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Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells by William Dean Howells

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the regular way, except Lowell, whom I thought I had a right to call upon
in my quality of contributor, and from the acquaintance I had with him by
letter. I neither praise nor blame myself for this; it was my shyness
that with held me rather than my merit. There is really no harm in
seeking the presence of a famous man, and I doubt if the famous man
resents the wish of people to look upon him without some measure, great
or little, of affectation. There are bores everywhere, but he is
likelier to find them in the wonted figures of society than in those
young people, or old people, who come to him in the love of what he has
done. I am well aware how furiously Tennyson sometimes met his
worshippers, and how insolently Carlyle, but I think these facts are
little specks in their sincerity. Our own gentler and honester
celebrities did not forbid approach, and I have known some of them caress
adorers who seemed hardly worthy of their kindness; but that was better
than to have hurt any sensitive spirit who had ventured too far, by the
rules that govern us with common men.


My business relations were with the house that so promptly honored my
letter of credit. This house had published in the East the campaign life
of Lincoln which I had lately written, and I dare say would have
published the volume of poems I had written earlier with my friend Piatt,
if there had been any public for it; at least, I saw large numbers of the
book on the counters. But all my literary affiliations were with Ticknor
& Fields, and it was the Old Corner Book-Store on Washington Street that
drew my heart as soon as I had replenished my pocket in Cornhill. After
verifying the editor of the Atlantic Monthly I wised to verify its
publishers, and it very fitly happened that when I was shown into Mr.
Fields's little room at the back of the store, with its window looking
upon School Street, and its scholarly keeping in books and prints, he had
just got the magazine sheets of a poem of mine from the Cambridge
printers. He was then lately from abroad, and he had the zest for
American things which a foreign sojourn is apt to renew in us, though I
did not know this then, and could not account for it in the kindness he
expressed for my poem. He introduced me to Mr. Ticknor, who I fancied
had not read my poem; but he seemed to know what it was from the junior
partner, and he asked me whether I had been paid for it. I confessed
that I had not, and then he got out a chamois-leather bag, and took from
it five half-eagles in gold and laid them on the green cloth top of the
desk, in much the shape and of much the size of the Great Bear. I have
never since felt myself paid so lavishly for any literary work, though I
have had more for a single piece than the twenty-five dollars that
dazzled me in this constellation. The publisher seemed aware of the
poetic character of the transaction; he let the pieces lie a moment,
before he gathered them up and put them into my hand, and said, "I always
think it is pleasant to have it in gold."

But a terrible experience with the poem awaited me, and quenched for the
moment all my pleasure and pride. It was 'The Pilot's Story,' which I
suppose has had as much acceptance as anything of mine in verse (I do not
boast of a vast acceptance for it), and I had attempted to treat in it a
phase of the national tragedy of slavery, as I had imagined it on a
Mississippi steamboat. A young planter has gambled away the slave-girl
who is the mother of his child, and when he tells her, she breaks out
upon him with the demand:

"What will you say to our boy when he cries for me, there in Saint

I had thought this very well, and natural and simple, but a fatal
proof-reader had not thought it well enough, or simple and natural
enough, and he had made the line read:

"What will you say to our boy when he cries for 'Ma,' there in Saint

He had even had the inspiration to quote the word he preferred to the one
I had written, so that there was no merciful possibility of mistaking it
for a misprint, and my blood froze in my veins at sight of it. Mr.
Fields had given me the sheets to read while he looked over some letters,
and he either felt the chill of my horror, or I made some sign or sound
of dismay that caught his notice, for he looked round at me. I could
only show him the passage with a gasp. I dare say he might have liked to
laugh, for it was cruelly funny, but he did not; he was concerned for the
magazine as well as for me. He declared that when he first read the line
he had thought I could not have written it so, and he agreed with me that
it would kill the poem if it came out in that shape. He instantly set
about repairing the mischief, so far as could be. He found that the
whole edition of that sheet had been printed, and the air blackened round
me again, lighted up here and there with baleful flashes of the newspaper
wit at my cost, which I previsioned in my misery; I knew what I should
have said of such a thing myself, if it had been another's. But the
publisher at once decided that the sheet must be reprinted, and I went
away weak as if in the escape from some deadly peril. Afterwards it
appeared that the line had passed the first proof-reader as I wrote it,
but that the final reader had entered so sympathetically into the
realistic intention of my poem as to contribute the modification which
had nearly been my end.


As it fell out, I lived without farther difficulty to the day and hour of
the dinner Lowell made for me; and I really think, looking at myself
impersonally, and remembering the sort of young fellow I was, that it
would have been a great pity if I had not. The dinner was at the
old-fashioned Boston hour of two, and the table was laid for four people
in some little upper room at Parker's, which I was never afterwards able
to make sure of. Lowell was already, there when I came, and he presented
me, to my inexpressible delight and surprise, to Dr. Holmes, who was
there with him.

Holmes was in the most brilliant hour of that wonderful second youth
which his fame flowered into long after the world thought he had
completed the cycle of his literary life. He had already received full
recognition as a poet of delicate wit, nimble humor, airy imagination,
and exquisite grace, when the Autocrat papers advanced his name
indefinitely beyond the bounds which most immortals would have found
range enough. The marvel of his invention was still fresh in the minds
of men, and time had not dulled in any measure the sense of its novelty.
His readers all fondly identified him with his work; and I fully expected
to find myself in the Autocrat's presence when I met Dr. Holmes. But
the fascination was none the less for that reason; and the winning smile,
the wise and humorous glance, the whole genial manner was as important to
me as if I had foreboded something altogether different. I found him
physically of the Napoleonic height which spiritually overtops the Alps,
and I could look into his face without that unpleasant effort which
giants of inferior mind so often cost the man of five feet four.

A little while after, Fields came in, and then our number and my pleasure
were complete.

Nothing else so richly satisfactory, indeed, as the whole affair could
have happened to a like youth at such a point in his career; and when I
sat down with Doctor Holmes and Mr. Fields, on Lowell's right, I felt
through and through the dramatic perfection of the event. The kindly
Autocrat recognized some such quality of it in terms which were not the
less precious and gracious for their humorous excess. I have no reason
to think that he had yet read any of my poor verses, or had me otherwise
than wholly on trust from Lowell; but he leaned over towards his host,
and said, with a laughing look at me, "Well, James, this is something
like the apostolic succession; this is the laying on of hands." I took
his sweet and caressing irony as he meant it; but the charm of it went to
my head long before any drop of wine, together with the charm of hearing
him and Lowell calling each other James and Wendell, and of finding them
still cordially boys together.

I would gladly have glimmered before those great lights in the talk that
followed, if I could have thought of anything brilliant to say, but I
could not, and so I let them shine without a ray of reflected splendor
from me. It was such talk as I had, of course, never heard before, and
it is not saying enough to say that I have never heard such talk since
except from these two men. It was as light and kind as it was deep and
true, and it ranged over a hundred things, with a perpetual sparkle of
Doctor Holmes's wit, and the constant glow of Lowell's incandescent
sense. From time to time Fields came in with one of his delightful
stories (sketches of character they were, which he sometimes did not mind
caricaturing), or with some criticism of the literary situation from his
stand-point of both lover and publisher of books. I heard fames that I
had accepted as proofs of power treated as factitious, and witnessed a
frankness concerning authorship, far and near, that I had not dreamed of
authors using. When Doctor Holmes understood that I wrote for the
'Saturday Press', which was running amuck among some Bostonian
immortalities of the day, he seemed willing that I should know they were
not thought so very undying in Boston, and that I should not take the
notion of a Mutual Admiration Society too seriously, or accept the New
York Bohemian view of Boston as true. For the most part the talk did not
address itself to me, but became an exchange of thoughts and fancies
between himself and Lowell. They touched, I remember, on certain matters
of technique, and the doctor confessed that he had a prejudice against
some words that he could not overcome; for instance, he said, nothing
could induce him to use 'neath for beneath, no exigency of versification
or stress of rhyme. Lowell contended that he would use any word that
carried his meaning; and I think he did this to the hurt of some of his
earlier things. He was then probably in the revolt against too much
literature in literature, which every one is destined sooner or later to
share; there was a certain roughness, very like crudeness, which he
indulged before his thought and phrase mellowed to one music in his later
work. I tacitly agreed rather with the doctor, though I did not swerve
from my allegiance to Lowell, and if I had spoken I should have sided
with him: I would have given that or any other proof of my devotion.
Fields casually mentioned that he thought "The Dandelion" was the most
popularly liked of Lowell's briefer poems, and I made haste to say that I
thought so too, though I did not really think anything about it; and then
I was sorry, for I could see that the poet did not like it, quite; and I
felt that I was duly punished for my dishonesty.

Hawthorne was named among other authors, probably by Fields, whose house
had just published his "Marble Faun," and who had recently come home on
the same steamer with him. Doctor Holmes asked if I had met Hawthorne
yet, and when I confessed that I had hardly yet even hoped for such a
thing, he smiled his winning smile, and said: "Ah, well! I don't know
that you will ever feel you have really met him. He is like a dim room
with a little taper of personality burning on the corner of the mantel."

They all spoke of Hawthorne, and with the same affection, but the same
sense of something mystical and remote in him; and every word was
priceless to me. But these masters of the craft I was 'prentice to
probably could not have said anything that I should not have found wise
and well, and I am sure now I should have been the loser if the talk had
shunned any of the phases of human nature which it touched. It is best
to find that all men are of the same make, and that there are certain
universal things which interest them as much as the supernal things, and
amuse them even more. There was a saying of Lowell's which he was fond
of repeating at the menace of any form of the transcendental, and he
liked to warn himself and others with his homely, "Remember the
dinner-bell." What I recall of the whole effect of a time so happy for
me is that in all that was said, however high, however fine, we were
never out of hearing of the dinner-bell; and perhaps this is the best
effect I can leave with the reader. It was the first dinner served in
courses that I had sat down to, and I felt that this service gave it a
romantic importance which the older fashion of the West still wanted.
Even at Governor Chase's table in Columbus the Governor carved; I knew of
the dinner 'a la Russe', as it was then called, only from books; and it
was a sort of literary flavor that I tasted in the successive dishes.
When it came to the black coffee, and then to the 'petits verres' of
cognac, with lumps of sugar set fire to atop, it was something that so
far transcended my home-kept experience that it began to seem altogether

Neither Fields nor Doctor Holmes smoked, and I had to confess that I did
not; but Lowell smoked enough for all three, and the spark of his cigar
began to show in the waning light before we rose from the table. The
time that never had, nor can ever have, its fellow for me, had to come to
an end, as all times must, and when I shook hands with Lowell in parting,
he overwhelmed me by saying that if I thought of going to Concord he
would send me a letter to Hawthorne. I was not to see Lowell again
during my stay in Boston; but Doctor Holmes asked me to tea for the next
evening, and Fields said I must come to breakfast with him in the


I recall with the affection due to his friendly nature, and to the
kindness afterwards to pass between us for many years, the whole aspect
of the publisher when I first saw him. His abundant hair, and his full
"beard as broad as ony spade," that flowed from his throat in Homeric
curls, were touched with the first frost. He had a fine color, and his
eyes, as keen as they were kind, twinkled restlessly above the wholesome
russet-red of his cheeks. His portly frame was clad in those Scotch
tweeds which had not yet displaced the traditional broadcloth with us in
the West, though I had sent to New York for a rough suit, and so felt
myself not quite unworthy to meet a man fresh from the hands of the
London tailor.

Otherwise I stood as much in awe of him as his jovial soul would let me;
and if I might I should like to suggest to the literary youth of this day
some notion of the importance of his name to the literary youth of my
day. He gave aesthetic character to the house of Ticknor & Fields, but
he was by no means a silent partner on the economic side. No one can
forecast the fortune of a new book, but he knew as well as any publisher
can know not only whether a book was good, but whether the reader would
think so; and I suppose that his house made as few bad guesses, along
with their good ones, as any house that ever tried the uncertain temper
of the public with its ventures. In the minds of all who loved the plain
brown cloth and tasteful print of its issues he was more or less
intimately associated with their literature; and those who were not
mistaken in thinking De Quincey one of the delightfulest authors in the
world, were especially grateful to the man who first edited his writings
in book form, and proud that this edition was the effect of American
sympathy with them. At that day, I believed authorship the noblest
calling in the world, and I should still be at a loss to name any nobler.
The great authors I had met were to me the sum of greatness, and if I
could not rank their publisher with them by virtue of equal achievement,
I handsomely brevetted him worthy of their friendship, and honored him in
the visible measure of it.

In his house beside the Charles, and in the close neighborhood of Doctor
Holmes, I found an odor and an air of books such as I fancied might
belong to the famous literary houses of London. It is still there, that
friendly home of lettered refinement, and the gracious spirit which knew
how to welcome me, and make the least of my shyness and strangeness, and
the most of the little else there was in me, illumines it still, though
my host of that rapturous moment has many years been of those who are
only with us unseen and unheard. I remember his burlesque pretence that
morning of an inextinguishable grief when I owned that I had never eaten
blueberry cake before, and how he kept returning to the pathos of the
fact that there should be a region of the earth where blueberry cake was
unknown. We breakfasted in the pretty room whose windows look out
through leaves and flowers upon the river's coming and going tides, and
whose walls were covered with the faces and the autographs of all the
contemporary poets and novelists. The Fieldses had spent some days with
Tennyson in their recent English sojourn, and Mrs. Fields had much to
tell of him, how he looked, how he smoked, how he read aloud, and how he
said, when he asked her to go with him to the tower of his house, "Come
up and see the sad English sunset!" which had an instant value to me such
as some rich verse of his might have had. I was very new to it all, how
new I could not very well say, but I flattered myself that I breathed in
that atmosphere as if in the return from life-long exile. Still I
patriotically bragged of the West a little, and I told them proudly that
in Columbus no book since Uncle Tom's Cabin had sold so well as 'The
Marble Faun'. This made the effect that I wished, but whether it was
true or not, Heaven knows; I only know that I heard it from our leading
bookseller, and I made no question of it myself.

After breakfast, Fields went away to the office, and I lingered, while
Mrs. Fields showed me from shelf to shelf in the library, and dazzled me
with the sight of authors' copies, and volumes invaluable with the
autographs and the pencilled notes of the men whose names were dear to me
from my love of their work. Everywhere was some souvenir of the living
celebrities my hosts had met; and whom had they not met in that English
sojourn in days before England embittered herself to us during our civil
war? Not Tennyson only, but Thackeray, but Dickens, but Charles Reade,
but Carlyle, but many a minor fame was in my ears from converse so recent
with them that it was as if I heard their voices in their echoed words.

I do not remember how long I stayed; I remember I was afraid of staying
too long, and so I am sure I did not stay as long as I should have liked.
But I have not the least notion how I got away, and I am not certain
where I spent the rest of a day that began in the clouds, but had to be
ended on the common earth. I suppose I gave it mostly to wandering about
the city, and partly to recording my impressions of it for that newspaper
which never published them. The summer weather in Boston, with its sunny
heat struck through and through with the coolness of the sea, and its
clear air untainted with a breath of smoke, I have always loved, but it
had then a zest unknown before; and I should have thought it enough
simply to be alive in it. But everywhere I came upon something that fed
my famine for the old, the quaint, the picturesque, and however the day
passed it was a banquet, a festival. I can only recall my breathless
first sight of the Public Library and of the Athenaeum Gallery: great
sights then, which the Vatican and the Pitti hardly afterwards eclipsed
for mere emotion. In fact I did not see these elder treasuries of
literature and art between breakfasting with the Autocrat's publisher in
the morning, and taking tea with the Autocrat himself in the evening, and
that made a whole world's difference.


The tea of that simpler time is wholly inconceivable to this generation,
which knows the thing only as a mild form of afternoon reception; but I
suppose that in 1860 very few dined late in our whole pastoral republic.
Tea was the meal people asked people to when they wished to sit at long
leisure and large ease; it came at the end of the day, at six o'clock, or
seven; and one went to it in morning dress. It had an unceremonied
domesticity in the abundance of its light dishes, and I fancy these did
not vary much from East to West, except that we had a Southern touch in
our fried chicken and corn bread; but at the Autocrat's tea table the
cheering cup had a flavor unknown to me before that day. He asked me if
I knew it, and I said it was English breakfast tea; for I had drunk it at
the publisher's in the morning, and was willing not to seem strange to
it. "Ah, yes," he said; "but this is the flower of the souchong; it is
the blossom, the poetry of tea," and then he told me how it had been
given him by a friend, a merchant in the China trade, which used to
flourish in Boston, and was the poetry of commerce, as this delicate
beverage was of tea. That commerce is long past, and I fancy that the
plant ceased to bloom when the traffic fell into decay.

The Autocrat's windows had the same outlook upon the Charles as the
publisher's, and after tea we went up into a back parlor of the same
orientation, and saw the sunset die over the water, and the westering
flats and hills. Nowhere else in the world has the day a lovelier close,
and our talk took something of the mystic coloring that the heavens gave
those mantling expanses. It was chiefly his talk, but I have always
found the best talkers are willing that you should talk if you like, and
a quick sympathy and a subtle sense met all that I had to say from him
and from the unbroken circle of kindred intelligences about him. I saw
him then in the midst of his family, and perhaps never afterwards to
better advantage, or in a finer mood. We spoke of the things that people
perhaps once liked to deal with more than they do now; of the intimations
of immortality, of the experiences of morbid youth, and of all those
messages from the tremulous nerves which we take for prophecies. I was
not ashamed, before his tolerant wisdom, to acknowledge the effects that
had lingered so long with me in fancy and even in conduct, from a time of
broken health and troubled spirit; and I remember the exquisite tact in
him which recognized them as things common to all, however peculiar in
each, which left them mine for whatever obscure vanity I might have in
them, and yet gave me the companionship of the whole race in their
experience. We spoke of forebodings and presentiments; we approached the
mystic confines of the world from which no traveller has yet returned
with a passport 'en regle' and properly 'vise'; and he held his light
course through these filmy impalpabilities with a charming sincerity,
with the scientific conscience that refuses either to deny the substance
of things unseen, or to affirm it. In the gathering dusk, so weird did
my fortune of being there and listening to him seem, that I might well
have been a blessed ghost, for all the reality I felt in myself.

I tried to tell him how much I had read him from my boyhood, and with
what joy and gain; and he was patient of these futilities, and I have no
doubt imagined the love that inspired them, and accepted that instead of
the poor praise. When the sunset passed, and the lamps were lighted, and
we all came back to our dear little firm-set earth, he began to question
me about my native region of it. From many forgotten inquiries I recall
his asking me what was the fashionable religion in Columbus, or the
Church that socially corresponded to the Unitarian Church in Boston.
He had first to clarify my intelligence as to-what Unitarianism was; we
had Universalists but not Unitarians; but when I understood, I answered
from such vantage as my own wholly outside Swedenborgianism gave me, that
I thought most of the most respectable people with us were of the
Presbyterian Church; some were certainly Episcopalians, but upon the
whole the largest number were Presbyterians. He found that very strange
indeed; and said that he did not believe there was a Presbyterian Church
in Boston; that the New England Calvinists were all of the Orthodox
Church. He had to explain Oxthodoxy to me, and then I could confess to
one Congregational Church in Columbus.

Probably I failed to give the Autocrat any very clear image of our social
frame in the West, but the fault was altogether mine, if I did. Such
lecturing tours as he had made had not taken him among us, as those of
Emerson and other New-Englanders had, and my report was positive rather
than comparative. I was full of pride in journalism at that day, and I
dare say that I vaunted the brilliancy and power of our newspapers more
than they merited; I should not have been likely to wrong them otherwise.
It is strange that in all the talk I had with him and Lowell, or rather
heard from them, I can recall nothing said of political affairs, though
Lincoln had then been nominated by the Republicans, and the Civil War had
practically begun. But we did not imagine such a thing in the North; we
rested secure in the belief that if Lincoln were elected the South would
eat all its fiery words, perhaps from the mere love and inveterate habit
of fireeating.

I rent myself away from the Autocrat's presence as early as I could,
and as my evening had been too full of happiness to sleep upon at once,
I spent the rest of the night till two in the morning wandering about the
streets and in the Common with a Harvard Senior whom I had met. He was a
youth of like literary passions with myself, but of such different
traditions in every possible way that his deeply schooled and definitely
regulated life seemed as anomalous to me as my own desultory and
self-found way must have seemed to him. We passed the time in the
delight of trying to make ourselves known to each other, and in a promise
to continue by letter the effort, which duly lapsed into silent patience
with the necessarily insoluble problem.


I must have lingered in Boston for the introduction to Hawthorne which
Lowell had offered me, for when it came, with a little note of kindness
and counsel for myself such as only Lowell had the gift of writing,
it was already so near Sunday that I stayed over till Monday before I
started. I do not recall what I did with the time, except keep myself
from making it a burden to the people I knew, and wandering about the
city alone. Nothing of it remains to me except the fortune that favored
me that Sunday night with a view of the old Granary Burying-ground on
Tremont Street. I found the gates open, and I explored every path in the
place, wreaking myself in such meagre emotion as I could get from the
tomb of the Franklin family, and rejoicing with the whole soul of my
Western modernity in the evidence of a remote antiquity which so many of
the dim inscriptions afforded. I do not think that I have ever known
anything practically older than these monuments, though I have since
supped so full of classic and mediaeval ruin. I am sure that I was more
deeply touched by the epitaph of a poor little Puritan maiden who died at
sixteen in the early sixteen-thirties than afterwards by the tomb of
Caecilia Metella, and that the heartache which I tried to put into verse
when I got back to my room in the hotel was none the less genuine because
it would not lend itself to my literary purpose, and remains nothing but
pathos to this day.

I am not able to say how I reached the town of Lowell, where I went
before going to Concord, that I might ease the unhappy conscience I had
about those factories which I hated so much to see, and have it clean for
the pleasure of meeting the fabricator of visions whom I was authorized
to molest in any air-castle where I might find him. I only know that I
went to Lowell, and visited one of the great mills, which with their
whirring spools, the ceaseless flight of their shuttles, and the
bewildering sight and sound of all their mechanism have since seemed to
me the death of the joy that ought to come from work, if not the
captivity of those who tended them. But then I thought it right and well
for me to be standing by,

"With sick and scornful looks averse,"

while these others toiled; I did not see the tragedy in it, and I got my
pitiful literary antipathy away as soon as I could, no wiser for the
sight of the ingenious contrivances I inspected, and I am sorry to say no
sadder. In the cool of the evening I sat at the door of my hotel, and
watched the long files of the work-worn factory-girls stream by, with no
concern for them but to see which was pretty and which was plain, and
with no dream of a truer order than that which gave them ten hours' work
a day in those hideous mills and lodged them in the barracks where they
rested from their toil.

I wonder if there is a stage that still runs between Lowell and Concord,
past meadow walls, and under the caressing boughs of way-side elms, and
through the bird-haunted gloom of woodland roads, in the freshness of the
summer morning? By a blessed chance I found that there was such a stage
in 1860, and I took it from my hotel, instead of going back to Boston and
up to Concord as I must have had to do by train. The journey gave me the
intimacy of the New England country as I could have had it in no other
fashion, and for the first time I saw it in all the summer sweetness
which I have often steeped my soul in since. The meadows were newly
mown, and the air was fragrant with the grass, stretching in long winrows
among the brown bowlders, or capped with canvas in the little haycocks it
had been gathered into the day before. I was fresh from the affluent
farms of the Western Reserve, and this care of the grass touched me with
a rude pity, which I also bestowed on the meagre fields of corn and
wheat; but still the land was lovelier than any I had ever seen, with its
old farmhouses, and brambled gray stone walls, its stony hillsides, its
staggering orchards, its wooded tops, and its thick-brackened valleys.
From West to East the difference was as great as I afterwards found it
from America to Europe, and my impression of something quaint and strange
was no keener when I saw Old England the next year than when I saw New
England now. I had imagined the landscape bare of trees, and I was
astonished to find it almost as full of them as at home, though they all
looked very little, as they well might to eyes used to the primeval
forests of Ohio. The road ran through them from time to time, and took
their coolness on its smooth hard reaches, and then issued again in the
glisten of the open fields.

I made phrases to myself about the scenery as we drove along; and yes, I
suppose I made phrases about the young girl who was one of the inside
passengers, and who, when the common strangeness had somewhat worn off,
began to sing, and sang most of the way to Concord. Perhaps she was not
very sage, and I am sure she was not of the caste of Vere de Vere, but
she was pretty enough, and she had a voice of a bird-like tunableness,
so that I would not have her out of the memory of that pleasant journey
if I could. She was long ago an elderly woman, if she lives, and I
suppose she would not now point out her fellow-passenger if he strolled
in the evening by the house where she had dismounted, upon her arrival in
Concord, and laugh and pull another girl away from the window, in the
high excitement of the prodigious adventure.


Her fellow-passenger was in far other excitement; he was to see
Hawthorne, and in a manner to meet Priscilla and Zenobia, and Hester
Prynne and little Pearl, and Miriam and Hilda, and Hollingsworth and
Coverdale, and Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, and Donatello and Kenyon;
and he had no heart for any such poor little reality as that, who could
not have been got into any story that one could respect, and must have
been difficult even in a Heinesque poem.

I wasted that whole evening and the next morning in fond delaying, and it
was not until after the indifferent dinner I got at the tavern where I
stopped, that I found courage to go and present Lowell's letter to
Hawthorne. I would almost have foregone meeting the weird genius only to
have kept that letter, for it said certain infinitely precious things of
me with such a sweetness, such a grace, as Lowell alone could give his
praise. Years afterwards, when Hawthorne was dead, I met Mrs. Hawthorne,
and told her of the pang I had in parting with it, and she sent it me,
doubly enriched by Hawthorne's keeping. But now if I were to see him at
all I must give up my letter, and I carried it in my hand to the door of
the cottage he called The Wayside. It was never otherwise than a very
modest place, but the modesty was greater then than to-day, and there was
already some preliminary carpentry at one end of the cottage, which I saw
was to result in an addition to it. I recall pleasant fields across the
road before it; behind rose a hill wooded with low pines, such as is made
in Septimius Felton the scene of the involuntary duel between Septimius
and the young British officer. I have a sense of the woods coming quite
down to the house, but if this was so I do not know what to do with a
grassy slope which seems to have stretched part way up the hill. As I
approached, I looked for the tower which the author was fabled to climb
into at sight of the coming guest, and pull the ladder up after him; and
I wondered whether he would fly before me in that sort, or imagine some
easier means of escaping me.

The door was opened to my ring by a tall handsome boy whom I suppose to
have been Mr. Julian Hawthorne; and the next moment I found myself in the
presence of the romancer, who entered from some room beyond. He advanced
carrying his head with a heavy forward droop, and with a pace for which I
decided that the word would be pondering. It was the pace of a bulky man
of fifty, and his head was that beautiful head we all know from the many
pictures of it. But Hawthorne's look was different from that of any
picture of him that I have seen. It was sombre and brooding, as the look
of such a poet should have been; it was the look of a man who had dealt
faithfully and therefore sorrowfully with that problem of evil which
forever attracted, forever evaded Hawthorne. It was by no means
troubled; it was full of a dark repose. Others who knew him better and
saw him oftener were familiar with other aspects, and I remember that one
night at Longfellow's table, when one of the guests happened to speak of
the photograph of Hawthorne which hung in a corner of the room, Lowell
said, after a glance at it, "Yes, it's good; but it hasn't his fine
'accipitral' [pertaining to the look of a bird of prey; hawklike. D.W.]

In the face that confronted me, however, there was nothing of keen
alertness; but only a sort of quiet, patient intelligence, for which I
seek the right word in vain. It was a very regular face, with beautiful
eyes; the mustache, still entirely dark, was dense over the fine mouth.
Hawthorne was dressed in black, and he had a certain effect which I
remember, of seeming to have on a black cravat with no visible collar.
He was such a man that if I had ignorantly met him anywhere I should have
instantly felt him to be a personage.

I must have given him the letter myself, for I have no recollection of
parting with it before, but I only remember his offering me his hand, and
making me shyly and tentatively welcome. After a few moments of the
demoralization which followed his hospitable attempts in me, he asked if
I would not like to go up on his hill with him and sit there, where he
smoked in the afternoon. He offered me a cigar, and when I said that I
did not smoke, he lighted it for himself, and we climbed the hill
together. At the top, where there was an outlook in the pines over the
Concord meadows, we found a log, and he invited me to a place on it
beside him, and at intervals of a minute or so he talked while he smoked.
Heaven preserved me from the folly of trying to tell him how much his
books had been to me, and though we got on rapidly at no time, I think we
got on better for this interposition. He asked me about Lowell, I dare
say, for I told him of my joy in meeting him and Doctor Holmes, and this
seemed greatly to interest him. Perhaps because he was so lately from
Europe, where our great men are always seen through the wrong end of the
telescope, he appeared surprised at my devotion, and asked me whether I
cared as much for meeting them as I should care for meeting the famous
English authors. I professed that I cared much more, though whether this
was true, I now have my doubts, and I think Hawthorne doubted it at the
time. But he said nothing in comment, and went on to speak generally of
Europe and America. He was curious about the West, which be seemed to
fancy much more purely American, and said he would like to see some part
of the country on which the shadow (or, if I must be precise, the damned
shadow) of Europe had not fallen. I told him I thought the West must
finally be characterized by the Germans, whom we had in great numbers,
and, purely from my zeal for German poetry, I tried to allege some proofs
of their present influence, though I could think of none outside of
politics, which I thought they affected wholesomely. I knew Hawthorne
was a Democrat, and I felt it well to touch politics lightly, but he had
no more to say about the fateful election then pending than Holmes or
Lowell had.

With the abrupt transition of his talk throughout, he began somehow to
speak of women, and said he had never seen a woman whom he thought quite
beautiful. In the same way he spoke of the New England temperament, and
suggested that the apparent coldness in it was also real, and that the
suppression of emotion for generations would extinguish it at last. Then
he questioned me as to my knowledge of Concord, and whether I had seen
any of the notable people. I answered that I had met no one but himself,
as yet, but I very much wished to see Emerson and Thoreau. I did not
think it needful to say that I wished to see Thoreau quite as much
because he had suffered in the cause of John Brown as because he had
written the books which had taken me; and when he said that Thoreau
prided himself on coming nearer the heart of a pine-tree than any other
human being, I could say honestly enough that I would rather come near
the heart of a man. This visibly pleased him, and I saw that it did not
displease him, when he asked whether I was not going to see his next
neighbor, Mr. Alcott, and I confessed that I had never heard of him.
That surprised as well as pleased him; be remarked, with whatever
intention, that there was nothing like recognition to make a man modest;
and he entered into some account of the philosopher, whom I suppose I
need not be much ashamed of not knowing then, since his influence was of
the immediate sort that makes a man important to his townsmen while he is
still strange to his countrymen.

Hawthorne descanted a little upon the landscape, and said certain of the
pleasant fields below us be longed to him; but he preferred his hill-top,
and if he could have his way those arable fields should be grown up to
pines too. He smoked fitfully, and slowly, and in the hour that we spent
together, his whiffs were of the desultory and unfinal character of his
words. When we went down, he asked me into his house again, and would
have me stay to tea, for which we found the table laid. But there was a
great deal of silence in it all, and at times, in spite of his shadowy
kindness, I felt my spirits sink. After tea, he showed me a book case,
where there were a few books toppling about on the half-filled shelves,
and said, coldly, "This is my library." I knew that men were his books,
and though I myself cared for books so much, I found it fit and fine that
he should care so little, or seem to care so little. Some of his own
romances were among the volumes on these shelves, and when I put my
finger on the 'Blithedale Romance' and said that I preferred that to the
others, his face lighted up, and he said that he believed the Germans
liked that best too.

Upon the whole we parted such good friends that when I offered to take
leave he asked me how long I was to be in Concord, and not only bade me
come to see him again, but said he would give me a card to Emerson, if I
liked. I answered, of course, that I should like it beyond all things;
and he wrote on the back of his card something which I found, when I got
away, to be, "I find this young man worthy." The quaintness, the little
stiffness of it, if one pleases to call it so, was amusing to one who was
not without his sense of humor, but the kindness filled me to the throat
with joy. In fact, I entirely liked Hawthorne. He had been as cordial
as so shy a man could show himself; and I perceived, with the repose
that nothing else can give, the entire sincerity of his soul.

Nothing could have been further from the behavior of this very great man
than any sort of posing, apparently, or a wish to affect me with a sense
of his greatness. I saw that he was as much abashed by our encounter as
I was; he was visibly shy to the point of discomfort, but in no ignoble
sense was he conscious, and as nearly as he could with one so much his
younger he made an absolute equality between us. My memory of him is
without alloy one of the finest pleasures of my life: In my heart I paid
him the same glad homage that I paid Lowell and Holmes, and he did
nothing to make me think that I had overpaid him. This seems perhaps
very little to say in his praise, but to my mind it is saying everything,
for I have known but few great men, especially of those I met in early
life, when I wished to lavish my admiration upon them, whom I have not
the impression of having left in my debt. Then, a defect of the Puritan
quality, which I have found in many New-Englanders, is that, wittingly or
unwittingly, they propose themselves to you as an example, or if not
quite this, that they surround themselves with a subtle ether of
potential disapprobation, in which, at the first sign of unworthiness in
you, they helplessly suffer you to gasp and perish; they have good
hearts, and they would probably come to your succor out of humanity, if
they knew how, but they do not know how. Hawthorne had nothing of this
about him; he was no more tacitly than he was explicitly didactic.
I thought him as thoroughly in keeping with his romances as Doctor Holmes
had seemed with his essays and poems, and I met him as I had met the
Autocrat in the supreme hour of his fame. He had just given the world
the last of those incomparable works which it was to have finished from
his hand; the 'Marble Faun' had worthily followed, at a somewhat longer
interval than usual, the 'Blithedale Romance', and the 'House of Seven
Gables', and the 'Scarlet Letter', and had, perhaps carried his name
higher than all the rest, and certainly farther. Everybody was reading
it, and more or less bewailing its indefinite close, but yielding him
that full honor and praise which a writer can hope for but once in his
life. Nobody dreamed that thereafter only precious fragments, sketches
more or less faltering, though all with the divine touch in them, were
further to enrich a legacy which in its kind is the finest the race has
received from any mind. As I have said, we are always finding new
Hawthornes, but the illusion soon wears away, and then we perceive that
they were not Hawthornes at all; that he had some peculiar difference
from them, which, by and-by, we shall no doubt consent must be his
difference from all men evermore.

I am painfully aware that I have not summoned before the reader the image
of the man as it has always stood in my memory, and I feel a sort of
shame for my failure. He was so altogether simple that it seems as if it
would be easy to do so; but perhaps a spirit from the other world would
be simple too, and yet would no more stand at parle, or consent to be
sketched, than Hawthorne. In fact, he was always more or less merging
into the shadow, which was in a few years wholly to close over him; there
was nothing uncanny in his presence, there was nothing even unwilling,
but he had that apparitional quality of some great minds which kept
Shakespeare largely unknown to those who thought themselves his
intimates, and has at last left him a sort of doubt. There was nothing
teasing or wilfully elusive in Hawthorne's impalpability, such as I
afterwards felt in Thoreau; if he was not there to your touch, it was no
fault of his; it was because your touch was dull, and wanted the use of
contact with such natures. The hand passes through the veridical phantom
without a sense of its presence, but the phantom is none the less
veridical for all that.


I kept the evening of the day I met Hawthorne wholly for the thoughts of
him, or rather for that reverberation which continues in the young
sensibilities after some important encounter. It must have been the next
morning that I went to find Thoreau, and I am dimly aware of making one
or two failures to find him, if I ever really found him at all.

He is an author who has fallen into that abeyance, awaiting all authors,
great or small, at some time or another; but I think that with him, at
least in regard to his most important book, it can be only transitory.
I have not read the story of his hermitage beside Walden Pond since the
year 1858, but I have a fancy that if I should take it up now, I should
think it a wiser and truer conception of the world than I thought it
then. It is no solution of the problem; men are not going to answer the
riddle of the painful earth by building themselves shanties and living
upon beans and watching ant-fights; but I do not believe Tolstoy himself
has more clearly shown the hollowness, the hopelessness, the unworthiness
of the life of the world than Thoreau did in that book. If it were newly
written it could not fail of a far vaster acceptance than it had then,
when to those who thought and felt seriously it seemed that if slavery
could only be controlled, all things else would come right of themselves
with us. Slavery has not only been controlled, but it has been
destroyed, and yet things have not begun to come right with us; but it
was in the order of Providence that chattel slavery should cease before
industrial slavery, and the infinitely crueler and stupider vanity and
luxury bred of it, should be attacked. If there was then any prevision
of the struggle now at hand, the seers averted their eyes, and strove
only to cope with the less evil. Thoreau himself, who had so clear a
vision of the falsity and folly of society as we still have it, threw
himself into the tide that was already, in Kansas and Virginia, reddened
with war; he aided and abetted the John Brown raid, I do not recall how
much or in what sort; and he had suffered in prison for his opinions and
actions. It was this inevitable heroism of his that, more than his
literature even, made me wish to see him and revere him; and I do not
believe that I should have found the veneration difficult, when at last
I met him in his insufficient person, if he had otherwise been present to
my glowing expectation. He came into the room a quaint, stump figure of
a man, whose effect of long trunk and short limbs was heightened by his
fashionless trousers being let down too low. He had a noble face, with
tossed hair, a distraught eye, and a fine aquilinity of profile, which
made me think at once of Don Quixote and of Cervantes; but his nose
failed to add that foot to his stature which Lamb says a nose of that
shape will always give a man. He tried to place me geographically after
he had given me a chair not quite so far off as Ohio, though still across
the whole room, for he sat against one wall, and I against the other;
but apparently he failed to pull himself out of his revery by the effort,
for he remained in a dreamy muse, which all my attempts to say something
fit about John Brown and Walden Pond seemed only to deepen upon him.
I have not the least doubt that I was needless and valueless about both,
and that what I said could not well have prompted an important response;
but I did my poor best, and I was terribly disappointed in the result.
The truth is that in those days I was a helplessly concrete young person,
and all forms of the abstract, the air-drawn, afflicted me like physical
discomforts. I do not remember that Thoreau spoke of his books or of
himself at all, and when he began to speak of John Brown, it was not the
warm, palpable, loving, fearful old man of my conception, but a sort of
John Brown type, a John Brown ideal, a John Brown principle, which we
were somehow (with long pauses between the vague, orphic phrases) to
cherish, and to nourish ourselves upon.

It was not merely a defeat of my hopes, it was a rout, and I felt myself
so scattered over the field of thought that I could hardly bring my
forces together for retreat. I must have made some effort, vain and
foolish enough, to rematerialize my old demigod, but when I came away it
was with the feeling that there was very little more left of John Brown
than there was of me. His body was not mouldering in the grave, neither
was his soul marching on; his ideal, his type, his principle alone
existed, and I did not know what to do with it. I am not blaming
Thoreau; his words were addressed to a far other understanding than mine,
and it was my misfortune if I could not profit by them. I think, or I
venture to hope, that I could profit better by them now; but in this
record I am trying honestly to report their effect with the sort of youth
I was then.


Such as I was, I rather wonder that I had the courage, after this
experiment of Thoreau, to present the card Hawthorne had given me to
Emerson. I must have gone to him at once, however, for I cannot make out
any interval of time between my visit to the disciple and my visit to the
master. I think it was Emerson himself who opened his door to me, for I
have a vision of the fine old man standing tall on his threshold, with
the card in his hand, and looking from it to me with a vague serenity,
while I waited a moment on the door-step below him. He must then have
been about sixty, but I remember nothing of age in his aspect, though I
have called him an old man. His hair, I am sure, was still entirely
dark, and his face had a kind of marble youthfulness, chiselled to a
delicate intelligence by the highest and noblest thinking that any man
has done. There was a strange charm in Emerson's eyes, which I felt then
and always, something like that I saw in Lincoln's, but shyer, but
sweeter and less sad. His smile was the very sweetest I have ever
beheld, and the contour of the mask and the line of the profile were in
keeping with this incomparable sweetness of the mouth, at once grave and
quaint, though quaint is not quite the word for it either, but subtly,
not unkindly arch, which again is not the word.

It was his great fortune to have been mostly misunderstood, and to have
reached the dense intelligence of his fellow-men after a whole lifetime
of perfectly simple and lucid appeal, and his countenance expressed the
patience and forbearance of a wise man content to bide his time. It
would be hard to persuade people now that Emerson once represented to the
popular mind all that was most hopelessly impossible, and that in a
certain sort he was a national joke, the type of the incomprehensible,
the byword of the poor paragrapher. He had perhaps disabused the
community somewhat by presenting himself here and there as a lecturer,
and talking face to face with men in terms which they could not refuse to
find as clear as they were wise; he was more and more read, by certain
persons, here and there; but we are still so far behind him in the reach
of his far-thinking that it need not be matter of wonder that twenty
years before his death he was the most misunderstood man in America.
Yet in that twilight where he dwelt he loomed large upon the imagination;
the minds that could not conceive him were still aware of his greatness.
I myself had not read much of him, but I knew the essays he was printing
in the Atlantic, and I knew certain of his poems, though by no means
many; yet I had this sense of him, that he was somehow, beyond and above
my ken, a presence of force and beauty and wisdom, uncompanioned in our
literature. He had lately stooped from his ethereal heights to take part
in the battle of humanity, and I suppose that if the truth were told he
was more to my young fervor because he had said that John Brown had made
the gallows glorious like the cross, than because he had uttered all
those truer and wiser things which will still a hundred years hence be
leading the thought of the world.

I do not know in just what sort he made me welcome, but I am aware of
sitting with him in his study or library, and of his presently speaking
of Hawthorne, whom I probably celebrated as I best could, and whom he
praised for his personal excellence, and for his fine qualities as a
neighbor. "But his last book," he added, reflectively, "is a mere mush,"
and I perceived that this great man was no better equipped to judge an
artistic fiction than the groundlings who were then crying out upon the
indefinite close of the Marble Faun. Apparently he had read it, as they
had, for the story, but it seems to me now, if it did not seem to me
then, that as far as the problem of evil was involved, the book must
leave it where it found it. That is forever insoluble, and it was rather
with that than with his more or less shadowy people that the romancer was
concerned. Emerson had, in fact, a defective sense as to specific pieces
of literature; he praised extravagantly, and in the wrong place,
especially among the new things, and he failed to see the worth of much
that was fine and precious beside the line of his fancy.

He began to ask me about the West, and about some unknown man in
Michigan; who had been sending him poems, and whom he seemed to think
very promising, though he has not apparently kept his word to do great
things. I did not find what Emerson had to say of my section very
accurate or important, though it was kindly enough, and just enough as to
what the West ought to do in literature. He thought it a pity that a
literary periodical which had lately been started in Cincinnati should be
appealing to the East for contributions, instead of relying upon the
writers nearer home; and he listened with what patience he could to my
modest opinion that we had not the writers nearer home. I never was of
those Westerners who believed that the West was kept out of literature by
the jealousy of the East, and I tried to explain why we had not the men
to write that magazine full in Ohio. He alleged the man in Michigan as
one who alone could do much to fill it worthily, and again I had to say
that I had never heard of him.

I felt rather guilty in my ignorance, and I had a notion that it did not
commend me, but happily at this moment Mr. Emerson was called to dinner,
and he asked me to come with him. After dinner we walked about in his
"pleached garden" a little, and then we came again into his library,
where I meant to linger only till I could fitly get away. He questioned
me about what I had seen of Concord, and whom besides Hawthorne I had
met, and when I told him only Thoreau, he asked me if I knew the poems of
Mr. William Ellery Channing. I have known them since, and felt their
quality, which I have gladly owned a genuine and original poetry; but I
answered then truly that I knew them only from Poe's criticisms: cruel
and spiteful things which I should be ashamed of enjoying as I once did.

"Whose criticisms?" asked Emerson.

"Poe's," I said again.

"Oh," he cried out, after a moment, as if he had returned from a far
search for my meaning, "you mean the jingle-man!"

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

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

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

"Why, how old are you?"

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

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

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

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

by William Dean Howells


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


by William Dean Howells


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

and so left the room.

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

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


Before I left Venice, however, there came a turn in my literary luck, and
from the hand I could most have wished to reverse the adverse wheel of
fortune. I had labored out with great pains a paper on recent Italian
comedy, which I sent to Lowell, then with his friend Professor Norton
jointly editor of the North American Review; and he took it and wrote me
one of his loveliest letters about it, consoling me in an instant for all
the defeat I had undergone, and making it sweet and worthy to have lived
through that misery. It is one of the hard conditions of this state that
while we can mostly make out to let people taste the last drop of
bitterness and ill-will that is in us, our love and gratitude are only
semi-articulate at the best, and usually altogether tongue-tied. As
often as I tried afterwards to tell Lowell of the benediction, the
salvation, his letter was to me, I failed. But perhaps he would not have
understood, if I had spoken out all that was in me with the fulness I
could have given a resentment. His message came after years of thwarted
endeavor, and reinstated me in the belief that I could still do something
in literature. To be sure, the letters in the Advertiser had begun to
make their impression; among the first great pleasures they brought me
was a recognition from my diplomatic chief at Vienna; but I valued my
admission to the North American peculiarly because it was Lowell let me

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