Part 4 out of 5
My henchmen say "Your Honor," as on their knees they drop;
Some people call me Hopkins, but to most I'm known as Hop!
For pretty nigh a year I've run the City Hall machine,
Protecting my policemen and the gamblers on the green.
Love to boss, an' fool the pious people with my tricks--
Hate to take the medicine I got November 6!
Most all the time the whole year round there ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!
Gran'ma Ela says she hopes to see me snug and warm
In the bosom of Mugwumpery, whose motto is reform;
But Gran'ma Ela he has never known the filling joys
Of bossing "boodle" candidates and training with the boys;
Of posing as a gentleman although at heart a tough;
Of being sometimes out of scalps while some are out of stuff--
Or else he'd know that bossing things are good enough for me,
Except jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!
When poor Rubens, wondering why I've left my gum-games drop,
Inquires with rueful accent: "What's the matter with Hoppy Hop?"
The Civic Federation comes from out its hiding-place
And allows that Mayor Hopkins is chock-full of saving grace!
And I appear so penitent and wear so long a phiz
That some folks say: "Good gracious! how improved our mayor is!"
But others tumble to my racket and suspicion me,
When jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!
For candidates who hope to get there on election day
Must mind their p's and q's right sharp in all they do and say,
So clean the streets, assess the boys for everything they're worth,
Jine all the federations, and promise them the earth!
Say "yes 'um" to the ladies, and "yes sur" to the men,
And when reform is mentioned, roll your eyes and yell "Amen!"
No matter what the past has been--jest watch me now and see
How jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!_
I will conclude this exposition of the attitude of Eugene Field to
politics, public affairs, and public men with a whimsical bit of his
verse, descriptive of how business and politics are mixed in a country
store, premising it with the note that Colonel Bunn has since become a
_A STATESMAN'S SORROW
'Twas in a Springfield grocery store,
Not many years ago,
That Colonel Bunn patrolled the floor,
The paragon of woe.
Though all the people of the town
Were gathered there to buy,
Good Colonel Bunn walked up and down
With many a doleful sigh.
He vented off a dismal groan,
And grunt of sorry kind,
And murmured in a hollow tone
The thoughts that vexed his mind.
"Alas! how pitiful," he said,
"And oh! how wondrous vain,
To run a party at whose head
Stands such a man as Blaine.
"'Tis here, with eager hearts and legs,
Folks come to buy their teas--
Their coffee, sugar, butter, eggs,
Molasses, flour, and cheese--
And every article I keep,
As all good grocers do,
They purchase here amazing cheap--
The very finest, too.
"Yet when a canvass must be won,
He, who presides it o'er,
Is sadly qualified to run
A country grocery store;
His soul, once mesmerized by Blaine,
Is very ill at ease
When lowered to the humble plane
Of butter, eggs, and teas!
"But what precipitates my woe,
And fills my heart with fear,
Is all this happy, human flow,
With not a word of cheer;
They purchase goods of various styles,
Yet, as they swell my gain,
They mention Cleveland's name with smiles,
But never speak of Blaine!"_
Of serious views on political questions Field had none. The same may
be truthfully said of his attitude on all social and economic
problems. He eschewed controversy and controversial subjects. His
study was literature and the domestic side and social amenities of
life; and he left the salvation of the republic and the amelioration
of the general condition of mankind to those who felt themselves
"sealed" to such missions.
In the introduction I have said that if Eugene Field had only written
his autobiography, as was once his intention, it would probably have
been one of the greatest works of fiction by an American. Early in his
career he was the victim of that craze that covets the signatures and
manuscript sentiments of persons who have achieved distinction, which
later he did so much to foster by precept and practice. He was an
inveterate autograph-hunter, and toward the close of his life he paid
the penalty of harping on the joys of the collector by the receipt of
a perfect avalanche of requests for autographs and extracts from his
poems in his own handwriting. The nature of his most popular verses
also excited widespread curiosity as to the life, habits, and views of
the author of "Little Boy Blue" and "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod." The
importunities of this last class of admirers became so numerous that
during the winter of 1894 he wrote and had printed what he called his
"Auto-Analysis." "I give these facts, confessions, and observations,"
wrote he, "for the information of those who, for one reason or
another, are applying constantly to me for biographical data
concerning myself." Such was its author's humor, that behind almost
every fact in this "Auto-Analysis" lurks either an error or a hoax.
Its confessions are half-truths, and its whimsical observations are
purposely designed to lead the reader to false conclusions. And withal
the whole document is written with the ingeniousness of a mind without
guile, which was one of Field's most highly developed literary
accomplishments. No study of Field's character and methods would be
complete without giving this very "human document":
I was born in St. Louis, Mo., September 3d, 1850, the second and
oldest surviving son of Roswell Martin and Frances (Reed) Field,
both natives of Windham County, Vt. Upon the death of my mother
(1856), I was put in the care of my (paternal) cousin, Miss Mary
Field French, at Amherst, Mass.
In 1865 I entered the private school of Rev. James Tufts, Monson,
Mass., and there fitted for Williams College, which institution I
entered as a freshman in 1868. Upon my father's death, in 1869, I
entered the sophomore class of Knox College, Galesburg, Ill., my
guardian, John W. Burgess, now of Columbia College, being then a
professor in that institution. But in 1870 I went to Columbia, Mo.,
and entered the State University there, and completed my junior year
with my brother. In 1872 I visited Europe, spending six months and
my patrimony in France, Italy, Ireland, and England. In May, 1873, I
became a reporter on the St. Louis Evening Journal. In October of
that year I married Miss Julia Sutherland Comstock (born in Chenango
County, N.Y.), of St. Joseph, Mo., at that time a girl of sixteen.
We have had eight children--three daughters and five sons.
Ill-health compelled me to visit Europe in 1889; there I remained
fourteen months, that time being divided between England, Germany,
Holland, and Belgium. My residence at present is in Buena Park, a
north-shore suburb of Chicago.
My newspaper connections have been as follows: 1875-76, city editor
of the St. Joseph (Mo.) Gazette; 1876-80, editorial writer on the
St. Louis Journal and St. Louis Times-Journal; 1880-81, managing
editor of the Kansas City Times; 1881-83, managing editor of the
Denver Tribune. Since 1883 I have been a contributor to the Chicago
Record (formerly Morning News).
I wrote and published my first bit of verse in 1879; it was entitled
"Christmas Treasures" (see "Little Book of Western Verse"). Just ten
years later I began suddenly to write verse very frequently;
meanwhile (1883-89) I had labored diligently at writing short
stories and tales. Most of these I revised half a dozen times. One,
"The Were-Wolf," as yet unpublished, I have rewritten eight times
during the last eight years.
My publications have been, chronologically, as follows:
1. "The Tribune Primer," Denver, 1882. (Out of print, very scarce.)
("The Model Primer," illustrated by Hoppin, Treadway, Brooklyn,
1882. A pirate edition.)
2. "Culture's Garland," Ticknor, Boston, 1887. (Out of print.) "A
Little Book of Western Verse," Chicago, 1889. (Large paper,
privately printed, and limited.) "A Little Book of Profitable
Tales," Chicago, 1889. (Large paper, privately printed, and
3. "A Little Book of Western Verse," Scribners, New York, 1890.
4. "A Little Book of Profitable Tales," Scribners, New York, 1890.
5. "With Trumpet and Drum," Scribners, New York, 1892.
6. "Second Book of Verse," Scribners, New York, 1893.
7. "Echoes from the Sabine Farm" (translations of Horace), McClurg,
Chicago, 1893. (In collaboration with my brother, Roswell Martin
8. Introduction to Stone's "First Editions of American Authors,"
9. "The Holy Cross and Other Tales," Stone & Kimball, Cambridge,
I have a miscellaneous collection of books, numbering 3,500, and I
am fond of the quaint and curious in every line. I am very fond of
dogs, birds, and all small pets--a passion not approved by my wife.
My favorite flower is the carnation, and I adore dolls.
My favorite hymn is "Bounding Billows."
My favorites in fiction are Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter," "Don
Quixote," and "Pilgrim's Progress."
I greatly love Hans Andersen's "Tales," and I am deeply interested
in folk-lore and fairy-tales. I believe in ghosts, in witches, and
I should like to own a big astronomical telescope and a
My heroes in history are Martin Luther, Mademoiselle Lamballe,
Abraham Lincoln; my favorite poems are Koerner's "Battle Prayer,"
Wordsworth's "We are Seven," Newman's "Lead, Kindly Light," Luther's
"Hymn," Schiller's "The Diver," Horace's "Fons Bandusiae," and
Burns's "Cotter's Saturday Night." I dislike Dante and Byron. I
should like to have known Jeremiah, the prophet, old man Poggio,
Walter Scott, Bonaparte, Hawthorne, Mademoiselle Sontag, Sir John
Herschel, Hans Andersen.
My favorite actor is Henry Irving; actress, Mademoiselle Modjeska.
I dislike "politics," so called.
I should like to have the privilege of voting extended to women.
I favor a system of pensions for noble services in literature, art,
science, etc. I approve of compulsory education.
If I had my way, I should make the abuse of horses, dogs, and
cattle, a penal offence; I should abolish all dog laws and dog
catchers, and I would punish severely everybody who caught and caged
I dislike all exercise, and play all games indifferently.
I love to read in bed.
I believe in churches and schools; I hate wars, armies, soldiers,
guns, and fireworks.
I like music (limited).
I have been a great theatre-goer.
I enjoy the society of doctors and clergymen.
My favorite color is red.
I do not care particularly for sculpture or for paintings; I try not
to become interested in them, for the reason that if I were to
cultivate a taste for them I should presently become hopelessly
I am extravagantly fond of perfumes.
I am a poor diner, and I drink no wine or spirits of any kind; I do
not smoke tobacco.
I dislike crowds, and I abominate functions.
I am six feet in height, am of spare build, weigh 160 pounds, and
have shocking taste in dress.
But I like to have well-dressed people about me.
My eyes are blue, my complexion pale, my face is shaven, and I
incline to baldness.
It is only when I look and see how young, and fair, and sweet my
wife is that I have a good opinion of myself.
I am fond of companionship of women, and I have no unconquerable
prejudice against feminine beauty. I recall with pride that in
twenty-two years of active journalism I have always written in
reverential praise of womankind.
I favor early marriage.
I do not love all children.
I have tried to analyze my feelings toward children, and I think I
discover that I love them, in so far as I can make pets of them.
I believe that, if I live, I shall do my best literary work when I
am a grandfather.
