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

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in, and because I felt that in his charge it must be the place of highest
honor. He spoke of the pay for my article, in his letter, and asked me
where he should send it, and I answered, to my father-in-law, who put it
in his savings-bank, where he lived, in Brattleboro, Vermont. There it
remained, and I forgot all about it, so that when his affairs were
settled some years later and I was notified that there was a sum to my
credit in the bank, I said, with the confidence I have nearly always felt
when wrong, that I had no money there. The proof of my error was sent me
in a check, and then I bethought me of the pay for "Recent Italian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


by William Dean Howells


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The historian of Spanish literature was an old man nearer eighty than
seventy when I saw him, and I recall of him personally his dark tint,
and the scholarly refinement of his clean-shaven face, which seemed to me
rather English than American in character. He was quite exterior to the
Atlantic group of writers, and had no interest in me as one of it.
Literary Boston of that day was not a solidarity, as I soon perceived;
and I understood that it was only in my quality of stranger that I saw
the different phases of it. I should not be just to a vivid phase if I
failed to speak of Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and the impulse of reform which
she personified. I did not sympathize with this then so much as I do
now, but I could appreciate it on the intellectual side. Once, many
years later, I heard Mrs. Howe speak in public, and it seemed to me that
she made one of the best speeches I had ever heard. It gave me for the
first time a notion of what women might do in that sort if they entered
public life; but when we met in those earlier days I was interested in
her as perhaps our chief poetess. I believe she did not care much to
speak of literature; she was alert for other meanings in life, and I
remember how she once brought to book a youthful matron who had perhaps
unduly lamented the hardships of housekeeping, with the sharp demand,
"Child, where is your religion?" After the many years of an acquaintance
which had not nearly so many meetings as years, it was pleasant to find
her, at the latest, as strenuous as ever for the faith of works, and as
eager to aid Stepniak as John Brown. In her beautiful old age she
survives a certain literary impulse of Boston, but a still higher impulse
of Boston she will not survive, for that will last while the city


The Cambridge men were curiously apart from others that formed the great
New England group, and with whom in my earlier ignorance I had always
fancied them mingling. Now and then I met Doctor Holmes at Longfellow's
table, but not oftener than now and then, and I never saw Emerson in
Cambridge at all except at Longfellow's funeral. In my first years on
the Atlantic I sometimes saw him, when he would address me some grave,
rather retrorsive civilities, after I had been newly introduced to him,
as I had always to be on these occasions. I formed the belief that he
did not care for me, either in my being or doing, and I am far from
blaming him for that: on such points there might easily be two opinions,
and I was myself often of the mind I imagined in him.

If Emerson forgot me, it was perhaps because I was not of those qualities
of things which even then, it was said, he could remember so much better
than things themselves. In his later years I sometimes saw him in the
Boston streets with his beautiful face dreamily set, as he moved like one
to whose vision

"Heaven opens inward, chasms yawn,
Vast images in glimmering dawn,
Half shown, are broken and withdrawn."

It is known how before the end the eclipse became total and from moment
to moment the record inscribed upon his mind was erased. Some years
before he died I sat between him and Mrs. Rose Terry Cooke, at an
'Atlantic Breakfast' where it was part of my editorial function to
preside. When he was not asking me who she was, I could hear him asking
her who I was. His great soul worked so independently of memory as we
conceive it, and so powerfully and essentially, that one could not help
wondering if; after all, our personal continuity, our identity hereafter,
was necessarily trammeled up with our enduring knowledge of what happens
here. His remembrance absolutely ceased with an event, and yet his
character, his personality, his identity fully persisted.

I do not know, whether the things that we printed for Emerson after his
memory began to fail so utterly were the work of earlier years or not,
but I know that they were of his best. There were certain poems which
could not have been more electly, more exquisitely his, or fashioned with
a keener and juster self-criticism. His vision transcended his time so
far that some who have tired themselves out in trying to catch up with
him have now begun to say that he was no seer at all; but I doubt if
these form the last court of appeal in his case. In manner, he was very
gentle, like all those great New England men, but he was cold, like many
of them, to the new-comer, or to the old-comer who came newly. As I have
elsewhere recorded, I once heard him speak critically of Hawthorne, and
once he expressed his surprise at the late flowering brilliancy of
Holmes's gift in the Autocrat papers after all his friends supposed it
had borne its best fruit. But I recall no mention of Longfellow, or
Lowell, or Whittier from him. At a dinner where the talk glanced upon
Walt Whitman he turned to me as perhaps representing the interest
posterity might take in the matter, and referred to Whitman's public use
of his privately written praise as something altogether unexpected. He
did not disown it or withdraw it, but seemed to feel (not indignantly)
that there had been an abuse of it.


The first time I saw Whittier was in Fields's room at the publishing
office, where I had come upon some editorial errand to my chief. He
introduced me to the poet: a tall, spare figure in black of Quaker cut,
with a keen, clean-shaven face, black hair, and vivid black eyes. It was
just after his poem, 'Snow Bound', had made its great success, in the
modest fashion of those days, and had sold not two hundred thousand but
twenty thousand, and I tried to make him my compliment. I contrived to
say that I could not tell him how much I liked it; and he received the
inadequate expression of my feeling with doubtless as much effusion as he
would have met something more explicit and abundant. If he had judged
fit to take my contract off my hands in any way, I think he would have
been less able to do so than any of his New England contemporaries.
In him, as I have suggested, the Quaker calm was bound by the frosty
Puritanic air, and he was doubly cold to the touch of the stranger,
though he would thaw out to old friends, and sparkle in laugh and joke.
I myself never got so far with him as to experience this geniality,
though afterwards we became such friends as an old man and a young man
could be who rarely met. Our better acquaintance began with some talk,
at a second meeting, about Bayard Taylor's 'Story of Kennett', which had
then lately appeared, and which he praised for its fidelity to Quaker
character in its less amiable aspects. No doubt I had made much of my
own Quaker descent (which I felt was one of the few things I had to be
proud of), and he therefore spoke the more frankly of those traits of
brutality into which the primitive sincerity of the sect sometimes
degenerated. He thought the habit of plain-speaking had to be jealously
guarded to keep it from becoming rude-speaking, and he matched with
stories of his own some things I had heard my father tell of Friends in
the backwoods who were Foes to good manners.

