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

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hospitality made it summer the year round, and we all went out to meet
him, when he drove up in his open carriage, with the little sunshade in
his hand, which he took with him for protection against the heat, and
also, a little, I think, for the whim of it. He sat a moment after he
arrived, as if to orient himself in respect to each of us. Beside the
gifted hostess, there was the most charming of all the American
essayists, and the Autocrat seemed at once to find himself singularly at
home with the people who greeted him. There was no interval needed for
fanning away the ashes; he tinkled up before he entered the house, and at
the table he was as vivid and scintillant as I ever saw him, if indeed I
ever saw him as much so. The talk began at once, and we had made him
believe that there was nothing egotistic in his taking the word, or
turning it in illustration from himself upon universal matters. I spoke
among other things of some humble ruins on the road to Gloucester, which
gave the way-side a very aged look; the tumbled foundation-stones of poor
bits of houses, and "Ah," he said, "the cellar and the well?" He added,
to the company generally, "Do you know what I think are the two lines of
mine that go as deep as any others, in a certain direction?" and he began
to repeat stragglingly certain verses from one of his earlier poems,
until he came to the closing couplet. But I will give them in full,
because in going to look them up I have found them so lovely, and because
I can hear his voice again in every fondly accented syllable:

"Who sees unmoved, a ruin at his feet,
The lowliest home where human hearts have beat?
Its hearth-stone, shaded with the bistre stain,
A century's showery torrents wash in vain;
Its starving orchard where the thistle blows,
And mossy trunks still mark the broken rows;
Its chimney-loving poplar, oftenest seen
Next an old roof, or where a roof has been;
Its knot-grass, plantain,--all the social weeds,
Man's mute companions following where he leads;
Its dwarfed pale flowers, that show their straggling heads,
Sown by the wind from grass-choked garden-beds;
Its woodbine creeping where it used to climb;
Its roses breathing of the olden time;
All the poor shows the curious idler sees,
As life's thin shadows waste by slow degrees,
Till naught remains, the saddening tale to tell,
Save home's last wrecks--the CELLAR AND THE WELL!"

The poet's chanting voice rose with a triumphant swell in the climax, and
"There," he said, "isn't it so? The cellar and the well--they can't be
thrown down or burnt up; they are the human monuments that last longest
and defy decay." He rejoiced openly in the sympathy that recognized with
him the divination of a most pathetic, most signal fact, and he repeated
the last couplet again at our entreaty, glad to be entreated for it.
I do not know whether all will agree with him concerning the relative
importance of the lines, but I think all must feel the exquisite beauty
of the picture to which they give the final touch.

He said a thousand witty and brilliant things that day, but his pleasure
in this gave me the most pleasure, and I recall the passage distinctly
out of the dimness that covers the rest. He chose to figure us younger
men, in touching upon the literary circumstance of the past and present,
as representative of modern feeling and thinking, and himself as no
longer contemporary. We knew he did this to be contradicted, and we
protested, affectionately, fervently, with all our hearts and minds; and
indeed there were none of his generation who had lived more widely into
ours. He was not a prophet like Emerson, nor ever a voice crying in the
wilderness like Whittier or Lowell. His note was heard rather amid the
sweet security of streets, but it was always for a finer and gentler
civility. He imagined no new rule of life, and no philosophy or theory
of life will be known by his name. He was not constructive; he was
essentially observant, and in this he showed the scientific nature.
He made his reader known to himself, first in the little, and then in the
larger things. From first to last he was a censor, but a most winning
and delightful censor, who could make us feel that our faults were other
people's, and who was not wont

"To bait his homilies with his brother worms."

At one period he sat in the seat of the scorner, as far as Reform was
concerned, or perhaps reformers, who are so often tedious and ridiculous;
but he seemed to get a new heart with the new mind which came to him when
he began to write the Autocrat papers, and the light mocker of former
days became the serious and compassionate thinker, to whom most truly
nothing that was human was alien. His readers trusted and loved him; few
men have ever written so intimately with so much dignity, and perhaps
none has so endeared himself by saying just the thing for his reader that
his reader could not say for himself. He sought the universal through
himself in others, and he found to his delight and theirs that the most
universal thing was often, if not always, the most personal thing.

In my later meetings with him I was struck more and more by his
gentleness. I believe that men are apt to grow gentler as they grow
older, unless they are of the curmudgeon type, which rusts and crusts
with age, but with Doctor Holmes the gentleness was peculiarly marked.
He seemed to shrink from all things that could provoke controversy, or
even difference; he waived what might be a matter of dispute, and rather
sought the things that he could agree with you upon. In the last talk I
had with him he appeared to have no grudge left, except for the puritanic
orthodoxy in which he had been bred as a child. This he was not able to
forgive, though its tradition was interwoven with what was tenderest and
dearest in his recollections of childhood. We spoke of puritanism, and
I said I sometimes wondered what could be the mind of a man towards life
who had not been reared in its awful shadow, say an English Churchman, or
a Continental Catholic; and he said he could not imagine, and that he did
not believe such a man could at all enter into our feelings; puritanism,
he seemed to think, made an essential and ineradicable difference. I do
not believe he had any of that false sentiment which attributes virtue of
character to severity of creed, while it owns the creed to be wrong.

He differed from Longfellow in often speaking of his contemporaries. He
spoke of them frankly, but with an appreciative rather than a censorious
criticism. Of Longfellow himself he said that day, when I told him I had
been writing about him, and he seemed to me a man without error, that he
could think of but one error in him, and that was an error of taste, of
almost merely literary taste. It was at an earlier time that he talked
of Lowell, after his death, and told me that Lowell once in the fever of
his anti-slavery apostolate had written him, urging him strongly, as a
matter of duty, to come out for the cause he had himself so much at
heart. Afterwards Lowell wrote again, owning himself wrong in his
appeal, which he had come to recognize as invasive. "He was ten years
younger than I," said the doctor.

I found him that day I speak of in his house at Beverly Farms, where he
had a pleasant study in a corner by the porch, and he met me with all the
cheeriness of old. But he confessed that he had been greatly broken up
by the labor of preparing something that might be read at some
commemorative meeting, and had suffered from finding first that he could
not write something specially for it. Even the copying and adapting an
old poem had overtaxed him, and in this he showed the failing powers of
age. But otherwise he was still young, intellectually; that is, there
was no failure of interest in intellectual things, especially literary
things. Some new book lay on the table at his elbow, and he asked me if
I had seen it, and made some joke about his having had the good luck to
read it, and have it lying by him a few days before when the author
called. I do not know whether he schooled himself against an old man's
tendency to revert to the past or not, but I know that he seldom did so.
That morning, however, he made several excursions into it, and told me
that his youthful satire of the 'Spectre Pig' had been provoked by a poem
of the elder Dana's, where a phantom horse had been seriously employed,
with an effect of anticlimax which he had found irresistible. Another
foray was to recall the oppression and depression of his early religious
associations, and to speak with moving tenderness of his father, whose
hard doctrine as a minister was without effect upon his own kindly

In a letter written to me a few weeks after this time, upon an occasion
when he divined that some word from him would be more than commonly dear,
he recurred to the feeling he then expressed: "Fifty-six years ago--more
than half a century--I lost my own father, his age being seventy-three
years. As I have reached that period of life, passed it, and now left it
far behind, my recollections seem to brighten and bring back my boyhood
and early manhood in a clearer and fairer light than it came to me in my
middle decades. I have often wished of late years that I could tell him
how I cherished his memory; perhaps I may have the happiness of saying
all I long to tell him on the other side of that thin partition which I
love to think is all that divides us."

Men are never long together without speaking of women, and I said how
inevitably men's lives ended where they began, in the keeping of women,
and their strength failed at last and surrendered itself to their care.
I had not finished before I was made to feel that I was poaching, and
"Yes," said the owner of the preserve, "I have spoken of that," and he
went on to tell me just where. He was not going to have me suppose I had
invented those notions, and I could not do less than own that I must have
found them in his book, and forgotten it.

He spoke of his pleasant summer life in the air, at once soft and fresh,
of that lovely coast, and of his drives up and down the country roads.
Sometimes this lady and sometimes that came for him, and one or two
habitually, but he always had his own carriage ordered, if they failed,
that he might not fail of his drive in any fair weather. His cottage was
not immediately on the sea, but in full sight of it, and there was a
sense of the sea about it, as there is in all that incomparable region,
and I do not think he could have been at home anywhere beyond the reach
of its salt breath.

I was anxious not to outstay his strength, and I kept my eye on the clock
in frequent glances. I saw that he followed me in one of these, and I
said that I knew what his hours were, and I was watching so that I might
go away in time, and then he sweetly protested. Did I like that chair I
was sitting in? It was a gift to him, and he said who gave it, with a
pleasure in the fact that was very charming, as if he liked the
association of the thing with his friend. He was disposed to excuse the
formal look of his bookcases, which were filled with sets, and presented
some phalanxes of fiction in rather severe array.

When I rose to go, he was concerned about my being able to find my way
readily to the station, and he told me how to go, and what turns to take,
as if he liked realizing the way to himself. I believe he did not walk
much of late years, and I fancy he found much the same pleasure in
letting his imagination make this excursion to the station with me that
he would have found in actually going.

I saw him once more, but only once, when a day or two later he drove up
by our hotel in Magnolia toward the cottage where his secretary was
lodging. He saw us from his carriage, and called us gayly to him, to
make us rejoice with him at having finally got that commemorative poem
off his mind. He made a jest of the trouble it had cost him, even some
sleeplessness, and said he felt now like a convalescent. He was all
brightness, and friendliness, and eagerness to make us feel his mood,
through what was common to us all; and I am glad that this last
impression of him is so one with the first I ever had, and with that
which every reader receives from his work.

That is bright, and friendly and eager too, for it is throughout the very
expression of himself. I think it is a pity if an author disappoints
even the unreasonable expectation of the reader, whom his art has invited
to love him; but I do not believe that Doctor Holmes could inflict this
disappointment. Certainly he could disappoint no reasonable expectation,
no intelligent expectation. What he wrote, that he was, and every one
felt this who met him. He has therefore not died, as some men die, the
remote impersonal sort, but he is yet thrillingly alive in every page of
his books. The quantity of his literature is not great, but the quality
is very surprising, and surprising first of all as equality. From the
beginning to the end he wrote one man, of course in his successive
consciousnesses. Perhaps every one does this, but his work gives the
impression of an uncommon continuity, in spite of its being the effect of
a later and an earlier impulse so very marked as to have made the later
an astonishing revelation to those who thought they knew him.


It is not for me in such a paper as this to attempt any judgment of his
work. I have loved it, as I loved him, with a sense of its limitations
which is by no means a censure of its excellences. He was not a man who
cared to transcend; he liked bounds, he liked horizons, the constancy of
shores. If he put to sea, he kept in sight of land, like the ancient
navigators. He did not discover new continents; and I will own that I,
for my part, should not have liked to sail with Columbus. I think one
can safely affirm that as great and as useful men stayed behind, and
found an America of the mind without stirring from their thresholds.


Appeal, which he had come to recognize as invasive
Appeared to have no grudge left
Could make us feel that our faults were other people's
Hard of hearing on one side. But it isn't deafness
Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Autocrat clashed upon homeopathy
He was not bored because he would not be
He was not constructive; he was essentially observant
His readers trusted and loved him
Men's lives ended where they began, in the keeping of women
Not a man who cared to transcend; he liked bounds
Not much patience with the unmanly craving for sympathy
Old man's disposition to speak of his infirmities
Old man's tendency to revert to the past
Person who wished to talk when he could listen
Reformers, who are so often tedious and ridiculous
Secret of the man who is universally interesting
Sought the things that he could agree with you upon
Spare his years the fatigue of recalling your identity
Study in a corner by the porch
Those who have sorrowed deepest will understand this best
Times when a man's city was a man's country
Turn of the talk toward the mystical
Work gives the impression of an uncommon continuity


by William Dean Howells


We had expected to stay in Boston only until we could find a house in Old
Cambridge. This was not so simple a matter as it might seem; for the
ancient town had not yet quickened its scholarly pace to the modern step.
Indeed, in the spring of 1866 the impulse of expansion was not yet
visibly felt anywhere; the enormous material growth that followed the
civil war had not yet begun. In Cambridge the houses to be let were few,
and such as there were fell either below our pride or rose above our
purse. I wish I might tell how at last we bought a house; we had no
money, but we were rich in friends, who are still alive to shrink from
the story of their constant faith in a financial future which we
sometimes doubted, and who backed their credulity with their credit.
It is sufficient for the present record, which professes to be strictly
literary, to notify the fact that on the first day of May, 1866, we went
out to Cambridge and began to live in a house which we owned in fee if
not in deed, and which was none the less valuable for being covered with
mortgages. Physically, it was a carpenter's box, of a sort which is
readily imagined by the Anglo-American genius for ugliness, but which it
is not so easy to impart a just conception of. A trim hedge of arbor-
vita; tried to hide it from the world in front, and a tall board fence
behind; the little lot was well planted (perhaps too well planted) with
pears, grapes, and currants, and there was a small open space which I
lost no time in digging up for a kitchen-garden. On one side of us were
the open fields; on the other a brief line of neighbor-houses; across the
street before us was a grove of stately oaks, which I never could
persuade Aldrich had painted leaves on them in the fall. We were really
in a poor suburb of a suburb; but such is the fascination of ownership,
even the ownership of a fully mortgaged property, that we calculated the
latitude and longitude of the whole earth from the spot we called ours.
In our walks about Cambridge we saw other places where we might have been
willing to live; only, we said, they were too far off: We even prized the
architecture of our little box, though we had but so lately lived in a
Gothic palace on the Grand Canal in Venice, and were not uncritical of
beauty in the possessions of others. Positive beauty we could not have
honestly said we thought our cottage had as a whole, though we might have
held out for something of the kind in the brackets of turned wood under
its eaves. But we were richly content with it; and with life in
Cambridge, as it began to open itself to us, we were infinitely more than
content. This life, so refined, so intelligent, so gracefully simple, I
do not suppose has anywhere else had its parallel.


It was the moment before the old American customs had been changed by
European influences among people of easier circumstances; and in
Cambridge society kept what was best of its village traditions, and chose
to keep them in the full knowledge of different things. Nearly every one
had been abroad; and nearly every one had acquired the taste for olives
without losing a relish for native sauces; through the intellectual life
there was an entire democracy, and I do not believe that since the
capitalistic era began there was ever a community in which money counted
for less. There was little show of what money could buy; I remember but
one private carriage (naturally, a publisher's); and there was not one
livery, except a livery in the larger sense kept by the stableman Pike,
who made us pay now a quarter and now a half dollar for a seat in his
carriages, according as he lost or gathered courage for the charge. We
thought him extortionate, and we mostly walked through snow and mud of
amazing depth and thickness.

The reader will imagine how acceptable this circumstance was to a young
literary man beginning life with a fully mortgaged house and a salary of
untried elasticity. If there were distinctions made in Cambridge they
were not against literature, and we found ourselves in the midst of a
charming society, indifferent, apparently, to all questions but those of
the higher education which comes so largely by nature. That is to say,
in the Cambridge of that day (and, I dare say, of this) a mind cultivated
in some sort was essential, and after that came civil manners, and the
willingness and ability to be agreeable and interesting; but the question
of riches or poverty did not enter. Even the question of family, which
is of so great concern in New England, was in abeyance. Perhaps it was
taken for granted that every one in Old Cambridge society must be of good
family, or he could not be there; perhaps his mere residence tacitly
ennobled him; certainly his acceptance was an informal patent of
gentility. To my mind, the structure of society was almost ideal, and
until we have a perfectly socialized condition of things I do not believe
we shall ever have a more perfect society. The instincts which governed
it were not such as can arise from the sordid competition of interests;
they flowed from a devotion to letters, and from a self-sacrifice in
material things which I can give no better notion of than by saying that
the outlay of the richest college magnate seemed to be graduated to the
income of the poorest.

In those days, the men whose names have given splendor to Cambridge were
still living there. I shall forget some of them in the alphabetical
enumeration of Louis Agassiz, Francis J. Child, Richard Henry Dana, Jun.,
John Fiske, Dr. Asa Gray, the family of the Jameses, father and sons,
Lowell, Longfellow, Charles Eliot Norton, Dr. John G. Palfrey, James
Pierce, Dr. Peabody, Professor Parsons, Professor Sophocles. The variety
of talents and of achievements was indeed so great that Mr. Bret Harte,
when fresh from his Pacific slope, justly said, after listening to a
partial rehearsal of them, "Why, you couldn't fire a revolver from your
front porch anywhere without bringing down a two-volumer!" Everybody had
written a book, or an article, or a poem; or was in the process or
expectation of doing it, and doubtless those whose names escape me will
have greater difficulty in eluding fame. These kindly, these gifted folk
each came to see us and to make us at home among them; and my home is
still among them, on this side and on that side of the line between the
living and the dead which invisibly passes through all the streets of the
cities of men.


We had the whole summer for the exploration of Cambridge before society
returned from the mountains and the sea-shore, and it was not till
October that I saw Longfellow. I heard again, as I heard when I first
came to Boston, that he was at Nahant, and though Nahant was no longer so
far away, now, as it was then, I did not think of seeking him out even
when we went for a day to explore that coast during the summer. It seems
strange that I cannot recall just when and where I saw him, but early
after his return to Cambridge I had a message from him asking me to come
to a meeting of the Dante Club at Craigie House.

Longfellow was that winter (1866-7) revising his translation of the
'Paradiso', and the Dante Club was the circle of Italianate friends and
scholars whom he invited to follow him and criticise his work from the
original, while he read his version aloud. Those who were most
constantly present were Lowell and Professor Norton, but from time to
time others came in, and we seldom sat down at the nine-o'clock supper
that followed the reading of the canto in less number than ten or twelve.

The criticism, especially from the accomplished Danteists I have named,
was frank and frequent. I believe they neither of them quite agreed with
Longfellow as to the form of version he had chosen, but, waiving that,
the question was how perfectly he had done his work upon the given lines:
I myself, with whatever right, great or little, I may have to an opinion,
believe thoroughly in Longfellow's plan. When I read his version my
sense aches for the rhyme which he rejected, but my admiration for his
fidelity to Dante otherwise is immeasurable. I remember with equal
admiration the subtle and sympathetic scholarship of his critics, who
scrutinized every shade of meaning in a word or phrase that gave them
pause, and did not let it pass till all the reasons and facts had been
considered. Sometimes, and even often, Longfellow yielded to their
censure, but for the most part, when he was of another mind, he held to
his mind, and the passage had to go as he said. I make a little haste to
say that in all the meetings of the Club, during a whole winter of
Wednesday evenings, I myself, though I faithfully followed in an Italian
Dante with the rest, ventured upon one suggestion only. This was kindly,
even seriously, considered by the poet, and gently rejected. He could
not do anything otherwise than gently, and I was not suffered to feel
that I had done a presumptuous thing. I can see him now, as he looked up
from the proof-sheets on the round table before him, and over at me,
growing consciously smaller and smaller, like something through a
reversed opera-glass. He had a shaded drop-light in front of him, and in
its glow his beautiful and benignly noble head had a dignity peculiar to

All the portraits of Longfellow are likenesses more or less bad and good,
for there was something as simple in the physiognomy as in the nature of
the man. His head, after he allowed his beard to grow and wore his hair
long in the manner of elderly men, was leonine, but mildly leonine, as
the old painters conceived the lion of St. Mark. Once Sophocles, the ex-
monk of Mount Athos, so long a Greek professor at Harvard, came in for
supper, after the reading was over, and he was leonine too, but of a
fierceness that contrasted finely with Longfellow's mildness. I remember
the poet's asking him something about the punishment of impaling, in
Turkey, and his answering, with an ironical gleam of his fiery eyes,
"Unhappily, it is obsolete." I dare say he was not so leonine, either,
as he looked.

When Longfellow read verse, it was with a hollow, with a mellow resonant
murmur, like the note of some deep-throated horn. His voice was very
lulling in quality, and at the Dante Club it used to have early effect
with an old scholar who sat in a cavernous armchair at the corner of the
fire, and who drowsed audibly in the soft tone and the gentle heat. The
poet had a fat terrier who wished always to be present at the meetings of
the Club, and he commonly fell asleep at the same moment with that dear
old scholar, so that when they began to make themselves heard in concert,
one could not tell which it was that most took our thoughts from the text
of the Paradiso. When the duet opened, Longfellow would look up with an
arch recognition of the fact, and then go gravely on to the end of the
canto. At the close he would speak to his friend and lead him out to
supper as if he had not seen or heard anything amiss.


In that elect company I was silent, partly because I was conscious of my
youthful inadequacy, and partly because I preferred to listen. But
Longfellow always behaved as if I were saying a succession of edifying
and delightful things, and from time to time he addressed himself to me,
so that I should not feel left out. He did not talk much himself, and I
recall nothing that he said. But he always spoke both wisely and simply,
without the least touch of pose, and with no intention of effect, but
with something that I must call quality for want of a better word; so
that at a table where Holmes sparkled, and Lowell glowed, and Agassiz
beamed, he cast the light of a gentle gaiety, which seemed to dim all
these vivider luminaries. While he spoke you did not miss Fields's story
or Tom Appleton's wit, or even the gracious amity of Mr. Norton, with his
unequalled intuitions.

The supper was very plain: a cold turkey, which the host carved, or a
haunch of venison, or some braces of grouse, or a platter of quails, with
a deep bowl of salad, and the sympathetic companionship of those elect
vintages which Longfellow loved, and which he chose with the inspiration
of affection. We usually began with oysters, and when some one who was
expected did not come promptly, Longfellow invited us to raid his plate,
as a just punishment of his delay. One evening Lowell remarked, with the
cayenne poised above his bluepoints, "It's astonishing how fond these
fellows are of pepper."

The old friend of the cavernous arm-chair was perhaps not wide enough
awake to repress an "Ah?" of deep interest in this fact of natural
history, and Lowell was provoked to go on. "Yes, I've dropped a red
pepper pod into a barrel of them, before now, and then taken them out in
a solid mass, clinging to it like a swarm of bees to their queen."

"Is it possible?" cried the old friend; and then Longfellow intervened to
save him from worse, and turned the talk.

I reproach myself that I made no record of the talk, for I find that only
a few fragments of it have caught in my memory, and that the sieve which
should have kept the gold has let it wash away with the gravel.
I remember once Doctor Holmes's talking of the physician as the true
seer, whose awful gift it was to behold with the fatal second sight of
science the shroud gathering to the throat of many a doomed man
apparently in perfect health, and happy in the promise of unnumbered
days. The thought may have been suggested by some of the toys of
superstition which intellectual people like to play with.

I never could be quite sure at first that Longfellow's brother-in-law,
Appleton, was seriously a spiritualist, even when he disputed the most
strenuously with the unbelieving Autocrat. But he really was in earnest
about it, though he relished a joke at the expense of his doctrine, like
some clerics when they are in the safe company of other clerics. He told
me once of having recounted to Agassiz the facts of a very remarkable
seance, where the souls of the departed outdid themselves in the
athletics and acrobatics they seem so fond of over there, throwing large
stones across the room, moving pianos, and lifting dinner-tables and
setting them a-twirl under the chandelier. "And now," he demanded, "what
do you say to that?" "Well, Mr. Appleton," Agassiz answered, to
Appleton's infinite delight, "I say that it did not happen."

