Our Hundred Days in Europe
ON the 8th of June we visited the Record Office for a sight of the Domesday Book and other ancient objects of interest there preserved. As I looked at this too faithful memorial of an inexorable past, I thought of the battle of Hastings and all its consequences, and that reminded me of what I have long remembered as I read it in Dr. Robert Knox’s “ Races of Men.” Dr. Knox was the monoculous Waterloo surgeon, with whom I remember breakfasting, on my first visit to England and Scotland. His celebrity is less owing to his book than to the unfortunate connection of his name with the unforgotten Burke and Hare horrors. This is his language in speaking of Hastings: “ . . . that bloody field, surpassing far in its terrible results the unhappy day of Waterloo. From this the Celt has recovered, but not so the Saxon. To this day he feels, and feels deeply, the most disastrous day that ever befell his race ; here he was trodden down by the Norman, whose iron heel is on him yet. . . . To this day the Saxon race in England have never recovered a tithe of their rights, and probably never will.”
The Conqueror meant to have a thorough summing up of his stolen property. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle says, — I quote it at second hand, —“ So very straitly did he cause the survey to be made, that there was not a single hyde, nor a yardland of ground, nor — it is shameful to say what he thought no shame to do — was there an ox or a cow, or a pig passed by, and that was not down in the accounts, and then all these writings were brought to him.” The “looting” of England by William and his “twenty thousand thieves,” as Mr. Emerson calls his army, was a singularly methodical proceeding, and Domesday Book is a searching inventory of their booty, movable and immovable.
From this reminder of the past we turned to the remembrances of home; A— going to dine with a transplanted Boston friend and other ladies from that blessed centre of New England life, while I dined with a party of gentlemen at my friend Mr. James Russell Lowell’s.
I had looked forward to this meeting with high expectations, and they were abundantly satisfied. I knew that Mr. Lowell must gather about him, wherever he might be, the choicest company, but what his selection would be I was curious to learn. I found with me at the table my own countrymen and his, Mr. Smalley and Mr. Henry James. Of the other guests, Mr. Leslie Stephen was my only old acquaintance in person; but Du Maurier and Tenniel I have met in my weekly Punch for many a year; Mr. Lang, Mr. Oliphant, Mr. Townsend, we all know through their writings; Mr. Burne Jones and Mr. Alma Tadema, through the frequent reproductions of their works in engravings, as well as by their paintings. If I could report a dinner-table conversation, I might be tempted to say something of my talk with Mr. Oliphant. I like well enough conversation which floats safely over the shallows, touching bottom at intervals with a commonplace incident or truism to push it along ; I like better to find a few fathoms of depth under the surface; there is a still higher pleasure in the philosophical discourse which calls for the deep-sea line to reach bottom ; but best of all, when one is in the right mood, is the contact of intelligences when they are off soundings in the ocean of thought. Mr. Oliphant is what many of us call a mystic, and I found a singular pleasure in listening to him. This dinner at Mr. Lowell’s was a very remarkable one for the men it brought together, and I remember it with peculiar interest. My entertainer holds a master-key to London society, and he opened the gate for me into one of its choicest preserves on that evening.
I did not undertake to renew my old acquaintance with hospitals and museums. I regretted that I could not be with my companion, who went through the Natural History Museum with the accomplished director, Professor W. H. Flower. One old acquaintance I did resuscitate. For the second time I took the hand of Charles O’Byrne, the celebrated Irish giant of the last century. I met him, as in my first visit, at the Royal College of Surgeons, where I accompanied Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson. He was in the condition so longed for by Sydney Smith on a very hot day ; namely, with his flesh taken off, and sitting, or rather standing, in his bones. The skeleton measures eight feet, and the living man’s height is stated as having been eight feet two, or four inches, by different authorities. His hand was the only one I took, either in England or Scotland, which had not a warm grasp and a hearty welcome in it.
A— went with Boston friends to see Faust a second time, Mr. Irving having offered her the royal box, and the polite Mr. Bram Stoker serving the party with tea in the little drawing-room behind the box; so that she had a good time while I was enjoying myself at a dinner at Sir Henry Thompson’s, where I met Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Browning, and other distinguished gentlemen. These dinners of Sir Henry’s are well known for the good company one meets at them, and I felt myself honored to be a guest on this occasion.
