The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 48 out of 51

As for Lisfranc, I can say little more of him than that he was a
great drawer of blood and hewer of members. I remember his ordering
a wholesale bleeding of his patients, right and left, whatever might
be the matter with them, one morning when a phlebotomizing fit was on
him. I recollect his regretting the splendid guardsmen of the old
Empire,--for what? because they had such magnificent thighs to
amputate. I got along about as far as that with him, when I ceased
to be a follower of M. Lisfranc.

The name of Velpeau must have reached many of you, for he died in
1867, and his many works made his name widely known. Coming to Paris
in wooden shoes, starving, almost, at first, he raised himself to
great eminence as a surgeon and as an author, and at last obtained
the Professorship to which his talents and learning entitled him.
His example may be an encouragement to some of my younger hearers who
are born, not with the silver spoon in their mouths, but with the
two-tined iron fork in their hands. It is a poor thing to take up
their milk porridge with in their young days, but in after years it
will often transfix the solid dumplings that roll out of the silver
spoon. So Velpeau found it. He had not what is called genius, he
was far from prepossessing in aspect, looking as if he might have
wielded the sledge-hammer (as I think he had done in early life)
rather than the lancet, but he had industry, determination,
intelligence, character, and he made his way to distinction and
prosperity, as some of you sitting on these benches and wondering
anxiously what is to become of you in the struggle for life will have
done before the twentieth century has got halfway through its first
quarter. A good sound head over a pair of wooden shoes is a great
deal better than a wooden head belonging to an owner who cases his
feet in calf-skin, but a good brain is not enough without a stout
heart to fill the four great conduits which carry at once fuel and
fire to that mightiest of engines.

How many of you who are before me are familiarly acquainted with the
name of Broussais, or even with that of Andral? Both were lecturing
at the Ecole de Medicine, and I often heard them. Broussais was in
those days like an old volcano, which has pretty nearly used up its
fire and brimstone, but is still boiling and bubbling in its
interior, and now and then sends up a spirt of lava and a volley of
pebbles. His theories of gastro-enteritis, of irritation and
inflammation as the cause of disease, and the practice which sprang
from them, ran over the fields of medicine for a time like flame over
the grass of the prairies. The way in which that knotty-featured,
savage old man would bring out the word irritation--with rattling and
rolling reduplication of the resonant letter r--might have taught a
lesson in articulation to Salvini. But Broussais's theory was
languishing and well-nigh become obsolete, and this, no doubt, added
vehemence to his defence of his cherished dogmas.

Old theories, and old men who cling to them, must take themselves out
of the way as the new generation with its fresh thoughts and altered
habits of mind comes forward to take the place of that which is dying
out. This was a truth which the fiery old theorist found it very hard
to learn, and harder to bear, as it was forced upon him. For the
hour of his lecture was succeeded by that of a younger and far more
popular professor. As his lecture drew towards its close, the
benches, thinly sprinkled with students, began to fill up; the doors
creaked open and banged back oftener and oftener, until at last the
sound grew almost continuous, and the voice of the lecturer became a
leonine growl as he strove in vain to be heard over the noise of
doors and footsteps.

Broussais was now sixty-two years old. The new generation had
outgrown his doctrines, and the Professor for whose hour the benches
had filled themselves belonged to that new generation. Gabriel
Andral was little more than half the age of Broussais, in the full
prime and vigor of manhood at thirty-seven years. He was a rapid,
fluent, fervid, and imaginative speaker, pleasing in aspect and
manner,--a strong contrast to the harsh, vituperative old man who had
just preceded him. His Clinique Medicale is still valuable as a
collection of cases, and his researches on the blood, conducted in
association with Gavarret, contributed new and valuable facts to
science. But I remember him chiefly as one of those instructors
whose natural eloquence made it delightful to listen to him. I doubt
if I or my fellow-students did full justice either to him or to the
famous physician of Hotel Dieu, Chomel. We had addicted ourselves
almost too closely to the words of another master, by whom we were
ready to swear as against all teachers that ever were or ever would

This object of our reverence, I might almost say idolatry, was one
whose name is well known to most of the young men before me, even to
those who may know comparatively little of his works and teachings.
Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis, at the age of forty-seven, as I
recall him, was a tall, rather spare, dignified personage, of serene
and grave aspect, but with a pleasant smile and kindly voice for the
student with whom he came into personal relations. If I summed up
the lessons of Louis in two expressions, they would be these; I do
not hold him answerable for the words, but I will condense them after
my own fashion in French, and then give them to you, expanded
somewhat, in English:

Formez toujours des idees nettes.
Fuyez toujours les a peu pres.

Always make sure that you form a distinct and clear idea of the
matter you are considering.

Always avoid vague approximations where exact estimates are possible;
about so many,--about so much, instead of the precise number and

Now, if there is anything on which the biological sciences have
prided themselves in these latter years it is the substitution of
quantitative for qualitative formulae. The "numerical system," of
which Louis was the great advocate, if not the absolute originator,
was an attempt to substitute series of carefully recorded facts,
rigidly counted and closely compared, for those never-ending records
of vague, unverifiable conclusions with which the classics of the
healing art were overloaded. The history of practical medicine had
been like the story of the Danaides. "Experience" had been, from
time immemorial, pouring its flowing treasures into buckets full of
holes. At the existing rate of supply and leakage they would never
be filled; nothing would ever be settled in medicine. But cases
thoroughly recorded and mathematically analyzed would always be
available for future use, and when accumulated in sufficient number
would lead to results which would be trustworthy, and belong to

You young men who are following the hospitals hardly know how much
you are indebted to Louis. I say nothing of his Researches on
Phthisis or his great work on Typhoid Fever. But I consider his
modest and brief Essay on Bleeding in some Inflammatory Diseases,
based on cases carefully observed and numerically analyzed, one of
the most important written contributions to practical medicine, to
the treatment of internal disease, of this century, if not since the
days of Sydenham. The lancet was the magician's wand of the dark
ages of medicine. The old physicians not only believed in its
general efficacy as a wonder-worker in disease, but they believed
that each malady could be successfully attacked from some special
part of the body,--the strategic point which commanded the seat of
the morbid affection. On a figure given in the curious old work of
John de Ketam, no less than thirty-eight separate places are marked
as the proper ones to bleed from, in different diseases. Even Louis,
who had not wholly given up venesection, used now and then to order
that a patient suffering from headache should be bled in the foot, in
preference to any other part.

But what Louis did was this: he showed by a strict analysis of
numerous cases that bleeding did not strangle,--jugulate was the word
then used,--acute diseases, more especially pneumonia. This was not
a reform,--it was a revolution. It was followed up in this country
by the remarkable Discourse of Dr. Jacob Bigelow upon Self-Limited
Diseases, which has, I believe, done more than any other work or
essay in our own language to rescue the practice of medicine from the
slavery to the drugging system which was a part of the inheritance of
the profession.

Yes, I say, as I look back on the long hours of the many days I spent
in the wards and in the autopsy room of La Pitie, where Louis was one
of the attending physicians,--yes, Louis did a great work for
practical medicine. Modest in the presence of nature, fearless in
the face of authority, unwearying in the pursuit of truth, he was a
man whom any student might be happy and proud to claim as his teacher
and his friend, and yet, as I look back on the days when I followed
his teachings, I feel that I gave myself up too exclusively to his
methods of thought and study.

There is one part of their business which certain medical
practitioners are too apt to forget; namely, that what they should
most of all try to do is to ward off disease, to alleviate suffering,
to preserve life, or at least to prolong it if possible. It is not
of the slightest interest to the patient to know whether three or
three and a quarter cubic inches of his lung are hepatized. His mind
is not occupied with thinking of the curious problems which are to be
solved by his own autopsy,--whether this or that strand of the spinal
marrow is the seat of this or that form of degeneration. He wants
something to relieve his pain, to mitigate the anguish of dyspnea, to
bring back motion and sensibility to the dead limb, to still the
tortures of neuralgia. What is it to him that you can localize and
name by some uncouth term the disease which you could not prevent and
which you cannot cure? An old woman who knows how to make a poultice
and how to put it on, and does it tuto, eito, jucunde, just when and
where it is wanted, is better,--a thousand times better in many
cases,--than a staring pathologist, who explores and thumps and
doubts and guesses, and tells his patient be will be better tomorrow,
and so goes home to tumble his books over and make out a diagnosis.

But in those days, I, like most of my fellow students, was thinking
much more of "science" than of practical medicine, and I believe if
we had not clung so closely to the skirts of Louis and had followed
some of the courses of men like Trousseau,--therapeutists, who gave
special attention to curative methods, and not chiefly to diagnosis,
--it would have been better for me and others. One thing, at any
rate, we did learn in the wards of Louis. We learned that a very
large proportion of diseases get well of themselves, without any
special medication,--the great fact formulated, enforced, and
popularized by Dr. Jacob Bigelow in the Discourse referred to. We
unlearned the habit of drugging for its own sake. This detestable
practice, which I was almost proscribed for condemning somewhat too
epigrammatically a little more than twenty years ago, came to us, I
suspect, in a considerable measure from the English "general
practitioners," a sort of prescribing apothecaries. You remember
how, when the city was besieged, each artisan who was called upon in
council to suggest the best means of defence recommended the articles
he dealt in: the carpenter, wood; the blacksmith, iron; the mason,
brick; until it came to be a puzzle to know which to adopt. Then the
shoemaker said, "Hang your walls with new boots," and gave good
reasons why these should be the best of all possible defences. Now
the "general practitioner" charged, as I understand, for his
medicine, and in that way got paid for his visit. Wherever this is
the practice, medicine is sure to become a trade, and the people
learn to expect drugging, and to consider it necessary, because drugs
are so universally given to the patients of the man who gets his
living by them.

It was something to have unlearned the pernicious habit of constantly
giving poisons to a patient, as if they were good in themselves, of
drawing off the blood which he would want in his struggle with
disease, of making him sore and wretched with needless blisters, of
turning his stomach with unnecessary nauseous draught and mixtures,
--only because he was sick and something must be done. But there
were positive as well as negative facts to be learned, and some of
us, I fear, came home rich in the negatives of the expectant
practice, poor in the resources which many a plain country
practitioner had ready in abundance for the relief and the cure of
disease. No one instructor can be expected to do all for a student
which he requires. Louis taught us who followed him the love of
truth, the habit of passionless listening to the teachings of nature,
the most careful and searching methods of observation, and the sure
means of getting at the results to be obtained from them in the
constant employment of accurate tabulation. He was not a showy, or
eloquent, or, I should say, a very generally popular man, though the
favorite, almost the idol, of many students, especially Genevese and
Bostonians. But he was a man of lofty and admirable scientific
character, and his work will endure in its influences long after his
name is lost sight of save to the faded eyes of the student of
medical literature.

Many other names of men more or less famous in their day, and who
were teaching while I was in Paris, come up before me. They are but
empty sounds for the most part in the ears of persons of not more
than middle age. Who of you knows anything of Richerand, author of a
very popular work on Physiology, commonly put into the student's
hands when I first began to ask for medical text-books? I heard him
lecture once, and have had his image with me ever since as that of an
old, worn-out man,--a venerable but dilapidated relic of an effete
antiquity. To verify this impression I have just looked out the
dates of his birth and death, and find that he was eighteen years
younger than the speaker who is now addressing you. There is a
terrible parallax between the period before thirty and that after
threescore and ten, as two men of those ages look, one with naked
eyes, one through his spectacles, at the man of fifty and thereabout.
Magendie, I doubt not you have all heard of. I attended but one of
his lectures. I question if one here, unless some contemporary of my
own has strayed into the amphitheatre,--knows anything about
Marjolin. I remember two things about his lectures on surgery, the
deep tones of his voice as he referred to his oracle,--the earlier
writer, Jean Louis Petit,--and his formidable snuffbox. What he
taught me lies far down, I doubt not, among the roots of my
knowledge, but it does not flower out in any noticeable blossoms, or
offer me any very obvious fruits. Where now is the fame of
Bouillaud, Professor and Deputy, the Sangrado of his time? Where is
the renown of Piorry, percussionist and poet, expert alike in the
resonances of the thoracic cavity and those of the rhyming
vocabulary?--I think life has not yet done with the vivacious
Ricord, whom I remember calling the Voltaire of pelvic literature,--a
sceptic as to the morality of the race in general, who would have
submitted Diana to treatment with his mineral specifics, and ordered
a course of blue pills for the vestal virgins.

Ricord was born at the beginning of the century, and Piorry some
years earlier. Cruveilhier, who died in 1874, is still remembered by
his great work on pathological anatomy; his work on descriptive
anatomy has some things which I look in vain for elsewhere. But
where is Civiale,--where are Orfila, Gendrin, Rostan, Biett, Alibert,
--jolly old Baron Alibert, whom I remember so well in his broad-
brimmed hat, worn a little jauntily on one side, calling out to the
students in the court-yard of the Hospital St. Louis, "Enfans de la
methode naturelle, etes-vous tous ici?" "Children of the natural
method [his own method of classification of skin diseases,] are you
all here? "All here, then, perhaps; all where, now?

My show of ghosts is over. It is always the same story that old men
tell to younger ones, some few of whom will in their turn repeat the
tale, only with altered names, to their children's children.

Like phantoms painted on the magic slide,
Forth from the darkness of the past we glide,
As living shadows for a moment seen
In airy pageant on the eternal screen,
Traced by a ray from one unchanging flame,
Then seek the dust and stillness whence we came.

Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, whom I well remember, came back from Leyden,
where he had written his Latin graduating thesis, talking of the
learned Gaubius and the late illustrious Boerhaave and other dead
Dutchmen, of whom you know as much, most of you, as you do of Noah's
apothecary and the family physician of Methuselah, whose
prescriptions seem to have been lost to posterity. Dr. Lloyd came
back to Boston full of the teachings of Cheselden and Sharpe, William
Hunter, Smellie, and Warner; Dr. James Jackson loved to tell of Mr.
Cline and to talk of Mr. John Hunter; Dr. Reynolds would give you his
recollections of Sir Astley Cooper and Mr. Abernethy; I have named
the famous Frenchmen of my student days; Leyden, Edinburgh, London,
Paris, were each in turn the Mecca of medical students, just as at
the present day Vienna and Berlin are the centres where our young men
crowd for instruction. These also must sooner or later yield their
precedence and pass the torch they hold to other hands. Where shall
it next flame at the head of the long procession? Shall it find its
old place on the shores of the Gulf of Salerno, or shall it mingle
its rays with the northern aurora up among the fiords of Norway,--or
shall it be borne across the Atlantic and reach the banks of the
Charles, where Agassiz and Wyman have taught, where Hagen still
teaches, glowing like his own Lampyris splendidula, with enthusiasm,
where the first of American botanists and the ablest of American
surgeons are still counted in the roll of honor of our great

Let me add a few words which shall not be other than cheerful, as I
bid farewell to this edifice which I have known so long. I am
grateful to the roof which has sheltered me, to the floors which have
sustained me, though I have thought it safest always to abstain from
anything like eloquence, lest a burst of too emphatic applause might
land my class and myself in the cellar of the collapsing structure,
and bury us in the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. I have helped
to wear these stairs into hollows,--stairs which I trod when they
were smooth and level, fresh from the plane. There are just thirty-
two of them, as there were five and thirty years ago, but they are
steeper and harder to climb, it seems to me, than they were then. I
remember that in the early youth of this building, the late Dr. John
K. Mitchell, father of our famous Dr. Weir Mitchell, said to me as
we came out of the Demonstrator's room, that some day or other a
whole class would go heels over head down this graded precipice, like
the herd told of in Scripture story. This has never happened as yet;
I trust it never will. I have never been proud of the apartment
beneath the seats, in which my preparations for lecture were made.
But I chose it because I could have it to myself, and I resign it,
with a wish that it were more worthy of regret, into the hands of my
successor, with my parting benediction. Within its twilight
precincts I have often prayed for light, like Ajax, for the daylight
found scanty entrance, and the gaslight never illuminated its dark
recesses. May it prove to him who comes after me like the cave of
the Sibyl, out of the gloomy depths of which came the oracles which
shone with the rays of truth and wisdom!

This temple of learning is not surrounded by the mansions of the
great and the wealthy. No stately avenues lead up to its facades and
porticoes. I have sometimes felt, when convoying a distinguished
stranger through its precincts to its door, that he might question
whether star-eyed Science had not missed her way when she found
herself in this not too attractive locality. I cannot regret that
we--you, I should say--are soon to migrate to a more favored region,
and carry on your work as teachers and as learners in ampler halls
and under far more favorable conditions.

I hope that I may have the privilege of meeting you there, possibly
may be allowed to add my words of welcome to those of my former
colleagues, and in that pleasing anticipation I bid good-by to this
scene of my long labors, and, for the present at least, to the
friends with whom I have been associated.



Some passages contained in the original manuscript of the Address,
and omitted in the delivery on account of its length, are restored in
the text or incorporated with these Notes.


There is good reason to doubt whether the nitrate of silver has any
real efficacy in epilepsy. It has seemed to cure many cases, but
epilepsy is a very uncertain disease, and there is hardly anything
which has not been supposed to cure it. Dr. Copland cites many
authorities in its favor, most especially Lombard's cases. But De la
Berge and Monneret (Comp. de Med. Paris), 1839, analyze these same
cases, eleven in number, and can only draw the inference of a very
questionable value in the supposed remedy. Dr. James Jackson says
that relief of epilepsy is not to be attained by any medicine with
which he is acquainted, but by diet. (Letters to a Young Physician,
p. 67.) Guy Patin, Dean of the Faculty of Paris, Professor at the
Royal College, Author of the Antimonial Martyrology, a wit and a man
of sense and learning, who died almost two hundred years ago, had
come to the same conclusion, though the chemists of his time boasted
of their remedies. "Did, you ever see a case of epilepsy cured by
nitrate of silver?" I said to one of the oldest and most experienced
surgeons in this country. "Never," was his instant reply. Dr.
Twitchell's experience was very similar. How, then, did nitrate of
silver come to be given for epilepsy? Because, as Dr. Martin has so
well reminded us, lunatics were considered formerly to be under the
special influence of Luna, the moon (which Esquirol, be it observed,
utterly denies), and lunar caustic, or nitrate of silver, is a salt
of that metal which was called luna from its whiteness, and of course
must be in the closest relations with the moon. It follows beyond
all reasonable question that the moon's metal, silver, and its
preparations, must be the specific remedy for moonblasted maniacs and

Yet the practitioner who prescribes the nitrate of silver supposes he
is guided by the solemn experience of the past, instead of by its
idle fancies. He laughs at those old physicians who placed such
confidence in the right hind hoof of an elk as a remedy for the same
disease, and leaves the record of his own belief in a treatment quite
as fanciful and far more objectionable, written in indelible ink upon
a living tablet where he who runs may read it for a whole generation,
if nature spares his walking advertisement so long.


The presumption that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty,
does not mean that there are no rogues, but lays the onus probandi on
the party to which it properly belongs. So with this proposition.
A noxious agent should never be employed in sickness unless there is
ample evidence in the particular case to overcome the general
presumption against all such agents, and the evidence is very apt to
be defective.

The miserable delusion of Homoeopathy builds itself upon an axiom
directly the opposite of this; namely, that the sick are to be cured
by poisons. Similia similibus curantur means exactly this. It is
simply a theory of universal poisoning, nullified in practice by the
infinitesimal contrivance. The only way to kill it and all similar
fancies, and to throw every quack nostrum into discredit, is to root
out completely the suckers of the old rotten superstition that
whatever is odious or noxious is likely to be good for disease. The
current of sound practice with ourselves is, I believe, setting fast
in the direction I have indicated in the above proposition. To
uphold the exhibition of noxious agents in disease, as the rule,
instead of admitting them cautiously and reluctantly as the
exception, is, as I think, an eddy of opinion in the direction of the
barbarism out of which we believe our art is escaping. It is only
through the enlightened sentiment and action of the Medical
Profession that the community can be brought to acknowledge that
drugs should always be regarded as evils.

It is true that some suppose, and our scientific and thoughtful
associate, Dr. Gould, has half countenanced the opinion, that there
may yet be discovered a specific for every disease. Let us not
despair of the future, but let us be moderate in our expectations.
When an oil is discovered that will make a bad watch keep good time;
when a recipe is given which will turn an acephalous foetus into a
promising child; when a man can enter the second time into his
mother's womb and give her back the infirmities which twenty
generations have stirred into her blood, and infused into his own
through hers, we may be prepared to enlarge the National
Pharmacopoeia with a list of specifies for everything but old age,
--and possibly for that also.


The term specific is used here in its ordinary sense, without raising
the question of the propriety of its application to these or other

The credit of introducing Cinchona rests between the Jesuits, the
Countess of Chinchon, the Cardinal de Lugo, and Sir Robert Talbor,
who employed it as a secret remedy. (Pereira.) Mercury as an
internal specific remedy was brought into use by that impudent and
presumptuous quack, as he was considered, Paracelsus. (Encyc. Brit.
art. "Paracelsus.") Arsenic was introduced into England as a remedy
for intermittents by Dr. Fowler, in consequence of the success of a
patent medicine, the Tasteless Ague Drops, which were supposed,
"probably with reason," to be a preparation of that mineral. (Rees's
Cyc. art. "Arsenic.") Colchicum came into notice in a similar way,
from the success of the Eau Medicinale of M. Husson, a French
military officer. (Pereira.) Iodine was discovered by a saltpetre
manufacturer, but applied by a physician in place of the old remedy,
burnt sponge, which seems to owe its efficacy to it. (Dunglison, New
Remedies.) As for Sulphur, "the common people have long used it as an
ointment" for scabies. (Rees's Cyc. art. "Scabies.") The modern
cantiscorbutic regimen is credited to Captain Cook. "To his sagacity
we are indebted for the first impulse to those regulations by which
scorbutus is so successfully prevented in our navy." (Lond. Cyc.
Prac. Med. art. "Scorbutus.") Iron and various salts which enter
into the normal composition of the human body do not belong to the
materia medica by our definition, but to the materia alimentaria.

For the first introduction of iron as a remedy, see Pereira, who
gives a very curious old story.

The statement in the text concerning a portion of the materia medica
stands exactly as delivered, and is meant exactly as it stands. No
denunciation of drugs, as sparingly employed by a wise physician, was
or is intended. If, however, as Dr. Gould stated in his "valuable
and practical discourse" to which the Massachusetts Medical Society
"listened with profit as well as interest," "Drugs, in themselves
considered, may always be regarded as evils,"--any one who chooses
may question whether the evils from their abuse are, on the whole,
greater or less than the undoubted benefits obtained from their
proper use. The large exception of opium, wine, specifics, and
anaesthetics, made in the text, takes off enough from the useful
side, as I fully believe, to turn the balance; so that a vessel
containing none of these, but loaded with antimony, strychnine,
acetate of lead, aloes, aconite, lobelia, lapis infernalis, stercus
diaboli, tormentilla, and other approved, and, in skilful hands,
really useful remedies, brings, on the whole, more harm than good to
the port it enters.

It is a very narrow and unjust view of the practice of medicine, to
suppose it to consist altogether in the use of powerful drugs, or of
drugs of any kind. Far from it. "The physician may do very much for
the welfare of the sick, more than others can do, although he does
not, even in the major part of cases, undertake to control and
overcome the disease by art. It was with these views that I never
reported any patient cured at our hospital. Those who recovered
their health were reported as well; not implying that they were made
so by the active treatment they had received there. But it was to be
understood that all patients received in that house were to be cured,
that is, taken care of." (Letters to a Young Physician, by James
Jackson, M. D., Boston, 1855.)

"Hygienic rules, properly enforced, fresh air, change of air, travel,
attention to diet, good and appropriate food judiciously regulated,
together with the administration of our tonics, porter, ale, wine,
iron, etc., supply the diseased or impoverished system with what Mr.
Gull, of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, aptly calls the 'raw material of
the blood;' and we believe that if any real improvement has taken
place in medical practice, independently of those truly valuable
contributions we have before described, it is in the substitution of
tonics, stimulants, and general management, for drastic cathartics,
for bleeding, depressing agents, including mercury, tartar emetics,
etc., so much in vogue during the early part even of this century."
(F. P. Porcher, in Charleston Med. Journal and Review for January,


A MEMOIR, Complete

By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Volume I.


The Memoir here given to the public is based on a biographical sketch
prepared by the writer at the request of the Massachusetts Historical
Society for its Proceedings. The questions involving controversies into
which the Society could not feel called to enter are treated at
considerable length in the following pages. Many details are also given
which would have carried the paper written for the Society beyond the
customary limits of such tributes to the memory of its deceased members.
It is still but an outline which may serve a present need and perhaps be
of some assistance to a future biographer.


1814-1827. To AEt. 13.


John Motley, the great-grandfather of the subject of this Memoir, came in
the earlier part of the last century from Belfast in Ireland to Falmouth,
now Portland, in the District, now the State of Maine. He was twice
married, and had ten children, four of the first marriage and six of the
last. Thomas, the youngest son by his first wife, married Emma, a
daughter of John Wait, the first Sheriff of Cumberland County under the
government of the United States. Two of their seven sons, Thomas and
Edward, removed from Portland to Boston in 1802 and established
themselves as partners in commercial business, continuing united and
prosperous for nearly half a century before the firm was dissolved.

The earlier records of New England have preserved the memory of an
incident which deserves mention as showing how the historian's life was
saved by a quickwitted handmaid, more than a hundred years before he was
born. On the 29th of August, 1708, the French and Indians from Canada
made an attack upon the town of Haverhill, in Massachusetts. Thirty or
forty persons were slaughtered, and many others were carried captive into

The minister of the town, Rev. Benjamin Rolfe, was killed by a bullet
through the door of his house. Two of his daughters, Mary, aged
thirteen, and Elizabeth, aged nine, were sleeping in a room with the
maid-servant, Hagar. When Hagar heard the whoop of the savages she
seized the children, ran with them into the cellar, and, after concealing
them under two large washtubs, hid herself. The Indians ransacked the
cellar, but missed the prey. Elizabeth, the younger of the two girls,
grew up and married the Rev. Samuel Checkley, first minister of the "New
South" Church, Boston. Her son, Rev. Samuel Checkley, Junior, was
minister of the Second Church, and his successor, Rev. John Lothrop, or
Lathrop, as it was more commonly spelled, married his daughter. Dr.
Lothrop was great-grandson of Rev. John Lothrop, of Scituate, who had
been imprisoned in England for nonconformity. The Checkleys were from
Preston Capes, in Northamptonshire. The name is probably identical with
that of the Chicheles or Chichleys, a well-known Northamptonshire family.

Thomas Motley married Anna, daughter of the Rev. John Lothrop,
granddaughter of the Rev. Samuel Checkley, Junior, the two ministers
mentioned above, both honored in their day and generation. Eight
children were born of this marriage, of whom four are still living.

JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY, the second of these children, was born in
Dorchester, now a part of Boston, Massachusetts, on the 15th of April,
1814. A member of his family gives a most pleasing and interesting
picture, from his own recollections and from what his mother told him,
of the childhood which was to develop into such rich maturity. The boy
was rather delicate in organization, and not much given to outdoor
amusements, except skating and swimming, of which last exercise he was
very fond in his young days, and in which he excelled. He was a great
reader, never idle, but always had a book in his hand,--a volume of
poetry or one of the novels of Scott or Cooper. His fondness for plays
and declamation is illustrated by the story told by a younger brother,
who remembers being wrapped up in a shawl and kept quiet by sweetmeats,
while he figured as the dead Caesar, and his brother, the future
historian, delivered the speech of Antony over his prostrate body. He
was of a most sensitive nature, easily excited, but not tenacious of any
irritated feelings, with a quick sense of honor, and the most entirely
truthful child, his mother used to say, that she had ever seen. Such are
some of the recollections of those who knew him in his earliest years and
in the most intimate relations.

His father's family was at this time living in the house No. 7 Walnut
Street, looking down Chestnut Street over the water to the western hills.
Near by, at the corner of Beacon Street, was the residence of the family
of the first mayor of Boston, and at a little distance from the opposite
corner was the house of one of the fathers of New England manufacturing
enterprise, a man of superior intellect, who built up a great name and
fortune in our city. The children from these three homes naturally
became playmates. Mr. Motley's house was a very hospitable one, and
Lothrop and two of his young companions were allowed to carry out their
schemes of amusement in the garden and the garret. If one with a
prescient glance could have looked into that garret on some Saturday
afternoon while our century was not far advanced in its second score of
years, he might have found three boys in cloaks and doublets and plumed
hats, heroes and bandits, enacting more or less impromptu melodramas.
In one of the boys he would have seen the embryo dramatist of a nation's
life history, John Lothrop Motley; in the second, a famous talker and wit
who has spilled more good things on the wasteful air in conversation than
would carry a "diner-out" through half a dozen London seasons, and waked
up somewhat after the usual flowering-time of authorship to find himself
a very agreeable and cordially welcomed writer,--Thomas Gold Appleton.
In the third he would have recognized a champion of liberty known
wherever that word is spoken, an orator whom to hear is to revive all the
traditions of the grace, the address, the commanding sway of the silver-
tongued eloquence of the most renowned speakers,--Wendell Phillips.

Both of young Motley's playmates have furnished me with recollections of
him and of those around him at this period of his life, and I cannot do
better than borrow freely from their communications. His father was a
man of decided character, social, vivacious, witty, a lover of books, and
himself not unknown as a writer, being the author of one or more of the
well remembered "Jack Downing" letters. He was fond of having the boys
read to him from such authors as Channing and Irving, and criticised
their way of reading with discriminating judgment and taste. Mrs. Motley
was a woman who could not be looked upon without admiration. I remember
well the sweet dignity of her aspect, her "regal beauty," as Mr. Phillips
truly styles it, and the charm of her serene and noble presence, which
made her the type of a perfect motherhood. Her character corresponded to
the promise of her gracious aspect. She was one of the fondest of
mothers, but not thoughtlessly indulgent to the boy from whom she hoped
and expected more than she thought it wise to let him know. The story
used to be current that in their younger days this father and mother were
the handsomest pair the town of Boston could show. This son of theirs
was "rather tall," says Mr. Phillips, "lithe, very graceful in movement
and gesture, and there was something marked and admirable in the set of
his head on his shoulders,"--a peculiar elegance which was most
noticeable in those later days when I knew him. Lady Byron long
afterwards spoke of him as more like her husband in appearance than any
other person she had met; but Mr. Phillips, who remembers the first bloom
of his boyhood and youth, thinks he was handsomer than any portrait of
Byron represents the poet. "He could not have been eleven years old,"
says the same correspondent, "when he began writing a novel. It opened,
I remember, not with one solitary horseman, but with two, riding up to an
inn in the valley of the Housatonic. Neither of us had ever seen the
Housatonic, but it sounded grand and romantic. Two chapters were

There is not much remembered of the single summer he passed at Mr.
Green's school at Jamaica Plain. From that school he went to Round
Hill, Northampton, then under the care of Mr. Cogswell and Mr. Bancroft.
The historian of the United States could hardly have dreamed that the
handsome boy of ten years was to take his place at the side of his
teacher in the first rank of writers in his own department. Motley came
to Round Hill, as one of his schoolmates tells me, with a great
reputation, especially as a declaimer. He had a remarkable facility for
acquiring languages, excelled as a reader and as a writer, and was the
object of general admiration for his many gifts. There is some reason to
think that the flattery he received was for a time a hindrance to his
progress and the development of his character. He obtained praise too
easily, and learned to trust too much to his genius. He had everything
to spoil him,--beauty, precocious intelligence, and a personal charm
which might have made him a universal favorite. Yet he does not seem to
have been generally popular at this period of his life. He was wilful,
impetuous, sometimes supercilious, always fastidious. He would study as
he liked, and not by rule. His school and college mates believed in his
great possibilities through all his forming period, but it may be doubted
if those who counted most confidently on his future could have supposed
that he would develop the heroic power of concentration, the long-
breathed tenacity of purpose, which in after years gave effect to his
brilliant mental endowments. "I did wonder," says Mr. Wendell Phillips,
"at the diligence and painstaking, the drudgery shown in his historical
works. In early life he had no industry, not needing it. All he cared
for in a book he caught quickly,--the spirit of it, and all his mind
needed or would use. This quickness of apprehension was marvellous.
"I do not find from the recollections of his schoolmates at Northampton
that he was reproached for any grave offences, though he may have
wandered beyond the prescribed boundaries now and then, and studied
according to his inclinations rather than by rule. While at that school
he made one acquisition much less common then than now,--a knowledge of
the German language and some degree of acquaintance with its literature,
under the guidance of one of the few thorough German scholars this
country then possessed, Mr. George Bancroft.


1827-1831. AEt. 13-17.


Such then was the boy who at the immature, we might almost say the
tender, age of thirteen entered Harvard College. Though two years after
me in college standing, I remember the boyish reputation which he brought
with him, especially that of a wonderful linguist, and the impression
which his striking personal beauty produced upon us as he took his seat
in the college chapel. But it was not until long after this period that
I became intimately acquainted with him, and I must again have recourse
to the classmates and friends who have favored me with their
reminiscences of this period of his life. Mr. Phillips says:

"During our first year in college, though the youngest in the class,
he stood third, I think, or second in college rank, and ours was an
especially able class. Yet to maintain this rank he neither cared
nor needed to make any effort. Too young to feel any
responsibilities, and not yet awake to any ambition, he became so
negligent that he was 'rusticated' [that is, sent away from college
for a time]. He came back sobered, and worked rather more, but with
no effort for college rank thenceforward."

I must finish the portrait of the collegian with all its lights and
shadows by the help of the same friends from whom I have borrowed the
preceding outlines.

He did not care to make acquaintances, was haughty in manner and cynical
in mood, at least as he appeared to those in whom he felt no special
interest. It is no wonder, therefore, that he was not a popular
favorite, although recognized as having very brilliant qualities. During
all this period his mind was doubtless fermenting with projects which
kept him in a fevered and irritable condition. "He had a small writing-
table," Mr. Phillips says, "with a shallow drawer; I have often seen it
half full of sketches, unfinished poems, soliloquies, a scene or two of a
play, prose portraits of some pet character, etc. These he would read to
me, though he never volunteered to do so, and every now and then he burnt
the whole and began to fill the drawer again."

My friend, Mr. John Osborne Sargent, who was a year before him in
college, says, in a very interesting letter with which he has favored me:

"My first acquaintance with him [Motley] was at Cambridge, when he
came from Mr. Cogswell's school at Round Hill. He then had a good
deal of the shyness that was just pronounced enough to make him
interesting, and which did not entirely wear off till he left
college. . . I soon became acquainted with him, and we used to take
long walks together, sometimes taxing each other's memory for poems
or passages from poems that had struck our fancy. Shelley was then
a great favorite of his, and I remember that Praed's verses then
appearing in the 'New Monthly' he thought very clever and brilliant,
and was fond of repeating them. You have forgotten, or perhaps
never knew, that Motley's first appearance in print was in the
'Collegian.' He brought me one day, in a very modest mood, a
translation from Goethe, which I was most happy to oblige him by
inserting. It was very prettily done, and will now be a curiosity.
. . . How it happened that Motley wrote only one piece I do not
remember. I had the pleasure about that time of initiating him as a
member of the Knights of the Square Table,--always my favorite
college club, for the reason, perhaps, that I was a sometime Grand
Master. He was always a genial and jovial companion at our supper-
parties at Fresh Pond and Gallagher's."

We who live in the days of photographs know how many faces belong to
every individual. We know too under what different aspects the same
character appears to those who study it from different points of view and
with different prepossessions. I do not hesitate, therefore, to place
side by side the impressions of two of his classmates as to one of his
personal traits as they observed him at this period of his youth.

"He was a manly boy, with no love for or leaning to girls' company;
no care for dress; not a trace of personal vanity. . . . He was,
or at least seemed, wholly unconscious of his rare beauty and of the
fascination of his manner; not a trace of pretence, the simplest and
most natural creature in the world."

Look on that picture and on this:--

"He seemed to have a passion for dress. But as in everything else,
so in this, his fancy was a fitful one. At one time he would excite
our admiration by the splendor of his outfit, and perhaps the next
week he would seem to take equal pleasure in his slovenly or
careless appearance."

It is not very difficult to reconcile these two portraitures. I
recollect it was said by a witty lady of a handsome clergyman well
remembered among us, that he had dressy eyes. Motley so well became
everything he wore, that if he had sprung from his bed and slipped his
clothes on at an alarm of fire, his costume would have looked like a
prince's undress. His natural presentment, like that of Count D'Orsay,
was of the kind which suggests the intentional effects of an elaborate
toilet, no matter how little thought or care may have been given to make
it effective. I think the "passion for dress" was really only a
seeming, and that he often excited admiration when he had not taken half
the pains to adorn himself that many a youth less favored by nature has
wasted upon his unblest exterior only to be laughed at.

I gather some other interesting facts from a letter which I have received
from his early playmate and school and college classmate, Mr. T. G.

"In his Sophomore year he kept abreast of the prescribed studies,
but his heart was out of bounds, as it often had been at Round Hill
when chasing squirrels or rabbits through forbidden forests.
Already his historical interest was shaping his life. A tutor
coming-by chance, let us hope--to his room remonstrated with him
upon the heaps of novels upon his table.

"'Yes,' said Motley, 'I am reading historically, and have come to the
novels of the nineteenth century. Taken in the lump, they are very hard

All Old Cambridge people know the Brattle House, with its gambrel roof,
its tall trees, its perennial spring, its legendary fame of good fare and
hospitable board in the days of the kindly old bon vivant, Major Brattle.
In this house the two young students, Appleton and Motley, lived during a
part of their college course.

"Motley's room was on the ground floor, the room to the left of the
entrance. He led a very pleasant life there, tempering his college
duties with the literature he loved, and receiving his friends
amidst elegant surroundings, which added to the charm of his
society. Occasionally we amused ourselves by writing for the
magazines and papers of the day. Mr. Willis had just started a slim
monthly, written chiefly by himself, but with the true magazine
flavor. We wrote for that, and sometimes verses in the corner of a
paper called 'The Anti-Masonic Mirror,' and in which corner was a
woodcut of Apollo, and inviting to destruction ambitious youths by
the legend underneath,--

'Much yet remains unsung.'

These pieces were usually dictated to each other, the poet recumbent
upon the bed and a classmate ready to carry off the manuscript for
the paper of the following day. 'Blackwood's' was then in its
glory, its pages redolent of 'mountain dew' in every sense; the
humor of the Shepherd, the elegantly brutal onslaughts upon Whigs
and Cockney poets by Christopher North, intoxicated us youths.

"It was young writing, and made for the young. The opinions were
charmingly wrong, and its enthusiasm was half Glenlivet. But this
delighted the boys. There were no reprints then, and to pass the
paper-cutter up the fresh inviting pages was like swinging over the
heather arm in arm with Christopher himself. It is a little
singular that though we had a college magazine of our own, Motley
rarely if ever wrote for it. I remember a translation from Goethe,
'The Ghost-Seer,' which he may have written for it, and a poem upon
the White Mountains. Motley spoke at one of the college exhibitions
an essay on Goethe so excellent that Mr. Joseph Cogswell sent it to
Madam Goethe, who, after reading it, said, 'I wish to see the first
book that young man will write.'"

Although Motley did not aim at or attain a high college rank, the rules
of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which confine the number of members to the
first sixteen of each class, were stretched so as to include him,--a
tribute to his recognized ability, and an evidence that a distinguished
future was anticipated for him.


1832-1833. AEt. 18-19.


Of the two years divided between the Universities of Berlin and Gottingen
I have little to record. That he studied hard I cannot doubt; that he
found himself in pleasant social relations with some of his fellow-
students seems probable from the portraits he has drawn in his first
story, "Morton's Hope," and is rendered certain so far as one of his
companions is concerned. Among the records of the past to which he
referred during his last visit to this country was a letter which he took
from a collection of papers and handed me to read one day when I was
visiting him. The letter was written in a very lively and exceedingly
familiar vein. It implied such intimacy, and called up in such a lively
way the gay times Motley and himself had had together in their youthful
days, that I was puzzled to guess who could have addressed him from
Germany in that easy and off-hand fashion. I knew most of his old
friends who would be likely to call him by his baptismal name in its most
colloquial form, and exhausted my stock of guesses unsuccessfully before
looking at the signature. I confess that I was surprised, after laughing
at the hearty and almost boyish tone of the letter, to read at the bottom
of the page the signature of Bismarck. I will not say that I suspect
Motley of having drawn the portrait of his friend in one of the
characters of "Morton's Hope," but it is not hard to point out traits
in one of them which we can believe may have belonged to the great
Chancellor at an earlier period of life than that at which the world
contemplates his overshadowing proportions.

Hoping to learn something of Motley during the two years while we had
lost sight of him, I addressed a letter to His Highness Prince Bismarck,
to which I received the following reply:--


SIR,--I am directed by Prince Bismarck to acknowledge the receipt of
your letter of the 1st of January, relating to the biography of the
late Mr. Motley. His Highness deeply regrets that the state of his
health and pressure of business do not allow him to contribute
personally, and as largely as he would be delighted to do, to your
depicting of a friend whose memory will be ever dear to him. Since
I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. Motley at
Varzin, I have been intrusted with communicating to you a few
details I have gathered from the mouth of the Prince. I enclose
them as they are jotted down, without any attempt of digestion.

I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant,

"Prince Bismarck said:--

"'I met Motley at Gottingen in 1832, I am not sure if at the
beginning of Easter Term or Michaelmas Term. He kept company with
German students, though more addicted to study than we members of
the fighting clubs (: corps:). Although not having mastered yet the
German language, he exercised a marked attraction by a conversation
sparkling with wit, humor, and originality. In autumn of 1833,
having both of us migrated from Gottingen to Berlin for the
prosecution of our studies, we became fellow-lodgers in the house
No. 161 Friedrich Strasse. There we lived in the closest intimacy,
sharing meals and outdoor exercise. Motley by that time had arrived
at talking German fluently; he occupied himself not only in
translating Goethe's poem "Faust," but tried his hand even in
composing German verses. Enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare,
Byron, Goethe, he used to spice his conversation abundantly with
quotations from these his favorite authors. A pertinacious arguer,
so much so that sometimes he watched my awakening in order to
continue a discussion on some topic of science, poetry, or practical
life, cut short by the chime of the small hours, he never lost his
mild and amiable temper. Our faithful companion was Count Alexander
Keyserling, a native of Courland, who has since achieved distinction
as a botanist.

"'Motley having entered the diplomatic service of his country, we
had frequently the opportunity of renewing our friendly intercourse;
at Frankfort he used to stay with me, the welcome guest of my wife;
we also met at Vienna, and, later, here. The last time I saw him
was in 1872 at Varzin, at the celebration of my "silver wedding,"
namely, the twenty-fifth anniversary.

"'The most striking feature of his handsome and delicate appearance
was uncommonly large and beautiful eyes. He never entered a
drawing-room without exciting the curiosity and sympathy of the

It is but a glimpse of their young life which the great statesman gives
us, but a bright and pleasing one. Here were three students, one of whom
was to range in the flowery fields of the loveliest of the sciences,
another to make the dead past live over again in his burning pages, and a
third to extend an empire as the botanist spread out a plant and the
historian laid open a manuscript.


1834-1839. 2ET. 20-25.


Of the years passed in the study of law after his return from Germany I
have very little recollection, and nothing of importance to record. He
never became seriously engaged in the practice of the profession he had
chosen. I had known him pleasantly rather than intimately, and our
different callings tended to separate us. I met him, however, not very
rarely, at one house where we were both received with the greatest
cordiality, and where the attractions brought together many both young
and old to enjoy the society of its charming and brilliant inmates. This
was at No. 14 Temple Place, where Mr. Park Benjamin was then living with
his two sisters, both in the bloom of young womanhood. Here Motley found
the wife to whom his life owed so much of its success and its happiness.
Those who remember Mary Benjamin find it hard to speak of her in the
common terms of praise which they award to the good and the lovely. She
was not only handsome and amiable and agreeable, but there was a cordial
frankness, an openhearted sincerity about her which made her seem like a
sister to those who could help becoming her lovers. She stands quite
apart in the memory of the friends who knew her best, even from the
circle of young persons whose recollections they most cherish. Yet
hardly could one of them have foreseen all that she was to be to him
whose life she was to share. They were married on the 2d of March, 1837.
His intimate friend, Mr. Joseph Lewis Stackpole, was married at about the
same time to her sister, thus joining still more closely in friendship
the two young men who were already like brothers in their mutual

Two years after his marriage, in 1839, appeared his first work, a novel
in two volumes, called "Morton's Hope." He had little reason to be
gratified with its reception. The general verdict was not favorable to
it, and the leading critical journal of America, not usually harsh or
cynical in its treatment of native authorship, did not even give it a
place among its "Critical Notices," but dropped a small-print
extinguisher upon it in one of the pages of its "List of New
Publications." Nothing could be more utterly disheartening than the
unqualified condemnation passed upon the story. At the same time the
critic says that "no one can read 'Morton's Hope' without perceiving it
to have been written by a person of uncommon resources of mind and

It must be confessed that, as a story, "Morton's Hope" cannot endure a
searching or even a moderately careful criticism. It is wanting in
cohesion, in character, even in a proper regard to circumstances of time
and place; it is a map of dissected incidents which has been flung out of
its box and has arranged itself without the least regard to chronology or
geography. It is not difficult to trace in it many of the influences
which had helped in forming or deforming the mind of the young man of
twenty-five, not yet come into possession of his full inheritance of the
slowly ripening qualities which were yet to assert their robust
independence. How could he help admiring Byron and falling into more or
less unconscious imitation of his moods if not of his special
affectations? Passion showing itself off against a dark foil of
cynicism; sentiment, ashamed of its own self-betrayal, and sneering at
itself from time to time for fear of the laugh of the world at its
sincerity,--how many young men were spoiled and how many more injured by
becoming bad copies of a bad ideal! The blood of Don Juan ran in the
veins of Vivian Grey and of Pelham. But if we read the fantastic dreams
of Disraeli, the intellectual dandyisms of Bulwer, remembering the after
careers of which these were the preludes, we can understand how there
might well be something in those earlier efforts which would betray
itself in the way of thought and in the style of the young men who read
them during the plastic period of their minds and characters. Allow for
all these influences, allow for whatever impressions his German residence
and his familiarity with German literature had produced; accept the fact
that the story is to the last degree disjointed, improbable, impossible;
lay it aside as a complete failure in what it attempted to be, and read
it, as "Vivian Grey" is now read, in the light of the career which it

"Morton's Hope" is not to be read as a novel: it is to be studied as an
autobiography, a prophecy, a record of aspirations, disguised under a
series of incidents which are flung together with no more regard to the
unities than a pack of shuffled playing-cards. I can do nothing better
than let him picture himself, for it is impossible not to recognize the
portrait. It is of little consequence whether every trait is an exact
copy from his own features, but it is so obvious that many of the lines
are direct transcripts from nature that we may believe the same thing of
many others. Let us compare his fictitious hero's story with what we
have read of his own life.

In early boyhood Morton amused himself and astonished those about him by
enacting plays for a puppet theatre. This was at six years old, and at
twelve we find him acting in a play with other boys, just as Motley's
playmates have already described him. The hero may now speak for
himself, but we shall all perceive that we are listening to the writer's
own story.

"I was always a huge reader; my mind was essentially craving and
insatiable. Its appetite was enormous, and it devoured too greedily
for health. I rejected all guidance in my studies. I already
fancied myself a misanthrope. I had taken a step very common for
boys of my age, and strove with all my might to be a cynic."

He goes on to describe, under the perfectly transparent mask of his hero,
the course of his studies. "To poetry, like most infants, I devoted most
of my time." From modern poetry he went back to the earlier sources,
first with the idea of systematic reading and at last through Chaucer and
Gower and early ballads, until he lost himself "in a dismal swamp of
barbarous romances and lying Latin chronicles. I got hold of the
Bibliotheca Monastica, containing a copious account of Anglo-Norman
authors, with notices of their works, and set seriously to reading every
one of them." One profit of his antiquarianism, however, was, as he
says, his attention to foreign languages,--French, Spanish, German,
especially in their earliest and rudest forms of literature. From these
he ascended to the ancient poets, and from Latin to Greek. He would have
taken up the study of the Oriental languages, but for the advice of a
relative, who begged him seriously to turn his attention to history. The
paragraph which follows must speak for itself as a true record under a
feigned heading.

"The groundwork of my early character was plasticity and fickleness.
I was mortified by this exposure of my ignorance, and disgusted with
my former course of reading. I now set myself violently to the
study of history. With my turn of mind, and with the preposterous
habits which I had been daily acquiring, I could not fail to make as
gross mistakes in the pursuit of this as of other branches of
knowledge. I imagined, on setting out, a system of strict and
impartial investigation of the sources of history. I was inspired
with the absurd ambition, not uncommon to youthful students, of
knowing as much as their masters. I imagined it necessary for me,
stripling as I was, to study the authorities; and, imbued with the
strict necessity of judging for myself, I turned from the limpid
pages of the modern historians to the notes and authorities at the
bottom of the page. These, of course, sent me back to my monastic
acquaintances, and I again found myself in such congenial company to
a youthful and ardent mind as Florence of Worcester and Simeon of
Durham, the Venerable Bede and Matthew Paris; and so on to Gregory
and Fredegarius, down to the more modern and elegant pages of
Froissart, Hollinshed, Hooker, and Stowe. Infant as I was, I
presumed to grapple with masses of learning almost beyond the
strength of the giants of history. A spendthrift of my time and
labor, I went out of my way to collect materials, and to build for
myself, when I should have known that older and abler architects had
already appropriated all that was worth preserving; that the edifice
was built, the quarry exhausted, and that I was, consequently, only
delving amidst rubbish.

"This course of study was not absolutely without its advantages.
The mind gained a certain proportion of vigor even by this exercise
of its faculties, just as my bodily health would have been improved
by transporting the refuse ore of a mine from one pit to another,
instead of coining the ingots which lay heaped before my eyes.
Still, however, my time was squandered. There was a constant want
of fitness and concentration of my energies. My dreams of education
were boundless, brilliant, indefinite; but alas! they were only
dreams. There was nothing accurate and defined in my future course
of life. I was ambitious and conceited, but my aspirations were
vague and shapeless. I had crowded together the most gorgeous and
even some of the most useful and durable materials for my woof, but
I had no pattern, and consequently never began to weave.

"I had not made the discovery that an individual cannot learn, nor
be, everything; that the world is a factory in which each individual
must perform his portion of work:--happy enough if he can choose it
according to his taste and talent, but must renounce the desire of
observing or superintending the whole operation. . . .

"From studying and investigating the sources of history with my own
eyes, I went a step further; I refused the guidance of modern
writers; and proceeding from one point of presumption to another, I
came to the magnanimous conviction that I could not know history as
I ought to know it unless I wrote it for myself. . . .

"It would be tedious and useless to enlarge upon my various attempts
and various failures. I forbear to comment upon mistakes which I
was in time wise enough to retrieve. Pushing out as I did, without
compass and without experience, on the boundless ocean of learning,
what could I expect but an utter and a hopeless shipwreck?

"Thus I went on, becoming more learned, and therefore more ignorant,
more confused in my brain, and more awkward in my habits, from day
to day. I was ever at my studies, and could hardly be prevailed
upon to allot a moment to exercise or recreation. I breakfasted
with a pen behind my ear, and dined in company with a folio bigger
than the table. I became solitary and morose, the necessary
consequence of reckless study; talked impatiently of the value of my
time, and the immensity of my labors; spoke contemptuously of the
learning and acquirements of the whole world, and threw out
mysterious hints of the magnitude and importance of my own project.

"In the midst of all this study and this infant authorship the
perusal of such masses of poetry could not fail to produce their
effect. Of a youth whose mind, like mine at that period, possessed
some general capability, without perhaps a single prominent and
marked talent, a proneness to imitation is sure to be the besetting
sin. I consequently, for a large portion of my earlier life, never
read a work which struck my fancy, without planning a better one
upon its model; for my ambition, like my vanity, knew no bounds.
It was a matter of course that I should be attacked by the poetic
mania. I took the infection at the usual time, went through its
various stages, and recovered as soon as could be expected. I
discovered soon enough that emulation is not capability, and he is
fortunate to whom is soonest revealed the relative extent of his
ambition and his powers.

"My ambition was boundless; my dreams of glory were not confined to
authorship and literature alone; but every sphere in which the
intellect of man exerts itself revolved in a blaze of light before
me. And there I sat in my solitude and dreamed such wondrous
dreams! Events were thickening around me which were soon to change
the world, but they were unmarked by me. The country was changing
to a mighty theatre, on whose stage those who were as great as I
fancied myself to be were to enact a stupendous drama in which I had
no part. I saw it not; I knew it not; and yet how infinitely
beautiful were the imaginations of my solitude! Fancy shook her
kaleidoscope each moment as chance directed, and lo! what new,
fantastic, brilliant, but what unmeaning visions. My ambitious
anticipations were as boundless as they were various and
conflicting. There was not a path which leads to glory in which I
was not destined to gather laurels. As a warrior I would conquer
and overrun the world. As a statesman I would reorganize and govern
it. As a historian I would consign it all to immortality; and in my
leisure moments I would be a great poet and a man of the world.

"In short, I was already enrolled in that large category of what are
called young men of genius,--men who are the pride of their sisters
and the glory of their grandmothers,--men of whom unheard-of things
are expected, till after long preparation comes a portentous
failure, and then they are forgotten; subsiding into indifferent
apprentices and attorneys' clerks.

"Alas for the golden imaginations of our youth! They are bright and
beautiful, but they fade. They glitter brightly enough to deceive
the wisest and most cautious, and we garner them up in the most
secret caskets of our hearts; but are they not like the coins which
the Dervise gave the merchant in the story? When we look for them
the next morning, do we not find them withered leaves?"

The ideal picture just drawn is only a fuller portraiture of the youth
whose outlines have been already sketched by the companions of his
earlier years. If his hero says, "I breakfasted with a pen behind my ear
and dined in company with a folio bigger than the table," one of his
family says of the boy Motley that "if there were five minutes before
dinner, when he came into the parlor he always took up some book near at
hand and began to read until dinner was announced." The same unbounded
thirst for knowledge, the same history of various attempts and various
failures, the same ambition, not yet fixed in its aim, but showing itself
in restless effort, belong to the hero of the story and its narrator.

Let no man despise the first efforts of immature genius. Nothing can be
more crude as a novel, nothing more disappointing, than "Morton's Hope."
But in no other of Motley's writings do we get such an inside view of
his character with its varied impulses, its capricious appetites, its
unregulated forces, its impatient grasp for all kinds of knowledge. With
all his university experiences at home and abroad, it might be said with
a large measure of truth that he was a self-educated man, as he had been
a self-taught boy. His instincts were too powerful to let him work
quietly in the common round of school and college training. Looking at
him as his companions describe him, as he delineates himself 'mutato
nomine,' the chances of success would have seemed to all but truly
prophetic eyes very doubtful, if not decidedly against him. Too many
brilliant young novel-readers and lovers of poetry, excused by their
admirers for their shortcomings on the strength of their supposed
birthright of "genius," have ended where they began; flattered into the
vain belief that they were men at eighteen or twenty, and finding out at
fifty that they were and always had been nothing more than boys. It was
but a tangled skein of life that Motley's book showed us at twenty-five,
and older men might well have doubted whether it would ever be wound off
in any continuous thread. To repeat his own words, he had crowded
together the materials for his work, but he had no pattern, and
consequently never began to weave.

The more this first work of Motley's is examined, the more are its faults
as a story and its interest as a self-revelation made manifest to the
reader. The future historian, who spared no pains to be accurate, falls
into the most extraordinary anachronisms in almost every chapter. Brutus
in a bob-wig, Othello in a swallow-tail coat, could hardly be more
incongruously equipped than some of his characters in the manner of
thought, the phrases, the way of bearing themselves which belong to them
in the tale, but never could have belonged to characters of our
Revolutionary period. He goes so far in his carelessness as to mix up
dates in such a way as almost to convince us that he never looked over
his own manuscript or proofs. His hero is in Prague in June, 1777,
reading a letter received from America in less than a fortnight from the
date of its being written; in August of the same year he is in the
American camp, where he is found in the company of a certain Colonel
Waldron, an officer of some standing in the Revolutionary Army, with whom
he is said to have been constantly associated for some three months,
having arrived in America, as he says, on the 15th of May, that is to
say, six weeks or more before he sailed, according to his previous
account. Bohemia seems to have bewitched his chronology as it did
Shakespeare's geography. To have made his story a consistent series of
contradictions, Morton should have sailed from that Bohemian seashore
which may be found in "A Winter's Tale," but not in the map of Europe.

And yet in the midst of all these marks of haste and negligence, here and
there the philosophical student of history betrays himself, the ideal of
noble achievement glows in an eloquent paragraph, or is embodied in a
loving portrait like that of the professor and historian Harlem. The
novel, taken in connection with the subsequent developments of the
writer's mind, is a study of singular interest. It is a chaos before
the creative epoch; the light has not been divided from the darkness; the
firmament has not yet divided the waters from the waters. The forces at
work in a human intelligence to bring harmony out of its discordant
movements are as mysterious, as miraculous, we might truly say, as those
which give shape and order to the confused materials out of which
habitable worlds are evolved. It is too late now to be sensitive over
this unsuccessful attempt as a story and unconscious success as a self-
portraiture. The first sketches of Paul Veronese, the first patterns of
the Gobelin tapestry, are not to be criticised for the sake of pointing
out their inevitable and too manifest imperfections. They are to be
carefully studied as the earliest efforts of the hand which painted the
Marriage at Cana, of the art which taught the rude fabrics made to be
trodden under foot to rival the glowing canvas of the great painters.
None of Motley's subsequent writings give such an insight into his
character and mental history. It took many years to train the as yet
undisciplined powers into orderly obedience, and to bring the unarranged
materials into the organic connection which was needed in the
construction of a work that should endure. There was a long interval
between his early manhood and the middle term of life, during which the
slow process of evolution was going on. There are plants which open
their flowers with the first rays of the sun; there are others that wait
until evening to spread their petals. It was already the high noon of
life with him before his genius had truly shown itself; if he had not
lived beyond this period, he would have left nothing to give him a
lasting name.


1841-1842. AEt. 27-28.


In the autumn of 1841, Mr. Motley received the appointment of Secretary
of Legation to the Russian Mission, Mr. Todd being then the Minister.
Arriving at St. Petersburg just at the beginning of winter, he found the
climate acting very unfavorably upon his spirits if not upon his health,
and was unwilling that his wife and his two young children should be
exposed to its rigors. The expense of living, also, was out of
proportion to his income, and his letters show that he had hardly
established himself in St. Petersburg before he had made up his mind to
leave a place where he found he had nothing to do and little to enjoy.
He was homesick, too, as a young husband and father with an affectionate
nature like his ought to have been under these circumstances. He did not
regret having made the experiment, for he knew that he should not have
been satisfied with himself if he had not made it. It was his first
trial of a career in which he contemplated embarking, and in which
afterwards he had an eventful experience. In his private letters to his
family, many of which I have had the privilege of looking over, he
mentions in detail all the reasons which influenced him in forming his
own opinion about the expediency of a continued residence at St.
Petersburg, and leaves the decision to her in whose judgment he always
had the greatest confidence. No unpleasant circumstance attended his
resignation of his secretaryship, and though it must have been a
disappointment to find that the place did not suit him, as he and his
family were then situated, it was only at the worst an experiment fairly
tried and not proving satisfactory. He left St. Petersburg after a few
months' residence, and returned to America. On reaching New York he was
met by the sad tidings of the death of his first-born child, a boy of
great promise, who had called out all the affections of his ardent
nature. It was long before he recovered from the shock of this great
affliction. The boy had shown a very quick and bright intelligence, and
his father often betrayed a pride in his gifts and graces which he never
for a moment made apparent in regard to his own.

Among the letters which he wrote from St. Petersburg are two miniature
ones directed to this little boy. His affectionate disposition shows
itself very sweetly in these touching mementos of a love of which his
first great sorrow was so soon to be born. Not less charming are his
letters to his mother, showing the tenderness with which he always
regarded her, and full of all the details which he thought would
entertain one to whom all that related to her children was always
interesting. Of the letters to his wife it is needless to say more than
that they always show the depth of the love he bore her and the absolute
trust he placed in her, consulting her at all times as his nearest and
wisest friend and adviser,--one in all respects fitted "To warn, to
comfort, and command."

I extract a passage from one of his letters to his mother, as much for
the sake of lending a character of reality to his brief residence at St.
Petersburg as for that of the pleasant picture it gives us of an interior
in that Northern capital.

"We entered through a small vestibule, with the usual arrangement of
treble doors, padded with leather to exclude the cold and guarded by
two 'proud young porters' in severe cocked hats and formidable
batons, into a broad hall,--threw off our furred boots and cloaks,
ascended a carpeted marble staircase, in every angle of which stood
a statuesque footman in gaudy coat and unblemished unmentionables,
and reached a broad landing upon the top thronged as usual with
servants. Thence we passed through an antechamber into a long,
high, brilliantly lighted, saffron-papered room, in which a dozen
card-tables were arranged, and thence into the receiving room. This
was a large room, with a splendidly inlaid and polished floor, the
walls covered with crimson satin, the cornices heavily incrusted
with gold, and the ceiling beautifully painted in arabesque. The
massive fauteuils and sofas, as also the drapery, were of crimson
satin with a profusion of gilding. The ubiquitous portrait of the
Emperor was the only picture, and was the same you see everywhere.
This crimson room had two doors upon the side facing the three
windows: The innermost opened into a large supper-room, in which a
table was spread covered with the usual refreshments of European
parties,--tea, ices, lemonade, and et ceteras,--and the other opened
into a ball-room which is a sort of miniature of the 'salle blanche'
of the Winter Palace, being white and gold, and very brilliantly
lighted with 'ormolu' chandeliers filled with myriads of candles.
This room (at least forty feet long by perhaps twenty-five) opened
into a carpeted conservatory of about the same size, filled with
orange-trees and japonica plants covered with fruit and flowers,
arranged very gracefully into arbors, with luxurious seats under the
pendent boughs, and with here and there a pretty marble statue
gleaming through the green and glossy leaves. One might almost have
imagined one's self in the 'land of the cypress and myrtle' instead
of our actual whereabout upon the polar banks of the Neva.
Wandering through these mimic groves, or reposing from the fatigues
of the dance, was many a fair and graceful form, while the
brilliantly lighted ballroom, filled with hundreds of exquisitely
dressed women (for the Russian ladies, if not very pretty, are
graceful, and make admirable toilettes), formed a dazzling contrast
with the tempered light of the 'Winter Garden.' The conservatory
opened into a library, and from the library you reach the
antechamber, thus completing the 'giro' of one of the prettiest
houses in St. Petersburg. I waltzed one waltz and quadrilled one
quadrille, but it was hard work; and as the sole occupation of these
parties is dancing and card-playing--conversation apparently not
being customary--they are to me not very attractive."

He could not be happy alone, and there were good reasons against his
being joined by his wife and children.

"With my reserved habits," he says, "it would take a great deal
longer to become intimate here than to thaw the Baltic. I have only
to 'knock that it shall be opened to me,' but that is just what I
hate to do. . . . 'Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither.'"

Disappointed in his expectations, but happy in the thought of meeting his
wife and children, he came back to his household to find it clad in
mourning for the loss of its first-born.


1844. AEt. 30.


A letter to Mr. Park Benjamin, dated December 17, 1844, which has been
kindly lent me by Mrs. Mary Lanman Douw of Poughkeepsie, gives a very
complete and spirited account of himself at this period. He begins
with a quiet, but tender reference to the death of his younger brother,
Preble, one of the most beautiful youths seen or remembered among us,
"a great favorite," as he says, "in the family and in deed with every one
who knew him." He mentions the fact that his friends and near
connections, the Stackpoles, are in Washington, which place he considers
as exceptionally odious at the time when he is writing. The election of
Mr. Polk as the opponent of Henry Clay gives him a discouraged feeling
about our institutions. The question, he thinks, is now settled that a
statesman can never again be called to administer the government of the
country. He is almost if not quite in despair "because it is now proved
that a man, take him for all in all, better qualified by intellectual
power, energy and purity of character, knowledge of men, a great
combination of personal qualities, a frank, high-spirited, manly bearing,
keen sense of honor, the power of attracting and winning men, united with
a vast experience in affairs, such as no man (but John Quincy Adams) now
living has had and no man in this country can ever have again,--I say it
is proved that a man better qualified by an extraordinary combination of
advantages to administer the government than any man now living, or any
man we can ever produce again, can be beaten by anybody. . . . .
It has taken forty years of public life to prepare such a man for the
Presidency, and the result is that he can be beaten by anybody,--Mr. Polk
is anybody,--he is Mr. Quelconque."

I do not venture to quote the most burning sentences of this impassioned
letter. It shows that Motley had not only become interested most
profoundly in the general movements of parties, but that he had followed
the course of political events which resulted in the election of Mr. Polk
with careful study, and that he was already looking forward to the revolt
of the slave States which occurred sixteen years later. The letter is
full of fiery eloquence, now and then extravagant and even violent in
expression, but throbbing with a generous heat which shows the excitable
spirit of a man who wishes to be proud of his country and does not wish
to keep his temper when its acts make him ashamed of it. He is disgusted
and indignant to the last degree at seeing "Mr. Quelconque" chosen over
the illustrious statesman who was his favorite candidate. But all his
indignation cannot repress a sense of humor which was one of his marked
characteristics. After fatiguing his vocabulary with hard usage, after
his unsparing denunciation of "the very dirty politics" which be finds
mixed up with our popular institutions, he says,--it must be remembered
that this was an offhand letter to one nearly connected with him,--

"All these things must in short, to use the energetic language of
the Balm of Columbia advertisement, 'bring every generous thinking
youth to that heavy sinking gloom which not even the loss of
property can produce, but only the loss of hair, which brings on
premature decay, causing many to shrink from being uncovered, and
even to shun society, to avoid the jests and sneers of their
acquaintances. The remainder of their lives is consequently spent
in retirement.'"

He continues:--

"Before dropping the subject, and to show the perfect purity of my
motives, I will add that I am not at all anxious about the
legislation of the new government. I desired the election of Clay
as a moral triumph, and because the administration of the country,
at this moment of ten thousand times more importance than its
legislation, would have been placed in pure, strong, and determined

Then comes a dash of that satirical and somewhat cynical way of feeling
which he had not as yet outgrown. He had been speaking about the general
want of attachment to the Union and the absence of the sentiment of
loyalty as bearing on the probable dissolution of the Union.

"I don't mean to express any opinions on these matters,--I haven't
got any. It seems to me that the best way is to look at the hodge-
podge, be good-natured if possible, and laugh,

'As from the height of contemplation
We view the feeble joints men totter on.'

I began a tremendous political career during the election, having
made two stump speeches of an hour and a half each,--after you went
away,--one in Dedham town-hall and one in Jamaica Plain, with such
eminent success that many invitations came to me from the
surrounding villages, and if I had continued in active political
life I might have risen to be vote-distributor, or fence-viewer, or
selectman, or hog-reeve, or something of the kind."

The letter from which the above passages are quoted gives the same
portrait of the writer, only seen in profile, as it were, which we have
already seen drawn in full face in the story of "Morton's Hope." It is
charged with that 'saeva indignatio' which at times verges on
misanthropic contempt for its objects, not unnatural to a high-spirited
young man who sees his lofty ideals confronted with the ignoble facts
which strew the highways of political life. But we can recognize real
conviction and the deepest feeling beneath his scornful rhetoric and his
bitter laugh. He was no more a mere dilettante than Swift himself, but
now and then in the midst of his most serious thought some absurd or
grotesque image will obtrude itself, and one is reminded of the lines on
the monument of Gay rather than of the fierce epitaph of the Dean of
Saint Patrick's.


1845-1847. AEt. 31-33.


Mr. Motley's first serious effort in historical composition was an
article of fifty pages in "The North American Review" for October, 1845.
This was nominally a notice of two works, one on Russia, the other "A
Memoir of the Life of Peter the Great." It is, however, a narrative
rather than a criticism, a rapid, continuous, brilliant, almost dramatic
narrative. If there had been any question as to whether the young
novelist who had missed his first mark had in him the elements which
might give him success as an author, this essay would have settled the
question. It shows throughout that the writer has made a thorough study
of his subject, but it is written with an easy and abundant, yet
scholarly freedom, not as if he were surrounded by his authorities and
picking out his material piece by piece, but rather as if it were the
overflow of long-pursued and well-remembered studies recalled without
effort and poured forth almost as a recreation.

As he betrayed or revealed his personality in his first novel, so in this
first effort in another department of literature he showed in epitome his
qualities as a historian and a biographer. The hero of his narrative
makes his entrance at once in his character as the shipwright of Saardam,
on the occasion of a visit of the great Duke of Marlborough. The
portrait instantly arrests attention. His ideal personages had been
drawn in such a sketchy way, they presented so many imperfectly
harmonized features, that they never became real, with the exception,
of course, of the story-teller himself. But the vigor with which the
presentment of the imperial ship-carpenter, the sturdy, savage, eager,
fiery Peter, was given in the few opening sentences, showed the movement
of the hand, the glow of the color, that were in due time to display on a
broader canvas the full-length portraits of William the Silent and of
John of Barneveld. The style of the whole article is rich, fluent,
picturesque, with light touches of humor here and there, and perhaps a
trace or two of youthful jauntiness, not quite as yet outgrown. His
illustrative poetical quotations are mostly from Shakespeare,--from
Milton and Byron also in a passage or two,--and now and then one is
reminded that he is not unfamiliar with Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus" and
the "French Revolution" of the same unmistakable writer, more perhaps by
the way in which phrases borrowed from other authorities are set in the
text than by any more important evidence of unconscious imitation.

The readers who had shaken their heads over the unsuccessful story of
"Morton's Hope" were startled by the appearance of this manly and
scholarly essay. This young man, it seemed, had been studying,--studying
with careful accuracy, with broad purpose. He could paint a character
with the ruddy life-blood coloring it as warmly as it glows in the cheeks
of one of Van der Helst's burgomasters. He could sweep the horizon in a
wide general outlook, and manage his perspective and his lights and
shadows so as to place and accent his special subject with its due relief
and just relations. It was a sketch, or rather a study for a larger
picture, but it betrayed the hand of a master. The feeling of many was
that expressed in the words of Mr. Longfellow in his review of the
"Twice-Told Tales" of the unknown young writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne:
"When a new star rises in the heavens, people gaze after it for a season
with the naked eye, and with such telescopes as they may find. . . .
This star is but newly risen; and erelong the observation of numerous
star-gazers, perched up on arm-chairs and editor's tables, will inform
the world of its magnitude and its place in the heaven of"--not poetry in
this instance, but that serene and unclouded region of the firmament
where shine unchanging the names of Herodotus and Thucydides. Those who
had always believed in their brilliant schoolmate and friend at last felt
themselves justified in their faith. The artist that sent this unframed
picture to be hung in a corner of the literary gallery was equal to
larger tasks. There was but one voice in the circle that surrounded the
young essayist. He must redeem his pledge, he can and will redeem it, if
he will only follow the bent of his genius and grapple with the heroic
labor of writing a great history.

And this was the achievement he was already meditating.

In the mean time he was studying history for its facts and principles,
and fiction for its scenery and portraits. In "The North American
Review" for July, 1847, is a long and characteristic article on Balzac,
of whom he was an admirer, but with no blind worship. The readers of
this great story-teller, who was so long in obtaining recognition, who
"made twenty assaults upon fame and had forty books killed under him"
before he achieved success, will find his genius fully appreciated and
fairly weighed in this discriminating essay. A few brief extracts will
show its quality.

"Balzac is an artist, and only an artist. In his tranquil,
unimpassioned, remorseless diagnosis of morbid phenomena, in his
cool method of treating the morbid anatomy of the heart, in his
curiously accurate dissection of the passions, in the patient and
painful attention with which, stethoscope in hand, finger on pulse,
eye everywhere, you see him watching every symptom, alive to every
sound and every breath, and in the scientific accuracy with which he
portrays the phenomena which have been the subject of his
investigation,--in all this calm and conscientious study of nature
he often reminds us of Goethe. Balzac, however, is only an artist
. . . He is neither moral nor immoral, but a calm and profound
observer of human society and human passions, and a minute, patient,
and powerful delineator of scenes and characters in the world before
his eyes. His readers must moralize for themselves. . . . It
is, perhaps, his defective style more than anything else which will
prevent his becoming a classic, for style above all other qualities
seems to embalm for posterity. As for his philosophy, his
principles, moral, political, or social, we repeat that he seems to
have none whatever. He looks for the picturesque and the striking.
He studies sentiments and sensations from an artistic point of view.
He is a physiognomist, a physiologist, a bit of an anatomist, a bit
of a mesmerist, a bit of a geologist, a Flemish painter, an
upholsterer, a micrological, misanthropical, sceptical philosopher;
but he is no moralist, and certainly no reformer."

Another article contributed by Mr. Motley to "The North American Review"
is to be found in the number for October, 1849. It is nominally a review
of Talvi's (Mrs. Robinson's) "Geschichte der Colonisation von New
England," but in reality an essay on the Polity of the Puritans,--an
historical disquisition on the principles of self-government evolved in
New England, broad in its views, eloquent in its language. Its spirit is
thoroughly American, and its estimate of the Puritan character is not
narrowed by the nearsighted liberalism which sees the past in the
pitiless light of the present,--which looks around at high noon and finds
fault with early dawn for its long and dark shadows. Here is a sentence
or two from the article:--

"With all the faults of the system devised by the Puritans, it was a
practical system. With all their foibles, with all their teasing,
tyrannical, and arbitrary notions, the Pilgrims were lovers of
liberty as well as sticklers for authority. . . . Nowhere can a
better description of liberty be found than that given by Winthrop,
in his defence of himself before the General Court on a charge of
arbitrary conduct. 'Nor would I have you mistake your own liberty,'
he says. 'There is a freedom of doing what we list, without regard
to law or justice; this liberty is indeed inconsistent with
authority; but civil, moral, and federal liberty consists in every
man's enjoying his property and having the benefit of the laws of
his country; which is very consistent with a due subjection to the
civil magistrate.' . . .

"We enjoy an inestimable advantage in America. One can be a
republican, a democrat, without being a radical. A radical, one who
would uproot, is a man whose trade is dangerous to society. Here is
but little to uproot. The trade cannot flourish. All classes are
conservative by necessity, for none can wish to change the structure
of our polity. . .

"The country without a past cannot be intoxicated by visions of the
past of other lands. Upon this absence of the past it seems to us
that much of the security of our institutions depends. Nothing
interferes with the development of what is now felt to be the true
principle of government, the will of the people legitimately
expressed. To establish that great truth, nothing was to be torn
down, nothing to be uprooted. It grew up in New England out of the
seed unconsciously planted by the first Pilgrims, was not crushed
out by the weight of a thousand years of error spread over the whole
continent, and the Revolution was proclaimed and recognized."


1847-1849. AEt. 33-35.


The intimate friendships of early manhood are not very often kept up
among our people. The eager pursuit of fortune, position, office,
separates young friends, and the indoor home life imprisons them in the
domestic circle so generally that it is quite exceptional to find two
grown men who are like brothers,--or rather unlike most brothers, in
being constantly found together. An exceptional instance of such a more
than fraternal relation was seen in the friendship of Mr. Motley and Mr.
Joseph Lewis Stackpole. Mr. William Amory, who knew them both well, has
kindly furnished me with some recollections, which I cannot improve by
changing his own language.

"Their intimacy began in Europe, and they returned to this country
in 1835. In 1837 they married sisters, and this cemented their
intimacy, which continued to Stackpole's death in 1847. The
contrast in the temperament of the two friends--the one sensitive
and irritable, and the other always cool and good-natured--only
increased their mutual attachment to each other, and Motley's
dependence upon Stackpole. Never were two friends more constantly
together or more affectionately fond of each other. As Stackpole
was about eight years older than Motley, and much less impulsive and
more discreet, his death was to his friend irreparable, and at the
time an overwhelming blow."

Mr. Stackpole was a man of great intelligence, of remarkable personal
attractions, and amiable character. His death was a loss to Motley even
greater than he knew, for he needed just such a friend, older, calmer,
more experienced in the ways of the world, and above all capable of
thoroughly understanding him and exercising a wholesome influence over
his excitable nature without the seeming of a Mentor preaching to a
Telemachus. Mr. Stackpole was killed by a railroad accident on the 20th
of July, 1847.

In the same letter Mr. Amory refers to a very different experience in Mr.
Motley's life,--his one year of service as a member of the Massachusetts
House of Representatives, 1849.

"In respect to the one term during which he was a member of the
Massachusetts House of Representatives, I can recall only one thing,
to which he often and laughingly alluded. Motley, as the Chairman
of the Committee on Education, made, as he thought, a most masterly
report. It was very elaborate, and, as he supposed, unanswerable;
but Boutwell, then a young man from some country town [Groton,
Mass.], rose, and as Motley always said, demolished the report, so
that he was unable to defend it against the attack. You can imagine
his disgust, after the pains he had taken to render it unassailable,
to find himself, as he expressed it, 'on his own dunghill,'
ignominiously beaten. While the result exalted his opinion of the
speech-making faculty of a Representative of a common school
education, it at the same time cured him of any ambition for
political promotion in Massachusetts."

To my letter of inquiry about this matter, Hon. George S. Boutwell
courteously returned the following answer:--

BOSTON, October 14, 1878.

MY DEAR SIR,--As my memory serves me, Mr. Motley was a member of the
Massachusetts House of Representatives in the year 1847 [1849]. It
may be well to consult the manual for that year. I recollect the
controversy over the report from the Committee on Education.

His failure was not due to his want of faculty or to the vigor of
his opponents.

In truth he espoused the weak side of the question and the unpopular
one also. His proposition was to endow the colleges at the expense
of the fund for the support of the common schools. Failure was
inevitable. Neither Webster nor Choate could have carried the bill.

Very truly,

No one could be more ready and willing to recognize his own failures than
Motley. He was as honest and manly, perhaps I may say as sympathetic
with the feeling of those about him, on this occasion, as was Charles
Lamb, who, sitting with his sister in the front of the pit, on the night
when his farce was damned at its first representation, gave way to the
common feeling, and hissed and hooted lustily with the others around him.
It was what might be expected from his honest and truthful nature,
sometimes too severe in judging itself.

The commendation bestowed upon Motley's historical essays in "The North
American Review" must have gone far towards compensating him for the ill
success of his earlier venture. It pointed clearly towards the field in
which he was to gather his laurels. And it was in the year following the
publication of the first essay, or about that time (1846), that he began
collecting materials for a history of Holland. Whether to tell the story
of men that have lived and of events that have happened, or to create the
characters and invent the incidents of an imaginary tale be the higher
task, we need not stop to discuss. But the young author was just now
like the great actor in Sir Joshua's picture, between the allurements of
Thalia and Melpomene, still doubtful whether he was to be a romancer or a

The tale of which the title is given at the beginning of this section had
been written several years before the date of its publication. It is a
great advance in certain respects over the first novel, but wants the
peculiar interest which belonged to that as a partially autobiographical
memoir. The story is no longer disjointed and impossible. It is
carefully studied in regard to its main facts. It has less to remind us
of "Vivian Grey" and "Pelham," and more that recalls "Woodstock" and
"Kenilworth." The personages were many of them historical, though
idealized; the occurrences were many of them such as the record
authenticated; the localities were drawn largely from nature. The story
betrays marks of haste or carelessness in some portions, though others
are elaborately studied. His preface shows that the reception of his
first book had made him timid and sensitive about the fate of the second,
and explains and excuses what might be found fault with, to disarm the
criticism he had some reason to fear.

That old watch-dog of our American literature, "The North American
Review," always ready with lambent phrases in stately "Articles" for
native talent of a certain pretension, and wagging its appendix of
"Critical Notices" kindly at the advent of humbler merit, treated "Merry-
Mount" with the distinction implied in a review of nearly twenty pages.
This was a great contrast to the brief and slighting notice of "Morton's
Hope." The reviewer thinks the author's descriptive power wholly exceeds
his conception of character and invention of circumstances.

"He dwells, perhaps, too long and fondly upon his imagination of the
landscape as it was before the stillness of the forest had been
broken by the axe of the settler; but the picture is so finely
drawn, with so much beauty of language and purity of sentiment, that
we cannot blame him for lingering upon the scene. . . . The
story is not managed with much skill, but it has variety enough of
incident and character, and is told with so much liveliness that few
will be inclined to lay it down before reaching the conclusion. .
. . The writer certainly needs practice in elaborating the details
of a consistent and interesting novel; but in many respects he is
well qualified for the task, and we shall be glad to meet him again
on the half-historical ground he has chosen. His present work,
certainly, is not a fair specimen of what he is able to accomplish,
and its failure, or partial success, ought only to inspirit him for
further effort."

The "half-historical ground" he had chosen had already led him to the
entrance into the broader domain of history. The "further effort" for
which he was to be inspirited had already begun. He had been for some
time, as was before mentioned, collecting materials for the work which
was to cast all his former attempts into the kindly shadow of oblivion,
save when from time to time the light of his brilliant after success is
thrown upon them to illustrate the path by which it was at length


1850. AEt. 36.


The reputation of Mr. Prescott was now coextensive with the realm of
scholarship. The histories of the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella and
of the conquest of Mexico had met with a reception which might well tempt
the ambition of a young writer to emulate it, but which was not likely to
be awarded to any second candidate who should enter the field in rivalry
with the great and universally popular historian. But this was the field
on which Mr. Motley was to venture.

After he had chosen the subject of the history he contemplated, he found
that Mr. Prescott was occupied with a kindred one, so that there might be
too near a coincidence between them. I must borrow from Mr. Ticknor's
beautiful life of Prescott the words which introduce a letter of Motley's
to Mr. William Amory, who has kindly allowed me also to make use of it.

"The moment, therefore, that he [Mr. Motley] was aware of this
condition of things, and the consequent possibility that there might
be an untoward interference in their plans, he took the same frank
and honorable course with Mr. Prescott that Mr. Prescott had taken
in relation to Mr. Irving, when he found that they had both been
contemplating a 'History of the Conquest of Mexico.' The result was
the same. Mr. Prescott, instead of treating the matter as an
interference, earnestly encouraged Mr. Motley to go on, and placed
at his disposition such of the books in his library as could be most
useful to him. How amply and promptly he did it, Mr. Motley's own
account will best show. It is in a letter dated at Rome, 26th
February, 1859, the day he heard of Mr. Prescott's death, and was
addressed to his intimate friend, Mr. William Amory, of Boston, Mr.
Prescott's much-loved brother-in-law."

"It seems to me but as yesterday," Mr. Motley writes, "though it
must be now twelve years ago, that I was talking with our ever-
lamented friend Stackpole about my intention of writing a history
upon a subject to which I have since that time been devoting myself.
I had then made already some general studies in reference to it,
without being in the least aware that Prescott had the intention of
writing the 'History of Philip the Second.' Stackpole had heard the
fact, and that large preparations had already been made for the
work, although 'Peru' had not yet been published. I felt naturally
much disappointed. I was conscious of the immense disadvantage to
myself of making my appearance, probably at the same time, before
the public, with a work not at all similar in plan to 'Philip the
Second,' but which must of necessity traverse a portion of the same

"My first thought was inevitably, as it were, only of myself.
It seemed to me that I had nothing to do but to abandon at once a
cherished dream, and probably to renounce authorship. For I had not
first made up my mind to write a history, and then cast about to
take up a subject. My subject had taken me up, drawn me on, and
absorbed me into itself. It was necessary for me, it seemed, to
write the book I had been thinking much of, even if it were destined
to fall dead from the press, and I had no inclination or interest to
write any other. When I had made up my mind accordingly, it then
occurred to me that Prescott might not be pleased that I should come
forward upon his ground. It is true that no announcement of his
intentions had been made, and that he had not, I believe, even
commenced his preliminary studies for Philip. At the same time I
thought it would be disloyal on my part not to go to him at once,
confer with him on the subject, and if I should find a shadow of
dissatisfaction on his mind at my proposition, to abandon my plan

"I had only the slightest acquaintance with him at that time. I was
comparatively a young man, and certainly not entitled on any ground
to more than the common courtesy which Prescott never could refuse
to any one. But he received me with such a frank and ready and
liberal sympathy, and such an open-hearted, guileless expansiveness,
that I felt a personal affection for him from that hour. I remember
the interview as if it had taken place yesterday. It was in his
father's house, in his own library, looking on the garden-house and
garden,--honored father and illustrious son,--alas! all numbered
with the things that were! He assured me that he had not the
slightest objection whatever to my plan, that he wished me every
success, and that, if there were any books in his library bearing on
my subject that I liked to use, they were entirely at my service.
After I had expressed my gratitude for his kindness and cordiality,
by which I had been in a very few moments set completely at ease,--
so far as my fears of his disapprobation went,--I also very
naturally stated my opinion that the danger was entirely mine, and
that it was rather wilful of me thus to risk such a collision at my
first venture, the probable consequence of which was utter
shipwreck. I recollect how kindly and warmly he combated this
opinion, assuring me that no two books, as he said, ever injured
each other, and encouraging me in the warmest and most earnest
manner to proceed on the course I had marked out for myself.

"Had the result of that interview been different,--had he distinctly
stated, or even vaguely hinted, that it would be as well if I should
select some other topic, or had he only sprinkled me with the cold
water of conventional and commonplace encouragement,--I should have
gone from him with a chill upon my mind, and, no doubt, have laid
down the pen at once; for, as I have already said, it was not that I
cared about writing a history, but that I felt an inevitable impulse
to write one particular history.

"You know how kindly he always spoke of and to me; and the generous
manner in which, without the slightest hint from me, and entirely
unexpected by me, he attracted the eyes of his hosts of readers to
my forthcoming work, by so handsomely alluding to it in the Preface
to his own, must be almost as fresh in your memory as it is in mine.

"And although it seems easy enough for a man of world-wide
reputation thus to extend the right hand of fellowship to an unknown
and struggling aspirant, yet I fear that the history of literature
will show that such instances of disinterested kindness are as rare
as they are noble."

It was not from any feeling that Mr. Motley was a young writer from whose
rivalry he had nothing to apprehend. Mr. Amory says that Prescott
expressed himself very decidedly to the effect that an author who had
written such descriptive passages as were to be found in Mr. Motley's
published writings was not to be undervalued as a competitor by any one.
The reader who will turn to the description of Charles River in the
eighth chapter of the second volume of "Merry-Mount," or of the autumnal
woods in the sixteenth chapter of the same volume, will see good reason
for Mr. Prescott's appreciation of the force of the rival whose advent he
so heartily and generously welcomed.


1851-1856. AEt. 37-42.


After working for several years on his projected "History of the Dutch
Republic," he found that, in order to do justice to his subject, he must
have recourse to the authorities to be found only in the libraries and
state archives of Europe. In the year 1851 he left America with his
family, to begin his task over again, throwing aside all that he had
already done, and following up his new course of investigations at
Berlin, Dresden, the Hague, and Brussels during several succeeding years.
I do not know that I can give a better idea of his mode of life during
this busy period, his occupations, his state of mind, his objects of
interest outside of his special work, than by making the following
extracts from a long letter to myself, dated Brussels, 20th November,

After some personal matters he continued:--

"I don't really know what to say to you. I am in a town which, for
aught I know, may be very gay. I don't know a living soul in it.
We have not a single acquaintance in the place, and we glory in the
fact. There is something rather sublime in thus floating on a
single spar in the wide sea of a populous, busy, fuming, fussy world
like this. At any rate it is consonant to both our tastes. You may
suppose, however, that I find it rather difficult to amuse my
friends out of the incidents of so isolated an existence. Our daily


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