So cleverly are truth and fiction dove-tailed together in this
"Auto-Analysis" that it would puzzle a jury of his intimate friends to
say where Field was attempting to state facts and where he was laughing
in his sleeve. Even the enumeration of his publications is amazingly
inaccurate for a bibliomaniac's reply to the inquiries of his own
guild. Francis Wilson's sumptuous edition of "Echoes from the Sabine
Farm" preceded that of McClurg, Chicago, 1893, by more than two years,
and a limited edition of the "Second Book of Verse" was published
privately by Melville E. Stone, Chicago, 1892, more than a year before
it was published by the Scribners, as stated in Field's chronological
Under ordinary circumstances such lapses in a list of a writer's
published works would be a venial fault, and not worth mentioning; but
in the case of one who set such store on "special large paper limited
editions," they would be inexplicable--if that writer had not been
Eugene Field. With him they were simply a notification to his intimates
that the whole thing was not to be taken as a serious bibliology of his
works or index of his character.
So far as the cyclopedic narrative of his life is concerned, it is
intended to be fairly accurate; but Field's notion that he suddenly
began to write verse very frequently in 1889 runs contrary to the
record in Denver and Chicago from 1881 to 1888, inclusive. The
intentional waggery of misinformation masquerading as truth begins
where Field leaves the recital of his life to give what purports to be
an analysis of his character and sentiments. Here he lets his "winged
fancy loose." He mingles fact with his fiction even as
_The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence._
Not that Field had any deep design to betray anyone lurking behind the
fictitious and facetious candor of this apparent self-revelation. This
"Auto-Analysis" was written in response to the almost innumerable
questions which, about that time, were being propounded in the
newspapers and on the leaves of sentiment autograph albums. Hence the
forms of Field's replies. For instance, to "What is your favorite
flower?" he answered, "My favorite flower is the carnation;"--and with
utter irrelevancy, added--"and I adore dolls!" Now Field was not
particularly fond of flowers, and if he had a favorite, it was the
rose, the pansy, or the violet.
Of his three favorites in fiction "Don Quixote" is the only one to
which he gave a second thought, although early familiarity with
"Pilgrim's Progress" undoubtedly left its impression on his retentive
memory. A more truthful answer would have been "The New England
Primer," "The Complete Angler," and Father Prout. To another inquirer
he said, "My favorite authors of prose are Cervantes, Hawthorne,
Andersen, Sir Thomas Mallory," a very much more accurate statement.
His love for the fairy-tales of Andersen and Grimm survived from the
knee of his little Mormon nurse to the last tale he wrote; but his
belief in ghosts, witches, and fairies was all in his literary mind's
eye. He took the same delight in employing them in his works as he did
flim-flams, flub-dubs, and catamarans. They were a part of his stock
in trade, just as wooden animals were of Caleb Plummer's toy-shop. I
think Field cherished a genuine admiration for Abraham Lincoln, whose
whole life, nature, personal appearance, unaffected greatness, manner
of speech, and fate appealed to his idea of what "the first American"
should be. But strike the names of Newman, Horace, old man Poggio,
Walter Scott, and Hans Andersen from the list of his favorites that
follow the name of Lincoln, and it gains in truth as it shrinks in
Upon the question of extending the right to vote to women, Field
wasted no more thought than he did on "Politics," whether so called or
not. This was a springe to catch the "wimmen folks, God bless them."
He seldom took the trouble to vote himself, and ridiculed the idea of
women demeaning themselves to enter the dirty strife for public
office--as he regarded the beginning, middle, and end of all politics.
Field had the strongest possible aversion to violence or brutality of
any kind. He considered capital punishment as barbarous. He was not
opposed to it because he regarded it as inaffective as a punishment or
a deterrent of crime, but simply because taking life, and especially
human life, was abhorrent to him. Hence his "hatred" of wars, armies,
soldiers, and guns.
Something more than a paragraph is needed to explain that word
"limited" after Field's declaration "I like music." "Like" is a feeble
word in this connection, and "limited" by his sense of the absurdity
of reducing its enjoyment to an intellectual pursuit. He loved the
music that appealed to the heart, the mind, the emotions through the
ear. But for years he scoffed at and ridiculed the attempt to convey
by the "harmony of sweet sounds" or alternating discords impressions
or sentiments of things than can only be comprehended through the eye.
He loved both vocal and instrumental music, and was a constant
attendant on opera and concert.
I have a unique documentary proof of Eugene Field's taste in music.
Written on the folded back of a sheet of foolscap, which, on its face,
preserves his original manuscript of "A Noon Tide Hymn," are three
suggestions for the "request programmes" with which Theodore Thomas
used to vary his concerts in the old Exposition Building in Chicago.
Field seldom missed these concerts, and he always made a point of
forwarding his choice for the next "request night." This one was as
1. Invitation to Dance Weber
2. Spring Song Mendelssohn
3. Largho Handel
4. Rhapsody Hongroise(2) Liszt
1. Vorspiel Lohengrin
2. Waltz movement Volkman
3. Serenade Schubert
4. Ride of Walkures
3. Ave Maria Bach-Gounod
4. Nap. } Wagner.
The only limitation to a liking for music such as is revealed here is
that it be good music. Mr. Thomas in those days scarcely ever made up a
programme without including in it one of Field's favorites.
Referring to music recalls the fact that Field once seriously contemplated
writing a comic opera; and he only failed to carry out his purpose
because he could not get the dialogue to suit him; moreover, he
realized that he had but a limited grasp of the dramatic action and
situations necessary in such work. How completely he had this work
mapped out may be judged from the following memoranda, the manuscript
of which is before me:
Fernando, the Begum--basso.
Paquita, his daughter--soprano.
Christopher, the buccaneer--baritone.
Mercedes, his sister--contralto.
Carlos, a Peruvian lieutenant--tenor.
Gonzales, Begum of Ohnos.
Buccaneers, maidens, ballet, servants, etc.
Time of action--three days, 1860.
Scenes: First and third acts, in garden adjoining Fernando's mansion,
suburbs of Piura.
Second act, on board the ship "Perdita," port of Payla.
Fernando, the Begum, is about to give a moonlight fete in honor of
his daughter's betrothal to Carlos. The young people are not
particularly overjoyed at the prospect of their union, Carlos having
given his heart, some years previously, to Mercedes, who is now
married to a captain in the Chilian army, and Paquita having fallen
desperately in love with a handsome young stranger whom she has,
upon several occasions, met upon the sea-shore. This stranger is
Christopher, who, for his participation in a petty revolt, has been
declared an outlaw, and has taken to the life of a buccaneer, joined
by numerous lively companions. Overcome by love of Paquita,
Christopher manages to get himself and his band introduced at the
fete, and in the midst of the festivities the young women are seized
and carried aboard the buccaneers' ship.
Carlos, who has been taken prisoner with the girls, discovers that
Mercedes, the buccaneer captain's sister, is his old fiancee, and is
now a widow; explanations ensue and a reconciliation takes place.
While debating how they shall advise Paquita of the truth, they
overhear a conversation between Christopher and Paquita. Paquita
declares that if Christopher really _loves_ her, he will come and
woo her as an honorable man should. Christopher is about to release
the captives, when Mercedes suggests, that to ensure the safety of
the buccaneers Carlos be detained as a hostage. Carlos indorses the
suggestion. The young ladies are permitted to go ashore.
While Fernando storms over the retention of Carlos, Paquita sadly
broods over her love for Christopher. As she soliloquizes at her
window Christopher appears. He cannot remain away from the object of
his love. A scene ensues between the two. In the meantime Carlos and
Mercedes have secretly stolen from the ship and been married by the
village priest. They appear while Paquita and Christopher are
conversing. (Quartette.) Fernando hears the commotion. (Quintette.)
Christopher is discovered and apprehended. The buccaneers appear to
rescue their long-absent captain. Explanations. Fernando informs the
buccaneers that under the amnesty act of the king they are no longer
outlaws. Christopher's estates await him. Carlos and Mercedes
appear. Fernando gives Paquita to Christopher.
It will be perceived that the spirited action of this "argument," as
Field styled it, practically ends with the first act, a fault which the
veriest neophyte in the art of libretto writing knows is fatal. But the
most interesting feature of this opera in embryo is the list of songs
which Field had planned for it. They were:
"Begum of Piura."
"The Crazy Quilt."
"My Life is One Continuous Lie."
"By Day Upon the Billowy Sea."
Lullaby--"Do Not Wake the Baby."
"The Good Old Way."
Barcarolle--"I've Come Across the Water."
"He Really Does Not Seem to Know."
"My Love Was Fair."
"To the Sea, O Love!"
"O Dearest Love, Through all the Years."
"Into God's Hands."
"Down the Forest Pathway."
"From the Farms."
"We are a Band of Gallant Tars."
"Hail, O Happy Nuptial Day!"
"Where Turtle Doves are Cooing."
"The Spanish Dance."
"Oh, Can Such Wonders Be?"
"How Sweet to Fly."
"He Really Must Be Ailing."
"Adieu, Sweet Love."
"The Old Love."
"The Parent's Voice."
"Oh, What Were Life."
Field always insisted that Messrs. Smith and DeKoven got the title, if
not some of the inspiration, for their opera "The Begum" from the
argument of his "Buccaneer," the scheme of which he showed to Harry B.
Smith, then a member of the Morning News staff. But the reason for his
failure to carry out his operatic venture is obvious in the argument
itself. It is intrinsically deficient in the elements of surprise,
novel situations, and dramatic action necessary for stage effect. Field
would have made it rich in lyrics, but as has been often proved, lyrics
alone cannot make a successful opera. He quickly appreciated this and
abandoned the work with "Oh, What Were Life?"
There never was any doubt of Field's "shocking taste in dress," and he
never sought to cultivate or reform it. But what will those who knew
him say of the statement, "I am a poor diner, and I drink no wine or
spirits of any kind; I do not smoke tobacco." Field was, by the common
verdict of those who had the pleasure of meeting him at any dinner
company, the best diner-out they ever knew. He had a keen enjoyment of
the pleasures of the table, and but for that wretched stomach would
have been as much of an authority on eating as he came to be on
collecting. He loved to discuss the art of dining, although he was
forbidden to practise it heartily.
His favorite gift-books "appertained" to the art of cooking, in one of
which (Hazlitt's "Old Cooking Books") I find inscribed to Mrs.
_Big bokes with nony love I send
To those by whom I set no store--
But see, I give to you, sweete friend,
A lyttel boke and love gallore!
Field gave up drinking wine and all kinds of alcoholic liquors, as has
been related, before coming to Chicago. And yet I have seen him sniff
the bouquet of some rare wine or liquor with the quivering nostril of a
connoisseur, but--and this was the marvel to his associates--without
"the ruby," as Dick Swiveller termed it, being the least temptation to
Eugene Field "not smoke tobacco"! He was one of the most inveterate
smokers in America. If he had been given his choice between giving up
pie or tobacco, I verily believe he would have thrown away the pie and
stuck to the soothing weed out of which he sucked daily and hourly
comfort. He had acquired the Yankee habit of ruminating with a small
quid of tobacco in his cheek when a good cigar was not between his
teeth. He consumed not only all the cigars that fell to his share in a
profession where cigars are the invariable concomitants of every chance
meeting, every social gathering, and every public function, but also
those that in the usual round of our life fell to me. And I was not his
only abetter in despoiling the Egyptians who thought to work the
freedom of the press with a few passes of the narcotic weed. It is a
curious fact that Field's pretended aversion to tobacco persists
through all his writings, from the Denver Primer sketches down. In
those we find him attributing the authorship of this warning to
children to S.J. Tilden:
_Oh, children, you Must never chew
Tobacco--it is Awful!
The Juice will Quickly make you Sick
If once you get your Maw Full._
He never ceased having discussions with himself over the wording or
authorship of the famous lines attributed to "Little Robert Reed," as
in the following:
Lo and behold! This is the way the St. Louis Republican mangles an
old, quaint, beautiful, and popular poem:
_"I would not use tobacco," said
Little Robert Reed.
"I would not use tobacco, for
'Tis a nasty weed."_
We protest against this brutal mutilization of a grand old classic.
The quatrain should read, as in the original, thus:
_"I'll never chew tobacco--no,
It is a filthy weed;
I'll never put it in my mouth,"
Said little Robert Reed._
By the way, who was the author of the poem of which the foregoing is
the first stanza?
I need scarcely refer the reader to Field's confession in his letter of
December 12th, 1891, to Mr. Gray of his struggle to give up the use of
tobacco, and to the photograph of Field at work, to indicate that his
"I do not smoke tobacco" was but one more of those harmless hoaxes he
took such pains to carry through at the expense of an ever-credulous
Only one more point in regard to the "Auto-Analysis," and I am through
with that whimsical concoction; and that is in reference to his
attitude toward children. Knowing full well that his inquiring admirers
expected him to rhapsodize upon his love for children, he deliberately
set about disappointing them with:
I do not love all children.
I have tried to analyze my feelings toward children, and I think I
discover that I love them in so far as I can make pets of them.
Of course this was received with a chorus of incredulity--as it was
intended it should be. The autograph hunters who had formed their
conception of Field from his lullabies, his "Little Boy Blue," his
"Krinken," his "Wynken," and his score of other poems, all proving his
mastery over the strings that vibrate with the rocking of the cradle,
at once pronounced this the most delicious hit of their author's humor.
They knew that such songs could only emanate from a man whose heart
overflowed with the warmest sentiment to all childhood. They were
convinced that Field must love all children, and nothing he could say
could change their conviction.
[Illustration: FIELD THE COMEDIAN.]
And yet those words, "I do not love all children," are the truest six
words in his "Auto-Analysis." Field not only did not love all children,
he truly loved very few children. His own children were very dear to
him, both those that came in his early wedded life and the two who were
born to him after his return from Europe. They were a never-failing
source of interest and enjoyment to him. They were the human documents
he loved best to study. They wore no masks to conceal their emotions,
and he hated masks--on others. But above all, they were bone of his
bone and flesh of his love, the pledges and hostages he had given to
fortune, and they were the children of her to whom he had vowed eternal
faith "when their two lives were young." But Field's fondness for other
people's children was like that of an entomologist for bugs--for
purposes of study, dissection, and classification. He delighted to see
the varying shades of emotion chase each other across their little
tell-tale faces. This man, who could not have set his foot on a worm,
who shrank from the sight of pain inflicted on any dumb animal, took
almost as much delight in making a child cry, that he might study its
little face in dismay or fright, as in making it laugh, that he might
observe its method of manifesting pleasure. He read the construction of
child-nature in the unreserved expressions of childish emotions as he
provoked or evoked them. Thus he grew to know children as few have
known them, and his exceptional gift of writing for and about them was
the result of deliberate study rather than of personal sympathy. That
his own children were sometimes a trial to their "devoted mother" and
"fond father," as he described their parents, may be inferred from the
facts which were the basis of such bits of confidence between Field and
the readers of his "Sharps and Flats" as this:
An honest old gentleman living on the North Side has two young sons,
who, like too many sons of honest gentlemen, are given much to
boyish worldliness, such as playing "hookey" and manufacturing yarns
to keep themselves from under the maternal slipper. The other day
the two boys started out, ostensibly for school, but as they did not
come home to dinner and were not seen by their little sister about
the school-grounds, the awful suspicion entered the good mother's
mind that they had again been truant. Along about dark one of them,
the younger, came in blue with cold.
"Why, Pinny," said the mother, "where have you been?"
"Oh, down by the lake, getting warm," said the youngster.
"Down by the lake?"
"Yes; we were cold, and we saw the smoke coming up from the lake, so
we went down there to get warm. And," he continued, in a
propitiatory tone, "we thought we'd catch some fish for supper."
"Fish?" exclaimed the mother.
"Yes; Melvin's comin' with the fish."
At this juncture the elder boy walked in triumphantly holding up a
dried herring tied to the end of a yard or so of twine.
That night, when the honest old gentleman reached home, the young
men got a warming without having to go to the steaming lake.
But all of Field's keen analytical comprehension of child-nature is
purified and exalted in his writings by his unalloyed reverence for
motherhood. The child is the theme, but it is almost always for the
mother he sings. Even here, however, he could not always resist the
temptation to relieve sentiment with a piece of humor, as in the
following clever congratulations to a friend on the birth of a son:
_A handsome and lively, though wee body
Is the son of my friend, Mrs. Peabody--
It affords me great joy
That her son is a boy,
And not an absurd little she-body._
More than thirty years since the late Professor John Fiske, when asked
to write out an account of his daily life for publication, did very
much the same thing as Field palmed off on his correspondents in his
"Auto-Analysis." He gave some "sure-enough" facts as to his birth,
education, and manner of life, but mixed in with the truth such a
medley of grotesque falsehoods about his habits of study, eating, and
drinking, that he supposed the whole farrago would be thrown into the
waste-paper basket. For thirty years he lived in the serene belief that
such had been its fate. But one day he was unpleasantly reminded of his
mistake. The old manuscript had been resurrected "from the worm-hole of
forgotten years," and he was published widecast as a glutton, not only
of work, but in eating, drinking, and sleeping. A man who defied all
the laws of hygiene, of moderation, and of rest. And when he died, from
heat prostration--an untimely death, that robbed his country of its
greatest student mind, while yet his energies were boundless--that
thoughtless story of thirty years ago was revived, to justify the "I
told you sos" of the public press.
His "Auto-Analysis" was not the only hoax of this description in which
Eugene Field indulged. In 1893 Hamlin Garland contributed an article to
McClure's Magazine, entitled, "A Dialogue Between Eugene Field and
Hamlin Garland." It purported to be an interview which the latter had
with the former in his "attic study" in Chicago. Field was represented
surrounded by "a museum of old books, rare books, Indian relics,
dramatic souvenirs, and bric-a-brac indescribable." The result is a
most remarkable jumble of misinformation and fiction, with which Field
plied Garland to the top of his bent. What Garland thought were bottom
facts were really sky-scraping fiction. As if this were not enough,
Garland made Field talk in an approach to an illiterate dialect, such
as he never employed and cordially detested. Garland represented Field
as discussing social and economic problems--why not the "musical
glasses," deponent saith not. The really great and characteristic point
in the dialogue was where something Field said caused "Garland to lay
down his pad and lift his big fist in the air like a maul. His
enthusiasm rose like a flood." The whole interview was a serious piece
of business to the serious-minded realist. To Field, at the time, and
for months after, it was a huge and memorable joke.
But there are thousands who accept the Eugene Field of the
"Auto-Analysis" and of the Garland dialogue as the true presentment of
the man, when the real man is only laughing in his sleeve at the reader
and the interviewer in both of them.
If this were a record of a life, and not a study of character, with the
side-lights bearing upon its development and idiosyncrasies, there
would remain much to write of Eugene Field after his return from
abroad. Much came to him in fame, in fortune, in his friendships, and
in his home. Two more children were born to brighten his hearthstone
and refresh his memories of childhood and the enchanting ways of
children. The elder of these two, a son, was named Roswell Francis, a
combination of the names of Field's father and mother, with the change
of a vowel to suit his sex; the younger, his second daughter, was
christened Ruth, after Mrs. Gray, in whose home Field had found, more
than a score of years before, the disinterested affection of a mother,
"a refuge from temptation, care, and vexation."
Although immediately upon getting back Field resumed his daily grind of
"Sharps and Flats" for the Chicago Record, his paragraphs showed more
and more the effects of his reading and his withdrawal from the
activities and associations of men. Mankind continued to interest him
as much as ever, but books wearied him less, and in his home were more
easily within reach. This home was now at 420 Fullerton Avenue, an
old-fashioned house on the northern limit of old Chicago, rather off
the beaten track. It was the fifth place the Field household had set up
its lares and penates since coming to Chicago. In consequence of his
collecting mania, his impedimenta had become a puzzle to house and a
domestic cataclysm to move.
By 1891 Field realized, as none of his family or friends did, that his
health would never be better, and that it behooved him to put his house
in order and make the most of the strength remaining. If he needed the
words of a mentor to warn him, he could have found them in the brief
memoir his uncle, Charles Kellogg, had written of his father. In that I
find this remarkable anticipation of what befell his son, written of
Roswell M. Field--who, be it remembered, started in life with a healthy
and vigorous body, whereas uncertain health and a rebellious stomach
were Eugene Field's portion all the days of his life.
He [Field's father] made the perusal of the Greek and Latin classics
his most delightful pastime. In fact, he resorted to this scientific
research, particularly in the department of mathematics, for his
chief mental recreation. It is greatly to be regretted that he
neglected to combine, with his cessation from professional labor,
some employment which would have revived and strengthened his
physical frame. He was averse to active exercise, and for some years
before his death he lived a life of studious seclusion which would
have been philosophical had he not violated, in the little care he
took of his health, one of the most important lessons which
philosophy teaches. At a comparatively early age he died of physical
exhaustion, a deterioration of the bodily organs, and an incapacity,
on their part, to discharge the vital functions--a wearing out of
the machine before the end of the term for which its duration was
designed. He was eminently qualified to serve, as well as to adorn,
society, and in all likelihood he would have found in a greater
variety of occupation some relief from the monotonous strain under
which his energies prematurely gave way.
But the conditions that confronted Eugene Field at the age of forty-one
were very different from those under which his father succumbed
prematurely at sixty-one. He had made a name and fame for himself, but
had not stored any of the harvest his writings were beginning to yield.
He could write, as he did, that he expected to do his best literary
work when a grandfather, but he had no belief that he would live to
enjoy that happy Indian summer of paternity. He was tired of being
moved from rented flat to rented house with his accumulated belongings,
and he yearned with the "sot" New England yearning for a permanent
home, a roof-tree that he could call his own, a patch of earth in which
he could "slosh around," with no landlord to importune for grudging
And so Field's life during his last years has to be considered as a
struggle with physical exhaustion, fighting off the inevitable
reckoning until he could provide himself and his family with a home
and leave to his dear ones the means of retaining it, with the
opportunities of education for the juniors. And bravely and cheerily he
faced the situation. Neither in his social relations nor in his daily
task was there observable any trace of the tax he was putting upon his
over-strained energy. He could not afford to make the study of classics
a delightful pastime, as his father did, but he made it contribute a
constant and delightful fund of reference and allusion in his column.
His first books were selling steadily, and he worked assiduously to
make hay while the sun was still above the horizon. In quick
succession, "Echoes from the Sabine Farm," "With Trumpet and Drum," the
"Second Book of Verse," "The Holy Cross and Other Tales," and "Love
Songs of Childhood," with few exceptions, collected from his daily
contributions to the Chicago Record, were issued from the press in both
limited and popular editions.
On the top of his regular work, which in collected form began to be
productive beyond his fondest expectations, Field allowed himself to be
over-persuaded into entering the platform field. The managers of
reading-bureaus had been after him for years; but he had resisted their
alluring offers, because he would not make a show of himself, and the
exertion fagged him. But in the later years of his life they came at
him again, with the promise of more pay per night than he could get by
writing in a week, and he reluctantly made occasional engagements,
which were a drain on his vitality as well as an offence to his
peculiar notions of personal dignity. After each of these excursions
into the platform field, either in the triple alliance with "Bill" Nye
and James Whitcomb Riley, or with George W. Cable, in a most effective
combination, Field returned to his home in Chicago richer in pocket and
interesting experiences, but distinctly poorer in the vital reserve
necessary to prolong the battle with that rebellious stomach.
The presidential campaign of 1892 quite revived his interest in
politics and politicians, and drew him away from the association with
books at home and with the Saints and Sinners at McClurg's. For a time
it looked as if he had been weaned from the circle of collectors, and
never had his column held up to ridicule so fiercely the humbug and
hypocricy of political methods as during that summer. One day after the
nomination of Harrison and Reid, at Minneapolis, his column contained
no fewer than forty-one political paragraphs, each one "ringing the
bell" of mirth or scorn, as the subject warranted.
In the following winter there came the first hiatus in his regular
contributions to the Record. But he resumed work in May, his return
being heralded by a paragraph beginning, "This is a beautiful world,
and life herein is very sweet," a note theretofore seldom heard in his
paragraphs, though often struck in his "Profitable Tales"; and
thenceforward in his daily work his thoughts recur to the beauty of the
world and his gladness to be in it. Thus in the following July he
What beautiful weather this is! How full of ozone the atmosphere is;
how bright the sunshine is, and how blue this noble lake of ours
lies under the cloudless sky! It is simply ideal weather. Who does
not rejoice in the change from the oppressive heat of last week?
Vigor is restored to all. Commerce revives, and humanity is hopeful
and cheering again.
And what lovely nights we are having! The moonlight was never more
glorious. Unhappy is that man, old or young, who hath not a
sweetheart to share with him the poetic grace of our satellite! And
such nights for sleep! Morning comes before it is welcome.
Yes, this world of ours is very beautiful, and we are glad that we
are in and of it.
The summer of 1893, with the crowds and various excitements of the
World's Fair, was very exhausting to Field, albeit he enjoyed the
wonder and beauty of the Columbian Exposition with all the intent
eagerness of a twelve-year-old lad at a country circus. Everything that
happened down at Jackson Park that memorable season, especially the
social rivalries of the different managing bodies, was fair game for
his roguish wit. The liberties which he took with the names and
reputations of public men showed that the old spirit of waggery was
not dead within him. This is illustrated in such verses as these:
_The shades of night were falling fast
As through the world's fair portal passed
A certain Adlai Stevenson,
Whose bead-like eyes were fixed upon
He was the very favorite son
Of proud, immortal Bloomington:
And, hankering for forbidden joys,
He pined to whoop up with the boys
"Try not those fakes," a stranger said,
"Unless you're hankering to be bled!"
Alas, these words were all for naught--
With still more fervor Adlai sought
"Beware the divers games of chance,
Beware that Street in Cairo dance!"
All, all in vain, the warning cry--
Adlai whooped, as he sailed by:
But why pursue this harrowing tale?
Far better we should drop the veil
Of secrecy before begin
His exploits in that Vale of Sin,
In the spring of 1892 Field was fortunate enough to find a house in
Buena Park, a northern suburb of Chicago, which, besides having the
convenience of a trolley connection with the centre of the city, had
the incalculable advantage of overlooking the extensive and beautiful
private grounds justly celebrated in "The Delectable Ballad of the
_Up yonder in Buena Park
There is a famous spot,
In legend and in history
Yclept the Waller Lot.
There children play in daytime
And lovers stroll by dark,
For 'tis the goodliest trysting place
In all Buena Park._
Next to owning a homestead, with rolling lawns and groves of old trees
and family associations, Field enjoyed having someone else bear the
burden of their maintenance for his immediate personal delectation, and
the Waller homestead, with its park effects, afforded him that
inexpensive pleasure. His windows looked out upon a truly sylvan scene,
the gates to which were always invitingly open, southern fashion, to
congenial wayfarers. The more Field saw of the Waller lot, the more
completely did the old New England hankering after a homestead, with
acres instead of square feet of lawn and trees, take possession of him;
and the spectre of ten years' rent for inconvenient flats and houses
rose in his memory and urged him to buy land and build for himself.
This finally resulted in the following letter to the old friend to whom
he always went in any financial emergency, and from whom he never came
empty handed away:
DEAR MR. GRAY: An experience of a good many years has convinced me
that the best way to deal with one's fellow-creatures, and
particularly with one's friends, is directly and candidly. This is
one of the several considerations which lead me to write to you now
asking you whether it be within your power (and also whether it be
your willingness) to help me buy a home in Chicago. Julia has been
at me for a year to ask this of you. I have hesitated to do so in
the fear that the application might seem to be an attempt to take
advantage of your friendship for me--a friendship manifested in many
ways and covering a period of many years. Perhaps, however, we can
now look at the matter more as a business proposition than would
have been possible a year or two ago, for I am at last in a position
to pay interest promptly on a considerable amount of money. To be
more explicit, the sum of One Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($150) is
set aside monthly by the Record toward what Mr. Lawson calls my
"building fund," which sum the Record is prepared to guarantee and
pay to anybody making me the loan of money necessary to secure the
home I want.
I am very anxious for a habitation of my own. The desire is one that
gives me no peace, and I see no other way to its fulfilment than
through the liberality of any friend, or friends, with money to
lend. Before setting my heart upon any locality, or upon any
particular spot, it is wise that I should know whether and where the
assistance I need can be had. My first application is to you, and I
make it timidly, for, as I have said, it is very distasteful to me
to do that which may look like imposing upon friendship. In case you
found it possible and feasible to aid me, I should want you to come
to Chicago and take a look over the field with Julia and me.
We are fairly well. With every cordial regard,
Buena Park, September 16th, 1893.
There had ever been but one response from Mr. Gray to such an appeal as
this from his quondam ward, and Field was not disappointed this time.
But _l'homme propose et Dieu dispose_; and in this case there was no
woman to intervene, as in the Spanish version of the proverb, to
"discompose" the disposition of Deity. Before the project contemplated
in Field's letter took tangible shape, however, he was laid on his back
by a severe cold, which developed into pneumonia. On his recovery, the
doctor advised that he should go to California; and on November 8th he
wrote to Mr. Gray, asking him if he and his niece could not be ready to
accompany him about the 1st of December. Concluding a very brief note,
he said: "Writing makes me very tired, so pray pardon my brutal
brevity. I send very much love to you and yours. Many, many times have
I thought of you, dear friend, during the last three painful weeks, and
I have wished that you were here, that I might speak with you." Mr.
Gray arranged to join Field on the trip, which the latter outlined in a
letter to him December 4th, 1893:
I shall probably be ready to start for Los Angeles the latter part
of this week. My plans at present are very limited, extending only
to Los Angeles and San Diego. At the latter point it will be wise
for me to remain three weeks. That will practically make me a well
man. It is said to be a lovely spot. From there I shall want to go
for a week or ten days to Madame Modjeska's ranch, located ten miles
from the railway, half-way between San Diego and Los Angeles. It is
a large ranch--1,000 acres. Madame Modjeska has put it at my
disposal, and Lynch and you must help me bear the responsibility
thereof. Later in the winter we will go up to San Francisco and
visit Henry Field awhile. I will let you know when we start, and if
you can't join us at Kansas City, suppose you come on as soon as you
can and join me at San Diego. We go to Los Angeles by the Santa Fe.
On receipt of this, telegraph me if you can leave Saturday or
Sunday. If you are cramped for finances, what sort of a fix do you
suppose I'm in? But we must all live; we cannot afford to die just
yet. I went down to dinner for the first time on Thursday; I am
feeling pretty brisk. Love to Miss Eva.
Ever affectionately yours, with a sore finger,
Field did not find in California the "glorious climate" which the
well-meant advice of his physicians had led him to expect. His going up
to San Francisco in winter to visit his cousin was a mistake, which he
quickly regretted, as the following testifies:
DEAR MR. GRAY: I am very tired of freezing to death, and I have made
up my mind to get into a country where I can at least _keep warm_.
Ever since I got to California I have shivered, and shivered, and
shivered, and there seem to be no facilities for ameliorating this
unpleasant condition here. I am told that in six months or a year
the new-comer becomes acclimated; I do not regard that as
encouraging. So I am heading for New Orleans. But we drop off at Los
Angeles to admit of my being with you long enough to write the
memoir of dear Mrs. Gray--a duty to which I shall apply myself with
melancholy pleasure. I think we shall arrive Thursday morning. I
hope you are all well, and that Miss Eva has not yet been carried
off by any pirate or Philadelphia brewer. I continue to gain in
January 6th, 1894, Saturday evening.
