By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Years of My Youth
Author: Howells, William Dean
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Years of My Youth" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

produced from images available at The Internet Archive)

[Illustration: _The waterside at Martin's Ferry. Near this spot stood
the little brick house in which Mr. Howells was born._]

                           YEARS OF MY YOUTH

                             W. D. HOWELLS



                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                          NEW YORK AND LONDON

                           YEARS OF MY YOUTH

              Copyright, 1916, 1917, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America
                        Published October, 1917



THE WATERSIDE AT MARTIN'S FERRY                         _Frontispiece_



THE MIAMI CANAL AT HAMILTON                                  "     22

ON THE BORDERS OF THE CITY                                   "     40

MILES EAST OF DAYTON                                         "     44


IN A LOG CABIN"                                              "     60

OF JEFFERSON                                                 "     82

FATHER                                                       "    116

HIGH STREET                                                  "    138


STREETS THAT MR. HOWELLS USED TO FREQUENT                    "    170

THE MEDICAL COLLEGE AT COLUMBUS                              "    184

WHILE HE ROOMED IN THE BUILDING                              "    224

OF THE BUILDING                                              "    236


Whenever I visit the region of a famous man's youth I have the feeling
that I ought to discover there some clue to the secret of his greatness;
for I cannot help fancying that the environment must have molded him and
been an essential element in the development of his individuality and
power. It was with such expectations that I recently went to Ohio, just
as spring was verging into summer, to see the land where Mr. Howells
spent the years of which he has made so frank and appealing a record in
this volume. In the middle of the last century the State retained much
of the crude primitiveness of the frontier, and I wondered what stimulus
this could have offered in creating a genius so broad in his views and
so sensitive to impressions, and in whose expression there is such fine
imagination, humor, sympathy, and wisdom.

I began my journey in Mr. Howells's native State where he began his
life's journey eighty years ago, at Martin's Ferry. The place is two
miles up the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia, on the western
bank of the stream. By the water-side are big, ugly factories belching
smoke and steam, and in their vicinity are railroad tracks, cinders, and
other litter, and dingy, ramshackle buildings, among which are numerous
forlorn little dwellings and occasional saloons. A sort of careless
prosperity is in evidence, but not much of the charm of neatness, or
concern for appearances. The rest of the town overspreads the steep
slopes that border the river, and pushes back into the nooks among the
adjacent upheaval of big hills. It is rather chaotic, but improves in
quality the farther it recedes from the smoke and din of the
manufacturing strip along the river.

The small brick Howells house stood close to the stream, where grime and
squalor most abound at present. However, the railroad was not there
then, and Martin's Ferry was a village that had in some respects real
rural attraction.

During the period of about twenty-five years which this book covers the
Howells family lived in seven different places, many of them widely
separated, but all within the confines of Ohio; and they seldom stayed
long in any town without occupying more than one residence. Naturally,
there have been marked changes in the aspect of most of the places where
they dwelt. Perhaps Jefferson has changed least. In the old days it had
six hundred inhabitants. Now it has three or four times that number, but
it is still serenely rustic, and every one knows every one else, and the
wide, tree-shadowed streets and the rich, gently rolling farm country
that environ the town are delightful.

Hamilton, with which Mr. Howells has dealt so graphically in his _A
Boy's Town_, has increased in population from two thousand to
thirty-five thousand; Dayton from eleven thousand to one hundred and
twenty-five thousand, and Columbus from eighteen thousand to nearly a
quarter of a million. Of course, such a strenuous expansion means the
obliteration of landmarks of the past. Besides, some of the places have
been largely rebuilt after being nearly wiped off the map by floods.

On the other hand, the vicinity where Mr. Howells spent his _Year in a
Log Cabin_ is even more lonely than it was then. It had a name in the
long ago--Eureka Mills. But fire, which in our country is an even more
potent destroyer than floods of what men build, has razed the mills, the
dam has crumbled, the mill-race is a dry ditch choked with weeds and
brush, and the name is well-nigh forgotten. When I was there the only
man-dwelling was a vacant house that stood close to the site of the old
log cabin. I might have thought the locality entirely deserted if it had
not been for fences and cultivated fields and two cows grazing in a
pasture. The only person whom I saw on the highway while I loitered
about was a rural mail-carrier jogging along in his cart.

Round about were low, rounded hills, fertile and well-tilled for the
most part, with here and there patches of woodland and occasional snug
groups of farm buildings. It is a land flowing with milk and honey,
wonderfully productive and prosperous, and charming in its luscious
agricultural beauty. In Mr. Howells's youth it was wilder and more
forested, but I fancy that the stream, with its wooded banks, must be
essentially the same, and that the birds flitting and singing and the
other wild creatures of fields and woods are like those of old.

Log houses, once so common in the Ohio country within the memory of its
elderly people, are now rare, and I could learn of none within less than
a dozen miles of Eureka Mills. But I found one on the outskirts of
Jefferson which was intact and serviceable, though it no longer
sheltered a family; and both Jefferson and Dayton have a log cabin
preserved as a relic of the past.

Any place that has been Mr. Howells's home has reason to be proud of the
fact, for he has long been recognized as the foremost of living American
authors, and it seems safe to conclude that much of his work will have a
permanent place in our literature. Yet I got the impression that, as a
rule, the people in those Ohio communities with which he has been
associated are unaware of his existence. Others, however, not only are
familiar with his reputation, but regard him with enthusiasm and
affection. At Columbus Rev. Washington Gladden, the most notable of all
Ohio preachers, has made _Years of My Youth_ the subject of a Sunday
evening discourse; and it is particularly gratifying to find that _A
Boy's Town_ is a favorite book in Hamilton, and that the Boy Scouts
there call themselves the Boy's Town Brigade.

Hamilton, Dayton, and Columbus, in which places Mr. Howells spent so
much of his youth, are all important centers of trade and manufacture
where crowds and noisy traffic are ever present in the business
sections, and where a maze of residence streets spread out into the
country round about. At Hamilton, the only building I could discover
associated with Mr. Howells was the Baptist church where he attended
Sunday-school. But it is now a paint-shop, and the paint-man has adorned
the entire front with a scenic sample of his art, which makes the
structure more suggestive of a theater than a church. The Great Miami
River flows through the town as of old, and the tall buildings, towers,
and spires in the heart of the place are strikingly picturesque seen
from some points of vantage along the banks of the stream. But the most
charming feature of the past is the canal in which the boys used to swim
and fish, and which, doubtless, still serves for the same purposes. It
is no longer a thoroughfare for traffic, though the tow-path is used in
part by trams and pedestrians.

Dayton had its canal, too, but this, like the one at Hamilton, has been
abandoned, except as the mills make use of it.

At Columbus is what was the new State House in Mr. Howells's youth, the
Medical College in which he roomed, and a sprinkling of quiet old
residences that were there in his time. The college, which originally
was a castle-like structure with an upthrust of towers and turrets, has
had its sky-line somewhat straightened by the addition of an extra
story; but this has only marred, without destroying, its characteristic

Jefferson was the home of Mr. Howells's father for the most of his later
life, and of his older brother, Joseph, whom the people there like to
recall for his many fine qualities of head and heart, and as the printer
and editor of the "best weekly paper" ever published in Ashtabula

This brother is referred to again and again in the chapters that follow.
His grave in the Jefferson cemetery has been marked with the
"imposing-stone" that he used in his office. Here is the inscription
written by the novelist and carved on the broad surface of the stone:

                           TO THE MEMORY OF
                       JOSEPH ALEXANDER HOWELLS

                  BORN AT ST. CLAIRSVILLE, OHIO, 1832
                   DIED AT AUBURNDALE, FLORIDA, 1912
                           FROM 1905 TO 1912

        FROM 1851 TO 1905


                            W. D. HOWELLS

One of the oddest things of which I heard on my trip was that Mr.
Howells is credited with being born in more than one place. A wealthy
man has bought the property where the novelist dwelt in the family
wanderings long after leaving Martin's Ferry. The owner and others in
the region are convinced that their locality is Mr. Howells's first
home. He was even considering erecting a birth-place for the
distinguished author from some ruinous buildings on the premises. But I
suppose the fact that a person is becoming legendary in his native
region attests the genuineness and permanency of his fame.

What vital influence, if any, the Ohio country of Mr. Howells's youth
had on his genius I am uncertain. The small cities and rustic villages,
and the farmlands with their stump-dotted fields that were still being
wrested from the wilderness of the abounding woods, all left their
impress, no doubt, but I incline to the belief that his admirable
quality and large place in the literature of our day might be the same,
even if the environment had been radically different.


_June, 1917._



It is hard to know the child's own earliest recollections from the
things it has been told of itself by those with whom its life began.
They remember for it the past which it afterward seems to remember for
itself; the wavering outline of its nature is shadowed against the
background of family, and from this it imagines an individual existence
which has not yet begun. The events then have the quality of things
dreamt, not lived, and they remain of that impalpable and elusive
quality in all the after years.


Of the facts which I must believe from the witness of others, is the
fact that I was born on the 1st of March, 1837, at Martin's Ferry,
Belmont County, Ohio. My father's name was William Cooper Howells, and
my mother's was Mary Dean; they were married six years before my birth,
and I was the second child in their family of eight. On my father's side
my people were wholly Welsh, except his English grandmother, and on my
mother's side wholly German, except her Irish father, of whom it is
mainly known that he knew how to win my grandmother Elizabeth Dock away
from her very loving family, where they dwelt in great Pennsylvania-German
comfort and prosperity on their farm near Harrisburg, to share with him
the hardships of the wild country over the westward mountains. She was
the favorite of her brothers and sisters, and the best-beloved of her
mother, perhaps because she was the youngest; there is a shadowy legend
that she went one evening to milk the cows, and did not return from
following after her husband; but I cannot associate this romantic story
with the ageing grandmother whom I tenderly loved when a child, and whom
I still fondly remember. She spoke with a strong German accent, and she
had her Luther Bible, for she never read English. Sometimes she came to
visit my homesick mother after we went to live in southern Ohio; once I
went with my mother to visit her in the little town where I was born,
and of that visit I have the remembrance of her stopping me on the
stairs, one morning when I had been out, and asking me in her German
idiom and accent, "What fur a tay is it, child?"

I can reasonably suppose that it is because of the mixture of Welsh,
German, and Irish in me that I feel myself so typically American, and
that I am of the imaginative temperament which has enabled me all the
conscious years of my life to see reality more iridescent and beautiful,
or more lurid and terrible than any make-believe about reality. Among my
father's people the first who left Wales was his great-grandfather. He
established himself in London as a clock and watch maker, and I like to
believe that it is his name which my tall clock, paneled in the lovely
_chinoiserie_ of Queen Anne's time, bears graven on its dial. Two sons
followed him, and wrought at the same art, then almost a fine art, and
one of them married in London and took his English wife back with him to
Wales. His people were, so far as my actual knowledge goes, middle-class
Welsh, but the family is of such a remote antiquity as in its present
dotage not to know what part of Wales it came from. As to our lineage a
Welsh clergyman, a few years ago, noting the identity of name, invited
me to the fond conjecture of descent from Hywel Dda, or Howel the Good,
who became king of Wales about the time of Alfred the Great. He codified
the laws or rather the customs of his realm, and produced one of the
most interesting books I have read, and I have finally preferred him as
an ancestor because he was the first literary man of our name. There was
a time when I leaned toward the delightful James Howell, who wrote the
_Familiar Letters_ and many books in verse and prose, and was of several
shades of politics in the difficult days of Charles and Oliver; but I
was forced to relinquish him because he was never married. My father,
for his part, when once questioned as to our origin, answered that so
far as he could make out we derived from a blacksmith, whom he
considered a good sort of ancestor, but he could not name him, and he
must have been, whatever his merit, a person of extreme obscurity.

There is no record of the time when my great-grandfather with his
brothers went to London and fixed there as watchmakers. My tall clock,
which bears our name on its dial, has no date, and I can only imagine
their London epoch to have begun about the middle of the eighteenth
century. Being Welsh, they were no doubt musical, and I like to cherish
the tradition of singing and playing women in our line, and a somehow
cousinship with the famous Parepa. But this is very uncertain; what is
certain is that when my great-grandfather went back to Wales he fixed
himself in the little town of Hay, where he began the manufacture of
Welsh flannels, a fabric still esteemed for its many virtues, and
greatly prospered. When I visited Hay in 1883 (my father always call it,
after the old fashion, The Hay, which was the right version of its
Norman name of La Haye), three of his mills were yet standing, and one
of them was working, very modestly, on the sloping bank of the lovely
river Wye. Another had sunk to be a stable, but the third, in the spirit
of our New World lives, had become a bookstore and printing-office, a
well-preserved stone edifice of four or five stories, such as there was
not the like of, probably, in the whole of Wales when Hywel Dda was
king. My great-grandfather was apparently an excellent business man, but
I am afraid I must own (reluctantly, with my Celtic prejudice) that
literature, or the love of it, came into our family with the English
girl whom he married in London. She was, at least, a reader of the
fiction of the day, if I may judge from the high-colored style of the
now pathetically faded letter which she wrote to reproach a daughter who
had made a runaway match and fled to America. So many people then used
to make runaway matches; but when very late in the lives of these
eloping lovers I once saw them, an old man and woman, at our house in
Columbus, they hardly looked their youthful adventure, even to the fancy
of a boy beginning to unrealize life. The reader may care to learn that
they were the ancestors of Vaughan Kester, the very gifted young
novelist, who came into popular recognition almost in the hour of his
most untimely death, and of his brother Paul Kester, the playwright.


My great-grandfather became "a Friend by Convincement," as the Quakers
called the Friends not born in their Society; but I do not know whether
it was before or after his convincement that he sailed to Philadelphia
with a stock of his Welsh flannels, which he sold to such advantage
that a dramatic family tradition represents him wheeling the proceeds in
a barrel of silver down the street to the vessel which brought him and
which took him away. That was in the time of Washington's second
Presidency, and Washington strongly advised his staying in the country
and setting up his manufacture here; but he was prospering in Wales, and
why should he come to America even at the suggestion of Washington? It
is another family tradition that he complied so far as to purchase a
vast acreage of land on the Potomac, including the site of our present
capital, as some of his descendants in each generation have believed,
without the means of expropriating the nation from its unlawful
holdings. This would have been the more difficult as he never took a
deed of his land, and he certainly never came back to America; yet he
seems always to have been haunted by the allurement of it which my
grandfather felt so potently that after twice visiting the country he
came over a third time and cast his lot here.

He was already married, when with his young wife and my father a year
old he sailed from London in 1808. Perhaps because they were chased by a
French privateer, they speedily arrived in Boston after a voyage of only
twenty-one days. In the memoir which my father wrote for his family, and
which was published after his death, he tells that my grandmother formed
the highest opinion of Boston, mainly, he surmises, from the very
intelligent behavior of the young ladies in making a pet of her baby at
the boarding-house where she stayed while her husband began going about
wherever people wished his skill in setting up woolen-mills. The young
ladies taught her little one to walk; and many years afterward, say
fifty, when I saw her for the last time in a village of northwestern
Ohio, she said "the Bostonians were very nice people," so faithfully had
she cherished, through a thousand vicissitudes, the kind memory of that
first sojourn in America.

I do not think she quite realized the pitch of greatness at which I had
arrived in writing for the _Atlantic Monthly_, the renowned periodical
then recently founded in Boston, or the fame of the poets whom I had met
there the year before. I suspect that she was never of the literary
taste of my English great-grandmother; but her father had been a
school-teacher, and she had been carefully educated by the uncle and
aunt to whom she was left at her parents' early death. They were
Friends, but she never formally joined the Society, though worshiping
with them; she was, like her husband, middle-class Welsh, and as long as
they lived they both misplaced their aspirates. If I add that her maiden
name was Thomas, and that her father's name was John Thomas, I think I
have sufficiently attested her pure Cymric origin. So far as I know
there was no mixture of Saxon blood on her side; but her people, like
most of the border Welsh, spoke the languages of both races; and very
late in my father's life, he mentioned casually, as old people will
mention interesting things, that he remembered his father and mother
speaking Welsh together. Of the two she remained the fonder of their
native country, and in that last visit I paid her she said, after half a
century of exile, "We do so and so at home, and you do so and so here."
I can see her now, the gentlest of little Quaker ladies, with her white
fichu crossed on her breast; and I hesitate attributing to her my
immemorial knowledge that the Welsh were never conquered, but were
tricked into union with the English by having one of their princes born,
as it were surreptitiously, in Wales; it must have been my father who
told me this and amused himself with my childish race-pride in the fact.
She gave me an illustrated _Tour of Wales_, having among its steel
engravings the picture of a Norman castle where, by favor of a cousin
who was the housekeeper, she had slept one night when a girl; but in
America she had slept oftener in log cabins, which my grandfather
satisfied his devoted unworldliness in making his earthly tabernacles.
She herself was not, I think, a devout person; she had her spiritual
life in his, and followed his varying fortunes, from richer to poorer,
with a tacit adherence to what he believed, whether the mild doctrine of
Quakerism or the fervid Methodism for which he never quite relinquished

He seems to have come to America with money enough to lose a good deal
in his removals from Boston to Poughkeepsie, from Poughkeepsie to New
York City, from New York to Virginia, and from Virginia to eastern Ohio,
where he ended in such adversity on his farm that he was glad to accept
the charge of a woolen-mill in Steubenville. He knew the business
thoroughly and he had set up mills for others in his various sojourns,
following the line of least resistance among the Quaker settlements
opened to him by the letters he had brought from Wales. He even went to
the new capital, Washington, in a hope of manufacturing in Virginia held
out to him by a nephew of President Madison, but it failed him to his
heavy cost; and in Ohio, his farming experiments, which he renewed in a
few years on giving up that mill at Steubenville, were alike disastrous.
After more than enough of them he rested for a while in Wheeling, West
Virginia, where my father met my mother, and they were married.

They then continued the family wanderings in his own search for the
chance of earning a living in what seems to have been a very grudging
country, even to industry so willing as his. He had now become a
printer, and not that only, but a publisher, for he had already begun
and ended the issue of a monthly magazine called _The Gleaner_, made up,
as its name implied, chiefly of selections; his sister helped him as
editor, and some old bound volumes of its few numbers show their joint
work to have been done with good taste in the preferences of their day.
He married upon the expectation of affluence from the publication of a
work on _The Rise, Progress and Downfall of Aristocracy_, which almost
immediately preceded the ruin of the enthusiastic author and of my
father with him, if he indeed could have experienced further loss in his
entire want of money. He did not lose heart, and he was presently living
contentedly on three hundred dollars a year as foreman of a newspaper
office in St. Clairville, Ohio. But his health gave way, and a little
later, for the sake of the outdoor employment, he took up the trade of
house-painter; and he was working at this in Wheeling when my
grandfather Dean suggested his buying a lot and building a house in
Martin's Ferry, just across the Ohio River. The lot must have been
bought on credit, and he built mainly with his own capable hands a small
brick house of one story and two rooms with a lean-to. In this house I
was born, and my father and mother were very happy there; they never
owned another house until their children helped them work and pay for it
a quarter of a century afterward, though throughout this long time they
made us a home inexpressibly dear to me still.

My father now began to read medicine, but during the course of a
winter's lectures at Cincinnati (where he worked as a printer
meanwhile), his health again gave way and he returned to Martin's Ferry.
When I was three years old, my grandmother Dean's eldest brother,
William Dock, came to visit her. He was the beloved patriarch of a
family which I am glad to claim my kindred and was a best type of his
Pennsylvania-German race. He had prospered on through a life of kindness
and good deeds; he was so rich that he had driven in his own

[Illustration: _The Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia. Mr. Howells's
father worked in Wheeling before he moved across the river to Martin's

carriage from Harrisburg, over the mountains, and he now asked my father
to drive with him across the state of Ohio. When they arrived in Dayton,
my father went on by canal to Hamilton, where he found friends to help
him buy the Whig newspaper which he had only just paid for when he sold
it eight years later.


Of the first three years of my life which preceded this removal there is
very little that I can honestly claim to remember. The things that I
seem to remember are seeing from the window of our little house, when I
woke one morning, a peach-tree in bloom; and again seeing from the
steamboat which was carrying our family to Cincinnati, a man drowning in
the river. But these visions, both of them very distinct, might very
well have been the effect of hearing the things spoken of by my elders,
though I am surest of the peach-tree in bloom as an authentic memory.

This time, so happy for my father and mother, was scarcely less happy
because of its uncertainties. My young aunts lived with their now
widowed mother not far from us; as the latest comer, I was in much
request among them, of course; and my father was hardly less in favor
with the whole family from his acceptable habit of finding a joke in
everything. He supplied the place of son to my grandmother in the
absence of my young uncles, then away most of their time on the river
which they followed from the humblest beginnings on keel-boats to the
proudest endings as pilots and captains and owners of steamboats. In
those early days when they returned from the river they brought their
earnings to their mother in gold coins, which they called Yellow Boys,
and which she kept in a bowl in the cupboard, where I seem so vividly
to have seen them, that I cannot quite believe I did not. These good
sons were all Democrats except the youngest, but they finally became of
my father's anti-slavery Whig faith in politics, and I believe they were
as glad to have their home in a free state as my father's family, who
had now left Wheeling, and were settled in southwestern Ohio.

There were not many slaves in Wheeling, but it was a sort of entrepôt
where the negroes were collected and embarked for the plantations down
the river, in their doom to the death-in-life of the far South. My
grandfather Howells had, in the anti-slavery tradition of his
motherland, made himself so little desired among his Virginian
fellow-citizens that I have heard his removal from Wheeling was
distinctly favored by public sentiment; and afterward, on the farm he
bought in Ohio, his fences and corn-cribs suffered from the pro-slavery
convictions of his neighbors. But he was dwelling in safety and
prosperity among the drugs and books which were his merchandise in the
store where I began to remember him in my earliest days at Hamilton. He
seemed to me a very old man, and I noticed with the keen observance of a
child how the muscles sagged at the sides of his chin and how his under
lip, which I did not know I had inherited from him, projected. His
clothes, which had long ceased to be drab in color, were of a Quaker
formality in cut; his black hat followed this world's fashion in color,
but was broad in the brim and very low-crowned, which added somehow in
my young sense to the reproving sadness of his presence. He had black
Welsh eyes and was of the low stature of his race; my grandmother was
blue-eyed; she was little, too; but my aunt, their only surviving
daughter, with his black eyes, was among their taller children. She was
born several years after their settlement in America, but she loyally
misused her aspirates as they did, and, never marrying, was of a
life-long devotion to them. They first lived over the drug-store, after
the fashion of shopkeepers in England; I am aware of my grandfather soon
afterward having a pretty house and a large garden quite away from the
store, but he always lived more simply than his means obliged. Amidst
the rude experiences of their backwoods years, the family had continued
gentle in their thoughts and tastes, though my grandfather shared with
poetry his passion for religion, and in my later boyhood when I had
begun to print my verses, he wrote me a letter solemnly praising them,
but adjuring me to devote my gifts to the service of my Maker, which I
had so little notion of doing in a selfish ideal of my own glory.

Most of his father's fortune had somehow gone to other sons, but,
whether rich or poor, their generation seemed to be of a like
religiosity. One of them lived in worldly state at Bristol before coming
to America, and was probably of a piety not so insupportable as I found
him in the memoir which he wrote of his second wife, when I came to read
it the other day. Him I never saw, but from time to time there was one
or other of his many sons employed in my grandfather's store, whom I
remember blithe spirits, disposed to seize whatever chance of a joke
life offered them, such as selling Young's _Night Thoughts_ to a
customer who had whispered his wish for an improper book. Some of my
father's younger brothers were of a like cheerfulness with these lively
cousins, and of the same aptness for laughter. One was a physician,
another a dentist, another in a neighboring town a druggist, another yet
a speculative adventurer in the regions to the southward: he came back
from his commercial forays once with so many half-dollars that when
spread out they covered the whole surface of our dining-table; but I am
quite unable to report what negotiation they were the spoil of. There
was a far cousin who was a painter, and left (possibly as a pledge of
indebtedness) with my dentist uncle after a sojourn among us a picture
which I early prized as a masterpiece, and still remember as the
charming head of a girl shadowed by the fan she held over it. I never
saw the painter, but I recall, from my father's singing them, the lines
of a "doleful ballad" which he left behind him as well as the picture:

    A thief will steal from you all that you havye,
    But an unfaithful lovyer will bring you to your grave.

The uncle who was a physician, when he left off the practice of medicine
about his eightieth year, took up the art of sculpture; he may have
always had a taste for it, and his knowledge of anatomy would have
helped qualify him for it. He modeled from photographs a head of my
father admirably like and full of character, the really extraordinary
witness of a gift latent till then through a long life devoted to other

We children had our preference among these Howells uncles, but we did
not care for any of them so much as for our Dean uncles, who now and
then found their way up to Hamilton from Cincinnati when their
steamboats lay there in their trips from Pittsburg. They were all very
jovial; and one of the younger among them could play the violin, not
less acceptably because he played by ear and not by art. Of the youngest
and best-loved I am lastingly aware in his coming late one night and of
my creeping down-stairs from my sleep to sit in his lap and hear his
talk with my father and mother, while his bursts of laughter agreeably
shook my small person. I dare say these uncles used to bring us gifts
from that steamboating world of theirs which seemed to us of a splendor
not less than what I should now call oriental when we sometimes visited
them at Cincinnati, and came away bulging in every pocket with the more
portable of the dainties we had been feasting upon. In the most signal
of these visits, as I once sat between my father and my Uncle William,
for whom I was named, on the hurricane roof of his boat, he took a
silver half-dollar from his pocket and put it warm in my hand, with a
quizzical look into my eyes. The sight of such unexampled riches stopped
my breath for the moment, but I made out to ask, "Is it for me?" and he
nodded his head smilingly up and down; then, for my experience had
hitherto been of fippenny-bits yielded by my father after long
reasoning, I asked, "Is it good?" and remained puzzled to know why they
laughed so together; it must have been years before I understood.

These uncles had grown up in a slave state, and they thought, without
thinking, that slavery must be right; but once when an abolition
lecturer was denied public hearing at Martin's Ferry, they said he
should speak in their mother's house; and there, much unaware, I heard
my first and last abolition lecture, barely escaping with my life, for
one of the objections urged by the mob outside was a stone hurled
through the window, where my mother sat with me in her arms. At my Uncle
William's house in the years after the Civil War, my father and he began
talking of old times, and he told how, when a boy on a keel-boat, tied
up to a Mississippi shore, he had seen an overseer steal upon a black
girl loitering at her work, and wind his blacksnake-whip round her body,
naked except for the one cotton garment she wore. "When I heard that
colored female screech," he said, and the old-fashioned word female,
used for compassionate respectfulness, remains with me, "and saw her
jump, I knew that there must be something wrong in slavery." Perhaps the
sense of this had been in his mind when he determined with his brothers
that the abolition lecturer should be heard in their mother's house.

She sometimes came to visit us in Hamilton, to break the homesick
separations from her which my mother suffered through for so many years,
and her visits were times of high holiday for us children. I should be
interested now to know what she and my Welsh grandmother made of each
other, but I believe they were good friends, though probably not
mutually very intelligible. My mother's young sisters, who also came on
welcome visits, were always joking with my father and helping my mother
at her work; but I cannot suppose that there was much common ground
between them and my grandfather's family except in their common
Methodism. For me, I adored them; and if the truth must be told, though
I had every reason to love my Welsh grandmother, I had a peculiar
tenderness for my Pennsylvania-Dutch grandmother, with her German accent
and her caressing ways. My grandfather, indeed, could have recognized no
difference among heirs of equal complicity in Adam's sin; and in the
situation such as it was, I lived blissfully unborn to all things of
life outside of my home. I can recur to the time only as a dream of love
and loving, and though I came out of it no longer a little child, but a
boy struggling tooth and nail for my place among other boys, I must
still recur to the ten or eleven years passed in Hamilton as the
gladdest of all my years. They may have been even gladder than they now
seem, because the incidents which embody happiness had then the novelty
which such incidents lose from their recurrence; while the facts of
unhappiness, no matter how often they repeat themselves, seem throughout
life an unprecedented experience and impress themselves as vividly the
last time as the first. I recall some occasions of grief and shame in
that far past with unfailing distinctness, but the long spaces

[Illustration: _Hamilton, Ohio, the "Boy's Town" of Mr. Howells's

of blissful living which they interrupted hold few or no records which I
can allege in proof of my belief that I was then, above every other

    Joyful and free from blame.


Throughout those years at Hamilton I think of my father as absorbed in
the mechanical and intellectual work of his newspaper. My earliest sense
of him relates him as much to the types and the press as to the table
where he wrote his editorials amidst the talk of the printers, or of the
politicians who came to discuss public affairs with him. From a quaint
pride, he did not like his printer's craft to be called a trade; he
contended that it was a profession; he was interested in it, as the
expression of his taste, and the exercise of his ingenuity and
invention, and he could supply many deficiencies in its means and
processes. He cut fonts of large type for job-work out of apple-wood in
default of box or olive; he even made the graver's tools for carving the
letters. Nothing pleased him better than to contrive a thing out of
something it was not meant for, as making a penknife blade out of an old
razor, or the like. He could do almost anything with his ready hand and
his ingenious brain, while I have never been able to do anything with
mine but write a few score books. But as for the printer's craft with
me, it was simply my joy and pride from the first things I knew of it. I
know when I could not read, for I recall supplying the text from my
imagination for the pictures I found in books, but I do not know when I
could not set type. My first attempt at literature was not written, but
put up in type, and printed off by me. My father praised it, and this
made me so proud that I showed it to one of those eminent Whig
politicians always haunting the office. He made no comment on it, but
asked me if I could spell baker. I spelled the word simple-heartedly,
and it was years before I realized that he meant a hurt to my poor
little childish vanity.

Very soon I could set type very well, and at ten years and onward till
journalism became my university, the printing-office was mainly my
school. Of course, like every sort of work with a boy, the work became
irksome to me, and I would gladly have escaped from it to every sort of
play, but it never ceased to have the charm it first had. Every part of
the trade became familiar to me, and if I had not been so little I could
at once have worked not only at case, but at press, as my brother did. I
had my favorites among the printers, who knew me as the Old Man, because
of the habitual gravity which was apt to be broken in me by bursts of
wild hilarity; but I am not sure whether I liked better the conscience
of the young journeyman who wished to hold me in the leash of his moral
convictions, or the nature of my companion in laughter which seemed to
have selected for him the fit name of Sim Haggett. This merrymaker was
married, but so very presently in our acquaintance was widowed, that I
can scarcely put any space between his mourning for his loss and his
rejoicing in the first joke that followed it. There were three or four
of the journeymen, with an apprentice, to do the work now reduced by
many facilities to the competence of one or two. Some of them slept in a
den opening from the printing-office, where I envied them the wild
freedom unhampered by the conventions of sweeping, dusting, or
bed-making; it was next to camping out.

The range of that young experience of mine transcends telling, but the
bizarre mixture was pure delight to the boy I was, already beginning to
take the impress of events and characters. Though I loved the art of
printing so much, though my pride even more than my love was taken with
it, as something beyond other boys, yet I loved my schools too. In their
succession there seem to have been a good many of them, with a variety
of teachers, whom I tried to make like me because I liked them. I was
gifted in spelling, geography, and reading, but arithmetic was not for
me. I could declaim long passages from the speeches of Corwin against
the Mexican War, and of Chatham against the American War, and poems from
our school readers, or from Campbell or Moore or Byron; but at the
blackboard I was dumb. I bore fairly well the mockeries of boys, boldly
bad, who played upon a certain simplicity of soul in me, and pretended,
for instance, when I came out one night saying I was six years old, that
I was a shameless boaster and liar. Swimming, hunting, fishing, foraging
at every season, with the skating which the waters of the rivers and
canals afforded, were my joy; I took my part in the races and the games,
in football and in baseball, then in its feline infancy of Three Corner
Cat, and though there was a family rule against fighting, I fought like
the rest of the boys and took my defeats as heroically as I knew how;
they were mostly defeats.

My world was full of boys, but it was also much haunted by ghosts or the
fear of them. Death came early into it, the visible image in a negro
babe, with the large red copper cents on its eyelids, which older boys
brought me to see, then in the funeral of the dearly loved mate whom we
school-fellows followed to his grave. I learned many things in my
irregular schooling, and at home I was always reading when I was not
playing. I will not pretend that I did not love playing best; life was
an experiment which had to be tried in every way that presented itself,
but outside of these practical requisitions there was a constant demand
upon me from literature. As to the playing I will not speak at large
here, for I have already said enough of it in _A Boy's Town_; and as to
the reading, the curious must go for it to another book of mine called
_My Literary Passions_. Perhaps there was already in my early literary
preferences a bent toward the reality which my gift, if I may call it
so, has since taken. I did not willingly read poetry, except such pieces
as I memorized: little tragedies of the sad fate of orphan children, and
the cruelties of large birds to small ones, which brought the lump into
my throat, or the moralized song of didactic English writers of the
eighteenth century, such as "Pity the sorrows of a poor old man." That
piece I still partly know by heart; but history was what I liked best,
and if I finally turned to fiction it seems to have been in the dearth
of histories that merited reading after Goldsmith's Greece and Rome;
except Irving's _Conquest of Granada_, I found none that I could read;
but I had then read _Don Quixote_ and _Gulliver's Travels_, and had
heard my father reading aloud to my mother the poems of Scott and Moore.
Since he seems not to have thought of any histories that would meet my
taste, I fancy that I must have been mainly left to my own choice in
that sort, though he told me of the other sorts of books which I read.

I should be interested to know now how the notion of authorship first
crept into my mind, but I do not in the least know. I made verses, I
even wrote plays in rhyme, but until I attempted an historical romance I
had no sense of literature as an art. As an art which one might live by,
as by a trade or a business, I had not the slightest conception of it.
When I began my first and last historical romance, I did not imagine it
as something to be read by others; and when the first chapters were
shown without my knowing, I was angry and ashamed. If my father thought
there was anything uncommon in my small performances, he did nothing to
let me guess it unless I must count the instance of declaiming Hallock's
_Marco Bozzaris_ before a Swedenborgian minister who was passing the
night at our house. Neither did my mother do anything to make me
conscious, if she was herself conscious of anything out of the common in
what I was trying. It was her sacred instinct to show no partiality
among her children; my father's notion was of the use that could be
combined with the pleasure of life, and perhaps if there had been
anything different in my life, it would not have tended more to that
union of use and pleasure which was his ideal.

Much in the environment was abhorrent to him, and he fought the local
iniquities in his paper, the gambling, the drunkenness that marred the
mainly moral and religious complexion of the place. In _A Boy's Town_ I
have studied with a fidelity which I could not emulate here the whole
life of it as a boy sees life, and I must leave the reader who cares for
such detail to find it there. But I wish again to declare the almost
unrivaled fitness of the place to be the home of a boy, with its two
branches of the Great Miami River and their freshets in spring, and
their witchery at all seasons; with its Hydraulic Channels and
Reservoirs, its stretch of the Miami Canal and the Canal Basin so fit
for swimming in summer and skating in winter. The mills and factories
which harnessed the Hydraulic to their industries were of resistless
allure for the boys who frequented them when they could pass the guard
of "No Admittance" on their doors, or when they were not foraging among
the fields and woods in the endless vacations of the schools. Some boys
left school to work in the mills, and when they could show the loss of a
finger-joint from the machinery they were prized as heroes. The Fourths
of July, the Christmases and Easters and May-Days, which were
apparently of greater frequency there and then than they apparently are
anywhere now, seemed to alternate with each other through the year, and
the Saturdays spread over half the week.


The experience of such things was that of the generalized boy, and easy
to recall, but the experience of the specialized boy that I was cannot
be distinctly recovered and cannot be given in any order of time; the
events are like dreams in their achronic simultaneity. I ought to be
able to remember when fear first came into my life; but I cannot. I am
aware of offering as a belated substitute for far earlier acquaintance
with it the awe which I dimly shared with the whole community at a case
of hydrophobia occurring there, and which was not lessened by hearing my
father tell my mother of the victim's saying: "I have made my peace with
God; you may call in the doctors." I doubt if she relished the
involuntary satire as he did; his humor, which made life easy for him,
could not always have been a comfort to her. Safe in the philosophy of
Swedenborg, which taught him that even those who ended in hell chose it
their portion because they were happiest in it, he viewed with kindly
amusement the religious tumults of the frequent revivals about him. The
question of salvation was far below that of the annexation of Texas, or
the ensuing war against Mexico, in his regard; but these great events
have long ago faded into national history from my contemporary
consciousness, while a tragical effect from his playfulness remains
vivid in my childish memory. I have already used it in fiction, as my
wont has been with so many of my experiences, but I will tell again how
my mother and he were walking together in the twilight, with me, a very

[Illustration: _The Miami Canal at Hamilton_]

small boy, following, and my father held out to me behind his back a
rose which I understood I was to throw at my mother and startle her.

My aim was unfortunately for me all too sure; the rose struck her head,
and when she looked round and saw me offering to run away, she whirled
on me and made me suffer for her fright in thinking my flower was a bat,
while my father gravely entreated, "Mary, Mary!" She could not forgive
me at once, and my heart remained sore, for my love of her was as
passionate as the temper I had from her, but while it continued aching
after I went to bed, she stole up-stairs to me and consoled me and told
me how scared she had been, and hardly knew what she was doing; and all
was well again between us.

I wish I could say how dear she was to me and to all her children. My
eldest brother and she understood each other best, but each of us lived
in the intelligence of her which her love created. She was always
working for us, and yet, as I so tardily perceived, living for my father
anxiously, fearfully, bravely, with absolute trust in his goodness and
righteousness. While she listened to his reading at night, she sewed or
knitted for us, or darned or mended the day's ravage in our clothes
till, as a great indulgence, we fell asleep on the floor. If it was
summer we fell asleep at her knees on the front door-step, where she had
sat watching us at our play till we dropped worn out with it; or if it
had been a day of wild excess she followed us to our beds early and
washed our feet with her dear hands, and soothed them from the bruises
of the summer-long shoelessness. She was not only the center of home to
me; she was home itself, and in the years before I made a home of my
own, absence from her was the homesickness, or the fear of it, which was
always haunting me. As for the quick temper (now so slow) I had from
her, it showed itself once in a burst of reckless fury which had to be
signalized in the family rule, so lenient otherwise, by a circumstantial
whipping from my father. Another, from her, for going in swimming (as we
always said for bathing) when directly forbidden, seems to complete the
list of my formal punishments at their hands in a time when fathers and
mothers were much more of Solomon's mind in such matters than now.

I never was punished in any sort at school where the frequent scourging
of other boys, mostly boys whom I loved for something kind and sweet in
them, filled me with anguish; and I have come to believe that a blow
struck a child is far wickeder than any wickedness a child can do; that
it depraves whoever strikes the blow, mother, or father, or teacher, and
that it inexpressibly outrages the young life confided to the love of
the race. I know that excuses will be found for it, and that the
perpetrator of the outrage will try for consolation in thinking that the
child quickly forgets, because its pathetic smiles so soon follow its
pathetic tears; but the child does not forget; and no callousing from
custom can undo the effect in its soul.

From the stress put upon behaving rather than believing in that home of
mine we were made to feel that wicked words were of the quality of
wicked deeds, and that when they came out of our mouths they depraved
us, unless we took them back. I have not forgotten, with any detail of
the time and place, a transgression of this sort which I was made to
feel in its full significance. My mother had got supper, and my father
was, as he often was, late for it, and while we waited impatiently for
him, I came out with the shocking wish that he was dead. My mother
instantly called me to account for it, and when my father came she felt
bound to tell him what I had said. He could then have done no more than
gravely give me the just measure of my offense; and his explanation and
forgiveness were the sole event. I did not remain with an exaggerated
sense of my sin, though in a child's helplessness I could not urge, if I
had imagined urging, that my outburst was merely an aspiration for
unbelated suppers, and was of the nature of prayers for rain, which good
people sometimes put up regardless of consequences. With his
Swedenborgian doctrine of degrees in sin, my father might have thought
my wild words prompted by evil spirits, but he would have regarded them
as qualitatively rather than quantitatively wicked, and would not have
committed the dreadful wrong which elders do a child by giving it a
sense of sinning far beyond its worst possible willing. As to conduct
his teaching was sometimes of an inherited austerity, but where his own
personality prevailed, there was no touch of Puritanism in it.

Our religious instruction at home was not very stated, though it was
abundant, and it must have been because we children ourselves felt it
unseemly not to go, like other children, to Sunday-school that we were
allowed to satisfy our longing for conformity by going for a while to
the Sunday-school of the Baptist church, apparently because it was the
nearest. We got certain blue tickets and certain red ones for memorizing
passages from the New Testament, but I remember much more distinctly the
muscular twitching in the close-shaven purplish cheek of the teacher as
he nervously listened with set teeth for the children's answers, than
anything in our Scripture lessons. I had been received with three or
four brothers and sisters into the Swedenborgian communion by a passing
New Church minister, but there were no services of our recondite faith
in Hamilton, and we shared in no public worship after my mother followed
my father from the Methodist society. Out of curiosity and a solemn joy
in its ceremonial, I sometimes went to the Catholic church, where my
eyes clung fascinated to the life-large effigy of Christ bleeding on His
cross against the eastern wall; but I have more present now the sense of
walks in the woods on Sunday, with the whole family, and of the long,
sweet afternoons so spent in them.

If we had no Sabbaths in our house, and not very recognizable Sundays,
we were strictly forbidden to do anything that would seem to trifle with
the scruples of others. We might not treat serious things unseriously;
we were to swear not at all; and in the matter of bywords we were
allowed very little range, though for the hardness of our hearts we were
suffered to say such things as, "Oh, hang it!" or even, "Confound it
all!" in extreme cases, such as failing to make the family pony open his
mouth for bridling, or being bitten by the family rabbits, or butted
over by the family goat. In such points of secular behavior we might be
better or worse; but in matters of religious toleration the rule was
inflexible; the faith of others was sacred, and it was from this early
training, doubtless, that I was able in after life to regard the
occasional bigotry of agnostic friends with toleration.

During the years of my later childhood, a few public events touched my
consciousness. I was much concerned in the fortunes of the Whig party
from the candidacy of Henry Clay in 1844 to the fusion of the
anti-slavery Whigs with the Freesoil party after their bolt of the
Taylor nomination in 1848, when I followed my father as far as a boy of
eleven could go. He himself went so far as to sell his newspaper and
take every risk for the future rather than support a slave-holding
candidate who had been chosen for his vote-winning qualities as a
victorious general in the Mexican War. I did not abhor that aggression
so much as my father only because I could not understand how abhorrent
it was; but it began to be a trouble to me from the first mention of
the Annexation of Texas, a sufficiently dismaying mystery, and it
afflicted me in early fixing my lot with the righteous minorities which
I may have sometimes since been over-proud to be of. Besides such
questions of national interest I was aware of other things, such as the
French Revolution of 1848; but this must have been wholly through
sympathy with my father's satisfaction in the flight of Louis Philippe
and the election of the poet Lamartine to be the head of the provisional
government. The notion of provisional I relegated to lasting baffle in
its more familiar association with the stock of corn-meal and bran in
the feed-stores, though I need but have asked in order to be told what
it meant. The truth is I was pre-occupied about that time with the
affairs of High Olympus, as I imagined them from the mythology which I
was reading, and with the politics of Rome and Athens, as I conceived
them from the ever-dear histories of Goldsmith. The exploits of the
Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha had much to do in distracting me from
the movement of events in Mexico, and at the same time I was enlarging
my knowledge of human events through _Gulliver's Travels_ and Poe's
_Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque_.

