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Yesterdays with Authors by James T. Fields

Part 8 out of 8

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could quite understand the satirical sayings about his personal
appearance which have crept into the literary gossip of his time. He was
by no means the vivacious spectre some of his contemporaries have
represented him, and I never thought of connecting him with that
terrible line in "The Mirror of Magistrates,"--

"His withered fist still striking at Death's door."

His dome of brain was one of the amplest and most perfectly shaped I
ever saw, and his countenance was very far from unpleasant. His
faculties to enjoy had not perished with age. He certainly looked like a
well-seasoned author, but not dropping to pieces yet. His turn of
thought was characteristic, and in the main just, for he loved the best,
and was naturally impatient of what was low and mean in conduct and
intellect. He had always lived in an atmosphere of art, and his
reminiscences of painters and sculptors were never wearisome or dull. He
had a store of pleasant anecdotes of Chantrey, whom he had employed as a
wood-carver long before he became a modeller in clay; and he had also
much to tell us of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose lectures he had attended,
and whose studio-talk had been familiar to him while he was a young man
and studying art himself as an amateur. It was impossible almost to make
Rogers seem a real being as we used to surround his table during those
mornings and sometimes deep into the afternoons. We were listening to
one who had talked with Boswell about Dr. Johnson; who had sat hours
with Mrs. Piozzi; who read the "Vicar of Wakefield" the day it was
published; who had heard Haydn, the composer, playing at a concert,
"dressed out with a sword"; who had listened to Talleyrand's best
sayings from his own lips; who had seen John Wesley lying dead in his
coffin, "an old man, with the countenance of a little child"; who had
been with Beckford at Fonthill; who had seen Porson slink back into the
dining-room after the company had left it and drain what was left in the
wineglasses; who had crossed the Apennines with Byron; who had seen Beau
Nash in the height of his career dancing minuets at Bath; who had known
Lady Hamilton in her days of beauty, and seen her often with Lord
Nelson; who was in Fox's room when that great man lay dying; and who
could describe Pitt from personal observation, speaking always as if his
mouth was "full of worsted." It was unreal as a dream to sit there in
St. James Place and hear that old man talk by the hour of what one had
been reading about all one's life. One thing, I must confess, somewhat
shocked me,--I was not prepared for the feeble manner in which some of
Rogers's best stories were received by the gentlemen who had gathered at
his table on those Tuesday mornings. But when Procter told me in
explanation afterward that they had all "heard the same anecdotes every
week, perhaps, for half a century from the same lips," I no longer
wondered at the seeming apathy I had witnessed. It was a great treat to
me, however, the talk I heard at Rogers's hospitable table, and my three
visits there cannot be erased from the pleasantest tablets of memory.
There is only one regret connected with them, but that loss still haunts
me. On one of those memorable mornings I was obliged to leave earlier
than the rest of the company on account of an engagement out of London,
and Lady Beecher (formerly Miss O'Neil), the great actress of other
days, came in and read an hour to the old poet and his guests. Procter
told me afterward that among other things she read, at Rogers's request,
the 14th chapter of Isaiah, and that her voice and manner seemed like
inspiration.

Seeing and talking with Rogers was, indeed, like living in the past:
and one may imagine how weird it seemed to a raw Yankee youth, thus
facing the man who might have shaken hands with Dr. Johnson. I ventured
to ask him one day if he had ever seen the doctor. "No," said he; "but I
went down to Bolt Court in 1782 with the intention of making Dr.
Johnson's acquaintance. I raised the knocker tremblingly, and hearing
the shuffling footsteps as of an old man in the entry, my heart failed
me, and I put down the knocker softly again, and crept back into Fleet
Street without seeing the vision I was not bold enough to encounter." I
thought it was something to have heard the footsteps of old Sam Johnson
stirring about in that ancient entry, and for my own part I was glad to
look upon the man whose ears had been so strangely privileged.

Rogers drew about him all the musical as well as the literary talent of
London. Grisi and Jenny Lind often came of a morning to sing their best
_arias_ to him when he became too old to attend the opera; and both
Adelaide and Fanny Kemble brought to him frequently the rich tributes of
their genius in art.

It was my good fortune, through the friendship of Procter, to make the
acquaintance, at Rogers's table, of Leslie, the artist,--a warm friend
of the old poet,--and to be taken round by him and shown all the
principal private galleries in London. He first drew my attention to the
pictures by Constable, and pointed out their quiet beauty to my
uneducated eye, thus instructing me to hate all those intemperate
landscapes and lurid compositions which abound in the shambles of modern
art. In the company of Leslie I saw my first Titians and Vandycks, and
felt, as Northcote says, on my good behavior in the presence of
portraits so lifelike and inspiring. It was Leslie who inoculated me
with a love of Gainsborough, before whose perfect pictures a spectator
involuntarily raises his hat and stands uncovered. (And just here let
me advise every art lover who goes to England to visit the little
Dulwich Gallery, only a few miles from London, and there to spend an
hour or two among the exquisite Gainsboroughs. No small collection in
Europe is better worth a visit, and the place itself in summer-time is
enchanting with greenery.)

As Rogers's dining-room abounded in only first-rate works of art, Leslie
used to take round the guests and make us admire the Raphaels and
Correggios. Inserted in the walls on each side of the mantel-piece, like
tiles, were several of Turner's original oil and water-color drawings,
which that supreme artist had designed to illustrate Rogers's "Poems"
and "Italy." Long before Ruskin made those sketches world-famous in his
"Modern Painters," I have heard Leslie point out their beauties with as
fine an enthusiasm. He used to say that they purified the whole
atmosphere round St. James Place!

Procter had a genuine regard for Count d'Orsay, and he pointed him out
to me one day sitting in the window of his club, near Gore House,
looking out on Piccadilly. The count seemed a little past his prime, but
was still the handsomest man in London. Procter described him as a
brilliant person, of special ability, and by no means a mere dandy.

I first saw Procter's friend, John Forster, the biographer of Goldsmith
and Dickens, in his pleasant rooms, No. 58 Lincoln's Inn Fields. He was
then in his prime, and looked brimful of energy. His age might have been
forty, or a trifle onward from that mile-stone, and his whole manner
announced a determination to assert that nobody need prompt _him_. His
voice rang loud and clear, up stairs and down, everywhere throughout his
premises. When he walked over the uncarpeted floor, you _heard_ him
walk, and he meant you should. When _he_ spoke, nobody required an
ear-trumpet; the deaf never lost a syllable of his manly utterances.
Procter and he were in the same Commission, and were on excellent terms,
the younger officer always regarding the elder with a kind of leonine
deference.

