the vague legend (and no legend was too
vague for me to cherish) of his being the next pastor in succession to
the one under whom our mother, thereto predirected by our good
greatgrandfather, Alexander Robertson already named, who was nothing if
not Scotch and Presbyterian and authoritative, as his brave old portrait
by the elder Jarves attests, had "sat" before her marriage; the marriage
so lamentedly diverting her indeed from this tradition that, to mark the
rueful rupture, it had invoked, one evening, with the aid of India
muslin and a wondrous gold headband, in the maternal, the Washington
Square "parlours," but the secular nuptial consecration of the then
Mayor of the city--I think Mr. Varick.

We progeny were of course after this mild convulsion not at all in the
fold; yet it strikes me as the happy note of a simple age that we were
practically, of a Sunday at least, wherever we might have chosen to
enter: since, going forth hand in hand into the sunshine (and I connect
myself here with my next younger, not with my elder, brother, whose
orbit was other and larger) we sampled, in modern phrase, as small
unprejudiced inquirers obeying their inspiration, any resort of any
congregation detected by us; doing so, I make out moreover, with a sense
of earnest provision for any contemporary challenge. "What church do you
go to?"--the challenge took in childish circles that searching form; of
the form it took among our elders my impression is more vague. To which
I must add as well that our "fending" in this fashion for ourselves
didn't so prepare us for invidious remark--remark I mean upon our
pewless state, which involved, to my imagination, much the same
discredit that a houseless or a cookless would have done--as to hush in
my breast the appeal to our parents, not for religious instruction (of
which we had plenty, and of the most charming and familiar) but simply
for instruction (a very different thing) as to where we should say we
"went," in our world, under cold scrutiny or derisive comment. It was
colder than any criticism, I recall, to hear our father reply that we
could plead nothing less than the whole privilege of Christendom and
that there was no communion, even that of the Catholics, even that of
the Jews, even that of the Swedenborgians, from which we need find
ourselves excluded. With the freedom we enjoyed our dilemma clearly
amused him: it would have been impossible, he affirmed, to be
theologically more _en règle_. How as mere detached unaccompanied
infants we enjoyed such impunity of range and confidence of welcome is
beyond comprehension save by the light of the old manners and
conditions, the old local bonhomie, the comparatively primal innocence,
the absence of complications; with the several notes of which last
beatitude my reminiscence surely shines. It was the theory of the time
and place that the young, were they but young enough, could take
publicly no harm; to which adds itself moreover, and touchingly enough,
all the difference of the old importances. It wasn't doubtless that the
social, or call it simply the human, position of the child was higher
than to-day--a circumstance not conceivable; it was simply that other
dignities and values and claims, other social and human positions, were
less definite and settled, less prescriptive and absolute. A rich
sophistication is after all a gradual growth, and it would have been
sophisticated to fear for us, before such bright and vacant vistas, the
perils of the way or to see us received anywhere even with the irony of
patronage. We hadn't in fact seats of honour, but that justice was done
us--that is that we were placed to our advantage--I infer from my having
liked so to "go," even though my grounds may have been but the love of
the _exhibition_ in general, thanks to which figures, faces, furniture,
sounds, smells and colours became for me, wherever enjoyed, and enjoyed
most where most collected, a positive little orgy of the senses and riot
of the mind. Let me at the same time make the point that--such may be
the snobbery of extreme youth--I not only failed quite to rise to the
parental reasoning, but made out in it rather a certain sophistry; such
a prevarication for instance as if we had habitually said we kept the
carriage we observably didn't keep, kept it because we sent when we
wanted one to University Place, where Mr. Hathorn had his
livery-stable: a connection, this last, promoted by my father's
frequent need of the aid to circulate (his walks were limited through an
injury received in youth) and promoting in turn and at a touch, to my
consciousness, the stir of small, the smallest remembered things. I
recall the adventure, no infrequent one, of being despatched to Mr.
Hathorn to bespeak a conveyance, and the very air and odour, the genial
warmth, at a fine steaming Irish pitch, of the stables and their
stamping and backing beasts, their resounding boardedness, their chairs
tipped up at such an angle for lifted heels, a pair of which latter seek
the floor again, at my appeal, as those of big bearded Mr. Hathorn
himself: an impression enriched by the drive home in lolling and bumping
possession of the great vehicle and associated further with Sunday
afternoons in spring, with the question of distant Harlem and remoter
Bloomingdale, with the experience at one of these junctures of far-away
Hoboken, if it wasn't Williamsburg, which fits in fancifully somewhere;
when the carriage was reinforced by a ferry and the ferry by something,
something to my present vision very dim and dusty and archaic, something
quite ragged and graceless, in the nature of a public tea-garden and
ices. The finest link here, however, is, for some reason, with the New
York Hotel, and thereby with Albany uncles; thereby also with Mr.
Hathorn in person waiting and waiting expensively on his box before the
house and somehow felt as attuned to Albany uncles even as Mrs. Cannon
had subtly struck me as being.

Intenser than these vague shades meanwhile is my vision of the halls of
Ferrero--where the orgy of the senses and even the riot of the mind, of
which I have just spoken, must quite literally have led me more of a
dance than anywhere. Let this sketch of a lost order note withal that
under so scant a general provision for infant exercise, as distinguished
from infant ease, our hopping and sliding in tune had to be deemed
urgent. It was the sense for this form of relief that clearly was
general, superseding as the ampler Ferrero scene did previous limited
exhibitions; even those, for that matter, coming back to me in the
ancient person of M. Charriau--I guess at the writing of his name--whom
I work in but confusedly as a professional visitor, a subject gaped at
across a gulf of fear, in one of our huddled schools; all the more that
I perfectly evoke him as resembling, with a difference or two, the
portraits of the aged Voltaire, and that he had, fiddle in hand and
_jarret tendu_, incited the young agility of our mother and aunt. Edward
Ferrero was another matter; in the prime of life, good-looking, romantic
and moustachio'd, he was suddenly to figure, on the outbreak of the
Civil War, as a General of volunteers--very much as if he had been one
of Bonaparte's improvised young marshals; in anticipation of which,
however, he wasn't at all fierce or superior, to my remembrance, but
most kind to sprawling youth, in a charming man of the world fashion and
as if _we_ wanted but a touch to become also men of the world.
Remarkably good-looking, as I say, by the measure of that period, and
extraordinarily agile--he could so gracefully leap and bound that his
bounding into the military saddle, such occasion offering, had all the
felicity, and only wanted the pink fleshings, of the circus--he was
still more admired by the mothers, with whom he had to my eyes a most
elegant relation, than by the pupils; among all of whom, at the frequent
and delightful soirées, he caused trays laden with lucent syrups
repeatedly to circulate. The scale of these entertainments, as I figured
it, and the florid frescoes, just damp though they were with newness,
and the free lemonade, and the freedom of remark, equally great, with
the mothers, were the lavish note in him--just as the fact that he never
himself fiddled, but was followed, over the shining parquet, by
attendant fiddlers, represented doubtless a shadow the less on his later
dignity, so far as that dignity was compassed. Dignity marked in full
measure even at the time the presence of his sister Madame Dubreuil, a
handsome authoritative person who instructed us equally, in fact
preponderantly, and who, though comparatively not sympathetic, so
engaged, physiognomically, my wondering interest, that I hear to this
hour her shrill Franco-American accent: "Don't look at _me_, little
boy--look at my feet." I see them now, these somewhat fat members,
beneath the uplifted skirt, encased in "bronzed" slippers, without heels
but attached, by graceful cross-bands over her white stockings, to her
solid ankles--an emphatic sign of the time; not less than I recover my
surprised sense of their supporting her without loss of balance,
substantial as she was, in the "first position"; her command of which,
her ankles clapped close together and her body very erect, was so
perfect that even with her toes, right and left, fairly turning the
corner backward, she never fell prone on her face.

It consorted somehow with this wealth of resource in her that she
appeared at the soirées, or at least at the great fancy-dress soirée in
which the historic truth of my experience, free lemonade and all, is
doubtless really shut up, as the "genius of California," a dazzling
vision of white satin and golden flounces--her brother meanwhile
maintaining that more distinctively European colour which I feel to have
been for my young presumption the convincing essence of the scene in the
character of a mousquetaire de Louis Quinze, highly consonant with his
type. There hovered in the background a flushed, full-chested and
tawnily short-bearded M. Dubreuil, who, as a singer of the heavy order,
at the Opera, carried us off into larger things still--the Opera having
at last about then, after dwelling for years, down town, in shifty tents
and tabernacles, set up its own spacious pavilion and reared its head as
the Academy of Music: all at the end, or what served for the end, of our
very street, where, though it wasn't exactly near and Union Square
bristled between, I could yet occasionally gape at the great bills
beside the portal, in which M. Dubreuil always so serviceably came in at
the bottom of the cast. A subordinate artist, a "grand utility" at the
best, I believe, and presently to become, on that scene, slightly ragged
I fear even in its freshness, permanent stage-manager or, as we say
nowadays, producer, he had yet eminently, to my imagination, the richer,
the "European" value; especially for instance when our air thrilled, in
the sense that our attentive parents re-echoed, with the visit of the
great Grisi and the great Mario, and I seemed, though the art of
advertisement was then comparatively so young and so chaste, to see our
personal acquaintance, as he could almost be called, thickly sandwiched
between them. Such was one's strange sense for the connections of things
that they drew out the halls of Ferrero till these too seemed fairly to
resound with Norma and Lucrezia Borgia, as if opening straight upon the
stage, and Europe, by the stroke, had come to us in such force that we
had but to enjoy it on the spot. That could never have been more the
case than on the occasion of my assuming, for the famous fancy-ball--not
at the operatic Academy, but at the dancing-school, which came so nearly
to the same thing--the dress of a débardeur, whatever that might be,
which carried in its puckered folds of dark green relieved with scarlet
and silver such an exotic fragrance and appealed to me by such a legend.
The legend had come round to us, it was true, by way of Albany, whence
we learned at the moment of our need, that one of the adventures, one of
the least lamentable, of our cousin Johnny had been his figuring as a
débardeur at some Parisian revel; the elegant evidence of which, neatly
packed, though with but vague instructions for use, was helpfully sent
on to us. The instructions for use were in fact so vague that I was
afterward to become a bit ruefully conscious of having sadly
dishonoured, or at least abbreviated, my model. I fell, that is I stood,
short of my proper form by no less than half a leg; the essence of the
débardeur being, it appeared, that he emerged at the knees, in white
silk stockings and with neat calves, from the beribboned breeches which
I artlessly suffered to flap at my ankles. The discovery, after the
fact, was disconcerting--yet had been best made withal, too late; for
it would have seemed, I conceive, a less monstrous act to attempt to
lengthen my legs than to shorten Johnny's _culotte_. The trouble had
been that we hadn't really known what a débardeur _was_, and I am not
sure indeed that I know to this day. It had been more fatal still that
even fond Albany couldn't tell us.



XVIII


I have nevertheless the memory of a restless relish of all that time--by
which I mean of those final months of New York, even with so scant a
record of other positive successes to console me. I had but one success,
always--that of endlessly supposing, wondering, admiring: I was sunk in
that luxury, which had never yet been so great, and it might well make
up for anything. It made up perfectly, and more particularly as the
stopgap as which I have already defined it, for the scantness of the
period immediately round us; since how could I have wanted richer when
the limits of reality, as I advanced upon them, seemed ever to recede
and recede? It is true that but the other day, on the scene revisited, I
was to be struck rather as by their weird immobility: there on the north
side, still untenanted after sixty years, a tremendous span in the life
of New York, was the vacant lot, undiminished, in which a friendly goat
or two used to browse, whom we fed perversely with scraps of paper, just
as perversely appreciated indeed, through the relaxed wooden palings.
There hovers for me an impression of the glass roofs of a florist, a
suffered squatter for a while; but florists and goats have alike
disappeared and the barrenness of the place is as sordid as only
untended gaps in great cities can seem. One of its boundaries, however,
still breathes associations--the home of the Wards, the more eastward of
a pair of houses then and still isolated has remained the same through
all vicissitudes, only now quite shabbily mellow and, like everything
else, much smaller than one had remembered it; yet this too without
prejudice to the large, the lustrous part played in our prospect by that
interesting family. I saddle their mild memory a bit "subjectively"
perhaps with the burden of that character--making out that they were
interesting really in spite of themselves and as unwittingly as M.
Jourdain expressed himself in prose; owing their wild savour as they did
to that New England stamp which we took to be strong upon them and no
other exhibition of which we had yet enjoyed. It made them different,
made them, in their homely grace, rather aridly romantic: I pored in
those days over the freshness of the Franconia Stories of the brothers
Abbott, then immediately sequent to the sweet Rollo series and even more
admired; and there hung about the Wards, to my sense, that atmosphere of
apples and nuts and cheese, of pies and jack-knives and "squrruls," of
domestic Bible-reading and attendance at "evening lecture," of the fear
of parental discipline and the cultivated art of dodging it, combined
with great personal toughness and hardihood, an almost envied liability
to warts on hard brown hands, a familiarity with garments domestically
wrought, a brave rusticity in short that yet hadn't prevented the
annexation of whole tracts of town life unexplored by ourselves and
achieved by the brothers since their relatively recent migration from
Connecticut--which State in general, with the city of Hartford in
particular, hung as a hazy, fruity, rivery background, the very essence
of Indian summer, in the rear of their discourse. Three in number,
Johnny and Charley and Freddy, with castigating elders, even to the
second and third generation back, dimly discerned through closed
window-panes, they didn't at all haunt the halls of Ferrero--it was a
part of their homely grace and their social tone, if not of their want
of the latter, that this couldn't in the least be in question for them;
on the other hand they frequented, Charley and Freddy at least, the Free
School, which was round in Thirteenth Street--Johnny, the eldest, having
entered the Free Academy, an institution that loomed large to us and
that I see as towered or castellated or otherwise impressively
embellished in vague vignettes, in stray representations, perhaps only
of the grey schoolbook order, which are yet associated for me with those
fond images of lovely ladies, "hand-painted," decorating at either end
the interior of the old omnibusses. We must have been in relation with
no other feeders at the public trough of learning--I can't account
otherwise for the glamour as of envied privilege and strange experience
that surrounded the Wards; they mixed, to the great sharpening of the
edge of their wit, in the wild life _of_ the people, beside which the
life at Mr. Pulling Jenks's and even at the Institution Vergnès was
colourless and commonplace. Somehow they were of the people, and still
were full of family forms--which seemed, one dimly made out through the
false perspective of all the cousinships, the stronger and clearer note
of New England; the note that had already determined a shy yearning
under perusal of the Rollo and Franconia chronicles. The special mark of
these friends was perhaps however that of being socially young while
they were annually old; little Freddy in particular, very short, very
inured and very popular, though less curiously wrinkled about eyes and
mouth than Charley, confessed to monstrous birthdays even while
crouching or hopping, even while racing or roaring, as a high
superiority in the games of the street prescribed. It was to strike me
later on, when reading or hearing of young Americans of those parts who
had turned "hard" or reckless by reaction from excessive discipline,
theologic and economic, and had gone to sea or to California or to the
"bad," that Freddy and Charley were typical of the race, even if their
fortunes had taken, as I hoped, a happier form. That, I said to myself
for the interest of it, _that_, the stuff of the Wards, their homely
grace, was all New England--so far at least as New England wasn't
Emerson and Margaret Fuller and Mr. Channing and the "best Boston"
families. Such, in small very plastic minds, is the intensity, if not
the value, of early impressions.

And yet how can such visions not have paled in the southern glow of the
Norcoms, who had lately arrived _en masse_ from Louisville and had
improvised a fine old Kentucky home in the last house of our row--the
one to be occupied so differently, after their strange and precipitate
flight, as I dimly make out, by the Ladies of the Sacred Heart; those
who presently, if I mistake not, moved out to Bloomingdale, if they were
not already in part established there. Next us westward were the Ogdens,
three slim and fair sisters, who soared far above us in age and general
amenity; then came the Van Winkles, two sisters, I think, and a
brother--he much the most serious and judicious, as well as the most
educated, of our friends; and so at last the Norcoms, during their brief
but concentrated, most vivid and momentous, reign, a matter, as I recall
it, of a couple of breathless winters. We were provided by their
presence with as happy a foil as we could have wished to the plainness
and dryness of the Wards; their homely grace was all their own and was
also embodied in three brothers, Eugene, Reginald, Albert, whose ages
would have corresponded, I surmise, with those of Johnny, Charley and
Freddy if these latter hadn't, in their way, as I have hinted, defied
any close notation. Elder sons--there were to my recollection no
daughters--moved too as with their heads in the clouds; notably
"Stiffy," eldest of all, whom we supposed gorgeous, who affected us as
sublime and unapproachable and to whom we thus applied the term in use
among us before we had acquired for reference to such types the notion
of the _nuance_, the dandy, the dude, the masher. (Divided I was, I
recall, between the dread and the glory of being so greeted, "Well,
Stiffy--!" as a penalty of the least attempt at personal adornment.) The
higher intensity for our sense of the Norcoms came from the large, the
lavish, ease of their hospitality; whereas our intercourse with the
Wards was mainly in the street or at most the "yard"--and it was a
wonder how intimacy _could_ to that degree consort with publicity. A
glazed southern gallery, known to its occupants as the "poo'ch" and to
the rake of which their innermost penetralia seemed ever to stand open,
encompasses my other memories. Everything took place on the poo'ch,
including the free, quite the profuse, consumption of hot cakes and
molasses, including even the domestic manufacture of sausages, testified
to by a strange machine that was worked like a handorgan and by the
casual halves, when not the wholes, of stark stiff hogs fresh from
Kentucky stores. We must have been for a time constantly engaged with
this delightful group, who never ceased to welcome us or to feed us, and
yet of the presence of whose members under other roofs than their own,
by a return of hospitality received, I retain no image. They didn't
count and didn't grudge--the sausage-mill kept turning and the molasses
flowing for all who came; that was the expression of their southern
grace, especially embodied in Albert, my exact contemporary and chosen
friend (Reggie had but crushed my fingers under the hinge of a closing
door, the mark of which act of inadvertence I was to carry through
life,) who had profuse and tightly-crinkled hair, and the moral of whose
queer little triangular brown teeth, casting verily a shade on my
attachment to him, was pointed for me, not by himself, as the error of a
Kentucky diet.

The great Kentucky error, however, had been the introduction into a free
State of two pieces of precious property which our friends were to fail
to preserve, the pair of affectionate black retainers whose presence
contributed most to their exotic note. We revelled in the fact that Davy
and Aunt Sylvia (pronounced An'silvy,) a light-brown lad with
extraordinarily shining eyes and his straight, grave, deeper-coloured
mother, not radiant as to anything but her vivid turban, had been born
and kept in slavery of the most approved pattern and such as this
intensity of their condition made them a joy, a joy to the curious mind,
to consort with. Davy mingled in our sports and talk, he enriched, he
adorned them with a personal, a pictorial lustre that none of us could
emulate, and servitude in the absolute thus did more for him socially
than we had ever seen done, above stairs or below, for victims of its
lighter forms. What was not our dismay therefore when we suddenly
learnt--it must have blown right up and down the street--that mother and
son had fled, in the dead of night, from bondage? had taken advantage of
their visit to the North simply to leave the house and not return,
covering their tracks, successfully disappearing. They had never been
for us so beautifully slaves as in this achievement of their freedom;
for they did brilliantly achieve it--they escaped, on northern soil,
beyond recall or recovery. I think we had already then, on the spot, the
sense of some degree of presence at the making of history; the question
of what persons of colour and of their condition might or mightn't do
was intensely in the air; this was exactly the season of the freshness
of Mrs. Stowe's great novel. It must have come out at the moment of our
fondest acquaintance with our neighbours, though I have no recollection
of hearing them remark upon it--any remark they made would have been
sure to be so strong. I suspect they hadn't read it, as they certainly
wouldn't have allowed it in the house; any more indeed than they had
read or were likely ever to read any other work of fiction; I doubt
whether the house contained a printed volume, unless its head had had in
hand a law-book or so: I to some extent recover Mr. Norcom as a lawyer
who had come north on important, difficult business, on contentious,
precarious grounds--a large bald political-looking man, very loose and
ungirt, just as his wife was a desiccated, depressed lady who mystified
me by always wearing her nightcap, a feebly-frilled but tightly-tied and
unmistakable one, and the compass of whose maternal figure beneath a
large long collarless cape or mantle defined imperfectly for me of
course its connection with the further increase of Albert's little
brothers and sisters, there being already, by my impression, two or
three of these in the background. Had Davy and An'silvy at least read
Uncle Tom?--that question might well come up for us, with the certainty
at any rate that they ignored him less than their owners were doing.
These latter good people, who had been so fond of their humble
dependents and supposed this affection returned, were shocked at such
ingratitude, though I remember taking a vague little inward Northern
comfort in their inability, in their discreet decision, not to raise the
hue and cry. Wasn't one even just dimly aware of the heavy hush that, in
the glazed gallery, among the sausages and the johnny-cakes, had
followed the first gasp of resentment? I think the honest Norcoms were
in any case astonished, let alone being much incommoded; just as _we_
were, for that matter, when the genial family itself, installed so at
its ease, failed us with an effect of abruptness, simply ceased, in
their multitude, to be there. I don't remember their going, nor any
pangs of parting; I remember only knowing with wonderment that they had
gone, that obscurity had somehow engulfed them; and how afterwards, in
the light of later things, memory and fancy attended them, figured their
history as the public complication grew and the great intersectional
plot thickened; felt even, absurdly and disproportionately, that they
had helped one to "know Southerners." The slim, the sallow, the
straight-haired and dark-eyed Eugene in particular haunted my
imagination; he had not been my comrade of election--he was too much my
senior; but I cherished the thought of the fine fearless young
fire-eater he would have become and, when the War had broken out, I know
not what dark but pitying vision of him stretched stark after a battle.

All of which sounds certainly like a meagre range--which heaven knows it
was; but with a plea for the several attics, already glanced at, and the
positive æsthetic reach that came to us through those dim resorts, quite
worth making. They were scattered and they constituted on the part of
such of our friends as had license to lead us up to them a ground of
authority and glory proportioned exactly to the size of the field. This
extent was at cousin Helen's, with a large house and few inmates, vast
and free, so that no hospitality, under the eaves, might have matched
that offered us by the young Albert--if only that heir of all the ages
had had rather more imagination. He had, I think, as little as was
possible--which would have counted in fact for an unmitigated blank had
not W. J., among us, on that spot and elsewhere, supplied this motive
force in any quantity required. He imagined--that was the point--the
comprehensive comedies we were to prepare and to act; comprehensive by
the fact that each one of us, even to the God-fearing but
surreptitiously law-breaking Wards, was in fairness to be enabled to
figure. Not one of us but was somehow to be provided with a part, though
I recall my brother as the constant comic star. The attics were thus in
a word our respective temples of the drama--temples in which the stage,
the green-room and the wardrobe, however, strike me as having consumed
most of our margin. I remember, that is, up and down the street--and the
association is mainly with its far westward reaches--so much more
preparation than performance, so much more conversation and costume than
active rehearsal, and, on the part of some of us, especially doubtless
on my own, so much more eager denudation, both of body and mind, than of
achieved or inspired assumption. We shivered unclad and impatient both
as to our persons and to our aims, waiting alike for ideas and for
breeches; we were supposed to make our dresses no less than to create
our characters, and our material was in each direction apt to run short.
I remember how far ahead of us my brother seemed to keep, announcing a
"motive," producing a figure, throwing off into space conceptions that I
could stare at across the interval but couldn't appropriate; so that my
vision of him in these connections is not so much of his coming toward
me, or toward any of us, as of his moving rapidly away in fantastic garb
and with his back turned, as if to perform to some other and more
assured public. There were indeed other publics, publics downstairs, who
glimmer before me seated at the open folding-doors of ancient parlours,
but all from the point of view of an absolute supernumerary, more or
less squashed into the wing but never coming on. Who were the copious
Hunts?--whose ample house, on the north side, toward Seventh Avenue,
still stands, next or near that of the De Peysters, so that I perhaps
confound some of the attributes of each, though clear as to the blond
Beekman, or "Beek," of the latter race, not less than to the robust
George and the stout, the very stout, Henry of the former, whom I see
bounding before a gathered audience for the execution of a _pas seul_,
clad in a garment of "Turkey red" fashioned by his own hands and giving
way at the seams, to a complete absence of _dessous_, under the strain
of too fine a figure: this too though I make out in those connections,
that is in the twilight of Hunt and De Peyster garrets, our command of a
comparative welter of draperies; so that I am reduced to the surmise
that Henry indeed had contours.

