Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Studies of Lowell by William Dean Howells

Adobe PDF icon
Studies of Lowell by William Dean Howells - Full Text Free Book
File size: 0.1 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This etext was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]


by William Dean Howells


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The silvern chords of the piano trembled,"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


He had a great tenderness for the broken and ruined South, whose sins he
felt that he had had his share in visiting upon her, and he was willing
to do what he could to ease her sorrows in the case of any particular
Southerner. He could not help looking askance upon the dramatic shows of
retribution which some of the Northern politicians were working, but with
all his misgivings he continued to act with the Republican party until
after the election of Hayes; he was away from the country during the
Garfield campaign. He was in fact one of the Massachusetts electors
chosen by the Republican majority in 1816, and in that most painful hour
when there was question of the policy and justice of counting Hayes in
for the presidency, it was suggested by some of Lowell's friends that he
should use the original right of the electors under the constitution,
and vote for Tilden, whom one vote would have chosen president over
Hayes. After he had cast his vote for Hayes, he quietly referred to the
matter one day, in the moment of lighting his pipe, with perhaps the
faintest trace of indignation in his tone. He said that whatever the
first intent of the constitution was, usage had made the presidential
electors strictly the instruments of the party which chose them, and that
for him to have voted for Tilden when he had been chosen to vote for
Hayes would have-been an act of bad faith.

He would have resumed for me all the old kindness of our relations before
the recent year of his absence, but this had inevitably worked a little
estrangement. He had at least lost the habit of me, and that says much
in such matters. He was not so perfectly at rest in the Cambridge
environment; in certain indefinable ways it did not so entirely suffice
him, though he would have been then and always the last to allow this.
I imagine his friends realized more than he, that certain delicate but
vital filaments of attachment had frayed and parted in alien air, and
left him heart-loose as he had not been before.

I do not know whether it crossed his mind after the election of Hayes
that he might be offered some place abroad, but it certainly crossed the
minds of some of his friends, and I could not feel that I was acting for
myself alone when I used a family connection with the President, very
early in his term, to let him know that I believed Lowell would accept a
diplomatic mission. I could assure him that I was writing wholly without
Lowell's privity or authority, and I got back such a letter as I could
wish in its delicate sense of the situation. The President said that he
had already thought of offering Lowell something, and he gave me the
pleasure, a pleasure beyond any other I could imagine, of asking Lowell
whether he would accept the mission to Austria. I lost no time carrying
his letter to Elmwood, where I found Lowell over his coffee at dinner.
He saw me at the threshold, and called to me through the open door to
come in, and I handed him the letter, and sat down at table while he ran
it through. When he had read it, he gave a quick "Ah!" and threw it
over the length of the table to Mrs. Lowell. She read it in a smiling
and loyal reticence, as if she would not say one word of all she might
wish to say in urging his acceptance, though I could see that she was
intensely eager for it. The whole situation was of a perfect New England
character in its tacit significance; after Lowell had taken his coffee we
turned into his study without further allusion to the matter.

A day or two later he came to my house to say that he could not accept
the Austrian mission, and to ask me to tell the President so for him, and
make his acknowledgments, which he would also write himself. He remained
talking a little while of other things, and when he rose to go, he said
with a sigh of vague reluctance, "I should like to see a play of
Calderon," as if it had nothing to do with any wish of his that could
still be fulfilled. "Upon this hint I acted," and in due time it was
found in Washington, that the gentleman who had been offered the Spanish
mission would as lief go to Austria, and Lowell was sent to Madrid.


When we met in London, some years later, he came almost every afternoon
to my lodging, and the story of our old-time Cambridge walks began again
in London phrases. There were not the vacant lots and outlying fields of
his native place, but we made shift with the vast, simple parks, and we
walked on the grass as we could not have done in an American park, and
were glad to feel the earth under our feet. I said how much it was like
those earlier tramps; and that pleased him, for he wished, whenever a
thing delighted him, to find a Cambridge quality in it.

But he was in love with everything English, and was determined I should
be so too, beginning with the English weather, which in summer cannot be
overpraised. He carried, of course, an umbrella, but he would not put it
up in the light showers that caught us at times, saying that the English
rain never wetted you. The thick short turf delighted him; he would
scarcely allow that the trees were the worse for foliage blighted by a
vile easterly storm in the spring of that year. The tender air, the
delicate veils that the moisture in it cast about all objects at the
least remove, the soft colors of the flowers, the dull blue of the low
sky showing through the rifts of the dirty white clouds, the hovering
pall of London smoke, were all dear to him, and he was anxious that I
should not lose anything of their charm.

He was anxious that I should not miss the value of anything in England,
and while he volunteered that the aristocracy had the corruptions of
aristocracies everywhere, he insisted upon my respectful interest in it
because it was so historical. Perhaps there was a touch of irony in this
demand, but it is certain that he was very happy in England. He had come
of the age when a man likes smooth, warm keeping, in which he need make
no struggle for his comfort; disciplined and obsequious service; society,
perfectly ascertained within the larger society which we call
civilization; and in an alien environment, for which he was in no wise
responsible, he could have these without a pang of the self-reproach
which at home makes a man unhappy amidst his luxuries, when he considers
their cost to others. He had a position which forbade thought of
unfairness in the conditions; he must not wake because of the slave, it
was his duty to sleep. Besides, at that time Lowell needed all the rest
he could get, for he had lately passed through trials such as break the
strength of men, and how them with premature age. He was living alone in
his little house in Lowndes Square, and Mrs. Lowell was in the country,
slowly recovering from the effects of the terrible typhus which she had
barely survived in Madrid. He was yet so near the anguish of that
experience that he told me he had still in his nerves the expectation of
a certain agonized cry from her which used to rend them. But he said he
had adjusted himself to this, and he went on to speak with a patience
which was more affecting in him than in men of more phlegmatic
temperament, of how we were able to adjust ourselves to all our trials
and to the constant presence of pain. He said he was never free of a
certain distress, which was often a sharp pang, in one of his shoulders,
but his physique had established such relations with it that, though he
was never unconscious of it, he was able to endure it without a
recognition of it as suffering.

He seemed to me, however, very well, and at his age of sixty-three, I
could not see that he was less alert and vigorous than he was when I
first knew him in Cambridge. He had the same brisk, light step, and
though his beard was well whitened and his auburn hair had grown ashen
through the red, his face had the freshness and his eyes the clearness of
a young man's. I suppose the novelty of his life kept him from thinking
about his years; or perhaps in contact with those great, insenescent
Englishmen, he could not feel himself old. At any rate he did not once
speak of age, as he used to do ten years earlier, and I, then half
through my forties, was still "You young dog" to him. It was a bright
and cheerful renewal of the early kindliness between us, on which indeed
there had never been a shadow, except such as distance throws. He wished
apparently to do everything he could to assure us of his personal
interest; and we were amused to find him nervously apprehensive of any
purpose, such as was far from us, to profit by him officially. He
betrayed a distinct relief when he found we were not going to come upon
him even for admissions to the houses of parliament, which we were to see
by means of an English acquaintance. He had not perhaps found some other
fellow-citizens so considerate; he dreaded the half-duties of his place,
like presentations to the queen, and complained of the cheap ambitions he
had to gratify in that way.

He was so eager to have me like England in every way, and seemed so fond
of the English, that I thought it best to ask him whether he minded my
quoting, in a paper about Lexington, which I was just then going to print
in a London magazine, some humorous lines of his expressing the mounting
satisfaction of an imaginary Yankee story-teller who has the old fight
terminate in Lord Percy's coming

"To hammer stone for life in Concord jail."

It had occurred to me that it might possibly embarrass him to have this
patriotic picture presented to a public which could not take our Fourth
of July pleasure in it, and I offered to suppress it, as I did afterwards
quite for literary reasons. He said, No, let it stand, and let them make
the worst of it; and I fancy that much of his success with a people who
are not gingerly with other people's sensibilities came from the
frankness with which he trampled on their prejudice when he chose.
He said he always told them, when there was question of such things,
that the best society he had ever known was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He contended that the best English was spoken there; and so it was, when
he spoke it.

We were in London out of the season, and he was sorry that he could not
have me meet some titles who he declared had found pleasure in my books;
when we returned from Italy in the following June, he was prompt to do me
this honor. I dare say he wished me to feel it to its last implication,
and I did my best, but there was nothing in the evening I enjoyed so much
as his coming up to Mrs. Lowell, at the close, when there was only a
title or two left, and saying to her as he would have said to her at
Elmwood, where she would have personally planned it, "Fanny, that was a
fine dinner you gave us." Of course, this was in a tender burlesque;
but it remains the supreme impression of what seemed to me a cloudlessly
happy period for Lowell. His wife was quite recovered of her long
suffering, and was again at the head of his house, sharing in his
pleasures, and enjoying his successes for his sake; successes so great
that people spoke of him seriously, as "an addition to society" in
London, where one man more or less seemed like a drop in the sea.
She was a woman perfectly of the New England type and tradition: almost
repellantly shy at first, and almost glacially cold with new
acquaintance, but afterwards very sweet and cordial. She was of a dark
beauty with a regular face of the Spanish outline; Lowell was of an ideal
manner towards her, and of an admiration which delicately travestied
itself and which she knew how to receive with smiling irony. After her
death, which occurred while he was still in England, he never spoke of
her to me, though before that he used to be always bringing her name in,
with a young lover-like fondness.


In the hurry of the London season I did not see so much of Lowell on our
second sojourn as on our first, but once when we were alone in his study
there was a return to the terms of the old meetings in Cambridge. He
smoked his pipe, and sat by his fire and philosophized; and but for the
great London sea swirling outside and bursting through our shelter, and
dashing him with notes that must be instantly answered, it was a very
fair image of the past. He wanted to tell me about his coachman whom he
had got at on his human side with great liking and amusement, and there
was a patient gentleness in his manner with the footman who had to keep
coming in upon him with those notes which was like the echo of his young
faith in the equality of men. But he always distinguished between the
simple unconscious equality of the ordinary American and its assumption
by a foreigner. He said he did not mind such an American's coming into
his house with his hat on; but if a German or Englishman did it, he
wanted to knock it off. He was apt to be rather punctilious in his shows
of deference towards others, and at one time he practised removing his
own hat when he went into shops in Cambridge. It must have mystified the
Cambridge salesmen, and I doubt if he kept it up.

With reference to the doctrine of his young poetry, the fierce and the
tender humanity of his storm and stress period, I fancy a kind of baffle
in Lowell, which I should not perhaps find it easy to prove. I never
knew him by word or hint to renounce this doctrine, but he could not come
to seventy years without having seen many high hopes fade, and known many
inspired prophecies fail. When we have done our best to make the world
over, we are apt to be dismayed by finding it in much the old shape.
As he said of the moral government of the universe, the scale is so vast,
and a little difference, a little change for the better, is scarcely
perceptible to the eager consciousness of the wholesale reformer.
But with whatever sense of disappointment, of doubt as to his own deeds
for truer freedom and for better conditions I believe his sympathy was
still with those who had some heart for hoping and striving. I am sure
that though he did not agree with me in some of my own later notions for
the redemption of the race, he did not like me the less but rather the
more because (to my own great surprise I confess) I had now and then the
courage of my convictions, both literary and social.

