Cambridge Sketches
Frank Preston Stearns

Part 1 out of 5

Produced by Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


[Illustration: CHARLES SUMNER]







It has never been my practice to introduce myself to distinguished
persons, or to attempt in any way to attract their attention, and I now
regret that I did not embrace some opportunities which occurred to me in
early life for doing so; but at the time I knew the men whom I have
described in the present volume I had no expectation that I should ever
write about them. My acquaintance with them, however, has served to give
me a more elevated idea of human nature than I otherwise might have
acquired in the ordinary course of mundane affairs, and it is with the
hope of transmitting this impression to my readers that I publish the
present account. Some of them have a world-wide celebrity, and others who
were distinguished in their own time seem likely now to be forgotten; but
they all deserve well of the republic of humanity and of the age in which
they lived.



* * * * *


















* * * * *


Never before hast thou shone
So beautifully upon the Thebans;
O, eye of golden day:

--_Antigone of Sophocles_.

One bright morning in April, 1865, Hawthorne's son and the writer were
coming forth together from the further door-way of Stoughton Hall at
Harvard College, when, as the last reverberations of the prayer-bell were
sounding, a classmate called to us across the yard: "General Lee has
surrendered!" There was a busy hum of voices where the three converging
lines of students met in front of Appleton Chapel, and when we entered
the building there was President Hill seated in the recess between the
two pulpits, and old Doctor Peabody at his desk, with his face beaming
like that of a saint in an old religious painting. His prayer was
exceptionally fervid and serious. He asked a blessing on the American
people; on all those who had suffered from the war; on the government of
the United States; and on our defeated enemies. When the short service
had ended, Doctor Hill came forward and said: "It is not fitting that any
college tasks or exercises should take place until another sun has arisen
after this glorious morning. Let us all celebrate this fortunate event."

On leaving the chapel we found that Flavius Josephus Cook, afterwards
Rev. Joseph Cook of the Monday Lectureship, had collected the members of
the Christian Brethren about him, and they were all singing a hymn of
thanksgiving in a very vigorous manner.

There were some, however, who recollected on their way to breakfast the
sad procession that had passed through the college-yard six months
before,--the military funeral of James Russell Lowell's nephews, killed
in General Sheridan's victory at Cedar Run. There were no recent
graduates of Harvard more universally beloved than Charles and James
Lowell; and none of whom better things were expected. To Lowell himself,
who had no other children, except a daughter, they were almost like his
own sons, and the ode he wrote on this occasion touches a depth of pathos
not to be met with elsewhere in his poetry. There was not at that time
another family in Cambridge or Boston which contained two such bright
intellects, two such fine characters. It did not seem right that they
should both have left their mother, who was bereaved already by a
faithless husband, to fight the battles of their country, however much
they were needed for this. Even in the most despotic period of European
history the only son of a widow was exempt from conscription. Then to
lose them both in a single day! Mrs. Lowell became the saint of Quincy
Street, and none were so hardened or self-absorbed as not to do her

But now the terrible past was eclipsed by the joy and pride of victory.
The great heroic struggle was over; young men could look forward to the
practice of peaceable professions, and old men had no longer to think of
the exhausting drain upon their resources. Fond mothers could now count
upon the survival of their sons, and young wives no longer feared to
become widows in a night. Everywhere there was joy and exhilaration. To
many it was the happiest day they had ever known.

President Hill was seen holding a long and earnest conversation with
Agassiz on the path towards his house. The professors threw aside their
contemplated work. Every man went to drink a glass of wine with his best
friend, and to discuss the fortunes of the republic. The ball-players set
off for the Delta, where Memorial Hall now stands, to organize a full
match game; the billiard experts started a tournament on Mr. Lyon's new
tables; and the rowing men set off for a three-hours' pull down Boston
harbor. Others collected in groups and discussed the future of their
country with the natural precocity of youthful minds. "Here," said a
Boston cousin of the two young Lowells, to a pink-faced, sandy-haired
ball-player, "you are opposed to capital punishment; do you think Jeff.
Davis ought to be hung?" "Just at present," replied the latter, "I am
more in favor of suspending Jeff. Davis than of suspending the law,"--an
opinion that was greeted with laughter and applause. The general
sentiment of the crowd was in favor of permitting General Lee to retire
in peace to private life; but in regard to the president of the Southern
Confederacy the feeling was more vindictive.

We can now consider it fortunate that no such retaliatory measures were
taken by the government. Much better that Jefferson Davis, and his
confederates in the secession movement, should have lived to witness
every day the consequences of that gigantic blunder. The fact that they
adopted a name for their newly-organized nation which did not differ
essentially from the one which they had discarded; that their form of
government, with its constitution and laws, differed so slightly from
those of the United States, is sufficient to indicate that their
separation was not to be permanent, and that it only required the
abolition of slavery to bring the Southern States back to their former
position in the Union. If men and nations did what was for their true
interests, this would be a different world.

* * * * *

At that time the college proper consisted of three recitation buildings,
and four or five dormitories, besides Appleton Chapel, and little old
Holden Chapel of the seventeenth century, which still remains the best
architecture on the grounds. The buildings were mostly old, plain, and
homely, and the rooms of the students simply furnished. In every class
there were twelve or fifteen dandies, who dressed in somewhat above the
height of the fashion, but they served to make the place more picturesque
and were not so likely to be mischievous as some of the rougher country
boys. It was a time of plain, sensible living. To hire a man to make
fires in winter, and black the boots, was considered a great luxury. A
majority of the students blacked their own boots, although they found
this very disagreeable. The college pump was a venerable institution, a
leveller of all distinctions; and many a pleasant conversation took place
about its wooden trough. No student thought of owning an equipage, and a
Russell or a Longworth would as soon have hired a sedan chair as a horse
and buggy, when he might have gone on foot. Good pedestrianism was the
pride of the Harvard student; and an honest, wholesome pride it was.
There was also some good running. Both Julian Hawthorne and Thomas W.
Ward ran to Concord, a distance of sixteen miles, without stopping, I
believe, by the way. William Blaikie, the stroke of the University crew,
walked to New York during the Thanksgiving recess--six days in all.

The undergraduates had not yet become acquainted with tennis, the most
delightful of light exercises, and foot-ball had not yet been regulated
according to the rules of Rugby and Harrow. The last of the pernicious
foot-ball fights between Sophomores and Freshmen took place in September,
1863, and commenced in quite a sanguinary manner. A Sophomore named
Wright knocked over Ellis, the captain of the Freshman side, without
reason or provocation, and was himself immediately laid prostrate by a
red-headed Scotch boy named Roderick Dhu Coe, who seemed to have come to
college for the purpose, for he soon afterwards disappeared and was never
seen there again. With the help of Coe and a few similar spirits, the
Freshmen won the game. It was the first of President Hill's reforms to
abolish this brutal and unseemly custom.

The New York game of base-ball, which has since assumed such mammoth
proportions, was first introduced in our colleges by Wright and Flagg, of
the Class of '66; and the first game, which the Cambridge ladies
attended, was played on the Delta in May of that year with the
Trimountain Club of Boston. Flagg was the finest catcher in New England
at that time; and, although he was never chosen captain, he was the most
skillful manager of the game. It was he who invented the double-play
which can sometimes be accomplished by muffing a fly-catch between the
bases. He caught without mask or gloves and was several times wounded by
the ball.

Let us retrace the steps of time and take a look at the old Delta on a
bright June evening, when the shadows of the elms are lengthening across
the grass. There are from fifty to a hundred students, and perhaps three
or four professors, watching the Harvard nine practise in preparation for
its match with the formidable Lowell nine of Boston. Who is that slender
youth at second base,--with the long nose and good-humored twinkle in his
eye,--who never allows a ball to pass by him? Will he ever become the
Dean of the Harvard Law School? And that tall, olive-complexioned fellow
in the outfield, six feet two in his ball-shoes,--who would suppose that
he is destined to go to Congress and serve his country as Minister to
Spain! There is another dark-eyed youth leaning against the fence and
watching the ball as it passes to and fro. Is he destined to become
Governor of Massachusetts? And that sturdy-looking first-baseman,--will
he enter the ministry and preach sermons in Appleton Chapel? These young
men all live quiet, sensible lives, and trouble themselves little
concerning class honors and secret societies. If they have a
characteristic in common it is that they always keep their mental balance
and never go to extremes; but neither they nor others have any suspicion
of their several destinies. Could they return and fill their former
places on the ground, how strangely they would feel! But the ground
itself is gone; their youth is gone, and the honors that have come to
them seem less important than the welfare of their families and kindred.

Misdemeanors, great and small, on the part of the students were more
common formerly than they have been in recent years, for the good reason
that the chances of detection were very much less. Some of the practical
jokes were of a much too serious character. The college Bible was
abstracted from the Chapel and sent to Yale; the communion wine was
stolen; a paper bombshell was exploded behind a curtain in the Greek
recitation-room; and Professor Pierce discovered one morning that all his
black-boards had been painted white. All the copies of Cooke's Chemical
Physics suddenly disappeared one afternoon, and next morning the best
scholars in the Junior Class were obliged to say, "Not prepared."

A society called the Med. Fac. was chiefly responsible for these
performances; but so secret was it in its membership and proceedings that
neither the college faculty nor the great majority of the students really
knew whether there was such a society in existence or not. A judge of the
United States Circuit Court, who had belonged to it in his time, was not
aware that his own son was a member of it.

Some of the members of this society turned out well, and others badly;
but generally an inclination for such high pranks shows a levity of
nature that bodes ill for the future. A college class is a wonderful
study in human nature, from the time it enters until its members have
arrived at forty or fifty years of age. There was one young man at
Harvard in those days who was so evidently marked out by destiny for a
great public career that when he was elected to Congress in 1876 his
classmates were only surprised because it seemed so natural that this
should happen. Another was of so depraved a character that it seemed as
if he was intended to illustrate the bad boy in a Sunday-school book. He
was so untrustworthy that very soon no one was willing to associate with
him. He stole from his father, and, after graduating, went to prison for
forgery and finally was killed by a tornado. There was still another, a
great fat fellow, who always seemed to be half asleep, and was very
shortly run over and killed by a locomotive. Yet if we could know the
whole truth in regard to these persons it might be difficult to decide
how much of their good and evil fortune was owing to themselves and how
much to hereditary tendencies and early influences. The sad fact remains
that it is much easier to spoil a bright boy than to educate a dull one.

The undergraduates were too much absorbed in their own small affairs to
pay much attention to politics, even in those exciting times. For the
most part there was no discrimination against either the Trojans or
Tyrians; but abolitionists were not quite so well liked as others,
especially after the close of the war; and it was noticed that the sons
of pro-slavery families commonly seemed to have lacked the good moral
training (and the respect for industry) which is youth's surest
protection against the pitfalls of life. The larger proportion of
suspended students belonged to this class.

During the war period Cambridge social life was regulated by a coterie of
ten or twelve young ladies who had grown up together and who were
generally known as the "Spree,"--not because they were given to romping,
for none kept more strictly within the bounds of a decorous propriety,
but because they were accustomed to go off together in the summer to the
White Mountains or to some other rustic resort, where they were supposed
to have a perfectly splendid time; and this they probably did, for it
requires cultivation and refinement of feeling to appreciate nature as
well as art. They decided what students and other young ladies should be
invited to the assemblies in Lyceum Hall, and they arranged their own
private entertainments over the heads of their fathers and mothers; and
it should be added that they exercised their authority with a very good
grace. They had their friends and admirers among the collegians, but no
young man of good manners and pleasing address, and above all who was a
good dancer, needed to beg for an invitation. The good dancers, however,
were in a decided minority, and many who considered themselves so in
their own habitats found themselves much below the standard in Cambridge.

Mrs. James Russell Lowell was one of the lady patronesses of the
assemblies, and her husband sometimes came to them for an hour or so
before escorting her home. He watched the performance with a poet's eye
for whatever is graceful and charming, but sometimes also with a humorous
smile playing upon his face. There were some very good dancers among the
ladies who skimmed the floor almost like swallows; but the finest waltzer
in Cambridge or Boston was Theodore Colburn, who had graduated ten years
previously, and with the advantage of a youthful figure, had kept up the
pastime ever since. The present writer has never seen anywhere another
man who could waltz with such consummate ease and unconscious grace.
Lowell's eyes followed him continually; but it is also said that Colburn
would willingly dispense with the talent for better success in his
profession. Next to him comes the tall ball-player, already referred to,
and it is delightful to see the skill with which he adapts his unusual
height to the most _petite_ damsel on the floor. Here the "Spree" is
omnipotent, but it does not like Class Day, for then Boston and its
suburbs pour forth their torrent of beauty and fashion, and Cambridge for
the time being is left somewhat in the shade.

Henry James in his "International Episode" speaks as if New York dancers
were the best in the world, and they are certainly more light-footed than
English men and women; but a New York lady, with whom Mr. James is well
acquainted, says that Bostonians and Austrians are the finest dancers.
The true Bostonian cultivates a sober reserve in his waltzing which, if
not too serious, adds to the grace of his movement. Yet, when the german
is over, we remember the warning of the wealthy Corinthian who refused
his daughter to the son of Tisander on the ground that he was too much of
a dancer and acrobat.

* * * * *

From 1840 to 1860 Harvard University practically stagnated. The world
about it progressed, but the college remained unchanged. Its presidents
were excellent men, but they had lived too long under the academic shade.
They lacked practical experience in the great world. There were few
lectures in the college course, and the recitations were a mere routine.
The text-books on philosophical subjects were narrow and prejudiced.
Modern languages were sadly neglected; and the tradition that a French
instructor once entertained his class by telling them his dreams, if not
true, was at least characteristic. The sons of wealthy Bostonians were
accustomed to brag that they had gone through college without doing any
real studying. To the college faculty politics only meant the success of
Webster and the great Whig party. The anti-slavery agitation was
considered inconvenient and therefore prejudicial. During the struggle
for free institutions in Kansas, the president of Harvard College
undertook to debate the question in a public meeting, but he displayed
such lamentable ignorance that he was soon obliged to retire in

The war for the Union, however, waked up the slumbering university, as it
did all other institutions and persons. Rev. Thomas Hill was chosen
president in 1861, and was the first anti-slavery president of the
college since Josiah Quincy; and this of itself indicated that he was in
accord with the times,--had not set his face obstinately against them. He
was not so practical a man as President Quincy, but he was one of the
best scholars in America. His administration has not been looked upon as
a success, but he served to break the ice and to open the way for future
navigation. He accepted the position with definite ideas of reform; but
he lacked skill in the adaptation of means to ends. He was determined to
show no favoritism to wealth and social position, and he went perhaps too
far in the opposite direction. One day when the workmen were digging the
cellar of Gray's Hall, President Hill threw off his coat, seized a
shovel, and used it vigorously for half an hour or more. This was
intended as an example to teach the students the dignity of labor; but
they did not understand it so. At the faculty meetings he carried
informality of manner to an excess. He depended too much on personal
influence, which, as George Washington said formerly, "cannot become
government." He wrote letters to the Sophomores exhorting them not to
haze the Freshmen, and, as a consequence, the Freshmen were hazed more
severely than ever. Then he suspended the Sophomores in a wholesale
manner, many of them for slight offences. However, he stopped the foot-
ball fights, and made the examinations much more strict than they had
been previously. He endeavored to inculcate the true spirit of
scholarship among the students,--not to study for rank but from a genuine
love of the subject. The opposition that his reforms excited made him
unpopular, and Freshmen came to college so prejudiced against him that
all his kindness and good will were wasted upon them.

"There goes the greatest man in this country," said a fashionable Boston
youth, one day in the spring of 1866. It was Louis Agassiz returning from
a call on President Hill. Such a statement shows that the speaker
belonged to a class of people called Tories, in 1776, and who might
properly be called so still. As a matter of fact, Agassiz had long since
passed the meridian of his reputation, and his sun was now not far from
setting. He had returned from his expedition to South America with a
valuable collection of fishes and other scientific materials; but his
theory of glaciers; which he went there to substantiate, had not been
proven. Darwin's "Origin of Species" had already swept his nicely-
constructed plans of original types into the fire of futile speculation.
Yet Agassiz was a great man in his way, and his importance was
universally recognized. He had given a vigorous and much-needed impetus
to the study of geology in America, and as a compendium of all the
different branches of natural history there was nobody like him. In his
lifelong single-minded devotion to science he had few equals and no
superiors. He cared not for money except so far as it helped the
advancement of his studies. For many years Madam Agassiz taught a select
school for young ladies (to which Emerson, among others, sent his
daughters), in order to provide funds for her husband to carry on his
work. It is to be feared that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was
rather stingy to him. Edward Everett once made an eloquent address in his
behalf to the legislature, but it had no effect. Louis Napoleon's
munificent offers could not induce him to return to Paris, for he
believed that more important work was to be done in the new world,--
which, by the way, he considered the oldest portion of the globe.

In height and figure Agassiz was so much like Doctor Hill that when the
two were together this was very noticeable. They were both broad-
shouldered, deep-chested men, and of about the same height, with large,
well-rounded heads; but Agassiz had an elastic French step, whereas
Doctor Hill walked with something of a shuffle. One might even imagine
Agassiz dancing a waltz. Lowell said of him that he was "emphatically a
man, and that wherever he went he made a friend." His broad forehead
seemed to smile upon you while he was talking, and from his simple-
hearted and genial manners you felt that he would be a friend whenever
you wanted one. He was the busiest and at the same time one of the most
accessible persons in the university.

On one occasion, happening to meet a number of students at the corner of
University Building, one of them was bold enough to say to him: "Prof.
Agassiz, would you be so good as to explain to us the difference between
the stone of this building and that of Boylston Hall? We know that they
are both granite, but they do not look alike." Agassiz was delighted, and
entertained them with a brief lecture on primeval rocks and the crust of
the earth's surface. He told them that Boylston Hall was made of syenite;
that most of the stone called granite in New England was syenite, and if
they wanted to see genuine granite they should go to the tops of the
White Mountains. Then looking at his watch he said: "Ah, I see I am late!
Good day, my friends; and I hope we shall all meet again." So off he
went, leaving each of his hearers with the embryonic germ of a scientific
interest in his mind.

Longfellow tells in his diary how Agassiz came to him when his health
broke down and wept. "I cannot work any longer," he said; and when he
could not work he was miserable. The trouble that afflicted him was
congestion of the base of the brain, a disorder that is not caused so
frequently by overwork as by mental emotion. His cure by Dr. Edward H.
Clarke, by the use of bromides and the application of ice, was considered
a remarkable one at the time; but five years later the disorder returned
again and cost him his life.

He believed that the Laurentian Mountains, north of the St. Lawrence
River, was the first land which showed itself above the waste of waters
with which the earth was originally surmounted.

Perhaps the most picturesque figure on the college grounds was the old
Greek professor, Evangelinus Apostolides Sophocles; a genuine importation
from Athens, whom the more imaginative sort of people liked to believe
was descended from the Greek poet Sophocles of the Periclean age. He was
much too honest himself to give countenance to this rumor, and if you
inquired of him concerning it, he would say that he should like very well
to believe it, and it was not impossible, although there were no surnames
in ancient Greece before the time of Constantine; he had not found any
evidence in favor of it. He was a short, thick-set man with a large head
and white Medusa-like hair; but such an eye as his was never seen in an
Anglo-Saxon face. It reminded you at once of Byron's Corsair, and
suggested contingencies such as find no place in quiet, law-abiding New
England,--the possibility of sudden and terrible concentration. His
clothing had been long since out of fashion, and he always wore a faded
cloth cap, such as no student would dare to put on. He lived like a
hermit in No. 3 Holworthy, where he prepared his own meals rather than
encounter strange faces at a boarding-house table. Once he invited the
president of the college to supper; and the president went, not without
some misgivings as to what his entertainment might be. He found, however,
a simple but well-served repast, including a French roll and a cup of
black coffee with the grounds in it. The coffee loosened Sophocles's
usually reticent tongue, and after that, as the president himself
expressed it, they had a delightful conversation. Everybody respected
Sophocles in spite of his eccentric mode of life, and the Freshmen were
as much afraid of him as if he had been the Minotaur of Crete.

The reason for his economy did not become apparent until after his death.
When he first came to the university he made friends with a gentleman in
Cambridge to whom he was much attached, but who, at the time we write of,
had long since been dead. It was to support the daughters of his friend,
who would have otherwise been obliged to earn their own living, that he
saved his money; and in his will he left them a competency of fifty
thousand dollars or more.

On one occasion a Freshman was sent to him to receive a private
admonition for writing profane language on a settee; but the Freshman
denied the accusation. Sophocles's eyes twinkled. "Did you not," said he,
"write the letters d-a-m-n?" "No," said the boy, laughing; "it must have
been somebody else." Sophocles laughed and said he would report the case
back to the college faculty. A few days later he stopped the youth in the
college yard and, merely saying "I have had your private admonition
revoked," passed on. Professor Sophocles was right. If the Freshman had
tried to deceive him he would not have laughed but looked grave.

The morning in April, 1861, after President Lincoln had issued his call
for 75,000 troops, a Harvard Senior mentioned it to Sophocles, who said
to him: "What can the government accomplish with 75,000 soldiers? It is
going to take half a million of men to suppress this rebellion."

He was a good instructor in his way, but dry and methodical. Professor
Goodwin's recitations were much more interesting. Sophocles did not
credit the tradition of Homer's wandering about blind and poor to recite
his two great epics. He believed that Homer was a prince, or even a king,
like the psalmist David, and asserted that this could be proved or at
least rendered probable by internal evidence. This much is morally
certain, that if Homer became blind it must have been after middle life.
To describe ancient battle-scenes so vividly he must have taken part in
them; and his knowledge of anatomy is very remarkable. He does not make
such mistakes in that line as bringing Desdemona to life after she has
been smothered.

How can we do justice to such a great-hearted man as Dr. Andrew P.
Peabody? He was not intended by nature for a revolutionary character, and
in that sense he was unsuited, like Everett, for the time in which he
lived. If he had been chosen president of the university after the
resignation of Doctor Hill, as George S. Hillard and other prominent
graduates desired, the great broadening and liberalizing of the
university, which has taken place since, would have been deferred for the
next fifteen years. He had little sympathy with the anti-slavery
movement, and was decidedly opposed to the religious liberalism of his
time; but Doctor Peabody's interest lay in the salvation of human souls,
and in this direction he had no equal. He felt a personal regard in every
human being with whom he was acquainted, and this seemed more important
to him than abstract schemes for the improvement of the race in general.
He was a man of peace and wished all others to be at peace; the confusion
and irritation that accompanies reform was most disagreeable to him. Many
a Harvard student who trembled on the brink of an abyss, far from home
and left to his own devices, afterwards looked back to Doctor Peabody's
helping hand as to the hand of a beneficent providence held out to save
him from destruction; and those whom he was unable to save thought of him
no less gratefully.

