THE reader who glances over these papers, and, finding them too full of small details and the lesser personal matters which belong naturally to private correspondences, turns impatiently to another page, has my entire sympathy and good-will. He is not one of those for whom I am writing. Having no particular interest in the writer or his affairs, he does not care for the history of “ the migrations from the blue bed to the brown ” and the many Mistress Quicklyisms of circumstantial narrative. Yet all this may be pleasant reading to relatives and friends.
Now I must confess that I cannot help feeling that I have an established relation with the readers of this magazine. I gave it its name ; I wrote in its first number and in every number for the first three years; I have been constant in my allegiance to it, and feel at ease in its pages as nowhere else. But while I say this, I must not forget that a new generation of readers is turning its leaves, and that a new generation of aspiring and brilliant authors has grown into public recognition. The dome of
Boston State House, which is the centre of my little universe, was glittering in its fresh golden pellicle before I had reached the scriptural boundary of life. It has lost its lustre now, and the years which have dulled its surface have whitened the dome of that fragile structure in which my consciousness holds the session of its faculties. Time is not to be cheated. It is easy to talk of perennial youth, and to toy with the flattering fictions which every ancient personage accepts as true so far as he himself is concerned, and laughs at as foolish talk when he hears them applied to others. When, in my exulting immaturity, I wrote the lines not unknown to the reading public under the name of “ The Last Leaf,” I spoke of the possibility that I myself might linger on the old bough until the buds and blossoms of a new spring were opening and spreading all around me. I am not as yet the solitary survivor of my literary contemporaries, and, remembering who my few coevals are, it may well be hoped that I shall not be. But I feel lonely, very lonely, in the pages through which I wander. These are new names in the midst of which I find my own. In another sense I am very far from alone. I have daily assurances that I have a constituency of known and unknown personal friends, whose indulgence I have no need of asking. I know there are readers enough who will be pleased to follow me in my brief excursion, because I am myself, and will demand no better reason. If I choose to write for them, I do no injury to those for whom my personality is an object of indifference. They will find in every periodical some things which are not intended for them, and which they prefer to let alone. No person is expected to help himself to everything set before him at a public table. I will not, therefore, hesitate to go on with the simple story of our Old World experiences.
Thanks to my Indian blanket, — my shawl, I mean, — I found myself nothing the worse for my manifold adventures of the 27th of May. The cold wind sweeping over Epsom downs reminded me of our own chilling easterly breezes; especially the northeasterly ones, which are to me less disagreeable than the southeasterly. But the poetical illusion about an English May, —
As he met her once a-Maying, " —
and all that, received a shrewd thrust. Zephyr ought to have come in an ulster, and offered Aurora a warm petticoat. However, in spite of all difficulties, I brought off my recollections of the Derby of 1886 in triumph, and am now waiting for the colored portrait of Ormonde with Archer on his back, — Archer, the winner of five Derby races, one of which was won by the American horse Iroquois. When that picture, which I am daily expecting, arrives, I shall have it framed and hung by the side of Herring’s picture of Plenipotentiary, the horse I saw win the Derby in 1834. These two, with an old portrait of the great Eclipse, who, as my engraving of 1780 says, “was never beat, or ever had occation for Whip or Spur,” will constitute my entire sporting gallery. I have not that vicious and demoralizing love of horseflesh which makes it next to impossible to find a perfectly honest hippophile. But a racer is the realization of an ideal quadruped, —
so ethereal, so bird-like, that it is no wonder that the horse about whom those old story-tellers lied so stoutly — telling of his running a mile in a minute — was called Flying Childers.
The roses in Mrs. Pfeiffer’s garden were hardly out of flower when I lunched with her at her pretty villa at Putney. There I met Mr. Browning, Mr. Holman Hunt, Miss Anna Swanwick, the translator of Æschylus, and other good company.
One of my very agreeable experiences was a call from a gentleman with whom I had corresponded, but whom I had never met. This was Mr. John Bellows, of Gloucester, publisher, printer, man of letters, or rather of words ; for he is the author of that truly remarkable little manual, “The Bona Fide Pocket Dictionary of the French and English Languages.” To the review of this little book, which is dedicated to Prince Lucien Bonaparte, the London Times devoted a full column. I never heard any one who had used it speak of it except with admiration. The modest Friend may be surprised to find himself at full length in my pages, but those who know the little miracle of typography, its conciseness, completeness, arrangement, will not wonder that I was gratified to see the author, who sent it to me, and who has written me most interesting letters on the local antiquities of Gloucester and its neighborhood.
We lunched that day with Lady Camperdown, where we were happy to meet Miss Frances Power Cobbe. In the afternoon we went by invitation to a “ tea and talk ” at the Reverend Mr. Haweis’s, at Chelsea. We found the house close packed, but managed to get through the rooms, shaking innumerable hands of the reverend gentleman’s parishioners and other visitors. It was very well arranged, so as not to be too fatiguing, and we left the cordial gathering in good condition. We drove home with Bishop and Mrs. Ellicott.
After this Sir James Paget called, and took me to a small and early dinnerparty ; and A— went with my secre-
tary, the young lady of whom I have spoken, to see “ Human Nature,” at Drury Lane Theatre.
On the following day, after dining with Lady Holland (wife of Sir Henry, niece of Macaulay), we went across the street to our neighbor’s, Lady Stanley’s. There was to be a great meeting of schoolmistresses, in whose work her son, the Honorable Lyulph Stanley, is deeply interested. Alas! The schoolma’ams were just leaving as we entered the door, and all we saw of them was the skirts of their descending robes. I was very sorry for this, for I have a good many friends among our own schoolma’ams, — friends whom I never saw, but know through the kind words they have addressed to me.
No place in London looks more reserved and exclusive than Devonshire House, situated at the corner of the two great avenues, Piccadilly and St. James Street. There is certainly nothing in its exterior which invites intrusion. We had the pleasure of taking tea in the great house, accompanying our American friend, Lady Harcourt, and were graciously received and entertained by Lady Edward Cavendish. Like the other great houses, it is a museum of paintings, statues, objects of interest of all sorts. It must be confessed that it is pleasanter to go through the rooms with one of the ladies of the household than under the lead of a liveried servant. Lord Hartington came in while we were there. All the men who are distinguished in political life become familiar to the readers of Punch in their caricatures, so that we know them at sight. Even those who can claim no such public distinction are occasionally the subjects of the caricaturist, as some of us have found out for ourselves. A good caricature, which seizes the prominent features and gives them the character Nature hinted, but did not fully carry out, is a work of genius. Nature herself is a remorseless caricaturist, as our daily intercourse with our fellow men and women makes evident to us, and as is curiously illustrated in the figures of Charles Lebrun, showing the relations between certain human faces and those of various animals. Hardly an English statesman in bodily presence could be mistaken by any of Punch’s readers.
On the same day that we made this quiet visit we attended a great and ceremonious assembly. There were two parts in the programme, in the first of which I was on the stage solus, — that is, without my companion ; in the second we were together. This day, Saturday, the 29th of May, was observed as the Queen’s birthday, although she was born on the 24th. Sir William Harcourt gave a great dinner to the officials of his department, and later in the evening Lady Rosebery held a reception at the Foreign Office. On both these occasions everybody is expected to be in court dress, but my host told me I might present myself in ordinary evening dress. I thought that I might feel awkwardly among so many guests, all in the wedding garments, knee-breeches and the rest, without which I ventured among them. I never passed an easier evening in any company than among these official personages. Sir William took me under the shield of his ample presence, and answered all my questions about the various notable personages at his table in a way to have made my fortune if I had been a reporter. From the dinner I went to Mrs. Gladstone’s, at 10 Downing Street, where A— called for me. She had found a very small and distinguished company there, Prince Albert Victor among the rest. At half past eleven we walked over to the Foreign Office to Lady Rosebery’s reception.
Here Mr. Gladstone was of course the centre of a group, to which I was glad to add myself. His features are almost as familiar to me as my own, for a photograph of him in his library has long stood on my revolving bookcase, with a large lens before it. He is one of a small circle in whom I have had and still have a special personal interest. The year 1809, which introduced me to atmospheric existence, was the birth-year of Gladstone, Tennyson, Lord Houghton, and Darwin. It seems like an honor to have come into the world in such company, but it is more likely to promote humility than vanity in a common mortal to find himself coeval with such illustrious personages. Persons of the same year watch each other, especially as the sands of life begin to run low, as we can imagine so many damaged hour-glasses to keep an eye on each other.
Familiar to me as were the features of Mr. Gladstone, I looked upon him with astonishment. For he stood before me with epaulets on his shoulders and a rapier at his side, as military in his aspect as if he had been Lord Wolseley, to whom I was introduced a short time afterwards. I was fortunate enough to see and hear Mr. Gladstone on a still more memorable occasion, and can afford to leave saying what were my impressions of the very eminent statesman until I speak of that occasion.
A great number of invitations had been given out for the reception at Lady Rosebery’s, — over two thousand, my companion heard it said. Whatever the number was, the crowd was very great, — so great that one might well feel alarmed for the safety of any delicate person who was in the pack which formed itself at one place in the course of the evening.
Some obstruction must have existed a fronte, and the vis a tergo became fearful in its pressure on those who were caught in the jam. I began thinking of the crushes in which I had been caught, or which I had read and heard of: the terrible time at the execution of Holloway and Haggerty, where some forty persons were squeezed or trampled to death ; the Brooklyn Theatre and other similar tragedies; the crowd I was in at the unveiling of the statue on the column of the Place Vendome, where I felt as one may suppose Giles Corey did when, in his misery, he called for “ more weight ” to finish him. But there was always a deus ex machina for us when we were in trouble. Looming up above the crowd was the smiling and encouraging countenance of the ever active, always present, always helpful Mr. Smalley. He cleared a breathing space before us. For a short time it was really a formidable wedging together of people, and if a lady had fainted in the press, she might have run a serious risk before she could have been extricated. No more “marble halls ” for us, if we had to undergo the peine forte et dure as the condition of our presence ! We were both glad to escape from this threatened asphyxia, and move freely about the noble apartments. Lady Rosebery, who was kindness itself, would have had us stay and sit down in comfort at the suppertable, after the crowd had thinned, but we were tired with all we had been through, and ordered our carriage. Ordered, our carriage !
The most formidable thing about a London party is getting away from it. “ C’est le dernier pas qui coute.” A crowd of anxious persons in retreat is hanging about the windy door, and the breezy stairway, and the airy hall.
A stentorian voice, hard as that of Rhadamanthus, exclaims, —
“ Lady Vere de Vere’s carriage stops the way! ”
If my Lady Vere de Vere is not on hand, and that pretty quickly, off goes her carriage, and the stern voice bawls again, —
“ Mrs. Smith’s carriage stops the way ! ”
Mrs. Smith’s particular Smith may be worth his millions and live in his marble palace ; but if Mrs. Smith thinks her coachman is going to stand with his horses at that door until she appears, she is mistaken, for she is a minute late, and now the coach moves on, and Rhadamanthus calls aloud, —
“ Mrs. Brown’s carriage stops the way ! ”
Half the lung fevers that carry off the great people are got waiting for their carriages.
I know full well that many readers would be disappointed if I did not mention some of the grand places and bring in some of the great names that lend their lustre to London society. We were to go to a fine musical party at Lady Rothschild’s on the evening of the 30th of May. It happened that the day was Sunday, and if we had been as punctilious as some New England Sabbatarians, we might have felt compelled to decline the tempting invitation. But the party was given by a daughter of Abraham, and in every Hebrew household the true Sabbath was over. We were content for that evening to shelter ourselves under the old dispensation.
The party, or concert, was a very brilliant affair. Patti sung to us, and another soloist, and a tenor, and a violinist played for us. How we two Americans came to be in so favored a position I do not know ; all I do know is that we were shown to our places, and found them very agreeable ones. In the same row of seats was the Prince of Wales, two
chairs off from A—’s seat. Directly
in front of me was the Princess of Wales. “ in ruby velvet, with six rows of straight pearls, and two more strings falling below ; ” and next her the startling presence of Lady De Grey, formerly Lady Lonsdale, and before that Gladys Herbert. On the other side of the Princess sat the Grand Duke Michael of Russia.
As we are mounted upon our very highest horse, I must enliven my sober account with an extract from my companion’s diary: —
“ There were several great beauties there, Lady Claude Hamilton, a queenly blonde, being one. Minnie Stevens Paget had with her the pretty Miss Langdon, of New York. Royalty had one room for supper, with its attendant lords and ladies. Lord Rothschild took me down to a long table for a sit-down supper, — there were some thirty of us. The most superb pink orchids were on
the table. The [Thane] of—sat next
me, and how he stared before he was introduced ! . . . This has been the finest party we have been to, sitting comfortably in such a beautiful ball-room, gazing at royalty in the flesh, and at the shades of departed beauties on the wall, by Sir Joshua and Gainsborough. It was a new experience to find that the royal lions fed up-stairs, and mixed animals below.”
A visit to Windsor had been planned, under the guidance of a friend whose kindness had already shown itself in various forms, and who, before we left England, did for us more than we could have thought of owing to any one person. This gentleman, Mr. W—, of
Brighton, called with Mrs. W— to
take us on the visit which had been arranged between us.
Windsor Castle, which everybody knows, or can easily learn, all about, is one of the largest in those huge caverns in which the descendants of the original cave men, when they have reached the height of human grandeur, delight to shelter themselves. It seems as if such a great hollow quarry of rock would strike a chill through every tenant, but modern improvements reach even the palaces of kings and queens, and the regulation temperature of the castle, or of its inhabited portions, is fixed at sixty-five degrees of Fahrenheit. The royal standard was not floating from the tower of the castle, and everything was quiet and lonely. We saw all we wanted to, — pictures, furniture, and the rest. My namesake, the Queen’s librarian, was not there to greet us, or I should have had a pleasant half-hour in the library with that very polite gentleman, whom I had the pleasure afterwards of meeting in London.
After going through all the apartments in the castle that we cared to see, or our conductress cared to show us, we drove in the park, along the “threemile walk, and in the by-roads leading from it. The beautiful avenue, the open spaces with scattered trees here and there, made this a most delightful excursion. I saw many fine oaks, one about sixteen feet of honest girth, but no one which was very remarkable. I wished I could have compared the handsomest of them with one in Beverly, which I never look at without taking my hat off. this is a young tree, with a future before it, if barbarians do not meddle with it, more conspicuous for its spread than its circumference, stretching not very far from a hundred feet from bough-end to bough-end. I do not think I saw a specimen of the British Quercus robur of such consummate beauty. But I know what Evelyn and Strutt have to boast of, and I will not challenge the British oak.
Two sensations I had in Windsor park, or forest, for I am not quite sure of the boundary which separates them. The first was the lovely sight of the hawthorn in full bloom. I had always thought of the hawthorn as a pretty shrub, growing in hedges; as big as a currant bush or a barberry bush, or some humble plant of that character. I was surprised to see it as a tree, standing by itself, and making the most delicious roof a pair of young lovers could imagine to sit under. It looked at a little distance like a young apple-tree covered with new-fallen snow. I shall never see the word hawthorn in poetry again without the image of the snowy but far from chilling canopy rising before me. It is the very bower of young love, and has done more than any growth of the forest to soften the doom brought upon man by the fruit of the forbidden tree. No wonder that
with the object of his affections awaiting him in this boudoir of nature. What a pity that Zekle, who courted Huldy over the apples she was peeling, could not have made love as the bucolic youth does, when
Under the hawthorn in the dale ” !
But I suppose it does not make so much difference, for love transmutes the fruit in Huldy’s lap into the apples of the Hesperides.
In this way it is that the associations with the poetry we remember come up when we find ourselves surrounded by English scenery. The great poets build temples of song, and fill them with images and symbols which move us almost to adoration ; the lesser minstrels fill a panel or gild a cornice here and there, and make our hearts glad with glimpses of beauty. I felt all this as I looked around and saw the hawthorns in full bloom, in the openings among the oaks and other trees of the forest. Presently I heard a sound to which I had never listened before, and which I have never heard since: —
Coooo — coooo!
Nature had sent one cuckoo from her aviary to sing his double note for me, that I might not pass away from her pleasing show without once hearing the call so dear to the poets. It was the last day of spring. A few more days, and the solitary voice might have been often heard ; for the bird becomes so common as to furnish Shakespeare an image to fit “ the skipping king : ” —
Heard, not regarded. ”
For the lyric poets the cuckoo is “companion of the spring,” “ darling of the spring; ” coming with the daisy, and the primrose, and the blossoming sweetpea. Where the sound came from I could not tell; it puzzled Wordsworth, with younger eyes than mine, to find whence issued
“that cry Which made me look a thousand ways In bush, and tree, and sky.”
Only one hint of the prosaic troubled my emotional delight: I could not help thinking how capitally the little rogue imitated the cuckoo clock, with the sound of which I was pretty well acquainted.
On our return from Windsor we had to get ready for another great dinner with our Minister, Mr. Phelps. As we are in the habit of considering our great officials as public property, and as some of my readers want as many glimpses of high life as a decent regard to republican sensibilities will permit, I will borrow a few words from the diary to which I have often referred :—
“ The Princess Louise was there with the Marquis, and I had the best opportunity of seeing how they receive royalty at private houses. Mr. and Mrs. Phelps went down to the door to meet her the moment she came, and then Mr. Phelps entered the drawing-room with the Princess on his arm, and made the tour of the room with her, she bowing and speaking to each one of us. Mr. Goschen took me in to dinner, and Lord Lorne was on my other side. All of the flowers were of the royal color, red. It was a grand dinner. . . . The Austrian Ambassador, Count Karoli, took Mrs. Phelps in [to dinner], his position being higher than that of even the Duke [of Argyll], who sat upon her right.”
It was a very rich experience for a single day : the stately abode of royalty, with all its manifold historical recollections, the magnificent avenue of forest trees, the old oaks, the hawthorn in full bloom, and the one cry of the cuckoo, calling me back to Nature in her springtime freshness and glory; then, after that, a great London dinner-party at a house where the kind host and the gracious hostess made us feel at home, and where we could meet the highest people in the land, — the people whom we who live in a simpler way at home are naturally pleased to be with under such auspices. What of all this shall I remember longest ? Let me not seem ungrateful to my friends who planned the excursion for us, or to those who asked us to the brilliant evening entertainment, but I feel as Wordsworth felt about the cuckoo, — he will survive all the other memories.
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.”
Nothing is more hackneyed than an American’s description of his feelings in the midst of the scenes and objects he has read of all his days, and is looking upon for the first time. To each of us it appears in some respects in the same way, but with a difference for every individual. We may smile at Irving’s emotions at the first sight of a distinguished Englishman on his own soil, — the ingenious Mr. Roscoe, as an earlier generation would have called him. Our tourists, who are constantly going forward and back between England and America, lose all sense of the special distinctions between the two countries which do not bear on their personal convenience. Happy are those who go with unworn, unsatiated sensibilities from the New World to the Old ; as happy, it may be, those who come from the Old World to the New, but of that I cannot form a judgment.
On the first day of June we called by appointment upon Mr. Peel, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and went through the Houses of Parliament. We began with the train-bearer, then met the housekeeper, and presently were joined by Mr. Palgrave. The “ Golden Treasury ” stands on my drawing-room table at home, and the name on its title-page had a very familiar sound. These accidental meetings with persons whom we know by their writings are very pleasant surprises.
Among other things to which Mr. Palgrave called our attention was the death-warrant of Charles the First. One name in the list of signers naturally fixed our eyes upon it. It was that of John Dixwell. A lineal descendant of the old regicide is very near to me by family connection, Colonel Dixwell having come to this country, married, and left a posterity, which has resumed the name, dropped for the sake of safety at the time when he, Goffe, and Whalley were in concealment in various parts of New England.
We lunched with the Speaker, and had the pleasure of the company of Archdeacon Farrar. In the afternoon we went to a tea at a very grand house, where, as my companion says in her diary, “ it took full six men in red satin knee-breeches to let us in.” Another grand personage asked us to dine with her at her country place, but we were too full of engagements. In the evening we went to a large reception at Mr. Gosse’s. It was pleasant to meet artists and scholars, — the kind of company to which we are much used in our æsthetic city. I found our host as agreeable at home as he was when in Boston, where he became a favorite, both as a lecturer and as a visitor.
Another day we visited Stafford House, where Lord Ronald Gower, himself an artist, did the honors of the house, showing us the pictures and sculptures, his own included, in a very obliging and agreeable way. I have often taken note of the resemblances of living persons to the portraits and statues of their remote ancestors. In showing us the portrait of one of his own far-back progenitors, Lord Ronald placed a photograph of himself in the corner of the frame. The likeness was so close that the photograph might seem to have been copied from the painting, the costume being modernized. The Duke of Sutherland, who had just come back from America, complained that the dinners and lunches had used him up. I was fast learning how to sympathize with him.
Then to Grosvenor House to see the pictures. I best remember Gainsborough’s beautiful Blue Boy, commonly so called, from the color of his dress, and Sir Joshua’s Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, which everybody knows in engravings. We lunched in clerical company that day, at the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol’s, with the Archbishop of York, the Reverend Mr. Haweis, and others as guests. I told A—that she was not sufficiently impressed with her position at the side of an archbishop ; she was not crumbling bread in her nervous excitement. The company did not seem to remember Sydney Smith’s remark to the young lady next him at a dinner-party : “ My dear, I see you are nervous, by your crumbling your bread as you do. I always crumble bread when I sit by a bishop, and when I sit by an archbishop I crumble bread with both hands.” That evening I had the pleasure of dining with the distinguished Mr. Bryce, whose acquaintance I made in our own country, through my son, who has introduced me to many agreeable persons of his own generation, with whose companionship I am glad to mend the broken and mere fragmentary circle of old friendships.
The 3d of June was a memorable day for us, for on that day we were to hold our reception. I could not be so modest as to overlook the fact that there were a good many people in England, and not a few in London, who would like to make our acquaintance. How to enable them to do so was a rather nice question. Our five rooms had no communication with each other. Our drawingroom would be full enough with fifty visitors, and I had reason to believe I had more than that number of friends, known and unknown, who would be pleased to meet us. In speaking of our intention of receiving a few people at our rooms, we were surprised by the offer on the part of Dr. and Mrs. Priestley of their house for the purpose. If Dean Bradley had proposed our holding a reception in Westminster Abbey, I should hardly have been more astonished. But these kind friends meant what they said, and put the offer in such a shape that it was impossible to resist it. So we sent out our cards to some hundreds of persons, — those who we thought might like invitations. I was particularly desirous that many members of the medical profession whom I had not met, but who felt well disposed towards me, should be at this gathering. The meeting was in every respect a success. I wrote a prescription for as many baskets of champagne as would be consistent with the well-being of our guests, and such light accompaniments as a London crowd is wont to expect under similar circumstances. My own recollections of the evening, unclouded by its festivities, but confused by its multitudinous succession of introductions, are about as definite as the Duke of Wellington’s alleged monosyllabic description of the battle of Waterloo. But A— writes in her diary: “From 9.15 to 12.30 we stood, receiving over three hundred people out of the four hundred and fifty we asked.” As I did not go to Europe to visit hospitals or museums, I might have failed to see some of those professional brethren whose names I hold in honor and whose writings are in my library. If any such failed to receive our cards of invitation, it was an accident which, if I had been told of, I should have deeply regretted. So far as we could judge by all we heard, our unpretentious party gave general satisfaction. Many different social circles were represented, but it passed off easily and agreeably. I can say this more freely, as the credit of it belongs so largely to the care and self-sacrificingefforts of Dr. Priestley and his charming wife.
I never refused to write in the birthday book or the album of the humblest schoolgirl or schoolboy, and I could not refuse to set my name, with a verse from one of my poems, in the album of the Princess of Wales, which was sent me for that purpose. It was a nice new book, with only two or three names in it, and those of musical composers, — Rubinstein’s, I think, was one of them, — so that I felt honored by the great lady’s request. I ought to describe the book, but I only remember that it was quite large and sumptuously elegant, and that I copied into it the last verse of a poem of mine called “ The Chambered Nautilus,” as I have often done for plain republican albums.
The day after our simple reception was notable for three social events in which we had our part. The first was a lunch at the house of Mrs. Cyril Flower, one of the finest in London, — Surrey House, as it is called. Mr. Browning, who seems to go everywhere, and is one of the vital elements of London society, was of course there. Miss Cobbe, many of whose essays I have read with great satisfaction, though I cannot accept all her views, was a guest whom I was very glad to meet a second time.
In the afternoon we went to a garden-party given by the Princess Louise at Kensington Palace, a gloomy-looking edifice, which might be taken for a hospital or a poorhouse. Of all the festive occasions which I attended, the gardenparties were to me the most formidable.
They are all very well for young people, and for those who do not mind the nipping and eager air, with which, as I have said, the climate of England no less than that of America falsifies all the fine things the poets have said about May, and, I may add, even June. We wandered about the grounds, spoke with the great people, stared at the odd ones, and said to ourselves, — at least I said to myself, — with Hamlet,
The most curious personages were some East Indians, a chocolate-colored lady and her children. The mother had a diamond on the side of her nose, its setting riveted on the inside, one might suppose ; the effect was peculiar, far from captivating. A—said that she should prefer the good old-fashioned nose-ring, as we find it described and pictured by travellers. She saw a great deal more than I did, of course. I quote from her diary : “ The little Eastern children made their native salaam to the Princess by prostrating themselves flat on their little stomachs in front of her, putting their hands between her feet, pushing them aside, and kissing the print of her feet! ”
I really believe one or both of us would have run serious risks of catching our “ death o’ cold,” if we had waited for our own carriage, which seemed forever in coming forward. The good Lady Holland, who was more than once our guardian angel, sent us home in hers. So we got warmed up at home, and were ready in due season for the large and fine dinner - party at Archdeacon Farrar’s, where, among other guests, were Mrs. Phelps, our Minister’s wife, who is a great favorite alike with Americans and English, Sir John Millais, Mr. Tyndall, and other interesting people.
I am sorry that we could not have visited Newstead Abbey. I had a letter from Mr. Thornton Lothrop to Colonel Webb, the present proprietor, with whom we lunched. I have spoken of the pleasure I had when I came accidentally upon persons with whose name and fame I had long been acquainted. A similar impression was that which I received when I found myself in the company of the bearer of an old historic name. When my host at the lunch introduced a stately-looking gentleman as Sir Kenelm Digby, it gave me a start, as if a ghost had stood before me. I recovered myself immediately, however, for there was nothing of the impalpable or immaterial about the stalwart personage who bore the name. I wanted to ask him if he carried any of his ancestor’s “ powder of sympathy ” about with him. Many, but not all, of my readers remember that famous man’s famous preparation. When used to cure a wound, it was applied to the weapon that made it; the part was bound up so as to bring the edges of the wound together, and by the wondrous influence of the sympathetic powder the healing process took place in the kindest possible manner. Sir Kenelm, the ancestor, was a gallant soldier, a grand gentleman, and the husband of a wonderfully beautiful wife, whose charms he tried to preserve from the ravages of time by various experiments. He was also the hom—opathist of his day, the Elisha Perkins (metallic tractors) of his generation. The “ mind cure ” people might adopt him as one of their precursors.
I heard a curious statement which was illustrated in the person of one of the gentlemen we met at this table. It is that English sporting men are often deaf on one side, in consequence of the noise of the frequent discharge of their guns affecting the right ear. This is a very convenient infirmity for gentlemen who indulge in slightly aggressive remarks, but when they are hit back never seem to be conscious at all of the riposte, as the horse-people used to call the movement that answered a stroke of the spur with a kick of the hoof.
Dr. Allchin called and took me to a dinner, where I met many professional brothers and enjoyed myself highly.
By this time every day was pledged for one or more engagements, so that many very attractive invitations had to be declined. I will not follow the days one by one, but content myself with mentioning some of the more memorable visits. I had been invited to the Rabelais Club, as I have before mentioned, by a cable message. This is a club of which the late Lord Houghton was president, and of which I am a member, as are several other Americans. I was afraid that the gentlemen who met,
might be more hilarious and demonstrative in their mirth than I, a sober New Englander in the superfluous decade, might find myself equal to. But there was no uproarious jollity ; on the contrary, it was a pleasant gathering of literary people and artists, who took their pleasure not sadly, but serenely, and I do not remember a single explosive guffaw.
Another day, after going all over Dudley House, including Lady Dudley’s boudoir, “ in light blue satin, the prettiest room we have seen,” A—— says, we went, by appointment, to Westminster Abbey, where we spent two hours under the guidance of Archdeacon Farrar. I think no part of the Abbey is visited with so much interest as Poets’ Corner. We are all familiarly acquainted with it beforehand. We are all ready for “ O rare Ben Jonson ! ” as we stand over the place where he was planted standing upright, as if he had been dropped into a post-hole. We remember too well the foolish and flippant mockery of Gay’s “ Life is a Jest.” If I were a dean of the cathedral, I should be tempted to alter the J to a G. Then we could read it without contempt; for life is a gest, an achievement, — or always ought to be. Westminster Abbey is too crowded with monuments to the illustrious dead and those who have been considered so in their day to produce any other than a confused impression. When we visit the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides, no side - lights interfere with the view before us in the field of mental vision. We see the Emperor; Marengo, Austerlitz, Waterloo, Saint Helena, come before us, with him as their central figure. So at Stratford, — the Cloptons and the John a Combes, with all their memorials, cannot make us lift our eyes from the stone which covers the dust that once breathed and walked the streets of Stratford as Shakespeare.
Ah, but here is one marble countenance that I know full well, and knew for many a year in the flesh ! Is there an American who sees the bust of Longfellow among the effigies of the great authors of England without feeling a thrill of pleasure at recognizing the features of his native fellow-countryman in the Valhalla of his ancestral fellowcountrymen ? There are many memorials in Poets’ Corner and elsewhere in the Abbey which could be better spared than that. Too many that were placed there as luminaries have become conspicuous by their obscurity in the midst of that illustrious company. On the whole, the Abbey produces a distinctsense of being overcrowded. It appears too much like a lapidary’s store-room. Look up at the lofty roof, which we willingly pardon for shutting out the heaven above us, — at least in an average London day; look down at the floor, and think of what precious relics it covers; but do not look around you with the hope of getting any clear, concentrated, satisfying effect from this great museum of gigantic funereal bricabrac. Pardon me, shades of the mighty dead ! I had something of this feeling, but at another hour I might perhaps be overcome by emotion, and weep, as my fellow-countryman did at the grave of the earliest of his ancestors. I should love myself better in that aspect than I do in this cold-blooded criticism; but it suggested itself, and as no flattery can soothe, so no censure can wound, “ the dull, cold ear of death.”
Of course we saw all the sights of the Abbey in a hurried way, yet with such a guide and expositor as Archdeacon Farrar our two hours’ visit was worth a whole day with an undiscriminating verger, who recites his lesson by rote, and takes the life out of the little mob that follows him round by emphasizing the details of his lesson, until “ Patience on a monument ” seems to the sufferer, who knows what he wants and what he does not want, the nearest emblem of himself he can think of. Amidst all the imposing recollections of the ancient edifice, one impressed me in the inverse ratio of its importance. The Archdeacon pointed out the little holes in the stones, in one place, where the boys of the choir used to play marbles, before America was discovered, probably, — centuries before, it may be. It is a strangely impressive glimpse of a living past, like the graffiti of Pompeii. I find it is often the accident rather than the essential which fixes my attention and takes hold of my memory. This is a tendency of which I suppose I ought to be ashamed, if we have any right to be ashamed of those idiosyncrasies which are ordered for us. It is the same tendency which often leads us to prefer the picturesque to the beautiful. Mr. Gilpin liked the donkey in a forest landscape better than the horse. A touch of imperfection interferes with the beauty of an object and lowers its level to that of the picturesque. The accident of the holes in the stone of the noble building, for the boys to play marbles with, makes me a boy again and at home with them, after looking with awe upon the statue of Newton, and turning with a shudder from the ghastly monument of Mrs. Nightingale.
What a life must be that of one whose years are passed chiefly in and about the great Abbey ! Nowhere does Macbeth’s expression “dusty death” seem so true to all around us. The dust of those who have been lying century after century below the marbles piled over them, — the dust on the monuments they lie beneath; the dust on the memories those monuments were raised to keep living in the recollection of posterity, — dust, dust, dust, everywhere, and we ourselves but shapes of breathing dust moving amidst these objects and remembrances ! Come away! The good Archdeacon of the “ Eternal Hope ” has asked us to take a cup of tea with him. The tea-cup will be a cheerful substitute for the funeral urn, and a freshly made infusion of the fragrant leaf is one of the best things in the world to lay the dust of sad reflections.
It is a somewhat fatiguing pleasure to go through the Abbey, in spite of the intense interest no one can help feeling. But my day had but just begun when the two hours we had devoted to the visit were over. At a quarter before eight, my friend Mr. Frederick Locker called for me to go to a dinner at the Literary Club. I was particularly pleased to dine with this association, as it reminded me of our own Saturday Club, which sometimes goes by the same name as the London one. They complimented me with a toast, and I made some kind of a reply. As I never went prepared with a speech for any such occasion, I take it for granted that I thanked the company in a way that showed my gratitude rather than my eloquence. And now, the dinner being over, my day was fairly begun.
This was to be a memorable date in the record of the year, one long to be remembered in the political history of Great Britain. For on this day, the 7th of June, Mr. Gladstone was to make his great speech on the Irish question, and the division of the House on the Government of Ireland Bill was to take place. The whole country, to the corners of its remotest colony, was looking forward to the results of this evening’s meeting of Parliament. The kindness of the Speaker had furnished me with a ticket, entitling me to a place among the “ distinguished guests,” which I presented without modestly questioning my right to the title.
The pressure for entrance that evening was very great, and I, coming after my dinner with the Literary Club, was late upon the ground. The places for “ distinguished guests ” were already filled. But all England was in a conspiracy to do everything possible to make my visit agreeable. I did not take up a great deal of room, — I might be put into a seat with the ambassadors and foreign ministers. And among them I was presently installed. It was now between ten and eleven o’clock, as nearly as I recollect. The house had been in session since four o’clock. A gentleman was speaking, who was, as my unknown next neighbor told me, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, a leading member, as we all know, of the opposition. When he sat down there was a hush of expectation, and presently Mr. Gladstone rose to his feet. A great burst of applause welcomed him, lasting more than a minute. His clean-cut features, his furrowed cheeks, his scanty and whitened hair, his well-shaped but not extraordinary head, all familiarized by innumerable portraits and emphasized in hundreds of caricatures, revealed him at once to every spectator. His great speech has been universally read, and I need only speak of the way in which it was delivered. His manner was forcible rather than impassioned or eloquent ; his voice was clear enough, but must have troubled him somewhat, for he had a small bottle, from which he poured something into a glass from time to time and swallowed a little, yet I heard him very well for the most part. In the last portion of his speech he became animated and inspiriting, and his closing words were uttered with an impressive solemnity : “ Think, I beseech you, think well, think wisely, think not for a moment, but for the years that are to come, before you reject this bill.”
After the burst of applause which followed the conclusion of Mr. Gladstone’s speech, the House proceeded to the division on the question of passing the bill to a second reading. While the counting of the votes was going on there was the most intense excitement. A rumor ran round the House at one moment that the vote was going in favor of the second reading. It soon became evident that this was not the case, and presently the result was announced, giving a majority of thirty against the bill, and practically overthrowing the liberal administration. Then arose a tumult of applause from the conservatives and a wild confusion, in the midst of which an Irish member shouted “ Three cheers for the Grand Old Man ! ” which were lustily given, with waving of hats and all but Donnybrook manifestations of enthusiasm.
I forgot to mention that I had a very advantageous seat among the diplomatic gentlemen, and was felicitating myself on occupying one of the best positions in the House, when an usher politely informed me that the Russian Ambassador, in whose place I was sitting, had arrived, and that I must submit to the fate of eviction. Fortunately, there were some steps close by, on one of which I found a seat almost as good as the one I had just left.
It was now two o’clock in the morning, and I had to walk home, not a vehicle being attainable. I did not know my way to my headquarters, and I had no friend to go with me, but I fastened on a stray gentleman, who proved to be an ex-member of the House, and accompanied me to 17 Dover Street, where I sought my bed with a satisfying sense of having done a good day’s work and having been well paid for it.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
- Copyright, 1887, by OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. All rights reserved.↩