My father had not only explained to me the satire which underlay
_Gulliver's Travels_; he told me so much too indignantly of De Foe's
appropriation of Selkirk's narrative, that it long kept me from reading
_Robinson Crusoe_; but he was, as I have divined more and more, my guide
in that early reading which widened with the years, though it kept
itself preferably for a long time to history and real narratives. He was
of such a liberal mind that he scarcely restricted my own forays in
literature, and I think that sometimes he erred on that side; he may
have thought no harm could come to me from the literary filth which I
sometimes took into my mind, since it was in the nature of sewage to
purify itself. He gave me very little direct instruction, and he did not
insist on my going to school when I preferred the printing-office. All
the time, perhaps, I was getting such schooling as came from the love of
literature, which was the daily walk and conversation of our very simple
home, and somehow protected it from the sense of narrow means and the
little hope of larger. My father's income from his paper was scarcely
over a thousand dollars a year, but this sufficed for his family, then
of seven children, and he was of such a sensitive pride as to money,
that he would hardly ask for debts due him, much less press for their
payment; so that when he parted with his paper he parted with the hope
of much money owing him for legal and even official advertising and for
uncounted delinquent subscriptions. Meanwhile he was earning this money
by the work of his head and hand; and though I must always love his
memory for his proud delicacy, I cannot forget that this is not a world
where people dun themselves for the debts they owe. What is to be said
of such a man is that his mind is not on the things that make for
prosperity; but if we were in adversity we never knew it by that name.
My mother did the whole work of her large household, and gave each of us
the same care in health and sickness, in sickness only making the
sufferer feel that he was her favorite; in any other case she would have
felt such a preference wicked. Sometimes she had a hired girl, as people
then and there called the sort of domestic that in New England would
have been called a help. But it must have been very seldom, for two
girls alone left record of themselves: a Dutch girl amusingly memorable
with us children because she called her shoes _skoes_, and claimed to
have come to America in a _skip_; and a native girl, who took charge of
us when our mother was on one of her homesick visits Up-the-River, and
became lastingly abhorrent for the sort of insipid milk-gravy she made
for the beefsteak, and for the nightmare she seemed to have every night,
when she filled the house and made our blood run cold with a sort of
wild involuntary yodeling.

Apparently my mother's homesickness mounted from time to time in an
insupportable crisis; but perhaps she did not go Up-the-River so often
as it seemed. She always came back more contented with the home which
she herself was for us; once, as my perversely eclectic memory records,
it was chiefly because one could burn wood in Hamilton, but had to burn
coal at Martin's Ferry, where everything was smutched by it. In my old
age, now, I praise Heaven for that home which I could not know apart
from her; and I wish I could recall her in the youth which must have
been hers when I began to be conscious of her as a personality; I know
that she had thick brown Irish hair and blue eyes, and high German
cheek-bones, and as a girl she would have had such beauty as often goes
with a certain irregularity of feature; but to me before my teens she
was, of course, a very mature, if not elderly person, with whom I could
not connect any notion of looks except such as shone from her care and
love. Though her intellectual and spiritual life was in and from my
father, she kept always a certain native quality of speech and a rich
sense in words like that which marked her taste in soft stuffs and
bright colors. In the hard life of her childhood in the backwoods she
was sent to an academy in the nearest town, but in the instant anguish
of homesickness she walked ten miles back to the log cabin where at
night, as she would tell us, you could hear the wolves howling. She had
an innate love of poetry; she could sing some of those songs of Burns
and Moore which people sang then. I associate them with her voice in the
late summer afternoons; for it was at night that she listened to my
father's reading of poetry or fiction. When they were young, before and
after their marriage, he kept a book, as people sometimes did in those
days, where he wrote in the scrupulous handwriting destined to the
deformity of over-use in later years, such poems of Byron or Cowper or
Moore or Burns as seemed appropriate to their case, and such other verse
as pleased his fancy. It is inscribed (for it still exists) _To Mary_,
and with my inner sense I can hear him speaking to her by that sweet
name, with the careful English enunciation which separated its syllables
into Ma-ry.


My mother was an honored guest on one or other of my uncles' boats
whenever she went on her homesick visits Up-the-River, and sometimes we
children must have gone with her. Later in my boyhood, when I was nine
or ten years old, my father took me to Pittsburg and back, on the boat
of the jolliest of those uncles, and it was then that I first fully
realized the splendor of the world where their lives were passed. No
doubt I have since seen nobler sights than the mile-long rank of the
steamboats as they lay at the foot of the landings in the cities at
either end of our voyage, but none of these excelling wonders remains
like that. All the passenger boats on the Ohio were then side-wheelers,
and their lofty chimneys towering on either side of their pilot-houses
were often crenelated at the top, with wire ropes between them
supporting the effigies of such Indians as they were named for. From
time to time one of the majestic craft pulled from the rank with the
clangor of its mighty bell, and the mellow roar of its whistle, and
stood out in the yellow stream, or arrived in like state to find a place
by the shore. The wide slope of the landing was heaped with the
merchandise putting off or taking on the boats, amidst the wild and
whirling curses of the mates and the insensate rushes of the deck-hands
staggering to and fro under their burdens. The swarming drays came and
went with freight, and there were huckster carts of every sort;
peddlers, especially of oranges, escaped with their lives among the
hoofs and wheels, and through the din and turmoil passengers hurried
aboard the boats, to repent at leisure their haste in trusting the
advertised hour of departure. It was never known that any boat left on
time, and I doubt if my uncle's boat, the famous _New England No. 2_,
was an exception to the rule, as my father perfectly understood while he
delayed on the wharf, sampling a book-peddler's wares, or talking with
this bystander or that, while I waited for him on board in an anguish of
fear lest he should be left behind.

There was a measure of this suffering for me throughout the voyage
wherever the boat stopped, for his insatiable interest in every aspect
of nature and human nature urged him ashore and kept him there till the
last moment before the gang-plank was drawn in. It was useless for him
to argue with me that my uncle would not allow him to be left, even if
he should forget himself so far as to be in any danger of that. I could
not believe that a disaster so dire should not befall us, and I suffered
a mounting misery till one day it mounted to frenzy. I do not know
whether there were other children on board, but except for the officers
of the boat, I was left mostly to myself, and I spent my time dreamily
watching the ever-changing shore, so lost in its wild loveliness that
once when I woke from my reverie the boat seemed to have changed her
course, and to be going down-stream instead of up. It was in this crisis
that I saw my father descending the gang-plank, and while I was urging
his return in mute agony, a boat came up outside of us to wait for her
chance of landing. I looked and read on her wheel-house the name _New
England_, and then I abandoned hope. By what fell necromancy I had been
spirited from my uncle's boat to another I could not guess, but I had no
doubt that the thing had happened, and I was flying down from the
hurricane roof to leap aboard that boat from the lowermost deck when I
met my uncle coming as quietly up the gangway as if nothing had
happened. He asked what was the matter, and I gasped out the fact; he
did not laugh; he had pity on me and gravely explained, "That boat is
the _New England_: this is the _New England No. 2_" and at these words I
escaped with what was left of my reason.

I had been the prey of that obsession which every one has experienced
when the place where one is disorients itself and west is east and north
is south. Sometimes this happens by a sudden trick within the brain, but
I lived four years in Columbus and as many in Venice without once being
right as to the points of the compass in my nerves, though my wits were
perfectly convinced. Once I was months in a place where I suffered from
this obsession, when I found myself returning after a journey with the
north and south quite where they should be; and, "Now," I exulted, "I
will hold them to their duty." I kept my eyes firmly fixed upon the
station, as the train approached; then, without my lifting my gaze, the
north was back again in the place of the south, and the vain struggle
was over. Only the other day I got out of a car going north in Fourth
Avenue, and then saw it going on south; and it was only by noting which
way the house numbers increased that I could right myself.

I suppose my father promised a reform that should appease my unreason,
but whether he could deny himself those chances of general information I
am not so sure; we may have both expected too much of each other. As I
was already imaginably interested in things of the mind beyond my years,
he often joined me in my perusal of the drifting landscape and made me
look at this or that feature of it, but he afterward reported at home
that he never could get anything from me but a brief "Yes, indeed," in
response. That amused him, yet I do not think I should have disappointed
him so much if I could have told him I was losing nothing, but that our
point of view was different. The soul of a child is a secret to itself,
and in its observance of life there is no foretelling what it shall
loose or what it shall hold. I do not believe that anything which was of
use to me was lost upon me, but what I chiefly remember now is my
pleasure in the log cabins in the woods on the shores, with the blue
smoke curling on the morning or the evening air from their chimneys. My
heart was taken with a yearning for the wilderness such as the
coast-born boy feels for the sea; in the older West the woods called to
us with a lure which it would have been rapture to obey; the
inappeasable passion for their solitude drove the pioneer into the
forest, and it was still in the air we breathed. But my lips were
sealed, for the generations cannot utter themselves to each other till
the strongest need of utterance is past.

I used to sit a good deal on the hurricane-deck or in the pilot-house,
where there was often good talk among the pilots or the boat's officers,
and where once I heard with fascination the old Scotch pilot, Tom
Lindsay, telling of his own boyhood in the moors, and of the sheep lost
in the drifting snows; that also had the charm of the wilderness; but I
did not feel the sadness of his saying once, as we drifted past a row of
crimson-headed whisky barrels on a wharf-boat, "Many a one of those old
Red Eyes I've helped to empty," or imagine the far and deep reach of the
words which remained with me. Somewhere in the officers' quarters I
found a sea novel, which I read partly through, but I have not finished
_The Cruise of the Midge_, to this day, though I believe that as sea
novels go it merits reading. When I was not listening to the talk in the
pilot-house, or looking at the hills drifting by, I was watching the
white-jacketed black cabin-boys setting the tables for dinner in the
long saloon of the boat. It was built, after a fashion which still holds
in the Western boats, with a gradual lift of the stem and stern and a
dip midway which somehow enhanced the charm of the perspective even to
the eyes of a hungry boy. Dinner was at twelve, and the tables began to
be set between ten and eleven, with a rhythmical movement of the negroes
as they added each detail of plates and cups and knives and glasses, and
placed the set dishes of quivering jelly at discrete intervals under the
crystals of the chandeliers softly tinkling with the pulse of the
engines. At last some more exalted order of waiters appeared with
covered platters and spirit-lamps burning under them, and set them down
before the places of the captain and his officers. Then the bell was
sounded for the passengers; the waiters leaned forward between these
when they were seated; at a signal from their chief they lifted the
covers of the platters and vanished in a shining procession up the
saloon, while each passenger fell upon the dishes nearest himself.

About the time I had become completely reconciled to the conditions of
the voyage, which the unrivaled speed of the _New England No. 2_
shortened to a three-days' run up the river, I woke one morning to find
her lying at the Pittsburg landing, and when I had called my father to
come and share my wonder at a stretch of boats as long as that at
Cincinnati, and been mimicked by a cabin-boy for my unsophisticated
amazement, nothing remained for me but to visit the houses of the aunts
and uncles abounding in cousins. Of the homeward voyage nothing
whatever is left in my memory; but I know we came back on the _New
England No. 2_, though we must have left the boat and taken it again on
a second trip at Wheeling, after a week spent with my mother's people at
Martin's Ferry. My father wished me to see the glass-foundries and
rolling-mills which interested him so much more than me; he could not
get enough of those lurid industries which I was chiefly concerned in
saving myself from. I feigned an interest in the processes out of regard
for him, but Heaven knows I cared nothing for the drawing of wire or the
making of nails, and only a very little for the blowing of the red,
vitreous bubbles from the mouths of long steel pipes. With weariness I
escaped from these wonders, but with no such misery as I eluded the
affection of the poor misshapen, half witted boy who took a fancy to me
at the house of some old friends of my father where we had supper after
the long day. With uncouth noises of welcome, and with arms and legs
flying controllessly about, he followed me through a day that seemed
endless. His family of kindly English folk, from the life-long habit of
him, seemed unaware of anything strange, and I could not for shame and
for fear of my father's reproach betray my suffering. The evening began
unduly to fall, thick with the blackness of the coal smoke poured from
the chimneys of those abhorred foundries, and there was a fatal moment
when my father's friends urged him to stay the night and I thought he
would consent. The dreams of childhood are oftenest evil, but mine holds
record of few such nightmares as this.


After my father sold his paper and was casting about for some other
means of livelihood, there were occasional shadows cast by his
anxieties in the bright air of my childhood. Again I doubt if any boy
ever lived a gladder time than I lived in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio:
words that I write still when I try a new pen, because I learned to
write them first, and love them yet. When we went to live in Dayton,
where my father managed to make a sort of progressive purchase of a
newspaper which he never quite paid for, our skies changed. It was after
an interval of experiment in one sort and another, which amused his
hopeful ingenuity, but ended in nothing, that he entered upon this long
failure. The Dayton _Transcript_ when he began with it was a tri-weekly,
but he made it a daily, and this mistake infected the whole enterprise.
It made harder work for us all than we had known before; and the
printing-office, which had been my delight, became my oppression after
the brief moment of public schooling which I somehow knew. But before
the change from tri-weekly to daily in our paper, I had the unstinted
advantage of a school of morals as it then appeared among us.

The self-sacrificing company of players who suffered for the drama
through this first summer of our life in Dayton paid my father for their
printing in promises which he willingly took at their face value, and in
tickets which were promptly honored at the door. As nearly as I can make
out, I was thus enabled to go every night to the theater, in a passion
for it which remains with me ardent still. I saw such plays of
Shakespeare as "Macbeth" and "Othello," then the stage favorites, and
"Richard III." and evermore "Richard III." I saw such other now quite
forgotten favorites as Kotzebue's "Stranger" and Sheridan Knowles's
"Wife," and such moving actions of unknown origin as "Barbarossa" and
"The Miser of Marseilles," with many screaming farces such as helped
fill every evening full with at least three plays. There was also at
that time a native drama almost as acceptable to our public everywhere
as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" afterward became. It seemed as if our public
would never tire of "A Glance at New York," with its horribly vulgar
stage conceptions of local character, Mose the fireman and Lize his
girl, and Sikesy and their other companions, which drift up before me
now like wraiths from the Pit, and its events of street-fighting and I
dare say heroic rescues from burning buildings by the volunteer fire
companies of the day. When it appeared that the public might tire of the
play, the lively fancy of the theater supplied a fresh attraction in it,
and the character of Little Mose was added. How this must have been
played by what awful young women eager to shine at any cost in their
art, I shudder to think, and it is with "sick and scornful looks averse"
that I turn from the remembrance of my own ambition to shine in that
drama. My father instantly quenched the histrionic spark in me with
loathing; but I cannot say whether this was before or after the failure
of a dramatic attempt of his own which I witnessed, much mystified by
the sense of some occult relation to it. Certainly I did not know that
the melodrama which sacrificed his native to his adoptive patriotism in
the action, and brought off the Americans victors over the British in a
sea-fight, was his work; and probably it was the adaptation of some tale
then much read. Very likely he trusted, in writing it, to the chance
which he always expected to favor the amateur in taking up a musical
instrument strange to him. He may even have dreamed of fortune from it;
but after one performance of it the management seems to have gone back
to such old public favorites as Shakespeare and Sheridan Knowles.
Nothing was said of it in the family; I think some of the newspapers
were not so silent; but I am not sure of this.

My father could, of course, be wiser for others than for himself; the
public saved him from becoming a dramatist, but it was he who saved me
from any remotest chance of becoming an actor, and later from acquiring
the art of the prestidigitator. The only book which I can be sure of his
taking from me was a manual professing to teach this art, which I had
fallen in with. The days of those years in Dayton were in fact very
different from the days in Hamilton when I was reaching out near and far
to feed my fancy for fable and my famine for fact. I read no new books
which now occur to me by name, though I still kept my interest in Greek
mythology and gave something of my scanty leisure to a long poem in the
quatrains of Gray's Elegy based upon some divine event of it. The course
of the poem was lastingly arrested by a slight attack of the cholera
which was then raging in the town and filling my soul with gloom. My
dear mother thought it timely to speak with me of the other world; but
so far from reconciling me to the thought of it, I suppose she could not
have found a boy in all Dayton more unwilling to go to heaven. She was
forced to drop her religious consolations and to assure me that she had
not the least fear of my dying.

It was certainly not the fault of the place that we were, first and
last, rather unhappy there. For one thing, we were used to the greater
ease and simplicity of a small town like Hamilton, and Dayton was a
small city with the manners and customs of cities in those days: that
is, there was more society and less neighborhood, and neither my father
nor my mother could have cared for society. They missed the wont of old
friends; there were no such teas as she used to give her neighbors, with
a quilting, still dimly visioned, at the vanishing-point of the
perspective; our social life was almost wholly in our Sunday-evening
visits to the house of my young aunt whose husband was my father's
youngest brother. The pair were already in the shadow of their early
death, and in the sorrow of losing their children one after another till
one little cousin alone remained. I had not yet begun to make up
romances about people in my mind, but this uncle and aunt were my types
of worldly splendor in the setting of the lace curtains and hair-cloth
chairs of their parlor, with her piano and his flute for other æsthetic
grace. He was so much younger that he had a sort of filial relation to
my father, and they were both very sweet to my mother, always lonely
outside of her large family.

As usual, we lived in more than one house, but the first was very
acceptable because of its nearness to the canal; the yard stretched
behind it quite to the tow-path, with an unused stable between, which
served us boys for circus-rehearsals, and for dressing after a plunge.
As in a dream, I can still see my youngest brother rushing through this
stable one day and calling out that he was going to jump into the canal,
with me running after him and then dimly seeing him as he groped along
the bottom, with me diving and saving him from drowning. Already, with
the Hamilton facilities, I could hardly help being a good swimmer, and
at Dayton I spent much of my leisure in the canal. Within the city
limits we had to wear some sort of bathing-dress, and we preferred going
with a crowd of other boys beyond the line where no such formality was
expected of us. On the way to and fro we had to pass a soap-factory,
where the boys employed in it swarmed out at sight of us stealing along
under the canal bank, and in the strange outlawry of boyhood murderously
stoned us, but somehow did not kill us. I do not know what boys we
played with, but after we had paid the immemorial penalty of the
stranger, and fought for our standing among them, the boys of our
neighborhood were kind enough. One, whose father was a tobacconist,
abetted our efforts to learn smoking by making cigars flavored with
cinnamon drops; I suppose these would have been of more actual advantage
to me if I had learned to like smoking. When we went from his house to
another, in what may have been a better quarter, we made no friends that
I can remember, and we were never so gay. In fact, a sense of my
father's adversity now began to penetrate to his older children, with
the knowledge of our mother's unhappiness from it.

I am not following any chronological order here, and I should not be
able to date my æsthetic devotion to a certain gas-burner in the window
of a store under the printing-office. It was in the form of a
calla-lily, with the flame forking from the tongue in its white cup; and
I could never pass it, by day or night, without stopping to adore it. If
I could be perfectly candid, I should still own my preference of it to
the great painting of Adam and Eve by Dubuffe, then shown throughout our
simple-hearted commonwealth. This had the double attraction of a
religious interest and the awful novelty of the nude, for the first time
seen by untraveled American eyes; the large canvas was lighted up so as
to throw the life-size figures into strong relief, and the spectator
strickenly studied them through a sort of pasteboard binocle supplied
for the purpose. If that was the way our first parents looked before the
Fall, and the Bible said it was, there was nothing to be urged against
it; but many kind people must have suffered secret misgivings at a sight
from which a boy might well shrink ashamed, with a feeling that the
taste of Eden was improved by the Fall. I had no such joy in it as in
the dramas which I witnessed in the same hall; as yet there was nothing
in Dayton openly declared a theater.

The town had many airs of a city, and there were even some policemen who
wore a silver-plated star inside their

[Illustration: _The now abandoned canal at Dayton as it appears on the
borders of the city._]

coats for proof of their profession. There were water-works, and there
was gas everywhere for such as would pay the charge for it. My father
found the expense of piping the printing-office too great for his means,
or else he preferred falling back upon his invention, and instead of the
usual iron tubes he had the place fitted with tin tubes, at much less
cost. Perhaps the cost was equalized in the end by the leaking of these
tubes, which was so constant that we breathed gas by day as well as
burned it by night. We burned it a good deal, for our tri-weekly was now
changed to a daily, and a morning paper at that. Until eleven o'clock I
helped put the telegraphic despatches (then a new and proud thing with
us) into type, and between four and five o'clock in the morning I was up
and carrying papers to our subscribers. The stress of my father's
affairs must have been very sore for him to allow this, and I dare say
it did not last long, but while it lasted it was suffering which must
make me forever tender of those who overwork, especially the children
who overwork. The suffering was such that when my brother, who had not
gone to bed till much later, woke me after my five or six hours' sleep,
I do not now know how I got myself together for going to the
printing-office for the papers and making my rounds in the keen morning
air. When Sunday came, and I could sleep as late as I liked, it was
bliss such as I cannot tell to lie and rest, and rest, and rest! We were
duteous children and willing; my brother knew of the heavy trouble
hanging over us and I was aware of the hopeless burden of debt which our
father was staggering under and my mother was carrying on her heart; and
when I think of it, and of the wide-spread, never-ending struggle for
life which it was and is the type of, I cannot but abhor the economic
conditions which we still suppose an essential of civilization.

Lest these facts should make too vivid a call upon the reader's
compassion, I find it advisable to remember here an instance of
hard-heartedness in me which was worthier the adamantine conscience of
some full-grown moralist than a boy of my age. There was a poor girl,
whose misfortune was known to a number of families where she was
employed as a seamstress, and the more carefully treated because of her
misfortune. Among others my mother was glad to give her work; and she
lived with us like one of ourselves, of course sitting at table with us
and sharing in such family pleasures as we knew. She was the more to be
pitied because her betrayer was a prominent man who bore none of the
blame for their sin; but when her shame became known to me I began a
persecution of the poor creature in the cause of social purity. I would
not take a dish from her at table, or hand her one; I would not speak to
her, if I could help it, or look at her; I left the room when she came
into it; and I expressed by every cruelty short of words my righteous
condemnation. I was, in fact, society incarnate in the attitude society
takes toward such as she. Heaven knows how I came by such a devilish
ideal of propriety, and I cannot remember how the matter quite ended,
but I seem to remember a crisis, in which she begged my mother with
tears to tell her why I treated her so; and I was put to bitter shame
for it. It could not be explained to me how tragical her case was; I
must have been thought too young for the explanation; but I doubt if any
boy of twelve is too young for the right knowledge of such things; he
already has the wrong.

My wish at times to learn some other business was indulged by a family
council, and my uncle made a place for me in his drug-store, where, as
long as the novelty lasted, I was happy in the experiments with
chemicals permitted to me and a fellow-apprentice. Mainly we were busied
in putting up essence of peppermint and paregoric and certain favorite
medicinal herbs; and when the first Saturday evening came, my companion
received his weekly wage over the counter, and I expected mine, but the
bookkeeper smiled and said he would have to see my uncle about that; in
the end, it appeared that by the convention with my father I was somehow
not to draw any salary. Both my uncle and he treated the matter with
something of the bookkeeper's smiling slight, and after an interval, now
no longer appreciable, I found myself in the printing-office again. I
was not sorry, and yet I had liked the drug business so far as I had
gone in it, and I liked that old bookkeeper, though he paid me no money.
How, after a life of varied experiences, he had lodged at last in the
comfortable place he held I no longer know, if I ever knew. He had been
at one time what would once have been called a merchant adventurer in
various seas; and he had been wrecked on the Galapagos Islands, where he
had feasted on the famous native turtle, now extinct, with a relish
which he still smacked his lips in remembering.

This episode, which I cannot date, much antedated the period of my
father's business failure, though his struggles against it must have
already begun; they began, in fact, from the moment of his arrival in
Dayton, and the freest and happiest hours we knew there were when the
long strain ended in the inevitable break. Then there was an interval, I
do not know how great, but perhaps of months, when there was a casting
about for some means of living, and to this interval belongs somehow the
employment of my brother and myself in a German printing-office, such as
used to be found in every considerable Ohio town. I do not know what we
did there, but I remember the kindly German printer-folk, and the merry
times we had with them, in the smoke of their pipes and the warmth of
their stove heated red against the autumnal cold. I explore my memory
in vain for proof that my father had some job-printing interest in this
German office, but I remember my interest in the German type and its
difference from the English. I was yet far from any interest in the
German poetry which afterward became one of my passions, and there is no
one now left alive whom I can ask whether the whole incident was fact,
or not, rather, the sort of dream which all the past becomes when we try
to question it.

What I am distinctly aware of, through a sense of rather sullen autumnal
weather, is that a plan for our going into the country evolved itself in
full detail between my father and uncle. My uncle was to supply the
capital for the venture, and was finally, with two other uncles, to join
my father on a milling privilege which they had bought at a point on the
Little Miami River, where all the families were to be settled. In the
mean time my father was to have charge of a grist-mill and sawmill on
the property till they could be turned into a paper-mill and a sort of
communal settlement of suitable people could be gathered. He had never
run a sawmill or a grist-mill, much less evoked a paper-mill from them;
but neither had he ever gathered a community of choice spirits for the
enjoyment of a social form which enthusiasts like Robert Owen had
dreamed into being, and then non-being, in the Middle West in those or
somewhat earlier days. What was definite and palpable in the matter was
that he must do something, and that he had the heart and hope for the


I have told the story of this venture in a little book called _My Year
in a Log Cabin_, printed twenty-odd years ago, and I cannot do better
now than let it rehearse

[Illustration: _The Little Miami River at Eureka Mills, twelve miles
east of Dayton. Here the ruin of the dam, which served the mills run by
Mr. Howells's father, makes a rapid in the stream._]

itself here from those pages, with such slight change or none as
insists. For my father, whose boyhood had been passed in the new
country, where pioneer customs and traditions were still rife, it was
like renewing the wild romance of those days to take up once more the
life in a log cabin interrupted by many years sojourn in matter-of-fact
dwellings of frame and brick. It was the fond dream of his boys to
realize the trials and privations which he had painted for them in rosy
hues, and even if the only clapboarded dwelling at the mills had not
been occupied by the miller, we should have disdained it for the log
cabin which we made our home till we could build a new house.

Our cabin stood close upon the road, but behind it broadened a
corn-field of eighty acres. They still built log cabins for dwellings in
that region at the time, but ours must have been nearly half a century
old when we went into it. It had been recently vacated by an old
poor-white Virginian couple, who had long occupied it, and we decided
that it needed some repairs to make it habitable even for a family
inured to hardship by dauntless imaginations, and accustomed to
retrospective discomforts of every kind.

So before the family all came out to it a deputation of adventurers put
it in what rude order they could. They glazed the narrow windows, they
relaid the rotten floor, they touched (too sketchily, as it afterward
appeared) the broken roof, and they papered the walls of the
ground-floor rooms. Perhaps it was my father's love of literature which
inspired him to choose newspapers for this purpose; at any rate, he did
so, and the effect, as I remember, had its decorative qualities. He had
used a barrel of papers from the nearest post-office, where they had
been refused by people to whom they had been experimentally sent by the
publishers, and the whole first page was taken up by a story, which
broke off in the middle of a sentence at the foot of the last column,
and tantalized us forever with fruitless conjecture as to the fate of
the hero and heroine.

The cabin, rude as it was, was not without its sophistications, its
concessions to the spirit of modern luxury. The logs it was built of had
not been left rounded, as they grew, but had been squared in a sawmill,
and the crevices between them had not been chinked with moss and daubed
with clay in true backwoods fashion, but plastered with mortar, and the
chimney, instead of being a structure of clay-covered sticks, was laid
in courses of stone. Within, however, it was all that could be desired
by the most romantic of pioneer families. It was six feet wide and a
yard deep, its cavernous maw would easily swallow a back-log eighteen
inches through, and we piled in front the sticks of hickory cord-wood as
high as we liked. We made a perfect trial of it when we came out to put
the cabin in readiness for the family, and when the hickory had dropped
into a mass of tinkling, snapping, bristling embers we laid our rashers
of bacon and our slices of steak upon them, and tasted the flavors of
the wildwood in the captured juices. At night we laid our mattresses on
the sweet new oak plank of the floor, and slept hard--in every sense.

In due time the whole family took up its abode in the cabin. The
household furniture had been brought out and bestowed in its scanty
space, the bookcase had been set up, and the unbound books left easily
accessible in barrels. There remained some of our possessions to follow,
chief of which was the cow; for in those simple days people kept cows in
town, and it fell to me to help my father drive ours out to her future
home. We got on famously, talking of the wayside things so beautiful in
the autumnal day, panoplied in the savage splendor of its painted
leaves, and of the books and authors so dear to the boy who limped
barefooted by his father's side, with his eye on the cow and his mind
on Cervantes and Shakespeare. But the cow was very slow--far slower than
the boy's thoughts--and it had fallen night and was already thick dark
when we had made the twelve miles and stood under the white-limbed
phantasmal sycamores beside the tail-race of the grist-mill, and
questioned how we should get across with our charge. We did not know how
deep the water was, but we knew it was very cold, and we would rather
not wade it. The only thing to do seemed to be for one of us to run up
to the sawmill, cross the head-race there, and come back to receive the
cow on the other side of the tail-race. But the boy could not bring
himself either to go or to stay.

The kind-hearted father urged, but he would not compel; you cannot well
use force with a boy when you have been talking literature and
philosophy for half a day with him. We could see the lights in the cabin
cheerfully twinkling, and we shouted to those within, but no one heard
us. We called and called in vain. Nothing but the cold rush of the
tail-race, the dry rustle of the sycamore-leaves, and the homesick
lowing of the cow replied. We determined to drive her across, and pursue
her with sticks and stones through the darkness beyond, and then run at
the top of our speed to the sawmill, and get back to take her in custody
again. We carried out our part of the plan perfectly, but the cow had
not entered into it with intelligence or sympathy. When we reached the
other side of the tail-race again she was nowhere to be found, and no
appeals of "Boss" or "Suky" or "Suboss" availed. She must have instantly
turned, and retraced, in the darkness which seemed to have swallowed her
up, the weary steps of the day, for she was found in her old home in
town the next morning. At any rate, she had abandoned the father to the
conversation of his son, for the time being, and the son had nothing to

I do not remember now just how it was that we came by the different
"animals of the horse kind," as my father called them, which we housed
in an old log stable not far from our cabin. They must have been a
temporary supply until a team worthy our new sky-blue wagon could be
found. One of them was a colossal sorrel, inexorably hide-bound, whose
barrel, as horsemen call the body, showed every hoop upon it. He had a
feeble, foolish whimper of a voice, and we nicknamed him "Baby." His
companion was a dun mare, who had what my father at once called an
italic foot, in recognition of the emphatic slant at which she carried
it when upon her unwilling travels. Then there was a small,
self-opinionated gray pony, which was of no service conjecturable after
this lapse of time. We boys rode him barebacked, and he used to draw a
buggy, which he finally ran away with. I suppose we found him useful in
the representation of some of the Indian fights which we were always
dramatizing, and I dare say he may have served our turn as an Arab
charger, when the Moors of Granada made one of their sallies upon the
camp of the Spaniards, and discharged their javelins into it; their
javelins were the long, admirably straight and slender ironweeds that
grew by the river. This menagerie was constantly breaking bounds and
wandering off; and was chiefly employed in hunting itself up, its
different members taking turns in remaining in the pasture or stable, to
be ridden after those that had strayed into the woods.

The origin of a large and eloquent flock of geese is lost in an equal
obscurity. I recall their possession simply as an accomplished fact, and
I associate their desolate cries with the windy dark of rainy November
nights, so that they must at least have come into our hands after the
horses. They were fenced into a clayey area next the cabin for
safe-keeping, where, perpetually waddling about in a majestic
disoccupation, they patted the damp ground down to the hardness and
smoothness of a brick-yard. Throughout the day they conversed tranquilly
together, but by night they woke, goose after goose, to send forth a
long clarion alarum, blending in a general concert at last, to assure
one another of their safety. We must have intended to pluck them in the
spring, but they stole their nests early in March, and entered upon the
nurture of their young before we could prevent it; and it would then
have been barbarous to pluck these mothers of families.

We had got some pigs from our old Virginian predecessors, and these
kept, as far as they could, the domestic habits in which that
affectionate couple had indulged them. They would willingly have shared
our fireside with us, humble as it was, but, being repelled, they took
up their quarters on cold nights at the warm base of the chimney
without, where we could hear them, as long as we kept awake, disputing
the places next to the stones. All this was horrible to my mother, whose
housewifely instincts were perpetually offended by the rude conditions
of our life, and who justly regarded it as a return to a state which, if
poetic, was also not far from barbaric. But boys take every natural
thing as naturally as savages, and we never thought our pigs were other
than amusing. In that country pigs were called to their feed with long
cries of "Pig, pig, pooee, poe-e-e!" but ours were taught to come at a
whistle, and, on hearing it, would single themselves out from the
neighbors' pigs, and come rushing from all quarters to the scattered
corn with an intelligence we were proud of.


As long as the fall weather lasted, and well through the mild winter of
that latitude, our chief recreation, where all our novel duties were
delightful, was hunting with the long, smooth-bore shot-gun which had
descended laterally from one of our uncles, and supplied the needs of
the whole family of boys in the chase. Never less than two of us went
out with it at once, and generally there were three. This enabled us to
beat up the game over a wide extent of country, and while the eldest did
the shooting, left the others to rush upon him as soon as he fired, with
tumultuous cries of, "Did you hit it? Did you hit it?" We fell upon the
wounded squirrels which we brought down on rare occasions, and put them
to death with what I must now call a sickening ferocity. If sometimes
the fool dog, the weak-minded Newfoundland pup we were rearing, rushed
upon the game first, and the squirrel avenged his death upon the dog's
nose, that was pure gain, and the squirrel had the applause of his other
enemies. Yet we were none of us cruel; we never wantonly killed things
that could not be eaten; we should have thought it sacrilege to shoot a
robin or a turtledove, but we were willing to be amused, and these were
the chances of war.

The woods were full of squirrels, which especially abounded in the
woods-pastures, as we called the lovely dells where the greater part of
the timber was thinned out to let the cattle range and graze. They were
of all sorts--gray, and black, and even big red fox squirrels, a variety
I now suppose extinct. When the spring opened we hunted them in the
poplar woods, whither they resorted in countless numbers for the
sweetness in the cups of the tulip-tree blossoms. I recall with a thrill
one memorable morning in such woods--early, after an overnight rain,
when the vistas hung full of a delicate mist that the sun pierced to
kindle a million fires in the drops still pendulous from leaf and twig.
I can smell the tulip-blossoms and the odor of the tree-bark yet, and
the fresh, strong fragrance of the leafy mold under my bare feet; and I
can hear the rush of the squirrels on the bark of the trunks, or the
swish of their long, plunging leaps from bough to bough in the air-tops.

In a region where the corn-fields and wheat-fields were often fifty and
sixty acres in extent there was a plenty of quail, but I remember only
one victim to my gun. We set figure-four traps to catch them; but they
were shrewder arithmeticians than we, and solved these problems without
harm to themselves. When they began to mate, and the air was full of
their soft, amorous whistling, we searched for their nests, and had
better luck, though we were forbidden to rob the nests when we found
them; and in June, when a pretty little mother strutted across the lanes
at the head of her tiny brood, we had to content ourselves with the near
spectacle of her cunning counterfeit of disability at sight of us,
fluttering and tumbling in the dust till her chicks could hide
themselves. We had read of that trick, and were not deceived; but we
were charmed the same.

It is a trick that all birds know, and I had it played upon me by the
mother snipe and mother wild duck that haunted our dam, as well as by
the quail. With the snipe, once, I had a fancy to see how far the mother
would carry the ruse, and so ran after her; but in doing this I trod on
one of her young--a soft, gray mite, not distinguishable from the gray
pebbles where it ran. I took it tenderly up in my hand, and it is a pang
to me yet to think how it gasped once and died. A boy is a strange
mixture--as the man who comes after him is. I should not have minded
knocking over that whole brood of snipes with my gun, if I could; but
this poor little death was somehow very personal in its appeal.

I had no such regrets concerning the young wild ducks, which, indeed, I
had no such grievous accident with. I left their mother to flounder and
flutter away as she would, and took to the swamp where her young sought
refuge from me. There I spent half a day wading about in waters that
were often up to my waist and full of ugly possibilities of mud-turtles
and water-snakes, trying to put my hand on one of the ducklings. They
rose everywhere else, and dived again after a breath of air; but at last
one of them came up in my very grasp. It did not struggle, but how its
wild heart bounded against my hand! I carried it home to show it and
boast of my capture, and then I took it back to its native swamp. It
dived instantly, and I hope it found its bereaved family somewhere under
the water.

The center of our life in the cabin was, of course, the fireplace, whose
hugeness and whose mighty fires remained a wonder with us. There was a
crane in the chimney and dangling pothooks, and until the cooking stove
could be set up in an adjoining shed the cooking had to be done on the
hearth, and the bread baked in a Dutch oven in the hot ashes. We had
always heard of this operation, which was a necessity of early days; and
nothing else, perhaps, realized them so vividly for us as the loaf laid
in the iron-lidded skillet, which was then covered with ashes and heaped
with coals.

I am not certain that the bread tasted any better for the historical
romance of its experience, or that the corn-meal, mixed warm from the
mill and baked on an oak plank set up before the fire, had merits beyond
the hoecake of art; but I think there can be no doubt that new corn
grated from the cob while still in the milk, and then molded and put in
like manner to brown in the glow of such embers, would still have the
sweetness that was incomparable then. When the maple sap started in
February, we tried the scheme we had cherished all winter of making with
it tea which should be in a manner self-sugared. But the scheme was a
failure--we spoiled the sap without sweetening the tea.

We sat up late before the big fire at night, our faces burning in the
glow, and our backs and feet freezing in the draught that swept in from
the imperfectly closing door, and then we boys climbed to our bed in the
loft. We reached it by a ladder, which we should have been glad to pull
up after us as a protection against Indians in the pioneer fashion; but,
with the advancement of modern luxury, the ladder had been nailed to the
floor. When we were once aloft, however, we were in a domain sacred to
the past. The rude floor rattled and wavered loosely under our tread,
and the window in the gable stood open or shut at its own will. There
were cracks in the shingles, through which we could see the stars, when
there were stars, and which, when the first snow came, let the flakes
sift in upon the floor.

Our barrels of paper-covered books were stowed away in that loft, and,
overhauling them one day, I found a paper copy of the poems of a certain
Henry W. Longfellow, then wholly unknown to me; and while the old
grist-mill, whistling and wheezing to itself, made a vague music in my
ears, my soul was filled with this new, strange sweetness. I read the
"Spanish Student" there, and the "Coplas de Manrique," and the solemn
and ever-beautiful "Voices of the Night." There were other books in
those barrels, but these spirited me again to Spain, where I had already
been with Irving, and led me to attack fitfully the old Spanish grammar
which had been knocking about our house ever since my father bought it
from a soldier of the Mexican War.

But neither these nor any other books made me discontented with the
boy's world about me. They made it a little more populous with visionary
shapes, but that was well, and there was room for them all. It was not
darkened with cares, and the duties of it were not many. By this time we
older boys had our axes, and believed ourselves to be clearing a piece
of woods which covered a hill belonging to the milling property. The
timber was black-walnut and oak and hickory, and I cannot think we made
much inroad in it; but we must have felled some of the trees, for I
remember helping to cut them into saw-logs with the cross-cut saw, and
the rapture we had in starting our logs from the brow of the hill and
watching their whirling rush to the bottom. We experimented, as boys
will, and we felled one large hickory with the saw instead of the axe,
and scarcely escaped with our lives when it suddenly split near the
bark, and the butt shot out between us. I preferred buckeye and sycamore
trees for my own axe; they were of no use when felled, but they chopped
so easily.

They grew abundantly on the island which formed another feature of our
oddly distributed property. This island was by far its most fascinating
feature, and for us boys it had the charm and mystery which have in
every land and age endeared islands to the heart of man. It was not
naturally an island, but had been made so by the mill-races bringing the
water from the dam, and emptying into the river again below the mills.
It was flat, and half under water in every spring freshet, but it had
precious areas grown up to tall ironweeds, which, withering and
hardening in the frost, supplied us with the darts for our Indian
fights. The island was always our battle-ground, and it resounded in the
long afternoons with the war-cries of the encountering tribes. We had a
book in those days called _Western Adventure_, which was made up of
tales of pioneer and frontier life, and we were constantly reading
ourselves back into that life. This book, and Howe's _Collections for
the History of Ohio_, were full of stories of the backwoodsmen and
warriors who had made

[Illustration: _Overlooking the island which the Howells family

our state a battle-ground for nearly fifty years, and our life in the
log cabin gave new zest to the tales of "Simon Kenton, the Pioneer," and
"Simon Girty, the Renegade"; of the captivity of Crawford, and his death
at the stake; of the massacre of the Moravian Indians at Gnadenhütten;
of the defeat of St. Clair and the victory of Wayne; of a hundred other
wild and bloody incidents of our annals. We read of them at night till
we were afraid to go up the ladder to the ambuscade of savages in our
loft, but we fought them over by day with undaunted spirit. With our
native romance I sometimes mingled from my own reading a strain of Old
World poetry, and "Hamet el Zegri" and the "Unknown Spanish Knight,"
encountered in the Vega before Granada on our island, while Adam Poe and
the Indian chief Bigfoot were taking breath from their deadly struggle
in the waters of the Ohio.


When the spring opened we broke up the sod on a more fertile part of the
island, and planted a garden there beside our field of corn. We planted
long rows of sweet-potatoes, and a splendid profusion of melons, which
duly came up with their empty seed-shells fitted like helmets over their
heads, and were mostly laid low the next day by the cutworms which
swarmed in the upturned sod. But the sweet-potatoes had better luck.
Better luck I did not think it then; their rows seemed interminable to a
boy set to clear them of purslane with his hoe; though I do not now
imagine they were necessarily a day's journey in length. Neither could
the corn-field beside them have been very vast; but again reluctant
boyhood has a different scale for the measurement of such things, and
perhaps if I were now set to hill it up I might think differently about
its size.

I dare say it was not well cared for, but an inexhaustible wealth of
ears came into the milk just at the right moment for our enjoyment. We
had then begun to build our new house, and for this we were now
kiln-drying the green oak flooring-boards. We had built a long skeleton
hut, and had set the boards upright all around it and roofed it with
them, and in the middle of it we had set a huge old cast-iron stove, in
which we kept a roaring fire. The fire had to be watched night and day,
and it often took all the boys of the neighborhood to watch it, and to
turn the boards. It must have been cruelly hot in that kiln; but I
remember nothing of that; I remember only the luxury of the green corn,
spitted on the points of long sticks and roasted in the red-hot stove;
we must almost have roasted our own heads at the same time. But I
suppose that if the heat within the kiln or without ever became
intolerable, we escaped from it and from our light summer clothing,
reduced to a Greek simplicity, in a delicious plunge in the river. We
had our choice of the shallows, where the long ripple was warmed through
and through by the sun in which it sparkled, or the swimming-hole, whose
depths were almost as tepid, but were here and there interwoven with
mysterious cool under-currents.

We believed that there were snapping-turtles and water-snakes in our
swimming-holes, though we never saw any. There were some fish in the
river, chiefly suckers and catfish in the spring, when the water was
high and turbid, and in summer the bream that we call sunfish in the
West, and there was a superstition, never verified by us, of bass. We
did not care much for fishing, though of course that had its turn in the
pleasures of our rolling year. There were crawfish, both hard-shell and
soft, to be had at small risk, and mussels in plenty. Their shells
furnished us the material for many rings zealously begun and never
finished; we did not see why they did not produce pearls; but perhaps
they were all eaten up, before the pearl disease could attack them, by
the muskrats, before whose holes their shells were heaped.

Of skating on the river I think we had none. The winter often passed in
our latitude without making ice enough for that sport, and there could
not have been much sledding, either. We read, enviously enough, in Peter
Parley's _First Book of History_, of the coasting on Boston Common, and
we made some weak-kneed sleds (whose imbecile runners flattened
helplessly under them) when the light snows began to come; but we never
had any real coasting, as our elders never had any real sleighing in the
jumpers they made by splitting a hickory sapling for runners, and
mounting any sort of rude box upon them. They might have used sleighs in
the mud, however; that was a foot deep on most of the roads, and lasted
all winter. For a little while some of us went two miles away through
the woods to school; but there was not much to be taught a reading
family like ours in that log hut, and I suppose it was not thought worth
while to keep us at it. No impression of it remains to me, except the
wild, lonesome cooing of the turtle-doves when they began to nest in the
neighboring oaks.

Our new house got on slowly. The log cabin had not become pleasanter
with the advance of the summer, and we looked forward to our occupation
of the new house with an eagerness which even in us boys must have had
some sense of present discomfort at the bottom of it. The frame was of
oak, and my father decided to have the house weather-boarded and
shingled with black-walnut, which was so much cheaper than pine, and
which, left in its natural state, he thought would be agreeable in
color. It appeared to me a palace. I spent all the leisure I had from
swimming and Indian-fighting and reading in watching the carpenter
work, and hearing him talk; his talk was not the wisest, but he thought
very well of it himself, and I had so far lapsed from civilization that
I stood in secret awe of him, because he came from town--from the little
village, namely, two miles away.

I try to give merely a child's memories of our life, which were nearly
all delightful; but it must have been hard for my elders, and for my
mother especially, who could get no help, or only briefly and fitfully,
in the work that fell to her. Now and then a New Church minister, of
those who used to visit us in town, passed a Sunday with us in the
cabin, and that was a rare time of mental and spiritual refreshment for
her. Otherwise, my father read us a service out of the _Book of
Worship_, or a chapter from the _Heavenly Arcana_; and week-day nights,
while the long evenings lasted, he read poetry to us--Scott, or Moore,
or Thomson, or some of the more didactic poets.

In the summer evenings, after her long hard day's work was done, my
mother sometimes strolled out upon the island with my father, and
loitered on the bank to look at her boys in the river; one such evening
I recall, and how sad our gay voices were in the dim, dewy air. My
father had built a flatboat, which we kept on the smooth waters of our
dam, and on Sunday afternoons the whole family went out in it. We rowed
far up, till we struck a current from the mill above us, and then let
the boat drift slowly down again. It does not now seem very exciting,
but then to a boy whose sense was open to every intimation of beauty,
the silence that sang in our ears, the stillness of the dam where the
low uplands and the fringing sycamores and every rush and grass-blade by
the brink perfectly glassed themselves with the vast blue sky overhead,
were full of mystery, of divine promise, and holy awe.

I recollect the complex effort of these Sunday afternoons as if they
were all one sharp event; I recall in like manner the starry summer
nights, and there is one of these nights that remains single and
peerless in my memory. My brother and I had been sent on an errand to
some neighbor's--for a bag of potatoes or a joint of meat; it does not
matter--and we had been somehow belated, so that it was well after
twilight when we started home, and the round moon was high when we
stopped to rest in a piece of the lovely open woodland of that region,
where the trees stood in a parklike freedom from underbrush, and the
grass grew dense and rich among them. We took the pole, on which we had
slung the bag, from our shoulders, and sat down on an old long-fallen
log, and listened to the densely interwoven monotonies of the
innumerable katydids, in which the air seemed clothed as with a mesh of
sound. The shadows fell black from the trees upon the smooth sward, but
every other place was full of the tender light in which all forms were
rounded and softened; the moon hung tranced in the sky. We scarcely
spoke in the shining solitude, the solitude which for once had no
terrors for the childish fancy, but was only beautiful. This perfect
beauty seemed not only to liberate me from the fear which is the
prevailing mood of childhood, but to lift my soul nearer and nearer to
the soul of all things in an exquisite sympathy. Such moments never
pass; they are ineffaceable; their rapture immortalizes; from them we
know that, whatever perishes, there is something in us that cannot die,
that divinely regrets, divinely hopes.


Our log cabin stood only a stone's-cast from the gray old weather-tinted
grist-mill, whose voice was music for us by night and by day, so that on
Sundays, when the water was shut off from the great tub-wheels in its
basement, it was as if the world had gone deaf and dumb. A soft
sibilance prevailed by day over the dull, hoarse murmur of the
machinery; but late at night, when the water gathered that mysterious
force which the darkness gives it, the voice of the mill had something
weird in it like a human moan.

It was in all ways a place which I did not care to explore alone. It was
very well, with a company of boys, to tumble and wrestle in the vast
bins full of tawny wheat, or to climb the slippery stairs to the
cooling-floor in the loft, whither the little pockets of the elevators
carried the meal warm from the burrs, and the blades of the wheel up
there, worn smooth by years of use, spread it out in an ever-widening
circle, and caressed it with a thousand repetitions of their revolution.
But the heavy rush of the water upon the wheels in the dim, humid
basement, the angry whirr of the millstones under the hoppers, the high
windows, powdered and darkened with the floating meal, the vague corners
festooned with flour-laden cobwebs, the jolting and shaking of the
bolting-cloths, had all a potentiality of terror in them that was not a
pleasure to the boy's sensitive nerves. Ghosts, against all reason and
experience, were but too probably waiting their chance to waylay unwary
steps there whenever two feet ventured alone into the mill, and Indians,
of course, made it their ambush.

With the sawmill it was another matter. That was always an affair of the
broad day. It began work and quitted work like a Christian, and did not
keep the grist-mill's unnatural hours. Yet it had its fine moments, when
the upright saw lunged through the heavy oak log and gave out the sweet
smell of the bruised woody fibers, or then when the circular saw wailed
through the length of the lath we were making for the new house, and
freed itself with a sharp cry, and purred softly till the wood

[Illustration: _The vicinity where Mr. Howells lived his "Year in a
Log Cabin." The cabin stood near the two pines_]

touched it again, and it broke again into its shrill lament. The warm
sawdust in the pit below was almost as friendly to bare feet as the warm
meal; and it was splendid to rush down the ways on the cars that brought
up the logs or carried away the lumber.

It was in the early part of the second winter that it was justly thought
fit I should leave these delights and go to earn some money in a
printing-office in X----, when the foreman of the printing-office
appeared one day at our cabin and asked if I could come to take the
place of a delinquent hand. There was no question with any one but
myself but I must go. For me, a terrible homesickness fell instantly
upon me--a homesickness that already, in the mere prospect of absence,
pierced my heart and filled my throat.

The foreman wanted me to go back with him in his buggy, but a day's
grace was granted me, and then my elder brother took me to X----, where
he was to meet my father at the railroad station on his return from
Cincinnati. It had been snowing, in the soft Southern Ohio fashion, but
the clouds had broken away, and the evening fell in a clear sky,
apple-green along the horizon as we drove on. This color of the sky must
always be associated for me with the despair which then filled my soul
and which I was constantly swallowing down with great gulps. We joked,
and got some miserable laughter out of the efforts of the horse to free
himself from the snow that balled in his hoofs, but I suffered all the
time an anguish of homesickness that now seems incredible. I had every
fact of the cabin life before me; what each of the children was doing,
especially the younger ones, and what, above all, my mother was doing,
and how she was looking; and I saw the wretched little phantasm of
myself moving about among them.

The editor to whom my brother delivered me over could not conceive of
me as tragedy; he received me as if I were the merest commonplace, and
delivered me in turn to the good man with whom I was to board. There
were half a dozen school-girls boarding there, too, and their gaiety,
when they came in, added to my desolation. The man said supper was about
ready, and he reckoned I would get something to eat if I looked out for
myself. Upon reflection I answered that I thought I did not want any
supper, and that I must go to find my brother, whom I had to tell
something. I found him at the station and told him I was going home with
him. He tried to reason with me, or rather with my frenzy of
homesickness; and I agreed to leave the question open till my father
came; but in my own mind it was closed.

My father suggested, however, something that had not occurred to either
of us: we should both stay. This seemed possible for me; but not at that
boarding-house, not within the sound of the laughter of those girls! We
went to the hotel, where we had beefsteak and ham and eggs and hot
biscuit every morning for breakfast, and where we paid two dollars
apiece for the week we stayed. At the end of this time the editor had
found another hand, and we went home, where I was welcomed as from a
year's absence.

Again I was called to suffer a like trial, the chief trial of my
boyhood, but it came in a milder form, and was lightened to me not only
by the experience of survival from it, but by kindly circumstance. This
time I went to Dayton, where my young uncle somehow learned the misery I
was in, and bade me come and stay with him while I remained in the town.
I was very fond of him, and of the gentle creature, his wife, but for
all that, I was homesick still. I fell asleep with the radiant image of
our log cabin before my eyes, and I woke with my heart like lead in my

I did not see how I could get through the day, and I began it with
miserable tears. I had found that by drinking a great deal of water at
my meals I could keep down the sobs for the time being, and I practised
this device to the surprise and alarm of my relatives, who were troubled
at the spectacle of my unnatural thirst. But I could not wholly hide my
suffering, and I suppose that after a while the sight of it became
intolerable. At any rate, a blessed evening came when I returned from my
work and found my brother waiting for me at my uncle's house; and the
next morning we set out for home in the keen, silent dark before the
November dawn.

We were both mounted on the italic-footed mare, I behind my brother,
with my arms round him to keep on better; and so we rode out of the
sleeping town, and into the lifting shadow of the woods. They might have
swarmed with ghosts or Indians; I should not have cared; I was going
home. By and by, as we rode on, the birds began to call one another from
their dreams, the quails whistled from the stubble fields, and the crows
clamored from the decaying tops of the girdled trees in the deadening;
the squirrels raced along the fence-rails, and, in the woods, they
stopped half-way up the boles to bark at us; the jays strutted down the
shelving branches to offer us a passing insult and defiance.

Sometimes, at a little clearing, we came to a log cabin; the blue smoke
curled from its chimney, and through the closed door came the low hum of
a spinning-wheel. The red and yellow leaves, heavy with the cold dew,
dripped round us; I was profoundly at peace, and the homesick will
understand how it was that I was as if saved from death. At last we
crossed the tail-race from the island, and turned up, not at the old log
cabin, but at the front door of the new house. The family had flitted
during my absence, and now they all burst out upon me in exultant
welcome, and my mother caught me to her heart. Doubtless she knew that
it would have been better for me to have conquered myself; but my defeat
was dearer to her than my triumph could have been. She made me her
honored guest; I had the best place at the table, the tenderest bit of
steak, the richest cup of her golden coffee; and all that day I was

It was a great day, which I must have spent chiefly in admiring the new
house. It was so very new yet as not to be plastered; they had not been
able to wait for that; but it was beautifully lathed in all its
partitions, and the closely fitted floors were a marvel of carpentering.
I roamed through the rooms, and up and down the stairs, and freshly
admired the familiar outside of the house as if it were as novel as the
interior, where open wood fires blazed upon the hearths and threw a
pleasant light of home upon the latticed walls.

I must have gone through the old log cabin to see how it looked without
us, but I have no recollection of ever entering its door again, so soon
had it ceased to be part of my life. We remained in the new house, as we
continued to call it, for two or three months, and then the changes of
business which had been taking place without the knowledge of us
children called us away from that roof, too, and we left the mills and
the pleasant country that had grown so dear, to take up our abode in
city streets again. We went to live in the ordinary brick house of our
civilization, but we had grown so accustomed, with the quick and facile
adaptation of children, to living in a house which was merely lathed,
that we distinguished this last dwelling from the new house as a
"plastered house."

Some of our playmates of the neighborhood walked part of the way to
X---- with us boys, the snowy morning when we turned our backs on the
new house to take the train in that town. A shadow of the gloom in
which our spirits were steeped passes over me again, but chiefly I
remember our difficulties in getting our young Newfoundland dog away
with us; and our subsequent embarrassments with him on the train, where
he sat up and barked out of the window at the passing objects and
finally became seasick, blot all other memories of that journey from my


If in a child's first years the things which it apparently remembers are
really the suggestions of its elders, it begins soon to repay the debt,
and repays it more and more fully until its memory touches the history
of all whom it has known. Through the whole time when a boy is becoming
a man his autobiography can scarcely be kept from becoming the record of
his family and his world. He finds himself so constantly reflected in
the personality of those about him, so blent with it, that any attempt
to study himself as a separate personality is impossible. His
environment has become his life, and his hope of a recognizable
self-portrait must lie in his frank acceptance of the condition that he
can make himself truly seen chiefly in what he remembers to have seen of
his environment.


We were now going from the country to Columbus, where my father, after
several vain attempts to find an opening elsewhere as editor or even as
practical printer, had found congenial occupation at least for the
winter; and the reader who likes to date a small event by a great one
may care to know that we arrived in the capital of Ohio about the time
that Louis Kossuth arrived in the capital of the United States. In the
most impressive exile ever known he came from Hungary, then trampled
under foot by the armies of Austria and Russia, and had been greeted
with a frenzy of enthusiasm in New York as the prophet and envoy of a
free republic in present difficulties, but destined to a glorious
future. At Washington he had been received by both Houses of Congress
with national honors which might well have seemed to him national
promises of help against the despotisms joined in crushing the Magyar
revolt; we had just passed a law providing for the arrest of slaves
escaping from their owners in the South, and we were feeling free to
encourage the cause of liberty throughout the world.

Kossuth easily deceived himself in us, and he went hopefully about the
country, trying to float an issue of Hungarian bonds on our sympathetic
tears, and in his wonderful English making appeals full of tact and
eloquence, which went to the hearts if not the pockets of his hearers.
Among the other state capitals he duly came to Columbus, where I heard
him from the steps of the unfinished State House. I hung on the words of
the picturesque black-bearded, black-haired, black-eyed man, in the
braided coat of the Magyars, and the hat with an ostrich plume up the
side which set a fashion among us, and I believed with all my soul that
in a certain event we might find the despotisms of the Old World banded
against us, and "would yet see Cossacks," as I thrilled to hear Kossuth
say. In those days we world-patriots put the traitor Görgy, who
surrendered the Hungarian army to the Austrians and Russians, beside our
own Benedict Arnold; but what afterward became of him I do not know. I
know that Kossuth went disappointed back to Europe and dwelt a more and
more peaceful newspaper correspondent in Turin till the turn of
fortune's wheel would have dropped him, somehow politically tolerable to
Austria, back in his native country. But he would not return; he died in
Turin; and a few years ago in Carlsbad I fancied I had caught sight of
his son at a café, but was told that I had seen the wrong man, who was
much more revolutionary-looking than Kossuth's son, and more like

I adopted with his cause the Kossuth hat, as we called it, and wore it
with the plume in it till the opinions of boys without plumes in their
hats caused me to take the feather out. My father was of their mind
about the feather, but otherwise we thought a great deal alike, and he
was zealous to have me see the wonders of the capital. I visited the
penitentiary and the lunatic, deaf and dumb, and blind asylums with him,
though I think rather from his interest than mine; but I was willing
enough to realize the consequence of Columbus as the capital of a
sovereign American state, and I did what I could to meet his
expectations. Together we made as thorough examination of the new State
House as the workmen who had not yet finished it would allow, and he
told me that it would cost, when done, a million dollars, a sum of such
immensity that my young imagination shrank from grappling with it; but I
am afraid that before the State House was done it may have cost more;
certainly it must have cost much more with the incongruous enlargements
which in later years spoiled its classic proportions. My father made me
observe that it was built of Ohio limestone without, and later I saw
that it was faced with Vermont and Tennessee marble within, where it was
not stuccoed and frescoed; but as for the halls of legislation where the
laws of Ohio were made and provided, when I first witnessed the process,
they were contained in a modest square edifice of brick which could not
have cost a million dollars, or the twentieth part of them, by the
boldest computation of the contractors. It was entirely modest as to the
Hall of the House and the Senate Chamber, and I suppose that so were the
state offices, wherever they were, unnoted by me. The State House, as
much as I knew of it from a single visit to the Hall of
Representatives, was of a very simple interior heated from two vast
hearths where fires of cord-wood logs were blazing high. There were rows
of legislators sitting at their desks, and probably one of them was on
his feet, speaking; I recall dimly a presiding officer, but my main
affair was to breathe as softly as I could and get away as soon as
possible from my father's side where he sat reporting the proceedings
for the _Ohio State Journal_, then the Whig and later the Republican


Nobody cares now for the details, or even the main incidents of state
legislation, but in that day people seemed to care so much that the
newspapers at the capital found their account in following them, and as
I learned later the papers at Cincinnati and Cleveland had
correspondents at Columbus to let them know by letter what went on in
the House and Senate. My father could make a very full and faithful
report of the legislative proceedings in longhand, and for this he was
paid ten dollars a week. As I have told elsewhere, I worked on the same
paper and had four dollars as compositor; my eldest brother became very
provisionally clerk in a grocery-store where he had three dollars, and
read the novels of Captain Maryatt in the intervals of custom. Our joint
income enabled us to live comfortably in the little brick house, on a
humble new street, which my father hired for ten dollars a month from a
Welsh carpenter with a large family. No sense of our own Welsh origin
could render this family interesting; I memorized some scraps of their
Cymric as I overheard it across the fence, but we American children did
not make acquaintance with the small Welsh folk, or with more than
these few words of their language, which after several attempts at its
grammar still remain my sole knowledge of it. On the other side lived a
mild, dull German of some lowly employ, whom I remember for his asking
us across the fence, one day, to lend him a leather cover. When by his
patient repetition this construed itself as an envelope, we loved him
for the pleasure it gave us, and at once made leather-cover the family
name for envelope. Across the street dwelt an English family of such
amiable intelligence that they admired some verses of mine which my
father stole to their notice and which they put me to shame by praising
before my face.

In my leisure from the printing-office I was in fact cultivating a
sufficiently thankless muse in the imitation of Pope and Goldsmith, for
in me, more than his other children, my father had divined and
encouraged the love of poetry; but in reproducing his poets, as I
constantly did, to his greater admiration than mine, I sometimes had a
difficulty which I did not carry to him. There is no harm in now
submitting it to the reader, who may have noted in his own case the
serious disadvantage of writing about love when he had as yet had no
experience of the passion. I did my best, and I suppose I did no worse
than other poets of thirteen. But I fell back mostly upon inanimate
nature, which I knew very well from the woods where I had hunted and the
fields where I had hoed; to be honest, I never hoed so much as I hunted,
and I never hunted very successfully. I now went many walks into the
woods and fields about the town in my longing for the wider spaces I had
known, and helped my sisters dig up the wild flowers which they brought
home and planted in our yard. But I recall more distinctly than any
other a Sunday walk which I took with my father across the Scioto to the
forsaken town on the western bank of the river. Franklinton had been
thought of as the capital before Columbus, and it has now been
rehabilitated in an indefinitely greater prosperity than it ever enjoyed
in its prime, but during my life in the city which so promptly won the
capital away from it, Franklinton lay abandoned by nine-tenths of its
inhabitants, and stretched over the plain in rows of small, empty brick
dwellings. I have the impression of disused county buildings, but I am
not sure of them; I heard (but in days when I did not much concern
myself with such poor unliterary facts) that the notion of Franklinton
as the capital was rejected because it was apt in springtime to be
flooded by the Scioto, and was at other seasons infested by malaria
which the swarms of mosquitoes bore to every household. The people,
mostly sallow women and children who still gaze at me from a few of the
doorways and windows, looked as if their agues were of unfailing
recurrence every other day of every week; though I suppose that in
winter they were somewhat less punctual. I should like to believe that
Franklinton was precious to me because of its suggestion of Goldsmith's
_Deserted Village_, but I cannot claim that it bore any likeness to the
hamlet of the poet's fancy, even in the day when I was hungering to
resemble all life to literature; and I never made it the subject of my
verse, though I think now it merited as much and more. Since that time I
have seen other abandoned cities, notably Pompeii and Herculaneum, but
Franklinton remains of a memorable pathos and of a forlornness all the
more appreciable because it had become ruin and eld amidst the young,
vigorous life of a new country.

In _My Literary Passions_ I have made full mention of the books I was
reading that winter of 1851-2; but I was rather surprised to find that
in a boyish diary of the time, lately discovered in the chaos of a
storage warehouse, none of my favorite authors was specified. I could
trace them, indeed, in the varying style of the record, but the diarist
seems to have been shy of naming them, for no reason that I can now

The diary is much more palpable than the emotions of the diarist, and is
a large, flat volume of foolscap paper, bound in marbled boards,
somewhat worn with use and stained with age. The paper within is ruled,
which kept the diarist's hand from wandering, and the record fills
somewhat less than a fourth of the pages; the rest are given to
grammatical exercises in Spanish, which the diarist was presently
beginning to study, but even these interrupt themselves, falter, and are
finally lost in space. The volume looks quite its age of sixty years,
for it begins in the closing months of 1851.

The diarist practised a different handwriting every day and wrote a
style almost as varied. The script must have been imitated from the
handwritings which he successively admired, and the literary manner from
that which seemed to him most elegant in the authors he had latest read.
He copies not only their style, but their mental poses, and is often
sage beyond his years, which are fourteen verging upon fifteen. With all
its variety of script, the spelling in the diary is uniformly of the
correct sort which printers used to learn as part of their trade, but
which is said to be now suffering a general decay through the use of
type-setting machines. There are few grammatical errors in the
diversified pages and the punctuation is accurate and intelligent.

Though there is little note or none of the diarist's reading, there is
other witness that it had already begun to be of wide range and copious
variety. Now and then there are hints of his familiarity with
Goldsmith's Essays, and Dickens's novels which his father was reading
aloud, and one Sunday it appears that when he was so loath to get up
that he did not rise until eight o'clock he tells us: "I slipped into
my clothes, made the fire in the sitting-room, wrapped father's cloak
about me, and sat down to read the travels of Hommaire de Hell, a
Frenchman who traveled in the Russian Empire in the year 1840." I do not
care much now who M. Hommaire de Hell was or what he had to say of the
Russian Empire in 1840, but I wish I could see that boy wrapped in his
father's cloak, and losing himself in the Frenchman's page. Though I
have the feeling that we were once familiarly acquainted, I am afraid
the diarist would not know me if he looked up across the space of
threescore years, though he might divine in me a kindred sense of the
heaviness of the long Sunday hours which he confronts when he rises from
his reading.

Throughout the yellowing pages there is evident striving, not to say
straining, for a literary style, the most literary style possible, and
the very first page commemorates a visit to the Lunatic Asylum in terms
of a noble participial construction. "Passing up the broad graveled path
to the door of the institution, we entered the office, and leaving our
hats on the table we proceeded on our way. The first room we entered
contained those who were nearly cured. There was in it no one but an old
and a young man. The old man I did not notice much, but the young one
attracted my attention. He paced the floor all the time, not taking the
least notice of us; then we went up-stairs where the most unmanageable
ones were kept. Here was a motley crew, some of them lying at full
length on the floor, standing up and walking about, while crownless hats
and dilapidated shirt-bosoms were the order of the day. In the midst of
these terrible men, thoughtless as the brute and ferocious as the tiger,
stood a small man (the assistant physician) whom they could have torn
limb from limb in a moment. Here was a beautiful instance of the power
of mind over brute force. He was reading poetry to them, and the men,
totally bereft of reason, listening like little children to the sweet
cadence of the verse." All this and more is in a fine script, so sloping
that it is almost lying down, either from the exhausting emotions of the
diarist or from a temporary ideal of elegance. But the very next day it
braces itself for a new effort and it is not many days before it stands
upright in a bold, vertical file.

The writer does not know any boys except in the printing-office, and
these he knows only in a shrinking sort, not venturing to take part,
except once, in their wild hilarity, and scarcely knowing their names,
even the name of the boy whom he is afterward to associate himself with
in their first venture with a volume of verse. His chief companionship
is with his father, whom he goes long walks and holds long talks with,
and it is his father who encourages him in his versifying and who
presently steals into the print of the newspaper employing them both a
poem on the premature warm weather which has invited the bluebirds and
blackbirds into the northern March. At first the boy was in dismay at
the sight of the poem, with the introductory editorial note customary in
those days, but he hides this from his diary, where he confides his joy
in finding his verses "copied into a New York paper, and also in the
Cincinnati _Commercial_. I mean the piece on Winter."

But the poet kept on and wrote more and more, while the diarist wrote
less and less. It is needless to follow him through the pieces which
were mostly imitated from some favorite poet of the moment or more
originally drawn from the scenes of life known to the author. One of
these, painting an emigrant's farewell to the home he is leaving, tells
how he stoops over--

    "And pats the good old house dog
     Who is lying on the floor."

The morning after the piece appeared, a fellow printer-boy seems to have
quoted the line aloud for all to hear, and dramatized it by patting the
author on the head, inwardly raging but helpless to resent the liberty.
In fact, the poet did not well know how to manage the publicity now
thrust upon him. He behaved indeed with such outrageous resentment at
finding his first piece of verse in print that his father, who had
smuggled it into the editor's hands, well-nigh renounced him and all his
works. But not quite; he was too fond of both, and the boy and he were
presently abetting each other in the endeavor for his poetic repute--so
soon does the love of fame go to the strongest head.

As yet neither looked for his recognition in that sort of literature
which the boy was ultimately to be best or most known in. He seems not
to have read at this time much prose fiction, but he was reading Homer
in Pope's translation, or rather he was reading the Odyssey; the Iliad
he found tiresome and noisy; and if the whole truth must be told, as I
have understood it, he liked _The Battle of the Frogs and Mice_ best of
all the Homeric poems. It was this which he imitated in a burlesque epic
of _The Cat Fight_, studied from nature in the hostilities nightly
raging on the back fences; but the only surviving poem of what may be
called his classical period, as the poets of it understood Queen Anne's
age, is a pastoral so exactly modeled upon the pastorals of the great
Mr. Pope, that but for a faulty line here and there and the intrusion of
a few live American birds among the stuffed songsters of those Augustan
groves, I do not see how Mr. Pope could deny having written it. He might
well have rejoiced in a follower who loved him so devotedly and so
exactly reproduced his artificiality in heroic couplets studied from his
own, with the same empty motive to the same unreal effect, as the
surviving fragments of it will witness.

    "When fair Aurora kissed the purple East
     And dusky night the struggling day released,
     Two swains whom Phoebus waked from sleep's embrace
     Led forth their flocks to crop the dewy grass.
     While morning blushed upon the cheek of day
     Young Corydon began the rural lay.


    "Now ceases Philomel her nightly strain,
     And trembling stars forsake the ethereal plain;
     Pale Luna fades and down the distant West
     Sadly and slowly lowers her rayless crest;
     But yellow Phoebus pours his beams along
     And linnets sport where Philomela sung.
     Here robins chirp and joyful orioles sing
     Where late the owlet flapped his noiseless wing;
     Here the pale lily spreads its petals wide,
     And snowy daisies deck the green hillside;
     Here violets' bloom with waterflowers wreath,
     And forest blossoms scent the Zephyr's breath.
     Fit spot for song where Spring in every flower
     Rich incense offers to the morning hour.
     Then let us sing! The hour is meet for love,
     The plain, the vale, the music-breathing grove;
     Let gentle Daphnis judge the doubtful song,
     And soft Æolus bear the notes along.
     I stake my pipe with whose soft notes I while
     The tedious hours, and my toil beguile;
     Whose mellow voice gives joy serener charms,
     And grief of half its bitterness disarms."

Here should enter some unnamed competitor, but apparently does not.

    "And I, my dog, who guards by yonder brook
     Two careless truants from his master's flock;
     Who views his timid charge with jealous eyes
     And every danger for their sake defies.
     In cheerful day my helpmate and my pride,
     At night my brave companion and my guide.
     The morning flies: no more the song delay,
       For morning most delights the Sylvan Muse,
     Ere modest twilight yields to flaming day,
       And fervid sunbeams drink the cooling dews
     And wither half the freshness of the Spring."

Another nameless person, possibly the "gentle Daphnis," now speaks:

    "Alternate, then, ye swains must answering sing.
     By turns the planets circle round the sun
     In even turns the changing seasons run;
     Smooth-coming night enshrouds the passing day,
     And morn returning smiles the night away."

And doubtless now it is Corydon who resumes:

    "Inspire my song, ye tuneful nine, inspire!
     And fill the shepherd's humble lay with fire.
     Around your altar verdant bays I twine,
     And palms I offer on your sacred shrine.
     Since Julia smiles, let Julia fire my strain,
       And smooth the language of the lay of love
     Till conscious music breathes o'er all the plain,
       And joyous echoes wake the silent grove."

I have no facts to support my conjecture, but I will hazard the belief
that the winter of 1851-2 was largely given to producing and polishing
this plaster-of-paris masterpiece. I might find it easy to make a mock
of the lifeless cast--a "cold pastoral," indeed!--but it would be with a
faint, or perhaps more than faint, heartache for the boy who strove so
fervently to realize a false ideal of beauty in his work. It is my
consolation that his soul was always in his work and that when he turned
to other ideals and truer, because faithfuler to the life he knew, he
put his soul into them, too.


In the _State Journal_ office I had soon been changed from the newspaper
to the book room, and was put to setting up the House bills and Senate
bills. I am not ready to say that these potential laws, with their
clattering repetitions of, "An Act entitled an Act to amend an Act,"
intensified my sense of Columbus as a capital, with the lawmaking
machinery always grinding away in it; but the formula had its
fascination, and I remained contented with my work, with no
apprehension, from the frequent half-holidays offered me by the foreman,
that there was ever to be an end of it. All at once, however, the
legislature had adjourned and my father's engagement ended with the
session. My employment somehow ceased with both, and though we children
were now no longer so homesick for the country, and would have liked
well enough to live on in Columbus, we were eager for the new home which
he told us he had found for us in the Western Reserve. In his
anti-slavery opinions he agreed better with the Ohio New-Englanders
there than with the Ohio Virginians and Kentuckians whom we had hitherto
lived amongst; we understood that he had got a share in the Freesoil
newspaper in Ashtabula; and I can recall no wider interval between the
adjournment of the legislature and our taking passage on the newly
completed railroad to Cleveland than sufficed me for a hardy experiment
in gardening among the obdurate clods and brickbats of our small back

In the news-room of the _State Journal_ office I had seen the first real
poet of my personal knowledge in the figure of the young assistant
editor who used to come in with proofs or copy for the foreman, but I
cannot hope that the reader will recognize him in his true quality under
the name of Florus B. Plympton, or will quite withhold the sophisticated
smile of these days for the simple-hearted American parents of the past
who could so christen an unconsenting infant. I dare say most of his
verse was no worthier of his best than this name, but if here and there
a reader has known the lovely lines of the poem called _In Summer when
the Days were Long_, he will be glad to have me recall it with him, and
do what I can to bring it back from dumb forgetfulness. I myself had not
read that poem when I used to see the young editor in the news-room, and
he had perhaps not yet written it; I believe I did not think any great
things of other pieces which he printed in the _State Journal_; and it
was in the book-room, where I was afterward transferred, that I all
unwittingly met the truest poet of our Middle West, and one of the
truest poets of any time or place. With the name of John J. Piatt I
would gladly relate my own more memorably than in the _Poems of Two
Friends_, long since promptly forgotten, where I joined him in our first
literary venture. We are now old men, hard upon our eighties, but we
were then boys of thirteen or fourteen, with no dream of our adventure
in joint-authorship, and we had our boyish escapades in the long leisure
of the spring afternoons of 1850, when we did not yet know each other
even by the nature of poets which we shared.

I can see Piatt now, his blue eyes laughing to tears in our romps and
scuffles, and I can hear the trickling mirth of his reluctant chuckle,
distinct across the days of the years that have brought us so far. He
was setting up House Bills and Senate Bills too, with whatever
subjective effect, in the intervals of our frolic, but his head must
have been involved in the sunny mists that wrapt mine round. My life,
then, as always, was full of literature to bursting, the literature I
read and the literature I wrote, for my father had already printed some
of the verses I could not keep to myself; and it is not strange that I
can recover from the time so few and so trivial events of more exoteric
interest. My love indeed was primarily for my work at the printer's
case, but that had its hours, as while I was distributing the type, when
my fancy roamed the universe in every dramatization of a proud and
triumphant future. In these reveries I was a man brilliantly accepted by
the great world, but in my waking from them I was a boy, with a boy's
fears and anxieties in conditions which might not have appalled a bolder
nature. There was, for instance, the Medical College in State Street,
where years later I was to dwell so joyously when it had become a
boarding-house in a suspense of its scientific function, but whence now,
after the early dark had fallen, ghosts swarmed from the
dissecting-room, and pursued me on my way home well round the corner
into Oak Street, where they delivered me over to another peril,
unfailingly in wait for me. There an abominable cur, which had
instinctively known of my approach several houses away, rushed from his
gate to meet me. It might have been my wisest course to run from the
ghosts, but flight would not avail me with this little beast, and when
he sprang out with sudden yelpings and barkings, and meteoric flashings
about my legs, I was driven to the folly of trying to beat him off with
sticks and stones. After he had once found his way to my terror, which
remained to me from having been bitten by a dog years before, and left
me without a formula of right behavior with a dog attacking me, nothing
could save me from him but my final escape from his fence, his street,
his city; and this, more than anything else, consoled me for any sense
of loss which I may have felt in leaving the state capital.


My elder brother and I had several ideals in common quite apart from my
own literary ideals. One of these was life in a village, as differenced
from life in the country, or in any city, large or little; another was
the lasting renunciation of the printing-business in every form. The
last was an effect from the anxiety which we had shared with our father
and mother in the long adversity, ending in the failure of his
newspaper, from which we had escaped to the country. Once clear of that
disaster, we meant never to see a press or a case of types again; and
after our year of release from them in the country my brother had his
hopes of learning the river and becoming a steamboat pilot, but failed
in these, and so joined us in Columbus, where he had put off the evil
day of his return to the printing-business a little longer. Meanwhile I
had yielded to my fate and spent the whole winter in a printing-office;
and now we were both going to take up our trade, so abhorrent in its
memories, but going gladly because of the chances which it held out to
my father at a time when there seemed no other chance in the world for

Yet we were about to fulfil our other ideal by going to live in a
village. The paper which we were to help make my father make his by our
work--for he had no money to buy it--was published in Ashtabula, now a
rather obstreperous little city, full of industrial noise and grime,
with a harbor emulous of the gigantic activities of the Cleveland
lake-front, but it must even then have had a thousand people. Our ideal,
therefore, was not perfectly realized till our office was transferred
some ten miles inland to the county-seat, for whatever business and
political reasons of the joint stock company which had now taken over
the paper, with my father as editor. With its four hundred inhabitants
less Jefferson was so much more than Ashtabula a village; and its young
gaieties welcomed us and our little force of printers to a social
liberty and equality which I long hoped some day to paint as a phase of
American civilization worthy the most literal fidelity of fiction. But I
shall now never do that, and I must be content to borrow from an
earlier page some passages which uninventively record the real events
and conditions of our enterprise.

In politics, the county was always overwhelmingly Freesoil, as the
forerunner of the Republican party was then called; the Whigs had hardly
gathered themselves together since the defeat of General Scott for the
Presidency; the Democrats, though dominant in state and nation, and
faithful to slavery at every election, did not greatly outnumber among
us the zealots called Comeouters, who would not vote at all under a
Constitution recognizing the right of men to own men. Our paper was
Freesoil, and its field was large among that vast majority of the people
who believed that slavery would finally perish if kept out of the
territories and confined to the old Slave States.

The people of the county were mostly farmers, and of these nearly all
were dairymen. The few manufactures were on a small scale, except
perhaps the making of oars, which were shipped all over the world from
the heart of the primeval forests densely wooding the vast levels of the
region. The portable steam-sawmills dropped down on the borders of the
woods have long since eaten their way through and through them, and
devoured every stick of timber in most places, and drunk up the
watercourses that the woods once kept full; but at that time half the
land was in the shadow of those mighty poplars and hickories, elms and
chestnuts, ashes and hemlocks; and the meadows that pastured the herds
of red cattle were dotted with stumps as thick as harvest stubble. Now
there are not even stumps; the woods are gone, and the watercourses are
torrents in spring and beds of dry clay in summer. The meadows
themselves have vanished, for it has been found that the strong yellow
soil will produce more in grain than in milk. There is more money in the
hands of the farmers there now, but half a century ago there was

[Illustration: _One of the last log houses to survive in the vicinity of
Jefferson. When Mr. Howells lived in the town such dwellings were common
in the surrounding farm region_]

so much less that fifty dollars seldom passed through a farmer's hands
in a year. Payment was made us in kind rather than in coin, and every
sort of farm produce was legal tender at the printing-office. Wood was
welcome in any quantity, for our huge box-stove consumed it with
inappeasable voracity, and even then did not heat the wide, low room
which was at once editorial-room, composing-room, and press-room.
Perhaps this was not so much the fault of the stove as of the building.
In that cold, lake-shore country the people dwelt in wooden structures
almost as thin and flimsy as tents; and often in the first winter of our
sojourn the type froze solid with the water which the compositor put on
it when he wished to distribute his case, placed near the window so as
to get all the light there was, but getting all the cold there was, too.
From time to time the compositor's fingers became so stiff that blowing
on them would not avail; he made many excursions between his stand and
the stove; in severe weather he practised the device of warming his
whole case of types by the fire, and, when they lost heat, warming it

The first floor of our office-building was used by a sash-and-blind
factory; there was a machine-shop somewhere in it, and a mill for sawing
out shingles; and it was better fitted to the exercise of these robust
industries than to the requirements of our more delicate craft. Later,
we had a more comfortable place, in a new wooden "business block," and
for several years before I left it the office was domiciled in an old
dwelling-house, which we bought, and which we used without much change.
It could never have been a very comfortable dwelling, and my
associations with it are of a wintry cold, scarcely less polar than that
we were inured to elsewhere. In fact, the climate of that region is
rough and fierce; I know that there were lovely summers and lovelier
autumns in my time there, full of sunsets of a strange, wild,
melancholy splendor, I suppose from some atmospheric influence of the
lake; but I think chiefly of the winters, so awful to us after the mild
seasons of southern Ohio; the frosts of ten and twenty below; the
village streets and the country roads drowned in snow, the consumptives
in the thin houses, and the "slippin'," as the sleighing was called,
that lasted from December to April with hardly a break. At first our
family was housed on a farm a little way out, because there was no
tenement to be had in the village, and my father and I used to walk to
and from the office together in the morning and evening. I had taught
myself to read Spanish, in my passion for _Don Quixote_, and I was now,
at the age of fifteen, intending to write a life of Cervantes. The
scheme occupied me a good deal in those bleak walks, and perhaps it was
because my head was so hot with it that my feet were always very cold;
but my father assured me that they would get warm as soon as my boots
froze. If I have never yet written that life of Cervantes, on the other
hand I have never been quite able to make it clear to myself why my feet
should have got warm when my boots froze.


It may have been only a theory of his; it may have been a joke. He had a
great many theories and a great many jokes, and together they always
kept life interesting and sunshiny for him. With his serene temperament
and his happy doubt of disaster in any form, he was singularly fitted to
encounter the hardships of a country editor's lot. But for the moment,
and for what now seems a long time after the removal of our paper to the
county-seat, these seem to have vanished. The printing-office was the
center of civic and social interest; it was frequented by visitors at
all times, and on publication day it was a scene of gaiety that looks a
little incredible in the retrospect. The place was as bare and rude as a
printing-office seems always to be: the walls were splotched with ink
and the floor littered with refuse newspapers; but, lured by the novelty
of the affair, and perhaps attracted by a natural curiosity to see what
manner of strange men the printers were, the school-girls and young
ladies of the village flocked in and made it like a scene of comic
opera, with their pretty dresses and faces, their eager chatter and
lively energy in folding the papers and addressing them to the
subscribers, while our fellow-citizens of the place, like the bassos and
barytones and tenors of the chorus, stood about and looked on with
faintly sarcastic faces. It would not do to think now of what sorrow
life and death have since wrought for all those happy young creatures,
but I may recall without too much pathos the sensation when some citizen
volunteer relaxed from his gravity far enough to relieve the regular
mercenary at the crank of our huge power-press wheel, amid the applause
of the whole company.

We were very vain of that press, which replaced the hand-press hitherto
employed in printing the paper. This was of the style and make of the
hand-press which superseded the Ramage press of Franklin's time; but it
had been decided to signalize our new departure by the purchase of a
power-press of modern contrivance and of a speed fitted to meet the
demands of a subscription-list which might be indefinitely extended. A
deputation of the leading politicians accompanied the editor to New
York, where he went to choose the machine, and where he bought a
second-hand Adams press of the earliest pattern and patent. I do not
know, or at this date I would not undertake to say, just what principle
governed his selection of this superannuated veteran; it seems not to
have been very cheap; but possibly he had a prescience of the
disabilities which were to task his ingenuity to the very last days of
that press. Certainly no man of less gift and skill could have coped
with its infirmities, and I am sure that he thoroughly enjoyed nursing
it into such activity as carried it hysterically through those far-off
publication days. It had obscure functional disorders of various kinds,
so that it would from time to time cease to act, and would have to be
doctored by the hour before it would go on. There was probably some
organic trouble, too, for, though it did not really fall to pieces on
our hands, it showed itself incapable of profiting by several
improvements which he invented, and could, no doubt, have successfully
applied to the press if its constitution had not been undermined. It
went with a crank set in a prodigious fly-wheel which revolved at a
great rate, till it came to the moment of making the impression, when
the whole mechanism was seized with such a reluctance as nothing but an
heroic effort at the crank could overcome. It finally made so great a
draught upon our forces that it was decided to substitute steam for
muscle in its operation, and we got a small engine which could fully
sympathize with the press in having seen better days. I do not know that
there was anything the matter with the engine itself, but the boiler had
some peculiarities which might well mystify the casual spectator. He
could easily have satisfied himself that there was no danger of its
blowing up when he saw my brother feeding bran or corn-meal into its
safety-valve in order to fill up certain seams or fissures in it which
caused it to give out at the moments of the greatest reluctance in the
press. But still he must have had his misgivings of latent danger of
some other kind, though nothing ever actually happened of a hurtful
character. To this day I do not know just where those seams or fissures
were, but I think they were in the boiler-head, and that it was
therefore suffering from a kind of chronic fracture of the skull. What
is certain is that, somehow, the engine and the press did always get us
through publication day, and not only with safety, but often with
credit; so that many years after, when I was at home, and my brother and
I were looking over an old file of the paper, we found it much better
printed than either of us expected; as well printed, in fact, as if it
had been done on an old hand-press, instead of the steam-power press
which it vaunted the use of. The wonder was that, under all the
disadvantages, the paper was ever printed on our steam-power press at
all; it was little short of miraculous that it was legibly printed, and
altogether unaccountable that such impressions as we found in that file
could come from it. Of course, they were not average impressions; they
were the very best out of the whole edition, and were as creditable as
the editorial make-up of the sheet.


