Mr. Whittier's personal appearance is thus described by George W. Bungay in his "Crayon Sketches:"—
"His temperament is nervous bilious; he is tall, slender, and straight as an Indian; has a superb head; his brow looks like a white cloud under his raven hair; eyes large, black as sloes, and glowing with expression, . . . those star-like eyes flashing under such a magnificent forehead."
Another writer tells of:—
"The fine intellectual beauty of his expression, the blending brightness and softness of the clear dark eye, the union of manly firmness and courage with womanly sweetness and tenderness alike in countenance and character."
That clear and bright observer Mr. Wasson says:—
"The high cranium, so lofty, especially in the dome; the slight and symmetrical backward slope of the whole head; the powerful level brows, and beneath these the dark, deep eyes, so fun of shadowed fire; the Arabian complexion; the sharp-cut, intense lines of the face; the light, tall, erect stature; the quick, axial poise of the movement,—all these traits reveal the fiery Semitic prophet."
His smile is spoken of by all as irradiating his whole face. He is the most modest and one of the shyest of men. He can rarely be exhibited as a lion in Boston, though the celebrity-hunters often try to induce him thus to show himself. His fame has been a great surprise to him, and he can scarcely believe in it even now. When his seventieth birthday was celebrated by the publishers of the "Atlantic Monthly" by a Whittier Banquet, to which all the great writers in the country were invited, and where many fine tributes were paid to his genius, he especially wondered that all this honor was for him. The "Literary World" at the same time published many fine poems from distinguished authors addressed to him, and he replied in that journal to them, saying:—
"Beside that mile-stone where the level sun Nigh unto setting sheds his last low rays On word and work irrevocably done, Life's blending threads of good and ill outspun, I hear, O friends, your words of cheer and praise, Half doubtful if myself or otherwise. Like him who in the old Athenian days A beggar slept, and crowned Caliph woke."
Although shy in formal society, Mr. Whittier is of a social nature, and very much enjoys unrestrained intercourse with his friends. Visitors were always made welcome at Amesbury, and while his sister presided there the house was very attractive to those who enjoyed its hospitality. She was a witty and bright woman, who enlivened every social circle she graced; and Mr. Whittier himself has a fund of delicate humor, which lights up his conversations with those with whom he is on familiar terms, and he has a quiet way of drawing out the best there is in others, which causes every one to appear well in his presence. Children are his loyal and enthusiastic friends everywhere; and he was known among them in Amesbury as "the man with the parrot," that remarkable bird "Charlie" serving as a sort of connecting link between the poet and the little ones. He is always ready for a game of romps with the children even now, and they very much admire the stately old man who condescends to them so kindly. Long ago, when his little niece wanted the scarlet cape which other children wore, and there was objection upon the part of her Quaker mother, Mr. Whittier pleaded so well for the little one that she was allowed to indulge in the bright trappings of her mates. Mr. Whittier himself has never gone to the extremes of Quaker dress, and could hardly be distinguished from the world by that alone. But he uses the "thee" and "thou" of the Friends, and it is very charming to hear them from his lips. He has always been a faithful attendant, also, upon their meetings.
The kindliness of Mr. Whittier's nature has always led him to help others, especially young literary aspirants, and he has spent a great deal of his valuable time upon this class. He cannot bear to leave a letter unanswered or a request ungranted, and his correspondence has become very burdensome these latter years. He has long been subject to very severe neuralgic headaches, and can write now but a few minutes at a time; and those few precious minutes he often wastes on some impertinent stranger who has sent a great mass of manuscripts to him for criticism. The little time which these insatiable correspondents leave to him, he occupies very pleasantly in and about the grounds at Oak Knoll. He enjoys working in the fine flower-garden, feeding the squirrels, playing with the dogs, and driving the fine horses. He has many friends within a morning's drive,—Harriet Preston, Gail Hamilton, and others,—and driving about the country has always been one of his choice diversions. He is now seventy-eight years old,—a cheerful, kindly, essentially lovable old man. He still goes up to Boston occasionally to meet friends and look about the city, and runs over to Amesbury, where friends occupy his house and make him welcome; but for the most part he remains in his quiet retreat, cheerfully awaiting the change which must be near.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
The genial "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" was born in the city of Cambridge, in Massachusetts, in the year 1809, upon the day given to the Commencement exercises of Harvard College. It was the day of small things in that institution, and the day of small things in American literature. The child who was born that day was destined to add much to the estimation in which both were held. He occupied a professor's chair in the University for thirty-five years, and did good work in it too; and he is one of the little group of illustrious men who have helped to make a distinctively American literature, which is now honored throughout the world. As we believe with Dr. Holmes that "it is an ungenerous silence which leaves all the fair words of honestly-earned praise to the writer of obituary notices and the marble-worker," we shall endeavor to set forth in this paper some of the good points in the character and work of this distinguished man,—perhaps the best beloved of our native authors.
The Rev. Abiel Holmes, the father of our hero, was one of the typical New England ministers of that day; the mother, Sarah Wendell, was from a Dutch family, who came to Boston from Albany in the eighteenth century. The old gambrel-roofed house where the poet was born stood close to the buildings of Harvard University, and to the south flows the Charles River, so often celebrated by Holmes and Longfellow and Lowell. The environs of Cambridge are particularly beautiful, and have been the subjects of many charming descriptions by all these writers. The old yellow hip-roofed house was about one hundred and sixty years old when it was moved away to make room for modern improvements. The New England colonists knew how to build a house, and the work of their hands puts to shame the sham edifices of the present day, which come up like Jonah's gourd in a night. The mansion-houses of New England are among her most precious inheritances; and we can scarcely blame the families, in whose hands they have remained until this time, for feeling a certain pride in them.
The study was the great attraction to Oliver and his brother John. It was a large heavy-beamed room, lined upon all sides with books,—which was almost an unheard-of thing in this country at that time. Here the boys were allowed to choose for themselves what they would read, and here they doubtless formed the scholarly tastes of after-days. The contrast between this library and that of the Whittier household, with its less than a dozen books, is a great one, and has something to do with the distinctive flavor of the work of the two men. There is a wild woodsy flavor about Whittier to this day, pungent and stimulating; and about all that Holmes has written is the atmosphere of books,—a smell of Russia-leather, as it were, and the mustiness of old tomes. The childhood of Oliver was very happy, and the memory of it has lingered with him through life; he has always been very fond of talking of it and writing about it. Of the old garden surrounding the manse, he has written eloquently, and one can almost see it for himself from his description,—with its lilac-bushes, its pear-trees, its peaches (for they raised peaches in New England in those days), its lovely nectarines, and white grapes. Old-fashioned flowers grew in the borders,—hyacinths, coming up even through the snow; tulips, adding their flaming splendor to the spring, although they are so much more like autumn flowers; peonies, of mammoth size and gorgeous coloring; flower-de-luce, lilies, roses—damask, blush, and cinnamon,—larkspurs, lupines, and royal hollyhocks. Then there were the vegetables growing with the flowers,—"beets, with their handsome dark-red leaves, carrots, with their elegant filagree foliage, parsley, that clung to the earth like mandrakes, radishes, illustrations of total depravity, a prey to every evil underground emissary of the powers of darkness."
The Holmes boys were lively and frolicsome, not unlike what we have been accustomed to hear of ministers' sons in general, and some of their pranks were remembered in Cambridge for many a year. In one of Dr. Holmes's college poems he hints at some of these "high old times:"—
"I am not well to-night; methinks the fumes Of overheated punch have something dimmed The cerebellum or pineal gland, Or where the soul sits regnant."
Still, there was nothing worse than boyish fun in any of their larks, and they were studious beyond their years.
Among their schoolmates was Margaret Fuller. Dr. Holmes says of her:—
"Her air to her schoolmates was marked by a certain stateliness and distance, as if she had other thoughts than theirs, and was not of them. I remember her so well, as she appeared at school and later, that I regret that she had not been faithfully given to canvas or marble in the day of her best looks. None know her aspect who have not seen her living. Margaret, as I remember her at school and afterwards, was tall, fair-complexioned, with a watery aquamarine lustre in her light eyes, which she used to make small, as one does who looks at the sunshine. A remarkable point about her was that long flexible neck, arching and undulating in strange sinuous movements, which one who loved her would compare to those of a swan, and one who loved her not, to those of the ophidian who tempted our common mother. Her talk was affluent, magisterial, de haut en bas, some would say euphuistic, but surpassing the talk of women in breadth and audacity."
In due time young Holmes was graduated from Harvard, with a class which he has helped to make well known by his annual college poems. The boys of '29 were a noble and talented set of men, and quite a number of them still live, among our most honored citizens. Some of his well-known humorous poems were written for the college papers, among them "The Dorchester Giant," "Evening, by a Tailor," "The Spectre Pig," and "The Height of the Ridiculous." For a few years after he left college he went on "writing as funny as he could," then discontinued his literary work for some time, and only permanently renewed it with the starting of the "Atlantic Monthly" in 1857. Here he began "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," and followed it with that brilliant series of papers and of novels which made him known the world over, as one of our most original and characteristic writers. Long before this he had been married, and settled down for life in the city of Boston. His wife, to whom he was united in 1840, was Amelia Lee Jackson, daughter of Judge Jackson of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. They lived in one house for over twenty years, in Montgomery Place, near Bromfield Street. Holmes says of it, in "The Professor at the Breakfast Table:"—
"When he entered that door, two shadows glided over the threshold; five lingered in the doorway when he passed through it for the last time,—and one of the shadows was claimed by its owner to be longer than his own. What changes he saw in that quiet place! Death rained through every roof but his; children came into life, grew into maturity, wedded, faded away, threw themselves away; the whole drama of life was played in that stock-company's theatre of a dozen houses, one of which was his, and no deep sorrow or severe calamity ever entered his dwelling. Peace be to those walls forever, for the many pleasant years he passed in them."
The three children born to him were Oliver Wendell, Amelia Jackson, and Edward. They all live near the old home, and the second generation is beginning to be a prominent factor in the family affairs. The daughter is Mrs. John T. Sargent, of Beverly Farms, near Boston, where Dr. Holmes has passed the summer months for several years past. All readers will remember the Doctor's famous "Hunt after the Captain," published in the "Atlantic" during the war, and the thrilling interest the country took in it. The "Captain" was the elder son, then just graduated from Harvard, and belonging to the Fourth Battalion of Infantry. He was thrice wounded, and the terror and anxiety of his friends at home cannot be described in words. He is now an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.
For a few years Dr. Holmes was much in demand as a lecturer; but he never enjoyed that business very well, and after a while refused to go upon any terms. In 1856 he thus defined his terms to an applicant for a lecture:—
"My terms, when I stay over night, are fifteen dollars and expenses, a room with a fire in it, in a public-house, and a mattress to sleep on,—not a feather-bed. As you write in your individual capacity, I tell you at once all my habitual exigencies. I am afraid to sleep in a cold room; I can't sleep on a feather-bed; I will not go to private houses."
In the "Autocrat" there is an account of his lecturing experiences by the landlady, which gives a pretty good idea of some of his personal traits:—
"He was a man who loved to stick around home, as much as any cat you ever see in your life. He used to say he'd as lief have a tooth pulled as go anywheres. Always got sick, he said, when he went away, and never sick when he didn't. Pretty nigh killed himself goin' about lecterin' two or three winters; talkin' in cold country lyceums; as he used to say, goin' home to cold parlors and bein' treated to cold apples and cold water, and then goin' up into a cold bed in a cold chamber, and comin' home next mornin' with a cold in his head as bad as a horse distemper. Then he'd look kind of sorry for havin' said it, and tell how kind some of the good women was to him; how one spread an edderdown comforter for him, and another fixed up somethin' hot for him after the lecter, and another one said, 'There, now you smoke that cigar of yours after the lecter just as if you was at home,'—and if they'd all been like that, he'd have gone on lecterin' forever; but as it was, he got pooty nigh enough of it, and preferred nateral death to puttin' himself out of the world by such violent means as lecterin'."
In fact, Holmes is eminently a Bostonian, and has never been really happy off his native pavements. He, however, studied medicine in Paris in his youth, and has made one or two visits to Europe since.
The Atlantic Club for a long time furnished Holmes excellent company, and he in turn furnished the club with the wittiest and most sparkling talk which this country probably has known:—
"Such jests, that, drained of every joke, The very bank of language broke; Such deeds that laughter nearly died With stitches in his belted side."
Among those who took part in these delightful re-unions were Emerson, Longfellow, Felton, Holmes, Agassiz, Lowell, Whipple, Motley, Charles Eliot Norton, Edmund Quincy, Francis H. Underwood, Judge Hoar, J. Elliot Cabot, and others. Lowell and Holmes were the wits par excellence, though Judge Hoar did not fall far behind. Emerson sat always with a seraphic smile upon his face, and Longfellow thoroughly enjoyed every good sally, though not adding to the mirth-making himself. Dr. Appleton, who met Dr. Holmes at the Saturday Club, writes:—
"Dr. Holmes was highly talkative and agreeable; he converses very much like the Autocrat at the Breakfast Table,—wittily, and in a literary way, but perhaps with too great an infusion of physiological and medical metaphor. He is a little deaf, and has a mouth like the beak of a bird; indeed, he is, with his small body and quick movements, very like a bird in his general aspect."
When Charles Kingsley was in Boston he met Holmes, who came in, frisked about, and talked incessantly, Kingsley intervening with a few words only occasionally. At last Holmes whisked himself away, saying, "And now I must go." "He is an insp-sp-sp-ired j-j-j-h-ack-daw," said Kingsley.
Mr. Kennedy, in his life of the poet, thus describes him:—
"In person Holmes is a little under the medium height, though it does not strike you so when you see him, especially on the street, where he wears a tall silk hat and carries a cane. As a young man, he was, like Longfellow, a good deal of an exquisite in dress; and he has always been very neat and careful in his attire. He is quick and nervous in his movements, and conveys, in speaking, the impression of energy and intense vitality; and yet he has a poet's sensitiveness to noises, and a dread of persons of superabundant vitality and aggressiveness. When the fountain of laughter and smiles is stirred within him his face lights up with a winning expression, and a laughing, kindly glance of the eye. When he warms up to a subject in conversation he is a very rapid, vivacious speaker."
Dr. Holmes has been accused of being an egotist, and he undoubtedly does like to talk of himself; but he talks always in such charming fashion that nobody regrets the subject of his discourse, but would fain have him go on and on without pause or limit. He is a hearty, happy man, who is a good deal in love with life, and seldom dwells upon its darker side. But he has a very earnest and serious side to his nature, and is far from being a mere laughing philosopher. He enjoys out-of-door life, as every poet must, and though he likes best to live in the city, he takes great delight in the country also. He spent seven summers upon a farm of his own in the enchanting Berkshire region, near Pittsfield, and he says these seven summers stand in his memory like the seven golden candlesticks seen in the beatific vision of the holy dreamer. He loves rowing, racing, and walking through green country lanes. The New England wild-flowers are especially dear to him, and he has all a poet's love for that shyest and most beautiful of all, the trailing arbutus. He is very fond also of perfumes, and likes the odorous blossoms best. He has always had his dream of fair women, and he is a great favorite with women of all ages. He is not averse to the pleasures of the table, and likes plenty of friends around him, with mirth and good cheer, at his dinner hour.
He has been accused of being somewhat aristocratic in his feelings, and is doubtless a lover of the best society, as he interprets that word,—not mere wealth or fashion, but good blood, generous culture through more than one generation, and a general refinement in manners and in thought. What he calls the Brahmin caste of New England is doubtless very good society indeed; and who shall blame the good Autocrat if he visits in that circle by choice? He would not, perhaps, like the old scholar of whom he tells, give as his toast "to all the people who on the earth do dwell," but he would select some very choice and rare little coterie of those people, and toast them with the most contagious enthusiasm.
That he is a man of fastidious tastes goes without saying, and rather critical of men and women, in manners as well as morals. An acute observer of small social phenomena, he does not deem it beneath his dignity to criticise the man who cannot pronounce "view," and the woman, even if it be Margaret Fuller, who says "nawvels." That he is a sensitive man he told us long ago, and that—
"There are times When all this fret and tumult that we hear Do seem more stale than to the sexton's ear His own dull chimes.
"From crib to shroud! Nurse o'er our cradle screameth lullaby, And friends in boots tramp round us as we die, Snuffling aloud.
"Children with drums Strapped round them by the fond paternal ass, Peripatetics with a blade of grass Between their thumbs.
"Cockneys that kill Thin horses of a Sunday,—men with clams, Hoarse as young bisons roaring for their dams, From hill to hill.
"Soldiers with guns, Making a nuisance of the blessed air, Child-crying bellmen, children in despair, Screeching for buns.
"Storms, thunders, waves! Howl, crash, and bellow, till ye get your fill. Ye sometimes rest; men never can be still But in their graves."
Sometimes these daily trials are exaggerated to a quite unbearable point, as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle, who suffered intense tortures in later life from the ordinary every-day noises; but in the case of Dr. Holmes, as with most people with healthy nerves, these things only give a whimsical annoyance. The battles of Mrs. Carlyle with Chanticleer, as she depicts them, have all the interest of a new Iliad, and the days before Troy have not been studied with more breathless interest than some of her encounters with the makers of the many noises with which London is filled. Dr. Holmes, too, has had his battle with the music-grinders, as who has not? Do we not all know "these crusaders sent from some infernal clime"? and have we not all felt with him the relief when "silence like a poultice comes to heal the blows of sound"? Do we not all know the "Treadmill Song," also, in practical life? and are we not intensely weary of it sometimes? Not many of us can say with him, at the close of one of our "treadmill" days,—
"It's pretty sport; suppose we take A round or two for fun."
"If ever they should turn me out When I have better grown, Now hang me but I mean to have A treadmill of my own."
But this has been the good Doctor's spirit through life. He has taken his troubles lightly, and his labors have sat easily upon him. He has laughed where many would have wept, and he has joked where some would have been serious, if not savage. But that he has done serious work, and that it has been work which has borne fruit, who can doubt? His professional labors are perhaps least known of any of his various activities, but they were many and varied, and not barren of good results. As a single illustration, take his treatise upon "The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever," concerning which he has said:—
"When, by permission of Providence, I held up to the professional public the damnable facts connected with the conveyance of poison from one young mother's chamber to another's,—for doing which humble office I desire to be thankful that I have lived, though nothing else good should ever come of my life,—I had to bear the sneers of those whose position I had assailed, and, as I believe, have at last demolished, so that nothing but the ghosts of dead women stir among the ruins."
He fought Homoeopathy in the liveliest manner for many years, and latterly threw some hot shot into the ranks of the Allopathists themselves, in an attack upon the excessive use of drugs in medical practice. The Medical Society were considerably excited by this vigorous onslaught, the ripe result of thirty years' study and experience, and disclaimed all responsibility for its sentiments.
"Throw out opium," said Dr. Holmes: "throw out a few specifics which a physician is hardly needed to apply; throw out wine, which is a food, and the vapors of ether producing anaesthesia; and then sink the whole materia medica, as now used, to the bottom of the sea: the result would be all the better for mankind, and all the worse for the fishes."
Of his life-long battle against the Calvinistic theology all his readers know. He has never lost an opportunity of declaring his antipathy to the theology of his fathers, and of pouring sarcasm and ridicule upon it. His father was a Calvinistic divine of the strictest sect; but Dr. Holmes himself has been a life-long Unitarian, and an aggressive one. He owns a pew in King's Chapel and is a regular attendant. Perhaps he is a little of a fatalist. At any rate he always has eyes for—
THE TWO STREAMS.
Behold the rocky wall That down its sloping sides Pours the swift rain-drops, blending as they fall In rushing river-tides.
Yon stream, whose sources run Turned by a pebble's edge, Is Athabasca, rolling toward the sun Through the cleft mountain-ledge.
The slender rill had strayed, But for the slanting stone, To evening's ocean, with the tangled braid Of foam-flecked Oregon.
So from the heights of will Life's parting stream descends, And, as a moment turns its slender rill, Each widening torrent bends.
From the same cradle's side, From the same mother's knee,— One to long darkness and the frozen tide, One to the Peaceful Sea.
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.
In the old manor-house of Elmwood in Cambridge, close to what is now mount Auburn Cemetery, our finest representative man of letters, James Russell Lowell, was born and bred. His father and his grandfather before him lived here, the former a Unitarian clergyman of the old school, well read, earnest, somewhat narrow, but an essentially religious man. His mother was a gifted woman, and a woman of high culture for those days. She read foreign languages, was a musician, and a woman of high breeding, and she stamped her own individuality strongly upon at least three of her children.
The house is a large three-story structure, built of wood, and is eminently picturesque. The tone of the rooms is sombre, and the furniture is antique and solid. Nearly everything remains as it was in the poet's childhood; although the study has been removed from the second floor to two connected rooms on the first, spacious and impressive, and lined with well-selected books. The poet has lived in this house throughout his entire life,—a thing which seldom happens to an American citizen. In the hall are ancestral portraits, a stately Dutch clock, and the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Lowell taken by Page in their youth. The grounds about Elmwood have been kept as nearly as possible in a state of nature. They are ample, and filled with magnificent trees. The elms of Cambridge are among the most beautiful to be found anywhere, and on this estate, though not very numerous, there are fine specimens. In front of the house are splendid ash-trees, and a thick hedge of trees surrounds the whole enclosure. This hedge bristles with pines, droops with willows, and is overtopped by gigantic horse-chestnuts. Near the house are pines, elms, lilacs, syringas; and at the back, apple and pear trees. Huge masses of striped grass light up the thick turf here and there; and all over the grounds the birds, unmolested from time immemorial, build and sing in perfect freedom and content. Long ago Longfellow sang of the herons of Elmwood, and they are still to be found in the wooded slopes behind the house, where the Lowell children played in their happy childhood.
Mr. Lowell entered Harvard College in his sixteenth year, and, though never what was called a brilliant student, was graduated in due time, and entered upon the study of law. He passed through the usual course and took his degree of LL. B., but he was not noted for his love of study in the law school, more than in college. He was noted for his love of reading in both places, but it was of books outside the established course. His literary bent was strongly marked from the first, and his poetic talent developed itself at an early day. When only twenty-two years of age he published his first volume of poems, much like the youthful poems of other bards, and far inferior to the work of Bryant at the same age. Three years later he put forth a volume of verses much more worthy of his genius, some of them being favorites still,—like the "Shepherd of King Admetus," "The Forlorn," "The Heritage," which achieved the immortality of the school-books, and a few others.
There was not a large sale for books of poetry in this country at that time, and these first ventures of Lowell fared much like other books of that day. If he was not quite as badly off as poor Thoreau, who, a year after his first thousand was printed, wrote to a friend that he was now the owner of a library of about a thousand volumes, over nine hundred of which he wrote himself, he certainly was not far ahead of that original writer in the matter of sales. His books, however, attracted some attention, and could hardly be classed under the head he proposes for certain books, in the "Fable for Critics," namely, "literature suited to desolate islands,"—
"Such as Satan, if printing had then been invented, As the climax of woe would to Job have presented."
Mr. Lowell was married in 1844 to Miss Maria White, of Watertown near Cambridge, the lady to whom some of his first poems were addressed, and who was herself a writer of very sweet and tender verse. Mrs. Lowell was most beautiful and accomplished, a fit wife for a poet, and the maker of a restful but inspiring home. Beautiful children came to them to gladden their lives for a little season; but all except one were recalled in early infancy, and the grief of the parents was both acute and lasting. Many a time, as he tells us, he—
"looked at the snow-fall, And thought of the leaden sky That arched o'er our first great sorrow When that mound was heaped so high."
And only in after-years he—
"Remembered the gradual patience That fell from that cloud like snow, Flake by flake, healing and hiding The scar of our deep-plunged woe."
For many years a pair of tiny baby-shoes, half-worn, hung over a picture-frame in the poet's study, and told their sad tale of the little feet that had gone on before. Like Sydney Smith, Lowell learned to think that "children are horribly insecure,—that the life of a parent is the life of a gambler;" and he held the one who still remained to him with a trembling grasp for a long time. Happily, she was spared to him, and still adds interest and pleasure to his life.
Mr. and Mrs. Lowell went to Europe in 1851, and spent a year in travel, partly for the benefit of Mrs. Lowell's health, which was always delicate. They spent the greater part of their time in Italy, although they made brief tours in France, Switzerland, and England. About a year after their return Mrs. Lowell died, and another little mound in Sweet Auburn was
"Folded close under deepening snow."
During the nine years of their married life all had been peaceful and beautiful, and now there seemed nothing left but—
"To the spirit its splendid conjectures, To the flesh its sweet despair,"
and many hopeless tears over—
"the thin-worn locket With its anguish of deathless hair."
For a long time the heart of the poet would admit of no consolation. He replied to every attempt to soften his grief,—
"There's a narrow ridge in the graveyard, Would scarce stay a child in his race; But to me and my thought it is wider Than the star-sown vague of Space.
"Your logic, my friend, is perfect, Your morals most drearily true; But since the earth clashed on her coffin, I keep hearing that, and not you.
"Console if you will, I can bear it; 'Tis a well-meant alms of breath; But not all the preaching since Adam, Has made Death other than Death.
"It is pagan; but wait till you feel it,— That jar of the earth, that dull shock, When the ploughshare of deeper passion Tears down to our primitive rock.
"Communion in spirit! forgive me, But I, who am earthy and weak, Would give all my incomes from dream-land For a touch of her hand on my cheek.
"That little shoe in the corner, So worn and wrinkled and brown, With its emptiness confutes you, And argues your wisdom down."
On the same day that Mrs. Lowell died a child was born to Mr. Longfellow, who sent to his friend the beautiful poem, "The Two Angels."
"'T was at thy door, O friend, and not at mine, The angel with the amaranthine wreath Pausing, descended, and with voice divine Whispered a word that had a sound like death."
In 1854 Mr. Lowell was appointed as Mr. Longfellow's successor to the chair of belles-lettres in Harvard University,—a place for which he was most admirably fitted by nature and by training. He went abroad again and studied for two years, chiefly in Dresden, when he returned and began his lectures, which were much enjoyed by his cultivated audience. He dwelt with loving care upon Dante, Chaucer, Shakspeare, and Cervantes, in particular, and made a deep impression upon all who listened to him.
In 1857 Mr. Lowell was married for the second time, to Miss Frances Dunlap of Portland, Maine, who had had charge of the education of his daughter while he was abroad. They returned to the ancestral home at Elmwood soon after the marriage, and continued to reside there until the poet was appointed Minister to Spain by President Hayes, when they repaired together to that country. Upon his transfer to the Court of St. James, they removed to London, where both were universally and justly popular. Few ladies have received such warm encomiums in England as Mrs. Lowell, and few have as richly deserved them. No man whom our nation has sent to represent us in England has been so highly praised by the English press as Mr. Lowell, and probably no one has been so much liked by the class of people with whom he came chiefly in contact. There seemed to be much wonder in court circles there that America could produce so finished a gentleman as Mr. Lowell; and perhaps they had had some reason to doubt this, if they judged by the average American tourist. They wondered, too, at his delightful public speaking,—a thing to which Englishmen are not as much accustomed as Americans. They have a heavy, labored way of speaking, extremely painful to listeners accustomed to the ease of American speakers; and they were never weary of listening to the pleasing and graceful oratory of Mr. Lowell. He was called upon constantly to address the people, upon all sorts of occasions, and invariably received the highest praise for his efforts. Much regret was felt in England when he was called home; much also in this country by those who had the honor of the nation at heart, although the whole people were glad to welcome him back to his native land once more. Mrs. Lowell died during their residence in London, and the sympathies of the world went out to the husband in his affliction.
Mr. Lowell came to the aid of the despised Abolitionists at an early day. While it was still inviting social ostracism and public indignity to do so, he bravely lifted up his voice in their defence, and began lending his vigorous and powerful pen to the cause they represented. All the traditions of his life seemed to bind him to the conservative classes; but he broke away from them, and boldly faced their derision and their sneers, to do what seemed right in his own eyes. As far back as the publication of the "Fable for Critics," he had dared to praise Whittier, whom all the conservatives affected to despise,—
"For singing and striking in front of the war, And hitting his foes with the mallet of Thor."
It still required bravery as well as kindliness to say of the despised Quaker:—
"All honor and praise to the right-hearted bard Who was true to The Voice when such service was hard; Who himself was so free he dared sing for the slave, When to look but a protest in silence was brave! All honor and praise to the women and men Who spoke out for the dumb and the down-trodden then!"
And greater bravery still was required in those days to dare introduce the name of Parker into literature without denunciation or derision. Of the church which had put its ban upon "the Orson of parsons" he said:—
"They had formerly damned the Pontifical See, And the same thing, they thought, would do nicely for P.; But he turned up his nose at their murmuring and shamming, And cared (shall I say) not a d—— for their damning. So they first read him out of their church, and next minute Turned round and declared he had never been in it. But the ban was too small, or the man was too big; For he recks not their bells, books, and candles a fig (He don't look like a man who would stay treated shabbily, Sophroniscus' son's head o'er the features of Rabelais); He bangs and bethwacks them,—their backs he salutes With the whole tree of knowledge torn up by the roots."
He concluded his long description of the great arch-heretic in these words:—
"Every word that he speaks has been fierily furnaced In the blast of a life that has struggled in earnest. There he stands, looking more like a ploughman than priest, If not dreadfully awkward, not graceful at least; His gestures all downright, and some, if you will, As of brown-fisted Hobnail in hoeing a drill; But his periods fall on you, stroke after stroke, Like the blows of a lumberer felling an oak: You forget the man wholly, you're thankful to meet With a preacher who smacks of the field and the street; And to hear, you're not over particular whence, Almost Taylor's profusion, quite Latimer's sense."
The first of the Biglow Papers had appeared even before this,—as early as 1846, during the progress of the Mexican war,—and had showed his countrymen very plainly where he was to be found in the coming struggle. These brilliant coruscations of wit were the first gleams of light which irradiated the sombre anti-slavery struggle. The Abolitionists were men too much in earnest to enliven their arguments with wit or humor, and the whole conflict thus far had been stern and solemn in the extreme. This had prevented much popular enthusiasm, except in natures as earnest as their own; and many men who had before been indifferent to the subject were at once attracted and interested by the raillery and satire of Lowell. They enjoyed his keen thrusts, and began to talk with one another about them, and unconsciously imbibed a little of their spirit. Some of the more jingling rhymes caught the ear of the street, and in a little while
"John P. Robinson he Sez he wun't vote for Governor B."
was heard on every hand. And even across the sea, we are told, travellers would hear some one repeating the catch,—
"But John P. Robinson he Sez they didn't know everything down in Judee."
The first series of these papers undoubtedly had a powerful influence in forming public opinion upon the subject of the abolition of slavery; and the second series exerted a still more potent influence in favor of sustaining the government in the prosecution of the war, and in urging it to the emancipation of the slaves. Early in the war he wrote,—
"It's slavery that's the fangs and thinkin' head, And ef you want salvation, cresh it dead."
He suffered much in his own family from the war, three of his favorite nephews being killed,—one at Winchester, one at Seven Pines, and one at Ball's Bluff. Another relative was the gallant Colonel Shaw, who led the colored troops in the assault on Fort Wagner, and who there gave up his heroic life. In the "Commemoration Ode"—the greatest poem which Lowell has ever written—he celebrates the death of these young heroes in fitting verse, and gives their names to immortality. The effect of the poem at the time was simply overpowering, so many other hearts were bleeding with his own; and it at once took its place as one of the noblest poems in the language. The poet William W. Story came over from Rome purposely to hear Lowell deliver this ode, and felt abundantly paid for the journey by the pathos and sublimity of the scene, which has seldom been equalled in this country.
Mr. Underwood tells us that—
"In person Lowell is of medium height, rather slender, but sinewy and active. His movements are deliberate rather than impulsive, indicating what athletes call staying qualities. His hair at maturity was dark auburn or ruddy chestnut in color, and his full beard rather lighter and more glowing in tint. The eyes of men of genius are seldom to be classified in ordinary terms, though it is said their prevailing color is gray. . . . Lowell's eyes in repose have clear blue and gray tones, with minute, dark mottlings. In expression they are strongly indicative of his moods. When fixed upon study, or while listening to serious discourse, they are grave and penetrating; in ordinary conversation they are bright and cheery; in moments of excitement they have a wonderful lustre. Nothing could be finer than his facial expression while telling a story or tossing a repartee. The features are alive with intelligence; and eyes, looks, and voice appear to be working up dazzling effects in concert, like the finished artists of the Comedie Francaise."
As a conversationalist Mr. Lowell is unrivalled. His wit is apparently inexhaustible, and irradiates his whole conversation, as it does all his writing except his serious poetry. His "Fireside Travels" was pronounced by Bryant the wittiest book ever written; and it is not more witty than much of his conversation. The brilliancy of his conversation and the charm of his manners unite to make him one of the most fascinating companions in the world; and this charm is felt by all who come in contact with the man, and is not a thing reserved for his more favored companions. One who has witnessed an encounter of wit between Lowell and Dr. Holmes has witnessed one of the finest exhibitions of mental pyrotechnics of the day. His reading has been wide and varied, and he has all his resources at command. His observation of men and things has also been keen, and every variety of anecdote and illustration come forth from apparently inexhaustible sources as the needs of the moment demand. His love of Nature and his observation of all her finer moods make him a most delightful out-of-doors companion. In the beautiful environs of Cambridge he used to take those long walks which furnished him with such a fund of accurate observation of the sights and sounds of the natural world. No man has a keener eye for a bird than he, nor a quicker ear to distinguish between their songs; and no unusual sound of insect life escapes his scrutiny,—he is keenly alert to know what is going on under his feet as well as over his head. The most modest flower does not escape his eye, nor any peculiarly marked leaf, nor any rich bed of leafy mould. He sees everything with his poet's eye, even to "those rifts where unregarded mosses be." He has never been what is called a society man, though latterly he has gone more into general society. Formerly, dinner-parties and balls were his pet aversions, as one might suspect from his poem "Without and Within:"—
"My coachman, in the moonlight there, Looks through the sidelight of the door; I hear him with his brethren swear, As I could do,—but only more.
"Flattening his nose against the pane, He envies me my brilliant lot; Blows on his aching fists in vain, And dooms me to a place more hot.
* * * * *
"Meanwhile, I inly curse the bore Of hunting still the same old coon; And envy him outside the door, In golden quiets of the moon.
"I envy him the ungyved prance By which his freezing feet he warms, And drag my lady's chain and dance,— The galley-slave of dreary forms.
"Oh, could he have my share of din, And I his quiet!—past a doubt, 'T would still be one man bored within, And just another bored without."
But he was always fond of good company, and collected around him in Cambridge, in the old days, a brilliant circle of congenial friends. Of these, Longfellow, and Professor Felton, and Agassiz, and Dr. Estes Howe his brother-in-law, were perhaps the closest; but John Holmes and Edmund Quincy and Robert Carter were very warm friends,—members of the famous Whist Club, and royal companions all. Dr. Holmes was not far away, and always a constant visitor at Cambridge; and James T. Fields was a cherished friend. William Page, the painter, and W. W. Story, the sculptor, were also among his earlier friends. It was to the latter that the series of letters collected under the title of "Fireside Travels" were addressed. But there is scarcely a man of note in the literary world whom he has not known in the course of his life; and he has made friends of nearly all he has known. He has been a busy worker, too, all his life,—industrious, concentrated, and indefatigable. A man who could write the whole of "Sir Launfal" in two days knows how to toil, and has been accustomed to concentrate his faculties. Mr. Lowell has an utter disbelief in the materialistic theory of the Universe, and expresses it many times in his later poems. He at least—
"envies science not her feat To make a twice-told tale of God."
And to his reverential eyes—
"The Ages one great minster seem, That throbs with praise and prayer."
And his hope for the world is expressed in "Godminster Chimes," where he says:—
"O chime of sweet Saint Charity, Peal soon that Easter morn When Christ for all shall risen be, And in all hearts new born! That Pentecost when utterance clear To all men shall be given, When all shall say My Brother here, And hear My Son in heaven!"
Of his own personal trust he gives a picture in "Sea-Weed:"—
"The drooping sea-weed hears, in night abyssed, Far and more far the wave's receding shocks, Nor doubts, for all the darkness and the mist, That the pale shepherdess will keep her tryst, And shoreward lead again her foam-fleeced flocks.
"For the same wave that rims the Carib shore With momentary brede of pearl and gold, Goes hurrying thence to gladden with its roar Lorn weeds bound fast on rocks of Labrador, By love divine on one sweet errand rolled.
"And though Thy healing waters far withdraw, I too can wait, and feed on hope of Thee And of the clear recurrence of Thy law, Sure that the parting grace my morning saw Abides its time to come in search of me."
ROBERT AND ELIZABETH BROWNING.
Comparatively little has been known of the lives of these poets. The fact of their having lived in Italy throughout their married life kept them somewhat aloof from the gossip-loving writers of their own country; and the tourists, both from England and America, who were so fond of calling upon them there, seldom succeeded in establishing anything like intimate relations with them.
The little that is known can be briefly stated. Browning's father was a gentleman of wealth and of original character, who allowed the striking individuality of his son Robert to develop itself in a natural way instead of attempting to cramp him into the mould of the other young Englishmen of his rank and time. At an early age he went to Italy, where he passed several years in diligent study of the institutions and art of that favored land as well as of her literature both ancient and modern. Young Browning had a great passion for these studies, and a great fondness for Italian life, with which he familiarized himself in all the different provinces and all the principal cities, living for long periods in each favorite resort where there was anything either in art or nature to please his fine critical taste. He studied both painting and music, and has always been a fine amateur in each. He wrote poetry from childhood, but published nothing until he was about twenty-three years old, when "Paracelsus," a dramatic poem, appeared. The genius of the writer was recognized at once, as well as those faults which have clung to him persistently through life. Two years after, a tragedy entitled "Strafford" was produced, and a little later, "Sordello." We are interested in these, for the purposes of this article, only as they made him known to Elizabeth Barrett, a young invalid in England, who at once felt the power of the high genius which had appeared in the literary world. She had written some poems herself, but was almost unknown, and, indeed, expected to live but a very short time. Returning to England at this time, Browning, through some knowledge of her poems, made her acquaintance, and a mutual attachment followed, which proved very strong and lasting. This love between two poets of such high rank is unique in the annals of literature. At first she is afraid of her own love, and bids him
"Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore Alone upon the threshold of my door Of individual life, I shall command The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand Serenely in the sunshine as before, Without the sense of that which I forebore . . . Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine With pulses that beat double. What I do And what I dream, include thee as the wine Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue God for myself, He hears that name of thine And sees within my eyes the tears of two."
The whole outlook of life soon changed to the gentle invalid, as she tells him later.
"The face of all the world is changed, I think, Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul Move still, oh, still beside me, as they stole Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink Of obvious death, where I who thought to sink Was caught up into love and taught the whole Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink, And praise its sweetness, sweet with thee anear. The name of country, heaven, are changed away For where thou art or shalt be, there or here; And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday (The singing angels know) are only dear Because thy name moves right in what they say."
The wonder of how she could have been able to live without him impresses her much.
"Beloved, my beloved, when I think That thou wast in the world a year ago, What time I sat alone here in the snow And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink No moment at thy voice . . . but link by link Went counting all my chains as if that so They never could fall off at any blow Struck by thy possible hand . . . why, thus I drink Of life's great cup of wonder. Wonderful, Never to feel thee thrill the day or night With personal act or speech, nor ever cull Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull, Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight."
But in order to tell the whole story we should have to quote all the "Sonnets from the Portuguese,"—and they would make an alluring chapter certainly,—but we must refrain. The result was that,
"As brighter ladies do not count it strange For love to give up acres and degree, I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange My near, sweet view of Heaven for earth with thee."
The two poets were married, and removed at once to Italy, where the lady's health improved, and where they passed many years of happy married life. Miss Barrett's father did not approve the marriage, and he cast her off in consequence, and never became reconciled to her, which was the one great grief of her happy and fortunate life. She had before marriage lost a favorite brother by drowning, for whom she had mourned so deeply as seriously to affect her health. These were the only abiding sorrows of her life, as far as the world knows. The perfect companionship of these two gifted souls has been described by Browning himself:—
"When if I think but deep enough You are wont to answer prompt as rhyme, And you too find without a rebuff The response your soul seeks, many a time Piercing its fine flesh stuff."
Their perfect union he describes thus:—
"My own, see where the years conduct. At first 't was something our two souls Should mix as mists do; each is sucked Into each now, on the new stream rolls, Whatever rocks obstruct.
"Think when our one soul understands The great Word which makes all things new, When earth breaks up and heaven expands, How will the change strike me and you In the house not made with hands?
"Oh, I must feel your brain prompt mine, Your heart anticipate my heart, You must be just before in fine, See and make me see for my part New depths of the Divine."
The whole poem "By the Fireside" should be quoted to tell the story from his side; but we will select only the close for our purpose. After describing how their love had led on to its own consummation, he says:—
"I am named and known by that hour's feat, There took my station and degree. So grew my own small life complete As Nature obtained her best of me— One born to love you, sweet!
"And to watch you sit by the fireside now, Back again, as you mutely sit Musing by fire-light, that great brow And the spirit-small hand propping it Yonder, my heart knows how!
"So the earth has gained by one man more, And the gain of earth must be Heaven's gain too, And the whole is well worth thinking o'er When the autumn comes; as I mean to do One day, as I said before."
The autumn time has come now to Browning, and he has had ample time to think it o'er; for the "perfect wife," the "Leonor," has lain under the grasses and violets of the English burying-ground in Florence for twenty-five years. In the same poem from which we have quoted, he says:—
"How well I know what I mean to do When the long dark autumn evenings come! And where, my soul, is thy pleasant hue? With the music of all thy voices dumb In life's November, too!
"I shall be found by the fire, suppose, O'er a great wise book as beseemeth age, While the shutters flap as the cross wind blows, And I turn the page, and I turn the page, Not verse now, only prose!"
It is sad to think that he should be left solitary by his fire and with his books, but he has much that is beautiful to look back upon,—much, too, that is beautiful to look forward to, let us hope; and he is surrounded by many friends, and devotedly attached to the one son who was the only fruit of this royal marriage of genius.
The house where the poets lived together for fourteen years in Florence has been thus described:—
"Those who have known 'Casa Guidi' as it was can never forget the square anteroom with its great picture and piano-forte at which the boy Browning passed many an hour,—the little dining-room covered with tapestry, and where hung medallions of Tennyson, Carlyle, and Robert Browning,—the long room filled with plaster casts and studies, which was Mr. Browning's retreat,—and dearest of all, the large drawing-room where she always sat. It opens upon a balcony filled with plants, and looks out upon the old iron-gray church of Santa Felice.
"There was something about this room which seemed to make it a proper and especial haunt for poets. The dark shadows and subdued light gave it a dreamy look, which was enhanced by the tapestry-covered walls and the old pictures of saints that looked out sadly from their carved frames of black wood. Large bookcases constructed of specimens of Florentine carving were brimming over with wise-looking books. Tables were covered with more gayly-bound volumes, the gifts of brother authors. Dante's grave profile, a cast of Keats's face and brow taken after death, a pen-and-ink sketch of Tennyson, little paintings of the boy Browning, all attracted the eye in turn, and gave rise to a thousand musings. A quaint mirror, easy-chairs and sofas, and a hundred nothings, which always add an indescribable charm, were all massed in this room. But the glory of all, and that which sanctified all, was seated in a low arm-chair near the door. A small table strewn with writing-materials, books, and newspapers, was always by her side."
Here Mrs. Browning held her small court, and here she entertained in the course of these years many of the most famous men and women of her time. Almost all visitors to Florence, especially English and American, sought her acquaintance, and all were kindly received by her. The conversation was always earnest there; she demanded a great deal of a person,—one felt it instinctively; and few came to waste her time upon trifles. Her own conversation was especially earnest, sometimes vivid, and lighted up by a humor peculiarly her own. She cared nothing for talk about people. Books and humanity, great deeds, and the great questions of the day, were the staple of her conversation. Religion, too, was an ever present topic. She was one of the most religious women of her day, and she interwove it in all her conversation, as she did in her writings. Indeed, her religion was a part of herself, and whoever knew her must know of this strong, deep feeling. One cannot conceive of Mrs. Browning apart from her religion. She would not have been herself, but another. It was a rare sight, indeed, to see this frail, spiritual-looking woman, when she talked upon some phase of her favorite theme, with her great expressive eyes fairly glowing with the intensity of her feeling, and a light shining through her face, as from the soul beyond. Her other great theme was Italy, and upon this she was always eloquent. Indeed, both Mr. and Mrs. Browning may almost be said to have adopted Italy for their home, and to have transferred their home affections to her soil. Many great Englishmen have loved Italy, but none more warmly than the Brownings. They suffered with her through all those dark hours which preceded her final emancipation from the foreign yoke, and they aided by their strong, brave words in bringing about that emancipation. Their pens were used in her behalf, perhaps too much for their own fame, because many of the subjects on which they wrote were of somewhat transient interest and more political than poetical. They were both friends and helpers to the great statesman Cavour in all his labors for the reconstruction of Italy, and one of the deepest interests of their lives was that reconstruction. Mrs. Browning's frail health was really injured at times by the serious grief she felt for temporary reverses, and by the absorbing interest she took in the cause.
The dream of her life, a free and united Italy, was fulfilled in Napoleon's formal recognition of Italian freedom and unity, the very week she died. It is given to few in this world thus to see the fruition of their fondest desires, and to pass away just as the clear morning light is dispelling the shadows of a long night of watching and waiting. The Napoleonic poems added nothing to her reputation as a poet, and were much regretted by some of her friends; but her literary reputation was nothing to her compared with her love for Italy, and she at least had faith in Napoleon's promises.
Mr. Hilliard, in his "Six Months in Italy," says of the home behind the Casa Guidi windows:—
"A happier home and a more perfect union than theirs it is not easy to imagine; and this completeness arises not only from the rare qualities which each possesses, but from their perfect adaptation to each other. . . . As he is full of manly power, so she is a type of the most sensitive and delicate womanhood. . . . I have never seen a human frame which seemed so nearly a transparent veil for a celestial and immortal spirit. She is a soul of fire enclosed in a shell of pearl. . . . Nor is she more remarkable for genius and learning than for sweetness of temper, tenderness of heart, depth of feeling, and purity of spirit. It is a privilege to know such beings singly and separately; but to see their powers quickened and their happiness rounded by the sacred tie of marriage, is a cause for peculiar and lasting gratitude."
The boy Browning was very beautiful in his childhood, and occupied a large place in the lives of his parents, who felt great pride in showing him to their visitors. It is a pleasant story told of the street beggars who walked through the Via Maggio in those days, under the windows of Casa Guidi, that they always spoke of Mrs. Browning, simply and touchingly, as "the mother of the beautiful child." But her love for this one beautiful darling taught her the whole possibility of motherhood. It made her heart go out in deepest sympathy to all mothers, as "to the friends unknown, and a land unvisited over the sea," to whom she writes:—
"Shall I speak like a poet, or run Into weak woman's tears for relief? Ah, children! I never lost one,— Yet my arm's round my own little son, And love knows the secret of grief."
In the Italian poem "Mother and Poet," she has expressed a mother's feelings as truthfully and vividly as any writer who has ever touched that great theme. She can describe, too, in language that almost blisters the page on which it is written, that other class of mothers which it is bitter to feel that the earth does contain,—the monsters who would sell their daughters for gold. In that most powerful story of Marian in "Aurora Leigh," she writes thus:—
"The child turned round And looked up piteous in the mother's face (Be sure that mother's death-bed will not want Another devil to damn, than such a look). 'Oh, mother!' then with desperate glance to heaven, 'God free me from my mother,' she shrieked out, 'These mothers are too dreadful.' And with force As passionate as fear, she tore her hands, Like lilies from the rocks, from hers and his, And sprang down, bounded headlong down the steep, Away from both, away if possible, As far as God—away. They yelled at her As famished hounds at a hare, She heard them yell, And felt her name hiss after her from the hills Like shot from guns."
The whole of that wonderful poem of "Aurora Leigh" is full of such impassioned sympathy with womanhood, and shows the great heart of the poet as perhaps none of her other poems do. Written in the maturity of her powers, and after she had learned much of life in all its intricate depths, it contains perhaps more passion and power and fiery-burning eloquence than any other poem in the English language. Only an inspired womanly hand, which had sounded all the deeps of the world's scanty wisdom, could have penned it.
But Mrs. Browning shows great wealth of human sympathy in all her poems. Oppression and wrong sink into the very depths of her nature, and she cannot bear that they shall go unreproved in the universe while she exists. Her sympathy with our labors for the emancipation of the slaves was well known, in a time when little sympathy was to be found among the English, and her feeling for the poor and oppressed of her native land was always deep and strong. Her "Cry of the Children" will never be forgotten while there are suffering children in the world, and while there are human hearts to listen to their wail. It is as sacred a piece of inspiration as the Psalms of David; and the need for such an expression of the woe of the outcast poor of England is almost as great to-day as when the immortal poem was written. Still can we ask of the English people:—
"Do you hear the children weeping, O my brothers, Ere the sorrow comes with years? They are leaning their heads against their mothers, And that cannot stop tears. The young lambs are bleating in the meadows; The young birds are chirping in their nest; The young fawns are playing with the shadows; The young flowers are blowing toward the west. But the young, young children, O my brothers, They are weeping bitterly; They are weeping in the playtime of the others, In the country of the free."
This poem, Hood's "Song of the Shirt," and a few others, have added their mite to the influence of Dickens in benefiting a little the poorest of England's poor; yet how much remains to be done is shown in the present deplorable condition of the lower orders in that country. What might not such a poet as Robert Browning have done, could he have emancipated himself from his involved and difficult style, and written in a manly and straightforward way of the world of men and women around him, instead of going off in his exasperating manner into the Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, to tell us of Prince Hohenstiel Tebwangan Saviour of Society. The pity of it is beyond expression, when so great a poet as Browning makes himself so needlessly unintelligible, and loses the vast influence he might exert over the minds of his generation and the minds of posterity. But the thoughts hidden in his rugged verse are worth delving for, and already societies are being formed in England and America to study them. These societies will do something to popularize him, but he can never be made what he was really capable of being, the poet of the people. His circle of readers will always be small, but it will be of the world's best. The thinkers will never make a vast throng in this world, while the highways of folly will always swarm with a great multitude which no man can number. But there is a day after to-day, and sometime, when the thought of the world shall have risen to a higher level, the name of Robert Browning will be oftener than now upon the lips of men.
Personally, Browning is almost unknown to his countrymen; his name even has never been heard by the multitude. He is never pointed out to strangers, as are other men of letters, and never attracts any notice in a public place. But he is well known to a select circle, where he is a favorite, and he goes a good deal into society in London these later years. He is a great favorite with women everywhere; and he deserves to be, for he has always shown himself capable of sympathizing with what is truest and best in womanhood. He has been loyal to the memory of his wife during all his long years of solitude, and it still seems that she holds her old place in his heart. He is now seventy-four years old,—a fine, well-preserved man, with a light step and an easy carriage. He was a handsome man in his prime, with a charmingly expressive face and a good figure. His hair is now snow-white, but otherwise he is not old in his looks. His manners are somewhat precise, and after the old school. He is fond of admiration, and is accounted egotistical, although reserved in general society. His talk, like his writings, is a good deal upon out-of-the-way subjects, and is often deemed unintelligible by those unfamiliar with his thought. To his enthusiastic admirers it seems like inspiration. He is still busy with his pen, although his volumes of poetry now number twenty or more. He has really created a literature of his own. How life appears to him now, from the vantage-ground of his almost fourscore years, it would be interesting to know. Many years ago he wrote, a little wearily:—
"There's a fancy some lean to and others hate,— That when this life is ended begins New work for the soul in another state, Where it strives and gets weary, loses and wins,— Where the strong and the weak this world's congeries Repeat in large what they practised in small, Through life after life in an infinite series,— Only the scale's to be changed, that's all.
"Yet I hardly know. When a soul has seen By the means of Evil that Good is best, And through earth and its noise what is heaven's serene,— When its faith in the same has stood the test,— Why, the child grown man, we burn the rod; The uses of labor are surely done. There remaineth a rest for the people of God, And I have had troubles enough for one."
In the crowded little churchyard at Haworth, in the wild, bleak Yorkshire region, are eight mounds which mark the extinction of a family whose genius and sorrows have made them known the world over. In the little church there is a mural tablet which tells the names of this illustrious group, and the many visitors to this little out-of-the-way house of worship read with a melancholy interest these sad inscriptions. First we are told of Maria Bronte, the mother, who died in 1821, when only thirty-nine years old, leaving the six children whose names follow, all in the helplessness of early childhood. Next to her come Maria and Elizabeth, both of whom followed her in 1825; then Branwell and Emily, who died in 1848, and Anne, who lived one year longer. But it is to the last of the inscriptions that all eyes are turned with the greatest interest, for there we read—
CHARLOTTE, WIFE OF THE REV. ARTHUR BELL NICHOLS, A. B. AND DAUGHTER OF THE REV. E. P. BRONTE, A. M., INCUMBENT. SHE DIED MARCH 31ST, 1855, IN THE 39TH YEAR OF HER AGE.
There is no sadder history in all literature than the history of this gifted family and their early doom. A pathos clings about it which is really painful, so few are the gleams of light which are thrown upon the dark picture. From the time when the Rev. Patrick Bronte (himself a gifted but somewhat erratic man) brought his young wife into the solitude of this moorland parsonage and shut her up in a seclusion from which she was only removed by death, all the way down through the lonely childhood of the little motherless children, and on into their no less lonely and more afflicted womanhood, even to the deaths of all the gifted group, there is a depth of sombre gloom from which the sympathetic heart must turn away with a bitter pain and almost a feeling of hot rebellion against Fate.
The utter loneliness of that part of Yorkshire at the time when Mr. Bronte settled there can hardly be imagined to-day. In winter all communication with the outside world was cut off by almost impassable mud or entirely impassable snow. Travellers whom actual necessity compelled to start forth were often snowed in for a week or ten days within a few miles of home, and nobody thought of stirring from that shelter except through the pressure of absolute necessity. Isolated as were the little hill villages like Haworth, they were in the world, compared with the loneliness of the gray ancestral houses to be seen here and there in the dense hollows of the moors.
The inhabitants of this rough country were themselves of wild, turbulent nature, much given to deadly feuds and really dangerous in their enmities. Their amusements were all of the lowest order, and hard riding and deep drinking were the characteristics of all the male population, while cock-fighting and bull-baiting were thought refined amusements for both sexes.
The ministers were not much above their flocks in general culture, and the incumbents of Haworth had been noted for their eccentricities for generations. Many of them attended the horse-racings and the games of football which were played on Sunday afternoons, and took as deep a part as any of the flock in the drunken carouse which always followed a funeral. Mr. Bronte was a very different man from his predecessors, but was many years in subduing his congregation to an even nominal observance of common moralities. He was, however, a man of high spirit and imperious will, and, bending himself to the task with all his powers, made a decided impression upon the life around him. The gentle mother soon passed away, and Mr. Bronte became a stern and silent man who kept his children at a distance from himself and allowed them little intercourse with the outside world. They were allowed to walk out on the wild heathery moors, but not down in the village street; and they acquired a passionate love of those purple moors, which remained with them through life. When angry, Mr. Bronte would say nothing, but they could hear him out at the door firing pistol-shots in quick succession as a relief to his feelings. The children were unnaturally quiet and well-behaved. The old nurse says:—
"You would never have known there was a child in the house, they were such noiseless, good little creatures. I used to think them spiritless, they were so different from any children I had ever seen."
They used to read the newspapers, write little stories, and act plays, and at one time conducted a magazine of their own. Like all imaginative children, they played in stories, each one taking part in the stirring romances they invented. They were great believers in the supernatural, too, and the denizens of the adjoining churchyard played quite a prominent part in their childish lives. This churchyard, which was so near the parsonage, added much to the gloom and unhealthiness of the old manse, and many people have attributed the ill health of all the girls to its close proximity. It was depressing, to say the least, to such imaginative children as those of Mr. Bronte.
It was not long after the mother's death that the two older girls, Maria and Elizabeth, were taken to a school at Cowan's Bridge, a small hamlet in the north of England, and the younger children were left more lonely than ever. This school, which had been selected on account of its cheapness, had been established for the daughters of clergymen, and the entire expenses were fourteen pounds a year. Cowan's Bridge is prettily situated, just where the Leck-fells sweep into the plain; and by the course of the beck, alders and willows and hazel bushes grow. This little shallow, sparkling stream runs through long green pastures, and has many little falls over beds of gray rocks. The school-house had been made from an old bobbin-mill, and the situation proved to be remarkably unhealthy. This is the school so realistically described by Charlotte in "Jane Eyre." "Helen Burns" is an exact transcript of Maria Bronte, and every scene is a literal description of events which took place at this school. The whole thing was burned into Charlotte's memory so indelibly that she reproduced it with photographic exactness. Emily and Charlotte had followed the other sisters there, after a year or two, so that all of them suffered to a greater or less extent from the privations and abuses they underwent in that female Dotheboys Hall. The eldest sister died, and the second became very ill; yet still Mr. Bronte, who believed in the hardening process for children, kept them there until the health of each one failed in turn, and they were permanently injured by their privations. The food, which would perhaps have been wholesome enough if properly cooked, was ruined by a dirty and careless woman, who served it up in such disgusting messes that many a time the fastidious little Brontes could not eat a mouthful, though faint with hunger. There was always the most delicate cleanliness in the frugal Bronte household, and the children had early learned to be dainty in such matters. Their fare at home was of the simplest nature, but always well cooked; and they simply fasted themselves ill at Cowan's Bridge because they could not eat what was set before them.
There was another trial of health to the girls, and that was being obliged in all kinds of weather to attend church, which was two miles away. The road was a very bleak and unsheltered one, where cutting winds blew in winter and where the snows were often deep. The church was never warmed, as there was no provision made for any heating apparatus; and when the ill-fed and half-clothed girls had reached its shelter, they were often in actual chills from the exposure, and could not hope to gain any additional warmth there. Colds were taken in this way, from which the girls never recovered. They also suffered from cold in the school itself, and from the tyranny of one of the teachers, whom Charlotte has mercilessly depicted as Miss Scatcherd in "Jane Eyre." To the day of Miss Bronte's death, she would blaze with indignation at any mention of this school; and who can wonder?
After the death of the second daughter, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily were taken from Cowan's Bridge, and spent some time at another school, where they were much happier, and where they made a few life-long friends, particularly Miss Woolner, the principal. One of her schoolmates gives this description of Charlotte's arrival at the school:—
"I first saw her coming out of a covered cart, in very old-fashioned clothes, and looking very cold and miserable. When she appeared in the school-room her dress was changed, but just as old. She looked a little old woman, so short-sighted that she always appeared to be seeking something, and moving her head from side to side to catch a sight of it. She was very shy and nervous, and spoke with a strong Irish accent. When a book was given her she dropped her head over it till her nose nearly touched it; and when she was told to hold her head up, up went the book after it, still close to her nose, so that it was not possible to help laughing."
She was a close student here, and a favorite with the girls, whom she would frighten half out of their senses by her wonderful stories. So great was their effect at times, that her listeners were thrown into real hysterics. After leaving this school, Charlotte returned home, and began keeping house and teaching her sisters. Here several quiet years were passed, busy but monotonous. The girls spent their time in study, in household tasks, walking, and drawing, of which they were very fond. They also read very thoroughly the few books which were accessible to them. At nineteen Charlotte went as a teacher to Miss Woolner's school, where she was very happy, and remained until her health failed. It was a nervous trouble, which seemed at one time like a complete breaking down, but from which she gradually recovered after her return home. Emily now took her turn in teaching, going to a school at Halifax, where she came near literally dying from homesickness. Emily could never live away from Haworth and her moors; and in this school she labored incessantly from six in the morning till eleven at night, with only one half-hour for exercise between. To a free, wild, untamable spirit like Emily's, this was indeed slavery. She returned home after a time, and Charlotte again went out to teach. They felt the necessity of earning money, as their father's stipend was small, and he was both liberal and charitable,—and there was their brother Branwell to be provided for. Of this brother we have not before spoken; but he occupied an important place in their home and in their lives. He had been the pride and the hope of the family from early youth. He was possessed of brilliant talents, and was full of noble impulses, but was very fond of pleasure, and soon formed irregular habits, which were the ruin of his life and the source of unmeasured grief to his whole family. They had desired to send him to study at the Royal Academy, as he had the family's fondness for drawing, and they fancied he would develop great talent as an artist. Had his habits been good, their hopes might have been realized; but he fell so early into profligacy, that the idea of becoming an artist was given up, and he took a place as a private tutor. He had formed his intemperate habits when a mere boy, at the public house in Haworth village, where he was esteemed royal company,—as no doubt he was, with his brilliant conversational powers,—and was often sent for to entertain chance guests, in whom he delighted, as they could tell him so much of that distant world beyond the confining hills, for which he yearned. The pity of it was infinite; for had he been kept in regular courses for a few years longer, his own ambition and love of the good opinion of others might have restrained him altogether from excess. As it was, before his judgment was matured or he had any real knowledge of the fatal effect of the habits he was forming, he was firmly fixed in the chains of a degrading habit from which death alone could free him. His struggles with this fatal fascination, and his sufferings, were cruel in the extreme, and inflicted pangs bitterer than death on all who loved him. He was rather weak of will, and had been allowed to grow up self-indulgent, through the over-fondness of his family, who were almost ascetic in their own habits, but could deny him nothing. He had great power of attracting people and of attaching them to him,—a power almost wanting in other members of the family, and which might have been of great advantage to him through life, had he started on the right course. As it was, it only helped to drag him down. He had enough of Irish blood in him to make his manners frank and genial, with a kind of natural gallantry about them. He was generally esteemed handsome. His forehead was massive, his eyes good, his mouth pleasant though somewhat coarse, his hair and complexion sandy. Mrs. Gaskell, in her life of Charlotte Bronte, thus tells of the second great grief he caused his family:—
"Branwell, I have mentioned, had obtained a situation as a private tutor. Full of available talent, a brilliant talker, a good writer, apt at drawing, ready of appreciation, and with a not unhandsome person, he took the fancy of a married woman twenty years older than himself. It is no excuse for him to say that she began the first advances, and 'made love' to him. She was so bold and hardened that she did it in the very presence of her children, fast approaching maturity; and they would threaten her that if she did not grant them such and such indulgences, they would tell their bed-ridden father how she went on with Mr. Bronte. He was so beguiled by this mature and wicked woman that he went home for his holiday reluctantly, stayed there as short a time as possible, perplexing and distressing them all by his extraordinary conduct,—at one time in the highest spirits, at another in deepest depression,—accusing himself of blackest guilt and treachery, without specifying what they were; and altogether evincing an irritability of disposition bordering on insanity. Charlotte and her sister suffered acutely from his mysterious behavior. They began to lose all hope in his future career. He was no longer the family pride; an indistinct dread was creeping over their minds that he might turn out the family disgrace.
"After a time the husband of the woman with whom he had intrigued, died. Branwell had been looking forward to this with guilty hope. After her husband's death his paramour would be free; strange as it seems, the young man still loved her passionately, and now imagined the time had come when they might look forward to being married, and might live together without reproach or blame. She had offered to elope with him; she had written to him perpetually; she had sent him money, twenty pounds at a time,—he remembered the criminal advances she had made; she had braved shame and her children's menaced disclosures for his sake; he thought she must love him; he little knew how bad a depraved woman can be. Her husband had made a will, in which he left her his property solely on the condition that she should never see Branwell Bronte again. At the very time the will was read, she did not know but that he might be on his way to her, having heard of her husband's death. She despatched a servant in hot haste to Haworth. He stopped at the Black Bull, and a messenger was sent to the parsonage for Branwell. He came down to the little inn, and was shut up with the man some time. Then the groom went away, and Branwell was left in the room alone. More than an hour elapsed before sign or sound was heard; then those outside heard a noise like the bleating of a calf, and on opening the door he was found in a kind of fit, succeeding to the stupor of grief which he had fallen into on hearing that he was forbidden by his paramour ever to see her again, as, if he did, she would forfeit her fortune. . . . Let her live and flourish. He died, his pockets filled with her letters, which he carried about his person perpetually in order that he might read them as often as he pleased. He lies dead, and his doom is only known to God's mercy."
But he did not die at once. He lived as an abiding care and sorrow and disgrace to his family for three years. He began taking opium, and drank more than ever. "For some time before his death he had attacks of delirium tremens, of the most frightful character; he slept in his father's room, and he would sometimes declare that either he or his father would be dead before morning." The trembling sisters, sick with fright, watched the night through before the door, in such agony as only loving hearts can feel at the ruin of a loved one. The scenes at the old manse at this time would serve to answer the question so often asked, Where did three lonely women like the Bronte sisters ever form their conceptions of such characters as they depicted? How their pure imaginations could conceive of such beings as Heathcote and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall may perhaps be guessed by those who learn what sort of a man Branwell Bronte had grown to be. But the long agony was over at last, and Branwell found his rest; and the sisters, although they could not but feel the relief of his death, mourned for him with passionate sorrow.
Let us turn to pleasanter glimpses of the life at Haworth, some of them preceding the events of which we have been writing. Charlotte had spent a year or two in Brussels, teaching in a school there, and gaining some of those experiences which she afterwards embodied in her novels. Then she had returned home, and the sisters had talked of establishing a school. None of the famous books had yet been written. To show some of Charlotte's ideas at this time, one or two extracts from her letters may be of interest. She writes in 1840:—
"Do not be over-persuaded to marry a man you can never respect,—I do not say love; because I think if you can respect a person before marriage, moderate love at least will come after; and as to intense passion, I am convinced that that is no desirable feeling. In the first place it seldom or never meets with a requital; and in the second place, if it did, the feeling would be only temporary; it would last the honeymoon, and then perhaps give place to disgust. Certainly this would be the case on the man's part; and on the woman's—God help her if she be left to love passionately and alone.