I recover, further, some sense of the high places of the Van Winkles,
but think of them as pervaded for us by the upper air of the
proprieties, the proprieties that were so numerous, it would appear,
when once one had had a glimpse of them, rather than by the crude fruits
of young improvisation. Wonderful must it clearly have been still to fed
amid laxities and vaguenesses such a difference of _milieux_ and, as
they used to say, of atmospheres. This was a word of those
days--atmospheres were a thing to recognise and cultivate, for people
really wanted them, gasped for them; which was why they took them, on
the whole, on easy terms, never exposing them, under an apparent flush,
to the last analysis. Did we at any rate really vibrate to one social
tone after another, or are these adventures for me now but fond
imaginations? No, we vibrated--or I'll be hanged, as I may say, if _I_
didn't; little as I could tell it or may have known it, little as anyone
else may have known. There were shades, after all, in our democratic
order; in fact as I brood back to it I recognise oppositions the
sharpest, contrasts the most intense. It wasn't given to us all to have
a social tone, but the Costers surely had one and kept it in constant
use; whereas the Wards, next door to them, were possessed of no approach
to any, and indeed had the case been other, had they had such a
consciousness, would never have employed it, would have put it away on a
high shelf, as they put the last-baked pie, out of Freddy's and
Charley's reach--heaven knows what _they_ two would have done with it.
The Van Winkles on the other hand were distinctly so provided, but with
the special note that their provision was one, so to express it, with
their educational, their informational, call it even their professional:
Mr. Van Winkle, if I mistake not, was an eminent lawyer, and the note of
our own house was the absence of any profession, to the quickening of
our general as distinguished from our special sensibility. There was no
Turkey red among those particular neighbours at all events, and if there
had been it wouldn't have gaped at the seams. I didn't then know it, but
I sipped at a fount of culture; in the sense, that is, that, our
connection with the house being through Edgar, he knew about
things--inordinately, as it struck me. So, for that matter, did little
public Freddy Ward; but the things one of them knew about differed
wholly from the objects of knowledge of the other: all of which was
splendid for giving one exactly a sense of things. It intimated more and
more how many such there would be altogether. And part of the interest
was that while Freddy gathered his among the wild wastes Edgar walked in
a regular maze of culture. I didn't then know about culture, but Edgar
must promptly have known. This impression was promoted by his moving in
a distant, a higher sphere of study, amid scenes vague to me; I dimly
descry him as appearing at Jenks's and vanishing again, as if even that
hadn't been good enough--though I may be here at fault, and indeed can
scarce say on what arduous heights I supposed him, as a day-scholar, to
dwell. I took the unknown always easily for the magnificent and was sure
only of the limits of what I saw. It wasn't that the boys swarming for
us at school were not often, to my vision, unlimited, but that those
peopling our hours of ease, as I have already noted, were almost
inveterately so--they seemed to describe always, out of view, so much
larger circles. I linger thus on Edgar by reason of its having somehow
seemed to us that he described--was it at Doctor Anthon's?--the largest
of all. If there was a bigger place than Doctor Anthon's it was there he
would have been. I break down, as to the detail of the matter, in any
push toward vaster suppositions. But let me cease to stir this
imponderable dust.



XIX


I try at least to recover here, however, some closer notation of W. J.'s
aspects--yet only with the odd effect of my either quite losing him or
but apprehending him again at seated play with his pencil under the
lamp. When I see him he is intently, though summarily, rapidly drawing,
his head critically balanced and his eyebrows working, and when I don't
see him it is because I have resignedly relinquished him. I can't have
been often for him a deprecated, still less an actively rebuffed suitor,
because, as I say again, such aggressions were so little in order for
me; but I remember that on my once offering him my company in
conditions, those of some planned excursion, in which it wasn't desired,
his putting the question of our difference at rest, with the minimum of
explanation, by the responsible remark: "_I_ play with boys who curse
and swear!" I had sadly to recognise that I didn't, that I couldn't
pretend to have come to that yet--and truly, as I look back, either the
unadvisedness and inexpertness of my young contemporaries on all that
ground must have been complete (an interesting note on our general
manners after all,) or my personal failure to grasp must have been.
Besides which I wonder scarce less now than I wondered then in just what
company my brother's privilege was exercised; though if he had but
richly wished to be discouraging he quite succeeded. It wasn't that I
mightn't have been drawn to the boys in question, but that I simply
wasn't qualified. All boys, I rather found, were difficult to play
with--unless it was that they rather found _me_; but who would have been
so difficult as these? They account but little, moreover, I make out,
for W. J.'s eclipses; so that I take refuge easily enough in the memory
of my own pursuits, absorbing enough at times to have excluded other
views. I also plied the pencil, or to be more exact the pen--even if
neither implement critically, rapidly or summarily. I was so often
engaged at that period, it strikes me, in literary--or, to be more
precise in dramatic, accompanied by pictorial composition--that I must
again and again have delightfully lost myself. I had not on any occasion
personally succeeded, amid our theatric strife, in reaching the
footlights; but how could I have doubted, nevertheless, with our large
theatrical experience, of the nature, and of my understanding, of the
dramatic form? I sacrificed to it with devotion--by the aid of certain
quarto sheets of ruled paper bought in Sixth Avenue for the purpose (my
father's store, though I held him a great fancier of the article in
general, supplied but the unruled;) grateful in particular for the happy
provision by which each fourth page of the folded sheet was left blank.
When the drama itself had covered three pages the last one, over which I
most laboured, served for the illustration of what I had verbally
presented. Every scene had thus its explanatory picture, and as each
act--though I am not positively certain I arrived at acts--would have
had its vivid climax. Addicted in that degree to fictive evocation, I
yet recall, on my part, no practice whatever of narrative prose or any
sort of verse. I cherished the "scene"--as I had so vibrated to the idea
of it that evening at Linwood; I thought, I lisped, at any rate I
composed, in scenes; though how much, or how far, the scenes "came" is
another affair. Entrances, exits, the indication of "business," the
animation of dialogue, the multiplication of designated characters, were
things delightful in themselves--while I panted toward the canvas on
which I should fling my figures; which it took me longer to fill than it
had taken me to write what went with it, but which had on the other hand
something of the interest of the dramatist's casting of his _personæ_,
and must have helped me to believe in the validity of my subject.

From where on these occasions that subject can have dropped for me I am
at a loss to say, and indeed have a strong impression that I didn't at
any moment quite know what I was writing about: I am sure I couldn't
otherwise have written so much. With scenes, when I think, what
certitude did I want more?--scenes being the root of the matter,
especially when they bristled with proper names and noted movements;
especially, above all, when they flowered at every pretext into the very
optic and perspective of the stage, where the boards diverged correctly,
from a central point of vision, even as the lashes from an eyelid,
straight down to the footlights. Let this reminiscence remind us of how
rarely in those days the real stage was carpeted. The difficulty of
composition was naught; the one difficulty was in so placing my figures
on the fourth page that these radiations could be marked without making
lines through them. The odd part of all of which was that whereas my
cultivation of the picture was maintained my practice of the play, my
addiction to scenes, presently quite dropped. I was capable of learning,
though with inordinate slowness, to express ideas in scenes, and was not
capable, with whatever patience, of making proper pictures; yet I
aspired to this form of design to the prejudice of any other, and long
after those primitive hours was still wasting time in attempts at it. I
cared so much for nothing else, and that vaguely redressed, as to a
point, my general failure of acuteness. I nursed the conviction, or at
least I tried to, that if my clutch of the pencil or of the watercolour
brush should once become intense enough it would make up for other
weaknesses of grasp--much as that would certainly give it to do. This
was a very false scent, which had however the excuse that my brother's
example really couldn't but act upon me--the scent was apparently so
true for _him_; from the moment my small "interest in art," that is my
bent for gaping at illustrations and exhibitions, was absorbing and
genuine. There were elements in the case that made it natural: the
picture, the representative design, directly and strongly appealed to
me, and was to appeal all my days, and I was only slow to recognise the
_kind_, in this order, that appealed most. My face was turned from the
first to the idea of representation--that of the gain of charm,
interest, mystery, dignity, distinction, gain of importance in fine, on
the part of the represented thing (over the thing of accident, of mere
actuality, still unappropriated;) but in the house of representation
there were many chambers, each with its own lock, and long was to be the
business of sorting and trying the keys. When I at last found deep in my
pocket the one I could more or less work, it was to feel, with
reassurance, that the picture was still after all in essence one's aim.
So there had been in a manner continuity, been not so much waste as one
had sometimes ruefully figured; so many wastes are sweetened for memory
as by the taste of the economy they have led to or imposed and from the
vantage of which they could scarce look better if they had been current
and blatant profit. Wasn't the very bareness of the field itself
moreover a challenge, in a degree, to design?--not, I mean, that there
seemed to one's infant eyes too few things to paint: as to that there
were always plenty--but for the very reason that there were more than
anyone noticed, and that a hunger was thus engendered which one cast
about to gratify. The gratification nearest home was the imitative, the
emulative--that is on my part: W. J., I see, needed no reasons, no
consciousness other than that of being easily able. So he drew because
he could, while I did so in the main only because he did; though I think
we cast about, as I say, alike, making the most of every image within
view. I doubt if he made more than I even then did, though earlier able
to account for what he made. Afterwards, on other ground and in richer
air, I admit, the challenge was in the fulness and not in the bareness
of aspects, with their natural result of hunger appeased; exhibitions,
illustrations abounded in Paris and London--the reflected image hung
everywhere about; so that if there we daubed afresh and with more
confidence it was not because no-one but because everyone did. In fact
when I call our appetite appeased I speak less of our browsing vision,
which was tethered and insatiable, than of our sense of the quite normal
character of our own proceedings. In Europe we knew there was Art, just
as there were soldiers and lodgings and concierges and little boys in
the streets who stared at us, especially at our hats and boots, as at
things of derision--just as, to put it negatively, there were
practically no hot rolls and no iced water. Perhaps too, I should add,
we didn't enjoy the works of Mr. Benjamin Haydon, then clustered at the
Pantheon in Oxford Street, which in due course became our favourite
haunt, so infinitely more, after all, than we had enjoyed those arrayed
at the Düsseldorf collection in Broadway; whence the huge canvas of the
Martyrdom of John Huss comes back to me in fact as a revelation of
representational brightness and charm that pitched once for all in these
matters my young sense of what should be.

Ineffable, unsurpassable those hours of initiation which the Broadway of
the 'fifties had been, when all was said, so adequate to supply. If one
wanted pictures there _were_ pictures, as large, I seem to remember, as
the side of a house, and of a bravery of colour and lustre of surface
that I was never afterwards to see surpassed. We were shown without
doubt, under our genial law here too, everything there was, and as I
cast up the items I wonder, I confess, what ampler fare we could have
dealt with. The Düsseldorf school commanded the market, and I think of
its exhibition as firmly seated, going on from year to year--New York,
judging now to such another tune, must have been a brave patron of that
manufacture; I believe that scandal even was on occasion not evaded,
rather was boldly invoked, though of what particular sacrifices to the
pure plastic or undraped shocks to bourgeois prejudice the comfortable
German genius of that period may have been capable history has kept no
record. New accessions, at any rate, vividly new ones, in which the
freshness and brightness of the paint, particularly lustrous in our
copious light, enhanced from time to time the show, which I have the
sense of our thus repeatedly and earnestly visiting and which comes back
to me with some vagueness as installed in a disaffected church, where
gothic excrescences and an ecclesiastical roof of a mild order helped
the importance. No impression here, however, was half so momentous as
that of the epoch-making masterpiece of Mr. Leutze, which showed us
Washington crossing the Delaware in a wondrous flare of projected
gaslight and with the effect of a revelation to my young sight of the
capacity of accessories to "stand out." I live again in the thrill of
that evening--which was the greater of course for my feeling it, in my
parents' company, when I should otherwise have been in bed. We went
down, after dinner, in the Fourteenth Street stage, quite as if going to
the theatre; the scene of exhibition was near the Stuyvesant Institute
(a circumstance stirring up somehow a swarm of associations, echoes
probably of lectures discussed at home, yet at which my attendance had
doubtless conveniently lapsed,) but Mr. Leutze's drama left behind any
paler proscenium. We gaped responsive to every item, lost in the marvel
of the wintry light, of the sharpness of the ice-blocks, of the sickness
of the sick soldier, of the protrusion of the minor objects, that of the
strands of the rope and the nails of the boots, that, I say, on the part
of everything, of its determined purpose of standing out; but that,
above all, of the profiled national hero's purpose, as might be said, of
standing _up_, as much as possible, even indeed of doing it almost on
one leg, in such difficulties, and successfully balancing. So memorable
was that evening to remain for me that nothing could be more strange, in
connection with it, than the illustration by the admired work, on its in
after years again coming before me, of the cold cruelty with which time
may turn and devour its children. The picture, more or less entombed in
its relegation, was lividly dead--and that was bad enough. But half the
substance of one's youth seemed buried with it. There were other
pictorial evenings, I may add, not all of which had the thrill. Deep the
disappointment, on my own part, I remember, at Bryan's Gallery of
Christian Art, to which also, as for great emotions, we had taken the
omnibus after dinner. It cast a chill, this collection of worm-eaten
diptychs and triptychs, of angular saints and seraphs, of black Madonnas
and obscure Bambinos, of such marked and approved "primitives" as had
never yet been shipped to our shores. Mr. Bryan's shipment was presently
to fall, I believe, under grave suspicion, was to undergo in fact fatal
exposure; but it appealed at the moment in apparent good faith, and I
have not forgotten how, conscious that it was fresh from Europe--"fresh"
was beautiful in the connection!--I felt that my yearning should all
have gone out to it. With that inconsequence to handle I doubt whether I
proclaimed that it bored me--any more than I have ever noted till now
that it made me begin badly with Christian art. I like to think that the
collection consisted without abatement of frauds and "fakes" and that if
these had been honest things my perception wouldn't so have slumbered;
yet the principle of interest had been somehow compromised, and I think
I have never since stood before a real Primitive, a primitive of the
primitives, without having first to shake off the grey mantle of that
night. The main disconcertment had been its ugly twist to the name of
Italy, already sweet to me for all its dimness--even could dimness have
prevailed in my felt measure of the pictorial testimony of home,
testimony that dropped for us from the ample canvas of Mr. Cole, "the
American Turner" which covered half a side of our front parlour, and in
which, though not an object represented in it began to stand out after
the manner of Mr. Leutze, I could always lose myself as soon as look. It
depicted Florence from one of the neighbouring hills--I have often since
wondered which, the picture being long ago lost to our sight; Florence
with her domes and towers and old walls, the old walls Mr. Cole had
engaged for, but which I was ruefully to miss on coming to know and love
the place in after years. Then it was I felt how long before my
attachment had started on its course--that closer vision was no
beginning, it only took up the tale; just as it comes to me again
to-day, at the end of time, that the contemplative monk seated on a
terrace in the foreground, a constant friend of my childhood, must have
been of the convent of San Miniato, which gives me the site from which
the painter wrought. We had Italy again in the corresponding room
behind--a great abundance of Italy I was free to think while I revolved
between another large landscape over the sofa and the classic marble
bust on a pedestal between the two back windows, the figure, a part of
the figure, of a lady with her head crowned with vine-leaves and her
hair disposed with a laxity that was emulated by the front of her dress,
as my next younger brother exposed himself to my derision by calling the
bit of brocade (simulated by the chisel) that, depending from a single
shoulder-strap, so imperfectly covered her. This image was known and
admired among us as the Bacchante; she had come to us straight from an
American studio in Rome, and I see my horizon flush again with the first
faint dawn of conscious appreciation, or in other words of the critical
spirit, while two or three of the more restrictive friends of the house
find our marble lady very "cold" for a Bacchante. Cold indeed she must
have been--quite as of the tombstone temperament; but that objection
would drop if she might only be called a Nymph, since nymphs were mild
and moderate, and since discussion of a work of art mainly hung in those
days on that issue of the producible _name_. I fondly recall, by the
same token, that playing on a certain occasion over the landscape above
the sofa, restrictive criticism, uttered in my indulged hearing,
introduced me to what had probably been my very first chance, on such
ground, for active participation. The picture, from the hand of a
French painter, M. Lefèvre, and of but slightly scanter extent than the
work of Mr. Cole, represented in frank rich colours and as a so-called
"view in Tuscany" a rural scene of some exuberance, a broken and
precipitous place, amid mountains and forests, where two or three
bare-legged peasants or woodmen were engaged, with much emphasis of
posture, in felling a badly gashed but spreading oak by means of a tense
rope attached to an upper limb and at which they pulled together.
"Tuscany?--are you sure it's Tuscany?" said the voice of restrictive
criticism, that of the friend of the house who in the golden age of the
precursors, though we were still pretty much precursors, had lived
longest in Italy. And then on my father's challenge of this demur: "Oh
in Tuscany, you know, the colours are much softer--there would be a
certain haze in the atmosphere." "Why, of course," I can hear myself now
blushingly but triumphantly intermingle--"the softness and the haze of
our Florence there: isn't Florence in Tuscany?" It had to be parentally
admitted that Florence was--besides which our friend had been there and
knew; so that thereafter, within our walls, a certain _malaise_ reigned,
for if the Florence was "like it" then the Lefèvre couldn't be, and if
the Lefèvre was like it then the Florence couldn't: a lapse from old
convenience--as from the moment we couldn't name the Lefèvre where were
we? All of which it might have been open to me to feel I had uncannily
promoted.



XX


My own sense of the great matter, meanwhile--that is of our
possibilities, still more than of our actualities, of Italy in general
and of Florence in particular--was a perfectly recoverable little
awareness, as I find, of certain mild soft irregular breathings thence
on the part of an absent pair in whom our parents were closely
interested and whose communications, whose Roman, Sorrentine, Florentine
letters, letters in especial from the Baths of Lucca, kept open, in our
air, more than any other sweet irritation, that "question of Europe"
which was to have after all, in the immediate years, so limited, so
shortened, a solution. Mary Temple the elder had, early in our
Fourteenth Street period, married Edmund Tweedy, a haunter of that
neighbourhood and of our house in it from the first, but never more than
during a winter spent with us there by that quasi-relative, who, by an
extension of interest and admiration--she was in those years quite
exceedingly handsome--ranked for us with the Albany aunts, adding so a
twist, as it were, to our tie with the Temple cousins, her own close
kin. This couple must have been, putting real relatives aside, my
parents' best friends in Europe, twitching thereby hardest the fine firm
thread attached at one end to our general desire and at the other to
their supposed felicity. The real relatives, those planted out in the
same countries, are a chapter by themselves, whose effect on us, whose
place in our vision, I should like to trace: that of the Kings, for
instance, of my mother's kin, that of the Masons, of my father's--the
Kings who cultivated, for years, the highest instructional, social and
moral possibilities at Geneva, the Masons, above all, less strenuous but
more sympathetic, who reported themselves to us hauntingly, during a
considerable period, as enjoying every conceivable _agrément_ at Tours
and at the then undeveloped Trouville, even the winter Trouville, on the
lowest possible terms. Fain would I, as for the "mere pleasure" of it,
under the temptation to delineate, gather into my loose net the
singularly sharp and rounded image of our cousin Charlotte of the former
name, who figured for us, on the field of Europe, wherever we looked,
and all the rest of time, as a character of characters and a marvel of
placid consistency; through my vague remembrance of her return from
China after the arrest of a commercial career there by her husband's
death in the Red Sea--which somehow sounded like a dreadful form of
death, and my scarce less faint recovery of some Christmas treat of our
childhood under her roof in Gramercy Park, amid dim chinoiseries and, in
that twilight of time, dimmer offspring, Vernon, Anne, Arthur, marked to
us always, in the distincter years, as of all our young relatives the
most intensely educated and most pointedly proper--an occasion followed
by her permanent and invidious withdrawal from her own country. I would
keep her in my eye through the Genevese age and on to the crisis of the
Civil War, in which Vernon, unforgiven by her stiff conservatism for his
Northern loyalty, laid down before Petersburg a young life of
understanding and pain, uncommemorated as to the gallantry of its
end--he had insistently returned to the front, after a recovery from
first wounds, as under his mother's malediction--on the stone beneath
which he lies in the old burial ground at Newport, the cradle of his
father's family. I should further pursue my subject through other
periods and places, other constantly "quiet" but vivid exhibitions, to
the very end of the story--which for myself was the impression, first,
of a little lonely, soft-voiced, gentle, relentless lady, in a dull
Surrey garden of a summer afternoon, more than half blind and all
dependent on the _dame de compagnie_ who read aloud to her that Saturday
Review which had ever been the prop and mirror of her opinions and to
which she remained faithful, her children estranged and outworn, dead
and ignored; and the vision, second and for a climax, of an old-world
rez-de-chaussée at Versailles, goal of my final pilgrimage, almost in
presence of the end (end of her very personal career, I mean, but not of
her perfectly firm spirit or of her charmingly smooth address).

I confess myself embarrassed by my very ease of re-capture of my young
consciousness; so that I perforce try to encourage lapses and keep my
abundance down. The place for the lapse consents with difficulty,
however, to be _any_ particular point of the past at which I catch
myself (easily caught as I am) looking about me; it has certainly
nothing in common with that coign of vantage enjoyed by me one June
afternoon of 1855 in the form of the minor share of the box of a
carriage that conveyed us for the first time since our babyhood, W. J.'s
and mine, through so much of a vast portentous London. I was an item in
the overflow of a vehicle completely occupied, and I thrilled with the
spectacle my seat beside the coachman so amply commanded--without
knowing at this moment why, amid other claims, I had been marked for
such an eminence. I so far justify my privilege at least as still to
feel that prime impression, of extreme intensity, underlie, deep down,
the whole mass of later observation. There are London aspects which, so
far as they still touch me, after all the years, touch me as just
sensible reminders of this hour of early apprehension, so penetrated for
me as to have kept its ineffaceable stamp. For at last we had come to
Europe--we had disembarked at Liverpool, but a couple of days before,
from that steamer Atlantic, of the Collins line, then active but so soon
to be utterly undone, of which I had kept a romantic note ever since a
certain evening of a winter or two before. I had on that occasion
assisted with my parents at a varied theatrical exhibition--the theatre
is distinct to me as Brougham's--one of the features of which was the at
that time flourishing farce of Betsy Baker, a picture of some
predicament, supposed droll, of its hero Mr. Mouser, whose wife, if I am
correct, carries on a laundry and controls as she may a train of young
assistants. A feature of the piece comes back to me as the pursuit of
Mr. Mouser round and round the premises by the troop of laundresses,
shouting his name in chorus, capture by them being abject, though
whether through fear of their endearments or of their harsher violence I
fail to remember. It was enough that the public nerve had at the moment
been tried by the non-arrival of the Atlantic, several days overdue, to
the pitch at last of extreme anxiety; so that, when after the fall of
the curtain on the farce the distracted Mr. Mouser, still breathless,
reappeared at the footlights, where I can see him now abate by his
plight no jot of the dignity of his announcement, "Ladies and
gentlemen, I rejoice to be able to tell you that the good ship Atlantic
is safe!" the house broke into such plaudits, so huge and prolonged a
roar of relief, as I had never heard the like of and which gave me my
first measure of a great immediate public emotion--even as the incident
itself to-day reminds me of the family-party smallness of the old New
York, those happy limits that could make us all care, and care to fond
vociferation, for the same thing at once. It was a moment of the golden
age--representing too but a snatch of elation, since the wretched Arctic
had gone down in mortal woe and her other companion, the Pacific,
leaving England a few months later and under the interested eyes of our
family group, then temporarily settled in London, was never heard of
more. Let all of which show again what traps are laid about me for
unguarded acute reminiscence.

I meet another of these, though I positively try to avoid it, in the
sense of a day spent on the great fusty curtained bed, a mediæval
four-poster such as I had never seen, of the hotel at the London and
North-Western station, where it appeared, to our great inconvenience,
that I had during the previous months somewhere perversely absorbed
(probably on Staten Island upwards of a year before) the dull seed of
malaria, which now suddenly broke out in chills and fever. This
condition, of the intermittent order, hampered our movements but left
alternate days on which we could travel, and as present to me as ever is
the apprehended interest of my important and determinant state and of
our complicated prospect while I lay, much at my ease--for I recall in
particular certain short sweet times when I could be left alone--with
the thick and heavy suggestions of the London room about me, the very
smell of which was ancient, strange and impressive, a new revelation
altogether, and the window open to the English June and the far off hum
of a thousand possibilities. I consciously took them in, these last, and
must then, I think, have first tasted the very greatest pleasure perhaps
I was ever to know--that of almost holding my breath in presence of
certain aspects to the end of so taking in. It was as if in those hours
that precious fine art had been disclosed to me--scantly as the poor
place and the small occasion might have seemed of an order to promote
it. We seize our property by an avid instinct wherever we find it, and I
must have kept seizing mine at the absurdest little rate, and all by
this deeply dissimulative process of taking in, through the whole
succession of those summer days. The next application of it that stands
out for me, or the next that I make room for here, since I note after
all so much less than I remember, is the intensity of a fond
apprehension of Paris, a few days later, from the balcony of an hotel
that hung, through the soft summer night, over the Rue de la Paix. I
hung with the balcony, and doubtless with my brothers and my sister,
though I recover what I felt as so much relation and response to the
larger, the largest appeal only, that of the whole perfect Parisianism I
seemed to myself always to have possessed mentally--even if I had but
just turned twelve!--and that now filled out its frame or case for me
from every lighted window, up and down, as if each of these had been,
for strength of sense, a word in some immortal quotation, the very
breath of civilised lips. How I had anciently gathered such stores of
preconception is more than I shall undertake an account of--though I
believe I should be able to scrape one together; certain it is at any
rate that half the beauty of the whole exposed second floor of a
_modiste_ just opposite, for instance, with the fittings and figurings,
as well as the intent immobilities, of busy young women descried through
frank, and, as it were, benignant apertures, and of such bright fine
strain that they but asked to work far into the night, came from the
effect on the part of these things of so exactly crowning and comforting
I couldn't have said what momentous young dream. I might have been
_right_ to myself--as against some danger of being wrong, and if I had
uttered my main comment on it all this must certainly have been "I told
you so, I told you so!" What I had told myself was of course that the
impression would be of the richest and at the same time of the most
insinuating, and this after all didn't sail very close; but I had had
before me from far back a picture (which might have been hung in the
very sky,) and here was every touch in it repeated with a charm. Had I
ever till then known what a charm _was_?--a large, a local, a social
charm, leaving out that of a few individuals. It was at all events, this
mystery, one's property--that of one's mind; and so, once for all, I
helped myself to it from my balcony and tucked it away. It counted all
immensely for practice in taking in.

