Cambridge Sketches
Frank Preston Stearns

Part 4 out of 5

took form; and his immovable convictions,--I think this single will was
worth to the cause ten thousand ordinary partisans, well-disposed enough,
but of feebler and interrupted action.

"These interests, which he passionately adopted, inevitably led him into
personal communication with patriotic persons holding the same views,--
with two Presidents, with members of Congress, with officers of the
government and of the army, and with leading people everywhere. He had
been always a man of simple tastes, and through all his years devoted to
the growing details of his prospering manufactory. But this sudden
association now with the leaders of parties and persons of pronounced
power and influence in the nation, and the broad hospitality which
brought them about his board at his own house, or in New York, or in
Washington, never altered one feature of his face, one trait in his
manners. There he sat in the council, a simple, resolute Republican, an
enthusiast only in his love of freedom and the good of men; with no pride
of opinion, and with this distinction, that, if he could not bring his
associates to adopt his measure, he accepted with entire sweetness the
next best measure which could secure their assent. But these public
benefits were purchased at a severe cost. For a year or two, the most
affectionate and domestic of men became almost a stranger in his
beautiful home. And it was too plain that the excessive toil and
anxieties into which his ardent spirit led him overtasked his strength
and wore out prematurely his constitution. It is sad that such a life
should end prematurely; but when I consider that he lived long enough to
see with his own eyes the salvation of his country, to which he had given
all his heart; that he did not know an idle day; was never called to
suffer under the decays and loss of his powers, or to see that others
were waiting for his place and privilege, but lived while he lived, and
beheld his work prosper for the joy and benefit of all mankind,--I count
him happy among men.

"Almost I am ready to say to these mourners, Be not too proud in your
grief, when you remember that there is not a town in the remote State of
Kansas that will not weep with you as at the loss of its founder; not a
Southern State in which the freedmen will not learn to-day from their
preachers that one of their most efficient benefactors has departed, and
will cover his memory with benedictions; and that, after all his efforts
to serve men without appearing to do so, there is hardly a man in this
country worth knowing who does not hold his name in exceptional honor.
And there is to my mind somewhat so absolute in the action of a good man,
that we do not, in thinking of him, so much as make any question of the
future. For the Spirit of the Universe seems to say: 'He has done well;
is not that saying all?'"

This monograph was printed in the _Boston Commonwealth_, April 20,
1867, and has never been republished. It is exceptional in Emerson's
writings as the account of a man with whom he was personally and
intimately acquainted.


The influence of Ohio in the United States of America during the past
half century may be compared to that of Virginia during the first forty
years of the Republic. All of our Presidents, elected as such since 1860,
have come from Ohio, or adjacent territory. Cleveland came from beyond
the Alleghenies, and Lincoln was born on the southern side of the Ohio
River. General Grant and General Sherman came from Ohio; and so did
Salmon P. Chase, and John Brown, of Harper's Perry celebrity. Chase gave
the country the inestimable blessing of a national currency; and even the
Virginians admitted that John Brown was a very remarkable person.

The fathers of these men conquered the wilderness and brought up their
sons to a sturdy, vigorous manliness, which resembles the colonial
culture of Franklin, Adams, and Washington.

Sitting in the same school-house with John Brown, in 1816, was a boy
named Elizur Wright who, like Brown, came from Connecticut, and to whom
the people of this country are also somewhat under obligation. Every
widow and orphan in the United States who receives the benefit of a life-
insurance policy owes a blessing to Elizur Wright, who was the first to
establish life insurance in America on a strong foundation, and whose
reports on that subject, made during his long term as Insurance
Commissioner for Massachusetts, have formed a sort of constitution by
which the policy of all life-insurance companies is still guided. His
name deserves a place beside those of Horace Mann and William Lloyd

[Illustration: ELIZUR WRIGHT]

Apart from this, his biography is one of the most interesting, one of the
most picturesque, when compared with those of the many brilliant men of
his time. His grandfather was a sea captain, and his father, who was also
named Elizur, was a farmer in Canaan, Connecticut. His mother's name was
Clarissa Richards, and he was born on the twelfth of February, 1804. In
the spring of 1810 the family moved to Talmage, Ohio, making the journey
in a two-horse carriage with an ox-team to transport their household
goods. Their progress was necessarily slow, and it was nearly six weeks
before they reached Talmage, as it was generally necessary to camp at
night by the way-side. This romantic journey, the building of their log-
cabin, the clearing of the forest, and above all his solitary watches in
the maple-orchard (where he might perhaps be attacked by wolves), made a
deep poetic impression on young Elizur, and furnished him with a store of
pleasant memories in after life.

They lived at first in a log-cabin, and afterwards his father built a
square frame-house with a piazza and veranda in front, which is still
standing. The school where Elizur, Jr., met John Brown was at a long
distance for a boy to walk. He does not appear to have made friends with
John, remarkably alike as they were in veracity, earnestness, and
adherence to principle; but John was somewhat the elder, and two or three
years among boys counts for more than ten among grown people. In later
life, however, Mr. Wright told an interesting anecdote of young Brown,
which runs as follows:

John was the best-behaved boy in the school, and for this reason the
teacher selected him to occupy a vacant place beside the girls. Some
other boys were jealous of this, and after calling Brown a milk-sop,
attacked him with snowballs. John proved himself as good a fighter then
as he did afterwards at Black Jack. He made two or three snow-balls,
rushed in at close quarters, and fought with such energy that he finally
drove all the boys before him.

Elizur Wright may have taken note of this affair, and it served him when
he entered Yale College in 1822. He had never heard of hazing, and when
the Sophomores came to his room to tease him, he received them with true
Western cordiality. He found out his mistake quickly enough, and at the
first insult he rose in wrath and ordered them out with such furious
looks that they concluded it was best to go.

He helped to support himself during his college course not only by
teaching in winter, but by making fires, waiting on table, and ringing
the recitation bell. In spite of these menial services, he was popular in
his class and had a number of aristocratic friends,--among them Philip
Van Rensselaer. He was one of the best scholars in his class,--first in
mathematics, and so fluent in Greek that to the end of his life he could
read it with ease.

He did not wait for graduation. In May, 1826, the Groton Academy suddenly
wanted a teacher, and Elizur Wright was invited to take the position. The
college faculty sent him his degree a month later,--which they might not
have done if they had known how little he cared for it. In his school at
Groton was a pretty, dark-eyed girl named Susan Clark, who, for two years
previously, had been at school with Margaret Fuller and was very well
acquainted with her. Elizur Wright became interested in Miss Clark, and
three years later they were married.

One day, while he was living at Groton, Mr. Wright went by the Boston
stage to Fitchburg, and on his return held a long conversation with a
fellow-passenger, a tall, slender young man with aquiline features, who
gave his name as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mr. Wright found him an exceedingly
interesting gentleman, but of so fragile an appearance that it seemed
impossible that he should live many years.

From this time the paths of these two young scholars diverged. Emerson
became an idealist and an ethical reformer. Elizur Wright became a
realist and a political reformer. Realism seems to belong to the soil of

Ill health came next in turn, a natural consequence of his severe life at
Yale College. He was obliged to leave his school, and for an occupation
he circulated tracts for the American Congregational Society, making a
stipulation, however, which was characteristic of him, that he should not
distribute any that ran contrary to his convictions. In this itinerant
fashion he became sufficiently recuperated at the end of a year to marry
Miss Clark, September 13, 1829, and accept the professorship of
mathematics at Western Reserve College, at Hudson, Ohio. There he
remained till 1833, strengthening himself in the repose of matrimony for
the conflict that lay before him,--a conflict that every justice-loving
man feels that he will have to face at one time or another.

This probably came sooner than he expected. Some anti-slavery tracts,
circulated by Garrison, reached Western Reserve College and set the place
in a ferment. Elizur Wright became the champion of the anti-slavery
movement, not only in the town of Hudson but throughout the State. What
Garrison was in New England he became in the West. In the spring of 1833
he resigned his professorship and spent the next five months delivering
lectures on the slavery question. In December of the same year the first
national anti-slavery convention met in Philadelphia, and Elizur Wright
was unanimously chosen secretary of it. After that he went to New York to
edit a newspaper, the _Anti-Slavery Reporter_, remaining until 1839.
During the pro-slavery riot in New York he was attacked on the sidewalk
by two men with knives, but instantly rescued by some teamsters who were
passing. When he reached his home in Brooklyn he found a note from the
Mayor advising him to leave the city for some days; to which he replied
advising the Mayor to stop the New York ferry-boats. Meanwhile, as Mrs.
Wright was too ill to be removed, he purchased an axe and prepared to
defend his house to the last extremity. The Mayor, however, adopted his
advice, and by this excellent stratagem Brooklyn was saved from the fury
of the mob. In 1837 he moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts, to prosecute a
similar work in Boston.

Nothing is more remarkable in Mr. Wright's life than his perfect self-
poise and peace of mind during such a long period of external agitation.
It is doubtful, in spite of his highly nervous temperament, if he ever
lost a night's sleep. When he was editing the _Chronotype_, and
waiting for the telegraphic news to arrive, he would sometimes lie down
on a pile of newspapers and go to sleep in less than half a minute. For
mental relaxation he studied the higher mathematics and wrote poetry--
much of it very good. His faith in Divine Providence was absolute. He had
the soul of a hero.

During his first years in Boston, Elizur Wright translated La Fontaine's
Fables into English verse,--one of the best metrical versions of a
foreign poet,--and it is much to be regretted that the book is out of
print. It did not sell, of course, and Elizur Wright, determined that
neither he nor the publisher should lose money on it, undertook to sell
it himself. In carrying out this plan he met with some curious
experiences. He called on Professor Ticknor, who received him kindly,
spoke well of his translation, offered to dispose of a number of copies,
but--advised him to keep clear of the slavery question.

He went to Washington with the twofold object of selling his book and
talking emancipation to our national legislators; and he succeeded in
both attempts, for there were few men who liked to argue with Elizur
Wright. His brain was a store-house of facts and his analysis of them
equally keen and cutting. One Congressman, a very gentlemanly Virginian,
said to him: "Mr. Wright, I wish you could go across the Potomac and look
over my district. I think you will find that African slavery is not half
as bad as it is represented." Elizur Wright went and returned with the
emphatic reply: "I find it much worse than I expected." Having disposed
of more than half of his edition in this manner, in the spring of 1842 he
went to England, and with the kind assistance of Browning and Pringle
succeeded in placing the rest of his books there to his satisfaction.
Having a great admiration for Wordsworth's poetry, he made a long journey
to see that celebrated author, but only to be affronted by Wordsworth's
saying that America would be a good place if there were only a few
gentlemen in it. With Carlyle he had, as might have been expected, a
furious argument on the slavery question, and "King Thomas," as Dr.
Holmes calls him, encountered for once a head as hard as his own. The
Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth, received him with true English
hospitality. More experienced than Wordsworth in the great world, they
recognized Elizur Wright to be what he was,--a man of intellect and rare
integrity. Mr. Wright always spoke of Browning as one of the most
satisfactory men with whom he had ever conversed.

In 1840, as is well known, the anti-slavery movement became divided into
those who still believed in the efficacy of "moral suasion" and those who
considered that the time had come for introducing the question into
practical politics. The Texas question made the latter course inevitable,
and Elizur Wright concluded that moral suasion had done its work. As he
expressed it, in a letter to Mrs. Maria Chapman: "Garrison has already
left his enemies thrice dead behind him." He was a delegate to the
convention of April 1, 1840, which nominated James G. Birney for the
Presidency, and took an active share in the Free-soil movement of 1844,--
a movement which produced exactly the opposite effect from that which was
intended; for the defeat of Henry Clay opened the door for the Mexican
war and the annexation of a much larger territory than Texas. If Clay had
been elected, the history of the United States must have been different
from what it has proved.

How Elizur Wright supported his family during this long period of
philanthropy will always be a mystery, but support them he did. He had no
regular salary like Garrison, but, in an emergency, he could turn his
hand to almost anything, and earn money by odd jobs. Fortunately, he had
a wife who was not afraid of any kind of house-work. He purchased his
clothes of a tailor named Curtis, who kept a sailors' clothing store on
North Street, and his mode of living otherwise was not less economical.

That his children suffered by their father's philanthropy must be
admitted, but it is a general rule that the families of public
benefactors also contribute largely to the general good. His eldest
daughters inherited their father's intellect, and as they grew up
cheerfully assisted him in various ways.

When the Mexican war began there was great indignation over it in New
England, and Lowell wrote his most spirited verses in opposition to it.
Elizur Wright took advantage of the storm to establish a newspaper, the
_Chronotype_, in opposition to the Government policy. He began this
enterprise almost without help, but soon obtained assistance from leading
Free-soilers like John A. Andrew, Dr. S. G. Howe, and especially Frank W.
Bird, the most disinterested of politicians, who gave several thousand
dollars in support of the _Chronotype_. The object of the paper,
stated in Mr. Wright's own words, was "To examine everything that is new
and some things that are old, without fear or favor; to promote good
nature, good neighborhood, and good government; to advocate a just
distribution of the proper reward, whether material or immaterial, both
of honest labor and rascally violence, cunning and idleness; last, but
not least, to get an honest living." In 1848 he had a list of six
thousand subscribers; and his incisive pen was greatly feared. The
_Post_, which was the Government organ in Boston, attacked him once,
but met with such a crushing rejoinder that its editor concluded not to
try that game again. His capacity for brain labor was wonderful. He could
work fourteen hours a day, and did not seem to need recreation at all.

In the campaign of 1844 Elizur Wright made a number of speeches for the
Free-soil candidate in various New England cities. One morning he was
returning from a celebration at Nashua, when at the Lowell station Daniel
Webster entered the train with two or three friends, and turned over the
seat next to Mr. Wright. A newsboy followed Webster, and they all
purchased papers. Elizur Wright purchased a Whig paper, and seeing a
statement in it concerning the Free-soil candidate which he believed from
internal evidence to be untrue, he said quite loud: "Well! this is the
finest roorback I have met with." Webster inquired what it was, and,
after looking at the statement, pronounced it genuine. A short argument
ensued, which closed with Webster's proposing to bet forty pounds
that the allegation was true. "I am not a betting man," replied Wright,
"but since the honor of my candidate is at stake, I accept your wager."
Webster then gave him his card, and Wright returned it by writing
his name on a piece of the newspaper.

Elizur Wright no sooner reached his office than he found letters and
documents there disproving the Whig statement _in toto_, and later
in the day he carried them over to Mr. Webster, who had an office in what
was then Niles's Block. Mr. Webster looked carefully through them,
congratulated Mr. Wright on his good fortune, and handed him two hundred-
dollar bills. Peter Harvey, who was in Webster's office at the time,
afterwards stopped Elizur Wright on the sidewalk and said to him: "Mr.
Wright, you could have afforded to lose that wager much better than
Webster could."

It is remarkable how all the different interests in this man's life--
mathematics, philanthropy, journalism, and the translation of La
Fontaine--united together like so many different currents to further the
grand achievement of his life. While in England he had taken notice of
the life-insurance companies there, which were in a more advanced stage
than those in America. They interested him as a mathematical study, and
also from the humanitarian point of view. He purchased "David Jones on
Annuities," and the best works on life insurance. These he read with the
same ardor with which young ladies devour an exciting novel, and without
the least expectation that they might ever bring dollars and cents to
him; until one day in the spring of 1852 an insurance solicitor placed an
advertising booklet in his hand as he was entering the office of the

Elizur Wright looked it over and perceived quickly enough that no company
could undertake to do what this one pretended to and remain solvent. The
booklet served him for an editorial, and before one o'clock the next day
agents from every life company in Boston were collected in his office.
They supposed at first that it was an attempt at blackmail, but soon
discovered that Elizur Wright knew more about the subject than any of
them. Neither threats nor persuasions had any effect on this
uncompromising backwoodsman. Only on one condition would Mr. Wright
retract his statements,--that the companies should reform their circulars
and place their affairs in a more sound condition. The consequence of
this was an invitation from the presidents of several of the companies
for Mr. Wright to call at their offices and discuss the subject with

The situation was this, and Mr. Wright saw it clearly: the presidents of
the companies were excellent men,--as honorable and trustworthy as the
presidents of our best national banks,--and they knew how to organize and
conduct their companies in all business matters, but of life insurance as
a science they knew as little as they knew of Greek. In those days there
was a prejudice against college graduates which prevented their obtaining
the highest mercantile positions, and it is doubtful if there was any
person connected with the life-insurance companies who could solve a
problem in the higher mathematics. The consequence of this was that it
placed the presidents quite at the mercy of their own accountants. Recent
events have proved with what facility the teller of a bank can abstract
twenty or thirty thousand dollars without its appearing in the accounts.
Temptations and opportunities of this sort must have been much greater in
life-insurance companies, as they were formerly conducted, than it is now
in banks. Money may have been stolen without its having been discovered.

Besides this, the temptations of the companies to continually over-bid
one another for public favor was another evil which, sooner or later,
would lead some of them into bankruptcy. This danger could only be
averted by placing their rates of insurance on a scientific basis, which
should be the same and unalterable for all companies.

The charters of the companies had been drafted in the interest of the
management, without much consideration for the rights or advantages of
those who were insured. There were no laws on the statute book which
would practically prevent directors of life-insurance companies from
doing as they pleased with the immense trust properties in their
possession. After two or three interviews with Elizur Wright the
presidents of the companies came to the conclusion that he was exactly
the man that they wanted, and they commissioned him to draw up a revised
set of tables and rates which could serve them for a uniform standard.
This work occupied him and two of his daughters for a full year, for
which he was compensated with the paltry sum of two thousand dollars. The
time was fast approaching, however, when Elizur Wright would be in a
position to dictate his own terms to the insurance companies.

It was now that the Bird Club, the most distinguished political club of
its time, became gradually formed out of the leading elements of the
Free-soil party. At one time this club counted among its members two
Senators, three Governors, and a number of Congressmen, and it was a
power in the land. Elizur Wright's services as editor of the
_Chronotype_ gave him an early entrance to it; and having life
insurance on the brain, as it were, other members of the club soon became
interested in the subject as a political question. In this way Mr. Wright
was soon able to effect legislation. Sumner, Wilson, Andrew, and Bird
gave him an almost unqualified support. In 1858 he was appointed
Insurance Commissioner for Massachusetts, a position which he held until
1866. As Commissioner he formulated the principal legislation on life
insurance; and his reports, which have been published in a volume, are
the best treatise in English on the practical application of life-
insurance principles.

In 1852 he resigned the editorship of the _Chronotype_, and from
that time till 1858 he was occupied with life-insurance work, the editing
of a paper called the _Railroad Times_, and making a number of
mechanical inventions, most important of which was a calculating machine,
enough in itself to give a man distinction.

This machine was simply a Gunther rule thirty feet in length wrapped on a
cylinder and turned by a crank. Gunther's rule is a measure on which
logarithms are represented by spaces, so that by adding and subtracting
spaces on this cylinder Mr. Wright could perform the longest sums in
multiplication and division in two or three minutes of time.

Not only did the Massachusetts insurance companies come under Mr.
Wright's surveillance, but the New York Life, the Connecticut Mutual, and
the Mutual Benefit of New Jersey, all large and powerful companies, were
obliged to conform to his regulations, for their Boston offices were too
lucrative to be surrendered. About this time Gladstone caused an
overhauling of the English life-insurance companies, and a number which
proved to be unsound were obliged to surrender their charters. Among
these latter were two companies which held offices in Boston, and whose
character had already been exposed by Elizur Wright.

In 1850, when he became Commissioner, Mr. Wright sent to their agents for
a statement of their financial standing, and not receiving a reply
requested them to leave the State. Finding that the matter could not be
evaded, they at length forwarded two reports signed by two actuaries,
both Fellows of the Royal Society, which were not of a satisfactory
character, so that Mr. Wright insisted on his previous order. The agents
then applied for support to Prof. Benjamin Pierce, the distinguished
mathematician of Harvard University, and one of the most aggressively
pro-slavery men about Boston. He probably looked upon Elizur Wright as a
vulgar fanatic, and supposing that a Fellow of the Royal Society must
necessarily be an honorable man, came forward in support of Messrs.
Neisen and Woolhouse without sufficiently investigating the question at
issue; and the result was a controversy between Elizur Wright and himself
in which he was finally beaten off the field.

The statements of both Neisen and Woolhouse was proved to be fraudulent,
and the two English companies were expelled from the State.

Mr. Wright's insurance reports brought him such celebrity that all the
companies wished to have his name connected with them. His son, Walter C.
Wright, became actuary of the New England Life, and his daughter, Miss
Jane Wright, was made actuary of the Mutual Union Company. Mr. Wright and
his eldest son, John, set up a business for calculating the value of
insurance policies, in which the logarithm machine helped them to obtain
a large income. With his first ten thousand dollars Mr. Wright purchased
a large house and a tract of land in Middlesex Fells, where his family
still resides.

In 1865 the office of Life Insurance Commissioner was filched from him by
a trade politician who knew as much of the subject as fresh college
graduates do of the practical affairs of life. Mr. Wright always
regretted this, for he felt that his work was not yet complete; and it is
a fact that American life insurance, with its good and bad features,
still remains almost exactly as he left it.

It was only after Elizur Wright had ceased to be Commissioner that he
discovered a serious error in the calculation of the companies, which may
be explained in the following manner:

In the beginning, nearly all the insurance policies were made payable at
death, with annual premiums; but the introduction of endowment policies,
payable at a certain age, effected a peculiar change in their affairs, of
which the managers of the companies were not sensible. Elizur Wright
perceived that there were two distinct elements in the endowment policies
which placed them at a disadvantage with ordinary life policies, and he
called this combination "savings-bank life insurance." An endowment
policy, being payable at a fixed date, required a larger premium than one
which ran on indefinitely and by customary usage, and the agent who
negotiated the policy received the same percentage for commission that he
would on an ordinary-life policy; that is, he received a much larger
commission in proportion. This evil was increased in cases where
endowment policies were paid for, as often happened, in five or ten
instalments; and where they were paid for in a single instalment the
agent received four or five times what he was properly entitled to.

The same principle was observed by the companies in the distribution of
their surplus, so that the holders of endowment policies were practically
mulcted at both ends of the line.

In his reports as Insurance Commissioner Elizur Wright had recommended
this class of policies as a salutary provision against poverty in old
age, and he felt under obligations to the public to correct this
injustice, [Footnote: On a policy of ten thousand dollars, it would
amount to an appreciable sum.] but the insurance agents had also
advocated them for evident reasons and were naturally opposed to any
project of reform. The managers of the companies also treated the subject
coldly, for the discrimination against endowments enabled them to
accumulate a larger reserve which made them appear to better advantage
before the general public. The numerous agents and solicitors formed a
solid body of opposition and raised a chorus against Elizur Wright like
that which the robins make when you pick your own cherries. This class of
persons when they are actuated by a common impulse make a formidable

Mr. Wright, after arguing his case with the insurance companies for
nearly a year without effect, appealed to the public through the
newspapers. This, however, had unexpected consequences. Mr. Wright's
letters produced the impression, which he did not intend at all, that the
insurance companies were unsound, and policy-holders rushed to the
offices to make inquiries. Many surrendered their policies.

In this emergency the officers of the companies went to the editors and
explained to them that their business would be ruined if Mr. Wright was
permitted to continue his attacks on them. They then made Mr. Wright what
may have been intended for a magnanimous offer, though he did not look on
it in that light,--namely, an offer of ten thousand dollars a year, if he
would retire from the actuary business and not molest them any longer.
[Footnote: These events took place thirty years ago and have no relation
to the present condition and practice of American insurance companies.]
Elizur Wright refused this, as he might have declined the offer of a
cigar, and appealed to the Legislature. The companies then withdrew their
business from Mr. Wright and thus reduced his income from twelve thousand
dollars a year to about three thousand; but this troubled him no more
than it would have Diogenes.

In the summer of 1872 a portly gentleman called at Elizur Wright's office
on State Street and introduced himself as the president of a well-known
Western insurance company. As it was a pleasant day Mr. Wright invited
his visitor to Pine Hill, where they could converse to better advantage
than in a Boston office; but being much absorbed in his subject, while
passing through Medford Centre, he neglected to order a dinner; and the
consequence of this was that his portly friend was obliged to make a
lunch on cold meat and potato salad. That same evening Mr. Wright's
daughter twitted him on his lack of forethought, and hoped such a thing
would not happen again, to which he only replied: "The kindest thing you
can do for such a man is to starve him." Such was his philosophy on all

He devised a plan for combining life insurance with a savings bank, by
which the laboring man could obtain a certain amount of insurance for his
family (or old age) instead of interest upon his deposits. This was an
admirable idea, and if he had undertaken to carry it out in the prime of
life he might have succeeded in realizing it; but he was now upwards of
seventy, and his friends concluded that the experiment would be a risky
one, as a favorable result would depend entirely on Mr. Wright's
longevity. At the same time he had another enterprise in hand, namely, to
convert the Middlesex Fells, in which Pine Hill is situated, into a
public park. This was greatly needed for the crowded population on the
northern side of Boston, and though the plan was not carried out until
after his death, he was the originator and earliest promoter of it.

Elizur Wright's most conspicuous trait was generosity. He lived for the
world and not for himself. He was a man of broad views and great designs;
a daring, original thinker. He respected Emerson, but preferred the
philosophy of John Stuart Mill, from the study of which he became an
advocate of free trade and woman suffrage.

He died November 21, 1885, in the midst of a rain-storm which lasted six
days and nights. He lies interred at Mt. Hope Cemetery.


A distinguished American called upon Charles Darwin, and in the course
of conversation asked him what he considered the most important discovery
of the nineteenth century. To which Mr. Darwin replied, after a slight
hesitation: "Painless surgery." He thought this more beneficial in its
effects on human affairs than either the steam-engine or the telegraph.
Let it also be noted that he spoke of it as an invention, rather than as
a discovery.

The person to whom all scientific men now attribute the honor of this
discovery, or invention, is Dr. William T. G. Morton; and, although in
that matter he was not without slight assistance from others, as well as
predecessors in the way of tentative experiments, yet it was Doctor
Morton who first proved the possibility of applying anaesthesia to
surgical operations of a capital order; and it was he who pushed his
theory to a practical success. It may also be admitted that Columbus
could not have discovered the Western Hemisphere without the assistance
of Ferdinand and Isabella; but it was Columbus who divined the existence
of the American continent, and afterwards proved his theory to be true.
There is an underlying similarity between the labors and lives of
Columbus and Morton, in spite of large superficial differences.

William Thomas Greene Morton was born August 19, 1819, in Charlton,
Massachusetts, a small town in the Connecticut Valley. His father was a
flourishing farmer and lived in an old-fashioned but commodious country
house, with a large square chimney in the centre of it. William was not
only a bright but a very dexterous boy, and was sent to school in the
academy at Northfield, and afterwards at Leicester. It is a family
tradition that he early showed an experimental tendency by brewing
concoctions of various kinds for the benefit of his young companions, and
that he once made his sister deathly sick in this manner. His father,
finding him a more energetic boy than the average of farmers' sons,
advised him to go to Boston, to seek whatever fortune he could find

This resulted in his obtaining employment, probably through the Charlton
clergyman, in the office of a religious periodical, the _Christian
Witness_; but the situation, though a comfortable one, was not adapted
to his tastes, and from some unexplained attraction to the profession, he
decided to study dentistry. This he accordingly did, graduating at the
Baltimore Dental College in 1842. He then engaged an office in Boston,
and soon acquired a lucrative practice. He was an uncommonly handsome
man, with a determined look in his eye, but also a kindly expression and
pleasing manners, which may have brought him more practice than his skill
in dentistry,--although that was also good.

The following year he was married to Miss Elizabeth Whitman, of
Farmington, Connecticut, whose uncle, at least, had been a member of
Congress,--a highly genteel family in that region. In fact, her parents
objected to Doctor Morton on account of his profession, and it was only
after his promise to study medicine and become a regular practitioner
that they consented to the match. Accordingly, Doctor Morton in the
autumn of 1844 commenced a course at the Harvard Medical-School.

Mrs. Morton was a handsome young woman, with a fair face and elegant
figure. It would have been difficult to find a better looking couple
anywhere in the suburbs, and with good health and strength it seemed as
if fortune would certainly smile on them. Doctor Morton built a summer
cottage at Wellesley, where the public library now stands, and planted a
grove of trees about it; but a mere earthly paradise could not satisfy
him. He was not an ambitious man, or he would not have chosen the dental
profession; but the food he lived on was not of this world. He had the
daring spirit, the speculative temperament, and restless energy of the
born discoverer. Already he had made improvements in the manufacture of
artificial teeth. He was the first, or one of the first, to recognize the
importance of chemistry in connection with the practice of medicine. He
had no sooner returned to Boston than he commenced the study of chemistry
with Dr. Charles T. Jackson, spending from six to ten hours a week in his
laboratory; and he thus became acquainted with the properties and
peculiarities of most of the chemical ingredients known at that time.

Mrs. Morton soon discovered with awe and trepidation that she had married
no ordinary man. That he had a real skeleton in his closet was to have
been expected; but, besides this, there were rows of mysterious-looking
bottles, with substances in them quite different from the medicines which
were prescribed by the doctors in Farmington. He tried experiments on
their black water-spaniel and nearly killed him; and even descended to
fishes and insects. He would muse for hours by himself, and if she asked
him what he was thinking of he gave her no explanation that she could
understand. Although he was so attractive and pleasing, he did not care
much for human society. [Footnote: McClure's Magazine, September, 1896.]
He was kind and good to her, and with that she was content. A more
devoted wife, or faithful mother, has not been portrayed in poetry or

These phenomena in Doctor Morton's early life remind one of certain
processes in the budding of a flower. They indicate a tendency to some
object which perhaps was not at the time wholly clear to the man himself.
Impelled by the humanitarian spirit of the age, he moved forward with a
clear eye and firm hand to grasp the opportunity when it arrived,--nor
was it long delayed.

In considering the discovery of etherization we ought to eliminate all
evidence of an _ex parte_ character, unless it is supported
circumstantially; but there is no reason why we should disbelieve Mrs.
Morton's statement that her husband made experiments with sulphuric
ether; that his clothes smelt of it; and that he tried to persuade
laboring-men to allow him to experiment upon them with it. As Dr. J.
Collins Warren says: "Anaesthesia had been the dream of many surgeons and
scientists, but it had been classed with aerial navigation and other
improbable inventions." [Footnote: Anaesthesia in Surgery, 15.] As long
ago as 1818 Faraday had discovered the chief properties of ether, with
the exception of its effect in deadening sensibility. In 1836 Dr. Morrill
Wyman and Dr. Samuel Parkman had experimented with it on themselves at
the Massachusetts Hospital, but without taking a sufficient quantity to
produce unconsciousness. It was actually employed in 1842 by Dr. Crawford
W. Long, at the University of Pennsylvania, in some minor cases of
surgery, but he would seem to have lost confidence in his method and
afterwards abandoned it.

In December, 1844, Horace Wells, a dentist of Hartford, had a tooth
extracted by his own request while under the influence of nitrous oxide;
and the following month he came to Boston, and having made his discovery
known, an operation at the hospital was undertaken with his assistance,
but the patient screamed, and it proved a failure so far as anaesthesia
was concerned.

From these facts we readily draw the following conclusions: That the
discovery of painless surgery was essentially a practical affair for
which only a slight knowledge of chemistry was required; that it was not
a discovery made at hap-hazard, but one that necessitated a skilful hand
and a clear understanding of the subject; and that the supposition which
has sometimes been advanced that Doctor Morton was necessarily indebted
to Doctor Jackson for a knowledge of the hypnotic effect of ether is
wholly gratuitous.

We will now quote directly from Doctor Warren's lecture on "The Influence
of Anaesthesia on the Surgery of the Nineteenth Century," delivered
before the American Surgical Association in 1897:

"Morton having acquainted himself by conversation with Mr. Metcalf and
Mr. Burnett, both leading druggists, as to purity and qualities of ether,
and having also conversed with Mr. Wightman, a philosophical instrument-
maker, and with Doctor Jackson as to inhaling apparatus, proceeded to
experiment upon himself. After inhaling the purer quality of ether from a
handkerchief he awoke to find that he had been insensible for seven or
eight minutes.

"The same day a stout, healthy man came to his office suffering from
great pain and desiring to have a tooth extracted. Dreading the pain, ho
accepted willingly Morton's proposal to use ether, and the tooth was
extracted without suffering. Morton reported his success the next day to
Jackson, and conversed with him as to the best methods of bringing his
discovery to the attention of the medical profession and the public.
Jackson pointed out that tooth-pulling was not a sufficient test, as many
people claimed to have teeth pulled without pain. It was finally decided
that the crucial test lay in a public demonstration in the operating
theatre of a hospital in a surgical case."

There is one statement in the above to which, according to our rules of
literary procedure, we feel obliged to take exception,--that is, the
statement concerning the interview between Morton and Jackson after the
successful administration of ether to Morton's patient. It is
substantially Doctor Jackson's own statement. Doctor Morton gave a wholly
different account before the Congressional Committee of 1852. He said:

"I went to Doctor Jackson, told him what I had done, and asked him
to give me a certificate that ether was harmless in its effects. This
he positively refused to do. I then told him I should go to the principal
surgeons and have the question thoroughly tried. _I then called on Doctor
Warren, who promised me an early opportunity to try the experiment, and
soon after I received the invitation...._"

Now as these are both _ex parte_ statements, and as there are no
witnesses on either side, according to the rule we have already
established, they will both have to be eliminated. [Footnote: The
Congressional Committee of 1852 did not find Doctor Jackson's report of
this interview trustworthy.] Doctor Morton, however, says previously that
it was Doctor Hayward with whom he consulted as to the best method of
bringing his discovery before the world.

In the consideration of this subject we come upon a man of rare
character--rare even, in his profession. Dr. John C. Warren was the
perfect type of an Anglo-Saxon surgeon. His courage and dexterity were
fully equalled by his kindness and sympathy for the patient. Cool and
collected in the most trying emergencies, it has been said of him that he
never performed a capital operation without feeling a pain in his heart;
and the evidence of this was marked upon his face, so that it is even
visible in the photographs of him. He deserved to have his portrait
painted by Rubens. In 1847 Dr. Mason Warren published a review of
etherization, in which he makes this important statement:

"In the autumn of 1846 Dr. W. T. G. Morton, a dentist in Boston, a person
of great ingenuity, patience, and pertinacity of purpose, called on me
several times to show some of his inventions. At that time I introduced
him to Dr. John C. Warren. Shortly after, in October, I learned from
Doctor Warren that Doctor Morton had visited him and informed him that he
was in possession of or had discovered a means of preventing pain, which
he had proved in dental operations, and wished Doctor Warren to give him
an opportunity in a surgical operation. After some questions on the
subject in regard to its action and the safety of it, Doctor Warren
promised that he would do so.... The operation was therefore deferred
until Friday, October 16, when the ether was administered by Doctor
Morton, and the operation performed by Doctor Warren."

It was eminently fitting that Dr. John C. Warren should be the one to
introduce painless surgery to the medical profession. Next to Morton he
deserves the highest credit for the revolution which it effected: a
glorious revolution, fully equal to that of 1688. His quick recognition
of Morton's character, and the confidence he placed in him as the man of
the hour, deserve the highest commendation. Doctor Warren had invited
Doctor Jackson to attend this critical experiment with sulphuric ether at
the Massachusetts Hospital; but he declined with the trite excuse that he
was obliged to go out of town. This has been generally interpreted by the
medical profession as a lack of courage on Jackson's part to face the
music, but it may also have been owing to his jealousy of Morton.

This happened October 16th, and on November 13th, Dr. C. T. Jackson wrote
to M. Elie de Beaumont, a member of the French Academy, this remarkable

"I request permission to communicate through your medium to the Academy
of Sciences a discovery which I have made, and which I believe important
for the relief of suffering humanity, as well as of great value to the
surgical profession. Five or six years ago I noticed the peculiar state
of insensibility into which the nervous system is thrown by the
inhalation of the vapor of pure sulphuric ether, which I respired
abundantly,--first by way of experiments, and afterwards when I had a
severe catarrh, caused by the inhalation of chlorine gas. I have latterly
made a useful application of this fact by persuading a dentist of this
city to administer the vapor of ether to his patients, when about to
undergo the operation of extraction of teeth. It was observed that
persons suffered no pain in the operation, and that no inconvenience
resulted from the administration of the vapor."

It was the opinion of Robert Rantoul and other members of the
Congressional Committee that Doctor Jackson suffered from a "heated and
disordered imagination," and that is the most charitable view that one
can take of such a letter as this. Whatever may have been the result of
Doctor Jackson's investigations with sulphuric ether, it is certain that
he added nothing to the scientific knowledge of his time in that respect;
[Footnote: Edinburgh Medical Journal, April 1, 1857.] and if he persuaded
Doctor Morton to make use of it, why was he not present to oversee his
subordinate? also, why did he make a charge on his books a few days later
against Doctor Morton of five hundred dollars for advice and information
concerning the application of ether? It is not customary to charge
subordinates for their service but to reward them. The two horns of this
dilemma are sharp and penetrating.

In a later memorial of the same general tenor, which Doctor Jackson
forwarded to Baron Humboldt, he stated that he had applied to other
dentists in Boston to make the experiment of etherization, but found them
unwilling to take the risk; but the names of the dentists have never been
made public, nor did any such appear afterwards to testify in Doctor
Jackson's behalf.

Still more remarkable was the action of the French Academy of Arts and
Sciences in these premises. The French Academy was founded by Richelieu,
but abolished in the first French Revolution, with so many other
enchanted phantasms. Napoleon re-established it, and gave it new life and
vigor by a discriminating choice of membership; but it is a close
corporation which renews itself by its own votes, and such a body of men
is always in danger of becoming a mutual admiration society, and if this
happens its public utility is at an end. In the present instance the
action of the French Academy was illogical, unscientific, and

Doctor Jackson's letter was brought before that august body on January
18, 1847, but previous to that time Doctor Warren had written to Doctor
Velpeau, an eminent French surgeon, concerning the success of
etherization at the Massachusetts Hospital, and suggesting the use of it
in the hospitals at Paris; and Doctor Velpeau referred to this fact at
the meeting of January 18th. The contents of this letter have never been
made public; but it is incredible that Doctor Jackson's claim should have
received any support from it. Nevertheless, the members of the French
Academy decided to divide one of the Mouthyon prizes (of five thousand
francs for great scientific discoveries) between Dr. W. T. G. Morton and
Elie de Beaumont's American friend, Dr. C. T. Jackson; and they
_conferred this particular favor on Dr. Jackson at his own
representation, without one witness in his favor, and without making an
inquiry into the circumstances of the discovery._ Could the Northfield
Academy of boys and girls have acted in a more heedless or unscientific

After the justice of this decision had been questioned, the French
Academy promulgated a defence of their previous action, of which the
essence was that the scientific theory of Doctor Jackson was as essential
to the discovery of etherization as the practical skill of Doctor Morton;
that is, they attempted to decide a matter of fact by an _a priori_
dogmatism. Was not the instruction that Doctor Morton received from the
dental college in Baltimore also essential to the discovery,--and to go
behind that,--what he learned at the primary school at Churiton? When
learning is divorced from reason it becomes mere pedantry or sublimated
ignorance, and is more dangerous to the community than unlettered
ignorance can be.

This blunder of the French Academy had evil consequences for both Morton
and Jackson; for it placed the latter in a false position towards the
world, and brought about a collision between them which not only lasted
during their lives, but was also carried on by their friends and
relatives long afterwards. It is doubtful if Jackson would have contested
Morton's claim without European support.

With true dignity of character Doctor Morton declined to divide the
Mouthyon prize with Doctor Jackson, and the French Academy accordingly
had a large gold medal stamped in his honor, and as this did not exhaust
the original donation, the remainder of the sum was expended on a highly
ornamental case. The trustees of the Massachusetts Hospital partly
subscribed and partly collected a thousand dollars which they presented
to Doctor Morton in a handsome silver casket. The King of Sweden sent him
the Cross of the Order of Wasa; and he also received the Cross of the
Order of St. Vladimir from the Tsar of Russia. He was only twenty-seven
years of age at this time.

The ensuing eight years of Morton's life were spent in a desperate effort
for recognition--recognition of the importance of his discovery and of
his own merits as the discoverer. No one can blame him for this. As
events proved, it would have been far better for him if he had finished
his course at the medical-school and set up his sign in the vicinity of
Beacon Street; but the wisest man can but dimly foresee the future.
Doctor Morton had every reason to believe that there was a fortune to be
made in etherization. He consulted Rufus Choate, who advised him to
obtain a patent or proprietary right in his discovery. Hon. Caleb Eddy
undertook to do this for him, and being supported by a sound opinion from
Daniel Webster, easily obtained it. Now, however, Morton's troubles

He exempted the Massachusetts Hospital from the application of his
royalty, and it was only right that he should do so; but, unfortunately,
it was the only large hospital where etherization was regularly
practised. In order to extend its application Doctor Morton secured the
services of three young physicians, practised them in the use of the gas,
and paid them a thousand dollars each to go forth into the world as
proselytes of his discovery; but they met everywhere with a cold
reception, and were several times informed that if the Massachusetts
Hospital enjoyed the use of etherization, other hospitals ought to have
the same privilege; so that his enterprise proved of no immediate

The Mexican War was now at its height, and Doctor Morton offered the use
of etherization to the government for a very small royalty, but his offer
was declined by the Secretary of War. He soon discovered, however, that
surgeons in the army and navy were making free use of it,--contrary to
law and the rights of men. Individuals all over the country--dentists and
surgeons--were doing the same thing; and it was more difficult to prevent
this than to execute the game-laws. For such an order of affairs the
decision of the French Academy was largely responsible, for if men only
find a shadow of right on the side of self-interest, they are likely
enough to take advantage of it.

Meanwhile Doctor Jackson, with a few friends and a large body of
Homoeopaths who acted in opposition to the regulars of the Massachusetts
Hospital, kept up a continual fusillade against Doctor Morton; but this
did him little harm, for early in 1847 the trustees of the hospital
decided, by a unanimous vote, that the honor of discovering etherization
properly belonged to him.

Doctor Jackson questioned the justice of this decision, and applied for a
reconsideration of the subject. Whereupon the subject was reconsidered
the following year, and the same verdict rendered as before. Doctor
Jackson then carried his case to the Boston Academy of Arts and Sciences,
when Professor Agassiz asked him the pertinent question: "But, Doctor
Jackson, did you make one little experiment?" adding drily, after
receiving a negative reply: "It would have been better if you had."

It is to be regretted that Doctor Jackson should have attacked Doctor
Morton's private life (which appears to have been fully as commendable as
his own), and also that R. W. Emerson should have entered the lists in
favor of his brother-in-law. In one of his later books Emerson designates
Doctor Jackson as the discoverer of etherization. This was setting his
own judgment above that of the legal and medical professions, and even
above the French Academy; but Emerson had lived so long in intuitions and
poetical concepts that he was not a fairly competent person to judge of a
matter of fact. It is doubtful if he made use of the inductive method of
reasoning during his life.

Doctor Morton sought legal advice in regard to the infringement of his
patent rights; but he found that legal proceedings in such cases were
very expensive, and was counselled to apply to Congress for redress and
assistance. This seemed to him a good plan, for if he could exchange his
rights in etherization for a hundred thousand dollars, he would be
satisfied; but in the end it proved a Nessus shirt to strangle the life
out of him. He soon found that Congress could not be moved by a sense of
justice, but only by personal influence. He gave up his business in
Boston and went to Washington with his family, but this soon exhausted
his slender resources. Knowing devils informed him that if he wished to
obtain a hundred thousand dollars from the government he would have to
expend fifteen or twenty thousand in lobbying, but the idea of this was
hateful to him, and he declined to make the requisite pledges.

The winter of 1850 and of 1851 passed without result, until finally in
December of the latter year, Bissel, of Illinois, made a speech in Doctor
Morton's favor, calling attention to the fact that the government had
been pirating his patent, and proposing that the subject be referred to a
committee. Robert Rantoul seconded the motion, and the step was taken. It
was considered better for the chances of success that the proposition
should come from a Western man.

This committee continued its meeting throughout the winter and made a
thorough-going examination of the question before it. The frankness and
plain character of Doctor Morton's testimony is much in his favor, and
the description he gave of his own proceedings previous to the first
operation in the Massachusetts Hospital show how hard he wrestled with
his discovery,--wrestled like Jacob of old,--working half the night with
an instrument-maker to devise a suitable apparatus for inhalation. Doctor
Jackson and Horace Wells also presented their claims to the committee and
were respectfully considered.

The report of this committee is a valuable document,--a study for young
lawyers in the sifting of evidence,--and of itself a severe criticism on
the judgment of the French Academy, which it considered at too great a
distance to judge fairly of the circumstances attending the advent of
painless surgery. The committee decided unanimously that Doctor Wells did
not carry his experiments far enough to reach a decided result; that
Doctor Jackson's testimony was contradictory and not much to be depended
on; and that the credit of discovering painless surgery properly
appertained to Dr. W. T. G. Morton. They recommended an appropriation of
a hundred thousand dollars to be given to Doctor Morton in return for the
free use of etherization by the surgeons of the army and navy.

A hundred thousand dollars was little enough. The British Government paid
thirty thousand pounds as a gratuity for the discovery of vaccination;
and more recently a poor German student made a much larger sum by the
invention of a drug which has since fallen into disuse. Half a million
would not have been more than Morton deserved, and a hundred thousand
might have been bestowed on Wells.

Doctor Morton must have thought now that the clouds were lifting for him
at last; but they soon settled down darker than ever. The committee's
report was only printed towards the close of the session, and Congress,
gone rabid over the Presidential election, neglected to consider it.
Neither did it take further action the following winter. A year later a
bill was introduced in the Senate for Doctor Morton's relief, and was
ably supported by Douglas, of Illinois, and Hale, of New Hampshire. It
passed the Senate by a small majority, but was defeated by the "mud-gods"
of the House--defeated by men who were pilfering the national treasury in
sinecures for their relatives and supporters. In the history of our
government I know of nothing more disgraceful than this,--except the
exculpation of Brooks for his assault on Sumner.

Doctor Morton was a ruined man. His slender means had long since been
exhausted, and he had been running in debt for the past two or three
years, as Hawthorne did at the old manse. Even his house at Wellesley was
mortgaged. His business was gone, and his health was shattered. He felt
as a man does in an earthquake. The government could not have treated him
more cruelly unless it had put him to death.

It was now, as a final resort, that he went to see President Pierce,
always a kindly man, except where Kansas affairs were concerned; and
Pierce advised him to bring a suit for infringement of his rights against
a surgeon in the navy. Doctor Morton found a lawyer who was willing to
take the risk for a large share of the profits, and gained his case. His
house was saved, but he returned to Wellesley poorer than when he came to
Boston to seek his fortune, a youth of eighteen.

There was great indignation at the Massachusetts Hospital when the result
of Doctor Morton's case before Congress was known there, and soon after
his return an effort was made to raise a substantial testimonial for him.
That noble-hearted physician, Dr. Henry I. Bowditch, interested himself
so conspicuously in this that Doctor Morton named his youngest son for

A similar effort was made by the medical profession in New York city, and
a sufficient sum obtained to render Doctor Morton moderately comfortable
during the remainder of his earthly existence, and to educate his eldest

Doctor Morton's health was too much shattered for professional work now,
and he resigned himself to his fate. He raised cattle at Wellesley, and
imported fine cattle as a healthful out-of-door occupation. In the autumn
of 1862 he joined the Army of the Potomac as a volunteer surgeon, and
applied ether to more than two thousand wounded soldiers during the
battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. At the
same time Senator Wil- [*printer's error--double line and missing text]
revive the gratuity for Morton in Congress, but the decision of the French
Academy was in men's minds, and a vicious precedent proved stronger than

I saw Doctor Morton for the last time about nine months before his death;
and the impression his appearance made on me was indelible. He was
walking in the path before his house with his eldest daughter, and he
seemed like the victim of an old Greek tragedy--a noble Oedipus who had
solved the Sphynx's riddle, attended by his faithful Antigone.

In July, 1868, a torrid wave swept over the Northern States which carried
off many frail and delicate persons in the large cities, and Doctor
Morton was one of those who suffered from it. He happened to be in New
York City at the time, and went to Central Park to escape the feeling of
suffocation which oppressed him, but never returned alive. He now lies in
Mount Auburn Cemetery, with a modest monument over his grave erected by
his Boston friends, with this epitaph composed by Dr. Jacob Bigelow:



Doctor Morton was a self-made man, but not a rough diamond,--rather one
of Nature's gentlemen. The pleasant urbanity of his manner was so
conspicuous that no person of sensibility could approach him without
being impressed by it. His was a character such as those who live by
academic rules would be more likely to misjudge than to comprehend.

The semi-centennial of painless surgery was celebrated, in 1896, in
Boston, New York, London, and other cities, and the credit of its
discovery was universally awarded to William T. G. Morton. About the same
time it happened that the Massachusetts State House was reconstructed,
and William Endicott, as Commissioner, and a near relative of Robert
Rantoul, had Morton's name emblazoned in the Hall of Fame with those of
Franklin, Morse, and Bell. This may be said to have decided the
controversy; but, like many another benefactor of mankind, Doctor
Morton's reward on earth was a crown of thorns.


February, 1869

(Rewritten in 1897)

As I look out of P----'s windows on the Via Frattina every morning at
the plaster bust of Pius IX., I like his face more and more, and feel
that he is not an unworthy companion to George Washington and the young
Augustus. [Footnote: Three busts in a row.] I think there may be
something of the fox, or rather of the _crow_, in his composition,
but his face has the wholeness of expression which shows a sound and
healthy mind,--not a patchwork character. I was pleased to hear that he
was originally a liberal; and the first, after the long conservative
reaction of Metternich, to introduce reforms in the states of the Church.
The Revolution of 1848 followed too quickly, and the extravagant
proceedings of Mazzini and Garibaldi drove him into the ranks of the
conservatives, where he has remained ever since. Carlyle compared him to
a man who had an old tin-kettle which he thought he would mend, but as
soon as he began to tinker it the thing went to pieces in his hands. The
Revolution of 1848 proved an unpractical experiment, but it opened the
way for Victor Emanuel and a more sound liberalism in 1859.

We attended service at the Sistine Chapel yesterday in company with two
young ladies from Philadelphia, who wore long black veils so that Pius
IX. might not catch the least glimpse of their pretty faces. I was
disappointed in my hope of obtaining a view of the Pope's face. Cardinal
Bonaparte sat just in front of us, a man well worth observing. He looks
to be the ablest living member of that family, and bears a decided
resemblance to the old Napoleon. His features are strong, his eyes keen,
and he wears his red cap in a jaunty manner on the side of his head. When
the blessing was passed around the conclave of Cardinals, Bonaparte
transferred it to his next neighbor as if he meant to put it through him.
It is supposed that he will be the successor of Pius IX.; but, as Rev.
Samuel Longfellow says, that will depend very much upon whether Louis
Napoleon is alive at the time of the election.

The singing in the Sistine Chapel is not worth listening to, besides
having unpleasant associations; so during the service we had an excellent
opportunity to study Michael Angelo's Last Judgment--for there was
nothing else to be done.

Kugler considers the picture an inharmonious composition, and that
nothing could be more disagreeable than the stout figure of St.
Bartholomew holding a flaying knife in one hand and his own mortal hide
in the other. This is not a pleasant spectacle; but Michael Angelo did
not paint for other people's pleasure, but rather to satisfy his own
conscience. It was customary to introduce St. Bartholomew in this manner,
for there was no other way in which he could be identified. We found the
towering form of St. Christopher on the left side of the Saviour rather
more of an eyesore than St. Bartholomew, whose expression of awe
partially redeems his appearance.

The Saviour has a herculean frame, but his face and head are magnificent.
He has no beard, and his hair is arranged in festoons which gives the
impression of a wreath of grape leaves. The expression of his face is the
noblest I have seen in any work of art in Rome; the face that has risen
through suffering; calm, compassionate, immutable. The Madonna seems like
a girl beside this stalwart form, and she draws close to her son with
naive timidity at the vast concourse which crowds about them. Her face is
expressive of resignation and compassion rather than any joyful feeling.

The left side of this vast painting, in which the bodies of men and women
are rising from their graves, is less interesting than the right side,
where the saints and blessed are gathered together above and the sinners
are hurled down below. Michael Angelo's saints and apostles look like
vigorous men of affairs, and are all rather stout and muscular. The
attitudes of some of them are by no means conventional, but they are
natural and unconstrained. St. Peter, holding forth the keys, is a
magnificent figure. The group of the saved who are congregated above the
saints is the pleasantest portion of the picture. Here Damion and Pythias
embrace each other; a young husband springs to greet the wife whom he
lost too early; a poor unfortunate to whom life was a curse is timidly
raising his eyes, scarcely believing that he is in paradise; men with
fine philosophic heads converse together; and a number of honest serving-
women express their astonishment with such gestures as are customary
among that class of persons.

In the lunettes above, wingless angels are hovering with the cross, the
column, and other instruments of Christ's agony, which they clasp with a
loving devotion. In the lower right-hand corner, Charon appears (taken
from pagan mythology) with a boat-load of sinners, whom he smites with
his oar according to Dante's description. He is truly a terrible demon,
and his fiery eyes gleam across the length of the chapel. Minos, who
receives the boat-load in the likeness of Biagio da Cesena, the pope's
master of ceremonies, is another to match him. A modern fop with banged
hair is stepping from the boat to the shore of hell. This is said to be
the best painted portion of the picture,--most life-like and free from
mannerism. It is a mighty work, and too little appreciated, like many
other works of art, chiefly owing to the critics, who do not understand
it, and write a lingo of their own which is not easy to make out and does
not come to much after all. [Footnote: All this shows what a heart there
was in Michael Angelo, and dissipates the assertion of a recent English
biographer that Michael Angelo painted masks instead of faces, with
little or no expression.]

After the service we went into St. Peter's with the ladies, and walked
the whole circuit of the church. Our ladies talked meanwhile exactly as
they might at an American watering-place, without apparently observing
anything about them. When we came to the statue of St. Peter, P---- said,
pointing to the big toe: "You see there the mischief that can be done by
too much kissing." Nearly a third of the toe has been worn away by the
oscular applications of the faithful.

_Feb_. 4.--Dr. B. B. Appleton, an American resident of Florence, is
here on a flying visit. We have heard from many sources of the kindness
of this man to American travellers, especially to young students. In
fact, he took P---- into his house while at Florence, and entertained him
in the most generous manner. He has done the same for Mrs. Julia Ward
Howe and many others. He lives with an Italian family who were formerly
in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and who were ruined by the
recent change of rulers. Dr. Appleton boards with them, and helps to
support them in other ways. In spite of his goodness he does not seem to
be happy.

One of his chief friends in Florence is Fraulein Assig, who was banished
from Prussia together with her publisher for editing Von Humboldt's
memoirs, which were perhaps too severely critical of the late king of
Prussia. The book, however, had an excellent sale, and she now lives
contentedly in Florence, where she is well acquainted both with prominent
liberals and leading members of the government. Dr. Appleton reports that
a cabinet officer lately said to her, "We may move to Rome at any time."

Louis Napoleon is the main-stay of the papacy, and the only one it has.
The retrocession of Venetia to Italy has separated Austria effectually
from the states of the Church, and the Spaniards are too much taken up
with their internal affairs to interfere at present in the pope's behalf.
Napoleon's health is known to be delicate, and prayers for his
preservation are offered up daily in Roman churches. If he should die
before his son comes of age great political changes may be looked for.

Meanwhile murmurs of discontent are heard on all sides. The city is
unclean and badly cared for. The civil offices are said to be filled
mainly with _nephews_ of cardinals and other prelates. Even Italians
of the lower classes know enough of political economy to foresee that if
Rome was the capital of Italy it would be more prosperous than it is at
present. The value of land would rise, and all the small trades would
flourish. This is what is really undermining the power of Pius IX. A most
curious sign of the times is the general belief among the Roman populace
that the Pope has an evil eye. How long since this originated I have not
been able to learn; but it is not uncommon for those who chance to see
the pope in his carriage, especially women, to go immediately into the
nearest church for purification. A few days since the train from Rome to
Florence ran into a buffalo, and the locomotive was thrown off the track.
Even this was attributed to the fact that the engineer had encountered
the pope near the Quirinal the previous Sunday.

Dr. Appleton told us a story at dinner about the youth of Louis Napoleon.
His Florentine housekeeper, Gori, remembers Hortense and her two sons
very distinctly; for Louis once met him in the Boboli Gardens and
insisted on his smoking a cigar, in order to laugh at him when it had
made him sick,--as it was Gori's first experience with tobacco. He also
says that on one occasion when the young princes had some sort of a feast
together, the others all gave the caterer from five to ten francs as a
_pour-boir_, but Louis Napoleon gave him a twenty-franc piece. When
his companions expressed their surprise at this Louis said: "It is only
right that I should do so, for some day I shall be Emperor."

As a rule few Italian men attend church. The women go; but the men, if
not heretical, are at least rather indifferent, on the subject of
religion. Macaulay refers to this fact in his essay on Macchiavelli, and
Dr. Appleton, who has lived among them, knows it to be true. To make
amends for it, English and American ladies are returning to the fold of
St. Peter in large numbers; and many of them bring their male relatives
eventually with them. I believe this to be largely a matter of fashion.
They have always accepted the Protestant creed as a matter of course, and
coming here, where they are separated from all previous associations,
they find themselves out of tune with their surroundings. They feel
lonely, as all travellers do at times, and being in need of sympathy are
easily impressed by those about them. Most of them have Catholic maids,
who often serve as stepping-stones to the acquaintance of the priest.
Conversion gives them a kind of importance, which Catholic ladies of rank
know how to make the most of. The external grandeur of Catholicism as we
see it here has also its due influence.

_Feb. 9._--I was greatly disgusted last evening while calling on two
New England ladies, who were formerly my schoolmates, to have a pompous
priest walk in and take possession of the parlor, spoiling my pleasant
_tete-a-tete_. He sat in the middle of the room like a pail of
water, and stared about in the most ill-mannered way. My friends remarked
that he was the _abbate_ of the Pantheon, and he inquired if I had
been to see it; to which I replied that I had, and that I considered it
the noblest building in Rome. This seemed to be a new idea to him, and
one which he did not altogether like. Not long since I came upon a priest
drinking wine with some young artists, and laughing at jokes for which a
stage-driver might be ashamed. There are fine exceptions among them, but
as a class they appear to me coarse and even vicious,--by no means
spiritually attractive. Monks are not attractive either, but in their way
they are much more interesting. Religion seems to be meat and drink to

P---- and I were invited to dine by an American Catholic lady who was
formerly a friend of Margaret Fuller, and who having been incautiously
left in Rome by her husband, embraced Catholicism before he was fairly
across the Atlantic,--to his lasting sorrow and vexation. Being in an
influential position she has made many converts, and it is said that she
has come to Rome on the present occasion to be sainted by the pope. She
has already loaned P---- a biography of Father Lacordaire, which he has
not had leisure to read. He referred to it, as soon as politeness
permitted, with a shrewd inquiry as to whether the book did not give
rather a rose-colored view of practical Catholicism. Mrs. X---- turned to
her daughters and said with all imaginable sweetness: "Just hear him,--
the poor child!" Then she went off into a long, eloquent, and really
interesting discourse on the true, sole, and original Christian Church.
She admitted, however, that during the sixteenth century the Christian
faith had much fallen into decay, and that Martin Luther was not to be
blamed for his exhortations against the evil practices of popes and
cardinals. Now that the Church had been reformed it was altogether
different. She told us how she became converted. It came to her like a
vision on a gloomy winter day, while she was looking into the embers of a

Then she talked about Margaret Fuller, whom she called the most brilliant
woman she had ever known. She had never loved another woman so much; but
it was a dangerous love. If she wrote a rather gushing letter to
Margaret, she would receive in reply, "How could you have written so
beautifully! You must have been inspired." This, she said, had all the
effect of flattery without being intended for it, and was so much the
more mischievous. "Emerson and Margaret Fuller," said Mrs. X----, "put
inspiration in the place of religion. They believed that some people had
direct communication with the Almighty." P---- and I thought this might
be true of Miss Fuller, but doubted it in Emerson's case.

Miss X---- told me that she had lately ascended to the rotunda of the
Capitol, from which the pope's flag flies all day, and that she had asked
the Swiss guard what he would do if she hoisted the tricolor there. He
replied: "I should shoot you." Nothing could be more kind or truly
courteous than the manner in which these ladies treated us.

Another distinguished convert here is Mrs. Margaret Eveleth, a rare,
spirituelle woman, who was born within a mile of my father's house. She
was formerly a Unitarian, but soon became a Catholic on coming to Rome.
While she was in process of transition from one church to the other she
wrote a number of letters to her former pastor in New York, requesting
information on points of faith. Not one of these letters was ever
answered, and it is incredible to suppose that they would not have been
if he had received them. It is highly probable that they never left Rome.
I have myself been warned to attach my stamps to letters firmly, so that
they may not be stolen in passing through the Post-office. Postage here
is also double what it is in Florence.

_Feb_. 12.--I have been looking for some time to find a good picture
of Marcus Aurelius, and have generally become known among Roman
photographers as the man who wants the _Marc Aureli_. This morning I
had just left my room when I discovered Rev. Samuel Longfellow in a
photograph shop in the Via Frattina. "I was just coming to see you," he
said; "and I stopped here to look for a photograph of Marcus Aurelius."
He laughed when I told him that I had been on the same quest, and
suggested that we should walk to the Capitol together and look at the
statue and bust of our favorite emperor. "I think he was the greatest of
the Romans," said Mr. Longfellow, "if not the noblest of all the

So we walked together--as we never shall again--through the long Corso
with its array of palaces, past the column of Aurelius and the fragments
of Trajan's forum, until we reached the ancient Capitol of Rome,
rearranged by Michael Angelo. Here we stood before the equestrian statue
of Marcus Aurelius, and considered how it might be photographed to
advantage. "I do not think," said Rev. Mr. Longfellow, "that we can
obtain a satisfactory picture of it. The face is too dark to be
expressive, and it is the man's face that I want; and I suppose you do

I asked him how he could explain the creation of such a noble statue in
the last decline of Greek art; he said he would not attempt to explain it
except on the ground that things do not always turn out as critics and
historians would have them. It was natural that the arts should revive
somewhat under the patronage of Hadrian and the Antonines.

We went into the museum of the Capitol to look for the bust of the young
Aurelius, which shone like a star (to use Homer's expression) among its
fellows, but we discovered from the earth-stains on portions of it why
the photographers had not succeeded better with it. We decided that our
best resource would be to have Mr. Appleton's copy of it photographed,
and Rev. Mr. Longfellow agreed to undertake the business with me in the
forenoon of the next day.

The busts of the Roman emperors were interesting because their characters
are so strongly marked in history. The position would seem to have made
either brutes or heroes of them. Tiberius, who was no doubt the natural
son of Augustus, resembles him as a donkey does a horse. Caligula, Nero,
and Domitian had small, feminine features; Nero a bullet-head and sensual
lips, but the others quite refined. During the first six years of Nero's
reign he was not so bad as he afterwards became; and I saw an older bust
of him in Paris which is too horrible to be looked at more than once.
Vespasian has a coarse face, but wonderfully good-humored; and Titus,
called "the delight of mankind," looks like an improvement on Augustus.
The youthful Commodus bears a decided resemblance to his father, and
there is no indication in his face to suggest the monster which he
finally became.

Early in the next forenoon I reached the Hotel Costanzi in good season
and inquired for the Rev. Mr. Longfellow. He soon appeared, together with
Mr. T. G. Appleton, who was evidently pleased at my interest in the young
Aurelius, and remarked that it was a more interesting work than the young
Augustus. The bust had been sent to William Story's studio to be cleaned,
and thither we all proceeded in the best possible spirits.

We found a photographer named Giovanni Braccia on the floor a
_piano_ above Mr. Story; and after a lengthy discussion with him, in
which Mr. Longfellow was the leading figure, he agreed to take the
photographs at two napoleons a dozen. [Footnote: These pictures proved to
be fine reproductions, and are still to be met with in Boston and
Cambridge parlors.] When the bust was brought in Mr. Longfellow called my
attention to the incisions representing pupils in the eyes, which he said
were a late introduction in sculpture, and not generally considered an
improvement. After this Mr. Appleton called to us to come with him to the
studio of an English painter in the same building, whose name I cannot
now recollect. He was the type of a graceful, animated young artist, and
had just finished a painting representing ancient youths and maidens in a
procession with the light coming from the further side, so that their
faces were mostly in shadow, with bright line along the profile,--an
effect which it requires skill to render.

On returning to the street we looked into Mr. Story's outer room again,
where the casts of all his statues were seated in a double row like
persons at a theatre. Mr. Appleton was rather severe in his criticism of
them, though he admitted that the Cleopatra (which I believe was a
replica) had a finely modulated face.

_Feb._ 15.--Warrington Wood invited P---- and myself to lunch with
him in his studio, and at the appointed time a waiter appeared from the
_Lapre_ with a great tin box on his shoulder filled with spaghetti,
roast goat, and other Italian dishes. We had just spread these on a table
in front of the clay model of Michael and Satan, when Wood's marble-
cutter rushed in to announce the King and Queen of Naples. Wood hastily
threw a green curtain over the dishes, while P---- and I retreated to the
further end of the room.

The Queen of Naples is a fine-looking and spirited person, still quite
young, and talks English well. She conversed with Wood and asked him a
number of questions about his group, and also about the stag-hound, Eric,
that was standing sentinel. The King said almost nothing, and moving
about as if he know not what to do with himself, finally backed up
against the table where our lunch was covered by the green cloth. I think
he had an idea of sitting down on it, but the dishes set up such a
clatter that he beat a hasty retreat. The King did not move a muscle of
his countenance, but the Queen looked around and said something to him in
Italian, laughing pleasantly. She is said to be friendly to Americans and
is quite intimate with Miss Harriet Hosmer. She is at least a woman of
noble courage, and when Garibaldi besieged Naples she went on to the
ramparts and rallied the soldiers with the shells bursting about her.

They subscribed themselves in Wood's register under the name of Bourbon,
and after their departure we found our lunch cold, but perhaps we
relished it better for this visitation of royalty. Then we all went to
the carnival, where an Italian _lazzaroni_ attempted to pick Wood's
pocket, but was caught in the act and soundly kicked by Wood.

This was the most entertaining event of the afternoon. The best part of
the carnival was the quantity of fresh flowers that were brought in from
the country and sold at very moderate prices. P---- distinguished himself
throwing bouquets to ladies in the balconies. It is said that he has an
admirer among them. For the first hour or so I found it entertaining
enough, but after that I became weary of its endless repetition. Eighty
years since Goethe, seated in one of these balconies, was obliged to ask
for paper and pencil to drive away _ennui_, as he afterwards
confessed. The carnival now is almost entirely given up to the English
and Americans; while many of the lower class of Italians mix in it
disguised in masks and fancy dresses. Four masked young women greeted us
with confetti and danced about me on the sidewalk. One tipped up my hat
behind and another whispered a name in my ear which I did not suppose was
known in Europe. I have not yet discovered who they were.

_Feb_. 19.--I have had the pleasure of dining with that remarkable
woman and once distinguished actress, Miss Charlotte Cushman. Her nephew
was consul at Rome, appointed by William II. Seward, who was one of her
warmest American friends. She is still queen of the stage, and of her own
household, and unconsciously gives orders to the servants in a dramatic
manner which is sometimes very amusing. So it was to hear her sing,
"Mary, call the cattle home," as if she were sending for the heavy
artillery. She impresses me, however, as one of the most genuine of
womankind; and her conversation is delightful,--so sympathetic,
appreciative, full of strong good sense, and fresh original views. She
has small mercy on newly-converted Catholics. "The faults of men," she
said, "are chiefly those of strength, but the faults of my own sex arise
from weakness." I happened to refer to Mr. Appleton's bust of Aurelius,
and she said she was surprised he had purchased it, for it did not seem
to her a satisfactory copy; a conclusion that I had been slowly coming to
myself. She has a bronze replica of Story's "Beethoven" which, like most
of his statues, is seated in a chair, and a rather realistic work, as
Miss Cushman admitted. I judged from the conversation at table that she
is not treated with full respect by the English and American society
here, although looked upon as a distinguished person. The reason for this
may be more owing to the social position of her relatives than her former
profession. Mrs. Trelawney, the wife of Byron's eccentric friend, spoke
of her to me a few days ago in terms of the highest esteem. She is a
great-hearted woman, and her presence would be a moral power anywhere.

There is snobbishness enough in Rome--English, American, and Italian.
Doolittle, who is the son of a highly respectable New York lawyer, went
to the hunt last week, as he openly confessed, to give himself
distinction. A young lady was thrown from her horse, and he was the first
person to come to her assistance. She thanked him for it at the time, but
two days afterwards declined to recognize his acquaintance. This was
probably because he was an artist, or rather sets up for one, for he is
more like a gentleman of leisure.


The Longfellow party will soon depart for Naples, and I went to the
Costanzi to make my final call. Mr. Henry W. Longfellow was alone in his
parlor cutting the leaves of a large book. He said that his brother had
gone to the Pincion with the ladies, but would probably return soon.
Everything this man says and does has the same grace and elevated tone as
his poetry. I took a chair and pretty soon he said to me, "How do you
like your books, Mr. S----? For my part, I prefer to cut the leaves of a
book, for then I feel as if I had earned the right to read it." I replied
that I liked books with rough edges if they were printed on good paper;
and then he said, "See this remarkable picture."

I drew my chair closer to him, and he showed me a large colored chart of
Hell and Purgatory, according to the theory that prevailed in Dante's
time. Satan with his three faces was represented in the centre, and on
the other side rose the Mount of Purgatory.

"It is an Italian commentary," he said, "on the _Divina Commedia_,"
which had been sent to him that day; and he added that some of the
information in it was of a very curious sort.

I asked him if he could read Italian as easily as English. "Very nearly,"
he replied; "but the fine points of Italian are as difficult as those of

He inquired how I and my friends spent our evenings in Rome, and I said,
"In all kinds of study and reading, but just now P---- was at work on
Browning's 'Ring and the Book.'"

Mr. Longfellow laughed. "I do not wonder you call it work," he said. "It
seems to me a story told in so many different ways may be something of a
curiosity--not much of a poem." [Footnote: I have since observed that
poets as a class are not fair critics of poetry; for they are sure to
prefer poetry which is like their own. This is true at least of Lowell,
Emerson, or Matthew Arnold; but when I came to read "The Ring and the
Book" I found that Longfellow's objection was a valid one.]

I remarked that Rev. Mr. Longfellow had a decided partiality for
Browning. "Yes," he said; "Sam likes him, and my friend John Weiss
prefers him to Tennyson. My objection is to his diction. I have always
found the English language sufficient for my purpose, and have never
tried to improve on it. Browning's 'Saul' and 'The Ride from Ghent to
Aix' are noble poems."

"Carlyle also," I said, "has a peculiar diction." "That is true," he
replied, "but one can forgive anything to a writer who has so much to
tell us as Carlyle. Besides, he writes prose, and not poetry."

He took up a photograph which was lying on the table and showed it to me,
saying, "How do you like Miss Stebbins's 'Satan'?" I told him I hardly
knew how to judge of such a subject. Then we both laughed, and Mr.
Longfellow said: "I wonder what our artists want to make Satans for. I
doubt if there is one of them that believes in the devil's existence."

I noticed on closer examination that the features resembled those of Miss
Stebbins herself. Mr. Longfellow looked at it closely, and said, "So it
does,--somewhat." Then I told him that I asked Warrington Wood how he
obtained the expression for his head of Satan, and that he said he did it
by looking in the glass and making up faces. Mr. Longfellow laughed
heartily at this, saying, "I suppose Miss Stebbins did the same, and that
is how it came about. Our sculptors should be careful how they put
themselves in the devil's place. Wood has modelled a fine angel, and his
group (Michael and Satan) is altogether an effective one."

Rev. Mr. Longfellow and the ladies now came in, and as it was late I
shook hands with them all.

It is reported that when Mr. Longfellow met Cardinal Antonelli he
remarked that Rome had changed less in the last fifteen years than other
large cities, and that Antonelli replied, "Yes; God be praised for it!"

_Feb._ 25.--The elder Herbert [Footnote: The elder of two brothers,
sons of an English artist.] has painted a fine picture, and we all went
to look at it this afternoon, as it will be packed up to-morrow for the
Royal Exhibition at London. He has chosen for his subject the verse of a
Greek poet, otherwise unknown:

"Unyoke your oxen, you fellow,
And take the coulter out of your plough;
For you are ploughing amid the graves of men,
And the dust you turn up is the dust of your ancestors."

Herbert has substituted buffalos for oxen as being more picturesque,
though they were not imported into Italy until some time in the Middle
Ages. It is generally predicted that Herbert will become an R. A. like
his father; but the subject is even more to his credit than his treatment
of it. It is discussed at the _Lapre_ whether this verse has been
equalled by Tennyson or Longfellow, and the conclusion was: "Not proven."

_March_ 1.--The Longfellows are gone, and Rome is filling up with a
different class of people who have come here to witness the fatiguing
spectacles of Easter. One look at Michael Angelo's "Last Judgment" would
be worth the whole of it to me.

P---- is said to have captured his young lady, and it seems probable, for
I see very little of him now. He disappears after breakfast, rushes
through his dinner, and returns late in the evenings. So all the world



_Read at the Second Church, Copley Square, Boston, Wednesday, November
29, 1899_

A hundred years ago A. Bronson Alcott was born, and thirty-three years
later his daughter Louisa was born, happily on the same day of the year,
as if for this very purpose,--that you might testify your appreciation of
the good work they did in this world, at one and the same moment. It was
a fortunate coincidence, which we like to think of to-day, as it
undoubtedly gave pleasure to Bronson Alcott and his wife sixty-seven
years ago.

How genuine were Mr. Alcott and his daughter, Louisa! "All else," says
the sage, "is superficial and perishable, save love and truth only." It
is through the love and truth that was in these two that we still feel
their influence as if they were living to-day. How well I recollect Mr.
Alcott's first visit to my father's house at Medford, when I was a boy! I
had the same impression of him then that the consideration of his life
makes on me now,--as an exceptional person, but one greatly to be
trusted. I could see that he was a man who wished well to me, and to all
mankind; who had no intention of encroaching on my rights as an
individual in any way whatever; and who, furthermore, had no suspicion of
me as a person alien to himself. The criticism made of him by my young
brother held good of him then and always,--that "he looked like one of
Christ's disciples." His aspect was intelligently mild and gentle,
unmixed with the slightest taint of worldly self-interest.

He heard that Goethe had said, "We begin to sin as soon as we act;" but
he did not agree to this, and was determined that one man at least should
live in this world without sinning. He carried this plan out so
consistently that, as he once confessed to me, it brought him to the
verge of starvation. Then he realized that in order to play our part in
the general order of things,--in order to obviate the perpetual tendency
in human affairs to chaos,--we are continually obliged to compromise.
However, to the last he would never touch animal food. Others might
murder sheep and oxen, but he, Bronson Alcott, would not be a partaker in
what he considered a serious transgression of moral law. This brought him
into antagonism with the current of modern opinion, which considers man
the natural ruler of this earth, and that it is both his right and his
duty to remodel it according to his ideas of usefulness and beauty.

It brought him into a life-long conflict with society, but how gallantly,
how amiably he carried this on you all know. It cannot be said that he
was defeated, for his spirit was unconquerable. His purity of intention
always received its true recognition; and wherever Bronson Alcott went he
collected the most earnest, high-minded people about him, and made them
more earnest, more high-minded by his conversation.

How different was his daughter, Louisa,--the keen observer of life and
manners; the witty story-teller with the pictorial mind; always
sympathetic, practical, helpful--the mainstay of her family, a pillar of
support to her friends; forgetting the care of her own soul in her
interest for the general welfare; heedless of her own advantage, and
thereby obtaining for herself as a gift from heaven, the highest of all
advantages, and the greatest of all rewards!

And yet, with so wide a difference in the practical application of their
lives, the well-spring of Louisa's thought and the main-spring of her
action were identical with those of her father, and may be considered an
inheritance from him. For the well-spring of her thought was
_truth_, and the main-spring of her action was _love_. There
can be no fine art, no great art, no art which is of service to mankind,
which does not originate on this twofold basis. We are told that when she
was a young girl, on a voyage from Philadelphia to Boston, her face
suddenly lighted up with the true brightness of genius, as she said, "I
love everybody in this whole world!" If, afterwards, a vein of satire
came to be mingled with this genial flow of human kindness, it was not
Louisa's fault.

In like manner, Bronson Alcott rested his argument for immortality on the
ground of the family affections. "Such strong ties," he reasoned, "could
not have been made merely to be broken." Let us share his faith, and
believe that they have not been broken.



_Read in the Town Hall, Concord, Mass., July_ 23, 1903

On his first visit to England, Emerson was so continually besieged with
invitations that, as he wrote to Carlyle, answering the notes he received
"ate up his day like a cherry;" and yet I have never met but one
Englishman, Dr. John Tyndall, the chemist, who seemed to appreciate
Emerson's poetry, and few others who might be said to appreciate the man
himself. Tyndall may have recognized Emerson's keen insight for the
poetry of science in such verses as:

"What time the gods kept carnival;
Tricked out in gem and flower;
And in cramp elf and saurian form
They swathed their too much power."

A person who lacks some knowledge of geology would not be likely to
understand this. Matthew Arnold and Edwin Arnold had no very high opinion
of Emerson's poetry; and even Carlyle, who was Emerson's best friend in
Europe, spoke of it in rather a disparaging manner. The "Mountain and the
Squirrel" and several others have been translated into German, but not
those which we here consider the best of them.

On the other hand, Dr. William H. Furness considered Emerson "heaven-high
above our other poets;" C. P. Cranch preferred him to Longfellow; Dr. F.
H. Hedge looked upon him as the first poet of his time; Rev. Samuel
Longfellow and Rev. Samuel Johnson held a very similar opinion, and David
A. Wasson considered Emerson's "Problem" one of the great poems of the

These men were all poets themselves, though they did not make a
profession of it, and in that character were quite equal to Matthew
Arnold, whose lecture on Emerson was evidently written under unfavorable
influences. They were men who had passed through similar experiences to
those which developed Emerson's mind and character, and could therefore
comprehend him better than others. We all feel that Emerson's poetry is
sometimes too abstruse, especially in his earlier verses, and that its
meaning is often too recondite for ready apprehension; but there are
passages in it so luminous and so far-reaching in their application that
only the supreme poets of all time have equalled them.

Homer's strength consists in his pictorial descriptions, but also
sometimes in pithy reflections on life and human nature; and it is in
these latter that Emerson often comes close to him. Most widely known of
Homer's epigrams is that reply of Telemachus to Antiochus in the Odyssey,
which Pope has rendered:

"True hospitality is in these terms expressed,
Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest."

To which the following couplet from "Woodnotes" seems almost like a

"Go where he will, the wise man is at home,
His hearth the earth,--his hall the azure dome;"

The wise man carries rest and contentment in his own mental life, and is
equally himself at the Corona d'Italia and on a western ranch; while the
weakling runs back to earlier associations like a colt to its stable. But
Homer is also Emersonian at times. What could be more so than Achilles's
memorable saying, which is repeated by Ulysses in the Odyssey: "More
hateful to me than the gates of death is he who thinks one thing and
speaks another;" or this exclamation of old Laertes in the last book of
the Odyssey: "What a day is this when I see my son and grandson
contending in excellence!"

It seems a long way from Dante to Emerson, and yet there are Dantean
passages in "Woodnotes" and "Voluntaries." They are not in Dante's
matchless measure, but they have much of his grace, and more of his
inflexible will. This warning against mercenary marriages might be
compared to Dante's answer to the embezzling Pope Nicholas III. in Canto
XIX. of the Inferno:

"He shall be happy in his love,
Like to like shall joyful prove;
He shall be happy whilst he woos,
Muse-born, a daughter of the Muse.
But if with gold she bind her hair,
And deck her breast with diamond,
Take off thine eyes, thy heart forbear,
Though thou lie alone on the ground.
The robe of silk in which she shines,
It was woven of many sins;
And the shreds
Which she sheds
In the wearing of the same,
Shall be grief on grief,
And shame on shame."

There is a Spartan-like severity in this, but so was Dante very severe.
It was his mission to purify the moral sense of his countrymen in an age
when the Church no longer encouraged virtue; and Emerson no less
vigorously opposed the rank materialism of America in a period of
exceptional prosperity.

The next succeeding lines are not exactly Dantean, but they are among
Emerson's finest, and worthy of any great poet. The "Pine Tree" says:

"Heed the old oracles,
Ponder my spells;
Song wakes in my pinnacles
When the wind swells.
Soundeth the prophetic wind,
The shadows shake on the rock behind,
And the countless leaves of the pine are strings
Tuned to the lay the wood-god sings."

Again we are reminded of Dante in the opening passages of "Voluntaries":

"Low and mournful be the strain,
Haughty thought be far from me;
Where a captive lies in pain
Moaning by the tropic sea.
Sole estate his sire bequeathed--
Hapless sire to hapless son--
Was the wailing song he breathed,
And his chain when life was done."

It is still more difficult to compare Emerson with Shakespeare, for the
one was Puritan with a strong classic tendency, and the other anti-
Puritan with a strong romantic tendency; but allowing for this and for
Shakespeare's universality, it may be affirmed that there are few
passages in King Henry IV. and Henry V. which take a higher rank than
Emerson's description of Cromwell:

"He works, plots, fights 'mid rude affairs,
With squires, knights, kings his strength compares;
Till late he learned through doubt and fear,
Broad England harbored not his peer:
Unwilling still the last to own,
The genius on his cloudy throne."

Emerson learned a large proportion of his wisdom from Goethe, as he
frequently confessed, but where in Goethe's poetry will you find a
quatrain of more penetrating beauty or wider significance than this from

"Thou canst not wave thy staff in air
Nor dip thy paddle in the lake,
But it carves the bow of beauty there,
And ripples in rhyme the oar forsake."

Or this one from the "Building of the House"--considered metaphorically
as the life structure of man:

"She lays her beams in music,
In music every one,
To the cadence of the whirling world
Which dances round the sun."

There is a flash as of heaven's own lightning in some of his verses, and
his name has become a spell to conjure with.



When the "Marble Faun" was first published the art criticism in it,
especially of sculptors and painters who were then living, created a deal
of discussion, which has been revived again by the recent centennial
celebration. Hawthorne himself was the most perfect artist of his time as
a man of letters, and the judgment of such a person ought to have its
value, even when it relates to subjects which are beyond the customary
sphere of his investigations, and for which he has not made a serious
preparation. In spite of the adage, "every man to his own trade," it may
be fairly asserted that much of Hawthorne's art criticism takes rank
among the finest that has been written in any language. On the other
hand, there are instances, as might be expected, in which he has failed
to hit the mark.

These latter may be placed in two classes: Firstly, those in which he
indicates a partiality for personal acquaintances; and secondly, those in
which he has followed popular opinion at the time, or the opinion of
others, without sufficient consideration.

American society in Rome is always split up into various cliques,--which
is not surprising in view of the adventitious manner in which it comes
together there,--and in Hawthorne's time the two leading parties were the
Story and the Crawford factions. The latter was a man of true genius, and
not only the best of American sculptors, but perhaps the greatest
sculptor of the nineteenth century. His statue of Beethoven is in the
grand manner, and instinct with harmony, not only in attitude and
expression, but even to the arrangement of the drapery. Crawford's genius
was only too well appreciated, and he was constantly carrying off the
prizes of his art from all competitors. Consequently it was inevitable
that other sculptors should be jealous of him, and should unite together
for mutual protection. Story was a man of talent, and not a little of an
amateur, but he was the gentlemanly entertainer of those Americans who
came to the city with good letters of introduction. Hawthorne evidently
fell into Story's hands. He speaks slightingly of Crawford, and praises
Story's statue of Cleopatra in unqualified terms; and yet there seems to
have been an undercurrent of suspicion in his mind, for he says more than
once in the "Marble Faun" that it would appear to be a failing with
sculptors to speak unfavorably of the work of other sculptors, and this,
of course, refers to those with whom he was acquainted, and whom he
sometimes rated above their value.

Warrington Wood, the best English sculptor of thirty years ago, praised
Story's "Cleopatra" to me, and I believe that Crawford also would have
praised it. Neither has Hawthorne valued its expression too highly--the
expression of worldly splendor incarnated in a beautiful woman on the
tragical verge of an abyss. If she only were beautiful! Here the
limitations of the statue commence. Hawthorne says: "The sculptor had not
shunned to give the full, Nubian lips, and other characteristics of the
Egyptian physiognomy." Here he follows the sculptor himself, and it is
remarkable that a college graduate like William Story should have made so
transparent a mistake. Cleopatra was not an Egyptian at all. The
Ptolemies were Greeks, and it is simply impossible to believe that they
would have allied themselves with a subject and alien race. This kind of
small pedantry has often led artists astray, and was peculiarly virulent
during the middle of the last century. The whole figure of Story's
"Cleopatra" suffers from it. He says again: "She was draped from head to
foot in a costume minutely and scrupulously studied from that of ancient
Egypt." In fact, the body and limbs of the statue are so closely shrouded
as to deprive the work of that sense of freedom of action and royal
abandon which greets us in Shakespeare's and Plutarch's "Cleopatra."
Story might have taken a lesson from Titian's matchless "Cleopatra"
in the Cassel Gallery, or from Marc Antonio's small woodcut of
Raphael's "Cleopatra."

Hawthorne was an idealist, and he idealized the materials in Story's
studio, for literary purposes, just as Shakespeare idealized Henry V.,
who was not a magnanimous monarch at all, but a brutal, narrow-minded
fighter. The discourse on art, which he develops in this manner, forms
one of the most valuable chapters in the "Marble Faun." It assists us in
reading it to remember that Story was not the model for Hawthorne's
"Kenyon," but a very different character. The passage in which he
criticises the methods of modern sculptors has often been quoted in later
writings on that subject; and I suppose the whole brotherhood of artists
would rise up against me if I were to support Hawthorne's condemnation of
nude Venuses and "the guilty glimpses stolen at hired models."

They are not necessarily guilty glimpses. To an experienced artist the
customary study from a naked figure, male or female, is little more than
what a low-necked dress would be to others. Yet the instinct of the age
shrinks from this exposure. We can make pretty good Venuses, but we
cannot look at them through the same mental and moral atmosphere as the
cotemporaries of Scopas, or even with the same eyes that Michael Angelo
did. We feel the difference between a modern Venus and an ancient one.
There is a statue in the Vatican of a Roman emperor, of which every one
says that it ought to wear clothes; and the reason is because the face
has such a modern look. A raving Bacchante may be a good acquisition to
an art museum, but it is out of place in a public library. A female
statue requires more or less drapery to set off the outlines of the
figure and to give it dignity. We feel this even in the finest Greek
work--like the Venus of Cnidos.

In this matter Hawthorne certainly exposes his Puritanic education, and
he also places too high a value on the carving of buttonholes and
shoestrings by Italian workmen. Such things are the fag-ends of statuary.

His judgment, however, is clear and convincing in regard to the tinted
Eves and Venuses of Gibson. Whatever may have been the ancient practice
in this respect, Gibson's experiment proved a failure. Nobody likes those
statues; and no other sculptor has since followed Gibson's example.

Hawthorne overestimates the Apollo Belvidere, as all the world did at
that time; but his single remark concerning Canova is full of
significance: "In these precincts which Canova's genius was not quite of
a character to render sacred, though it certainly made them interesting,"

He goes to the statue gallery in the Vatican and returns with a feeling
of dissatisfaction, and justly so, for the vast majority of statues there
are merely copies, and many of them very bad copies. He recognizes the
Laocoon for what it really is, the abstract type of a Greek tragedy. He
notices what has since been proved by severe archaeological study, that
most of the possible types and attitudes of marble statues had been
exhausted by the Greeks long before the Christian era. Miss Hosmer's
Zenobia was originally a Ceres, and even Crawford's Orpheus strongly
resembles a figure in the Niobe group at Florence.

But Hawthorne's description of the Faun of Praxiteles stands by itself.
As a penetrative analysis of a great sculptor's motive it is unequalled
by any modern writer on art, and this is set forth with a grace and
delicacy worthy of Praxiteles himself. The only criticism which one feels
inclined to make of it is that it _too_ Hawthornish, too modern and
elaborate; but is not this equally true of all modern criticism? We
cannot return to the simplicity of the Greeks any more than we can to
their customs. If Hawthorne would seem to discover too much in this
statue, which is really a poor Roman copy, he has himself given us an
answer to this objection. In Volume II., Chapter XII., he says: "Let the
canvas glow as it may, you must look with the eye of faith, or its
highest excellence escapes you. There is always the necessity of helping
out the painter's art with your own resources of sensibility and
imagination." His cursory remarks on Raphael are not less pertinent and
penetrating. Of technicalities he knew little, but no one, perhaps, has
sounded such depths of that clairvoyant master's nature, and so brought
to light the very soul of him.

The "Marble Faun" may not be the most perfect of Hawthorne's works, but
it is much the greatest,--an epic romance, which can only be compared
with Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister."


_A Reply to Professor Bliss Perry._

To compare a person in real life with a character in fiction is not
uncommon, but it is more conducive to solidity of judgment to compare the
living with the living, and the imaginary with the imaginary. The chief
difficulty, however, in Hamlet's case, is that he only appears before us
as a person acting in an abnormal mental condition. The mysterious death
of his father, the suspicion of his mother's complicity in crime, which
takes the form of an apparition from beyond the grave, is too much of a
strain for his tender and impressible nature. His mental condition has
become well known to physicians as _cerebral hyperaemia_, and all
his strange speeches and eccentric actions are to be traced to this
source; and it is for this reason that the dispute has arisen as to
whether Hamlet was not partially insane. If the strain continued long
enough he would no doubt have become insane.

As well as we can penetrate through this adventitious _nimbus_, we
discover Hamlet to be a person of generous, princely nature, high-minded
and chivalrous. He is cordial to every one, but always succeeds in
asserting the superiority of his position, even in his conversation with
Horatio. If he is mentally sensitive he shows no indication of it. He
never appears shy or reserved, but on the contrary, confident and even
bold. This may be owing to the mental excitement under which he labors;
but the best critics from Goethe down have accredited him with a lack of
resolution; and it is this which produces the catastrophe of the play. He
must have realized, as we all do, that after the scene of the players in
which he "catches the conscience of a king," his life was in great
danger. He should either have organized a conspiracy at once, or fled to
the court of Fortinbras; but he allows events to take their course, and
is controlled by them instead of shaping his own destiny. Instead of
planning and acting he philosophizes.

Of Hawthorne, on the contrary, we know nothing except as a person in a
perfectly normal condition. His wife once said that she had rarely known
him to be indignant, and never to lose his temper. He was the most
sensitive of men, but he also possessed an indomitable will. It was only
his terrible determination that could make his life a success. Emerson,
who had little sympathy with him otherwise, always admired the perfect
equipoise of his nature. A man could not be more thoroughly himself; but,
such a reticent, unsociable character as Hawthorne could never be used as
the main-spring of a drama, for he would continually impede the progress
of the plot. A dramatic character needs to be a talkative person; one
that either acts out his internal life, or indirectly exposes it.
Hawthorne's best friends do not appear to have known what his real
opinions were. This perpetual reserve, this unwillingness to assimilate
himself to others, may have been necessary for the perfection of his art.

The greater a writer or an artist, the more unique he is,--the more
sharply defined from all other members of his class. Hawthorne certainly
did not resemble Scott, Dickens, or Thackeray, either in his life or his
work. He was perhaps more like Auerbach than any other writer of the
nineteenth century, but still more like Goldsmith. The "Vicar of
Wakefield" and the "House of the Seven Gables" are the two perfect
romances in the English tongue; and the "Deserted Village," though
written in poetry, has very much the quality of Hawthorne's shorter
sketches. "And tales much older than the ale went round" is closely akin
to Hawthorne's humor; yet there was little outward similarity between
them, for Goldsmith was often gay and sometimes frivolous; and although
Hawthorne never published a line of poetry he was the more poetic of the
two, as Goldsmith was the more dramatic. He also resembled Goldsmith in
his small financial difficulties.

In his persistent reserve, in the seriousness of his delineation, and in
his indifference to the opinions of others, Hawthorne reminds us somewhat
of Michael Angelo; but he is one of the most unique figures among the
world's geniuses.


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