Quotation marks are safe inclosures for words in danger of losing their place. The words at the head of this paper have been dragged relentlessly from one American city to another, and have before them a prospect of endless migration. Their meaning, too, is subject to indefinite change. The centre may be that of the writing, the printing, or the reading of books. A courageous confidence is needed to say that this, that, or the other place is or will be the "literary centre of America." It is the fortune of the present writer to be dealing with what has been, and the assertion that Boston was the literary centre—without quotation marks—during the period in which American literature acquired a shelf of its own in the library of the race is hardly open to dispute. The production of books possessing something like permanence is perhaps the most characteristic mark of a centre to which the term literary, in its true meaning of "related to literature," may be applied. Name the American writers whose work has stood the test of half a century, and with a few notable exceptions they belong to Boston and its neighborhood. All this is thrice familiar. The record of it, in outline or in detail, is a story which has been told by many tongues and many pens. If we look rather at the significance of the story, and try to give it its place in the longer story of Boston, the more immediate purpose will be served.
Amongst the many fields of activity into which Boston has made an early or the earliest entry, the field of creative writing—not for instruction or argument—can hardly be counted. It is to other places that we must look for the first important contributions to what is called American literature. Yet in Philadelphia and New York the first comers, Charles Brockden Brown, Irving, and Cooper, each enjoyed some of the distinction of the solitary. Brown has become a mere name in literary history; the others live. But when they made their appearance, it was rather as detached luminaries than as planets or fixed stars belonging to a system. The life of the communities in which they lived had not reached the organic state demanding expression in literature, and finding it at the hands of a body, however small, which could be called a literary class. In Boston, at this early period, the condition was much the same with the two differences that the individual writers of distinction were yet appear, and that influences were at work, perhaps more powerfully than anywhere else in America, toward making a definite expression through literature at some later time almost a necessity. These influences called into being the Anthology Club, the Athenaeum, and the North American Review. The unremitting influence of Harvard College, sending its sons year by year into the pulpits, counting-houses, and professional offices of Boston, had also to be reckoned with. For the devotion of any considerable number of these or other men to the pursuit of literature, the time was not yet ripe. Questions of politics laid claim to much the best thought of the best thinkers. As before the Revolution, so in the active days of the Federalist party, the newspaper press abounded in contributions, frequently over classic pseudonyms, from the ablest men in the community. Thus the place which the Federalist, farther South, won for itself in the early literature of the country was not wholly with out its counterpart in the current productions of Boston writers. It was Boston editor, by the way, who is said to have coined the phrase, "The era of good feeling," adopted with unanimity by historians of the United States. The influences of journalistic writing, however, being those which Boston shared with her sister towns, are not of present concern.
Mr. Howells has spoken of the "Augustan Age" of literature in Boston as "the Unitarian harvest-time of the old Puritanic seedtime." It is a good definition; but in the seed-time should surely be included the earlier years of the nineteenth century, when Unitarianism was making its way. One who reads not a separate paper on the "Unitarian controversy," but also the writings of the leaders in the new movement, cannot fail to be impressed with the mere literary skill of these writers. Besides having ideas which they wished to urge, they knew how to urge them. Their grace and cogency of style implied both an effective training in the use of the writer's tools and the existence of an audience capable of appreciating such use. Butterflies are not deliberately brought to a wheel for breaking. The very nature of a controversy which meant much to so large a portion of the community bespoke the presence of a class to which the things of the mind and the spirit were of high importance—from which the evolution of a smaller "literary class" was easily possible.
Of the rise of the Transcendental Movement the Unitarian body as such would have held itself innocent. A shrewd observer of the intellectual life of Boston, the Rev. Dr. O. B. Frothingham, once wrote of his native town, "It was always remarkable for explosions of mind." By the conservative element Transcendentalism was frankly regarded as one of these explosions. Of its practical value, as a moral agency, Father Taylor, the Methodist missionary to sailors, probably spoke for many of his contemporaries when he said of a Transcendental discourse he had just heard: "It would take as many sermons like that to convert a human soul as it would quarts of skimmed milk to make a man drunk." In looking back upon Transcendentalism, however, and upon the influences surrounding its birth, the spirit which animated the Unitarian Movement, if not Unitarianism itself, stands forth conspicuous. As the later religious thought of Theodore Parker carried to its conclusion one tendency of Unitarian thinking, so the philosophic thought of Transcendentalism seized upon and carried out another. The dropping of many was the best preparation for that omitting of all traditions from the mind, which Emerson considered the essence of the new philosophy.
To the local causes must be added those French and German influences which led to the suggestive saying that Transcendentalism was "imported in foreign packages." The very origin of its name, as used in Boston, seems to be unknown. For its meaning George Ripley, about to superintend the experiment of Brook Farm, spoke clearly in the sermon which ended his Boston ministry: "There is a class of persons who desire a reform in the prevailing philosophy of the day. These are called Transcendentalists, because they believe in an order of truths which transcends the sphere of the human senses. Their leading idea is the supremacy of mind over matter. Hence they maintain that the truth of religion does not depend on tradition nor on historical facts, but has an unerring witness in the soul." A less restrained utterance of the same philosophy is made by Alcott in one of his "Orphic Sayings," in the first number of the Transcendental Dial: "Believe, youth, that your heart is an oracle; trust her instinctive auguries, obey her divine leadings; nor listen too fondly to the uncertain echoes of your head." In words no less characteristic of Emerson than the fragment just quoted is of Alcott, the magazine is introduced to the world: "Let it be such a Dial, not as the dead face of a clock, hardly even such as the Gnomon in a garden, but rather such a Dial as is the Garden itself, in whose leaves and flowers and fruit the suddenly awakened sleeper is instantly apprised not what part of dead time, but what state of life and growth is now arrived and arriving."
These passages, taken together, will suffice to suggest the aims of Transcendentalism. It is not needed here to trace the rise and fall of Brook Farm (1841-47), that "beautiful failure" in the application of Transcendental philosophy to the problems of living; or of the Dial (1840-44), the chief organic expression of the movement. All that has been abundantly done elsewhere. What is more useful at this point, in regarding Trancendentalism as an influence, is to bear in mind the marked youthfulness of many of its followers. Before the Dial appeared, Emerson commended it to Carlyle for what it would show him about "our young people." Again he tells Carlyle that it is "a fact for literary history that all the bright boys and girls in New England, quite ignorant of each other, take the world so"—that is, as the Transcendentalists take it. When the Dial ceased to mark the time, and Brook Farm was approaching dissolution, the Harbinger—of which the first number was published in June of 1845—joined the voices of Transcendentalism in a farewell chorus. Of the chief contributors to this number, George Ripley, the dean in years and service, was forty-three years old. Horace Greeley and Cranch were respectively thirty-four and thirty-two. Parke Godwin was twenty-nine; Lowell, Story, and Charles A. Dana were each twenty-six; T. W. Higginson was twenty-two, and George William Curtis twenty-one. Because the entire movement of Transcendentalism was so largely a movement of youth, it mattered less that, as an outward expression of thought and feeling, it came to a definite end. Its influence was stamped indelibly on many minds, which in their growth would naturally outgrow "idealism as it appeared in 1842,"—to use Emerson's definition of the philosophy, but must carry its effects through life, and spread its influence in many broadening circles. Those who acknowledge the greatest debt to it recognize its influence not only in literature, but in art, religion, politics, equalization of the sexes, and in every forward movement of the second half of the nineteenth century. In spite of its follies and extravagance few will now deny its general service as a stimulus to clear thinking and pure living, and therein as an educational force felt directly and indirectly throughout the community in which it throve.
Of all the representatives of Transcendentalism, Emerson was naturally felt be the most important, and of course exerted the most enduring personal influence. What saved him from complete identification with the movement was his pervading sanity and humor. Loyal friend of his Orphic neighbor as he was, he could yet record with a certain relish the remark of one puzzled auditor of "conversation" by Alcott: "It seemed to him like going to heaven in a swing." It was he also who made what is probably the most familiar definition of Brook Farm,—"a perpetual picnic, a French Revolution in small, an Age of Reason in a patty-pan." To Ripley, when Brook Farm was only a plan, he could write, "If not the sunrise, it will be the morning star." But when Ripley sought definitely to secure his participation in the venture, his sound common sense prompted the answer: "My feeling is that the community is not good for me, that it has little to offer me which with resolution I cannot procure for myself. . . . It seems to me a circuitous and operose way of relieving myself to put upon your community the emancipation which I ought to take on myself. I must assume my own vows." The same spirit of practical conservatism made him a late comer amongst the active opponents of slavery. It also marked his point of contact with the element of intellectual and social life in Boston, from which the chief recruits to the ranks of literature were drawn.
It may fairly be questioned whether poets, historians, and other writers of any place beside Boston, through a whole period of marked productiveness, have presented so clearly as the writers of Boston, for the second third of the nineteenth century, whatever was best in the inheritances and current life of the place. Grub Street and Bohemia, often merging into the territory of newspapers and publishing offices, have elsewhere been a fruitful source of authorship. It is an alien criticism of Boston that there "Respectability stalks unchecked." The justice of the charge is certainly supported by a mere list of the writers who brought distinction to their town,—a list in which Bohemia might expect to be represented if at all. The fact is that this undefined country, to which all true inheritors of the tavern spirit of Ben Jonson and his fellows have owed allegiance, has never any important place within the boundaries of New England. The background of the Boston writers was eminently that the circle described in the privately tinted volume From Books and Papers of Russell Sturgis: "In the first place, then, Boston society was exclusive, as by a law of nature; it was the simple coming together of certain families, the younger men and women to dance and the elder to talk or dine. It was a large family party; and there were many who could announce the precise degree of relationship between any two people in any assembly." This was the Boston of the generation born near the beginning of the nineteenth century,—a generation which Mr. Julian Sturgis, writing the words just quoted, considered "exceptionally fortunate in the time of their birth." Of a slightly earlier time he writes: "Young Copley (afterwards Lord Lyndhurst), revisiting his native town in 1796, wrote home to his sister: 'Shall I whisper a word in your ear? The better people are all aristocrats. My father is too rank a Jacobin to live among them.' Indeed, it must be confessed that the idea of equality in social matters had not even occurred to any one; and that even in the political world it was held a matter of course that an Adams or an Otis should exercise an influence other and far greater than that of one mere voter." Into a society maintaining these views and standards for the better part of a century the chief writers of Boston were born. It is worth while then to look at some of them in their relation to the life of which as men they formed a part.
The name of George Ticknor is not one of the first which come to mind in thinking of the Boston writers. Yet the very length of his life (1791-1871), and its constant identification with learning and with people, renders him a typical figure. It is not chiefly as the predecessor of Longfellow in the Smith Professorship at Harvard, or as the accomplished historian of Spanish literature, that this figure presents itself. We think of him rather as the master of the hospitable mansion at the head of Park Street, now given over to a score of trades and arts. Here, overlooking the Common, was his study, rich in the Spanish and Portuguese treasures now preserved in the Boston Public Library, toward the firm establishment of which he became one of the most zealous workers. To the Museum of Fine Arts descended, from the walls of this scholar's library, the portrait of Scott, for which, at Ticknor's request after a visit to Abbotsford, Sir Walter sat to Leslie. The picture is a tangible expression of that familiarity with the most interesting persons and places of Europe which was characteristic of Ticknor and his immediate circle. His Life abounds in the records of friendships with traveling and home-keeping foreigners of the first distinction.
On reading the biography of Ticknor Edwin P. Whipple complained that the names of such men as Emerson, Whittier, Theodore Parker, and Sumner are noticeably absent from the pages of the book. "It was not to be supposed," said Whipple, "that Mr. Ticknor could, as a man of eminent respectability, have any sympathy with their audacities of thought and conduct." Even Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell do not, in the critic's view, receive their just share of attention in comparison with "some titled European mediocrities." Another passage from Whipple's paper on Ticknor is suggestive: "His position [after his return from Europe in 1838] was so assured that one of his friends, Nathan Hale, pleasantly suggested that the name of Boston be changed into Ticknorville. In New York and other cities the good society of Boston was for a long time regarded as the select circle of cultivated gentlemen and ladies in which Ticknor moved, and to which he almost gave the law." It is in this blending of the man of the world, a positive social force, and the man of letters, not a mere dilettante but an industrious scholar, that Ticknor takes his place as a representative figure in the life of Boston.
To the hand of Ticknor naturally fell the biography of his friend and neighbor, William Hickling Prescott. This is a book reflecting the same life of "eminent respectability." On the westward slope of Beacon Street, also overlooking the Common, the house of Prescott, a structure of marked dignity and beauty, stands to typify, as architecture may, the quality of past generations of builders and occupants. From Prescott's Life one bears away the impression of something more than agreeable surroundings and distinguished achievement. President Walker of Harvard, a classmate of Prescott, wrote of him: "I have never known one so little changed by the conventionalities of society and the hard trial of success and prosperity." This is indeed a trial of character. In meeting it, and at the same time overcoming the handicap of practical blindness, Prescott put his inheritances of courage to a victorious test. So it is that his Life makes its strongest impression as a record of heroic struggle, a document in evidence of the sterner qualities which are sometimes transmitted with other gifts of fortune by the fathers of New England to their sons.
If these qualities were characteristic of the class to which the Boston writers belonged, so also were the inherent qualities of the gentleman. Of the generous sacrifices of scholarship Prescott both received and gave. When Irving found that the younger writer was at work on the theme which he himself had made extensive preparations to treat—the Conquest of Mexico—he withdrew and, besides leaving the field to Prescott, did everything possible to forward labors in it. The example set by Irving was not wasted upon one with instincts like his own. After the failure of Motley's venture in fiction, he came to Prescott for advice about the work he was planning to do in the history of the Dutch Republic. Prescott's studies in Spanish history had prepared him for the same task which, unknown to Motley, he was about to undertake. Instead of going on with it, he placed his precious library at Motley's disposal, and but for the dissuading voice of Ticknor would have done the superfluous kindness of offering Motley the manuscript collections of which he afterwards made use in his own Philip the Second. Hawthorne's making over of the Acadian theme to Longfellow is another of the instances of generosity which are useful reminders of what it was—and is—to be both a gentleman and an author.
Of Motley, another favored son of the place, with brilliant personal gifts rarely qualifying him for the high diplomatic posts he was called to fill; of Parkman, his junior, whose disabilities of eyesight at once restricted his intercourse with the world, and demanded of his own life a strain of heroism as genuine as any pen recorded of others; of nearly all the company of Boston writers a detailed account would present an inevitable monotony of background. In the matter of early influences, Longfellow stood somewhat apart from the rest, for Portland and Bowdoin College took the more familiar places of Boston and Harvard. But then came the period of study and travel in Europe, for which Bancroft and Everett had set an example increasingly followed,—and after that Longfellow, though living in Cambridge, became especially when his second marriage allied him closely to Boston society, an habitual figure therein. His journals tell the story of this constant intercourse with the best representatives of fashionable life in the little Boston world, at dinners, at Nahant, to which his witty brother-in-law, T. G. Appleton, gave the enduring name of "cold roast Boston," even at the dancing assemblies in the hall of the Papantis, deserted only in recent years by the arbiters of local fashion. In his own historic house at Cambridge he enjoyed to the full the pleasures of hospitality, and the frequent entries of the names of guests, native and foreign, present a panorama of very uncommon variety and interest. The benignant light which Longfellow's personality threw upon all his surroundings is reflected in nearly everything that has been written about him. The personality and work he did are so in harmony that Mr. W. J. Stillman's definition of his nature as "the most exquisitely refined and gentle" he ever knew brings to mind the double picture of the man and his writings,—characteristic, the one and the other, of "the 'world' of there and then."
Of all the group of Boston writers Oliver Wendell Holmes stands obviously posessed of the strongest local flavor. The manifestations of it in his prose and verse are too many and too familiar to require any fresh recital. The reader who needs reminding may well turn, for a single significant instance, to the character of "Little Boston" in The Professor at the Breakfast-Table. His thoughts and words could have been put on paper only by one who was saturated with the local spirit and traditions. It is good to hear the crooked little man glorying in his birthplace—"full of crooked little streets; but I tell you Boston has opened, and kept open, more turnpikes that lead straight to free thought and free speech and free deeds than any other city of live men or dead men,—I don't care how broad their streets are, nor how high their steeples!" The sense of humor which gave this character of "Little Boston" its full measure of eccentricity was the sense which generally saved Dr. Holmes in his proper person from letting himself confuse the local and the universal. "We have been in danger," he wrote in 1876, "of thinking our local scale was the absolute one of excellence—forgetting that 212 Fahrenheit is but 100 centigrade." Of course he did not always escape this danger himself. His biographer, Mr. John T. Morse, Jr., is of the opinion that if Dr. Holmes had traveled more, the famous Saturday Club, which embodied the best masculine society of the place, "would have assumed proportions more accurately adapted to the universe in general." But all such contentions are capable of argument. Dr. Holmes himself maintained that "identification with a locality is a surer passport to immortality than cosmopolitanism is." His own case seems indeed to justify this belief. In the very point at which the spirit of his writing reflected with special clearness the spirit of his community, he at once incurred the strongest displeasure of some of his contemporaries, and produced his most important results in American thought. "The Professor," putting into popular form much of the local spirit of liberal theology, must be counted amongst the emancipating agencies of the nineteenth century. The depolarization of words has become both a phrase and a fact by reason of this book. Its successive installments, as they appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, brought down upon the magazine and upon its chief contributor charges of extreme and dangerous radicalism. "If one could believe many of the newspapers," Mr. Scudder has said, "Dr. Holmes was a sort of reincarnation of Voltaire, who stood for the most audacious enemy of Christianity in modern times." Yet Dr. Holmes, the churchgoing descendant of the "meeting-going animals" who, according to John Adams, had populated New England, was rather a believer in existing institutions than a "come-outer." The local honors of class and Phi Beta Kappa poet, Harvard professor, physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital, meant much to him. It even gratified a whimsical local pride to reflect, after the great fire, of 1872, that in the "Great Fire" of 1760 his great-grandfather had lost forty buildings. There is significance, too, in noticing how much more perfect a sympathy he brought to his biography of Motley than to that of Emerson. For all his appreciation of Emerson's unique greatness, the well-ordered scholarship and career of the historian must have typified more clearly to him what one of his own Brahmins should be and do. The enlightened conservative in him spoke nowhere more characteristically than when he wrote: "I go politically for equality,—I said,—and socially for the quality:" a sentiment to which many of his fellows would have subscribed.
To his place among the New England classics Lowell came by somewhat different paths from those of Longfellow and Holmes. Beside being a man of letters and a man of the same world to which his distinguished contemporaries belonged, he had formed early and dubious alliances with the anti-slavery agitators. His own magazine, the Pioneer, opening with his plea for a natural rather than a national literature, was a closed book after three numbers. For many years thereafter his editorial labors identified him closely, through the Pennsylvania Freeman and the Anti-Slavery Standard with the opponents of existing conditions. The scholar who is not primarily a poet may usually be found in the ranks of the cautious and contented. The poet, the idealist in Lowell's nature made him inevitably also something of a reformer. It was not till Longfellow tired of academic duties in 1854 that Lowell assumed any such definite connection with the established order of things as a Harvard professorship implied. His completed fame derives so much from his work as an essayist and student of literature that there is danger of forgetting the unstinted service of his early Muse in the cause of reform, a cause which could, not at first be either conventional or popular. The figure of Lowell is, however, in this very aspect, characteristic and important, for he represented one of the most vital forces which in the final blending rendered the highest literary expression of Boston in the nineteenth century exactly what it was.
The year 1857 is a convenient date by which to mark the blending of elements resulting in this expression. In that year the Atlantic Monthly was founded. The story of its origin, due in large measure to the enthusiasm of Francis H. Underwood, representing the publishing house of Phillips, Sampson & Co., has been frequently told in recent years. The magazine was rarely fortunate in having Lowell for its first editor. His sympathies, personal, intellectual, political, had perhaps a broader national scope than those of any other man to whom this task might have fallen. He could therefore both give and receive what would have been impossible to one of somewhat parochial limitations. Yet it was from the writers of the immediate vicinity that the magazine won its early distinction. The editor had but to stretch out his hand to seize an embarrassment of riches. In the twenty-five years of interruption between the Autocrat's early appearance in the short-lived New England Magazine and the resumption of his talk in the Atlantic Dr. Holmes had been storing his treasures of fancy and wisdom, and ripening the skill with which he finally brought them forth: Emerson, and those who were most affected by his influence, stood ready to provide the mellowed best results of Transcendental thought. Lowell himself, Edmund Quincy, Whittier, and others brought a fine element of fervor for the anti-slavery cause which still ad its ultimate victories to win. In the field of criticism Edwin Percy Whipple, lecturer and writer, whose vanished authority and vogue are pathetic emblems of the value of contemporary fame, contributed with others the best obtainable comment and opinion. Apart from their individual interests, it is obvious that most of the writers—let us add Longfellow, and Hawthorne, soon to return from Europe—could be relied upon or definite additions to literature itself. Thus more or less directly from the spiritual cause of Transcendentalism, from the politico-moral cause of anti-slavery, from the intellectual and artistic interest of purely creative writing,—each represented by spirits and sometimes by minds of the first order,—there came a union of strangely powerful forces. It was the function of the Atlantic to provide a full and free opportunity for the expression of these forces. The more thoughtful element, not only in Boston but in the Country at large, was ready for precisely this influence,—all the more perhaps because the system of Lyceum Lectures had not yet gone into decay. The frequent lecturing tours of the Boston leaders of thought and reform had made their personalities familiar throughout New England and in many Southern and Western states. To find them assembled in the pages of the Atlantic was, for a large audience, like a reunion of honored friends.
In its second editor, James T. Fields, the Atlantic was also fortunate. Within a little more than two years of its founding, the magazine fell into the hands of the firm of which he was then a member. Beginning as a bookseller's clerk who astonished his fellow salesmen at the "Old Corner" by whispering a correct prophecy of what each customer entering the shop would demand, he had become a publisher well skilled in gauging the public taste. At the same time he was sufficiently a maker of books by his own pen to meet his writers on even a broader common ground than his unusual gifts of friendship could alone have provided. It was impossible for a man with so many decisions to render to make nothing but friends; and there is at least one volume by a vigorous feminine writer which will reproduce for those who seek it the note of discord in the harmonies of the time and place. For the far more general feeling Dr. Holmes, soon after the death of Mr. Fields in 1881, spoke in words which amply suggest the influence an editor and publisher may wield: "How many writers know, as I have known, his value as a literary counselor and friend? His mind was as hospitable as his roof, which has accepted famous visitors and quiet friends alike as if it had been their own. . . . Very rarely, if ever, has a publisher enjoyed the confidence and friendship of so wide and various a circle of authors."
From all the records of this "harvest-time " of letters, one carries away a vivid impression of a happy family. Its members rejoiced like brothers in the successes won by each in turn. Working apart yet side by side they met like brothers for relaxation and play. The project of the Atlantic itself was at once launched and lunched into being, for it was round a table at Parker's that the plan for the new magazine first took definite form. It was the habit of the most important early contributors to meet frequently in the same informal way. But the Atlantic Club was soon overshadowed by the more conspicuous and comprehensive Saturday Club, also begun in 1857. This monthly gathering at Parker's, which had as its nucleus Emerson and a few friends who made a practice of meeting him at lunch when he came in from Concord, appears and reappears, always with an affectionate mention, in the journals and letters of the time Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Hawthorne, Whittier, Agassiz, Motley, Fields, Dana,—in whose Life by Mr. Charles Francis Adams the best account of the club is to be found,—these, with a few others not in general so closely related to literature, made up the membership. Distinguished visitors were entertained,—without the sensation of lions on exhibition. The intercourse of friendship and good talk received no check from the reading of papers. Dr. Holmes rejoiced in the blessed freedom from speech-making. It is told of Emerson that "in 1864, when the club held a Shakespearean anniversary meeting, he rose to speak, stood for a minute or two, and then quietly sat down. Speech did not come, and he serenely permitted silence to speak for him." This incident may be more characteristic of Emerson than of his club; yet it reveals a perfect understanding and fellowship which help one to accept all that is said of the separate place this organization, still in existence, has held in the hearts and lives of its members. Another club of Emerson's, deriving its name from the Unitarian periodical of which it was the outgrowth, though now containing representatives of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches, was the Examiner Club. "The easy talk of such men as Emerson, the elder Henry James, Governor Andrew, Dr. Hedge, Whipple, and others of distinguished ability," is said by one of its older members "to have touched the higher possibilities of conversation when that art was more in evidence than at present." In the Saturday Club at its best those possibilities may well have been even more frequently attained.
It was entirely natural for such a body of men to win from outsiders the name of "The Mutual Admiration Society." If no mutual admiration existed, it was, as Dr. Holmes declared, "a great pity, and implied a defect in the nature of men who were otherwise largely endowed." Elsewhere he wrote: "I don't know whether our literary or professional people are more amiable than they are other places, but certainly quarreling is out of fashion among them. This could never be, if they were in the habit of secret anonymous puffing of each other. That is the kind of underground machinery which manufactures false reputations and genuine hatreds. On the other hand, I should like to know if we are not at liberty to have a good time together, and say the pleasantest things we can think of to each other, when any of us reaches his thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth or eightieth birthday?" Here in all sincerity speaks the member of that happy family of which the Saturday Club was the accepted meeting-place, the Atlantic the recognized organ, and the considerable contribution of these Boston writers of the nineteenth century to American literature the permanent memorial.
It was not until the year 1894 that the death of Dr. Holmes bore away the latest survivor of this group of contemporary friends. Lowell and Whittier had also seen the beginning of the last decade of the century. In the next to the last Emerson and Longfellow had gone,—following Motley in 1877, and Hawthorne in 1864. With the eighties the group may be said to have been disintegrated. A few of their younger brothers, such as Dr. Hale, Professor Norton, and Colonel Higginson, have remained to typify the older to the younger generation. In them, as in many of those who will be their successors, abides the old-time quality of representing the best social and academic traditions of the place. With the gradual passing of the older brotherhood, Boston unquestionably lost its preeminence as the "literary centre" of the country. Where this wandering spot has fixed itself, or where it may be found ten years hence, one may not assert too confidently. There is one point, however, at which the student of local conditions rests with some assurance. The best expression of Boston thought and life in literature has never come from a class set apart as writers. There has been—so far as the best writing is concerned—no restricted "literary set," despising and despised of its neighbors. Authorship has never been so general as to require the adoption of the formula said by the scornful to be used in Cambridge as the best of morning greetings, "How is your book coming on?" Yet the emphasis laid upon the background of such lives as Prescott's and Longfellow's will have been in vain if there is need of further testimony to the identification of the writers with the most characteristic and agreeable life of the town. A representative author, in other words, was perhaps even more likely to be found where one would least expect him than in the surroundings associated with the commoner traditions of authorship. In the Boston Custom House, for example, Bancroft and Hawthorne were to be found at the same time. For Willis, on the other hand, fresh from college and full of zeal for the life of editor and author, there seemed no place in Boston. Upon the scholarly hard work done by men of letters, who were also men of the world, it has not been thought necessary to dwell. This is rendered superfluous by what they have written.
The writer's frank intention, moreover, has been to keep in view the local quality of his theme. The literary product touched upon so cursorily and with so many obvious omissions happens to form an integral part of American literature. Here it is regarded in its relation to local conditions. The advantages gained through these conditions are perhaps obvious. So should the limitations be. Respectability, freedom from the bitter struggles of those who have nothing but their pens and their wits to rely upon, a certain remoteness and separation, in a mere geographical sense, from the swifter currents of national life,—these may work to helpful or harmful ends. Their influences both for good and its opposite may be traced in the work of the Boston writers. They go far, in any event, to explain the total product. If that product and the life from which it sprang justify the frequent likening of Boston in its prime as a "literary centre" to Edinburgh under similar conditions, it is at least to be added that Boston was an Edinburgh without a London.
This article available online at: