All of which sounds not unlike what Carlyle himself might have said in those days; and yet what personal revelations he made to the world before his death!
The news that Lord Tennyson is writing his autobiography may be sent by cable almost any day now, and the world will not receive it with any great surprise, but with very great interest and pleasure. This dislike of being lionized and overrun by celebrity hunters is probably one great reason why the poet prefers the solitude of the country to a residence in London. His servants and family guard him very securely from unwelcome visitors in his country home. The injunctions against disturbing him while at his work are so strong, that one day during the life of Prince Albert that distinguished attache of royalty was refused admittance at the door. The poet formed a friendship with the Prince, however, later in life, and is now an occasional visitor to the Queen at Windsor. He is also a favorite with the Princess of Wales and other members of the royal family. But even such august friends as these do not draw him often from his solitude. Mr. Gladstone begs him in vain for a visit, and his invitations to the houses of the great lords are of course many and importunate; but of late he refuses them all. He says he will never again voluntarily pass a week in London, and he is not more fond of visits to country houses than to the city. Nor can we wonder much at this. He has never been a society man, and now that he is old, and growing somewhat feeble, the effort to conform to the demands of a conventional life is harder than ever. He tried taking a house in London and spending the season there, not many years ago, but wearied of it very quickly, and gave up the idea forever. While in London at that time he always appeared in public in the picturesque wide-awake hat of the Italian bandit, and always, even in warm weather, wore a cloak. The costume is very becoming, and the poet can afford to indulge his individual tastes in the matter of dress; so everybody said how poetical he looked, and, on the whole, his eccentricity was a success. He has always had a great contempt for the conventionalities of dress, and many laughable anecdotes have been told concerning his appearance at the Isle of Wight. When young he was really handsome, though he always wore his hair long, and looked as if he would be the better for a barber; but now he is very gray and wizened, stoops badly, and shows that he has smoked, as Carlyle said, infinite tobacco. Tennyson has always exercised a judicious hospitality, but never overburdened himself with company. His favorite time for guests is from Saturday until Monday, and those who are so fortunate as to be invited enjoy very greatly the distinction. Among his favorite guests is Henry Irving. A few years before his death Garibaldi paid the poet a visit, which was much enjoyed by both. Years ago, when the poet was more in London than now, a little knot of literary friends had a standing engagement to dine together once a month, and the parties were almost the ideal of unconventional friendliness. Among the number were Carlyle, Cunningham, Mill, Thackeray, Forster, Stirling, Landor, and Macready. Here the conversation was of the best, Carlyle always coming out strong, and all the rest content to listen. However, Carlyle, unlike many great conversers, never monopolized the conversation. It was always dialogue and not monologue with Carlyle in any mixed company, though he would discourse at length to one or two visitors. Tennyson, like many men of letters, loves to talk about his own work, and is very fond of reading his poems to his friends. This is, of course, very delightful to those friends, if the reading be not too prolonged, although he is said to chant them in rather a disagreeable manner. He is a great egotist, and does not like to listen to other people when they talk about themselves. We are told that Charles Sumner once paid him a visit, and bored him very much by a long talk upon American affairs in which Tennyson took no interest. When Sumner finally made a sufficient pause, Tennyson changed the subject by inquiring if his visitor had ever read "The Princess." Sumner replied that it was one of his favorite poems, whereupon Tennyson handed him the book and asked him to read. Sumner began, but was soon stopped by Tennyson, who wished to show him how a passage should be read. He went on reading aloud in his high nasal voice, until Sumner grew very weary, but did not dare to move for fear of being thought unappreciative. On and on read the poet, page after page, never making a moment's pause or giving Sumner any chance to escape, until he had read the whole poem. It is said that Sumner never dared pay him another visit. Being a decided egotist himself, it was painfully hard for the distinguished American to subordinate himself for so long a time, and his friends amused themselves very much at the idea.
Tennyson undoubtedly has a high opinion of his work; but he does not go quite to the length of Wordsworth in such self-admiration, as Wordsworth would read no poetry but his own, while Tennyson is a generous admirer of the work of fellow-poets.
Tennyson's married life has been one of the happiest on record. He addresses his wife in these lines:—
"Dear, near, and true—no truer Time himself Can prove you, though he make you evermore Dearer and nearer."
One cannot think, when he witnesses the devotion of the poet to his wife, that he ever regrets the "Amy shallow-hearted," the "Amy mine no more," of his youth; and the reader certainly cannot regret her, if it is really to her that we owe "Locksley Hall." Mrs. Tennyson has been something of an invalid, and the poet and his sons, Hallam and Lionel, may often be seen wheeling her on the lawn at Farringford. Of the house at Farringford Miss Thackeray, who is an old friend of the family, as was her father before her, tells us:—
"The house itself seemed like a charmed palace, with green walls without and speaking walls within. There hung Dante with his solemn nose and wreath; Italy gleamed over the doorways; friends' faces lined the way; books filled the shelves, and a glow of crimson was everywhere; the great oriel window in the drawing-room was full of green and golden leaves, of the sound of birds, and of the distant sea."
"I first knew the place in the autumn, but perhaps it is even more beautiful in spring-time, when all day the lark trills high overhead, and then when the lark has flown out of our hearing the thrushes begin, and the air is sweet with scents from the many fragrant shrubs. The woods are full of anemones and primroses; narcissus grows wild in the lower fields; a lovely creamy stream of flowers flows along the lanes, and lies hidden in the levels; hyacinth-pools of blue shine in the woods; and then with a later burst of glory comes the gorse, lighting up the country round about, and blazing round about the beacon hill. The beacon hill stands behind Farringford. If you follow the little wood of nightingales and thrushes, and follow the lane where the blackthorn hedges shine in spring-time (lovely dials that illuminate to show the hour), you come to the downs, and climbing their smooth steps you reach 'Mr. Tennyson's Down,' where the beacon-staff stands firm upon the mound. Then following the line of the coast you come at last to the Needles, and may look down upon the ridge of rocks that rises crisp, sharp, shining, out of the blue wash of fierce delirious waters."
Since Tennyson's elevation to the peerage there has been an infinite amount of squibbing at his expense, and some very good parodies upon his poems have been circulated. The "Pall Mall Gazette" parodies "Lady Clara Vere de Vere" thus:—
"Baron Alfred Vere de Vere, Of me you win no new renown: You thought to daze the country-folk And cockneys when you came to town. See Wordsworth, Shelley, Cowper, Burns, Withdraw in scorn, and sit retired; The last of some six hundred earls Is not a place to be desired.
"Baron Alfred Vere de Vere, We thought you proud to bear your name; Your pride is yet no mate for ours, Too proud to think a title fame. We had the genius—not the lord; We love the poet's truer charms, A simple singer with his dreams Is worth a hundred coats-of-arms."
And so on to the close:—
"Alfred, Alfred Vere de Vere, If time be heavy on your hands, Are there no toilers in our streets, Nor any poor in all these lands? Oh, teach the weak to strive and hope; Oh, teach the great to help the low; Pray Heaven for a noble heart, And let the foolish title go."
There was undoubtedly much disappointment that Tennyson did not refuse the title bestowed upon him, as he had previously declined to be knighted, and was looked upon as something of a liberal. He probably was this when young, judging by some things in his writings; but he is now looked upon as a tory of the tories.
Tennyson has probably received higher prices for his poems than any other poet. When he was paid ten pounds a line for "Sea Dreams," it was considered a fabulous price; but he has received much more than that since.
During his long literary life—for he has been writing over fifty years—he has of course written a great deal; yet he is very slow and laborious in composition, and spends much time in rewriting and polishing. The garden song in "Maud" was rewritten fifty times, and almost as great labor has been given to other famous bits of writing. He was seventeen years in writing "In Memoriam," and he brought it almost to perfection of finish; but he has spent laborious years upon poems which are comparative failures. After the inspiration has waned, or if the inspiration is wanting in the first place, the pains taken in revision go for little in the making of a poem which will live. Given the inspiration, and the labor usually, though not always, adds to its chances for immortality. Tennyson, with all his fastidious delicacy in writing, is a robust, manly man,—strong, healthy, active, fond of out-of-door life, and not greatly given to study. He spends whole days in the open air, and has all an Englishman's fondness for walking. He is martial in spirit, too, and rejoices in the heroic deeds of his countrymen. He can write a spirited war song, as he proved a few years ago when he thrilled all England with the lyric:—
"Form, form, riflemen, form; Ready, be ready to meet the storm."
On the whole, Tennyson must be said to have had a very prosperous and well-ordered life. He has enjoyed more of the blessings of this world than almost any one of his famous contemporaries; and his name is likely to live after that of most of the others shall have passed away. He has had the appreciation and the applause of all of the great men of his time, and the friendship of such as he desired; and his old age is full of honor, and ministered unto by loving and faithful hands. May it still be long before an admiring world shall read at the end of his life's story the words, "IN MEMORIAM, ALFRED TENNYSON."
"Come to Concord," wrote Ellery Channing to Hawthorne once upon a time; "Emerson is away, and nobody here to bore you;"—which sentence contains a gentle hint to the posterity of the two most distinguished men of letters America has produced that even the mystic and the seer sometimes palled upon the appetites of his personal friends. If any man could be supposed to be a hero to his valet, that man was surely Emerson; but his gifted neighbor seems not to have had any strong relish for his society. Neither did Hawthorne really enjoy Thoreau, who would seem to have been a sufficiently original person to have interested him, merely as a study of character. But it does not appear that Hawthorne was ever particularly fond of the society of men of letters, even though they were also men of genius. He refused to go to the Saturday Club of Authors, but would play cards with sea-captains in the smoking-room of his boarding-house in Liverpool, evening after evening. Indeed, he liked the piquant flavor of what is commonly called low society, when he required any society outside his home, better than that which would have seemed more adapted to his taste. We mean simply by this the society of back-woodsmen, sailors, laborers, and old hard-headed farmers of New England stock, with their strong provincial dialect.
Mr. Emerson himself liked the raciness of the conversation of such men, and, indeed, we think almost all men of genius have something of the same taste. When we read what Mrs. Hawthorne says of the manner of conversation between her husband and Emerson, it can scarcely be considered remarkable that Hawthorne should not have cared to confine himself to the society of the sage. She says, speaking of Hawthorne:—
"Mr. Emerson delights in him; he talks to him all the time, and Mr. Hawthorne looks answers. He seems to fascinate Emerson. Whenever he comes to see him he takes him away, so that no one may interrupt him in his close and dead-set attack upon his ear."
There is a one-sidedness to a conversation of this nature which might well weary a person in the body; and only a disembodied spirit, it may be surmised, could thoroughly enjoy it. A fine thing to do would be to put two of those great conversationalists against each other, as was sometimes done with Sydney Smith and Macaulay. It is said that the two would sit glaring at each other and maintain perfect silence; whereas either one of them apart from the other would discourse for three hours without taking breath. Imagine the horrible agony of those among the auditors who were not interested in the subject of the oration!—and there must always have been some among the number so situated.
One remembers how Shelley got rid of the old woman down in Conway, and wonders why the ruse was never tried upon Macaulay by some of his victims. Shelley, it is said, was once riding in a stage in that region, and the only passenger beside himself was an old woman with two huge baskets filled with onions and cabbage respectively. She was huge herself and much incumbered with fat, and the day was excessively warm. Shelley was one of those delicate mortals who have been known to "die of a rose in aromatic pains," and after a while the presence of the old woman nearly drove him to distraction. He pretended that it had quite done so, and suddenly throwing himself into the bottom of the stage he glared at the old woman and shouted:—
"For God's sake let us sit upon the ground, And tell sad stories of the death of kings: How some have been deposed, some slain in war, Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed, Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,— ALL MURDERED."
Before the last two words—which he rendered with more than an actor's effect—were fairly out of his mouth, the old woman by her shrieks had summoned the guard, and was released from the company of the madman. Shelley was often induced by his friends to show them how he got rid of the old woman, and the exhibition always called for uproarious applause. There is a hint in it for any well-bred company who may be bored to the point of extinction by a distinguished member. The only wonder is that in some cases the sudden madness is not real rather than assumed.
Hawthorne was eminently capable of being bored to this point of desperation, and his mother and elder sister saved themselves from any danger of this kind by voluntarily living the lives of recluses. Julian Hawthorne tells us:—
"His mother, a woman of fine gifts but extreme sensibility lost her husband in her twenty-eighth year; and from an exaggerated, almost Hindoo-like, construction of the law of seclusion which the public taste of that day imposed upon widows, she withdrew entirely from society and permitted the habit of solitude to grow upon her to such a degree that she actually remained a strict hermit to the end of her long life, or for more than forty years after Captain Hawthorne's death. Such behavior on the mother's part could not fail to have its effect upon the children. They had no opportunity to know what social intercourse meant; their peculiarities and eccentricities were at least negatively encouraged; they grew to regard themselves as something apart from the general world. It is saying much for the sanity and healthfulness of the minds of these three children, that their loneliness distorted their judgment—their perception of the relation of things—as little as it did."
The sister is described as having in many respects an intellect as commanding and penetrating as that of her brother, and yet she followed in the way of her mother and passed her life in almost complete seclusion, caring for nothing but the reading of books and the taking of long walks, sleeping always until noon, and sitting up until two or three o'clock in the morning in perfect solitude. She boarded for many years after her mother's death at a farm-house on the seashore, and could not be induced to come out, even to attend the funeral of her brother at Concord, although he was her pride and idol throughout life.
Had Hawthorne himself been less fortunate in his marriage, there is little doubt that his own peculiarities would have become exaggerated, perhaps even to the extent of those of his sister. But he married a woman who both understood and appreciated him, and whom he idolized. From this union grew all the happiness and success of his life. His son says:—
"To attempt to explain and describe his career without taking this event into consideration would be like trying to imagine a sun without heat or a day without a sun. Nothing seems less likely than that he should have accomplished his work in literature independently of her sympathy and companionship. Not that she afforded him any direct and literal assistance in the composition of his books and stories: her gifts were wholly unsuited to such employment, and no one apprehended more keenly than she the solitariness and uniqueness of his genius, insomuch that she would have deemed it something not far removed from profanation to have offered to advise or sway him in regard to his literary productions. She believed in his inspiration, and her office was to promote, as far as in her lay, the favorableness of the conditions under which it should manifest itself."
It was to this that she devoted her life,—to comfort, to cheer, to soothe, to inspire, to guard from all outward annoyances, the poetical and sensitive man who believed in her so implicitly and leaned upon her so confidently. They led a very quiet and secluded life during the most of his literary career, and seemed almost to resent any intrusion of the outside world upon them, not only as regarded persons, but even as regarded agitating questions and pressing ideas.
They took very slight interest in the questions which stirred New England life in their day, and held entirely aloof from the reforms which shook the social life around them from centre to foundation-stone. Indeed, he had a deep-seated dislike to the genus Reformer, and presented his picture of the whole race in "Hollingsworth." Perhaps he had known some individual reformer of that odious type, and out of this grew his dislike of the whole species. At any rate, the men—of whom New England was full at that time—who
"Blew the fiery breath of storm Through the hoarse trumpet of Reform"
never received much aid or sympathy from Nathaniel Hawthorne or his wife. Nor will they, apparently, from his son, who says of his father, "He was not a teetotaler any more than he was an abolitionist or a Thug."
But if their sympathies did not go out very widely to the outside world, there was the most perfect sympathy and companionship in the home life, and no more beautiful record of a perfect marriage has ever been made than this life of the Hawthornes presents. Yes, it was a happy life they led, these two in their married isolation, despite poverty and obscurity and a lack of appreciation in the early time, and of trial, from ill-health and other causes, in later years. He lived like Carlyle, a good deal in the shadows of his famous books, and was sometimes for months in the possession of the demon of composition. While composing "The Marble Faun" he thus writes in a letter:
"I sternly shut myself up, and come to close grips with the romance which I am trying to tear from my brain."
He was always discouraged about his work, and needed a deal of cheering regarding it. He says in one place:
"My own individual taste is for an altogether different class of books from what I write. If I were to meet with such books as mine by another writer, I do not believe I should be able to get through with them."
"I will try to write a more genial book, but the Devil himself always gets into my inkstand, and I can only get him out by penfuls."
"Heaven sees fit to visit me with the unshakable conviction that all this series of articles is good for nothing. I don't think that the public will bear with much more of this sort of thing."
His letters are often full of this moody discouragement, though lighted up always by some gleams of his humor. For instance, he writes to Fields:—
"Do make some inquiries about Portugal,—in what part of the world it lies, and whether it is a Kingdom, an Empire, or a Republic. Also the expenses of living there, and whether the Minister would be much pestered with his own countrymen."
And later, when he was in Rome:—
"I bitterly detest this Rome, and shall rejoice to bid it adieu forever; and I fully acquiesce in all the mischief and ruin that has ever happened to it from Nero's conflagration downward. In fact, I wish the very site of it had been obliterated before I ever saw it."
His complaints about his pens are really very amusing to those people—and their name is legion—who have had a like difficulty in pleasing themselves. He writes to Fields:—
"If you want me to write you a good novel, send me a good pen; not a gold one, but one which will not get stiff and rheumatic the moment I get attached to it. I never met with a good pen in my life."
To this last sentiment we think that a great multitude which no man can number will respond Amen. He says of them again:—
"Nobody ever suffered more from pens than I have, and I am glad that my labor with the abominable little tool is drawing to a close."
In private conversation he enlivened his more serious thoughts often with vivid surprises of expression; and he had a mild way of making a severe remark, which reminded Charlotte Cushman of a man she once saw making such a disturbance in the gallery of a theatre that the play could hardly proceed. Cries of "Throw him over!" arose from all parts of the house, and the noise became furious. All was tumultuous chaos until a sweet and gentle female voice was heard in the pit, when all grew silent to hear:—
"No, I pray you, my friends, don't throw him over. I beg that you will not throw him over, but—kill him where he is!"
It was only in the company of intimate personal friends, from whom all restraint was removed, that Hawthorne ever indulged in his natural buoyancy of spirits. Among them he occasionally condescended to uproarious fun. But he was like Dr. Johnson, who, when indulging in a scene of wild hilarity, suddenly exclaimed to his friends, as Beau Brummel approached, "Let us be grave; here comes a fool." If there was the slightest suspicion of there being a fool in the company Hawthorne always wore his armor. The pretentious and transcendental fools he hated worst of all; and the young man who had no taste for the finite, but thought the infinite was the thing for him, always left him with a feeling as of asphyxia.
Hawthorne's atmosphere was really unhealthy for transcendentalists. No doubt his dislike of Margaret Fuller arose from this feeling of his that she was always acting a part, always straining after an effect. He loved simple, natural, unaffected people, and the part of a sibyl was very distasteful to him. He suspected the inspiration of green tea in much that Margaret said, and very ungallantly pronounced her a humbug. But as he did this only upon the paper of his own private diary, with no thought of it ever being paraded before a critical and captious world, we should not blame him too severely. And if he was mistaken in what he wrote concerning her husband and her life in Rome, as seems to be the fact, no doubt he was deceived by gossip-loving friends in Rome concerning the matter. One does not write gratuitous falsehoods upon the pages of one's private notebook about acquaintances, as a general rule. If he had desired to injure Margaret he would have put his supposed facts in a different place, no doubt, and not merely written them in a moment of spleen where he never expected them to be seen.
The publication of such comment as this, and Carlyle's mention of Charles Lamb and others, seems to be due entirely to the total depravity of literary executors. As George Eliot says, it is like uncovering the dead Byron's club-foot, when he had been so sensitive about it through life, as his friend Trelawny boasts that he did. Margaret Fuller was a large-brained, big-hearted woman, but that she and Hawthorne could not thoroughly fraternize is not a strange thing. We see another instance of such lack of appreciation of each other's qualities in Henry James and the Bostonians of the present time. Even the admirers of the Boston type get a little quiet amusement from his delicious satire, although their admiration of the reformers may remain unshaken. That the world has got a little weary of the mutual admiration of the Boston coterie is an open secret. We have had a trifle too much of it from the day of Fields, who apparently invented Hawthorne, and would have put a patent upon him if possible, down to the present era of worship of that real hero, Emerson who, if he survives the laudations of his present army of admirers, may well hope for immortality.
The wife of Hawthorne was so different a person from the noble army of literary and artistic women who are so numerous to-day, but who in his time had just begun to assert themselves, that, believing her to be the perfect flower of womanhood, as he did, he could scarcely be expected to appreciate the Zenobias of that or of the present time.
Mrs. Hawthorne's sister, Elizabeth Peabody, was one of the women of the new era, and has spent her entire life in noble efforts to improve the world into which she was born; and who shall say whether Mrs. Hawthorne or Miss Peabody was the higher type of woman?
If we were obliged to compare Mrs. Hawthorne with the caricatures of the strong-minded woman in which novelists so delight,—those "housekeepers by the wrath of God,"—like Mrs. Jellaby and similar monstrosities, then the answer would not be hard. We could all cry, Mrs. Hawthorne, now and forever! But when we compare her to the strong-minded women like George Eliot, perfect wives, perfect home-makers, perfectly sympathetic and loyal comrades of their husbands, and lacking nothing of womanly softness or tenderness with all their strength, then the answer is not so simple. But doubtless the fact that God created both types may be accepted as evidence that He saw uses for both, and that even the women whom He made "fools to match the men" are not without their purpose in the economy of the universe.
Such thoughts as the following in regard to her husband, written by Mrs. Hawthorne after eight years of marriage, sound not unlike the rhapsodies of George Eliot concerning Mr. Lewes:—
"He has perfect dominion over himself in every respect, so that to do the highest, wisest, loveliest thing is not the least effort to him, any more than it is for a baby to be innocent. It is his spontaneous act, and a baby is not more unconscious of its innocence. I never knew such loftiness so simply borne. I have never known him to stoop from it in the most trivial household matter any more than in the larger or more public ones. If the Hours make out to reach him in his high sphere their wings are very strong. Happy, happiest is the wife who can bear such and so sincere testimony to her husband after eight years' intimate union. Such a person can never lose the prestige which commands and fascinates. I cannot possibly conceive of my happiness, but in a kind of blissful confusion live on. If I can only be so great, so high, so noble, so sweet as he, in any phase of my being, I shall be glad. I am not deluded nor mistaken, as the angels know now, and as all my friends will know in open vision."
We will quote but this one passage from her letters about him, though the Life is filled with similar ones, and will give but one of his love-letters to her, and that not entire. He says:—
"Sometimes during my solitary life in our old Salem house it seemed to me as if I had only life enough to know that I was not alive, for I had no wife then to keep my heart warm. But at length you were revealed to me in the shadow of a seclusion as deep as my own. I drew nearer and nearer to you, and opened my heart to you, and you came to me, and will remain forever, keeping my heart warm, and renewing my life with your own. You only have taught me that I have a heart; you only have thrown a light deep downward and upward into my soul. You only have revealed me to myself, for without your aid my best knowledge of myself would have been merely to know my own shadow—to watch it flickering on the wall, and mistake its fantasies for my own real actions. . . . If the whole world stood between us we must have met; if we had been born in different ages we could not have been sundered!"
What was poverty and obscurity and isolation unto these two souls, so complete in each other that nothing else was desired? How deep a lesson might the young of these later days, who hesitate to take each other unless all things else may be added unto them, learn from this perfect marriage! How much, too, could they learn from the dignity and the refinement and the charm of that early home, where all was so simple, so humble, and yet so rich and satisfying! Would that we had more such homes of royal poverty in these days of vulgar pretence and showy unreality. More homes where there is no shamefacedness over the want of the luxuries of their neighbors, but a simple content with what it is possible to have honorably; where plain living is a religion, and where there is no insatiable longing for the unattainable. The worship of wealth, the feeling that there is no other good than money, is one of the most degrading features of our modern life. It is a falsehood, too. There is everything good in the world, and the most of the things which are best in life can be had with but a little money. No man is poor unless he feels poor. If a family are willing to live their own noble life, pitched in a high key, and with little regard for what their neighbors may say and think, it is still possible to be happy in this goodly world, though the bank account may be small, or there be no bank account in the case. The Ways and Means Committee of which Mrs. Hawthorne was chairman in her day could impart a world of wisdom to the fretful and ambitious wives of a generation of young men now upon the stage of action, who strive so hard to live like the people who have wealth at their command that they spoil the beautiful homes they might enjoy by an unceasing strife to appear to live better than they can afford to do.
When Fortune began to smile upon the Hawthornes, after the immortal "Scarlet Letter" had been written and "The Blithedale Romance" had been added to it, they received her favors with thankful hearts, and knew how to spend wisely and well what came to them. But, as so often happens, it does not appear that they were any happier in their easier circumstances than in their poverty; probably not as happy, for the glamour of youth was gone, and the first zest of being had become dulled. Ill health, too, had come upon him, once so strong and perfect in body; and their home was measurably broken up after they first went abroad. The days at the Old Manse comprised the idyl of their lives.
Here is what Hawthorne himself says of this time:—
"My wife is in the strictest sense my sole companion, and I need no other; there is no vacancy in my mind any more than in my heart. In truth, I have spent so many years in total seclusion from all human society that it is no wonder if now I feel all my desires satisfied by this sole intercourse. But she has come to me from the midst of many friends and acquaintances; yet she lives from day to day in this solitude, seeing nobody but myself and our Molly, while the snow of our avenue is untrodden for weeks by any footstep save mine. Yet she is always cheerful. Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart."
And, again, to her he writes:—
"DEAR LITTLE WIFE,—After finishing my record in the journal, I sat a long time in grandmother's chair thinking of many things; but the thought of thee, the great thought of thee, was among all other thoughts, like the pervading sunshine falling through the boughs and branches of a tree and tinging every separate leaf. And surely thou shouldst not have deserted me without manufacturing a sufficient quantity of sunshine to last till thy return. Art thou not ashamed?"
Concord was never the same to them after their return from Rome. The shadow of the coming separation was already around them. He writes, after the appearance of Longfellow's poem: "I, too, am weary, and look forward to the Wayside Inn." And, spite of the most loving ministrations of family and friends, he was soon brought to the rest which awaited him there. None could really regret that he had found the peace he sought; but the world seemed more thinly populated when it was known that the hand which had written "The Scarlet Letter," "The House of the Seven Gables," and "The Marble Faun" would write no more. "We carried him," said Fields, "through the blossoming orchards of Concord, and laid him down under a group of pines on a hill-side overlooking historic fields; the unfinished romance which had cost him such anxiety laid upon his coffin." And there, upon that Concord height which he has rendered world-famous, made a Delphian vale or a Mecca to so many pilgrims from his own land and from over sea, he sleeps well. There the sweet spring flowers of dear old New England bloom for him; there the Mayflower pierces the melting snow, and the shy, sweet violet gems the earliest green; there the dandelion glows in golden splendor, and the snowy daisies star the grass, and all the sweet succession of summer flowers troop in orderly array, until Autumn waves her torch, and the sumach and the goldenrod blaze out in wild magnificence, and the blue-fringed gentian hides in secret coverts. These are the fitting decorations of that grave. Piled marble or towering granite would lie too heavy on the heart of this child of Nature. And as the years shall pass, still will the humble grave continue to be visited. "Forgotten" will never be written upon the tombstone of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Still through the clear brilliance of New England winter nights will the stars look down tenderly upon it. Arcturus will stand guard over it, golden-belted Orion will send down quivering lances of light to illumine it, the pomp of blazing Jupiter shall envelop it, and the first radiance of the dawn shall silver its sacred slopes forever.
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
In the city of Portland, that "beautiful town that is seated by the sea," in the year 1807 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born, and in the delightful old ancestral home there he passed his youth. The house had been his mother's home since early childhood; in it she was married, and in it passed almost her entire life. It had been built by Mrs. Longfellow's father, General Peleg Wadsworth, in the year 1784, and was one of the finest mansions in the city at that time, standing, not as now, in the heart of the city, but out in the open fields. Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow passed here a long, beautiful, and happy life, devotedly attached to each other, fond and proud of their children, and much given to good works. Mr. Longfellow was a man of consequence in the community, much honored for his learning and ability, and much esteemed for his integrity, his cordial and kind manners, and his generous hospitality. He had graduated at Harvard College when very young, where he was a classmate of Dr. Channing, Judge Story, and other distinguished men, and much esteemed by them for the same qualities which made him popular in after-life. He was regarded as one of the purest and most high-minded youths who had at that time honored the college and been honored by it. Mrs. Longfellow was a very beautiful woman, fond of poetry and music, of dancing and social gayety, and a profound lover of Nature in all her varied aspects. She was a tender and faithful wife and a most devoted mother. From her Mr. Longfellow doubtless inherited his poetic temperament and much that was most pleasing in his disposition.
Longfellow's childhood seems to have been a very happy one, passed in this beautiful home, with such parents, and surrounded by a delightful group of young friends. He was very fond of reverting to it, and all through his life cherished the memory of
"The friendships old, and the early loves"
which used to come back to him
"With a Sabbath sound as of doves In quiet neighborhoods."
He remembered, too, more vividly than many men of mature years,
"The gleams and glooms that dart Across the school-boy's brain; The song and the silence in the heart That in part are prophecies and in part Are longings wild and vain."
When only fifteen years of age he entered Bowdoin College, with a brother two years older than himself, and graduated fourth in his class in 1825. His Commencement oration was upon "The Life and Writings of Chatterton." He was also invited to deliver a poem the day after Commencement, as he had already begun to write verses which had been printed in the local newspapers. Almost immediately after his graduation he was offered a professorship in the college, and requested to visit Europe to prepare himself for its duties, making further studies in the modern languages for that purpose.
The proposal was eagerly accepted, and he sailed the following spring in a packet-ship from New York. The voyage occupied a month, and was a remarkably pleasant one, thoroughly enjoyed by the young traveller. There is nothing remarkable in the letters he wrote home during this first trip to Europe, when he visited France, Spain, Germany, Italy (where he spent a year), and England. He assumed the duties of his professorship immediately upon his return, at a salary of one thousand dollars a year. He was very popular with the students from the first, and became quite a power in the University. At this time he became a contributor to the "North American Review," and may be said to have fairly begun his literary career. In the year 1831 he was married to Mary Storer Potter, a young lady of Portland, to whom he had long been attached. She was one of the famous beauties of that town, noted for its beautiful women, and a member of the social circle in which the Longfellows moved. The marriage was in every way suitable, and pleasing to the friends of both parties. She was a lady highly educated for that day, and possessed of a mind of unusual power. She was also of a most cheerful and amiable disposition; and the world opened very brightly before the young professor. They began housekeeping in Brunswick in a house still standing in Federal Street. He gives this picture of a morning there:—
"I can almost fancy myself in Spain, the morning is so soft and beautiful. The tessellated shadow of the honeysuckle lies motionless upon my study floor, as if it were a figure in the carpet; and through the open window comes the fragrance of the wild-brier and the mock-orange. The birds are carolling in the trees, and their shadows flit across the window as they dart to and fro in the sunshine; while the murmur of the bee, the cooing of doves from the eaves, and the whirring of a little humming-bird that has its nest in the honeysuckle, send up a sound of joy to meet the rising sun."
Here was passed a very busy and happy period of Mr. Longfellow's life. He was young, gifted, fortunately situated, and beloved, and as yet no shadow had darkened his life. He employed his leisure in writing a series of sketches of travel which were afterwards published as "Outre-Mer," and he began to write poetry again after an interval of nearly eight years. He also began a scrap-book devoted to notices of his writings, which he christened "Puffs and Counter Blasts," and kept for the greater part of his life.
He passed five and a half years in Brunswick, perhaps the happiest years of his life, for he had youth and health and high hope at this time; and then he began to long for a somewhat wider sphere. Very opportunely came the offer of a professorship in Harvard University, which was at once accepted, in April, 1835. He sailed for Europe to make himself familiar with the Scandinavian tongues and to pass some further time in Germany. He was accompanied by his wife and two of her young lady friends. They remained in London for a few weeks, and made acquaintance with many distinguished people,—among others the Carlyles, to whom they had brought an introduction from Mr. Emerson. They paid a visit to the seer at Chelsea, of which Mrs. Longfellow wrote:—
"Mr. Carlyle of Craigenputtock was soon after announced, and passed a half-hour with us much to our delight. He has very unpolished manners, and a broad Scottish accent, but such fine language and beautiful thoughts that it is truly delightful to listen to him. He invited us to take tea with them at Chelsea, where they now reside. We were as much charmed with Mrs. C. as with her husband. She is a lovely woman with very simple and pleasing manners. She is also very talented and accomplished; and how delightful it is to see such modesty combined with such power to please!"
They left London for Copenhagen and Stockholm in June, and were much delighted with the new land they visited. To read in the public square at midnight; to pass through groves of pine and fir with rose-colored cones; to hear the watchman call from the church tower four times toward the four quarters of the heaven, "Ho, watchmen, ho! Twelve the clock hath stricken. God keep our town from fire and brand, and enemy's hand;" to have boys and girls run before to open the gates; to hear the peasants cry, "God bless you," when you sneezed,—all these little things gave them the delight which young travellers alone can experience.
But alas! that delight was of short duration. Mrs. Longfellow was taken sick in Amsterdam in October, and they were detained there for a month. She seemed to recover, and they journeyed on to Rotterdam, where she fell ill again and died the 29th of November. Her husband wrote of her that "she closed her peaceful life by a still more peaceful death, and though called away when life was brightest, went without a murmur and in perfect willingness to the bosom of her God." Mr. Longfellow immediately resumed his journey, going on to Dusseldorf and from there to Bonn. He took a carriage and journeyed along the banks of the Rhine, by the "castled crag of Drachenfels" and the other storied places of that famous river, in complete silence, though with a pleasant companion by his side. They visited castles and cathedrals, and wonderful ruins, and some of the most picturesque points of that picturesque land, but in a gloom which nothing could break or even lighten. So on to Heidelberg, where they were to sojourn for a time, and where Mr. Longfellow was to pursue his studies. Here he found Mr. Bryant, whom he had never met, but who cheered and soothed him as only a fellow-countryman and a man like-minded with himself could have done. Mr. Bryant did not remain long in Heidelberg, however, though his wife and daughters stayed through the winter and continued to cheer Mr. Longfellow's loneliness. He made work his chief consoler, however, and accomplished a great deal in the line of his chosen career.
Like Paul Fleming, into whose story he wove many of the experiences of this part of his life, "he buried himself in books, in old dusty books. He worked his way diligently through the ancient poetic lore of Germany into the bright sunny land where walk the modern bards and sing." Into the Silent Land he walked with Salis; he wept with the melancholy Werther, or laughed with the gentle Meister; he pondered deeply over the congenial Schiller, but delighted most of all in Jean Paul the Only, in whose prodigal fancy he lost for a time the memory of his sorrows. But ever at his side, as he walked on the banks of the beautiful Neckar and gazed up at the lofty mountains which surround Heidelberg, there seemed to walk the Being Beauteous who had whispered with her dying breath, "I will be with you and watch over you." Many years afterwards he embalmed the memory of this young and beautiful wife in the poem called "The Footsteps of Angels." The summer following his bereavement he started on a tour through Switzerland, finding at the very outset of that journey the tablet containing the inscription which he made the motto of "Hyperion" and of his future life: "Look not mournfully into the Past, it comes not back again; wisely improve the Present, it is thine; go forth to meet the shadowy Future without fear and with a manly heart." At Interlachen he met Miss Frances Appleton, and in the pages of "Hyperion" the world has read of the romance which followed that meeting. We also read, in the journals published recently, some records of those days. Here is one of the earliest:—
"A day of true and quiet enjoyment, travelling from Thun to Entelbuch on our way to Lucerne. The time glided too swiftly away. We read the 'Genevieve' of Coleridge, and the 'Christabel,' and many scraps of song, and little German ballads of Uhland, simple and strange. At noon we stopped at Langnau, and walked into the fields, and sat down by a stream of pure water that turned a mill; and a little girl came out of the mill and brought us cherries; and the shadow of the trees was pleasant, and my soul was filled with peace and gladness."
And a little later:—
"Took a carriage to St. Germain-en-Laye to see the Fete des Layes. The day was pleasant, with shifting clouds and sunshine. They told me I was in good spirits. It was the surface only, stirred by the passing breeze and catching the sunshine of the moment. I have often observed, amid a chorus of a hundred voices and the sound of a hundred instruments, amid all this whirlwind of the vexed air, that I could distinguish the melancholy vibration of a single string touched by a finger. It had a mournful, sobbing sound. Thus amid the splendor of a festival,—the rushing crowd, and song, and sounds of gladness, and a thousand mingling emotions,—distinctly audible to the mind's ear are the pulsations of some melancholy chord of the heart, touched by the finger of memory. And it has a mournful, sobbing sound."
But tearing himself away from the sadness of the old memory and the fascination of the new presence alike, Mr. Longfellow returned to America in December, 1836, and assumed the duties of his professorship at Cambridge. Here he soon formed those friendships which were to him a life-long blessing and delight. They fall naturally into two groups, the earlier and later, though some of the most intimate of these friendships formed in youth lasted until near the close of Mr. Longfellow's life. Among the early friends were George W. Greene, with whom he corresponded most affectionately for many years; Mr. Samuel Ward, a brother of Mrs. Julia Ward Howe; Professor Felton; Hilliard, Mr. Sumner's law partner; Cleveland, a scholar living at ease in Brookline; Hawthorne; and always and ever Mr. Sumner himself. Emerson, also, and Prescott were his friends, but not so intimate as the others. Here is a glimpse of the author of that series of fascinating histories, since so popular, in a letter to Greene:—
"This morning, as I was sitting at breakfast, a gentleman on horseback sent up word that I should come down to him. It was Prescott, author of 'Ferdinand and Isabella.' He is an early riser, and rides about the country. There on his horse sat the great author. He is one of the best fellows in the world, and much my friend; handsome and forty; a great diner-out; gentle, companionable, and modest; quite astonished to find himself famous."
Then comes a glimpse of the as yet unknown author of "The Scarlet Letter:"—
"I shall see Hawthorne to-morrow. He lives in Salem, and we meet and sup together to-morrow evening at the Tremont House. Your health shall be remembered. He is a strange owl; a very peculiar individual, with a dash of originality about him very pleasant to behold. How I wish you could be with us! Ach! my beloved friend, when I one day sit with you in Italy again, with nothing on the snow-white tablecloth save bread still whiter, and fruit, and that most delicate wine 'in beakers full of the warm South,' will we pledge the happy present time and those sorrows and disappointments which are our schoolmasters. Sumner is the nearest and warmest thing I can send you. When you have him you will think you have me, he can tell you so much of me."
To this early group were added, later on, Agassiz, Lowell, Dana, James T. Fields, Norton, Dr. Holmes, and others; but those mentioned were his real intimates throughout life. With Emerson he maintained a calm and admiring friendship, but saw less of him than of the others. Bryant and Whittier and George W. Curtis he loved and admired, but they were more distant and not his every-day companions. Dr. Samuel G. Howe belonged, if not exactly to the earliest group of friends, yet among friends both early and late. These men are all historic now, and it seems strange to find Longfellow writing of them as he does in letters and journals. For instance:—
"Also Mr. Emerson, a clergyman, with new views of life, death, and immortality; author of 'Nature,' and friend of Carlyle. He is one of the finest lecturers I ever heard, with magnificent passages of true prose poetry. But it is all dreamery, after all."
Strange, too, to find Carlyle writing to the young poet after the receipt of a volume of his poems, before reading them, as is said to be the fashion of great men when they wish to let unknown authors down easily and gracefully:—
"About the same time there came an indistinct message that a copy of your poems had been left for me at Fraser the bookseller's. It now beckons to me from one of my shelves, asking always, 'When wilt thou have a cheerful, vacant day?'"
Very natural it seems, though, to find that Carlyle is already writing from "a hideous immeasurable treadmill, a smoky, soul-confusing Babylon," and that he addresses "only one prayer to the heavens,—that he were well out of it before it takes the life out of him."
Pleasantest and strongest perhaps of all his friendships was that for Charles Sumner, who was lecturing at the Law School when Mr. Longfellow first came to Cambridge. Begun when both were young men just launching forth on their great but so different career, it continued until death separated them, without a shadow of estrangement or disloyalty, but with ever increasing ardor of affection. Sumner was inclined to literature at that time, and indeed for many years afterwards, his political career being rather forced upon him by the stormy times. A club was formed at this time, called the "Five of Clubs," consisting of Longfellow, Sumner, Hilliard, Cleveland, and Felton. They read and criticised each other's writings, and enjoyed a hearty social intercourse. Awhile afterwards, when they began to speak well of each other's articles in the reviews, the newspapers gave them the name of the "Mutual Admiration Society." Not inapplicable, probably, but applicable to the literary men of all time. What is the great literary guild anywhere but a mutual admiration society? What a large portion of our best literature would be blotted out if what one great writer has said of another should be destroyed! Would we have this so? Nay, verily! Certainly there was no lack of warm admiration, and warm expression of it, among this little group of friends; and between Sumner and Longfellow, at least, these expressions continued throughout life, and were heartily sincere to the last. One after another Longfellow's poems were submitted to his friends' criticism, and each received its due meed of praise or gentle censure. Mr. Sumner's speeches were received by Longfellow with great enthusiasm always, and praised heartily and unreservedly. Every step in his career was watched with the most eager interest and intense sympathy. It is one of the most beautiful friendships on record. One wonders in reading the journal what Longfellow's life would have been without these constant visits and letters from Sumner. Every Sabbath was spent by the statesman at the poet's house, when the former was in the vicinity of Boston, and many and many are the records during the week,—Sumner to dine, Sumner to tea, Sumner to pass the night, and always some note made of the late and pleasant talk the pair had together. When Sumner goes to Washington he is sadly missed, and such little notes as this sent after him in tender remembrance:—
"Your farewell note came safe and sad; and Sunday no well-known footstep in the hall, nor sound of cane laid upon the table. We ate our dinner somewhat silently by ourselves and talked of you far off, looking at your empty chair. Away, phantoms! I will not think of this too much for fear that which you say may prove truer than I want it to be. Let us not prophesy sadness."
When Sumner was expected to make a speech all were alert at Craigie House, and often his friend would send him some such greeting as this:—
"It is now eleven o'clock of the forenoon, and you have just taken your seat in the Senate and arranged your artillery to bombard Nebraska! We listen with deepest interest, but shall not hear the report of your guns till to-morrow, you are so far off. If, after all, the enemy prevails, it will be one dishonest victory more in the history of the world. But the enemy will not prevail. A seeming victory will be a real defeat."
Then, after the speech was read:—
"All this morning of my birthday, my dear Senator, I have devoted to your speech on Nebraska, which came by the morning's mail. It is very noble, very cogent, very eloquent, very complete. How any one can get over it or under it or through it or round it, it is impossible to imagine."
Then, after the cowardly and fiendish attack upon Sumner in the Senate Chamber:—
"I have no words to write you about this savage atrocity; only enough to express our sorrow and sympathy for yourself. We have been in great distress. Owen came to tell us of this great feat of arms of the 'Southern chivalry.' He was absolutely sobbing. I was much relieved on seeing your despatch to your mother, and to hear that George was going to you directly. A brave and noble speech you made, never to die out of the memories of men."
Then, a day or two later:—
"I have just been reading again your speech. It is the greatest voice on the greatest subject that has been uttered since we became a nation. No matter for insults—we feel them with you; no matter for wounds—we also bleed in them."
But in the days of which we are writing, all these stormy troublous times were yet far in the future, and the world looked bright and pleasant to these afterward saddened friends. The acquaintance with Miss Appleton had been renewed after her return to Boston, and the poet was by this time deeply devoted to her, and hopeful of one day winning her for his own. He became something of a dandy in those days, and showed a fondness for color in coats, waistcoats, and neckties; and the ladies looked at him a little doubtfully, thinking perhaps, as they had done of Paul Fleming, that "his gloves were a shade too light for a strictly virtuous man." Six years passed after the first meeting with Miss Appleton in Europe before Mr. Longfellow finally claimed her for his bride. He had been a patient as well as an ardent lover, and was rewarded in 1843 by the hand of her he sought. She was now a woman of twenty-five, of stately presence, cultivated mind, and calm but gracious manners. Her face was not "faultily faultless" nor "icily regular," but both beautiful and expressive. Mr. Longfellow was now thirty-six years old, and a man of rapidly widening fame. Mr. Appleton purchased for the newly married couple the old Craigie House in Cambridge, which had been Mr. Longfellow's home ever since his arrival there. Most visitors to Cambridge are familiar with this old Colonial mansion which had once been the headquarters of General Washington. It stands far back in the ample grounds which surround it, and is painted in yellow and white. It is on Brattle Street as one goes from Harvard College to Mount Auburn. The front is about eighty feet in length, including the verandas, and a wooden railing extends around the roof. There is an Italian balustrade along the first terrace, and a hedge of lilacs leads up to the door. Old historic elms throw their broad arms all about the place. The interior of the house is very handsome, and is considered a fine specimen of the old Colonial style. Altogether it made a most delightful home for the poet and his bride, and there they spent the remainder of their lives.
About the time of his marriage Mr. Longfellow's eyes failed him on account of overstraining them, and one of Mrs. Longfellow's first wifely duties was to furnish eyes for her husband. She read to him and wrote for him a great deal for several years, and the close companionship which this required was very pleasant to both. He was a very busy man in those days; for, contrary to the popular impression, Mr. Longfellow did a great deal of hard work at the college for a good many years. His was no honorary position, but a genuine working professorship, involving the preparation of a great number of lectures during each year and close class-work besides. He enjoyed this work very much for the first few years, but long before he resigned his position it became exceedingly burdensome to him. The college should have relieved him of the drudgery of his professorship, and allowed him time for the preparation of special lectures upon really scholarly themes; but it had not the wisdom to do so, and exacted the labors of a dray-horse from this chained Pegasus. In the journal are many entries like the following:—
"I seriously think of resigning my professorship. My time is so fully taken up by its lectures and other duties that I have none left for writing. Then my eyes are suffering, and the years are precious; and if I wish to do anything in literature it must be done now. Few men have written good poetry after fifty."
"I get very tired of the routine of this life. The bright autumn weather draws me away from study, and the brown branches of the leafless trees are more beautiful than books. We lead but one life here on earth. We must make that beautiful. And to do this, health and elasticity of mind are needful, and whatever endangers or impedes these must be avoided."
"The day of rest—the 'truce of God' between contending cares—is over, and the world begins again to swing round with clash and clang, like the wings of a windmill. Grind, grind, grind."
Some hint of real work may be found in this:—
"The seventy lectures to which I am doomed next year hang over me like a dark curtain. Seventy lectures! who will have the patience to hear them? If my eyes were strong I should delight in it. But it will eat up a whole year, and I was just beginning so cheerily on my poem and looking forward to pleasant work on it next year."
Oh, the pity of it! Many men could have lectured to college boys on the modern languages and literature, if not as well as Longfellow, at least well enough; but who was there who could write his poems? That he should drudge on through his best years, giving only the odds and ends of his time to his real life-work, seems an infinite pity. What might he not have done in those earlier years could he have gone fresh and untired to his musings and his dreams?
Emerson was wiser than he, when early in life he resolved to be content with the most modest means and to have possession of himself. He never drudged in a profession, but gave his full strength to his literary work. Longfellow should have done this at least ten years before he did. But five children had come into the family during the years of his last marriage, and poetry has not long been a paying investment in this country, although Longfellow in the later years received large sums for his work. He probably dropped his college work as soon as he felt that he could afford to do so; and after that, much of his important work was done. But it was not done with the buoyancy and freshness which the earlier years might have furnished, although some of his best poems were written after the change.
But the last twenty years of Mr. Longfellow's life were saddened inexpressibly by the loss of his wife, and all his later work is of a sombre hue, filled through and through, unconsciously, with his own sadness. Unconsciously we say, for he never intentionally rhymed his own sorrows. There is no personal mention of his griefs in all his later poems. The death of his wife occurred on the 9th of July in 1861, and was caused by burns received from having her clothing ignited by a match upon which she trod in their library, where she had been sealing up some packages of the children's curls, which she had just cut. Mr. Longfellow was badly burned in trying to save her, and when the funeral took place was confined to his bed. She was buried upon the anniversary of her marriage-day, and was crowned with a wreath of orange blossoms. She was long remembered in Cambridge as the most beautiful woman of her time,—beautiful not alone in body, but in spirit and life. Mr. Longfellow never recovered from the tragedy, but mourned her in silence for twenty years. Heart-breaking are the entries in the journal during all this time,—entries telling at frequent intervals of his ever increasing desolation. Little was known of all this by the world until the publication of his journal, for it was one of the peculiarities of his grief that he could speak of it to no one. Only after months had passed did he allude to it in his letters even to his brothers, and then in the briefest fashion: "And now of what we both are thinking I can write no word. God's will be done." The first entry in the journal after the break made at the time of her death is this:—
"Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace! Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul! While the stars burn, the moons increase, And the great ages onward roll."
The entries in the journal are all brief, but they are frequent and like these: "Walk before breakfast with E—— and afterward alone. The country is beautiful, but oh, how sad! How can I live any longer!" "The glimmer of golden leaves in the sunshine; the lilac hedge shot with the crimson creeper; the river writing its silver S in the meadow; everything without full of loveliness. But within me the hunger, the famine of the heart!" "Another walk under the pines, in the bright morning sunshine."
"Known and unknown; human, divine: Sweet human hand and lip and eye; Dear heavenly friend, who canst not die: Mine, mine forever; ever mine."
"How inexpressibly sad are all holydays! But the dear little girls had their Christmas-tree last night, and an unseen presence blessed the scene!"
No mention of his loss was ever made in his published verse, though the whole of his poetry was much sadder after that loss; but after his own death the following poem was found in his desk, written eighteen years after his wife's death:—
"In the long, sleepless watches of the night A gentle face—the face of one long dead— Looks at me from the wall, where round its head The night lamp casts a halo of pale light. Here in this room she died, and soul more white Never through martyrdom of fire was led To its repose; nor can in books be read The legend of a life more benedight. There is a mountain in the distant West That, sun-defying in its deep ravines, Displays a cross of snow upon its side: Such is the cross I wear upon my breast These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes And seasons changeless since the day she died."
It was a long time before he could work again. When he felt that he could do so, he began his translation of Dante, and frequently produced a canto in a day, finding in this absorbing occupation the first alleviation of his sorrow. In a sonnet "On Translating Dante," he said:—
"I enter here from day to day, And leave my burden at this minster gate."
But when his work was done he always found that his burden was still awaiting him on the outside, and he took it up and bore it as patiently as he could. But he began earnestly to long for
"The Wayside Inn, Where toil should cease and rest begin,"
and to feel that the approach of old age without the beloved companionship was hard indeed to contemplate. But his children were beautiful and promising and affectionate, and he a most loving and conscientious father; so they gradually came to occupy his thoughts and much to cheer his solitude. He was a famous man too by this time, indeed long before; and the world made demands upon him which could not always be disregarded, and he began to mingle with it somewhat again. But the little group of friends to whom allusion has been made were his best comforters, and were more and more prized as the years went on. During the translation of Dante they assembled at very short intervals to listen to the reading of the work, and to criticise, and suggest such changes as were deemed advisable; and these occasions were much enjoyed. As the years went by, one after another of the early friends fell by the way, leaving gaps in his life which could never be filled. Felton was the first to go, and he was very deeply mourned by Longfellow, who felt "as if the world were reeling and sinking under his feet." His death made, as his friend expressed it, "a chasm which not only nothing can fill up, but which nothing has a tendency to fill up." Hawthorne and Agassiz followed soon after Felton; and later Charles Sumner, most deeply mourned of all. He said, in allusion to these friends, in one of his most beautiful sonnets:—
"I also wait! but they will come no more, Those friends of mine, whose presence satisfied The thirst and hunger of my heart. Ah me! They have forgotten the pathway to my door! Something is gone from Nature since they died, And summer is not summer, nor can be."
Mr. Longfellow made a final visit to Europe in 1868, accompanied by his children, two sisters, and a brother, and his brother-in-law Thomas Appleton. This journey was much enjoyed by all, although Mr. Longfellow was not a very good sight-seer, and impatient of delays. The remainder of his life passed placidly at his old home, and he died at the age of seventy-five, in the midst of his family and friends. Upon his coffin they placed a palm-branch and a spray of passion-flower,—symbols of victory and the glory of suffering; and he was buried at Mount Auburn, beside her he had so long mourned. What his work was we may tell in the eloquent words of his brother poet and most appreciative critic, Mr. Stedman:—
"His song was a household service, the ritual of our feastings and mournings; and often it rehearsed for us the tales of many lands, or, best of all, the legends of our own. I see him, a silver-haired minstrel, touching melodious keys, playing and singing in the twilight, within sound of the rote of the sea. There he lingers late; the curfew-bell has tolled and the darkness closes round, till at last that tender voice is silent, and he softly moves unto his rest."
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
The poet Whittier always calls to mind the prophet-bards of the olden time. There is much of the old Semitic fire about him, and ethical and religious subjects seem to occupy his entire mind. Like his own Tauler, he walks abroad, constantly
"Pondering the solemn Miracle of Life; As one who, wandering in a starless night, Feels momently the jar of unseen waves, And hears the thunder of an unknown sea Breaking along an unimagined shore."
His poems are so thoroughly imbued with this religious spirit that they seem to us almost like the sacred writings of the different times and nations of the world. They come to the lips upon all occasions of deep feeling almost as naturally as the Scriptures do. They are current coin with reformers the world over. They are the Alpha and Omega of deep, strong religious faith. Whoever would best express his entire confidence in the triumph of the right, and his reliance upon God's power against the devices of men, finds the words of Whittier upon his lips; and to those who mourn and seek for consolation, how naturally and involuntarily come back lines from his poems they have long treasured, but which perhaps never had a personal application until now! To the wronged, the down-trodden, and the suffering they appeal as strongly as the Psalms of David. He is the great High Priest of Literature. But few priests at any time have had such an audience and such influence as he. The moral and religious value of his work can scarcely be overstated. Who can ever estimate the power which his strong words had in the days that are now but a fading memory,—in the great conflict which freed the bodies of so many million slaves? And who can ever estimate the power his strong words have had throughout his whole career in freeing the minds of other millions from the shackles of unworthy old beliefs? His blows have been strong, steady, persistent. He has never had the fear of man before his eyes. No man has done more for freedom, fellowship, and character in religion than he. Hypocrisy and falsehood and cant have been his dearest foes, and he has ridden at them early and late with his lance poised and his steed at full tilt. Indeed, for a Quaker, Mr. Whittier must be said to have a great deal of the martial spirit. The fiery, fighting zeal of the old reformers is in his blood. You can imagine him as upon occasion enjoying the imprecatory Psalms. In his anti-slavery poems there is a depth of passionate earnestness which shows that he could have gone to the stake for his opinions had he lived in an earlier age than ours. That he did risk his life for them, even in our own day, is well known. During the intense heat of the anti-slavery conflict he was mobbed once and again by excited crowds; but he was not to be intimidated by all the powers of evil, and continued to speak his strong words and to sing his inspiring songs, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear. And those Voices of Freedom, whatever may be thought of them by mere critics and litterateurs, will outlast any poems of their day, and sound "down the ringing grooves of Time" when much that is now honored has been forgotten. He will be known as the Poet of a great Cause, the Bard of Freedom, as long as the great anti-slavery conflict is remembered. He is a part, and an important part, of the history of his country, a central figure in the battalions of the brave. Those wild, stirring bugle-calls of his cheered the little army, and held it together many a time when the cause was only a forlorn hope; and they came with their stern defiance into the camp of the enemy with such masterful power that some gallant enemies deserted to his side. They were afraid to be found fighting against God, as Whittier had convinced them they were doing. There is the roll of drums and the clash of spears in these stirring strains; there are echoes from Thermopylae and Marathon, and the breath of the old Greek heroes is in the air; there is a hint of the old Border battle-cries from Scotland's hills and tarns; from Jura's rocky wall we can catch the cheers of Tell; and the voice of Cromwell can often be distinguished in the strain.
There is also the sweep of the winds through the pine woods, and the mountain blasts of New England, and the strong fresh breath of the salt sea; all tonic influences, in short, which braced up the minds of the men of those days to a fixed and heroic purpose, from which they never receded until their end was achieved. It has become the fashion in these days of dilettanteism to say that earnestness and moral purpose have no place in poetry, and small critics have arisen who claim that Mr. Whittier has been spoiled as a poet by his moral teachings. To these critics it is only necessary to point to the estimation in which Mr. Whittier's poetry is held by the world, and to the daily widening of his popularity among scholars and men of letters as well as among the people, to teach them that this ruined poetry is likely to live when all the merely pretty poetry they so much admire is forgotten forever. The small poets who are afraid of touching a moral question for fear of ruining their poems would do well to compare Poe, who is the leader of their school and its best exponent, with Mr. Whittier, and to ask themselves which is the more likely to survive the test of time. Let them also ponder the words of Principal Shairp, one of the finest critics of the day, when he says of the true mission of the poet, that "it is to awaken men to the divine side of things; to bear witness to the beauty that clothes the outer world, the nobility that lies hid, often obscured, in human souls; to call forth sympathy for neglected truths, for noble and oppressed persons, for down-trodden causes; and to make men feel that through all outward beauty and all pure inward affection God himself is addressing them." They would do well also to ponder the words of Ruskin, who believes that only in as far as it has a distinct moral purpose is any literary work of value to the world. Is not the opinion of such men as these to be considered of weight in this matter? And is it not an impertinence in little men like some of those who have lately written of Mr. Whittier, to speak in a patronizing and supercilious tone of his work, as if the very qualities which distinguish it from the work of the weaklings had ruined it as poetry?
It is perhaps to Mr. Whittier's ancestry that we may trace this intense consecration of life to all its higher purposes; for he came of a people who had endured persecution for conscience' sake for generations, and who had loved liberty with a love passing that of woman, and sacrificed much for her sake. The depths of feeling which Mr. Whittier has always sounded when the persecutions of the Quakers have risen before his vision can only be understood by those who are thoroughly familiar with the details of these persecutions, and who know the harmless character of the men and women thus outraged. Mr. Whittier knows this well, and it stirs his blood to this day, as it stirred the blood of his father and mother when they recounted these things to his childish ears. Though so much deep feeling was latent in their natures, the outward lives of his parents were serene and calm. Mr. Whittier has, in that exquisite little idyl "Snowbound," given us a graphic and authentic picture of his childhood's home, and in a measure of the life lived there. It is a quiet little New England interior, painted by a master's hand from love of his work. It is every whit as delightful as "The Cotter's Saturday Night;" and it is realistically true in every detail. Here we have the family portraits drawn to life,—the father, who
"Rode again his ride On Memphremagog's wooded side; Sat down again to moose and samp In trapper's hut and Indian camp; Lived o'er the old idyllic ease Beneath St. Francois' hemlock trees;"
and showed how
"Again for him the moonlight shone On Norman cap and bodiced zone; Again he heard the violin play Which led the village dance away, And mingled in its merry whirl The grandam and the laughing girl."
"While she turned her wheel Or run the new-knit stocking-heel, Told how the Indian hordes came down At midnight on Cocheco town, And how her own great-uncle bore His cruel scalp-mark to fourscore. Recalling in her fitting phrase, So rich and picturesque and free, (The common unrhymed poetry Of simple life and country ways,) The story of her early days."
"Innocent of books, Was rich in lore of fields and brooks,— The ancient teachers never dumb Of Nature's unhoused lyceum. In moons and tides and weather wise, He read the clouds as prophecies, And foul or fair could well divine By many an occult hint and sign, Holding the cunning-warded keys To all the woodcraft mysteries."
The picture is very attractive of this
"Simple, guileless, childlike man, Content to live where life began; Strong only on his native grounds, The little world of sights and sounds."
"The dear aunt, whose smile of cheer And voice in dreams I see and hear,— The sweetest woman ever Fate Perverse denied a household mate, Who, lonely, homeless, not the less Found peace in love's unselfishness."
Then the elder sister,
"A full, rich nature, free to trust, Truthful and almost sternly just, Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act, And make her generous thought a fact, Keeping with many a light disguise The secret of self-sacrifice."
The youngest sister, with "large, sweet, asking eyes," and the
"Brisk wielder of the birch and rule, The master of the district school,"
make up the customary group; and it is safe to say that they were royal company on that winter night.
Another description of the life of his boyhood may be found in "The Barefoot Boy." No other language will describe so well those careless, happy years of the genuine country boy.
"Oh for boyhood's time of June, Crowding years in one brief moon, When all things I heard or saw, Me, their master, waited for. I was rich in flowers and trees, Humming-birds and honey-bees; For my sport the squirrel played, Plied the snouted mole his spade; For my taste the blackberry cone Purpled over hedge and stone; Laughed the brook for my delight Through the day and through the night, Whispering at the garden wall, Talked with me from fall to fall; Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pend, Mine the walnut slopes beyond, Mine, on bending orchard trees, Apples of Hesperides!
* * * * *
"Oh for festal dainties spread, Like my bowl of milk and bread,— Pewter spoon and bowl of wood, On the door-stone, gray and rude! O'er me, like a regal tent, Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent, Purple-curtained, fringed with gold, Looped in many a wind-swung fold; While for music came the play Of the pied frogs' orchestra; And, to light the noisy choir, Lit the fly his lamp of fire. I was monarch: pomp and joy Waited on the barefoot boy."
Is not this an accurate picture of what a poet's childhood should be?
In his early youth we have the one hint of a romance which his life contains, and he shall give us that also in his own words:—
"How thrills once more the lengthening chain Of memory, at the thought of thee! Old hopes which long in dust have lain, Old dreams, come thronging back again, And boyhood lives again in me; I feel its glow upon my cheek, Its fulness of the heart is mine, As when I leaned to hear thee speak, Or raised my doubtful eye to thine. I hear again thy low replies, I feel thy hand within my own, And timidly again uprise The fringed lids of hazel eyes, With soft brown tresses overblown. Ah! memories of sweet summer eves, Of moonlit wave and willowy way, Of stars and flowers and dewy leaves, And smiles and tones more dear than they."
It is very tender, very beautiful and touching, and, doubtless, it left on him "an impress Time has worn not out." And we doubt if even yet, when the shadows of age are gathering very deeply around the gentle poet, that memory has faded.
"Not yet has Time's dull footstep worn To common dust that path of flowers."
We cannot but wonder who the favored "Playmate" of the poet was, and we sympathize with him when he asks,—
"I wonder if she thinks of them, And how the old time seems,— If ever the pines of Ramoth wood Are sounding in her dreams.
"I see her face, I hear her voice: Does she remember mine? And what to her is now the boy Who fed her father's kine?"
And we feel an intense interest in knowing whether or not she cares, when he tells her,—
"The winds so sweet with birch and fern, A sweeter memory blow; And there in spring the veeries sing The song of long ago.
"And still the pines of Ramoth wood Are moaning like the sea,— The moaning of the sea of change Between myself and thee!"
Mr. Whittier has never married, and his favorite sister long presided over his home in Amesbury, where his mother and the dear aunt also came after the father's death. It was the bitterest loss of his life when this beautiful sister died, and he has written nothing more touching than his tribute to her in "Snowbound":—
"With me one little year ago, The chill weight of the winter snow For months upon her grave has lain; And now, when summer south winds blow And brier and harebell bloom again, I tread the pleasant paths we trod, I see the violet-sprinkled sod Whereon she leaned, too frail and weak The hillside flowers she loved to seek, Yet following me where'er she went With dark eyes full of love's content. The birds are glad; the brier-rose fills The air with sweetness; all the hills Stretch green to June's unclouded sky; But still I wait with ear and eye For something gone which should be nigh, A loss in all familiar things, In flower that blooms, and bird that sings.
* * * * *
And while in life's late afternoon, Where cool and long the shadows grow, I walk to meet the night that soon Shall shape and shadow overflow, I cannot feel that thou art far, Since near at need the angels are; And when the sunset gates unbar, Shall I not see thee waiting stand, And, white against the evening star, The welcome of thy beckoning hand?"
This sister Elizabeth was herself a remarkable woman, and one of whom the world would have heard more but for her great modesty. She was gifted with a fine poetic taste, and was not only appreciative, but might have been creative as well. A few of her poems appear in her brother's collected works. She was beautiful in person, delicate and dark-eyed, and possessed of exquisite taste in everything. The village of Amesbury still cherishes her memory and recounts her virtues. The tie between the sister and brother was of the closest kind, and their home life together for so many years as beautiful as any recorded in literature. After her death a niece kept his house for some time; but though she was all devotion to him, the old home was never home after the dear sister had left it.
Mr. Whittier is a man to feel very much the loneliness of his later life, bereft as he has been of all his family friends except one brother. But he is very lovingly and tenderly cared for by some distant relatives, who live at Oak Knoll, Danvers, Mass., where he has passed the most of his time the last few years. It is a most beautiful place, and the poet takes great delight in it, preferring it even to his own home at Amesbury, where he lived so long and where the greater part of his literary work was done. The house and grounds remind one of an old English manor-house and its surroundings. The old forest trees still beautify it, while clumps of evergreens have been planted here and there, with many shrubs and flowers. In the distance rise the blue hills of Essex and Middlesex, and near at hand babbles a noisy brook, seeking the not distant sea. All the beautiful trees of New England grow here,—hickories, chestnuts, maples, birches, pines, and beeches; and Whittier, who is a famous lover of trees, passes much time in these shady coverts.
Mr. Whittier's own house at Amesbury is a plain white painted wooden house, consisting of an upright and ell, like many old-fashioned farm-houses, and surrounded by a picket-fence. It is roomy and comfortable, and the study is a very cosey and attractive place, with its open wood-fire and its well-filled book-shelves. One familiar with its appearance thus describes it:—
"One side is filled with a desk and books, among which Irish ballads have a place of honor; and an old-fashioned Franklin fireplace with polished brasses throws its cheerful blaze over carpet, lounge, and easy-chairs, and on walls covered with many souvenirs,—a water-color of Harry Fenn's, Hill's picture of the early home, fringed gentians painted by Lucy Larcom, and other trifles which give character to the room. In this nook the 'lords of thought' have been made welcome; here came Alice and Phoebe Cary on their romantic pilgrimage, and here have come many others of the illustrious women of the day, most of whom he reckons as his friends in this generation as he did Lydia Maria Child and Lucretia Mott and their contemporaries in the last."