Whittier was one of the most generous of men towards the work of others,
especially the work of a new man, and if I did anything that he liked,
I could count upon him for cordial recognition. In the quiet of his
country home at Danvers he apparently read all the magazines, and kept
himself fully abreast of the literary movement, but I doubt if he so
fully appreciated the importance of the social movement. Like some
others of the great anti-slavery men, he seemed to imagine that mankind
had won itself a clear field by destroying chattel slavery, and he had.
no sympathy with those who think that the man who may any moment be out
of work is industrially a slave. This is not strange; so few men last
over from one reform to another that the wonder is that any should, not
that one should not. Whittier was prophet for one great need of the
divine to man, and he spoke his message with a fervor that at times was
like the trembling of a flame, or the quivering of midsummer sunshine.
It was hard to associate with the man as one saw him, still, shy, stiff,
the passion of his verse. This imbued not only his antislavery
utterances, but equally his ballads of the old witch and Quaker
persecution, and flashed a far light into the dimness where his
interrogations of Mystery pierced. Whatever doubt there can be of the
fate of other New England poets in the great and final account, it seems
to me that certain of these pieces make his place secure.

There is great inequality in his work, and I felt this so strongly that
when I came to have full charge of the Magazine, I ventured once to
distinguish. He sent me a poem, and I had the temerity to return it, and
beg him for something else. He magnanimously refrained from all show of
offence, and after a while, when he had printed the poem elsewhere,
he gave me another. By this time, I perceived that I had been wrong,
not as to the poem returned, but as to my function regarding him and such
as he. I had made my reflections, and never again did I venture to pass
upon what contributors of his quality sent me. I took it and printed it,
and praised the gods; and even now I think that with such men it was not
my duty to play the censor in the periodical which they had made what it
was. They had set it in authority over American literature, and it was
not for me to put myself in authority over them. Their fame was in their
own keeping, and it was not my part to guard it against them.

After that experience I not only practised an eager acquiescence in their
wish to reach the public through the Atlantic, but I used all the
delicacy I was master of in bowing the way to them. Sometimes my utmost
did not avail, or more strictly speaking it did not avail in one instance
with Emerson. He had given me upon much entreaty a poem which was one of
his greatest and best, but the proof-reader found a nominative at odds
with its verb. We had some trouble in reconciling them, and some other
delays, and meanwhile Doctor Holmes offered me a poem for the same
number. I now doubted whether I should get Emerson's poem back in time
for it, but unluckily the proof did come back in time, and then I had to
choose between my poets, or acquaint them with the state of the case, and
let them choose what I should do. I really felt that Doctor Holmes had
the right to precedence, since Emerson had withheld his proof so long
that I could not count upon it; but I wrote to Emerson, and asked (as
nearly as I can remember) whether he would consent to let me put his poem
over to the next number, or would prefer to have it appear in the same
number with Doctor Holmes's; the subjects were cognate, and I had my
misgivings. He wrote me back to "return the proofs and break up the
forms." I could not go to this iconoclastic extreme with the
electrotypes of the magazine, but I could return the proofs. I did so,
feeling that I had done my possible, and silently grieving that there
could be such ire in heavenly minds.


Emerson, as I say, I had once met in Cambridge, but Whittier never;
and I have a feeling that poet as Cambridge felt him to be, she had her
reservations concerning him. I cannot put these into words which would
not oversay them, but they were akin to those she might have refined upon
in regard to Mrs. Stowe. Neither of these great writers would have
appeared to Cambridge of the last literary quality; their fame was with a
world too vast to be the test that her own

"One entire and perfect crysolite"

would have formed. Whittier in fact had not arrived at the clear
splendor of his later work without some earlier turbidity; he was still
from time to time capable of a false rhyme, like morn and dawn. As for
the author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' her syntax was such a snare to her that
it sometimes needed the combined skill of all the proof-readers and the
assistant editor to extricate her. Of course, nothing was ever written
into her work, but in changes of diction, in correction of solecisms, in
transposition of phrases, the text was largely rewritten on the margin of
her proofs. The soul of her art was present, but the form was so often
absent, that when it was clothed on anew, it would have been hard to say
whose cut the garment was of in many places. In fact, the proof-reading
of the 'Atlantic Monthly' was something almost fearfully scrupulous and
perfect. The proofs were first read by the under proof-reader in the
printing-office; then the head reader passed them to me perfectly clean
as to typography, with his own abundant and most intelligent comments on
the literature; and then I read them, making what changes I chose, and
verifying every quotation, every date, every geographical and
biographical name, every foreign word to the last accent, every technical
and scientific term. Where it was possible or at all desirable the proof
was next submitted to the author. When it came back to me, I revised it,
accepting or rejecting the author's judgment according as he was entitled
by his ability and knowledge or not to have them. The proof now went to
the printers for correction; they sent it again to the head reader, who
carefully revised it and returned it again to me. I read it a second
time, and it was again corrected. After this it was revised in the
office and sent to the stereotyper, from whom it came to the head reader
for a last revision in the plates.

It would not do to say how many of the first American writers owed their
correctness in print to the zeal of our proof-reading, but I may say that
there were very few who did not owe something. The wisest and ablest
were the most patient and grateful, like Mrs. Stowe, under correction;
it was only the beginners and the more ignorant who were angry; and
almost always the proof-reading editor had his way on disputed points.
I look back now, with respectful amazement at my proficiency in detecting
the errors of the great as well as the little. I was able to discover
mistakes even in the classical quotations of the deeply lettered Sumner,
and I remember, in the earliest years of my service on the Atlantic,
waiting in this statesman's study amidst the prints and engravings that
attested his personal resemblance to Edmund Burke, with his proofs in my
hand and my heart in my mouth, to submit my doubts of his Latinity. I
forget how he received them; but he was not a very gracious person.

Mrs. Stowe was a gracious person, and carried into age the inalienable
charm of a woman who must have been very, charming earlier. I met her
only at the Fieldses' in Boston, where one night I witnessed a
controversy between her and Doctor Holmes concerning homoeopathy and
allopathy which lasted well through dinner. After this lapse of time,
I cannot tell how the affair ended, but I feel sure of the liking with
which Mrs. Stowe inspired me. There was something very simple, very
motherly in her, and something divinely sincere. She was quite the
person to take 'au grand serieux' the monstrous imaginations of Lady
Byron's jealousy and to feel it on her conscience to make public report
of them when she conceived that the time had come to do so.

In Francis Parkman I knew much later than in some others a
differentiation of the New England type which was not less
characteristic. He, like so many other Boston men of letters, was of
patrician family, and of those easy fortunes which Clio prefers her sons
to be of; but he paid for these advantages by the suffering in which he
wrought at what is, I suppose, our greatest history. He wrought at it
piecemeal, and sometimes only by moments, when the terrible head aches
which tormented him, and the disorder of the heart which threatened his
life, allowed him a brief respite for the task which was dear to him.
He must have been more than a quarter of a century in completing it, and
in this time, as he once told me, it had given him a day-laborer's wages;
but of course money was the least return he wished from it. I read the
regularly successive volumes of 'The Jesuits in North America, The Old
Regime in Canada', the 'Wolfe and Montcalm', and the others that went to
make up the whole history with a sufficiently noisy enthusiasm, and our
acquaintance began by his expressing his gratification with the praises
of them that I had put in print. We entered into relations as
contributor and editor, and I know that he was pleased with my eagerness
to get as many detachable chapters from the book in hand as he could give
me for the magazine, but he was of too fine a politeness to make this the
occasion of his first coming to see me. He had walked out to Cambridge,
where I then lived, in pursuance of a regimen which, I believe, finally
built up his health; that it was unsparing, I can testify from my own
share in one of his constitutionals in Boston, many years later.