Field kept the promise of this letter, and the memoir of Mrs. Gray
then written is a genuine work of love, composed amid "environments,"
as he wrote, "conducive to the sincerity and the enthusiasm which
should characterize such a noble task." Here is his picture of the
surroundings, redolent of the incense of sunshine and flowers that
fills that favored clime:
A glorious panorama is spread before me--such a picture as the
latitude of southern California presents at the time when elsewhere
upon this continent of ours the resentment of winter is visited. All
around me is the mellow grace of sunshine, roses, lilies,
heliotropes, carnations, marigolds, nasturtiums, marguerites, and
geraniums are a-bloom; and as far as the eye can reach, the green
velvet of billowing acres is blended with the passion of wild
poppies; the olive, the orange, and the lemon abound; yonder a
vineyard lies fast asleep in the glorious noonday; the giant rubber
trees in all this remarkable fairy-land are close at hand; and the
pepper, the eucalyptus, the live oak, and the palm are here, and
there, and everywhere.
A city is in the distance; the smoke that curls up therefrom makes
dim fantastic figures against the beautiful blue of the sky. There
is toil in that place, and the din of busy humanity; but upon this
faraway hillside, with the sweetest gifts of Nature about me, I care
not for these things. I am soothed by the melodies of wild birds,
and by the music of the gentle winds that come from the great white
ocean beyond the valleys and the hills, away off there where the
ships go sailing.
Perhaps Ruskin, the great artist-master of word-painting, might have
produced as perfect a gem of English description as this. But who
besides of our contemporaries has? To my mind, it is the proof of
the perfection of the technical skill in expression to which Field
arrived through arduous years, softened and refined by the emotions
of affection and gratitude which swept over him as he thought of her
who had been a mother to him. It has its counterpart in the
succeeding description of the Pelham hills, in which "the yonder
glimpse of the Pacific becomes the silver thread of the
Connecticut," which I have already quoted in a previous chapter.
Evidently, too, the glorious climate of California was a blessing which
brightened as Field took his flight toward the East. Early in February
he was back in the harness in Chicago, celebrating his return with
characteristic gayety in "Lyrics of a Convalescent." But his
contributions to the paper through the winter and early spring of 1894
were confined to occasional verse. After a short trip to New Orleans,
in April, he resumed active work the first week in May; and for the
remainder of the year his column gave daily evidence of his mental
activity and cheerfulness.
It was while in New Orleans in the spring of 1894 that the following
incident, illustrative of the boyish freaks that still engaged Field's
ingenuity, occurred. I quote from a letter of one of the participants,
Cyrus K. Drew, of Louisville: "I met Field on one of his pilgrimages
for old bottles, pewter ware, and any old thing in the junk line. Some
friends of mine introduced our party to Mr. Field and Wilson Barrett
and members of his company then playing an engagement in New Orleans.
Mr. Field's greatest delight was in teasing Miss Maude Jeffries, a
Mississippi girl, then leading lady in Mr. Barrett's company. She was
very sensitive and modest, and it delighted Field greatly when he could
playfully embarrass her. One day I found him in his room busy on the
floor pasting large sheets of brown paper together. He had written a
poem to Miss Jeffries in the centre of a large sheet of this wrapping
paper in his characteristic small hand--indeed, much smaller than
usual. On the edges of this sheet I found him pasting others of equal
size, so that the whole when complete made a single sheet about eight
feet square. This he carefully folded up to fit an improvised envelope
about the size of a Mardi Gras souvenir, then being distributed about
the city. With the joyousness of a boy about to play a prank, he chased
down-stairs at the noon hour when he knew Miss Jeffries was at lunch
with Mr. Barrett in the cafe of the Grunewald. Calling a waiter, he
sent the huge envelope in to her table. She glanced at it a moment and
then gradually drew the package from its envelope, while Field and I
stood watching behind the entrance. It spread all over the table as she
continued to unfold the enormous sheet, and its rustle attracted the
attention of nearly every one in the room. When it had spread itself
all over Mr. Barrett, who meanwhile was laughing heartily, Miss
Jeffries discovered the poem in Field's hand, and, although blushing
crimson, joined in the laughter, for she knew he was somewhere about
enjoying her discomfort."
By August of this same year he had his "Love Songs of Childhood" in
shape for the publishers, and had once more taken up the project of
acquiring a home. What Field was doing, as well as thinking about, a
little later is pretty accurately reflected in the following letter to
DEAR MR. GRAY: Ever since your return from the East I have been
intending to write to you. I have time and again reproached myself
for my neglect to do so. I have not been very well. About the first
of September I had one of my old dyspeptic attacks, and since then
my stomach has troubled me more or less, reducing me in weight and
making me despondent. I think, however, I am now on the upgrade once
more. After you left here Julia was quite sick for a spell. She was
on the verge of nervous prostration. I packed her off to Lynch's for
a month, and she came back very much improved, and now she weighs
more than ever before. The children are well. Trotty attends a day
school near by. Pinny has gone back to his military school, and is
doing _very well_. I would like to send Daisy to the same school,
for he is not doing well at public school; but my expenses have been
so large the last year that I cannot incur any further expense. The
babies are doing finely. The boy is as fat as butter, and handsome
as ever. Little Ruth cut her first tooth to-day. I never loved a
baby as I love her. She is very well now; her flesh has become solid
and she is gaining in weight. She is playful and good-natured, sure
prognostics of good health. Roswell and Etta went East the 9th of
September, and were gone fifteen days; they visited Amherst, Boston,
New York, Greenfield, Brattleboro, and Newfane. Roswell regretted
not knowing your whereabouts, for he wanted to have you along for a
sentimental journey in Vermont. Etta is now with us. She returns to
Kansas City next Sunday night. I am pained to hear of Dr. Johnson's
illness; pray, give him my love and tell him that he ought to be
less frisky if he hopes to keep his limbs sound. I am not surprised
that you have got to go South. And I am glad of it. Yes, I am glad
to know that you will get away from business and that implacable
crowd who are constantly trying to bleed you of money. I want to see
you enjoying life as far as you can, and I want to see _you_ getting
actual benefit from the money which you have earned by your many
years of conscientious industry. To me there is no other spectacle
in the world so humiliating as that of people laying themselves out
to extort money from others. Do tear yourself away from the sponges.
You and Miss Eva ought to have a quiet winter in a congenial
climate. I hope you will go to Florida, and, after doing
Jacksonville and St. Augustine, why not rent a little furnished
cottage and keep house for the winter? Along in February I will run
down and make you a visit. Now, think this over, and let me know
what you think of it. Mr. Gray, there is no need of there being any
sentimentality between us; there never has been. Yet there is every
reason why the bond of affection should be a very strong one. My
father and you were associates many years, and at his death he very
wisely constituted you the guardian (to a great extent) of his two
boys. I feel that you have more than executed his wishes; I feel
that you have fulfilled those hopes which he surely had that you
would be a kind of second father to us, counselling us prudently and
succoring us in a timely and generous manner, for which we--for I
speak for us both--are deeply, affectionately grateful. It would
please me so very much to have you promise me that if ever you are
ill or if ever you feel that my presence would relieve your
loneliness you will apprise me and let me come to you. If I could
afford to do so, I would cheerfully abandon my daily work and go to
live with you, doing such purely literary work as delights me; that
would, indeed, be very pleasant to me. One of my great regrets is
that circumstances compel me to grind away at ephemeral work which
is wholly averse to my tastes. But enough of this. Within a month my
new book, "Love Songs of Childhood," will be out. I regard it as my
best work so far, and am hoping it will be profitable. I do
occasional readings. This afternoon I appeared at the Art Institute
with Joseph Jefferson, Sol Smith Russell, Octave Thanet, and Hamlin
Garland. I recited "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," "Seein' Things at
Night," and "Our Two Opinions," and was heartily encored, but
declined to do anything further. Julia, Ida, Posie, and I may drop
in on you Saturday morning to spend Sunday. Would you like it? Would
the child be too much for the peace and dignity of the household?
Dear Mr. Gray, do be good to _yourself_. Don't let the rest of
creation worry you one bit. You are about the only man I have to
depend upon, for you know the good that is in me, as well as the
folly. Our love to the Butterflyish Miss Eva, and more love to
you--God bless you! Ever affectionately yours,
1033 Evanston Ave., Station X, Chicago,
October 25th, 1894.
This is the most soberly, self-revealing letter written by Eugene
Field that has come within my ken. Through it the reader is taken into
the confidence which existed between the writer and his constant
friend--a confidence further extended in the following letter which
reports progress in the attainment of "the house":
DEAR MR. GRAY: Our deal was closed last evening (Monday). It would
have been closed Saturday but for a clerical error, which put the
whole matter off over Sunday. I have told the cashier at the Record
office to pay you One Hundred Dollars a month, beginning in May. She
will communicate with you as to how you desire remittances made.
Julia and I feel deeply obligated to you for your prompt and cordial
action, without which we might have been seriously embarrassed. The
plans we have at present are to introduce gas into the house, to add
two rooms, and to have a bath-room and laundry tubs put in. We shall
do nothing about a heating apparatus until late in the summer. This
will enable us not to borrow any money until August; by that time we
shall be able to see our way clearer than we do now. Mr. Stone wants
to help us somewhat, and he has told us to send the bill for
house-painting to him. We shall be compelled to go to the expense of
a new cooking range, and I have enough balance at the Record office
to pay for that. I am hoping that we shall be able to move into the
new quarters by May 1. The children are well. Pinny comes home next
Monday for a fortnight's vacation, and we shall be glad to see him.
I had a letter from Carter, _alias_ Rolling-pin, the other day, and
he renews his entreaty for me to join him in his publication venture
in St. Louis--but that is wholly impossible. You have probably seen
by the newspapers how savagely the Republicans swept the board in
Chicago at the elections; the affair was practically unanimous. I
can't see that there is much left of the party which Emory Storrs
once designated "an organized appetite." We all unite in
affectionate remembrances to you and Miss Eva. We shall be able and
glad this summer to have you with us for a while.
1033 Evanston Ave., Station X, Chicago,
April 9th, 1895.
"The house" upon which Field devoted so much thought at this time, and
every dollar he could raise by forestalling his income, was a
commodious, old-fashioned building in Buena Park, which stood well back
from Clarendon Avenue in a grove of native oaks within sight of Lake
Michigan. Its yard was mostly a sand waste, which needed a liberal top
dressing of black earth to produce the semblance to a lawn. The
remodelling of the house and the process of converting sand into a
green sward with flower-beds and a kitchen garden furnished light
employment and a never-failing subject for quips and bucolic
absurdities to its owner, to whom land ownership seemed to give a new
grip on life. The story of the remaking of this building into a
comfortable modern house and of converting the sandy soil surrounding
it into a land of horticulture promise is told by Field in whimsical
style in "The House," a work unfinished at the time of his death. The
first instalment of this story appeared in "Sharps and Flats" on May
15th. Eighteen chapters followed on successive days without a break. By
August 15th, when the last instalment was printed, a vexatious series
of disappointments had robbed Field's humor of its natural buoyancy. He
therefore dropped the story in about the same unfinished stage as he
found his new home when his impatience finally took possession of it
before the carpenters and painters were all out. On May 14th he wrote
to his aged Maecenas:
DEAR MR. GRAY: I returned from my St. Joseph's trip last Saturday
and found your draft awaiting me here. The men have begun to push
work on the house, and it is expected that the plastering will be
done this week. I have no doubt that we shall be able to move into
our new home the first of June, although the place may not be in
complete trim at that time. I cannot tell you how pleasurably I
anticipate life in the house which I can call a permanent home. I
expect to do better work now than ever before. And I want you to
understand that Julia and I keenly appreciate that but for you the
important move we have made could hardly have been undertaken. We
are hoping that you will run up here for a day or two early in June.
Our love to you and Miss Eva. Affectionately yours,
The next and last letter which I shall quote from this interesting
correspondence has the unique distinction of being the only one from
him of all that passed between them that is not in Field's own
chirography. In inditing this, he substituted the serviceable
typewriter for the pen, that had been his companion for so many years,
and that had served him "so diligently," as he so beautifully
acknowledged in the apostrophe to it addressed to his brother Roswell.
It bears date July 2d, and testifies to the writer's failure to realize
the bright anticipation of getting into his new home during the early
days of the leafy month of June:
Chicago, July 3d, 1895.
DEAR MR GRAY: For the last two weeks I have been deferring writing
to you, hoping from day to day that I would be able to announce our
removal into the new house, but it seems as though the Fates are
conspired against us. First it was one thing to delay our removal,
then it was another, and finally everything. Here it is the first of
the month, and we are still in our rented quarters. We intended to
begin moving yesterday, and up to the very last moment on Saturday
hoped to be able to do so, but the painters, and carpenters, and the
plumbers combined against us, and we are in the spot where you saw
us when last in Chicago.
From this beginning you will gather that the new house is in rather
a sad plight. It is not altogether so. The paper-hangers and
painters are nearly through with the second-story, and have done
considerable work down-stairs. I suppose that if everything was
ready for them they could get through in two days. The work that
remains for the carpenters and for the plumbers to do is of a
pottering character, just enough and of just such a character as to
be slow, and, consequently, exasperating. I presume to say that we
will be in the house at the end of this week, but another week must
elapse before we are in anything like order. Meanwhile the painters
have nearly completed painting the outside of the building, which,
with its new fresh coat of white paint and its green blinds is going
to look quite stunning, we think.
The front lawn has engaged my attention pretty much all of the time
since you were here, and I have brought it around into a state of
subjection, although I am told--and I think--that it will not be at
its best before another year. The neighbors have been very kind, and
have provided me with plants and flowers, and other green growing
things, and the consequence is that I have a fine lot of flowers,
roses, nasturtiums, and poppies. I have devoted about five square
feet of ground to pop-corn, and, not knowing anything about the
habits of the creature, planted it in a bunch. I have now enough
pop-corn to do the whole State of Illinois for the next two years.
It grows so fast that I seem almost to hear it grow. I also have
thirty hills of potatoes which I planted myself. I dug them up every
day to see how they were getting along. The neighbors made all sorts
of fun, and said the potatoes would not live. They are not only
living, but flourishing. All that I fear now is that the potato-bug
will put in an appearance, and thus blast my first and fondest
You see I am so devoted to the garden and to the lawn that I am
likely to neglect telling you what you are probably most anxious to
know about--the interior of the house. We have extended a porch from
the front side around to the north side of the house, so that when
you come here next (and I hope that will be soon), you will be able
to step from your room out through a French window upon the north
side to the porch. This change we did not have in view when you were
here, but our friends tell us it is a vast improvement upon the
original plan. The front door is a very imposing affair. It is of
solid oak, very tasteful in design and very imposing in appearance.
We are going to hang our best brass knocker upon it, and this
ornamentation will enhance its beauty. The front hall is completed,
and so is the parlor, through which you go to enter your room. The
large front room on the ground floor, which we call the library, is
now in the hands of the cabinetmaker. By this you are to understand
that we are having the oak trimming stained very dark so as to match
the permanent book-cases which the cabinetmaker has constructed for
us, and which will be set up this week. These book-cases extend
around three sides of the room, and will be capable of containing
about twelve hundred books. They are very handsome pieces of
furniture. We had them constructed in such a way as to be able to
add glass doors when we think we can afford to do so. We shall not
put any mantel either in the library or in Julia's room until the
financial outlook clears, for, as you surmised when you were here,
the funds with which you provided us are not sufficient to do all
that we want to do.
The roof to the old house will have to be patched up some. Then I
think we ought to have a roadway constructed from the front gate to
the house. The road at present is pretty nearly impassable. My idea
is that we ought to have a road-bed of coal cinders rolled down and
covered with fine gravel. This kind of road in private grounds is, I
understand, practically everlasting. Then, we have got to have a
front gate, the old affair having gone all to pieces. It is not at
all necessary to have a new fence for some time to come. I am told
that a roadway such as we want will cost $50. This means, I suppose,
$75. Mr. Stone is going to pay for the exterior painting of the
house. I suppose we ought to have the shingle roof painted. One coat
would be sufficient, and would involve a cost of $35 at the outside.
So far we have done pretty well, I think, with the means at our
disposal. What we have put into the house is of a good and durable
quality. Of course I understand, and so do you, that if we had the
same work to do over again doubtless we could do it cheaper, if not
better. There are also changes which have suggested themselves as we
went along which we did not deem it wise to make, inasmuch as they
were not absolutely necessary, and would have involved an
expenditure which we did not feel justified in making.
I am hoping that you will find it possible to spend your birthday
with us. If you will send me the date of the auspicious anniversary
I will gladly send passes for you and Miss Eva to come, and we shall
try to make your stay pleasant. You asked me in your letter what
plans I had for a summer trip. I have no plans at all. It is so cool
here that I do not feel disposed to go away from home. Then, again,
I am so much interested in the new premises that I find in that
interest another reason for staying home.
It has occurred to me that it might be both wise for you and Miss
Eva to make this point a base for operations this summer. Why can't
you both come here, and from here make such excursions into
Wisconsin and Michigan as may suggest themselves to you from week to
week as pleasant and profitable. It is possible that either Julia or
I, or maybe both of us, may be able to join some of these little
desultory trips with you.
Roswell has been called to an editorial position on the
Times-Herald, and he will begin work on the first of August,
arriving here, however, about the middle of July, and devoting a
fortnight to getting settled in quarters of some kind or another,
and perhaps taking a few days' rest in Wisconsin. So you see, if you
can arrange to be here on your birthday we shall all have a nice
family visit together.
Trotty has been in Kansas City nearly three months. She will be home
in a day or two accompanied by her Aunt Etta, who comes ahead of
Roswell to hunt up quarters.
The children are well. Julia looks well, but I think she is pretty
well fagged out, having worried a good deal about the house, and
being unaccustomed to the contrary ways of workmen. I am feeling
better now than I have felt for five years, which fact I impute very
largely to the out-of-door exercise which I am taking in the garden
and upon the bicycle. I am doing good work and am feeling generally
Give my love to Miss Eva, and as for yourself, be assured always
that we appreciate your very great kindness, and that we are very
grateful for it. Let us hear from you very soon, and be sure to get
your affairs in such condition that you can be here upon your
Always affectionately yours,
A postscript by pen informed Mr. Gray that the Record office held $200
for him on account, for which a draft would be sent as soon as the
cashier returned from a brief vacation.
During the years here passing in review Field entered upon a new
role--that of entertaining distinguished visitors for the Record. While
Mr. Stone was editor of the Morning News this important incident of
metropolitan journalism fell to his lot, and with Field as his first
lieutenant, he enjoyed it. Mr. Lawson, when he assumed the duties of
editorship in addition to the details of publishing, had no time to
waste on such social amenities, and thereafter delegated to Field the
task of representing the Record on all such occasions. As Field
exercised his own choice of occasions, as well as guests, the task was
entirely congenial to his nature, and as Mr. Lawson paid the bills,
fully within the narrow limits of his purse. One of the most memorable
of the entertainments that followed from this happy arrangement was a
luncheon at the Union League Club, in honor of Edward Everett Hale. The
company invited to meet the liberal divine consisted of a few Saints,
more Sinners, and a fair proportion of the daughters of Eve. Field
prepared the menu with infinite care, and to the carnal eye it read
like a dinner fit for the gods. But in reality it consisted of typical
New England dishes, in honor of our New England guest, masquerading in
the gay and frivolous lingo of the French capital. Codfish-balls, with
huge rashers of bacon, boiled corned beef and cabbage, pork and beans,
with slices of soggy Boston brown-bread, corn-bread and doughnuts, the
whole topped off with apple-pie and cheese, were served with difficult
gravity by the waiters to an appreciative company. The bill promised
some rare and appropriate wine for each course, and the table flashed
with the club's full equipment of cut glass for each plate. But alas
and alack-a-day! when the waiters came to serve the choicest vintages
from the correctly labelled bottles, they gave forth nothing but
Waukesha spring water. Not even "lemonade of a watery grade" did we
have to wash down our luncheon, where every dish was seasoned to the
taste of a salted codfish. But we had all the water we could drink, and
before we were through we needed it. Sol Smith Russell was among the
guests that day, and he and Field gave imitations of each other, which
left the company in doubt as to which was the original.
It was on an occasion somewhat similar to this, given in the early
winter, that Field perpetrated one of his most characteristic jokes,
with the assistance of Mr. Stone, by this time manager of the
Associated Press. The latter, at no little trouble, had provided as
luscious a dessert of strawberries as the tooth of epicure ever watered
over. They were the first of the season, and fragrant with the
fragrance that has given the berry premiership in the estimation of
others besides Isaac Walton. While everybody was proving that the
berries tasted even better than they looked, and exclaiming over the
treat, Field was observed to push his saucer out of range of
temptation. At last Stone remarked Field's action, and asked: "What's
the matter, Gene, don't you like strawberries?"
"Like them?" said Field; "I fairly adore strawberries! They are the
only fruit I prefer to pie."
"Then why don't you eat yours?" queried Stone.
"B-because," answered Field, with a deep quaver in his voice,
"b-because I'm afraid it would s-s-spoil my appetite for p-prunes."
Through these years Field was also the central figure in the
entertainments of the Fellowship Club, and contributed more to the
reputation these attained for wit and mirth-provoking scenes than all
other participators combined. But he had begun to weary of the somewhat
forced play of such gatherings, and found more pleasure watching the
children romping in the Waller lot, or pottering about and overseeing
the planting in his own new front yard. He had arrived at the time when
he wanted to get away from the city and into the country as far as the
engagements of his profession would permit. This spirit is dominant in
these lines to his friend Louis Auer:
_The August days are very hot, the vengeance of the sky
Has sapped the groves' vitality and browned the meadows dry;
Creation droops, and languishes, one cannot sleep or eat--
Dead is the city market-place, and dead the city street!
It is the noontime of the year, when men should seek repose
Where rustic lakes go rippling and the water-lily grows;
Come, let us swerve a season from the dusty urban track,
And off with Louis Auer to his Lake Pewaukee shack!
Upon a slight declivity that quiet refuge lies,
Where stately forest-trees observe the hot of cloudy skies!
The shack is back a goodly distance from the mighty lake
Whose waters on the pebbly beach with pretty music break;
Boats go a-sailing to and fro, and fishermen are there
With schemes to tempt the pike or bass or pickerel from their lair--
Oh with sailing, shooting, fishing, you can fancy there's no lack
Of fun with Louis Auer at his Lake Pewaukee shack.
The shack is wide and rangey, with bunks built up around,
While on the walls the trophies of the flood and field abound;
The horns of elk and moose, the skins of foxes, beavers, mink,
Keep glossy guard above the horde that gaily eat and drink;
It's oh, the famous yarns we tell and famous yarns we hear,
And we taste the grateful viands or we quaff the foaming beer;
And many a lively song we sing and many a joke we crack
When we're guests of Louis Auer at his Lake Pewaukee shack.
No wonder that too swiftly speed the happy hours away
In the company of Silverman and Underwood and Shea;
Of Yenowine, McNaughten, Kipp, Peck, Lush, and General Falk--
Eight noble men in action, but nobler yet in talk!
These are the genial spirits to be met with in that spot.
Where are winters never chilly and summers never hot!
And a fellow having been there always hankers to get back
With those friends of Louis Auer's in that Lake Pewaukee shack.
To this o'ercrowded city for the nonce let's say goodby,
And northward to the lake of Pewaukee let us hie!
To-night we'll lay us down to dreams of calm and cool delight,
Where owls and dogs and Kipp make solemn music all the night;
But with our fill of satisfying, big voluptuous cakes,
Such only as that prince of cooks friend Louis Auer makes,
We'll sleep and dream sweet dreams despite that roaring pack,
So come, let's off with Auer to his Lake Pewaukee shack._
At last (July, 1895) Field was in his own house, provided, as he said,
with all the modern conveniences, including an ample veranda and a
genial mortgage. About it were the oaks, in whose branches the birds
had built their nests before Chicago was a frontier post. He could sit
upon the "front stoop" and look across vacant lots to where Lake
Michigan beat upon the sandy shore with ceaseless rhythm. Inside, the
house was roomy and cheery with God's own sunlight pouring in through
generous windows. Reversing the usual order of things in this climate
of the southwest wind, the porch was on the northeast exposure of the
house. The best room in it was the library, and here, for the first
time in his career, Field had the opportunity to provide shelf-room for
his books and cabinets for his curios. An artist would have said that
their arrangement was crude and ineffective; but from the collector's
point of view the arrangement could scarcely have been bettered.
Everything seemed to have settled in its appropriate niche, according
to its value in the collector's eye, irrespective of its value in the
dealer's catalogue. Of his collection before it was moved from the
house on Evanston Avenue, adjoining the Waller lot, his friend Julian
"He had cabinets and closets filled with the wreckage of England, New
England, Holland, and Louisiana; walls littered with mugs, and prints,
and pictures, plates, and warming-pans; shelves crowded with such
things, and mantel-pieces likewise loaded, through two stories of his
house. All were curios of value, or else beauty, for he was no
ignoramus in his madness. His den above stairs, where he sat surrounded
by a great and valuable collection of first editions and other prized
books, was part of the museum. There hung the axe Mr. Gladstone gave
him at Hawarden, and the shears that Charles A. Dana used during a
quarter of a century. These two prizes he cherished most. He had been
to Mr. Dana and begged the shears, receiving the promise that he should
have them left to him in Mr. Dana's will. He waited five years, grew
impatient, past endurance, and then came on to New York and got the
shears from Paul Dana."
To his new home, which he christened "The Sabine Farm," were moved all
the accumulated treasures of his mania for curiosities and antiques. "I
do not think he thought much of art," wrote Edward Everett Hale in his
introduction to "A Little Book of Profitable Tales"; and the motley,
albeit fascinating, aggregation of rare and outlandish chattels in
Eugene Field's house justified that conclusion. Of what the world calls
art, whether the creation of the brush, the chisel, the loom, or the
potter's oven, he had the most rudimentary conception. His eye was ever
alert for things queer, rare, and "out of print." Of these he was a
connoisseur beyond compare, a collector without a peer. He valued
prints, not for their beauty or the art of the engraver, but for some
peculiarity in the plate, or because of the difficulties overcome in
their "comprehension." He knew all that was to be known of the
delightful art of the binder, but his most cherished specimen would
always be one where a master had made some slip in tooling. For
oddities and rarities in all the range of the collector's fever, from
books and prints to pewter mugs and rag dolls, his mania was omnivorous
and catholic. And strange as it may seem, with his mania was mingled a
shrewd appreciation of the commercial side of it all. This is what Mr.
Ralph means when he says Field was no ignoramus in his madness.
Therefore it is not to be wondered at that his collection of strange
and fantastic, odd and curious, things filled his library and
overflowed and clustered every nook and corner of the Sabine Farm. Here
was a "thumb" Bible, there the smallest dictionary in the world. In one
corner was stacked a freakish lot of canes--some bought because they
were freaks, some with a story behind their acquisition, and more
presented to him because Field let it be known that he had a penchant
for canes--which, by the way, he never carried. In one room there was a
shelf of empty bottles of every conceivable shape, size, and "previous
condition of servitude"; in another was a perfect menagerie of
mechanical toy animals. As he could not decide which he liked best,
hideous pewter mugs or delicate china dishes, he "annexed" them
indiscriminately, and stored them cheek by jowl, much to the annoyance
of his more orderly wife. The old New England pie-plate was a dearer
article of vertu to him than the most fragile vase, unless the latter
was a rare specimen of a forgotten art. He had a genuine affection for
clocks of high and low degree. He loved them for their friendly faces,
and endowed them with personal idiosyncrasies, according to their
tickings, by which he distinguished them. And so the Sabine Farm had
old-fashioned clocks and new-fangled clocks in the halls and bedrooms,
on the stairs and mantels, in the cellars beneath and in the garret
above--all ticking merrily or sedately, as became their respective
makes and natures. But keeping time? Never!
Of books there was no end. Books he had inherited, books he had bought
with money pinched from household expenses, and presentation books by
the score. All were jumbled together in a confusion that delighted him,
but which would have been the despair of an orderly mind. His rare and
well-nigh complete collection of books on Horace and of editions of the
poet had the place of honor in his library, with the rest nowhere in
particular and everywhere in general. Hundreds of his books bear the
autographs of their respective authors, while the walls of the house
were covered with autograph letters from many of the celebrities and
not a few of the notorieties of the world. Even the nonentities found
lodgement there. Such another collection as Field's is not to be met
with under any roof in this country; nor could its like be duplicated
anywhere, because it reflects the man in all his personal
contradictions and predispositions. It is queer and _sui generis_--but
mostly "queer"--which word to him always conveyed a sense of inimitable
When Field returned from Holland he wore on his third finger a hideous
silver ring, that looked like pewter, in which shone, but did not
sparkle, a huge green crystal. It was a gorgeous travesty on an
emerald. Beauty it had none, nor even quaintness of design. It was just
plain ugly; but he had become attached to it because it was conspicuous
and had some association with Dutch life connected with it. From this
it may be inferred that Field's taste in jewelry was barbaric; but,
happily for Mrs. Field, it was a taste he seldom indulged.
Besides the pleasure of sitting down amid the spoils of two continents
and of two decades of collecting, Field fairly revelled in the, to him,
novel sensation of land proprietorship. He did not miss or feel the
drain of the weekly deductions from his salary that went to the
reduction of his building debt. When that had been arranged for between
the Record office and Mr. Gray, Field took no more account of it. It
came out of Mrs. Field's allowance. What was that to him? He only
recognized the fact that he was his own landlord, and paid taxes, and
was exempt from the payment of rent.
[Illustration: EUGENE FIELD WITH HIS DUTCH RING.]
So enamoured was he of these novel sensations of the Sabine Farm that
he found it hard to tear himself away from the communion with the
trees, and birds, and bees, out of doors, and with books, and curios,
and visitors indoors. Dearly did he love to show his treasures to his
friends, who came, not single spies, but in troops, to warm his chairs
and congratulate him upon the attainment of his heart's desire. Never
did he appear to better advantage than here, except when outside under
the trees, surrounded by groups of little children, to whom he
discoursed on wonders in natural history more wonderful than all the
amazing works of nature set down in their nature study-books. All the
animals, and birds, and creeping things in his natural history could
talk and sing, could romp and play, could eat and drink--not
infrequently too much--and in every way were superior to their kind to
be met with among the dry leaves of their school-books. He peopled the
world with the trolls, elves, and nixies of fairy-land for his own and
his neighbors' babes of all ages.
Is it any wonder that his trips down town became less frequent, that he
preferred to do his work at home, and subsidized one of his sons to be
his regular messenger to bear his copy to the office? Is it surprising
that, along in August, 1895, we find him writing:
Yes, there is no doubt that these rains which we have had in such
plenty for the last three days have interrupted and otherwise
interfered with the sports of many people. Yet none of us should
sulk or complain when he comes to consider how badly we needed the
rain, and what a vast amount of good these refreshing down-pourings
have done. Vegetation was in a bad, sad way; the trees had begun to
have a withered look, and the grass was turning brown. What a change
has been wrought by the grace of the rain! Nature smiles once more;
the lawns are green, the trees are reviving; the roadsides are
beautiful with the grasses, the ferns, and the wild flowers, among
which insectivorous life makes cheery music. The rain has arrayed
old Mother Earth in a bright new garb.
The month of September is close at hand; the conditions of its
coming are favorable. There is fun ahead for all us sentimental
people. A beautiful moon is waiting rather impatiently for the
clouds to roll by; the moon is always at her best in the full
How good it is to live in this beautiful world of ours; how varied
and countless are the blessings bestowed upon us; how sweet is the
beneficence of Nature; how dear is the companionship of humanity!
"The companionship of humanity!" Nothing could make up to him any
narrowing of that. His friends became dearer to him than ever. He could
send his copy down to the printer, but when his friends did not come
out in sufficient numbers to Buena Park he made the long trip to town
to meet them at luncheon or in the Saints' and Sinners' Corner at
McClurg's. Here he held almost daily court, and mulled over the
materials for "The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac"--the opening chapter
of which appeared in his "Sharps and Flats" on August 30th. Here he
confided to a few that the grasshopper had "become a burden," by reason
of the weariness of his long convalescence. Here he had those meetings
with the Rev. Frank W. Gunsaulus which resulted in the frequent
transfer of poems from the latter's pocket to the "Sharps and Flats"
column, without initial or sign to intimate that they were other than
Field's own vintage, only from a new press. Here, too, his whole
bearing and conversation were so uniformly hopeful, hearty, and
light-hearted, that they deceived all his associates into confidence
that the new home had instilled new life into our friend's gaunt frame.
His column, too, reflected the genial, mellow spirit that played
through all his speech and ways during the early autumn days of 1895.
No other work that he had done so completely satisfied him as "The Love
Affairs of a Bibliomaniac." He was steeped in the lore of the cult. He
had yielded to its fascinations while preserving the keenest
appreciation of its whims and weaknesses. And so the story meandered on
through September and October with an ever-increasing charm of mingled
sentiment and sweet satire; and so it seemed as if it might meander on
But he did not attempt to write a chapter of this exquisite reminiscing
every day. It was sandwiched in between columns of paragraphs and verse
such as had earned for him his great vogue with the readers of the
Record. He could still surprise and pain the "first literary circles of
Chicago" with such literary notes as:
It is officially announced by the official board of managers of the
National Federation of Realists that Hamlin Garland put on his
light-weight flannels last week.
In the north branch recently was found a turtle having upon its back
the letters P.B.S.--the initials of the revered name of the immortal
Percy Bysshe Shelley.
And he did not fail to keep Chicago informed of the latest Buena Park
news in such rural journal notes as these:
Among the many improvements to be noticed in the Park this spring is
the handsome new collar with which the ever-enterprising William
Clow, Esq., has provided his St. Bernard dog.
A dessert of sliced bananas and oranges is all the rage in the Park
this season. Tapioca pudding is a thing of the past. How true it is
that humanity is ever variable and fickle!
But there was very much less of this sort of thing and of the daily
badinage of the paragrapher than in the days of Field's primacy in that
line. He was reserving all that was freshest, and sweetest, and most
delicate in his fancy for the "Love Affairs."
I spent the summer of 1895 in Evanston, and one night in October, just
as the family was thinking of retiring, I was called to the telephone
by Field, who asked if we had any pie in the house, for he was coming
up to get a slice from the pantry of my Vermont mother-in-law. He was
gladly bidden to come along. In a few minutes in he walked, and was
made welcome to whatever the pantry afforded--whether it was pie,
pickles, or plain cheese and crackers, I do not now recall. It appeared
that he had been in Evanston that night, giving a reading for the
benefit of a social and literary club such as were always drawing
drafts upon his good-nature and powers of entertaining. I never knew
Field in better spirits than he was that night. He told of several
humorous incidents that happened at the reading, and then recited one
or two of the things he had read there. He sat at the piano and crooned
songs and caressed the ivory keys as he told stories and we talked of
the "Love Affairs" and of his prospects, which were never brighter.
None who were present that memorable night will forget his reading of
"The Night Wind." We turned the lights down low and listened, while
with that wonderful voice he brought "the night that broods outside"
into the darkened room, with that weird and ghostly:
Not until there was barely time to catch the last electric-car for
Buena Park did Field tear himself away from that appreciative company;
and then he insisted that I should go with him to the cars. And so we
"walked and talked," as of old, until the last south-bound car came.
And as he boarded it, it seemed as if ten years had been wiped off the
record, and I should see him at the office next morning. And that was
the last time I ever saw Eugene Field alive.
For a few mornings after that I read his column in the Record. A few
more chapters were added to the "Love Affairs," and then:
On Saturday morning, November 2d, Field spoke to the readers of the
Record, through his accustomed column and in his accustomed spirit of
human sympathy and genial humor. It led off with the little shot at his
No matter what else it did, if the earthquake shock waked up St.
Louis, there should be no complaint.
And it concluded with a loyal defence of his old friend and associate,
"Bill" Nye, who, having aroused the ire of an audience at Paterson,
N.J., had been roughly set upon and egged by a turbulent crowd of men
while on his way to the railroad station. Field indignantly repelled
the suggestion that Nye's indiscretion was due to inebriety, but traced
it to his bad health. "Only the utmost caution," he wrote, "and the
most scrupulous observance of the rules laid down by his physician have
enabled Nye to go ahead with his work. This work in itself has been
arduous. If there is anything more vexatious or more wearing than
travelling about the country in all kinds of weather and at the mercy
of railroads, and lecture-bureaus, and hotel-keepers, we do not know
And yet, at the very moment Field wrote this he, a more delicately
organized invalid than "Bill" Nye, had his ticket bought, his
state-room engaged, and his trunk packed to leave for Kansas City,
where he was to give a reading on the evening of Monday, November 4th.
He felt so indisposed on Saturday that he did not leave his bed. That,
however, did not prevent his finishing Chapter XIX of the "Love
Affairs." As it was no unusual thing for him to write, as well as read,
in bed, this occasioned no alarm in the family circle. But that evening
he decided to give up the Kansas City trip, and asked his brother
Roswell to wire the management of the affair to that effect. On Sunday
he was still indisposed, but received numerous visitors. To one of
them, who remarked that it was a perfect November day, Field said:
"Yes, it is a lovely day, but this is the season of the year when
things die, and this fine weather may mean death to a thousand people.
We may hear of many deaths to-morrow."
In the evening he complained of a pain in his head; and as he was
feeling a little feverish, Dr. Hedges, who lived near by, was called
in. He came about half-past ten o'clock; and after taking Field's
temperature, which was only slightly above normal, said it was due to
weakness, and probably resulted from the excitement of seeing so many
visitors. Field joked with the doctor, told him several stories, and
was assured that he was getting on all right. Before leaving, the
doctor said that if it was fine on Monday it would do Field good to get
out and take some exercise. Shortly before midnight a message came from
Kansas City, asking when he would be able to appear there. He dictated
an answer, saying that he would come November 16th. Then wishing
everybody goodnight, he turned over and went to sleep as peacefully as
any little child in one of his stories.
An hour before daylight the sleeper turned in his bed and groaned. His
second son, "Daisy," who always slept with his father, spoke to him,
but got no answer. Then he reached over and touched him; but there was
not the usual response of a word or a caress. In terror-stricken
recognition of the awful presence, Daisy alarmed the whole household
with his cry, "Come quick! I believe papa is dead!"
And so it was. Death had stolen upon Eugene Field as he slept. And so
they found him, lying in a natural position, his hands clasped over his
heart, his head turned to one side, and his lips half parted, as if
about to speak.
It was just such a death as he had often said would be his choice. Just
a dropping to sleep here and an awakening yonder. The doctor said it
was heart-failure, resulting from a sudden spasm of pain. But the face
bore no trace of pain. The moan that wakened Daisy was probably that
sigh with which mortal parts with mortality--the parting breath between
life and death, which will scarcely stir a feather and yet will awaken
the soundest sleeper. To my mind Eugene Field died as his father, "of
physical exhaustion, a deterioration of the bodily organs, and an
incapacity on their part to discharge the vital functions--a wearing
out of the machine before the end of the term for which its duration
And thus there passed from the midst of us as gentle and genial a
spirit as ever walked the earth. I know not why his death should recall
that memorable scene of Mallory's, the death of Launcelot, unless it be
that Field considered it the most beautiful passage in English
So when sir Bors and his fellowes came to his bed, they found him
starke dead, and hee lay as hee had smiled, and the sweetest savour
about him that ever they smelled. Then was there weeping and wringing
of hands, and the greatest dole they made that ever made men....
Then went sir Bors unto sir Ector, and told him how there lay his
brother sir Launcelot dead. And then sir Ector threw his shield, his
sword, and his helme from him; and when hee beheld sir Launcelot's
visage hee fell down in a sowne, and when hee awaked it were hard for
any tongue to tell the dolefull complaints that hee made for his
brother. "Ah, sir Launcelot," said hee, "thou were head of all
Christian knights! And now, I dare say," said sir Ector, "that, sir
Launcelot there thou liest, thou were never matched of none earthly
knights hands; and thou were the curtiest that ever beare shield; and
thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrood horse, and
thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman; and
thou were the kindest man that ever strooke with sword; and thou were
the goodliest person that ever came among presse of knights; and thou
were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever eate in hall among
ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortall foe that ever
put speare in the rest."
Then there was weeping and dolour out of measure.
If I have interpreted the story of "The Good Knight's" life aright, the
reader will comprehend the relation there is in my mind between the
scene at the death of the knightliest knight of romance and that of him
who moved in our modern life, steeped and imbued with the thoughts,
fancies, and speech of the age of chivalry. For the age of shield, and
spear, and tourney, he would have been the unlikeliest man ever born of
woman; but with his "sweet pen" he waged unceasing battle for all
things beautiful, and true, and pure in this modern world. That is why
his best songs sing of mother's love and childhood and of the eternal
bond between them. He hated sham, and humbug, and false pretence, and
that is why his daily paragraphs gleam and sparkle with the relentless
satire and ridicule; he detested the solemn dulness of conventional
life, and that is why he scourged society with the "knotted lash of
sarcasm" and dissipated melancholy with the unchecked effrontery of his
mirth. And so his songs were full of sweetness, and his words were
words of strength; and his last message to the children of his pen was:
Go forth, little lyrics, and sing to the hearts of men. This
beautiful world is full of song, and thy voices may not be heard of
all--but sing on, children of ours; sing to the hearts of men, and
thy song shall at least swell the universal harmony that bespeaketh
God's love and the sweetness of humanity.
And so is it any wonder that when the tidings of his death was borne
throughout the land "there was weeping and dolour out of measure," and
that a wave of sympathy swept over the country for the bereft family of
the silent singer?
I have often been asked what was Eugene Field's religious belief--a
question I cannot answer better than in the language of the Rev. Frank
M. Bristol in his funeral address:
I have said of my dear friend that he had a creed. His creed was