I profited by that, no doubt, still a few days later, at an hour that
has never ceased to recur to me all my life as crucial, as supremely
determinant. The travelling-carriage had stopped at a village on the way
from Lyons to Geneva, between which places there was then no railway; a
village now nameless to me and which was not yet Nantua, in the Jura,
where we were to spend the night. I was stretched at my ease on a couch
formed by a plank laid from seat to seat and covered by a small mattress
and other draperies; an indulgence founded on my visitation of fever,
which, though not now checking our progress, assured me, in our little
band, these invidious luxuries. It may have been that as my body was
pampered so I was moved equally to pamper my spirit, for my
appropriative instinct had neglected no item of our case from the
first--by which I mean from the moment of our getting under way, that
morning, with much elaboration, in the court of the old Hôtel de
l'Univers at Lyons, where we had arrived two days before and awaited my
good pleasure during forty-eight hours that overflowed for us perhaps
somewhat less than any pair of days yet, but as regards which it was
afterwards my complacent theory that my contemplative rest at the
ancient inn, with all the voices and graces of the past, of the court,
of the French scheme of manners in general and of ancient inns, as such,
in particular, had prepared me not a little, when I should in due course
hear of it, for what was meant by the _vie de province_--that expression
which was to become later on so _toned_, as old fine colour and old fine
opinion are toned. It was the romance of travel, and it was the
_suggested_ romance, flushed with suppositions and echoes, with
implications and memories, memories of one's "reading," save the mark!
all the more that our proper bestowal required two carriages, in which
we were to "post," ineffable thought, and which bristled with every kind
of contradiction of common experience. The postilion, in a costume
rather recalling, from the halls of Ferrero, that of my débardeur,
bobbed up and down, the Italian courier, Jean Nadali, black-whiskered
and acquired in London, sat in the rumble along with Annette Godefroi of
Metz, fresh-coloured, broad-faced and fair-braided, a "bonne Lorraine"
if ever there was, acquired in New York: I enjoy the echo of their very
names, neither unprecedented nor irreproducible, yet which melt together
for me, to intensification, with all the rest; with the recovered
moment, above all, of our pause at the inn-door in the cool sunshine--we
had mounted and mounted--during which, in my absurdly cushioned state, I
took in, as I have hinted, by a long slow swig that testified to some
power of elbow, a larger draught of the wine of perception than any I
had ever before owed to a single throb of that faculty. The village
street, which was not as village streets hitherto known to me, opened
out, beyond an interval, into a high place on which perched an object
also a fresh revelation and that I recognised with a deep joy--though a
joy that was doubtless partly the sense of fantastic ease, of abated
illness and of cold chicken--as at once a castle and a ruin. The only
castle within my ken had been, by my impression, the machicolated villa
above us the previous summer at New Brighton, and as I had seen no
structure rise beyond that majesty so I had seen none abased to the
dignity of ruin. Loose boards were no expression of this latter phase,
and I was already somehow aware of a deeper note in the crumbled castle
than any note of the solid one--little experience as I had had either of
solidity. At a point in the interval, at any rate, below the slope on
which this memento stood, was a woman in a black bodice, a white shirt
and a red petticoat, engaged in some sort of field labour, the effect of
whose intervention just then is almost beyond my notation. I knew her
for a peasant in sabots--the first peasant I had ever beheld, or beheld
at least to such advantage. She had in the whole aspect an enormous
value, emphasising with her petticoat's tonic strength the truth that
sank in as I lay--the truth of one's embracing there, in all the
presented character of the scene, an amount of character I had felt no
scene present, not even the one I had raked from the Hôtel Westminster;
the sort of thing that, even as mere fulness and mere weight, would sit
most warmly in the mind. Supremely, in that ecstatic vision, was
"Europe," sublime synthesis, expressed and guaranteed to me--as if by a
mystic gage, which spread all through the summer air, that I should now,
only now, never lose it, hold the whole consistency of it: up to that
time it might have been but mockingly whisked before me. Europe mightn't
have been flattered, it was true, at my finding her thus most signified
and summarised in a sordid old woman scraping a mean living and an
uninhabitable tower abandoned to the owls; that was but the momentary
measure of a small sick boy, however, and the virtue of the impression
was proportioned to my capacity. It made a bridge over to more things
than I then knew.



XXI


How shall I render certain other impressions coming back to me from that
summer, which were doubtless involved in my having still for a time, on
the alternate days when my complaint was active, to lie up on various
couches and, for my main comfort, consider the situation? I considered
it best, I think, gathering in the fruits of a quickened sensibility to
it, in certain umbrageous apartments in which my parents had settled
themselves near Geneva; an old house, in ample grounds and among great
spreading trees that pleasantly brushed our windows in the summer heats
and airs, known, if I am not mistaken, as the Campagne Gerebsoff--which
its mistress, an invalid Russian lady, had partly placed at our
disposition while she reclined in her own quarter of the garden, on a
chaise longue and under a mushroom hat with a green veil, and I, in the
course of the mild excursions appointed as my limit, considered her from
afar in the light of the legends supplied to me, as to her identity,
history, general practices and proceedings, by my younger brother Wilky,
who, according to his nature, or I may say to his genius, had made
without loss of time great advances of acquaintance with her and
quickened thereby my sense of his superior talent for life. Wilky's age
followed closely on mine, and from that time on we conversed and
consorted, though with lapses and disparities; I being on the whole,
during the succession of those years, in the grateful, the really
fortunate position of having one exposure, rather the northward, as it
were, to the view of W. J., and the other, perhaps the more immediately
sunned surface, to the genial glow of my junior. Of this I shall have
more to say, but to meet in memory meanwhile even this early flicker of
him is to know again something of the sense that I attached all along
our boyhood to his successful sociability, his instinct for intercourse,
his genius (as I have used the word) for making friends. It was the only
genius he had, declaring itself from his tenderest years, never knowing
the shadow of defeat, and giving me, above all, from as far back and by
the very radiation of the fact, endlessly much to think of. For I had in
a manner, thanks to the radiation, much of the benefit; his geniality
was absolutely such that the friends he made were made almost less for
himself, so to speak, than for other friends--of whom indeed we, his own
adjuncts, were easily first--so far at least as he discriminated. At
night all cats are grey, and in this brother's easy view all his
acquaintance were his family. The trail of his sociability was over us
all alike--though it here concerns me but to the effect, as I recover
it, of its weight on my comparatively so indirect faculty for what is
called taking life. I must have already at the Campagne Gerebsoff begun
to see him take it with all his directness--begun in fact to be a trifle
tormentedly aware that, though there might be many ways of so doing, we
are condemned practically to a choice, not made free of them all;
reduced to the use of but one, at the best, which it is to our interest
to make the most of, since we may indeed sometimes make much. There was
a small sad charm, I should doubtless add, in this operation of the
contrast of the case before me with my own case; it was positively as if
Wilky's were supplying me on occasion with the most immediate matter for
my own. That was particularly marked after he had, with our elder
brother, been placed at school, the Pensionnat Roediger, at Châtelaine,
then much esteemed and where I was supposedly to join them on my
complete recovery: I recall sociable, irrepressibly sociable _sorties_
thence on the part of the pair as promptly breaking out, not less than I
recall sociable afternoon visits to the establishment on the part of the
rest of us: it was my brothers' first boarding school, but as we had in
the New York conditions kept punctually rejoining our family, so in
these pleasant Genevese ones our family returned the attention. Of this
also more anon; my particular point is just the wealth of Wilky's
contribution to my rich current consciousness--the consciousness fairly
_made_ rich by my taking in, as aforesaid, at reflective hours, hours
when I was in a manner alone with it, our roomy and shadowy, our almost
haunted interior.

Admirable the scale and solidity, in general, of the ancient villas
planted about Geneva, and our house affected me as so massive and so
spacious that even our own half of it seemed vast. I had never before
lived so long in anything so old and, as I somehow felt, so deep; depth,
depth upon depth, was what came out for me at certain times of my
waiting above, in my immense room of thick embrasures and rather prompt
obscurity, while the summer afternoon waned and my companions, often
below at dinner, lingered and left me just perhaps a bit overwhelmed.
That was the sense of it--the _character_, in the whole place, pressed
upon me with a force I hadn't met and that was beyond my analysis--which
is but another way of saying how directly notified I felt that such
material conditions as I _had_ known could have had no depth at all. My
depth was a vague measure, no doubt, but it made space, in the twilight,
for an occasional small sound of voice or step from the garden or the
rooms of which the great homely, the opaque green shutters opened there
softly to echo in--mixed with reverberations finer and more momentous,
personal, experimental, if they might be called so; which I much
encouraged (they borrowed such tone from our new surrounding medium) and
half of which were reducible to Wilky's personalities and Wilky's
experience: these latter, irrepressibly communicated, being ever,
enviably, though a trifle bewilderingly and even formidably, _of_
personalities. There was the difference and the opposition, as I really
believe I was already aware--that one way of taking life was to go in
for everything and everyone, which kept you abundantly occupied, and the
other way was to be as occupied, quite as occupied, just with the sense
and the image of it all, and on only a fifth of the actual immersion: a
circumstance extremely strange. Life was taken almost equally both
ways--that, I mean, seemed the strangeness; mere brute quantity and
number being so much less in one case than the other. These latter were
what I should have _liked_ to go in for, had I but had the intrinsic
faculties; that more than ever came home to me on those occasions when,
as I could move further and stay out longer, I accompanied my parents on
afternoon visits to Châtelaine and the Campagne Roediger, a scene that
has remained with me as nobly placid and pastoral. The great trees stood
about, casting afternoon shadows; the old thick-walled green-shuttered
villa and its dépendances had the air of the happiest home; the big
bearded bonhomie of M. Roediger among his little polyglot charges--no
petits pays chauds these--appeared to justify, and more, the fond New
York theory of Swiss education, the kind _à la portée_ of young New
Yorkers, as a beautifully genialised, humanised, civilised, even
romanticised thing, in which, amid lawny mountain slopes, "the
languages" flowed into so many beaming recipients on a stream of milk
and honey, and "the relation," above all, the relation from master to
pupil and back again, was of an amenity that wouldn't have been of this
world save for the providential arrangement of a perfect pedagogic
Switzerland. "Did you notice the relation--how charming it was?" our
parents were apt to say to each other after these visits, in reference
to some observed show of confidence between instructor and instructed;
while, as for myself, I was lost in the wonder of _all_ the
relations--my younger brother seemed to live, and to his own ingenuous
relish as well, in such a happy hum of them. The languages had reason to
prosper--they were so copiously represented; the English jostled the
American, the Russian the German, and there even trickled through a
little funny French.

A great Geneva school of those days was the Institution Haccius, to
which generations of our young countrymen had been dedicated and our own
faces first turned--under correction, however, by the perceived truth
that if the languages were in question the American reigned there almost
unchallenged. The establishment chosen for our experiment must have
appealed by some intimate and insinuating side, and as less patronised
by the rich and the sophisticated--for even in those days some Americans
were rich and several sophisticated; little indeed as it was all to
matter in the event, so short a course had the experiment just then to
run. What it mainly brings back to me is the fine old candour and
queerness of the New York state of mind, begotten really not a little, I
think, under our own roof, by the mere charmed perusal of Rodolphe
Toeppfer's Voyages en Zigzag, the two goodly octavo volumes of which
delightful work, an adorable book, taken with its illustrations, had
come out early in the 'fifties and had engaged our fondest study. It is
the copious chronicle, by a schoolmaster o£ endless humour and
sympathy--of what degree and form of "authority" it never occurred to
one even to ask--of his holiday excursions with his pupils, mainly on
foot and with staff and knapsack, through the incomparable Switzerland
of the time before the railways and the "rush," before the monster
hotels, the desecrated summits, the vulgarised valleys, the circular
tours, the perforating tubes, the funiculars, the hordes, the horrors.
To turn back to Toeppfer's pages to-day is to get the sense of a lost
paradise, and the effect for me even yet of having pored over them in my
childhood is to steep in sweetness and quaintness some of the
pictures--his own illustrations are of the pleasantest and drollest, and
the association makes that faded Swiss master of landscape Calame, of
the so-called calamités, a quite sufficient Ruysdael. It must have been
conceived for us that we would lead in these conditions--always in
pursuit of an education--a life not too dissimilar to that of the
storied exiles in the forest of Arden; though one would fain not press,
after all, upon ideals of culture so little organised, so little
conscious, up to that moment, of our ferocities of comparison and
competition, of imposed preparation. This particular loose ideal reached
out from the desert--or what might under discouragement pass for such;
it invoked the light, but a simplicity of view which was somehow one
with the beauty of other convictions accompanied its effort; and though
a glance at the social "psychology" of some of its cheerful estimates,
its relative importances, assumed and acted upon, might here seem
indicated, there are depths of the ancient serenity that nothing would
induce me to sound.

I need linger the less, moreover, since we in fact, oddly enough,
lingered so little; so very little, for reasons doubtless well known to
ourselves at the time but which I at present fail to recapture, that
what next stands vividly out for me is our renewed passage through Paris
on the way to London for the winter; a turn of our situation invested at
the time with nothing whatever of the wonderful, yet which would again
half prompt me to soundings were I not to recognise in it that mark of
the fitful, that accent of the improvised, that general quality of
earnest and reasoned, yet at the same time almost passionate, impatience
which was to devote us for some time to variety, almost to incoherency,
of interest. We had fared across the sea under the glamour of the Swiss
school in the abstract, but the Swiss school in the concrete soon turned
stale on our hands; a fact over which I remember myself as no further
critical than to feel, not without zest, that, since one was all eyes
and the world decidedly, at such a pace, all images, it ministered to
the panoramic. It ministered, to begin with, through our very early
start for Lyons again in the October dawn--without Nadali or the
carriages this time, but on the basis of the malle-poste, vast, yellow
and rumbling, which we availed wholly to fill and of which the high
haughtiness was such that it could stop, even for an instant, only at
appointed and much dissevered places--to the effect, I recall, of its
vainly attempted arrest by our cousin Charlotte King, beforementioned,
whom I see now suddenly emerge, fresh, confident and pretty, from some
rural retreat by the road, a scene of simple villeggiatura, "rien que
pour saluer ces dames," as she pleaded to the conductor; whom she
practically, if not permittedly, overmastered, leaving with me still the
wonder of her happy fusion of opposites. The coach had not, in the
event, paused, but so neither had she, and as it ignored flush and
flurry quite as it defied delay, she was equally a match for it in these
particulars, blandly achieving her visit to us while it rumbled on,
making a perfect success and a perfect grace of her idea. She dropped as
elegantly out as she had gymnastically floated in, and "ces dames" must
much have wished they could emulate her art. Save for this my view of
that migration has faded, though to shine out again to the sense of our
early morning arrival in Paris a couple of days later, and our hunt
there, vain at first, for an hotel that would put us numerously up; vain
till we had sat awhile, in the Rue du Helder, I think, before that of an
Albany uncle, luckily on the scene and finally invoked, who after some
delay descended to us with a very foreign air, I fancied, and no
possibility, to his regret, of placing us under his own roof; as if
indeed, I remember reflecting, we could, such as we were, have been
desired to share his foreign interests--such as _they_ were. He espoused
our cause, however, with gay goodnature--while I wondered, in my
admiration for him and curiosity about him, how he really liked us, and
(a bit doubtfully) whether I should have liked us had I been in his
place; and after some further adventure installed us at the Hôtel de la
Ville de Paris in the Rue de la Ville-l'Evèque, a resort now long since
extinct, though it lingered on for some years, and which I think of as
rather huddled and disappointingly private, to the abatement of
spectacle, and standing obliquely beyond a wall, a high gateway and a
more or less cobbled court.



XXII


Little else of that Parisian passage remains with me--it was probably of
the briefest; I recover only a visit with my father to the Palais de
l'Industrie, where the first of the great French Exhibitions, on the
model, much reduced, of the English Crystal Palace of 1851, was still
open, a fact explaining the crowded inns; and from that visit win back
but the department of the English pictures and our stopping long before
The Order of Release of a young English painter, J. E. Millais, who had
just leaped into fame, and my impression of the rare treatment of whose
baby's bare legs, pendent from its mother's arms, is still as vivid to
me as if from yesterday. The vivid yields again to the vague--I scarce
know why so utterly--till consciousness, waking up in London, renews
itself, late one evening and very richly, at the Gloucester Hotel (or
Coffee-House, as I think it was then still called,) which occupied that
corner of Piccadilly and Berkeley Street where more modern
establishments have since succeeded it, but where a fatigued and
famished American family found on that occasion a fine old British
virtue in cold roast beef and bread and cheese and ale; their expert
acclamation of which echoes even now in my memory. It keeps company
there with other matters equally British and, as we say now, early
Victorian; the thick gloom of the inn rooms, the faintness of the
glimmering tapers, the blest inexhaustibility of the fine joint,
surpassed only by that of the grave waiter's reserve--plain, immutably
plain fare all, but prompting in our elders an emphasis of relief and
relish, the "There's nothing like it after all!" tone, which re-excited
expectation, which in fact seemed this time to re-announce a basis for
faith and joy.

That basis presently shrank to the scale of a small house hard by the
hotel, at the entrance of Berkeley Square--expeditiously lighted on, it
would thus appear, which again has been expensively superseded, but to
the ancient little facts of which I fondly revert, since I owe them what
I feel to have been, in the far past, the prime faint revelation, the
small broken expression, of the London I was afterwards to know. The
place wears on the spot, to this day, no very different face; the house
that has risen on the site of ours is still immediately neighboured at
the left by the bookseller, the circulating-librarian and news-agent,
who modestly flourished in our time under the same name; the great
establishment of Mr. Gunter, just further along, is as soberly and
solidly seated; the mews behind the whole row, from the foot of Hay Hill
at the right, wanders away to Bruton Street with the irregular grace
that spoke to my young fancy; Hay Hill itself is somehow less sharply
precipitous, besides being no longer paved, as I seem to recall its
having been, with big boulders, and I was on the point of saying that
its antique charm in some degree abides. Nothing, however, could be
further from the truth; its antique charm quite succumbed, years ago, to
that erection of lumpish "mansions" which followed the demolition of the
old-world town-residence, as the house-agents say, standing, on the
south side, between court and I suppose garden, where Dover Street gives
way to Grafton; a house of many histories, of vague importances and cold
reserves and deep suggestions, I used to think after scaling the steep
quite on purpose to wonder about it. A whole chapter of life was
condensed, for our young sensibility, I make out, into the couple of
months--they can scarce have been more--spent by us in these quarters,
which must have proved too narrow and too towny; but it can have had no
passage so lively as the occurrences at once sequent to my father's
having too candidly made known in some public print, probably The Times,
that an American gentleman, at such an address, desired to arrange with
a competent young man for the tuition at home of his three sons. The
effect of his rash failure to invite application by letter only was the
assault of an army of visitors who filled us with consternation; they
hung about the door, cumbered the hall, choked the staircase and sat
grimly individual in odd corners. How they were dealt with, given my
father's precipitate and general charity, I can but feebly imagine; our
own concern, in the event, was with a sole selected presence, that of
Scotch Mr. Robert Thompson, who gave us his care from breakfast to
luncheon each morning that winter, who afterwards carried on a school at
Edinburgh, and whom, in years long subsequent, I happened to help R. L.
Stevenson to recognise gaily as _his_ early pedagogue. He was so deeply
solicitous, yet withal so mild and kind and shy, with no harsher
injunction to us ever than "Come now, be getting on!" that one could but
think well of a world in which so gentle a spirit might flourish; while
it is doubtless to the credit of his temper that remembrance is a blank
in respect to his closer ministrations. I recall vividly his fresh
complexion, his very round clear eyes, his tendency to trip over his own
legs or feet while thoughtfully circling about us, and his constant
dress-coat, worn with trousers of a lighter hue, which was perhaps the
prescribed uniform of a daily tutor then; but I ask myself in vain what
I can have "studied" with him, there remaining with me afterwards, to
testify--this putting any scrap of stored learning aside--no single
textbook save the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare, which was given me as
(of all things in the world) a reward. A reward for what I am again at a
loss to say--not certainly for having "got on" to anything like the tune
plaintively, for the most part, piped to me. It is a very odd and yet to
myself very rich and full reminiscence, though I remember how, looking
back at it from after days, W. J. denounced it to me, and with it the
following year and more spent in Paris, as a poor and arid and
lamentable time, in which, missing such larger chances and connections
as we might have reached out to, we had done nothing, he and I, but walk
about together, in a state of the direst propriety, little "high" black
hats and inveterate gloves, the childish costume of the place and
period, to stare at grey street-scenery (that of early Victorian London
had tones of a neutrality!) dawdle at shop-windows and buy water-colours
and brushes with which to bedaub eternal drawing-blocks. We might, I
dare say, have felt higher impulses and carried out larger plans--though
indeed present to me for this, on my brother's so expressing himself, is
my then quick recognition of the deeper stirrings and braver needs he at
least must have known, and my perfect if rueful sense of having myself
had no such quarrel with our conditions: embalmed for me did they even
to that shorter retrospect appear in a sort of fatalism of patience,
spiritless in a manner, no doubt, yet with an inwardly active,
productive and ingenious side.

It was just the fact of our having so walked and dawdled and dodged that
made the charm of memory; in addition to which what could one have asked
more than to be steeped in a medium so dense that whole elements of it,
forms of amusement, interest and wonder, soaked through to some
appreciative faculty and made one fail at the most of nothing but one's
lessons? My brother was right in so far as that my question--the one I
have just reproduced--could have been asked only by a person
incorrigible in throwing himself back upon substitutes for lost causes,
substitutes that might _temporarily_ have appeared queer and small; a
person so haunted, even from an early age, with visions of life, that
aridities, for him, were half a terror and half an impossibility, and
that the said substitutes, the economies and ingenuities that protested,
in their dumb vague way, against weakness of situation or of direct and
applied faculty, were in themselves really a revel of spirit and
thought. It _had_ indeed again an effect of almost pathetic incoherence
that our brave quest of "the languages," suffering so prompt and for the
time at least so accepted and now so inscrutably irrecoverable a check,
should have contented itself with settling us by that Christmas in a
house, more propitious to our development, in St. John's Wood, where we
enjoyed a considerable garden and wistful view, though by that windowed
privilege alone, of a large green expanse in which ladies and gentlemen
practised archery. Just _that_--and not the art even, but the mere
spectacle--might have been one of the substitutes in question; if not
for the languages at least for one or another of the romantic
connections we seemed a little to have missed: it was such a whiff of
the old world of Robin Hood as we could never have looked up from the
mere thumbed "story," in Fourteenth Street at any rate, to any soft
confidence of. More than I can begin to say, that is by a greater number
of queer small channels, did the world about us, thus continuous with
the old world of Robin Hood, steal into my sense--a constant state of
subjection to which fact is no bad instance of those refinements of
surrender that I just named as my fond practice. I seem to see to-day
that the London of the 'fifties was even to the weak perception of
childhood a much less generalised, a much more eccentrically and
variously characterised place, than the present great accommodated and
accommodating city; it had fewer resources but it had many more
features, scarce one of which failed to help the whole to bristle with
what a little gaping American could take for an intensity of difference
from _his_ supposed order. It was extraordinarily the picture and the
scene of Dickens, now so changed and superseded; it offered to my
presumptuous vision still more the reflection of Thackeray--and where is
the _detail_ of the reflection of Thackeray now?--so that as I trod the
vast length of Baker Street, the Thackerayan vista of other days, I
throbbed with the pride of a vastly enlarged acquaintance.

I dare say our perambulations of Baker Street in our little "top" hats
and other neatnesses must have been what W. J. meant by our poverty of
life--whereas it was probably one of the very things most expressive to
myself of the charm and the colour of history and (from the point of
view of the picturesque) of society. We were often in Baker Street by
reason of those stretched-out walks, at the remembered frequency and
long-drawn push of which I am to-day amazed; recalling at the same time,
however, that save for Robert Thompson's pitching ball with us in the
garden they took for us the place of all other agilities. I can't but
feel them to have been marked in their way by a rare curiosity and
energy. Good Mr. Thompson had followed us in our move, occupying
quarters, not far off, above a baker's shop on a Terrace--a group of
objects still untouched by time--where we occasionally by way of change
attended for our lessons and where not the least of our inspirations was
the confidence, again and again justified, that our mid-morning "break"
would determine the appearance of a self-conscious stale cake, straight
from below, received by us all each time as if it had been a sudden
happy thought, and ushered in by a little girl who might have been a
Dickens foundling or "orfling." Our being reduced to mumble cake in a
suburban lodging by way of reaction from the strain of study would have
been perhaps a pathetic picture, but we had field-days too, when we
accompanied our excellent friend to the Tower, the Thames Tunnel, St.
Paul's and the Abbey, to say nothing of the Zoological Gardens, almost
close at hand and with which we took in that age of lingering forms no
liberty of abbreviation; to say nothing either of Madame Tussaud's, then
in our interminable but so amiable Baker Street, the only shade on the
amiability of which was just that gruesome association with the portal
of the Bazaar--since Madame Tussaud had, of all her treasures, most
vividly revealed to me the Mrs. Manning and the Burke and Hare of the
Chamber of Horrors which lurked just within it; whom, for days after
making their acquaintance (and prolonging it no further than our
conscientious friend thought advisable) I half expected, when alone, to
meet quite dreadfully on the staircase or on opening a door. All this
experience was valuable, but it was not the languages--save in so far
indeed as it was the English, which we hadn't in advance so much aimed
at, yet which more or less, and very interestingly, came; it at any rate
perhaps broke our fall a little that French, of a sort, continued to be
with us in the remarkably erect person of Mademoiselle Cusin, the Swiss
governess who had accompanied us from Geneva, whose quite sharply
extrusive but on the whole exhilarating presence I associate with this
winter, and who led in that longish procession of more or less similar
domesticated presences which was to keep the torch, that is the accent,
among us, fairly alight. The variety and frequency of the arrivals and
departures of these ladies--whose ghostly names, again, so far as I
recall them, I like piously to preserve, Augustine Danse, Amélie Fortin,
Marie Guyard, Marie Bonningue, Félicie Bonningue, Clarisse
Bader--mystifies me in much the same degree as our own academic
vicissitudes in New York; I can no more imagine why, sociable and
charitable, we so often changed governesses than I had contemporaneously
grasped the principle of our succession of schools: the whole group of
phenomena reflected, I gather, as a rule, much more the extreme
promptitude of the parental optimism than any disproportionate habit of
impatience. The optimism begot precipitation, and the precipitation had
too often to confess itself. What is instructive, what is historic, is
the probability that young persons offering themselves at that time as
guides and communicators--the requirements of our small sister were for
long modest enough--quite conceivably lacked preparedness, and were so
thrown back on the extempore, which in turn lacked abundance. One of
these figures, that of Mademoiselle Danse, the most Parisian, and
prodigiously so, was afterwards to stand out for us quite luridly--a
cloud of revelations succeeding her withdrawal; a cloud which, thick as
it was, never obscured our impression of her genius and her charm. The
daughter of a political proscript who had but just escaped, by the
legend, being seized in his bed on the terrible night of the
Deux-Décembre, and who wrote her micawberish letters from Gallipolis,
Ohio, she subsequently figured to my imagination (in the light, that is,
of the divined revelations, too dreadful for our young ears,) as the
most brilliant and most genial of irregular characters, exhibiting the
Parisian "mentality" at its highest, or perhaps rather its deepest, and
more remarkable for nothing than for the consummate little art and grace
with which she had for a whole year draped herself in the mantle of our
innocent air. It was exciting, it was really valuable, to have to that
extent rubbed shoulders with an "adventuress"; it showed one that for
the adventuress there might on occasion be much to be said.

Those, however, were later things--extensions of view hampered for the
present, as I have noted, by our mere London street-scenery, which had
much to build out for us. I see again that we but endlessly walked and
endlessly daubed, and that our walks, with an obsession of their own,
constantly abetted our daubing. We knew no other boys at all, and we
even saw no others, I seem to remember, save the essentially rude ones,
rude with a kind of mediæval rudeness for which our clear New York
experience had given us no precedent, and of which the great and
constant sign was the artless, invidious wonder produced in them, on our
public appearances, by the alien stamp in us that, for our comfort, we
vainly sought to dissimulate. We conformed in each particular, so far as
we could, to the prevailing fashion and standard, of a narrow range in
those days, but in our very plumage--putting our _ramage_ aside--our
wood-note wild must have seemed to sound, so sharply we challenged, when
abroad, the attention of our native contemporaries, and even sometimes
of their elders, pulled up at sight of us in the from-head-to-foot
stare, a curiosity void of sympathy and that attached itself for some
reason especially to our feet, which were not abnormally large. The
London people had for themselves, at the same time, an exuberance of
type; we found it in particular a world of costume, often of very odd
costume--the most intimate notes of which were the postmen in their
frock-coats of military red and their black beaver hats; the milkwomen,
in hats that often emulated these, in little shawls and strange short,
full frocks, revealing enormous boots, with their pails swung from their
shoulders on wooden yokes; the inveterate footmen hooked behind the
coaches of the rich, frequently in pairs and carrying staves, together
with the mounted and belted grooms without the attendance of whom
riders, of whichever sex--and riders then were much more
numerous--almost never went forth. The range of character, on the other
hand, reached rather dreadfully down; there were embodied and
exemplified "horrors" in the streets beside which any present exhibition
is pale, and I well remember the almost terrified sense of their
salience produced in me a couple of years later, on the occasion of a
flying return from the Continent with my father, by a long, an
interminable drive westward from the London Bridge railway-station. It
was a soft June evening, with a lingering light and swarming crowds, as
they then seemed to me, of figures reminding me of George Cruikshank's
Artful Dodger and his Bill Sikes and his Nancy, only with the bigger
brutality of life, which pressed upon the cab, the early-Victorian
fourwheeler, as we jogged over the Bridge, and cropped up in more and
more gas-lit patches for all our course, culminating, somewhere far to
the west, in the vivid picture, framed by the cab-window, of a woman
reeling backward as a man felled her to the ground with a blow in the
face. The London view at large had in fact more than a Cruikshank, there
still survived in it quite a Hogarth, side--which I had of course then
no name for, but which I was so sharply to recognise on coming back
years later that it fixed for me the veracity of the great pictorial
chronicler. Hogarth's mark is even yet not wholly overlaid; though time
has _per contra_ dealt with that stale servility of address which most
expressed to our young minds the rich burden of a Past, the consequence
of too much history. I liked for my own part a lot of history, but felt
in face of certain queer old obsequiosities and appeals, whinings and
sidlings and hand-rubbings and curtsey-droppings, the general play of
apology and humility, behind which the great dim social complexity
seemed to mass itself, that one didn't quite want so inordinate a
quantity. Of that particular light and shade, however, the big broom of
change has swept the scene bare; more history still has been after all
what it wanted. Quite another order, in the whole connection, strikes
me as reigning to-day--though not without the reminder from it that the
relations in which manner, as a generalised thing, in which "tone," is
_positively_ pleasant, is really assured and sound, clear and
interesting, are numerous and definite only when it has had in its past
some strange phases and much misadventure.



XXIII


We were still being but vaguely "formed," yet it was a vagueness
preferred apparently by our parents to the only definiteness in any
degree open to us, that of the English school away from home (the London
private school near home they would absolutely none of;) which they saw
as a fearful and wonderful, though seemingly effective, preparation of
the young for English life and an English career, but related to that
situation only, so little related in fact to any other as to make it, in
a differing case, an educational cul-de-sac, the worst of economies.
They had doubtless heard claimed for it just that no other method for
boys _was_ so splendidly general, but they had, I judge, their own sense
of the matter--which would have been that it all depended on what was
meant by this. The truth was, above all, that to them the formative
forces most closely bearing on us were not in the least vague, but very
definite by _their_ measure and intention; there were "advantages,"
generally much belauded, that appealed to them scantly, and other
matters, conceptions of character and opportunity, ideals, values,
importances, enjoying no great common credit but for which it was their
belief that they, under whatever difficulties, more or less provided. In
respect of which I further remind myself of the blest fewness, as yet,
of our years; and I come back to my own sense, benighted though it may
have been, of a highly-coloured and remarkably active life. I recognise
our immediate, our practical ferment even in our decent perambulations,
our discussions, W. J.'s and mine, of whether we had in a given case
best apply for a renewal of our "artists' materials" to Messrs. Rowney
or to Messrs. Windsor and Newton, and in our pious resort, on these
determinations, to Rathbone Place, more beset by our steps, probably,
than any other single corner of the town, and the short but charged
vista of which lives for me again in the tempered light of those old
winter afternoons. Of scarce less moment than these were our frequent
visits, in the same general connection, to the old Pantheon of Oxford
Street, now fallen from its high estate, but during that age a place of
fine rococo traditions, a bazaar, an exhibition, an opportunity, at the
end of long walks, for the consumption of buns and ginger-beer, and
above all a monument to the genius of that wonderful painter B. R.
Haydon. We must at one time quite have haunted the Pantheon, where we
doubtless could better than elsewhere sink to contemplative, to
ruminative rest: Haydon's huge canvases covered the walls--I wonder
what has become now of The Banishment of Aristides, attended to the city
gate by his wife and babe, every attitude and figure in which,
especially that of the foreshortened boy picking up stones to shy at the
all-too-just, stares out at me still. We found in these works remarkable
interest and beauty, the reason of which was partly, no doubt, that we
hung, to fascination, at home, over the three volumes of the hapless
artist's Autobiography, then a new book, which our father, indulgent to
our preoccupation, had provided us with; but I blush to risk the further
surmise that the grand manner, the heroic and the classic, in Haydon,
came home to us more warmly and humanly than in the masters commended as
"old," who, at the National Gallery, seemed to meet us so little
half-way, to hold out the hand of fellowship or suggest something that
_we_ could do, or could at least want to. The beauty of Haydon was just
that he was new, shiningly new, and if he hinted that we might perhaps
in some happy future emulate his big bravery there was nothing so
impossible about it. If we adored daubing we preferred it _fresh_, and
the genius of the Pantheon was fresh, whereas, strange to say, Rubens
and Titian were not. Even the charm of the Pantheon yielded, however, to
that of the English collection, the Vernon bequest to the nation, then
arrayed at Marlborough House and to which the great plumed and draped
and dusty funeral car of the Duke of Wellington formed an attractive
adjunct. The ground-floor chambers there, none of them at that time
royally inhabited, come back to me as altogether bleak and bare and as
owing their only dignity to Maclise, Mulready and Landseer, to David
Wilkie and Charles Leslie. _They_ were, by some deep-seated English
mystery, the real unattainable, just as they were none the less the
directly inspiring and the endlessly delightful. I could never have
enough of Maclise's Play-scene in Hamlet, which I supposed the finest
composition in the world (though Ophelia did look a little as if cut in
silhouette out of white paper and pasted on;) while as I gazed, and
gazed again, at Leslie's Sancho Panza and his Duchess I pushed through
the great hall of romance to the central or private apartments.
Trafalgar Square had its straight message for us only in the May-time
exhibition, the Royal Academy of those days having, without a home of
its own, to borrow space from the National Gallery--space partly
occupied, in the summer of 1856, by the first fresh fruits of the
Pre-Raphaelite efflorescence, among which I distinguish Millais's Vale
of Rest, his Autumn Leaves and, if I am not mistaken, his prodigious
Blind Girl. The very word Pre-Raphaelite wore for us that intensity of
meaning, not less than of mystery, that thrills us in its perfection but
for one season, the prime hour of first initiations, and I may perhaps
somewhat mix the order of our great little passages of perception.
Momentous to us again was to be the Academy show of 1858, where there
were, from the same wide source, still other challenges to wonder,
Holman Hunt's Scapegoat most of all, which I remember finding so charged
with the awful that I was glad I saw it in company--_it_ in company and
I the same: I believed, or tried to believe, I should have feared to
face it all alone in a room. By that time moreover--I mean by 1858--we
had been more fully indoctrinated, or such was the case at least with
W. J., for whom, in Paris, during the winter of 1857, instruction at the
atelier of M. Léon Coigniet, of a limited order and adapted to his
years, had been candidly provided--that M. Léon Coigniet whose Marius
meditating among the Ruins of Carthage impressed us the more, at the
Luxembourg (even more haunted by us in due course than the Pantheon had
been,) in consequence of this family connection.

Let me not, however, nip the present thread of our æsthetic evolution
without a glance at that comparatively spare but deeply appreciated
experience of the London theatric privilege which, so far as occasion
favoured us, also pressed the easy spring. The New York familiarities
had to drop; going to the play presented itself in London as a serious,
ponderous business: a procession of two throbbing and heaving cabs over
vast foggy tracts of the town, after much arrangement in advance and
with a renewal of far peregrination, through twisting passages and
catacombs, even after crossing the magic threshold. We sat in strange
places, with still stranger ones behind or beside; we felt walls and
partitions, in our rear, getting so hot that we wondered if the house
was to burst into flame; I recall in especial our being arrayed, to the
number of nine persons, all of our contingent, in a sort of rustic
balcony or verandah which, simulating the outer gallery of a Swiss
cottage framed in creepers, formed a feature of Mr. Albert Smith's
once-famous representation of the Tour of Mont Blanc. Big, bearded,
rattling, chattering, mimicking Albert Smith again charms my senses,
though subject to the reflection that his type and presence,
superficially so important, so ample, were somehow at odds with such
ingratiations, with the reckless levity of his performance--a
performance one of the great effects of which was, as I remember it, the
very brief stop and re-departure of the train at Épernay, with the
ringing of bells, the bawling of guards, the cries of travellers, the
slamming of doors and the tremendous pop as of a colossal
champagne-cork, made all simultaneous and vivid by Mr. Smith's mere
personal resources and graces. But it is the publicity of our situation
as a happy family that I best remember, and how, to our embarrassment,
we seemed put forward in our illustrative châlet as part of the
boisterous show and of what had been paid for by the house. Two other
great evenings stand out for me as not less collectively enjoyed, one of
these at the Princess's, then under the management of Charles Kean, the
unprecedented (as he was held) Shakespearean revivalist, the other at
the Olympic, where Alfred Wigan, the extraordinary and too short-lived
Robson and the shrewd and handsome Mrs. Stirling were the high
attraction. Our enjoyment of Charles Kean's presentation of Henry the
Eighth figures to me as a momentous date in our lives: we did nothing
for weeks afterwards but try to reproduce in water-colours Queen
Katharine's dream-vision of the beckoning, consoling angels, a radiant
group let down from the skies by machinery then thought marvellous--when
indeed we were not parading across our schoolroom stage as the
portentous Cardinal and impressively alternating his last speech to
Cromwell with Buckingham's, that is with Mr. Ryder's, address on the way
to the scaffold. The spectacle had seemed to us prodigious--as it was
doubtless at its time the last word of costly scenic science; though as
I look back from the high ground of an age that has mastered tone and
fusion I seem to see it as comparatively garish and violent, after the
manner of the complacently approved stained-glass church-windows of the
same period. I was to have my impression of Charles Kean renewed later
on--ten years later, in America--without a rag of scenic reinforcement;
when I was struck with the fact that no actor so little graced by nature
probably ever went so far toward repairing it by a kind of cold rage of
endeavour. Were he and his wife really not _coercively_ interesting on
that Boston night of Macbeth in particular, hadn't their art a
distinction that triumphed over battered age and sorry harshness, or was
I but too easily beguiled by the old association? I have enjoyed and
forgotten numberless rich hours of spectatorship, but somehow still find
hooked to the wall of memory the picture of this hushed couple in the
castle court, with the knocking at the gate, with Macbeth's stare of
pitiful horror at his unused daggers and with the grand manner, up to
the height of the argument, of Mrs. Kean's coldly portentous snatch of
them. What I especially owe that lady is my sense of what she had in
common, as a queer hooped and hook-nosed figure, of large circumference
and archaic attire, strange tasteless toggery, with those performers of
the past who are preserved for us on the small canvases of Hogarth and
Zoffany; she helped one back at that time of her life to a vision of
the Mrs. Cibbers and the Mrs. Pritchards--so affecting may often be such
recovered links.

I see the evening at the Olympic as really itself partaking of that
antiquity, even though Still Waters Run Deep, then in its flourishing
freshness and as to which I remember my fine old friend Fanny Kemble's
mentioning to me in the distant after-time that she had directed Tom
Taylor to Charles de Bernard's novel of Un Gendre for the subject of it,
passed at the moment for a highly modern "social study." It is perhaps
in particular through the memory of our dismal approach to the theatre,
the squalid slum of Wych Street, then incredibly brutal and barbarous as
an avenue to joy, an avenue even sometimes for the muffled coach of
Royalty, that the episode affects me as antedating some of the
conditions of the mid-Victorian age; the general credit of which, I
should add, was highly re-established for us by the consummately quiet
and natural art, as we expertly pronounced it, of Alfred Wigan's John
Mildmay and the breadth and sincerity of the representative of the rash
mother-in-law whom he so imperturbably puts in her place. This was an
exhibition supposed in its day to leave its spectators little to envy in
the highest finish reached by the French theatre. At a remarkable
height, in a different direction, moved the strange and vivid little
genius of Robson, a master of fantastic intensity, unforgettable for
us, we felt that night, in Planché's extravaganza of The Discreet
Princess, a Christmas production preluding to the immemorial
harlequinade. I still see Robson slide across the stage, in one sidelong
wriggle, as the small black sinister Prince Richcraft of the fairy-tale,
everything he did at once very dreadful and very droll, thoroughly true
and yet none the less _macabre_, the great point of it all its parody of
Charles Kean in The Corsican Brothers; a vision filled out a couple of
years further on by his Daddy Hardacre in a two-acts version of a
Parisian piece thriftily and coarsely extracted from Balzac's Eugénie
Grandet. This occasion must have given the real and the finer measure of
his highly original talent; so present to me, despite the interval, is
the distinctiveness of his little concentrated rustic miser whose
daughter helps herself from his money-box so that her cousin and lover
shall save a desperate father, her paternal uncle, from bankruptcy; and
the prodigious effect of Robson's appalled descent, from an upper floor,
his literal headlong tumble and rattle of dismay down a steep staircase
occupying the centre of the stage, on his discovery of the rifling of
his chest. Long was I to have in my ears the repeated shriek of his
alarm, followed by a panting babble of wonder and rage as his impetus
hurled him, a prostrate scrap of despair (he was a tiny figure, yet "so
held the stage" that in his company you could see nobody else) half way
across the room. I associate a little uncertainly with the same night
the sight of Charles Matthews in Sheridan's Critic and in a comedy
botched from the French, like everything else in those days that was not
either Sheridan or Shakespeare, called Married for Money; an example
above all, this association, of the heaped measure of the old
bills--vast and various enumerations as they were, of the size of but
slightly reduced placards and with a strange and delightful greasy feel
and redolence of printer's ink, intensely theatrical ink somehow, in
their big black lettering. Charles Matthews must have been then in his
mid-career, and him too, wasted and aged, infinitely "marked," I was to
see again, ever so long after, in America; an impression reminding me,
as I recover it, of how one took his talent so thoroughly for granted
that he seemed somehow to get but half the credit of it: this at least
in all save parts of mere farce and "patter," which were on a footing,
and no very interesting one, of their own. The other effect, that of a
naturalness so easy and immediate, so friendly and intimate, that one's
relation with the artist lost itself in one's relation with the
character, the artist thereby somehow positively suffering while the
character gained, or at least while the spectator did--this comes back
to me quite as a part even of my earlier experience and as attesting on
behalf of the actor a remarkable genius; since there are no more
charming artistic cases than those of the frank result, when it is frank
_enough_, and the dissimulated process, when the dissimulation has been
deep. To drop, or appear to drop, machinery and yet keep, or at least
gain, intensity, the interesting intensity separated by a gulf from a
mere unbought coincidence of aspect or organ, is really to do something.
In spite of which, at the same time, what I perhaps most retain, by the
light of the present, of the sense of that big and rather dusky night of
Drury Lane is not so much the felt degree of anyone's talent as the fact
that personality and artistry, _with_ their intensity, could work their
spell in such a material desert, in conditions intrinsically so
charmless, so bleak and bare. The conditions gave nothing of what we
regard to-day as most indispensable--since our present fine conception
is but to reduce and fill in the material desert, to people and carpet
and curtain it. We may be right, so far as that goes, but our
predecessors were, with their eye on the essence, not wrong; thanks to
which they wear the crown of our now thinking of them--if we do think of
them--as in their way giants and heroes. What their successors were to
become is another question; very much better dressed, beyond all doubt.



XXIV


Good Robert Thompson was followed by _fin_ M. Lerambert--who was surely
good too, in his different way; good at least for feigning an interest
he could scarce have rejoicingly felt and that he yet somehow managed to
give a due impression of: that artifice being, as we must dimly have
divined at the time (in fact I make bold to say that I personally did
divine it,) exactly a sign of his _finesse_. Of no such uncanny engine
had Mr. Thompson, luckily, known a need--luckily since to what arsenal
could he possibly have resorted for it? None capable of supplying it
could ever have met his sight, and we ourselves should at a pinch have
had to help him toward it. He was easily interested, or at least took an
easy view, on such ground as we offered him, of what it was to be so;
whereas his successor attached to the condition a different value--one
recognising no secondary substitute. Perhaps this was why our connection
with M. Lerambert can have lasted but four or five months--time even for
his sharp subterfuge to have ceased entirely to serve him; though indeed
even as I say this I vaguely recall that our separation was attended
with friction, that it took him unaware and that he had been prepared
(or so represented himself) for further sacrifices. It could have been
no great one, assuredly, to deal with so intensely living a young mind
as my elder brother's, it could have been but a happy impression
constantly renewed; but we two juniors, Wilky and I, were a
drag--Wilky's powers most displayed at that time in his preference for
ingenuous talk over any other pursuit whatever, and my own aptitude
showing for nil, according to our poor gentleman's report of me when a
couple of months had sped, save as to rendering La Fontaine's fables
into English with a certain corresponding felicity of idiom. I remember
perfectly the parental communication to me of this fell judgment, I
remember as well the interest with which its so quite definite character
inspired me--that character had such beauty and distinctness; yet, and
ever so strangely, I recover no sense of having been crushed, and this
even though destitute, utterly, of any ground of appeal. The fact leaves
me at a loss, since I also remember my not having myself thought
particularly well, in the connection allowed, of my "rendering" faculty.
"Oh," I seem inwardly to have said, "if it were to be, if it only could
be, _really_ a question of rendering--!" and so, without confusion,
though in vague, very vague, mystification to have left it: as if so
many things, intrinsic and extrinsic, would have to change and operate,
so many would have to happen, so much water have to flow under the
bridge, before I could give primary application to such a thought, much
more finish such a sentence.

All of which is but a way of saying that we had since the beginning of
the summer settled ourselves in Paris, and that M. Lerambert--by what
agency invoked, by what revelation vouchsafed, I quite forget--was at
this time attending us in a so-called pavilion, of middling size, that,
between the Rond-Point and the Rue du Colisée, hung, at no great height,
over the Avenue des Champs-Elysées; hung, that is, from the vantage of
its own considerable terrace, surmounted as the parapet of the latter
was with iron railings rising sufficiently to protect the place for
familiar use and covert contemplation (we ever so fondly used it,) and
yet not to the point of fencing out life. A blest little old-world
refuge it must have seemed to us, with its protuberantly-paved and
peculiarly resonant small court and idle _communs_ beside it, accessible
by a high grille where the jangle of the bell and the clatter of
response across the stones might have figured a comprehensive echo of
all old Paris. Old Paris then even there considerably lingered; I
recapture much of its presence, for that matter, within our odd relic
of a house, the property of an American southerner from whom our
parents had briefly hired it and who appeared to divide his time, poor
unadmonished gentleman of the eve of the Revolution, between Louisiana
and France. What association could have breathed more from the queer
graces and the queer incommodities alike, from the diffused glassy
polish of floor and perilous staircase, from the redundancy of mirror
and clock and ormolu vase, from the irrepressibility of the white and
gold panel, from that merciless elegance of tense red damask, above all,
which made the gilt-framed backs of sofa and chair as sumptuous, no
doubt, but as sumptuously stiff, as the brocaded walls? It was amid
these refinements that we presently resumed our studies--even explicitly
far from arduous at first, as the Champs-Elysées were perforce that year
our summer habitation and some deference was due to the place and the
season, lessons of any sort being at best an infraction of the latter.
M. Lerambert, who was spare and tightly black-coated, spectacled, pale
and prominently intellectual, who lived in the Rue Jacob with his mother
and sister, exactly as he should have done to accentuate prophetically
his resemblance, save for the spectacles, to some hero of Victor
Cherbuliez, and who, in fine, was conscious, not unimpressively, of his
authorship of a volume of meditative verse sympathetically mentioned by
the Sainte-Beuve of the Causeries in a review of the young poets of the
hour ("M. Lerambert too has loved, M. Lerambert too has suffered, M.
Lerambert too has sung!" or words to that effect:) this subtle
personality, really a high form of sensibility I surmise, and as
qualified for other and intenser relations as any Cherbuliez figure of
them all, was naturally not to be counted on to lead us gapingly forth
as good Mr. Thompson had done; so that my reminiscence of warm
somniferous mornings by the windows that opened to the clattery, plashy
court is quite, so far as my record goes, relievingly unbroken.

The afternoons, however, glimmer back to me shamelessly different, for
our circle had promptly been joined by the all-knowing and all-imposing
Mademoiselle Danse aforesaid, her of the so flexible _taille_ and the so
salient smiling eyes, than which even those of Miss Rebecca Sharp, that
other epic governess, were not more pleasingly green; who provided with
high efficiency for our immediate looser needs--mine and Wilky's and
those of our small brother Bob (l'ingénieux petit Robertson as she was
to dub him,) and of our still smaller sister at least--our first fine
_flâneries_ of curiosity. Her brave Vaudoise predecessor had been
bequeathed by us in London to a higher sphere than service with mere
earnest nomads could represent; but had left us clinging and weeping
and was for a long time afterwards to write to us, faithfully, in the
most beautiful copper-plate hand, out of the midst of her "rise"; with
details that brought home to us as we had never known it brought the
material and institutional difference between the nomadic and the
solidly, the spreadingly seated. A couple of years later, on an occasion
of our being again for a while in London, she hastened to call on us,
and, on departing, amiably invited me to walk back with her, for a
gossip--it was a bustling day of June--across a long stretch of the
town; when I left her at a glittering portal with the impression of my
having in our transit seen much of Society (the old London "season"
filled the measure, had length and breadth and thickness, to an extent
now foregone,) and, more particularly, achieved a small psychologic
study, noted the action of the massive English machinery directed to its
end, which had been in this case effectually to tame the presumptuous
and "work over" the crude. I remember on that occasion retracing my
steps from Eaton Square to Devonshire Street with a lively sense of
observation exercised by the way, a perfect gleaning of golden straws.
Our guide and philosopher of the summer days in Paris was no such
character as that; she had arrived among us full-fledged and consummate,
fortunately for the case altogether--as our mere candid humanity would
otherwise have had scant practical pressure to bring. Thackeray's novel
contains a plate from his own expressive hand representing Miss Sharp
lost in a cynical day-dream while her neglected pupils are locked in a
scrimmage on the floor; but the marvel of _our_ exemplar of the Becky
type was exactly that though her larger, her more interested and
sophisticated views had a range that she not only permitted us to guess
but agreeably invited us to follow almost to their furthest limits, we
never for a moment ceased to be aware of her solicitude. We might, we
must, so tremendously have bored her, but no ironic artist could have
caught her at any juncture in the posture of disgust: really, I imagine,
because her own ironies would have been too fine for him and too
numerous and too mixed. And this remarkable creature vouchsafed us all
information for the free enjoyment--on the terms proper to our tender
years--of her beautiful city.

It was not by the common measure then so beautiful as now; the second
Empire, too lately installed, was still more or less feeling its way,
with the great free hand soon to be allowed to Baron Haussmann marked as
yet but in the light preliminary flourish. Its connections with the
past, however, still hung thickly on; its majesties and symmetries,
comparatively vague and general, were subject to the happy accident, the
charming lapse and the odd extrusion, a bonhomie of chance composition
and colour now quite purged away. The whole region of the
Champs-Elysées, where we must after all at first have principally
prowled, was another world from the actual huge centre of repeated
radiations; the splendid Avenue, as we of course already thought it,
carried the eye from the Tuileries to the Arch, but pleasant old places
abutted on it by the way, gardens and terraces and hôtels of another
time, pavilions still braver than ours, cabarets and cafés of homely,
almost of rural type, with a relative and doubtless rather dusty
ruralism, spreading away to the River and the Wood. What was the Jardin
d'Hiver, a place of entertainment standing quite over against us and
that looped itself at night with little coloured oil-lamps, a mere
twinkling grin upon the face of pleasure? Dim my impression of having
been admitted--or rather, I suppose, conducted, though under
conductorship now vague to me--to view it by colourless day, when it
must have worn the stamp of an auction-room quite void of the "lots."
More distinct on the other hand the image of the bustling barrière at
the top of the Avenue, on the hither side of the Arch, where the old
loose-girt _banlieue_ began at once and the two matched lodges of the
octroi, highly, that is expressly even if humbly, architectural, guarded
the entrance, on either side, with such a suggestion of the generations
and dynasties and armies, the revolutions and restorations they had
seen come and go. But the Avenue of the Empress, now, so much more
thinly, but of the Wood itself, had already been traced, as the Empress
herself, young, more than young, attestedly and agreeably _new_, and
fair and shining, was, up and down the vista, constantly on exhibition;
with the thrill of that surpassed for us, however, by the incomparable
passage, as we judged it, of the baby Prince Imperial borne forth for
his airing or his progress to Saint-Cloud in the splendid coach that
gave a glimpse of appointed and costumed nursing breasts and laps, and
beside which the _cent-gardes_, all light-blue and silver and intensely
erect quick jolt, rattled with pistols raised and cocked. Was a public
holiday ever more splendid than that of the Prince's baptism at Notre
Dame, the fête of Saint-Napoléon, or was any ever more immortalised, as
we say, than this one was to be by the wonderfully ample and vivid
picture of it in the Eugène Rougon of Emile Zola, who must have taken it
in, on the spot, as a boy of about our own number of years, though of so
much more implanted and predestined an evocatory gift? The sense of that
interminable hot day, a day of hanging about and waiting and shuffling
in dust, in crowds, in fatigue, amid booths and pedlars and performers
and false alarms and expectations and renewed reactions and rushes, all
transfigured at the last, withal, by the biggest and brightest
illumination up to that time offered even the Parisians, the blinding
glare of the new Empire effectually symbolised--the vision of the whole,
I say, comes back to me quite in the form of a chapter from the
Rougon-Macquart, with its effect of something long and dense and heavy,
without shades or undertones, but immensely kept-up and done. I dare say
that for those months our contemplations, our daily exercise in general,
strayed little beyond the Champs-Elysées, though I recall confusedly as
well certain excursions to Passy and Auteuil, where we foregathered with
small resident compatriots the easy gutturalism of whose French, an
unpremeditated art, was a revelation, an initiation, and whence we
roamed, for purposes of picnic, into parts of the Bois de Boulogne that,
oddly enough, figured to us the virgin forest better than anything at
our own American door had done.

It was the social aspect of our situation that most appealed to me, none
the less--for I detect myself, as I woo it all back, disengaging a
social aspect again, and more than ever, from the phenomena disclosed to
my reflective gape or to otherwise associated strolls; perceptive
passages not wholly independent even of the occupancy of two-sous chairs
within the charmed circle of Guignol and of Gringalet. I suppose I
should have blushed to confess it, but Polichinelle and his puppets, in
the afternoons, under an umbrage sparse till evening fell, had still
their spell to cast--as part and parcel, that is, of the general
intensity of animation and variety of feature. The "amusement," the
æsthetic and human appeal, of Paris had in those days less the air of a
great shining conspiracy to please, the machinery in movement confessed
less to its huge purpose; but manners and types and traditions, the
detail of the scene, its pointed particulars, went their way with a
straighter effect, as well as often with a homelier grace--character,
temper and tone had lost comparatively little of their emphasis. These
scattered accents were matter for our eyes and ears--not a little even
already for our respective imaginations; though it is only as the season
waned and we set up our fireside afresh and for the winter that I
connect my small revolution with a wider field and with the company of
W. J. Again for that summer he was to be in eclipse to me; Guignol and
Gringalet failed to claim his attention, and Mademoiselle Danse, I make
out, deprecated his theory of exact knowledge, besides thinking him
perhaps a little of an _ours_--which came to the same thing. We
adjourned that autumn to quarters not far off, a wide-faced apartment in
the street then bravely known as the Rue d'Angoulême-St.-Honoré and now,
after other mutations, as the Rue La Boëtie; which we were again to
exchange a year later for an abode in the Rue Montaigne, this last
after a summer's absence at Boulogne-sur-Mer; the earlier migration
setting up for me the frame of a considerably animated picture. Animated
at best it was with the spirit and the modest facts of our family life,
among which I number the cold finality of M. Lerambert, reflected in
still other testimonies--that is till the date of our definite but
respectful rupture with him, followed as the spring came on by our
ineluctable phase at the Institution Fezandié in the Rue Balzac; of
which latter there will be even more to say than I shall take freedom
for. With the Rue d'Angoulême came extensions--even the mere immediate
view of opposite intimacies and industries, the subdivided aspects and
neat ingenuities of the applied Parisian genius counting as such: our
many-windowed _premier_, above an entresol of no great height, hung over
the narrow and, during the winter months, not a little dusky channel,
with endless movement and interest in the vivid exhibition it supplied.
What faced us was a series of subjects, with the baker, at the corner,
for the first--the impeccable dispenser of the so softly-crusty
crescent-rolls that we woke up each morning to hunger for afresh, with
our weak café-au-lait, as for the one form of "European" breakfast-bread
fit to be named even with the feeblest of our American forms. Then came
the small crêmerie, white picked out with blue, which, by some secret
of its own keeping, afforded, within the compass of a few feet square,
prolonged savoury meals to working men, white-frocked or blue-frocked,
to uniformed cabmen, stout or spare, but all more or less audibly
_bavards_ and discernibly critical; and next the compact embrasure of
the écaillère or oyster-lady, she and her paraphernalia fitted into
their interstice much as the mollusc itself into its shell; neighboured
in turn by the marchand-de-bois, peeping from as narrow a cage, his neat
faggots and chopped logs stacked beside him and above him in his
sentry-box quite as the niches of saints, in early Italian pictures, are
framed with tightly-packed fruits and flowers. Space and remembrance
fail me for the rest of the series, the attaching note of which comes
back as the note of diffused sociability and domestic, in fact more or
less æsthetic, ingenuity, with the street a perpetual parlour or
household centre for the flitting, pausing, conversing little bourgeoise
or ouvrière to sport, on every pretext and in every errand, her fluted
cap, her composed head, her neat ankles and her ready wit. Which is to
say indeed but that life and manners were more pointedly and
harmoniously expressed, under our noses there, than we had perhaps found
them anywhere save in the most salient passages of "stories"; though I
must in spite of it not write as if these trifles were all our fare.



XXV


That autumn renewed, I make out, our long and beguiled walks, my own
with W. J. in especial; at the same time that I have somehow the sense
of the whole more broken appeal on the part of Paris, the scanter
confidence and ease it inspired in us, the perhaps more numerous and
composite, but obscurer and more baffled intimations. Not indeed--for
all my brother's later vision of an accepted flatness in it--that there
was not some joy and some grasp; why else were we forever (as I seem to
conceive we were) measuring the great space that separated us from the
gallery of the Luxembourg, every step of which, either way we took it,
fed us with some interesting, some admirable image, kept us in relation
to something nobly intended? That particular walk was not prescribed us,
yet we appear to have hugged it, across the Champs-Elysées to the river,
and so over the nearest bridge and the quays of the left bank to the Rue
de Seine, as if it somehow held the secret of our future; to the extent
even of my more or less sneaking off on occasion to take it by myself,
to taste of it with a due undiverted intensity and the throb as of the
finest, which _could_ only mean the most Parisian, adventure. The
further quays, with their innumerable old bookshops and print-shops, the
long cases of each of these commodities, exposed on the parapets in
especial, must have come to know us almost as well as we knew them; with
plot thickening and emotion deepening steadily, however, as we mounted
the long, black Rue de Seine--_such_ a stretch of perspective, _such_ an
intensity of tone as it offered in those days; where every low-browed
vitrine waylaid us and we moved in a world of which the dark message,
expressed in we couldn't have said what sinister way too, might have
been "Art, art, art, don't you see? Learn, little gaping pilgrims, what
_that_ is!" Oh we learned, that is we tried to, as hard as ever we
could, and were fairly well at it, I always felt, even by the time we
had passed up into that comparatively short but wider and finer vista of
the Rue de Tournon, which in those days more abruptly crowned the more
compressed approach and served in a manner as a great outer vestibule to
the Palace. Style, dimly described, looked down there, as with conscious
encouragement, from the high grey-headed, clear-faced, straight-standing
old houses--very much as if wishing to say "Yes, small staring jeune
homme, we are dignity and memory and measure, we are conscience and
proportion and taste, not to mention strong sense too: for all of which
good things take us--you won't find one of them when you find (as you're
going soon to begin to at such a rate) vulgarity." This, I admit, was an
abundance of remark to such young ears; but it did all, I maintain,
tremble in the air, with the sense that the Rue de Tournon, cobbled and
a little grass-grown, might more or less have figured some fine old
street _de province_: I cherished in short its very name and think I
really hadn't to wait to prefer the then, the unmenaced, the inviolate
Café Foyot of the left hand corner, the much-loved and so haunted Café
Foyot of the old Paris, to its--well, to its roaring successor. The wide
mouth of the present Boulevard Saint-Michel, a short way round the
corner, had not yet been forced open to the exhibition of more or less
glittering fangs; old Paris still pressed round the Palace and its
gardens, which formed the right, the sober social antithesis to the
"elegant" Tuileries, and which in fine, with these renewals of our young
confidence, reinforced both in a general and in a particular way one of
the fondest of our literary curiosities of that time, the conscientious
study of Les Français Peints par Eux-Mêmes, rich in wood-cuts of
Gavarni, of Grandville, of Henri-Monnier, which we held it rather our
duty to admire and W. J. even a little his opportunity to copy in
pen-and-ink. This gilt-edged and double-columned octavo it was that
first disclosed to me, forestalling a better ground of acquaintance, the
great name of Balzac, who, in common with every other "light" writer of
his day, contributed to its pages: hadn't I pored over his exposition
there of the contrasted types of L'Habituée des Tuileries and L'Habituée
du Luxembourg?--finding it very _serré_, in fact what I didn't then know
enough to call very stodgy, but flavoured withal and a trifle lubricated
by Gavarni's two drawings, which had somehow so much, in general, to
say.

Let me not however dally by the way, when nothing, at those hours, I
make out, so much spoke to us as the animated pictured halls within the
Palace, primarily those of the Senate of the Empire, but then also
forming, as with extensions they still and much more copiously form, the
great Paris museum of contemporary art. This array was at that stage a
comparatively (though only comparatively) small affair; in spite of
which fact we supposed it vast and final--so that it would have shocked
us to foreknow how in many a case, and of the most cherished cases, the
finality was to break down. Most of the works of the modern schools that
we most admired are begging their bread, I fear, from door to door--that
is from one provincial museum or dim back seat to another; though we
were on much-subsequent returns to draw a long breath for the saved
state of some of the great things as to which our faith had been
clearest. It had been clearer for none, I recover, than for Couture's
Romains de la Décadence, recently acclaimed, at that time, as the last
word of the grand manner, but of the grand manner modernised, humanised,
philosophised, redeemed from academic death; so that it was to this
master's school that the young American contemporary flutter taught its
wings to fly straightest, and that I could never, in the long aftertime,
face his masterpiece and all its old meanings and marvels without a rush
of memories and a stir of ghosts. William Hunt, the New Englander of
genius, the "Boston painter" whose authority was greatest during the
thirty years from 1857 or so, and with whom for a time in the early
period W. J. was to work all devotedly, had prolonged his studies in
Paris under the inspiration of Couture and of Edouard Frère; masters in
a group completed by three or four of the so finely interesting
landscapists of that and the directly previous age, Troyon, Rousseau,
Daubigny, even Lambinet and others, and which summed up for the American
collector and in the New York and Boston markets the idea of the modern
in the masterly. It was a comfortable time--when appreciation could go
so straight, could rise, and rise higher, without critical contortions;
when we could, I mean, be both so intelligent and so "quiet." We were
in our immediate circle to know Couture himself a little toward the end
of his life, and I was somewhat to wonder then where he had picked up
the æsthetic hint for the beautiful Page with a Falcon, if I have the
designation right, his other great bid for style and capture of
it--which we were long to continue to suppose perhaps the rarest of all
modern pictures. The feasting Romans were conceivable enough, I mean
_as_ a conception; no mystery hung about them--in the sense of one's
asking one's self whence they had come and by what romantic or
roundabout or nobly-dangerous journey; which is that air of the poetic
shaken out as from strong wings when great presences, in any one of the
arts, appear to alight. What I remember, on the other hand, of the
splendid fair youth in black velvet and satin or whatever who, while he
mounts the marble staircase, shows off the great bird on his forefinger
with a grace that shows _him_ off, was that it failed to help us to
divine, during that after-lapse of the glory of which I speak, by what
rare chance, for the obscured old ex-celebrity we visited, the heavens
had once opened. Poetry had swooped down, breathed on him for an hour
and fled. Such at any rate are the see-saws of reputations--which it
contributes to the interest of any observational lingering on this
planet to have caught so repeatedly in their weird motion; the question
of what may happen, under one's eyes, in particular cases, before that
motion sinks to rest, whether at the up or at the down end, being really
a bribe to one's own non-departure. Especially great the interest of
having noted all the rises and falls and of being able to compare the
final point--so far as any certainty may go as to that--either with the
greatest or the least previous altitudes; since it is only when there
have been exaltations (which is what is not commonest), that our
attention is most rewarded.

If the see-saw was to have operated indeed for Eugène Delacroix, our
next young admiration, though much more intelligently my brother's than
mine, that had already taken place and settled, for we were to go on
seeing him, and to the end, in firm possession of his crown, and to take
even, I think, a harmless pleasure in our sense of having from so far
back been sure of it. I was sure of it, I must properly add, but as an
effect of my brother's sureness; since I must, by what I remember, have
been as sure of Paul Delaroche--for whom the pendulum was at last to be
arrested at a very different point. I could see in a manner, for all the
queerness, what W. J. meant by that beauty and, above all, that living
interest in La Barque du Dante, where the queerness, according to him,
was perhaps what contributed most; see it doubtless in particular when
he reproduced the work, at home, from a memory aided by a lithograph.
Yet Les Enfants d'Edouard thrilled me to a different tune, and I
couldn't doubt that the long-drawn odd face of the elder prince, sad and
sore and sick, with his wide crimped side-locks of fair hair and his
violet legs marked by the Garter and dangling from the bed, was a
reconstitution of far-off history of the subtlest and most "last word"
modern or psychologic kind. I had never heard of psychology in art or
anywhere else--scarcely anyone then had; but I truly felt the nameless
force at play. Thus if I also in my way "subtly" admired, one's noted
practice of that virtue (mainly regarded indeed, I judge, as a vice)
would appear to have at the time I refer to set in, under such
encouragements, once for all; and I can surely have enjoyed up to then
no formal exhibition of anything as I at one of those seasons enjoyed
the commemorative show of Delaroche given, soon after his death, in one
of the rather bleak salles of the École des Beaux-Arts to which access
was had from the quay. _There_ was reconstituted history if one would,
in the straw-littered scaffold, the distracted ladies with
three-cornered coifs and those immense hanging sleeves that made them
look as if they had bath-towels over their arms; in the block, the
headsman, the bandaged eyes and groping hands, of Lady Jane Grey--not
less than in the noble indifference of Charles the First, compromised
king but perfect gentleman, at his inscrutable ease in his chair and as
if on his throne, while the Puritan soldiers insult and badger him: the
thrill of which was all the greater from its pertaining to that English
lore which the good Robert Thompson had, to my responsive delight,
rubbed into us more than anything else and all from a fine old
conservative and monarchical point of view. Yet of these things W. J.
attempted no reproduction, though I remember his repeatedly laying his
hand on Delacroix, whom he found always and everywhere interesting--to
the point of trying effects, with charcoal and crayon, in his manner;
and not less in the manner of Decamps, whom we regarded as more or less
of a genius of the same rare family. They were touched with the
ineffable, the inscrutable, and Delacroix in especial with the
incalculable; categories these toward which we had even then, by a happy
transition, begun to yearn and languish. We were not yet aware of style,
though on the way to become so, but were aware of mystery, which indeed
was one of its forms--while we saw all the others, without exception,
exhibited at the Louvre, where at first they simply overwhelmed and
bewildered me.

It was as if they had gathered there into a vast deafening chorus; I
shall never forget how--speaking, that is, for my own sense--they
filled those vast halls with the influence rather of some complicated
sound, diffused and reverberant, than of such visibilities as one could
directly deal with. To distinguish among these, in the charged and
coloured and confounding air, was difficult--it discouraged and defied;
which was doubtless why my impression originally best entertained was
that of those magnificent parts of the great gallery simply not inviting
us to distinguish. They only arched over us in the wonder of their
endless golden riot and relief, figured and flourished in perpetual
revolution, breaking into great high-hung circles and symmetries of
squandered picture, opening into deep outward embrasures that threw off
the rest of monumental Paris somehow as a told story, a sort of wrought
effect or bold ambiguity for a vista, and yet held it there, at every
point, as a vast bright gage, even at moments a felt adventure, of
experience. This comes to saying that in those beginnings I felt myself
most happily cross that bridge over to Style constituted by the wondrous
Galerie d'Apollon, drawn out for me as a long but assured initiation and
seeming to form with its supreme coved ceiling and inordinately shining
parquet a prodigious tube or tunnel through which I inhaled little by
little, that is again and again, a general sense of _glory_. The glory
meant ever so many things at once, not only beauty and art and supreme
design, but history and fame and power, the world in fine raised to the
richest and noblest expression. The world there was at the same time, by
an odd extension or intensification, the local present fact, to my small
imagination, of the Second Empire, which was (for my notified
consciousness) new and queer and perhaps even wrong, but on the spot so
amply radiant and elegant that it took to itself, took under its
protection with a splendour of insolence, the state and ancientry of the
whole scene, profiting thus, to one's dim historic vision, confusedly
though it might be, by the unparalleled luxury and variety of its
heritage. But who shall count the sources at which an intense young
fancy (when a young fancy _is_ intense) capriciously, absurdly
drinks?--so that the effect is, in twenty connections, that of a
love-philtre or fear-philtre which fixes for the senses their supreme
symbol of the fair or the strange. The Galerie d'Apollon became for
years what I can only term a splendid scene of things, even of the quite
irrelevant or, as might be, almost unworthy; and I recall to this hour,
with the last vividness, what a precious part it played for me, and
exactly by that continuity of honour, on my awaking, in a summer dawn
many years later, to the fortunate, the instantaneous recovery and
capture of the most appalling yet most admirable nightmare of my life.
The climax of this extraordinary experience--which stands alone for me
as a dream-adventure founded in the deepest, quickest, clearest act of
cogitation and comparison, act indeed of life-saving energy, as well as
in unutterable fear--was the sudden pursuit, through an open door, along
a huge high saloon, of a just dimly-descried figure that retreated in
terror before my rush and dash (a glare of inspired reaction from
irresistible but shameful dread,) out of the room I had a moment before
been desperately, and all the more abjectly, defending by the push of my
shoulder against hard pressure on lock and bar from the other side. The
lucidity, not to say the sublimity, of the crisis had consisted of the
great thought that I, in my appalled state, was probably still more
appalling than the awful agent, creature or presence, whatever he was,
whom I had guessed, in the suddenest wild start from sleep, the sleep
within my sleep, to be making for my place of rest. The triumph of my
impulse, perceived in a flash as I acted on it by myself at a bound,
forcing the door outward, was the grand thing, but the great point of
the whole was the wonder of my final recognition. Routed, dismayed, the
tables turned upon him by my so surpassing him for straight aggression
and dire intention, my visitant was already but a diminished spot in the
long perspective, the tremendous, glorious hall, as I say, over the
far-gleaming floor of which, cleared for the occasion of its great line
of priceless vitrines down the middle, he sped for _his_ life, while a
great storm of thunder and lightning played through the deep embrasures
of high windows at the right. The lightning that revealed the retreat
revealed also the wondrous place and, by the same amazing play, my young
imaginative life in it of long before, the sense of which, deep within
me, had kept it whole, preserved it to this thrilling use; for what in
the world were the deep embrasures and the so polished floor but those
of the Galerie d'Apollon of my childhood? The "scene of something" I had
vaguely then felt it? Well I might, since it was to be the scene of that
immense hallucination.