Upon the whole, our paper was an attempt at conscientious and
self-respecting journalism; it addressed itself seriously to the minds
of its readers; it sought to form their tastes and opinions. I do not
know how much it influenced them, if it influenced them at all, and as
to any effect beyond the circle of its subscribers, that cannot be
imagined, even in a fond retrospect. But since no good effort is
altogether lost, I am sure that this endeavor must have had some tacit
effect; and I am sure that no one got harm from a sincerity of
conviction that devoted itself to the highest interests of the reader,
that appealed to nothing base, and flattered nothing foolish in him. It
went from our home to the homes of the people in a very literal sense,
for my father usually brought his exchanges from the office at the end
of his day there, and made his selections or wrote his editorials while
the household work went on him, about and his children gathered around
the same lamp, with their books or their jokes; there were a good many
of both.

Our county was the most characteristic of that remarkable group of
counties in northern Ohio called the Western Reserve, and forty years
ago the population was almost purely New England in origin, either by
direct settlement from Connecticut, or indirectly after the sojourn of a
generation in New York State. We were ourselves from southern Ohio,
where the life was then strongly tinged by the adjoining life of
Kentucky and Virginia, and we found these transplanted Yankees cold and
blunt in their manners; but we did not undervalue their virtues. They
were very radical in every way, and hospitable to novelty of all kinds.
I imagine that they tested more new religions and new patents than have
been even heard of in less inquiring communities. When we came among
them they had lately been swept by the fires of spiritualism, which left
behind a great deal of smoke and ashes where the inherited New England
orthodoxy had been. They were temperate, hard-working, hard-thinking
folks, who dwelt on their scattered farms, and came up to the county
fair once a year, when they were apt to visit the printing-office and
pay for their papers. They thought it droll, as people of the simpler
occupations are apt to think all the more complex arts; and one of them
once went so far in expression of his humorous conception as to say,
after a long stare at one of the compositors dodging and pecking at the
type in his case, "Like an old hen pickin' up millet." This sort of
silence, and this sort of comment, both exasperated the printers, who
took their revenge as they could. They fed it full, once, when a country
subscriber's horse, hitched before the office, crossed his hind legs
and sat down in his harness like a tired man, and they proposed to go
out and offer him a chair, to take him a glass of water, and ask him to
come inside. Fate did not often give them such innings; they mostly had
to create their chances of reprisal, but they did not mind that.

There was always a good deal of talk going on, but, although we were
very ardent politicians, our talk was not political. When it was not
mere banter, it was mostly literary; we disputed about authors among
ourselves and with the village wits who dropped in, and liked to stand
with their backs to our stove and challenge opinion concerning Holmes
and Poe, Irving and Macaulay, Pope and Byron, Dickens and Shakespeare.
But it was Shakespeare who was oftenest on our tongues; indeed, the
printing-office of former days had so much affinity with the theater
that compositors and comedians were almost convertible. Religion entered
a good deal into our discussions, which my father, the most tolerant of
men, would not suffer to become irreverent. Part of his duty, as
publisher of the paper, was to bear patiently with the type of farmer
who thought he wished to discontinue his paper, and really wished to be
talked into continuing it. I think he rather enjoyed letting such a
subscriber talk himself out, and carrying him from point to point in his
argument, always consenting that he knew best what he wanted to do, but
skilfully persuading him at last that a home paper was more suited to
his needs than any city substitute. Once I could have given the heads of
his reasoning, but they are gone from me now.

He was like all country editors then, and I dare say now, in being a
printer as well as an editor, and he took a just share in the mechanical
labors. These were formerly much more burdensome, for twice or thrice
the present type-setting was then done in the country offices. In that
time we had three journeymen at work and two or three girl-compositors,
and commonly a boy-apprentice besides. The paper was richer in a
personal quality, and the printing-office was unquestionably more of a
school. After we began to take girl-apprentices it became coeducative,
as far as they cared to profit by it; but I think it did not serve to
widen their thoughts or quicken their wits as it did those of the boys.
They looked to their craft as a living, not as a life, and they had no
pride in it. They did not learn the whole trade, as the journeymen had
done; but served only such apprenticeship as fitted them to set type;
and their earnings were usually as great at the end of a month as at the
end of a year.


The printing-office had been my school from childhood so largely that I
could almost say I had no other, but the time had come, even before
this, when its opportunities did not satisfy the hunger which was always
in me for knowledge convertible into such beauty as I imagined and
wished to devote my life to. I was willing and glad to do my part in
helping my father, but he recognized my right to help myself forward in
the line of my own longing, and it was early arranged that I should have
a certain measure of work to do, and when it was done I should be free
for the day. My task was finished early in the afternoon, and then my
consuming pleasures began when I had already done a man's work. I was
studying four or five languages, blindly and blunderingly enough, but
with a confidence at which I can even now hardly smile; I was attempting
many things in verse and prose which I seldom carried to a definite
close, and I was reading, reading, reading, right and left, hither and
yon, wherever an author tempted me. I was not meaning to do less than
the greatest things, or to know less than the most, but my criticism
outran my performance and exacted of me an endeavor for the perfection
which I found forever beyond me. Far into the night I clung to my
labored failures in rhyme while I listened for the ticking of the
death-watch in the walls of my little study; or if I had imagined, in my
imitations of others' fiction, some character that the poet had devoted
to an early death, I helplessly identified myself with that character,
and expected his fate. It was the day when this world was much more
intimate with the other world than it is now, and the spiritualism which
had evoked its phenomena through most houses in the village had left
them haunted by dread sounds, if not sights; but it was not yet the day
when nervous prostration had got its name or was known in its nature.
For me this malady came in the hypochondria which was misery not less
real because at the end of the ends I knew it to be the exaggeration of
an apprehension without ground in reality.

I have hesitated to make any record of this episode, but I think it
essential to the study of my very morbid boyhood, and I hope some
knowledge of it may be helpful to others in like suffering. Somehow as a
child I had always had a terror of hydrophobia, perhaps from hearing
talk of that poor man who had died of it in the town where we then
lived, and when years afterward I was, as I have told, bitten by a dog,
my terror was the greater because I happened to find myself alone in the
house when I ran home. I had heard of excising a snake-bite to keep the
venom from spreading, and I would now have cut out the place with my
knife, if I had known how. In the end I did nothing, and when my father
came home he did not have the wound cauterized. He may have believed
that anything which tended to fix my mind upon it would be bad, and
perhaps I forgot it the sooner for his decision. I have not forgotten
the make of the gloomy autumnal afternoon when the thing happened, or
the moment when years afterward certain unguarded words awoke the fear
in me which as many more years were needed to allay. By some chance
there was talk with our village doctor about hydrophobia, and the
capricious way the poison of a dog's bite may work. "Works round in your
system," he said, "for seven years or more, and then it breaks out and
kills you." The words he let heedlessly fall fell into a mind prepared
by ill-health for their deadly potency, and when the summer heat came I
was helpless under it. Somehow I knew what the symptoms of the malady
were, and I began to force it upon myself by watching for them. The
splash of water anywhere was a sound I had to set my teeth against, lest
the dreaded spasms should seize me; my fancy turned the scent of the
forest fires burning round the village into the subjective odor of smoke
which stifles the victim. I had no release from my obsession, except in
the dreamless sleep which I fell into exhausted at night, or that little
instant of waking in the morning, when I had not yet had time to gather
my terrors about me, or to begin the frenzied stress of my effort to
experience the thing I dreaded. There was no longer question of work for
me, with hand or head. I could read, yes, but with the double
consciousness in which my fear haunted every line and word without
barring the sense from my perception. I read many novels, where the
strong plot befriended me and formed a partial refuge, but I did not
attempt escape in the poor boyish inventions, verse or prose, which I
had fondly trusted might be literature. Instinct taught me that some
sort of bodily fatigue was my safety; I spent the horrible days in the
woods with a gun, or in the fields gathering wild berries, and walked
to and from the distant places that I might tire myself the more. My
father reasoned to the same effect for me, and helped me as best he
could; of course I was released from my tasks in the printing-office,
and he took me with him in driving about the country on political and
business errands. We could not have spent many days in this way, when,
as it seems, I woke one morning in a sort of crisis, and having put my
fear to the test of water suddenly dashed from a doorway beside me and
failed of the convulsion which I was always expecting, I began
imperceptibly to get the better of my demon. My father's talk always
distracted me somewhat, and that morning especially his disgust with the
beefsteak fried in lard which the landlady gave us for breakfast at the
country tavern where we had passed the night must even have amused me,
as a touch of the comedy blent with the tragedy in the Shakespearian
drama of life. But no doubt a more real help was his recurrence, as
often as I chose, to his own youthful suffering from hypochondria, and
his constantly repeated assurance that I not only would not and could
not have hydrophobia from that out-dated dog-bite, but that I must also
soon cease to have hypochondria. I understood as well as he that it was
not the fear of that malady which I was suffering, but the fear of the
fear; that I was in no hallucination, no illusion as to the facts, but
was helpless in the nervous prostration which science, or our poor
village medicine, was yet many years from knowing or imagining. I have
heard and read that sometimes people in their apprehension of the
reality can bring on a false hydrophobia and die of it in the agonies
their fancy creates. It may be so; but all that fear could do was done
in me; and I did not die.

I could not absolutely fix the moment when I began to find my way out of
the cloud of misery which lowered on my life, but I think that it was
when I had gathered a little strength in my forced respite from work,
and from the passing of the summer heat. It was as if the frost which
people used to think put an end to the poisonous miasm of the swamps,
but really only killed the insect sources of the malaria, had wrought a
like sanitation in my fancy. My fear when it once lifted never quite
overwhelmed me again, but it was years before I could endure the sight
of the word which embodied it; I shut the book or threw from me the
paper where I found it in print; and even now, after sixty years, I
cannot bring myself to write it or speak it without some such shutting
of the heart as I knew at the sight or sound of it in that dreadful
time. The effect went deeper than I could say without accusing myself of
exaggeration for both good and evil. In self-defense I learnt to
practise a psychological juggle; I came to deal with my own state of
mind as another would deal with it, and to combat my fears as if they
were alien.

I cannot leave this confession without the further confession that
though I am always openly afraid of dogs, secretly I am always fond of
them; and it is only fair to add that they reciprocate my liking with
even exaggerated affection. Dogs, especially of any more ferocious type,
make up to me in spite of my diffidence; and at a hotel where we were
once passing the summer the landlord's bulldog, ugliest and dreadest of
his tribe, used to divine my intention of a drive and climb into my
buggy, where he couched himself on my feet, with a confidence in my
reciprocal tenderness which I was anxious not to dispel by the least


As soon as my nerves regained something of their former tone, I renewed
my struggle with those alien languages, using such weapons as I could
fit my hand to. Notably there was a most comprehensive manual which,
because it proposed instruction in so many languages, I called (from my
father's invention or my own, for I had early learnt the trick of his
drolling) a sixteen-bladed grammar. I wish now I could see that book,
which did not include Greek or Hebrew or German, but abounded in
examples of Latin, Italian, French, Spanish and probably Portuguese, and
other tongues of that kinship, with literal versions of the texts. These
versions falsified the native order of the words to the end that the
English of them might proceed in the wonted way, and when I detected the
imposition, I was the more offended because the right order of the words
in those idioms was always perplexing me. The sixteen-bladed grammar was
superseded by the ordinary school-books, Arnold's for Latin, and
Anthon's for Greek, but the perplexities of one sort or other persisted.
Such a very little instruction would have enlightened me; but who was to
give it me? My father, perhaps, but he may not have known how, though in
his own youth he had written an English grammar and more or less taught
it, or he may have thought I would find it out for myself. He would have
temperamentally trusted to that; he was always prouder than I of what I
did unaided; he believed I could do everything without help. That was an
error, but more than I ever could say do I owe to his taste in
literature and the constant guidance up to a certain limit which he gave
me. When I came back from the fields and woods with the sense of their
beauty, and eager to turn it into literature, he guarded me against
translating it in the terms of my English poets, with their larks and
nightingales, their daisies and cowslips. He contended that our own
birds and flowers were quite as good, besides being genuine; but he
taught me to love the earlier English classics; and if I began to love
the later classics, both English and American, and to be his guide in
turn, this is only saying that each one is born of his generation. The
time came early in our companionship when he thought fit to tell me that
he regarded me as different from other boys of my age; and I had a very
great and sweet happiness without alloy of vanity, from his serious and
considered words. He did not say that he expected great things of me;
though I had to check his fondness in offering my poor endeavors for the
recognition of print, and I soon had the support of editors in this. But
he justified himself and convinced me by once bringing to our house a
kindly editor from a neighboring city whom he showed some of my things,
and who carried away with him one of the minutely realistic sketches in
which I had begun to practise such art as I have been able to carry
farthest. When week after week the handsomely printed _Ohio Farmer_ came
with something in it, verse or prose, which I had done, I am not sure I
had greater joy in it than my father, though now he thought it well to
hide his joy as I always did mine.

All the while I was doing sketches and studies and poems for our own
paper, which I put into type without first writing them, and short
stories imitated from some favorite author of the moment with an art
which I imagined must conceal itself from the reader. Once I carried
Shakespeare beyond himself in a scene transferred from one of the
histories, with such comedy characters as Pistol and Bardolph speaking
the interchangeable prose and verse of his plays in adapting themselves
to some local theme, which met with applause from the group of
middle-aged cronies whom I most consorted with at the time. Once, also.
I attempted a serial romance which, after a succession of several
numbers, faltered and at last would not go on. I have told in another
place how I had to force it to a tragic close without mercy for the
heroine, hurried to an untimely death as the only means of getting her
out of the way, and I will not repeat the miserable details here. It was
a thing which could not meet with praise from any one, not even my
father, though he did his best to comfort me in the strange disaster.

If my mother was the heart, he was the soul of our family life. In those
young days when he did so much of his newspaper work at home he would
always turn from it to take part in our evening jollity. He was gladly
our equal in the jokes which followed around our table; and when he was
stricken in his great age with the paralysis which he rallied from for a
time, it was his joy to join his gray-haired children at the board in
his wheeled chair and share in their laughing and making laugh. It seems
to me that I can render him intelligible by saying that while my very
religious-minded grandfather expected and humbly if fervently hoped to
reach a heaven beyond this world by means of prayers and hymns and
revivals and conversions, my not less religious-minded father lived for
a heaven on earth in his beloved and loving home; a heaven of poetry and
humor, and good-will and right thinking. He made it that sort of heaven
for himself, and as he was the bravest man I have known because he never
believed there was any danger, I think he must have felt himself as safe
from sorrow in it as if he were in the world beyond this. When one of my
younger brothers died, he was as if astonished that such a thing could
be; it burst his innocent and beautiful dream; and afterward when I
first met him, I was aware of his clinging, a broken man, to what was
left of it. Death struck again and again, and he shrank under the
bewildering blows; but a sense of that inexpressible pathos of his
first bereavement remains with me.


The family scene that passed in that earlier time was not always as
idyllic as I have painted it. With five brothers in it there was often
the strife which is always openly or covertly between brothers. My elder
brother, who was four years my elder, had changed from the whimsical
tease and guardian angel of our childhood to the anxious taskmaster of
our later boyhood, requiring the same devotion in our common work that
his conscience exacted of himself. I must say that for my own part I
labored as faithfully as he, and I hotly resented his pressure. Hard
words passed between us two, as blows, not very hard, had passed, while
we were still children, between me and my younger brothers. But however
light the blows were, they had to be disclaimed, and formal regret
expressed, at my father's insistence. He would ascertain who struck the
first blow, and when he had pronounced that wrong he would ask, "And you
struck him back?" If the fact could not be denied, he went on to the
further question, "Well, do two wrongs make a right?" Clearly they did
not, and nothing remained but reluctant apology and reconciliation.
Reason and civic morality were on his side, but I could not feel that
justice was, and it seems to me yet that the primary offender was
guiltier than the secondary.

Long ago, long before our youth was passed, utter forgiveness passed
between my elder brother and me. The years since were years of such
mutual affection as I could not exaggerate the sense of in tenderness
and constancy, and the exchange of trust and honor. He came even in our
youth to understand my aim in life, and feel what was always leading me
on. He could not understand, perhaps, why poetry in literature should be
so all in all with me, but he felt it in nature as keenly and deeply as
I; and I have present now the experience of driving with him one
September afternoon (on some chase of the delinquent subscriber), when
he owned by his few spare words the unity of the beautiful in everything
as I spoke the melting lines of Tennyson:

    "Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.
     Tears from the depths of some divine despair
     Rise in the heart and gather to the eyes,
     In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
     And thinking of the days that are no more."

He had a grotesque humor which vented itself in jokes at the expense of
my mother's implicit faith in everything he said, as when she wondered
how the cow got into the garden, and he explained, "She pulled out the
peg with her teeth and put it under her fore leg and just walked through
the gate," and my mother answered, "Well, indeed, indeed, I believe she
did, child." She had little humor of her own, but she had a childlike
happiness in the humor of us others, though she would not suffer joking
from any but him. She relied upon him in everything, but in some things
she drew a sharp line between the duties of her boys and girls in the
tradition of her Pennsylvania origin. Indoor work was for girls, and
outdoor for boys, and we shared her slight for the Yankee men who went
by our gate to the pasture with their milk-pails. That was woman's work
though it was outdoor work; and though it was outdoor work to kill
chickens for the table, none of us boys had the heart to cut their heads
off because we could not bear to witness their post-mortem struggles;
but my brother brought out his gun and shot them, and this pursuit of
them as game in our barnyard got us over a difficulty otherwise
insuperable. The solution of our scruple, which my father shared, must
have amused him; but my brother took it seriously. His type of humor was
in the praise which long afterward he gave a certain passage of my
realistic fiction, when he said it was as natural as the toothache.

Throughout that earlier time my father's chief concern was first that
very practical affair of making his paper pay for the office and the
house, and then incidentally preventing the spread of slavery into the
territories. He was willing enough, I fancy, to yield his silent
partnership in my studies to the young printer who now, for no reason
that I can remember, began to take an active share in them. I have told
in _My Literary Passions_ how J. W. and I read Cervantes and Shakespeare
together; but I could not say just why or when we began to be boon
companions in our self-conducted inquiries into Latin and Greek, and
then into German, which presently replaced Spanish in my affections
through the witchery of Heine. He had the definite purpose of making
those languages help him to a professorship in a Western college, but if
I had any clear purpose it was to possess myself of their literature. To
know them except to read them I do not think I cared; I did not try to
speak or write the modern tongues; to this day I could not frame a
proper letter in Spanish, German, French, or Italian, but I have a
literary sense of them all. I wished to taste the fruit of my study
before I had climbed the tree where it grew, and in a manner I did begin
to gather the fruit without the interposition of the tree. Without clear
knowledge of their grammatical forms, I imitated their literary forms. I
cast my poetry, such as it was, into the metres of the Spanish poets I
was reading, and without instruction or direction I acquainted myself
with much of their literary history. I once even knew from the archaic
tragedy of her name who Iñez de Castro was; I do not know now.

My friendship with J. W. early became chief of the many friends of a
life rich in friendships. He was like most of his craft in his eccentric
comings and goings to and from our employ, when sometimes we had no work
to give him, and sometimes he had none to give us. When he left us he
always went to Wisconsin, where he had once lived; and when he came back
from one of these absences he would bring with him bits of character
which he gave for our joy in his quaint observance, such as that of the
mother who complained of her daughter because "she didn't cultivate her
featur's none; she just let 'em hing and wallop," or the school-mistress
who genteelly explained in the blackberry-patch where he found her, that
she was "just out picking a few berries for tea-he-he-he," or the
country bachelor who belatedly made up his mind to marry, and in his
default of female acquaintance took his place on the top rail of a
roadside fence, and called to the first woman who passed, "Say! You a
married woman?" and then at the frightened answer, indignantly gasped
out, "Yes, sir!" offered a mere "Oh!" for all apology and explanation,
and let himself vanish by falling into the corn-field behind him.

J. W. literally made his home with us, for as if the burden of work for
our own large family were not enough for my mother, we had always some
of the printers, men or maids, to board. He entered into the spirit of
our life; but it was recognized that he was peculiarly my friend, and we
were left to our special comradeship. In that village nearly everybody
played or sang, and in the summer nights the young people went about
serenading one another's houses, under the moon which was then always
full; and J. W. shared in every serenade where a tenor voice was
welcome. At the printing-office, in the afternoon when the compositors
were distributing their cases, he led the apprentice-girls in the songs
which once filled the whole young world. The songs were often
poverty-stricken enough in sentiment, and I suppose cheap and vulgar in
music, but they were better than the silence that I should once have
said had followed them. Yet only last winter in a hotel on the New
Jersey coast, where there was some repairing in the corridor outside my
room, the young painters and carpenters gathered at their lunch near my
door, and after they had begun to joke they suddenly began to sing
together as if it were still the habit for people of their lot to do so,
in a world I had thought so hushed, except for its gramophones; and
though I could not make out the words, the gentle music somehow saved
them from seeming common. It went to my heart, and made me glad of life
where youth still sang as it used to sing when I was young.

Sometimes the village serenaders came to me, and then I left my books
and stumbled down to the gate, half dazed, to find the faces I knew
before they flashed away with gay shrieking and shouting; and J. W.
among them, momentarily estranged from me, jealous in that world where
we had our intimacy. My ambition was my barrier from the living world
around me; I could not beat my way from it into that; it kept me absent
and hampered me in the vain effort to be part of the reality I have
always tried to portray. Though J. W. expected to make a more definite
use of our studies, he seemed to understand me as well at least as I
understood myself in my vaguer striving. I do not now remember reading
him the things I was trying to write; or of his speaking to me of them.
Perhaps my shyness, my pride, went so far as keeping them from him,
though I kept from him so few of my vagaries in that region of hopes and
fears where youth chiefly has its being.

The songs he had were as many as the stories, but there was one song,
often on the tongues of the village serenaders, which was oftenest on
his, and which echoes to me still from those serenades and those choral
afternoons in the printing-office, and more distinctly yet from what we
felt a midnight of wild adventure, when he sang it alone. We had gone to
call together on two of our village girls at school fifteen miles away,
and had set out in the flattering temperature of a January thaw; but
when we started home, many hours into the dark, the wind had whipped
round from the south to the north and had frozen the curdling slush into
icy ruts under the runners of our sleigh. Our coats were such as had
suited the thaw, but J. W. had a pair of thin cotton gloves for driving,
while I had none. We took turns in driving at first, but as the way
lengthened the cold strengthened and I cowered definitively under our
buffalo robe, then the universal provision against the rigor of winter
travel. For a while we shouted together in some drama of the situation,
but by and by our fun froze at our lips, and then J. W. began to sing
that song he used oftenest to sing:

    "Talk not to me of future bliss,
     Talk not to me of joys gone by!
     The happiest time is this!"

He kept the measure of the tune by beating on the robe above my head,
first with one fist and then the other, as he passed the reins from hand
to hand, and by pounding with both feet on the floor of the sleigh
beside me. We lived through the suffering of that drive partly because
he was twenty-two years old and I was eighteen, but partly also because
we realized the irony of the song, with all the joke of it. Yet it was a
long nightmare of misery, with a moment of supreme anguish, when we
stopped at the last toll-gate, two miles from home, and the keeper came
shuddering out with his red blot of a lantern. Then the song stopped for
an instant, but seems to have begun again, and not ended till we sat
with our feet in the oven of the kitchen stove at home, counting our
adventure all gain. The memory of it brings before me again the face of
my friend, with its beautiful regularity of feature, its pale blue eyes,
its smooth, rich, girlish complexion, and its challenging, somewhat
mocking smile. But the date when I saw him last in life is lost to me.
He went to Wisconsin, as usual, but there was no wonted return; we kept
each other present in the long letters which we wrote so long, but they
faltered with time and ceased, and I can only make sure now that he got
the professorship he aimed at in some seat of learning so modest that it
has kept its name from me; and then, years after, that he went into the
war for the Union and was killed.


I had now begun to be impatient of the village, and when it came to my
last parting with J. W., which I did not know was the last, I felt the
life very dull and narrow which I had once found so vivid and ample.
There had come the radiant revelation of girlhood, and I had dwelt in
the incredible paradise where we paired or were paired off each with
some girl of his fancy or fancied fancy. There had been the ranging of
the woods in autumn for chestnuts and in the spring for wintergreen;
there had been the sleigh-rides to the other villages and the
neighboring farms where there was young life waiting to welcome us
through the drifting snows; there had been the dances at the taverns and
the parties at the girls' houses with the games and the frolics, and the
going home each with the chosen one at midnight and the long lingering
at the gate: there had been the moonlight walks; there had been the
debating societies and the spelling-matches; there had been the days of
the County Fair and the Fourths-of-July, and the Christmases
rehabilitated from Dickens; and there had been the impassioned interest
of the easily guessed anonymous letters of St. Valentine's day. But
these things had passed, and with a certain disappointment suffered and
yet prized there had come the sense of spent witchery and a spell
outworn, and I chose to revolt from it all and to pine for a wider world
and prouder pleasures. Distance in time and space afterward duly set the
village I had wearied of in a truer and kinder light, and I came to
value it as the potential stuff of such fiction as has never yet been
written, and now never will be by me. I came to see that it abounded in
characteristics and interests which differenced it from any other
village, and I still think the companionship to which I passed in the
absences of J. W. such as would make into the setting for as strange a
story as we could ask of reality in the days when we wished life to
surpass romance in strangeness.

I have told in _My Literary Passions_ of the misanthropical Englishman
who led in our Dickens-worship and played the organ in the little
Episcopal church, and built the organs for such country churches about
as could afford to replace their moaning melodions with them. I have
said, I hope without too much attempt to establish the fact, that he was
also a house-painter, and that in the long leisures of our summer days
and winter nights and in the throes of his perpetual dyspepsia he was
the inveterate antagonist in argument of the vivid Yankee who built
steam-engines among us, and had taught school, and turned his quick head
and hand to any art or trade which making an easy living exacted of him.
They both lavishly lent me their books, and admitted me on equal terms
to their intellectual enmity and amity, which was shared in some tacit
way with a clever New England trader in watches, clocks, and jewelry. He
came and went among us on visits more or less prolonged from some
Eastern center of his commerce (my memory somehow specifies Springfield,
Massachusetts), and he had a shrewd smile and kindly twinkling eye which
represent him to me yet. He seldom took part in the disputes nightly
held at the drug-and-book store; but not from want of spirit, when he
had the boldness to deny some ferocious opinion exploded by the
organ-builder in an access of indigestion.

The disputes nearly always involved question of the existence of a God,
which was thought improbable by both of the debaters, and the
immortality of the soul, which was doubted, in spite of the spiritualism
rife in every second house in the village, with manifestations by
rappings, table-tippings, and oral and written messages from another
world through psychics of either sex, but oftenest the young girls one
met in the dances and sleigh-rides. The community was prevalently
unreligious; there was an ageing attendance at the Baptist and Methodist
churches, but there was no stated service of the Congregationalists,
though there was occasional preaching at their house and sometimes a
lecture from an anti-slavery apostle, who wasted his doctrine on a
community steeped in it already. Among many of the young people of the
village the prevalent tone was irreverent to mocking in matters of
religion; but their unlimited social freedom was without blame and
without scandal, and if our villagers were not religious, they were, in
a degree which I still think extraordinary, literary. Old and young they
read and talked about books, and better books than people read and talk
about now, as it seems to me, possibly because there were not so many
bad ones; the English serials pirated into our magazines were followed
and discussed, and any American author who made an effect in the East
became promptly known in that small village of the Western Reserve.
There were lawyers, of those abounding at every county-seat, who were
fond of reading, and imparted their taste to the young men studying law
in their offices. I might exaggerate the fact, but I do not think I have
done so, or that I was much deceived as to a condition which reported
itself, especially to me whose whole life was in books, through the
sympathy I met in the village houses. I was always reading whatever came
to hand, either with an instinct for what was good in my choice of books
or with good fortune in my chance of them. Literature was so commonly
accepted as a real interest, that I do not think I was accounted
altogether queer in my devotion to it. To be sure, at an evening session
in one of the dry-goods and grocery stores where question of me came up,
it was decided that I would be nowhere in a horse-trade, but this was a
rare instance of slight, and I do not believe that my disability would
have been generally counted against me.


Somewhere about this time I gave a month to the study of law in the
office of the United States Senator dwelling among us. I have never
regretted reading a first volume of Blackstone through, or not going on
to the second; his frank declaration that the law was a jealous mistress
and would brook no divided love, was upon reflection quite enough for
one whose heart was given to a different muse. I was usually examined in
this author by the Senator's nephew, my fellow-student, whom I examined
in turn; but once, at least, the Senator himself catechized me, though
he presently began to talk about the four great English quarterly
reviews which I was known in the village for reading, and which it
seemed he read too. No doubt he found me more perfect in them than in
Blackstone; at least I felt that I did myself more credit in them. I
have elsewhere spoken more fully already of this episode of my life; but
I speak of it again because I think that the commonly accepted Wade
legend scarcely does justice to a man not only of great native power,
but of wider cultivation than it recognizes, and I would like to do what
I can to repair the injustice. He was famed in contemporary politics as
Old Ben Wade before he had passed middle life, and he was supposed to
stand up against the fierce pro-slavery leaders in Congress with an
intrepidity even with their own. He had a strong, dark face, and a deep,
raucous voice, with a defiant laugh, and these lent their support to the
popular notion of him as a rude natural force unhelped by teaching,
though he had taught himself in the days of his early struggle, as
Lincoln and most public men of his time had done, and later had taught
others as country schoolmaster. Farm-boy and cattle-drover and
canal-digger, more had remained to him from schoolmaster and medical
student, than from either of his other callings, and though he became
part of our history without the help of great intellectual refinement,
he was by no means without intellectual refinement, or without the
ability to estimate the value of it in others. Naturally he might also
underestimate it, and perhaps it was from an underestimate that he
judged the oratory of such a man as Charles Sumner, to whom he told me
he had said of a speech of his, "It's all very well, Sumner, but it has
no bones in it."

Wade was supposed by his more ill-advised admirers to lend especial
effect to his righteous convictions by a free flow of profanity, but I
have to bear witness that I never heard any profanity from him, though
profanity must have been the common parlance of the new country and the
rude conditions he grew up in. He was personally a man of silent
dignity, as we saw him in the village, going and coming at the
post-office, for he seldom seemed to pass the gate of his house yard on
any other errand, in the long summer vacations between the sessions of
the many Congresses when he sojourned among us. I have the sense of him
in a back room of the office which stood apart from his house, after the
old-fashioned use of country lawyers' and doctors' offices; and I can be
sure of his visiting the students in the front room only that once when
he catechized me in Blackstone, but I cannot say whether I stood in awe
of him as a great lawyer, or quite realized his importance as United
States Senator from the State of Ohio for eighteen years. Historically
it has been thought his misfortune to outlive the period when the
political struggle with slavery passed into the Civil War, and to carry
into that the spirit of the earlier time, with his fierce alienation
from the patient policy of Lincoln, and his espousal of the
exaggerations of the Reconstruction. But it would be easy to do
injustice to this part of his valiant career, and not easy to do justice
to that part of it where he stood with the very few in his defiance of
the pro-slavery aggression.

Probably he would not have understood my forsaking the law, and I evaded
the explanation he once sought of me when we met in the street, dreading
the contempt which I might well have fancied in him. I wish now that,
knowing him a little on his æsthetic side, I might have had the courage
to tell him why I could not give my heart to that jealous mistress,
being vowed almost from my first days to that other love which will have
my fealty to the last. But in the helplessness of youth I could not even
imagine doing this, and I had to remain in my dread of his contempt. Yet
he may not have despised me, after all. It was known with what
single-handed courage I was carrying on my struggle with the alien
languages, and their number was naturally over-stated. The general
interest in my struggle was reflected in the offer of a farmer from
another part of the county to be one of three or four who would see me
through Harvard. It was good-will which, if it had ever materialized, my
pride would have been fierce to refuse; but now I think of it without
shame, and across the gulf which I would fain believe has some thither
shore I should like to send that kind man the thanks which I fancy were
never adequately expressed to him while he lived. It remains vaguely,
from vague personal knowledge, that he was of Scotch birth and breeding;
he had a good old Scotch name, and he lived on his prosperous farm in
much more than the usual American state, with many books about him.

I went back not without shame, but also not without joy from the
Senator's law-office to my father's printing-office, and I did not go to
Harvard, or to any college or school thereafter. I still think that a
pity, for I have never agreed with Lowell, who, when I deplored my want
of schooling, generously instanced his own over-weight of learning as an
evil I had escaped. It still seems to me lamentable that I should have
had to grope my way and so imperfectly find it where a little light from
another's lamp would have instantly shown it. I still remain in depths
of incredible ignorance as to some very common things; for at school I
never got beyond long division in arithmetic, and after my
self-discovery of grammar I should be unable to say, _in due piedi_,
just what a preposition was, though I am aware of frequently using that
part of speech, and, I hope, not incorrectly.

I did what I could to repair the defect of instruction, or rather I
tried to make myself do it, for I had the nature of a boy to contend
with, and did not love my work so much as I loved the effect of it.
While I live I must regret that want of instruction, and the discipline
which would have come with it, though Fortune, as if she would have
flattered my vanity when she could bring her wheel round to it, bore me
the offer of professorships in three of our greatest universities. In
fact, when I thought of coming home from my consulship in Venice, ten
years after my failure to achieve any sort of schooling, it had been my
hope that I might get some sort of tutorship in a very modest college,
and I wrote to Lowell about it, but he did not encourage me. Yet I was
hardly fixed in the place which much better suited me as the assistant
editor of the _Atlantic Monthly_, when one of the faculty came to me
from Schenectady to offer me the sub-professorship of English in Union
College, and no long time after I was sounded by the first educational
authority in the country as to whether I would accept a like place in
Washington University at St. Louis. It was twice as long after this that
those three supreme invitations which I have boasted came to me. But I
knew better than any one, unless it was Fortune herself, the ignorance I
had hidden so long, and I forbore to risk a middling novelist on the
chance of his turning out a poor professor, or none. In every case the
offer was such as might well have allured me, but when, after a
sleepless night of longing and fearing over that of Harvard which Lowell
conveyed me with the promise, "You shall wear the gown that Ticknor
wore, and Longfellow wore, and I wore," I had the strength to refuse it,
he wrote me his approval of my decision. It was a decision that I have
rejoiced in ever since, with the breathless gratitude, when I think of
it, of one who has withheld himself from a step over the brink of a

The other allurements to a like doom were hardly less gratifying. What
indeed could have been more gratifying, except the Harvard offer of the
professorship of the languages of the south of Europe (with the
privilege of two years' preparation in the Latin countries, whose
tongues I had tampered with), than the offer of the English
professorship in Yale? It was Lounsbury, now lately lost forever to
these skies, Lounsbury the fine scholar, the charming writer, the
delightful wit, the critic unsurpassed in his kind, who came smiling
with the kind eyes, dimmed almost to blindness on the field of
Gettysburg in the forgotten soldiership of his youth, to do me this
incredible honor. Later came the offer of the same chair in Johns
Hopkins, twice repeated by the president of that university. When in my
longing and my despair I asked, What was the nature of such a
professorship, he answered, Whatever I chose to make it; and this still
seems to me, however mistaken in my instance, the very measure of the
wisest executive large-mindedness. President Gilman had written to me
from New York, and had come to see me in London, and again written to me
in Boston, and I could not do less than go down to Baltimore and look at
the living body of the university and see what part in it I might
become. A day sufficed; where so many men were busy with the work which
they were so singularly qualified to do, I could not think of bringing
my half-heartedness to an attempt for which all the common sense I had
protested my unfitness, my entire unlikeness to the kind of man he had
so magnanimously misimagined me. I turned from that shining opportunity
of failure as I turned from the others, and if the reader thinks I have
dwelt too vaingloriously upon them he shall have his revenge in the
spectacle of my further endeavors not to be the stuff which professors
are made of.


I could have been spared from the printing-office for the study of the
law, when I could not be spared from it otherwise, because I might soon
begin to make my living by practising before justices of the peace in
the pettifogging which was then part of the study in the country
offices. My labor, which was worth as much as a journeyman compositor's,
could not have been otherwise spared; much less could my father have
afforded the expense of my schooling; and I cannot recall that I thought
it an unjust hardship when it was decided after due family counsel, that
I could not be sent to an academy in a neighboring village. I had not
the means of estimating my loss; but the event seemed to have remained a
poignant regret with my brother, and in after years he lamented what he
felt to have been an irreparable wrong done me: now he is dead, and it
touches me to think he should have felt that, for I never blamed him,
and I am glad he gave me the chance to tell him so. I may have shed some
tears when first denied; I did shed a few very bitter ones when I once
confessed the hope I had that the editor of the _Ohio Farmer_ might give
me some sort of literary employment at a sum I named, and he said, "He
would never pay you three dollars a week in the world for that," and I
had to own in anguish of soul that he was doubtless right. He worked
every day of the week and far into every night to help my father earn
the property we were all trying to pay for, and he rightfully came into
the eventual ownership of the newspaper. By an irony of fate not wholly
unkind he continued for half a century in the printing-business, once so
utterly renounced. Then, after a few years of escape to a consular post
in the tropics which he used to say was the one post which, if it had
been whittled out of the whole universe, would have suited him best, he
died, and lies buried in the village, the best-beloved man who ever
lived there.

It was the day with us of self-denials which I cannot trust myself to
tell in detail lest I should overtell them. I was willing to make a
greater figure in dress than nature has ever abetted me in, but I still
do not think it was from an excess of vanity that I once showed my
father the condition of my hat, and left him to the logic of the fact.
He whimsically verified it, and said, "Oh, get it half-soled," as if it
had been a shoe; and we had our laugh together, but I got the new hat,
which, after all, did not make me the dashing presence I might have
hoped, though the vision of it on the storekeeper's counter always
remained so distinct with me that in Seville, a few years ago, it seemed
as if its ghost were haunting me in the Cordovese hats on all the heads
I met. Like them it had a wide flat brim, and it narrowed slightly
upward to the low flat crown of those hats which I now knew better than
to buy.

But if we seem to have spared on dress, our table was of as unstinted
abundance as it might be in a place where there was no market, except as
the farmers brought us chickens and butter and vegetables and the small
fruits of the pastures and clearings, where every sort of wild berries
grew. The region had abounded in deer, and after we came to the village
in 1852 venison was only three cents a pound. Once a black bear was
chased from forest to forest across our land, but he did not wait to fix
the market price of his meat; half the sky was often hidden with wild
pigeons, and there was a summer when the gray squirrels swarmed through
the streets in one of their mystical migrations from west to east. Such
chances of game scarcely enriched our larder; and the salt-pork barrel
was our constant reliance. This was a hardship, after the varied
abundance of the larger places where we had lived, but we shared it with
our fellow-villagers, and in this as in other conditions of our life we
did not realize as deprivation what was the lot of the whole community.
If we denied ourselves it was to meet the debts which would not be
denied, and to possess ourselves of the roof over our heads and an
ampler future in the ownership of our means of living. But I think we
denied ourselves too much, and that we paid far beyond its moral worth
for the house we were buying. To own the house she lived in had always
been my mother's dream since her young married days when my father built
the first little house where they dwelt together, and where I was born.
In all the intervening quarter of a century they had lived in rented
houses, and she could not help feeling that the rent they paid ought to
have gone toward buying a house of their own. In this she was
practically right, but now the house which we all worked so hard to buy
belongs to strangers, and unless there is an effect of our self-denial
in some other world, the purchase was as much waste as rent paid to a
landlord. We were in fact always paying a certain rent in the interest
on the notes which we slowly accumulated the money to meet, but my
mother could not feel that the same, and I am glad she had her wish long
before she died, and her last years were passed under a roof which she

In time, but I do not know how long time, for such things did not
interest me, though I was doing my share in helping pay off our debt,
the promissory notes which my father had given for the purchase of our
newspaper were taken up, and the newspaper was also our property. Nobody
could molest us or make us afraid in its possession; and in my hope of
other things it did not concern me that the title vested in his
partnership with my brother, who had most justly earned his half, and
who by an enterprise of his own finally established the family fortunes
in undreamed-of prosperity. It was characteristic of my father that as
long as their partnership existed there were no accounts between them;
after my brother had a family of his own each drew from the common
income at his wish or need, and when I came of sufficient worldly
wisdom to realize the risks to their peace from this anomalous
arrangement, I protested against it in vain. They agreed with me that it
was precarious and in a way ridiculous, and that it certainly ought to
cease, but as long as they continued together they remained partners on
these terms. After my father withdrew, my brother took his own son into
partnership, and when he came in his turn to retire, he contritely owned
to me that they had not departed from the same old unbusiness-like
community of ways and means, though he had promised me very earnestly
many times to end it. While I am upon these matters it is a pleasure for
me to record that when I came home from Venice with the manuscript of
_Venetian Life_ promised publication by a London house if I could find
an American house to take half the proposed edition, and I confessed
that I had very little hope of getting this taken in New York or Boston,
my brother promptly offered to take it himself. He was then in that
undreamed-of prosperity which I have mentioned, and though he had no
expectation of becoming a book-publisher, he was very willing to incur
the risks involved. As all my world knows, the book found an equally
courageous friend in New York, and came out with the American imprint of
Hurd & Houghton instead of Joseph A. Howells & Co.

It is not surprising to me that I cannot date the time of our acquiring
the newspaper, free and clear, as the real-estate phrase is, but I am
certainly surprised and more pained that I cannot remember just when the
house, endeared to us as home, became our very own. Its possession, as I
have said, had been the poetry of my mother's hard-working, loving life,
and no doubt she had watched with hope and fear the maturing of each of
the notes for it, with the interest they bore, until the last was paid
off. In my father's buoyant expectation of the best in

[Illustration: _The four-story office erected by Mr. Howells's father.
In it the father and his oldest son, Joseph, published the Ashtabula
"Sentinel" for many years_]

everything, I do not think he had any misgiving of the event; my brother
must have shared my mother's anxiety, but we younger children did not,
and the great hour arrived without record in my consciousness. Years
later, when I came back from long sojourn abroad, I found that the
little ground-wren's nest, as it looks to me in the retrospect, had
widened by half a dozen rooms without rising above its original story
and a half. All round it the garden space was red and purple with the
grapes which my father had induced, by his steady insistence, the
neighboring farmers to plant. My mother and he were growing sweetly old
in the keeping of the place, and certain wild furred and feathered
things had come to share their home with them. Not only the door-yard
trees which we boys had brought from the woods had each its colony of
birds, but in the eaves a family of flying-squirrels had nested. I do
not know whether I can impart the sense of peace and security which
seemed to have spread from the gentle household to them, but I am sure
that my mother could not have realized a fonder vision of the home she
had longed for through so many years.


I do not think my father so much cared for the ownership of the
newspaper. He took our enterprise more easily than my elder brother, but
that was temperamental in both, and one was no more devoted than the
other. My companionship was far more with my father, but before my
intimacy with J. W. interrupted this my studies had already ascertained
the limits of his learning in the regions where I was groping my way,
and where the light of my friend's greater knowledge now made him my
guide. If J. W. was more definite in his ambition of one day getting
some sort of college professorship than I in my plans of literary
achievement, he could not have been more intense in his devotion to what
we were trying to do. I was studying those languages because I wished to
possess myself of their literatures; still groping my way in the dark,
where a little light shed from larger learning would have helped me so
much. The grammars and the text-books could tell me what I wanted to
know, but they did not teach it; and I realize now as I could not then
that self-taught is half-taught. Yet I think my endeavor merited reward;
if I worked blindly, I worked hard; and in my attempts at fiction or at
verse where I could create the light by mere trituration, as it were, I
did not satisfy myself with less than final perfection so far as I could
imagine it. I loved form, I loved style, I loved diction, and I strove
for them all, rejecting my faultier ideals when I discovered them, and
cleaving to the truer. In some things, the minor things, I was of
wavering preference; I wrote a different hand every other week, and if I
have now an established handwriting it is more from disgust of change
than from preference. In the spirit of my endeavor there was no
variableness; always I strove for grace, for distinctness, for light;
and my soul detests obscurity still. That is perhaps why I am beating
out my meaning here at the risk of beating it into thin air.

In the final judgment of my father's help and unhelp in my endeavors, I
should say that they were the measure of his possibility. For a man of
his conditioning he had a wonderful outlook in many directions on life,
but he was without perspective; he could not see how my unaided efforts
were driving to the vanishing-point. He had been my instructor in many
things beyond my young ken; he had an instinct for beauty and truth; he
loved the poetry which was the best in his youth, though he did not deny
me the belief that the poetry of mine was better still; his gentle
intelligence could follow me where his liking failed, and he modestly
accepted my opinions. His interest had once been absorbed mostly, but
not wholly, by the faith which he had imbibed from his reading of
Swedenborg, but when I began to know him as a boy may know his elder, he
was more and more concerned in the national struggle with the
pro-slavery aggression. Politics had always been his main worldly
interest, and not only as to measures; he passionately favored certain
men, because he liked the nature of them, as well as because he believed
them right. It seems to me now that he took a personal interest in
conventions and nominations, but I am not sure, for I myself took no
interest whatever in them; their realities did not concern me so much as
the least unrealities of fiction; and I can only make sure of my
father's interest in the elections after the nominations. I suppose that
he was not very skilled in practical politics, as log-rolling and
wire-pulling have come to be called, though in a village which was the
home of a United States Senator, a Congressional Representative, a State
Senator, and a Legislative Representative, with the full corps of county
office-holders, and a Common Pleas Judge, the science might well have
forced itself upon his study. Many years after our coming to the Western
Reserve he was sent to the State Senate by a war-majority larger than
any majority which had yet returned a candidate, or yet has; but long
before that he began to find his way beyond the local favor or disfavor,
and was chosen one of the House clerks in the State Legislature. That
must have been when I was eighteen years old, but he seems to have left
our newspaper to my sole charge without misgiving, and fortunately no
trouble came of his trust in me. I was then taking my civic and social
opinions from the more Tory of the English quarterlies, but nobody knew
what I meant by them; I did not know myself, and I did no harm with

In the mean time our Congressman was writing for us every week from
Washington a letter full of politics far more intelligible to our
readers than mine were to me. He was that Joshua R. Giddings, early one
of the paladins of anti-slavery in a series of pro-slavery Congresses,
where he represented and distinguished his district for twenty years
after his resignation under a vote of censure and his overwhelming
re-election. But in a fatal moment of that fatigue which comes to
elderly people, he finally let fall an expression of indifference to
office. The minor and meaner men of his party who were his enemies
promptly seized the chance of defeating him for the nomination which was
equivalent to an election in our district, and an inferior good man was
named in his place. His friends would have had him contest the decision
of the convention, but he would not, and he passed into private life,
where he remained till the favor of Lincoln sought him out, and he died
Consul-General to Canada after he had lived to write several books and
to tell the story of the Civil War up to its penultimate year. Neither
he nor Wade was of that Connecticut lineage which almost exclusively
peopled the Western Reserve, and especially in Ashtabula County desired
power and place to itself. Wade was from western Massachusetts, and
Giddings was from western Pennsylvania, but in the new country where
they met, they joined their forces as partners in the law, and remained
together till politics separated them in the same cause. They still
remained fellow-citizens of the little town where they spent the summer
leisure of the Congressional adjournments, but without, somehow I
imagine, seeing much of each other. Giddings was far more freely about
the place, where his youth had been passed in the backwoods, and where
he made himself familiarly at home. The very simplicity of the place
seemed to comport with his statesman-like presence, his noble head, and
his great Johnsonian face, when he came out of his large old-fashioned
dwelling, sole rival of the Wade mansion; and he had no need to stoop in
being fellow-citizen with the least of his constituents. For myself, I
cannot recall any passage of words with him after a forgotten
introduction, and I wish it had been otherwise. I wish now I could have
known him even as a boy in his middle teens may know a man of his make;
though he might not have said anything to me worth remembering, or
inspired me to any expression worthier the event than that of a
Louisianian whom long later I saw introduced to him in Columbus, at his
own request. The Southerner stared at the giant bulk of the man who must
have long embodied to his imagination a demoniacal enmity to his
section, and could think of nothing better to say than, "Very pretty
day, Mr. Giddings," and when Giddings had assented with, "Yes, sir, a
fine day," the interview ended.

    "Giddings, far rougher names than thine have grown
     Smoother than honey on the lips of men,"

Lowell wrote in one of those magnanimous sonnets of his, when he bent
from his orient height to the brave Westerner, and though it has not yet
come quite to that honeyed utterance, the name cannot be forgotten when
the story of our Civil War, with its far or near beginnings, is told.


That winter of my editorship wore away to the adjournment of the
legislature and my father's return home, after J. W.'s withdrawal into
the vague of Wisconsin. But now another beloved friend had come to us.
He had learned his trade with us in southern Ohio, where he lived with
our family like one of ourselves, as brotherly as if he had been of our
blood. In those days he and I read the same books and dreamed the same
dreams, but he was nearer my eldest brother in age, and was as much his
companion as mine. After he left us to live the wander-years of the
journeyman printer, we heard from him at different points where he
rested, and when the Civil War began in Kansas, five years before it
began in South Carolina, we knew of him fighting and writing on the Free
State side. In this time, my brother made it his romance to promote a
correspondence between H. G. and a young girl of the village, which
ended in their engagement. It was taking too great a risk in every way,
but they were fitly mated in their tastes, and their marriage was of
such lasting attachment that when she survived him and lay suffering in
her last sickness, she prayed every night that she might die before she
woke and be with him in the everlasting morning. Romance for romance, I
think their romance of the greatest pathos of any I have known, and it
had phases of the highest tragedy. H. G. was among the first to
volunteer for the great war, and quickly rose from the ranks to be
captain, but somehow he incurred the enmity of a superior officer who
was able to have him cashiered in dishonor from the army. The great war
which we look back upon as hallowed by a singleness of patriotic purpose
was marked by many private wrongs which were promptly revenged, or kept
for ultimate vengeance, sometimes forgone at last through the wearing
out of the hate which cherished them. I am glad to think this was so
with H. G.; his memory is very dear to me, and our friendship was of a
warmth of affection such as I did not know for J. W., though he had so
much greater charm for me, and in the communion of our minds I was so
much more intimate with him.

Earlier in his absence, I had grown more and more into intellectual
companionship with the eldest of my sisters, who was only little more
than a year younger than myself. We had gone to the village parties and
dances and sleigh-rides together, but she was devoted to my mother and
the helper in her work, and gave herself far less than I to the
pleasures which had palled upon me; she may never have cared for them
much; certainly not so much as for the household life. It is one of
those unavailing regrets which gather upon us if we question memory as I
am doing now, and try to deal honestly with the unsparing truth of its
replies, that I ignored so long her willingness to be my companion in
the things of the mind. With my mother it was a simple affair; I was
bound to her in an affection which was as devoted throughout my youth as
it had been in my childhood; she was herself the home which I suffered
such longing for if I ever left it; and I am now, in my old age, humbly
grateful for the things I was prompted to do in my love of her. I could
not, without an effect of exaggeration unworthy of her dear memory,
express my sense of her motherly perfection within the limits of her
nature, which I would not now have had different through worldly
experience or privilege. She had, like my father, the instinct of
poetry; and over what was left of her day's work for the long evenings
which we spent reading or talking or laughing together, while my father
selected copy for his paper without losing the fun we all made, she was
gay with the gayest of us. Often I had savagely absented myself from the
rest, but when I came out of my little study, dazed with my work, after
the younger children had gone to bed, I have the vision of her rolling
her sewing together in her lap, and questioning me with her fond eyes
what I was thinking of or had been trying to do.

I believe she did not ask; that was forbidden by my pride and shame. I
did not read to any of them what I had been writing; they would not have
been hard enough upon it to satisfy me, though if they had criticized it
I should have been furious. In fact, I was not an amiable or at least a
reasonable youth; it was laid upon me to try solitarily for the things I
had no help in doing, and I seldom admitted any one to the results until
that sister of mine somehow passed my ungracious reserves. I do not know
just how this happened; but perhaps it was through our confiding to each
other, brokenly, almost unspokenly, our discontent with the village
limit of our lives. Within our home we had the great world, at least as
we knew it in books, with us, but outside of it, our social experience
dwindled to the measure of the place. I have tried to say how uncommon
the place was intellectually, but we disabled it on that side because it
did not realize the impossible dreams of that great world of wealth, of
fashion, of haughtily and dazzlingly, blindingly brilliant society,
which we did not inconveniently consider we were altogether unfit for.
The reader may or may not find a pathos in our looking at the
illustration on the front of a piece of tawdry sheet-music, and
wondering whether it would ever be our high fortune to mingle with a
company of such superbly caparisoned people as we saw pictured there,
playing and singing and listening.

Vanity so criminal as ours, might have been for a just punishment
lastingly immured in that village which the primeval woods encircled
like a prison wall; and yet almost at that moment, when we had so
tardily discovered ourselves akin in our tastes, our hopes and despairs,
we were nearer the end of our imprisonment than we could have imagined.
Whether we were punished in our enlargement which we were both so near,
I cannot say; my own life since that time has been such as some know and
any may know who care, and of hers I may scarcely speak. After a few
happy weeks, a few happy months of our common escape, she went back to
those bounds where her duty lay; and when after many years she escaped
from them again it was to circumstances where she was so willingly
useful as to feel herself very happy. Her last dream, one of being
usefuler yet to those dearest to her, ended in a nightmare of
disappointment; but that too had wholly passed before she woke to the
recompense which we try to believe that death shall bring to all who
suffer here to no final good.

Now it was life full beyond our fondest expectations, if not our fancies
of its possibilities, which lured us forward. We were making the most of
our mutual interest in the books we were reading, and she was giving, as
sisters give so far beyond the giving of brothers, her sympathy to me in
what I was trying to write. It was some time since I had turned, upon
the counsel of J. W., from Greek to German, I forget from just what
reasoning, though I think it was because he said I could study Greek any
time, and now we could study German together. I had gone so far with it
that I was already reading Heine and trying to write like him, instead
of reading my Spanish poets and trying to imitate them in their own
meters. But there is scarcely any definite memory of my sister's
literary companionship left me. I remember her coming to me once with
the praise, which I shame-facedly refused, of the neighbor who had
pointed to a row of Washington Irving's works in her house, and said
that some day my books would fill a shelf like that. For the rest, I am
dimly aware of our walking summer evenings down a certain westward way
from our house, and of her helping me dream a literary future. If she
had then a like ambition she kept it from me, and it was not till twenty
years later that she sent me a play she had written, with village
motives and village realities, treated with a frankness which I still
had not the intelligence to value. The play never came to the stage, and
in that farther time, it was the fruition of hopes which had not defined
themselves, that when my father's scheme was realized, not only I, but
she too, was to return to Columbus with him. It would be easy to
pretend, and I can easily believe that we had always, at the bottom of
our hearts, thought of Columbus with distinct longing; but I am not sure
that there was more in our remembrance of it than a sense of its
greatness as the state capital to give direction to our ambition for
some experience of the world beyond our village. There was no part for
her in our journalistic plan; probably the affair for her was an outing
which she had won by her unselfish devotion to the duties of her narrow
lot; but what I am sure of, and what I am glad of now, amidst my
compunctions for not valuing her loving loyalty at its true worth, is
that she did have this outing.


Throughout his later boyhood and into his earlier manhood the youth is
always striving away from his home and the things of it. With whatever
pain he suffers through the longing for them, he must deny them; he must
cleave to the world and the things of it; that is his fate, that is the
condition of all achievement and advancement for him. He will be many
times ridiculous and sometimes contemptible, he will be mean and selfish
upon occasion; but he can scarcely otherwise be a man; the great matter
for him is to keep some place in his soul where he shall be ashamed. Let
him not be afraid of being too unsparing in his memories; the instinct
of self-preservation will safeguard him from showing himself quite as he
was. No man, unless he puts on the mask of fiction, can show his real
face or the will behind it. For this reason the only real biographies
are the novels, and every novel, if it is honest, will be the
autobiography of the author and biography of the reader.


It was doubtless a time of intense emotion for our whole family when my
sister and I set out for the state capital with my father on his return
to his clerical duties at the meeting of the legislature in 1856. If I
cannot make sure that Columbus had become with those of us old enough to
idealize it, a sort of metropolis of the mind to which we should repair
if we were good enough, or, failing that, if fortune were ever kind
enough, I am certain that my father's sojourn there, with his several
visits to us during the winter before, had kept the wonder of it warm in
my heart. The books that he brought me at each return from the State
Library renewed in me the sense of a capital which he had tried to
implant in me when we lived there, and my sister could not have dreamt
of anything grander or gayer. Perhaps we both still saw ourselves there
in scenes like that in the title-page of that piece of sheet-music; but
anything so definite as this I cannot be sure of.

What I can be sure of is the substantial nature and occasion of our
going, so far as I was concerned. "We were to furnish," my father and I,
as I have told in _My Literary Passions_, "a daily letter giving an
account of the legislative proceedings, which I was mainly to write from
material he helped me get together. The letters at once found favor with
the editors, who agreed to take them, and my father then withdrew from
the work, after telling them who was doing it." My sister of course had
no part in the enterprise, and for her our adventure was pure pleasure,
the pleasure we both took in our escape from the village, and the
pleasure I did not understand then that she had in witnessing my
literary hopes and labors.

In like manner I am belatedly sensible of the interest which our dear H.
G. took in our going, and the specific instructions which he gave me for
my entry into the great world; as if he would realize in my prosperous
future the triumphs which fortune had denied him in his past. He adjured
me not to be abashed in any company, but face the proudest down and make
audacity do the part of the courage I was lacking in. Especially he
would have me not distrust myself in such a social essential as
dancing, which was a grace I was confessedly imperfect in, but to
exhaust the opportunities of improving it which the Saturday evening
hops at our hotel would give me. He advised me not to dress poorly, but
go to the full length of Polonius's precept--

    "Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy"--

though what advantages his own experiences in these matters had won him
could not have been very signal. He knew my ambition in that way, and
how it had been defeated by the friendly zeal of our home-tailor; and we
both held that with the clothing-stores of High Street open to my money
all I had to do was to fix my mind upon a given suit which would fit me
as perfectly as the Jew said, and then wear it away triumphantly
appareled for the highest circles. We did not know that the art of
dressing well, or fashionably, comes from deep and earnest study, and
that the instinct of it might well have been blunted in me by my Quaker
descent, with that desire to shine rather in the Other World than in
this which had become a passion with my grandfather.

No fact of my leaving home upon the occasion which I must have felt so
tremendous remains with me. I cannot even say whether it was through the
snow or the mud that we drove ten miles from the county-seat to the
railroad station at Ashtabula; whatever the going, it was over the
warped and broken boards of the ancient plank-road which made any
transit possible in that region of snow and mud, and remained till
literally worn away even in the conception of the toll-taker. Without
intervening event, so far as my memory testifies, or circumstance, any
more than if we had flown through the air, we were there in Columbus
together, living in an old-fashioned hotel on the northward stretch of
High Street, which was then the principal business street, and for
anything I know is so yet. The hotel was important to the eye of our
village strangeness, but it was perhaps temperamentally of the sort of
comfortable taverns which the hotels had come to displace. My father had
gone to live there because he knew it from our brief sojourn when we
came to the city from the country five or six years before, and because
it was better suited to his means; but one of the vividest impressions
of his youth had been the building of the National Road, a work so
monumental for the new country it traversed, and he poetically valued
the Goodale House for facing upon this road, which in its course from
Baltimore to St. Louis became High Street in Columbus.

Not even in this association could it be equaled with the Neil House,
then the finest hotel in the West, without a peer even in Cincinnati.
Dickens, in his apparently unreasoned wanderings, paused in it over a
day, and admired its finish in black-walnut, the wood that came
afterward to be so precious for the ugliest furniture ever made. All
visitors of distinction sojourned there, and it was the resort of the
great politicians who held their conclaves in its gloomy corridors and
in its office and bar on the eve of nominating conventions or the
approach of general elections. I have a vision, which may be too fond,
of their sitting under its porches in tilted arm-chairs as the weather
softened, canvassing the civic affairs which might not have been brought
to a happy issue without them. But however misled I may be in this I
cannot err in my vision of the stately conflagration which went up with
the hotel one windless night, a mighty front of flame hooded with somber
smoke. I watched it with a vast crowd from the steps of the State House
which it was worthier to face than any other edifice of the little city;
but this was long after that winter of ours in the Goodale House, which
I remember for the boundless abundance of its table and for those
society events which on Saturday nights crowned the week.

I dare say they were not so fashionable as H. G. imagined them, or I,
with a heart too weak and feet too untutored ever to join in them, but
the world was present in other sophistications in our pleasant hotel
which I could not so easily shun. Chief of these was the tipping, which
there first insisted on my acquaintance by many polite insinuations, and
when I would have withdrawn became explicit. The kind colored waiter who
used to cumber me with service at table as his anxieties mounted once
took courage to whisper in my ear that he thought he would like to go to
the theater that evening, and it grieves me yet to think that I resented
this freedom, and denied him the quarter he suggested. Since then life
has been full of the experiences of tipping, always so odious, though
apparently more rapacious than it really is, but I have never again been
able to deny a tip, or to give so little as I would often like to give.
I know that some better citizens, or wiser, than myself, punish the
neglect or ingratitude of service by diminishing or withholding the tip,
but I have never been able to perform this public-spirited duty, perhaps
because, though I loathe tipping, I do not believe any fellow-creature

    "As meek and mere a serving-man,"

as may be, would take a tip if he were paid a just wage, or any wage,
without it.

But all these incidents and interests were far in the future of that
brave and happy time when I was intending and attempting the conquest of
the whole field of polite learning from so many sides, in the studies
which as at home now went on far into the night. These even included an
Icelandic grammar, for the reason that, as I had read, the meter of
_Hiawatha_ was derived from that literature, but I do not know that I
got so far as to identify it. My reading, now entirely from the State
Library, included all the novels of Bulwer, which I was not ashamed to
enjoy after my more distinguished pleasure in Thackeray; the critical
authorities would not then have abashed me in it, as they would now. The
other day I saw on my shelves the volume of _Percy's Reliques_ which my
sister and I read together that winter; and I was so constantly and
devotedly reading Tennyson and Shakespeare that I cannot understand how
I had time for an equal constancy and devotion to Heine. I saw how much
he had profited by the love of those English ballads which I was proud
to share with him; and there were other German poets of his generation
whose indebtedness to them I perceived and enjoyed. I was now, in fact,
reading German to the entire neglect of Spanish; as for Latin and Greek,
I had no more time or relish for them than those cultivated gentlemen
who believe they read some Latin or Greek author every day before


The life and the letters continued on terms which I should not have
known how to wish different. I had a desk appointed me on the floor of
the Senate as good as any Senator's, for my convenience as a reporter;
and my father gave me notes of the proceedings in the House, so that I
could make a fair report of each day's facts which we so early abandoned
the pretense of his making. Every privilege and courtesy was shown the
press, which sometimes I am afraid its correspondents accepted
ungraciously. Either the first winter or the next one of them was
expelled from the floor of the House for his over-bold criticisms of
some member, and I espoused his cause with quite outrageous zeal. I had,
indeed, such a swollen ideal of the rights and duties of the press that
I spared no severity in my censure of Senators I found misguided. I was,
perhaps, not wholly fitted by my nineteen years to judge them, though
this possibility did not occur to me at the time with its present force;
but if I was not impressed with the dignity of the Senate, the dignity
of the Senate Chamber was a lasting effect with me, as, in fact, that of
the whole Capitol was. I seemed to share personally in it as I mounted
the stately marble stairway from the noble rotunda or passed through the
ample corridors from the Senate to the House where it needed not even a
nod to the sergeant-at-arms to gain me access to the floor; a nonchalant
glance was enough. But the grandeur of the interior, which I enjoyed
with the whole legislative body, was not more wonderful than its
climate, which I found tempered against the winter to a summer warmth by
the air rushing from the furnaces in the basement through gratings in
the walls and floors. These were for me the earliest word of the comfort
that now pervades our whole well-warmed American world, but I had
scarcely imagined them even from my father's report. How could I imagine
them or fail to attribute to myself something like merit from them? I
enjoyed, in fact, something like moral or civic ownership of the whole
place, which I penetrated in every part on my journalistic business: the
court-rooms, the agricultural department, the executive offices, and how
do I know but the very room of the Governor himself? The library was of
course my personal resort; as I have told, I was always getting books
from it, and these books had a quality in coming from the State Library
which intensified my sense of being of, as well as in, the capital of

Whether the city itself shared my sense of its importance in the same
measure I am not sure. There were reasons, however, why it might have
done so. It was then what would be now a small city, say not above
twenty thousand, and though it had already begun to busy itself with
manufacturing and had two or three railroads centering in it, the
industries and facilities which have now swollen its population to
almost a quarter of a million were then in their beginning. Its
political consciousness may have been the greater, therefore; it may
indeed have been subjectively the sovereign city which I so objectively
felt it. In that time, in fact, a state capital was both comparatively
and positively of greater reality than it has been since. With the Civil
War carried to its close in the reconstituted Union, the theory of State
Rights forever vanished, and with this the dignity which once clothed
the separate existence of the states. Their shadowy sovereignty had
begun to wane in the anti-slavery North because it was the superstition
of the pro-slavery South, yet I can remember a moment when there was
much talk, though it never came to more than talk, of turning this
superstition to a faith and applying it to the defeat of the Fugitive
Slave Law. If it was once surmised that the decisions of the Ohio courts
might nullify a law of the United States I do not believe that this
surmise ever increased the political consciousness of our state capital.
It remained a steadily prospering town like other towns, till now
perhaps it may not feel itself a capital at all. Perhaps it could be
restored to something like the quality I valued in it by becoming the
residence of envoys from the other state capitals, and sending a
minister to each of these. I have the conviction that public-spirited
citizens could be found to take such offices at very moderate salaries,
and that their wives would be willing to aid in restoring the shadow of
state sovereignty by leaving cards upon one another.


The winter of 1856-57 passed without my knowing more of the capital than
its official world. Even the next year, when I began to make some
acquaintance with the social world, it was with an alien or adoptive
phase of it, as I realize with tardy surprise. There were then so many
Germans in Ohio that an edition of the laws had to be printed in their
language, and there was a common feeling that we ought to know their
language, if not their literature, which was really what I cared more to
know. I carried my knowledge of it so far as to render a poem of my own
into German verse which won the praise of my teacher; and I wish I could
remember who he was, gentle, tobacco-smoked shade that he has long since
become, or who the German editor of what _republikanische Zeitung_ was
that sometimes shared my instruction with him. There were also two
blithe German youths who availed with me in the loan of Goethe's
_Wahlverwandschaften_, and gave me some fencing lessons in their
noonings. I forget what employ they were of, but their uncle was a
watchmaker and jeweler, and my father got him to gold-plate his silver
watch, or dye it, as he preferred to say. When the Civil War came he
went into it and was killed; and many years afterward, in my love and
honor of him, I turned his ghost into a loved and honored character in
_A Hazard of New Fortunes_. He was a political refugee, of those German
revolutionists who came to us after the revolts of 1848, and he still
dwells venerable in my memory, with his noble, patriarchally bearded

But it all appears very fantastic in the retrospect, that Teutonic
period of my self-culture, and I am not sure that one fact of it is more
fantastic than another. Such was my zeal for everything German that I
once lunched at one of the German beer-saloons which rather abounded in
Columbus, on Swiss cheese with French mustard spread over it and a tall
glass of lager beer, then much valued as a possible transition from the
use of the strong waters more habitual with Americans than now; but it
made me very sick, and I was obliged to forego it as an expression of my
love for German poetry. To a little earlier period must have belonged
the incident of my going to see "_Die Räuber_" of Schiller, which I
endured with iron resolution from the beginning to the end. It was
given, I believe, by amateurs, and I tried my best to imagine that I
understood it as it went on, but probably I did not, though I would have
been loath to own the fact to any of the few German families who then
formed my whole acquaintance with society. I never afterward met them at
American houses; the cleavage between the two races in everything but
politics was absolute; though the Germans were largely anti-slavery, and
this formed common ground for them and natives of like thinking who did
not know them socially.

In those first winters my knowledge of American society was confined to
the generalized hospitality of the large evening receptions which some
of the leading citizens used to give the two Houses of the legislature,
including the correspondents and reporters attached to them. I cannot
say just how or when I began to divine that these occasions were not of
the first fashion, though the hosts and hostesses might have been so.
There were great suppers, mainly of oysters, to which our distance from
the sea lent distinction, and ice-cream, and sometimes, if I may trust a
faint reverberation from the past as of blown corks, champagne. There
was also dancing, and when some large, old-fashioned house was not large
enough, a wooden pavilion was improvised over the garden to give the
waltzes and quadrilles verge enough. I recall my share in the suppers,
if not in the dancing, but my deficiency was far more than made up by
the excess of a friend, who must then have been hard upon sixty years of
age, yet was of a charming gaiety and an unimpaired youthfulness. He
stood up in every quadrille, and he danced to the end of the evening,
with a demure smile on his comely, smooth-shaven, rosy face, and a
light, mocking self-consciousness in his kind eyes, as if he would agree
as to any incongruity the spectator might find in his performance. He
was one of the clerks of the House, an old politician, and the editor of
a leading Cleveland newspaper, which he chose to leave for the pleasures
of the capital. From his experience of the system which he was part of
he whimsically professed to believe that as great legislative wisdom
could be assembled by knocking down every other man in a crowd and
dragging him into the House or Senate as by the actual method of
nomination and election. At times he would support the theory of a
benevolent despotism, and advocate the establishment of what he called a
one-man power as the ideal form of government. I owed him much in the
discharge of duties which my finding the most important in the world
must have amused him, and when he went back to his newspaper he left me
to write the legislative letters for it.

This gentle reactionary was the antithesis of another very interesting
man, known to his fellow-legislators as Citizen Corry, in recognition of
his preference for the type of French Red Republicanism acquired in
Paris during his stay through the academic republic of 1848-50. Such a
residence would alone have given him a distinction which we can hardly
realize in our time, but he was, besides, a man of great natural
distinction, and of more cultivation than any of his fellow-legislators.
He was one of the Representatives from Cincinnati, and when another
Cincinnati Representative of his own party struck a member from the
Western Reserve, Citizen Corry joined the Republicans in voting his
expulsion. But he had already made a greater sensation, and created an
expectation of the unexpected in all he did by proposing an amendment to
the Constitution abolishing the system of dual chambers in the
legislature, and retaining only the House of Representatives. I think
that in Greece alone is this the actual parliamentary form, but I
believe that it was in that short-lived French republic of 1848 that
Corry saw its workings and conceived the notion of its superiority.
Under the present system he held that the House was merely a committee
at the bar of the Senate, and the Senate a committee at the bar of the
House, with a great waste of time and public advantage through the
working of a very clumsy machinery. His proposition was not taken
seriously by the Ohio House of Representatives, but to my young
enthusiasm it seemed convincing by its mere statement, and the arguments
on the other side, to the effect that the delays which he censured gave
time for useful reflection, appeared to me very fallacious. Citizen
Corry was not re-elected to the next legislature, and his somewhat
meteoric history did not include any other official apparition. But
while he was passing through the orbit of my world I was fully aware of
his vivid difference from the controlled and orderly planets, and he
dazzled in me an imagination always too fondly seeking the bizarre and
strange. I do not think I ever spoke with him, but I tingled to do so; I
created him citizen of that fine and great world where I had so much of
my own being in reveries that rapt me from the realities of the life
about me.


The first winter of my legislative correspondence began with a letter to
my Cincinnati newspaper in which I

[Illustration: _The Ohio State House at Columbus viewed from High

described the public opening of the new State House. I remember the
event vividly because I thought it signally important, and partly
because, to relieve myself from the stress of the crowd passing through
the doorways, I lifted my arms and was near having my breath crushed
out. There were a ball and a banquet, but somewhere, somehow, amidst the
dancing and the feeding and smoking, I found a corner where I could
write out my account of the affair and so escaped with my letter and my

Much as I might have wished to share socially, with such small splendor
as might be, in this high occasion, the reporter's instinct was first
with me. I was there as the representative of a great Cincinnati
newspaper, and I cared more to please its management than to take any
such part as I might in the festivity. My part was to look on and tell
what I saw, and I must have done this in the manner of my most approved
good masters, no doubt with satirically poetic touches from Heine and
bits of worldly glitter from Thackeray. I should like to see that letter
now, and I should like to know how I contrived to get it, more or less
surreptitiously, into the hands of the express agent for delivery to my
newspaper. In those days there was a good deal of talk, foolish talk, I
am since aware, of having the post-office superseded in its functions by
the express companies. Now the talk and the fact are all the other way;
but then the mail was slow and uncertain, and if my letter was of the
nature of manuscript the express might safely carry it and deliver it in
time for the next day's paper. That was rightful and lawful enough, but
there was a show of secrecy in the transaction which was not unpleasing
to the enterprise of a young reporter.

My letters, as they went on from day to day, contented the managers of
the _Gazette_ so well that when the session of the legislature ended
they gave me an invitation which might well have abused my modesty with
a sense of merit. This invitation was to come and be their city editor,
which then meant the local reporting, at a salary twice as great as that
which I had been getting as their legislative correspondent. I do not
know whose inspiration the offer was, but I should like to believe it
was that of the envoy from the paper who made it in person, after
perhaps more fully satisfying himself of my fitness. He is long since
dead, but if he were still alive I hope he would not mind my describing
him as of less stature than myself even, wearing the large, round
glasses which give certain near-sighted persons a staring look, and of
speech low almost to whispering, so that I could not quite be sure that
the incredible thing he was proposing was really expressed to me. I like
to recall the personal fact of him because he was always my friend, and
he would have found me another place on the paper if he could when I
would not take the one he had offered. He did make room for me in his
own department for as long as he could, or as I would stay, when I went
down to Cincinnati to look the ground over, and he kept me his guest as
far as sharing his room with me in the building where we worked
together, and where I used to grope my way toward midnight up a stairway
entirely black to his door. There I lighted the candle-end which I found
within and did what I could to sleep till he came, hours later, when the
paper went to press. I have the belief that the place was never swept or
dusted, and that this did not matter to the quiet, scholarly man whose
life was so wholly in his work that he did not care how he lived.

He was buoyed up, above all other things, by the interest of journalism,
which for those once abandoned to it is indeed a kind of enchantment. As
I knew it then and afterward, it has always had far more of my honor
and respect than those ignorant of it know how to render. One incident
of it at this time so especially moved me that I will give it place in
this wayward tale, though it is probably not more to the credit of the
press than unnumbered others which others could cite. A miserable man
came late one night to ask that a certain report which involved his good
name, and with it the good name of a miserable woman, and the peace of
their families, might be withheld. He came with legal counsel, and
together they threshed the matter out with our editorial force upon the
point whether we ought or ought not to spare him, our contention being
that as a prominent citizen he was even less to be spared than a more
unimportant person. Our professional conscience was apparently in that
scruple; how it was overcome I do not remember, but at last we promised
mercy and the report was suppressed.

It was one of the ironies of life that after the only suspected avenue
to publicity had been successfully guarded, the whole fact should have
cruelly come out in another paper the next morning. But I cannot feel
even yet that the beauty of our merciful decision was marred by this
mockery of fate, or that the cause of virtue was served by it, and I
think that if I had been wiser than I was then I would have remained in
the employ offered me, and learned in the school of reality the many
lessons of human nature which it could have taught me. I did not remain,
and perhaps I could not; it might have been the necessity of my morbid
nerves to save themselves from abhorrent contacts; in any case, I
renounced the opportunity offered me by that university of the streets
and police-stations, with its faculty of patrolmen and ward politicians
and saloon-keepers. The newspaper office was not the Capitol of Ohio; I
was not by the fondest imputation a part of the state government, and I
felt the difference keenly. I was always very homesick; I knew nobody
in the city, and I had no companionship except that of my constant
friend, whom I saw only in our hours of work. I had not even the poor
social refuge of a boarding-house; I ate alone at a restaurant, where I
used sadly to amuse myself with the waiters' versions of the orders
which they called down a tube into the kitchen below. The one which
cheered me most was that of a customer who always ordered a double
portion of corn-cakes and was translated as requiring "Indians, six on a

Nearly all the frequenters of this restaurant were men from their stores
and offices, snatching a hasty midday meal, but a few were women, clerks
and shop-girls of the sort who now so abound in our towns and cities,
but then so little known. I was so altogether ignorant of life that I
thought shame of them to be boldly showing themselves in such a public
place as a restaurant. I wonder what they would have thought, poor,
blameless dears, of the misgivings in the soul of the conscious youth as
he sat stealing glances of injurious conjecture at them while he overate
himself with the food which was the only thing that could appease for a
moment the hunger of his homesick heart. If I could not mercifully
imagine them, how could I intelligently endure the ravings of the
drunken woman which I heard one night in the police-station where my
abhorred duties took me for the detestable news of the place? I suppose
it was this adventure, sole of its sort, which clinched my resolve to
have no more to do with the money-chance offered to me in journalism. My
longing was for the cleanly respectabilities, and I still cannot think
that a bad thing, or if experience cannot have more than the goodly
outside in life, that this is not well worth having. There was a relief,
almost an atonement, or at least a consolation in being sent next day
to report a sermon, in fulfilment of my friend's ideal of journalistic
enterprise, and though that sermon has long since gone from me and was
perhaps at the time not distinctly with me, still I have a sense of
cleansing from the squalor of the station-house in listening to it. If
all my work could have been the reporting of sermons, with intervals of
sketching the graduating ceremonies of young ladies' seminaries, such as
that where once a girl in garnet silk read an essay of perhaps no
surpassing interest, but remained an enchanting vision, and the material
of some future study in fiction; if it could have been these things,
with nothing of police-stations in it, I might have tried longer to
become a city editor. But as it was I decided my destiny in life


I must not conceal the disappointment which my father delicately
concealed when I returned and took up my old work in the
printing-office. He might well have counted on my help in easing him of
his load of debt, from the salary I had forgone, but there was no hint
of this in the welcome given me in the home where I was again so doubly
at home with my books and manuscripts. Now and then my friend of the
_Gazette_ management managed to have some sketch of mine accepted for
it, and my life went on in my sister's literary companionship on much
the same terms as before our venture into the world the winter before.
My father's clerkship had ended with the adjournment of the legislature
in the spring, but in the autumn, when it grew toward winter, I asked
again for the correspondence of the _Gazette_. I got this by favor of my
friend, and then I had courage to ask for that of the Cleveland
_Herald_, which the interest of the blithe sexagenarian sufficed to
secure me, and I returned to the capital with no pretense that I was
not now writing the letters solely and entirely myself. But almost
before my labors began my health quite broke under the strain of earlier
over-study and later overwork. I gave up my correspondence for both
those honored newspapers to my father, who wrote it till the close of
the session, and at his suggestion the letters of the _Gazette_ fell the
next winter to the fit and eager hands of a young man who had just then
sold his country newspaper and had come to try his fortune in the
capital. His name was Whitelaw Reid, in the retrospect a tall, graceful
youth with an enviable black mustache and imperial, wearing his hair
long in the Southern fashion, and carrying himself with the native ease
which availed him in a worldly progress uninterrupted to the end. He
wrote the legislative letters so acceptably that when the Civil War
broke out the _Gazette_ people were glad to make him their correspondent
in the field, where he distinguished himself beyond any other war
correspondent in the West, or the East for what I knew. The world knows
how riches and honors followed him all his days, and how when he died
the greatest Empire sent his dust home to the greatest Republic in such
a war-ship as the war correspondent of those years could not have
dreamed of. From time to time we saw each other, but not often; he was
about his business in the State House, and now I was about mine in the
office of the _Ohio State Journal_, the organ of the Republican party,
which had been newly financed and placed on a firm footing after rather
prolonged pecuniary debility.

I was at home in the autumn, as I had been all the summer, eating my
heart out (as I would have said in those days) when the call to a place
on the _Journal's_ editorial staff incredibly, impossibly came, and I
forgot my ills, and eagerly responded. I hardly know how to justify my
inconsistency when I explain that this place was the same which I had
rejected at twice the salary on the Cincinnati _Gazette_. Perhaps I
accepted it now because I could no longer endure the disappointment and
inaction of my life. Perhaps I hoped that in the smaller city the duties
would not be so odious or so onerous; perhaps it was because I would
have been glad to return to Columbus on any terms; in any case it fell
out that the duties of the place were undertaken by another who doted on
them, and quite different and far more congenial functions were assigned
to me.

My chief was Henry D. Cooke, the successful editor and proprietor of a
newspaper in northern Ohio, and brother of the banker Jay Cooke, once
nationally noted in our finance and himself afterward Governor of the
District of Columbia, the easiest of easy gentlemen, formed for
prosperity and leisure, with an instinct for the choice of subordinates
qualified to do the journalistic work he soon began to relinquish in his
preoccupation with the politics of the capital. I have had no sweeter
friend in a life abounding in friends, and after fifty years I think of
his memory with gratitude for counsels which availed me much when given
and would avail me still if I should ever again be a youth of
twenty-one, proposing to do and say the things I then proposed. He
rarely blamed anything I did in the stirring and distracted period of
our relation, but one morning he brought me a too graphic paragraph,
about a long-forgotten homicide done by an injured husband, and said,
"Never, _never_ write anything you would be ashamed to read to a woman,"
and so made me lastingly ashamed of what I had done, and fearful of ever
doing the like again, even in writing fiction. It seems not to be so now
with our novelists, begun or beginning; they write many things they
ought to be ashamed to read to women, or if they are of that sex,
things they should be ashamed to read to men. But perhaps they _are_
ashamed and only hold out writing so for art's sake; I cannot very well
speak for them; but I am still very Victorian in my preference of

Mr. Cooke must have been often of a divided mind about his assistants,
or about their expression of the opinions which he reticently held in
common with them. He was a thorough Republican; he undoubtedly believed
that the time had come for calling black black, but his nature would
have been to call it dark gray, at least for that day or for the next.
He would have oftenest agreed with us in what we said of the pro-slavery
party and partisans, North and South, though he held it not honesty to
have it thus set down. He would have liked better the _milde Macht_ of a
Hahnemannian treatment, while we were blistering and cauterizing, and
letting blood wherever we saw the chance, and there were every day
chances enough. I had been made news editor, and in the frequent
intervals of our chief's abeyance I made myself the lieutenant of the
keen ironical spirit who mostly wrote our leaders, but did not mind my
dipping my pen in his ink when I could turn from the paste and scissors
which were more strictly my means of expression. My work was to look
through the exchange newspapers which flocked to us in every mail, and
to choose from them any facts that could be presented to our readers as
significant. I called my column or two "News and Humors of the Mail,"
and I tried to give it an effect of originality by recasting many of the
facts, or, when I could not find a pretext for this, by offering the
selected passages with applausive or derisive comment. We had French and
Spanish and German exchanges, and I sometimes indulged a boyish vanity
by prefacing a paragraph from these with such a sentence as, "We
translate from the _Courrier des États Unis_," or, "We find in _La
Cronaca_ of New York," or "We learn from the _Wachter am Erie_," as the
case might be. Why I should have been suffered to do this without
admonition from our chief or sarcasm from my senior I do not know;
perhaps the one thought it best to let youth have its head when the head
was harmlessly turned; and perhaps the other was too much occupied with
his own work to trouble himself with mine; but certainly if I had caught
a contemporary in such folly I should have tried what unsparing
burlesque could do to make him wiser.

The reader who has no follies to own will probably not think me wise in
owning mine, but from time to time I must do so; there were so many. It
is with no hope of repairing these follies now that I confess the pride
I felt in the poor little Spanish, German, and French which it had cost
me so much to acquire unaided and unguided, and I was willing that my
acquirements should shed luster on the newspaper I loved almost as much
as I loved myself. I admired it even more, and I wished to do all that I
could to make it admirable, even enviable, with others. I think now that
I was not using one of the best means to do it; I only contend that it
was one of the best I could think of then. If any contemporary had
turned it against us, I hope I should have been willing to suffer
personally for it, but I cannot now be sure.


We aspired at least tacitly to a metropolitan character in our
journalism; there were no topics of human interest which we counted
alien to us anywhere in the range of politics, morals, literature, or
religion; and I was suffered my say. The writer who was more habitually
and profitably suffered his say was, I still think, a man of very
uncommon qualities and abilities. He was a journalist who could rightly
be called a publicist, earnest if things came to that, of a faithful
conscience and of a mocking skill in the chances pretty constantly
furnished us by our contemporaries, especially some of our Southern
contemporaries whom it was difficult to take as seriously as they took
themselves. When they made some violent proclamation against the North,
or wreaked themselves in some frenzy of pro-slavery ethics, we took our
pleasure in shredding the text into small passages and tagging each of
these with a note of open derision or ironical deprecation. We called it
"firing the Southern heart," in a phrase much used at the time. It was
not wise, it was not well, but it was undeniably amusing, and we carried
it to any lengths that the very intermittent supervision of our nominal
chief would allow. We may have supposed that it would help laugh away
the madness of the South which few in the North believed more than a
temporary insanity, but the uneasy honesty which always lurks somewhere
in my heart to make me own my errors must acquit my fellow-editor of the
worst excesses in this sort, so mainly literary with me. He was not only
a man of high journalistic quality, of clear insight, shrewd judgment,
and sincere convictions, but I do not believe that in the American press
of the time he was surpassed as a clear thinker and brilliant writer.
All the days of journalism are yesterdays; and the name of Samuel R.
Reed will mean nothing to these oblivious morrows, even in Ohio, but all
the more I wish to do his memory such honor as I may. We were of course
daily together in our work, and often in our walks on the Sundays which
were as other days to his steadfast agnosticism. The word was not yet,
but the thing has always been, and especially it always was in the
older West, where bold surmise of the whence and whither of life often
defied the authority of Faith, then much more imperative than now.
Reed's favorite author, whom he read as critically as if he were not his
favorite, was Shakespeare; but his far more constant reading was the
Bible, especially the Old Testament. I could not say why he read it so
much, but he may have felt in it the mystical power which commands the
imagination of men and holds them in respectful contemplation of a
self-sufficing theory of the universe such as nothing in science or
philosophy affords. He quoted it for a peculiar joy in the fitness of
its application to every circumstance; he quoted Dickens, as everybody
did then; he quoted Shakespeare a great deal more both in his talking
and in his writing; and later in his life, long after mine had parted
from it, he amused the spare moments of his journalistic leisure by a
study of Shakespeare's women whom he did not take at the generally
accepted critical appraisement.

I am tempted out of the order of these confessions to follow him to the
end which death put to the long kindness between us, and I recall with
tenderness our last meeting near New York where he was hesitating
whether to continue on his way to Europe. He had at last given up his
work in Cincinnati where he had spent the many years after the few years
we spent together in Columbus. He owned that he had worn himself out in
that work, toiling incessantly through many homicidal Cincinnati
summers, and he blamed himself for the sacrifice. He felt that he had
turned from it too late; and in fact he died at sea soon after. He
accepted his impending doom with the stoical calm which he always kept,
and which I had once seen him keep so wonderfully after the war began,
when a Southern Unionist, the formerly famous, now forgotten Parson
Brownlow of Tennessee, came to reproach him for the part which he held
that such writing as Reed's had borne in bringing on the strife. Reed
suffered the good man's passion almost with compassion, and when
Brownlow was gone he would not let me blame him, but said that he had
played a noble part in the struggle to hold his region in the Union. He
always kept a countenance of bland calm, lit by pale-blue eyes which
gave no hint of the feeling within, and if I had not loved him so much
and known him so well I might have thought the habitual smile of his
clean-shaven lip sometimes a little cruel. He let his full soft beard
grow inordinately long, and he had a way of stroking it as he slightly
smiled and crisply spoke; it was the only touch of quaintness in him at
a time when beards were self-indulgently worn in many fantastic ways. He
was the best-dressed man I knew, in fashions as little aged as possible
in their transition from the East to the West, and he was of a
carefulness in such minor morals as gloves and boots very uncommon in
our somewhat slovenly ways.

After his liking for Shakespeare and Dickens he liked the Ingoldsby
Legends, but he did not care for the poetry which I was constantly
reading and trying to write. The effect of my endeavor as it appeared in
the passionate or pessimistic verse which I contributed to Eastern
periodicals must have amused him; but perhaps he tolerated me because,
along with this poetical effusiveness in which I was grievously
sensitive to any breath of sarcasm, I had a tooth as sharp as his own in
our journalism. He was intelligently and I suppose scientifically fond
of music, since he failed of no chance to hear the best, a chance rare
in our city; and he held that the composition of grand opera was the
highest feat of the human intellect, which was to me a stumbling-block
and foolishness, though I liked dramatic singing, and indeed singing of
all kinds. We came together in our fondness for the theater, and after
our evening's work was done he sometimes turned with me into the
barnlike structure on State Street which served the pathetic need of the
drama in Columbus at that day. The place was heated in the winter for
its twenty or thirty frequenters by two huge cast-iron stoves, one on
either side of the orchestra: stoves such as I have since seen in
English cathedrals; but when the curtain rose the blast of freezing air
that swept out upon us made us shiver for the players in their bare arms
and necks and their thin hosiery and drapery. They were often such bad
players that they merited their sufferings; the prompter audibly bore a
very leading part in the performance as he still does in the Italian
theater; yet for all his efforts we one night saw Hamlet in two acts; it
was, to be sure, a very cold night, of an air eagerer and nippinger than
even that the ghost walked in at Elsinore, and we would not have had the
play longer. Yet we often saw very well given some of the old English
comedies which are now no longer well or ill given; and between the
acts, somewhere, a plain young girl, in a modest modicum of stocking,
represented the ballet by dancing the Highland Fling, always the
Highland Fling. Such plays as "The Lady of Lyons" happened now and then,
and "The Daughter of the Regiment" must have been, at least partly,
sung. We did not lack the more darkling melodrama, and there were heroic
pieces which gave the leading actor opportunities not lost upon him,
however they failed of effect with the rest of the cast. I remember how
one night a robustuous periwig-pated fellow ramped and roared up and
down the stage, but left quite cold a large group of the _dramatis
personæ_ which his magniloquence was intended to convulse with either
sympathy or antipathy; and how Reed noted with mock-thoughtful
recognition of the situation, "Can't excite those fellows off to the
left, any." I should not be able to say how killingly droll I found


I suppose that every young man presently attempting journalism feels
something of the pride and joy I felt when I began it; though pride and
joy are weak words for the passion I had for the work. If my soul was
more in my verse, I did not know it, and I am sure my heart was as much
in my more constant labors. I could find time for poetry only in my
brief noonings, and at night after the last proofs had gone to the
composing-room, or I had come home from the theater or from an evening
party, but the long day was a long delight to me over my desk in the
room next my senior. To come upon some inviting fact, or some flattering
chance for mischief in an exchange, above all a Northern contemporary
with Southern principles, and to take this to him and talk it or laugh
it over and leave it with him, or bring it back and exploit it myself,
was something that made every day a heyday. We shunned personalities,
then the stock in trade of most newspaper wits; we meant to deal only
with the public character of men and things. It seems to have been all
pleasure as I tell it, but there was a great deal of duty in it, too;
though if burlesquing the opposite opinions of our contemporaries
happened to be a duty, so much the better. If it were to do again, I
should not do it, or not so much; but at the time I cannot deny that I
liked doing it. So, too, I liked to write cutting criticisms of the
books which it was part of my work to review; and I still hope to be
forgiven by the kindness which I sinned against without winning the
authority as reviewer which I aimed at.

I had much better been at the theater than writing some of the things I
then wrote. But it may as well be owned here as anywhere that whatever
might have been its value to me as a school of morals the theater was
not good society in Columbus then; and I was now in a way of being good
society, and had been so for some time. The rehabilitation of our
newspaper was coincident with the rise of the Republican party to the
power which it held almost unbroken for fifty years. It had of course
lost the Presidential election in 1856, but its defeat left it in better
case than an untimely victory might have done. Ohio had, at any rate, a
Republican Governor in a man afterward of a prime national importance,
and already known as a statesman-like politician well fitted by capacity
and experience for that highest office which never ceased to be his aim
while he lived. Salmon P. Chase had been a lawyer of the first standing
in Cincinnati, where, although a Democrat, he had early distinguished
himself by his services in behalf of friendless negroes. The revolt of
the whole self-respecting North against the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise swept him finally out of the Democracy into that provisional
organization which loosely knew itself as the Anti-Nebraska party; but
before he was chosen Governor by it he had already served a term in the
United States Senate, where with one other Freesoiler he held the
balance of power in an otherwise evenly divided body. He was a large,
handsome man, of a very senatorial presence, and now in the full
possession of his uncommon powers; a man of wealth and breeding,
educated perhaps beyond any of the other Presidential aspirants except
Seward, versed in the world, and accustomed to ease and state; and he
gave more dignity to his office, privately and publicly, than it had yet
known among us. He lived in a pretty house of the Gothic make then much
affected by our too eclectic architecture, with his brilliant young
daughter at the head of it; for the Governor was a widower.

He was naturally much interested in the new control of the Republican
organ, and it would not be strange if he had taken some active part in
its rehabilitation, but I do not know that he had. At any rate, he
promptly made the editorial force welcome to his house, where Reed and I
were asked to Thanksgiving dinner; Mr. Cooke had not yet brought his
family to Columbus. Thanksgiving was not then observed on the present
national terms; it was still the peculiar festival of New England, and
in our capital its recognition was confined to families of New England
origin; our Kentuckians and Virginians and Marylanders kept Christmas,
though the custom of New-Year's calls was domesticated among us with
people of all derivations, and in due time suffered the lapse which it
fell into in its native New York. Our Governor was born in New
Hampshire, where his family name was already distinguished in public
life; and he kept the Thanksgiving which he had probably not officially
invited his fellow-citizens to commemorate. I suppose we had turkey for
our dinner, but I am surer of the manner than the make of the feast, for
it was served with a formality new to my unworldly experience. The
turkey was set before the governor who carved it, and then it was
brought to the guests by a shining black butler, instead of being passed
from hand to hand among them, as I had always seen it done. That was, in
fact, my first dinner in society.

The young editors were the only guests; and after dinner the family did
not forbid itself the gaieties befitting its young people's years. We
had charades, then much affected in society, and I believe the Governor
alone was not pressed into helping dramatize the riddle to be finally
guessed as Canterbury Bell. I do not remember how the secret was kept to
the end, or guessed from the successive parts. My fear and pride were
put to a crucial test in the first dissyllable, which the girlish
hostess assigned me, and nothing but the raillery glancing through the
deep lashes of her brown eyes which were very beautiful, could have
brought me to the self-sacrifice involved. I lived through the delight
and anguish of that supreme evening, and found myself, as it were,
almost immediately afterward in society. It could not have been quite
immediately, for when I called at the Governor's soon after New-Year's
and he asked me if I had made many New-Year's calls I answered that I
had not made any because I knew no one. Then he said I might have called
at _his_ house; and I did not fail, on this kind reproach, to go to Miss
Chase's next reception, where again she laughed at my supposed dignity
in refusing to dance; she would not suppose my inability.

But before entering that field so flowery fair which society now seemed
to open before me perhaps I had better continue my recollections of a
man whose public career has its peculiar pathos. It was his constant,
his intense, his very just desire to be President; no man of his long
time was fitter to be President, unless his ambition was a foible that
unfitted him. He accepted not the first place, but the second place, in
the administration of the man whose place as President he had so
ardently longed to fill, and after he had resigned his governorship of
Ohio and gone to Washington as Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln I
saw him there when I went to look after the facts of the consulship
which had been offered me. His fellow Ohioans must have swarmed upon him
in the eagerness for public service afterward much noted in them, and I
do not blame him for imagining that I had called upon him in the hope
that he would urge my case upon the President. He said, rather eagerly,
that he had no influence with the administration (it likewise became
Lincoln's own humorous complaint) quite before I had asked it, and was
sorry that he could not help me; and when I thanked him and remarked
that I believed the President's private secretaries, Hay and Nicolay,
were interested in my affair, he said, with visible relief, Oh well,
then, I was in the best possible hands; as indeed it turned out. I had
heard before that he had spoken to the President in my behalf, and he
may very well have felt that he had done his best.

Four years later, and ten years after my first acquaintance with Chase,
I went to call upon him at his hotel in New York, when I was lately
returned from my consular post in Venice, and ventured to offer him my
congratulations upon his accession to the chief-justiceship of the
Supreme Court. He answered bluntly that it was not the sort of office he
had aspired to, and intimated that it was a defeat of his real
aspirations. He was not commonly a frank man, I believe, but perhaps he
felt that he could be frank with the boy I must still have seemed even
at twenty-eight, bringing the devotion he possibly over-imagined in me.
Since then those words of his, which were the last I was to hear from
him, have been of an increasing appeal with me; and if the Republicans
had not had Lincoln I still think it was a pity they could not have had
Chase. At the end, the Democrats would not have him.


Chase was of course _our_ man for the 1860 nomination, and the political
relations between him and our chief were close; but somehow I went more
to other houses than to his, though I found myself apparently launched
from it upon a social tide that bore me through all the doors of the
amiable little city. I was often at the evening parties (we called them
evening parties then) which his daughter gave, and one day the Governor
himself, as we met in the street, invited me to luncheon with him. I
duly went and passed the shining butler's misgiving into the
dining-room, where I found the family at table with no vacant place
among them. The Governor had forgotten me! That was clear enough, but he
was at once repentant, and I lunched with him, outwardly forgiving, but
inwardly resolved that it should be the last time I would come at his
informal bidding. I have since forgotten much more serious engagements
myself; I have not gone to dinners where I have promised over my own
signature to go; but at twenty-one men are proud, and I was prouder then
than I can yet find any reason for having been.

In our capital at that day we had rather the social facts than the
social forms. We were invited to parties ceremoniously enough, but we
did not find it necessary to answer whether we would come or not. Our
hostess remained in doubt of us till we came or did not come; at least
that was the case with young men; we never inquired whether it was so
with young girls or not. But sometimes when a certain youth wished to go
with a certain maiden he found out as delicately as he could whether she
was invited, and if she was he begged her to let him go with her, and
arrived with her in one of the lumbering two-horse hacks which supplied
our cab-service, and which I see still bulking in the far perspective of
the State Street corner of the State House yard. If you had courage so
high or purse so full you had sent the young lady a flower which she
wore to the party, preferably a white camellia which the German florist,
known to our young world only as Joe, grew very successfully, and
allowed you to choose from the tree. Why preferably a camellia I could
not say after this lapse of time; perhaps because its cold, odorless
purity expressed the unimpassioned emotion which oftenest inspired the
gift and its acceptance. It was very simple, very pastoral; I do not
know when Columbus outgrew this custom, which of course it did long ago.

Bringing a young lady to a party necessarily meant nothing but that you
enjoyed the pleasure of bringing her. Very likely she found her mother
there when she came with you, unmindful, the one and the other, that
there was such a thing as chaperonage in a more fastidious or censorious
world. It seems to me, indeed, that parties at the Columbus houses were
never wanting in the elders whom our American society of girls and boys
used to be accused of ignoring. They superabounded at the legislative
receptions, but even at the affairs which my sophistication early
distinguished from those perfunctory hospitalities there were mature
people enough, both married and unmarried, who, though they had felt no
charge concerning their daughters or nieces, found it agreeable to
remain till the young ladies were ready to be seen home by their
self-chosen escorts. A youth who danced so reluctantly as I, was rather
often thrown upon these charitable elders for his entertainment, and I
cannot remember ever failing of it. People, and by people I do not mean
women only, read a good deal in that idyllic Columbus, and it was my
delight to talk with any one who would about the new books or the old.
The old books were known mostly to that number of professional
men--lawyers, doctors, divines, and scientists--which was
disproportionately large in our capital; they were each cultivated in
his own way, and in mine, too, or the better part of it, as I found. The
young and the younger women

[Illustration: _The State House yard on the State Street side_]

read the current fiction and poetry at least enough to be asked whether
they had read this thing or that; and there was a group of young men
with whom I could share my sometimes aggressive interest in our favorite
authors. I put the scale purposely low; I think that I could truthfully
say that there was then no American community west of the Alleghanies
which surpassed ours in the taste for such things. At the same time I
must confess that it would be easy for such an exclusively literary
spirit as I was to deceive himself, and to think that he always found
what he may have oftener brought.

For a long time after the advent of our new journalism, the kind of
writing which we practised--light, sarcastic, a little cruel, with a
preference for the foibles of our political enemies as themes--seemed to
be the pleasure of good society, which in that serious yet hopeful time
did not object to such conscience as we put into our mocking. Some who
possibly trembled at our boldness darklingly comforted themselves for
our persiflage by the good cause in which it frisked. When anything very
daring came out in the afternoon the young news-editor in his round of
calls could hear the praise of it from charming readers in the evening,
or he might be stopped in the street next day and told how good it was
by the fathers, or brothers, or brothers-in-law, of those charming
readers. It was more like the prompt acclaim the drama enjoys than the
slow recognition of literature; but I, at least, was always trying to
make my writing literature, and after fifty-odd years it may perhaps be
safely owned that I had mainly a literary interest in the political
aspects and events which I treated. I felt the ethical quality of the
slavery question, and I had genuine convictions about it; but for
practical politics I did not care; I wished only to understand enough of
them to seize any chance for a shot at the other side which they might
give. I had been in the midst of practical politics almost from my
childhood; through my whole youth the din of meetings, of rallies, of
conventions had been in my ears; but I was never at a meeting, a rally,
or a convention; I have never yet heard a political speech to the end.
For a future novelist, a realist, that was a pity, I think, but so it

In that day of lingering intolerance, intolerance which can scarcely be
imagined in this day, and which scarcely stopped short of condemning the
mild latitudinarianism of the _Autocrat of the Breakfast Table_ as
infidelity, every one but a few outright atheists was more or less
devout. In Columbus everybody went to church; the different forms of
Calvinism drew the most worshipers; our chief was decorously constant
with his family at the Episcopal service; but Reed was frankly outside
of all ecclesiastical allegiance, and I who, no more than he, attended
any religious service, believed myself of my father's Swedenborgian
faith; at any rate. I could make it my excuse for staying away from
other churches, since there were none of mine. While I am about these
possibly needless confidences I will own that sermons and lectures as
well as speeches have mostly been wearisome to me, and that I have heard
only as many of them as I must. Of the three, I prefer sermons; they
interest me, they seem really to concern me; but I have been apt to get
a suggestive thought from them and hide away with it in a corner of my
consciousness and lose the rest. My absences under the few sermons which
I then heard must have ended chiefly in the construction or the
reconstruction of some scene in my fiction, or some turn of phrase in my

Naturally, under these circumstances, the maturer men whom I knew were
oftener doctors of medicine than doctors of divinity; in fact, I do not
think I knew one clergyman. This was not because I was oftener sick than
sorry; I was often sorry enough, and very sensible of my sins, though I
took no established means of repenting them; but I have always found the
conversation of physicians more interesting than that of most other men,
even authors. I have known myself in times past to say that they were
the saints of the earth, as far as we then had saints, but that was in
the later Victorian period when people allowed themselves to say
anything in honor of science. Now it is already different; we have begun
to have our doubts of doubt and to believe that there is much more in
faith than we once did; and I, within the present year, my
seventy-ninth, have begun to go to church and to follow the sermon with
much greater, or more unbroken, attention than I once could, perhaps
because I no longer think so much in the terms of fiction or meditate
the muse as I much more used to do.

In those far days I thought prose fit mainly for every-day use in
newspaper work. I was already beginning to print my verses in such of
the honored Eastern periodicals as would take them: usually for nothing.
I wrote for the _Saturday Press_ of New York, which ambitious youth
everywhere were then eager to write for, and I wrote for the _Atlantic
Monthly_ oftener than I printed in it. I have told all this and more in
_My Literary Passions_ and I will not dwell here upon the whirl of
æsthetic emotion in which I eddied round and round at that tumultuous
period. In that book I have also sufficiently told the story of my first
formal venture in the little volume of verse which I united with my
friend John J. Piatt in offering to the world. But I may add here that
it appeared just at Christmas-time in 1859 from the press of a hopeful
young publisher of Columbus who was making his experiment in the
disquieting hour when no good thing was expected to come out of our
Western Nazareth. We two were of the only four poets west of the
Alleghanies who had yet been accepted by the _Atlantic_, and our
publisher had the courage to make our book very pretty in print and
binding. It was so pretty that I am afraid some readers liked it for its
looks; one young lady said that I at least could have no trouble in
choosing what Christmas presents I should make my friends. She was that
very beautiful girl who easily bore the palm for beauty in Columbus, and
I do not yet understand how I was able to reject her unprofessional
suggestion with as much pride as if she had been plain. I gave my book
to no one, in my haughty aversion from even the shadow of advertising,
and most of my friends had their revenge, I suppose, in not buying it.


I had begun now to know socially and intrinsically the little capital
which I had known only politically and extrinsically during the two
winters passed there as a legislative correspondent. I then consorted
with the strangers whom their share in the government made sojourners,
and who had little or no local quality to distinguish them from one
another. I shared the generalized hospitalities offered them with that
instinctive misgiving which I have rather more than hinted; and though I
distinguished among them, and liked and valued certain of them, yet I
had a painful sense of our common exteriorality and impermanence. I
cannot say that I ever expected to become part of the proper life of the
city, and when suddenly I found myself in that life, if not of it, I was
very willing to find it charming. How charming it was compared with the
life of other cities I had no means of knowing, but now after the
experiences, not too exhaustive, of half a century I still feel it to
have been charming, with the wilding grace proper to all the West in
those days, and the refinement remembered from the varied culture (such
culture as there was) of the East and South it derived from.

Not so many people in our town could have known me for my poetry as for
my journalism, and I do not pretend that the sexes were equally divided
in their recognition. I have intimated my fancy that with most men, men
of affairs, men of the more serious callings, the face of the poet was
saved by the audacity of the paragrapher. If I could be so sharp, so
hard in my comment on the day's events, I could not be so soft as I
seemed in those rhymes where I studied the manner of Heine, the manner
of Tennyson, and posed in this or that dramatized personality. I cannot
flatter myself that I did not seem odd sometimes to many of my
fellow-citizens, though I hope that with some of the hardest-headed
among them I was acceptable for qualities which recommend average men to
one another. Some of that sort made friends with me; some even who were
of an entirely diverse political thinking tolerated my mockeries of
opinions which they supposed their principles. But neither my pleasure
nor my pride was in such friendships. What I wished to do always and
evermore was to think and dream and talk literature, and literature
only, whether in its form of prose or of verse, in fiction, or poetry,
or criticism. I held it a higher happiness to stop at a street corner
with a congenial young lawyer and enter upon a fond discussion of, say,
De Quincey's essays than to prove myself worthy the respect of any most
eminent citizen who knew not or loved not De Quincey. But I held it far
the highest happiness to call at some house where there were young
girls waiting and willing to be called upon and to join them in asking
and saying whether we had read this or that late novel or current
serial. It is as if we did nothing then but read late novels and current
serials, which it was essential for us to know one another's minds upon
down to the instant; other things might wait, but these things were

Of course there were some houses where such problems were of more
immediate and persistent interest than other houses. Such a house was
the ever-dear house of the S. family, which made itself a home any hour
of the day up to midnight for such youth as had once been adopted its
sons. It was not only a literary house, it was even more a musical
house, where there was both singing and playing, with interludes of
laughing and joking in all forms of seemly mirth, with the whole family,
till the little boys of it stumbled up the stairs half asleep. I could
not play, but I was sometimes suffered by that large-hearted hospitality
to try singing; and I could talk with the best. So, it was my more than
content in the lapses of the music to sit with the young aunt (she
seemed so mature in her later twenties to me in my earliest) and
exchange impressions of the books new and old that we had been reading.
We frequenters of the house held her in that honor which is the best
thing in the world for young men to feel for some gentle and cultivated
woman; I suppose she was a charming person apart from her literary
opinions; but we did not think of her looks; we thought of her wise and
just words, her pure and clear mind.

It was the high noon of Tennyson and Thackeray and George Eliot and
Dickens and Charles Reade, whose books seemed following one another so
rapidly. _The Newcomes_ was passing as a serial through _Harper's
Magazine_, and we were reading that with perhaps more pleasure than any
of the other novels and with the self-satisfaction in our pleasure which
I have before this argued was Thackeray's most insidious effect with
youth striving to spurn the world it longed to shine in. We went about
trying to think who in the story was like whom in life, and our kind
hostess was reading it, too, and trying to think that, too; but it was
not well for her to say what she thought in the case of the handsomest,
and for several reasons, really, the first among us. It appeared that
she thought he was like Clive Newcome and that we others were like those
friends of his whom in the tale his nature was shown subordinating. She
said something like this to some one, and when her saying came to us
others we revolted in a body. No, we would not have that theory of our
relation to our friend; and I do not know to what infuriate excess of
not calling for a week we carried our resentment. I do not know how
after the week, if it was so long, we began calling again; but I surmise
it was through something said or done by that dear Miss A. which made it
easy for her sister to modify her wounding theory into a recognition of
the proud equality which bound us friends together.

We are all dead now, all save me and the youngest daughter of the house,
but as I think back we are all living again, and others are living who
are also dead. Among these is a young lady visitor from a neighboring
city, one of those beautiful creatures who render the Madonna faces of
the painters credible, and of a prompt gaiety which shared our wonted
mirth in its own spirit. Her beauty might have dedicated her to any
mysterious fate; beauty is often of such tragical affinition; but not
her gaiety; and yet the glad die, too, and this glad creature within a
year had gone to the doom which sent no whisper back to the hearts left
lifelong aching. Her father was appointed consul to a Mediterranean
port, and she sailed with him in the ship which sailed with them both
into eternity, unseen, unsignaled, as messageless as if it had been a
mist swept from the face of the sea.

But well a year before this time and a year after our first meeting in
Columbus I saw her in Boston, in a house swept as wholly from the face
of the earth as that ship from the face of the sea. I suppose the Court
House in Boston is an edifice as substantial as it is plain, but for me,
when I look at the place where it stands my vision pierces to the row of
quiet, dignified mansions which once lined that side of Somerset Street,
and in one of which I somehow knew that I should find with her uncle's
family the beautiful creature already so unimaginably devoted to
tragedy, to mystery, to the eternal baffle of surmise. It seemed that
from often being there she knew the city so enchanted and enchanting to
me then, and she went about with me from one wonder of it to another;
and it remains in the glimmer of that association, which no after-custom
could wholly eclipse. It was a moment of the glad young American life of
other days which seems so impossible to after days and generations; and
with the Common and its then uncaterpillared elms, with the Public
Garden, just beginning in leaf and flower, with the stately dwellings
which looked upon those pleasances in the streets long since abandoned
to business, with the Public Library, the fine old Hancock House, and
the Capitol as Bullfinch designed and left it, and the Athenæum as it
used to be, and Faneuil Hall, swarming with memories for my young ardor,
and the Old State House, unvisited by its manifold transformations,--the
brave little city of the past is all contemporaneous again.


As I have said, all they of that Columbus house but one are gone. One of
the little boys went before they were men, and then the other; the
mother went long afterward; the elder daughter, who had been the widow
of our repudiated Clive Newcome, went longer afterward yet; and then
still later, finding myself once on a very mistaken lecturing-tour in
Kansas, where our beloved Miss A. had lived many married years, I asked
for her, hoping to see her, and heard that she had died the year before.
But first of all the father died, leaving me the memory of kindness
which I hardly know how to touch aright. He was my physician as well as
my friend, and saw me through the many maladies, real and unreal, of my
ailing adolescence, but he would have no fee for curing me of either my
pains or my fears. I had come to him first with my father, who somehow
knew him before me, and it was as if he became another father to me.
Often in those nights of singing and playing, of talking and joking, he
would look in for a moment between patients to befriend our jollity; and
when at last it came to my leaving Columbus, and going that far journey
to Venice, whither I seemed bound as on a journey to another planet, he
asked me one night into his little outside office by the State Street
gate, and had me tell him what provision I had made for the chances
before me. I told him, and then whether he thought it not enough in that
war-time when the personal risks were doubled by the national risks he
said, "Well, I am not a rich man, or the son of a rich man, but if you
think you need something more, I can let you have it." I had been
keeping my misgivings to myself, but now I owned them and borrowed the
two hundred dollars which he seemed to have there with him, as if in
expectation of my need.

For a darker tint in the picture I have been painting of my past let me
record here a fact which may commend itself for the younger reader's
admonition; the old cannot profit by it, perhaps, though as long as we
live we are in danger of forgetting kindness. When my family first came
to Columbus we were much beholden to another family, poor like
ourselves, which did everything but turn itself out of doors to let us
have the little house we were to occupy after them. They shared it with
us till they could place themselves elsewhere; and my father and mother
remained bound to them in willing gratitude. When I came back to the
capital after my five years of exile in our village I, too, remembered
our common debt, but when the world began to smile upon me I forgot the
friends who had not forgotten me till one day my father wished me to go
with him to see them. The mother of the family received me with a sort
of ironical surprise, and then her hurt getting the better, or the
worse, of her irony, she said some things about my losing sight of
humble friends in the perspectives opening so alluringly before me. I
could not recall, if I would, just the things she said, but they
scorched, and the place burns yet; and if I could go back and repair the
neglect which she brought home to me how willingly, after nearly sixty
years, would I do it! But at the time I hardened my heart and as I came
away I tried to have my father say something in extenuation of the fault
which I angrily tried to make a merit of; but with all his tenderness
for me he would not or could not.

Perhaps he, too, thought that I had been a snob, a thing that I had not
needed the instruction of Thackeray to teach me the nature of; but I
hope I was not so bad as that; I hope there was nothing meaner in me
than youth flattered out of remembrance of old kindness by the new
kindness in which it basked. I will confess here that I have always
loved the world and the pleasures which other sages pretend are so
vapid. If I could make society over, or make it over a little, so that
it would be inclusive rather than exclusive, I believe I would still
like to go into it, supposing it always sent a motor to fetch and carry
me and did not insist upon any sort of personal exertion from me. But
when I was between twenty and twenty-three and lived in Columbus I was
willing to be at almost any trouble for it. All up and down the wide
shady streets which ran from High eastward, and were called Rich and
Town and State and Broad, there were large pleasant houses of brick,
with or without limestone facings, standing in lawns more ample or less,
and showing through their trees the thrilling light of evening parties
that burst with the music of dancing from every window. Or if this was
not the case with every house, beautiful girls were waiting in every
other to be called upon, beside the grates with their fires of soft
coal, which no more discriminated between winter and summer than the
door-yard trees which seem to have been full-foliaged the whole year

It may be that with the passage of time there began to be shadows in the
picture otherwise too bright. It seems to me that in time the calls and
balls may have begun to pall and a subtle _Weltschmerz_, such as we had
then, to pierce the heart; but scarcely any sense of that remains. What
is certain is that the shadow of incredible disaster which was soon to
fill the whole heaven still lurked below the horizon, or if it showed
itself there, took the form of retreating clouds which we had but to
keep on laughing and singing in order to smile altogether out of sight.
The slavery question which was not yet formidably a question of disunion
was with most of the older men a question of politics, though with men
like Dr. S. it was a question of ethics; with the younger men it was a
partisan question, a difference between Democrats and Republicans; with
me it was a question of emotions, of impassioned preoccupations, and in
my newspaper work a question of copy, of material for joking, for firing
the Southern heart. It might be brought home to us in some enforcement
of the Fugitive Slave Law, as in the case of the mother who killed her
children in Cincinnati rather than let them be taken back with her to
Kentucky; or in the return of an escaping slave seized in our own
railroad station; and there was at first the horror of revolted humanity
and then the acquiescence of sickened patience. It was the law, it was
the law; and the law was constitutional and must be obeyed till it was
repealed. Looking back now to that law-abiding submission, I can see
that it was fine in its way, and I can see something pathetic in it as
well as in the whole attitude of our people, the South and North
confronted in that inexorable labyrinth, neither side quite meaning it
or realizing it.

That was a very crucial moment indeed, but the crisis had come for us
five or six years before when the case of some conscientious citizens,
arrested in the Western Reserve for violation of that abominable law,
came before Chief-Justice Swann of the Ohio Supreme Court. It was hoped
by the great majority of the Republican party and largely expected that
Justice Swann's opinion would in whatever sort justify the offenders,
and it was known that the Governor would support the decision with an
armed force against the United States, which must logically attempt the
execution of the law with their troops. Very probably the state of Ohio
would have been beaten in such an event, but Justice Swann defeated the
popular hope and expectation before-hand by confirming the judgment
against those right-minded but wrong-headed friends of humanity. Ohio

[Illustration: _Old-time dwellings on one of the Columbus streets that
Mr. Howells used to frequent_]

spared the disaster which befell South Carolina five or six years later,
and Justice Swann suffered the penalty of men whose judgment is
different from the convictions of their contemporaries. From being one
of the most honored leaders of his party, with the prospect of any
highest place in its gift, he remained one of the most distinguished
jurists of his time whose best reward came coldly from those who would
not blame where they could not praise. In Ohio the judiciary is
elective, and Judge Swann hastened the decision of the court before the
meeting of the Republican State Convention in order that his party might
not unwittingly renominate him in the expectation of an opinion from him
favorable to the good men of Ohio who had broken the bad law of the
United States.

There is a legend, cherished more for its dramatic possibility than for
any intrinsic probability, that when Lincoln appointed Noah L. Swayne
justice of the Supreme Court of the United States he supposed that he
was appointing Joseph Swann, and that he was misled by the similarity of
the names, not very great either to ear or eye. Swayne was then one of
the most eminent members of the Columbus bar, and, though he lacked the
judicial experience of Swann, was entirely fit for the place he was
called to fill. If such a mistake was made it was one which could well
retrieve itself, but it seems a very idle fancy which has toyed with its
occurrence. It would be altogether too nice in the face of its
unlikelihood to inquire whether Lincoln might have wished to express a
certain sympathy for the eminent jurist in the arrest of his public
career which followed his decision. One would first have to establish
the fact of such a feeling in him and prove that if he had it he would
have been so careless of the jurist's name as to mistake another name
for it. These are the things that happen in fiction when the novelist
is hard driven by the exigencies of his plot, but cannot easily occur in
sober history.

I met both of these prominent men during my Columbus years, as an
improminent young fellow-citizen might, Justice Swayne rather often, and
Justice Swann once at least, in their own houses. On this sole occasion,
which dimly remains with me, I was paying one of those evening calls
which we youth were diligent in making at houses where there were young
ladies; and after due introduction to the great jurist, I was aware of
him, withdrawn and darkling in the next room, not unkindly, but not
sensibly contributing to the gaiety of the time in me. That might have
been after I was asked to a party at his house, which I was told, by a
lady versed in such mysteries, was the greatest distinction which
society had to offer in our city, and I suppose from this fact that the
popular blame for his momentous decision, even if it was of much force,
did not follow him into more rarefied air.


We young men of that time were mostly Republicans, but some of us were
Democrats and some of us were Southerners, or derivatively Southern. I
have said how little society with us was affected by New England, even
in such a custom as Thanksgiving, and I may go a little farther and say
how it was characterized for good as well as for evil by the nearer
South rather than the farther East, but more for good than for evil.
Many people of Southern origin among us had chosen a Northern home
because they would rather live in a Free State than a Slave State; they
had not cast their sectional patriotism, but when it came to a question
of which ideal should prevail, they preferred the Northern ideal. They
derived from that South which antedated the invention of the
cotton-gin, and which could take a leading part in keeping the
Northwestern Territory free, with Ohio the first Free State born of that
great mother of Free States. The younger generation of their blood were
native Ohioans, and these were not distinguishable from the children of
the New-Englanders and the Scotch-Irish Pennsylvanians by anything that
I can remember. We had already begun to be Ohioans, with an accent of
our own, and I suppose our manners were simpler and freer than those of
the East, but the American manners were then everywhere simple and free,
and are so yet, I believe, among ninety-nine hundred-thousandths of our
ninety-nine millions. It seems to me now that the manners in Columbus
were very good then among the young people. No one can say what change
the over-muchness of subsequent money may have made in them, but one
likes to think the change, if any, is not for the better. There seems to
have been greater pecuniary equality then than there is now; there was
an evener sky-line, with scarcely a sky-scraping millionaire breaking it
anywhere. Within what was recognized as society there was as much social
as pecuniary equality; apparently one met the same people everywhere on
that easily ascertained level above the people who worked for their
living with their hands. These were excluded, as they always have been
excluded from society in all times and places; so that if I had still
been a compositor at the printer's case I could not have been received
at any of the houses that welcomed me as a journalist, though that did
not occur to me then, and only just now occurs to me, as something
strange and sad; something that forever belies our democracy, but is so
fast and deep-rooted in the conditions which our plutocracy has kept
from our ancestral monarchies and oligarchies and must keep as long as
men live upon one another in the law of competition.

In one house there was more singing and playing and in another more
reading and talking. All the young ladies were beautiful, with the
supremacy of that young lady whom it was our poetry to hold so beautiful
that no other might contest it. As I believe the use still is in the
South, we called them Miss Lilly, Miss Julia, Miss Sally, Miss Fanny,
Miss Maggie, whether they were the older or the younger daughters of the
family. We were always meeting them at parties or, failing that or
including that, we went to call upon them at their houses. We called in
the evening and it was no strange thing for a young man to call every
evening of the week, not at one house, but at three or four. How, in the
swift sequence of the parties, we managed so often to find the young
ladies at home remains one of the mysteries which age must leave youth
to solve. Possibly in that sharply foreshortened perspective of the past
the parties show of closer succession than they really were.

At most of the houses we saw only the young ladies; it was they whom we
asked for; but there were other houses where the mothers of the family
received with the daughters, and at one of these my welcome was
immediately of a kindness and always of a conscience which it touches me
to realize. I was taken at the best I meant as well as the best I was by
the friend who was the exquisite spirit of the house, and made me at
home in it. My world had been very small, and it has never since been
the greatest, but I think yet, as I divined then, that she was of a
social genius which would have made her in any great-worldlier capital
the leader she was in ours, where her supremacy in that sort was no more
questioned than the incomparable loveliness of that most beautiful girl
whom every one worshiped. Her house expressed her, so that when her home
finally changed to another the new house obeyed the magic of her taste
and put on the semblance of the first, with a conservatory breathing
through it the odor of her flowers and the murmur of the dove that lived
among them: herself a flower-like and birdlike presence, delicate,
elegant, such as might have been fancied of some fine, old-world
condition in a new-world reading of it. She lived to rule socially in a
community which attested its gentleness by its allegiance to her until
she was past eighty, but when I knew her first she was too young to be
titularly accepted as their mother by her stepdaughters and was known to
them as their cousin in what must have been her own convention; but I
suppose she liked to be not less than sovereign among her equals. With
me she was not only the kindest, but the most candid of my friends; my
literary journalism and later my literature may have been to her liking,
but she never flattered me for them when, as I now know, too much praise
had made me hungry for flattery. No young man such as I was then could
have had a wiser and faithfuler friend, and I render her memory my
tribute after so many years from a gratitude which cannot be spoken.
After so many years I cannot make out whether she accepted or merely
suffered my extreme opinions in politics; though she was wholly Ohioan,
her husband's family had close affiliations with the South; but hers was
certainly a Republican house, as nearly all the houses I frequented
were. What may have made her even anticipatively my friend was our
common acceptance of the Swedenborgian philosophy, which long, long
afterward, the last time I saw her, I spoke of as a philosophy. But then
she rejected the notion with scorn; it might be a pleasant fancy, she
said, but a philosophy, no; and I perceived that she had come the way of
that agnosticism which the whole cultivated world had taken. Now I have
heard that in her last years she went back to the faith which was
perhaps more inherited than reasoned in both of us. But I am sure that
it was at first a bond and that she was conscientiously true to this
bond of a common spiritual tradition, when upon some public recognition
of my work she reminded me how according to Swedenborg every beautiful
thing we said or did was by an influx from the divine. I submitted
outwardly, but inwardly I rebelled: not that my conceit of the things I
did was so very great; I believe I thought rather modestly of myself for
doing them, and I always meant to do much better things; in fact I still
have my masterpiece before me; but, poor things as they were, I wished
to feel them wholly mine.

For a kindred reason I quite as altogether refused, and more explicitly,
the theory of my old friend, Moncure D. Conway, as to the true function
of the West in literature. He was then a young Unitarian minister,
preaching at Cincinnati an ever-widening liberalism in religion, and
publishing a slight monthly magazine named after _The Dial_ of Emerson
at Concord, and too carefully studied from it. For this paler avatar of
that transcendental messenger he had asked me for contributions, and so
a friendship, which lasted throughout our lives, sprang up between us.
When he once came to Columbus he came to lunch with me, and quite took
my appetite away by propounding his theory that the West was to live its
literature, especially its poetry, rather than write it, the East being
still in that darkling period when it could not live its literature. I
do not remember the arguments by which he supported his thesis; but
proofs as of holy writ could not have persuaded me of it as far as I
myself was concerned. My affair was to make poetry, let who would live
it, and to make myself known by both the quality and quantity of my
poetry. It is not clear to me now how I declared my position without
immodesty, but somehow I declared it, and so finally that Conway was
very willing to carry away with him for his magazine a piece of rhyme
which I had last made. He could the more willingly do this because _The
Dial_ was one of those periodicals, commoner then than now, that paid
rather in glory than in money; in fact it was not expected to pay
anything in money, so that I doubly defeated him: I was not only not
living my poetry, I was not even living by it.


The days of the years when youth is finding its way into manhood are not
those which have the most flattering memories. It is better with the
autobiographer both before and after that time, though both the earlier
and later times have much to offer that should keep him modest. But that
interval is a space of blind struggle, relieved by moments of rest and
shot with gleams of light, when the youth, if he is fortunate, gathers
some inspiration for a worthier future. His experiences are vivid and so
burnt into him that if he comes to speak of them it will require all his
art to hide from himself that he has little to remember which he would
not much rather forget. In his own behalf, or to his honor and glory, he
cannot recall the whole of his past, but if he is honest enough to
intimate some of its facts he may be able to serve a later generation.
His reminiscences even in that case must be a tissue of egotism, and he
will merit nothing from their altruistic effect.


Journalism was not my ideal, but it was my passion, and I was
passionately a journalist well after I began author. I tried to make my
newspaper work literary, to give it form and distinction, and it seems
to me that I did not always try in vain, but I had also the instinct of
actuality, of trying to make my poetry speak for its time and place. For
the most part, I really made it speak for the times and places I had
read of; but while Lowell was keeping my Heinesque verses among the
_Atlantic_ MSS. until he could make sure that they were not translations
from Heine I was working at a piece of realism which when he printed it
in the magazine our exchange newspapers lavishly reprinted. In that
ingenuous time the copyright law hung loosely upon the journalistic
consciousness and it was thought a friendly thing to reproduce whatever
pleased the editorial fancy in the periodicals which would now
frowningly forbid it, but with less wisdom than they then allowed it, as
I think. I know that as its author the currency of _The Pilot's Story_
in our exchanges gave me a joy which I tried to hide from my senior in
the next room; and I bore heroically the hurt I felt when some of the
country papers printed my long, overrunning hexameters as prose. I had
studied the verse not alone in Longfellow's "Evangeline," but in
Kingsley's "Andromeda," and Goethe's "Hermann and Dorothea," while my
story I had taken from a potentiality of our own life, and in the
tragedy of the slave girl whose master gambles her away at _monte_ on a
Mississippi steamboat, and who flings herself into the river, I was at
home with circumstance and scenery. I still do not think the thing was
ill done, though now when I read it (I do not read it often) I long to
bring it closer to the gait and speech of life. The popularity of the
piece had its pains as well as pleasures, but the sharpest anguish I
suffered was from an elocutionist who was proposing to recite it on the
platform, and who came to me with it to have me hear him read it. He did
not give it with the music of my inner sense, but I praised him as well
as I could till he came to the point where the slave girl accuses her
master with the cry of--

    "Sold me! Sold me! Sold! And you promised to give me my freedom!"

when he said, "And here I think I will introduce a shriek." "A shriek?"
I faltered. "Yes, don't you think it would fill the suspense that comes
at the last word 'Sold!'? Something like this," and he gave a screech
that made my blood run cold, not from the sensibility of the auditor,
but the agony of the author. "Oh no!" I implored him, and he really
seemed to imagine my suffering. He promised to spare me, but whether he
had the self-denial to do so I never had the courage to inquire.

In the letters to my sister which I was so often writing in those
Columbus years I find record of the constant literary strivings which
the reader shall find moving or amusing as he will. "I have sold to
Smith of the Odd Fellow's Monthly at Cincinnati that little story I read
to you early last summer. I called it 'Not a Love Story.' He gave me six
dollars for it; and he says that as soon as I have time to dress up that
translation which B. rejected he will buy that. At the rate of two
dollars a page it will bring me sixteen or eighteen dollars. 'Bobby'"--I
suppose some sketch--"is going the rounds of the country papers. The
bookseller here told our local editor that it was enough to make
anybody's reputation--that he and his family laughed prodigiously over
it.... I have the assurance that I shall succeed, but at times I tremble
lest something should happen to destroy my hopes. I think, though, that
my adversity came first, and now it is prosperity lies before me. I am
going to try a poem fit to be printed in the _Atlantic_. They pay
Fullerton twenty-five dollars a page. I can sell, now, just as much as I
will write."

It was two years yet before that poem I was trying for the _Atlantic_
was fit, and sold to the magazine for twenty-five dollars, though it was
three pages long. I was glad of the pay, but the gain was nothing to the
glory; and with the letter which Lowell wrote me about it in the pocket
next my heart, and felt for to make sure of its presence every night and
morning and throughout the day, I was of the potentiality of
immeasurable success. I should have been glad of earning more money, for
there were certain things I wished to do for those at home which I could
not do on my salary of ten dollars a week, already beginning to be
fitfully paid. Once, I find that I had not the money for the white
gloves which it seems I expected myself to wear in compliance with usage
at a certain party; and there were always questions of clothes.
Dress-coats were not requisite then and there; the young men wore
frock-coats for the evening, but I had ambitiously provided myself with
the other sort upon the example of a friend who wore his all day; I wore
mine outdoors once by day, and then presciently dedicated it to evening
calls. The women dressed beautifully, to my fond young taste; they
floated in airy hoops; they wore Spanish hats with drooping feathers in
them, and were as silken balloons walking in the streets where men were
apt to go in unblacked boots and sloven coats and trousers. The West
has, of course, brushed up since, but in that easy-going day the Western
man did not much trouble himself with new fashions or new clothes.


Whether the currency of _The Pilot's Story_ and the _Atlantic_
publication of my Heinesque poems added to my reputation in our city I
could not say. It was the belief of my senior on the newspaper that our
local recognition was enervating and that it had better go no farther,
but naturally I could not agree with a man of his greater age and
observation, and it is still a question with me whether recognition
hurts when one has done one's best. I cannot recall that I ever tried to
invite it; I hope not; but certainly I worked for it and hoped for it,
and I doubt if any like experiment was ever received with more generous
favor than ours by a community which I had reasons for knowing was
intelligent if not critical. Our paper, if I may say it, was always good
society, but after a while and inevitably it became an old story, or at
least an older story than at first, though it never quite ceased to be
good society. There remained the literary interest, the æsthetic
interest for me, after the journalistic interest had waned; there was
always the occasion, or the occasion could always be made. Passages in
those old letters home remind me that we talked long and late about _The
Marble Faun_ one night at a certain house; at another we talked about
other books from nine o'clock on, I imagine till midnight. At another
the young lady of the house "sang about a hundred songs." At still
another the girl hostess said, "You haven't asked me to sing to-night,
but I will sing," and then sang divinely half the night away, for all I
know. There was a young lady who liked German poetry, and could talk
about Goethe's lyrics; and apparently everywhere there were the talking
and the laughing and the singing which fill the world with bliss for

Perhaps I sacrifice myself in vain by my effort to impart the sense of
that past which faded so long ago; perhaps some readers will hold me
cheap for the fondness which recurs to it and lingers in it. But I
believe that I prize its memories because they seem so full of honor and
worship for the girlhood and womanhood which consecrate it in my
remembrance. Within this gross world of ours as it now is, women are
still so conditioned that they can lead the life of another and a better
world, and if they shall ever come to take their rightful share of the
government of the world as men have made it I believe they will bring
that other and better world of theirs with them and indefinitely
advance the millennium. I have the feeling of something like treason to
the men I knew in that time, when I own that I preferred the society of
women to theirs, but I console myself with the reflection that they
would probably have said the same as to mine. Our companionship could
hardly have chosen itself more to my liking. It was mainly of law
students, but there was here and there one engaged in business, who was
of a like joking and laughing with the rest. We lived together in a
picturesque edifice, Gothic and Tudor, which had been meant for a
medical college, and had begun so, and then from some financial
infirmity lapsed to a boarding-house for such young men as I knew,
though we were not without the presence of a young married pair, now and
then, and even a young lady, a teacher or the like, who made us welcome
when we ended a round of evening calls outside by calling on them from
room to room. In my boyhood days at Columbus I was sometimes hustled off
the sidewalk by the medical students coming from the College, then in
its first prosperity, and taking up the whole pavement as they swept
forward with interlinked arms. This was at noontime, when they were
scarcely less formidable than the specters which after dark swarmed from
the dissecting-room, and challenged the boy to a trial of speed in
escaping them. Now the students had long been gone from the College and
I dwelt in its precincts with such other favorites of fortune as could
afford to pay three dollars and a half a week for their board. The table
was even super-abundant, and the lodging was almost flatteringly
comfortable after experience of other places. I can only conjecture that
the rooms we inhabited had been meant for the students or professors
when the College was still a medical college. They were large, and to my
untutored eye, at least, were handsome, and romantically lighted by
windows of that blend of Tudor and Gothic which I have mentioned, but
their architecture showed more on the outside than on the inside, and of
course the pinnacles and towers of the edifice were more accessible to
the eye without. It was the distinction of people who wished to be known
for a correct taste to laugh at the architecture of the College, and
perhaps they do so still, but I was never of these. For me it had, and
it has, a charm which I think must have come from something like genius,
if not quite genius, in the architect, to whose daring I would like to
offer this belated praise. At any rate it was the abode of entire
satisfaction to me in those happy years between 1857 and 1860 when I
could not have wished other companionship than I had there.

There could have been no gayer table than we kept, where we made the
most of one another's jokes, and were richly personal in them, as youth
always is. The management was of the simplest, but not incompatible with
dignity, for the landlord waited upon the table himself, and whoever the
cook might be, the place was otherwise in the sole charge of an elderly
maid, with a curious defect of speech, which kept her from answering,
immediately or ultimately, any question or remark addressed to her. We
valued her for this impediment because of the pathetic legend attaching
to it, and we did not value her the less, but the more, because she was
tall and lank and uncouth of face and figure, though of a beauty in her
absolute faithfulness to her duties and the kindness beyond them which
she always showed. The legend was that in her younger if not fairer time
she had been married, and when one day her husband, suddenly killed in
an accident, was brought home to her, she tried to speak, but could not
speak, and then ever afterward could only speak after great stress, and
must often fall dumb, and go away without speaking.

[Illustration: _The Medical College at Columbus. Mr. Howells had a room
in the third story above the main entrance_]

I do not know whether we really believed in this or not, but we behaved
as if we did, and revered the silent heroine of the tragedy as if it
were unquestionably true. What kept me from trying to make it into a
poem I cannot say, but I would like to think it was that I felt it above
rather than below the verse of even the poet I meant to be. How many
rooms she had charge of I could as little say, but I am certain that
there were two of us young men in each of them. My own room-mate was a
poet, even more actual than myself, though not meaning so much as I to
be always a poet; he was reading law, and he meant to practise it, but
he had contributed two poems to the _Atlantic Monthly_ before any of
mine had been printed there. This might have been a cause of bitterness
with me; his work was certainly good enough to be a cause of bitterness,
and perhaps I was not jealous because I felt that it would be useless; I
should like to believe I was not even jealous of him for being so
largely in society before I was. Later, when we came in from our evening
calls, we sometimes read to each other, out of what books I could not
say now, but probably some poet's; certainly not our own verse: he was
too wise for that and I too shy.

He was then reading law, and sometime in my middle years at Columbus he
left us to begin his law practice farther West. In noticing his
departure as a friendly journalist should I obeyed his wish not to speak
of him as a poet; that, he said, would injure him with his new public;
but whether it would or not I am not sure; the Western community is
sometimes curiously romantic, and does not undervalue a man for being
out of the common in that way. What really happened with him was that,
being of a missionary family and of a clerical tradition, he left the
law in no great time and studied divinity. It was a whole generation
afterward before I saw him again; and now his yellow hair and auburn
beard of the early days were all one white, but his gentle eyes were of
the old hazel, undimmed by the age that was creeping upon us both. He
had followed me with generous remembrance and just criticism in my
fiction; and again he made me a sort of professional reproach for
dealing in my novels (notably in _A Modern Instance_) with ethical
questions best left to the church, he thought. I thought he was wrong,
but I am not sure that I so strenuously think so now; fiction has to
tell a tale as well as evolve a moral, and either the character or the
principle must suffer in that adjustment which life alone can
effectively manage. I do not say ideally manage, for many of the
adjustments of life seem to me cruel and mistaken. If it is in these
cases that religion can best intervene, I suppose my old friend was
right; at any rate, he knows now better than I, for he is where there is
no manner of doubt, and I am still where there is every manner of doubt.

I believe, in the clerical foreshadowing of his future, perhaps, he was
never of those wilder moments of our young companionship when we roamed
the night under the summer moon, or when we forgathered around the table
in a booth at the chief restaurant, and over a spirit-lamp stewed the
oysters larger and more delicious than any to be found now in the sea;
or when, in the quarter-hours of digestion which we allowed ourselves
after our one-o'clock dinner we stretched ourselves on the grass, often
sunburnt brown, before the College and laughed the time away at anything
which pretended itself a joke.

We collegians were mostly Republicans as most of the people we knew
were. A few young men in society were not, but they were not of our
companionship, though we met them at the houses we frequented, and did
not think the worse of them for being Democrats. In fact, there was no
political rancor outside of the newspapers, and that was tempered with
jocosity. Slavery had been since the beginning of the nation, the
heritage of the states from the colonies, and it had been accepted as
part of the order of things. We supposed that sometime, somehow, we
should be rid of it, but we were not sanguine that it would be soon; and
with so many things of pressing interest, the daily cares, the daily
pleasures, the new books, the singing and laughing and talking in the
pleasant houses, I could leave the question of slavery in abeyance,
except as a matter of paragraphing. There had been as many warnings of
calamity to come as ever a people had. There had been the breaking of
solemn promises from the South to the North; there had been the bloody
fights between the sections in Kansas and the treacheries of the
national government; there had been the quarrels and insults and
violences in Congress; there had been the arrests and rescues of
fugitive slaves; there had been the growth of hostile opinion, on one
side fierce and on the other hard, maturing on both sides in open hate.
There had been all these portents, and yet when the bolt burst from the
stormy sky and fell at Harper's Ferry we were as utterly amazed as if it
had fallen from a heaven all blue.


Only those who lived in that time can know the feeling which filled the
hearts of those who beheld in John Brown the agent of the divine purpose
of destroying slavery. Men are no longer so sure of God's hand in their
affairs as they once were, but I think we are surer that He does not
authorize evil that good may come, and that we can well believe the
murders which Brown did as an act of war in Kansas had not His
sanction. In the mad skurry which followed the incident of Harper's
Ferry in 1859 some things were easily shuffled out of sight. Probably
very few of those who applauded or palliated Brown's attempt knew that
he had taken men from their wives and children and made his partisans
chop them down that their death might strike terror into the pro-slavery
invaders, while he forbore from some strange policy to slaughter them
with his own hand. His record was not searched to this dreadful fact in
my knowledge, either by the Democrats who tried to inculpate the
Republicans for his invasion of Virginia or by the Republicans who more
or less disowned him. What his best friends could say and what most of
them believed, was that he had been maddened by the murder of his sons
in Kansas, and that his wild attempt was traceable to the wrongs he had
suffered. His own dignity as he lay wounded and captive in the
engine-house at Harper's Ferry, where the volunteer counsel for the
prosecution flocked upon him from every quarter, and questioned him and
cross-questioned him, did the rest, and a sort of cult grew up which
venerated him before his death. I myself was of that cult, as certain
fervent verses would testify if I here refused to do so. They were not
such very bad verses, as verses, though they were technically faulty in
places, but in the light which Mr. Oswald Villard's history of John
Brown has finally cast upon that lurid passage of his life I perceive
that they were mistaken. He was not bloodier than most heroes, but he
was not a martyr, except as he was willing to sacrifice himself along
with others for a holy cause, and he was a saint only of the Old
Testament sort of Samuel who hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord. But
from first to last he was of the inevitable, and the Virginians could no
more have saved themselves from putting him to death than he could have
saved himself from venturing his life to free their slaves. Out of that
business it seems to me now that they came with greater honor than their
Northern friends and allies. The South has enough wrongs against the
negroes to answer for in the past and in the present, but we cannot lay
wholly to its charge the fate of the slave's champion; he was of the
make of its own sons in his appeal to violence, and apparently the South
understood him better than the North. There was then no evil too great
for us to think or say of the Virginians, and yet after they could free
him from the politicians, mainly Northern, who infested him in the first
days of his captivity, to make political capital or newspaper copy out
of him, the Virginians tried him fairly, as those unfair things called
trials go, and they remained with a sort of respect for him which
probably puzzled them. Long after, twenty-five years after, when I was
in an ancient Virginia capital it was my privilege to meet some of
Governor Wise's family; and I noted in them this sort of retrospective
respect for Brown; they were now of Republican politics, and I found
that I was not nearly Black Republican enough for them. But in the
closing months of the year 1859 there was no man so abhorred and
execrated by the so-called Black Republicans as Governor Wise.

Without going to the files of our own newspaper I cannot now say just
how we treated the Harper's Ferry incident from first to last, but I am
safe in saying that it was according to the temperament of each writer.
Our chief, who wrote very well when he could detach his interest from
the practical politics so absorbing in the capital of a state like Ohio,
may have struck the key-note of our opinion in an able leader, and then
left each of us to follow with such music as responded in us. My vague
remembrance of the result is the daily succession of most penetrating,
most amusing comments from my senior. The event offered him the
opportunity of his life for that cold irony he excelled in and which he
knew how to use so effectively in behalf of a good cause; I do not
believe it was ever employed in a bad one. The main contribution to the
literature of the event from his junior that I can distinctly recall was
that ode or that hymn to John Brown, for which I cannot yet be ashamed
or sorry, however I must rue the facts that have forever spoilt my
rapture in it. I have the sense of a pretty constant passing from the
room where I was studying the exchanges for material, and trying to get
my senior's laugh for something I had written, or staying for him to
read me the article he had just begun or finished. It was a great time,
though it was a dreadful time, so thick with forecast, if we had only
known it, of the dreadfuler time to follow.

While I have been saying this I have been trying to think how much or
little our community was shaken by an event that shows so tremendous in
the retrospect, and it seems to me little rather than much. People knew
the event was tremendous, but so had the battles in Kansas been, and so
had the attack on Sumner in the Senate Chamber, and so had the arrests
and rescues of the fugitive slaves. They were of the same texture, the
same web which fate was weaving about us and holding us faster, hour by
hour and day by day while we felt ourselves as free as ever. There must
have been talk pretty constant at first, but dying away without having
really been violent talk, among people who differed most about it. What
I think is that most people were perhaps bewildered, and that waiting in
their daze they did not say so much as people would now imagine their
saying. Or it may be that my memory of the effect is a blur of so many
impressions that it is impossible to detach any from the mass; but I do
not think this probable. The fact probably is that people did not
realize what had happened because they could not, because their long
experience of enmity between the South and North had dulled them too
much for a true sense of what had happened.

But I wrote home to my father my disappointment that his paper had not
had something "violent" about the John Brown raid. My head, which
abstractly passionate and concretely descriptive rhymes had once had
wholly to themselves, was now filled with John Brown when it could be
relieved of a news-editor's duty; I thought of him and him only, except
when I was making those perpetual calls at those pleasant houses where
the young ladies were singing or talking every night. I got some
consolation from one of the delightful German editors whom I seemed to
know in those days. He was a '48 man, and he carried in his leg a ball
which some soldier of the king had planted there one day when my friend
stood behind a barricade in Berlin. He told me, as I read in one of my
old letters home, that he had been teaching his children the stories of
Schiller, the good poet of freedom, of Robert Blum, the martyr of
liberty, and of our John Brown. He says, "My liddle girl, ven I deached
dem to her, she veeped."

But I cannot recall having spoken of Brown with my friend Dr. S., whom I
was so apt to speak with of the changing aspects of the slavery
question, though I remember very well his coldness to my enthusiasm for
the young English poet, Richard Realf, who was so grotesquely Secretary
of State in the Republic Brown had dreamed out, but who had passed from
Canada with his department before the incident at Harper's Ferry, and
was in Texas at the time of it and of the immediately ensuing events.
What affair of state brought him to Columbus after the death of his
leader and comrades I did not understand, and I cannot understand yet
how he could safely be there within easy reach of any United States
marshal, but he was, no doubt, much safer there than in Texas, and he
stayed some days, mainly talking with me about himself as a poet rather
than as a Secretary of State. He interested me, indeed, much more as a
poet, for I already knew him as the author of some Kansas war lyrics,
which I am not sure I should admire so much now as I did then. He was a
charming youth, perhaps my senior by two years, and so about
twenty-four, gentle mannered, sweet voiced, well dressed, and girlishly
beautiful. I knew, as he was prompt and willing to tell me again, that
he had been a protégé of Lady Byron's, and that while in her house he
had fallen in love with a young kinswoman of hers, and was forced to
leave it, for with all his gifts he was the son of an agricultural
laborer, and for that reason no desirable match. Yet Lady Byron seemed
to have remained fond of him; she had helped him to publish a volume of
verse which he had called _Guesses at the Beautiful_ (I envied him the
title), and at parting she had given him a watch for a keepsake and
money to bring him to America. He showed me the watch, and I dare say
the volume of poems, but I am not sure as to this, and I vouch for no
particular of his story, which may very well have been wholly true. In
the long walks and long talks we had together, when he cared more to
speak of his literary than his military life, I cannot make out that he
expected to help further in any attack upon the South. Apparently he
shared the bewilderment which every one was in, but he did not seem to
be afraid or anxious for himself as part of the scheme that had so
bloodily failed. He was not keeping himself secret, and he went on to
Canada as safely as he had come from Texas, if indeed he went to
Canada. While he was briefly with us a hapless girl, of those whom
there is no hope for in this life, killed herself, and Realf went to the
wicked house where she lay dead, out of some useless pathos, since she
_was_ dead. I reported the fact to my friend Dr. S. with a faltering
tendency, I am afraid, to admire Realf for it, and the doctor said,
coldly, Yes, he had better kept away; his motive had already been
scandalously construed. It was this world speaking at its best and
wisest, but I am not sure that it altogether persuaded me.


Realf's stay in Columbus must have been in that time of abeyance between
Brown's capture and his death; but it must have been after the hanging
at Charlestown that one night I was a particle of the crowd which seemed
to fill the State House yard on its western front, dimly listening to
the man whose figure was a blur against the pale stone. I knew that this
man was that Abraham Lincoln who had met Stephen A. Douglas in the
famous Illinois debates, and who was now on his way home to Illinois
from his recognition in the East as a man of national importance. I
could not well hear what he said, and I did not stay long; if I had
heard perfectly, I might not, with my small pleasure in public speaking,
have stayed long; and of that incident, and of the man whom history had
already taken into her keeping, and tragedy was waiting to devote to
eternal remembrance, I have only the vision of his figure against the
pale stone, and the black crowd spread vaguely before him. Later I had a
fuller sense of his historic quality, but still so slight, when he stood
on the great stairway within the State House and received the
never-ending crowd which pushed upward, man and woman after man and
woman, and took his hand, and tried to say something as fit as it was
fond. That would have been when he was on the journey, which became a
flight, to his inauguration as President at Washington. He had been
elected President, and the North felt safe in his keeping, though the
dangers that threatened the nation had only gathered denser upon it, and
the strange anomaly which called itself the government had been
constantly betraying itself to the hostility within it and without.

The people who pushed upward to seize the great hand held out to every
one looked mostly like the country folk such as he had been of, and the
best of him always was, and I could hear their hoarse or cracked voices
as they hailed him, oftenest in affectionate joking, sometimes in
fervent blessing; but for anything I could make out he answered nothing.
He stood passive, submissive, with the harsh lines of his lower face set
immovably, and his thick-lashed eyes sad above them, while he took the
hands held up to him one after another, and shook them wearily, wearily.
It was a warm day such as in late February, or earliest March, brings
the summer up to southern Ohio before its time, and brings the birds
with it for the delusion of a week or a fortnight; and as we walked out,
my companion and I, we left a sweltering crowd within the State House,
and, straying slowly homeward, suffered under a sun as hot as June's.


I do not say July's sun or August's, because I wish my reader to believe
me, and any one who has known the July or August, or the September even,
of southern Ohio has known something worse than tropical heat, if
travelers tell the truth of the tropics; and no one could believe me if
I said such heat ever came in February or March. There were whole
fortnights of unbroken summer heat in Columbus, when the night scarcely
brought relief from the day, and the swarming fly ceded, as Dante says,
only to the swarming mosquito. Few people, even of those who might have
gone, went away; none went away for the season, as the use is now,
though it is still much more the use in the East than in the West. There
were excursions to the northern lakes or to Niagara and down the St.
Lawrence; there were even brief intervals of resort to Cape May; but the
custom was for people to stay at home, to wear the thinnest clothes, and
drink cooling drinks, and use fans, and try to sleep under
mosquito-bars, after sitting out on the front steps. That was where
calls were oftenest paid and received, and as long as one was young the
talk did not languish, though how one did when one was old, that is,
thirty or forty, or along there, we who were young could not have
imagined. There was no sea or any great water to send its cooling breath
over the land which stretched from the Ohio River to Lake Erie with
scarcely a heave of its vast level. We had not even the satisfaction of
knowing that we were suffering from a heat-wave; the notion had not been
invented by quarter of a century yet; we suffered ignorantly on and on,
and did not intermit our occupations or our pleasures; some of us did
not even carry umbrellas against the sun; these we reserved for the rain
which could alone save us, for a few hours in a sudden dash, or for a
day in the storm that washed the air clean of its heat.

The deluging which our streets got from these tempests was the only
cleaning which I can recollect seeing them given. There was indeed a
chain-gang which intermittently hoed about in the gutters, but could not
be said to clean them, while it remained the opprobrium of our
civilization. It was made up mostly of negroes, but there were some
drink-sodden whites who dragged a lengthening chain over the dust or
hung the heavy ball which each wore over the hollows of their arms when
urged to more rapid movement. Once I saw, with a peculiar sense of our
common infamy in the sight, a quite well-dressed young man, shackled
with the rest and hiding his face as best he could with eyes fastened on
the ground as he scraped it. Somehow it was told me that he had been
unjustly sentenced to this penalty, and the vision of his tragedy
remains with me yet, as if I had acted his part in it. I dare say it was
not an uncommon experience by which when I used to see some dreadful
thing, or something disgracefully foolish, I became the chief actor in
the spectacle; at least I am certain that I suffered with that hapless
wretch as cruelly as if I had been in his place. Perhaps we are always
meant to put ourselves in the place of those who are put, or who put
themselves, to shame.

Municipal hygiene was then in its infantile, if not in its embryonic
stage, and if there was any system of drainage in Columbus it must have
been surface drainage, such as I saw in Baltimore twenty-five years
later. After the rain the sun would begin again its daily round from
east to west in a cloudless sky where by night the moon seemed to
reflect its heat as well as its light. They must still have such summers
in Columbus, and no doubt the greatest part of the people fight or faint
through them as they do in our cities everywhere, but in those summers
even the good people, people good in the social sense, remained, and not
merely the bad people who justly endured hardship because of their
poverty. I had become accustomed to the more temperate climate of the
Lake Shore, and I felt the heat as something like a personal grievance,
but not the less I kept at work and kept at play like the rest. Once
only I was offered the chance of escape for a few days (it was in the
John Brown year of 1859) when I was commissioned to celebrate the
attractions of a summer resort which had been opened a few hours away
from the capital. I had heard much talk of the coolness of White
Sulphur, as it was called, and I expected much more than I had heard,
but I now got much more than I had expected.

There must have been a break in the heat when at some unearthly hour of
the July morning I had taken the train which would leave me at White
Sulphur, but in the sleep which youth can almost always fall into I was
not sensible of it. I say fell into, but I slept upright as one did on
the trains in those times, and when my train stopped at the station
which as yet made no sign of being a station I stumbled down the car
steps to a world white with frost in the July morning. My foot slid over
the new planking of the platform as on ice, and on the way up to the new
hotel the fences bristled with the glacial particles which bearded the
limbs of the wayside trees, and the stubble of the wheat and fields, and
the blades of the corn, and sparkled in the red of the early sun which
was rising to complete the devastation. I was in those thinnest summer
linens, with no provision of change against such an incredible caprice
of the weather, and when I reached the hotel there was no fire I could
go to from the fresh, clean, thrillingly cold chamber, with its white
walls and green lattice door, which I was shown into. No detail of the
time remains with me except what now seems to have been my day-long
effort to keep warm by playing nine-pins with a Cincinnati journalist,
much my senior, but as helpless as myself against the cold. There must
have been breakfast and dinner and supper, with their momentary heat,
but when I went to bed I found only the lightest summer provision of
sheet and coverlet, and I was too meek to ask for blankets.


What account I gave of the experience in print I cannot say after the
lapse of fifty-seven years, but no doubt I tried to make merry over it,
with endeavor for the picturesque and dramatic. Through the whole of a
life which I do not complain of for lasting so long, though I do not
like being old, I have found that in my experiences, where everything
was novel, some of the worst things were the things I would not have
missed. It had not been strictly in the line of my duty as news editor
to make that excursion, but I dare say I did it gladly, for the reasons
suggested. There were other reasons which were to make themselves
apparent during the year: on my salary of ten dollars a week I could not
afford to be very punctilious; and if I was suffered to stray into the
leading columns of the editorial page I could not stand upon the dignity
of the news editor if I was now and then invited to do a reporter's
work. Besides, there were tremors of insecurity in my position, such as
came from the bookkeeper's difficulty in sometimes finding the money for
my weekly wage, which might well have alarmed me for the continued
working of the economic machine. Like every man who depends upon the
will or power of another man to give him work, I served a master, and
though I served the kindest master in the world, I could not help
sharing his risks. It appeared that our newspaper had not been
re-established upon a foundation so firm but that it needed new capital
to prop it, after something over a year, and then a business change took
place which left me out. I was not altogether sorry, for about the same
time my senior resigned and went to Cincinnati to cast in his fortunes
as joint owner and editor with another paper. Without him, though I
should have fearlessly undertaken the entire conduct of our journal, I
should not have felt so much at home in it, for I did not know then, as
I have learned and said long since, that a strong writer, when he leaves
a newspaper, leaves a subtle force behind him which keeps him
indefinitely present in it. But there was no question of my staying, and
though my chief's wish to have me stay almost made it seem as if I were
staying, I had to go, and I had to leave him my debtor in two hundred
dollars. I hasten to say that the debt was fully paid in no very long
time, but it seems to me that the world was managed much less on a cash
basis in those days than in these; people did not expect to be paid
their money as soon as they had earned it; the economic machine creaked
and wabbled oftener, and had to be sprinkled with cool patience when the
joints worked dry of oil. This may be my fancy, partly built from the
fact that my father in his life of hard work was nearly lifelong in
debt, while others lived and died as many dollars in debt to him.

It must have been before this humiliating event, which I cannot exactly
date, that I was asked to deliver the poem before the Ohio Editorial
Convention which used annually to grace its meeting with some expression
in verse. There must have been an opening prayer and an address, but I
remember neither of these, and I should not be able to remember my poem,
or any part of it, if it had not afterward been printed in our
newspaper, from which the kindness of a friend has rescued it for me. I
have just read it over, not wholly with contempt, but not without
compassion for those other editors who listened to it and could have
followed its proud vaticinations but darkly. It appears that I then
trusted the promises of a journalistic future which have not all been
kept as yet, and that I cast my prophecies in a form and mood which I
might have accused Tennyson of imitating if he had not been first with
his "In Memoriam."

    The Men that make the vanished past
      So brave, the present time so base,
      And people, with their glorious race,
    The golden future, far and vast!--

    All ages have been dark to these,
      The true Knights Errant! who have done
      Their high achievements not alone
    In the remoter centuries;

    But ever to their dawn's dim eye,
      Blinded with night-long sorcery,
      Warring with Shadows seemed to be,--
    In victory, seemed to fall and die!

    Noons glowed. The poet held each name
      In hushless music to the ear--
      Low for the thinking few to hear,
    Loud for the noisy world's acclaim;

    And pondering, one that turns the page
      Whereon their story hath been writ,
      Gathers a purer lore from it,
    Than all the wisdom of the sage;--

    A simple lore of trust and faith
      For Life's fierce days of dust and heat,--
      To keep the heart of boyhood sweet
    Through every passion, unto death--

    To love and reverence his time,
      Not for its surface-growth of weeds,
      But for its goodly buried seeds,--
    To hope, and weave a hopeful rhyme!

The vision does not seem very clear even to me, now, and I suppose not
many of those kind, hard-working country printers and busy city
journalists recognized themselves in my forecast of the coming newspaper
man. Yet I think there is something in the glowing fancy which is here
reflected only in part, and I believe some graduate of our university
courses of journalism may possibly do worse than keep my fond dream in
mind. In this case, the yawning counting-room may not so soon engulf his
high intentions, and, keeping clear of that shining sepulcher of noble
ideals for a while, he may thank me for my over-generous faith in him.

No one that I can recall specifically thanked me at the time of that
editorial convention, though no doubt the usual resolutions thanking the
orator and poet were passed. I should be glad to believe that at the
ball which crowned our festival some kind woman-soul may have tried to
feign a pleasure in my verse which no man-soul attempted; but I have
only the memory of my fearful joy in the dance which I seem to have led.
I went back to Columbus with such heart as I could, but in the dense
foreshortening of the time's events I cannot find that of my own
unhorsing from the shining procession of journalists figured in my poem.
I can only be sure that I _was_ unhorsed, and then suddenly, to my great
joy and even greater surprise, was caught up and given a new mount, with
even larger pay. That is, I was now invited to become professional
reader for the young publisher who had issued the _Poems of Two
Friends_, and who, apparently inspired by the signal failure of that
book, imagined establishing a general publishing business in our
capital. He followed it with several very creditable books, and he seems
to have had the offer of many more manuscripts than he could handle. I
have no doubt I dealt faithfully with these, and I know that he confided
entirely in my judgment, for I was now twenty-three, without a doubt of
my own as to my competence. There was one manuscript, offered by a lady
who had lived some years in Chile, which I thought so interesting,
though so formless, that I wrote it quite over, and my friend published
it in a book which I should like to read again; but I have no hope of
ever seeing it. He also published a very good Ohio version of Gautier's
_Romance of a Mummy_, but our bravest venture was a book which the
publisher himself had fancied doing, and which he had fancied my
writing. This was the life of Abraham Lincoln, printed with his speeches
in the same volume with the life and speeches of Hannibal Hamlin, who
was nominated with him on the Presidential ticket at the Republican
Convention in 1860. It was the expectation of my friend, the very just
and reasonable expectation, that I should go to Springfield, Illinois,
and gather the material for the work from Lincoln himself, and from his
friends and neighbors. But this part of the project was distasteful to
me, was impossible; I felt that there was nothing of the interviewer in
me, at a time when the interviewer was not yet known by name even to
himself. Not the most prophetic soul of the time, not the wisest
observer of events, could have divined my loss; and I was no seer. I
would not go, and I missed the greatest chance of my life in its kind,
though I am not sure I was wholly wrong, for I might not have been equal
to that chance; I might not have seemed to the man whom I would not go
to see, the person to report him to the world in a campaign life. What
we did was to commission a young law student of those I knew, to go to
Springfield and get the material for me. When he brought it back, a
sheaf of very admirable notes, but by no means great in quantity, I felt
the charm of the material; the wild poetry of its reality was not
unknown to me; I was at home with it, for I had known the belated
backwoods of a certain region in Ohio; I had almost lived the pioneer
life; and I wrote the little book with none of the reluctance I felt
from studying its sources. I will not pretend that I had any prescience
of the greatness, the tragical immortality, that underlay the few
simple, mostly humble, facts brought to my hand. Those who see that
unique historic figure in the retrospect will easily blame my youthful
blindness, but those who only knew his life before he overtopped all the
history of his time will not be so ready to censure me for my want of
forecast. As it was, I felt the inadequacy of my work, and I regretted
it in the preface which owned its hasty performance.

There were several campaign lives of Lincoln which must have seemed
better than mine to him; I cannot care now how it seemed to others; but
what he thought of it I never knew. Within a few years I have heard that
he annotated a copy of it, and that this copy is still somewhere extant
in the West; but I am not certain that I should like to see it, much as
my curiosity is concerning it. He might, he must, have said some things
which could not console me for missing that great chance of my life when
I was too young to know it. I saw him twice in Columbus, as I have told
here already, and once in Washington, as I have told elsewhere. That was
when I came from the office of his private secretaries at the White
House, secure of my appointment as Consul at Venice, and lingered
wistfully as he crossed my way through the corridor. Within no very long
time past my old friend Piatt (he of the _Poems of Two Friends_) has
told me that Lincoln then meant me to speak to him, as I might very
fitly have done, in thanking him for my appointment, and that he had
followed me out from the secretaries' room to let me do so. He might
have had some faint promptings of curiosity concerning the queer youth
who had written that life of him from material which he would not come
to him for in person. But without doubting my friend, I doubt the fact;
neither Hay nor Nicolay ever mentioned the matter to me in our many
talks of Lincoln; and I cannot flatter myself that I missed another
greatest chance of my life. Rather, I imagine that he did not know who I
was, or could in the least care, under the burdens which then weighed
upon him. He might have suspected me an office-seeker without the
courage to approach him instead of the office-seeker whose hopes he had,
very likely without vividly realizing it, crowned with joy. I blame
myself for not speaking to him, of course, as I blame myself for not
having gone to him instead of sending to him for the facts of his past;
in any event, with my literary sense, I must have valued those facts;
but if Lincoln had not been elected in 1860 he would not have been
nominated again; and in that case should I now be reproaching myself so


Another fame so akin to Lincoln's in tragedy, and most worthy of mention
in the story of his great time, is that of a state senator of ours in
the legislative session of 1860. James A. Garfield, of whose coming to
read Tennyson to us one morning in the _Journal_ office I have told in
_My Literary Passions_, was then a very handsome young man of thirty,
with a full-bearded handsome face, and a rich voice suited to reading
"The Poet" in a way to win even reluctant editors from their work to
listen. It is strange that I should have no recollection of meeting
Garfield again in Columbus, or anywhere, indeed, until nearly ten years
later, when I stopped with my father over a night at his house in Hiram,
Ohio, where we found him at home from Congress for the summer. I was
then living in Cambridge, in the fullness of my content with my literary
circumstance, and as we were sitting with the Garfield family on the
veranda that overlooked their lawn I was beginning to speak of the
famous poets I knew when Garfield stopped me with "Just a minute!" He
ran down into the grassy space, first to one fence and then to the other
at the sides, and waved a wild arm of invitation to the neighbors who
were also sitting on their back porches. "Come over here!" he shouted.
"He's telling about Holmes, and Longfellow, and Lowell, and Whittier!"
and at his bidding dim forms began to mount the fences and follow him up
to his veranda. "Now go on!" he called to me, when we were all seated,
and I went on, while the whippoorwills whirred and whistled round, and
the hours drew toward midnight. The neighbors must have been professors
in the Eclectic Institute of Hiram where Garfield himself had once
taught the ancient languages and literature; and I do not see how a
sweeter homage could have been paid to the great renowns I was chanting
so eagerly, and I still think it a pity my poets could not have somehow
eavesdropped that beautiful devotion. Under the spell of those
inarticulate voices the talk sank away from letters and the men of them
and began to be the expression of intimate and mystical experience; and
I remember Garfield's telling how in the cool of a summer evening, such
as this night had deepened from, he came with his command into a valley
of the Kanawha; for he had quickly turned from laws to arms, and this
was in the beginning of the great war. He said that he noticed a number
of men lying on the dewy meadow in different shapes of sleep, and for an
instant, in the inveterate association of peace, he thought they were
resting there after the fatigue of a long day's march. Suddenly it broke
upon him that they were dead, and that they had been killed in the
skirmish which had left the Unionist force victors. Then, he said, at
the sight of these dead men whom other men had killed, something went
out of him, the habit of his lifetime, that never came back again: the
sense of the sacredness of life, and the impossibility of destroying it.
He let a silence follow on his solemn words, and in the leading of his
confession he went on to say how the sense of the sacredness of other
things of peace had gone out of some of the soldiers and never come back
again. What was not their own could be made their own by the act of
taking it; and he said we would all be surprised to know how often the
property of others had been treated after the war as if it were the
property of public enemies by the simple-hearted fellows who had carried
the use of war in the enemy's country back into their own. "You would be
surprised," he ended, "to know how many of those old soldiers, who
fought bravely and lived according to the traditions of military
necessity, are now in the penitentiary for horse-stealing."

Once again I memorably met Garfield in my father's house in Ashtabula
County (the strong heart of his most Republican Congressional district)
where he had come to see me about some passages in Lamon's _Life of
Lincoln_, which was then in the hands of my Boston publishers, withheld
in their doubt of the wisdom or propriety of including them. I think
Garfield was then somewhat tempted by the dramatic effect these passages
would have with the public, but he was not strenuous about it, and he
yielded whatever authority he might have had in the matter to the
misgiving of the publishers; in fact, I do not believe that if it had
been left to him altogether he would have advised their appearance. I
met him for the last time in 1879 (when my wife and I were for a week
the guests of President Hayes), as he was coming, with Mrs. Garfield on
his arm, from calling upon us at the White House. He stopped me and
said, "I was thinking how much like your father you carried yourself,"
and I knew that he spoke from the affection which had been many years
between them. I was yet too young to feel the resemblance, but how often
in my later years I have felt and seen it! As we draw nearer to the door
between this world and the next it is as if those who went before us
returned to us out of it to claim us part of them.


I never had any report of the book's sales, but I believe my _Life of
Lincoln_ sold very well in the West, though in the East it was
forestalled by the books of writers better known. In the quiet which
followed with a business which is always tending to quiescence (if the
mood of the trade when discouraging authors may be trusted) my young
publisher suggested my taking one hundred and seventy-five dollars of my
money, and going to Canada and New England and New York on a sort of
roving commission for another work he had imagined. It was to be a
subscription book reporting the state and describing the operation of
the principal manufacturing industries, and he thought it an enterprise
peculiarly suited to my powers. I did not think so, but I was eager to
see the world, especially the world of Boston, and I gladly took my
hundred and seventy-five dollars and started, intending to do my best
for the enterprise, though inwardly abhorring it. The best I could do
was to try seeing the inner working of an iron foundry in Portland,
where I was suspected of designs upon the proprietorial processes and
refused admission; and I made no attempt to surprise the secrets of
other manufacturers. But I saw Niagara Falls, which did not withhold its
glories from me in fear of the publicity which I gave them in my letters
to the Cincinnati _Gazette_; and I saw the St. Lawrence River and
Montreal and Quebec, with the _habitant_ villages round about them. I
also saw the ocean at Portland (not so jealous of its mysteries as the
iron foundry); I saw Boston and Cambridge, and Lowell and Holmes, and
their publisher, Fields; I saw New York and Walt Whitman, and the Hudson
River. This has been fully told in my _Literary Friends and
Acquaintance_, and need not be told again here; but what may be
fittingly set down is that when I arrived home in Columbus I found the
publishing business still quieter than I had left it, and my friend with
no enterprise in hand which I could help him bring to a successful or
even unsuccessful issue. In fact he had nothing for me to do in that
hour of mounting political excitement, and this did not surprise me.
Neither did it surprise me that my old chief of the _State Journal_
should ask me to rejoin him, though it did greatly rejoice me. He was
yet in that kind illusion of his that he was working too hard on the
paper; he expressed his fear that in the demand made upon his time by
public affairs he should not be able to give it the attention he would
like, and he proposed that I should return to a wider field in it, on an
increased wage; he also intimated that he should now be able to bring up
my arrears of salary, and he quite presently did so.

Again I was at the work which I was always so happy in, and I found
myself associated in it on equal terms with a man much nearer my own age
than my former associate Reed was. My new fellow-journalist had come to
our chief from his own region in northwestern Ohio; I do not know but
from his old newspaper there. I cannot write the name of Samuel Price
without emotion, so much did I rejoice in our relation to the paper and
each other, with its daily incident and bizarre excitement throughout
the year we were together. I like to bring his looks before me; his
long face with its deep, vertical lines beside the mouth, his black hair
and eyes and smoky complexion; his air very grave mostly, but with an
eager readiness to break into laughter. It seems to me now that our
functions were not very sharply distinguished, though I must have had
charge as before of the literary side of the work. We both wrote leading
editorials, which our chief supervised and censored for a while and then
let go as we wrote them, perhaps finding no great mischief in them. Reed
remained the tradition of the office, and if I had formed myself
somewhat on his mood and manner, Price now formed himself on mine; and
somehow we carried the paper through the year without dishonor or

It was that year so memorable to me for having five poems published in
the _Atlantic Monthly_, two of them in the same number, and I must have
been strongly confirmed in my purpose of being a poet. Of course I knew
too much of the world, and the literary world, to imagine that I could
at once make a living by poetry, but I probably expected to live by some
other work until my volumes of poetry should accumulate in sufficient
number and sell in sufficient quantity to support me without the aid of
prose. As yet I had no expectation of writing fiction; I had not
recovered from the all-but-mortal blow dealt my hopes in the failure of
that story which I had begun printing in my father's newspaper before I
had imagined an ending for it, though I must for several years have been
working in stolen moments at another story of village life, which I
vainly offered to the _Atlantic Monthly_ and the _Knickerbocker
Magazine_, and after that for many years tried to get some publisher to
bring out as a book. The manuscript must still somewhere exist, and I
should not be surprised, if I ever found it, to find myself respecting
it for a certain helpless reality in its dealing with the conditions I
knew best when I began writing it. But it was still to be nearly ten
years before I tried anything else of the sort, and even in _Their
Wedding Journey_, which was my next attempt, I helped myself out with
travel-adventure in carrying forward a slender thread of narrative.
Every now and then, however, I wrote some sketch or study, which I
printed in our newspaper, where also I printed pieces of verse, too
careless or too slight to be hopefully offered for publication in the


I was not only again at congenial work, but I was in the place that I
loved best in the world, though as well as I can now visualize the town
which had so great charm for me then I can find little beauty in it.
High Street was the only street of commerce except for a few shops that
had strayed down from it into Town Street, and the buildings which
housed the commerce were not impressive, and certainly not beautiful. A
few hotels, three or four, broke the line of stores; there was the
famous restaurant of Ambos, and some Jewish clothiers; but above all,
besides a music and picture store, there was an excellent bookstore,
where I supplied myself from a good stock of German books, with Heine
and Schiller and Uhland, and where one could find all the new
publications. The streets of dwellings stretched from High Street to the
right, over a practically interminable plain, and shorter streets on the
left dropped to the banks of the Scioto where a lower level emulated the
inoffensive unpicturesqueness of the other plain. A dusty bridge crossed
the river, where in the slack-water ordinarily drowsed a flock of
canal-boats which came and went on the Ohio Canal. Some old-fashioned,
dignified dwellings stood at the northern end of High Street, with the
country close beyond, but the houses which I chiefly knew were on those
other streets. I cannot say now whether they added to the beauty of the
avenues or not; I suppose that oftenest they did not embellish them
architecturally, though they were set in wide grounds among pleasant
lawns and gardens. The young caller knew best their parlors in winter
and their porches in summer; there was little or no lunching or dining
for any one except as a guest of pot-luck; and the provisioning was
mainly, if not wholly, from the great public market. Greengrocers' and
butchers' shops there were none, but that public market was of a
sumptuous variety and abundance, as I can testify from a visit paid it
with a householding friend who drove to it in his carriage, terribly
long before breakfast, and provisioned himself among the other fathers
and the mothers who thronged the place with their market-baskets. This
was years after my last years in Columbus, when I was a passing guest;
while I lived there I was citizen of a world that knew no such household
cares or joys.

On my return from my travels, though I was so glad to be again in
Columbus, I no longer gave myself up to society with such abandon as
before. I kept mostly to those two houses where I was most intimate, and
in my greater devotion to literature I omitted to make the calls which
were necessary to keep one in society even in a place so unexacting as
our capital. Somewhat to my surprise, somewhat more to my pain, I found
that society knew how to make reprisals for such neglect; I heard of
parties which I was not asked to, and though I might not have gone to
them, I suffered from not being asked. Only in one case did I regret my
loss very keenly, and that was at a house where Lincoln's young private
secretaries, Hay and Nicolay, passing through to Washington before the
inauguration, had asked for me. They knew of me as the author of "The
Pilot's Story" and my other poems in the _Atlantic Monthly_, as well as
that campaign life of Lincoln which I should not have prided myself on
so much; but I had been justly ignored by the hostess in her
invitations, and they asked in vain. I fully shared after the fact any
disappointment they may have felt, but I doubt if I was afterward more
constant in my social duties; I was intending more and more to devote
myself to poetry, and with a hand freer than ever, if that were
possible, in the newspaper, I was again feeling the charm of journalism,
and was giving to it the nights which I used to give to calls and

I did not go back to live in the College, but with Price I took a room
and furnished it; we went together for our meals to the different
restaurants, a sort of life more conformable to my notion of the life of
the literary freelance in New York. But let not the reader suppose from
this large way of speaking that there were many restaurants in Columbus,
or much choice in them. The best, the only really good one, was that of
Ambos in High Street, where, as I have said before, we silvern youth
resorted sometimes for the midnight oyster, which in handsome
half-dozens was brought us on chafing-dishes, to be stewed over
spirit-lamps and flavored according to our taste with milk and butter.
We cooked them for ourselves, but our rejected, or protested, Clive
Newcome was the most skilled in an oyster stew, and we all emulated him
as we sat at the marble table in one of the booths at the side of the
room. In hot weather a claret punch sometimes crowned the night with a
fearful joy, and there was something more than bacchanalian in having it
brought with pieces of ice clucking in a pitcher borne by the mystical
Antoine from the bar where he had mixed it: that Antoine whom we
romanced as of strange experiences and recondite qualities, because he
was of such impregnable silence, in his white apron, with his face white
above it, damp with a perennial perspiration, which even in the hottest
weather did not quite gather into drops. We each attempted stories of
him, and somewhere yet I have among my manuscripts of that time a very
affected study done in the spirit and manner of the last author I had
been reading.

I suppose he was not really of any intrinsic interest, but if he had
been of the greatest I could not have afforded, even on my increased
salary, to resort to Ambos's for frequent observation of him. Ambos's
was the luxury of high occasions, and Price and I went rather for our
daily fare to the place of an Americanized German near our office, where
the cooking was very good, and the food without stint in every variety,
but where the management was of such an easy kind that the rats could
sometimes be seen clambering over the wall of the storeroom beyond where
we sat. There was not then the present feeling against those animals,
which were respected as useful scavengers, and we were rather amused
than revolted by them, being really still boys with boys' love of
bizarre and ugly things. Once we had for our guest in that place the
unique genius destined to so great fame as Artemus Ward; he shared our
interest in the rats, and we joked away the time at a lunch of riotous
abundance; I should say superabundance if we had found it too much. For
a while also we ate at the house of a lady who set a table faultless to
our taste, but imagined that the right way to eat pie was with a knife,
and never gave a fork with it. Here for a while we had the company of
the young _Cincinnati Gazette_ correspondent, Whitelaw Reid, joyful like
ourselves under the cloud gathering over our happy world. One day, after
the cloud had passed away in the thunder and lightning of the four
years' Civil War, he came radiant to my little house at Cambridge with
a piece of news which I found it as difficult to realize for fact in my
sympathy with him as he could have wished. "Just think! Horace Greeley
has asked me to be managing editor of the _Tribune_, and he offers me
six thousand dollars a year!" A great many years afterward we met in a
train coming from Boston to New York, when he brought the talk round to
the Spanish War, and, for whatever reason, to his part in the Treaty of
Paris and the purchase of the Philippines. "_I_ did that," he said. But
I could not congratulate him upon this as I did upon his coming to the
editorship of the _Tribune_, being of a different mind about the
acquisition of the Philippines.


Sometime during that winter of 1860-61 Greeley himself paid us a visit
in the _Journal_ office and volunteered a lecture on our misconduct of
the paper, which he found the cause of its often infirmity. We listened
with the inward disrespect which youth feels for the uninvited censure
of age, but with the outward patience due the famous journalist (of such
dim fame already!) sitting on the corner of a table, with his soft hat
and his long white coat on, and his quaint child-face, spectacled and
framed in long white hair. He was not the imposing figure which one sees
him in history, a man of large, rambling ambitions, but generous ideals,
and of a final disappointment so tragical that it must devote him to a
reverence which success could never have won him. I do not know what
errand he was on in Columbus; very likely it was some political mission;
but it was something to us that he had read the _Journal_, even with
disapproval, and we did not dispute his judgments; if we were a little
abashed by them we hardened our hearts against them, whatever they
were, and kept on as before, for our consciences were as clear as our
hearts were light. No one at that time really knew what to think or say,
the wisest lived from day to day under the gathering cloud, which
somehow they expected to break as other clouds in our history had
broken; when the worst threatened we expected the best.

Price was not the companion of my walks so much as Reed had been; he was
probably of frailer health than I noticed, for he died a few years
later; and I had oftener the company of a young man who interested me
more intensely. This was the great sculptor, J. Q. A. Ward, who had come
to the capital of his native state in the hope of a legislative
commission for a statue of Simon Kenton. It was a hope rather than a
scheme, but we were near enough to the pioneer period for the members to
be moved by the sight of the old Indian Fighter in his hunting-shirt and
squirrel-skin cap, whom every Ohio boy had heard of, and Ward was
provisionally given a handsome room with a good light, in the State
House, where he modeled I no longer know what figures, and perhaps an
enlargement of his "Kenton." There I used to visit him, trying to
imagine something of art, then a world so wholly strange to me, and
talking about New York and the æsthetic life of the metropolis. My hopes
did not rise so high as Boston, but I thought if I were ever unhorsed
again I might find myself on my feet in New York, though I felt keenly
the difference between the places, greater then than now, when literary
endeavor is diffused and equally commercialized everywhere. Ward seemed
to live much to himself in Columbus, as he always did, but I saw a great
deal of him, for in the community of youth we had no want of things to
talk about; we could always talk about ourselves when there was nothing
else. He was in the prime of his vigorous manhood, with a fine red
beard, and a close-cropped head of red hair, like Michelangelo, and a
flattened nose like the Florentine's, so that I rejoiced in him as the
ideal of a sculptor. I still think him, for certain Greek qualities, the
greatest of American sculptors; his "Indian Hunter" in Central Park must
bear witness of our historic difference from other peoples as long as
bronze shall last, and as no other sculpture can. But the "Kenton" was
never to be eternized in bronze or marble for that niche in the rotunda
of the capital where Ward may have imagined it finding itself. The cloud
thickened over us, and burst at last in the shot fired on Fort Sumter;
the legislature appropriated a million dollars as the contribution of
the state to the expenses of the war, and Ward's hopes vanished as
utterly as if the bolt had smitten his plaster model into dust.

Before Ward, almost, indeed, with my first coming to Columbus, there had
been another sculptor whom I was greatly interested to know. This was
Thomas D. Jones, who had returned to Ohio from an attempt upon the
jealous East, where he had suffered that want of appreciation which was
apt, in a prevalent superstition of the West, to attend any æsthetic
endeavor from our section. He frankly stood for the West, though I
believe he was a Welshman by birth; but in spite of his pose he was a
sculptor of real talent. He modeled a bust of Chase, admirable as a
likeness, and of a very dignified simplicity. I do not know whether it
was ever put in marble, but it was put in plaster very promptly and sold
in many such replicas. The sculptor liked to be seen modeling it, and I
can see him yet, stepping back a little from his work, and then
advancing upon it with a sensitive twitching of his mustache and a black
censorious frown. The Governor must have posed in the pleasant room
which Jones had in the Neil House where he lived, how I do not know,
for he was threadbare poor; but in those days many good things seemed
without price to the debtor class; and very likely the management liked
to have him there, where his work attracted people. One day while I was
in the room the Governor came in and, not long after, a lady who
appeared instinctively to time her arrival when it could be most largely
impressive. As she was staying in the hotel, she wore nothing on her
dewily disheveled hair, as it insists upon characterizing itself in the
retrospect, and she had the effect of moving about on a stage. She had,
in fact, just come up on some theatrical wave from her native Tennessee,
and she had already sent her album of favorable notices to the _Journal_
office with the appeal inscribed in a massive histrionic hand, "Anything
but your silence, gentlemen!" She played a short engagement in Columbus,
and then departed for the East and for the far grander capitals of the
Old World, where she became universally famous as Ada Isaacs Menken, and
finally by a stroke of her fearless imagination figured in print as the
bride of the pugilist Heenan, then winning us the laurels of the ring
away from English rivalry. I cannot recall, with all my passion for the
theater, that I saw her on any stage but that which for a moment she
made of the sculptor's room.

Jones had been a friend from much earlier days, almost my earliest days
in Columbus; it was he who took me to that German house, where I could
scarcely gasp for the high excitement of finding myself with a lady who
had known Heinrich Heine and could talk of him as if he were a human
being. I had not become a hopeless drunkard from drinking the glass of
eggnog which she gave me while she talked familiarly of him, and when
after several years Jones took me to her house again she had the _savoir
faire_ quite to ignore the interval of neglect which I had suffered to
elapse, and gave me a glass of eggnog again. It must have been in 1859
that Jones vanished from my life, but I must not let him take with him a
friend whose thoughtfulness at an important moment I still feel.

This was a man who afterward became known as the author of two curious
books, entitled _Library Notes_, made up somewhat in the discursive
fashion of Montaigne's essays, out of readings from his favorite
authors. There was nothing original in them except the taste which
guided their selection, but they distinctly gave the sort of pleasure he
had in compiling them, and their readers will recall with affection the
name of A. P. Russell. He was the Ohio Secretary of State when I knew
him first, and he knew me as the stripling who was writing in his nonage
the legislative letters of the Cincinnati _Gazette_; and he alone
remembered me distinctly enough to commend me for a place on the staff
of the _State Journal_ when Mr. Cooke took control of it. After the war
he spent several years in some financial service of the state in New
York, vividly interested in the greatness of a city where, as he was
fond of saying, a cannon-shot could be heard by eight hundred thousand
people; six million people could hear it now if anything could make
itself heard above the multitudinous noises that have multiplied
themselves since. When his term of office ended he returned to Ohio,
where he shunned cities great and small, and retired to the pleasant
town where he was born, like an Italian to his _patria_, and there ended
his peaceful, useful days. It was my good fortune in almost the last of
these days to write and tell him of my unforgotten gratitude for that
essential kindness he had done me so long before, and to have a letter
back from him, the more touching because another's hand had written it;
for Russell had become blind.

Probably he had tried to help Ward in his hope, which was hardly a
scheme, for that appropriation from the legislature for his "Simon
Kenton." They always remained friends, and during Russell's stay in New
York he probably saw more of Ward, so often sequestered with the horses
for his equestrian groups, than most of his other friends. I who lived
quarter of a century in the same city with him saw him seldom by that
fault of social indolence, rather than indifference, which was always
mine, and which grows upon one with the years. Once I went to dine with
him in the little room off his great, yawning, equine studio, and to
have him tell me of his life for use in a book of "Ohio Stories" I was
writing; then some swift years afterward I heard casually from another
friend that Ward was sick. "Would he be out soon?" I asked. "I don't
think he'll be out at all," I was answered, and I went the next day to
see him. He was lying with his fine head on the pillow still like such a
head of Michelangelo as the Florentine might have modeled of himself,
and he smiled and held out his hand, and had me sit down. We talked long
of old times, of old friends and enemies (but not really enemies), and
it was sweet to be with him so. He seemed so very like himself that it
was hard to think him in danger, but he reminded us who were there that
he was seventy-nine years old, and when we spoke about his getting well
and soon being out again he smiled in the wisdom which the dying have
from the world they are so near, and, tenderly patient of us, expressed
his doubt. In a few days, before I could go again, I heard that he was


But in that winter of 1859-60, after Lincoln had been elected, Ward was
still hopeful of an order from the state for his "Simon Kenton," and I
was hopeful of the poetic pre-eminence which I am still foregoing. I
used such scraps of time as I could filch from the busy days and nights
and gave them to the verse which now seemed to come back from editors
oftener than it once did. This hurt, but it did not kill, and I kept on
at verse for years in the delusion that it was my calling and that I
could make it my living. It was not until four or five years later that
a more practical muse persuaded me my work belonged to her, and in the
measureless leisure of my Venetian consulate I began to do the various
things in prose which I have mostly been doing ever since, for fifty
years past. Till then I had no real leisure, but was yet far from the
days when anything less than a day seems too small a space to attempt
anything in. That is the mood of age and of middle age, but youth seizes
any handful of minutes and devotes them to some beginning or ending. It
had been my habit ever since I took up journalism to use part of the
hour I had for midday dinner in writing literature, and such hours of
the night as were left me after my many calls or parties; and now I did
not change, even under the stress of the tragical events crowding upon
us all.

I phrase it so, but really I felt no stress, and I do not believe others
felt it so much as the reader might think. As I look back upon it the
whole state of affairs seems incredible, and to a generation remote from
it must seem impossible. We had an entire section of the Republic openly
seeking its dismemberment, and a government which permitted and even
abetted the seizure of national property by its enemies and the devotion
of its resources to its own destruction. With the worst coming,
relentlessly, rapidly, audibly, visibly, no one apparently thought the
worst would come; there had been so many threats of disunion before, and
the measures now taken to effect it seemed only a more dramatic sort of
threats. People's minds were confused by the facts which they could not
accept as portents, and the North remained practically passive, while
the South was passionately active; and yet not the whole South, for as
yet Secession was not a condition, but merely a principle. There was a
doubt with some in the North itself whether the right of disunion was
not implied in the very act of union; there had long been a devoted
minority who felt that disunion without slavery was better than union
with slavery; and on both sides there arose sentimental cries,
entreaties from the South that the North would yield its points of right
and conscience, appeals from the North that the South would not secede
until the nation had time to decide what it would do. The North would
not allow itself to consider seriously of coercing the seceding states;
and there was a party willing to bid them, with unavailing tears,
"Erring sisters, go in peace," as if the seceding states, being thus
delicately entreated, could not have the heart to go, even in peace.
There were hysterical conferences of statesmen in and out of office to
arrange for mutual concessions which were to be all on the part of the
Union, or if not that then to order its decent obsequies.

I cannot make out that our chief had any settled policy for the conduct
of our paper; nobody had a settled policy concerning public affairs. If
his subordinates had any settled policy, it was to get what fun they
could out of the sentimentalists, and if they had any fixed belief it
was that if we had a war peace must be made on the basis of disunion
when the war was over. In our wisdom we doubted if the sections could
ever live together in a union which they had fought for and against. But
we did not say this in print, though as matters grew more hopeless Price
one day seized the occasion of declaring that the Constitution was a
rope of sand. I do not remember what occasion he had for saying this,
but it brought our chief actively back to the censorship; Price's
position was somehow explained away, and we went on as much as before,
much as everybody else went on. I will not, in the confession of our
youthful rashness, pretend that there were any journalists who seemed
then or seem wiser now or acted with greater forecast; and I am sure
that we always spoke from our consciences, with a settled conviction
that the South was wrong. We must have given rather an ironical welcome
to a sufficiently muddled overture of the Tennessee legislature which
during the winter sent a deputation of its members to visit our own
Houses and confer with them as to what might be done. The incident now
has it pathos, there was so much that was well meant in the attempt to
mend our bad business with kind words and warm feelings, though then I
was sensible only of its absurdity. I did not hear any of the speeches,
but I remember seeing the Tennessee statesmen about the Capitol for the
different conferences held there and noting that some of them spoke with
a negroid intonation and not with that Ohio accent which I believed the
best in the English-speaking world. No doubt they parted with our own
legislators affectionately, and returned home supported by the hope that
they had really done something in a case where there was nothing to be

Their endeavor was respectable, but there was no change in the civic
conditions except from bad to worse. In the social conditions, or the
society conditions, everything was for the better, if indeed these could
be bettered in Columbus. Of all the winters this was the gayest; society
was kind again, after I had paid the penalty it exacted for my neglect,
and I began to forget my purpose of living in air more absolutely
literary. Again I began going the rounds of the friendly houses, but
now, as if to win my fancy more utterly, there began to be a series of
dances in a place and on conditions the most alluring. For a while after
the functions of the medical school were suspended in the College where
I had lodged, the large ward where the lectures were once given was
turned into a gymnasium and fitted up with the usual gymnastic
apparatus. I do not recall whether this was taken away or not, or was
merely looped up and put aside for our dances, and I do not know how we
came into possession of the place; in the retrospect, such things happen
in youth much as things happen in childhood, without apparent human
agency; but at any rate we had this noble circus for our dances. There
must have been some means of joining them, but it is now gone from me,
and I know only that they were given under the fully sufficing
chaperonage of a sole matron. There were two negro fiddlers, and the
place was lighted by candles fixed along the wall; but memory does not
serve me as to any sort of supper; probably there was none, except such
as the young men, after they had seen the young ladies to their homes,
went up-town to make on the oysters of Ambos.

It is strange that within the time so dense with incident for us there
should have been so few incidents now separately tangible, but there is
one that vividly distinguishes itself from the others. In that past I
counted any experience precious that seemed to parallel the things of
fact with the things of fiction. Afterward, but long afterward, I
learned to praise, perhaps too arrogantly praise, the things of fiction
as they paralleled the things of fact, but as yet it was not so. I
suppose the young are always like us as we of the College dances were
then, but romance can rarely offer itself to youth of any time in the
sort of reality which one night enriched us amid our mirth with a wild
thrill of dismay at the shriek in a girl's voice of "Dead?" There was an
instant halt in the music, and then a rush to the place where the cry
had risen. Somebody had fainted, and when the fact could be verified, it
was found that one of the blithest of our company had been struck down
with word from home that her sister had fallen dead of heart failure.
Then when we began to falter away from the poor child's withdrawal,
suddenly another tumult stayed us; a young father, who had left his
first-born with its mother in their rooms above while he came down for
some turns in the waltz, could not believe that it was not his child
that was dead, and he had to be pulled and pushed up-stairs into sight
and sound of the little one roused from its sleep to convince him,
before he could trust the truth.

Here was mingling of the tragic and the comic to the full admired effect
of Shakespearian drama, but the mere circumstance of these esthetic
satisfactions would have been emotional wealth enough; and when I got
home on such a night to my slumbering room-mate Price I could give
myself in glad abandon to the control of the poet whose psychic I then
oftenest was, with some such result as I found in a tattered manuscript
the other day. I think the poet could hardly have resented my masking in
his wonted self-mocking, though I am afraid that he would have shrunk
from the antic German which I put on to the beat of his music.

    "To-night there is dancing and fiddling
       In the high windowed hall
     Lighted with dim corpse-candles
       In bottles against the wall.

    "And the people talk of the weather,
       And say they think it will snow;
     And, without, the wind in the gables
       Moans wearily and low.

[Illustration: _The quaint doorway of the Medical College through which
Mr. Howells passed daily while he roomed in the building_]

    "'_Sa! Sa!_'--the dance of the Phantoms!
       The dim corpse-candles flare;
     On the whirl of the flying spectres
       The shuddering windows stare.

    "'Oh, play us the silent Ghost-Waltz,
       Thou fiddling blackamoor!'
     He hears the ghostly summons,
       He sees the ghosts on the floor.

    "He plays the silent Ghost-Waltz
       And through the death-mute hall
     The voiceless echoes answer,
       In time the ghost-feet fall.

    "Und immer und immer schneller,
       Und wild wie der Winterwind
     Die beide College Gespenster
       Sie walzen sinnengeschwind.

    "They waltz to the open doorway,
       They waltz up the winding stair:
     'Oh, gentle ghosts we are sneezing,
       We are taking cold in the air.'"


Very likely those dances lasted through the winter, but I cannot be
sure; I can only be sure that they summed up the raptures of the time,
which was the most memorable of my whole life; for now I met her who was
to be my wife. We were married the next year, and she became with her
unerring artistic taste and conscience my constant impulse toward
reality and sincerity in my work. She was the first to blame and the
first to praise, as she was the first to read what I wrote. Forty-seven
years we were together here, and then she died. But in that gayest time
when we met it did not seem as if there could ever be an end of time for
us, or any time less radiant. Though the country was drawing nearer and
nearer the abyss where it plunged so soon, few thought it would make the
plunge; many believed that when it would it could draw back from it, but
doubtless that was never possible; there is a doom for nations as there
is for men, and looking back upon our history I cannot see how we could
have escaped. The slaveholders in the old Union were a few hundred
thousand against many millions, but a force in them beyond their own
control incessantly sought to control the non-slaveholding majority.
They did not brook question of their will from others; they brooked no
self-question of it; however little they seemed at moments to demand,
they never demanded less than that conscience itself should come to
their help in making their evil our good. Having said that black was
white, that wrong was right, they were vitally bound to compel the
practical consent of humanity. It was what it had been aforetime and
must be to aftertime; Lincoln did not deny them in terms different from
Franklin's, but the case had gone farther. The hour had come when they
would not be denied at all; slavery could never keep its promises; it
could hardly stay even to threaten. Long before there had been dreams of
ending it by buying the slaves, but the owners would not have sold their
slaves, and now, though the war against slavery tried to believe itself
a war for the Union, when it came to full consciousness it knew itself a
war for freedom; such freedom, lame and halt, as we have been able to
keep for the negroes; a war for democracy, such democracy as we shall
not have for ourselves until we have an economic democracy.

The prevision of the young writers on the _State Journal_ was of no such
reach as this retrospect. The best that could be said of them was that
so far as they knew the right, they served it, and it is no bad thing to
say of them that they met insolence with ridicule and hypocrisy with
contempt. Still, as always before in those columns, they got their fun
out of the opportunities which the situation offered, and they did not
believe the worst was coming; that would excuse their levity, and it
availed as much as gravity. I do not remember that we took counsel with
any one as to what we said or that we consulted much with each other. We
did not think that the Union would be dissolved, but if it should be we
did not think that its dissolution was the worst thing that could
happen; and this was the mind of vastly more at that day than most at
this day will believe; some of those who were of that mind then may not
like to own it now. People have the habit of saying that only those who
have lived through a certain period can realize it, but I doubt if even
they can realize it. A civic agitation is like a battle; it covers a
surface so large that only a part of it can be seen by any one spectator
at any one moment. The fact seems to be that the most of human motives
and actions must always remain obscure; history may do its best to
record and reveal them, but it will strive in vain to give us a living
sense of them, because no one ever had a living sense of them in their

At the period which I am trying to tell of the hours passed and the days
and weeks and months, bringing us forever nearer the catastrophe; but I
could not truthfully say that their passing changed the general mood.
The College group which I used to consort with had changed, and it was
no longer so much to my liking; it had dwindled, and for me it chiefly
remained in the companionship of one friend, whom I walked and talked
with when I was not walking and talking with Price. This was that
protested and rejected Clive Newcome, of ours, who in real life was
James M. Comly, law student then, and then soldier, and then journalist.
Of all the friends in whose contrast I have been trying to find myself,
he was temperamentally the most unlike me, but a common literary bent
inclined us to each other. In his room there was not only euchre for
those who could not bear to waste in idleness the half-hours before
dinner or supper, but there were the latest fashions in such periodicals
as the _Cornhill Magazine_, then so brand new, and the _Saturday
Review_, equally new, with the great Thackeray stooping from his Jovian
height in the monthly to blunt against the weekly, with its social and
critical offensives, such bolts as calling it the _Superfine Review_.
Comly was of much the same taste as myself in authors, but not so
impassioned; he was not so multifarious a reader and not so inclusive of
the poets, and in obedience to his legalist instincts he was of more
conservative feeling in politics. We had never a moment of misgiving for
each other, yet I had one bad moment over an _Atlantic_ poem of mine
fabling the author as a bird singing in a tree, and flatteringly but
unintelligently listened to by the cattle beneath which the title of the
piece typified as "The Poet's Friends." The conceit had overtempted me,
but when I had realized it in print, with no sense meantime of its
possible relevance, I felt the need of bringing myself to book with the
friend I valued most, and urging how innocently literary, how most
merely and entirely dramatic the situation was. I think my anxiety
amused him, as it very well might, but I still draw a long breath of
relief when I remember how perfectly he understood.

Our association was mostly in the walks we took in the winter twilights
and the summer moonlights, walks long enough in the far-stretching
Columbus streets to have encompassed the globe; but our talks were not
nearly so long as the walks, walks in which there were reaches of
reticence, when apparently it was enough for us to be walking together.
Yet we must often have talked about the books we were reading, that is
to say the novels, though seldom about public events, which is the
stranger, or the less strange, because as a student of law he was of
course a potential politician, and I was writing politics every day.

He was the last but one of the friends whom my youth was so rich in, for
no reason more, perhaps, than that we were young together, though they
were all older than I, and Comly was five or six years my senior. When I
knew him first, with his tall, straight figure, his features of Greek
fineness, his blue eyes, and his moustache thin and ashen blond, he was
of a distinction fitting the soldier he became when the Civil War began,
and he fought through the four years' struggle with such gallantry and
efficiency that he came out of it with the rank of brigadier-general. He
had broken with the law amid arms, and in due time he succeeded to the
control of our newspaper where he kept on terms of his own the tradition
of Reed, which Price and I had continued in our fashion, and made the
paper an increasing power. But he had never been the vigorous strength
he looked, and after certain years of overwork he accepted the
appointment of minister to Hawaii. The rest and the mild climate renewed
his health, and he came back to journalism under different conditions of
place. But the strain was the same; he gave way under it again, and died
a few years later.


I cannot make out why, having the friends and incentives I had in
Columbus, I should have wished to go away, but more and more I did wish
that. There was no reason for it except my belief that my work would be
less acceptable if I remained in the West; that I should get on faster
if I wrote in New York than if I wrote in Columbus. Somehow I fancied
there would be more intellectual atmosphere for me in the great city,
but I do not believe this now, and I cannot see how I could anywhere
have had more intelligent sympathy. When I came home from Venice in
1865, and was looking about for some means of livelihood, I found that
Lowell had a fancy for my returning to the West, and living my literary
life in my own air if not on my own ground. He apparently thought the
experiment would be interesting; and if I were again twenty-eight I
should like to try it. I would indeed have been glad then of any humble
place on a newspaper in the West; but the East more hospitably entreated
me, and after a flattering venture in New York journalism I was asked to
the place in Boston which of all others in the world was that I could
most have desired.

In those Columbus days I was vaguely aware that if I went farther from
home I should be homesick, for where I was, in that happy environment, I
was sometimes almost intolerably homesick. From my letters home I find
that I was vividly concerned in the affairs of those I had left there,
striving and saving to pay for the printing-office and the house with so
little help from me. I was still sometimes haunted by the hypochondria
which had once blackened my waking hours with despair; I dare say I was
always overworking, and bringing my fear upon me out of the exhaustion
of my nerves. Perhaps I am confiding too much when I speak of this most
real, most unreal misery, but if the confession of it will help any who
suffer, especially in the solitude of youth which inexperience makes a
prison-house, I shall not be ashamed of what some may impute to me for
weakness. If one knows there is some one else who is suffering in his
kind, then one can bear it better; and in this way, perhaps, men are
enabled to go to their death in battle, where they die with thousands of
others; in the multitudinous doom of the Last Day its judgments may not
be so dreadful to the single culprit. Like every one who lives, I was a
congeries of contradictions, willing to play with the fancies that came
to me, but afraid of them if they stayed too late. Yet I did not lose
much sleep from them; it is after youth is gone that we begin to lose
sleep from care; while our years are few we indeed rise up with care,
but it does not wake night-long with us, as it does when our years are

I had a most cheerful companion in my colleague, Price, who so loved to
laugh and to make laugh. If he never made the calls or went to the
parties to which I tempted him, apparently he found our own society
sufficient, and, in fact, I could not wish for anything better myself
than when, the day's work and the night's pleasure ended for me, we sat
together in the editorial-room, where our chief seldom molested us, and
waited for the last telegraphic despatches before sending the paper to
press. Sometimes we had the company of officials from the State House
who came over to while away the hours, more haggard for them than for
us, with the stories they told while we listened. They were often such
stories as Lincoln liked, no doubt for the humorous human nature and
racy character in them. Very likely he found a relief in them from the
tragedy overhanging us all, but not molesting our young souls with the
portents which the sad-eyed man of duty and of doom was aware of, or
perhaps not yet aware of.

The strangest impression that the time has left with me is a sense of
the patient ignorance which seemed to involve the whole North. Doubtless
the South, or the more positive part of it, knew what it was about; but
the North could only theorize and conjecture and wait while those who
were in keeping of the nation were seeking its life. In the glare of the
events that followed volcanically enough, it seems as if the North must
have been of the single mind which it became when the shot fired on Fort
Sumter woke it at last to the fact that the country was really in peril.
But throughout the long suspense after Lincoln's election till his
inauguration there was no settled purpose in the North to save the
Union, much less to fight for it. People ate and slept for the most part
tranquilly throughout; they married and gave in marriage; they followed
their dead to the grave with no thought that the dead were well out of
the world; they bought and sold, and got gain; what seemed the end could
not be the end, because it had never come before.

After the war actually began we could not feel that it had begun; we had
the evidence of our senses, but not of our experiences; in most things
it was too like peace to be really war. Neither of the great sections
believed in the other, but the South, which was solidified by the
slaveholding caste, had the advantage of believing in itself, and the
North did not believe in itself till the fighting began. Then it
believed too much and despised the enemy at its throat. Among the
grotesque instances of our self-confidence I recall the consoling
assurance of an old friend, a chief citizen and wise in his science, who
said, as the hostile forces were approaching each other in Virginia,
"Oh, they will run," and he meant the Southerners, as he lifted his fine
head and blew a whiff from his pipe into the air. "As soon as they see
we are in earnest they will run," but it was not from us that they ran;
and the North was startled from its fallacy that sixty days would see
the end of the rebellion, whose end no prophet had now the courage to
forecast. We of the Ohio capital wore a very political community, the
most political in the whole state, in virtue of our being the capital,
but none of the rumors of war had distracted us from our pleasures or
affairs, at least so far as the eyes of youth could see. With our faith
in the good ending, as if our national story were a tale that must end
well, with whatever suspenses, or thrilling episodes, we had put the
day's anxieties by and hopefully waited for the morrow's consolations.
But when the fateful shot was fired at Fort Sumter, it was as if the
echo had not died away when a great public meeting was held in response
to the President's call for volunteers, and the volunteering began with
an effect of simultaneity which the foreshortening of past events always
puts on to the retrospective eye. It seemed as if it were only the night
before that we had listened to the young Patti, now so old, singing her
sweetest in that hall where the warlike appeals rang out, with words
smiting like blows in that "Anvil Chorus" which between her songs had
thrilled us with the belief that we were listening to the noblest as
well as the newest music in the world.

I have sometimes thought that I would write a novel, with its scene in
our capital at that supreme moment when the volunteering began, but I
shall never do it, and without the mask of fiction one cannot give the
living complexion of events. Instantly the town was inundated from all
the towns of the state and from the farms between as with a tidal wave
of youth; for most of those who flooded our streets were boys of
eighteen and twenty, and they came in the wild hilarity of their young
vision, singing by day and by night, one sad inconsequent song, that
filled the whole air, and that fills my sense yet as I think of them:

    "Oh, nebber mind the weather, but git ober double trouble,
     For we're bound for the happy land of Canaan."

They wore red shirts, as if the color of the Garibaldian war for Union
in Italy had flashed itself across the sea to be the hue of our own war
for Union. With interlinked arms they ranged up and down, and pushed the
willing citizens from the pavement, and shouted the day and shouted the
night away, with no care but the fear that in the outpour of their
death-daring they might not be gathered into the ranks filling up the
quota of regiments assigned to Ohio. The time had a sublimity which no
other time can know, unless some proportionate event shall again cause
the nation to stand up as one man, and the spectacle had a mystery and
an awe which I cannot hope to impart. I knew that these boys, bursting
from their fields and shops as for a holiday, were just such boys as I
had always known, and if I looked at any one of them as they went
swaggering and singing up and down I recognized him for what they were,
but in their straggling ranks, with their young faces flushed the red of
the blouses and their young eyes flaming, I beheld them transfigured. I
do not pretend that they were of the make of armies such as I had seen
pictured marching in serried ranks to battle, and falling in bloody
windrows on the smoke-rolled plain. All that belonged to

    "Old, unhappy, far-off days,"

and not to the morrows in which I dwelt. But possibly if I had written
that forever-to-be-unwritten novel I might have plucked out the heart of
the moment and laid it throbbing before the reader; and yet I might
rather have been satisfied with the more subjective riddle of one who
looked on, and baffled himself with question of the event.

Only two or three of the friends who had formed our College group went
to the war; of these my friend Comly, had been one of the earliest, and
when I found him officer of the day at the first camp of the volunteers,
he gave me what time he could, but he was helplessly pre-occupied, and
the whole world I had known was estranged. One morning I met another
friend, coming down the State House steps and smiling radiantly; he also
was a law student, and he had just been made adjutant of a newly
accepted regiment. Almost immediately afterward he was changed to the
line, and at the end of the war, after winning its last important
battle, John G. Mitchell came out with the rank of brigadier-general, to
which the brevet of major-general could scarcely add distinction. By the
chances which play with our relations in life I had not known him so
well as some others. He was not of the College group; but after the war
we came familiarly together in the friendship of the cousins who had
become our wives. In that after-time he once held me rapt with the
stories of his soldier life, promising, or half promising, to put them
down for print, but never doing it, so that now they are lost to that
record of personal experience of battle which forms so vital a part of
our history. No stories of that life which I have read have seemed to me
so frank, so full, so real, as those he told.

Our first camp was in our pretty Goodale Park, where I used to walk and
talk with the sculptor Ward, and try the athletic feats in which he
easily beat me. Now the pine sheds covered the long tables, spread with
coffee and pork and beans, and the rude bunks filled with straw, and
here and there a boy volunteer frowzily drowsing in them. It was one of
the many shapeless beginnings which were to end in the review of the
hundred thousands of seasoned soldiers marching to their mustering out
in Washington after four years of fire and blood. No one could imagine
that any of these boys were to pass through that abyss, or that they
would not come safely out. Even after the cruel disillusion of Manassas
the superstition of quick work remained with the North, and the three
years' quota of Ohio was filled almost as jubilantly as the three
months', but not quite so jubilantly. Sons and brothers came with tears
to replace fathers and brothers who had not returned from Manassas, and
there was a funeral undertone in the shrilling of the fifes and the
throbbing of the drums which was not so before. Life is like Hamlet and
will oftentimes "put an antic disposition on," which I have never been
one to refuse recognition, and now I must, with whatever effect from it,
own a bit of its mockery. One of our reporters was a father whose son
had been among the first to go, and word came that the boy had been
killed at Manassas. I liked the father as I had liked the son, and the
old man's grief moved me to such poor offer of consolation as verse
could make. He was deeply touched, but the next day another word came
that the boy was alive and well, and I could not leave my elegiacs with
his father, who was apparently reluctant to renounce the glory of them,
although so glad. But he gave them back, and I depersonalized them by
removing the name of the young soldier, and finally printed them in the
volume of poems which two or three people still buy every year.


It was a question now whether I could get the appointment of a consulate
which I had already applied for, quite as much, I believe, upon the
incentive of my fellow-citizens as from a very natural desire of my own.
It seemed to be the universal feeling, after the election of Lincoln,
that I who had written his life ought to have a consulate, as had
happened with Hawthorne, who had written the life of Franklin Pierce. It
was thought a very fitting thing, and my fellow-citizens appeared
willing I should

[Illustration: _Looking into the State House grounds toward the broad
flight of steps before the west front of the building_]

have any consulate, but I, with constitutional unhopefulness, had fixed
my mind upon that of Munich, as in the way to further study of the
German language and literature, and this was the post I asked for in an
application signed by every prominent Republican in the capital, from
the Governor down. The Governor was now William Dennison, who afterward
became Postmaster-General, and who had always been my friend, rather in
the measure of his charming good will than my merit, from my first
coming to Columbus; Chase had already entered Lincoln's Cabinet as
Secretary of the Treasury. But in spite of this backing the President,
with other things on his mind, did not respond in any way until some
months had dragged by, when one day I received without warning an
official envelope addressed to me as "Consul at Rome, now at Columbus,
Ohio." Rome was not exactly Munich, and the local language and
literature were not German, but I could not have expected the State
Department to take cognizance of a tacit ideal of mine, and the
consulate was at any rate a consulate, which perhaps most of my friends
supposed was what I wanted. It was welcome enough, for I was again to be
dropped from the high horse which I had been riding for nearly a year
past; one of those changes in the _State Journal_ which Greeley, in his
unsolicited lecture, had imputed to it for unworthiness was at hand, and
the gentleman who was buying a controlling share in it might or might
not wish to write the editorials himself. At any rate the Roman
consulship was not to be declined without inquiry, but as there was no
salary, and the consul was supposed to live upon the fees taken, I tried
to find out how much the fees might annually come to. Meanwhile I was
advised by prudence to accept the appointment provisionally; it would be
easy to resign it if I could not afford to keep it; and I waited to see
what the new proprietor meant to do.

Apparently he meant to be editor as well as proprietor, and Price and I
must go, which we made ready to do as soon as the new proprietor came
into his own. Three or four times in my life I have suffered some such
fate as I suffered then; but I never lost a place except through the
misfortune of those who gave it me; then with whatever heart I could I
accepted the inevitable. At the worst, I was yet "Consul at Rome now at
Columbus," and I had my determination to work. I was never hopeful, I
was never courageous, but somehow I was dogged. I had no overweening
belief in myself, and yet I thought, at the bottom of my soul, that I
had in me the make of the thing I was bent on doing, the thing
literature, the greatest thing in the world.

When our new proprietor arrived Price and I disabled his superiority,
probably on no very sufficient grounds, but he had the advantage in not
wanting our help, and I decided to go to Washington and look personally
into the facts of the Roman consulship. As perhaps some readers of this
may know, it ultimately turned into the Venetian consulship, but by just
what friendly magic, has been told with sufficient detail in a chapter
of _Literary Friends and Acquaintance_ and need not be rehearsed here.
As for Price, he had nothing at all before him, but he was by no means
uncheerful. We had certainly had a joyous though parlous year together;
our jokes could not have been numbered in a season when the only excuse
for joking was that it might as well be that as weeping, though probably
we had our serious times, especially when we foreboded a fresh dismay in
our chief at some escapade in derision or denunciation of the
well-meaning patriots' efforts to hold the Union together with mucilage.

But the time came when all this tragical mirth was to end. We found that
we did not dislike the new owner, and he liked us well enough, but he
was eager to try his hand at our work, and some time early in August we
quitted the familiar place. If there was any form of adieu with our
gentle chief I do not remember it, and in fact my mind holds no detail
of our parting except the last hour of it, when we found ourselves
together at midnight in the long, gloomy barn then known as the Little
Miami Depot, where we were to take our separate ways in the dark which
hid us from each other forever. We walked up and down a long time,
talking, talking, talking, laughing, promising each other to be faithful
in letters, and wearing our souls out in the nothings which people say
at such times with the vain endeavor to hold themselves together against
the fate which is to sunder them in the voluntary death of parting. We
heard the whistle of an approaching train, we shook hands, we said
good-by, and then in a long wait repeated the nothings again and again.
But my train on the Central Ohio was already there; and as Price obeyed
the call to board his train for Cleveland, I mounted mine for
Washington, and we never saw each other again. It is long since he died,
and I who still survive him after fifty years offer his memory this vow
of abiding affection. If we somewhere should somewhen meet, perhaps it
will be with a fond smile for the time we were young and so glad
together, with so little reason.


       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

iridiscent and beautiful=> iridescent and beautiful {pg 4}

people cometimes put up=> people sometimes put up {pg 25}

suffer to become irreverant=> suffer to become irreverent {pg 89}

except for its gramaphones=> except for its gramophones {pg 102}

If was what it had been aforetime=> It was what it had been aforetime {pg 226}

sufficently muddled overture=> sufficiently muddled overture {pg 222}

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Years of My Youth" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.