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The Autobiography of a Journalist, Volume I by Stillman, William James

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Kossuth's practical incapacity for the minutiae of conspiracy in this
case was, I judged from what I afterward learned of his compatriots,
characteristic of him. He continually neglected the details of
important affairs, working by magnificent inspirations, which left out
of consideration the defects of human nature. His self-exaltation had
offended many patriots who did not fall under his personal magnetism,
and his assumption of authority in military matters where he had no
knowledge to justify it, alienated the competent officers. The treason
of Goergey, as it was popularly considered, was probably due to the
perception that Kossuth was an impracticable head for an active
revolution, under whose dictature there was no hope of final success
while he at the same time refused to abandon his impracticable
ideals; and I heard from actual participants that there was great
dissatisfaction amongst the officers with his assumption of dignity,
out of place, and of command, for which he was incompetent. The fact
was that he could not distinguish between the practicable and the
impracticable, and though not so visionary as Mazzini, he believed
that his power of arousing the wild enthusiasm of the Honveds and
masses of Hungarians, due to his marvelous eloquence, was enough to
carry on war with, and he would not see that, from the moment that
Russia intervened, it was only a question of time when and how the
insurrection should end. Then his treatment of the Slavonic element of
the population was fatal to the movement. The Serbs only asked to be
admitted on an equal footing with the Magyars to the struggle against
the centralizing tendency of the German element at Vienna, and
Kossuth contemptuously exclaimed, in response to their demand, "These
Rascians, who consider themselves a nation and are only a band of
robbers," etc.,--a reply hardly calculated to conciliate--one which in
fact threw the Slavonic population against the movement and made the
Russian intervention inevitable. Kossuth, like Mazzini, was simply an
insurrectionary force--the administrative power existed only in great
and imposing schemes which lacked adaptation to ordinary human nature
and existing circumstances. The personal fascination of the man was
beyond anything I have ever known, but his failure as the chief of a
state was, I believe, inevitable.

I took my conge as secret agent, but it was understood that when the
renewal of the revolt from Austria, to which he looked forward at no
distant time, was at hand, I should take the place to which I had
looked forward in the beginning. I saw one of Kossuth's associates
subsequently, after the failure of Mazzini's Milan movement in the
spring of 1853; and he then told me of the failure, and how the
Hungarian soldiers, as had been ordered, refused to fire on the
insurgents and had been decimated and sent to Croatia. More than
thirty years after, I went to see Kossuth at Turin, and introduced
myself as the young man who went to Hungary for him to carry off the
crown jewels. He burst out with an impetuous denial of the existence
of the expedition. "But," said I, "I have your letters written to
me in Pesth." "I should like to see those letters," he replied. I
promised to send them, conditionally on his promise to return them;
but thinking it over, I sent him only one, inclosed in a stamped
envelope directed to myself, with a letter recalling the promise to
send it back. I never heard from him again, however, and saw that he
only wanted to get the letters to suppress their evidence.



I went to Paris to wait for the impending rising in Milan, and
meanwhile entered the atelier of Yvon, not to lose my time. My only
English-speaking companion in the atelier was a younger brother of
Edward Armitage, the Royal Academician; the popular atelier at that
time for the English and American students being that of Couture.
Yvon had about thirty pupils, to whom his attentions were given
gratuitously and conscientiously, three times a week, with rare
exceptions of the Saturday visit, by the pupils regarded as the least
important. Of the thirty there were not more than a half dozen who
showed any degree of special aptitude for their work, and only two
were regarded by their colleagues as likely to be an honor to the
atelier in the future, and of these, unless they have changed their
names, no renown has come in later times. There was a marquis whose
income was one hundred francs a month, and a count whose father gave
him five sous and a piece of bread for his breakfast when he left
home, but the rest were plebeians, with neither past nor future, whose
enthusiasm in the face of their weekly failures, and patience in
following an arid path, were most interesting as a social phenomenon.
I have always found more to wonder at in the failures than in the
great successes of artist life--seeing the content and even happiness
which some of the hopelessly enthusiastic found in their futile and
endless labor. We used to go to work at six in the morning, draw two
hours and then go to a little _laiterie_ and take our bowl of _cafe au
lait_ and a small loaf of bread, and then draw till noon, when we went
home for the second breakfast. Armitage and myself used to breakfast
at the Palais Royal, or some other quarter where the bill of fare was
by the rest of the men considered luxurious, and we were dubbed the
"aristocrats" of the atelier, my breakfast costing me one franc and a
half and my dinner two francs. I had fixed my expenses, as in London,
at the limit of twenty-five francs a week, which had to pay all the
expenses of atelier, food, and lodging, and it was surprising how much
comfort could then be got for that sum.

I had found a tiny room in the _maison meublee_ in the Cite d'Antin
where Mrs. Coxe lived, and Mr. Coxe in returning to America had given
me charge of his women folk, so that I had a social resource and a
relief from tedium which gave me no expense. On Sunday the daughter
came home from school, and we all went out to dine at one or another
of the Palais Royal restaurants, or made, in the fine weather, an
excursion into the environs. Now and then, Mrs. Coxe invited me to
take them to the theatre, and thus I saw some of the famous actors,
Rachel and Frederic Lemaitre being still vividly impressed on my
memory. The afternoons of the week days were given to the galleries
and visiting the studios of the painters whose work attracted me, and
who admitted visitors. I thus made the acquaintance of Delacroix,
Gerome, Theodore Rousseau, and by a chance met Delaroche and Ingres;
but Delacroix most interested me, and I made an application to him to
be received as a pupil, which he in a most amiable manner refused, but
he seemed interested in putting me on the right way and gave me such
advice as was in the range of casual conversation. I asked him what,
in his mind, was the principal defect of modern art, as compared with
ancient, and he replied "the execution." He had endeavored to remedy
this in his own case by extensive copying of the old masters, and he
showed me many of the copies--passages of different works, apparently
made with the object of catching the quality of execution.

In fact, if we consider the differences between the system of
education in painting and that in music or any other art or occupation
in which the highest executive ability is required, we shall see that
we give insufficient opportunity for the painter's hand to acquire the
subtle skill we find in the successful violinist or pianist, and which
is due to the early and incessant practice in the manual operations
of his art. The fact is recognized, that the education of a violinist
must begin in the early years, when the will and hand are flexible,
and not merely the training, but the occupation, is almost exclusive,
for the specialist is made only by a special and relatively exclusive
devotion to the particular faculties which are desired to be trained.
It is useless to attempt to develop the finest qualities of the
draughtsman without the same attention to the condition of training
which we insist on in the musician. The theory may come later, the
intellectual element may develop under many influences, and healthily,
later in life, but the hand is too fine and subtly constituted an
implement to be brought into its best condition and efficiency unless
trained from the beginning to the definite use imposed on it.

Admitting, therefore, as I do, that the criticism of Delacroix was
just, it is evident that, until we give to the modern student of
painting a similar training to that which the early one had, we cannot
expect him to attain the executive powers of the Italian renaissance,
nor can we be sure that he appreciates the subtlety of the work of the
masters, any more than the member of a village choir can understand
the finesse of the highest order of musical execution, or its first
violinist appreciate the touch of a Joachim or a Sarasate. For it is
just in the last refinement of touch of a Raphael drawing or the rapid
and expressive outline of a Mantegna that we find the analogy between
the two arts, in a refinement of touch which is lost on the public,
and appreciated only by the practiced student either of music or
painting. This final attainment of the hand is only possible to a man
who has been trained as a boy to his work. We find it in a water-color
drawing of Turner, as in a pencil drawing of Raphael, and in the
outlines of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but in modern figure
painting never, even in France, where the youth generally takes up the
training at fourteen to sixteen. I believe that the reason why this
supreme manual excellence is so completely lacking, even in French
art, that, so far as I know, only Meissonier amongst them has attained
a measure of it, is that the seriousness of life and purpose necessary
for any consummate achievement is so rarely found there in conjunction
with that early and sound training.

Another acquaintance made in these days, which has always remained a
delight to me, was that of Theodore Rousseau, to my mind the greatest
of the French landscape painters. Though living and working mostly
at Barbison, he had a studio in Paris, and there I used to see
him, always received in the friendly and helpful way which was
characteristic of most of the French artists of the higher order.
Later I went to Barbison, where, besides Rousseau, I knew J.F. Millet,
and a minor, but in his way a very remarkable, painter, Charles
Jacque. Rousseau was a most instructive talker on art, beyond the
sphere of which he hardly seemed to care to go in his thinking. He had
never been out of France, had never seen the Alps, and did not care
for mountain scenery, but concentrated all his feelings and labor on
what he used to call "_sujets intimes_," the picturesque nooks of
landscape one can always find in a highly cultivated country, where
nature is tamed to an intimacy with the domestic spirit, or where she
vainly struggles against the invasion of culture, as in the borders
of the forest of Fontainebleau. In such material, nature withdraws
farther and makes a wider margin for art, and the wedding and welding
of the two become more subtle and playful.

It has always seemed to me that with all the differences inherent
in the antagonism of the characters of the two men, the essential
features of the art of Rousseau and Turner were the same; pure
impressionism based on the most intimate and largest knowledge of the
facts of nature, but without direct copying of them--rather working
from memoranda or memories, for neither ever painted directly from
nature; the same conception of the subject as a whole, its rhythmic
and harmonic unity as opposed to the fragmentary manner of treatment
of most of their contemporaries; the lyric passion in line and tint;
the same originality which often became waywardness in the conception
of subject in itself; the same revolt from all precedent; and the same
passion for subtle gradation and infinite space, air, and light--and
some of Rousseau's skies were the most vaporous I have ever seen.
These are the fundamental agreements of the art of the two great
masters, and in those qualities no other man of their countries and
epoch has equaled them, but outside of these the contrasts are of the
most pronounced. Pyne told me that Turner said he wished he could do
without trees; Rousseau worshiped them. Turner loved the mountains;
Rousseau never cared to see them and never painted one. Turner, a
colorist, reveled in color like a Bacchanal; Rousseau, a tonalist,
felt it like a vestal; but both had the sense of color in the subtlest

Rousseau used to say that if you had not your picture in the first
five lines you would never have it, and he laid down as a rule that
whenever you worked on it you should go over the whole and keep it
together, growing in all parts _pari passu_. Wishing to give me a
lesson in values one day as he was painting, he turned his palette
over and painted a complete little scheme of a picture on the back of
it, suggested by the subject before us as we looked out of the studio
window. He showed me his studies from nature, mere notes of form and
of local color and pastel. It was to me always a puzzle that, even in
the educated art circles of Paris, Corot should have found so great
a popularity as compared to that of Rousseau. Without in the least
disparaging the greatness of Corot's best work, such for instance as
the St. Sebastian and some other classical subjects, the names of
which I cannot recall, the range of conception and treatment is
limited as compared with that of Rousseau. This alone would give Corot
a lower rank, in the absence of a marked superiority in some special
high quality--superiority which does not exist, for the picked work of
Rousseau possesses technical excellences all its own, as consummate as
anything in the world's landscape art, while the range of treatment
and subject, so much greater in Rousseau than in Corot, puts the
limited and mannered art of the latter as a whole in a distinct

Of Millet I saw much less, but enough to know the man and his art,
simple and human, the one as the other. His love for manhood in its
most primitive attainable types, those furnished by the peasant, was
the outcome of his conception of art, such as the Greek of the early
schools conceived it, the expression of humanity in a simple and
therefore noble state, and of the honest, open, healthy nature of the
man himself, averse to all sophistication of society, reverent of
an ideal in art, and intolerant of affectations. He conceived and
executed his pictures in the pure Greek spirit, working out his ideal
as his imagination presented it to him, not as the model served him.
The form is of his own day, the spirit of his art that of all time
and of all good art, the elaboration of a type and not merely the
reproduction of a picturesque model. It is the custom now to class all
peasant subjects, emulating the forms of Millet, as belonging to his
art. Nothing is more absurd, for the art of Millet was subjective, not
realistic; it was in the feeling of the art of Phidias and the Italian
renaissance, not in the modern _pose plastique_. The peasant in it was
merely incidental to his sympathy with ideal life. Millet was himself
a peasant, he used to say, and his moral purpose, if he had any, was
the glorification, so far as art can effect it, of his class, the
class which above all others in his eyes dignified humanity and held
his sympathy. This feeling was with him no affectation, but the
deliberate, final conclusion of his life--he reverenced the _sabot_
and the _blouse_, the implements of tillage and work, as the Greek did
his gods and the implements of war and glory; he saw humanity reduced
to its simplest and most noble physical functions and possibilities,
as the Greek did the perfection of the physical form, but he lacked
the perception of the types of pure beauty of the Greek.

The personal relations between Rousseau and Millet were in the best
sense of the word fraternal, and from neither did I ever hear a word
to the disparagement of a brother artist, while Rousseau used to talk
in the subtlest vein of critical appreciation of his rivals among the
landscape painters, the Dupres, Ziem, Troyon, and others, so that I
regret that in those days I thought only of my own instruction, and
not of the putting on record the opinions of a man whose ideas of art
were amongst the most exalted I have known.

A charming nature was that of Troyon, a simple, robust worker, and,
like all the larger characters in the French art world with whom I
became acquainted, full of sympathy and guidance for those who wanted
light and leading. But the lives of these three great painters, like
that of Corot (whom I never knew personally), show how completely the
French public, so proud of its intelligence of art, ignored the best
qualities of it till outsiders pointed to them. Troyon told me that
for the first ten years of his career he had never sold a picture, but
lived by painting for Sevres; the prosperity of Millet came from
the patronage of American collectors, led by the appreciation of
a Bostonian painter, William Hunt, and I well remember his famous
"Sowers" on the highest line in the Salon, so completely skied that
only one who looked for a Millet was likely to see it; while Rousseau,
at the time I speak of, was glad to accept the smallest commission,
and sold mostly to American collectors. Nor is it otherwise with the
Rousseaus, Millets, and Troyons of to-day--the public taste, and the
banal criticism of a journalism at its best the tardy echo of the
opinions of the rare wise man, find genius only when it has ceased to
have the quality of the new and unforeseen.

Yvon, in whose atelier I worked, was essentially a teacher, and his
more recent assignment to the directorship of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts
put him in his true place, that of a master of style in drawing and
the elements of art instruction. He was engaged, when I knew him, on
the battle-pieces of the Crimean war, the chief of which were already
at Versailles. His was an earnest, indefatigable nature. He was as
kindly and zealous a teacher as if he were receiving, like his
English confreres, a guinea a lesson. Nothing so strongly marked the
difference between the French and the English feeling for art as this
characteristic feature of the disinterestedness of the French artist
in giving instruction without compensation, while his English
colleague of equal distinction gave instruction only at a price
impracticable for a poor artist, if indeed he would give it at any
price. And even thus, the English drawing-master did not teach art,
but facile tricks of the brush. Need one seek any other reason for the
curious fact that, with a marked superiority in the occasional highest
attainment of rare and original abilities which English art shows,
France has become the school of Europe, than that in England the
master will teach only on terms which are prohibitive of the formation
of a school, while in France, with few exceptions, the most eminent
painters regard it as a duty to open their ateliers to pupils often
gratuitously, but in any case freely and on terms which are adaptable
to the modest means of the poorest class of workers? In how different
a position in relation to the art of the world would English art now
be in, had Sir Joshua, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Turner, and two or three
others who could be named, thrown open their studios to the young
enthusiasts who followed them, and the sterling talents which have
never been wanting in England been enabled to profit by the experience
and art of their elders, instead of groping their way alone to
efficiency, or, still worse, going to South Kensington, generally
"arriving" too late to succeed fully!

Waiting the word from Kossuth which should call me to join the
ever-impending and ever-postponed insurrection, I passed the winter
thus, profiting as I could by all opportunities for the study of art
and making acquaintance with the artists. My money was running to an
end, but this was a matter in which my faith in Providence did not
allow me to borrow trouble, and I made it a rule never to run into
debt. That I never borrowed I cannot say, but I never did so except in
cases where I was in such personal relations with the lender that if I
died without paying the debt, it would neither weigh on him nor on my
conscience. I kept up my regular round of economy and work, and
one Saturday, when I had paid for my dinner at the Palais Royal
restaurant, I found myself with fifty centimes in my pocket, and went
on a long walk in the streets of Paris, to meditate on my immediate
future. Mrs. Coxe, one of the kindest of friends, would, I knew,
gladly lend me what I needed, but I did not allow her to know that I
needed, and how to pay for my next day's dinner I did not see. Still,
confident that something would turn up, I walked towards my lodgings
through the Rue Royale and its arcades, feeling the ten-sou piece in
my pocket, when I saw a young girl dart out from one of the recesses
of the arcade, dragging after her a boy of two or three years, and
then, as if her courage failed, turn and hide herself and him again in
the doorway from which she had come. I saw her case at once,--want and
shame at begging,--went to her and gave her the ten-sou piece, and
went to bed feeling better.

The next day being Sunday and no atelier, I slept late, and was awaked
by a knock at my door, when to the spoken "Entrez" came in no other
than my friend Dr. Ruggles, between whom and myself there were various
communities of feeling which made us like brothers. He sat down by my
bedside, and, salutations passed, broke out, "Do you want any money?"
His grandfather, just dead, had left him a legacy, and he had come
to Paris, artist-like, to spend it. I took from him, as I would have
given him the half of my last dollar, a hundred francs, and on this I
lived my normal life until, some weeks later, a friend of my brother
arriving from New York with instructions to find me out and provide
for my wants if I had any, supplied me for any probable emergency,
including an order for a free passage home on a steamer of which my
brother was part owner. I waited till the spring homesickness made
it too irksome to live quietly in Paris, and then finding that the
revolution so long waited for had gone by, I went home and to my

In American landscape the element of the picturesque is in a serious
deficiency. What is old is the wild and savage, the backwoods and the
wild mountain, with no trace of human presence or association to give
it sentiment; what is new is still in the crude and angular state in
which the utilities are served, and the comfort of the man and his
belongings most considered. Nothing is less paintable than a New
England village; nothing is more monotonous than the woodland mountain
of any of the ranges of eastern North America. The valley of the
Mohawk is one of the earliest settled and least unpicturesque sections
of the Eastern States, with its old Dutch farmhouses and the winding
of the beautiful river; but I had explored it on foot and in every
direction for miles around my birthplace, and found nothing that
seemed to "make up" save trees and water. I spent one summer after my
return amongst these familiar scenes, but found the few subjects which
repaid study too remote from any habitable centre to repay the labor
needed to get at them. I made long foot excursions through the valleys
of the Connecticut and Housatonic; but, after my experience in rural
England, it was very discouraging to ransack that still unhumanized
landscape for pictures. Everything was too neat and trim, and I
remember that one day, when I was on my search for a "bit," I found
a dilapidated barn which tempted me to sit down before it, when the
farmwife, guessing my intentions, ran out to beg me "not to take the
barn yet; they were going to do it up the next week as good as new,
and wouldn't I wait?"

An accident drove me to pass one of these summers in as complete
seclusion from society as I could find, and where I should be able to
do nothing but paint. I had been, two years before, hit in the face by
a snow missile, during one of the snowballing saturnalia the New York
roughs indulged in after every fall of snow; in this case the missile
was a huge block of frozen snow-crust, which flattened my nose on my
face and broke the upper maxillary inclosing all the front teeth. I
modeled the nose up on the spot, for it was as plastic as clay, but
the broken bone became carious, and, after enduring for two years the
fear of having my head eaten off by caries, and having resigned the
chance of having it shot off in the revolution, I decided to let my
brother operate. The bone inclosing the front teeth was taken out with
the six teeth, and I was sent into retirement for three months at
least, while the jaw was getting ready for the work of the dentist.

I had seen, when last in England, the picture by Millais, "The
Proscribed Royalist," which gave me a suggestion of the treatment of
a landscape which should be mainly foreground, such as I particularly
delighted in. Hoping to find a woodland subject which admitted of
this treatment, I went to pass the summer on the farm of an old uncle
(where I had caught my first trout), knowing it to be heavily wooded.
Of course when one goes out to look for a particular thing he never
finds it, nor did I then find the tree subject I wanted, but I found
a little spring under a branching beech and surrounded by mossy
boulders, and, taking a canvas of my usual size,--25x30 inches,--I
gave three months to painting it and carried it home still somewhat
unfinished. It was an attractive subject, though not what I had
wanted, and was hung in one of the best places in the Academy
exhibition, making its mark and mine. It was absolutely
unconventional, and the old stagers did not know what to say of a
picture which was all foreground. There was much discussion, and,
amongst the younger painters, much subsequent emulation; but it
did not find a purchaser at my price--$250. Anything so thoroughly
realistic that, as President Durand said, "The stones seemed to be,
not painting, but the real thing," puzzled the ordinary picture buyer;
and the American Art Union, which was the principal buyer of the
day, and the _dernier ressort_ of the young artist, was managed by a
committee of ordinary picture buyers. The picture gave rise to a hot
discussion when exhibited, the old school of painters denouncing such
slavish imitation of nature. As the negative photographic process had
just then been introduced in America, I had the picture photographed,
and a friend took a print of it to the head of the old school, without
any explanation. My antagonist and critic looked at it carefully and
exclaimed, "What is the use of Stillman making his pre-Raphaelite
studies when we can get such photographs from nature as this!" As I
had my brother's generosity to fall back on, I was not obliged to
sell, and the picture remained in my studio for two or three years.
Later Agassiz saw it and was so delighted with its botany that I
decided to give it to him; but when a fellow painter offered--when I
was leaving again for Europe--to "raffle it off," I allowed him to do
so, and he appropriated the proceeds. I had made a rule of giving the
pictures which were not sold in the exhibition to the person who
had shown the finest appreciation of them,--a habit which did not
contribute to pecuniary success, but which helped my _amour propre_,
and I have always regretted not having sent that picture to Agassiz,
who, in later years, became one of my best friends.



During the subsequent winter the subject of spiritism occupied the
world of the curious and the thoughtful a good deal; and, with my
brother Paul, who was a disciple of Swedenborg, I took every occasion
that offered to investigate it. Many of my friends were interested in
it, and I soon became convinced that it was not the foolish delusion
which the scientific world and most religious people pronounced it. In
fact, if there be any basis of reality in the phenomena, it is hard to
conceive a subject of such vital importance as the determination of
the actuality of an individual existence after the physical death. It
had always been evident to me that the immense majority of men had no
real belief in human immortality, all their pursuits and acquisitions
being of a purely material character. My own convictions were
ingrained and immovable, but a physical demonstration of their verity
seemed to me an eminently desirable result, if attainable, and I
entered into the investigation with earnestness and all my patience.
Society was largely occupied by the table-tippings and the "rappings."
"Circles" were forming amongst all classes, and the mediums became an
important element in the world of New York. I very soon came to the
conclusion that the professional, paid mediums were, in many cases,
the worst kind of impostors, and, in all cases, so far as any
intellectual evidence was concerned, of an absurd triviality. Even in
the private circles, where no trace of fraud could be suspected, the
good faith of all entering them being assured, I found sometimes such
extraordinary credulity that the subject would have been offensive to
any dispassionate investigator who was not, like myself, determined to
get to the bottom of it. The majority of the persons who entered into
a circle were ready to believe any extraordinary thing that came to
them, and the inanity of the general proceedings, even when fraud was
excluded, was sufficient to indispose serious people to take part
in them. To me the question had such vital importance that I was
determined that neither fraud nor the inconsequent nature of the
pretended communications should dissuade me from the most thorough
investigation possible.

This investigation lasted several years, and included, to greater or
less extent, every form of psychological and physical phenomenon which
was offered by spiritism. My experience with the professional mediums
was such that I soon ceased to pay any attention to them, finding
that, what with the frivolity of their utterances and the evident
imposture which, in the case of some of them, invariably marked the
display of their powers, the sittings were simply farcical; nor did I
ever find, in the doings of the mediums, or in the revelations of the
regular spiritistic circles (and I sat in the most important one of
them, that over which Judge Edmonds presided, during the two winters)
in which no paid medium took part, anything which was not, or could
not have been, imposture.

The reason is simple. The professional medium, paid to display certain
powers, which are in any case extremely uncertain in their response to
the call for them, invariably begins to imitate them when they fail.
The mediums are invariably persons of an inferior order of intellect,
avid of notoriety, and mostly mercenary, so that the results of the
consultations with them were almost sufficient to deter serious-minded
people from dealing with them a second time, while the people who
formed the regular circles and had made a sect with a devotional
character in it, rapidly degenerated into a credulity and materialism
which were more discouraging than the most arid skepticism. Physical
phenomena which met every demand for absolute guarantee of their
genuineness, were very rare, and to meet with them required great
patience and persistence, while the scientific student, in the habit
of dealing with experiments that had definite results, obeying known
or conjectured laws, if entering into an investigation which met at
the threshold a frivolous, and possibly fraudulent, "manifestation,"
threw up the subject, the more readily that in general the student of
physical science has no sympathy with psychical research.

