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Of Literature (Entire) by William Dean Howells

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I do not know why this should have put me to such confusion, but if I had
written the criticisms myself I do not think I could have been more
abashed. Perhaps I felt an edge of reproof, of admonition, in a
characterization of Poe which the world will hardly agree with; though I
do not agree with the world about him, myself, in its admiration. At any
rate, it made an end of me for the time, and I remained as if already
absent, while Emerson questioned me as to what I had written in the
Atlantic Monthly. He had evidently read none of my contributions, for he
looked at them, in the bound volume of the magazine which he got down,
with the effect of being wholly strange to them, and then gravely affixed
my initials to each. He followed me to the door, still speaking of
poetry, and as he took a kindly enough leave of me, he said one might
very well give a pleasant hour to it now and then.

A pleasant hour to poetry! I was meaning to give all time and all
eternity to poetry, and I should by no means have wished to find pleasure
in it; I should have thought that a proof of inferior quality in the
work; I should have preferred anxiety, anguish even, to pleasure. But if
Emerson thought from the glance he gave my verses that I had better not
lavish myself upon that kind of thing, unless there was a great deal more
of me than I could have made apparent in our meeting, no doubt he was
right. I was only too painfully aware of my shortcoming, but I felt that
it was shorter-coming than it need have been. I had somehow not
prospered in my visit to Emerson as I had with Hawthorne, and I came away
wondering in what sort I had gone wrong. I was not a forth-putting
youth, and I could not blame myself for anything in my approaches that
merited withholding; indeed, I made no approaches; but as I must needs
blame myself for something, I fell upon the fact that in my confused
retreat from Emerson's presence I had failed in a certain slight point of
ceremony, and I magnified this into an offence of capital importance.
I went home to my hotel, and passed the afternoon in pure misery. I had
moments of wild question when I debated whether it would be better to go
back and own my error, or whether it would be better to write him a note,
and try to set myself right in that way. But in the end I did neither,
and I have since survived my mortal shame some forty years or more. But
at the time it did not seem possible that I should live through the day
with it, and I thought that I ought at least to go and confess it to
Hawthorne, and let, him disown the wretch who had so poorly repaid the
kindness of his introduction by such misbehavior. I did indeed walk down
by the Wayside, in the cool of the evening, and there I saw Hawthorne for
the last time. He was sitting on one of the timbers beside his cottage,
and smoking with an air of friendly calm. I had got on very well with
him, and I longed to go in, and tell him how ill I had got on with
Emerson; I believed that though he cast me off, he would understand me,
and would perhaps see some hope for me in another world, though there
could be none in this.

But I had not the courage to speak of the affair to any one but Fields,
to whom I unpacked my heart when I got back to Boston, and he asked me
about my adventures in Concord. By this time I could see it in a
humorous light, and I did not much mind his lying back in his chair and
laughing and laughing, till I thought he would roll out of it. He
perfectly conceived the situation, and got an amusement from it that I
could get only through sympathy with him. But I thought it a favorable
moment to propose myself as the assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly,
which I had the belief I could very well become, with advantage to myself
if not to the magazine. He seemed to think so too; he said that if the
place had not just been filled, I should certainly have had it; and it
was to his recollection of this prompt ambition of mine that I suppose
I may have owed my succession to a like vacancy some four years later.
He was charmingly kind; he entered with the sweetest interest into the
story of my economic life, which had been full of changes and chances
already. But when I said very seriously that now I was tired of these
fortuities, and would like to be settled in something, he asked, with
dancing eyes,

"Why, how old are you?"

"I am twenty-three," I answered, and then the laughing fit took him

"Well," he said, "you begin young, out there!"

In my heart I did not think that twenty-three was so very young, but
perhaps it was; and if any one were to say that I had been portraying
here a youth whose aims were certainly beyond his achievements, who was
morbidly sensitive, and if not conceited was intolerably conscious, who
had met with incredible kindness, and had suffered no more than was good
for him, though he might not have merited his pain any more than his joy,
I do not know that I should gainsay him, for I am not at all sure that I
was not just that kind of youth when I paid my first visit to New

LITERARY FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES--First Impressions of Literary New York

by William Dean Howells


It was by boat that I arrived from Boston, on an August morning of 1860,
which was probably of the same quality as an August morning of 1900.
I used not to mind the weather much in those days; it was hot or it was
cold, it was wet or it was dry, but it was not my affair; and I suppose
that I sweltered about the strange city, with no sense of anything very
personal in the temperature, until nightfall. What I remember is being
high up in a hotel long since laid low, listening in the summer dark,
after the long day was done, to the Niagara roar of the omnibuses whose
tide then swept Broadway from curb to curb, for all the miles of its
length. At that hour the other city noises were stilled, or lost in this
vaster volume of sound, which seemed to fill the whole night. It had a
solemnity which the modern comer to New York will hardly imagine, for
that tide of omnibuses has long since ebbed away, and has left the air to
the strident discords of the elevated trains and the irregular alarum of
the grip-car gongs, which blend to no such harmonious thunder as rose
from the procession of those ponderous and innumerable vans. There was a
sort of inner quiet in the sound, and when I chose I slept off to it, and
woke to it in the morning refreshed and strengthened to explore the
literary situation in the metropolis.


Not that I think I left this to the second day. Very probably I lost no
time in going to the office of the Saturday Press, as soon as I had my
breakfast after arriving, and I have a dim impression of anticipating the
earliest of the Bohemians, whose gay theory of life obliged them to a
good many hardships in lying down early in the morning, and rising up
late in the day. If it was the office-boy who bore me company during the
first hour of my visit, by-and-by the editors and contributors actually
began to come in. I would not be very specific about them if I could,
for since that Bohemia has faded from the map of the republic of letters,
it has grown more and more difficult to trace its citizenship to any
certain writer. There are some living who knew the Bohemians and even
loved them, but there are increasingly few who were of them, even in the
fond retrospect of youthful follies and errors. It was in fact but a
sickly colony, transplanted from the mother asphalt of Paris, and never
really striking root in the pavements of New York; it was a colony of
ideas, of theories, which had perhaps never had any deep root anywhere.
What these ideas, these theories, were in art and in life, it would not
be very easy to say; but in the Saturday Press they came to violent
expression, not to say explosion, against all existing forms of
respectability. If respectability was your 'bete noire', then you were a
Bohemian; and if you were in the habit of rendering yourself in prose,
then you necessarily shredded your prose into very fine paragraphs of a
sentence each, or of a very few words, or even of one word. I believe
this fashion prevailed till very lately with some of the dramatic
critics, who thought that it gave a quality of epigram to the style; and
I suppose it was borrowed from the more spasmodic moments of Victor Hugo
by the editor of the Press. He brought it back with him when he came
home from one of those sojourns in Paris which possess one of the French
accent rather than the French language; I long desired to write in that
fashion myself, but I had not the courage.

This editor was a man of such open and avowed cynicism that he may have
been, for all I know, a kindly optimist at heart; some say, however, that
he had really talked himself into being what he seemed. I only know that
his talk, the first day I saw him, was of such a sort that if he was half
as bad, he would have been too bad to be. He walked up and down his room
saying what lurid things he would directly do if any one accused him of
respectability, so that he might disabuse the minds of all witnesses.
There were four or five of his assistants and contributors listening to
the dreadful threats, which did not deceive even so great innocence as
mine, but I do not know whether they found it the sorry farce that I did.
They probably felt the fascination for him which I could not disown,
in spite of my inner disgust; and were watchful at the same time for the
effect of his words with one who was confessedly fresh from Boston,
and was full of delight in the people he had seen there. It appeared,
with him, to be proof of the inferiority of Boston that if you passed
down Washington Street, half a dozen men in the crowd would know you were
Holmes, or Lowell, or Longfellow, or Wendell Phillips; but in Broadway no
one would know who you were, or care to the measure of his smallest
blasphemy. I have since heard this more than once urged as a signal
advantage of New York for the aesthetic inhabitant, but I am not sure,
yet, that it is so. The unrecognized celebrity probably has his mind
quite as much upon himself as if some one pointed him out, and otherwise
I cannot think that the sense of neighborhood is such a bad thing for the
artist in any sort. It involves the sense of responsibility, which
cannot be too constant or too keen. If it narrows, it deepens; and this
may be the secret of Boston.


It would not be easy to say just why the Bohemian group represented New
York literature to my imagination; for I certainly associated other names
with its best work, but perhaps it was because I had written for the
Saturday Press myself, and had my pride in it, and perhaps it was because
that paper really embodied the new literary life of the city. It was
clever, and full of the wit that tries its teeth upon everything. It
attacked all literary shams but its own, and it made itself felt and
feared. The young writers throughout the country were ambitious to be
seen in it, and they gave their best to it; they gave literally, for the
Saturday Press never paid in anything but hopes of paying, vaguer even
than promises. It is not too much to say that it was very nearly as well
for one to be accepted by the Press as to be accepted by the Atlantic,
and for the time there was no other literary comparison. To be in it was
to be in the company of Fitz James O'Brien, Fitzhugh Ludlow, Mr. Aldrich,
Mr. Stedman, and whoever else was liveliest in prose or loveliest in
verse at that day in New York. It was a power, and although it is true
that, as Henry Giles said of it, "Man cannot live by snapping-turtle
alone," the Press was very good snapping-turtle. Or, it seemed so then;
I should be almost afraid to test it now, for I do not like snapping-
turtle so much as I once did, and I have grown nicer in my taste, and
want my snapping-turtle of the very best. What is certain is that I went
to the office of the Saturday Press in New York with much the same sort
of feeling I had in going to the office of the Atlantic Monthly in
Boston, but I came away with a very different feeling. I had found there
a bitterness against Boston as great as the bitterness against
respectability, and as Boston was then rapidly becoming my second
country, I could not join in the scorn thought of her and said of her by
the Bohemians. I fancied a conspiracy among them to shock the literary
pilgrim, and to minify the precious emotions he had experienced in
visiting other shrines; but I found no harm in that, for I knew just how
much to be shocked, and I thought I knew better how to value certain
things of the soul than they. Yet when their chief asked me how I got on
with Hawthorne, and I began to say that he was very shy and I was rather
shy, and the king of Bohemia took his pipe out to break in upon me with
"Oh, a couple of shysters!" and the rest laughed, I was abashed all they
could have wished, and was not restored to myself till one of them said
that the thought of Boston made him as ugly as sin; then I began to hope
again that men who took themselves so seriously as that need not be taken
very seriously by me.

In fact I had heard things almost as desperately cynical in other
newspaper offices before that, and I could not see what was so
distinctively Bohemian in these 'anime prave', these souls so baleful by
their own showing. But apparently Bohemia was not a state that you could
well imagine from one encounter, and since my stay in New York was to be
very short, I lost no time in acquainting myself further with it. That
very night I went to the beer-cellar, once very far up Broadway, where I
was given to know that the Bohemian nights were smoked and quaffed away.
It was said, so far West as Ohio, that the queen of Bohemia sometimes
came to Pfaff's: a young girl of a sprightly gift in letters, whose name
or pseudonym had made itself pretty well known at that day, and whose
fate, pathetic at all times, out-tragedies almost any other in the
history of letters. She was seized with hydrophobia from the bite of her
dog, on a railroad train; and made a long journey home in the paroxysms
of that agonizing disease, which ended in her death after she reached New
York. But this was after her reign had ended, and no such black shadow
was cast forward upon Pfaff's, whose name often figured in the verse and
the epigrammatically paragraphed prose of the 'Saturday Press'. I felt
that as a contributor and at least a brevet Bohemian I ought not to go
home without visiting the famous place, and witnessing if I could not
share the revels of my comrades. As I neither drank beer nor smoked, my
part in the carousal was limited to a German pancake, which I found they
had very good at Pfaff's, and to listening to the whirling words of my
commensals, at the long board spread for the Bohemians in a cavernous
space under the pavement. There were writers for the 'Saturday Press' and
for Vanity Fair (a hopefully comic paper of that day), and some of the
artists who drew for the illustrated periodicals. Nothing of their talk
remains with me, but the impression remains that it was not so good talk
as I had heard in Boston. At one moment of the orgy, which went but
slowly for an orgy, we were joined by some belated Bohemians whom the
others made a great clamor over; I was given to understand they were just
recovered from a fearful debauch; their locks were still damp from the
wet towels used to restore them, and their eyes were very frenzied.
I was presented to these types, who neither said nor did anything worthy
of their awful appearance, but dropped into seats at the table, and ate
of the supper with an appetite that seemed poor. I stayed hoping vainly
for worse things till eleven o'clock, and then I rose and took my leave
of a literary condition that had distinctly disappointed me. I do not
say that it may not have been wickeder and wittier than I found it;
I only report what I saw and heard in Bohemia on my first visit to New
York, and I know that my acquaintance with it was not exhaustive. When I
came the next year the Saturday Press was no more, and the editor and his
contributors had no longer a common centre. The best of the young
fellows whom I met there confessed, in a pleasant exchange of letters
which we had afterwards, that he thought the pose a vain and unprofitable
one; and when the Press was revived, after the war, it was without any of
the old Bohemian characteristics except that of not paying for material.
It could not last long upon these terms, and again it passed away, and
still waits its second palingenesis.