In the autumn of 1864 a strange sort of student joined the Sophomore
class. He soon proved that he was one of the best scholars in it; but to
judge from his recitations it was long since he had been to school or
received any regular instruction. He lived chiefly on bread and milk, and
seemed not to have learned how to take exercise. It is feared that he
suffered much from loneliness in that busy hive, where everyone has so
many small affairs of his own to attend to. Just before the annual
examinations he was seized with brain-fever and died. Doctor Peabody
conducted the funeral services at the boarding-house of the unfortunate
youth, and the plainness of the surroundings heightened the eloquence of
his address. His prayer on that occasion was so much above the average
character of his religious discourses that it seemed to come from a
secret fountain of the man's nature, which could only be drawn upon for
great occasions.

With all his tenderness of feeling Doctor Peabody could be a very
vigorous debater. He once carried on a newspaper argument with Rev. Dr.
Minor, of Boston, on the temperance question, in which he took the ground
that drinking wine and beer did not necessarily lead to intemperance,--
which, rightly considered, indicates a lack of self-control; and he made
this point in what his friends, at least, considered a satisfactory and
conclusive manner.

It is pleasant to think that such a man should have met with unusual
prosperity in his old age--and the person to whom he owed this
improvement of his affairs was Nathaniel Thayer, of Boston. Mr. Thayer
took charge of Doctor Peabody's property and trebled or quadrupled it in
value. Mr. Thayer was very fond of doing such kindnesses to his friends,
especially to clergymen. He liked the society of clergymen, and certainly
in this he showed excellent judgment. During the last ten years of his
life he spent his summers at the Isles of Shoals, and generally with one
or more reverend gentlemen in his company. He was besides a most
munificent patron of the university. He provided the means for Agassiz to
go on his expedition to South America, and in conjunction with Doctor
Hill reestablished commons for the students--a reform, as he once stated,
as advantageous to their morals as to their purses. He afterwards built
the dormitory which is known by his name. He was so kind-hearted, that he
was said to have given up banking because he was not hard-hearted enough
for the profession. After his death his family received letters upon
letters from persons of whom they had never heard, but who wished to
express their gratitude for his generosity.

Prof. Benjamin Pierce, the mathematician, was rather an awe-inspiring
figure as he strolled through the college grounds, recognizing few and
speaking to none--apparently oblivious to everything except the internal
life which he led in the "functions of curves" and "celestial mechanics."
He was a fine-looking man, with his ashen-gray hair and beard, his wide
brow and features more than usually regular. When he was observed
conversing with President Hill the fine scholars shook their heads wisely
as if something remarkable was taking place. The president had said in
one of his addresses to the Freshmen that it would require a whole
generation to utilize Professor Pierce's discoveries in algebra; and I
believe, at last accounts, they have not been utilized yet. He would
often be seen in the horse-cars making figures on scraps of paper, which
he carried with him for the purpose, oblivious as ever to what was taking
place about him. To "have a head like old Benny Pierce" has become a
proverb in Boston and Cambridge.

Neither did he lack independence of character. In his later years he not
unfrequently attended the meetings of the Radical Club, or Chestnut
Street Club, at Mrs. John T. Sargent's, in Boston, a place looked upon
with pious horror by good Doctor Peabody, and equally discredited by the
young positivists whom President Eliot had introduced in the college
faculty. His remarks on such occasions were fresh, original, and very
interesting; and once he brought down the house with laughter and
applause by explaining the mental process which prevented him from
appreciating a joke until after all others had done so. This naive
confession made his audience like him.

It is a curious geneological fact that Professor Pierce had a son named
after him who would seem to have been born in mirth, to have lived in
comedy, and died in a jest. He was a college Yorick who produced roars of
laughter in the Dicky and Hasty Pudding clubs. Another son, called
affectionately by the students "Jimmy Mills," was also noted for his wit,
and much respected as an admirable instructor.

Doctor Holmes says, in Parson Turell's Legacy:

"Know old Cambridge? Hope you do,--
Born there? Don't say so! I was too.
Born in a house with a gambrel-roof,--
Standing still, if you must have proof.--

* * * * *

--Nicest place that ever was seen,--
Colleges red and Common green,
Sidewalks brownish with trees between."

This describes Cambridge as it was forty years since. In spite of its
timid conservatism and rather donnish society, as Professor Child termed
it, it was one of the pleasantest places to live in on this side the
Atlantic. It was a community of a refined and elegant industry, in which
every one had a definite work to do, and seemed to be exactly fitted to
his or her place,--not without some great figures, too, to give it
exceptional interest. There was peace and repose under the academic
shade, and the obliviousness of its inhabitants to the outside world only
rendered this more restful.

How changed is it now! The old Holmes house has been long since pulled
down to make way for the new Law-School building. Red-gravel paths
have been replaced by brick sidewalks; huge buildings rise before
the eye; electric cars whiz in every direction; a tall, bristling
iron fence surrounds the college yard; and an enormous clock on the
tower of Memorial Hall detonates the hours in a manner which is by no
means conducive to the sleep of the just and the rest of the weary. The
elderly graduate, returning to the dreamland of his youth, finds that it
has actually become a dreamland and still exists only in his imagination.

The university has broadened and extended itself wonderfully under the
present management, but the simple classic charm of the olden time is
gone forever.


Fifty years ago it was the fashion at Harvard, as well as at other
colleges, for professors to cultivate an austere dignity of manner for
the purpose of preserving order and decorum in the recitation-room; but
this frequently resulted in having the opposite effect and served as a
temptation to the students to play practical jokes on their instructors.
The habitual dryness of the college exercises in Latin, Greek, and
mathematics became still more wearisome from the manner in which these
were conducted. The youthful mind thirsting for knowledge found the road
to it for the most part a dull and dreary pilgrimage.

Professor Francis J. Child would seem to have been the first to break
down this barrier and establish more friendly relations with his classes.
He was naturally well adapted to this. Perfectly frank and fearless in
his dealings with all men, he hated unnecessary conventionality, and at
the same time possessed the rare art of preserving his dignity while
associating with his subordinates on friendly terms. Always kindly and
even sympathetic to the worst scapegraces in the division, he could
assert the superiority of his position with a quickness that often
startled those who were inclined to impose on him. He did not call out
the names of his class as if they were exceptions to a rule in Latin
grammar, but addressed each one of them as if he felt a personal interest
in the man; so that they felt encouraged to speak out what they knew and
even remembered their lessons so much the better. As a consequence he was
universally respected, and there were many who felt an affection for him
such as he could never have imagined. His cordial manner was sufficient
of itself to make his instruction effective.

Francis J. Child was the first scholar in his class at the Boston Latin
School, and afterwards at Harvard. That first scholars do not come to
much good in the world is an illusion of the envious. It is true that
they sometimes break down their health by too strenuous an effort, but
this may happen to an ambitious person in any undertaking. In Professor
Child's case, as in many another, it proved the making of his fortune,
for which he did not possess any exceptional advantages. Being of an
amiable disposition and good address, he was offered a tutorship on
graduation, and rose from one position in the university to another until
he became the first authority on the English language in America. His
whole life was spent at Harvard College, with the exception of a few
short expeditions to Europe; and his influence there steadily increased
until it became a power that was universally recognized.

He was a short, thick-set man, like Sophocles, but as different as
possible in general aspect. Sophocles was always slow and measured, but
Professor Child was quick and lively in all his movements; and his face
wore an habitual cheerfulness which plainly showed the sunny spirit
within. Most characteristic in his appearance was the short curly yellow
hair, so light in color that when it changed with age, his friends
scarcely noticed the difference.

During his academic years he created a sensation by declining to join the
Hasty Pudding Club. This was looked upon as a piece of inordinate self-
conceit; whereas, the true reason for it was that he had little money and
preferred to spend it in going to the theatre. He said afterwards, in
regard to this, that he was not sorry to have done it, for "the students
placed too much importance on such matters."

Through his interest in fine acting, he became one of the best judges of
oratory, and it was always interesting to listen to him on that subject.
He considered Wendell Phillips the perfection of form and delivery, and
sometimes very brilliant, but much too rash in his statements. Everett
was also good, but lacked warmth and earnestness. Choate was purely a
legal pleader, and outside of the court-room not very effective. He
thought Webster one of the greatest of orators, fully equal to Cicero;
but they both lacked the poetical element. Sumner's sentences were florid
and his delivery rather mechanical, but he made a strong impression owing
to the evident purity of his motives. The general public, however, had
become suspicious of oratory, so that it was no longer as serviceable as

"After all," he would say, "the main point for a speaker is to have a
good cause. Then, if he is thoroughly in earnest, we enjoy hearing him."
He once illustrated his subject by the story of a Union general who tried
to rally the fugitives at Pittsburg Landing, and said, waving his sword
in the air: "In the name of the Declaration of Independence, I command, I
exhort you," etc., while a private soldier leaning against a tree, with a
quid of tobacco in his mouth, remarked, "That man can make a good
speech," but showed no intentions of moving. This summary, however, gives
no adequate idea of the brightness of Professor Child's conversation. He
was an animated talker, full of wit and originality.

When the classes at Harvard were smaller than at present, he would
arrange them in University Hall for declamation, so as to cover as much
space as possible. They did not understand this until he said, "Now we
have a larger audience, if not more numerous;" and this placed every one
in the best of humor.

Besides his regular college duties, Professor Child had three distinct
interests to which he devoted himself in leisure hours with all the
energy of an ardent nature. The first of these, editing a complete
edition of the old English ballads, was the labor of his life, and with
it his name will always be associated, for it is a work that can neither
be superseded nor excelled. He was the first to arouse English scholars
to the importance of this, as may be read in the dedication of a partial
edition taken from the Percy manuscripts and published in London in 1861.
He recognized in them the true foundation of the finest literature of the
modern world, and he considered them so much the better from the fact
that they were not composed to be printed, but to be recited or sung.
Matthew Arnold wrote in a letter from America: "After lecturing at
Taunton, I came to Boston with Professor Child of Harvard, a very
pleasant man, who is a great authority on ballad poetry," very warm
praise, considering the source whence it came. Late in life Professor
Child edited separate versions in modern English of some curious old
ballads, and sent them as Christmas presents to his friends. It is not
surprising that he should have been interested as well in the rude songs
of the British sailors, which he heard on crossing the ocean. He was
mightily amused at their simple refrain:

"Haul in the bowlin', long-tailed bowlin',
Haul in the bowlin' Kitty, O, my darlin'."

"That rude couplet," he said, "contains all the original elements of
poetry. Firstly, the anthropomorphic element; the sailor imagines his
bowline as if it had life. Secondly, the humorous element, for the
bowline is all tail. Thirdly, the reflective element; the monotonous
motion makes him think of home,--of his wife or sweetheart,--and he ends
the second line with 'Kitty, O, my darlin'.' I like such primitive verses
much better than the 'Pike County Ballads,' a mixture of sentiment and

Then he went on to say: "I want my children, when they grow up, to read
the classics. My boy will go to college, of course; and he will translate
Homer and Virgil, and Horace,--I think very highly of Horace; but the
literal meaning is a different thing from understanding the poetry. Then
my daughters will learn French and German, and I shall expect them to
read Schiller and Goethe, Moliere and Racine, as well as Shakespeare and
Milton. After that they can read what they like, but they will have a
standard by which to judge other authors." He was afraid that the
students wasted too much time in painting play-bills and other similar
exercises of ingenuity, which lead to nothing in the end.

He gave some excellent advice to a young lady who was about visiting
Europe for the first time, who doubted if she could properly appreciate
the works of art and other fine things that she would be called upon to
admire. "Don't be afraid of that," said Professor Child; "you will
probably like best just those sights which you do not expect to; but if
you do not like them, say so, and let that be the end of it. Now, I am so
unfortunate as not to appreciate Michel Angelo. His great horned Moses is
nothing more to me than a Silenus in a garden. The fact does not trouble
me much, for I find enough to interest me as it is, and I can enjoy life
without the Moses."

After mentioning a number of desirable expeditions, he added: "You will
go to Dresden, of course, to see Raphael's Madonna and Titian's 'Tribute
Money'; and then there are the Green Vaults. I have known the Green
Vaults to have an excellent effect on some ladies of my acquaintance.
They did not care one-quarter as much for a diamond ring as they did
before they went into the Green Vaults. You will see a jewelled fireplace
there which is worth more than all I own in the world." The young lady
looked, however, as if it would take more than the Green Vaults to cure
her love for jewelry.

* * * * *

Professor Child's second important interest was politics, and as a rule
he much preferred talking on this to literary subjects.

Josiah Quincy was the most distinguished president that Harvard College
has had, unless we except President Eliot; and his admirers have been
accustomed to refer to his administration as "Consule Planco." His
politics did not differ widely from those of John Quincy Adams, who was
the earliest statesman of the anti-slavery struggle, and a true hero in
his way. After Quincy, the presidents of the university became more and
more conservative, until Felton, who was a pronounced pro-slavery Whig,
and even attempted to defend the invasion of Kansas in a public meeting.
The professors and tutors naturally followed in the train of the
president, while a majority of the sons of wealthy men among the
undergraduates always took the southern side. The son of an abolitionist
who wished to go through Harvard in those days found it a penitential
pilgrimage. He was certain to suffer an extra amount of hazing, and to
endure a kind of social ostracism throughout the course.

For many years before the election of Lincoln, Professors Child, Lowell,
and Jennison were the only pronounced anti-slavery members of the
faculty; and this left Francis J. Child to hear the brunt of it almost
alone, for Lowell's connection with the university was semi-detached, and
although he was always prepared to face the enemy in an honest argument,
he was not often on the ground to do so.

Now that the most potent cause of political agitation resides in the far-
off problem of the Philippine Islands it is difficult to realize the
popular excitement of those times, when both parties believed that the
very existence of the nation depended on the result of the elections.
Professor Child was not the least of an alarmist, and deprecated all
unnecessary controversy. In 1861 he even cautioned Wendell Phillips
Garrison against introducing too strong an appeal for emancipation in his
commencement address; but he was as firm as a granite rock on any
question of principle, and when he considered a protest in order he was
certain to make one. He did not trust party newspapers for his
information, but obtained it from persons who were in a position to know,
and his facts were so well supported by the quick sallies of his wit that
those who interfered with him once rarely attempted it again. Moreover,
as we all see now, he had the right on his side.


He was proud of having voted twice for Abraham Lincoln. What he thought
of John Brown, at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid, is uncertain; but
many years later, when one of his friends published a small book in
vindication of Brown against the attack of Lincoln's two secretaries, he
wrote to him:

"I congratulate you on the success of your statement, which I have read
with very great interest. John Brown was like a star and still shines in
the firmament. We could not have done without him."

He considered Governor Andrew's approbation of John Brown as more
important than anything that would be written about him in the future.

He did not trouble himself much in regard to Lincoln's second election,
for he saw that it was a foregone conclusion; but after Andrew Johnson's
treachery in 1866, he felt there was a need of unusual exertion. When the
November elections arrived, he told his classes: "Next Tuesday I shall
have to serve my country and there will be no recitations." When Tuesday
came we found him on the sidewalk distributing Republican ballots and
soliciting votes; and there he remained until the polls closed in the
afternoon. He had little patience with educated men who neglected their
political duties. "Why are you discouraged?" he would ask. "Times will
change. Remember the Free-soil movement!" He attended caucuses as
regularly as the meetings of the faculty, and served as a delegate to a
number of conventions. More than once he aroused the good citizens of
Cambridge to the danger of insidious plots by low demagogues against the
public welfare. The poet Longfellow took notice of this and spoke of him
as an invaluable man.

On another occasion Professor Child was discoursing to his class on
oratory and mentioned the fact that Webster and Choate both came from
Dartmouth; that Wendell Phillips graduated at Harvard, but the university
had not seen much of him since. At the mention of Wendell Phillips some
of the boys from pro-slavery families began to sneer. Professor Child
raised himself up and said determinedly, "Wendell Phillips is as good an
orator as either of them!" He was chagrined, however, at Phillips's later
public course,--his support of Socialism and General Butler. Neither did
he like Phillips's Phi Beta Kappa oration, in which he advocated the
dagger and dynamite for tyrants. "A tyrant," said Professor Child, "is
what anyone chooses to imagine. My hired man may consider me a tyrant and
blow me up according to Mr. Phillips's principle." The assassins of
Garfield and McKinley evidently supposed that they were ridding the earth
of two of the worst tyrants that ever existed. Professor Child was
exceptionally liberal. He even supported Woman Suffrage for a time, but
he held Socialism in a kind of holy horror,--such as one feels of a
person who is always making blunders.

In 1878 Professor Child and some other political reformers were elected
to a Congressional convention and went with the hope of securing a
candidate who would represent the educated classes,--the incumbent at
that time being a shoe manufacturer. They argued and worked hard all day,
but without success. Late in the afternoon the shoe manufacturer, a
worthy man but very ignorant, who afterwards became governor of the
State, was renominated; and when it was proposed to make the nomination
unanimous Professor Child called out such an emphatic No that it seemed
to shake the whole assembly. Not content with this he entered a protest
next day in the Boston _Advertiser_. He was so much used up by the
exertion that he was unable to attend to his classes. Some years later he
enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing his candidate, Theodore Lyman,
nominated and elected.

Emerson once delivered a lecture in Boston on university life in which he
made the rather bold statement that "in the course of twenty years the
rank-list is likely to become inverted." One of Professor Child's class
paraphrased this lecture for a theme, and against the sentence above
quoted the Professor wrote: "A statement frequently made, but what is the
fact?" I do not think he liked Emerson quite so well after this, and he
can hardly be blamed for feeling so. It was not only a disparagement of
good scholarship but like a personal slight upon himself. That Emerson
graduated near the foot of his class ought not to prove that an idle
college life is a sign of genius.

Professor Child talked freely in regard to the meetings of the college
faculty, for he believed that graduates had a right to know about them.
He quoted some amusing anecdotes of a certain professor who led the
opposition against President Eliot and praised the dignified manner with
which Eliot regarded him. In 1879 he said one day:

"We are in the half-way stage between a college and a university, and
there is consequently great confusion. If we once became a university,
pure and simple, all that would be over; but the difficulty is that the
material which comes to us is so poor. I do not mean that the young men
are lacking in intelligence, but the great majority of them do not brace
themselves to the work. As Doctor Hedge says, the heart of the college is
in the boating and ball-playing and not in its studies."

His third occupation and chief recreation was his rose-garden. The whole
space between his front piazza and Kirkland Street was filled with rose-
bushes which he tended himself, from the first loosening of the earth in
spring until the straw sheaf-caps were tied about them in November. What
more delightful occupation for a scholar than working in a rose-garden!
There his friends were most likely to find him in suitable weather, and
when June came they were sure to receive a share of the bountiful
blossoms; nor did he ever forget the sick and suffering.

He was greatly interested to hear of a German doctor at Munich who had a
rose-garden with more than a hundred varieties in it. "I should like to
know that man," he said; "wouldn't we have a good talk together?" He
complained that although everybody liked roses few were sufficiently
interested in them to distinguish the different kinds. Naturally rose-
bugs were his special detestation. "Saving your presence," he said to
President Felton's daughter, "I will crush this insect;" to which she
aptly replied, "I certainly would not have my presence save him." When he
heard of the Buffalo-bug he exclaimed: "Are we going to have another pest
to contend with? I think it is a serious question whether the insect
world is not going to get the better of us."

After his painful death at the Massachusetts Hospital in September, 1896,
the president and fellows of the university voted to set apart little
Holden Chapel, the oldest building on the college grounds, and yet one of
the most dignified, for an English library dedicated to the memory of
Francis J. Child. Such an honor had never been decreed for president or
professor before; and it gives him the distinction that we all feel he
deserved. It is much more appropriate to him, and satisfactory than a
marble statue in Saunders Theatre would have been, or a stained-glass
window in Memorial Hall. Yet his presence still lingers in the memory of
his friends, like the fragrance of his own roses, after the petals have
fallen from their stems.


It has been estimated that there were four hundred poets in England in
the time of Shakespeare, and in the century during which Dante lived
Europe fairly swarmed with poets, many of them of high excellence.
Frederick II. of Germany and Richard I. of England were both good poets,
and were as proud of their verses as they were of their military
exploits. Frederick II. may be said to have founded the vernacular in
which Dante wrote; and Longfellow rendered into English a poem of
Richard's which he composed during his cruel imprisonment in Austria. A
knight who could not compose a song and sing it to the guitar was as rare
as a modern gentleman of fashion who cannot play golf. When James Russell
Lowell resigned the chair of poetry at Harvard no one could be found who
could exactly fill his place, and it was much the same at Oxford after
Matthew Arnold retired.

The difference between then and now would seem to reside in the fact,
that poetry is more easily remembered than prose. From the time of Homer
until long after the invention of printing, not only were ballad-singers
and harpers in good demand, but the recital of poetry was also a favorite
means of livelihood to indigent scholars and others, who wandered about
like the minstrels. The "article," as Tom Moore called it, was in active
request. Poetry was recited in the camp of Alexander, in the Roman baths,
in the castles on the Rhine, and English hostelries. Now it is replaced
by novel-reading, and there are few who know how much pleasure can be
derived on a winter's evening by impromptu poetic recitations. If a
popular interest in poetry should revive again, I have no doubt that
hundreds of poets would spring up, as it were, out of the ground and fill
the air with their pleasant harmonies. The editor of the _Atlantic_
informed Professor Child that he had a whole barrelful of poetry in his
house, much of it excellent, but that there was no use he could make of

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was as irrepressible a rhymer as John Watts
himself, and fortunately he had a father who recognized the value of his
talent and assisted him in a judicious manner, instead of placing
obstacles in his way, as the father of Watts is supposed to have done.
The account that Rev. Samuel Longfellow has given us of the youth of his
brother is highly instructive, and ought to be of service to all young
men who fancy they are destined by nature for a poetic career. He tells
us how Henry published his first poem in the Portland _Gazette_, and
how his boyish exultation was dashed with cold water the same evening by
Judge ----, who said of it in his presence: "Stiff, remarkably stiff, and
all the figures are borrowed."

The "Fight at Lovell's Pond" would not have been a remarkable poem for a
youth of nineteen, but it showed very good promise for the age at which
it was written. Few boys at that age can write anything that will hang
together as a poem. Young Longfellow was a better poet at thirteen than
his father's friend, the Judge, was a critic. His verses were by no means
stiff, but on the contrary showed indications of that natural grace and
facility of expression for which he became afterwards distinguished. As
for the originality of his comparisons it is doubtful also if the Judge
could have proved his point on that question. They were original to
Henry, if to nobody else.

Fortunately for Henry he was also a fine scholar. The following year saw
him enter as a Freshman at Bowdoin College, which was equal to entering
Harvard at the age of fifteen. Look out for the youngest members of a
college class! They may not distinguish themselves at the university, but
they are the ones who, if they live, outstrip all others. But Longfellow
did distinguish himself. In his Junior year he composed seventeen poems
which were published, then and afterwards, in the _United States
Literary Gazette_, where his name appeared beside that of William
Cullen Bryant. This was quite exceptional in the history of American
literature, and as the editor of the _Literary Gazette_ stated it:
"A young tree which puts forth so many blossoms is likely to bear good

With the close of his college course came the important question of
Longfellow's future occupation. His father, with good practical judgment,
foresaw that poetry alone would not serve to make his son self-supporting
and independent; but the boy hated to give this up for a more prosaic
employment. While the discussion was going on between them, the
authorities of Bowdoin solved the problem for them both by offering young
Longfellow a professorship of modern languages on condition that he would
spend two years in Europe preparing himself for the position. He had
graduated fourth in his class.

Does not this prove the advantage of good scholarship? Was the rank list
inverted in Longfellow's case? I think not. He had lived a virtuous and
industrious life, not studying for rank or honor, but because he enjoyed
doing what was right and fit for a young man to do; and now the reward
had come to him, like the sun breaking through the clouds which seemed to
obscure his future prospects. Still, there was a hard road before him. It
is very pleasant to travel rapidly through foreign countries, seeing the
best that is in them and to return home with a multitude of fresh
impressions; but living and working a long time in another country seems
too much like exile. The loneliness of the situation becomes a weary
burden, and it is dangerous from its very loneliness. Many have died or
lost their health under such conditions (in fact Longfellow came near
losing his life from Roman fever), and he wrote from Paris: "Here one can
keep evil at a distance as well as elsewhere, though, to be sure,
temptations are multiplied a thousand-fold if he is willing to enter into
them." A young man's first experience in London or Paris is a dangerous
sense of freedom; for all the customary restraints of his daily life have
been removed.

Mrs. Stowe says of her beautiful character, "Eva St. Clair," that all bad
influences rolled off from her like dew from a cabbage leaf, and it was
the same with Longfellow throughout. He lived in France, Spain, Italy,
and Germany, and then returned to Portland, the same true American as
when he left there, without foreign ways or modes of thinking, and with
no more than the slight aroma of a foreign air upon him. Longfellow and
his whole family were natural cosmopolitans. There was nothing of the
proverbial Yankee in their composition.

Whittier was a Quaker by creed, but he was also much of a Yankee in style
and manner. Emerson looked like a Yankee, and possessed the cool Yankee
shrewdness. Lowell's "Biglow Papers" testified to the fundamental Yankee;
but the Longfellows were endowed with a peculiar refinement and purity
which seemed to distinguish them as much in Cambridge or London as it did
in Portland, where there has always been a rather superior sort of
society. It was like French refinement without being Gallic. No wonder
that a famous poet should emanate from such a family.

What we notice especially in the Longfellow Letters during this European
sojourn is the admonition of Henry's father, that German literature was
more important than Italian,--and the poet was always largely influenced
by this afterwards; that Henry did not find Paris particularly
attractive, and on the whole preferred the Spanish character to the
French on account of its deeper under-currents; that he did not seem to
realize the danger that menaced him from Spanish brigands, in spite of
the black crosses by the roadside; and that he was not vividly impressed
by the famous works of art in the Louvre gallery. He only notices that
one of Correggio's figures resembles a young lady in Portland.

Longfellow would seem to have been always the same in regard to his
appreciation of art. When he was in Italy, in 1869, he visited all the
picture galleries and evidently enjoyed doing so; but it was easy to see
that his brother, Rev. Samuel Longfellow, felt a much livelier interest
in the subject than he did; and injured frescos or mutilated statues,
like the Torso of the Belvidere, were objects of aversion to him. Poets
and musical composers see more with their ears than they do with their

The single work of art that attracted him strongly at this time was a
statue of Venus, by Canova, which he compares to the Venus de' Medici,
and his brother Samuel remarks that he was always more attracted by
sculpture than painting. Canova was a genius very similar to Longfellow
himself, as nearly as an Italian could be made to match an American, and
he was then at the height of his reputation.

In 1829 Longfellow returned to Portland and was immediately chosen a
professor at Bowdoin College, where he remained for the next seven years.
When, in 1836, Professor Ticknor retired from his position as instructor
of modern languages at Harvard, his place was offered to Longfellow and
accepted. This brought him into the literary centre of New England, and
one of the first acquaintances he made there was Charles Sumner, who was
lecturing before the Harvard Law-School.

The friendship between these two great men commenced at once and only
ceased at Sumner's death in 1874, when Longfellow wrote one of the finest
of his shorter poems in tribute to Sumner's memory. It was as poetic a
friendship as that between Emerson and Carlyle; but whereas Emerson and
Carlyle had differences of opinion, Sumner and Longfellow were always of
one mind. When Sumner made his Fanueil Hall speech against the fugitive
slave law, which was simply fighting revolution with revolution, and
Harvard College and the whole of Cambridge turned against him, Longfellow
stood firm; and it may be suspected that he had many an unpleasant
discussion with his aristocratic acquaintances on this point. It was
considered bad enough to support Garrison, but supporting Sumner was a
great deal worse, for Sumner was an orator who wielded a power only
inferior to Webster. Fortunately for Longfellow, his connection with the
university ceased not long after Sumner's election to the Senate; and the
unpleasantness of his position may have been the leading cause of his

Sumner was the best friend Longfellow had, and perhaps the best that he
could have had. There was Emerson, of course, and Longfellow was always
on friendly terms with him; but Emerson had a habit of catechising his
companions which some of them did not altogether like; and this may have
been the case with Longfellow, for they never became very intimate.
Sumner, on the contrary, had always a large stock of information to
dispense, not only concerning American affairs but those of other
nations, in which Longfellow never lost his interest. More important to
him even than this is the fact that Sumner's statements were always to be
trusted. It may be surmised that it was not so much similarity of opinion
as the purity of their motives that brought the poet and statesman

As soon as Sumner returned from Washington, in spring or summer, he would
go out to call on Longfellow; and it was a pleasant sight to see them
walking together on a June evening beneath the overarching elms of
historic Brattle Street. They were a pair of majestic-looking men; and
though Longfellow was nearly a head shorter than Sumner, his broad
shoulders gave him an appearance of strength, as his capacious head and
strong, finely cut features evidently denoted an exceptional intellect.
He wore his hair poetically long, almost to his coat collar; and yet
there was not the slightest air of the Bohemian about him. They seemed to
be oblivious of everything except their conversation; and if this could
have been recorded it might prove to be as interesting as the poetry of
the one and the orations of the other. They were evidently talking on
great subjects, and the earnestness on Sumner's face was reflected on
Longfellow's as in a mirror.

Hawthorne was a classmate of Longfellow, and in the biography of the
latter there are a number of letters from one to the other which are
always friendly,--but never more than that on Hawthorne's side,--with one
exception, where he thanks Longfellow for a complimentary review of
"Twice-Told Tales" in the _North American_. At that time the
_North American_ was considered an authority which could make or
unmake an author's reputation; and Longfellow may be said to have opened
the door for Hawthorne into the great world. Hawthorne's friendship for
President Pierce proved an advantage to him financially, but it also
became a barrier between him and the other literary men of his time. Of
course he believed what his friend Pierce told him concerning public
affairs, and when he found that his other friends had not the same faith
in Pierce's veracity he became more strongly a partisan of the pro-
slavery cause on that account. Longfellow frankly admitted that he did
not understand Hawthorne, and he did not believe that anyone at Bowdoin
College understood him. He was the most secretive man that he ever knew;
but so far as genius was concerned, he believed that Hawthorne would
outlive every other writer of his time. He had the will of a great

Goethe has been called the pampered child of genius, of fortune, and the
muse; but if Goethe had greater celebrity he never enjoyed half the
worldly prosperity of Longfellow. While Emerson was earning a hard
livelihood by lecturing in the West, and Whittier was dwelling in a
country farm-house, Longfellow occupied one of the most desirable
residences in or about Boston, and had all the means at his command that
a modest man could wish for. The Craigie House was, and still remains,
the finest residence in Cambridge,--"formerly the head-quarters of
Washington, and afterwards of the Muses." Good architecture never becomes
antiquated, and the Craigie House is not only spacious within, but
dignified without.

One could best realize Longfellow's opulence by walking through his
library adjacent to the eastern piazza, and gazing at the magnificent
editions of foreign authors which had been presented to him by his
friends and admirers; especially the fine set of Chateaubriand's works,
in all respects worthy of a royal collection. There is no ornament in a
house that testifies to the quality of the owner like a handsome library.

Byron would seem to have been the only other poet that has enjoyed such
prosperity, although Bryant, as editor of a popular newspaper, may have
approached it closely; but a city house, with windows on only two sides,
is not like a handsome suburban residence. Longfellow could look across
the Cambridge marshes and see the sunsets reflected in the water of the
Charles River.

Here he lived from 1843, when he married Miss Appleton, a daughter of one
of the wealthiest merchant-bankers of Boston, until his death by
pneumonia in March, 1882. The situation seemed suited to him, and he
always remained a true poet and devoted to the muses:

Integer vitae scelerisque purus.

He did not believe in a luxurious life except so far as luxury added to
refinement, and everything in the way of fashionable show was very
distasteful to him. His brother Samuel once said, "I cannot imagine
anything more disagreeable than to ride in a public procession;" and the
two men were more alike than brothers often are. We notice in the poet's
diary that he abstains from going to a certain dinner in Boston for fear
of being called upon to make a speech. Craigie House gave Longfellow the
opportunity in which he most delighted,--of entertaining his friends and
distinguished foreign guests in a handsome manner; but conventional
dinner parties, with their fourteen plates half surrounded by wine-
glasses, were not often seen there. He much preferred a smaller number of
guests with the larger freedom of discourse which accompanies a select
gathering. Many such occasions are referred to in his diary,--as if he
did not wish to forget them.

He was the finest host and story-teller in the country. His genial
courtesy was simply another expression of that mental grace which made
his reputation as a poet, and his manner of reciting an incident,
otherwise trivial, would give it the same additional quality as in his
verses on Springfield Arsenal and the crooked Songo River, which without
Longfellow would be little or nothing. Then his fund of information was
what might be expected from a man who had lived in all the countries of
western Europe.

He had humble and unfortunate friends whom he seemed to think as much of
as though they were distinguished. He recognized fine traits of
character, perhaps real greatness of character, in out-of-the-way
places,--men whose chief happiness was their acquaintance with
Longfellow. It was something much better than charity; and Professor
Child spoke of it on the day of Emerson's funeral as the finest flower in
the poet's wreath.

Longfellow was one of the kindest friends that the Hungarian exiles found
when they came to Boston in 1852. Longfellow helped Kossuth, subscribed
to Kalapka's riding-school, and entertained a number of them at his
house. Afterwards, when one of the exiles set up a business in Hungarian
wines, Longfellow made a large purchase of him, which he spoke of twenty
years later with much satisfaction. He liked Tokay, and also the white
wine of Capri, which he regretted could not be obtained in America.

Those who supposed that Longfellow was easily imposed upon made a great
mistake. He had the reputation among his publishers of understanding
business affairs better than any author in New England; but he was almost
too kind-hearted. Somewhere about 1859 a photographer made an excellent
picture of his daughters--indeed, it was a charming group--and the man
begged Mr. Longfellow for permission to sell copies of it as it would be
of great advantage to him. Longfellow complied and the consequence was
that in 1860 one could hardly open a photograph album anywhere without
finding Longfellow's daughters in it. Then a vulgar story originated that
the youngest daughter had only one arm, because her left arm was hidden
behind her sister. It is to be hoped that Longfellow never heard of this,
for if he did it must have caused him a good deal of pain, in return for
his kindness; but that is what one gets. Fortunately the photographs have
long since faded out.

Much in the same line was his interest in the children of the poor. A
ragged urchin seemed to attract him much more than one that was nicely
dressed. Perhaps they seemed more poetic to him, and he could see more
deeply into the joys and sorrows of their lives.

Where the Episcopal Theological School now stands on Brattle Street there
was formerly a sort of tenement-house; and one day, as we were taking a
stroll before dinner, we noticed three small boys with dirty faces
standing at the corner of the building; and just then one of them cried
out: "Oh, see; here he comes!" And immediately Longfellow appeared
leaving the gate of Craigie House. We passed him before he reached the
children, but on looking back we saw that he had stopped to speak with
them. They evidently knew him very well.

It is remarkable how the impression should have been circulated that
Longfellow was not much of a pedestrian. On the contrary, there was no
one who was seen more frequently on the streets of Cambridge. He walked
with a springy step and a very slight swing of the shoulders, which
showed that he enjoyed it. He may not have walked such long distances as
Hawthorne, or so rapidly as Dickens, but he was a good walker.

His sister, Mrs. Greenleaf, built a memorial chapel in North Cambridge
for the Episcopal society there, and from this Longfellow formed the
habit of walking in that direction by way of the Botanic Garden.
Somewhere in the cross streets he became acquainted with two children,
the son and daughter of a small shop-keeper. They, of course, told their
mother about their white-haired acquaintance, and with the fate of
Charlie Ross before her eyes, their mother warned them to keep out of his
way. He might be a tramp, and tramps were dangerous!

However, it was not long before the children met their white-haired
friend again, and the boy asked him: "Are you a tramp? Mother thinks
you're a tramp, and she wants to know what your name is." It may be
presumed that Mr. Longfellow laughed heartily at this misconception, but
he said: "I think I may call myself a tramp. I tramp a good deal; but you
may tell your mother that my name is Henry W. Longfellow." He afterwards
called on the mother in order to explain himself, and to congratulate her
on having such fine children.

When the Saturday Club, popularly known as the Atlantic Club, was
organized, one of the first subjects of discussion that came up was the
question of autographs. Emerson said that was the way in which he
obtained his postage stamps; but Longfellow confessed that he had given
away a large number of them. And so it continued to the end. "Why should
I not do it," he would say, "if it gives them pleasure?" Emerson looked
on such matters from the stoical point of view as an encouragement to
vanity; but he would have been more politic to have gratified his
curious, or sentimental admirers; for every autograph he gave would have
made a purchaser for his publishers.

Harmony did not always prevail in the Saturday Club, for politics was the
all-embracing subject in those days and its members represented every
shade of political opinion. Emerson, Longfellow, and Lowell were strongly
anti-slavery, but they differed in regard to methods. Lowell was what was
then called a Seward man, and differed with Emerson in regard to John
Brown, and with Longfellow in regard to Sumner. Holmes was still more
conservative; and Agassiz was a McClellan Democrat. William Hunt, the
painter, believed that the war was caused by the ambition of the leading
politicians in the North and South. Longfellow had the advantage of more
direct information than the others, and enjoyed the continued successes
of the Republican party.

In the spring of 1866 a number of Southerners came to Boston to borrow
funds in order to rehabilitate their plantations, and were introduced at
the Union League Club. Finding themselves there in a congenial element
they made speeches strongly tinged with secession doctrines. Sumner, of
course, could not let this pass without making some protest against it,
and for this he was hissed. The incident was everywhere talked of, and
came under discussion at the next meeting of the Saturday Club. Otto
Dresel, a German pianist, who had small reason for being there, said, "It
was not Mr. Sumner's politics but his bad manners that were hissed."
Longfellow set his glass down with emphasis, and replied: "If good
manners could not say it, thank heaven bad manners did;" and Lowell
supported this with some pretty severe criticism of the Union League
Club. In justice to the Union League Club, however, it ought to be said
that there was applause as well as hisses for Sumner.

Longfellow had a leonine face, but it was that of a very mild lion; one
that had never learned the use of teeth and claws. Yet those who knew him
felt that he could roar on occasion, if occasion required it. Once at
Longfellow's own table the conversation chanced upon Goethe, and a
gentleman present remarked that Goethe was in the habit of drinking three
bottles of hock a day. "Who said he did?" inquired the poet. "It is in
Lewes's biography," said the gentleman. "I do not believe it," replied
Longfellow, "unless," he added with a laugh, "they were very small
bottles." A few days afterwards Prof. William James remarked in regard to
this incident that the story was quite incredible.

In his youth Longfellow seems to have taken to guns and fishing-rods more
regularly than some boys do, but pity for his small victims soon induced
him to relinquish the sport. His eldest son, Charles, also took to guns
very naturally, and in spite of a severe wound which he received from the
explosion of a badly loaded piece, he finally became one of the most
expert pigeon-shooters in the State. At the intercession of his father,
who considered the game too cruel, he afterwards relinquished this for
target-shooting, in which he succeeded equally well. I was talking one
day with him on this subject and remarked that I had recently shot two
crows with my rifle. "What did you do it for?" interposed his father, in
a deprecatory tone. So I explained to him that crows were outside of the
pale of the law; that they not only were a pest to the farmers but
destroyed the eggs and young of singing birds,--in fact, they were bold,
black robbers, whose livery betokened their evil deeds. This evidently
interested him, and he finally said with a laugh: "If that is the case,
we will give you and Charlie a commission to exterminate them."

There was a story that when young Nicholas Longworth came to Harvard
College in the autumn of 1862 and called on Mr. Longfellow, who had been
entertained at his father's house in Cincinnati, the poet said to him:
"It is _worth_ that makes the man; the want of it the _fellow_"
--a compliment that almost dumfounded his young acquaintance. It is
certain that Longfellow addressed a poem to Mrs. Longworth which will be
found in the collection of his minor poems, and in which he speaks of her

"The Queen of the West in her garden dressed,
By the banks of the beautiful river."

In the midst of this unrivalled prosperity, this distinction of genius,
and public and private honor, on the ninth of July, 1861, there came one
of the most harrowing tragedies that has ever befallen a man's domestic
life. Longfellow was widowed for the second time, and five children were
left without a mother. It seemed as if Providence had set a limit beyond
which human happiness could not pass. It was after this calamity that
Longfellow undertook his metrical translation of Dante's "Divina
Commedia," a much more difficult and laborious work than writing original
poetry. As his brother said, "He required an absorbing occupation to
prevent him from thinking of the past."

No wonder that in later years he said, in his exquisite verses on the
Mountain of the Holy Cross in Colorado, these pathetic words, "On my
heart also there is a cross of snow." In Longfellow's diary we meet with
the names of many books that he read, and these as well as the pertinent
comments on them tell much more of his intellectual life than we derive
from his letters. "Adam Bede," which took the world by storm, did not
make so much of an impression on him as Hawthorne's "Marble Faun," which
he read through in a day and calls a wonderful book. Of "Adam Bede" he
says: "It is too feminine for a man; too masculine for a woman." He says
of Dickens, after reading "Barnaby Rudge": "He is always prodigal and
ample, but what a set of vagabonds he contrives to introduce us to!"
"Barnaby Rudge" is certainly the most bohemian and esoteric of Dickens's
novels. He liked much better Miss Muloch's "John Halifax,"--a popular
book in its time, but not read very much since. He calls Charles Reade a
clever and amusing writer. We find nothing concerning Disraeli, Trollope,
or Wilkie Collins. Neither do we hear of critical and historical writers
like Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, and Froude. He went, however, to
call on Carlyle in England, and was greatly impressed by his
conversation. The scope of Longfellow's reading does not compare with
that of Emerson or Marian Evans; but the doctors say that "every man of
forty knows the food that is good for him," and this is true mentally as
well as physically.

He refers more frequently to Tennyson than to any other writer, and
always in a generous, cordial manner. Of the "Idyls of the King" he says
that the first and third Idyls could only have come from a great poet,
but that the second and fourth are not quite equal to the others.

Once, at his sister's house, he held out a book in his hand and said:
"Here is some of the finest dramatic poetry that I have ever read." It
was Tennyson's "Queen Mary;" but there were many who would not have
agreed with his estimate of it. Rev. Samuel Longfellow considered the
statement very doubtful.

In the summer of 1868 Longfellow went to Europe with his family to see
what Henry James calls "the best of it." Rev. Samuel Longfellow and T. G.
Appleton accompanied the party, which, with the addition of Ernest
Longfellow's beautiful bride, made a strong impression wherever they were
seen. In fact their tour was like a triumphal procession.

Longfellow was everywhere treated with the distinction of a famous poet;
and his fine appearance and dignified bearing increased the reputation
which had already preceded him. His meeting with Tennyson was considered
as important as the visit of the King of Prussia to Napoleon III., and
much less dangerous to the peace of Europe. It was talked of from
Edinburgh to Rome.

Longfellow, however, hated lionizing in all its forms, and he avoided
ceremonious receptions as much as possible. He enjoyed the entertainment
of meeting distinguished people, but he evidently preferred to meet them
in an unconventional manner, and to have them as much to himself as
possible. Princes and savants called on him, but he declined every
invitation that might tend to give him publicity.

His facility in the different languages was much marvelled at. While he
was in Florence a delegation from the mountain towns of Tuscany waited
upon him and he conversed with them in their own dialect, greatly to
their surprise and satisfaction.

From a number of incidents in this journey, related by Rev. Samuel
Longfellow, the following has a permanent interest:

When the party came to Verona in May, 1869, they found Ruskin elevated on
a ladder, from which he was examining the sculpture on a monument. As
soon as he heard that the Longfellow party was below, he came down and
greeted them very cordially. He was glad that they had stopped at Verona,
which was so interesting and so often overlooked; he wanted them to
observe the sculptures on the monument,--the softly-flowing draperies
which seemed more as if they had been moulded with hands than cut with a
chisel. He then spoke in grievous terms of the recent devastation by the
floods in Switzerland, which had also caused much damage in the plains of
Lombardy. He thought that reservoirs ought to be constructed on the sides
of the mountains, which would stay the force of the torrents, and hold
the water until it could be made useful. He wished that the Alpine Club
would take an interest in the matter. After enjoying so much in
Switzerland it would be only fair for them to do something for the
benefit of the country. Mr. Appleton then said: "That is a work for
government to do;" to which Ruskin replied: "Governments do nothing but
fill their pockets, and issue this,"--taking out a handful of Italian
paper currency, which was then much below par.

Everyone has his or her favorite poet or poets, and it is a common
practice with young critics to disparage one in order to elevate another.
Longfellow was the most popular American poet of his time, but there were
others besides Edgar A. Poe who pretended to disdain him. I have met more
such critics in Cambridge than in England, Germany, or Italy; and the
reason was chiefly a political one. At a distance Longfellow's politics
attracted little attention, but in Cambridge they could not help being
felt. In 1862 a strong movement emanated from the Harvard Law-School to
defeat Sumner and Andrew, and the lines became drawn pretty sharply. As
it happened, the prominent conservatives with one or two exceptions all
lived to the east and north of the college grounds, while Longfellow,
Lowell, Doctor Francis (who baptized Longfellow's children), Prof. Asa
Gray, and other liberals lived at the west end; and the local division
made the contest more acrimonious. The conservatives afterwards felt the
bitterness of defeat, and it was many years before they recovered from
this. A resident graduate of Harvard, who was accustomed to converse on
such subjects as the metaphysics of Hamilton's quaternions, once said
that Longfellow was the paragon of schoolgirls, because he wrote what
they would like to so much better than they could. This was contemptible
enough; but how can one expect a man who discourses on the metaphysics of
Hamilton's quaternions to appreciate Longfellow's art, or any art pure
and simple. "Evangeline," which is perhaps the finest of Longfellow's
poems, is not a favorite with youthful readers.

He was greater as a man, perhaps, than as a poet. Future ages will have
to determine this; but he was certainly one of the best poets of his
time. Professor Hedge, one of our foremost literary critics, spoke of him
as the one American poet whose verses sing themselves; and with the
exception of Bryant's "Robert of Lincoln," and Poe's "Raven," and a few
other pieces, this may be taken as a judicious statement.

Longfellow's unconsciousness is charming, even when it seems childlike.
As a master of verse he has no English rival since Spenser. The trochaic
meter in which "Hiawatha" is written would seem to have been his own
invention; [Footnote: At least I can remember no other long poem composed
in it.] and is a very agreeable change from the perpetual iambics of
Byron and Wordsworth. "Evangeline" is perhaps the most successful
instance of Greek and Latin hexameter being grafted on to an English
stem. Matthew Arnold considered it too dactylic, but the lightness of its
movement personifies the grace of the heroine herself. Lines like

"Illi inter sese multa vi brachia tollunt
In numerum, versantque tenaci forcipe massam,"

would not have been suited to the subject.

It has often been said that "Hiawatha" does not represent the red man as
he really is, and this is true. Neither does Tennyson represent the
knights of King Arthur's court as they were in the sixth century A.D.
They are more like modern English gentlemen, and when we read the German
Neibelungen we recognize this difference. Virgil's Aeneid does not belong
to the period of the Trojan war, but this does not prevent the Aeneid
from being very fine poetry. The American Indian is not without his
poetic side, as is proved by the squaw who knelt down on a flowery
Brussels carpet, and smoothing it with her hands, said: "Hahnsome!
hahnsome! heaven no hahnsomer!" There is true poetry in this; and so
there is in the Indian cradle-song:

"The poor little bee that lives in the tree;
The poor little bee that lives in the tree;
Has but one arrow in his quiver."

Either of these incidents is sufficient to testify to Longfellow's

The best poetry is that which forces itself upon our memories, so that it
becomes part of our life without the least effort of recollection. Such
are Emerson's "Problem," Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie," and Longfellow's
"Santa Filomena."

"Whene'er a noble deed is wrought,
Whene'er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts in glad surprise
To higher levels rise."

Those are fortunate in this life who feel the glad surprise of

"Hiawatha" is equally universal in its application to modern life. The
questions of the Indian boy and the replies of his nurse, the good
Nikomis, are not confined to the life of the aborigines. Every spirited
boy is a Hiawatha, and in one form or another goes through the same
experiences that Longfellow has represented with such consummate art in
his American epic-idyl.


The Lowell family of Boston crossed over from England towards the middle
of the seventeenth century. One of their number afterwards founded the
city of Lowell, by establishing manufactures on the Merrimac River, late
in the eighteenth century; and in more recent times two members of the
family have held the position of judge in the Supreme Court of
Massachusetts. They are a family of refined intellectual tastes, as well
as of good business and professional ability, but of a retiring
disposition and not often conspicuous in public life,--a family of
general good qualities, nicely balanced between liberal and conservative,
and with a poetic vein running through it for the past hundred years or
more. In the Class of 1867 there was an Edward J. Lowell who was chosen
class odist, and who wrote poetry nearly, if not quite, as good as that
of his distinguished relative at the same period of life.

James Russell Lowell was born at Elmwood, as it is now called, on
Washington's birthday in 1819,--as if to make a good staunch patriot of
him; and, what is even more exceptional in American life, he lived and
died in the same house in which he was born. It was not such a house as
the Craigie mansion, but still spacious and dignified, and denoted very
fair prosperity for those times.

Elmwood itself extends for some thirty rods on Brattle Street, but the
entrance to the house is on a cross-road which runs down to the marshes.
Beyond Elmwood there is a stonecutter's establishment, and next to that
Mount Auburn Cemetery, which, however, was a fine piece of woodland in
Lowell's youth, called Sweet Auburn by the Harvard students, much
frequented by love-sick swains and strolling parties of youths and

The Lowell residence was well into the country at that time. There were
few houses near it, and Boston could only be reached by a long detour in
a stage; so that an expedition to the city exhausted the better part of a
day. It was practically further in the country than Concord is at
present; and it was here that Lowell enjoyed that repose of mind which is
essential to vigorous mental development, and could find such interests
in external nature as the poet requires for the embellishment of his

He went to college at the age of fifteen, two years older than Edward
Everett, but sufficiently young to prove himself a precocious student.
Cambridge boys of good families have always been noted at Harvard for
their gentlemanly deportment. Besides this, Lowell had an immense fund of
wit and good spirits, and the two together served to make him very
popular--perhaps too much so for his immediate good. His father had
great hopes of his promising son,--that he would prove a fine scholar and
take a prominent part in the commencement exercises. He even offered the
boy a reward of two hundred dollars in case this should happen; but the
attractions of student and social life proved too strong for James. He
was quick at languages, but slow in mathematics, and as for Butler's
analogy he cannot be blamed for the aversion with which he regarded it.
He writes a letter in which he confesses to peeping over the professor's
shoulder to see what marks have been given for his recitations, so that
his father's exhortation would seem at one time to have been seriously
felt by him; but the effort did not last long, and we find him repeatedly
reprimanded for neglect of college duties.

He did not live the life of a roaring blade, but more like the humming-
bird that darts from one plant to another, and gathers sweetness from
every flower in the garden. Finally he was rusticated, just after he had
been elected poet of his class, with directions not to return until
commencement. We recognize the Puritanic severity of President Quincy in
this sentence, which robbed young Lowell of the pleasantest term of
college life, as well as the honor of appearing on the stage on Class
Day. That his poem should have been read by another to the assembled
families of his classmates, served to make his absence more conspicuous.
Nor can we discover any sufficient reason for such hard statement.

At the same age that Longfellow was writing for the _United States
Literary Gazette_, Lowell was scribbling verses for an undergraduates'
periodical called _Harvardiana_. They were not very serious
productions, and might all be included under the head of bric-a-brac; but
there was a-plenty of them. While Longfellow's verse at nineteen was
remarkable for its perfection of form, Lowell's suffered chiefly from a
lack of this. He had an idea that poetry ought to be an inspiration of
the moment; a good foundation to begin with, but which he found
afterwards it was necessary to modify.

In the preface to one of his Biglow Papers he speaks of his life in
Concord as being

"As lazy as the bream
Which only thinks to head up stream."

The men whom he chiefly associated with there were named Barziliai and
Ebenezer, and the hoar frost of the Concord meadows would seem to have
had a chilling effect on Lowell's naturally tolerant and amiable
disposition. He was not attracted by Emerson at this time, but, on the
contrary, would seem to have felt an aversion to him. The following lines
in his class poem could not have referred to anyone else:

"Woe for Religion, too, when men who claim
To place a 'Reverend' before their name
Ascend the Lord's own holy place to preach
In strains that Kneeland had been proud to reach;
And which, if measured by Judge Thatcher's scale,
Had doomed their author to the county jail!
Alas that _Christian ministers_ should dare
To preach the views of Gibbon and Voltaire!"

To confound the strong spiritual assertion of Emerson with the purely
negative attitude of the French satirist was a common mistake in those
days, and the Lowell of 1838 needs small excuse for it. He must have been
in a biting humor at this time, for there is a cut all round in his class
poem, although it is the most vigorous and highly-finished production of
his academic years.

After college came the law, in which he succeeded as well as youthful
attorneys commonly do; and at the age of twenty-five he entered into the
holy bonds of matrimony.

The union of James Russell Lowell to Maria White, of Watertown, was the
most poetic marriage of the nineteenth century, and can only be compared
to that of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Miss White was herself
a poetess, and full of poetical impulse to the brim. Maria would seem to
have been born in the White family as Albinos appear in Africa,--for the
sake of contrast. She shone like a single star in a cloudy sky,--a pale,
slender, graceful girl, with eyes, to use Herrick's expression, "like a
crystal glasse." A child was born where she did not belong, and Lowell
was the chivalrous knight who rescued her.

It must have been Maria White who made an Emersonian of him. Margaret
Fuller had stirred up the intellectual life of New England women to a
degree never known before or since, and Miss White was one of those who
came within the scope of her influence. [Footnote: Lowell himself speaks
of her as being "considered transcendental."] She studied German, and
translated poems from Uhland, who might be called the German Longfellow.
Certain it is that from the time of their marriage his opinions not only
changed from what they had been previously, but his ideas of poetry,
philosophy, and religion became more consistent and clearly defined. The
path that she pointed out to him, or perhaps which they discovered
together, was the one that he followed all through life; so that in one
of his later poems, he said, half seriously, that he was ready to adopt
Emerson's creed if anyone could tell him just what it was.

The life they lived together was a poem in itself, and reminds one of
Goethe's saying, that "he who is sufficiently provided for within has
need of little from without." They were poor in worldly goods, but rich
in affection, in fine thoughts, and courageous endeavor. It is said that
when they were married Lowell had but five hundred dollars of his own.
They went to New York and Philadelphia, and soon discovering that they
had spent more than half of it, they concluded to return home.

The next ten years of Lowell's life might be called the making of the
man. He worked hard and lived economically; earning what he could by the
law, and what he could not by magazine writing, which paid poorly enough.
Publishers had not then discovered that what the general public desires
is not literature, but information on current topics, and this is the
last thing which the true man of letters is able to provide. A magazine
article, or a campaign biography of General Grant, could be written in a
few weeks, but a solid historical biography of him, with a critical
examination of his campaigns, has not yet been written, and perhaps never
will be. A literary venture of Lowell and his friends in 1843, to found a
first-rate literary magazine, proved a failure; and it is to be feared
that he lost money by it. [Footnote: See Scudder's Life of Lowell,
iii. 109.]

However the world might use him he was sure of comfort and happiness at
his own fireside, where he read Shelley, and Keats, and Lessing, while
Mrs. Lowell studied upon her German translations. The sympathy of a true-
hearted woman is always valuable, even when she does not quite understand
the grievance in question, but the sympathy that Maria Lowell could give
her husband was of a rare sort. She could sympathize with him wholly in
heart and intellect. She encouraged him to fresh endeavors and continual
improvement. Thus he went on year by year broadening his mind,
strengthening his faculties, and improving his reputation. The days of
frolicsome gaiety were over. He now lived in a more serious vein, and
felt a deeper, more satisfying happiness. It was much more the ideal life
of a poet than that of Thoreau, paddling up and down Concord River in
search of the inspiration which only comes when we do not think of it.

It may be suspected that he read more literature than law during these
years, and we notice that he did not go, like Emerson, to the great
fountain-heads of poetry,--to Homer or Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe,--but
courted the muse rather among such tributaries as Virgil, Moliere,
Chaucer, Keats, and Lessing. It may have been better for him that he
began in this manner; but a remark that Scudder attributes to him in
regard to Lessing gives us an insight into the deeper mechanism of his
mind. "Shelley's poetry," he said, "was like the transient radiance of
St. Elmo's fire, but Lessing was wholly a poet." This is exactly the
opposite of the view he held during his college life, for Lessing worked
in a methodical and painstaking manner and finished what he wrote with
the greatest care.

More than this, Lessing was as Lowell realized afterwards, too critical
and polemical to be wholly a poet. His "Emilia Galotti" still holds a
high position on the German stage and has fine poetic qualities, but it
is written in prose. His "Nathan the Wise" was written in verse, but did
not prove a success as a drama. In one he attacked the tyranny of the
German petty princes, and in the other the intolerance of the Established
Church. We may assume that is the reason why Lowell admired them; but
Lowell was also too critical and polemic to be wholly a poet,--except on
certain occasions. In 1847 he published the "Fable for Critics," the
keenest piece of poetical satire since Byron's "English Bards and Scotch
Reviewers,"--keen and even saucy, but perfectly good-humored. About the
same time he commenced his "Biglow Papers," which did not wholly cease
until 1866, and were the most incisive and aggressive anti-slavery
literature of that period. Soon afterwards he wrote "The Vision of Sir
Launfal," which has become the most widely known of all his poems, and
which contains passages of the purest a priori verse. Goethe, who
exercised so powerful an influence on Emerson, does not appear to have
interested Lowell at all.

The most plaintive of Beethoven scherzos,--that in the Moonlight Sonata,
--says as if it were spoken in words:

"Once we were happy, now I am forlorn;
Fortune has darkened, and happiness gone."

Lowell's poetic marriage did not last quite ten years. Maria White was
always frail and delicate, and she became more so continually.
Longfellow's clear foresight noticed the danger she was in years before
her death, which took place in the autumn of 1853. She left one child,
Mabel Lowell, slender and pale like herself, and with poetical lines in
her face, too, but fortunately endowed with her father's good
constitution. Only ten years! But such ten years, worth ten centuries of
the life of a girl of fashion, who thinks she is happy because she has
everything she wants. If the truth were known we might find that in the
twilight of his life Lowell thought more of these ten years with Maria
White than of the six years when he was Ambassador to England,--with
twenty-nine dinner-parties in the month of June.

What would poets do without war? The Trojan war, or some similar
conflict, served as the ground-work of Homer's mighty epic; Virgil
followed in similar lines; Dante would never have been famous but for the
Guelph and Ghibeline struggle. Shakespeare's plays are full of war and
fighting; and the wars of Napoleon stimulated Byron, Schiller, and Goethe
to the best efforts of their lives. In dealing with men like Emerson,
Longfellow, and Lowell, who were the intellectual leaders of their time,
it is impossible to escape their influence in the anti-slavery movement,
and its influence upon them, unpopular as that subject is at present.
That was the heroic age of American history, and the truth concerning it
has not yet been written. It was as heroic to the South as to the North,
for, as Sumner said, the slaveholders would never have made their
desperate attack on the Government of this country if they had not been
themselves the slaves of their own social organization.

It was the solution of a great historical problem, like that of
Constitutional Government _versus_ the Stuarts, and it ought to be
treated from a national and not a sectional stand-point.

The live men of that time became abolitionists as inevitably as their
forefathers became supporters of the Declaration of Independence. If
Webster and Everett had been born twenty years later, they must needs
have become anti-slavery, too. Those of Lowell's friends, like George S.
Hillard and George B. Loring, who for social or political reasons took
the opposite side, afterwards found themselves left in the lurch by an
adverse public opinion.

It was the Mexican war that first aroused Lowell to the seriousness of
the extension of slavery, and it was meeting a recruiting officer in the
streets of Boston, "covered all over with brass let alone that which
nature had set on his countenance," which inspired his writing the
first of the "Biglow Papers." They were hastily and carelessly written,
and Lowell himself held them in slight estimation as literature; but they
became immediately popular, as no poetry had that he had published
previously. Their freshness and directness appealed to the manliness and
good sense of the average New Englander, and the whole community
responded to them with repeated applause. There is, after all, much
poetry in the Biglow Papers, the more genuine because unintentional; but
they are full of the keenest wit and a proverbial philosophy which, if
less profound than Emerson's, is more capable of a practical application.

The vernacular in which they are written must have been learned at
Concord,--perhaps on the front stoop of the Middlesex Hotel,--while
Lowell was listening to the pithy conversation of Yankee farmers, not
only about their crops and cattle, but also discussing church affairs and
politics, local and national. It was the grandfathers of these men who
drove the British back from Concord bridge, and it was their sons who
fought their way from the Rapidan to Richmond. With the help of country
lawyers they sent Sumner and Wilson to the Senate, and knew what they
were about when they did this. For wit, humor, and repartee,--and, it may
be added, for decent conversation,--there is no class of men like them.
Both Lowell and Emerson have testified to their intrinsic worth.

On one occasion a Concord farmer was driving a cow past Sanborn's school-
house, when an impudent boy called out, "The calf always follows the
cow." "Why aren't you behind here, then?" retorted the man, with a look
that went home like the stroke of a cane. If Lowell had been present he
would have been delighted.

The Yankee dialect which he makes use of as a vehicle in these verses is
not always as clear-cut as it might be. He says, for instance,

"Pleasure doos make us Yankee kind of winch
As if it was something paid for by the inch."

The true New England countryman never flattens a vowel; if he changes it
he always makes it sharp. He would be more likely to say: "Pleasure does
make us Yankee kind er winch, as if 'twas suthin' paid for by the inch."
There are other instances of similar sort; but, nevertheless, if the
primitive Yankee should become extinct, as now seems very probable,
Lowell's masterly portrait of him will remain, and future generations can
reconstruct him from it, as Agassiz reconstructed an extinct species of
mammal from fossil bones.

Lowell did not join the Free-soilers, who were now bearing the brunt of
the anti-slavery conflict, but attached himself to the more aristocratic
wing of the old abolitionists, which was led by Edmund Quincy, Maria
Chapman, and L. Maria Child. Lowell was far from being a non-resistant.
In fact, he might be called a fighting-man, although he disapproved of
duelling; and this served to keep him at a distance from Garrison, of
whom he wisely remarked that "the nearer public opinion approached to him
the further he retreated into the isolation of his own private opinions."
He wrote regularly for the _Anti-Slavery Standard_ until 1851, when
the death of his father-in-law supplied the long-desired means for a
journey to Italy,--more desired perhaps for his wife's health than for
his own gratification. It may be the fault of his biographers, but I
cannot discover that Lowell took any share in the opposition to the
Fugitive Slave bill, or in the election of Sumner, which was the signal
event that followed it. In his whole life Lowell never made the
acquaintance of a practical statesman, while Whittier was in constant
communication with prominent members of the Free-soil and Republican
parties. Sumner went to hear Lowell's lecture on Milton, and praised it
as a work of genius.

I have heard the "Vision of Sir Launfal" spoken of more frequently than
any other of Lowell's poems. Some of the descriptive passages in it would
seem to have flowed from his pen as readily as ink from a quill; and
there are others which appear to have been evolved with much thought and
ingenuity. One cannot help feeling the sudden change from a June morning
at Elmwood to a mediaeval castle in Europe as somewhat abrupt; but when
we think of it subjectively as a poetic vision which came to Lowell
himself seated on his own door-step, this disillusion vanishes, and we
sympathize heartily with the writer. There is no place in the world where
June seems so beautiful as in New England, on account of the dismal,
cutthroat weather in the months that precede it. Perhaps it is so in
reality; for what nature makes us suffer from at one time she commonly
atones for it another.

The "Fable for Critics" is written in an easy, nonchalant manner, which
helps to mitigate its severity. Thoreau could not have liked very well
being called an imitator of Emerson; but the wit of it is inimitable. "T.
never purloins the apples from Emerson's trees; it is only the windfalls
that he carries off and passes for his own fruit." Emerson remarked on
this, that Thoreau was sufficiently original in his own way; and he
always spoke of Lowell in a friendly and appreciative manner. The whole
poem is filled with such homely comparisons, which hit the nail exactly
on the head. The most subtle piece of analysis, however, is Lowell's
comparison between Emerson and Carlyle:

"There are persons, mole-blind to the soul's make and style,
Who insist on a likeness 'twixt him and Carlyle;
To compare him with Plato would be vastly fairer,
Carlyle's the more burly, but E. is the rarer;
He sees fewer objects, but clearlier, truelier,
If C.'s as original, E.'s more peculiar;
That he's more of a man you might say of the one,
Of the other he's more of an Emerson;
C.'s the Titan, as shaggy of mind as of limb,--
E. the clear-eyed Olympian, rapid and slim;
The one's two-thirds Norseman, the other half Greek,
Where the one's most abounding, the other's to seek."

It was the fashion in England at that time to disparage Emerson as an
imitator of Carlyle; and this was Lowell's reply to it.

He told Professor Hedge an amusing incident that happened during his
first visit to Rome. Lowell and his wife took lodgings with a respectable
elderly Italian woman whose husband was in a sickly condition. One
morning she met him in the passageway with tearful eyes and said: "_Un
gran' disgrazie_ happened last night,--my poor husband went to
heaven." Lowell wondered why there was a pope in Rome if going to heaven
was considered a disgrace there.

Longfellow's resignation of his professorship at Harvard was a rare piece
of good fortune for Lowell; for it was the only position of the kind that
he could have obtained there or anywhere else. In fact, it was a question
whether the appointment would be confirmed on account of his
transcendental tendencies, and his connection with the _Anti-slavery
Standard_; but Longfellow threw the whole weight of his influence in
Lowell's favor, and this would seem to have decided it. From this time
till 1873 Lowell was more of a prose-writer than a poet, and his essays
on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and other English poets are the best of
their kind,--not brilliant, but appreciative, penetrating, and well-
considered. Wasson said of him that no other critic in the English tongue
came so near to expressing the inexpressible as Lowell.

One could wish that his studies in Shakespeare had been more extended. He
treats the subject as if he felt it was too great for him; but he was the
first to take notice that the play of Richard III. indicated in its
main extent a different hand, and it is now generally admitted to have
been the work of Fletcher. With the keenest insight he noticed that the
magician Prospero was an impersonation of Shakespeare himself; and George
Brandes, the most thoroughgoing of Shakespearean scholars, afterwards
came to the same conclusion.

Lowell was the gentlemanly instructor. He appealed to the gentleman in
the students who sat before him, and he rarely appealed in vain. Like
Longfellow he carried an atmosphere of politeness about him, which was
sufficient to protect him from everything rude and common. He would say
to his class in Italian: "I shall not mark you if you are tardy, but I
hope you will all be here on time." This was a safer procedure with a
small division of Juniors than it would have been with a large division
of Freshmen or Sophomores. Neither did he take much personal interest in
his classes. He always invited them to an entertainment at Elmwood in
June, but two or three years later he could not remember their faces
unless they remained in or about Cambridge. In regard to his efficiency
as an instructor and lecturer there was a difference of opinion.

He attended the meetings of the college faculty quite regularly
considering the distance of Elmwood from the college grounds; and he was
once heard to say that there seemed to be more bad weather on Monday
nights than at any other time in the week. His presence might have been
dispensed with for the most part. He rarely spoke in conclave, and when
the question came up in regard to the suspension of students he often
declined to vote. His decorum was perfect, but now and then a humorous
look could be observed in his eyes, and it may be suspected that he had a
quiet laugh all to himself on the way homeward. On one occasion, before
the meeting had been called to order, Professor Cutler said to him: "Do
you not dread B.'s forthcoming translation of the Iliad?" But Lowell,
seeing that he was watched, replied: "Oh, no, not at all," at the same
time nodding to Cutler with his brows.

He was always well-dressed, and pretty close to the conventional in his
ways,--noted specially for the nicety of his gloves. This was a kind of
safeguard to him. Insidious persons suggested that he perfumed his beard,
but I do not believe it. He does not appear to have been fond of walking,
for we never met him in any part of Cambridge except on the direct road
from Elmwood to the college gate. He had a characteristic gait of his
own--walking slowly in rather a dreamy manner, and keeping time to the
movement of his feet with his arms and shoulders. He was not, however,
lost in contemplation, for he often scrutinized those who passed him as
closely as a portrait painter might.


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