It was to John Forster these charming lines were addressed by Barry
Cornwall, when the poet sent his old friend a present of Shakespeare's
Works. A more exquisite compliment was never conveyed in verse so modest
and so perfect in simple grace:--

"I do not know a man who better reads
Or weighs the great thoughts of the book I send,--
Better than he whom I have called my friend
For twenty years and upwards. He who feeds
Upon Shakesperian pastures never needs
The humbler food which springs from plains below;
Yet may he love the little flowers that blow,
And him excuse who for their beauty pleads.

"Take then my Shakespeare to some sylvan nook;
And pray thee, in the name of Days of old,
Good-will and friendship, never bought or sold,
Give me assurance thou wilt always look
With kindness still on Spirits of humbler mould;
Kept firm by resting on that wondrous book,
Wherein the Dream of Life is all unrolled."

Forster's library was filled with treasures, and he brought to the
dinner-table, the day I was first with him, such rare and costly
manuscripts and annotated volumes to show us, that one's appetite for
"made dishes" was quite taken away. The excellent lady whom he afterward
married was one of the guests, and among the gentlemen present I
remember the brilliant author of "The Bachelor of the Albany," a book
that was then the Novel sensation in London. Forster flew from one topic
to another with admirable skill, and entertained us with anecdotes of
Wellington and Rogers, gilding the time with capital imitations of his
celebrated contemporaries in literature and on the stage. A touch about
Edmund Kean made us all start from our chairs and demand a mimetic
repetition. Forster must have been an excellent private actor, for he
had power and skill quite exceptional in that way. His force carried him
along wherever he chose to go, and when he played "Kitely," his ability
must have been strikingly apparent. After his marriage, and when he
removed from Lincoln's Inn to his fine residence at "Palace-Gate House,"
he gave frequent readings, evincing remarkable natural and acquired
talents. For Dickens he had a love amounting to jealousy. He never quite
relished anybody else whom the great novelist had a fondness for, and I
have heard droll stories touching this weakness. For Professor Felton he
had unbounded regard, which had grown up by correspondence and through
report from Dickens. He had never met Felton, and when the professor
arrived in London, Dickens, with his love of fun, arranged a bit of
cajolery, which was never quite forgotten, though wholly forgiven.
Knowing how highly Forster esteemed Felton, through his writings and his
letters, Dickens resolved to take Felton at once to Forster's house and
introduce him as _Professor Stowe_, the _port_ of both these gentlemen
being pretty nearly equal. The Stowes were then in England on their
triumphant tour, and this made the attempt at deception an easy one. So,
Felton being in the secret, he and Dickens proceed to Forster's house
and are shown in. Down comes Forster into the library, and is presented
forthwith to "_Professor Stowe_." "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is at once
referred to, and the talk goes on in that direction for some time. At
last both Dickens and Felton fell into such a paroxysm of laughter at
Forster's dogged determination to be complimentary to the world-renowned
novel, that they could no longer hold out; and Forster, becoming almost
insane with wonder at the hilarious conduct of his two visitors,
Dickens revealed their wickedness, and a right jolty day the happy trio
made of it.

Talfourd informs us that Forster had become to Charles Lamb as one of
his oldest companions, and that Mary also cherished a strong regard for
him. It is surely a proof of his admirable qualities that the love of so
many of England's best and greatest was secured to him by so lasting a
tenure. To have the friendship of Landor, Dickens, and Procter through
long years; to have Carlyle for a constant votary, and to be mourned by
him with an abiding sorrow,--these are no slight tributes to purity of
purpose.

Forster had that genuine sympathy with men of letters which entitled him
to be their biographer, and all his works in that department have a
special charm, habitually gained only by a subtle and earnest intellect.

It is a singular coincidence that the writers of two of the most
brilliant records of travel of their time should have been law students
in Barry Cornwall's office. Kinglake, the author of "Eothen," and
Warburton, the author of "The Crescent and the Cross," were at one
period both engaged as pupils in their profession under the guidance of
Mr. Procter. He frequently spoke with pride of his two law students, and
when Warburton perished at sea, his grief for his brilliant friend was
deep and abiding. Kinglake's later literary fame was always a pleasure
to the historian's old master, and no one in England loved better to
point out the fine passages in the "History of the Invasion of the
Crimea" than the old poet in Weymouth Street.

"Blackwood" and the "Quarterly Review" railed at Procter and his author
friends for a long period; but how true is the saying of Macaulay, "that
the place of books in the public estimation is fixed, not by what is
written _about_ them, but by what is written in them!" No man was more
decried in his day than Procter's friend, William Hazlitt. The poet had
for the critic a genuine admiration; and I have heard him dilate with a
kind of rapture over the critic's fine sayings, quoting abundant
passages from the essays. Procter would never hear any disparagement of
his friend's ability and keenness. I recall his earnest but restrained
indignation one day, when some person compared Hazlitt with a diffusive
modern writer of notes on the theatre, and I remember with what
contempt, in his sweet forgivable way, the old man spoke of much that
passes nowadays for criticism. He said Hazlitt was exactly the opposite
of Lord Chesterfield, who advised his son, if he could not get at a
thing in a straight line, to try the serpentine one. There were no
crooked pathways in Hazlitt's intellect. His style is brilliant, but
never cloyed with ornamentation. Hazlitt's paper on Gifford was thought
by Procter to be as pungent a bit of writing as had appeared in his day,
and he quoted this paragraph as a sample of its biting justice: "Mr.
Gifford is admirably qualified for the situation he has held for many
years as editor of the 'Quarterly' by a happy combination of defects,
natural and acquired." In one of his letters to me Procter writes, "I
despair of the age that has forgotten to read Hazlitt."

Procter was a delightful prose writer, as well as a charming poet.
Having met in old magazines and annuals several of his essays and
stories, and admiring their style and spirit, I induced him, after much
persuasion, to collect and publish in America his prose works. The
result was a couple of volumes, which were brought out in Boston in
1853. In them there are perhaps no "thoughts that wander through
eternity," but they abound in fancies which the reader will recognize as
agile

"Daughters of the earth and sun."

In them there is nothing loud or painful, and whoever really loves "a
good book," and knows it to be such on trial, will find Barry Cornwall's
"Essays and Tales in Prose" most delectable reading. "Imparadised," as
Milton hath the word, on a summer hillside, or tented by the cool salt
wave, no better afternoon literature can be selected. One will never
meet with distorted metaphor or tawdry rhetoric in Barry's thoughtful
pages, but will find a calm philosophy and a beautiful faith, very
precious and profitable in these days of doubt and insecurity of
intellect. There is a respite and a sympathy in this fine spirit, and so
I commend him heartily in times so full of turmoil and suspicion as
these. One of the stories in the first volume of these prose writings,
called "The Man-Hunter," is quite equal in power to any of the graphic
pieces of a similar character ever written by De Quincey or Dickens, but
the tone in these books is commonly more tender and inclining to
melancholy. What, for instance, could be more heart-moving than these
passages of his on the death of little children?

"I scarcely know how it is, but the deaths of children seem to me
always less premature than those of elder persons. Not that they are
in fact so; but it is because they themselves have little or no
relation to time or maturity. Life seems a race which they have yet
to run entirely. They have made no progress toward the goal. They
are born--nothing further. But it seems hard, when a man has toiled
high up the steep hill of knowledge, that he should be cast like
Sisyphus, downward in a moment; that he who has worn the day and
wasted the night in gathering the gold of science should be, with
all his wealth of learning, all his accumulations, made bankrupt at
once. What becomes of all the riches of the soul, the piles and
pyramids of precious thoughts which men heap together? Where are
Shakespeare's imagination, Bacon's learning, Galileo's dream? Where
is the sweet fancy of Sidney, the airy spirit of Fletcher, and
Milton's thought severe? Methinks such things should not die and
dissipate, when a hair can live for centuries, and a brick of Egypt
will last three thousand years! I am content to believe that the
mind of man survives (somewhere or other) his clay.

"I was once present at the death of a little child. I will not pain
the reader by portraying its agonies; but when its breath was gone,
its _life_, (nothing more than a cloud of smoke!) and it lay like a
waxen image before me, I turned my eyes to its moaning mother, and
sighed out my few words of comfort. But I am a beggar in grief. I
can feel and sigh and look kindly, I think; but I have nothing to
give. My tongue deserts me. I know the inutility of too soon
comforting. I know that _I_ should weep were I the loser, and I let
the tears have their way. Sometimes a word or two I can muster: a
'Sigh no more!' and 'Dear lady, do not grieve!' but further I am
mute and useless."

I have many letters and kind little notes which Procter used to write me
during the years I knew him best. His tricksy fancies peeped out in his
correspondence, and several of his old friends in England thought no
literary man of his time had a better epistolary style. His neat elegant
chirography on the back of a letter was always a delightful foretaste of
something good inside, and I never received one of his welcome missives
that did not contain, no matter how brief it happened to be, welcome
passages of wit or affectionate interest.

In one of his early letters to me he says:--

"There is no one rising hereabouts in literature. I suppose our
national genius is taking a mechanical turn. And, in truth, it is
much better to make a good steam-engine than to manufacture a bad
poem. 'Building the lofty rhyme' is a good thing, but our present
buildings are of a low order, and seldom reach the Attic. This piece
of wit will scarcely throw you into a fit, I imagine, your risible
muscles being doubtless kept in good order."

In another he writes:--

"I see you have some capital names in the 'Atlantic Monthly.' If
they will only put forth their strength, there is no doubt as to the
result, but the misfortune is that persons who write anonymously
_don't_ put forth their strength, in general. I was a magazine
writer for no less than a dozen years, and I felt that no personal
credit or responsibility attached to my literary trifling, and
although I sometimes did pretty well (for me), yet I never did my
best."

As I read over again the portfolio of his letters to me, bearing date
from 1848 to 1866, I find many passages of interest, but most of them
are too personal for type. A few extracts, however, I cannot resist
copying. Some of his epistles are enriched with a song or a sonnet, then
just written, and there are also frequent references in them to American
editions of his poetical and prose works, which he collected at the
request of his Boston publishers.

In June, 1851, he writes:--

"I have encountered a good many of your countrymen here lately, but
have been introduced only to a few. I found Mr. Norton, who has
returned to you, and Mr. Dwight, who is still here, I believe, very
intelligent and agreeable.

"If all Americans were like them and yourself, and if all Englishmen
were like Kenyon and (so far as regards a desire to judge fairly)
myself, I think there would be little or no quarrelling between our
small island and your great continent.

"Our glass palace is a perpetual theme for small-talk. It usurps the
place of the weather, which is turned adrift, or laid up in ordinary
for future use. Nevertheless it (I mean the palace) is a remarkable
achievement, after all; and I speak sincerely when I say, 'All honor
and glory to Paxton!' If the strings of my poor little lyre were not
rusty and overworn, I think I should try to sing some of my nonsense
verses before his image, and add to the idolatry already existing.

"If you have hotter weather in America than that which is at present
burning and blistering us here, you are entitled to pity. If it
continue much longer, I shall be held in solution for the remainder
of my days, and shall be remarkable as 'Oxygen, the poet' (reduced
to his natural weakness and simplicity by the hot summer of 1851),
instead of Your very sincere and obliged

"B.W. PROCTER."

Here is a brief reference to Judd's remarkable novel, forming part of a
note written to me in 1852:--

"Thanks for 'Margaret' (the book, _not_ the woman), that you have
sent me. When will you want it back? and who is the author? There is
a great deal of clever writing in it,--great observation of nature,
and also of character among a certain class of persons. _But_ it is
almost too minute, and for _me_ decidedly too theological. You see
what irreligious people we are here. I shall come over to one of
your camp-meetings and _try_ to be converted. What will they
administer in such a case? brimstone or brandy? I shall try the
latter first."

Here is a letter bearing date "Thursday night, November 25, 1852," in
which he refers to his own writings, and copies a charming song:--

"Your letter, announcing the arrival of the little preface, reached
me last night. I shall look out for the book in about three weeks
hence, as you tell me that they are all printed. You Americans are a
rapid race. When I thought you were in Scotland, lo, you had touched
the soil of Boston; and when I thought you were unpacking my poor
MS., tumbling it out of your great trunk, behold! it is arranged--it
is in the printer's hands--it is _printed_--published--it is--ah!
would I could add, SOLD! That, after all, is the grand triumph in
Boston as well as London.

"Well, since it is not sold yet, let us be generous and give a few
copies away. Indeed, such is my weakness, that I would sometimes
rather give than sell. In the present instance you will do me the
kindness to send a copy each to Mr. Charles Sumner, Mr. Hillard, Mr.
Norton: but no--my wife requests to be the donor to Mr. Norton, so
you must, if you please, write his name in the first leaf and state
that it comes from '_Mrs_. Procter.' I liked him very much when I
met him in London, and I should wish him to be reminded of his
English acquaintance.

"I am writing to you at eleven o'clock at night, after a long and
busy day, and I write _now_ rather than wait for a little
inspiration, because the mail, I believe, starts to-morrow. The
unwilling Minerva is at my elbow, and I feel that every sentence I
write, were it pounded ten times in a mortar, would come out again
unleavened and heavy. Braying some people in a mortar, you know, is
but a weary and unprofitable process.

"You speak of London as a delightful place. I don't know how it may
be in the white-bait season, but at present it is foggy, rainy,
cold, dull. Half of us are unwell and the other half dissatisfied.
Some are apprehensive of an invasion,--not an impossible event; some
writing odes to the Duke of Wellington; and I am putting my good
friend to sleep with the flattest prose that ever dropped from an
English pen. I wish that it were better; I wish that it were even
worse; but it is the most undeniable twaddle. I must go to bed, and
invoke the Muses in the morning. At present, I cannot touch one of
their petticoats.

"A SLEEPY SONG.

"Sing! sing me to sleep!
With gentle words, in some sweet slumberous measure,
Such as lone poet on some shady steep
Sings to the silence in his noonday leisure.

"Sing! as the river sings,
When gently it flows between soft banks of flowers,
And the bee murmurs, and the cuckoo brings
His faint May music, 'tween the golden showers.

"Sing! O divinest tone!
I sink beneath some wizard's charming wand;
I yield, I move, by soothing breezes blown,
O'er twilight shores, into the Dreaming Land!

"I read the above to you when you were in London. It will appear in
an Annual edited by Miss Power (Lady Blessington's niece).

"Friday Morning.

"The wind blowing down the chimney; the rain sprinkling my windows.
The English Apollo hides his head--you can scarcely see him on the
'misty mountain-tops' (those brick ones which you remember in
Portland Place).

"My friend Thackeray is gone to America, and I hope is, by this
time, in the United States. He goes to New York, and afterward I
_suppose_ (but I don't know) to Boston and Philadelphia. Have you
seen _Esmond_? There are parts of it charmingly written. His pathos
is to me very touching. I believe that the best mode of making one's
way to a person's head is--through his heart.

"I hope that your literary men will like some of my little prose
matters. I know that they will _try_ to like them; but the papers
have been written so long, and all, or almost all, written so
hastily, that I have my misgivings. However, they must take their
chance.

"Had I leisure to complete something that I began two or three years
ago, and in which I have written a chapter or two, I should reckon
more surely on success; but I shall probably never finish the thing,
although I contemplated only one volume.

"(If you cannot read this letter apply to the printer's
devil.--Hibernicus.)

"Farewell. All good be with you. My wife desires to be kindly
remembered by you.

"Always yours, very sincerely,

"B.W. PROCTER."

"P.S.--Can you contrive to send Mr. Willis a copy of the prose book?
If so, pray do."

In February, 1853, he writes:--

"Those famous volumes, the advent of which was some time since
announced by the great transatlantic trumpet, have duly arrived. My
wife is properly grateful for her copy, which, indeed, impresses
both of us with respect for the American skill in binding. Neither
too gay to be gaudy, nor too grave, so as to affect the theological,
it hits that happy medium which agrees with the tastes of most
people and disgusts none. We should flatter ourselves that it is
intended to represent the matter within, but that we are afraid of
incurring the sin of vanity, and the indiscretion of taking
appearances too much upon trust. We suspend our conjectures on this
very interesting subject. The whole getting up of the book is
excellent.

"For the little scraps of (critical) sugar enclosed in your letter,
due thanks. These will sweeten our imagination for some time to
come.

"I have been obliged to give all the copies you sent me away. I dare
say you will not grudge me four or five copies more, to be sent at
your convenience, of course. Let me hear from you at the same time.
You can give me one of those frequent quarters of an hour which I
know you now devote to a meditation on 'things in general.'

"I am glad that you like Thackeray. He is well worth your liking. I
trust to his making both friends and money in America, and to his
_keeping_ both. I am not so sure of the money, however, for he has a
liberal hand. I should have liked to have been at one of the dinners
you speak of. When shall you begin that _bridge_? You seem to be a
long time about it. It will, I dare say, be a bridge of boats, after
all....

"I was reading (rather re-reading) the other evening the
introductory chapter to the 'Scarlet Letter.' It is admirably
written. Not having any great sympathy with a custom-house,--nor,
indeed, with Salem, except that it seems to be Hawthorne's
birthplace,--all my attention was concentrated on the _style_, which
seems to me excellent.

"The most striking book which has been recently published here is
'Villette,' by the authoress of 'Jane Eyre,' who, as you know, is a
Miss Bronte. The book does not give one the most pleasing notion of
the authoress, perhaps, but it is very clever, graphic, vigorous. It
is 'man's meat,' and not the whipped syllabub, which is _all_ froth,
without any jam at the bottom. The scene of the drama is Brussels.

"I was sorry to hear of poor Willis. Our critics here were too
severe upon him....

"The Frost King (vulg. Jack Frost) has come down upon us with all
his might. Banished from the pleasant shores of Boston, he has come
with his cold scythe and ice pincers to our undefended little
island, and is tyrannizing in every corner and over every part of
every person. Nothing is too great for him, nothing too mean. He
condescends even to lay hold of the nose (an offence for which any
one below the dignity of a King--or a President--would be kicked.)
As for me I have taken refuge in

"A SONG WITH A MORAL.

"When the winter bloweth loud,
And the earth is in a shroud,
Frozen rain or sleety snow
Dimming every dream below,--
There is e'er a spot of green
Whence the heavens may be seen.

"When our purse is shrinking fast,
And our friend is lost, (the last!)
And the world doth pour its pain,
Sharper than the frozen rain,--
There is still a spot of green
Whence the heavens may be seen.

"Let us never meet despair
While the little spot is there;
Winter brighteneth into May,
And sullen night to sunny day,--
Seek we then the spot of green
Whence the heavens may be seen.

"I have left myself little space for more small-talk. I must,
therefore, conclude with wishing that your English dreams may
continue bright, and that when they begin to fade you will come and
_relume_ at one of the white-bait dinners of which you used to talk
in such terms of rapture.

"Have I space to say that I am very truly yours?

"B.W. PROCTER."

A few months later, in the same year (1853), he sits by his open window
in London, on a morning of spring, and sends off the following pleasant
words:--

"You also must now be in the first burst and sunshine of spring.
Your spear-grass is showing its points, your succulent grass its
richness, even your little plant [?] (so useful for certain
invalids) is seen here and there; primroses are peeping out in your
neighborhood, and you are looking for cowslips to come. I say
nothing of your hawthorns (from the common May to the classic
Nathaniel), except that I trust they are thriving, and like to put
forth a world of blossoms soon.

'With all this wealth, present and future,
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose,'

you will doubtless feel disposed to scatter your small coins abroad
on the poor, and, among other things, to forward to your humble
correspondent those copies of B---- C----'s prose works which you
promised I know not how long ago. 'He who gives _speedily_,' they
say, 'gives twice.' I quote, as you see, from the Latins.

"I have just got the two additional volumes of De Quincey, for
which--thanks! I have not seen Mr. Parker, who brought them, and who
left his card here yesterday, but I have asked if he will come and
breakfast with me on Sunday,--my only certain leisure day. Your De
Quincey is a man of a good deal of reading, and has thought on
divers and sundry matters; but he is evidently so thoroughly well
pleased with the Sieur 'Thomas De Quincey' that his self-sufficiency
spoils even his best works. Then some of his facts are, I hear,
_quasi_ facts only, not unfrequently. He has his moments when he
sleeps, and becomes oblivious of all but the aforesaid 'Thomas,' who
pervades both his sleeping and waking visions. I, like all authors,
am glad to have a little praise now and then (it is my hydromel),
but it must be dispensed by others. I do not think it decent to
manufacture the sweet liquor myself, and I hate a coxcomb, whether
in dress or print.

"We have little or no literary news here. Our poets are all going
to the poorhouse (except Tennyson), and our prose writers are
piling up their works for the next 5th of November, when there will
be a great bonfire. It is deuced lucky that my immortal (ah! I am De
Quinceying)--I mean my humble--performances were printed in America,
so that they will escape. By the by, are they on foolscap? for I
forgot to caution you on that head.

"I have been spending a week at Liverpool, where I rejoiced to hear
that Hawthorne's appointment was settled, and that it was a valuable
post; but I hear that it lasts for three years only. This is
melancholy. I hope, however, that he will 'realize' (as you
trans-atlantics say) as much as he can during his consulate, and
that your next President will have the good taste and the good sense
to renew his lease for three years more.

"I have not seen Mrs. Stowe. I shall probably meet her somewhere or
other when she comes to London.

"I dare not ask after Mr. Longfellow. He was kind enough to write me
a very agreeable letter some time ago, which I ought to have
answered. I dare say he has forgotten it, but my conscience is a
serpent that gives me a bite or a sting every now and then when I
think of him. The first time I am in fit condition (I mean in point
of brightness) to reply to so famous a correspondent, I shall try
what an English pen and ink will enable me to say. In the mean time,
God be thanked for all things!

"My wife heard from Thackeray about ten days ago. He speaks
gratefully of the kindness that he has met with in America. Among
other things, it appears that he has seen something of your slaves,
whom he represents as leading a very easy life, and as being fat,
cheerful, and happy. Nevertheless, _I_ (for one) would rather be a
free man,--such is the singularity of my opinions. If my prosings
should ever in the course of the next twenty years require to be
reprinted, pray take note of the above opinion.

"And now I have no more paper; I have scarcely room left to say that
I hope you are well, and to remind you that for your ten lines of
writing I have sent you back a hundred. Give my best compliments to
all whom I know, personally or otherwise. God be with you!

"Yours, very sincerely,

"B.W. PROCTER."

Procter always seemed to be astounded at the travelling spirit of
Americans, and in his letters he makes frequent reference to our
"national propensity," as he calls it.

"Half an hour ago," he writes in. July, 1853, "we had three of your
countrymen here to lunch,--countrymen I mean, Hibernically, for two
of them wore petticoats. They are all going to Switzerland, France,
Italy, Egypt, and Syria. What an adventurous race you are, you
Americans! Here the women go merely 'from the blue bed to the
brown,' and think that they have travelled and seen the world. I
myself should not care much to be confined to a circle reaching six
or seven miles round London. There are the fresh winds and wild
thyme on Hampstead Heath, and from Richmond you may survey the
Naiades. Highgate, where Coleridge lived, Enfield, where Charles
Lamb dwelt, are not far off. Turning eastward, there is the river
Lea, in which Izaak Walton fished; and farther on--ha! what do I
see? What are those little fish frisking in the batter (the great
Naval Hospital close by), which fixed the affections of the enamored
American while he resided in London, and have been floating in his
dreams ever since? They are said by the naturalists to be of the
species _Blandamentum album_, and are by vulgar aldermen spoken
carelessly of as _white-bait_.

"London is full of carriages, full of strangers, full of parties
feasting on strawberries and ices and other things intended to allay
the heat of summer; but the Summer herself (fickle virgin) keeps
back, or has been stopped somewhere or other,--perhaps at the
Liverpool custom-house, where the very brains of men (their books)
are held in durance, as I know to my cost.

"Thackeray is about to publish a new work in numbers,--a serial, as
the newspapers call it. Thomas Carlyle is publishing (a sixpenny
matter) in favor of the slave-trade. Novelists of all shades are
plying their trades. Husbands are killing their wives in every day's
newspaper. Burglars are peaching against each other; there is no
longer honor among thieves. I am starting for Leicester on a week's
expedition amidst the mad people; and the Emperor of Russia has
crossed the Pruth, and intends to make a tour of Turkey.

"All this appears to me little better than idle, restless vanity. O
my friend, what a fuss and a pother we are all making, we little
flies who are going round on the great wheel of time! To-day we are
flickering and buzzing about, our little bits of wings glittering in
the sunshine, and to-morrow we are safe enough in the little crevice
at the back of the fireplace, or hid in the folds of the old
curtain, shut up, stiff and torpid, for the long winter. What do you
say to that profound reflection?

