The Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane, This windy desert roamed in turn; Unmoved these mighty blocks remain Whose story none that lives may learn.
Erect, half buried, slant or prone, These awful listeners, blind and dumb, Hear the strange tongues of tribes unknown, As wave on wave they go and come.
"Who are you, giants, whence and why?" I stand and ask in blank amaze; My soul accepts their mute reply: "A mystery, as are you that gaze.
"A silent Orpheus wrought the charm From riven rocks their spoils to bring; A nameless Titan lent his arm To range us in our magic ring.
"But Time with still and stealthy stride, That climbs and treads and levels all, That bids the loosening keystone slide, And topples down the crumbling wall,—
"Time, that unbuilds the quarried past, Leans on these wrecks that press the sod; They slant, they stoop, they fall at last, And strew the turf their priests have trod.
"No more our altar's wreath of smoke Floats up with morning's fragrant dew; The fires are dead, the ring is broke, Where stood the many stand the few."
—My thoughts had wandered far away, Borne off on Memory's outspread wing, To where in deepening twilight lay The wrecks of friendship's broken ring.
Ah me! of all our goodly train How few will find our banquet hall! Yet why with coward lips complain That this must lean and that must fall?
Cold is the Druid's altar-stone, Its vanished flame no more returns; But ours no chilling damp has known,— Unchanged, unchanging, still it burns.
So let our broken circle stand A wreck, a remnant, yet the same, While one last, loving, faithful hand Still lives to feed its altar-flame!
My heart has gone back over the waters to my old friends and my own home. When this vision has faded, I will return to the silence of the lovely Close and the shadow of the great Cathedral.
The remembrance of home, with its early and precious and long-enduring friendships, has intruded itself among my recollections of what I saw and heard, of what I felt and thought, in the distant land I was visiting. I must return to the scene where I found myself when the suggestion of the broken circle ran away with my imagination.
The literature of Stonehenge is extensive, and illustrates the weakness of archaeologists almost as well as the "Praetorium" of Scott's "Antiquary." "In 1823," says a local handbook, "H. Browne, of Amesbury, published 'An Illustration of Stonehenge and Abury,' in which he endeavored to show that both of these monuments were antediluvian, and that the latter was formed under the direction of Adam. He ascribes the present dilapidated condition of Stonehenge to the operation of the general deluge; for, he adds, 'to suppose it to be the work of any people since the flood is entirely monstrous.'"
We know well enough how great stones—pillars and obelisks—are brought into place by means of our modern appliances. But if the great blocks were raised by a mob of naked Picts, or any tribe that knew none of the mechanical powers but the lever, how did they set them up and lay the cross-stones, the imposts, upon the uprights? It is pleasant, once in a while, to think how we should have managed any such matters as this if left to our natural resources. We are all interested in the make-shifts of Robinson Crusoe. Now the rudest tribes make cords of some kind, and the earliest, or almost the earliest, of artificial structures is an earth-mound. If a hundred, or hundreds, of men could drag the huge stones many leagues, as they must have done to bring them to their destined place, they could have drawn each of them up a long slanting mound ending in a sharp declivity, with a hole for the foot of the stone at its base. If the stone were now tipped over, it would slide into its place, and could be easily raised from its slanting position to the perpendicular. Then filling in the space between the mound and two contiguous stones, the impost could be dragged up to its position. I found a pleasure in working at this simple mechanical problem, as a change from the more imaginative thoughts suggested by the mysterious monuments.
One incident of our excursion to Stonehenge had a significance for me which renders it memorable in my personal experience. As we drove over the barren plain, one of the party suddenly exclaimed, "Look! Look! See the lark rising!" I looked up with the rest. There was the bright blue sky, but not a speck upon it which my eyes could distinguish. Again, one called out, "Hark! Hark! Hear him singing!" I listened, but not a sound reached my ear. Was it strange that I felt a momentary pang? Those that look out at the windows are darkened, and all the daughters of music are brought low. Was I never to see or hear the soaring songster at Heaven's gate,—unless,—unless,—if our mild humanized theology promises truly, I may perhaps hereafter listen to him singing far down beneath me? For in whatever world I may find myself, I hope I shall always love our poor little spheroid, so long my home, which some kind angel may point out to me as a gilded globule swimming in the sunlight far away. After walking the streets of pure gold in the New Jerusalem, might not one like a short vacation, to visit the well-remembered green fields and flowery meadows? I had a very sweet emotion of self-pity, which took the sting out of my painful discovery that the orchestra of my pleasing life-entertainment was unstringing its instruments, and the lights were being extinguished,—that the show was almost over. All this I kept to myself, of course, except so far as I whispered it to the unseen presence which we all feel is in sympathy with us, and which, as it seemed to my fancy, was looking into my eyes, and through them into my soul, with the tender, tearful smile of a mother who for the first time gently presses back the longing lips of her as yet unweaned infant.
On our way back from Stonehenge we stopped and took a cup of tea with a friend of our host, Mr. Nightingale. His house, a bachelor establishment, was very attractive to us by the beauty within and around it. His collection of "china," as Pope and old-fashioned people call all sorts of earthenware, excited the enthusiasm of our host, whose admiration of some rare pieces in the collection was so great that it would have run into envy in a less generous nature.
It is very delightful to find one's self in one of these English country residences. The house is commonly old, and has a history. It is oftentimes itself a record, like that old farmhouse my friend John Bellows wrote to me about, which chronicled half a dozen reigns by various architectural marks as exactly as if it had been an official register. "The stately homes of England," as we see them at Wilton and Longford Castle, are not more admirable in their splendors than "the blessed homes of England" in their modest beauty. Everywhere one may see here old parsonages by the side of ivy-mantled churches, and the comfortable mansions where generations of country squires have lived in peace, while their sons have gone forth to fight England's battles, and carry her flags of war and commerce all over the world. We in America can hardly be said to have such a possession as a family home. We encamp,—not under canvas, but in fabrics of wood or more lasting materials, which are pulled down after a brief occupancy by the builders, and possibly their children, or are modernized so that the former dwellers in them would never recognize their old habitations.
In my various excursions from Salisbury I was followed everywhere by the all-pervading presence of the towering spire. Just what it was in that earlier visit, when my eyes were undimmed and my sensibilities unworn, just such I found it now. As one drives away from the town, the roofs of the houses drop out of the landscape, the lesser spires disappear one by one, until the great shaft is left standing alone,—solitary as the broken statue of Ozymandias in the desert, as the mast of some mighty ship above the waves which have rolled over the foundering vessel. Most persons will, I think, own to a feeling of awe in looking up at it. Few can look down from a great height without creepings and crispations, if they do not get as far as vertigos and that aerial calenture which prompts them to jump from the pinnacle on which they are standing. It does not take much imagination to make one experience something of the same feeling in looking up at a very tall steeple or chimney. To one whose eyes are used to Park Street and the Old South steeples as standards of height, a spire which climbs four hundred feet towards the sky is a new sensation. Whether I am more "afraid of that which is high" than I was at my first visit, as I should be on the authority of Ecclesiastes, I cannot say, but it was quite enough for me to let my eyes climb the spire, and I had no desire whatever to stand upon that "bad eminence," as I am sure that I should have found it.
I soon noticed a slight deflection from the perpendicular at the upper part of the spire. This has long been observed. I could not say that I saw the spire quivering in the wind, as I felt that of Strasburg doing when I ascended it,—swaying like a blade of grass when a breath of air passes over it. But it has been, for at least two hundred years, nearly two feet out of the perpendicular. No increase in the deviation was found to exist when it was examined early in the present century. It is a wonder that this slight-looking structure can have survived the blasts, and thunderbolts, and earthquakes, and the weakening effects of time on its stones and timbers for five hundred years. Since the spire of Chichester Cathedral fell in 1861, sheathing itself in its tower like a sword dropping into its scabbard, one can hardly help looking with apprehension at all these lofty fabrics. I have before referred to the fall of the spire of Tewkesbury Abbey church, three centuries earlier. There has been a good deal of fear for the Salisbury spire, and great precautions have been taken to keep it firm, so that we may hope it will stand for another five hundred years. It ought to be a "joy forever," for it is a thing of beauty, if ever there were one.
I never felt inclined to play the part of the young enthusiast in "Excelsior," as I looked up at the weathercock which surmounts the spire. But the man who oils the weathercock-spindle has to get up to it in some way, and that way is by ladders which reach to within thirty feet of the top, where there is a small door, through which he emerges, to crawl up the remaining distance on the outside. "The situation and appearance," says one of the guide-books, "must be terrific, yet many persons have voluntarily and daringly clambered to the top, even in a state of intoxication." Such, I feel sure, was not the state of my most valued and exemplary clerical friend, who, with a cool head and steady nerves, found himself standing in safety at the top of the spire, with his hand upon the vane, which nothing terrestrial had ever looked down upon in its lofty position, except a bird, a bat, a sky-rocket, or a balloon.
In saying that the exterior of Salisbury Cathedral is more interesting than its interior, I was perhaps unfair to the latter, which only yields to the surpassing claims of the wonderful structure as seen from the outside. One may get a little tired of marble Crusaders, with their crossed legs and broken noses, especially if, as one sometimes finds them, they are covered with the pencilled autographs of cockney scribblers. But there are monuments in this cathedral which excite curiosity, and others which awaken the most striking associations. There is the "Boy Bishop," his marble effigy protected from vandalism by an iron cage. There is the skeleton figure representing Fox (who should have been called Goose), the poor creature who starved himself to death in trying to imitate the fast of forty days in the wilderness. Since this performance has been taken out of the list of miracles, it is not so likely to be repeated by fanatics. I confess to a strong suspicion that this is one of the ambulatory or movable stories, like the "hangman's stone" legend, which I have found in so many different parts of England. Skulls and crossbones, sometimes skeletons or skeleton-like figures, are not uncommon among the sepulchral embellishments of an earlier period. Where one of these figures is found, the forty-day-fast story is likely to grow out of it, as the mistletoe springs from the oak or apple tree.
With far different emotions we look upon the spot where lie buried many of the Herbert family, among the rest,
"Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother,"
for whom Ben Jonson wrote the celebrated epitaph. I am almost afraid to say it, but I never could admire the line,
"Lies the subject of all verse,"
nor the idea of Time dropping his hour-glass and scythe to throw a dart at the fleshless figure of Death. This last image seems to me about the equivalent in mortuary poetry of Roubiliac's monument to Mrs. Nightingale in mortuary sculpture,—poor conceits both of them, without the suggestion of a tear in the verses or in the marble; but the rhetorical exaggeration does not prevent us from feeling that we are standing by the resting-place of one who was
"learn'd and fair and good"
enough to stir the soul of stalwart Ben Jonson, and the names of Sidney and Herbert make us forget the strange hyperboles.
History meets us everywhere, as we stray among these ancient monuments. Under that effigy lie the great bones of Sir John Cheyne, a mighty man of war, said to have been "overthrown" by Richard the Third at the battle of Bosworth Field. What was left of him was unearthed in 1789 in the demolition of the Beauchamp chapel, and his thigh-bone was found to be four inches longer than that of a man of common stature.
The reader may remember how my recollections started from their hiding-place when I came, in one of our excursions, upon the name of Lechmere, as belonging to the owner of a fine estate by or through which we were driving. I had a similar twinge of reminiscence at meeting with the name of Gorges, which is perpetuated by a stately monument at the end of the north aisle of the cathedral. Sir Thomas Gorges, Knight of Longford Castle, may or may not have been of the same family as the well-remembered grandiose personage of the New England Pilgrim period. The title this gentleman bore had a far more magnificent sound than those of his contemporaries, Governor Carver and Elder Brewster. No title ever borne among us has filled the mouth quite so full as that of "Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Lord Palatine of the Province of Maine," a province with "Gorgeana" (late the plantation of Agamenticus) as its capital. Everywhere in England a New Englander is constantly meeting with names of families and places which remind him that he comes of a graft from an old tree on a new stock. I could not keep down the associations called up by the name of Gorges. There is a certain pleasure in now and then sprinkling our prosaic colonial history with the holy water of a high-sounding title; not that a "Sir" before a man's name makes him any better,—for are we not all equal, and more than equal, to each other?—but it sounds pleasantly. Sir Harry Vane and Sir Harry Frankland look prettily on the printed page, as the illuminated capital at the head of a chapter in an old folio pleases the eye of the reader. Sir Thomas Gorges was the builder of Longford Castle, now the seat of the Earl of Radnor, whose family name is Bouverie. Whether our Sir Ferdinando was of the Longford Castle stock or not I must leave to my associates of the Massachusetts Historical Society to determine.
We lived very quietly at our temporary home in Salisbury Close. A pleasant dinner with the Dean, a stroll through the grounds of the episcopal palace, with that perpetual feast of the eyes which the cathedral offered us, made our residence delightful at the time, and keeps it so in remembrance. Besides the cathedral there were the very lovely cloisters, the noble chapter-house with its central pillar,—this structure has been restored and rejuvenated since my earlier visit,—and there were the peaceful dwellings, where I insist on believing that only virtue and happiness are ever tenants. Even outside the sacred enclosure there is a great deal to enjoy, in the ancient town of Salisbury. One may rest under the Poultry Cross, where twenty or thirty generations have rested before him. One may purchase his china at the well-furnished establishment of the tenant of a spacious apartment of ancient date,—"the Halle of John Halle," a fine private edifice built in the year 1470, restored and beautified in 1834; the emblazonment of the royal arms having been executed by the celebrated architectural artist Pugin. The old houses are numerous, and some of them eminently picturesque.
Salisbury was formerly very unhealthy, on account of the low, swampy nature of its grounds. The Sanitary Reform, dating from about thirty years ago, had a great effect on the condition of the place. Before the drainage the annual mortality was twenty-seven in the thousand; since the drainage twenty in the thousand, which is below that of Boston. In the Close, which is a little Garden of Eden, with no serpent in it that I could hear of, the deaths were only fourteen in a thousand. Happy little enclosure, where thieves cannot break through and steal, where Death himself hesitates to enter, and makes a visit only now and then at long intervals, lest the fortunate inhabitants should think they had already reached the Celestial City!
It must have been a pretty bitter quarrel that drove the tenants of the airy height of Old Sarum to remove to the marshy level of the present site of the cathedral and the town. I wish we could have given more time to the ancient fortress and cathedral town. This is one of the most interesting historic localities of Great Britain. We looked from different points of view at the mounds and trenches which marked it as a strongly fortified position. For many centuries it played an important part in the history of England. At length, however, the jealousies of the laity and the clergy, a squabble like that of "town and gown," but with graver underlying causes, broke up the harmony and practically ended the existence of the place except as a monument of the past. It seems a pity that the headquarters of the Prince of Peace could not have managed to maintain tranquillity within its own borders. But so it was; and the consequence followed that Old Sarum, with all its grand recollections, is but a collection of mounds and hollows,—as much a tomb of its past as Birs Nimroud of that great city, Nineveh. Old Sarum is now best remembered by its long-surviving privilege, as a borough, of sending two members to Parliament. The farcical ceremony of electing two representatives who had no real constituency behind them was put an end to by the Reform Act of 1832.
Wilton, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke, within an easy drive's distance from Salisbury, was the first nobleman's residence I saw in my early visit. Not a great deal of what I then saw had survived in my memory. I recall the general effect of the stately mansion and its grounds. A picture or two of Vandyke's had not quite faded out of my recollection. I could not forget the armor of Anne de Montmorenci,—not another Maid of Orleans, but Constable of France,—said to have been taken in battle by an ancestor of the Herberts. It was one of the first things that made me feel I was in the Old World. Miles Standish's sword was as far back as New England collections of armor carried us at that day. The remarkable gallery of ancient sculptures impressed me at the time, but no one bust or statue survived as a distinct image. Even the beautiful Palladian bridge had not pictured itself on my mental tablet as it should have done, and I could not have taken my oath that I had seen it. But the pretty English maidens whom we met on the day of our visit to Wilton,—daughters or granddaughters of a famous inventor and engineer,—still lingered as vague and pleasing visions, so lovely had they seemed among the daisies and primroses. The primroses and daisies were as fresh in the spring of 1886 as they were in the spring of 1833, but I hardly dared to ask after the blooming maidens of that early period.
One memory predominates over all others, in walking through the halls, or still more in wandering through the grounds, of Wilton House. Here Sir Philip Sidney wrote his "Arcadia," and the ever youthful presence of the man himself rather than the recollection of his writings takes possession of us. There are three young men in history whose names always present themselves to me in a special companionship: Pico della Mirandola, "the Phoenix of the Age" for his contemporaries; "the Admirable Crichton," accepting as true the accounts which have come down to us of his wonderful accomplishments; and Sidney, the Bayard of England, "that glorious star, that lively pattern of virtue and the lovely joy of all the learned sort, ... born into the world to show unto our age a sample of ancient virtue." The English paragon of excellence was but thirty-two years old when he was slain at Zutphen, the Italian Phoenix but thirty-one when he was carried off by a fever, and the Scotch prodigy of gifts and attainments was only twenty-two when he was assassinated by his worthless pupil. Sir Philip Sidney is better remembered by the draught of water he gave the dying soldier than by all the waters he ever drew from the fountain of the Muses, considerable as are the merits of his prose and verse. But here, where he came to cool his fiery spirit after the bitter insult he had received from the Earl of Leicester; here, where he mused and wrote, and shaped his lofty plans for a glorious future, he lives once more in our imagination, as if his spirit haunted the English Arcadia he loved so dearly.
The name of Herbert, which we have met with in the cathedral, and which belongs to the Earls of Pembroke, presents itself to us once more in a very different and very beautiful aspect. Between Salisbury and Wilton, three miles and a half distant, is the little village of Bemerton, where "holy George Herbert" lived and died, and where he lies buried. Many Americans who know little else of him recall the lines borrowed from him by Irving in the "Sketch-Book" and by Emerson in "Nature." The "Sketch-Book" gives the lines thus:—
"Sweet day, so pure, so calm, so bright, The bridal of the earth and sky."
In other versions the fourth word is cool instead of pure, and cool is, I believe, the correct reading. The day when we visited Bemerton was, according to A——'s diary, "perfect." I was struck with the calm beauty of the scene around us, the fresh greenness of all growing things, and the stillness of the river which mirrored the heavens above it. It must have been this reflection which the poet was thinking of when he spoke of the bridal of the earth and sky. The river is the Wiltshire Avon; not Shakespeare's Avon, but the southern stream of the same name, which empties into the British Channel.
So much of George Herbert's intellectual and moral character repeat themselves in Emerson that if I believed in metempsychosis I should think that the English saint had reappeared in the American philosopher. Their features have a certain resemblance, but the type, though an exceptional and fine one, is not so very rare. I found a portrait in the National Gallery which was a good specimen of it; the bust of a near friend of his, more intimate with him than almost any other person, is often taken for that of Emerson. I see something of it in the portrait of Sir Philip Sidney, and I doubt not that traces of a similar mental resemblance ran through the whole group, with individual characteristics which were in some respects quite different. I will take a single verse of Herbert's from Emerson's "Nature,"—one of the five which he quotes:—
"Nothing hath got so far But man hath caught and kept it as his prey; His eyes dismount the highest star: He is in little all the sphere. Herbs gladly cure our flesh because that they Find their acquaintance there."
Emerson himself fully recognizes his obligations to "the beautiful psalmist of the seventeenth century," as he calls George Herbert. There are many passages in his writings which sound as if they were paraphrases from the elder poet. From him it is that Emerson gets a word he is fond of, and of which his imitators are too fond:—
"Who sweeps a room as for thy laws Makes that and the action fine."
The little chapel in which Herbert officiated is perhaps half as long again as the room in which I am writing, but it is four or five feet narrower,—and I do not live in a palace. Here this humble servant of God preached and prayed, and here by his faithful and loving service he so endeared himself to all around him that he has been canonized by an epithet no other saint of the English Church has had bestowed upon him. His life as pictured by Izaak Walton is, to borrow one of his own lines,
"A box where sweets compacted lie;"
and I felt, as I left his little chapel and the parsonage which he rebuilt as a free-will offering, as a pilgrim might feel who had just left the holy places at Jerusalem.
Among the places which I saw in my first visit was Longford Castle, the seat of the Earl of Radnor. I remembered the curious triangular building, constructed with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, as churches are built in the form of the cross. I remembered how the omnipresent spire of the great cathedral, three miles away, looked down upon the grounds about the building as if it had been their next-door neighbor. I had not forgotten the two celebrated Claudes, Morning and Evening. My eyes were drawn to the first of these two pictures when I was here before; now they turned naturally to the landscape with the setting sun. I have read my St. Ruskin with due reverence, but I have never given up my allegiance to Claude Lorraine. But of all the fine paintings at Longford Castle, no one so much impressed me at my recent visit as the portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein. This is one of those pictures which help to make the Old World worth a voyage across the Atlantic. Portraits of Erasmus are not uncommon; every scholar would know him if he met him in the other world with the look he wore on earth. All the etchings and their copies give a characteristic presentation of the spiritual precursor of Luther, who pricked the false image with his rapier which the sturdy monk slashed with his broadsword. What a face it is which Hans Holbein has handed down to us in this wonderful portrait at Longford Castle! How dry it is with scholastic labor, how keen with shrewd scepticism, how worldly-wise, how conscious of its owner's wide-awake sagacity! Erasmus and Rabelais,—Nature used up all her arrows for their quivers, and had to wait a hundred years and more before she could find shafts enough for the outfit of Voltaire, leaner and keener than Erasmus, and almost as free in his language as the audacious creator of Gargantua and Pantagruel.
I have not generally given descriptions of the curious objects which I saw in the great houses and museums which I visited. There is, however, a work of art at Longford Castle so remarkable that I must speak of it. I was so much struck by the enormous amount of skilful ingenuity and exquisite workmanship bestowed upon it that I looked up its history, which I found in the "Beauties of England and Wales." This is what is there said of the wonderful steel chair: "It was made by Thomas Rukers at the city of Augsburgh, in the year 1575, and consists of more than 130 compartments, all occupied by groups of figures representing a succession of events in the annals of the Roman Empire, from the landing of Aneas to the reign of Rodolphus the Second." It looks as if a life had gone into the making of it, as a pair or two of eyes go to the working of the bridal veil of an empress.
Fifty years ago and more, when I was at Longford Castle with my two companions, who are no more with us, we found there a pleasant, motherly old housekeeper, or attendant of some kind, who gave us a draught of home-made ale and left a cheerful remembrance with us, as, I need hardly say, we did with her, in a materialized expression of our good-will. It always rubbed very hard on my feelings to offer money to any persons who had served me well, as if they were doing it for their own pleasure. It may have been the granddaughter of the kindly old matron of the year 1833 who showed us round, and possibly, if I had sunk a shaft of inquiry, I might have struck a well of sentiment. But
"Take, O boatman, thrice thy fee,"
carried into practical life, is certain in its financial result to the subject of the emotional impulse, but is less sure to call forth a tender feeling in the recipient. One will hardly find it worth while to go through the world weeping over his old recollections, and paying gold instead of silver and silver instead of copper to astonished boatmen and bewildered chambermaids.
On Sunday, the 18th of July, we attended morning service at the cathedral. The congregation was not proportioned to the size of the great edifice. These vast places of worship were built for ages when faith was the rule and questioning the exception. I will not say that faith has grown cold, but it has cooled from white heat to cherry red or a still less flaming color. As to church attendance, I have heard the saying attributed to a great statesman, that "once a day is Orthodox, but twice a day is Puritan." No doubt many of the same class of people that used to fill the churches stay at home and read about evolution or telepathy, or whatever new gospel they may have got hold of. Still the English seem to me a religious people; they have leisure enough to say grace and give thanks before and after meals, and their institutions tend to keep alive the feelings of reverence which cannot be said to be distinctive of our own people.
In coming out of the cathedral, on the Sunday I just mentioned, a gentleman addressed me as a fellow-countryman. There is something,—I will not stop now to try and define it,—but there is something by which we recognize an American among the English before he speaks and betrays his origin. Our new friend proved to be the president of one of our American colleges; an intelligent and well-instructed gentleman, of course. By the invitation of our host he came in to visit us in the evening, and made himself very welcome by his agreeable conversation.
I took great delight in wandering about the old town of Salisbury. There are no such surprises in our oldest places as one finds in Chester, or Tewkesbury, or Stratford, or Salisbury, and I have no doubt in scores or hundreds of similar places which I have never visited. The best substitute for such rambles as one can take through these mouldy boroughs (or burrows) is to be found in such towns as Salem, Newburyport, Portsmouth. Without imagination, Shakespeare's birthplace is but a queer old house, and Anne Hathaway's home a tumble-down cottage. With it, one can see the witches of Salem Village sailing out of those little square windows, which look as if they were made on purpose for them, or stroll down to Derby's wharf and gaze at "Cleopatra's Barge," precursor of the yachts of the Astors and Goulds and Vanderbilts, as she comes swimming into the harbor in all her gilded glory. But it must make a difference what the imagination has to work upon, and I do not at all wonder that Mr. Ruskin would not wish to live in a land where there are no old ruins of castles and monasteries. Man will not live on bread only; he wants a great deal more, if he can get it,—frosted cake as well as corn-bread; and the New World keeps the imagination on plain and scanty diet, compared to the rich traditional and historic food which furnishes the banquets of the Old World.
What memories that week in Salisbury and the excursions from it have left in my mind's picture gallery! The spire of the great cathedral had been with me as a frequent presence during the last fifty years of my life, and this second visit has deepened every line of the impression, as Old Mortality refreshed the inscriptions on the tombstones of the Covenanters. I find that all these pictures which I have brought home with me to look at, with
"that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude,"
are becoming clearer and brighter as the excitement of overcrowded days and weeks gradually calms down. I can be in those places where I passed days and nights, and became habituated to the sight of the cathedral, or of the Church of the Holy Trinity, at morning, at noon, at evening, whenever I turned my eyes in its direction. I often close my eyelids, and startle my household by saying, "Now I am in Salisbury," or "Now I am in Stratford." It is a blessed thing to be able, in the twilight of years, to illuminate the soul with such visions. The Charles, which flows beneath my windows, which I look upon between the words of the sentence I am now writing, only turning my head as I sit at my table,—the Charles is hardly more real to me than Shakespeare's Avon, since I floated on its still waters, or strayed along its banks and saw the cows reflected in the smooth expanse, their legs upward, as if they were walking the skies as the flies walk the ceiling. Salisbury Cathedral stands as substantial in my thought as our own King's Chapel, since I slumbered by its side, and arose in the morning to find it still there, and not one of those unsubstantial fabrics built by the architect of dreams.
On Thursday, the 22d of July, we left Salisbury for Brighton, where we were to be guests at Arnold House, the residence of our kind host. Here we passed another delightful week, with everything around us to contribute to our quiet comfort and happiness. The most thoughtful of entertainers, a house filled with choice works of art, fine paintings, and wonderful pottery, pleasant walks and drives, a visitor now and then, Mr. and Mrs. Goldwin Smith among the number, rest and peace in a magnificent city built for enjoyment,—what more could we have asked to make our visit memorable? Many watering-places look forlorn and desolate in the intervals of "the season." This was not the time of Brighton's influx of visitors, but the city was far from dull. The houses are very large, and have the grand air, as if meant for princes; the shops are well supplied; the salt breeze comes in fresh and wholesome, and the noble esplanade is lively with promenaders and Bath chairs, some of them occupied by people evidently ill or presumably lame, some, I suspect, employed by healthy invalids who are too lazy to walk. I took one myself, drawn by an old man, to see how I liked it, and found it very convenient, but I was tempted to ask him to change places and let me drag him.
With the aid of the guide-book I could describe the wonders of the pavilion and the various changes which have come over the great watering-place. The grand walks, the two piers, the aquarium, and all the great sights which are shown to strangers deserve full attention from the tourist who writes for other travellers, but none of these things seem to me so interesting as what we saw and heard in a little hamlet which has never, so far as I know, been vulgarized by sightseers. We drove in an open carriage,—Mr. and Mrs. Willett, A——, and myself,—into the country, which soon became bare, sparsely settled, a long succession of rounded hills and hollows. These are the South Downs, from which comes the famous mutton known all over England, not unknown at the table of our Saturday Club and other well-spread boards. After a drive of ten miles or more we arrived at a little "settlement," as we Americans would call it, and drove up to the door of a modest parsonage, where dwells the shepherd of the South Down flock of Christian worshippers. I hope that the good clergyman, if he ever happens to see what I am writing, will pardon me for making mention of his hidden retreat, which he himself speaks of as "one of the remoter nooks of the old country." Nothing I saw in England brought to my mind Goldsmith's picture of "the man to all the country dear," and his surroundings, like this visit. The church dates, if I remember right, from the thirteenth century. Some of its stones show marks, as it is thought, of having belonged to a Saxon edifice. The massive leaden font is of a very great antiquity. In the wall of the church is a narrow opening, at which the priest is supposed to have sat and listened to the confession of the sinner on the outside of the building. The dead lie all around the church, under stones bearing the dates of several centuries. One epitaph, which the unlettered Muse must have dictated, is worth recording. After giving the chief slumberer's name the epitaph adds,—
"Here lies on either side, the remains of each of his former wives."
Those of a third have found a resting-place close by, behind him.
It seemed to me that Mr. Bunner's young man in search of Arcady might look for it here with as good a chance of being satisfied as anywhere I can think of. But I suppose that men and women and especially boys, would prove to be a good deal like the rest of the world, if one lived here long enough to learn all about them. One thing I can safely say,—an English man or boy never goes anywhere without his fists. I saw a boy of ten or twelve years, whose pleasant face attracted my attention. I said to the rector, "That is a fine-looking little fellow, and I should think an intelligent and amiable kind of boy." "Yes," he said, "yes; he can strike from the shoulder pretty well, too. I had to stop him the other day, indulging in that exercise." Well, I said to myself, we have not yet reached the heaven on earth which I was fancying might be embosomed in this peaceful-looking hollow. Youthful angels can hardly be in the habit of striking from the shoulder. But the well-known phrase, belonging to the pugilist rather than to the priest, brought me back from the ideal world into which my imagination had wandered.
Our week at Brighton was passed in a very quiet but most enjoyable way. It could not be otherwise with such a host and hostess, always arranging everything with reference to our well-being and in accordance with our wishes. I became very fond of the esplanade, such a public walk as I never saw anything to compare with. In these tranquil days, and long, honest nights of sleep, the fatigues of what we had been through were forgotten, the scales showed that we were becoming less ethereal every day, and we were ready for another move.
We bade good-by to our hosts with the most grateful and the warmest feeling towards them, after a month of delightful companionship and the experience of a hospitality almost too generous to accept, but which they were pleased to look upon as if we were doing them a favor.
On the 29th of July we found ourselves once more in London.
We found our old quarters all ready and awaiting us. Mrs. Mackellar's motherly smile, Sam's civil bow, and the rosy cheeks of many-buttoned Robert made us feel at home as soon as we crossed the threshold.
The dissolution of Parliament had brought "the season" abruptly to an end. London was empty. There were three or four millions of people in it, but the great houses were for the most part left without occupants except their liveried guardians. We kept as quiet as possible, to avoid all engagements. For now we were in London for London itself, to do shopping, to see sights, to be our own master and mistress, and to live as independent a life as we possibly could.
The first thing we did on the day of our arrival was to take a hansom and drive over to Chelsea, to look at the place where Carlyle passed the larger part of his life. The whole region about him must have been greatly changed during his residence there, for the Thames Embankment was constructed long after he removed to Chelsea. We had some little difficulty in finding the place we were in search of. Cheyne (pronounced "Chainie") Walk is a somewhat extended range of buildings. Cheyne Row is a passage which reminded me a little of my old habitat, Montgomery Place, now Bosworth Street. Presently our attention was drawn to a marble medallion portrait on the corner building of an ordinary-looking row of houses. This was the head of Carlyle, and an inscription informed us that he lived for forty-seven years in the house No. 24 of this row of buildings. Since Carlyle's home life has been made public, he has appeared to us in a different aspect from the ideal one which he had before occupied. He did not show to as much advantage under the Boswellizing process as the dogmatist of the last century, dear old Dr. Johnson. But he remains not the less one of the really interesting men of his generation, a man about whom we wish to know all that we have a right to know.
The sight of an old nest over which two or three winters have passed is a rather saddening one. The dingy three-story brick house in which Carlyle lived, one in a block of similar houses, was far from attractive. It was untenanted, neglected; its windows were unwashed, a pane of glass was broken; its threshold appeared untrodden, its whole aspect forlorn and desolate. Yet there it stood before me, all covered with its associations as an ivy-clad tower with its foliage. I wanted to see its interior, but it looked as if it did not expect a tenant and would not welcome a visitor. Was there nothing but this forbidding house-front to make the place alive with some breathing memory? I saw crossing the street a middle-aged woman,—a decent body, who looked as if she might have come from the lower level of some not opulent but respectable household. She might have some recollection of an old man who was once her neighbor. I asked her if she remembered Mr. Carlyle. Indeed she did, she told us. She used to see him often, in front of his house, putting bits of bread on the railing for the birds. He did not like to see anything wasted, she said. The merest scrap of information, but genuine and pleasing; an instantaneous photograph only, but it makes a pretty vignette in the volume of my reminiscences. There are many considerable men in every generation of mankind, but not a great number who are personally interesting,—not a great many of whom we feel that we cannot know too much; whose foibles, even, we care to know about; whose shortcomings we try to excuse; who are not models, but whose special traits make them attractive. Carlyle is one of these few, and no revelations can prevent his interesting us. He was not quite finished in his parental existence. The bricklayer's mortar of his father's calling stuck to his fingers through life, but only as the soil he turned with his ploughshare clung to the fingers of Burns. We do not wish either to have been other than what he was. Their breeding brings them to the average level, carries them more nearly to the heart, makes them a simpler expression of our common humanity. As we rolled in the cars by Ecclefechan, I strained my eyes to take in every point of the landscape, every cottage, every spire, if by any chance I could find one in that lonely region. There was not a bridge nor a bit of masonry of any kind that I did not eagerly scrutinize, to see if it were solid and honest enough to have been built by Carlyle's father. Solitary enough the country looked. I admired Mr. Emerson's devotion in seeking his friend in his bare home among what he describes as the "desolate heathery hills" about Craigenputtock, which were, I suppose, much like the region through which we were passing.
It is one of the regrets of my life that I never saw or heard Carlyle. Nature, who seems to be fond of trios, has given us three dogmatists, all of whom greatly interested their own generation, and whose personality, especially in the case of the first and the last of the trio, still interests us,—Johnson, Coleridge, and Carlyle. Each was an oracle in his way, but unfortunately oracles are fallible to their descendants. The author of "Taxation no Tyranny" had wholesale opinions, and pretty harsh ones, about us Americans, and did not soften them in expression: "Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging." We smile complacently when we read this outburst, which Mr. Croker calls in question, but which agrees with his saying in the presence of Miss Seward, "I am willing to love all mankind except an American."
A generation or two later comes along Coleridge, with his circle of reverential listeners. He says of Johnson that his fame rests principally upon Boswell, and that "his bow-wow manner must have had a good deal to do with the effect produced." As to Coleridge himself, his contemporaries hardly know how to set bounds to their exaltation of his genius. Dibdin comes pretty near going into rhetorical hysterics in reporting a conversation of Coleridge's to which he listened: "The auditors seemed to be wrapt in wonder and delight, as one observation more profound, or clothed in more forcible language, than another fell from his tongue.... As I retired homeward I thought a SECOND JOHNSON had visited the earth to make wise the sons of men." And De Quincey speaks of him as "the largest and most spacious intellect, the subtlest and most comprehensive, in my judgment, that has yet existed amongst men." One is sometimes tempted to wish that the superlative could be abolished, or its use allowed only to old experts. What are men to do when they get to heaven, after having exhausted their vocabulary of admiration on earth?
Now let us come down to Carlyle, and see what he says of Coleridge. We need not take those conversational utterances which called down the wrath of Mr. Swinburne, and found expression in an epigram which violates all the proprieties of literary language. Look at the full-length portrait in the Life of Sterling. Each oracle denies his predecessor, each magician breaks the wand of the one who went before him. There were Americans enough ready to swear by Carlyle until he broke his staff in meddling with our anti-slavery conflict, and buried it so many fathoms deep that it could never be fished out again. It is rather singular that Johnson and Carlyle should each of them have shipwrecked his sagacity and shown a terrible leak in his moral sensibilities on coming in contact with American rocks and currents, with which neither had any special occasion to concern himself, and which both had a great deal better have steered clear of.
But here I stand once more before the home of the long-suffering, much-laboring, loud-complaining Heraclitus of his time, whose very smile had a grimness in it more ominous than his scowl. Poor man! Dyspeptic on a diet of oatmeal porridge; kept wide awake by crowing cocks; drummed out of his wits by long-continued piano-pounding; sharp of speech, I fear, to his high-strung wife, who gave him back as good as she got! I hope I am mistaken about their everyday relations, but again I say, poor man!—for all his complaining must have meant real discomfort, which a man of genius feels not less, certainly, than a common mortal.
I made a second visit to the place where he lived, but I saw nothing more than at the first. I wanted to cross the threshold over which he walked so often, to see the noise-proof room in which he used to write, to look at the chimney-place down which the soot came, to sit where he used to sit and smoke his pipe, and to conjure up his wraith to look in once more upon his old deserted dwelling. That vision was denied me.
After visiting Chelsea we drove round through Regent's Park. I suppose that if we use the superlative in speaking of Hyde Park, Regent's Park will be the comparative, and Battersea Park the positive, ranking them in the descending grades of their hierarchy. But this is my conjecture only, and the social geography of London is a subject which only one who has become familiarly acquainted with the place should speak of with any confidence. A stranger coming to our city might think it made little difference whether his travelling Boston acquaintance lived in Alpha Avenue or in Omega Square, but he would have to learn that it is farther from one of these places to the other, a great deal farther, than it is from Beacon Street, Boston, to Fifth Avenue, New York.
An American finds it a little galling to be told that he must not drive in his numbered hansom or four-wheeler except in certain portions of Hyde Park. If he is rich enough to keep his own carriage, or if he will pay the extra price of a vehicle not vulgarized by being on the numbered list, he may drive anywhere that his Grace or his Lordship does, and perhaps have a mean sense of satisfaction at finding himself in the charmed circle of exclusive "gigmanity." It is a pleasure to meet none but well-dressed and well-mannered people, in well-appointed equipages. In the high road of our own country, one is liable to fall in with people and conveyances that it is far from a pleasure to meet. I was once driving in an open carriage, with members of my family, towards my own house in the country town where I was then living. A cart drawn by oxen was in the road in front of us. Whenever we tried to pass, the men in it turned obliquely across the road and prevented us, and this was repeated again and again. I could have wished I had been driving in Hyde Park, where clowns and boors, with their carts and oxen, do not find admittance. Exclusiveness has its conveniences.
The next day, as I was strolling through Burlington Arcade, I saw a figure just before me which I recognized as that of my townsman, Mr. Abbott Lawrence. He was accompanied by his son, who had just returned from a trip round the planet. There are three grades of recognition, entirely distinct from each other: the meeting of two persons of different countries who speak the same language,—an American and an Englishman, for instance; the meeting of two Americans from different cities, as of a Bostonian and a New Yorker or a Chicagonian; and the meeting of two from the same city, as of two Bostonians.
The difference of these recognitions may be illustrated by supposing certain travelling philosophical instruments, endowed with intelligence and the power of speech, to come together in their wanderings,—let us say in a restaurant of the Palais Royal. "Very hot," says the talking Fahrenheit (Thermometer) from Boston, and calls for an ice, which he plunges his bulb into and cools down. In comes an intelligent and socially disposed English Barometer. The two travellers greet each other, not exactly as old acquaintances, but each has heard very frequently about the other, and their relatives have been often associated. "We have a good deal in common," says the Barometer. "Of the same blood, as we may say; quicksilver is thicker than water." "Yes," says the little Fahrenheit, "and we are both of the same mercurial temperament." While their columns are dancing up and down with laughter at this somewhat tepid and low-pressure pleasantry, there come in a New York Reaumur and a Centigrade from Chicago. The Fahrenheit, which has got warmed up to temperate, rises to summer heat, and even a little above it. They enjoy each other's company mightily. To be sure, their scales differ, but have they not the same freezing and the same boiling point? To be sure, each thinks his own scale is the true standard, and at home they might get into a contest about the matter, but here in a strange land they do not think of disputing. Now, while they are talking about America and their own local atmosphere and temperature, there comes in a second Boston Fahrenheit. The two of the same name look at each other for a moment, and rush together so eagerly that their bulbs are endangered. How well they understand each other! Thirty-two degrees marks the freezing point. Two hundred and twelve marks the boiling point. They have the same scale, the same fixed points, the same record: no wonder they prefer each other's company!
I hope that my reader has followed my illustration, and finished it off for himself. Let me give a few practical examples. An American and an Englishman meet in a foreign land. The Englishman has occasion to mention his weight, which he finds has gained in the course of his travels. "How much is it now?" asks the American. "Fourteen stone. How much do you weigh?" "Within four pounds of two hundred." Neither of them takes at once any clear idea of what the other weighs. The American has never thought of his own, or his friends', or anybody's weight in stones of fourteen pounds. The Englishman has never thought of any one's weight in pounds. They can calculate very easily with a slip of paper and a pencil, but not the less is their language but half intelligible as they speak and listen. The same thing is in a measure true of other matters they talk about. "It is about as large a space as the Common," says the Boston man. "It is as large as St. James's Park," says the Londoner. "As high as the State House," says the Bostonian, or "as tall as Bunker Hill Monument," or "about as big as the Frog Pond," where the Londoner would take St. Paul's, the Nelson Column, the Serpentine, as his standard of comparison. The difference of scale does not stop here; it runs through a great part of the objects of thought and conversation. An average American and an average Englishman are talking together, and one of them speaks of the beauty of a field of corn. They are thinking of two entirely different objects: one of a billowy level of soft waving wheat, or rye, or barley; the other of a rustling forest of tall, jointed stalks, tossing their plumes and showing their silken epaulettes, as if every stem in the ordered ranks were a soldier in full regimentals. An Englishman planted for the first time in the middle of a well-grown field of Indian corn would feel as much lost as the babes in the wood. Conversation between two Londoners, two New Yorkers, two Bostonians, requires no foot-notes, which is a great advantage in their intercourse.
To return from my digression and my illustration. I did not do a great deal of shopping myself while in London, being contented to have it done for me. But in the way of looking in at shop windows I did a very large business. Certain windows attracted me by a variety in unity which surpassed anything I have been accustomed to. Thus one window showed every conceivable convenience that could be shaped in ivory, and nothing else. One shop had such a display of magnificent dressing-cases that I should have thought a whole royal family was setting out on its travels. I see the cost of one of them is two hundred and seventy guineas. Thirteen hundred and fifty dollars seems a good deal to pay for a dressing-case.
On the other hand, some of the first-class tradesmen and workmen make no show whatever. The tailor to whom I had credentials, and who proved highly satisfactory to me, as he had proved to some of my countrymen and to Englishmen of high estate, had only one small sign, which was placed in one of his windows, and received his customers in a small room that would have made a closet for one of our stylish merchant tailors. The bootmaker to whom I went on good recommendation had hardly anything about his premises to remind one of his calling. He came into his studio, took my measure very carefully, and made me a pair of what we call Congress boots, which fitted well when once on my feet, but which it cost more trouble to get into and to get out of than I could express my feelings about without dangerously enlarging my limited vocabulary.
Bond Street, Old and New, offered the most inviting windows, and I indulged almost to profligacy in the prolonged inspection of their contents. Stretching my walk along New Bond Street till I came to a great intersecting thoroughfare, I found myself in Oxford Street. Here the character of the shop windows changed at once. Utility and convenience took the place of show and splendor. Here I found various articles of use in a household, some of which were new to me. It is very likely that I could have found most of them in our own Boston Cornhill, but one often overlooks things at home which at once arrest his attention when he sees them in a strange place. I saw great numbers of illuminating contrivances, some of which pleased me by their arrangement of reflectors.
Bryant and May's safety matches seemed to be used everywhere. I procured some in Boston with these names on the box, but the label said they were made in Sweden, and they diffused vapors that were enough to produce asphyxia. I greatly admired some of Dr. Dresser's water-cans and other contrivances, modelled more or less after the antique, but I found an abundant assortment of them here in Boston, and I have one I obtained here more original in design and more serviceable in daily use than any I saw in London. I should have regarded Wolverhampton, as we glided through it, with more interest, if I had known at that time that the inventive Dr. Dresser had his headquarters in that busy-looking town.
One thing, at least, I learned from my London experience: better a small city where one knows all it has to offer, than a great city where one has no disinterested friend to direct him to the right places to find what he wants. But of course there are some grand magazines which are known all the world over, and which no one should leave London without entering as a looker-on, if not as a purchaser.
There was one place I determined to visit, and one man I meant to see, before returning. The place was a certain book-store or book-shop, and the person was its proprietor, Mr. Bernard Quaritch. I was getting very much pressed for time, and I allowed ten minutes only for my visit. I never had any dealings with Mr. Quaritch, but one of my near relatives had, and I had often received his catalogues, the scale of prices in which had given me an impression almost of sublimity. I found Mr. Bernard Quaritch at No. 15 Piccadilly, and introduced myself, not as one whose name he must know, but rather as a stranger, of whom he might have heard through my relative. The extensive literature of catalogues is probably little known to most of my readers. I do not pretend to claim a thorough acquaintance with it, but I know the luxury of reading good catalogues, and such are those of Mr. Quaritch. I should like to deal with him; for if he wants a handsome price for what he sells, he knows its value, and does not offer the refuse of old libraries, but, on the other hand, all that is most precious in them is pretty sure to pass through his hands, sooner or later.
"Now, Mr. Quaritch," I said, after introducing myself, "I have ten minutes to pass with you. You must not open a book; if you do I am lost, for I shall have to look at every illuminated capital, from the first leaf to the colophon." Mr. Quaritch did not open a single book, but let me look round his establishment, and answered my questions very courteously. It so happened that while I was there a gentleman came in whom I had previously met,—my namesake, Mr. Holmes, the Queen's librarian at Windsor Castle. My ten minutes passed very rapidly in conversation with these two experts in books, the bibliopole and the bibliothecary. No place that I visited made me feel more thoroughly that I was in London, the great central mart of all that is most precious in the world.
Leave at home all your guineas, ye who enter here, would be a good motto to put over his door, unless you have them in plenty and can spare them, in which case Take all your guineas with you would be a better one. For you can here get their equivalent, and more than their equivalent, in the choicest products of the press and the finest work of the illuminator, the illustrator, and the binder. You will be sorely tempted. But do not be surprised when you ask the price of the volume you may happen to fancy. You are not dealing with a bouquiniste of the Quais, in Paris. You are not foraging in an old book-shop of New York or Boston. Do not suppose that I undervalue these dealers in old and rare volumes. Many a much-prized rarity have I obtained from Drake and Burnham and others of my townsmen, and from Denham in New York; and in my student years many a choice volume, sometimes even an Aldus or an Elzevir, have I found among the trumpery spread out on the parapets of the quays. But there is a difference between going out on the Fourth of July with a militia musket to shoot any catbird or "chipmunk" that turns up in a piece of woods within a few miles of our own cities, and shooting partridges in a nobleman's preserves on the First of September. I confess to having felt a certain awe on entering the precincts made sacred by their precious contents. The lord and master of so many Editiones Principes, the guardian of this great nursery full of incunabula, did not seem to me like a simple tradesman. I felt that I was in the presence of the literary purveyor of royal and imperial libraries, the man before whom millionaires tremble as they calculate, and billionaires pause and consider. I have recently received two of Mr. Quaritch's catalogues, from which I will give my reader an extract or two, to show him what kind of articles this prince of bibliopoles deals in.
Perhaps you would like one of those romances which turned the head of Don Quixote. Here is a volume which will be sure to please you. It is on one of his lesser lists, confined principally to Spanish and Portuguese works:—
"Amadis de Gaula ... folio, gothic letter, FIRST EDITION, unique ... red morocco super extra, double with olive morocco, richly gilt, tooled to an elegant Grolier design, gilt edges ... in a neat case."
A pretty present for a scholarly friend. A nice old book to carry home for one's own library. Two hundred pounds—one thousand dollars—will make you the happy owner of this volume.
But if you would have also on your shelves the first edition of the "Cronica del famoso cabaluero cid Ruy Diaz Campadero," not "richly gilt," not even bound in leather, but in "cloth boards," you will have to pay two hundred and ten pounds to become its proprietor. After this you will not be frightened by the thought of paying three hundred dollars for a little quarto giving an account of the Virginia Adventurers. You will not shrink from the idea of giving something more than a hundred guineas for a series of Hogarth's plates. But when it comes to Number 1001 in the May catalogue, and you see that if you would possess a first folio Shakespeare, "untouched by the hand of any modern renovator," you must be prepared to pay seven hundred and eighty-five pounds, almost four thousand dollars, for the volume, it would not be surprising if you changed color and your knees shook under you. No doubt some brave man will be found to carry off that prize, in spite of the golden battery which defends it, perhaps to Cincinnati, or Chicago, or San Francisco. But do not be frightened. These Alpine heights of extravagance climb up from the humble valley where shillings and sixpences are all that are required to make you a purchaser.
One beauty of the Old World shops is that if a visitor comes back to the place where he left them fifty years before, he finds them, or has a great chance of finding them, just where they stood at his former visit. In driving down to the old city, to the place of business of the Barings, I found many streets little changed. Temple Bar was gone, and the much-abused griffin stood in its place. There was a shop close to Temple Bar, where, in 1834, I had bought some brushes. I had no difficulty in finding Prout's, and I could not do less than go in and buy some more brushes. I did not ask the young man who served me how the old shopkeeper who attended to my wants on the earlier occasion was at this time. But I thought what a different color the locks these brushes smooth show from those that knew their predecessors in the earlier decade!
I ought to have made a second visit to the Tower, so tenderly spoken of by Artemus Ward as "a sweet boon," so vividly remembered by me as the scene of a personal encounter with one of the animals then kept in the Tower menagerie. But the project added a stone to the floor of the underground thoroughfare which is paved with good intentions.
St. Paul's I must and did visit. The most striking addition since I was there is the massive monument to the Duke of Wellington. The great temple looked rather bare and unsympathetic. Poor Dr. Johnson, sitting in semi-nude exposure, looked to me as unhappy as our own half-naked Washington at the national capital. The Judas of Matthew Arnold's poem would have cast his cloak over those marble shoulders, if he had found himself in St. Paul's, and have earned another respite. We brought away little, I fear, except the grand effect of the dome as we looked up at it. It gives us a greater idea of height than the sky itself, which we have become used to looking upon.
A second visit to the National Gallery was made in company with A——. It was the repetition of an attempt at a draught from the Cup of Tantalus. I was glad of a sight of the Botticellis, of which I had heard so much, and others of the more recently acquired paintings of the great masters; of a sweeping glance at the Turners; of a look at the well-remembered Hogarths and the memorable portraits by Sir Joshua. I carried away a confused mass of impressions, much as the soldiers that sack a city go off with all the precious things they can snatch up, huddled into clothes-bags and pillow-cases. I am reminded, too, of Mr. Galton's composite portraits; a thousand glimpses, as one passes through the long halls lined with paintings, all blending in one not unpleasing general effect, out of which emerges from time to time some single distinct image.
In the same way we passed through the exhibition of paintings at the Royal Academy. I noticed that A—— paid special attention to the portraits of young ladies by John Sargent and by Collier, while I was more particularly struck with the startling portrait of an ancient personage in a full suit of wrinkles, such as Rembrandt used to bring out with wonderful effect. Hunting in couples is curious and instructive; the scent for this or that kind of game is sure to be very different in the two individuals.
I made but two brief visits to the British Museum, and I can easily instruct my reader so that he will have no difficulty, if he will follow my teaching, in learning how not to see it. When he has a spare hour at his disposal, let him drop in at the Museum, and wander among its books and its various collections. He will know as much about it as the fly that buzzes in at one window and out at another. If I were asked whether I brought away anything from my two visits, I should say, Certainly I did. The fly sees some things, not very intelligently, but he cannot help seeing them. The great round reading-room, with its silent students, impressed me very much. I looked at once for the Elgin Marbles, but casts and photographs and engravings had made me familiar with their chief features. I thought I knew something of the sculptures brought from Nineveh, but I was astonished, almost awe-struck, at the sight of those mighty images which mingled with the visions of the Hebrew prophets. I did not marvel more at the skill and labor expended upon them by the Assyrian artists than I did at the enterprise and audacity which had brought them safely from the mounds under which they were buried to the light of day and the heart of a great modern city. I never thought that I should live to see the Birs Nimroud laid open, and the tablets in which the history of Nebuchadnezzar was recorded spread before me. The Empire of the Spade in the world of history was founded at Nineveh by Layard, a great province added to it by Schliemann, and its boundary extended by numerous explorers, some of whom are diligently at work at the present day. I feel very grateful that many of its revelations have been made since I have been a tenant of the travelling residence which holds so many secrets in its recesses.
There is one lesson to be got from a visit of an hour or two to the British Museum,—namely, the fathomless abyss of our own ignorance. One is almost ashamed of his little paltry heartbeats in the presence of the rushing and roaring torrent of Niagara. So if he has published a little book or two, collected a few fossils, or coins, or vases, he is crushed by the vastness of the treasures in the library and the collections of this universe of knowledge.
I have shown how not to see the British museum; I will tell how to see it.
Take lodgings next door to it,—in a garret, if you cannot afford anything better,—and pass all your days at the Museum during the whole period of your natural life. At threescore and ten you will have some faint conception of the contents, significance, and value of this great British institution, which is as nearly as any one spot the noeud vital of human civilization, a stab at which by the dagger of anarchy would fitly begin the reign of chaos.
On the 3d of August, a gentleman, Mr. Wedmore, who had promised to be my guide to certain interesting localities, called for me, and we took a hansom for the old city. The first place we visited was the Temple, a collection of buildings with intricate passages between them, some of the edifices reminding me of our college dormitories. One, however, was a most extraordinary exception,—the wonderful Temple church, or rather the ancient part of it which is left, the round temple. We had some trouble to get into it, but at last succeeded in finding a slip of a girl, the daughter of the janitor, who unlocked the door for us. It affected my imagination strangely to see this girl of a dozen years old, or thereabouts, moving round among the monuments which had kept their place there for some six or seven hundred years; for the church was built in the year 1185, and the most recent of the crusaders' monuments is said to date as far back as 1241. Their effigies have lain in this vast city, and passed unharmed through all its convulsions. The Great Fire must have crackled very loud in their stony ears, and they must have shaken day and night, as the bodies of the victims of the Plague were rattled over the pavements.
Near the Temple church, in a green spot among the buildings, a plain stone laid flat on the turf bears these words: "Here lies Oliver Goldsmith." I believe doubt has been thrown upon the statement that Goldsmith was buried in that place, but, as some poet ought to have written,
Where doubt is disenchantment 'Tis wisdom to believe.
We do not "drop a tear" so often as our Della Cruscan predecessors, but the memory of the author of the "Vicar of Wakefield" stirred my feelings more than a whole army of crusaders would have done. A pretty rough set of filibusters they were, no doubt.
The whole group to which Goldsmith belonged came up before me, and as the centre of that group the great Dr. Johnson; not the Johnson of the "Rambler," or of "The Vanity of Human Wishes," or even of "Rasselas," but Boswell's Johnson, dear to all of us, the "Grand Old Man" of his time, whose foibles we care more for than for most great men's virtues. Fleet Street, which he loved so warmly, was close by. Bolt Court, entered from it, where he lived for many of his last years, and where he died, was the next place to visit. I found Fleet Street a good deal like Washington Street as I remember it in former years. When I came to the place pointed out as Bolt Court, I could hardly believe my eyes that so celebrated a place of residence should be entered by so humble a passageway. I was very sorry to find that No. 3, where he lived, was demolished, and a new building erected in its place. In one of the other houses in this court he is said to have labored on his dictionary. Near by was a building of mean aspect, in which Goldsmith is said to have at one time resided. But my kind conductor did not profess to be well acquainted with the local antiquities of this quarter of London.
If I had a long future before me, I should like above all things to study London with a dark lantern, so to speak, myself in deepest shadow and all I wanted to see in clearest light. Then I should want time, time, time. For it is a sad fact that sight-seeing as commonly done is one of the most wearying things in the world, and takes the life out of any but the sturdiest or the most elastic natures more efficiently than would a reasonable amount of daily exercise on a treadmill. In my younger days I used to find that a visit to the gallery of the Louvre was followed by more fatigue and exhaustion than the same amount of time spent in walking the wards of a hospital.
Another grand sight there was, not to be overlooked, namely, the Colonial Exhibition. The popularity of this immense show was very great, and we found ourselves, A—— and I, in the midst of a vast throng, made up of respectable and comfortable looking people. It was not strange that the multitude flocked to this exhibition. There was a jungle, with its (stuffed) monsters,—tigers, serpents, elephants; there were carvings which may well have cost a life apiece, and stuffs which none but an empress or a millionairess would dare to look at. All the arts of the East were there in their perfection, and some of the artificers were at their work. We had to content ourselves with a mere look at all these wonders. It was a pity; instead of going to these fine shows tired, sleepy, wanting repose more than anything else, we should have come to them fresh, in good condition, and had many days at our disposal. I learned more in a visit to the Japanese exhibition in Boston than I should have learned in half a dozen half-awake strolls through this multitudinous and most imposing collection of all
"The gorgeous East with richest hand Showers on her kings,"
and all the masterpieces of its wonder-working artisans.
One of the last visits we paid before leaving London for a week in Paris was to the South Kensington Museum. Think of the mockery of giving one hour to such a collection of works of art and wonders of all kinds! Why should I consider it worth while to say that we went there at all? All manner of objects succeeded each other in a long series of dissolving views, so to speak, nothing or next to nothing having a chance to leave its individual impress. In the battle for life which took place in my memory, as it always does among the multitude of claimants for a permanent hold, I find that two objects came out survivors of the contest. The first is the noble cast of the column of Trajan, vast in dimensions, crowded with history in its most striking and enduring form; a long array of figures representing in unquestioned realism the military aspect of a Roman army. The second case of survival is thus described in the catalogue: "An altar or shrine of a female saint, recently acquired from Padua, is also ascribed to the same sculptor [Donatello]. This very valuable work of art had for many years been used as a drinking-trough for horses. A hole has been roughly pierced in it." I thought the figure was the most nearly perfect image of heavenly womanhood that I had ever looked upon, and I could have gladly given my whole hour to sitting—I could almost say kneeling—before it in silent contemplation. I found the curator of the Museum, Mr. Soden Smith, shared my feelings with reference to the celestial loveliness of this figure. Which is best, to live in a country where such a work of art is taken for a horse-trough, or in a country where the products from the studio of a self-taught handicraftsman, equal to the shaping of a horse-trough and not much more, are put forward as works of art?
A little time before my visit to England, before I had even thought of it as a possibility, I had the honor of having two books dedicated to me by two English brother physicians. One of these two gentlemen was Dr. Walshe, of whom I shall speak hereafter; the other was Dr. J. Milner Fothergill. The name Fothergill was familiar to me from my boyhood. My old townsman, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, who died in 1846 at the age of ninety-two, had a great deal to say about his relative Dr. John Fothergill, the famous Quaker physician of the last century, of whom Benjamin Franklin said, "I can hardly conceive that a better man ever existed." Dr. and Mrs. Fothergill sent us some beautiful flowers a little before we left, and when I visited him he gave me a medallion of his celebrated kinsman.
London is a place of mysteries. Looking out of one of the windows at the back of Dr. Fothergill's house, I saw an immense wooden blind, such as we have on our windows in summer, but reaching from the ground as high as the top of the neighboring houses. While admitting the air freely, it shut the property to which it belonged completely from sight. I asked the meaning of this extraordinary structure, and learned that it was put up by a great nobleman, of whose subterranean palace and strange seclusion I had before heard. Common report attributed his unwillingness to be seen to a disfiguring malady with which he was said to be afflicted. The story was that he was visible only to his valet. But a lady of quality, whom I met in this country, told me she had seen him, and observed nothing to justify it. These old countries are full of romances and legends and diableries of all sorts, in which truth and lies are so mixed that one does not know what to believe. What happens behind the high walls of the old cities is as much a secret as were the doings inside the prisons of the Inquisition.
Little mistakes sometimes cause us a deal of trouble. This time it was the presence or absence of a single letter which led us to fear that an important package destined to America had miscarried. There were two gentlemen unwittingly involved in the confusion. On inquiring for the package at Messrs. Low, the publishers, Mr. Watts, to whom I thought it had been consigned, was summoned. He knew nothing about it, had never heard of it, was evidently utterly ignorant of us and our affairs. While we were in trouble and uncertainty, our Boston friend, Mr. James R. Osgood, came in. "Oh," said he, "it is Mr. Watt you want, the agent of a Boston firm," and gave us the gentleman's address. I had confounded Mr. Watt's name with Mr. Watts's name. "W'at's in a name?" A great deal sometimes. I wonder if I shall be pardoned for quoting six lines from one of my after-dinner poems of long ago:—
—One vague inflection spoils the whole with doubt, One trivial letter ruins all, left out; A knot can change a felon into clay, A not will save him, spelt without the k; The smallest word has some unguarded spot, And danger lurks in i without a dot.
I should find it hard to account for myself during our two short stays in London in the month of August, separated by the week we passed in Paris. The ferment of continued over-excitement, calmed very much by our rest in the various places I have mentioned, had not yet wholly worked itself off. There was some of that everlasting shopping to be done. There were photographs to be taken, a call here and there to be made, a stray visitor now and then, a walk in the morning to get back the use of the limbs which had been too little exercised, and a drive every afternoon to one of the parks, or the Thames Embankment, or other locality. After all this, an honest night's sleep served to round out the day, in which little had been effected besides making a few purchases, writing a few letters, reading the papers, the Boston "Weekly Advertiser" among the rest, and making arrangements for our passage homeward. The sights we saw were looked upon for so short a time, most of them so very superficially, that I am almost ashamed to say that I have been in the midst of them and brought home so little. I remind myself of my boyish amusement of skipping stones,—throwing a flat stone so that it shall only touch the water, but touch it in half a dozen places before it comes to rest beneath the smooth surface. The drives we took showed us a thousand objects which arrested our attention. Every street, every bridge, every building, every monument, every strange vehicle, every exceptional personage, was a show which stimulated our curiosity. For we had not as yet changed our Boston eyes for London ones, and very common sights were spectacular and dramatic to us. I remember that one of our New England country boys exclaimed, when he first saw a block of city dwellings, "Darn it all, who ever see anything like that 'are? Sich a lot o' haousen all stuck together!" I must explain that "haousen" used in my early days to be as common an expression in speaking of houses among our country-folk as its phonetic equivalent ever was in Saxony. I felt not unlike that country-boy.
In thinking of how much I missed seeing, I sometimes have said to myself, Oh, if the carpet of the story in the Arabian Nights would only take me up and carry me to London for one week,—just one short week,—setting me down fresh from quiet, wholesome living, in my usual good condition, and bringing me back at the end of it, what a different account I could give of my experiences! But it is just as well as it is. Younger eyes have studied and will study, more instructed travellers have pictured and will picture, the great metropolis from a hundred different points of view. No person can be said to know London. The most that any one can claim is that he knows something of it. I am now just going to leave it for another great capital, but in my concluding pages I shall return to Great Britain, and give some of the general impressions left by what I saw and heard in our mother country.
Straitened as we were for time, it was impossible to return home without a glimpse, at least, of Paris. Two precious years of my early manhood were spent there under the reign of Louis Philippe, king of the French, le Roi Citoyen. I felt that I must look once more on the places I knew so well,—once more before shutting myself up in the world of recollections. It is hardly necessary to say that a lady can always find a little shopping, and generally a good deal of it, to do in Paris. So it was not difficult to persuade my daughter that a short visit to that city was the next step to be taken.
We left London on the 5th of August to go via Folkestone and Boulogne. The passage across the Channel was a very smooth one, and neither of us suffered any inconvenience. Boulogne as seen from the landing did not show to great advantage. I fell to thinking of Brummel, and what a satisfaction it would have been to treat him to a good dinner, and set him talking about the days of the Regency. Boulogne was all Brummel in my associations, just as Calais was all Sterne. I find everywhere that it is a distinctive personality which makes me want to linger round a spot, more than an important historical event. There is not much worth remembering about Brummel; but his audacity, his starched neckcloth, his assumptions and their success, make him a curious subject for the student of human nature.
Leaving London at twenty minutes before ten in the forenoon, we arrived in Paris at six in the afternoon. I could not say that the region of France through which we passed was peculiarly attractive. I saw no fine trees, no pretty cottages, like those so common in England. There was little which an artist would be tempted to sketch, or a traveller by the railroad would be likely to remember.
The place where we had engaged lodgings was Hotel d'Orient, in the Rue Daunou. The situation was convenient, very near the Place Vendome and the Rue de la Paix. But the house was undergoing renovations which made it as unpresentable as a moulting fowl. Scrubbing, painting of blinds, and other perturbing processes did all they could to make it uncomfortable. The courtyard was always sloppy, and the whole condition of things reminded me forcibly of the state of Mr. Briggs's household while the mason was carrying out the complex operations which began with the application of "a little compo." (I hope all my readers remember Mr. Briggs, whose adventures as told by the pencil of John Leech are not unworthy of comparison with those of Mr. Pickwick as related by Dickens.) Barring these unfortunate conditions, the hotel was commendable, and when in order would be a desirable place of temporary residence.
It was the dead season of Paris, and everything had the air of suspended animation. The solitude of the Place Vendome was something oppressive; I felt, as I trod its lonely sidewalk, as if I were wandering through Tadmor in the Desert. We were indeed as remote, as unfriended,—I will not say as melancholy or as slow,—as Goldsmith by the side of the lazy Scheldt or the wandering Po. Not a soul did either of us know in that great city. Our most intimate relations were with the people of the hotel and with the drivers of the fiacres. These last were a singular looking race of beings. Many of them had a dull red complexion, almost brick color, which must have some general cause. I questioned whether the red wine could have something to do with it. They wore glazed hats, and drove shabby vehicles for the most part; their horses would not compare with those of the London hansom drivers, and they themselves were not generally inviting in aspect, though we met with no incivility from any of them. One, I remember, was very voluble, and over-explained everything, so that we became afraid to ask him a question. They were fellow-creatures with whom one did not naturally enter into active sympathy, and the principal point of interest about the fiacre and its arrangements was whether the horse was fondest of trotting or of walking. In one of our drives we made it a point to call upon our Minister, Mr. McLane, but he was out of town. We did not bring a single letter, but set off exactly as if we were on a picnic.
While A—— and her attendant went about making their purchases, I devoted myself to the sacred and pleasing task of reviving old memories. One of the first places I visited was the house I lived in as a student, which in my English friend's French was designated as "Noomero sankont sank Roo Monshure ler Pranse." I had been told that the whole region thereabout had been transformed by the creation of a new boulevard. I did not find it so. There was the house, the lower part turned into a shop, but there were the windows out of which I used to look along the Rue Vaugirard,—au troisieme the first year, au second the second year. Why should I go mousing about the place? What would the shopkeeper know about M. Bertrand, my landlord of half a century ago; or his first wife, to whose funeral I went; or his second, to whose bridal I was bidden?