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Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells by William Dean Howells

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constantly in mind when making his constant appeal to conscience.
It is, of course, a dramatic, not a didactic appeal. He preaches
so little and is so effectively reticent that I could almost with
he had left out the preface of his book, good as it is. Yes,
just because it is so good I could wish he had left it out. It
is a perfect justification of his purpose and methods, but they
are their own justification with all who can think about them,
and the others are themselves not worth thinking about. The
stories are so bravely faithful to human nature in that political
aspect which is but one phase of our whole average life that they
are magnificently above all need of excusing or defending. They
form a substantial body of political fiction, such as we have so
long sighed for, and such as some of us will still go on sighing
for quite as if it had not been supplied. Some others will be
aware that it has been supplied in a form as artistically fine as
the material itself is coarse and common, if indeed any sort of
humanity is coarse and common except to those who themselves are

The meaning that animates the stories is that our political
opportunity is trammelled only so far as we have trammelled it by
our greed and falsehood; and in this aspect the psychology of Mr.
White offers the strongest contrast to that of the latest Russian
master in fiction. Maxim Gorky's wholly hopeless study of
degeneracy in the life of "Foma Gordyeeff" accuses conditions
which we can only imagine with difficulty. As one advances
through the moral waste of that strange book one slowly perceives
that he is in a land of No Use, in an ambient of such iron fixity
and inexorable bounds that perhaps Foma's willingness to rot
through vice into imbecility is as wise as anything else there.
It is a book that saturates the soul with despair, and blights it
with the negation which seems the only possible truth in the
circumstances; so that one questions whether the Russian in which
Turgenieff and Tolstoy, and even Dostoyevsky, could animate the
volition and the expectation of better things has not sunk to
depths beyond any counsel of amelioration. To come up out of
that Bottomless Pit into the measureless air of Mr. White's
Kansas plains is like waking from death to life. We are still
among dreadfully fallible human beings, but we are no longer
among the damned; with the worst there is a purgatorial
possibility of Paradise. Even the perdition of Dan Gregg then
seems not the worst that could befall him; he might again have
been governor.


If the human beings in Dr. Weir Mitchell's very interesting novel
of "Circumstance" do not seem so human as those Russians of Gorky
and those Kansans of Mr. White, it is because people in society
are always human with difficulty, and his Philadelphians are
mostly in society. They are almost reproachfully exemplary, in
some instances; and it is when they give way to the natural man,
and especially the natural woman, that they are consoling and
edifying. When Mary Fairthorne begins to scold her cousin, Kitty
Morrow, at the party where she finds Kitty wearing her dead
mother's pearls, and even takes hold of her in a way that makes
the reader hope she is going to shake her, she is delightful; and
when Kitty complains that Mary has "pinched" her, she is
adorable. One is really in love with her for the moment; and in
that moment of nature the thick air of good society seems to blow
away and let one breathe freely. The bad people in the book are
better than the good people, and the good people are best in
their worst tempers. They are so exclusively well born and well
bred that the fitness of the medical student, Blount, for their
society can be ascertained only by his reference to a New England
ancestry of the high antiquity that can excuse even dubious cuffs
and finger-nails in a descendant of good principles and generous

The psychological problem studied in the book with such artistic
fineness and scientific thoroughness is personally a certain Mrs.
Hunter, who manages through the weak-minded and selfish Kitty
Morrow to work her way to authority in the household of Kitty's
uncle, where she displaces Mary Fairthorne, and makes the place
odious to all the kith and kin of Kitty. Intellectually, she is
a clever woman, or rather, she is a woman of great cunning that
rises at times to sagacity; but she is limited by a bad heart and
an absence of conscience. She is bold up to a point, and then
she is timid; she will go to lengths, but not to all lengths; and
when it comes to poisoning Fairthorne to keep him from changing
his mind about the bequest he has made her, she has not quite the
courage of her convictions. She hesitates and does not do it,
and it is in this point she becomes so aesthetically successful.
The guilt of the uncommitted crimes is more important than the
guilt of those which have been committed; and the author does a
good thing morally as well as artistically in leaving Mrs. Hunter
still something of a problem to his reader. In most things she
is almost too plain a case; she is sly, and vulgar, and depraved
and cruel; she is all that a murderess should be; but, in
hesitating at murder, she becomes and remains a mystery, and the
reader does not get rid of her as he would if she had really done
the deed. In the inferior exigencies she strikes fearlessly; and
when the man who has divorced her looms up in her horizon with
doom in his presence, she goes and makes love to him. She is not
the less successful because she disgusts him; he agrees to let
her alone so long as she does no mischief; she has, at least,
made him unwilling to feel himself her persecutor, and that is
enough for her.

Mrs. Hunter is a study of extreme interest in degeneracy, but I
am not sure that Kitty Morrow is not a rarer contribution to
knowledge. Of course, that sort of selfish girl has always been
known, but she has not met the open recognition which constitutes
knowledge, and so she has the preciousness of a find. She is at
once tiresome and vivacious; she is cold-hearted but not
cold-blooded, and when she lets herself go in an outburst of
passion for the celibate young ritualist, Knellwood, she becomes
fascinating. She does not let herself go without having assured
herself that he loves her, and somehow one is not shocked at her
making love to him; one even wishes that she had won him. I am
not sure but the case would have been a little truer if she had
won him, but as it is I am richly content with it. Perhaps I am
the more content because in the case of Kitty Morrow I find a
concession to reality more entire than the case of Mrs. Hunter.
She is of the heredity from which you would expect her depravity;
but Kitty Morrow, who lets herself go so recklessly, is, for all
one knows, as well born and as well bred as those other
Philadelphians. In my admiration of her, as a work of art,
however, I must not fail of justice to the higher beauty of Mary
Fairthorne's character. She is really a good girl, and saved
from the unreality which always threatens goodness in fiction by
those limitations of temper which I have already hinted.


It is far from the ambient of any of these imaginary lives to
that of the half-caste heroine of "A Japanese Nightingale" and
the young American whom she marries in one of those marriages
which neither the Oriental nor the Occidental expects to last
till death parts them. It is far, and all is very strange under
that remote sky; but what is true to humanity anywhere is true
everywhere; and the story of Yuki and Bigelow, as the Japanese
author tells it in very choice English, is of as palpitant
actuality as any which should treat of lovers next door. If I
have ever read any record of young married love that was so
frank, so sweet, so pure, I do not remember it. Yet, Yuki,
though she loves Bigelow, does not marry him because she loves
him, but because she wishes with the money he gives her to help
her brother through college in America. When this brother comes
back to Japan--he is the touch of melodrama in the pretty
idyl--he is maddened by an acquired Occidental sense of his
sister's disgrace in her marriage, and falls into a fever and
dies out of the story, which closes with the lasting happiness of
the young wife and husband. There is enough incident, but of the
kind that is characterized and does not characterize. The charm,
the delight, the supreme interest is in the personality of Yuki.
Her father was an Englishman who had married her mother in the
same sort of marriage she makes herself; but he is true to his
wife till he dies, and possibly something of the English
constancy which is not always so evident as in his case qualifies
the daughter's nature. Her mother was, of course, constant, and
Yuki, though an outcast from her own people--the conventions seen
to be as imperative in Tokyo as in Philadelphia--because of her
half-caste origin, is justly Japanese in what makes her
loveliest. There is a quite indescribable freshness in the art
of this pretty novelette--it is hardly of the dimensions of a
novel--which is like no other art except in the simplicity which
is native to the best art everywhere. Yuki herself is of a
surpassing lovableness. Nothing but the irresistible charm of
the American girl could, I should think keep the young men who
read Mrs. Watana's book from going out and marrying Japanese
girls. They are safe from this, however, for the reason
suggested, and therefore it can be safely commended at least to
young men intending fiction, as such a lesson in the art of
imitating nature as has not come under my hand for a long while.
It has its little defects, but its directness, and sincerity, and
its felicity through the sparing touch make me unwilling to note
them. In fact, I have forgotten them.


I wish that I could at all times praise as much the literature of
an author who speaks for another colored race, not so far from us
as the Japanese, but of as much claim upon our conscience, if not
our interest. Mr. Chesnutt, it seems to me, has lost literary
quality in acquiring literary quantity, and though his book, "The
Marrow of Tradition," is of the same strong material as his
earlier books, it is less simple throughout, and therefore less
excellent in manner. At his worst, he is no worse than the
higher average of the ordinary novelist, but he ought always to
be very much better, for he began better, and he is of that race
which has, first of all, to get rid of the cakewalk, if it will
not suffer from a smile far more blighting than any frown. He is
fighting a battle, and it is not for him to pick up the cheap
graces and poses of the jouster. He does, indeed, cast them all
from him when he gets down to his work, and in the dramatic
climaxes and closes of his story he shortens his weapons and
deals his blows so absolutely without flourish that I have
nothing but admiration for him. "The Marrow of Tradition," like
everything else he has written, has to do with the relations of
the blacks and whites, and in that republic of letters where all
men are free and equal he stands up for his own people with a
courage which has more justice than mercy in it. The book is, in
fact, bitter, bitter. There is no reason in history why it
should not be so, if wrong is to be repaid with hate, and yet it
would be better if it was not so bitter. I am not saying that he
is so inartistic as to play the advocate; whatever his minor
foibles may be, he is an artist whom his stepbrother Americans
may well be proud of; but while he recognizes pretty well all the
facts in the case, he is too clearly of a judgment that is made
up. One cannot blame him for that; what would one be one's self?
If the tables could once be turned, and it could be that it was
the black race which violently and lastingly triumphed in the
bloody revolution at Wilmington, North Carolina, a few years ago,
what would not we excuse to the white man who made the atrocity
the argument of his fiction?

Mr. Chesnutt goes far back of the historic event in his novel,
and shows us the sources of the cataclysm which swept away a
legal government and perpetuated an insurrection, but he does not
paint the blacks all good, or the whites all bad. He paints them
as slavery made them on both sides, and if in the very end he
gives the moral victory to the blacks--if he suffers the daughter
of the black wife to have pity on her father's daughter by his
white wife, and while her own child lies dead from a shot fired
in the revolt, gives her husband's skill to save the life of her
sister's child--it cannot be said that either his aesthetics or
ethics are false. Those who would question either must allow, at
least, that the negroes have had the greater practice in
forgiveness, and that there are many probabilities to favor his
interpretation of the fact. No one who reads the book can deny
that the case is presented with great power, or fail to recognize
in the writer a portent of the sort of negro equality against
which no series of hangings and burnings will finally avail.