One night they began to speak at the Dante supper of the unhappy man
whose crime is a red stain in the Cambridge annals, and one and another
recalled their impressions of Professor Webster. It was possibly with a
retroactive sense that they had all felt something uncanny in him, but,
apropos of the deep salad-bowl in the centre of the table, Longfellow
remembered a supper Webster was at, where he lighted some chemical in
such a dish and held his head over it, with a handkerchief noosed about
his throat and lifted above it with one hand, while his face, in the pale
light, took on the livid ghastliness of that of a man hanged by the neck.

Another night the talk wandered to the visit which an English author (now
with God) paid America at the height of a popularity long since toppled
to the ground, with many another. He was in very good humor with our
whole continent, and at Longfellow's table he found the champagne even
surprisingly fine. "But," he said to his host, who now told the story,
"it cawn't be genuine, you know!"

Many years afterwards this author revisited our shores, and I dined with
him at Longfellow's, where he was anxious to constitute himself a guest
during his sojourn in our neighborhood. Longfellow was equally anxious
that he should not do so, and he took a harmless pleasure in out-
manoeuvring him. He seized a chance to speak with me alone, and plotted
to deliver him over to me without apparent unkindness, when the latest
horse-car should be going in to Boston, and begged me to walk him to
Harvard Square and put him aboard. "Put him aboard, and don't leave him
till the car starts, and then watch that he doesn't get off."

These instructions he accompanied with a lifting of the eyebrows, and a
pursing of the mouth, in an anxiety not altogether burlesque. He knew
himself the prey of any one who chose to batten on him, and his
hospitality was subject to frightful abuse. Perhaps Mr. Norton has
somewhere told how, when he asked if a certain person who had been
outstaying his time was not a dreadful bore, Longfellow answered, with
angelic patience, "Yes; but then you know I have been bored so often!"

There was one fatal Englishman whom I shared with him during the great
part of a season: a poor soul, not without gifts, but always ready for
more, especially if they took the form of meat and drink. He had brought
letters from one of the best English men alive, who withdrew them too
late to save his American friends from the sad consequences of welcoming
him. So he established himself impregnably in a Boston club, and came
out every day to dine with Longfellow in Cambridge, beginning with his
return from Nahant in October and continuing far into December. That was
the year of the great horse-distemper, when the plague disabled the
transportation in Boston, and cut off all intercourse between the suburb
and the city on the street railways. "I did think," Longfellow
pathetically lamented, "that when the horse-cars stopped running, I
should have a little respite from L., but he walks out."

In the midst of his own suffering he was willing to advise with me
concerning some poems L. had offered to the Atlantic Monthly, and after
we had desperately read them together he said, with inspiration, "I think
these things are more adapted to music than the magazine," and this
seemed so good a notion that when L. came to know their fate from me,
I answered, confidently, "I think they are rather more adapted to music."
He calmly asked, "Why?" and as this was an exigency which Longfellow had
not forecast for me, I was caught in it without hope of escape. I really
do not know what I said, but I know that I did not take the poems, such
was my literary conscience in those days; I am afraid I should be weaker


The suppers of the Dante Club were a relaxation from the severity of
their toils on criticism, and I will not pretend that their table-talk
was of that seriousness which duller wits might have given themselves up
to. The passing stranger, especially if a light or jovial person, was
always welcome, and I never knew of the enforcement of the rule I heard
of, that if you came in without question on the Club nights, you were a
guest; but if you rang or knocked, you could not get in.

Any sort of diversion was hailed, and once Appleton proposed that
Longfellow should show us his wine-cellar. He took up the candle burning
on the table for the cigars, and led the way into the basement of the
beautiful old Colonial mansion, doubly memorable as Washington's
headquarters while he was in Cambridge, and as the home of Longfellow for
so many years. The taper cast just the right gleams on the darkness,
bringing into relief the massive piers of brick, and the solid walls of
stone, which gave the cellar the effect of a casemate in some fortress,
and leaving the corners and distances to a romantic gloom. This basement
was a work of the days when men built more heavily if not more
substantially than now, but I forget, if I ever knew, what date the wine-
cellar was of. It was well stored with precious vintages, aptly
cobwebbed and dusty; but I could not find that it had any more charm than
the shelves of a library: it is the inside of bottles and of books that
makes its appeal. The whole place witnessed a bygone state and luxury,
which otherwise lingered in a dim legend or two. Longfellow once spoke
of certain old love-letters which dropped down on the basement stairs
from some place overhead; and there was the fable or the fact of a
subterranean passage under the street from Craigie House to the old
Batchelder House, which I relate to these letters with no authority I can
allege. But in Craigie House dwelt the proud fair lady who was buried in
the Cambridge church-yard with a slave at her head and a slave at her

"Dust is in her beautiful eyes,"

and whether it was they that smiled or wept in their time over those
love-letters, I will leave the reader to say. The fortunes of her Tory
family fell with those of their party, and the last Vassal ended his days
a prisoner from his creditors in his own house, with a weekly enlargement
on Sundays, when the law could not reach him. It is known how the place
took Longfellow's fancy when he first came to be professor in Harvard,
and how he was a lodger of the last Mistress Craigie there, long before
he became its owner. The house is square, with Longfellow's study where
he read and wrote on the right of the door, and a statelier library
behind it; on the left is the drawing-room, with the dining-room in its
rear; from its square hall climbs a beautiful stairway with twisted
banisters, and a tall clock in their angle.

The study where the Dante Club met, and where I mostly saw Longfellow,
was a plain, pleasant room, with broad panelling in white painted pine;
in the centre before the fireplace stood his round table, laden with
books, papers, and proofs; in the farthest corner by the window was a
high desk which he sometimes stood at to write. In this room Washington
held his councils and transacted his business with all comers; in the
chamber overhead he slept. I do not think Longfellow associated the
place much with him, and I never heard him speak of Washington in
relation to it except once, when he told me with peculiar relish what he
called the true version of a pious story concerning the aide-de-camp who
blundered in upon him while he knelt in prayer. The father of his
country rose and rebuked the young man severely, and then resumed his
devotions. "He rebuked him," said Longfellow, lifting his brows and
making rings round the pupils of his eyes, "by throwing his scabbard at
his head."

All the front windows of Craigie House look, out over the open fields
across the Charles, which is now the Longfellow Memorial Garden. The
poet used to be amused with the popular superstition that he was holding
this vacant ground with a view to a rise in the price of lots, while all
he wanted was to keep a feature of his beloved landscape unchanged.
Lofty elms drooped at the corners of the house; on the lawn billowed
clumps of the lilac, which formed a thick hedge along the fence. There
was a terrace part way down this lawn, and when a white-painted
balustrade was set some fifteen years ago upon its brink, it seemed
always to have been there. Long verandas stretched on either side of the
mansion; and behind was an old-fashioned garden with beds primly edged
with box after a design of the poet's own. Longfellow had a ghost story
of this quaint plaisance, which he used to tell with an artful reserve of
the catastrophe. He was coming home one winter night, and as he crossed
the garden he was startled by a white figure swaying before him. But he
knew that the only way was to advance upon it. He pushed boldly forward,
and was suddenly caught under the throat-by the clothes-line with a long
night-gown on it.

Perhaps it was at the end of a long night of the Dante Club that I heard
him tell this story. The evenings were sometimes mornings before the
reluctant break-up came, but they were never half long enough for me.
I have given no idea of the high reasoning of vital things which I must
often have heard at that table, and that I have forgotten it is no proof
that I did not hear it. The memory will not be ruled as to what it shall
bind and what it shall loose, and I should entreat mine in vain for
record of those meetings other than what I have given. Perhaps it would
be well, in the interest of some popular conceptions of what the social
intercourse of great wits must be, for me to invent some ennobling and
elevating passages of conversation at Longfellow's; perhaps I ought to do
it for the sake of my own repute as a serious and adequate witness. But
I am rather helpless in the matter; I must set down what I remember, and
surely if I can remember no phrase from Holmes that a reader could live
or die by, it is something to recall how, when a certain potent cheese
was passing, he leaned over to gaze at it, and asked: "Does it kick?
Does it kick?" No strain of high poetic thinking remains to me from
Lowell, but he made me laugh unforgettably with his passive adventure one
night going home late, when a man suddenly leaped from the top of a high
fence upon the sidewalk at his feet, and after giving him the worst
fright of his life, disappeared peaceably into the darkness. To be sure,
there was one most memorable supper, when he read the "Bigelow Paper"
he had finished that day, and enriched the meaning of his verse with the
beauty of his voice. There lingers yet in my sense his very tone in
giving the last line of the passage lamenting the waste of the heroic
lives which in those dark hours of Johnson's time seemed to have been

"Butchered to make a blind man's holiday."

The hush that followed upon his ceasing was of that finest quality which
spoken praise always lacks; and I suppose that I could not give a just
notion of these Dante Club evenings without imparting the effect of such
silences. This I could not hopefully undertake to do; but I am tempted
to some effort of the kind by my remembrance of Longfellow's old friend
George Washington Greene, who often came up from his home in Rhode
Island, to be at those sessions, and who was a most interesting and
amiable fact of those delicate silences. A full half of his earlier life
had been passed in Italy, where he and Longfellow met and loved each
other in their youth with an affection which the poet was constant to in
his age, after many vicissitudes, with the beautiful fidelity of his
nature. Greene was like an old Italian house-priest in manner, gentle,
suave, very suave, smooth as creamy curds, cultivated in the elegancies
of literary taste, and with a certain meek abeyance. I think I never
heard him speak, in all those evenings, except when Longfellow addressed
him, though he must have had the Dante scholarship for an occasional
criticism. It was at more recent dinners, where I met him with the
Longfellow family alone, that he broke now and then into a quotation from
some of the modern Italian poets he knew by heart (preferably Giusti),
and syllabled their verse with an exquisite Roman accent and a bewitching
Florentine rhythm. Now and then at these times he brought out a faded
Italian anecdote, faintly smelling of civet, and threadbare in its
ancient texture. He liked to speak of Goldoni and of Nota, of Niccolini
and Manzoni, of Monti and Leopardi; and if you came to America, of the
Revolution and his grandfather, the Quaker General Nathaniel Greene,
whose life he wrote (and I read) in three volumes: He worshipped
Longfellow, and their friendship continued while they lived, but towards
the last of his visits at Craigie House it had a pathos for the witness
which I should grieve to wrong. Greene was then a quivering paralytic,
and he clung tremulously to Longfellow's arm in going out to dinner,
where even the modern Italian poets were silent upon his lips. When we
rose from table, Longfellow lifted him out of his chair, and took him
upon his arm again for their return to the study.

He was of lighter metal than most other members of the Dante Club, and he
was not of their immediate intimacy, living away from Cambridge, as he
did, and I shared his silence in their presence with full sympathy.
I was by far the youngest of their number, and I cannot yet quite make
out why I was of it at all. But at every moment I was as sensible of my
good fortune as of my ill desert. They were the men whom of all men
living I most honored, and it seemed to be impossible that I at my age
should be so perfectly fulfilling the dream of my life in their company.
Often, the nights were very cold, and as I returned home from Craigie
House to the carpenter's box on Sacramento Street, a mile or two away,
I was as if soul-borne through the air by my pride and joy, while the
frozen blocks of snow clinked and tinkled before my feet stumbling along
the middle of the road. I still think that was the richest moment of my
life, and I look back at it as the moment, in a life not unblessed by
chance, which I would most like to live over again--if I must live any.
The next winter the sessions of the Dante Club were transferred to the
house of Mr. Norton, who was then completing his version of the 'Vita
Nuova'. This has always seemed to me a work of not less graceful art
than Longfellow's translation of the 'Commedia'. In fact, it joins the
effect of a sympathy almost mounting to divination with a patient
scholarship and a delicate skill unknown to me elsewhere in such work.
I do not know whether Mr. Norton has satisfied himself better in his
prose version of the 'Commedia' than in this of the 'Vita Nuova', but I
do not believe he could have satisfied Dante better, unless he had rhymed
his sonnets and canzonets. I am sure he might have done this if he had
chosen. He has always pretended that it was impossible, but miracles are
never impossible in the right hands.


After three or four years we sold the carpenter's box on Sacramento
Street, and removed to a larger house near Harvard Square, and in the
immediate neighborhood of Longfellow. He gave me an easement across that
old garden behind his house, through an opening in the high board fence
which enclosed it, and I saw him oftener than ever, though the meetings
of the Dante Club had come to an end. At the last of them, Lowell had
asked him, with fond regret in his jest, "Longfellow, why don't you do
that Indian poem in forty thousand verses?" The demand but feebly
expressed the reluctance in us all, though I suspect the Indian poem
existed only by the challenger's invention. Before I leave my faint and
unworthy record of these great times I am tempted to mention an incident
poignant with tragical associations. The first night after Christmas the
holly and the pine wreathed about the chandelier above the supper-table
took fire from the gas, just as we came out from the reading, and
Longfellow ran forward and caught the burning garlands down and bore them
out. No one could speak for thinking what he must be thinking of when
the ineffable calamity of his home befell it. Curtis once told me that a
little while before Mrs. Longfellow's death he was driving by Craigie
House with Holmes, who said be trembled to look at it, for those who
lived there had their happiness so perfect that no change, of all the
changes which must come to them, could fail to be for the worse.
I did not know Longfellow before that fatal time, and I shall not say
that his presence bore record of it except in my fancy. He may always
have had that look of one who had experienced the utmost harm that fate
can do, and henceforth could possess himself of what was left of life in
peace. He could never have been a man of the flowing ease that makes all
comers at home; some people complained of a certain 'gene' in him; and he
had a reserve with strangers, which never quite lost itself in the
abandon of friendship, as Lowell's did. He was the most perfectly modest
man I ever saw, ever imagined, but he had a gentle dignity which I do not
believe any one, the coarsest, the obtusest, could trespass upon. In the
years when I began to know him, his long hair and the beautiful beard
which mixed with it were of one iron-gray, which I saw blanch to a
perfect silver, while that pearly tone of his complexion, which Appleton
so admired, lost itself in the wanness of age and pain. When he walked,
he had a kind of spring in his gait, as if now and again a buoyant
thought lifted him from the ground. It was fine to meet him coming down
a Cambridge street; you felt that the encounter made you a part of
literary history, and set you apart with him for the moment from the poor
and mean. When he appeared in Harvard Square, he beatified if not
beautified the ugliest and vulgarest looking spot on the planet outside
of New York. You could meet him sometimes at the market, if you were of
the same provision-man as he; and Longfellow remained as constant to his
tradespeople as to any other friends. He rather liked to bring his
proofs back to the printer's himself, and we often found ourselves
together at the University Press, where the Atlantic Monthly used to be
printed. But outside of his own house Longfellow seemed to want a fit
atmosphere, and I love best to think of him in his study, where he
wrought at his lovely art with a serenity expressed in his smooth,
regular, and scrupulously perfect handwriting. It was quite vertical,
and rounded, with a slope neither to the right nor left, and at the time
I knew him first, he was fond of using a soft pencil on printing paper,
though commonly he wrote with a quill. Each letter was distinct in
shape, and between the verses was always the exact space of half an inch.
I have a good many of his poems written in this fashion, but whether they
were the first drafts or not I cannot say; very likely not. Towards the
last he no longer sent his poems to the magazines in his own hand; but
they were always signed in autograph.

I once asked him if he were not a great deal interrupted, and he said,
with a faint sigh, Not more than was good for him, he fancied; if it were
not for the interruptions, he might overwork. He was not a friend to
stated exercise, I believe, nor fond of walking, as Lowell was; he had
not, indeed, the childish associations of the younger poet with the
Cambridge neighborhoods; and I never saw him walking for pleasure except
on the east veranda of his house, though I was told he loved walking in
his youth. In this and in some other things Longfellow was more European
than American, more Latin than Saxon. He once said quaintly that one got
a great deal of exercise in putting on and off one's overcoat and

I suppose no one who asked decently at his door was denied access to him,
and there must have been times when he was overrun with volunteer
visitors; but I never heard him complain of them. He was very charitable
in the immediate sort which Christ seems to have meant; but he had his
preferences; humorously owned, among beggars. He liked the German
beggars least, and the Italian beggars most, as having most savair-faire;
in fact, we all loved the Italians in Cambridge. He was pleased with the
accounts I could give him of the love and honor I had known for him in
Italy, and one day there came a letter from an Italian admirer, addressed
to "Mr. Greatest Poet Longfellow," which he said was the very most
amusing superscription he had ever seen.

It is known that the King of Italy offered Longfellow the cross of San
Lazzaro, which is the Italian literary decoration. It came through the
good offices of my old acquaintance Professor Messadaglia, then a deputy
in the Italian Parliament, whom, for some reason I cannot remember, I had
put in correspondence with Longfellow. The honor was wholly unexpected,
and it brought Longfellow a distress which was chiefly for the gentleman
who had procured him the impossible distinction. He showed me the pretty
collar and cross, not, I think, without a natural pleasure in it. No man
was ever less a bigot in things civil or religious than he, but he said,
firmly, "Of course, as a republican and a Protestant, I can't accept a
decoration from a Catholic prince." His decision was from his
conscience, and I think that all Americans who think duly about it will
approve his decision.


Such honors as he could fitly permit himself he did not refuse, and I
recall what zest he had in his election to the Arcadian Academy, which
had made him a shepherd of its Roman Fold, with the title, as he said, of
"Olimipico something." But I fancy his sweetest pleasure in his vast
renown came from his popular recognition everywhere. Few were the lands,
few the languages he was unknown to: he showed me a version of the "Psalm
of Life" in Chinese. Apparently even the poor lost autograph-seeker was
not denied by his universal kindness; I know that he kept a store of
autographs ready written on small squares of paper for all who applied by
letter or in person; he said it was no trouble; but perhaps he was to be
excused for refusing the request of a lady for fifty autographs, which
she wished to offer as a novel attraction to her guests at a lunch party.

Foreigners of all kinds thronged upon him at their pleasure, apparently,
and with perfect impunity. Sometimes he got a little fun, very, very
kindly, out of their excuses and reasons; and the Englishman who came to
see him because there were no ruins to visit in America was no fable, as
I can testify from the poet himself. But he had no prejudice against
Englishmen, and even at a certain time when the coarse-handed British
criticism began to blame his delicate art for the universal acceptance of
his verse, and to try to sneer him into the rank of inferior poets, he
was without rancor for the clumsy misliking that he felt. He could not
understand rudeness; he was too finely framed for that; he could know it
only as Swedenborg's most celestial angels perceived evil, as something
distressful, angular. The ill-will that seemed nearly always to go with
adverse criticism made him distrust criticism, and the discomfort which
mistaken or blundering praise gives probably made him shy of all
criticism. He said that in his early life as an author he used to seek
out and save all the notices of his poems, but in his latter days he read
only those that happened to fall in his way; these he cut out and amused
his leisure by putting together in scrapbooks. He was reluctant to make
any criticism of other poets; I do not remember ever to have heard him
make one; and his writings show no trace of the literary dislikes or
contempts which we so often mistake in ourselves for righteous judgments.
No doubt he had his resentments, but he hushed them in his heart, which
he did not suffer them to embitter. While Poe was writing of "Longfellow
and other Plagiarists," Longfellow was helping to keep Poe alive by the
loans which always made themselves gifts in Poe's case. He very, very
rarely spoke of himself at all, and almost never of the grievances which
he did not fail to share with all who live.

He was patient, as I said, of all things, and gentle beyond all mere
gentlemanliness. But it would have been a great mistake to mistake his
mildness for softness. It was most manly and firm; and of course it was
braced with the New England conscience he was born to. If he did not
find it well to assert himself, he was prompt in behalf of his friends,
and one of tho fine things told of him was his resenting some censures of
Sumner at a dinner in Boston during the old pro-slavery times: he said to
the gentlemen present that Sumner was his friend, and he must leave their
company if they continued to assail him.

But he spoke almost as rarely of his friends as of himself. He liked the
large, impersonal topics which could be dealt with on their human side,
and involved characters rather than individuals. This was rather strange
in Cambridge, where we were apt to take our instances from the
environment. It was not the only thing he was strange in there; he was
not to that manner born; he lacked the final intimacies which can come
only of birth and lifelong association, and which make the men of the
Boston breed seem exclusive when they least feel so; he was Longfellow to
the friends who were James, and Charles, and Wendell to one another. He
and Hawthorne were classmates at college, but I never heard him mention
Hawthorne; I never heard him mention Whittier or Emerson. I think his
reticence about his contemporaries was largely due to his reluctance from
criticism: he was the finest artist of them all, and if he praised he
must have praised with the reservations of an honest man. Of younger
writers he was willing enough to speak. No new contributor made his mark
in the magazine unnoted by him, and sometimes I showed him verse in
manuscript which gave me peculiar pleasure. I remember his liking for
the first piece that Mr. Maurice Thompson sent me, and how he tasted the
fresh flavor of it, and inhaled its wild new fragrance. He admired the
skill of some of the young story-tellers; he praised the subtlety of one
in working out an intricate character, and said modestly that he could
never have done that sort of thing himself. It was entirely safe to
invite his judgment when in doubt, for he never suffered it to become
aggressive, or used it to urge upon me the manuscripts that must often
have been urged upon him.

Longfellow had a house at Nahant where he went every summer for more than
a quarter of a century. He found the slight transition change enough
from Cambridge, and liked it perhaps because it did not take him beyond
the range of the friends and strangers whose company he liked. Agassiz
was there, and Appleton; Sumner came to sojourn with him; and the
tourists of all nations found him there in half an hour after they
reached Boston. His cottage was very plain and simple, but was rich in
the sight of the illimitable, sea, and it had a luxury of rocks at the
foot of its garden, draped with sea-weed, and washed with the
indefatigable tides. As he grew older and feebler he ceased to go to
Nahant; he remained the whole year round at Cambridge; he professed to
like the summer which he said warmed him through there, better than the
cold spectacle of summer which had no such effect at Nahant.

The hospitality which was constant at either house was not merely of the
worldly sort. Longfellow loved good cheer; he tasted history and poetry
in a precious wine; and he liked people who were acquainted with manners
and men, and brought the air of capitals with them. But often the man
who dined with Longfellow was the man who needed a dinner; and from what
I have seen of the sweet courtesy that governed at that board, I am sure
that such a man could never have felt himself the least honored guest.
The poet's heart was open to all the homelessness of the world; and I
remember how once when we sat at his table and I spoke of his poem of
"The Challenge," then a new poem, and said how I had been touched by the
fancy of

"The poverty-stricken millions
Who challenge our wine and bread,
And impeach us all as traitors,
Both the living and the dead,"

his voice sank in grave humility as he answered, "Yes, I often think of
those things." He had thought of them in the days of the slave, when he
had taken his place with the friends of the hopeless and hapless, and as
long as he lived he continued of the party which had freed the slave.
He did not often speak of politics, but when the movement of some of the
best Republicans away from their party began, he said that he could not
see the wisdom of their course. But this was said without censure or
criticism of them, and so far as I know he never permitted himself
anything like denunciation of those who in any wise differed from him.
On a matter of yet deeper interest, I do not feel authorized to speak for
him, but I think that as he grew older, his hold upon anything like a
creed weakened, though he remained of the Unitarian philosophy concerning
Christ. He did not latterly go to church, I believe; but then, very few
of his circle were church-goers. Once he said something very vague and
uncertain concerning the doctrine of another life when I affirmed my hope
of it, to the effect that he wished he could be sure, with the sigh that
so often clothed the expression of a misgiving with him.


When my acquaintance with Longfellow began he had written the things that
made his fame, and that it will probably rest upon: "Evangeline,"
"Hiawatha," and the "Courtship of Miles Standish" were by that time old
stories. But during the eighteen years that I knew him he produced the
best of his minor poems, the greatest of his sonnets, the sweetest of his
lyrics. His art ripened to the last, it grew richer and finer, and it
never knew decay. He rarely read anything of his own aloud, but in three
or four cases he read to me poems he had just finished, as if to give
himself the pleasure of hearing them with the sympathetic sense of
another. The hexameter piece, "Elizabeth," in the third part of "Tales
of a Wayside Inn," was one of these, and he liked my liking its
rhythmical form, which I believed one of the measures best adapted to the
English speech, and which he had used himself with so much pleasure and

About this time he was greatly interested in the slight experiments I was
beginning to make in dramatic form, and he said that if he were himself a
young man he should write altogether for the stage; he thought the drama
had a greater future with us. He was pleased when a popular singer
wished to produce his "Masque of Pandora," with music, and he was patient
when it failed of the effect hoped for it as an opera. When the late
Lawrence Barrett, in the enthusiasm which was one of the fine traits of
his generous character, had taken my play of "A Counterfeit Presentment,"
and came to the Boston Museum with it, Longfellow could not apparently
have been more zealous for its popular acceptance if it had been his own
work. He invited himself to one of the rehearsals with me, and he sat
with me on the stage through the four acts with a fortitude which I still
wonder at, and with the keenest zest for all the details of the
performance. No finer testimony to the love and honor which all kinds of
people had for him could have been given than that shown by the actors
and employees of the theatre, high and low. They thronged the scenery,
those who were not upon the stage, and at the edge of every wing were
faces peering round at the poet, who sat unconscious of their adoration,
intent upon the play. He was intercepted at every step in going out, and
made to put his name to the photographs of himself which his worshippers
produced from their persons.

He came to the first night of the piece, and when it seemed to be finding
favor with the public, he leaned forward out of his line to nod and smile
at the author; when they, had the author up, it was the sweetest flattery
of the applause which abused his fondness that Longfellow clapped first
and loudest.

Where once he had given his kindness he could not again withhold it, and
he was anxious no fact should be interpreted as withdrawal. When the
Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil, who was so great a lover of Longfellow,
came to Boston, he asked himself out to dine with the poet, who had
expected to offer him some such hospitality. Soon after, Longfellow met
me, and as if eager to forestall a possible feeling in me, said,
"I wanted to ask you to dinner with the Emperor, but he not only sent
word he was coming, he named his fellow-guests!" I answered that though
I should probably never come so near dining with an emperor again, I
prized his wish to ask me much more than the chance I had missed; and
with this my great and good friend seemed a little consoled. I believe
that I do not speak too confidently of our relation. He was truly the
friend of all men, but I had certainly the advantage of my propinquity.
We were near neighbors, as the pleonasm has it, both when I lived on
Berkeley Street and after I had built my own house on Concord Avenue;
and I suppose he found my youthful informality convenient. He always
asked me to dinner when his old friend Greene came to visit him, and then
we had an Italian time together, with more or less repetition in our
talk, of what we had said before of Italian poetry and Italian character.
One day there came a note from him saying, in effect, "Salvini is coming
out to dine with me tomorrow night, and I want you to come too. There
will be no one else but Greene and myself, and we will have an Italian

Unhappily I had accepted a dinner in Boston for that night, and this
invitation put me in great misery. I must keep my engagement, but how
could I bear to miss meeting Salvini at Longfellow's table on terms like
these? We consulted at home together and questioned whether I might not
rush into Boston, seek out my host there, possess him of the facts, and
frankly throw myself on his mercy. Then a sudden thought struck us:
Go to Longfellow, and submit the case to him! I went, and he entered
with delicate sympathy into the affair. But he decided that, taking the
large view of it, I must keep my engagement, lest I should run even a
remote risk of wounding my friend's susceptibilities. I obeyed, and I
had a very good time, but I still feel that I missed the best time of my
life, and that I ought to be rewarded for my sacrifice, somewhere.

Longfellow so rarely spoke of himself in any way that one heard from him
few of those experiences of the distinguished man in contact with the
undistinguished, which he must have had so abundantly. But he told,
while it was fresh in his mind, an incident that happened to him one day
in Boston at a tobacconist's, where a certain brand of cigars was
recommended to him as the kind Longfellow smoked. "Ah, then I must have
some of them; and I will ask you to send me a box," said Longfellow, and
he wrote down his name and address. The cigar-dealer read it with the
smile of a worsted champion, and said, "Well, I guess you had me, that
time." At a funeral a mourner wished to open conversation, and by way of
suggesting a theme of common interest, began, "You've buried, I believe?"

Sometimes people were shown by the poet through Craigie House who had no
knowledge of it except that it had been Washington's headquarters. Of
course Longfellow was known by sight to every one in Cambridge. He was
daily in the streets, while his health endured, and as he kept no
carriage, he was often to be met in the horse-cars, which were such
common ground in Cambridge that they were often like small invited
parties of friends when they left Harvard Square, so that you expected
the gentlemen to jump up and ask the ladies whether they would have
chicken salad. In civic and political matters he mingled so far as to
vote regularly, and he voted with his party, trusting it for a general
regard to the public welfare.

I fancy he was somewhat shy of his fellow-men, as the scholar seems
always to be, from the sequestered habit of his life; but I think
Longfellow was incapable of marking any difference between himself and
them. I never heard from him anything that was 'de haut en bas', when he
spoke of people, and in Cambridge, where there was a good deal of
contempt for the less lettered, and we liked to smile though we did not
like to sneer, and to analyze if we did not censure, Longfellow and
Longfellow's house were free of all that. Whatever his feeling may have
been towards other sorts and conditions of men, his effect was of an
entire democracy. He was always the most unassuming person in any
company, and at some large public dinners where I saw him I found him
patient of the greater attention that more public men paid themselves and
one another. He was not a speaker, and I never saw him on his feet at
dinner, except once, when he read a poem for Whittier, who was absent.
He disliked after-dinner speaking, and made conditions for his own
exemption from it.


Once your friend, Longfellow was always your friend; he would not think
evil of you, and if he knew evil of you, he would be the last of all that
knew it to judge you for it. This may have been from the impersonal
habit of his mind, but I believe it was also the effect of principle, for
he would do what he could to arrest the delivery of judgment from others,
and would soften the sentences passed in his presence. Naturally this
brought him under some condemnation with those of a severer cast; and I
have heard him criticised for his benevolence towards all, and his
constancy to some who were not quite so true to themselves, perhaps.
But this leniency of Longfellow's was what constituted him great as well
as good, for it is not our wisdom that censures others. As for his
goodness, I never saw a fault in him. I do not mean to say that he had
no faults, or that there were no better men, but only to give the witness
of my knowledge concerning him. I claim in no wise to have been his
intimate; such a thing was not possible in my case for quite apparent
reasons; and I doubt if Longfellow was capable of intimacy in the sense
we mostly attach to the word. Something more of egotism than I ever
found in him must go to the making of any intimacy which did not come
from the tenderest affections of his heart. But as a man shows himself
to those often with him, and in his noted relations with other men, he
showed himself without blame. All men that I have known, besides, have
had some foible (it often endeared them the more), or some meanness, or
pettiness, or bitterness; but Longfellow had none, nor the suggestion of
any. No breath of evil ever touched his name; he went in and out among
his fellow-men without the reproach that follows wrong; the worst thing I
ever heard said of him was that he had 'gene', and this was said by one
of those difficult Cambridge men who would have found 'gene' in a
celestial angel. Something that Bjornstjerne Bjornson wrote to me when
he was leaving America after a winter in Cambridge, comes nearer
suggesting Longfellow than all my talk. The Norsemen, in the days of
their stormy and reluctant conversion, used always to speak of Christ as
the White Christ, and Bjornson said in his letter, "Give my love to the
White Mr. Longfellow."

A good many, years before Longfellow's death he began to be sleepless,
and he suffered greatly. He said to me once that he felt as if he were
going about with his heart in a kind of mist. The whole night through he
would not be aware of having slept. "But," he would add, with his
heavenly patience, "I always get a good deal of rest from lying down so
long." I cannot say whether these conditions persisted, or how much his
insomnia had to do with his breaking health; three or four years before
the end came, we left Cambridge for a house farther in the country, and I
saw him less frequently than before. He did not allow our meetings to
cease; he asked me to dinner from time to time, as if to keep them up,
but it could not be with the old frequency. Once he made a point of
coming to see us in our cottage on the hill west of Cambridge, but it was
with an effort not visible in the days when he could end one of his brief
walks at our house on Concord Avenue; he never came but he left our house
more luminous for his having been there. Once he came to supper there to
meet Garfield (an old family friend of mine in Ohio), and though he was
suffering from a heavy cold, he would not scant us in his stay. I had
some very bad sherry which he drank with the serenity of a martyr, and I
shudder to this day to think what his kindness must have cost him. He
told his story of the clothes-line ghost, and Garfield matched it with
the story of an umbrella ghost who sheltered a friend of his through a
midnight storm, but was not cheerful company to his beneficiary, who
passed his hand through him at one point in the effort to take his arm.

After the end of four years I came to Cambridge to be treated for a long
sickness, which had nearly been my last, and when I could get about I
returned the visit Longfellow had not failed to pay me. But I did not
find him, and I never saw him again in life. I went into Boston to
finish the winter of 1881-2, and from time to time I heard that the poet
was failing in health. As soon as I felt able to bear the horse-car
journey I went out to Cambridge to see him. I had knocked once at his
door, the friendly door that had so often opened to his welcome, and
stood with the knocker in my hand when the door was suddenly set ajar,
and a maid showed her face wet with tears. "How is Mr. Longfellow?"
I palpitated, and with a burst of grief she answered, "Oh, the poor
gentleman has just departed!" I turned away as if from a helpless
intrusion at a death-bed.

At the services held in the house before the obsequies at the cemetery, I
saw the poet for the last time, where

"Dead he lay among his books,"

in the library behind his study. Death seldom fails to bring serenity to
all, and I will not pretend that there was a peculiar peacefulness in
Longfellow's noble mask, as I saw it then. It was calm and benign as it
had been in life; he could not have worn a gentler aspect in going out of
the world than he had always worn in it; he had not to wait for death to
dignify it with "the peace of God." All who were left of his old
Cambridge were present, and among those who had come farther was Emerson.
He went up to the bier, and with his arms crossed on his breast, and his
elbows held in either hand, stood with his head pathetically fallen
forward, looking down at the dead face. Those who knew how his memory
was a mere blank, with faint gleams of recognition capriciously coming
and going in it, must have felt that he was struggling to remember who
it was lay there before him; and for me the electly simple words
confessing his failure will always be pathetic with his remembered
aspect: "The gentleman we have just been burying," he said, to the friend
who had come with him, "was a sweet and beautiful soul; but I forget his

I had the privilege and honor of looking over the unprinted poems
Longfellow left behind him, and of helping to decide which of them should
be published.

There were not many of them, and some of these few were quite
fragmentary. I gave my voice for the publication of all that had any
sort of completeness, for in every one there was a touch of his exquisite
art, the grace of his most lovely spirit. We have so far had two men
only who felt the claim of their gift to the very best that the most
patient skill could give its utterance: one was Hawthorne and the other
was Longfellow. I shall not undertake to say which was the greater
artist of these two; but I am sure that every one who has studied it must
feel with me that the art of Longfellow held out to the end with no touch
of decay in it, and that it equalled the art of any other poet of his
time. It knew when to give itself, and more and more it knew when to
withhold itself.

What Longfellow's place in literature will be, I shall not offer to say;
that is Time's affair, not mine; but I am sure that with Tennyson and
Browning he fully shared in the expression of an age which more
completely than any former age got itself said by its poets.


Anglo-American genius for ugliness
Backed their credulity with their credit
Candle burning on the table for the cigars
Discomfort which mistaken or blundering praise
Fell either below our pride or rose above our purse
Literary dislikes or contempts
Memory will not be ruled
Shy of his fellow-men, as the scholar seems always to be


by William Dean Howells


I have already spoken of my earliest meetings with Lowell at Cambridge
when I came to New England on a literary pilgrimage from the West in
1860. I saw him more and more after I went to live in Cambridge in 1866;
and I now wish to record what I knew of him during the years that passed
between this date and that of his death. If the portrait I shall try to
paint does not seem a faithful likeness to others who knew him, I shall
only claim that so he looked to me, at this moment and at that. If I do
not keep myself quite out of the picture, what painter ever did?


It was in the summer of 1865 that I came home from my consular post at
Venice; and two weeks after I landed in Boston, I went out to see Lowell
at Elmwood, and give him an inkstand that I had brought him from Italy.
The bronze lobster whose back opened and disclosed an inkpot and a sand-
box was quite ugly; but I thought it beautiful then, and if Lowell
thought otherwise he never did anything to let me know it. He put the
thing in the middle of his writing-table (he nearly always wrote on a
pasteboard pad resting upon his knees), and there it remained as long as
I knew the place--a matter of twenty-five years; but in all that time I
suppose the inkpot continued as dry as the sand-box.

My visit was in the heat of August, which is as fervid in Cambridge as it
can well be anywhere, and I still have a sense of his study windows
lifted to the summer night, and the crickets and grasshoppers crying in
at them from the lawns and the gardens outside. Other people went away
from Cambridge in the summer to the sea and to the mountains, but Lowell
always stayed at Elmwood, in an impassioned love for his home and for his
town. I must have found him there in the afternoon, and he must have
made me sup with him (dinner was at two o'clock) and then go with him for
a long night of talk in his study. He liked to have some one help him
idle the time away, and keep him as long as possible from his work; and
no doubt I was impersonally serving his turn in this way, aside from any
pleasure he might have had in my company as some one he had always been
kind to, and as a fresh arrival from the Italy dear to us both.

He lighted his pipe, and from the depths of his easychair, invited my shy
youth to all the ease it was capable of in his presence. It was not
much; I loved him, and he gave me reason to think that he was fond of me,
but in Lowell I was always conscious of an older and closer and stricter
civilization than my own, an unbroken tradition, a more authoritative
status. His democracy was more of the head and mine more of the heart,
and his denied the equality which mine affirmed. But his nature was so
noble and his reason so tolerant that whenever in our long acquaintance
I found it well to come to open rebellion, as I more than once did,
he admitted my right of insurrection, and never resented the outbreak.
I disliked to differ with him, and perhaps he subtly felt this so much
that he would not dislike me for doing it. He even suffered being taxed
with inconsistency, and where he saw that he had not been quite just, he
would take punishment for his error, with a contrition that was sometimes
humorous and always touching.

Just then it was the dark hour before the dawn with Italy, and he was
interested but not much encouraged by what I could tell him of the
feeling in Venice against the Austrians. He seemed to reserve a like
scepticism concerning the fine things I was hoping for the Italians in
literature, and he confessed an interest in the facts treated which in
the retrospect, I am aware, was more tolerant than participant of my
enthusiasm. That was always Lowell's attitude towards the opinions of
people he liked, when he could not go their lengths with them, and
nothing was more characteristic of his affectionate nature and his just
intelligence. He was a man of the most strenuous convictions, but he
loved many sorts of people whose convictions he disagreed with, and he
suffered even prejudices counter to his own if they were not ignoble.
In the whimsicalities of others he delighted as much as in his own.


Our associations with Italy held over until the next day, when after
breakfast he went with me towards Boston as far as "the village": for so
he liked to speak of Cambridge in the custom of his younger days when
wide tracts of meadow separated Harvard Square from his life-long home at
Elmwood. We stood on the platform of the horsecar together, and when I
objected to his paying my fare in the American fashion, he allowed that
the Italian usage of each paying for himself was the politer way.
He would not commit himself about my returning to Venice (for I had not
given up my place, yet, and was away on leave), but he intimated his
distrust of the flattering conditions of life abroad. He said it was
charming to be treated 'da signore', but he seemed to doubt whether it
was well; and in this as in all other things he showed his final fealty
to the American ideal.

It was that serious and great moment after the successful close of the
civil war when the republican consciousness was more robust in us than
ever before or since; but I cannot recall any reference to the historical
interest of the time in Lowell's talk. It had been all about literature
and about travel; and now with the suggestion of the word village it
began to be a little about his youth. I have said before how reluctant
he was to let his youth go from him; and perhaps the touch with my
juniority had made him realize how near he was to fifty, and set him
thinking of the past which had sorrows in it to age him beyond his years.
He would never speak of these, though he often spoke of the past. He
told once of having been on a brief journey when he was six years old,
with his father, and of driving up to the gate of Elmwood in the evening,
and his father saying, "Ah, this is a pleasant place! I wonder who
lives here--what little boy?" At another time he pointed out a certain
window in his study, and said he could see himself standing by it when he
could only get his chin on the window-sill. His memories of the house,
and of everything belonging to it, were very tender; but he could laugh
over an escapade of his youth when he helped his fellow-students pull
down his father's fences, in the pure zeal of good-comradeship.


My fortunes took me to New York, and I spent most of the winter of 1865-6
writing in the office of 'The Nation'. I contributed several sketches of
Italian travel to that paper; and one of these brought me a precious
letter from Lowell. He praised my sketch, which he said he had read
without the least notion who had written it, and he wanted me to feel the
full value of such an impersonal pleasure in it. At the same time he did
not fail to tell me that he disliked some pseudo-cynical verses of mine
which he had read in another place; and I believe it was then that he
bade me "sweat the Heine out of" me, "as men sweat the mercury out of
their bones."

When I was asked to be assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and came
on to Boston to talk the matter over with the publishers, I went out to
Cambridge and consulted Lowell. He strongly urged me to take the
position (I thought myself hopefully placed in New York on The Nation);
and at the same time he seemed to have it on his heart to say that he had
recommended some one else for it, never, he owned, having thought of me.

He was most cordial, but after I came to live in Cambridge (where the
magazine was printed, and I could more conveniently look over the
proofs), he did not call on me for more than a month, and seemed quite to
have forgotten me. We met one night at Mr. Norton's, for one of the
Dante readings, and he took no special notice of me till I happened to
say something that offered him a chance to give me a little humorous
snub. I was speaking of a paper in the Magazine on the "Claudian
Emissary," and I demanded (no doubt a little too airily) something like
"Who in the world ever heard of the Claudian Emissary?" "You are in
Cambridge, Mr. Howells," Lowell answered, and laughed at my confusion.
Having put me down, he seemed to soften towards me, and at parting he
said, with a light of half-mocking tenderness in his beautiful eyes,
"Goodnight, fellow-townsman." "I hardly knew we were fellow-townsmen," I
returned. He liked that, apparently, and said he had been meaning to
call upon me; and that he was coming very soon.

He was as good as his word, and after that hardly a week of any kind of
weather passed but he mounted the steps to the door of the ugly little
house in which I lived, two miles away from him, and asked me to walk.
These walks continued, I suppose, until Lowell went abroad for a winter
in the early seventies. They took us all over Cambridge, which he knew
and loved every inch of, and led us afield through the straggling,
unhandsome outskirts, bedrabbled with squalid Irish neighborhoods, and
fraying off into marshes and salt meadows. He liked to indulge an excess
of admiration for the local landscape, and though I never heard him
profess a preference for the Charles River flats to the finest Alpine
scenery, I could well believe he would do so under provocation of a fit
listener's surprise. He had always so much of the boy in him that he
liked to tease the over-serious or over-sincere. He liked to tease and
he liked to mock, especially his juniors, if any touch of affectation, or
any little exuberance of manner gave him the chance; when he once came to
fetch me, and the young mistress of the house entered with a certain
excessive elasticity, he sprang from his seat, and minced towards her,
with a burlesque of her buoyant carriage which made her laugh. When he
had given us his heart in trust of ours, he used us like a younger
brother and sister; or like his own children. He included our children
in his affection, and he enjoyed our fondness for them as if it were
something that had come back to him from his own youth. I think he had
also a sort of artistic, a sort of ethical pleasure in it, as being of
the good tradition, of the old honest, simple material, from which
pleasing effects in literature and civilization were wrought. He liked
giving the children books, and writing tricksy fancies in these, where he
masked as a fairy prince; and as long as he lived he remembered his early
kindness for them.


In those walks of ours I believe he did most of the talking, and from his
talk then and at other times there remains to me an impression of his
growing conservatism. I had in fact come into his life when it had spent
its impulse towards positive reform, and I was to be witness of its
increasing tendency towards the negative sort. He was quite past the
storm and stress of his anti-slavery age; with the close of the war which
had broken for him all his ideals of inviolable peace, he had reached the
age of misgiving. I do not mean that I ever heard him express doubt of
what he had helped to do, or regret for what he had done; but I know that
he viewed with critical anxiety what other men were doing with the
accomplished facts. His anxiety gave a cast of what one may call
reluctance from the political situation, and turned him back towards
those civic and social defences which he had once seemed willing to
abandon. I do not mean that he lost faith in democracy; this faith he
constantly then and signally afterwards affirmed; but he certainly had no
longer any faith in insubordination as a means of grace. He preached a
quite Socratic reverence for law, as law, and I remember that once when
I had got back from Canada in the usual disgust for the American custom-
house, and spoke lightly of smuggling as not an evil in itself, and
perhaps even a right under our vexatious tariff, he would not have it,
but held that the illegality of the act made it a moral of fence. This
was not the logic that would have justified the attitude of the anti-
slavery men towards the fugitive slave act; but it was in accord with
Lowell's feeling about John Brown, whom he honored while always
condemning his violation of law; and it was in the line of all his later
thinking. In this, he wished you to agree with him, or at least he
wished to make you; but he did not wish you to be more of his mind than
he was himself. In one of those squalid Irish neighborhoods I confessed
a grudge (a mean and cruel grudge, I now think it) for the increasing
presence of that race among us, but this did not please him; and I am
sure that whatever misgiving he had as to the future of America, he would
not have had it less than it had been the refuge and opportunity of the
poor of any race or color. Yet he would not have had it this alone.
There was a line in his poem on Agassiz which he left out of the printed
version, at the fervent entreaty of his friends, as saying too bitterly
his disappointment with his country. Writing at the distance of Europe,
and with America in the perspective which the alien environment clouded,
he spoke of her as "The Land of Broken Promise." It was a splendid
reproach, but perhaps too dramatic to bear the full test of analysis,
and yet it had the truth in it, and might, I think, have usefully stood,
to the end of making people think. Undoubtedly it expressed his sense of
the case, and in the same measure it would now express that of many who
love their country most among us. It is well to hold one's country to
her promises, and if there are any who think she is forgetting them it is
their duty to say so, even to the point of bitter accusation. I do not
suppose it was the "common man" of Lincoln's dream that Lowell thought
America was unfaithful to, though as I have suggested he could be tender
of the common man's hopes in her; but he was impeaching in that blotted
line her sincerity with the uncommon man: the man who had expected of her
a constancy to the ideals of her youth end to the high martyr-moods of
the war which had given an unguarded and bewildering freedom to a race of
slaves. He was thinking of the shame of our municipal corruptions, the
debased quality of our national statesmanship, the decadence of our whole
civic tone, rather than of the increasing disabilities of the hard-
working poor, though his heart when he thought of them was with them,
too, as it was in "the time when the slave would not let him sleep."

He spoke very rarely of those times, perhaps because their political and
social associations were so knit up with the saddest and tenderest
personal memories, which it was still anguish to touch. Not only was he

"--not of the race
That hawk, their sorrows in the market place,"

but so far as my witness went he shrank from mention of them. I do not
remember hearing him speak of the young wife who influenced him so
potently at the most vital moment, and turned him from his whole
scholarly and aristocratic tradition to an impassioned championship of
the oppressed; and he never spoke of the children he had lost. I recall
but one allusion to the days when he was fighting the anti-slavery battle
along the whole line, and this was with a humorous relish of his Irish
servant's disgust in having to wait upon a negro whom he had asked to his

He was rather severe in his notions of the subordination his domestics
owed him. They were "to do as they were bid," and yet he had a
tenderness for such as had been any time with him, which was wounded when
once a hired man long in his employ greedily overreached him in a certain
transaction. He complained of that with a simple grief for the man's
indelicacy after so many favors from him, rather than with any
resentment. His hauteur towards his dependents was theoretic; his actual
behavior was of the gentle consideration common among Americans of good
breeding, and that recreant hired man had no doubt never been suffered to
exceed him in shows of mutual politeness. Often when the maid was about
weightier matters, he came and opened his door to me himself, welcoming
me with the smile that was like no other. Sometimes he said, "Siete il
benvenuto," or used some other Italian phrase, which put me at ease with
him in the region where we were most at home together.

Looking back I must confess that I do not see what it was he found to
make him wish for my company, which he presently insisted upon having
once a week at dinner. After the meal we turned into his study where we
sat before a wood fire in winter, and he smoked and talked. He smoked a
pipe which was always needing tobacco, or going out, so that I have the
figure of him before my eyes constantly getting out of his deep chair to
rekindle it from the fire with a paper lighter. He was often out of his
chair to get a book from the shelves that lined the walls, either for a
passage which he wished to read, or for some disputed point which he
wished to settle. If I had caused the dispute, he enjoyed putting me in
the wrong; if he could not, he sometimes whimsically persisted in his
error, in defiance of all authority; but mostly he had such reverence for
the truth that he would not question it even in jest.

If I dropped in upon him in the afternoon I was apt to find him reading
the old French poets, or the plays of Calderon, or the 'Divina Commedia',
which he magnanimously supposed me much better acquainted with than I was
because I knew some passages of it by heart. One day I came in quoting

"Io son, cantava, io son dolce Sirena,
Che i marinai in mezzo al mar dismago."

He stared at me in a rapture with the matchless music, and then uttered
all his adoration and despair in one word. "Damn!" he said, and no more.
I believe he instantly proposed a walk that day, as if his study walls
with all their vistas into the great literatures cramped his soul
liberated to a sense of ineffable beauty of the verse of the 'somma
poeta'. But commonly be preferred to have me sit down with him there
among the mute witnesses of the larger part of his life. As I have
suggested in my own case, it did not matter much whether you brought
anything to the feast or not. If he liked you he liked being with you,
not for what he got, but for what he gave. He was fond of one man whom I
recall as the most silent man I ever met. I never heard him say
anything, not even a dull thing, but Lowell delighted in him, and would
have you believe that he was full of quaint humor.


While Lowell lived there was a superstition, which has perhaps survived
him, that he was an indolent man, wasting himself in barren studies and
minor efforts instead of devoting his great powers to some monumental
work worthy of them. If the robust body of literature, both poetry and
prose, which lives after him does not yet correct this vain delusion, the
time will come when it must; and in the meantime the delusion cannot vex
him now. I think it did vex him, then, and that he even shared it, and
tried at times to meet such shadowy claim as it had. One of the things
that people urged upon him was to write some sort of story, and it is
known how he attempted this in verse. It is less known that he attempted
it in prose, and that he went so far as to write the first chapter of a
novel. He read this to me, and though I praised it then, I have a
feeling now that if he had finished the novel it would have been a
failure. "But I shall never finish it," he sighed, as if he felt
irremediable defects in it, and laid the manuscript away, to turn and
light his pipe. It was a rather old-fashioned study of a whimsical
character, and it did not arrive anywhere, so far as it went; but I
believe that it might have been different with a Yankee story in verse
such as we have fragmentarily in 'The Nooning' and 'FitzAdam's Story'.
Still, his gift was essentially lyrical and meditative, with the
universal New England tendency to allegory. He was wholly undramatic in
the actuation of the characters which he imagined so dramatically. He
liked to deal with his subject at first hand, to indulge through himself
all the whim and fancy which the more dramatic talent indulges through
its personages.

He enjoyed writing such a poem as "The Cathedral," which is not of his
best, but which is more immediately himself, in all his moods, than some
better poems. He read it to me soon after it was written, and in the
long walk which we went hard upon the reading (our way led us through the
Port far towards East Cambridge, where he wished to show me a tupelo-tree
of his acquaintance, because I said I had never seen one), his talk was
still of the poem which he was greatly in conceit of. Later his
satisfaction with it received a check from the reserves of other friends
concerning some whimsical lines which seemed to them too great a drop
from the higher moods of the piece. Their reluctance nettled him;
perhaps he agreed with them; but he would not change the lines, and they
stand as he first wrote them. In fact, most of his lines stand as he
first wrote them; he would often change them in revision, and then, in a
second revision go back to the first version.

He was very sensitive to criticism, especially from those he valued
through his head or heart. He would try to hide his hurt, and he would
not let you speak of it, as though your sympathy unmanned him, but you
could see that he suffered. This notably happened in my remembrance from
a review in a journal which he greatly esteemed; and once when in a
notice of my own I had put one little thorny point among the flowers, he
confessed a puncture from it. He praised the criticism hardily, but I
knew that he winced under my recognition of the didactic quality which he
had not quite guarded himself against in the poetry otherwise praised.
He liked your liking, and he openly rejoiced in it; and I suppose he made
himself believe that in trying his verse with his friends he was testing
it; but I do not believe that he was, and I do not think he ever
corrected his judgment by theirs, however he suffered from it.

In any matter that concerned literary morals he was more than eager to
profit by another eye. One summer he sent me for the Magazine a poem
which, when I read it, I trembled to find in motive almost exactly like
one we had lately printed by another contributor. There was nothing for
it but to call his attention to the resemblance, and I went over to
Elmwood with the two poems. He was not at home, and I was obliged to
leave the poems, I suppose with some sort of note, for the next morning's
post brought me a delicious letter from him, all one cry of confession,
the most complete, the most ample. He did not trouble himself to say
that his poem was an unconscious reproduction of the other; that was for
every reason unnecessary, but he had at once rewritten it upon wholly
different lines; and I do not think any reader was reminded of Mrs.
Akers's "Among the Laurels" by Lowell's "Foot-path." He was not only
much more sensitive of others' rights than his own, but in spite of a
certain severity in him, he was most tenderly regardful of their
sensibilities when he had imagined them: he did not always imagine them.


At this period, between the years 1866 and 1874, when he unwillingly went
abroad for a twelvemonth, Lowell was seen in very few Cambridge houses,
and in still fewer Boston houses. He was not an unsocial man, but he was
most distinctly not a society man. He loved chiefly the companionship of
books, and of men who loved books; but of women generally he had an
amusing diffidence; he revered them and honored them, but he would rather
not have had them about. This is over-saying it, of course, but the
truth is in what I say. There was never a more devoted husband, and he
was content to let his devotion to the sex end with that. He especially
could not abide difference of opinion in women; he valued their taste,
their wit, their humor, but he would have none of their reason. I was by
one day when he was arguing a point with one of his nieces, and after it
had gone on for some time, and the impartial witness must have owned that
she was getting the better of him he closed the controversy by giving her
a great kiss, with the words, "You are a very good girl, my dear," and
practically putting her out of the room. As to women of the flirtatious
type, he did not dislike them; no man, perhaps, does; but he feared them,
and he said that with them there was but one way, and that was to run.

I have a notion that at this period Lowell was more freely and fully
himself than at any other. The passions and impulses of his younger
manhood had mellowed, the sorrows of that time had softened; he could
blamelessly live to himself in his affections and his sobered ideals.
His was always a duteous life; but he had pretty well given up making man
over in his own image, as we all wish some time to do, and then no longer
wish it. He fulfilled his obligations to his fellow-men as these sought
him out, but he had ceased to seek them. He loved his friends and their
love, but he had apparently no desire to enlarge their circle. It was
that hour of civic suspense, in which public men seemed still actuated by
unselfish aims, and one not essentially a politician might contentedly
wait to see what would come of their doing their best. At any rate,
without occasionally withholding open criticism or acclaim Lowell waited
among his books for the wounds of the war to heal themselves, and the
nation to begin her healthfuller and nobler life. With slavery gone,
what might not one expect of American democracy!

His life at Elmwood was of an entire simplicity. In the old colonial
mansion in which he was born, he dwelt in the embowering leafage, amid
the quiet of lawns and garden-plots broken by few noises ruder than those
from the elms and the syringas where

"The oriole clattered and the cat-bird sang."

From the tracks on Brattle Street, came the drowsy tinkle of horse-car
bells; and sometimes a funeral trailed its black length past the corner
of his grounds, and lost itself from sight under the shadows of the
willows that hid Mount Auburn from his study windows. In the winter the
deep New England snows kept their purity in the stretch of meadow behind
the house, which a double row of pines guarded in a domestic privacy.
All was of a modest dignity within and without the house, which Lowell
loved but did not imagine of a manorial presence; and he could not
conceal his annoyance with an over-enthusiastic account of his home in
which the simple chiselling of some panels was vaunted as rich wood-
carving. There was a graceful staircase, and a good wide hall, from
which the dining-room and drawing-room opened by opposite doors; behind
the last, in the southwest corner of the house, was his study.

There, literally, he lived during the six or seven years in which I knew
him after my coming to Cambridge. Summer and winter he sat there among
his books, seldom stirring abroad by day except for a walk, and by night
yet more rarely. He went to the monthly mid-day dinner of the Saturday
Club in Boston; he was very constant at the fortnightly meetings of his
whist-club, because he loved the old friends who formed it; he came
always to the Dante suppers at Longfellow's, and he was familiarly in and
out at Mr. Norton's, of course. But, otherwise, he kept to his study,
except for some rare and almost unwilling absences upon university
lecturing at Johns Hopkins or at Cornell.

For four years I did not take any summer outing from Cambridge myself,
and my associations with Elmwood and with Lowell are more of summer than
of winter weather meetings. But often we went our walks through the
snows, trudging along between the horsecar tracks which enclosed the only
well-broken-out paths in that simple old Cambridge. I date one memorable
expression of his from such a walk, when, as we were passing Longfellow's
house, in mid-street, he came as near the declaration of his religious
faith as he ever did in my presence. He was speaking of the New
Testament, and he said, The truth was in it; but they had covered it up
with their hagiology. Though he had been bred a Unitarian, and had more
and more liberated himself from all creeds, he humorously affected an
abiding belief in hell, and similarly contended for the eternal
punishment of the wicked. He was of a religious nature, and he was very
reverent of other people's religious feelings. He expressed a special
tolerance for my own inherited faith, no doubt because Mrs. Lowell was
also a Swedenborgian; but I do not think he was interested in it, and I
suspect that all religious formulations bored him. In his earlier poems
are many intimations and affirmations of belief in an overruling
providence, and especially in the God who declares vengeance His and will
repay men for their evil deeds, and will right the weak against the
strong. I think he never quite lost this, though when, in the last years
of his life, I asked him if he believed there was a moral government of
the universe, he answered gravely and with a sort of pain, The scale was
so vast, and we saw such a little part of it.

As to tine notion of a life after death, I never had any direct or
indirect expression from him; but I incline to the opinion that his hold
upon this weakened with his years, as it is sadly apt to do with men who
have read much and thought much: they have apparently exhausted their
potentialities of psychological life. Mystical Lowell was, as every poet
must be, but I do not think he liked mystery. One morning he told me
that when he came home the night before he had seen the Doppelganger of
one of his household: though, as he joked, he was not in a state to see

He then said he used often to see people's Doppelganger; at another time,
as to ghosts, he said, He was like Coleridge: he had seen too many of
'em. Lest any weaker brethren should be caused to offend by the
restricted oath which I have reported him using in a moment of transport
it may be best to note here that I never heard him use any other
imprecation, and this one seldom.

Any grossness of speech was inconceivable of him; now and then, but only
very rarely, the human nature of some story "unmeet for ladies" was too
much for his sense of humor, and overcame him with amusement which he was
willing to impart, and did impart, but so that mainly the human nature of
it reached you. In this he was like the other great Cambridge men,
though he was opener than the others to contact with the commoner life.
He keenly delighted in every native and novel turn of phrase, and he
would not undervalue a vital word or a notion picked up out of the road
even if it had some dirt sticking to it.

He kept as close to the common life as a man of his patrician instincts
and cloistered habits could. I could go to him with any new find about
it and be sure of delighting him; after I began making my involuntary and
all but unconscious studies of Yankee character, especially in the
country, he was always glad to talk them over with me. Still, when I had
discovered a new accent or turn of speech in the fields he had
cultivated, I was aware of a subtle grudge mingling with his pleasure;
but this was after all less envy than a fine regret.

At the time I speak of there was certainly nothing in Lowell's dress or
bearing that would have kept the common life aloof from him, if that life
were not always too proud to make advances to any one. In this
retrospect, I see him in the sack coat and rough suit which he wore upon
all out-door occasions, with heavy shoes, and a round hat. I never saw
him with a high hat on till he came home after his diplomatic stay in
London; then he had become rather rigorously correct in his costume, and
as conventional as he had formerly been indifferent. In both epochs he
was apt to be gloved, and the strong, broad hands, which left the
sensation of their vigor for some time after they had clasped yours,
were notably white. At the earlier period, he still wore his auburn hair
somewhat long; it was darker than his beard, which was branching and
full, and more straw-colored than auburn, as were his thick eyebrows;
neither hair nor beard was then touched with gray, as I now remember.
When he uncovered, his straight, wide, white forehead showed itself one
of the most beautiful that could be; his eyes were gay with humor, and
alert with all intelligence. He had an enchanting smile, a laugh that
was full of friendly joyousness, and a voice that was exquisite music.
Everything about him expressed his strenuous physical condition: he would
not wear an overcoat in the coldest Cambridge weather; at all times he
moved vigorously, and walked with a quick step, lifting his feet well
from the ground.


It gives me a pleasure which I am afraid I cannot impart, to linger in
this effort to materialize his presence from the fading memories of the
past. I am afraid I can as little impart a due sense of what he
spiritually was to my knowledge. It avails nothing for me to say that
I think no man of my years and desert had ever so true and constant a
friend. He was both younger and older than I by insomuch as he was a
poet through and through, and had been out of college before I was born.
But he had already come to the age of self-distrust when a man likes to
take counsel with his juniors as with his elders, and fancies he can
correct his perspective by the test of their fresher vision. Besides,
Lowell was most simply and pathetically reluctant to part with youth,
and was willing to cling to it wherever he found it. He could not in any
wise bear to be left-out. When Mr. Bret Harte came to Cambridge, and the
talk was all of the brilliant character-poems with which he had then
first dazzled the world, Lowell casually said, with a most touching,
however ungrounded sense of obsolescence, He could remember when the
'Biglow Papers' were all the talk. I need not declare that there was
nothing ungenerous in that. He was only too ready to hand down his
laurels to a younger man; but he wished to do it himself. Through the
modesty that is always a quality of such a nature, he was magnanimously
sensitive to the appearance of fading interest; he could not take it
otherwise than as a proof of his fading power. I had a curious hint of
this when one year in making up the prospectus of the Magazine for the
next, I omitted his name because I had nothing special to promise from
him, and because I was half ashamed to be always flourishing it in the
eyes of the public. "I see that you have dropped me this year," he
wrote, and I could see that it had hurt, and I knew that he was glad to
believe the truth when I told him.

He did not care so much for popularity as for the praise of his friends.
If he liked you he wished you not only to like what he wrote, but to say
so. He was himself most cordial in his recognition of the things that
pleased him. What happened to me from him, happened to others, and I am
only describing his common habit when I say that nothing I did to his
liking failed to bring me a spoken or oftener a written acknowledgment.
This continued to the latest years of his life when the effort even to
give such pleasure must have cost him a physical pang.

He was of a very catholic taste; and he was apt to be carried away by a
little touch of life or humor, and to overvalue the piece in which he
found it; but, mainly his judgments of letters and men were just.
One of the dangers of scholarship was a peculiar danger in the Cambridge
keeping, but Lowell was almost as averse as Longfellow from contempt.
He could snub, and pitilessly, where he thought there was presumption and
apparently sometimes merely because he was in the mood; but I cannot
remember ever to have heard him sneer. He was often wonderfully patient
of tiresome people, and sometimes celestially insensible to vulgarity.
In spite of his reserve, he really wished people to like him; he was
keenly alive to neighborly good-will or ill-will; and when there was a
question of widening Elmwood avenue by taking part of his grounds, he was
keenly hurt by hearing that some one who lived near him had said he hoped
the city would cut down Lowell's elms: his English elms, which his father
had planted, and with which he was himself almost one blood!


In the period of which I am speaking, Lowell was constantly writing and
pretty constantly printing, though still the superstition held that he
was an idle man. To this time belongs the publication of some of his
finest poems, if not their inception: there were cases in which their
inception dated far back, even to ten or twenty years. He wrote his
poems at a heat, and the manuscript which came to me for the magazine was
usually the first draft, very little corrected. But if the cold fit took
him quickly it might hold him so fast that he would leave the poem in
abeyance till he could slowly live back to a liking for it.

The most of his best prose belongs to the time between 1866 and 1874, and
to this time we owe the several volumes of essays and criticisms called
'Among My Books' and 'My Study Windows'. He wished to name these more
soberly, but at the urgence of his publishers he gave them titles which
they thought would be attractive to the public, though he felt that they
took from the dignity of his work. He was not a good business man in a
literary way, he submitted to others' judgment in all such matters.
I doubt if he ever put a price upon anything he sold, and I dare say he
was usually surprised at the largeness of the price paid him; but
sometimes if his need was for a larger sum, he thought it too little,
without reference to former payments. This happened with a long poem in
the Atlantic, which I had urged the counting-room authorities to deal
handsomely with him for. I did not know how many hundred they gave him,
and when I met him I ventured to express the hope that the publishers had
done their part. He held up four fingers, "Quattro," he said in Italian,
and then added with a disappointment which he tried to smile away,
"I thought they might have made it cinque."

Between me and me I thought quattro very well, but probably Lowell had in
mind some end which cinque would have fitted better. It was pretty sure
to be an unselfish end, a pleasure to some one dear to him, a gift that
he had wished to make. Long afterwards when I had been the means of
getting him cinque for a poem one-tenth the length, he spoke of the
payment to me. "It came very handily; I had been wanting to give a

I do not believe at any time Lowell was able to deal with money

"Like wealthy men, not knowing what they give."

more probably he felt a sacredness in the money got by literature, which
the literary man never quite rids him self of, even when he is not a
poet, and which made him wish to dedicate it to something finer than the
every day uses. He lived very quietly, but he had by no means more than
he needed to live upon, and at that time he had pecuniary losses. He was
writing hard, and was doing full work in his Harvard professorship, and
he was so far dependent upon his salary, that he felt its absence for the
year he went abroad. I do not know quite how to express my sense of
something unworldly, of something almost womanlike in his relation to

He was not only generous of money, but he was generous of himself, when
he thought he could be of use, or merely of encouragement. He came all
the way into Boston to hear certain lectures of mine on the Italian
poets, which he could not have found either edifying or amusing, that he
might testify his interest in me, and show other people that they were
worth coming to. He would go carefully over a poem with me, word by
word, and criticise every turn of phrase, and after all be magnanimously
tolerant of my sticking to phrasings that he disliked. In a certain line

"The silvern chords of the piano trembled,"

he objected to silvern. Why not silver? I alleged leathern, golden, and
like adjectives in defence of my word; but still he found an affectation
in it, and suffered it to stand with extreme reluctance. Another line of
another piece:

"And what she would, would rather that she would not"

he would by no means suffer. He said that the stress falling on the last
word made it "public-school English," and he mocked it with the answer a
maid had lately given him when he asked if the master of the house was at
home. She said, "No, sir, he is not," when she ought to have said "No,
sir, he isn't." He was appeased when I came back the next day with the
stanza amended so that the verse could read:

"And what she would, would rather she would not so"

but I fancy he never quite forgave my word silvern. Yet, he professed
not to have prejudices in such matters, but to use any word that would
serve his turn, without wincing; and he certainly did use and defend
words, as undisprivacied and disnatured, that made others wince.

He was otherwise such a stickler for the best diction that he would not
have had me use slovenly vernacular even in the dialogue in my stories:
my characters must not say they wanted to do so and so, but wished, and
the like. In a copy of one of my books which I found him reading, I saw
he had corrected my erring Western woulds and shoulds; as he grew old he
was less and less able to restrain himself from setting people right to
their faces. Once, in the vast area of my ignorance, he specified my
small acquaintance with a certain period of English poetry, saying,
"You're rather shady, there, old fellow." But he would not have had me
too learned, holding that he had himself been hurt for literature by his

His patience in analyzing my work with me might have been the easy effort
of his habit of teaching; and his willingness to give himself and his own
was no doubt more signally attested in his asking a brother man of
letters who wished to work up a subject in the college library, to stay a
fortnight in his house, and to share his study, his beloved study, with
him. This must truly have cost him dear, as any author of fixed habits
will understand. Happily the man of letters was a good fellow, and knew
how to prize the favor-done him, but if he had been otherwise, it would
have been the same to Lowell. He not only endured, but did many things
for the weaker brethren, which were amusing enough to one in the secret
of his inward revolt. Yet in these things he was considerate also of the
editor whom he might have made the sharer of his self-sacrifice, and he
seldom offered me manuscripts for others. The only real burden of the
kind that he put upon me was the diary of a Virginian who had travelled
in New England during the early thirties, and had set down his
impressions of men and manners there. It began charmingly, and went on
very well under Lowell's discreet pruning, but after a while he seemed to
fall in love with the character of the diarist so much that he could not
bear to cut anything.


He had a great tenderness for the broken and ruined South, whose sins he
felt that he had had his share in visiting upon her, and he was willing
to do what he could to ease her sorrows in the case of any particular
Southerner. He could not help looking askance upon the dramatic shows of
retribution which some of the Northern politicians were working, but with
all his misgivings he continued to act with the Republican party until
after the election of Hayes; he was away from the country during the
Garfield campaign. He was in fact one of the Massachusetts electors

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