The editor passed away too, not long after, and the thing that he had
inspired altogether ceased to be. He was a man of a certain sardonic
power, and used it rather fiercely and freely, with a joy probably more
apparent than real in the pain it gave. In my last knowledge of him he
was much milder than when I first knew him, and I have the feeling that
he too came to own before he died that man cannot live by snapping-turtle
alone. He was kind to some neglected talents, and befriended them with
a vigor and a zeal which he would have been the last to let you call
generous. The chief of these was Walt Whitman, who, when the Saturday
Press took it up, had as hopeless a cause with the critics on either side
of the ocean as any man could have. It was not till long afterwards that
his English admirers began to discover him, and to make his countrymen
some noisy reproaches for ignoring him; they were wholly in the dark
concerning him when the Saturday Press, which first stood his friend,
and the young men whom the Press gathered about it, made him their cult.
No doubt he was more valued because he was so offensive in some ways than
he would have been if he had been in no way offensive, but it remains a
fact that they celebrated him quite as much as was good for them. He was
often at Pfaff's with them, and the night of my visit he was the chief
fact of my experience. I did not know he was there till I was on my way
out, for he did not sit at the table under the pavement, but at the head
of one farther into the room. There, as I passed, some friendly fellow
stopped me and named me to him, and I remember how he leaned back in his
chair, and reached out his great hand to me, as if he were going to give
it me for good and all. He had a fine head, with a cloud of Jovian hair
upon it, and a branching beard and mustache, and gentle eyes that looked
most kindly into mine, and seemed to wish the liking which I instantly
gave him, though we hardly passed a word, and our acquaintance was summed
up in that glance and the grasp of his mighty fist upon my hand. I doubt
if he had any notion who or what I was beyond the fact that I was a young
poet of some sort, but he may possibly have remembered seeing my name
printed after some very Heinesque verses in the Press. I did not meet
him again for twenty years, and then I had only a moment with him when he
was reading the proofs of his poems in Boston. Some years later I saw
him for the last time, one day after his lecture on Lincoln, in that
city, when he came down from the platform to speak with some handshaking
friends who gathered about him. Then and always he gave me the sense of
a sweet and true soul, and I felt in him a spiritual dignity which I will
not try to reconcile with his printing in the forefront of his book a
passage from a private letter of Emerson's, though I believe he would not
have seen such a thing as most other men would, or thought ill of it in
another. The spiritual purity which I felt in him no less than the
dignity is something that I will no more try to reconcile with what
denies it in his page; but such things we may well leave to the
adjustment of finer balances than we have at hand. I will make sure only
of the greatest benignity in the presence of the man. The apostle of the
rough, the uncouth, was the gentlest person; his barbaric yawp,
translated into the terms of social encounter, was an address of singular
quiet, delivered in a voice of winning and endearing friendliness.

As to his work itself, I suppose that I do not think it so valuable in
effect as in intention. He was a liberating force, a very "imperial
anarch" in literature; but liberty is never anything but a means, and
what Whitman achieved was a means and not an end, in what must be called
his verse. I like his prose, if there is a difference, much better;
there he is of a genial and comforting quality, very rich and cordial,
such as I felt him to be when I met him in person. His verse seems to me
not poetry, but the materials of poetry, like one's emotions; yet I would
not misprize it, and I am glad to own that I have had moments of great
pleasure in it. Some French critic quoted in the Saturday Press (I
cannot think of his name) said the best thing of him when he said that he
made you a partner of the enterprise, for that is precisely what he does,
and that is what alienates and what endears in him, as you like or
dislike the partnership. It is still something neighborly, brotherly,
fatherly, and so I felt him to be when the benign old man looked on me
and spoke to me.


That night at Pfaff's must have been the last of the Bohemians for me,
and it was the last of New York authorship too, for the time. I do not
know why I should not have imagined trying to see Curtis, whom I knew so
much by heart, and whom I adored, but I may not have had the courage,
or I may have heard that he was out of town; Bryant, I believe, was then
out of the country; but at any rate I did not attempt him either. The
Bohemians were the beginning and the end of the story for me, and to tell
the truth I did not like the story.. I remember that as I sat at that
table. under the pavement, in Pfaff's beer-cellar, and listened to the
wit that did not seem very funny, I thought of the dinner with Lowell,
the breakfast with Fields, the supper at the Autocrat's, and felt that I
had fallen very far. In fact it can do no harm at this distance of time
to confess that it seemed to me then, and for a good while afterwards,
that a person who had seen the men and had the things said before him
that I had in Boston, could not keep himself too carefully in cotton; and
this was what I did all the following winter, though of course it was a
secret between me and me. I dare say it was not the worst thing I could
have done, in some respects.

My sojourn in New York could not have been very long, and the rest of it
was mainly given to viewing the monuments of the city from the windows of
omnibuses and the platforms of horse-cars. The world was so simple then
that there were perhaps only a half-dozen cities that had horse-cars in
them, and I travelled in those conveyances at New York with an unfaded
zest, even after my journeys back and forth between Boston and Cambridge.
I have not the least notion where I went or what I saw, but I suppose
that it was up and down the ugly east and west avenues, then lying open
to the eye in all the hideousness now partly concealed by the elevated
roads, and that I found them very stately and handsome. Indeed, New York
was really handsomer then than it is now, when it has so many more pieces
of beautiful architecture, for at that day the skyscrapers were not yet,
and there was a fine regularity in the streets that these brute bulks
have robbed of all shapeliness. Dirt and squalor there were a plenty,
but there was infinitely more comfort. The long succession of cross
streets was yet mostly secure from business, after you passed Clinton
Place; commerce was just beginning to show itself in Union Square, and
Madison Square was still the home of the McFlimsies, whose kin and kind
dwelt unmolested in the brownstone stretches of Fifth Avenue. I tried
hard to imagine them from the acquaintance Mr. Butler's poem had given
me, and from the knowledge the gentle satire of The 'Potiphar Papers' had
spread broadcast through a community shocked by the excesses of our best
society; it was not half so bad then as the best now, probably. But I do
not think I made very much of it, perhaps because most of the people who
ought to have been in those fine mansions were away at the seaside and
the mountains.

The mountains I had seen on my way down from Canada, but the sea-side
not, and it would never do to go home without visiting some famous summer
resort. I must have fixed upon Long Branch because I must have heard of
it as then the most fashionable; and one afternoon I took the boat for
that place. By this means I not only saw sea-bathing for the first time,
but I saw a storm at sea: a squall struck us so suddenly that it blew
away all the camp-stools of the forward promenade; it was very exciting,
and I long meant to use in literature the black wall of cloud that
settled on the water before us like a sort of portable midnight; I now
throw it away upon the reader, as it were; it never would come in
anywhere. I stayed all night at Long Branch, and I had a bath the next
morning before breakfast: an extremely cold one, with a life-line to keep
me against the undertow. In this rite I had the company of a young New-
Yorker, whom I had met on the boat coming down, and who was of the light,
hopeful, adventurous business type which seems peculiar to the city, and
which has always attracted me. He told me much about his life, and how
he lived, and what it cost him to live. He had a large room at a
fashionable boardinghouse, and he paid fourteen dollars a week.
In Columbus I had such a room at such a house, and paid three and a half,
and I thought it a good deal. But those were the days before the war,
when America was the cheapest country in the world, and the West was
incredibly inexpensive.

After a day of lonely splendor at this scene of fashion and gaiety,
I went back to New York, and took the boat for Albany on my way home.
I noted that I had no longer the vivid interest in nature and human
nature which I had felt in setting out upon my travels, and I said to
myself that this was from having a mind so crowded with experiences and
impressions that it could receive no more; and I really suppose that if
the happiest phrase had offered itself to me at some moments, I should
scarcely have looked about me for a landscape or a figure to fit it to.
I was very glad to get back to my dear little city in the West (I found
it seething in an August sun that was hot enough to have calcined the
limestone State House), and to all the friends I was so fond of.


I did what I could to prove myself unworthy of them by refusing their
invitations, and giving myself wholly to literature, during the early
part of the winter that followed; and I did not realize my error till the
invitations ceased to come, and I found myself in an unbroken
intellectual solitude. The worst of it was that an ungrateful Muse did
little in return for the sacrifices I made her, and the things I now
wrote were not liked by the editors I sent them to. The editorial taste
is not always the test of merit, but it is the only one we have, and I am
not saying the editors were wrong in my case. There were then such a
very few places where you could market your work: the Atlantic in Boston
and Harper's in New York were the magazines that paid, though the
Independent newspaper bought literary material; the Saturday Press
printed it without buying, and so did the old Knickerbocker Magazine,
though there was pecuniary good-will in both these cases. I toiled much
that winter over a story I had long been writing, and at last sent it to
the Atlantic, which had published five poems for me the year before.
After some weeks, or it may have been months, I got it back with a note
saying that the editors had the less regret in returning it because they
saw that in the May number of the Knickerbocker the first chapter of the
story had appeared. Then I remembered that, years before, I had sent
this chapter to that magazine, as a sketch to be printed by itself, and
afterwards had continued the story from it. I had never heard of its
acceptance, and supposed of course that it was rejected; but on my second
visit to New York I called at the Knickerbocker office, and a new editor,
of those that the magazine was always having in the days of its failing
fortunes, told me that he had found my sketch in rummaging about in a
barrel of his predecessors manuscripts, and had liked it, and printed
it. He said that there were fifteen dollars coming to me for that
sketch, and might he send the money to me? I said that he might, though
I do not see, to this day, why he did not give it me on the spot; and he
made a very small minute in a very large sheet of paper (really like Dick
Swiveller), and promised I should have it that night; but I sailed the
next day for Liverpool without it. I sailed without the money for some
verses that Vanity Fair bought of me, but I hardly expected that, for the
editor, who was then Artemus Ward, had frankly told me in taking my
address that ducats were few at that moment with Vanity Fair.
I was then on my way to be consul at Venice, where I spent the next four
years in a vigilance for Confederate privateers which none of them ever
surprised. I had asked for the consulate at Munich, where I hoped to
steep myself yet longer in German poetry, but when my appointment came,
I found it was for Rome. I was very glad to get Rome even; but the
income of the office was in fees, and I thought I had better go on to
Washington and find out how much the fees amounted to. People in
Columbus who had been abroad said that on five hundred dollars you could
live in Rome like a prince, but I doubted this; and when I learned at the
State Department that the fees of the Roman consulate came to only three
hundred, I perceived that I could not live better than a baron, probably,
and I despaired. The kindly chief of the consular bureau said that the
President's secretaries, Mr. John Nicolay and Mr. John Hay, were
interested in my appointment, and he advised my going over to the White
House and seeing them. I lost no time in doing that, and I learned that
as young Western men they were interested in me because I was a young
Western man who had done something in literature, and they were willing
to help me for that reason, and for no other that I ever knew. They
proposed my going to Venice; the salary was then seven hundred and fifty,
but they thought they could get it put up to a thousand. In the end they
got it put up to fifteen hundred, and so I went to Venice, where if I did
not live like a prince on that income, I lived a good deal more like a
prince than I could have done at Rome on a fifth of it.

If the appointment was not present fortune, it was the beginning of the
best luck I have had in the world, and I am glad to owe it all to those
friends of my verse, who could have been no otherwise friends of me.
They were then beginning very early careers of distinction which have not
been wholly divided. Mr. Nicolay could have been about twenty-five, and
Mr. Hay nineteen or twenty. No one dreamed as yet of the opportunity
opening to them in being so constantly near the man whose life they have
written, and with whose fame they have imperishably interwrought their
names. I remember the sobered dignity of the one, and the humorous
gaiety of the other, and how we had some young men's joking and laughing
together, in the anteroom where they received me, with the great soul
entering upon its travail beyond the closed door. They asked me if I had
ever seen the President, and I said that I had seen him at Columbus, the
year before; but I could not say how much I should like to see him again,
and thank him for the favor which I had no claim to at his hands, except
such as the slight campaign biography I had written could be thought to
have given me. That day or another, as I left my friends, I met him in
the corridor without, and he looked at the space I was part of with his
ineffably melancholy eyes, without knowing that I was the
indistinguishable person in whose "integrity and abilities he had reposed
such special confidence" as to have appointed him consul for Venice and
the ports of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, though he might have
recognized the terms of my commission if I had reminded him of them.
I faltered a moment in my longing to address him, and then I decided that
every one who forebore to speak needlessly to him, or to shake his hand,
did him a kindness; and I wish I could be as sure of the wisdom of all my
past behavior as I am of that piece of it. He walked up to the
watercooler that stood in the corner, and drew himself a full goblet from
it, which he poured down his throat with a backward tilt of his head, and
then went wearily within doors. The whole affair, so simple, has always
remained one of a certain pathos in my memory, and I would rather have
seen Lincoln in that unconscious moment than on some statelier occasion.


I went home to Ohio; and sent on the bond I was to file in the Treasury
Department; but it was mislaid there, and to prevent another chance of
that kind I carried on the duplicate myself. It was on my second visit
that I met the generous young Irishman William D. O'Connor, at the house
of my friend Piatt, and heard his ardent talk. He was one of the
promising men of that day, and he had written an anti-slavery novel in
the heroic mood of Victor Hugo, which greatly took my fancy; and I
believe he wrote poems too. He had not yet risen to be the chief of Walt
Whitman's champions outside of the Saturday Press, but he had already
espoused the theory of Bacon's authorship of Shakespeare, then newly
exploited by the poor lady of Bacon's name, who died constant to it in an
insane asylum. He used to speak of the reputed dramatist as "the fat
peasant of Stratford," and he was otherwise picturesque of speech in a
measure that consoled, if it did not convince. The great war was then
full upon us, and when in the silences of our literary talk its awful
breath was heard, and its shadow fell upon the hearth where we gathered
round the first fires of autumn, O'Connor would lift his beautiful head
with a fine effect of prophecy, and say, "Friends, I feel a sense of
victory in the air." He was not wrong; only the victory was for the
other aide.

Who beside O'Connor shared in these saddened symposiums I cannot tell
now; but probably other young journalists and office-holders, intending
litterateurs, since more or less extinct. I make certain only of the
young Boston publisher who issued a very handsome edition of 'Leaves of
Grass', and then failed promptly if not consequently. But I had already
met, in my first sojourn at the capital, a young journalist who had given
hostages to poetry, and whom I was very glad to see and proud to know.
Mr. Stedman and I were talking over that meeting the other day, and I can
be surer than I might have been without his memory, that I found him at a
friend's house, where he was nursing himself for some slight sickness,
and that I sat by his bed while our souls launched together into the
joyful realms of hope and praise. In him I found the quality of Boston,
the honor and passion of literature, and not a mere pose of the literary
life; and the world knows without my telling how true he has been to his
ideal of it. His earthly mission then was to write letters from
Washington for the New York World, which started in life as a good young
evening paper, with a decided religious tone, so that the Saturday Press
could call it the Night-blooming Serious. I think Mr. Stedman wrote for
its editorial page at times, and his relation to it as a Washington
correspondent had an authority which is wanting to the function in these
days of perfected telegraphing. He had not yet achieved that seat in the
Stock Exchange whose possession has justified his recourse to business,
and has helped him to mean something more single in literature than many
more singly devoted to it. I used sometimes to speak about that with
another eager young author in certain middle years when we were chafing
in editorial harness, and we always decided that Stedman had the best of
it in being able to earn his living in a sort so alien to literature that
he could come to it unjaded, and with a gust unspoiled by kindred savors.
But no man shapes his own life, and I dare say that Stedman may have been
all the time envying us our tripods from his high place in the Stock
Exchange. What is certain is that he has come to stand for literature
and to embody New York in it as no one else does. In a community which
seems never to have had a conscious relation to letters, he has kept the
faith with dignity and fought the fight with constant courage. Scholar
and poet at once, he has spoken to his generation with authority which we
can forget only in the charm which makes us forget everything else.

But his fame was still before him when we met, and I could bring to him
an admiration for work which had not yet made itself known to so many;
but any admirer was welcome. We talked of what we had done, and each
said how much he liked certain thing of the other's; I even seized my
advantage of his helplessness to read him a poem of mine which I had in
my pocket; he advised me where to place it; and if the reader will not
think it an unfair digression, I will tell here what became of that poem,
for I think its varied fortunes were amusing, and I hope my own
sufferings and final triumph with it will not be without encouragement to
the young literary endeavorer. It was a poem called, with no prophetic
sense of fitness, "Forlorn," and I tried it first with the 'Atlantic
Monthly', which would not have it. Then I offered it in person to a
former editor of 'Harper's Monthly', but he could not see his advantage
in it, and I carried it overseas to Venice with me. From that point I
sent it to all the English magazines as steadily as the post could carry
it away and bring it back. On my way home, four years later, I took it
to London with me, where a friend who knew Lewes, then just beginning
with the 'Fortnightly Review', sent it to him for me. It was promptly
returned, with a letter wholly reserved as to its quality, but full of a
poetic gratitude for my wish to contribute to the Fortnightly. Then I
heard that a certain Mr. Lucas was about to start a magazine, and I
offered the poem to him. The kindest letter of acceptance followed me to
America, and I counted upon fame and fortune as usual, when the news of
Mr. Lucas's death came. I will not poorly joke an effect from my poem in
the fact; but the fact remains. By this time I was a writer in the
office of the 'Nation' newspaper, and after I left this place to be Mr.
Fields's assistant on the Atlantic, I sent my poem to the Nation, where
it was printed at last. In such scant measure as my verses have pleased
it has found rather unusual favor, and I need not say that its
misfortunes endeared it to its author.

But all this is rather far away from my first meeting with Stedman in
Washington. Of course I liked him, and I thought him very handsome and
fine, with a full beard cut in the fashion he has always worn it, and
with poet's eyes lighting an aquiline profile. Afterwards, when I saw
him afoot, I found him of a worldly splendor in dress, and envied him,
as much as I could envy him anything, the New York tailor whose art had
clothed him: I had a New York tailor too, but with a difference. He had
a worldly dash along with his supermundane gifts, which took me almost as
much, and all the more because I could see that he valued himself nothing
upon it. He was all for literature, and for literary men as the
superiors of every one. I must have opened my heart to him a good deal,
for when I told him how the newspaper I had written for from Canada and
New England had ceased to print my letters, he said, "Think of a man like
sitting in judgment on a man like you!" I thought of it, and was avenged
if not comforted; and at any rate I liked Stedman's standing up so
stiffly for the honor of a craft that is rather too limp in some of its

I suppose it was he who introduced me to the Stoddards, whom I met in New
York just before I sailed, and who were then in the glow of their early
fame as poets. They knew about my poor beginnings, and they were very,
very good to me. Stoddard went with me to Franklin Square, and gave the
sanction of his presence to the ineffectual offer of my poem there.
But what I relished most was the long talks I had with them both about
authorship in all its phases, and the exchange of delight in this poem
and that, this novel and that, with gay, wilful runs away to make some
wholly irrelevant joke, or fire puns into the air at no mark whatever.
Stoddard had then a fame, with the sweetness of personal affection in it,
from the lyrics and the odes that will perhaps best keep him known, and
Mrs. Stoddard was beginning to make her distinct and special quality felt
in the magazines, in verse and fiction. In both it seems to me that she
has failed of the recognition which her work merits. Her tales and
novels have in them a foretaste of realism, which was too strange for the
palate of their day, and is now too familiar, perhaps. It is a peculiar
fate, and would form the scheme of a pretty study in the history of
literature. But in whatever she did she left the stamp of a talent like
no other, and of a personality disdainful of literary environment. In a
time when most of us had to write like Tennyson, or Longfellow, or
Browning, she never would write like any one but herself.

I remember very well the lodging over a corner of Fourth Avenue and some
downtown street where I visited these winning and gifted people, and
tasted the pleasure of their racy talk, and the hospitality of their
good-will toward all literature, which certainly did not leave me out.
We sat before their grate in the chill of the last October days, and they
set each other on to one wild flight of wit after another, and again I
bathed my delighted spirit in the atmosphere of a realm where for the
time at least no

"----rumor of oppression or defeat,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,"

could penetrate. I liked the Stoddards because they were frankly not of
that Bohemia which I disliked so much, and thought it of no promise or
validity; and because I was fond of their poetry and found them in it.
I liked the absolutely literary keeping of their lives. He had then,
and for long after, a place in the Custom house, but he was no more of
that than Lamb was of India House. He belonged to that better world
where there is no interest but letters, and which was as much like heaven
for me as anything I could think of.

The meetings with the Stoddards repeated themselves when I came back to
sail from New York, early in November. Mixed up with the cordial
pleasure of them in my memory is a sense of the cold and wet outdoors,
and the misery of being in those infamous New York streets, then as for
long afterwards the squalidest in the world. The last night I saw my
friends they told me of the tragedy which had just happened at the camp
in the City Hall Park. Fitz James O'Brien, the brilliant young Irishman
who had dazzled us with his story of "The Diamond Lens," and frozen our
blood with his ingenious tale of a ghost--"What was It"--a ghost that
could be felt and heard, but not seen--had enlisted for the war, and
risen to be an officer with the swift process of the first days of it.
In that camp he had just then shot and killed a man for some infraction
of discipline, and it was uncertain what the end would be. He was
acquitted, however, and it is known how he afterwards died of lockjaw
from a wound received in battle.


Before this last visit in New York there was a second visit to Boston,
which I need not dwell upon, because it was chiefly a revival of the
impressions of the first. Again I saw the Fieldses in their home; again
the Autocrat in his, and Lowell now beneath his own roof, beside the
study fire where I was so often to sit with him in coming years. At
dinner (which we had at two o'clock) the talk turned upon my appointment,
and he said of me to his wife: "Think of his having got Stillman's place!
We ought to put poison in his wine," and he told me of the wish the
painter had to go to Venice and follow up Ruskin's work there in a book
of his own. But he would not let me feel very guilty, and I will not
pretend that I had any personal regret for my good fortune.

The place was given me perhaps because I had not nearly so many other
gifts as he who lost it, and who was at once artist, critic, journalist,
traveller, and eminently each. I met him afterwards in Rome, which the
powers bestowed upon him instead of Venice, and he forgave me, though I
do not know whether he forgave the powers. We walked far and long over
the Campagna, and I felt the charm of a most uncommon mind in talk which
came out richest and fullest in the presence of the wild nature which he
loved and knew so much better than most other men. I think that the book
he would have written about Venice is forever to be regretted, and I do
not at all console myself for its loss with the book I have written

At Lowell's table that day they spoke of what sort of winter I should
find in Venice, and he inclined to the belief that I should want a fire
there. On his study hearth a very brisk one burned when we went back to
it, and kept out the chill of a cold easterly storm. We looked through
one of the windows at the rain, and he said he could remember standing
and looking out of that window at such a storm when he was a child; for
he was born in that house, and his life had kept coming back to it. He
died in it, at last.

In a lifting of the rain he walked with me down to the village, as he
always called the denser part of the town about Harvard Square, and saw
me aboard a horse-car for Boston. Before we parted he gave me two
charges: to open my mouth when I began to speak Italian, and to think
well of women. He said that our race spoke its own tongue with its teeth
shut, and so failed to master the languages that wanted freer utterance.
As to women, he said there were unworthy ones, but a good woman was the
best thing in the world, and a man was always the better for honoring


Abstract, the air-drawn, afflicted me like physical discomforts
Bayard Taylor: incomparable translation of Faust
Became gratefully strange
Best talkers are willing that you should talk if you like
Charles Reade
Could easily believe now that it was some one else who saw it
Death of the joy that ought to come from work
Did not feel the effect I would so willingly have experienced
Dinner was at the old-fashioned Boston hour of two
Edward Everett Hale
Either to deny the substance of things unseen, or to affirm it
Espoused the theory of Bacon's authorship of Shakespeare
Feigned the gratitude which I could see that he expected
First dinner served in courses that I had sat down to
Forbearance of a wise man content to bide his time
Forebore to speak needlessly to him, or to shake his hand
Hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, The love of love
Hollowness, the hopelessness, the unworthiness of life
I did not know, and I hated to ask
I find this young man worthy
If he was half as bad, he would have been too bad to be
If he was not there to your touch, it was no fault of his
In the South there was nothing but a mistaken social ideal
Incredible in their insipidity
Industrial slavery
Love of freedom and the hope of justice
Man who had so much of the boy in him
Men who took themselves so seriously as that need
Met with kindness, if not honor
Might so far forget myself as to be a novelist
Napoleonic height which spiritually overtops the Alps
Never paid in anything but hopes of paying
Not quite himself till he had made you aware of his quality
Odious hilarity, without meaning and without remission
Praised extravagantly, and in the wrong place
Quebec was a bit of the seventeenth century
Remember the dinner-bell
Seen through the wrong end of the telescope
Things common to all, however peculiar in each
Visited one of the great mills
Welcome me, and make the least of my shyness and strangeness
Wit that tries its teeth upon everything


by William Dean Howells


During the four years of my life in Venice the literary intention was
present with me at all times and in all places. I wrote many things in
verse, which I sent to the magazines in every part of the English-
speaking world, but they came unerringly back to me, except in three
instances only, when they were kept by the editors who finally printed
them. One of these pieces was published in the Atlantic Monthly; another
in Harpers Magazine; the third was got into the New York Ledger through
the kindness of Doctor Edward Everett Hale, who used I know not what
mighty magic to that end. I had not yet met him; but he interested
himself in my ballad as if it had been his own. His brother, Charles
Hale, later Consul-General for Egypt, whom I saw almost every moment of
the two visits he paid Venice in my time, had sent it to him, after
copying it in his own large, fair hand, so that it could be read.
He was not quite of that literary Boston which I so fondly remembered my
glimpses of; he was rather of a journalistic and literary Boston which I
had never known; but he was of Boston, after all. He had been in
Lowell's classes at Harvard; he had often met Longfellow in Cambridge; he
knew Doctor Holmes, of course; and he let me talk of my idols to my
heart's content. I think he must have been amused by my raptures; most
people would have been; but he was kind and patient, and he listened to
me with a sweet intelligence which I shall always gratefully remember.
He died too young, with his life's possibilities mainly unfulfilled; but
none who knew him could fail to imagine them, or to love him for what he


Besides those few pitiful successes, I had nothing but defeats in the
sort of literature which I supposed was to be my calling, and the defeats
threw me upon prose; for some sort of literary thing, if not one, then
another, I must do if I lived; and I began to write those studies of
Venetian life which afterwards became a book, and which I contributed as
letters to the 'Boston Advertiser', after vainly offering them to more
aesthetic periodicals. However, I do not imagine that it was a very
smiling time for any literary endeavorer at home in the life-and-death
civil war then waging. Some few young men arose who made themselves
heard amid the din of arms even as far as Venice, but most of these were
hushed long ago. I fancy Theodore Winthrop, who began to speak, as it
were, from his soldier's grave, so soon did his death follow the earliest
recognition by the public, and so many were his posthumous works, was
chief of these; but there were others whom the present readers must make
greater effort to remember. Forceythe Willson, who wrote The Old
Sergeant, became known for the rare quality of his poetry; and now and
then there came a poem from Aldrich, or Stedman, or Stoddard. The great
new series of the 'Biglow Papers' gathered volume with the force they had
from the beginning. The Autocrat was often in the pages of the Atlantic,
where one often found Whittier and Emerson, with many a fresh name now
faded. In Washington the Piatts were writing some of the most beautiful
verse of the war, and Brownell was sounding his battle lyrics like so
many trumpet blasts. The fiction which followed the war was yet all to
come. Whatever was done in any kind had some hint of the war in it,
inevitably; though in the very heart of it Longfellow was setting about
his great version of Dante peacefully, prayerfully, as he has told in the
noble sonnets which register the mood of his undertaking.

At Venice, if I was beyond the range of literary recognition I was in
direct relations with one of our greatest literary men, who was again of
that literary Boston which mainly represented American literature to me.
The official chief of the consul at Venice was the United States Minister
at Vienna, and in my time this minister was John Lothrop Motley, the
historian. He was removed, later, by that Johnson administration which
followed Lincoln's so forgottenly that I name it with a sense of
something almost prehistoric. Among its worst errors was the attempted
discredit of a man who had given lustre to our name by his work, and who
was an ardent patriot as well as accomplished scholar. He visited Venice
during my first year, which was the darkest period of the civil war, and
I remember with what instant security, not to say severity, he rebuked my
scarcely whispered misgivings of the end, when I ventured to ask him what
he thought it would be. Austria had never recognized the Secessionists
as belligerents, and in the complications with France and England there
was little for our minister but to share the home indignation at the
sympathy of those powers with the South. In Motley this was heightened
by that feeling of astonishment, of wounded faith, which all Americans
with English friendships experienced in those days, and which he, whose
English friendships were many, experienced in peculiar degree.

I drifted about with him in his gondola, and refreshed myself, long
a-hungered for such talk, with his talk of literary life in London.
Through some acquaintance I had made in Venice I was able to be of use to
him in getting documents copied for him in the Venetian Archives,
especially the Relations of the Venetian Ambassadors at different courts
during the period and events he was studying. All such papers passed
through my hands in transmission to the historian, though now I do not
quite know why they need have done so; but perhaps he was willing to give
me the pleasure of being a partner, however humble, in the enterprise.
My recollection of him is of courtesy to a far younger man unqualified by
patronage, and of a presence of singular dignity and grace. He was one
of the handsomest men I ever saw, with beautiful eyes, a fine blond beard
of modish cut, and a sensitive nose, straight and fine. He was
altogether a figure of worldly splendor; and I had reason to know that he
did not let the credit of our nation suffer at the most aristocratic
court in Europe for want of a fit diplomatic costume, when some of our
ministers were trying to make their office do its full effect upon all
occasions in "the dress of an American gentleman." The morning after his
arrival Mr. Motley came to me with a handful of newspapers which,
according to the Austrian custom at that day, had been opened in the
Venetian post-office. He wished me to protest against this on his behalf
as an infringement of his diplomatic extra-territoriality, and I proposed
to go at once to the director of the post: I had myself suffered in the
same way, and though I knew that a mere consul was helpless, I was
willing to see the double-headed eagle trodden under foot by a Minister
Plenipotentiary. Mr. Motley said that he would go with me, and we put
off in his gondola to the post-office. The director received us with the
utmost deference. He admitted the irregularity which the minister
complained of, and declared that he had no choice but to open every
foreign newspaper, to whomsoever addressed. He suggested, however, that
if the minister made his appeal to the Lieutenant-Governor of Venice,
Count Toggenburg would no doubt instantly order the exemption of his
newspapers from the general rule.

Mr. Motley said he would give himself the pleasure of calling upon the
Lieutenant-Governor, and "How fortunate," he added, when we were got back
into the gondola, "that I should have happened to bring my court dress
with me!" I did not see the encounter of the high contending powers, but
I know that it ended in a complete victory for our minister.

I had no further active relations of an official kind with Mr. Motley,
except in the case of a naturalized American citizen, whose property was
slowly but surely wasting away in the keeping of the Venetian courts.
An order had at last been given for the surrender of the remnant to the
owner; but the Lombardo-Venetian authorities insisted that this should be
done through the United States Minister at Vienna, and Mr. Motley held as
firmly that it must be done through the United States Consul at Venice.
I could only report to him from time to time the unyielding attitude of
the Civil Tribunal, and at last he consented, as he wrote, "to act
officiously, not officially, in the matter," and the hapless claimant got
what was left of his estate.

I had a glimpse of the historian afterwards in Boston, but it was only
for a moment, just before his appointment to England, where he was made
to suffer for Sumner in his quarrel with Grant. That injustice crowned
the injuries his country had done a most faithful patriot and high-
spirited gentleman, whose fame as an historian once filled the ear of the
English-speaking world. His books seemed to have been written in a
spirit already no longer modern; and I did not find the greatest of them
so moving as I expected when I came to it with all the ardor of my
admiration for the historian. William the Silent seemed to me, by his
worshipper's own showing, scarcely level with the popular movement which
he did not so much direct as follow; but it is a good deal for a prince
to be able even to follow his people; and it cannot be said that Motley
does not fully recognize the greatness of the Dutch people, though he may
see the Prince of Orange too large. The study of their character made at
least a theoretical democrat of a scholar whose instincts were not
perhaps democratic, and his sympathy with that brave little republic
between the dikes strengthened him in his fealty to the great
commonwealth between the oceans. I believe that so far as he was of any
political tradition, he was of the old Boston Whig tradition; but when I
met him at Venice he was in the glow of a generous pride in our war as a
war against slavery. He spoke of the negroes and their simple-hearted,
single-minded devotion to the Union cause in terms that an original
abolitionist might have used, at a time when original abolitionists were
not so many as they have since become.

For the rest, I fancy it was very well for us to be represented at Vienna
in those days by an ideal democrat who was also a real swell, and who was
not likely to discredit us socially when we so much needed to be well
thought of in every way.

At a court where the family of Count Schmerling, the Prime Minister,
could not be received for want of the requisite descents, it was well to
have a minister who would not commit the mistake of inviting the First
Society to meet the Second Society, as a former Envoy Extraordinary had
done, with the effect of finding himself left entirely to the Second
Society during the rest of his stay in Vienna.


One of my consular colleagues under Motley was another historian, of no
such popularity, indeed, nor even of such success, but perhaps not of
inferior powers. This was Richard Hildreth, at Trieste, the author of
one of the sincerest if not the truest histories of the United States,
according to the testimony both of his liking and his misliking critics.
I have never read his history, and I speak of it only at second hand; but
I had read, before I met him, his novel of 'Archy Moore, or The White
Slave', which left an indelible impression of his imaginative verity upon
me. The impression is still so deep that after the lapse of nearly forty
years since I saw the book, I have no misgiving in speaking of it as a
powerful piece of realism. It treated passionately, intensely, though
with a superficial coldness, of wrongs now so remote from us in the
abolition of slavery that it is useless to hope it will ever beg
generally read hereafter, but it can safely be praised to any one who
wishes to study that bygone condition, and the literature which grew out
of it. I fancy it did not lack recognition in its time, altogether, for
I used to see it in Italian and French translations on the bookstalls.
I believe neither his history nor his novel brought the author more gain
than fame. He had worn himself out on a newspaper when he got his
appointment at Trieste, and I saw him in the shadow of the cloud that was
wholly to darken him before he died. He was a tall thin man, absent,
silent: already a phantom of himself, but with a scholarly serenity and
dignity amidst the ruin, when the worst came.

I first saw him at the pretty villa where he lived in the suburbs of
Trieste, and where I passed several days, and I remember him always
reading, reading, reading. He could with difficulty be roused from his
book by some strenuous appeal from his family to his conscience as a
host. The last night he sat with Paradise Lost in his hand, and nothing
could win him from it till he had finished it. Then he rose to go to
bed. Would not he bid his parting guest good-bye? The idea of farewell
perhaps dimly penetrated to him. He responded without looking round,

"They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way,"

and so left the room.

I had earlier had some dealings with him as a fellow-consul concerning a
deserter from an American ship whom I inherited from my predecessor at
Venice. The man had already been four or five months in prison, and he
was in a fair way to end his life there; for it is our law that a
deserting sailor must be kept in the consul's custody till some vessel of
our flag arrives, when the consul can oblige the master to take the
deserter and let him work his passage home. Such a vessel rarely came to
Venice even in times of peace, and in times of war there was no hope of
any. So I got leave of the consul at Trieste to transfer my captive to
that port, where now and then an American ship did touch. The flag
determines the nationality of the sailor, and this unhappy wretch was
theoretically our fellow-citizen; but when he got to Trieste he made a
clean breast of it to the consul. He confessed that when he shipped
under our flag he was a deserter from a British regiment at Malta; and he
begged piteously not to be sent home to America, where he had never been
in his life, nor ever wished to be. He wished to be sent back to his
regiment at Malta, and to whatever fate awaited him there. The case
certainly had its embarrassments; but the American consul contrived to
let our presumptive compatriot slip into the keeping of the British
consul, who promptly shipped him to Malta. In view of the strained
relations between England and America at that time this was a piece of
masterly diplomacy.

Besides my old Ohio-time friend Moncure D. Conway, who paid us a visit,
and in his immediate relations with literary Boston seemed to bring the
mountain to Mahomet, I saw no one else more literary than Henry Ward
Beecher. He was passing through Venice on his way to those efforts in
England in behalf of the Union which had a certain great effect at the
time; and in the tiny parlor of our apartment on the Grand Canal, I can
still see him sitting athletic, almost pugilistic, of presence, with his
strong face, but kind, framed in long hair that swept above his massive
forehead, and fell to the level of his humorously smiling mouth. His
eyes quaintly gleamed at the things we told him of our life in the
strange place; but he only partly relaxed from his strenuous pose, and
the hands that lay upon his knees were clinched. Afterwards, as he
passed our balcony in a gondola, he lifted the brave red fez he was
wearing (many people wore the fez for one caprice or another) and saluted
our eagle and us: we were often on the balcony behind the shield to
attest the authenticity of the American eagle.


Before I left Venice, however, there came a turn in my literary luck, and
from the hand I could most have wished to reverse the adverse wheel of
fortune. I had labored out with great pains a paper on recent Italian
comedy, which I sent to Lowell, then with his friend Professor Norton
jointly editor of the North American Review; and he took it and wrote me
one of his loveliest letters about it, consoling me in an instant for all
the defeat I had undergone, and making it sweet and worthy to have lived
through that misery. It is one of the hard conditions of this state that
while we can mostly make out to let people taste the last drop of
bitterness and ill-will that is in us, our love and gratitude are only
semi-articulate at the best, and usually altogether tongue-tied. As
often as I tried afterwards to tell Lowell of the benediction, the
salvation, his letter was to me, I failed. But perhaps he would not have
understood, if I had spoken out all that was in me with the fulness I
could have given a resentment. His message came after years of thwarted
endeavor, and reinstated me in the belief that I could still do something
in literature. To be sure, the letters in the Advertiser had begun to
make their impression; among the first great pleasures they brought me
was a recognition from my diplomatic chief at Vienna; but I valued my
admission to the North American peculiarly because it was Lowell let me
in, and because I felt that in his charge it must be the place of highest
honor. He spoke of the pay for my article, in his letter, and asked me
where he should send it, and I answered, to my father-in-law, who put it
in his savings-bank, where he lived, in Brattleboro, Vermont. There it
remained, and I forgot all about it, so that when his affairs were
settled some years later and I was notified that there was a sum to my
credit in the bank, I said, with the confidence I have nearly always felt
when wrong, that I had no money there. The proof of my error was sent me
in a check, and then I bethought me of the pay for "Recent Italian

It was not a day when I could really afford to forget money due me, but
then it was not a great deal of money. The Review was as poor as it was
proud, and I had two dollars a printed page for my paper. But this was
more than I got from the Advertiser, which gave me five dollars a column
for my letters, printed in a type so fine that the money, when translated
from greenbacks into gold at a discount of $2.80, must have been about a
dollar a thousand words. However, I was richly content with that, and
would gladly have let them have the letters for nothing.

Before I left Venice I had made my sketches into a book, which I sent on
to Messrs. Trubner & Co., in London. They had consented to look at it to
oblige my friend Conway, who during his sojourn with us in Venice, before
his settlement in London, had been forced to listen to some of it. They
answered me in due time that they would publish an edition of a thousand,
at half profits, if I could get some American house to take five hundred
copies. When I stopped in London I had so little hope of being able to
do this that I asked the Trubners if I might, without losing their offer,
try to get some other London house to publish my book. They said Yes,
almost joyously; and I began to take my manuscript about. At most places
they would not look at me or it, and they nowhere consented to read it.
The house promptest in refusing to consider it afterwards pirated one of
my novels, and with some expressions of good intention in that direction,
never paid me anything for it; though I believe the English still think
that this sort of behavior was peculiar to the American publisher in the
old buccaneering times. I was glad to go back to the Trubners with my
book, and on my way across the Atlantic I met a publisher who finally
agreed to take those five hundred copies. This was Mr. M. M. Hurd, of
Hurd & Houghton, a house then newly established in New York and
Cambridge. We played ring-toss and shuffleboard together, and became of
a friendship which lasts to this day. But it was not till some months
later, when I saw him in New York, that he consented to publish my book.
I remember how he said, with an air of vague misgiving, and an effect of
trying to justify himself in an imprudence, that it was not a great
matter anyway. I perceived that he had no faith in it, and to tell the
truth I had not much myself. But the book had an instant success, and it
has gone on from edition to edition ever since. There was just then the
interest of a not wholly generous surprise at American things among the
English. Our success in putting down the great Confederate rebellion had
caught the fancy of our cousins, and I think it was to this mood of
theirs that I owed largely the kindness they showed my book. There were
long and cordial reviews in all the great London journals, which I used
to carry about with me like love-letters; when I tried to show them to
other people, I could not understand their coldness concerning them.

At Boston, where we landed on our return home, there was a moment when it
seemed as if my small destiny might be linked at once with that of the
city which later became my home. I ran into the office of the Advertiser
to ask what had become of some sketches of Italian travel I had sent the
paper, and the managing editor made me promise not to take a place
anywhere before I had heard from him. I gladly promised, but I did not
hear from him, and when I returned to Boston a fortnight later, I found
that a fatal partner had refused to agree with him in engaging me upon
the paper. They even gave me back half a dozen unprinted letters of
mine, and I published them in the Nation, of New York, and afterwards in
the book called Italian Journeys.

But after I had encountered fortune in this frowning disguise, I had a
most joyful little visit with Lowell, which made me forget there was
anything in the world but the delight and glory of sitting with him in
his study at Elmwood and hearing him talk. It must have been my
freshness from Italy which made him talk chiefly of his own happy days in
the land which so sympathetically brevets all its lovers fellow-citizens.
At any rate he would talk of hardly anything else, and he talked late
into the night, and early into the morning. About two o'clock, when all
the house was still, he lighted a candle, and went down into the cellar,
and came back with certain bottles under his arms. I had not a very
learned palate in those days (or in these, for that matter), but I knew
enough of wine to understand that these bottles had been chosen upon that
principle which Longfellow put in verse, and used to repeat with a
humorous lifting of the eyebrows and hollowing of the voice:

"If you have a friend to dine,
Give him your best wine;
If you have two,
The second-best will do."

As we sat in their mellow afterglow, Lowell spoke to me of my own life
and prospects, wisely and truly, as he always spoke. He said that it was
enough for a man who had stuff in him to be known to two or three people,
for they would not suffer him to be forgotten, and it would rest with
himself to get on. I told him that though I had not given up my place at
Venice, I was not going back, if I could find anything to do at home,
and I was now on my way to Ohio, where I should try my best to find
something; at the worst, I could turn to my trade of printer. He did not
think it need ever come to that; and he said that he believed I should
have an advantage with readers, if not with editors, in hailing from the
West; I should be more of a novelty. I knew very well that even in my
own West I should not have this advantage unless I appeared there with an
Eastern imprint, but I could not wish to urge my misgiving against his
faith. Was I not already richly successful? What better thing
personally could befall me, if I lived forever after on milk and honey,
than to be sitting there with my hero, my master, and having him talk to
me as if we were equal in deed and in fame?

The cat-bird called in the syringa thicket at his door, before we said
the good-night which was good morning, using the sweet Italian words, and
bidding each other the 'Dorma bene' which has the quality of a
benediction. He held my hand, and looked into my eyes with the sunny
kindness which never failed me, worthy or unworthy; and I went away to
bed. But not to sleep; only to dream such dreams as fill the heart of
youth when the recognition of its endeavor has come from the achievement
it holds highest and best.


I found nothing to do in Ohio; some places that I heard of proved
impossible one way or another, in Columbus and Cleveland, and Cincinnati;
there was always the fatal partner; and after three weeks I was again in
the East. I came to New York, resolved to fight my way in, somewhere,
and I did not rest a moment before I began the fight.

My notion was that which afterwards became Bartley Hubbard's. "Get a
basis," said the softening cynic of the Saturday Press, when I advised
with him, among other acquaintances. "Get a salaried place, something
regular on some paper, and then you can easily make up the rest." But it
was a month before I achieved this vantage, and then I got it in a
quarter where I had not looked for it. I wrote editorials on European
and literary topics for different papers, but mostly for the Times, and
they paid me well and more than well; but I was nowhere offered a basis,
though once I got so far towards it as to secure a personal interview
with the editor-in-chief, who made me feel that I had seldom met so busy
a man. He praised some work of mine that he had read in his paper, but I
was never recalled to his presence; and now I think he judged rightly
that I should not be a lastingly good journalist. My point of view was
artistic; I wanted time to prepare my effects.

There was another and clearer prospect opened to me on a literary paper,
then newly come to the light, but long since gone out in the dark. Here
again my work was taken, and liked so much that I was offered the basis
(at twenty dollars a week) that I desired; I was even assigned to a desk
where I should write in the office; and the next morning I came joyfully
down to Spruce Street to occupy it. But I was met at the door by one of
the editors, who said lightly, as if it were a trifling affair, "Well,
we've concluded to waive the idea of an engagement," and once more my
bright hopes of a basis dispersed themselves. I said, with what calm
I could, that they must do what they thought best, and I went on
skirmishing baselessly about for this and the other papers which had been
buying my material.

I had begun printing in the 'Nation' those letters about my Italian
journeys left over from the Boston Advertiser; they had been liked in the
office, and one day the editor astonished and delighted me by asking how
I would fancy giving up outside work to come there and write only for the
'Nation'. We averaged my gains from all sources at forty dollars a week,
and I had my basis as unexpectedly as if I had dropped upon it from the

This must have been some time in November, and the next three or four
months were as happy a time for me as I have ever known. I kept on
printing my Italian material in the Nation; I wrote criticisms for it
(not very good criticisms, I think now), and I amused myself very much
with the treatment of social phases and events in a department which grew
up under my hand. My associations personally were of the most agreeable
kind. I worked with joy, with ardor, and I liked so much to be there, in
that place and in that company, that I hated to have each day come to an

I believed that my lines were cast in New York for good and all; and I
renewed my relations with the literary friends I had made before going
abroad. I often stopped, on my way up town, at an apartment the
Stoddards had in Lafayette Place, or near it; I saw Stedman, and reasoned
high, to my heart's content, of literary things with them and him.

With the winter Bayard Taylor came on from his home in Kennett and took
an apartment in East Twelfth Street, and once a week Mrs. Taylor and he
received all their friends there, with a simple and charming hospitality.
There was another house which we much resorted to--the house of James
Lorrimer Graham, afterwards Consul-General at Florence, where he died.
I had made his acquaintance at Venice three years before, and I came in
for my share of that love for literary men which all their perversities
could not extinguish in him. It was a veritable passion, which I used to
think he could not have felt so deeply if he had been a literary man
himself. There were delightful dinners at his house, where the wit of
the Stoddards shone, and Taylor beamed with joyous good-fellowship and
overflowed with invention; and Huntington, long Paris correspondent of
the Tribune, humorously tried to talk himself into the resolution of
spending the rest of his life in his own country. There was one evening
when C. P. Cranch, always of a most pensive presence and aspect, sang the
most killingly comic songs; and there was another evening when, after we
all went into the library, something tragical happened. Edwin Booth was
of our number, a gentle, rather silent person in company, or with at
least little social initiative, who, as his fate would, went up to the
cast of a huge hand that lay upon one of the shelves. "Whose hand is
this, Lorry?" he asked our host, as he took it up and turned it over in
both his own hands. Graham feigned not to hear, and Booth asked again,
"whose hand is this?" Then there was nothing for Graham but to say,
"It's Lincoln's hand," and the man for whom it meant such unspeakable
things put it softly down without a word.


It was one of the disappointments of a time which was nearly all joy that
I did not then meet a man who meant hardly less than Lowell himself for
me. George William Curtis was during my first winter in New York away on
one of the long lecturing rounds to which he gave so many of his winters,
and I did not see him till seven years afterwards, at Mr. Norton's in
Cambridge. He then characteristically spent most of the evening in
discussing an obscure point in Browning's poem of 'My Last Duchess'.
I have long forgotten what the point was, but not the charm of Curtis's
personality, his fine presence, his benign politeness, his almost
deferential tolerance of difference in opinion. Afterwards I saw him
again and again in Boston and New York, but always with a sense of
something elusive in his graciousness, for which something in me must
have been to blame. Cold, he was not, even to the youth that in those
days was apt to shiver in any but the higher temperatures, and yet I felt
that I made no advance in his kindness towards anything like the
friendship I knew in the Cambridge men. Perhaps I was so thoroughly
attuned to their mood that I could not be put in unison with another; and
perhaps in Curtis there was really not the material of much intimacy.

He had the potentiality of publicity in the sort of welcome he gave
equally to all men; and if I asked more I was not reasonable. Yet he was
never far from any man of good-will, and he was the intimate of
multitudes whose several existence he never dreamt of. In this sort he
had become my friend when he made his first great speech on the Kansas
question in 1855, which will seen as remote to the young men of this day
as the Thermopylae question to which he likened it. I was his admirer,
his lover, his worshipper before that for the things he had done in
literature, for the 'Howadji' books, and for the lovely fantasies of
'Prue and I', and for the sound-hearted satire of the 'Potiphar Papers',
and now suddenly I learnt that this brilliant and graceful talent, this
travelled and accomplished gentleman, this star of society who had
dazzled me with his splendor far off in my Western village obscurity, was
a man with the heart to feel the wrongs of men so little friended then as
to be denied all the rights of men. I do not remember any passage of the
speech, or any word of it, but I remember the joy, the pride with which
the soul of youth recognizes in the greatness it has honored the goodness
it may love. Mere politicians might be pro-slavery or anti-slavery
without touching me very much, but here was the citizen of a world far
greater than theirs, a light of the universal republic of letters, who
was willing and eager to stand or fall with the just cause, and that was
all in all to me. His country was my country, and his kindred my
kindred, and nothing could have kept me from following after him.

His whole life taught the lesson that the world is well lost whenever the
world is wrong; but never, I think, did any life teach this so sweetly,
so winningly. The wrong world itself might have been entreated by him to
be right, for he was one of the few reformers who have not in some
measure mixed their love of man with hate of men; his quarrel was with
error, and not with the persons who were in it. He was so gently
steadfast in his opinions that no one ever thought of him as a fanatic,
though many who held his opinions were assailed as fanatics, and suffered
the shame if they did not win the palm of martyrdom. In early life he
was a communist, and then when he came out of Brook Farm into the world
which he was so well fitted to adorn, and which would so gladly have kept
him all its own, he became an abolitionist in the very teeth of the world
which abhorred abolitionists. He was a believer in the cause of women's
rights, which has no picturesqueness, and which chiefly appeals to the
sense of humor in the men who never dreamt of laughing at him. The man
who was in the last degree amiable was to the last degree unyielding
where conscience was concerned; the soul which was so tender had no
weakness in it; his lenity was the divination of a finer justice. His
honesty made all men trust him when they doubted his opinions; his good
sense made them doubt their own opinions, when they had as little
question of their own honesty.

I should not find it easy to speak of him as a man of letters only, for
humanity was above the humanities with him, and we all know how he turned
from the fairest career in literature to tread the thorny path of
politics because he believed that duty led the way, and that good
citizens were needed more than good romancers. No doubt they are,
and yet it must always be a keen regret with the men of my generation who
witnessed with such rapture the early proofs of his talent, that he could
not have devoted it wholly to the beautiful, and let others look after
the true. Now that I have said this I am half ashamed of it, for I know
well enough that what he did was best; but if my regret is mean, I will
let it remain, for it is faithful to the mood which many have been in
concerning him.

There can be no dispute, I am sure, as to the value of some of the
results he achieved in that other path. He did indeed create anew for us
the type of good-citizenship, well-nigh effaced in a sordid and selfish
time, and of an honest politician and a pure-minded journalist. He never
really forsook literature, and the world of actual interests and
experiences afforded him outlooks and perspectives, without which
aesthetic endeavor is self-limited and purblind. He was a great man of
letters, he was a great orator, he was a great political journalist, he
was a great citizen, he was a great philanthropist. But that last word
with its conventional application scarcely describes the brave and gentle
friend of men that he was. He was one that helped others by all that he
did, and said, and was, and the circle of his use was as wide as his
fame. There are other great men, plenty of them, common great men, whom
we know as names and powers, and whom we willingly let the ages have when
they die, for, living or dead, they are alike remote from us. They have
never been with us where we live; but this great man was the neighbor,
the contemporary, and the friend of all who read him or heard him; and
even in the swift forgetting of this electrical age the stamp of his
personality will not be effaced from their minds or hearts.


Of those evenings at the Taylors' in New York, I can recall best the one
which was most significant for me, and even fatefully significant.
Mr. and Mrs. Fields were there, from Boston, and I renewed all the
pleasure of my earlier meetings with them. At the end Fields said,
mockingly, "Don't despise Boston!" and I answered, as we shook hands,
"Few are worthy to live in Boston." It was New-Year's eve, and that
night it came on to snow so heavily that my horse-car could hardly plough
its way up to Forty-seventh Street through the drifts. The next day, and
the next, I wrote at home, because it was so hard to get down-town. The
third day I reached the office and found a letter on my desk from Fields,
asking how I should like to come to Boston and be his assistant on the
'Atlantic Monthly'. I submitted the matter at once to my chief on the
'Nation', and with his frank goodwill I talked it over with Mr. Osgood,
of Ticknor & Fields, who was to see me further about it if I wished, when
he came to New York; and then I went to Boston to see Mr. Fields
concerning details. I was to sift all the manuscripts and correspond
with contributors; I was to do the literary proof-reading of the
magazine; and I was to write the four or five pages of book-notices,
which were then printed at the end of the periodical in finer type; and I
was to have forty dollars a week. I said that I was getting that already
for less work, and then Mr. Fields offered me ten dollars more. Upon
these terms we closed, and on the 1st of March, which was my twenty-ninth
birthday, I went to Boston and began my work. I had not decided to
accept the place without advising with Lowell; he counselled the step,
and gave me some shrewd and useful suggestions. The whole affair was
conducted by Fields with his unfailing tact and kindness, but it could
not be kept from me that the qualification I had as practical printer for
the work was most valued, if not the most valued, and that as proof-
reader I was expected to make it avail on the side of economy. Somewhere
in life's feast the course of humble-pie must always come in; and if I
did not wholly relish this, bit of it, I dare say it was good for me, and
I digested it perfectly.


Act officiously, not officially
Confidence I have nearly always felt when wrong
George William Curtis
Give him your best wine
Love and gratitude are only semi-articulate at the best
Made all men trust him when they doubted his opinions
Quarrel was with error, and not with the persons who were in it
The world is well lost whenever the world is wrong
Women's rights


by William Dean Howells


Among my fellow-passengers on the train from New York to Boston, when I
went to begin my work there in 1866, as the assistant editor of the
Atlantic Monthly, was the late Samuel Bowles, of the Springfield
Republican, who created in a subordinate city a journal of metropolitan
importance. I had met him in Venice several years earlier, when he was
suffering from the cruel insomnia which had followed his overwork on that
newspaper, and when he told me that he was sleeping scarcely more than
one hour out of the twenty-four. His worn face attested the misery which
this must have been, and which lasted in some measure while he lived,
though I believe that rest and travel relieved him in his later years.
He was always a man of cordial friendliness, and he now expressed a most
gratifying interest when I told him what I was going to do in Boston.
He gave himself the pleasure of descanting upon the dramatic quality of
the fact that a young newspaper man from Ohio was about to share in the
destinies of the great literary periodical of New England.


I do not think that such a fact would now move the fancy of the liveliest
newspaper man, so much has the West since returned upon the East in a
refluent wave of authorship. But then the West was almost an unknown
quality in our literary problem; and in fact there was scarcely any
literature outside of New England. Even this was of New England origin,
for it was almost wholly the work of New England men and women in the
"splendid exile" of New York. The Atlantic Monthly, which was
distinctively literary, was distinctively a New England magazine, though
from the first it had been characterized by what was more national, what
was more universal, in the New England temperament. Its chief
contributors for nearly twenty years were Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes,
Whittier, Emerson, Doctor Hale, Colonel Higginson, Mrs. Stowe, Whipple,
Rose Terry Cooke, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Mrs. Prescott Spofford, Mrs.
Phelps Ward, and other New England writers who still lived in New
England, and largely in the region of Boston. Occasionally there came a
poem from Bryant, at New York, from Mr. Stedman, from Mr. Stoddard and
Mrs. Stoddard, from Mr. Aldrich, and from Bayard Taylor. But all these,
except the last, were not only of New England race, but of New England
birth. I think there was no contributor from the South but Mr. M. D.
Conway, and as yet the West scarcely counted, though four young poets
from Ohio, who were not immediately or remotely of Puritan origin, had
appeared in early numbers; Alice Cary, living with her sister in New
York, had written now and then from the beginning. Mr. John Hay solely
represented Illinois by a single paper, and he was of Rhode Island stock.
It was after my settlement at Boston that Mark Twain, of Missouri, became
a figure of world-wide fame at Hartford; and longer after, that Mr. Bret
Harte made that progress Eastward from California which was telegraphed
almost from hour to hour, as if it were the progress of a prince.
Miss Constance F. Woolson had not yet begun to write. Mr. James
Whitcomb Riley, Mr. Maurice Thompson, Miss Edith Thomas, Octave Thanet,
Mr. Charles Warren Stoddard, Mr. H. B. Fuller, Mrs. Catherwood,
Mr. Hamlin Garland, all whom I name at random among other Western
writers, were then as unknown as Mr. Cable, Miss Murfree, Mrs. Rives
Chanler, Miss Grace King, Mr. Joel Chandler Harris, Mr. Thomas Nelson
Page, in the South, which they by no means fully represent.

The editors of the Atlantic had been eager from the beginning to discover
any outlying literature; but, as I have said, there was in those days
very little good writing done beyond the borders of New England. If the
case is now different, and the best known among living American writers
are no longer New-Englanders, still I do not think the South and West
have yet trimmed the balance; and though perhaps the news writers now
more commonly appear in those quarters, I should not be so very sure that
they are not still characterized by New England ideals and examples.
On the other hand, I am very sure that in my early day we were
characterized by them, and wished to be so; we even felt that we failed
in so far as we expressed something native quite in our own way.
The literary theories we accepted were New England theories,
the criticism we valued was New England criticism, or, more strictly
speaking, Boston theories, Boston criticism.

Of those more constant contributors to the Atlantic whom I have
mentioned, it is of course known that Longfellow and Lowell lived in
Cambridge, Emerson at Concord, and Whittier at Amesbury. Colonel
Higginson was still and for many years afterwards at Newport; Mrs. Stowe
was then at Andover; Miss Prescott of Newburyport had become Mrs.
Spofford, and was presently in Boston, where her husband was a member of
the General Court; Mrs. Phelps Ward, as Miss Elizabeth Stuart Phelps,
dwelt in her father's house at Andover. The chief of the Bostonians were
Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Doctor Holmes, and Doctor Hale. Yet Boston stood
for the whole Massachusetts group, and Massachusetts, in the literary
impulse, meant New England. I suppose we must all allow, whether we like
to do so or not, that the impulse seems now to have pretty well spent
itself. Certainly the city of Boston has distinctly waned in literature,
though it has waxed in wealth and population. I do not think there are
in Boston to-day even so many talents with a literary coloring in law,
science, theology, and journalism as there were formerly; though I have
no belief that the Boston talents are fewer or feebler than before.
I arrived in Boston, however, when all talents had more or less a
literary coloring, and when the greatest talents were literary. These
expressed with ripened fulness a civilization conceived in faith and
brought forth in good works; but that moment of maturity was the
beginning of a decadence which could only show itself much later. New
England has ceased to be a nation in itself, and it will perhaps never
again have anything like a national literature; but that was something
like a national literature; and it will probably be centuries yet before
the life of the whole country, the American life as distinguished from
the New England life, shall have anything so like a national literature.
It will be long before our larger life interprets itself in such
imagination as Hawthorne's, such wisdom as Emerson's, such poetry as
Longfellow's, such prophecy as Whittier's, such wit and grace as
Holmes's, such humor and humanity as Lowell's.

The literature of those great men was, if I may suffer myself the figure,
the Socinian graft of a Calvinist stock. Their faith, in its varied
shades, was Unitarian, but their art was Puritan. So far as it was
imperfect--and great and beautiful as it was, I think it had its
imperfections--it was marred by the intense ethicism that pervaded the
New England mind for two hundred years, and that still characterizes it.
They or their fathers had broken away from orthodoxy in the great schism
at the beginning of the century, but, as if their heterodoxy were
conscience-stricken, they still helplessly pointed the moral in all they
did; some pointed it more directly, some less directly; but they all
pointed it. I should be far from blaming them for their ethical
intention, though I think they felt their vocation as prophets too much
for their good as poets. Sometimes they sacrificed the song to the
sermon, though not always, nor nearly always. It was in poetry and in
romance that they excelled; in the novel, so far as they attempted it,
they failed. I say this with the names of all the Bostonian group, and
those they influenced, in mind, and with a full sense of their greatness.
It may be ungracious to say that they have left no heirs to their
peculiar greatness; but it would be foolish to say that they left an
estate where they had none to bequeath. One cannot take account of such
a fantasy as Judd's Margaret. The only New-Englander who has attempted
the novel on a scale proportioned to the work of the New-Englanders in
philosophy, in poetry, in romance, is Mr. De Forest, who is of New Haven,
and not of Boston. I do not forget the fictions of Doctor Holmes, or the
vivid inventions of Doctor Hale, but I do not call them novels; and I do
not forget the exquisitely realistic art of Miss Jewett or Miss Wilkins,
which is free from the ethicism of the great New England group, but which
has hardly the novelists's scope. New England, in Hawthorne's work,
achieved supremacy in romance; but the romance is always an allegory,
and the novel is a picture in which the truth to life is suffered to do
its unsermonized office for conduct; and New England yet lacks her
novelist, because it was her instinct and her conscience in fiction to be
true to an ideal of life rather than to life itself.

Even when we come to the exception that proves the rule, even to such a
signal exception as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', I think that what I say holds
true. That is almost the greatest work of imagination that we have
produced in prose, and it is the work of a New England woman, writing
from all the inspirations and traditions of New England. It is like
begging the question to say that I do not call it a novel, however; but
really, is it a novel, in the sense that 'War and Peace' is a novel, or
'Madame Flaubert', or 'L'Assommoir', or 'Phineas Finn', or 'Dona
Perfecta', or 'Esther Waters', or 'Marta y Maria', or 'The Return of the
Native', or 'Virgin Soil', or 'David Grieve'? In a certain way it is
greater than any of these except the first; but its chief virtue, or its
prime virtue, is in its address to the conscience, and not its address to
the taste; to the ethical sense, not the aesthetical sense.

This does not quite say the thing, but it suggests it, and I should be
sorry if it conveyed to any reader a sense of slight; for I believe no
one has felt more deeply than myself the value of New England in
literature. The comparison of the literary situation at Boston to the
literary situation at Edinburgh in the times of the reviewers has never
seemed to me accurate or adequate, and it holds chiefly in the fact that
both seem to be of the past. Certainly New York is yet no London in
literature, and I think Boston was once vastly more than Edinburgh ever
was, at least in quality. The Scotch literature of the palmy days was
not wholly Scotch, and even when it was rooted in Scotch soil it flowered
in the air of an alien speech. But the New England literature of the
great day was the blossom of a New England root; and the language which
the Bostonians wrote was the native English of scholars fitly the heirs
of those who had brought the learning of the universities to
Massachusetts Bay two hundred years before, and was of as pure a lineage
as the English of the mother-country.


The literary situation which confronted me when I came to Boston was,
then, as native as could well be; and whatever value I may be able to
give a personal study of it will be from the effect it made upon me as
one strange in everything but sympathy. I will not pretend that I saw it
in its entirety, and I have no hope of presenting anything like a
kinetoscopic impression of it. What I can do is to give here and there a
glimpse of it; and I shall wish the reader to keep in mind the fact that
it was in a "state of transition," as everything is always and
everywhere. It was no sooner recognizably native than it ceased to be
fully so; and I became a witness of it after the change had begun. The
publishing house which so long embodied New England literature was
already attempting enterprises out of the line of its traditions, and one
of these had brought Mr. T. B. Aldrich from New York, a few weeks before
I arrived upon the scene in that dramatic quality which I think never
impressed any one but Mr. Bowles. Mr. Aldrich was the editor of 'Every
Saturday' when I came to be assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly.
We were of nearly the same age, but he had a distinct and distinguished
priority of reputation, insomuch that in my Western remoteness I had
always ranged him with such elders and betters of mine as Holmes and
Lowell, and never imagined him the blond, slight youth I found him, with
every imaginable charm of contemporaneity. It is no part of the office
which I have intended for these slight and sufficiently wandering
glimpses of the past to show any writer in his final place; and above all
I do not presume to assign any living man his rank or station. But I
should be false to my own grateful sense of beauty in the work of this
poet if I did not at all times recognize his constancy to an ideal which
his name stands for. He is known in several kinds, but to my thinking he
is best in a certain nobler kind of poetry; a serious sort in which the
thought holds him above the scrupulosities of the art he loves and honors
so much. Sometimes the file slips in his hold, as the file must and
will; it is but an instrument at the best; but there is no mistouch in
the hand that lays itself upon the reader's heart with the pulse of the
poet's heart quick and true in it. There are sonnets of his, grave, and
simple, and lofty, which I think of with the glow and thrill possible
only from very beautiful poetry, and which impart such an emotion as we
can feel only

"When a great thought strikes along the brain
And flushes all the cheek."

When I had the fortune to meet him first, I suppose that in the employ of
the kindly house we were both so eager to serve, our dignities were about
the same; for if the 'Atlantic Monthly' was a somewhat prouder affair
than an eclectic weekly like 'Every Saturday', he was supreme in his
place, and I was subordinate in mine. The house was careful, in the
attitude of its senior partner, not to distinguish between us, and we
were not slow to perceive the tact used in managing us; we had our own
joke of it; we compared notes to find whether we were equally used in
this thing or that; and we promptly shared the fun of our discovery with
Fields himself.

We had another impartial friend (no less a friend of joy in the life
which seems to have been pretty nearly all joy, as I look back upon it)
in the partner who became afterwards the head of the house, and who
forecast in his bold enterprises the change from a New England to an
American literary situation. In the end James R. Osgood failed, though
all his enterprises succeeded. The anomaly is sad, but it is not
infrequent. They were greater than his powers and his means, and before
they could reach their full fruition, they had to be enlarged to men of
longer purse and longer patience. He was singularly fitted both by
instinct and by education to become a great publisher; and he early
perceived that if a leading American house were to continue at Boston,
it must be hospitable to the talents of the whole country. He founded
his future upon those generous lines; but he wanted the qualities as well
as the resources for rearing the superstructure. Changes began to follow
each other rapidly after he came into control of the house. Misfortune
reduced the size and number of its periodicals. 'The Young Folks' was
sold outright, and the 'North American Review' (long before Mr. Rice
bought it and carried it to New York) was cut down one-half, so that
Aldrich said, it looked as if Destiny had sat upon it. His own
periodical, 'Every Saturday', was first enlarged to a stately quarto and
illustrated; and then, under stress of the calamities following the great
Boston fire, It collapsed to its former size. Then both the 'Atlantic
Monthly' and 'Every Saturday' were sold away from their old ownership,
and 'Every Saturday' was suppressed altogether, and we two ceased to be
of the same employ. There was some sort of evening rite (more funereal
than festive) the day after they were sold, and we followed Osgood away
from it, under the lamps. We all knew that it was his necessity that had
caused him to part with the periodicals; but he professed that it was his
pleasure, and he said he had not felt so light-hearted since he was a
boy. We asked him, How could he feel gay when he was no longer paying us
our salaries, and how could he justify it to his conscience? He liked
our mocking, and limped away from us with a rheumatic easing of his
weight from one foot to another: a figure pathetic now that it has gone
the way to dusty death, and dear to memory through benefactions unalloyed
by one unkindness.


But when I came to Boston early in 1866, the 'Atlantic Monthly' and
'Harper's' then divided our magazine world between them; the 'North
American Review', in the control of Lowell and Professor Norton, had
entered upon a new life; 'Every Saturday' was an instant success in the
charge of Mr. Aldrich, who was by taste and training one of the best
editors; and 'Our Young Folks' had the field of juvenile periodical
literature to itself.

It was under the direction of Miss Lucy Larcom and of Mr. J. T.
Trowbridge, who had come from western New York, where he was born, and
must be noted as one of the first returners from the setting to the
rising sun. He naturalized himself in Boston in his later boyhood, and
he still breathes Boston air, where he dwells in the street called
Pleasant, on the shore of Spy Pond, at Arlington, and still weaves the
magic web of his satisfying stories for boys. He merges in their
popularity the fame of a poet which I do not think will always suffer
that eclipse, for his poems show him to have looked deeply into the heart
of common humanity, with a true and tender sense of it.

Miss Larcom scarcely seemed to change from date to date in the generation
that elapsed between the time I first saw her and the time I saw her
last, a year or two before her death. A goodness looked out of her
comely face, which made me think of the Madonna's in Titian's
"Assumption," and her whole aspect expressed a mild and friendly spirit
which I find it hard to put in words. She was never of the fine world of
literature; she dwelt where she was born, in that unfashionable Beverly
which is not Beverly Farms, and was of a simple, sea-faring, God-fearing
race, as she has told in one of the loveliest autobiographies I know,
"A New England Girlhood." She was the author of many poems, whose number
she constantly enlarged, but she was chiefly, and will be most lastingly,
famed for the one poem, 'Hannah Binding Shoes', which years before my
days in Boston had made her so widely known. She never again struck so
deep or so true a note; but if one has lodged such a note in the ear of
time, it is enough; and if we are to speak of eternity, one might very
well hold up one's head in the fields of asphodel, if one could say to
the great others there, "I wrote Hannah Binding Shoes." Her poem is
very, very sad, as all who have read it will remember; but Miss Larcom
herself was above everything cheerful, and she had a laugh of mellow
richness which willingly made itself heard. She was not only of true New
England stock, and a Boston author by right of race, but she came up to
that city every winter from her native town.

By the same right and on the same terms, another New England poetess,
whom I met those first days in Boston, was a Boston author. When I saw
Celia Thaxter she was just beginning to make her effect with those poems
and sketches which the sea sings and flashes through as it sings and
flashes around the Isles of Shoals, her summer home, where her girlhood
had been passed in a freedom as wild as the curlew's. She was a most
beautiful creature, still very young, with a slender figure, and an
exquisite perfection of feature; she was in presence what her work was:
fine, frank, finished. I do not know whether other witnesses of our
literary history feel that the public has failed to keep her as fully in
mind as her work merited; but I do not think there can be any doubt but
our literature would be sensibly the poorer without her work. It is
interesting to remember how closely she kept to her native field, and it
is wonderful to consider how richly she made those sea-beaten rocks to
blossom. Something strangely full and bright came to her verse from the
mystical environment of the ocean, like the luxury of leaf and tint that
it gave the narrower flower-plots of her native isles. Her gift, indeed,
could not satisfy itself with the terms of one art alone, however varied,
and she learned to express in color the thoughts and feelings impatient
of the pallor of words.

She remains in my memories of that far Boston a distinct and vivid
personality; as the authoress of 'Amber Gods', and 'In a Cellar', and
'Circumstance', and those other wild romantic tales, remains the gentle
and somewhat evanescent presence I found her. Miss Prescott was now Mrs.
Spofford, and her husband was a rising young politician of the day. It
was his duties as member of the General Court that had brought them up
from Newburyport to Boston for that first winter; and I remember that the
evening when we met he was talking of their some time going to Italy that
she might study for imaginative literature certain Italian cities he
named. I have long since ceased to own those cities, but at the moment I
felt a pang of expropriation which I concealed as well as I could; and
now I heartily wish she could have fulfilled that purpose if it was a
purpose, or realized that dream if it was only a dream. Perhaps,
however, that sumptuous and glowing fancy of hers, which had taken the
fancy of the young readers of that day, needed the cold New England
background to bring out all its intensities of tint, all its splendors of
light. Its effects were such as could not last, or could not be farther
evolved; they were the expression of youth musing away from its
environment and smitten with the glories of a world afar and beyond, the
great world, the fine world, the impurpled world of romantic motives and
passions. But for what they were, I can never think them other than what
they appeared: the emanations of a rarely gifted and singularly poetic
mind. I feel better than I can say how necessarily they were the
emanations of a New England mind, and how to the subtler sense they must
impart the pathos of revolt from the colorless rigidities which are the
long result of puritanism in the physiognomy of New England life.

Their author afterwards gave herself to the stricter study of this life
in many tales and sketches which showed an increasing mastery; but they
could not have the flush, the surprise, the delight of a young talent
trying itself in a kind native and, so far as I know, peculiar to it.
From time to time I still come upon a poem of hers which recalls that
earlier strain of music, of color, and I am content to trust it for my
abiding faith in the charm of things I have not read for thirty years.


I speak of this one and that, as it happens, and with no thought of
giving a complete prospect of literary Boston thirty years ago. I am
aware that it will seem sparsely peopled in the effect I impart, and I
would have the reader always keep in mind the great fames at Cambridge
and at Concord, which formed so large a part of the celebrity of Boston.
I would also like him to think of it as still a great town, merely, where
every one knew every one else, and whose metropolitan liberation from
neighborhood was just begun.

Most distinctly of that yet uncitified Boston was the critic Edwin P.
Whipple, whose sympathies were indefinitely wider than his traditions.
He was a most generous lover of all that was excellent in literature; and
though I suppose we should call him an old-fashioned critic now, I
suspect it would be with no distinct sense of what is newer fashioned.
He was certainly as friendly to what promised well in the younger men as
he was to what was done well in their elders; and there was no one
writing in his day whose virtues failed of his recognition, though it
might happen that his foibles would escape Whipple's censure. He wrote
strenuously and of course conscientiously; his point of view was solely
and always that which enabled him best to discern qualities. I doubt if
he had any theory of criticism except to find out what was good in an
author and praise it; and he rather blamed what was ethically bad than
what was aesthetically bad. In this he was strictly of New England, and
he was of New England in a certain general intelligence, which constantly
grew with an interrogative habit of mind.

He liked to talk to you of what he had found characteristic in your work,
to analyze you to yourself; and the very modesty of the man, which made
such a study impersonal as far as he was concerned, sometimes rendered
him insensible to the sufferings of his subject. He had a keen
perception of humor in others, but he had very little humor; he had a
love of the beautiful in literature which was perhaps sometimes greater
than his sense of it.

I write from a cursory acquaintance with his work, not recently renewed.
Of the presence of the man I have a vivider remembrance: a slight, short,
ecclesiasticized figure in black; with a white neckcloth and a silk hat
of strict decorum, and between the two a square face with square
features, intensified in their regard by a pair of very large glasses,
and the prominent, myopic eyes staring through them. He was a type of
out-dated New England scholarship in these aspects, but in the hospitable
qualities of his mind and heart, the sort of man to be kept fondly in the
memory of all who ever knew him.

Out of the vague of that far-off time another face and figure, as
essentially New En&land as this, and yet so different, relieve
themselves. Charles F. Browne, whose drollery wafted his pseudonym as
far as the English speech could carry laughter, was a Westernized Yankee.
He added an Ohio way of talking to the Maine way of thinking, and he so
became a literary product of a rarer and stranger sort than our
literature had otherwise known. He had gone from Cleveland to London,
with intervals of New York and the lecture platform, four or five years
before I saw him in Boston, shortly after I went there. We had met in
Ohio, and he had personally explained to me the ducatless well-meaning of
Vanity Fair in New York; but many men had since shaken the weary hand of
Artemus Ward when I grasped it one day in front of the Tremont Temple.
He did not recognize me, but he gave me at once a greeting of great
impersonal cordiality, with "How do you do? When did you come?" and
other questions that had no concern in them, till I began to dawn upon
him through a cloud of other half remembered faces. Then he seized my
hand and wrung it all over again, and repeated his friendly demands with
an intonation that was now "Why, how are you; how are you?" for me alone.
It was a bit of comedy, which had the fit pathetic relief of his
impending doom: this was already stamped upon his wasted face, and his
gay eyes had the death-look. His large, loose mouth was drawn, for all
its laughter at the fact which he owned; his profile, which burlesqued.
an eagle's, was the profile of a drooping eagle; his lank length of limb
trembled away with him when we parted. I did not see him again;
I scarcely heard of him till I heard of his death, and this sad image
remains with me of the humorist who first gave the world a taste of the
humor which characterizes the whole American people.

I was meeting all kinds of distinguished persons, in my relation to the
magazine, and early that winter I met one who remains in my mind above
all others a person of distinction. He was scarcely a celebrity, but he
embodied certain social traits which were so characteristic of literary
Boston that it could not be approached without their recognition.
The Muses have often been acknowledged to be very nice young persons,
but in Boston they were really ladies; in Boston literature was of good
family and good society in a measure it has never been elsewhere.
It might be said even that reform was of good family in Boston;
and literature and reform equally shared the regard of Edmund Quincy,
whose race was one of the most aristocratic in New England. I had known
him by his novel of 'Wensley' (it came so near being a first-rate novel),
and by his Life of Josiah Quincy, then a new book, but still better by
his Boston letters to the New York Tribune. These dealt frankly, in the
old anti-slavery days between 1850 and 1860, with other persons of
distinction in Boston, who did not see the right so clearly as Quincy
did, or who at least let their interests darken them to the ugliness of
slavery. Their fault was all the more comical because it was the error
of men otherwise so correct, of characters so stainless, of natures so
upright; and the Quincy letters got out of it all the fun there was in
it. Quincy himself affected me as the finest patrician type I had ever
met. He was charmingly handsome, with a nose of most fit aquilinity,
smooth-shaven lips, "educated whiskers," and perfect glasses; his manner
was beautiful, his voice delightful, when at our first meeting he made me
his reproaches in terms of lovely kindness for having used in my
'Venetian Life' the Briticism 'directly' for 'as soon as.'

Lowell once told me that Quincy had never had any calling or profession,
because when he found himself in the enjoyment of a moderate income on
leaving college, he decided to be simply a gentleman. He was too much of
a man to be merely that, and he was an abolitionist, a journalist, and
for conscience' sake a satirist. Of that political mood of society which
he satirized was an eminent man whom it was also my good fortune to meet
in my early days in Boston; and if his great sweetness and kindness had
not instantly won my liking, I should still have been glad of the glimpse
of the older and statelier Boston which my slight acquaintance with
George Ticknor gave me. The historian of Spanish literature, the friend
and biographer of Prescott, and a leading figure of the intellectual
society of an epoch already closed, dwelt in the fine old square brick
mansion which yet stands at the corner of Park Street and Beacon, though
sunk now to a variety of business uses, and lamentably changed in aspect.
The interior was noble, and there was an air of scholarly quiet and of
lettered elegance in the library, where the host received his guests,
which seemed to pervade the whole house, and which made its appeal to the
imagination of one of them most potently. It seemed to me that to be
master of such circumstance and keeping would be enough of life in a
certain way; and it all lingers in my memory yet, as if it were one with
the gentle courtesy which welcomed me.

Among my fellow-guests one night was George S. Hillard, now a faded
reputation, and even then a life defeated of the high expectation of its
youth. I do not know whether his 'Six Months in Italy' still keeps
itself in print; but it was a book once very well known; and he was
perhaps the more gracious to me, as our host was, because of our common
Italian background. He was of the old Silver-gray Whig society too, and
I suppose that order of things imparted its tone to what I felt and saw
in that place. The civil war had come and gone, and that order accepted
the result if not with faith, then with patience. There were two young
English noblemen there that night, who had been travelling in the South,
and whose stories of the wretched conditions they had seen moved our host
to some open misgiving. But the Englishmen had no question; in spite of
all, they defended the accomplished fact, and when I ventured to say that
now at least there could be a hope of better things, while the old order
was only the perpetuation of despair, he mildly assented, with a gesture
of the hand that waived the point, and a deeply sighed, "Perhaps;

He was a presence of great dignity, which seemed to recall the past with
a steadfast allegiance, and yet to relax itself towards the present in
the wisdom of the accumulated years. His whole life had been passed in
devotion to polite literature and in the society of the polite world; and
he was a type of scholar such as only the circumstances of Boston could
form. Those circumstances could alone form such another type as Quincy;
and I wish I could have felt then as I do now the advantage of meeting
them so contemporaneously.


The historian of Spanish literature was an old man nearer eighty than
seventy when I saw him, and I recall of him personally his dark tint,
and the scholarly refinement of his clean-shaven face, which seemed to me

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