"I struggle against the lassitude which besets me, and strive in
vain to be either sensible or jocose. I had better say farewell."

On Christmas day, 1854, he writes in rather flagging spirits, induced
by ill health:--

"I have owed you a letter for these many months, my good friend. I
am afraid to think _how_ long, lest the interest on the debt should
have exceeded the capital, and be beyond my power to pay.

"You must be good-natured and excuse me, for I have been ill--very
frequently--and dispirited. A bodily complaint torments me, that has
tormented me for the last two years. I no longer look at the world
through a rose-colored glass. The prospect, I am sorry to say, is
gray, grim, dull, barren, full of withered leaves, without flowers,
or if there be any, all of them trampled down, soiled, discolored,
and without fragrance. You see what a bit of half-smoked glass I am
looking through. At all events, you must see how entirely I am
disabled from returning, except in sober sentences, the lively and
good-natured letters and other things which you have sent me from
America. They were welcome, and I thank you for them now, in a few
words, as you observe, but sincerely. I am somewhat brief, even in
my gratitude. Had I been in braver spirits, I might have spurred my
poor Pegasus, and sent you some lines on the Alma, or the
Inkerman,--bloody battles, but exhibiting marks not to be mistaken
of the old English heroism, which, after all is said about the
enervating effects of luxury, is as grand and manifest as in the
ancient fights which English history talks of so much. Even you,
sternest of republicans, will, I think, be proud of the indomitable
courage of Englishmen, and gladly refer to your old paternity. I, at
least, should be proud of Americans fighting after the same fashion
(and without doubt they _would_ fight thus), just as old people
exult in the brave conduct of their runaway sons. I cannot read of
these later battles without the tears coming into my eyes. It is
said by 'our correspondent' at _New York_ that the folks there
rejoice in the losses and disasters of the allies. This can never be
the case, surely? No one whose opinion is worth a rap can rejoice at
any success of the Czar, whose double-dealing and unscrupulous
greediness must have rendered him an object of loathing to every
well-thinking man. But what have I to do with politics, or you? Our
'pleasant object and serene employ' are books, books. Let us return
to pacific thoughts.

"What a number of things have happened since I saw you! I looked for
you in the last spring, little dreaming that so fat and flourishing
a 'Statesman' could be overthrown by a little fever. I had even
begun some doggerel, announcing to you the advent of the
white-bait, which I imagined were likely to be all eaten up in your
absence. My memory is so bad that I cannot recollect half a dozen
lines, probably not one, as it originally stood.

"I was at Liverpool last June. After two or three attempts I
contrived to seize on the famous Nathaniel Hawthorne. Need I say
that I like him _very_ much? He is very sensible, very genial,--a
little shy, I think (for an American!)--and altogether extremely
agreeable. I wish that I could see more of him, but our orbits are
wide apart. Now and then--once in two years--I diverge into and
cross his circle, but at other times we are separated by a space
amounting to 210 miles. He has three children, and a nice little
wife, who has good-humor engraved on her countenance.

"As to verse--yes, I have begun a dozen trifling things, which are
in my drawer unfinished; poor rags with ink upon them, none of them,
I am afraid, properly labelled for posterity. I was for six weeks at
Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, this year, but so unwell that I could
not write a line, scarcely read one; sitting out in the sun, eating,
drinking, sleeping, and sometimes (poor soul!) imagining I was
thinking. One Sunday I saw a magnificent steamer go by, and on
placing my eye to the telescope I saw some Stars and Stripes
(streaming from the mast-head) that carried me away to Boston. By
the way, when _will_ you finish the bridge?

"I hear strange hints of you all quarrelling about the slave
question. Is it so? You are so happy and prosperous in America that
you must be on the lookout for clouds, surely! When you see Emerson,
Longfellow, Sumner, any one I know, pray bespeak for me a kind
thought or word from them."

Procter was always on the lookout for Hawthorne, whom he greatly
admired. In November, 1855, he says, in a brief letter:--

"I have not seen Hawthorne since I wrote to you. He came to London
this summer, but, I am sorry to say, did not inquire for me. As it
turned out, I was absent from town, but sent him (by Mrs. Russell
Sturgis) a letter of introduction to Leigh Hunt, who was very much
pleased with him. Poor Hunt! he is the most genial of men; and, now
that his wife is confined to her bed by rheumatism, is recovering
himself, and, I hope, doing well. He asked to come and see me the
other day. I willingly assented, and when I saw him--grown old and
sad and broken down in health--all my ancient liking for him
revived.

"You ask me to send you some verse. I accordingly send you a scrap
of recent manufacture, and you will observe that instead of
forwarding my epic on Sevastopol, I select something that is fitter
for these present vernal love days than the blaster of heroic verse:--

"SONG.

"Within the chambers of her breast
Love lives and makes his spicy nest,
Midst downy blooms and fragrant flowers,
And there he dreams away the hours--
There let him rest!
Some time hence, when the cuckoo sings,
I'll come by night and bind his wings,--
Bind him that he shall not roam
From his warm white virgin home.

"Maiden of the summer season,
Angel of the rosy time,
Come, unless some graver reason
Bid thee scorn my rhyme;
Come from thy serener height,
On a golden cloud descending,
Come ere Love hath taken flight,
And let thy stay be like the light,
When its glory hath no ending
In the Northern night!"

Now and then we get a glimpse of Thackeray in his letters. In one of
them he says:--

"Thackeray came a few days ago and read one of his lectures at our
house (that on George the Third), and we asked about a dozen persons
to come and hear it, among the rest, your handsome countrywoman,
Mrs. R---- S----. It was very pleasant, with that agreeable
intermixture of tragedy and comedy that tells so well when
judiciously managed. He will not print them for some time to come,
intending to read them at some of the principal places in England,
and perhaps Scotland.

"What are you doing in America? You are too happy and independent!
'O fortunatos Agricolas, sua si bona norint!' I am not quite sure of
my Latin (which is rusty from old age), but I am sure of the
sentiment, which is that when people are too happy, they don't know
it, and so take to quarrelling to relieve the monotony of their
blue sky. Some of these days you will split your great kingdom in
two, I suppose, and then--

"My wife's mother, Mrs. Basil Montagu, is very ill, and we are
apprehensive of a fatal result, which, in truth, the mere fact of
her age (eighty-two or eighty-three) is enough to warrant. Ah, this
terrible _age_! The young people, I dare say, think that we live too
long. Yet how short it is to look back on life! Why, I saw the house
the other day where I used to play with a wooden sword when I was
five years old! It cannot surely be eighty years ago! What has
occurred since? Why, nothing that is worth putting down on paper. A
few nonsense verses, a flogging or two (richly deserved), and a few
white-bait dinners, and the whole is reckoned up. Let us begin
again." [Here he makes some big letters in a school-boy hand, which
have a very pathetic look on the page.]

In a letter written in 1856 he gives me a graphic picture of sad times
in India:--

"All our anxiety here at present is the Indian mutiny. We ourselves
have great cause for trouble. Our son (the only son I have, indeed)
escaped from Delhi lately. He is now at Meerut. He and four or five
other officers, four women, and a child escaped. The men were
obliged to drop the women a fearful height from the walls of the
fort, amidst showers of bullets. A round shot passed within a yard
of my son, and one of the ladies had a bullet through her shoulder.
They were seven days and seven nights in the jungle, without money
or meat, scarcely any clothes, no shoes. They forded rivers, lay on
the wet ground at night, lapped water from the puddles, and finally
reached Meerut. The lady (the mother of the three other ladies) had
not her wound dressed, or seen, indeed, for upward of a week. Their
feet were full of thorns. My son had nothing but a shirt, a pair of
trousers, and a flannel waistcoat. How they contrived to _live_ I
don't know; I suppose from small gifts of rice, etc., from the
natives.

"When I find any little thing now that disturbs my serenity, and
which I might in former times have magnified into an evil, I think
of what Europeans suffer from the vengeance of the Indians, and pass
it by in quiet.

"I received Mr. Hillard's epitaph on my dear kind friend Kenyon.
Thank him in my name for it. There are some copies to be reserved of
a lithograph now in progress (a portrait of Kenyon) for his American
friends. Should it be completed in time, Mr. Sumner will be asked
to take them over. I have put down your name for one of those who
would wish to have this little memento of a good kind man....

"I shall never visit America, be assured, or the continent of
Europe, or any distant region. I have reached nearly to the length
of my tether. I have grown old and apathetic and stupid. All I care
for, in the way of personal enjoyment, is quiet, ease,--to have
nothing to do, nothing to think of. My only glance is backward.
There is so little before me that I would rather not look that way."

In a later letter he again speaks of his son and the war in India:--

"My son is _not_ in the list of killed and wounded, thank God! He
was before Delhi, having _volunteered_ thither after his escape. We
trust that he is at present safe, but every mail is pregnant with
bloody tidings, and we do not find ourselves yet in a position to
rejoice securely. What a terrible war this Indian war is! Are all
people of black blood cruel, cowardly, and treacherous? If it were a
case of great oppression on our part, I could understand and
(almost) excuse it; but it is from the _spoiled_ portion of the
Hindostanees that the revengeful mutiny has arisen. One thing is
quite clear, that whatever luxury and refinement have done for our
race (for I include Americans with English), they have not
diminished the courage and endurance and heroism for which I think
we have formerly been famous. We are the same Saxons still. There
has never been fiercer fighting than in some of the battles that
have lately taken place in India. When I look back on the old
history books, and see that _all_ history consists of little else
than the bloody feuds of nation with nation, I almost wonder that
God has not extinguished the cruel, selfish animals that we dignify
with the name of men. No--I cry forgiveness: let the women live, if
they can, without the men. I used the word 'men' only."

Here is a pleasant paragraph about "Aurora Leigh":--

"The most successful book of the season has been Mrs. Browning's
'Aurora Leigh.' I could wish some things altered, I confess; but as
it is, it is by far (a hundred times over) the finest poem ever
written by a woman. We know little or nothing of Sappho,--nothing to
induce comparison,--and all other wearers of petticoats must
courtesy to the ground."

In several of his last letters to me there are frequent allusions to
our civil war. Here is an extract from an epistle written in 1861:--

"We read with painful attention the accounts of your great quarrel
in America. We know nothing beyond what we are told by the New York
papers, and these are the stories of _one_ of the combatants. I am
afraid that, however you may mend the schism, you will never be so
strong again. I hope, however, that something may arise to terminate
the bloodshed; for, after all, fighting is an unsatisfactory way of
coming at the truth. If you were to stand up at once (and finally)
against the slave-trade, your band of soldiers would have a more
decided _principle_ to fight for. But--

"--But I really know little or nothing. I hope that at Boston you
are comparatively peaceful, and I know that you are more
abolitionist than in the more southern countries.

"There is nothing new doing here in the way of books. The last book
I have seen is called 'Tannhauser,' published by Chapman and
Hall,--a poem under feigned names, but _really_ written by Robert
Lytton and Julian Fane. It is not good enough for the first, but (as
I conjecture) too good for the last. The songs which decide the
contest of the bards are the worst portions of the book.

"I read some time ago a novel which has not made much noise, but
which is prodigiously clever,--'City and Suburb.' The story hangs in
parts, but it is full of weighty sentences. We have no poet _since_
Tennyson except Robert Lytton, who, you know, calls himself Owen
Meredith. Poetry in England is assuming a new character, and not a
better character. It has a sort of pre-Raphaelite tendency which
does not suit my aged feelings. I am for Love, or the World well
lost. But I forget that, if I live beyond the 21st of next November,
I shall be _seventy-four_ years of age. I have been obliged to
resign my Commissionership of Lunacy, not being able to bear the
pain of travelling. By this I lose about L900 a year. I am,
therefore, sufficiently poor, even for a poet. Browning, as you
know, has lost his wife. He is coming with his little boy to live in
England. I rejoice at this, for I think that the English should live
in England, especially in their youth, when people learn things that
they never forget afterward."

Near the close of 1864 he writes:--

"Since I last heard from you, nothing except what is melancholy
seems to have taken place. You seem all busy killing each other in
America. Some friends of yours and several friends of mine have
died. Among the last I cannot help placing Nathaniel Hawthorne, for
whom I had a sincere regard.... He was about your best prose writer,
I think, and intermingled with his humor was a great deal of
tenderness. To die so soon!

"You are so easily affronted in America, if we (English) say
anything about putting an end to your war, that I will not venture
to hint at the subject. Nevertheless, I wish that you were all at
peace again, for your own sakes and for the sake of human nature. I
detest fighting now, although I was a great admirer of fighting in
my youth. My youth? I wonder where it has gone. It has left me with
gray hairs and rheumatism, and plenty of (too many other)
infirmities. I stagger and stumble along, with almost seventy-six
years on my head, upon failing limbs, which no longer enable me to
walk half a mile. I see a great deal, all behind me (the Past), but
the prospect before me is not cheerful. Sometimes I wish that I had
tried harder for what is called Fame, but generally (as now) I care
very little about it. After all,--unless one could be Shakespeare,
which (clearly) is not an easy matter,--of what value is a little
puff of smoke from a review? If we could settle permanently who is
to be the Homer or Shakespeare of our time, it might be worth
something; but we cannot. Is it Jones, or Smith, or ----? Alas! I
get short-sighted on this point, and cannot penetrate the
impenetrable dark. Make my remembrances acceptable to Longfellow, to
Lowell, to Emerson, and to any one else who remembers me.

"Yours, ever sincerely,

"B.W. PROCTER."

And here are a few paragraphs from the last letter I ever received in
Procter's loving hand:--

"Although I date this from Weymouth Street, yet I am writing 140 or
150 miles away from London. Perhaps this temporary retreat from our
great, noisy, turbulent city reminds me that I have been very
unmindful of your letter, received long ago. But I have been busy,
and my writing now is not a simple matter, as it was fifty years
ago. I have great difficulty in forming the letters, and you would
be surprised to learn with what labor _this_ task is performed. Then
I have been incessantly occupied in writing (I refer to the
_mechanical_ part only) the 'Memoir of Charles Lamb.' It is not my
book,--i.e. not my property,--but one which I was hired to write,
and it forms my last earnings. You will have heard of the book
(perhaps seen it) some time since. It has been very well received. I
would not have engaged myself on anything else, but I had great
regard for Charles Lamb, and so (somehow or other) I have contrived
to reach the end.

"I _have_ already (long ago) written something about Hazlitt, but I
have received more than one application for it, in case I can manage
to complete my essay. As in the case of Lamb, I am really the only
person living who knew much about his daily life. I have not,
however, quite the same incentive to carry me on. Indeed, I am not
certain that I should be able to travel to the real Finis.

"My wife is very grateful for the copies of my dear Adelaide's poems
which you sent her. She appears surprised to hear that I have not
transmitted her thanks to you before.

"We get the 'Atlantic Monthly' regularly. I need not tell you how
much better the poetry is than at its commencement. Very good is
'Released,' in the July number, and several of the stories; but they
are in London, and I cannot particularize them.

"We were very much pleased with Colonel Holmes, the son of your
friend and contributor. He seems a very intelligent, modest young
man; as little military as need be, and, like Coriolanus, not baring
his wounds (if he has any) for public gaze. When you see Dr. Holmes,
pray tell him how much I and my wife liked his son.

"We are at the present moment rusticating at Malvern Wells. We are
on the side of a great hill (which you would call small in America),
and our intercourse is only with the flowers and bees and swallows
of the season. Sometimes we encounter a wasp, which I suppose comes
from over seas!

"The Storys are living two or three miles off, and called upon us a
few days ago. You have not seen _his_ Sibyl, which I think very
fine, and as containing a _very great_ future. But the young poets
generally disappoint us, and are too content with startling us into
admiration of their first works, and then go to sleep.

"I wish that I had, when younger, made more notes about my
contemporaries; for, being of no faction in politics, it happens
that I have known far more literary men than any other person of my
time. In counting up the names of persons known to me who were, in
some way or other, _connected_ with literature, I reckoned up more
than one hundred. But then I have had more than sixty years to do
this in. My first acquaintance of this sort was Bowles, the poet.
This was about 1805.

"Although I can scarcely write, I am able to say, in conclusion,
that I am

"Very sincerely yours,

"B.W. PROCTER."

Procter was an ardent student of the works of our older English
dramatists, and he had a special fondness for such writers as Decker,
Marlowe, Heywood, Webster, and Fletcher. Many of his own dramatic scenes
are modelled on that passionate and romantic school. He had great relish
for a good modern novel, too; and I recall the titles of several which
he recommended warmly for my perusal and republication in America. When
I first came to know him, the duties of his office as a Commissioner
obliged him to travel about the kingdom, sometimes on long journeys, and
he told me his pocket companion was a cheap reprint of Emerson's
"Essays," which he found such agreeable reading that he never left home
without it. Longfellow's "Hyperion" was another of his favorite books
during the years he was on duty.

Among the last agreeable visits I made to the old poet was one with
reference to a proposition of his own to omit several songs and other
short poems from a new issue of his works then in press. I stoutly
opposed the ignoring of certain old favorites of mine, and the poet's
wife joined with me in deciding against the author in his proposal to
cast aside so many beautiful songs,--songs as well worth saving as any
in the volume. Procter argued that, being past seventy, he had now
reached to years of discretion, and that his judgment ought to be
followed without a murmur. I held out firm to the end of our discussion,
and we settled the matter with this compromise: he was to expunge
whatever he chose from the English edition, but I was to have my own way
with the American one. So to this day the American reprint is the only
complete collection of Barry Cornwall's earliest pieces, for I held on
to all the old lyrics, without discarding a single line.

The poet's figure was short and full, and his voice had a low, veiled
tone habitually in it, which made it sometimes difficult to hear
distinctly what he was saying. When in conversation, he liked to be very
near his listener, and thus stand, as it were, on confidential ground
with him. His turn of thought was cheerful among his friends, and he
proceeded readily into a vein of wit and nimble expression. Verbal
felicity seemed natural to him, and his epithets, evidently unprepared,
were always perfect. He disliked cant and hard ways of judging
character. He praised easily. He had no wish to stand in anybody's shoes
but his own, and he said, "There is no literary vice of a darker shade
than envy." Talleyrand's recipe for perfect happiness was the opposite
to his. He impressed every one who came near him as a born gentleman,
chivalrous and generous in a marked degree, and it was the habit of
those who knew him to have an affection for him. Altering a line of
Pope, this counsel might have been safely tendered to all the authors of
his day,--

"Disdain whatever _Procter's mind_ disdains."

Book of the day: