The most remarkable of the subjects of this character with whom I became acquainted, which was during the later years of this study, was Mrs. H.K. Brown, the wife of our ablest sculptor of that day. Mrs. Brown was, apart from the peculiar powers she possessed, one of the most remarkable women I have ever known, both morally and intellectually, and the peculiar mental powers she manifested were well known to all the large and thoughtful circle of friends which gathered round her. No physical "manifestation" took place in her presence, and we never "sat" as a "circle," but her telepathic and thought-reading powers in ordinary social intercourse were most surprising. She answered readily any questions proposed in the minds of her interlocutors, often even before they were completely formed, and she possessed the power attributed to Zschokke, of reading, or seeing, past events in the lives of those who were placed en rapport with her. Bryant, the poet, assured me that she had recounted to him events in his past life not known to any living person except himself, and I had, myself, the evidence that in her presence there was nothing in my past life beyond her perception. On simple contact with a letter from an unknown person she gave me the most remarkable analysis of the character of the writer, and though this evidence is always open to criticism, the disclosures she made were sometimes surprising. I gave her one day a letter of Ruskin without disclosing the authorship, and in the course of a long analysis she said that the writer was not married, to which I replied that in this she was mistaken, and she rejoined, "Then he ought not to be." At that time Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin were, so far as I knew, living together, and no rumor of their incompatibility had come about.
Mrs. Brown explained the possession of her occult powers by a voice in the manner of Socrates's demon, which, she said, was always present with her, and which she recognized as entirely foreign to her. She repeated what she heard, word for word as the words came, hesitating and sometimes leaving a sentence incomplete, not hearing the sequence. When she asked who was speaking to her, she received only the reply, "We are spirit," and no indication of personality was ever offered. On one occasion, when Mr. and Mrs. Brown were on a fishing trip into the wild parts of New York State, and, returning, were on their way to the railway station, the wheel of their wagon broke and they had to go to a blacksmith on the road to have it repaired. She said to her husband that they would lose the train, to which the voice replied that they would be in time, for the train was late and they would arrive with a minute to spare. And in fact as they drew up at the station the train came in sight and they had a minute to spare. There were many such instances in which Mrs. Brown showed to the circle of her acquaintances, which was large and included many of the most intellectual minds of the artistic and literary world whose centre was New York, the possession of powers "not dreamed of in our philosophy," but, as she carefully avoided notoriety, they never came under public notice. Her husband implicitly and always followed the directions given her through her demon.
In one of the social gatherings which grew out of the study of spiritism was a lady who, like myself, was a convinced believer in the reality of the phenomena, but skeptical as to the value and personal origin of the communications made in the "circles." Her daughter, a child of seven, was in fact a hypnotic clairvoyant of singular lucidity, and my brother, Dr. Jacob Stillman, obtained from the mother permission to have a private seance, only the mother and child, the doctor, and myself being present. I hypnotized the girl Fanny, and when she opened her eyes in the hypnotic state the doctor made the usual tests for coma, exposing the eyes to the sudden glare of a brilliant light, sticking pins into her flesh, and so forth, and pronounced the coma absolute when, as he stuck a pin in her arm, she spoke, saying, "I wouldn't do that, it might hurt Fanny!" I asked if she felt it, and she replied, "She does not feel it now, but she might when she wakes." "But who are you?" I asked. She replied, "Oh, don't you know? I am Dora." The mother informed us that a young playmate of Fanny's, whose name was Dora Greenleaf, had died some months previously, and that the impersonation through Fanny was always in that name.
The physical test being declared conclusive by the doctor, I asked "Dora" to tell me if there was any spirit friend of ours present, to which she replied that there was a lady there who gave her name as "Kate," and whom she described in terms sufficiently correct to indicate a deceased cousin whose name was Catherine, familiarly called Kate in the family, and this was followed by the names and description of other relatives, all correct as far as names and such identification could go; but to this kind of demonstration I could never attach any importance as to personality, which is indeed a point as to which I have found that reliance can rarely be placed on affirmation, and as to which absolute proof can scarcely be given. As in the case of Mrs. Brown, she replied with lucidity and promptness to every interrogation, and I then began a series of mental questions, being sure at least that the child could not draw from the question matter for an indicated reply. She replied promptly to my questions, and from time to time I explained to my brother what had been asked, that he might follow the conversation. After several relatives had been named, I asked if our brother Alfred was there, to which she instantly replied, "There is a gentleman sitting on the corner of the table by you who says his name is Alfred." The opportunity then occurred to me of asking a "test question," which was, "If Alfred is here, will he tell me when he last saw Harvey?" The relevance of this question will appear from the fact that they were together on the steamer whose boiler burst on the Mississippi, killing my brother and causing injury to the cousin such that he committed suicide a month later. The reply was, "He says he does not remember." At this I remarked guardedly to the doctor, "I asked Alfred when he last saw Harvey, and he replies that he doesn't remember, but he must have seen him on board the boat." To this she instantly replied, with an explosive laugh, "He says that if he did it was all blown out of him!" I will only comment on this reply, that it was quite in accordance with the character of my brother to joke on the most serious subjects—he was an inveterate joker.
At this juncture, and while we discussed the strange reply, Fanny exclaimed, "There is a young gentleman coming through the window; he says his name is Harry—no," she added, holding her ear forward in the direction she indicated as if to hear better, "not Harry, Harvey." I then asked, "If Harvey is here, will he tell me if he was with me in Paris, last winter?" She replied, "Yes, he says he was with you in Paris, and that he saw you in the house where you lived with Mrs. Fox—no, not Fox, Coxe—Mrs. Coxe—and he asks if you remember magnetizing Mrs. Coxe at the restaurant?" Mrs. Coxe, as I have said previously, was the lady from Alabama whose acquaintance, as well as that of her husband and their young daughter, I had made when traveling with them through Belgium, on my way to Hungary, and whom Mr. Coxe, when he returned on business to America, left under my protection for the winter. Mrs. Coxe was subject to violent and sudden headaches, which came without warning, and for which during our trip on the Meuse I had once hypnotized her successfully. This led to my being called on subsequently so often that she became an easy subject, and the headaches became less and less frequent and violent. I have before said that it was our custom on Sunday to dine together at some one of the restaurants, and on one of these occasions the headache came on as we sat at the table and I hypnotized her across the table, by simple exertion of my will without passes, and it passed off. The incident was not in my mind, and had, not to cause gossip, never been mentioned by me to any one; my mind was acting at the moment in quite a different direction, and if my thought gave any clue to the answers of Fanny, it would have been in another direction that she would have looked. What was singular and accounted for by no evident circumstance was the manner of the child in listening for the names which she had clearly heard incorrectly—Harry for Harvey, and Fox for Coxe, and after holding her ear forward as would one who heard imperfectly something said to him. No forethought or attempt at deception on the part of a child of seven under the eye of her mother, who was a woman of singular sincerity of character, can be admitted to account for these details in the dialogue, conducted on my part, be it remembered, entirely by mental inquiries.
The evident fatigue of the child put an end to the seance. Neither the mother nor Fanny knew at that time anything of my relatives, our acquaintance being then of recent date, but our intimacy with the family in after years enables me to say that any attempt at deception is out of the question. Fanny died not long after of consumption, as did the mother and two other children, one of whom, an elder sister, had been influenced in the same manner as Miss A., who will be mentioned later, but had never consented to take part in the manifestations, which she regarded with great repugnance. While sitting with us en petit comite, she used sometimes to be seized with a convulsive and involuntary effort of her hand to write, but she always refused to submit to the influence. Fanny in her normal state showed no indications of mediumistic powers, nor did the mother.
During the investigation, we heard of a remarkable case in the circle of our own acquaintance which had been kept from public knowledge as far as possible by the aversion to publicity of the father of the subject, my brother's chief foreman. She was a girl of fourteen, of a timid and nervous organization, who had suffered great annoyance by the persistence of the rappings about her wherever she might be; at first in her bedroom, but finally to her great dismay in the class-rooms of the primary public school of New York, in which she held the position of assistant teacher and where she conducted the recitations. The rappings caused such fright amongst the school children that she was menaced with dismissal if they did not cease. She implored the agency which was responsible for the sounds to leave her alone at school and do what seemed best to it at home, and the rappings did actually cease at school. As her father was a man well-to-do in circumstances and annoyed by the occurrence, he silenced the gossip about the matter as well as he could, and gave an inflexible denial to the request for a seance which came from friends who by chance heard of it. My brother Paul, who was a fellow-foreman in the iron works, got permission, however, for a seance at which he and I only were to be present with the girl. The phenomena were so strange that I got permission for a repetition at which only my brother Jacob and myself were present, and we preserved the notes of what passed.
Miss A., as I shall call her, told us in detail the development of the case. After having been for some time troubled by the rappings she began to feel involuntary motions in her right hand which increased to constantly recurring violent exercise of the muscles, when it occurred to her from the character of the motions that the hand wanted a pencil to write and she laid paper and a pencil on the table. Her hand then took possession of the pencil and began to scrawl aimlessly over the paper until, after the interval of many days, the agency seemed to have sufficient control over the muscles to form legible letters. This was a source of amusement to her, and, at the time we made our entry into the investigation, the hand wrote legibly and neatly in reply to mental, i.e. unspoken, questions, she having no control of the muscles so long as the "influence," which was the name she applied to whatever it might be, chose to use it. She knew what was written only when the writing was finished and she read it, as we did; and the writing was, as we found by experiment, quite as regular and well formed when her eyes were bandaged as when she was looking at her work. As a further test of the involuntary character of this we not only tried her with her eyes bandaged, but by my brother talking with her from one side of the table, while she was writing in reply to my mental questions on the other; she talked with him on one subject at the same moment in which she wrote to me on another.
In what was given under these circumstances she wrote for us the replies in conversations with what purported to be the spirits of three deceased relatives, the wife of my brother, my brother Alfred, and cousin Harvey, who had for several years been my most intimate and beloved friend; and the handwriting of the three series of communication was a better imitation of their writing than I, knowing it, could have produced. That of my sister-in-law I was not so familiar with, though my brother recognized it as that of his wife, but that of our brother was a perfect reproduction down to the smallest accidents, and that which was given as the responses of my cousin equally so, and executed with a rapidity of which I was incapable—a large scrawling hand, that of our brother being of a character entirely opposed, slowly and laboriously formed, with occasional omissions of the last line of a final n, quite common in his writing. The girl had never known either of these relatives. One of the questions I asked when conversing with Harvey was, "Will you tell me how you died?" to which the only reply was a fixed stare on the part of Miss A., though every other question was answered, by pantomime, affirmative or negative signs, or writing, and always in writing when it was insisted on. Miss A.'s pantomimic powers in this state exceeded anything I have ever seen in professional pantomime, and she employed them largely.
At the conclusion of the questions and replies with Harvey, I asked if he had seen old Turner, the landscape painter, since his death, which had taken place not very long before. The reply was "Yes," and I then asked what he was doing, the reply being a pantomime of painting. I then asked if Harvey could bring Turner there, to which the reply was, "I do not know; I will go and see," upon which Miss A. said, "This influence is going away—it is gone;" and after a short pause added, "There is another influence coming, in that direction," pointing over her left shoulder. "I don't like it," and she shuddered slightly, but presently sat up in her chair with a most extraordinary personation of the old painter in manner, in the look out from under the brow and the pose of the head. It was as if the ghost of Turner, as I had seen him at Griffiths's, sat in the chair, and it made my flesh creep to the very tips of my fingers, as if a spirit sat before me. Miss A. exclaimed, "This influence has taken complete possession of me, as none of the others did. I am obliged to do what it wants me to." I asked if Turner would write his name for me, to which she replied by a sharp, decided negative sign. I then asked if he would give me some advice about my painting, remembering Turner's kindly invitation and manner when I saw him. This proposition was met by the same decided negative, accompanied by the fixed and sardonic stare which the girl had put on at the coming of the new influence. This disconcerted me, and I then explained to my brother what had been going on, as, the questions being mental, he had no clue to the pantomime. I said that as an influence which purported to be Turner was present, and refused to answer any questions, I supposed there was nothing more to be done.
But Miss A. still sat unmoved and helpless, so we waited. Presently she remarked that the influence wanted her to do something, she knew not what, only that she had to get up and go across the room, which she did with the feeble step of an old man. She crossed the room and took down from the wall a colored French lithograph, and, coming to me, laid it on the table before me, and by gesture called my attention to it. She then went through the pantomime of stretching a sheet of paper on a drawing-board, then that of sharpening a lead pencil, following it up by tracing the outlines of the subject in the lithograph. Then followed in similar pantomime the choosing of a water-color pencil, noting carefully the necessary fineness of the point, and then the washing-in of a drawing, broadly. Miss A. seemed much amused by all this, but as she knew nothing of drawing she understood nothing of it. Then with the pencil and her pocket handkerchief she began taking out the lights, "rubbing-out," as the technical term is. This seemed to me so contrary to what I conceived to be the execution of Turner that I interrupted with the question, "Do you mean to say that Turner rubbed out his lights?" to which she gave the affirmative sign. I asked further if in a drawing which I then had in my mind, the well-known "Llanthony Abbey," the central passage of sunlight and shadow through rain was done in that way, and she again gave the affirmative reply, emphatically. I was so firmly convinced to the contrary that I was now persuaded that there was a simulation of personality, such as was generally the case with the public mediums, and I said to my brother, who had not heard any of my questions, that this was another humbug, and then repeated what had passed, saying that Turner could not have worked in that way. After this I did not care to follow the conversation further.
My object in maintaining the mental questioning was, of course, to prevent Miss A. from getting any clue to the meaning of the questions, and I carried the precaution so far as not to look at her while forming the questions in my mind. I also ascertained that she knew nothing of drawing, or of Turner; but while I could not resist the evidence of a mental activity absolutely independent of that of Miss A., I was convinced that there was no question of actual identity. Both the doctor and I were, however, satisfied that on the part of Miss A. there was no attempt at deception, and that the phenomenon, whatever might be the case as to identity, was a genuine manifestation of an intelligence independent of that of the girl. Six weeks later I sailed for England, and, on arriving in London, I went at once to see Ruskin, and told him the whole story. He declared the contrariness manifested by the medium to be entirely characteristic of Turner, and had the drawing in question down for examination. We scrutinized it closely, and both recognized beyond dispute that the drawing had been executed in the way that Miss A. indicated. Ruskin advised me to send an account of the affair to the "Cornhill," which I did; but it was rejected, as might have been expected in the state of public opinion at that time, and I can easily imagine Thackeray putting it into the basket in a rage.
I offer no interpretation of the facts which I have here recorded, but I have no hesitation in saying that they completed and fixed my conviction of the existence of invisible and independent intelligences to which the phenomena were due. The question of the identity of these intelligences—which we may, without prejudging their nature, leaving that to be determined by more complete experiences, consider disembodied—with the persons in the flesh whose names they use, is one on which I have great difficulty in forming a conclusion, though, as a rule, my experience in "circles" has been that the imposture was too gross to deceive a person of ordinary intellectual power. The two cases which I have related in the foregoing pages are the only ones in which I have ever been able to find the color of an identification, and of the probability of this I leave the reader to judge. More on the internal than on the external evidence, I consider the probability in the two cases narrated to be in favor of the identity; beyond that I am unwilling to go.
Of the actuality of a disembodied and individual being which, for want of more intelligence of its nature, we call a "spirit," I have no more doubt than I have of my own embodied and individual existence. If, to my philosophic and skeptical critics, this is an indication of intellectual weakness, and excites contempt of my faculties, I cannot help it. I will be honest with myself and the world, have the courage of my convictions, and take the consequences; and I am of the opinion that, if all the cultivated minds which, having studied the subject, agree with me in my conclusions were to be as frank as I am, there would be a large body of witnesses in accord with me. If the inference of a disembodied intelligence, as the source of such phenomena, is difficult of acceptation, that of fraud and collusion is inadmissible, and that of hallucination more difficult than that of the spiritual origin. Of the different hypotheses, then, I take that which seems the most satisfactory one in view of the ascertained facts. But "seeing is believing," and I can fully appreciate the incredulity of reasonable minds as to phenomena which are not in line with our ordinary experience of life, and which, at the same time, are of extreme rarity, and require, for their investigation and actual observation, great patience and the sacrifice of much time and the exercise of much tolerance, surrounded, as the subject is, by gross charlatanry and fraud. But if the beginnings of physical life are worth the years of patient study which science has accorded them, I must believe that the final issue of it is worth the time and study needed to arrive at such results as would, I am convinced, finally crown them. If it were worth while, I could, I am persuaded, define, a priori, the lines of investigation along which we should move, but each investigator will choose his own route, and better so.
Two conclusions I draw from my investigations as immovably established, so far as I am concerned. The first is that there are about us, and with certain facilities for making themselves understood by us, spiritual individualities; and, second, that the human being possesses spiritual senses, parallel with the physical, by which it sees what the physical sense cannot see, and hears what is inaudible to the physical ear. And my general and, I think, logical conclusion is that the spiritual senses appertain to a spiritual body which survives the death of the physical.
LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS
Under the stimulus, in part, of the desire for something out of the ordinary line of subject for pictures, and in part from the hope that going into the "desert" might quicken the spiritual faculties so tantalized by the experience of the circles, I decided to pass the next summer in the great primeval forest in the northern part of New York State, known as the Adirondack wilderness. It was then little known or visited; a few sportsmen and anglers had penetrated it, but for the most part it was known only to the lumberers. Here and there, at intervals of ten to twenty miles, there were log houses, some of which gave hospitality in the summer to the sportsmen, and in the winter to the "loggers" who worked for the great lumber companies. It was a tract of a hundred miles, more or less, across, mainly unbroken wildwood, cut up by rapid rivers, impossible of navigation, otherwise than by canoes and light skiffs which could be carried from one sheet of water to another on the backs of the woodsmen, around the cascades, and over tracts of intervening land through virgin forests, without roads, and, to a large extent, without paths. I hoped here to find new subjects for art, spiritual freedom, and a closer contact with the spiritual world—something beyond the material existence. I was ignorant of the fact that art does not depend on a subject, nor spiritual life on isolation from the rest of humanity, and I found, what a correct philosophy would have before told me, nature with no suggestion of art, and the dullest form of intellectual or spiritual existence.
One of my artist friends—S.R. Gifford, landscape painter, like myself on the search for new subjects—had been, the year before, to the Saranac Lakes, and gave me the clue to the labyrinth, and I found on Upper Saranac Lake a log cabin, inhabited by a farmer whose family consisted of a wife, a son, and a daughter. There I enjoyed a backwoods hospitality at the cost of two dollars a week for board and lodging, and passed the whole summer, finding a subject near the cabin, at which I painted assiduously for nearly three months. I passed the whole day in the open air, wore no hat, and only cloth shoes, hoping that thus the spiritual life would have easier access to me. I carried no gun, and held the lives of beast and bird sacred, but I drew the line at fishing, and my rod and fly-book provided in a large degree the food of the household; for trout swarmed. I caught in an hour, during that summer, in a stream where there has not been a trout for years, as large a string as I could carry a mile. All the time that I was not painting I was in the boat on the lake, or wandering in the forest.
My quest was an illusion. The humanity of the backwoods was on a lower level than that of a New England village—more material if less worldly; the men got intoxicated, and some of the women—nothing less like an apostle could I have found in the streets of New York. I saw one day a hunter who had come into the woods with a motive in some degree like mine—impatience of the restraints and burdens of civilization, and pure love of solitude. He had become, not bestialized, like most of the men I saw, but animalized—he had drifted back into the condition of his dog, with his higher intellect inert. He had built himself a cabin in the depth of the woods, and there he lived in the most complete isolation from human society he could attain. He interested me greatly, and as he stopped for the night at the cabin where I was living, we had considerable conversation. He cared nothing for books, but enjoyed nature, and only hunted in order to live, respecting the lives of his fellow-creatures within that limit. He only went to the "settlements" when he needed supplies, abstained from alcoholic drinks, the great enemy of the backwoodsman, and was happy in his solitude. As he was the first man I had ever met who had attempted the solution of the problem which so interested me,—the effect of solitude on the healthy intellect,—I encouraged him to talk, which he was inclined to do when he found that there was a real sympathy between us on this question.
He seemed to have no desire for companionship, but there was nothing morose or misanthropic in his love of seclusion, and I soon saw that, though he had no care for intellectual growth and no longing for books, he thought a good deal in his own way, and that, mingled with his limited thinking and tranquil emotion before nature, there was a large element of spiritual activity, and this had kept him mentally alive. He had heard of spiritism, and his own experience led him to acceptance of its reality. In his solitary life, in the unbroken silence which reigned around him, he heard mysterious voices, and only the year before he had heard one say that he was wanted at home. He paid no attention to it, thinking it only an illusion, but, after an interval, it was repeated so distinctly that he packed his knapsack, took his dog, and went out with the intention of going home. On the way he met a messenger sent after him, who told him that his brother had met with an accident which disabled him from all work, and begged him to come to his assistance. The voice had come to him at the time of the accident. As a rule, however, the voices seemed vagarious, and he attached no importance to them, except as phenomena which interested him slightly. There was nothing flighty about him, no indication of monomania—he reasoned well, but from the point of view of a man who has had only an elementary education, knowing nothing of philosophy; he had no religious crotchets, and apparently thought little or not at all on religious matters—was, in fine, a natural and healthy man, a despiser of alcohol, satisfied with the moment he lived in, and giving no consideration to that which would come after. He had a great contempt for his fellow woodsmen and avoided contact with them.
The backwoods life, as a rule, I found led to hard drinking, and even the old settler with whom I had taken quarters, though an excellent and affectionate head of his family, and in his ordinary life temperate and hard-working, used at long intervals to break bounds, and, taking his savings down to the settlement, drink till he could neither pay for more nor "get it on trust," and then come home penitent and humiliated. About two weeks after I entered the family, the old man took me aside and informed me, mysteriously, that he was going to the settlement for a few days, and begged me to take one of the boats and come down for him on a fixed day, and he would row the boat back. I rowed down accordingly, sixteen miles, and found Johnson at the landing in a state of fading intoxication, money and credit exhausted as usual, and begging some one to give him a half pint of rum "to ease up on." He was "all on fire inside of him," and begged so piteously that I got him a half pint and we started out, he at the oars and I steering. A copious draught of rum, neat, brought his saturated brain to overflow, and before we had gone a mile he was so drunk that I had to guide the oars from behind to insure their taking the water. Then he broke out into singing, beating time on the gunwale of the boat with such violence that it menaced capsizing every minute, and to all my remonstrances he replied by jeering and more uproarious jollity.
It was no joke, for not to talk of him, too drunk even to hold on to the boat, I was a poor swimmer, and in the deep and cold lake water should never have reached the shore swimming, and I found myself obliged to menace violence. I raised the steering paddle over his head and assured him with a savageness that reached even his drunken brain, that I should knock him on the head and pitch him overboard if he did not keep perfectly quiet. There was imminent danger, for the slight boat of that region requires to be treated with the care of a bark canoe, and the menace cowed him so that he quieted down, and watched me like a whipped dog. I tried to get the bottle away from him, but his drunken cunning anticipated me and he put it far behind him, now and then taking a mouthful of rum to keep down the burning. Thus, he pulling and I guiding the oars, we ran through the lower lake, seven miles, to a "carry," where the boat had to be lifted out and carried over into the river above, around a waterfall. Here I fortunately caught the bottle and sent it down the lake, and we labored on through another lake, three miles, and up a crooked river to another carry into the third lake, on which we lived. He was too drunk still to be trusted any further, and, leaving the boat at the landing with him beside it, I carried the load over and waited for him to get sober. After an interval, long enough I thought for him to grow sober enough to carry the boat, I went back and to my amazement he met me, apparently in his right mind, intensely indignant with some one who, having found him in the state of intoxication in which I left him, had given him a drink of what he called "high wines," i.e. common alcohol, the singular effect of which was to bring him immediately to his senses, and we reached home without further incident.
That night, somewhere near midnight, poor Mrs. Johnson awoke me, begging piteously that I would help her and her daughter to search for her husband, who had disappeared from the house. Then she told me that he had the habit of falling into desperate melancholy after his drunken fits, and had even attempted suicide, and they had on one occasion cut the rope by which he had hanged himself, barely in time, and she always expected to find him dead somewhere. We ransacked the house, the loft, the barn, the stable, in all their corners, every shed and nook about the premises and were returning hopeless, to wait for daylight to look for him in the lake, when, as I passed the wood-yard (where the fire-wood was stored and chopped), I heard a groan, and, guided by it, found him lying amongst the chips in the torpor of drunken sleep. The poor wife, with my assistance, dragged him home and put him to bed, and when I saw him the next morning I heard over and over again his vows and resolutions, his sermons against drink, his repentance and pledges never to touch liquor again. When I showed incredulity, he offered to bet with me his best yoke of oxen against one hundred dollars that he never would drink another drop as long as he lived. I thought the bet a safe one for me, at all events, and took it and made him write it down, and it probably kept him from another spree as long as I remained there, but when I saw him again the next summer he was as drunk as ever. I asked him about my oxen, and he leered and jeered and joked with drunken cunning, but said nothing more.
I passed a very happy summer, enjoying my work and wandering in the forest or exploring the streams which flowed into the lake, for subjects. The pure air and the tranquillity of the life, as well as its simplicity, and a certain amount of boating exercise which I went through every day in going to my subject, brought me to the highest point of physical health I had ever known.
The great danger to the uninitiated in the forest life is that of getting lost in this wild maze of trees, with no kind of landmark to serve as a clue. Not a few rash beginners have become bewildered, lost all conception of their whereabouts, and perished of starvation within a short walk of a place of refuge. The houses there were invariably built by the waterways, and the lines of communication were by water, so that there was no necessity for roads. One finds the "runways" or paths made by the deer traversing the woods in every direction,—a perfect labyrinth of byways, ending nowhere and often bringing the incautious wanderer, who supposes them to be paths, back to his starting-place, with the result that he is at once bewildered beyond recovery.
Years before, during one of my college vacations, I had made a fishing excursion to the northern edge of the great woods, in company with a classmate to the manner born, and had learned the need in my excursions of precautions against the bewilderment which follows the loss of one's sense of direction. He told me of one of the inexperienced assistants of a surveying party of which he was a member, engaged in running a township line in the trackless forest, who ventured to leave the line a few minutes, and, before he could recover it, though only a short distance from his party, had become quite insane, and could only be compelled to return with his companions by force. An artist friend who had sketched on the southern border of the Wilderness told me of a similar experience of an English shoemaker who came to settle in a village on the southern edge of the woods, and who, after a short residence, went out to fish in a stream not far from home. He did not return, and, though protracted search was made for him, no trace of him, nor even of his clothing, was ever discovered, except that a resident in a neighboring village said that, a day or two after the stranger had disappeared, a man answering to the description came to his door, his clothes in tatters, and, in a wild and incoherent manner, asked the way to the village from which he had gone, but, before any reply could be made, started off running and disappeared in the woods again. He had contracted the woods madness and so perished.
Of this danger I was well informed, and, beside, I was more or less a child of the woodlands, and had no apprehension of it, having, moreover, an implicit faith in what I considered a kind of spiritual guidance in all I did,—a delusion which at least served to keep me in absolute self-control under all circumstances. It was probably this which kept me during my wanderings from falling into the panic which constituted the real danger, depriving the victim temporarily of the use of his reasoning powers. I had, however, an interesting experience which gave me a clearer comprehension of the phenomenon, which is a very curious one.
One of the woodsmen had told me of a waterfall on a trout stream of considerable size which emptied into a lake near by us, and, in the hope of finding a subject in it, I took the boat one afternoon and began to follow the course of the stream up from the mouth. After a half mile of clear and navigable water it became so clogged with fallen trees that more lifting than paddling was required, and, as its course was extremely tortuous, I occasionally got out and examined the vicinity of the stream bed and the course above, if, perchance, there might be better navigation beyond. On one of the digressions I suddenly came on the stream running back on its previous course and parallel to it. Instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, the entire landscape seemed to have changed its bearings,—the sun, which was clear in the sky, it being about three o'clock, shone to me out of the north, and it was impossible to convince myself that my senses deceived me, or accept the fact that the sun must be in the southwest, the general direction from which the stream was flowing, and that, to get home again, I must turn my back to it, if I had lost my boat, as seemed certain. Then began to come over me, like an evil spell, the bewilderment and the panic which accompanied it. Fortunately, I recognized this panic from the experiences I knew of, and was aware that if I gave way to it I was a lost man, beyond any finding by the woodsmen, even if they attempted to track me.
Fresh wolf tracks were plenty all along the bank of the stream; panthers and bears abounded in that section, and the wilderness beyond me was never explored, and hardly penetrable, so dense was the undergrowth of dwarf firs and swamp cedars. I had one terrible moment of clear consciousness that if I went astray at that juncture no human being would ever know where I was, and the absolute necessity of recovering my sense of the points of compass was clear to me. By a strong effort of the will, I repressed the growing panic, sat down on a log and covered my face with my hands, and waited, I had no idea how long, but until I felt quite calm; and when I looked out on the landscape again I found the sun in his proper place and the landscape as I had known it. I walked back to my boat without difficulty and went home, and I never lost my head again while I frequented the wilderness. I grew in time to know the points of the compass, even when the sky was covered, and often came home from my excursions after sunset without confusion, but I know that I then owed my escape from the most terrible of deaths entirely to my presence of mind, and this I probably owed then, and always, to that supreme confidence in the protection of a superior power which never deserted me.
My studies in spiritism had developed in me another feeling which was kin to this—a belief in a spiritual insight, the possession of which would always, if entire confidence were placed in it, tell one at the moment what should be done; an intuition which would guide him, but only on the condition that it was trusted absolutely. And at that period of my life I followed it with unfaltering trust. A curious illustration of this state of mind and its effect had already occurred to me in the spring, and, as it relates to this topic and involves a very curious psychological phenomenon, I describe it in connection with the so similar experience of the backwoods. I had made an engagement with Mr. Brown, the sculptor, to meet him on the trout brook that ran through my uncle's farm in Rensselaer County, New York, a hundred and fifty miles from New York city, but I lost the last train by which I should have met him at the appointed time,—daybreak of the following day. Determined to keep the engagement, I took a parallel railway, which ran through western Massachusetts and a section of country which was entirely strange to me. From the station at which I left the railway, that of Pittsfield, there was a distance of several miles to the place of rendezvous, which was in the town of Hancock, close to the boundary line between New York and Massachusetts. On leaving the station I inquired the way to Hancock, and was told that as the crow flies, i.e. across an intervening mountain, it was twelve miles without even a footpath; but, by the road around the mountain, twenty, and that, unless I knew the mountain, I could not possibly find my way over it. It was just sunset as I left Pittsfield, and I decided to risk the mountain, and, following a wood road, I climbed the steep declivity, and, going in what seemed to me a nearly direct course, after an hour's walk I recognized a gap in the hill-crest and a distant view with two little lakes reflecting the sky which I had seen the hour before. I had been following a charcoal-burner's road in a circle; daylight had gone, and the mists were coming on heavy as rain, making it impossible to see ten yards before me. There was no recourse, if I was to keep the rendezvous, but to follow the guidance of the inner sense. I determined to obey the monitor, and plunged into the forest, in unhesitating obedience to it. I did not guess, nor did I try to make any kind of calculation. I felt that I must go in a certain direction, and, as the darkness deepened, I had, literally, to grope my way, walk with my hands out before me, not to run against the trees, for, with little exception, the way lay through dense woodland, amidst which were scattered boulders and fallen tree trunks. I could not—and I speak without the least exaggeration—see the trees at my arm's length. The fog was so dense and the trees so wet that every leaf or twig dripped on me till I was soon drenched as completely as if I had been plunged into a lake. I passed the crest of the mountain and began to descend. I felt with my foot before me, and when the foot could find nothing to rest on I drew it back and moved sidewise till I found a step down, hanging on all the time to the branches of the trees. I descended in this way a long distance, then came to a marsh which I recognized only by the croaking of the frogs in it; and, skirting the sound, made my way past it, always keeping the general direction through the divergences made necessary by the nature of the land.
At length I got through the fog and came to an open field, beyond which I saw the outlines of trees against the clouded sky, and, keeping on, came to a road. A few yards further on a light was visible in a roadside cottage, and other houses were near, but all dark, as it was late and all in them were asleep. I knocked at the door where I saw the light and asked the way to Hancock. "Why, you are in Hancock," the man of the house replied; and, on my inquiry as to an inn, he informed me that a hundred yards further on there was an inn, to which I went. The rain had ceased, but I was soaking, and I asked for a fire by which to dry my clothes, and a bed, both of which were quickly prepared; and then the landlord asked me where I came from and by what road. When I told him that I came from Pittsfield by the mountain, he exclaimed in amazement, "Why, there is no place by which a white man could come over in broad daylight;" an exaggeration, as I could testify, but it proved that the passage was held to be dangerous to the ordinary foot traveler. The incident in itself has no importance, but the singular feeling under which I made the passage of a trackless mountain, in complete darkness for the most difficult part of the way, in perfect confidence in a mysterious guidance which justified that confidence, was a mental phenomenon worthy of note, the more that it was in keeping with the invariable feeling which had grown up in me from the cogitations of years. As I am telling the story of my life, and the spiritual influences of my early years are an essential part of that life, it cannot be irrelevant to the general result that I should show how the springs of it acted. While I was on the wood road in the earlier portion of the walk, I followed unhesitatingly the visible path and made no question of guidance; but, when thrown on the occult influence in which I confided, I walked unerringly to my destination with the precision of an animal which nature had never deserted. In the subsequent years, of which a great part was always spent in the wilderness, the fascination of which became absorbing, this occult faculty strengthened, so that I was never at a loss, when in the trackless forest, for my path homeward. I then thought it a newly acquired faculty. I now regard it as simply a recovered one, inherent in all healthy minds, but lost, as many others have been, in civilization.
And in this connection I will deal, once for all, with the gifts to me from this wild nature to which I abandoned myself with all the ardor of a quest. The tendency of the imagination, even healthy, acting in a vacancy, is to create illusions, or, if there be a certain occult mental activity, such as that I have alluded to in my Pittsfield experience, to intensify its action to such a degree that it finally usurps the function of the senses. In the solitude of the great Wilderness, where I have passed months at a time, generally alone, or with only my dog to keep me company, airy nothings became sensible; and, in the silence of those nights in the forest, the whisperings of the night wind through the trees forced meanings on the expecting ear. I came to hear voices in the air, words so clearly spoken that even an incredulous mind could not ignore them. I sat in my boat one evening, out on the lake, watching the effects of the sky between the gaunt pines which, under the prevalence of the west winds, grew up with an easterly inclination of their tops, like that of a man walking, and thus seemed to be marching eastward into the gathering darkness. They gave a sudden impression of a procession, and I heard as distinctly as I ever heard human speech, a voice in the air which said "the procession of the Anakim." Over and over again, as I sat alone by my camp-fire at night, dreaming awake, I have heard a voice from across the lake calling me to come over and fetch it, and one night I rowed my boat in the darkness more than a mile, to find no one. Watching for deer from a treetop one day, in broad sunlight, and looking over a mountain range, along the crest of which were pointed firs and long level ridges of rock in irregular alternation, the eerie feeling suddenly came over me, and the mountain-top seemed a city with spires and walls, and I heard bands of music, and then hunting-horns coming down with the wind, and there was a perfect illusion of the sound of a hunting party hurrying down into the valley, which gave me a positive panic, as if I were being pursued and must run. I remember also on another occasion a transformation—transfiguration rather—of the entire landscape in colors, such as neither Titian nor Turner ever has shown me. It was a glorification of nature such as I had never conceived and cannot now comprehend.
The fascination of indulgence in this illusory life became such that I lingered every summer longer, and finally until November, when, in that high and northerly locality, the snow had fallen and the lake began to freeze, living only under a bark roof, open to the air and to the snow, which fell on my bed during the night. I can easily imagine the life leading to insanity. Probably my interest in nature and my painting kept me measurably free from this danger, but not from illusions as unaccountable as spiritism, and sometimes more real than the physical facts. I had one evening, when I was lying awake in a troubled state of mind, a vision of a woman's face, utterly unlike anybody I had ever seen, and so beautiful that with the sheer delight of its beauty I remained for several days in a state of ecstasy, as if it were constantly before me, and I remember it still, after more than forty years, as more beautiful than any face I ever saw in the flesh. It was as real while it lasted as any material object could have been, though it was a head without a body, like one of the vignetted portraits which used to be so fashionable in my early days.
In all these years, whether in the wilderness or in the city, I lived a life more or less visionary, and absorbed in mental problems, in the solution of which I passed days of intense thought, and, when no solution appeared to my unaided reason, I used to fast until the solution appeared clear, which was often not until after days of entire abstinence from food of any kind,—the fast lasting occasionally three days,—by which time the diminishing mental energy brought with it a diminution of the perplexity, and I came out of the morbid state in which I had been, and probably found that there was generally an intellectual delusion in the problem. I do not remember the particular character of these perplexities, save that they were generally questions of right and wrong in motive or conduct; but, from the fact that they did not leave a permanent impression, I suppose they were of the quisquilioe which seem at times to perplex the theological world, the stuff that dreams are made of. Up to this time all the doctrines of my early creed held me in bondage: the observance of the Seventh-Day Sabbath, and the exigencies of the letter of the law, which entirely hid the worth of its spirit, were imperative on me, and out of the complication I derived little happiness and much distress. This kind of Christianity seems to me now of the nature of those burdens which the Pharisees of old laid on the consciences of their day, and it was only years later than the time I am here writing of, when I finally moved to Cambridge and came under the influence of the broadest form of Christianity, that they were removed. I owe it to one of the truest friends of my early manhood,—Charles Eliot Norton, the friend as well of Emerson, Lowell, and Longfellow,—that the real nature of these questions of formal morality was finally made clear to me, and life made a relatively simple matter.
This is an anticipation of the sequence of my development, and given here not to leave occasion to recur to the subject again. On my return from the first summer in the Wilderness, I took a studio again in New York, and entered more formally into the fellowship of the painters of landscape. Being under no necessity of making the occupation pay, I probably profited less than I ought by the regime, and followed my mission of art reformer as much by a literary propaganda as by example. This, as all know who have ventured it, was more or less the effectual obstacle to practical attainment in art.
Given a disposition to enter into controversies on art questions, provoked by the general incompetence of the newspaper critics of that day, and the fact that there was at that time no publication in America devoted to the interests of art, it happened naturally that I was drawn into correspondence with the journals on art questions, and easily made for myself a certain reputation in this field. I obtained the position of fine-art editor of the "Evening Post," then edited by W.C. Bryant, a position which did not interfere with my work in the studio. My duties on the paper were light and pecuniarily of no importance, though the "Post" was the journal which, of all the New York dailies, paid most attention to art, and had the highest authority in questions of culture. My relations with Bryant were intellectually profitable to me. He was a man who enjoyed the highest consideration amongst our contemporary journalists,—of inflexible integrity in politics as well as in business affairs. The managing editor was John Bigelow, a worthy second to such a chief. Bryant was held to be a cold man, not only in his poetry, but in his personal relations; but I think that, so far as his personality was concerned, this was a mistake. He impressed me as a man of strong feelings, who had at some time been led by a too explosive expression of them to dread his own passions, and who had, therefore, cultivated a repression which became the habit of his life. The character of his poetry, little sympathetic with human passion, and given to the worship of nature, confirmed the general impression of coldness which his manner suggested. I never saw him in anger, but I felt that the barrier which prevented it was too slight to make it safe for any one to venture to touch it. A supreme sense of justice went with a somewhat narrow personal horizon, a combination which, while it made him hold the balance of judgment level, so far as the large world of politics was concerned, made him often too bitter in his controversies touching political questions; but the American political daily paper has never had a nobler type than the "Evening Post" under Bryant. Demonstrative he never was, even with his intimates, but to the constancy and firmness of his friendship all who knew him well could testify, and, as long as he lived, our relations were unchanged, though my wandering ways brought me seldom near him in later years.
It was about this time that I had become acquainted with the Browns. Of Mrs. Brown I have, in anticipation of events, spoken in connection with spiritism, apart from which she had a remarkable individuality in many ways. She had those instantaneous perceptions of truth in the higher regions of thought, the spiritual and moral, which seem to be either instinct or inspiration. Their house was the meeting place of a school of transcendental thinkers (and I use the word in its full sense) of a very remarkable character. As the Browns lived on the Brooklyn side of the East River, we used to call it the "Brooklyn School," though there were residents of Philadelphia and Boston among the friends who met there. Now and then we had formal conversazioni, and at these I soon took a prominent part, though the inquiring spirit strongly predominated over the oracular, which is likely to monopolize such assemblies. I was in that eagerness of early and incomplete knowledge which is more ready in expression than that of riper years, and it is probable that I distinguished myself by fluency of verbiage. It became customary to look to me for the most hazardous reaches of conjecture or inquiry, though certainly Mrs. Brown was worth far more than I was. I had already solved several problems which to-day are not clear to me, and I had always a ready answer to most mysteries. Talk I certainly could, and Mrs. Brown, who had the most sincere friendship for me, and believed in my possibilities if not in my attainment, delighted to put me forward.
One day there was a conversazione at which Alcott, the "Oracle of Concord," was to be the chief personage, and, as he had the habit of monopolizing the talk when he took any part, it was suggested that I should try my strength against his. Although Emerson had a high opinion of Alcott, he seemed to me a shallow and illogical thinker, and I have always felt that the good opinion of Emerson was due rather to the fact that Alcott presented him with his own ideas served up in forms in which he no longer recognized them, and so appeared to Emerson as original. Such originality as he had was rather in oracular and often incomprehensible verbiage than in profundity of thought, but, as no one attempted to bring him to book, bewildered as his audience generally was by the novelty of the propositions he made or by their absurdity, he used to go on until suggestion, or breath, failed him. I have forgotten, long ago, the subject of debate, but Alcott started out with one of his characteristic mysticisms, and, after allowing him to commit himself fully, I interrupted him with a question. He was a little irritated at being stopped in the flow of his discourse, and showed it, but this did not disturb me, and I insisted on an explanation of what he had said. He was not in the habit of explaining himself, and replied very much at random, but the training of old Dr. Nott stood me in good stead, and I followed him up with question and objection until he assumed a position diametrically opposed to that from which he started, when I called his attention to the fact that what he then said contradicted what he had at first said. He got angry, and replied that "a man was not bound to be consistent with himself, and that it did not matter." But he lost his thread as well as his temper, and the conversazione came to a premature end, to the great satisfaction of the conspirators, most of whom had at one time or another been silenced in their attempts to bring him to logical conclusions, by his autocratic way of carrying on the debate without regard to objections, which they had not had the courage to urge.
He seemed to me a shallow philosopher, but I must confess that my treatment of him did not become a man so much younger than he. I felt, however, a certain amount of honest indignation at what seemed to me his charlatanic manner of putting off on people his random and improvised suggestions regarding questions which seemed to me then of vital importance to society. It is easy now to see that I was in the stage of mental evolution at which detail is of supreme importance because large views of life and philosophy have not yet come above the horizon. Alcott was a drawing-room philosopher, the justice of whose lucubrations had no importance whatever, while his manner and his individuality gave to wiser people than I the pleasure which belongs to the study of such a specimen of human nature. He amused and superficially interested, and he no doubt enjoyed his distorted reflections of the wisdom of wiser men as much as if he had been an original seeker. I did not then understand that all knowledge is relative, and that, au fond, his offense was the same as mine, that of thinking he had arrived at finality in the discovery of truth.
It was, perhaps, a natural consequence of all this talking and writing about art that, in the absence of a periodical devoted to it, my friends came to the conclusion that it would be a good and useful thing that I should start an art journal. I had read with enthusiasm "Modern Painters," and absorbed the views of Ruskin in large draughts, and enjoyed large intercourse with European masters, and with Americans like William Page, H.K. Brown, S.W. Rowse, and H.P. Gray, all thinkers and artists of distinct eminence. In this school I had acquired certain views of the nature of art which I burned to disseminate. They were crude rather than incorrect, but they were largely responded to by our public; they were destructive of the old rather than informing of the new, and leaned on nature rather than art. The art-loving public was full of Ruskinian enthusiasm, and what strength I had shown was in that vein. The overweening self-confidence that always carried me into dangers and difficulties which a little wisdom would have taught me to avoid, made me too ready to enter into a scheme which required far more ability and knowledge of business than I possessed. All my artist friends promised me their assistance, and I found in John Durand, the son of the president of the National Academy of Design, a partner with a seconding enthusiasm and the necessary assistance in raising the capital. This amounted to $5000, for the half of which my brother Thomas became security. We doubted not that the undertaking would be a lucrative one, and one of the principal motives which was urged on me by my artistic friends and promising supporters was that it would furnish me with a sufficient income to enable me to follow my painting without any anxiety as to my means of living. We started a weekly called "The Crayon," and at the outset I was able to promise the assistance of most of our best writers residing in New York.
In order to secure the support of the Bostonians I went to Boston and Cambridge, where I was met by a cordial response to my enthusiasm, Lowell becoming my sponsor to the circle of which he was then and for many years the most brilliant ornament. To him and his friendship in after years I owe to a very large degree the shaping of my later life, as well as the better part of the success of "The Crayon." He was then in a condition of profound melancholy, from the recent death of his wife. He lived in retirement, seeing only his most intimate friends, and why he should have made an exception in my case I do not quite understand. It may be that I had a card of introduction from his great friend William Page or from C.F. Briggs (in the literary world, "Harry Franco"), but if so it would have been merely a formal introduction, as my acquaintance with either of those gentlemen was very slight, and I do not remember an introduction at all. My impression is that I introduced myself. But I was an enthusiast, fired with the idea of an apostolate of art, largely vicarious and due to Ruskin, who was then my prophet, and whose religion, as mine, was nature. In fact, I was still so much under the influence of the "Modern Painters" that, like Ruskin, I accepted art as something in the peculiar vision of the artist, not yet recognizing that it is the brain that sees and not the eye. But there is this which makes the nature-worshiper's creed a more exalting one than that of the art-lover, that it is impersonal and compels the forgetting of one's self, which for an apostolate is essential.
It was probably this characteristic of my condition which enlisted the sympathy of Lowell, who, even in his desolation, had a heart for any form of devotion, and who, with the love of nature which was one of his own most marked traits, had a side to which my enthusiasm appealed directly. The mere artist is, unless his nature is a radically religious one, an egotist, and his art necessarily centres on him, nature only furnishing him with material. I was dreaming of other things than myself or that which was personal in my enterprise, and Lowell felt the glow of my enthusiasm. He introduced me to Longfellow, Charles Eliot Norton, R.H. Dana, and other of his friends at Cambridge, and at a later visit to Agassiz, Emerson, Thomas G. Appleton (Longfellow's brother-in-law), Whittier, E.P. Whipple, Charles Sumner, and Samuel G. Ward, banker and a lover of art of high intelligence, the friend of poets and painters, and to me, in later years, one of the kindest and wisest of advisers and friends.
Lowell invited me to the dinner of the Saturday Club,—a monthly gathering of whatever in the sphere of New England thought was most eminent and brilliant,—and here I came, for the first time, into contact with the true New England. It may be supposed that I returned to New York a more enthusiastic devotee of that Yankeeland to which I owed everything that was best in me. In my immediate mission,—the quest of support for "The Crayon,"—I had abundant response in contributions, and Lowell himself, Norton, and "Tom" Appleton, as he was called familiarly by all the world, continued to be amongst my most faithful and generous contributors as long as I remained the editor. Longfellow alone of all that literary world, though promising to contribute, never did send me a word for my columns, not, I am persuaded, from indifference or want of generosity, but because he was diffident of himself, and, in the scrutiny of his work, for which, of course, the demand from the publishers was always urgent, he did not find anything which seemed to him particularly fit for an art journal. Nor would any of those contributors ever accept the slightest compensation for the poems or articles they sent, though "The Crayon" paid the market price for everything it printed to those who would accept. The first number of "The Crayon" made a good impression in all the quarters from which praise was most weighty and most desired by its proprietors. Bryant and Lowell had sent poems for it, but I had to economize my wealth, and could print only one important poem in each number, and to this I gave a page, so that I had to choose between the two. Bryant had sent me a poem without a title, and when I asked him to give it one he replied, "I give you a poem, give me a name;" and I called it "A Rain Dream," which name it bears still in the collected edition of his works. Lowell sent me the first part of "Pictures from Appledore," one of a series of fragments of a projected poem,—like so many of his projects, never carried to completion. The poem was intended to consist of a series of stories told in "The Nooning," in which a party of young men, gathered in the noon spell in the bowl formed by the branches of a pollard willow,—one of those which stood, and of which some still stand, by the river Charles,—were to tell their personal experiences or legends drawn from the sections of New England from which they came. Bryant's greater reputation at that time made his contribution more valuable from a publishing point of view, especially in New York, where Lowell had as yet little reputation, while Bryant was, by many, regarded as the first of living American poets. But my personal feeling insisted on giving Lowell the place at the launch, and to reconcile the claim of seniority of Bryant with my preference of Lowell puzzled me a little, the more that Lowell insisted strongly on my putting Bryant in the forefront as a matter of business. I determined to leave it to Bryant, whose business tact was very fine, and who had as little personal vanity as is possible to a man of the world, which, in the best sense, he was. But I prepared the ground by writing a series of articles on "The Landscape Element in American Poetry," the first of which was naturally devoted to Bryant, and then, taking him the poem of Lowell and the article on himself, I asked his advice as to the decision, saying that I could only print his poem or Lowell's, but that I desired to take in as wide a range of interest as possible. He decided at once in favor of the poem of Lowell and the Bryant article in the landscape series.
The success of "The Crayon" was immediate, though, from a large journalistic point of view, it was, no doubt, somewhat crude and puerile. It had a considerable public, sympathetic with its sentimental vein, readers of Ruskin and lovers of pure nature,—a circle the larger, perhaps, for the incomplete state of art education in our community. That two young men, without any experience in journalism, and with little in literature, should have secured the success for their enterprise which "The Crayon" indisputably did enjoy was a surprise to the public, and, looking at it now, with my eyes cooled by the distance of more than forty years, I am myself surprised. That "The Crayon" had a real vitality, in spite of its relative juvenility, was shown by the warm commendation it received from Lowell, Bryant, and other American literati, and from Ruskin, who wrote us occasional notes in reply to questions put by the readers, and warmly applauded its tone. Mantz was our French correspondent, and William Rossetti our English, and a few of the artists sent us communications which had the value of the personal artistic tone. But I learned the meaning of the fable of "The Lark and her Young," for the general assistance in the matter of contributions, promised me by the friends who had originally urged me to the undertaking, was very slow in coming, and, for the first numbers, I wrote nearly the whole of the original matter, and for some time more than half of it. I wrote not only the editorial articles and the criticisms, but essays, correspondence, poetry, book notices (really reading every book I noticed), and a page or two of "Sketchings," in which were notes from nature, extracts from letters, and replies to queries of the readers.
I remained in the city all the burning summer, taking a ten days' run in the Adirondacks in September. I kept office all day, received all who came to talk art or business, and did most of my writing at night,—not a regime to keep up one's working powers. Durand did some excellent translations from the French, and the late Justin Winsor sent us many translations, both of verse and prose, from the German, as well as original poetry. Aldrich was a generous contributor. Whittier, Bayard Taylor, and others of the lyric race sent occasional contributions, and amongst the women, who were, as a rule, our most enthusiastic supporters, were Mrs. Sigourney, and, not the least by far, Lucy Larcom, the truest poetess of that day in America, who gave us some of her most charming poems. She was teacher in a girls' school somewhere in Massachusetts, and I went to see her in one of my editorial trips. We went out for a walk in the fields, she and her class and myself, and they looked up to me as if I were Apollo and they the Muses; and we went afield in many things. Henry James, the father of the novelist, was also a not infrequent contributor; and, amongst the artists, Huntington, President Durand (the father of my associate), Horatio Greenough, and William Page appeared in our pages, with many more, whose names a file of "The Crayon" would recall.
During the year, Lowell received the appointment of Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard, and on the eve of his sailing from New York we gave him a dinner, to which, besides some of his old friends, such as E.P. Whipple and Senator Charles Sumner, I invited Bryant and Bayard Taylor. I knew that Bryant held a little bitterness against Lowell for the passage in the "Fable for Critics," in which he said:—
"If he stir you at all, it is just, on my soul, Like being stirred up with the very North Pole;"
and I told Lowell how the dear old poet felt, and then put them together at the table. Lowell laid himself out to captivate Bryant, and did so completely, for his tact was such that in society no one whom he desired to interest could resist him; and our dinner was a splendid success. Of all present at it only Durand and myself are now living.
The subscription list of our paper had risen in the first month to above 1200, and the promise for the future seemed brilliant. But, unfortunately, neither of us understood the business part of journalism, or that a paper does not live by its circulation, but by advertisements; and that our advertisements, being a specialty, must be canvassed for vigorously. We did not canvass. Cunning publishers persuaded us that it would be a good thing to take their advertisements for nothing, so as to persuade the others that we had a good advertising list. But the bait never took, and we never got the paying list, and the printer, being interested in our expenditure, never helped us to economize, but played the "Wicked Uncle" to our "Babes in the Wood," and so we wasted our substance. It was, perhaps, fortunate that the funds ran short as they did, for our five thousand dollars could not go far when the subscriptions were all paid in and spent, and the overwork began to tell on me fatally. With the conclusion of the third volume I broke down and had to give up work entirely.
When I got out of harness, and had no longer the stimulus of the daily demand and habit of work, the collapse was such that I thought I was dying. I gave my share of the paper to Durand, to do as he pleased with, and went off to North Conway, in the mountains of New Hampshire, to paint one more picture before I died. I chose a brook scene, and Huntington and Hubbard—two of our leading painters—and a Duesseldorf-educated painter, by name Post, sat down with me to paint it. I gave six weeks of hard work to a canvas twelve by eighteen inches, and my competitors cordially admitted my victory. Autumn fell on my work with still something to do to it, and it was never finished to my entire satisfaction, but it was one of the successes of the year at the Academy Exhibition. I stayed late amongst the mountains, only thinking of dying, but nature brought me round. There came, towards the end of the season, a newly married couple from Boston, destined in later years to become a large part of my life,—Dr. and Mrs. Amos Binney. Mrs. Binney was one of the earliest women graduates in medicine in America,—an earnest, true woman, whose ministrations to me in body and mind, in those months of dying hopes, flying leaves, and early snowfalls, were full of healing. I had had a skirmish with Cupid that summer, my first real passion, reciprocated by the subject of it, one of the ardent readers of "The Crayon," an enthusiast in art, and like me in Ruskin—an affair which ended in our double defeat under the merciless veto of the mother of my flame. In that affair Mrs. Binney's tact and knowledge of human nature befriended me profoundly, and were the origin of a cordial intimacy which incidentally had on my subsequent life a great influence. Dr. Binney gave me a commission for two pictures, and invited me to come to his home near Boston to paint them.
I gave up my studio in New York and went to Boston, and, my commissions executed, moved from there to Cambridge, where I made my home, returning thenceforward to the Adirondacks in the late summer and autumn of every year while I remained in America. The following springtime I spent making studies in that classic neighborhood, especially in a favorite haunt of Lowell's,—the "Waverley Oaks,"—a curious group of large white oaks, which had taken root some hundreds of years ago on the foot of a moraine of one of the offsets of the great glacier which, countless thousands of years ago, had covered New England. They were beautiful trees and greatly beloved by Lowell, for whom I painted the principal group, with Beaver Brook, another of his favorite studies, and he lying by its bank in the foreground, a little full-length portrait, not the length of my finger. I painted also a similar portrait of Longfellow, under the most beautiful of the oaks, on an eight-by-ten-inch canvas. It was a good portrait, but Lowell deterred me from finishing it as I wished, saying that if I touched it again I should destroy the likeness. I am half inclined to think that his insistence was mainly intended to abbreviate the martyrdom of Longfellow, whom I conducted every day to the Oaks, to insure pre-Raphaelite fidelity, making him sit on a huge boulder under the tree and even forgetting to carry a cushion for him, so that he sat on the bare stone until at last the discomfort was evident to me, when I folded my coat to cushion his stone seat. So kindly was his nature that he had submitted to the inconvenience with the docility and delicacy of a child, without a sign of impatience.
This absolute unselfishness and extreme consideration for others was characteristic of the man. I saw much of him in the years following, and found in him the most exquisitely refined and gentle nature I have ever known,—one to which a brutal or inconsiderate act was positive pain, and any aggression on the least creature, cause of intense indignation. My recollection of his condescension to my demands on his time and physical comfort remain in my memory as the highest expression of his social beneficence. Longfellow was not expansive, nor do I remember his ever becoming enthusiastic over anything or anybody. One who knew nothing of his domestic life might have fancied that he was cold, and certainly he did not possess that social magnetism which made Lowell the loadstone of so many hearts, and made the exercise of that attraction necessary to his own enjoyment of existence. Longfellow adored his wife and children; but beyond that circle, it seemed to me, he had no imperious longing to know or be known. He had likes and dislikes; but so far as I understood him, no strong antipathies or ardent friendships. He had warm friendships for Lowell, the Nortons, and Agassiz, for example, but I think he had but a mild regard for Emerson, and I remember his saying one day that Emerson used his friends like lemons,—squeezing them till they were dry, and then throwing them away. This showed that he misunderstood Emerson, but perhaps intelligibly, for Longfellow had few of those qualities which interested Emerson, and there could not have been much in common to both. Emerson liked men who gave him problems to solve,—something to learn,—while Longfellow was transparent, limpid as a clear spring reflecting the sky and showing all that was in its depths; and to Emerson he offered no problem. I never saw him angry but once, and that was at his next-door neighbor shooting at a robin in a cherry-tree that stood near the boundary between the two gardens. The small shot carried over and rattled about us where we sat on the verandah of the old Washington house, but showed the avicidal intent, and Longfellow went off at once to protest against the barbarity, not at all indignant at the personal danger, if he thought of any.
His adoration of his wife was fully justified, for rarely have I seen a woman in whom a Juno-like dignity and serenity were so wedded to personal beauty and to the fine culture of brain and heart, which commanded reverence from the most ordinary acquaintance, as in her. No one who had seen her at home could ever forget the splendid vision, and the last time I ever saw her, so far as I remember, was in summer time, when she and her two daughters, all in white muslin, like creatures of another world, evanescent, translucent, stood in the doorway to say good-by to me. In the same costume, a little later, she met death. She was making impressions in sealing-wax, to amuse her daughters, when a flaming drop fell on the inflammable stuff, and in an instant she was in flames, burned to death before help could come. It was then that they found that Longfellow was not the cold man they had generally believed him. He never recovered from the bereavement, and shortly after he became a Spiritualist, and, until he in his glad turn passed the gates of death, he lived in what he knew to be the light of her presence. And certainly if such a thing as communion across that grim threshold can be, this was the occasion which made it possible. There was something angelic about them both, even in this life,—a natural innocence and large beneficence and equanimity which, in the chance and contradiction of life, could rarely be found in wedded state.
One of the most notable personages of that little world, whom I knew in connection with Longfellow, was his brother-in-law,—Thomas G. Appleton,—a most distinguished amateur of art; a subtle, if sometimes vagarious, critic, poet, and thinker: the wit to whom most of the clever things said in Boston came naturally in time to be attributed. The famous saying that "Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris," is generally supposed to be his, though Oliver Wendell Holmes told me one day that he himself was really the author of it; but, if a keen witticism was floating about fatherless in the Boston circles it drifted to Tom Appleton as putative parent. His, too, was a kindly nature, and many a rising artist found his way to a larger recognition by Appleton's unobtrusive aid. He, like Longfellow, was a sincere Spiritualist. One of the most remarkable of this group of men was Professor Peirce, mathematician, of whose flights into the higher regions of the science of numbers and quantities many interesting things were told. He had written a book to show, if I remember right after so many years, that the square root of minus one was a right angle
_ (/-1=90 deg.),
which was said to have been read only by a mathematician who presided over an observatory in the Ural Mountains. He had an extraordinary power of making his abstruse results clear to the ordinary intellect, and was in various directions a brilliant conversationalist. One day, going into Boston in the omnibus with him, I questioned him as to the famous problem. To my astonishment he went through a demonstration adapted to my intelligence which made me understand the nature of the substitution and the solution before our half hour's transit was ended. I did not understand the mathematical statement, but he put it in common-sense terms, which I apprehended perfectly, though I never could repeat them.
My Adirondack experiences and studies having excited the desire on the part of several Cambridge friends to visit the Wilderness, I made up a party which comprised Lowell and his two nephews, Charles and James Lowell (two splendid young New Englanders afterwards killed during the Civil War), Dr. Estes Howe, Lowell's brother-in-law, and John Holmes, the brother of Oliver Wendell, considered by many of the Cambridge set the wittier and wiser of the two, but who, being extremely averse to publicity, was never known in literature. We made a flying journey of inspection through the Saranac Lakes and down the Raquette River to Tupper's Lake, and then across a wild and at that day a little explored section to the head of Raquette Lake, and down the Raquette River back to the Saranacs; the party returning home and I back to the headwaters of the Raquette to spend the summer painting. I built a camp on a secluded bay, which still bears my name amongst the men of the section, and there I worked in a solitude sometimes complete and sometimes shared by my guide, who passed his time between the camp and the settlement at Saranac, whence I drew all my supplies beyond those which the lake and the forest furnished us with. The solitude of the Wilderness at that time can be no longer found anywhere in the vast woodland which, much mutilated and scarred by fires and clearings, still covers the district between the springs of the Mohawk and the rivers which empty into the St. Lawrence. There was one settler on the lake, from whom I could, when necessary, get a loaf of bread, but the solitude for nine days out of ten was not broken by a strange footfall. My camp was a shelter of bark, raised on poles, open in front to the morning sun, just sufficing to shed the rain, while my bed was a layer of the branches of the fir-trees that grew around. Trout from the lake, broiled on the coals of the camp-fire, with a piece of bread, was the usual and sufficient fare, though we now and then killed a deer when Steve, my guide, was with me; at other times the dog was my only company, and in this monotonous life I found the most complete content that my experience has given me. Here wolves abounded, but only on one occasion did they attempt to disturb me, which was when I had left by the lake shore a deer we had killed in the morning, and they came at night to steal the meat. Bears were abundant, but even shyer than the wolves; and though we heard, now and then, the cry of a panther (puma), we never saw one.