He was probably most at odds with me in regard to my theories of fiction,
though he persisted in declaring his pleasure in my own fiction. He was
in fact, by nature and tradition, thoroughly romantic, and he could not
or would not suffer realism in any but a friend. He steadfastly refused
even to read the Russian masters, to his immense loss, as I tried to
persuade him, and even among the modern Spaniards, for whom he might have
had a sort of personal kindness from his love of Cervantes, he chose one
for his praise the least worthy, of it, and bore me down with his heavier
metal in argument when I opposed to Alarcon's factitiousness the
delightful genuineness of Valdes. Ibsen, with all the Norwegians, he put
far from him; he would no more know them than the Russians; the French
naturalists he abhorred. I thought him all wrong, but you do not try
improving your elders when they have come to three score and ten years,
and I would rather have had his affection unbroken by our difference of
opinion than a perfect agreement. Where he even imagined that this
difference could work me harm, he was anxious to have me know that he
meant me none; and he was at the trouble to write me a letter when a
Boston paper had perverted its report of what he said in a public lecture
to my disadvantage, and to assure me that he had not me in mind. When
once he had given his liking, he could not bear that any shadow of change
should seem to have come upon him. He had a most beautiful and endearing
ideal of friendship; he desired to affirm it and to reaffirm it as often
as occasion offered, and if occasion did not offer, he made occasion.
It did not matter what you said or did that contraried him; if he thought
he had essentially divined you, you were still the same: and on his part
he was by no means exacting of equal demonstration, but seemed not even
to wish it.


After he was replaced at London by a minister more immediately
representative of the Democratic administration, he came home. He made a
brave show of not caring to have remained away, but in truth he had
become very fond of England, where he had made so many friends, and where
the distinction he had, in that comfortably padded environment, was so
agreeable to him.

It would have been like him to have secretly hoped that the new President
might keep him in London, but he never betrayed any ignoble
disappointment, and he would not join in any blame of him. At our first
meeting after he came home he spoke of the movement which had made Mr.
Cleveland president, and said he supposed that if he had been here,
he should have been in it. All his friends were, he added, a little
helplessly; but he seemed not to dislike my saying I knew one of his
friends who was not: in fact, as I have told, he never disliked a plump
difference--unless he disliked the differer.

For several years he went back to England every summer, and it was not
until he took up his abode at Elmwood again that he spent a whole year at
home. One winter he passed at his sister's home in Boston, but mostly he
lived with his daughter at Southborough. I have heard a story of his
going to Elmwood soon after his return in 1885, and sitting down in his
old study, where he declared with tears that the place was full of
ghosts. But four or five years later it was well for family reasons that
he should live there; and about the same time it happened that I had
taken a house for the summer in his neighborhood. He came to see me,
and to assure me, in all tacit forms of his sympathy in a sorrow for
which there could be no help; but it was not possible that the old
intimate relations should be resumed. The affection was there, as much
on his side as on mine, I believe; but he was now an old man and I was an
elderly man, and we could not, without insincerity, approach each other
in the things that had drawn us together in earlier and happier years.
His course was run; my own, in which he had taken such a generous
pleasure, could scarcely move his jaded interest. His life, so far as it
remained to him, had renewed itself in other air; the later friendships
beyond seas sufficed him, and were without the pang, without the effort
that must attend the knitting up of frayed ties here.

He could never have been anything but American, if he had tried, and he
certainly never tried; but he certainly did not return to the outward
simplicities of his life as I first knew it. There was no more round-
hat-and-sack-coat business for him; he wore a frock and a high hat, and
whatever else was rather like London than Cambridge; I do not know but
drab gaiters sometimes added to the effect of a gentleman of the old
school which he now produced upon the witness. Some fastidiousnesses
showed themselves in him, which were not so surprising. He complained of
the American lower class manner; the conductor and cabman would be kind
to you but they would not be respectful, and he could not see the fun of
this in the old way. Early in our acquaintance he rather stupified me by
saying, "I like you because you don't put your hands on me," and I heard
of his consenting to some sort of reception in those last years, "Yes,
if they won't shake hands."

Ever since his visit to Rome in 1875 he had let his heavy mustache grow
long till it dropped below the corners of his beard, which was now almost
white; his face had lost the ruddy hue so characteristic of him. I fancy
he was then ailing with premonitions of the disorder which a few years
later proved mortal, but he still bore himself with sufficient vigor,
and he walked the distance between his house and mine, though once when I
missed his visit the family reported that after he came in he sat a long
time with scarcely a word, as if too weary to talk. That winter, I went
into Boston to live, and I saw him only at infrequent intervals, when I
could go out to Elmwood. At such times I found him sitting in the room
which was formerly the drawing-room, but which had been joined with his
study by taking away the partitions beside the heavy mass of the old
colonial chimney. He told me that when he was a newborn babe, the nurse
had carried him round this chimney, for luck, and now in front of the
same hearth, the white old man stretched himself in an easy-chair, with
his writing-pad on his knees and his books on the table at his elbow, and
was willing to be entreated not to rise. I remember the sun used to come
in at the eastern windows full pour, and bathe the air in its warmth.

He always hailed me gayly, and if I found him with letters newly come
from England, as I sometimes did, he glowed and sparkled with fresh life.
He wanted to read passages from those letters, he wanted to talk about
their writers, and to make me feel their worth and charm as he did.
He still dreamed of going back to England the next summer, but that was
not to be. One day he received me not less gayly than usual, but with a
certain excitement, and began to tell me about an odd experience he had
had, not at all painful, but which had very much mystified him. He had
since seen the doctor, and the doctor had assured him that there was
nothing alarming in what had happened, and in recalling this assurance,
he began to look at the humorous aspects of the case, and to make some
jokes about it. He wished to talk of it, as men do of their maladies,
and very fully, and I gave him such proof of my interest as even inviting
him to talk of it would convey. In spite of the doctor's assurance,
and his joyful acceptance of it, I doubt if at the bottom of his heart
there was not the stir of an uneasy misgiving; but he had not for a long
time shown himself so cheerful.

It was the beginning of the end. He recovered and relapsed, and
recovered again; but never for long. Late in the spring I came out,
and he had me stay to dinner, which was somehow as it used to be at two
o'clock; and after dinner we went out on his lawn. He got a long-handled
spud, and tried to grub up some dandelions which he found in his turf,
but after a moment or two he threw it down, and put his hand upon his
back with a groan. I did not see him again till I came out to take leave
of him before going away for the summer, and then I found him sitting on
the little porch in a western corner of his house, with a volume of Scott
closed upon his finger. There were some other people, and our meeting
was with the constraint of their presence. It was natural in nothing so
much as his saying very significantly to me, as if he knew of my heresies
concerning Scott, and would have me know he did not approve of them, that
there was nothing he now found so much pleasure in as Scott's novels.
Another friend, equally heretical, was by, but neither of us attempted to
gainsay him. Lowell talked very little, but he told of having been a
walk to Beaver Brook, and of having wished to jump from one stone to
another in the stream, and of having had to give it up. He said, without
completing the sentence, If it had come to that with him! Then he fell
silent again; and with some vain talk of seeing him when I came back in
the fall, I went away sick at heart. I was not to see him again, and I
shall not look upon his like.

I am aware that I have here shown him from this point and from that in a
series of sketches which perhaps collectively impart, but do not assemble
his personality in one impression. He did not, indeed, make one
impression upon me, but a thousand impressions, which I should seek in
vain to embody in a single presentment. What I have cloudily before me
is the vision of a very lofty and simple soul, perplexed, and as it were
surprised and even dismayed at the complexity of the effects from motives
so single in it, but escaping always to a clear expression of what was
noblest and loveliest in itself at the supreme moments, in the divine
exigencies. I believe neither in heroes nor in saints; but I believe in
great and good men, for I have known them, and among such men Lowell was
of the richest nature I have known. His nature was not always serene or
pellucid; it was sometimes roiled by the currents that counter and cross
in all of us; but it was without the least alloy of insincerity, and it
was never darkened by the shadow of a selfish fear. His genius was an
instrument that responded in affluent harmony to the power that made him
a humorist and that made him a poet, and appointed him rarely to be quite
either alone.


I believe neither in heroes nor in saints
It is well to hold one's country to her promises
Liked being with you, not for what he got, but for what he gave

Book of the day: