I never refused to write in the birthday book or the album of the humblest schoolgirl or schoolboy, and I could not refuse to set my name, with a verse from one of my poems, in the album of the Princess of Wales, which was sent me for that purpose. It was a nice new book, with only two or three names in it, and those of musical composers,— Rubinstein's, I think, was one of them,—so that I felt honored by the great lady's request. I ought to describe the book, but I only remember that it was quite large and sumptuously elegant, and that I copied into it the last verse of a poem of mine called "The Chambered Nautilus," as I have often done for plain republican albums.
The day after our simple reception was notable for three social events in which we had our part. The first was a lunch at the house of Mrs. Cyril Flower, one of the finest in London,—Surrey House, as it is called. Mr. Browning, who seems to go everywhere, and is one of the vital elements of London society, was there as a matter of course. Miss Cobbe, many of whose essays I have read with great satisfaction, though I cannot accept all her views, was a guest whom I was very glad to meet a second time.
In the afternoon we went to a garden-party given by the Princess Louise at Kensington Palace, a gloomy-looking edifice, which might be taken for a hospital or a poorhouse. Of all the festive occasions which I attended, the garden-parties were to me the most formidable. They are all very well for young people, and for those who do not mind the nipping and eager air, with which, as I have said, the climate of England, no less than that of America, falsifies all the fine things the poets have said about May, and, I may add, even June. We wandered about the grounds, spoke with the great people, stared at the odd ones, and said to ourselves,—at least I said to myself,—with Hamlet,
"The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold."
The most curious personages were some East Indians, a chocolate-colored lady, her husband, and children. The mother had a diamond on the side of her nose, its setting riveted on the inside, one might suppose; the effect was peculiar, far from captivating. A—— said that she should prefer the good old-fashioned nose-ring, as we find it described and pictured by travellers. She saw a great deal more than I did, of course. I quote from her diary: "The little Eastern children made their native salaam to the Princess by prostrating themselves flat on their little stomachs in front of her, putting their hands between her feet, pushing them aside, and kissing the print of her feet!"
I really believe one or both of us would have run serious risks of catching our "death o' cold," if we had waited for our own carriage, which seemed forever in coming forward. The good Lady Holland, who was more than once our guardian angel, brought us home in hers. So we got warmed up at our own hearth, and were ready in due season for the large and fine dinner-party at Archdeacon Farrar's, where, among other guests, were Mrs. Phelps, our Minister's wife, who is a great favorite alike with Americans and English, Sir John Millais, Mr. Tyndall, and other interesting people.
I am sorry that we could not have visited Newstead Abbey. I had a letter from Mr. Thornton Lothrop to Colonel Webb, the present proprietor, with whom we lunched. I have spoken of the pleasure I had when I came accidentally upon persons with whose name and fame I had long been acquainted. A similar impression was that which I received when I found myself in the company of the bearer of an old historic name. When my host at the lunch introduced a stately-looking gentleman as Sir Kenelm Digby, it gave me a start, as if a ghost had stood before me. I recovered myself immediately, however, for there was nothing of the impalpable or immaterial about the stalwart personage who bore the name. I wanted to ask him if he carried any of his ancestor's "powder of sympathy" about with him. Many, but not all, of my readers remember that famous man's famous preparation. When used to cure a wound, it was applied to the weapon that made it; the part was bound up so as to bring the edges of the wound together, and by the wondrous influence of the sympathetic powder the healing process took place in the kindest possible manner. Sir Kenelm, the ancestor, was a gallant soldier, a grand gentleman, and the husband of a wonderfully beautiful wife, whose charms he tried to preserve from the ravages of time by various experiments. He was also the homoeopathist of his day, the Elisha Perkins (metallic tractors) of his generation. The "mind cure" people might adopt him as one of their precursors.
I heard a curious statement which was illustrated in the person of one of the gentlemen we met at this table. It is that English sporting men are often deaf on one side, in consequence of the noise of the frequent discharge of their guns affecting the right ear. This is a very convenient infirmity for gentlemen who indulge in slightly aggressive remarks, but when they are hit back never seem to be conscious at all of the riposte,—the return thrust of the fencer.
Dr. Allchin called and took me to a dinner, where I met many professional brothers, and enjoyed myself highly.
By this time every day was pledged for one or more engagements, so that many very attractive invitations had to be declined. I will not follow the days one by one, but content myself with mentioning some of the more memorable visits. I had been invited to the Rabelais Club, as I have before mentioned, by a cable message. This is a club of which the late Lord Houghton was president, and of which I am a member, as are several other Americans. I was afraid that the gentlemen who met,
"To laugh and shake in Rabelais's easy chair,"
might be more hilarious and demonstrative in their mirth than I, a sober New Englander in the superfluous decade, might find myself equal to. But there was no uproarious jollity; on the contrary, it was a pleasant gathering of literary people and artists, who took their pleasure not sadly, but serenely, and I do not remember a single explosive guffaw.
Another day, after going all over Dudley House, including Lady Dudley's boudoir, "in light blue satin, the prettiest room we have seen," A—— says, we went, by appointment, to Westminster Abbey, where we spent two hours under the guidance of Archdeacon Farrar. I think no part of the Abbey is visited with so much interest as Poets' Corner. We are all familiarly acquainted with it beforehand. We are all ready for "O rare Ben Jonson!" as we stand over the place where he was planted standing upright, as if he had been dropped into a post-hole. We remember too well the foolish and flippant mockery of Gay's "Life is a Jest." If I were dean of the cathedral, I should be tempted to alter the J to a G. Then we could read it without contempt; for life is a gest, an achievement,—or always ought to be. Westminster Abbey is too crowded with monuments to the illustrious dead and those who have been considered so in their day to produce any other than a confused impression. When we visit the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides, no side-lights interfere with the view before us in the field of mental vision. We see the Emperor; Marengo, Austerlitz, Waterloo, Saint Helena, come before us, with him as their central figure. So at Stratford,—the Cloptons and the John a Combes, with all their memorials, cannot make us lift our eyes from the stone which covers the dust that once breathed and walked the streets of Stratford as Shakespeare.
Ah, but here is one marble countenance that I know full well, and knew for many a year in the flesh! Is there an American who sees the bust of Longfellow among the effigies of the great authors of England without feeling a thrill of pleasure at recognizing the features of his native fellow-countryman in the Valhalla of his ancestral fellow-countrymen? There are many memorials in Poets' Corner and elsewhere in the Abbey which could be better spared than that. Too many that were placed there as luminaries have become conspicuous by their obscurity in the midst of that illustrious company. On the whole, the Abbey produces a distinct sense of being overcrowded. It appears too much like a lapidary's store-room. Look up at the lofty roof, which we willingly pardon for shutting out the heaven above us,—at least in an average London day; look down at the floor and think of what precious relics it covers; but do not look around you with the hope of getting any clear, concentrated, satisfying effect from this great museum of gigantic funereal bricabrac. Pardon me, shades of the mighty dead! I had something of this feeling, but at another hour I might perhaps be overcome by emotion, and weep, as my fellow-countryman did at the grave of the earliest of his ancestors. I should love myself better in that aspect than I do in this coldblooded criticism; but it suggested itself, and as no flattery can soothe, so no censure can wound, "the dull, cold ear of death."
Of course we saw all the sights of the Abbey in a hurried way, yet with such a guide and expositor as Archdeacon Farrar our two hours' visit was worth a whole day with an undiscriminating verger, who recites his lesson by rote, and takes the life out of the little mob that follows him round by emphasizing the details of his lesson, until "Patience on a monument" seems to the sufferer, who knows what he wants and what he does not want, the nearest emblem of himself he can think of. Amidst all the imposing recollections of the ancient edifice, one impressed me in the inverse ratio of its importance. The Archdeacon pointed out the little holes in the stones, in one place, where the boys of the choir used to play marbles, before America was discovered, probably,— centuries before, it may be. It is a strangely impressive glimpse of a living past, like the graffiti of Pompeii. I find it is often the accident rather than the essential which fixes my attention and takes hold of my memory. This is a tendency of which I suppose I ought to be ashamed, if we have any right to be ashamed of those idiosyncrasies which are ordered for us. It is the same tendency which often leads us to prefer the picturesque to the beautiful. Mr. Gilpin liked the donkey in a forest landscape better than the horse. A touch of imperfection interferes with the beauty of an object and lowers its level to that of the picturesque. The accident of the holes in the stone of the noble building, for the boys to play marbles with, makes me a boy again and at home with them, after looking with awe upon the statue of Newton, and turning with a shudder from the ghastly monument of Mrs. Nightingale.
What a life must be that of one whose years are passed chiefly in and about the great Abbey! Nowhere does Macbeth's expression "dusty death" seem so true to all around us. The dust of those who have been lying century after century below the marbles piled over them,—the dust on the monuments they lie beneath; the dust on the memories those monuments were raised to keep living in the recollection of posterity,—dust, dust, dust, everywhere, and we ourselves but shapes of breathing dust moving amidst these objects and remembrances! Come away! The good Archdeacon of the "Eternal Hope" has asked us to take a cup of tea with him. The tea-cup will be a cheerful substitute for the funeral urn, and a freshly made infusion of the fragrant leaf is one of the best things in the world to lay the dust of sad reflections.
It is a somewhat fatiguing pleasure to go through the Abbey, in spite of the intense interest no one can help feeling. But my day had but just begun when the two hours we had devoted to the visit were over. At a quarter before eight, my friend Mr. Frederick Locker called for me to go to a dinner at the Literary Club. I was particularly pleased to dine with this association, as it reminded me of our own Saturday Club, which sometimes goes by the same name as the London one. They complimented me with a toast, and I made some kind of a reply. As I never went prepared with a speech for any such occasion, I take it for granted that I thanked the company in a way that showed my gratitude rather than my eloquence. And now, the dinner being over, my day was fairly begun.
This was to be a memorable date in the record of the year, one long to be remembered in the political history of Great Britain. For on this day, the 7th of June, Mr. Gladstone was to make his great speech on the Irish question, and the division of the House on the Government of Ireland Bill was to take place. The whole country, to the corners of its remotest colony, was looking forward to the results of this evening's meeting of Parliament. The kindness of the Speaker had furnished me with a ticket, entitling me to a place among the "distinguished guests," which I presented without modestly questioning my right to the title.
The pressure for entrance that evening was very great, and I, coming after my dinner with the Literary Club, was late upon the ground. The places for "distinguished guests" were already filled. But all England was in a conspiracy to do everything possible to make my visit agreeable. I did not take up a great deal of room,—I might be put into a seat with the ambassadors and foreign ministers. And among them I was presently installed. It was now between ten and eleven o'clock, as nearly as I recollect. The House had been in session since four o'clock. A gentleman was speaking, who was, as my unknown next neighbor told me, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, a leading member, as we all know, of the opposition. When he sat down there was a hush of expectation, and presently Mr. Gladstone rose to his feet. A great burst of applause welcomed him, lasting more than a minute. His clean-cut features, his furrowed cheeks, his scanty and whitened hair, his well-shaped but not extraordinary head, all familiarized by innumerable portraits and emphasized in hundreds of caricatures, revealed him at once to every spectator. His great speech has been universally read, and I need only speak of the way in which it was delivered. His manner was forcible rather than impassioned or eloquent; his voice was clear enough, but must have troubled him somewhat, for he had a small bottle from which he poured something into a glass from time to time and swallowed a little, yet I heard him very well for the most part. In the last portion of his speech he became animated and inspiriting, and his closing words were uttered with an impressive solemnity: "Think, I beseech you, think well, think wisely, think not for a moment, but for the years that are to come, before you reject this bill."
After the burst of applause which followed the conclusion of Mr. Gladstone's speech, the House proceeded to the division on the question of passing the bill to a second reading. While the counting of the votes was going on there was the most intense excitement. A rumor ran round the House at one moment that the vote was going in favor of the second reading. It soon became evident that this was not the case, and presently the result was announced, giving a majority of thirty against the bill, and practically overthrowing the liberal administration. Then arose a tumult of applause from the conservatives and a wild confusion, in the midst of which an Irish member shouted, "Three cheers for the Grand Old Man!" which were lustily given, with waving of hats and all but Donnybrook manifestations of enthusiasm.
I forgot to mention that I had a very advantageous seat among the diplomatic gentlemen, and was felicitating myself on occupying one of the best positions in the House, when an usher politely informed me that the Russian Ambassador, in whose place I was sitting, had arrived, and that I must submit to the fate of eviction. Fortunately, there were some steps close by, on one of which I found a seat almost as good as the one I had just left.
It was now two o'clock in the morning, and I had to walk home, not a vehicle being attainable. I did not know my way to my headquarters, and I had no friend to go with me, but I fastened on a stray gentleman, who proved to be an ex-member of the House, and who accompanied me to 17 Dover Street, where I sought my bed with a satisfying sense of having done a good day's work and having been well paid for it.
On the 8th of June we visited the Record Office for a sight of the Domesday Book and other ancient objects of interest there preserved. As I looked at this too faithful memorial of an inexorable past, I thought of the battle of Hastings and all its consequences, and that reminded me of what I have long remembered as I read it in Dr. Robert Knox's "Races of Men." Dr. Knox was the monoculous Waterloo surgeon, with whom I remember breakfasting, on my first visit to England and Scotland. His celebrity is less owing to his book than to the unfortunate connection of his name with the unforgotten Burke and Hare horrors. This is his language in speaking of Hastings: "... that bloody field, surpassing far in its terrible results the unhappy day of Waterloo. From this the Celt has recovered, but not so the Saxon. To this day he feels, and feels deeply, the most disastrous day that ever befell his race; here he was trodden down by the Norman, whose iron heel is on him yet.... To this day the Saxon race in England have never recovered a tithe of their rights, and probably never will."
The Conqueror meant to have a thorough summing up of his stolen property. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says,—I quote it at second hand,—"So very straitly did he cause the survey to be made, that there was not a single hyde, nor a yardland of ground, nor—it is shameful to say what he thought no shame to do—was there an ox or a cow, or a pig passed by, and that was not down in the accounts, and then all these writings were brought to him." The "looting" of England by William and his "twenty thousand thieves," as Mr. Emerson calls his army, was a singularly methodical proceeding, and Domesday Book is a searching inventory of their booty, movable and immovable.
From this reminder of the past we turned to the remembrances of home; A—— going to dine with a transplanted Boston friend and other ladies from that blessed centre of New England life, while I dined with a party of gentlemen at my friend Mr. James Russell Lowell's.
I had looked forward to this meeting with high expectations, and they were abundantly satisfied. I knew that Mr. Lowell must gather about him, wherever he might be, the choicest company, but what his selection would be I was curious to learn. I found with me at the table my own countrymen and his, Mr. Smalley and Mr. Henry James. Of the other guests, Mr. Leslie Stephen was my only old acquaintance in person; but Du Maurier and Tenniel I have met in my weekly "Punch" for many a year; Mr. Lang, Mr. Oliphant, Mr. Townsend, we all know through their writings; Mr. Burne-Jones and Mr. Alma Tadema, through the frequent reproductions of their works in engravings, as well as by their paintings. If I could report a dinner-table conversation, I might be tempted to say something of my talk with Mr. Oliphant. I like well enough conversation which floats safely over the shallows, touching bottom at intervals with a commonplace incident or truism to push it along; I like better to find a few fathoms of depth under the surface; there is a still higher pleasure in the philosophical discourse which calls for the deep sea line to reach bottom; but best of all, when one is in the right mood, is the contact of intelligences when they are off soundings in the ocean of thought. Mr. Oliphant is what many of us call a mystic, and I found a singular pleasure in listening to him. This dinner at Mr. Lowell's was a very remarkable one for the men it brought together, and I remember it with peculiar interest. My entertainer holds a master-key to London society, and he opened the gate for me into one of its choicest preserves on that evening.
I did not undertake to renew my old acquaintance with hospitals and museums. I regretted that I could not be with my companion, who went through the Natural History Museum with the accomplished director, Professor W. H. Flower. One old acquaintance I did resuscitate. For the second time I took the hand of Charles O'Byrne, the celebrated Irish giant of the last century. I met him, as in my first visit, at the Royal College of Surgeons, where I accompanied Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson. He was in the condition so longed for by Sydney Smith on a very hot day; namely, with his flesh taken off, and sitting, or rather standing, in his bones. The skeleton measures eight feet, and the living man's height is stated as having been eight feet two, or four inches, by different authorities. His hand was the only one I took, either in England or Scotland, which had not a warm grasp and a hearty welcome in it.
A—— went with Boston friends to see "Faust" a second time, Mr. Irving having offered her the Royal box, and the polite Mr. Bram Stoker serving the party with tea in the little drawing-room behind the box; so that she had a good time while I was enjoying myself at a dinner at Sir Henry Thompson's, where I met Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Browning, and other distinguished gentlemen. These dinners of Sir Henry's are well known for the good company one meets at them, and I felt myself honored to be a guest on this occasion.
Among the pleasures I had promised myself was that of a visit to Tennyson, at the Isle of Wight. I feared, however, that this would be rendered impracticable by reason of the very recent death of his younger son, Lionel. But I learned from Mr. Locker-Lampson, whose daughter Mr. Lionel Tennyson had married, that the poet would be pleased to see me at his place, Farringford; and by the kind intervention of Mr. Locker-Lampson, better known to the literary world as Frederick Locker, arrangements were made for my daughter and myself to visit him. I considered it a very great favor, for Lord Tennyson has a poet's fondness for the tranquillity of seclusion, which many curious explorers of society fail to remember. Lady Tennyson is an invalid, and though nothing could be more gracious than her reception of us both, I fear it may have cost her an effort which she would not allow to betray itself. Mr. Hallam Tennyson and his wife, both of most pleasing presence and manners, did everything to make our stay agreeable. I saw the poet to the best advantage, under his own trees and walking over his own domain. He took delight in pointing out to me the finest and the rarest of his trees,—and there were many beauties among them. I recalled my morning's visit to Whittier at Oak Knoll, in Danvers, a little more than a year ago, when he led me to one of his favorites, an aspiring evergreen which shot up like a flame. I thought of the graceful American elms in front of Longfellow's house and the sturdy English elms that stand in front of Lowell's. In this garden of England, the Isle of Wight, where everything grows with such a lavish extravagance of greenness that it seems as if it must bankrupt the soil before autumn, I felt as if weary eyes and overtasked brains might reach their happiest haven of rest. We all remember Shenstone's epigram on the pane of a tavern window. If we find our "warmest welcome at an inn," we find our most soothing companionship in the trees among which we have lived, some of which we may ourselves have planted. We lean against them, and they never betray our trust; they shield us from the sun and from the rain; their spring welcome is a new birth, which never loses its freshness; they lay their beautiful robes at our feet in autumn; in winter they "stand and wait," emblems of patience and of truth, for they hide nothing, not even the little leaf-buds which hint to us of hope, the last element in their triple symbolism.
This digression, suggested by the remembrance of the poet under his trees, breaks my narrative, but gives me the opportunity of paying a debt of gratitude. For I have owned many beautiful trees, and loved many more outside of my own leafy harem. Those who write verses have no special claim to be lovers of trees, but so far as one is of the poetical temperament he is likely to be a tree-lover. Poets have, as a rule, more than the average nervous sensibility and irritability. Trees have no nerves. They live and die without suffering, without self-questioning or self-reproach. They have the divine gift of silence. They cannot obtrude upon the solitary moments when one is to himself the most agreeable of companions. The whole vegetable world, even "the meanest flower that blows," is lovely to contemplate. What if creation had paused there, and you or I had been called upon to decide whether self-conscious life should be added in the form of the existing animal creation, and the hitherto peaceful universe should come under the rule of Nature as we now know her,
"red in tooth and claw"?
Are we not glad that the responsibility of the decision did not rest on us?
I am sorry that I did not ask Tennyson to read or repeat to me some lines of his own. Hardly any one perfectly understands a poem but the poet himself. One naturally loves his own poem as no one else can. It fits the mental mould in which it was cast, and it will not exactly fit any other. For this reason I had rather listen to a poet reading his own verses than hear the best elocutionist that ever spouted recite them. He may not have a good voice or enunciation, but he puts his heart and his inter-penetrative intelligence into every line, word, and syllable. I should have liked to hear Tennyson read such lines as
"Laborious orient ivory, sphere in sphere;"
and in spite of my good friend Matthew Arnold's in terrorem, I should have liked to hear Macaulay read,
"And Aulus the Dictator Stroked Auster's raven mane,"
and other good mouthable lines, from the "Lays of Ancient Rome." Not less should I like to hear Mr. Arnold himself read the passage beginning,—
"In his cool hall with haggard eyes The Roman noble lay."
The next day Mrs. Hallam Tennyson took A—— in her pony cart to see Alum Bay, The Needles, and other objects of interest, while I wandered over the grounds with Tennyson. After lunch his carriage called for us, and we were driven across the island, through beautiful scenery, to Ventnor, where we took the train to Ryde, and there the steamer to Portsmouth, from which two hours and a half of travel carried us to London.
* * * * *
My first visit to Cambridge was at the invitation of Mr. Gosse, who asked me to spend Sunday, the 13th of June, with him. The rooms in Neville Court, Trinity College, occupied by Sir William Vernon Harcourt when lecturing at Cambridge, were placed at my disposal. The room I slept in was imposing with the ensigns armorial of the Harcourts and others which ornamented its walls. I had great delight in walking through the quadrangles, along the banks of the Cam, and beneath the beautiful trees which border it. Mr. Gosse says that I stopped in the second court of Clare, and looked around and smiled as if I were bestowing my benediction. He was mistaken: I smiled as if I were receiving a benediction from my dear old grandmother; for Cambridge in New England is my mother town, and Harvard University in Cambridge is my Alma Mater. She is the daughter of Cambridge in Old England, and my relationship is thus made clear.
Mr. Gosse introduced me to many of the younger and some of the older men of the university. Among my visits was one never to be renewed and never to be forgotten. It was to the Master of Trinity, the Reverend William Hepworth Thompson. I hardly expected to have the privilege of meeting this very distinguished and greatly beloved personage, famous not alone for scholarship, or as the successor of Dr. Whewell in his high office, but also as having said some of the wittiest things which we have heard since Voltaire's pour encourager les autres. I saw him in his chamber, a feeble old man, but noble to look upon in all "the monumental pomp of age." He came very near belonging to the little group I have mentioned as my coevals, but was a year after us. Gentle, dignified, kindly in his address as if I had been his schoolmate, he left a very charming impression. He gave me several mementoes of my visit, among them a beautiful engraving of Sir Isaac Newton, representing him as one of the handsomest of men. Dr. Thompson looked as if he could not be very long for this world, but his death, a few weeks after my visit, was a painful surprise to me. I had been just in time to see "the last of the great men" at Cambridge, as my correspondent calls him, and I was very grateful that I could store this memory among the hoarded treasures I have been laying by for such possible extra stretch of time as may be allowed me.
My second visit to Cambridge will be spoken of in due season.
While I was visiting Mr. Gosse at Cambridge, A—— was not idle. On Saturday she went to Lambeth, where she had the pleasure and honor of shaking hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury in his study, and of looking about the palace with Mrs. Benson. On Sunday she went to the Abbey, and heard "a broad and liberal sermon" from Archdeacon Farrar. Our young lady-secretary stayed and dined with her, and after dinner sang to her. "A peaceful, happy Sunday," A—— says in her diary,—not less peaceful, I suspect, for my being away, as my callers must have got many a "not at 'ome" from young Robert of the multitudinous buttons.
On Monday, the 14th of June, after getting ready for our projected excursions, we had an appointment which promised us a great deal of pleasure. Mr. Augustus Harris, the enterprising and celebrated manager of Drury Lane Theatre, had sent us an invitation to occupy a box, having eight seats, at the representation of "Carmen." We invited the Priestleys and our Boston friends, the Shimminses, to take seats with us. The chief singer in the opera was Marie Roze, who looked well and sang well, and the evening went off very happily. After the performance we were invited by Mr. Harris to a supper of some thirty persons, where we were the special guests. The manager toasted me, and I said something,—I trust appropriate; but just what I said is as irrecoverable as the orations of Demosthenes on the seashore, or the sermons of St. Francis to the beasts and birds.
Of all the attentions I received in England, this was, perhaps, the least to be anticipated or dreamed of. To be feted and toasted and to make a speech in Drury Lane Theatre would not have entered into my flightiest conceptions, if I had made out a programme beforehand. It is a singularly gratifying recollection. Drury Lane Theatre is so full of associations with literature, with the great actors and actresses of the past, with the famous beauties who have stood behind the footlights and the splendid audiences that have sat before them, that it is an admirable nucleus for remembrances to cluster around. It was but a vague spot in memory before, but now it is a bright centre for other images of the past. That one evening seems to make me the possessor of all its traditions from the time when it rose from its ashes, when Byron's poem was written and recited, and when the brothers Smith gave us the "Address without a Phoenix," and all those exquisite parodies which make us feel towards their originals somewhat as our dearly remembered Tom Appleton did when he said, in praise of some real green turtle soup, that it was almost as good as mock.
With much regret we gave up an invitation we had accepted to go to Durdans to dine with Lord Rosebery. We must have felt very tired indeed to make so great a sacrifice, but we had to be up until one o'clock getting ready for the next day's journey; writing, packing, and attending to what we left behind us as well as what was in prospect.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 16th, Dr. Donald Macalister called to attend us on our second visit to Cambridge, where we were to be the guests of his cousin, Alexander Macalister, Professor of Anatomy, who, with Mrs. Macalister, received us most cordially. There was a large luncheon-party at their house, to which we sat down in our travelling dresses. In the evening they had a dinner-party, at which were present, among others, Professor Stokes, President of the Royal Society, and Professor Wright. We had not heard much talk of political matters at the dinner-tables where we had been guests, but A—— sat near a lady who was very earnest in advocating the Irish side of the great impending question.
The 17th of June is memorable in the annals of my country. On that day of the year 1775 the battle of Bunker's Hill was fought on the height I see from the window of my library, where I am now writing. The monument raised in memory of our defeat, which was in truth a victory, is almost as much a part of the furniture of the room as its chairs and tables; outside, as they are inside, furniture. But the 17th of June, 1886, is memorable to me above all the other anniversaries of that day I have known. For on that day I received from the ancient University of Cambridge, England, the degree of Doctor of Letters, "Doctor Litt.," in its abbreviated academic form. The honor was an unexpected one; that is, until a short time before it was conferred.
Invested with the academic gown and cap, I repaired in due form at the appointed hour to the Senate Chamber. Every seat was filled, and among the audience were youthful faces in large numbers, looking as if they were ready for any kind of outbreak of enthusiasm or hilarity.
The first degree conferred was that of LL.D., on Sir W. A. White, G.C.M., G.C.B., to whose long list of appended initials it seemed like throwing a perfume on the violet to add three more letters.
When I was called up to receive my honorary title, the young voices were true to the promise of the young faces. There was a great noise, not hostile nor unpleasant in its character, in answer to which I could hardly help smiling my acknowledgments. In presenting me for my degree the Public Orator made a Latin speech, from which I venture to give a short extract, which I would not do for the world if it were not disguised by being hidden in the mask of a dead language. But there will be here and there a Latin scholar who will be pleased with the way in which the speaker turned a compliment to the candidate before him, with a reference to one of his poems and to some of his prose works.
"Juvat nuper audivisse eum cujus carmen prope primum 'Folium ultimum' nominatum est, folia adhuc plura e scriniis suis esse prolaturum. Novimus quanta lepore descripserit colloquia illa antemeridiana, symposia illa sobria et severa, sed eadem festiva et faceta, in quibus totiens mutata persona, modo poeta, modo professor, modo princeps et arbiter, loquendi, inter convivas suos regnat."
I had no sooner got through listening to the speech and receiving my formal sentence as Doctor of Letters than the young voices broke out in fresh clamor. There were cries of "A speech! a speech!" mingled with the title of a favorite poem by John Howard Payne, having a certain amount of coincidence with the sound of my name. The play upon the word was not absolutely a novelty to my ear, but it was good-natured, and I smiled again, and perhaps made a faint inclination, as much as to say, "I hear you, young gentlemen, but I do not forget that I am standing on my dignity, especially now since a new degree has added a moral cubit to my stature." Still the cries went on, and at last I saw nothing else to do than to edge back among the silk gowns, and so lose myself and be lost to the clamorous crowd in the mass of dignitaries. It was not indifference to the warmth of my welcome, but a feeling that I had no claim to address the audience because some of its younger members were too demonstrative. I have not forgotten my very cordial reception, which made me feel almost as much at home in the old Cambridge as in the new, where I was born and took my degrees, academic, professional, and honorary.
The university town left a very deep impression upon my mind, in which a few grand objects predominate over the rest, all being of a delightful character. I was fortunate enough to see the gathering of the boats, which was the last scene in their annual procession. The show was altogether lovely. The pretty river, about as wide as the Housatonic, I should judge, as that slender stream winds through "Canoe Meadow," my old Pittsfield residence, the gaily dressed people who crowded the banks, the flower-crowned boats, with the gallant young oarsmen who handled them so skilfully, made a picture not often equalled. The walks, the bridges, the quadrangles, the historic college buildings, all conspired to make the place a delight and a fascination. The library of Trinity College, with its rows of busts by Roubiliac and Woolner, is a truly noble hall. But beyond, above all the rest, the remembrance of King's College Chapel, with its audacious and richly wrought roof and its wide and lofty windows, glowing with old devices in colors which are ever fresh, as if just from the furnace, holds the first place in my gallery of Cambridge recollections.
I cannot do justice to the hospitalities which were bestowed upon us in Cambridge. Professor and Mrs. Macalister, aided by Dr. Donald Macalister, did all that thoughtful hosts could do to make us feel at home. In the afternoon the ladies took tea at Mr. Oscar Browning's. In the evening we went to a large dinner at the invitation of the Vice-Chancellor. Many little points which I should not have thought of are mentioned in A——'s diary. I take the following extract from it, toning down its vivacity more nearly to my own standard:—
"Twenty were there. The Master of St. John's took me in, and the Vice-Chancellor was on the other side.... The Vice-Chancellor rose and returned thanks after the meats and before the sweets, as usual. I have now got used to this proceeding, which strikes me as extraordinary. Everywhere here in Cambridge, and the same in Oxford, I believe, they say grace and give thanks. A gilded ewer and flat basin were passed, with water in the basin to wash with, and we all took our turn at the bath! Next to this came the course with the finger-bowls!... Why two baths?"
On Friday, the 18th, I went to a breakfast at the Combination Room, at which about fifty gentlemen were present, Dr. Sandys taking the chair. After the more serious business of the morning's repast was over, Dr. Macalister, at the call of the chairman, arose, and proposed my welfare in a very complimentary way. I of course had to respond, and I did so in the words which came of their own accord to my lips. After my unpremeditated answer, which was kindly received, a young gentleman of the university, Mr. Heitland, read a short poem, of which the following is the title:—
LINES OF GREETING TO DR. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
AT BREAKFAST IN COMBINATION ROOM, ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND.
I wish I dared quote more than the last two verses of these lines, which seemed to me, not unused to giving and receiving complimentary tributes, singularly happy, and were so considered by all who heard them. I think I may venture to give the two verses referred to:—
"By all sweet memory of the saints and sages Who wrought among us in the days of yore; By youths who, turning now life's early pages, Ripen to match the worthies gone before:
"On us, O son of England's greatest daughter, A kindly word from heart and tongue bestow; Then chase the sunsets o'er the western water, And bear our blessing with you as you go."
I need not say that I left the English Cambridge with a heart full of all grateful and kindly emotions.
I must not forget that I found at Cambridge, very pleasantly established and successfully practising his profession, a former student in the dental department of our Harvard Medical School, Dr. George Cunningham, who used to attend my lectures on anatomy. In the garden behind the quaint old house in which he lives is a large medlar-tree,—the first I remember seeing.
On this same day we bade good-by to Cambridge, and took the two o'clock train to Oxford, where we arrived at half past five. At this first visit we were to be the guests of Professor Max Mueller, at his fine residence in Norham Gardens. We met there, at dinner, Mr. Herkomer, whom we have recently had with us in Boston, and one or two others. In the evening we had music; the professor playing on the piano, his two daughters, Mrs. Conybeare and her unmarried sister, singing, and a young lady playing the violin. It was a very lovely family picture; a pretty house, surrounded by attractive scenery; scholarship, refinement, simple elegance, giving distinction to a home which to us seemed a pattern of all we could wish to see beneath an English roof. It all comes back to me very sweetly, but very tenderly and sadly, for the voice of the elder of the two sisters who sang to us is heard no more on earth, and a deep shadow has fallen over the household we found so bright and cheerful.
Everything was done to make me enjoy my visit to Oxford, but I was suffering from a severe cold, and was paying the penalty of too much occupation and excitement. I missed a great deal in consequence, and carried away a less distinct recollection of this magnificent seat of learning than of the sister university.
If one wishes to know the magic of names, let him visit the places made memorable by the lives of the illustrious men of the past in the Old World. As a boy I used to read the poetry of Pope, of Goldsmith, and of Johnson. How could I look at the Bodleian Library, or wander beneath its roof, without recalling the lines from "The Vanity of Human Wishes"?
"When first the college rolls receive his name, The young enthusiast quits his ease for fame; Resistless burns the fever of renown, Caught from the strong contagion of the gown: O'er Bodley's dome his future labors spread, And Bacon's mansion trembles o'er his head."
The last line refers to Roger Bacon. "There is a tradition that the study of Friar Bacon, built on an arch over the bridge, will fall when a man greater than Bacon shall pass under it. To prevent so shocking an accident, it was pulled down many years since." We shall meet with a similar legend in another university city. Many persons have been shy of these localities, who were in no danger whatever of meeting the fate threatened by the prediction.
We passed through the Bodleian Library, only glancing at a few of its choicest treasures, among which the exquisitely illuminated missals were especially tempting objects of study. It was almost like a mockery to see them opened and closed, without having the time to study their wonderful miniature paintings. A walk through the grounds of Magdalen College, under the guidance of the president of that college, showed us some of the fine trees for which I was always looking. One of these, a wych-elm (Scotch elm of some books), was so large that I insisted on having it measured. A string was procured and carefully carried round the trunk, above the spread of the roots and below that of the branches, so as to give the smallest circumference. I was curious to know how the size of the trunk of this tree would compare with that of the trunks of some of our largest New England elms. I have measured a good many of these. About sixteen feet is the measurement of a large elm, like that on Boston Common, which all middle-aged people remember. From twenty-two to twenty-three feet is the ordinary maximum of the very largest trees. I never found but one exceed it: that was the great Springfield elm, which looked as if it might have been formed by the coalescence from the earliest period of growth, of two young trees. When I measured this in 1837, it was twenty-four feet eight inches in circumference at five feet from the ground; growing larger above and below. I remembered this tree well, as we measured the string which was to tell the size of its English rival. As we came near the end of the string, I felt as I did when I was looking at the last dash of Ormonde and The Bard at Epsom.—Twenty feet, and a long piece of string left.—Twenty-one. —Twenty-two.—Twenty-three.—An extra heartbeat or two.—Twenty-four! —Twenty-five and six inches over!!—The Springfield elm may have grown a foot or more since I measured it, fifty years ago, but the tree at Magdalen stands ahead of all my old measurements. Many of the fine old trees, this in particular, may have been known in their younger days to Addison, whose favorite walk is still pointed out to the visitor.
I would not try to compare the two university towns, as one might who had to choose between them. They have a noble rivalry, each honoring the other, and it would take a great deal of weighing one point of superiority against another to call either of them the first, except in its claim to antiquity.
After a garden-party in the afternoon, a pleasant evening at home, when the professor played and his daughter Beatrice sang, and a garden-party the next day, I found myself in somewhat better condition, and ready for the next move.
At noon on the 23d of June we left for Edinburgh, stopping over night at York, where we found close by the station an excellent hotel, and where the next morning we got one of the best breakfasts we had in our whole travelling experience. At York we wandered to and through a flower-show, and did the cathedral, as people do all the sights they see under the lead of a paid exhibitor, who goes through his lesson like a sleepy old professor. I missed seeing the slab with the inscription miserrimus. There may be other stones bearing this sad superlative, but there is a story connected with this one, which sounds as if it might be true.
In the year 1834, I spent several weeks in Edinburgh. I was fascinated by the singular beauties of that "romantic town," which Scott called his own, and which holds his memory, with that of Burns, as a most precious part of its inheritance. The castle with the precipitous rocky wall out of which it grows, the deep ravines with their bridges, pleasant Calton Hill and memorable Holyrood Palace, the new town and the old town with their strange contrasts, and Arthur's Seat overlooking all,—these varied and enchanting objects account for the fondness with which all who have once seen Edinburgh will always regard it.
We were the guests of Professor Alexander Crum Brown, a near relative of the late beloved and admired Dr. John Brown. Professor and Mrs. Crum Brown did everything to make our visit a pleasant one. We met at their house many of the best known and most distinguished people of Scotland. The son of Dr. John Brown dined with us on the day of our arrival, and also a friend of the family, Mr. Barclay, to whom we made a visit on the Sunday following. Among the visits I paid, none was more gratifying to me than one which I made to Dr. John Brown's sister. No man could leave a sweeter memory than the author of "Rab and his Friends," of "Pet Marjorie," and other writings, all full of the same loving, human spirit. I have often exchanged letters with him, and I thought how much it would have added to the enjoyment of my visit if I could have taken his warm hand and listened to his friendly voice. I brought home with me a precious little manuscript, written expressly for me by one who had known Dr. John Brown from the days of her girlhood, in which his character appears in the same lovable and loving light as that which shines in every page he himself has written.
On Friday, the 25th, I went to the hall of the university, where I was to receive the degree of LL.D. The ceremony was not unlike that at Cambridge, but had one peculiar feature: the separate special investment of the candidate with the hood, which Johnson defines as "an ornamental fold which hangs down the back of a graduate." There were great numbers of students present, and they showed the same exuberance of spirits as that which had forced me to withdraw from the urgent calls at Cambridge. The cries, if possible, were still louder and more persistent; they must have a speech and they would have a speech, and what could I do about it? I saw but one way of pacifying a crowd as noisy and long-breathed as that which for about the space of two hours cried out, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" So I stepped to the front and made a brief speech, in which, of course, I spoke of the "perfervidum ingenium Scotorum." A speech without that would have been like that "Address without a Phoenix" before referred to. My few remarks were well received, and quieted the shouting Ephesians of the warm-brained and warm-hearted northern university. It gave me great pleasure to meet my friend Mr. Underwood, now American consul in Glasgow, where he has made himself highly esteemed and respected.
In my previous visit to Edinburgh in 1834, I was fond of rambling along under Salisbury Crags, and climbing the sides of Arthur's Seat. I had neither time nor impulse for such walks during this visit, but in driving out to dine at Nidrie, the fine old place now lived in by Mr. Barclay and his daughters, we passed under the crags and by the side of the great hill. I had never heard, or if I had I had forgotten, the name and the story of "Samson's Ribs." These are the columnar masses of rock which form the face of Salisbury Crags. There is a legend that one day one of these pillars will fall and crush the greatest man that ever passes under them. It is said that a certain professor was always very shy of "Samson's Ribs," for fear the prophecy might be fulfilled in his person. We were most hospitably received at Mr. Barclay's, and the presence of his accomplished and pleasing daughters made the visit memorable to both of us. There was one picture on their walls, that of a lady, by Sir Joshua, which both of us found very captivating. This is what is often happening in the visits we make. Some painting by a master looks down upon us from its old canvas, and leaves a lasting copy of itself, to be stored in memory's picture gallery. These surprises are not so likely to happen in the New World as in the Old.
It seemed cruel to be forced to tear ourselves away from Edinburgh, where so much had been done to make us happy, where so much was left to see and enjoy, but we were due in Oxford, where I was to receive the last of the three degrees with which I was honored in Great Britain.
Our visit to Scotland gave us a mere glimpse of the land and its people, but I have a very vivid recollection of both as I saw them on my first visit, when I made an excursion into the Highlands to Stirling and to Glasgow, where I went to church, and wondered over the uncouth ancient psalmody, which I believe is still retained in use to this day. I was seasoned to that kind of poetry in my early days by the verses of Tate and Brady, which I used to hear "entuned in the nose ful swetely," accompanied by vigorous rasping of a huge bass-viol. No wonder that Scotland welcomed the song of Burns!
On our second visit to Oxford we were to be the guests of the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Jowett. This famous scholar and administrator lives in a very pleasant establishment, presided over by the Muses, but without the aid of a Vice-Chancelloress. The hospitality of this classic mansion is well known, and we added a second pleasant chapter to our previous experience under the roof of Professor Max Mueller. There was a little company there before us, including the Lord Chancellor and Lady Herschell, Lady Camilla Wallop, Mr. Browning, and Mr. Lowell. We were too late, in consequence of the bad arrangement of the trains, and had to dine by ourselves, as the whole party had gone out to a dinner, to which we should have accompanied them had we not been delayed. We sat up long enough to see them on their return, and were glad to get to bed, after our day's journey from Edinburgh to Oxford.
At eleven o'clock on the following day we who were to receive degrees met at Balliol College, whence we proceeded in solemn procession to the Sheldonian Theatre. Among my companions on this occasion were Mr. John Bright, the Lord Chancellor Herschell, and Mr. Aldis Wright. I have an instantaneous photograph, which was sent me, of this procession. I can identify Mr. Bright and myself, but hardly any of the others, though many better acquainted with their faces would no doubt recognize them. There is a certain sensation in finding one's self invested with the academic gown, conspicuous by its red facings, and the cap with its square top and depending tassel, which is not without its accompanying satisfaction. One can walk the streets of any of the university towns in his academic robes without being jeered at, as I am afraid he would be in some of our own thoroughfares. There is a noticeable complacency in the members of our Phi Beta Kappa society when they get the pink and blue ribbons in their buttonholes, on the day of annual meeting. How much more when the scholar is wrapped in those flowing folds, with their flaming borders, and feels the dignity of the distinction of which they are the symbol! I do not know how Mr. John Bright felt, but I cannot avoid the impression that some in the ranks which moved from Balliol to the Sheldonian felt as if Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the candidates for the degree of D.C.L.
After my experience at Cambridge and Edinburgh, I might have felt some apprehension about my reception at Oxford. I had always supposed the audience assembled there at the conferring of degrees was a more demonstrative one than that at any other of the universities, and I did not wish to be forced into a retreat by calls for a speech, as I was at Cambridge, nor to repeat my somewhat irregular proceeding of addressing the audience, as at Edinburgh. But when I found that Mr. John Bright was to be one of the recipients of the degree I felt safe, for if he made a speech I should be justified in saying a few words, if I thought it best; and if he, one of the most eloquent men in England, remained silent, I surely need not make myself heard on the occasion. It was a great triumph for him, a liberal leader, to receive the testimonial of a degree from the old conservative university. To myself it was a graceful and pleasing compliment; to him it was a grave and significant tribute. As we marched through the crowd on our way from Balliol, the people standing around recognized Mr. Bright, and cheered him vociferously.
The exercises in the Sheldonian Theatre were more complex and lasted longer than those at the other two universities. The candidate stepped forward and listened to one sentence, then made another move forward and listened to other words, and at last was welcomed to all the privileges conferred by the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, which was announced as being bestowed upon him. Mr. Bright, of course, was received with immense enthusiasm. I had every reason to be gratified with my own reception. The only "chaffing" I heard was the question from one of the galleries, "Did he come in the One-Hoss Shay?"—at which there was a hearty laugh, joined in as heartily by myself. A part of the entertainment at this ceremony consisted in the listening to the reading of short extracts from the prize essays, some or all of them in the dead languages, which could not have been particularly intelligible to a large part of the audience. During these readings there were frequent interpellations, as the French call such interruptions, something like these: "That will do, sir!" or "You had better stop, sir!" —always, I noticed, with the sir at the end of the remark. With us it would have been "Dry up!" or "Hold on!" At last came forward the young poet of the occasion, who read an elaborate poem, "Savonarola," which was listened to in most respectful silence, and loudly applauded at its close, as I thought, deservedly. Prince and Princess Christian were among the audience. They were staying with Professor and Mrs. Max Mueller, whose hospitalities I hope they enjoyed as much as we did. One or two short extracts from A——'s diary will enliven my record: "The Princess had a huge bouquet, and going down the aisle had to bow both ways at once, it seemed to me: but then she has the Guelph spine and neck! Of course it is necessary that royalty should have more elasticity in the frame than we poor ordinary mortals. After all this we started for a luncheon at All Souls, but had to wait (impatiently) for H. R. H. to rest herself, while our resting was done standing."
It is a long while since I read Madame d'Arblay's Recollections, but if I remember right, standing while royalty rests its bones is one of the drawbacks to a maid of honor's felicity.
"Finally, at near three, we went into a great luncheon of some fifty. There were different tables, and I sat at the one with royalty. The Provost of Oriel took me in, and Mr. Browning was on my other side. Finally, we went home to rest, but the others started out again to go to a garden-party, but that was beyond us." After all this came a dinner-party of twenty at the Vice-Chancellor's, and after that a reception, where among others we met Lord and Lady Coleridge, the lady resplendent in jewels. Even after London, this could hardly be called a day of rest.
The Chinese have a punishment which consists simply in keeping the subject of it awake, by the constant teasing of a succession of individuals employed for the purpose. The best of our social pleasures, if carried beyond the natural power of physical and mental endurance, begin to approach the character of such a penance. After this we got a little rest; did some mild sight-seeing, heard some good music, called on the Max Muellers, and bade them good-by with the warmest feeling to all the members of a household which it was a privilege to enter. There only remained the parting from our kind entertainer, the Vice-Chancellor, who added another to the list of places which in England and Scotland were made dear to us by hospitality, and are remembered as true homes to us while we were under their roofs.
On the second day of July we left the Vice-Chancellor's, and went to the Randolph Hotel to meet our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Willett, from Brighton, with whom we had an appointment of long standing. With them we left Oxford, to enter on the next stage of our pilgrimage.
It had been the intention of Mr. Willett to go with us to visit Mr. Ruskin, with whom he is in the most friendly relations. But a letter from Mr. Ruskin's sister spoke of his illness as being too serious for him to see company, and we reluctantly gave up this part of our plan.
My first wish was to revisit Stratford-on-Avon, and as our travelling host was guided in everything by our inclinations, we took the cars for Stratford, where we arrived at five o'clock in the afternoon. It had been arranged beforehand that we should be the guests of Mr. Charles E. Flower, one of the chief citizens of Stratford, who welcomed us to his beautiful mansion in the most cordial way, and made us once more at home under an English roof.
I well remembered my visit to Stratford in 1834. The condition of the old house in which Shakespeare was born was very different from that in which we see it to-day. A series of photographs taken in different years shows its gradual transformation since the time when the old projecting angular sign-board told all who approached "The immortal Shakespeare was born in this House." How near the old house came to sharing the fortunes of Jumbo under the management of our enterprising countryman, Mr. Barnum, I am not sure; but that he would have "traded" for it, if the proprietors had been willing, I do not doubt, any more than I doubt that he would make an offer for the Tower of London, if that venerable structure were in the market. The house in which Shakespeare was born is the Santa Casa of England. What with my recollections and the photographs with which I was familiarly acquainted, it had nothing very new for me. Its outside had undergone great changes, but its bare interior was little altered.
My previous visit was a hurried one,—I took but a glimpse, and then went on my way. Now, for nearly a week I was a resident of Stratford-on-Avon. How shall I describe the perfectly ideal beauty of the new home in which I found myself! It is a fine house, surrounded by delightful grounds, which skirt the banks of the Avon for a considerable distance, and come close up to the enclosure of the Church of the Holy Trinity, beneath the floor of which lie the mortal remains of Shakespeare. The Avon is one of those narrow English rivers in which half a dozen boats might lie side by side, but hardly wide enough for a race between two rowing abreast of each other. Just here the river is comparatively broad and quiet, there being a dam a little lower down the stream. The waters were a perfect mirror, as I saw them on one of the still days we had at Stratford. I do not remember ever before seeing cows walking with their legs in the air, as I saw them reflected in the Avon. Along the banks the young people were straying. I wondered if the youthful swains quoted Shakespeare to their ladyloves. Could they help recalling Romeo and Juliet? It is quite impossible to think of any human being growing up in this place which claims Shakespeare as its child, about the streets of which he ran as a boy, on the waters of which he must have often floated, without having his image ever present. Is it so? There are some boys, from eight to ten or a dozen years old, fishing in the Avon, close by the grounds of "Avonbank," the place at which we are staying. I call to the little group. I say, "Boys, who was this man Shakespeare, people talk so much about?" Boys turn round and look up with a plentiful lack of intelligence in their countenances. "Don't you know who he was nor what he was?" Boys look at each other, but confess ignorance.—Let us try the universal stimulant of human faculties. "Here are some pennies for the boy that will tell me what that Mr. Shakespeare was." The biggest boy finds his tongue at last. "He was a writer,—he wrote plays." That was as much as I could get out of the youngling. I remember meeting some boys under the monument upon Bunker Hill, and testing their knowledge as I did that of the Stratford boys. "What is this great stone pillar here for?" I asked. "Battle fought here,—great battle." "Who fought?" "Americans and British." (I never hear the expression Britishers.) "Who was the general on the American side?" "Don' know,—General Washington or somebody."—What is an old battle, though it may have settled the destinies of a nation, to the game of base-ball between the Boston and Chicago Nines which is to come off to-morrow, or to the game of marbles which Tom and Dick are just going to play together under the shadow of the great obelisk which commemorates the conflict?
The room more especially assigned to me looked out, at a distance of not more than a stone's-throw, on the northern aspect of the church where Shakespeare lies buried. Workmen were busy on the roof of the transept. I could not conveniently climb up to have a talk with the roofers, but I have my doubts whether they were thinking all the time of the dust over which they were working. How small a matter literature is to the great seething, toiling, struggling, love-making, bread-winning, child-rearing, death-awaiting men and women who fill this huge, palpitating world of ours! It would be worth while to pass a week or a month among the plain, average people of Stratford. What is the relative importance in human well-being of the emendations of the text of Hamlet and the patching of the old trousers and the darning of the old stockings which task the needles of the hard-working households that fight the battle of life in these narrow streets and alleys? I ask the question; the reader may answer it.
Our host, Mr. Flower, is more deeply interested, perhaps, than any other individual in the "Shakespeare Memorial" buildings which have been erected on the banks of the Avon, a short distance above the Church of the Holy Trinity. Under Mr. Flower's guidance we got into one of his boats, and were rowed up the stream to the Memorial edifice. There is a theatre, in a round tower which has borrowed some traits from the octagon "Globe" theatre of Shakespeare's day; a Shakespeare library and portrait gallery are forming; and in due time these buildings, of stately dimensions and built solidly of brick, will constitute a Shakespearean centre which will attract to itself many mementoes now scattered about in various parts of the country.
On the 4th of July we remembered our native land with all the affectionate pride of temporary exiles, and did not forget to drink at lunch to the prosperity and continued happiness of the United States of America. In the afternoon we took to the boat again, and were rowed up the river to the residence of Mr. Edgar Flower, where we found another characteristic English family, with its nine children, one of whom was the typical English boy, most pleasing and attractive in look, voice, and manner.
I attempt no description of the church, the birthplace, or the other constantly visited and often described localities. The noble bridge, built in the reign of Henry VII. by Sir Hugh Clopton, and afterwards widened, excited my admiration. It was a much finer piece of work than the one built long afterwards. I have hardly seen anything which gave me a more striking proof of the thoroughness of the old English workmen. They built not for an age, but for all time, and the New Zealander will have to wait a long while before he will find in any one of the older bridges that broken arch from which he is to survey the ruins of London.
It is very pleasant to pick up a new epithet to apply to the poet upon whose genius our language has nearly exhausted itself. It delights me to speak of him in the words which I have just found in a memoir not yet a century old, as "the Warwickshire bard," "the inestimable Shakespeare."
Ever since Miss Bacon made her insane attempt to unearth what is left of Shakespeare's bodily frame, the thought of doing reverently and openly what she would have done by stealth has been entertained by psychologists, artists, and others who would like to know what were his cranial developments, and to judge from the conformation of the skull and face which of the various portraits is probably the true one. There is little doubt that but for the curse invoked upon the person who should disturb his bones, in the well-known lines on the slab which covers him, he would rest, like Napoleon, like Washington, in a fitting receptacle of marble or porphyry. In the transfer of his remains the curiosity of men of science and artists would have been gratified, if decay had spared the more durable portions of his material structure. It was probably not against such a transfer that the lines were written,—whoever was their author,—but in the fear that they would be carried to the charnel-house.
"In this charnel-house was contained a vast collection of human bones. How long they had been deposited there is not easily to be determined; but it is evident, from the immense quantity contained in the vault, it could have been used for no other purpose for many ages." "It is probable that from an early contemplation of this dreary spot Shakespeare imbibed that horror of a violation of sepulture which is observable in many parts of his writings."
The body of Raphael was disinterred in 1833 to settle a question of identity of the remains, and placed in a new coffin of lead, which was deposited in a marble sarcophagus presented by the Pope. The sarcophagus, with its contents, was replaced in the same spot from which the remains had been taken. But for the inscription such a transfer of the bones of Shakespeare would have been proposed, and possibly carried out. Kings and emperors have frequently been treated in this way after death, and the proposition is no more an indignity than was that of the exhumation of the remains of Napoleon, or of Andre, or of the author of "Home, Sweet Home." But sentiment, a tender regard for the supposed wishes of the dead poet, and a natural dread of the consequences of violating a dying wish, coupled with the execration of its contemner, are too powerful for the arguments of science and the pleadings of art. If Shakespeare's body had been embalmed,—which there is no reason that I know of to suppose,—the desire to compare his features with the bust and the portraits would have been much more imperative. When the body of Charles the First was examined, under the direction of Sir Henry Halford, in the presence of the Regent, afterwards George the Fourth, the face would have been recognized at once by all who were acquainted with Vandyke's portrait of the monarch, if the lithograph which comes attached to Sir Henry's memoir is an accurate representation of what they found. Even the bony framework of the face, as I have had occasion to know, has sometimes a striking likeness to what it was when clothed in its natural features. As between the first engraved portrait and the bust in the church, the form of the bones of the head and face would probably be decisive. But the world can afford to live without solving this doubt, and leave his perishing vesture of decay to its repose.
After seeing the Shakespeare shrines, we drove over to Shottery, and visited the Anne Hathaway cottage. I am not sure whether I ever saw it before, but it was as familiar to me as if I had lived in it. The old lady who showed it was agreeably communicative, and in perfect keeping with the place.
A delightful excursion of ten or a dozen miles carried our party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Flower, Mr. and Mrs. Willett, with A—— and myself, to Compton Wynyate, a most interesting old mansion, belonging to the Marquis of Northampton, who, with his daughter-in-law, Lady William Compton, welcomed us and showed us all the wonders of the place. It was a fine morning, but hot enough for one of our American July days. The drive was through English rural scenery; that is to say, it was lovely. The old house is a great curiosity. It was built in the reign of Henry the Eighth, and has passed through many vicissitudes. The place, as well as the edifice, is a study for the antiquarian. Remains of the old moat which surrounded it are still distinguishable. The twisted and variously figured chimneys are of singular variety and exceptional forms. Compton Wynyate is thought to get its name from the vineyards formerly under cultivation on the hillsides, which show the signs of having been laid out in terraces. The great hall, with its gallery, and its hangings, and the long table made from the trunk of a single tree, carries one back into the past centuries. There are strange nooks and corners and passages in the old building, and one place, a queer little "cubby-hole," has the appearance of having been a Roman Catholic chapel. I asked the master of the house, who pointed out the curiosities of the place most courteously, about the ghosts who of course were tenants in common with the living proprietors. I was surprised when he told me there were none. It was incredible, for here was every accommodation for a spiritual visitant. I should have expected at least one haunted chamber, to say nothing of blood-stains that could never be got rid of; but there were no legends of the supernatural or the terrible.
Refreshments were served us, among which were some hot-house peaches, ethereally delicate as if they had grown in the Elysian Fields and been stolen from a banquet of angels. After this we went out on the lawn, where, at Lady William Compton's request, I recited one or two poems; the only time I did such a thing in England.
It seems as if Compton Wynyate must have been written about in some novel or romance,—perhaps in more than one of both. It is the place of all others to be the scene of a romantic story. It lies so hidden away among the hills that its vulgar name, according to old Camden, was "Compton in the Hole." I am not sure that it was the scene of any actual conflict, but it narrowly escaped demolition in the great civil war, and in 1646 it was garrisoned by the Parliament army.
On the afternoon of July 6th, our hosts had a large garden-party. If nothing is more trying than one of these out-of-door meetings on a cold, windy, damp day, nothing can be more delightful than such a social gathering if the place and the weather are just what we could wish them. The garden-party of this afternoon was as near perfection as such a meeting could well be. The day was bright and warm, but not uncomfortably hot, to me, at least. The company strolled about the grounds, or rested on the piazzas, or watched the birds in the aviary, or studied rudimentary humanity in the monkey, or, better still, in a charming baby, for the first time on exhibition since she made the acquaintance of sunshine. Every one could dispose of himself or herself as fancy might suggest. I broke away at one time, and wandered alone by the side of the Avon, under the shadow of the tall trees upon its bank. The whole scene was as poetical, as inspiring, as any that I remember. It would be easy to write verses about it, but unwritten poems are so much better!
One reminiscence of that afternoon claims precedence over all the rest. The reader must not forget that I have been a medical practitioner, and for thirty-five years a professor in a medical school. Among the guests whom I met in the grounds was a gentleman of the medical profession, whose name I had often heard, and whom I was very glad to see and talk with. This was Mr. Lawson Tait, F.R.C.S., M.D., of Birmingham. Mr., or more properly Dr., Tait has had the most extraordinary success in a class of cases long considered beyond the reach of surgery. If I refer to it as a scientific hari kari, not for the taking but for the saving of life, I shall come near enough to its description. This operation is said to have been first performed by an American surgeon in Danville, Kentucky, in the year 1809. So rash and dangerous did it seem to most of the profession that it was sometimes spoken of as if to attempt it were a crime. Gradually, however, by improved methods, and especially by the most assiduous care in nursing the patient after the operation, the mortality grew less and less, until it was recognized as a legitimate and indeed an invaluable addition to the resources of surgery. Mr. Lawson Tait has had, so far as I have been able to learn, the most wonderful series of successful cases on record: namely, one hundred and thirty-nine consecutive operations without a single death.
As I sat by the side of this great surgeon, a question suggested itself to my mind which I leave the reader to think over. Which would give the most satisfaction to a thoroughly humane and unselfish being, of cultivated intelligence and lively sensibilities: to have written all the plays which Shakespeare has left as an inheritance for mankind, or to have snatched from the jaws of death more than a hundred fellow- creatures,—almost seven scores of suffering women,—and restored them to sound and comfortable existence? It would be curious to get the answers of a hundred men and a hundred women, of a hundred young people and a hundred old ones, of a hundred scholars and a hundred operatives. My own specialty is asking questions, not answering them, and I trust I shall not receive a peck or two of letters inquiring of me how I should choose if such a question were asked me. It may prove as fertile a source of dispute as "The Lady or the Tiger."
It would have been a great thing to pass a single night close to the church where Shakespeare's dust lies buried. A single visit by daylight leaves a comparatively slight impression. But when, after a night's sleep, one wakes up and sees the spire and the old walls full before him, that impression is very greatly deepened, and the whole scene becomes far more a reality. Now I was nearly a whole week at Stratford-on-Avon. The church, its exterior, its interior, the birthplace, the river, had time to make themselves permanent images in my mind. To effect this requires a certain amount of exposure, as much as in the case of a photographic negative.
* * * * *
And so we bade good-by to Stratford-on-Avon and its hospitalities, with grateful remembrances of our kind entertainers and all they did for our comfort and enjoyment.
Where should we go next? Our travelling host proposed Great Malvern, a famous watering-place, where we should find peace, rest, and good accommodations. So there we went, and soon found ourselves installed at the "Foley Arms" hotel. The room I was shown to looked out upon an apothecary's shop, and from the window of that shop stared out upon me a plaster bust which I recognized as that of Samuel Hahnemann. I was glad to change to another apartment, but it may be a comfort to some of his American followers to know that traces of homoeopathy,—or what still continues to call itself so,—survive in the Old World, which we have understood was pretty well tired of it.
We spent several days very pleasantly at Great Malvern. It lies at the foot of a range of hills, the loftiest of which is over a thousand feet in height. A—— and I thought we would go to the top of one of these, known as the Beacon. We hired a "four-wheeler," dragged by a much-enduring horse and in charge of a civil young man. We turned out of one of the streets not far from the hotel, and found ourselves facing an ascent which looked like what I should suppose would be a pretty steep toboggan slide. We both drew back. "Facilis ascensus," I said to myself, "sed revocare gradum." It is easy enough to get up if you are dragged up, but how will it be to come down such a declivity? When we reached it on our return, the semi-precipice had lost all its terrors. We had seen and travelled over so much worse places that this little bit of slanting road seemed as nothing. The road which wound up to the summit of the Beacon was narrow and uneven. It ran close to the edge of the steep hillside,—so close that there were times when every one of our forty digits curled up like a bird's claw. If we went over, it would not be a fall down a good honest precipice,—a swish through the air and a smash at the bottom,—but a tumbling, and a rolling over and over, and a bouncing and bumping, ever accelerating, until we bounded into the level below, all ready for the coroner. At one sudden turn of the road the horse's body projected so far over its edge that A—— declared if the beast had been an inch longer he would have toppled over. When we got close to the summit we found the wind blowing almost a gale. A—— says in her diary that I (meaning her honored parent) "nearly blew off from the top of the mountain." It is true that the force of the wind was something fearful, and seeing that two young men near me were exposed to its fury, I offered an arm to each of them, which they were not too proud to accept; A—— was equally attentive to another young person; and having seen as much of the prospect as we cared to, we were glad to get back to our four-wheeler and our hotel, after a perilous journey almost comparable to Mark Twain's ascent of the Riffelberg.
At Great Malvern we were deliciously idle. We walked about the place, rested quietly, drove into the neighboring country, and made a single excursion,—to Tewkesbury. There are few places better worth seeing than this fine old town, full of historical associations and monumental relics. The magnificent old abbey church is the central object of interest. The noble Norman tower, one hundred and thirty-two feet in height, was once surmounted by a spire, which fell during divine service on Easter Day of the year 1559. The arch of the west entrance is sixteen feet high and thirty-four feet wide. The fourteen columns of the nave are each six feet and three inches in diameter and thirty feet in height. I did not take these measurements from the fabric itself, but from the guidebook, and I give them here instead of saying that the columns were huge, enormous, colossal, as they did most assuredly seem to me. The old houses of Tewkesbury compare well with the finest of those in Chester. I have a photograph before me of one of them, in which each of the three upper floors overhangs the one beneath it, and the windows in the pointed gable above project over those of the fourth floor.
I ought to have visited the site of Holme Castle, the name of which reminds me of my own origin. "The meaning of the Saxon word 'Holme' is a meadow surrounded with brooks, and here not only did the castle bear the name, but the meadow is described as the 'Holme,—where the castle was.'" The final s in the name as we spell it is a frequent addition to old English names, as Camden mentions, giving the name Holmes among the examples. As there is no castle at the Holme now, I need not pursue my inquiries any further. It was by accident that I stumbled on this bit of archaeology, and as I have a good many namesakes, it may perhaps please some of them to be told about it. Few of us hold any castles, I think, in these days, except those chateaux en Espagne, of which I doubt not, many of us are lords and masters.
In another of our excursions we visited a venerable church, where our attention was called to a particular monument. It was erected to the memory of one of the best of husbands by his "wretched widow," who records upon the marble that there never was such a man on the face of the earth before, and never will be again, and that there never was anybody so miserable as she,—no, never, never, never! These are not the exact words, but this is pretty nearly what she declares. The story is that she married again within a year.
From my window at the Foley Arms I can see the tower of the fine old abbey church of Malvern, which would be a centre of pilgrimages if it were in our country. But England is full of such monumental structures, into the history of which the local antiquarians burrow, and pass their peaceful lives in studying and writing about them with the same innocent enthusiasm that White of Selborne manifested in studying nature as his village showed it to him.
In our long drives we have seen everywhere the same picturesque old cottages, with the pretty gardens, and abundant flowers, and noble trees, more frequently elms than any other. One day—it was on the 10th of July—we found ourselves driving through what seemed to be a gentleman's estate, an ample domain, well wooded and well kept. On inquiring to whom this place belonged, I was told that the owner was Sir Edmund Lechmere. The name had a very familiar sound to my ears. Without rising from the table at which I am now writing, I have only to turn my head, and in full view, at the distance of a mile, just across the estuary of the Charles, shining in the morning sun, are the roofs and spires and chimneys of East Cambridge, always known in my younger days as Lechmere's Point. Judge Richard Lechmere was one of our old Cambridge Tories, whose property was confiscated at the time of the Revolution. An engraving of his handsome house, which stands next to the Vassall house, long known as Washington's headquarters, and since not less celebrated as the residence of Longfellow, is before me, on one of the pages of the pleasing little volume, "The Cambridge of 1776." I take it for granted that our Lechmeres were of the same stock as the owner of this property. If so, he probably knows all that I could tell him about his colonial relatives, who were very grand people, belonging to a little aristocratic circle of friends and relatives who were faithful to their king and their church. The Baroness Riedesel, wife of a Hessian officer who had been captured, was for a while resident in this house, and her name, scratched on a window-pane, was long shown as a sight for eyes unused to titles other than governor, judge, colonel, and the like. I was tempted to present myself at Sir Edmund's door as one who knew something about the Lechmeres in America, but I did not feel sure how cordially a descendant of the rebels who drove off Richard and Mary Lechmere would be received.
From Great Malvern we went to Bath, another place where we could rest and be comfortable. The Grand Pump-Room Hotel was a stately building, and the bath-rooms were far beyond anything I had ever seen of that kind. The remains of the old Roman baths, which appear to have been very extensive, are partially exposed. What surprises one all over the Old World is to see how deeply all the old civilizations contrive to get buried. Everybody seems to have lived in the cellar. It is hard to believe that the cellar floor was once the sun surface of the smiling earth.
I looked forward to seeing Bath with a curious kind of interest. I once knew one of those dear old English ladies whom one finds all the world over, with their prim little ways, and their gilt prayer-books, and lavender-scented handkerchiefs, and family recollections. She gave me the idea that Bath, a city where the great people often congregate, was more especially the paradise of decayed gentlewomen. There, she told me, persons with very narrow incomes—not demi-fortunes, but demi-quart-de-fortunes—could find everything arranged to accommodate their modest incomes. I saw the evidence of this everywhere. So great was the delight I had in looking in at the shop-windows of the long street which seemed to be one of the chief thoroughfares that, after exploring it in its full extent by myself, I went for A——, and led her down one side its whole length and up the other. In these shops the precious old dears could buy everything they wanted in the most minute quantities. Such tempting heaps of lumps of white sugar, only twopence! Such delectable cakes, two for a penny! Such seductive scraps of meat, which would make a breakfast nourishing as well as relishing, possibly even what called itself a dinner, blushing to see themselves labelled threepence or fourpence! We did not know whether to smile or to drop a tear, as we contemplated these baits hung out to tempt the coins from the exiguous purses of ancient maidens, forlorn widows, withered annuitants, stranded humanity in every stage of shipwrecked penury. I am reminded of Thackeray's "Jack Spiggot." "And what are your pursuits, Jack? says I. 'Sold out when the governor died. Mother lives at Bath. Go down there once a year for a week. Dreadful slow. Shilling whist.'" Mrs. Gaskell's picture of "Cranford" is said to have been drawn from a village in Cheshire, but Bath must have a great deal in common with its "elegant economies." Do not make the mistake, however, of supposing that this splendid watering-place, sometimes spoken of as "the handsomest city in Britain," is only a city of refuge for people that have seen better days. Lord Macaulay speaks of it as "that beautiful city which charms even eyes familiar with the masterpieces of Bramante and Palladio." If it is not quite so conspicuous as a fashionable resort as it was in the days of Beau Nash or of Christopher Anstey, it has never lost its popularity. Chesterfield writes in 1764, "The number of people in this place is infinite," and at the present time the annual influx of visitors is said to vary from ten to fourteen thousand. Many of its public buildings are fine, and the abbey church, dating from 1499, is an object of much curiosity, especially on account of the sculptures on its western facade. These represent two ladders, with angels going up and down upon them,—suggested by a dream of the founder of the church, repeating that of Jacob.