Of Literature (Entire)
William Dean Howells

Part 5 out of 15

acknowledged a measure of verity in the spiritistic phenomena; but he
seemed rather incurious concerning them, and he must have regarded them
as superfluities of naughtiness, mostly; as emanations from the hells.
His powerful and penetrating intellect interested itself with all social
and civil facts through his religion. He was essentially religious, but
he was very consciously a citizen, with most decided opinions upon
political questions. My own darkness as to anything like social reform
was then so dense that I cannot now be clear as to his feeling in such
matters, but I have the impression that it was far more radical than I
could understand. He was of a very merciful mind regarding things often
held in pitiless condemnation, but of charity, as it is commonly
understood, he had misgivings. He would never have turned away from him
that asketh; but he spoke with regret of some of his benefactions in the
past, large gifts of money to individuals, which he now thought had done
more harm than good.

I never knew him to judge men by the society scale. He was most human in
his relations with others, and was in correspondence with all sorts of
people seeking light and help; he answered their letters and tried to
instruct them, and no one was so low or weak but he or she could reach
him on his or her own level, though he had his humorous perception of
their foibles and disabilities; and he had that keen sense of the
grotesque which often goes with the kindliest nature. He told of his
dining, early in life, next a fellow-man from Cape Cod at the Astor
House, where such a man could seldom have found himself. When they were
served with meat this neighbor asked if he would mind his putting his fat
on James's plate: he disliked fat. James said that he considered the
request, and seeing no good reason against it, consented.

He could be cruel with his tongue when he fancied insincerity or
pretence, and then cruelly sorry for the hurt he gave. He was indeed
tremulously sensitive, not only for himself but for others, and would
offer atonement far beyond the measure of the offence he supposed himself
to have given.

At all times he thought originally in words of delightful originality,
which painted a fact with the greatest vividness. Of a person who had a
nervous twitching of the face, and who wished to call up a friend to
them, he said, "He spasmed to the fellow across the room, and introduced
him." His written style had traits of the same bold adventurousness,
but it was his speech which was most captivating. As I write of him I
see him before me: his white bearded face, with a kindly intensity which
at first glance seemed fierce, the mouth humorously shaping the mustache,
the eyes vague behind the glasses; his sensitive hand gripping the stick
on which he rested his weight to ease it from the artificial limb he


The Goethean face and figure of Louis Agassiz were in those days to be
seen in the shady walks of Cambridge to which for me they lent a
Weimarish quality, in the degree that in Weimar itself a few years ago,
I felt a quality of Cambridge. Agassiz, of course, was Swiss and Latin,
and not Teutonic, but he was of the Continental European civilization,
and was widely different from the other Cambridge men in everything but
love of the place. "He is always an Europaen," said Lowell one day, in
distinguishing concerning him; and for any one who had tasted the flavor
of the life beyond the ocean and the channel, this had its charm. Yet he
was extremely fond of his adoptive compatriots, and no alien born had a
truer or tenderer sense of New England character. I have an idea that no
one else of his day could have got so much money for science out of the
General Court of Massachusetts; and I have heard him speak with the
wisest and warmest appreciation of the hard material from which he was
able to extract this treasure. The legislators who voted appropriations
for his Museum and his other scientific objects were not usually lawyers
or professional men, with the perspectives of a liberal education, but
were hard-fisted farmers, who had a grip of the State's money as if it
were their own, and yet gave it with intelligent munificence. They
understood that he did not want it for himself, and had no interested aim
in getting it; they knew that, as he once said, he had no time to make
money, and wished to use it solely for the advancement of learning; and
with this understanding they were ready, to help him generously.
He compared their liberality with that of kings and princes, when these
patronized science, with a recognition of the superior plebeian
generosity. It was on the veranda of his summer house at Nahant, while
he lay in the hammock, talking of this, that I heard him refer also to
the offer which Napoleon III. had made him, inviting him upon certain
splendid conditions to come to Paris after he had established himself in
Cambridge. He said that he had not come to America without going over
every such possibility in his own mind, and deciding beforehand against
it. He was a republican, by nationality and by preference, and was
entirely satisfied with his position and environment in New England.

Outside of his scientific circle in Cambridge he was more friends with
Longfellow than with any one else, I believe, and Longfellow told me how,
after the doctors had condemned Agassiz to inaction, on account of his
failing health he had broken down in his friend's study, and wept like an
'Europaer', and lamented, "I shall never finish my work!" Some papers
which he had begun to write for the Magazine, in contravention of the
Darwinian theory, or part of it, which it is known Agassiz did not
accept, remained part of the work which he never finished. After his
death, I wished Professor Jeffries Wyman to write of him in the Atlantic,
but he excused himself on account of his many labors, and then he
voluntarily spoke of Agassiz's methods, which he agreed with rather than
his theories, being himself thoroughly Darwinian. I think he said
Agassiz was the first to imagine establishing a fact not from a single
example, but from examples indefinitely repeated. If it was a question
of something about robins for instance, he would have a hundred robins
examined before he would receive an appearance as a fact.

Of course no preconception or prepossession of his own was suffered to
bar his way to the final truth he was seeking, and he joyously renounced
even a conclusion if he found it mistaken. I do not know whether Mrs.
Agassiz has put into her interesting life of him, a delightful story
which she told me about him. He came to her beaming one day, and
demanded, "You know I have always held such and such an opinion about a
certain group of fossil fishes?" "Yes, yes!" "Well, I have just been
reading ------'s new book, and he has shown me that there isn't the least
truth in my theory"; and he burst into a laugh of unalloyed pleasure in
relinquishing his error.

I could touch science at Cambridge only on its literary and social side,
of course, and my meetings with Agassiz were not many. I recall a dinner
at his house to Mr. Bret Harte, when the poet came on from California,
and Agassiz approached him over the coffee through their mutual
scientific interest in the last meeting of the geological "Society upon
the Stanislow." He quoted to the author some passages from the poem
recording the final proceedings of this body, which had particularly
pleased him, and I think Mr. Harte was as much amused at finding himself
thus in touch with the savant, as Agassiz could ever have been with that
delicious poem.

Agassiz lived at one end of Quincy Street, and James almost at the other
end, with an interval between them which but poorly typified their
difference of temperament. The one was all philosophical and the other
all scientific, and yet towards the close of his life, Agassiz may be
said to have led that movement towards the new position of science in
matters of mystery which is now characteristic of it. He was ancestrally
of the Swiss "Brahminical caste," as so many of his friends in Cambridge
were of the Brahminical caste of New England; and perhaps it was the line
of ancestral pasteurs which at last drew him back, or on, to the
affirmation of an unformulated faith of his own. At any rate, before
most other savants would say that they had souls of their own he became,
by opening a summer school of science with prayer, nearly as consolatory
to the unscientific who wished to believe they had souls, as Mr. John
Fiske himself, though Mr. Fiske, as the arch-apostle of Darwinism, had
arrived at nearly the same point by such a very different road.

Mr. Fiske had been our neighbor in our first Cambridge home, and when we
went to live in Berkeley Street, he followed with his family and placed
himself across the way in a house which I already knew as the home of
Richard Henry Dana, the author of 'Two Years Before the Mast.' Like
nearly all the other Cambridge men of my acquaintance Dana was very much
my senior, and like the rest he welcomed my literary promise as cordially
as if it were performance, with no suggestion of the condescension which
was said to be his attitude towards many of his fellow-men. I never saw
anything of this, in fact, and I suppose he may have been a blend of
those patrician qualities and democratic principles which made Lowell
anomalous even to himself. He is part of the anti-slavery history of his
time, and he gave to the oppressed his strenuous help both as a man and a
politician; his gifts and learning in the law were freely at their
service. He never lost his interest in those white slaves, whose brutal
bondage he remembered as bound with them in his 'Two Years Before the
Mast,' and any luckless seaman with a case or cause might count upon his
friendship as surely as the black slaves of the South. He was able to
temper his indignation for their oppression with a humorous perception of
what was droll in its agents and circumstances; and I wish I could recall
all that he said once about sea-etiquette on merchant vessels, where the
chief mate might no more speak to the captain at table without being
addressed by him than a subject might put a question to his sovereign.
He was amusing in his stories of the Pacific trade in which he said it
was very noble to deal in furs from the Northwest, and very ignoble to
deal in hides along the Mexican and South American coasts. Every ship's
master wished naturally to be in the fur-carrying trade, and in one of
Dana's instances, two vessels encounter in mid-ocean, and exchange the
usual parley as to their respective ports of departure and destination.
The final demand comes through the trumpet, "What cargo?" and the captain
so challenged yields to temptation and roars back "Furs!" A moment of
hesitation elapses, and then the questioner pursues, "Here and there a

There were other distinctions, of which seafaring men of other days were
keenly sensible, and Dana dramatized the meeting of a great, swelling
East Indiaman, with a little Atlantic trader, which has hailed her. She
shouts back through her captain's trumpet that she is from Calcutta, and
laden with silks, spices, and other orient treasures, and in her turn she
requires like answer from the sail which has presumed to enter into
parley with her. "What cargo?" The trader confesses to a mixed cargo for
Boston, and to the final question, her master replies in meek apology,
"Only from Liverpool, sir!" and scuttles down the horizon as swiftly as

Dana was not of the Cambridge men whose calling was in Cambridge. He was
a lawyer in active practice, and he went every day to Boston. One was
apt to meet him in those horse-cars which formerly tinkled back and forth
between the two cities, and which were often so full of one's
acquaintance that they had all the social elements of an afternoon tea.
They were abusively overcrowded at times, of course, and one might easily
see a prime literary celebrity swaying from, a strap, or hanging uneasily
by the hand-rail to the lower steps of the back platform. I do not mean
that I ever happened to see the author of Two Years Before the Mast in
either fact, but in his celebrity he had every qualification for the
illustration of my point. His book probably carried the American name
farther and wider than any American books except those of Irving and
Cooper at a day when our writers were very little known, and our
literature was the only infant industry not fostered against foreign
ravage, but expressly left to harden and strengthen itself as it best
might in a heartless neglect even at home. The book was delightful, and
I remember it from a reading of thirty years ago, as of the stuff that
classics are made of. I venture no conjecture as to its present
popularity, but of all books relating to the sea I think it, is the best.
The author when I knew him was still Richard Henry Dana, Jr., his father,
the aged poet, who first established the name in the public recognition,
being alive, though past literary activity. It was distinctively a
literary race, and in the actual generation it has given proofs of its
continued literary vitality in the romance of 'Espiritu Santo' by the
youngest daughter of the Dana I knew.


There could be no stronger contrast to him in origin, education, and
character than a man who lived at the same time in Cambridge, and who
produced a book which in its final fidelity to life is not unworthy to be
named with 'Two Years Before the Mast.' Ralph Keeler wrote the 'Vagabond
Adventures' which he had lived. I have it on my heart to name him in the
presence of our great literary men not only because I had an affection
for him, tenderer than I then knew, but because I believe his book is
worthier of more remembrance than it seems to enjoy. I was reading it
only the other day, and I found it delightful, and much better than I
imagined when I accepted for the Atlantic the several papers which it is
made up of. I am not sure but it belongs to the great literature in that
fidelity to life which I have spoken of, and which the author brought
himself to practise with such difficulty, and under so much stress from
his editor. He really wanted to fake it at times, but he was docile at
last and did it so honestly that it tells the history of his strange
career in much better terms than it can be given again. He had been, as
he claimed, "a cruel uncle's ward" in his early orphan-hood, and while
yet almost a child he had run away from home, to fulfil his heart's
desire of becoming a clog-dancer in a troupe of negro minstrels. But it
was first his fate to be cabin-boy and bootblack on a lake steamboat,
and meet with many squalid adventures, scarcely to be matched outside of
a Spanish picaresque novel. When he did become a dancer (and even a
danseuse) of the sort he aspired to be, the fruition of his hopes was so
little what he imagined that he was very willing to leave the Floating
Palace on the Mississippi in which his troupe voyaged and exhibited, and
enter the college of the Jesuit Fathers at Cape Girardeau in Missouri.
They were very good to him, and in their charge he picked up a good deal
more Latin, if not less Greek than another strolling player who also took
to literature. From college Keeler went to Europe, and then to
California, whence he wrote me that he was coming on to Boston with the
manuscript of a novel which he wished me to read for the magazine. I
reported against it to my chief, but nothing could shake Keeler's faith
in it, until he had printed it at his own cost, and known it fail
instantly and decisively. He had come to Cambridge to see it through the
press, and he remained there four or five years, with certain brief
absences. Then, during the Cuban insurrection of the early seventies, he
accepted the invitation of a New York paper to go to Cuba as its

"Don't go, Keeler," I entreated him, when he came to tell me of his
intention. "They'll garrote you down there."

"Well," he said, with the air of being pleasantly interested by the
coincidence, as he stood on my study hearth with his feet wide apart in
a fashion he had, and gayly flirted his hand in the air, "that's what
Aldrich says, and he's agreed to write my biography, on condition that
I make a last dying speech when they bring me out on the plaza to do it,
'If I had taken the advice of my friend T. B. Aldrich, author of
'Marjorie Daw and Other People,' I should not now be in this place.'"

He went, and he did not come back. He was not indeed garroted as his
friends had promised, but he was probably assassinated on the steamer by
which he sailed from Santiago, for he never arrived in Havana, and was
never heard of again.

I now realize that I loved him, though I did as little to show it as men
commonly do. If I am to meet somewhere else the friends who are no
longer here, I should like to meet Ralph Keeler, and I would take some
chances of meeting in a happy place a soul which had by no means kept
itself unspotted, but which in all its consciousness of error, cheerfully
trusted that "the Almighty was not going to scoop any of us." The faith
worded so grotesquely could not have been more simply or humbly affirmed,
and no man I think could have been more helplessly sincere. He had
nothing of that false self-respect which forbids a man to own himself
wrong promptly and utterly when need is; and in fact he owned to some
things in his checkered past which would hardly allow him any sort of
self-respect. He had always an essential gaiety not to be damped by any
discipline, and a docility which expressed itself in cheerful compliance.
"Why do you use bias for opinion?" I demanded, in going over a proof with
him. "Oh, because I'm such an ass--such a bi-ass."

He had a philosophy which he liked to impress with a vivid touch on his
listener's shoulder: "Put your finger on the present moment and enjoy it.
It's the only one you've got, or ever will have." This light and joyous
creature could not but be a Pariah among our Brahmins, and I need not say
that I never met him in any of the great Cambridge houses. I am not sure
that he was a persona grata to every one in my own, for Keeler was framed
rather for men's liking, and Mr. Aldrich and I had our subtleties as to
whether his mind about women was not so Chinese as somewhat to infect his
manner. Keeler was too really modest to be of any rebellious mind
towards the society which ignored him, and of too sweet a cheerfulness to
be greatly vexed by it. He lived on in the house of a suave old actor,
who oddly made his home in Cambridge, and he continued of a harmless
Bohemianism in his daily walk, which included lunches at Boston
restaurants as often as he could get you to let him give them you, if you
were of his acquaintance. On a Sunday he would appear coming out of the
post-office usually at the hour when all cultivated Cambridge was coming
for its letters, and wave a glad hand in air, and shout a blithe
salutation to the friend he had marked for his companion in a morning
stroll. The stroll was commonly over the flats towards Brighton (I do
not know why, except perhaps that it was out of the beat of the better
element) and the talk was mainly of literature, in which he was doing
less than he meant to do, and which he seemed never able quite to feel
was not a branch of the Show Business, and might not be legitimately
worked by like advertising, though he truly loved and honored it.

I suppose it was not altogether a happy life, and Keeler had his moments
of amusing depression, which showed their shadows in his smiling face.
He was of a slight figure and low stature, with hands and feet of almost
womanish littleness. He was very blonde, and his restless eyes were
blue; he wore his yellow beard in whiskers only, which he pulled
nervously but perhaps did not get to droop so much as he wished.


Keeler was a native of Ohio, and there lived at Cambridge when I first
came there an Indianian, more accepted by literary society, who was of
real quality as a poet. Forceythe Willson, whose poem of "The Old
Sergeant" Doctor Holmes used to read publicly in the closing year of the
civil war, was of a Western altitude of figure, and of an extraordinary
beauty of face in an oriental sort. He had large, dark eyes with clouded
whites; his full, silken beard was of a flashing Persian blackness.
He was excessively nervous, to such an extreme that when I first met him
at Longfellow's, he could not hold himself still in his chair. I think
this was an effect of shyness in him, as well as physical, for afterwards
when I went to find him in his own house he was much more at ease.

He preferred to receive me in the dim, large hall after opening his door
to me himself, and we sat down there and talked, I remember, of
supernatural things. He was much interested in spiritualism, and he had
several stories to tell of his own experience in such matters. But none
was so good as one which I had at second hand from Lowell, who thought it
almost the best ghost story he had ever heard. The spirit of Willson's
father appeared to him, and stood before him. Willson was accustomed to
apparitions, and so he said simply, "Won't you sit down, father?" The
phantom put out his hand to lay hold of a chair-back as some people do in
taking a seat, and his shadowy arm passed through the frame-work.
"Ah!" he said, "I forgot that I was not substance."

I do not know whether "The Old Sergeant" is ever read now; it has
probably passed with other great memories of the great war; and I am
afraid none of Willson's other verse is remembered. But he was then a
distinct literary figure, and not to be left out of the count of our
poets. I did not see him again. Shortly afterwards I heard that he had
left Cambridge with signs of consumption, which must have run a rapid
course, for a very little later came the news of his death.


The most devoted Cantabrigian, after Lowell, whom I knew, would perhaps
have contended that if he had stayed with us Willson might have lived;
for John Holmes affirmed a faith in the virtues of the place which
ascribed almost an aseptic character to its air, and when he once
listened to my own complaints of an obstinate cold, he cheered himself,
if not me, with the declaration, "Well, one thing, Mr. Howells, Cambridge
never let a man keep a cold yet!"

If he had said it was better to live in Cambridge with a cold than
elsewhere without one I should have believed him; as it was, Cambridge
bore him out in his assertion, though she took her own time to do it.

Lowell had talked to me of him before I met him, celebrating his peculiar
humor with that affection which was not always so discriminating, and
Holmes was one of the first Cambridge men I knew. I knew him first in
the charming old Colonial house in which his famous brother and he were
born. It was demolished long before I left Cambridge, but in memory it
still stands on the ground since occupied by the Hemenway Gymnasium, and
shows for me through that bulk a phantom frame of Continental buff in the
shadow of elms that are shadows themselves. The 'genius loci' was
limping about the pleasant mansion with the rheumatism which then
expressed itself to his friends in a resolute smile, but which now
insists upon being an essential trait of the full-length presence to my
mind: a short stout figure, helped out with a cane, and a grizzled head
with features formed to win the heart rather than the eye of the

In one of his own eyes there was a cast of such winning humor and
geniality that it took the liking more than any beauty could have done,
and the sweetest, shy laugh in the world went with this cast.

I long wished to get him to write something for the Magazine, and at last
I prevailed with him to review a history of Cambridge which had come out.

He did it charmingly of course, for he loved more to speak of Cambridge
than anything else. He held his native town in an idolatry which was not
blind, but which was none the less devoted because he was aware of her
droll points and her weak points. He always celebrated these as so many
virtues, and I think it was my own passion for her that first commended
me to him. I was not her son, but he felt that this was my misfortune
more than my fault, and he seemed more and more to forgive it. After we
had got upon the terms of editor and contributor, we met oftener than
before, though I do not now remember that I ever persuaded him to write
again for me. Once he gave me something, and then took it back, with a
self-distrust of it which I could not overcome.

When the Holmes house was taken down, he went to live with an old
domestic in a small house on the street amusingly called Appian Way. He
had certain rooms of her, and his own table, but he would not allow that
he was ever anything but a lodger in the place, where he continued till
he died. In the process of time he came so far to trust his experience
of me, that he formed the habit of giving me an annual supper. Some days
before this event, he would appear in my study, and with divers delicate
and tentative approaches, nearly always of the same tenor, he would say
that he should like to ask my family to an oyster supper with him. "But
you know," he would explain, "I haven't a house of my own to ask you to,
and I should like to give you the supper here." When I had agreed to
this suggestion with due gravity, he would inquire our engagements, and
then say, as if a great load were off his mind, "Well, then, I will send
up a few oysters to-morrow," or whatever day we had fixed on; and after a
little more talk to take the strangeness out of the affair, would go his
way. On the day appointed the fish-man would come with several gallons
of oysters, which he reported Mr. Holmes had asked him to bring, and in
the evening the giver of the feast would reappear, with a lank oil-cloth
bag, sagged by some bottles of wine. There was always a bottle of red
wine, and sometimes a bottle of champagne, and he had taken the
precaution to send some crackers beforehand, so that the supper should be
as entirely of his own giving as possible. He was forced to let us do
the cooking and to supply the cold-slaw, and perhaps he indemnified
himself for putting us to these charges and for the use of our linen and
silver, by the vast superfluity of his oysters, with which we remained
inundated for days. He did not care to eat many himself, but seemed
content to fancy doing us a pleasure; and I have known few greater ones
in life, than in the hospitality that so oddly played the host to us at
our own table.

It must have seemed incomprehensible to such a Cantabrigian that we
should ever have been willing to leave Cambridge, and in fact I do not
well understand it myself. But if he resented it, he never showed his
resentment. As often as I happened to meet him after our defection he
used me with unabated kindness, and sparkled into some gaiety too
ethereal for remembrance. The last time I met him was at Lowell's
funeral, when I drove home with him and Curtis and Child, and in the
revulsion from the stress of that saddest event, had our laugh, as people
do in the presence of death, at something droll we remembered of the
friend we mourned.

My nearest literary neighbor, when we lived in Sacramento Street, was the
Rev. Dr. John G. Palfrey, the historian of New England, whose chimney-
tops amid the pine-tops I could see from my study window when the leaves
were off the little grove of oaks between us. He was one of the first of
my acquaintances, not suffering the great disparity of our ages to count
against me, but tactfully and sweetly adjusting himself to my youth in
the friendly intercourse which he invited. He was a most gentle and
kindly old man, with still an interest in liberal things which lasted
till the infirmities of age secluded him from the world and all its
interests. As is known, he had been in his prime one of the foremost of
the New England anti-slavery men, and he had fought the good fight with a
heavy heart for a brother long settled in Louisiana who sided with the
South, and who after the civil war found himself disfranchised. In this
temporary disability he came North to visit Doctor Palfrey upon the
doctor's insistence, though at first he would have nothing to do with
him, and refused even to answer his letters. "Of course," the doctor
said, "I was not going to stand that from my mother's son, and I simply
kept on writing." So he prevailed, but the fiery old gentleman from
Louisiana was reconciled to nothing in the North but his brother, and
when he came to return my visit, he quickly touched upon his cause of
quarrel with us. "I can't vote," he declared, "but my coachman can, and
I don't know how I'm to get the suffrage, unless my physician paints me
all over with the iodine he's using for my rheumatic side."

Doctor Palfrey was most distinctly of the Brahminical caste and was long
an eminent Unitarian minister, but at the time I began to know him he had
long quitted the pulpit. He was so far of civic or public character as
to be postmaster at Boston, when we were first neighbors, but this
officiality was probably so little in keeping with his nature that it was
like a return to his truer self when he ceased to hold the place, and
gave his time altogether to his history. It is a work which will hardly
be superseded in the interest of those who value thorough research and
temperate expression. It is very just, and without endeavor for picture
or drama it is to me very attractive. Much that has to be recorded of
New England lacks charm, but he gave form and dignity and presence to the
memories of the past, and the finer moments of that great story, he gave
with the simplicity that was their best setting. It seems to me such an
apology (in the old sense) as New England might have written for herself,
and in fact Doctor Palfrey was a personification of New England in one of
the best and truest kinds. He was refined in the essential gentleness of
his heart without being refined away; he kept the faith of her Puritan
tradition though he no longer kept the Puritan faith, and his defence of
the Puritan severity with the witches and Quakers was as impartial as it
was efficient in positing the Puritans as of their time, and rather
better and not worse than other people of the same time. He was himself
a most tolerant man, and his tolerance was never weak or fond; it stopped
well short of condoning error, which he condemned when he preferred to
leave it to its own punishment. Personally he was without any flavor of
harshness; his mind was as gentle as his manner, which was one of the
gentlest I have ever known.

Of as gentle make but of more pensive temper, with unexpected bursts of
lyrical gaiety, was Christopher Pearse Cranch, the poet, whom I had known
in New York long before he came to live in Cambridge. He could not only
play and sing most amusing songs, but he wrote very good poems and
painted pictures perhaps not so good. I always liked his Venetian
pictures, for their poetic, unsentimentalized veracity, and I printed as
well as liked many of his poems. During the time that I knew him more
than his due share of troubles and sorrows accumulated themselves on his
fine head, which the years had whitened, and gave a droop to the
beautiful, white-bearded face. But he had the artist soul and the poet
heart, and no doubt he could take refuge in these from the cares that
shadowed his visage. My acquaintance with him in Cambridge renewed
itself upon the very terms of its beginning in New York. We met at
Longfellow's table, where he lifted up his voice in the Yankee folk-song,
"On Springfield Mountain there did dwell," which he gave with a perfectly
killing mock-gravity.


At Cambridge the best society was better, it seems to me, than even that
of the neighboring capital. It would be rather hard to prove this, and I
must ask the reader to take my word for it, if he wishes to believe it.
The great interests in that pleasant world, which I think does not
present itself to my memory in a false iridiscence, were the intellectual
interests, and all other interests were lost in these to such as did not
seek them too insistently.

People held themselves high; they held themselves personally aloof from
people not duly assayed; their civilization was still Puritan though
their belief had long ceased to be so. They had weights and measure,
stamped in an earlier time, a time surer of itself than ours, by which
they rated the merit of all comers, and rejected such as did not bear the
test. These standards were their own, and they were satisfied with them;
most Americans have no standards of their own, but these are not
satisfied even with other people's, and so our society is in a state of
tolerant and tremulous misgiving.

Family counted in Cambridge, without doubt, as it counts in New England
everywhere, but family alone did not mean position, and the want of
family did not mean the want of it. Money still less than family
commanded; one could be openly poor in Cambridge without open shame, or
shame at all, for no one was very rich there, and no one was proud of his

I do not wonder that Turguenieff thought the conditions ideal, as Boyesen
portrayed them to him; and I look back at my own life there with wonder
at my good fortune. I was sensible, and I still am sensible this had its
alloys. I was young and unknown and was making my way, and I had to
suffer some of the penalties of these disadvantages; but I do not believe
that anywhere else in this ill-contrived economy, where it is vainly
imagined that the material struggle forms a high incentive and
inspiration, would my penalties have been so light. On the other hand,
the good that was done me I could never repay if I lived all over again
for others the life that I have so long lived for myself. At times, when
I had experienced from those elect spirits with whom I was associated,
some act of friendship, as signal as it was delicate, I used to ask
myself, how I could ever do anything unhandsome or ungenerous towards any
one again; and I had a bad conscience the next time I did it.

The air of the Cambridge that I knew was sufficiently cool to be bracing,
but what was of good import in me flourished in it. The life of the
place had its lateral limitations; sometimes its lights failed to detect
excellent things that lay beyond it; but upward it opened illimitably.
I speak of it frankly because that life as I witnessed it is now almost
wholly of the past. Cambridge is still the home of much that is good and
fine in our literature: one realizes this if one names Colonel Thomas
Wentworth Higginson, Mr. John Fiske, Mr. William James, Mr. Horace E.
Scudder, not to name any others, but the first had not yet come back to
live in his birthplace at the time I have been writing of, and the rest
had not yet their actual prominence. One, in deed among so many absent,
is still present there, whom from time to time I have hitherto named
without offering him the recognition which I should have known an
infringement of his preferences. But the literary Cambridge of thirty
years ago could not be clearly imagined or justly estimated without
taking into account the creative sympathy of a man whose contributions to
our literature only partially represent what he has constantly done for
the humanities. I am sure that, after the easy heroes of the day are
long forgot, and the noisy fames of the strenuous life shall dwindle to
their essential insignificance before those of the gentle life, we shall
all see in Charles Eliot Norton the eminent scholar who left the quiet of
his books to become our chief citizen at the moment when he warned his
countrymen of the ignominy and disaster of doing wrong.


Collective opacity
Expectation of those who will come no more
Felt that this was my misfortune more than my fault
Found life was not all poetry
He had no time to make money
Intellectual poseurs
No time to make money
NYC, a city where money counts for more and goes for less
One could be openly poor in Cambridge without open shame
Put your finger on the present moment and enjoy it
Standards were their own, and they were satisfied with them
Wonderful to me how it should remain so unintelligible


by William Dean Howells


It is doubtful whether the survivor of any order of things finds
compensation in the privilege, however undisputed by his contemporaries,
of recording his memories of it. This is, in the first two or three
instances, a pleasure. It is sweet to sit down, in the shade or by the
fire, and recall names, looks, and tones from the past; and if the
Absences thus entreated to become Presences are those of famous people,
they lend to the fond historian a little of their lustre, in which he
basks for the time with an agreeable sense of celebrity. But another
time comes, and comes very soon, when the pensive pleasure changes to the
pain of duty, and the precious privilege converts itself into a grievous
obligation. You are unable to choose your company among those immortal
shades; if one, why not another, where all seem to have a right to such
gleams of this 'dolce lome' as your reminiscences can shed upon them?
Then they gather so rapidly, as the years pass, in these pale realms,
that one, if one continues to survive, is in danger of wearing out such
welcome, great or small, as met ones recollections in the first two or
three instances, if one does one's duty by each. People begin to say,
and not without reason, in a world so hurried and wearied as this: "Ah,
here he is again with his recollections!" Well, but if the recollections
by some magical good-fortune chance to concern such a contemporary of his
as, say, Bret Harte, shall not he be partially justified, or at least


My recollections of Bret Harte begin with the arrest, on the Atlantic
shore, of that progress of his from the Pacific Slope, which, in the
simple days of 1871, was like the progress of a prince, in the universal
attention and interest which met and followed it. He was indeed a
prince, a fairy prince in whom every lover of his novel and enchanting
art felt a patriotic property, for his promise and performance in those
earliest tales of 'The Luck of Roaring Camp', and 'Tennessee's Partner',
and 'Maggles', and 'The Outcasts of Poker Flat', were the earnests of an
American literature to come. If it is still to come, in great measure,
that is not Harte's fault, for he kept on writing those stories, in one
form or another, as long as he lived. He wrote them first and last in
the spirit of Dickens, which no man of his time could quite help doing,
but he wrote them from the life of Bret Harte, on the soil and in the air
of the newest kind of new world, and their freshness took the soul of his
fellow-countrymen not only with joy, but with pride such as the
Europeans, who adored him much longer, could never know in him.

When the adventurous young editor who had proposed being his host for
Cambridge and the Boston neighborhood, while Harte was still in San
Francisco, and had not yet begun his princely progress eastward, read of
the honors that attended his coming from point to point, his courage
fell, as if he had perhaps, committed himself in too great an enterprise.
Who was he, indeed, that he should think of making this

"Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,"

his guest, especially when he heard that in Chicago Harte failed of
attending a banquet of honor because the givers of it had not sent a
carriage to fetch him to it, as the alleged use was in San Francisco?
Whether true or not, and it was probably not true in just that form,
it must have been this rumor which determined his host to drive into
Boston for him with the handsomest hack which the livery of Cambridge
afforded, and not trust to the horse-car and the local expressman to get
him and his baggage out, as he would have done with a less portentous
guest. However it was, he instantly lost all fear when they met at the
station, and Harte pressed forward with his cordial hand-clasp, as if he
were not even a fairy prince, and with that voice and laugh which were
surely the most winning in the world. He was then, as always, a child of
extreme fashion as to his clothes and the cut of his beard, which he wore
in a mustache and the drooping side-whiskers of the day, and his jovial
physiognomy was as winning as his voice, with its straight nose and
fascinating thrust of the under lip, its fine eyes, and good forehead,
then thickly crowned with the black hair which grew early white, while
his mustache remained dark the most enviable and consoling effect
possible in the universal mortal necessity of either aging or dying.
He was, as one could not help seeing, thickly pitted, but after the first
glance one forgot this, so that a lady who met him for the first time
could say to him, "Mr. Harte, aren't you afraid to go about in the cars
so recklessly when there is this scare about smallpox?" "No, madam," he
could answer in that rich note of his, with an irony touched by pseudo-
pathos, "I bear a charmed life."

The drive out from Boston was not too long for getting on terms of
personal friendship with the family which just filled the hack, the two
boys intensely interested in the novelties of a New England city and
suburb, and the father and mother continually exchanging admiration of
such aspects of nature as presented themselves in the leafless sidewalk
trees, and patches of park and lawn. They found everything so fine, so
refined, after the gigantic coarseness of California, where the natural
forms were so vast that one could not get on companionable terms with
them. Their host heard them without misgiving for the world of romance
which Harte had built up among those huge forms, and with a subtle
perception that this was no excursion of theirs to the East, but a
lifelong exodus from the exile which he presently understood they must
always have felt California to be. It is different now, when people are
every day being born in California, and must begin to feel it home from
the first breath, but it is notable that none of the Californians of that
great early day have gone back to live amid the scenes which inspired and
prospered them.

Before they came in sight of the editor's humble roof he had mocked
himself to his guest for his trepidations, and Harte with burlesque
magnanimity had consented to be for that occasion only something less
formidable than he had loomed afar. He accepted with joy the theory of
passing a week in the home of virtuous poverty, and the week began as
delightfully as it went on. From first to last Cambridge amused him as
much as it charmed him by that air of academic distinction which was
stranger to him even than the refined trees and grass. It has already
been told how, after a list of the local celebrities had been recited to
him, he said, "why, you couldn't stand on your front porch and fire off
your revolver without bringing down a two volumer," and no doubt the
pleasure he had in it was the effect of its contrast with the wild
California he had known, and perhaps, when he had not altogether known
it, had invented.


Cambridge began very promptly to show him those hospitalities which he
could value, and continued the fable of his fairy princeliness in the
curiosity of those humbler admirers who could not hope to be his hosts or
his fellow-guests at dinner or luncheon. Pretty presences in the tie-
backs of the period were seen to flit before the home of virtuous
poverty, hungering for any chance sight of him which his outgoings or
incomings might give. The chances were better with the outgoings than
with the incomings, for these were apt to be so hurried, in the final
result of his constitutional delays, as to have the rapidity of the
homing pigeon's flight, and to afford hardly a glimpse to the quickest
eye. It cannot harm him, or any one now, to own that Harte was nearly
always late for those luncheons and dinners which he was always going out
to, and it needed the anxieties and energies of both families to get him
into his clothes, and then into the carriage where a good deal of final
buttoning must have been done, in order that he might not arrive so very
late. He was the only one concerned who was quite unconcerned; his
patience with his delays was inexhaustible; he arrived at the expected
houses smiling, serenely jovial, radiating a bland gaiety from his whole
person, and ready to ignore any discomfort he might have occasioned.

Of course, people were glad to have him on his own terms, and it may be
truly said that it was worth while to have him on any terms. There never
was a more charming companion, an easier or more delightful guest.

It was not from what he said, for he was not much of a talker, and almost
nothing of a story-teller; but he could now and then drop the fittest
word, and with a glance or smile of friendly intelligence express the
appreciation of another's fit word which goes far to establish for a man
the character of boon humorist. It must be said of him that if he took
the honors easily that were paid him he took them modestly, and never by
word or look invited them, or implied that he expected them. It was fine
to see him humorously accepting the humorous attribution of scientific
sympathies from Agassiz, in compliment of his famous epic describing the
incidents that "broke up the society upon the Stanislow." It was a
little fearsome to hear him frankly owning to Lowell his dislike for
something over-literary in the phrasing of certain verses of 'The
Cathedral.' But Lowell could stand that sort of thing from a man who
could say the sort of things that Harte said to him of that delicious
line picturing the bobolink as he

"Runs down a brook of laughter in the air."

This, Harte told him, was the line he liked best of all his lines, and
Lowell smoked well content with the praise. Yet they were not men to get
on easily together, Lowell having limitations in directions where Harte
had none. Afterward in London they did not meet often or willingly.
Lowell owned the brilliancy and uncommonness of Harte's gift, while he
sumptuously surfeited his passion of finding everybody more or less a Jew
by finding that Harte was at least half a Jew on his father's side; he
had long contended for the Hebraicism of his name.

With all his appreciation of the literary eminences whom Fields used to
class together as "the old saints," Harte had a spice of irreverence that
enabled him to take them more ironically than they might have liked, and
to see the fun of a minor literary man's relation to them. Emerson's
smoking amused him, as a Jovian self-indulgence divinely out of character
with so supreme a god, and he shamelessly burlesqued it, telling how
Emerson at Concord had proposed having a "wet night" with him over a
glass of sherry, and had urged the scant wine upon his young friend with
a hospitable gesture of his cigar. But this was long after the Cambridge
episode, in which Longfellow alone escaped the corrosive touch of his
subtle irreverence, or, more strictly speaking, had only the effect of
his reverence. That gentle and exquisitely modest dignity, of
Longfellow's he honored with as much veneration as it was in him to
bestow, and he had that sense of Longfellow's beautiful and perfected art
which is almost a test of a critic's own fineness.


As for Harte's talk, it was mostly ironical, not to the extreme of
satire, but tempered to an agreeable coolness even for the things he
admired. He did not apparently care to hear himself praised, but he
could very accurately and perfectly mark his discernment of excellence in
others. He was at times a keen observer of nature and again not,
apparently. Something was said before him and Lowell of the beauty of
his description of a rabbit, startled with fear among the ferns, and
lifting its head with the pulsation of its frightened heart visibly
shaking it; then the talk turned on the graphic homeliness of Dante's
noticing how the dog's skin moves upon it, and Harte spoke of the
exquisite shudder with which a horse tries to rid itself of a fly.

But once again, when an azalea was shown to him as the sort of bush that
Sandy drunkenly slept under in 'The Idyl of Iced Gulch', he asked, "Why,
is that an azalea?" To be sure, this might have been less from his
ignorance or indifference concerning the quality of the bush he had sent
Sandy to sleep under than from his willingness to make a mock of an
azalea in a very small pot, so disproportionate to uses which an azalea
of Californian size could easily lend itself to.

You never could be sure of Harte; he could only by chance be caught in
earnest about anything or anybody. Except for those slight recognitions
of literary, traits in his talk with Lowell, nothing remained from his
conversation but the general criticism he passed upon his brilliant
fellow-Hebrew Heine, as "rather scorbutic." He preferred to talk about
the little matters of common incident and experience. He amused himself
with such things as the mystification of the postman of whom he asked his
way to Phillips Avenue, where he adventurously supposed his host to be
living. "Why," the postman said, "there is no Phillips Avenue in
Cambridge. There's Phillips Place." "Well," Harte assented, "Phillips
Place will do; but there is a Phillips Avenue." He entered eagerly into
the canvass of the distinctions and celebrities asked to meet him at the
reception made for him, but he had even a greater pleasure in
compassionating his host for the vast disparity between the caterer's
china and plated ware and the simplicities and humilities of the home of
virtuous poverty; and he spluttered with delight at the sight of the
lofty 'epergnes' set up and down the supper-table when he was brought in
to note the preparations made in his honor. Those monumental structures
were an inexhaustible joy to him; he walked round and round the room, and
viewed them in different perspectives, so as to get the full effect of
the towering forms that dwarfed it so.

He was a tease, as many a sweet and fine wit is apt to be, but his
teasing was of the quality of a caress, so much kindness went with it.
He lamented as an irreparable loss his having missed seeing that night an
absent-minded brother in literature, who came in rubber shoes, and
forgetfully wore them throughout the evening. That hospitable soul of
Ralph Keeler, who had known him in California, but had trembled for their
acquaintance when he read of all the honors that might well have spoiled
Harte for the friends of his simpler days, rejoiced in the unchanged
cordiality of his nature when they met, and presently gave him one of
those restaurant lunches in Boston, which he was always sumptuously
providing out of his destitution. Harte was the life of a time which was
perhaps less a feast of reason than a flow of soul. The truth is, there
was nothing but careless stories carelessly told, and jokes and laughing,
and a great deal of mere laughing without the jokes, the whole as unlike
the ideal of a literary symposium as well might be; but there was present
one who met with that pleasant Boston company for the first time, and to
whom Harte attributed a superstition of Boston seriousness not realized
then and there. "Look at him," he said, from time to time. "This is the
dream of his life," and then shouted and choked with fun at the
difference between the occasion and the expectation he would have
imagined in his commensal's mind. At a dinner long after in London,
where several of the commensals of that time met again, with other
literary friends of a like age and stature, Harte laid his arms well
along their shoulders as they formed in a half-circle before him, and
screamed out in mocking mirth at the bulbous favor to which the slim
shapes of the earlier date had come. The sight was not less a rapture to
him that he was himself the prey of the same practical joke from the
passing years. The hair which the years had wholly swept from some of
those thoughtful brows, or left spindling autumnal spears, "or few or
none," to "shake against the cold," had whitened to a wintry snow on his,
while his mustache had kept its youthful black. "He looks," one of his
friends said to another as they walked home together, "like a French
marquis of the ancien regime." "Yes," the other assented, thoughtfully,
"or like an American actor made up for the part."

The saying closely fitted the outward fact, but was of a subtle injustice
in its implication of anything histrionic in Harte's nature. Never was
any man less a 'poseur'; he made simply and helplessly known what he was
at any and every moment, and he would join the witness very cheerfully in
enjoying whatever was amusing in the disadvantage to himself. In the
course of events, which were in his case so very human, it came about on
a subsequent visit of his to Boston that an impatient creditor decided to
right himself out of the proceeds of the lecture which was to be given,
and had the law corporeally present at the house of the friend where
Harte dined, and in the anteroom at the lecture-hall, and on the
platform, where the lecture was delivered with beautiful aplomb and
untroubled charm. He was indeed the only one privy to the law's presence
who was not the least affected by it, so that when his host of an earlier
time ventured to suggest, "Well, Harte, this is the old literary
tradition; this is the Fleet business over again," he joyously smote his
thigh and crowed out, "Yes, the Fleet!" No doubt he tasted all the
delicate humor of the situation, and his pleasure in it was quite

If his temperament was not adapted to the harsh conditions of the elder
American world, it might very well be that his temperament was not
altogether in the wrong. If it disabled him for certain experiences of
life, it was the source of what was most delightful in his personality,
and perhaps most beautiful in his talent. It enabled him to do such
things as he did without being at all anguished for the things he did not
do, and indeed could not. His talent was not a facile gift; he owned
that he often went day after day to his desk, and sat down before that
yellow post-office paper on which he liked to write his literature, in
that exquisitely refined script of his, without being able to inscribe a
line. It may be owned for him that though he came to the East at thirty-
four, which ought to have been the very prime of his powers, he seemed to
have arrived after the age of observation was past for him. He saw
nothing aright, either in Newport, where he went to live, or in New York,
where he sojourned, or on those lecturing tours which took him about the
whole country; or if he saw it aright, he could not report it aright, or
would not. After repeated and almost invariable failures to deal with
the novel characters and circumstances which he encountered he left off
trying, and frankly went back to the semi-mythical California he had half
discovered, half created, and wrote Bret Harte over and over as long as
he lived. This, whether he did it from instinct or from reason, was the
best thing he could do, and it went as nearly as might be to satisfy the
insatiable English fancy for the wild America no longer to be found on
our map.

It is imaginable of Harte that this temperament defended him from any
bitterness in the disappointment he may have shared with that simple
American public which in the early eighteen-seventies expected any and
everything of him in fiction and drama. The long breath was not his; he
could not write a novel, though he produced the like of one or two, and
his plays were too bad for the stage, or else too good for it. At any
rate, they could not keep it, even when they got it, and they denoted the
fatigue or the indifference of their author in being dramatizations of
his longer or shorter fictions, and not originally dramatic efforts.
The direction in which his originality lasted longest, and most
strikingly affirmed his power, was in the direction of his verse.

Whatever minds there may be about Harte's fiction finally, there can
hardly be more than one mind about his poetry. He was indeed a poet;
whether he wrote what drolly called itself "dialect," or wrote language,
he was a poet of a fine and fresh touch. It must be allowed him that in
prose as well he had the inventive gift, but he had it in verse far more
importantly. There are lines, phrases, turns in his poems,
characterizations, and pictures which will remain as enduringly as
anything American, if that is not saying altogether too little for them.
In poetry he rose to all the occasions he made for himself, though he
could not rise to the occasions made for him, and so far failed in the
demands he acceded to for a Phi Beta Kappa poem, as to come to that
august Harvard occasion with a jingle so trivial, so out of keeping, so
inadequate that his enemies, if he ever truly had any, must have suffered
from it almost as much as his friends. He himself did not suffer from
his failure, from having read before the most elect assembly of the
country a poem which would hardly have served the careless needs of an
informal dinner after the speaking had begun; he took the whole
disastrous business lightly, gayly, leniently, kindly, as that golden
temperament of his enabled him to take all the good or bad of life.

The first year of his Eastern sojourn was salaried in a sum which took
the souls of all his young contemporaries with wonder, if no baser
passion, in the days when dollars were of so much farther flight than
now, but its net result in a literary return to his publishers was one
story and two or three poems. They had not profited much by his book,
which, it will doubtless amaze a time of fifty thousand editions selling
before their publication, to learn had sold only thirty-five hundred in
the sixth month of its career, as Harte himself,

"With sick and scornful looks averse,"

confided to his Cambridge host after his first interview with the Boston
counting-room. It was the volume which contained "The Luck of Roaring
Camp," and the other early tales which made him a continental, and then
an all but a world-wide fame. Stories that had been talked over, and
laughed over, and cried over all up and down the land, that had been
received with acclaim by criticism almost as boisterous as their
popularity, and recognized as the promise of greater things than any done
before in their kind, came to no more than this pitiful figure over the
booksellers' counters. It argued much for the publishers that in spite
of this stupefying result they were willing, they were eager, to pay him
ten thousand dollars for whatever, however much or little, he chose to
write in a year: Their offer was made in Boston, after some offers
mortifyingly mean, and others insultingly vague, had been made in New

It was not his fault that their venture proved of such slight return in
literary material. Harte was in the midst of new and alien conditions,
--[See a corollary in M. Froude who visited the U.S. for a few months and
then published a comprehensive analysis of the nation and its people.
Twain's rebuttal (Mr. Froude's Progress) would have been 'a propos' for
Harte in Cambridge. D.W.]--and he had always his temperament against
him, as well as the reluctant if not the niggard nature of his muse. He
would no doubt have been only too glad to do more than he did for the
money, but actually if not literally he could not do more. When it came
to literature, all the gay improvidence of life forsook him, and be
became a stern, rigorous, exacting self-master, who spared himself
nothing to achieve the perfection at which he aimed. He was of the order
of literary men like Goldsmith and De Quincey, and Sterne and Steele, in
his relations with the outer world, but in his relations with the inner
world he was one of the most duteous and exemplary citizens. There was
nothing of his easy-going hilarity in that world; there he was of a
Puritanic severity, and of a conscience that forgave him no pang. Other
California writers have testified to the fidelity with which he did his
work as editor. He made himself not merely the arbiter but the
inspiration of his contributors, and in a region where literature had
hardly yet replaced the wild sage-brush of frontier journalism, he made
the sand-lots of San Francisco to blossom as the rose, and created a
literary periodical of the first class on the borders of civilization.

It is useless to wonder now what would have been his future if the
publisher of the Overland Monthly had been of imagination or capital
enough to meet the demand which Harte dimly intimated to his Cambridge
host as the condition of his remaining in California. Publishers, men
with sufficient capital, are of a greatly varying gift in the regions of
prophecy, and he of the Overland Monthly was not to be blamed if he could
not foresee his account in paying Harte ten thousand a year to continue
editing the magazine. He did according to his lights, and Harte came to
the East, and then went to England, where his last twenty-five years were
passed in cultivating the wild plant of his Pacific Slope discovery. It
was always the same plant, leaf and flower and fruit, but it perennially
pleased the constant English world, and thence the European world, though
it presently failed of much delighting these fastidious States. Probably
he would have done something else if he could; he did not keep on doing
the wild mining-camp thing because it was the easiest, but because it was
for him the only possible thing. Very likely he might have preferred not
doing anything.


The joyous visit of a week, which has been here so poorly recovered from
the past, came to an end, and the host went with his guest to the station
in as much vehicular magnificence as had marked his going to meet him
there. Harte was no longer the alarming portent of the earlier time, but
an experience of unalloyed delight. You must love a person whose worst
trouble-giving was made somehow a favor by his own unconsciousness of the
trouble, and it was a most flattering triumph to have got him in time, or
only a little late, to so many luncheons and dinners. If only now he
could be got to the train in time the victory would be complete, the
happiness of the visit without a flaw. Success seemed to crown the
fondest hope in this respect. The train had not yet left the station;
there stood the parlor-car which Harte had seats in; and he was followed
aboard for those last words in which people try to linger out pleasures
they have known together. In this case the sweetest of the pleasures had
been sitting up late after those dinners, and talking them over, and then
degenerating from that talk into the mere giggle and making giggle which
Charles Lamb found the best thing in life. It had come to this as the
host and guest sat together for those parting moments, when Harte
suddenly started up in the discovery of having forgotten to get some
cigars. They rushed out of the train together, and after a wild descent
upon the cigar-counter of the restaurant, Harte rushed back to his car.
But by this time the train was already moving with that deceitful
slowness of the departing train, and Harte had to clamber up the steps of
the rearmost platform. His host clambered after, to make sure that he
was aboard, which done, he dropped to the ground, while Harte drew out of
the station, blandly smiling, and waving his hand with a cigar in it, in
picturesque farewell from the platform.

Then his host realized that he had dropped to the ground barely in time
to escape being crushed against the side of the archway that sharply
descended beside the steps of the train, and he went and sat down in that
handsomest hack, and was for a moment deathly sick at the danger that had
not realized itself to him in season. To be sure, he was able, long
after, to adapt the incident to the exigencies of fiction, and to have a
character, not otherwise to be conveniently disposed of, actually crushed
to death between a moving train and such an archway.

Besides, he had then and always afterward, the immense super-compensation
of the memories of that visit from one of the most charming personalities
in the world,

"In life's morning march when his bosom was young,"

and when infinitely less would have sated him. Now death has come to
join its vague conjectures to the broken expectations of life, and that
blithe spirit is elsewhere. But nothing can take from him who remains
the witchery of that most winning presence. Still it looks smiling from
the platform of the car, and casts a farewell of mock heartbreak from it.
Still a gay laugh comes across the abysm of the years that are now
numbered, and out of somewhere the hearer's sense is rapt with the mellow
cordial of a voice that was like no other.

[This last paragraph reminds one again that, as with Holmes: a great poet
writes the best prose. D.W.]


Always sumptuously providing out of his destitution
Could only by chance be caught in earnest about anything
Couldn't fire your revolver without bringing down a two volumer
Death's vague conjectures to the broken expectations of life
Dollars were of so much farther flight than now
Enjoying whatever was amusing in the disadvantage to himself
Express the appreciation of another's fit word
Gay laugh comes across the abysm of the years
Giggle which Charles Lamb found the best thing in life
His enemies suffered from it almost as much as his friends
His plays were too bad for the stage, or else too good for it
Insatiable English fancy for the wild America no longer there
Long breath was not his; he could not write a novel
Mellow cordial of a voice that was like no other
Not much of a talker, and almost nothing of a story-teller
Now death has come to join its vague conjectures
Offers mortifyingly mean, and others insultingly vague
Only one concerned who was quite unconcerned
So refined, after the gigantic coarseness of California
Wrote them first and last in the spirit of Dickens


by William Dean Howells



It was in the little office of James T. Fields, over the bookstore of
Ticknor & Fields, at 124 Tremont Street, Boston, that I first met my
friend of now forty-four years, Samuel L. Clemens. Mr. Fields was then
the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and I was his proud and glad
assistant, with a pretty free hand as to manuscripts, and an unmanacled
command of the book-notices at the end of the magazine. I wrote nearly
all of them myself, and in 1869 I had written rather a long notice of a
book just winning its way to universal favor. In this review I had
intimated my reservations concerning the 'Innocents Abroad', but I had
the luck, if not the sense, to recognize that it was such fun as we had
not had before. I forget just what I said in praise of it, and it does
not matter; it is enough that I praised it enough to satisfy the author.
He now signified as much, and he stamped his gratitude into my memory
with a story wonderfully allegorizing the situation, which the mock
modesty of print forbids my repeating here. Throughout my long
acquaintance with him his graphic touch was always allowing itself a
freedom which I cannot bring my fainter pencil to illustrate. He had the
Southwestern, the Lincolnian, the Elizabethan breadth of parlance, which
I suppose one ought not to call coarse without calling one's self
prudish; and I was often hiding away in discreet holes and corners the
letters in which he had loosed his bold fancy to stoop on rank
suggestion; I could not bear to burn them, and I could not, after the
first reading, quite bear to look at them. I shall best give my feeling
on this point by saying that in it he was Shakespearian, or if his ghost
will not suffer me the word, then he was Baconian.

At the time of our first meeting, which must have been well toward the
winter, Clemens (as I must call him instead of Mark Twain, which seemed
always somehow to mask him from my personal sense) was wearing a sealskin
coat, with the fur out, in the satisfaction of a caprice, or the love of
strong effect which he was apt to indulge through life. I do not know
what droll comment was in Fields's mind with respect to this garment,
but probably he felt that here was an original who was not to be brought
to any Bostonian book in the judgment of his vivid qualities. With his
crest of dense red hair, and the wide sweep of his flaming mustache,
Clemens was not discordantly clothed in that sealskin coat, which
afterward, in spite of his own warmth in it, sent the cold chills through
me when I once accompanied it down Broadway, and shared the immense
publicity it won him. He had always a relish for personal effect, which
expressed itself in the white suit of complete serge which he wore in his
last years, and in the Oxford gown which he put on for every possible
occasion, and said he would like to wear all the time. That was not
vanity in him, but a keen feeling for costume which the severity of our
modern tailoring forbids men, though it flatters women to every excess in
it; yet he also enjoyed the shock, the offence, the pang which it gave
the sensibilities of others. Then there were times he played these
pranks for pure fun, and for the pleasure of the witness. Once I
remember seeing him come into his drawing-room at Hartford in a pair of
white cowskin slippers, with the hair out, and do a crippled colored
uncle to the joy of all beholders. Or, I must not say all, for I
remember also the dismay of Mrs. Clemens, and her low, despairing cry of,
"Oh, Youth!" That was her name for him among their friends, and it
fitted him as no other would, though I fancied with her it was a
shrinking from his baptismal Samuel, or the vernacular Sam of his earlier
companionships. He was a youth to the end of his days, the heart of a
boy with the head of a sage; the heart of a good boy, or a bad boy, but
always a wilful boy, and wilfulest to show himself out at every, time for
just the boy he was.


There is a gap in my recollections of Clemens, which I think is of a year
or two, for the next thing I remember of him is meeting him at a lunch in
Boston, given us by that genius of hospitality, the tragically destined
Ralph Keeler, author of one of the most unjustly forgotten books,
'Vagabond Adventures', a true bit of picaresque autobiography. Keeler
never had any money, to the general knowledge, and he never borrowed, and
he could not have had credit at the restaurant where he invited us to
feast at his expense. There was T. B. Aldrich, there was J. T. Fields,
much the oldest of our company, who had just freed himself from the
trammels of the publishing business, and was feeling his freedom in every
word; there was Bret Harte, who had lately come East in his princely
progress from California; and there was Clemens. Nothing remains to me
of the happy time but a sense of idle and aimless and joyful talk-play,
beginning and ending nowhere, of eager laughter, of countless good
stories from Fields, of a heat-lightning shimmer of wit from Aldrich,
of an occasional concentration of our joint mockeries upon our host,
who took it gladly; and amid the discourse, so little improving, but so
full of good fellowship, Bret Harte's fleeting dramatization of Clemens's
mental attitude toward a symposium of Boston illuminates. "Why,
fellows," he spluttered, "this is the dream of Mark's life," and I
remember the glance from under Clemens's feathery eyebrows which betrayed
his enjoyment of the fun. We had beefsteak with mushrooms, which in
recognition of their shape Aldrich hailed as shoe-pegs, and to crown the
feast we had an omelette souse, which the waiter brought in as flat as a
pancake, amid our shouts of congratulations to poor Keeler, who took them
with appreciative submission. It was in every way what a Boston literary
lunch ought not to have been in the popular ideal which Harte attributed
to Clemens.

Our next meeting was at Hartford, or, rather, at Springfield, where
Clemens greeted us on the way to Hartford. Aldrich was going on to be
his guest, and I was going to be Charles Dudley Warner's, but Clemens had
come part way to welcome us both. In the good fellowship of that cordial
neighborhood we had two such days as the aging sun no longer shines on in
his round. There was constant running in and out of friendly houses
where the lively hosts and guests called one another by their Christian
names or nicknames, and no such vain ceremony as knocking or ringing at
doors. Clemens was then building the stately mansion in which he
satisfied his love of magnificence as if it had been another sealskin
coat, and he was at the crest of the prosperity which enabled him to
humor every whim or extravagance. The house was the design of that most
original artist, Edward Potter, who once, when hard pressed by
incompetent curiosity for the name of his style in a certain church,
proposed that it should be called the English violet order of
architecture; and this house was so absolutely suited to the owner's
humor that I suppose there never was another house like it; but its
character must be for recognition farther along in these reminiscences.
The vividest impression which Clemens gave us two ravenous young Boston
authors was of the satisfying, the surfeiting nature of subscription
publication. An army of agents was overrunning the country with the
prospectuses of his books, and delivering them by the scores of thousands
in completed sale. Of the 'Innocents Abroad' he said, "It sells right
along just like the Bible," and 'Roughing It' was swiftly following,
without perhaps ever quite overtaking it in popularity. But he lectured
Aldrich and me on the folly of that mode of publication in the trade
which we had thought it the highest success to achieve a chance in.
"Anything but subscription publication is printing for private
circulation," he maintained, and he so won upon our greed and hope that
on the way back to Boston we planned the joint authorship of a volume
adapted to subscription publication. We got a very good name for it, as
we believed, in Memorable Murders, and we never got farther with it, but
by the time we reached Boston we were rolling in wealth so deep that we
could hardly walk home in the frugal fashion by which we still thought it
best to spare car fare; carriage fare we did not dream of even in that


The visits to Hartford which had begun with this affluence continued
without actual increase of riches for me, but now I went alone, and in
Warner's European and Egyptian absences I formed the habit of going to
Clemens. By this time he was in his new house, where he used to give me
a royal chamber on the ground floor, and come in at night after I had
gone to bed to take off the burglar alarm so that the family should not
be roused if anybody tried to get in at my window. This would be after
we had sat up late, he smoking the last of his innumerable cigars, and
soothing his tense nerves with a mild hot Scotch, while we both talked
and talked and talked, of everything in the heavens and on the earth,
and the waters under the earth. After two days of this talk I would come
away hollow, realizing myself best in the image of one of those locust-
shells which you find sticking to the bark of trees at the end of summer.
Once, after some such bout of brains, we went down to New York together,
and sat facing each other in the Pullman smoker without passing a
syllable till we had occasion to say, "Well, we're there." Then, with
our installation in a now vanished hotel (the old Brunswick, to be
specific), the talk began again with the inspiration of the novel
environment, and went on and on. We wished to be asleep, but we could
not stop, and he lounged through the rooms in the long nightgown which he
always wore in preference to the pajamas which he despised, and told the
story of his life, the inexhaustible, the fairy, the Arabian Nights
story, which I could never tire of even when it began to be told over
again. Or at times he would reason high--

"Of Providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,"

walking up and down, and halting now and then, with a fine toss and slant
of his shaggy head, as some bold thought or splendid joke struck him.

He was in those days a constant attendant at the church of his great
friend, the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, and at least tacitly far from the
entire negation he came to at last. I should say he had hardly yet
examined the grounds of his passive acceptance of his wife's belief,
for it was hers and not his, and he held it unscanned in the beautiful
and tender loyalty to her which was the most moving quality of his most
faithful soul. I make bold to speak of the love between them, because
without it I could not make him known to others as he was known to me.
It was a greater part of him than the love of most men for their wives,
and she merited all the worship he could give her, all the devotion, all
the implicit obedience, by her surpassing force and beauty of character.
She was in a way the loveliest person I have ever seen, the gentlest, the
kindest, without a touch of weakness; she united wonderful tact with
wonderful truth; and Clemens not only accepted her rule implicitly, but
he rejoiced, he gloried in it. I am not sure that he noticed all her
goodness in the actions that made it a heavenly vision to others, he so
had the habit of her goodness; but if there was any forlorn and helpless
creature in the room Mrs. Clemens was somehow promptly at his side or
hers; she was always seeking occasion of kindness to those in her
household or out of it; she loved to let her heart go beyond the reach of
her hand, and imagined the whole hard and suffering world with compassion
for its structural as well as incidental wrongs. I suppose she had her
ladyhood limitations, her female fears of etiquette and convention, but
she did not let them hamper the wild and splendid generosity with which
Clemens rebelled against the social stupidities and cruelties. She had
been a lifelong invalid when he met her, and he liked to tell the
beautiful story of their courtship to each new friend whom he found
capable of feeling its beauty or worthy of hearing it. Naturally, her
father had hesitated to give her into the keeping of the young strange
Westerner, who had risen up out of the unknown with his giant reputation
of burlesque humorist, and demanded guaranties, demanded proofs. "He
asked me," Clemens would say, "if I couldn't give him the names of people
who knew me in California, and when it was time to hear from them I heard
from him. 'Well, Mr. Clemens,' he said, 'nobody seems to have a very
good word for you.' I hadn't referred him to people that I thought were
going to whitewash me. I thought it was all up with me, but I was
disappointed. 'So I guess I shall have to back you myself.'"

Whether this made him faithfuler to the trust put in him I cannot say,
but probably not; it was always in him to be faithful to any trust, and
in proportion as a trust of his own was betrayed he was ruthlessly and
implacably resentful. But I wish now to speak of the happiness of that
household in Hartford which responded so perfectly to the ideals of the
mother when the three daughters, so lovely and so gifted, were yet little
children. There had been a boy, and "Yes, I killed him," Clemens once
said, with the unsparing self-blame in which he would wreak an unavailing
regret. He meant that he had taken the child out imprudently, and the
child had taken the cold which he died of, but it was by no means certain
this was through its father's imprudence. I never heard him speak of his
son except that once, but no doubt in his deep heart his loss was
irreparably present. He was a very tender father and delighted in the
minds of his children, but he was wise enough to leave their training
altogether to the wisdom of their mother. He left them to that in
everything, keeping for himself the pleasure of teaching them little
scenes of drama, learning languages with them, and leading them in
singing. They came to the table with their parents, and could have set
him an example in behavior when, in moments of intense excitement, he
used to leave his place and walk up and down the room, flying his napkin
and talking and talking.

It was after his first English sojourn that I used to visit him, and he
was then full of praise of everything English: the English personal
independence and public spirit, and hospitality, and truth. He liked to
tell stories in proof of their virtues, but he was not blind to the
defects of their virtues: their submissive acceptance of caste, their
callousness with strangers; their bluntness with one another. Mrs.
Clemens had been in a way to suffer socially more than he, and she
praised the English less. She had sat after dinner with ladies who
snubbed and ignored one another, and left her to find her own amusement
in the absence of the attention with which Americans perhaps cloy their
guests, but which she could not help preferring. In their successive
sojourns among them I believe he came to like the English less and she
more; the fine delight of his first acceptance among them did not renew
itself till his Oxford degree was given him; then it made his cup run
over, and he was glad the whole world should see it.

His wife would not chill the ardor of his early Anglomania, and in this,
as in everything, she wished to humor him to the utmost. No one could
have realized more than she his essential fineness, his innate nobleness.
Marriages are what the parties to them alone really know them to be, but
from the outside I should say that this marriage was one of the most
perfect. It lasted in his absolute devotion to the day of her death,
that delayed long in cruel suffering, and that left one side of him in
lasting night. From Florence there came to me heartbreaking letters from
him about the torture she was undergoing, and at last a letter saying she
was dead, with the simple-hearted cry, "I wish I was with Livy." I do
not know why I have left saying till now that she was a very beautiful
woman, classically regular in features, with black hair smooth over her
forehead, and with tenderly peering, myopia eyes, always behind glasses,
and a smile of angelic kindness. But this kindness went with a sense of
humor which qualified her to appreciate the self-lawed genius of a man
who will be remembered with the great humorists of all time, with
Cervantes, with Swift, or with any others worthy his company; none of
them was his equal in humanity.


Clemens had appointed himself, with the architect's connivance, a
luxurious study over the library in his new house, but as his children
grew older this study, with its carved and cushioned arm-chairs, was
given over to them for a school-room, and he took the room above his
stable, which had been intended for his coachman. There we used to talk
together, when we were not walking and talking together, until he
discovered that he could make a more commodious use of the billiard-room
at the top of his house, for the purposes of literature and friendship.
It was pretty cold up there in the early spring and late fall weather
with which I chiefly associate the place, but by lighting up all the gas-
burners and kindling a reluctant fire on the hearth we could keep it well
above freezing. Clemens could also push the balls about, and, without
rivalry from me, who could no more play billiards than smoke, could win
endless games of pool, while he carried points of argument against
imaginable differers in opinion. Here he wrote many of his tales and
sketches, and for anything I know some of his books. I particularly
remember his reading me here his first rough sketch of Captain
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, with the real name of the captain, whom I
knew already from his many stories about him.

We had a peculiar pleasure in looking off from the high windows on the
pretty Hartford landscape, and down from them into the tops of the trees
clothing the hillside by which his house stood. We agreed that there was
a novel charm in trees seen from such a vantage, far surpassing that of
the farther scenery. He had not been a country boy for nothing; rather
he had been a country boy, or, still better, a village boy, for
everything that Nature can offer the young of our species, and no aspect
of her was lost on him. We were natives of the same vast Mississippi
Valley; and Missouri was not so far from Ohio but that we were akin in
our first knowledges of woods and fields as we were in our early
parlance. I had outgrown the use of mine through my greater bookishness,
but I gladly recognized the phrases which he employed for their lasting
juiciness and the long-remembered savor they had on his mental palate.

I have elsewhere sufficiently spoken of his unsophisticated use of words,
of the diction which forms the backbone of his manly style. If I mention
my own greater bookishness, by which I mean his less quantitative
reading, it is to give myself better occasion to note that he was always
reading some vital book. It might be some out-of-the-way book, but it
had the root of the human matter in it: a volume of great trials; one of
the supreme autobiographies; a signal passage of history, a narrative of
travel, a story of captivity, which gave him life at first-hand. As I
remember, he did not care much for fiction, and in that sort he had
certain distinct loathings; there were certain authors whose names he
seemed not so much to pronounce as to spew out of his mouth. Goldsmith
was one of these, but his prime abhorrence was my dear and honored prime
favorite, Jane Austen. He once said to me, I suppose after he had been
reading some of my unsparing praises of her--I am always praising her,
"You seem to think that woman could write," and he forbore withering me
with his scorn, apparently because we had been friends so long, and he
more pitied than hated me for my bad taste. He seemed not to have any
preferences among novelists; or at least I never heard him express any.
He used to read the modern novels I praised, in or out of print; but I do
not think he much liked reading fiction. As for plays, he detested the
theatre, and said he would as lief do a sum as follow a plot on the
stage. He could not, or did not, give any reasons for his literary
abhorrences, and perhaps he really had none. But he could have said very
distinctly, if he had needed, why he liked the books he did. I was away
at the time of his great Browning passion, and I know of it chiefly from
hearsay; but at the time Tolstoy was doing what could be done to make me
over Clemens wrote, "That man seems to have been to you what Browning was
to me." I do not know that he had other favorites among the poets, but
he had favorite poems which he liked to read to you, and he read, of
course, splendidly. I have forgotten what piece of John Hay's it was
that he liked so much, but I remembered how he fiercely revelled in the
vengefulness of William Morris's 'Sir Guy of the Dolorous Blast,' and how
he especially exalted in the lines which tell of the supposed speaker's
joy in slaying the murderer of his brother:

"I am threescore years and ten,
And my hair is 'nigh turned gray,
But I am glad to think of the moment when
I took his life away."

Generally, I fancy his pleasure in poetry was not great, and I do not
believe he cared much for the conventionally accepted masterpieces of
literature. He liked to find out good things and great things for
himself; sometimes he would discover these in a masterpiece new to him
alone, and then, if you brought his ignorance home to him, he enjoyed it,
and enjoyed it the more the more you rubbed it in.

Of all the literary men I have known he was the most unliterary in his
make and manner. I do not know whether he had any acquaintance with
Latin, but I believe not the least; German he knew pretty well, and
Italian enough late in life to have fun with it; but he used English in
all its alien derivations as if it were native to his own air, as if it
had come up out of American, out of Missourian ground. His style was
what we know, for good and for bad, but his manner, if I may difference
the two, was as entirely his own as if no one had ever written before.
I have noted before this how he was not enslaved to the consecutiveness
in writing which the rest of us try to keep chained to. That is, he
wrote as he thought, and as all men think, without sequence, without an
eye to what went before or should come after. If something beyond or
beside what he was saying occurred to him, he invited it into his page,
and made it as much at home there as the nature of it would suffer him.
Then, when he was through with the welcoming of this casual and
unexpected guest, he would go back to the company he was entertaining,
and keep on with what he had been talking about. He observed this manner
in the construction of his sentences, and the arrangement of his
chapters, and the ordering or disordering of his compilations.--[Nowhere
is this characteristic better found than in Twain's 'Autobiography,' it
was not a "style" it was unselfconscious thought D.W.]--I helped him
with a Library of Humor, which he once edited, and when I had done my
work according to tradition, with authors, times, and topics carefully
studied in due sequence, he tore it all apart, and "chucked" the pieces
in wherever the fancy, for them took him at the moment. He was right: we
were not making a text-book, but a book for the pleasure rather than the
instruction of the reader, and he did not see why the principle on which
he built his travels and reminiscences and tales and novels should not
apply to it; and I do not now see, either, though at the time it
confounded me. On minor points he was, beyond any author I have known,
without favorite phrases or pet words. He utterly despised the avoidance
of repetitions out of fear of tautology. If a word served his turn
better than a substitute, he would use it as many times in a page as he


At that time I had become editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and I had
allegiances belonging to the conduct of what was and still remains the
most scrupulously cultivated of our periodicals. When Clemens began to
write for it he came willingly under its rules, for with all his
wilfulness there never was a more biddable man in things you could show
him a reason for. He never made the least of that trouble which so
abounds for the hapless editor from narrower-minded contributors. If you
wanted a thing changed, very good, he changed it; if you suggested that a
word or a sentence or a paragraph had better be struck out, very good,
he struck it out. His proof-sheets came back each a veritable "mush of
concession," as Emerson says. Now and then he would try a little
stronger language than 'The Atlantic' had stomach for, and once when I
sent him a proof I made him observe that I had left out the profanity.
He wrote back: "Mrs. Clemens opened that proof, and lit into the room
with danger in her eye. What profanity? You see, when I read the
manuscript to her I skipped that." It was part of his joke to pretend a
violence in that gentlest creature which the more amusingly realized the
situation to their friends.

I was always very glad of him and proud of him as a contributor, but I
must not claim the whole merit, or the first merit of having him write
for us. It was the publisher, the late H. O. Houghton, who felt the
incongruity of his absence from the leading periodical of the country,
and was always urging me to get him to write. I will take the credit of
being eager for him, but it is to the publisher's credit that he tried,
so far as the modest traditions of 'The Atlantic' would permit, to meet
the expectations in pay which the colossal profits of Clemens's books
might naturally have bred in him. Whether he was really able to do this
he never knew from Clemens himself, but probably twenty dollars a page
did not surfeit the author of books that "sold right along just like the

We had several short contributions from Clemens first, all of capital
quality, and then we had the series of papers which went mainly to the
making of his great book, 'Life on the Mississippi'. Upon the whole I
have the notion that Clemens thought this his greatest book, and he was
supported in his opinion by that of the 'portier' in his hotel at Vienna,
and that of the German Emperor, who, as he told me with equal respect for
the preference of each, united in thinking it his best; with such far-
sundered social poles approaching in its favor, he apparently found
himself without standing for opposition. At any rate, the papers won
instant appreciation from his editor and publisher, and from the readers
of their periodical, which they expected to prosper beyond precedent in
its circulation. But those were days of simpler acceptance of the
popular rights of newspapers than these are, when magazines strictly
guard their vested interests against them. 'The New York Times' and the
'St. Louis Democrat' profited by the advance copies of the magazine sent
them to reprint the papers month by month. Together they covered nearly
the whole reading territory of the Union, and the terms of their daily
publication enabled them to anticipate the magazine in its own restricted
field. Its subscription list was not enlarged in the slightest measure,
and The Atlantic Monthly languished on the news-stands as undesired as


It was among my later visits to Hartford that we began to talk up the
notion of collaborating a play, but we did not arrive at any clear
intention, and it was a telegram out of the clear sky that one day
summoned me from Boston to help with a continuation of Colonel Sellers.
I had been a witness of the high joy of Clemens in the prodigious triumph
of the first Colonel Sellers, which had been dramatized from the novel of
'The Gilded Age.' This was the joint work of Clemens and Charles Dudley
Warner, and the story had been put upon the stage by some one in Utah,
whom Clemens first brought to book in the courts for violation of his
copyright, and then indemnified for such rights as his adaptation of the
book had given him. The structure of the play as John T. Raymond gave it
was substantially the work of this unknown dramatist. Clemens never
pretended, to me at any rate, that he had the least hand in it; he
frankly owned that he was incapable of dramatization; yet the vital part
was his, for the characters in the play were his as the book embodied
them, and the success which it won with the public was justly his.
This he shared equally with the actor, following the company with an
agent, who counted out the author's share of the gate money, and sent him
a note of the amount every day by postal card. The postals used to come
about dinner-time, and Clemens would read them aloud to us in wild

One hundred and fifty dollars--two hundred dollars--three hundred dollars
were the gay figures which they bore, and which he flaunted in the air
before he sat down at table, or rose from it to brandish, and then,
flinging his napkin into his chair, walked up and down to exult in.

By-and-by the popularity, of the play waned, and the time came when he
sickened of the whole affair, and withdrew his agent, and took whatever
gain from it the actor apportioned him. He was apt to have these sudden
surceases, following upon the intensities of his earlier interest; though
he seemed always to have the notion of making something more of Colonel
Sellers. But when I arrived in Hartford in answer to his summons,
I found him with no definite idea of what he wanted to do with him.
I represented that we must have some sort of plan, and he agreed that we
should both jot down a scenario overnight and compare our respective
schemes the next morning. As the author of a large number of little
plays which have been privately presented throughout the United States
and in parts of the United Kingdom, without ever getting upon the public
stage except for the noble ends of charity, and then promptly getting off
it, I felt authorized to make him observe that his scheme was as nearly
nothing as chaos could be. He agreed hilariously with me, and was
willing to let it stand in proof of his entire dramatic inability.
At the same time he liked my plot very much, which ultimated Sellers,
according to Clemens's intention, as a man crazed by his own inventions
and by his superstition that he was the rightful heir to an English
earldom. The exuberant nature of Sellers and the vast range of his
imagination served our purpose in other ways. Clemens made him a
spiritualist, whose specialty in the occult was materialization;
he became on impulse an ardent temperance reformer, and he headed a
procession of temperance ladies after disinterestedly testing the
deleterious effects of liquor upon himself until he could not walk
straight; always he wore a marvellous fire-extinguisher strapped on his
back, to give proof in any emergency of the effectiveness of his
invention in that way.

We had a jubilant fortnight in working the particulars of these things
out. It was not possible for Clemens to write like anybody else, but I
could very easily write like Clemens, and we took the play scene and
scene about, quite secure of coming out in temperamental agreement.
The characters remained for the most part his, and I varied them only to
make them more like his than, if possible, he could. Several years
after, when I looked over a copy of the play, I could not always tell my
work from his; I only knew that I had done certain scenes. We would work
all day long at our several tasks, and then at night, before dinner, read
them over to each other. No dramatists ever got greater joy out of their
creations, and when I reflect that the public never had the chance of
sharing our joy I pity the public from a full heart. I still believe
that the play was immensely funny; I still believe that if it could once
have got behind the footlights it would have continued to pack the house
before them for an indefinite succession of nights. But this may be my

At any rate, it was not to be. Raymond had identified himself with
Sellers in the play-going imagination, and whether consciously or
unconsciously we constantly worked with Raymond in our minds. But before
this time bitter displeasures had risen between Clemens and Raymond, and
Clemens was determined that Raymond should never have the play. He first
offered it to several other actors, who eagerly caught it, only to give
it back with the despairing renunciation, "That is a Raymond play." We
tried managers with it, but their only question was whether they could
get Raymond to do it. In the mean time Raymond had provided himself with
a play for the winter--a very good play, by Demarest Lloyd; and he was in
no hurry for ours. Perhaps he did not really care for it perhaps he knew
when he heard of it that it must come to him in the end. In the end it
did, from my hand, for Clemens would not meet him. I found him in a mood
of sweet reasonableness, perhaps the more softened by one of those
lunches which our publisher, the hospitable James R. Osgood, was always
bringing people together over in Boston. He said that he could not do
the play that winter, but he was sure that he should like it, and he had
no doubt he would do it the next winter. So I gave him the manuscript,
in spite of Clemens's charges, for his suspicions and rancors were such
that he would not have had me leave it for a moment in the actor's hands.
But it seemed a conclusion that involved success and fortune for us.
In due time, but I do not remember how long after, Raymond declared
himself delighted with the piece; he entered into a satisfactory
agreement for it, and at the beginning of the next season he started with
it to Buffalo, where he was to give a first production. At Rochester he
paused long enough to return it, with the explanation that a friend had
noted to him the fact that Colonel Sellers in the play was a lunatic, and
insanity was so serious a thing that it could not be represented on the
stage without outraging the sensibilities of the audience; or words to
that effect. We were too far off to allege Hamlet to the contrary, or
King Lear, or to instance the delight which generations of readers
throughout the world had taken in the mad freaks of Don Quixote.
Whatever were the real reasons of Raymond for rejecting the play, we had
to be content with those he gave, and to set about getting it into other
hands. In this effort we failed even more signally than before, if that
were possible. At last a clever and charming elocutionist, who had long
wished to get himself on the stage, heard of it and asked to see it.
We would have shown it to any one by this time, and we very willingly
showed it to him. He came to Hartford and did some scenes from it for
us. I must say he did them very well, quite as well as Raymond could
have done them, in whose manner he did them. But now, late toward
spring, the question was where he could get an engagement with the play,
and we ended by hiring a theatre in New York for a week of trial

Clemens came on with me to Boston, where we were going to make some
changes in the piece, and where we made them to our satisfaction, but not
to the effect of that high rapture which we had in the first draft.
He went back to Hartford, and then the cold fit came upon me, and "in
visions of the night, in slumberings upon the bed," ghastly forms of
failure appalled me, and when I rose in the morning I wrote him: "Here is
a play which every manager has put out-of-doors and which every actor
known to us has refused, and now we go and give it to an elocutioner.
We are fools." Whether Clemens agreed with me or not in my conclusion,
he agreed with me in my premises, and we promptly bought our play off the
stage at a cost of seven hundred dollars, which we shared between us.
But Clemens was never a man to give up. I relinquished gratis all right
and title I had in the play, and he paid its entire expenses for a week
of one-night stands in the country. It never came to New York; and yet I
think now that if it had come, it would have succeeded. So hard does the
faith of the unsuccessful dramatist in his work die.


There is an incident of this time so characteristic of both men that I
will yield to the temptation of giving it here. After I had gone to
Hartford in response to Clemens's telegram, Matthew Arnold arrived in
Boston, and one of my family called on his, to explain why I was not at
home to receive his introduction: I had gone to see Mark Twain. "Oh, but
he doesn't like that sort of thing, does he?" "He likes Mr. Clemens very
much," my representative answered, "and he thinks him one of the greatest
men he ever knew." I was still Clemens's guest at Hartford when Arnold
came there to lecture, and one night we went to meet him at a reception.
While his hand laxly held mine in greeting, I saw his eyes fixed
intensely on the other side of the room. "Who-who in the world is that?"
I looked and said, "Oh, that is Mark Twain." I do not remember just how
their instant encounter was contrived by Arnold's wish, but I have the
impression that they were not parted for long during the evening, and the
next night Arnold, as if still under the glamour of that potent presence,
was at Clemens's house. I cannot say how they got on, or what they made
of each other; if Clemens ever spoke of Arnold, I do not recall what he
said, but Arnold had shown a sense of him from which the incredulous
sniff of the polite world, now so universally exploded, had already
perished. It might well have done so with his first dramatic vision of
that prodigious head. Clemens was then hard upon fifty, and he had kept,
as he did to the end, the slender figure of his youth, but the ashes of
the burnt-out years were beginning to gray the fires of that splendid
shock of red hair which he held to the height of a stature apparently
greater than it was, and tilted from side to side in his undulating walk.
He glimmered at you from the narrow slits of fine blue-greenish eyes,
under branching brows, which with age grew more and more like a sort of
plumage, and he was apt to smile into your face with a subtle but amiable
perception, and yet with a sort of remote absence; you were all there for
him, but he was not all there for you.


I shall, not try to give chronological order to my recollections of him,
but since I am just now with him in Hartford I will speak of him in
association with the place. Once when I came on from Cambridge he
followed me to my room to see that the water was not frozen in my bath,
or something of the kind, for it was very cold weather, and then
hospitably lingered. Not to lose time in banalities I began at once from
the thread of thought in my mind. "I wonder why we hate the past so,"
and he responded from the depths of his own consciousness, "It's so
damned humiliating," which is what any man would say of his past if he
were honest; but honest men are few when it comes to themselves. Clemens
was one of the few, and the first of them among all the people I have
known. I have known, I suppose, men as truthful, but not so promptly, so
absolutely, so positively, so almost aggressively truthful. He could
lie, of course, and did to save others from grief or harm; he was, not
stupidly truthful; but his first impulse was to say out the thing and
everything that was in him. To those who can understand it will not be
contradictory of his sense of humiliation from the past, that he was not
ashamed for anything he ever did to the point of wishing to hide it. He
could be, and he was, bitterly sorry for his errors, which he had enough
of in his life, but he was not ashamed in that mean way. What he had
done he owned to, good, bad, or indifferent, and if it was bad he was
rather amused than troubled as to the effect in your mind. He would not
obtrude the fact upon you, but if it were in the way of personal history
he would not dream of withholding it, far less of hiding it.

He was the readiest of men to allow an error if he were found in it. In
one of our walks about Hartford, when he was in the first fine flush of
his agnosticism, be declared that Christianity had done nothing to
improve morals and conditions, and that the world under the highest pagan
civilization was as well off as it was under the highest Christian
influences. I happened to be fresh from the reading of Charles Loring
Brace's 'Gesta Christi'; or, 'History of Humane Progress', and I could
offer him abundant proofs that he was wrong. He did not like that
evidently, but he instantly gave way, saying be had not known those
things. Later be was more tolerant in his denials of Christianity, but
just then he was feeling his freedom from it, and rejoicing in having
broken what he felt to have been the shackles of belief worn so long.
He greatly admired Robert Ingersoll, whom he called an angelic orator,
and regarded as an evangel of a new gospel--the gospel of free thought.
He took the warmest interest in the newspaper controversy raging at the
time as to the existence of a hell; when the noes carried the day, I
suppose that no enemy of perdition was more pleased. He still loved his
old friend and pastor, Mr. Twichell, but he no longer went to hear him
preach his sage and beautiful sermons, and was, I think, thereby the
greater loser. Long before that I had asked him if he went regularly to
church, and he groaned out: "Oh yes, I go. It 'most kills me, but I go,"
and I did not need his telling me to understand that he went because his
wife wished it. He did tell me, after they both ceased to go, that it
had finally come to her saying, "Well, if you are to be lost, I want to
be lost with you." He could accept that willingness for supreme
sacrifice and exult in it because of the supreme truth as he saw it.
After they had both ceased to be formal Christians, she was still grieved
by his denial of immortality, so grieved that he resolved upon one of
those heroic lies, which for love's sake he held above even the truth,
and he went to her, saying that he had been thinking the whole matter
over, and now he was convinced that the soul did live after death. It
was too late. Her keen vision pierced through his ruse, as it did when
he brought the doctor who had diagnosticated her case as organic disease
of the heart, and, after making him go over the facts of it again with
her, made him declare it merely functional.

To make an end of these records as to Clemens's beliefs, so far as I knew
them, I should say that he never went back to anything like faith in the
Christian theology, or in the notion of life after death, or in a
conscious divinity. It is best to be honest in this matter; he would
have hated anything else, and I do not believe that the truth in it can
hurt any one. At one period he argued that there must have been a cause,
a conscious source of things; that the universe could not have come by
chance. I have heard also that in his last hours or moments he said, or
his dearest ones hoped he had said, something about meeting again. But
the expression, of which they could not be certain, was of the vaguest,
and it was perhaps addressed to their tenderness out of his tenderness.
All his expressions to me were of a courageous, renunciation of any hope
of living again, or elsewhere seeing those he had lost. He suffered
terribly in their loss, and he was not fool enough to try ignoring his
grief. He knew that for this there were but two medicines; that it would
wear itself out with the years, and that meanwhile there was nothing for
it but those respites in which the mourner forgets himself in slumber.
I remember that in a black hour of my own when I was called down to see
him, as he thought from sleep, he said with an infinite, an exquisite
compassion, "Oh, did I wake you, did I wake, you?" Nothing more, but the
look, the voice, were everything; and while I live they cannot pass from
my sense.


He was the most caressing of men in his pity, but he had the fine
instinct, which would have pleased Lowell, of never putting his hands on
you--fine, delicate hands, with taper fingers, and pink nails, like a
girl's, and sensitively quivering in moments of emotion; he did not paw
you with them to show his affection, as so many of us Americans are apt
to do. Among the half-dozen, or half-hundred, personalities that each of
us becomes, I should say that Clemens's central and final personality was
something exquisite. His casual acquaintance might know him, perhaps,
from his fierce intensity, his wild pleasure in shocking people with his
ribaldries and profanities, or from the mere need of loosing his
rebellious spirit in that way, as anything but exquisite, and yet that
was what in the last analysis he was. They might come away loathing or
hating him, but one could not know him well without realizing him the
most serious, the most humane, the most conscientious of men. He was
Southwestern, and born amid the oppression of a race that had no rights
as against ours, but I never saw a man more regardful of negroes. He had
a yellow butler when I first began to know him, because he said he could
not bear to order a white man about, but the terms of his ordering George
were those of the softest entreaty which command ever wore. He loved to
rely upon George, who was such a broken reed in some things, though so
stanch in others, and the fervent Republican in politics that Clemens
then liked him to be. He could interpret Clemens's meaning to the public
without conveying his mood, and could render his roughest answer smooth
to the person denied his presence. His general instructions were that
this presence was to be denied all but personal friends, but the soft
heart of George was sometimes touched by importunity, and once he came up
into the billiard-room saying that Mr. Smith wished to see Clemens. Upon
inquiry, Mr. Smith developed no ties of friendship, and Clemens said,
"You go and tell Mr. Smith that I wouldn't come down to see the Twelve
Apostles." George turned from the threshold where he had kept himself,
and framed a paraphrase of this message which apparently sent Mr. Smith
away content with himself and all the rest of the world.

The part of him that was Western in his Southwestern origin Clemens kept
to the end, but he was the most desouthernized Southerner I ever knew.
No man more perfectly sensed and more entirely abhorred slavery, and no
one has ever poured such scorn upon the second-hand, Walter-Scotticized,
pseudo-chivalry of the Southern ideal. He held himself responsible for
the wrong which the white race had done the black race in slavery, and he
explained, in paying the way of a negro student through Yale, that he was
doing it as his part of the reparation due from every white to every
black man. He said he had never seen this student, nor ever wished to
see him or know his name; it was quite enough that he was a negro. About
that time a colored cadet was expelled from West Point for some point of
conduct "unbecoming an officer and gentleman," and there was the usual
shabby philosophy in a portion of the press to the effect that a negro
could never feel the claim of honor. The man was fifteen parts white,
but, "Oh yes," Clemens said, with bitter irony, "it was that one part
black that undid him." It made him a "nigger" and incapable of being a
gentleman. It was to blame for the whole thing. The fifteen parts white
were guiltless.

Clemens was entirely satisfied with the result of the Civil War, and he
was eager to have its facts and meanings brought out at once in history.
He ridiculed the notion, held by many, that "it was not yet time" to
philosophize the events of the great struggle; that we must "wait till
its passions had cooled," and "the clouds of strife had cleared away."
He maintained that the time would never come when we should see its
motives and men and deeds more clearly, and that now, now, was the hour
to ascertain them in lasting verity. Picturesquely and dramatically he
portrayed the imbecility of deferring the inquiry at any point to the
distance of future years when inevitably the facts would begin to put on

He had powers of sarcasm and a relentless rancor in his contempt which
those who knew him best appreciated most. The late Noah Brooks, who had
been in California at the beginning of Clemens's career, and had
witnessed the effect of his ridicule before he had learned to temper it,
once said to me that he would rather have any one else in the world down
on him than Mark Twain. But as Clemens grew older he grew more merciful,
not to the wrong, but to the men who were in it. The wrong was often the
source of his wildest drolling. He considered it in such hopelessness of
ever doing it justice that his despair broke in laughter.


I go back to that house in Hartford, where I was so often a happy guest,
with tenderness for each of its endearing aspects. Over the chimney in
the library which had been cured of smoking by so much art and science,
Clemens had written in perennial brass the words of Emerson, "The
ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it," and he gave his
guests a welcome of the simplest and sweetest cordiality: but I must not
go aside to them from my recollections of him, which will be of
sufficient garrulity, if I give them as fully as I wish. The windows of
the library looked northward from the hillside above which the house
stood, and over the little valley with the stream in it, and they showed
the leaves of the trees that almost brushed them as in a Claude Lorraine
glass. To the eastward the dining-room opened amply, and to the south
there was a wide hall, where the voices of friends made themselves heard
as they entered without ceremony and answered his joyous hail. At the
west was a little semicircular conservatory of a pattern invented by Mrs.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, and adopted in most of the houses of her kindly
neighborhood. The plants were set in the ground, and the flowering vines
climbed up the sides and overhung the roof above the silent spray of a
fountain companied by callas and other water-loving lilies. There, while
we breakfasted, Patrick came in from the barn and sprinkled the pretty
bower, which poured out its responsive perfume in the delicate accents of
its varied blossoms. Breakfast was Clemens's best meal, and he sat
longer at his steak and coffee than at the courses of his dinner;
luncheon was nothing to him, unless, as might happen, he made it his
dinner, and reserved the later repast as the occasion of walking up and
down the room, and discoursing at large on anything that came into his
head. Like most good talkers, he liked other people to have their say;
he did not talk them down; he stopped instantly at another's remark and
gladly or politely heard him through; he even made believe to find
suggestion or inspiration in what was said. His children came to the
table, as I have told, and after dinner he was apt to join his fine tenor
to their trebles in singing.

Fully half our meetings were at my house in Cambridge, where he made
himself as much at home as in Hartford. He would come ostensibly to stay
at the Parker House, in Boston, and take a room, where he would light the
gas and leave it burning, after dressing, while he drove out to Cambridge
and stayed two or three days with us. Once, I suppose it was after a
lecture, he came in evening dress and passed twenty-four hours with us in
that guise, wearing an overcoat to hide it when we went for a walk.
Sometimes he wore the slippers which he preferred to shoes at home, and
if it was muddy, as it was wont to be in Cambridge, he would put a pair
of rubbers over them for our rambles. He liked the lawlessness and our
delight in allowing it, and he rejoiced in the confession of his hostess,
after we had once almost worn ourselves out in our pleasure with the
intense talk, with the stories and the laughing, that his coming almost
killed her, but it was worth it.

In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with
reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it.
At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided
that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer
under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you
go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at
Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth
considering, and Scotch-whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard.
One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot
Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a
while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then
one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o'clock, and had gone
promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like
effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences
of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged

He came on to Cambridge in April, 1875, to go with me to the centennial
ceremonies at Concord in celebration of the battle of the Minute Men with


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