Of what, at the same time, in those years, were the great rooms of the
Louvre almost equally, above and below, not the scene, from the moment
they so wrought, stage by stage, upon our perceptions?--literally on
almost all of these, in one way and another; quite in such a manner, I
more and more see, as to have been educative, formative, fertilising, in
a degree which no other "intellectual experience" our youth was to know
could pretend, as a comprehensive, conducive thing, to rival. The sharp
and strange, the quite heart-shaking little prevision had come to me,
for myself, I make out, on the occasion of our very first visit of all,
my brother's and mine, under conduct of the good Jean Nadali,
before-mentioned, trustfully deputed by our parents, in the Rue de la
Paix, on the morrow of our first arrival in Paris (July 1855) and while
they were otherwise concerned. I hang again, appalled but uplifted, on
brave Nadali's arm--his professional acquaintance with the splendours
about us added for me on the spot to the charm of his "European"
character: I cling to him while I gape at Géricault's Radeau de la
Méduse, _the_ sensation, for splendour and terror of interest, of that
juncture to me, and ever afterwards to be associated, along with two or
three other more or less contemporary products, Guérin's Burial of
Atala, Prudhon's Cupid and Psyche, David's helmetted Romanisms, Madame
Vigée-Lebrun's "ravishing" portrait of herself and her little girl, with
how can I say what foretaste (as determined by that instant as if the
hour had struck from a clock) of all the fun, confusedly speaking, that
one was going to have, and the kind of life, always of the queer
so-called inward sort, tremendously "sporting" in its way--though that
description didn't then wait upon it, that one was going to lead. It
came of itself, this almost awful apprehension in all the presences,
under our courier's protection and in my brother's company--it came just
there and so; there was alarm in it somehow as well as bliss. The bliss
in fact I think scarce disengaged itself at all, but only the sense of
a freedom of contact and appreciation really too big for one, and
leaving such a mark on the very place, the pictures, the frames
themselves, the figures within them, the particular parts and features
of each, the look of the rich light, the smell of the massively enclosed
air, that I have never since renewed the old exposure without renewing
again the old emotion and taking up the small scared consciousness.
_That_, with so many of the conditions repeated, is the charm--to feel
afresh the beginning of so much that was to be. The beginning in short
was with Géricault and David, but it went on and on and slowly spread;
so that one's stretched, one's even strained, perceptions, one's
discoveries and extensions piece by piece, come back, on the great
premises, almost as so many explorations of the house of life, so many
circlings and hoverings round the image of the world. I have dim
reminiscences of permitted independent visits, uncorrectedly juvenile
though I might still be, during which the house of life and the palace
of art became so mixed and interchangeable--the Louvre being, under a
general description, the most peopled of all scenes not less than the
most hushed of all temples--that an excursion to look at pictures would
have but half expressed my afternoon. I had looked at pictures, looked
and looked again, at the vast Veronese, at Murillo's moon-borne
Madonna, at Leonardo's almost unholy dame with the folded hands,
treasures of the Salon Carré as that display was then composed; but I
had also looked at France and looked at Europe, looked even at America
as Europe itself might be conceived so to look, looked at history, as a
still-felt past and a complacently personal future, at society, manners,
types, characters, possibilities and prodigies and mysteries of fifty
sorts; and all in the light of being splendidly "on my own," as I
supposed it, though we hadn't then that perfection of slang, and of (in
especial) going and coming along that interminable and incomparable
Seine-side front of the Palace against which young sensibility felt
itself almost rub, for endearment and consecration, as a cat invokes the
friction of a protective piece of furniture. Such were at any rate some
of the vague processes--I see for how utterly vague they must show--of
picking up an education; and I was, in spite of the vagueness, so far
from agreeing with my brother afterwards that we didn't pick one up and
that that never _is_ done, in any sense not negligible, and also that an
education might, or should, in particular, have picked _us_ up, and yet
didn't--I was so far dissentient, I say, that I think I quite came to
glorify such passages and see them as part of an order really fortunate.
If we had been little asses, I seem to have reasoned, a higher
intention driving us wouldn't have made us less so--to any point worth
mentioning; and as we extracted such impressions, to put it at the
worst, from redemptive accidents (to call Louvres and Luxembourgs
nothing better) why we weren't little asses, but something wholly other:
which appeared all I needed to contend for. Above all it would have been
stupid and ignoble, an attested and lasting dishonour, not, with our
chance, to have followed our straggling clues, as many as we could and
disengaging as we happily did, I felt, the gold and the silver ones,
whatever the others might have been--not to have followed them and not
to have arrived by them, so far as we were to arrive. Instinctively, for
any dim designs we might have nourished, we picked out the silver and
the gold, attenuated threads though they must have been, and I
positively feel that there were more of these, far more, casually
interwoven, than will reward any present patience for my unravelling of
the too fine tissue.



XXVI


I allude of course in particular here to the æsthetic clue in general,
with which it was that we most (or that I at any rate most) fumbled,
without our in the least having then, as I have already noted, any such
rare name for it. There were sides on which it fairly dangled about us,
involving our small steps and wits; though others too where I could, for
my own part, but clutch at it in the void. Our experience of the theatre
for instance, which had played such a part for us at home, almost wholly
dropped in just the most propitious air: an anomaly indeed half
explained by the fact that life in general, all round us, was
perceptibly more theatrical. And there were other reasons, whether
definitely set before us or not, which we grasped in proportion as we
gathered, by depressing hearsay, that the French drama, great, strange
and important, was as much out of relation to our time of life, our so
little native strain and our cultivated innocence, as the American and
English had been directly addressed to them. To the Cirque d'Été, the
Cirque d'Hiver, the Théâtre du Cirque we were on occasion conducted--we
had fallen so to the level of circuses, and that name appeared a
safety; in addition to which the big theatre most bravely bearing it,
the especial home at that time of the glittering and multitudinous
_féerie_, did seem to lift the whole scenic possibility, for our eyes,
into a higher sphere of light and grace than any previously disclosed. I
recall Le Diable d'Argent as in particular a radiant revelation--kept
before us a whole long evening and as an almost blinding glare; which
was quite right for the _donnée_, the gradual shrinkage of the Shining
One, the money-monster hugely inflated at first, to all the successive
degrees of loose bagginess as he leads the reckless young man he has
originally contracted with from dazzling pleasure to pleasure, till at
last he is a mere shrivelled silver string such as you could almost draw
through a keyhole. That was the striking moral, for the young man,
however regaled, had been somehow "sold"; which _we_ hadn't in the least
been, who had had all his pleasures and none of his penalty, whatever
this was to be. I was to repine a little, in these connections, at a
much later time, on reflecting that had we only been "taken" in the
Paris of that period as we had been taken in New York we might have come
in for celebrities--supremely fine, perhaps supremely rank, flowers of
the histrionic temperament, springing as they did from the soil of the
richest romanticism and adding to its richness--who practised that
braver art and finer finish which a comparatively homogenous public,
forming a compact critical body, still left possible. Rachel was alive,
but dying; the memory of Mademoiselle Mars, at her latest, was still in
the air; Mademoiselle Georges, a massive, a monstrous antique, had
withal returned for a season to the stage; but we missed her, as we
missed Déjazet and Frédéric Lemâitre and Mélingue and Samson; to say
nothing of others of the age before the flood--taking for the flood that
actual high tide of the outer barbarian presence, the general alien and
polyglot, in stalls and boxes, which I remember to have heard Gustave
Flaubert lament as the ruin of the theatre through the assumption of
judgeship by a bench to whom the very values of the speech of author and
actor were virtually closed, or at the best uncertain.

I enjoyed but two snatches of the older representational art--no
particular of either of which, however, has faded from me; the earlier
and rarer of these an evening at the Gymnase for a _spectacle coupé_,
with Mesdames Rose Chéri, Mélanie, Delaporte and Victoria (afterwards
Victoria-La-fontaine). I squeeze again with my mother, my aunt and my
brother into the stuffy baignoire, and I take to my memory in especial
Madame de Girardin's Une Femme qui Déteste son Mari; the thrilling
story, as I judged it, of an admirable lady who, to save her loyalist
husband, during the Revolution, feigns the most Jacobin opinions,
represents herself a citoyenne of citoyennes, in order to keep him the
more safely concealed in her house. He flattens himself, to almost
greater peril of life, behind a panel of the wainscot, which she has a
secret for opening when he requires air and food and they may for a
fearful fleeting instant be alone together; and the point of the picture
is in the contrast between these melting moments and the heroine's
_tenue_ under the tremendous strain of receiving on the one side the
invading, investigating Terrorist commissaries, sharply suspicious but
successfully baffled, and on the other her noble relatives, her
husband's mother and sister if I rightly remember, who are not in the
secret and whom, for perfect prudence, she keeps out of it, though alone
with her, and themselves in hourly danger, they might be trusted, and
who, believing him concealed elsewhere and terribly tracked, treat her,
in her republican rage, as lost to all honour and all duty. One's sense
of such things after so long a time has of course scant authority for
others; but I myself trust my vision of Rose Chéri's fine play just as I
trust that of her _physique ingrat_, her at first extremely odd and
positively osseous appearance; an emaciated woman with a high bulging
forehead, somewhat of the form of Rachel's, for whom the triumphs of
produced illusion, as in the second, third and fourth great dramas of
the younger Dumas, had to be triumphs indeed. My one other reminiscence
of this order connects itself, and quite three years later, with the old
dingy Vaudeville of the Place de la Bourse, where I saw in my brother's
company a rhymed domestic drama of the then still admired Ponsard, Ce
qui Plaît aux Femmes; a piece that enjoyed, I believe, scant success,
but that was to leave with me ineffaceable images. How was it possible,
I wondered, to have more grace and talent, a rarer, cooler art, than
Mademoiselle Fargeuil, the heroine?--the fine lady whom a pair of rival
lovers, seeking to win her hand by offering her what will most please
her, treat, in the one case, to a brilliant fête, a little play within a
play, at which we assist, and in the other to the inside view of an
attic of misery, into which the more cunning suitor introduces her just
in time to save a poor girl, the tenant of the place, from being
ruinously, that is successfully, tempted by a terrible old woman, a
prowling _revendeuse_, who dangles before her the condition on which so
pretty a person may enjoy every comfort. Her happier sister, the courted
young widow, intervenes in time, reinforces her tottering virtue, opens
for her an account with baker and butcher, and, doubting no longer which
flame is to be crowned, charmingly shows us that what pleases women most
is the exercise of charity.

Then it was I first beheld that extraordinary veteran of the stage,
Mademoiselle Pierson, almost immemorially attached, for later
generations, to the Théâtre Français, the span of whose career thus
strikes me as fabulous, though she figured as a very juvenile beauty in
the small _féerie_ or allegory forming M. Ponsard's second act. She has
been playing mothers and aunts this many and many a year--and still
indeed much as a juvenile beauty. Not that light circumstance, however,
pleads for commemoration, nor yet the further fact that I was to admire
Mademoiselle Fargeuil, in the after-time, the time after she had given
all Sardou's earlier successes the help of her shining firmness, when
she had passed from interesting comedy and even from romantic drama--not
less, perhaps still more, interesting, with Sardou's Patrie as a
bridge--to the use of the bigger brush of the Ambigu and other homes of
melodrama. The sense, such as it is, that I extract from the pair of
modest memories in question is rather their value as a glimpse of the
old order that spoke so much less of our hundred modern material
resources, matters the stage of to-day appears mainly to live by, and
such volumes more of the one thing that was then, and that, given
various other things, had to be, of the essence. That one thing was the
quality, to say nothing of the quantity, of the actor's personal
resource, technical history, tested temper, proved experience; on which
almost everything had to depend, and the thought of which makes the mere
starved scene and medium of the period, the _rest_ of the picture, a
more confessed and more heroic battle-ground. They have been more and
more eased off, the scene and medium, for our couple of generations, so
much so in fact that the rest of the picture has become almost _all_ the
picture: the author and the producer, among us, lift the weight of the
play from the performer--particularly of the play dealing with our
immediate life and manners and aspects--after a fashion which does half
the work, thus reducing the "personal equation," the demand for the
maximum of individual doing, to a contribution mostly of the loosest and
sparest. As a sop to historic curiosity at all events may even so short
an impression serve; impression of the strenuous age and its fine old
masterful _assouplissement_ of its victims--who were not the expert
spectators. The spectators were so expert, so broken in to material
suffering for the sake of their passion, that, as the suffering was only
material, they found the æsthetic reward, the critical relish of the
essence, all adequate; a fact that seems in a sort to point a moral of
large application. Everything but the "interpretation," the personal, in
the French theatre of those days, had kinds and degrees of weakness and
futility, say even falsity, of which our modern habit is wholly
impatient--let alone other conditions still that were detestable even at
the time, and some of which, forms of discomfort and annoyance, linger
on to this day. The playhouse, in short, was almost a place of physical
torture, and it is still rarely in Paris a place of physical ease. Add
to this the old thinness of the school of Scribe and the old emptiness
of the thousand vaudevillistes; which part of the exhibition, till
modern comedy began, under the younger Dumas and Augier, had for its
counterpart but the terrible dead weight, or at least the prodigious
prolixity and absurdity, of much, not to say of most, of the romantic
and melodramatic "output." It _paid_ apparently, in the golden age of
acting, to sit through interminable evenings in impossible places--since
to assume that the age _was_ in that particular respect golden (for
which we have in fact a good deal of evidence) alone explains the
patience of the public. With the public the _actors_ were, according to
their seasoned strength, almost exclusively appointed to deal, just as
in the conditions most familiar to-day to ourselves this charge is laid
on almost everyone concerned in the case save the representatives of the
parts. And far more other people are now concerned than of old; not
least those who have learned to make the playhouse endurable. All of
which leaves us with this interesting vision of a possibly great truth,
the truth that you can't have more than one kind of intensity--intensity
worthy of the name--at once. The intensity of the golden age of the
histrion was the intensity of _his_ good faith. The intensity of our
period is that of the "producer's" and machinist's, to which add even
that of architect, author and critic. Between which derivative kind of
that article, as we may call it, and the other, the immediate kind, it
would appear that you have absolutely to choose.



XXVII


I see much of the rest of that particular Paris time in the light of the
Institution Fezandié, and I see the Institution Fezandié, Rue Balzac, in
the light, if not quite of Alphonse Daudet's lean asylum for the _petits
pays chauds_, of which I have felt the previous institutions of New York
sketchily remind me, at least in that of certain other of his studies in
that field of the precarious, the ambiguous Paris over parts of which
the great Arch at the top of the Champs-Elysées flings, at its hours, by
its wide protective plausible shadow, a precious mantle of "tone." They
gather, these chequered parts, into its vast paternal presence and enjoy
at its expense a degree of reflected dignity. It was to the big square
villa of the Rue Balzac that we turned, as pupils not unacquainted with
vicissitudes, from a scene swept bare of M. Lerambert, an establishment
that strikes me, at this distance of time, as of the oddest and most
indescribable--or as describable at best in some of the finer turns and
touches of Daudet's best method. The picture indeed should not be
invidious--it so little needs that, I feel, for its due measure of the
vivid, the queer, the droll, all coming back to me without prejudice to
its air as of an equally futile felicity. I see it as bright and loose
and vague, as confused and embarrassed and helpless; I see it, I fear,
as quite ridiculous, but as wholly harmless to my brothers and me at
least, and as having left us with a fund of human impressions; it played
before us such a variety of figure and character and so relieved us of a
sense of untoward discipline or of the pursuit of abstract knowledge. It
was a recreational, or at least a social, rather than a tuitional house;
which fact had, I really believe, weighed favourably with our parents,
when, bereft of M. Lerambert, they asked themselves, with their
considerable practice, how next to bestow us. Our father, like so many
free spirits of that time in New York and Boston, had been much
interested in the writings of Charles Fourier and in his scheme of the
"phalanstery" as the solution of human troubles, and it comes to me that
he must have met or in other words heard of M. Fezandié as an active and
sympathetic ex-Fourierist (I think there were only ex-Fourierists by
that time,) who was embarking, not far from us, on an experiment if not
absolutely phalansteric at least inspired, or at any rate enriched, by a
bold idealism. I like to think of the Institution as all but
phalansteric--it so corrects any fear that such places might be dreary.
I recall this one as positively gay--bristling and bustling and
resonant, untouched by the strenuous note, for instance, of Hawthorne's
co-operative Blithedale. I like to think that, in its then still almost
suburban, its pleasantly heterogeneous quarter, now oppressively
uniform, it was close to where Balzac had ended his life, though I
question its identity--as for a while I tried not to--with the scene
itself of the great man's catastrophe. Round its high-walled garden at
all events he would have come and gone--a throb of inference that had
for some years indeed to be postponed for me; though an association
displacing to-day, over the whole spot, every other interest. I in any
case can't pretend not to have been most appealed to by that especial
phase of our education from which the pedagogic process as commonly
understood was most fantastically absent. It excelled in this respect,
the Fezandié phase, even others exceptionally appointed, heaven knows,
for the supremacy; and yet its glory is that it was no poor blank, but
that it fairly creaked and groaned, heatedly overflowed, with its
wealth. We were _externes_, the three of us, but we remained in general
to luncheon; coming home then, late in the afternoon, with an almost
sore experience of multiplicity and vivacity of contact. For the beauty
of it all was that the Institution was, speaking technically, not more a
_pensionnat_, with prevailingly English and American pupils, than a
_pension_, with mature beneficiaries of both sexes, and that our two
categories were shaken up together to the liveliest effect. This had
been M. Fezandié's grand conception; a son of the south, bald and
slightly replete, with a delicate beard, a quick but anxious, rather
melancholy eye and a slim, graceful, juvenile wife, who multiplied
herself, though scarce knowing at moments, I think, where or how to
turn; I see him as a Daudet _méridional_, but of the sensitive, not the
sensual, type, as something of a rolling stone, rolling rather down
hill--he had enjoyed some arrested, possibly blighted, connection in
America--and as ready always again for some new application of faith and
funds. If fondly failing in the least to see why the particular
application in the Rue Balzac--the body of pensioners ranging from
infancy to hoary eld--shouldn't have been a bright success could have
made it one, it would have been a most original triumph.

I recover it as for ourselves a beautifully mixed adventure, a brave
little seeing of the world on the happy pretext of "lessons." We _had_
lessons from time to time, but had them in company with ladies and
gentlemen, young men and young women of the Anglo-Saxon family, who sat
at long boards of green cloth with us and with several of our
contemporaries, English and American boys, taking _dictées_ from the
head of the house himself or from the aged and most remarkable M.
Bonnefons, whom we believed to have been a superannuated actor (he above
all such a model for Daudet!) and who interrupted our abashed readings
aloud to him of the French classics older and newer by wondrous
reminiscences and even imitations of Talma. He moved among us in a cloud
of legend, the wigged and wrinkled, the impassioned, though I think alas
underfed, M. Bonnefons: it was our belief that he "went back," beyond
the first Empire, to the scenes of the Revolution--this perhaps partly
by reason, in the first place, of his scorn of our pronunciation, when
we met it, of the sovereign word _liberté_, the poverty of which, our
deplorable "libbeté," without r's, he mimicked and derided, sounding the
right, the revolutionary form out splendidly, with thirty r's, the
prolonged beat of a drum. And then we believed him, if artistically
conservative, politically obnoxious to the powers that then were, though
knowing that those so marked had to walk, and even to breathe,
cautiously for fear of the _mouchards_ of the tyrant; we knew all about
mouchards and talked of them as we do to-day of aviators or
suffragettes--to remember which in an age so candidly unconscious of
them is to feel how much history we have seen unrolled. There were times
when he but paced up and down and round the long table--I see him as
never seated, but always on the move, a weary Wandering Jew of the
_classe_; but in particular I hear him recite to us the combat with the
Moors from Le Cid and show us how Talma, describing it, seemed to crouch
down on his haunches in order to spring up again terrifically to the
height of "Nous nous levons alors!" which M. Bonnefons rendered as if on
the carpet there fifty men at least had leaped to their feet. But he
threw off these broken lights with a quick relapse to indifference; he
didn't like the Anglo-Saxon--of the children of Albion at least his view
was low; on his American specimens he had, I observed, more mercy; and
this imperfection of sympathy (the question of Waterloo apart) rested,
it was impossible not to feel, on his so resenting the dishonour
suffered at our hands by his beautiful tongue, to which, as the great
field of elocution, he was patriotically devoted. I think he fairly
loathed our closed English vowels and confused consonants, our
destitution of sounds that he recognised as sounds; though why in this
connection he put up best with our own compatriots, embroiled at that
time often in even stranger vocables than now, is more than I can say. I
think that would be explained perhaps by his feeling in them as an old
equalitarian certain accessibilities _quand même_. Besides, we of the
younger persuasion at least must have done his ear less violence than
those earnest ladies from beyond the sea and than those young Englishmen
qualifying for examinations and careers who flocked with us both to the
plausibly spread and the severely disgarnished table, and on whose part
I seem to see it again an effort of anguish to "pick up" the happy idiom
that we had unconsciously acquired. French, in the fine old formula of
those days, so much diffused, "was the language of the family"; but I
think it must have appeared to these students in general a family of
which the youngest members were but scantly kept in their place. We
piped with a greater facility and to a richer meed of recognition; which
sounds as if we might have become, in these strange collocations, fairly
offensive little prigs. That was none the less not the case, for there
were, oddly enough, a few French boys as well, to whom on the lingual or
the "family" ground, we felt ourselves feebly relative, and in
comparison with whom, for that matter, or with one of whom, I remember
an occasion of my having to sink to insignificance. There was at the
Institution little of a staff--besides waiters and bonnes; but it
embraced, such as it was, M. Mesnard as well as M. Bonnefons--M. Mesnard
of the new generation, instructor in whatever it might be, among the
arts, that didn't consist of our rolling our r's, and with them, to help
us out, more or less our eyes. It is significant that this elegant
branch is now quite vague to me; and I recall M. Mesnard, in fine, as no
less modern and cheap than M. Bonnefons was rare and unappraiseable. He
had nevertheless given me his attention, one morning, doubtless
patiently enough, in some corner of the villa that we had for the moment
practically to ourselves--I seem to see a small empty room looking on
the garden; when there entered to us, benevolently ushered by Madame
Fezandié, a small boy of very fair and romantic aspect, as it struck me,
a pupil newly arrived. I remember of him mainly that he had a sort of
nimbus of light curls, a face delicate and pale and that deeply hoarse
voice with which French children used to excite our wonder. M. Mesnard
asked of him at once, with interest, his name, and on his pronouncing it
sought to know, with livelier attention, if he were then the son of M.
Arsène Houssaye, lately director of the Théâtre Français. To this
distinction the boy confessed--all to such intensification of our
répétiteur's interest that I knew myself quite dropped, in comparison,
from his scheme of things. Such an origin as our little visitor's
affected him visibly as dazzling, and I felt justified after a while, in
stealing away into the shade. The beautiful little boy was to live to be
the late M. Henry Houssaye, the shining hellenist and historian. I have
never forgotten the ecstasy of hope in M. Mesnard's question--as a
light on the reverence then entertained for the institution M. Houssaye
the elder had administered.



XXVIII


There comes to me, in spite of these memories of an extended connection,
a sense as of some shrinkage or decline in the _beaux jours_ of the
Institution; which seems to have found its current run a bit thick and
troubled, rather than with the pleasant plash in which we at first
appeared all equally to bathe. I gather, as I try to reconstitute, that
the general enterprise simply proved a fantasy not workable, and that at
any rate the elders, and often such queer elders, tended to outnumber
the candid _jeunesse_; so that I wonder by the same token on what theory
of the Castalian spring, as taught there to trickle, if not to flow, M.
Houssaye, holding his small son by the heel as it were, may have been
moved to dip him into our well. Shall I blush to relate that my own
impression of its virtue must have come exactly from this uncanny turn
taken--and quite in spite of the high Fezandié ideals--by the
_invraisemblable_ house of entertainment where the assimilation of no
form of innocence was doubted of by reason of the forms of experience
that insisted somehow on cropping up, and no form of experience too
directly deprecated by reason of the originally plotted tender growths
of innocence. And some of these shapes were precisely those from which
our good principal may well have first drawn his liveliest reassurance:
I seem to remember such ancient American virgins in especial and such
odd and either distinctively long-necked or more particularly
long-haired and chinless compatriots, in black frock-coats of no type or
"cut," no suggested application at all as garments--application, that
is, to anything in the nature of character or circumstance, function or
position--gathered about in the groups that M. Bonnefons almost
terrorised by his refusal to recognise, among the barbarous races, any
approach to his view of the great principle of Diction. I remember
deeply and privately enjoying some of his shades of scorn and seeing
how, given his own background, they were thoroughly founded; I remember
above all as burnt in by the impression he gave me of the creature
_wholly_ animated and containing no waste expressional spaces, no
imaginative flatnesses, the notion of the luxury of life, though indeed
of the amount of trouble of it too, when _none_ of the letters of the
alphabet of sensibility might be dropped, involved in being a Frenchman.
The liveliest lesson I must have drawn, however, from that source makes
in any case, at the best, an odd educational connection, given the kind
of concentration at which education, even such as ours, is supposed
especially to aim: I speak of that direct promiscuity of insights which
might easily have been pronounced profitless, with their attendant
impressions and quickened sensibilities--yielding, as these last did,
harvests of apparitions. I positively cherish at the present hour the
fond fancy that we all soaked in some such sublime element as might
still have hung about there--I mean on the very spot--from the vital
presence, so lately extinct, of the prodigious Balzac; which had
involved, as by its mere respiration, so dense a cloud of other
presences, so arrayed an army of interrelated shades, that the air was
still thick as with the fumes of witchcraft, with infinite seeing and
supposing and creating, with a whole imaginative traffic. The Pension
Vauquer, then but lately existent, according to Le Père Goriot, on the
other side of the Seine, was still to be revealed to me; but the figures
peopling it are not to-day essentially more intense (that is as a matter
of the marked and featured, the terrible and the touching, as compared
with the paleness of the conned page in general,) than I persuade
myself, with so little difficulty, that I found the more numerous and
more shifting, though properly doubtless less inspiring, constituents of
the Pension Fezandié. Fantastic and all "subjective" that I should
attribute a part of their interest, or that of the scene spreading round
them, to any competent perception, in the small-boy mind, that the
general or public moment had a rarity and a brevity, a sharp intensity,
of its own; ruffling all things, as they came, with the morning breath
of the Second Empire and making them twinkle back with a light of
resigned acceptance, a freshness of cynicism, the force of a great
grimacing example. The grimace might have been legibly there in the air,
to the young apprehension, and could I but simplify this record enough I
should represent everything as part of it. I seemed at any rate
meanwhile to think of the Fezandié young men, young Englishmen mostly,
who were getting up their French, in that many-coloured air, for what I
supposed, in my candour, to be appointments and "posts," diplomatic,
commercial, vaguely official, and who, as I now infer, though I didn't
altogether embrace it at the time, must, under the loose rule of the
establishment, have been amusing themselves not a little. It was as a
side-wind of their free criticism, I take it, that I felt the first
chill of an apprehended decline of the establishment, some pang of
prevision of what might come, and come as with a crash, of the general
fine fallacy on which it rested. Their criticism was for that matter
free enough, causing me to admire it even while it terrified. They
expressed themselves in terms of magnificent scorn--such as might
naturally proceed, I think I felt, from a mightier race; they spoke of
poor old Bonnefons, they spoke of our good Fezandié himself, they spoke
more or less of everyone within view, as beggars and beasts, and I
remember to have heard on their lips no qualification of any dish served
to us at dêjeuner (and still more at the later meal, of which my
brothers and I didn't partake) but as rotten. These were expressions,
absent from our domestic, our American air either of fonder
discriminations or vaguer estimates, which fairly extended for me the
range of intellectual, or at least of social resource; and as the
general tone of them to-day comes back to me it floods somehow with
light the image of the fine old insular confidence (so intellectually
unregenerate then that such a name scarce covers it, though inward
stirrings and the growth of a _comparative_ sense of things have now
begun unnaturally to agitate and disfigure it,) in which the general
outward concussion of the English "abroad" with the fact of being abroad
took place. The Fezandié young men were as much abroad as might be, and
yet figured to me--largely by the upsetting force of that confidence,
all but physically exercised--as the finest, handsomest, knowingest
creatures; so that when I met them of an afternoon descending the
Champs-Elysées with fine long strides and in the costume of the period,
for which we can always refer to contemporary numbers of "Punch," the
fact that I was for the most part walking sedately either with my mother
or my aunt, or even with my sister and her governess, caused the spark
of my vision that they were armed for conquest, or at the least for
adventure, more expansively to glow. I am not sure whether as a general
thing they honoured me at such instants with a sign of recognition; but
I recover in especial the sense of an evening hour during which I had
accompanied my mother to the Hôtel Meurice, where one of the New York
cousins aforementioned, daughter of one of the Albany uncles--that is of
the Rhinebeck member of the group--had perched for a time, so
incongruously, one already seemed to feel, after the sorriest stroke of
fate. I see again the gaslit glare of the Rue de Rivoli in the spring or
the autumn evening (I forget which, for our year of the Rue d'Angoulême
had been followed by a migration to the Rue Montaigne, with a period, or
rather with two periods, of Boulogne-sur-mer interwoven, and we might
have made our beguiled way from either domicile); and the whole
impression seemed to hang too numerous lamps and too glittering
_vitrines_ about the poor Pendletons' bereavement, their loss of their
only, their so sturdily handsome, little boy, and to suffuse their state
with the warm rich exhalations of subterraneous cookery with which I
find my recall of Paris from those years so disproportionately and so
quite other than stomachically charged. The point of all of which is
simply that just as we had issued from the hotel, my mother anxiously
urging me through the cross currents and queer contacts, as it were, of
the great bazaar (of which the Rue de Rivoli was then a much more
bristling avenue than now) rather than depending on me for support and
protection, there swung into view the most splendid, as I at least
esteemed him, of my elders and betters in the Rue Balzac, who had left
the questions there supposedly engaging us far behind, and, with his
high hat a trifle askew and his cigar actively alight, revealed to me at
a glance what it was to be in full possession of Paris. There was speed
in his step, assurance in his air, he was visibly, impatiently on the
way; and he gave me thereby my first full image of what it was exactly
to _be_ on the way. He gave it the more, doubtless, through the fact
that, with a flourish of the aforesaid high hat (from which the
Englishman of that age was so singularly inseparable) he testified to
the act of recognition, and to deference to my companion, but with a
grand big-boy good-humour that--as I remember from childhood the so
frequent effect of an easy patronage, compared with a top-most
overlooking, on the part of an admired senior--only gave an accent to
the difference. As if he cared, or could have, that I but went forth
through the Paris night in the hand of my mamma; while he had greeted us
with a grace that was as a beat of the very wings of freedom! Of such
shreds, at any rate, proves to be woven the stuff of young
sensibility--when memory (if sensibility has at all existed for it)
rummages over our old trunkful of spiritual duds and, drawing forth ever
so tenderly this, that and the other tattered web, holds up the pattern
to the light. I find myself in this connection so restlessly and
tenderly rummage that the tatters, however thin, come out in handsful
and every shred seems tangled with another.

Gertrude Pendleton's mere name, for instance, becomes, and very
preferably, the frame of another and a better picture, drawing to it
cognate associations, those of that element of the New York cousinship
which had originally operated to place there in a shining and even, as
it were, an economic light a "preference for Paris"--which preference,
during the period of the Rue d'Angoulême and the Rue Montaigne, we
wistfully saw at play, the very lightest and freest, on the part of the
inimitable Masons. Their earlier days of Tours and Trouville were over;
a period of relative rigour at the Florence of the still encircling
walls, the still so existent abuses and felicities, was also, I seem to
gather, a thing of the past; great accessions, consciously awaited
during the previous leaner time, had beautifully befallen them, and my
own whole consciousness of the general air--so insistently I
discriminate for that alone--was coloured by a familiar view of their
enjoyment of these on a tremendously draped and festooned _premier_ of
the Rue-St.-Honoré, bristling with ormolu and Pradier statuettes and
looking almost straight across to the British Embassy; rather a low
premier, after the manner of an entresol, as I remember it, and where
the closed windows, which but scantly distinguished between our own
sounds and those of the sociable, and yet the terrible, street of
records and memories, seemed to maintain an air and a light thick with a
mixture of every sort of queer old Parisian amenity and reference: as if
to look or to listen or to touch were somehow at the same time to probe,
to recover and communicate, to behold, to taste and even to smell--to
one's greater assault by suggestion, no doubt, but also to the effect of
some sweet and strange repletion, as from the continued consumption,
say, out of flounced and puckered boxes, of serried rows of chocolate
and other bonbons. I must have felt the whole thing as something for
one's developed senses to live up to and make light of, and have been
rather ashamed of my own for just a little sickishly staggering under
it. This goes, however, with the fondest recall of our cousins' inbred
ease, from far back, in all such assumable relations; and of how, four
of the simplest, sweetest, best-natured girls as they were (with the
eldest, a charming beauty, to settle on the general ground, after
marriage and widowhood, and still to be blooming there), they were
possessed of the scene and its great reaches and resources and
possibilities in a degree that reduced us to small provincialism and a
hanging on their lips when they told us, that is when the gentlest of
mammas and the lovely daughter who was "out" did, of presentations at
the Tuileries to the then all-wonderful, the ineffable Empress: reports
touchingly qualified, on the part of our so exposed, yet after all so
scantily indurated relatives, by the question of whether occasions so
great didn't perhaps nevertheless profane the Sundays for which they
were usually appointed. There was something of an implication in the air
of those days, when young Americans were more numerously lovely than
now, or at least more wide-eyed, it would fairly appear, that some
account of the only tradition they had ever been rumoured to observe
(that of the Lord's day) might have been taken even at the Tuileries.

But what most comes back to me as the very note and fragrance of the New
York cousinship in this general connection is a time that I remember to
have glanced at on a page distinct from these, when the particular
cousins I now speak of had conceived, under the influence of I know not
what unextinguished morning star, the liveliest taste for the earliest
possible rambles and researches, in which they were so good as to allow
me, when I was otherwise allowed, to participate: health-giving walks,
of an extraordinarily _matinal_ character, at the hour of the meticulous
rag-pickers and exceptionally French polishers known to the Paris dawns
of the Second Empire as at no time since; which made us all feel
together, under the conduct of Honorine, bright child of the pavement
herself, as if _we_, in our fresh curiosity and admiration, had also
something to say to the great show presently to be opened, and were
free, throughout the place, as those are free of a house who know its
aspects of attic and cellar or how it looks from behind. I call our
shepherdess Honorine even though perhaps not infallibly naming the
sociable soubrette who might, with all her gay bold confidence, have
been an official inspectress in person, and to whose easy care or, more
particularly, expert sensibility and candour of sympathy and curiosity,
our flock was freely confided. If she wasn't Honorine she was Clémentine
or Augustine--which is a trifle; since what I thus recover, in any case,
of these brushings of the strange Parisian dew, is those communities of
contemplation that made us most hang about the jewellers' windows in the
Palais Royal and the public playbills of the theatres on the Boulevard.
The Palais Royal, now so dishonoured and disavowed, was then the very
Paris of Paris; the shutters of the shops seemed taken down, at that
hour, for our especial benefit, and I remember well how, the "dressing"
of so large a number of the compact and richly condensed fronts being
more often than not a matter of diamonds and pearls, rubies and
sapphires, that represented, in their ingenuities of combination and
contortion, the highest taste of the time, I found open to me any amount
of superior study of the fact that the spell of gems seemed for the
feminine nature almost alarmingly boundless. I stared too, it comes back
to me, at these exhibitions, and perhaps even thought it became a young
man of the world to express as to this or that object a refined and
intelligent preference; but what I really most had before me was the
chorus of abjection, as I might well have called it, led, at the highest
pitch, by Honorine and vaguely suggesting to me, by the crudity, so to
say, of its wistfulness, a natural frankness of passion--goodness knew
in fact (for my small intelligence really didn't) what depths of
corruptibility. Droll enough, as I win them again, these queer dim plays
of consciousness: my sense that my innocent companions, Honorine _en
tête_, would have done anything or everything for the richest ruby, and
that though one couldn't one's self be decently dead to that richness
one didn't at all know what "anything" might be or in the least what
"everything" was. The gushing cousins, at the same time, assuredly knew
still less of that, and Honorine's brave gloss of a whole range alike of
possibilities and actualities was in itself a true social grace.

They all enjoyed, in fine, while I somehow but wastefully mused--which
was after all my form of enjoyment; I was shy for it, though it was a
truth and perhaps odd enough withal, that I didn't really at all care
for gems, that rubies and pearls, in no matter what collocations, left
me comparatively cold; that I actually cared for them about as little
as, monstrously, secretly, painfully, I cared for flowers. Later on I
was to become aware that I "adored" trees and architectural
marbles--that for a sufficient slab of a sufficiently rare, sufficiently
bestreaked or empurpled marble in particular I would have given a bag of
rubies; but by then the time had passed for my being troubled to make
out what in that case would represent on a small boy's part the
corruptibility, so to call it, proclaimed, before the _vitrines_, by the
cousins. That hadn't, as a question, later on, its actuality; but it had
so much at the time that if it had been frankly put to me I must have
quite confessed my inability to say--and must, I gather, by the same
stroke, have been ashamed of such inward penury; feeling that as a boy I
showed more poorly than girls. There was a difference meanwhile for such
puzzlements before the porticos of the theatres; all questions melted
for me there into the single depth of envy--envy of the equal, the
beatific command of the evening hour, in the _régime_ of Honorine's
young train, who were fresh for the early sparrow and the chiffonier
even after shedding buckets of tears the night before, and not so much
as for the first or the second time, over the beautiful story of La Dame
aux Camélias. There indeed was another humiliation, but by my weakness
of position much more than of nature: whatever doing of "everything"
might have been revealed to me as a means to the end, I would certainly
have done it for a sight of Madame Doche and Fechter in Dumas's
triumphant idyll--now enjoying the fullest honours of innocuous
classicism; with which, as with the merits of its interpreters,
Honorine's happy charges had become perfectly and if not quite serenely,
at least ever so responsively and feelingly, familiar. Of a wondrous
mixed sweetness and sharpness and queerness of uneffaced reminiscence is
all that aspect of the cousins and the rambles and the overlapping
nights melting along the odorously bedamped and retouched streets and
arcades; bright in the ineffable morning light, above all, of our
peculiar young culture and candour!

All of which again has too easily led me to drop for a moment my more
leading clue of that radiation of goodnature from Gertrude Pendleton and
her headlong hospitalities in which we perhaps most complacently basked.
The becraped passage at Meurice's alluded to a little back was of a
later season, and the radiation, as I recall it, had been, that first
winter, mainly from a _petit hôtel_ somewhere "on the other side," as
we used with a large sketchiness to say, of the Champs Elysées; a region
at that time reduced to no regularity, but figuring to my fond fancy as
a chaos of accidents and contrasts where _petits hôtels_ of archaic type
were elbowed by woodyards and cabarets, and pavilions ever so
characteristic, yet ever so indefinable, snuggled between frank
industries and vulgarities--all brightened these indeed by the sociable
note of Paris, be it only that of chaffering or of other _bavardise_.
The great consistencies of arch-refinement, now of so large a harmony,
were still to come, so that it seemed rather original to live there; in
spite of which the attraction of the hazard of it on the part of our
then so uniformly natural young kinswoman, not so much ingeniously, or
even expressively, as just gesticulatively and helplessly gay--since
that earlier pitch of New York parlance scarce arrived at, or for that
matter pretended to, enunciation--was quite in what I at least took to
be the glitter of her very conventions and traditions themselves;
exemplified for instance by a bright nocturnal christening-party in
honour of the small son of all hopes whom she was so precipitately to
lose: an occasion which, as we had, in our way, known the act of baptism
but as so abbreviated and in fact so tacit a business, had the effect
for us of one of the great "forms" of a society taking itself with
typical seriousness. We were much more serious than the Pendletons,
but, paradoxically enough, there was that weakness in our state of our
being able to make no such attestation of it. The evening can have been
but of the friendliest, easiest and least pompous nature, with small
guests, in congruity with its small hero, as well as large; but I must
have found myself more than ever yet in presence of a "rite," one of
those round which as many kinds of circumstance as possible
clustered--so that the more of these there were the more one might
imagine a great social order observed. How shall I now pretend to say
how many kinds of circumstance I supposed I recognised?--with the
remarkable one, to begin with, and which led fancy so far afield, that
the "religious ceremony" was at the same time a "party," of twinkling
lustres and disposed flowers and ladies with bare shoulders (that
platitudinous bareness of the period that suggested somehow the moral
line, drawn as with a ruler and a firm pencil); with little English
girls, daughters of a famous physician of that nationality then pursuing
a Parisian career (he must have helped the little victim into the
world), and whose emphasised type much impressed itself; with round
glazed and beribboned boxes of multi-coloured sugared almonds, dragées
de baptême above all, which we harvested, in their heaps, as we might
have gathered apples from a shaken tree, and which symbolised as nothing
else the ritual dignity. Perhaps this grand impression really came back
but to the dragées de baptême, not strictly more immemorial to our young
appreciation than the New Year's cake and the "Election" cake known to
us in New York, yet immensely more official and of the nature of
scattered largesse; partly through the days and days, as it seemed to
me, that our life was to be furnished, reinforced and almost encumbered
with them. It wasn't simply that they were so toothsome, but that they
were somehow so important and so historic.

It was with no such frippery, however, that I connected the occasional
presence among us of the young member of the cousinship (in this case of
the maternal) who most moved me to wistfulness of wonder, though not at
all, with his then marked difference of age, by inviting my free
approach. Vernon King, to whom I have in another part of this record
alluded, at that time doing his baccalauréat on the other side of the
Seine and coming over to our world at scraps of moments (for I recall my
awe of the tremendous nature, as I supposed it, of his toil), as to
quite a make-believe and gingerbread place, the lightest of substitutes
for the "Europe" in which he had been from the first so technically
plunged. His mother and sister, also on an earlier page referred to,
had, from their distance, committed him to the great city to be
"finished," educationally, to the point that for our strenuous cousin
Charlotte was the only proper one--and I feel sure he can have acquitted
himself in this particular in a manner that would have passed for
brilliant if such lights didn't, thanks to her stiff little standards,
always tend to burn low in her presence. These ladies were to develop
more and more the practice of living in odd places for abstract inhuman
reasons--at Marseilles, at Düsseldorf (if I rightly recall their
principal German sojourn), at Naples, above all, for a long stage;
where, in particular, their grounds of residence were somehow not as
those of others, even though I recollect, from a much later time,
attending them there at the opera, an experience which, in their
fashion, they succeeded in despoiling for me of every element of the
concrete, or at least of the pleasantly vulgar. Later impressions, few
but firm, were so to enhance one's tenderness for Vernon's own image,
the most interesting surely in all the troop of our young kinsmen early
baffled and gathered, that he glances at me out of the Paris period,
fresh-coloured, just blond-bearded, always smiling and catching his
breath a little as from a mixture of eagerness and shyness, with such an
appeal to the right idealisation, or to belated justice, as makes of
mere evocation a sort of exercise of loyalty. It seemed quite richly
laid upon me at the time--I get it all back--that he, two or three years
older than my elder brother and dipped more early, as well as held more
firmly, in the deep, the refining waters the virtue of which we all
together, though with our differences of consistency, recognised, was
the positive and living proof of what the process, comparatively poor
for ourselves, could do at its best and with clay originally and
domestically kneaded to the right plasticity; besides which he shone, to
my fancy, and all the more for its seeming so brightly and quietly in
his very grain, with the vague, the supposititious, but the intensely
accent-giving stamp of the Latin quarter, which we so thinly imagined
and so superficially brushed on our pious walks to the Luxembourg and
through the parts where the glamour might have hung thickest. We were to
see him a little--but two or three times--three or four years later,
when, just before our own return, he had come back to America for the
purpose, if my memory serves, of entering the Harvard Law School; and to
see him still always with the smile that was essentially as facial, as
livingly and loosely fixed, somehow, as his fresh complexion itself;
always too with the air of caring so little for what he had been put
through that, under any appeal to give out, more or less wonderfully,
some sample or echo of it, as who should say, he still mostly panted as
from a laughing mental embarrassment: he had been put through too much;
it was all stale to him, and he wouldn't have known where to begin. He
did give out, a little, on occasion--speaking, that is, on my different
plane, as it were, and by the roundabout report of my brother; he gave
out, it appeared, as they walked together across shining Newport sands,
some fragment, some beginning of a very youthful poem that "Europe" had,
with other results, moved him to, and a faint thin shred of which was to
stick in my remembrance for reasons independent of its quality:


     "Harold, rememberest thou the day,
       We rode along the Appian Way?
     Neglected tomb and altar cast
       Their lengthening shadow o'er the plain,
     And while we talked the mighty past
       Around us lived and breathed again!"


That was European enough, and yet he had returned to America really to
find himself, even with every effort made immediately near him to defeat
the discovery. He found himself, with the outbreak of the War, simply as
the American soldier, and not under any bribe, however dim, of the
epaulette or the girt sword; but just as the common enlisting native,
which he smiled and gasped--to the increase of his happy shortness of
breath, as from a repletion of culture, since it suggested no lack of
personal soundness--at feeling himself so _like_ to be. As strange, yet
as still more touching than strange, I recall the sight, even at a
distance, of the drop straight off him of all his layers of educational
varnish, the possession of the "advantages," the tongues, the degrees,
the diplomas, the reminiscences, a saturation too that had all sunk
in--a sacrifice of precious attributes that might almost have been
viewed as a wild bonfire. So his prodigious mother, whom I have perhaps
sufficiently presented for my reader to understand, didn't fail to view
it--judging it also, sharply hostile to the action of the North as the
whole dreadful situation found her, with deep and resentful displeasure.
I remember how I thought of Vernon himself, during the business, as at
once so despoiled, so diverted, and above all so resistantly bright, as
vaguely to suggest something more in him still, some deep-down reaction,
some extremity of indifference and defiance, some exhibition of a young
character too long pressed and impressed, too long prescribed to and
with too much expected of it, and all under too firmer a will; so that
the public pretext had given him a lift, or lent him wings, which
without its greatness might have failed him. As the case was to turn
nothing--that is nothing he most wanted and, remarkably, most
enjoyed--did fail him at all. I forget with which of the possible
States, New York, Massachusetts or Rhode Island (though I think the
first) he had taken service; only seeming to remember that this all went
on for him at the start in McClellan's and later on in Grant's army,
and that, badly wounded in a Virginia battle, he came home to be nursed
by his mother, recently restored to America for a brief stay. She held,
I believe, in the event, that he had, under her care, given her his vow
that, his term being up, he would not, should he get sufficiently well,
re-engage. The question here was between them, but it was definite that,
materially speaking, she was in no degree dependent on him. The old, the
irrepressible adage, however, was to live again between them: when the
devil was sick the devil a saint would be; when the devil was well the
devil a saint was he!

The devil a saint, at all events, was Vernon, who denied that he had
passed his word, and who, as soon as he had surmounted his first
disablement, passionately and quite admirably re-enlisted. At once
restored to the front and to what now gave life for him its
indispensable relish, he was in the thick, again, of the great carnage
roundabout Richmond, where, again gravely wounded, he (as I figure still
incorrigibly smiling) succumbed. His mother had by this time indignantly
returned to Europe, accompanied by her daughter and her younger son--the
former of whom accepted, for our great pity, a little later on, the
office of closing the story. Anne King, young and frail, but not less
firm, under stress, than the others of her blood, came back, on her
brother's death, and, quietest, most colourless Electra of a lucidest
Orestes, making her difficult way amid massed armies and battle-drenched
fields, got possession of his buried body and bore it for reinterment to
Newport, the old habitation, as I have mentioned, of their father's
people, both Vernons and Kings. It must have been to see my mother, as
well as to sail again for Europe, that she afterwards came to Boston,
where I remember going down with her, at the last, to the dock of the
English steamer, some black and tub-like Cunarder, an archaic "Africa"
or "Asia" sufficing to the Boston service of those days. I saw her off
drearily and helplessly enough, I well remember, and even at that moment
found for her another image: what was she most like, though in a still
sparer and dryer form, but some low-toned, some employed little Brontë
heroine?--though more indeed a Lucy Snowe than a Jane Eyre, and with no
shade of a Brontë hero within sight. To this all the fine privilege and
fine culture of all the fine countries (collective matter, from far
back, of our intimated envy) had "amounted"; just as it had amounted for
Vernon to the bare headstone on the Newport hillside where, by his
mother's decree, as I have already noted, there figured no hint of the
manner of his death. So grand, so finely personal a manner it appeared
to me at the time, and has indeed appeared ever since, that this brief
record irrepressibly springs from that. His mother, as I have equally
noted, was however, with her views, to find no grace in it so long as
she lived; and his sister went back to her, and to Marseille, as they
always called it, but prematurely to die.



XXIX


I feel that much might be made of my memories of Boulogne-sur-Mer had I
but here left room for the vast little subject; in which I should
probably, once started, wander to and fro as exploringly, as
perceivingly, as discoveringly, I am fairly tempted to call it, as might
really give the measure of my small operations at the time. I was almost
wholly reduced there to operations of that mere inward and superficially
idle order at which we have already so freely assisted; reduced by a
cause I shall presently mention, the production of a great blur,
well-nigh after the fashion of some mild domestic but quite considerably
spreading grease-spot, in respect to the world of action, such as it
was, more or less immediately about me. I must personally have lived
during this pale predicament almost only by seeing what I could, after
my incorrigible ambulant fashion--a practice that may well have made me
pass for bringing home nothing in the least exhibitional--rather than by
pursuing the inquiries and interests that agitated, to whatever
intensity, our on the whole widening little circle. The images I speak
of as matter for more evocation that I can spare them were the fruit of
two different periods at Boulogne, a shorter and a longer; this second
appearing to us all, at the time, I gather, too endlessly and
blightingly prolonged: so sharply, before it was over, did I at any rate
come to yearn for the Rue Montaigne again, the Rue Montaigne "sublet"
for a term under a flurry produced in my parents' breasts by a
"financial crisis" of great violence to which the American world, as a
matter now of recorded history, I believe, had tragically fallen victim,
and which had imperilled or curtailed for some months our moderate means
of existence. We were to recover, I make out, our disturbed balance, and
were to pursue awhile further our chase of the alien, the somehow
repeatedly postponed _real_ opportunity; and the second, the
comparatively cramped and depressed connection with the classic refuge,
as it then was, of spasmodic thrift, when not of settled indigence, for
the embarrassed of our race in the largest sense of this matter, was to
be shuffled off at last with no scant relief and reaction. This is
perhaps exactly why the whole picture of our existence at the
Pas-de-Calais watering place pleads to me now for the full indulgence,
what would be in other words every touch of tenderness workable, after
all the years, over the lost and confused and above all, on their own
side, poor ultimately rather vulgarised and violated little sources of
impression: items and aspects these which while they in their degree
and after their sort flourished we only asked to admire, or at least to
appreciate, for their rewarding extreme queerness. The very centre of my
particular consciousness of the place turned too soon to the fact of my
coming in there for the gravest illness of my life, an all but mortal
attack of the malignant typhus of old days; which, after laying me as
low as I could well be laid for many weeks, condemned me to a
convalescence so arduous that I saw my apparently scant possibilities,
by the measure of them then taken, even as through a glass darkly, or
through the expansive blur for which I found just above a homely image.

This experience was to become when I had emerged from it the great
reminiscence or circumstance of old Boulogne for me, and I was to regard
it, with much intelligence, I should have maintained, as the marked
limit of my state of being a small boy. I took on, when I had decently,
and all the more because I had so retardedly, recovered, the sense of
being a boy of other dimensions somehow altogether, and even with a new
dimension introduced and acquired; a dimension that I was eventually to
think of as a stretch in the direction of essential change or of living
straight into a part of myself previously quite unvisited and now made
accessible as by the sharp forcing of a closed door. The blur of
consciousness imaged by my grease-spot was not, I hasten to declare,
without its relenting edges and even, during its major insistence,
fainter thicknesses; short of which, I see, my picture, the picture I
was always so incurably "after," would have failed of animation
altogether--quite have failed to bristle with characteristics, with
figures and objects and scenic facts, particular passages and moments,
the stuff, in short, of that scrap of minor gain which I have spoken of
as our multiplied memories. Wasn't I even at the time, and much more
later on, to feel how we had been, through the thick and thin of the
whole adventure, assaulted as never before in so concentrated a way by
local and social character? Such was the fashion after which the
Boulogne of long ago--I have known next to nothing of it since--could
come forth, come more than half-way, as we say, to meet the imagination
open to such advances. It was, taking one thing with another, so verily
drenched in character that I see myself catching this fine flagrancy
almost equally in everything; unless indeed I may have felt it rather
smothered than presented on the comparatively sordid scene of the
Collège Communal, not long afterwards to expand, I believe, into the
local Lycée, to which the inimitable process of our education promptly
introduced us. I was to have less of the Collège than my elder and my
younger brother, thanks to the interrupting illness that placed me so
long, with its trail of after-effects, half complacently, half ruefully
apart; but I suffered for a few early weeks the mainly malodorous sense
of the braver life, produced as this was by a deeply democratic
institution from which no small son even of the most soapless home could
possibly know exclusion. Odd, I recognise, that I should inhale the air
of the place so particularly, so almost only, to that dismal effect;
since character was there too, for whom it should concern, and my view
of some of the material conditions, of the general collegiate presence
toward the top of the steepish Grand' Rue, on the right and not much
short, as it comes back to me, of the then closely clustered and
inviolate haute ville, the more or less surviving old town, the idle
grey rampart, the moated and towered citadel, the tree-shaded bastion
for strolling and sitting "immortalised" by Thackeray, achieved the
monumental, in its degree, after a fashion never yet associated for us
with the pursuit of learning. Didn't the Campaigner, suffering indigence
at the misapplied hands of Colonel Newcome, rage at that hushed victim
supremely and dreadfully just thereabouts--by which I mean in the _haute
ville_--over some question of a sacrificed sweetbread or a cold hacked
joint that somebody had been "at"? Beside such builded approaches to an
education as we had elsewhere known the Collège exhibited, with whatever
reserves, the measure of style which almost any French accident of the
administratively architectural order more easily rises to than fails
of; even if the matter be but a question of the shyest similitude of a
_cour d'honneur_, the court disconnecting the scene, by intention at
least, from the basely bourgeois and giving value to the whole effect of
opposed and windowed wall and important, or balanced and "placed,"
_perron_. These are many words for the dull precinct, as then presented,
I admit, and they are perhaps half prompted by a special association,
too ghostly now quite to catch again--the sense of certain Sundays,
distinct from the grim, that is the flatly instructional, body of the
week, when I seem to myself to have successfully flouted the whole
constituted field by passing across it and from it to some quite ideally
old-world little annexed _musée de province_, as inviolate in its way as
the grey rampart and bare citadel, and very like them in unrelieved
tone, where I repeatedly, and without another presence to hinder, looked
about me at goodness knows what weird ancientries of stale academic art.
Not one of these treasures, in its habit as it lived, do I recall; yet
the sense and the "note" of them was at the time, none the less, not so
elusive that I didn't somehow draw straight from them intimations of the
interesting, that is revelations of the æsthetic, the historic, the
critical mystery and charm of things (of such things taken altogether),
that added to my small loose handful of the seed of culture.

That apprehension was, in its way, of our house of learning too, and
yet I recall how, on the scant and simple terms I have glanced at, I
quite revelled in it; whereas other impressions of my brief ordeal
shrink, for anything in the nature of interest, but to three or four
recovered marks of the social composition of the school. There were the
sons of all the small shop-keepers and not less, by my remembrance, of
certain of the mechanics and artisans; but there was also the English
contingent, these predominantly _internes_ and uniformed, blue-jacketed
and brass-buttoned, even to an effect of odd redundancy, who by my
conceit gave our association a lift. Vivid still to me is the summer
morning on which, in the wide court--as wide, that is, as I liked to
suppose it, and where we hung about helplessly enough for recreation--a
brownish black-eyed youth, of about my own degree of youthfulness,
mentioned to me with an air that comes back as that of the liveliest
informational resource the outbreak, just heard of, of an awful Mutiny
in India, where his military parents, who had not so long before sent
him over thence, with such weakness of imagination, as I measured it, to
the poor spot on which we stood, were in mortal danger of their lives;
so that news of their having been killed would perhaps be already on the
way. They might well have been military, these impressively exposed
characters, since my friend's name was Napier, or Nappié as he was
called at the school, and since, I may add also, there attached to him,
in my eyes, the glamour of an altogether new emphasis of type. The
English boys within our ken since our coming abroad had been of the
fewest--the Fezandié youths, whether English or American, besides being
but scantly boys, had been so lost, on that scene, in our heap of
disparities; and it pressed upon me after a fashion of its own that
those we had known in New York, and all aware of their varieties and
"personalities" as one had supposed one's self, had in no case
challenged the restless "placing" impulse with any such force as the
finished little Nappié. They had not been, as he was by the very
perversity of his finish, resultants of forces at all--or comparatively
speaking; it was as if their producing elements had been simple and few,
whereas behind this more mixed and, as we have learnt to say, evolved
companion (his very simplicities, his gaps of possibility, being still
evolved), there massed itself I couldn't have said what protective
social order, what tangled creative complexity. Why I should have
thought him almost Indian of stamp and hue because his English parents
were of the so general Indian peril is more than I can say; yet I have
his exotic and above all his bold, his imaginably even "bad," young
face, finely unacquainted with law, before me at this hour quite
undimmed--announcing, as I conceived it, and quite as a shock, any
awful adventure one would, as well as something that I must even at the
time have vaguely taken as the play of the "passions." He vanishes, and
I dare say I but make him over, as I make everything; and he must have
led his life, whatever it was to become, with the least possible waiting
on the hour or the major consequence and no waste of energy at all in
mooning, no patience with any substitute for his very own humour. We had
another schoolmate, this one native to the soil, whose references were
with the last vividness local and who was yet to escape with brilliancy
in the aftertime the smallest shadow of effacement. His most direct
reference at that season was to the principal pastry-cook's of the town,
an establishment we then found supreme for little criss-crossed apple
tartlets and melting _babas_--young Coquelin's home life amid which we
the more acutely envied that the upward cock of his so all-important
nose testified, for my fancy, to the largest range of free familiar
sniffing. C.-B. Coquelin is personally most present to me, in the form
of that hour, by the value, as we were to learn to put it, of this nose,
the fine assurance and impudence of which fairly made it a trumpet for
promises; yet in spite of that, the very gage, as it were, of his long
career as the most interesting and many-sided comedian, or at least most
unsurpassed dramatic _diseur_ of his time, I failed to doubt that, with
the rich recesses of the parental industry for his background, his
subtlest identity was in his privilege, or perhaps even in his expertest
trick, of helping himself well.

These images, however, were but drops in the bucket of my sense of
catching character, roundabout us, as I say, at every turn and in every
aspect; character that began even, as I was pleased to think, in our own
habitation, the most spacious and pompous Europe had yet treated us to,
in spite of its fronting on the Rue Neuve Chaussée, a street of lively
shopping, by the measure of that innocent age, and with its own
ground-floor occupied by a bristling exhibition of indescribably futile
_articles de Paris_. Modern and commodious itself, it looked from its
balcony at serried and mismatched and quaintly-named haunts of old
provincial, of sedately passive rather than confidently eager, traffic;
but this made, among us, for much harmless inquisitory life--while we
were fairly assaulted, at home, by the scale and some of the striking
notes of our fine modernity. The young, the agreeable (agreeable to
anything), the apparently opulent M. Prosper Sauvage--wasn't it?--had
not long before, unless I mistake, inherited the place as a monument of
"family," quite modestly local yet propitious family, ambition; with an
ample extension in the rear, and across the clearest prettiest court,
for his own dwelling, which thus became elegant, _entre cour et
jardin_, and showed all the happy symmetries and proper conventions.
Here flourished, or rather, I surmise at this time of day, here
languished, a domestic drama of which we enjoyed the murmurous overflow:
frankly astounding to me, I confess, how I remain still in sensitive
presence of our resigned proprietor's domestic drama, in and out of
which I see a pair of figures quite up to the dramatic mark flit again
with their air of the very rightest finish. I must but note these
things, none the less, and pass; for scarce another item of the whole
Boulogne concert of salient images failed, after all, of a significance
either still more strangely social or more distinctively spectacular.
These appearances indeed melt together for my interest, I once more
feel, as, during the interminable stretch of the prescribed and for the
most part solitary airings and outings involved in my slow convalescence
from the extremity of fever, I approached that straitened and somewhat
bedarkened issue of the Rue de l'Écu (was it?) toward the
bright-coloured, strongly-peopled Port just where Merridew's English
Library, solace of my vacuous hours and temple, in its degree too, of
deep initiations, mounted guard at the right. Here, frankly,
discrimination drops--every particular in the impression once so quick
and fresh sits interlinked with every other in the large lap of the
whole. The motley, sunny, breezy, bustling Port, with its classic, its
admirable fisher-folk of both sexes, models of type and tone and of what
might be handsomest in the thoroughly weathered condition, would have
seemed the straightest appeal to curiosity had not the old Thackerayan
side, as I may comprehensively call it, and the scattered wealth of
illustration of _his_ sharpest satiric range, not so constantly
interposed and competed with it. The scene bristled, as I look back at
it, with images from Men's Wives, from the society of Mr. Deuceace and
that of fifty other figures of the same creation, with Bareacreses and
Rawdon Crawleys and of course with Mrs. Macks, with Roseys of a more or
less crumpled freshness and blighted bloom, with battered and bent,
though doubtless never quite so fine, Colonel Newcomes not less; with
more reminders in short than I can now gather in. Of those forms of the
seedy, the subtly sinister, the vainly "genteel," the generally damaged
and desperate, and in particular perhaps the invincibly impudent, all
the marks, I feel sure, were stronger and straighter than such as we
meet in generally like cases under our present levelling light. Such
anointed and whiskered and eked-out, such brazen, bluffing, swaggering
gentlemen, such floridly repaired ladies, their mates, all looking as
hard as they could as if they were there for mere harmless amusement--it
was as good, among them, as just _being_ Arthur Pendennis to know so
well, or at least to guess so fearfully, who and what they might be.
They were floated on the tide of the manners then prevailing, I judge,
with a rich processional effect that so many of our own grand lapses,
when not of our mere final flatnesses, leave no material for; so that
the living note of Boulogne was really, on a more sustained view, the
opposition between a native race the most happily tempered, the most
becomingly seasoned and salted and self-dependent, and a shifting
colony--so far as the persons composing it _could_ either urgently or
speculatively shift--inimitably at odds with any active freshness. And
the stale and the light, even though so scantly rebounding, the too
densely socialised, group was the English, and the "positive" and hardy
and steady and wind-washed the French; and it was all as flushed with
colour and patched with costume and referable to record and picture, to
literature and history, as a more easily amusing and less earnestly
uniform age could make it. When I speak of this opposition indeed I see
it again most take effect in an antithesis that, on one side and the
other, swallowed all differences at a gulp. The general British show, as
we had it there, in the artless mid-Victorian desert, had, I think, for
its most sweeping sign the high assurance of its dowdiness; whereas one
had only to glance about at the sea-faring and fisher-folk who were the
real strength of the place to feel them shed at every step and by their
every instinct of appearance the perfect lesson of taste. There it was
to be learnt and taken home--with never a moral, none the less, drawn
from it by the "higher types." I speak of course in particular of the
tanned and trussed and kerchiefed, the active and productive women, all
so short-skirted and free-limbed under stress; for as by the rule of the
dowdy their sex is ever the finer example, so where the sense of the
suitable, of the charmingly and harmoniously right prevails, they
preserve the pitch even as a treasure committed to their piety. To hit
that happy mean of rightness amid the mixed occupations of a home-mother
and a fishwife, to be in especial both so bravely stripped below and so
perfectly enveloped above as the deep-wading, far-striding,
shrimp-netting, crab-gathering matrons or maidens who played,
waist-high, with the tides and racily quickened the market, was to make
grace thoroughly practical and discretion thoroughly vivid. These
attributes had with them all, for the eye, however, a range too great
for me to follow, since, as their professional undress was a turn-out
positively self-consistent, so their household, or more responsibly
public, or altogether festal, array played through the varied essentials
of fluted coif and folded kerchief and sober skirt and tense, dark,
displayed stocking and clicking wooden slipper, to say nothing of long
gold ear-drop or solid short-hung pectoral cross, with a respect for
the rigour of conventions that had the beauty of self-respect.

I owe to no season of the general period such a preserved sense of
innumerable unaccompanied walks--at the reason of which luxury of
freedom I have glanced; which as often as not were through the steep and
low-browed and brightly-daubed _ruelles_ of the fishing-town and either
across and along the level sea-marge and sustained cliff beyond; this
latter the site of the first Napoleon's so tremendously mustered camp of
invasion, with a monument as futile, by my remembrance, as that
enterprise itself had proved, to give it all the special accent I could
ask for. Or I was as free for the _haute ville_ and the ramparts and the
scattered, battered benches of reverie--if I may so honour my use of
them; they kept me not less complacently in touch with those of the so
anciently odd and mainly contracted houses over which the stiff citadel
and the ghost of Catherine de Médicis, who had dismally sojourned in it,
struck me as throwing such a chill, and one of which precisely must have
witnessed the never-to-be-forgotten Campaigner's passage in respect to
her cold beef. Far from extinct for me is my small question of those
hours, doubtless so mentally, so shamelessly wanton, as to what human
life might be tucked away in such retreats, which expressed the last
acceptance whether of desired or of imposed quiet; so absolutely
appointed and obliged did I feel to make out, so far as I could, what,
in so significant a world, they on their part _represented_. I think the
force mainly sustaining me at that rather dreary time--as I see it can
only show for--was this lively felt need that everything should
represent something more than what immediately and all too blankly met
the eye; I seem to myself to have carried it about everywhere and,
though of course only without outward signs that might have betrayed my
fatuity, and insistently, quite yearningly applied it. What I wanted, in
my presumption, was that the object, the place, the person, the
unreduced impression, often doubtless so difficult or so impossible to
reduce, should give out to me something of a situation; living as I did
in confused and confusing situations and thus hooking them on, however
awkwardly, to almost any at all living surface I chanced to meet. My
memory of Boulogne is that we had almost no society of any sort at
home--there appearing to be about us but one sort, and that of far too
great, or too fearful, an immediate bravery. Yet there were occasional
figures that I recover from our scant circle and that I associate,
whatever links I may miss, with the small still houses on the rampart;
figures of the quaintest, quite perhaps the frowsiest, little English
ladies in such mushroom hats, such extremely circular and bestriped
scarlet petticoats, such perpetual tight gauntlets, such explicit
claims to long descent, which showed them for everything that everyone
else at Boulogne was not. These mid-Victorian samples of a perfect
consistency "represented," by my measure, as hard as ever they
could--and represented, of all things, literature and history and
society. The literature was that of the three-volume novel, then, and
for much after, enjoying its loosest and serenest spread; for they
separately and anxiously and awfully "wrote"--and that must almost by
itself have amounted in them to all the history I evoked.

The dreary months, as I am content that in their second phase especially
they should be called, are subject, I repeat, to the perversion, quite
perhaps to the obscuration, of my temporarily hindered health--which
should keep me from being too sure of these small _proportions_ of
experience--I was to look back afterwards as over so grey a desert;
through which, none the less, there flush as sharp little certainties,
not to be disallowed, such matters as the general romance of Merridew,
the English Librarian, before mentioned, at the mouth of the Port; a
connection that thrusts itself upon me now as after all the truest
centre of my perceptions--waylaying my steps at the time, as I came and
went, more than any other object or impression. The question of what
_that_ spot represented, or could be encouraged, could be aided and
abetted, to represent, may well have supremely engaged me--for depth
within depth there could only open before me. The place "meant," on
these terms, to begin with, frank and licensed fiction, licensed to my
recordedly relaxed state; and what this particular luxury represented it
might have taken me even more time than I had to give to make out. The
blest novel in three volumes exercised through its form, to my sense, on
grounds lying deeper for me to-day than my deepest sounding, an appeal
that fairly made it do with me what it would. Possibly a drivelling
confession, and the more drivelling perhaps the more development I
should attempt for it; from which, however, the very difficulty of the
case saves me. Too many associations, too much of the ferment of memory
and fancy, are somehow stirred; they beset me again, they hover and
whirl about me while I stand, as I used to stand, within the positively
sanctified walls of the shop (so of the _vieux temps_ now their aspect
and fashion and worked system: by which I mean again of the frumpiest
and civillest mid-Victorian), and surrender to the vision of the shelves
packed with their rich individual trinities. Why should it have affected
me so that my choice, so difficult in such a dazzle, could only be for a
trinity? I am unable fully to say--such a magic dwelt in the mere rich
fact of the trio. When the novel of that age was "bad," as it so
helplessly, so abjectly and prevailingly consented to be, the three
volumes still did something for it, a something that was, all strangely,
not an aggravation of its case. When it was "good" (our analysis, our
terms of appreciation, had a simplicity that has lingered on) they made
it copiously, opulently better; so that when, after the span of the
years, my relation with them became, from that of comparatively artless
reader, and to the effect of a superior fondness and acuteness, that of
complacent author, the tradition of infatuated youth still flung over
them its mantle: this at least till _all_ relation, by one of the very
rudest turns of life we of the profession were to have known, broke off,
in clumsy interfering hands and with almost no notice given, in a day,
in an hour. Besides connecting me with the lost but unforgotten note of
waiting service and sympathy that quavered on the Merridew air, they
represented just for intrinsic charm more than I could at any moment
have given a plain account of; they fell, by their ineffable history,
every trio I ever touched, into the category of such prized phenomena as
my memory, for instance, of fairly hanging about the Rue des Vieillards,
at the season I speak of, through the apprehension that something vague
and sweet--if I shouldn't indeed rather say something of infinite future
point and application--would come of it. This is a reminiscence that
nothing would induce me to verify, as for example by any revisiting
light; but it was going to be good for me, good, that is, for what I was
pleased to regard as my intelligence or my imagination, in fine for my
obscurely specific sense of things, that I _should_ so have hung about.
The name of the street was by itself of so gentle and intimate a
persuasion that I must have been ashamed not to proceed, for the very
grace of it, to some shade of active response. And there was always a
place of particular arrest in the vista brief and blank, but inclusively
blank, blank _after_ ancient, settled, more and more subsiding things,
blank almost, in short, with all Matthew Arnold's "ennui of the middle
ages," rather than, poorly and meanly and emptily, before such states,
which was previously what I had most known of blankness. This determined
pause was at the window of a spare and solitary shop, a place of no
amplitude at all, but as of an inveterate cheerful confidence, where,
among a few artists' materials, an exhibited water-colour from some
native and possibly then admired hand was changed but once in ever so
long. That was perhaps after all the pivot of my revolution--the
question of whether or no I should at a given moment find the old
picture replaced. I made this, when I had the luck, pass for an
event--yet an event which would _have_ to have had for its scene the
precious Rue des Vieillards, and pale though may be the recital of such
pleasures I lose myself in depths of kindness for my strain of
ingenuity.

All of which, and to that extent to be corrected, leaves small allowance
for my service to good M. Ansiot, rendered while my elder and younger
brothers--the younger completing our group of the ungovernessed--were
continuously subject to collegial durance. Their ordeal was, I still
blush to think, appreciably the heavier, as compared with mine, during
our longer term of thrifty exile from Paris--the time of stress, as I
find I recall it, when we had turned our backs on the Rue Montaigne and
my privilege was so to roam on the winter and the spring afternoons.
Mild M. Ansiot, "under" whom I for some three hours each forenoon sat
sole and underided--and actually by himself too--was a curiosity, a
benignity, a futility even, I gather; but save for a felt and remembered
impulse in me to open the window of our scene of study as soon as he had
gone was in no degree an ideal. He might rise here, could I do him
justice, as the rarest of my poor evocations; for he it was, to be
frank, who most literally smelt of the vieux temps--as to which I have
noted myself as wondering and musing as much as might be, with recovered
scraps and glimpses and other intimations, only never yet for such a
triumph of that particular sense. To be still frank, he was little less
than a monster--for mere unresisting or unresilient mass of personal
presence I mean; so that I fairly think of him as a form of bland
porpoise, violently blowing in an age not his own, as by having had to
exchange deep water for thin air. Thus he impressed me as with an
absolute ancientry of type, of tone, of responsible taste, above all;
this last I mean in literature, since it was literature we sociably
explored, to my at once charmed and shamed apprehension of the several
firm traditions, the pure proprieties, the discussabilities, in the
oddest way both so many and so few, of that field as they prevailed to
his pious view. I must have had hold, in this mere sovereign sample of
the accidentally, the quite unconsciously and unpretentiously, the all
negligibly or superfluously handed-down, of a rare case of the
provincial and academic _cuistre_; though even while I record it I see
the good man as too helpless and unaggressive, too smothered in his poor
facts of person and circumstance, of overgrown time of life alone, to
incur with justness the harshness of classification. He rested with a
weight I scarce even felt--such easy terms he made, without scruple, for
both of us--on the cheerful innocence of my barbarism; and though our
mornings were short and subject, I think, to quite drowsy lapses and
other honest aridities, we did scumble together, I make out, by the aid
of the collected extracts from the truly and academically great which
formed his sole resource and which he had, in a small portable and
pocketed library rather greasily preserved, some patch of picture of a
saving as distinguished from a losing classicism. The point remains for
me that when all was said--and even with everything that might directly
have counted unsaid--he discharged for me such an office that I was to
remain to this far-off hour in a state of possession of him that is the
very opposite of a blank: quite after the fashion again in which I had
all along and elsewhere suffered and resisted, and yet so perversely and
intimately appropriated, tutoring; which was with as little as ever to
show for my profit of his own express showings. The blank he fills out
crowds itself with a wealth of value, since I shouldn't without him have
been able to claim, for whatever it may be worth, a tenth (at that let
me handsomely put it), of my "working" sense of the vieux temps. How can
I allow then that we hadn't planted together, with a loose felicity,
some of the seed of work?--even though the sprouting was so long put
off. Everything, I have mentioned, had come at this time to be
acceptedly, though far from braggingly, put off; and the ministrations
of M. Ansiot really wash themselves over with the weak mixture that had
begun to spread for me, to immensity, during that summer day or two of
our earlier residence when, betraying strange pains and apprehensions, I
was with all decision put to bed. Present to me still is the fact of my
sharper sense, after an hour or two, of my being there in distress and,
as happened for the moment, alone; present to me are the sounds of the
soft afternoon, the mild animation of the Boulogne street through the
half-open windows; present to me above all the strange sense that
something had begun that would make more difference to me, directly and
indirectly, than anything had ever yet made. I might verily, on the
spot, have seen, as in a fading of day and a change to something
suddenly queer, the whole large extent of it. I must thus, much
impressed but half scared, have wanted to appeal; to which end I
tumbled, all too weakly, out of bed and wavered toward the bell just
across the room. The question of whether I really reached and rang it
was to remain lost afterwards in the strong sick whirl of everything
about me, under which I fell into a lapse of consciousness that I shall
conveniently here treat as a considerable gap.

THE END





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