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Title: Literary and Social Essays
Author: Curtis, George William, 1824-1892
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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By George William Curtis


EMERSON _Homes of American Authors, 1854._

HAWTHORNE _Homes of American Authors, 1854._


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

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

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY Hitherto unpublished. Written in 1857.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 19, 1836.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My dear, are you unwell?"

"No, my love, only an idea."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the old gentleman would audibly reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Dainty chicken, snow-white bread,"

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

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

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

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

                           "a land
  In which it seemed always afternoon."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

       *       *       *       *       *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "The long wash of Australasian seas,"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "You're not so small as I,
  And not half so spry;

       *       *       *       *       *

 "If I cannot carry forests on my back
  Neither can you crack a nut."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

   "_October 25th._"

This was followed within a fortnight by another ingenious lure:

   "_To the Editor of the Evening Post:_

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

   "_November 6._                             A Traveller."

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

   "Columbian Hotel, Mulberry Street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story of the sturdy beggar who asked General Jackson to give him the
mission to France, and finally came down to a request for an old coat,
well illustrates a system which regards public office not as a public
trust, but as private alms. The service of the State, whether military
or civil, is an object of high and generous ambition, because it
involves the leadership of men. But if Irving and Hawthorne thought
that what is called office-seeking is disgusting, it was not because
the public service is not noble and dignified, but because we choose to
allow it to be so often dependent, not upon fitness and character,
but upon the personal or political favor of the "thick-skulled" and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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