Recognizing the correctness of this attitude and the unreliability
as well as the utter want of essential importance in the physical
manifestations and the invariable inconsequence and silliness of
the intellectual results, I withdrew entirely from circles in which
mediums took part or in which physical phenomena were sought for, and
limited my investigations to the cases in which the good faith of all
the company was unquestionable, and the investigation conducted
in privacy and sincerity. Here, of course, there was still great
uncertainty, and often the most curious triviality and low
intelligence, but we were able to check the possible tendency to the
simulation of the supra-normal activity. And even so the character
of the "manifestation" was generally so trivial and opposed to all
preconceived ideas of spiritual intelligence as to justify the
conclusion that the departed had left their wits behind them, so that
even in those "circles" which included only personal friends and
individuals of unquestionable sincerity the results rarely had any
intellectual importance. And I came to the conclusion that that form
of the phenomena which alone gave any intellectual result, i.e. which
manifested ideas in any way transcending the commonplace capacities
of commonplace minds, had nothing in common with the physical
manifestations, but seemed rather to consist in an exaltation of
the intellectual powers of the subject, so that the evidence of any
supra-normal power was rather moral than scientific, and had value
only according to the relation between the subject and the hearer, and
therefore no determinable value to physical science.

The most remarkable of the subjects of this character with whom I
became acquainted, which was during the later years of this study, was
Mrs. H.K. Brown, the wife of our ablest sculptor of that day. Mrs.
Brown was, apart from the peculiar powers she possessed, one of
the most remarkable women I have ever known, both morally and
intellectually, and the peculiar mental powers she manifested were
well known to all the large and thoughtful circle of friends which
gathered round her. No physical "manifestation" took place in her
presence, and we never "sat" as a "circle," but her telepathic and
thought-reading powers in ordinary social intercourse were most
surprising. She answered readily any questions proposed in the minds
of her interlocutors, often even before they were completely formed,
and she possessed the power attributed to Zschokke, of reading, or
seeing, past events in the lives of those who were placed _en rapport_
with her. Bryant, the poet, assured me that she had recounted to him
events in his past life not known to any living person except himself,
and I had, myself, the evidence that in her presence there was nothing
in my past life beyond her perception. On simple contact with a letter
from an unknown person she gave me the most remarkable analysis of the
character of the writer, and though this evidence is always open to
criticism, the disclosures she made were sometimes surprising. I gave
her one day a letter of Ruskin without disclosing the authorship, and
in the course of a long analysis she said that the writer was not
married, to which I replied that in this she was mistaken, and she
rejoined, "Then he ought _not_ to be." At that time Mr. and Mrs.
Ruskin were, so far as I knew, living together, and no rumor of their
incompatibility had come about.

Mrs. Brown explained the possession of her occult powers by a voice in
the manner of Socrates's demon, which, she said, was always present
with her, and which she recognized as entirely foreign to her. She
repeated what she heard, word for word as the words came, hesitating
and sometimes leaving a sentence incomplete, not hearing the sequence.
When she asked who was speaking to her, she received only the reply,
"We are spirit," and no indication of personality was ever offered. On
one occasion, when Mr. and Mrs. Brown were on a fishing trip into the
wild parts of New York State, and, returning, were on their way to the
railway station, the wheel of their wagon broke and they had to go to
a blacksmith on the road to have it repaired. She said to her husband
that they would lose the train, to which the voice replied that they
would be in time, for the train was late and they would arrive with a
minute to spare. And in fact as they drew up at the station the train
came in sight and they had a minute to spare. There were many
such instances in which Mrs. Brown showed to the circle of her
acquaintances, which was large and included many of the most
intellectual minds of the artistic and literary world whose centre was
New York, the possession of powers "not dreamed of in our philosophy,"
but, as she carefully avoided notoriety, they never came under public
notice. Her husband implicitly and always followed the directions
given her through her demon.

In one of the social gatherings which grew out of the study of
spiritism was a lady who, like myself, was a convinced believer in the
reality of the phenomena, but skeptical as to the value and personal
origin of the communications made in the "circles." Her daughter,
a child of seven, was in fact a hypnotic clairvoyant of singular
lucidity, and my brother, Dr. Jacob Stillman, obtained from the mother
permission to have a private seance, only the mother and child, the
doctor, and myself being present. I hypnotized the girl Fanny, and
when she opened her eyes in the hypnotic state the doctor made the
usual tests for coma, exposing the eyes to the sudden glare of a
brilliant light, sticking pins into her flesh, and so forth, and
pronounced the coma absolute when, as he stuck a pin in her arm, she
spoke, saying, "I wouldn't do that, it might hurt Fanny!" I asked if
she felt it, and she replied, "She does not feel it now, but she might
when she wakes." "But who are you?" I asked. She replied, "Oh, don't
you know? I am Dora." The mother informed us that a young playmate
of Fanny's, whose name was Dora Greenleaf, had died some months
previously, and that the impersonation through Fanny was always in
that name.

The physical test being declared conclusive by the doctor, I asked
"Dora" to tell me if there was any spirit friend of ours present, to
which she replied that there was a lady there who gave her name as
"Kate," and whom she described in terms sufficiently correct to
indicate a deceased cousin whose name was Catherine, familiarly called
Kate in the family, and this was followed by the names and
description of other relatives, all correct as far as names and such
identification could go; but to this kind of demonstration I could
never attach any importance as to personality, which is indeed a
point as to which I have found that reliance can rarely be placed on
affirmation, and as to which absolute proof can scarcely be given. As
in the case of Mrs. Brown, she replied with lucidity and promptness to
every interrogation, and I then began a series of mental questions,
being sure at least that the child could not draw from the question
matter for an indicated reply. She replied promptly to my questions,
and from time to time I explained to my brother what had been asked,
that he might follow the conversation. After several relatives had
been named, I asked if our brother Alfred was there, to which she
instantly replied, "There is a gentleman sitting on the corner of
the table by you who says his name is Alfred." The opportunity then
occurred to me of asking a "test question," which was, "If Alfred is
here, will he tell me when he last saw Harvey?" The relevance of this
question will appear from the fact that they were together on the
steamer whose boiler burst on the Mississippi, killing my brother and
causing injury to the cousin such that he committed suicide a month
later. The reply was, "He says he does not remember." At this I
remarked guardedly to the doctor, "I asked Alfred when he last saw
Harvey, and he replies that he doesn't remember, but he must have
seen him on board the boat." To this she instantly replied, with an
explosive laugh, "He says that if he did it was all blown out of him!"
I will only comment on this reply, that it was quite in accordance
with the character of my brother to joke on the most serious
subjects--he was an inveterate joker.

At this juncture, and while we discussed the strange reply, Fanny
exclaimed, "There is a young gentleman coming through the window; he
says his name is Harry--no," she added, holding her ear forward in the
direction she indicated as if to hear better, "not Harry, _Harvey_." I
then asked, "If Harvey is here, will he tell me if he was with me in
Paris, last winter?" She replied, "Yes, he says he was with you in
Paris, and that he saw you in the house where you lived with Mrs.
Fox--no, not Fox, Coxe--Mrs. Coxe--and he asks if you remember
magnetizing Mrs. Coxe at the restaurant?" Mrs. Coxe, as I have said
previously, was the lady from Alabama whose acquaintance, as well
as that of her husband and their young daughter, I had made when
traveling with them through Belgium, on my way to Hungary, and whom
Mr. Coxe, when he returned on business to America, left under my
protection for the winter. Mrs. Coxe was subject to violent and sudden
headaches, which came without warning, and for which during our trip
on the Meuse I had once hypnotized her successfully. This led to my
being called on subsequently so often that she became an easy subject,
and the headaches became less and less frequent and violent. I have
before said that it was our custom on Sunday to dine together at some
one of the restaurants, and on one of these occasions the headache
came on as we sat at the table and I hypnotized her across the table,
by simple exertion of my will without passes, and it passed off. The
incident was not in my mind, and had, not to cause gossip, never been
mentioned by me to any one; my mind was acting at the moment in quite
a different direction, and if my thought gave any clue to the answers
of Fanny, it would have been in another direction that she would have
looked. What was singular and accounted for by no evident circumstance
was the manner of the child in listening for the names which she had
clearly heard incorrectly--Harry for Harvey, and Fox for Coxe, and
after holding her ear forward as would one who heard imperfectly
something said to him. No forethought or attempt at deception on the
part of a child of seven under the eye of her mother, who was a woman
of singular sincerity of character, can be admitted to account for
these details in the dialogue, conducted on my part, be it remembered,
entirely by mental inquiries.

The evident fatigue of the child put an end to the seance. Neither
the mother nor Fanny knew at that time anything of my relatives, our
acquaintance being then of recent date, but our intimacy with the
family in after years enables me to say that any attempt at deception
is out of the question. Fanny died not long after of consumption, as
did the mother and two other children, one of whom, an elder sister,
had been influenced in the same manner as Miss A., who will be
mentioned later, but had never consented to take part in the
manifestations, which she regarded with great repugnance. While
sitting with us _en petit comite_, she used sometimes to be seized
with a convulsive and involuntary effort of her hand to write, but she
always refused to submit to the influence. Fanny in her normal state
showed no indications of mediumistic powers, nor did the mother.

During the investigation, we heard of a remarkable case in the circle
of our own acquaintance which had been kept from public knowledge as
far as possible by the aversion to publicity of the father of the
subject, my brother's chief foreman. She was a girl of fourteen, of a
timid and nervous organization, who had suffered great annoyance by
the persistence of the rappings about her wherever she might be;
at first in her bedroom, but finally to her great dismay in the
class-rooms of the primary public school of New York, in which she
held the position of assistant teacher and where she conducted the
recitations. The rappings caused such fright amongst the school
children that she was menaced with dismissal if they did not cease.
She implored the agency which was responsible for the sounds to leave
her alone at school and do what seemed best to it at home, and the
rappings did actually cease at school. As her father was a man
well-to-do in circumstances and annoyed by the occurrence, he
silenced the gossip about the matter as well as he could, and gave an
inflexible denial to the request for a seance which came from friends
who by chance heard of it. My brother Paul, who was a fellow-foreman
in the iron works, got permission, however, for a seance at which he
and I only were to be present with the girl. The phenomena were so
strange that I got permission for a repetition at which only my
brother Jacob and myself were present, and we preserved the notes of
what passed.

Miss A., as I shall call her, told us in detail the development of the
case. After having been for some time troubled by the rappings she
began to feel involuntary motions in her right hand which increased to
constantly recurring violent exercise of the muscles, when it occurred
to her from the character of the motions that the hand wanted a pencil
to write and she laid paper and a pencil on the table. Her hand then
took possession of the pencil and began to scrawl aimlessly over the
paper until, after the interval of many days, the agency seemed to
have sufficient control over the muscles to form legible letters. This
was a source of amusement to her, and, at the time we made our entry
into the investigation, the hand wrote legibly and neatly in reply to
mental, i.e. unspoken, questions, she having no control of the muscles
so long as the "influence," which was the name she applied to whatever
it might be, chose to use it. She knew what was written only when the
writing was finished and she read it, as we did; and the writing was,
as we found by experiment, quite as regular and well formed when her
eyes were bandaged as when she was looking at her work. As a further
test of the involuntary character of this we not only tried her with
her eyes bandaged, but by my brother talking with her from one side of
the table, while she was writing in reply to my mental questions on
the other; she talked with him on one subject at the same moment in
which she wrote to me on another.

In what was given under these circumstances she wrote for us the
replies in conversations with what purported to be the spirits of
three deceased relatives, the wife of my brother, my brother Alfred,
and cousin Harvey, who had for several years been my most intimate
and beloved friend; and the handwriting of the three series of
communication was a better imitation of their writing than I, knowing
it, could have produced. That of my sister-in-law I was not so
familiar with, though my brother recognized it as that of his wife,
but that of our brother was a perfect reproduction down to the
smallest accidents, and that which was given as the responses of
my cousin equally so, and executed with a rapidity of which I was
incapable--a large scrawling hand, that of our brother being of a
character entirely opposed, slowly and laboriously formed, with
occasional omissions of the last line of a final _n_, quite common in
his writing. The girl had never known either of these relatives. One
of the questions I asked when conversing with Harvey was, "Will you
tell me how you died?" to which the only reply was a fixed stare on
the part of Miss A., though every other question was answered, by
pantomime, affirmative or negative signs, or writing, and always in
writing when it was insisted on. Miss A.'s pantomimic powers in this
state exceeded anything I have ever seen in professional pantomime,
and she employed them largely.

At the conclusion of the questions and replies with Harvey, I asked if
he had seen old Turner, the landscape painter, since his death, which
had taken place not very long before. The reply was "Yes," and I then
asked what he was doing, the reply being a pantomime of painting. I
then asked if Harvey could bring Turner there, to which the reply was,
"I do not know; I will go and see," upon which Miss A. said, "This
influence is going away--it is gone;" and after a short pause added,
"There is another influence coming, in that direction," pointing over
her left shoulder. "I don't like it," and she shuddered slightly, but
presently sat up in her chair with a most extraordinary personation of
the old painter in manner, in the look out from under the brow and the
pose of the head. It was as if the ghost of Turner, as I had seen him
at Griffiths's, sat in the chair, and it made my flesh creep to
the very tips of my fingers, as if a spirit sat before me. Miss A.
exclaimed, "This influence has taken complete possession of me, as
none of the others did. I am obliged to do what it wants me to." I
asked if Turner would write his name for me, to which she replied by
a sharp, decided negative sign. I then asked if he would give me some
advice about my painting, remembering Turner's kindly invitation and
manner when I saw him. This proposition was met by the same decided
negative, accompanied by the fixed and sardonic stare which the girl
had put on at the coming of the new influence. This disconcerted me,
and I then explained to my brother what had been going on, as, the
questions being mental, he had no clue to the pantomime. I said that
as an influence which purported to be Turner was present, and refused
to answer any questions, I supposed there was nothing more to be done.

But Miss A. still sat unmoved and helpless, so we waited. Presently
she remarked that the influence wanted her to do something, she knew
not what, only that she had to get up and go across the room, which
she did with the feeble step of an old man. She crossed the room and
took down from the wall a colored French lithograph, and, coming to
me, laid it on the table before me, and by gesture called my attention
to it. She then went through the pantomime of stretching a sheet of
paper on a drawing-board, then that of sharpening a lead pencil,
following it up by tracing the outlines of the subject in the
lithograph. Then followed in similar pantomime the choosing of a
water-color pencil, noting carefully the necessary fineness of the
point, and then the washing-in of a drawing, broadly. Miss A. seemed
much amused by all this, but as she knew nothing of drawing she
understood nothing of it. Then with the pencil and her pocket
handkerchief she began taking out the lights, "rubbing-out," as the
technical term is. This seemed to me so contrary to what I conceived
to be the execution of Turner that I interrupted with the question,
"Do you mean to say that Turner rubbed out his lights?" to which she
gave the affirmative sign. I asked further if in a drawing which I
then had in my mind, the well-known "Llanthony Abbey," the central
passage of sunlight and shadow through rain was done in that way, and
she again gave the affirmative reply, emphatically. I was so firmly
convinced to the contrary that I was now persuaded that there was a
simulation of personality, such as was generally the case with the
public mediums, and I said to my brother, who had not heard any of my
questions, that this was another humbug, and then repeated what had
passed, saying that Turner could not have worked in that way. After
this I did not care to follow the conversation further.

My object in maintaining the mental questioning was, of course, to
prevent Miss A. from getting any clue to the meaning of the questions,
and I carried the precaution so far as not to look at her while
forming the questions in my mind. I also ascertained that she knew
nothing of drawing, or of Turner; but while I could not resist the
evidence of a mental activity absolutely independent of that of Miss
A., I was convinced that there was no question of actual identity.
Both the doctor and I were, however, satisfied that on the part of
Miss A. there was no attempt at deception, and that the phenomenon,
whatever might be the case as to identity, was a genuine manifestation
of an intelligence independent of that of the girl. Six weeks later I
sailed for England, and, on arriving in London, I went at once to see
Ruskin, and told him the whole story. He declared the contrariness
manifested by the medium to be entirely characteristic of Turner, and
had the drawing in question down for examination. We scrutinized it
closely, and both recognized beyond dispute that the drawing had been
executed in the way that Miss A. indicated. Ruskin advised me to send
an account of the affair to the "Cornhill," which I did; but it was
rejected, as might have been expected in the state of public opinion
at that time, and I can easily imagine Thackeray putting it into the
basket in a rage.

I offer no interpretation of the facts which I have here recorded,
but I have no hesitation in saying that they completed and fixed my
conviction of the existence of invisible and independent intelligences
to which the phenomena were due. The question of the identity of these
intelligences--which we may, without prejudging their nature,
leaving that to be determined by more complete experiences, consider
_disembodied_--with the persons in the flesh whose names they use, is
one on which I have great difficulty in forming a conclusion, though,
as a rule, my experience in "circles" has been that the imposture was
too gross to deceive a person of ordinary intellectual power. The two
cases which I have related in the foregoing pages are the only ones in
which I have ever been able to find the color of an identification,
and of the probability of this I leave the reader to judge. More on
the internal than on the external evidence, I consider the probability
in the two cases narrated to be in favor of the identity; beyond that
I am unwilling to go.

Of the actuality of a disembodied and individual being which, for want
of more intelligence of its nature, we call a "spirit," I have no more
doubt than I have of my own embodied and individual existence. If,
to my philosophic and skeptical critics, this is an indication of
intellectual weakness, and excites contempt of my faculties, I cannot
help it. I will be honest with myself and the world, have the courage
of my convictions, and take the consequences; and I am of the opinion
that, if all the cultivated minds which, having studied the subject,
agree with me in my conclusions were to be as frank as I am, there
would be a large body of witnesses in accord with me. If the inference
of a disembodied intelligence, as the source of such phenomena, is
difficult of acceptation, that of fraud and collusion is inadmissible,
and that of hallucination more difficult than that of the spiritual
origin. Of the different hypotheses, then, I take that which seems the
most satisfactory one in view of the ascertained facts. But "seeing is
believing," and I can fully appreciate the incredulity of reasonable
minds as to phenomena which are not in line with our ordinary
experience of life, and which, at the same time, are of extreme
rarity, and require, for their investigation and actual observation,
great patience and the sacrifice of much time and the exercise of much
tolerance, surrounded, as the subject is, by gross charlatanry and
fraud. But if the beginnings of physical life are worth the years of
patient study which science has accorded them, I must believe that the
final issue of it is worth the time and study needed to arrive at such
results as would, I am convinced, finally crown them. If it were worth
while, I could, I am persuaded, define, _a priori_, the lines of
investigation along which we should move, but each investigator will
choose his own route, and better so.

Two conclusions I draw from my investigations as immovably
established, so far as I am concerned. The first is that there are
about us, and with certain facilities for making themselves understood
by us, spiritual individualities; and, second, that the human being
possesses spiritual senses, parallel with the physical, by which it
sees what the physical sense cannot see, and hears what is inaudible
to the physical ear. And my general and, I think, logical conclusion
is that the spiritual senses appertain to a spiritual body which
survives the death of the physical.



Under the stimulus, in part, of the desire for something out of the
ordinary line of subject for pictures, and in part from the hope that
going into the "desert" might quicken the spiritual faculties so
tantalized by the experience of the circles, I decided to pass the
next summer in the great primeval forest in the northern part of New
York State, known as the Adirondack wilderness. It was then little
known or visited; a few sportsmen and anglers had penetrated it, but
for the most part it was known only to the lumberers. Here and there,
at intervals of ten to twenty miles, there were log houses, some of
which gave hospitality in the summer to the sportsmen, and in the
winter to the "loggers" who worked for the great lumber companies. It
was a tract of a hundred miles, more or less, across, mainly unbroken
wildwood, cut up by rapid rivers, impossible of navigation, otherwise
than by canoes and light skiffs which could be carried from one sheet
of water to another on the backs of the woodsmen, around the cascades,
and over tracts of intervening land through virgin forests, without
roads, and, to a large extent, without paths. I hoped here to find new
subjects for art, spiritual freedom, and a closer contact with the
spiritual world--something beyond the material existence. I was
ignorant of the fact that art does not depend on a subject, nor
spiritual life on isolation from the rest of humanity, and I found,
what a correct philosophy would have before told me, nature with no
suggestion of art, and the dullest form of intellectual or spiritual

One of my artist friends--S.R. Gifford, landscape painter, like myself
on the search for new subjects--had been, the year before, to the
Saranac Lakes, and gave me the clue to the labyrinth, and I found on
Upper Saranac Lake a log cabin, inhabited by a farmer whose family
consisted of a wife, a son, and a daughter. There I enjoyed a
backwoods hospitality at the cost of two dollars a week for board
and lodging, and passed the whole summer, finding a subject near the
cabin, at which I painted assiduously for nearly three months. I
passed the whole day in the open air, wore no hat, and only cloth
shoes, hoping that thus the spiritual life would have easier access to
me. I carried no gun, and held the lives of beast and bird sacred,
but I drew the line at fishing, and my rod and fly-book provided in a
large degree the food of the household; for trout swarmed. I caught in
an hour, during that summer, in a stream where there has not been a
trout for years, as large a string as I could carry a mile. All
the time that I was not painting I was in the boat on the lake, or
wandering in the forest.

My quest was an illusion. The humanity of the backwoods was on a
lower level than that of a New England village--more material if less
worldly; the men got intoxicated, and some of the women--nothing less
like an apostle could I have found in the streets of New York. I saw
one day a hunter who had come into the woods with a motive in some
degree like mine--impatience of the restraints and burdens of
civilization, and pure love of solitude. He had become, not
bestialized, like most of the men I saw, but animalized--he had
drifted back into the condition of his dog, with his higher intellect
inert. He had built himself a cabin in the depth of the woods, and
there he lived in the most complete isolation from human society he
could attain. He interested me greatly, and as he stopped for
the night at the cabin where I was living, we had considerable
conversation. He cared nothing for books, but enjoyed nature, and only
hunted in order to live, respecting the lives of his fellow-creatures
within that limit. He only went to the "settlements" when he needed
supplies, abstained from alcoholic drinks, the great enemy of the
backwoodsman, and was happy in his solitude. As he was the first man
I had ever met who had attempted the solution of the problem which so
interested me,--the effect of solitude on the healthy intellect,--I
encouraged him to talk, which he was inclined to do when he found that
there was a real sympathy between us on this question.

He seemed to have no desire for companionship, but there was nothing
morose or misanthropic in his love of seclusion, and I soon saw that,
though he had no care for intellectual growth and no longing for
books, he thought a good deal in his own way, and that, mingled with
his limited thinking and tranquil emotion before nature, there was a
large element of spiritual activity, and this had kept him mentally
alive. He had heard of spiritism, and his own experience led him to
acceptance of its reality. In his solitary life, in the unbroken
silence which reigned around him, he heard mysterious voices, and only
the year before he had heard one say that he was wanted at home. He
paid no attention to it, thinking it only an illusion, but, after an
interval, it was repeated so distinctly that he packed his knapsack,
took his dog, and went out with the intention of going home. On the
way he met a messenger sent after him, who told him that his brother
had met with an accident which disabled him from all work, and begged
him to come to his assistance. The voice had come to him at the time
of the accident. As a rule, however, the voices seemed vagarious,
and he attached no importance to them, except as phenomena which
interested him slightly. There was nothing flighty about him, no
indication of monomania--he reasoned well, but from the point of view
of a man who has had only an elementary education, knowing nothing
of philosophy; he had no religious crotchets, and apparently thought
little or not at all on religious matters--was, in fine, a natural and
healthy man, a despiser of alcohol, satisfied with the moment he lived
in, and giving no consideration to that which would come after. He
had a great contempt for his fellow woodsmen and avoided contact with

The backwoods life, as a rule, I found led to hard drinking, and even
the old settler with whom I had taken quarters, though an excellent
and affectionate head of his family, and in his ordinary life
temperate and hard-working, used at long intervals to break bounds,
and, taking his savings down to the settlement, drink till he could
neither pay for more nor "get it on trust," and then come home
penitent and humiliated. About two weeks after I entered the family,
the old man took me aside and informed me, mysteriously, that he was
going to the settlement for a few days, and begged me to take one of
the boats and come down for him on a fixed day, and he would row the
boat back. I rowed down accordingly, sixteen miles, and found Johnson
at the landing in a state of fading intoxication, money and credit
exhausted as usual, and begging some one to give him a half pint of
rum "to ease up on." He was "all on fire inside of him," and begged
so piteously that I got him a half pint and we started out, he at
the oars and I steering. A copious draught of rum, neat, brought his
saturated brain to overflow, and before we had gone a mile he was so
drunk that I had to guide the oars from behind to insure their taking
the water. Then he broke out into singing, beating time on the gunwale
of the boat with such violence that it menaced capsizing every minute,
and to all my remonstrances he replied by jeering and more uproarious

It was no joke, for not to talk of him, too drunk even to hold on to
the boat, I was a poor swimmer, and in the deep and cold lake water
should never have reached the shore swimming, and I found myself
obliged to menace violence. I raised the steering paddle over his head
and assured him with a savageness that reached even his drunken brain,
that I should knock him on the head and pitch him overboard if he did
not keep perfectly quiet. There was imminent danger, for the slight
boat of that region requires to be treated with the care of a bark
canoe, and the menace cowed him so that he quieted down, and watched
me like a whipped dog. I tried to get the bottle away from him, but
his drunken cunning anticipated me and he put it far behind him, now
and then taking a mouthful of rum to keep down the burning. Thus, he
pulling and I guiding the oars, we ran through the lower lake, seven
miles, to a "carry," where the boat had to be lifted out and carried
over into the river above, around a waterfall. Here I fortunately
caught the bottle and sent it down the lake, and we labored on through
another lake, three miles, and up a crooked river to another carry
into the third lake, on which we lived. He was too drunk still to be
trusted any further, and, leaving the boat at the landing with him
beside it, I carried the load over and waited for him to get sober.
After an interval, long enough I thought for him to grow sober
enough to carry the boat, I went back and to my amazement he met me,
apparently in his right mind, intensely indignant with some one who,
having found him in the state of intoxication in which I left him, had
given him a drink of what he called "high wines," i.e. common alcohol,
the singular effect of which was to bring him immediately to his
senses, and we reached home without further incident.

That night, somewhere near midnight, poor Mrs. Johnson awoke me,
begging piteously that I would help her and her daughter to search for
her husband, who had disappeared from the house. Then she told me
that he had the habit of falling into desperate melancholy after his
drunken fits, and had even attempted suicide, and they had on one
occasion cut the rope by which he had hanged himself, barely in time,
and she always expected to find him dead somewhere. We ransacked the
house, the loft, the barn, the stable, in all their corners, every
shed and nook about the premises and were returning hopeless, to
wait for daylight to look for him in the lake, when, as I passed the
wood-yard (where the fire-wood was stored and chopped), I heard a
groan, and, guided by it, found him lying amongst the chips in the
torpor of drunken sleep. The poor wife, with my assistance, dragged
him home and put him to bed, and when I saw him the next morning
I heard over and over again his vows and resolutions, his sermons
against drink, his repentance and pledges never to touch liquor again.
When I showed incredulity, he offered to bet with me his best yoke of
oxen against one hundred dollars that he never would drink another
drop as long as he lived. I thought the bet a safe one for me, at all
events, and took it and made him write it down, and it probably kept
him from another spree as long as I remained there, but when I saw him
again the next summer he was as drunk as ever. I asked him about my
oxen, and he leered and jeered and joked with drunken cunning, but
said nothing more.

I passed a very happy summer, enjoying my work and wandering in the
forest or exploring the streams which flowed into the lake, for
subjects. The pure air and the tranquillity of the life, as well as
its simplicity, and a certain amount of boating exercise which I went
through every day in going to my subject, brought me to the highest
point of physical health I had ever known.

The great danger to the uninitiated in the forest life is that of
getting lost in this wild maze of trees, with no kind of landmark to
serve as a clue. Not a few rash beginners have become bewildered, lost
all conception of their whereabouts, and perished of starvation within
a short walk of a place of refuge. The houses there were invariably
built by the waterways, and the lines of communication were by water,
so that there was no necessity for roads. One finds the "runways" or
paths made by the deer traversing the woods in every direction,--a
perfect labyrinth of byways, ending nowhere and often bringing the
incautious wanderer, who supposes them to be paths, back to his
starting-place, with the result that he is at once bewildered beyond

Years before, during one of my college vacations, I had made a fishing
excursion to the northern edge of the great woods, in company with
a classmate to the manner born, and had learned the need in my
excursions of precautions against the bewilderment which follows
the loss of one's sense of direction. He told me of one of the
inexperienced assistants of a surveying party of which he was a
member, engaged in running a township line in the trackless forest,
who ventured to leave the line a few minutes, and, before he could
recover it, though only a short distance from his party, had become
quite insane, and could only be compelled to return with his
companions by force. An artist friend who had sketched on the southern
border of the Wilderness told me of a similar experience of an English
shoemaker who came to settle in a village on the southern edge of the
woods, and who, after a short residence, went out to fish in a stream
not far from home. He did not return, and, though protracted search
was made for him, no trace of him, nor even of his clothing, was ever
discovered, except that a resident in a neighboring village said that,
a day or two after the stranger had disappeared, a man answering to
the description came to his door, his clothes in tatters, and, in a
wild and incoherent manner, asked the way to the village from which he
had gone, but, before any reply could be made, started off running and
disappeared in the woods again. He had contracted the woods madness
and so perished.

Of this danger I was well informed, and, beside, I was more or less
a child of the woodlands, and had no apprehension of it, having,
moreover, an implicit faith in what I considered a kind of spiritual
guidance in all I did,--a delusion which at least served to keep me in
absolute self-control under all circumstances. It was probably this
which kept me during my wanderings from falling into the panic which
constituted the real danger, depriving the victim temporarily of the
use of his reasoning powers. I had, however, an interesting experience
which gave me a clearer comprehension of the phenomenon, which is a
very curious one.

One of the woodsmen had told me of a waterfall on a trout stream of
considerable size which emptied into a lake near by us, and, in the
hope of finding a subject in it, I took the boat one afternoon and
began to follow the course of the stream up from the mouth. After
a half mile of clear and navigable water it became so clogged with
fallen trees that more lifting than paddling was required, and, as its
course was extremely tortuous, I occasionally got out and examined the
vicinity of the stream bed and the course above, if, perchance,
there might be better navigation beyond. On one of the digressions I
suddenly came on the stream running back on its previous course and
parallel to it. Instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, the entire
landscape seemed to have changed its bearings,--the sun, which was
clear in the sky, it being about three o'clock, shone to me out of
the north, and it was impossible to convince myself that my senses
deceived me, or accept the fact that the sun must be in the southwest,
the general direction from which the stream was flowing, and that, to
get home again, I must turn my back to it, if I had lost my boat, as
seemed certain. Then began to come over me, like an evil spell, the
bewilderment and the panic which accompanied it. Fortunately, I
recognized this panic from the experiences I knew of, and was aware
that if I gave way to it I was a lost man, beyond any finding by the
woodsmen, even if they attempted to track me.

Fresh wolf tracks were plenty all along the bank of the stream;
panthers and bears abounded in that section, and the wilderness
beyond me was never explored, and hardly penetrable, so dense was the
undergrowth of dwarf firs and swamp cedars. I had one terrible moment
of clear consciousness that if I went astray at that juncture no human
being would ever know where I was, and the absolute necessity of
recovering my sense of the points of compass was clear to me. By a
strong effort of the will, I repressed the growing panic, sat down on
a log and covered my face with my hands, and waited, I had no idea
how long, but until I felt quite calm; and when I looked out on the
landscape again I found the sun in his proper place and the landscape
as I had known it. I walked back to my boat without difficulty and
went home, and I never lost my head again while I frequented the
wilderness. I grew in time to know the points of the compass, even
when the sky was covered, and often came home from my excursions after
sunset without confusion, but I know that I then owed my escape from
the most terrible of deaths entirely to my presence of mind, and this
I probably owed then, and always, to that supreme confidence in the
protection of a superior power which never deserted me.

My studies in spiritism had developed in me another feeling which was
kin to this--a belief in a spiritual insight, the possession of which
would always, if entire confidence were placed in it, tell one at the
moment what should be done; an intuition which would guide him, but
only on the condition that it was trusted absolutely. And at that
period of my life I followed it with unfaltering trust. A curious
illustration of this state of mind and its effect had already occurred
to me in the spring, and, as it relates to this topic and involves a
very curious psychological phenomenon, I describe it in connection
with the so similar experience of the backwoods. I had made an
engagement with Mr. Brown, the sculptor, to meet him on the trout
brook that ran through my uncle's farm in Rensselaer County, New York,
a hundred and fifty miles from New York city, but I lost the last
train by which I should have met him at the appointed time,--daybreak
of the following day. Determined to keep the engagement, I took a
parallel railway, which ran through western Massachusetts and a
section of country which was entirely strange to me. From the station
at which I left the railway, that of Pittsfield, there was a distance
of several miles to the place of rendezvous, which was in the town
of Hancock, close to the boundary line between New York and
Massachusetts. On leaving the station I inquired the way to Hancock,
and was told that as the crow flies, i.e. across an intervening
mountain, it was twelve miles without even a footpath; but, by
the road around the mountain, twenty, and that, unless I knew the
mountain, I could not possibly find my way over it. It was just
sunset as I left Pittsfield, and I decided to risk the mountain, and,
following a wood road, I climbed the steep declivity, and, going in
what seemed to me a nearly direct course, after an hour's walk I
recognized a gap in the hill-crest and a distant view with two little
lakes reflecting the sky which I had seen the hour before. I had been
following a charcoal-burner's road in a circle; daylight had gone, and
the mists were coming on heavy as rain, making it impossible to see
ten yards before me. There was no recourse, if I was to keep the
rendezvous, but to follow the guidance of the inner sense. I
determined to obey the monitor, and plunged into the forest, in
unhesitating obedience to it. I did not guess, nor did I try to make
any kind of calculation. I felt that I must go in a certain direction,
and, as the darkness deepened, I had, literally, to grope my way, walk
with my hands out before me, not to run against the trees, for, with
little exception, the way lay through dense woodland, amidst which
were scattered boulders and fallen tree trunks. I could not--and
I speak without the least exaggeration--see the trees at my arm's
length. The fog was so dense and the trees so wet that every leaf or
twig dripped on me till I was soon drenched as completely as if I had
been plunged into a lake. I passed the crest of the mountain and began
to descend. I felt with my foot before me, and when the foot could
find nothing to rest on I drew it back and moved sidewise till I found
a step down, hanging on all the time to the branches of the trees. I
descended in this way a long distance, then came to a marsh which I
recognized only by the croaking of the frogs in it; and, skirting
the sound, made my way past it, always keeping the general direction
through the divergences made necessary by the nature of the land.

At length I got through the fog and came to an open field, beyond
which I saw the outlines of trees against the clouded sky, and,
keeping on, came to a road. A few yards further on a light was visible
in a roadside cottage, and other houses were near, but all dark, as it
was late and all in them were asleep. I knocked at the door where I
saw the light and asked the way to Hancock. "Why, you are in Hancock,"
the man of the house replied; and, on my inquiry as to an inn, he
informed me that a hundred yards further on there was an inn, to which
I went. The rain had ceased, but I was soaking, and I asked for a fire
by which to dry my clothes, and a bed, both of which were quickly
prepared; and then the landlord asked me where I came from and by what
road. When I told him that I came from Pittsfield by the mountain, he
exclaimed in amazement, "Why, there is no place by which a white
man could come over in broad daylight;" an exaggeration, as I could
testify, but it proved that the passage was held to be dangerous to
the ordinary foot traveler. The incident in itself has no importance,
but the singular feeling under which I made the passage of a trackless
mountain, in complete darkness for the most difficult part of the way,
in perfect confidence in a mysterious guidance which justified that
confidence, was a mental phenomenon worthy of note, the more that it
was in keeping with the invariable feeling which had grown up in me
from the cogitations of years. As I am telling the story of my life,
and the spiritual influences of my early years are an essential part
of that life, it cannot be irrelevant to the general result that I
should show how the springs of it acted. While I was on the wood road
in the earlier portion of the walk, I followed unhesitatingly the
visible path and made no question of guidance; but, when thrown on
the occult influence in which I confided, I walked unerringly to my
destination with the precision of an animal which nature had never
deserted. In the subsequent years, of which a great part was always
spent in the wilderness, the fascination of which became absorbing,
this occult faculty strengthened, so that I was never at a loss, when
in the trackless forest, for my path homeward. I then thought it a
newly acquired faculty. I now regard it as simply a recovered one,
inherent in all healthy minds, but lost, as many others have been, in

And in this connection I will deal, once for all, with the gifts to me
from this wild nature to which I abandoned myself with all the ardor
of a quest. The tendency of the imagination, even healthy, acting in
a vacancy, is to create illusions, or, if there be a certain occult
mental activity, such as that I have alluded to in my Pittsfield
experience, to intensify its action to such a degree that it finally
usurps the function of the senses. In the solitude of the great
Wilderness, where I have passed months at a time, generally alone, or
with only my dog to keep me company, airy nothings became sensible;
and, in the silence of those nights in the forest, the whisperings of
the night wind through the trees forced meanings on the expecting ear.
I came to hear voices in the air, words so clearly spoken that even an
incredulous mind could not ignore them. I sat in my boat one evening,
out on the lake, watching the effects of the sky between the gaunt
pines which, under the prevalence of the west winds, grew up with an
easterly inclination of their tops, like that of a man walking, and
thus seemed to be marching eastward into the gathering darkness. They
gave a sudden impression of a procession, and I heard as distinctly
as I ever heard human speech, a voice in the air which said "the
procession of the Anakim." Over and over again, as I sat alone by my
camp-fire at night, dreaming awake, I have heard a voice from across
the lake calling me to come over and fetch it, and one night I rowed
my boat in the darkness more than a mile, to find no one. Watching for
deer from a treetop one day, in broad sunlight, and looking over a
mountain range, along the crest of which were pointed firs and long
level ridges of rock in irregular alternation, the eerie feeling
suddenly came over me, and the mountain-top seemed a city with spires
and walls, and I heard bands of music, and then hunting-horns coming
down with the wind, and there was a perfect illusion of the sound of a
hunting party hurrying down into the valley, which gave me a positive
panic, as if I were being pursued and must run. I remember also on
another occasion a transformation--transfiguration rather--of the
entire landscape in colors, such as neither Titian nor Turner ever
has shown me. It was a glorification of nature such as I had never
conceived and cannot now comprehend.

The fascination of indulgence in this illusory life became such that
I lingered every summer longer, and finally until November, when, in
that high and northerly locality, the snow had fallen and the lake
began to freeze, living only under a bark roof, open to the air and to
the snow, which fell on my bed during the night. I can easily imagine
the life leading to insanity. Probably my interest in nature and
my painting kept me measurably free from this danger, but not from
illusions as unaccountable as spiritism, and sometimes more real than
the physical facts. I had one evening, when I was lying awake in a
troubled state of mind, a vision of a woman's face, utterly unlike
anybody I had ever seen, and so beautiful that with the sheer delight
of its beauty I remained for several days in a state of ecstasy, as if
it were constantly before me, and I remember it still, after more than
forty years, as more beautiful than any face I ever saw in the flesh.
It was as real while it lasted as any material object could have
been, though it was a head without a body, like one of the vignetted
portraits which used to be so fashionable in my early days.

In all these years, whether in the wilderness or in the city, I lived
a life more or less visionary, and absorbed in mental problems, in
the solution of which I passed days of intense thought, and, when
no solution appeared to my unaided reason, I used to fast until the
solution appeared clear, which was often not until after days
of entire abstinence from food of any kind,--the fast lasting
occasionally three days,--by which time the diminishing mental energy
brought with it a diminution of the perplexity, and I came out of the
morbid state in which I had been, and probably found that there was
generally an intellectual delusion in the problem. I do not remember
the particular character of these perplexities, save that they were
generally questions of right and wrong in motive or conduct; but, from
the fact that they did not leave a permanent impression, I suppose
they were of the _quisquilioe_ which seem at times to perplex the
theological world, the stuff that dreams are made of. Up to this time
all the doctrines of my early creed held me in bondage: the observance
of the Seventh-Day Sabbath, and the exigencies of the letter of the
law, which entirely hid the worth of its spirit, were imperative on
me, and out of the complication I derived little happiness and much
distress. This kind of Christianity seems to me now of the nature of
those burdens which the Pharisees of old laid on the consciences of
their day, and it was only years later than the time I am here writing
of, when I finally moved to Cambridge and came under the influence of
the broadest form of Christianity, that they were removed. I owe it to
one of the truest friends of my early manhood,--Charles Eliot Norton,
the friend as well of Emerson, Lowell, and Longfellow,--that the real
nature of these questions of formal morality was finally made clear to
me, and life made a relatively simple matter.

This is an anticipation of the sequence of my development, and given
here not to leave occasion to recur to the subject again. On my return
from the first summer in the Wilderness, I took a studio again in New
York, and entered more formally into the fellowship of the painters of
landscape. Being under no necessity of making the occupation pay, I
probably profited less than I ought by the regime, and followed
my mission of art reformer as much by a literary propaganda as by
example. This, as all know who have ventured it, was more or less the
effectual obstacle to practical attainment in art.



Given a disposition to enter into controversies on art questions,
provoked by the general incompetence of the newspaper critics of
that day, and the fact that there was at that time no publication in
America devoted to the interests of art, it happened naturally that I
was drawn into correspondence with the journals on art questions, and
easily made for myself a certain reputation in this field. I obtained
the position of fine-art editor of the "Evening Post," then edited by
W.C. Bryant, a position which did not interfere with my work in the
studio. My duties on the paper were light and pecuniarily of no
importance, though the "Post" was the journal which, of all the
New York dailies, paid most attention to art, and had the highest
authority in questions of culture. My relations with Bryant were
intellectually profitable to me. He was a man who enjoyed the highest
consideration amongst our contemporary journalists,--of inflexible
integrity in politics as well as in business affairs. The managing
editor was John Bigelow, a worthy second to such a chief. Bryant was
held to be a cold man, not only in his poetry, but in his personal
relations; but I think that, so far as his personality was concerned,
this was a mistake. He impressed me as a man of strong feelings, who
had at some time been led by a too explosive expression of them
to dread his own passions, and who had, therefore, cultivated a
repression which became the habit of his life. The character of his
poetry, little sympathetic with human passion, and given to the
worship of nature, confirmed the general impression of coldness which
his manner suggested. I never saw him in anger, but I felt that the
barrier which prevented it was too slight to make it safe for any
one to venture to touch it. A supreme sense of justice went with a
somewhat narrow personal horizon, a combination which, while it made
him hold the balance of judgment level, so far as the large world of
politics was concerned, made him often too bitter in his controversies
touching political questions; but the American political daily paper
has never had a nobler type than the "Evening Post" under Bryant.
Demonstrative he never was, even with his intimates, but to the
constancy and firmness of his friendship all who knew him well could
testify, and, as long as he lived, our relations were unchanged,
though my wandering ways brought me seldom near him in later years.

It was about this time that I had become acquainted with the Browns.
Of Mrs. Brown I have, in anticipation of events, spoken in connection
with spiritism, apart from which she had a remarkable individuality
in many ways. She had those instantaneous perceptions of truth in the
higher regions of thought, the spiritual and moral, which seem to be
either instinct or inspiration. Their house was the meeting place of
a school of transcendental thinkers (and I use the word in its full
sense) of a very remarkable character. As the Browns lived on the
Brooklyn side of the East River, we used to call it the "Brooklyn
School," though there were residents of Philadelphia and Boston among
the friends who met there. Now and then we had formal _conversazioni_,
and at these I soon took a prominent part, though the inquiring spirit
strongly predominated over the oracular, which is likely to monopolize
such assemblies. I was in that eagerness of early and incomplete
knowledge which is more ready in expression than that of riper years,
and it is probable that I distinguished myself by fluency of verbiage.
It became customary to look to me for the most hazardous reaches of
conjecture or inquiry, though certainly Mrs. Brown was worth far more
than I was. I had already solved several problems which to-day are not
clear to me, and I had always a ready answer to most mysteries. Talk I
certainly could, and Mrs. Brown, who had the most sincere friendship
for me, and believed in my possibilities if not in my attainment,
delighted to put me forward.

One day there was a _conversazione_ at which Alcott, the "Oracle of
Concord," was to be the chief personage, and, as he had the habit of
monopolizing the talk when he took any part, it was suggested that
I should try my strength against his. Although Emerson had a high
opinion of Alcott, he seemed to me a shallow and illogical thinker,
and I have always felt that the good opinion of Emerson was due rather
to the fact that Alcott presented him with his own ideas served up
in forms in which he no longer recognized them, and so appeared to
Emerson as original. Such originality as he had was rather in oracular
and often incomprehensible verbiage than in profundity of thought,
but, as no one attempted to bring him to book, bewildered as his
audience generally was by the novelty of the propositions he made or
by their absurdity, he used to go on until suggestion, or breath,
failed him. I have forgotten, long ago, the subject of debate, but
Alcott started out with one of his characteristic mysticisms, and,
after allowing him to commit himself fully, I interrupted him with a
question. He was a little irritated at being stopped in the flow of
his discourse, and showed it, but this did not disturb me, and I
insisted on an explanation of what he had said. He was not in the
habit of explaining himself, and replied very much at random, but the
training of old Dr. Nott stood me in good stead, and I followed him up
with question and objection until he assumed a position diametrically
opposed to that from which he started, when I called his attention
to the fact that what he then said contradicted what he had at first
said. He got angry, and replied that "a man was not bound to be
consistent with himself, and that it did not matter." But he lost
his thread as well as his temper, and the _conversazione_ came to a
premature end, to the great satisfaction of the conspirators, most of
whom had at one time or another been silenced in their attempts to
bring him to logical conclusions, by his autocratic way of carrying on
the debate without regard to objections, which they had not had the
courage to urge.

He seemed to me a shallow philosopher, but I must confess that my
treatment of him did not become a man so much younger than he. I felt,
however, a certain amount of honest indignation at what seemed to
me his charlatanic manner of putting off on people his random and
improvised suggestions regarding questions which seemed to me then of
vital importance to society. It is easy now to see that I was in the
stage of mental evolution at which detail is of supreme importance
because large views of life and philosophy have not yet come above the
horizon. Alcott was a drawing-room philosopher, the justice of whose
lucubrations had no importance whatever, while his manner and his
individuality gave to wiser people than I the pleasure which belongs
to the study of such a specimen of human nature. He amused and
superficially interested, and he no doubt enjoyed his distorted
reflections of the wisdom of wiser men as much as if he had been an
original seeker. I did not then understand that all knowledge is
relative, and that, _au fond_, his offense was the same as mine, that
of thinking he had arrived at finality in the discovery of truth.

It was, perhaps, a natural consequence of all this talking and writing
about art that, in the absence of a periodical devoted to it, my
friends came to the conclusion that it would be a good and useful
thing that I should start an art journal. I had read with enthusiasm
"Modern Painters," and absorbed the views of Ruskin in large draughts,
and enjoyed large intercourse with European masters, and with
Americans like William Page, H.K. Brown, S.W. Rowse, and H.P. Gray,
all thinkers and artists of distinct eminence. In this school I
had acquired certain views of the nature of art which I burned to
disseminate. They were crude rather than incorrect, but they were
largely responded to by our public; they were destructive of the old
rather than informing of the new, and leaned on nature rather than
art. The art-loving public was full of Ruskinian enthusiasm, and what
strength I had shown was in that vein. The overweening self-confidence
that always carried me into dangers and difficulties which a little
wisdom would have taught me to avoid, made me too ready to enter into
a scheme which required far more ability and knowledge of business
than I possessed. All my artist friends promised me their assistance,
and I found in John Durand, the son of the president of the National
Academy of Design, a partner with a seconding enthusiasm and the
necessary assistance in raising the capital. This amounted to $5000,
for the half of which my brother Thomas became security. We doubted
not that the undertaking would be a lucrative one, and one of the
principal motives which was urged on me by my artistic friends and
promising supporters was that it would furnish me with a sufficient
income to enable me to follow my painting without any anxiety as to my
means of living. We started a weekly called "The Crayon," and at
the outset I was able to promise the assistance of most of our best
writers residing in New York.

In order to secure the support of the Bostonians I went to Boston and
Cambridge, where I was met by a cordial response to my enthusiasm,
Lowell becoming my sponsor to the circle of which he was then and for
many years the most brilliant ornament. To him and his friendship in
after years I owe to a very large degree the shaping of my later life,
as well as the better part of the success of "The Crayon." He was then
in a condition of profound melancholy, from the recent death of his
wife. He lived in retirement, seeing only his most intimate friends,
and why he should have made an exception in my case I do not quite
understand. It may be that I had a card of introduction from his great
friend William Page or from C.F. Briggs (in the literary world, "Harry
Franco"), but if so it would have been merely a formal introduction,
as my acquaintance with either of those gentlemen was very slight,
and I do not remember an introduction at all. My impression is that I
introduced myself. But I was an enthusiast, fired with the idea of an
apostolate of art, largely vicarious and due to Ruskin, who was then
my prophet, and whose religion, as mine, was nature. In fact, I was
still so much under the influence of the "Modern Painters" that, like
Ruskin, I accepted art as something in the peculiar vision of the
artist, not yet recognizing that it is the brain that sees and not the
eye. But there is this which makes the nature-worshiper's creed a more
exalting one than that of the art-lover, that it is impersonal and
compels the forgetting of one's self, which for an apostolate is

It was probably this characteristic of my condition which enlisted the
sympathy of Lowell, who, even in his desolation, had a heart for any
form of devotion, and who, with the love of nature which was one of
his own most marked traits, had a side to which my enthusiasm appealed
directly. The mere artist is, unless his nature is a radically
religious one, an egotist, and his art necessarily centres on him,
nature only furnishing him with material. I was dreaming of other
things than myself or that which was personal in my enterprise, and
Lowell felt the glow of my enthusiasm. He introduced me to Longfellow,
Charles Eliot Norton, R.H. Dana, and other of his friends at
Cambridge, and at a later visit to Agassiz, Emerson, Thomas G.
Appleton (Longfellow's brother-in-law), Whittier, E.P. Whipple,
Charles Sumner, and Samuel G. Ward, banker and a lover of art of high
intelligence, the friend of poets and painters, and to me, in later
years, one of the kindest and wisest of advisers and friends.

Lowell invited me to the dinner of the Saturday Club,--a monthly
gathering of whatever in the sphere of New England thought was most
eminent and brilliant,--and here I came, for the first time, into
contact with the true New England. It may be supposed that I returned
to New York a more enthusiastic devotee of that Yankeeland to which
I owed everything that was best in me. In my immediate mission,--the
quest of support for "The Crayon,"--I had abundant response in
contributions, and Lowell himself, Norton, and "Tom" Appleton, as he
was called familiarly by all the world, continued to be amongst my
most faithful and generous contributors as long as I remained the
editor. Longfellow alone of all that literary world, though promising
to contribute, never did send me a word for my columns, not, I am
persuaded, from indifference or want of generosity, but because he was
diffident of himself, and, in the scrutiny of his work, for which, of
course, the demand from the publishers was always urgent, he did not
find anything which seemed to him particularly fit for an art journal.
Nor would any of those contributors ever accept the slightest
compensation for the poems or articles they sent, though "The Crayon"
paid the market price for everything it printed to those who would
accept. The first number of "The Crayon" made a good impression in all
the quarters from which praise was most weighty and most desired by
its proprietors. Bryant and Lowell had sent poems for it, but I had to
economize my wealth, and could print only one important poem in each
number, and to this I gave a page, so that I had to choose between the
two. Bryant had sent me a poem without a title, and when I asked him
to give it one he replied, "I give you a poem, give me a name;" and I
called it "A Rain Dream," which name it bears still in the collected
edition of his works. Lowell sent me the first part of "Pictures from
Appledore," one of a series of fragments of a projected poem,--like
so many of his projects, never carried to completion. The poem was
intended to consist of a series of stories told in "The Nooning," in
which a party of young men, gathered in the noon spell in the bowl
formed by the branches of a pollard willow,--one of those which stood,
and of which some still stand, by the river Charles,--were to tell
their personal experiences or legends drawn from the sections of New
England from which they came. Bryant's greater reputation at that time
made his contribution more valuable from a publishing point of view,
especially in New York, where Lowell had as yet little reputation,
while Bryant was, by many, regarded as the first of living American
poets. But my personal feeling insisted on giving Lowell the place at
the launch, and to reconcile the claim of seniority of Bryant with
my preference of Lowell puzzled me a little, the more that Lowell
insisted strongly on my putting Bryant in the forefront as a matter of
business. I determined to leave it to Bryant, whose business tact was
very fine, and who had as little personal vanity as is possible to a
man of the world, which, in the best sense, he was. But I prepared the
ground by writing a series of articles on "The Landscape Element in
American Poetry," the first of which was naturally devoted to Bryant,
and then, taking him the poem of Lowell and the article on himself, I
asked his advice as to the decision, saying that I could only print
his poem or Lowell's, but that I desired to take in as wide a range
of interest as possible. He decided at once in favor of the poem of
Lowell and the Bryant article in the landscape series.

The success of "The Crayon" was immediate, though, from a large
journalistic point of view, it was, no doubt, somewhat crude
and puerile. It had a considerable public, sympathetic with its
sentimental vein, readers of Ruskin and lovers of pure nature,--a
circle the larger, perhaps, for the incomplete state of art education
in our community. That two young men, without any experience in
journalism, and with little in literature, should have secured the
success for their enterprise which "The Crayon" indisputably did enjoy
was a surprise to the public, and, looking at it now, with my
eyes cooled by the distance of more than forty years, I am myself
surprised. That "The Crayon" had a real vitality, in spite of its
relative juvenility, was shown by the warm commendation it received
from Lowell, Bryant, and other American literati, and from Ruskin, who
wrote us occasional notes in reply to questions put by the readers,
and warmly applauded its tone. Mantz was our French correspondent,
and William Rossetti our English, and a few of the artists sent us
communications which had the value of the personal artistic tone. But
I learned the meaning of the fable of "The Lark and her Young," for
the general assistance in the matter of contributions, promised me by
the friends who had originally urged me to the undertaking, was very
slow in coming, and, for the first numbers, I wrote nearly the whole
of the original matter, and for some time more than half of it. I
wrote not only the editorial articles and the criticisms, but essays,
correspondence, poetry, book notices (really reading every book I
noticed), and a page or two of "Sketchings," in which were notes from
nature, extracts from letters, and replies to queries of the readers.

I remained in the city all the burning summer, taking a ten days' run
in the Adirondacks in September. I kept office all day, received
all who came to talk art or business, and did most of my writing at
night,--not a regime to keep up one's working powers. Durand did some
excellent translations from the French, and the late Justin Winsor
sent us many translations, both of verse and prose, from the German,
as well as original poetry. Aldrich was a generous contributor.
Whittier, Bayard Taylor, and others of the lyric race sent occasional
contributions, and amongst the women, who were, as a rule, our most
enthusiastic supporters, were Mrs. Sigourney, and, not the least by
far, Lucy Larcom, the truest poetess of that day in America, who gave
us some of her most charming poems. She was teacher in a girls'
school somewhere in Massachusetts, and I went to see her in one of my
editorial trips. We went out for a walk in the fields, she and her
class and myself, and they looked up to me as if I were Apollo and
they the Muses; and we went afield in many things. Henry James, the
father of the novelist, was also a not infrequent contributor; and,
amongst the artists, Huntington, President Durand (the father of my
associate), Horatio Greenough, and William Page appeared in our pages,
with many more, whose names a file of "The Crayon" would recall.

During the year, Lowell received the appointment of Professor of
Modern Languages at Harvard, and on the eve of his sailing from New
York we gave him a dinner, to which, besides some of his old friends,
such as E.P. Whipple and Senator Charles Sumner, I invited Bryant and
Bayard Taylor. I knew that Bryant held a little bitterness against
Lowell for the passage in the "Fable for Critics," in which he said:--

"If he stir you at all, it is just, on my soul,
Like being stirred up with the very North Pole;"

and I told Lowell how the dear old poet felt, and then put them
together at the table. Lowell laid himself out to captivate Bryant,
and did so completely, for his tact was such that in society no one
whom he desired to interest could resist him; and our dinner was a
splendid success. Of all present at it only Durand and myself are now

The subscription list of our paper had risen in the first month to
above 1200, and the promise for the future seemed brilliant. But,
unfortunately, neither of us understood the business part of
journalism, or that a paper does not live by its circulation, but by
advertisements; and that our advertisements, being a specialty, must
be canvassed for vigorously. We did not canvass. Cunning publishers
persuaded us that it would be a good thing to take their
advertisements for nothing, so as to persuade the others that we had a
good advertising list. But the bait never took, and we never got the
paying list, and the printer, being interested in our expenditure,
never helped us to economize, but played the "Wicked Uncle" to our
"Babes in the Wood," and so we wasted our substance. It was, perhaps,
fortunate that the funds ran short as they did, for our five thousand
dollars could not go far when the subscriptions were all paid in
and spent, and the overwork began to tell on me fatally. With the
conclusion of the third volume I broke down and had to give up work

When I got out of harness, and had no longer the stimulus of the daily
demand and habit of work, the collapse was such that I thought I was
dying. I gave my share of the paper to Durand, to do as he pleased
with, and went off to North Conway, in the mountains of New Hampshire,
to paint one more picture before I died. I chose a brook scene,
and Huntington and Hubbard--two of our leading painters--and a
Duesseldorf-educated painter, by name Post, sat down with me to paint
it. I gave six weeks of hard work to a canvas twelve by eighteen
inches, and my competitors cordially admitted my victory. Autumn fell
on my work with still something to do to it, and it was never finished
to my entire satisfaction, but it was one of the successes of the year
at the Academy Exhibition. I stayed late amongst the mountains, only
thinking of dying, but nature brought me round. There came, towards
the end of the season, a newly married couple from Boston, destined
in later years to become a large part of my life,--Dr. and Mrs.
Amos Binney. Mrs. Binney was one of the earliest women graduates in
medicine in America,--an earnest, true woman, whose ministrations to
me in body and mind, in those months of dying hopes, flying leaves,
and early snowfalls, were full of healing. I had had a skirmish with
Cupid that summer, my first real passion, reciprocated by the subject
of it, one of the ardent readers of "The Crayon," an enthusiast in
art, and like me in Ruskin--an affair which ended in our double defeat
under the merciless veto of the mother of my flame. In that affair
Mrs. Binney's tact and knowledge of human nature befriended me
profoundly, and were the origin of a cordial intimacy which
incidentally had on my subsequent life a great influence. Dr. Binney
gave me a commission for two pictures, and invited me to come to his
home near Boston to paint them.



I gave up my studio in New York and went to Boston, and, my
commissions executed, moved from there to Cambridge, where I made my
home, returning thenceforward to the Adirondacks in the late summer
and autumn of every year while I remained in America. The following
springtime I spent making studies in that classic neighborhood,
especially in a favorite haunt of Lowell's,--the "Waverley Oaks,"--a
curious group of large white oaks, which had taken root some hundreds
of years ago on the foot of a moraine of one of the offsets of the
great glacier which, countless thousands of years ago, had covered New
England. They were beautiful trees and greatly beloved by Lowell, for
whom I painted the principal group, with Beaver Brook, another of his
favorite studies, and he lying by its bank in the foreground, a little
full-length portrait, not the length of my finger. I painted also a
similar portrait of Longfellow, under the most beautiful of the oaks,
on an eight-by-ten-inch canvas. It was a good portrait, but Lowell
deterred me from finishing it as I wished, saying that if I touched it
again I should destroy the likeness. I am half inclined to think that
his insistence was mainly intended to abbreviate the martyrdom
of Longfellow, whom I conducted every day to the Oaks, to insure
pre-Raphaelite fidelity, making him sit on a huge boulder under the
tree and even forgetting to carry a cushion for him, so that he sat on
the bare stone until at last the discomfort was evident to me, when
I folded my coat to cushion his stone seat. So kindly was his nature
that he had submitted to the inconvenience with the docility and
delicacy of a child, without a sign of impatience.

This absolute unselfishness and extreme consideration for others was
characteristic of the man. I saw much of him in the years following,
and found in him the most exquisitely refined and gentle nature I have
ever known,--one to which a brutal or inconsiderate act was positive
pain, and any aggression on the least creature, cause of intense
indignation. My recollection of his condescension to my demands on
his time and physical comfort remain in my memory as the highest
expression of his social beneficence. Longfellow was not expansive,
nor do I remember his ever becoming enthusiastic over anything or
anybody. One who knew nothing of his domestic life might have fancied
that he was cold, and certainly he did not possess that social
magnetism which made Lowell the loadstone of so many hearts, and made
the exercise of that attraction necessary to his own enjoyment of
existence. Longfellow adored his wife and children; but beyond that
circle, it seemed to me, he had no imperious longing to know or be
known. He had likes and dislikes; but so far as I understood him, no
strong antipathies or ardent friendships. He had warm friendships for
Lowell, the Nortons, and Agassiz, for example, but I think he had but
a mild regard for Emerson, and I remember his saying one day that
Emerson used his friends like lemons,--squeezing them till they were
dry, and then throwing them away. This showed that he misunderstood
Emerson, but perhaps intelligibly, for Longfellow had few of those
qualities which interested Emerson, and there could not have been
much in common to both. Emerson liked men who gave him problems to
solve,--something to learn,--while Longfellow was transparent, limpid
as a clear spring reflecting the sky and showing all that was in its
depths; and to Emerson he offered no problem. I never saw him angry
but once, and that was at his next-door neighbor shooting at a robin
in a cherry-tree that stood near the boundary between the two gardens.
The small shot carried over and rattled about us where we sat on the
verandah of the old Washington house, but showed the avicidal intent,
and Longfellow went off at once to protest against the barbarity, not
at all indignant at the personal danger, if he thought of any.

His adoration of his wife was fully justified, for rarely have I seen
a woman in whom a Juno-like dignity and serenity were so wedded to
personal beauty and to the fine culture of brain and heart, which
commanded reverence from the most ordinary acquaintance, as in her. No
one who had seen her at home could ever forget the splendid vision,
and the last time I ever saw her, so far as I remember, was in summer
time, when she and her two daughters, all in white muslin, like
creatures of another world, evanescent, translucent, stood in the
doorway to say good-by to me. In the same costume, a little later, she
met death. She was making impressions in sealing-wax, to amuse her
daughters, when a flaming drop fell on the inflammable stuff, and in
an instant she was in flames, burned to death before help could come.
It was then that they found that Longfellow was not the cold man they
had generally believed him. He never recovered from the bereavement,
and shortly after he became a Spiritualist, and, until he in his glad
turn passed the gates of death, he lived in what he knew to be the
light of her presence. And certainly if such a thing as communion
across that grim threshold can be, this was the occasion which made it
possible. There was something angelic about them both, even in this
life,--a natural innocence and large beneficence and equanimity which,
in the chance and contradiction of life, could rarely be found in
wedded state.

One of the most notable personages of that little world, whom I knew
in connection with Longfellow, was his brother-in-law,--Thomas G.
Appleton,--a most distinguished amateur of art; a subtle, if sometimes
vagarious, critic, poet, and thinker: the wit to whom most of the
clever things said in Boston came naturally in time to be attributed.
The famous saying that "Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris,"
is generally supposed to be his, though Oliver Wendell Holmes told me
one day that he himself was really the author of it; but, if a keen
witticism was floating about fatherless in the Boston circles it
drifted to Tom Appleton as putative parent. His, too, was a kindly
nature, and many a rising artist found his way to a larger recognition
by Appleton's unobtrusive aid. He, like Longfellow, was a sincere
Spiritualist. One of the most remarkable of this group of men was
Professor Peirce, mathematician, of whose flights into the higher
regions of the science of numbers and quantities many interesting
things were told. He had written a book to show, if I remember right
after so many years, that the square root of minus one was a right

(\/-1=90 deg.),

which was said to have been read only by a mathematician who presided
over an observatory in the Ural Mountains. He had an extraordinary
power of making his abstruse results clear to the ordinary intellect,
and was in various directions a brilliant conversationalist. One day,
going into Boston in the omnibus with him, I questioned him as to the
famous problem. To my astonishment he went through a demonstration
adapted to my intelligence which made me understand the nature of
the substitution and the solution before our half hour's transit was
ended. I did not understand the mathematical statement, but he put it
in common-sense terms, which I apprehended perfectly, though I never
could repeat them.

My Adirondack experiences and studies having excited the desire on the
part of several Cambridge friends to visit the Wilderness, I made up
a party which comprised Lowell and his two nephews, Charles and James
Lowell (two splendid young New Englanders afterwards killed during the
Civil War), Dr. Estes Howe, Lowell's brother-in-law, and John Holmes,
the brother of Oliver Wendell, considered by many of the Cambridge set
the wittier and wiser of the two, but who, being extremely averse to
publicity, was never known in literature. We made a flying journey of
inspection through the Saranac Lakes and down the Raquette River
to Tupper's Lake, and then across a wild and at that day a little
explored section to the head of Raquette Lake, and down the Raquette
River back to the Saranacs; the party returning home and I back to the
headwaters of the Raquette to spend the summer painting. I built a
camp on a secluded bay, which still bears my name amongst the men of
the section, and there I worked in a solitude sometimes complete and
sometimes shared by my guide, who passed his time between the camp and
the settlement at Saranac, whence I drew all my supplies beyond those
which the lake and the forest furnished us with. The solitude of the
Wilderness at that time can be no longer found anywhere in the vast
woodland which, much mutilated and scarred by fires and clearings,
still covers the district between the springs of the Mohawk and the
rivers which empty into the St. Lawrence. There was one settler on the
lake, from whom I could, when necessary, get a loaf of bread, but
the solitude for nine days out of ten was not broken by a strange
footfall. My camp was a shelter of bark, raised on poles, open in
front to the morning sun, just sufficing to shed the rain, while my
bed was a layer of the branches of the fir-trees that grew around.
Trout from the lake, broiled on the coals of the camp-fire, with a
piece of bread, was the usual and sufficient fare, though we now and
then killed a deer when Steve, my guide, was with me; at other times
the dog was my only company, and in this monotonous life I found the
most complete content that my experience has given me. Here wolves
abounded, but only on one occasion did they attempt to disturb me,
which was when I had left by the lake shore a deer we had killed in
the morning, and they came at night to steal the meat. Bears were
abundant, but even shyer than the wolves; and though we heard, now and
then, the cry of a panther (puma), we never saw one.

Here the morbid passion of solitude grew on me. The serene silence was
seldom broken save by the cry of an eagle or an osprey, high overhead,
the chirping of the chickadee flitting about the camp to find a crumb,
or the complaining note of the Canada jay, most friendly of all wild
birds, seeking for the scraps of venison we used to throw out for him.
No other birds came to us, and one of the most striking features
in the Wilderness was the paucity of bird life and voice. As I
sat painting, I would see the gray eagle come down, with his long
cycloidal swoop, skimming along the surface of the water, and catch,
as he passed, the trout that sunned itself on the surface; or the
osprey seizing it with his direct plunge into the lake, from which,
after a struggle that lasted sometimes a minute, the only sign of his
presence being the agitated water, he would emerge with the fish in
his claws and sail aloft, hurrying to escape to the forest with his
prey lest the eagle, always watching from the upper air, should rob
him of his hard-earned booty. Once I saw the eagle make the mighty
plunge from far above, the frightened osprey dropping the fish to
escape the shock, and the eagle catching it in midair as it fell.
The little incidents of woodland life took the place of all other
diversions and left no hour void of interest. I broke up the camp only
when the autumn was so far advanced that it was uncomfortable to
live in the open air. It is difficult for one who has not had the
experience to understand the fascination of this absolute solitude, or
the impressiveness of the silence, unbroken sometimes through whole
days. I had absolutely no desire for human society, and I broke camp
with reluctance, to return to my studio at Cambridge.

The next summer the party was formed which led to the foundation of
the Adirondack Club, and the excursion it made is commemorated by
Emerson in his poem "The Adirondacs." The company included Emerson,
Agassiz, Dr. Howe, Professor Jeffries Wyman, John Holmes,--who
became as fond as I was of this wild life,--Judge Hoar (later
Attorney-General in the cabinet of President Grant), Horatio Woodman,
Dr. Binney, and myself. Of this company, as I write, I am the only
survivor. I did my best to enroll Longfellow in the party, but, though
he was for a moment hesitating, I think the fact that Emerson was
going with a gun settled him in the determination to decline. "Is it
true that Emerson is going to take a gun?" he asked me; and when
I said that he had finally decided to do so, he ejaculated, "Then
somebody will be shot!" and would talk no more of going.

Perhaps the final reason, or that which would in any case have
indisposed him to join the company, was his want of sympathy with
Emerson. Emerson and he were in fact of antagonistic intellectuality,
both in the quality of the exquisite courtesy which distinguished them
equally, and in the fibre of intellectual working and the quality of
mental activity. Longfellow was of the most refined social culture,
disciplined to self-control under all circumstances and difficulties;
sensitive in the highest degree to the forms of courtesy, and
incapable by nature as by training of an act or word which could
offend the sensibilities of even a discourteous interlocutor,--capable
at worst of an indignant silence, but incapable of invading the
personality of another; not serene, but of an invincible tranquillity;
with no sympathy for mystery or obscurity; supremely above the general
and commonplace by the exquisite refinement to which he carried the
expression of what the general and commonplace world felt and thought;
remote from roughness in the form or the substance of his thought; in
short, the _ne plus ultra_ of refinement as man and poet. Emerson was
too serene ever to be discourteous, and was capable of the hottest
antagonism without rudeness, and the most intense indignation without
quickening his speech or raising his tone; grasping and exhausting
with imaginative activity whatever object furnished him with
matter for thought, and throwing to the rubbish heap whatever was
superficial; indifferent to form or polish if only he could find a
diamond; reveling in mystery, and with eyes that penetrated like the
X-ray through all obscurities, and found at the bottom of them what
there was to find; arrested by no surfaces, inflexible in his
devotion to truth, and indifferent to all personalities or artificial
conditions of men or things. Nothing but the roots of things, their
inmost anatomy, attracted him; he brushed away contemptuously the
beauties on which Longfellow spent the tenderness of his character,
and threw aside like an empty nutshell the form to which an artist
might have given the devotion of his best art, for the art's sake.
In his temper there was no patience with shams, little toleration
of forms. It would, I should think, be clear to one who was well
acquainted with both men, that there was little in common between them
beyond culture, but I never heard Emerson speak of Longfellow, and can
only judge by induction that he never occupied himself much with him.

We tried also to get Dr. Holmes to join us; but the Doctor was devoted
to Boston, and could not have lived long out of its atmosphere, and
with the woods and savagery he had no sympathy. He loved his Cambridge
friends serenely, Lowell, Agassiz, and Wyman, I think, above others;
but he enjoyed himself most of all, and Boston more than any other
thing on earth. He was lifted above ennui and discontent by a most
happy satisfaction with the rounded world of his own individuality and
belongings. Of the three men whom I have personally known in the
world who seemed most satisfied with what fate and fortune had made
them,--viz., Gladstone, Professor Freeman, and Holmes,--I think Holmes
enjoyed himself the most. There was a tinge of dandyism in the Doctor;
not enough to be considered a weakness, but enough to show that he
enjoyed his personal appearance and was content with what he had
become, and this in so delightful a way that one accepted him at once
at his own terms. The Doctor stood for Boston as Lowell for Cambridge,
the archetype of the Hub. Nobody represented it as he did. Tom
Appleton was nearest him, but Tom loved Paris better, and was a
"globe-trotter," as often in Europe as in Massachusetts, while the
Doctor hardly left the Hub even for a vacation; there was nothing
beyond it that was of great import to him. He was the sublimation of
Yankee wit as Lowell was of Yankee humor and human nature, and he
made of witticism a study; polished, refined, and prepared his "_bons
mots_", and, at the best moment, led the conversation round to the
point at which it was opportune to fire them off. He had a large
medical knowledge of human nature and intellectual pathology, but I
could never realize that he was a physician; I should not have trusted
myself to his doctoring. As with Longfellow, his family affections
were absorbing, and his love for his son, the present Mr. Justice
Holmes, and his pride in him, were very pleasant to see, and they ran
on the surface of his nature like his love for Boston; but I could
never feel that his feeling for his outside friends was more than a
mild, sunny glow of kindliness and vivid intellectual sympathy. Of
course I judge him from a difficult standard, that of the Cambridge
circle, in which the personal relations were very warm, and especially
comparing him with Lowell and the Nortons, with whom friendship was a

Holmes and Lowell were the antitheses of the New England intellect,
and this more in their personality than in their writing. If Lowell
could have acquired Holmes's respect for his work, he would have left

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