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Title: American literary masters
Author: Vincent, Leon H. (Leon Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MASTERS ***



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text is enclosed in =equals signs=.



  AMERICAN
  LITERARY MASTERS

  BY LEON H. VINCENT

  [Illustration]

  BOSTON AND NEW YORK
  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  The Riverside Press Cambridge



  COPYRIGHT 1906 BY LEON H. VINCENT
  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  _Published March 1906_



  TO
  GEORGE EDWARD WOODBERRY



PREFACE


_The nineteen men of letters whose work is reviewed in this volume
represent an important half-century of our national literary life. The
starting-point is the year 1809, the date of “A History of New York by
Diedrich Knickerbocker.” No author is included whose reputation does
not rest, in part, on some notable book published before 1860._

_Readers of modern French criticism will not need to be told that
the plan of dividing the studies into short sections was taken from
Faguet’s admirable “Dix-Septième Siècle.”_

_I am indebted for many helpful criticisms to Mr. James R. Joy, to
Miss Mary Charlotte Priest, and especially to Mr. Lindsay Swift of the
Boston Public Library._

                                                            _L. H. V._

_January 23, 1906._



_Contents_


  WASHINGTON IRVING

     I. _His Life_                                                     3

    II. _His Character_                                               10

   III. _The Writer_                                                  13

    IV. _Early Work: Knickerbocker’s History, Sketch Book,
            Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller_                   14

     V. _Historical Writings: Columbus, Conquest of Granada,
            Mahomet_                                                  20

    VI. _Spanish Romance: The Alhambra, Legends of the Conquest
            of Spain_                                                 24

   VII. _American History and Travel: A Tour on the Prairies,
            Astoria, Life of Washington_                              27


  WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

     I. _His Life_                                                    35

    II. _His Character_                                               44

   III. _The Literary Craftsman_                                      46

    IV. _The Poet_                                                    50

     V. _Latest Poetical Work: The Iliad and the Odyssey_             58


  JAMES FENIMORE COOPER

     I. _His Life_                                                    65

    II. _His Character_                                               72

   III. _The Writer_                                                  74

    IV. _Romances of the American Revolution: The Spy, Lionel
            Lincoln_                                                  75

     V. _The Leather-Stocking Tales and Other Indian Stories_
                                                                      77

    VI. _The Sea Stories from The Pilot to Miles Wallingford_
                                                                      82

   VII. _Old-World Romance and New-World Satire: The Bravo, The
            Heidenmauer, The Headsman, Homeward Bound, Home as
            Found_                                                    89

  VIII. _Travels, History, Political Writings, and Latest
            Novels_                                                   93


  GEORGE BANCROFT

     I. _His Life_                                                   101

    II. _His Character_                                              108

   III. _The Writer_                                                 110

    IV. _The History of the United States_                           113


  WILLIAM HICKLING PRESCOTT

     I. _His Life_                                                   123

    II. _His Character_                                              128

   III. _The Writer_                                                 130

    IV. _The Histories_                                              132


  RALPH WALDO EMERSON

     I. _His Life_                                                   147

    II. _His Character_                                              157

   III. _The Writer_                                                 159

    IV. _Nature, Addresses, and Lectures_                            160

     V. _The Essays, Representative Men, English Traits,
            Conduct of Life_                                         166

    VI. _The Poems_                                                  176

   VII. _Latest Books_                                               182


  EDGAR ALLAN POE

     I. _His Life_                                                   189

    II. _His Character_                                              198

   III. _The Prose Writer_                                           201

    IV. _Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque_                       203

     V. _The Critic_                                                 211

    VI. _The Poet_                                                   215


  HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

     I. _His Life_                                                   221

    II. _His Character_                                              228

   III. _The Poet_                                                   230

    IV. _Outre-Mer, Hyperion, Kavanagh_                              233

     V. _Voices of the Night, Ballads, Spanish Student, Belfry
            of Bruges, The Seaside and the Fireside_                 236

    VI. _Evangeline, Hiawatha, Miles Standish, Tales of a
            Wayside Inn_                                             240

   VII. _Christus, Judas Maccabæus, Pandora, Michael Angelo_
                                                                     245

  VIII. _Last Works_                                                 249


  JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER

     I. _His Life_                                                   255

    II. _His Character_                                              264

   III. _The Poet_                                                   266

    IV. _Narrative and Legendary Verse_                              269

     V. _Voices of Freedom, Songs of Labor, In War Time_             273

    VI. _Snow-Bound, Tent on the Beach, Pennsylvania Pilgrim,
            Vision of Echard_                                        277


  NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

     I. _His Life_                                                   287

    II. _His Character_                                              293

   III. _The Writer_                                                 296

    IV. _The Short Stories: Twice-Told Tales, Mosses from an
            Old Manse, The Snow-Image_                               298

     V. _The Great Romances: Scarlet Letter, House of the Seven
            Gables, Blithedale Romance, Marble Faun_                 302

    VI. _Latest and Posthumous Writings: Our Old Home,
            Note-Books, Dolliver Romance_                            314


  HENRY DAVID THOREAU

     I. _His Life_                                                   321

    II. _His Character_                                              325

   III. _The Writer_                                                 327

    IV. _The Books_                                                  328


  OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

     I. _His Life_                                                   337

    II. _The Man_                                                    341

   III. _The Writer_                                                 344

    IV. _The Autocrat and its Companions, Over the Teacups, Our
            Hundred Days in Europe_                                  345

     V. _The Poet_                                                   349

    VI. _Fiction and Biography_                                      352


  JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY

     I. _His Life_                                                   359

    II. _His Character_                                              365

   III. _The Writer_                                                 367

    IV. _The Histories_                                              369


  FRANCIS PARKMAN

     I. _His Life_                                                   379

    II. _His Character_                                              383

   III. _The Writer_                                                 385

    IV. _Early Work: Oregon Trail, Conspiracy of Pontiac,
            Vassall Morton_                                          387

     V. _France and England in North America_                        390


  BAYARD TAYLOR

     I. _His Life_                                                   401

    II. _His Character_                                              407

   III. _The Artist_                                                 409

    IV. _Poetical Works_                                             410


  GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS

     I. _His Life_                                                   417

    II. _The Man_                                                    423

   III. _The Writer and the Orator_                                  424

    IV. _Nile Notes of a Howadji, Prue and I, Trumps_                427

     V. _The Easy Chair_                                             430

    VI. _Orations and Addresses_                                     433


  DONALD GRANT MITCHELL

     I. _His Life_                                                   439

    II. _The Author and the Man_                                     442

   III. _The Writings_                                               444


  JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL                                               451

     I. _His Life_                                                   453

    II. _Lowell’s Character_                                         461

   III. _Poet and Prose Writer_                                      463

    IV. _Poems, The Biglow Papers, Fable for Critics, Vision of
            Sir Launfal_                                             465

     V. _Under the Willows, The Cathedral, Commemoration Ode,
            Three Memorial Poems, Heartsease and Rue_                469

    VI. _Fireside Travels, My Study Windows, Among my Books,
            Latest Literary Essays_                                  474

   VII. _Political Addresses and Papers_                             479


  WALT WHITMAN

     I. _His Life_                                                   485

    II. _The Growth of a Reputation_                                 490

   III. _The Writer_                                                 492

    IV. _Leaves of Grass_                                            494

     V. _Specimen Days and Collect_                                  503

    VI. _Whitman’s Character_                                        504



I

_Washington Irving_


REFERENCES:

  [=E. A. Duyckinck=]: _Irvingiana, a Memorial of Washington
    Irving_, 1860.

  =W. C. Bryant=: _A Discourse on the Life, Character, and Genius
    of Washington Irving_, 1860.

  =Pierre M. Irving=: _The Life and Letters of Washington Irving_,
    1862–64.

  =C. D. Warner=: _The Work of Washington Irving_, 1893.


I

HIS LIFE

Scotch and English blood flowed in Washington Irving’s veins. His
father, William Irving (whose ancestry has been traced by genealogical
enthusiasts to De Irwyn, armor-bearer to Robert Bruce), was a native
of Shapinsha, one of the Orkney Islands; his mother, Sarah (Sanders)
Irving, came from Falmouth.

At the time of his marriage William Irving was a petty officer on an
armed packet-ship plying between Falmouth and New York. Two years
later (1763) he gave up seafaring, settled in New York, and started
a mercantile business. He enjoyed a competency, but like other
patriotic citizens suffered from the demoralization of trade during
the Revolution. His character suggested that of the old Scotch
covenanter. Though not without tenderness, he was in the main strict
and puritanical.

Washington Irving was born in New York on April 3, 1783. He was the
youngest of a family of eleven, five of whom died in childhood. Irving
could perfectly remember the great patriot for whom he was named. He
was much indebted to the good old Scotchwoman, his nurse, who, seeing
Washington enter a shop on Broadway, darted in after him and presented
her small charge with ‘Please your Excellency, here’s a bairn that’s
called after ye!’ ‘General Washington,’ said Irving, recounting the
incident in after years, ‘then turned his benevolent face full upon me,
smiled, laid his hand on my head, and gave me his blessing.... I was
but five years old, yet I can feel that hand upon my head even now.’

Up to the age of fifteen Irving attended such schools as New York
afforded. He was not precocious. He came home from school one day (he
was then about eight) and remarked to his mother: ‘The madame says I am
a dunce; isn’t it a pity?’

Two of his brothers had been sent to Columbia College; that he was
not, may be attributed partly to ill health, partly to an indolent
waywardness of disposition and to the indulgence so often granted
the youngest member of a large family. Always an inveterate reader,
he contrived in time to educate himself by methods unapproved of
pedagogical science. He decided on a legal career and entered the
office of a well-known practitioner, Henry Masterton. During the two
years he was there he acquired some law and attained ‘considerable
proficiency in belles-lettres.’ He studied for a time with Brockholst
Livingston (afterwards judge of the Supreme Court), and later with
Josiah Ogden Hoffman.

As a boy Irving had always ‘scribbled’ more or less, and in 1802 he
scribbled to some purpose, contributing the ‘Jonathan Oldstyle’ letters
to the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ a paper founded and edited by his brother
Peter Irving. His ambitions seemed likely to be frustrated by poor
health, and a trip abroad was advised. He went to the Mediterranean,
visited Italy, and spent a little time in France and England. The
journey was not without adventures. He saw Nelson’s fleet on its way
to Trafalgar; his boat was overhauled by pirates near Elba; and in
Rome he met Madame de Staël, who almost overpowered him by her amazing
volubility and the pertinacity of her questioning.

On his return home Irving passed his examinations (November, 1806), and
was admitted to the bar with but slender legal outfit, as he frankly
confessed. He was enrolled among the counsel for the defence at the
trial of Aaron Burr at Richmond. There was no thought of taxing his
untried legal skill; he was to be useful to the cause as a writer in
case his services were needed.

Law gave place to literature. Irving and J. K. Paulding projected a
paper, _Salmagundi_, to be ‘mainly characterized by a spirit of fun and
sarcastic drollery.’ William T. Irving joined in the venture. The first
number appeared on January 24, 1807. The editors issued it when they
were so minded, and after publishing twenty numbers, brought it to an
almost unceremonious close.

The following year Peter and Washington Irving began writing a
burlesque account of their native town, a parody on Mitchill’s _A
Picture of New York_. Peter was called to Liverpool to take charge of
the English interests of Irving and Smith, and it fell to Washington
to recast the chapters already written and complete the narrative.
The book outgrew the design (as is the tendency of parodies), and was
published on December 6, 1809, as _A History of New York from the
Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich
Knickerbocker_. It was received by the New York Historical Society, to
whom it was dedicated, with astonishment, and by the old Dutch families
with mingled emotions, among which that of exuberant delight was not in
every case the most prominent.

For two years Irving conducted the ‘Analectic Magazine,’ published in
Philadelphia. During the exciting months which followed the British
attack on Washington (August, 1814), he was military secretary to the
governor of New York. Being of adventurous spirit, he welcomed with
joy the prospect of accompanying his friend Stephen Decatur on the
expedition to Algiers. Disappointed in this and unable to get the
fever of travel out of his blood, he sailed for England (May, 1815),
intending nothing more than a visit to his brother in Liverpool and to
a married sister in Birmingham.

Peter Irving had been ill, and in consequence his affairs had fallen
into disorder. Washington undertook to disentangle them. He was
unsuccessful. To the intense mortification of the brothers they were
compelled to go into bankruptcy (1818), and Washington began casting
about for a way to supplement his slender income. He refused an
advantageous offer at home, and determined to remain in England. A
literary project had taken shape in his mind, and he proceeded to carry
it out.

In May, 1819, Irving published the first part of _The Sketch Book
of Geoffrey Crayon_, containing five papers, one of which, ‘Rip Van
Winkle,’ is a little masterpiece. The attitude of the public towards
this venture convinced Irving that he might live by the profession of
letters. _The Sketch Book_ was followed by _Bracebridge Hall, or the
Humorists_ (1822), and by the _Tales of a Traveller_ (1824). This last
date marks a period in Irving’s literary life.

The years which Irving spent abroad had their anxieties, their
depressions, their dull days, their long periods of drudgery. It is
a temptation to dwell on their pleasures and their triumphs. Irving
was fortunate in his friendships. He knew Scott, Campbell, Moore, and
Jeffrey, and had the amusement on one occasion of seeing his visiting
list revised by Rogers. He met Mrs. Siddons, marvelled at Belzoni, was
amused by the antics of Lady Caroline Lamb, breakfasted at Holland
House, and visited Thomas Hope at his country seat. In Paris he was
presented to Talma by John Howard Payne, ‘the young American Roscius
of former days,’ who had now ‘outgrown all tragic symmetry.’ He became
(in time) persona gratissima to John Murray, his English publisher; and
to be dear to one’s publisher must always be accounted among the great
rewards of literature.

At the instance of Alexander Everett, the American Minister to Spain,
Irving, in February, 1826, went to Madrid to translate Navarrete’s
forthcoming collection of documents relating to Columbus. He presently
abandoned the plan for a more grateful task, the writing of an
independent account of the discovery of America, based on Navarrete,
and on ample materials supplied by the library of Rich, the American
consul at Madrid. To this he devoted himself with immense energy. The
work was published in 1828, and was soon followed by the _Conquest of
Granada_ and _Voyages of the Companions of Columbus_.

In 1829 Irving became Secretary of the American Legation in London.
The Royal Society of Literature voted him one of their fifty guinea
gold medals, in recognition of his services to the study of history.
The honor, distinguished in itself, became doubly so to the recipient
because the other of the two awards for that year was bestowed on
Hallam. In June, 1830, the University of Oxford conferred on Irving the
degree of LL. D. In April, 1832, he sailed for America. He had been
absent seventeen years.

After travels in various parts of the United States, including a long
journey to the far West with the commissioner to the Indian tribes,
Irving settled near Tarrytown. His home was a little Dutch cottage
‘all made up of gable ends, and as full of angles and corners as
an old cocked hat.’ Familiarly called ‘The Roost’ by its inmates,
this ‘doughty and valorous little pile’ is known to the world as
‘Sunnyside.’ With the exception of the four years (1842–46) he passed
in Spain as Minister Plenipotentiary, ‘Sunnyside’ was Irving’s
abiding-place until his death.

His later writings are: _The Alhambra_, 1832; _The Crayon Miscellany_
(comprising _A Tour on the Prairies_, _Abbotsford and Newstead
Abbey_, and _Legends of the Conquest of Spain_), 1835; _Astoria_
(with Pierre M. Irving), 1836; _Adventures of Captain Bonneville,
U. S. A._ (edited), 1837; _Life of Goldsmith_, 1849; _Mahomet and his
Successors_, 1849–50; _The Chronicles of Wolfert’s Roost_, 1855; _The
Life of Washington_, 1855–59.

Attempts were made to draw Irving into political life. He was offered
a nomination for Congress; Tammany Hall ‘unanimously and vociferously’
declared him its candidate for mayor of New York; and President Van
Buren would have made him Secretary of the Navy. All these honors
he felt himself obliged to refuse. He accepted the Spanish mission
(offered by President Tyler at the instance of his Secretary of State,
Daniel Webster), because he believed himself not wholly unfitted for
the charge, and because it honored in him the profession of letters.

Irving’s intellectual powers were at perfect command up to the
beginning of the last year of his life. Then his health began to fail
markedly, and the final volume of his _Washington_ cost him effort he
could ill afford. He died suddenly on November 28, 1859, and was buried
in the cemetery at Sleepy Hollow.


II

IRVING’S CHARACTER

Irving was broad-minded, tolerant, amiable, incapable of envy, quick to
forget an affront, and always willing to think the best of humanity.
His tactfulness was due in part to his large experience of life, but
more to the possession of a nature that was sweet, serene, frank,
and unsophisticated. For Irving was no courtier; he could as little
flatter as practise the more odious forms of deceit. His gifts of irony
and ridicule, supplemented with an extraordinary power of humorous
delineation, were never abused. It might be said of him, as of another
great satirist, that ‘he never inflicted a wound.’

His modesty was excessive. It is impossible to find in his writings
or his correspondence any hint that he was inclined to put unusual
value on his work. Grateful as he was for praise, it would never have
occurred to him that he had a right to it. With all his knowledge of
the world he was singularly diffident. Moore hit off this trait when he
said that Geoffrey Crayon was ‘not strong as a lion, but delightful as
a domestic animal.’

Not his least admirable virtue was a spirit of helpfulness where his
brother authors were concerned. Irving was ‘officious’ in the good
old sense of the word, glad to be of service to his fellows, untiring
in efforts to promote their welfare. He could praise their work, too,
without disheartening qualifications. The good he enjoyed, the bad he
put to one side. And he never forgot a kindness. A publisher who had
once befriended him, though fallen on evil days, found himself still
able to command some of Irving’s best manuscripts.

Criticism never angered Irving. Personal attacks (of which he had his
share) were suffered with quiet dignity. He rarely defended himself,
and then only when the attack was outrageous. He could speak pointedly
if the need were. His reply to William Leggett, who accused him in
‘The Plain Dealer’ of ‘literary pusillanimity’ and double dealing,
is a model of effectiveness. One paragraph will show its quality.
Imputing no malevolence to Leggett, who doubtless acted from honest
feelings hastily excited by a misapprehension of the facts, Irving
says: ‘You have been a little too eager to give an instance of that
“plain dealing” which you have recently adopted as your war-cry. Plain
dealing, sir, is a great merit when accompanied by magnanimity, and
exercised with a just and generous spirit; but if pushed too far, and
made the excuse for indulging every impulse of passion or prejudice, it
may render a man, especially in your situation, a very offensive, if
not a very mischievous member of the community.’

Something may be known of a man by observing his attitude at the
approach of old age. Irving’s beautiful serenity was characteristic.
People were kind to him, but he thought their kindness extraordinary.
He wondered whether old gentlemen were becoming fashionable.


III

THE WRITER

Irving’s prose is distinguished for grace and sweetness. It is
unostentatious, natural, easy. At its best it comes near to being a
model of good prose. The most striking effects are produced by the
simplest means. Never does the writer appear to be searching for an
out-of-the-way term. He accepts what lies at hand. The word in question
is almost obvious and often conventional, but invariably apt.

For a writer who produced so much the style is remarkably homogeneous.
It is an exaggeration to speak of it as overcharged with color. There
are passages of much splendor, but Irving’s taste was too refined to
admit of his indulging in rhetorical excesses. Nor is the style quite
so mellifluous as it seemed to J. W. Croker, who said: ‘I can no more
go on all day with one of his [Irving’s] books than I could go on all
day sucking a sugar-plum.’ The truth is that Irving is one of the most
human and companionable of writers, and his English is just the sort to
prompt one to go on all day with him.

Yet there is a want of ruggedness, the style is almost too perfectly
controlled. It lacks the strength and energy born of deep thought and
passionate conviction, and it must be praised (as it may be without
reserve) for urbanity and masculine grace.


IV

EARLY WORK

_KNICKERBOCKER’S HISTORY_, _SKETCH BOOK_, _BRACEBRIDGE HALL_, _TALES OF
A TRAVELLER_

The dignified appearance of Diedrich Knickerbocker’s learned work,
the quiet simplicity of the principal title, and the sober dedication
gave no hint to the serious-minded that they were buying one of
the most extraordinary books of humor in the English language. The
deception could not last long, but it is to be hoped that on the day of
publication some honest seeker after knowledge took a copy home with
the intent to profit at once by its stores of erudition.

On a basis of historical truth Irving reared a delightfully grotesque
historical edifice. The method is analogous to that children employ
when they put a candle on the floor that they may laugh at the odd
shadows of themselves cast on wall and ceiling. The figures are
monstrous, distorted, yet always resembling. Nothing could be at once
more lifelike and more unreal than Irving’s account of New Amsterdam
and its people under the three Dutch governors.

Here is a world of amusement to be had for the asking. One reader will
enjoy the ironical philosophy, another the sly thrusts at current
politics, a third the boisterous fun of certain episodes, such as the
fight between stout Risingh and Peter Stuyvesant, the hint of which
may have been caught from Fielding’s account of how Molly Seagrim
valorously put her enemies to flight. But the book will always be most
cherished for its quaint pictures of snug and drowsy comfort, for its
world of broad-bottomed burghers, amphibious housewives, and demure
Dutch damsels wooed by inarticulate lovers smoking long pipes, and for
the rich Indian summer atmosphere with which the poet-humorist invested
the scenes of a not wholly idyllic past.

_The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon_ is in one respect well named; it
has the heterogeneous character that we associate with an artist’s
portfolio. Notes of travel, stories, meditations, and portraits are
thrown together in pleasant disorder. A paper on ‘Roscoe’ is followed
by the sketch entitled ‘The Wife,’ and the history of ‘Rip Van Winkle’
is succeeded by an essay on the attitude of English writers towards
America. In another sense the volume is not a mere sketch-book,
for each sketch is a highly finished picture. Here is often a
self-consciousness radically unlike the abandon of the _History of
New York_. At times Irving falls quite into the ‘Keepsake’ manner. A
faint aroma as of withered rose leaves steals from the pages, a languid
atmosphere of sweet melancholy dear to the early Nineteenth Century.

Other pages are breezy enough. The five chapters on Christmas at
Bracebridge Hall, the essay on ‘Little Britain,’ on the ‘Mutability
of Literature,’ and that on ‘John Bull’ are emphatically not in the
‘Keepsake’ vein. Of themselves they would have sufficed to redeem
_The Sketch Book_ from the worst charge that can be brought against a
piece of literature,--the charge of being merely fashionable. But the
extraordinary vitality which this book has enjoyed for eighty-five
years it owes in the main to ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy
Hollow.’ Written in small form, embodying simple incidents, saturated
with humor, classic in their conciseness of style, these stories are
faultless examples of Irving’s art.

Irving dearly loved a lovable vagabond, and Rip is his ideal. The story
is told in a succession of pictures. The reader visualizes scenery,
character, incident, the purple mountains, the village nestling at
their feet, the ne’er-do-weel whom children love, the termagant wife,
the junto before the inn door, the journey into the mountains, the
strange little beings at their solemn game, the draught of the fatal
liquor, the sleep, the awakening, the return home, the bewilderment,
the recognition,--do we not know it by heart? Have we not read the
narrative a hundred times, trying in vain to penetrate the secret of
its perfection? Something of the logic of poetry went into the creation
of this idyl. We are left with the feeling that Irving himself could
not have changed a word for the better.

‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is etched with a deeper stroke, is
broader, more farcical. There is no pathos, but downright fun and
frolic from the first line to the last. The audacious exaggeration
of every feature in the portrait of Ichabod Crane is inimitably
clever. The schoolmaster gets no pity and needs none. And the reader
is justified in his unsympathetic attitude when later he learns that
Ichabod, instead of having been carried off by the headless Hessian,
merely changed his quarters, and when last heard of had studied law,
written for the newspapers, and gone into politics.

In _Bracebridge Hall_ Geoffrey Crayon returns to the English country
house where he had spent a Christmas, to enjoy at leisure old manners,
old customs, old-world ideas and people. Never were simpler materials
used in the making of a book; never was a more entertaining book
compounded of such simple materials. The incidents are of the most
quiet sort, a walk, a dinner, a visit to a neighboring grange or to a
camp of gypsies, a reading in the library or the telling of a story
after dinner. The philosophy is naïve, but the humor is exquisite and
unflagging.

The reader meets his old friends, the Squire, Master Simon, old
Christy, and the Oxonian. New characters are introduced, Lady
Lillycraft and General Harbottle, Ready-money Jack, Slingsby the
schoolmaster, and the Radical who reads Cobbett, and goes armed with
pamphlets and arguments. Among them all none is more attractive than
the Squire. With his scorn of commercialism, his love of ancient
customs, his good-humored tolerance of gypsies and poachers, with his
body of maxims from Peacham and other old writers, and his amusing
contempt for Lord Chesterfield--these and other delightful traits make
Mr. Bracebridge one of the most ingratiating characters in fiction.

_Bracebridge Hall_ contains interpolated stories, the ‘Stout
Gentleman,’ the ‘Student of Salamanca,’ and the finely finished tale of
‘Annette Delabarre.’ The papers of Diedrich Knickerbocker are not yet
exhausted; having furnished Rip and Ichabod to _The Sketch Book_ they
now contribute to _Bracebridge Hall_ the story of ‘Dolph Heyliger.’

The _Tales of a Traveller_, a medley of episodes and sketches, is
divided into four parts. In the first part the Nervous Gentleman of
Bracebridge Hall continues his narrations. These adventures, supposed
to have been told at a hunt dinner, or at breakfast the following
morning, are intertwined, Arabian Nights fashion, story within story.
They are grotesque (the ‘Bold Dragoon,’ with the richly humorous
account of the dance of the furniture), or weird and ghastly (the
‘German Student’), or romantic (the ‘Young Italian’).

The second part, ‘Buckthorne and his Friends,’ displays the seamy side
of English dramatic and literary life. Modern realism had not yet been
invented, and it is easy to laugh over the sorrows of Flimsy, who, in
his coat of Lord Townley cut and dingy-white stockinet pantaloons,
bears a closer relation to Mr. Vincent Crummles than to any one of the
characters of _A Mummer’s Wife_.

Part third, the ‘Italian Banditti,’ is in a style which no longer
interests, though many worse written narratives do. But in the last
part, ‘The Money-Diggers,’ Irving comes back to his own. He is again
wandering along the shores of the pleasant island of Mannahatta,
fishing at Hellegat, lying under the trees at Corlear Hook while a Cape
Cod whaler tells the story of ‘The Devil and Tom Walker.’ Ramm Rapelye
fills his chair at the club and smokes and grunts, ever maintaining a
mastiff-like gravity. Once more we see the little old city which had
not entirely lost its picturesque Dutch features. Here stands Wolfert
Webber’s house, with its gable end of yellow brick turned toward the
street. ‘The gigantic sunflowers loll their broad jolly faces over
the fences, seeming to ogle most affectionately the passers-by.’
Dirk Waldron, ‘the son of four fathers,’ sits in Webber’s kitchen,
feasting his eyes on the opulent charms of Amy. He says nothing,
but at intervals fills the old cabbage-grower’s pipe, strokes the
tortoise-shell cat, or replenishes the teapot from the bright copper
kettle singing before the fire. ‘All these quiet little offices may
seem of trifling import; but when true love is translated into Low
Dutch, it is in this way it eloquently expresses itself.’

Had Irving’s reputation depended on the four books just now
characterized, it would have been a great reputation and the note of
originality precisely what we now find it. But there was need of work
in other fields to show the catholicity of his interests and the range
of his powers.


V

HISTORICAL WRITINGS

_COLUMBUS_, _CONQUEST OF GRANADA_, _MAHOMET_

The _Life and Voyages of Columbus_ is written in the spirit of tempered
hero-worship. It is free from the extravagance of partisans who make
a god of Columbus, and from the skeptical cavillings of those who
apparently are not unwilling to rob the great explorer of any claim he
may possess to virtue or ability. As Irving conceives him, Columbus
is a many-sided man, infinitely patient when patience is required,
doggedly obstinate if the need be, crafty or open, daring in the
highest degree, having that audacity which seems to quell the powers
of nature, yet devout, with a touch of the superstition characteristic
of his time and his belief.

On many questions, fine points of ethnography, geography, navigation
and the like, Irving neither could nor did he presume to speak finally.
History has to be rewritten every few years wherever these questions
are involved. But the letters of Columbus, the testimony of his
contemporaries, the reports of friend and enemy, throw an unchanging
light on character. The march of science can neither dim nor augment
that light. Irving was emphatically a judge of human nature. He needed
no help in making up his mind what sort of man Columbus was. Modern
scholars with their magnificent scientific equipment sometimes forget
that cartography, invaluable though it is, is after all a poor guide
to character. And yet, by the testimony of one of those same modern
scholars, Irving’s life of the Admiral, as a trustworthy and popular
résumé, is still the best.

One often wishes Irving had been less temperate. The barbarous tyranny
of the Spaniards over the Indians of Hispaniola stirs the reader to
deepest indignation. He longs for such treatment of the theme as
Carlyle might possibly have given. Here is need of thunderbolts of
wrath like unto those wielded by the Jupiter Tonans of history. But
taken as a whole, the book has extraordinary virtues. It is a clear,
full, well-ordered, picturesque, and readable narrative of the great
explorer’s career. There is no better, nor is there likely to be a
better. He who has time to read but one book on the discoverer of
America will not go amiss in reading this one. He who proposes to read
many books on the subject may well elect to read Irving’s first.

The supplementary _Voyages of the Companions of Columbus_ narrates
the adventures of Ojeda, that dare-devil of the high seas, of
Nicuesa, of Vasco Nuñez, of Ponce de Leon. Though wanting the unity
of the preceding volumes, these narratives are of high interest, and
for vigor, animation, and picturesqueness must rank among the most
attractive examples of Irving’s work.

While making collateral studies bearing on the life of Columbus, Irving
became so captivated with the romantic and chivalrous story of the fall
of Granada that he found himself unable to complete his more sober
task until he had sketched a rough outline of the new book. When the
_Columbus_ was sent to the press, Irving made a tour of Andalusia,
visited certain memorable scenes of the war, and on his return to
Seville elaborated his sketch into the ornate and glowing picture known
as _A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, by Fray Antonio Agapida_.

The book is commonly described as romance rather than history. It was
written with a view to rescuing the ancient chronicle of the conquest
from the mass of amatory and sentimental tradition with which it was
incrusted, and of presenting it in its legitimate brilliancy. Irving
believed, too, that the world had forgotten or had failed to realize
how stern the conflict was. In the fifteenth century it was regarded
as a Holy War. Christian bigot was arrayed against Moslem bigot.
Atrocities of the blackest sort were perpetrated and justified in the
name of religion. The title-page says that the narrative is taken from
the manuscript of one Fray Antonio Agapida. The brother is an imaginary
character, a personification of monkish zeal and intolerance. When the
slaughter of the infidels has been unusually great, Fray Antonio makes
his appearance, like the ‘chorus’ of a play, and thanks God with much
unction. Through this mouth-piece Irving gives ironical voice to that
sentiment it is impossible not to feel in contemplating the barbarities
of a ‘holy’ war. A few readers were disturbed by the fiction of the
old monk. They ought to have liked him. He is an amusing personage and
comes too seldom on the stage.

The _Life of Mahomet and his Successors_ has been spoken of as
‘comparatively a failure.’ If a book which sums up the available
knowledge of the time on the subject, which is written in clear, pure
English, which is throughout of high interest, in other words, which
has solidity, beauty, and a large measure of the literary quality--if
such a book is comparatively a failure, one hardly knows what can be
the critic’s standard of measurement. Irving was not acquainted with
Arabic. He drew his materials from Spanish and German sources. Yet it
is not too much to say that no better general account of Mahomet and
the early caliphs has been written.


VI

SPANISH ROMANCE

_THE ALHAMBRA_, _LEGENDS OF THE CONQUEST OF SPAIN_

For three or four months Irving lived in the ancient Moorish palace
and fortress known as the Alhambra. In his own phrase he ‘succeeded
to the throne of Boabdil.’ The place charmed him beyond all others in
the Old World. His craving for antiquity, his love of the exotic, his
passion for romance, his delight in day-dreaming were here completely
satisfied. He loved the huge pile, so rough and forbidding without,
so graceful and attractive within. The splendor of its storied past
intoxicated him. He roamed at will through its courts and halls,
steeping himself in history and tradition. He was amused at the life
of the petty human creatures, nesting bird-like in the crannies and
nooks of the vast edifice. To observe their habits, record their
superstitious fancies, listen to their tales, sympathize with their
ambitions or their sorrows, was occupation enough. The history of
the place could be studied in the parchment-clad folios of the Jesuit
library. As for the legends, they abounded everywhere. The scattered
leaves were then brought together in the volume called _Tales of the
Alhambra_.

It is a Spanish arabesque. No book displays to better advantage the
wayward charm of Irving’s literary genius. Whether recounting old
stories of buried Moorish gold and Arabian necromancy, or describing
the loves of Manuel and bright-eyed Dolores, or extolling the grace
and intelligence of Carmen, he is equally happy. There was a needy
and shiftless denizen of the place, one Mateo Ximenes, who captured
Irving’s heart by describing himself as ‘a son of the Alhambra.’ A
ribbon-weaver by trade and an idler by choice, he attached himself to
the newcomer and refused to be shaken off. If it was impossible to
be rid of him, it was equally impossible not to like him. Life was
a prolonged holiday for Mateo during Geoffrey Crayon’s residence.
Whatever obligations he had, of a domestic or a business nature, were
joyfully set aside that he might wait upon the visitor. He became
Irving’s ‘prime-minister and historiographer-royal,’ doing his errands,
aiding in his explorations, and between times unfolding his accumulated
treasures of legend and tradition. He was flattered by the credence
given his stories, and when the reign of el rey Chico the second came
to an end, no one lamented more than Mateo, left now ‘to his old brown
cloak, and his starveling mystery of ribbon-weaving.’

Though not published until after Irving’s return to America, _The
Legends of the Conquest of Spain_ is a part of the harvest of this same
period. The book describes the decline of the Gothic power under Witiza
and Roderick, the treason of Count Julian, the coming of the Arabians
under Taric and Muza, and the downfall of Christian supremacy in the
Spanish peninsula. Irving was a magician in handling words, and this
volume is rich in proof of it. Here may be found passages of the utmost
brilliancy, such as the description of Roderick’s assault upon the
necromantic tower of Hercules, and the opening of the golden casket.

The _Legends_ serves a double purpose. As a book of entertainment pure
and simple it is unsurpassed. It is also a spur to the reader to make
his way into wider fields, and to learn yet more of that people whose
history could give rise to these beautiful illustrations of chivalry
and courage.


VII

AMERICAN HISTORY AND TRAVEL

_A TOUR ON THE PRAIRIES_, _ASTORIA_, _LIFE OF WASHINGTON_

The list of Irving’s writings between 1835 and 1855 comprises eight
titles. Two of these books have been commented on. The others may be
despatched in a paragraph, as the old reviewers used to say.

_Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey_ is an aftermath of the English
harvest of impressions and experiences. The _Life of Goldsmith_,
based originally on Prior’s useful but heavy work, and rewritten
when Forster’s book appeared, is accounted one of the most graceful
of literary biographies. _Wolfert’s Roost_ is a medley of delightful
papers on birds, Indians, old Dutch villages, and modern American
adventurers, together with a handful of Spanish stories and legends.

There is a group of three books dealing with American frontier life
and western exploration. The first of these, _A Tour on the Prairies_,
shows how readily the trained man of letters can turn his hand to any
subject. Who would have thought that the prose poet of the Alhambra
was also able to do justice to the trapper and the Pawnee? _Astoria_
(the first draft of which was made by Pierre M. Irving) is an
account of John Jacob Astor’s commercial enterprise in the Northwest.
Irving was amused when an English review pronounced the book his
masterpiece. He had really taken a deeper interest in the work than
he supposed possible when Astor urged it upon him. _Bonneville_ in a
manner supplements _Astoria_, and was written from notes and journals
furnished by the hardy explorer whose name the book bears.

It was fitting that Irving should crown the literary labors of forty
years with a life of Washington. He had a deep veneration for the
memory of the great American. The theme was peculiarly grateful to
him. He seems to have regarded the work as something more than a
self-imposed and pleasant literary task--it was a duty to which he was
in the highest degree committed, a duty at once pious and patriotic.
Though he had begun early to ponder his subject, Irving was nearly
seventy when he commenced the actual writing; and notwithstanding
the book far outgrew the original plan, he was able to bring it to a
successful conclusion.

Three quarters of the first volume are devoted to Washington’s
history up to his thirty-second year. It is a graphic account of the
young student, the surveyor, the envoy to the Indians, the captain
of militia. Irving shows how it is possible to present the ‘real’
Washington without recourse to exaggerated realism. The remainder
of the volume is given to an outline of the causes leading to the
Revolution, to the affair of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of
Bunker Hill, Washington’s election to the post of commander-in-chief,
and the beginning of military operations around Boston. The next three
volumes are a history of the Revolutionary War, with Washington always
the central figure. The fifth volume covers Washington’s political
life, and his last years at Mount Vernon.

Of two notable characteristics of this book, the first is its
extraordinary readableness. To be sure the Revolution was a great
event, and Irving was a gifted writer. Nevertheless for a historian who
delights in movement, color, variety, the Revolutionary War must often
seem no better than a desert of tedious fact relieved now and then by
an oasis of brilliant exploit. Irving complained of the dulness of many
parts of the theme. Notwithstanding this he brought to the work so much
of his peculiar winsomeness that the _Washington_ is a book always to
be taken up with pleasure and laid down with regret.

The second notable characteristic is the freedom from extravagance
either of praise or of blame. The crime and the disgrace of Arnold do
not color adversely the historian’s view of what Arnold was and did
in 1776. No indignant partisan has told with greater pathos the story
of André. Nothing could be more temperate than Irving’s attitude
towards the Tories, or, as it is now fashionable to call them, the
Loyalists of the American Revolution. He could not deny sympathy to
these unfortunates who found themselves caught between the upper and
lower millstones, a people who in many cases were unable to go over
heart and soul to the cause of the King, and who found it even more
difficult to espouse the cause of their own countrymen. Even the
enemies of Washington, that is to say, the enemies of his own political
and military household, are treated with utmost fairness.

For Washington himself, Irving has only admiration, which, however,
he is able to express without fulsome panegyric. He dwells on the
great leader’s magnanimity, on his evenness of temper, his infinite
patience, his freedom from trace of vanity, self-interest, or sectional
prejudice, his confidence in the justness of the cause, and his trust
in Providence, a trust which faltered least when circumstances were
most adverse. Irving admired unstintedly the warrior who could hold
in check trained and seasoned European soldiers with ‘an apparently
undisciplined rabble,’ the ‘American Fabius’ who, when the time was
ripe, was found to possess ‘enterprise as well as circumspection,
energy as well as endurance.’

The personal side of the biography is not neglected, but no emphasis is
laid on particulars of costume, manners, speech, what Washington ate
and drank, and said about his neighbors. Irving could have had little
sympathy with the modern rage for knowing the size of a great man’s
collar and the number of his footgear. The passion for such details is
legitimate, but it is a passion which needs to be firmly controlled. In
brief, throughout the work emphasis is laid where emphasis belongs, on
the character of Washington, who was the soul of the Revolutionary War,
and then on the moral grandeur of that great struggle for human rights.

       *       *       *       *       *

A historian of American literature says: ‘Irving had no message.’ He
was not indeed enslaved by a theory literary or political; neither was
he passionate for some reform and convinced that his particular reform
was paramount. But he who gave to the world a series of writings which,
in addition to being exquisite examples of literary art, are instinct
with humor, brotherly kindness, and patriotism, can hardly be said not
to have had a message.

Irving rendered an immense service to the biographical study of
history. Columbus, Mahomet, the princes and warriors of the Holy War,
are made real to us. Nor is this all. His books help to counteract that
tendency of the times to make history a recondite science. History
cannot be confined to the historians and erudite readers alone. Said
Freeman to his Oxford audience one day: ‘Has anybody read the essay
on Race and Language in the third series of my Historical Essays? It
is very stiff reading, so perhaps nobody has.’ And one suspects that
Freeman rejoiced a little to think it was ‘stiff reading.’

Nevertheless the public insists on its right to know the main
facts. And as Leslie Stephen says, ‘the main facts are pretty well
ascertained. Darnley was blown up, whoever supplied the powder, and the
Spanish Armada certainly came somehow to grief.’ That man of letters is
a benefactor who, like Irving, can give his audience the main facts,
expressed in terms which make history more readable even than romance.

Irving perfected the short story. His genius was fecundative. Many
a writer of gift and taste, and at least one writer of genius, owes
Irving a debt which can be acknowledged but which cannot be paid.
Deriving much from his literary predecessors, and gladly acknowledging
the measure of his obligation, Irving by the originality of his work
placed fresh obligations on those who came after him.

With his stories of Dutch life he conquered a new domain. That these
stories remain in their first and untarnished beauty is due to Irving’s
rich humor and ‘golden style,’ and to that indescribable quality of
genius by which it lifts its creations out of the local and provincial,
and endows them with a charm which all can understand and enjoy.



II

_William Cullen Bryant_


REFERENCES:

  =G. W. Curtis=: _The Life, Character, and Writings of William
    Cullen Bryant_, Commemorative Address before the New York
    Historical Society, 1878.

  =Parke Godwin=: _A Biography of William Cullen Bryant_, 1883.

  =John Bigelow=: _William Cullen Bryant_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1890.

  =W. A. Bradley=: _William Cullen Bryant_, ‘English Men of
    Letters,’ 1905.


I

HIS LIFE

The author of ‘Thanatopsis’ was born at Cummington, a village among
the hills of western Massachusetts, on November 3, 1794. Through his
father, Doctor Peter Bryant, a physician, he traced his ancestry to
Stephen Bryant, an early settler at Duxbury; through his mother, Sarah
Snell, he had ‘a triple claim’ to ‘Mayflower’ origin.

Doctor Bryant was a many-sided man. He collected books, read poetry
(Horace was his favorite), wrote satirical verse, was a musician and
something of a mechanic. He was an ardent Federalist, a member of the
Massachusetts legislature for several terms, and then of the senate.
He possessed in high degree the art of imparting knowledge. Medical
students thought themselves fortunate in being allowed to study under
his direction. Doctor Bryant’s father and grandfather were both
physicians, and he hoped that his second-born (who was named in honor
of the Scottish practitioner, William Cullen) would follow in the
ancestral footsteps.

Bryant began to make verses in his eighth year. At ten he wrote an
‘address’ in heroic couplets, which got into newspaper print. The
boy used to pray that he might write verses which would endure. A
political satire, _The Embargo or Sketches of the Times_, ‘by a youth
of thirteen,’ if not in the nature of evidence that the prayer had been
answered, so delighted Doctor Bryant that he printed it in a pamphlet
(1808). A second issue containing additional poems was brought out the
next year. To this the author put his name.

Bryant was taught Greek by his uncle, the Reverend Thomas Snell
of Brookfield, and mathematics by the Reverend Moses Hallock of
Plainfield. He entered the Sophomore class at Williams College in
October, 1810, and left the following May. He was to have spent the two
succeeding years at Yale, but the plan had to be abandoned for want of
money. Some time during the summer of 1811 ‘Thanatopsis’ was written in
its first form and laid aside.

The poet began reading law with Judge Samuel Howe of Worthington,
who once reproached his pupil ‘for giving to Wordsworth’s _Lyrical
Ballads_ time that belonged to Blackstone and Chitty.’ He continued his
studies under William Baylies of Bridgewater, was admitted to the bar
at Plymouth in August, 1815, practised awhile at Plainfield, and then
removed to Great Barrington. The lines ‘To a Waterfowl’ were written
the night of the young lawyer’s arrival in Plainfield.

He made progress in his profession and was called to argue cases
at New Haven and before the supreme court at Boston. The intervals
of legal business were given to poetry. Bryant’s father urged him
to contribute to the new ‘North American Review and Miscellaneous
Journal,’ the editor of which was an old friend. The young lawyer-poet
seeming indifferent to the suggestion, Doctor Bryant carried with
him to Boston two pieces he had unearthed among his son’s papers,
namely, ‘Thanatopsis’ in its first form, and ‘A Fragment’ now called
‘Inscription at the Entrance of a Wood.’ Both were printed in the
‘Review’ for September, 1817. Other poems followed, together with three
prose essays (on ‘American Poetry,’ on ‘The Happy Temperament,’ and on
the use of ‘Trisyllabic Feet in Iambic Verse’). He also contributed
poems to ‘The Idle Man,’ Richard Henry Dana’s magazine, and the ‘United
States Literary Gazette.’

In June, 1821, Bryant married Miss Frances Fairchild of Great
Barrington. In April of this year he had been invited to give ‘the
usual poetic address’ before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard.
‘The Ages’ was written for this occasion and publicly read on August
30. At the instance of his Boston friends, Bryant printed ‘The Ages’
with seven other pieces in a little pamphlet entitled _Poems_.

Never in love with the law, the poet began to regard it with aversion.
He was intellectually restless and took to play-writing. A farce,
‘The Heroes,’ in ridicule of duelling, was sent to his friends, the
Sedgwicks, in New York, who admitted its merits but doubted its chances
of success on the stage, Bryant, at the suggestion of Henry Sedgwick,
made two or three visits to the city in search of congenial work. He
thought he had found it when he undertook to edit ‘The New York Review
and Athenæum Magazine,’ a periodical made by amalgamating ‘The Atlantic
Magazine’ with the older ‘Literary Review.’ Bryant wrote to a friend
that it was a livelihood, ‘and a livelihood is all I got from the law.’

The editor of the ‘Review’ was active in various ways. He studied the
Romance languages, gave a course of lectures on poetry before the
Athenæum Society (1825), and annual courses on mythology before the
National Academy of the Arts of Design (1826–31). He was amused with
New York life; Great Barrington had not been amusing. He published
verse and prose in his own review and helped Sands and Verplanck edit
their annual, ‘The Talisman.’ Somewhat later he edited _Tales of the
Glauber Spa_ (1832), the joint work of Sands, Leggett, Paulding, Miss
Sedgwick, and himself.[1]

The ‘Review’ suffered from changes in the business management, and
Bryant’s prospects became gloomy. At this juncture (1826) he was
invited to act as assistant to William Coleman, editor of the ‘New
York Evening Post.’ In 1828 he became ‘a small proprietor in the
establishment,’ and when Coleman died (July, 1829) Bryant assumed the
post of editor-in-chief and engaged as his assistant William Leggett, a
young New Yorker who had shown a marked ability in conducting a weekly
journal called ‘The Critic.’ ‘I like politics no better than you do’
(Bryant had written to Dana), ‘but ... politics and a bellyfull are
better than poetry and starvation.’

His theory of the journalist’s function is well known. ‘He regarded
himself as a trustee for the public.’[2] Party was much, and Bryant was
a strong Democrat, but the people were greater than party.

Bryant’s handling of public questions belongs to political history. His
lifelong fight against a protective tariff, his defence of Jackson’s
policy respecting nullification and the United States Bank, his
maintenance of the right to discuss slavery as freely as any other
subject about which there is a difference of opinion, his insistence
that the question of giving the franchise to negroes in the state
of New York be settled on its merits and as a local matter with
which neither Abolitionist nor slave-holder had anything to do, his
determined stand against the annexation of Texas and enlargement of
the area of slavery, his position on a multitude of questions which
in his life as a public censor he found it necessary to defend or to
attack--are fully set forth in the two biographies by his coadjutors.

From 1856 Bryant acted with the Republican party, giving his cordial
support to Frémont and to Lincoln. He was a presidential elector in
1861. He advocated the election of Grant in 1868, and again in 1872,
the latter time reluctantly ‘as the best thing attainable in the
circumstances.’

To secure the independence and detachment that would enable him to
judge measures fairly, Bryant avoided intercourse with public men, kept
away from Washington, took no office, and was otherwise singular. In
this way he at least secured a free pen. As to the tone of the comments
on men in public life, Bryant approved the theory of a brother
editor who maintained that nothing should be said which would make it
impossible for him who wrote and him who was written about to meet at
the same dinner-table the next day. It is not pretended, however, that
he was uniformly controlled by this theory. What was the prevailing
idea of his journalistic manner may be known from Felton’s review of
_The Fountain_, in which he marvels that these beautiful poems can
be the work of one ‘who deals with wrath, and dips his pen daily in
bitterness and hate....’

Since 1821 no collection of Bryant’s verse had been made. Then after
ten years he gathered together eighty-nine pieces, including the eight
which had appeared in the pamphlet of 1821, and issued them as _Poems_,
1832. Through the friendly offices of Irving the book was reprinted
in England with a dedicatory letter to Samuel Rogers. Notwithstanding
favorable notices, both English and American, Bryant was despondent.
‘Poetic wares,’ he said, ‘are not for the market of the present day ...
mankind are occupied with politics, railroads, and steamboats.’ But
he found it necessary to reprint the volume in 1834 (with additional
poems), and again in 1836.

His work in prose and verse after 1839 includes _The Fountain and
Other Poems_, 1842; _The White-Footed Deer and Other Poems_, 1844;
_Poems_, 1847; _Letters of a Traveller_, 1850; _Poems_, 1854; _Letters
from Spain_, 1859; _Thirty Poems_, 1864; _Letters from the East_,
1869; _The Iliad of Homer, translated into English blank verse_, 1870;
_The Odyssey_, 1871–72; _Orations and Addresses_, 1873; _The Flood of
Tears_, 1878.

The introduction to the _Library of Poetry and Song_ is from Bryant’s
pen, as is also the preface to E. A. Duyckinck’s (still unpublished)
edition of Shakespeare. His name appears as one of the authors of _A
Popular History of the United States_ (1876), together with that of
Sydney Howard Gay, on whom fell the burden of the actual writing. It is
unfortunate that no adequate reprint of Bryant’s political leaders has
been made. As much ought to be done for him as Sedgwick did for Leggett.

Bryant found relief from the strain of editorial work in foreign
travel. He was abroad with his family in 1834–36, visiting France,
Italy, and Germany. He did his sight-seeing deliberately, spending a
month in Rome, two months at Florence, three months in Munich, and
so on. He had been four months at Heidelberg, when, says one of his
biographers (in phrases which he never learned from Bryant), ‘His
studious sojourn at this renowned seat of learning was interrupted by
intelligence of the dangerous illness of his editorial colleague,’ and
he returned home. During a visit to England in 1845 Bryant met Rogers,
Moore, Herschel, Hallam, and Spedding, heard one of his own poems
quoted at a Corn Law meeting, where among the speakers were Cobden and
Bright, and carried a letter of introduction to Wordsworth from Henry
Crabb Robinson. He made yet other journeys to Europe and to the East.

Notable among Bryant’s public addresses were the orations on Cooper
(1852) and Irving (1860) delivered before the New York Historical
Society. He was a founder and the third president of the Century
Association, first president of the New York Homœopathic Society,
president of the American Free Trade League, and member of literary
and historical societies innumerable. He held no public office, but
as time went on it might almost be said that an office was created
for him--that of Representative American. He seemed the incarnation
of virtues popularly supposed to have survived from an older and
simpler time. He was a great public character. The word venerable
acquired a new meaning as one reflected on the career of this eminent
citizen who was born when Washington was president, who as a boy had
written satires on Jefferson, and who as a man had discussed political
questions from the administration of John Quincy Adams to that of
Hayes. Other men were as old as he, Bryant seemed to have lived longer.

‘And when at last he fell, he fell as the granite column falls, smitten
from without, but sound within.’[3] His death was the result of an
accident. He gave the address at the unveiling of the statue of
Mazzini in Central Park. Though wearied with the exertion and almost
overcome by the heat, he was able to walk to the house of a friend.
As he was about entering the door he fell backward, striking his head
violently against the stone step. He never recovered from the effects
of this fall, and died on June 12, 1878.


II

BRYANT’S CHARACTER

We seldom think of Bryant other than as he appears in the Sarony
photograph of 1873. With the snowy beard, the furrowed brow, the sunken
but keen eyes, a cloak thrown about the shoulders, he is the ideal poet
of popular imagination. Thus must he have looked when he wrote ‘The
Flood of Years,’ and it is difficult to realize that he did not look
thus when he wrote ‘Thanatopsis.’ We do not readily picture Bryant as
young or even middle-aged.

Parke Godwin saw him first about 1837. He had a ‘wearied, almost
saturnine expression of countenance.’ He was spare in figure, of medium
height, clean shaven, and had an ‘unusually large head.’ He spoke with
decision, but could not be called a copious talker. His voice was
noticeably sweet, his choice of words and accuracy of pronunciation
remarkable. When anything was said to awaken mirth, his eyes gleamed
with ‘a singular radiance and a short, quick, staccato but hearty
laugh followed.’ He was more sociable when his wife and daughters were
present than at other times. Bryant’s reserve was always a conspicuous
trait.

Under that prim exterior lurked fire and passion. ‘In court he often
lost his self-control.’ It was thought that Bryant might keep a promise
he once made of thrashing a legal opponent within an inch of his life
(‘if he ever says that again’) though the man was twice his size. Not
long after he became editor-in-chief of the ‘Post’ Bryant cowhided a
journalistic adversary who had bestowed upon him by name, ‘the most
insulting epithet that can be applied to a human being.’[4] It was the
only time his well-schooled temper outwitted him.

His friendships were strong and abiding. He had an inflexible will and
a keen sense of justice, so keen that it drove him out of the law. No
thought of personal ease or advantage could turn him from a course he
had mapped out as right. He was generous. His benefactions were many
and judicious, and the manner of their bestowal as unpretending as
possible.

Bryant’s ‘unassailable dignity’ was a marked trait of character. He
refused an invitation to a dinner given Charles Dickens by a ‘prominent
citizen’ of New York. ‘That man,’ said Bryant, ‘has known me for
years without asking me to his house, and I am not going to be made a
stool-pigeon to attract birds of passage that may be flying about.’

He was perfectly simple-minded, incapable of assuming the air of famous
poet or successful man of the world. Doubtless he relished praise, but
he had an adroit way of putting compliments to one side, tempering the
gratitude he really felt with an ironical humor.


III

THE LITERARY CRAFTSMAN

Bryant was a deliberate and fastidious writer. His literary executors
could never have said of him that they found ‘neither blot nor erasure
among his papers.’ His copy, written on the backs of old letters
or rejected manuscripts, was a wilderness of interlineations and
corrections, and often hard to decipher.

Famous as he was for correctness, it seems a mere debauch of eulogy to
affirm that all of Bryant’s contributions to the ‘Evening Post’ do not
contain ‘as many erroneous or defective forms of expression’ as ‘can be
found in the first ten numbers of the _Spectator_.’ But there is little
danger of overestimating his influence on the English of journalism
during the forty years and more that he set the example of a high
standard of daily writing. He was sparing of advice, though in earlier
days he could not always conquer the temptation to amuse himself over
the English of his brother editors.[5] It has been denied that he had
any part in compiling the famous ‘index expurgatorius,’ but it is not
unreasonable to suppose that this list, embodying traditions of the
editorial office, had his approval. Bryant was for directness and
precision in writing. Ideas must stand on their merits, if they have
them, for such phrasing will define them perfectly.

His prose style may be studied in his books of travel and his
addresses. The literary characteristic of _Letters of a Traveller_ and
its companion volumes is excessive plainness, a homely quality like
that of a village pedagogue careful not to make mistakes. One is often
reminded of the honest home-spun prose of Henry Wansey’s _Excursion to
the United States_.


Turning to the volume of _Orations and Addresses_, the reader finds
himself in another world. Bryant’s memorial orations are among the
best of their kind, stately, uplifting, and at times even majestic.
They belong to a type of composition which lies midway between oratory
and literature and unites certain characteristics of each. Written
primarily to be heard, and adapted to public utterance, they are also
meant to be read. They must stand the test of the ear and then that of
the eye. The listener must find his account in them as they come from
the lips of the orator, and he who afterward turns at leisure the pages
of the printed report must be satisfied. Bryant’s speeches are markedly
‘literary;’ and though oratorical they are wholly free from bombast.
Poet though he was, he built no cloud-capped towers of rhetoric.

Coming now to his verse, we find that his poetic flights, though lofty,
were neither frequent nor long continued. Apparently he was incapable
of writing much or often. This seems true even after allowance is made
for his busy and exacting life as a journalist. For years together he
composed but a few lines in each year.

His theory fitted his own limitations. Bryant maintained that there is
no such thing as a long poem, that what are commonly called long poems
are in reality a succession of short poems united by poetical links.
The paradox grows out of the vagueness attaching to the words ‘length’
and ‘poem.’ Exactly what a poem is, we shall never know. That is a
shadowy line which divides poetry from verse. And there is no term so
unmeaning as length. When does a poem begin to be long--is it when the
poet has achieved a hundred verses or a thousand, when he has written
six cantos or twelve?

To say, as Bryant is reported to have said, that ‘a long poem is no
more conceivable than a long ecstasy,’ is to make all poetry dependent
on an ecstatic condition. And it reduces all poetic temperaments to the
same level. Why may not poetry be an outcome of ‘the true enthusiasm
that burns long’?

Bryant showed skill in handling a variety of metrical forms; it is
unsafe to say that he excelled only in blank verse. With declared
partisanship for the short poem, he nevertheless did not cultivate the
sonnet. Up to the time he was fifty-eight years of age he had written
but twelve, and for some of these he apologized, saying, ‘they are
rather poems in fourteen lines than sonnets.’

Comparing the length of his life with the slenderness of his poetical
product, we are tempted to bring against this eminent man the charge
of wilful unproductiveness. This reluctance, or inertia, or whatever
it may be called, has helped to give the impression of a lack of
spontaneity. We are aware of the effort through the very exactness
with which the thing has been done. Bryant resembled certain pianists
who plead as excuse for not playing, a lack of recent practice. When
after repeated urgings one of the reluctant brotherhood ‘consents to
favor us,’ he plays with precision enough but rarely with abandon. The
conscious and over-solicitous artist shows in every note.

If much writing has its drawbacks, it also has its value. And the poet
who sings frequently cannot offer as a reason for not performing, the
excuse that his lyre has not been out of the case for weeks, and that
in all probability a string is broken.


IV

THE POET

The fine stanzas entitled ‘The Poet’ contain Bryant’s theory of his
art. The framing of a deathless poem is not the pastime of a drowsy
summer’s day.

    No smooth array of phrase,
      Artfully sought and ordered though it be,
    Which the cold rhymer lays
      Upon his page with languid industry,
    Can wake the listless pulse to livelier speed,
    Or fill with sudden tears the eyes that read.

    The secret wouldst thou know
      To touch the heart or fire the blood at will?
    Let thine own eyes o’erflow;
      Let thy lips quiver with the passionate thrill;
    Seize the great thought, ere yet its power be past,
    And bind, in words, the fleet emotion fast.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Yet let no empty gust
      Of passion find an utterance in thy lay,
    A blast that whirls the dust
      Along the howling street and dies away;
    But feelings of calm power and mighty sweep,
    Like currents journeying through the windless deep.

This is flat contradiction of the idea that entirely self-conscious and
self-controlled art can avail to move the reader. Bryant pleads for
deepest feeling in exercise of the poetic function; it is more than
important, it is indispensable. Of that striking poem ‘The Tides,’ he
said ‘it was written with a certain awe upon me which made me hope that
there might be something in it.’ The poem proved to be one of Bryant’s
noblest conceptions. Yet a lady of ‘judgment’ told one of Bryant’s
friends, who of course told him, that she did not think there was much
in it.

Nature appeals to Bryant in her broad and massive aspects. ‘The
Prairies’ is an illustration. Gazing on the ‘encircling vastness’ for
the first time, the heart swells and the eye dilates in an effort to
comprehend it:--

                  Lo! they stretch,
    In airy undulations, far away,
    As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,
    Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,
    And motionless forever.

As the poet looks abroad over the vast and glowing fields, there sweeps
by him a vision of the races that have peopled these solitudes and
perished to make room for races to come. It is magnificent even if
it is not scientific. In the sense it gives of the spaciousness of
the prairies with the myriad sounds of life projected on the great
elemental silence, it is a true American poem.

‘A Hymn of the Sea’ is another illustration of that largeness of view
characteristic of Bryant. Each thought is lofty and far-reaching. The
cloud that rises from the ‘realm of rain’ shadows whole countries, the
tornado wrecks a fleet, whirling the vast hulks ‘like chaff upon the
waves:’--

    These restless surges eat away the shores
    Of earth’s old continents; the fertile plain
    Welters in shallows, headlands crumble down,
    And the tide drifts the sea-sand in the streets
    Of the drowned city.

He conveys the idea not only of spaciousness but of endless duration in
the lines describing the coral worm laying his ‘mighty reefs,’ toiling
from ‘age to age’ until

    His bulwarks overtop the brine, and check
    The long wave rolling from the southern pole
    To break upon Japan.

Certain lines in ‘A Forest Hymn’ are also remarkable for the sense they
give of vast reaches of time, stretching not forward but backward into
eternity:--

                          These lofty trees
    Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
    Moulder beneath them. Oh, there is not lost
    One of earth’s charms: upon her bosom yet,
    After the flight of untold centuries,
    The freshness of her far beginning lies
    And yet shall lie.

The ‘Song of the Stars,’ though not one of Bryant’s happiest
poems,--the hypercritical reader feeling that the ‘orbs of beauty’ and
‘spheres of flame’ might have made a more appropriate metrical choice
for their song,--shows none the less the poet’s strength in dealing
with nature in the large. The lines ‘To a Waterfowl’ are magical in
part by virtue of the impression they make of immense distance. With
the poet’s penetrating vision we can see the solitary way through the
rosy depths, the pathless coast, and the one bit of life in

                    The desert and illimitable air.

Bryant’s mind readily lifts itself from the minute to the massive, as
in the poem ‘Summer Wind,’ a fine example of the crescendo effects he
knew so well how to produce. In a few lines he gives the sensation
of heat, closeness, exhaustion, and pictures the plants drooping in
a stillness broken only by the ‘faint and interrupted murmur of the
bee.’ His thought then sweeps upward to the wooded hills towering in
scorching heat and dazzling light, and then still higher to the bright
clouds,

    Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven--
    Their bases on the mountains--their white tops
    Shining in the far ether....

The poet never wearies of this majestic pageantry of the natural world.
In ‘The Firmament,’ in ‘The Hurricane’ (imitated from Heredia), in
‘Monument Mountain,’ his chief thought is to translate the reader to
his own lofty vantage-ground.

But Nature is not merely a spectacle, it has a power to heal and
invigorate. Life loses its pettiness when one leaves the city and
seeks the forest. The holy men who hid themselves ‘deep in the woody
wilderness’ perhaps did not well--

    But let me often to these solitudes
    Retire, and in thy presence reassure
    My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
    The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
    And tremble and are still.

The poet finds inspiration not alone in the terror of the storm, the
majesty of the forest, the gray waste of ocean, the mystery of the
night of stars, but in the humbler things, the rivulet by which he
played as a child, the violet growing on its bank, the hum of bees,
the notes of hang-bird and wren, the gossip of swallows, and the gay
chirp of the ground squirrel. ‘The Yellow Violet’ and the lines ‘To the
Fringed Gentian’ spring from this love of the unobtrusive charms of
Nature. Less familiar than these, but a faultless example of Bryant’s
art, is ‘The Painted Cup:’--

                              ... tell me not
    That these bright chalices were tinted thus
    To hold the dew for fairies, when they meet
    On moonlight evenings in the hazel bowers,
    And dance till they are thirsty.

The poet will not call up ‘faded fancies of an ‘elder world.’ If the
fresh savannahs must be peopled with creatures of imagination, it may
be done without borrowing European elves:--

    Let then the gentle Manitou of flowers,
    Lingering among the bloomy waste he loves,
    Though all his swarthy worshippers are gone--
    Slender and small, his rounded cheek all brown
    And ruddy with the sunshine; let him come
    On summer mornings, when the blossoms wake,
    And part with little hands the spiky grass,
    And touching, with his cherry lips, the edge
    Of these bright beakers, drain the gathered dew.

Bryant wrote poems of freedom. The earlier of these, ‘The Song of
the Greek Amazon,’ the ‘Massacre at Scio,’ the ‘Greek Partisan,’ and
‘Italy,’ voice his sympathy with the oppressed nations of the Old
World, the ‘struggling multitude of states,’ that ‘writhe in shackles.’

Among his later poems on the same theme, ‘Earth,’ ‘The Winds,’ ‘The
Antiquity of Freedom,’ and ‘The Battle Field’ are representative.
The first three with their many stately lines show how spontaneously
his thought, even when nature is not the subject, grows out of the
contemplation of nature and then returns to such contemplation as to
a resting place. ‘The Battle Field,’ the expression of a noble faith
in the outcome of ‘a friendless warfare,’ contains the most inspiring
of his quatrains, as it is one of the best contributions made by an
American poet to the stock of quotable English verse:--

    Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
      The eternal years of God are hers;
    But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
      And dies among his worshippers.

His patriotic poems are few in number, but Bryant’s reticence must
be taken into account. Coming from him, the verses mean more than if
they came from another. Two of the best are ‘Oh Mother of a mighty
Race’ and ‘Not Yet.’ The second of these, written in July, 1861, has a
finely imaginative stanza in which are pictured the dead monarchies of
the past eager to welcome another broken and ruined land among their
number:--

    Not yet the hour is nigh when they
      Who deep in Eld’s dim twilight sit,
    Earth’s ancient kings, shall rise and say,
      “Proud country, welcome to the pit!
    So soon art thou like us brought low!”
    No, sullen group of shadows, No!

To the same year belong the spirited verses ‘Our Country’s Call:’--

    Strike to defend the gentlest sway
      That Time in all his course has seen.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Few, few were they whose swords of old
      Won the fair land in which we dwell;
    But we are many, we who hold
      The grim resolve to guard it well.
    Strike, for that broad and goodly land,
      Blow after blow, till men shall see
    That Might and Right move hand in hand,
      And glorious must their triumph be!

Such was the temper of men who had looked with philosophic composure
and curiosity on the movements of the sometimes well-nigh frenzied
abolitionists. The blow at the integrity of the nation fired their cool
patriotism to white heat.

What lightness of touch Bryant had is shown in that exquisite lyric
‘The Stream of Life.’ He could be conventional, as in the love poem
where he celebrates ‘the gentle season’ when ‘nymphs relent,’ and very
sensibly advises the young lady ’ere her bloom is past, to secure her
lover.’ He was not strong in wit or humor. The verses ‘To a Mosquito’
might have been read with good effect to a party of well-fed clubmen
after dinner, but finding them in the same volume with ‘A Forest Hymn’
gives one an uncomfortable surprise, like finding a pun in Lowell’s
_Cathedral_. That Bryant could write agreeable narrative verse, ‘The
Children of the Snow’ and ‘Sella’ bear witness. That he is at his best
in meditative poems, lofty characterizations of Nature, grand visions
of Life and Death, is proved by hundreds of felicitous verses which
have become an inalienable part of our young literature.

He never really excelled the work of his youth. Bryant will always be
known as the author of ‘Thanatopsis.’ This great vision of Death is his
stateliest poem and his best, the most felicitous of phrase and the
loftiest in imagery. Written by a stoic, magnificently stoical in tone,
it offers but a stoic’s comfort after all. Perhaps this is a secret of
its popularity, on the theory that while professed pagans are few the
instinct towards paganism still exists, and most among those who say
least about it.


V

LATEST POETICAL WORK

_THE ILIAD_ AND _THE ODYSSEY_

The collected edition of Bryant’s poems of 1854 contains a handful of
translations, twelve from the Spanish, four from the German, one each
from the French, the Provençal, the Portuguese, and the Greek. In 1864
a translation of the fifth book of the _Odyssey_ was printed in the
volume entitled _Thirty Poems_. The praise which it called out gave
Bryant the impulse to further experiments of the same sort; and after
the death of his wife (in 1866), when the necessity was upon him of
forgetting his grief so far as possible in some engrossing work, he
undertook a version of the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ entire.

He gave himself methodically to the task, translating about forty
lines a day. Later he increased the daily stint to seventy-five lines.
He chose blank verse because ‘the use of rhyme in a translation is a
constant temptation to petty infidelities.’

Bryant retained the misleading Latin forms of proper names. Worsley
says: ‘Not even Mr. Gladstone’s example can now make Juno, Mercury,
and Venus admissible in Homeric story.’ But Worsley confessed his own
inability to write Phoibos, Apollôn, and Kirké. Bryant’s argument
for his course looks specious: ‘I was translating from Greek into
English, and I therefore translated the names of the gods, as well as
the other parts of the poem.’ Probably he had an affection for the old
nomenclature, a sentiment like Macaulay’s, who ‘never could reconcile
himself to seeing the friends of his boyhood figure as Kleon, and
Alkibiadês, and Poseidôn, and Odysseus.’[6]

An enthusiastic admirer of Bryant declares that in the opinion of
‘competent critics’ his versions of Homer ‘will hold their own with
the translations of Pope, Chapman, Newman, or the late Earl Derby.’
Much depends on the question of what a ‘competent critic’ is, and which
one of several competent critics is to be taken as final authority.
Competent critics, who, by the way, seldom agree, have a habit of
agreeing on anything sooner than the merits of a version of Homer.
And when one remembers the fearful attack made by Matthew Arnold on
Newman (‘Any vivacities of expression which may have given him pain I
sincerely regret’)--he may well hesitate to take as a compliment the
statement that Bryant will ‘hold his own’ with Newman.

The question of the higher merit of the poem rests with the experts
at last. Pessimists all, they are discouragingly hostile to metrical
versions of the _Iliad_. Yet the most uncompromising of them would
hardly deny a lay reader the privilege of enjoying Homer, in so far as
possible, through the medium of Bryant’s blank verse. They might even
be persuaded to admit that this version has a peculiar adaptability to
the needs of the public; that the clarity and beauty of the English,
the dignified ease of the measure, the sustained energy and vigor of
the performance as a whole, fit Bryant’s Homer in a high degree to
the use for which it was intended. The argument from popularity, that
always unsafe and often vicious argument, has a measure of force here.
Granting that Homer in any honest translation is better than no Homer
at all, may not the uncompromising scholars be called on to rejoice
that this more than honest, nay, this admirable translation of the
_Iliad_ has sold to the extent of many thousands of copies? Where there
are so many buyers, there must be readers not a few.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bryant was one of those unusual men who have two distinct callings.
Much surprise has been expressed at his apparent ability to carry on
his functions of journalist and poet without clash. But is it true, or
more than superficially true, that he did so carry them on? To be sure,
he wrote his editorial articles at the newspaper office and his verses
elsewhere, but this is a mere mechanical distinction. A man of Bryant’s
depth of conviction and passionate temperament does not throw off care
when he boards a suburban train for his country home.

