The Autobiography of a Journalist, Volume I
Stillman, William James

Part 2 out of 5

I had a parrot given me by one of my brothers returning from the
Southern States, and the bird took an extravagant fondness for my
father rather than for me. He was allowed to go free about the house
and garden, and would go and sit on the fence when my father should be
coming back from the workshop to dinner and supper, and run to meet
his footstep long before he was in sight, chuckling and chattering
with delight. Early one morning the parrot got shut, by chance, in the
cupboard, and, attempting to gnaw his way out, was mistaken for a rat,
and father took the shovel to kill him, while mother carefully opened
the door so that the rat might squeeze his way out to be killed, but
poor Poll got the blow instead, and had his neck broken. All that day
my father stayed at home weeping for Polly, and no business misfortune
in my recollection ever affected him as the death of the parrot did.
He could flog me without mercy, but he could not see the suffering of
a domestic or wild animal without tears, nor would he tolerate in us
children the slightest tendency to cruelty to the least living thing.

I have alluded to the differences between him and my mother on the
subject of education, the inutility of which, beyond a common-school
standard, he made an article of faith, and the return to the workshop
for the balance of the vacation, after my school-teaching failure, was
the occasion of the final battle. As the vacation drew to an end, and
the time which was still available for studying up the subjects of
the last term, for the examination on reentering, approached its
imperative limit, I notified him that I must stop work. He said
nothing until I had actually given it up and gone back to my study,
about two weeks before the examination day. Coming home from the shop
that day to dinner, in a very bad humor, he asked me why I had
not been at work. I replied that I had barely the time absolutely
necessary to make up my arrears of study to enter college for the next
term. Then he broke out on me with a torrent of abuse as an idle,
shirking boy, who only cared to avoid work, ending with the accusation
that all I wanted was to "eat the bread of idleness," a phrase he was
very fond of. I suppose I inherited some of his inequality of temper,
and I replied by leaving the table, throwing my chair across the room
as I did so; and, assuring him that when I ate another morsel of bread
in his house he would know the reason why, I left the house in a
towering rage. Having forewarned him days before that I must go,
without his making the least objection, and having postponed the step
to the latest possible moment, out of consideration for the work in
hand, I considered this treatment as ungenerous, and was indignant.

I do not think that, weighing all the circumstances of the case, one
could say that my father was entitled to impose his authority in
a purely arbitrary interference with a matter in which the family
council had decided on my course, and which involved all my future, or
that my refusal to obey an irrational command implies any disrespect
to him. At all events, I decided at once that I would not yield in
this matter, and I made my preparations to seek another home, even
with a modification in my career. If I must abandon the liberal
education, I would not waste my life in a little workshop with three
workmen, and no opportunity to widen the sphere of activity, or
opening into a larger occupation. If I should be obliged to leave the
college, it should be for something in the direction of art, and in
this light I did not much regret the change. I had not, however,
calculated on my mother's tenacity, or the imperceptible domination
she exercised over my father.

When I returned to the house to get my clothes and make my
preparations for leaving home for good, I had a most painful scene
with my mother, and it was the only serious misunderstanding I ever
had with her. She went through, in a rapid resume, the history of my
life, from the day when I was given her in consolation for the little
brother before me, who died, with a word for each of the crises
through which her care had carried me,--accidents, grave maladies, for
I was apparently not a strong child, and at several conjunctures my
life had been despaired of; all the story being told as she walked
up and down rapidly in the chamber, with the tears running down her
cheeks, and with a passionate vehemence I had never suspected her to
be capable of, since she had the most complete self-restraint I ever
knew in a woman. But it was an _impasse_--I neither could nor would
go back from the career decided upon, nor would the family have
consented, and to return to the workshop at my father's insistence was
to lose everything. It seemed brutal to refuse mother's entreaties
to ignore the collision of wills, and to go on as if nothing had
happened, but to do this and remain in the house with my father, in
the perpetual danger of another conflict, was impossible. The question
had to be settled, and all I could do was to insist on father's making
a distinct disavowal of any right or intention to demand my services
in the shop at any future time, and leaving me free to follow the
programme agreed on in the family council. It was in effect a frank
apology that I wanted, but I knew him too well to suppose he would
ever consent to make an apology in words, or to admit to me that he
had made a mistake; and I left the solution in my mother's hands, with
the understanding that the definite promise should be made to her,
and I knew too that this would hold him as completely as if made to a
public authority. Nothing could bring her to contradict him openly,
and in all my life I never saw her make a sign of disrespect for his
mastery in domestic things, but I knew that once this promise was made
to her I could count on his being held to it sternly.

That evening the matter was settled, but of what had passed, or what
was said, I never knew anything, for my mother never wasted words;
and, while no apology was made, or any retraction expressed, neither
my father nor myself ever alluded to the subject of my working in
the shop again, nor did I ever, as before, go into it during the
vacations, or offer to assist when affairs were hurried. The habit of
asserting the paternal authority and the sense of it, in my father,
were so strong that I never risked again reviving it.



I passed my examination and resumed my place in the class, but I never
tried district school-teaching again. Entering upon my junior year I
had a room in the north college. Each of the upper buildings--which
properly should have been called halls--was divided into five
sections, in effect separate residences, each being under the custody
of one of the professors or tutors, who was responsible for order
in the same, the two end sections of each of the colleges being an
official residence for one of the senior professors with families. The
rule required the students to be in their rooms after supper, but it
was almost as much honored in the breach as in the observance, and,
though the skylarking which resulted from the former often brought
the section officer up, those who had any tact avoided too close
an insistence on the regulations, so that the students in the same
sections commonly visited each other in the evenings, and not
infrequently those from the other sections came in.

Our quarters were of the simplest,--one room for two students, with
one wide bed,--and there we lived and studied. At half-past five the
bell rang to wake us, and half an hour later for prayers, the
sleepy ones returning to sleep after the waking bell, and thrusting
themselves into their clothes as they ran when the prayer-bell rang,
to get to prayers before the roll-call was over. From prayers again
we dispersed to the recitation rooms for the morning recitations, and
then to breakfast, mostly in town. There were two boarding-houses, one
at each end of the college walk, known as "North" and "South" halls
and forming part of the architectural scheme of the institution, and
here board was provided at somewhat lower terms than at the private
boarding-houses in town, and of very much inferior quality. The price
at the halls was, if I remember correctly, $1.25 a week for three
meals a day, that in the town ranging from $1.50 to $1.75. Furnished
rooms in the town cost 75 cents per week more, and a few favored or
wealthier students had permission to room in them, but as a rule the
undergraduates of Union were men of very limited means, on which
account the president and founder of the college, Dr. Nott, had
planned its regulations to facilitate the attendance of that class of
students, and the rules were such as closely to restrict the students
from any participation in the social life of the towns-people. The
visits of the section officers to the rooms of the students were
irregular, and the inquisition into the causes of absence so thorough,
that few, not of the most reckless, cared to risk a visit to the town,
half a mile from the upper buildings; and the old doctor's police was
too good for men to escape detection in any serious indulgence in
irregular hours.

Union was, at this epoch, and during the active life of the doctor,
the third university of the United States, coming, in the general
estimation and the number of its graduates, immediately after Yale,
Harvard being then, as always, the first; and it owed its character
and peculiar reputation to the strong and singular personality of its
first president. I have, in the course of my life, become more or less
acquainted with many able men, and Dr. Nott was the most remarkable of
all the teachers I have ever known, considering the limitation of his
position and profession,--that of a Presbyterian clergyman in a time
when sectarian differences ran high, and his sect had no lead in
public opinion. He had attained his position by the force of his
character assisted by his extraordinary tact and eloquence, but
unaided by patronage, and this at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, a time when institutions were forming and nothing was settled
in the character of society. The manual of public speakers which we
used to draw on for the speeches in class recitations included, as one
of the most brilliant examples, the doctor's oration on the death
of Alexander Hamilton, killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, one of the
earliest and the most prominent of the demagogues of America. I have
not read the oration for fifty years; but, as I remember it, it
was, in the fashion of the day, one of the most eloquent of all our

As I was a favorite of the doctor in the last year of my course and
for years after, and as no one has ever in my estimation done him
justice, it is to me a debt of gratitude, as well as a matter of
justice, to repair as best I may this neglect. No one but a pupil
could ever have fairly estimated his force of character, and no pupil
whose intercourse with him was not carried into the post-graduate
years could measure the ability with which he advised, especially in
political matters, with his old pupils. In the days of his activity,
no institution in the country furnished so large an element to the
practical statesmanship of the United States as did Union. Seward
was one of his favorite pupils, and it is well known that, up to the
period of the American Civil War, he never took a step in politics
without the advice of the doctor. Having had a struggle with poverty
in his own early life, Dr. Nott sympathized heartily with the poorer
students, and a practical education was more easily gained at Union
than was then possible at Yale or Harvard. Men were allowed to defer
payment of the fees till later life when their means had increased;
and, though there were no scholarships, there were many students whose
burdens were so far alleviated by the regulations that an earnest man
who was determined to take his degree and work his way if he must,
needed never leave college unsatisfied.

The doctor's reading of character and detective powers were barely
short of the miraculous, and his management of refractory students
became so well known that many who had been expelled from the other
universities were sent to Union and graduated with credit, so that the
college acquired the nickname of "Botany Bay." There came to him once
for admission a student expelled from Yale for persistent violation
of the regulations, and naturally without the letter which by general
usage was required from the president of one university to another,
certifying the good standing of the student. The president of Yale
wrote to the doctor to ask "if he meant to take that scoundrel into
his college." The doctor, who had made a rapid examination of the man,
replied, "Yes, and make a man of him." In one of my post-graduate
years, when I was staying with the doctor, he told me the story of
this man. He had estimated his character at a glance correctly, and
saw in him a mismanaged student. He was admitted unconditionally,
as if he had come with the best of characters, and for a time he
justified the confidence reposed in him. But the uneasy nature one
day broke out, and he committed a gross violation of the rules. The
discipline of the doctor began always with a friendly conversation,
and with some men ended with it, for he knew so well how to paint the
consequences of expulsion that it sufficed; but on the entry of this
student into his library, he saw on looking at him that he "had the
devil in his eye." He had, in fact, said to his roommate on getting
the summons to the interview, "If the doctor thinks he is going to
break me in he'll find himself mistaken." The doctor had a curious
kind of vision which made it impossible to say which of the persons in
the room he was looking at, and when, while seeming to be engaged on
his book, he had looked into the eyes of the student, and saw that the
light of battle was kindled in them, he waited for a little, and then,
as if preoccupied, said to him in his most kindly tone, "I am very
much occupied at this moment, my son; won't you come in to-morrow
evening?" The young man went back to his room already half conquered
by the affectionate manner, but the important point gained in the
doctor's tactics was that the psychological moment of combat in the
student had been reached and could not be kept up for a day, and when
on the next evening the interview took place, his combativeness had
given place to perplexity and complete demoralization. In this state
the doctor gave him a paternal lesson on the consequences to his
future life of the rebellion against necessary discipline and of
persistent disorderly conduct, but without any actual reproof or
mention of his offense, and all in his invariably kindly tone as if it
were a talk on generalities, and then dismissed him to think it over.
He had established cordial relations with the rebel, and from that day
had no trouble with him, and he graduated at the head of his class.

And the doctor understood men so well that he never wasted his trouble
on those who had nothing in them, but let them drift through the
course unnoted. Expulsions were very rare, and the secret police of
the university was so competent that the almost absolute certainty of
detection generally deterred the men from serious infractions of the
rules. The government seemed to be based on the policy of giving an
earnest man all the advantages to be got out of the institution, and
getting the indifferent through the course with the least discredit.
In a state of society in which the collegiate standing was of
importance to a man's career, this condition of things would have been
a grave objection to the college, but in our western world the degree
had very little importance, and the honors no effect on the future
position. Most of the prominent men of our past had not even been
through any university, and in politics it was often rather an
obstacle than a recommendation that a man was a "college man." What
the doctor tried to do, then, was to make a man when he found the
material for one, and to ignore the futile intellects. This was the
scheme of the education at Union when I was there, and it rarely
failed to find the best men in the class and bring them forward.

Our college life may have been to the men of sufficient means more
largely supplied with the elements of excitement, but for the poorer
students there was little romance in it. Now and then a demonstration
against an unpopular professor, a "bolt," i.e. abstention _en masse_
from a recitation; or a rarer invasion of the town and hostile
demonstration gave us a fillip, but the doctor had so well policed the
college and so completely brought under his moral influence the town,
that no serious row ever took place in my time. Later he told me how
he managed one of the worst early conflicts, in which the students on
one side of the college road, and the town boys on the other, were
arrayed in battle order, determined to fight out the question who were
the better men. The doctor had early notice of the imminent row, and,
fetching a circuit behind the "town," encouraged the boys on that side
with assurances of his impartiality and even his satisfaction with a
little punishment of the students, if they were aggressive. "But,"
said he, "don't begin the fight and put yourselves in the wrong. If my
boys come over, thrash them well, but let them strike the first blow."
Having put them in the strongest defensive attitude, believing that
they had the doctor with them, he went round to the students and
applied the same inducements to the defensive, leaving them under the
persuasion that he entirely approved their fighting, and then he went
home and left them to their conclusions. As time passed and neither
took the offensive, they all cooled off and went home.

The tact with which he dealt with the occasional outbreaks in the
college was very interesting. If it was a case of wanton defiance of
the habitual order, there was a very slight probability of its being
overlooked. A favorite prank of the stealing of the college bell was
invariably punished, first by having a hand-bell rung a little earlier
than regulation hours all through the sections; and, when his secret
police had discovered the offenders, they were punished according to
custom, never very severely, but sufficiently so to make them feel
humiliated. But the mystery of his police was never explained, and
we were always at a loss to conjecture how he discovered the most
elaborately concealed combinations, so that suddenly, even weeks
after, when the culprits thought they had finally escaped detection,
he would announce at prayers that they were to come to his study to
explain. If the outbreak, however, had been in any way justified by
an arbitrary or unwise act of discipline by any of the professors, he
used to ignore it altogether.

The professor of mensuration, a fussy and consequential little fellow,
a volunteer on the staff, and a man of singularly slight knowledge
of young men, very fond of showing his authority, especially at the
public examinations at the end of the term, had incurred the wrath
of the class and become the butt of all its practical jokes. Having
boasted one evening in society of the town that the students dared
not rebel against him, and the boast coming to their knowledge, not a
single student presented himself at the recitation next morning. The
next day he was greeted with such disorder that it was necessary to
suspend the exercises, and one of the most violent demonstrators
finished by throwing a huge wooden spoon at him, which, hitting him on
the head, ended the row. His public examinations were the most severe
we had to go through, and often quite needlessly so, in order to
impress the visitors with his own knowledge rather than with ours,
and as the end of a term drew near, I think in my last junior term,
a conspiracy was got up to put him _hors de combat_ for that
examination. It was decided to take him out of his room in the section
(he was section officer in my own section) and bring him into the
pine woods in the rear of the college, and there, unless he solemnly
promised to stay away from his class examination, to cut off his hair
and tar his head first, then crop his beard, and, if he was still
refractory, to strip him (it was midsummer) and tie him to a tree
and leave him all night, under the conviction that he would not show
himself at examination after that experience.

In the small hours, the conspirators, provided with a duplicate key to
the professor's door, made a stealthy attempt to open it, but found
his key on the inside and were unable to open the door, but woke the
victim, who, however, dared not raise an alarm. One of the smaller
students tried to climb in through the ventilator, but this was nailed
down, and then as a last resort the "smoking machine" was brought into
action. This was an "infernal machine," employed in hazing students
who had in any way offended the opinion of the class, especially by
indecorous subservience to the authorities or informing against their
fellow students. The latter was a rare offense and never pardoned.
The smoking machine consisted of a short length of stove-pipe with a
nozzle at each end, into one of which was introduced a bellows, and
the other was put through the keyhole of the door of the offender. In
the body of the pipe was a bed of lighted charcoal, and on this was
sprinkled tobacco and assafoetida, and the smoke was driven into the
room in such quantities that no human being could resist it more than
a few minutes. The smoking was continued for ten minutes, when, as the
professor did not surrender, it began to be feared that the joke had
gone too far, and two of the conspirators went out to see if there
were any external signs of vitality, and found that the victim had
opened his window and was lying with his head below the window-sill so
as to be out of the smoke which poured out over him. I suppose that
the delegates were drunk, for one of them threw a block of wood at
the professor's head which, missing him, drove in the window pane and
finished the experiment.

It was the gravest outrage of my time, and had there not been so large
a part of the senior class implicated in the conspiracy, directly or
indirectly, there is no doubt that the doctor would have taken the
most severe measures for the punishment of those concerned. No partial
punishment would have been possible, and the general irritation
against that particular professor was so great in the class, and
his course had been so little in conformity with the usages of the
college, that the doctor thought best to ignore the affair completely.
The professor was completely cowed, and we had no more browbeating
from him. But the practical jokes played on him were never attempted
with any other member of the faculty, all of them having been trained
in the doctor's own school. Except possibly the oldest of them,
all were graduates at Union under him; and his system of elastic,
unceasing pressure, constant and unobtrusive surveillance, and simple
appeals to the students' higher interests and manly feeling were so
generally potent in the government of the college that the petty
tyranny of the mensuration professor, nicknamed "Geodesy," found no
support in the faculty, though the same elastic system which threw the
responsibility of final results on the individual left him the same
freedom of action which it gave us, and he had to learn his lesson
while he taught us ours.

The students mostly joined one or other of a large number of secret
societies, mainly social and never scholastic, which had, almost
without exception, originated at Union, spreading to other
universities by migration or initiation of their members. The
distinction most sought for by ambitious students, the marshalship
of the "commencement" ceremonies,--i.e. the conferring of degrees,
speech-making, etc., of the graduating class,--was an elective office
and voted for by all the members of the class, so that, for this
position of a day, scholarship was only of secondary importance, the
personal popularity of the candidates determining the election. The
societies grouped themselves in two parties, the most popular man in
each party was its candidate, and the canvassing ran more or less
actively through the senior year, occupying largely the attention of
the students. These societies were in general boyish imitations of the
Freemasons, though the most eminent, the Phi Beta Kappa, was an old
and dignified institution, having been founded in 1776, at William and
Mary College, whence it soon spread to Harvard and Yale, eventually
establishing itself in most of the principal colleges of the country;
at Union, under the control of the faculty, it became the high
literary distinction of the class, only the third of the class with
the highest collective record being admitted at graduation. Each of
the societies had its secrets, its secret meetings, its grip and
passwords, and it always seemed to me, though I was early initiated
into one which had a distinguished record and literary reputation,
that it was a folly and a waste of the energies of the students.
Opposed to them all was an anti-secret society, and this, like the
others, was known by the initials of the secret name, which was
supposed to be Greek and to indicate, mysteriously, the character of
the society. Students at the earliest date, generally in the first
weeks of attendance, were thoroughly canvassed by the members of these
societies, and invited, in accordance with their characters, to enter
one or the other, those of a studious tendency finding most favor with
that to which I was invited, and which consisted mostly of poor and
studious men, others according to their social standing or wealth, or
even their tendency to a wild life.

Besides this we had a house of representatives for the juniors and
a senate for the seniors, over which two of the senior professors
presided, knowing the rules of the respective branches of Congress,
and requiring their observance in the debates, which echoed the grave
political questions of the day. There was no lecturing system, and
there was no such thing known as coaching; and the recitations
consisted, like those in the juvenile schools, in answering questions
taken from the lesson in standard textbooks, and called out no special
abilities in the students which could distinguish the men of mark from
the merest bookworms. There were men who never read the lesson and
depended on being prompted by a friend. One of these derelicts, the
son of a famous brewer, gave us a laugh which no member of the class
can have forgotten. He was known for drinking enormous quantities of
his father's beer and sleeping even in class; and when the question
put him was, "Who was the reputed inventor of poetry amongst the
Greeks?" he had no answer till the man behind him whispered,
"Orpheus." He caught it badly, and roared, "Morpheus." The laugh that
followed stopped recitation for ten minutes. A laugh in a large class
had a curious way of going on indefinitely.

Until we reached the senior year, and came under the direct care of
the old doctor, there was nothing in the course to awaken special
ambitions. The honors, determined chiefly by the marks given at the
end of the term, being mainly the reward of a diligence rather stupid
than otherwise, as a rule were regarded with great indifference, and,
for the most part, fell to the men who "poled" most assiduously, and
got the best marks for attention, diligence, and correct recitation of
the set tasks. As I look back on the life and work of that period, it
seems to me that it was most unintelligently spent, and when I reached
my senior year, and came under the direct stimulus of Dr. Nott, I
recognized that, so far as the true education was concerned, I had
wasted two years, and had I been master of my future I should have
been inclined to go back to the beginning and repeat the three years'
course of study under the new light, and with a recognition of the
purpose of higher study, for I saw that all that I had gained was
little more than parrot learning. The doctor indeed tried to make us
think, and he used to say that the textbook was a matter of entire
indifference, and that he would as soon have a book of riddles as
Kames's "Elements of Criticism," so long as he could make us think out
our conclusions. With him our recitations were a perpetual contest
of our wits against his; he showed us the shallowness of our
acquisitions, and dissected mercilessly both textbook and the
responses to the questions which he had drawn from it, admitting
nothing and pushing the pupil perpetually into the deeper water as
soon as he began to think his foot had touched firm land. The first
term under the doctor brought up every intellectual faculty I
possessed, and I suppose it was to this intense appreciation of his
leading that I owed his friendship and partiality in the following
years. So far as the influence of school can go, I owe to him the best
of my education, and especially the perception of the meaning of the
word itself. In the senior year I turned back in my life and sought
not to hasten, but to linger in the precincts of study, and the
imperious necessity of getting to the only occupation which would give
me the independence I desired, alone deterred me from a post-graduate
course of study to compensate for the inadequacy of the past years.

In entering the church, Dr. Nott had deprived the world of a statesman
of no ordinary calibre, but in the eyes of the Protestant, as of the
Catholic Church, in the country which had its precedents to make, as
in that which had precedents a thousand years old, the maxim, "once a
priest always a priest," kept him in the pulpit, to which he had no
irresistible call, and to which the accident of his career only had
led him. Had the church to which he belonged been organized with an
episcopal government, he had certainly been its primate; but in the
vague and incoherent condition of the Congregational churches, to one
of which he belonged, there was no career beyond that of the isolated
pastorate of a single congregation. In this insufficiency of interest
for an active and influential life there was only the educational
calling left to satisfy his enormous mental activity, and in this
he found his place. The future, which may look for his record in
libraries, or in the results of research, scientific or literary, will
not find him to occupy a position. He had, however, great mechanical
inventive powers, as well as a marvelous knowledge of human nature;
the former solved the problem, amongst others, of anthracite coal
combustion for American steamers. In the latter lay his qualifications
as the greatest teacher of young men of his generation.

Nobody could know him except the pupils to whom he disclosed himself,
and to whom his kindly and magnanimous nature was unreservedly open,
and they were few, and the list is fast being canceled; when we are
gone, no one will ever comprehend how he could have been what he
was. But the power he always exercised over his favorite boys was
extraordinary; any of us would have done anything permitted to human
nature to satisfy his wish. An instance of his influence, occurring
later in my life, will illustrate his power over his old pupils. When,
several years subsequent to my graduation, and on the election of
Lincoln as President, I had used what influence I could enlist with
the government (my brother being a prominent Republican) to get the
appointment as consul to Venice, which was generally given to an
artist, the principal petition in my favor went from Cambridge. It
was written by Judge Gray (now on the Supreme Court bench), headed by
Agassiz and signed by nearly every eminent literary or scientific man
in Cambridge, but it lay at the Department of State more than six
months, unnoticed. In the interim the war broke out and I had gone
home from Paris, where I was then living, to volunteer in the army;
but, being excluded by the medical requirements, and the ranks being
full,--800,000 volunteers being then enrolled,--I turned to my project
for Venice, and wrote a word to Dr. Nott, recalling his promise of
years before to use his influence in my favor, if ever it were needed.
He inclosed my letter, with one containing an indorsement of it, and
sent it to Seward, the Secretary of State, and the appointment--not
to Venice, which had just been given to Howells, but to Rome--came by
return of post.

Union was then the only university of importance not under some form
of denominational control, and for this reason had, perhaps, more than
the usual share of extreme liberalism, or atheism, as it was at that
time considered amongst the students; and one of my classmates, a man
a couple of years older than myself, and of far more than the average
intellectual power, made an active propaganda of the most advanced
opinions. He also introduced Philip James Bailey's "Festus" to our
attention, and for a time I was carried away by both. The great
revulsion from my previous straitened theological convictions was the
cause of infinite perplexity and distress. Up to that time nothing
had ever shaken me in my orthodox persuasions, and the necessity of
concealing from my mother and family my doubts and halting faith in
the old ideas made it all the more perplexing. I had to fight out
the question all alone. It was impossible to follow my classmate so
completely as to accept his conclusions and become the materialist
that he was, and so find a relative repose; and the conflict became
very grave. The entire scheme of Christianity disappeared from my
firmament; but, in the immediately previous years, I had been a reader
of Swedenborg, and I held immovably an intuition of immortality,--or,
if the term intuition be denied me, the conviction that immortality
was the foundation of human existence, grounded in my earliest
thoughts, and as clear as the sense of light,--and this never failed
me. In this respect Swedenborg helped my reason in its struggle,
though I could never see my way to the entire acceptance of his

My dogmatic theological education had been entirely incidental, for my
mother never discussed dogmas or doctrines, but the simple duties and
promises of religion, and my intelligence had never been, therefore,
so kept captive as to make release grateful. Christianity had never
been a doctrinal burden to me, or any form of belief inconsistent in
my mind with true Christianity. In my mother's thought there was only
one thing utterly profane, and that was self-righteousness. And there
happened to me in this conjuncture, what has in my later life been
often seen, that the modification of religious views imposed on us by
the superior force of another mind--a persuasion of what seems to be
truth as it is only seen by others' vision--could not hold its own
against the early convictions, and that a revulsion to the old faith
was sooner or later inevitable and generally healthy. The epidemic
passed, and, though it gave me great distress for the time, it made my
essential religious convictions stronger in the end. It is, I think,
Max Mueller who says that no man can escape from the environment of his
early religious education. I have seen, in my experience of life and
men, many curious proofs of that law, men who have lived for many
years in the most absolute rejection of all religions, returning in
their old age to the simple faith of childhood, ending as they began.
The change of religious convictions which holds its own against all
influences is that which comes from the healthy evolution of our own
thought. At any rate, in my own case, the rationalistic revolution
completed its circle and brought me back to that simple faith to
remain in which is a reproach to no man, and the departure from which,
to be healthy, must be made on lines conformed to our better natures.
I felt the better for my excursion into new regions, and the freedom
of movement I acquired I never lost.

As I am telling the story of a phase of human life in which the study
of the religious character will be to some readers, perhaps, one of
the chief subjects of interest, and as to me the whole subject is now
purely objective, as a mental phenomenon in the life of another man
would be, I am tempted to tell a romantic incident of this period of
my evolution, because it illustrates clearly the state of mind and
sentiment developed by the peculiar education and surroundings of my
youth. In one of the winter vacations of my course, my brother Paul,
who was an ardent and sanguine proselyter in the Seventh-Day doctrine,
charged me with an expedition up the Mohawk valley as a colporteur,
to distribute Sabbath tracts, and, occasion arising, to discuss, with
those who offered, the doctrine involved. The snow was deep, and,
wading in it from house to house in all the towns as far as Utica, I
finished with a visit to the home at Whitestown, near by, of my old
friend the former preceptress of the De Ruyter Academy, with whom I
had always been a favorite, and who had taught me French (very little)
and drawing (very little more), but who was a charming and poetical
creature. I had not heard of her for years, and the latest news
was that she had become insane through a cruel disappointment in
love,--her lover having wantonly, and without offering a pretext,
broken off the engagement just before the wedding day,--and had been
sent to a lunatic asylum. I found her at home, a wretched shadow of
her old self, listless, and in a settled melancholy, which the doctors
said was incurable. She had in fact been discharged from the asylum
as a hopeless lunatic, though the violent phase of the insanity had
passed. It occurred to me that a diversion to old times would awaken
her again to a sense of the present, and I tried to draw her back to
the academy life by talking of it as if nothing had happened. That
something unwonted was passing in her mind soon became evident, and
finally she burst out with, "Why, Willie" (she had always so called me
in the old times), "didn't you know I had been crazy?" The manner, the
suddenness of the conflict between old associations and her present
state, the mingling of our old affection, for I had in my boyhood held
her very dear, as she had me, so overpowered me that I burst into
tears, and she threw her arms around me and kissed me again and again.
What the feeling which sprang up on her part was I could never quite
understand,--doubtless it was partly the delight of a sudden relief
from the old, monotonous pain, the unexpected unbending of a tense
and overborne mind and momentary obliteration of the dreary immediate
past, and partly the outburst of a passionate temperament which I had
never suspected; but on my part there arose an attachment as chivalric
as ever a knight of Arthur's time felt, yet perfectly platonic. That
she was nearly old enough to have been my mother did not in the least
matter--it was no question of love as young folks feel it; but in my
heart I offered myself a bearer of her sorrows. I had only recently
recovered from my wandering into the wilderness of doubt, and my
religious faith was as vivid as when I had been at my mother's
knee--Providence ruled, and God answered prayer. This phase of my
life, juvenile as I now perceive it to be, I respect as the most
honest in it. I honor the weakness as I cannot always what seems the
later strength. Those who read my life may put the estimate on it
which suits their creed; I only speak of it as a phenomenon of my
Puritan youth. I prayed earnestly that I might take on myself her
afflictions, if so she might be healed and come back to her right
mind. That was Friday night, for her family were "Seventh-Day
keepers," and I had gone to pass the Sabbath with them, so I stayed
two days, continuing my devotions earnestly. On Monday I went back
to my colportage, but that night I was taken with a sharp attack of
bronchitis, with high fever, and obliged to keep my room at the hotel.
The next day, finding the matter serious, I sallied out and returned
to the house of her parents, and remained there while the attack
lasted. A naturally strong constitution was my safety, and made light
of what was really a sharp attack of acute trouble, which kept me in
the house a considerable time, the care and happy charge of my friend.

What any physician of minds would have foreseen took place. She found
in the attention to her patient the diversion from all the train of
past preoccupations, and forgot in this absolutely novel situation
the old trouble. To the delight of the family she began to take an
interest in the affairs of the house, and, though for years she had
utterly neglected the most trivial attention to her dress and personal
appearance, and had shown such a determinedly suicidal disposition
that her mother had been obliged to sleep in the same bed with her to
be able to watch her effectively, she now became bright and cheerful
and seemed her old self again. From that time forward she rapidly
recovered, and when I went back to college we began a close
correspondence which was the beginning of my real literary education,
for her taste in literature was excellent, if a little sentimental,
and her criticisms were so sound that in some respects they have never
lost their effect on my way of thinking and expressing thought. She
was persuaded to come to Schenectady and pass the period of my next
vacation in our family. Her insanity absolutely disappeared, she
returned to healthy activity in her old vocation as teacher, and the
year after, to my great annoyance, married her former fiance. I was
angry with her, not for marrying, but for marrying him after his
shameful treatment of her. She seemed to me, and to her family also,
to have thrown herself away on a man who had proved himself utterly
unworthy any woman's devotion. All my chivalry, too, seemed wasted,
and the only result of the experiment was the dissipation of an ideal,
the naive expectation of the vicarious penalty to which I had in my
sincerity offered myself having passed away. Convinced, that I had
cured her, I was indignant at having cured her for him, but I suffered
no visitation of contempt for women, and my indignation was the
deepest feeling that remained from the experience, except the
literary impulse born of the persistent effort to interest her in my
correspondence and the consequent search for material for letters in
the details of college life and the nature around us; and the habit
of noticing and memorizing what might be of interest to others in the
most trivial incidents of life never quite left me. I became a profuse
letter-writer from inclination, and, though all the letters of
that part of my life and for years after were recalled and burnt
scrupulously, I am convinced that what literary ability I possess is
in a great degree owing to the impulse I received in that romantic

What was, perhaps, more important, was that the vicarious offering of
myself, made in my morbid enthusiasm, and the commonplace result of
it, hastened the end of that phase of my religious experience. It was
only because my boyhood had been frozen up in those seven years of
apathy and began to thaw out in later years, when manhood should
have been taking the reins, that all that passage of childhood and
unsophisticated devotion intruded in the wrong place, to fill up the
void in the formation. My religious status, as well as my conception
of life, were only advanced to where they should have been at an
earlier period.

Atheism was at that time beginning to work strongly among the
students, and in opposition to it there began an antagonistic
evangelical movement, with prayer-meetings amongst those religiously
inclined. In my class, at this time, were several who became in after
life eminent in clerical activity, and amongst them were the brothers
Nevius, distinguished in the missionary service in the far East. I had
no liking for the prayer-meetings of the students, but I joined the
movement for holding religious services in the city almshouse, a
primitive institution which had no chaplain, and where were sent not
only the incurably poor and the incurably sick, but the idiots and
half-witted, as well as the temporarily incapacitated poor, who would
have been, in a better and more complete social organization, sent to
a hospital, which did not exist in Schenectady. With several other
students and two or three young ladies of the city we held services at
the "poorhouse" every Sunday. Short exhortations with prayers and the
singing of hymns composed the service, and I remember that one day, in
giving out a hymn in long metre, I started it to a short metre tune,
and had to go through it alone, the ladies whose business was the
musical part of the service not being able to accommodate their
measure to my leading. I made my solo as short as possible, and
finished with the ill-suppressed giggling of the girls, but my
audience of poor cripples and weak-minded were equally impressed.

No doubt the struggles with Festus and my atheistic friend, and the
partial influence of the ambient, the sincere piety of the old doctor,
which dominated the life of the college, helped to strengthen the
reaffirmation of my orthodox Christianity, and, for several years
after, I had no more question of the divine authority of the tenets of
our church, including the Seventh Day Sabbath, than I had of the laws
of nature; but the truly spiritual character of my mother's religion
saved me from becoming a bigot. If I had been trained in the dogmas of
Christianity, I have no doubt I should have then become an atheist.
Nor was I a prig. I must confess that I enjoyed the occasional larks
in which my classmates sometimes led and sometimes followed me, as
well as any of them. Our Greek professor, Doctor R., was a bit of a
snob, and the plebeians of the class, much the largest part, always
held him in ill will; and as his garden bordered on our section, and
his fowls roosted in the trees overhanging the green, we one day
decided to mulct him in a supper. That night a party of the students
of the section scaled the fence (I well remember tearing my trousers
in climbing it) and wrung the necks of four of his fowls, which we
sent into town next morning to be roasted, and which, accompanied
by sundry mince-pies and a huge bowl of eggnog, made us a luxurious
supper next midnight, the fragments being carefully--bones and bits of
pie-crusts included--deposited at the professor's front door before
daylight of next day, which happened to be Sunday. The package,
carefully made up and directed like an express parcel, was addressed
to him in all the fullness of formality, but it had rained in the
interval, and when in the morning the servant took it up, on opening
the door, the wet paper broke and the remnants of the feast bestrewed
the doorway. The boy afterwards told me that the profanity of the
professor was terrible to hear, and as he cut me two in my report of
the Greek that term, I always suspected that he comprised me in the
execration. As it happened the cut was undeserved, for there were few
men in the class who did their Greek better than I, and the cut cost
me the Phi Beta Kappa, which went to all the class whose aggregate
marks made an average per term of 981/2, mine being 981/4. But as he
always held me in disrespect on account of my father's occupation, and
as assiduously paid court and gave good reports to the sons of wealthy
men, there was a mutual aversion. He gave _max_. that term to the son
of a famous quack doctor, who always came to me to be crammed for the
recitation, while I got 98. Naturally we had little respect for the

Of my college course, I retained only what held my sympathies. I never
went in for honors, or occupied myself beyond the required measure
with studies which did not _per se_ interest me. Greek and Latin, but
especially physics, the humanities, and literature enlisted all my
ambitions, and the little weekly paper which was read at the meetings
of our secret society occupied me more than was in due measure
perhaps. I took my degree of course, but not with distinction. The
majority of the family having, prior to my graduation, gathered at or
near New York city, my father and mother, having attained their
object in remaining in Schenectady, moved to New York, and I, finally
liberated for the study of art, gave myself seriously to that end.



During the time of my preparation for entry to college, a wandering
artist had happened to find his way to Schenectady, one of the
restless victims of his temperament, to whose unrest fate had given
other motives for change than his occupation. He was an Englishman by
the name of John Wilson, a pupil of the brothers Alfred and Edward
Chalons, fashionable London miniature painters of the early part of
the century. In years long gone by he had established himself at
St. Petersburg as a portrait painter, but, losing his wife and two
children by a flood of the Neva, which occurred during his momentary
absence in England, he abandoned Russia and went to one of the Western
States of America and gave himself up to agriculture. Here fate found
him again, and, after losing another wife and other children, he
became a wanderer, interested in everything new and strange. He had
been taken by Pitman's then new phonography, and his chief occupation
at that time was teaching it wherever at any school he could form a
class. He came to Union College, to this end, and had been recommended
to my mother for board and lodging, and she gladly availed herself of
the opportunity to get for me lessons in drawing in return for his
board. He was a constitutional reformer, a radical as radicalism was
then possible, had become an atheist with Robert Dale Owen, indignant
at the treatment accorded him by destiny, and was _au fond_ an honest
and philanthropic man. He taught me the simplest rudiments of portrait
and landscape in water-color, and of perspective, of which he was
master, and, as he failed to find a field for his phonographic
mission, I got up a small class in drawing for him, and after our
dozen lessons he went his way to new regions and I never heard from
him again. What he taught me I soon lost, except the perspective.

A little later, and while at work in my father's shop, there came in
for a piece of ironwork our local artist, a man of curious artistic
faculties, a shoemaker by trade, who had taught himself painting and
had made himself a certain position as the portrait painter of the
region. He desired to make for himself a lay-figure, and for the
articulations had conceived a new form of universal joint, which he
desired my father to put into shape. My father refused the job, as out
of the line of his work, and I volunteered to take it, stipulating for
some instruction in painting in return. The joint did not answer
when worked out, but the friendship between Sexton and myself lasted
through his life, and a truer example of the artistic nature never
came under my study. All that he knew of painting he got from books,
save for an annual visit to the exhibition of the American Academy at
New York, but his conception of the nature of art was very lofty and
correct, and had his education been in keeping with his natural gifts,
he would have taken a high position as a painter. His was one of the
most pathetic lives I can recall--a fine sensitive nature, full of the
enthusiasms of the outer world, with rare gifts in the embryonic state
and mental powers far above the average, limited in every direction,
in facilities, in education in art and in letters, and having his lot
cast in a community where, except the wife of President Nott, there
was not a single person who was capable of giving him sympathy or
artistic appreciation. Not least in the pathos of his situation was
the simplicity and humility with which he accepted himself, with
his whole nature yearning towards an ideal which he knew to be as
unattainable as the stars, without impatience or bitterness towards
men or fate. If he was not content with what was given him, no one
could see it, and he was so filled with the happiness that nature and
his limited art gave him that he had no room for discontent at the

Happy days were those in which my leisure gave me the opportunity to
share this man's walks and make my crude sketches of his favorite
nooks and bends of our beautiful river Mohawk, and listen to his
experiences while he worked. I can see now that it was more nature
than art that evoked my enthusiasms, and that in art I felt mainly the
expression of the love of the beauty of nature. Sexton gave me some
idea of the use of oils, and from that time most of my leisure hours
and my vacant days were given to painting in an otherwise untaught
manner, copying such pictures as I could borrow, or translating
engravings into color--wretched things most certainly, but to me then,
with my crude enthusiasm, productive of greater pleasure than the
better productions of later years.

The three years of my college course had left me little room or
leisure for such studies, and at the end of them I realized that so
far as the object I had set before me was concerned, I had wasted the
years and blunted the edge of my enthusiasms. In preparation for
the career which I proposed to myself I had, however, been in
correspondence with Thomas Cole, then the leading painter of landscape
in America, and an artist to this day unrivaled in certain poetic and
imaginative gifts by any American painter. He was a curious result
of the influence of the old masters on a strongly individual English
mind, inclined to nature worship, born in England in the epoch of the
poetic English school to which Girtin, Turner, and their colleagues
belonged, and migrating to America in boyhood, early enough to become
impressed by the influence of primitive nature as a subject of art.
Self-taught in technique and isolated in his development, he became
inevitably devoted to the element of subject rather than to technical
attainment, and in the purely literary quality of art he has perhaps
been surpassed by no landscape painter of any time. His indifference
to technical qualities has left him in neglect at present, but in the
influence he had on American art, and for his part in the history of
it, he remains an important individuality now much underrated. It was
settled that I should become his pupil in the winter following my
graduation, but a few months before that he died.

At that moment there was not in the United States a single school of
art, and except Cole, who had one or two pupils when he died, there
was no competent landscape painter who accepted pupils, nor perhaps
one who was capable of teaching. Drawing masters there were here and
there, mostly in the conventional style adapted to the seminaries for
young ladies. Inman, the leading portrait painter of the day, had
taken pupils, but his powers did not extend to the treatment of
landscape, and my sympathies did not go beyond it. I applied to A.B.
Durand, then the president of our Academy, the only rival of Cole,
though in a purely naturalistic vein, and a painter of real power in
a manner quite his own, which borrowed, however, more from the Dutch
than from the Italian feeling, to which Cole inclined. Durand was
originally an engraver of the first order, and afterwards a portrait
painter, but his careful painting from nature and a sunny serenity in
his rendering of her marked him, even in the absence of imaginative
feeling, as a specialist in landscape, to which he later gave himself
entirely. His was a serene and beautiful nature, perfectly reflected
in his art, and he first showed American artists what could be done
by faithful and unaffected direct study of nature in large studies
carefully finished on the spot, though never carried to the
elaboration of later and younger painters. But he was so restrained by
an excess of humility as to his own work, and so justly diffident of
his knowledge of technique, that he could not bring himself to accept
a pupil, and I finally applied to F.E. Church, a young painter, pupil
of Cole, and for many years after the leading landscape painter of the
country. He was then in his first success, and I was his first pupil.

Church in many respects was the most remarkable painter of the
phenomena of nature I have ever known, and had he been trained in a
school of wider scope, he might have taken a place amongst the great
individualities of his art. But he had little imagination, and his
technical training had not emancipated him from an exaggerated
insistence on detail, which so completely controlled his treatment of
his subject that breadth and repose were entirely lost sight of. A
graceful composition, and most happy command of all the actual effects
of the landscape which he had seen, were his highest qualities;
his retention of the minutest details of the generic or specific
characteristics of tree, rock, or cloud was unsurpassed by the work
of any landscape painter whose work I know, and everything he knew he
rendered with a rapidity and precision which were simply inconceivable
by one who had not seen him at work. I think that his vision and
retention of even the most transitory facts of nature passing before
him must have been at the maximum of which the human mind is capable,
but he had no comprehension of the higher and broader qualities of
art. His mind seemed a camera obscura in which everything that passed
before it was recorded permanently, but he added in the rendering of
its record nothing which sprang from human emotion, or which involved
that remoulding of the perception that makes it conception, and
individual. The primrose on the river's brim he saw with a vision
as clear as that of a photographic lens, but it remained to him a
primrose and nothing more to the end. All that he did or could do was
the recording, form and color, of what had flitted past his eyes,
with unsurpassed fidelity of memory; but it left one as cold as the
painting of an iceberg. His recognition of art as distinguished from
nature was far too rudimentary to fit him for a teacher, for his love
of facts and detail blinded him to every other aspect of our relations
with nature, in the recognition of which consist the highest gifts of
the artist.

My study with Church lasted one winter, and showed me that nothing
was to be hoped for from him, and that the most intimate superficial
acquaintance with nature did not involve the perception of her more
intimate relation with art. I learned from him nothing that was worth
remembering, but I made acquaintance with a young portrait painter,
who had a studio in the same building, an Irishman named Boyle, a
pupil of Inman, whose ideas of art were of a far higher order, and to
my intercourse with him during that winter and the following summer,
which we spent together sketching in the valley of the Mohawk, I
owe the first clear ideas of what lay before me in artist life. At
Church's studio I met Edgar A. Poe, a slender, nervous, vivacious,
and extremely refined personage. But at that juncture I came across
"Modern Painters," and, like many others, wiser or otherwise, I
received from it a stimulus to nature worship, to which I was already
too much inclined, which made ineffaceable the confusion in my mind
between nature and art. Another acquaintance I made that winter was
of great importance in developing my technical abilities--that of a
well-known amateur of New York, afterwards a professional artist, Dr.
Edward Ruggles, a physician whose love of painting finally drove him
out of medicine. He had the most catholic and correct taste I had
then met, and he introduced me to William Page, the most remarkable
portrait painter in many respects America has ever produced, whose
talks on art used to make me sleepless with enthusiasm. Page was the
most brilliant talker I ever met, and a dear friend of Lowell.

Returning to Schenectady the following summer, I made my first direct
and thorough studies from nature, and amongst these was one, a view
from my window across gardens and a churchyard with the church spire
in the distance; a small study which incidentally had a most potent
effect on all my later life. It was bought in the autumn by the Art
Union of New York, and on the proceeds, thirty dollars, the first
considerable sum of money I had ever earned, I decided to go to Europe
and see what the English painters were doing. Of English art I
then knew only directly the pictures of Doughty, an early artistic
immigrant from England, and, as afterwards appeared to me, a fair
example of the school which had its lead from Constable, to whom he
had, however, no resemblance except in choice of motive. He had a
comprehension of technique possessed by none of our home painters--a
rapid and masterly execution with a scale of color limited to cool
grays, but, within this gamut, of exquisite refinement. Constant
repetitions of the same motive wore out his welcome on the part of the
American public, but his pictures had a charm which was long in losing
its power over me, and had an influence in determining me to go to
England at the first opportunity. But to see Turner's pictures was
always the chief motive, and was the one which decided me to go.

I was, in knowledge of worldly life, scarcely less a child then than
I had been when, at the age of ten, I determined to go out into the
world and make my own career, free from the obstacles I imagined to
be preventing me from following my ideals. The ever-present feeling
developed in me by the religious training of my mother, that an
overruling Providence had my life in keeping, made me quite oblivious
of or indifferent to the chances of disaster, for the assurance of
protection and leading to the best end left no place for anxieties. It
was a mental phenomenon which I now look back on with a wonder which
I think most sane people will share, that, at the age when most boys
have become men, for I graduated at twenty, I should have been capable
of going out into a strange world like one of the children of the
Children's Crusade, with an unfaltering faith that I should be led
and cared for by Providence as I had been by my parents. I had no
apprehension, from the moment that one of the ship-owners who was in
business relations with my elder brother offered me a free passage
on one of his sailing ships to Liverpool, that I should not find a
similar bridge back again; and with my thirty dollars changed into six
sovereigns, and a little valise with only a change of clothes, I went
on board the Garrick, a packet of the Black Ball line, sailing in the
last days of December, 1849. There had been a thaw and the Hudson
River was full of floating ice, which in the ebbing of the tide
endangered the shipping lying out in the stream, and the captain made
such haste to get out of the danger (the extent of which was shown by
the topmasts of an Austrian brig, showing above water where she had
been sunk by the floating ice) that the ship had her anchor apeak
before the boat which carried my brother and myself out could reach
it. We barely arrived in time for me to get aboard, the difficulty
of threading our way amongst the masses of ice making our boating
difficult. That my childish faith in Providence was a family trait
might be deduced from the fact that my brother, who had from boyhood
stood to me _in loco parentis_, had not asked me, until I was on the
point of going aboard, what my means of subsistence were, and, when
he found that I had only my six sovereigns, he told me to wait at
Liverpool for a letter of credit he would send me by the steamer which

That voyage is one of the most delightful memories of my life. I loved
the sea; and every phase of it, storm or calm, was a new joy. I had
one fellow-passenger, a German doctor of philosophy, Dr. Seemann, who
had been an ardent radical in Germany, and had been studying in
the United States the development of political intelligence under
democratic conditions, returning to his native land with the profound
conviction that democratic government was destined to be a failure.
We had hot debates on the subject, in which the doctor adduced his
conversations with the intelligent farmers of New England, whom he had
especially studied, to show that their political education was such
as to endanger the best interests of the community from its extreme
superficiality; I, with an unfaltering faith in the processes of
universal suffrage, disputed his conclusions, so hotly in fact that we
quarreled and he took one side of the quarter-deck for his promenades
and I the other. But the conditions of sea life, with a companionship
limited to two persons, are such that no quarrel that was not mortal,
or from rivalry in the affections of a woman, could endure many days,
and after a few such days we drew to the same side of the deck and
were better friends than before, but we dropped politics.