In Mr. Chesnutt's novel the psychologism is of that universal
implication which will distinguish itself to the observer from
the psychologism of that more personal sort--the words are not as
apt as I should like--evident in some of the interesting books
under notice here. I have tried to say that it is none the less
a work of art for that reason, and I can praise the art of
another novel, in which the same sort of psychologism prevails,
though I must confess it a fiction of the rankest
tendenciousness. "Lay Down Your Arms" is the name of the English
version of the Baroness von Suttner's story, "Die Waffen Nieder,"
which has become a watchword with the peacemakers on the
continent of Europe. Its success there has been very great, and
I wish its success on the continent of America could be so great
that it might replace in the hands of our millions the baleful
books which have lately been glorifying bloodshed in the private
and public wars of the past, if not present. The wars which "Lay
Down Your Arms" deals with are not quite immediate, and yet they
are not so far off historically, either. They are the
Franco-Austrian war of 1859, the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, and
the Franco-German war of 1870; and the heroine whose personal
relation makes them live so cruelly again is a young Austrian
lady of high birth. She is the daughter and the sister of
soldiers, and when the handsome young officer, of equal rank with
her own, whom she first marries, makes love to her just before
the outbreak of the war first named, she is as much in love with
his soldiership as with himself. But when the call to arms
comes, it strikes to her heart such a sense of war as she has
never known before. He is killed in one of the battles of Italy,
and after a time she marries another soldier, not such a beau
sabreur as the first, but a mature and thoughtful man, who fights
through that second war from a sense of duty rather than from
love of fighting, and comes out of it with such abhorrence that
he quits the army and goes with his family to live in Paris.
There the third war overtakes him, and in the siege, this
Austrian, who has fought the Prussians to the death, is arrested
by the communards as a Prussian spy and shot.

The bare outline of the story gives, of course, no just notion of
the intense passion of grief which fills it. Neither does it
convey a due impression of the character in the different persons
which, amidst the heartbreak, is ascertained with some such truth
and impartiality as pervade the effects of "War and Peace." I do
not rank it with that work, but in its sincerity and veracity it
easily ranks above any other novel treating of war which I know,
and it ought to do for the German peoples what the novels of
Erckmann-Chatrian did for the French, in at least one generation.
Will it do anything for the Anglo-Saxon peoples? Probably not
till we have pacified the Philippines and South Africa. We
Americans are still apparently in love with fighting, though the
English are apparently not so much so; and as it is always well
to face the facts, I will transfer to my page some facts of
fighting from this graphic book, which the read may apply to the
actualities in the Philippines, with a little imagination. They
are taken from a letter written to the heroine by her second
husband after one of the Austrian defeats. "The people poured
boiling water and oil on the Prussians from the windows of the
houses at ----.... The village is ours--no, it is the enemy's,
now ours again--and yet once more the enemy's; but it is no
longer a village, but a smoking mass of ruins of houses....One
family has remained behind...an old married couple and their
daughter, the latter in childbed. The husband is serving in our
regiment.... Poor devil! he got there just in time to see the
mother and child die; a shell had exploded under their bed.... I
saw a breastwork there which was formed of corpses. The
defenders had heaped all the slain who were lying near, in order,
from that rampart, to fire over at their assailants. I shall
surely never forget that wall in my life. A man who formed one
of its bricks was still alive, and was waving his arm.... What
is happening there? The execution party is drawn out. Has a spy
been caught? Seventeen this time. There they come, in four
ranks, each one of four men, surrounded by a square of soldiers.
The condemned men step out, with their heads down. Behind comes
a cart with a corpse in it, and bound to the corpse the dead
man's son, a boy of twelve, also condemned.... Steep, rocky
heights; Jaegers, nimble as cats, climbing up them.... Some of
them, who are hit by the enemy's shot, suddenly stretch out both
their arms, let their muskets fall, and, with their heads falling
backwards, drop off the height, step by step, from one rocky
point to another, smashing their limbs to pieces. I saw a
horseman at some distance, obliquely behind me, at whose side a
shell burst. His horse swerved aside and came against the tail
of mind, then shot past me. The man sat still in the saddle, but
a fragment of the shell had ripped his belly open and torn out
all the intestines. The upper part of his body was held to the
lower only by the spine. From the ribs to the thighs nothing but
one great, bleeding cavity. A short distance farther he fell to
the ground, one foot still clinging in the stirrup, and the
galloping horse dragging him on over the stony soil.... Another
street fight in the little town of Saar.... In the middle of the
square stands a high pillar of the Virgin. The mother of God
holds her child in one arm, and stretches the other out in
blessing.... Here the fight was prolonged, man to man. They
were hacking at me, I laying about me on all sides.... A
Prussian dragoon, strong as Goliath, tore one of our officers (a
pretty, dandified lieutenant--how many girls are, perhaps, mad
after him?) out of his saddle and split his skull at the feet of
the Virgin's pillar. The gentle saint looked on unmoved.
Another of the enemy's dragoons--a Goliath, too--seized, just
before me almost, my right-hand man, and bent him backwards in
his saddle so powerfully that he broke his back--I myself heard
it crack. To this the Madonna gave her blessing also."


It can be said that these incidents of battle are imagined, like
the facts of Vereschagin's pictures, but like these they are
imagined rather below than above the real horror of war, and
represent them inadequately. The incidents of another book, the
last on my list, are of the warfare which goes on in times of
peace, and which will go on as long as there are human passions,
and mankind are divided into men and women, and saints and
sinners. Of all the books on my list, "Let Not Man Put Asunder"
is, narrowing the word to the recognition of the author's
intellectual alertness and vividness, the cleverest. The story
is of people who constantly talk so wonderfully well beyond the
wont even of society people that the utmost skill of the author,
who cannot subdue their brilliancy, is needed to make us feel
their reality. But he does make us feel this in most cases, the
important cases, and in the other cases his power of interesting
us is so great that we do not stop to examine the grounds of our
sensation, or to question the validity of our emotions. The
action, which is positively of to-day, or yesterday at the
furthest, passes in Boston and England, among people of such
great fortune and high rank and transcendent fashion that the
proudest reader cannot complain of their social quality. As to
their moral quality, one might have thought the less said the
better, if the author had not said so much that is pertinent and
impressive. It is from first to last a book with a conscience in
it, and its highest appeal is to the conscience. It is so very
nearly a great book, so very nearly a true book, that it is with
a kind of grief one recognizes its limitations, a kind of
surprise at its shortcomings, which, nevertheless, are not
shortcomings that impair its supreme effect. This, I take it, is
the intimation of a mystical authority in marriage against which
divorce sins in vain, which no recreancy can subvert, and by
virtue of which it claims eternally its own the lovers united in
it; though they seem to become haters, it cannot release them to
happiness in a new union through any human law.

If the author had done dramatically (and his doing is mainly
dramatic) no more than this, he would have established his right
to be taken seriously, but he has done very much more, and has
made us acquainted with types and characters which we do not
readily forget, and with characters much more real than their
ambient. For instance, the Old Cambridge in which the Vassalls
live is not the Old Cambridge of fact, but the Vassalls are the
Vassalls of fact, though the ancestral halls in which they dwell
are of a baroniality difficult of verification. Their honor,
their righteousness, their purity are veracious, though their
social state is magnified beyond any post-revolutionary
experience. The social Boston of the novel is more like; its
difference from an older Boston is sensitively felt, and finely
suggested, especially on the side of that greater lawlessness in
which it is not the greater Boston. Petrina Faneuil, the
heroine, is derivatively of the older Boston which has passed
away, and actually of the newer Boston which will not be so much
regretted when it passes, the fast Boston, the almost rowdy
Boston, the decadent Boston. It is, of course, a Boston much
worse in the report than in the fact, but it is not unimaginably
bad to the student who notes that the lapse from any high ideals
is to a level lower than that of people who have never had them.
As for Petrina herself, who was in Boston more than of it, she is
so admirably analyzed in the chapter devoted to the task that I
am tempted to instance it as the best piece of work in the book,
though it does not make one hold one's breath like some of the
dramatic episodes: "Whatever religious instinct had been in the
family had spent itself at least two generations before her time.
She was a pagan--a tolerant, indifferent, slightly scornful
pagan.... But she was none the less a Puritan. Certain of her
ways of thought and habits of life, had survived the beliefs
which had given them birth, as an effect will often outlive its
cause. If she was a pagan, she was a serious one, a pagan with a
New England conscience."

This is mighty well said, and the like things that are said of
Petrina's sister-in-law, who has married an English title, are
mighty well, too. "She had inherited a countenance whose
expression was like the light which lingers in the sky long after
sunset--the light of some ancestral fire gone out. If in her
face there were prayers, they had been said by Pepperells and
Vassalls now sleeping in Massachusetts churchyards. If in her
voice there were tears, they had been shed by those who would
weep no more. She mirrored the emotions she had never felt; and
all that was left of joys and sorrows and spiritual aspirations
which had once thrilled human hearts was in that plaintive echo
they had given to this woman's tone, and the light of petition
they had left burning in her eyes."

No one who reads such passages can deny that the author of "Let
Not Man Put Asunder" can think subtly as well as say clearly, and
the book abounds in proofs of his ability to portray human nature
in its lighter aspects. Lady de Bohun, with her pathetic face,
is a most amusing creature, with all her tragedy, and she is on
the whole the most perfectly characterized personality in the
story. The author gives you a real sense of her beauty, her
grace, her being always charmingly in a hurry and always late.
The greatest scene is hers: the scene in which she meets her
divorced husband with his second wife. One may suspect some of
the other scenes, but one must accept that scene as one of
genuine dramatic worth. Too much of the drama in the book is
theatre rather than drama, and yet the author's gift is
essentially dramatic. He knows how to tell a story on his stage
that holds you to the fall of the curtain, and makes you almost
patient of the muted violins and the limelight of the closing
scene. Such things, you say, do not happen in Brookline, Mass.,
whatever happens in London or in English country houses; and yet
the people have at one time or other convinced you of their
verity. Of the things that are not natural, you feel like saying
that they are supernatural rather than unnatural, and you own
that at its worst the book is worth while in a time when most
novels are not worth while.


"The Right of Way." A Novel. By Gilbert Parker. Harper & Brothers.

"The Ruling Passion. Tales of nature and human nature." By Henry
Van Dyke. Charles Scribner's Sons.

"Spoils and Stratagems Stories of love and politics." By Wm.
Allen White. Charles Scribner's Sons.

"Foma Gordyeeff." By Maxim Gorky. Translated from the Russian by
Isabel F. Hapgood. Charles Scribner's Sons.

"Circumstances." By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. The Century Company.

"A Japanese Nightingale." By Onoto Watana. Harper & Brothers.

"The Marrow of Tradition." By Charles W. Chesnutt. Houghton,
Mifflin & Co.

"Lay Down Your Arms. The autobiography of Martha von Tilling."
By Bertha von Suttner. Authorized Translation. By T. Holmes.
Longmans, Green & Co.

"Let Not Man Put Asunder." By Basil King. Harper & Brothers.


by William Dean Howells

This etext was created by Anthony J. Adam of Houston, Texas.

In these times of electrical movement, the sort of construction
in the moral world for which ages were once needed, takes place
almost simultaneously with the event to be adjusted in history,
and as true a perspective forms itself as any in the past. A few
weeks after the death of a poet of such great epical imagination,
such great ethical force, as Emile Zola, we may see him as
clearly and judge him as fairly as posterity alone was formerly
supposed able to see and to judge the heroes that antedated it.
The present is always holding in solution the elements of the
future and the past, in fact; and whilst Zola still lived, in the
moments of his highest activity, the love and hate, the
intelligence and ignorance, of his motives and his work were as
evident, and were as accurately the measure of progressive and
retrogressive criticism, as they will be hereafter in any of the
literary periods to come. There will never be criticism to
appreciate him more justly, to depreciate him more unjustly, than
that of his immediate contemporaries. There will never be a day
when criticism will be of one mind about him, when he will no
longer be a question, and will have become a conclusion.
A conclusion is an accomplished fact, something finally ended,
something dead; and the extraordinary vitality of Zola, when he
was doing the things most characteristic of him, forbids the
notion of this in his case. Like every man who embodies an
ideal, his individuality partook of what was imperishable in that
ideal. Because he believed with his whole soul that fiction
should be the representation, and in no measure the
misrepresentation, of life, he will live as long as any history
of literature survives. He will live as a question, a dispute,
an affair of inextinguishable debate; for the two principles of
the human mind, the love of the natural and the love of the
unnatural, the real and the unreal, the truthful and the
fanciful, are inalienable and indestructible.


Zola embodied his ideal inadequately, as every man who embodies
an ideal must. His realism was his creed, which he tried to make
his deed; but, before his fight was ended, and almost before he
began to forebode it a losing fight, he began to feel and to say
(for to feel, with that most virtuous and voracious spirit,
implied saying) that he was too much a romanticist by birth and
tradition, to exemplify realism in his work. He could not be all
to the cause he honored that other men were--men like Flaubert
and Maupassant, and Tourguenieff and Tolstoy, and Galdos and
Valdes--because his intellectual youth had been nurtured on the
milk of romanticism at the breast of his mother-time. He grew up
in the day when the great novelists and poets were romanticists,
and what he came to abhor he had first adored. He was that
pathetic paradox, a prophet who cannot practise what he preaches,
who cannot build his doctrine into the edifice of a living faith.
Zola was none the less, but all the more, a poet in this. He
conceived of reality poetically and always saw his human
documents, as he began early to call them, ranged in the form of
an epic poem. He fell below the greatest of the Russians, to
whom alone he was inferior, in imagining that the affairs of men
group themselves strongly about a central interest to which they
constantly refer, and after whatever excursions definitely or
definitively return. He was not willingly an epic poet, perhaps,
but he was an epic poet, nevertheless; and the imperfection of
his realism began with the perfection of his form. Nature is
sometimes dramatic, though never on the hard and fast terms of
the theatre, but she is almost never epic; and Zola was always
epic. One need only think over his books and his subjects to be
convinced of this: "L'Assommoir" and drunkenness; "Nana" and
harlotry; "Germinale" and strikes; "L'Argent" and money getting
and losing in all its branches; "Pot-Bouille" and the cruel
squalor of poverty; "La Terre" and the life of the peasant; "Le
Debacle" and the decay of imperialism. The largest of these
schemes does not extend beyond the periphery described by the
centrifugal whirl of its central motive, and the least of the
Rougon-Macquart series is of the same epicality as the grandest.
Each is bound to a thesis, but reality is bound to no thesis.
You cannot say where it begins or where it leaves off; and it
will not allow you to say precisely what its meaning or argument
is. For this reason, there are no such perfect pieces of realism
as the plays of Ibsen, which have all or each a thesis, but do
not hold themselves bound to prove it, or even fully to state it;
after these, for reality, come the novels of Tolstoy, which are
of a direction so profound because so patient of aberration and

We think of beauty as implicated in symmetry, but there are
distinctly two kinds of beauty: the symmetrical and the
unsymmetrical, the beauty of the temple and the beauty of the
tree. Life is not more symmetrical than a tree, and the effort
of art to give it balance and proportion is to make it as false
in effect as a tree clipped and trained to a certain shape. The
Russians and the Scandinavians alone seem to have risen to a
consciousness of this in their imaginative literature, though the
English have always unconsciously obeyed the law of our being in
their generally crude and involuntary formulations of it. In the
northern masters there is no appearance of what M. Ernest Dupuy
calls the joiner-work of the French fictionalists; and there is,
in the process, no joiner-work in Zola, but the final effect is
joiner-work. It is a temple he builds, and not a tree he plants
and lets grow after he has planted the seed, and here he betrays
not only his French school but his Italian instinct.

In his form, Zola is classic, that is regular, symmetrical,
seeking the beauty of the temple rather than the beauty of the
tree. If the fight in his day had been the earlier fight between
classicism and romanticism, instead of romanticism and realism,
his nature and tradition would have ranged him on the side of
classicism, though, as in the later event, his feeling might have
been romantic. I think it has been the error of criticism not to
take due account of his Italian origin, or to recognize that he
was only half French, and that this half was his superficial
half. At the bottom of his soul, though not perhaps at the
bottom of his heart, he was Italian, and of the great race which
in every science and every art seems to win the primacy when it
will. The French, through the rhetoric of Napoleon III., imposed
themselves on the imagination of the world as the representatives
of the Latin race, but they are the least and the last of the
Latins, and the Italians are the first. To his Italian origin
Zola owed not only the moralistic scope of his literary ambition,
but the depth and strength of his personal conscience, capable of
the austere puritanism which underlies the so-called immoralities
of his books, and incapable of the peculiar lubricity which we
call French, possibly to distinguish it from the lubricity of
other people rather than to declare it a thing solely French. In
the face of all public and private corruptions, his soul is as
Piagnone as Savonarola's, and the vices of Arrabbiati, small and
great, are always his text, upon which he preaches virtue.


Zola is to me so vast a theme that I can only hope here to touch
his work at a point or two, leaving the proof of my sayings
mostly to the honesty of the reader. It will not require so
great an effort of his honesty now, as it once would, to own that
Zola's books, though often indecent, are never immoral, but
always most terribly, most pitilessly moral. I am not saying now
that they ought to be in every family library, or that they could
be edifyingly committed to the hands of boys and girls; one of
our first publishing houses is about to issue an edition even of
the Bible "with those passages omitted which are usually skipped
in reading aloud"; and it is always a question how much young
people can be profitably allowed to know; how much they do know,
they alone can tell. But as to the intention of Zola in his
books, I have no doubt of its righteousness. His books may be,
and I suppose they often are, indecent, but they are not immoral;
they may disgust, but they will not deprave; only those already
rotten can scent corruption in them, and these, I think, may be
deceived by effluvia from within themselves.

It is to the glory of the French realists that they broke, one
and all, with the tradition of the French romanticists that vice
was or might be something graceful, something poetic, something
gay, brilliant, something superior almost, and at once boldly
presented it in its true figure, its spiritual and social and
physical squalor. Beginning with Flaubert in his "Madame
Bovary," and passing through the whole line of their studies in
morbid anatomy, as the "Germinie Lacerteux" of the Goncourts, as
the "Bel-Ami" of Maupassant, and as all the books of Zola, you
have portraits as veracious as those of the Russians, or those of
Defoe, whom, indeed, more than any other master, Zola has made me
think of in his frankness. Through his epicality he is Defoe's
inferior, though much more than his equal in the range and
implication of his work.

A whole world seems to stir in each of his books; and, though it
is a world altogether bent for the time being upon one thing, as
the actual world never is, every individual in it seems alive and
true to the fact. M. Brunetiere says Zola's characters are not
true to the French fact; that his peasants, working-men,
citizens, soldiers are not French, whatever else they may be; but
this is merely M. Brunetiere's word against Zola's word, and Zola
had as good opportunities of knowing French life as Mr.
Brunetiere, whose aesthetics, as he betrays them in his
instances, are of a flabbiness which does not impart conviction.
Word for word, I should take Zola's word as to the fact, not
because I have the means of affirming him more reliable, but
because I have rarely known the observant instinct of poets to
fail, and because I believe that every reader will find in
himself sufficient witness to the veracity of Zola's
characterizations. These, if they are not true to the French
fact, are true to the human fact; and I should say that in these
the reality of Zola, unreal or ideal in his larger form, his
epicality, vitally resided. His people live in the memory as
entirely as any people who have ever lived; and, however
devastating one's experience of them may be, it leaves no doubt
of their having been.


It is not much to say of a work of literary art that it will
survive as a record of the times it treats of, and I would not
claim high value for Zola's fiction because it is such a true
picture of the Second Empire in its decline; yet, beyond any
other books have the quality that alone makes novels historical.
That they include everything, that they do justice to all sides
and phases of the period, it would be fatuous to expect, and
ridiculous to demand. It is not their epical character alone
that forbids this; it is the condition of every work of art,
which must choose its point of view, and include only the things
that fall within a certain scope. One of Zola's polemical
delusions was to suppose that a fiction ought not to be
selective, and that his own fictions were not selective, but
portrayed the fact without choice and without limitation. The
fact was that he was always choosing, and always limiting. Even
a map chooses and limits, far more a picture. Yet this delusion
of Zola's and its affirmation resulted in no end of
misunderstanding. People said the noises of the streets, which
he supposed himself to have given with graphophonic fulness and
variety, were not music; and they were quite right. Zola, as far
as his effects were voluntary, was not giving them music; he
openly loathed the sort of music they meant just as he openly
loathed art, and asked to be regarded as a man of science rather
than an artist. Yet, at the end of the ends, he was an artist
and not a man of science. His hand was perpetually selecting his
facts, and shaping them to one epical result, with an orchestral
accompaniment, which, though reporting the rudest noises of the
street, the vulgarest, the most offensive, was, in spite of him,
so reporting them that the result was harmony.

Zola was an artist, and one of the very greatest, but even before
and beyond that he was intensely a moralist, as only the
moralists of our true and noble time have been. Not Tolstoy, not
Ibsen himself, has more profoundly and indignantly felt the
injustice of civilization, or more insistently shown the falsity
of its fundamental pretensions. He did not make his books a
polemic for one cause or another; he was far too wise and sane
for that; but when he began to write them they became alive with
his sense of what was wrong and false and bad. His tolerance is
less than Tolstoy's, because his resignation is not so great; it
is for the weak sinners and not for the strong, while Tolstoy's,
with that transcendent vision of his race, pierces the bounds
where the shows of strength and weakness cease and become of a
solidarity of error in which they are one. But the ethics of his
work, like Tolstoy's, were always carrying over into his life.
He did not try to live poverty and privation and hard labor, as
Tolstoy does; he surrounded himself with the graces and the
luxuries which his honestly earned money enabled him to buy; but
when an act of public and official atrocity disturbed the working
of his mind and revolted his nature, he could not rest again till
he had done his best to right it.


The other day Zola died (by a casualty which one fancies he would
have liked to employ in a novel, if he had thought of it), and
the man whom he had befriended at the risk of all he had in the
world, his property, his liberty, his life itself, came to his
funeral in disguise, risking again all that Zola had risked, to
pay the last honors to his incomparable benefactor.

It was not the first time that a French literary man had devoted
himself to the cause of the oppressed, and made it his personal
affair, his charge, his inalienable trust. But Voltaire's
championship of the persecuted Protestant had not the measure of
Zola's championship of the persecuted Jew, though in both
instances the courage and the persistence of the vindicator
forced the reopening of the case and resulted in final justice.
It takes nothing from the heroism of Voltaire to recognize that
it was not so great as the heroism of Zola, and it takes nothing
from the heroism of Zola to recognize that it was effective in
the only country of Europe where such a case as that of Dreyfus
would have been reopened; where there was a public imagination
generous enough to conceive of undoing an act of immense public
cruelty. At first this imagination was dormant, and the French
people conceived only of punishing the vindicator along with
victim, for daring to accuse their processes of injustice.
Outrage, violence, and the peril of death greeted Zola from his
fellow-citizens, and from the authorities ignominy, fine, and
prison. But nothing silenced or deterred him, and, in the swift
course of moral adjustment characteristic of our time, an
innumerable multitude of those who were ready a few years ago to
rend him in pieces joined in paying tribute to the greatness of
his soul, at the grave which received his body already buried
under an avalanche of flowers. The government has not been so
prompt as the mob, but with the history of France in mind,
remembering how official action has always responded to the
national impulses in behalf of humanity and justice, one cannot
believe that the representatives of the French people will long
remain behind the French people in offering reparation to the
memory of one of the greatest and most heroic of French citizens.

It is a pity for the government that it did not take part in the
obsequies of Zola; it would have been well for the army, which he
was falsely supposed to have defamed, to have been present to
testify of the real service and honor he had done it. But, in
good time enough, the reparation will be official as well as
popular, and when the monument to Zola, which has already risen
in the hearts of his countrymen, shall embody itself in enduring
marble or perennial bronze, the army will be there to join in its


There is no reason why criticism should affect an equal
hesitation. Criticism no longer assumes to ascertain an author's
place in literature. It is very well satisfied if it can say
something suggestive concerning the nature and quality of his
work, and it tries to say this with as little of the old air of
finality as it can manage to hide its poverty in.

After the words of M. Chaumie at the funeral, "Zola's life work
was dominated by anxiety for sincerity and truth, an anxiety
inspired by his great feelings of pity and justice," there seems
nothing left to do but to apply them to the examination of his
literary work. They unlock the secret of his performance, if it
is any longer a secret, and they afford its justification in all
those respects where without them it could not be justified. The
question of immorality has been set aside, and the indecency has
been admitted, but it remains for us to realize that anxiety for
sincerity and truth, springing from the sense of pity and
justice, makes indecency a condition of portraying human nature
so that it may look upon its image and be ashamed.

The moralist working imaginatively has always had to ask himself
how far he might go in illustration of his thesis, and he has not
hesitated, or if he has hesitated, he has not failed to go far
very far. Defoe went far, Richardson went far, Ibsen has gone
far, Tolstoy has gone far, and if Zola went farther than any of
these, still he did not go so far as the immoralists have gone in
the portrayal of vicious things to allure where he wished to
repel. There is really such a thing as high motive and such a
thing as low motive, though the processes are often so
bewilderingly alike in both cases. The processes may confound
us, but there is no reason why we should be mistaken as to
motive, and as to Zola's motive I do not think M. Chaumie was
mistaken. As to his methods, they by no means always reflected
his intentions. He fancied himself working like a scientist who
has collected a vast number of specimens, and is deducing
principles from them. But the fact is, he was always working
like an artist, seizing every suggestion of experience and
observation, turning it to the utmost account, piecing it out by
his invention, building it up into a structure of fiction where
its origin was lost to all but himself, and often even to
himself. He supposed that he was recording and classifying, but
he was creating and vivifying. Within the bounds of his epical
scheme, which was always factitious, every person was so natural
that his characters seemed like the characters of biography
rather than of fiction. One does not remember them as one
remembers the characters of most novelists. They had their being
in a design which was meant to represent a state of things, to
enforce an opinion of certain conditions; but they themselves
were free agencies, bound by no allegiance to the general frame,
and not apparently acting in behalf of the author, but only from
their own individuality. At the moment of reading, they make the
impression of an intense reality, and they remain real, but one
recalls them as one recalls the people read of in last weeks's or
last year's newspaper. What Zola did was less to import science
and its methods into the region of fiction, than journalism and
its methods; but in this he had his will only so far as his
nature of artist would allow. He was no more a journalist than
he was a scientist by nature; and, in spite of his intentions and
in spite of his methods, he was essentially imaginative and
involuntarily creative.


To me his literary history is very pathetic. He was bred if not
born in the worship of the romantic, but his native faith was not
proof against his reason, as again his reason was not proof
against his native faith. He preached a crusade against
romanticism, and fought a long fight with it, only to realize at
last that he was himself too romanticistic to succeed against it,
and heroically to own his defeat. The hosts of romanticism
swarmed back over him and his followers, and prevailed, as we see
them still prevailing. It was the error of the realists whom
Zola led, to suppose that people like truth in fiction better
than falsehood; they do not; they like falsehood best; and if
Zola had not been at heart a romanticist, he never would have
cherished his long delusion, he never could have deceived with
his vain hopes those whom he persuaded to be realistic, as he
himself did not succeed in being.

He wished to be a sort of historiographer writing the annals of a
family, and painting a period; but he was a poet, doing far more
than this, and contributing to creative literature as great works
of fiction as have been written in the epic form. He was a
paradox on every side but one, and that was the human side, which
he would himself have held far worthier than the literary side.
On the human side, the civic side, he was what he wished to be,
and not what any perversity of his elements made him. He heard
one of those calls to supreme duty, which from time to time
select one man and not another for the response which they
require; and he rose to that duty with a grandeur which had all
the simplicity possible to a man of French civilization. We may
think that there was something a little too dramatic in the
manner of his heroism, his martyry, and we may smile at certain
turns of rhetoric in the immortal letter accusing the French
nation of intolerable wrong, just as, in our smug Anglo-Saxon
conceit, we laughed at the procedure of the emotional courts
which he compelled to take cognizance of the immense misdeed
other courts had as emotionally committed. But the event,
however indirectly and involuntarily, was justice which no other
people in Europe would have done, and perhaps not any people of
this more enlightened continent.

The success of Zola as a literary man has its imperfections, its
phases of defeat, but his success as a humanist is without flaw.
He triumphed as wholly and as finally as it has ever been given a
man to triumph, and he made France triumph with him. By his
hand, she added to the laurels she had won in the war of American
Independence, in the wars of the Revolution for liberty and
equality, in the campaigns for Italian Unity, the imperishable
leaf of a national acknowledgement of national error.


Literary Friends And Acquaintance
Literature And Life [Studies]
My Literary Passions/Criticism & Fiction

Literary Friends and Acquaintances
My First Visit to New England
First Impressions of Literary New York
Roundabout to Boston
Literary Boston As I Knew It
Oliver Wendell Holmes
The White Mr. Longfellow
Studies of Lowell
Cambridge Neighbors
A Belated Guest
My Mark Twain

Literature and Life
Man of Letters in Business
Confessions of a Summer Colonist
The Young Contributor
Last Days in a Dutch Hotel
Anomalies of the Short Story
Spanish Prisoners of War
American Literary Centers
Standard Household Effect Co.
Notes of a Vanished Summer
Worries of a Winter Walk
Summer Isles of Eden
Wild Flowers of the Asphalt
A Circus in the Suburbs
A She Hamlet
The Midnight Platoon
The Beach at Rockaway
Sawdust in the Arena
At a Dime Museum
American Literature in Exile
The Horse Show
The Problem of the Summer
Aesthetic New York Fifty-odd Years Ago
From New York into New England
The Art of the Adsmith
The Psychology of Plagiarism
Puritanism in American Fiction
The What and How in Art
Politics in American Authors
"Floating down the River on the O-hi-o"

My Literary Passions
The Bookcase at Home
First Fiction and Drama
Longfellow's "Spanish Student"
Lighter Fancies
Various Preferences
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Ik Marvel
Wordsworth, Lowell, Chaucer
Critics and Reviews.
A Non-literary Episode
"Lazarillo De Tormes"
Curtis, Longfellow, Schlegel
De Quincey, Goethe, Longfellow.
George Eliot, Hawthorne, Goethe, Heine
Charles Reade
Goldoni, Manzoni, D'azeglio
"Pastor Fido," "Aminta," "Romola," "Yeast," "Paul Ferroll"
Erckmann-chatrian, Bjorstjerne Bjornson
Tourguenief, Auerbach
Certain Preferences and Experiences
Valdes, Galdos, Verga, Zola, Trollope, Hardy

Criticism and Fiction


by William Dean Howells


My First Visit to New England
First Impressions of Literary New York
Roundabout to Boston
Literary Boston As I Knew It
Oliver Wendell Holmes
The White Mr. Longfellow
Studies of Lowell
Cambridge Neighbors
A Belated Guest
My Mark Twain



Long before I began the papers which make up this volume, I had meant to
write of literary history in New England as I had known it in the lives
of its great exemplars during the twenty-five years I lived near them.
In fact, I had meant to do this from the time I came among them; but I
let the days in which I almost constantly saw them go by without record
save such as I carried in a memory retentive, indeed, beyond the common,
but not so full as I could have wished when I began to invoke it for my
work. Still, upon insistent appeal, it responded in sufficient
abundance; and, though I now wish I could have remembered more instances,
I think my impressions were accurate enough. I am sure of having tried
honestly to impart them in the ten years or more when I was desultorily
endeavoring to share them with the reader.

The papers were written pretty much in the order they have here,
beginning with My First Visit to New England, which dates from the
earliest eighteen-nineties, if I may trust my recollection of reading it
from the manuscript to the editor of Harper's Magazine, where we lay
under the willows of Magnolia one pleasant summer morning in the first
years of that decade. It was printed no great while after in that
periodical; but I was so long in finishing the study of Lowell that it
had been anticipated in Harper's by other reminiscences of him, and it
was therefore first printed in Scribner's Magazine. It was the paper
with which I took the most pains, and when it was completed I still felt
it so incomplete that I referred it to his closest and my best friend,
the late Charles Eliot Norton, for his criticism. He thought it wanting
in unity; it was a group of studies instead of one study, he said; I must
do something to draw the different sketches together in a single effect
of portraiture; and this I did my best to do.

It was the latest written of the three articles which give the volume
substance, and it represents mare finally and fully than the others my
sense of the literary importance of the men whose like we shall not look
upon again. Longfellow was easily the greatest poet of the three, Holmes
often the most brilliant and felicitous, but Lowell, in spite of his
forays in politics, was the finest scholar and the most profoundly
literary, as he was above the others most deeply and thoroughly New
England in quality.

While I was doing these sketches, sometimes slighter and sometimes less
slight, of all those poets and essayists and novelists I had known in
Cambridge and Boston and Concord and New York, I was doing many other
things: half a dozen novels, as many more novelettes and shorter stories,
with essays and criticisms and verses; so that in January, 1900, I had
not yet done the paper on Lowell, which, with another, was to complete my
reminiscences of American literary life as I had witnessed it. When they
were all done at last they were republished in a volume which found
instant favor beyond my deserts if not its own.

There was a good deal of trouble with the name, but Literary Friends and
Acquaintance was an endeavor for modest accuracy with which I remained
satisfied until I thought, long too late, of Literary Friends and
Neighbors. Then I perceived that this would have been still more
accurate and quite as modest, and I gladly give any reader leave to call
the book by that name who likes.

Since the collection was first made, I have written little else quite of
the kind, except the paper on Bret Harte, which was first printed shortly
after his death; and the study of Mark Twain, which I had been preparing
to make for forty years and more, and wrote in two weeks of the spring of
1910. Others of my time and place have now passed whither there is
neither time nor place, and there are moments when I feel that I must try
to call them back and pay them such honor as my sense of their worth may
give; but the impulse has as yet failed to effect itself, and I do not
know how long I shall spare myself the supreme pleasure-pain, the "hochst
angenehmer Schmerz," of seeking to live here with those who live here no

W. D. H.



If there was any one in the world who had his being more wholly in
literature than I had in 1860, I am sure I should not have known where to
find him, and I doubt if he could have been found nearer the centres of
literary activity than I then was, or among those more purely devoted to
literature than myself. I had been for three years a writer of news
paragraphs, book notices, and political leaders on a daily paper in an
inland city, and I do not know that my life differed outwardly from that
of any other young journalist, who had begun as I had in a country
printing-office, and might be supposed to be looking forward to
advancement in his profession or in public affairs. But inwardly it was
altogether different with me. Inwardly I was a poet, with no wish to be
anything else, unless in a moment of careless affluence I might so far
forget myself as to be a novelist. I was, with my friend J. J. Piatt,
the half-author of a little volume of very unknown verse, and Mr. Lowell
had lately accepted and had begun to print in the Atlantic Monthly five
or six poems of mine. Besides this I had written poems, and sketches,
and criticisms for the Saturday Press of New York, a long-forgotten but
once very lively expression of literary intention in an extinct bohemia
of that city; and I was always writing poems, and sketches, and
criticisms in our own paper. These, as well as my feats in the renowned
periodicals of the East, met with kindness, if not honor, in my own city
which ought to have given me grave doubts whether I was any real prophet.
But it only intensified my literary ambition, already so strong that my
veins might well have run ink rather than blood, and gave me a higher
opinion of my fellow-citizens, if such a thing could be. They were
indeed very charming people, and such of them as I mostly saw were
readers and lovers of books. Society in Columbus at that day had a
pleasant refinement which I think I do not exaggerate in the fond
retrospect. It had the finality which it seems to have had nowhere since
the war; it had certain fixed ideals, which were none the less graceful
and becoming because they were the simple old American ideals, now
vanished, or fast vanishing, before the knowledge of good and evil as
they have it in Europe, and as it has imparted itself to American travel
and sojourn. There was a mixture of many strains in the capital of Ohio,
as there was throughout the State. Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New
York, and New England all joined to characterize the manners and customs.
I suppose it was the South which gave the social tone; the intellectual
taste among the elders was the Southern taste for the classic and the
standard in literature; but we who were younger preferred the modern
authors: we read Thackeray, and George Eliot, and Hawthorne, and Charles
Reade, and De Quincey, and Tennyson, and Browning, and Emerson, and
Longfellow, and I--I read Heine, and evermore Heine, when there was not
some new thing from the others. Now and then an immediate French book
penetrated to us: we read Michelet and About, I remember. We looked to
England and the East largely for our literary opinions; we accepted the
Saturday Review as law if we could not quite receive it as gospel. One
of us took the Cornhill Magazine, because Thackeray was the editor; the
Atlantic Monthly counted many readers among us; and a visiting young lady
from New England, who screamed at sight of the periodical in one of our
houses, "Why, have you got the Atlantic Monthly out here?" could be
answered, with cold superiority, "There are several contributors to the
Atlantic in Columbus." There were in fact two: my room-mate, who wrote
Browning for it, while I wrote Heine and Longfellow. But I suppose two
are as rightfully several as twenty are.


That was the heyday of lecturing, and now and then a literary light from
the East swam into our skies. I heard and saw Emerson, and I once met
Bayard Taylor socially, at the hospitable house where he was a guest
after his lecture. Heaven knows how I got through the evening. I do not
think I opened my mouth to address him a word; it was as much as I could
do to sit and look at him, while he tranquilly smoked, and chatted with
our host, and quaffed the beer which we had very good in the Nest. All
the while I did him homage as the first author by calling whom I had met.
I longed to tell him how much I liked his poems, which we used to get by
heart in those days, and I longed (how much more I longed!) to have him
know that:

"Auch ich war in Arkadien geboren,"

that I had printed poems in the Atlantic Monthly and the Saturday Press,
and was the potential author of things destined to eclipse all literature
hitherto attempted. But I could not tell him; and there was no one else
who thought to tell him. Perhaps it was as well so; I might have
perished of his recognition, for my modesty was equal to my merit.

In fact I think we were all rather modest young fellows, we who formed
the group wont to spend some part of every evening at that house, where
there was always music, or whist, or gay talk, or all three. We had our
opinions of literary matters, but (perhaps because we had mostly accepted
them from England or New England, as I have said) we were not vain of
them; and we would by no means have urged them before a living literary
man like that. I believe none of us ventured to speak, except the poet,
my roommate, who said, He believed so and so was the original of so and
so; and was promptly told, He had no right to say such a thing.
Naturally, we came away rather critical of our host's guest, whom I
afterwards knew as the kindliest heart in the world. But we had not
shone in his presence, and that galled us; and we chose to think that he
had not shone in ours.


At that time he was filling a large space in the thoughts of the young
people who had any thoughts about literature. He had come to his full
repute as an agreeable and intelligent traveller, and he still wore the
halo of his early adventures afoot in foreign lands when they were yet
really foreign. He had not written his novels of American life, once so
welcomed, and now so forgotten; it was very long before he had achieved
that incomparable translation of Faust which must always remain the
finest and best, and which would keep his name alive with Goethe's, if he
had done nothing else worthy of remembrance. But what then most
commended him to the regard of us star-eyed youth (now blinking sadly
toward our seventies) was the poetry which he printed in the magazines
from time to time: in the first Putnam's (where there was a dashing
picture of him in an Arab burnoose and, a turban), and in Harper's, and
in the Atlantic. It was often very lovely poetry, I thought, and I still
think so; and it was rightfully his, though it paid the inevitable
allegiance to the manner of the great masters of the day. It was graced
for us by the pathetic romance of his early love, which some of its
sweetest and saddest numbers confessed, for the young girl he married
almost in her death hour; and we who were hoping to have our hearts
broken, or already had them so, would have been glad of something more of
the obvious poet in the popular lecturer we had seen refreshing himself
after his hour on the platform.

He remained for nearly a year the only author I had seen, and I met him
once again before I saw any other. Our second meeting was far from
Columbus, as far as remote Quebec, when I was on my way to New England by
way of Niagara and the Canadian rivers and cities. I stopped in Toronto,
and realized myself abroad without any signal adventures; but at Montreal
something very pretty happened to me. I came into the hotel office, the
evening of a first day's lonely sight-seeing, and vainly explored the
register for the name of some acquaintance; as I turned from it two
smartly dressed young fellows embraced it, and I heard one of them say,
to my great amaze and happiness, "Hello, here's Howells!"

"Oh," I broke out upon him, "I was just looking for some one I knew. I
hope you are some one who knows me!"

"Only through your contributions to the Saturday Press," said the young
fellow, and with these golden words, the precious first personal
recognition of my authorship I had ever received from a stranger, and the
rich reward of all my literary endeavor, he introduced himself and his
friend. I do not know what be came of this friend, or where or how he
eliminated himself; but we two others were inseparable from that moment.
He was a young lawyer from New York, and when I came back from Italy,
four or five years later, I used to see his sign in Wall Street, with a
never-fulfilled intention of going in to see him. In whatever world he
happens now to be, I should like to send him my greetings, and confess to
him that my art has never since brought me so sweet a recompense, and
nothing a thousandth part so much like Fame, as that outcry of his over
the hotel register in Montreal. We were comrades for four or five rich
days, and shared our pleasures and expenses in viewing the monuments of
those ancient Canadian capitals, which I think we valued at all their
picturesque worth. We made jokes to mask our emotions; we giggled and
made giggle, in the right way; we fell in and out of love with all the
pretty faces and dresses we saw; and we talked evermore about literature
and literary people. He had more acquaintance with the one, and more
passion for the other, but he could tell me of Pfaff's lager-beer cellar
on Broadway, where the Saturday Press fellows and the other Bohemians
met; and this, for the time, was enough: I resolved to visit it as soon
as I reached New York, in spite of the tobacco and beer (which I was
given to understand were de rigueur), though they both, so far as I had
known them, were apt to make me sick.

I was very desolate after I parted from this good fellow, who returned to
Montreal on his way to New York, while I remained in Quebec to continue
later on mine to New England. When I came in from seeing him off in a
calash for the boat, I discovered Bayard Taylor in the readingroom, where
he sat sunken in what seemed a somewhat weary muse. He did not know
me, or even notice me, though I made several errands in and out of the
reading-room in the vain hope that be might do so: doubly vain, for I am
aware now that I was still flown with the pride of that pretty experience
in Montreal, and trusted in a repetition of something like it. At last,
as no chance volunteered to help me, I mustered courage to go up to him
and name myself, and say I had once had the pleasure of meeting him at
Doctor -------'s in Columbus. The poet gave no sign of consciousness at
the sound of a name which I had fondly begun to think might not be so all
unknown. He looked up with an unkindling eye, and asked, Ah, how was the
Doctor? and when I had reported favorably of the Doctor, our
conversation ended.

He was probably as tired as he looked, and he must have classed me with
that multitude all over the country who had shared the pleasure I
professed in meeting him before; it was surely my fault that I did not
speak my name loud enough to be recognized, if I spoke it at all; but the
courage I had mustered did not quite suffice for that. In after years he
assured me, first by letter and then by word, of his grief for an
incident which I can only recall now as the untoward beginning of a
cordial friendship. It was often my privilege, in those days, as
reviewer and editor, to testify my sense of the beautiful things he did
in so many kinds of literature, but I never liked any of them better than
I liked him. He had a fervent devotion to his art, and he was always
going to do the greatest things in it, with an expectation of effect that
never failed him. The things he actually did were none of them mean,
or wanting in quality, and some of them are of a lasting charm that any
one may feel who will turn to his poems; but no doubt many of them fell
short of his hopes of them with the reader. It was fine to meet him when
he was full of a new scheme; he talked of it with a single-hearted joy,
and tried to make you see it of the same colors and proportions it wore
to his eyes. He spared no toil to make it the perfect thing he dreamed
it, and he was not discouraged by any disappointment he suffered with the
critic or the public.

He was a tireless worker, and at last his health failed under his labors
at the newspaper desk, beneath the midnight gas, when he should long have
rested from such labors. I believe he was obliged to do them through one
of those business fortuities which deform and embitter all our lives;
but he was not the man to spare himself in any case. He was always
attempting new things, and he never ceased endeavoring to make his
scholarship reparation for the want of earlier opportunity and training.
I remember that I met him once in a Cambridge street with a book in his
hand which he let me take in mine. It was a Greek author, and he said he
was just beginning to read the language at fifty: a patriarchal age to me
of the early thirties!

I suppose I intimated the surprise I felt at his taking it up so late in
the day, for he said, with charming seriousness, "Oh, but you know,
I expect to use it in the other world." Yea, that made it worth while,
I consented; but was he sure of the other world? "As sure as I am of
this," he said; and I have always kept the impression of the young faith
which spoke in his voice and was more than his words.

I saw him last in the hour of those tremendous adieux which were paid him
in New York before he sailed to be minister in Germany. It was one of
the most graceful things done by President Hayes, who, most of all our
Presidents after Lincoln, honored himself in honoring literature by his
appointments, to give that place to Bayard Taylor. There was no one more
fit for it, and it was peculiarly fit that he should be so distinguished
to a people who knew and valued his scholarship and the service he had
done German letters. He was as happy in it, apparently, as a man could
be in anything here below, and he enjoyed to the last drop the many cups
of kindness pressed to his lips in parting; though I believe these
farewells, at a time when he was already fagged with work and excitement,
were notably harmful to him, and helped to hasten his end. Some of us
who were near of friendship went down to see him off when he sailed, as
the dismal and futile wont of friends is; and I recall the kind, great
fellow standing in the cabin, amid those sad flowers that heaped the
tables, saying good-by to one after another, and smiling fondly, smiling
wearily, upon all. There was champagne, of course, and an odious
hilarity, without meaning and without remission, till the warning bell
chased us ashore, and our brave poet escaped with what was left of his


I have followed him far from the moment of our first meeting; but even on
my way to venerate those New England luminaries, which chiefly drew my
eyes, I could not pay a less devoir to an author who, if Curtis was not,
was chief of the New York group of authors in that day. I distinguished
between the New-Englanders and the New-Yorkers, and I suppose there is no
question but our literary centre was then in Boston, wherever it is, or
is not, at present. But I thought Taylor then, and I think him now, one
of the first in our whole American province of the republic of letters,
in a day when it was in a recognizably flourishing state, whether we
regard quantity or quality in the names that gave it lustre. Lowell was
then in perfect command of those varied forces which will long, if not
lastingly, keep him in memory as first among our literary men, and master
in more kinds than any other American. Longfellow was in the fulness of
his world-wide fame, and in the ripeness of the beautiful genius which
was not to know decay while life endured. Emerson had emerged from the
popular darkness which had so long held him a hopeless mystic, and was
shining a lambent star of poesy and prophecy at the zenith. Hawthorne,
the exquisite artist, the unrivalled dreamer, whom we still always liken
this one and that one to, whenever this one or that one promises greatly
to please us, and still leave without a rival, without a companion, had
lately returned from his long sojourn abroad, and had given us the last
of the incomparable romances which the world was to have perfect from his
hand. Doctor Holmes had surpassed all expectations in those who most
admired his brilliant humor and charming poetry by the invention of a new
attitude if not a new sort in literature. The turn that civic affairs
had taken was favorable to the widest recognition of Whittier's splendid
lyrical gift; and that heart of fire, doubly snow-bound by Quaker
tradition and Puritan environment; was penetrating every generous breast
with its flamy impulses, and fusing all wills in its noble purpose. Mrs.
Stowe, who far outfamed the rest as the author of the most renowned novel
ever written, was proving it no accident or miracle by the fiction she
was still writing.

This great New England group might be enlarged perhaps without loss of
quality by the inclusion of Thoreau, who came somewhat before his time,
and whose drastic criticism of our expediential and mainly futile
civilization would find more intelligent acceptance now than it did then,
when all resentment of its defects was specialized in enmity to Southern
slavery. Doctor Edward Everett Hale belonged in this group too, by
virtue of that humor, the most inventive and the most fantastic, the
sanest, the sweetest, the truest, which had begun to find expression in
the Atlantic Monthly; and there a wonderful young girl had written a
series of vivid sketches and taken the heart of youth everywhere with
amaze and joy, so that I thought it would be no less an event to meet
Harriet Prescott than to meet any of those I have named.

I expected somehow to meet them all, and I imagined them all easily
accessible in the office of the Atlantic Monthly, which had lately
adventured in the fine air of high literature where so many other
periodicals had gasped and died before it. The best of these, hitherto,
and better even than the Atlantic for some reasons, the lamented Putnam's
Magazine, had perished of inanition at New York, and the claim of the
commercial capital to the literary primacy had passed with that brilliant
venture. New York had nothing distinctive to show for American
literature but the decrepit and doting Knickerbocker Magazine. Harper's
New Monthly, though Curtis had already come to it from the wreck of
Putnam's, and it had long ceased to be eclectic in material, and had
begun to stand for native work in the allied arts which it has since so
magnificently advanced, was not distinctively literary, and the Weekly
had just begun to make itself known. The Century, Scribner's, the
Cosmopolitan, McClure's, and I know not what others, were still
unimagined by five, and ten, and twenty years, and the Galaxy was to
flash and fade before any of them should kindle its more effectual fires.
The Nation, which was destined to chastise rather than nurture our young
literature, had still six years of dreamless potentiality before it; and
the Nation was always more Bostonian than New-Yorkish by nature, whatever
it was by nativity.

Philadelphia had long counted for nothing in the literary field.
Graham's Magazine at one time showed a certain critical force, but it
seemed to perish of this expression of vitality; and there remained
Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazine, publications really
incredible in their insipidity. In the South there was nothing but a
mistaken social ideal, with the moral principles all standing on their
heads in defence of slavery; and in the West there was a feeble and
foolish notion that Western talent was repressed by Eastern jealousy.
At Boston chiefly, if not at Boston alone, was there a vigorous
intellectual life among such authors as I have named. Every young writer
was ambitious to join his name with theirs in the Atlantic Monthly, and
in the lists of Ticknor & Fields, who were literary publishers in a sense
such as the business world has known nowhere else before or since. Their
imprint was a warrant of quality to the reader and of immortality to the
author, so that if I could have had a book issued by them at that day I
should now be in the full enjoyment of an undying fame.


Such was the literary situation as the passionate pilgrim from the West
approached his holy land at Boston, by way of the Grand Trunk Railway
from Quebec to Portland. I have no recollection of a sleeping-car, and I
suppose I waked and watched during the whole of that long, rough journey;
but I should hardly have slept if there had been a car for the purpose.
I was too eager to see what New England was like, and too anxious not to
lose the least glimpse of it, to close my eyes after I crossed the border
at Island Pond. I found that in the elm-dotted levels of Maine it was
very like the Western Reserve in northern Ohio, which is, indeed, a
portion of New England transferred with all its characteristic features,
and flattened out along the lake shore. It was not till I began to run
southward into the older regions of the country that it lost this look,
and became gratefully strange to me. It never had the effect of hoary
antiquity which I had expected of a country settled more than two
centuries; with its wood-built farms and villages it looked newer than
the coal-smoked brick of southern Ohio. I had prefigured the New England
landscape bare of forests, relieved here and there with the tees of
orchards or plantations; but I found apparently as much woodland as at

At Portland I first saw the ocean, and this was a sort of disappointment.
Tides and salt water I had already had at Quebec, so that I was no longer
on the alert for them; but the color and the vastness of the sea I was
still to try upon my vision. When I stood on the Promenade at Portland
with the kind young Unitarian minister whom I had brought a letter to,
and who led me there for a most impressive first view of the ocean, I
could not make more of it than there was of Lake Erie; and I have never
thought the color of the sea comparable to the tender blue of the lake.
I did not hint my disappointment to my friend; I had too much regard for
the feelings of an Eastern man to decry his ocean to his face, and I felt
besides that it would be vulgar and provincial to make comparisons. I am
glad now that I held my tongue, for that kind soul is no longer in this
world, and I should not like to think he knew how far short of my
expectations the sea he was so proud of had fallen. I went up with him
into a tower or belvedere there was at hand; and when he pointed to the
eastern horizon and said, Now there was nothing but sea between us and
Africa, I pretended to expand with the thought, and began to sound myself
for the emotions which I ought to have felt at such a sight. But in my
heart I was empty, and Heaven knows whether I saw the steamer which the
ancient mariner in charge of that tower invited me to look at through his
telescope. I never could see anything but a vitreous glare through a
telescope, which has a vicious habit of dodging about through space, and
failing to bring down anything of less than planetary magnitude.

But there was something at Portland vastly more to me than seas or
continents, and that was the house where Longfellow was born. I believe,
now, I did not get the right house, but only the house he went to live in
later; but it served, and I rejoiced in it with a rapture that could not
have been more genuine if it had been the real birthplace of the poet. I
got my friend to show me

"----the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering's woods,"

because they were in one of Longfellow's loveliest and tenderest poems;
and I made an errand to the docks, for the sake of the

"---black wharves and the slips,
And the sea-tides tossing free,
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea,"

mainly for the reason that these were colors and shapes of the fond
vision of the poet's past. I am in doubt whether it was at this time or
a later time that I went to revere

"--the dead captains as they lay
In their graves o'erlooking the tranquil bay,
where they in battle died,"

but I am quite sure it was now that I wandered under

"--the trees which shadow each well-known street,
As they balance up and down,"

for when I was next in Portland the great fire had swept the city avenues
bare of most of those beautiful elms, whose Gothic arches and traceries I
well remember.

The fact is that in those days I was bursting with the most romantic
expectations of life in every way, and I looked at the whole world as
material that might be turned into literature, or that might be
associated with it somehow. I do not know how I managed to keep these
preposterous hopes within me, but perhaps the trick of satirizing them,
which I had early learnt, helped me to do it. I was at that particular
moment resolved above all things to see things as Heinrich Heine saw
them, or at least to report them as he did, no matter how I saw them;
and I went about framing phrases to this end, and trying to match the
objects of interest to them whenever there was the least chance of
getting them together.


I do not know how I first arrived in Boston, or whether it was before or
after I had passed a day or two in Salem. As Salem is on the way from
Portland, I will suppose that I stopped there first, and explored the
quaint old town (quainter then than now, but still quaint enough) for the
memorials of Hawthorne and of the witches which united to form the Salem
I cared for. I went and looked up the House of Seven Gables, and
suffered an unreasonable disappointment that it had not a great many more
of them; but there was no loss in the death-warrant of Bridget Bishop,
with the sheriff's return of execution upon it, which I found at the
Court-house; if anything, the pathos of that witness of one of the
cruelest delusions in the world was rather in excess of my needs; I could
have got on with less. I saw the pins which the witches were sworn to
have thrust into the afflicted children, and I saw Gallows Hill, where
the hapless victims of the perjury were hanged. But that death-warrant
remained the most vivid color of my experience of the tragedy; I had no
need to invite myself to a sense of it, and it is still like a stain of
red in my memory.

The kind old ship's captain whose guest I was, and who was transfigured
to poetry in my sense by the fact that he used to voyage to the African
coast for palm-oil in former days, led me all about the town, and showed
me the Custom-house, which I desired to see because it was in the preface
to the Scarlet Letter. But I perceived that he did not share my
enthusiasm for the author, and I became more and more sensible that in
Salem air there was a cool undercurrent of feeling about him. No doubt
the place was not altogether grateful for the celebrity his romance had
given it, and would have valued more the uninterrupted quiet of its own
flattering thoughts of itself; but when it came to hearing a young lady
say she knew a girl who said she would like to poison Hawthorne, it
seemed to the devout young pilgrim from the West that something more of
love for the great romancer would not have been too much for him.
Hawthorne had already had his say, however, and he had not used his
native town with any great tenderness. Indeed, the advantages to any
place of having a great genius born and reared in its midst are so
doubtful that it might be well for localities designing to become the
birthplaces of distinguished authors to think twice about it. Perhaps
only the largest capitals, like London and Paris, and New York and
Chicago, ought to risk it. But the authors have an unaccountable
perversity, and will seldom come into the world in the large cities,
which are alone without the sense of neighborhood, and the personal
susceptibilities so unfavorable to the practice of the literary art.
I dare say that it was owing to the local indifference to her greatest
name, or her reluctance from it, that I got a clearer impression of Salem
in some other respects than I should have had if I had been invited there
to devote myself solely to the associations of Hawthorne. For the first
time I saw an old New England town, I do not know, but the most
characteristic, and took into my young Western consciousness the fact of
a more complex civilization than I had yet known. My whole life had been
passed in a region where men were just beginning ancestors, and the
conception of family was very imperfect. Literature, of course, was full
of it, and it was not for a devotee of Thackeray to be theoretically
ignorant of its manifestations; but I had hitherto carelessly supposed
that family was nowhere regarded seriously in America except in Virginia,
where it furnished a joke for the rest of the nation. But now I found
myself confronted with it in its ancient houses, and heard its names
pronounced with a certain consideration, which I dare say was as much
their due in Salem as it could be anywhere. The names were all strange,
and all indifferent to me, but those fine square wooden mansions, of a
tasteful architecture, and a pale buff-color, withdrawing themselves in
quiet reserve from the quiet street, gave me an impression of family as
an actuality and a force which I had never had before, but which no
Westerner can yet understand the East without taking into account. I do
not suppose that I conceived of family as a fact of vital import then;
I think I rather regarded it as a color to be used in any aesthetic study
of the local conditions. I am not sure that I valued it more even for
literary purposes, than the steeple which the captain pointed out as the
first and last thing he saw when he came and went on his long voyages, or
than the great palm-oil casks, which he showed me, and which I related to
the tree that stood

"Auf brennender Felsenwand."

Whether that was the kind of palm that gives the oil, or was a sort only
suitable to be the dream of a lonely fir-tree in the North on a cold
height, I am in doubt to this day.

I heard, not without concern, that the neighboring industry of Lynn was
penetrating Salem, and that the ancient haunt of the witches and the
birthplace of our subtlest and somberest wizard was becoming a great
shoe-town; but my concern was less for its memories and sensibilities
than for an odious duty which I owed that industry, together with all the
others in New England. Before I left home I had promised my earliest
publisher that I would undertake to edit, or compile, or do something
literary to, a work on the operation of the more distinctive mechanical
inventions of our country, which he had conceived the notion of
publishing by subscription. He had furnished me, the most immechanical
of humankind, with a letter addressed generally to the great mills and
factories of the East, entreating their managers to unfold their
mysteries to me for the purposes of this volume. His letter had the
effect of shutting up some of them like clams, and others it put upon
their guard against my researches, lest I should seize the secret of
their special inventions and publish it to the world. I could not tell
the managers that I was both morally and mentally incapable of this;
that they might have explained and demonstrated the properties and
functions of their most recondite machinery, and upon examination
afterwards found me guiltless of having anything but a few verses of
Heine or Tennyson or Longfellow in my head. So I had to suffer in
several places from their unjust anxieties, and from my own weariness of
their ingenious engines, or else endure the pangs of a bad conscience
from ignoring them. As long as I was in Canada I was happy, for there
was no industry in Canada that I saw, except that of the peasant girls,
in their Evangeline hats and kirtles, tossing the hay in the way-side
fields; but when I reached Portland my troubles began. I went with that
young minister of whom I have spoken to a large foundry, where they were
casting some sort of ironmongery, and inspected the process from a
distance beyond any chance spurt of the molten metal, and came away sadly
uncertain of putting the rather fine spectacle to any practical use.
A manufactory where they did something with coal-oil (which I now heard
for the first time called kerosene) refused itself to me, and I said to
myself that probably all the other industries of Portland were as
reserved, and I would not seek to explore them; but when I got to Salem,
my conscience stirred again. If I knew that there were shoe-shops in
Salem, ought not I to go and inspect their processes? This was a
question which would not answer itself to my satisfaction, and I had no
peace till I learned that I could see shoemaking much better at Lynn, and
that Lynn was such a little way from Boston that I could readily run up
there, if I did not wish to examine the shoe machinery at once.
I promised myself that I would run up from Boston, but in order to do
this I must first go to Boston.


I am supposing still that I saw Salem before I saw Boston, but however
the fact may be, I am sure that I decided it would be better to see
shoemaking in Lynn, where I really did see it, thirty years later. For
the purposes of the present visit, I contented myself with looking at a
machine in Haverhill, which chewed a shoe sole full of pegs, and dropped
it out of its iron jaws with an indifference as great as my own, and
probably as little sense of how it had done its work. I may be unjust to
that machine; Heaven knows I would not wrong it; and I must confess that
my head had no room in it for the conception of any machinery but the
mythological, which also I despised, in my revulsion from the eighteenth-
century poets to those of my own day.

I cannot quite make out after the lapse of so many years just how or when
I got to Haverhill, or whether it was before or after I had been in
Salem. There is an apparitional quality in my presences, at this point
or that, in the dim past; but I hope that, for the credit of their order,
ghosts are not commonly taken with such trivial things as I was. For
instance, in Haverhill I was much interested by the sight of a young man,
coming gayly down the steps of the hotel where I lodged, in peg-top
trousers so much more peg top than my own that I seemed to be wearing
mere spring-bottoms in comparison; and in a day when every one who
respected himself had a necktie as narrow as he could get, this youth had
one no wider than a shoestring, and red at that, while mine measured
almost an inch, and was black. To be sure, he was one of a band of negro
minstrels, who were to give a concert that night, and he had a light to
excel in fashion.

I will suppose, for convenience' sake, that I visited Haverhill, too,
before I reached Boston: somehow that shoe-pegging machine must come in,
and it may as well come in here. When I actually found myself in Boston,
there were perhaps industries which it would have been well for me to
celebrate, but I either made believe there were none, or else I honestly
forgot all about them. In either case I released myself altogether to
the literary and historical associations of the place. I need not say
that I gave myself first to the first, and it rather surprised me to find
that the literary associations of Boston referred so largely to
Cambridge. I did not know much about Cambridge, except that it was the
seat of the university where Lowell was, and Longfellow had been,
professor; and somehow I had not realized it as the home of these poets.
That was rather stupid of me, but it is best to own the truth, and
afterward I came to know the place so well that I may safely confess my
earlier ignorance.

I had stopped in Boston at the Tremont House, which was still one of the
first hostelries of the country, and I must have inquired my way to
Cambridge there; but I was sceptical of the direction the Cambridge
horse-car took when I found it, and I hinted to the driver my anxieties
as to why he should be starting east when I had been told that Cambridge
was west of Boston. He reassured me in the laconic and sarcastic manner
of his kind, and we really reached Cambridge by the route he had taken.

The beautiful elms that shaded great part of the way massed themselves in
the "groves of academe" at the Square, and showed pleasant glimpses of
"Old Harvard's scholar factories red," then far fewer than now. It must
have been in vacation, for I met no one as I wandered through the college
yard, trying to make up my mind as to how I should learn where Lowell
lived; for it was he whom I had come to find. He had not only taken the
poems I sent him, but he had printed two of them in a single number of
the Atlantic, and had even written me a little note about them, which I
wore next my heart in my breast pocket till I almost wore it out; and so
I thought I might fitly report myself to him. But I have always been
helpless in finding my way, and I was still depressed by my failure to
convince the horse-car driver that he had taken the wrong road. I let
several people go by without questioning them, and those I did ask
abashed me farther by not knowing what I wanted to know. When I had
remitted my search for the moment, an ancient man, with an open mouth and
an inquiring eye, whom I never afterwards made out in Cambridge,
addressed me with a hospitable offer to show me the Washington Elm.
I thought this would give me time to embolden myself for the meeting with
the editor of the Atlantic if I should ever find him, and I went with
that kind old man, who when he had shown me the tree, and the spot where
Washington stood when he took command of the Continental forces, said
that he had a branch of it, and that if I would come to his house with
him he would give me a piece. In the end, I meant merely to flatter him
into telling me where I could find Lowell, but I dissembled my purpose
and pretended a passion for a piece of the historic elm, and the old man
led me not only to his house but his wood-house, where he sawed me off a
block so generous that I could not get it into my pocket. I feigned the
gratitude which I could see that he expected, and then I took courage to
put my question to him. Perhaps that patriarch lived only in the past,
and cared for history and not literature. He confessed that he could not
tell me where to find Lowell; but he did not forsake me; he set forth
with me upon the street again, and let no man pass without asking him.
In the end we met one who was able to say where Mr. Lowell was, and I
found him at last in a little study at the rear of a pleasant,
old-fashioned house near the Delta.

Lowell was not then at the height of his fame; he had just reached this
thirty years after, when he died; but I doubt if he was ever after a
greater power in his own country, or more completely embodied the
literary aspiration which would not and could not part itself from the
love of freedom and the hope of justice. For the sake of these he had
been willing to suffer the reproach which followed their friends in the
earlier days of the anti-slavery struggle: He had outlived the reproach
long before; but the fear of his strength remained with those who had
felt it, and he had not made himself more generally loved by the 'Fable
for Critics' than by the 'Biglow Papers', probably. But in the 'Vision
of Sir Launfal' and the 'Legend of Brittany' he had won a liking if not a
listening far wider than his humor and his wit had got him; and in his
lectures on the English poets, given not many years before he came to the
charge of the Atlantic, he had proved himself easily the wisest and
finest critic in our language. He was already, more than any American

"Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love,"

and he held a place in the public sense which no other author among us
has held. I had myself never been a great reader of his poetry, when I
met him, though when I was a boy of ten years I had heard my father
repeat passages from the Biglow Papers against war and slavery and the
war for slavery upon Mexico, and later I had read those criticisms of
English poetry, and I knew Sir Launfal must be Lowell in some sort; but
my love for him as a poet was chiefly centred in my love for his tender
rhyme, 'Auf Wiedersehen', which I can not yet read without something of
the young pathos it first stirred in me. I knew and felt his greatness
some how apart from the literary proofs of it; he ruled my fancy and held
my allegiance as a character, as a man; and I am neither sorry nor
ashamed that I was abashed when I first came into his presence; and that
in spite of his words of welcome I sat inwardly quaking before him. He
was then forty-one years old, and nineteen my senior, and if there had
been nothing else to awe me, I might well have been quelled by the
disparity of our ages. But I have always been willing and even eager to
do homage to men who have done something, and notably to men who have
done something. in the sort I wished to do something in, myself. I
could never recognize any other sort of superiority; but that I am proud
to recognize; and I had before Lowell some such feeling as an obscure
subaltern might have before his general. He was by nature a bit of a
disciplinarian, and the effect was from him as well as in me; I dare say
he let me feel whatever difference there was as helplessly as I felt it.
At the first encounter with people he always was apt to have a certain
frosty shyness, a smiling cold, as from the long, high-sunned winters of
his Puritan race; he was not quite himself till he had made you aware of
his quality: then no one could be sweeter, tenderer, warmer than he; then
he made you free of his whole heart; but you must be his captive before
he could do that. His whole personality had now an instant charm for me;
I could not keep my eyes from those beautiful eyes of his, which had a
certain starry serenity, and looked out so purely from under his white
forehead, shadowed with auburn hair untouched by age; or from the smile
that shaped the auburn beard, and gave the face in its form and color the
Christ-look which Page's portrait has flattered in it.

His voice had as great a fascination for me as his face. The vibrant
tenderness and the crisp clearness of the tones, the perfect modulation,
the clear enunciation, the exquisite accent, the elect diction--I did not
know enough then to know that these were the gifts, these were the
graces, of one from whose tongue our rough English came music such as I
should never hear from any other. In this speech there was nothing of
our slipshod American slovenliness, but a truly Italian conscience and an
artistic sense of beauty in the instrument.

I saw, before he sat down across his writing-table from me, that he was
not far from the medium height; but his erect carriage made the most of
his five feet and odd inches. He had been smoking the pipe he loved, and
he put it back in his mouth, presently, as if he found himself at greater
ease with it, when he began to chat, or rather to let me show what manner
of young man I was by giving me the first word. I told him of the
trouble I had in finding him, and I could not help dragging in something
about Heine's search for Borne, when he went to see him in Frankfort; but
I felt at once this was a false start, for Lowell was such an impassioned
lover of Cambridge, which was truly his patria, in the Italian sense,
that it must have hurt him to be unknown to any one in it; he said,
a little dryly, that he should not have thought I would have so much
difficulty; but he added, forgivingly, that this was not his own house,
which he was out of for the time. Then he spoke to me of Heine, and when
I showed my ardor for him, he sought to temper it with some judicious
criticisms, and told me that he had kept the first poem I sent him, for
the long time it had been unacknowledged, to make sure that it was not a
translation. He asked me about myself, and my name, and its Welsh
origin, and seemed to find the vanity I had in this harmless enough.
When I said I had tried hard to believe that I was at least the literary
descendant of Sir James Howels, he corrected me gently with "James
Howel," and took down a volume of the 'Familiar Letters' from the shelves
behind him to prove me wrong. This was always his habit, as I found
afterwards when he quoted anything from a book he liked to get it and
read the passage over, as if he tasted a kind of hoarded sweetness in the
words. It visibly vexed him if they showed him in the least mistaken;

"The love he bore to learning was at fault"

for this foible, and that other of setting people right if he thought
them wrong. I could not assert myself against his version of Howels's
name, for my edition of his letters was far away in Ohio, and I was
obliged to own that the name was spelt in several different ways in it.
He perceived, no doubt, why I had chosen the form liked my own, with the
title which the pleasant old turncoat ought to have had from the many
masters he served according to their many minds, but never had except
from that erring edition. He did not afflict me for it, though; probably
it amused him too much; he asked me about the West, and when he found
that I was as proud of the West as I was of Wales, he seemed even better
pleased, and said he had always fancied that human nature was laid out on
rather a larger scale there than in the East, but he had seen very little
of the West. In my heart I did not think this then, and I do not think
it now; human nature has had more ground to spread over in the West; that
is all; but "it was not for me to bandy words with my sovereign." He
said he liked to hear of the differences between the different sections,
for what we had most to fear in our country was a wearisome sameness of

He did not say now, or at any other time during the many years I knew
him, any of those slighting things of the West which I had so often to
suffer from Eastern people, but suffered me to praise it all I would. He
asked me what way I had taken in coming to New England, and when I told
him, and began to rave of the beauty and quaintness of French Canada,
and to pour out my joy in Quebec, he said, with a smile that had now lost
all its frost, Yes, Quebec was a bit of the seventeenth century; it was
in many ways more French than France, and its people spoke the language
of Voltaire, with the accent of Voltaire's time.

I do not remember what else he talked of, though once I remembered it
with what I believed an ineffaceable distinctness. I set nothing of it
down at the time; I was too busy with the letters I was writing for a
Cincinnati paper; and I was severely bent upon keeping all personalities
out of them. This was very well, but I could wish now that I had
transgressed at least so far as to report some of the things that Lowell
said; for the paper did not print my letters, and it would have been
perfectly safe, and very useful for the present purpose. But perhaps he
did not say anything very memorable; to do that you must have something
positive in your listener; and I was the mere response, the hollow echo,
that youth must be in like circumstances. I was all the time afraid of
wearing my welcome out, and I hurried to go when I would so gladly have
staid. I do not remember where I meant to go, or why he should have
undertaken to show me the way across-lots, but this was what he did; and
when we came to a fence, which I clambered gracelessly over, he put his
hands on the top, and tried to take it at a bound. He tried twice, and
then laughed at his failure, but not with any great pleasure, and he was
not content till a third trial carried him across. Then he said,
"I commonly do that the first time," as if it were a frequent habit with
him, while I remained discreetly silent, and for that moment at least
felt myself the elder of the man who had so much of the boy in him. He
had, indeed, much of the boy in him to the last, and he parted with each
hour of his youth reluctantly, pathetically.


We walked across what must have been Jarvis Field to what must have been
North Avenue, and there he left me. But before he let me go he held my
hand while he could say that he wished me to dine with him; only, he was
not in his own house, and he would ask me to dine with him at the Parker
House in Boston, and would send me word of the time later.

I suppose I may have spent part of the intervening time in viewing the
wonders of Boston, and visiting the historic scenes and places in it and
about it. I certainly went over to Charleston, and ascended Bunker Hill
monument, and explored the navy-yard, where the immemorial man-of-war
begun in Jackson's time was then silently stretching itself under its
long shed in a poetic arrest, as if the failure of the appropriation for
its completion had been some kind of enchantment. In Boston, I early
presented my letter of credit to the publisher it was drawn upon, not
that I needed money at the moment, but from a young eagerness to see if
it would be honored; and a literary attache of the house kindly went
about with me, and showed me the life of the city. A great city it
seemed to me then, and a seething vortex of business as well as a whirl
of gaiety, as I saw it in Washington Street, and in a promenade concert
at Copeland's restaurant in Tremont Row. Probably I brought some
idealizing force to bear upon it, for I was not all so strange to the
world as I must seem; perhaps I accounted for quality as well as quantity
in my impressions of the New England metropolis, and aggrandized it in
the ratio of its literary importance. It seemed to me old, even after
Quebec, and very likely I credited the actual town with all the dead and
gone Bostonians in my sentimental census. If I did not, it was no fault
of my cicerone, who thought even more of the city he showed me than I
did. I do not know now who he was, and I never saw him after I came to
live there, with any certainty that it was he, though I was often
tormented with the vision of a spectacled face like his, but not like
enough to warrant me in addressing him.

He became part of that ghostly Boston of my first visit, which would
sometimes return and possess again the city I came to know so familiarly
in later years, and to be so passionately interested in. Some color of
my prime impressions has tinged the fictitious experiences of people in
my books, but I find very little of it in my memory. This is like a web
of frayed old lace, which I have to take carefully into my hold for fear
of its fragility, and make out as best I can the figure once so distinct
in it. There are the narrow streets, stretching saltworks to the docks,
which I haunted for their quaintness, and there is Faunal Hall, which I
cared to see so much more because Wendell Phillips had spoken in it than
because Otis and Adams had. There is the old Colonial House, and there
is the State House, which I dare say I explored, with the Common sloping
before it. There is Beacon Street, with the Hancock House where it is
incredibly no more, and there are the beginnings of Commonwealth Avenue,
and the other streets of the Back Bay, laid out with their basements left
hollowed in the made land, which the gravel trains were yet making out of
the westward hills. There is the Public Garden, newly planned and
planted, but without the massive bridge destined to make so ungratefully
little of the lake that occasioned it. But it is all very vague, and I
could easily believe now that it was some one else who saw it then in my

I think that I did not try to see Cambridge the same day that I saw
Lowell, but wisely came back to my hotel in Boston, and tried to realize
the fact. I went out another day, with an acquaintance from Ohio; whom I
ran upon in the street. We went to Mount Auburn together, and I viewed
its monuments with a reverence which I dare say their artistic quality
did not merit. But I am, not sorry for this, for perhaps they are not
quite so bad as some people pretend. The Gothic chapel of the cemetery,
unsorted as it was, gave me, with its half-dozen statues standing or
sitting about, an emotion such as I am afraid I could not receive now
from the Acropolis, Westminster Abbey, and Santa Crocea in one. I tried
hard for some aesthetic sense of it, and I made believe that I thought
this thing and that thing in the place moved me with its fitness or
beauty; but the truth is that I had no taste in anything but literature,
and did not feel the effect I would so willingly have experienced.

I did genuinely love the elmy quiet of the dear old Cambridge streets,
though, and I had a real and instant pleasure in the yellow colonial
houses, with their white corners and casements and their green blinds,
that lurked behind the shrubbery of the avenue I passed through to Mount
Auburn. The most beautiful among them was the most interesting for me,
for it was the house of Longfellow; my companion, who had seen it before,
pointed it out to me with an air of custom, and I would not let him see
that I valued the first sight of it as I did. I had hoped that somehow I
might be so favored as to see Longfellow himself, but when I asked about
him of those who knew, they said, "Oh, he is at Nahant," and I thought
that Nahant must be a great way off, and at any rate I did not feel
authorized to go to him there. Neither did I go to see the author of
'The Amber Gods' who lived at Newburyport, I was told, as if I should
know where Newburyport was; I did not know, and I hated to ask. Besides,
it did not seem so simple as it had seemed in Ohio, to go and see a young
lady simply because I was infatuated with her literature; even as the
envoy of all the infatuated young people of Columbus, I could not quite
do this; and when I got home, I had to account for my failure as best I
could. Another failure of mine was the sight of Whittier, which I then
very much longed to have. They said, "Oh, Whittier lives at Amesbury,"
but that put him at an indefinite distance, and without the introduction
I never would ask for, I found it impossible to set out in quest of him.
In the end, I saw no one in New England whom I was not presented to in

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