The history of Bryant’s inner life has not been written, perhaps
cannot be. This is not to imply that his character was enigmatic and
mysterious, but merely to emphasize the fact of his extraordinary
reserve. More than most self-contained men he kept his own counsel.
Such a history would show how deep his experience of the world had
ploughed into him, and it might explain in a degree the remote and
stoical character of his verse.

Bryant’s poetical work as a whole has an impassive quality often
described as coldness. Partly due to his genius and accentuated by the
excessive retouching to which he subjected his verse, it grew in still
larger measure out of his determination not to impart to his verse
any of the feverishness of spirit consequent upon a life of political
warfare. The poet held himself wonderfully in check, as a man of iron
will allows no mark of the strong passion under which he labors to
show in his face. Bryant was rarely betrayed into so much of personal
feeling as flashed out in that bitter stanza of ‘The Future Life:’--

    For me the sordid cares in which I dwell,
      Shrink and consume my heart, as heat the scroll;
    And wrath has left its scar--that fire of hell
      Has left its scar upon my soul.

While the detachment was not complete, Bryant undoubtedly kept his
poetic apart from his secular life in a way to command admiration.
This he accomplished by extraordinary self-restraint. As a part of the
varied and long-continued discipline to which he subjected himself,
the self-restraint made for character. The question, however, arises
whether the poetry did not, in certain ways, suffer under the very
discipline by which the character developed.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Bryant’s contributions were the stories entitled ‘Medfield’
      and ‘The Skeleton’s Cave.’ As originally planned the book was
      to have been called _The Sextad_, but Verplanck, who would
      have made the sixth author, withdrew.

  [2] John Bigelow.

  [3] W. C. Bronson.

  [4] Bryant’s apology to the public for his course, together with
      Leggett’s statement as an eye-witness, will be found in the
      ‘Evening Post’ of Thursday, April 21, 1831. Neither the
      guarded account of the episode in Godwin’s _Bryant_, nor the
      brief notice in Haswell’s _Reminiscences of an Octogenarian_
      is quite accurate.

  [5] As in an ironical leader commending journalists who refuse to
      say that a man ‘was drowned,’ a dangerous innovation, and,
      ‘to preserve the purity of their mother tongue,’ stick to
      time-honored metaphors and say that the man ‘found a watery
      grave.’--‘Evening Post,’ August 17, 1831.

  [6] G. O. Trevelyan.



III

_James Fenimore Cooper_


REFERENCES:

  =W. C. Bryant=: _A Discourse on the Life, Character, and Genius
    of James Fenimore Cooper_, 1852.

  =T. R. Lounsbury=: _James Fenimore Cooper_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ fourth edition, 1884.

  =W. B. Shubrick Clymer=: _James Fenimore Cooper_, ‘Beacon
    Biographies,’ 1900.


I

HIS LIFE


James Cooper was the eleventh of the twelve children of William and
Elizabeth (Fenimore) Cooper, of Burlington, New Jersey. He was born
in that picturesque town by the Delaware on September 15, 1789. The
name James, given him in honor of his grandfather, had also been
borne by his first American ancestor, who is said to have come from
Stratford-on-Avon, in 1679. In fulfilment of a promise to his mother
(whose family had become extinct in the male line), the novelist, in
1826, changed his name to Fenimore-Cooper.

At the close of the Revolutionary War, William Cooper acquired large
tracts of land on Otsego Lake in New York, settled there in 1790,
founded the village still known as Cooperstown, and built for himself
a stately home to which he gave the name of Otsego Hall. He was the
first judge of the county and a member of Congress, a man of strong
character and agreeable address.[7]

Cooper’s boyhood was passed amid picturesque natural surroundings,
on the edge of civilization, the scene of _The Deerslayer_ and _The
Pioneers_. He attended the village school, prepared for college with
the rector of St. Peter’s Church, Albany, entered Yale in the second
term of the Freshman year (Class of 1806), and was dismissed in the
Junior year for some boyish escapade the nature of which is unexplained.

It was decided that he should enter the navy. There was then no
training school, and boys took the first lessons in seamanship in the
merchant marine. Cooper spent a year before the mast in the ‘Sterling,’
sailing from New York to London, thence to Gibraltar, back to London,
and from London to Philadelphia. His experiences are set forth in the
early chapters of _Ned Myers_. The ‘Sterling’ lost two of her best
hands by impressment as soon as she reached English waters. Cooper’s
indignation at these outrages afterwards found voice through the lips
of Ithuel Bolt in the story entitled _Wing-and-Wing_.

He was commissioned midshipman on January 1, 1808, and served awhile
on the ‘Vesuvius.’ In the following winter he was one of the party
sent to Oswego to build a brig for the defence of the lake, and became
acquainted with the regions described in _The Pathfinder_. In the
summer of 1809 he had charge of the gun-boats on Lake Champlain, and in
the autumn was ordered to the sloop of war ‘Wasp.’

He left the service on his betrothal with Miss Susan DeLancey of
Mamaroneck, New York, whom he married on January 1, 1811. For a few
years he lived the life of a landed proprietor, dividing his time
between Cooperstown, Scarsdale, and Mamaroneck. The dulness of a
novel he was reading aloud to his wife provoked him to say that he
could write a better one himself. Challenged to prove it, he produced
_Precaution_ (1820), a story of English life, following conventional
lines. It was apprentice work. The effort of composition taught Cooper
that he could write, but not that he could write well. He had no
conceit of the book, and refused it a place in his collected writings.

In 1821 _The Spy, a Tale of the Neutral Ground_, was published; its
unqualified good fortune made Cooper a professed man of letters. From
that time on until his death, twenty-nine years later, he produced
books with uninterrupted regularity.

_The Spy_ was followed by _The Pioneers, or the Sources of the
Susquehanna_, 1823; _The Pilot, a Tale of the Sea_, 1824; _Lionel
Lincoln, or the Leaguer of Boston_, 1825; _The Last of the Mohicans,
a Narrative of 1757_, 1826. But one of this group of four can be
pronounced a failure and two have had a success almost phenomenal in
the history of letters.

Cooper shared the American passion for seeing foreign lands. The
proceeds of authorship enabled him to carry out a plan he had formed of
spending some time abroad. With his family and servants (a party of ten
in all), he set sail from New York on June 1, 1826. He proposed to be
gone five years. He overstayed that time by two years and five months.
From May, 1826, to about January, 1829, he held the ‘nominal position’
of American consul at Lyons. His journeyings were made in a leisurely
way after the fashion of the time. Eighteen months were spent in Paris
and the vicinity, four months in London, and a few weeks in Holland,
Belgium, and Switzerland. The winter of 1828–29 was passed in Florence,
and was followed by a voyage to Naples. After spending some months at
Sorrento and Naples, he settled in Rome for the winter of 1829–30.
Thence to Venice, Munich, Dresden, and finally back to Paris.

He published while abroad _The Prairie_, 1827; _The Red Rover_, 1828;
_Notions of the Americans, Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor_, 1828;
_The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish_, 1829; _The Water-Witch, or the Skimmer
of the Seas_, 1830; _The Bravo_, 1831; _The Heidenmauer, or the
Benedictines_, 1832; _The Headsman, or the Abbaye des Vignerons_, 1833.

In November, 1833, Cooper returned to America. That and several ensuing
winters were passed in New York, the summers in Cooperstown. Later he
made Otsego Hall his permanent home.

He soon became embroiled in quarrels with the press. While in Paris
his defence of Lafayette’s position in what is known as the ‘Expenses
Controversy’ had provoked from his native land criticism which Cooper
resented. He angered a part of the inhabitants of Cooperstown by making
clear to them that Three Mile Point (a wooded tract on the lake, long
used by the villagers as a picnic ground) was not theirs, as they
maintained, but a part of the Cooper estate. With no thought of robbing
them of their pleasure park, he insisted on their understanding that
they enjoyed its use by favor and not by right.

For this the country papers assailed him. Combative by nature, Cooper
brought suits for libel and recovered damages. The novel spectacle of
an author baiting the newspapers ‘caused remark.’ The city press joined
in the attack, the ‘Courier and Enquirer,’ the ‘New York Tribune,’
the ‘Albany Evening Journal,’ edited by Thurlow Weed, who once said
apropos of his skill in stirring up litigation: ‘There is something in
my manner of writing that makes the galled jades wince.’ Verdicts were
given in Cooper’s favor. More libels followed, more suits were brought,
more damages recovered. A cry arose that the liberty of the press was
endangered. Cooper did not think so. He was a bulldog; when he had once
fastened his teeth in a Whig editor, nothing could make him let go. He
continued his prosecutions until he made his detractors respect him. It
took about six years to do it. Bryant has described with grim humor the
novelist’s warfare with that leviathan the Press: ‘He put a hook into
the nose of this huge monster,’ said Bryant admiringly.[8]

This warfare disturbed Cooper’s peace of mind, but in no wise
interrupted his literary activity. The following list records by
no means all that he wrote after 1834, but will suffice to show
his right copious and often happy industry. Besides ten volumes of
travels, Cooper published: _A Letter to his Countrymen_, 1834; _The
Monikins_, 1835; _The American Democrat_, 1838; _Homeward Bound, or
the Chase_, 1838; _Home as Found_, 1838; _The History of the Navy of
the United States of America_, 1839; _The Pathfinder, or the Inland
Sea_, 1840; _Mercedes of Castile, or the Voyage to Cathay_, 1840;
_The Deerslayer, or the First War Path_, 1841; The _Two Admirals_,
1842; _The Wing-and-Wing, or Le Feu-Follet_, 1842; _Wyandotté, or the
Hutted Knoll_, 1843; _Ned Meyers, or a Life before the Mast_, 1843;
_Afloat and Ashore, or the Adventures of Miles Wallingford_, 1844;
_Miles Wallingford_ (the second part of _Afloat and Ashore_), 1844;
_Satanstoe, or the Littlepage Manuscripts_, 1845; _The Chainbearer, or
the Littlepage Manuscripts_, 1846; _Lives of Distinguished American
Naval Officers_, 1846; _The Redskins, or Indian and Injin_, 1846; _The
Crater, or Vulcan’s Peak_, 1847; _Jack Tier, or the Florida Reefs_,
1848; _The Oak Openings, or the Bee Hunter_, 1848; _The Sea Lions, or
the Lost Sealers_, 1849; _The Ways of the Hour_, 1850.

_The Spy_ was dramatized and played successfully.[9] Dramatizations
were also made of _The Pilot_, _The Red Rover_, _The Water-Witch_,
_The Pioneers_ (‘The Wigwam, or Templeton Manor’), and _The Wept of
Wish-ton-Wish_ (‘Miantonomah and Narrahmattah’). An original comedy,
‘Upside Down, or Philosophy in Petticoats,’[10] was withdrawn after
four performances. No satisfactory account exists of Cooper’s earnings
by literature. It is believed that in the later years he was obliged to
write, if not for the necessities of life, at least for the comforts
and luxuries.

The hostility provoked by his energetic criticisms subsided in time.
There was even a project on foot in New York to pay him the compliment
of a public dinner as a proof of returning confidence. His untimely
illness put to one side the question of honors of this poor sort.

Cooper died at Otsego Hall on September 14, 1851.


II

HIS CHARACTER

Cooper was a democrat in theory but not in practice. The rude
‘feudalism’ in which his boyhood was passed fostered the aristocratic
sentiment. A residence abroad, in the obsequious atmosphere with which
the serving classes invest any one who has the appearance of wealth,
aggravated it. No one could have been more heartily ‘American’ than
Cooper; but he made distinctions and his countrymen abhorred the
distinctions.

Pride of this not unreasonable sort may go hand in hand with genuine
modesty. Cooper was more unpretentious than his enemies were willing to
allow. With a reputation that would have opened many doors he made no
capital of it; he had no mind ‘to thrust himself on all societies.’

He was never slow to make use of the inalienable American privilege
of speaking one’s mind. In 1835 the theory of the entire perfection
of the American character was seldom challenged, at least by a native
writer. That Cooper should entertain doubts on the subject was thought
monstrous. It was resented in him the more because of his manner.
Opinions quite as radical might have been uttered wittily and the
end accomplished. Cooper had little wit. His touch was heavy and he
was in dead earnest. He lacked neither courage, nor honesty, nor
highmindedness, nor generosity, nor yet judgment (if his temper was
unruffled), but he was entirely wanting in tact, and largely wanting in
geniality of the useful, if superficial, sort, which lessens the wear
and tear of human intercourse.

A philosopher divides famous men into two classes: those who are
admired in their own homes (as well as in the world), and those who are
admired anywhere but at home. Cooper belonged to the first class rather
than the second. This proud, irascible, contentious, dogmatic man of
letters enjoyed the unswerving loyalty and deep affection of every
member of his family. And from this his biographer argues an essential
sweetness of nature.

Cooper somewhere says: ‘Men are as much indebted to a fortuitous
concurrence of circumstances for the characters they sustain in this
world, as to their personal qualities.’ It was his ill-luck to have
the accidents of his character often mistaken for the character itself.


III

THE WRITER

Cooper’s English at best, though fluent and spirited, is without grace;
at worst it is clumsy and intractable. This writer of world-wide fame
is singularly wanting in literary finish. He is not careless but
colorless, not slovenly but neutral. He succeeds almost without the aid
of what is commonly called ‘style.’ He is read for what he has to say,
not for the way in which he says it. There are surprises in store for
the reader, but they are not to be found in the perfect word, the happy
phrase, or the balance of a sentence, but always in the unexpected turn
of an adventure, in a well-planned episode abounding in incident, in
the release of mental tension following the happy issue out of danger.
As was said of another copious writer, ‘he weaves a loose web;’ one
might add that it is often of coarse fibre. In few writers of eminence
is form so subservient to contents. The defect was due to haste, to
the natural and lordly contempt of a spontaneous story-teller for the
niceties of rhetoric.

IV

ROMANCES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

_THE SPY_, _LIONEL LINCOLN_

Life in that unhappy strip of country known during the Revolution as
‘the neutral ground,’ Westchester County, New York, is the subject
of _The Spy_. Here frequent and bloody encounters took place between
skirmishers from the opposing armies. Marauding bands, ostensibly
‘loyal’ or ‘patriotic,’ though often composed of banditti, made life a
misery and a terror to peaceably inclined householders. Cooper wrote
from first-hand traditions. The family of his wife had been loyalists,
and the most famous of Westchester County raiders was a DeLancey.

The chief character is Harvey Birch, the Spy. Professing to be in the
employ of the British, he is the most trusted of Washington’s secret
agents. His devotion to his chief is a passion, almost a religion.
Mean of appearance, niggardly in his mode of life, he is capable of
the last degree of personal sacrifice. His patriotism is of the most
exalted kind, since it can have no proportionate reward. He must live
(perchance die) detested by the people for whom he risks his life
daily. Cooper makes us deeply interested in this uncouth being, who,
persecuted to the point of despair, and even brought to the gallows,
finds always a way of escape. Birch gambled with his life in stake.
It was a desperate throw when he destroyed the bit of paper signed by
Washington.

The romantic hero of the story is Peyton Dunwoodie, a youth whose ‘dark
and sparkling glance’ played havoc with the hearts of impressionable
ladies. But Peyton was true, and loved but one. More to the modern
taste are the humors of Lawton and Sitgreaves, of Sergeant Hollister
and Betty Flanagan. ‘Mr. Harper’ is impressive, and the mystery of his
character well sustained. The ladies of ‘The Locusts’ have the quaint
charm inseparable from other-day manners and costume. To be sure one of
them, who seems likely to die of love, is mercifully killed by a random
bullet, and another becomes a maniac. Novel-readers wanted a deal for
their money in 1821. But Frances Wharton is a likable little creature,
though her talk does not in the least resemble that of Miss Clara
Middleton.

As an Irish bishop said of _Gulliver’s Travels_, the book contains
improbabilities. The device of a masque which converts young Henry
Wharton into the counterfeit presentment of an old gray-headed negro is
far-fetched. _The Spy_ was not intended to be a realistic novel.

Cooper projected another story on the background of the Revolution.
_Lionel Lincoln_, for all the work put on it, was not a success. It had
merits among which the merit of spontaneity is not conspicuous. Had the
failure been less apparent, the novelist might have been tempted to
continue the ‘Legends of the Thirteen Republics.’


V

THE LEATHER-STOCKING TALES AND OTHER INDIAN STORIES

A French critic once remarked that nothing was so like a _chanson
de geste_ as another _chanson de geste_. Readers have deplored the
fact that nothing was so like a Leather-Stocking tale as another
Leather-Stocking tale. But _The Pioneers_, the first of the series in
order of composition, bears little resemblance to the others, and as
a picture of life in a New York village at the end of the Eighteenth
Century has a historical value. The narrative is firm in texture.
The characters are thirty in number, and every man in his humor. The
Judge, Cousin Richard, Mr. Grant the clergyman, all the town oddities,
Monsieur Le Quoi, Major Hartmann, Doolittle, Kirby, and Benjamin
are real and humanly interesting. The dialogue is fresh, racy, and
appropriate. There is no effort at compression; winter evenings were
long in 1824.

The book holds one by the scenes and characters rather than by the
‘fable.’ The mystery of ‘Edwards,’ and the coming to life of old Major
Effingham, are well enough; but the strength of the story is in the
episodes, such as that where Hiram Doolittle, supported by Jotham
and Kirby, tries to serve the warrant on Natty Bumppo, in the trial
of the old hunter, or the capital scene where Natty is put into the
stocks, and the chivalrous major-domo, Benjamin, insists on sharing his
punishment, and cheering the heart-broken old man with comfortable and
picturesque words. Presently Doolittle came to enjoy the fruit of his
victory. Venturing too near, he found himself in the tenacious grasp of
the irate major-domo. Benjamin’s legs were stationary, but his fists
were free, and he proceeded to work away with ‘great industry’ on Mr.
Doolittle’s face, ‘using one hand to raise up his antagonist, while
he knocked him over with the other;’ he scorned to strike a fallen
adversary.

_The Pioneers_ would merit a high place in American fiction were
it only on account of that original character, Natty Bumppo, or
‘Leather-Stocking.’ He is natural, easy, attractive. In the other books
(always excepting _The Prairie_), there is more of invention. Putting
it in another way, the first Natty Bumppo is like a study from life,
while the others often leave the impression of being studies from the
first study.

By changing the background, the costume, the accessories, and making
his hero younger or older, Cooper found him available for more exciting
dramas than that played in Templeton.

Leather-Stocking next appears as ‘Hawkeye,’ the scout, in _The Last
of the Mohicans_, a narrative based on the massacre of Fort William
Henry in 1757, and, all things considered, the most famous of Cooper’s
novels. It is an out-and-out Indian story, good for boys and not
bad for men, being vigorous, brilliant, and packed with adventure.
The capture, by a band of Montcalm’s marauding Iroquois, of the two
daughters of the old Scottish general, their rescue by Hawkeye,
Chingachgook, and Uncas, their recapture, the pursuit and the thrilling
events in the Indian villages, form the staple of a book which without
exaggeration may be called world-renowned.

If _The Last of the Mohicans_ suffers from one fault more than another,
it is from a superabundance of hair-breadth escapes. The novelist heaps
difficulties on difficulties, all of which appear insurmountable, and
are presently surmounted with an ease that makes the reader half angry
with himself for having worried.

As might have been expected, in growing younger Natty has grown
theatrical; he appears too exactly at the critical moment to perform
the deed of cool bravery expected of him. It could hardly be otherwise;
_The Last of the Mohicans_ is a romance, and in romances such things
must be. Chingachgook, that engaging savage, has for so many years met
the romantic ideal of the American Indian that it is unlikely he will
ever be disturbed in his place in the reader’s esteem. His rôle of
white man’s friend was played in _The Prairie_ by Hard-Heart, the young
Pawnee chief.

_The Prairie_ has an originality all its own. This strange and sombre
tale brings together an oddly assorted group of people, some of
whom--the squatter and his family in particular--are drawn with rude
strength. There are weak points in the plot. The carefully guarded tent
with its hidden occupant is a poor device for compelling attention. Dr.
Battius, endlessly talkative about genus and species, is a tiresome
personage. The justification of the story as a work of art is to be
sought in the descriptions of the ‘desert,’ in the impressions given of
immeasurable distance and illimitable space, the abode of mystery and
terror. The passages describing the stampede of a herd of buffalo, the
night surprise of the trapper and his friends by the Sioux, the escape
of Hard-Heart from the torture-stake, are all done with a masterly
stroke.

Natty Bumppo figures in _The Prairie_ as an old man of eighty-seven.
His eye has lost its keenness of vision and his hand its steadiness.
But the heart is undaunted (‘Lord, what a strange thing is fear!’) and
the mind fertile in expedients. At times the trapper appears in almost
superhuman proportions; he is mythical, like a hero of antiquity.
The attachment between the ancient hunter and his dog is exquisitely
described. In the beautiful account of Leather-Stocking’s last hour no
touch is more poetic than that where the dying man discovers that the
faithful Hector is dead. He will not say that a Christian can hope to
meet his hound again; but he asks that Hector be buried beside him; no
harm, he thinks, can come of that.

Thirteen years after the publication of _The Prairie_ appeared _The
Pathfinder_, and one year after that _The Deerslayer_. The series was
now complete, forming ‘something like a drama in five acts.’ _The
Pathfinder_ shows Natty in mature manhood, and (for the comfort of
all who require this test of their heroes of fiction) a victim of
unrequited love. Exposed to the wiles of the most treacherous of all
Mingos, Cupid, the quondam hunter, hunted in turn, takes defeat like
the man he is. In _The Deerslayer_ the chronicle is completed with a
group of scenes from Natty’s youth. On the shores of Otsego Lake, while
defending old Hutter’s aquatic home, the young man learns the first
lessons in the art of war.

Cooper wrote yet other Indian stories. Two may be taken note of in this
section: _The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish_, a narrative of the Connecticut
settlements in ‘King Philip’s’ time, and _Wyandotté_, an episode of
frontier life in 1775. The latter is realistic. Cooper was on his own
ground and knew the Willoughby Patent and the Hutted Knoll much as
he knew ‘Templeton’ and Otsego Lake. _The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish_ is
pure romance. In spite of the labored speech of the Puritan settlers
and the metaphorical flights of Metacom and Conanchet, the story is
enthralling. That is a genuinely pathetic scene where Ruth Heathcote
seeks to awaken in the mind of Narramattah, her lost daughter, now the
wife of the Narragansett chief, some faint memory of her childhood,
and the account of Conanchet’s death at the hands of the Mohicans is a
strong and dramatic piece of writing.


VI

THE SEA STORIES

FROM _THE PILOT_ TO _MILES WALLINGFORD_

_The Pilot_ is an imaginary episode in the life of John Paul Jones.
Cooper has given his hero a poetic character. ‘Mr. Gray’ applies
science to the problem before him up to the critical moment, and then
trusts to intuition, to his genius, and finds wind and wave owning
him their master. The new note is in the vivid descriptive passages,
couched in terms of practical seamanship, but so graphically put
that the most ignorant of lubbers can be depended on to read with a
quickened pulse. Notable among these are the rescue of the frigate from
the shoals, and the fight between the ‘Alacrity’ and ‘Ariel.’

There is much human nature in the speech of the men if not of the
women. The dialogue between Borroughcliffe and Manual would not shame
books more celebrated for humor than _The Pilot_. Vast refreshment
can be found in the racy and picturesque talk of Long Tom Coffin, the
most original character in Cooper’s gallery of seamen; also in that
of Boltrope, who from an early ‘prejudyce’ against knee-breeches (he
somehow always imagined Satan as wearing them) never became fully
reconciled to the ship’s chaplain until that worthy left off ‘scudding
under bare poles’ and garbed himself like other men. Dillon, the
lawyer, is too obviously the scoundrel. As the ‘Cacique of Pedee,’
however, he serves a good end. His kinsman, Colonel Howard, walks the
stage with dignity, a worthy specimen of the loyalist of the American
Revolution, and typical of the class for whom Cooper had much sympathy.

The young women are far from being lay figures. They have beauty,
intelligence, courage, even audacity. That they are too perfect in
feature, form, manner, was a defect common to all fiction of the time;
the art of making a heroine of a plain woman was in its infancy.
Cooper, who could describe a girl, had always a deal of trouble to
make her talk. Did he never listen to the conversation of those
interesting creatures known, in the parlance of his day, as ‘females’?
Would Alice Dunscombe, meeting her lover after a separation of six
years, have used the phrases Cooper put into her lips? All these young
women might with justice have complained that the speaking parts
assigned them were not representative. But they were at the author’s
mercy and did as they were told.

Cooper’s principal biographer, to whom we are all vastly indebted, says
that ‘the female characters of his earlier novels are never able to do
anything successfully but faint.’ This is unfair. Katherine Plowden,
a brunette beauty, whom Professor Lounsbury has allowed himself to
forget, goes habited _en garçon_ to seek her lover, and does not faint
when she finds him, only laughs like the gay Rosalind she is.

The story of ‘Mr. Gray the pilot’ is good, but _The Red Rover_
is better. Cooper gave the public something new in pirates. The
old-fashioned corsair, in theatrical phrase, looked his part. He swore
horribly, was awful to behold, black-whiskered, visibly blood-stained,
a walking stand of arms, like the monsters described in Esquemeling’s
_Buccaneers of America_. Unlike L’Olonnois, of evil memory, the
captain of the ‘Dolphin’ is almost a Brummell; his cabin is a boudoir,
and he has the wit to eschew the old-fashioned device of skull and
cross-bones. One is inclined, however, to laugh when the pirate ‘throws
his form on a divan’ and bids music discourse. The Rover was somewhat
given to posing, and in moments of deep thought wore a ‘look of faded
marble.’

There is nothing fantastic in Wilder, the young captain, and nothing to
be desired in his handling of the ‘Royal Caroline.’ The description of
the flight before the strange cruiser is a splendidly nervous piece of
writing. From the moment when the Bristol trader disentangles herself
from the slaver’s side in the harbor of Newport until she becomes
a wreck on the high seas and the diabolical pursuer passes like a
hurricane, the interest is cumulative.

The book has its quota of garrulous old salts, some of whom talk too
much, others not enough. ‘Mister Nightingale’ promises well, but has
little of value to say after his discourse anent the quantity of sail
a ship may carry in a white squall off the coast of Guinea. The reader
will find amusement in the other characters, notably Fid and that
strange being, Scipio Africanus.

_The Water-Witch_ concerns a mysterious and beautiful smuggling
brigantine with a wonderful gift for eluding Her Majesty’s revenue
cruiser under command of Captain Ludlow. The time is the close of Lord
Cornbury’s administration, the scene, New York harbor and the adjacent
estuaries. The story is fantastic and melodramatic, and the dialogue
stilted, even for Cooper. Compared with _The Red Rover_, a romance like
_The Water-Witch_ is hard reading. With such characters as Alderman Van
Beverout, Alida de Barbérie, and ‘Seadrift’ with her epicene beauty, it
is not surprising that _The Water-Witch_ should have been dramatized.

_The Two Admirals_ is an engaging picture of manly affection. He who
has made the acquaintance of Sir Gervaise Oakes and his friend Richard
Bluewater is to be congratulated, for a more sterling-hearted pair of
worthies is seldom to be found. Other pleasant company may be had for
the asking; the aged baronet Sir Wycherly Wychecombe, hospitable to
excess, bemoaning the inconvenience of not having a satisfactory heir,
and wondering why his brother never married, though he had never given
himself the trouble to undergo the discipline of wedlock. Agreeable
in their several ways are Mildred Dutton, Wycherly Wychecombe the
young Virginian, and Galleygo the top man turned steward, he of the
picturesque language. The story has a conventional plot, and one is
supposed to be eager to know the validity of the Virginian’s claim to
the ancient estate of the Wychecombes. The plot is in danger of being
forgotten when Cooper carries his people to sea, and describes the
action between French and English fleets off Cape la Hogue.

_Wing-and-Wing_ relates the adventures of a French privateer in
the Mediterranean in 1798. One has not to read far before becoming
enamoured of the diabolical little lugger and her audacious captain.
As creatures of romance go, the good-humored and handsome Raoul
Yvard (alias ‘Sir Smees’) is real and attractive. His arguments
with Ghita (they talk theology not at all after the manner of Mrs.
Humphry Ward’s characters) move one to turn the pages hurriedly. Raoul
may be forgiven; Ghita drove him to it, being orthodox and fond of
proselyting. One can always take refuge with the vice-governatore and
the podestà. These worthies are long-winded, but it were unfair to call
them dull.

Ithuel Bolt, that long-legged, loose-jointed son of the Granite State,
is new in Cooper’s gallery of seamen. He makes an interesting figure
in the wine-shop at Porto Ferrajo, his chair, creaking under his
weight, tipped back on two legs against the wall, the uprights digging
into the plaster, his knees apart, ‘you fancy how,’ and his long
arms over the backs of neighboring chairs, giving him a resemblance
to a spread eagle. Next to the wine of the country, which he abuses
while succumbing to its influence, he detests the saints. Filippo,
the Genoese sailor, undertakes a feeble defence. Says the Yankee: ‘A
saint is but a human--a man like you and me, after all the fuss you
make about ’em. Saints abound in my country, if you’d believe people’s
account of themselves.’ Cooper says that Bolt, after his return to
America, became a deacon. This is no more incredible than the statement
that he also became a teetotaler.

The pages of old reviews would probably show how Cooper’s delineation
of Englishmen affected English readers. Our cousins over the water
must have been difficult if they quarrelled with the spirit in which
the portraits of Cuffe, Griffin, Winchester, and Clinch were painted,
all being good men and true in their various capacities. In describing
Nelson and the ‘Lady Admiraless’ the novelist undertook a difficult
task. He was adroit enough to avoid bringing the famous beauty too
often on the stage.

_Afloat and Ashore_ and _Miles Wallingford_ form a continuous story
of almost a thousand pages. There is a mixture of love and adventure,
the love being depicted as Cooper usually does it, neither better nor
worse, and the sea-episodes as only Cooper could do them.

A capital passage in _Afloat and Ashore_ is that describing the
encounter with the savages off the coast of South America. Even more
spirited are those chapters of _Miles Wallingford_ in which the young
captain of the ‘Dawn’ relates how he was overhauled successively by a
British man-of-war, a French privateer, and a piratical lugger, and how
he escaped them all only to be wrecked at last in the Irish Sea. Among
a dozen or so of characters Marble is a typical Cooper seaman, a man
of many resources, as witness how he outwitted Sennit. He was patriotic
too, and on his first visit to London was chagrined at being obliged to
admit that St. Paul’s was better than anything they had in Kennebunk.


VII

OLD-WORLD ROMANCE AND NEW-WORLD SATIRE

_THE BRAVO_, _THE HEIDENMAUER_, _THE HEADSMAN_, _HOMEWARD BOUND_, _HOME
AS FOUND_

_The Bravo_ was the first of a group of stories on themes suggested
to their author during his stay on the Continent. It deals with
Venetian life during the decline of the Republic. Jacopo Frontoni, the
reputed bravo, becomes party to the iniquitous system which conceals
crimes committed in the interest of the oligarchy, by throwing the
suspicion on himself, all to the end that he may save his aged father,
unjustly imprisoned by the state. Under this odium Jacopo lives until
life becomes unendurable. At the moment he is meditating flight he
is himself enmeshed in the toils and dies by the hand of the public
executioner. A power which holds that it can do no wrong has a short
way with servants who might betray its tortuous policy.

Jacopo comes too near to being a saint. He would have been more
lifelike had he been guilty of one at least of the twenty-five murders
laid at his door. Even a hired assassin of the Fifteenth Century might
show filial piety.

His fate more or less involves that of the old fisherman of the
lagoons, Antonio, a representative of that helpless, oppressed class
which is without rights save the right of being punished if it does
not obey. Antonio is a nobly pathetic character, one of the finest to
which Cooper’s imagination has given being. His patience, his love for
the grandchild taken from him by the state to serve in the galleys, his
courage in pleading before the Doge and even in the dread presence of
the Council of Three that the boy may be given back to him until he has
been formed in habits of virtue, are strong and beautiful traits.

Violetta and Don Camillo furnish the love motive, without which a
romance of Venice were barren. We sympathize with them and rejoice in
their escape. More than this the author could not ask.

That the story contains anachronisms admits of no doubt. It may be
that the arraignment of the oligarchy is too unrelieved. On the other
hand, the virtues of the narrative are many. The movement is rapid, the
sentences clear, the various strands of interest artfully woven, and
the conclusion inevitable and dramatic.

_The Heidenmauer_ deals with the manners and the antagonisms of the
time when the schism of Luther was undermining the Church. Far less
engrossing than its predecessor and weighted with a cumbrous style,
the book has its right valiant warriors and militant churchmen, its
burghers, peasants, and other dramatis personæ of German romance. There
are characters like Gottlob and old Ilse whose speech is always fresh
and agreeable. The French abbé is voluble and might have been wittier.
That one does not sit down to a table spread with an intellectual feast
like that served in _The Monastery_ or _The Abbot_, is no reason for
disdaining the fare served in _The Heidenmauer_.

In _The Headsman_ we follow the story of a highborn girl who has given
her heart to a young soldier of fortune only to discover in him the son
of that most loathed of beings, the official executioner of Berne. The
office is hereditary, and were the youth’s real condition known the
odious duties would in time fall on him. It is a foregone conclusion
that Sigismund shall be found to be of noble birth, and Adelheid’s
reward proportioned to the greatness of her soul. This is but one
thread of a fairly complicated and romantic plot. The interest of the
narrative is well sustained and the denouement unanticipated. None of
these three romances is, strictly speaking, a novel of purpose, and
the least attractive deserves friendlier critical treatment than is
commonly accorded it.

In the same group may be placed _Mercedes of Castile_, which, if
it cannot hold the attention by reason of the loves of Don Luis de
Bobadilla and Mercedes, and the fate of the unfortunate Ozema, may be
read (by whoever can take history well diluted with fiction) for the
story of Columbus’s first voyage.

_The Monikins_ contrasts the ways of men with the ways of monkeys,
much to the disadvantage of men. Really it is no duller than some of
the professed satire of the present day; it is merely longer and more
desperately serious.

_Homeward Bound_ and _Home as Found_ form two parts of a single
novel. The satire of the first part is forgotten in the movement
of the narrative, the sea-chase, the wreck off the African coast,
the fight with the Arabs. The second part is a diatribe on New York
and Cooperstown in particular, and America in general. The chief
characters, the Effinghams, mean well, but ‘they have an unfortunate
manner,’ and their disagreeable traits are not so piquant as to be
entertaining. Steadfast Dodge, the editor, is almost as unreal as
the Effinghams. Captain Truck is a genuine brother man, resourceful
as master of the ‘Montauk,’ and not helpless when figuring (without
his connivance) as a great English author, at Mrs. Legend’s literary
soirée.

Horatio Greenough had the ‘Effingham’ books in mind when he wrote to
Cooper: ‘I think you lose hold on the American public by rubbing down
their shins with brickbats as you do.’


VIII

TRAVELS, HISTORY, POLITICAL WRITINGS AND LATEST NOVELS

Cooper was a giant of productivity. Some brief comment has been made
on twenty-three of his novels. It is impossible in the limits of this
study to do much beyond giving the titles of his remaining books.

_The History of the Navy of the United States of America_ begins with
‘the earliest American sea-fight’ (May, 1636), when John Gallop in a
sloop of twenty tons captured a pinnace manned by thieving Indians,
and closes with the War of 1812. The noteworthy features of the book
are accuracy, independence, severity of style, and freedom from
spread-eagleism. The brief _Chronicles of Cooperstown_, written in a
plain way, has the natural interest attaching to the subject and the
author.

_A Letter to his Countrymen_, partly autobiographical, is absorbing
in its bitter earnestness. _The Travelling Bachelor_ purports to be
the letters of a cosmopolite, a man of fifty, to various members
of his club, recounting his travels in the United States. The book
is historical, statistical, argumentative. It treats of government,
manners, art, literature, of fashions in dress and of peculiarities of
speech. As an attempt on the part of a man of strong prejudices to take
an objective view of his own country, it is singularly interesting.
Were its seven hundred closely printed pages lightened with humor or
relieved by any grace of expression, _The Travelling Bachelor_ would be
a vastly entertaining work.

_The American Democrat_ is a collection of short essays, forty-five in
number, on the American republic, liberty, parties, public opinion,
property, the press, demagogues, the decay of manners, individuality,
aristocrat and democrat, pronunciation, slavery, etc., etc. The
tone of the comments is intentionally censorious, and often proves
exasperating. Having been long absent from America, Cooper found
himself to a certain degree ‘in the situation of a foreigner in his own
country.’ On this account he was prepared to note peculiarities. Praise
and blame are mingled. _The American Democrat_ sets forth high ideals,
as may be seen, for example, in the suggestive essay on party. The book
is courageous but wanting in suavity.

_Sketches of Switzerland_ and _Gleanings in Europe_, comprising ten
volumes in the original editions, are studies of Continental and
English life. They contain a multitude of spirited, pungent, and true
observations. Lacking the ‘antiseptic of style,’ the books are no
longer read.

Between 1845 and 1850 Cooper published eight novels. Three of the
eight, _Satanstoe_, _The Chainbearer_, and _The Redskins_, are
narratives supposed to be drawn from the ‘Littlepage Manuscripts.’
The first is not only the best, but is also one of the most genial of
all Cooper’s novels. Corny Littlepage had attractive friends, such
as the mettlesome youth Guert Ten Eyck, a splendid specimen of the
free-handed, royally generous Dutch-American. Jason Newcome, on the
other hand, embodies Cooper’s never latent hostility to New England.
The pictures of old days in New York and Albany are brilliant and
highly finished, and the encounter with the Indians in Cooper’s most
spirited vein.

_The Crater_ is a history of the adventures of Mark Woolston of
Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who was shipwrecked on a
volcanic island in the Pacific, and with the able seaman Bob Betts
set himself to solve the problem of existence. What with gardening,
poultry-raising, boat-building, tempests, earthquakes, exploration
of neighboring islands, colonization, savages, and pirates, the book
resolves itself into one of the infinite variations of _Robinson
Crusoe_. After twenty-nine chapters of this sort of thing comes an
absurd and irrelevant conclusion.

All the later novels, _Jack Tier_, _The Sea Lions_, _Oak Openings_, and
_The Ways of the Hour_, are hard reading, yet the least happy of them
has passages betraying the master’s hand. _The Sea Lions_ stands out by
virtue of the powerful descriptions of an Antarctic winter; but neither
Captain Spike’s mission to the gulf, nor the revelation of fat, profane
Jack’s true station and sex, nor yet the malapropisms of Mrs. Budd (she
would say ‘It blew what they call a Hyson in the Chinese seas’), can
make _Jack Tier_ more than tolerable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cooper’s greatest achievements were his stories of the sea and the
forest. His real creations are sailors, backwoodsmen, old soldiers,
and Indians. Whether his red men are conceived in the spirit of modern
ethnological science can matter but little now. They are neither
so close to Chateaubriand’s idealized savage, nor so far from the
real Indian as is generally believed. That Cooper had no skill in
representing contemporary society is plain enough; but the failure
of _Home as Found_ need not have been as complete as it was. Haste
and anger must bear the blame of that literary disaster. Where he
deals with manners of the past, as in _Satanstoe_, he is often most
felicitous. With his novel of _The Bravo_ he was in line with the
Romantic movement. How far he comprehended that movement, or was
influenced by it, is a more intricate problem.

Modern literature can show but few authors more popular than Cooper. He
has been praised extravagantly; but the fact that Miss Mitford thought
him as good as Scott ought not to prejudice us against him. And he has
been damned without measure; but over against Mark Twain’s unchivalrous
attack on his great fellow countryman may be set the royally generous
tributes of Balzac and of Dumas.


FOOTNOTES:

   [7] Judge Cooper’s _A Guide in the Wilderness_, Dublin, 1810, was
       reprinted in 1897 with an introduction by J. F. Cooper [the
       Younger], throwing much light on the manners of the times and
       the character of his ancestor.

   [8] One of the most extraordinary of the suits arose from
       criticism of the _Naval History_. Cooper had refused to take
       the popular side of a heated controversy and to join in
       assailing Elliott, Perry’s second in command at the Battle
       of Lake Erie. The suit, against Stone of the ‘Commercial
       Advertiser,’ was settled by arbitration, and in Cooper’s
       favor. Lounsbury’s _Cooper_, pp. 200–230.

   [9] Park Theatre, New York, March, 1822.

  [10] Burton’s Theatre, New York, June, 1850.



IV

_George Bancroft_


REFERENCES:

  =W. M. Sloane=: ‘George Bancroft in Society, in Politics, in
    Letters,’ ‘The Century Magazine,’ January, 1887.

  =S. S. Green=: ‘George Bancroft,’ _Proceedings of the American
    Antiquarian Society_, April 29, 1891.

  =A. McF. Davis=: ‘George Bancroft,’ _Proceedings of the American
    Academy of Arts and Sciences_, vol. xxvi, 1891.


I

HIS LIFE

The Bancrofts have been settled in America since 1632. Among the
historian’s ancestors were men of marked traits of character.
Bancroft’s grandfather, a farmer of Essex County, Massachusetts, had
such a reputation for piety and judgment that he was called on to act
as an umpire in the bitter dispute between Jonathan Edwards and his
church at Northampton.

The father of the historian, Aaron Bancroft, a pioneer of American
Unitarianism, was for fifty years pastor of the Second Church of
Worcester. His distinguishing trait was ‘a deep-seated abhorrence of
anything like mental slavery.’ He was an ardent student of American
history and the author of an _Essay on the Life of George Washington_
(1807), a popular book in its own day and well worth the reading in
ours. George Bancroft thought ‘that his own inclination toward history
was due very much to the influence of his father.’

There is a story (probably apocryphal) that in his youth Aaron Bancroft
fought at Lexington and Bunker Hill. During Shays’s Rebellion, when
the insurgent officers proposed to quarter themselves in private
houses at Worcester, the minister guarded his own door and told a
group of officers who approached that they were rebels, and that ‘they
would obtain no entrance to his house but by violence.’ The officers
immediately rode away.

George Bancroft was born at Worcester on October 3, 1800. He prepared
for college at Phillips Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, and was
graduated at Harvard in 1817. Edward Everett, the newly appointed
professor of Greek, who was then studying at Göttingen, urged
President Kirkland to send some graduate of marked powers to Germany
with a view to his preparing himself to teach at Harvard. The choice
fell on Bancroft. He spent two years at Göttingen and obtained his
doctorate. Among his professors were Heeren, Dissen, Eichhorn, and
Blumenbach; Heeren’s influence was the most profound and the most
lasting. His range of studies was wide, including, as it did, history,
German literature, Greek philosophy, natural history, Scripture
interpretation, Arabic, Syriac, and Persian.

From Göttingen, Bancroft went to Berlin, where he heard the lectures of
Savigny, Schleiermacher, and Hegel, and made the acquaintance of Voss,
W. von Humboldt, and F. A. Wolf. He had the fortune to meet Goethe
once at Jena, and again at Weimar. After leaving Berlin he studied
for a time at Heidelberg under Von Schlosser. In Paris he met Cousin,
Constant, and A. von Humboldt. He travelled in Switzerland and Italy,
and spent the winter of 1821–22 at Rome, where he made the acquaintance
of Niebuhr and Bunsen. At Leghorn the following spring he was one of
a party of Americans who gathered to meet Byron when the poet visited
the ‘Constitution,’ the flagship of the American squadron. Bancroft
afterwards called on Byron at Montenero, and was presented to the
Countess Guiccioli.

In the fall of 1822 Bancroft became a tutor of Greek at Harvard. The
following year he resigned his position, not to enter the ministry in
accordance with his father’s wishes, but to become a schoolmaster. He
joined his friend, Joseph G. Cogswell (the directing spirit in the
enterprise), in founding a school for boys at Round Hill, Northampton.
Emerson, then a youth of twenty, heard Bancroft preach at the ‘New
South’ in Boston soon after his return from Germany, and was ‘delighted
with his eloquence.’ ‘He needs a great deal of cutting and pruning,
but we think him an infant Hercules.’ Emerson deplored Bancroft’s new
departure, ‘because good schoolmasters are as plenty as whortleberries,
but good ministers assuredly are not, and Bancroft might be one of the
best.’

On the eve of leaving Cambridge, Bancroft published, under the title of
_Poems_, a volume of correct if not inspired verse. At Northampton his
literary activity found more sober expression in text-books, in papers
for the ‘North American Review’ and Walsh’s ‘American Quarterly,’ and
in a careful translation of Heeren’s _Politics of Ancient Greece_
(1824). At the celebration of Independence Day at Northampton in 1826,
Bancroft was the orator. He chanted the present glory of America,
predicted a golden future, and declared his faith in a ‘determined
uncompromising democracy.’ These notes were to be heard again and often
in his great history.

Round Hill, though prosperous in many ways, was not a success
financially, nor were the partners wholly congenial. After seven years
Bancroft withdrew from the school and began writing the book on which
his fame rests. In 1834 appeared the first volume of _A History of
the United States from the discovery of the American continent to the
present time_. The second volume was published in 1837, the third in
1840.

The historian removed to Springfield and became prominent in state
politics. He was an ardent Democrat and a strong opponent of slavery.
Elected without his knowledge to the legislature, he refused to take
his seat; he also declined a nomination to the senate. It is said that
he took this attitude with respect to office-holding out of deference
to the feelings of his wife, Sarah (Dwight) Bancroft, who came of
a prominent Whig family. Mrs. Bancroft died in 1837.[11] Appointed
Collector of the Port of Boston by President Van Buren, Bancroft held
the office from 1838 to 1841, and administered its affairs with a
thoroughness theretofore unknown, and in a way incidentally to reflect
great credit on the profession of letters.

In 1844 Bancroft was the Democratic candidate for governor of
Massachusetts and polled a large vote, but was defeated by George N.
Briggs. A year later he became Secretary of the Navy under President
Polk. In the exercise of his duties he gave the order to take
possession of California, and as acting Secretary of War the order to
General Taylor to occupy Texas.

During his secretaryship Bancroft founded the United States Naval
Academy at Annapolis. This he brought about not by asking Congress to
authorize its establishment, but by so interpreting the powers granted
him under the law that he was able to set in operation a school for
the training of midshipmen and offer it to Congress for approval. Once
the school was established and its usefulness proved, there was no
difficulty in securing funds for adequate equipment. The Academy was
formally opened on October 10, 1845.

From 1846 to 1849 Bancroft was minister to England. There were
important diplomatic problems to be solved, but his triumphs were
chiefly literary and social. He accumulated a rich store of documents,
and on his return to America made his home in New York and devoted
himself anew to the _History_.[12] The fourth volume appeared in 1852;
the fifth in 1853; the sixth in 1854; the seventh in 1858; the eighth
in 1860; the ninth in 1866; the tenth and concluding volume in 1874.
His _Literary and Historical Miscellanies_ appeared in 1855.

When the New York Historical Society celebrated the close of the first
half-century of its existence (1854), Bancroft was the orator. His
address on that occasion, ‘The Necessity, the Reality, and the Promise
of the Progress of the Human Race,’ has been pronounced the best
exposition of his historical creed.[13]

Bancroft was a strong Union man and during the Civil War acted with
the Republican party. He declined a nomination to Congress from the
eighth district of New York (October, 1862), on the ground that a
multiplication of candidates would leave the result very much to
chance; there should be a union, he urged, of all those ‘who feel
deeply for their country in this her hour of peril.’ At the close
of the war he was chosen to pronounce the eulogy on Lincoln before
Congress (February, 1866).

President Johnson, in 1867, appointed Bancroft minister to Prussia.
Later he was accredited to the North German Confederation, and in
1872, following current political changes, to the German Empire. He
brought about that notable treaty whereby Germans who had become
citizens of the United States were freed from allegiance to the land
of their birth. Never before by a ‘formal act’ had the principle of
‘renunciation of citizenship at ‘the will of the individual been
recognized.’ England followed Germany’s example and gave over her
claim of indefeasible allegiance. Another diplomatic triumph was the
settlement of the North-western boundary dispute. While in Germany
Bancroft celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation
at Göttingen. The University gave him an honorary degree, and
congratulations were showered on him from scholars, statesmen, princes,
and men of letters.

After nearly eight years of service Bancroft was recalled from the
German mission at his own request. He lived in Washington during the
winter months and spent the summers at Newport as had long been
his habit. The work of his later years included two revisions of
the _History_ (1876 and 1884), a _History of the Formation of the
Constitution of the United States_ (1882), _A Plea for the Constitution
of the United States of America, wounded in the House of its Guardians_
(1886), and a sketch of the public life of Martin Van Buren (1889).

Bancroft died in Washington on January 17, 1891.


II

HIS CHARACTER

Bancroft’s character was fashioned on a large scale. His mental horizon
was broad, his power to plan and carry out a vast undertaking was
commensurate with the reach of his vision. There was little in his
habit of thought to suggest the narrowness so often associated with the
name of scholar. Yet he had the infinitely laborious powers of the mere
scholar. He could toil with unflagging energy day by day or year by
year.

The magisterial note in his historical writings is due not alone to the
subject or to the literary manner, but also to the deliberate tenacity
of purpose with which the historian wrought. Such a work is the
product, not of feverish spasms of intellectual activity, but of even
and steady effort.

Bancroft has been accused of a want of enthusiasm in receiving critical
observations on his work. It is a question whether historians (more
than philosophers) are wont to receive with rapture proofs that they
are possibly in the wrong. Bancroft’s tone of controversy is perhaps
less peculiar to himself than is commonly asserted. However, it must be
kept in mind that he had a ‘strong nervous personality.’

Emerson described the greeting he had from Bancroft in London. When
he presented himself at the minister’s door, ‘it was opened by Mr.
Bancroft himself in the midst of servants whom that man of eager
manners thrust aside, saying that he would open his own door for me.
He was full of goodness and talk.’ Other accounts of him give an
impression of much stateliness of manner tempered by affability. Still
others convey the idea that he was always artificial, and sometimes
playful with a playfulness that bordered on frivolity. A friend[14]
professed to detect in Bancroft’s bearing marks of the man of letters,
diplomat, politician, preacher and pedagogue, one trait superimposed on
another. But the blend of characteristics was charming.[15]


III

THE WRITER

The charge brought against Bancroft of having embellished his themes
with ‘cheap rhetoric’ is unjust. Rhetorical the historian undoubtedly
was, but the rhetoric was not cheap. It had the merit of sincerity;
it was the result of an honest effort to present important facts and
comments in becoming garb.

In 1834 the style thought appropriate to historical writing was
markedly oratorical. Historians addressed their readers. A pomp of
expression, something almost liturgical, was held seemly if not indeed
of last importance. Reading their works, one involuntarily calls up a
vision of grave gentlemen in much-wrinkled frock-coats, making stilted
gestures, and looking even more unreal than their statues which now
terrify posterity. Bancroft was affected by the prevailing drift
towards oratorical forms. At times one is tempted to exclaim: ‘This was
not meant to be read but to be heard.’

Take for example this passage on Sebastian Cabot: ‘He lived to an
extreme old age and loved his profession to the last; in the hour of
death his wandering thoughts were upon the ocean. The discoverer of
the territory of our country was one of the most extraordinary men of
his age; there is deep cause for regret that time has spared so few
memorials of his career. Himself incapable of jealousy, he did not
escape detraction. He gave England a continent, and no one knows his
burial place.’

Not to enter into the question whether this is good, or indifferent, or
even bad writing, it is sufficient to note that the passage in question
belongs to spoken discourse rather than to literature. It appeals to
us, if at all, through the medium of the ear rather than the eye.

Take for another example the comparison of Puritan and Cavalier:
Historians have loved to eulogize ‘the manners and virtues, the glory
and the benefits of chivalry. Puritanism accomplished for mankind
far more. If it had the sectarian crime of intolerance, chivalry had
the vices of dissoluteness. The knights were brave from gallantry of
spirit; the puritans from the fear of God. The knights were proud of
loyalty, the puritans of liberty. The knights did homage to monarchs,
in whose smile they beheld honor, whose rebuke was the wound of
disgrace; the puritans, disdaining ceremony, would not bend the knee
to the King of kings. The former valued courtesy; the latter justice.
The former adorned society by graceful refinements; the latter founded
national grandeur on universal education. The institutions of chivalry
were subverted by the gradually increasing weight, and knowledge, and
opulence, of the industrious classes; the puritans, relying on those
classes, planted in their hearts the undying principles of democratic
liberty.’

Passages such as these are often employed as a rhetorical flourish
at the end of a chapter. They are analogous to what actors call
‘making a good exit.’ In Bancroft they constitute for pages together
the prevailing rather than the exceptional form. The reader, whether
conscious of it or not, is kept on a strain. At last he grows
uncomfortable. He wishes the historian would cease to declaim, would
come down from the rostrum, throw aside his academic robes, and be
neighborly and familiar.

This _History_ was so long in the writing that Bancroft’s style changed
materially. The opinion prevails that his diction improved as the
work proceeded, that the later volumes are uniformly less inflated,
strained, and ‘eloquent’ than the earlier ones. It is true that he
made innumerable revisions of the text. The changes were not always
improvements. Sometimes in rewriting a sentence he made it less
energetic. Strong expressions were softened. A plain old-fashioned word
would be taken out; often it carried the whole phrase with it. Whether
the literary or the historical sense dictated the change in question
cannot always be determined.

Bancroft’s diction is manly and forceful, but it lacks natural grace
and suppleness; it is flexible as chain armor is flexible, but not
as is the human body. It may be doubted whether he is ever read for
literary pleasure. Nevertheless, scattered through these twelve volumes
are hundreds of passages well worth the study of those who enjoy an
exhibition of mastery in the use of words.


IV

_THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES_

One does well to read Bancroft in the tall, wide-margined, and almost
sumptuous volumes of the original editions. The page is open and
inviting. Both text and notes have a personal flavor very diverting at
times. There is no question as to the usefulness of an attractive page
in works of this sort. Political histories should be made easy, not by
picture-book methods, but by the legitimate arts of good printing.

The work is generously planned. Twelve octavo volumes are required to
bring the narrative down to the ratification of the constitution.[16]
Three volumes, comprising nearly fifteen hundred pages, are given to
the Colonial period alone.

Bancroft announced his theory of historical writing in the preface of
1834. He was to be controlled always by ‘the principles of historical
scepticism,’ and his narrative was to be drawn ‘from writings and
sources which were contemporaries of the events that are described.’
Nothing commonly supposed to belong to American history was to be
retained merely because it had been unchallenged by former historians.

The treatment, as shown in these volumes on the Colonial period, is
in perfect accord with the author’s conception of the dignity of the
subject. The matter is as stately as the manner. Bancroft writes
history as a lord high chamberlain conducts a court function. He feels
that during the ceremony of discovering a world and planting a nation
there should be no unseemliness, certainly no laughter or disturbance.

The characters go through their evolutions like well-drilled courtiers.
So stately are they as to appear scarce human. Homely and familiar
traits are almost completely suppressed. The founders of America, as we
see them looming in the pages of Bancroft, are not men but incarnate
ideas. They are the embodiment of principles and virtues. Winthrop is
enlightened conservatism, Vane is generous impetuosity, Roger Williams
is liberty of conscience. Strive how we will to bring these men nearer,
to make them tangible, the effort is not wholly successful. These
figures of the past, like the characters of a morality-play, persist in
remaining personified ideas.

As a reaction against ‘classical’ history comes history of the
gossiping school. ‘Thanks to you,’ said Brunetière, welcoming Masson
to the French Academy, ‘we now know the exact number of Napoleon’s
shirts.’ Bancroft was not interested in the spindles and shoe-buckles
of the Puritans. Many people are, but they must find elsewhere the
gratification they seek. Whoever wishes at any time absolutely to
escape anecdotage, homely detail, and piquant gossip, has it always
in his power to do so; he can read Bancroft’s three volumes on the
Colonial period and dwell among abstractions.

Even if not at this stage of his career the most human of writers,
Bancroft is a comforting historian to return to, after having dwelt
for a while with those who instruct us how low and mercenary in
motive, how impervious to liberal ideas, were the men who planted
English civilization in America. Historical iconoclasts all, they are
frightfully convincing. Some of their arguments lose a degree of force
as it dawns on the reader that Seventeenth-century men are being judged
by Nineteenth-century standards. When Bancroft wrote, the habit of
abusing the ancestors had not become deep-seated.

Turning from the Colonial period, the historian takes up the period
of the American Revolution. Seven volumes are required for telling
the story. The logical arrangement is by ‘epochs.’ They are four in
number: ‘Overthrow of the European Colonial system,’ ‘How Great
Britain estranged America,’ ‘America declares itself independent,’ ‘The
Independence of America is acknowledged.’[17]

General histories must treat of many things, the doings of authorized
and representative assemblies and the doings of the mob, skirmishes,
battles by land and sea, diplomatic intrigues, party combinations,
political and military plots, the characters of the actors in the
historic drama, and the setting of the stage on which they played.
While doing all parts of his task with workmanlike skill, a historian
will be found to excel in this thing or in that. Bancroft’s accounts of
military operations are always clear, energetic, and often extremely
readable. He could not, like Irving, ‘render you a fearful battle in
music,’ but he never made the mistake of supposing that he could. He
had not the graphical power of Parkman, but he had enough for his
purposes.

His character sketches of the men who figured in the struggles for
American independence are among the best parts of his writing. The
patriots and their friends in England and on the Continent are too
uniformly creatures of light, but their opponents are not represented
as necessarily creatures of darkness. If Bancroft could be more than
fair to his own side, he was incapable of being wholly unfair to the
other. His tendency is to regard human character as all of a piece,
fixed rather than fluctuating. Men (politicians included) have been
known to grow in virtue as they grow in years. Bancroft was over
complacent in his attitude towards frenzied impromptu Revolutionary
gatherings whose motives could not always have been so guiltlessly
patriotic and disinterested as he represents them.[18] He was but
little versed in the psychology of mobs.

Forceful at all points, Bancroft was singularly impressive in dealing
with history as it is made in parliaments and conventions, in council
chambers, cabinets, and courts of law. He was born to grapple with
whole state paper offices. He knew the secret of subordinating a vast
amount of detail to his main purpose. An important part of the American
Revolution took place in Europe. Bancroft’s capital merit consists in
his having brought the event into its largest relations. The story
as he told it did not merely concern the uprising of a few petty
quarrelsome colonies, it became an important chapter in the history of
liberty. Not for an instant did he permit himself to lose sight of that
‘idea of continuity which gives vitality to history.’

It is wonderful how through these seven volumes everything bends to
one idea; how it all becomes part of a demonstration, a detail in the
history of that spirit which, acting through discontent, led first to
local outbreak and resistance, then to concerted action and war, and
finally to the birth of a new nation.

The crown of Bancroft’s work is the story of how the states parted with
so much of their individuality as stood in the way of union, and then
united. Two volumes would seem to afford room for full and leisurely
treatment. But in fact the historian only accomplished his task by
enormous compression. Often the substance of a speech had to be given
in a sentence, and the deliberations of days in a few paragraphs.
The marshalling of facts, the grasp of the subject in detail and as
a whole, are extraordinary. Bancroft notes what forces led to union
and what opposed it. He marks the shifting of public sentiment, the
trembling of the balance, but he grants himself few privileges of the
sort called literary. Seldom dramatic or picturesque in this portion of
his narrative, he is at all times logically exact and magisterial.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a peculiar fitness in the word ‘monumental’ applied to
Bancroft’s work. It has solidity, strength, durability, a massive and
stately grandeur. It is a book which the modern reader finds it easy
to neglect; but he puts it in his library and never fails to commend
it to his friends, with a hypocritical expression of surprise at their
not being better acquainted with it. The truth is, we are spoiled by
more attractive historians. Macaulay, Froude, and Parkman have made us
indolent, fond of verbal comforts and disinclined to effort. We demand
not only to be instructed but to be vastly entertained at the same
time. Bancroft certainly instructs; it would be difficult to prove that
he also entertains.

His tone of confident eulogy is often condemned. On the whole, this
is a merit rather than a fault. Doubtless he admired too uniformly
and too much. Many writers have taken pleasure in showing that his
admiration was misplaced. And thus a balance is kept. It is a fortunate
thing for American literature that Bancroft’s vast work, destined to
so wide an influence, and the fruit of such immense labor, should
have been conceived and written in a generous and hopeful spirit. The
English reviewer who on the appearance of the first volume praised the
historian because he was ‘so fearlessly honest and impartial’ might
also have praised him because he was so fearlessly optimistic. This too
requires courage.


FOOTNOTES:

  [11] Bancroft was twice married. His second wife was Mrs.
       Elisabeth (Davis) Bliss.

  [12] For an account of the privileges he enjoyed in making his
       collections see _Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of
       America_, vol. viii, p. 477.

  [13] W. M. Sloane.

  [14] T. W. Higginson in ‘The Nation,’ January, 1891.

  [15] Bancroft’s characteristics as a young man are admirably
       brought out in the recently printed selection from his
       letters and journals, edited by M. A. DeWolfe Howe.
       ‘Scribner’s Magazine,’ September and October, 1905.

  [16] Two volumes of the original edition correspond to one volume
       of the ‘author’s last revision,’ 1883–85.

  [17] In the ‘last revision’ Epoch Four is divided into unequal
       parts and the titles are reworded: Epoch first, ‘Britain
       overthrows the European colonial system,’ 1748–63; Epoch
       second, ‘Britain estranges America,’ 1763–74; Epoch third,
       ‘America takes up arms for self-defence and arrives at
       independence,’ 1774–76; Epoch fourth, ‘America in alliance
       with France,’ 1776--80; Epoch fifth, ‘The People of America
       take their equal station among the powers of the earth,’ 1780
       to December, 1782.

  [18] J. F. Jameson speaks of Bancroft’s ‘tendency to
       conventionalize, to compose his American populations of
       highly virtuous Noah’s-ark men.’ _History of Historical
       Writing in America_, 1891, p. 108.



V

_William Hickling Prescott_


REFERENCES:

  =George Ticknor=: _Life of William Hickling Prescott_, 1864.

  =Rollo Ogden=: _William Hickling Prescott_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1904.

  =H. T. Peck=: _William Hickling Prescott_, ‘English Men of
    Letters,’ 1905.


I

HIS LIFE

The Prescotts are an ancient family as antiquity is reckoned in the
United States. The first Anglo-American of that name, John Prescott,
an old Cromwellian soldier, took up residence in this country about
1640, and after living awhile at Watertown, Massachusetts, made a
permanent home for himself at Lancaster, then a frontier settlement.
When thieving Indians plundered him, it is said that he used to put on
helmet, gorget, and cuirass, and start in pursuit. Being a powerful man
and stern of countenance, his terrific appearance in his armor had a
salutary effect on the red men.

Jonas Prescott, a son of the old warrior, settled at Groton,
Massachusetts, and there the family history centres for more than a
hundred years. They were a vigorous race, useful and conspicuous in
the military and civil affairs of the colony.

William Hickling Prescott, the historian, was born in Salem,
Massachusetts, on May 4, 1796. His father, Judge William Prescott, was
a man of eminent abilities, esteemed for his great legal acquirements
and beloved for his personal worth. His mother, Catharine Hickling, a
daughter of Thomas Hickling of Boston, was distinguished for energy
and benevolence, as well as for a certain gayety of temperament, a
trait which she transmitted to her famous son. The grandfather of
the historian was Colonel William Prescott, founder of the town of
Pepperell, who, on the night of June 16, 1775, with his force of a
thousand men, threw up a redoubt on Bunker (Breed’s) Hill, and on the
following day defended it until defence was no longer possible.

Prescott was drilled in the classics by one of old Parr’s pupils, the
Reverend Doctor John Gardiner, rector of Trinity Church, Boston. He
was an insatiable reader of books; but it were idle to assume that his
interest in Spanish history and literature took its first impulse, as
has been asserted, from the reading of Southey’s translation of _Amadis
of Gaul_.

He entered Harvard College in the Sophomore year and was graduated in
1814. A misfortune befell him early in his course which changed his
whole life and made enormous demands on his philosophy and courage.
In one of the frolics attending the breaking up of commons, when small
missiles were flying about the room, Prescott was struck full in the
left eye with a hard crust of bread. The sight was instantly destroyed,
and he lived for years in apprehension of what, fortunately, never
overtook him, total blindness.

He began the study of law, but illness and consequent weakening of the
power of vision put an end to it. In search of health and diversion he
went abroad. After spending some months in the Azores, in the family of
his maternal grandfather, Thomas Hickling, then United States consul
at St. Michael’s, he visited Italy, France, and England. In London he
consulted eminent oculists, who were able, however, to give him but
little encouragement.

Shortly after his return home he married Miss Susan Amory of Boston,
whose maternal grandfather, Captain Linzee, was in command of a British
sloop of war at the outbreak of the Revolution, and had cannonaded
the redoubt on Bunker Hill. In 1821 Prescott planned a course of
literary study. Beginning oddly enough with grammars and rhetorics, he
followed this preliminary reading with a wide survey first of English
literature, then of French and Italian. German he tried and gave up.
With his enfeebled sight he could do but little of the actual reading
for himself; the bulk of it had to be done for him.

Prescott’s literary life was peculiar in that he prepared himself to
become a man of letters with no definite conception of what he would
write about. He was not, like the literary heroes of whom we read, so
possessed of his subject from boyhood that all the ancient neighbors
distinctly recall early evidences of his predilection. His first
impulse towards the studies in which he won renown came from George
Ticknor. To help Prescott pass away his time Ticknor read to his
friend the lectures he had been giving to advanced classes at Harvard,
lectures which formed the basis of his _History of Spanish Literature_.
This was in 1824. Prescott became enthusiastic over the study of
the Spanish language and history. A year later he was thinking what
brilliant passages might be written on the Inquisition, the Conquest of
Granada, and the exploits of the Great Captain. After balancing Italian
and Spanish subjects against each other, he decided, not without
misgivings, on a history of Ferdinand and Isabella, and early in 1826
wrote to Alexander H. Everett, United States minister at Madrid, asking
his help in collecting materials.

Three and a half years of study preceded the writing of the first
chapter; ten and a half years in all were required to make the book.
Its enthusiastic reception from scholars and public alike led Prescott
to take up cognate subjects. The list of his writings is brief, but,
taking into account the difficulties involved, one may say without
exaggeration that Prescott’s historical works represent a labor little
short of titanic.

The _History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic_
appeared in 1837. It was followed by _The Conquest of Mexico_, 1843;
_Critical and Historical Essays_, 1845 (consisting chiefly of papers
reprinted from the ‘North American Review’); _The Conquest of Peru_,
1847; _The History of Philip the Second_, 1855 (left unfinished at the
author’s death). To this list of important works may be added a brief
continuation of Robertson’s _Charles the Fifth_, and a _Memoir of
Abbott Lawrence_.

Prescott’s life was without marked external incident. His surroundings
were ideal. Having inherited a fortune, he could give himself to
toilsome literary undertakings with no care for the financial result.
He took satisfaction in the thought of having refuted Johnson’s dictum
that no man could write history unless he had good eyes.

Early in 1858 Prescott was stricken with apoplexy, but so far recovered
as to be able to resume work on the _History of Philip the Second_. A
second attack (January 27, 1859) ended in his death.


II

PRESCOTT’S CHARACTER

To those who knew him in varying degrees of intimacy, whether as
friends, neighbors, or chance acquaintance, Prescott seemed the
incarnation of urbanity, thoughtfulness, good humor. To us who know
him only through the story of his life he seems notable for his heroic
qualities.

He had enormous courage and force of will. That other men have
performed great tasks under like difficulties cannot lessen the glory
of his individual achievement. Handicapped by partial blindness, he
wrote history, a type of literature which makes the most exacting
demands on the physical powers.

Had Prescott’s genius inclined him towards poetry or fiction, the
heroic element in his literary life would have been less noteworthy.
In general a novelist is not expected to read; what is chiefly
required of him in the way of preparation is, that he shall observe,
feel, and occasionally think--but not read; much reading makes a dull
story-teller. The novelist gleans material as he walks the street. For
his purpose an hour of talk with ‘a set of wretched un-idea’d girls,’
as Doctor Johnson half affectionately, half pettishly, called them, is
worth ten hours over a book. History is another matter. The historian
must often read a thousand pages in order to write one. And the work
of preparation is indescribably exhausting; there is so much detail
to set in order, so many documents to be consulted, such a wilderness
of notes to be arranged, compared, and fitted into place. The task,
difficult under the best conditions, must seem endless to any one with
an imperfect sense.

A man with good eye-sight is like a man with the free use of his legs,
he goes where he pleases. But a scholar with defective vision is an
invalid in a wheeled chair. Prescott, being denied one of the greatest
conveniences of study, was forced to try expedients. With most writers
pen and ink are an indispensable aid to composition. Prescott used
memory instead. Not only was the knowledge accumulated, arranged, and
weighed, but it was put into literary form, the paragraphs measured and
the sentences polished before the actual writing was begun. Prescott
often carried in his head, for days at a time, the equivalent of sixty
pages of printed text, and on occasion, seventy-five pages. Only by
reflecting on the difficulties met and overcome can the amateur of
literature arrive at a conception of Prescott’s indomitable courage.

Add to force and persistency of purpose another notable trait,
a passion for nobility of character. Prescott, unwearied in
self-examination, studied his own moral nature as he studied the pages
of his manuscript, that he might weed out the faults. The methods he
employed to this end were often whimsical, and even childlike; but in
their touching simplicity lies the best proof of the genuineness of the
motive that prompted them.


III

THE WRITER

Prescott gave unusual measure of time and thought to the problem of
expression. With a view to grounding himself in the technical part of
literature, he invoked the aid of those now forgotten worthies, Lindley
Murray and Hugh Blair--how greatly to his advantage would be difficult
to say. Books of this sort are so often disfigured by a vicious or,
what is worse, a commonplace style that it is a question whether one
does not lose by example all that he gains by precept.

Escaping these influences, Prescott took up the chief English authors,
beginning with Ascham, Sidney, Bacon, Browne, Raleigh, and Milton.
His mind was constantly on the alert to discover by what means these
masters produced their effects. His journals show how painstaking he
was in these studies, with what intense interest he turned the problem
of the art of expression over and over in his mind.

When he came to print, it was observed first of all that he had a
‘style.’ The self-conscious literary workman was plainly visible.
Prescott had evidently aimed to produce certain effects through the
balance of his periods, the choice of his words, the length and
structure of his sentences. Every one said: ‘He is an artist.’ Praise
could not have been more aptly bestowed. Among many eminent artists in
words Prescott was one of the most conscientious.

But the literary style of the _Ferdinand and Isabella_ had the defect
of being too apparent. One often found himself taking note of the
manner of expression before he took note of the thought. The panoply of
words glittered from afar. It was brilliant but metallic, magnificent
but artificial.

The criticism of his first book taught Prescott the futility of
worrying about style--after one has worried sufficiently. He was no
less anxious to improve; he noted the mannerisms into which he had
fallen, resolved to correct them, and that was the conclusion of the
whole matter. He stopped dwelling overmuch on the fashion of his
writing, and at once gained in ease and naturalness. After ten years
of labor he had mastered the materials of his art. His workmanship
improved to the last. The volumes of the _History of Philip the Second_
have literary characteristics so gracious as to add sharpness to the
regret that this noble work had to be left unfinished.


IV

THE HISTORIES

The _Ferdinand and Isabella_ is not a formidable book for size. A timid
reader, shrinking from fifteen hundred pages of any literature but
fiction, need not fear mortgaging too much of his time in the perusal.
Compared with a reading of Freeman’s _Norman Conquest_ or Carlyle’s
_Frederick_, his task is light.

In an introductory section Prescott traces the growth of Castile and
Aragon, with their dependencies, up to the time when Ferdinand and
Isabella come on the stage of history. Perhaps there is a lack of
detail here and there. One would like to know the steps of the process
by which the Spaniards regained the territory from which they had been
driven by the Saracenic invasion of the Eighth Century. Bitter as were
the jealousies and quarrels of the various petty states, they made
common cause against the Mohammedans. They hated the hereditary enemy
both as infidels and usurpers. Hatred fostered the national spirit.

The history proper is divided into two parts. The first has chiefly
to do with the internal policy of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was the
period when law displaced anarchy. The law might be severe or even
unjust, but it was at all events law. Here is shown how the power
of the nobles was curbed, warring factions pacified, banditti of all
sorts kept within bounds, and that too whether they lived in castles or
lurked in dark corners, heresy suppressed in a truly rigorous fashion,
above all the national ideal strengthened. To use a homely figure,
Ferdinand and Isabella took up the problem of national housekeeping and
handled it as it had never been handled before. A reign of order and
economy was inaugurated. Thieving servants were put under restraint
or discharged, poachers were apprehended, and the gypsies who had
impudently camped on the best part of the estates were driven off.
A government which for years had run at loose ends was now under
masterful control.

The second part illustrates the foreign policy of the two monarchs.
Having made a nation out of an assemblage of turbulent states,
Ferdinand and Isabella were enabled to take a conspicuous place among
the sovereigns of Europe. By good fortune in war and in discovery, by
diplomatic shrewdness and religious zeal, their influence was felt
throughout Europe and over the seas. Spain was no longer isolated. Her
name carried weight; her will was respected.

Much of the narrative proceeds by divisions each of which might have
been printed as a monograph. A certain amount of space is given to the
Inquisition, so much to the war in Granada, so many chapters to the
history of Columbus, so many to the colonial policy, to the Italian
wars, to the life of Gonsalvo of Cordova, to the career of Cardinal
Ximenes.

While in no sense neglecting the constitutional side of the problems
before him, the historian’s bent is to the biographical and pictorial
phases of the reign. On these he dwells with satisfaction and often in
detail. To him history is a pageant. The rich coloring of the period
first attracted Prescott; he can hardly be blamed for painting his
canvas in lively hues, for so he conceived the design. Neutral tints
and dull tones are wholly wanting. The blackness of certain events only
serves to bring out in stronger relief the resplendent brightness of
virtuous acts and the goodness of noble characters. Torquemada offsets
Isabella; the cruelty of war is forgotten in the splendor of chivalric
deeds.

It is not a history of the people of Spain. The people are not
forgotten; the struggle of the commons for recognition, for justice,
for the right to be themselves and express their individuality--these
things are taken into account. But the work belongs rather to that
older school of history which concerns itself for the most part with
wars and royal progresses, with the intrigues of councillors, the
machinations of prelates, the rivalries of great houses and powerful
orders.

The _History of the Conquest of Mexico_ is of about the same length as
its predecessor. The narrative, simpler in some ways and more vivacious
in others, is gorgeously colored throughout. Prescott was disturbed
by the picturesqueness of his own treatment. ‘Very like Miss Porter’
and ‘Rather boarding schoolish finery’ were his comments on certain
chapters.

The first of the seven ‘books’ into which the work is divided contains
an account of Aztec civilization. Sixty years have elapsed since these
pages were written, during which time American archæology has made
great advances. That the value of Prescott’s introduction is not wholly
destroyed is due to the healthy sceptical spirit which controlled his
work.

The story has every element of romance. A young Spanish gentleman,
handsome, witty, daring, an idler in college and a libertine, joins
the army of adventurers in the New World. For ten or fifteen years he
leads the life of men of his class. He becomes a planter in Hayti and
varies the monotony of watching Indians till the soil by suppressing
insurrections of their brother Indians.

He goes to Cuba as secretary to the governor of that island, quarrels
with his chief, makes his peace, and quarrels with him again. Thrown
repeatedly into prison, he escapes with the ease of a Baron Trenck.
Reconciled to the governor, he is appointed to lead an expedition into
the newly discovered kingdom of Mexico. On this venture he stakes
his every penny. With five hundred soldiers he proposes to subdue the
natives; two priests go along to convert the natives as fast as they
are subdued. His sailors number one hundred and ten; his pilot had
served under Columbus.

Arriving on the coast, he secretly scuttles his ships, all but one,
that there may be no retreat, and then begins that wonderful march to
the great city of the Aztecs. He fights by craft as well as by physical
force. The jealousy of mutually hostile tribes helps to win his
battles. Superstition comes to his aid, for the Spaniards are thought
to be gods, and the horses they bestride carry terror into the hearts
of the natives.

At length he makes his entry into the city of flowers, and takes up
his abode there, Cortés and his little army of four hundred and fifty
Spaniards, with twice as many native allies, among sixty thousand
cannibals. Boldness marks every step of his course. He seizes the
native ‘king,’ suppresses plots with rigor, and proves his divinity
by tearing down one of the sacrificial pyramids and planting the
cross in its stead. Leaving a lieutenant in command, he hastens back
to the seashore to transact military business there. The lieutenant
precipitates a quarrel and slaughters Indians by the hundred. Cortés
returns and finds his work must be done again. This time it is
thoroughly done. Every step of his progress is marked with blood, and
the story of _la noche triste_ and the siege of Mexico are among the
most romantic passages in the history of the New World.

In estimating men Prescott aimed to employ the standard of their day.
When Cortés lifts up his hands, red with the blood of the miserable
natives, to return thanks to Heaven for victory, the historian does
not permit himself to forget that this savage Spaniard was a typical
soldier of the Cross. ‘Whoever has read the correspondence of Cortés,
or, still more, has attended to the circumstances of his career, will
hardly doubt that he would have been among the first to lay down his
life for the Faith.’ According to Prescott, the charge of cruelty
cannot be brought against Cortés. ‘The path of the conqueror is
necessarily marked with blood. He was not too scrupulous, indeed, in
the execution of his plans. He swept away the obstacles which lay in
his track; and his fame is darkened by the commission of more than one
act which his boldest apologists will find it hard to vindicate. But he
was not wantonly cruel. He allowed no outrage on his unresisting foes.’
The historian likens the Spaniard to Hannibal in his endurance, his
courage, and his unpretentiousness.

Later scholarship has assailed portions of _The Conquest of Mexico_
with needless asperity. Prescott could hardly be expected to avail
himself prophetically of archæological facts not known until thirty
years after his time. Nor was his faith in the early Spanish accounts
of the Conquest quite as childlike and uncritical as it is sometimes
represented. Historians are the most substantial of men of letters; but
they now and then build card houses which topple down under the breath
of a single new fact. And they take a very human delight in blowing
over one another’s structures. For which reason the reading of history
is a fearful joy, like skating on thin ice. The pleasure is intense so
long as nothing gives way. Perhaps the layman is unreasonable in his
demand for knowledge that shall not require too frequent revision. He
can at least read for pleasure, hoping that a part of what he reads is
true, and holding himself prepared to relinquish the parts he likes
best when the time comes.

In the _History of the Conquest of Peru_ the author brings fresh proof
that whatever may be said of his morals, the Spanish soldier cannot
be over-praised for his valor. Pizarro was a marvel of courage and
endurance. Fanaticism, which explains much in his character, does not
explain where such tremendous physical power came from. And he had the
true theatrical bravado of the Sixteenth-century adventurer. Add to
the native histrionic gifts of the Latin race a special training, such
as life in the New World gave, and men like Ojeda, Balboa, Cortés, and
Pizarro come into existence quite naturally. They did wonders in the
coolest possible way, and with a fine sense of the pictorial aspect of
their undertakings. Pizarro, drawing a line from east to west on the
sand with his sword and calling on his comrades to choose each man what
best becomes a brave Castilian (‘For my part I go to the south’), is
a figure for romantic drama. An Englishman equally daring would have
been more or less awkward in a pose of this sort, but the Spaniard was
perfectly at home. Of what clay were these men compounded that they
could imagine such exploits and succeed in them too?

The performance of Pizarro was less splendid than that of Cortés
and the man himself less interesting. The conqueror of Mexico was a
gentleman; not so the hard soldier who subdued the kingdom of the
Incas. His was a violent career, steeped in blood, and ending in
assassination. Not only was Pizarro without fear, but of two courses
he seized upon the more dangerous as the better suited to his genius.
Too ignorant to sign his own name, he could control not alone the
brutal soldier but as well the lawyer and the priest. Aside from his
masterfulness there was little to admire in his character. Brute
force excites wonder, but the exhibition of it becomes wearisome at
last. To Prescott ‘the hazard assumed by Pizarro was far greater
than that of the Conqueror of Mexico.’ Otherwise the man was a mere
bungler upon whom Fortune, with characteristic levity, chanced for a
time to smile. Prescott describes him in a sentence: ‘Pizarro was
eminently perfidious.’ Furthermore, the conqueror of Peru was not
original; he repeated what he had learned from Balboa and Cortés. Had
he chanced upon a country less rich and civilized, it may well be
doubted whether he would have made any considerable figure in history.
The argument from gold was entirely conclusive in those days; just as
at the present time an undertaking is said to ‘succeed’ if it pays
financially. Manners have improved, but ideals of ‘success’ are pretty
much what they were four hundred years ago. When Pizarro extorted from
the wretched Atahualpa a promise to fill a room twenty-two feet by
seventeen to the height of nine feet with gold, his place in history
was assured. The swineherd had become immortal.

Strange is it that the name of Francisco Pizarro should be a household
word while that of his brother Gonzalo is but little known and seldom
repeated. Yet there are few episodes in the history of Spanish
colonization more striking than the story of Gonzalo Pizarro’s march
across the Andes and the discovery of the river Amazon. It is a tale of
horror and suffering to which only the pen of a Defoe could do justice.
Gonzalo not only survived the fearful journey, but had strength enough
left to head a party for revolt against the viceroy, Blasco Nuñez, and
the execution of the Ordinances. Like a true Pizarro, this conqueror
died a violent death. He was beheaded; it seemed the only fitting way
for one of that family to take his departure from life. The Pizarros
used to behead their victims and then show themselves conspicuously at
the funeral. When it came their turn to die, they were treated with
scantier courtesy.

_Philip the Second_ was Prescott’s most ambitious work. Though
but a fragment, the fragment is of noble dimensions, being longer
by many pages than the _Ferdinand and Isabella_. The narrative is
extraordinarily vivid. Few pages can match for interest those in which
are described Philip’s coming to Flanders and his assumption of power
at the hands of his father Charles the Fifth. Here are exhibited at
their best the much-praised qualities of Prescott’s style. His prose
grew better as he grew older.

The characters stand out like the figures of a play: the great princes,
Charles the Fifth, Philip, Mary of England, and Elizabeth; the great
warriors and statesmen, Guise, Montmorency, Alva, Egmont, and William
of Orange; noble ladies like Margaret of Parma and the beautiful
Elizabeth of France. The events were of high and tragic importance,
for during this reign was to be settled the great question of freedom
of thought and the right to worship God as the conscience and the
reason dictated. The very contrasts of costume came to the aid of the
historian in dealing with this romantic age. It would seem as if the
writer must be picturesque in spite of himself.

The modern reader, whatever be his natural bent, finds himself impelled
by the critical spirit of the times into distrusting all history which
is not technical and hard to grasp. Prescott’s books are incorrigibly
‘literary’ and therefore more or less under suspicion. Because they
are attractive, it is taken for granted that they are unsound. Certain
unhappy beings have gone so far as to slander them outright by calling
them romances. But this is mere impatience with the kind of historical
writing which Prescott’s work exemplifies. He was a master of the art
of narrative; and history which stops with narrative is in the minds of
severe students little better than the more vicious forms of literary
idleness, such as poetry and fiction. Prescott gratifies his reader’s
curiosity about the past, but is not over solicitous to ‘modify his
view of the present and his forecast of the future.’ In other words, he
is well content to look at the surface of history, leaving it to others
to look below the surface and philosophize on what they find there.

Nevertheless these brilliant volumes have a value which is something
more than literary even if it be a good deal less than scientific.
It is perhaps not extravagant to pronounce them an indispensable
propædeutic to the study of Spanish-American history. They cannot be
displaced by works which ‘go much deeper into the subject.’ Depth
is not what is at all times most needed. We need stimulus, and
encouragement to face the discipline awaiting us in deep books. He who,
having read Prescott, was content to read no farther would be an odd
sort of student; but not so odd as he who labored under the impression
that Prescott was a historian whom he could afford to do without.



VI

_Ralph Waldo Emerson_


REFERENCES:

  =G. W. Cooke=: _Ralph Waldo Emerson, his Life, Writings, and
    Philosophy_, fifth edition, 1882.

  =O. W. Holmes=: _Ralph Waldo Emerson_, ‘American Men of Letters,’
    1885.

  =J. E. Cabot=: _A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson_, third edition,
    1888.

  =Richard Garnett=: _Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson_, ‘Great
    Writers,’ 1888.

  =E. W. Emerson=: _Emerson in Concord_, 1889.


I

HIS LIFE

The clerical profession was in a manner hereditary in the Emerson race.
With a single exception there was a minister in each of six generations
descending from Thomas Emerson of Ipswich, Massachusetts. For this one
lapse compensation was made; another generation furnished the colony
with three ministers.

For nearly a century and a half the history of the family has centred
in Concord, Massachusetts. The house known as the ‘Old Manse’ was
built in 1765 by William Emerson, the young minister of the First
Church. Gentle in spirit, he was an ardent patriot and in Revolutionary
times won the name of the ‘fighting parson.’ He came honestly by
his militant temper, being a grandson of the famous Father Moody who
distinguished himself at the siege of Louisburg as a preacher, fighter,
and iconoclast.

Besides the gift of eloquence, William Emerson inherited from his
father (the Reverend Joseph Emerson of Maiden) a love of literature.
This he apparently bequeathed to his son, William, who in turn
transmitted it to his son, the author of _Conduct of Life_ and
_Representative Men_.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston on May 25, 1803. His father,
minister of the First Church of that city, was a man of vigorous
intellect, fond of society, and, judging from one of his letters,
endowed with a caustic wit. His mother, Ruth (Haskins) Emerson, was
distinguished for her high-bred manners and tender thoughtfulness.

Severity on the part of parents was thought good for boys in that
day. Ralph never forgot how his father ‘twice or thrice put me in
mortal terror by forcing me into the salt water, off some wharf or
bathing-house; and I still recall the fright with which, after some
of these salt experiences, I heard his voice one day (as Adam that of
the Lord God in the garden) summoning me to a new bath, and I vainly
endeavoring to hide myself.’

Left a widow in 1811, with five boys to educate, Mrs. Emerson was
forced to heroic exertions. Her sacrifices made a deep impress on the
mind of the most famous of those boys.

From the Boston Latin School, Emerson went to Harvard College and was
graduated in 1821 ‘with ambitions to be a professor of rhetoric and
elocution.’ After a period of school-teaching, a profession towards
which his attitude was unequivocal (‘Better saw wood, better sow
hemp, better hang with it after it is sown, than sow the seeds of
instruction’), he began his theological studies at Harvard and in due
time was ‘approbated to preach.’ Ill health drove him South for a
winter (1826–27), where he saw novel sights, and made the acquaintance
of Achille Murat, son of the quondam King of Naples. Emerson had Murat
for a fellow traveller from St. Augustine to Charleston: ‘I blessed my
stars for my fine companion, and we talked incessantly.’

On March 11, 1829, Emerson was ordained as colleague of Henry Ware
in the Second Church of Boston and a little later ‘became the sole
incumbent.’ He resigned this advantageous post of labor (September,
1832) because of doubts about the rite of the Lord’s Supper and the
offering of public prayer. To many observers his career seemed wilfully
spoiled by himself.

With impaired health and in despondency and grief (he had but recently
lost his young wife)[19] Emerson tried the effect of a year abroad. He
sailed from Boston and arrived at Malta on February 2, 1833. Thence he
proceeded to Syracuse, Taormina, Messina, Palermo, and Naples. After
visiting the other chief cities of Italy, he journeyed to Paris, which
he admired none the less because he felt out of place there; ‘Pray
what brought you here, grave Sir?’ the moving Boulevard seemed to say.
But he had the opportunity of hearing Jouffroy at the Sorbonne, and
of paying his respects to Lafayette. In London he saw Coleridge. At
Edinburgh he learned Carlyle’s whereabouts, visited him, and found
him, ‘good and wise and pleasant.’ He was unfortunate in his trip to
the Highlands (‘the scenery of a shower-bath must be always much the
same’). He called on Wordsworth at Rydal Mount. In early October he was
back at home.

The future was uncertain. Emerson was reluctant to give up the
ministry, and preached from time to time as the chance presented
itself. For some weeks he supplied Orville Dewey’s church in New
Bedford, but when it was intimated that on Dewey’s resignation he might
be invited to succeed him, Emerson made the impossible conditions that
he should neither administer the Communion, nor offer prayer ‘unless he
felt moved to do so.’ He supplied the pulpit of the Unitarian church in
Concord during three months of the pastor’s illness and for three years
preached to the little congregation in East Lexington.

Having cut himself off from the only ‘regular’ mode of life that
seemed open to him, Emerson took up the irregular vocation of lecturer.
During the winter following his return from Europe, he had lectured
before the Boston Society of Natural History. Beginning in January,
1835, he gave a course on ‘Biography’ consisting of six lectures:
‘Tests of Great Men,’ ‘Michelangelo,’ ‘Luther,’ ‘Milton,’ ‘Fox,’ and
‘Burke.’ During succeeding winters he gave ten lectures on ‘English
Literature’ (1835–36), twelve lectures on ‘The Philosophy of History’
(1836–37), ten lectures on ‘Human Culture’ (1837–38), ten lectures on
‘Human Life’ (1838–39), ten lectures on ‘The Present Age’ (1839–40). He
was now fairly engaged in his new calling.

Meantime he had fixed on Concord for his permanent home, bought a house
there, married Miss Lydia Jackson of Plymouth, and begun that career of
which one of his biographers has humorously complained, ‘a life devoid
of incident, of nearly untroubled happiness, and of absolute conformity
to the moral law.’

In 1836 there was published anonymously a little volume entitled
_Nature_. It was Emerson’s first book. His influence as a man of
letters begins at this point. The succeeding volumes consisted in part
of lectures which, having stood the test of public delivery, were
now recast in essay form. Not every essay, however, had its first
presentation as spoken discourse.

On formal public occasions Emerson was often invited to give the
address. There was authority in his utterances. That he was not
unlikely to say something revolutionary seemed to make it the more
important that he should be heard often. He gave the Historical Address
at Concord at the Second Centennial Anniversary, the Phi Beta Kappa
Oration at Harvard on ‘The American Scholar’ (August, 1837), and the
Address before the Senior Class in Divinity College (July 15, 1838),
which brought down on him the wrath of Andrews Norton and a shower of
remonstrances from Unitarian ministers who, however, loved him too much
to be angry with him.

At the time of the Divinity Hall Address the so-called Transcendental
movement was in full progress. The movement grew in part out of
informal meetings held by a group of liberal thinkers with a view
to protesting against the unsatisfactory state of current opinion
in theology and philosophy, and looking for something broader and
deeper.[20]

Transcendentalism was an intellectual ferment. Having a philosophical
and religious significance, it was also notable for its effect on
social, educational, and literary matters. Emerson defined it as
faith in intuitions. It has been called an ‘outburst of Romanticism
on Puritan ground.’ Certain historians connect it with German
transcendental philosophy. That it was indigenous to New England
appears to be the sounder view. According to a high authority,[21]
‘Emerson’s transcendentalism was native to his mind.... It had been in
the life and thought of his family for generations.’ He was certainly
regarded as the heresiarch.

Like most complex movements Transcendentalism had a grotesque side.
The enthusiasts, in their anxiety to be emancipated from old formulas,
fell victims to ‘the vice of the age,--the propensity to exaggerate
the importance of visible and tangible facts.’ Emerson laughs at them
a little: ‘They promise the establishment of the kingdom of heaven and
end with champing unleavened bread or dedicating themselves to the
nourishment of a beard.’

The movement had an ‘organ,’ a quarterly magazine called ‘The Dial,’
the first number of which appeared in July, 1840. George Ripley was the
business manager, Margaret Fuller the editor. It came under Emerson’s
care two years later, and in 1844 was abandoned. An audience large
enough to support the organ could not be found.

Transcendentalism coincided chronologically with several plans for
bettering the condition of the world. ‘We are a little wild here with
numberless projects of social reform. Not a reading man but has his
draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket. I am gently mad
myself.’[22]

Emerson was sympathetic with the community experiments at ‘Brook Farm’
and ‘Fruitlands,’ but not to the extent of joining them. He approved
every wild action of the experimenters, nevertheless he had a work of
his own.

The work consisted in bringing his thought to his public by means
of lectures. He was not overfond of the medium of communication.
‘Are not lectures a kind of Peter Parley’s story of Uncle Plato,
and a puppet show of the Eleusinian mysteries?’ he asks. It is not
recorded what he thought of that kind of lecturing which may best be
described in Byron’s phrase--‘to giggle and make giggle.’ He frankly
(but unenviously) admired the speaker who could produce instantaneous
effects, moving the audience to laughter or tears. His own gifts
were of another sort. When ‘the stout Illinoisian’ after a short
trial walked out of the hall Emerson’s sympathies were with him:
‘Shakespeare, or Franklin, or Esop, coming to Illinois, would say, I
must give my wisdom a comic form,...’

Urged thereto by his generous friend Alexander Ireland of the
Manchester ‘Examiner,’ who took on himself all the business
responsibilities, Emerson (in 1847) made a lecturing trip to England.
He spoke in Manchester, Edinburgh, London, and elsewhere. The lectures
were ‘attacked by the clergymen,’ and the attacks met with ‘pale though
brave defences’ by Emerson’s friends. After a few weeks in Paris,
then in the throes of the revolution, the lecturer returned by way of
England to America.

The crisis in the anti-slavery conflict was approaching. Emerson, in
spite of his philosophical attitude towards reformers, became more
and more identified with the Abolitionists. During a political speech
at Cambridge he was repeatedly hissed by students. According to an
eye-witness, he ‘seemed absolutely to enjoy it.’ As late as 1861 he
was received with marked hostility by the audience which gathered at
the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. ‘The Mob
roared whenever I attempted to speak, and after several beginnings
I withdrew.’ The breaking out of the war in a way relieved him. Now
people knew where they stood.

His chief source of income was cut off for a time. The public was
not in the mood for lectures such as his. Later he found it possible
to resume his courses, and he continued to lecture effectively until
within a few years of his death.

Emerson’s principal books are: _Nature_, 1836; _Essays_, 1841;
_Essays_, ‘second series,’ 1844; _Poems_, 1847; _Miscellanies_,
1849 (lectures and addresses, together with a reprint of _Nature_);
_Representative Men_, 1850; _English Traits_, 1856; _Conduct of Life_,
1860; _May-Day and Other Pieces_, 1867; _Society and Solitude_, 1870;
_Letters and Social Aims_, 1876; _Lectures and Biographical Sketches_,
1884; and _Natural History of Intellect_, 1893. He edited a number
of Carlyle’s books, contributed several chapters to the _Memoirs of
Margaret Fuller Ossoli_ and compiled a poetic anthology, _Parnassus_,
1875. _The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson_
(edited by C. E. Norton), 1883, contains two hundred of Emerson’s
letters.

In 1863 Emerson was one of the ‘visitors’ to the Military Academy at
West Point. In 1866 he was Phi Beta Kappa orator at Harvard, and the
following year received from his college the degree of LL. D.

From 1867 to 1879 he was an overseer of Harvard. In 1870, before a
little audience of students from the advanced classes, he gave a course
on the ‘Natural History of Intellect,’ the subject in the handling of
which he had hoped to write his master work. One of the surprises of
his later life was his nomination for the office of Lord Rector of
Glasgow University by the independent party (1874). There were two
other candidates. Emerson polled five hundred votes. Disraeli was
victor with seven hundred votes.

Emerson’s memory failed gradually, but the defect was not much noticed
until after the shock consequent on the burning of his house (1872).
A trip to Egypt did much to restore his health and he never lost the
‘royal trait of cheerfulness.’ He died, after a brief illness, on April
27, 1882.


II

EMERSON’S CHARACTER

The praise which Emerson gives to character at the expense of
luxurious surroundings was sincere. His own tastes were very simple.
‘Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants and to serve them
one’s self, so as to have something left to give, instead of being
always prompt to grab?’ Acknowledging himself enmeshed in the
conventionalities of ‘civilized’ life and no more responsible than his
fellow victims, he nevertheless did what he could to follow out his
theory. He would at least not be one of the infirm people of society,
who, if they miss any one of their comforts, ‘represent themselves as
the most wronged and most wretched persons on earth.’ Emerson did not
live in the woods on twenty-seven cents a week, but he had no objection
to a friend’s living that way if the friend found it profitable. For
himself he would not be ‘absurd and pedantic in reform.’

No characteristic is more marked than his spirit of tolerance. It was
not of a smooth, purring sort, growing out of eagerness to please or
unwillingness to offend, but rather an aggressive tolerance. Emerson
would not merely grant to every man ‘the allowance he takes,’ but would
even force him to take it. He was patient with the most obnoxious of
reformers. And he could be tolerant with those who could tolerate
nothing.

With pronounced and original views he had little solicitude to impose
his views on others. He was without egotism. To state the truth as he
apprehended it and to let the world come to his ideas if the world
could and would, contented him. But he had no quarrel with the order of
things. His good humor and smiling patience are manifest in everything
he has written.

Emerson held firmly to the doctrine of the brotherhood of man, yet with
no touch of the unctuous fraternizer. He had the rebuffs that all must
encounter who try to break down the partition wall between classes.
In an attempt to solve, according to the Golden Rule, the problem of
a servant’s status in the household, he was thoroughly beaten and
laughingly acknowledged it. He did his share, but the servant refused
to fraternize.

He was a good citizen, an excellent neighbor, prompt in the
acknowledgment of all homely duties. His was a large-souled, benignant,
and gracious nature. There was something healing in his mere presence,
though no word was spoken.


III

THE WRITER

Emerson gave sound advice on the art of writing, like a professor of
rhetoric. He commended the sentences that would stand the test of the
voice. This is applying physiology to literature. He laughed at the
habit of exaggeration, though he also said, ‘The superlative is as
good as the positive if it be alive.’ His rules are excellent, and if
followed must give distinction to whatever page of writing they are
applied. But while they go no deeper than other suggestions, they point
out the obvious characteristics of his style.

For example, Emerson thought clarity all-important. He aimed at it,
and attained it. He believed in the use of the right word, and was
dissatisfied unless it could be found. The right word is always
illuminating, and as a result Emerson’s English is full of surprises.
Even when the term employed shocks by its unexpectedness, we presently
feel that after all the choice was not grotesque. In practice Emerson
was no spendthrift of words, that currency which loses weight and value
in the ratio of one’s prodigality, but delighted in economy. No doubt
his style is aphoristic--that is a natural result of writing aphorisms.
But if no less aphoristic, it is far more logical than is commonly
reported. The want of sequence in Emerson’s work has been exaggerated,
often to the point of absurdity.

There are writers who have two distinct literary styles, as they have
two faces, one to be photographed in, and one for natural wear. Emerson
had one style, which was dual-toned, each tone taking the color of his
prevailing thought, and each shading imperceptibly into the other. A
dozen pages picked at random from his best essays will hardly fail to
show how sublimated his diction could be at times. Then does it come
near to the line dividing poetry from prose, from which it presently
falls away to the level of everyday need. Poetic as Emerson’s diction
frequently is, it is always controlled. On the other hand, when it
sinks to plain prose it never loses the air of distinction and breeding.


IV

_NATURE, ADDRESSES, AND LECTURES_

In the introduction of his first book, _Nature_, Emerson announces
his favorite doctrine, the necessity of seeing the world through our
own eyes, of being original, not imitative. He then proceeds with his
interpretation. Nature not only exalts man, giving him a pleasure so
tonic that it admonishes to temperance, but also renders him certain
services. They may be classified under Commodity, Beauty, Language,
and Discipline. The first, albeit the lowest, is perfect in its kind;
men everywhere comprehend the ‘steady and prodigal provision’ that has
been made for their comfort. Beauty is the second, and meets a nobler
want. ‘Nature satisfies by its loveliness,’ and ‘without any mixture of
corporeal benefit.’ ‘Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp
of emperors ridiculous.’ This is not enough, there must be a spiritual
element. Such element is found in the will and virtue of man. An act
of truth or heroism ‘seems at once to draw to itself the sky as its
temple.’ Beauty in Nature also becomes an object of the intellect. It
reforms itself in the mind, leads to a new creation, and hence Art.

Nature is the source of language, words being the signs of natural
facts. But ‘every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.’
In brief, ‘the world is emblematic.’ Nature is a discipline of the
understanding, devoting herself to forming the common-sense. Nature
is the discipline of the will, after which she becomes the ally
of Religion. In short, so great is the part played by Nature in
disciplining man that the ‘noble doubt’ perpetually arises ‘whether
the end be not the Final Cause of the Universe; and whether nature
outwardly exists.’

What then? It makes no difference ‘whether Orion is up there in heaven
or some god paints the image in the firmament of the soul.’ Culture
has the uniform effect of leading us to regard nature as a phenomenon,
not a substance. Nature herself gives us the hint of Idealism. The
poet teaches the same lesson. The philosopher seeking, not Beauty, but
Truth, dissolves the ‘solid seeming block of matter’ by a thought.
Intellectual science begets ‘invariably a doubt of the existence of
matter.’ Ethics and religion have the same effect of degrading ‘nature
and suggesting its dependence on spirit.’

Back of all nature, then, is spirit. ‘The world proceeds from the same
spirit as the body of man. It is a remoter and inferior incarnation of
God.’ At present man has not come into his whole kingdom. He depends on
his understanding alone. Let him apply all his powers, the reason as
well as the understanding.

Brief as it is, this little book shows to perfection the richness of
Emerson’s thought, his skill in the apothegm, his economy of phrase,
the poetic cast of his mind, and the beauty of his diction.

Nine addresses and lectures are printed along with _Nature_ in the
definitive edition of Emerson’s writings. The first is the Phi Beta
Kappa Oration, ‘The American Scholar,’ in which Emerson sounds with
resonant tone that note of independence so marked in all his teaching.
It was time, he thought, for the ‘sluggard intellect’ of America to
‘look from under its iron lids’ and prove itself equal to something
more than ‘exertions of mechanical skill.’ We have been too long the
bond slave of Europe.

True emancipation consists in freedom from the idea that only a few
gifted ones of the earth are privileged to learn truth at first hand.
Let us not be cowed by great men.

Emerson notes three influences acting upon the scholar. First, nature,
always with us and taking the impress of our minds. Second, books,
which, noble as they are in theory, have their danger: ‘I had better
never see a book than be warped by its attraction clean out of my own
orbit.’ Third, life, everything which is the opposite of mere thinking.
‘If it were only for a vocabulary the scholar would be covetous of
action. Life is our dictionary.’

Above all, he praises the obscure scholar who without hope of visible
reward, reckoning at true value the seesaw of public whim and fancy,
patient of neglect, patient of reproach, ‘is happy if he can satisfy
himself alone that this day he has seen something truly.’

‘The Divinity Address,’ as it is called, was thought in its day nothing
short of outrageous radicalism. The now well-known Emersonian plea for
a noble individuality is made in terms the most inspiring. He bewails
the helplessness of mankind. ‘All men go in flocks to this saint or
that poet, avoiding the God who seeth in secret.’ Emerson would drive
out the spirit which prompts a man to content himself with being ‘an
easy secondary to some Christian scheme, or sectarian connection, or
some eminent man.’ He would have men follow no one leader, however
distinguished or gifted, but seek truth at first hand, know God face to
face. And while he grants that nothing is of value in comparison with
the soul of a good and great man, even a great man becomes a source of
danger if we propose to rest in the shadow of his achievement rather
than develop our own gift.

‘The Method of Nature’ is a rhapsody in praise of the spontaneous and
unreasoning as over against the logical and definite. Nature looks
to great results, not to little ones, to the type rather than the
individual.

In ‘Man the Reformer’ Emerson preaches another favorite doctrine, the
necessity of manual work. There is nothing fanciful in his view. He
did not set himself against division of labor. He did not insist that
every man should be a farmer ‘any more than that every man should be a
lexicographer.’ His ‘doctrine of the Farm’ is that ‘every man ought to
stand in primary relations with the work of the world.’

This address should be read in connection with the one on ‘The Times,’
which supplements it. The ideal reformer is not he who has some cause
at heart in comparison with which all other causes are naught. The
reformer is the ‘Re-maker of what man has made; a renouncer of lies, a
restorer of truth and good, imitating that great Nature which embosoms
us all, and which sleeps no moment on an old past.’

A reading of this address ought to be followed by a reading of the one
entitled ‘The Conservative.’ As he had advised reformers of the danger
to which they were exposed, he now warns conservatives not to forget
that they are the retrograde party. By their theory of life sickness is
a necessity and the social frame a hospital. Yet in a planet ‘peopled
with conservatives one Reformer may yet be born.’

In the lecture on ‘The Transcendentalist’ Emerson comes to a tempered
defence of his own. He defines the new movement; it is merely Idealism
as it shows itself in 1840--an old thing under a new name. He is very
patient with the Transcendentalists, whose chief idiosyncrasy is that
they have ‘struck work.’ ‘Now every one must do after his kind, be
he asp or angel, and these must.’ American literature and spiritual
history will profit by the turmoil. This heresy will leave its mark, as
any one will admit who knows ‘these seething brains, these admirable
radicals, these talkers who talk the sun and moon away.’


V

_THE ESSAYS_, _REPRESENTATIVE MEN_, _ENGLISH TRAITS_, _CONDUCT OF LIFE_

When the _Essays_ appeared, Emerson found a larger audience. He now
spoke through the medium of a recognized literary form. If all readers
do not read essays, they at least know what they are and stand in
no fear of them. Some buyers may have been tempted by the table of
contents. Titles such as ‘Self-Reliance,’ ‘Compensation,’ ‘Friendship,’
‘Heroism,’ had an encouraging sound and promised useful advice.

In the essay on ‘History,’ Emerson reaffirms the doctrine of the unity
of human nature. There is ‘one mind,’ history is its record. What we
possess in common with the men of the past enables us to comprehend and
interpret the actions of the men of the past. The facts must square
with our own experience.

The theme is continued in ‘Self-Reliance.’ As there is one mind common
to all men, and as what belongs to greatness of the Past belongs also
to us, it is suicide to descend to imitation. ‘Speak your latent
conviction and it shall become the universal sense.’ The whole essay
is a glowing exhortation to men to live largely and stand on their own
feet, facing the world with the nonchalance begotten of health, good
humor, and the sense of possession.

In ‘Compensation’ the essayist notes those inexorable forces by which
a balance is kept in the world, the laws by virtue of which ‘things
refuse to be mismanaged long.’ In ‘Spiritual Laws’ he shows the
importance of living the life of nature. Let no man import into his
mind ‘difficulties which are none of his.’ The essay on ‘Love’ is a
prose poem in honor of that passion which ‘makes the clown gentle, and
gives the coward heart.’ Following it is the essay on ‘Friendship’
with its austere definitions. ‘I do not wish to treat friendships
daintily, but with roughest courage.’ ‘Friendship implies sincerity,
and sincerity is the luxury allowed, like diadems and authority, only
to the highest rank.’

Emerson writes on ‘Prudence’ in order to balance those fine lyric
words of Love and Friendship with words of coarser sound. Prudence
considered in itself is naught; but recognized as one of the conditions
of existence, it deserves our utmost attention. It keeps a man from
standing in false and bitter relations to other men. Emerson had
no patience with people who, because they have genius or beauty,
expect an exception of the laws of Nature to be made in their case.
Notwithstanding their gifts, they must toe the mark.

‘Heroism,’ the eighth essay in this volume, contains a definition of
the hero which does not coincide with the popular conception. We are
so accustomed to seeing our heroes crowned with wreaths and overwhelmed
with lecture engagements the day following the act of valor that we
are surprised to read: ‘Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of
mankind.’ Emerson gives a new turn to the old phrase ‘the heroic in
everyday life.’ Life, he says, has its ‘ragged and dangerous front.’ It
is full of evils against which the man must be armed. ‘Let him hear in
season that he is born into a state of war.’ To this ‘militant attitude
of the soul’ Emerson gave the name of heroism. In its rudest form it is
‘contempt for safety and ease.’

To some readers the essay on ‘The Over-Soul’ is at once the clearest
and the most darkened, the plainest and the most enigmatic of the
essays in this book. But there is no misapprehending the value of this
effort to put, not in rigid scientific terms, but in glowing and lofty
imagery, the dependence of man on the Infinite, the marvel of that
Immensity which is the background of our being. ‘From within or from
behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that
we are nothing, but the light is all.’ It is the universal mind by
which all being is enveloped and interpenetrated.

The essay on ‘Circles’ contains this thought: Outside every circle
another may be drawn. Opinion seeks to crystallize at a certain limit,
to insist that there is nothing beyond. The soul bursts these barriers
to set new limits, which in turn are good only for a time. Man must
therefore keep himself always open to the conception of a larger
circle. Let him ‘prefer truth to his past apprehension of truth.’

How to seek truth is the subject of the next essay, ‘Intellect,’ a
tribute to the spontaneous action of the mind. We do not control our
thoughts but are controlled by them. All we can do is to clear away
obstructions and ‘suffer the intellect to see.’ Pursue truth and it
avoids you. Relax the energy of your pursuit and it comes to you; yet
the pursuit was as necessary as the subsequent relaxation.

In the final essay, on ‘Art,’ the large, simple, and homely elements
are praised, the qualities which appeal to universal human nature. In
the paintings of the Old World one thinks to be astonished by something
new and strange, and he is struck by the familiar look. He is reminded
of what he had always known.

The second series of _Essays_ treats of ‘The Poet,’ ‘Experience,’
‘Character,’ ‘Manners,’ ‘Gifts,’ ‘Nature,’ ‘Politics,’ of ‘Nominalist
and Realist;’ there is also a lecture on ‘New England Reformers.’
Emerson notes the shallow nature of a theory of poetry busied only with
externals. Neither is that poetry which is written ‘at a safe distance
from our own experience.’ The poet is representative. ‘He stands among
common men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth but
of the commonwealth.’

‘Experience’ is in praise of a mode of life which consists in living
without making a fuss about it, filling the time, taking hold where one
can and exhausting the possibilities. Only fanatics say it is not worth
while. ‘Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, to-day. Let us treat
the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they
are.’

‘Character’ and ‘Manners’ are related studies. There is a moral order
in the world. Nothing can withstand it. ‘Character is this moral order
seen through the medium of an individual nature.’ Society has raised
certain artificial distinctions. But they must be recognized. Society
is real, and grows out of a genuine need. ‘The painted phantasm Fashion
casts a species of derision on what we say. But I will neither be
driven from some allowance to Fashion as a symbolic institution, nor
from the belief that love is the basis of courtesy.’

‘Gifts’ is a fine bit of paradox. ‘The gift, to be true, must be the
flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him.
When the waters are at level, then my goods pass to him, and his to
me.’ To give useful things denies the relation. Hence the fitness of
beautiful things.

There is bold imagery in the essay on ‘Nature.’ ‘Plants are the young
of the world, but they grope ever upward toward consciousness; the
trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted
to the ground. The animal is the novice and probationer of a more
advanced order. The men though young, having tasted the first drop from
the cup of thought, are already dissipated: the maples and ferns are
still uncorrupt; yet no doubt when they come to consciousness they too
will curse and swear.’ Thus does Emerson describe that glimpse he had
of a ‘system in transition.’

A healthy optimism pervades the essay on ‘Politics.’ In spite of
meddling and selfishness the foundations of the State are very secure.
‘Things have their laws, as well as men; and things refuse to be
trifled with.’ By a higher law property will be protected. The same
necessity secures to each nation the form of governing best suited
to it. Yet all forms are defective. Good men ‘must not obey the laws
too well.’ Perfect government rests on character at last. There are
dreamers who do not despair of seeing the State renovated ‘on the
principle of right and love.’

_Representative Men_ consists of lectures on Plato, Swedenborg,
Montaigne, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe, together with an
introduction on the ‘Uses of Great Men.’

Plato is the man who makes havoc with originalities, the philosopher
whose writings have been for twenty-two hundred years the Bible of the
learned, but who has his defects. Intellectual in aim, and therefore
literary, he attempts a system of the universe and fails to complete it
or make it intelligible.

Swedenborg is the representative of mysticism, great with its power,
weak with its defects.

Out of the eternal conflict between abstractionist and materialist
arises another type of mind, one that laughs at both philosophies
for being out of their depth and pushing too far. He is the sceptic,
Montaigne, for example. The type was peculiarly grateful to Emerson,
admiring as he did a man who talked with shrewdness, was not literary,
who knew the world, used the positive degree, never shrieked, and had
no wish to annihilate time and space.

Shakespeare meets our conception of the Poet, ‘a heart in unison
with his time and country,’ whose production comes ‘freighted with
the weightiest convictions and pointed with the most determined aims
which any man or class knows of in his times.’ He demonstrated the
possibility of translating things into song. The ear is ravished by
the beauty of his lines, ‘yet the sentence is so loaded with meaning
and so linked with its foregoers and followers, that the logician is
satisfied.’ And he had the royal trait of cheerfulness.

In Napoleon we have ‘the strong and ready actor’ who in the ‘universal
imbecility, indecision, and indolence of men’ knows how to take
occasion by the beard. His life is an answer to cowardly doubts.
Emerson calls Napoleon ‘the agent or attorney of the middle class of
modern society.’ It was he who showed what could be done by the use
of common virtues. His experiment failed because he had a selfish and
sensual aim. In the last analysis Napoleon was not a gentleman.

Goethe is the other phase of the genius of the age. There is a
provision for the writer in the scheme of things. Nature insists on
being reported. To Man the universe is something to be recorded.
The instinct exists in different degrees. One has the power to ‘see
connection where the multitude sees fragments.’ Lift this faculty to a
high degree and you have the great German poet who well-nigh restored
literature to its primal significance. ‘There must be a man behind the
book.’ ‘The old Eternal Genius who built the world has confided himself
more to this man than any other.’ Goethe is the type of culture. Here,
too, is his defect. For his devotion is not to pure truth, but to truth
for the sake of culture.

_Representative Men_ was succeeded by _English Traits_, a volume in
which Emerson taught his countrymen more about England than they had
hitherto known or fancied. Histories, statistical reports, treatises on
British art and British manufactures, are useful and sometimes dreary
reading; they give us facts heaped on facts. It is a relief to put
them down and take up _English Traits_ in order to learn what we have
been reading about.

Through Emerson’s eyes we can see this little island ‘a prize for the
best race,’ its singular people, chained to their logic, willing ‘to
kiss the dust before a fact,’ strong in their sense of brotherhood,
yet fond each of his own way, incommunicable, ‘in short every one of
these islanders an island in himself.’ They have a ‘superfluity of
self-regard’--which is a secret of their power; they are assertive,
crotchety, wholly forgetful of ‘a cardinal article in the bill
of social rights,’ that every man ‘has a right to his own ears;’
nevertheless Emerson concludes (and an Englishman would assure him no
other conclusion was possible) they are the best stock in the world.
Here is the typical islander as Emerson paints him. ‘He is a churl with
a soft place in his heart, whose speech is a brash of bitter waters,
but who loves to help you at a pinch. He says no, and serves you, and
your thanks disgust him.’

There are paragraphs and chapters on the Aristocracy, the Universities,
Religion, Literature, and the Press, that is, the ‘Times.’ Every page
glitters with wit. Every apothegm contains the full proportion of
truth and untruth which sayings of that sort are wont to contain. Says
Emerson: ‘The gospel the Anglican church preaches is, ‘“By taste are ye
saved.”’ Yet the more one reflects on this monstrous statement, the
more is he astonished at the amount of truth in it.

The volume entitled _Conduct of Life_ has a fine rough vigor. Here
are displayed to advantage Emerson’s robust habit of mind, searching
analysis, vivacity and picturesqueness of expression, epigrammatic
skill, homely plain sense, and lofty idealism. The first essay, ‘Fate,’
is an energetic and striking performance. One needs the optimism of
its last paragraphs to counteract the grim terror of the earlier ones.
Seldom has the relentless ferocity of Circumstance, Fate, Environment,
been set forth in terms equally emphatic. The companion essay, ‘Power,’
is a study of the influence of brute force (and its compensations) in
life and history. Emerson shows the value of the ‘bruiser’ in politics,
trade, and in society. This leads to the third subject, ‘Wealth.’ Money
must be had if only to buy bread. Nature insults the man who will
not work. ‘She starves, taunts, and torments him, takes away warmth,
laughter, sleep, friends and daylight, until he has fought his way to
his own loaf.’ But what men of sense want is power, mastery, not candy;
they esteem wealth to be ‘the assimilation of nature to themselves.’

To all this there must be a corrective; it is discussed in the essay
on ‘Culture.’ Nature ruins a man to gain her ends, makes him strong
in things she wants done, weak otherwise, and then robs him of his
sense of proportion so that he becomes an egotist. Culture restores the
balance. Culture rescues a man from himself, ‘kills his exaggeration.’
The simpler means to it are books, travel, society, solitude; and there
are nobler ones, not the least of which is adversity. The discussion
is continued in the practical essay on ‘Behavior’ and lifted to the
highest plane in the essay on ‘Worship.’ The whole state of man is a
state of culture, ‘and its flowering and completion may be described as
Religion or Worship.’ For all its beauty this chapter will not please
many people. They may take refuge in ‘Considerations by the Way,’ which
shows the ‘good of evil,’ or in the fine essay on ‘Beauty’ or the
ironical little closing piece called ‘Illusions.’


VI

THE POEMS

Many paragraphs in _Nature_ and the _Essays_ struggle in their prose
environment as if seeking a higher medium of expression. Emerson’s
command of poetic materials was extraordinary, though it fails to
justify the claims sometimes made for him. He could be wilfully
careless in respect to technique. There are moments when no cacophonous
combination terrifies him. Then will he say his say though the language
creak.

He had published freely in ‘The Dial,’ where he met his own little
audience, but when the question arose of putting his verses in
the pretentious form of a book Emerson hesitated. Only after much
deliberation, continued through four years, did he come finally to a
decision.

His capital theme is Nature, ‘the inscrutable and mute.’ ‘Woodnotes,’
‘Monadnock,’ ‘May-Day,’ ‘My Garden,’ ‘Sea-Shore,’ ‘Song of Nature,’
‘Nature,’ ‘The Snow Storm,’ ‘Waldeinsamkeit,’ ‘Musketaquit,’ ‘The
Adirondacs,’ are varied renderings of the subject. Among the lines
which haunt the memory, take for example this description of the sea:--

    The opaline, the plentiful and strong,
    Yet beautiful as is the rose in June,

           *       *       *       *       *

    Purger of earth, and medicine of men;
    Creating a sweet climate by my breath,
    Washing out harms and griefs from memory,
    And, in my mathematic ebb and flow,
    Giving a hint of that which changes not.

Splendid imagery and rich coloring mark the fine passages in ‘May-Day’
describing the advance of summer:--

      As poured the flood of the ancient sea
    Spilling over mountain chains,
    Bending forests as bends the sedge,
    Faster flowing o’er the plains,--
    A world-wide wave with a foaming edge
    That rims the running silver sheet,--
    So pours the deluge of the heat
    Broad northward o’er the land,
    Painting artless paradises,
    Drugging herbs with Syrian spices,
    Fanning secret fires which glow
    In columbine and clover-blow,

           *       *       *       *       *

    The million-handed sculptor moulds
    Quaintest bud and blossom folds,
    The million-handed painter pours
    Opal hues and purple dye;
    Azaleas flush the island floors,
    And the tints of heaven reply.

Leaving to one side the mere external shows of the world, and calling
in science to aid imagination, the poet strikes out stanzas like these
from the ‘Song of Nature:’--

    I wrote the past in characters
    Of rock and fire the scroll,
    The building in the coral sea,
    The planting of the coal.

    And thefts from satellites and rings
    And broken stars I drew,
    And out of spent and aged things
    I formed the world anew;

    What time the gods kept carnival,
    Tricked out in star and flower,
    And in cramp elf and saurian forms
    They swathed their too much power.

‘Hamatreya,’ the exquisite ‘Rhodora,’ and the musical allegory ‘Two
Rivers’ are important as showing the part played by Nature in Emerson’s
verse.

Certain poems repeat (or anticipate) the ideas of the essays. ‘Brahma,’
for example, is an incomparable setting of the doctrine of the
universal soul or ground of all things:--

    Far or forgot to me is near;
      Shadow and sunlight are the same;
    The vanished gods to me appear;
      And one to me are shame and fame.

‘The Sphinx’ announces, in a sphinx-like manner it must be
acknowledged, though with rare beauty in individual lines, the doctrine
of man’s relation to all existences, comprehending one phase of which
man has the key to the whole. ‘Uriel’ is a declaration of the poet’s
faith in good out of evil. ‘The Problem’ teaches the imminence of the
Infinite:--

    The hand that rounded Peter’s dome
    And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
    Wrought in a sad sincerity;
    Himself from God he could not free;
    He builded better than he knew;--
    The conscious stone to beauty grew.

Rich in thought and abounding in genuine poetic gold are ‘The
World-Soul,’ ‘The Visit,’ ‘Destiny,’ ‘Days’ (Emerson’s perfect poem),
‘Forerunners,’ ‘Xenophanes,’ ‘The Day’s Ration,’ and the ‘Ode to
Beauty.’

‘Merlin’ and ‘Saadi’ treat of the poet and his mission. The one is a
protest against the tinkling rhyme, an art without substance; the other
exalts the calling of the bard, but warns him that while he has need of
men and they of him, the true poet dwells alone. Together with these
suggestive verses should be read the posthumous fragment originally
intended for a masque.[23]

Of his occasional and patriotic poems the ‘Concord Hymn,’ sung at the
dedication of the battle monument in 1837, must be held an imperishable
part of our young literature. The winged words of the first stanza are
among the not-to-be-forgotten things, and there is rare beauty in the
second stanza:--

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

For the Concord celebration of 1857 Emerson wrote the ‘Ode’ beginning

    O tenderly the haughty day
      Fills his blue urn with fire;

and for the ‘Jubilee Concert’ in Music Hall, on the day Emancipation
went into effect, the ‘Boston Hymn,’ with the bold stanzas:--

    God said, I am tired of kings,
    I suffer them no more;
    Up to my ear the morning brings
    The outrage of the poor.

    Think ye I made this ball
    A field of havoc and war,
    Where tyrants great and tyrants small
    Might harry the weak and poor?

The best of Emerson’s patriotic poems is the ‘Voluntaries,’ containing
the often quoted and perfect lines:--

    So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
    So near is God to man,
    When Duty whispers low, _Thou must_,
    The youth replies, _I can_.

The personal poems are ‘Good-Bye,’ ‘Terminus,’ ‘In Memoriam,’ ‘Dirge,’
and ‘Threnody.’ The last of the group is the poet’s lament for his
first-born, the ‘hyacinthine boy’ of five years, who died in 1842. It
is hardly worth the while to compare these exquisite verses with some
other poem born of intense sorrow with a view to determining whether
they are greater, or less. Their wondrous beauty is as palpable as it
is unresembling.

Comparisons little befit Emerson the poet. His muse was wayward.
Extreme eulogists do him injury by applying to him standards that were
none of his. They forget how he said of himself that he was ‘not a
poet, but a lover of poetry and poets, and merely serving as a writer,
etc., in this empty America before the arrival of poets.’ For the
extravagancies of the extremists the tempered admirers find themselves
regularly lectured, as if they were children who must have it explained
to them that Emerson was not a Keats or a Shelley, or a Hugo.

Emerson as frequently gets less than he deserves as more. What
niggardly praise is that from the pen of an eminent living English
man of letters who can only suppose that Emerson ‘knew what he was
about when he wandered into the fairyland of verse, and that in such
moments _he found nothing better to his hand_!’ But the ‘Threnody,’
‘Monadnock,’ ‘May-Day,’ ‘Voluntaries,’ and ‘The Problem,’ whatever
else may be true of them, are not the work of a man who found nothing
better to his hand.


VII

LATEST BOOKS

Five volumes remain to be commented on. The first, _Society and
Solitude_ (so called after the initial paper), is a group of twelve
essays entitled ‘Civilization,’ ‘Art,’ ‘Eloquence,’ ‘Domestic Life,’
‘Farming,’ ‘Works and Days,’ ‘Books,’ ‘Clubs,’ ‘Courage,’ ‘Success,’
and ‘Old Age.’ They have mostly a practical bent. That on ‘Books’
doubtless gives an account of Emerson’s own reading, adequate as
far as it expresses his literary preferences, inadequate respecting
completeness. For example, Emerson must have read George Borrow, of
an acquaintance with whom he repeatedly gives proof, but these lists
contain no mention of _Lavengro_ or _Romany Rye_. Here too will be
found his famous heresy about the value of translations, but not so
radically stated by Emerson as it is sometimes stated by those who
propose to attack Emerson’s position.

_Letters and Social Aims_ (a volume forced from him by the rumor
that an English house proposed to reprint his early papers from ‘The
Dial’) covers topics as diverse as, on the one hand, ‘Social Aims,’
‘Quotation and Originality,’ ‘The Comic,’ and on the other, ‘Poetry and
Imagination,’ ‘Inspiration,’ ‘Greatness,’ ‘Immortality.’ There are also
essays on ‘Eloquence,’ ‘Resources,’ ‘Progress of Culture,’ and ‘Persian
Poetry.’

_Lectures and Biographical Sketches_ consists of nineteen pieces,
among which will be found ‘Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New
England,’ ‘The Superlative,’ and the brilliant sketches of Thoreau, of
Ezra Ripley, and of Carlyle.

_Miscellanies_ (not to be confounded with the volume of 1849 bearing
the same title) contains a number of papers and addresses on political
topics, and is indispensable to the student of Emerson’s life. Here
will be found his speeches on John Brown, on the Fugitive Slave Law, on
Emancipation in the West Indies, on American Civilization, on Lincoln,
and that inspiring lecture, ‘The Fortune of the Republic.’

_Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers_ is made up of lectures
from the Harvard University course (1870–71) and earlier courses, and a
sheaf of papers from ‘The Dial,’ mostly on ‘Modern Literature.’ He who
deplores the curtness of the note on Tennyson in _English Traits_ will
be glad to seek comfort in this earlier tribute. Yet the comfort may
prove to be less than he would like.

       *       *       *       *       *

Emerson’s audience is large and varied. Let us consider a few among the
varieties of those who are attracted by his genius and the charm of
his personality.

To certain hardy investigators Emerson is not a mere man of letters
whose thought, radiantly clothed, takes the philosophical form, he is
a philosopher almost in the strict sense. They find a place for him in
their classification. They know exactly what ideas, derived from what
pundits, have come out with what new inflection in his writings. They
have done for Emerson more than he could do, or perhaps cared to do,
for himself; they have given him a system.

All this is important and valuable. No little praise is due to results
worked out with so much courage and critical acumen. Whether the
conclusions are quite true is another question.

Doubtless, too, there are readers who, taking their cue from the class
just mentioned, find their self-love flattered as they turn the pages
of the _Essays_ and the _Conduct of Life_. Not only, in spite of
dark sayings here and there, does ‘philosophy’ prove easier and more
delightful than they were wont to think, but their estimate of their
own mental powers is immensely enlarged.

There are the critics of letters whose function is interpretative, and
whose influence is restraining. Solicitous to do their author justice,
they are above all solicitous that injustice shall not be done him
by overpraise. They bring proof that Emerson was not a precursor of
Darwin, that he was inferior to Carlyle, that he was not a poet, that
he was never a great and not always a good writer, that he was apt
to impose on his reader as a new truth an old error in ‘a novel and
fascinating dress,’ that he was even capable of writing words without
ideas.

But the motives which draw and bind to him the great majority of
Emerson’s readers are connected with literature rather than philosophy
or criticism. A prerogative of the man of letters is to be read both
for what he says and for the way he says it. In the case of Emerson his
thought may not be divided from the verbal setting. ‘He can never get
beyond the English language.’ ‘No merely French, or German, or Italian
reader will have the least notion of the magic of his diction.’[24]

Perhaps in the long run they get the most out of Emerson who read
him not for stimulus, for his militant optimism, for the shock his
fine-phrased audacities give their humdrum opinions, for his uplifting
idealism (all of which they are sure to get and profit by), but who
read him for literary pleasure, for downright good-fellowship, and
for the humor that is in him. That he attracts a large audience of
this (seemingly) unimportant class is enough to show how little danger
there is that Emerson will be handed over to the keeping of the merely
erudite and bookish part of the public.

It is well to remember that he had no intention of being so disposed
of. When he said, ‘My own habitual view is to the well being of
students or scholars,’ he was careful immediately to explain that he
used the word ‘student’ in no restricted sense. ‘The class of scholars
or students ... is a class that comprises in some sort all mankind,
comprises every man in the best hours of his life.’ He pictures the
newsboy entering a train filled with men going to business. The morning
papers are bought, and ‘instantly the entire rectangular assembly,
fresh from their breakfast, are bending as one man to their second
breakfast.’ This was Emerson’s student body, this was the audience he
aimed to reach.

Did he reach this body? It is believed that he did, if not always
directly, then vicariously. He was compelled as a matter of course to
speak in his own way--the impossible thing for him was to do violence
to his genius. Emerson invented the phrase, ‘the man in the street.’
Now it is notorious that the man in the street cares little about
the ‘over-soul.’ The mere juxtaposition of the two expressions is
comic. But Emerson did not talk of the over-soul all the time. He
had a Franklin-like common-sense and a pithiness of speech which are
captivating. Perhaps in magnifying his idealism we have neglected to do
justice to his mundane philosophy.


FOOTNOTES:

  [19] Ellen (Tucker) Emerson was but twenty years of age at the
       time of her death. Emerson first saw her in December, 1827.
       They were married about two years later.

  [20] Cabot: _Emerson_, i, 244.

  [21] G. W. Cooke: _An Historical and Biographical Introduction to
       accompany_ THE DIAL _as reprinted in numbers for The Rowfant
       Club_ [Cleveland], 1902.

  [22] Emerson to Carlyle, Oct. 30, 1840.

  [23] ‘The Poet,’ printed in the appendix of the definitive edition
       of Emerson’s _Poems_.

  [24] Richard Garnett.



VII

_Edgar Allan Poe_


REFERENCES:

  =R. W. Griswold=: ‘Memoir of the Author’ prefixed to the _Works
    of Edgar A. Poe_, vol. iii, 1850.

  =E. C. Stedman=: _Edgar Allan Poe_, 1881.

  =J. H. Ingram=: _Edgar Allan Poe, his Life, Letters, and
    Opinions_, 1880.

  =G. E. Woodberry=: _Edgar Allan Poe_, ‘American Men of Letters,’
    fourth edition, 1888.

  =J. A. Harrison=: _Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe_ [1902–03].

  =Emile Lauvrière=: _Edgar Poe, sa Vie et son Œuvre, étude de
    psychologie pathologique_, 1904.


I

HIS LIFE

Poe was of Irish extraction. His great-grandfather, John Poe, came
to America about 1745 and settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. John
Poe’s son David (known in the annals of Baltimore as ‘old General
Poe’) rendered notable services to his country during the Revolution.
Lafayette remembered him well and during a visit to Baltimore in 1824
asked to be taken to the place where Poe was buried. ‘Ici repose un
cœur noble,’ said Lafayette as he knelt and kissed the old patriot’s
grave.

Of General Poe’s six children, the eldest, David, was to have been bred
to the law, but his tastes led him first to the amateur and then to the
professional stage. He married a young English actress, Mrs. Elizabeth
(Arnold) Hopkins. They had three children, William, Edgar, and
Rosalie. Edgar (afterwards known as Edgar Allan) was born in Boston,
Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809.

The young family suffered the petty miseries incident to the life of
strolling players, and became at one time very poor. The circumstances
of David Poe’s death and the place of his burial are unknown. When Mrs.
Poe died at Richmond, Virginia, in December, 1811, Edgar was taken by
Mrs. John Allan, the wife of a highly respected merchant of that city,
and was brought up as a child of the house.

The Allans were in England from 1815 to 1820. During this time Poe was
placed at Manor House School, Stoke Newington. He afterwards attended
the English and Classical School in Richmond and on February 14, 1826,
matriculated at the University of Virginia. His connection with the
University ceased in December of the same year. He left behind him a
reputation for marked abilities, but he is said to have lost caste by
his recklessness in card playing. Allan positively refused to pay the
youth’s gambling debts, which amounted to twenty-five hundred dollars.

Placed in Allan’s counting-house, Poe was unhappy and rebellious, and
finally disappeared. He declared in after years that he went abroad to
offer his services to the Greeks. What he really did was to enlist in
the United States army under the name of Edgar A. Perry. During the
summer of 1827 he was with Battery H of the First Artillery at Fort
Independence, Boston. In August of that year he published _Tamerlane
and Other Poems, by a Bostonian_. The edition was small and the
pamphlet has become one of the rarest of bibliographical curiosities.

Battery H was sent to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, in October, 1827,
and a year later to Fortress Monroe, Virginia. At some time during this
period Poe must have made his whereabouts known to the Allans. Mrs.
Allan, who was tenderly attached to Poe, may have succeeded in bringing
about an understanding between the youth and his foster father. When
she died (in February, 1829) Poe lost his best friend.

Allan, however, did what he could to forward the young man’s newest
ambition, which was to enter the Military Academy at West Point. He
paid for a substitute in the army and wrote letters to men who were
influential in such matters, with the result that Poe was enrolled at
the Academy on July 1, 1830. He gave his age as nineteen years and five
months. His prematurely old look led to the invention of the story that
the appointment was really procured for Poe’s son, but the son having
died the father had taken his place.

While the question of the appointment was pending, Poe spent some
time in Baltimore and there published his second volume of verse, _Al
Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems_ (1829).

The accounts of his life at the Academy are not so divergent as
to be contradictory. One classmate noted the youth’s censorious
manner: ‘I never heard him speak in terms of praise of any English
writer, living or dead.’ Excelling in French and mathematics, Poe by
intentional neglect of military duty brought about his own dismissal.
He was court-martialled and left West Point on March 7, 1831. He had
previously taken subscriptions among his friends for a new book of
verse. It was published in New York (1831) under the title of _Poems_,
‘second edition,’ and was dedicated to ‘the U. S. Corps of Cadets,’ who
are said to have been disappointed at finding in its pages none of the
local squibs with which the author had been wont to amuse them.

Poe is next heard of in Baltimore, where he seems to have made his
home with his father’s sister, Mrs. Maria Clemm, a widow with one
child, Virginia. In 1833 ‘The Saturday Visiter’ of Baltimore offered
two prizes--one hundred dollars for a story, fifty for a poem. Poe
submitted a manuscript volume entitled ‘Tales of the Folio Club,’ and
was given one award for his famous ‘MS. Found in a Bottle.’ Had not
the conditions of the contest precluded giving both prizes to the
same person, he would have received the other award for his poem ‘The
Coliseum.’

Through John P. Kennedy, one of the judges in the contest, Poe came
into relations with T. W. White, the proprietor of ‘The Southern
Literary Messenger,’ published at Richmond. His contributions were
heartily welcomed. White then invited Poe to become his editorial
associate. The offer was accepted and Poe went to Richmond. Mrs.
Clemm and Virginia followed, and in May, 1836, Poe was married to his
cousin. A private marriage is said to have taken place at Baltimore the
preceding September.

The arrangement entered into by White and Poe was most propitious.
The proprietor of the ‘Messenger’ had obtained the services of a
young man with a positive genius for the work in hand,--a young man
who was able to contribute such tales as ‘Berenice,’ ‘Morella,’ ‘Hans
Pfaall,’ ‘Metzengerstein,’ besides poems, miscellanies, and caustic
book-criticisms. On the other hand, Poe had, if a small, at least a
regular income. He could not buy luxury with a salary of five hundred
and twenty dollars, but it was a beginning, and an increase was
promised. Moreover, he was in the hands of a man who regarded him
with affection no less than admiration. Unfortunately the arrangement
was not to last. Poe had become the victim of a hereditary vice.[25]
Whether he drank much or little is of less consequence than the fact
that after a period of indulgence he was wholly unfitted for work.
Once when Poe was temporarily in Baltimore, White wrote him that if
he returned to the office it must be with the understanding that all
engagements were at an end the moment he ‘got drunk.’ Kennedy explained
Poe’s leaving the ‘Messenger’ thus: He was ‘irregular, eccentric, and
querulous, and soon gave up his place.’

From Richmond, Poe went to New York, attracted by some promise in
connection with a magazine. He lived in Carmine Street, and Mrs. Clemm
contributed to the family support by taking boarders. In July, 1838,
was published _The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym_. A month later Poe
removed to Philadelphia.

He contributed to annuals and magazines and had a hand in a piece of
hack-work, _The Conchologist’s First Book_ (1839). This same year he
became assistant editor of ‘Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American
Monthly,’ a periodical owned by the actor, William E. Burton, and held
his position until June, 1840. The irregularity and querulousness
which Kennedy had remarked led to misunderstandings. How the two men
differed in policy becomes plain from a letter to Poe in which Burton
says: ‘You must, my dear sir, get rid of your avowed ill feelings
towards your brother authors.’ There was a quarrel, and Poe, who
had some command of the rhetoric of abuse, described Burton as ‘a
blackguard and a villain.’

The year 1840 was notable in the history of American letters, for then
appeared the first collected edition of Poe’s prose writings, _Tales of
the Grotesque and Arabesque_. The edition, of seven hundred and fifty
copies, was in two volumes and contained twenty-five stories, among
them ‘Morella,’ ‘William Wilson,’ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’
‘Ligeia,’ ‘Berenice,’ and ‘The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion’.

Poe, a born ‘magazinist,’ cherished the ambition of editing a
periodical of his own in which, as he phrased it, he could ‘kick
up a dust.’ He secured a partner and actually announced that ‘The
Penn Magazine’ would begin publication on January 1, 1841. Compelled
to postpone his project, he undertook the editorship of ‘Graham’s
Magazine,’ a new monthly formed by uniting the ‘Gentleman’s,’ which
Graham had bought, and ‘The Casket.’ From February, 1841, to June,
1842, Poe contributed to every number of the new magazine, printing,
among other things, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Mystery of
Marie Rogêt,’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’ Griswold succeeded
him in the editorial chair. Poe gave as a reason for resigning his
place ‘disgust with the namby-pamby character of the magazine.’ In the
hope of bettering his fortune, he sought a place in the Philadelphia
Custom House, but was unsuccessful.

Notwithstanding frequent set-backs, he had it in his power at any
time to attract public notice. In 1843 he won a hundred-dollar prize
for his story ‘The Gold-Bug,’ printed in the ‘Dollar Newspaper,’ and
he lectured with success on ‘The Poets and Poetry of America.’ But
the field was barren and Poe determined on going to New York. Within
a week after his arrival in that city (April, 1844) he printed in
‘The Sun’ his famous ‘Balloon Hoax.’ In October he began work on ‘The
Evening Mirror,’ Willis’s paper, and on January 29, 1845, ‘The Raven’
appeared in its columns and was the poetical sensation of the day. The
next month he lectured on American Poetry in the library of the New
York Historical Society. Dissatisfied with the ‘Mirror,’ he accepted
a proposition from C. F. Briggs to become one of the editors of ‘The
Broadway Journal.’ Later Poe became the sole editor, and for a brief
time enjoyed the ambition of his life, the control of a paper of his
own. He is said to have doubled the circulation in the four months
during which he filled the editorial chair. Unfortunately he lacked
capital and could by no means secure it. ‘The Broadway Journal’
stopped publication.

While editing the ‘Journal’ Poe was invited to read an original
poem before the Boston Lyceum. He gave a juvenile piece, and when
criticised, defended himself with curious want of tact. That he might
lose no opportunity to alienate his contemporaries, he began publishing
in ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book’ a series of papers entitled ‘The Literati,’
in which he gave free rein to his propensity to ‘kick up a dust.’ The
irony of his situation might well excite pity. He who most loathed a
combination of literature and fashion plates was driven for support to
the journals which made such a combination their chief feature.

At the close of 1845 was published _The Raven and Other Poems_, the
first collected edition of Poe’s verse. Occasionally the poet was seen
at literary gatherings, where he left the most agreeable impression by
his manner, appearance, and conversation. But his fortunes steadily
declined, and in 1846, after he had moved to Fordham, a suburb of New
York, he fell into desperate straits. His frail little wife, always an
invalid, grew steadily worse. An appeal was made through the journals
in behalf of the unfortunate family. Mrs. Poe died on January 30, 1847.
Her husband’s grief was so poignant that it is with amazement one reads
of the strange affairs of the heart following this event.

Recovering from the severe illness which followed his wife’s death,
Poe resumed work. He lectured and he wrote. _Eureka_ was published
early in 1847. The consuming desire to own and edit a magazine was no
less consuming, and he made some progress towards founding ‘The Stylus.’

The summer of 1849 Poe spent in Richmond and was received with
cordiality. He proposed marriage to Mrs. Shelton of that city, a
wealthy widow, somewhat older than himself, and was accepted. On the
last of September he started for New York to get Mrs. Clemm and bring
her to Richmond. He was found almost unconscious on October 3 at
Baltimore, in a saloon used as a voting place, was taken to a hospital,
and died at five o’clock on the morning of October 7, 1849.


II

POE’S CHARACTER

Poe’s wilfulness in marring his own fortunes bordered on fatuity.
At an age when men give over youthful excesses merely because they
are incongruous, he had not so much as begun to ‘settle down.’ The
appropriate period for sowing wild oats is brief at best. Nothing
justifies an undue prolongation. It were absurd to take the lofty
tone with a man of genius because at the age of seventeen he carried
to extreme the indulgences characteristic of the youth of his time,
or because at eighteen he ran away from a book-keeper’s desk to join
the army. Impulsiveness and vacillation are not wholly bad things at
eighteen; but at thirty they are ridiculous.

Poe’s abuse of liquor and opium has long been well understood, and
the question of his responsibility handed over to the decision of the
medical faculty. If many of his troubles sprang from this abuse, many
more arose out of his unwillingness to recognize the fact that he was
a part of society, not an isolated and self-sufficient being. As a
genius he was entitled to his prerogative. He was also a man among men
and under the same obligations to continued fair dealing, courtesy,
patience, and forbearance as were his fellows. In these matters he was
notoriously deficient. No one could have been more eager for praise
and sympathy than Poe. He asked for both and received in the measure
of his asking. Men of influence helped him ungrudgingly. They lent him
money, commended his work, defended him at first from the criticism
of those who thought they had suffered at his hands; but it was to no
purpose. By his perversity and capriciousness (as also by an occasional
display of that which in a less highly endowed man than he would have
been called malevolence) Poe alienated those who were most inclined to
befriend him. Nevertheless he wondered that friends fell away.

With a powerful mind, a towering imagination, a natural command of the
technical part of literature, which he improved by tireless exercise,
and with no little spontaneity of productive energy, Poe remained a boy
in character, self-willed, spoiled, ungrateful, petulant. The sharper
the lash of fortune’s whip on his shoulders, the more rebellious he
became.

The affair of the Boston Lyceum illustrates Poe’s singular disregard
of what is expected of men supposed to know the ways of the world. A
Southern paper commenting on this affair said that Poe should not have
gone to Boston. The implication was that as Poe had been attacking the
New Englanders for years he could not expect fair treatment. Poe had
indeed often attacked the ‘Frogpondians,’ as he enjoyed calling them,
and they invited him to come and read an original poem on an occasion
of some local importance. This may have been a mark of innocence on the
part of the ‘Frogpondians;’ it can hardly be construed as indicative
of narrowness or prejudice. Poe accepted their hospitality apparently
in the spirit in which it was offered, read one of his old poems,
and declared afterward that he wrote it before completing his tenth
year, and that he considered it would answer sufficiently well for
an audience of Transcendentalists: ‘It was the best we had--for the
price--and it _did_ answer remarkably well.’

The episode is of no importance save as it illustrates Poe’s attitude
towards the game of life. Poe expected other men to play the game
strictly according to the rules, for himself he would play the game
in his own way. And he did. But he could not go on breaking the rules
indefinitely. They who had his real interest at heart told him as much.
Simms, the novelist, wrote Poe in July, 1846, that he deeply deplored
his misfortunes--‘the more so as I see no process for your relief but
such as must result from your own decision and resolve.’ The letter
should be read in its entirety. It does honor to the writer’s manly
nature, and it throws no little light on the enigmatic character of Poe.


III

THE PROSE WRITER

Poe’s genius was essentially journalistic. In his prose writing he
aimed at an immediate effect, and he knew exactly how to produce it.
The journalist does not in general write with a view to the influence
his paragraph will produce week after next. The paper will have
disappeared week after next, if not day after to-morrow. Though his
theme be the eternal verities, the journalist must write as if he had
but the one chance to speak on that subject. He will therefore be
direct, positive, clear, seeking to persuade, convince, irritate, amuse.

The most obvious characteristics of Poe’s style are found in his
clarity, his vividness, his precision, in the dense shadows and the
high lights, in the hundred unnamed but distinctly felt marks of the
journalistic style. Whatever he proposes to do, that he does. There is
no fumbling. Even his mysteries are as certain as the stage effects in
a spectacular drama; they seem to come at the turning of an electric
switch or the inserting of a blue glass before the lime light. In
reality the process is much more complicated. Other magicians have
essayed to produce like effects by turning the same switch, with
disastrous result.

Poe was a diligent seeker after literary finish. He was painstaking,
and would polish and retouch a paragraph when to the eye of a good
judge there was nothing left to do by way of improvement. ‘He seemed
never to regard a story as finished.’[26]

He was over emphatic at times, and like De Quincey, many of whose
irritating mannerisms he had caught, made a childish use of italics.
But he had no need of these adventitious supports. It was enough for
him to state a thing in his inimitable manner. While his vocabulary was
for the most part simple, he was not without his verbal affectations.
He loved words surcharged with poetic suggestion. A lamp never hangs
from the ceiling, it ‘depends.’ One of his favorite words is ‘domain.’
The black ‘tarn’ which mirrors the house of Usher he could have called
by no other term. ‘Lake,’ or ‘pond,’ or ‘pool’ would not have done. The
word must be remote, suggestive, mysterious.

His style often glows with prismatic colors, but the colors seem to be
refracted from ice. There is no warmth, no sweetness, no lovable and
human quality. All the pronounced characteristics of Poe’s style are
intensely and coldly intellectual. It is easier to admire his use of
language than to like it.


IV

_TALES OF THE GROTESQUE AND ARABESQUE_

By virtue of his journalistic gift, Poe resembled the author of
_Robinson Crusoe_. He could not, like Defoe, have become general
literary purveyor to the people, but he was quite ready to profit by
what was uppermost in the public mind. _The Narrative of Arthur Gordon
Pym_ is an illustration, as it is also a good example of Poe’s art in
its most mundane form. It recounts the adventures of a runaway lad at
sea. Mutiny, drunkenness, brawling, murder, shipwreck, cannibalism,
madness, are the chief ingredients of the book. It is minute,
circumstantial, prolix, matter of fact. The air of verisimilitude is
increased by an alternation of episodes of thrilling interest with
tedious accounts of how a cargo should be stowed, and the object
and method of bringing a ship to. Only at rare intervals does Poe’s
peculiar genius flash out.

As the longest of his writings the _Narrative_ has a peculiar value. By
it we are able to get some notion of his power for ‘sustained effort,’
to use a phrase that always irritated him. That power was certainly
not great; perhaps it was never fairly tested. _The Journal of Julius
Rodman_ is a second attempt at the same kind of fiction. Poe was less
happy in descriptions of the prairie than of the sea; the interest of
the _Journal_ is feeble.

In these fictions the author holds fast to tangible things. Pym and
Rodman might have had the adventures they recount. In another group of
stories Poe leavens fact with imagination. Such are ‘The Balloon Hoax,’
‘The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall,’ ‘A Descent into the
Maelström,’ and the ‘MS. Found in a Bottle.’ Real or alleged science
is compounded with the elements of wonder and mystery. And with these
elements comes an increase of power.

Poe, who was never backward in giving himself the credit he thought
his due, often failed to understand where his own most marvellous
achievements lay. In ‘Hans Pfaall’ he claimed originality in the
use of scientific data. Had his stories only this to recommend them,
they would long since have been forgotten. Nothing so quickly becomes
old-fashioned as popular science. The display of knowledge about aerial
navigation in ‘Hans Pfaall’ perhaps made a brave show in 1836, but it
is childish now. A Hans Pfaall of the Twentieth Century would descend
on Rotterdam in a dirigible balloon, and if questioned would be found
to entertain enlightened views on storage batteries. Poe talked glibly
about sines and cosines and brought noisy charges of astronomical
ignorance against his brother writers, but it was not in these things
that his genius displayed itself, it was rather in the way this
wonder-worker makes one aware of the illimitable stretches of space,
the appalling vastness, the silence, the mystery, terror, and majesty
of Nature. He is the clever craftsman in his account of how the Dutch
bellows-mender started on his aerial travels. But when in two or three
paragraphs Poe conveys a sense of height so terrific that the plain
fireside reader, indisposed to balloon ascensions, grasps the arms of
his chair and clings to the floor with the toes of his slippers lest
he fall--then does he display a power with which popular science has
nothing to do.

This is true of ‘A Descent into the Maelström.’ What scientific fact
went into the composition of the piece appears to have been taken from
the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, but the valuable part, the sense of
life and movement, the crash of the storm, the roar of the waves, the
shriek of the vortex, like the cry of lost souls, all this is not to be
found in encyclopædias. The story can be read any number of times and
its magical power felt afresh each time. But the first reading cannot
be described by so tame a phrase as a literary pleasure, it is an
experience.

Another masterpiece is the ‘MS. Found in a Bottle.’ The din of the
storm is not easily got out of one’s ears. With the unnamed hero of the
tale we ‘stand aghast at the warring of wind and ocean’ and are chilled
by the ‘stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away, into the desolate
sky.’

In another group of stories, ‘The Gold-Bug,’ the gruesome ‘Murders
in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,’ and ‘The Purloined
Letter,’ the author fabricates mysteries for the express purpose of
unravelling them afterwards. Poe, who seldom attempts the creation of a
character, actually created one in the person of his famous detective.
Dupin is a living being in a world peopled for the most part with
shadows.

Poe professed not to think much of his detective stories. The
‘ratiocinative’ tale is not a high order of literary achievement. Poe
shares the honors accruing from the invention of such puzzles with
Wilkie Collins, Gaboriau, and the ‘great ‘Boisgobey,’ and they in turn
with the most sensational of sensation mongers.

‘The Gold-Bug’ afforded the author a vehicle for giving expression
to his delight in cryptography, at the same time he availed himself
of the perennial human interest in the prospect of unearthing buried
treasure. ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ was based on a contemporary
murder case. It contains a minimum of that in which Poe often revelled,
namely physical horror, and a maximum of the ratiocinative element.
‘The Purloined Letter’ is in lighter vein, and illustrates the comedy
side of Dupin’s adventures. Chevalier and minister cross swords with
admirable grace, but no blood is drawn.

The masterpiece of the group is ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’
Genuinely original, blood-curdling, the story depends for its real
force not on the ingenious unravelling of a frightful mystery, but on
the sense of nameless horror which creeps over us as little by little
the outré character of the tragedy is disclosed. We realize that in
the dread event of being murdered one might have a choice as to how it
was done. The predestined victim might even pray to die by the hands
of a plain God-fearing assassin and not after the manner of Madame
L’Espanaye.

Of the stories classified as tales of conscience, ‘William Wilson,’
‘The Man of the Crowd,’ ‘The Imp of the Perverse,’ ‘The Tell-Tale
Heart,’ and ‘The Black Cat,’ the first is not only the best, but
is also one of the best of all stories in that genre. The image of
bodily corruption is not present and the interest is held by perfectly
legitimate means. ‘The Black Cat’ is a fearful and repulsive piece,
and at the same time characteristic. Poe hesitated at nothing when it
came to working out his theme. He who had such absolute control of the
materials of his art too seldom practised reticence in exhibiting the
gruesome details of a scene of cruelty.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a representative story, if not
absolutely the best illustration of Poe’s genius. The motive of
premature burial haunts him here as often elsewhere. But the emphasis
of this tragedy of a race is laid where it belongs, in the terror of
the thought of approaching madness. Poe wrote many stories which can be
described each as the fifth act of a tragedy. It may be doubted whether
he surpassed ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’

‘Berenice,’ ‘Ligeia,’ and ‘Morella’ are highly successful experiments
in the realm of the morbidly imaginative, and might be grouped
under Browning’s discarded title of ‘Madhouse Cells.’ The themes
are monstrous, and are only saved from being absurd by the author’s
consummate ability to carry the reader with him. Poe could scale a
fearful and slippery height, maintaining himself with the slenderest
excuse for a foot-hold. A dozen times you would say he must fall, and
a dozen times he passes the perilous point with masterly ease. In the
hands of a lesser artist than he, how utterly absurd would be a scene
like that in ‘Ligeia’ where the opium-eater watches by the bedside of
his dead wife.

‘Metzengerstein’ and ‘A Tale of the Ragged Mountains’ are stories
of metempsychosis. ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and ‘Hop-Frog’ turn on
the motive of revenge. ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ an episode of the
Inquisition, is a study of the preternatural acuteness of the mind
while the body undergoes torture. ‘The Assignation’ is a Venetian tale
of love and intrigue, and would have been conventional enough in the
hands of any one but Poe. The most powerful story in the group is ‘The
Red Death,’ a lurid drama of revelry in the midst of pestilence.

Difficult as are the themes, and skilful as is the handling, these
tales are in a way surpassed by the extraordinary group of romances in
which Poe describes the meeting of disembodied spirits. ‘The Power of
Words,’ ‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una,’ and ‘The Conversation of Eiros
and Charmion’ are excursions into a world unknown to the rank and file
of literary explorers, a world where the most adventurous might well
question his ability to penetrate far. In these supermundane pieces, in
the prose-poems ‘Silence’ and ‘Shadow,’ in ‘Ligeia,’ and in ‘The Domain
of Arnheim,’ Poe’s art is indeed magical.

Poe seems to have been fully persuaded in his own mind that he had
the gift of humor. The extravaganzas and farcical pieces bulk rather
large in his collected writings. In too many of them the author cuts
extraordinary mental capers in the most mirthless way. ‘The Literary
Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.,’ ‘How to write a Blackwood Article’ and its
sequel, ‘A Predicament,’ satires all on the ways of editors and men
of letters, are examples of Poe’s manner as a humorist. The rattling
monologue and dry, hard, uncontagious laughter of a music-hall comedian
is the nearest parallel. The effect is wholly disproportionate to the
bewildering activity of the performer.

In farces like ‘The Spectacles,’ ‘Loss of Breath,’ and ‘The Man that
was Used up,’ the motives would be revolting were not the characters
manifestly constructed of wood or papier-maché. The figures are neither
more nor less than marionettes. If Madame Stephanie Lalande (aged
eighty-one) dashes her wig on the ground with a yell and dances a
fandango upon it, ‘in an absolute ecstasy and agony of rage,’ it is
what may be expected in a pantomime. Whoever wishes to laugh at the
hero of the Bugaboo and Kickapoo campaign, when he is discovered sans
scalp, sans palate, sans arm, leg, and shoulders, is at liberty to do
so, but he must laugh as do children when Punch beats his wife.

There is no question of the vivacity displayed in these pieces.
‘Bon-Bon,’ ‘The Duc de l’Omelette,’ ‘Lionizing,’ ‘Never bet the Devil
your Head,’ ‘X-ing a Paragrab,’ ‘Diddling Considered as one of the
Exact Sciences,’ ‘The Business Man,’ and ‘The Angel of the Odd’ are
sprightly with an uncanny sprightliness. It must always be a matter for
astonishment that Poe could have written them. The mystery of their
being read is explained by the taste of the times.

On the other hand, ‘The Devil in the Belfry’ is genuinely amusing. The
description of the peaceful estate of the pleasant Dutch toy village
of Vondervotteimitiss, where the very pigs wore repeaters tied to
their tails with ribbons, and the sad story of the destruction of all
order and regularity by the advent of the foreign-looking young man
in black kerseymere knee-breeches, are most agreeably set forth. This
extravaganza is not only the best of Poe’s humorous sketches, but ranks
with the work of men who were better equipped and more gifted in such
work than was Poe.


V

THE CRITIC

Poe brought into American criticism a pungency which it had hitherto
lacked. He was entirely independent, and had urbanity companioned
independence the value of his critical work would have been greatly
augmented. He could praise with warmth and condemn with asperity;
he could not maintain an even temper. Swayed by his likes and his
dislikes, he was but too apt to grow extravagantly commendatory
or else spiteful. ‘He had the judicial mind but was rarely in the
judicial state of mind.’[27] He was not unwilling to give pain, and
easily persuaded himself that he did so in a just cause. There was a
pleasurable sense of power in the consciousness of being feared. Yet
the pleasure thus derived can never be other than ignoble. A man of
Poe’s genius can ill afford to waste his time in attacking other men
of genius whose conceptions of literary art differ from his own. Still
less can he afford to assail the swarm of petty authors whose works
will perish the sooner for being let alone. Of all harmless creatures
authors are the most harmless and should be allowed to live their
innocent little lives. But Poe took literature hard, and authors had a
disquieting effect on him.

Accused of ‘mangling by wholesale,’ Poe denied the charge, declaring
that among the many critiques he had written during a given period of
ten years not one was ‘wholly fault-finding or wholly in approbation.’
And he maintained that to every opinion expressed he had attempted
to give weight ‘by something that bore the semblance of a reason.’
Is there another writer in the land who ‘can of his own criticisms
conscientiously say the same’? Poe prided himself on an honesty of
motive such as animated Wilson and Macaulay. He denied that his course
was unpopular, pointing to the fact that during his editorship of
the ‘Messenger’ and ‘Graham’s’ the circulation of the one had risen
from seven hundred to five thousand, and of the other ‘from five to
fifty-two thousand subscribers.’ ‘Even the manifest injustice of a
Gifford is, I grieve to say, an exceedingly popular thing.’[28]

Poe’s critical writings take the form of reviews of books
(‘Longfellow’s Ballads,’ ‘Moore’s “Alciphron,”’ ‘Horne’s “Orion,”’
‘Miss Barrett’s “A Drama of Exile,”’ ‘Hawthorne’s Tales,’ etc.),
polemical writings (‘A Reply to “Outis”’), essays on the theory of
literary art (‘The Poetic Principle,’ ‘The Rationale of Verse’), brief
notes (‘Marginalia’), and short and snappy articles on contemporary
writers (‘The Literati’).

His theory of literary art may be studied in the lecture entitled ‘The
Poetic Principle,’ where he maintains that there is no such thing
as a long poem, the very phrase being ‘a contradiction of terms.’ A
poem deserves its title ‘only inasmuch as it excites by elevating the
soul.’ This excitement is transient. When it ceases, that which is
written ceases to be poetical. Poe even sets the precise limit of the
excitement--‘half an hour at the very utmost.’

He then attacks ‘the heresy of The Didactic,’ protesting against the
doctrine that every poem should contain a moral and the poetical merit
estimated by the moral. ‘The incitements of Passion, or the precepts of
Duty, or even the lessons of Truth, may be introduced into a poem with
advantage, but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down
in proper subjection to that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the
real essence of the poem.’

Poe then proceeds to his definition of the ‘poetry of words,’ which
is, he says, ‘_The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty_.’ Its sole arbiter
is Taste. ‘With the Intellect, or with the Conscience, it has only
collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever
either with Duty or with Truth.’

In his concrete criticism Poe never hesitated to prophesy. ‘I most
heartily congratulate you upon having accomplished a work which will
_live_,’ he wrote to Mrs. E. A. Lewis. Of some poem of Longfellow’s he
said that it would ‘not live.’ Possibly he was right in both cases, but
how could he know? Here is shown the weakness of Poe’s critical temper.
He affirmed positively that which cannot positively be affirmed.

He was a monomaniac on plagiarism, forever raising the cry of ‘Stop
thief.’ Yet Poe, like Molière, whom he resembled in no other
particular, ‘took his own’ whenever it pleased him to do so, and he was
not over solicitous to advertise his sources. He was in the right. If
poets advertised their sources, what would be left for the commentators
to do? Poe hinted that Hawthorne appropriated his ideas, and he
flatly accused Longfellow of so doing. He was punished grotesquely,
for Chivers, the author of _Eonchs of Ruby_, accused Poe (after the
latter’s death, when it was quite safe to do so) of getting many of his
best ideas from Chivers.


VI

THE POET

Poe’s claim to mastership in verse rests on a handful of lyrics
distinguished for exquisite melody and a haunting beauty of phrase.
That part of the public which estimates a poet by such pieces as find
their way into anthologies regards Poe primarily as the author of ‘The
Bells’ and ‘The Raven.’ If popularity were the final test of merit,
these strikingly original performances would indeed crown his work.
After sixty years, neither has lost in appreciable degree the magical
charm it exerted when first the weird melody fell upon the ear. Each
is hackneyed beyond description; each has been parodied unmercifully,
murdered by raw elocutionists, and worse than murdered by generations
of school-children droning from their readers, about the ‘midnight
dreary’ and the ‘Runic rhyme.’ But it is yet possible to restore in a
measure the feeling of astonished delight with which lovers of poetry
greeted the advent of these studies in the musical power of words.

The practical and earnest soul will find little to comfort him in the
poetry of Poe. It teaches nothing, emphasizes no moral, never inspires
to action. The strange unearthly melodies must be enjoyed for the
reason that they are strange and unearthly and melodious. The genius of
the poet has travelled

    By a route obscure and lonely,
    Haunted by ill angels only,
    Where an Eidolon, named Night,
    On a black throne reigns upright,

and we can well believe that it comes

    From an ultimate dim Thule,--
    From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
    Out of Space--out of Time.

Wholly out of space and time was he who wrote ‘Dreamland,’ ‘The City
in the Sea,’ ‘The Haunted Palace,’ ‘Israfel,’ ‘The Sleeper,’ and
‘Ulalume.’ It is idle to ask of these poems something they do not
pretend to give, and it can hardly be other than uncritical to describe
them as ‘very superficial.’ They are strange exotic flowers blooming
under conditions the most adverse, a fresh proof that genius is
independent of place and time.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Poe’s work as a whole there is unquestionably too much of brooding
over death, the grave, mere physical horrors. Since his genius lay that
way, he must be accepted as he was. But it is permitted to regret, if
not the thing in itself (the domain of art being wide), at least the
excess. Poe speaks of certain themes which are ‘too entirely horrible
for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must
eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust.’ And having laid
down this doctrine, Poe goes on to relate the story of ‘The Premature
Burial.’ It turns out a vision. But the narrator affirms that he was
cured by the experience, that he read no more ‘bugaboo tales--_such as
this_. In short I became a new man and lived a man’s life.’ Without
assuming that Poe spoke wholly from the autobiographical point of view,
we may believe the passage to contain a measure of his actual thought.

We may claim for him a more important place in our literature than do
his radical admirers whose fervent eulogy too often takes the form
of the contention that Poe was greater than this or that American
man of letters. His strong, sombre genius saved the literature from
any danger of uniformity, relieved it at once and forever from the
possible charge of colorlessness. That strangeness of flavor which a
late distinguished critic notes as a mark of genius is imparted by
Poe’s work to our literary product as a whole. Here indeed was ‘the
blossoming of the aloe.’


FOOTNOTES:

  [25] ‘... There is one thing I am anxious to caution you against,
       & which has been a great enemy to our family, I hope,
       however, in yr case, it may prove unnecessary, “A too free
       use of the Bottle” ...’ William Poe to E. A. Poe, 15th June,
       1843. Harrison’s _Poe_, vol. ii, p. 143.

  [26] G. E. Woodberry.

  [27] E. C. Stedman.

  [28] ‘Reply to “Outis.”’



VIII

_Henry Wadsworth Longfellow_


REFERENCES:

  =Samuel Longfellow=: _Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow_, second
    edition, 1886, and _Final Memorials of ... Longfellow_, 1887.

  =W. D. Howells=: _Literary Friends and Acquaintance_, 1900.

  =G. R. Carpenter=: _Henry Wadsworth Longfellow_, ‘Beacon
    Biographies,’ 1901.

  =T. W. Higginson=: _Henry Wadsworth Longfellow_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1902.


I

HIS LIFE

The Longfellows are descendants of William Longfellow of Horsforth
in Yorkshire, who came to New England ‘about 1676,’ settled in
Newbury, and married Anne Sewall, a sister of Samuel Sewall, the first
chief-justice of Massachusetts. ‘Well educated but a little wild’
is one of several illuminating phrases used to describe this young
Yorkshireman. He joined the expedition against Quebec under Sir William
Phipps (1690) and perished in a wreck on the coast of Anticosti.
One of his sons, Stephen, a blacksmith, had a son who was graduated
at Harvard, became a schoolmaster in Falmouth (Portland), and held
important offices in the town government. His son, the third Stephen,
grandfather of the poet, was judge of the court of common pleas, and
representative of his town in the legislature.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born at Portland, in the District
of Maine, on February 27, 1807. He was the second son of Stephen
Longfellow, a prominent lawyer, conspicuous in political life, a member
of the Massachusetts legislature, and afterwards, when Maine acquired
statehood, a representative for his state in Congress. The mother of
the poet, Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow, was a daughter of General
Peleg Wadsworth, whose adventures during the Revolution bordered on
the romantic. Through the Wadsworths the poet was a descendant of John
Alden and Priscilla Mullens.

At the age of thirteen Longfellow printed in the Portland ‘Gazette’
his boyish rhymes on ‘The Battle of Lovell’s Pond.’ He studied at
private schools and at the Portland Academy, entered Bowdoin College,
Brunswick, Maine, in the Sophomore year, and was graduated in 1825, the
fourth in a class of thirty-eight. That he stood so high seemed to him
‘rather a mystery.’ Before leaving college he had begun contributing
to the ‘United States Literary Gazette,’ a new bi-monthly, published
in Boston and edited by Theophilus Parsons. In one year seventeen of
his poems appeared in the ‘Gazette,’ for which payment was made at the
rate of two dollars a column. Five of these early poems were reprinted
in _Voices of the Night_.

At the Commencement of 1825 the trustees of Bowdoin had determined to
establish a professorship of modern languages. The chair was promised
Longfellow when he should have fitted himself for it by study abroad.
He sailed from New York in May, 1826, provided by George Ticknor with
letters of introduction to Irving, Eichhorn, and Southey. He travelled
in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, mastered the Romance languages,
planned certain prose volumes, and announced to his sister Elizabeth
that his poetic career was finished. In August, 1829, he was back in
America.

His appointment being confirmed and the stipend fixed at eight hundred
dollars (together with another hundred for services as college
librarian), Longfellow entered on his duties. During the next five and
a half years he corrected bad French and Italian exercises, heard worse
viva voce translations, in brief, was a pedagogue in all homely and
trying senses of the word. With any one save a born drill-master the
class-room soon loses novelty. In spite of the knowledge that he was
useful in a chosen field of work, more than happy in his home-life (he
had married, in 1831, Miss Mary Storer Potter of Portland), Longfellow
felt the narrowness of his surroundings. Bowdoin was a little college
and Brunswick a village. The young professor was ambitious. In his own
phrase, he wanted a stage on which he could ‘take longer strides and
speak to a larger audience.’ At one time he thought of buying the Round
Hill School, and visited Northampton to look over the ground. Fortune
had something better in store for him. Ticknor was about to resign the
chair of modern languages at Harvard, and proposed as his successor
Longfellow, whose translation of the _Coplas_ of Manrique (1833) had
attracted his notice. The position was formally offered and accepted;
it was understood that Longfellow was to spend a year and a half in
Europe before taking up his work.

Accompanied by his young wife, Longfellow crossed the ocean in April,
1835, and passed the summer in Stockholm and Copenhagen, studying
the Scandinavian languages. In the autumn he was in Holland. Mrs.
Longfellow died the last of November. Longfellow went to Heidelberg for
the winter, and to Switzerland and the Tyrol for the spring and summer,
and in December (1836) was at Cambridge preparing his college lectures.

He lodged at the famous colonial mansion in Brattle Street known
as Craigie House, in a room that had once been Washington’s. When
Longfellow first applied, old Mrs. Craigie, deceived by his youthful
appearance, told him that she had ‘resolved to take no more students
into the house.’ Craigie House passed into the possession of Worcester,
the lexicographer. Worcester sold it to Nathan Appleton, whose daughter
Longfellow married in 1843. It then became the property of Mrs.
Longfellow.

At Harvard the exactions of work were not like those in the smaller
college, strictly pedagogical. Longfellow had time for literature
and for society. The years were richly productive, as the following
bibliographical lists show.

_Outre-Mer, A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea_, 1835; _Hyperion, a Romance_,
1839; _Voices of the Night_, 1839; _Ballads and Other Poems_, 1842;
_Poems on Slavery_, 1842; _The Spanish Student_, 1843; _The Waif, a
Collection of Poems_, 1845 (edited); _The Poets and Poetry of Europe_,
1845 (edited); _The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems_, 1846; _The
Estray, a Collection of Poems_, 1847 (edited); _Evangeline, a Tale
of Acadie_, 1847; _Kavanagh, a Tale_, 1849; _The Seaside and the
Fireside_, 1850; _The Golden Legend_, 1851; _The Song of Hiawatha_,
1855.

After eighteen years of service at Harvard, Longfellow, in 1855,
resigned his professorship, handing over its responsibilities to a
worthy successor, James Russell Lowell. Released from academic duties,
he was able to give himself unreservedly to literary work. Even in
these new conditions he enjoyed less freedom than would be supposed.
Longfellow had become a world-famous poet and was compelled to pay
in full measure the penalties of fame. The demands on his time were
enormous. As his reputation increased there was a proportionate
increase in the army of visitors which besieged his door. The uniform
kindness of their reception encouraged hundreds more to come.

The beautiful serenity of Longfellow’s domestic life was broken in upon
by a frightful tragedy. One July morning in 1861 Mrs. Longfellow’s
dress caught fire from a lighted match. It was impossible to save her,
and she died the following day. The poet never recovered from the shock
of her death. How crushing the blow was may be faintly conceived from
that poem, ‘The Cross of Snow,’ found among his papers after his death.

During the last quarter century of his life Longfellow published the
following books: _The Courtship of Miles Standish_, 1858; _Tales
of a Wayside Inn_, 1863; _Flower-de-Luce_, 1867; _The New England
Tragedies_, 1868; _Dante’s Divine Comedy, a Translation_,[29] 1867–70;
_The Divine Tragedy_, 1871; _Christus, a Mystery_, 1872;[30] _Three
Books of Song_, 1872; _Aftermath_, 1873; _The Masque of Pandora_, and
_Other Poems_, 1875; _Poems of Places_, 1876–79 (edited); _Kéramos and
Other Poems_, 1878; _Ultima Thule_, 1880. The posthumous volumes were
_In the Harbor_, 1882, and _Michael Angelo_, 1884.

All the customary honors with which literary achievement may be
recognized were bestowed on Longfellow. Some were formal and academic,
scholastic tributes to scholastic achievement. Others were spontaneous
and popular, an expression of the heart. Two illustrations will suffice
to show the range of the poet’s influence. In 1869, during Longfellow’s
last journey in Europe, the degree of D. C. L. was conferred on him by
the University of Oxford. In 1879, when the tree which overhung ‘the
village smithy’ was felled, an armchair was made of the wood, and given
to the poet by the school-children of Cambridge. Both these tributes
were necessary. Each is the complement of the other. Taken together,
they symbolize the characteristics of the man and the artist.

Of all American poets Longfellow reached the widest audience. And it
was with a feeling of personal bereavement that every member of that
vast audience heard the news of his death at Cambridge, on March 24,
1882.


II

LONGFELLOW’S CHARACTER

As a young man Longfellow was pretty much like other young men, fond
of society and fond of dress. At Cambridge the sober-minded were a
little disturbed by the brilliancy of his waistcoats. In the Thirties
it was permitted men, if they would, to array themselves like birds of
paradise. Longfellow appears in some degree to have availed himself
of the privilege. After a visit to Dickens in London in 1842 the
novelist wrote Longfellow that boot-maker, hosier, trousers-maker, and
coat-cutter had all been at the point of death. ‘The medical gentlemen
agreed that it was exhaustion occasioned by early rising--to wait upon
you at those unholy hours!’ An English visitor who saw Longfellow in
1850 thought him too fashionably dressed with his ‘blue frock-coat of
Parisian cut, a handsome waistcoat, faultless pantaloons, and primrose
colored “kids.”’

In middle age his social instinct was as strong as ever, but he cared
less for ‘society.’ He restricted himself to the companionship of his
friends, holding always in reserve time for his dependants, of whom he
had more than a fair share.

Longfellow was large-hearted. He liked people if they were likable and
sympathized with them if they were unattractive or unfortunate. He was
open-handed, a liberal giver. Adventurers preyed upon him. He endured
them with patient strength. When their exactions became outrageous,
he made an effort to be rid of them. If unsuccessful, he laughed at
his own want of skill and resigned himself to be imposed on a little
longer. A weaker man would have sent these bores and parasites about
their business at once.

Incapable of giving pain to any living creature, he could not
understand the temper which prompts another to do so. Fortunately the
violence or malignity of criticism had little effect on him. He could
even be amused by it. Of Margaret Fuller’s ‘furious onslaught’ on him
in the ‘New York Tribune,’ Longfellow said, ‘It is what ‘might be
called a bilious attack.’

He disliked publicity whether in the form of newspaper chronicle of
his doings or recognition in public places. He thought it absurd
that because Fechter had dined with him this unimportant item must
be telegraphed to Chicago and printed in the morning journals. Fond
as he was of the theatre, he sometimes hesitated to go because of
the interest his presence excited. It was thought extraordinary that
he was willing to read his poem ‘Morituri Salutamus’ at the fiftieth
anniversary of his class at Bowdoin. He was delighted when he found
he was to stand behind the old-fashioned high pulpit; ‘Let me cover
myself as much as possible. I wish it might be entirely.’

One trait of Longfellow’s character has been over-emphasized--his
gentleness. He was indeed gentle; but continual harping on that string
has created the impression that he was gentle rather than anything
else. In consequence we have a legendary Longfellow in whom all other
traits of character are subordinated to the one. His amiability, his
sense of justice, his entire freedom from selfishness and vanity, and
his genuine modesty, which led him even when he was right and his
neighbor wrong to avoid giving needless pain by intimating to the
neighbor how wrong he was--all contributed to hide the more forceful
and emphatic qualities. But the qualities were there.

Nothing is easier than to multiply illustrations of this poet’s
gracious traits of character. Holmes epitomized all eulogy when he said
of Longfellow: ‘His life was so exceptionally sweet and musical that
any voice of praise sounds almost like a discord after it.’


III

THE POET

Americans sometimes disturb themselves needlessly over the question
whether Longfellow was a great poet. It is absolutely of no importance
whether he was or was not. Of one thing they may be sure,--he was a
poet. Song was his natural vehicle of expression. He had a masterly
command of technical difficulties of his art. Language became pliant
under his touch. Taking into account the range of his metres, the
uniform precision with which he handled words, and the purity of his
style, Longfellow is eminent among American poetical masters.

His sonnets are exquisite. His ballads, like ‘The Skeleton in Armor,’
have no little of the fresh unstudied character which charms us in old
English ballad literature, a something not to be traced to the spirit
alone but to the technique as well. The twenty-two poems of ‘The Saga
of King Olaf’ show an almost extraordinary metrical power.

It must also be remembered that Longfellow popularized for modern
readers the so-called English hexameter. _Evangeline_ was a metrical
triumph, considering it wholly aside from the innate beauty of the
story or the artistic handling of the incidents. The poet did not
foresee his success. In fact, as early as 1841, in the preface to his
translation of Tegnér’s _Children of the Lord’s Supper_, Longfellow
speaks of the ‘inexorable hexameter, in which, it must be confessed,
the motions of the English muse are not unlike those of a prisoner
dancing to the music of his chains.’ But here he was hampered by his
theory of translation, by his anxiety to render as literally as he
could the text of the original. When he took the matter into his own
hands and moulded the verse according to his own artistic sense, it
became another thing. Wholly aside from the pleasure _Evangeline_ has
given countless readers, it is something to have broken down prejudice
against the hexameter to the extent of drawing out an indirect
compliment from Matthew Arnold, whose self-restraint in the matter of
giving praise was notorious.[31] Scholars have by no means withdrawn
their opposition to the English hexameter. That a more liberal temper
prevails is largely due to Longfellow.

_Evangeline_ had a stimulating effect on one English poet of rare
genius, Arthur Hugh Clough. A reading of the Tale of Acadie immediately
after a reperusal of the _Iliad_ led to the composition of _The Bothie
of Tober-na-Vuolich_.[32]

Another of Longfellow’s triumphs was so great as to make it difficult
for any one to follow him. _Hiawatha_ succeeded both because of the
metre and in spite of it. Any one can master this self-writing jingle.
’Tis as easy as lying. One hardly knows how facile newspaper parodists
amused themselves before they got _Hiawatha_. Holmes explained the ease
of the measure on physiological grounds. We do not lisp in numbers, but
breathe in them. Did we but know it, we pass our lives in exhaling
four-foot rhymeless trochaics.[33] To write a poem in the metre of the
_Kalevala_ still remains, with all its specious fluency, an impossible
performance for any one not a poet. Thus Longfellow’s success had a
negative and restraining effect. He opened the field to whoever cared
to experiment with the hexameter, but closed it, for the present at
least, to any rhythmical inventions calculated however remotely to
suggest the metre of his Indian edda.


IV

_OUTRE-MER, HYPERION, KAVANAGH_

The most popular of American poets first challenged public attention as
a writer of prose. _Outre-Mer_ is a group of pieces after the manner
of Irving. _Hyperion_ is a romance ‘in the old style,’ and shows the
influence of Jean Paul Richter. _Kavanagh_, published ten years after
_Hyperion_, is a novel.

Neither of the first two books is marked by a buoyant Americanism.
_Outre-Mer_ does not, for example, suggest _A Tramp Abroad_, and
certainly Paul Flemming is no kinsman of ‘Harris.’ In other words,
Europe was as yet too remote to be made the subject of easy jest. Men
did not ‘run over’ to the Continent. The trip cost them dear in time
and money, and was not without the element of anticipated danger.
Travelling America was unsophisticated and viewed the Old World with
childlike curiosity. Foreign lands were transfigured in the romantic
haze through which they were seen.

The chapters of _Outre-Mer_ were written by a man too intoxicated with
the charm of European life to be annoyed by the petty irritations that
worry hardened tourists. Rouen, Paris, Auteuil, Madrid, El Pardillo,
Rome in midsummer, afford the Pilgrim only delight. As in all books of
the kind there are interpolated stones, and in this book interpolated
literary essays. Every page betrays the student and the lover of
literature, who quotes Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne at Père la
Chaise, James Howell at Venice, and Shakespeare everywhere.

_Hyperion_ is steeped in sentiment--almost in sentimentality. Such a
book could only have been written when the heart was young. It is a
mistake, however, to read the volume as an autobiography; the author
objected to its being so read. More important than the love story are
the romantic descriptions of the Rhine and the Swiss Alps and the
golden atmosphere enveloping it all. Both these books have a common
object, namely, to interpret the Old World to the New.

When _Outre-Mer_ was published an admirer said that the author of
_The Sketch Book_ must look to his laurels. The praise implied was
extravagant, but not groundless. Longfellow’s prose has a measure of
the sweetness and urbanity which we associate with Irving. Both writers
are classic in their serenity, and if highly artificial at times never
absurdly stilted. They often appear in old-fashioned dress, but they
wear the costume easily and it becomes them. The modern reader, with a
taste dulled by high seasoning, marvels how the grandparents could find
pleasure in _Hyperion_. It would be to the modern reader’s advantage
to forswear sack for a while and get himself into a condition to enjoy
what so greatly delighted the grandparents.

Besides a group of literary essays (published in his collected works
under the title of ‘Driftwood’) Longfellow wrote a novel of New England
life, _Kavanagh_, which suffered by coming too soon after _Evangeline_.
It seems colorless when placed beside the romantic tale of Acadie. Yet
one can well afford to take time to learn of Mr. Pendexter’s griefs,
and incidentally to become acquainted with Billy Wilmerdings, who was
turned out of school for playing truant, and ‘promised his mother, if
she would not whip him, he would experience religion.’ Hawthorne was
enthusiastic over _Kavanagh_; he, however, disclosed the secret of its
unpopularity when he said to Longfellow: ‘Nobody but yourself would
dare to write so quiet a book.’


V

_VOICES OF THE NIGHT, BALLADS, SPANISH STUDENT, BELFRY OF BRUGES, THE
SEASIDE AND THE FIRESIDE_

Longfellow served the cause of his art in two ways: first, he was an
original poet, having a genius which, if not profound, or brilliant,
or massive, or bewilderingly fresh and new, was eminently poetical and
eminently attractive; second, he was an enthusiastic interpreter of the
poetry of other lands through the medium of trustworthy and graceful
translations.

In _Voices of the Night_, his earliest volume of verse, the
translations, from Manrique, Lope de Vega, Dante, Charles d’Orléans,
Klopstock, and Uhland, outnumber the original pieces almost two to one.
Their characteristic is fidelity in spirit and letter. They illustrate
the genius of a poet who found pleasure in giving wider audience to the
work of men he loved, and who did his utmost to preserve the singular
qualities of these men.

Longfellow’s second volume, _Ballads and Other Poems_, contains only
four translations, but one of them is Tegnér’s _Children of the Lord’s
Supper_, in three hundred and fifty hexameter verses. _The Belfry of
Bruges_ contains a handful of translations from the German, including
a lyric of Heine’s done in a way to cause regret that Longfellow did
not put more of the _Buch der Lieder_ into English. In _The Seaside and
the Fireside_ is given entire ‘The Blind Girl of Castèl Cuillè’ by the
barber-poet Jasmin.

The translations bulk so large and are so plainly a labor of love that
it would seem as if Longfellow regarded such work an important part of
his poetic mission. At the present time there is no need to urge the
translator to ‘aggrandize his office.’ He does so cheerfully. Sometimes
it is done for him. Are we not told that Fitzgerald was a greater poet
than Omar Khayyám? In 1840 the office had not grown so great.

This interpretative work by no means ended when Longfellow’s fame as a
creative poet was at its height and there was every incentive to build
for himself. When compiling (with Felton’s aid) the _Poets and Poetry
of Europe_ he translated many pieces for the volume. He gave years to
reproducing in English the majesty of Dante’s verse, counting himself
fortunate if his transcript, made in all reverence and love, approached
its great original. This disinterestedness in the exercise of his art
is so greatly to his honor that praise becomes impertinent. Catholic
in his attitude toward workers in the field of poesy, Longfellow
recognized the truth of the line

                    Many the songs, but song is one.

Longfellow’s early verse had all the requisites for popularity; it is
clear, melodious, simple in its lessons, tinged with sentiment and
melancholy, dashed with romantic color, and abounding in phrases which
catch the ear and pulsate in the brain. The poet voices the longings,
regrets, fears, aspirations, the restlessness, or the faith, which go
to make up the warp and woof of everyday life. An allegory, a moralized
legend, a song, a meditation, a ballad,--these are what we find in
turning the leaves of _Voices of the Night_ or the _Ballads_. Here
is a certain popular quality not to be attained by taking thought.
‘A Psalm of Life,’ ‘Flowers,’ ‘The Beleaguered City,’ ‘The Village
Blacksmith,’ ‘The Rainy Day,’ ‘Maidenhood,’ ‘Excelsior,’ ‘The Bridge,’
‘The Day is Done,’ ‘Resignation,’ ‘The Builders,’ are a few among many
illustrations of the type of verse which carried Longfellow’s name into
every home where poetry is read. The range of emotions expressed is
of the simplest. There is feeling, but no thinking. The robust reader
who perchance has battened of late on sturdy diet, like _Fifine at the
Fair_, hardly knows what to make of these poems, so little resistance
do they offer to the mind. The meaning lies on the surface. But it
is no less true that their essence is poetical. The one thing never
lacking is the note of distinction. The human quality to be found in
such a poem as the ‘Footsteps of Angels’ almost overpowers the poetic
element. Nevertheless the poetry is there, and by virtue of this
Longfellow’s early work lives.

Other poems show his scholar’s love for the past. They express the
natural longing felt by an inhabitant of a crude new land for countries
where romance lies thick because history is ancient. ‘The Belfry of
Bruges’ and ‘Nuremberg’ are examples. Moreover Longfellow’s ballads
have genuine quality. ‘The Skeleton in Armor’ illustrates his study of
Scandinavian literature. ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’ is based on an
actual incident which came under his notice. The criticism reflecting
on this ballad because the poet had never seen the reef of Norman’s
Woe, is superfine. Longfellow was born and reared almost within a
stone’s throw of the Atlantic. His knowledge of the ocean began with
his first lessons in life. His sea poems are distinctive. ‘The Building
of the Ship,’ ‘The Fire of Driftwood,’ ‘Sir Humphrey Gilbert,’ ‘The
Secret of the Sea,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ ‘Chrysaor,’ and ‘Seaweed,’
whether or not they deserve the praise Henley gives them, will always
be accounted among Longfellow’s characteristic pieces.

Two other works may be noted in this section: the _Poems on Slavery_
and a play, _The Spanish Student_. The first of these, though academic,
shows how early Longfellow took his rank with the unpopular minority.
_The Spanish Student_, a play based on _La Gitanilla_ of Cervantes, was
written _con amore_, and ‘with a celerity of which I did not think
myself capable.’ Longfellow had great hopes of its success, though
he seems not to have been ambitious for a dramatic presentation. The
success was to come through the reader. _The Spanish Student_ shows
that Longfellow could have written good acting plays had he chosen
to submit to the irritations and rebuffs which are the inevitable
preliminary to dramatic good fortune.


VI

_EVANGELINE, HIAWATHA, MILES STANDISH, TALES OF A WAYSIDE INN_

_Evangeline_ and _Hiawatha_ mark the climax of Longfellow’s
contemporary popularity and may be regarded as the principal bulwarks
of his fame. There is an anecdote to the effect that Hawthorne, to
whom the subject of Evangeline was proposed, was not attracted by it,
while Longfellow seized on it eagerly. Such was the divergence of their
genius. Longfellow’s mind always sought the fair uplands of thought,
checkered with alternate sunshine and shadow; it did not willingly
traverse deep ravines, gloomy and mysterious, or haunted groves such as
those about which Hawthorne’s spirit loved to keep. The instinct which
led the one poet to reject the narrative was as infallible as that
which led the other to appropriate it.

The tale of Acadie is engrossing in its very nature, and whether told
in prose or verse must always invite, even chain, the attention. It
is dramatic without being melodramatic. The characters are not mere
‘persons’ of the drama, they are types. Evangeline will always stand
for something more than the figure of an unhappy Acadian girl bereft
of her lover. As Longfellow has painted her, she is the incarnation of
beauty, devotion, maidenly pride, self-abnegation. So too of the other
characters, Gabriel, old Basil, Benedict; each has that added strength
which a character conceived dramatically is bound to have if it shall
prove typical as well.

Longfellow gave himself little anxiety about the historic difficulties
of the Acadian question. It was enough for him that these unhappy
people were carried away from their homes and that much misery ensued.
He painted the French Neutrals as a romancer must. Father Felician was
not sketched from the Abbé Le Loutre, nor was life in the actual Grand
Pré altogether idyllic.

_Evangeline_ aroused interest in French-American history. For example,
Whewell wrote to Bancroft to say that he feared Longfellow had some
historical basis for the story and to ask for information.

In the Plymouth idyl of the choleric little captain who believed
that the way to get a thing well done was to do it one’s self, and
who exemplified his theory by having his secretary make a proposal of
marriage for him, Longfellow made one of his most fortunate strokes.
_The Courtship of Miles Standish_ showed the poetic possibilities in
the harsh, dry annals of early colonial life. The wonder is that so few
adventurers have cared to follow the path indicated.

Bound up with the story of Priscilla and John Alden is a handful of
poems to which Longfellow gave the collective title of ‘Birds of
Passage.’ Here are several fine examples of his art: ‘The Warden of
the Cinque-Ports,’ ‘Haunted Houses,’ ‘The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,’
‘Oliver Basselin,’ ‘Victor Galbraith,’ ‘My Lost Youth,’ ‘The Discoverer
of the North Cape,’ and ‘Sandalphon.’ It is a question whether in
these eight poems we have not a small but well-nigh perfect Longfellow
anthology. Certainly no selection of his writings can pretend to be
characteristic which does not contain them.

_Hiawatha_ was not intended for a poetic commentary on the manners
and customs of the North American Indians, though that impression
sometimes obtains. It is a free handling of Ojibway legends drawn from
Schoolcraft’s _Algic Researches_ and supplemented by other accounts of
Indian life. The grossness of the red man’s character, his cruelty, his
primitive views of cleanliness, are wisely kept in the background,
and his noble and picturesque qualities brought to the front. The
psychology is extremely simple. This Indian edda must be enjoyed for
its atmosphere of the forest, its childlike spirit, and its humor.
Hiawatha was a friend of animals (when he was not their enemy), and
understood them even better than writers of modern nature-books. One
does not need to be young again to enjoy the account of Hiawatha’s
fishing in company with his friend the squirrel. The sturgeon swallows
them both, and the squirrel helps Hiawatha get the canoe crossways in
the fish, a timely service in recognition of which (after both have
been rescued) he receives the honorable name of Tail-in-air. In fact,
the poem abounds in observations of animal life which as yet await the
sanction of John Burroughs.

Taking a series of poems on the half-real, half-mythical King Olaf,
adding thereto a group of contrasting tales from Spanish, Italian,
Jewish, and American sources, assigning each narrative to an
appropriate character, binding the whole together with an Introduction,
Interludes, and a Conclusion, Longfellow produced the genial _Tales of
a Wayside Inn_. The device of the poem is old, but it can always be
given a new turn. Adapted to prose as well as verse, it may be used ‘in
little,’ as Hardy has done in _A Few Crusted Characters_, or in larger
form, as in _A Group of Noble Dames_.

No secret was made of the fact that the ‘Wayside Inn’ was the ‘Red
Horse Inn’ of Sudbury, Massachusetts, or that the characters, the
Sicilian, the Poet, the Student, the Spanish Jew, the Musician, and the
Theologian, were real people, friends of Longfellow.[34]

The reader who takes up _Tales of a Wayside Inn_ knows by instinct
that he may not look for the broad and leisurely treatment, the wealth
of beauty and harmony, which characterize _The Earthly Paradise_ of
Morris. That need not, however, prevent him from enjoying the _Tales_
on quite sufficient grounds. The poems are often too brief; some
are mere anecdotes ‘finished just as they are fairly begun.’ We are
prepared for a more generous treatment.

Though not written for that complex and formidable entity ‘the
child-mind,’ two poems in the collection, ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ and
‘King Robert of Sicily,’ are beloved of school-children and dear to
the amateur elocutionist. The most original of the tales is ‘The Saga
of King Olaf,’ drawn from the _Heimskringla_, and appropriately put
into the lips of the Musician. It is a poem redolent of the sea and the
forest. The theme was congenial to Longfellow, who loved ‘the misty
world of the north, weird and wonderful.’

Prompted by the good fortune of _Tales of a Wayside Inn_, the poet was
led to make additions to it. A second part appeared in _Three Books of
Song_, a third part in _Aftermath_. With these fifteen additional tales
the three parts were then collected into a single volume.


VII

_CHRISTUS, JUDAS MACCABÆUS, PANDORA, MICHAEL ANGELO_

As early as 1841 Longfellow had conceived the idea of an ‘elaborate
poem ... the theme of which would be the various aspects of Christendom
in the Apostolic, Middle, and Modern Ages.’ In 1851 _The Golden Legend_
appeared, with no word to indicate that it was the second part of a
trilogy. Seventeen years more elapsed and _The New England Tragedies_
came from the press, to be followed three years later by _The Divine
Tragedy_. The three parts were then arranged in chronological order and
the completed work given the title of _Christus, a Mystery_.

One may guess why the first part of the trilogy was the last to
be published. A bard the most indubitably inspired might question
his power to meet the infinite requirements of so lofty a theme.
Longfellow’s _Divine Tragedy_ has received less than due meed of
praise. It has an austere beauty. If a reader can be moved by the
Scripture narrative, he can scarcely remain unmoved by this reverent
handling of the story of the Christ. Through many lines the poet
follows the Scriptural version almost to the letter, bending the text
only enough to throw it into metrical form. Often the dialogue seems
bald and the transitions abrupt because the poet allows himself the
least degree of liberty. This severity and repression in the treatment
are one source of that power which _The Divine Tragedy_ certainly has.

Part two, _The Golden Legend_, is a retelling of the story of Prince
Henry of Hoheneck. Here, Longfellow reproduces with skill the light
and color of mediæval life, if not its darkness and diablerie. The
street-preaching, the miracle-play in the church, the revel of the
monks at Hirschau, and the lawless gayety of the pilgrims are all
painted with a clear and certain touch, but in colors almost too pale,
too delicate. Longfellow had not the courage or the taste to handle
these themes with the touch of almost brutal realism they seem to
require.

The third part of the trilogy, _The New England Tragedies_, consists
of two plays, _John Endicott_ and _Giles Corey of the Salem Farms_,
one dealing with the persecution of the Quakers, the other with the
witchcraft delusion. The first is the better. Edith Christison’s
arraignment of Norton in the church, her trial, punishment, her return
to the colony at the risk of her life, and the release of the Quakers
by the king’s mandamus, followed by Endicott’s death, are vigorously
depicted. The character of the governor is finely drawn, and the
last scene between Bellingham and Endicott is a strong and moving
conception. As he bends over the dead man, Bellingham says:--

    How placid and how quiet is his face,
    Now that the struggle and the strife are ended!
    Only the acrid spirit of the times
    Corroded this true steel. Oh, rest in peace,
    Courageous heart! Forever rest in peace!

The companion play, _Giles Corey_, shows what has been already
observed, how little adapted Longfellow’s genius was for dealing with
psychological mysteries. He could understand the mental conditions and
sympathize with persecutors and victims, but he could not reproduce the
uncanny atmosphere enveloping the witchcraft tragedies. _Giles Corey_
is a finished study of a theme which might have been developed into a
powerful play. It is profitable reading, yet if one would be carried
back into the horrors of that time he must go to Hawthorne’s ‘Young
Goodman Brown’ and not to _Giles Corey_. Poets are notorious for taking
liberties with the facts of history. But according to the late John
Fiske, the poetical conception of Cotton Mather as set forth in _The
New England Tragedies_ is much nearer truth than the popular conception
of the great Puritan minister based on the teachings of historians.

The little five-act play, _Judas Maccabæus_, is a piece of careful
workmanship, like everything to which Longfellow put his hand, and the
scene between Antiochus and Máhala rises into passionate energy. _The
Masque of Pandora_ was more to Longfellow’s taste, and if it does not
satisfy the classical scholar, who is proverbially hard to please,
it remains an attractive setting of one of the most attractive of
mythological stories.

The dramatic poem, _Michael Angelo_, though not usually accounted
Longfellow’s masterpiece, better deserves that rank than certain more
popular performances. Besides being a lovely example of his art, it is
the expression of his maturest thought. He kept it by him for years,
working on it with loving care, adding new scenes from time to time
and weighing critically the value of those already written. Finally he
put it to one side, and to show that he had not entirely carried out
his idea, the words ‘A Fragment’ were subjoined to the title. It was
published after his death.

_Michael Angelo_ is not a play, but a series of dramatic incidents
from the life of the great sculptor, illustrating his character, his
thought, his work, his friendships. Many passages display a strength
not commonly associated with Longfellow’s poetic genius. Little is
wanting to the delineation of Michael Angelo to create the effect of
massiveness. From the first monologue where he sits in his studio,
musing over his picture of the ‘Last Judgment,’ to the midnight scene
where Vasari finds him working on the statue of the Dead Christ, the
effect is cumulative. The other characters are no less skilfully
wrought. Vittoria Colonna is a beautiful conception, lofty yet human.
Equally attractive with a more earthly loveliness is Julia Gonzaga,
her friend, she to whom one to-day was worth a thousand yesterdays.
Titian, Cellini, the Pope and his cardinals, Vasari, Sebastiano, the
old servant Urbino, and the aged monk at Monte Luca effectively sustain
the parts assigned them, and unite to bring into always stronger relief
the character of the unique genius whom Longfellow has made his central
figure.


VIII

LAST WORKS

The translation of Dante was a difficult task to which Longfellow gave
himself for years with something like consecration. It is satisfactory
or it is not, according to the point of view. He who holds that verse
can never be translated into verse, and that a poem suffers least
by being rendered in prose, will make no exception in Longfellow’s
case. On the other hand, the reader who is not, and who has neither
the opportunity nor the power to become a scholar in Italian, owes
Longfellow an inestimable debt of gratitude. The unpoetic accuracy of
which some complain counts for a virtue. The translation remains, with
all that can be said against it, the work of a poet.

As age came on, Longfellow’s own verse, instead of losing in charm,
the rather increased. _Kéramos_, _Ultima Thule_, and _In the Harbor_
contain many of his loveliest and most gracious poems. ‘Not to be
tuneless in old age’ was his happy fortune.

       *       *       *       *       *

His skill in the sentimental, homely, and obviously moral has blinded
not a few readers to the larger aspects of Longfellow’s work.
One wearies, no doubt, of the ethical lesson that comes with the
inevitableness of fate. But there is no need of impatience, Longfellow
does not invariably preach. Besides, all tastes must be taken into
account. Many prefer the ethical lesson, unmistakably put.

Had Longfellow been more rugged, and had he been content to end his
poems now and then with a question mark (figuratively speaking) instead
of a full stop, there would have been much talk about the ‘depth of
his meaning;’ and had he been frankly suggestive on tabooed topics,
we should have heard a world of chatter about ‘the largeness of his
view’ and the surprising degree in which he was in ‘advance of his
time.’ Doubtless he lacked brute strength. Whitman could have spared
him a little of his own surplus, and neither poet would have been
the worse for the transfer. Nevertheless Longfellow had abundance of
power exerted in his own way, which was not the way of the world. What
preposterous criticism is that of Frederic Harrison, who characterizes
_Evangeline_ as ‘goody-goody dribble’!

Perhaps Longfellow should be most praised for his exquisite taste. He
was refined to the finger-tips, a gentleman not alone in every fibre of
his being but in every line of his work. The poet of the fireside and
the people was an aristocrat after all. Generations of culture seem to
be packed into his verses. In a country where so much is flamboyant,
boastful, restless, and crude, the influence of such a man is of the
loftiest and most benignant sort.


FOOTNOTES:

  [29] The first volume was printed in 1865 and sent to Italy in
       commemoration of the six hundredth anniversary of Dante’s
       birth.

  [30] _The Divine Tragedy_, _The Golden Legend_, and _The New
       England Tragedies_ reprinted in order as parts of a trilogy.

  [31] Lectures _On Translating Homer_.

  [32] _Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough_, p. 40.

  [33] Holmes: _Pages from an Old Volume of Life_.

  [34] Luigi Monti, T. W. Parsons, H. W. Wales, Israel Edrehi, Ole
       Bull, Daniel Treadwell.



IX

_John Greenleaf Whittier_


REFERENCES:

  =W. S. Kennedy=: _John Greenleaf Whittier, his Life, Genius, and
    Writings_, 1882.

  =S. T. Pickard=: _Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier_,
    1894.

  =Richard Burton=: _John Greenleaf Whittier_, ‘Beacon
    Biographies,’ 1901.

  =T. W. Higginson=: _John Greenleaf Whittier_, ‘English Men of
    Letters,’ 1902.

  =G. R. Carpenter=: _John Greenleaf Whittier_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1903.


I

HIS LIFE

John Greenleaf Whittier was born at East Haverhill, Massachusetts, on
December 17, 1807. His father, John Whittier, a farmer, was noted for
probity, sound judgment, and great physical strength. A man of few
words, he always spoke to the point, as when, in relation to public
charities with which he had officially to do, he said: ‘There are the
Lord’s poor and the Devil’s poor; there ought to be a distinction made
between them by the overseers of the poor.’ He had imperfect sympathy
with his son’s literary aspirations, but it were unjust to say that he
was wholly opposed to them.

Whatever lack there may have been on this score was abundantly made
up to the youth by his beautiful and saintly mother. Abigail (Hussey)
Whittier was her husband’s junior by twenty-one years. From her the
poet inherited his brilliant black eyes, a physical trait (mistakenly)
supposed to have been derived from the old colonial minister, Stephen
Bachiler, that enterprising and turbulent spirit who came to America
at the age of seventy, founded cities, disputed the authority of the
clergy, and finally astonished friend and enemy alike by marrying for
the third time at the age of eighty-nine.

Young Whittier was apparently destined to the toilsome life of his
farmer ancestors. He suffered under the ‘toughening process’ to which
New England country lads were formerly subjected, and became in
consequence a lifelong valetudinarian.

With his frail physique and uncertain health the ‘Quaker Poet’ affords
a marked contrast, not alone to his own father, but to that mighty
ancestor Thomas Whittier, founder of the American family, who at
sixty-eight years of age was able to do his share in hewing the oak
timbers for a new house in which he proposed to pass his declining
days. The building was erected about 1688. Thomas Whittier enjoyed the
use of it until his death in 1696. Five generations of Whittiers were
harbored beneath its roof, and here the poet was born. Although not a
Quaker himself, Thomas Whittier was a friend of the Friends, and for
taking the part of certain unlicensed exhorters was for a time deprived
of his rights as a freeman.

Whittier was early a reader and soon devoured the contents of his
father’s slender library. So insatiable was his thirst for books that
he would walk miles to borrow a volume of biography or travel. At the
age of fourteen he became fascinated with the poems of Burns, and under
their stimulus began to make rhymes himself.[35] On his first visit to
Boston he bought a copy of Shakespeare. Scott’s novels he borrowed, to
read them delightedly but with a troubled conscience.

His poetic aspirations were encouraged by his elder sister, Mary, who,
without Whittier’s knowledge, sent the verses entitled ‘The Exile’s
Departure’ to the Newburyport ‘Free Press,’ a short-lived journal
edited by young William Lloyd Garrison. They appeared in the issue
of June 8, 1826. Whittier has described his emotions on first seeing
himself in print. The paper was thrown to him by the news-carrier. ‘My
uncle and I were mending fences. I took up the sheet, and was surprised
and overjoyed to see my lines in the “Poet’s Corner.” I stood gazing at
them in wonder, and my uncle had to call me several times to my work
before I could recover myself.’

Other poems were offered and accepted. Curious to see his contributor,
Garrison drove over from Newburyport to the Whittier farm. The bashful
country boy could with difficulty be persuaded to meet his guest. Then
began a lifelong friendship not uncheckered by differences without
which friendship itself lacks zest.

Garrison urged on Whittier’s parents the importance of giving the
youth an education. Backed up by the influence of A. W. Thayer, editor
of the Haverhill ‘Gazette,’ who offered to take the lad into his own
home, Whittier got his father’s consent to his attending the newly
established Haverhill Academy. He paid for one term of six months by
making slippers, an art he learned from one of the farm hands, and for
another term by teaching school, which seemed to him a less enviable
mode of life than cobbling.

The favor accorded his verse stimulated invention. During 1827–28 he
published, under assumed names, nearly a hundred poems in the Haverhill
‘Gazette’ alone. A plan for bringing out a collection of these fugitive
pieces under the title of _Poems of Adrian_ came, however, to nothing.

Garrison, who had been doing editorial work in Boston for the Colliers,
publishers of ‘The Philanthropist’ and ‘The American Manufacturer,’
advised their getting Whittier to take his place. Whittier edited the
‘Manufacturer’ from January to August, 1829, when he was summoned home
by the illness of his father. But he had had a taste of journalism and
politics, and relished both. From January to July, 1830, he edited
the Haverhill ‘Gazette.’ His newspaper work made him acquainted with
George Prentice of ‘The New England Review,’ published in Hartford.
When Prentice left Connecticut for Kentucky, where he was to spend six
months and write a campaign life of Henry Clay, he urged the owners
of the ‘Review’ to engage Whittier as his substitute. Whittier was
responsible for the conduct of the paper for a year and a half (July,
1830, to January, 1832). In spite of many drawbacks, his father’s
death, his own illness, a disappointment in love, the period of his
Hartford residence was the happiest and the most stimulating he had
yet known. He printed his first volume, _Legends of New England_, a
medley of prose and verse, edited _The Literary Remains of John G. C.
Brainard_ (the sketch of Brainard’s life prefixed to the volume throws
much light on Whittier’s reading), and brought out the narrative poem
_Moll Pitcher_, a story of the once famous ‘Lynn Pythoness.’

On his return to Haverhill he played his part in local politics
and was talked of for Congress. Somewhat later he was drawn into
the anti-slavery movement and for the next twenty-seven years this
was his life. He was a member of the legislature in 1835, and was
reëlected the next year; but in general terms it may be said that
in publishing _Justice and Expediency_, and in uniting himself with
the small, unpopular, and exasperating party of Abolitionists, he
sacrificed hope of political advancement. He gave to the cause time,
health, reputation, and when he had it to give, money. In company with
Abolitionist leaders and orators he encountered mobs and speculated
philosophically on the chance of losing his life.

In 1837 he acted as a secretary to the American Anti-Slavery Society
in New York. From 1838 to 1840 he edited ‘The Pennsylvania Freeman,’
published in Philadelphia. During an Abolitionist convention,
Pennsylvania Hall, in which were the offices of the ‘Freeman,’ was
sacked and burned by a pro-slavery mob. Whittier, disguised in a wig
and a long overcoat, mingled with the rioters and contrived to save
a few of his papers. It was a more dangerous rabble than that he
encountered during the George Thomson riot at Concord, New Hampshire,
three years earlier. Whittier once remarked that he never really feared
for his life, but that he had no mind to a coat of tar and feathers.

A true son of Essex, he soon wearied of city life. ‘I would rather live
an obscure New England farmer,’ he said. ‘I would rather see the sunset
light streaming through the valley of the Merrimac than to look out
for many months upon brick walls, and Sam Weller’s “werry beautiful
landscape of chimney-pots.”’

He really had no choice in the matter, having been warned to give up
editorial work if he would keep his precarious hold on life. He obeyed
the warning. But with Whittier journalism was a disease. He had a
relapse in 1844, when he took charge of the ‘Middlesex Standard’ of
Lowell, and again, in 1845–46, when he was virtual editor of the ‘Essex
Transcript’ in Amesbury.

No restriction was placed on his doing work at home. He wrote
unceasingly, prose and verse, reaching his literary audience through
the ‘Democratic Review’ and his audience of reformers through Bailey’s
paper, ‘The National Era,’ both published in Washington. Whittier was
corresponding editor of the ‘Era’ from 1847 to 1850, and printed in its
columns, besides political articles, such now famous poems as ‘Maud
Muller,’ ‘Ichabod,’ ‘Tauler,’ and ‘The Chapel of the Hermits.’

The list of Whittier’s chief publications up to the year 1857 contains
seventeen titles: _Legends of New England_, 1831; _Moll Pitcher_,
1832 (revised edition 1840); _Justice and Expediency_, 1833; _Mogg
Megone_, 1836; _Poems written during the Progress of the Abolition
Question_, etc., 1837 (unauthorized issue); _Poems_, 1838; _Lays of my
Home and Other Poems_, 1843; _The Stranger in Lowell_, 1845; _Voices
of Freedom_, 1846; _The Supernaturalism of New England_, 1847;
_Leaves from Margaret Smith’s Journal_, 1849; _Poems_, 1849;[36] _Old
Portraits and Modern Sketches_, 1850; _Songs of Labor and Other Poems_,
1850; _The Chapel of the Hermits and Other Poems_, 1853; _Literary
Recreations and Miscellanies_, 1854; _The Panorama and Other Poems_,
1856.

The founding of the ‘Atlantic Monthly’ (1857) gave Whittier a more
assured place. His work was sought and the pay was generous. He became
an overseer of Harvard College in 1858. In 1860 the college made him a
Master of Arts, and in 1866 a Doctor of Laws.

His home for many years was in Amesbury, the farm at East Haverhill
having been sold in 1836. After the death of his mother and younger
sister he passed much of his time with kinsfolk at the house known as
‘Oak Knoll,’ in Danvers. For all his admiration of women, Whittier
never married. He enjoyed allusions to a supposititious Mrs. Whittier.
Writing to his niece, Mrs. Pickard, about some friend who was unhappy
over political defeat, Whittier said: ‘I told him I had been in the
same predicament ... and got abused worse than he did, for I was
charged with ill-treating my wife!’

Whittier was a birthright member of the Society of Friends and
influential in their councils. His advice was much sought and freely
given in terms of blended modesty, good sense, and humor.

During the last twenty years of his life Whittier published the
following volumes: _Home Ballads and Poems_, 1860; _In War Time and
Other Poems_, 1864; _National Lyrics_, 1865; _Snow-Bound_, 1866; _The
Tent on the Beach and Other Poems_, 1867; _Among the Hills and Other
Poems_, 1869; _Ballads of New England_, 1870; _Miriam and Other Poems_,
1871; _The Pennsylvania Pilgrim and Other Poems_, 1872; _Mabel Martin_,
1874; _Hazel-Blossoms_, 1875; _The Vision of Echard and Other Poems_,
1878; _The King’s Missive and Other Poems_, 1881; _The Bay of Seven
Islands and Other Poems_, 1883; _Saint Gregory’s Guest and Recent
Poems_, 1886; _At Sundown_, 1892.

The honors accorded him on his seventieth, eightieth, and eighty-fourth
anniversaries gave Whittier much happiness. He was especially pleased
to learn that the bells of St. Boniface, in Winnipeg, Manitoba
(celebrated in his ‘Red River Voyageur’), were rung for him at midnight
of December 17, 1891. Said the poet in his letter to Archbishop Tâché:
‘Such a delicate and beautiful tribute has deeply moved me. I shall
never forget it.’

Nothing was left undone that the tenderest love and wisest solicitude
could do for his comfort. His last illness was brief. He died at
Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, on September 7, 1892.


II

WHITTIER’S CHARACTER

Whittier’s shyness was proverbial. Those who knew him also knew
that beneath that shyness was a masterful spirit. Evasion and
inconclusiveness on the part of those with whom he dealt would not
avail. Whittier wanted to know where public men stood and for what they
stood. A politician himself, he understood the art of dealing with
politicians. To a certain candidate he said: ‘Thee cannot expect the
votes of our people unless thee speak more plainly.’ Being in great
need of the votes of ‘our people,’ the candidate was compelled to speak
at once and to use the words Whittier put into his mouth.

Another possessed of like skill in controlling men might have grown
despotic. Not so Whittier. Tactful and conciliatory, no grain of
selfishness was to be found in his composition. He worked for the cause
alone.

His physical courage, of which there are abundant illustrations,
was fully equal to his moral courage. The nerve required to face a
disciplined enemy, as in war, is always admirable; one would not wish
to underestimate it. But it is a type of courage not difficult to
comprehend. A glamour hangs about the battlefield. Men are carried
on by the esprit de corps. They do wonders and marvel at their
own courage afterwards. Facing a mob is another matter. A mob is
an assassin; the last thing it wants is fair play. Whittier had no
experiences like those to which Bailey and Garrison were subjected, but
he had enough to try his mettle.

He was one of the most modest of men, holding his achievements,
literary and otherwise, at far lower estimate than did the public. To
an anxious inquirer Whittier said that he did not think ‘Maud Muller’
worth serious analysis. He asked for criticism on his verses, and was
not slow to act upon it when given. His open-mindedness is shown in
the way he accepted Lowell’s suggestion about the refrain of ‘Skipper
Ireson’s Ride.’ He defended himself when the criticism touched his
motives or impugned his love of truth. Charged with having boasted that
his story of ‘Barbara Frietchie’ would live until it got beyond reach
of correction, Whittier replied: ‘Those who know me will bear witness
that I am not in the habit of boasting of anything whatever, least
of all of congratulating myself upon a doubtful statement outliving
the possibility of correction.... I have no pride of authorship to
interfere with my allegiance to truth.’

He was a stanch friend, and a helpful neighbor. His filial piety was
deep--no trait of his character was more pronounced. He was the most
devoted of sons, the best of brothers.

The seriousness of Whittier’s temper and mind was relieved by a keen
sense of humor which found expression in many engaging ways. His
letters written in young manhood are at times almost boisterously
mirthful. His humor grew subdued as he became older, but it never lost
its charm. Those who were nearest him realized how much it contributed
to making him the most companionable of men.


III

THE LITERARY CRAFTSMAN

‘I have left one bad rhyme ... to preserve my well known character in
that respect,’ says Whittier in a letter to Fields, his publisher. The
charge of laxity in rhymes was the one most often brought against him.
He labored under two capital disadvantages; he was self-taught and he
wrote always for a moral purpose. His objection to reprinting _Mogg
Megone_ grew out of the feeling, not that it was bad poetry,--though
he had no delusions about its artistic value,--but that it was not
calculated to do good. Ethics, rather than art, were uppermost in his
thought. There has never been question of his native power. He could
be exquisitely felicitous, but, having acquired the habit of writing
for a cause, of sacrificing nicety of phrase for vigor of thought
and rapidity of utterance, being eager always to strike a blow at
the critical moment, he found it difficult to write with a dominant
artistic motive. He wrote better (technically speaking) the older he
grew. It is difficult to realize as we listen to the rich strains of
his later years that Whittier could have been as inharmonious as he
often was in the first period of his poetic life. He confessed his
defect. To Fields he once said: ‘It’s lucky that other folks’ ears are
not so sensitive as thine.’

His variety of metres, if not great, was sufficiently ample to preclude
the feeling of sameness. His verse never comes laden with scholarly
suggestion in rhythm or thought, with the faint sweet echoes of
old-time poetry, as does Longfellow’s. Whittier was not ‘literary,’
though he made a noble addition to the literature of his country.

Whittier’s prose has been ignored rather than underestimated. It is
clear and forceful, often impassioned, and sometimes eloquent. Whether
a reputation could be based on it is another matter. Certainly it has
not been accorded the popular favor it deserves. Among a thousand
readers, for example, who know _Snow-Bound_ there are possibly two or
three who have read _Margaret Smith’s Journal_.

Of the seven prose sketches in _Legends of New England_ not one was
thought by the author worth preserving. He also suppressed much of the
contents of the two volumes published some fifteen years after the
_Legends_. Both these later books, _The Stranger in Lowell_ and _The
Supernaturalism of New England_, ought to be reprinted as they came
first from Whittier’s hand.

_The Stranger in Lowell_, a volume of more or less related essays,
is in part a record of impressions made on the author during a
brief residence in the new manufacturing town by the Merrimac. The
extraordinary growth of ‘The City of a Day’ was then, and is still,
a legitimate cause for wonder. All the eighteen papers are readable,
and that entitled ‘The Yankee Zincali’ is a little classic. Whittier’s
next volume of prose, _The Supernaturalism of New England_, consists of
nine chapters on witches, wizards, ghosts, apparitions, haunted houses,
charms, and the like. It is rather a wide survey of the subject,
from the Indian powahs to the Irish Presbyterians who settled in New
Hampshire in 1720, and brought with them, ‘among other strange matters,
potatoes and fairies.’ Whittier dwells on these traditions of his
country with deep interest and sets them forth with no little humor. It
is a fault of the book that he does not dwell on them at greater length.

_Leaves from Margaret Smith’s Journal_ is an admirable study of
colonial New England in 1678. The style is sweet, the narrative
flowing, the characters, many of them historical, are consistent and
lifelike, and the tone of delicate irony running through the book
is most engaging. Genuinely illuminating to the student of manners
are such passages in the journal as those describing the ordination
of Mr. Brock at Reading, the meeting at the inn with a son of Mr.
Increase Mather, ‘a pert talkative lad’ abounding in anecdotes of the
miraculous, the antics of Mr. Corbet’s negro boy Sam, and the encounter
on the way back to Boston with the good old deacon under the influence
of flip. A strong and engrossing plot might have made the book more
popular, as it might also have been inconsistent with the artlessness
of what purports to be a young girl’s journal.

_Old Portraits and Modern Sketches_ is a volume of character studies
of ancient worthies (such as Bunyan, Ellwood, Baxter, Marvell) and of
two or three moderns (like William Leggett, to whom Whittier pays a
generous tribute). _Literary Recreations and Miscellanies_ consists of
a reprint of material used in earlier books, together with a group of
reviews and other papers.


IV

NARRATIVE AND LEGENDARY VERSE

Whittier’s instinct drew him irresistibly to native themes. He believed
that the American poet should write about America. ‘New England is
full of Romance,’ he had said in his sketch of Brainard. ‘The great
forest which our fathers penetrated--the red men--their struggle and
their disappearance--the Powwow and the War-dance--the savage inroad
and the English sally--the tale of superstition, and the scenes of
Witchcraft,--all these are rich materials of poetry.’ And it is safe to
assume that Whittier never questioned the wisdom of his own choice of
subjects, though he was often dissatisfied with the treatment.

Much of Whittier’s early verse died a natural death. More ought in
his opinion to have done so. He marvelled at the ‘feline tenacity of
life’ exhibited by certain poems and thought it flat contradiction of
the theory of the survival of the fittest. He destroyed every copy
of _Legends of New England_ that he could get his hands on. He would
have been glad to suppress _Mogg Megone_. ‘Is there no way to lay the
ghosts of unlucky rhymes?’ he asked, when the question was raised of
reprinting the story in the ‘blue and gold’ volumes of 1857. It had
appeared in the first collected edition (1849), and again in 1870; but
when the definitive edition was published (1888), _Mogg Megone_ was
consigned to ‘the limbo of an appendix,’ and printed in type small
enough to make the reading a torture.

The plot is imaginary, but the characters are for the most part
historical. The outlaw Bonython sells his daughter to the Saco
chief Hegone, or, as he was commonly called, Mogg Megone. The girl
murders the savage as he lies drunk in her father’s hut. For Mogg had
boasted of killing her seducer. She flies to the settlement of the
Norridgewock Indians to confess to the Jesuit Sebastian Ralle, and is
repulsed by the angry priest, whose plans are thwarted by Megone’s
untimely death. Wandering about in agony, she sees the attack by the
English on Norridgewock, when Ralle was shot at the foot of the cross,
and later is found by Castine and his men, dead in the forest. The poem
is spirited and abounds in incident, but it is melodramatic. It lacks
the magic of Whittier’s art. Nevertheless he unjustly depreciated it.

A better performance is ‘The Bridal of Pennacook,’ with its strongly
marked characters of Passaconaway, Weetamoo, and Winnepurkit, its
contrasting pictures of the rich Merrimac valley and the wild Saugus
marshes. Along with this story of Indian life may be read ‘The
Fountain’ and the musical stanzas of the ‘Funeral Tree of the Sokokis.’
‘The Truce of Piscataqua’ and ‘Nauhaught, the Deacon’ are later poems
illustrating Indian character.

Living in what had been for many years one of the border towns of
Massachusetts, Whittier was naturally drawn to themes, partly historic,
partly legendary, touching the struggles between French, English, and
Indians. ‘Pentucket’ commemorates Hertel de Rouville’s night attack on
Haverhill. ‘St. John,’ a ballad of Acadia, describes the sack of La
Tour’s fortress by his rival, D’Aulnay. ‘Mary Garvin’ and ‘The Ranger’
are ‘border’ ballads.

Now and then he rhymes ‘a wild and wondrous story,’ such as ‘The
Garrison of Cape Ann,’ which he found in the _Magnalia Christi_:--

    Dear to me these far, faint glimpses of the dual life of old,
    Inward, grand with awe and reverence; outward, mean and coarse and cold;
    Gleams of mystic beauty playing over dull and vulgar clay,
    Golden-threaded fancies weaving in a web of hodden gray.

A number of the poems turn on the witchcraft persecutions: ‘Mabel
Martin,’ ‘The Witch of Wenham,’ and the fine ‘Prophecy of Samuel
Sewall.’ In _The Tent on the Beach_ are two more: ‘The Wreck of the
Rivermouth’ and ‘The Changeling.’

Whittier was always ready to speak on the injustice of injustice. His
Quaker ancestors used to receive gifts of forty stripes save one. They
were martyrs for the cause of religious liberty. And the sufferings
of the New England Quakers was a subject always to the poet’s hand.
He contemplated the wrongs that had been righted and was grateful
therefor; but it was a part of his mission to teach his readers what
progress had been made since the days in which state and church united
to persecute a harmless if sometimes extravagant people. The lesson
may be found in such poems as ‘How the Women went from Dover’ and ‘The
King’s Missive.’ Whittier knew that injustice is always ridiculous,
and a grim humor plays at times about his treatment of events in that
dreadful day, as in the story of Thomas Macy. The most characteristic
setting of his general theme is to be found in the spirited ballad of
‘Cassandra Southwick.’ The incident is told dramatically by the heroine
herself, but the passion which glows through the verse is true Whittier.


V

_VOICES OF FREEDOM_, _SONGS OF LABOR_, _IN WAR TIME_

The militant note in Whittier’s verse was sounded early. In 1832, when
he was twenty-five years old, he wrote the stanzas ‘To William Lloyd
Garrison.’ They were followed by ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’ (1833), ‘The
Slave-Ships’ (1834), ‘The Hunters of Men’ and ‘Stanzas for the Times’
(1835), ‘Clerical Oppressors’ (1836), and the stinging ‘Pastoral
Letter’ (1837). He was now fairly embarked on his mission.

The brunt of his attack fell on supine Northern politicians, clerical
apologists, and anxious business men who feared agitation might injure
their Southern trade. Nothing was more abhorrent to Whittier than
traffic in human flesh. He marvelled that it was not abhorrent to every
one, and strove with all his power to make it so. America, in his
belief, was a by-word among the nations, forever prating of ‘liberty’
while she bought and sold slaves.

As he was the assailant of timid vote-seekers, money-getters, and
ministers who defended slavery ‘on scriptural grounds,’ so was Whittier
the eulogist of all who made sacrifices for the cause, or who, like
‘Randolph of Roanoke,’ a man with every traditional motive to cling to
the peculiar institution, testified against it. _Voices of Freedom_
is a record of the guerilla warfare which Whittier waged during forty
years against slavery. With the additions he made to it in the progress
of the struggle, it became not only the largest division of his work
but one of the most notable. The history of Abolitionism is written
here. ‘The Pastoral Letter’ was Whittier’s response to the body of
Congregational ministers who deprecated the discussion of slavery as
tending to make trouble in the churches. ‘Massachusetts to Virginia’
was called out by Latimer’s case. ‘Texas,’ ‘Faneuil Hall,’ and the
lines ‘To a Southern Statesman’ are a protest against the annexation of
territory ‘sufficient for six new slave states.’ ‘For Righteousness’
Sake’ was inscribed to friends ‘under arrest for treason against the
slave power.’ The fine closing stanza deserves to be better known:--

    God’s ways seem dark, but, soon or late,
      They touch the shining hills of day;
      The evil cannot brook delay,
    The good can well afford to wait.
      Give ermined knaves their hour of crime;
    Ye have the future grand and great,
      The safe appeal of Truth to Time!

‘The Kansas Emigrants’ celebrates the Western advance, the coming of
the new Pilgrims, armed with the Bible and free schools. ‘Le Marais
du Cygne’ was written on hearing of the Kansas massacre in May, 1858.
‘The Quakers are Out,’ a campaign song (not included in the collected
writings), celebrates the Republican victory in Pennsylvania on the eve
of the National election:--

    Away with misgiving--away with all doubt,
    For Lincoln goes in, when the Quakers are out!

Not the least notable among these poems is ‘The Summons,’ in which
the poet contrasts the quiet of summer with the distant tumult of
approaching war, and his knowledge of his place in the approaching
struggle with consciousness of his inability to act.

The Voices of Freedom are often harsh and discordant. Lines were
written in hot haste and sent to press before the ink had time to
dry. The needs of the moment were imperative. There was little time
to correct and no time to polish. Had Whittier possessed a lyric gift
approximating that of Hugo or Swinburne, how wonderful must have been
his contribution to our literature. For the cause was great and his
devotion single. Much of the verse, however, is journalism.

He rises easily to poetic heights. ‘Massachusetts to Virginia’ has a
magnificent swing and pulsates with passion. When Webster’s defection
spread anger, consternation, and grief through the ranks of the party
of Freedom, Whittier penned the burning stanzas to which he gave the
title ‘Ichabod.’ This anti-slavery poem was published in _Songs of
Labor_, and is justly accounted one of the loftiest expressions of
Whittier’s genius.

_In War Time and Other Poems_ records the anxieties, fears, hopes, and
exultations incident to the great conflict between North and South.
Says the poet:--

                        ‘... our voices take
    A sober tone; our very household songs
    Are heavy with a nation’s griefs and wrongs;
    And innocent mirth is chastened for the sake
    Of the brave hearts that nevermore shall beat,
    The eyes that smile no more, the unreturning feet!’

The volume contains ‘Barbara Frietchie,’ perhaps the most popular
ballad of the war, based on an incident told to Whittier by Mrs.
Southworth, the novelist. One must reconstruct the times to comprehend
the extraordinary effect produced by this dramatic little incident.
Iconoclasts have made havoc with the story. If their points are well
taken, we have one proof more of the superiority of legend over history
for poetic purposes. Other noteworthy poems in this volume are ‘Thy
Will be Done’ and the magnificent hymn ‘Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott.’

    We wait beneath the furnace blast
      The pangs of transformation;
    Not painlessly doth God recast
      And mould anew the nation.
        Hot burns the fire
        Where wrongs expire;
        Nor spares the hand
        That from the land
      Uproots the ancient evil.


VI

_SNOW-BOUND_, _TENT ON THE BEACH_, _PENNSYLVANIA PILGRIM_, _VISION OF
ECHARD_

The volume of 1860, _Home Ballads and Poems_, contained two perfect
examples of Whittier’s art, namely, ‘My Playmate’ and ‘Telling the
Bees.’ To inquire what far-off experiences in the poet’s life prompted
the making of these exquisite ‘ballads,’ as Whittier called them, were
idle, poets being proverbially given to the use of the imagination.
The music of the dark pines on Ramoth Hill could be no sweeter than
it is. The theme of either poem is common enough among bards, and
perennially attractive. ‘My Playmate’ and ‘Telling the Bees,’ together
with ‘Amy Wentworth’ and ‘The Countess,’ all show, though in varying
degrees, how pregnant with poetic suggestion were the scenes amid which
Whittier passed his life. Even that urban and aristocratic little poem
‘Amy Wentworth’ derives half its charm from the world of associations
called up by the fog wreaths, the pebbled beach, and the sweet brier
blooming on Kittery-side.

The above-named poems, together with ‘The Barefoot Boy’ and ‘In
School-Days,’ suggest a phase of Whittier’s genius which found complete
expression in the ‘winter idyl,’ a picture of life in the old East
Haverhill homestead.

_Snow-Bound_ was published in 1866. What the author thought of it we
now know: ‘If it were not mine I should call it pretty good.’ The
public decided for itself and bought copies enough to fatten Whittier’s
lean purse with ten thousand dollars. The enviously-inclined should
remember that the poet was nearly sixty when this happened to him.
A twelvemonth later _The Tent on the Beach_ was published and began
selling at the rate of a thousand copies a day. Whittier wrote to
Fields: ‘This will never do; the swindle is awful; Barnum is a saint to
us.’

Readers who find difficulty in comprehending the enthusiasm that
_Snow-Bound_ evoked must reflect that there are strange creatures in
the world who actually like winter. For them Whittier had a particular
message. He has reproduced the atmosphere of the New England landscape
under storm-cloud and falling snow with utmost precision. No important
detail is wanting, and no detail is emphasized to the injury of
the general effect. The exactness and simplicity of the touch are
wholly admirable. The result is as exquisite as the means to it are
unostentatious.

_Snow-Bound_ is a favorite because of its homely, sweet realism,
because of the poetic glow thrown on old-fashioned scenes, because of
the variety of moods (which, lying between the extremes of playfulness
and deepest feeling, shade naturally from one to the next); and because
of the reverential spirit, the high confidence and trust. The poem
is autobiographical, but it needs no ‘key’ to give it interest. The
characters are types.

In _The Tent on the Beach_ it is related how a poet,[37] a publisher
(who in this instance, contrary to the traditions of his race, is a
friend of the poet), and a traveller beguile an evening at the seaside
with the reading of manuscript verses from the publisher’s portfolio.
The tales, eleven in number, with a closing lyric on ‘The Worship
of Nature,’ are too uniformly sombre. The one called ‘The Maids of
Attitash’ is blithe enough, but the gray tints need even more relief.

Whittier’s power in descriptions of sea and sky is displayed at its
best in this volume. One does not soon forget this stanza from the
prelude:--

    Sometimes a cloud, with thunder black,
      Stooped low upon the darkening main,
    Piercing the waves along its track
      With the slant javelins of rain.
    And when west-wind and sunshine warm
    Chased out to sea its wrecks of storm,
    They saw the prismy hues in thin spray showers
    Where the green buds of waves burst into white froth-flowers!

Even better is the description of the breakers seen by twilight:--

    ... trampling up the sloping sand,
    In lines outreaching far and wide,
      The white-maned billows swept to land,
    Dim seen across the gathering shade,
      A vast and ghostly cavalcade.

The change from the mist and confusion of the brief tempest to the
clear after effect was never better rendered:--

    Suddenly seaward swept the squall;
      The low sun smote through cloudy rack;
    The Shoals stood clear in the light, and all
      The trend of the coast lay hard and black.

_Among the Hills_, _Miriam_, and _The Pennsylvania Pilgrim_ come next
in order of publication. The first is a romance of New England country
life; the second is ‘Oriental and purely fiction;’ the third, partly
historical and partly imaginative, is an attempt to reconstruct life in
Penn’s colony towards the close of the Seventeenth Century. Whittier
said of _The Pennsylvania Pilgrim_: ‘It is as long as _Snow-Bound_,
and better, but nobody will find it out.’ The poet felt that too
little had been said in praise of the humanizing influences at work in
the colonies by the Schuylkill and the Delaware. The Pilgrim Father
here celebrated is Daniel Pastorius, who planted the settlement of
Germantown. He was the first American abolitionist. The poem abounds
in happy pictures of scenery, and in tenderly humorous sketches of the
quaint characters who found peace, shelter, and, above all, toleration,
under the beneficent rule of Pastorius.

_The Vision of Echard_ will serve to introduce Whittier’s distinctively
religious poems. A characteristic performance, it admirably illustrates
his manner, diction, cast of thought. First, the scenes of great
natural beauty, where historical memories are overlaid and blended
with ideas of ceremonial pomp associated with formal religion; and
then, projected on this rich background, the dreamer and his dream. The
blended walls of sapphire in Echard’s vision ‘blazed with the thought
of God:’--

    Ye bow to ghastly symbols,
      To cross and scourge and thorn;
    Ye seek his Syrian manger
      Who in the heart is born.

           *       *       *       *       *

    O blind ones, outward groping,
      The idle quest forego;
    Who listens to His inward voice
      Alone of him shall know.

           *       *       *       *       *

    A light, a guide, a warning,
      A presence ever near,
    Through the deep silence of the flesh
      I reach the inward ear.

           *       *       *       *       *

    The stern behest of duty,
      The doom-book open thrown,
    The heaven ye seek, the hell ye fear,
      Are with yourselves alone.

Whittier did not include ‘The Preacher’ among his religious poems.
This fine picture of the ‘great awakening’ might be so classified.
Also ‘The Chapel of the Hermits,’ ‘Tauler,’ and yet others. In general
the religious poems consist of meditations on sacred characters and
scenes, poetic settings of Biblical narrative, and reflective poems in
which Whittier gives voice to phases of his spiritual life, and above
all to a faith so broad that the distinctions of sect and creed are
lost in its catholic charity. ‘Questions of Life,’ ‘The Over-Heart,’
‘Trinitas,’ ‘The Shadow and the Light,’ and ‘The Eternal Goodness’ are
the expressions of this lofty and inspiring side of his poetic genius.

Whittier’s singing voice lost none of its flexibility but rather gained
as time went on. ‘The Henchman’ was a striking performance for a man of
seventy. ‘It is not exactly a Quakerly piece, nor is it didactic, and
it has no moral that I know of,’ observed Whittier. He must have known
that it had the moral of exquisite beauty. Indeed he admitted that it
was ‘not unpoetical.’

His last utterance was a little group of poems, _At Sundown_, having
for the controlling thought the close of life’s day. One of them,
‘Burning Drift-Wood,’ was the poet’s farewell; and with the quotation
of four of its stanzas we may bring to an end this brief survey of
Whittier’s work.

    What matter that it is not May,
      That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
    That darker grows the shortening day,
      And colder blows the wintry air!

    The wrecks of passion and desire,
      The castles I no more rebuild,
    May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
      And warm the hands that age has chilled.

           *       *       *       *       *

    I know the solemn monotone
      Of waters calling unto me;
    I know from whence the airs have blown
      That whisper of the Eternal Sea.

    As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
      I hear that sea’s deep sound increase.
    And, fair in sunset light, discern
      Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.


FOOTNOTES:

  [35] Whittier’s Autobiographical Letter, in Carpenter’s _Whittier_.

  [36] The first collected edition made with Whittier’s consent.

  [37] Whittier, J. T. Fields, and Bayard Taylor.



X

_Nathaniel Hawthorne_


REFERENCES:

  =Julian Hawthorne=: _Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife_, second
    edition, 1885.

  =Horatio Bridge=: _Personal Recollections of Nathaniel
    Hawthorne_, 1893.

  =G. E. Woodberry=: _Nathaniel Hawthorne_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1902.


I

HIS LIFE

Among the passengers in the ship which brought Winthrop and Dudley to
the New World was William Hathorne, the ancestor of the novelist. A
man of character, versatile, naturally eloquent, and a born leader, he
rose to a position of influence in the colony. One of his sons, John
Hathorne, was destined to sinister renown as a judge at the trials for
witchcraft held at Salem in 1691.

Daniel Hathorne, a grandson of the old witch judge, took to the
sea, and during the Revolutionary War served as a privateersman. He
had seven children. Nathaniel, his third son, also a sea-captain,
married Elizabeth Clarke Manning, and became the father of Nathaniel
Hawthorne, the novelist, who was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on July
4, 1804.

Captain Hawthorne died at Surinam in 1808. The rigid seclusion in which
his widow lived after her husband’s death had a marked effect on her
son, quickening his sensibilities and at the same time clouding his
lively nature with a shadow of premature gravity.

Hawthorne’s boyhood was passed partly at Salem, partly on the shores of
Sebago Lake, in Maine, where his grandfather Manning owned large tracts
of land. His reading for pleasure included Clarendon and Froissart,
to say nothing of that old-time boys’ delight, the Newgate Calendar.
The first book that he bought with his own money was Spenser’s _Faery
Queen_. At sixteen he had read _Caleb Williams_, _St. Leon_, and
_Mandeville_. ‘I admire Godwin’s novels and intend to read all of them.’

He entered Bowdoin College in the same class with Longfellow and
Franklin Pierce, and was graduated in 1825. For the next twelve years
he lived the life of a recluse in his own home at Salem, indulging his
passion for writing and for taking twilight walks. It was the period of
his literary apprenticeship. Later he was, as he says, ‘drawn somewhat
into the world and became pretty much like other people.’ In 1828 he
published, anonymously and at his own expense, a novel, _Fanshawe_. He
made some mystery about it, binding by solemn promises the few who
were in the secret of the authorship, not to betray it. The public was
indifferent to the book, and Hawthorne afterwards destroyed the copies
he could find. His early sketches and stories were published in annuals
such as ‘The Token,’ and in periodicals such as ‘The New England
Magazine,’ ‘Knickerbocker,’ and ‘The Democratic Review.’ For the most
part they ‘passed without notice.’

In 1837 appeared a volume of eighteen of these sketches and stories,
to which Hawthorne gave the title of _Twice-Told Tales_. An enlarged
edition, containing twenty-one additional stories, appeared in 1842.
Between the two, Hawthorne brought out a group of children’s stories,
_Grandfather’s Chair_, _Famous Old People_, and the _Liberty Tree_, all
in 1841, and _Biographical Stories for Children_, 1842.

When Bancroft became Collector of the Port of Boston, he appointed
Hawthorne as weigher and gauger (1839). Thrown out by the change of
administration (1841), Hawthorne invested his savings in the Brook
Farm enterprise. This move (described by his latest biographer as ‘the
only apparently freakish action of his life’) was made in the hope of
providing a home for his betrothed, Sophia Peabody. He threw himself
with good humor into the life of the community, planted potatoes, cut
straw, milked three cows night and morning, and signed his letters to
his sister ‘Nath. Hawthorne, Ploughman.’ Reports circulated that the
author of the _Twice-Told Tales_ might be seen dressed in a farmer’s
frock, carrying milk to Boston every morning; also that he was ‘to do
the travelling in Europe _for the Community_.’

Brook Farm proved ‘thralldom and weariness,’ and Hawthorne abandoned
it, losing, as he later discovered, the one thousand dollars he had
invested. In July, 1842, he married and settled in the ‘Old Manse’ at
Concord.

He had now enough and to spare of the leisure which a deliberate writer
finds indispensable. In a room overlooking the battlefield (the room in
which Emerson had written _Nature_) Hawthorne penned many of the tales
afterwards incorporated in _Mosses from an Old Manse_. The period of
his residence at Concord will always seem to those who have studied its
many charming records not undeserving the characterization of idyllic.
It was brought to a close in 1845, when there seemed a likelihood (made
a certainty the following year) of his becoming Surveyor of Customs
for the Port of Salem. Hawthorne held this post until June, 1849. His
removal gave him time for the working out of an idea that had possessed
him for many months, and which took shape in the form of his great
romance, _The Scarlet Letter_.

From the spring of 1850 to the autumn of 1851 Hawthorne lived at Lenox
in the Berkshire Hills, and there wrote _The House of the Seven
Gables_. He then removed to West Newton, where, during the winter of
1851–52, he wrote _The Blithedale Romance_. In June, 1852, he took
possession of a house in Concord, which he had bought of Alcott. He had
but fairly settled himself in his new home (‘The Wayside’ he called it)
when his friend Franklin Pierce, now President of the United States,
made him consul at Liverpool.

Hawthorne assumed his charge in July, 1853, and conducted its affairs
with energy and skill until September, 1857. The period of his English
residence was rich in experiences, of which social honors formed the
least part. The quiet, brooding observer had no wish to be lionized and
apparently discouraged the few well-meant advances that were made. He
once saw Tennyson at the Arts’ Exhibition at Manchester, and rejoiced
in him more than in all the other wonders of the place; but it was like
Hawthorne to have been content merely to gaze at the laureate without
presuming on his own achievements as ground for claiming acquaintance.

After leaving Liverpool, Hawthorne spent two winters in Italy, where
_The Marble Faun_ was conceived. The greater part of the actual writing
was done in England, at Redcar on the North Sea.

At this point it will be well to take note of Hawthorne’s principal
writings subsequent to the publication of the second edition of the
_Twice-Told Tales_. They are: _The Celestial Railroad_, 1843; _Mosses
from an Old Manse_, 1846;[38] _The Scarlet Letter_, 1850; _The House
of the Seven Gables_, 1851; _A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys_, 1852;
_The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales_, 1852; _The Blithedale
Romance_, 1852; _Life of Franklin Pierce_, 1852; _Tanglewood Tales_,
1853; _The Marble Faun, or the Romance of Monte Beni_, 1860;[39] _Our
Old Home_, 1863.

The posthumous publications are: _Passages from the American Note-Books
of Nathaniel Hawthorne_, 1868; _Passages from the English Note-Books_
..., 1870; _Passages from the French and Italian Note-Books_ ...,
1872; _Septimius Felton_, 1872; _The Dolliver Romance_, 1876; _Doctor
Grimshawe’s Secret_, 1883.

In June, 1860, after an absence of seven years, Hawthorne returned
to ‘The Wayside.’ He felt the burden of the political situation now
culminating in civil war. With little sympathy for the cause of
Abolition, Hawthorne, when the conflict had actually begun, found it
‘delightful to share in the heroic sentiment of the time’ and to feel
that he had a country.[40]

His health began to decline and he was spiritless and depressed. In
March, 1864, accompanied by his friend W. D. Ticknor, he started
southward, hoping for benefit from the change. Ticknor, who was
seemingly in perfect health, died suddenly in Philadelphia. Hawthorne
was unnerved by the shock. In May he undertook a carriage journey
among the New Hampshire hills with Pierce. The friends proceeded by
easy stages, reaching Plymouth in the evening of May 18. Hawthorne
was growing visibly weaker and Pierce had already determined that he
would send for Mrs. Hawthorne. Shortly after midnight he went into his
friend’s room. Hawthorne was apparently sleeping. He went again between
three and four in the morning. Hawthorne was dead.


II

HAWTHORNE’s CHARACTER

‘I am a man, and between man and man there is always an insuperable
gulf,’ said Kenyon in _The Marble Faun_.

Hawthorne might have been speaking through Kenyon’s lips, so accurately
does the saying voice his private thought. He lived in a world apart.
No experience of custom-house, consulate, or farm could bring him
quite out of his world into the common world of men. Hawthorne had
more reason than Emerson to complain of the wall between him and
his fellow-mortals. When glib talkers were displaying no end of
conversational change, Hawthorne kept his hands in his pockets. He had
no mind to indulge in that form of matching pennies known as small talk.

Observers have voiced their impressions of him in different ways;
their testimony is not discordant. The romantically inclined described
Hawthorne as mysterious. Plain people thought him queer. Even his
brother authors found him odd. Longfellow described Hawthorne as ‘a
strange owl, a very peculiar individual, with a dash of originality
about him very pleasant to behold.’ Yet Hawthorne was without a grain
of affectation, and took keen interest in the homely facts of life. His
books everywhere betray this interest. He who wrote that description
of his kitchen garden in _The Old Manse_ would seem to be just the
man to lean over the fence and talk cabbages and squashes with some
neighborhood farmer. And perhaps he did.

He was not fond of men of letters as a class--which is not surprising.
The friends who stood close to him were not literary. Bridge was a
naval officer. Pierce was a politician, representative of a type for
which Hawthorne had contempt. Hillard was a lawyer, a man of the world.

Hawthorne was not without his share of ‘human nature,’ as we say.
He had his prejudices, and they were sometimes deeply rooted. When
smarting under a sense of injustice he could wield a caustic pen. He
was a good hater, but not narrow-minded. He hated spirit-rapping,
table-tipping, and all the vulgar machinery and manifestations of a
vulgar delusion. He hated noise, brawling, and dissension. He loved his
home. His letters to his wife reveal a nature of exquisite delicacy. He
loved children, Nature, and he was chivalrous in his attitude towards
the animal creation.

A trait of Hawthorne’s character comes out in the following incident.
He proposed to dedicate _Our Old Home_ to Franklin Pierce. This was
in 1863. The publishers, it is said, were filled with ‘consternation
and distress.’ The ex-president’s name was not one to conjure with.
Hawthorne explained his position: ‘I find that it would be a piece of
poltroonery in me to withdraw either the dedication or the dedicatory
letter.... If Pierce is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is
enough to sink the volume, there is so much the more need that an old
friend should stand by him. I cannot, merely on account of pecuniary
profit or literary reputation, go back from what I have deliberately
felt and thought it right to do.... As for the literary public, it must
accept my book precisely as I see fit to give it, or let it alone.’

Friendship sometimes has in it an element of perversity, and has been
known to delight in petty martyrdom. There was nothing of this in
Hawthorne. All he notes is that friendship is not a commodity.


III

THE WRITER

Hawthorne knew the secret of producing magical effects by quiet means.
He had perfect command of the materials by which are rendered the
half tones, the delicate shadings, the mysterious opalescent hues of
beautiful prose. Yet his manner is unostentatious and his vocabulary
simple. There are writers in whose work the feeling excited of
pleasurable surprise can be traced to a particular word glittering like
a diamond or a sapphire. With Hawthorne the effects are elusive, not
always to be apprehended at the moment.

The beauty of his prose is best explained by the beauty of the ideas;
the natural phrasing serves but to define it, as physical loveliness
may be accentuated by simplicity of dress. Hawthorne’s thoughts, being
exquisite in themselves, make ornament superfluous.

There is no trace of effort in his writing. _The Scarlet Letter_, for
example, reads as if it had come ‘like a breath of inspiration.’ Such
directness and precision of touch must always be a source of wonder
and delight, not alone to writers who fumble their sentences but to
skilled literary craftsmen as well. In Henry James’s admirable story
‘The Death of the Lion’[41] is a paragraph which suggests Hawthorne’s
manner. The regal way in which the famous novelist, Neil Paraday, adds
perfect sentence to perfect sentence is altogether like Hawthorne.

Economy of phrase is one of his virtues. In Hawthorne there are no
wasted or superfluous sentences, not even a word in excess. Something
inexorably logical enters into his work, as in the poetic art. This
economy extends to his books as a whole. For stories so rich in ideas,
so heavy with suggestion, they are short rather than long. Yet the
movement is always leisurely. There is no haste or eagerness. A few
strokes of the pen, made with restful deliberation, serve to carry
the reader into the very heart of a tragedy. He cannot but admire the
superb strength which with so little visible effort could bring him so
far.


IV

THE SHORT STORIES

_TWICE-TOLD TALES_, _MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE_, _THE SNOW-IMAGE_

Hawthorne’s real entrance into literature dates from the publication
of the _Twice-Told Tales_, a series of harmoniously framed narratives
which have maintained their rank unmoved by the capriciousness of
popular taste.

The sources are in part colonial history or historical legend and
tradition. ‘The Gray Champion’ is an incident of the tyranny of Andros.
‘The Maypole of Merry Mount’ celebrates the madcap revelries of the
first settlers at Wollaston. In ‘Endicott and the Red Cross’ Hawthorne
records a dramatic incident in the history of his native town, and
introduces, by the way, a motive that later was to develop into his
masterpiece.

The ‘Legends of the Province House’ (‘Howe’s Masquerade,’ ‘Edward
Randolph’s Portrait,’ ‘Lady Eleanore’s Mantle,’ and ‘Old Esther
Dudley’) have their warp of historical truth, but the imaginative
element is dominant. ‘The Gentle Boy’ is Hawthorne’s sympathetic
tribute to the persecuted sect of the Quakers. ‘Sunday at Home,’
‘Snow-Flakes,’ ‘Sights from a Steeple,’ ‘Footprints on the Seashore,’
represent a type of literature which former generations enjoyed, and
which modern magazine editors would decline with energy and quite
perfunctory thanks.

There are stories of horror and psychological mystery. The author of
‘Markheim’ might have chosen a theme like that treated in ‘Wakefield,’
or in ‘The Prophetic Pictures.’ His handling would have been different.
We do not gladly suffer an obvious moral in these days. No one would
now dare to put ‘A Parable’ for the explanatory title of his narrative,
as Hawthorne has done in ‘The Minister’s Black Veil,’ or advise the
reader that the experiences of David Swan (if experiences those can be
called where a man sleeps and things _do not_ happen to him) argue ‘a
superintending Providence.’

In _Mosses from an Old Manse_ Hawthorne’s gain in power is marked. He
still ‘moralizes’ his legends; but the force of the conception and the
richness of the imagery drive the philosophy into the background. The
grim and uncanny humor of which Hawthorne had a masterful command is
displayed to the full in this book. No better illustration can be cited
than the scene where the old witch Mother Rigby exhorts the scarecrow,
she had so cunningly fashioned, to be a man. It is a grotesque, a
gruesome, and a mirth-provoking scene.

Hawthorne had brooded long over the superstitious past with which
his own history was so singularly linked. Among the fruit of these
meditations was the story of ‘Young Goodman Brown.’ Like the minister
in the fearful narrative of ‘Thrawn Janet,’ Goodman Brown had been in
the presence of the powers of evil; but unlike the minister, he no
longer believed in virtue.

_Mosses from an Old Manse_ also includes odd conceits such as ‘The
Celestial Railroad,’ a new enterprise built from the famous City of
Destruction, a ‘populous and flourishing town,’ to the Celestial City.
The dreamer in this modern Pilgrim’s Progress takes the journey under
the personal conduct of Mr. Smooth-it-away and notes with interest
the improvements in methods of transportation since Bunyan’s time.
Less ingenious but no less amusing are ‘The Hall of Fantasy,’ ‘The
Procession of Life,’ and ‘The Intelligence Office.’ Monsieur de
l’Aubépine loved an allegorical meaning.

Between the _Twice-Told Tales_ and the _Mosses_ Hawthorne published
a group of children’s stories. _Grandfather’s Chair_ and the two
succeeding volumes consist of little narratives of colonial history,
in which our national exploits are celebrated in the tone of confident
Americanism so much deplored by Professor Goldwin Smith. There are
‘asides’ for grown people, as when Grandfather tells the children that
Harvard College was founded to rear up pious and learned ministers,
and that old writers called it ‘a school of the prophets.’

‘Is the college a school of the prophets now?’ asked Charley.

‘You must ask some of the recent graduates,’ answered Grandfather.

The _Wonder-Book_ and its sequel, the _Tanglewood Tales_, contain new
versions of old classical myths, the Gorgon’s Head, the Minotaur,
the Golden Fleece, and nine more. Here the adult reader has a chance
to feel the magic of Hawthorne’s art in a form where it seems most
tangible but is no less elusive. He will be astonished at the air of
reality given these old legends.

The perfect example of his work in this genre (the child’s story) is
the initial fantasy of _The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales_.
Such complete interweaving of the imaginative and the realistic is
little short of marvellous. And yet there are people who say that
perfect art cannot subsist in company with a moral. They may be
commended to the account of the common-sensible man who in the goodness
of his heart brought the odd, glittering, little snow-fairy into the
house and put her down in front of the hot stove.


V

THE GREAT ROMANCES

_SCARLET LETTER_, _HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES_, _BLITHEDALE ROMANCE_,
_MARBLE FAUN_

In addition to being an engrossing narrative and in every way a supreme
illustration of Hawthorne’s art, _The Scarlet Letter_ is a study in
will power. Of the four human lives involved in this tragedy, that of
Hester Prynne is the most absorbing, as her character is the loftiest.
Carried to the place of shame, her dark Oriental beauty irradiates all
about her, and she bears herself like a queen. Her punishment is her
own, she will ask none to share it. Her sacrifice has been infinite,
but it asks nothing in return. She bears with regal patience slight
and insult, and that worst punishment of all, the wondering terror of
little children, who flee her approach as of an evil thing.

Hawthorne has brought out with infinite skill the dreariness of the
years following the public disgrace when Hester has no longer the help
of a rebellious pride such as carried her almost exultantly through
the first crises of the dungeon and the pillory. With a refinement of
art the author adds one last bitter drop to Hester Prynne’s cup of
bitterness in the wasting away of her superb beauty. But as the lines
of her face hardened and the natural and external graces disappeared,
the great soul waxed greater, more capable of love and pity and
tenderness. She became a ministering angel whose coming was looked for
as if she had indeed been sent from Heaven.

It was a singular fancy of Hawthorne’s to give Hester a child like
Pearl, precocious, fitful, enigmatic, a will-o’-the-wisp, more akin
to the ‘good people’ of legendary lore than to the offspring of human
men and women. This too was a part of Hester’s discipline, that this
_un_-human, elf-like creature should have sprung from her, with a power
transcending that of other children to mix pain with pleasure in a
mother’s life.

Looking at Roger Chillingworth as he appears in his ordinary life, one
sees only the wise, benevolent physician, infinitely solicitous for the
welfare of his young friend Arthur Dimmesdale. Surprise him when the
mask of deep-thoughted benevolence is for the moment laid aside and it
is the face of a demon that one beholds.

Without a grain of pity for his victim he probes the minister’s soul.
Morbidly eager, he welcomes every sign that makes for his theory of
a hidden, a mental rather than a physical sickness. He gloats with
malignant joy over the discovery that this spiritually minded youth
has inherited a strong animal nature. Here is a deep and resistless
undercurrent of passion which has led to certain results. An
unflinching and cruel analysis will make clear what those results have
been. Suspicion becomes certainty, but proof is still wanting.

For terrible suggestiveness there are but few scenes in American
fiction comparable with that where Chillingworth bends over the
sleeping minister in his study and puts aside the garment that always
closely covered his breast. The poor victim shuddered and slightly
stirred. ‘After a brief pause, the physician turned away. But with what
a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror! With what a ghastly rapture, as
it were, too mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features, and
therefore bursting through the whole ugliness of his figure, and making
itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant gestures with which
he threw up his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon the
floor! Thus Satan might have comported himself when a precious human
soul is lost to heaven and won into his kingdom. But what distinguished
the physician’s ecstasy from Satan’s was the trait of wonder in it!’

Dimmesdale is the deeply pathetic figure in this tragedy of souls.
Seven years of hypocrisy might well bring the unhappy man to the
pitiable condition in which he is found when the lines of interest
in the story draw to a focus. Day by day, month by month, his was a
life of lies. No course of action seemed open to the wretched minister
which did not involve piling higher the mountain of falsehood. To lie
and to scourge himself for lying--this was his whole existence. We
praise Hester Prynne’s courage. Not less extraordinary was Dimmesdale’s
wonderful display of will power. A weaker man would have confessed at
once, or fled, or committed suicide. The minister may not be accused of
stubbornly holding to his course from fear. He feared but one thing:
the shock to the great cause for which he stood, the shame that the
revelation of his guilt would bring upon the church, the loss of his
power to do good, the spectacle, for the eyes of mocking unbelievers,
of the ‘full-fraught man and best indued’ proved the guiltiest. This
were indeed ‘another fall of man.’

Incomparable as _The Scarlet Letter_ undoubtedly is, there are admirers
of Hawthorne’s genius who have pronounced _The House of the Seven
Gables_ the better story of the two. The judgment may be erroneous, it
is at least not eccentric.

In handling the genealogical details of the first chapter, Hawthorne
showed a deft touch. The descendants of the proud old Colonel Pyncheon
are as clearly defined as if the name and station of each had been
enumerated. With no less ease does one follow the fortunes of the
humble house of Matthew Maule. This progenitor of an obscure race had
been executed for witchcraft. All of his descendants bore the stamp
of this event. They were ‘marked out from other men.’ In spite of an
exterior of good fellowship, there was a circle about the Maules,
and no man had ever stepped foot inside of it. Unfortunate in its
early history, this family was never other than unfortunate. It had
an inheritance of sombre recollections, which it brooded upon, though
unresentfully.

Its life was linked with that of the proud house whose visible mansion
was founded on property wrested from the old martyr to superstition.
For Colonel Pyncheon had shown acrimonious zeal in the witchcraft
persecutions, and unbecoming speed in seizing on the wizard’s little
plot of ground with its spring of soft and pleasant water. Inseparable
as substance and shadow, wherever there was a Pyncheon there was also
a Maule. An endless chain of dark events depended from that crime
of witchcraft days. On the scaffold the condemned wizard prophesied
concerning his accuser: ‘God will give him blood to drink.’ Men shook
their heads when Colonel Pyncheon built the House of the Seven Gables,
on the site of Matthew Maule’s hut. They had not long to wait for the
fulfilment of the prophecy. The spring became bitter, and on the day
when the stately dwelling was first opened to guests Colonel Pyncheon
was found dead in his study, with blood-bedabbled ruff and beard.
Against this tragedy of old colonial days as a background Hawthorne
projects the later story of _The House of the Seven Gables_.

In its simplest aspect the narrative concerns the persecution of
an unfortunate and weak representative of the Pyncheon family by a
powerful and unscrupulous representative. At intervals through the
centuries the spirit of the great Puritan ancestor made its appearance
in the flesh, as if the Colonel ‘had been gifted with a sort of
intermittent immortality.’ Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon stands as a modern
reincarnation of the old persecutor of witches. Clifford, his cousin,
is a victim of the law at one of those moments when the law seems
to operate almost automatically. Suspected of murder, he might have
been cleared had Jaffrey but told what he knew, the real manner of
their uncle’s death. This were to disclose certain of his own moral
delinquencies, and Jaffrey keeps silent. And thus it happens that, both
being in their young manhood, the one is incarcerated and the other
enters on a path leading to influence, wealth, and good repute.

To the ‘somber dignity of an inherited curse’ the Pyncheons added yet
another dignity in the form of a shadowy claim to an almost princely
tract of land in the North. The connecting link, some parchment signed
with Indian hieroglyphics, had been lost when the Colonel died; but the
poorest of his race felt an accession of pride as he contemplated that
possible inheritance. And the richest of modern Pyncheons, the Judge,
was not proof against ambitious dreams excited by the same thought.

Affecting to believe that Clifford knows where the lost document is
hidden, the Judge tries to force himself on his victim, who, made
almost an imbecile by long imprisonment, is now, after his release,
harbored in the House of the Seven Gables and cared for by his aged
sister Hepzibah and his fair young cousin Phœbe. And while the Judge
is waiting, watch in hand, for the terror-stricken Clifford to come to
him, Death comes instead. Maule’s curse is fulfilled in yet another
generation. The suspicion that would have fallen anew on Clifford is
averted by Holgrave. But Holgrave, as he chooses to call himself, is
the last living representative of the family of Maule the wizard. And
it was for one of the persecuted race to save the unhappiest member
of the family by which his own had suffered. Holgrave marries Phœbe
Pyncheon and the blood of the two families is united.

Holgrave’s sole inheritance from his wizard ancestor, as he laughingly
explained, was a knowledge of the hiding-place of the now worthless
Indian deed. For this secret a Pyncheon had bartered his daughter’s
life and happiness in former years.

The Judge Pyncheon of the story has been pronounced ‘somewhat of a
stage villain, a puppet.’ This may possibly be due less to Hawthorne’s
handling of the character than to the inherent weakness of the
hypocrite as presented in fiction or drama. The patrician old woman
turned shop-keeper is so perfect a study that praise of the delineation
is almost an impertinence. And there is the great silent but living and
breathing House of the Seven Gables, in the creation of which Hawthorne
expended the wealth of his powers. It will always be a question whether
in the spiritual significance he attaches to or draws from some
physical fact this great literary artist does not show his highest
power. And many a time one finishes the reading of this particular
book with the feeling that the House of the Seven Gables is the real
protagonist of the drama.

In respect that it is a beautiful example of Hawthorne’s art _The
Blithedale Romance_ is deserving of all the praise lavished upon
it; in respect that it is a picture of Brook Farm it is naught. The
author himself freely admitted that he chose the socialist community
merely as a theatre where the creatures of his brain might ‘play their
phantas-magorical antics’ without their being exposed to the rigid test
of ‘too close a comparison with the actual events of real lives.’

The antics played are such as we witness daily when human puppets
are swayed by various passions of love, jealousy, self-will, pride,
humility, the instinct for art, or the instinct for reform. The bearded
Hollingsworth, whose ‘dark shaggy face looked really beautiful with its
expression of thoughtful benevolence,’ was, without being conscious
of it, a brutal egoist, capable of bending all people and all things
to the accomplishment of his idea. He illustrates the weakness of
strength, as Priscilla, so frail, nervous, and impressionable,
illustrates the strength of weakness.

That Hawthorne intended to show in Coverdale the insufficiency of
the profession of minor poet to make anything of a man, we shall not
pretend; but his distrust of the worth of literature is well known.
Coverdale’s failure was no greater than Hollingsworth’s, and he at
least never played with hearts.

Zenobia is at once the most human, the most attractive, and the most
pathetic figure in the drama. ‘But yet a woman,’ and too much woman, so
that her imperial beauty and grace, her wealth, her skill to command,
her magnetic charm, and her intellectual gifts were insufficient to
save her. No less regal in endowment than was Hester Prynne, she sank
under a burden infinitely lighter than Hester’s. Her nature was strong
but impulsive, and impulsiveness was Zenobia’s ruin.

Rome is the scene of _The Marble Faun_, the longest of Hawthorne’s
romances, and in his opinion the best. The author professed to have
seen, in the studio of an American sculptor, Kenyon, an unfinished
portrait bust, certain traits of which led him to ask the history of
the original. This face, of a beautiful youth, might have been mistaken
for a not fortunate attempt to reproduce the roguish countenance
of the Faun of Praxiteles. The resemblance was external merely; the
beholder presently detected something inscrutable in the eyes, in
the whole expression, as if powers of the soul hitherto dormant were
awaking, and with the awakening had come anxiety, longing, grief,
remorse, in short a knowledge of good through a sudden apprehension of
evil.

It was the portrait of a young Count of Monte Beni (known as
Donatello), whose family, an ancient one, was believed to have sprung
from the union of one of those fabled woodland creatures, half
animal, half god, and an earthly maiden. At long intervals the traits
defining the origin of the race were accentuated in a member of the
family. He was said to be ‘true Monte Beni.’ He lived on the border
line between two worlds, fearless and happy, but also unthinking, a
creature incapable of doing wrong because his life was free, natural,
instinctive. Such was Donatello.

The idea of a creature who should unite the characteristics of the wild
and the human fascinated Hawthorne. The charm is elusive, and must be
elusive or it is no longer charming. Hawthorne warns us against letting
the idea harden in our grasp or grow coarse from handling. For this
reason (and not for the sake of petty mystification) Hawthorne will not
disclose the one physical trait which would have completed Donatello’s
resemblance to the Faun, the pointed, furry ears. The youth himself
will jest with his friends on the subject, but no more; the thick brown
curls are never brushed aside.

So in Donatello’s attachment to Miriam, the mysterious beauty of the
story, there is something animal-like, at once pathetic and fierce.
Love does not awaken the intellect, however; the youth remains a child
until the wrathful moment when he holds the mad Capuchin, Miriam’s
persecutor, over the edge of the precipice, and reads in the girl’s
consenting eyes approval of the deed he is about to commit. At this
point Donatello’s real life begins.

The crime is far-reaching in its consequences, blighting for weary
months the happiness of the gentle Hilda, a terrified eye-witness;
but is most sinister in its effect on Donatello, whose dumb agony and
remorse Hawthorne has painted with a strong but subdued touch. Perhaps
the most striking of the incidents at Monte Beni is that where the
wretched Donatello tries to call the wild creatures of the wood to him
as he had been used to do in the days of his innocence, and finds his
power gone, only some loathsome reptile coming at his bidding.

Hilda is one of the triumphs of Hawthorne’s art. By what necromancy did
he contrive to invest a character so ethereal with life and interest?
For the type is by no means one that invariably attracts, and the
mere symbolism of the shrine, the doves, together with an innocence
which carries its own safeguard, might have been used unsuccessfully a
thousand times before being wrought by Hawthorne’s subtile power into
enduring form.

Kenyon is a proof of the instinct Hawthorne had for avoiding the
realistic fact. One would fancy this a character which would take on
realism of its own accord, a character which could be depended on to
become human and bohemian, to smoke, swear, tell emphatic stories, and
yet be gentle and high-minded withal, like Bret Harte’s angel-miners.
But Kenyon is almost as shadowy as Hilda.

Miriam with her rich dark beauty (making her in contrast with Hilda as
Night to Day) is the one strong human character, capable of infinite
pity and infinite devotion, a woman to die for--if the need were, and
such need is not uncommon in romances. The shadow of a nameless crime
hangs over her, from which, though innocent, she cannot escape. She
has warned Donatello of the fatality that attends her. She holds his
love in esteem so light as to be almost contempt until the moment when
he shows the force to grapple with her enemy; then love flames up in
her own heart. For her Donatello stains his hands with blood, suffers
agony indescribable, and then ‘comes back to his original self, with an
inestimable treasure of improvement won from an experience of pain.’
And as Miriam contemplates him on the day before he gives himself up
to justice, she asks whether the story of the fall of man has not been
repeated in the romance of Monte Beni.

The deficiencies and excesses of _The Marble Faun_ have been often
pointed out. The superabundance of guide-book description which
disturbed Sir Leslie Stephen was noted by Hawthorne as a defect and
apologized for in the preface. It is astonishing how it fits into place
when, after an interval of several years, one comes to re-read the
story. _The Marble Faun_ is a magical piece of work, its very enigmas,
mysteries, and its inconclusiveness tending to heighten the effect. And
it does not in the least detract from the enjoyment that one cannot
follow the author to the extent of believing it his best work.


VI

LATEST AND POSTHUMOUS WRITINGS

_OUR OLD HOME_, _NOTE-BOOKS_, _DOLLIVER ROMANCE_

_Our Old Home_ is a volume of twelve chapters on English life and
experiences. Acute, frank, sympathetic, modestly phrased, abounding
in humor, it may fairly be accounted one of the best of Hawthorne’s
works. The English are said to have been disturbed by a number of the
comments on their character and manners. If so, they must be as touchy
as Americans. _Our Old Home_ contains nothing that should offend,
unless indeed it be an offence to speak of one’s neighbor in any terms
not those of unmitigated eulogy. Hawthorne noted certain differences
between the national types of the two countries and gave an account of
them. But of any disposition to laud his own people at the expense of
their British cousins, the book contains not a trace.

_Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne_ is the
raw material out of which was fashioned such a charming and perfect
literary study as _Our Old Home_. It is idle to dispute over the
question whether the fragmentary journalizings of an eminent author
should or should not be given to the public. They will always be given
to the public, and the public will always be grateful for them, even
though it has no deeper cause for gratitude than that involved in
satisfaction of mere curiosity. At all events, the passion for looking
into the work-shop of a great artist cannot be overcome. Perhaps this
most trivial form of hero-worship deserves countenance.

The _Note-Books_ (English, Italian, and American) bear the same
relation to _Our Old Home_ that a man talking with his most trusted
friend bears to that same man when talking with an agreeable chance
acquaintance. In the one case he is wholly unguarded, in the other he
keeps himself in check even at the moment he seems most frank and
expansive.

_The Dolliver Romance_ is one of a group of studies for an elaborate
narrative in which Hawthorne proposed to trace the fortunes of an
American family back to those of its English forebears. The idea of
connecting the obscure New England branch of the house with the proud
Old-World descendants by some vague claim on the ancestral estate is
almost too common in fiction. But Hawthorne seems to have been drawn
towards it by his life in the consulate at Liverpool, where he had
continually to check the exuberance of misguided fellow-countrymen who
had appropriated, in mind, not a few of the finest estates in England,
and only lacked faint encouragement to attempt entering on actual
possession.

The idea of the Bloody Footstep was taken from a tradition connected
with Smithell’s Hall in Bolton-le-Moors, and Hawthorne went to see
what purported to be the mark made in the stone step by the unhappy
man about whose mysterious history the romance gathers. The quest and
discovery of an elixir of life is in itself a threadbare motive, but
could hardly have been commonplace under Hawthorne’s treatment.

He was not to complete his design. The four versions of the story, _The
Dolliver Romance_, _The Ancestral Footstep_, _Septimius Felton_, and
_Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret_, furnish another glimpse into Hawthorne’s
literary studio, though we are warned not to infer that he always
worked in the way the existence of these fragments might suggest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hawthorne was the most gifted of our American romancers. In a certain
sense his field was a narrow one, but the soil was rich, and there
was magic in his husbandry. He himself once declared that he never
knew what patriotism was until he met an Englishman; that he was not
an American, New England was as big a lump of earth as he could hold
in his heart. The defect (if indeed it be a defect) was one of the
sources of his power. Hawthorne did indeed love New England, but to
suppose that he loved it with a blind and uncritical love is wholly
to misunderstand both the man and his work. He was the genius of his
little world. He knew its poetry and its prose, its mystery, charm,
beauty, and its repellent and sordid features. New England will have
no profounder interpreter, though it may be that as the superficial
characteristics of the people change, his transcripts of life will
increasingly take on the qualities of pure romance.


FOOTNOTES:

  [38] Enlarged edition, 1854.

  [39] Published in England under the absurd title of
       _Transformation_. Hawthorne wrote to Henry Bright: ‘Smith and
       Elder do take strange liberties with the titles of books. I
       wanted to call it the _Marble Faun_, but they insisted on
       _Transformation_ which will lead the reader to expect a sort
       of pantomime.’

  [40] Letter to Horatio Bridge, May 26, 1861.

  [41] Henry James: _Terminations_.



XI

_Henry David Thoreau_


REFERENCES:

  =R. W. Emerson=: ‘Thoreau’ in the ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ August,
    1862.

  =W. E. Channing=: _Thoreau: the Poet Naturalist_, 1873.

  =F. B. Sanborn=: _Thoreau_, ‘American Men of Letters,’ 1882.

  =H. S. Salt=: _Thoreau_, ‘Great Writers,’ 1896.


I

HIS LIFE

Philippe Thoreau, of the parish of Saint Helier in the Isle of Jersey,
had a son John who emigrated to America and opened a store on the
Long Wharf in Boston. He married Jane Burns, daughter of a well-to-do
Scotchman from the neighborhood of Stirling. John’s son John, a
lead-pencil maker of Concord, Massachusetts, married Cynthia Dunbar,
daughter of the Reverend Asa Dunbar, of Keene, New Hampshire. Of their
four children Henry David Thoreau, the author of _Walden_, was the
third. He was born at Concord on July 12, 1817.

After his graduation at Harvard in the Class of 1837, Thoreau taught
school, learned surveying and the art of making lead-pencils, and began
writing and lecturing. The episode in his life which gave him more
than a local reputation was his camping out by the shore of Walden
Pond. He spent two years and two months there studying how ‘to live
deliberately.’ His hut, built by himself, might have seemed bare and
cheerless to a victim of civilization. There was no carpet on the
floor, no curtain at the window. Every superfluity was stripped off and
life ‘driven into a corner’ in the hope of discovering what it was made
of. Thoreau sturdily resisted the efforts of friends and neighbors to
burden him with trumpery, refusing the gift of a door-mat on the plea
that it was ‘best to avoid the beginnings of evil,’ and throwing a
paper-weight out of the window ‘because it had to be dusted every day.’

He raised his own vegetables in a patch of ground near by, made his
own bread, and spent his leisure time in recording his observations
of nature and in writing his first book, _A Week on the Concord and
Merrimack Rivers_. When he was satisfied with this taste of life
‘reduced to its lowest terms,’ he went back to civilization.

_A Week on the Concord and Merrimack_ was a failure, as publishers say;
meaning that it did not sell. Having published at his own expense,
Thoreau was financially embarrassed when seven hundred and fifty
copies of an edition of a thousand came back on his hands. He said to
a friend: ‘I have added several hundred volumes to my library lately,
all of my own composition.’[42] His second venture, _Walden_, was
more fortunate. He printed a few articles in the ‘Boston Miscellany,’
‘Putnam’s Magazine,’ the ‘New York Tribune,’ ‘Graham’s Magazine,’ and
the ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ but at no time could he be said to live by
literature.

His income from his lectures must have been small, and apparently
he made no effort to obtain engagements. He had an exalted idea of
what constitutes a good lecture, and was suspicious of oratory. He
told his English acquaintance Cholmondeley that he was from time to
time congratulating himself on his ‘general want of success as a
lecturer.... I do my work clean as I go along, and they will not be
likely to want me anywhere again.’

When Hawthorne was corresponding secretary of the Salem Lyceum, he
invited Thoreau in behalf of the managers to give them a lecture. The
invitation was accepted. The lecture must have had the fatal defect of
being ‘interesting,’ for Thoreau was asked to speak before the Lyceum a
second time the same winter.

Thoreau was a radical Abolitionist and for six years refused to pay his
poll-tax, on the ground that the tax went indirectly to the support
of slavery. For this delinquency he was once lodged in the town-jail
over night. In 1857 he made the acquaintance of ‘one John Brown’ as
a Southern-born president of a Northern college naïvely describes
that terrible old man. When two years later news came of the desperate
attempt at Harper’s Ferry, Thoreau gave in a church vestry at Concord
his impassioned ‘Plea for Captain John Brown,’ which one of his
admirers regards as the most significant of his utterances.

Of the twelve volumes forming his collected writings two only were
seen by Thoreau in book form. The remaining ten have been made up of
reprinted magazine articles or selections from journals and letters.
The list is as follows: _A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers_,
1849; _Walden; or, Life in the Woods_, 1854; _Excursions_ (edited by
R. W. Emerson and Sophia Thoreau), 1863; _The Maine Woods_, 1864; _Cape
Cod_, 1865; _Letters to Various Persons_ [with Poems], 1865; _A Yankee
in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers_, 1866; _Early Spring in
Massachusetts_, 1881; _Summer_, 1884; _Winter_, 1888; _Autumn_, 1892;
_Miscellanies_, 1894; _Familiar Letters of Henry David Thoreau_, 1894.

Thoreau ‘travelled widely’ in Concord and made a few trips elsewhere.
Aside from his excursions to the Maine woods, the White Mountains, Cape
Cod, and Staten Island, he took no long journey until 1861, when he
went as far west as Minnesota. He was in ill health then, and a violent
cold terminating in pulmonary consumption brought about his death (May
6, 1862). It has been often mentioned as a strange fact that this
man who almost symbolized the out-of-door existence, who chanted its
praises, and who was unhappy unless he had at least ‘four hours a day
in the woods and fields,’ should have died, at the age of forty-five,
of exposure to the elements which (according to his whimsical
philosophy) were more friendly than man.


II

THOREAU’S CHARACTER

Without posing, Thoreau contrived somehow to gain the reputation of a
poseur. Because his nose was more Emersonian than Emerson’s, because
he lived for a time at Emerson’s house (where he was beloved by every
member of the family), and because he affected the Orphic and seer-like
mode of expression, he was called an imitator. Because he was a recluse
and a stoic, and because his letters were edited in a way to emphasize
his stoicism, he has been thought to lack the human and friendly
qualities.

The charge of imitation has been refuted by those who knew him best.
‘Doubtless his growth was stimulated by kindred ideas. This is all that
can be granted. Utter independence, strong individuality distinguished
him. His one foible was, not subserviency, but combativeness, mainly
from mere love of fence when he found a worthy adversary, as his best
friends knew almost too well.’[43]

In many ways Thoreau was much like other men. He was a devoted son, a
brotherly brother, a helpful neighbor, a genial companion. We have his
own word for it that he could out-sit the longest sitter in the village
tap-room if there were occasion.

On the other hand, he was not ‘approachable’ in the common meaning
of the word. He puzzled many people. He could be angular, stiff,
remote, encrusted. Howells saw him in 1860, ‘a quaint stump figure of
a man.’[44] He sat on one side of the room, having first placed his
visitor in a chair on the other side. It was more difficult to get near
him spiritually than physically. He seemed almost unconscious of his
caller’s presence.

Emerson edited Thoreau’s letters so as to present ‘a most perfect piece
of stoicism.’ It was the side of his friend’s character in which he
most rejoiced. The book should be read exactly as Emerson intended it
to be read. Later it should be supplemented by the _Familiar Letters_,
which brings into relief the affectionate and winning side of Thoreau’s
character.


III

THE WRITER

Thoreau was a painstaking student of the art of expression, but never
for its own sake, always as a means to an end. One may conclude that
it was not mere author’s vanity which led him to resent editorial
tampering with his manuscript. He had good reasons for believing that
neither Curtis of ‘Putnam’s’ nor Lowell of ‘The Atlantic’ could change
his text to advantage. The question was not one of mere nicety of
phrase, but of that subtile quality of style due to the inextricable
interweaving of the thought and the language in which the thought is
expressed.

An out-of-doors writer, Thoreau’s power to produce was in direct ratio
of his intercourse with Nature. If shut up in the house he could not
write at all. When he walked he stored up literary virtue. He believed
that nothing was so good for the man of letters as work with the hands.
It cleared the style of ‘palaver and sentimentality.’

The fresh wild beauty of Thoreau’s style (when he is at his best) may
be praised without reserve. There is no danger of exaggerating its
perfect novelty and attractiveness; the danger is that we may take the
hint of these qualities for the reality. Thoreau could be commonplace
when he chose.


IV

THE BOOKS

Early in September, 1839, the Thoreau brothers, John and Henry, made a
voyage down the Concord and Merrimac rivers. The boat used was of their
own building. It was painted blue and green, had wheels by which it
could be dragged around the dams, and must have been as ugly as it was
useful. _A Week on the Concord and Merrimack_ records the unadventurous
adventures of the two young men both on this and other excursions.

It is a medley of prose and verse, of homely common-sense and lofty
speculation. Side by side with realistic portraits of plain people,
farmers, fishermen, boatmen, and lock-keepers, are minute and exquisite
descriptions of the life of field, mountain, stream, lake, and air.
The literary allusions are many, and taken from sources as wide apart
as the poles, Shattuck (the historian of Concord) and Anacreon, Gookin
and Chaucer. Here is to be found the famous essay on Friendship, the
spirit of which may be partly divined from this sentence: ‘I could tame
a hyena more easily than my friend.’

The poetry in the volume is a stumbling-block to not a few readers.
Doubtless it has its virtues, but too often Thoreau’s poetry must be
forgiven for the sake of his prose. The stiff, almost self-conscious
air of _A Week on the Concord and Merrimack_ and the hobbling verse
help to explain the indifference of the author’s contemporaries to a
very original work.

_Walden_, the second of Thoreau’s books, is the better of the two,
which does not mean that the first could be spared. The style is
easier, the flavor more racy, the spirit more humorous. The attitude of
the writer is characteristically provoking and pugnacious. The chapters
abound in audacities which at once pique and delight the reader.
This modern Diogenes-Crusoe, solving the problem of existence on an
improvised desert-island two miles from his mother’s door-step, is a
refreshing figure.

Life in the woods fascinated Thoreau. _Walden_ is a tribute to this
fascination. In the absence of domestic sounds he had the murmur of the
forest, the cry of the loon, the ‘tronk’ of the frog, and the clangor
of the wild-goose. Society was plenty and of the best. His neighbors
were the squirrel, the field-mouse, the phœbe, the blue jay. Human
companionship was not wanting, for there were visitors of all sorts,
from the half-witted to those who had more wits than they knew what to
do with. Matter-of-fact people were amazed at the young man’s way of
living, lacking the penetration to see that he might live as he did
from the humor of it. When sceptics asked him whether he thought he
could subsist on vegetable food alone, Thoreau, to strike at the root
of the matter at once, was accustomed to say that he ‘could live on
board nails.’ ‘If they cannot understand that they cannot understand
much that I say.’

The Walden episode was an experiment in emancipation, and the book is a
challenge to mankind to live more simply and freely. Thoreau mocks at
the worship of luxury. ‘I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all
to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on
earth in an ox-cart, with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the
fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way.’

_Excursions_ is a collection of nine essays. Some of them are formal
and scientific with the Thoreau-esque flavor (‘Natural History of
Massachusetts,’ ‘The Succession of Forest Trees,’ ‘Autumnal Tints,’
‘Wild Apples’), others are pure Thoreau (‘A Walk to Wachusett,’ ‘The
Landlord,’ ‘A Winter Walk,’ ‘Walking,’ ‘Night and Moonlight’). The
flavor of these ‘wildlings of literature,’ as a devotee happily calls
them, is as marked almost as that of _Walden_. They are, in fact,
_Walden_ in miniature.

The _Maine Woods_ consists of three long essays, ‘Ktaadn,’
‘Chesuncook,’ and ‘The Allegash and East Branch.’ They are readable,
informing, uninspired. In the degree in which he left himself out of
his pages Thoreau became as tame and conventional as the most academic
of writers. The strength of some men of letters lies in conformity.
Thoreau is strongest in non-conformity.

_Cape Cod_ is far more characteristic than the _Maine Woods_. He who
likes the savor of salt and the tonic of ocean air will enjoy this book
whether he cares for Thoreau or not. It is interesting as an early
contribution to the history of Cape Cod folks by a historian who was
more of an enigma to the natives than they were to him.