His experience in laying the groundwork for his history, and his
researches in making it thorough, were such as to have liberated him to
the knowledge of other manners and ideals, but he remained strictly a
Bostonian, and as immutably of the Boston social and literary faith as
any I knew in that capital of accomplished facts. He had lived like an
Indian among the wild Western tribes; he consorted with the Canadian
archaeologists in their mousings among the colonial archives of their
fallen state; every year he went to Quebec or Paris to study the history
of New France in the original documents; European society was open to him
everywhere; but he had those limitations which I nearly always found in
the Boston men, I remember his talking to me of 'The Rise of Silas
Lapham', in a somewhat troubled and uncertain strain, and interpreting
his rise as the achievement of social recognition, without much or at all
liking it or me for it. I did not think it my part to point out that I
had supposed the rise to be a moral one; and later I fell under his
condemnation for certain high crimes and misdemeanors I had been guilty
of against a well-known ideal in fiction. These in fact constituted
lese-majesty of romanticism, which seemed to be disproportionately dear
to a man who was in his own way trying to tell the truth of human nature
as I was in mine. His displeasures passed, however, and my last meeting
with our greatest historian, as I think him, was of unalloyed
friendliness. He came to me during my final year in Boston for nothing
apparently but to tell me of his liking for a book of mine describing
boy-life in Southern Ohio a half-century ago. He wished to talk about
many points of this, which he found the same as his own boylife in the
neighborhood of Boston; and we could agree that the life of the Anglo-
Saxon boy was pretty much the same everywhere. He had helped himself
into my apartment with a crutch, but I do not remember how he had fallen
lame. It was the end of his long walks, I believe, and not long
afterwards I had the grief to read of his death. I noticed that perhaps
through his enforced quiet, he had put on weight; his fine face was full;
whereas when I first knew him he was almost delicately thin of figure and
feature. He was always of a distinguished presence, and his face had a
great distinction.

It had not the appealing charm I found in the face of James Parton,
another historian I knew earlier in my Boston days. I cannot say how
much his books, once so worthily popular, are now known but I have an
abiding sense of their excellence. I have not read the 'Life of
Voltaire', which was the last, but all the rest, from the first, I have
read, and if there are better American biographies than those of Franklin
or of Jefferson, I could not say where to find them. The Greeley and the
Burr were younger books, and so was the Jackson, and they were not nearly
so good; but to all the author had imparted the valuable humanity in
which he abounded. He was never of the fine world of literature, the
world that sniffs and sneers, and abashes the simpler-hearted reader.
But he was a true artist, and English born as he was, he divined American
character as few Americans have done. He was a man of eminent courage,
and in the days when to be an agnostic was to be almost an outcast, he
had the heart to say of the Mysteries, that he did not know. He outlived
the condemnation that this brought, and I think that no man ever came
near him without in some measure loving him. To me he was of a most
winning personality, which his strong, gentle face expressed, and a cast
in the eye which he could not bring to bear directly upon his vis-a-vis,
endeared. I never met him without wishing more of his company, for he
seldom failed to say something to whatever was most humane and most
modern in me. Our last meeting was at Newburyport, whither he had long
before removed from New York, and where in the serene atmosphere of the
ancient Puritan town he found leisure and inspiration for his work.
He was not then engaged upon any considerable task, and he had aged and
broken somewhat. But the old geniality, the old warmth glowed in him,
and made a summer amidst the storm of snow that blinded the wintry air
without. A new light had then lately come into my life, by which I saw
all things that did not somehow tell for human brotherhood dwarfish and
ugly, and he listened, as I imagined, to what I had to say with the
tolerant sympathy of a man who has been a long time thinking those
things, and views with a certain amusement the zeal of the fresh

There was yet another historian in Boston, whose acquaintance I made
later than either Parkman's or Parton's, and whose very recent death
leaves me with the grief of a friend. No ones indeed, could meet John
Codman Ropes without wishing to be his friend, or without finding a
friend in him. He had his likes and his dislikes, but he could have had
no enmities except for evil and meanness. I never knew a man of higher
soul, of sweeter nature, and his whole life was a monument of character.
It cannot wound him now to speak of the cruel deformity which came upon
him in his boyhood, and haunted all his after days with suffering. His
gentle face showed the pain which is always the part of the hunchback,
but nothing else in him confessed a sense of his affliction, and the
resolute activity of his mind denied it in every way. He was, as is well
known, a very able lawyer, in full practice, while he was making his
studies of military history, and winning recognition for almost unique
insight and thoroughness in that direction, though I believe that when he
came to embody the results in those extraordinary volumes recording the
battles of our civil war, he retired from the law in some measure. He
knew these battles more accurately than the generals who fought them, and
he was of a like proficiency in the European wars from the time of
Napoleon down to our own time. I have heard a story, which I cannot
vouch for, that when foreknowledge of his affliction, at the outbreak of
our civil war, forbade him to be a soldier, he became a student of
soldiership, and wreaked in that sort the passion of his most gallant
spirit. But whether this was true or not, it is certain that he pursued
the study with a devotion which never blinded him to the atrocity of war.
Some wars he could excuse and even justify, but for any war that seemed
wanton or aggressive, he had only abhorrence.

The last summer of a score that I had known him, we sat on the veranda of
his cottage at York Harbor, and looked out over the moonlit sea, and he
talked of the high and true things, with the inextinguishable zest for
the inquiry which I always found in him, though he was then feeling the
approaches of the malady which was so soon to end all groping in these
shadows for him. He must have faced the fact with the same courage and
the same trust with which he faced all facts. From the first I found him
a deeply religious man, not only in the ecclesiastical sense, but in the
more mystical meanings of the word, and he kept his faith as he kept his
youth to the last. Every one who knew him, knows how young he was in
heart, and how he liked to have those that were young in years about him.
He wished to have his house in Boston, as well as his cottage at York,
full of young men and young girls, whose joy of life he made his own, and
whose society he preferred to his contemporaries'. One could not blame
him for that, or for seeking the sun, wherever he could, but it would be
a false notion of him to suppose that his sympathies were solely or
chiefly with the happy. In every sort, as I knew him, he was fine and
good. The word is not worthy of him, after some of its uses and
associations, but if it were unsmutched by these, and whitened to its
primitive significance, I should say he was one of the most perfect
gentlemen I ever knew.


Celia Thaxter
Charles F. Browne
Dawn upon him through a cloud of other half remembered faces
Edmund Quincy
Ethical sense, not the aesthetical sense
Few men last over from one reform to another
Francis Parkman
Generous lover of all that was excellent in literature
Got out of it all the fun there was in it
Greeting of great impersonal cordiality
Grieving that there could be such ire in heavenly minds
His remembrance absolutely ceased with an event
Julia Ward Howe
Looked as if Destiny had sat upon it
Man who may any moment be out of work is industrially a slave
Pathos of revolt from the colorless rigidities
Plain-speaking or Rude Speaking
Pointed the moral in all they did
Sometimes they sacrificed the song to the sermon
Tired themselves out in trying to catch up with him
True to an ideal of life rather than to life itself
Wasted face, and his gay eyes had the death-look
When to be an agnostic was to be almost an outcast
Whitman's public use of his privately written praise


by William Dean Howells


Elsewhere we literary folk are apt to be such a common lot, with
tendencies here and there to be a shabby lot; we arrive from all sorts of
unexpected holes and corners of the earth, remote, obscure; and at the
best we do so often come up out of the ground; but at Boston we were of
ascertained and noted origin, and good part of us dropped from the skies.
Instead of holding horses before the doors of theatres; or capping verses
at the plough-tail; or tramping over Europe with nothing but a flute in
the pocket; or walking up to the metropolis with no luggage but the MS.
of a tragedy; or sleeping in doorways or under the arches of bridges; or
serving as apothecaries' 'prentices--we were good society from the
beginning. I think this was none the worse for us, and it was vastly the
better for good society.

Literature in Boston, indeed, was so respectable, and often of so high a
lineage, that to be a poet was not only to be good society, but almost to
be good family. If one names over the men who gave Boston her supremacy
in literature during that Unitarian harvest-time of the old Puritanic
seed-time which was her Augustan age, one names the people who were and
who had been socially first in the city ever since the self-exile of the
Tories at the time of the Revolution. To say Prescott, Motley, Parkman,
Lowell, Norton, Higginson, Dana, Emerson, Channing, was to say patrician,
in the truest and often the best sense, if not the largest. Boston was
small, but these were of her first citizens, and their primacy, in its
way, was of the same quality as that, say, of the chief families of
Venice. But these names can never have the effect for the stranger that
they had for one to the manner born. I say had, for I doubt whether in
Boston they still mean all that they once meant, and that their
equivalents meant in science, in law, in politics. The most famous, if
not the greatest of all the literary men of Boston, I have not mentioned
with them, for Longfellow was not of the place, though by his sympathies
and relations he became of it; and I have not mentioned Oliver Wendell
Holmes, because I think his name would come first into the reader's
thought with the suggestion of social quality in the humanities.

Holmes was of the Brahminical caste which his humorous recognition
invited from its subjectivity in the New England consciousness into the
light where all could know it and own it, and like Longfellow he was
allied to the patriciate of Boston by the most intimate ties of life.
For a long time, for the whole first period of his work, he stood for
that alone, its tastes, its prejudices, its foibles even, and when he
came to stand in his 'second period, for vastly, for infinitely more,
and to make friends with the whole race, as few men have ever done,
it was always, I think, with a secret shiver of doubt, a backward look of
longing, and an eye askance. He was himself perfectly aware of this at
times, and would mark his several misgivings with a humorous sense of the
situation. He was essentially too kind to be of a narrow world, too
human to be finally of less than humanity, too gentle to be of the finest
gentility. But such limitations as he had were in the direction I have
hinted, or perhaps more than hinted; and I am by no means ready to make a
mock of them, as it would be so easy to do for some reasons that he has
himself suggested. To value aright the affection which the old Bostonian
had for Boston one must conceive of something like the patriotism of men
in the times when a man's city was a man's country, something Athenian,
something Florentine. The war that nationalized us liberated this love
to the whole country, but its first tenderness remained still for Boston,
and I suppose a Bostonian still thinks of himself first as a Bostonian
and then as an American, in a way that no New-Yorker could deal with
himself. The rich historical background dignifies and ennobles the
intense public spirit of the place, and gives it a kind of personality.


In literature Doctor Holmes survived all the Bostonians who had given the
city her primacy in letters, but when I first knew him there was no
apparent ground for questioning it. I do not mean now the time when I
visited New England, but when I came to live near Boston, and to begin
the many happy years which I spent in her fine, intellectual air.
I found time to run in upon him, while I was there arranging to take my
place on the Atlantic Monthly, and I remember that in this brief moment
with him he brought me to book about some vaunting paragraph in the
'Nation' claiming the literary primacy for New York. He asked me if I
knew who wrote it, and I was obliged to own that I had written it myself,
when with the kindness he always showed me he protested against my
position. To tell the truth, I do not think now I had any very good
reasons for it, and I certainly could urge none that would stand against
his. I could only fall back upon the saving clause that this primacy was
claimed mainly if not wholly for New York in the future. He was willing
to leave me the connotations of prophecy, but I think he did even this
out of politeness rather than conviction, and I believe he had always a
sensitiveness where Boston was concerned, which could not seem ungenerous
to any generous mind. Whatever lingering doubt of me he may have had,
with reference to Boston, seemed to satisfy itself when several years
afterwards he happened to speak of a certain character in an early novel
of mine, who was not quite the kind of Bostonian one could wish to be.
The thing came up in talk with another person, who had referred to my
Bostonian, and the doctor had apparently made his acquaintance in the
book, and not liked him. "I understood, of course," he said, "that he
was a Bostonian, not the Bostonian," and I could truthfully answer that
this was by all means my own understanding too.

His fondness for his city, which no one could appreciate better than
myself, I hope, often found expression in a burlesque excess in his
writings, and in his talk perhaps oftener still. Hard upon my return
from Venice I had a half-hour with him in his old study on Charles
Street, where he still lived in 1865, and while I was there a young man
came in for the doctor's help as a physician, though he looked so very
well, and was so lively and cheerful, that I have since had my doubts
whether he had not made a pretext for a glimpse of him as the Autocrat.
The doctor took him upon his word, however, and said he had been so long
out of practice that he could not do anything for him, but he gave him
the address of another physician, somewhere near Washington Street.
"And if you don't know where Washington Street is," he said, with a gay
burst at a certain vagueness which had come into the young man's face,
"you don't know anything."

We had been talking of Venice, and what life was like there, and he made
me tell him in some detail. He was especially interested in what I had
to say of the minute subdivision and distribution of the necessaries,
the small coins, and the small values adapted to their purchase,
the intensely retail character, in fact, of household provisioning;
and I could see how he pleased himself in formulating the theory that the
higher a civilization the finer the apportionment of the demands and
supplies. The ideal, he said, was a civilization in which you could buy
two cents' worth of beef, and a divergence from this standard was towards

The secret of the man who is universally interesting is that he is
universally interested, and this was, above all, the secret of the charm
that Doctor Holmes had for every one. No doubt he knew it, for what that
most alert intelligence did not know of itself was scarcely worth
knowing. This knowledge was one of his chief pleasures, I fancy; he
rejoiced in the consciousness which is one of the highest attributes of
the highly organized man, and he did not care for the consequences in
your mind, if you were so stupid as not to take him aright. I remember
the delight Henry James, the father of the novelist, had in reporting to
me the frankness of the doctor, when he had said to him, "Holmes, you are
intellectually the most alive man I ever knew." "I am, I am," said the
doctor. "From the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, I'm alive,
I'm alive!" Any one who ever saw him will imagine the vivid relish he
had in recognizing the fact. He could not be with you a moment without
shedding upon you the light of his flashing wit, his radiant humor, and
he shone equally upon the rich and poor in mind. His gaiety of heart
could not withhold itself from any chance of response, but he did wish
always to be fully understood, and to be liked by those he liked. He
gave his liking cautiously, though, for the affluence of his sympathies
left him without the reserves of colder natures, and he had to make up
for these with careful circumspection. He wished to know the character
of the person who made overtures to his acquaintance, for he was aware
that his friendship lay close to it; he wanted to be sure that he was a
nice person, and though I think he preferred social quality in his
fellow-man, he did not refuse himself to those who had merely a sweet and
wholesome humanity. He did not like anything that tasted or smelt of
Bohemianism in the personnel of literature, but he did not mind the scent
of the new-ploughed earth, or even of the barn-yard. I recall his
telling me once that after two younger brothers-in-letters had called
upon him in the odor of an habitual beeriness and smokiness, he opened
the window; and the very last time I saw him he remembered at eighty-five
the offence he had found on his first visit to New York, when a
metropolitan poet had asked him to lunch in a basement restaurant.


He seemed not to mind, however, climbing to the little apartment we had
in Boston when we came there in 1866, and he made this call upon us in
due form, bringing Mrs. Holmes with him as if to accent the recognition
socially. We were then incredibly young, much younger than I find people
ever are nowadays, and in the consciousness of our youth we felt, to the
last exquisite value of the fact, what it was to have the Autocrat come
to see us; and I believe he was not displeased to perceive this; he liked
to know that you felt his quality in every way. That first winter,
however, I did not see him often, and in the spring we went to live in
Cambridge, and thereafter I met him chiefly at Longfellow's, or when I
came in to dine at the Fieldses', in Boston. It was at certain meetings
of the Dante Club, when Longfellow read aloud his translation for
criticism, and there was supper later, that one saw the doctor; and his
voice was heard at the supper rather than at the criticism, for he was no
Italianate. He always seemed to like a certain turn of the talk toward
the mystical, but with space for the feet on a firm ground of fact this
side of the shadows; when it came to going over among them, and laying
hold of them with the band of faith, as if they were substance, he was
not of the excursion. It is well known how fervent, I cannot say devout,
a spiritualist Longfellow's brother-in-law, Appleton, was; and when he
was at the table too, it took all the poet's delicate skill to keep him
and the Autocrat from involving themselves in a cataclysmal controversy
upon the matter of manifestations. With Doctor Holmes the inquiry was
inquiry, to the last, I believe, and the burden of proof was left to the
ghosts and their friends. His attitude was strictly scientific; he
denied nothing, but he expected the supernatural to be at least as
convincing as the natural.

There was a time in his history when the popular ignorance classed him
with those who were once rudely called infidels; but the world has since
gone so fast and so far that the mind he was of concerning religious
belief would now be thought religious by a good half of the religious
world. It is true that he had and always kept a grudge against the
ancestral Calvinism which afflicted his youth; and he was through all
rises and lapses of opinion essentially Unitarian; but of the honest
belief of any one, I am sure he never felt or spoke otherwise than most
tolerantly, most tenderly. As often as he spoke of religion, and his
talk tended to it very often, I never heard an irreligious word from him,
far less a scoff or sneer at religion; and I am certain that this was not
merely because he would have thought it bad taste, though undoubtedly he
would have thought it bad taste; I think it annoyed, it hurt him, to be
counted among the iconoclasts, and he would have been profoundly grieved
if he could have known how widely this false notion of him once
prevailed. It can do no harm at this late day to impart from the secrets
of the publishing house the fact that a supposed infidelity in the tone
of his story The Guardian Angel cost the Atlantic Monthly many
subscribers. Now the tone of that story would not be thought even mildly
agnostic, I fancy; and long before his death the author had outlived the
error concerning him.

It was not the best of his stories, by any means, and it would not be too
harsh to say that it was the poorest. His novels all belonged to an
order of romance which was as distinctly his own as the form of
dramatized essay which he invented in the Autocrat. If he did not think
poorly of them, he certainly did not think too proudly, and I heard him
quote with relish the phrase of a lady who had spoken of them to him as
his "medicated novels." That, indeed, was perhaps what they were; a
faint, faint odor of the pharmacopoeia clung to their pages; their magic
was scientific. He knew this better than any one else, of course, and if
any one had said it in his turn he would hardly have minded it. But what
he did mind was the persistent misinterpretation of his intention in
certain quarters where he thought he had the right to respectful
criticism in stead of the succession of sneers that greeted the
successive numbers of his story; and it was no secret that he felt the
persecution keenly. Perhaps he thought that he had already reached that
time in his literary life when he was a fact rather than a question,
and when reasons and not feelings must have to do with his acceptance or
rejection. But he had to live many years yet before he reached this
state. When he did reach it, happily a good while before his death,
I do not believe any man ever enjoyed the like condition more. He loved
to feel himself out of the fight, with much work before him still,
but with nothing that could provoke ill-will in his activities. He loved
at all times to take himself objectively, if I may so express my sense of
a mental attitude that misled many. As I have said before, he was
universally interested, and he studied the universe from himself. I do
not know how one is to study it otherwise; the impersonal has really no
existence; but with all his subtlety and depth he was of a make so
simple, of a spirit so naive, that he could not practise the feints some
use to conceal that interest in self which, after all, every one knows is
only concealed. He frankly and joyously made himself the starting-point
in all his inquest of the hearts and minds of other men, but so far from
singling himself out in this, and standing apart in it, there never was
any one who was more eagerly and gladly your fellow-being in the things
of the soul.


In the things of the world, he had fences, and looked at some people
through palings and even over the broken bottles on the tops of walls;
and I think he was the loser by this, as well as they. But then I think
all fences are bad, and that God has made enough differences between men;
we need not trouble ourselves to multiply them. Even behind his fences,
however, Holmes had a heart kind for the outsiders, and I do not believe
any one came into personal relations with him who did not experience this
kindness. In that long and delightful talk I had with him on my return
from Venice (I can praise the talk because it was mainly his), we spoke
of the status of domestics in the Old World, and how fraternal the
relation of high and low was in Italy, while in England, between master
and man, it seemed without acknowledgment of their common humanity.
"Yes," he said, "I always felt as if English servants expected to be
trampled on; but I can't do that. If they want to be trampled on, they
must get some one else." He thought that our American way was infinitely
better; and I believe that in spite of the fences there was always an
instinctive impulse with him to get upon common ground with his fellow-
man. I used to notice in the neighborhood cabman who served our block on
Beacon Street a sort of affectionate reverence for the Autocrat, which
could have come from nothing but the kindly terms between them; if you
went to him when he was engaged to Doctor Holmes, he told you so with a
sort of implication in his manner that the thought of anything else for
the time was profanation. The good fellow who took him his drives about
the Beverly and Manchester shores seemed to be quite in the joke of the
doctor's humor, and within the bounds of his personal modesty and his
functional dignity permitted himself a smile at the doctor's sallies,
when you stood talking with him, or listening to him at the carriage-

The civic and social circumstance that a man values himself on is
commonly no part of his value, and certainly no part of his greatness.
Rather, it is the very thing that limits him, and I think that Doctor
Holmes appeared in the full measure of his generous personality to those
who did not and could not appreciate his circumstance, and not to those
who formed it, and who from life-long association were so dear and
comfortable to him. Those who best knew how great a man he was were
those who came from far to pay him their duty, or to thank him for some
help they had got from his books, or to ask his counsel or seek his
sympathy. With all such he was most winningly tender, most intelligently
patient. I suppose no great author was ever more visited by letter and
in person than he, or kept a faithfuler conscience for his guests. With
those who appeared to him in the flesh he used a miraculous tact, and I
fancy in his treatment of all the physician native in him bore a
characteristic part. No one seemed to be denied access to him, but it
was after a moment of preparation that one was admitted, and any one who
was at all sensitive must have felt from the first moment in his presence
that there could be no trespassing in point of time. If now and then
some insensitive began to trespass, there was a sliding-scale of
dismissal that never failed of its work, and that really saved the author
from the effect of intrusion. He was not bored because he would not be.

I transfer at random the impressions of many years to my page, and I
shall not try to observe a chronological order in these memories. Vivid
among them is that of a visit which I paid him with Osgood the publisher,
then newly the owner of the Atlantic Monthly, when I had newly become the
sole editor. We wished to signalize our accession to the control of the
magazine by a stroke that should tell most in the public eye, and we
thought of asking Doctor Holmes to do something again in the manner of
the Autocrat and the Professor at the Breakfast Table. Some letters had
passed between him and the management concerning our wish, and then
Osgood thought that it would be right and fit for us to go to him in
person. He proposed the visit, and Doctor Holmes received us with a mind
in which he had evidently formulated all his thoughts upon the matter.
His main question was whether at his age of sixty years a man was
justified in seeking to recall a public of the past, or to create a new
public in the present. He seemed to have looked the ground over not only
with a personal interest in the question, but with a keen scientific zest
for it as something which it was delightful to consider in its generic
relations; and I fancy that the pleasure of this inquiry more than
consoled him for such pangs of misgiving as he must have had in the
personal question. As commonly happens in the solution of such problems,
it was not solved; he was very willing to take our minds upon it, and to
incur the risk, if we thought it well and were willing to share it.

We came away rejoicing, and the new series began with the new year
following. It was by no means the popular success that we had hoped;
not because the author had not a thousand new things to say, or failed to
say them with the gust and freshness of his immortal youth, but because
it was not well to disturb a form associated in the public mind with an
achievement which had become classic. It is of the Autocrat of the
Breakfast Table that people think, when they think of the peculiar
species of dramatic essay which the author invented, and they think also
of the Professor at the Breakfast Table, because he followed so soon;
but the Poet at the Breakfast Table came so long after that his advent
alienated rather than conciliated liking. Very likely, if the Poet had
come first he would have had no second place in the affections of his
readers, for his talk was full of delightful matter; and at least one of
the poems which graced each instalment was one of the finest and greatest
that Doctor Holmes ever wrote. I mean "Homesick in Heaven," which seems
to me not only what I have said, but one of the most important, the most
profoundly pathetic in the language. Indeed, I do not know any other
that in the same direction goes so far with suggestion so penetrating.
The other poems were mainly of a cast which did not win; the metaphysics
in them were too much for the human interest, and again there rose a
foolish clamor of the creeds against him on account of them. The great
talent, the beautiful and graceful fancy, the eager imagination of the
Autocrat could not avail in this third attempt, and I suppose the Poet at
the Breakfast Table must be confessed as near a failure as Doctor Holmes
could come. It certainly was so in the magazine which the brilliant
success of the first had availed to establish in the high place the
periodical must always hold in the history of American literature.
Lowell was never tired of saying, when he recurred to the first days of
his editorship, that the magazine could never have gone at all without
the Autocrat papers. He was proud of having insisted upon Holmes's doing
something for the new venture, and he was fond of recalling the author's
misgivings concerning his contributions, which later repeated themselves
with too much reason, though not with the reason that was in his own


He lived twenty-five years after that self-question at sixty, and after
eighty he continued to prove that threescore was not the limit of a man's
intellectual activity or literary charm. During all that time the work
he did in mere quantity was the work that a man in the prime of life
might well have been vain of doing, and it was of a quality not less
surprising. If I asked him with any sort of fair notice I could rely
upon him always for something for the January number, and throughout the
year I could count upon him for those occasional pieces in which he so
easily excelled all former writers of occasional verse, and which he
liked to keep from the newspapers for the magazine. He had a pride in
his promptness with copy, and you could always trust his promise. The
printer's toe never galled the author's kibe in his case; he wished to
have an early proof, which he corrected fastidiously, but not overmuch,
and he did not keep it long. He had really done all his work in the
manuscript, which came print-perfect and beautifully clear from his pen,
in that flowing, graceful hand which to the last kept a suggestion of the
pleasure he must have had in it. Like all wise contributors, he was not
only patient, but very glad of all the queries and challenges that proof-
reader and editor could accumulate on the margin of his proofs, and when
they were both altogether wrong he was still grateful. In one of his
poems there was some Latin-Quarter French, which our collective purism
questioned, and I remember how tender of us he was in maintaining that in
his Parisian time, at least, some ladies beyond the Seine said "Eh,
b'en," instead of "Eh, bien." He knew that we must be always on the
lookout for such little matters, and he would not wound our ignorance.
I do not think any one enjoyed praise more than he. Of course he would
not provoke it, but if it came of itself, he would not deny himself the
pleasure, as long as a relish of it remained. He used humorously to
recognize his delight in it, and to say of the lecture audiences which
in earlier times hesitated applause, "Why don't they give me three times
three? I can stand it!" He himself gave in the generous fulness he
desired. He did not praise foolishly or dishonestly, though he would
spare an open dislike; but when a thing pleased him he knew how to say so
cordially and skilfully, so that it might help as well as delight.
I suppose no great author has tried more sincerely and faithfully to
befriend the beginner than he; and from time to time he would commend
something to me that he thought worth looking at, but never insistently.
In certain cases, where he had simply to ease a burden, from his own to
the editorial shoulders, he would ask that the aspirant might be
delicately treated. There might be personal reasons for this, but
usually his kindness of heart moved him. His tastes had their
geographical limit, but his sympathies were boundless, and the hopeless
creature for whom he interceded was oftener remote from Boston and New
England than otherwise.

It seems to me that he had a nature singularly affectionate, and that it
was this which was at fault if he gave somewhat too much of himself to
the celebration of the Class of '29, and all the multitude of Boston
occasions, large and little, embalmed in the clear amber of his verse,
somewhat to the disadvantage of the amber. If he were asked he could not
deny the many friendships and fellowships which united in the asking;
the immediate reclame from these things was sweet to him; but he loved
to comply as much as he loved to be praised. In the pleasure he got he
could feel himself a prophet in his own country, but the country which
owned him prophet began perhaps to feel rather too much as if it owned
him, and did not prize his vaticinations at all their worth. Some polite
Bostonians knew him chiefly on this side, and judged him to their own
detriment from it.


After we went to live in Cambridge, my life and the delight in it were so
wholly there that in ten years I had hardly been in as many Boston
houses. As I have said, I met Doctor Holmes at the Fieldses', and at
Longfellow's, when he came out to a Dante supper, which was not often,
and somewhat later at the Saturday Club dinners. One parlous time at the
publisher's I have already recalled, when Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe and
the Autocrat clashed upon homeopathy, and it required all the tact of the
host to lure them away from the dangerous theme. As it was, a battle
waged in the courteous forms of Fontenoy, went on pretty well through the
dinner, and it was only over the coffee that a truce was called. I need
not say which was heterodox, or that each had a deep and strenuous
conscience in the matter. I have always felt it a proof of his extreme
leniency to me, unworthy, that the doctor was able to tolerate my own
defection from the elder faith in medicine; and I could not feel his
kindness less caressing because I knew it a concession to an infirmity.
He said something like, After all a good physician was the great matter;
and I eagerly turned his clemency to praise of our family doctor.

He was very constant at the Saturday Club, as long as his strength
permitted, and few of its members missed fewer of its meetings.
He continued to sit at its table until the ghosts of Hawthorne,
of Agassiz, of Emerson, of Longfellow, of Lowell, out of others less
famous, bore him company there among the younger men in the flesh.
It must have been very melancholy, but nothing could deeply cloud his
most cheerful spirit. His strenuous interest in life kept him alive to
all the things of it, after so many of his friends were dead. The
questions which he was wont to deal with so fondly, so wisely, the great
problems of the soul, were all the more vital, perhaps, because the
personal concern in them was increased by the translation to some other
being of the men who had so often tried with him to fathom them here.
The last time I was at that table he sat alone there among those great
memories; but he was as gay as ever I saw him; his wit sparkled, his
humor gleamed; the poetic touch was deft and firm as of old; the serious
curiosity, the instant sympathy remained. To the witness he was
pathetic, but to himself he could only have been interesting, as the
figure of a man surviving, in an alien but not unfriendly present, the
past which held so vast a part of all that had constituted him. If he
had thought of himself in this way, it would have been without one
emotion of self-pity, such as more maudlin souls indulge, but with a love
of knowledge and wisdom as keenly alert as in his prime.

For three privileged years I lived all but next-door neighbor of Doctor
Holmes in that part of Beacon Street whither he removed after he left his
old home in Charles Street, and during these years I saw him rather
often. We were both on the water side, which means so much more than the
words say, and our library windows commanded the same general view of the
Charles rippling out into the Cambridge marshes and the sunsets, and
curving eastward under Long Bridge, through shipping that increased
onward to the sea. He said that you could count fourteen towns and
villages in the compass of that view, with the three conspicuous
monuments accenting the different attractions of it: the tower of
Memorial Hall at Harvard; the obelisk on Bunker Hill; and in the centre
of the picture that bulk of Tufts College which he said he expected to
greet his eyes the first thing when he opened them in the other world.
But the prospect, though generally the same, had certain precious
differences for each of us, which I have no doubt he valued himself as
much upon as I did. I have a notion that he fancied these were to be
enjoyed best in his library through two oval panes let into the bay there
apart from the windows, for he was apt to make you come and look out of
them if you got to talking of the view before you left. In this pleasant
study he lived among the books, which seemed to multiply from case to
case and shelf to shelf, and climb from floor to ceiling. Everything was
in exquisite order, and the desk where he wrote was as scrupulously neat
as if the sloven disarray of most authors' desks were impossible to him.
He had a number of ingenious little contrivances for helping his work,
which he liked to show you; for a time a revolving book-case at the
corner of his desk seemed to be his pet; and after that came his
fountain-pen, which he used with due observance of its fountain
principle, though he was tolerant of me when I said I always dipped mine
in the inkstand; it was a merit in his eyes to use a fountain pen in
anywise. After you had gone over these objects with him, and perhaps
taken a peep at something he was examining through his microscope, he sat
down at one corner of his hearth, and invited you to an easy chair at the
other. His talk was always considerate of your wish to be heard, but the
person who wished to talk when he could listen to Doctor Holmes was his
own victim, and always the loser. If you were well advised you kept
yourself to the question and response which manifested your interest in
what he was saying, and let him talk on, with his sweet smile, and that
husky laugh he broke softly into at times. Perhaps he was not very well
when you came in upon him; then he would name his trouble, with a
scientific zest and accuracy, and pass quickly to other matters. As I
have noted, he was interested in himself only on the universal side; and
he liked to find his peculiarity in you better than to keep it his own;
he suffered a visible disappointment if he could not make you think or
say you were so and so too. The querulous note was not in his most
cheerful register; he would not dwell upon a specialized grief; though
sometimes I have known him touch very lightly and currently upon a slight
annoyance, or disrelish for this or that. As he grew older, he must have
had, of course, an old man's disposition to speak of his infirmities; but
it was fine to see him catch himself up in this, when he became conscious
of it, and stop short with an abrupt turn to something else. With a real
interest, which he gave humorous excess, he would celebrate some little
ingenious thing that had fallen in his way, and I have heard him
expatiate with childlike delight upon the merits of a new razor he had
got: a sort of mower, which he could sweep recklessly over cheek and chin
without the least danger of cutting himself. The last time I saw him he
asked me if he had ever shown me that miraculous razor; and I doubt if he
quite liked my saying I had seen one of the same kind.

It seemed to me that he enjoyed sitting at his chimney-corner rather as
the type of a person having a good time than as such a person; he would
rather be up and about something, taking down a book, making a note,
going again to his little windows, and asking you if you had seen the
crows yet that sometimes alighted on the shoals left bare by the ebb-tide
behind the house. The reader will recall his lovely poem, "My Aviary,"
which deals with the winged life of that pleasant prospect. I shared
with him in the flock of wild-ducks which used to come into our neighbor
waters in spring, when the ice broke up, and stayed as long as the
smallest space of brine remained unfrozen in the fall. He was graciously
willing I should share in them, and in the cloud of gulls which drifted
about in the currents of the sea and sky there, almost the whole year
round. I did not pretend an original right to them, coming so late as I
did to the place, and I think my deference pleased him.


As I have said, he liked his fences, or at least liked you to respect
them, or to be sensible of them. As often as I went to see him I was
made to wait in the little reception-room below, and never shown at once
to his study. My name would be carried up, and I would hear him
verifying my presence from the maid through the opened door; then there
came a cheery cry of wellcome: "Is that you? Come up, come up!" and I
found him sometimes half-way down the stairs to meet me. He would make
an excuse for having kept me below a moment, and say something about the
rule he had to observe in all cases, as if he would not have me feel his
fence a personal thing. I was aware how thoroughly his gentle spirit
pervaded the whole house; the Irish maid who opened the door had the
effect of being a neighbor too, and of being in the joke of the little
formality; she apologized in her turn for the reception-room; there was
certainly nothing trampled upon in her manner, but affection and
reverence for him whose gate she guarded, with something like the
sentiment she would have cherished for a dignitary of the Church, but
nicely differenced and adjusted to the Autocrat's peculiar merits.

The last time I was in that place, a visitant who had lately knocked at
my own door was about to enter. I met the master of the house on the
landing of the stairs outside his study, and he led me in for the few
moments we could spend together. He spoke of the shadow so near, and
said he supposed there could be no hope, but he did not refuse the cheer
I offered him from my ignorance against his knowledge, and at something
that was thought or said he smiled, with even a breath of laughter, so
potent is the wont of a lifetime, though his eyes were full of tears, and
his voice broke with his words. Those who have sorrowed deepest will
understand this best.

It was during the few years of our Beacon Street neighborhood that he
spent those hundred days abroad in his last visit to England and France.
He was full of their delight when he came back, and my propinquity gave
me the advantage of hearing him speak of them at first hand. He
whimsically pleased himself most with his Derby-day experiences, and
enjoyed contrasting the crowd and occasion with that of forty or fifty
years earlier, when he had seen some famous race of the Derby won;
nothing else in England seemed to have moved him so much, though all that
royalties, dignities, and celebrities could well do for him had been
done. Of certain things that happened to him, characteristic of the
English, and interesting to him in their relation to himself through his
character of universally interested man, he spoke freely; but he has said
what he chose to the public about them, and I have no right to say more.
The thing that most vexed him during his sojourn apparently was to have
been described in one of the London papers as quite deaf; and I could
truly say to him that I had never imagined him at all deaf, or heard him
accused of it before. "Oh, yes," he said, "I am a little hard of hearing
on one side. But it isn't deafness."

He had, indeed, few or none of the infirmities of age that make
themselves painfully or inconveniently evident. He carried his slight
figure erect, and until his latest years his step was quick and sure.
Once he spoke of the lessened height of old people, apropos of something
that was said, and "They will shrink, you know," he added, as if he were
not at all concerned in the fact himself. If you met him in the street,
you encountered a spare, carefully dressed old gentleman, with a clean-
shaven face and a friendly smile, qualified by the involuntary frown of
his thick, senile brows; well coated, lustrously shod, well gloved, in a
silk hat, latterly wound with a mourning-weed. Sometimes he did not know
you when he knew you quite well, and at such times I think it was kind to
spare his years the fatigue of recalling your identity; at any rate, I am
glad of the times when I did so. In society he had the same vagueness,
the same dimness; but after the moment he needed to make sure of you, he
was as vivid as ever in his life. He made me think of a bed of embers on
which the ashes have thinly gathered, and which, when these are breathed
away, sparkles and tinkles keenly up with all the freshness of a newly
kindled fire. He did not mind talking about his age, and I fancied
rather enjoyed doing so. Its approaches interested him; if he was going,
he liked to know just how and when he was going. Once he spoke of his
lasting strength in terms of imaginative humor: he was still so intensely
interested in nature, the universe, that it seemed to him he was not like
an old man so much as a lusty infant which struggles against having the
breast snatched from it. He laughed at the notion of this, with that
impersonal relish which seemed to me singularly characteristic of the
self-consciousness so marked in him. I never heard one lugubrious word
from him in regard to his years. He liked your sympathy on all grounds
where he could have it self-respectfully, but he was a most manly spirit,
and he would not have had it even as a type of the universal decay.
Possibly he would have been interested to have you share in that analysis
of himself which he was always making, if such a thing could have been.

He had not much patience with the unmanly craving for sympathy in others,
and chiefly in our literary craft, which is somewhat ignobly given to it,
though he was patient, after all. He used to say, and I believe he has
said it in print,--[Holmes said it in print many times, in his three
novels and scattered through the "Breakfast Table" series. D.W.]--that
unless a man could show a good reason for writing verse, it was rather
against him, and a proof of weakness. I suppose this severe conclusion
was something he had reached after dealing with innumerable small poets
who sought the light in him with verses that no editor would admit to
print. Yet of morbidness he was often very tender; he knew it to be
disease, something that must be scientifically rather than ethically
treated. He was in the same degree kind to any sensitiveness, for he was
himself as sensitive as he was manly, and he was most delicately
sensitive to any rightful social claim upon him. I was once at a dinner
with him, where he was in some sort my host, in a company of people whom
he had not seen me with before, and he made a point of acquainting me
with each of them. It did not matter that I knew most of them already;
the proof of his thoughtfulness was precious, and I was sorry when I had
to disappoint it by confessing a previous knowledge.


I had three memorable meetings with him not very long before he died: one
a year before, and the other two within a few months of the end. The
first of these was at luncheon in the summer-house of a friend whose

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