This was in January of 1850, and I am driven to curiosity as to the
subsequent career of the young German savant, who in that state of
American political evolution was capable of drawing the horoscope of a
nation, as it has been in recent times fulfilled; who saw in the crude
notions of political economy of that prosperous yesterday the germs of
the political blunders and errors of to-day. I drew his portrait, I
made a few studies of sea and sky, but for the most part the sensation
of simple existence under the conditions of illimitable freedom in
space, with no reminder of anything beyond, was sufficient for me. I
used to lie on my back on the roof of the wheel-house and look into
the sky, and try to make friends with the sea-gulls which sailed
around over me, curiously peering down with their dove-like eyes as if
to see what this thing might be. Then the nights, so luminous with the
"breeming" of the sea as we got into the Gulf Stream, and the flitting
and sudden population of the ocean, always bringing us surprises; the
more exciting and delightful storms which came on us in the region in
which they were always to be expected, and which, though we had some
that made lying in one's berth difficult, were never enough to satisfy
my desire for rough weather,--all these things filled my life so full
of the pure delight in nature that when, at the end of nearly three
weeks at sea, we came in sight of the Irish coast, I hated the land.
Life was enough under the sea conditions, and the prospect of the
return to the limitations of living amongst men was absolute pain.

We made Liverpool in twenty-one days from New York, and the steamer
which had left that port the next week did not arrive till three or
four days after, so that my waiting for the letter of credit involved
a hotel bill which nearly exhausted my money in hand. The kindly
captain, knowing my circumstances, made the hotel keeper throw off
fifty per cent. of his bill (for I went to the "captain's hotel"), and
thus I succeeded in getting to London with the money which was to have
paid my expenses for six weeks (according to the careful calculations
I had made, at the rate of a pound a week) reduced to provision for
three, after which Providence was expected to provide me with a
passage home. In these weeks I had planned to see Turner's pictures,
Copley Fielding's, with Creswick's, and all the others Ruskin had
mentioned. But the railways and hotels had never come into my
arithmetic, and that was always, and remains, my weak point. However,
the letter of credit was for fifty pounds, and so I felt justified in
my faith in Providence, my brother going to the general credit of that



Arrived at Euston Station in the small hours of the morning, I bought
a penny loaf and walked the streets eating it and carrying my valise
until the day was sufficiently advanced for me to go to present a
letter of introduction given me by G.P. Putnam, the publisher, to his
agent in England, Mr. Delf, who at once took me to a lodging-house
in Bouverie Street, in which I got a room for six shillings a week,
service included, and an honest, kindly landlady to whom I still feel
indebted for the affectionate interest she took in me. I had letters
to Mr. S.C. Hall, editor of the "Art Journal," and the Rev. William
Black, pastor of the little Seventh Day Baptist Church at Millyard
in Goodmansfields, Leman Street, a very ancient and well-endowed
foundation, made by some Sabbatarian of centuries ago, with a
parsonage and provision for two sermons every Saturday; and under Mr.
Black's preaching I sat all the time I was in London. He was a man of
archaeological tastes whose researches had led him to the conviction
that the Seventh Day was the true Christian Sabbath, and to fellowship
with the congregation of Millyard. I was admitted to honorary
membership in the church, and the listening to the two dry-as-dust
sermons was compensated for by the cordial friendship of the pastor,
an invitation to dinner every Saturday, and the motherly interest of
his wife and daughters. My childhood's faith and my mother's creed
still hung so closely to me that the observances of our ancient church
were to me sacred, and the Sabbath day at Millyard still held me to
the simple ways of home. In that secluded nook, out of all the rush
and noise of London, we lived as we might have lived in an English
village; it was an _impasse_, and one who entered from the narrow and
squalid alleys which led to it was surprised to find the little square
of the old and disused graveyard, with its huge hawthorn trees and its
inclosure of the parsonage appendages, as peaceful and as far from the
world as if it had been in distant Devon.

My letter to Mr. Hall led to introductions to Leslie, Harding,
Creswick, and several minor painters, all of whom found me attentive
to the lessons they gave me on their own excellences and led me no
farther, but it also brought me into contact with a painter of a
higher and more serious order, J.B. Pyne, one of the few thinkers and
impartial critics I found amongst the English painters. Every Sunday I
went out to Pyne's house in Fulham, walking the six or seven miles
in the morning and spending the day there. Kitchen-gardens and green
fields then lay between Kensington and Fulham where are now the
museums, and there the larks sang and the hawthorn bloomed. After an
early dinner we passed the afternoon in talk on art and artists. Pyne
was one of the best talkers on art I ever knew, and a critic of very
great lucidity; his art had great qualities and as great defects, but
in comparison with some of the favorites of the public of that day he
was a giant, and in certain technical qualities he had no equal in
his generation except Turner. He had the dangerous tendency, for
an artist, of putting everything he did under the protection and
direction of a theory--a course which invariably checks the fertility
of technical resource, and which in his case had the unfortunate
effect of causing him to be regarded as a mere theorist, whose work
was done by line and rule. But I had good reason to know that Turner
thought more highly of him than the English public, and I am convinced
that as time goes on and his pictures acquire the mellowness of
tone for which he carefully calculated in his method and choice of
material, he will be more highly esteemed than in his own time, and
that the careful and systematic technique which characterized his
work, and which is so opposed to the random and hypothetically
inspired methods that are the admiration of a half-educated public,
will find its true appreciation in the future.

Of all the English artists of that day with whom I became acquainted,
Pyne impressed me as by a considerable measure the broadest thinker,
and, except Turner in his water-color, the ablest landscape painter;
old John Linnell in this respect standing nearest him in technical
power, with a more complete devotion to nature and her sentiment. In
Harding's work I took no interest; his conventions and tricks of
the brush repelled me, and generally his work left me cold and
discouraged, for this is the effect of wasted cleverness, that it
disheartens a man who, knowing that his abilities are less, finds the
achievement of cleverer men so poor in what satisfies the artist
of feeling. In it I saw an exaggeration of Pyne's defects and the
caricature of his good qualities. Creswick had a better feeling for
nature, but convention in his methods gave place to trick, and I
remember his showing me the way in which he produced detail in a
pebbly brookside, by making the surface of his canvas tacky and then
dragging over it a brush loaded with pigment which caught only on
the prominences, and did in a moment the work of an hour of faithful

A painter who taught me more than any other at that time was Edward
Wehnert, mainly known then as an illustrator, and hardly remembered
now even in that capacity. Attracted by one of his water-colors, I
went to him for lessons, which he declined to give, while really
giving me instructions informally and in the most kindly and generous
way, during the entire stay I made in London. Among all the artists I
have known, Wehnert's life was, with the exception of Sexton's, the
most pathetic. His native abilities were of a very high order, and
his education far above that which the British artist of that day
possessed. He was a pupil of Paul Delaroche, and the German blood
he had from his father gave him an imaginative element which the
Englishman in him liberated entirely from the German prescriptive
limitations, while there was just enough of the German poet in him to
give his design a sentiment which was entirely lacking in the English
figure painting of that day. He painted in both oil and water-color,
with a facility of design I have never known surpassed, making at a
single sitting, and without a model, a drawing with many figures. He
was at the moment I knew him engaged in illustrating Grimm's stories,
for a paltry compensation, but, as it seemed to me, in a spirit the
most completely concordant with the stories of all the illustrations I
have ever seen of that folk-lore.

Wehnert had several sisters, who had been accustomed to a certain ease
in life, and to maintain this all his efforts and those of a bachelor
brother were devoted, to the sacrifice of his legitimate ambitions;
he was overworked with the veriest hack-work of his profession, and
I never knew him but as a jaded man. He was a graduate of Goettingen,
widely read and well taught in all that related to his art as well as
in literature, and I used to sit much with him while he worked, and
most of my evenings were passed in the family. The sisters were women
who had been of the world, clever, accomplished, and with a restricted
and most interesting circle of friends; but over the whole family
there rested an air of tragic gravity, as if of some past which could
never be spoken of and into which I never felt inclined to inquire.
Among the memories of my first stay in London the Wehnerts awaken the
tenderest, for through many years they proved the dearest and kindest
of friends. And the hospitality of London, wherever I found access to
it, was unmeasured--the kindly feeling which showed itself to a young
and unknown student without recommendation or achievement made on me
an indelible impression. I now and then found people who asked me
where I had learned to speak English, or if all the people in the
section from which I came were as white as I was; but except in a
single case, that of a lady who proposed to make me responsible for
slavery in the United States, I never found anything but friendship
and courtesy, and generally the friendliness took the form of active

Most of my time was passed in hunting up pictures by Turner, and
of course I made the early acquaintance of Griffiths, a dealer in
pictures, who was Turner's special agent, and at whose gallery were to
be seen such of his pictures as he wished to sell,--for no inducement
could be offered which would make him dispose of some of them.
Griffiths told me that in his presence an American collector, James
Lenox, of New York, after offering Turner L5000, which was refused,
for the Old "Temeraire," offered him a blank check, which was also
rejected. Griffiths's place became one of my most common resorts,
for Griffiths was less a picture dealer than a passionate admirer of
Turner, and seemed to have drifted into his business through his love
for the artist's pictures; and to share in his admiration for Turner
was to gain his cordial friendship.

Here I first saw Ruskin and was introduced to him. I was looking at
some little early drawings of Turner, when a gentleman entered the
gallery, and, after a conversation between them, Griffiths came to
me and asked if I should not like to be presented to the author of
"Modern Painters," to which I naturally replied in the affirmative. I
could hardly believe my eyes, expecting to find in him something of
the fire, enthusiasm, and dogmatism of his book, and seeing only a
gentleman of the most gentle type, blonde, refined, and with as little
self-assertion or dogmatic tone as was possible consistently with the
holding of his own opinions; suggesting views rather than asserting
them, and as if he had not himself come to a conclusion on the subject
of conversation. A delightful and to me instructive conversation ended
in an invitation to visit his father's collection of drawings and
pictures at Denmark Hill, and later to spend the evening at his own
house in Grosvenor Street. After the lapse of forty-eight years, it
is difficult to distinguish between the incidents which took place in
this first visit to England in 1850 and those belonging to another a
little later, but my impression is very strong that it was during the
former that I spent the evening at the Grosvenor Street residence, at
which I met several artists of Ruskin's intimacy, and amongst them
G.F. Watts. I then saw Mrs. Ruskin, and I have a very vivid impression
of her personal beauty. I remember saying to a friend, to whom I spoke
of the visit just after, that she was the most beautiful woman I
had seen in England. As I approached the house there was a bagpiper
playing near it, and the pipes entered into the conversation in the
drawing-room. On my making some very disparaging opinion of their
music, which I heard for the first time, Mrs. Ruskin flamed up with
indignation, but, after an annihilating look, she said mildly, "I
suppose no Southerner can understand the pipes," and we discussed them
calmly, she telling some stories to illustrate their power and the
special range of their effect.

At that time Ruskin held very strong Calvinistic notions, and as I
kept my Puritanism unshaken we had as many conversations on religion
as on art, the two being then to me almost identical and to him
closely related. I remember his saying once, in speaking of the
doctrine of foreordination (to me a dreadful bugbear), as I was
drinking a glass of sherry, that he "believed that it had been
ordained from all eternity whether I should set that glass down empty
or without finishing the wine." This was to me the most perplexing
problem of all that Ruskin put before me, for it was the first time
that the doctrine of Calvin had come before me in a concrete form.
Another incident gave me a serious perplexity as to the accuracy of
Ruskin's perceptions of nature. Leslie had given me a card to see Mr.
Holford's collection of pictures, in which was one of Turner's, the
balcony scene in Venice, called, I think, "Juliet and her Nurse." It
was a moonlight, with the most wonderful rendering of a certain effect
seen with the moon at the spectator's back, and I noted in speaking to
Ruskin, later on, that no other picture I had ever seen of moonlight
had succeeded so fully in realizing it, to which he replied that he
had never noticed that it was a moonlight picture; but when I called
his attention to the display of fireworks on the Grand Canal, he
admitted that it was not customary to let off fireworks by day, and
that it must be a night scene.

My acquaintance with Ruskin lasted with varying degrees of intimacy,
and some interruptions due to his sympathy with the South during the
civil war and bitterness against our government, till 1870, when it
was terminated by a trivial personal incident to which his morbid
state of mind at that time gave a false color. We separated more and
more widely in our opinions on art in later years, and the differences
came to me reluctantly, for my reverence for the man was never to be
shaken, while my study of art showed me finally that, however correct
his views of the ethics of art might be, from the point of view of
pure art he was entirely mistaken, and all that his influence had done
for me had to be undone before any true progress could be made. What
little I had learned from the artists I knew had been in the main
correct, and had aided to show me the true road, but the teaching of
"Modern Painters," and of Ruskin himself later, was in the end fatal
to the career to which I was then devoted, for I was unable to get
back to the dividing of the ways.

But the first mistake was my own. What I needed was practical study,
the training of the hand, for my head had already gone so far beyond
my technical attainment that I had entered into the fatal condition of
having theories beyond my practice. My execution was so far in arrear
of my perceptions of what should be in the result, that instead of
the delight with which I had, untaught, and in my stolen hours, given
myself to painting, I felt the weight of my technical shortcomings so
heavily as to make my work full of distress instead of that content
with which the artist should always work. Everything became conscious
effort and the going was too much uphill. I had always been groping my
own way, scarcely as much assisted by the fragmentary good advice I
received as laid under heavier disabilities by the better knowledge of
what should be done. In art education the training of the hand should,
I am persuaded, always be kept in advance of the thinking powers, so
that the young student should feel that his ideal is just before him
if not at his finger's end. That this is so rarely the case with
art students in our day is, I am convinced, the chief reason of the
technical inferiority of our modern painters and the root of the
inferiority of modern art. The artist does not begin early enough.
I was already belated, and every advance I made in the study of the
theory of art put me farther behind, practically.

The hope of getting much technical instruction from competent masters
in England was speedily dispelled. Lessons in water-color I could get
at a guinea an hour, and to enter as a pupil with one of the better
painters was impossible. Pyne received from his pupils L100 a month. I
had calculated how far I could mate my fifty pounds go and put it at
six months. By the advice of Wehnert, I applied to Charles Davidson, a
member of the New Water-Color Society, for instruction, and went down
into Surrey, where he lived, to be able to follow him in his work
from nature. He lived at Red Hill, and in the immediate vicinity John
Linnell had built his then new home. In the few weeks I lived there I
saw a great deal of the old man, one of the most remarkable examples
of the old English type I have ever known, and to me as interesting a
problem from the religious point of view as from the artistic. Barring
differences of the creed, of which I knew and cared nothing (for my
own religious horizon had always included all "good-willing men," and
I had no conception of the distinctions of creed which would send on
one side of the line of safety an Established Churchman and on the
other a Nonconformist), we agreed very well, and in the general
impression I set Linnell down as a devout Christian of the Cromwellian
type, and he certainly was a man of remarkable intellectual powers,
both in art and in theology. His Christianity might have taken a form
of less domestic sternness, but I remembered my own father too well
to find it inconsistent with genuine piety, though not even my mother
ever inspired the awe Linnell and his religious severity excited in

Linnell's landscape seemed to me the full expression of a healthy
love of nature, possible only to a moral sanity in the man--a cheery
Wordsworthian enjoyment of her, which as a rule I have never found
in perfection out of the English school and its derivatives; the
outpouring of a robust nature which prefers to see the outer world
with the spectacles of no school, and through the memory of no other
man; not self-taught in the sense of owing nothing to another mind,
but in the sense that what he had learned he had digested and
forgotten except as a chance word in the universal gospel of art;
technically weak, slovenly in style, but eminently successful in
telling the story he had to tell. Even then, with my limited knowledge
of painting, he seemed to me to furnish the antithesis to Pyne,--one
too careful of style and running to excessive precision, the other too
negligent and running into indecision; and this judgment still holds.
Of Davidson, my immediate teacher, there was only to be got certain
ways of doing certain things, limited to the elements of landscape;
how to wash in the sky, to treat foliage in masses, and those tricks
of the brush in which the English water-color school abounds; but no
larger views, or more individual, of art itself. What he taught was,
perhaps, what I most needed to learn, but I was already too far on the
way to learn it easily.

I made a visit of ten days to Paris and saw with great profit the work
of the landscape painters and of Delacroix, the other figure painters
in general not interesting me much. I carried a letter of introduction
from the Wehnerts to Mademoiselle Didot, the daughter of Firmin Didot,
the famous publisher, then an old blind man, but one of the most
interesting Frenchmen I ever knew, as Mademoiselle Didot was the most
brilliant Frenchwoman. The old man was much interested in what I had
to say of America, and he paid us the national compliment of saying
that we spoke English more intelligibly than Englishmen in general. As
I spoke no French, our conversation was in English, and he understood
me perfectly, though he said he rarely could follow without difficulty
the conversation of an Englishman, while Americans in general he
understood readily. To accomplish all that I did with my fifty pounds
it may be easily understood that I had to cut my corners close, and
in fact they were so closely cut in my Continental excursion that I
landed at Newhaven on my return with one shilling in my pocket,
and when, at the end of my stay in England, I took the train for
Liverpool, I had only sixpence (my passage being provided for), and my
good friend Delf, who saw me off, on finding the state of my purse,
insisted at the railway station on my taking a sovereign for

This habit of making no provision for accidents had been a part of my
moral training, the faith in the overruling Providence never forsaking
me for an instant, so that, whatever I set about to do, I made no
provision for accidents. To go ahead and do what I thought I ought to
do, and let the consequences take care of themselves, has been the
habit of mind in which I have always worked and probably still work.
If the thing to be done was right, I never thought of what might come
after, or even whether I had the means to carry a resolution into
effect, taking it for granted that the means would be provided because
the thing was to be done. I retain the distinct recollection of an
expression of my mother while I was making preparations for this first
voyage to Europe, and she was packing my clothes for the voyage and
her lips were silently moving and the slow tears running down her
cheeks. She said in her low and murmuring voice as if in comment on
her prayer, "Oh! no, he is too pure-hearted," and I knew that the
prayer was for my protection from the temptations of that world of
which she only knew the terrors and dangers from her Bible, and
that she was so wrapt in her spiritual yearnings that she had quite
forgotten my presence. Poor mother! I never deserved the great trust
she had in me, but the memory of that moment has served me in many
devious moments to keep me in the path. But if I had no such virtues
as those which she attributed to me, I had what was perhaps more
potent, the intuitions which I inherited from her, and such as often
take a man out of temptation before he is aware of its strength,
and before it becomes a real danger; nor can any man remember such
confidence on the part of his mother without, from very shame, if no
sterner motive should exist, maintaining a higher tone of life.

I did not leave London without a sight of Turner himself, due to the
friendly forethought of Griffiths, who so appreciated my enthusiasm
for the old man that he lost no opportunity to satisfy it. Turner was
taken ill while I was on this visit, with an attack of the malady
which later killed him, and I had begged Griffiths to ask him to let
me come and nurse him. He declined the offer, but was not, Griffiths
told me, quite unmoved by it. One day, after his recovery, I received
a message from Griffiths to say that Turner was coming to the gallery
at a certain hour on a business appointment, and if I would happen in
just before the time fixed for it I might see him.

At the appointed hour Turner came and found me in an earnest study
of the pictures in the farther end of the gallery, where I remained,
unnoticing and unnoticed, until a sign from Griffiths called me up.
He then introduced me as a young American artist who had a great
admiration for his work, and who, being about to return home, would
be glad to take him by the hand. It was difficult to reconcile my
conception of the great artist with this little, and, to casual
observation, insignificant old man with a nose like an eagle's beak,
though a second sight showed that his eye, too, was like an eagle's,
bright, restless, and penetrating. Half awed and half surprised, I
held out my hand. He put his behind him, regarding me with a humorous,
malicious look, saying nothing. Confused, and not a little mortified,
I turned away, and, walking down the gallery, went to studying the
pictures again. When I looked his way again, a few minutes later, he
held out his hand to me, and we entered into a conversation which
lasted until Griffiths gave me a hint that Turner had business to
transact which I must leave him to. He gave me a hearty handshake,
and in his oracular way said, "Hmph--(nod) if you come to England
again--hmph (nod)--hmph (nod)," and another hand-shake with more
cordiality and a nod for good-by. I never saw a keener eye than his,
and the way that he held himself up, so straight that he seemed almost
to lean backwards, with his forehead thrown forward, and the piercing
eyes looking out from under their heavy brows, and his diminutive
stature coupled with the imposing bearing, combined to make a very
peculiar and vivid impression on me. Griffiths afterwards translated
his laconism for me as an invitation to come to see him if I ever came
back to England, and added that though he was in the worst of tempers
when he came in, and made him expect that I should be insulted, he
was in fact unusually cordial, and he had never seen him receive a
stranger with such friendliness except in the case of Cattermole, for
whom he had a strong liking. In the conversation we had during the
interview, I alluded to our good fortune in having already in America
one of the pictures of his best period, a seacoast sunset in the
possession of Mr. Lenox, and Turner exclaimed, "I wish they were all
put in a blunderbuss and shot off!" but he looked pleased at the
simultaneous outburst of protest on the part of Griffiths and myself.
When I went back to England for another visit he was dead.

I may frankly say as to Turner's art, that I enjoyed most the
water-colors of the middle period, though the latest gave me another
kind of delight,--that of the reading of a fairy-story, of the
building of glorious castles in the air in my younger days, that of
something to desire and despair of. The drawings of the England and
Wales series in the possession of Ruskin seemed to my critical
faculty the _ne plus ultra_ of water-color painting,--especially the
"Llanthony Abbey," of which I recall those early impressions with the
greatest distinctness[1]. I saw in the Academy Exhibition the last
pictures he ever exhibited, some whaling subjects, fresh from his
retouching of two days before, gorgeous dreams of color art, but only
dreams--the actuality had all gone out. I saw them years after when
they had become mere wrecks, hardly recognizable.

[Footnote 1: I saw it again in the Guildhall Exhibition of 1899.]

I saw also that year a picture by Rossetti and one by Millais, and the
latter impressed me very strongly; in fact it determined me in the
manner in which I should follow art on my return home. I did not and
could not put it on the same plane as the "Llanthony Abbey," but the
straight thrust for the truth was evidently the shortest way to
a certain excellence, and this of the kind most akin to my own
faculties, and I said to Delf, who was with me at the exhibition
of the Academy, that if ever English figure painting rose out of
mediocrity it would be through the work of the P.R.B. My impression is
that the picture was the "Christ in the Carpenter's Shop," but of this
I cannot be sure, though I am certain that it was in the exhibition of
1850. The Rossetti was in the old "National Society," and was either
the "Childhood of the Virgin Mary" or the "White Lady." Beautiful as
it was, it did not impress me as did the temper of Millais's work,
the scrupulous conscientiousness of which chimed with my Puritan
education. I left England with a fermentation of art ideas in my
brain, in which the influence of Turner and Pyne, the teachings
of Wehnert, and the work of the Pre-Raphaelites mingled with the
influence of Ruskin, and especially the preconception of art work
derived from the descriptions, often strangely misleading, of the
"Modern Painters."

I received from my brother, as I had anticipated, the order for a
passage on the Atlantic, one of the Collins line of steamers, and one
of my fellow-passengers was Jenny Lind, on her way for her first visit
to America under the guidance of Barnum. She gave a concert on board
for the benefit of the firemen and sailors, and to this the half of
Delf's sovereign contributed, the other half going for a bottle of
Rhine wine, to return the compliment of my next neighbor at the table,
who had invited me to take a glass of wine one day. Thus, as usual, I
landed penniless from my venture, but fortunately found my brother on
the wharf expecting the arrival of the steamer, her trips having
been made with such precision that the hour of arrival was generally
anticipated correctly. In those days the steamers were rarely driven,
and a voyage of fourteen days was not considered a bad one. A day's
run of 336 knots was a triumph of steaming and rarely attained. But
we were at the beginning of the contest between the Collins and the
Cunard steamers, and up to that time the American line had generally a
little the better of it.

The rest of that year and the year following were given to hard and
monotonous painting from nature while the weather permitted, and in
the winter to working out clumsily the mysteries of picture-making, a
work which, as I was without direction or any correct appreciation of
what I had it in me to do, became a drudgery which I went through as
an indispensable duty, but with no satisfaction. My larger studies
from nature (25x30 inches) had attracted attention and had been hung
on the line, getting for me the election to the Associateship of
Design, and the appellation of the "American Pre-Raphaelite,"--all
which for a man so lately embarked in the profession was considered a
high honor, as it really was. But the success only confirmed me in my
incorrect views of art and carried me farther from the true path. As
studies from nature, the fidelity and completeness of them, even
in comparison with Durand's, was something which the conventional
landscape known then and there had never approached, and to the
respectable amateurs of that day they were puzzles. In one of them,
a study of a wood scene with a spring of water overshadowed by a
beech-tree, all painted at close quarters, I had transplanted a violet
which I wanted in the near foreground, so as to be sure that it was in
correct light and proportion. This was in the spirit of the Ruskinian
doctrine, of which I made myself the apostle. On that study I spent
such hours of the day as the light served, for three months, and then
the coming of autumn stopped me. Any difficulty in literal rendering
of a subject was incomprehensible to me, and in fact in that kind of
work there is little difference, for it is but copying, and requires
only a correct eye and infinite patience, both of which I had; and it
was a puzzle to me rather than a compliment when the veteran Durand
said to me of one of my studies, that it was a subject he would not
have dared attack on account of the difficulty of the effect of light,
for to me it was simply a question of time and sticking to it. It was
not art, but the public did not know it any more than I did, and I was
admitted to a place which I believe was one of the highest amongst
my contemporaries at home in a way that led to little even in its
complete success. I influenced some of my contemporaries and gave a
jog to the landscape painting of the day, and there it ended, through
a diversion of my ambition to another sphere, but there it must have
ended; even if I had never been so diverted.



The arrival, in December, 1851, of Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, on
his mission for the redemption of Hungary, set all America in a flame
of shallow enthusiasm, and I went to hear his appeals. What he asked
for was money to arm his country, to renew the struggle with the
House of Hapsburg. His eloquence carried away all deliberation in the
Northern States, and even shook the government at Washington; but, in
the end, the only practical result was his gain of the dollars which
the hearers paid to hear him speak, and which no one regretted who
heard him, for such oratory no one in the country ever had heard, even
from men to whom the English language was native. Before making his
discourse in any town, he took the pains to find out something of the
local history, and thus touched the patriotism of his audience in the
parish bounds, and the past glories of America were revived in terms
of a new and strange flattery. We were like the Athenians after
hearing the Philippics of Demosthenes,--all ready to march against
the Austrian. Before he left New York I had volunteered to fight or
conspire, or take any part in the struggle which might fall to me. I
kept my counsel from my family, and when Kossuth went on his westward
tour it was settled that, on or after his return to Europe, I was to

His tour of the Northern States was a triumph that caused him to
entertain hopes which a man of more sobriety and common-sense would
not have conceived. Against the indifference to liberty and the
selfishness of the slave States, his flood of eloquence broke in vain.
He knew that the North contained most of the capital and energy of
America, and he supposed that they ruled, and was late in learning
that the South ruled us. At Washington he came into contact with the
statesmanship and the demagogy of the republic, and, while the
former gave him a magnificent reception, the latter quietly and
undemonstratively quenched his hopes. The South had no sympathy with
Hungarian or any other liberty, and we felt the chill fall on Kossuth
and his eloquence. But, for the politicians, there was something to
be made out of him and the naturalized voters, mainly republicans and
refugees from the various revolutions which had failed in Europe; so
he was not denied the expectation of some private assistance, though
the hope that the United States should openly declare Hungary a
belligerent, and thus give its moral weight to Kossuth, the recognized
governor, was soon seen to be an idle and fallacious one. "Something
might be done," said the politicians. So Kossuth waited.

A presidential election was near, and negotiations were initiated
between Kossuth and the party leaders for his influence on the foreign
vote, and, pending these, he could decide nothing as to his future
movements. I was in the habit of going to see him at night, and
sometimes waited for the departure of the committees of the
politicians who were in discussion with him. One night, when I went
in, I found him in a state of nauseated irritation, and he broke out,
saying, "Mr. Stillman, if your country does not get rid of these
politicians it will be ruined in fifty years." He had just received a
Democratic committee, which had formally promised him, in return for
the influence he might exert in favor of their candidate, two ships of
war ready for service, and a sum of money, the exact amount of which
I cannot now remember, but I think it was half a million dollars.
Naturally he did not tell me if he had closed with the proposition,
but the making of it by the committee was a revelation as to the
purity of American politics which he fully understood. This committee
had presented itself with the authority of Franklin Pierce, Democratic
candidate for the presidency.

The scheme in which he at first proposed to utilize my services was
the formation of a deposit of arms and materials of war at a point in
the Mediterranean from which he could descend promptly on the coast of
Croatia, and this indicated that the two men-of-war of the committee
entered into his plans. The desired point he found in the little
island of Galita, south of Sardinia, unoccupied and apparently
unclaimed by any power, but on which, he told me, the flag of the
United States had been hoisted some years before by one of our
cruisers; evidently as a joke on the part of some of our sailors.
I was to visit it and report on its fitness for his purpose; but
negotiations dragged, or there was some hitch, nothing was concluded
until Kossuth's departure for Europe became necessary, and Pulzsky,
his _alter ego_, was given full instructions concerning me. I was to
follow when affairs were in a certain state of readiness; and, in
fact, after a few weeks, I was summoned to London. I received from
Pulzsky the clue to Kossuth's quarters, in a quiet street, Bayswater
way, if I remember rightly, to which I was to go only late at night,
and by some roundabout road, as the Austrian spies were always
watching him.

I had a letter to a Madam Schmidt, a German refugee, and an advanced
republican, at whose house I used to meet a little assembly of
refugees,--German, French, Russian, etc. Every Sunday night we used to
meet and discuss the politics of Europe. Of my friends of this circle
I remember only one,--a Mr. Norich, a young Russian, with whom I
contracted a close friendship, never since renewed. Nothing more was
said of the Galita plan, which seems to have depended on the success
of the political negotiations with the Americans, and it was finally
decided that I should go to Milan and carry the proclamations which
Kossuth was to issue to the Hungarian soldiers of the Italian garrison
there, ordering them, in case of any revolt, not to fire on insurgent
Italians. This was in prevision of the insurrection which Mazzini had
determined for the spring of 1853, and with regard to which there were
grave dissensions between the two chiefs. Kossuth was not ready
for the Hungarian rising, and refused to order it till there was
a prospect of success, while Mazzini believed that, even if
unsuccessful, the rising was necessary to keep his influence on the
Italian population, which was already shaken. Kossuth said to me that
he disapproved Mazzini's plans, for he refused "to play with the blood
of the nations;" but, if Mazzini persisted, he would give the order to
the Hungarian troops not to fire on the people if any rising should
take place; more than that he could not do.

Pending the ripening of Mazzini's scheme I waited in London, at the
orders of Kossuth, but before the moment came for my undertaking this
mission a new one became urgent. When the Hungarian insurrection of
1848-49 had become evidently a failure, and Kossuth was about to
escape into Turkey, he decided to conceal, in some place secure from
Austrian discovery, the crown jewels, including the crown of St.
Stephen, which was considered by the Hungarian people as necessary to
the lawful coronation of their king, and with which Francis Joseph
had not been crowned; and he and Bartholomew Szemere, one of his
colleagues in the ministry--employing for their operations a
detachment of prisoners, who were shot after the concealment was
complete--buried the jewels at some point down the Danube. Having
received information that Szemere, who was then opposed to Kossuth,
was about to disclose their hiding-place to the Austrian government,
Kossuth determined to remove them, and organized an expedition to this
end, of which I was to become the apparent head. The description of
the hiding-place was written in a most complicated cipher dispatch,
the key to which was contained in a stanza of a song known to
Kossuth's correspondent in Pesth. Each letter in the dispatch was
represented by a fraction, of which the numerator was the number of
the letter in one of the lines of the song, and the denominator the
number of the line. This dispatch was then written in four parts; the
first, fifth, ninth, etc., letters being put in the first part;
the second, sixth, tenth, etc., in the second; the third, seventh,
eleventh, etc., in the third; the fourth, eighth, twelfth, etc., in
the fourth, and so on to the end. Of these parts of the dispatch,
written on the finest paper, I had charge of two; one for myself, and
one for a person indicated at Pesth, and the other two were to go by
way of Constantinople, one for the confederate who carried it and one
for the correspondent who had the song-key. We were to meet and spell
out the directions and go to the hiding-place, and, when the jewels
were recovered, they were to be hidden in a box of a conserve for
which that vicinity was noted, and then carried to Constantinople,
from which point I was to take charge of them and deliver them in
Boston to Dr. S.G. Howe, the well-known Philhellene.

I folded my portion of these dispatches small, wrapped them in thin
gutta-percha, and, going to the most obscure shoemaker in the part of
London which I knew, had the heel of one of my boots excavated and
the packet deposited in the hole and covered over again by a stout
heel-tap. My orders were to take at least six weeks for the journey,
to go by a roundabout route, and travel as if for pleasure. From
the Austrian territory I was to write to Kossuth all the political
information I could collect, the messages being conveyed in a
cryptograph in which the form of the letter was to be that of a
correspondence between lovers. The words composing the message were to
be written on spaces left in a mask of which each had a copy, and the
spaces between the words then filled up so that the letter would carry
some meaning when read as a whole. Love-letters were supposed to give
most room for nonsense. Knowing very little French, I bought a pocket
dictionary and a copy of Racine, and, during a ten days' stay in
Paris, by diligent use of the former in all my transactions, I picked
up enough for the needs of travel, and, spending all my leisure over
the latter, I was, before my mission was over, able to converse with
considerable fluency and knew my Racine thoroughly.

From Paris I made the journey to Brussels in the company of an
American gentleman, Mr. Coxe, of Alabama, traveling with his wife and
daughter. At Brussels I made, through the Coxes, the acquaintance
of M. Le Hardy de Beaulieu, the leader of a section of the Belgian
Liberals, whose father had held a command in the Belgian contingent at
Waterloo. My acquaintance with M. Le Hardy lasted many years, he being
much interested in America, and having, with his brother, founded
a Belgian colony in Alabama. The ancestral estate of the Le Hardys
included part of the field of Waterloo, and we visited it in company
with M. Le Hardy, who pointed out the trenches made by the heavy
artillery of Napoleon still distinguishable on the surface of the
fields in spite of the subsequent ploughings. I suppose that his
familiarity with the fields from his boyhood gives authority to his
assurance that the depressions we saw were the effect of the ploughing
of the guns in the wet, soft earth, and did not exist in the natural
lay of the land, and the incident brought one very near to the great
struggle which fixed for long the position of England in European
politics. M. Le Hardy had been, like his father before him, urged to
resume the title of nobility which the father had renounced in the
warmth of the republican movement prior to the Empire, having burned
the patent in the square at Brussels; but, like the father, he had
always refused. He was a consistent and, as he would now be classed, a
moderate republican.

Visiting Dusseldorf for the sake of the school of art there, I seemed
to go into the Middle Ages. We landed from the Rhine steamer in the
night, finding the streets deserted even by the police, and dimly
lighted by oil lamps hung across them at wide intervals, and I
wandered a long time at random with my valise in hand, searching for a
hotel, and not meeting a living person to ask guidance of. I blundered
at length on a little inn in whose drinking-room still burned a light,
and in which I found a night's lodging. Such a primitive state of
civilization was to me, fresh from Paris and Brussels, romantic. At
Berlin I made the acquaintance of Varnhagen von Ense, through a letter
of introduction from Frau Schmidt, my republican refugee friend of
London. He treated me with great consideration, and promised me a
winter of brilliant social life if I would stay at Berlin. The chief
inducement offered was the acquaintance of Humboldt, then absent from
the city. Of Varnhagen von Ense I retain the most delightful memory.
I found him courteous, genial, and hospitable, with a large-minded
outlook on politics and a great interest in America. I saw also the
new museum, with Kaulbach at work on his frescoes, and, going by
Dresden, reached Prague, where I began my political reports to

Arriving at Vienna, I was beforehand with the famous police, which I
found not to merit its reputation for sharpness, and went at once,
after establishing myself at the hotel, and before my name was
reported to the authorities and a spy put on me, to the address of a
republican, known to Kossuth, and to whom I was directed to apply for
the identification of some Hungarian resident in the city on whom
Kossuth could depend to reestablish communication with the Viennese
malcontents, broken by a misadventure of his former agent. This
adventure Kossuth recounted to me, I suppose to keep up my courage in
the perilous business he was sending me on. One of his agents had
been sent on a round tour with instructions for certain officers or
soldiers, and, having been detected in communication with the barracks
and arrested, a memorandum book was found on him in which, amongst
many addresses of persons to whom he had no mission, those to which
he was directed were interspersed. All were arrested, among them the
Vienna agent, who, ignorant of the reason of his arrest, suspecting
treachery, and fearing the disclosures that might be extorted from him
by torture, rolled himself in his bedclothes and set fire to them with
his candle, the only means of suicide left him. When he felt that the
burning was fatal he made an alarm and bade the attendant call the
council of war, which immediately met in his cell. He then avowed his
complicity in treasonable plans, and, assuring them that nothing more
could be extorted from him by any torture they might inflict, that his
chief would soon come and make all things right, and that there were
thousands more as ready to die as he, he refused to say any more and
died in silence.

My business was to find a man to take this agent's place. The
individual to whom I was sent was a ribbon manufacturer on one of the
main streets, and, pretending a desire to visit his weaving rooms, we
went to the manufactory in the upper stories, and then I disclosed,
with no preamble, my mission. The good man was in ecstasies, and to
show his joy invited me down into his living apartments and introduced
me to his wife, daughters, and the lover of one of his daughters, as a
messenger from Kossuth! If my hair did not rise on end, I am certain
that at no crisis of my life could it ever have done so. During my ten
days' stay in Vienna and the four weeks I afterward passed in Pesth, I
never lost a nervous apprehension of the consequences of this singular
imprudence, for I was in the enemy's country, on business the
slightest suspicion of which meant an obscure prison and complete
disappearance from any friend. With cipher dispatches on my person in
the handwriting of Kossuth, well known to all the authorities, and
with my secret in the possession of five women and two men, the
uneasiness I felt for the first two or three days can better be
imagined than expressed. I did nothing all day long but walk the
streets, drink coffee, and smoke cigars with constant apprehension of
an arrest.

But I did not neglect my business. I found a Hungarian whose name
Kossuth had given me as the alternative probable medium of the renewed
relations with Vienna, but he not only refused to have any relations
with the late dictator, but strongly warned me of the possible
consequences to myself of the mission I was on, and made me see very
clearly that Kossuth overrated his influence on the Hungarians after
the _debacle_, for which he was largely responsible. But it never
occurred to me that it was possible to withdraw or do less than obey
my instructions. I reported to Kossuth that the only person I could
find who was willing to assume the responsibility of entering into
relations with him was the ribbon-maker, and then, having acquired
the confidence of the American consul, who was a zealous agent of the
imperial government, and got his vise for Hungary, I made my way to

Once on the scene of my real labors, I discovered how incompetent a
conspirator Kossuth was. He had given me the name of his correspondent
in Pesth and his residence, in the Karolyisches Haus, as if that were
his ordinary residence, without warning me, though he knew it, that he
was really in hiding from the police, and probably only to be reached
with precaution and indirectly. Adopting the same tactics as in
Vienna, and not to attract attention by inquiries, I went at once in
a cab to the house. The porter, of course, in reply to my inquiries,
being in hearing of the cab-driver, who was probably a spy, denied any
knowledge of such a person. I drove back to the hotel, and then went
on foot alone and asked again for the individual, but got the same
reply, this time angrily delivered. Utterly at a loss what to do, I
wrote at once to Kossuth that the person wanted was not at the address
indicated. Instead of writing to him to find me and giving him
my address, Kossuth only reiterated through the post the former
instructions. I repeated the denial, and then waited. In conversation
with the hotel people I inquired as fully as was possible without
exciting suspicion, about persons of liberal tendencies and such as I
conceived that I might make use of, and studied the position as best I
could. Pending this study I was summoned to the police headquarters to
give an account of myself. This I did in a manner which must have been
satisfactory, as they found that I knew little German and was a very
stupid and unpractical individual, which I must have really been, to
find myself there. I accounted for myself as a landscape painter on
his travels, and as I knew nobody and made no acquaintances they
dismissed all suspicion of me, our consul's assurance no doubt
covering all doubts, and I waited still. But after a few days more
a convenient attack of illness gave me a pretext for calling a
physician, and I chose Dr. Orzovensky, who I had learned had been
chief of the medical staff under the revolutionary authorities.
Through him I made such inquiries as were possible about the people to
whom I was sent, and then for the first time discovered that they were
all under accusation as conspirators and searched for by the police,
and of this I had no warning from Kossuth.

But in all this wandering my boot-heel was wearing away, and it was a
question of wearing into the packet of dispatches, or putting them in
a place of security. I accordingly dug them out, and, hiding them in
a convenient corner of the cupboard in my room, where they must
soon have been discovered in case of a domiciliary visit, took the
excavated boots out to throw them into the river, choosing the
earliest darkness of the rainy evening of the same day. I knew that
if the bootblack saw the excavated heel he would in all probability
report the fact, and my arrest would follow. In my ignorance of the
fact that the city was under martial law, and that without a pass no
one could be in the streets after 8 P.M., I had waited till 9 to be
screened by the darkness, and then, walking down the river on the
dike, I slipped down to the water's edge by the path, and gently
tossed the boots into the rapid current. Seeing the dangerous articles
float away into the dark, I turned to go up the dike to the road
running along the top of it, when, to my dismay, I heard a sentinel
directly across the road challenge, saw the officer of the guard
coming on his rounds, and heard his reply to the challenge. I hurried
down the bank, hoping that I had not attracted attention, but feeling
that in the contrary case I was in most imminent danger of arrest, and
the thought of the dispatches left where they must be found in case of
suspicion gave me a moment's anxiety. I hurried back along the water's
edge till I judged that I was out of sight from the post, and then
walked up on the dike and towards the hotel.

It was very dark and raining slightly, but as I came within the circle
of light of one of the street lamps the vigilant eye of the officer of
the guard caught me, and he hailed, "Who goes there?" I did not reply,
but, acting as if I did not hear, hurried to get directly under the
lamp which was near, with a feeling that if the officer saw me there
he would see that I was what I pretended to be, a stranger, and also
with a feeling that I was safer at a distance if the challenge were
followed by a bullet. Under the lamp I stopped for the officer to come
up. I was not really frightened, but I cannot deny that I felt very
nervous, as he came up, and, in an inquisitorial tone, asked, "What
are you doing here?" I replied in German which was certainly comical
and not a little shaky, for it was a fragmentary remembrance of the
German read in my early college course, and never since revived, that
"I was doing nothing--that I was a strangers" (ich bin ein Fremden),
and had come out to see the effects on the river, pointing to the
glimmering lights; but, fortunately, my German was so funny that he
burst out laughing, and after a "sehr schoen, sehr schoen," as I had
said "strangers" in the plural, he replied, "When you are a strangers
you must stay in the house," and gave me friendly directions as to
how to get back to my hotel without falling in with the police, "who
wouldn't let you off as I have." I was fortunate enough to arrive
without any further notice. The officers of the army hated to do
police service, and my inquisitor was no doubt glad not to pass me
into the custody of the police. I have always wished to know the name
of my protector, for such he was.

I remained in Pesth over a month, exciting an increasing attention and
being unable to account for a further delay, as I was doing nothing,
not even sketching, which, in the vicinity of a fortress, would have
been the surest way of inviting arrest. I profited by the acquaintance
of Dr. Orzovensky's family to pass the time agreeably, and, finally,
being unable to extort by post further instructions from Kossuth, or
explanations in reply to two urgent letters describing the position I
was in, and being unable to give any reason for a longer stay, or to
find the people I was sent to, I determined to go back to London and
start again with fuller oral instructions and a better understanding
of the difficulties. I went to Orzovensky and frankly told him my
errand, and asked him if I might leave the dispatches in some place
known to him, so that he could indicate to some other person, should
my mission be taken up by another, where they were to be found. He
burst out on me with violence, accusing me of endangering his family
as well as himself, and assuring me that if the slightest suspicion of
my mission should transpire they would all be thrown into prison,
and he be ruined, refusing to have anything to do or say about the
dispatches, and breaking off all communications with me on the spot.

I had not, up to that moment, felt any _real_ fright, though, when I
stood under the scrutiny of the officer on the dike, I must confess I
felt extremely nervous; but Orzovensky's violence, and his own panic
at the thought of having harbored treason so long, making me fear that
his anxiety to escape all suspicion might compel him to denounce me,
gave me a _mauvais quart d'heure_. I was instantaneously in an awful
funk, and I had a practical demonstration of the "_vox haesit in
faucibus_," for I was unable to reply to the good doctor in anything
but the faintest whisper, and my tongue clattered in my mouth, as dry
as a stick, in an instant. I threw the dispatches in the sink and took
the next train for Vienna, undisturbed by the train running off the
track in the night, in the greater anxiety of my position, and, after
making at the station of Vienna only a hasty lunch on a boiled sausage
and a roll, continued my journey by express until I was out of the
Austrian dominions, and stopped to sleep at Frankfort. My panic was
as unreasonable as my security had been, for there was no reason to
believe that Dr. Orzovensky would warn the authorities, or that I
could not have carried the dispatches back to Kossuth in safety. My
habitual courage was not the courage of one who realizes his danger
and faces it coolly, but that of constitutional inability to realize
what the danger is, however clearly it may be shown to him. As a habit
the realization of my danger only came to me when the danger itself
had gone by, and then I was frightened.

Arrived at London, I went to report to Kossuth, expecting a scene and
reproaches, when I was prepared to show him that the failure of the
mission was due to his having neglected to inform me that I was going
to a man wanted by the police, and in close hiding, so that my failure
to find him was probably due to the openness with which I made my
approaches, and to his not having then informed his correspondent that
I was on the ground expecting to see him, and that he must look out
for me. But he only exclaimed, with a tone of regret, "Three months
lost!" yet there was, probably, a reciprocal disapproval of our
methods of carrying on a conspiracy; for, while he was most gravely
disappointed at getting no result from his work and expenditure, no
doubt owing largely to my incompetence for that kind of service, I was
equally dissatisfied at being sent on an expedition which put my
life in imminent danger, with the minor perils of torture and long
imprisonment, provided with information utterly insufficient and
needlessly incomplete for the mission confided to me.

If Kossuth had cautioned me that his correspondent was in hiding and
wanted by the police, I should not have committed the grave error of
going openly to find him, and under the eye of a cabman, who would
probably report to the police my act. Had he even after that informed
his correspondent where I could be found and who I was (which was
perfectly practicable, for he told me himself that he had received
letters from the correspondent during my stay at Pesth), there could
have been communication at once. Kossuth said that I ought to have
sought out the friends at the Tiger cafe, where they were in the habit
of meeting publicly, though he knew that the city was swarming with
spies, and that the state of siege existed (and of this, even, he did
not warn me), and that my chief difficulty was to avoid being brought
into contact with suspected Hungarians; nor did he recollect that he
had given precise instructions to avoid anything which might lead any
one to suppose that I was more than an objectless traveler. I was most
reasonably disgusted with having my life exposed in this careless way,
and he, perhaps, as reasonably so with my want of resource, and the
result was that he decided not to employ me again in such work, and I
decided to wait for active insurrectionary movements, in which I could
take my place. As it happened, however, the Austrian government had
recovered the crown jewels; some one in the secret--Kossuth said
Szemere--having learned that Kossuth was sending an expedition to
recover them, and, from jealousy of him, disclosed the hiding-place.


Back to Full Books