The best part of _A Yankee in Canada_ is not to be found in the
account of the excursion to Montreal and Quebec, but in the sheaf of
anti-slavery and reform papers bound up in the same volume. Here are
printed the address on ‘Slavery in Massachusetts,’ the paper on ‘Civil
Disobedience,’ containing the lively account of the author’s experience
in Concord jail, the two addresses on John Brown, the essay on ‘Life
without Principle,’ and the critical study of ‘Thomas Carlyle and his
Works.’

The four volumes named for the seasons are valuable for the light
they shed on Thoreau’s method as a writer, and his skill and accuracy
in reporting the facts of Nature. They are sure to be read by the
faithful, because the genuine Thoreau enthusiast can read his every
line. The rest of the world will be content to know him by two or three
of the twelve volumes bearing his name. _A Week on the Concord and
Merrimack Rivers, alden_, the _Familiar Letters_, and a few essays
from _Excursions_ and the Anti-Slavery papers ought to be sufficient.

       *       *       *       *       *

No more than greater men of letters can Thoreau be disposed of in a
paragraph. Some of his pronounced characteristics can be, however.

He was a paradoxical philosopher. To praise Nature at the expense of
civilized society, to eulogize the ‘perfection’ of the one and lament
the degradation of the other, to declare solemnly that church spires
deform the landscape, and that it is a mistake to do a second time
what has been done once,--these declarations give a wholly incomplete
but, so far as they go, not unjust idea of his manner. Taking Thoreau
literally is a capital way to breed a dislike for him. Grant him
his own manner of expressing his thought, make no effort to exact
conformity from so wayward a genius, and at once you are, as Walt
Whitman would say, ‘rapport’ with him. It is easy to exaggerate his
paradoxicalness. Say to yourself as you take up the volume: ‘Now let
us find out just how whimsical this fellow can be,’ and straightway he
disappoints by not being whimsical at all.

If Thoreau’s praise of Nature at the expense of Society seems to
border on the absurd, one must bear in mind how complete and intimate
was his knowledge of what he praised. His love of forest, lake, hill,
and mountain, of beast and bird, was deep, passionate, unremitting.
He speaks somewhere of an old man so versed in Nature’s ways that
apparently ‘there were no secrets between them.’ This might have been
said of Thoreau himself. He could pay lofty tributes to the ‘mystical’
quality in Nature; but he was not a mere rhapsodist, a petty village
Chateaubriand; he could come straight down to tangible facts and
recount every detail of the advent of spring at Walden. His power to
see and his skill in describing the thing seen unite to give the very
atmosphere of life in the woods.

He was himself so complete an original and his literary attractiveness
is such that Thoreau numbers among his best friends not only those who
are nature-blind but the confirmed city-men as well, the frequenters
of clubs, the lovers of pavements and crowds. That some of the most
appreciative tributes to his genius should have come from these is but
one paradox the more in the history of him who (at times) delighted
above all else in the paradoxical.


FOOTNOTES:

  [42] F. B. Sanborn: _The Personality of Thoreau_, p. 30.

  [43] Edward W. Emerson in the ‘Centenary’ Emerson, vol. x, p. 607.

  [44] _Literary Friends and Acquaintance_, p. 59.



XII

_Oliver Wendell Holmes_


REFERENCES:

  =W. Sloane Kennedy=: _Oliver Wendell Holmes_, 1883.

  =J. T. Morse, Jr.=: _Life and Letters of Oliver Wendell Holmes_,
    1896.


I

HIS LIFE

Holmes invented a phrase which became celebrated--‘the Brahmin caste of
New England,’ that is to say, an aristocracy of culture. The inventor
of the phrase belonged to the class. He was a son of the Reverend Abiel
Holmes, minister of the First Church of Cambridge and author of that
‘painstaking and careful work,’ the _American Annals_.

Abiel Holmes (a great-grandson of John Holmes, one of the settlers of
Woodstock, Connecticut) was twice married. His first wife was Mary
Stiles, daughter of President Ezra Stiles of Yale College. Five years
after her death he married Sarah Wendell of Boston, who became the
mother of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Through the Wendells, Holmes was
related by one line of descent to Anne Bradstreet; by another to Evert
Jansen Wendell of Albany.

The author of _The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table_ was born at
Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Harvard Commencement Day, August 29, 1809.
After a preliminary training at the Cambridgeport Academy (where he
had for schoolmates Margaret Fuller and Richard Henry Dana) Holmes
completed his college preparation at Phillips Academy, Andover, entered
Harvard in the class of 1829, and in due time was graduated.

He had, or thought he had, an inclination to carry the ‘green bag,’
and to this end spent a year at the Dane (now Harvard) Law School, in
Cambridge. He soon discovered a greater inclination towards medicine
and entered the private medical school of Doctor James Jackson, in
Boston. In 1833 he became a student at the École de Médecine in Paris,
and during two busy winters heard the lectures of Broussais, Andral,
Louis, and other teachers.

In 1836 he began the practice of medicine in Boston. During the two
following years he competed for and won four of the Boylston Prizes.
Enthusiastic in his profession, he found the life of a general
practitioner not to his liking, and when, in 1838, the professorship
of anatomy and physiology at Dartmouth College was offered him, he
was ‘mightily pleased.’ He held the position for two years (1839–40);
residence at Hanover was required for three months of each year.

Some time before going to Hanover, Holmes was writing to his friend
Phineas Barnes, congratulating him on having entered into ‘the beatific
state of duality,’ and wishing himself in like case. ‘I have flirted
and written poetry long enough,’ he said, ‘and I feel that I am growing
domestic and tabby-ish.’ On June 15, 1840, he married Miss Amelia
Jackson, a daughter of Judge Charles Jackson of Boston. She was a young
woman of rare endowments. ‘Every estimable and attractive quality of
mind and character seemed to be hers.’[45]

In 1847 Holmes was appointed Parkman professor of anatomy and
physiology in the Harvard Medical School. The multifarious extra cares
involved led him to say that in those early days he occupied not a
chair in the college but a settee. He held the position for thirty-five
consecutive years.

The reputation which Holmes began early to build up through his
writings was partly literary, partly scientific, partly a compound
of both. Lovers of well-turned and witty verse knew him through his
_Poems_ (1836) and his metrical essays, _Urania_ (1846) and _Astræa_
(1850). The public, always solicitous about its health, heard or
read the two lectures on _Homœopathy and its kindred Delusions_
(1842). Physicians made his acquaintance through the _Boylston Prize
Dissertations_ (1836–37), and the _Essay on the Contagiousness of
Puerperal Fever_ (1843).

Fame came to Holmes in 1857 when he began printing in the newly founded
‘Atlantic Monthly’ a series of papers entitled _The Autocrat of the
Breakfast-Table_. Reprinted as a book, it at once took its proper place
as an American classic, and now after forty-eight years its popularity
seems in no degree lessened.

The following list contains the principal works upon which Holmes’s
reputation as a man of letters rests. A full bibliography must be
consulted if one would know the extent of his literary and scientific
activity: _The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table_, 1858; _The Professor
at the Breakfast-Table_, 1860; _Currents and Counter-Currents, with
Other Addresses_, 1861; _Elsie Venner_, 1861; _Songs in Many Keys_,
1862; _Soundings from the Atlantic_, 1864; _The Guardian Angel_, 1867;
_The Poet at the Breakfast-Table_, 1872; _Songs of Many Seasons_, 1875;
_Memoir of John Lothrop Motley_, 1879; _The Iron Gate and Other Poems_,
1880; _Pages from an Old Volume of Life_, 1883; _A Mortal Antipathy_,
1885; _Ralph Waldo Emerson_, 1885; _Our Hundred Days in Europe_, 1887;
_Before the Curfew and Other Poems_, 1888; _Over the Teacups_, 1891.

Holmes’s life was without marked incident. His work at the Medical
School, his public lectures, social engagements, the normal and
agreeable responsibilities of home and society, filled the measure of
his days. The visit to England in 1886, when he was made a D. C. L.
by Oxford, a Litt. D. by Cambridge, and an LL. D. by Edinburgh, was
something like apotheosis, if the term be not too extravagant.

He endured the evils consequent on old age with philosophic composure,
and it became at the last a matter of scientific curiosity with him to
see how long he could maintain life. He was spared a tedious illness,
and died an almost painless death on October 7, 1894.


II

THE MAN

Among the ‘Autocrat’s’ distinguishing traits was humanity. He has
recorded the feeling of ‘awe-stricken sympathy’ at first sight of the
white faces of the sick in the hospital wards. ‘The dreadful scenes in
the operating theatre--for this was before the days of ether--were a
great shock to my sensibilities.’ His nerves hardened in time, but he
was always keenly alive to human suffering. There is a note of contempt
in his reference to Lisfranc, the surgeon, who ‘regretted the splendid
guardsmen of the Empire because they had such magnificent thighs to
amputate.’

It was once said of Holmes that he was difficult to catch unless
he were wanted for some kind act. He lost no opportunity to give
happiness. In old age when flattery was tedious, and blindness
imminent, and the autograph hunter had become a burden, he patiently
wrote his name and transcribed stanzas of ‘Dorothy Q.’ or ‘The Last
Leaf’ for admirers from all parts of the earth. This was the smallest
tax on his good nature. For years he had been expected to act as
counsel and sometimes as literary agent for all the minor poets of
America. Many of these innocents conceived Holmes as automatically
issuing certificates to the virtue of their work. He was always kind
and invariably plain-spoken. To the author of an epic he wrote: ‘I
cannot conscientiously advise you to print your poem; it will be
an expense to you, and the gain to your reputation will not be an
equivalent.’

Holmes believed in the humanizing influences of good blood, social
position, and wealth. It was no small matter, he thought, to have a
descent from men who had played their parts acceptably in the drama
of life. He preferred the man with the ‘family portraits’ to the man
with the ‘twenty-cent daguerreotype’ unless he had reason to believe
that the latter was the better man of the two. His amusing poem,
‘Contentment,’ is not a jest, but a plain statement of his philosophy.

Open-minded in literary and scientific matters, he was delightfully
conservative about places. He respected the country and loved the
town. A city man, he was also a man of one city. He professed to have
been the discoverer of Myrtle Street, the abode of ‘peace and beauty,
and virtue, and serene old age.’ Thus it looked to him as he explored
its ‘western extremity of sunny courts and passages.’ Holmes’s books
contain many proofs of his cat-like attachment to city nooks and
corners, his liking for odd streets, unexpected turns, and winding
ways. ‘I have bored this ancient city through and through, until I know
it as an old inhabitant of a Cheshire knows his cheese.’

Holmes enjoyed above all the sense of an undisturbed possession of
things. He complained of the march of modern improvement only when he
found himself improved out of one house and driven to take refuge in
another. He thought that a wretched state of affairs whereby a man was
compelled to move every twenty or thirty years.

With his sunny nature Holmes found it difficult to be a good hater. He
had but two violent antipathies, Calvinism and homœopathy. On these he
concentrated the little measure of asperity he possessed, together with
a large measure of vigorous logic and frank contempt.


III

THE WRITER

In his characteristic prose style Holmes is easy, familiar, off-hand,
in short, conversational. He may have spent hours over his paragraphs,
but with their air of unpremeditation they give no sign of it. The
manner of his prose is well-bred but nonchalant. Yet there is always a
note of reserve. The Autocrat is less familiar than he seems.

The conversational style permits abrupt turns, sudden transitions,
a pleasant negligence. It also has narrow limits; it cannot rise to
eloquence, and fine writing is apt to seem out of place. Holmes knew
pretty accurately the limits of his instrument.

Like other practised writers, he varied his style to fit his subject.
And while a certain winsomeness is never wanting, it is less
apparent in the novels than in the ‘Breakfast-Table’ books, and in
the biographies than in the novels. Often he becomes business-like,
extremely matter of fact, clearly determined to make his point or to
solve his problem without waste of words or superfluous ornament.

With respect to his verse we have been told that Holmes was a
‘consummate master of all that is harmonious, graceful, and pleasing in
rhythm and in language.’ Had the eulogist been speaking of Tennyson,
or Swinburne, or Shelley, he could have said little more. Holmes’s
verse is neat, precise, felicitous, often graceful, unmistakably
clever, abounding in pointed phrase and happy rhyme, but taken as a
whole it must be adjudged the poetry of a cultivated gentleman and a
wit rather than the poetry of a poet.

Much of it has a distinctly old-fashioned air, contrasting oddly
with the freshness and ‘modernity’ of the poet’s prose. In his own
phrase Holmes ‘was trained after the schools of classical English
verse as represented by Pope, Goldsmith, and Campbell.’ The metrical
essays (_Poetry_, _Astræa_, _Urania_) show how strong was the
Eighteenth-century influence. The choice of metre cannot be questioned.
If audiences will have poetic dissertations, they probably suffer least
under the heroic couplet. It is easy to comprehend, and not difficult
to write; and the form of the verse tempts to cleverness.


IV

_THE AUTOCRAT_ AND ITS COMPANIONS, _OVER THE TEACUPS_, _OUR HUNDRED
DAYS IN EUROPE_

The motto, ‘Every man his own Boswell,’ on the title-page of _The
Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table_, is a key to the book. The conceit
has merits besides that of novelty. There is a world of humorous
suggestion in the idea of ‘doubling’ the parts of philosophic wit and
worshipping reporter.

The scene is a Boston boarding-house with its more or less commonplace
people, the landlady, her daughter, her son Benjamin Franklin, the
young fellow called John, the old gentleman who sits opposite, the
poor relation, the divinity student, the schoolmistress, and the
Autocrat himself. They talk, listen, jest, laugh. Little by little the
commonplace characters grow attractive. Pleasant and lovable traits
come to light. There is pathos, sentiment, a deal of mirth, but little
action. The Autocrat marries the schoolmistress towards the close of
the book. So much likeness is there to an old-fashioned love story, and
no more.

In general the characters interest less for what they say than for
what they prompt the Autocrat to say. He says many things, and all so
wise, so entertaining, so clever. When Holmes threw off these sparkling
paragraphs month by month, he could have had little idea what the index
would reveal. He glances from subject to subject, touching lightly
here and lightly there. Poetry, pugilism, horse-racing, theology, and
tree-lore are all equally interesting to him and to us. The reader is
not too long detained by any one thing. An infinite number of topics
are handled with effervescent gayety in a manner sometimes called
‘French.’ Holmes accused Emerson of want of logical sequence. That
was a master stroke. Open a volume of the Breakfast-Table series at
random and you chance on the oddest combinations of subjects, as
when a paragraph on insanity is followed by a paragraph on private
theatricals--perhaps a less illogical juxtaposition than at first sight
appears. Waywardness and inconsequence are among the principal charms
of _The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table_.

That a book so distinctively local in atmosphere and allusion should
have attained at once and kept to this day widespread popularity is a
little surprising. For local it is--provincial, as New Yorkers would
say. At all events, it is Bostonian to the last degree. The little
city, compact and picturesque, was not merely the background, the scene
of the breakfast-table episodes and conversations; the entire volume is
saturated with the atmosphere of Boston. To Holmes it was the one city
worth while, the city whose State House was Hub of the Solar System. By
his testimony (and who should know better?) you could not pry that out
of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation straightened out
for a crowbar.

The _Autocrat_ was followed by the _Professor_ and the _Poet_. The
critical history of sequels is well known. Seldom a complete failure,
they are rarely an unqualified success. Yet it is not easy to see
wherein _The Professor at the Breakfast-Table_ falls much below _The
Autocrat_. The book would be justified were it only for the pathetic
figure of Little Boston, to say nothing of Iris, the young Marylander,
the Model of all the Virtues, and the Koh-i-noor. It is something,
too, to have seen the landlady’s daughter appropriately wedded to an
undertaker, and the young fellow called John also married, and in
possession of ‘one of them little articles’ for which he had longed in
the days of bachelorhood, to wit, a boy of his own.

_The Poet at the Breakfast-Table_, a storehouse of delightful
inventions, proved the least attractive of the three to the public.
But all of Holmes’s old-time skill returned when he wrote _Over the
Teacups_, his last book. The framework is simple but attractive, the
characters have genuine vitality and pique the reader by suggesting
that they must have been drawn from life. The Dictator is an old
friend. Number Five, the Tutor, the Counsellor, the two Annexes, Number
Seven, the Mistress and Delilah are agreeable acquaintances, and the
misfortune is ours if we do not know them as well as the figures of
_The Autocrat_.

All these books are personal, known as such, and deriving half their
charm from the reader’s ability to recognize Holmes himself under
various disguises. In _Our Hundred Days in Europe_ the author speaks
_in propria persona_, and the volume may be described as a big printed
letter addressed to the writer’s friends, who, loving him as they do,
will rejoice in his happiness and his triumphs.


V

THE POET

The Autocrat’s poetical works contain a generous measure of what
elderly bards call their ‘juvenilia.’ We all understand the term. It
means verses which the bards in question would gladly have left in the
solitude of old magazines, and which admirers insist on dragging into
light,--poems that help to stock the school readers and speakers, and
which, because the copyright has expired by the unjust law of the land,
compilers of anthologies seize on and parade as representative.

That Holmes suffers but little by the persistence of his ‘juvenilia’
and ‘early verses’ is due to their frankly comic and grotesque
character. The reader is spared faded sentiment, and he is heartily
amused by the ingenuity of the conceits, the sparkle of the rhymes, the
satire, the epigrammatic wit. There is mirth still in that brilliant
essay in verbal gymnastics ‘The Comet’ (a dyspeptic’s dream), in ‘The
September Gale’ (a boy’s lament for his Sunday breeches, blown from
the line one fatal wash-day and never recovered), in ‘The Spectre Pig’
(a parody on Dana’s ‘Buccaneer’), in ‘The Height of the Ridiculous,’
‘Daily Trials,’ ‘The Treadmill Song,’ ‘The Dorchester Giant,’ ‘The
Music-Grinders,’ and the heartlessly funny poem entitled ‘My Aunt.’

Holmes was the readiest and the happiest of ‘occasional’ poets. No one
was so apt as he in meeting the needs of the moment, in brightening
with rhymed felicities the banquet, the class reunion, or in greeting
the distinguished stranger. He had rare skill in fitting the word
to the audience; it was impossible for him to be dull, and being
good-humored, it was difficult for him to say ‘No’ when committees were
importunate. Of his three hundred and twenty-seven poems, nearly one
half are poems of occasion. He wrote the greeting to Charles Dickens,
to the Prince Imperial, a poem for the Moore celebration, for the
dedication of the Stratford Fountain, for the two hundred and fiftieth
anniversary of the founding of Harvard College. His poems for the Class
of 1829, forty-four in number, reflect the history of the times as
well as the mood of the writer. The most famous of them is ‘The Boys’
(1859). Its motive, that boy-nature never quite dies in the man, and
its defiant optimism were calculated to have rejuvenating effect on a
group of classmates then thirty years out of college.

This art requires a quality of mind akin to that of the improvisatore.
Holmes was Boston’s poet laureate. His power to put an idea into
self-singing measure saved the battle-ship ‘Constitution,’ and did much
to save the ‘Old South’ Church.

In his finer work there is a delicious blending of thoughtfulness and
humorous fancy. Only Holmes could have given the lines on ‘Dorothy Q.’
their most original touch,--asking what would have been the result for
_him_ had prospective great-grandmother said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’:--

    Should I be I, or would it be
    One tenth another to nine tenths me?

Half the pathos in that fragile and beautiful piece of workmanship,
‘The Last Leaf,’ derives from the humor, from the blending of laughter
and tears. Even in the exquisite piece, attributed to Iris, ‘Under the
Violets,’ a description of a young girl’s burial-place, the lighter
touch is not wholly wanting:--

    When, turning round their dial-track,
      Eastward the lengthening shadows pass,
    Her little mourners, clad in black,
      The crickets, sliding through the grass,
      Shall pipe for her an evening mass.

His highest flights are represented by ‘The Chambered Nautilus’ and
‘Musa,’ by the quaint and fanciful ‘Homesick in Heaven,’ and by the
simple and pathetic little lament entitled ‘Martha.’ His claim to the
name of poet must rest on these, on his fine setting of the romance of
Agnes Surriage, and on his tributes to Bryant and to Everett.


VI

FICTION AND BIOGRAPHY

Holmes wrote three novels. Although readable, original, based on a
thorough comprehension of the scenes described, the life, antecedents,
prejudices, habits, and manners of the people portrayed, nevertheless
they strike one as being experiments in fiction rather than true
novels. They may be classed with similar attempts by J. G. Holland and
Bayard Taylor. Each of these writers was a practised craftsman. The
trained man of letters can write a volume which he, his friends, his
publishers, the public, and many fair-minded critics agree in calling
a novel. But the book in question does not become a novel from having
been cast in the orthodox form. It resembles a novel more nearly than
it resembles anything else, nevertheless it is not a veritable novel.
Any reader can feel it, though he may not be able to say just where
the difference lies, or how there happens to be a difference. Many
a writer, it would seem, has only to continue his efforts to arrive
finally at the making of a true novel. He falls short because his mind
is working in an unwonted medium rather than because he lacks inventive
ability.

If _Elsie Venner_ and _The Guardian Angel_ fail of being true novels,
they are at least highly successful studies in fiction and have given
and will continue to give a world of pleasure. If _A Mortal Antipathy_
falls short of the excellence attained by the other two, it has at
least the virtue of having been written by a man who could not be
uninteresting, no matter what was his age or his humor.

_Elsie Venner_ is a study in prenatal influences. The motive is
gruesome enough. A young woman, bitten by a snake, transmits certain
tendencies thus derived to her child. The subject was better adapted
to Hawthorne’s pen than to the Autocrat’s. A man of science knows
too much. Imagination is hampered. ‘What is’ and ‘What might be’ are
in perpetual conflict. A poet (such as Hawthorne essentially was)
throws science to the winds. Holmes goes at the problem in a brisk,
business-like way. Hawthorne would have treated it as a mystery, not
dragging it into broad light.

_Elsie Venner_ was dramatized and staged. Holmes went to see it. What
he thought of the play at the time is not recorded, but in after years
he pronounced it ‘bad, very bad.’

_The Guardian Angel_ also deals with the question of heredity. The
problem of how many of our ancestors come out in us, and just how they
make themselves felt, was always fascinating to Holmes. There are no
snakes in this story to account for Myrtle Hazard’s peculiarities, but
something quite as enigmatical, namely, an Indian. One character in
_The Guardian Angel_ has come near to achieving immortality--Gifted
Hopkins, the minor poet, whose name was an inspiration. He represents
a harmless and much-abused race. The successful in his own craft
are even more impatient with him than the mockers among the laity,
probably because Gifted, in the innocence of his heart, desires to have
his verses read, and sends them to eminent poets under the mistaken
impression that they will be welcome. Holmes confessed that he had been
hard on Gifted Hopkins.

The memoir of _John Lothrop Motley_, in addition to being a formal
record of personal history and literary achievement, is a spirited
defence of a proud, a gifted, and (in the biographer’s opinion) an
ill-used man, a man who, after years of successful public service, was
needlessly and wantonly humbled and mortified. Hence the note of fine
indignation which vibrates through the narrative.

The life of _Emerson_ contributed by Holmes to the series of
‘American Men of Letters’ was a surprise to the public. To call for
judgment on the most transcendental of New England authors by the
least transcendental, to invite the poet of ‘The One-Hoss Shay’ to
pronounce on the poet of ‘The Sphinx,’ seems an odd if not a humorous
performance. Whoever suggested it did a wise thing, and the result of
the suggestion was a useful and agreeable piece of biographical writing.

The work is thoroughly done, even to an analysis of the individual
essays. Who will, may view Emerson through the Autocrat’s eyes. They
had a close bond in their liking for the tangible facts of life. ‘Too
much,’ says Holmes, ‘has been made of Emerson’s mysticism. He was an
intellectual rather than an emotional mystic, and withal a cautious
one. He never let go the string of his balloon.’

       *       *       *       *       *

That we read Holmes on Emerson less for the sake of Emerson than for
the sake of Holmes suggests the possibility that we read all the
Autocrat’s books in the same spirit. Without question his work is of
value in the degree in which it reveals its author. He could not be
impersonal, he could not be dramatic. But he was fortunate in that he
could always be himself. He was one of the most delightful of men. And
being likewise one of the friendliest of writers he is most successful
when the form of his books, like _The Autocrat_ and _Over the Teacups_,
permits him, as it were, to bring his easy chair into the centre of
the room while we gather about him anxious to have him begin to talk,
hoping that he will be in no haste to leave off.


FOOTNOTES:

  [45] J. T. Morse, Jr.



XIII

_John Lothrop Motley_


REFERENCES:

  =O. W. Holmes=: _John Lothrop Motley, a Memoir_, 1879.

  =G. W. Curtis= (edited): _The Correspondence of John Lothrop
    Motley, D. C. L._, 1889.


I

HIS LIFE

Motley was born at Dorchester, Massachusetts, on April 15, 1814. His
great-grandfather, John Motley, came from Belfast, Ireland, early in
the Eighteenth Century, and settled at Falmouth, now Portland, Maine.
His father, Thomas Motley, a prosperous merchant of Boston, married
Anna Lothrop, daughter of the Reverend John Lothrop. The historian, the
second-born of their eight children, was named in honor of his maternal
grandfather.

After a course of study under Cogswell and Bancroft at the Round Hill
School, Motley entered Harvard College and was graduated in 1831. He
was noted both at Northampton and Cambridge for intellectual brilliancy
rather than studiousness, for a regal manner which did not tend to make
him universally popular, and for rare personal beauty as was becoming
in a youth whose parents were reputed in their younger days ‘the
handsomest pair the town of Boston could show.’ He was a wit. ‘Give
me the luxuries of life and I will dispense with the necessaries,’
is one of his best-known sayings. His passions were literary, he
admired Shelley and enjoyed the cleverness of Praed. Although fond of
versifying, he seems to have printed little or nothing.

After graduation Motley spent two years (1832–33) at German
universities. He went first to Göttingen, where he made the
acquaintance of Bismarck. They were fellow-students the next year
at Berlin. ‘We lived in closest intimacy, sharing meals and outdoor
exercise,’ said Bismarck in a letter to Holmes.

His period of foreign study having come to an end, Motley read law
in Boston and was admitted to the bar. In 1837 he married Miss Mary
Benjamin, a young woman noted for her beauty, cleverness, and an
open-hearted sincerity which ‘made her seem like a sister to those
who could help becoming her lovers.’[46] Two years after his marriage
Motley made his literary beginning by publishing a novel, _Morton’s
Hope, or the Memoirs of a Provincial_, and in 1849 he published yet
another, _Merry-Mount, a Romance of the Massachusetts Colony_. Neither
was successful. Perhaps the second failure was required to emphasize
the lesson taught by the first, that the author’s gifts were not for
imaginative work.[47] He was more fortunate with a group of three
essays printed in the ‘North American Review,’ one on ‘Peter the
Great’ (1845), one on ‘Balzac’ (1847), the third on ‘The Polity of the
Puritans’ (1849).

The first subject was suggested to Motley during a residence of
several months in St. Petersburg as Secretary to the American Legation
(1841–42). This taste of diplomatic life seems not to have been wholly
relished. Motley’s wife could not accompany him, and homesickness and a
Russian winter conspired to drive him back to America. He gained some
knowledge of practical politics by serving a term in the Massachusetts
legislature (1849). Neither law, nor diplomacy, nor yet politics,
seemed at that time to offer a field in which he could work to best
advantage. More and more he was tending towards literature. So absorbed
had he become in the history of Holland that he felt it ‘necessary to
write a book on the subject, even if it were destined to fall dead
from the press.’ He had made some progress when he heard of Prescott’s
projected history of Philip the Second. Thinking it ‘disloyal’ not to
declare his ambition of invading a part of Prescott’s own domain, he
went to lay his plan before the elder historian. Prescott immediately
offered the use of books from his library and was in all ways cordial
and enthusiastic.

It soon became evident that a history of Holland could not be written
in America. In 1851 Motley took his family and went abroad, and for
the next five years toiled unweariedly among the archives of Dresden,
The Hague, Brussels, and Paris. His energy and plodding patience
surprised the friends who remembered Motley for a brilliant young man
who heretofore had played industriously at work rather than actually
worked. ‘He never shrank from any of the drudgery of preparation,’ said
his daughter, Lady Harcourt, in after years.

The three volumes of _The Rise of the Dutch Republic_ were at length
ready for the press. Motley was forced to publish at his own expense.
Notwithstanding hostile criticisms, the success was undeniable. The
book was immediately translated into French, German, and Dutch. Of
two French versions the one published in Paris was edited, with an
introduction, by Guizot.

The historical series as we have it comprises nine volumes. The works
appeared in the following order: _The Rise of the Dutch Republic_,
1856; _History of the United Netherlands_, 1860–68; _The Life and
Death of John of Barneveld_, 1874. Motley’s plan included a history
of the Thirty Years’ War. But he was not to be granted length of days
sufficient for the writing of this ‘last act of a great drama.’

Among many scholastic honors which in the nature of things fell
to Motley’s share may be mentioned the conferring of the degree
of D. C. L. by Oxford, and the election to full membership in the
Institute of France.

Shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter, Motley published in the London
‘Times’ two letters on the significance and justice of the war. They
had a marked effect in England and were reprinted in America. In June,
1861, the Austrian government having refused to accept the minister
sent to Vienna, Motley was accredited to the mission. After discharging
the duties of his office with marked ability during the four troubled
years of Lincoln’s administration, and through two years of Johnson’s,
he resigned because of an affront offered him by his own government.[48]

During the political campaign of 1868 Motley gave an address in Music
Hall, Boston, on ‘Four Questions for the People at the Presidential
Election.’ On December 16, as orator at the sixty-first anniversary of
the New York Historical Society, he spoke on ‘Historic Progress and
American Democracy.’ In the spring of 1869 President Grant assigned
Motley to the English mission, and in July, 1870, recalled him. The
reasons given for this summary act have never been satisfactory
to Motley’s friends. It is a question for experts. If Motley’s
indiscretion (or offence) was great, his punishment was severe, and the
manner of it not undeserving of the epithet brutal.[49]

Motley’s health is believed to have been affected by distress of mind
over the recall. But the real disaster of his latter years was the
loss of his wife. He survived her only two and a half years. His death
occurred at Kingston Russell, near Dorchester, England, on May 29, 1877.

Dean Stanley in his tribute to Motley at Westminster Abbey used the
striking phrase, ‘an historian at once so ardent and so laborious.’
J. R. Green, who heard the sermon, thought the phrase ‘most happy.’
Said Green: ‘I should have liked Stanley to have pointed out the
thing which strikes me most in Motley, that alone of all men past and
present he knit together not only America and England, but that Older
England which we left on Frisian shores, and which grew into the United
Netherlands. A child of America, the historian of Holland, he made
England his adopted country, and in England his body lies.’


II

HIS CHARACTER

Motley’s letters afford the best insight into his generous,
affectionate, richly endowed, and manly nature. They mirror his
complete happiness in the home circle, his chivalrous devotion to the
woman of his choice, his loyalty to his friends, and his passionate
love of native land. They do not show--nor was it intended by the
editor that they should--his fiery impatience, his quick resentment,
his sensitive pride, his occasional and pardonable bitterness.

A dominant trait of Motley’s character was intensity of the patriotic
sentiment. Much was required of a ‘good American’ who, living in Europe
during the Civil War, frequented the circles Motley frequented--much
in the way of tact, patience, and, above all, courage and hopefulness.
Motley, who was far from being a placid, unreflecting optimist, had
need of all his philosophy as he saw everywhere proofs of satisfaction
in America’s misfortune. He had not only to meet a frank antagonism
which could be understood and dealt with, but a hostility which took
the galling form of suave assurances that his country was positively
going to the dogs, and on the whole it was a very good thing that
it was. If gentlemen did not exactly call on him for the purpose
of telling him so, they managed sometimes to leave that impression.
Motley’s services to his country in meeting every form of attack,
direct or insidious, in the spirit of high confidence, were very great.
The extent of his usefulness has not yet been fully measured.

He was free from literary vanity and would have been quite unmoved had
his books come short of their actual fortune. His way of accepting the
real or the superficial tributes to success shows the man. Honorary
degrees, elections to learned societies, drawing-room lionizing,
passing compliments, were taken exactly for what they were worth. He
was as far removed from the absurdity of being elated by these things
as he was from the absurdity of pretending not to care. No one could
have been more alive to the significance of a degree from Oxford, yet
Motley seems to have got the most of comfort on that occasion from the
odd spectacle of the Doctors marching in the rain, and among them old
Brougham ‘with his wonderful nose wagging lithely from side to side as
he hitched up his red petticoats and stalked through the mud.’

The letters reveal so many pleasant traits as to make it difficult to
comprehend the hostility which pursued the writer. Holmes throws a
deal of light on that question by a single remark. Motley, he says,
‘did not illustrate the popular type of politician.’ The fact is, he
illustrated everything that was opposed to that type. An uncompromising
upholder of the democratic theory, a bitter foe of absolutism, a
eulogist of the people, Motley was himself an aristocrat to the
finger-tips. ‘He had a genuine horror of vulgarity in all its forms,’
said one of his friends, and doubtless he showed it. An ‘instinctive
repugnance to bad manners and coarse-grained men’ was a trait
ill-suited to popularity. Motley’s high-bred bearing alone constituted
an offence. But he was incapable of so much policy as was involved
in pretending to a bonhomie that was unnatural to him. He had a
pliancy of nature fitted to the complex needs of a very complex social
organization, but that was not enough to satisfy all his exacting
countrymen. And among them were those who disliked him for being the
gentleman he was.


III

THE WRITER

The historian of the Dutch Republic writes as one who thinks nobly,
admires with enthusiasm, and hates without pettiness. ‘His thoughts
are masculine, full of argumentation,’ and as are his thoughts so is
his style. Often the language seems charged with his own energy and
chivalric impulsiveness. At such times the style is eager, mettlesome,
impetuous, it glows with intensity of feeling.

Motley was not a ‘fine’ writer in the sense of being visibly scrupulous
about the choice of words and the balance of sentences. He impresses
one as of the opinion that a man can ill afford to give too much time
to the problem of expression. But he is far from being indifferent to
the reader. He is not merely willing, he prefers to please, provided
that in so doing he is not diverted from his main purpose. The
prevailing characteristics of his style are a natural dignity and a
manly negligence.

He imparts vividness by means of detailed conversations among the
actors of the historic drama. These colloquies have at times the air
of being inventions of the historian, like the speeches in Xenophon.
Conscious that a device intended to give reality might affect the
sceptical mind quite otherwise, Motley more than once explained that
‘no historical personage is ever made, in the text, to say or write
anything, save what, on ample evidence, he is known to have said or
written.’

The reader who turns from Prescott to Motley at once discovers that the
younger historian weaves a dense, firm web. Appropriating an admirable
figure invented by Henry James and used with respect to Balzac’s style,
it may be said that if Motley’s work is not at every point cloth of
gold, it has at least a metallic rigidity.


IV

THE HISTORIES

The struggle of the Dutch for religious and political liberty was to
have been ‘only an episode’ in Prescott’s _Philip the Second_. Motley’s
broad treatment of the theme requires nine octavo volumes. _The Rise
of the Dutch Republic_ (in three volumes) covers the time between the
abdication of Charles the Fifth and the murder of William of Orange.
The _History of the United Netherlands_ (in four volumes) takes up the
narrative at the death of William and carries it on to the end of the
Twelve Years’ Truce. _John of Barneveld_, is ‘the natural sequel’ to
the two preceding works, and ‘a necessary introduction’ to the history
of the Thirty Years’ War.

These works from first to last are marked by passionate admiration of
the spirit which makes for liberty. Admitting the turbulent character
of that spirit in the early history of the Netherlands, the historian
does not deplore it. Sedition and uproar meant life. ‘Those violent
little commonwealths had blood in their veins! They were compact of
proud, self-helping muscular vigor.’ And to Motley ‘the most sanguinary
tumults which they ever enacted in the face of day were better than the
order and silence born of the midnight darkness of despotism.’

The treatment then is strongly partisan. There is a fervor in the
account of the deeds and sufferings of those patriots who thought no
sacrifice too great if thereby the sum total of human liberty was
increased.

Motley does not pretend that the leaders in this struggle were always
disinterested. The motives swaying humanity are wondrously complex.
But after all deductions are made, it was a struggle of light against
darkness, and with such a struggle it was possible to sympathize
unqualifiedly. There are cool-blooded critics who view such an attitude
with disdain. This, they say, is not the temper in which history should
be written. History must be calm, impartial, scientific. Perhaps
the reasonable reply is that history must be of many sorts and the
product of many types of mind; that one sort never really excludes
the other. Also it is well to remember that a great historical master
of our time,[50] and one whose creed was by no means narrow, pleaded
always for this deep and passionate motive in the work, and laughed at
the modern Oxford product which can balance questions but is able to
accomplish nothing.

Motley’s historic canvas is crowded with figures. The eye is at first
drawn toward the personages, the military, ecclesiastical, and princely
chiefs, William of Orange (who is Motley’s hero), Egmont, Alva, and
Granvelle; but the eye does not rest on these alone. Surrounding them
are the multitudes of aspiring, suffering people becoming more and more
a preponderant force in the life of the nation, refusing to be disposed
of in the lump, or driven about like a flock of sheep to be sheared or
slaughtered at the whim of a monarch.

Here lies Motley’s sympathy. His indignation flames out when misery
is brought upon thousands, by the caprice of kings or the selfishness
of secular and ecclesiastical politicians. Note his sarcasm on the
battle of Saint Quentin, a game in which ‘the players were kings and
the people were stakes--not parties.’ Note his fine scorn of that type
of government ‘which was administered exclusively for the benefit
of the government.’ Note his loathing for that type of vanity which
presumes to dictate how a man shall worship God. The temper in which
Motley writes is admirably epitomized in the picture of Caraffa, as
papal legate, making his entry into Paris, showering blessings upon
the people, ‘while the friends who were nearest him were aware that
nothing but gibes and sarcasms were falling from his lips.... It would
no doubt have increased the hilarity of Caraffa ... could the idea have
been suggested to his mind that the sentiments, or the welfare of the
people throughout the great states ... could have any possible bearing
upon the question of peace or war. The world was governed by other
influences. The wiles of a cardinal--the arts of a concubine--the
speculations of a soldier of fortune--the ill temper of a monk--the
mutual venom of Italian houses--above all, the perpetual rivalry
of the two great historical families who owned the greater part of
Europe between them as their private property--such were the wheels on
which rolled the destiny of Christendom. Compared to these, what were
great moral and political ideas, the plans of statesmen, the hopes of
nations? Time was to show.... Meanwhile a petty war for petty motives
was to precede the great spectacle which was to prove to Europe that
principles and peoples still existed, and that a phlegmatic nation of
merchants and manufacturers could defy the powers of the universe, and
risk all their blood and treasure, generation after generation, in a
sacred cause.’[51]

The historian is a hard hitter. The enemies of liberty and their agents
are not spared. Philip, Granvelle, Alva, and a score besides are
characterized in withering terms. Of Philip, for example, Motley says:
‘It is curious to observe the minute reticulations of tyranny which he
had begun already to spin about a whole people, while cold, venomous,
and patient he watched his victims from the center of his web.’ The
historian is fiery in denouncing the tortuous and Machiavellian
politics of the Sixteenth Century. It was an age when honesty, plain
speaking, and respect for a promise had nothing to do with the conduct
of affairs of state. He who could lie most adroitly was the best man.
Granvelle fills his letters with innuendoes against Egmont and Orange,
all the while protesting that he would not have a hair of their heads
injured. It is he, according to Motley, who puts into Philip’s mind
the thoughts he is to think, almost in the words in which he is to
utter them. Philip had his own strength, but he was slow to come to a
conclusion. Granvelle knew how to clarify that muddy stream of ideas.

The preceding work shows the Dutch states in the beginning and
progress of their struggle against the tyranny of Philip; the _United
Netherlands_ shows Holland as a rising hope of Protestantism, as a
nation to be reckoned with in the diplomacy of Europe.

The Spanish king is still writing letters, still concocting schemes
for conquest, still enmeshing friends and enemies alike in a web
of falsehood. He is drawn off for the moment from his mission in
the Netherlands to extend his conquests elsewhere. These proposed
conquests have exactly one object--to enable the spirit of despotism
‘to maintain the old mastery of mankind.’ ‘Countries and nations being
regarded as private property to be inherited or bequeathed to a few
favored individuals, ... it had now become right and proper for the
Spanish monarch to annex Scotland, England, and France to the very
considerable possessions which were already his own.’

A picturesque episode of the attempt upon England was the Armada.
To this enterprise Motley gives one of his best and most thrilling
chapters. Equally fascinating is the account of the attempt upon
France, the battle of Ivry (when the white plume of Henry of Navarre
carried the hopes of all liberal-minded men), and the terrible siege of
Paris which almost immediately followed. ‘Rarely have men at any epoch
defended their fatherland against foreign oppression with more heroism
than that which was manifested by the Parisians of 1590 in resisting
religious toleration, and in obeying a foreign and priestly despotism.’

Perhaps there are not to be found in the historian’s works more
striking passages than those in which are described the last days of
Philip the Second. To Philip’s fortitude, in agony as poignant as
any he had visited upon his miserable victims, the historian gives
unstinted praise. The account, which rests upon documentary basis,
presents an accumulation of horrors from which a Zola or a Flaubert
might have learned a lesson. The king died with a clear conscience,
having upon his soul the blood of uncounted numbers of human beings,
and providing in his will that ‘thirty thousand masses should be said
for his soul.’

‘It seems like mere railing to specify his crimes,’ says Motley.
‘The horrible monotony of his career stupefies the mind until it is
ready to accept the principle of evil as the fundamental law of the
land.’ Motley’s conclusion is that Philip the Second of Spain was
Machiavelli’s greatest pupil.

What remains of the book after Philip’s death lacks neither literary
interest nor historic value. But we have something akin to the feeling
which comes over us when the chief character in a play dies before the
last act; we question for a moment whether the interest will hold. That
dominant and sinister personality leaves a void which the exploits of
Prince Maurice hardly serve to fill. With these exploits, however, and
a discussion of the causes leading to the Twelve Years’ Truce, Motley
concluded the _History of the United Netherlands_.

In the last of his three great works, _John of Barneveld_, Motley
gave full expression to his generous partisanship of all that seemed
to him to stand for the spirit of liberty. With a contempt for the
subtleties of theological speculation, the historian was by instinct
‘Remonstrant,’ that is, anti-Calvinistic, and found in Barneveld one of
his heroes. He has painted a wonderful picture of the old advocate’s
trial and death. Hounded daily by twenty-four judges, many of them his
personal enemies, compelled to rely on his powerful memory in reviewing
the events and explaining the acts of his forty-three years of public
service, denied books, denied counsel, denied a knowledge in advance
of the charges made against him, denied access to the notes of his
examination as it proceeded, denied everything suggested by the words
‘law’ and ‘justice,’ Barneveld came out of the ordeal so triumphantly
that the announcement of his sentence might well have moved him to say:
‘I am ready enough to die, but I cannot comprehend why I am to die.’

In characterization of men, in searching analysis of causes and
motives, in brilliant description, and in manly eloquence, Motley’s
_John of Barneveld_ equals its predecessors, while the note of passion
is if anything intensified by the bitter experiences through which the
historian had so recently passed.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fitting postlude to Motley’s work as a whole may be found in the last
sentence of the _United Netherlands_. It makes clear the motives other
than scholarly and creative which led to the writing of these splendid
narratives. Says the historian: ‘If by his labors a generous love has
been fostered for that blessing, without which everything that this
earth can afford is worthless,--freedom of thought, of speech, and of
life,--his highest wish has been fulfilled.’


FOOTNOTES:

  [46] O. W. Holmes.

  [47] _Merry-Mount_ is more readable than its predecessor. Such
       characters as Sir Christopher Gardiner and his ‘cousin,’
       Thomas Morton with his hawks and his classical quotations,
       Esther Ludlow and Maudsley, Walford the smith, Blaxton the
       hermit, together with the human grotesques Peter Cakebread,
       Bootefish, and Canary-Bird, repay one for the trouble he
       takes to make their acquaintance.

  [48] For a defence of the part played by the Secretary of State in
       this affair see John Bigelow’s paper entitled ‘Mr. Seward and
       Mr. Motley,’ in the ‘International Review,’ July-August, 1878.

  [49] John Jay: ‘Motley’s Appeal to History,’ in the ‘International
       Review’ for November-December, 1877.

  [50] J. R. Green.

  [51] _Dutch Republic_, i, 162.



XIV

_Francis Parkman_


REFERENCES:

  =Edward Wheelwright=: ‘Memoir of Francis Parkman, LL.D.,’
    _Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts_, vol.
    i, 1895.

  =C. H. Farnham=: _A Life of Francis Parkman_, 1901.

  =H. D. Sedgwick=: _Francis Parkman_, ‘American Men of Letters,’
    1904.


I

HIS LIFE

The Parkmans are descendants of Thomas Parkman of Sidmouth, Devon,
whose son Elias settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1633.
Francis Parkman was a son of the Reverend Francis Parkman, pastor
for thirty-six years of the New North Church in Boston. Through his
mother, Caroline (Hall) Parkman, he was related to the famous colonial
minister, John Cotton. Two of his maternal ancestors used to preach
to the Indians in their own tongue. Parkman’s deep interest in the
‘aborigines’ may have been ‘partly inherited from these Puritan
ancestors.’ ‘It does not appear, however, that he ever learned their
language, and it may be regarded as certain that he never preached to
them.’

Born in Boston on September 16, 1823, Parkman prepared for college
at Chauncy Hall School and was graduated at Harvard in 1844. During
his college course he ‘showed symptoms of Injuns on the brain,’ as a
classmate phrased it. In 1841 he began those vacation wanderings which
gave him such an intimate acquaintance with the American wilderness.
Before taking his degree he had planned a book on the conspiracy of
Pontiac. The year after graduation he visited Detroit and other scenes
of the historic drama, collected papers, and, wherever it was possible,
‘interviewed descendants of the actors.’

At his father’s instance Parkman then entered the Dane Law School at
Cambridge and obtained his degree (1846), but took no steps to be
admitted to the bar. He studied by himself history, Indian ethnology,
and ‘models of English style.’ The passage in _Vassall Morton_
describing the influence of Thierry’s _Norman Conquest_ in directing
the hero of the novel towards ethnological study, is thought to be
autobiographical.

Having weakened his sight by immoderate reading, Parkman (in 1846) made
a journey to the Northwest, ‘partly to cure his eyes and partly to
study Indian life.’ He was accompanied by his friend Quincy Adams Shaw.
For some weeks he lived in a village of Ogillallah Indians, sharing
the tent of a chief and following the wanderings of the tribe in their
search for enemies and buffalo. The hardships of the life ruined his
health. His sight was made worse rather than better, and his first
book, _The Oregon Trail_ (1849), describing these western experiences,
had to be written from dictation.[52] It was followed by _The
Conspiracy of Pontiac_ (1851), and that by _Vassall Morton_ (1856), an
attempt at fiction. This ends the initial period of Parkman’s literary
life.

In 1850 Parkman married Catharine, a daughter of Doctor Jacob Bigelow
of Boston. She is said to have been a woman of a sweet and joyful
disposition, having a keen sense of humor, and, above all, endowed
with ‘the high courage requisite to tend unfalteringly the pain and
suffering of the man she loved.’[53] It was a perfect union, but
unhappily it was not to last long. Mrs. Parkman died in 1858.

The historian’s health steadily declined. For years together his chief
study was to keep himself alive. As a part of this study he took up
floriculture, and soon found himself absorbed in it for its own sake.
He became famous for his roses and lilies, and was the recipient of
prizes innumerable from horticultural societies.[54] Yet at no time
did he lose sight of his main object, the history of France in North
America. Little by little his store of materials accumulated. Even
when he was at his worst physically, some progress was made. It might
be only a step, but the step had not to be retraced.

As his strength returned he began to travel. To renew his acquaintance
with the Indians he went to Fort Snelling in 1867. He was repeatedly in
Paris consulting archives and doctors. He visited Canada in 1873 and
explored over and over again the region between Quebec and Lake George.

The great historical series to which its author gave the title of
_France and England in North America_ began to appear just at the close
of the Civil War. The volumes in the order of their publication are:
_The Pioneers of France in the New World_, 1865; _The Jesuits in North
America_, 1867; _The Discovery of the Great West_, 1869;[55] _The Old
Régime_, 1874; _Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV_, 1877;
_Montcalm and Wolfe_, 1884; _A Half-Century of Conflict_, 1892.

The merits of this extraordinary series were recognized at once as
many and varied. It is a question to which of three types of reader
the books most appealed,--the scholar, who is bound to read critically
whether he will or no, the utilitarian in search of facts chiefly, or
the mere lover of literature. Each found what he was seeking in these
narratives, and each paid homage to the author in his own way.

As is often true of historians far less notable than he, Parkman was
the recipient of academic honors, and was made a member of numerous
historical societies. The mere catalogue of these distinctions fills a
page of printed text. His membership of the Massachusetts Historical
Society and his degree of LL. D. from Harvard College (1889) will
serve as illustrations. Parkman was influential in helping to found
the Archæological Institute of America. He was one of the founders of
the St. Botolph Club in Boston, and its president during the first six
years of its existence.

The history of France and England in North America was completed the
year before he died. Had time and strength been allowed him, he would
have recast the material in the form of a continuous narrative. There
might have been a gain in the new arrangement, as on the other hand
there might have been a loss.

Parkman died at his home at Jamaica Plain, near Boston, on November 8,
1893.


II

PARKMAN’S CHARACTER

Parkman had prodigious will power and unequalled pertinacity. No
barrier to the accomplishment of his object was allowed to stand in
the way. He was beset by the demons of ill health, and their number was
legion. Unable to rout them by impetuous onslaught, he tired them out,
thinning their ranks, one by one. He was infinitely patient, full of
devices for outwitting the enemy. Beaten again and again, he stubbornly
renewed the fight. Threatened with blindness, he set himself to avoid
it, and did. Threatened with insanity, he declined to become insane.

Nothing could be more admirable than the spirit in which he faced daily
torment. He was that extraordinary being, a cheerful stoic. Four times
in his life it was a question whether he would live or die. Parkman
admitted that once, had he been seeking merely his comfort, he would
have elected to die. That must have been the time when, in response to
his physician’s encouraging remark that he had a strong constitution,
Parkman said: ‘I’m afraid I have.’ In ordinary conditions of ill health
he was bright, cheery, philosophical, but when he suffered most he was
silent. At no time was he capable of complaining.

Parkman loved to face the hard facts of life and was apt to admire
others in the degree in which they showed a like spirit. He had a
sovereign contempt for everything not manly and robust. He contradicted
with amusing emphasis the statement in some biographical notice that
he was ‘feeble.’ By his philosophy the militant attitude toward
life was the true one. He believed in war as a moral force; it
made for character both in the man and in the nation. ‘The severest
disappointment of his life was his inability to enter the army during
our civil war.’

He was wholly free from certain narrow traits which are too apt to
be engendered in a life devoted to books and authorship. Manly,
open-hearted, unspoiled, he neither craved honors nor despised them.
It has been remarked that while he was gratified by the recognition
accorded his work in high places, he was equally pleased with a letter
from ‘a live boy’ who wrote to tell him how much he had enjoyed reading
about Pontiac and La Salle. He himself kept to the last a certain
boyish frankness of mind and heart. The year before he died he wrote
to the secretary of the class of ’44: ‘Please give my kind regrets and
remembrances to the fellows.’

There have been not a few attractive personalities in the history of
American letters. Parkman was one of the most attractive among them.


III

THE WRITER

The style is clear and luminous. Short sentences abound, giving the
effect of rapidity. The mind of the reader never halts because of an
obscure term or some intricacy of structure. Neither is the page
spotted with long words ending in _tion_, and which coming in groups,
as they do in Bancroft, are like grit in the teeth. Parkman did not
attain the exquisite grace and composure which characterize Irving’s
prose, but he came nearer to it than did Prescott. The historian of
Ferdinand and Isabella had a self-conscious style. Agreeable as it is,
it reveals a man always on guard as he writes. In his most eloquent
passages Prescott is formal, precise, even stiff.

Parkman’s style is wholly engaging. There is a captivating manner about
it, the result of his immense enthusiasm for his theme. Infinitely
laborious in the preparation, sceptical in use of authorities,
temperate in judgment, when, however, it comes to telling the story,
he allows his genius for narration a free rein, and the style, though
losing none of its dignity, is eager and almost impetuous. The
historian speaks as an eye-witness of all he describes.

This explains Parkman’s popularity in large degree. Fascinating as the
subject is, the manner adds a hundred fold. He who reads Bancroft gets
a deal of information, for which he pays a round price. He who reads
Parkman gets facts, eloquence, philosophy, besides no end of adventure,
and for all this he pays literally nothing.


IV

EARLY WORK

_OREGON TRAIL_, _CONSPIRACY OF PONTIAC_, _VASSALL MORTON_

_The Oregon Trail_ ranks high among books which, though sometimes
written for quite another purpose, are read chiefly for entertainment.
Such was _Two Years before the Mast_, such was _The Bible in Spain_,
that skilful work of a most accomplished poseur.

In addition to its value as literature, _The Oregon Trail_ is a
trustworthy account of a no longer existent state of society. It is
a document. The range of experience was narrow, and the adventures
few, but so far as it goes the record is perfect; and when read in
connection with his historical work, the book becomes a commentary on
Parkman’s method. Here is shown how he got that knowledge of Indian
life and character which distinguishes his work from that of other
historical writers who touch the same field. The knowledge was utilized
at once in his next work.

_The Conspiracy of Pontiac_ is the sort of book people praise by saying
that it is as readable as a novel. The comparison is unfortunate. So
many novels are disciplinary rather than amusing. One wishes it were
possible to say of them that they are as readable as history.

Nevertheless it is quite true that the virtues supposed to inhere
chiefly in a work of fiction are conspicuous in this the first of
Parkman’s historical studies. _The Conspiracy of Pontiac_ is a story,
filled with incident and abounding in illustrations of courage,
craft, endurance, stubbornness, self-sacrifice, despair, triumph. The
plain truth shames invention. Pontiac lives in these pages describing
his towering ambition. So do the other actors,--Rogers, Gladwyn,
Campbell, Catharine the Ojibwa girl. The supernumeraries are strikingly
picturesque,--Canadian settlers, trappers, coureurs des bois, priests,
half-breeds, and Indians, the motley denizens of frontier and
wilderness. A forest drama played by actors like these is bound to be
absorbing were it only as a spectacle.

One fact becomes apparent on taking up this book. History as Parkman
writes it is both dramatic and graphical, filled with action and
movement, filled with color, form, and beauty. With such an eye for
effect it is impossible for him to be dull. Open the volume at random
and the wealth of the author’s observations seems to have been showered
on that page. But the next page is like it, and also the next.

The vivacity of youth explains much in this narrative. Parkman was
but twenty-six when he wrote _The Conspiracy of Pontiac_. Being
young, he was not afraid to be eloquent, to revel in descriptions of
sunrise and sunset, tempests, the coming of spring, the brilliant hues
of autumn foliage, the soft haze of Indian summer. His chapters are
richly enamelled with these glowing pieces of rhetoric. He is no less
brilliant in his martial scenes; the accounts of the Battle of Bloody
Bridge and of Bouquet’s fight in the forest are extraordinarily well
done.

The historian is severe on writers who have idealized the Indian.
Here is one of Parkman’s own characterizations: ‘The stern,
unchanging features of his mind excite our admiration from their very
immutability; and we look with deep interest on the fate of this
irreclaimable son of the wilderness, the child who will not be weaned
from the breast of his rugged mother. And our interest increases when
we discern in the unhappy wanderer, mingled among his vices, the germs
of heroic virtues,--a hand bountiful to bestow, as it is rapacious to
seize, and, even in extremest famine, imparting its last morsel to
a fellow sufferer; a heart which, strong in friendship as in hate,
thinks it not too much to lay down life for its chosen comrade; a soul
true to its own idea of honor, and burning with an unquenchable thirst
for greatness and renown.’ Neither poet nor novelist really needs to
embroider such an account of the Red Man.

This successful historic monograph was followed by an unsuccessful
novel, written, it is thought, for recreation. Without being an
autobiography, _Vassall Morton_ abounds in autobiographical passages.
Its failure was not of the kind that proves inability ever to master
the art of fiction. The loss to American letters however would have
been incalculable had Parkman’s genius for historical narrative been
sacrificed in any degree to novel writing. And this might have happened
had _Vassall Morton_ been a success.


V

_FRANCE AND ENGLAND IN NORTH AMERICA_

The history of France in North America abounds in everything appealing
to the love of the heroic. Parkman writes in a spirit of frank and
contagious admiration. Himself of Puritan blood and appreciative of
the best in Puritan character, he makes the pale narratives of the
contentious little English republics seem colorless indeed when laid
beside his glowing pages. The great warriors, the brave and fanatical
priests, the adventurous rangers, and the iron-hearted explorers of New
France were born to be wondered at and extolled. Without assuming that
these men had a monopoly of virtue, Parkman scatters praise with a free
hand.

The germ of this massive and beautiful work is contained in the
introductory chapters of _Pontiac_. Here is outlined the history of
French exploration, religious propagandism, and military conquest or
defeat up to the fall of Quebec.

The first three narratives (_The Pioneers of France_, _The Jesuits_,
and _La Salle_) cover the period of inception. They abound in
illustrations of heroism, self-sacrifice, and missionary fervor. The
last three volumes (_Count Frontenac_, _A Half-Century of Conflict_,
and _Montcalm and Wolfe_) describe the struggle of rival powers for
supremacy. They are characterized mainly by illustrations of commercial
greed, ecclesiastical jealousy, personal and political ambition. Midway
in the series and related alike to what precedes and what follows is
the fascinating volume, _The Old Régime in Canada_.

The title of the initial volume, _The Pioneers of France in the New
World_, exactly describes it. The ‘Pioneers’ are the Basque, the
Norman, and the Breton sailors who, from an almost unrecorded past,
crossed the sea yearly to fish on the banks of Newfoundland. They are
Jacques Cartier of St. Malo, who first explored the St. Lawrence,
Roberval, La Roche, and De Monts. Men of their time, they were both
devout and unscrupulous. Among them and their followers were grim
humorists. When, after the arrival of De Monts’s company in Acadia, a
priest and a Huguenot minister died at the same time, the crew buried
them in one grave ‘to see if they would lie peaceably together.’

Chief among the great names of this period is that of Samuel Champlain,
the ‘life’ of New France, who united in himself ‘the crusader, the
romance-loving explorer, the curious, knowledge-seeking traveller,
the practical navigator.’ Such a man has a breadth of vision and
strength of purpose in comparison with which the sight of common men is
blindness and their strength infirmity.

The second narrative in the series, _The Jesuits in North America_,
is an amazing record of courage, fanaticism, indomitable will,
perseverance, and martyrdom. The book contains the gist of the famous
_Jesuit Relations_. A man may be forgiven for not wearying himself with
the tediousness of those good fathers who were often as long-winded as
they were brave. But he is inexcusable if he has not learned to admire
them through Parkman’s thrilling account of their physical sufferings
and spiritual triumphs. Those giants of devotion, Brébeuf, Lalemant,
Garnier, and Jogues, seem both human and superhuman as they move across
the stage of history.

In _La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West_ we have a story of
zeal of another sort. La Salle is a pathetic figure. Yet to pity him
were to offer insult. He stood apart from his fellows, misunderstood
and maligned, but self-centred and self-sufficient. His contemporaries
thought him crack-brained; suffering had turned his head. They mocked
his schemes and denied the truth of the discoveries to which he laid
claim. His history is one of pure disaster. But no one of Parkman’s
heroes awakens greater sympathy than this silent man who found in
the pursuit of honor compensation enough for incredible fatigues and
sacrifices.

_The Old Régime in Canada_ treats of the contest between the feudal
chiefs of Acadia, La Tour and D’Aunay, of the mission among the
Iroquois, of the career of that imperious churchman Laval, and then,
in a hundred and fifty brilliant pages, of Canadian civilization in
the Seventeenth Century. This section is a model of instructive and
stimulating writing, grateful alike to the student of manners and to
the amateur of literary delights.

The last volume shows the construction of the ‘political and social
machine.’ The next, _Count Frontenac and New France_, shows the
‘machine in action.’ The period covered is from 1672 to 1698.
Frontenac’s collision with the order which controlled the spiritual
destinies of New France led to his recall in 1682. La Barre, who
succeeded Frontenac, was a failure. Denonville, the next governor,
could live amicably with the Jesuits, but religious fervor proved no
substitute for tact in dealing with the savages. There was need of a
man who could handle both Jesuits and Indians. At seventy years of age
Frontenac returned to prop the tottering fortunes of New France. One
learns to like the irascible old governor who was vastly jealous of his
dignity, but who, when the need was, could take a tomahawk and dance a
war-dance to the great admiration of the Indians and to the political
benefit of New France.

The story of the struggle for supremacy is continued in _A Half-Century
of Conflict_.[56] That phase of the record relating to the border
forays is almost monotonous in its unvarying details of ambuscade,
murder, the torture-stake, and captivity. The French and their Indian
allies descended on the outlying settlements of New England with fire,
sword, and tomahawk. Deerfield was sacked, and the country harried far
and wide.

In the mean time French explorers were advancing west and south. Some,
in their eagerness to anticipate the English, established posts in
Louisiana. Others, with a courage peculiar to the time rather than to
any one race, pushed beyond the Missouri to Colorado and New Mexico, to
Dakota and Montana, led on by mixed motives such as personal ambition,
love of gain, patriotism.

A spectacular event of the period was the siege and capture of
Louisbourg by a force largely composed of New England farmers and
fishermen. The project was conceived in audacity and carried out with
astonishing dash and good humor. That was singular military enterprise
which in the mind of an eye-witness bore some resemblance to a
‘Cambridge Commencement.’ ‘While the cannon bellowed in the front,’
says Parkman, ‘frolic and confusion reigned at the camp, where the men
raced, wrestled, pitched quoits, and ... ran after French cannon balls,
which were carried to the batteries to be returned to those who sent
them.’

The volumes entitled _Montcalm and Wolfe_ crown the work. With stores
of erudition, a finely tempered judgment, a practised pen, and taste
refined by thirty years’ search for the manliest and most becoming
forms of expression, Parkman gave himself to the writing of this his
masterpiece. The work is the longest as well as the best of the seven
parts. Every page, from the account of Céloron de Bienville’s journey
to the Ohio to the story of the fall of Quebec, is crowded with fact,
suggestion, eloquence. The texture of the narrative is close knit. The
early volumes are often disjointed. They resemble groups of essays.
Chapters are so completely a unit that they might be read by themselves
with little regard to what preceded or what was to follow. Not so the
_Montcalm and Wolfe_, which is a perfectly homogeneous piece of work.

This series of narratives has extraordinary merits. Let us note a few
of them.

Among Parkman’s virtues as a historian are clarity of view, a
singularly unbiased attitude, an eye for the picturesque which never
fails to seize on the essentials of form, color, and grouping,
extraordinary power of condensation, a firm grasp of details, together
with the ability to subordinate all details to the main purpose. But
other historians have had these same virtues; we must find something
more distinctive.

History as Parkman conceived it cannot be based on books and documents
alone. The historian must identify himself with the men of the past,
live their life, think their thoughts, place himself so far as possible
at their point of view. Since he cannot talk with them, he must at
least talk with their descendants. But the nature of the ‘habitant’
cannot be studied in the latitude of Boston, it must be studied
on the St. Lawrence. A city covers the site of ancient Hochelaga,
nevertheless the historian must go there, and under the same sky, with
many features of the landscape unchanged, reconstruct Hochelaga as it
was when Jacques Cartier’s eyes rested upon it in 1535. This indicates
Parkman’s method. When he visited a battle-field it was not as one who
aimed at mere mathematical correctness of description, but as an artist
whose imagination took fire at the sight of a historic spot, and who
had there a vision of the past such as would not come to him in his
library.

Would we see Parkman in a characteristic rôle we should not go to
his literary workshop, but for example to the little town of Utica,
Illinois. There one summer night, sitting on the porch of the hotel,
Parkman described to a group of farmers gathered about, the location
of La Salle’s fort and of the great Indian town. The description was
based on what he had learned from books ‘nearly two hundred years old.’
His improvised audience gave hearty assent to its accuracy. Parkman
was there to obtain accuracy of another sort. The next day he visited
all the localities which formed the background of the historic drama
and reconstructed the life of the time. This is but one instance among
hundreds which might be brought forward to show the pains he took.
Herein lay the distinctive feature of his method. He used imagination
not to embroider the facts of history, but to give to dead facts a
new life. A faculty of the mind which is supposed to vitiate history
becomes in Parkman’s hands a means for arriving at truth.

Parkman was a fortunate man. He was happy in his choice of a subject.
The theme was a great one, worthy the pen of so profound a scholar and
so gifted a literary artist. To this theme he gave his life, working
with singleness of purpose and under incredible difficulties. No trace
of this suffering can be detected in the temper of his judgments, or
in the even flow and bright radiance of his narrative. He was not only
happy in his mastery of his subject, he was most happy in his mastery
of himself. Parkman’s life is a reproach to the man who, working amid
normal conditions of health and fortune, permits himself to complain
that there are difficulties in his way.


FOOTNOTES:

  [52] _The Oregon Trail_ was first published serially in ‘The
       Knickerbocker Magazine.’

  [53] Sedgwick’s _Parkman_, p. 217.

  [54] His _Book of the Roses_ was published in 1866.

  [55] Later renamed _La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West_.

  [56] _A Half-Century of Conflict_ was not published until after
       the _Montcalm and Wolfe_. The historian became fearful lest
       some accident should prevent his completing the part of his
       narrative towards which all his study had tended.



XV

_Bayard Taylor_


REFERENCES:

  =Marie Hansen-Taylor and H. E. Scudder=: _Life and Letters of
    Bayard Taylor_, 1884.

  =A. H. Smyth=: _Bayard Taylor_, ‘American Men of Letters’ [1896].


I

HIS LIFE

Bayard Taylor in 1841, when he was sixteen, contributed to the
Philadelphia ‘Saturday Evening Post’ the verses entitled ‘Soliloquy of
a Young Poet.’ In 1878, the year of his death, he was still planning
new literary enterprises, and in so far as declining health permitted,
carrying them out. If unwearied devotion through nearly forty years to
the literary life, great fecundity in production, much taste, no little
scholarship, and unquestioned sincerity in the exercise of his art
entitle one to be called by the honorable name of man of letters, who
is more deserving than the author of _The Masque of the Gods_? To be
sure, only a few of his many books are read. But Taylor is in no worse
case than many men who tower giant-fashion above him. They likewise
have written forty volumes and are known and measured by two or three.

Taylor was partly of German, partly of English Quaker stock, and could
boast an ancestor (Robert Taylor) who had come to America with William
Penn. The fourth of the ten children of Joseph and Rebecca (Way)
Taylor, he was born at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on January 11,
1825. His education was got at the neighboring academies of Westchester
and Unionville. He was a rhymester at the age of seven, and had become
an industrious writer by the time he was twelve.

Having no inclination towards school-teaching and still less towards
his father’s vocation, farming, Taylor was apprenticed to a printer.
He was presently seized with a passion for travel, and in 1844, with
one hundred and forty dollars in his pocket, payment in advance for
certain letters he was to write for Philadelphia journals, he set out
on a pedestrian tour of Europe. He had a few remittances from home.
Greeley promised to print some of his letters provided they were ‘not
descriptive’ and that before writing them the young traveller made sure
that he had been in Europe ‘long enough to know something.’ Seventeen
of Taylor’s letters appeared in the ‘Tribune.’

By rigid economy Taylor managed to get on. But one must have youth to
endure the hardships of such a journey. Especially must one have youth
if he proposes, as Taylor did, to walk from Marseilles to Paris in
the cold winter rains. The history of these two years of wandering is
recounted in _Views Afoot, or Europe seen with Knapsack and Staff_
(1846).

Taylor returned to America and took up journalism. Failing in an
attempt to make of the ‘Phœnixville Pioneer’ a paper according to his
ideal, he went to New York (December, 1847). After various experiences
he secured a place on the ‘Tribune,’ was rapidly advanced, and became
in time a stockholder. He was sent to California to report on the gold
discoveries. This journey furnished him with the matter for his second
book of travel, _El Dorado, or Adventures in the Path of Empire_ (1850).

His whole subsequent career is but a variation on the themes of 1846
and 1850. He went everywhere,--to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor
(1851–52); to Spain and India, then on to China, where he joined
Perry’s expedition to Japan (1853). He was in Germany, Norway, and
Lapland in 1856, in Greece in 1857–58, in Russia in 1862–63 (where for
a while he held the post of secretary of legation), in Switzerland, the
Pyrenees, and Corsica in 1868, and in Egypt and Iceland in the same
year (1874).

All his adventures were transmuted into books: _A Journey to Central
Africa_, 1854; _The Lands of the Saracen_, 1854; _A Visit to India,
China, and Japan in the Year 1853_, 1855; _Northern Travel_, 1857;
_Travels in Greece and Russia_, 1859; _At Home and Abroad_, 1859; _At
Home and Abroad_, ‘second series,’ 1862; _Colorado_, 1867; _By-Ways of
Europe_, 1869; _Egypt and Iceland_, 1874.

A part of the great success of these books was due to causes far
from literature. Doubtless, if written to-day, the volumes would be
read, but it were idle to suppose that they could have the vogue they
enjoyed in the Fifties. The American public of a half-century ago was
not nomadic. It had few ways of gratifying its thirst for knowledge
of foreign lands. Photographs were so expensive that one seldom ran
the risk of being obliged to sit down with a friend ‘just back from
Europe’ to admire such novelties as the Leaning Tower and the Bridge of
Sighs. The oxyhydrogen stereopticon was imperfect, the panorama clumsy
and ill-painted. Therefore the writings of a man who had the knack of
telling agreeably what he had seen were most welcome. The home-keeping
public enjoyed also hearing the traveller talk. When Taylor lectured
(for he became one of the most popular lecturers of the day) they
crowded the hall and thought two hours of him not long enough.

Timeliness, however, does not explain all the success of _Views Afoot_
and its companion volumes. Taylor was an excellent writer even when he
wrote most hastily. If his word-pictures were often highly colored,
they possessed, among other virtues, the great virtue of having been
painted on the spot. Through their aid one could really see what Taylor
had himself seen.

But Taylor was a poet before he was a traveller. In 1844 he published
(under the patronage of R. W. Griswold, his first literary adviser) a
little volume entitled _Ximena, or, The Battle of the Sierra Morena,
and Other Poems_. It was followed by _Rhymes of Travel_ (1848) and _The
American Legend_, the Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard (1850). To these
must be added _A Book of Romances, Lyrics, and Songs_, 1851; _Poems
and Ballads_, 1854; _Poems of the Orient_, 1854; _Poems of Home and
Travel_, 1855; _The Poet’s Journal_, 1862; _The Picture of St. John_,
1866; _The Masque of the Gods_, 1872; _Lars_, 1873; _The Prophet_,
1874; _Home Pastorals, Ballads, and Lyrics_, 1875; _The National Ode_
(read by the author at the opening of the ‘Centennial’), 1876; and
_Prince Deukalion_, 1878. The great translation of Goethe’s _Faust_,
with the commentary, appeared in 1870–71.

Not content with his commercial success as a writer of travels, and his
artistic triumphs in poetry, Taylor tried fiction. The first of his
four novels, _Hannah Thurston_ (1863), is in part a satire and shows in
their most disagreeable light the people who abhor meat and swear by
vegetables, the people who profess to hold communication with spirits,
the people who think other people ought not to buy and sell human
flesh, and so forth.

_John Godfrey’s Fortunes_ (1864) embodies not a few of Taylor’s
journalistic experiences in New York. Here are glimpses of literary
society such as the soirées at the home of Estelle Ann Lewis, the
Mademoiselle de Scudéry of that time and place. _The Story of Kennett_
(1866) is a Pennsylvanian study, a true and lively picture of a phase
of civilization which the author perfectly understood. _Joseph and his
Friend_ (1870) closed the series of efforts by which Taylor tried to
earn money enough to free him from the thraldom of the lecture platform.

His other publications were _Beauty and the Beast, and Tales of Home_
(1872), _The Echo Club_ (1876), the posthumous _Studies in German
Literature_ (1879), and _Essays and Studies_ (1880).

Of Taylor’s private life a few important facts remain to be recorded.
The pathetic story of Mary Agnew, the beautiful girl whom he had loved
since they were school-children together, and whom he married on her
death-bed, is a romance which fortunately has been well told by both of
Taylor’s biographers. In 1857 (seven years after Mary Agnew’s death)
Taylor married Marie Hansen, daughter of Professor Hansen of Gotha, the
astronomer. How devoted and helpful she was to him during his arduous
life, and how loyal to his memory, are facts too well known to require
emphasis.

The home at Kennett known as ‘Cedarcroft’ was built in 1859–60. Taylor
lavished on it both money and affection; and while for a few years it
gave him a deal of happiness, it proved in the end a burden he could
ill afford to carry.

Robust and vigorous though he seemed in middle life, Taylor by
unremitting activity had sapped his powers. He gave no evidence of
declining literary ambition, but at fifty he was worn out by overwork.
A notable recognition of his worth came to him in 1878, when President
Hayes appointed him Minister to Germany. He was not to enjoy the honor
for long. In May, 1878, he took up the duties of his office, and on
the fifteenth of the following December he died while sitting in his
armchair in his library.


II

HIS CHARACTER

Ambition was a ruling motive in Taylor’s life. Yet there has seldom
been an ambition which, albeit as consuming as fire, was at the same
time so free from selfish and ignoble elements.

Taylor aspired to fame through cultivation of the art of poesy.
This was the real object of his life. To gain this object he toiled
unceasingly and made innumerable sacrifices. Baffled in the attempt
to reach his ideal, he was a little comforted when he could persuade
himself that he had not fallen completely short of it. And there was
exceeding great reward in the knowledge that if wide recognition as
a poet was denied him, his friends, Whittier, Longfellow, Stoddard,
Boker, and Aldrich, knew for what he was striving and commended him in
no uncertain tones.

Whittier described Taylor as one who loved ‘old friends, old ways, and
kept his boyhood’s dreams in sight.’ Life was intensely interesting
to Taylor. Although the zest of travel disappeared and his large
experience of the ways of men had had its customary disillusioning
effect, he never really lost his youthful enthusiasm. And it is
touching to find in his private correspondence the repeated proofs of
how inexhaustible was his fund of hope and of courage, and how quick he
was to recover after real or fancied defeat.

Notwithstanding his successes, and he had his share of the good
things of life,--contemporary reputation, money of his own earning,
and friends,--Bayard Taylor remains, with all his manly qualities,
a somewhat pathetic figure in American letters. He led a restless
and turbulent mental existence, and died the victim of ambition and
overwork.


III

THE ARTIST

Taylor has been pronounced the most skilful of our metrists after
Longfellow. One illustration only can be given of his interest in the
mechanism of verse, and that is his poetic romance _The Picture of St.
John_. The poem was not published until sixteen years after its first
conception. Possibly its growth was a little retarded by the structural
peculiarities.

The poem contains three hundred and fifty-five eight-line stanzas
(iambic pentameter) grouped into four books. The ‘ottava rima’ was
chosen as ‘better adapted for the purposes of a romantic epic than
either the Spenserian stanza[57] or the heroic couplet.’ But the
question with the poet was,--how to avoid the ‘uniform sweetness’ of a
regular stanza while obtaining the ‘proper compactness and strength of
rhythm’ which (in his belief) only a stanza could give. His device was
to allow himself freedom of rhyme within the stanza, and this ‘not to
escape the laws which Poetry imposes,’ but rather to impose a different
law in the hope that the form would ‘more readily reflect the varying
moods.’ When finally the poem was finished Taylor found that the three
hundred and fifty-five stanzas contained ‘more than seventy variations
in the order of rhyme.’

Only an enthusiast in the study of form would have undertaken the task
of reproducing _Faust_ in the original metres. Taylor’s success was so
great that his work as a translator has obscured his fame as a poet.
Doubtless so nearly perfect a version had been impossible without that
wonderful grasp of the spirit of the original. But it must not be
forgotten how much it owes to the years of study and practice Taylor
gave to the technique of his art.


IV

POETICAL WORK

In 1855 Taylor published a selection from his earlier books of verse
under the title _Poems of Home and Travel_. By this volume and its
companion, _Poems of the Orient_, he wished, so he said at the time, to
be judged. For all his other pieces he desired ‘speedy forgetfulness.’

_Poems of Home and Travel_ shows very well the range of Taylor’s
art. Here are rhymed stories (‘The Soldier and the Pard’ and
‘Kubleh’), graceful settings of classic or Indian legend (‘Hylas’ and
‘Mon-da-Min’), together with a pretty fancy from Shakespeare (‘Ariel
in the Cloven Pine’). A deeper chord is struck in poems of human love
and loss (‘The Two Visions’) and in poems expressing aspiration for the
ideal (‘Love and Solitude’), or in those which voice the poet’s joy in
a life of action and struggle (‘The Life of Earth’ and ‘Taurus’). There
is an ode, ‘The Harp,’ lamenting the silence of song in our America
where there is so much to sing. And there are yet other odes, songs,
and sonnets.

_Poems of the Orient_ is a typical volume, full of color, warmth,
light, breathing the intoxication and glowing with the fantasy of that
great vague region we call ‘the East.’ The charm of the verses is very
pronounced. How much of what we relish in the volume is really the
spirit of the East can best be told by one who knows both the East and
the poems. Oriental lyrics and romances would be written otherwise
to-day. Taylor was partly under the thrall of that roseate view of the
Orient held by Thomas Moore and his contemporaries. Sir Richard Burton
has popularized a more realistic conception in which love and roses are
less prominent. The flavor of _Poems of the Orient_ may be known by
such pieces as ‘The Temptation of Hassan Ben Khaled,’ ‘Amran’s Wooing’
(an Oriental version of young Lochinvar), ‘El Khalil,’ ‘Desert Hymn to
the Sun,’ and the popular ‘Bedouin Song.’

_The Poet’s Journal_, a group of twenty-nine lyrics connected by a
poetic narrative and divided into First, Second, and Third Evenings,
is plainly autobiographical. Its varying moods of despair and dumb
grief, followed by the stirrings of hope and ambition, and, under the
influence of awakened love, the triumph of the spirit to will and to
do, connect it with the most intimate passages in Taylor’s life.

_The Picture of St. John_, an Italian romance, seems made for a
popularity it somehow never attained. The worldly ambition of the
artist transfigured by love, the death of the highborn girl who
sacrifices wealth and pride of place for her lover, the unwitting
murder of her child by his grandsire, and the redemption of the artist
after months of conflict with the Power that Denies--these are elements
in a work on which the poet lavished the best of his gifts.

_Lars_, a Scandinavian study, an idyl of the vales and fiords of
Norway, illustrates Taylor’s cosmopolitanism. Passionately as he loved
the South, he could also exclaim with Ruth,

                                  I do confess
    I love Old Norway’s bleak, tremendous hills,
    Where winter sits, and sees the summer burn
    In valleys deeper than yon cloud is high:

           *       *       *       *       *

    I love the frank, brave habit of the folk,
    The hearts unspoiled, though fed from ruder times
    And filled with angry blood.

_Home Pastorals, Ballads, and Lyrics_ contains his fine studies of
Westchester County life, ‘The Quaker Widow,’ ‘John Reed,’ and ‘The Old
Pennsylvania Farmer,’ together with such happily conceived poems as
‘The Sunshine of the Gods,’ ‘Notus Ignoto,’ ‘Iris,’ ‘Implora Pace,’ and
‘Canopus,’ with its richly colored lines.

Taylor wrote three dramatic poems, none of which his critics are
willing to admit is a success. _The Masque of the Gods_, a lofty
conception, fails (if indeed it is a failure), not through feebleness
of touch, but through brevity. So vast a design needs room to expand.
As it stands, the _Masque_ is a preliminary sketch of what might have
become in the hands of its creator a great canvas. It is something
that the poet has succeeded in awakening pity for the worn-out deities
terrified because of their loss of power, terrified even more by the
possibility that they have no principle of life and are only the
creatures of men’s brains.

_The Prophet_ was a courageous dramatic experiment, and will always be
read with curiosity if not with pleasure. But to assume that Mormonism
is wholly unfitted for poetic drama is perhaps to assume too much.

_Prince Deukalion_, written under the inspiration of _Faust_, is
another of those gigantic conceptions with which Taylor’s imagination
loved in later life to busy itself, as if eager to try its powers to
the uttermost. A theme like this, wholly removed from human interest,
dealing with titanic and mythical figures, is the most dangerous in
the whole range of possible subjects. Taylor rises so easily to a
high level of poetic achievement that it seems as if he must presently
touch some mountain peak. Yet he always leaves the impression of really
having the strength to do that in which he fails. He disappoints
through the very display of power.

       *       *       *       *       *

His poetic work lacks idiosyncrasy, and to credit him with having given
rise to a ‘school’ is to be generous rather than just. His talent fell
just short of his ambition. A busy life with its multitude of cares
and interests left him too little time for brooding upon the great
themes he affected, and there was wanting the gift for relentless
self-criticism which operates almost like the creative power. None the
less his countrymen have not begun to discharge the debt of gratitude
they owe him. Taylor had great virtues. It should be imputed to him for
literary righteousness that he was willing to undertake the long poem.
He never, so far as is known, made the excuse our poets continually
offer, and which is almost infantile, that the general public does not
care for long poems,--as if a poet were under any obligation to the
general public.


FOOTNOTES:

  [57] _The Picture of St. John_ was begun eleven years before
       Worsley published his fine version of the _Odyssey_ in
       Spenserian stanza.



XVI

_George William Curtis_


REFERENCES:

  =Parke Godwin=: _George William Curtis, A Commemorative Address_,
    1892.

  =J. W. Chadwick=: _George William Curtis, an Address_, 1893.

  =Edward Cary=: _George William Curtis_, ‘American Men of
    Letters,’ 1894.


I

HIS LIFE

Henry Curtis, who sailed for New England from the port of London on
May 6, 1635, was the founder of the Curtis family in America. His
grandson, John Curtis of Worcester, was ‘a sturdy and open loyalist’ of
Revolutionary times whose personal character was as heartily esteemed
as his political principles were detested.

George Curtis, a great-grandson of John, married Mary Elizabeth
Burrill, daughter of James Burrill, Jr., Chief-justice of Rhode Island.
Of their two sons George William Curtis was the younger. He was born in
Providence, Rhode Island, on February 24, 1824.

With his brother James Burrill, his closest friend and almost
inseparable companion, he was sent to C. W. Greene’s school at Jamaica
Plain, near Boston, and remained there five years. He was afterwards
at school in Providence for four years. In New York, whither his
father had removed (in 1839) to become connected with the Bank of
Commerce, Curtis studied under private tutors and had some experience
of practical life in the counting-room of a German importing house.

The education given the Curtis boys had also an irregular though
very agreeable side. They spent much of the time from 1842 to 1844
as students at Brook Farm. The greater part of the two following
years they were at Concord, their object being to combine study and
out-of-door life, and above all to be near Emerson. Taking up residence
with one or other of several farmers whose local fame almost equalled
that of the Concord men of letters, they spent half of each day in farm
work and the other half in study or studious idleness. They were to be
found regularly at the Club which met on Monday evenings in Emerson’s
library and which numbered among its members Hawthorne, Thoreau, and
Alcott.

In August, 1846, provided by his father with a sum of money sufficient
to give him what he called ‘a generous background,’ Curtis went abroad.
He planned to be gone two years, but the background was more than
generous and he did not return until 1850. He travelled leisurely
through France, Germany, Italy, and the East, made notes of what
he saw and used them partly in the form of letters to the New York
‘Courier and Enquirer’ and partly in the famous ‘Howadji’ books. His
literary plans were ambitious, including as they did a life of Mehemet
Ali, on which he worked for some years only to abandon it at last.

On his return to New York he began writing regularly for the ‘Tribune,’
and was associated with C. F. Briggs and Parke Godwin in the editorship
of ‘Putnam’s Magazine.’ When the magazine passed into the hands of Dix,
Edwards, and Company, Curtis put money into the firm. By their failure
he not only lost everything he had, but he also assumed a debt for
which he could not have been legally held and devoted the proceeds of
his lectures to paying it. He was eighteen years in ridding himself of
the burden.

In 1854 he began printing the famous ‘Easy Chair’ papers in ‘Harper’s
Monthly,’ and in 1857 the department of ‘Harper’s Weekly’ called ‘The
Lounger.’ The latter was a frank imitation in part of the _Tatler_ and
_Spectator_, even to the letters from lady correspondents such as Nelly
Lancer, Sabina Griddle, and Xantippe. During the ten years following
his return from abroad Curtis published six books: _Nile Notes of a
Howadji_, 1851; _The Howadji in Syria_, 1852; _Lotus-Eating_, 1852;
_The Potiphar Papers_, 1853; _Prue and I_, 1857; _Trumps_, 1861. His
ambitions had hitherto been chiefly literary. To be sure, in 1856,
at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, he had given his
address on ‘The Duty of the American Scholar to Politics and the
Times,’ and had followed it with his oration on ‘Patriotism’ and
his lecture on ‘The Present Aspect of the Slavery Question.’[58] He
had taken the stump for Frémont in 1856, and been a delegate to the
Republican National Convention in 1860, where his courage, adroitness,
and impassioned eloquence had saved the platform at a moment when it
needed salvation. Nevertheless it may be said that the first ten years
of Curtis’s life as a writer and speaker were ‘literary’ with a strong
emphasis on politics, and that the last thirty years were political
with an undiminished interest in letters.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1856, Curtis married Anna Shaw, a daughter of
F. G. Shaw, formerly of West Roxbury, and a sister of Colonel Robert
Gould Shaw. He had made her acquaintance at Brook Farm twelve years
earlier. There is a pretty reference to her in one of his letters to
Dwight written in 1844. Curtis had been in Boston for the day: ‘Anna
Shaw and Rose Russell passed me like beautiful spirits; one like a
fresh morning, the other like an oriental night.’

In 1863 Curtis became the political editor of ‘Harper’s Weekly’ with
the proviso that he was to have a free hand. He represented political
ideals than which there can be no higher; his discussions were marked
by absolute frankness, joined to perfect courtesy. The parts which
fell to him in the drama of political life were always important and
often conspicuous. He was a delegate both to National and to State
conventions, and a delegate-at-large to the convention for revising the
State constitution of New York. Although ‘nominated by acclamation’
for Secretary of the State of New York (1869), he refused to serve. He
did allow his name to be presented for governor in the convention of
1870, supposing all to be in good faith; but when he discovered that
he was the victim of a trick,--the object being to defeat Greeley,--he
withdrew.[59]

Next to Anti-slavery his favorite cause was that of Civil Service
reform. In 1865 he became ‘second in command’ to Thomas A. Jenckes of
Rhode Island, the pioneer in the movement. He was the head of the Civil
Service Commission appointed by President Grant in 1871. As president
of the New York Civil Service Reform Association and of the National
Civil Service Reform League, he did a work of immediate and lasting
value.

In 1877 President Hayes offered Curtis his choice of the foreign
missions, supposing that he would elect to go to England. In refusing
the honor Curtis expressed the doubt whether ‘a man absolutely without
legal training of any kind could be a proper minister.’ Later the
German mission was urged on him, but he saw no reason to change his
former opinion. As an Independent, Curtis voiced opposition to machine
methods in the State campaign of 1879, and in 1884 broke with his party
and gave his support to Cleveland.

Albeit he was not college bred, Curtis received a full share of the
honorary degrees which American colleges lavish every June upon those
who have acquired reputation. For the two years prior to his death he
was Chancellor of the University of New York.

The literary work of his middle and later years remains for the most
part embedded in the files of ‘Harper’s Monthly.’ Three or four little
volumes of ‘Easy Chair’ papers (less than a tenth part of the whole
number of his contributions) were printed in 1893–94. Written to serve
an ephemeral purpose, these essays have a permanent value. It is
singular that there is no demand for more reprints of the work of a
writer whose journalism was better than most men’s books. Besides the
‘Easy Chair’ papers there were published posthumously _Orations and
Addresses edited by C. E. Norton_, 1894; _Literary and Social Essays_,
1895; _Ars Recte Vivendi_, 1898; _Early Letters of George William
Curtis to John S. Dwight, edited by G. W. Cooke_, 1898.

Curtis died, after a long and painful illness, on August 31, 1892.


II

THE MAN

Of Curtis it may be said that his character is revealed in every line
of his writing and in every act of his public and private life. He
was gracious, winning, generous, quick to forgive, and slow to take
offence. Goodness as exemplified in not a few good men is alike painful
to those who possess it and to those on whom its influence is exerted.
Virtue as exemplified in him never wore the austere garb or the gloomy
countenance.

At the time of Curtis’s defection from the Republican party incredible
abuse was showered on him, not only in the press but through anonymous
letters. He was much saddened by it, less from the personal point
of view than because of the revelation it gave of the meanness and
vindictiveness of human nature. Having thought too well of his fellows,
he suffered under the disillusionment, all of which goes to show how
optimistic at heart this disciple of Thackeray and writer of satires
was. And when Senator Conkling made a savage personal attack on him in
the New York State convention of 1877, Curtis seems to have had no
feeling towards his enemy but that of pity: ‘It was the saddest sight
I ever knew, that man glaring at me in a fury of hate and storming out
his foolish blackguardism.’

If Curtis’s career illustrates one thing above another, it is his
willingness to sacrifice mental ease and personal comfort for an ideal.
But the sacrifice was made with such good nature, such grace in the
acquiescence, that one forgets its extent, and even makes the mistake
of thinking that possibly it cost him little. Undoubtedly it cost him
much, this giving up of literature for politics, this putting aside of
all public honors because there was a nearer duty which could not be
neglected.


III

THE WRITER AND THE ORATOR

The author of _Nile Notes of a Howadji_ loved alliteration. In his
early books he amused himself with pleasant arrangements of words such
as ‘camels with calm, contemptuous eyes,’ or ‘lustrous leaves languidly
moving,’ or ‘slim minarets spiring silverly and strangely from the
undefined mass of mud houses.’ Note this description of the date-palm:
‘Plumed as a prince and graceful as a gentleman, stands the date; and
whoever travels among palms travels in good society;’ or this of the
sakias: ‘Like huge summer insects they doze upon the bank, droning a
melancholy, monotonous song. The slow, sad sound pervades the land--one
calls to another, and he sighs to his neighbor, and the Nile is shored
with sound no less than sand.’

Alliteration is a mark of youth. Employed to excess it has a cloying
effect, like that of diminished sevenths in music. Of minor rhetorical
arts it is the poorest, the most seductive, the most readily abused.
But we should miss it sadly from the ‘Howadji’ books. Removed from the
context these phrases quoted have an artificial sound, in their place
they blend perfectly.

Curtis’s style grew less florid and sensuous after the early writings.
At all times it is singularly easy. One gets the impression that he was
a spontaneous writer. Great productivity is not possible when there
must be a constant retouching of phrases and paragraphs. The unlabored
nature of his writing may explain the light estimate Curtis put on it.
He is said to have been quite unwilling to reprint a volume of essays
from the ‘Easy Chair.’ That anything which came with so little effort
could be worth re-reading seemed not to occur to him.

He was the orator almost as soon as he was the man of letters. A
rhetorician by taste and training, he knew the dangers of rhetoric and
in his oratory avoided them. Clarity and grace are the most obvious
characteristics of every sentence. Curtis could no more have been
awkward and heavy than he could have been obscure.

He can hardly be praised enough for the ease and naturalness of his
allusions. We auditors grow restless when a speaker begins to cite
classical names. We fear our old friends Cicero and Catiline, Cæsar and
Brutus. We cannot away with Hannibal and Hamilcar. The ear has been
dulled by constant repetition. Curtis knew how to make the oldest of
these tiresome references seem new. All his allusions have an air of
freshness and spontaneity. One would suppose the declaimers had long
since exhausted the virtues of Spartacus. Curtis dared to make the old
gladiator accessory to his argument in a passage like this:--

‘Spartacus was a barbarian, a pagan, and a slave. Escaping he summoned
other men whose liberty was denied. His call rang clear through Italy
like an autumn storm through the forest, and men answered him like
clustering leaves.... He had no rights that Romans were bound to
respect, but he wrote out in blood upon the plains of Lombardy his
equal humanity with Cato and Cæsar. The tale is terrible. History
shudders with it still. But you and I, Plato and Shakespeare, the
mightiest and the meanest men, were honored in Spartacus, for his wild
revenge showed the brave scorn of oppression that beats immortal in the
proud heart of man.’

Nature had bestowed on Curtis gifts which, if not indispensable to a
speaker, are like free-will offerings as against tribute, and make
the pathway smooth. His commanding presence, his winning smile and
manner, his glorious voice, the air of high breeding, a self-possession
which when accompanied by unaffected good nature is one of the most
attractive traits--all combined to place him among the first of
American orators. He was properly said (in a phrase which through vain
repetition has almost lost its meaning) to ‘grace’ the platform.


IV

_NILE NOTES OF A HOWADJI_, _PRUE AND I_, _TRUMPS_

‘In Shakespeare’s day the nuisance was the Monsieur Travellers who had
swum in a gundello,’ wrote Fitzgerald in a half-petulant, half-humorous
mood, ‘but now the bores are those who have smoked _tchibouques_ with a
_Peshaw_!’ He was speaking of _Eothen_. The fever for Eastern books was
at its height when Curtis went abroad in 1846.

The _Nile Notes of a Howadji_ describes the four weeks’ flight of the
‘Ibis’ up the river to Aboo Simbel, and the ‘course of temples’ on the
return voyage. It is a book of impressions and rhapsodies, a glowing
record of travel in which realism struggles with poetry and is usually
worsted. It is a dream of the Orient, delightfully parsimonious as to
improving facts, and prodigal of whatever helps the home-keeping reader
to comprehend the witchery and fascination of the East. A few timid
souls were disturbed by ‘Fair Frailty’ and ‘Kushuk Arnem,’ which seem
innocent enough now, but the timid souls no doubt found peace in other
chapters, such as ‘Under the Palms.’

_The Howadji in Syria_ continues the record. The conditions are
changed. Instead of the dahabieh, the camel; for the Ibis was
substituted MacWhirter, whose exertions in trotting ‘shook my soul
within me;’ for the mud villages and mysterious temples of the Nile,
Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus. The temper of the book differs from that of
its predecessor. In this volume Curtis is poetical, in the other he was
a poet. The mocking American note is heard, as when the Howadji says
‘a storm besieged us in Nablous and a fellow Christian of the Armenian
persuasion secured us for his fleas, during the time we remained.’
The Howadji has evidently undergone a measure of disenchantment. The
wonders of the East are less wonderful because less vague. In Egypt
there was intoxication, in Palestine and Syria there is curiosity,
mingled with amusement and contempt. The characteristic quality of the
second Howadji book is to be found in the descriptions of the cafés,
the bazaars, and in that most excellent account of the Turkish bath
(‘Uncle Kühleborn’), quite the best thing of the kind that has been
written.

_Lotus-Eating_ is a series of journalistic letters on the Hudson,
Trenton Falls, Niagara, Saratoga, Newport, and Nahant, when Nahant was
‘a shower of little brown cottages fallen upon the rocky promontory
that terminates Lynn beach.’ Not in this wise do young men now write
for newspapers, with ornate periods and quotations from Waller and
Herrick. The book abounds in happy characterizations. At Saratoga ‘we
discriminate the arctic and antarctic Bostonians, fair, still, stately,
with a vein of scorn in their Saratoga enjoyment, and the languid,
cordial, and careless Southerners, far from precise in dress or style,
but balmy in manner as a bland Southern morning. We mark the crisp
courtesy of the New Yorker, elegant in dress, exclusive in association,
a pallid ghost of Paris--without its easy elegance, its _bonhomie_,
its gracious _savoir faire_, without the _spirituel_ sparkle of its
conversation, and its natural and elastic grace of style.’ And so it
runs on.

_The Potiphar Papers_ is in another key. The placid observer, who,
in _Lotus-Eating_, quoted from De Quincey a delectable passage on
the poetry of dancing, is now a bitter satirist contemplating a
corps-de-ballet of society buds gyrating in the arms of the _jeunesse
dorée_. These ‘bounding belles’ and their admirers shock the observer
with a style of dancing which in its whirl, its ‘rush, its fury is
only equalled by that of the masked balls at the French opera.’ The
book is a new treatment (new in 1853) of the old subject of Vanity
Fair. The humor is severe. The touch is not light and the caustic
writing is not happy. Curtis was never a master of the whip of
scorpions. Nevertheless _The Potiphar Papers_ had a vogue.

_Prue and I_ is a book of the sort Zola used to hate--literature
which ‘consoles with the lies of the imagination.’ It is the idyl
of contented obscurity, the poetic side of humble life. Delicately
wrought, light in texture, shot with charming fancies and dainty
conceits, having the grace that belongs to old-school manners, this
little prose poem is justly accounted its author’s masterpiece.

Curtis wrote one novel, _Trumps_, and was disappointed in the result.
The book is readable, but not because it is a story. Many good
novelists are made, not born. _Trumps_ is the work of a novelist in the
making.


V

THE EASY CHAIR

The twenty-seven essays of the volume entitled _From the Easy Chair_
show very well in brief compass the range of their author’s powers
in this form. Here are reminiscences of Browning and his wife, of
the Dickens readings in ’67, of Everett’s oratory and Jennie Lind’s
singing, of a lecture by Emerson and a recital by Gottschalk or by
Thalberg, of a night at the play-house with Jefferson, or a dinner at
the old (the _very old_) Delmonico’s, when that famous eating-house
stood at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. The flavor of
by-gone days is here. ‘It was a pleasant little New York,’ says the
essayist regretfully, being mindful of the charm which a lively small
city possesses, and which a big city, be it never so lively, somehow
lacks.

Half the attractiveness of the ‘Easy Chair’ papers is due to their
seemingly unpremeditated character. Curtis was not writing a book,
nor was he proposing at some time, ‘in response to the earnest
solicitations of friends upon whose judgment I rely,’ to collect and
republish these fugitive leaves. He comes home after a little chat,
perhaps, with John Gilbert and sits down to tell us about it. Two
or three reflections suggested by the interview are thrown in quite
happily, and while we listeners are most absorbed and in no mood to
have him break off, Curtis rises, and with some pleasant little remark,
nods, and smiles, and is gone. And one of the listeners says, ‘I wish
we saw him oftener. He comes only once a month.’

The ‘Easy Chair’ papers are urban as well as urbane. Curtis was a city
man. We know that he had a summer home in ‘Arcadia’ and was happy
there, but his joy in city life is betrayed in almost every paper he
wrote. No passionate lover of nature, intent on fringed gentians and
purling brooks, penned that description of a gown--‘a mass of pleats
and puffs and marvelous trimmings, which, when profusely extravagant
upon the form of an elderly woman, always reminds me of signals of
distress hung out upon a craft that is drifting far away from the
enchanted isles of youth.’

Satirist though he is, Curtis in the ‘Easy Chair’ is always the gentle
satirist. He writes of the mannerless sex, of the people who rent boxes
at the opera because they can talk better there than at home, of the
taste of the town so greedy for minute details of the doings of the
rich and the fashionable, but there is no acerbity in his tone. Here
is an illustration of his manner. The Cosmopolitan of the ‘Easy Chair’
talks with Mrs. Grundy, who proposes as a great boon to introduce
him to a very rich man. ‘“You say he is very rich?” “Enormously,
fabulously,” replied Mrs. Grundy, as if crossing herself.’

‘Trifles light as air’ would be a not inadequate description of
hundreds of the ‘Easy Chair’ papers. And they are quite as wholesome as
air.


VI

_ORATIONS AND ADDRESSES_

Curtis’s biographer holds that the volume of reports and addresses on
Civil Service reform is ‘in some respects the most valuable of all
[his] writings.’[60] The entire collection of _Orations and Addresses_,
comprising over a thousand pages, is no less a manual of literary than
of civic virtues. A student of the art of expression can well afford to
make this book his vade mecum. Here is a body of practical illustration
of how to write and how to speak. The oration on ‘The Duty of the
American Scholar to Politics and the Times,’ delivered when Curtis was
thirty-two years of age, is an extraordinary performance. Few addresses
hold one in the reading like this. What it must have been in the
delivery we can but faintly imagine. It is another splendid proof that
literature and oratory may occupy a common ground, neither usurping
the other’s place. With the amplest use of oratorical arts the speaker
makes rhetoric subordinate to thought. It shows fully (does this
oration) one marked virtue of Curtis’s public discourse, its perfect
urbanity. His speeches were free from invective, from personalities of
any sort, from every feature born of mere impulse of the moment. If he
was ever tempted to give vigor and point to his phrase by means which
must afterward be regretted, temptation never got the better of him.

The leading thesis of the Wesleyan College oration--that the scholar
is not the recluse, the pale valetudinarian, a woman without woman’s
charm, but a man--may not have been new; but the putting was fresh,
vivid, inspiring, eloquent. The oration may be compared with Emerson’s
utterances on the same theme. Emerson’s treatment is the more
philosophical; that of Curtis is the better adapted to public speech.

Along with this oration should be read the address on ‘Patriotism,’ in
which Curtis defends the doctrine that where law violates the primary
conception of human rights it is our duty to disobey the law, and the
address entitled ‘The Present Aspect of the Slavery Question,’ in which
Curtis said, ‘Government is, unquestionably, a science of compromises,
but only of policies and interests, not of essential rights; and if of
them, then the sacrifice must fall on all.’

These three are but the beginning of a series of orations from among
which the great eulogies of Sumner and of Wendell Phillips, of Bryant
and of Lowell, may be chosen as the very crown of his work.

       *       *       *       *       *

The critic (and there are such critics) who values almost lightly the
sentimental and poetic literary work of Curtis’s young manhood is
perhaps not entirely unjust; Curtis would have agreed with him. But
the critic would be unjust if he overlooked the value of this literary
training in giving an enormous increase of power. We shall never know
how much the editorial writer and political orator gained in clarity,
precision, beauty of style, effectiveness, by the penning of a series
of books in which for pages together he revels in the mere music of
words. The author of the address on Sumner was largely indebted to the
author of the _Nile Notes of a Howadji_ and _Prue and I_.


FOOTNOTES:

  [58] When Curtis gave this address in Philadelphia (Dec. 15, 1859)
       a mob armed with stones and bottles of vitriol attempted to
       break up the meeting. Cary’s _Curtis_, pp. 126–129.

  [59] Cary.

  [60] Cary’s _Curtis_, p. 296.



XVII

_Donald Grant Mitchell_


REFERENCES:

  [=H. A. Beers=]: ‘Donald G. Mitchell’ in the _Cyclopædia of
    American Biography_.


I

HIS LIFE

Donald Grant Mitchell, who won literary reputation under the name of
‘Ik Marvel,’ was born at Norwich, Connecticut, on April 12, 1822.
He is a son of the Reverend Alfred Mitchell, formerly pastor of the
Second Congregational Church of Norwich, and a grandson of Stephen Mix
Mitchell, an eminent jurist and member of the Continental Congress.
He prepared for college at John Hall’s school at Ellington, and was
graduated at Yale in 1841.

Three years of life on a farm for his health gave him a bent towards
rural pleasures and occupations. In 1844, still in pursuit of health,
he visited England, the Isle of Jersey, France, and Holland. His
first book, _Fresh Gleanings, or a New Sheaf from the Old Fields of
Continental Europe_ (1847), was the literary fruit of this journey.

Mitchell took up the study of law in New York, but found himself
physically unequal to a sedentary life. Moreover, France was on the
eve of revolution. The young law student thought it no time to dawdle
over Puffendorf, Grotius, and ‘the amiable, aristocratic Blackstone,’
when there was a chance to see history made. He ‘threw Puffendorf, big
as he was, into the corner,’ and started for Paris, spent eight months
there, saw what he went to see, and described it in his second book,
_Battle Summer_ (1850).[61]

His third literary venture was a periodical essay, _The Lorgnette, or
Studies of the Town, by an Opera-Goer_. It was published weekly for
six months, and sold by Henry Kernot, ‘a small bookseller up Broadway,
at the centre of what was then the fashionable shopping region.’ For
a time the secret of the authorship was well kept, Kernot being as
much in the dark as the public. To divert suspicion from himself,
Mitchell thought to bring out in a distant city, and under his own
name, something ‘of an entirely different quality and tone’ from _The
Lorgnette_. He failed in getting a Boston publisher, and _Reveries of
a Bachelor_, the book in question, was published by Baker and Scribner
in New York (1850). Its success led to the making of another series of
‘reveries.’ This was _Dream Life_, written in six weeks of the summer
and published in the fall of 1851. On these two books ‘Ik Marvel’s’
reputation with the general reading public still rests.

In May, 1853, Mitchell was appointed United States consul at Venice. On
the thirty-first of the same month he married Miss Mary F. Pringle, of
Charleston, South Carolina, and in June sailed for Italy. The account
of his induction into the consular office will be found in _Seven
Stories_. A lively and good-humored narrative, it is not to be read
without great amusement, together with a feeling of contempt for the
shabby way in which our glorious (and sometimes parsimonious) republic
used to treat its humbler officials. During the two years of his
consulship Mitchell collected materials for a history of the Venetian
Republic. The book is still unpublished, and presumably has been long
since abandoned.

The days of his public service being at an end, Mitchell returned to
America and settled on an estate near New Haven (‘Edgewood’), where
since 1855 he has led the life of a man of letters and gentleman
farmer. In addition to the books already named, he has published:
_Fudge Doings_, 1855; _My Farm of Edgewood_, 1863; _Seven Stories_,
1864; _Wet Days at Edgewood_, 1865; _Doctor Johns_, 1866; _Rural
Studies_, 1867;[62] _About Old Story Tellers_, 1877; _The Woodbridge
Record_, 1883; _Bound Together_, 1884; _English Lands, Letters, and
Kings_, 1889–90; _American Lands and Letters_, 1897.

For a time Mitchell was editor of the ‘Atlantic Almanac’ (1868–69),
and for one year (1869) editor of ‘Hearth and Home.’ He served as one
of the judges of industrial art at the Centennial Exhibition (1876),
and was a United States commissioner at the Paris Exposition of 1878.
He has lectured much on literature and art. Yale recognized his
achievements in letters by conferring on him, in 1878, the degree of
LL. D.

He is one of the most attractive figures of our time, not alone
because of his unaffected goodness, his charm of manner, his literary
reputation, but because he is the last survivor of a group of writers
who in the Fifties made New York famous, and about whose association
there still clings a very attractive atmosphere of romance.


II

THE AUTHOR AND THE MAN

A critic who was given a copy of _Dream Life_ and asked to draw the
character of the author therefrom, might possibly come to conclusions
like these. ‘Ik Marvel,’ he would say, must be very generous,
sympathetic with respect to the lesser weaknesses of human nature, and
charitable towards the greater, or else this book is a falsehood from
beginning to end. He must be very manly, for in all its two hundred
pages there is not a cynical note or a sneer. He must be humorous, or
he could not have written the chapters on ‘A New England Squire’ and
‘The Country Church,’ to say nothing of the account of the loves of
Clarence and Jenny. He must be sentimental, or the chapter entitled ‘A
Good Wife’ had been an impossibility.

At every point the book betrays its Puritan origin. ‘Ik Marvel’ is
a moralist. He makes a direct and constant appeal to the ethical
sentiment. In one of his prefaces he mentions the fact--doubtless an
amused smile played about his lips as he wrote the lines--that _Dream
Life_ has sometimes insinuated itself into Sunday-school libraries.
He hopes it has ‘worked no blight there.’ At all events, ‘there are
six days in the week ... on which its perusal could do no mischief.’
Doubtless the moral lessons are commonplace enough, but their triteness
is relieved by the literary quality. Puritanism without its narrowness,
and sentimentalism controlled by humor and good sense, lie at the basis
of _Reveries of a Bachelor_ and _Dream Life_. The character of their
author is to be plainly if not completely read in these two books.

The distinctive flavor of ‘Ik Marvel’s’ literary style may be got in
the pleasing volume entitled _Fresh Gleanings_. Limpidity, grace, ease,
are among the virtues of his prose. The fabric of words is light, airy,
richly colored at times, but not over colored. With due recognition of
his individuality it may be said that ‘Ik Marvel’ was a literary son of
‘Geoffrey Crayon.’ The sweetness, the leisurely flow of the narrative,
the unobtrusiveness of manner, all suggest Irving. Perhaps Mitchell
meant to acknowledge his literary paternity when he dedicated _Dream
Life_ to the author of _The Sketch Book_. But while we recognize this
debt to Irving it is most important that we do not exaggerate it.

One marked exception must be made. There is no hint of Irving in
_Battle Summer_, an account of the Revolution of 1848, every page of
which echoes more or less distinctly the voice of Carlyle. So close is
the imitation at times as to awaken a doubt whether _Battle Summer_ was
not intended for a ‘serious parody.’ At all events, it is one of many
proofs of the strong hold the _History of the French Revolution_ had on
the minds of young men.


III

THE WRITINGS

_Fresh Gleanings_ is a volume of travel, written in a way to
persuade one of the uselessness of pictorial illustrations. Its
manner occasionally suggests Sterne’s _Sentimental Journey_, which
the young traveller may have been reading of late. Sentiment and
humor are agreeably blended. Under ‘Ik Marvel’s’ guidance one visits
Paris, Limoges, Arles, Nîmes, Montpellier, Rouen, carefully avoiding
the ‘objects of interest’ and learning much about the life. A less
courageous writer would have told us more and shown us less.

Books like this always contain interpolated stories, told around the
inn fire, or over the half-cup at the café. The ‘Story of Le Merle,’
‘An Old Chronicle of the City,’ ‘Hinzelmann,’ and ‘Boldo’s Story’ are
graceful, but so brief as to seem mere anecdotes.

_The Lorgnette_, consisting of the lucubrations of one ‘John Timon,’
is an amusing and instructive periodical. Not its least entertaining
feature is the account of the literary distempers of the day, the
Tupper fever, the Festus outbreak, the Jane Eyre malady, and the
Typee disorder, together with other literary epidemics. Neither _The
Lorgnette_ nor _Fudge Doings_ is now much read. But if the modern
cynic, who takes, possibly, a condescending attitude towards these old
satires on fashionable life, will but pick up a copy of _Fudge Doings_
and try a few chapters, he will be forced to admit that if we should
not to-day think of writing satire in this manner, it may have been a
good way in 1855. Perchance in opening the volume at random he comes on
the account of the adventure of Wash. Fudge with the black domino. In
which case he will find himself betrayed into reading two chapters at
least, for he must needs take the trouble to learn how the affair ended.

_Fudge Doings_ and _The Lorgnette_ may be looked on as a contribution
to the history of manners. By their aid one reconstructs the drama
of fashionable life in the mid-century, sees what was then thought
monstrous, and incidentally learns how simple the vices of the
grandfathers were.

_Reveries of a Bachelor_ ushers one into a quaint and delightful world.
The reveries are of love--whether, in the words of Robert Burton
quoting Plotinus, ‘it be a God, or a divell, or passion of the minde.’
The book is by no means compounded exclusively of moonshine and roses.
Some of the pictures are calculated to give a bachelor pause. Here
is Peggy who loves you, or at least swears it, with her hand on the
_Sorrows of Werther_. She is not bad looking, Peggy, ‘save a bit too
much of forehead.’ But she is ‘such a sad blue’ who will spend her
money on the ‘Literary World’ and the _Friends in Council_.

By the severer standards of our day Peggy was not so much of a ‘blue.’
None the less she is distinctly literary. She reads Dante and ‘funny
Goldoni’ and leaves spots of baby-gruel on a Tasso of 1680. She adores
La Bruyère; even reads him while nurse gets dinner and ‘you are holding
the baby.’

The vision presently becomes terrific and can only be dispelled by a
vicious kick at the forestick. Revery, misnamed idleness, has its
uses. Whatever else comes true, the Bachelor will not marry a young
woman who consoles her husband for an ill-cooked dinner by quotations
from the Greek Anthology.

_Dream Life_ is also a collection of ‘reveries.’ Under the similitude
of the seasons, the author has pencilled little sketches of boyhood,
youth, manhood, and age. The temptation to the obvious in morals and
sentiment must have been great; but again Mitchell’s literary skill and
his humor carry him through successfully.

_Seven Stories with Basement and Attic_ is a group of narratives
drawn from the author’s ‘plethoric little note books of travel.’ The
‘Basement’ is the introduction, the ‘Attic’ the conclusion. The first
story, ‘Wet Day at an Irish Inn,’ shows how, if he be observant, a man
may have adventures without taking the trouble to cross the street in
search of them. Three of the stories are French (‘Le Petit Soulier,’
‘The Cabriolet,’ and ‘Emile Roque’); another is Swiss (the ‘Bride of
the Ice King’); yet another is Italian (‘Count Pesaro’), and all are
exquisite, written in a style which for sweetness and unaffected ease
is, if not a lost art, at all events a neglected one. It has been said
that our young men would not care to write in this fashion to-day; it
is a question whether our young men would be able to do so.

One novel stands to ‘Ik Marvel’s’ credit, _Doctor Johns_, a story of
a New England country parsonage, well written because its author could
not write otherwise, faithful and exact because he knew the life,
yet going no deeper than other attempts to explain the New England
character, the externals of which are so easy to portray and the real
essence so baffling.

Among the best of ‘Ik Marvel’s’ books are those dealing with rural
life. _My Farm of Edgewood_ sets forth the author’s adventures in
buying a country home, and his subsequent adventures in settling
therein and making life variously profitable. It is a successful
attempt to magnify the office of gentleman-farmer. The attractiveness
of the life is not over-emphasized, nor is it pretended that that is
legitimate farming which produces big crops regardless of expense.

The picture as a whole is seductive in ways not to be referred to
the literary skill of the artist. It is odd enough how a lay-reader,
unused to carrots and cabbages, will follow every detail of Mitchell’s
experiment. Here must be some outcroppings of the primitive instinct.
Moreover, the book relates to home-making, a subject perennially dear
to the American heart. Our restlessness has never unsettled us in that
regard.

_Wet Days at Edgewood_ is a companion volume. The days here celebrated,
nine in number, were made bright by readings about ‘old farmers, old
gardeners, and old pastorals.’ Rejoicing in the strong common sense
of ancient writers on husbandry, and in the quaint flavor of their
style, ‘Ik Marvel’ chats of Roman farm and villa life, recalling what
Varro and Columella had to say about the art of tilling the soil. He
takes pleasure in the reflection that ‘yon open furrow ... carries
trace of the ridging in the “Works and Days;” that the brown field of
half-broken clods is the fallow (Νεός) of Xenophon,’ and that ‘Cato
gives orders for the asparagus.’

Then he comes to modern times, to the days of Thomas Tusser, Sir Hugh
Platt, Gervase Markham, Samuel Hartlib, Jethro Tull, and William
Shenstone, men who farmed practically, or theoretically, or even
poetically. ‘Ik Marvel’ loves them all, even those whose enthusiasm was
in the ratio of their helplessness. No less dear to him is Goldsmith,
who wrote what passes for a rural tale and is not rural at all, but
comically urban, and Charles Lamb, who hated the country and gladly
avowed it.

These are Mitchell’s principal works. Having read thus far, it were
a pity to overlook the two volumes on _English Lands, Letters, and
Kings_, and a greater pity to overlook the instructive and entertaining
_American Lands and Letters_. In brief, the reader who insists on
knowing ‘Ik Marvel’ only by _Reveries of a Bachelor_ does his author an
injustice and robs himself of many hours of literary delight.

Sentimentalism will always manifest itself in literature in one
form or another. That there will be a return to the manner which we
associate with ‘Ik Marvel’ is not likely, yet it was sentimentalism
in its manliest form. The continued popularity of _Reveries of a
Bachelor_ suggests that Americans of to-day are not quite as cynical
and irreverent as they are sometimes painted, or as they love to paint
themselves.


FOOTNOTES:

  [61] There were to have been two volumes of _Battle Summer_,
       called respectively the ‘Reign of the Blouse’ and the ‘Reign
       of the Bourgeoisie.’ Only the first was published.

  [62] Reprinted under the title _Out-of-Town Places_, 1884.



XVIII

_JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL_


REFERENCES:

  =F. H. Underwood=: _The Poet and the Man: Recollections and
    Appreciations of James Russell Lowell_, 1893.

  =E. E. Hale=: _James Russell Lowell and his Friends_, 1899.

  =H. E. Scudder=: _James Russell Lowell, a Biography_, 1901.

  =Ferris Greenslet=: _James Russell Lowell, his Life and Work_,
    1905.


I

HIS LIFE

The Lowells of New England are descendants of Percival Lowell, a
prosperous Bristol merchant who came to America in 1639 and settled
at Newbury, Massachusetts. The family has been distinguished through
its various representatives for public spirit and business acumen as
well as for a devotion to letters. The grandfather of the poet, Judge
John Lowell, was author of the clause in the Bill of Rights abolishing
slavery in Massachusetts. One of his sons was founder of the great
manufacturing city on the Merrimac which bears his name. A grandson
established the Lowell Institute, a system of popular instruction by
free courses of lectures,--a system unique, in that it aims to bring to
its audiences representative scholars, chosen less for their skill in
the graceful but often specious art of public speaking than for solid
attainments.

James Russell Lowell, the youngest son of the Reverend Charles
Lowell, minister of the West Church in Boston, was born at Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in the colonial mansion known as ‘Elmwood,’ on February
22, 1819. His mother, Harriet (Spence) Lowell, was a daughter of Keith
Spence, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[63]

Under William Wells (an English pedagogue of the old school) Lowell
prepared for college, entered Harvard, and after some disciplinary
tribulations was graduated with his class (1838). He studied law and
was admitted to the bar (August, 1840), but remained briefless during
the few months of his efforts to begin a practice.

While waiting for clients, he busied himself with literature. He was
early a rhymer. At twelve years of age his skill in making verse
had astonished his schoolfellows, one of whom rushed home in great
excitement to announce that ‘Jemmy Lowell thought he was going to be a
poet.’

With the fearlessness of youth and in the hope of bettering himself
financially, Lowell, aided by his friend Robert Carter, started a
magazine, ‘The Pioneer.’ According to the prospectus, dated October
15, 1842, the editors proposed to supply ‘the intelligent and
reflecting portion of the Reading Public with a substitute for the
enormous quantity of thrice diluted trash, in the shape of namby-pamby
love tales and sketches, which is monthly poured out to them....’ Only
three numbers of ‘The Pioneer’ were issued.[64] The ‘Reading Public’
was joined to its idols and declined to encourage ‘a healthy and manly
Periodical Literature.’

In 1841 was published _A Year’s Life_, Lowell’s first volume of verse;
it was followed by _Poems_ (1844), by a volume of prose, _Conversations
on Some of the Old Poets_ (1845), and by Poems, ‘second series’ (1848).

The ‘Ianthe’ of _A Year’s Life_ was easily identified with Maria White,
the gifted and beautiful girl who, in December, 1844, became the poet’s
wife. The first year of their married life was passed in Philadelphia,
whither Lowell had taken his bride to protect her from the harsh New
England winter. Their financial resources were few, but of gayety and
courage there was no lack. Lowell aspired to live by his pen. What with
the small sums paid him (rather against his will) for editorial work
on ‘The Pennsylvania Freeman,’ what with the hardly larger sums for
contributions to ‘Graham’s Magazine’ and ‘The Broadway Journal,’ he
managed to subsist.

Nevertheless, it seemed best for a number of reasons that the young
people return to Cambridge and make a common home at ‘Elmwood’ with
Lowell’s parents. In June of this year (1846) appeared ‘A Letter from
Mr. Ezekiel Biglow of Jaalam to the Hon. Joseph T. Buckingham, editor
of the Boston Courier, inclosing a poem of his son, Mr. Hosea Biglow.’
This was the first of _The Biglow Papers_, the initial attack of many
attacks Lowell was to make on slavery with the weapons of satire
and ridicule. During 1847 three more ‘papers’ were printed in the
‘Courier;’ the remaining five appeared in ‘The National Anti-Slavery
Standard.’

When the ‘Standard’ passed from the control of a board of editors into
the hands of Sydney Howard Gay, Lowell became a salaried contributor,
and for a time his name appeared as corresponding editor. He was
allowed a free hand. Abolitionist though he was, his abolitionism was
tempered with a deal of sympathy for slaveholders. And he had interests
which most reformers of the time lacked, a passionate love of letters,
for example. Hence it was that in the midst of leader-writing he was
penning _A Fable for Critics_ and _The Vision of Sir Launfal_.

The winter of 1851–52 Lowell spent with his family in Italy, and the
following spring and summer in journeyings through France, England,
Scotland, and Wales. In October he sailed for home, having as ship
companions Thackeray and Arthur Hugh Clough. Just a year later Mrs.
Lowell died (October 27, 1853). For months afterward Lowell was in
‘great agony of mind, and he had to force himself into those laborious
hours which one instinctively feels contain a wise restorative.’[65]

He abounded in literary plans, some of which (and among them a novel)
were never carried out, whereas others, his papers in ‘Putnam’s
Magazine’ and his lectures on English Poetry, before the Lowell
Institute, were in a high degree successful. Each lecture of the
Institute course had to be given twice, so great was the demand for
tickets. Lowell was very nervous over his first platform experience,
and not a little pleased when he found that he could hold the audience
an hour and a quarter (‘they are in the habit of going out at the end
of the hour’). The singular merit of the lectures led to his being
appointed to the chair of belles-lettres at Harvard, just resigned by
Longfellow. After a year’s study abroad the new professor entered on
his academic duties (September, 1856).

In 1857 Lowell married Miss Frances Dunlap, of Portland, Maine. She
was a woman of reserved though gracious manners and rare beauty, who
through her serene temper and fine critical sagacity, together with
a keen sense of the humorous, exerted a most beneficent influence on
Lowell’s life.

The burdens of college work were not so heavy as to prevent Lowell’s
assuming the editorship of ‘The Atlantic Monthly,’ a new literary
magazine with an anti-slavery bias. He held this post from 1857 to
1861, and proved to be one of the best of editors, though routine
was irksome to him, and the vagaries of contributors called for
more patience than he could at all times command. Two years after
leaving the ‘Atlantic’ he undertook to edit the ‘North American
Review’ in company with Charles Eliot Norton, on whom fell the chief
responsibilities. Lowell, for his part, contributed to the ‘Review’
many notable papers on politics and literature.

The Civil War called out much of Lowell’s most spirited prose and not a
little of his best poetry. A second series of _Biglow Papers_ appeared
in the ‘Atlantic,’ and for the commemoration of sons of Harvard who had
fought for the Union, Lowell wrote his magnificent _Commemoration Ode_.
This noble performance was literally an improvisation, written in a
single night.

At this point we may take note of Lowell’s publications, subsequent
to the _Poems_, ‘second series.’ They are: _A Fable for Critics_,
1848; _The Biglow Papers_, 1848; _Fireside Travels_, 1864; _The
Biglow Papers_, ‘second series,’ 1866; _Under the Willows and Other
Poems_, 1869; _The Cathedral_, 1870; _Among My Books_, 1870; _My
Study Windows_, 1871; _Among My Books_, ‘second series,’ 1876;
_Three Memorial Poems_, 1877; _Democracy and Other Addresses_, 1887;
_Political Addresses_, 1888; _Heartsease and Rue_, 1888.

There appeared posthumously _Latest Literary Essays_, 1891; _The Old
English Dramatists_, 1892; _Letters of James Russell Lowell, edited by
C. E. Norton_, 1893; _Last Poems_, 1895; _The Anti-Slavery Papers of
James Russell Lowell_, 1902.

Lowell resigned his professorship in 1872 and went abroad for two
years. Oxford conferred on him the degree of D. C. L. and Cambridge
that of LL. D.; it pleased him to regard the Cambridge degree ‘as in
a measure a friendly recognition of the University’s daughter in the
American Cambridge.’ In 1874 he returned home, and on the opening of
college was persuaded to resume his lectures.

During the presidential campaign of 1876 Lowell became politically
active in ways new to him. He was a delegate to the Republican National
convention and a presidential elector. His fellow-townsmen had wished
him to accept a nomination for representative in Congress; but Lowell
refused, believing himself unqualified for the post.

Not long after his inauguration President Hayes, at the instance of
W. D. Howells, offered Lowell the Austrian mission, an honor the poet
felt impelled to decline; when, however, it was learned that he would
be very willing to go to Spain, the appointment was made. He arrived
in Madrid on August 14, 1878. Two years later he was transferred to
England. Reappointed by President Garfield, he held this important
charge until the close of President Arthur’s administration.

Few ministers have been as popular as he. And not the least factor of
his popularity in England was his sturdy patriotism. Lowell was the
author of the essay ‘On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners,’ an
essay which an ingratiating Anglican clergyman[66] says was meant to be
‘overheard’ in England. It were more exact to say that the essay was
meant to be heard, and heard distinctly. ‘They honor stoutness in each
other,’ said Emerson, noting the traits of the English people. And it
is not unreasonable to believe that they also admire the same virtue in
others.

The summer of 1885 Lowell passed at Southborough, forty miles from
Boston, the home of his daughter, Mrs. Burnett. He made a number
of public addresses, gave a Lowell Institute course of lectures on
the ‘Old English Dramatists,’ argued the question of International
Copyright before a committee of the Senate, and is believed to have had
real influence in persuading representatives of this great country that
stealing is a sin. He found himself inveigled into an author’s reading,
and humorously bewailed his weakness in ever having written a line of
poetry. The demands upon him were enormous. It was now an effort for
him to do things, and if the grasshopper had not yet become a burden,
public occasions had, and more than once he was obliged to beg off from
keeping a promise inconsiderately made.

He enjoyed being in England for the summer, and usually divided his
time between London and Whitby. The last of these visits took place in
1889. The ensuing winter he gave to a careful revision of his writings.
In the spring of 1890 he was ill for six weeks, and though he recovered
enough to be able to move about a little and to welcome his friends,
serious work was out of the question. He wrote two or three short
papers, and had strong inducements held out to him to write more, but
the time for writing was past, and he knew it.

His sufferings during his last illness were great, but he bore them
like the man he was. Lowell died at ‘Elmwood,’ Cambridge, on August 12,
1891.


II

LOWELL’S CHARACTER

‘I am a kind of twins myself, divided between grave and gay,’
said Lowell, in one of those rare moments when he condescended to
self-analysis. The duality of temperament here pointed at is one secret
of the fascination he exerted on all who were privileged to know him
intimately. The fascination was certainly great and the tributes to
it numerous. Lowell’s personality was so winning, and the man was so
genuine, human, and lovable, that it is difficult to speak of him in
terms having even the semblance of impartiality. Although strong-willed
and positive, not indisposed now and then to indulge himself in
the luxury of stubbornness, he was open-minded, wholly unselfish,
kind-hearted, affectionate, and gentle; and while he had his reserves
he was democratic in all the best senses of the word, for his democracy
sprang from the depths of his nature. Changeable in his moods, he could
be teasing, whimsical, irritating; but when he was most mocking and
perverse he was most delightful.

There is something very attractive in Lowell’s attitude toward
literature and literary fame. Books were an essential part of his
life. He had mastered that difficult art of _reading_ as few men have
mastered it. He was rarely endowed as a poet and prose-writer. And yet
Lowell, the most complete illustration we have of the literary man,
showed no inclination to magnify the importance of letters.

As to his individual achievements, he not only never thought of himself
more highly than he ought to think, but was the rather inclined to
place too low an estimate on the value of his work. Self-distrust
increased with years. Nevertheless, Lowell indulged himself in no
philosophy of despair. He had had much to be grateful for. ‘I have
always believed that a man’s fate is born with him, and that he cannot
escape from it nor greatly modify it’ (Lowell once wrote to his friend
Charles Eliot Norton) ‘and that consequently every one gets in the long
run exactly what he deserves, neither more nor less.’ Lowell goes on to
say that the creed is a ‘cheerful’ one; he might have added that it is
no less sensible and manly than it is cheerful.

Whether he found his creed satisfactory at all times or was always
conscious that he had a creed, we cannot know, but he could be the
blithest of fatalists when it pleased him to be.


III

POET AND PROSE WRITER

Lowell’s prose is manly, direct, varied, flexible, generally
harmonious, abounding in passages marked by grace, beauty, and
sweetness, and capable of rising to genuine eloquence. In its
overflowing vitality and human warmth it is an adequate expression of
the man, imaging his mocking and humorous moods no less than his deep
sincerity, his strength of purpose, and his passion. Much of it has the
confidence and ease that go with successful improvisation. If Lowell
was ‘willing to risk the prosperity of a verse upon a lucky throw of
words,’ he was even more willing to take like chances with his prose.

His thought ran easily into figurative form, and the making of metaphor
was as natural to him as breathing. He would even amuse himself with
conceits, for he loved to play with language, to force words into
shapes he might perchance have condemned had he found them in the work
of another. But if style is to be representative, this playfulness,
however annoying to Lowell’s critics, is a virtue. A Lowell chastened
in his English and wholly academic would not be the Lowell we rejoice
in.

He practised the art of poetry in many forms and always with success.
Of everything he wrote you might say that it had been his study, though
you might refrain from saying that ‘it had been all in all his study.’
In other words, as we read Lowell the question never arises whether or
not the poet is working in unfamiliar materials, but whether he might
not have given his product a higher finish, the materials and the form
remaining the same. He was no aspirant after flawless beauty. He wrote
spontaneously and was for the time wholly possessed by his theme. But
what he had written he had written; and if never content with the
result he at least compelled himself to be philosophical. He made a few
changes, to be sure, but (as was said of a far greater poet) he would
correct with an afterglow of poetic inspiration, not with a painful
tinkering of the verse.

It is by tinkering with the verse, however (the ‘higher’ tinkering),
that perfection is attained. And he who wrote with evident ease so many
lovely and felicitous lines could as easily have bettered lines that
are wanting in finish. It was not Lowell’s way. Too much may not be
required of a man who often felt the utmost repugnance to reading his
own writings, once they were in print.


IV

_POEMS_, _THE BIGLOW PAPERS_, _FABLE FOR CRITICS_, _VISION OF SIR
LAUNFAL_

Lowell’s first poetic flights were strong-winged. ‘Threnodia,’ ‘The
Sirens,’ ‘Summer Storm,’ ‘To Perdita, Singing,’ whatever their faults,
have a richness, a melody, a freedom of structure, an almost careless
grace, that are captivating. Here was no painful effort in production
with the inevitable result of frigidity and hardness.

The poet’s gift matured rapidly. There is strength in such poems as
‘Prometheus,’ ‘Columbus,’ ‘A Glance behind the Curtain,’ rare beauty
in ‘A Legend of Brittany,’ ‘Hebe,’ and ‘Rhœcus,’ a mystical power in
the haunting lines of ‘The Sower,’ passion and uplift in ‘The Present
Crisis,’ ‘Anti-Apis,’ the lines ‘To W. L. Garrison,’ and the ‘Ode to
France,’ while in ‘An Interview with Miles Standish’ is a promise of
that satirical power which was presently to find complete expression in
_The Biglow Papers_.

Early in his career Lowell announced his theory of the poet’s office,
which is to inspire to high thought and noble action, not merely to
please with pretty fancies and melodious verse. The ‘Ode,’ written in
1841, is an expression of his poetic faith. The ethical and reforming
bent in Lowell’s character was so strong as to make it difficult
for him, true bard though he was, to look on poetry as an art to be
cultivated for itself alone.

Inspiriting as were stanzas like ‘The Present Crisis,’ Lowell’s power
became most effective in the anti-slavery struggle when the outbreak
of the Mexican War led to the writing of _The Biglow Papers_. Printed
anonymously in a journal, copied into other newspapers, the question of
their authorship much debated, these satires were at last adjudicated
to the man who wrote them, but not until he himself had heard it
demonstrated ‘in the pauses of a concert’ that he was wholly incapable
of such a performance.

Of the characters of the little drama, Hosea Biglow, the country
youth, stands for the plain common-sense of New England, opposed to
the extension of slavery whatever the means employed, and above all
by legalized murder with an accompaniment of drums and fifes. The
Reverend Homer Wilbur acts as ‘chorus,’ and by his learned comments
surrounds the productions of the country muse with an atmosphere of
scholarship. Birdofredom Sawin is the clown of the little show.

Many finer touches have become obscure by the lapse of time, and _The
Biglow Papers_ is now provided with historical notes; but the energy,
the spirit, and the unfailing humor of the work are perennial. Lowell
was most fortunate in his verbal felicities. Who could have foreseen
that so much danger lurked in a middle initial, or that a plain name
of the sort borne by the former senator from Middlesex contained such
comic potentialities?

    We were gittin’ on nicely up here to our village,
      With good old idees o’ wut’s right an’ wut aint,
    We kind o’ thought Christ went agin war an’ pillage,
      An’ thet eppyletts worn’t the best mark of a saint;
                    But John P.
                    Robinson he
          Sez this kind o’ thing’s an exploded idee.

Lowell was surprised at his own success. What he at first thought ‘a
mere fencing stick’ proved to be a weapon. The blade was two-edged, and
the Yankees did well to fall back a little when he lifted it against
the enemy. For in writing _The Biglow Papers_ Lowell took real delight
in noting the oddities and laughing at the foibles of his own New
Englanders, a people whom he loved with all tenderness, but to whose
faults he was not in the least blind.

In 1861 the little puppets were taken out of the box where they had
lain for fifteen years and furbished up for a new tragi-comedy. The
second series of _The Biglow Papers_ was read no less eagerly than the
first had been. Quite as brilliant as their predecessors, the later
poems are more impassioned, and in those touching on English hostility
to the North the satire is bitterly stinging.

While the numbers of the first series were in course of publication
Lowell produced a rhymed primer of contemporary American literature
under the title of _A Fable for Critics_. It was an improvisation,
and therefore the buoyancy, the jovial off-hand manner, the impudence
even, were a matter of course and all in its favor. Often penetrating
and just in his criticisms, Lowell was invariably amusing, and in the
cleverness of the rhyme and word play quite inimitable.

Two months after the appearance of the _Fable_ the popular _Vision
of Sir Launfal_ was published. Though undoubtedly read more for the
sake of the preludes than for the slight but touching story, it is
by no means certain that the preludes, brought out as independent
poems, could have won the number of readers they now have. In other
words, _The Vision of Sir Launfal_ has a unity which it seems on first
acquaintance to lack.


V

_UNDER THE WILLOWS_, _THE CATHEDRAL_, _COMMEMORATION ODE_, _THREE
MEMORIAL POEMS_, _HEARTSEASE AND RUE_

‘Under the Willows’ is a poem of Nature in which the poet at no time
loses sight either of the world of books or of the world of men. If he
be driven indoors by the rigors of May, he is content to sit by his
wood-fire and read what the poets have said in praise of that inclement
month. Or if June has come and he can dream under his favorite willows,
his reveries gain a zest from the interruptions of the tramp, ‘lavish
summer’s bedesman,’ the scissors-grinder, that grimy Ulysses of New
England, the school-children, and the road-menders,

               Vexing Macadam’s ghost with pounded slate.

It is a poem of thanksgiving in which the poet voices his gratitude for
the benediction of the higher mood and the human kindness of the lower.

The volume to which ‘Under the Willows’ gives its name is typical. He
who prizes Lowell’s verse will hardly be content with any selection
which does not include ‘Al Fresco,’ ‘A Winter-Evening Hymn to my Fire,’
‘Invita Minerva,’ ‘The Dead House,’ ‘The Parting of the Ways,’ ‘The
Fountain of Youth,’ and ‘The Nightingale in the Study.’

Its manner of contrasting To-Day with Yesterday, the genius that
creates with the spirit that analyzes, makes _The Cathedral_ an
essentially American poem. The minster in its ‘vast repose,’

               Silent and gray as forest-leaguered cliff,

must always seem a marvel to a dweller among temples of ‘deal and
paint.’ The poem is the meditation of a New-World conservative,
altogether catholic of sympathies, who holds no less firmly to the
past because, under the fascination of democracy, he breathes in the
presence of the ‘backwoods Charlemagne’ a braver air and is conscious
of an ‘ampler manhood.’ And what, he asks, will be the faith of
this new avatar of the Goth, what temples will the creature build?
Very beautiful, very suggestive, and in its shifting moods entirely
representative of the poet who wrote it must this fine work always seem.

_The Ode recited at the Harvard Commemoration_ (July 21, 1865) is
Lowell’s supreme achievement in verse. It breathes the most exalted
patriotism, a love of native land that is intense, fiery, consuming.
Though written in honor of sons of the University who had gone to the
war, the spirit of the _Ode_ is not local and particular. The poet
celebrates not individual deeds alone but the sum of those deeds, not
man but manhood:--

      That leap of heart whereby a people rise
            Up to a noble anger’s height,
    And, flamed on by the Fates, not shrink, but grow more bright,
        That swift validity in noble veins,
        Of choosing danger and disdaining shame,
            Of being set on flame
        By the pure fire that flies all contact base,
    But wraps its chosen with angelic might,
            These are imperishable gains,
        Sure as the sun, medicinal as light,
        These hold great futures in their lusty reins
    And certify to earth a new imperial race.

The mingling of proud humility, tenderness, and reverence, the
throbbing passion and the exultant fervor of the concluding verses,
lift this ode to a high place in American poetry, it may be to
the highest place. To the many, however, the chief value of _The
Commemoration Ode_ lies in the stanza on Lincoln. So just as an
estimate of character, so restrained in its accents of praise, American
in all finer meanings of the word, splendid in its imagery and poignant
in the note of grief, this beautiful tribute to the great president is
final and satisfying.

The first of the _Three Memorial Poems_ is an ‘Ode, read at the One
Hundredth Anniversary of the Fight at Concord.’

In the opening stanzas on Freedom the poet strikes the notes of
exultation fitting the time and the place, then passes to those
inevitable allusions which appeal to local pride (and Lowell handles
this passage with utmost skill), draws the lesson that must of
necessity be drawn from the ‘home-spun deeds’ of the men of old, makes
Freedom utter her warning to the men of the present, and, no prophet of
evil, closes in the triumphant spirit in which he began.

‘Under the Old Elm’ is a magnificent tribute to a man so great that
there is need of odes like this to help us comprehend his greatness.
After calling up the scene when Washington, ‘a stranger among
strangers,’ stood beneath that legendary tree to take command of his
army, ‘all of captains,’ a motley rout, valorous deacons, selectmen,
and village heroes among others, more skilled in debating their
orders than obeying them, good fighters all, but ‘serious drill’s
despair,’--the poet chants those beautiful lines in which is drawn the
distinction between ‘Nation’ and ‘Country.’ The one is fashioned of
computable things, good each in its kind and important in its place:--

    But Country is a shape of each man’s mind
    Sacred from definition, unconfined
    By the cramped walls where daily drudgeries grind;
    An inward vision, yet an outward birth
    Of sweet familiar heaven and earth;
    A brooding Presence that stirs motions blind
    Of wings within our embryo being’s shell
    That wait but her completer spell
    To make us eagle-natured, fit to dare
    Life’s nobler spaces and untarnished air.

    You who hold dear this self-conceived ideal,
    Whose faith and works alone can make it real,
    Bring all your fairest gifts to deck her shrine
    Who lifts our lives away from Thine and Mine
    And feeds the lamp of manhood more divine
    With fragrant oils of quenchless constancy.
    When all have done their utmost, surely he
    Hath given the best who gives a character
    Erect and constant, which nor any shock
    Of loosened elements, nor the forceful sea
    Of flowing or of ebbing fates, can stir
    From its deep bases in the living rock
    Of ancient manhood’s sweet security....

And the poet longs for skill to praise him fitly whom he does fitly
praise in the stanzas that follow. It is a thoughtful, nobly eloquent,
and poetically beautiful characterization of the great Virginian,
and appropriately closes with a fine apostrophe to the historic
Commonwealth from which Washington sprang.

The ‘Ode for the Fourth of July, 1876,’ though not lacking in forceful
lines and fine imagery, is the least happy of the three poems.
The questioning and critical mood is prominent. But the spirit of
confidence prevails and is voiced in the invocation with which the ode
concludes.

Various notes are touched in the collection of eighty-eight poems to
which its author gave the title of _Heartsease and Rue_. Here are
verses new and old, grave and gay, satirical, humorous, sentimental,
and elegiac, epigrams, inscriptions, lyrics, poems of occasion,
sonnets, epistles, and, chief among them, the ode written on hearing
the news of the death of Agassiz. Whether, as has been asserted, ‘this
poem takes its place with the few great elegies in our language, gives
a hand to “Lycidas” and to “Thyrsis,”’ is a question to be decided
by the suffrages of many good critics, rather than by the dictum of
one. There is no doubt, however, that by virtue of its human quality,
depth of personal feeling, sincerity in the accent of bereavement, and
felicity of phrase, the ‘Agassiz’ will always stand in the first rank
of Lowell’s greater verse.


VI

_FIRESIDE TRAVELS_, _MY STUDY WINDOWS_, _AMONG MY BOOKS_, _LATEST
LITERARY ESSAYS_

_Fireside Travels_ is so entertaining a book as to make one wish that
Lowell had chronicled more of his journeyings at home and abroad in
the same amusing style. Two of the six essays--‘Cambridge Thirty Years
Ago’ and ‘A Moosehead Journal’--take the form of letters addressed to
the author’s friend, ‘the Edelmann Storg’ (W. W. Story). The others are
grouped under the general title of ‘Leaves from my Journal in Italy and
Elsewhere.’

One spirit animates the pages of this book,--a love of plain people,
homely adventures, everyday sights and sounds. In a half-serious way
(as if to show that he knows how to ‘do’ a tempest in the mountains
or an illumination of St. Peter’s) Lowell throws in a number of
unconventional passages on entirely conventional themes. But the
strength of the book lies in the sympathetic and humorous accounts of
that protean animal Man, who, whether he showed himself in the guise
of a denizen of Old Cambridge, or of Uncle Zeb, who had been ‘to
the ‘Roostick war,’ or of the Chief Mate of the packet ship, or of
Leopoldo, the Italian guide, was more interesting to Lowell than any
other object of his study.

Together with _Fireside Travels_ may be read ‘My Garden Acquaintance’
and ‘A Good Word for Winter,’ from _My Study Windows_, gossipy
papers on Nature by one who looked on ‘a great deal of the modern
sentimentalism about Nature as a mark of disease ... one more symptom
of the general liver complaint.’ The sincerity of Lowell’s love of
birds, beasts, flowers, trees, the sky and the landscape, admits of no
question. Yet he approached Nature more or less through literature, as
was becoming in a man brought up on White’s _Selborne_; and he seems
his characteristic self when, having pulled a chair out under a tree,
he sits there with a volume of Chaucer in his hands, looking up from
the page now and then to watch his feathered neighbors, and make wise
and humorous comments on their doings.

_Among My Books_ is a volume of literary and historical studies, six
in number, entitled respectively, ‘Dryden,’ ‘Witchcraft,’ ‘Shakespeare
Once More,’ ‘New England Two Centuries Ago,’ ‘Lessing,’ ‘Rousseau and
the Sentimentalists.’ All are in Lowell’s best manner, and the ‘Dryden’
and ‘Shakespeare’ are particularly fine examples of those leisurely,
stimulating, and always brilliant literary studies which this scholar
knew so well how to write.

Of the thirteen papers in _My Study Windows_ that on ‘Abraham
Lincoln’[67] and the one ‘On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners’
have a political bearing; those on ‘A Great Public Character’ (Josiah
Quincy) and ‘Emerson the Lecturer’ are studies in personality; the
‘Library of Old Authors’ is an exercise in textual criticism, a
merciless arraignment of certain unfortunate editors; the ‘Carlyle,’
‘James Gates Percival,’ ‘Thoreau,’ ‘Swinburne’s Tragedies,’ ‘Chaucer,’
and ‘Pope’ are studies in literary history and interpretation.

_Among My Books_, ‘second series,’ contains five essays. More than
a third of the volume is devoted to a study of ‘Dante,’ elaborate
and exhaustive--as the word ‘exhaustive’ might be used in speaking
of an essay not of a book. Then follows a most sympathetic essay on
‘Spenser,’ together with papers on ‘Milton,’ ‘Wordsworth,’ and ‘Keats.’

Of Lowell’s critical writings as a whole it may be said that better
reading does not exist; and among the virtues of these essays is their
length. Lowell would have been ill at ease in the limits of three or
four thousand words too often imposed by the editors of our current
magazines. He might even have been scornful of a public taste which
dictated to editors to dictate to their contributors limits so narrow.
Writing from the fulness of a well-stored mind, he liked room in which
to display his thought. Having much to say, he did not scruple to
take time to say it; but the time always goes quickly. He understood
perfectly the art of beguiling one into forgetting the hours as they
pass.

These essays, so rich in critical suggestiveness, abound in
matter-of-fact knowledge. We read for information and get it. Lowell
shares with us the wealth of his acquaintance with books. His manner
is unostentatious. Macaulay staggers us with his array of facts and
his range of allusion. We are overwhelmed, intellectually cowed by the
display of knowledge. Lowell too astonishes, but only after a while.
Macaulay declaims at his reader, Lowell converses with him. All is so
easy, good-humored, and witty, that the reader for a moment labors
under the mistake of supposing that he is being instructed less than
he would like. Later he begins to count up his mental gains, and is
surprised at the display they make.

Another obvious source of pleasure is the felicity of expression.
Lowell had the courage of his cleverness. Brilliancy was natural to
him. He defended the practice of piquant phrasing, maintaining that a
thought is not wanting in depth because it is strikingly put. Doubtless
he loved an ingenious turn for its own sake, but it would be difficult
to find an instance of his making a display of verbal vivacity to
conceal poverty of thought.

These pages bear constant witness to Lowell’s passion for books, a
passion too genuine and deep-seated to admit of any doubt on his part
of the worth of literature. He had none of Emerson’s scepticism, who
held that if people would only think, they might do without books.
The dullest proser and most leaden-winged poet could not make Lowell
despair.

A number of essays display no little of the severity which we have
learned to associate with reviewing after the manner of Jeffrey and
Lockhart. Yet these caustic passages were written by a man who said of
himself that he had ‘to fight the temptation to be too good-natured.’
Priggishness was as absurd to him in scholarship and letters as
elsewhere, and he never lost a chance to give it a touch of the whip.
Happily there is little of this. Lowell was almost uniformly urbane,
gracious, reasonable.

If his subject was a great one Lowell treated it in a great way; if
circumscribed and provincial he enlarged its boundaries--as in the
essay on ‘James Gates Percival,’ where a subject of small intrinsic
worth becomes a study of the American literary mind at one of its
periods of acute self-consciousness, useful historically and tending to
present-day edification. Needless to say, Lowell enjoyed handling this
topic. He liked to satirize the early American authors and critics,
solemn and important over their great work of inaugurating a New-World
literature and quite convinced that, since ‘that little driblet of the
Avon had succeeded in producing William Shakespeare,’ something unusual
was to be expected of the Mississippi River.

Although Lowell’s standing as a critic rests on such writings as his
‘Dryden,’ ‘Shakespeare,’ ‘Chaucer,’ ‘Spenser,’ ‘Pope,’ and ‘Dante,’ the
amateur of good literature cannot afford to neglect anything to which
this fine scholar put his hand.

The later volumes contain some of his most illuminating criticism
(notably in the ‘Fielding,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Gray,’ ‘Walton,’ and
‘Landor’), and his style seems the perfection of ease and suppleness.
Doubtless it is negligent now and then, but always with the winning
negligence of a master in the difficult art of expression.


VII

_POLITICAL ADDRESSES AND PAPERS_

_The Anti-Slavery Papers_ consists of editorial articles reprinted
from ‘The Pennsylvania Freeman,’ and ‘The Anti-Slavery Standard.’[68]
Witty, ironical, and pungent, these fugitive leaves are of value for
the light they throw on the history of the struggle maintained by the
Abolitionists against their powerful enemies both in the North and in
the South, as well as for the idea they give of the militant Lowell at
a time when to conviction of the justness of the cause for which he
fought was added a measure of joyousness in the mere act of fighting.

Of greater significance is the volume of _Political Essays_, twelve
papers written at intervals between 1858 and 1866. Designed for the
most part to serve an immediate purpose, and betraying in every page
the writer’s depth of feeling, intensity of patriotism, and strong but
not bigoted Northern convictions, these essays, by their acuteness of
insight, balanced judgment, admirable temper, and wealth of allusion,
as well as by their literary flavor and their occasional eloquence,
hold a permanent place not only among Lowell’s best writings but among
the best of the innumerable political papers called out by the Civil
War.

Of Lowell’s later political utterances none is more notable than the
address on ‘Democracy,’ delivered at Birmingham in 1884, a cleverly
phrased and thoughtful speech in which the American minister defended
the democratic idea with logic as adroit as it was sound. That the
source of American democracy was the English constitution must have
been news to a part at least of his English audience. It was a happy
thought of Lowell’s to show how stable democracy might be as a system
of government. He made the argument from expediency, that ‘it is
cheaper in the long run to lift men up than to hold them down, and
that a ballot in their hands is less dangerous to society than a sense
of wrong in their heads.’ He would not have been Lowell had he not
also shown that a democracy has its finer instincts, or failed to
recognize the fact that as an experiment in the art of government it
must stand or fall by its own merits. And the whole address is strongly
optimistic, in its insistence that ‘those who have the divine right to
govern will be found to govern in the end.’

The address on ‘The Place of the Independent in Politics’ supplements
the Birmingham address. As Lowell before an English audience had dwelt
on ‘the good points and favorable aspect of democracy,’ so before a
home audience he discussed its weak points and its dangers. He thought
the system would bear investigation. At no time did he labor under the
mistake of supposing that democracy was a contrivance which ran of its
own accord. Parties there must be and politicians to look after them,
but it is no less essential that there should be somebody to look after
the politicians. The address is a plea for unselfishness in political
action.

       *       *       *       *       *

Admirers of Lowell find it easy to believe that of all American
makers of verse he had the most of what is called inspiration. With
less catholic tastes he might have become a greater poet and would
undoubtedly have been a finer artist. But granting that it was a
matter of choice, and that Lowell had elected to make mastery in
verse (with all the sacrifices involved) the object of his life, how
serious then would have been the loss to criticism and to politics. The
Lowell we know, with his extraordinary mental vivacity, his grasp of a
multitude of interests that make for culture, is surely a more engaging
figure than the hypothetical Lowell of purely poetical achievement.


FOOTNOTES:

  [63] Keith Spence was born at Kirkwall, Orkney. Mrs. Lowell had
       Orcadian ancestors on both sides of the house, her maternal
       grandfather, Robert Traill, having also come from Orkney.

  [64] January, February, and March, 1843.

  [65] Scudder.

  [66] H. R. Haweis: _American Humorists_.

  [67] The remarkable paper on Lincoln was afterwards transferred to
       the volume of _Political Essays_.

  [68] January, 1845, to November, 1850.



XIX

_WALT WHITMAN_


REFERENCES:

  =John Burroughs=: _Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person_,
    second edition, 1871.

  =R. M. Bucke=: _Walt Whitman_, 1883.

  =W. S. Kennedy=: _Reminiscences of Walt Whitman_, 1896.

  =I. H. Platt=: _Walt Whitman_, ‘Beacon Biographies,’ 1904.


I

HIS LIFE

Walter Whitman (commonly known as Walt) was born at West Hills, a
village in Huntington Township, Long Island, on May 31, 1819. He was
a son of Walter Whitman, a carpenter and house-builder, who followed
his trade chiefly in New York and Brooklyn. The Long Island Whitmans
claim descent from the Reverend Zechariah Whitman, who came to America
in 1635, and settled at Milford, Connecticut. Zechariah’s son Joseph
crossed the Sound ‘sometime before 1660,’ and may have been the
original purchaser of the farm where successive generations of his
descendants lived, and where the poet was born.

Blended with this English blood was that of a line of Dutch ancestors.
Whitman’s mother, Louisa Van Velsor, daughter of Cornelius Van Velsor
of Cold Spring Harbor, was of ‘the old race of the Netherlands, so
deeply grafted on Manhattan Island and in Kings and Queens counties.’
The Van Velsors were noted for their horses, and in her youth Louisa
was a daring rider.

Whitman’s education was such as a Brooklyn public school of the early
Thirties afforded. After a little experience as an office-boy he
learned to set type. To vary the monotony of life at the composing-case
he taught in country schools or worked at farming. Occasionally he
dabbled in literature, publishing tales and essays in the ‘Democratic
Review.’ In 1839 he started at Huntington a ‘weekly’ paper, the ‘Long
Islander,’ publishing it at such intervals as pleased him best. For a
time he edited the ‘Brooklyn Eagle’ (1848), diverting himself in the
intervals of journalistic work with ‘an occasional shy at “poetry.”’

Nomadic by instinct and of a curious and inquiring turn of mind,
Whitman, accompanied by his brother Jeff, made ‘a leisurely journey
and working expedition’ through the Middle States, down the Ohio and
Mississippi to New Orleans, returning in the same deliberate manner
by the Great Lakes, Lower Canada, and the Hudson. During his stay in
New Orleans (1849–50) he was an editorial writer on the’ Crescent.’
In Brooklyn (1850–51) he edited and published a paper called ‘The
Freeman,’ then for three or four years he built and sold small houses.

The first edition of the extraordinary and notorious _Leaves of Grass_
(for which Whitman himself helped to set the type) appeared in 1855,
and was described by Emerson to Carlyle as ‘a nondescript monster,
which yet had terrible eyes and buffalo strength, and was indisputably
American.’ An enlarged edition appeared in 1856, to be followed by yet
a third in 1860. The sales were slow and the reviews for the most part
hostile and often abusive.

There was some discussion in the Whitman family over the merits of
the book. The poet’s brother, George Whitman, said in after years: ‘I
remember mother comparing Hiawatha to Walt’s, and the one seemed to us
pretty much the same muddle as the other. Mother said if Hiawatha was
poetry, perhaps Walt’s was.’[69]

In 1862 George Whitman was wounded at the first battle of
Fredericksburg. Walt went immediately to the front to care for him.
His sympathies were enlisted by the sight of the misery on every hand
and he became a volunteer army nurse, serving for three years in the
hospitals in Washington. ‘He saved many lives’ was the testimony of a
surgeon who had observed Whitman at his work. But his powerful physique
broke under the strain, and a severe illness followed.

When he recovered, a clerkship was given him in the Department of the
Interior; he was presently removed on the charge (it is said) of having
written an indecent book.[70] A place was immediately found for him
in the Attorney General’s office, and this place he held until he was
stricken by partial paralysis early in 1873.

From 1873 until his death Whitman lived in Camden, New Jersey, at first
making his home with his soldier brother, George, later setting up an
establishment of his own at 328 Mickle Street. He never married, having
an ‘overmastering passion for entire freedom, unconstraint; I had an
instinct against forming ties that would bind me.’

The following list of Whitman’s writings conveys no idea of the
interest attaching to them as bibliographical curiosities, but will
perhaps answer the needs of the student.

_Leaves of Grass_, 1855 (second edition, 1856; third, 1860–61; fourth,
1867; fifth, 1871); _Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps_ and its _Sequel_,
1865–66; _Democratic Vistas_, 1871; _After All not to Create Only_,
1871; _Passage to India_, 1871; _As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free_,
1872; _Memoranda during the War_, 1875–76; _Two Rivulets_ (prose and
verse), 1876; _Specimen Days and Collect_, 1882–83; _November Boughs_
(prose and verse), 1888; _Good-Bye My Fancy_, 1891; _Calamus: A Series
of Letters ... to a young friend (Peter Doyle)_, 1897; _The Wound
Dresser_, 1898.

The storm of opposition which greeted Whitman’s earlier work gradually
subsided, and he became a notable figure among contemporary men of
letters. He was invited to read original poems on public occasions,
such as the opening of the American Institute (1871), the Commencement
at Dartmouth College (1872), and the Commencement at Tufts College
(1874). In later years he enjoyed literary canonization in a small
way. Many pilgrims visited the bard in his unpoetical house in Camden.
Worshippers came from England to pay him homage and incidentally to
rail at Americans for neglecting one of their few geniuses, stolidly
ignoring the fact that they themselves had neglected not a few of their
many geniuses. And before Walt Whitman died (March 26, 1892) he had
tasted some of the delights of fame.


II

THE GROWTH OF A REPUTATION

Being prejudiced in favor of metre and rhyme, probably from long
experience of verse written in the conservative way, an old-fashioned
world did not welcome _Leaves of Grass_ with enthusiasm. A few
discerning spirits saw in Whitman the promise of mighty things. Emerson
greeted him ‘at the beginning of a great career;’ but when the poet had
these words from a private letter stamped in gilt capitals on the cover
of his next volume, Emerson (it is thought) was a little dismayed.

Not only did the form of the poems offend, but the content as well.
There were lines calculated to disconcert even such people as were
not, in their own opinion, prudish. The lines were comparatively few
in number, but they were there in unabashed nakedness, and _Leaves of
Grass_, it may be assumed, often went on a top shelf instead of on
the sitting-room table along with innocuous poets like Tennyson and
Longfellow.

Neglect and abuse raised up for Whitman in time a small battalion of
champions, fierce, determined, uncompromising, militant. Among them
were men whose attitude towards literature was catholic and liberal.
For the most part they were Whitmanites, hot as lovers, quarrelsome as
bullies, biting their thumbs at every passer-by.

Literary championship has one good effect: it keeps the public, gorged
with novels of the day, from quite going to sleep. There is always
a chance that some open-minded reader will be stirred by the clash
of critical arms to look into the affair that is causing so great a
pother. Better to be advertised by the crowd of swashbucklers who
clattered about wearing Whitman’s colors than not to be advertised at
all. The public concluded that a man who could inspire loyalty like
this must be worth while. Whitman’s audience and influence grew. The
bodyguard pretty much lost the power to see virtue in any poet save its
own, but it had succeeded in arresting public attention.

In 1876 a number of English admirers subscribed freely to the new
edition of Whitman’s writings and garnished their guineas with
comfortable words. The poet was sick, poor, discouraged, and by his own
grateful testimony this show of interest put new heart into him--‘saved
my life,’ he said. It might well have had that effect, since no less
names than those of Tennyson, Ruskin, Rossetti, and Lord Houghton
were to be found in the list of subscribers. Even Robert Buchanan,
who assailed with virulence the author of ‘Jenny,’ had no scruple in
bidding God speed to the author of the ‘Song of Myself’ and ‘Children
of Adam.’

A momentary set-back occurred in 1882, when Whitman’s Boston publisher
was threatened with prosecution. ‘The official mind’ declared that it
would be content if two poems were suppressed, the poems in question
resembling in some particulars the stories an English editor omitted
from the _Thousand-and-One Nights_, on the ground that they were
‘interesting only to Arabs and old gentlemen.’ Whitman refused to omit
so much as a word, and the book was transferred to a Philadelphia
publishing house.

After 1882 Whitman found himself able to publish freely and without
the fear of the district attorney before his eyes. Since his death he
has been accorded a niche in the American literary pantheon, if we may
believe the critics, who now treat his work with the confidence which
marks their attitude towards Lowell or Longfellow.


III

THE WRITER

Unless indeed, as some maintain, Whitman got the suggestion of a
rhapsodical form from the once famous _Poems of Ossian_, he may be
said to have invented his own ‘verse.’ These unrhymed and unmetred
chants give a pleasure the degree of which is largely determined by the
reader’s willingness to allow Whitman to speak in his own manner and
wholly without reference to time-honored modes of poetic expression.
Such receptivity of mind is indispensable.

Whitman called his rhapsodies ‘poems,’ ‘chants,’ or ‘songs’
indifferently; the last term was a favorite with him, in later
editions; he has a ‘Song of the Open Road,’ a ‘Song of the Broad-Axe,’
a ‘Song for Occupations,’ a ‘Song of the Rolling Earth,’ a ‘Song of
Myself,’ a ‘Song of the Exposition,’ a ‘Song of the Redwood-Tree,’
‘Songs of Parting,’ and yet more songs. Obviously he used the word
without reference to the traditional meaning. Says Whitman: ‘... it is
not on _Leaves of Grass_ distinctively as _literature_, or a specimen
thereof, that I feel to dwell, or advance claims. No one will get at
my verses who insists upon viewing them as a literary performance,
or attempt at such performance, or as aiming mainly toward art or
æstheticism.’ Holding as he did that so long as ‘the States’ were
dominated by the poetic ideals of the Old World they would stop short
of first-class nationality, his own practice necessarily involved
getting rid, first of all, of the forms in which poetry had hitherto
found expression.

That the structure of Whitman’s rhapsodies is determined by some law
cannot be questioned. After one has read these pieces many times,
he will find himself instinctively expecting a certain cadence. The
change of a word spoils it, the introduction of a rhyme is intolerable.
They who are versed in Whitman’s style can probably detect at once
a variation from his best manner. That his peculiarities in the
arrangement of words are very subtile is plain from a glance at the
numerous and generally unsuccessful parodies of _Leaves of Grass_.
The parodists have not grasped Whitman’s secret. Merely to write in
irregular lines and begin each line with a capital is to represent only
the obvious and superficial side. Whitman is inimitable even in his
catalogues. The ninth stanza of ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ reads like
an extract from a papal anathema, but it has the Whitmanesque quality;
no one can reproduce it. The imitations of Whitman are always amusing
and often ingenious, but they are not, like Lewis Carroll’s ‘Three
Voices,’ true parodies.

Whitman probably did not know every step of the process by which he
attained his results. He was a poet who created his own laws and had no
philosophy of poetic form to expound.


IV

_LEAVES OF GRASS_

A first impression of _Leaves of Grass_ is of uncouthness and blatancy,
together with something yet more objectionable. The writer would seem
to be a man fond of shocking what are called the proprieties, so frank
and egregious is his animalism, so overpowering his self-assertiveness.

The author of _Laus Veneris_ accuses Whitman of indecency. The charge
is a grave one and emanates from a high source. The distinguished
English poet admits that there are few subjects which ‘may not be
treated with success;’ but the treatment is everything. This is ‘a
radical and fundamental truth of criticism.’ Whitman’s indecency then
consists not so much in the choice of the subject as in the awkwardness
of the touch. Or as Swinburne puts it with characteristic emphasis:
‘Under the dirty paws of a harper whose plectrum is a muck-rake any
tune will become a chaos of discords, though the motive of the tune
should be the first principle of nature--the passion of man for woman
or the passion of woman for man.’

But along with that first impression of Whitman’s verse as the product
of a strong, coarse nature, wilfully brutal at times, comes the no less
marked impression that the man is serenely honest, and animated by a
benevolence which helps to relieve the brutality of its most repulsive
features. At all events, Whitman is what Carlyle might have described
as ‘one of the palpablest of Facts in this miserable world where so
much is Invertebrate and Phantasmal.’ Whether we like him or not,
Whitman is by no means one of those neutral literary persons who are in
danger of being overlooked.

In fact, the word ‘literary’ as applied to the author of _Leaves of
Grass_ is singularly inept. Whitman is not literary, that is to say he
is not a product of libraries. No meek and reverent follower of poets
gone before is this. ‘He has no literary ancestor, he is an ancestor
himself’--or at least takes the attitude of one. He is a son of earth,
a genuine autochthon, naked and not ashamed, noisy, vociferous, naïvely
delighted with the music of his own raucous voice.

In that first great rhapsody, ‘Poem of Walt Whitman, an American,’[71]
we have the most characteristic expression of his genius. He proclaims
his interest in all that concerns mankind--not a cold, objective
interest merely, he is himself a part of the mighty pageant of life,
sympathetic with every phase of joy and sorrow, identifying himself
with high and low, finding nothing mean or contemptible. He states the
idea with a hundred variations, returns upon it, sets it in new lights,
enforces it. Every phenomenon of human life teaches this lesson. Every
pleasure, every grief, every experience small or great concerns him. He
identifies himself with the life of the most miserable of creatures:--

                                I am possess’d!
    Embody all presences outlaw’d or suffering,
    See myself in prison shaped like another man,
    And feel the dull unintermitted pain.

He carries the process of identification too far at times, leading to
results that would be disgusting were they not laughably grotesque.
Whitman makes no reservations on the score of taste.

This doctrine of the unity of being and experience is comprehensive,
not limited to human life; the brute and insentient existences are
included as well. For a statement of Whitman’s creed take the poem
beginning: ‘There was a child went forth.’ If a busy man were ambitious
to know something about Whitman’s poetry and had only a minimum of time
to give to the subject (like Franklin when he undertook to post up on
revealed religion), one would not hesitate to commend to his notice
this poem as one of the first to be read. The theme is contained in
the four introductory lines. All that follows is an amplification of a
single thought:--

    There was a child went forth every day,
    And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
    And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain
          part of the day,
    Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Every object grows incorporate with the child, an essential inseparable
part of him,--the early lilacs, the noisy brood of the barnyard,
people, home, the family usages, doubts even (doubts ‘whether that
which appears is so, or is it all flashes and specks?’), the streets,
the shops, the crowd surging along, shadows and mist, and boats and
waves,

    The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
          solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
    The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh
          and shore mud,
    These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who
          now goes, and will always go forth every day.

The idea has another setting in ‘Salut au Monde,’ Walt Whitman’s
brotherly wave of the hand to the whole world. It is a vision of
kingdoms and nations, comprehensive, detailed; it is geography and the
catalogue raised to the dignity of eloquence. Latitude and longitude
and the hot equator ‘banding the bulge of the earth’ acquire new
meaning in this strange chant. The poet hears the myriad sound of the
life of all peoples:--

    I hear the Arab muezzin calling from the top of the mosque,
    I hear the Christian priests at the altars of their churches, I hear
          the responsive bass and soprano,

           *       *       *       *       *

    I hear the Hebrew reading his records and psalms,
    I hear the rhythmic myths of the Greeks, and the strong legends
          of the Romans,
    I hear the tale of the divine life and the bloody death of the
          beautiful God the Christ,
    I hear the Hindoo teaching his favorite pupil the loves, wars,
          adages, transmitted safely to this day from poets who wrote
          three thousand years ago.

The mountains, the rivers, the stormy seas, the pageant of fallen
empires and ancient religions, of cities and plains, all sweep past in
this survey of the world. And to all, salutation:--

    My spirit has pass’d in compassion and determination around the
          whole earth,
    I have look’d for equals and lovers and found them ready for me
          in all lands,
    I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.

The ‘Song of the Open Road,’ which may very well be read next, is a
challenge to a larger life than that which conventions, and modes, and
common social habits will permit:--

    From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
    Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
    Listening to others, considering well what they say,
    Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
    Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that
          would hold me.

It is no journey of ease to which the poet invites his followers; he
offers none of the ‘old smooth prizes:’--

    My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
    He going with me must go well arm’d,
    He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry
          enemies, desertion.

Notable among Whitman’s best poems, and most important to an
understanding of him, is the ‘Song of the Answerer,’ that is to say, of
the Poet. He it is who puts things in their right relations:--

    Every existence has its idiom, every thing has an idiom and a tongue,
    He resolves all tongues into his own and bestows it upon men.

The Answerer is quite other than the Singer--he is more powerful, his
existence is more significant, his words are of weight and insight:--

    The words of the singers are the hours or minutes of the light or
          dark, but the words of the maker of poems are the general
          light and dark,
    The maker of poems settles justice, reality, immortality,
    His insight and power encircle things and the human race,
    He is the glory and extract thus far of things and of the human race.

In that fine rhapsody ‘By Blue Ontario’s Shore’ Whitman restates his
doctrine while applying it to the need of his own America:--

    Rhymes and rhymers pass away, poems distill’d from poems pass away,
    The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave ashes,
    Admirers, importers, obedient persons, make but the soil
          of literature,
    America justifies itself, give it time, no disguise can deceive it
          or conceal from it, it is impassive enough,
    Only toward the likes of itself will it advance to meet them,
    If its poets appear it will in due time advance to meet them, there
          is no fear of mistake,
    (The proof of a poet shall be sternly deferr’d till his country
          absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorb’d it.)

‘By Blue Ontario’s Shore,’ from which these lines are taken, is a chant
for America. Patriotism is Whitman’s darling theme. Love of native
land, confidence in democracy, the self-sufficiency of the Republic and
the certainty of its future--with these ideas and with this spirit his
verse is charged to the full:--

    A breed whose proof is in time and deeds,
    What we are we are, nativity is answer enough to objections,
    We wield ourselves as a weapon is wielded,
    We are powerful and tremendous in ourselves,
    We are executive in ourselves, we are sufficient in the variety
          of ourselves,
    We are the most beautiful to ourselves and in ourselves,
    We stand self-pois’d in the middle, branching thence over the world,
    From Missouri, Nebraska, or Kansas, laughing attacks to scorn.

America is safe, thought Whitman, so long as she does her own work in
her own way and cultivates a wholesome fear of civilization.

    America, curious toward foreign characters, stands by its own at
          all hazards,
    Stands removed, spacious, composite, sound, initiates the true use
          of precedents,
    Does not repel them or the past or what they have produced under
          their forms,

           *       *       *       *       *

    These States are the amplest poem,
    Here is not merely a nation but a teeming Nation of nations,
    Here the doings of men correspond with the broadcast doings of the
          day and night,
    Here is what moves in magnificent masses careless of particulars,
    Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combativeness,
          the soul loves,
    Here the flowing trains, here the crowds, equality, diversity,
          the soul loves.

One of the most magnificent of Whitman’s patriotic chants is that known
by its opening line, ‘As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free.’ He would be a
hardened sceptic who, after reading these superb and uplifting verses,
found himself still unconverted to some portion of the gospel of poetry
as preached by Walt Whitman. There is no resisting the man here, or
when he shows his power in pieces like ‘Proud Music of the Storm,’
‘Passage to India,’ ‘The Mystic Trumpeter,’ ‘With Husky-Haughty
Lips, O Sea!’ ‘To the Man-of-War-Bird,’ ‘Song of the Universal,’ and
‘Chanting the Square Deific.’

Admirable, even wonderful, as these verses are, it may be after all
that the little volume called _Drum-Taps_ (together with its _Sequel_)
is Whitman’s best gift to the literature of his country. Vivid pictures
of battle-field, camp, and hospital, they are not to be forgotten by
him who has once looked on them. The ‘Prelude,’ ‘Cavalry Crossing a
Ford,’ ‘By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame,’ ‘The Dresser,’ the impressive
‘Vigil strange I kept on the field one night,’ and the no less striking
‘A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown,’ together with
‘As toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,’ the ‘Hymn of Dead Soldiers,’
and ‘Spirit whose Work is Done,’--these and many more have accomplished
for Whitman’s reputation what the ‘Song of Myself’ and kindred poems
could not.

In _Drum-Taps_ appeared the tributes to Lincoln, ‘O Captain, my
Captain,’ and the great lament beginning ‘When lilacs last in the
dooryard bloom’d.’ Here the poet rises to his supreme height. For
pathos and tenderness, for beauty of phrase, nobility of thought, and
a grand yet simple manner this threnody is indeed worthy of the praise
bestowed on it by those critics whose praise is most to be desired.[72]


V

_SPECIMEN DAYS AND COLLECT_

Whitman’s prose in the definitive edition makes a stout volume of more
than five hundred closely printed pages. The title, _Specimen Days and
Collect_, gives an imperfect hint of the contents. Here are extracts
from journals kept through twenty years. Many bear a resemblance to
Hugo’s _Choses Vues_. Largely autobiographical and reminiscent, they
are vivid, picturesque, and far better in their haphazard way than a
good deal of formal ‘literature.’ Here are reprints of prefaces to the
several editions of _Leaves of Grass_, together with papers on Burns,
Tennyson, and Shakespeare, a lecture on Lincoln, a paper on American
national literature, and yet more ‘diary-notes’ and ‘splinters.’ He
who loves to browse in a book will find the volume of Whitman’s prose
made to his hand. The prose is of high importance to an understanding
of what, oddly enough, his poetry imperfectly reveals--Whitman’s
character. To know the man as he really was we must read _Specimen Days
and Collect_.


VI

WHITMAN’S CHARACTER

There is a certain uncanny quality in parts of Whitman’s verse. The
reiteration of particular phrases and words awakens an uncomfortable
feeling, a suspicion of not-to-be-named queernesses, to use no plainer
term. The constant translation of conceptions of ideal love into
fleshly symbols moves the reader to irreverence if not to disgust.
Whitman’s favorite image of bearded ‘comrades’ who kiss when they meet,
and who take long walks with their arms around each other’s necks, may
be ‘nonchalant’ but it is not agreeable. Somehow it does not seem as
if the doctrine of the brotherhood of man gained many supporters by so
singular a method of propagandism.

When from time to time Whitman talked with Peter Doyle about his books,
Doyle would say: ‘I don’t know what you are trying to get at.’[73] It
is an ironical comment on the great preacher of the needs and virtues
of the average man that his poetry should have been handed over to
the keeping of those whose jaded taste makes them hanker after the
bizarre, after anything that breeds discussion, anything demanding
interpretation and defence.

Yet no one doubts the sincerity of these faithful followers.
Whitmanites really like Whitman albeit they protest too much. It
is difficult to read him and not like him. Unfortunately the many
find it impossible to read him. Whitman prepares his feast, throws
open his doors, and bids all enter who will. A few come and by their
shrill volubility make it seem as if the dining-room were crowded. The
majority do not trouble to cross the threshold. They have heard that
the host serves queer dishes; it has even been reported that he is a
cannibal.

This, or something very like it, has been Whitman’s fate. A taste for
his work must be acquired. He is the idol of cliques and societies, and
a meaningless name to the great people whom he loved, whose virtues he
chanted with confident fervor, and in whom he trusted unreservedly.

Poetry so egoistic might be supposed to reveal the man. Strangely
enough, Whitman’s poetry, despite the heavy and continued accentuation
of the personal note, gives but a partial, a quite imperfect view of
the man himself. Whitman tells us so emphatically what he _thinks_ that
we are at a loss to know what he himself _is_. The great Shakespeare,
according to popular opinion, is veiled from us through his
extraordinary impersonality. Whitman accomplishes a not dissimilar end
by diametrically opposite means; he hides himself by over obtrusion of
the personal element. The case is not so common as to be undeserving
of study. As a method it has many drawbacks.

Whitman has suffered at his own hands. The egoistic manner,
indispensable to his theory and not to be taken with literalness, is
nevertheless a stumbling-block. Instruct themselves how they will that
in saying ‘I’ the poet also means ‘You,’ that whatever Walt Whitman
claims for himself he also claims for every one else, readers somehow
lose hold of the thought and are amazed and angered by the poet’s
monstrous vanity.

To this feeling the prose writings are an antidote. We learn in a few
pages how simple-minded, patient, and lovable this man really was;
how reverent of genius, how free from envy, undisturbed by suffering,
ill-repute, and delayed hopes. There was something at once pathetic
and noble in his patience, in his magnificent repose and stability.
The impersonal character of the tree and the rock, which he admired
so much, became in a measure his. He bided his time. The success of
other poets awakened no jealousy. He never called names, never picked
flaws in the work of his brother bards. The better we know him the more
dignified and lofty his figure becomes.


FOOTNOTES:

  [69] ‘Conversations with George W. Whitman,’ _In Re Walt Whitman_,
       p. 36.

  [70] ‘... It is therefore deemed needful only to say in relation
       to his [Whitman’s] removal, that his Chief--Hon. Wm. P.
       Dole, Commissioner of Indian affairs, who was officially
       answerable to me for the work in his Bureau, recommended
       it, _on the ground that his services were not needed_. And
       no other reason was ever assigned by my authority.’ Extract
       from a letter from James Harlan to Dewitt Miller, dated Mt.
       Pleasant, Iowa, July 18, 1894.

  [71] So called in the edition of 1856. In the edition of 1897 it
       is entitled ‘Song of Myself.’

  [72] See, for example, Stedman’s tribute in _Poets of America_.

  [73] _Calamus_, p. 27.



_Index_


  _Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey_, 9, 27.

  Abolitionists, 260.

  _Afloat and Ashore_, 71, 88.

  _Aftermath_, 226, 245.

  ‘Ages, The,’ Bryant’s Phi Beta Kappa poem, 38.

  Agnew, Mary, 406.

  _Alhambra, The_, 9, 24.

  Allan, Mr. and Mrs. John, befriend Poe, 190, 191.

  Allegiance, treaty with Germany concerning, 107.

  American Anti-Slavery Society in New York, Whittier secretary of, 260.

  _American Democrat, The_, 70, 94.

  _American Lands and Letters_, 449.

  American Loyalists, Irving’s attitude towards, 30;
    in Westchester County, N. Y., 75.

  _American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne_, 292, 315.

  ‘American Scholar, The,’ Emerson’s Phi Beta Kappa oration, 152, 162.

  _Among My Books_, 458, 475, 476.

  _Among the Hills_, 263, 280.

  Amory, Susan, wife of William Hickling Prescott, 125.

  ‘Analectic Magazine,’ conducted by Irving, 6.

  André, Major John, Irving’s treatment of, 29.

  Anti-slavery movement, Whittier’s connection with, 259, 273–277;
    Thoreau’s, 331;
    Curtis’s, 420, 421;
    Lowell’s, 456, 466, 479.

  _Anti-Slavery Papers_, Lowell’s, 459, 479.

  Appleton, Frances, wife of Longfellow, 225, 226.

  Archæological Institute of America, 383.

  Armada, the, 374.

  Arnold, Benedict, Irving’s treatment of, 29.

  Arnold, Matthew, 232.

  Astor, John Jacob, his commercial enterprise in the Northwest, the
        subject of _Astoria_, 28.

  _At Sundown_, 263, 282.

  ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ founding of, and Whittier’s contributions to, 262;
    Lowell editor of, 458.

  _Autocrat, The, of the Breakfast-Table_, 340, 345, 355.

  _Autumn_, Thoreau’s, 324, 331.


  Bachiler, Stephen, 256.

  Bancroft, Aaron, father of George Bancroft, 101.

  Bancroft, George: his ancestry, 101;
    education and foreign travel, 102;
    tutor at Harvard, 103;
    the Round Hill School, 103;
    early works, 104;
    political appointments, 105, 107;
    founds United States Naval Academy, 105;
    brings about treaty with Germany, 107;
    last years, 107;
    death, 108;
    character, 108;
    criticism of the History, 110–119.

  ‘Barbara Frietchie,’ remark of Whittier concerning, 265;
    popularity of, 276.

  _Battle Summer_, 440, 444.

  _Belfry, The, of Bruges_, 225, 236.

  Benjamin, Mary, wife of John Lothrop Motley, 360;
    her death, 364.

  Bigelow, Catharine, wife of Francis Parkman, 381.

  _Biglow Papers, The_, 456, 458, 466.

  Bismarck, his student life with Motley, 360.

  Bliss, Elisabeth (Davis), wife of George Bancroft, 105.

  _Blithedale Romance, The_, 291, 309.

  _Bonneville_, 28.

  _Book of the Roses_, 381 (note).

  Borrow, George, Emerson’s knowledge of, 182.

  Boston Lyceum, Poe’s appearance before, 197, 200.

  _Bracebridge Hall_, 7, 17.

  _Bravo, The_, 69, 89, 96.

  ‘Broadway Journal, The,’ Poe’s connection with, 196.

  Bronson, W. C., quoted, on Bryant, 43.

  Brook Farm, Emerson’s sympathy with, 154;
    Hawthorne’s connection with, 289.

  Brown, John, Thoreau’s acquaintance with, 323.

  Bryant, Peter, father of William Cullen Bryant, 35.

  Bryant, Stephen, ancestor of William Cullen Bryant, 35.

  Bryant, William Cullen: his ancestry, 35;
    early verses, 36;
    education, 36, 37;
    law practice, 37;
    marriage, 38;
    editorial work, 38–41;
    political affiliations, 39, 40;
    works published, 41;
    travel, 42;
    death, 43;
    character, 44;
    quarrel with an opponent, 45;
    criticism of his work, 46–62;
    his translations, 58;
    quoted, on Cooper’s quarrel with the Press, 70.

  Burr, Aaron, Washington Irving among counsel for defence of, 5.

  Burroughs, John, 243.

  ‘Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly,’ Poe’s
        connection with, 194.

  Byron, George Gordon Noel, visits American flagship, 103.


  Cabot, Sebastian, passage on, from Bancroft, 110.

  Cambridge (England), University of, confers degree on Holmes, 340;
    on Lowell, 459.

  _Cape Cod_, 324, 331.

  Caraffa, Motley’s picture of, 371.

  Carlyle, Thomas, Emerson’s meeting with, 150;
    correspondence with Emerson, 156;
    quotation from, applied to Whitman, 495.

  _Cathedral, The_, 458, 470.

  Cavalier and Puritan, Bancroft’s comparison of, 111.

  _Chainbearer, The_, 71, 95.

  Champlain, Samuel, 392.

  Charles the Fifth, Prescott’s continuation of Robertson’s history of,
        127.

  _Children of the Lord’s Supper, The_, 231, 236.

  _Christus, a Mystery_, 226, 245.

  Civil Service reform, Curtis’s work for, 421.

  Clemm, Maria, 192, 194, 198.

  Clemm, Virginia, 192;
    her marriage to Edgar Allan Poe, 193;
    her death, 197.

  Clough, Arthur Hugh, effect on, of reading Evangeline, 232;
    visits America, 457.

  Cogswell, Joseph G., 103.

  Columbus, Irving’s life of, 8, 20.

  _Commemoration Ode_, 458, 470.

  _Conduct of Life_, 156, 175.

  Conkling, Roscoe, his attack on Curtis, 423.

  _Conquest, The, of Granada_, 8, 22.

  _Conquest, The, of Mexico_, 127, 134.

  _Conquest, The, of Peru_, 127, 138.

  _Conspiracy, The, of Pontiac_, 381, 387.

  Constitution of the United States, history of, by Bancroft, 108.

  Cooper, James Fenimore: his ancestry, 65;
    boyhood and education, 66;
    enters the navy, 66;
    marries and leaves the service, 67;
    his first books, 67;
    life abroad, 68;
    return to America, 69;
    quarrel with the Press, 69;
    list of works, 70;
    character, 72;
    style, 74;
    criticism of his works, 75–97.

  Cooper, William, father of James Fenimore Cooper, 65.

  Cortés, Prescott’s estimate of, 136.

  _Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV_, 382, 391, 393.

  _Courtship of Miles Standish, The_, 226, 242.

  Craigie, Mrs., her reception of Longfellow, 224.

  _Crater, The_, 71, 95.

  Croker, J. W., quoted, on Irving, 13.

  Curtis, George William: his ancestry, 417;
    education, 418;
    at Brook Farm and Concord, 418;
    foreign travel, 418;
    newspaper work, 419;
    the ‘Easy Chair,’ 419;
    books published, 419, 422;
    orations, 420;
    marriage, 420;
    political work and Civil Service reform, 421;
    character, 423;
    style, 424;
    criticism of his works, 427–435.

  Curtis family, 417.


  Dante, Longfellow’s translation of, 226, 249.

  Davis, Elisabeth, wife of George Bancroft, 105.

  _Deerslayer, The_, 66, 71, 81.

  Defoe, Poe compared with, 203.

  De Lancey, Susan, wife of James Fenimore Cooper, 67;
    her family, 75.

  ‘Democracy,’ 480.

  ‘Dial, The,’ 153.

  Dickens, Charles, dinner to, in New York, 46;
    quotation from letter of, to Longfellow, 228;
    greeting to, by O. W. Holmes, 350.

  _Divine Tragedy, The_, 226, 245.

  ‘Divinity Address,’ Emerson’s, 152, 163.

  _Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret_, 292, 316.

  _Doctor Johns_, 441, 448.

  _Dolliver Romance, The_, 292, 316.

  Doyle, Peter, quoted, on Whitman, 504.

  _Dream Life_, 440, 443, 447.

  _Drum-Taps_, 488, 502.

  Duelling, Bryant’s farce in ridicule of, 38.

  Dunlap, Frances, wife of James Russell Lowell, 457.

  Dutch life, Irving’s treatment of, 32.

  Duyckinck, E. A., 42.

  Dwight, Sarah, wife of George Bancroft, 105.


  _Early Spring in Massachusetts_, 324, 331.

  ‘Easy Chair’ papers, 419, 422, 425, 430.

  Edinburgh, University of, confers degree on Holmes, 341.

  _El Dorado_, 403.

  _Elsie Venner_, 340, 352.

  _Embargo, The_, 36.

  Emerson, Ralph Waldo: his ancestry, 147;
    boyhood, 148;
    education, 149;
    ordination and withdrawal from the ministry, 149, 150;
    begins lecturing, 151;
    settles in Concord, 151;
    notable addresses, 152;
    connection with Transcendental movement, 152;
    lecture tour in England, 154;
    position on slavery, 155;
    list of his works, 155;
    visitor to West Point and overseer of Harvard, 156;
    nominated for Lord Rector of Glasgow University, 156;
    death, 157;
    character, 157;
    criticism of his works, 160–186;
    quoted, on Bancroft, 103, 109;
    club meetings in his library, 418;
    Holmes’s life of, 354.

  Emerson family, 147.

  _English Lands, Letters, and Kings_, 449.

  _English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne_, 292, 315.

  _English Traits_, 156, 173.

  _Evangeline_, 225;
    metre of, 231;
    stimulating effect of, on Clough, 232;
    popularity of, 240.

  Everett, Alexander, influential in Irving’s going to Spain, 8.

  Everett, Edward, 102.

  _Excursions_, Thoreau’s, 324, 330, 332.


  _Fable, A, for Critics_, 456, 458, 468.

  Fairchild, Frances, wife of William Cullen Bryant, 38.

  _Familiar Letters_, Thoreau’s, 324, 326, 332.

  _Fanshawe_, 288.

  _Faust_, Taylor’s translation of, 405, 410.

  Ferdinand and Isabella, Prescott’s history of, 127, 131, 132.

  ‘Fighting parson, the,’ 148.

  _Fireside Travels_, 459, 474.

  Fiske, John, cited, on Longfellow’s treatment of Cotton Mather in
        _The New England Tragedies_, 247.

  Fitzgerald, Edward, 237.

  _French and Italian Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne_, 292, 315.

  Freeman, Edward A., quoted, 31.

  _Fresh Gleanings_, 439, 443, 444.

  ‘Frogpondians,’ 200.

  Frontenac, Count, in the New World, 393.

  _Fudge Doings_, 441, 445.

  Fuller, Margaret, 153;
    Emerson’s _Memoirs_ of, 156;
    her attack on Longfellow, 229;
    schoolmate of Holmes, 338.


  Gardiner, John, 124.

  Garnett, Richard, quoted, on Emerson, 185.

  Garrison, William Lloyd, his relations with Whittier, 257, 258.

  Gay, Sidney Howard, 42, 456.

  _Giles Corey of the Salem Farms_, 246.

  _Gleanings in Europe_, Cooper’s, 94.

  Godwin, Parke, quoted, on Bryant, 44.

  Goethe, Emerson’s estimate of, 173.

  ‘Gold-Bug, The,’ wins prize, 196.

  _Golden Legend, The_, 225, 245, 246.

  Goldsmith, Irving’s life of, 27;
    reference to his work, 449.

  ‘Graham’s Magazine,’ Poe’s connection with, 195.

  _Grandfather’s Chair_, 289, 300.

  Greeley, Horace, his advice to Taylor on writing letters of travel,
        402.

  Green, John Richard, quoted, on Motley, 364.

  Greenough, Horatio, quotation from letter of, to Cooper, 93.

  Griswold, Rufus W., 196.

  _Guardian Angel, The_, 340, 352.

  _Guide, A, in the Wilderness_, 66 (note).

  _Gulliver’s Travels_, Irish bishop’s remark concerning, 76.


  _Half-Century, A, of Conflict_, 382, 391, 394.

  _Hannah Thurston_, 405.

  Hansen, Marie, wife of Bayard Taylor, 406.

  Harlan, James, extract from letter of, concerning Walt Whitman’s
        removal from government clerkship, 488 (note).

  ‘Harper’s Weekly’ and ‘Harper’s Monthly,’ Curtis’s connection with,
        419, 421, 422.

  Harrison, Frederic, his criticism of _Evangeline_, 251.

  Haweis, H. R., 460.

  Hawthorne, Nathaniel: his ancestry, 287;
    boyhood and college life, 288;
    his first book, 288;
    collector of the Port of Boston, 289;
    joins Brook Farm Community, 289;
    marriage, 290;
    Surveyor of Customs at Salem, 290;
    consul at Liverpool, 291;
    failing health and death, 293;
    his character, 293;
    style, 296;
    criticism of his works, 298–317;
    his refusal to write an Acadian story, 240.

  Hawthorne family, 287.

  ‘Haverhill Gazette,’ Whittier’s connection with, 258, 259.

  _Headsman, The_, 69, 91.

  _Heartsease and Rue_, 459, 473.

  _Heidenmauer, The_, 69, 91.

  Henry, Prince, of Hoheneck, the subject of _The Golden Legend_, 246.

  ‘Heroes, The,’ 38.

  _Hiawatha_, 225;
    the metre of, 232;
    popularity of, 240;
    sources and purpose of, 242.

  _History, The, of the Navy of the United States of America_, 70, 93.

  _History of the United Netherlands_, 362, 369, 373.

  Holmes, Abiel, father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, 337.

  Holmes, Oliver Wendell: his ancestry, 337;
    education, 338;
    professor at Dartmouth College, 338;
    marriage, 339;
    professor at Harvard, 339;
    contributions to the ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ 340;
    list of his works, 340;
    death, 341;
    character, 341;
    style, 344;
    criticism of his works, 345–355;
    his ‘occasional’ poems, 350;
    his fiction, 352;
    his biography, 354;
    quoted, on Longfellow, 230;
    his explanation of the ease of the metre of Hiawatha, 232.

  _Home as Found_, 70, 92, 96.

  _Home Ballads_, 263, 277.

  _Home Pastorals, Ballads and Lyrics_, 405, 412.

  _Homeward Bound_, 70, 92.

  _House, The, of the Seven Gables_, 290, 305.

  _Howadji, The, in Syria_, 419, 428.

  Howe, Judge Samuel, anecdote of, as Bryant’s instructor in law, 37.

  Howells, William Dean, his description of Thoreau, 326.

  ‘Hub of the Solar System,’ 347.

  _Hyperion_, 225, 233.


  _In the Harbor_, 227, 250.

  _In War Time_, 263, 276.

  Indian life as shown in Cooper’s novels, 79–82;
    in Hiawatha, 242;
    in Parkman’s histories, 380, 387–389.

  Ireland, Alexander, arranges lecturing trip for Emerson in England,
        154.

  Irish Presbyterians in New Hampshire, 268.

  Irving, Peter, brother of Washington Irving, 5–7.

  Irving, Pierre M., makes first draft of _Astoria_, 27.

  Irving, Washington: his ancestry, 3;
    childhood and education, 4;
    early writings, 5–7;
    Secretary of American Legation in London, 8;
    Minister to Spain, 9, 10;
    political opportunities, 9;
    death, 10;
    character, 10;
    criticism of writings, 13–32;
    assists Bryant, 41;
    mention of Bryant’s oration on, 43;
    reference to his style, 116.

  Irving, William, father of Washington Irving, 3.

  Irving, William T., brother of Washington Irving, 6.

  Ivry, battle of, 374.


  _Jack Tar_, 71, 95.

  Jackson, Amelia, wife of O. W. Holmes, 339.

  Jackson, Lydia, wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 151.

  James, Henry, reference to his story, ‘The Death of the Lion,’ 297.

  Jameson, J. F., quoted, on Bancroft, 117 (note).

  _Jesuits, The, in North America_, 382, 391, 392.

  _John Endicott_, 246, 247.

  _John Godfrey’s Fortunes_, 405, 406.

  _John of Barneveld_, 363, 369, 375.

  ‘Jonathan Oldstyle’ letters, 5.

  Jones, John Paul, 82.

  _Journal, The, of Julius Rodman_, 204.

  _Judas Maccabeus_, 248.


  _Kavanagh_, 225, 235.

  Kennedy, John P., 193, 194.

  _Kéramos_, 226, 250.

  _Knickerbocker’s New York_, 6, 14.


  Lafayette, defended by Cooper, 69;
    Emerson’s meeting with, 150;
    visits David Poe’s grave, 189.

  Lamb, Charles, 449.

  _Lars_, 405, 412.

  _La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West_, 382, 391, 392.

  _Last, The, of the Mohicans_, 68, 79.

  _Leather-Stocking Tales_, 77–81.

  _Leaves of Grass_, 487, 490, 494, 503.

  _Legends of New England_, 259, 261;
    Whittier’s opinion of, 267;
    partial suppression of, 270.

  _Legends of the Conquest of Spain_, 9, 26.

  Leggett, William, his attack on Irving, 12;
    assists Bryant in editing the ‘New York Evening Post,’ 39;
    Whittier pays tribute to, 269.

  _Letter, A, to his Countrymen_, Cooper’s, 70, 93.

  _Letters and Social Aims_, 156, 182.

  _Letters of a Traveller_, 41, 47.

  _Letters to Various Persons_, Thoreau’s, 324.

  _Library of Poetry and Song_, Bryant’s connection with, 42.

  Lincoln, Abraham, Lowell’s tribute to, 471.

  Linzee, Captain, 125.

  _Lionel Lincoln_, 68, 77.

  Lisfranc, Jacques, Holmes’s feeling towards, 341.

  _Literary Recollections and Miscellanies_, Whittier’s, 262, 269.

  Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth: his ancestry, 221;
    education and early poems, 222;
    professorship at Bowdoin, 223;
    marriage, 223;
    Harvard professorship, 224, 225;
    death of his wife, 224;
    occupancy of the Craigie House, 224;
    second marriage, 225;
    lists of books published, 225, 226;
    death of Mrs. Longfellow, 226;
    honors conferred on Longfellow, 227;
    his death, 227;
    character, 228;
    poetical style, 230;
    criticism of his works, 233–250.

  _Lorgnette, The_, 440, 445, 446.

  _Lotus-Eating_, 419, 429.

  Louisbourg, siege of, 394.

  Lowell, James Russell: his ancestry, 453;
    education, 454;
    starts ‘The Pioneer,’ 454;
    first books, 455;
    connection with ‘The National Anti-Slavery Standard,’ 456;
    winter abroad, 456;
    death of Mrs. Lowell, 457;
    Harvard professor, 457;
    second marriage, 457;
    editor of Atlantic Monthly’ and ‘North American Review,’ 458;
    list of books published, 458;
    Minister to Spain, 459;
    Minister to England, 460;
    last years, 460;
    character, 461;
    style, 463;
    criticism of his works, 465–482.

  Lowell family, 453.

  ‘Lynn Pythoness,’ 259.


  _Mahomet and his Successors_, 9, 23.

  _Maine Woods, The_, 324, 330.

  ‘MS. Found in a Bottle,’ wins prize, 193.

  _Marble Faun, The_, 291, 310.

  _Margaret Smith’s Journal, Leaves from_, 262, 267, 268.

  _Masque, The, of Pandora_, 226, 248.

  _Masque, The, of the Gods_, 405, 413.

  Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, its treatment of Emerson, 155.

  Mather, Cotton, Longfellow’s treatment of, in _The New England
        Tragedies_, 247.

  _Mercedes of Castile_, 71, 92.

  _Merry-Mount_, 360, 361.

  _Michael Angelo_, 227, 248.

  _Miles Wallingford_, 71, 88.

  _Miriam_, 263, 280.

  Mitchell, Donald Grant: his ancestry and education, 439;
    his first book, 439;
    consul at Venice, 441;
    marriage, 441;
    list of his books, 441;
    editorial work and lecturing, 442;
    his character and literary style, 442;
    criticism of his works, 444–450.

  _Mogg Megone_, 261;
    Whittier’s objection to reprinting, 266, 270.

  _Monikins, The_, 70, 92.

  Montaigne, as one of Emerson’s _Representative Men_, 172.

  _Montcalm and Wolfe_, 382, 391, 395.

  Moody, Father, 148.

  ‘Morituri Salutamus,’ anecdote of the reading of, at Bowdoin, 229.

  Morris, William, reference to his _Earthly Paradise_, 244.

  _Mortal Antipathy, A_, 340, 353.

  _Mosses from an Old Manse_, 290, 299.

  Motley, John Lothrop: his ancestry and education, 359;
    foreign study, 360;
    intimacy with Bismarck, 360;
    admission to the bar, 360;
    marriage, 360;
    publication of novels and essays, 360;
    Secretary to American Legation in St. Petersburg, 361;
    member of Massachusetts legislature, 361;
    residence abroad for historical study, 362;
    scholastic honors, 363;
    Minister to Austria, 363;
    to England, 364;
    death, 364;
    his character, 365;
    style, 367;
    criticism of his histories, 369–376;
    Holmes’s memoir of, 354.

  Murat, Achille, meets Emerson, 149.

  _My Farm of Edgewood_, 441, 448.

  _My Study Windows_, 458, 475.


  Napoleon, Emerson’s estimate of, 172.

  _Narrative, The, of Arthur Gordon Pym_, 194, 203.

  ‘National Anti-Slavery Standard,’ Lowell’s connection with, 456.

  _Natural History of Intellect_, 156, 183.

  _Nature_, Emerson’s, 151, 155, 160, 176.

  _Ned Myers_, 66, 71.

  Netherlands, Motley’s history of, 362, 369, 373.

  ‘Neutral ground, The,’ 75.

  _New England Tragedies, The_, 226, 245.

  ‘New York Evening Post,’ Bryant’s connection with, 39.

  ‘New York Review and Athenæum Magazine,’ Bryant’s editorship of, 38.

  _Nile Notes of a Howadji_, 419, 427.

  ‘North American Review,’ Bryant’s early contributions to, 37;
    Lowell’s connection with, 458.

  Norton, Andrews, his disagreement with Emerson, 152.


  _Oak Openings, The_, 71, 95.

  ‘Old Manse, The,’ 147;
    Hawthorne’s occupancy of, 290.

  _Old Portraits and Modern Sketches_, 262, 269.

  _Old Régime, The_, 382, 391, 393.

  ‘On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners,’ 460.

  _Oregon Trail, The_, 381, 387.

  Ossoli, Margaret Fuller. See Fuller, Margaret.

  Otsego Hall, home of the Coopers, 66, 69.

  _Our Hundred Days in Europe_, 340, 348.

  _Our Old Home_, 292;
    anecdote of the dedication of, to Franklin Pierce, 295;
    character of, 314.

  _Outre-Mer_, 225, 233, 234.

  _Over the Teacups_, 340, 348, 355.

  Oxford, University of, confers degree on Longfellow, 227;
    on Holmes, 340;
    on Motley, 363;
    on Lowell, 459.


  Parkman, Francis: his ancestry, 379;
    education, 380;
    interest in Indian life, 380;
    first book, 381;
    marriage, 381;
    ill health, 381;
    list of his works, 382;
    honors, 383;
    character, 383;
    literary style, 385;
    criticism of his works, 387–398.

  Parkman family, 379.

  Pastorius, Daniel, the subject of the _Pennsylvania Pilgrim_, 280.

  _Pathfinder, The_, 67, 71, 81.

  Paulding, J. K., 6.

  Peabody, Sophia, wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 289.

  ‘Penn Magazine, The,’ projected by Poe, 195.

  Pennsylvania Hall, sacking of, by a pro-slavery mob, 260.

  _Pennsylvania Pilgrim, The_, 263, 280.

  Phi Beta Kappa poem by Bryant, 38.

  Philip the Second, Bancroft’s history of, 127, 131, 141;
    Motley’s treatment of, 372–375.

  _Picture, The, of St. John_, 405, 409, 412.

  Pierce, Franklin: his friendship with Hawthorne, 288, 293;
    Hawthorne’s life of, 292.

  _Pilot, The_, 67, 71, 82.

  ‘Pioneer, The,’ Lowell’s magazine, 454.

  _Pioneers, The_, 66, 67, 71, 77.

  _Pioneers, The, of France in the New World_, 382, 391.

  Pizarro, Francisco, his exploits in Peru, 138.

  Pizarro, Gonzalo, his march across the Andes, 140.

  Plato, Emerson on, 171.

  Poe, Edgar Allan: his ancestry, 189;
    adoption by the Allans, 190;
    education, 190;
    enters West Point, 191;
    early writings, 192;
    marriage, 193;
    editorial work, 193;
    lecturing, 196;
    affair of the Boston Lyceum, 197, 200;
    death of his wife, 197;
    proposal of marriage to Mrs. Shelton, 198;
    death, 198;
    character, 198;
    style, 201;
    criticism of his works, 203–211;
    his work as a critic, 211–215;
    quality of his poetry, 215.

  _Poems of Home and Travel_, 405, 410.

  _Poems of the Orient_, 405, 411.

  _Poet, The, at the Breakfast-Table_, 340, 347.

  Poetry, quality, of, 49;
    Bryant’s theory of, 48–50;
    Poe’s, 213.

  _Poet’s Journal, The_, 405, 411.

  _Poets and Poetry of Europe_, 225, 237.

  _Potiphar Papers, The_, 419, 429.

  Potter, Mary Storer, wife of Longfellow, 223, 224.

  _Prairie, The_, 68, 80.

  _Precaution_, 67.

  Prentice, George, 259.

  Prescott, William Hickling: his ancestry, 123;
    education, 124;
    accident to his eyes, 125;
    marriage, 125;
    beginning of his literary work, 126;
    list of his works, 127;
    death, 127;
    character, 128;
    his style, 130;
    criticism of his works, 132–143;
    his aid to Motley, 361.

  Prescott family, 123.

  _Prince Deukalion_, 405, 413.

  _Professor, The, at the Breakfast-Table_, 340, 347.

  _Prophet, The_, 405, 413.

  _Prue and I_, 419, 430.

  Puritan and Cavalier, Bancroft’s comparison of, 111.

  ‘Putnam’s Magazine,’ Curtis’s connection with, 419; Lowell’s, 457.


  ‘Quaker Poet,’ 256.

  Quakers, Longfellow’s treatment of, in _John Endicott_, 246;
    relations of the Whittier family to, 257, 262, 272.


  ‘Raven, The,’ 196, 215.

  _Red Rover, The_, 68, 71, 84, 86.

  _Redskins, The_, 71, 95.

  _Representative Men_, 155, 171.

  _Reveries of a Bachelor_, 440, 443, 446, 450.

  Ripley, George, 153.

  _Rise, The, of the Dutch Republic_, 362, 369.

  Rogers, Samuel, Bryant dedicates book to, 41.

  Round Hill School for Boys, Bancroft’s connection with, 103, 104;
    Longfellow considers buying, 224;
    Motley a student at, 359.


  St. Boniface, Church of, Winnipeg, honors Whittier, 263.

  St. Botolph Club, Boston, Parkman’s connection with, 383.

  _Salmagundi_, 6.

  _Satanstoe_, 71, 95, 96.

  ‘Saturday Visitor, The,’ offers prizes, for which Poe competes, 192.

  _Scarlet Letter, The_, 290, 302.

  _Sea Lions, The_, 71, 96.

  _Seaside, The, and the Fireside_, 225, 237.

  _Septimius Felton_, 292, 316.

  _Seven Stories_, 441, 447.

  Shakespeare, Emerson’s estimate of, 172.

  Shaw, Anna, wife of George William Curtis, 420.

  Shays’s Rebellion, incident of, 102.

  Simms, William Gilmore, his advice to Poe, 201.

  _Sketch Book, The_, 7, 15, 234.

  _Sketches of Switzerland_, Cooper’s, 94.

  Smith, Goldwin, 300.

  Smithell’s Hall, Bolton-le-Moors, tradition connected with, 316.

  _Snow Image, The_, 292, 301.

  _Snow-Bound_, 263, 267, 278.

  _Society and Solitude_, 156, 182.

  _Songs of Labor_, 262, 276.

  ‘Southern Literary Messenger, The,’ Poe’s connection with, 193.

  _Spanish Student, The_, 225, 239.

  _Specimen Days and Collect_, 489, 503.

  _Spy, The_, 67, 71, 75.

  Stanley, Dean, quoted, on Motley, 364.

  Stedman, Edmund C., quoted on Poe, 212.

  Stephen, Leslie, quoted, 32.

  _Story, The, of Kennett_, 406.

  _Summer_, Thoreau’s, 324, 331.

  ‘Sunnyside,’ Irving’s home, 9.

  _Supernaturalism, The, of New England_, 261, 268.

  Swedenborg, Emanuel, 172.

  Swinburne, A. C., quotation from, applied to Whitman, 495.


  Tâché, Archbishop, 263.

  _Tales of a Traveller_, 7, 18.

  _Tales of a Wayside Inn_, 226, 243.

  _Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque_, 195, 203–211.

  ‘Talisman, The,’ Bryant’s editorial work on, 39.

  _Tamerlane_, 191.

  _Tanglewood Tales_, 292, 301.

  Taylor, Bayard: birth and education, 402;
    travels on foot, 402;
    journalistic work, 403;
    extensive travels, 403;
    lists of his books, 403, 405, 406;
    marriages, 406;
    Minister to Germany, 407;
    death, 407;
    character, 407;
    style, 409;
    criticism of his poetical works, 410–414.

  Tennyson, Emerson’s attitude toward, 183.

  _Tent, The, on the Beach_, 263, 272;
    Whittier’s remark on the popularity of, 278;
    scheme of, 279.

  ‘Thanatopsis,’ 36, 37, 57.

  Thoreau, Henry David: his ancestry, 321;
    early occupations, 321;
    outdoor life, 322;
    first book, 322;
    lecturing, 323;
    abolition sympathies, 323;
    acquaintance with John Brown, 323;
    list of his works, 324;
    travels, 324;
    death, 324;
    character, 325;
    criticism of his works, 327–333.

  _Three Books of Song_, 226, 245.

  _Three Memorial Poems_, 459, 471.

  Three Mile Point, Cooperstown, N. Y. controversy concerning, 69.

  Ticknor, George, his friendship with Prescott, 126;
    resigns professorship in favor of Longfellow, 224.

  Tories of the American Revolution, Irving’s attitude towards, 29, 30.

  Transcendental movement, 152, 165.

  _Transformation._ See _Marble Faun_.

  _Travelling Bachelor, Notions of the Americans picked up by a_, 68,
        93.

  _Trumps_, 419, 430.

  Tucker, Ellen, wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 149.

  _Twice-Told Tales_, 289, 298.

  _Two Admirals, The_, 71, 86.


  _Ultima Thule_, 227, 250.

  _United Netherlands, History of the_, 362, 369, 373.

  United States, Bancroft’s history of, 104, 110, 113.

  ‘United States Literary Gazette,’ Longfellow’s contributions to, 222.

  United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, founding of, 105.

  ‘Upside Down, or Philosophy in Petticoats,’ 71.


  _Vassall Morton_, 380, 381, 390.

  _Views Afloat_, 402, 404.

  _Vision of Echard, The_, 263, 281.

  _Vision of Sir Launfal, The_, 456, 468.

  _Voices of Freedom_, 261, 274.

  _Voices of the Night_, 223, 236.

  _Voyages of the Companions of Columbus_, 8, 22.


  _Walden_, 323, 324, 329, 332.

  Wansey, Henry, mention of his _Excursion to the United States_, 48.

  Ware, Henry, Emerson colleague of, 149.

  Washington, Irving’s life of, 28;
    Lowell’s tribute to, 472.

  _Water-Witch, The_, 68, 71, 85.

  _Ways of the Hour_, 71, 95.

  Wayside Inn, the, 244.

  Weed, Thurlow, quoted, 69.

  _Week, A, on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers_, 322, 324, 328, 331.

  _Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, The_, 68, 71, 81.

  _Wet Days at Edgewood_, 441, 448.

  Whewell, William, makes inquiries about _Evangeline_, 241.

  White, Maria, wife of James Russell Lowell, 455;
    her death, 457.

  White, T. W., his association with Poe, 193.

  Whitman, Walt: his ancestry, 485;
    education and early occupations, 486;
    journeyings in the United States, 486;
    publication of _Leaves of Grass_, 487;
    work as army nurse and government clerk, 487;
    life in Camden, N. J., 488;
    list of his writings, 488;
    subsidence of opposition, 489;
    growth of his reputation, 490;
    English admirers, 491;
    his Boston publisher threatened with prosecution, 492;
    criticism of his work, 492–496;
    his character, 504;
    mention of, in comparison with Longfellow, 250.

  Whitman family, 485.

  Whittier, John Greenleaf; his ancestry, 255;
    boyhood, 256;
    early writings, 257;
    beginning of acquaintance with Garrison, 258;
    attends Haverhill Academy, 258;
    editorial work, 259–261;
    beginning of anti-slavery work, 259;
    encounters with mobs, 260;
    love of country life, 260;
    lists of his works, 261, 263;
    contributions to ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ 262;
    overseer of Harvard College, 262;
    places of residence, 262;
    death, 263;
    character, 264;
    his literary art, 266;
    criticism of his works, 269–283;
    his description of Bayard Taylor, 408.

  Whittier family, 255.

  _Wing-and-Wing_, 66, 71, 86.

  _Winter_, Thoreau’s, 324, 331.

  _Wolfert’s Roost_, 27.

  _Wonder-Book, The_, 292, 301.

  Worsley, Philip S., quoted, 58.

  _Wyandotté_, 71, 81.


  Ximenes, Mateo, his association with Irving, 25.


  _Yankee, A, in Canada_, 324, 331.

  _Year’s Life, A_, 455.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation
marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left
unbalanced.

The index was not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page
references.

Transcriber removed redundant chapter headings.

Lists of reference materials, originally printed at the bottom of the
first page of each biography, have been moved to just after the chapter
headings and labelled as “References:” by the Transcriber.

Footnotes, originally printed at the bottoms of pages, have been
renumbered, collected, moved to the ends of their chapters, and
labelled as “Footnotes:” by the Transcriber.



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