YESTERDAYS WITH AUTHORS
JAMES T. FIELDS.
"Was it not yesterday we spoke together?"—SHAKESPEARE
BOSTON: HOUGHTON, OSGOOD AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, BY JAMES T. FIELDS, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington
University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge.
* * * * * INSCRIBED
TO MY FELLOW-MEMBERS OF
THE SATURDAY CLUB.
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James Fields (1817-1881) at age 14 became a clerk in a bookstore in Boston, and in a few years became a partner in the bookselling firm of Ticknor, Reed and Fields.
Fields's firm became the publisher for most of the great American writers of the Nineteenth Century. In this book, Fields tells how he persuaded a jobless, despondent Nathaniel Hawthorne to let him print "The Scarlet Letter."
The firm of Ticknor and Fields, after many mergers and acquisitions, continues to exist today as Houghton Mifflin Books. The firm's original store, the Old Corner Bookstore, still exists as a bookstore at the corner of School and Washington streets in Boston.
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VI. MISS MITFORD
VII. "BARRY CORNWALL" AND SOME OF HIS FRIENDS
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"Some there are, By their good works exalted, lofty minds And meditative, authors of delight And happiness, which to the end of time Will live, and spread, and kindle." WORDSWORTH.
Surrounded by the portraits of those I have long counted my friends, I like to chat with the people about me concerning these pictures, my companions on the wall, and the men and women they represent. These are my assembled guests, who dropped in years ago and stayed with me, without the form of invitation or demand on my time or thought. They are my eloquent silent partners for life, and I trust they will dwell here as long as I do. Some of them I have known intimately; several of them lived in other times; but they are all my friends and associates in a certain sense.
To converse with them and of them—
"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past"—
is one of the delights of existence, and I am never tired of answering questions about them, or gossiping of my own free will as to their every-day life and manners.
If I were to call the little collection in this diminutive house a Gallery of Pictures, in the usual sense of that title, many would smile and remind me of what Foote said with his characteristic sharpness of David Garrick, when he joined his brother Peter in the wine trade: "Davy lived with three quarts of vinegar in the cellar, calling himself a wine merchant."
My friends have often heard me in my "garrulous old age" discourse of things past and gone, and know what they bring down on their heads when they request me "to run over," as they call it, the faces looking out upon us from these plain unvarnished frames.
Let us begin, then, with the little man of Twickenham, for that is his portrait which hangs over the front fireplace. An original portrait of Alexander Pope I certainly never expected to possess, and I must relate how I came by it. Only a year ago I was strolling in my vagabond way up and down the London streets, and dropped in to see an old picture-shop,—kept by a man so thoroughly instructed in his calling that it is always a pleasure to talk with him and examine his collection of valuables, albeit his treasures are of such preciousness as to make the humble purse of a commoner seem to shrink into a still smaller compass from sheer inability to respond when prices are named. At No. 6 Pall Mall one is apt to find Mr. Graves "clipp'd round about" by first-rate canvas. When I dropped in upon him that summer morning he had just returned from the sale of the Marquis of Hastings's effects. The Marquis, it will be remembered, went wrong, and his debts swallowed up everything. It was a wretched stormy day when the pictures were sold, and Mr. Graves secured, at very moderate prices, five original portraits. All the paintings had suffered more or less decay, and some of them, with their frames, had fallen to the floor. One of the best preserved pictures inherited by the late Marquis was a portrait of Pope, painted from life by Richardson for the Earl of Burlington, and even that had been allowed to drop out of its oaken frame. Horace Walpole says, Jonathan Richardson was undoubtedly one of the best painters of a head that had appeared in England. He was pupil of the celebrated Riley, the master of Hudson, of whom Sir Joshua took lessons in his art, and it was Richardson's "Treatise on Painting" which inflamed the mind of young Reynolds, and stimulated his ambition to become a great painter. Pope seems to have had a real affection for Richardson, and probably sat to him for this picture some time during the year 1732. In Pope's correspondence there is a letter addressed to the painter making an engagement with him for a several days' sitting, and it is quite probable that the portrait before us was finished at that time. One can imagine the painter and the poet chatting together day after day, in presence of that canvas. During the same year Pope's mother died, at the great age of ninety-three; and on the evening of June 10th, while she lay dead in the house, Pope sent off the following heart-touching letter from Twickenham to his friend the painter:—
"As you know you and I mutually desire to see one another, I hoped that this day our wishes would have met, and brought you hither. And this for the very reason which possibly might hinder your coming, that my poor mother is dead. I thank God, her death was as easy as her life was innocent; and as it cost her not a groan, or even a sigh, there is yet upon her countenance such an expression of tranquillity, nay, almost of pleasure, that it is even amiable to behold it. It would afford the finest image of a saint expired that ever painting drew; and it would be the greatest obligation which even that obliging art could ever bestow on a friend, if you could come and sketch it for me. I am sure, if there be no very prevalent obstacle, you will leave any common business to do this; and I hope to see you this evening, as late as you will, or to-morrow morning as early, before this winter flower is faded. I will defer her interment till to-morrow night. I know you love me, or I could not have written this; I could not (at this time) have written at all. Adieu! May you die as happily!"
Several eminent artists of that day painted the likeness of Pope, and among them Sir Godfrey Kneller and Jervas, but I like the expression of this one by Richardson best of all. The mouth, it will be observed, is very sensitive and the eyes almost painfully so. It is told of the poet, that when he was a boy "there was great sweetness in his look," and that his face was plump and pretty, and that he had a very fresh complexion. Continual study ruined his constitution and changed his form, it is said. Richardson has skilfully kept out of sight the poor little decrepit figure, and gives us only the beautiful head of a man of genius. I scarcely know a face on canvas that expresses the poetical sense in a higher degree than this one. The likeness must be perfect, and I can imagine the delight of the Rev. Joseph Spence hobbling into his presence on the 4th of September, 1735, after "a ragged boy of an ostler came in with a little scrap of paper not half an inch broad, which contained the following words: 'Mr. Pope would be very glad to see Mr. Spence at the Cross Inn just now.'"
English literature is full of eulogistic mention of Pope. Thackeray is one of the last great authors who has spoken golden words about the poet. "Let us always take into account," he says, "that constant tenderness and fidelity of affection which pervaded and sanctified his life."
What pluck and dauntless courage possessed the "gallant little cripple" of Twickenham! When all the dunces of England were aiming their poisonous barbs at him, he said, "I had rather die at once, than live in fear of those rascals." A vast deal that has been written about him is untrue. No author has been more elaborately slandered on principle, or more studiously abused through envy. Smarting dullards went about for years, with an ever-ready microscope, hunting for flaws in his character that might be injuriously exposed; but to-day his defamers are in bad repute. Excellence in a fellow-mortal is to many men worse than death; and great suffering fell upon a host of mediocre writers when Pope uplifted his sceptre and sat supreme above them all.
Pope's latest champion is John Ruskin. Open his Lectures on Art, recently delivered before the University of Oxford, and read passage number seventy. Let us read it together, as we sit here in the presence of the sensitive poet.
"I want you to think over the relation of expression to character in two great masters of the absolute art of language, Virgil and Pope. You are perhaps surprised at the last named; and indeed you have in English much higher grasp and melody of language from more passionate minds, but you have nothing else, in its range, so perfect. I name, therefore, these two men, because they are the two most accomplished artists, merely as such, whom I know, in literature; and because I think you will be afterwards interested in investigating how the infinite grace in the words of the one, the severity in those of the other, and the precision in those of both, arise wholly out of the moral elements of their minds,—out of the deep tenderness in Virgil which enabled him to write the stories of Nisus and Lausus, and the serene and just benevolence which placed Pope, in his theology, two centuries in advance of his time, and enabled him to sum the law of noble life in two lines which, so far as I know, are the most complete, the most concise, and the most lofty expression of moral temper existing in English words:—
'Never elated, while one man's oppressed; Never dejected, while another's blessed.'
I wish you also to remember these lines of Pope, and to make yourselves entirely masters of his system of ethics; because, putting Shakespeare aside as rather the world's than ours, I hold Pope to be the most perfect representative we have, since Chaucer, of the true English mind; and I think the Dunciad is the most absolutely chiselled and monumental work 'exacted' in our country. You will find, as you study Pope, that he has expressed for you, in the strictest language and within the briefest limits, every law of art, of criticism, of economy, of policy, and, finally, of a benevolence, humble, rational, and resigned, contented with its allotted share of life, and trusting the problem of its salvation to Him in whose hands lies that of the universe."
Glance up at the tender eyes of the poet, who seems to have been eagerly listening while we have been reading Ruskin's beautiful tribute. As he is so intent upon us, let me gratify still further the honest pride of "the little nightingale," as they used to call him when he was a child, and read to you from the "Causeries du Lundi" what that wise French critic, Sainte-Beuve, has written of his favorite English poet:—
"The natural history of Pope is very simple: delicate persons, it has been said, are unhappy, and he was doubly delicate, delicate of mind, delicate and infirm of body; he was doubly irritable. But what grace, what taste, what swiftness to feel, what justness and perfection in expressing his feeling!... His first masters were insignificant; he educated himself: at twelve years old he learned Latin and Greek together, and almost without a master; at fifteen he resolved to go to London, in order to learn French and Italian there, by reading the authors. His family, retired from trade, and Catholic, lived at this time upon an estate in the forest of Windsor. This desire of his was considered as an odd caprice, for his health from that time hardly permitted him to move about. He persisted, and accomplished his project; he learned nearly everything thus by himself, making his own choice among authors, getting the grammar quite alone, and his pleasure was to translate into verse the finest passages he met with among the Latin and Greek poets. When he was about sixteen years old, he said, his taste was formed as much as it was later.... If such a thing as literary temperament exist, it never discovered itself in a manner more clearly defined and more decided than with Pope. Men ordinarily become classic by means of the fact and discipline of education; he was so by vocation, so to speak, and by a natural originality. At the same time with the poets, he read the best among the critics, and prepared himself to speak after them.
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"Pope had the characteristic sign of literary natures, the faithful worship of genius.... He said one day to a friend: 'I have always been particularly struck with this passage of Homer where he represents to us Priam transported with grief for the loss of Hector, on the point of breaking out into reproaches and invectives against the servants who surrounded him and against his sons. It would be impossible for me to read this passage without weeping over the disasters of the unfortunate old king.' And then he took the book, and tried to read aloud the passage, 'Go, wretches, curse of my life,' but he was interrupted by tears.
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"No example could prove to us better than his to what degree the faculty of tender, sensitive criticism is an active faculty. We neither feel nor perceive in this way when there is nothing to give in return. This taste, this sensibility, so swift and alert, justly supposes imagination behind it. It is said that Shelley, the first time he heard the poem of 'Christabel' recited, at a certain magnificent and terrible passage, took fright and suddenly fainted. The whole poem of 'Alastor' was to be foreseen in that fainting. Pope, not less sensitive in his way, could not read through that passage of the Iliad without bursting into tears. To be a critic to that degree, is to be a poet."
Thanks, eloquent and judicious scholar, so lately gone from the world of letters! A love of what is best in art was the habit of Sainte-Beuve's life, and so he too will be remembered as one who has kept the best company in literature,—a man who cheerfully did homage to genius, wherever and whenever it might be found.
I intend to leave as a legacy to a dear friend of mine an old faded book, which I hope he will always prize as it deserves. It is a well-worn, well-read volume, of no value whatever as an edition,—but it belonged to Abraham Lincoln. It is his copy of "The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., to which is prefixed the life of the author by Dr. Johnson." It bears the imprint on the title-page of J.J. Woodward, Philadelphia, and was published in 1839. Our President wrote his own name in it, and chronicles the fact that it was presented to him "by his friend N.W. Edwards." In January, 1861, Mr. Lincoln gave the book to a very dear friend of his, who honored me with it in January, 1867, as a New-Year's present. As long as I live it will remain among my books, specially treasured as having been owned and read by one of the noblest and most sorely tried of men, a hero comparable with any of Plutarch's,—
"The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man, Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame, New birth of our new soil, the first American."
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_What Emerson has said in his fine subtle way of Shakespeare may well be applied to the author of "Vanity Fair."
"One can discern in his ample pictures what forms and humanities pleased him; his delight in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful giving._
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"He read the hearts of men and women, their probity, and their second thought, and wiles; the wiles of innocence, and the transitions by which virtues and vices slide into their contraries."
Dear old Thackeray!—as everybody who knew him intimately calls him, now he is gone. That is his face, looking out upon us, next to Pope's. What a contrast in bodily appearance those two English men of genius present! Thackeray's great burly figure, broad-chested, and ample as the day, seems to overshadow and quite blot out of existence the author of "The Essay on Man." But what friends they would have been had they lived as contemporaries under Queen Anne or Queen Victoria! One can imagine the author of "Pendennis" gently lifting poor little Alexander out of his "chariot" into the club, and revelling in talk with him all night long. Pope's high-bred and gentlemanly manner, combined with his extraordinary sensibility and dread of ridicule, would have modified Thackeray's usual gigantic fun and sometimes boisterous sarcasm into a rich and strange adaptability to his little guest. We can imagine them talking together now, with even a nobler wisdom and ampler charity than were ever vouchsafed to them when they were busy amid the turmoils of their crowded literary lives.
As a reader and lover of all that Thackeray has written and published, as well as a personal friend, I will relate briefly something of his literary habits as I can recall them. It is now nearly twenty years since I first saw him and came to know him familiarly in London. I was very much in earnest to have him come to America, and read his series of lectures on "The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century," and when I talked the matter over with some of his friends at the little Garrick Club, they all said he could never be induced to leave London long enough for such an expedition. Next morning, after this talk at the Garrick, the elderly damsel of all work announced to me, as I was taking breakfast at my lodgings, that Mr. Sackville had called to see me, and was then waiting below. Very soon I heard a heavy tread on the stairs, and then entered a tall, white-haired stranger, who held out his hand, bowed profoundly, and with a most comical expression announced himself as Mr. Sackville. Recognizing at once the face from published portraits, I knew that my visitor was none other than Thackeray himself, who, having heard the servant give the wrong name, determined to assume it on this occasion. For years afterwards, when he would drop in unexpectedly, both at home and abroad, he delighted to call himself Mr. Sackville, until a certain Milesian waiter at the Tremont House addressed him as Mr. Thackuary, when he adopted that name in preference to the other.
Questions are frequently asked as to the habits of thought and composition of authors one has happened to know, as if an author's friends were commonly invited to observe the growth of works he was by and by to launch from the press. It is not customary for the doors of the writer's work-shop to be thrown open, and for this reason it is all the more interesting to notice, when it is possible, how an essay, a history, a novel, or a poem is conceived, grows up, and is corrected for publication. One would like very much to be informed how Shakespeare put together the scenes of Hamlet or Macbeth, whether the subtile thought accumulated easily on the page before him, or whether he struggled for it with anxiety and distrust. We know that Milton troubled himself about little matters of punctuation, and obliged the printer to take special note of his requirements, scolding him roundly when he neglected his instructions. We also know that Melanchthon was in his library hard at work by two or three o'clock in the morning both in summer and winter, and that Sir William Jones began his studies with the dawn.
The most popular female writer of America, whose great novel struck a chord of universal sympathy throughout the civilized world, has habits of composition peculiarly her own, and unlike those belonging to any author of whom we have record. She croons, so to speak, over her writings, and it makes very little difference to her whether there is a crowd of people about her or whether she is alone during the composition of her books. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was wholly prepared for the press in a little wooden house in Maine, from week to week, while the story was coming out in a Washington newspaper. Most of it was written by the evening lamp, on a pine table, about which the children of the family were gathered together conning their various lessons for the next day. Amid the busy hum of earnest voices, constantly asking questions of the mother, intent on her world-renowned task, Mrs. Stowe wove together those thrilling chapters which were destined to find readers in so many languages throughout the globe. No work of similar importance, so far as we know, was ever written amid so much that seemed hostile to literary composition.
I had the opportunity, both in England and America, of observing the literary habits of Thackeray, and it always seemed to me that he did his work with comparative ease, but was somewhat influenced by a custom of procrastination. Nearly all his stories were written in monthly instalments for magazines, with the press at his heels. He told me that when he began a novel he rarely knew how many people were to figure in it, and, to use his own words, he was always very shaky about their moral conduct. He said that sometimes, especially if he had been dining late and did not feel in remarkably good-humor next morning, he was inclined to make his characters villanously wicked; but if he rose serene with an unclouded brain, there was no end to the lovely actions he was willing to make his men and women perform. When he had written a passage that pleased him very much he could not resist clapping on his hat and rushing forth to find an acquaintance to whom he might instantly read his successful composition. Gilbert Wakefield, universally acknowledged to have been the best Greek scholar of his time, said he would have turned out a much better one, if he had begun earlier to study that language; but unfortunately he did not begin till he was fifteen years of age. Thackeray, in quoting to me this saying of Wakefield, remarked: "My English would have been very much better if I had read Fielding before I was ten." This observation was a valuable hint, on the part of Thackeray, as to whom he considered his master in art.
James Hannay paid Thackeray a beautiful compliment when he said: "If he had had his choice he would rather have been famous as an artist than as a writer; but it was destined that he should paint in colors which will never crack and never need restoration." Thackeray's characters are, indeed, not so much inventions as existences, and we know them as we know our best friends or our most intimate enemies.
When I was asked, the other day, which of his books I like best, I gave the old answer to a similar question. "The last one I read." If I could possess only one of his works, I think I should choose "Henry Esmond." To my thinking, it is a marvel in literature, and I have read it oftener than any of the other works. Perhaps the reason of my partiality lies somewhat in this little incident. One day, in the snowy winter of 1852, I met Thackeray sturdily ploughing his way down Beacon Street with a copy of "Henry Esmond" (the English edition, then just issued) under his arm. Seeing me some way off, he held aloft the volumes and began to shout in great glee. When I came up to him he cried out, "Here is the very best I can do, and I am carrying it to Prescott as a reward of merit for having given me my first dinner in America. I stand by this book, and am willing to leave it, when I go, as my card."
As he wrote from month to month, and liked to put off the inevitable chapters till the last moment, he was often in great tribulation. I happened to be one of a large company whom he had invited to a six-o'clock dinner at Greenwich one summer afternoon, several years ago. We were all to go down from London, assemble in a particular room at the hotel, where he was to meet us at six o'clock, sharp. Accordingly we took steamer and gathered ourselves together in the reception-room at the appointed time. When the clock struck six, our host had not fulfilled his part of the contract. His burly figure was yet wanting among the company assembled. As the guests were nearly all strangers to each other, and as there was no one present to introduce us, a profound silence fell upon the room, and we anxiously looked out of the windows, hoping every moment that Thackeray would arrive. This untoward state of things went on for one hour, still no Thackeray and no dinner. English reticence would not allow any remark as to the absence of our host. Everybody felt serious and a gloom fell upon the assembled party. Still no Thackeray. The landlord, the butler, and the waiters rushed in and out the room, shrieking for the master of the feast, who as yet had not arrived. It was confidentially whispered by a fat gentleman, with a hungry look, that the dinner was utterly spoiled twenty minutes ago, when we heard a merry shout in the entry and Thackeray bounced into the room. He had not changed his morning dress, and ink was still visible upon his fingers. Clapping his hands and pirouetting briskly on one leg, he cried out, "Thank Heaven, the last sheet of The Virginians has just gone to the printer." He made no apology for his late appearance, introduced nobody, shook hands heartily with everybody, and begged us all to be seated as quickly as possible. His exquisite delight at completing his book swept away every other feeling, and we all shared his pleasure, albeit the dinner was overdone throughout.
The most finished and elegant of all lecturers, Thackeray often made a very poor appearance when he attempted to deliver a set speech to a public assembly. He frequently broke down after the first two or three sentences. He prepared what he intended to say with great exactness, and his favorite delusion was that he was about to astonish everybody with a remarkable effort. It never disturbed him that he commonly made a woful failure when he attempted speech-making, but he sat down with such cool serenity if he found that he could not recall what he wished to say, that his audience could not help joining in and smiling with him when he came to a stand-still. Once he asked me to travel with him from London to Manchester to hear a great speech he was going to make at the founding of the Free Library Institution in that city. All the way down he was discoursing of certain effects he intended to produce on the Manchester dons by his eloquent appeals to their pockets. This passage was to have great influence with the rich merchants, this one with the clergy, and so on. He said that although Dickens and Bulwer and Sir James Stephen, all eloquent speakers, were to precede him, he intended to beat each of them on this special occasion. He insisted that I should be seated directly in front of him, so that I should have the full force of his magic eloquence. The occasion was a most brilliant one; tickets had been in demand at unheard-of prices several weeks before the day appointed; the great hall, then opened for the first time to the public, was filled by an audience such as is seldom convened, even in England. The three speeches which came before Thackeray was called upon were admirably suited to the occasion, and most eloquently spoken. Sir John Potter, who presided, then rose, and after some complimentary allusions to the author of "Vanity Fair," introduced him to the crowd, who welcomed him with ringing plaudits. As he rose, he gave me a half-wink from under his spectacles, as if to say: "Now for it; the others have done very well, but I will show 'em a grace beyond the reach of their art." He began in a clear and charming manner, and was absolutely perfect for three minutes. In the middle of a most earnest and elaborate sentence he suddenly stopped, gave a look of comic despair at the ceiling, crammed both hands into his trousers' pockets, and deliberately sat down. Everybody seemed to understand that it was one of Thackeray's unfinished speeches and there were no signs of surprise or discontent among his audience. He continued to sit on the platform in a perfectly composed manner; and when the meeting was over he said to me, without a sign of discomfiture, "My boy, you have my profoundest sympathy; this day you have accidentally missed hearing one of the finest speeches ever composed for delivery by a great British orator." And I never heard him mention the subject again.
Thackeray rarely took any exercise, thus living in striking contrast to the other celebrated novelist of our time, who was remarkable for the number of hours he daily spent in the open air. It seems to be almost certain now, from concurrent testimony, gathered from physicians and those who knew him best in England, that Thackeray's premature death was hastened by an utter disregard of the natural laws. His vigorous frame gave ample promise of longevity, but he drew too largely on his brain and not enough on his legs. High living and high thinking, he used to say, was the correct reading of the proverb.
He was a man of the tenderest feelings, very apt to be cajoled into doing what the world calls foolish things, and constantly performing feats of unwisdom, which performances he was immoderately laughing at all the while in his books. No man has impaled snobbery with such a stinging rapier, but he always accused himself of being a snob, past all cure. This I make no doubt was one of his exaggerations, but there was a grain of truth in the remark, which so sharp an observer as himself could not fail to notice, even though the victim was so near home.
Thackeray announced to me by letter in the early autumn of 1852 that he had determined to visit America, and would sail for Boston by the Canada on the 30th of October. All the necessary arrangements for his lecturing tour had been made without troubling him with any of the details. He arrived on a frosty November evening, and went directly to the Tremont House, where rooms had been engaged for him. I remember his delight in getting off the sea, and the enthusiasm with which he hailed the announcement that dinner would be ready shortly. A few friends were ready to sit down with him, and he seemed greatly to enjoy the novelty of an American repast. In London he had been very curious in his inquiries about American oysters, as marvellous stories, which he did not believe, had been told him of their great size. We apologized—although we had taken care that the largest specimens to be procured should startle his unwonted vision when he came to the table—for what we called the extreme smallness of the oysters, promising that we would do better next time. Six bloated Falstaffian bivalves lay before him in their shells. I noticed that he gazed at them anxiously with fork upraised; then he whispered to me, with a look of anguish, "How shall I do it?" I described to him the simple process by which the free-born citizens of America were accustomed to accomplish such a task. He seemed satisfied that the thing was feasible, selected the smallest one in the half-dozen (rejecting a large one, "because," he said, "it resembled the High Priest's servant's ear that Peter cut off") and then bowed his head as if he were saying grace. All eyes were upon him to watch the effect of a new sensation in the person of a great British author. Opening his mouth very wide, he struggled for a moment, and then all was over. I shall never forget the comic look of despair he cast upon the other five over-occupied shells. I broke the perfect stillness by asking him how he felt. "Profoundly grateful," he gasped, "and as if I had swallowed a little baby." It was many years ago since we gathered about him on that occasion, but, if my memory serves me, we had what might be called a pleasant evening. Indeed, I remember much hilarity, and sounds as of men laughing and singing far into midnight. I could not deny, if called upon to testify in court, that we had a good time on that frosty November evening.
We had many happy days and nights together both in England and America, but I remember none happier than that evening we passed with him when the Punch people came to dine at his own table with the silver statuette of Mr. Punch in full dress looking down upon the hospitable board from the head of the table. This silver figure always stood in a conspicuous place when Tom Taylor, Mark Lemon, Shirley Brooks, and the rest of his jolly companions and life-long cronies were gathered together. If I were to say here that there were any dull moments on that occasion, I should not expect to be strictly believed.
Thackeray's playfulness was a marked peculiarity; a great deal of the time he seemed like a school-boy, just released from his task. In the midst of the most serious topic under discussion he was fond of asking permission to sing a comic song, or he would beg to be allowed to enliven the occasion by the instant introduction of a brief double-shuffle. Barry Cornwall told me that when he and Charles Lamb were once making up a dinner-party together, Charles asked him not to invite a certain lugubrious friend of theirs. "Because," said Lamb, "he would cast a damper even over a funeral." I have often contrasted the habitual qualities of that gloomy friend of theirs with the astounding spirits of both Thackeray and Dickens. They always seemed to me to be standing in the sunshine, and to be constantly warning other people out of cloudland. During Thackeray's first visit to America his jollity knew no bounds, and it became necessary often to repress him when he was walking in the street. I well remember his uproarious shouting and dancing when he was told that the tickets to his first course of readings were all sold, and when we rode together from his hotel to the lecture-hall he insisted on thrusting both his long legs out of the carriage window, in deference, as he said, to his magnanimous ticket-holders. An instance of his procrastination occurred the evening of his first public appearance in America. His lecture was advertised to take place at half past seven, and when he was informed of the hour, he said he would try and be ready at eight o'clock, but thought it very doubtful. Horrified at this assertion, I tried to impress upon him the importance of punctuality on this, the night of his first bow to an American audience. At a quarter past seven I called for him, and found him not only unshaved and undressed for the evening, but rapturously absorbed in making a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a passage in Goethe's Sorrows of Werther, for a lady, which illustration,—a charming one, by the way, for he was greatly skilled in drawing,—he vowed he would finish before he would budge an inch in the direction of the (I omit the adjective) Melodeon. A comical incident occurred just as he was about leaving the hall, after his first lecture in Boston. A shabby, ungainly looking man stepped briskly up to him in the anteroom, seized his hand and announced himself as "proprietor of the Mammoth Rat," and proposed to exchange season tickets. Thackeray, with the utmost gravity, exchanged cards and promised to call on the wonderful quadruped next day.
Thackeray's motto was 'Avoid performing to-day, if possible, what can be postponed till to-morrow.' Although he received large sums for his writings, he managed without much difficulty to keep his expenditures fully abreast, and often in advance of, his receipts. His pecuniary object in visiting America the second time was to lay up, as he said, a "pot of money" for his two daughters, and he left the country with more than half his lecture engagements unfulfilled. He was to have visited various cities in the Middle and Western States; but he took up a newspaper one night, in his hotel in New York, before retiring, saw a steamer advertised to sail the next morning for England, was seized with a sudden fit of homesickness, rang the bell for his servant, who packed up his luggage that night, and the next day he sailed. The first intimation I had of his departure was a card which he sent by the pilot of the steamer, with these words upon it: "Good by, Fields; good by, Mrs. Fields; God bless everybody, says W.M.T." Of course he did not avail himself of the opportunity afforded him for receiving a very large sum in America, and he afterwards told me in London, that if Mr. Astor had offered him half his fortune if he would allow that particular steamer to sail without him, he should have declined the well-intentioned but impossible favor, and gone on board.
No man has left behind him a tenderer regard for his genius and foibles among his friends than Thackeray. He had a natural love of good which nothing could wholly blur or destroy. He was a most generous critic of the writings of his contemporaries, and no one has printed or spoken warmer praise of Dickens, in one sense his great rival, than he.
Thackeray was not a voluminous correspondent, but what exquisite letters he has left in the hands of many of his friends! "Should any letters arrive," he says in a little missive from Philadelphia, "addressed to the care of J.T.F. for the ridiculous author of this, that, and the other, F. is requested to send them to Mercantile Library, Baltimore. My ghostly enemy will be delighted (or will gnash his teeth with rage) to hear that the lectures in the capital of Pa. have been very well attended. No less than 750 people paid at the door on Friday night, and though last night there was a storm of snow so furious that no reasonable mortal could face it, 500 (at least) amiable maniacs were in the lecture-room, and wept over the fate of the last king of these colonies."
Almost every day, while he was lecturing in America, he would send off little notes exquisitely written in point of penmanship, and sometimes embellished with characteristic pen-drawings. Having attended an extemporaneous supper festival at "Porter's," he was never tired of "going again." Here is a scrap of paper holding these few words, written in 1852.
"Nine o'clock, P.M. Tremont.
"Arrangements have just been concluded for a meeting somewhere to-night, which we much desire you should attend. Are you equal to two nights running of good time?"
Then follows a pen portrait of a friend of his with a cloven foot and a devil's tail just visible under his cloak Sometimes, to puzzle his correspondent, he would write in so small a hand that the note could not be read without the aid of a magnifying-glass. Calligraphy was to him one of the fine arts, and he once told Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh, that if all trades failed, he would earn sixpences by writing the Lord's Prayer and the Creed (not the Athanasian) in the size of that coin. He greatly delighted in rhyming and lisping notes and billets. Here is one of them, dated from Baltimore without signature:—
"Dear F——th! The thanguinary fateth (I don't know what their anger meanth) brought me your letter of the eighth, yethterday, only the fifteenth! What blunder cauthed by chill delay (thee Doctor Johnthon'th noble verthe) Thuth kept my longing thoul away, from all that motht I love on earth? Thankth for the happy contenth!—thothe Dithpatched to J.G.K. and Thonth, and that thmall letter you inclothe from Parith, from my dearetht oneth! I pray each month may tho increathe my thmall account with J.G. King, that all the thipth which croth the theath, good tidingth of my girlth may bring!—that every blething fortune yieldth, I altho pray, may come to path on Mithter and Mrth. J.T. F——th, and all good friendth in Bothton, Math.!"
While he was staying at the Clarendon Hotel, in New York, every morning's mail brought a few lines, sometimes only one line, sometimes only two words, from him, reporting progress. One day he tells me: "Immense hawdience last night." Another day he says: "Our shares look very much up this morning." On the 29th of November, 1852, he writes: "I find I have a much bigger voice than I knew of, and am not afraid of anybody." At another time he writes: "I make no doubt you have seen that admirable paper, the New York Herald, and are aware of the excellent reception my lectures are having in this city. It was a lucky Friday when first I set foot in this country. I have nearly saved the fifty dollars you lent me in Boston." In a letter from Savannah, dated the 19th of March, 1853, in answer to one I had written to him, telling him that a charming epistle, which accompanied the gift of a silver mug he had sent to me some time before, had been stolen from me, he says:—
"My dear fellow, I remember I asked you in that letter to accept a silver mug in token of our pleasant days together, and to drink a health sometimes in it to a sincere friend.... Smith and Elder write me word they have sent by a Cunard to Boston a packet of paper, stamped etc. in London. I want it to be taken from the Custom-House, dooties paid etc., and dispatched to Miss ——, New York. Hold your tongue, and don't laugh, you rogue. Why shouldn't she have her paper, and I my pleasure, without your wicked, wicked sneers and imperence? I'm only a cipher in the young lady's estimation, and why shouldn't I sigh for her if I like. I hope I shall see you all at Boston before very long. I always consider Boston as my native place, you know."
I wish I could recall half the incidents connected with the dear, dear old Thackeray days, when I saw him so constantly and enjoyed him so hugely; but, alas! many of them are gone, with much more that is lovely and would have been of good report, could they be now remembered;—they are dead as—(Holmes always puts your simile quite right for you),—
"Dead as the bulrushes round little Moses, On the old banks of the Nile."
But while I sit here quietly, and have no fear of any bad, unsympathizing listeners who might, if some other subject were up, frown upon my levity, let me walk through the dusky chambers of my memory and report what I find there, just as the records turn up, without regard to method.
I once made a pilgrimage with Thackeray (at my request, of course, the visits were planned) to the various houses where his books had been written; and I remember when we came to Young Street, Kensington, he said, with mock gravity, "Down on your knees, you rogue, for here 'Vanity Fair' was penned! And I will go down with you, for I have a high opinion of that little production myself." He was always perfectly honest in his expressions about his own writings, and it was delightful to hear him praise them when he could depend on his listeners. A friend congratulated him once on that touch in "Vanity Fair" in which Becky "admires" her husband when he is giving Steyne the punishment which ruins her for life. "Well," he said, "when I wrote the sentence, I slapped my fist on the table and said, 'That is a touch of genius!'"
He told me he was nearly forty years old before he was recognized in literature as belonging to a class of writers at all above the ordinary magazinists of his day. "I turned off far better things then than I do now," said he, "and I wanted money sadly, (my parents were rich but respectable, and I had spent my guineas in my youth,) but how little I got for my work! It makes me laugh," he continued, "at what The Times pays me now, when I think of the old days, and how much better I wrote for them then, and got a shilling where I now get ten."
One day he wanted a little service done for a friend, and I remember his very quizzical expression, as he said, "Please say the favor asked will greatly oblige a man of the name of Thackeray, whose only recommendation is, that he has seen Napoleon and Goethe, and is the owner of Schiller's sword."
I think he told me he and Tennyson were at one time intimate; but I distinctly remember a description he gave me of having heard the poet, when a young man, storming about in the first rapture of composing his poem of "Ulysses." One line of it Tennyson greatly revelled in,—
"And see the great Achilles, whom we knew."
"He went through the streets," said Thackeray, "screaming about his great Achilles, whom we knew," as if we had all made the acquaintance of that gentleman, and were very proud of it.
One of the most comical and interesting occasions I remember, in connection with Thackeray, was going with him to a grand concert given fifteen or twenty years ago by Madame Sontag. We sat near an entrance door in the hall, and every one who came in, male and female, Thackeray pretended to know, and gave each one a name and brief chronicle, as the presence flitted by. It was in Boston, and as he had been in town only a day or two, and knew only half a dozen people in it, the biographies were most amusing. As I happened to know several people who passed, it was droll enough to hear this great master of character give them their dues. Mr. Choate moved along in his regal, affluent manner. The large style of the man, so magnificent and yet so modest, at once arrested Thackeray's attention, and he forbore to place him in his extemporaneous catalogue. I remember a pallid, sharp-faced girl fluttering past, and how Thackeray exulted in the history of this "frail little bit of porcelain," as he called her. There was something in her manner that made him hate her, and he insisted she had murdered somebody on her way to the hall. Altogether this marvellous prelude to the concert made a deep impression on Thackeray's one listener, into whose ear he whispered his fatal insinuations. There is one man still living and moving about the streets I walk in occasionally, whom I never encounter without almost a shudder, remembering as I do the unerring shaft which Thackeray sent that night into the unknown man's character.
One day, many years ago, I saw him chaffing on the sidewalk in London, in front of the Athenaeum Club, with a monstrous-sized, "copiously ebriose" cabman, and I judged from the driver's ludicrously careful way of landing the coin deep down in his breeches-pocket, that Thackeray had given him a very unusual fare. "Who is your fat friend?" I asked, crossing over to shake hands with him. "O, that indomitable youth is an old crony of mine," he replied; and then, quoting Falstaff, "a goodly, portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent, of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage." It was the manner of saying this, then, and there in the London street, the cabman moving slowly off on his sorry vehicle, with one eye (an eye dewy with gin and water, and a tear of gratitude, perhaps) on Thackeray, and the great man himself so jovial and so full of kindness!
It was a treat to hear him, as I once did, discourse of Shakespeare's probable life in Stratford among his neighbors. He painted, as he alone could paint, the great poet sauntering about the lanes without the slightest show of greatness, having a crack with the farmers, and in very earnest talk about the crops. "I don't believe," said Thackeray, "that these village cronies of his ever looked upon him as the mighty poet,
'Sailing with supreme dominion Through the azure deep of air,'
but simply as a wholesome, good-natured citizen, with whom it was always pleasant to have a chat. I can see him now," continued Thackeray, "leaning over a cottage gate, and tasting good Master Such-a-one's home-brewed, and inquiring with a real interest after the mistress and her children." Long before he put it into his lecture, I heard him say in words to the same effect: "I should like to have been Shakespeare's shoe-black, just to have lived in his house, just to have worshipped him, to have run on his errands, and seen that sweet, serene face." To have heard Thackeray depict, in his own charming manner, and at considerable length, the imaginary walks and talks of Shakespeare, when he would return to his home from occasional visits to London, pouring into the ready ears of his unsophisticated friends and neighbors the gossip from town which he thought would be likely to interest them, is something to remember all one's days.
The enormous circulation achieved by the Cornhill Magazine, when it was first started with Thackeray for its editor in chief, is a matter of literary history. The announcement by his publishers that a sale of a hundred and ten thousand of the first number had been reached made the editor half delirious with joy, and he ran away to Paris to be rid of the excitement for a few days. I met him by appointment at his hotel in the Rue de la Paix, and found him wild with exultation and full of enthusiasm for excellent George Smith, his publisher. "London," he exclaimed, "is not big enough to contain me now, and I am obliged to add Paris to my residence! Great heavens," said he, throwing up his long arms, "where will this tremendous circulation stop! Who knows but that I shall have to add Vienna and Rome to my whereabouts? If the worst comes to the worst, New York, also, may fall into my clutches, and only the Rocky Mountains may be able to stop my progress!" Those days in Paris with him were simply tremendous. We dined at all possible and impossible places together. We walked round and round the glittering court of the Palais Royal, gazing in at the windows of the jewellers' shops, and all my efforts were necessary to restrain him from rushing in and ordering a pocketful of diamonds and "other trifles," as he called them; "for," said he, "how can I spend the princely income which Smith allows me for editing the Cornhill, unless I begin instantly somewhere?" If he saw a group of three or four persons talking together in an excited way, after the manner of that then riant Parisian people, he would whisper to me with immense gesticulation: "There, there, you see the news has reached Paris, and perhaps the number has gone up since my last accounts from London." His spirits during those few days were colossal, and he told me that he found it impossible to sleep, "for counting up his subscribers."
I happened to know personally (and let me modestly add, with some degree of sympathy) what he suffered editorially, when he had the charge and responsibility of a magazine. With first-class contributors he got on very well, he said, but the extortioners and revilers bothered the very life out of him. He gave me some amusing accounts of his misunderstandings with the "fair" (as he loved to call them), some of whom followed him up so closely with their poetical compositions, that his house (he was then living in Onslow Square) was never free of interruption. "The darlings demanded," said he, "that I should re-write, if I could not understand their —— nonsense and put their halting lines into proper form." "I was so appalled," said he, "when they set upon me with their 'ipics and their ipecacs,' that you might have knocked me down with a feather, sir. It was insupportable, and I fled away into France." As he went on, waxing drolly furious at the recollection of various editorial scenes, I could not help remembering Mr. Yellowplush's recommendation, thus characteristically expressed: "Take my advice, honrabble sir,—listen to a humble footmin: it's genrally best in poatry to understand puffickly what you mean yourself, and to igspress your meaning clearly afterwoods,—in the simpler words the better, p'r'aps."
He took very great delight in his young daughter's first contributions to the Cornhill, and I shall always remember how he made me get into a cab, one day in London, that I might hear, as we rode along, the joyful news he had to impart, that he had just been reading his daughter's first paper, which was entitled "Little Scholars." "When I read it," said he, "I blubbered like a child, it is so good, so simple, and so honest; and my little girl wrote it, every word of it."
During his second visit to Boston I was asked to invite him to attend an evening meeting of a scientific club, which was to be held at the house of a distinguished member. I was very reluctant to ask him to be present, for I knew he could be easily bored, and I was fearful that a prosy essay or geological speech might ensue, and I knew he would be exasperated with me, even although I were the innocent cause of his affliction. My worst fears were realized. We had hardly got seated, before a dull, bilious-looking old gentleman rose, and applied his auger with such pertinacity that we were all bored nearly to distraction. I dared not look at Thackeray, but I felt that his eye was upon me. My distress may be imagined, when he got up quite deliberately from the prominent place where a chair had been set for him, and made his exit very noiselessly into a small anteroom leading into the larger room, and in which no one was sitting. The small apartment was dimly lighted, but he knew that I knew he was there. Then commenced a series of pantomimic feats impossible to describe adequately. He threw an imaginary person (myself, of course) upon the floor, and proceeded to stab him several times with a paper-folder, which he caught up for the purpose. After disposing of his victim in this way, he was not satisfied, for the dull lecture still went on in the other room, and he fired an imaginary revolver several times at an imaginary head. Still, the droning speaker proceeded with his frozen subject (it was something about the Arctic regions, if I remember rightly), and now began the greatest pantomimic scene of all, namely, murder by poison, after the manner in which the player king is disposed of in Hamlet. Thackeray had found a small vial on the mantel-shelf, and out of that he proceeded to pour the imaginary "juice of cursed hebenon" into the imaginary porches of somebody's ears. The whole thing was inimitably done, and I hoped nobody saw it but myself; but years afterwards, a ponderous, fat-witted young man put the question squarely to me: "What was the matter with Mr. Thackeray, that night the club met at Mr ——'s house?"
Overhearing me say one morning something about the vast attractions of London to a greenhorn like myself, he broke in with, "Yes, but you have not seen the grandest one yet! Go with me to-day to St. Paul's and hear the charity children sing." So we went, and I saw the "head cynic of literature," the "hater of humanity," as a critical dunce in the Times once called him, hiding his bowed face, wet with tears, while his whole frame shook with emotion, as the children of poverty rose to pour out their anthems of praise. Afterwards he wrote in one of his books this passage, which seems to me perfect in its feeling and tone:—
"And yet there is one day in the year when I think St. Paul's presents the noblest sight in the whole world; when five thousand charity children, with cheeks like nosegays, and sweet, fresh voices, sing the hymn which makes every heart thrill with praise and happiness. I have seen a hundred grand sights in the world,—coronations, Parisian splendors, Crystal Palace openings, Pope's chapels with their processions of long-tailed cardinals and quavering choirs of fat soprani,—but think in all Christendom there is no such sight as Charity Children's day. Non Anglei, sed angeli. As one looks at that beautiful multitude of innocents; as the first note strikes; indeed one may almost fancy that cherubs are singing."
I parted with Thackeray for the last time in the street, at midnight, in London, a few months before his death. The Cornhill Magazine, under his editorship, having proved a very great success, grand dinners were given every month in honor of the new venture. We had been sitting late at one of these festivals, and, as it was getting toward morning, I thought it wise, as far as I was concerned, to be moving homeward before the sun rose. Seeing my intention to withdraw, he insisted on driving me in his brougham to my lodgings. When we reached the outside door of our host, Thackeray's servant, seeing a stranger with his master, touched his hat and asked where he should drive us. It was then between one and two o'clock,—time certainly for all decent diners out to be at rest. Thackeray put on one of his most quizzical expressions, and said to John, in answer to his question, "I think we will make a morning call on the Lord Bishop of London." John knew his master's quips and cranks too well to suppose he was in earnest, so I gave him my address, and we went on. When we reached my lodgings the clocks were striking two, and the early morning air was raw and piercing. Opposing all my entreaties for leave-taking in the carriage, he insisted upon getting out on the sidewalk and escorting me up to my door, saying, with a mock heroic protest to the heavens above us, "That it would be shameful for a full-blooded Britisher to leave an unprotected Yankee friend exposed to ruffians, who prowl about the streets with an eye to plunder." Then giving me a gigantic embrace, he sang a verse of which he knew me to be very fond; and so vanished out of my sight the great-hearted author of "Pendennis" and "Vanity Fair." But I think of him still as moving, in his own stately way, up and down the crowded thoroughfares of London, dropping in at the Garrick, or sitting at the window of the Athenaeum Club, and watching the stupendous tide of life that is ever moving past in that wonderful city.
Thackeray was a master in every sense, having as it were, in himself, a double quantity of being. Robust humor and lofty sentiment alternated so strangely in him, that sometimes he seemed like the natural son of Rabelais, and at others he rose up a very twin brother of the Stratford Seer. There was nothing in him amorphous and unconsidered. Whatever he chose to do was always perfectly done. There was a genuine Thackeray flavor in everything he was willing to say or to write. He detected with unfailing skill the good or the vile wherever it existed. He had an unerring eye, a firm understanding, and abounding truth. "Two of his great master powers," said the chairman at a dinner given to him many years ago in Edinburgh, "are satire and sympathy." George Brimley remarked, "That he could not have painted Vanity Fair as he has, unless Eden had been shining in his inner eye." He had, indeed, an awful insight, with a world of solemn tenderness and simplicity, in his composition. Those who heard the same voice that withered the memory of King George the Fourth repeat "The spacious firmament on high" have a recollection not easily to be blotted from the mind, and I have a kind of pity for all who were born so recently as not to have heard and understood Thackeray's Lectures. But they can read him, and I beg of them to try and appreciate the tenderer phase of his genius, as well as the sarcastic one. He teaches many lessons to young men, and here is one of them, which I quote memoriter from "Barry Lyndon": "Do you not, as a boy, remember waking of bright summer mornings and finding your mother looking over you? had not the gaze of her tender eyes stolen into your senses long before you woke, and cast over your slumbering spirit a sweet spell of peace, and love, and fresh-springing joy?" My dear friend, John Brown, of Edinburgh (whom may God long preserve to both countries where he is so loved and honored), chronicles this touching incident. "We cannot resist here recalling one Sunday evening in December, when Thackeray was walking with two friends along the Dean Road, to the west of Edinburgh,—one of the noblest outlets to any city. It was a lovely evening; such a sunset as one never forgets; a rich dark bar of cloud hovered over the sun, going down behind the Highland hills, lying bathed in amethystine bloom; between this cloud and the hills there was a narrow slip of the pure ether, of a tender cowslip color, lucid, and as if it were the very body of heaven in its clearness; every object standing out as if etched upon the sky. The northwest end of Corstorphine Hill, with its trees and rocks, lay in the heart of this pure radiance; and there a wooden crane, used in the granary below, was so placed as to assume the figure of a cross; there it was, unmistakable, lifted up against the crystalline sky. All three gazed at it silently. As they gazed, Thackeray gave utterance in a tremulous, gentle, and rapid voice to what all were feeling, in the word, 'CALVARY!' The friends walked on in silence, and then turned to other things. All that evening he was very gentle and serious, speaking, as he seldom did, of divine things,—of death, of sin, of eternity, of salvation, expressing his simple faith in God and in his Saviour."
Thackeray was found dead in his bed on Christmas morning, and he probably died without pain. His mother and his daughters were sleeping under the same roof when he passed away alone. Dickens told me that, looking on him as he lay in his coffin, he wondered that the figure he had known in life as one of such noble presence could seem so shrunken and wasted; but there had been years of sorrow, years of labor, years of pain, in that now exhausted life. It was his happiest Christmas morning when he heard the Voice calling him homeward to unbroken rest.
* * * * *
A hundred years ago Henry Vaughan seems almost to have anticipated Hawthorne's appearance when he wrote that beautiful line,
"Feed on the vocal silence of his eye."
I am sitting to-day opposite the likeness of the rarest genius America has given to literature,—a man who lately sojourned in this busy world of ours, but during many years of his life
"Wandered lonely as a cloud,"—
a man who had, so to speak, a physical affinity with solitude. The writings of this author have never soiled the public mind with one unlovely image. His men and women have a magic of their own, and we shall wait a long time before another arises among us to take his place. Indeed, it seems probable no one will ever walk precisely the same round of fiction which he traversed with so free and firm a step.
The portrait I am looking at was made by Rowse (an exquisite drawing), and is a very truthful representation of the head of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was several times painted and photographed, but it was impossible for art to give the light and beauty of his wonderful eyes. I remember to have heard, in the literary circles of Great Britain, that, since Burns, no author had appeared there with a finer face than Hawthorne's. Old Mrs. Basil Montagu told me, many years ago, that she sat next to Burns at dinner, when he appeared in society in the first flush of his fame, after the Edinburgh edition of his poems had been published. She said, among other things, that, although the company consisted of some of the best bred men of England, Burns seemed to her the most perfect gentleman among them. She noticed, particularly, his genuine grace and deferential manner toward women, and I was interested to hear Mrs. Montagu's brilliant daughter, when speaking of Hawthorne's advent in English society, describe him in almost the same terms as I had heard her mother, years before, describe the Scottish poet. I happened to be in London with Hawthorne during his consular residence in England, and was always greatly delighted at the rustle of admiration his personal appearance excited when he entered a room. His bearing was modestly grand, and his voice touched the ear like a melody.
Here is a golden curl which adorned the head of Nathaniel Hawthorne when he lay a little child in his cradle. It was given to me many years ago by one near and dear to him. I have two other similar "blossoms," which I keep pressed in the same book of remembrance. One is from the head of John Keats, and was given to me by Charles Cowden Clarke, and the other graced the head of Mary Mitford, and was sent to me after her death by her friendly physician, who watched over her last hours. Leigh Hunt says with a fine poetic emphasis,
"There seems a love in hair, though it be dead. It is the gentlest, yet the strongest thread Of our frail plant,—a blossom from the tree Surviving the proud trunk;—as though it said, Patience and Gentleness is Power. In me Behold affectionate eternity."
There is a charming old lady, now living two doors from me, who dwelt in Salem when Hawthorne was born, and, being his mother's neighbor at that time (Mrs. Hawthorne then lived in Union Street), there came a message to her intimating that the baby could be seen by calling. So my friend tells me she went in, and saw the little winking thing in its mother's arms. She is very clear as to the beauty of the infant, even when only a week old, and remembers that "he was a pleasant child, quite handsome, with golden curls." She also tells me that Hawthorne's mother was a beautiful woman, with remarkable eyes, full of sensibility and expression, and that she was a person of singular purity of mind. Hawthorne's father, whom my friend knew well, she describes as a warm-hearted and kindly man, very fond of children. He was somewhat inclined to melancholy, and of a reticent disposition. He was a great reader, employing all his leisure time at sea over books.
Hawthorne's father died when Nathaniel was four years old, and from that time his uncle Robert Manning took charge of his education, sending him to the best schools and afterwards to college. When the lad was about nine years old, while playing bat and ball at school, he lamed his foot so badly that he used two crutches for more than a year. His foot ceased to grow like the other, and the doctors of the town were called in to examine the little lame boy. He was not perfectly restored till he was twelve years old. His kind-hearted schoolmaster, Joseph Worcester, the author of the Dictionary, came every day to the house to hear the boy's lessons, so that he did not fall behind in his studies. [There is a tradition in the Manning family that Mr. Worcester was very much interested in Maria Manning (a sister of Mrs. Hawthorne), who died in 1814, and that this was one reason of his attention to Nathaniel.] The boy used to lie flat upon the carpet, and read and study the long days through. Some time after he had recovered from this lameness he had an illness causing him to lose the use of his limbs, and he was obliged to seek again the aid of his old crutches, which were then pieced out at the ends to make them longer. While a little child, and as soon almost as he began to read, the authors he most delighted in were Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, and Thomson. The "Castle of Indolence" was an especial favorite with him during boyhood. The first book he bought with his own money was a copy of Spenser's "Faery Queen."
One who watched him during his childhood tells me, that "when he was six years old his favorite book was Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress': and that whenever he went to visit his Grandmother Hawthorne, he used to take the old family copy to a large chair in a corner of the room near a window, and read it by the hour, without once speaking. No one ever thought of asking how much of it he understood. I think it one of the happiest circumstances of his training, that nothing was ever explained to him, and that there was no professedly intellectual person in the family to usurp the place of Providence and supplement its shortcomings, in order to make him what he was never intended to be. His mind developed itself; intentional cultivation might have spoiled it.... He used to invent long stories, wild and fanciful, and tell where he was going when he grew up, and of the wonderful adventures he was to meet with, always ending with, 'And I'm never coming back again,' in quite a solemn tone, that enjoined upon us the advice to value him the more while he stayed with us."
When he could scarcely speak plain, it is recalled by members of the family that the little fellow would go about the house, repeating with vehement emphasis and gestures certain stagy lines from Shakespeare's Richard III., which he had overheard from older persons about him. One line, in particular, made a great impression upon him, and he would start up on the most unexpected occasions and fire off in his loudest tone,
"Stand back, my Lord, and let the coffin pass."
On the 21st of August, 1820, No. 1 of "The Spectator, edited by N. Hathorne," neatly written in printed letters by the editor's own hand, appeared. A prospectus was issued the week before, setting forth that the paper would be published on Wednesdays, "price 12 cents per annum, payment to be made at the end of the year." Among the advertisements is the following:—
"Nathaniel Hathorne proposes to publish by subscription a NEW EDITION of the MISERIES OF AUTHORS, to which will be added a SEQUEL, containing FACTS and REMARKS drawn from his own experience."
Six numbers only were published. The following subjects were discussed by young "Hathorne" in the Spectator,—"On Solitude," "The End of the Year," "On Industry," "On Benevolence," "On Autumn," "On Wealth," "On Hope," "On Courage." The poetry on the last page of each number was evidently written by the editor, except in one instance, when an Address to the Sun is signed by one of his sisters. In one of the numbers he apologizes that no deaths of any importance have taken place in the town. Under the head of Births, he gives the following news, "The lady of Dr. Winthrop Brown, a son and heir. Mrs. Hathorne's cat, seven kittens. We hear that both of the above ladies are in a state of convalescence." One of the literary advertisements reads:—
"Blank Books made and for sale by N. Hathorne."
While Hawthorne was yet a little fellow the family moved to Raymond in the State of Maine; here his out-of-door life did him great service, for he grew tall and strong, and became a good shot and an excellent fisherman. Here also his imagination was first stimulated, the wild scenery and the primitive manners of the people contributing greatly to awaken his thought. At seventeen he entered Bowdoin College, and after his graduation returned again to live in Salem. During his youth he had an impression that he would die before the age of twenty-five; but the Mannings, his ever-watchful and kind relations, did everything possible for the care of his health, and he was tided safely over the period when he was most delicate. Professor Packard told me that when Hawthorne was a student at Bowdoin in his freshman year, his Latin compositions showed such facility that they attracted the special attention of those who examined them. The Professor also remembers that Hawthorne's English compositions elicited from Professor Newman (author of the work on Rhetoric) high commendations.
When a youth Hawthorne made a journey into New Hampshire with his uncle, Samuel Manning. They travelled in a two-wheeled chaise, and met with many adventures which the young man chronicled in his home letters, Some of the touches in these epistles were very characteristic and amusing, and showed in those early years his quick observation and descriptive power. The travellers "put up" at Farmington, in order to rest over Sunday. Hawthorne writes to a member of the family in Salem: "As we were wearied with rapid travelling, we found it impossible to attend divine service, which was, of course, very grievous to us both. In the evening, however, I went to a Bible class, with a very polite and agreeable gentleman, whom I afterwards discovered to be a strolling tailor, of very questionable habits."
When the travellers arrived in the Shaker village of Canterbury, Hawthorne at once made the acquaintance of the Community there, and the account which he sent home was to the effect that the brothers and sisters led a good and comfortable life, and he wrote: "If it were not for the ridiculous ceremonies, a man might do a worse thing than to join them." Indeed, he spoke to them about becoming a member of the Society, and was evidently much impressed with the thrift and peace of the establishment.
This visit in early life to the Shakers is interesting as suggesting to Hawthorne his beautiful story of "The Canterbury Pilgrims," which is in his volume of "The Snow-Image, and other Twice-Told Tales."
A lady of my acquaintance (the identical "Little Annie" of the "Ramble" in "Twice-Told Tales") recalls the young man "when he returned home after his collegiate studies." "He was even then," she says, "a most noticeable person, never going into society, and deeply engaged in reading everything he could lay his hands on. It was said in those days that he had read every book in the Athenaeum Library in Salem." This lady remembers that when she was a child, and before Hawthorne had printed any of his stories, she used to sit on his knee and lean her head on his shoulder, while by the hour he would fascinate her with delightful legends, much more wonderful and beautiful than any she has ever read since in printed books.
The traits of the Hawthorne character were stern probity and truthfulness. Hawthorne's mother had many characteristics in common with her distinguished son, she also being a reserved and thoughtful person. Those who knew the family describe the son's affection for her as of the deepest and tenderest nature, and they remember that when she died his grief was almost insupportable. The anguish he suffered from her loss is distinctly recalled by many persons still living, who visited the family at that time in Salem.
I first saw Hawthorne when he was about thirty-five years old. He had then published a collection of his sketches, the now famous "Twice-Told Tales." Longfellow, ever alert for what is excellent, and eager to do a brother author opportune and substantial service, at once came before the public with a generous estimate of the work in the North American Review; but the choice little volume, the most promising addition to American literature that had appeared for many years, made little impression on the public mind. Discerning readers, however, recognized the supreme beauty in this new writer, and they never afterwards lost sight of him.
In 1828 Hawthorne published a short anonymous romance called Fanshawe. I once asked him about this disowned publication, and he spoke of it with great disgust, and afterwards he thus referred to the subject in a letter written to me in 1851: "You make an inquiry about some supposed former publication of mine. I cannot be sworn to make correct answers as to all the literary or other follies of my nonage; and I earnestly recommend you not to brush away the dust that may have gathered over them. Whatever might do me credit you may be pretty sure I should be ready enough to bring forward. Anything else it is our mutual interest to conceal; and so far from assisting your researches in that direction, I especially enjoin it on you, my dear friend, not to read any unacknowledged page that you may suppose to be mine."
When Mr. George Bancroft, then Collector of the Port of Boston, appointed Hawthorne weigher and gauger in the custom-house, he did a wise thing, for no public officer ever performed his disagreeable duties better than our romancer. Here is a tattered little official document signed by Hawthorne when he was watching over the interests of the country: it certifies his attendance at the unlading of a brig, then lying at Long Wharf in Boston. I keep this precious relic side by side with one of a similar custom-house character, signed Robert Burns.
I came to know Hawthorne very intimately after the Whigs displaced the Democratic romancer from office. In my ardent desire to have him retained in the public service, his salary at that time being his sole dependence,—not foreseeing that his withdrawal from that sort of employment would be the best thing for American letters that could possibly happen,—I called, in his behalf, on several influential politicians of the day, and well remember the rebuffs I received in my enthusiasm for the author of the "Twice-Told Tales." One pompous little gentleman in authority, after hearing my appeal, quite astounded me by his ignorance of the claims of a literary man on his country. "Yes, yes," he sarcastically croaked down his public turtle-fed throat, "I see through it all, I see through it; this Hawthorne is one of them 'ere visionists, and we don't want no such a man as him round." So the "visionist" was not allowed to remain in office, and the country was better served by him in another way. In the winter of 1849, after he had been ejected from the custom-house, I went down to Salem to see him and inquire after his health, for we heard he had been suffering from illness. He was then living in a modest wooden house in Mall Street, if I remember rightly the location. I found him alone in a chamber over the sitting-room of the dwelling; and as the day was cold, he was hovering near a stove. We fell into talk about his future prospects, and he was, as I feared I should find him, in a very desponding mood. "Now," said I, "is the time for you to publish, for I know during these years in Salem you must have got something ready for the press." "Nonsense," said he; "what heart had I to write anything, when my publishers (M. and Company) have been so many years trying to sell a small edition of the 'Twice-Told Tales'?" I still pressed upon him the good chances he would have now with something new. "Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?" "I would," said I, "and would start with an edition of two thousand copies of anything you write." "What madness!" he exclaimed; "your friendship for me gets the better of your judgment. No, no," he continued; "I have no money to indemnify a publisher's losses on my account." I looked at my watch and found that the train would soon be starting for Boston, and I knew there was not much time to lose in trying to discover what had been his literary work during these last few years in Salem. I remember that I pressed him to reveal to me what he had been writing. He shook his head and gave me to understand he had produced nothing. At that moment I caught sight of a bureau or set of drawers near where we were sitting; and immediately it occurred to me that hidden away somewhere in that article of furniture was a story or stories by the author of the "Twice-Told Tales," and I became so positive of it that I charged him vehemently with the fact. He seemed surprised, I thought, but shook his head again; and I rose to take my leave, begging him not to come into the cold entry, saying I would come back and see him again in a few days. I was hurrying down the stairs when he called after me from the chamber, asking me to stop a moment. Then quickly stepping into the entry with a roll of manuscript in his hands, he said: "How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there? As you have found me out, take what I have written, and tell me, after you get home and have time to read it, if it is good for anything. It is either very good or very bad,—I don't know which." On my way up to Boston I read the germ of "The Scarlet Letter"; before I slept that night I wrote him a note all aglow with admiration of the marvellous story he had put into my hands, and told him that I would come again to Salem the next day and arrange for its publication. I went on in such an amazing state of excitement when we met again in the little house, that he would not believe I was really in earnest. He seemed to think I was beside myself, and laughed sadly at my enthusiasm. However, we soon arranged for his appearance again before the public with a book.
This quarto volume before me contains numerous letters, written by him from 1850 down to the month of his death. The first one refers to "The Scarlet Letter," and is dated in January, 1850. At my suggestion he had altered the plan of that story. It was his intention to make "The Scarlet Letter" one of several short stories, all to be included in one volume, and to be called
OLD-TIME LEGENDS: Together With Sketches, EXPERIMENTAL AND IDEAL.
His first design was to make "The Scarlet Letter" occupy about two hundred pages in his new book; but I persuaded him, after reading the first chapters of the story, to elaborate it, and publish it as a separate work. After it was settled that "The Scarlet Letter" should be enlarged and printed by itself in a volume he wrote to me:—
"I am truly glad that you like the Introduction, for I was rather afraid that it might appear absurd and impertinent to be talking about myself, when nobody, that I know of, has requested any information on that subject.
"As regards the size of the book, I have been thinking a good deal about it. Considered merely as a matter of taste and beauty, the form of publication which you recommend seems to me much preferable to that of the 'Mosses.'
"In the present case, however, I have some doubts of the expediency, because, if the book is made up entirely of 'The Scarlet Letter,' it will be too sombre. I found it impossible to relieve the shadows of the story with so much light as I would gladly have thrown in. Keeping so close to its point as the tale does, and no otherwise than by turning different sides of the same to the reader's eye, it will weary very many people and disgust some. Is it safe, then, to stake the fate of the book entirely on this one chance? A hunter loads his gun with a bullet and several buckshot; and, following his sagacious example, it was my purpose to conjoin the one long story with half a dozen shorter ones, so that, failing to kill the public outright with my biggest and heaviest lump of lead, I might have other chances with the smaller bits, individually and in the aggregate. However, I am willing to leave these considerations to your judgment, and should not be sorry to have you decide for the separate publication.
"In this latter event it appears to me that the only proper title for the book would be 'The Scarlet Letter,' for 'The Custom-House' is merely introductory,—an entrance-hall to the magnificent edifice which I throw open to my guests. It would be funny if, seeing the further passages so dark and dismal, they should all choose to stop there! If 'The Scarlet Letter' is to be the title, would it not be well to print it on the title-page in red ink? I am not quite sure about the good taste of so doing, but it would certainly be piquant and appropriate, and, I think, attractive to the great gull whom we are endeavoring to circumvent."
One beautiful summer day, twenty years ago, I found Hawthorne in his little red cottage at Lenox, surrounded by his happy young family. He had the look, as somebody said, of a banished lord, and his grand figure among the hills of Berkshire seemed finer than ever. His boy and girl were swinging on the gate as we drove up to his door, and with their sunny curls formed an attractive feature in the landscape. As the afternoon was cool and delightful, we proposed a drive over to Pittsfield to see Holmes, who was then living on his ancestral farm. Hawthorne was in a cheerful condition, and seemed to enjoy the beauty of the day to the utmost. Next morning we were all invited by Mr. Dudley Field, then living at Stockbridge, to ascend Monument Mountain. Holmes, Hawthorne, Duyckinck, Herman Melville, Headley, Sedgwick, Matthews, and several ladies, were of the party. We scrambled to the top with great spirit, and when we arrived, Melville, I remember, bestrode a peaked rock, which ran out like a bowsprit, and pulled and hauled imaginary ropes for our delectation. Then we all assembled in a shady spot, and one of the party read to us Bryant's beautiful poem commemorating Monument Mountain. Then we lunched among the rocks, and somebody proposed Bryant's health, and "long life to the dear old poet." This was the most popular toast of the day, and it took, I remember, a considerable quantity of Heidsieck to do it justice. In the afternoon, pioneered by Headley, we made our way, with merry shouts and laughter, through the Ice-Glen. Hawthorne was among the most enterprising of the merry-makers; and being in the dark much of the time, he ventured to call out lustily and pretend that certain destruction was inevitable to all of us. After this extemporaneous jollity, we dined together at Mr. Dudley Field's in Stockbridge, and Hawthorne rayed out in a sparkling and unwonted manner. I remember the conversation at table chiefly ran on the physical differences between the present American and English men, Hawthorne stoutly taking part in favor of the American. This 5th of August was a happy day throughout, and I never saw Hawthorne in better spirits.
Often and often I have seen him sitting in the chair I am now occupying by the window, looking out into the twilight. He liked to watch the vessels dropping down the stream, and nothing pleased him more than to go on board a newly arrived bark from Down East, as she was just moored at the wharf. One night we made the acquaintance of a cabin-boy on board a brig, whom we found off duty and reading a large subscription volume, which proved, on inquiry, to be a Commentary on the Bible. When Hawthorne questioned him why he was reading, then and there, that particular book, he replied with a knowing wink at both of us, "There's consider'ble her'sy in our place, and I'm a studying up for 'em." He liked on Sunday to mouse about among the books, and there are few volumes in this room that he has not handled or read. He knew he could have unmolested habitation here, whenever he chose to come, and he was never allowed to be annoyed by intrusion of any kind. He always slept in the same room,—the one looking on the water; and many a night I have heard his solemn footsteps over my head, long after the rest of the house had gone to sleep. Like many other nervous men of genius, he was a light sleeper, and he liked to be up and about early; but it was only for a ramble among the books again. One summer morning I found him as early as four o'clock reading a favorite poem, on Solitude, a piece he very much admired. That morning I shall not soon forget, for he was in the vein for autobiographical talk, and he gave me a most interesting account of his father, the sea-captain, who died of the yellow-fever in Surinam in 1808, and of his beautiful mother, who dwelt a secluded mourner ever after the death of her husband. Then he told stories of his college life, and of his one sole intimate, Franklin Pierce, whom he loved devotedly his life long.
In the early period of our acquaintance he much affected the old Boston Exchange Coffee-House in Devonshire Street, and once I remember to have found him shut up there before a blazing coal-fire, in the "tumultuous privacy" of a great snow-storm, reading with apparent interest an obsolete copy of the "Old Farmer's Almanac," which he had picked up about the house. He also delighted in the Old Province House, at that time an inn, kept by one Thomas Waite, whom he has immortalized. After he was chosen a member of the Saturday Club he came frequently to dinner with Felton, Longfellow, Holmes, and the rest of his friends, who assembled once a month to dine together. At the table, on these occasions, he was rather reticent than conversational, but when he chose to talk it was observed that the best things said that day came from him.
As I turn over his letters, the old days, delightful to recall, come back again with added interest.
"I sha'n't have the new story," he says in one of them, dated from Lenox on the 1st of October, 1850, "ready by November, for I am never good for anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage here about me,—multiplying and brightening its hues; though they are likely to be sober and shabby enough after all.
"I am beginning to puzzle myself about a title for the book. The scene of it is in one of those old projecting-stoned houses, familiar to my eye in Salem; and the story, horrible to say, is a little less than two hundred years long; though all but thirty or forty pages of it refer to the present time. I think of such titles as 'The House of the Seven Gables,' there being that number of gable-ends to the old shanty; or 'The Seven-Gabled House'; or simply 'The Seven Gables.' Tell me how these strike you. It appears to me that the latter is rather the best, and has the great advantage that it would puzzle the Devil to tell what it means."
A month afterwards he writes further with regard to "The House of the Seven Gables," concerning the title to which he was still in a quandary:—
"'The Old Pyncheon House: A Romance'; 'The Old Pyncheon Family; or the House of the Seven Gables: A Romance';—choose between them. I have rather a distaste to a double title? otherwise, I think I should prefer the second. Is it any matter under which title it is announced? If a better should occur hereafter, we can substitute. Of these two, on the whole, I judge the first to be the better.
"I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I had hoped. I find the book requires more care and thought than 'The Scarlet Letter'; also I have to wait oftener for a mood. 'The Scarlet Letter' being all in one tone, I had only to get my pitch, and could then go on interminably. Many passages of this book ought to be finished with the minuteness of a Dutch picture, in order to give them their proper effect. Sometimes, when tired of it, it strikes me that the whole is an absurdity, from beginning to end; but the fact is, in writing a romance, a man is always, or always ought to be, careering on the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over. My prevailing idea is, that the book ought to succeed better than 'The Scarlet Letter,' though I have no idea that it will."
On the 9th of December he was still at work on the new romance, and writes:—
"My desire and prayer is to get through with the business in hand. I have been in a Slough of Despond for some days past, having written so fiercely that I came to a stand-still. There are points where a writer gets bewildered and cannot form any judgment of what he has done, or tell what to do next. In these cases it is best to keep quiet."
On the 12th of January, 1851, he is still busy over his new book, and writes: "My 'House of the Seven Gables' is, so to speak, finished; only I am hammering away a little on the roof, and doing up a few odd jobs, that were left incomplete." At the end of the month the manuscript of his second great romance was put into the hands of the expressman at Lenox, by Hawthorne himself, to be delivered to me. On the 27th he writes:—
"If you do not soon receive it, you may conclude that it has miscarried; in which case, I shall not consent to the universe existing a moment longer. I have no copy of it, except the wildest scribble of a first draught, so that it could never be restored.
"It has met with extraordinary success from that portion of the public to whose judgment it has been submitted, viz. from my wife. I likewise prefer it to 'The Scarlet Letter'; but an author's opinion of his book just after completing it is worth little or nothing, he being then in the hot or cold fit of a fever, and certain to rate it too high or too low.
"It has undoubtedly one disadvantage in being brought so close to the present time; whereby its romantic improbabilities become more glaring.
"I deem it indispensable that the proof-sheets should be sent me for correction. It will cause some delay, no doubt, but probably not much more than if I lived in Salem. At all events, I don't see how it can be helped. My autography is sometimes villanously blind; and it is odd enough that whenever the printers do mistake a word, it is just the very jewel of a word, worth all the rest of the dictionary."
I well remember with what anxiety I awaited the arrival of the expressman with the precious parcel, and with what keen delight I read every word of the new story before I slept. Here is the original manuscript, just as it came that day, twenty years ago, fresh from the author's hand. The printers carefully preserved it for me; and Hawthorne once made a formal presentation of it, with great mock solemnity, in this very room where I am now sitting.
After the book came out he wrote:—
"I have by no means an inconvenient multitude of friends; but if they ever do appear a little too numerous, it is when I am making a list of those to whom presentation copies are to be sent. Please send one to General Pierce, Horatio Bridge, R.W. Emerson, W.E. Channing, Longfellow, Hillard, Sumner, Holmes, Lowell, and Thompson the artist. You will yourself give one to Whipple, whereby I shall make a saving. I presume you won't put the portrait into the book. It appears to me an improper accompaniment to a new work. Nevertheless, if it be ready, I should be glad to have each of these presentation copies accompanied by a copy of the engraving put loosely between the leaves. Good by. I must now trudge two miles to the village, through rain and mud knee-deep, after that accursed proof-sheet. The book reads very well in proofs, but I don't believe it will take like the former one. The preliminary chapter was what gave 'The Scarlet Letter' its vogue."
The engraving he refers to in this letter was made from a portrait by Mr. C.G. Thompson, and at that time, 1851, was an admirable likeness. On the 6th of March he writes:—
"The package, with my five heads, arrived yesterday afternoon, and we are truly obliged to you for putting so many at our disposal. They are admirably done. The children recognized their venerable sire with great delight. My wife complains somewhat of a want of cheerfulness in the face; and, to say the truth, it does appear to be with a bedevilled melancholy; but it will do all the better for the author of 'The Scarlet Letter.' In the expression there is a singular resemblance (which I do not remember in Thompson's picture) to a miniature of my father."