Of Literature (Entire)
William Dean Howells

Part 4 out of 15

gentlemanliness. But it would have been a great mistake to mistake his
mildness for softness. It was most manly and firm; and of course it was
braced with the New England conscience he was born to. If he did not
find it well to assert himself, he was prompt in behalf of his friends,
and one of tho fine things told of him was his resenting some censures of
Sumner at a dinner in Boston during the old pro-slavery times: he said to
the gentlemen present that Sumner was his friend, and he must leave their
company if they continued to assail him.

But he spoke almost as rarely of his friends as of himself. He liked the
large, impersonal topics which could be dealt with on their human side,
and involved characters rather than individuals. This was rather strange
in Cambridge, where we were apt to take our instances from the
environment. It was not the only thing he was strange in there; he was
not to that manner born; he lacked the final intimacies which can come
only of birth and lifelong association, and which make the men of the
Boston breed seem exclusive when they least feel so; he was Longfellow to
the friends who were James, and Charles, and Wendell to one another. He
and Hawthorne were classmates at college, but I never heard him mention
Hawthorne; I never heard him mention Whittier or Emerson. I think his
reticence about his contemporaries was largely due to his reluctance from
criticism: he was the finest artist of them all, and if he praised he
must have praised with the reservations of an honest man. Of younger
writers he was willing enough to speak. No new contributor made his mark
in the magazine unnoted by him, and sometimes I showed him verse in
manuscript which gave me peculiar pleasure. I remember his liking for
the first piece that Mr. Maurice Thompson sent me, and how he tasted the
fresh flavor of it, and inhaled its wild new fragrance. He admired the
skill of some of the young story-tellers; he praised the subtlety of one
in working out an intricate character, and said modestly that he could
never have done that sort of thing himself. It was entirely safe to
invite his judgment when in doubt, for he never suffered it to become
aggressive, or used it to urge upon me the manuscripts that must often
have been urged upon him.

Longfellow had a house at Nahant where he went every summer for more than
a quarter of a century. He found the slight transition change enough
from Cambridge, and liked it perhaps because it did not take him beyond
the range of the friends and strangers whose company he liked. Agassiz
was there, and Appleton; Sumner came to sojourn with him; and the
tourists of all nations found him there in half an hour after they
reached Boston. His cottage was very plain and simple, but was rich in
the sight of the illimitable, sea, and it had a luxury of rocks at the
foot of its garden, draped with sea-weed, and washed with the
indefatigable tides. As he grew older and feebler he ceased to go to
Nahant; he remained the whole year round at Cambridge; he professed to
like the summer which he said warmed him through there, better than the
cold spectacle of summer which had no such effect at Nahant.

The hospitality which was constant at either house was not merely of the
worldly sort. Longfellow loved good cheer; he tasted history and poetry
in a precious wine; and he liked people who were acquainted with manners
and men, and brought the air of capitals with them. But often the man
who dined with Longfellow was the man who needed a dinner; and from what
I have seen of the sweet courtesy that governed at that board, I am sure
that such a man could never have felt himself the least honored guest.
The poet's heart was open to all the homelessness of the world; and I
remember how once when we sat at his table and I spoke of his poem of
"The Challenge," then a new poem, and said how I had been touched by the
fancy of

"The poverty-stricken millions
Who challenge our wine and bread,
And impeach us all as traitors,
Both the living and the dead,"

his voice sank in grave humility as he answered, "Yes, I often think of
those things." He had thought of them in the days of the slave, when he
had taken his place with the friends of the hopeless and hapless, and as
long as he lived he continued of the party which had freed the slave.
He did not often speak of politics, but when the movement of some of the
best Republicans away from their party began, he said that he could not
see the wisdom of their course. But this was said without censure or
criticism of them, and so far as I know he never permitted himself
anything like denunciation of those who in any wise differed from him.
On a matter of yet deeper interest, I do not feel authorized to speak for
him, but I think that as he grew older, his hold upon anything like a
creed weakened, though he remained of the Unitarian philosophy concerning
Christ. He did not latterly go to church, I believe; but then, very few
of his circle were church-goers. Once he said something very vague and
uncertain concerning the doctrine of another life when I affirmed my hope
of it, to the effect that he wished he could be sure, with the sigh that
so often clothed the expression of a misgiving with him.


When my acquaintance with Longfellow began he had written the things that
made his fame, and that it will probably rest upon: "Evangeline,"
"Hiawatha," and the "Courtship of Miles Standish" were by that time old
stories. But during the eighteen years that I knew him he produced the
best of his minor poems, the greatest of his sonnets, the sweetest of his
lyrics. His art ripened to the last, it grew richer and finer, and it
never knew decay. He rarely read anything of his own aloud, but in three
or four cases he read to me poems he had just finished, as if to give
himself the pleasure of hearing them with the sympathetic sense of
another. The hexameter piece, "Elizabeth," in the third part of "Tales
of a Wayside Inn," was one of these, and he liked my liking its
rhythmical form, which I believed one of the measures best adapted to the
English speech, and which he had used himself with so much pleasure and

About this time he was greatly interested in the slight experiments I was
beginning to make in dramatic form, and he said that if he were himself a
young man he should write altogether for the stage; he thought the drama
had a greater future with us. He was pleased when a popular singer
wished to produce his "Masque of Pandora," with music, and he was patient
when it failed of the effect hoped for it as an opera. When the late
Lawrence Barrett, in the enthusiasm which was one of the fine traits of
his generous character, had taken my play of "A Counterfeit Presentment,"
and came to the Boston Museum with it, Longfellow could not apparently
have been more zealous for its popular acceptance if it had been his own
work. He invited himself to one of the rehearsals with me, and he sat
with me on the stage through the four acts with a fortitude which I still
wonder at, and with the keenest zest for all the details of the
performance. No finer testimony to the love and honor which all kinds of
people had for him could have been given than that shown by the actors
and employees of the theatre, high and low. They thronged the scenery,
those who were not upon the stage, and at the edge of every wing were
faces peering round at the poet, who sat unconscious of their adoration,
intent upon the play. He was intercepted at every step in going out, and
made to put his name to the photographs of himself which his worshippers
produced from their persons.

He came to the first night of the piece, and when it seemed to be finding
favor with the public, he leaned forward out of his line to nod and smile
at the author; when they, had the author up, it was the sweetest flattery
of the applause which abused his fondness that Longfellow clapped first
and loudest.

Where once he had given his kindness he could not again withhold it, and
he was anxious no fact should be interpreted as withdrawal. When the
Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil, who was so great a lover of Longfellow,
came to Boston, he asked himself out to dine with the poet, who had
expected to offer him some such hospitality. Soon after, Longfellow met
me, and as if eager to forestall a possible feeling in me, said,
"I wanted to ask you to dinner with the Emperor, but he not only sent
word he was coming, he named his fellow-guests!" I answered that though
I should probably never come so near dining with an emperor again, I
prized his wish to ask me much more than the chance I had missed; and
with this my great and good friend seemed a little consoled. I believe
that I do not speak too confidently of our relation. He was truly the
friend of all men, but I had certainly the advantage of my propinquity.
We were near neighbors, as the pleonasm has it, both when I lived on
Berkeley Street and after I had built my own house on Concord Avenue;
and I suppose he found my youthful informality convenient. He always
asked me to dinner when his old friend Greene came to visit him, and then
we had an Italian time together, with more or less repetition in our
talk, of what we had said before of Italian poetry and Italian character.
One day there came a note from him saying, in effect, "Salvini is coming
out to dine with me tomorrow night, and I want you to come too. There
will be no one else but Greene and myself, and we will have an Italian

Unhappily I had accepted a dinner in Boston for that night, and this
invitation put me in great misery. I must keep my engagement, but how
could I bear to miss meeting Salvini at Longfellow's table on terms like
these? We consulted at home together and questioned whether I might not
rush into Boston, seek out my host there, possess him of the facts, and
frankly throw myself on his mercy. Then a sudden thought struck us:
Go to Longfellow, and submit the case to him! I went, and he entered
with delicate sympathy into the affair. But he decided that, taking the
large view of it, I must keep my engagement, lest I should run even a
remote risk of wounding my friend's susceptibilities. I obeyed, and I
had a very good time, but I still feel that I missed the best time of my
life, and that I ought to be rewarded for my sacrifice, somewhere.

Longfellow so rarely spoke of himself in any way that one heard from him
few of those experiences of the distinguished man in contact with the
undistinguished, which he must have had so abundantly. But he told,
while it was fresh in his mind, an incident that happened to him one day
in Boston at a tobacconist's, where a certain brand of cigars was
recommended to him as the kind Longfellow smoked. "Ah, then I must have
some of them; and I will ask you to send me a box," said Longfellow, and
he wrote down his name and address. The cigar-dealer read it with the
smile of a worsted champion, and said, "Well, I guess you had me, that
time." At a funeral a mourner wished to open conversation, and by way of
suggesting a theme of common interest, began, "You've buried, I believe?"

Sometimes people were shown by the poet through Craigie House who had no
knowledge of it except that it had been Washington's headquarters. Of
course Longfellow was known by sight to every one in Cambridge. He was
daily in the streets, while his health endured, and as he kept no
carriage, he was often to be met in the horse-cars, which were such
common ground in Cambridge that they were often like small invited
parties of friends when they left Harvard Square, so that you expected
the gentlemen to jump up and ask the ladies whether they would have
chicken salad. In civic and political matters he mingled so far as to
vote regularly, and he voted with his party, trusting it for a general
regard to the public welfare.

I fancy he was somewhat shy of his fellow-men, as the scholar seems
always to be, from the sequestered habit of his life; but I think
Longfellow was incapable of marking any difference between himself and
them. I never heard from him anything that was 'de haut en bas', when he
spoke of people, and in Cambridge, where there was a good deal of
contempt for the less lettered, and we liked to smile though we did not
like to sneer, and to analyze if we did not censure, Longfellow and
Longfellow's house were free of all that. Whatever his feeling may have
been towards other sorts and conditions of men, his effect was of an
entire democracy. He was always the most unassuming person in any
company, and at some large public dinners where I saw him I found him
patient of the greater attention that more public men paid themselves and
one another. He was not a speaker, and I never saw him on his feet at
dinner, except once, when he read a poem for Whittier, who was absent.
He disliked after-dinner speaking, and made conditions for his own
exemption from it.


Once your friend, Longfellow was always your friend; he would not think
evil of you, and if he knew evil of you, he would be the last of all that
knew it to judge you for it. This may have been from the impersonal
habit of his mind, but I believe it was also the effect of principle, for
he would do what he could to arrest the delivery of judgment from others,
and would soften the sentences passed in his presence. Naturally this
brought him under some condemnation with those of a severer cast; and I
have heard him criticised for his benevolence towards all, and his
constancy to some who were not quite so true to themselves, perhaps.
But this leniency of Longfellow's was what constituted him great as well
as good, for it is not our wisdom that censures others. As for his
goodness, I never saw a fault in him. I do not mean to say that he had
no faults, or that there were no better men, but only to give the witness
of my knowledge concerning him. I claim in no wise to have been his
intimate; such a thing was not possible in my case for quite apparent
reasons; and I doubt if Longfellow was capable of intimacy in the sense
we mostly attach to the word. Something more of egotism than I ever
found in him must go to the making of any intimacy which did not come
from the tenderest affections of his heart. But as a man shows himself
to those often with him, and in his noted relations with other men, he
showed himself without blame. All men that I have known, besides, have
had some foible (it often endeared them the more), or some meanness, or
pettiness, or bitterness; but Longfellow had none, nor the suggestion of
any. No breath of evil ever touched his name; he went in and out among
his fellow-men without the reproach that follows wrong; the worst thing I
ever heard said of him was that he had 'gene', and this was said by one
of those difficult Cambridge men who would have found 'gene' in a
celestial angel. Something that Bjornstjerne Bjornson wrote to me when
he was leaving America after a winter in Cambridge, comes nearer
suggesting Longfellow than all my talk. The Norsemen, in the days of
their stormy and reluctant conversion, used always to speak of Christ as
the White Christ, and Bjornson said in his letter, "Give my love to the
White Mr. Longfellow."

A good many, years before Longfellow's death he began to be sleepless,
and he suffered greatly. He said to me once that he felt as if he were
going about with his heart in a kind of mist. The whole night through he
would not be aware of having slept. "But," he would add, with his
heavenly patience, "I always get a good deal of rest from lying down so
long." I cannot say whether these conditions persisted, or how much his
insomnia had to do with his breaking health; three or four years before
the end came, we left Cambridge for a house farther in the country, and I
saw him less frequently than before. He did not allow our meetings to
cease; he asked me to dinner from time to time, as if to keep them up,
but it could not be with the old frequency. Once he made a point of
coming to see us in our cottage on the hill west of Cambridge, but it was
with an effort not visible in the days when he could end one of his brief
walks at our house on Concord Avenue; he never came but he left our house
more luminous for his having been there. Once he came to supper there to
meet Garfield (an old family friend of mine in Ohio), and though he was
suffering from a heavy cold, he would not scant us in his stay. I had
some very bad sherry which he drank with the serenity of a martyr, and I
shudder to this day to think what his kindness must have cost him. He
told his story of the clothes-line ghost, and Garfield matched it with
the story of an umbrella ghost who sheltered a friend of his through a
midnight storm, but was not cheerful company to his beneficiary, who
passed his hand through him at one point in the effort to take his arm.

After the end of four years I came to Cambridge to be treated for a long
sickness, which had nearly been my last, and when I could get about I
returned the visit Longfellow had not failed to pay me. But I did not
find him, and I never saw him again in life. I went into Boston to
finish the winter of 1881-2, and from time to time I heard that the poet
was failing in health. As soon as I felt able to bear the horse-car
journey I went out to Cambridge to see him. I had knocked once at his
door, the friendly door that had so often opened to his welcome, and
stood with the knocker in my hand when the door was suddenly set ajar,
and a maid showed her face wet with tears. "How is Mr. Longfellow?"
I palpitated, and with a burst of grief she answered, "Oh, the poor
gentleman has just departed!" I turned away as if from a helpless
intrusion at a death-bed.

At the services held in the house before the obsequies at the cemetery, I
saw the poet for the last time, where

"Dead he lay among his books,"

in the library behind his study. Death seldom fails to bring serenity to
all, and I will not pretend that there was a peculiar peacefulness in
Longfellow's noble mask, as I saw it then. It was calm and benign as it
had been in life; he could not have worn a gentler aspect in going out of
the world than he had always worn in it; he had not to wait for death to
dignify it with "the peace of God." All who were left of his old
Cambridge were present, and among those who had come farther was Emerson.
He went up to the bier, and with his arms crossed on his breast, and his
elbows held in either hand, stood with his head pathetically fallen
forward, looking down at the dead face. Those who knew how his memory
was a mere blank, with faint gleams of recognition capriciously coming
and going in it, must have felt that he was struggling to remember who
it was lay there before him; and for me the electly simple words
confessing his failure will always be pathetic with his remembered
aspect: "The gentleman we have just been burying," he said, to the friend
who had come with him, "was a sweet and beautiful soul; but I forget his

I had the privilege and honor of looking over the unprinted poems
Longfellow left behind him, and of helping to decide which of them should
be published.

There were not many of them, and some of these few were quite
fragmentary. I gave my voice for the publication of all that had any
sort of completeness, for in every one there was a touch of his exquisite
art, the grace of his most lovely spirit. We have so far had two men
only who felt the claim of their gift to the very best that the most
patient skill could give its utterance: one was Hawthorne and the other
was Longfellow. I shall not undertake to say which was the greater
artist of these two; but I am sure that every one who has studied it must
feel with me that the art of Longfellow held out to the end with no touch
of decay in it, and that it equalled the art of any other poet of his
time. It knew when to give itself, and more and more it knew when to
withhold itself.

What Longfellow's place in literature will be, I shall not offer to say;
that is Time's affair, not mine; but I am sure that with Tennyson and
Browning he fully shared in the expression of an age which more
completely than any former age got itself said by its poets.


Anglo-American genius for ugliness
Backed their credulity with their credit
Candle burning on the table for the cigars
Discomfort which mistaken or blundering praise
Fell either below our pride or rose above our purse
Literary dislikes or contempts
Memory will not be ruled
Shy of his fellow-men, as the scholar seems always to be


by William Dean Howells


I have already spoken of my earliest meetings with Lowell at Cambridge
when I came to New England on a literary pilgrimage from the West in
1860. I saw him more and more after I went to live in Cambridge in 1866;
and I now wish to record what I knew of him during the years that passed
between this date and that of his death. If the portrait I shall try to
paint does not seem a faithful likeness to others who knew him, I shall
only claim that so he looked to me, at this moment and at that. If I do
not keep myself quite out of the picture, what painter ever did?


It was in the summer of 1865 that I came home from my consular post at
Venice; and two weeks after I landed in Boston, I went out to see Lowell
at Elmwood, and give him an inkstand that I had brought him from Italy.
The bronze lobster whose back opened and disclosed an inkpot and a sand-
box was quite ugly; but I thought it beautiful then, and if Lowell
thought otherwise he never did anything to let me know it. He put the
thing in the middle of his writing-table (he nearly always wrote on a
pasteboard pad resting upon his knees), and there it remained as long as
I knew the place--a matter of twenty-five years; but in all that time I
suppose the inkpot continued as dry as the sand-box.

My visit was in the heat of August, which is as fervid in Cambridge as it
can well be anywhere, and I still have a sense of his study windows
lifted to the summer night, and the crickets and grasshoppers crying in
at them from the lawns and the gardens outside. Other people went away
from Cambridge in the summer to the sea and to the mountains, but Lowell
always stayed at Elmwood, in an impassioned love for his home and for his
town. I must have found him there in the afternoon, and he must have
made me sup with him (dinner was at two o'clock) and then go with him for
a long night of talk in his study. He liked to have some one help him
idle the time away, and keep him as long as possible from his work; and
no doubt I was impersonally serving his turn in this way, aside from any
pleasure he might have had in my company as some one he had always been
kind to, and as a fresh arrival from the Italy dear to us both.

He lighted his pipe, and from the depths of his easychair, invited my shy
youth to all the ease it was capable of in his presence. It was not
much; I loved him, and he gave me reason to think that he was fond of me,
but in Lowell I was always conscious of an older and closer and stricter
civilization than my own, an unbroken tradition, a more authoritative
status. His democracy was more of the head and mine more of the heart,
and his denied the equality which mine affirmed. But his nature was so
noble and his reason so tolerant that whenever in our long acquaintance
I found it well to come to open rebellion, as I more than once did,
he admitted my right of insurrection, and never resented the outbreak.
I disliked to differ with him, and perhaps he subtly felt this so much
that he would not dislike me for doing it. He even suffered being taxed
with inconsistency, and where he saw that he had not been quite just, he
would take punishment for his error, with a contrition that was sometimes
humorous and always touching.

Just then it was the dark hour before the dawn with Italy, and he was
interested but not much encouraged by what I could tell him of the
feeling in Venice against the Austrians. He seemed to reserve a like
scepticism concerning the fine things I was hoping for the Italians in
literature, and he confessed an interest in the facts treated which in
the retrospect, I am aware, was more tolerant than participant of my
enthusiasm. That was always Lowell's attitude towards the opinions of
people he liked, when he could not go their lengths with them, and
nothing was more characteristic of his affectionate nature and his just
intelligence. He was a man of the most strenuous convictions, but he
loved many sorts of people whose convictions he disagreed with, and he
suffered even prejudices counter to his own if they were not ignoble.
In the whimsicalities of others he delighted as much as in his own.


Our associations with Italy held over until the next day, when after
breakfast he went with me towards Boston as far as "the village": for so
he liked to speak of Cambridge in the custom of his younger days when
wide tracts of meadow separated Harvard Square from his life-long home at
Elmwood. We stood on the platform of the horsecar together, and when I
objected to his paying my fare in the American fashion, he allowed that
the Italian usage of each paying for himself was the politer way.
He would not commit himself about my returning to Venice (for I had not
given up my place, yet, and was away on leave), but he intimated his
distrust of the flattering conditions of life abroad. He said it was
charming to be treated 'da signore', but he seemed to doubt whether it
was well; and in this as in all other things he showed his final fealty
to the American ideal.

It was that serious and great moment after the successful close of the
civil war when the republican consciousness was more robust in us than
ever before or since; but I cannot recall any reference to the historical
interest of the time in Lowell's talk. It had been all about literature
and about travel; and now with the suggestion of the word village it
began to be a little about his youth. I have said before how reluctant
he was to let his youth go from him; and perhaps the touch with my
juniority had made him realize how near he was to fifty, and set him
thinking of the past which had sorrows in it to age him beyond his years.
He would never speak of these, though he often spoke of the past. He
told once of having been on a brief journey when he was six years old,
with his father, and of driving up to the gate of Elmwood in the evening,
and his father saying, "Ah, this is a pleasant place! I wonder who
lives here--what little boy?" At another time he pointed out a certain
window in his study, and said he could see himself standing by it when he
could only get his chin on the window-sill. His memories of the house,
and of everything belonging to it, were very tender; but he could laugh
over an escapade of his youth when he helped his fellow-students pull
down his father's fences, in the pure zeal of good-comradeship.


My fortunes took me to New York, and I spent most of the winter of 1865-6
writing in the office of 'The Nation'. I contributed several sketches of
Italian travel to that paper; and one of these brought me a precious
letter from Lowell. He praised my sketch, which he said he had read
without the least notion who had written it, and he wanted me to feel the
full value of such an impersonal pleasure in it. At the same time he did
not fail to tell me that he disliked some pseudo-cynical verses of mine
which he had read in another place; and I believe it was then that he
bade me "sweat the Heine out of" me, "as men sweat the mercury out of
their bones."

When I was asked to be assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and came
on to Boston to talk the matter over with the publishers, I went out to
Cambridge and consulted Lowell. He strongly urged me to take the
position (I thought myself hopefully placed in New York on The Nation);
and at the same time he seemed to have it on his heart to say that he had
recommended some one else for it, never, he owned, having thought of me.

He was most cordial, but after I came to live in Cambridge (where the
magazine was printed, and I could more conveniently look over the
proofs), he did not call on me for more than a month, and seemed quite to
have forgotten me. We met one night at Mr. Norton's, for one of the
Dante readings, and he took no special notice of me till I happened to
say something that offered him a chance to give me a little humorous
snub. I was speaking of a paper in the Magazine on the "Claudian
Emissary," and I demanded (no doubt a little too airily) something like
"Who in the world ever heard of the Claudian Emissary?" "You are in
Cambridge, Mr. Howells," Lowell answered, and laughed at my confusion.
Having put me down, he seemed to soften towards me, and at parting he
said, with a light of half-mocking tenderness in his beautiful eyes,
"Goodnight, fellow-townsman." "I hardly knew we were fellow-townsmen," I
returned. He liked that, apparently, and said he had been meaning to
call upon me; and that he was coming very soon.

He was as good as his word, and after that hardly a week of any kind of
weather passed but he mounted the steps to the door of the ugly little
house in which I lived, two miles away from him, and asked me to walk.
These walks continued, I suppose, until Lowell went abroad for a winter
in the early seventies. They took us all over Cambridge, which he knew
and loved every inch of, and led us afield through the straggling,
unhandsome outskirts, bedrabbled with squalid Irish neighborhoods, and
fraying off into marshes and salt meadows. He liked to indulge an excess
of admiration for the local landscape, and though I never heard him
profess a preference for the Charles River flats to the finest Alpine
scenery, I could well believe he would do so under provocation of a fit
listener's surprise. He had always so much of the boy in him that he
liked to tease the over-serious or over-sincere. He liked to tease and
he liked to mock, especially his juniors, if any touch of affectation, or
any little exuberance of manner gave him the chance; when he once came to
fetch me, and the young mistress of the house entered with a certain
excessive elasticity, he sprang from his seat, and minced towards her,
with a burlesque of her buoyant carriage which made her laugh. When he
had given us his heart in trust of ours, he used us like a younger
brother and sister; or like his own children. He included our children
in his affection, and he enjoyed our fondness for them as if it were
something that had come back to him from his own youth. I think he had
also a sort of artistic, a sort of ethical pleasure in it, as being of
the good tradition, of the old honest, simple material, from which
pleasing effects in literature and civilization were wrought. He liked
giving the children books, and writing tricksy fancies in these, where he
masked as a fairy prince; and as long as he lived he remembered his early
kindness for them.


In those walks of ours I believe he did most of the talking, and from his
talk then and at other times there remains to me an impression of his
growing conservatism. I had in fact come into his life when it had spent
its impulse towards positive reform, and I was to be witness of its
increasing tendency towards the negative sort. He was quite past the
storm and stress of his anti-slavery age; with the close of the war which
had broken for him all his ideals of inviolable peace, he had reached the
age of misgiving. I do not mean that I ever heard him express doubt of
what he had helped to do, or regret for what he had done; but I know that
he viewed with critical anxiety what other men were doing with the
accomplished facts. His anxiety gave a cast of what one may call
reluctance from the political situation, and turned him back towards
those civic and social defences which he had once seemed willing to
abandon. I do not mean that he lost faith in democracy; this faith he
constantly then and signally afterwards affirmed; but he certainly had no
longer any faith in insubordination as a means of grace. He preached a
quite Socratic reverence for law, as law, and I remember that once when
I had got back from Canada in the usual disgust for the American custom-
house, and spoke lightly of smuggling as not an evil in itself, and
perhaps even a right under our vexatious tariff, he would not have it,
but held that the illegality of the act made it a moral of fence. This
was not the logic that would have justified the attitude of the anti-
slavery men towards the fugitive slave act; but it was in accord with
Lowell's feeling about John Brown, whom he honored while always
condemning his violation of law; and it was in the line of all his later
thinking. In this, he wished you to agree with him, or at least he
wished to make you; but he did not wish you to be more of his mind than
he was himself. In one of those squalid Irish neighborhoods I confessed
a grudge (a mean and cruel grudge, I now think it) for the increasing
presence of that race among us, but this did not please him; and I am
sure that whatever misgiving he had as to the future of America, he would
not have had it less than it had been the refuge and opportunity of the
poor of any race or color. Yet he would not have had it this alone.
There was a line in his poem on Agassiz which he left out of the printed
version, at the fervent entreaty of his friends, as saying too bitterly
his disappointment with his country. Writing at the distance of Europe,
and with America in the perspective which the alien environment clouded,
he spoke of her as "The Land of Broken Promise." It was a splendid
reproach, but perhaps too dramatic to bear the full test of analysis,
and yet it had the truth in it, and might, I think, have usefully stood,
to the end of making people think. Undoubtedly it expressed his sense of
the case, and in the same measure it would now express that of many who
love their country most among us. It is well to hold one's country to
her promises, and if there are any who think she is forgetting them it is
their duty to say so, even to the point of bitter accusation. I do not
suppose it was the "common man" of Lincoln's dream that Lowell thought
America was unfaithful to, though as I have suggested he could be tender
of the common man's hopes in her; but he was impeaching in that blotted
line her sincerity with the uncommon man: the man who had expected of her
a constancy to the ideals of her youth end to the high martyr-moods of
the war which had given an unguarded and bewildering freedom to a race of
slaves. He was thinking of the shame of our municipal corruptions, the
debased quality of our national statesmanship, the decadence of our whole
civic tone, rather than of the increasing disabilities of the hard-
working poor, though his heart when he thought of them was with them,
too, as it was in "the time when the slave would not let him sleep."

He spoke very rarely of those times, perhaps because their political and
social associations were so knit up with the saddest and tenderest
personal memories, which it was still anguish to touch. Not only was he

"--not of the race
That hawk, their sorrows in the market place,"

but so far as my witness went he shrank from mention of them. I do not
remember hearing him speak of the young wife who influenced him so
potently at the most vital moment, and turned him from his whole
scholarly and aristocratic tradition to an impassioned championship of
the oppressed; and he never spoke of the children he had lost. I recall
but one allusion to the days when he was fighting the anti-slavery battle
along the whole line, and this was with a humorous relish of his Irish
servant's disgust in having to wait upon a negro whom he had asked to his

He was rather severe in his notions of the subordination his domestics
owed him. They were "to do as they were bid," and yet he had a
tenderness for such as had been any time with him, which was wounded when
once a hired man long in his employ greedily overreached him in a certain
transaction. He complained of that with a simple grief for the man's
indelicacy after so many favors from him, rather than with any
resentment. His hauteur towards his dependents was theoretic; his actual
behavior was of the gentle consideration common among Americans of good
breeding, and that recreant hired man had no doubt never been suffered to
exceed him in shows of mutual politeness. Often when the maid was about
weightier matters, he came and opened his door to me himself, welcoming
me with the smile that was like no other. Sometimes he said, "Siete il
benvenuto," or used some other Italian phrase, which put me at ease with
him in the region where we were most at home together.

Looking back I must confess that I do not see what it was he found to
make him wish for my company, which he presently insisted upon having
once a week at dinner. After the meal we turned into his study where we
sat before a wood fire in winter, and he smoked and talked. He smoked a
pipe which was always needing tobacco, or going out, so that I have the
figure of him before my eyes constantly getting out of his deep chair to
rekindle it from the fire with a paper lighter. He was often out of his
chair to get a book from the shelves that lined the walls, either for a
passage which he wished to read, or for some disputed point which he
wished to settle. If I had caused the dispute, he enjoyed putting me in
the wrong; if he could not, he sometimes whimsically persisted in his
error, in defiance of all authority; but mostly he had such reverence for
the truth that he would not question it even in jest.

If I dropped in upon him in the afternoon I was apt to find him reading
the old French poets, or the plays of Calderon, or the 'Divina Commedia',
which he magnanimously supposed me much better acquainted with than I was
because I knew some passages of it by heart. One day I came in quoting

"Io son, cantava, io son dolce Sirena,
Che i marinai in mezzo al mar dismago."

He stared at me in a rapture with the matchless music, and then uttered
all his adoration and despair in one word. "Damn!" he said, and no more.
I believe he instantly proposed a walk that day, as if his study walls
with all their vistas into the great literatures cramped his soul
liberated to a sense of ineffable beauty of the verse of the 'somma
poeta'. But commonly be preferred to have me sit down with him there
among the mute witnesses of the larger part of his life. As I have
suggested in my own case, it did not matter much whether you brought
anything to the feast or not. If he liked you he liked being with you,
not for what he got, but for what he gave. He was fond of one man whom I
recall as the most silent man I ever met. I never heard him say
anything, not even a dull thing, but Lowell delighted in him, and would
have you believe that he was full of quaint humor.


While Lowell lived there was a superstition, which has perhaps survived
him, that he was an indolent man, wasting himself in barren studies and
minor efforts instead of devoting his great powers to some monumental
work worthy of them. If the robust body of literature, both poetry and
prose, which lives after him does not yet correct this vain delusion, the
time will come when it must; and in the meantime the delusion cannot vex
him now. I think it did vex him, then, and that he even shared it, and
tried at times to meet such shadowy claim as it had. One of the things
that people urged upon him was to write some sort of story, and it is
known how he attempted this in verse. It is less known that he attempted
it in prose, and that he went so far as to write the first chapter of a
novel. He read this to me, and though I praised it then, I have a
feeling now that if he had finished the novel it would have been a
failure. "But I shall never finish it," he sighed, as if he felt
irremediable defects in it, and laid the manuscript away, to turn and
light his pipe. It was a rather old-fashioned study of a whimsical
character, and it did not arrive anywhere, so far as it went; but I
believe that it might have been different with a Yankee story in verse
such as we have fragmentarily in 'The Nooning' and 'FitzAdam's Story'.
Still, his gift was essentially lyrical and meditative, with the
universal New England tendency to allegory. He was wholly undramatic in
the actuation of the characters which he imagined so dramatically. He
liked to deal with his subject at first hand, to indulge through himself
all the whim and fancy which the more dramatic talent indulges through
its personages.

He enjoyed writing such a poem as "The Cathedral," which is not of his
best, but which is more immediately himself, in all his moods, than some
better poems. He read it to me soon after it was written, and in the
long walk which we went hard upon the reading (our way led us through the
Port far towards East Cambridge, where he wished to show me a tupelo-tree
of his acquaintance, because I said I had never seen one), his talk was
still of the poem which he was greatly in conceit of. Later his
satisfaction with it received a check from the reserves of other friends
concerning some whimsical lines which seemed to them too great a drop
from the higher moods of the piece. Their reluctance nettled him;
perhaps he agreed with them; but he would not change the lines, and they
stand as he first wrote them. In fact, most of his lines stand as he
first wrote them; he would often change them in revision, and then, in a
second revision go back to the first version.

He was very sensitive to criticism, especially from those he valued
through his head or heart. He would try to hide his hurt, and he would
not let you speak of it, as though your sympathy unmanned him, but you
could see that he suffered. This notably happened in my remembrance from
a review in a journal which he greatly esteemed; and once when in a
notice of my own I had put one little thorny point among the flowers, he
confessed a puncture from it. He praised the criticism hardily, but I
knew that he winced under my recognition of the didactic quality which he
had not quite guarded himself against in the poetry otherwise praised.
He liked your liking, and he openly rejoiced in it; and I suppose he made
himself believe that in trying his verse with his friends he was testing
it; but I do not believe that he was, and I do not think he ever
corrected his judgment by theirs, however he suffered from it.

In any matter that concerned literary morals he was more than eager to
profit by another eye. One summer he sent me for the Magazine a poem
which, when I read it, I trembled to find in motive almost exactly like
one we had lately printed by another contributor. There was nothing for
it but to call his attention to the resemblance, and I went over to
Elmwood with the two poems. He was not at home, and I was obliged to
leave the poems, I suppose with some sort of note, for the next morning's
post brought me a delicious letter from him, all one cry of confession,
the most complete, the most ample. He did not trouble himself to say
that his poem was an unconscious reproduction of the other; that was for
every reason unnecessary, but he had at once rewritten it upon wholly
different lines; and I do not think any reader was reminded of Mrs.
Akers's "Among the Laurels" by Lowell's "Foot-path." He was not only
much more sensitive of others' rights than his own, but in spite of a
certain severity in him, he was most tenderly regardful of their
sensibilities when he had imagined them: he did not always imagine them.


At this period, between the years 1866 and 1874, when he unwillingly went
abroad for a twelvemonth, Lowell was seen in very few Cambridge houses,
and in still fewer Boston houses. He was not an unsocial man, but he was
most distinctly not a society man. He loved chiefly the companionship of
books, and of men who loved books; but of women generally he had an
amusing diffidence; he revered them and honored them, but he would rather
not have had them about. This is over-saying it, of course, but the
truth is in what I say. There was never a more devoted husband, and he
was content to let his devotion to the sex end with that. He especially
could not abide difference of opinion in women; he valued their taste,
their wit, their humor, but he would have none of their reason. I was by
one day when he was arguing a point with one of his nieces, and after it
had gone on for some time, and the impartial witness must have owned that
she was getting the better of him he closed the controversy by giving her
a great kiss, with the words, "You are a very good girl, my dear," and
practically putting her out of the room. As to women of the flirtatious
type, he did not dislike them; no man, perhaps, does; but he feared them,
and he said that with them there was but one way, and that was to run.

I have a notion that at this period Lowell was more freely and fully
himself than at any other. The passions and impulses of his younger
manhood had mellowed, the sorrows of that time had softened; he could
blamelessly live to himself in his affections and his sobered ideals.
His was always a duteous life; but he had pretty well given up making man
over in his own image, as we all wish some time to do, and then no longer
wish it. He fulfilled his obligations to his fellow-men as these sought
him out, but he had ceased to seek them. He loved his friends and their
love, but he had apparently no desire to enlarge their circle. It was
that hour of civic suspense, in which public men seemed still actuated by
unselfish aims, and one not essentially a politician might contentedly
wait to see what would come of their doing their best. At any rate,
without occasionally withholding open criticism or acclaim Lowell waited
among his books for the wounds of the war to heal themselves, and the
nation to begin her healthfuller and nobler life. With slavery gone,
what might not one expect of American democracy!

His life at Elmwood was of an entire simplicity. In the old colonial
mansion in which he was born, he dwelt in the embowering leafage, amid
the quiet of lawns and garden-plots broken by few noises ruder than those
from the elms and the syringas where

"The oriole clattered and the cat-bird sang."

From the tracks on Brattle Street, came the drowsy tinkle of horse-car
bells; and sometimes a funeral trailed its black length past the corner
of his grounds, and lost itself from sight under the shadows of the
willows that hid Mount Auburn from his study windows. In the winter the
deep New England snows kept their purity in the stretch of meadow behind
the house, which a double row of pines guarded in a domestic privacy.
All was of a modest dignity within and without the house, which Lowell
loved but did not imagine of a manorial presence; and he could not
conceal his annoyance with an over-enthusiastic account of his home in
which the simple chiselling of some panels was vaunted as rich wood-
carving. There was a graceful staircase, and a good wide hall, from
which the dining-room and drawing-room opened by opposite doors; behind
the last, in the southwest corner of the house, was his study.

There, literally, he lived during the six or seven years in which I knew
him after my coming to Cambridge. Summer and winter he sat there among
his books, seldom stirring abroad by day except for a walk, and by night
yet more rarely. He went to the monthly mid-day dinner of the Saturday
Club in Boston; he was very constant at the fortnightly meetings of his
whist-club, because he loved the old friends who formed it; he came
always to the Dante suppers at Longfellow's, and he was familiarly in and
out at Mr. Norton's, of course. But, otherwise, he kept to his study,
except for some rare and almost unwilling absences upon university
lecturing at Johns Hopkins or at Cornell.

For four years I did not take any summer outing from Cambridge myself,
and my associations with Elmwood and with Lowell are more of summer than
of winter weather meetings. But often we went our walks through the
snows, trudging along between the horsecar tracks which enclosed the only
well-broken-out paths in that simple old Cambridge. I date one memorable
expression of his from such a walk, when, as we were passing Longfellow's
house, in mid-street, he came as near the declaration of his religious
faith as he ever did in my presence. He was speaking of the New
Testament, and he said, The truth was in it; but they had covered it up
with their hagiology. Though he had been bred a Unitarian, and had more
and more liberated himself from all creeds, he humorously affected an
abiding belief in hell, and similarly contended for the eternal
punishment of the wicked. He was of a religious nature, and he was very
reverent of other people's religious feelings. He expressed a special
tolerance for my own inherited faith, no doubt because Mrs. Lowell was
also a Swedenborgian; but I do not think he was interested in it, and I
suspect that all religious formulations bored him. In his earlier poems
are many intimations and affirmations of belief in an overruling
providence, and especially in the God who declares vengeance His and will
repay men for their evil deeds, and will right the weak against the
strong. I think he never quite lost this, though when, in the last years
of his life, I asked him if he believed there was a moral government of
the universe, he answered gravely and with a sort of pain, The scale was
so vast, and we saw such a little part of it.

As to tine notion of a life after death, I never had any direct or
indirect expression from him; but I incline to the opinion that his hold
upon this weakened with his years, as it is sadly apt to do with men who
have read much and thought much: they have apparently exhausted their
potentialities of psychological life. Mystical Lowell was, as every poet
must be, but I do not think he liked mystery. One morning he told me
that when he came home the night before he had seen the Doppelganger of
one of his household: though, as he joked, he was not in a state to see

He then said he used often to see people's Doppelganger; at another time,
as to ghosts, he said, He was like Coleridge: he had seen too many of
'em. Lest any weaker brethren should be caused to offend by the
restricted oath which I have reported him using in a moment of transport
it may be best to note here that I never heard him use any other
imprecation, and this one seldom.

Any grossness of speech was inconceivable of him; now and then, but only
very rarely, the human nature of some story "unmeet for ladies" was too
much for his sense of humor, and overcame him with amusement which he was
willing to impart, and did impart, but so that mainly the human nature of
it reached you. In this he was like the other great Cambridge men,
though he was opener than the others to contact with the commoner life.
He keenly delighted in every native and novel turn of phrase, and he
would not undervalue a vital word or a notion picked up out of the road
even if it had some dirt sticking to it.

He kept as close to the common life as a man of his patrician instincts
and cloistered habits could. I could go to him with any new find about
it and be sure of delighting him; after I began making my involuntary and
all but unconscious studies of Yankee character, especially in the
country, he was always glad to talk them over with me. Still, when I had
discovered a new accent or turn of speech in the fields he had
cultivated, I was aware of a subtle grudge mingling with his pleasure;
but this was after all less envy than a fine regret.

At the time I speak of there was certainly nothing in Lowell's dress or
bearing that would have kept the common life aloof from him, if that life
were not always too proud to make advances to any one. In this
retrospect, I see him in the sack coat and rough suit which he wore upon
all out-door occasions, with heavy shoes, and a round hat. I never saw
him with a high hat on till he came home after his diplomatic stay in
London; then he had become rather rigorously correct in his costume, and
as conventional as he had formerly been indifferent. In both epochs he
was apt to be gloved, and the strong, broad hands, which left the
sensation of their vigor for some time after they had clasped yours,
were notably white. At the earlier period, he still wore his auburn hair
somewhat long; it was darker than his beard, which was branching and
full, and more straw-colored than auburn, as were his thick eyebrows;
neither hair nor beard was then touched with gray, as I now remember.
When he uncovered, his straight, wide, white forehead showed itself one
of the most beautiful that could be; his eyes were gay with humor, and
alert with all intelligence. He had an enchanting smile, a laugh that
was full of friendly joyousness, and a voice that was exquisite music.
Everything about him expressed his strenuous physical condition: he would
not wear an overcoat in the coldest Cambridge weather; at all times he
moved vigorously, and walked with a quick step, lifting his feet well
from the ground.


It gives me a pleasure which I am afraid I cannot impart, to linger in
this effort to materialize his presence from the fading memories of the
past. I am afraid I can as little impart a due sense of what he
spiritually was to my knowledge. It avails nothing for me to say that
I think no man of my years and desert had ever so true and constant a
friend. He was both younger and older than I by insomuch as he was a
poet through and through, and had been out of college before I was born.
But he had already come to the age of self-distrust when a man likes to
take counsel with his juniors as with his elders, and fancies he can
correct his perspective by the test of their fresher vision. Besides,
Lowell was most simply and pathetically reluctant to part with youth,
and was willing to cling to it wherever he found it. He could not in any
wise bear to be left-out. When Mr. Bret Harte came to Cambridge, and the
talk was all of the brilliant character-poems with which he had then
first dazzled the world, Lowell casually said, with a most touching,
however ungrounded sense of obsolescence, He could remember when the
'Biglow Papers' were all the talk. I need not declare that there was
nothing ungenerous in that. He was only too ready to hand down his
laurels to a younger man; but he wished to do it himself. Through the
modesty that is always a quality of such a nature, he was magnanimously
sensitive to the appearance of fading interest; he could not take it
otherwise than as a proof of his fading power. I had a curious hint of
this when one year in making up the prospectus of the Magazine for the
next, I omitted his name because I had nothing special to promise from
him, and because I was half ashamed to be always flourishing it in the
eyes of the public. "I see that you have dropped me this year," he
wrote, and I could see that it had hurt, and I knew that he was glad to
believe the truth when I told him.

He did not care so much for popularity as for the praise of his friends.
If he liked you he wished you not only to like what he wrote, but to say
so. He was himself most cordial in his recognition of the things that
pleased him. What happened to me from him, happened to others, and I am
only describing his common habit when I say that nothing I did to his
liking failed to bring me a spoken or oftener a written acknowledgment.
This continued to the latest years of his life when the effort even to
give such pleasure must have cost him a physical pang.

He was of a very catholic taste; and he was apt to be carried away by a
little touch of life or humor, and to overvalue the piece in which he
found it; but, mainly his judgments of letters and men were just.
One of the dangers of scholarship was a peculiar danger in the Cambridge
keeping, but Lowell was almost as averse as Longfellow from contempt.
He could snub, and pitilessly, where he thought there was presumption and
apparently sometimes merely because he was in the mood; but I cannot
remember ever to have heard him sneer. He was often wonderfully patient
of tiresome people, and sometimes celestially insensible to vulgarity.
In spite of his reserve, he really wished people to like him; he was
keenly alive to neighborly good-will or ill-will; and when there was a
question of widening Elmwood avenue by taking part of his grounds, he was
keenly hurt by hearing that some one who lived near him had said he hoped
the city would cut down Lowell's elms: his English elms, which his father
had planted, and with which he was himself almost one blood!


In the period of which I am speaking, Lowell was constantly writing and
pretty constantly printing, though still the superstition held that he
was an idle man. To this time belongs the publication of some of his
finest poems, if not their inception: there were cases in which their
inception dated far back, even to ten or twenty years. He wrote his
poems at a heat, and the manuscript which came to me for the magazine was
usually the first draft, very little corrected. But if the cold fit took
him quickly it might hold him so fast that he would leave the poem in
abeyance till he could slowly live back to a liking for it.

The most of his best prose belongs to the time between 1866 and 1874, and
to this time we owe the several volumes of essays and criticisms called
'Among My Books' and 'My Study Windows'. He wished to name these more
soberly, but at the urgence of his publishers he gave them titles which
they thought would be attractive to the public, though he felt that they
took from the dignity of his work. He was not a good business man in a
literary way, he submitted to others' judgment in all such matters.
I doubt if he ever put a price upon anything he sold, and I dare say he
was usually surprised at the largeness of the price paid him; but
sometimes if his need was for a larger sum, he thought it too little,
without reference to former payments. This happened with a long poem in
the Atlantic, which I had urged the counting-room authorities to deal
handsomely with him for. I did not know how many hundred they gave him,
and when I met him I ventured to express the hope that the publishers had
done their part. He held up four fingers, "Quattro," he said in Italian,
and then added with a disappointment which he tried to smile away,
"I thought they might have made it cinque."

Between me and me I thought quattro very well, but probably Lowell had in
mind some end which cinque would have fitted better. It was pretty sure
to be an unselfish end, a pleasure to some one dear to him, a gift that
he had wished to make. Long afterwards when I had been the means of
getting him cinque for a poem one-tenth the length, he spoke of the
payment to me. "It came very handily; I had been wanting to give a

I do not believe at any time Lowell was able to deal with money

"Like wealthy men, not knowing what they give."

more probably he felt a sacredness in the money got by literature, which
the literary man never quite rids him self of, even when he is not a
poet, and which made him wish to dedicate it to something finer than the
every day uses. He lived very quietly, but he had by no means more than
he needed to live upon, and at that time he had pecuniary losses. He was
writing hard, and was doing full work in his Harvard professorship, and
he was so far dependent upon his salary, that he felt its absence for the
year he went abroad. I do not know quite how to express my sense of
something unworldly, of something almost womanlike in his relation to

He was not only generous of money, but he was generous of himself, when
he thought he could be of use, or merely of encouragement. He came all
the way into Boston to hear certain lectures of mine on the Italian
poets, which he could not have found either edifying or amusing, that he
might testify his interest in me, and show other people that they were
worth coming to. He would go carefully over a poem with me, word by
word, and criticise every turn of phrase, and after all be magnanimously
tolerant of my sticking to phrasings that he disliked. In a certain line

"The silvern chords of the piano trembled,"

he objected to silvern. Why not silver? I alleged leathern, golden, and
like adjectives in defence of my word; but still he found an affectation
in it, and suffered it to stand with extreme reluctance. Another line of
another piece:

"And what she would, would rather that she would not"

he would by no means suffer. He said that the stress falling on the last
word made it "public-school English," and he mocked it with the answer a
maid had lately given him when he asked if the master of the house was at
home. She said, "No, sir, he is not," when she ought to have said "No,
sir, he isn't." He was appeased when I came back the next day with the
stanza amended so that the verse could read:

"And what she would, would rather she would not so"

but I fancy he never quite forgave my word silvern. Yet, he professed
not to have prejudices in such matters, but to use any word that would
serve his turn, without wincing; and he certainly did use and defend
words, as undisprivacied and disnatured, that made others wince.

He was otherwise such a stickler for the best diction that he would not
have had me use slovenly vernacular even in the dialogue in my stories:
my characters must not say they wanted to do so and so, but wished, and
the like. In a copy of one of my books which I found him reading, I saw
he had corrected my erring Western woulds and shoulds; as he grew old he
was less and less able to restrain himself from setting people right to
their faces. Once, in the vast area of my ignorance, he specified my
small acquaintance with a certain period of English poetry, saying,
"You're rather shady, there, old fellow." But he would not have had me
too learned, holding that he had himself been hurt for literature by his

His patience in analyzing my work with me might have been the easy effort
of his habit of teaching; and his willingness to give himself and his own
was no doubt more signally attested in his asking a brother man of
letters who wished to work up a subject in the college library, to stay a
fortnight in his house, and to share his study, his beloved study, with
him. This must truly have cost him dear, as any author of fixed habits
will understand. Happily the man of letters was a good fellow, and knew
how to prize the favor-done him, but if he had been otherwise, it would
have been the same to Lowell. He not only endured, but did many things
for the weaker brethren, which were amusing enough to one in the secret
of his inward revolt. Yet in these things he was considerate also of the
editor whom he might have made the sharer of his self-sacrifice, and he
seldom offered me manuscripts for others. The only real burden of the
kind that he put upon me was the diary of a Virginian who had travelled
in New England during the early thirties, and had set down his
impressions of men and manners there. It began charmingly, and went on
very well under Lowell's discreet pruning, but after a while he seemed to
fall in love with the character of the diarist so much that he could not
bear to cut anything.


He had a great tenderness for the broken and ruined South, whose sins he
felt that he had had his share in visiting upon her, and he was willing
to do what he could to ease her sorrows in the case of any particular
Southerner. He could not help looking askance upon the dramatic shows of
retribution which some of the Northern politicians were working, but with
all his misgivings he continued to act with the Republican party until
after the election of Hayes; he was away from the country during the
Garfield campaign. He was in fact one of the Massachusetts electors
chosen by the Republican majority in 1816, and in that most painful hour
when there was question of the policy and justice of counting Hayes in
for the presidency, it was suggested by some of Lowell's friends that he
should use the original right of the electors under the constitution,
and vote for Tilden, whom one vote would have chosen president over
Hayes. After he had cast his vote for Hayes, he quietly referred to the
matter one day, in the moment of lighting his pipe, with perhaps the
faintest trace of indignation in his tone. He said that whatever the
first intent of the constitution was, usage had made the presidential
electors strictly the instruments of the party which chose them, and that
for him to have voted for Tilden when he had been chosen to vote for
Hayes would have-been an act of bad faith.

He would have resumed for me all the old kindness of our relations before
the recent year of his absence, but this had inevitably worked a little
estrangement. He had at least lost the habit of me, and that says much
in such matters. He was not so perfectly at rest in the Cambridge
environment; in certain indefinable ways it did not so entirely suffice
him, though he would have been then and always the last to allow this.
I imagine his friends realized more than he, that certain delicate but
vital filaments of attachment had frayed and parted in alien air, and
left him heart-loose as he had not been before.

I do not know whether it crossed his mind after the election of Hayes
that he might be offered some place abroad, but it certainly crossed the
minds of some of his friends, and I could not feel that I was acting for
myself alone when I used a family connection with the President, very
early in his term, to let him know that I believed Lowell would accept a
diplomatic mission. I could assure him that I was writing wholly without
Lowell's privity or authority, and I got back such a letter as I could
wish in its delicate sense of the situation. The President said that he
had already thought of offering Lowell something, and he gave me the
pleasure, a pleasure beyond any other I could imagine, of asking Lowell
whether he would accept the mission to Austria. I lost no time carrying
his letter to Elmwood, where I found Lowell over his coffee at dinner.
He saw me at the threshold, and called to me through the open door to
come in, and I handed him the letter, and sat down at table while he ran
it through. When he had read it, he gave a quick "Ah!" and threw it
over the length of the table to Mrs. Lowell. She read it in a smiling
and loyal reticence, as if she would not say one word of all she might
wish to say in urging his acceptance, though I could see that she was
intensely eager for it. The whole situation was of a perfect New England
character in its tacit significance; after Lowell had taken his coffee we
turned into his study without further allusion to the matter.

A day or two later he came to my house to say that he could not accept
the Austrian mission, and to ask me to tell the President so for him, and
make his acknowledgments, which he would also write himself. He remained
talking a little while of other things, and when he rose to go, he said
with a sigh of vague reluctance, "I should like to see a play of
Calderon," as if it had nothing to do with any wish of his that could
still be fulfilled. "Upon this hint I acted," and in due time it was
found in Washington, that the gentleman who had been offered the Spanish
mission would as lief go to Austria, and Lowell was sent to Madrid.


When we met in London, some years later, he came almost every afternoon
to my lodging, and the story of our old-time Cambridge walks began again
in London phrases. There were not the vacant lots and outlying fields of
his native place, but we made shift with the vast, simple parks, and we
walked on the grass as we could not have done in an American park, and
were glad to feel the earth under our feet. I said how much it was like
those earlier tramps; and that pleased him, for he wished, whenever a
thing delighted him, to find a Cambridge quality in it.

But he was in love with everything English, and was determined I should
be so too, beginning with the English weather, which in summer cannot be
overpraised. He carried, of course, an umbrella, but he would not put it
up in the light showers that caught us at times, saying that the English
rain never wetted you. The thick short turf delighted him; he would
scarcely allow that the trees were the worse for foliage blighted by a
vile easterly storm in the spring of that year. The tender air, the
delicate veils that the moisture in it cast about all objects at the
least remove, the soft colors of the flowers, the dull blue of the low
sky showing through the rifts of the dirty white clouds, the hovering
pall of London smoke, were all dear to him, and he was anxious that I
should not lose anything of their charm.

He was anxious that I should not miss the value of anything in England,
and while he volunteered that the aristocracy had the corruptions of
aristocracies everywhere, he insisted upon my respectful interest in it
because it was so historical. Perhaps there was a touch of irony in this
demand, but it is certain that he was very happy in England. He had come
of the age when a man likes smooth, warm keeping, in which he need make
no struggle for his comfort; disciplined and obsequious service; society,
perfectly ascertained within the larger society which we call
civilization; and in an alien environment, for which he was in no wise
responsible, he could have these without a pang of the self-reproach
which at home makes a man unhappy amidst his luxuries, when he considers
their cost to others. He had a position which forbade thought of
unfairness in the conditions; he must not wake because of the slave, it
was his duty to sleep. Besides, at that time Lowell needed all the rest
he could get, for he had lately passed through trials such as break the
strength of men, and how them with premature age. He was living alone in
his little house in Lowndes Square, and Mrs. Lowell was in the country,
slowly recovering from the effects of the terrible typhus which she had
barely survived in Madrid. He was yet so near the anguish of that
experience that he told me he had still in his nerves the expectation of
a certain agonized cry from her which used to rend them. But he said he
had adjusted himself to this, and he went on to speak with a patience
which was more affecting in him than in men of more phlegmatic
temperament, of how we were able to adjust ourselves to all our trials
and to the constant presence of pain. He said he was never free of a
certain distress, which was often a sharp pang, in one of his shoulders,
but his physique had established such relations with it that, though he
was never unconscious of it, he was able to endure it without a
recognition of it as suffering.

He seemed to me, however, very well, and at his age of sixty-three, I
could not see that he was less alert and vigorous than he was when I
first knew him in Cambridge. He had the same brisk, light step, and
though his beard was well whitened and his auburn hair had grown ashen
through the red, his face had the freshness and his eyes the clearness of
a young man's. I suppose the novelty of his life kept him from thinking
about his years; or perhaps in contact with those great, insenescent
Englishmen, he could not feel himself old. At any rate he did not once
speak of age, as he used to do ten years earlier, and I, then half
through my forties, was still "You young dog" to him. It was a bright
and cheerful renewal of the early kindliness between us, on which indeed
there had never been a shadow, except such as distance throws. He wished
apparently to do everything he could to assure us of his personal
interest; and we were amused to find him nervously apprehensive of any
purpose, such as was far from us, to profit by him officially. He
betrayed a distinct relief when he found we were not going to come upon
him even for admissions to the houses of parliament, which we were to see
by means of an English acquaintance. He had not perhaps found some other
fellow-citizens so considerate; he dreaded the half-duties of his place,
like presentations to the queen, and complained of the cheap ambitions he
had to gratify in that way.

He was so eager to have me like England in every way, and seemed so fond
of the English, that I thought it best to ask him whether he minded my
quoting, in a paper about Lexington, which I was just then going to print
in a London magazine, some humorous lines of his expressing the mounting
satisfaction of an imaginary Yankee story-teller who has the old fight
terminate in Lord Percy's coming

"To hammer stone for life in Concord jail."

It had occurred to me that it might possibly embarrass him to have this
patriotic picture presented to a public which could not take our Fourth
of July pleasure in it, and I offered to suppress it, as I did afterwards
quite for literary reasons. He said, No, let it stand, and let them make
the worst of it; and I fancy that much of his success with a people who
are not gingerly with other people's sensibilities came from the
frankness with which he trampled on their prejudice when he chose.
He said he always told them, when there was question of such things,
that the best society he had ever known was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He contended that the best English was spoken there; and so it was, when
he spoke it.

We were in London out of the season, and he was sorry that he could not
have me meet some titles who he declared had found pleasure in my books;
when we returned from Italy in the following June, he was prompt to do me
this honor. I dare say he wished me to feel it to its last implication,
and I did my best, but there was nothing in the evening I enjoyed so much
as his coming up to Mrs. Lowell, at the close, when there was only a
title or two left, and saying to her as he would have said to her at
Elmwood, where she would have personally planned it, "Fanny, that was a
fine dinner you gave us." Of course, this was in a tender burlesque;
but it remains the supreme impression of what seemed to me a cloudlessly
happy period for Lowell. His wife was quite recovered of her long
suffering, and was again at the head of his house, sharing in his
pleasures, and enjoying his successes for his sake; successes so great
that people spoke of him seriously, as "an addition to society" in
London, where one man more or less seemed like a drop in the sea.
She was a woman perfectly of the New England type and tradition: almost
repellantly shy at first, and almost glacially cold with new
acquaintance, but afterwards very sweet and cordial. She was of a dark
beauty with a regular face of the Spanish outline; Lowell was of an ideal
manner towards her, and of an admiration which delicately travestied
itself and which she knew how to receive with smiling irony. After her
death, which occurred while he was still in England, he never spoke of
her to me, though before that he used to be always bringing her name in,
with a young lover-like fondness.


In the hurry of the London season I did not see so much of Lowell on our
second sojourn as on our first, but once when we were alone in his study
there was a return to the terms of the old meetings in Cambridge. He
smoked his pipe, and sat by his fire and philosophized; and but for the
great London sea swirling outside and bursting through our shelter, and
dashing him with notes that must be instantly answered, it was a very
fair image of the past. He wanted to tell me about his coachman whom he
had got at on his human side with great liking and amusement, and there
was a patient gentleness in his manner with the footman who had to keep
coming in upon him with those notes which was like the echo of his young
faith in the equality of men. But he always distinguished between the
simple unconscious equality of the ordinary American and its assumption
by a foreigner. He said he did not mind such an American's coming into
his house with his hat on; but if a German or Englishman did it, he
wanted to knock it off. He was apt to be rather punctilious in his shows
of deference towards others, and at one time he practised removing his
own hat when he went into shops in Cambridge. It must have mystified the
Cambridge salesmen, and I doubt if he kept it up.

With reference to the doctrine of his young poetry, the fierce and the
tender humanity of his storm and stress period, I fancy a kind of baffle
in Lowell, which I should not perhaps find it easy to prove. I never
knew him by word or hint to renounce this doctrine, but he could not come
to seventy years without having seen many high hopes fade, and known many
inspired prophecies fail. When we have done our best to make the world
over, we are apt to be dismayed by finding it in much the old shape.
As he said of the moral government of the universe, the scale is so vast,
and a little difference, a little change for the better, is scarcely
perceptible to the eager consciousness of the wholesale reformer.
But with whatever sense of disappointment, of doubt as to his own deeds
for truer freedom and for better conditions I believe his sympathy was
still with those who had some heart for hoping and striving. I am sure
that though he did not agree with me in some of my own later notions for
the redemption of the race, he did not like me the less but rather the
more because (to my own great surprise I confess) I had now and then the
courage of my convictions, both literary and social.

He was probably most at odds with me in regard to my theories of fiction,
though he persisted in declaring his pleasure in my own fiction. He was
in fact, by nature and tradition, thoroughly romantic, and he could not
or would not suffer realism in any but a friend. He steadfastly refused
even to read the Russian masters, to his immense loss, as I tried to
persuade him, and even among the modern Spaniards, for whom he might have
had a sort of personal kindness from his love of Cervantes, he chose one
for his praise the least worthy, of it, and bore me down with his heavier
metal in argument when I opposed to Alarcon's factitiousness the
delightful genuineness of Valdes. Ibsen, with all the Norwegians, he put
far from him; he would no more know them than the Russians; the French
naturalists he abhorred. I thought him all wrong, but you do not try
improving your elders when they have come to three score and ten years,
and I would rather have had his affection unbroken by our difference of
opinion than a perfect agreement. Where he even imagined that this
difference could work me harm, he was anxious to have me know that he
meant me none; and he was at the trouble to write me a letter when a
Boston paper had perverted its report of what he said in a public lecture
to my disadvantage, and to assure me that he had not me in mind. When
once he had given his liking, he could not bear that any shadow of change
should seem to have come upon him. He had a most beautiful and endearing
ideal of friendship; he desired to affirm it and to reaffirm it as often
as occasion offered, and if occasion did not offer, he made occasion.
It did not matter what you said or did that contraried him; if he thought
he had essentially divined you, you were still the same: and on his part
he was by no means exacting of equal demonstration, but seemed not even
to wish it.


After he was replaced at London by a minister more immediately
representative of the Democratic administration, he came home. He made a
brave show of not caring to have remained away, but in truth he had
become very fond of England, where he had made so many friends, and where
the distinction he had, in that comfortably padded environment, was so
agreeable to him.

It would have been like him to have secretly hoped that the new President
might keep him in London, but he never betrayed any ignoble
disappointment, and he would not join in any blame of him. At our first
meeting after he came home he spoke of the movement which had made Mr.
Cleveland president, and said he supposed that if he had been here,
he should have been in it. All his friends were, he added, a little
helplessly; but he seemed not to dislike my saying I knew one of his
friends who was not: in fact, as I have told, he never disliked a plump
difference--unless he disliked the differer.

For several years he went back to England every summer, and it was not
until he took up his abode at Elmwood again that he spent a whole year at
home. One winter he passed at his sister's home in Boston, but mostly he
lived with his daughter at Southborough. I have heard a story of his
going to Elmwood soon after his return in 1885, and sitting down in his
old study, where he declared with tears that the place was full of
ghosts. But four or five years later it was well for family reasons that
he should live there; and about the same time it happened that I had
taken a house for the summer in his neighborhood. He came to see me,
and to assure me, in all tacit forms of his sympathy in a sorrow for
which there could be no help; but it was not possible that the old
intimate relations should be resumed. The affection was there, as much
on his side as on mine, I believe; but he was now an old man and I was an
elderly man, and we could not, without insincerity, approach each other
in the things that had drawn us together in earlier and happier years.
His course was run; my own, in which he had taken such a generous
pleasure, could scarcely move his jaded interest. His life, so far as it
remained to him, had renewed itself in other air; the later friendships
beyond seas sufficed him, and were without the pang, without the effort
that must attend the knitting up of frayed ties here.

He could never have been anything but American, if he had tried, and he
certainly never tried; but he certainly did not return to the outward
simplicities of his life as I first knew it. There was no more round-
hat-and-sack-coat business for him; he wore a frock and a high hat, and
whatever else was rather like London than Cambridge; I do not know but
drab gaiters sometimes added to the effect of a gentleman of the old
school which he now produced upon the witness. Some fastidiousnesses
showed themselves in him, which were not so surprising. He complained of
the American lower class manner; the conductor and cabman would be kind
to you but they would not be respectful, and he could not see the fun of
this in the old way. Early in our acquaintance he rather stupified me by
saying, "I like you because you don't put your hands on me," and I heard
of his consenting to some sort of reception in those last years, "Yes,
if they won't shake hands."

Ever since his visit to Rome in 1875 he had let his heavy mustache grow
long till it dropped below the corners of his beard, which was now almost
white; his face had lost the ruddy hue so characteristic of him. I fancy
he was then ailing with premonitions of the disorder which a few years
later proved mortal, but he still bore himself with sufficient vigor,
and he walked the distance between his house and mine, though once when I
missed his visit the family reported that after he came in he sat a long
time with scarcely a word, as if too weary to talk. That winter, I went
into Boston to live, and I saw him only at infrequent intervals, when I
could go out to Elmwood. At such times I found him sitting in the room
which was formerly the drawing-room, but which had been joined with his
study by taking away the partitions beside the heavy mass of the old
colonial chimney. He told me that when he was a newborn babe, the nurse
had carried him round this chimney, for luck, and now in front of the
same hearth, the white old man stretched himself in an easy-chair, with
his writing-pad on his knees and his books on the table at his elbow, and
was willing to be entreated not to rise. I remember the sun used to come
in at the eastern windows full pour, and bathe the air in its warmth.

He always hailed me gayly, and if I found him with letters newly come
from England, as I sometimes did, he glowed and sparkled with fresh life.
He wanted to read passages from those letters, he wanted to talk about
their writers, and to make me feel their worth and charm as he did.
He still dreamed of going back to England the next summer, but that was
not to be. One day he received me not less gayly than usual, but with a
certain excitement, and began to tell me about an odd experience he had
had, not at all painful, but which had very much mystified him. He had
since seen the doctor, and the doctor had assured him that there was
nothing alarming in what had happened, and in recalling this assurance,
he began to look at the humorous aspects of the case, and to make some
jokes about it. He wished to talk of it, as men do of their maladies,
and very fully, and I gave him such proof of my interest as even inviting
him to talk of it would convey. In spite of the doctor's assurance,
and his joyful acceptance of it, I doubt if at the bottom of his heart
there was not the stir of an uneasy misgiving; but he had not for a long
time shown himself so cheerful.

It was the beginning of the end. He recovered and relapsed, and
recovered again; but never for long. Late in the spring I came out,
and he had me stay to dinner, which was somehow as it used to be at two
o'clock; and after dinner we went out on his lawn. He got a long-handled
spud, and tried to grub up some dandelions which he found in his turf,
but after a moment or two he threw it down, and put his hand upon his
back with a groan. I did not see him again till I came out to take leave
of him before going away for the summer, and then I found him sitting on
the little porch in a western corner of his house, with a volume of Scott
closed upon his finger. There were some other people, and our meeting
was with the constraint of their presence. It was natural in nothing so
much as his saying very significantly to me, as if he knew of my heresies
concerning Scott, and would have me know he did not approve of them, that
there was nothing he now found so much pleasure in as Scott's novels.
Another friend, equally heretical, was by, but neither of us attempted to
gainsay him. Lowell talked very little, but he told of having been a
walk to Beaver Brook, and of having wished to jump from one stone to
another in the stream, and of having had to give it up. He said, without
completing the sentence, If it had come to that with him! Then he fell
silent again; and with some vain talk of seeing him when I came back in
the fall, I went away sick at heart. I was not to see him again, and I
shall not look upon his like.

I am aware that I have here shown him from this point and from that in a
series of sketches which perhaps collectively impart, but do not assemble
his personality in one impression. He did not, indeed, make one
impression upon me, but a thousand impressions, which I should seek in
vain to embody in a single presentment. What I have cloudily before me
is the vision of a very lofty and simple soul, perplexed, and as it were
surprised and even dismayed at the complexity of the effects from motives
so single in it, but escaping always to a clear expression of what was
noblest and loveliest in itself at the supreme moments, in the divine
exigencies. I believe neither in heroes nor in saints; but I believe in
great and good men, for I have known them, and among such men Lowell was
of the richest nature I have known. His nature was not always serene or
pellucid; it was sometimes roiled by the currents that counter and cross
in all of us; but it was without the least alloy of insincerity, and it
was never darkened by the shadow of a selfish fear. His genius was an
instrument that responded in affluent harmony to the power that made him
a humorist and that made him a poet, and appointed him rarely to be quite
either alone.


I believe neither in heroes nor in saints
It is well to hold one's country to her promises
Liked being with you, not for what he got, but for what he gave


by William Dean Howells


Being the wholly literary spirit I was when I went to make my home in
Cambridge, I do not see how I could well have been more content if I had
found myself in the Elysian Fields with an agreeable eternity before me.
At twenty-nine, indeed, one is practically immortal, and at that age,
time had for me the effect of an eternity in which I had nothing to do
but to read books and dream of writing them, in the overflow of endless
hours from my work with the manuscripts, critical notices, and proofs of
the Atlantic Monthly. As for the social environment I should have been
puzzled if given my choice among the elect of all the ages, to find poets
and scholars more to my mind than those still in the flesh at Cambridge
in the early afternoon of the nineteenth century. They are now nearly
all dead, and I can speak of them in the freedom which is death's
doubtful favor to the survivor; but if they were still alive I could say
little to their offence, unless their modesty was hurt with my praise.


One of the first and truest of our Cambridge friends was that exquisite
intelligence, who, in a world where so many people are grotesquely
miscalled, was most fitly named; for no man ever kept here more perfectly
and purely the heart of such as the kingdom of heaven is of than Francis
J. Child. He was then in his prime, and I like to recall the outward
image which expressed the inner man as happily as his name. He was of
low stature and of an inclination which never became stoutness; but what
you most saw when you saw him was his face of consummate refinement: very
regular, with eyes always glassed by gold-rimmed spectacles, a straight,
short, most sensitive nose, and a beautiful mouth with the sweetest smile
mouth ever wore, and that was as wise and shrewd as it was sweet. In a
time when every other man was more or less bearded he was clean shaven,
and of a delightful freshness of coloring which his thick sunny hair,
clustering upon his head in close rings, admirably set off. I believe he
never became gray, and the last time I saw him, though he was broken then
with years and pain, his face had still the brightness of his
inextinguishable youth.

It is well known how great was Professor Child's scholarship in the
branches of his Harvard work; and how especially, how uniquely, effective
it was in the study of English and Scottish balladry to which he gave so
many years of his life. He was a poet in his nature, and he wrought with
passion as well as knowledge in the achievement of as monumental a task
as any American has performed. But he might have been indefinitely less
than he was in any intellectual wise, and yet been precious to those who
knew him for the gentleness and the goodness which in him were protected
from misconception by a final dignity as delicate and as inviolable as
that of Longfellow himself.

We were still much less than a year from our life in Venice, when he came
to see us in Cambridge, and in the Italian interest which then commended
us to so many fine spirits among our neighbors we found ourselves at the
beginning of a life-long friendship with him. I was known to him only by
my letters from Venice, which afterwards became Venetian Life, and by a
bit of devotional verse which he had asked to include in a collection he
was making, but he immediately gave us the freedom of his heart, which
after wards was never withdrawn. In due time he imagined a home-school,
to which our little one was asked, and she had her first lessons with his
own daughter under his roof. These things drew us closer together, and
he was willing to be still nearer to me in any time of trouble. At one
such time when the shadow which must some time darken every door, hovered
at ours, he had the strength to make me face it and try to realize, while
it was still there, that it was not cruel and not evil. It passed, for
that time, but the sense of his help remained; and in my own case I can
testify of the potent tenderness which all who knew him must have known
in him. But in bearing my witness I feel accused, almost as if he were
present; by his fastidious reluctance from any recognition of his
helpfulness. When this came in the form of gratitude taking credit to
itself in a pose which reflected honor upon him as the architect of
greatness, he was delightfully impatient of it, and he was most amusingly
dramatic in reproducing the consciousness of certain ineffectual alumni
who used to overwhelm him at Commencement solemnities with some such
pompous acknowledgment as, "Professor Child, all that I have become, sir,
I owe to your influence in my college career." He did, with delicious
mockery, the old-fashioned intellectual poseurs among the students, who
used to walk the groves of Harvard with bent head, and the left arm
crossing the back, while the other lodged its hand in the breast of the
high buttoned frock-coat; and I could fancy that his classes in college
did not form the sunniest exposure for young. folly and vanity. I know
that he was intolerant of any manner of insincerity, and no flattery
could take him off his guard. I have seen him meet this with a cutting
phrase of rejection, and no man was more apt at snubbing the patronage
that offers itself at times to all men. But mostly he wished to do
people pleasure, and he seemed always to be studying how to do it; as for
need, I am sure that worthy and unworthy want had alike the way to his

Children were always his friends, and they repaid with adoration the
affection which he divided with them and with his flowers. I recall him
in no moments so characteristic as those he spent in making the little
ones laugh out of their hearts at his drolling, some festive evening in
his house, and those he gave to sharing with you his joy in his
gardening. This, I believe, began with violets, and it went on to roses,
which he grew in a splendor and profusion impossible to any but a true
lover with a genuine gift for them. Like Lowell, he spent his summers in
Cambridge, and in the afternoon, you could find him digging or pruning
among his roses with an ardor which few caprices of the weather could
interrupt. He would lift himself from their ranks, which he scarcely
overtopped, as you came up the footway to his door, and peer purblindly
across at you. If he knew you at once, he traversed the nodding and
swaying bushes, to give you the hand free of the trowel or knife; or if
you got indoors unseen by him he would come in holding towards you some
exquisite blossom that weighed down the tip of its long stem with a
succession of hospitable obeisances.

He graced with unaffected poetry a life of as hard study, of as hard
work, and as varied achievement as any I have known or read of; and he
played with gifts and acquirements such as in no great measure have made
reputations. He had a rare and lovely humor which could amuse itself
both in English and Italian with such an airy burletta as "Il Pesceballo"
(he wrote it in Metastasian Italian, and Lowell put it in libretto
English); he had a critical sense as sound as it was subtle in all
literature; and whatever he wrote he imbued with the charm of a style
finely personal to himself. His learning in the line of his Harvard
teaching included an early English scholarship unrivalled in his time,
and his researches in ballad literature left no corner of it untouched.
I fancy this part of his study was peculiarly pleasant to him; for he
loved simple and natural things, and the beauty which he found nearest
life. At least he scorned the pedantic affectations of literary
superiority; and he used to quote with joyous laughter the swelling
exclamation of an Italian critic who proposed to leave the summits of
polite learning for a moment, with the cry, "Scendiamo fra il popolo!"
(Let us go down among the people.)


Of course it was only so hard worked a man who could take thought and
trouble for another. He once took thought for me at a time when it was
very important to me, and when he took the trouble to secure for me an
engagement to deliver that course of Lowell lectures in Boston, which I
have said Lowell had the courage to go in town to hear. I do not
remember whether Professor Child was equal to so much, but he would have
been if it were necessary; and I rather rejoice now in the belief that he
did not seek quite that martyrdom.

He had done more than enough for me, but he had done only what he was
always willing to do for others. In the form of a favor to himself he
brought into my fife the great happiness of intimately knowing Hjalmar
Hjorth Boyesen, whom he had found one summer day among the shelves in the
Harvard library, and found to be a poet and an intending novelist. I do
not remember now just how this fact imparted itself to the professor, but
literature is of easily cultivated confidence in youth, and possibly the
revelation was spontaneous. At any rate, as a susceptible young editor,
I was asked to meet my potential contributor at the professor's two
o'clock dinner, and when we came to coffee in the study, Boyesen took
from the pocket nearest his heart a chapter of 'Gunnar', and read it to

Perhaps the good professor who brought us together had plotted to have
both novel and novelist make their impression at once upon the youthful
sub-editor; but at any rate they did not fail of an effect. I believe it
was that chapter where Gunnar and Ragnhild dance and sing a 'stev'
together, for I associate with that far happy time the rich mellow tones
of the poet's voice in the poet's verse. These were most characteristic
of him, and it is as if I might put my ear against the ethereal wall
beyond which he is rapt and hear them yet.

Our meeting was on a lovely afternoon of summer, and the odor of the
professor's roses stole in at the open windows, and became part of the
gentle event. Boyesen walked home with me, and for a fortnight after I
think we parted only to dream of the literature which we poured out upon
each other in every waking moment. I had just learned to know Bjornson's
stories, and Boyesen told me of his poetry and of his drama, which in
even measure embodied the great Norse literary movement, and filled me
with the wonder and delight of that noble revolt against convention, that
brave return to nature and the springs of poetry in the heart and the
speech of the common people. Literature was Boyesen's religion more than
the Swedenborgian philosophy in which we had both been spiritually
nurtured, and at every step of our mounting friendship we found ourselves
on common ground in our worship of it. I was a decade his senior, but at
thirty-five I was not yet so stricken in years as not to be able fully to
rejoice in the ardor which fused his whole being in an incandescent
poetic mass. I have known no man who loved poetry more generously and
passionately; and I think he was above all things a poet. His work took
the shape of scholarship, fiction, criticism, but poetry gave it all a
touch of grace and beauty. Some years after this first meeting of ours I
remember a pathetic moment with him, when I asked him why he had not
written any verse of late, and he answered, as if still in sad
astonishment at the fact, that he had found life was not all poetry. In
those earlier days I believe he really thought it was!

Perhaps it really is, and certainly in the course of a life that
stretched almost to half a century Boyesen learned more and more to see
the poetry of the everyday world at least as the material of art. He did
battle valiantly for that belief in many polemics, which I suppose gave
people a sufficiently false notion of him; and he showed his faith by
works in fiction which better illustrated his motive. Gunnar stands at
the beginning of these works, and at the farthest remove from it in
matter and method stands 'The Mammon of Unrighteousness'. The lovely
idyl won him fame and friendship, and the great novel added neither to
him, though he had put the experience and the observation of his ripened
life into it. Whether it is too late or too early for it to win the
place in literature which it merits I do not know; but it always seemed
to me the very spite of fate that it should have failed of popular
effect. Yet I must own that it has so failed, and I own this without
bitterness towards Gunnar, which embalmed the spirit of his youth as
'The Mammon of Unrighteousness' embodied the thought of his manhood.


It was my pleasure, my privilege, to bring Gunnar before the public as
editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and to second the author in many a
struggle with the strange idiom he had cast the story in. The proofs
went back and forth between us till the author had profited by every hint
and suggestion of the editor. He was quick to profit by any hint, and he
never made the same mistake twice. He lived his English as fast as he
learned it; the right word became part of him; and he put away the wrong
word with instant and final rejection. He had not learned American
English without learning newspaper English, but if one touched a phrase
of it in his work, he felt in his nerves, which are the ultimate arbiters
in such matters, its difference from true American and true English.
It was wonderful how apt and how elect his diction was in those days;
it seemed as if his thought clothed itself in the fittest phrase without
his choosing. In his poetry he had extraordinary good fortune from the
first; his mind had an apparent affinity with what was most native, most
racy in our speech; and I have just been looking over Gunnar and
marvelling anew at the felicity and the beauty of his phrasing.

I do not know whether those who read his books stop much to consider how
rare his achievement was in the mere means of expression. Our speech is
rather more hospitable than most, and yet I can remember but five other
writers born to different languages who have handled English with
anything like his mastery. Two Italians, Ruffini, the novelist, and
Gallenga, the journalist; two Germans, Carl Schurz and Carl Hillebrand,
and the Dutch novelist Maarten Maartens, have some of them equalled but
none of them surpassed him. Yet he was a man grown when he began to
speak and to write English, though I believe he studied it somewhat in
Norway before he came to America. What English he knew he learned the
use of here, and in the measure of its idiomatic vigor we may be proud of
it as Americans.

He had least of his native grace, I think, in his criticism; and yet as a
critic he had qualities of rare temperance, acuteness, and knowledge.
He had very decided convictions in literary art; one kind of thing he
believed was good and all other kinds less good down to what was bad; but
he was not a bigot, and he made allowances for art-in-error. His hand
fell heavy only upon those heretics who not merely denied the faith but
pretended that artifice was better than nature, that decoration was more
than structure, that make-believe was something you could live by as you
live by truth. He was not strongest, however, in damnatory criticism.
His spirit was too large, too generous to dwell in that, and it rose
rather to its full height in his appreciations of the great authors whom
he loved, and whom he commented from the plenitude of his scholarship as
well as from his delighted sense of their grandeur. Here he was almost
as fine as in his poetry, and only less fine than in his more fortunate
essays in fiction.

After Gunnar he was a long while in striking another note so true. He
did not strike it again till he wrote 'The Mammon of Unrighteousness',
and after that he was sometimes of a wandering and uncertain touch.
There are certain stories of his which I cannot read without a painful
sense of their inequality not only to his talent, but to his knowledge of
human nature, and of American character. He understood our character
quite as well as he understood our language, but at times he seemed not
to do so. I think these were the times when he was overworked, and ought
to have been resting instead of writing. In such fatigue one loses
command of alien words, alien situations; and in estimating Boyesen's
achievements we must never forget that he was born strange to our
language and to our life. In 'Gunnar' he handled the one with grace and
charm; in his great novel he handled both with masterly strength. I call
'The Mammon of Unrighteousness' a great novel, and I am quite willing to
say that I know few novels by born Americans that surpass it in dealing
with American types and conditions. It has the vast horizon of the
masterpieces of fictions; its meanings are not for its characters alone,
but for every reader of it; when you close the book the story is not at
an end.

I have a pang in praising it, for I remember that my praise cannot please
him any more. But it was a book worthy the powers which could have given
us yet greater things if they had not been spent on lesser things.
Boyesen could "toil terribly," but for his fame he did not always toil
wisely, though he gave himself as utterly in his unwise work as in his
best; it was always the best he could do. Several years after our first
meeting in Cambridge, he went to live in New York, a city where money
counts for more and goes for less than in any other city of the world,
and he could not resist the temptation to write more and more when he
should have written less and less. He never wrote anything that was not
worth reading, but he wrote too much for one who was giving himself with
all his conscience to his academic work in the university honored by his
gifts and his attainments, and was lecturing far and near in the
vacations which should have been days and weeks and months of leisure.
The wonder is that even such a stock of health as his could stand the
strain so long, but he had no vices, and his only excesses were in the
direction of the work which he loved so well. When a man adds to his
achievements every year, we are apt to forget the things he has already
done; and I think it well to remind the reader that Boyesen, who died at
forty-eight, had written, besides articles, reviews, and lectures
unnumbered, four volumes of scholarly criticism on German and
Scandinavian literature, a volume of literary and social essays, a
popular history of Norway, a volume of poems, twelve volumes of fiction,
and four books for boys.

Boyesen's energies were inexhaustible. He was not content to be merely a
scholar, merely an author; he wished to be an active citizen, to take his
part in honest politics, and to live for his day in things that most men
of letters shun. His experience in them helped him to know American life
better and to appreciate it more justly, both in its good and its evil;
and as a matter of fact he knew us very well. His acquaintance with us
had been wide and varied beyond that of most of our literary men, and
touched many aspects of our civilization which remain unknown to most
Americans. When be died he had been a journalist in Chicago, and a
teacher in Ohio; he had been a professor in Cornell University and a
literary free lance in New York; and everywhere his eyes and ears had
kept themselves open. As a teacher he learned to know the more fortunate
or the more ambitious of our youth, and as a lecturer his knowledge was
continually extending itself among all ages and classes of Americans.

He was through and through a Norseman, but he was none the less a very
American. Between Norsk and Yankee there is an affinity of spirit more
intimate than the ties of race. Both have the common-sense view of life;
both are unsentimental. When Boyesen told me that among the Norwegians
men never kissed each other, as the Germans, and the Frenchmen, and the
Italians do, I perceived that we stood upon common ground. When he
explained the democratic character of society in Norway, I could well
understand how he should find us a little behind his own countrymen in
the practice, if not the theory of equality, though they lived under a
king and we under a president. But he was proud of his American
citizenship; he knew all that it meant, at its best, for humanity. He
divined that the true expression of America was not civic, not social,
but domestic almost, and that the people in the simplest homes, or those
who remained in the tradition of a simple home life, were the true
Americans as yet, whatever the future Americans might be.

When I first knew him he was chafing with the impatience of youth and
ambition at what he thought his exile in the West. There was, to be
sure, a difference between Urbana, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts,
and he realized the difference in the extreme and perhaps beyond it.
I tried to make him believe that if a man had one or two friends anywhere
who loved letters and sympathized with him in his literary attempts,
it was incentive enough; but of course he wished to be in the centres of
literature, as we all do; and he never was content until he had set his
face and his foot Eastward. It was a great step for him from the
Swedenborgian school at Urbana to the young university at Ithaca; and I
remember his exultation in making it. But he could not rest there, and
in a few years he resigned his professorship, and came to New York, where
he entered high-heartedly upon the struggle with fortune which ended in
his appointment in Columbia.

New York is a mart and not a capital, in literature as well as in other
things, and doubtless he increasingly felt this. I know that there came
a time when he no longer thought the West must be exile for a literary
man; and his latest visits to its summer schools as a lecturer impressed
him with the genuineness of the interest felt there in culture of all
kinds. He spoke of this, with a due sense of what was pathetic as well
as what was grotesque in some of its manifestations; and I think that in
reconciling himself to our popular crudeness for the sake of our popular
earnestness, he completed his naturalization, in the only sense in which
our citizenship is worth having.

I do not wish to imply that he forgot his native land, or ceased to love
it proudly and tenderly. He kept for Norway the fondness which the man
sitting at his own hearth feels for the home of his boyhood. He was of
good family; his people were people of substance and condition, and he
could have had an easier life there than here. He could have won even
wider fame, and doubtless if he had remained in Norway, he would have
been one of that group of great Norwegians who have given their little
land renown surpassed by that of no other in the modern republic of
letters. The name of Boyesen would have been set with the names of
Bjornson, of Ibsen, of Kielland, and of Lie. But when once he had seen
America (at the wish of his father, who had visited the United States
before him), he thought only of becoming an American. When I first knew
him he was full of the poetry of his mother-land; his talk was of fjords
and glaciers, of firs and birches, of hulders and nixies, of housemen and
gaardsmen; but he was glad to be here, and I think he never regretted
that he had cast his lot with us. Always, of course, he had the deepest
interest in his country and countrymen. He stood the friend of every
Norwegian who came to him in want or trouble, and they, came to him
freely and frequently. He sympathized strongly with Norway in her
quarrel with Sweden, and her wish for equality as well as autonomy; and
though he did not go all lengths with the national party, he was decided
in his feeling that Sweden was unjust to her sister kingdom, and
strenuous for the principles of the Norwegian leaders.

But, as I have said, poetry, was what his ardent spirit mainly meditated
in that hour when I first knew him in Cambridge, before we had either of
us grown old and sad, if not wise. He overflowed with it, and he talked
as little as he dreamed of anything else in the vast half-summer we spent
together. He was constantly at my house, where in an absence of my
family I was living bachelor, and where we sat indoors and talked, or
sauntered outdoors and talked, with our heads in a cloud of fancies, not
unmixed with the mosquitoes of Cambridge: if I could have back the
fancies, I would be willing to have the mosquitoes with them. He looked
the poetry he lived: his eyes were the blue of sunlit fjords; his brown
silken hair was thick on the crown which it later abandoned to a
scholarly baldness; his soft, red lips half hid a boyish pout in the
youthful beard and mustache. He was short of stature, but of a stalwart
breadth of frame, and his voice was of a peculiar and endearing quality,
indescribably mellow and tender when he read his verse.

I have hardly the right to dwell so long upon him here, for he was only a
sojourner in Cambridge, but the memory of that early intimacy is too much
for my sense of proportion. As I have hinted, our intimacy was renewed
afterwards, when I too came to live in New York, where as long as he was
in this 'dolce lome', he hardly let a week go by without passing a long
evening with me. Our talk was still of literature and life, but more of
life than of literature, and we seldom spoke of those old times. I still
found him true to the ideals which had clarified themselves to both of us
as the duty of unswerving fealty to the real thing in whatever we did.
This we felt, as we had felt it long before, to be the sole source of
beauty and of art, and we warmed ourselves at each other's hearts in our
devotion to it, amidst a misunderstanding environment which we did not
characterize by so mild an epithet. Boyesen, indeed, out-realisted me,
in the polemics of our aesthetics, and sometimes when an unbeliever was
by, I willingly left to my friend the affirmation of our faith, not
without some quaking at his unsparing strenuousness in disciplining the
heretic. But now that ardent and active soul is Elsewhere, and I have
ceased even to expect the ring, which, making itself heard at the late
hour of his coming, I knew always to be his and not another's. That
mechanical expectation of those who will come no more is something
terrible, but when even that ceases, we know the irreparability of our
loss, and begin to realize how much of ourselves they have taken with


It was some years before the Boyesen summer, which was the fourth or
fifth of our life in Cambridge, that I made the acquaintance of a man,
very much my senior, who remains one of the vividest personalities in my
recollection. I speak of him in this order perhaps because of an obscure
association with Boyesen through their religious faith, which was also
mine. But Henry James was incommensurably more Swedenborgian than either
of us: he lived and thought and felt Swedenborg with an entirety and
intensity far beyond the mere assent of other men. He did not do this in
any stupidly exclusive way, but in the most luminously inclusive way,
with a constant reference of these vain mundane shadows to the spiritual
realities from which they project. His piety, which sometimes expressed
itself in terms of alarming originality and freedom, was too large for
any ecclesiastical limits, and one may learn from the books which record
it, how absolutely individual his interpretations of Swedenborg were.
Clarifications they cannot be called, and in that other world whose
substantial verity was the inspiration of his life here, the two sages
may by this time have met and agreed to differ as to some points in the
doctrine of the Seer. In such a case, I cannot imagine the apostle
giving way; and I do not say he would be wrong to insist, but I think he
might now be willing to allow that the exegetic pages which sentence by
sentence were so brilliantly suggestive, had sometimes a collective
opacity which the most resolute vision could not penetrate. He put into
this dark wisdom the most brilliant intelligence ever brought to the
service of his mystical faith; he lighted it up with flashes of the
keenest wit and bathed it in the glow of a lambent humor, so that it is
truly wonderful to me how it should remain so unintelligible. But I have
only tried to read certain of his books, and perhaps if I had persisted
in the effort I might have found them all as clear at last as the one
which seems to me the clearest, and is certainly most encouragingly
suggestive: I mean the one called 'Society the Redeemed Form of Man.'

He had his whole being in his belief; it had not only liberated him from
the bonds of the Calvinistic theology in which his youth was trammelled,
but it had secured him against the conscious ethicism of the prevailing
Unitarian doctrine which supremely worshipped Conduct; and it had colored
his vocabulary to such strange effects that he spoke of moral men with
abhorrence; as more hopelessly lost than sinners. Any one whose sphere
tempted him to recognition of the foibles of others, he called the Devil;
but in spite of his perception of such diabolism, he was rather fond of
yielding to it, for he had a most trenchant tongue. I myself once fell
under his condemnation as the Devil, by having too plainly shared his joy
in his characterization of certain fellow-men; perhaps a group of
Bostonians from whom he had just parted and whose reciprocal pleasure of
themselves he presented in the image of "simmering in their own fat and
putting a nice brown on each other."

Swedenborg himself he did not spare as a man. He thought that very
likely his life had those lapses in it which some of his followers deny;
and he regarded him on the aesthetical side as essentially commonplace,
and as probably chosen for his prophetic function just because of his
imaginative nullity: his tremendous revelations could be the more
distinctly and unmistakably inscribed upon an intelligence of that sort,
which alone could render again a strictly literal report of them.

As to some other sorts of believers who thought they had a special
apprehension of the truth, he, had no mercy upon them if they betrayed,
however innocently, any self-complacency in their possession. I went one
evening to call upon him with a dear old Shaker elder, who had the
misfortune to say that his people believed themselves to be living the
angelic life. James fastened upon him with the suggestion that according
to Swedenborg the most celestial angels were unconscious of their own
perfection, and that if the Shakers felt they were of angelic condition
they were probably the sport of the hells. I was very glad to get my
poor old friend off alive, and to find that he was not even aware of
being cut asunder: I did not invite him to shake himself.

With spiritualists James had little or no sympathy; he was not so
impatient of them as the Swedenborgians commonly are, and he probably


Back to Full Books