Among the pleasures I had promised myself was that of a visit to Tennyson, at the Isle of Wight. I feared, however, that this would be rendered impracticable by reason of the very recent death of his younger son, Lionel. But I learned from Mr. Locker-Lampson, whose daughter Mr. Lionel Tennyson had married, that the poet would be pleased to see me at his place, Farringford; and by the kind intervention of Mr. Locker-Lampson, better known to the literary world as Frederick Locker, arrangements were made for my daughter and myself to visit him. I considered it a very great favor, for Lord Tennyson has a poet’s fondness for the tranquillity of seclusion, which many curious explorers of society fail to remember. Lady Tennyson is an invalid, and though nothing could be more gracious than her reception of us both, I fear it may have cost her an effort which she would not allow to betray itself. Mr. Hallam Tennyson and his wife, both of most pleasing presence and manners, did everything to make our stay agreeable. I saw the poet to the best advantage, under his own trees and walking over his own domain. He took delight in pointing out to me the finest and the rarest of his trees, — and there were many beauties among them. I recalled my morning’s visit to Whittier at Oak Knoll, in Danvers, a little more than a year ago, when he led me to one of his favorites, an aspiring evergreen which shot up like a flame. I thought of the graceful American elms in front of Longfellow’s house, and the sturdy English elms that stand in front of Lowell’s. In this garden of England, the Isle of Wight, where everything grows with such a lavish extravagance of greenness that it seems as if it must bankrupt the soil before autumn, I felt as if weary eyes and overtasked brains might reach their happiest haven of rest. We all remember Shenstone’s epigram on the pane of a tavern window. If we find our “warmest welcome at an inn,” we find our most soothing companionship in the trees among which we have lived, some of which we may ourselves have planted. We lean against them, and they never betray our trust; they shield us from the sun and from the rain ; their spring welcome is a new birth, which never loses its freshness ; they lay their beautiful robes at our feet in autumn; in winter they “ stand and wait,” emblems of patience and of truth, for they hide nothing, not even the little leaf-buds which hint to us of hope, the last element in their triple symbolism.
This digression, suggested by the remembrance of the poet under his trees, breaks my narrative, but gives me the opportunity of paying a debt of gratitude. For I have owned many beautiful trees, and loved many more outside of my own leafy harem. Those who write verses have no special claim to be lovers of trees, but so far as one is of the poetical temperament he is like to be a tree-lover. Poets have, as a rule, more than the average nervous sensibility and irritability. Trees have no nerves. They live and die without suffering, without self-questioning or self-reproach. They have the divine gift of silence. They cannot obtrude upon the solitary moments when one is to himself the most agreeable of companions. The whole vegetable world, even “ the meanest flower that blows,” is lovely to contemplate. What if creation had paused there, and you or I had been called upon to decide whether self-conscious life should be added in the form of the existing animal creation, and the hitherto peaceful universe should come under the rule of Nature as we now know her,
Are we not glad that the responsibility of the decision did not rest on us ?
I am sorry that I did not ask Tennyson to read or repeat some of his own lines to me. Hardly any one perfectly understands a poem but the poet himself. One naturally loves his own poem as no one else can. It fits the mental mould in which it was cast, and it will not exactly fit any other. For this reason I had rather listen to a poet reading his own verses than hear the best elocutionist that ever spouted recite them. He may not have a good voice or enunciation, but he puts his heart and his inter-penetrative intelligence into every line, word, and syllable. I should have liked to hear Tennyson read such lines as
and in spite of my good friend Matthew Arnold’s interrorem, I should have liked to hear Macaulay read,
Smoothed Auster’s raven mane,”
and other good mouthable lines, from the “ Lays of Ancient Rome.” Not less should I like to hear Mr. Arnold himself read the passage beginning, —
The Roman noble lay. ”
The next day Mrs. Hallam Tennyson took A— in her pony cart to see Alum Bay, The Needles, and other objects of interest, while I wandered over the grounds with Tennyson. After lunch his carriage called for us, and we were driven across the island, through beautiful scenery, to Ventnor, where we took the steamer for Portsmouth, from which two hours and a half of travel carried us to London.
My first visit to Cambridge was at the invitation of Mr. Gosse, who asked me to spend Sunday, the 13th of June, with him. The rooms in Neville Court, Trinity College, occupied by Sir William Vernon Harcourt when lecturing at Cambridge, were placed at my disposal. The room I slept in was imposing with the ensigns armorial of the Harcourts and others which ornamented its walls. I had great delight in walking through the quadrangles, along the banks of the Cam, and beneath the beautiful trees which border it. Mr. Gosse says that I stopped in the second court of Clare, and looked around and smiled as if I were bestowing my benediction. He was mistaken : I smiled as if I were receiving a benediction from my dear old grandmother ; for Cambridge in New England is my mother town, and Harvard University in Cambridge is my Alma Mater. She is the daughter of Cambridge in Old England, and my relationship is thus made clear.
Mr. Gosse introduced me to many of the younger and some of the older men of the university. Among my visits was one never to be renewed and never to be forgotten. It was to the Master of Trinity, the Reverend William Hepworth Thompson. I hardly expected to have the privilege of meeting this very distinguished and greatly beloved personage, famous not alone for scholarship, or as the successor of Dr. Whewell in his high office, but also as having said the wittiest things which we have heard since Voltaire’s pour encourager les autres. I saw him in his chamber, a feeble old man, but noble to look upon in all “ the monumental pomp of age.” He came very near belonging to the little group I have mentioned as my coevals, but was a year after us. Gentle, dignified, kindly in his address as if I had been his schoolmate, he left a very charming impression. He gave me several mementoes of my visit, among them a beautiful engraving of Sir Isaac Newton, representing him as one of the handsomest of men. Dr. Thompson looked as if he could not be very long for this world, but his death, a few weeks after my visit, was a painful surprise to me. I had been just in time to see “ the last of the great men ” at Cambridge, as my correspondent calls him, and I was very grateful that I could store this memory among the hoarded treasures I have been laying by for such possible extra stretch of time as may be allowed me.
My second visit to Cambridge will be spoken of in due season.
While I was visiting Mr. Gosse at Cambridge, A — was not idle. On Saturday she went to Lambeth, where she had the pleasure and honor of shaking hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury in his study, and of looking about the palace with Mrs. Benson. On Sunday she went to the Abbey, and heard " a broad and liberal sermon ” from Archdeacon Farrar. Our young lady-secretary stayed and dined with her, and after dinner sang to her. “ A peaceful, happy Sunday,” A— says in her diary, — not less peaceful, I suspect, for my being away, as my callers must have got many a “ not at ’ome ” from young Robert of the multitudinous buttons.
On Monday, the 14th of June, after getting ready for our projected excursions, we had an appointment which promised us a great deal of pleasure. Mr. Augustus Harris, the enterprising and celebrated manager of Drury Lane Theatre, had sent us an invitation to occupy a box, having eight seats, at the representation of “ Carmen.” We invited the Priestleys and our Boston friends, the S—s, to take seats with us. The chief singer in the opera was Marie Roze, who looked well and sang well, and the evening went off very happily. After the performance we were invited by Mr. Harris to a sit-down supper of some thirty persons, where we were the special guests, A—being at Mr. Harris’s right. The manager toasted me, and I said something, — I trust appropriate ; but just what I said is as irrecoverable as the orations of Demosthenes on the sea-shore, or the sermons of St. Francis to the beasts and birds.
Of all the attentions I received in England, this was, perhaps, the least to be anticipated or dreamed of. To be feted and toasted and to make a speech in Drury Lane Theatre would not have entered into my flightiest conceptions, if I had made out a programme beforehand. It is a singularly gratifying recollection. Drury Lane Theatre is so full of associations with literature, with the great actors and actresses of the past, with the famous beauties who have stood behind the footlights and the splendid audiences that have sat before them, that it is an admirable nucleus for remembrances to cluster around. It was but a vague spot in memory before, but now it is a bright centre for other images of the past. That one evening seems to make me the possessor of all its traditions from the time when it rose from its ashes, when Byron’s poem was written and recited, and when the brothers Smith gave us the “ Address without a Phœnix,” and all those exquisite parodies which make us feel towards their originals somewhat as our dearly-remembered Tom Appleton did when he said, in praise of some real green turtle soup, that it was almost as good as mock.
With great regret we gave up an invitation we had accepted to go to Durdans to dine with Lord Rosebery. We must have felt very tired indeed to make so great a sacrifice, but we had to be up till one o’clock getting ready for the next day’s journey ; writing, packing, and attending to what we left behind us as well as what was in prospect.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 16th, Dr. Donald Macalister called to attend us on our second visit to Cambridge, where we were to be the guests of his cousin. Alexander Macalister, Professor of Anatomy, who, with Mrs. Macalister, received us most cordially. There was a large luncheon-party at their house, to which we sat down in our travelling dresses. In the evening they had a dinner-party, at which were present, among others, Professor Stokes, President of the Royal Society, and Professor Wright. We had not heard much talk of political matters at the dinner-tables where we had been guests, but A— sat next a lady who was very earnest in advocating the Irish side of the great impending question.
The 17th of June is memorable in the annals of my country. On that day of the year 1775 the battle of Bunker’s Hill was fought on the height I see from the window of my library, where I am now writing. The monument raised in memory of our defeat, which was in truth a victory, is almost as much a part of the furniture of the room as its chairs and tables ; outside, as they are inside, furniture. But the 17th of June, 1886, is memorable to me above all the other anniversaries of that date I have known. For on that day I received from the ancient University of Cambridge, England, the degree of Doctor of Letters, “ Doctor Lift.,” in its abbreviated academic form. The honor was an unexpected one ; that is, until a short time before it was conferred.
Invested with the academic gown and cap, I repaired in due form at the appointed hour to the Senate Chamber. Every seat was filled, and among the audience were youthful faces in large numbers, looking as if they were ready for any kind of outbreak of enthusiasm or hilarity.
The first degree conferred was that of LL. D., on Sir W. A. White, G. C. M., G. C. B., to whose long list of appended initials it seemed like throwing a perfume on the violet to add three more letters.
When I was called up to receive my honorary title, the young voices were true to the promise of the young faces. There was a great noise, not hostile nor unpleasant in its character, in answer to which I could hardly help smiling my acknowledgments. In presenting me for my degree the Public Orator made a Latin speech, from which I venture to give a short extract, which I would not do for the world if it were not disguised by being hidden in the mask of a dead language. But there will be here and there a Latin scholar who will be pleased with the way in which the speaker turned a compliment to the candidate before him, with a reference to one of his poems and to some of his prose works.
“ Juvat nuper audivisse eum cujus carmen prope primum ‘ Folium ultimum ’ nominatum est , folia adhuc plura e scriniis suis esse prolaturum. Novimus quanto lepore descripserit colloquia illa antemeridiana, symposia illa sobria et severa , sed eadem festiva et faceta , in quibus totiens mutata persona, modo poeta, modo professor , modo princeps et arbiter loquendi , inter convivas suos regnat.”
I had no sooner got through listening to the speech and receiving my formal sentence as Doctor of Letters than the young voices broke out in fresh clamor. There were cries of “A speech! a speech! ” mingled with the title of a favorite poem by John Howard Payne, having a certain amount of coincidence with the sound of my name. The play upon the word was not absolutely a novelty to my ear, but it was good-natured, and I smiled again, and perhaps made a faint inclination, as much as to say, “ I hear you, young gentlemen, but I do not forget that I am standing on my dignity, especially now since a new degree has added a moral cubit to my stature.” Still the cries went on, and at last I saw nothing else to do than to edge back among the silk gowns, and so lose myself and be lost to the clamorous crowd in the mass of dignitaries. It was not indifference to the warmth of my welcome, but a feeling that I had no claim to address the audience because some of its younger members were too demonstrative. I have not forgotten my very cordial reception, which made me feel almost as much at home in the old Cambridge as in the new, where I was born and took my degrees, academic, professional, and honorary.
The university town left a very deep impression upon my mind, in which a few grand objects predominate over the rest, all being of a delightful character. I was fortunate enough to see the gathering of the boats, which was the last scene in their annual procession. The scene was altogether lovely. The pretty river, about as wide as the Housatonic, I should judge, as that slender stream winds through “ Canoe Meadow,” my old Pittsfield residence, the gaily dressed people that crowded the banks, the flower-crowned boats, with the gallant young oarsmen who handled them so skilfully, made a picture not often equalled. The walks, the bridges, the quadrangles, the historic college buildings, all conspired to make the place a delight and a fascination. The library of Trinity College, with its rows of busts by Roubiliac and Woolner, is a truly noble hall. But Beyond, above all the rest, the remembrance of King’s College Chapel, with its audacious and richly wrought roof and its wide and lofty windows, glowing with old devices in colors which are ever fresh, as if just from the furnace, holds the first place in my gallery of Cambridge recollections.
I cannot do justice to the hospitalities which were bestowed upon us in Cambridge. Professor and Mrs. Macalister, aided by Dr. Donald Macalister, did all that thoughtful hosts could do to make us feel at home. In the afternoon we took tea at Mr. Oscar Browning’s. In the evening we went to a large dinner, at the invitation of the Vice-Chancellor, Swainson. Many little points which I should not have thought of are mentioned in A—’s diary. I take the
following extract from it, toning down its vivacity more nearly to my own standard: —
“ Twenty were there. The Master of St. John’s took me in, and the Vice-Chancellor was on the other side. . . . The Vice-Chancellor rose and returned thanks after the meats and before the sweets, as usual. I have now got used to this proceeding, which strikes me as extraordinary. Everywhere here in Cambridge, and the same in Oxford, I believe, they say grace and give thanks. A gilded ewer and flat basin were passed, with water in the basin to wash with, and we all took our turn at the bath ! Next to this came the course with the finger-bowls ! . . . Why two baths ? ”
On Friday, the 18th, I went to a breakfast at the Combination Room, at which about fifty gentlemen were present, Dr. Sandys taking the chair. After the more serious business of the morning’s repast was over, Dr. Macalister, at the call of the chairman, arose, and proposed my welfare in a very complimentary way. I of course had to respond, and I did so in the words which came of their own accord to my lips. After my unpremeditated answer, which was kindly received, a young gentleman of the university, Mr. Heitland, read a short poem, of which the following is the title: —
LINES OF GREETING TO DR. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
AT BREAKFAST IN COMBINATION ROOM, ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND.
I wish I dared quote more than the last two verses of these lines, which seemed to me, not unused to giving and receiving complimentary tributes, singularly happy, and were so considered by all who heard them. I think I may venture to give the two verses referred to : —
Who wrought among us in the days of yore ;
By youths who, turning now life’s early pages,
Ripen to match the worthies gone before :
A kindly word from heart and tongue bestow ;
Then chase the sunsets o’er the western water,
And bear our blessing with you as you go.”
I need not say that I left the English Cambridge with a heart full of all grateful and kindly emotions.
I must not forget that I found at Cambridge, very pleasantly established and successfully practising his profession, a former student in the dental department of our Harvard Medical School, Dr. George Cunningham, who used to attend my lectures on anatomy. In the garden behind the quaint old house in which he lived was a large medlar-tree, — the first I remember seeing.
On this same day we bade good-by to Cambridge, and took the two o’clock train for Oxford, where we arrived at half past five. At this first visit we were to be the guests of Professor Max Müller, at his fine residence in Norham Gardens. We met there, at dinner, Mr. Herkomer, whom we have recently had with us in Boston, and one or two others. In the evening we had music ; the professor playing on the piano, his two daughters, Mrs. Conybeare and her unmarried sister, singing, and a young lady playing the violin. It was a very lovely family picture ; a pretty house, surrounded by attractive scenery; scholarship, refinement, simple elegance, giving distinction to a home which to us seemed a pattern of all we could wish to see beneath an English roof. It all comes back to me very sweetly, but very tenderly and sadly, for the voice of the elder of the two sisters who sang to us is heard no more on earth, and a deep shadow has fallen over the household we found so bright and cheerful.
Everything was done to make me enjoy my visit to Oxford, but I was suffering from a severe cold, and was paying the penalty of too much occupation and excitement. I missed a great deal in consequence, and carry away a less distinct recollection of this magnificent seat of learning than of the sister university.
If one wishes to know the magic of names, let him visit the places made memorable by the lives of the illustrious men of the past in the Old World. As a boy I used to read the poetry of Pope, of Goldsmith, and of Johnson. How could I look at the Bodleian Library or wander beneath its roof without recalling the lines from “ The Vanity of Human Wishes ” ?
The young enthusiast quite his ease for fame;
Resistless burns the fever of renown,
Caught from the strong contagion of the gown :
O’er Bodley’s dome his future labors spread,
And Bacon’s mansion trembles o’er his head.”
The last line refers to Roger Bacon. “ There is a tradition that the study of Friar Bacon, built on an arch over the bridge, will fall when a man greater than Bacon shall pass under it. To prevent so shocking an accident, it was pulled down many years since.” We shall meet with a similar legend in another university city. Many persons have been shy of these localities, who were in no danger whatever of meeting the fate threatened by the prediction.
We passed through the Bodleian Library, only glancing at a few of its choicest treasures, among which the exquisitely illuminated missals were especially tempting objects of study. It was almost like a mockery to see them opened and closed, without having the time to study their wonderful miniature paintings. A walk through the grounds of Magdalen College, under the guidance of the president of that college, showed us some of the fine trees for which I was always looking. One of these, a wychelm (Scotch elm of some books), was so large that I insisted on having it measured. A string was procured and carefully carried round the trunk, above the spread of the roots and below that of the branches, so as to give the smallest circumference. I was curious to know how the size of the trunk of this tree would compare with that of the trunks of some of our largest New England elms. I have measured a good many of these. About sixteen feet is the measurement of a large elm, like that on Boston Common, which all middle-aged people remember. From twenty-two to twenty-three feet is the ordinary maximum of the very largest trees. I never found but one exceed it: that was the great Springfield elm, which looks as if it might have been formed by the coalescence from the earliest period of growth of two young trees. When I measured this in 1837, it was twenty-four feet eight inches in circumference at five feet from the ground ; growing larger above and below. I remembered this tree well, as we measured the string which was to tell the size of its English rival. As we came near the end of the string, I felt as I did when I was looking at the last dash of Ormonde and The Bard at Epsom. — Twenty feet, and a long piece of string left. — Twenty-one. — Twenty-two. — Twenty-three. — An extra heartbeat or two. — Twentyfour ! — Twenty-five and six inches over ! ! — The Springfield elm may have grown a foot or more since I measured it, fifty years ago, but the tree at Magdalen stands ahead of all my old measurements. Many of the fine old trees, this in particular, may have been known in their younger days to Addison, whose favorite walk is still pointed out to the visitor.
I would not try to compare the two university towns, as one might who had to choose between them. They have a noble rivalry, each honoring the other, and it would take a great deal of weighing one point of superiority against another to call either of them the first, except in its claim to antiquity.
After a garden-party in the afternoon, a pleasant evening at home, when the professor played and his daughter Beatrice sang, and a garden-party the next day, I found myself in somewhat better condition, and ready for the next move.
At noon on the 23d of June we left for Edinburgh, stopping over night at York, where we found close by the station an excellent hotel, and where the next morning we got one of the best breakfasts we had in our whole travelling experience. At York we wandered to and through a flower-show, and did the cathedral, as people do all the sights they see under the lead of a paid exhibitor, who goes through his lesson like a sleepy old professor. I missed seeing the slab with the inscription miserrimus. There may be other stones bearing this sad superlative, but there is a story connected with this one, which sounds as if it might be true.
In the year 1834, I spent several weeks in Edinburgh. I was fascinated by the singular beauties of that “ romantic town,” which Scott called his own, and which holds his memory, with that of Burns, as a most precious part of its inheritance. The castle with the precipitous rocky wall out of which it grows, the deep ravines with their bridges, pleasant Calton Hill and memorable Holyrood Palace, the new town and the old town with their strange contrasts, and Arthur’s Seat overlooking all, — these varied and enchanting objects account for the fondness with which all who have once seen Edinburgh will always regard it.
We were the guests of Professor Alexander Crum Brown, a near relative of the late beloved and admired Dr. John Brown. Professor and Mrs. Crum Brown did everything to make our visit a pleasant one. We met at their house many of the best known and most distinguished people of Scotland. The son of Dr. John Brown dined with us on the day of our arrival, and also a friend of the family, Mr. Barclay, to whom we made a visit on the Sunday following. Among the visits I paid, none was more gratifying to me than one which I made to Dr. John Brown’s sister. No man could leave a sweeter memory than the author of “ Rab and his Friends,” of “ Pet Marjorie,” and other writings, all full of the same loving, human spirit. I have often exchanged letters with him, and I thought how much it would have added to the enjoyment of my visit if I could have taken his warm hand and listened to his friendly voice. I brought home with me a precious little manuscript, written expressly for me by one who had known Dr. John Brown from the days of her girlhood, in which his character appears in the same lovable and loving light as that which shines in every page he himself has written.
On Friday, the 25th, I went to the hall of the university, where I was to receive the degree of LL. D. The ceremony was not unlike that at Cambridge, but had one peculiar feature: the separate special investment of the candidate with the hood, which Johnson defines as “ an ornamental fold which hangs down the back of a graduate.” There were great numbers of students present, and they showed the same exuberance of spirits as that which had forced me to withdraw from the urgent calls at Cambridge. The cries, if possible, were still louder and more persistent ; they must have a speech and they would have a speech, and what could I do about it ? I saw but one way of pacifying a crowd as noisy and longbreathed as that which for about the space of two hours cried out, “ Great is Diana of the Ephesians ! ” So I stepped to the front and made a brief speech, in which, of course, I spoke of the “per fervidum ingenium Scotorum.” A speech without that would have been like that “ Address without a Phœnix" before referred to. My few remarks were well received, and quieted the shouting Ephesians of the warm-brained and warm-hearted northern university.
In my previous visit to Edinburgh in 1834, I was fond of rambling along under Salisbury Crags and climbing the sides of Arthur’s Seat. I had neither time nor impulse for such walks during this visit, but in driving out to dine at Nidrie, the fine old place now lived in by Mr. Barclay and his daughters, we passed under the crags and by the side of the great hill. I had never heard, or if I had I had forgotten, the name and the story of “ Samson’s Ribs.” These are the columnar masses of rock which form the face of Salisbury Crags. There is a legend that one day one of these pillars will fall and crush the greatest man that ever passes under them. It is said that a certain professor was always very shy of “ Samson’s Ribs,” for fear the prophecy might be fulfilled in his person. We were very hospitably received at Mr. Barclay’s, and the presence of his accomplished and pleasing daughters made the visit most memorable to both of us. There was one picture on their walls, that of a lady, by Sir Joshua, which both of us found very captivating. This is what is often happening in the visits we make. Some painting by a master looks down upon us from its old canvas, and leaves a lasting copy of itself, to be stored in memory’s picture gallery. These surprises are not so like to happen in the New World as in the Old.
It seemed cruel to be forced to tear ourselves away from Edinburgh, where so much had been done to make us happy, where so much was left to see and enjoy, but we were due in Oxford, where I was to receive the last of the three degrees with which I was honored in Great Britain.
Our visit to Scotland gave us a mere glimpse of the land and its people, but I have a very vivid recollection of both as I saw them on my first visit, when I made an excursion into the Highlands and to Stirling, to Glasgow, where I went to church, and wondered over the uncouth ancient psalmody, which I believe is still retained in use to this day. I was seasoned to that kind of poetry in my early days by the verses of Tate and Brady, which I used to hear entuned in the nose ful swetely, accompanied by vigorous rasping of a huge bass-viol. No wonder that Scotland welcomed the song of Burns !
On our second visit to Oxford we were to be the guests of the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Jowett. This famous scholar and administrator lives in a very pleasant establishment, presided over by the Muses, but without the aid of a vice-chancelloress. The hospitality of this classic mansion is well known, and we added a second pleasant chapter to our previous experience under the roof of Professor Max Müller. There was a little company there before us, including the Lord Chancellor and Lady Herschel, Lady Camilla Wallop, Mr. Browning, and Mr. Lowell. We were too late, in consequence of the bad arrangement of the trains, and had to dine by ourselves, as the whole party had gone out to a dinner, to which we should have accompanied them had we not been delayed. We sat up long enough to see them on their return, and were glad to get to bed, after our day’s journey from Edinburgh to Oxford.
At eleven o’clock on the following day we met at Balliol College, whence we proceeded in solemn procession to the Sheldonian Theatre to receive our degrees. Among my companions on this occasion were Mr. John Bright, the Lord Chancellor Herschel, and Mr. Aldis Wright. I have an instantaneous photograph, which was sent me, of this procession. I can identify Mr. Bright and myself, but hardly any of the others, though many better acquainted with their faces would no doubt recognize them. There is a certain sensation in finding one’s self invested with the academic gown, conspicuous by its red facings, and the cap with its square top and depending tassel, which is not without its accompanying satisfaction. One can walk the streets of any of the university towns in his academic robes without being jeered at, as I am afraid he would be in some of our own thoroughfares. There is a noticeable complacency in the members of our Phi Beta Kappa society when they get the pink and blue ribbons in their button-holes, on the day of annual meeting. How much more when the scholar is wrapped in those flowing folds, with their flaming borders, and feels the dignity of the distinction of which they are the symbol ! I do not know how Mr. John Bright felt, but I cannot avoid the impression that some in the ranks which moved from Balliol to the Sheldonian felt as if Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the candidates for the degree of D. C. L.
After my experience at Cambridge and Edinburgh, I might have felt some apprehension about my reception at Oxford. I had always supposed the audience assembled there at the conferring of degrees was a more demonstrative one than that at any other of the universities, and I did not wish to be forced into a retreat by calls for a speech as I was at Cambridge, nor to repeat my somewhat irregular proceeding of addressing the audience as at Edinburgh. But when I found that Mr. John Bright was to be one of the recipients of the degree I felt safe, for if he made a speech I should be justified in saying a few words, if I thought it best; and if he, one of the most eloquent men in England, remained silent, I surely need not make myself heard on the occasion. It was a great triumph for him, a liberal leader, to receive the testimonial of a degree from the old conservative university. To myself it was a graceful and pleasing compliment; to him it was a grave and significant tribute. As we marched through the crowd on our way from Balliol, the people standing around recognized Mr. Bright, and cheered him vociferously.
The exercises in the Sheldonian Theatre were more complex and lasted longer than those at the other two universities. The candidate stepped forward and listened to one sentence, then made another move forward and listened to other words, and at last was welcomed to all the privileges conferred by the degree of Doctor of Common Law, which was announced as being bestowed upon him. Mr. Bright, of course, was received with immense enthusiasm. I had every reason to be gratified with my own reception. The only “ chaffing ” I heard was the question from one of the galleries, “ Did he come in the One Hoss Shay ? ” — at which there was a hearty laugh, joined in as heartily by myself. A part of the entertainment at this ceremony consisted in the listening to the reading of short extracts from the prize essays, some or all of them in the dead languages, which could not have been particularly intelligible to a large part of the audience. During these readings there were frequent interpellations, as the French call such interruptions, something like these : “ That will do, sir ! ” or “ You had better stop, sir ! ” — always. I noticed, with the sir at the end of the remark. With us it would have been “Dry up!” or “Hold on!” At last came forward the young poet of the occasion, who read an elaborate poem, “ Savonarola,” which was listened to in most respectful silence and loudly applauded at its close, as I thought, deservedly. Prince and Princess Christian were among the audience. They were staying with Professor and Mrs. Max Müller, whose hospitalities I hope they enjoyed as much as we did. A short extract from A—’s diary will enliven my record : “ The Princess had a huge bouquet, and going down the aisle had to bow both ways at once, it seemed to me : but then she has the Guelph spine and neck ! Of course it is necessary that royalty should have more elasticity in the frame than we poor ordinary mortals. After all this we started for a luncheon at All Souls, but had to wait (impatiently) for H. R. H. to rest herself, while our resting was done standing.”
It is a long while since I read Madame d’Arblay’s Recollections, but if I remember right, standing while royalty rests its bones is one of the drawbacks in a maid of honor’s felicity.
“ Finally, at near three, we went into a great luncheon of some fifty. There were different tables, and I sat at the one with royalty. The Provost of Oriel took me in, and Mr. Browning was on my other side. Finally, we went home to rest, but the others started out again to go to a garden party, but that was beyond us.” After all this came a dinnerparty of twenty at the Vice-Chancellor’s, and after that a reception, where among others we met Lord and Lady Coleridge, the lady resplendent in jewels. Even after London, this could hardly be called a day of rest.
The Chinese have a punishment which consists simply in keeping the subject of it awake, by the constant teasing of a succession of individuals employed for the purpose. The best of our social pleasures, if carried beyond the natural power of physical and mental endurance, begin to approach the character of such a penance. After this we got a little rest: did some mild sight-seeing, heard some good music, called on the Max Müllers, and bade them good-by with the warmest feeling to all the members of a household which it was a privilege to enter. There only remained the parting from our kind entertainer, the ViceChancellor, who added another to the list of places which in England and Scotland were made dear to us by hospitality, and are remembered as true homes to us while we were under their roofs.
On the second day of July we left the Vice-Chancellor’s, and went to the Randolph Hotel to meet our friends, Mr. and Mrs. W—, from Brighton, with whom we had an appointment of long standing. With them we left Oxford, to enter on the next stage of our pilgrimage.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
- Copyright, 1887, by OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. All rights reserved.↩