AUTHORS AND FRIENDS by ANNIE FIELDS
'"The Company of the Leaf" wore laurel chaplets "whose lusty green may not appaired be." They represent the brave and steadfast of all ages, the great knights and champions, the constant lovers and pure women of past and present times.'
Keping beautie fresh and greene For there nis storme that ne may hem deface.
GLIMPSES OF EMERSON
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES: PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS AND UNPUBLISHED LETTERS
DAYS WITH MRS. STOWE
WHITTIER: NOTES OF HIS LIFE AND OF HIS FRIENDSHIPS
Every year when the lilac buds begin to burst their sheaths and until the full-blown clusters have spent themselves in the early summer air, the remembrance of Longfellow—something of his presence—wakes with us in the morning and recurs with every fragrant breeze. "Now is the time to come to Cambridge," he would say; "the lilacs are getting ready to receive you."
It was the most natural thing in the world that he should care for this common flower, because in spite of a fine separateness from dusty levels which everyone felt who approached him, he was first of all a seer of beauty in common things and a singer to the universal heart.
Perhaps no one of the masters who have touched the spirits of humanity to finer issues has been more affectionately followed through his ways and haunts than Longfellow. But the lives of men and women "who rule us from their urns" have always been more or less cloistral. Public curiosity appeared to be stimulated rather than lessened in Longfellow's case by the general acquaintance with his familiar figureand by his unceasing hospitality. He was a tender father, a devoted friend, and a faithful citizen, and yet something apart and different from all these.
From his early youth Longfellow was a scholar. Especially was his power of acquiring language most unusual.
As his reputation widened, he was led to observe this to be a gift as well as an acquirement. It gave him the convenient and agreeable power of entertaining foreigners who sought his society. He said one evening, late in life, that he could not help being struck with the little trouble it was to him to recall any language he had ever studied, even though he had not spoken it for years. He had found himself talking Spanish, for instance, with considerable ease a few days before. He said he could not recall having even read anything in Spanish for many years, and it was certainly thirty since he had given it any study. Also, it was the same with German. "I cannot imagine," he continued, "what it would be to take up a language and try to master it at this period of my life, I cannot remember how or when I learned any of them;—to-night I have been speaking German, without finding the least difficulty."
A scholar himself, he did not write for scholars, nor study for the sole purpose of becoming a light to any university. It was the energy of a soul looking for larger expansion; a spirit true to itself and its own prompting, finding its way by labor and love to the free use and development of the power within him. Of his early years some anecdotes have been preserved in a private note-book which have not appeared elsewhere; among them this bit of reminiscence from Hawthorne, who said, in speaking of his own early life and the days at Bowdoin College, where he and Longfellow were in the same class, that no two young men could have been more unlike. Longfellow, he explained, was a tremendous student, and always carefully dressed, while he himself was extremely careless of his appearance, no student at all, and entirely incapable at that period of appreciating Longfellow.
The friendship between these two men ripened with the years. Throughout Longfellow's published correspondence, delightful letters are found to have been exchanged. The very contrast between the two natures attracted them more and more to each other as time went on; and among the later unpublished letters I find a little note from Longfellow in which he says he has had a sad letter from Hawthorne, and adds: "I wish we could have a little dinner for him, of two sad authors and two jolly publishers, nobody else!"
As early as 1849, letters and visits were familiarly exchanged between Fields and himself, and their friendship must have begun even earlier. He writes:—
"My dear Fields,—I am extremely glad you like the new poems so well. What think you of the enclosed instead of the sad ending of 'The Ship'? Is it better?... I send you also 'The Lighthouse,' once more: I think it is improved by your suggestions. See if you can find anything more to retouch. And finally, here is a letter from Hirst. You see what he wants, but I do not feel like giving my 'Dedication' to the 'Courier.' Therefore I hereby give it to you so that I can say it is disposed of. Am I right or wrong?"
Of Longfellow's student days, Mr. Fields once wrote: "I hope they keep bright the little room numbered twenty-seven in Maine Hall in Bowdoin College, for it was in that pleasant apartment, looking out on the pine groves, that the young poet of nineteen wrote many of those beautiful earlier pieces, now collected in his works. These early poems were all composed in 1824 and 1825, during his last years in college, and were printed first in a periodical called 'The United States Literary Gazette,' the sapient editor of which magazine once kindly advised the ardent young scholar to give up poetry and buckle down to the study of law! 'No good can come of it,' he said; 'don't let him do such things; make him stick to prose!' But the pine-trees waving outside his window kept up a perpetual melody in his heart, and he could not choose but sing back to them."
One of the earliest pictures I find of the every-day life of Longfellow when a youth is a little anecdote told by him, in humorous illustration of the woes of young authors. I quote from a brief diary. "Longfellow amused us to-day by talking of his youth, and especially with a description of the first poem he ever wrote, called 'The Battle of Lovell's Pond.' It was printed in a Portland newspaper one morning, and the same evening he was invited to the house of the Chief Justice to meet his son, a rising poet just returned from Harvard. The judge rose in a stately manner during the evening and said to his son: 'Did you see a poem in to-day's paper upon the Battle of Lovell's Pond?' 'No, sir,' said the boy, 'I did not.' 'Well, sir,' responded his father, 'it was a very stiff production. G——, get your own poem on the same subject, and I will read it to the company.' The poem was read aloud, while the perpetrator of the 'stiff production' sat, as he said, very still in a corner."
The great sensitiveness of his nature, one of the poetic qualities, was observed very early, and the description of him as a little boy was the description of the heart and nature of the man. "Active, eager, impressionable; quick-tempered, but as quickly appeased; kind- hearted and affectionate,—the sunlight of the house." One day when a child of ten he came home with his eyes full of tears. His elder brother was fond of a gun, and had allowed Henry to borrow his. To the little boy's great distress, he had aimed at and shot a robin. He never tried to use a gun again.
Longfellow was said to be very like his mother. His brother wrote of him: "From her must have come to Henry the imaginative and romantic side of his nature. She was fond of poetry and music, and in her youth, of dancing and social gayety. She was a lover of nature in all its aspects. She would sit by a window during a thunderstorm enjoying the excitement of its splendors. Her disposition, through all trials and sorrows, was always cheerful, with a gentle and tranquil fortitude."
No words could describe her son's nature more nearly. When he was only sixteen years old we find him writing to his father: "I wish I could be in Washington during the winter, though I suppose it is rather vain to wish when it is almost impossible for our wishes to become realities. It would be more pleasant to get a peep at Southern people and draw a breath of Southern air, than to be always freezing in the North; but I have very resolutely concluded to enjoy myself heartily wherever I am. I find it most profitable to form such plans as are least liable to failure."
His mother's sympathy with his literary tastes was certainly unusual. He writes to her from college when he was sixteen years old. "I have this evening been reading a few pages in Gray's odes. I am very much pleased with them." ... To which she replies: "I wish you would bring Gray home with you. I have a strong inclination to read the poems, since you commend them so highly. I think I should be pleased with them, though Dr. Johnson was not. I do not think the Doctor possessed much sensibility to the charms of poetry, and he was sometimes most unmerciful in his criticism."
The single aim of Longfellow's life, the manner in which from his earliest days he dedicated himself to Letters, would prove alone, if other signs were lacking, the strength of his character. When he was only eighteen he wrote to his mother: "With all my usual delinquency, however, I should have answered your letter before this, had I not received, on Monday, Chatterton's Works, for which I had some time since sent to Boston. It is an elegant work in three large octavo volumes; and since Monday noon I have read the greater part of two of them, besides attending two lectures a day, of an hour each, and three recitations of the same length, together with my study-hours for preparation."
This is said to have been the first handsome book the young student owned, and it was earned by the work of his pen. In this same year, too, we find him hurrying with his lessons (not slighting them), that he might get leisure to read and think. "Leisure," he wrote his father, "which is to me one of the sweetest things in the world." ... "I wish I could read and write at the same time."
The eager activity of his mind was already asserting itself, an activity which hardly slackened to the very end.
The severe criticism of his poem on the Battle of Lovell's Pond may have cost him a few tears one night, but it did not alter his determination. He continued to send contributions to the newspapers, and when his father somewhat later suggested that he should consider the question of "studying for a profession," he replied: "If so, what profession? I have a particular and strong prejudice for one course of life to which you, I fear, will not agree." He was not unwilling to pay the price for what he intended to attain. He knew himself, and his only suffering was at the thought of being obliged to turn aside from the aims which Nature held before him.
He was seventeen years old when he wrote to a friend: "Somehow, and yet I hardly know why, I am unwilling to study a profession. I cannot make a lawyer of any eminence, because I have not a talent for argument; I am not good enough for a minister,—and as to Physic, I utterly and absolutely detest it."
To his father the same year he wrote: "I have already hinted to you what would best please me. I want to spend one year at Cambridge for the purpose of reading history, and of becoming familiar with the best authors in polite literature; whilst at the same time I can be acquiring the Italian language, without an acquaintance with which I shall be shut out from one of the most beautiful departments of letters.... The fact is—and I will not disguise it in the least, for I think I ought not—the fact is, I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature; my whole soul burns most ardently for it, and every earthly thought centres in it.... Whether Nature has given me any capacity for knowledge or not, she has at any rate given me a very strong predilection for literary pursuits, and I am almost confident in believing that, if I can ever rise in the world, it must be by the exercise of my talent in the wide field of literature. With such a belief I must say that I am unwilling to engage in the study of the law.... Whatever I do study ought to be engaged in with all my soul,— for I WILL BE EMINENT in something.... Let me reside one year at Cambridge; let me study belles-lettres; and after that time it will not require a spirit of prophecy to predict with some degree of certainty what kind of a figure I could make in the literary world. If I fail here, there is still time left for the study of a profession." ...His father could not make up his mind to trust his son to the uncertain reed of literature. "As you have not had the fortune (I will not say whether good or ill) to be born rich, you must adopt a profession which will afford you subsistence as well as reputation."
There was, however, a friendly compromise between father and son, and the young student was allowed to pass a year in Cambridge. He replied to his father: "I am very much rejoiced that you accede so readily to my proposition of studying general literature for one year at Cambridge. My grand object in doing this will be to gain as perfect knowledge of the French and Italian languages as can be gained without travelling in France and Italy,—though to tell the truth I intend to visit both before I die.... The fact is, I have a most voracious appetite for knowledge. To its acquisition I will sacrifice everything.... Nothing could induce me to relinquish the pleasures of literature;... but I can be a lawyer. This will support my real existence, literature an IDEAL one.
"I purchased last evening a beautiful pocket edition of Sir William Jones's Letters, and have just finished reading them. Eight languages he was critically versed in; eight more he read with a dictionary: and there were twelve more not wholly unknown to him. I have somewhere seen or heard the observation that as many languages as a person acquires, so many times is he a man."
Happily—how happily we can hardly say—Madam Bowdoin had left the sum of one thousand dollars towards establishing a professorship of modern languages at the college which was then only a few years older than Longfellow. No steps had yet been taken; but one of the Board, Mr. Orr, having been struck, it appears, by the translation of an ode from Horace made by Longfellow for the senior examination, warmly presented his name for the new chair.
It is impossible to overestimate the value of these benefactions to men of talent and genius. Where would Wordsworth have been, what could he have done, without the gift bestowed upon him by Raisley Calvert! In America such assistance is oftener given in the more impersonal way of endowment of chairs or creating of scholarships. No method less personal or more elevating for the development of the scholar and man of genius could easily be adopted.
The informal proposal of the Board that Longfellow should go to Europe to fit himself for his position was precisely in a line with his most cherished wishes. It was nearly a year from that time, however, before he was actually on his way, "winter and rough weather" and the infrequency of good ships causing many delays. Possibly also the thought of the mother's heart that he was not yet twenty—still young to cut himself off from home and friends—weighed something in the balance. He read law in his father's office, and wrote and read with ceaseless activity on his own account; publishing his poems and prose papers in the newspapers and annuals of the day. He sailed from New York at last, visiting Boston on his way. There he heard Dr. Channing preach and passed part of an evening with him afterward. Also Professor Ticknor was kind to him, giving him letters to Washington Irving, Professor Eichhorn, and Robert Southey. Dr. Charles Lowell, the father of the future poet, gave him a letter to Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, and President Kirkland was interested in his welfare. Thus he started away with such help and advice as the world could give him.
From that moment his career was simply a question of development. How he could turn the wondrous joys, the strange and solitary experiences of life into light and knowledge and wisdom which he could give to others; this was the never-ending problem of his mind; to this end he turned the labor of his days.
His temperament did not allow him the effervescent expression common to the young. On the contrary, when writing to his sisters from Italy during these student days, he says: "But with me all deep impressions are silent ones." And thus the sorrows of life, of which he early bore so heavy a burden, found little expression. He wore them in his heart, whence they came again in his poems to soothe the spirit of humanity. The delightful story of his three years of study and absence can be traced step by step in the journals and letters edited by his brother; but however interesting it is to follow him in every detail, it is nevertheless true that the singleness of aim and strength of character which distinguished Longfellow, combined with extreme delicacy and sensitiveness of perception, were his qualities from the beginning and remained singularly unchanged to the end.
His history is not without its tragedies, but they were cooerdinated in his spirit to a sense of the unity of life. He was the psalmist, the interpreter. How could he render again the knowledge of divine goodness and divine love which were revealed to him? First came the duty of acquiring learning; of getting the use of many languages and thus of many forms of thought, in order to master the vehicles of expression. To this end he labored without ceasing, laughing at himself for calling that labor which gave him in the acquisition great pleasure. "If you call it labor!" he wrote in one of his letters home after speaking of his incessant studies.
His journals and letters, except the few early ones to his father, seldom speak either of the heat of composition or of the toils of study. He kept any mention of these, like all his deeper experiences, to himself, but writes chiefly of more external matters; of his relaxations and pleasures,—such as are surely indispensable to an author and student after extreme tension of the brain and hours of emotion.
Longfellow was twenty-two years old when he took up his residence as professor at Bowdoin College, where he translated and prepared the French grammar and the French and Spanish text-books which he desired for his classes. He was also made college librarian—a duty which required only one hour a day in those early times, but, added to his other duties, gave him all the occupation he needed. "The intervals of college duty I fill up with my own studies," he wrote to his friend, George W. Greene, with whom he had already formed a friendship which was to continue unbroken during their lives.
At the age of twenty-four Longfellow married a lovely young lady, the daughter of Judge Potter, of Portland. She was entirely sympathetic with his tastes, having herself received a very unusual education for those days in Greek and Latin among her other studies. In the "Footsteps of Angels" she is commemorated as
"the Being Beauteous Who unto my youth was given, More than all things else to love me."
His brother writes of this period: "They were tenderly devoted to each other: and never was a home more happy than theirs, when, soon after their marriage, they began housekeeping in Brunswick.... In this pleasant home, and with this blessed companionship, Mr. Longfellow devoted himself with fresh interest to his literary pursuits."
The monetary returns for all his labors at this period in America were inconceivably small. He amused his friends one day in later years by confessing that Mr. Buckingham paid him by one year's subscription to the "New England Magazine" for his translation of the "Coplas de Manrique" and several prose articles. After this he sent his poems to Messrs. Allen and Ticknor, who presented him the volume in which they appeared and sundry other books as compensation.
What a singular contrast was this beginning to his future literary history! Late in life his publisher wrote: "I remember how instantaneously in the year 1839 'The Voices of the Night' sped triumphantly on its way. At present his currency in Europe is almost unparalleled. Twenty-four publishing houses in England have issued the whole or a part of his works. Many of his poems have been translated into Russian and Hebrew. 'Evangeline' has been translated three times into German, and 'Hiawatha' has not only gone into nearly all the modern languages, but can now be read in Latin. I have seen translations of all Longfellow's principal works, in prose and poetry, in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish. The Emperor of Brazil has himself translated and published 'Robert of Sicily,' one of the poems in 'Tales of a Wayside Inn,' into his native tongue, and in China they use a fan which has become immensely popular on account of the 'Psalm of Life' being printed on it in the language of the Celestial Empire. Professor Kneeland, who went to the national millennial celebration in Iceland, told me that when he was leaving that faraway land, on the verge almost of the Arctic Circle, the people said to him: 'Tell Longfellow that we love him; tell him we read and rejoice in his poems; tell him that Iceland knows him by heart.' To-day there is no disputing the fact that Longfellow is more popular than any other living poet; that his books are more widely circulated, command greater attention, and bring more copyright money than those of any other author, not excepting Tennyson, now writing English verse."
Meanwhile the young professor, after four years of retirement and work at Bowdoin, began to look about him and to contemplate another flight. Before his plans were laid, however, Professor Ticknor relinquished his position at Harvard, which was immediately offered to Mr. Longfellow under what were for that period the most delightful conditions possible. President Quincy wrote to him, "The salary will be fifteen hundred dollars a year. Residence in Cambridge will be required.... Should it be your wish, previously to entering upon the duties of the office, to reside in Europe, at your own expense, a year or eighteen months for the purpose of a more perfect attainment of the German, Mr. Ticknor will retain his office till your return."
During his second visit to Europe in the year 1835, this time accompanied by his wife, she became ill and died at Rotterdam, "closing her peaceful life by a still more peaceful death." Longfellow continued his journey and his studies. Into his lonely hours, which no society and no occupation could fill, came, his brother tells us, "the sense and assurance of the spiritual presence of her who had loved him and who loved him still, and whose dying lips had said, 'I will be with you and watch over you.'" At Christmas of the same year a new grief fell upon him in the death of his brother-in-law and dearest friend. He received it as an added admonition "to set about the things he had to do in greater earnestness."
"Henceforth," he wrote, "let me bear upon my shield the holy cross."
No history of Longfellow can hope to trace the springs which fed his poetic mind without recording the deep sorrows, the pain, the loneliness of his days. Born with especial love of home and all domesticities, the solitary years moved on, bringing him a larger power for soothing the grief of others because he had himself known the darkest paths of earthly experience.
He continued his lonely studies at Heidelberg during the winter, but with the spring, when the almond-trees were blossoming, the spirit of youth revived and he again took up his pilgrimage and began the sketches published some years later as the consecutive story of "Hyperion." In the opening chapter of that book he says: "The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun. The brightness of our life is gone. Shadows of evening fall around us, and the world seems but a dim reflection,—itself a broader shadow. We look forward into the coming lonely night. The soul withdraws into itself. Then stars arise and the night is holy. Paul Flemming had experienced this, though still young."
Seven long, weary years elapsed between the death of his young wife and the second and perfect marriage of his maturity. In spite of the sorrow and depression which had overwhelmed him, he knew that his work was the basis upon which his life must stand, and in those few years he planted himself firmly in his professorship, published "Outre Mer," and the early poems which won for him an undying reputation as a poet. During this period, too, he made the great friendships of his life, of which he allowed no thread to break during the long years to come. His characteristic steadiness of aim never failed even in this trying period. He enjoyed the singular advantage of travel in a Europe which is now chiefly a demesne of the past and of the imagination. Having known all the picturesqueness and beauty of England, he settled himself in the old Vassall (or Craigie) House, in Cambridge, with serene enjoyment and appreciation. This house was then in a retired spot, and overwrought as he frequently found himself, the repose of the place was helpful to him. In 1842 he again visited Europe, for the third time. His health suffered from solitude and the continued activities of his mind. "I sometimes think," he said, "that no one with a head and a heart can be perfectly well." Therefore in the spring he obtained leave of absence for six months, and went abroad to try the water cure at Marienberg. One of the chief events of this journey was the beginning of his friendship with Freiligrath. The two men never met again face to face, but they began a correspondence which only ended with their lives. It is in one of his letters to Freiligrath that he writes: "Be true to yourself and burn like a watch-fire afar off there in your Germany." His mind was full of poems; much of his future work was projected although little was completed. He wrote one sonnet called "Mezzo Cammin," never printed until after his death; perhaps he thought it too expressive of personal sadness.
Upon the return voyage, which was a stormy one, he accomplished a feat that many a storm-tossed traveler would consider marvelous indeed. "Not out of my berth," he wrote, "more than twelve hours the first twelve days. There cabined, cribbed, confined, I passed fifteen days. During this time I wrote seven poems on slavery. I meditated upon them in the stormy, sleepless nights, and wrote them down with a pencil in the morning. A small window in the side of the vessel admitted light into my berth, and there I lay on my back and soothed my soul with songs." These poems, with one added as a dedication to Dr. Channing, "threw the author's influence on the side against slavery; and at that time it was a good deal simply to take that unpopular side publicly."
He took up his correspondence at this period with renewed fervor, and what other life can show such devotion to friendship or such a circle of friends? Through good report and evil report his friends were dear to him, and the disparagements of others failed to reach the ear of his heart. In one of his letters to G. W. Greene he says: "It is of great importance to a man to know how he stands with his friends; at least, I think so. The voice of a friend has a wonder-working power; and from the very hour we hear it, 'the fever leaves us.'"
Upon his return home in December, 1836, he began his life in Cambridge among the group of men who became inseparable friends,—Felton, Sumner, Hillard, and Cleveland. They called themselves the "Five of Clubs," and saw each other continually. Later came Agassiz and a few others. How delightful the little suppers were of those days! He used to write: "We had a gaudiolem last night." When, several years after, he married Frances Appleton and began, as it were, "the new life," his wife wrote to Mr. Greene: "Felton and the rest of the club flourish in immortal youth, and are often with us to dine or sup. I have never seen such a beautiful friendship between men of such distinct personalities, though closely linked together by mutual tastes and affections. They criticise and praise each other's performances, with a frankness not to be surpassed, and seem to have attained that happy height of faith where no misunderstanding, no jealousy, no reserve, exists." It appears, however, that even these delightful friendships had left something to be desired. In his journal he wrote: "Came back to Cambridge and went to Mr. Norton's. There I beheld what perfect happiness may exist on this earth, and felt how I stood alone in life, cut off for a while from those dearest sympathies for which I long." His brother said of him that having known the happiness of domestic life for which his nature was especially formed, "he felt the need of more intimate affection." Thus, after many years of lonely wandering, another period of Longfellow's life opened with his marriage in 1843. Had he himself been writing of another, he might have divided his story into cantos, each one with a separate theme. One of aspiration, one of endeavor, one with the despair of young sorrow, and one of triumphant love. Advancing thus through the gamut of human experience he might have closed the scene with the immortal line loved of all poets:—
"In sua voluntade e nostra pace."
Thus indeed, reviewing Longfellow's life as a whole, we discern his days to be crowded with incident and experience. Every condition of human life presented itself at his door, and every human being found a welcome there,—incidents and experience coming as frequently to him through the lives of others as through the gate of his own being. The note of love and unity with the Divine will was the dominant one which controlled his spirit and gave him calm.
He early chose Craigie House as the most desirable place for his abode in all the world. The poems and journals are full of his enjoyment of nature as seen from its windows. In the beginning of his residence there he persuaded Mrs. Craigie to allow him to have two rooms; but he soon controlled the second floor, and at the time of his marriage to Miss Appleton her father presented them with the whole of the beautiful estate.
Here his life took shape and his happiness found increase with the days. It was like him to say little in direct speech of all this; but we find a few words describing his wife, of whom his brother wrote that "her calm and quiet face wore habitually a look of seriousness." And then evidently quoting from Henry, he adds, "at times it seemed to make the very air bright with its smiles." She was a beautiful woman of deep but reserved feeling and cultivated tastes and manners. She understood and sympathized in his work, and, even more, she became often its inspiration. During their wedding journey they passed through Springfield, whence she wrote: "In the Arsenal at Springfield we grew quite warlike against war, and I urged H. to write a peace poem."
Finally established in Craigie House, as the children grew and his library enlarged, and guests, attracted by personal love and by his fame, became more numerous, he found the days almost overburdened with responsibilities. He wrote one day to Charles Sumner: "What you quote about the pere de famille is pretty true. It is a difficult role to play; particularly when, as in my case, it is united with that of oncle d'Amerique and general superintendent of all the dilapidated and tumble-down foreigners who pass this way!" The regulation of such a house in New England was far more difficult than it is at present, and Cambridge farther away from Boston, with its conveniences and privileges, than appeared. What anxieties if the hourly omnibus should be crowded! and what a pleasant slow ride into the far green land it seemed!
Nevertheless, this was his chosen home, his house beautiful, and such he made it, not only to his own eyes, but to the eyes of all who frequented it. The atmosphere of the man pervaded his surroundings and threw a glamour over everything. Even those who were most intimate at Craigie House felt the indescribable influence of tenderness, sweetness, and calm which filled the place. Neither Longfellow nor his wife was a brilliant talker; indeed, there were often periods of speechlessness; but in spite of mental absences, a habit of which he got the better in later years, one was always sure of being taken at one's best and of coming away with a sense of having "breathed a nobler air."
"Society and hospitality meant something real to him," his eldest daughter writes. "I cannot remember that there were ever any formal or obligatory occasion of entertainment. All who came were made welcome without any special preparation, and without any thought of personal inconvenience."
The decorations and splendors of the great world neither existed nor were needed there. His orange-tree, "that busie plant," always stood in his study window, and remains, still cherished, to-day. The statuette of Goethe, to which he refers in "Hyperion," stands yet on the high desk at which he stood to write, and books are everywhere. Even closets supposed to be devoted to pails and dust-cloths "have three shelves for books and one for pails." In his own bedroom, where the exquisite portrait of his wife by Rowse hangs over the fireplace, there is a small bookcase near his bed which contains a choice collection of the English poets. Vaughan, Henry King, and others of that lovely company of the past. These were his most intimate friends. In the copy of Henry King, I found the following lines marked by him in "The Exequy:"—
"Sleep on, my love, in thy cold bed, Never to be disquieted!
My last good-night! Thou wilt not wake, Till I thy fate shall overtake; Till age, or grief, or sickness, must Marry my body to the dust It so much loves."
His daughter says, "This library was carefully arranged by subjects; and although no catalogue was ever made, he was never at a loss where to look for any needed volume. His books were deeply beloved and tenderly handled."
Such was Craigie House and such was the poet's life within it from the beginning to the end. "His poetry was not worked out from his brain," his daughter again writes, and who should know better than herself! "it was the blossoming of his inward life."
In a brief paper upon Longfellow written by Mr. William Winter I find the universal sentiment towards him more fully and tenderly expressed, perhaps, than elsewhere. Mr. Winter writes: "I had read every line he had then published; and such was the affection he inspired, even in a boyish mind, that on many a summer night I have walked several miles to his house, only to put my hand upon the latch of his gate, which he himself had touched. More than any one else among the many famous persons whom, since then, it has been my fortune to know, he aroused this feeling of mingled tenderness and reverence."
The description of his person, too, as given by Mr. Winter, seems to me clearer and closer to the truth than any other I have chanced to see.
"His dignity and grace, and the beautiful refinement of his countenance, together with his perfect taste in dress and the exquisite simplicity of his manners, made him the absolute ideal of what a poet should be. His voice, too, was soft, sweet, and musical, and, like his face, it had the innate charm of tranquillity. His eyes were blue-gray, very bright and brave, changeable under the influence of emotion (as afterward I often saw), but mostly calm, grave, attentive, and gentle. The habitual expression of his face was not that of sadness; and yet it was pensive. Perhaps it may be best described as that of serious and tender thoughtfulness. He had conquered his own sorrows thus far; but the sorrows of others threw their shadow over him.... There was a strange touch of sorrowful majesty and prophetic fortitude commingled with the composure and kindness of his features.... His spontaneous desire, the natural instinct of his great heart, was to be helpful,—to lift up the lowly, to strengthen the weak, to bring out the best in every person, to dry every tear, and make every pathway smooth."
Although naturally of a buoyant disposition and fond of pleasure, Longfellow lived as far as possible from the public eye, especially during the last twenty years of his life. The following note gives a hint of his natural gayety, and details one of the many excuses by which he always declined to speak in public; the one memorable exception being that beautiful occasion at Bowdoin, when he returned in age to the scenes of his youth and read to the crowd assembled there to do him reverence his poem entitled "Morituri Salutamus." After speaking of the reasons which must keep him from the Burns festival, he adds:—
"I am very sorry not to be there. You will have a delightful supper, or dinner, whichever it is; and human breath enough expended to fill all the trumpets of Iskander for a month or more.
"I behold as in a vision a friend of ours, with his left hand under the tails of his coat, blowing away like mad; and alas! I shall not be there to applaud. All this you must do for me; and also eat my part of the haggis, which I hear is to grace the feast. This shall be your duty and your reward."
The reference in this note to the trumpets of Iskander is the only one in his letters regarding a poem which was a great favorite of his, by Leigh Hunt, called "The Trumpets of Doolkarnein." It is a poem worthy to make the reputation of a poet, and is almost a surprise even among the varied riches of Leigh Hunt. Many years after this note was written, Longfellow used to recall it to those lovers of poetry who had chanced to escape a knowledge of its beauty.
In spite of his dislike of grand occasions where he was a prominent figure, he was a keen lover of the opera and theatre. He was always the first to know when the opera season was to begin and to plan that our two houses might take a box together. He was always ready to hear "Lucia" or "Don Giovanni" and to make a festival time at the coming of Salvini or Neilson. There is a tiny notelet among his letters, with a newspaper paragraph neatly cut out and pasted across the top, detailing the names of his party at a previous appearance at a theatre, a kind of notoriety which he particularly shuddered at; but in order to prove his determination in spite of everything, he writes below:—
"Now for 'Pinafore,' and another paragraph! Saturday afternoon would be a good time."
He easily caught the gayety of such occasions, and in the shadow of the curtains in the box would join in the singing or the recitative of the lovely Italian words with a true poet's delight.
The strange incidents of a life subject to the taskmaster Popularity are endless. One day he wrote:— "A stranger called here and asked if Shakespeare lived in this neighborhood. I told him I knew no such person. Do you?"
Day by day he was besieged by every possible form of interruption which the ingenuity of the human brain could devise; but his patience and kindness, his determination to accept the homage offered him in the spirit of the giver, whatever discomfort it might bring himself, was continually surprising to those who observed him year by year. Mr. Fields wrote: "In his modesty and benevolence I am reminded of what Pope said of his friend Garth: 'He is the best of Christians without knowing it.'"
In one of Longfellow's notes he alludes humorously to the autograph nuisance:—"Do you know how to apply properly for autographs? Here is a formula I have just received, on a postal card:
"'DEAR SIR: As I am getting a collection of the autographs of all honorable and worthy men, and think yours such, I hope you will forfeit by next mail. Yours, etc.'"
And of that other nuisance, sitting for a portrait, he laughingly wrote one day: "'Two or three sittings'—that is the illusory phrase. Two or three sittings have become a standing joke." And yet how seldom he declined when it was in his power to serve an artist! His generosity knew no bounds.
When a refusal of any kind was necessary, it was wonderful to see how gently it was expressed. A young person having written from a western city to request him to write a poem for her class, he said: "I could not write it, but tried to say 'No' so softly that she would think it better than 'Yes.'"
He was distinguished by one grace which was almost peculiar to himself in the time in which he lived—his tenderness toward the undeveloped artist, the man or woman, youth or maid, whose heart was set upon some form of ideal expression, and who was living for that. Whether they possessed the power to distinguish themselves or not, to such persons he addressed himself with a sense of personal regard and kinship. When fame crowned the aspirant, no one recognized more keenly the perfection of the work, but he seldom turned aside to attract the successful to himself. To the unsuccessful he lent the sunshine and overflow of his own life, as if he tried to show every day afresh that he believed noble pursuit and not attainment to be the purpose of our existence.
In a letter written in 1860 Longfellow says:—
"I have no end of poems sent me for candid judgment and opinion. Four cases on hand at this moment. A large folio came last night from a lady. It has been chasing me round the country; has been in East Cambridge and in West Cambridge, and finally came by the hands of Policeman S—— to my house. I wish he had waived examination, and committed it (to memory). What shall I do? These poems weaken me very much. It is like so much water added to the Spirit of Poetry."
And again he writes:—
"I received this morning a poem with the usual request to give 'my real opinion' of it. I give you one stanza."
After quoting the verse and giving the subject of the poem, he continues:—
"In his letter the author says, 'I did so much better on poetry than I thought I could as a beginner, that I really have felt a little proud of my poems.' He also sends me his photograph 'at sixty-five years of age,' and asks for mine 'and a poem' in return. I had much rather send him these than my 'real opinion,' which I shall never make known to any man, except on compulsion and under the seal of secrecy."
His kindness and love of humor carried him through many a tedious interruption. He generously overlooked the fact of the subterfuges to which men and women resorted in order to get an interview, and to help them out made as much of their excuses as possible. Speaking one day of the persons who came to see him at Nahant, he said: "One man, a perfect stranger, came with an omnibus full of ladies. He descended, introduced himself, then returning to the omnibus took out all the ladies, one, two, three, four, and five, with a little girl, and brought them in. I entertained them to the best of my ability, and they stayed an hour. They had scarcely gone when a forlorn woman in black came up to me on the piazza, and asked for a dipper of water. 'Certainly,' I replied, and went to fetch her a glass. When I brought it she said, 'There is another woman just by the fence who is tired and thirsty; I will carry this to her.' But she struck her head as she passed through the window and spilled the water on the piazza. 'Oh, what have I done!' she said. 'If I had a floor-cloth, I would wipe it up.' 'Oh, no matter about the water,' I said, 'if you have not hurt yourself.' Then I went and brought more water for them both, and sent them on their way, at last, refreshed and rejoicing." Once Longfellow drew out of his pocket a queer request for an autograph, saying "that the writer loved poetry in most any style, and would he please copy his 'Break, break, break' for the writer?" He also described in a note a little encounter in the street, on a windy day, with an elderly French gentleman in company with a young lady, who introduced them to each other. The Frenchman said:—
"'Monsieur, vous avez un fils qui fait de la peinture.'
"'Il a du merite. Il a beaucoup d'avenir.'
"'Ah,' said I, 'c'est une belle chose que l'avenir.'
"The elderly French gentleman rolled up the whites of his eyes and answered:—
"'Oui, c'est une belle chose; mais vous et moi, nous n'en avons pas beaucoup!'
"Superfluous information!—H. W. L."
It would be both an endless and unprofitable task to recall more of the curious experiences which popularity brought down upon him. There is a passage among Mr. Fields's notes, however, in which he describes an incident during Longfellow's last visit to England, which should not be overlooked. Upon his arrival, the Queen sent a graceful message, and invited him to Windsor Castle, where she received him with all the honors; but he told me no foreign tribute touched him deeper than the words of an English hod-carrier, who came up to the carriage door at Harrow, and asked permission to take the hand of the man who had written the "Voices of the Night."
There was no break nor any change in the friendship with his publisher during the passing of the years; but in 1861 there is a note containing only a few words, which shows that a change had fallen upon Longfellow himself, a shadow which never could be lifted from his life. He writes:—
"MY DEAR FIELDS,—I am sorry to say No instead of Yes; but so it must be. I can neither write nor think; and I have nothing fit to send you but my love, which you cannot put into the magazine."
For ever after the death of his wife he was a different man. His friends suffered for him and with him, but he walked alone through the valley of the shadow of death. "The blow fell entirely without warning, and the burial took place upon the anniversary of her marriage day. Some hand placed on her beautiful head, lovely and unmarred in death, a wreath of orange blossoms."
There was a break in his journal at this time. After many days he inscribed in it the following lines from Tennyson's poem addressed to James Spedding:—
"Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace. Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul! While the stars burn, the moons increase, And the great ages onward roll."
His friends were glad when he turned to his work again, and still more glad when he showed a desire for their interest in what he was doing.
It was not long before he began to busy himself continuously with his translation of the "Divina Commedia," and in my diary of 1863, two years later, I find:—
"August.—A delightful day with Longfellow at Nahant. He read aloud the last part of his new volume of poems, in which each one of a party of friends tells a story. Ole Bull, Parsons, Monti, and several other characters are introduced."
"September 1st.—A cold storm by the seashore, but there was great pleasure in town in the afternoon. Longfellow, Paine, Dwight, and Fields went to hear Walcker play the new organ in the Music Hall for the first time since its erection. Afterwards they all dined together. Longfellow comes in from Cambridge every day, and sometimes twice a day, to see George Sumner, who is dying at the Massachusetts General Hospital."
"September 19th.—Longfellow and his friend George W. Greene, Charles Sumner, and Dempster the singer, came in for an early dinner. A very cosy, pleasant little party. The afternoon was cool, and everybody was in kindly humor. Sumner shook his head sadly when the subject of the English iron-clads was mentioned. The talk prolonged itself upon the condition of the country. Longfellow's patriotism flamed. His feeling against England runs more deeply and strongly than he can find words to express. There is no prejudice nor childish partisanship, but it is hatred of the course she has pursued at this critical time. Later, in speaking of poetry and some of the less known and younger poets, Longfellow recalled some good passages in the poems of Bessie Parkes and Jean Ingelow. As evening approached we left the table and came to the library. There in the twilight Dempster sat at the piano and sang to us, beginning with Longfellow's poem called 'Children,' which he gave with a delicacy and feeling that touched every one. Afterwards he sang the 'Bugle Song' and 'Turn, Fortune,' which he had shortly before leaving England sung to Tennyson; and then after a pause he turned once more to the instrument and sang 'Break, break, break.' It was very solemn, and no one spoke when he had finished, only a deep sob was heard from the corner where Longfellow sat. Again and again, each time more uncontrolled, we heard the heartrending sounds. Presently the singer gave us another and less touching song, and before he ceased Longfellow rose and vanished from the room in the dim light without a word."
"September 27th.—Longfellow and Greene came in town in the evening for a walk and to see the moonlight in the streets, and afterwards to have supper.... He was very sad, and seemed to have grown an old man since a week ago. He was silent and absent-minded. On his previous visit he had borrowed Sidney's 'Arcadia' and Christina Rossetti's poems, but he had read neither of the books. He was overwhelmed with his grief, as if it were sometimes more than he could endure."
"Sunday, October.—Took five little children to drive in the afternoon, and stopped at Longfellow's. It was delightful to see their enjoyment and his. He took them out of the carriage in his arms and was touchingly kind to them. His love for children is not confined to his poetic expressions or to his own family; he is uncommonly tender and beautiful with them always."
I remember there was one little boy of whom he was very fond, and who came often to see him. One day the child looked earnestly at the long rows of books in the library, and at length said:— "Have you got 'Jack the Giant-Killer'?"
Longfellow was obliged to confess that his library did not contain that venerated volume. The little boy looked very sorry, and presently slipped down from his knee and went away; but early the next morning Longfellow saw him coming up the walk with something tightly clasped in his little fists. The child had brought him two cents with which he was to buy a "Jack the Giant-Killer" to be his own.
He did not escape the sad experiences of the war. His eldest son was severely wounded, and he also went, as did Dr. Holmes and other less famous but equally anxious parents, in search of his boy.
The diary continues:—
"December 14th.—Went to pass the afternoon with Longfellow, and found his son able to walk about a little. He described his own arrival at a railway station south of Washington. He found no one there but a rough-looking officer, who was walking up and down the platform. At each turn he regarded Longfellow, and at length came up, and taking his hand said:
"'Is this Professor Longfellow? It was I who translated "Hiawatha" into Russian. I have come to this country to fight for the Union.'"
In the year 1865 began those Wednesday evenings devoted to reading the new translation of Dante. They were delightful occasions. Lowell, Norton, Greene, Howells, and such other Dante scholars or intimate friends as were accessible, made up the circle of kindly critics. Those evenings increased in interest as the work progressed, and when it was ended and the notes written and read, it was proposed to re-read the whole rather than to give up the weekly visit to Longfellow's house. In 1866 he wrote to Mr. Fields:—
"Greene is coming expressly to hear the last canto of 'Paradiso' to- morrow night, and will stay the rest of the week. I really hoped you would be here, but as you say nothing about it I begin to tremble. Perhaps, however, you are only making believe and will take us by surprise. So I shall keep your place for you.
"This is not to be the end of all things. I mean to begin again in September with the dubious and difficult passages; and if you are not in too much of a hurry to publish, there is still a long vista of pleasant evenings stretching out before us. We can pull them out like a spyglass. I am shutting up now to recommence the operation."
In December of the same year he wrote:—
"The first meeting of the Dante Club Redivivus is on Wednesday next. Come and be bored. Please not to mention the subject to any one yet awhile, as we are going to be very quiet about it."
"January, 1867.—Dante Club at Longfellow's again. They are revising the whole book with the minutest care. Lowell's accuracy is surprising and of great value to the work; also Norton's criticisms. Longfellow stands apart at his desk taking notes and making corrections, though of course no one can know yet what he accepts."
Longfellow's true life was that of a scholar and a dreamer; everything else was a duty, however pleasurable or bountiful the experience might become in his gentle acceptation. He was seldom stimulated to external expression by others. Such excitement as he could express again was always self-excitement; anything external rendered him at once a listener and an observer. For this reason, it is peculiarly difficult to give any idea of his lovely presence and character to those who have not known him. He did not speak in epigrams. It could not be said of him,—
"His mouth he could not ope, But out there flew a trope."
Yet there was an exquisite tenderness and effluence from his presence which was more humanizing and elevating than the eloquence of many others.
One quotation from a letter to Charles Sumner is too characteristic to be omitted even in the slightest sketch of Longfellow. He writes: "You are hard at work; and God bless you in it. In every country the 'dangerous classes' are those who do no work; for instance, the nobility in Europe and the slaveholders here. It is evident that the world needs a new nobility,—not of the gold medal and sangre azul order; not of the blood that is blue because it stagnates, but of the red arterial blood that circulates, and has heart in it and life and labor."
Speaking one day of his own reminiscences, Longfellow said, that "however interesting such things were in conversation, he thought they seldom contained legitimate matter for book-making; and ——'s life of a poet, just then printed, was, he thought, peculiarly disagreeable chiefly because of the unjustifiable things related of him by others. This strain of thought brought to his mind a call he once made with a letter of introduction, when a youth in Paris, upon Jules Janin. The servant said her master was at home, and he was ushered immediately into a small parlor, in one corner of which was a winding stairway leading into the room above. Here he waited a moment while the maid carried in his card, and then returned immediately to say he could go up. In the upper room sat Janin under the hands of a barber, his abundant locks shaken up in wild confusion, in spite of which he received his guest, quite undisturbed, as if it were a matter of course. There was no fire in the room; but the fireplace was heaped with letters and envelopes, and a trail of the same reached from his desk to the grate. After a brief visit Longfellow was about to withdraw, when Janin detained him, saying: 'What can I do for you in Paris? Whom would you like to see?'
"'I should like to know Madame George Sand.'
"'Unfortunately that is impossible! I have just quarreled with Madame Sand!'
"'Ah! then, Alexandra Dumas,—I should like to take him by the hand!'
"'I have quarreled with him also, but no matter! Vous perdriez vos illusions.'
"However, he invited me to dine the next day, and I had a singular experience; but I shall not soon forget the way in which he said, 'vous perdriez vos illusions.'
"When I arrived on the following day I found the company consisted of his wife and himself, a little red-haired man who was rather quiet and cynical, and myself. Janin was amusing and noisy, and carried the talk on swimmingly with much laughter. Presently he began to say hard things about women, when his wife looked up reproachfully and said, 'Deja, Jules!' During dinner a dramatic author arrived with his play, and Janin ordered him to be shown in. He treated the poor fellow brutally, who in turn bowed low to the great power. He did not even ask him to take a chair. Madame Janin did so, however, and kindly, too. The author supplicated the critic to attend the first appearance of his play. Janin would not promise to go, but put him off indefinitely, and presently the poor man went away. He tingled all over with indignation at the treatment the man received, but Janin looked over to his wife, saying, 'Well, my dear, I treated this one pretty well, didn't I?'
"'Better than sometimes, Jules,' she answered."
Altogether it was a strange scene to the young American observer.
"July, 1867.—Passed the day at Nahant. As Longfellow sat on the piazza wrapped in his blue cloth cloak, he struck me for the first time as wearing a venerable aspect. Before dinner he gathered wild roses to adorn the table, and even gave a careful touch himself to the arrangement of the wines and fruits. He was in excellent spirits, full of wit and lively talk. Speaking of the use and misuse of words, he quoted Chateaubriand's mistake (afterwards corrected) in his translation of 'Paradise Lost,' when he rendered
"'Siloa's brook that flowed Fast by the oracle of God,'
"'Le ruisseau de Siloa qui coulait rapidement.'"
In talking about natural differences in character and temperament, he said of his own children that he agreed with one of the old English divines who said, "Happy is that household wherein Martha still reproves Mary!"
In February, 1868, it was decided that Longfellow should go to Europe with his family. He said that the first time he went abroad it was to see places alone and not persons; the second time he saw a few persons, and so pleasantly combined the two; he thought once that on a third visit he should prefer to see persons only; but all that was changed now. He had returned to the feeling of his youth. He was eager to seek out quiet places and wayside nooks, where he might rest in retirement and enjoy the consecrated memorials of Europe undisturbed.
The following year found him again in Cambridge, refreshed by his absence. The diary continues: "He has been trying to further the idea of buying some of the lowlands in Cambridge for the colleges. If this can be done, it will save much future annoyance to the inhabitants from wretched hovels and bad odors, beside holding the land for a beautiful possession forever. He has given a good deal of money himself. This might be called 'his latest work.'"
"January, 1870.—Longfellow and Bayard Taylor came to dine. Longfellow talked of translators and translating. He advanced the idea that the English, from the insularity of their character, were incapable of making a perfect translation. Americans, French, and Germans, he said, have much larger adaptability to and sympathy in the thought of others. He would not hear Chapman's Homer or anything else quoted on the other side, but was zealous in enforcing this argument. He anticipates much from Taylor's version of 'Faust.' All this was strikingly interesting, as showing how his imagination wrought with him, because he was arguing from his own theory of the capacity of the races and in the face of his knowledge of the best actual translations existing to-day, the result of the scholarship of England.
"Longfellow speaks of difficulty in sleeping. In his college days and later he had the habit of studying until midnight and rising at six in the morning, finding his way as soon as possible to his books. Possibly this habit still prevents him from getting sufficient rest. However light may be the literature in which he indulges before going to bed, some chance thought may strike him as he goes up the stairs with the bedroom candle in his hand which will preclude all possibility of sleep until long after midnight.
"His account of Sainte-Beuve during his last visit to Europe was an odd little drama. He had grown excessively fat, and could scarcely move. He did not attempt to rise from his chair as Longfellow entered, but motioned him to a seat by his side. Talking of Victor Hugo and Lamartine, 'Take them for all in all, which do you prefer?' asked Longfellow.
"'Charlatan pour charlatan, je crois que je prefere Monsieur de Lamartine,' was the reply.
"Longfellow amused me by making two epigrams:—
"'What is autobiography? It is what a biography ought to be.'
"'When you ask one friend to dine, Give him your best wine! When you ask two, The second best will do!'
"He brought in with him two poems translated from Platen's 'Night Songs.' They are very beautiful.
"'What dusky splendors of song there are in King Alfred's new volume,' he said. 'It is always a delight to get anything new from him. His "Holy Grail" and Lowell's "Cathedral" are enough for a holiday, and make this one notable.'"
When Longfellow talked freely as at this dinner, it was difficult to remember that he was not really a talker. The natural reserve of his nature made it sometimes impossible for him to express himself in ordinary intercourse. He never truly made a confidant of anybody except his Muse.
"I never thought," he wrote about this time, "that I should come back to this kind of work." He was busying himself with collecting and editing "The Poems of Places." "It transports me to my happiest years, and the contrast is too painful to think of." And again in calmer mood: "The 'ruler of the inverted year' (whatever that may mean) has, you perceive, returned again, like a Bourbon from banishment, and is having it all his own way, and it is not a pleasant way. Very well, one can sit by the fire and read, and hear the wind roar in the chimney, and write to one's friends, and sign one's self 'yours faithfully,' or as in the present instance, 'yours always.'"
His sympathetic nature was ever ready to share and further the gayety of others. He wrote one evening:—
"I have been kept at home by a little dancing-party to-night.... I write this arrayed in my dress-coat with a rose in my buttonhole, a circumstance, I think, worth mentioning. It reminds me of Buffon, who used to array himself in his full dress for writing 'Natural History.' Why should we not always do it when we write letters? We should, no doubt, be more courtly and polite, and perhaps say handsome things to each other. It was said of Villemain that when he spoke to a lady he seemed to be presenting her a bouquet. Allow me to present you this postscript in the same polite manner, to make good my theory of the rose in the buttonhole."
How delightful it is to catch the intoxication of the little festival in this way. In his endeavor to further the gayeties of his children he had received a reflected light and life which his love for them had helped to create.
"December 14, 1870.—Taylor's 'Faust' is finished, and Longfellow is coming with other friends to dinner to celebrate the ending of the work....
"A statuette of Goethe was on the table. Longfellow said Goethe never liked the statue of himself by Rauch, from which this copy was made. He preferred above all others a bust of himself by a Swiss sculptor, a copy of which Taylor owns. He could never understand, he continued, the story of that unpleasant interview between Napoleon and Goethe. Eckermann says Goethe liked it, but Longfellow thought the emperor's manner of address had a touch of insolence in it. The haunts of Goethe in Weimar were pleasantly recalled by both Longfellow and Taylor, to whom they were familiar; also that strange portrait of him taken standing at a window, and looking out over Rome, in which nothing but his back can be seen.
"I find it impossible to recall what Longfellow said, but he scintillated all the evening. It was an occasion such as he loved best. His jeux d'esprit flew rapidly right and left, often setting the table in a roar of laughter, a most unusual thing with him."
There was evidently no such pleasure to Longfellow as that of doing kindnesses. One of many notes bearing on such subjects belongs to this year, and begins:—
"A thousand thanks for your note and its inclosure. There goes a gleam of sunshine into a dark house, which is always pleasant to think of. I have not yet got the senator's sunbeam to add to it; but as soon as I do, both shall go shining on their way."
"January, 1871.—Dined at Longfellow's, and afterwards went upstairs to see an interesting collection of East Indian curiosities. Passing through his dressing-room, I was struck with the likeness of his private rooms to those of a German student or professor; a Goethean aspect of simplicity and space everywhere, with books put in the nooks and corners and all over the walls. It is surely a most attractive house!"
Again I find a record of a dinner at Cambridge: "The day was springlike, and the air full of the odors of fresh blossoms. As we came down over the picturesque old staircase, he was standing with a group of gentlemen near by, and I heard him say aloud unconsciously, in a way peculiar to himself, 'Ah, now we shall see the ladies come downstairs!' Nothing escapes his keen observation—as delicate as it is keen."
And in the same vein the journal rambles on:—
"Friday.—Longfellow came into luncheon at one o'clock. He was looking very well;... his beautiful eyes fairly shone. He had been at Manchester-by-the-Sea the day before to dine with the Curtises. Their truly romantic and lovely place had left a pleasant picture in his mind. Coming away by the train, he passed in Chelsea a new soldiers' monument which suggested an epigram to him that he said, laughingly, would suit any of the thousand of such monuments to be seen about the country. He began somewhat in this style:—
"'The soldier asked for bread, But they waited till he was dead, And gave him a stone instead, Sixty and one feet high!'
"We all returned to Cambridge together, and, being early for our own appointment elsewhere, he carried us into his library and read aloud
'The Marriage of Lady Wentworth.' E——, with pretty girlish ways and eyes like his own, had let us into the old mansion by the side door, and then lingered to ask if she might be allowed to stay and hear the reading too. He, consenting, laughingly, lighted a cigar and soon began. His voice in reading was sweet and melodious, and it was touched with tremulousness, although this was an easier poem to read aloud than many others, being strictly narrative. It is full of New England life and is a beautiful addition to his works. He has a fancy for making a volume, or getting some one else to do it, of his favorite ghost stories, 'The Flying Dutchman,' 'Peter Rugg,' and a few others."
On another occasion the record says:—
"Passed the evening at Longfellow's. As we lifted the latch and entered the hall door, we saw him reading an old book by his study lamp. It was the 'Chansons d'Espagne,' which he had just purchased at what he called the massacre of the poets; in other words, at the sale that day of the library of William H. Prescott. He was rather melancholy, he said: first, on account of the sacrifice and separation of that fine library; also because he is doubtful about his new poem, the one on the life of our Saviour. He says he has never before felt so cast down.
"What an orderly man he is! Well-ordered, I should have written. Diary, accounts, scraps, books,—everything where he can put his hand upon it in a moment."
"December, 1871.—Saturday Mr. Longfellow came in town and went with us to hear twelve hundred school children sing a welcome to the Russian Grand Duke in the Music Hall. It was a fine sight, and Dr. Holmes's hymn, written for the occasion, was noble and inspiring. Just before the Grand Duke came in I saw a smile creep over Longfellow's face. 'I can never get over the ludicrousness of it,' he said. 'All this array and fuss over one man!' He came home with us afterwards, and lingered awhile by the fire. He talked of Russian literature,— its modernness, and said he had sent us a delightful novel by Tourgueneff, 'Liza,' in which we should find charming and vivid glimpses of landscape and life like those seen from a carriage window. We left him alone in the library for a while, and returning found him amusing himself over the 'Ingoldsby Legends.' He was reading the 'Coronation of Victoria,' and laughing over Count Froganoff, who could not get 'prog enough,' and was 'found eating underneath the stairs.' He wants to have a dinner for Bayard Taylor, whose coming is always the signal for a series of small festivities. His own 'Divine Tragedy' is just out, and everybody speaks of its simplicity and beauty."
"April.—In the evening Longfellow came in town for the purpose of hearing a German gentleman read an original poem, and he persuaded me to go with him. The reader twisted his face up into frightful knots, and delivered his poem with vast apparent satisfaction to himself if not to his audience. It was fortunate on the whole that the production was in a foreign tongue, because it gave us the occupation, at least, of trying to understand the words,—the poem itself possessing not the remotest interest for either of us. It was in the old sentimental German style familiar to the readers of that literature. Longfellow amused me as we walked home by imitating the sing-song voice we had been following all the evening. He also recited in the original that beautiful little poem by Platen, 'In der Nacht, in der Nacht,' in a most delightful manner. 'Ah,' he said, 'to translate a poem properly it must be done into the metre of the original, and Bryant's "Homer," fine as it is, has this great fault, that it does not give the music of the poem itself.' He came in and took a cigar before walking home over the bridge alone....
"Emerson asked Longfellow at dinner about his last visit to England, of Ruskin and other celebrities. Longfellow is always reticent upon such subjects, but he was eager to tell us how very much he had enjoyed Mr. Ruskin. He said it was one of the most surprising things in the world to see the quiet, gentlemanly way in which Ruskin gave vent to his extreme opinions. It seems to be no effort to him, but as if it were a matter of course that every one should give expression to the faith that is in him in the same unvarnished way as he does himself, not looking for agreement, but for conversation and discussion. 'It is strange,' Ruskin said, 'being considered so much out of harmony with America as I am, that the two Americans I have known and loved best, you and Norton, should give me such a feeling of friendship and repose.' Longfellow then spoke of Mrs. Matthew Arnold, whom he liked very much,—thought her, as he said, 'a most lovely person.' Also of the 'beautiful Lady Herbert,' as one of the most delightful of women....
"Longfellow came in to an early dinner to meet Mr. Joseph Jefferson, Mr. William Warren, and Dr. Holmes. He said he felt like one on a journey. He had left home early in the morning, had been sight-seeing in Boston all day, was to dine and go to the theatre with us afterwards. The talk naturally turned upon the stage. Longfellow said he thought Mr. Charles Mathews was entirely unjust in his criticisms upon Mr. Forrest's King Lear. He considered Mr. Forrest's rendering of the part as very fine and close to nature. He could not understand why Mr. Mathews should underrate it as he did. Longfellow showed us a book given him by Charles Sumner. In it was an old engraving (from a painting by Giulio Clovio) of the moon, in which Dante is walking with his companion. He said it was a most impressive picture to him. He knew it in the original; also there is a very good copy in the Cambridge Library among the copies of illuminated manuscripts."
There is a little note belonging to this period full of poetic feeling and giving more than a hint at the wearifulness of interrupting visitors:—
"I send you the pleasant volume I promised you yesterday. It is a book for summer moods by the seaside, but will not be out of place on a winter night by the fireside.... You will find an allusion to the 'blue borage flowers' that flavor the claret-cup. I know where grows another kind of bore-age that embitters the goblet of life. I can spare you some of this herb, if you have room for it in your garden or your garret. It is warranted to destroy all peace of mind, and finally to produce softening of the brain and insanity.
"'Better juice of vine Than berry wine! Fire! fire! steel, oh, steel! Fire! fire! steel and fire!'"
The following, written in the spring of the same year, gives a hint of what a festival season it was to him while the lilacs which surround his house were in bloom:—
"Here is the poem, copied for you by your humble scribe. I found it impossible to crowd it into a page of note paper. Come any pleasant morning, as soon after breakfast or before as you like, and we will go on with the 'Michael Angelical' manuscript. I shall not be likely to go to town while the lilacs are in bloom."
The rambling diary continues: "To-day Longfellow sent us half a dozen bottles of wine, and after them came a note saying he had sent them off without finding time to label them. 'They are wine of Avignon,' he added, 'and should bear this inscription from Redi:—
"'Benedetto Quel claretto Che si spilla in Avignone.'"
About this period Longfellow invited an old friend, who had fallen into extreme helplessness from ill health, to come and make him a visit. It was a great comfort to his friend, a scholar like himself, "to nurse the dwindling faculty of joy" in such companionship, and he lingered many weeks in the sunshine of the old house. Longfellow's patience and devoted care for this friend of his youth was a signal example of what a true and constant heart may do unconsciously, in giving expression and recognition to the bond of a sincere friendship. Long after his friend was unable to rise from his chair without assistance or go unaccompanied to his bedroom, Longfellow followed the lightest unexpressed wish with his sympathetic vision and performed the smallest offices unbidden. "Longfellow, will you turn down my coat collar?" I have heard him say in a plaintive way, and it was a beautiful lesson to see the quick and cheerful response which would follow many a like suggestion.
In referring to this trait of his character, I find among the notes made by Mr. Fields on Longfellow: "One of the most occupied of all our literary men and scholars, he yet finds time for the small courtesies of existence, those minor attentions that are so often neglected. One day, seeing him employed in cutting something from a newspaper, I asked him what he was about. 'Oh,' said he, 'here is a little paragraph speaking kindly of our poor old friend Blank; you know he seldom gets a word of praise, poor fellow, nowadays; and thinking he might not chance to see this paper, I am snipping out the paragraph to mail to him this afternoon. I know that even these few lines of recognition will make him happy for hours, and I could not bear to think he might perhaps miss seeing these pleasant words so kindly expressed.'"
"May Day, 1876.—Longfellow dined with us. He said during the dinner, when we heard a blast of wintry wind howling outside, 'This is May day enough; it does not matter to us how cold it is outside.' He was inclined to be silent, for there were other and brilliant talkers at the table, one of whom said to him in a pause of the conversation, 'Longfellow, tell us about yourself; you never talk about yourself.' 'No,' said Longfellow gently, 'I believe I never do.' 'And yet,' continued the first speaker eagerly, 'you confessed to me once'—'No,' said Longfellow, laughing, 'I think I never did.'"
And here is a tiny note of compliment, graceful as a poet's note should be:—
"I have just received your charming gift, your note and the stately lilies; but fear you may have gone from home before my thanks can reach you.
"How beautiful they are, these lilies of the field; and how like American women! Not because 'they neither toil nor spin,' but because they are elegant and 'born in the purple.'"
There is a brief record in 1879 of a visit to us in Manchester-by-the- Sea. Just before he left he said, "After I am gone to-day, I want you to read Schiller's poem of the 'Ring of Polycrates,' if you do not recall it too distinctly. You will know then how I feel about my visit." He repeated also some English hexameters he had essayed from the first book of the Iliad. He believes the work may be still more perfectly done than has ever yet been achieved. We drove to Gloucester wrapped in a warm sea fog. His enjoyment of the green woods and the sea breeze was delightful to watch. "Ay me! ay me! woods may decay," but who can dare believe such life shall cease from the fair world!
Seeing the Portland steamer pass one night, a speck on the horizon, bearing as he knew his daughter and her husband, he watched it long, then said, "Think of a part of yourself being on that moving speck."
The Sunday following that visit he wrote from Portland:— "Church bells are ringing; clatter of church-going feet on the pavement; boys crying 'Boston Herald;' voices of passing men and women: these are the sounds that come to me at this upper window, looking down into the street.
"I contrast it all with last Sunday's silence at Manchester-by-the- Sea, and remember my delightful visit there. Then comes the thought of the moonlight and the music and Shelley's verses,—
"'As the moon's soft splendor O'er the faint, cold starlight of heaven Is thrown;'
and so on
"'Of some world far from ours, Where moonlight and music and feeling Are one.'
"How beautiful this song would sound if set to music by Mrs. Bell and chanted by her in the twilight."
Later he enclosed the song, which is as follows, and I venture to reprint it because it is seldom found among Shelley's poems:—
AN ARIETTE FOR MUSIC.
To a lady singing to her accompaniment on the guitar.
As the moon's soft splendor O'er the faint, cold starlight of heaven Is thrown, So thy voice most tender To the strings without soul has given. Its own.
The stars will awaken, Though the moon sleep a full hour later To-night; No leaf will be shaken, Whilst the dews of thy melody scatter Delight.
Though the sound overpowers, Sing again, with thy sweet voice revealing A tone Of some world far from ours, Where music and moonlight and feeling Are one.
"I find the song in my scrapbook, and send it to save you the trouble of hunting for it.
"H. W. L."
It was first reprinted in "The Waif," a thin volume of selections published by Longfellow many years ago. "The Waif" and "The Estray" preserved many a lovely poem from oblivion, till it should find its place at length among its fellows.
Already in 1875 we find Longfellow at work upon his latest collection of poems, which he called "Poems of Places." It was a much more laborious and unrewarding occupation than he had intended, and he was sometimes weary of his self-imposed task. He wrote at this period:— No politician ever sought for Places with half the zeal that I do. Friend and Foe alike have to give Place to
Yours truly, H. W. L.
Again he says:—
"What evil demon moved me to make this collection of 'Poems of Places'? Could I have foreseen the time it would take, and the worry and annoyance it would bring with it, I never would have undertaken it. The worst of it is, I have to write pieces now and then to fill up gaps."
More and more his old friends grew dear to him as the years passed and "the goddess Neuralgia," as he called his malady, kept him chiefly at home. He wrote in 1877:—
"When are you coming back from your Cottage on the Cliffs? The trees on the Common and the fountains are calling for you.
"'Thee, Tityrus, even the pine-trees, The very fountains, the very Copses are calling.'
Perhaps also your creditors. At all events I am, who am your debtor."
The days were fast approaching when the old things must pass away. He wrote tenderly:—
"I am sorry to hear that you are not quite yourself. I sympathize with you, for I am somebody else. It is the two W's, Work and Weather, that are playing the mischief with us.... You must not open a book; you must not even look at an inkstand. These are both contraband articles, upon which we have to pay heavy duties. We cannot smuggle them in. Nature's custom-house officers are too much on the alert."
In 1880 he again wrote, describing the wedding of the daughter of an old friend:—
"A beautiful wedding it was; an ideal village wedding, in a pretty church, and the Windmill Cottage of our friend resplendent with autumnal flowers. In one of the rooms there was a tea-kettle hanging on a crane in the fireplace.
"So begins a new household. But Miss Neilson's death has saddened me, and yesterday Mrs. Horsford came with letters from Norway, giving particulars of Ole Bull's last days, his death and burial. The account was very touching. All Bergen's flags at half-mast; telegrams from the King; funeral oration by Bjoernson. The dear old musician was carried from his island to the mainland in a steamer, followed by a long line of other steamers. No Viking ever had such a funeral."
And here the extracts from letters and journals must cease. It was a golden sunset, in spite of the increasing infirmities which beset him; for he could never lose his pleasure in making others happy, and only during the few last days did he lose his own happiness among his books and at his desk. The influence his presence gave out to others, of calm good cheer and tenderness, made those who knew him feel that he possessed, in larger measure than others, what Jean Paul Richter calls "a heavenly unfathomableness which makes man godlike, and love toward him infinite." Indeed, this "heavenly unfathomableness" was a strong characteristic of his nature, and the gracious silence in which he often dwelt gave a rare sense of song without words. Therefore, perhaps on that day when we gathered around the form through which his voice was never again to utter itself, and heard his own words repeated upon the air saying, "Weep not, my friends! rather rejoice with me. I shall not feel the pain, but shall be gone, and you shall have another friend in heaven," it was impossible not to believe that he was with us still, the central spirit, comforting and uplifting the circle of those who were most dear to him.
GLIMPSES OF EMERSON
The perfect consistency of a truly great life, where inconsistencies of speech become at once harmonized by the beauty of the whole nature, gives even to a slight incident the value of a bit of mosaic which, if omitted, would leave a gap in the picture. Therefore we never tire of "Whisperings" and "Talks" and "Walks" and "Letters" relating to the friends of our imagination, if not of our fireside; and in so far as such fragments bring men and women of achievement nearer to our daily lives, without degrading them, they warm and cheer us with something of their own beloved and human presence.
From this point of view the publication of so many of these side lights on the lives of what Emerson himself calls "superior people," is easily accounted for, and the following glimpses will only confirm what he expresses of such natures when he says, "In all the superior people I have met I notice directness, truth spoken more truly, as if everything of obstruction, of malformation, had been trained away."
In reading the correspondence between Carlyle and Emerson, few readers could fail to be impressed with the generosity shown by Emerson in giving his time and thought without stint to the publication of Carlyle's books in this country. Nor was this the single instance of his devotion to the advancement of his friends. In a brief memoir, lately printed, of Jones Very, as an introduction to a collection of his poems, we find a like record there.
After the death of Thoreau, Emerson spared no trouble to himself that his friend's papers might be properly presented to the reading world. He wrote to his publisher, Mr. Fields: "I send all the poems of Thoreau which I think ought to go with the letters. These are the best verses, and no other whole piece quite contents me. I think you must be content with a little book, since it is so good. I do not like to print either the prison piece or the John Brown with these clear sky- born letters and poems." After all his labor and his care, however, it was necessary to hold consultation with Thoreau's sister, and she could not find it in her heart to leave out some of the tender personalities which had grown more dear to her since her brother's death, and which had been omitted in the selection. She said that she was sure Mr. Emerson was not pleased at the restorations she made after his careful work of elimination was finished, but he was too courteous and kind to say much, or to insist on his own way; he only remarked, "You have spoiled my Greek statue." Neither was he himself altogether contented with his work, and shortly afterward said he would like to include "The Maiden in the East," partly because it was written of Mrs. W——n, and partly because other persons liked it so well.
"I looked over the poems again and again," he said, "and at last reserved but ten, finding some blemish in all the others which prevented them from seeming perfect to me. How grand is his poem about the mountains! As it is said of Goethe that he never spoke of the stars but with respect, so we may say of Thoreau and the mountains." It could hardly be expected of Thoreau's sister to sympathize with such a tribunal, especially when the same clear judgment was brought to bear upon the letters. Even touching the contract for publication he was equally painstaking—far more so than for his own affairs. He wrote, "I inclose the first form of contract, as you requested, with the alterations suggested by Miss Thoreau." After this follows a careful reiteration in his own handwriting of such alterations as were desired.
The early loss of Thoreau and his love for him were, I had believed, the root and flower which brought forth fruit in his noble discourse on "Immortality;" but Miss Emerson generously informs me that I am mistaken in this idea. "Most of its framework," she says, "was written seven or eight years earlier and delivered in September, 1855. Some parts of it he may have used at Mr. Thoreau's funeral and some sentences of it may have been written then, but the main work was done long before, and it was enlarged twice afterwards."
Happy were they who heard him speak at the funeral of Henry Thoreau. At whatever period he first framed his intuitions upon the future in prose, on that day a light was flashed upon him which he reflected again upon the soul of his listeners, and to them it seemed that a new-born glory had descended. Whatever words are preserved upon the printed page, the spirit of what was given on that day cannot be reproduced. He wrote, the day after Thoreau's death, to Mr. Fields: "Come tomorrow and bring —— to my house. We will give you a very early dinner. Mr. Channing is to write a hymn or dirge for the funeral, which is to be from the church at three o'clock. I am to make an address, and probably Mr. Alcott may say something." This was the only announcement, the only time for preparation. Thoreau's body lay in the porch, and his townspeople filled the church, but Emerson made the simple ceremony one never to be forgotten by those who were present. Respecting the publication of this address I find the following entry in a diary of the time: "We have been waiting for Mr. Emerson to publish his new volume, containing his address upon Henry Thoreau; but he is careful of words, and finds many to be considered again and again, until it is almost impossible to extort a manuscript from his hands."
There is a brief note among the few letters I have found concerning the poetry of some other writer whose name does not appear, but in the publication of whose work Emerson was evidently interested. He writes: "I have made the fewest changes I could. So do not shock the amour propre of the poet, and yet strike out the bad words. You must, please, if it comes to question, keep my agency out of sight, and he will easily persuade himself that your compositor has grown critical, and struck out the rough syllables."
Emerson stood, as it were, the champion of American letters, and whatever found notice at all challenged his serious scrutiny. The soul and purpose must be there; he must find one line to win his sympathy, and then it was given with a whole heart. He said one day at breakfast that he had found a young man! A youth in the far West had written him, and inclosed some verses, asking for his criticism. Among them was the following line, which Emerson said proved him to be a poet, and he should watch his career in future with interest: