Our Hundred Days in Europe
MY reader was fairly forewarned that this narrative was to be more like a chapter of autobiography than the record of a tourist. In the language of philosophy, it is written from a subjective, not an objective, point of view. It is not exactly a “ Sentimental Journey,” though there are warm passages here and there which end with notes of admiration. I remind myself now and then of certain other travellers : of Benjamin of Tudela, going from the hospitalities of one son of Abraham to another ; of John Buncle, finding the loveliest of women under every roof that sheltered him ; sometimes, perhaps, of that tipsy adventurer whose record of his good and bad fortunes at the hands of landlords and landladies is enlivened by an occasional touch of humor, which makes it palatable to coarse literary feeders. But in truth these papers have many of the characteristics of private letters written home to friends. They are written for friends rather than for a public which cares nothing about the writer. I knew that there were many such whom it would please to know where the writer went, whom he saw and what he saw, and how he was impressed by persons and things.
If I were planning to make a tour of the United Kingdom, and could command the service of all the wise men I count or have counted among my friends, I would go with such a retinue summoned from the ranks of the living and the dead as no prince ever carried with him. I would ask Mr. Lowell to go with me among scholars, where I could be a listener ; Mr. Norton to visit the cathedrals with me; Professor Gray to be my botanical teacher; Professor Agassiz to be always ready to answer questions about the geological strata and their fossils ; Dr. Jeffries Wyman to point out the common objects which present themselves to a sharp-eyed observer ; and Mr. Boyd Dawkins to pilot me among the caves and cairns. Then I should want a better pair of eyes and a better pair of ears, and, while I was about it, perhaps a quicker apprehension and a more retentive memory; in short, a new outfit, bodily and mental. But Nature does not care to mend old shoes ; she prefers a new pair, and a young person to stand in them.
What a great book one could make, and how many would fling it down, and take up anything in preference, provided only that it were short enough; even this slight record, for want of something shorter !
Not only did I feel sure that many friends would like to read our itinerary, but another motive prompted me to tell the simple story of our travels. I could not receive such kindness, so great evidences of friendly regard, without a strong desire, amounting to a positive necessity, for the expression of my grateful sense of all that had been done for us. Individually, I felt it, of course, as a most pleasing experience. But I believed it to have a more important significance as an illustration of the cordial feeling existing between England and America. I know that many of my countrymen felt the attentions paid to me as if they themselves shared them with me. I have lived through many strata of feeling in America towards England. My parents, full-blooded Americans, were both born subjects of King George III. Both learned in their early years to look upon Britons as the enemies of their country. A good deal of the old hostility lingered through my boyhood, and this was largely intensified by the war of 1812. After nearly half a century this feeling had in great measure subsided, when the war of secession called forth expressions of sympathy with the slaveholding States which surprised, shocked, and deeply wounded the lovers of liberty and of England in the Northern States. A new generation is outgrowing that alienation. More and more the older and younger nations are getting to be proud and really fond of each other. There is no shorter road to a mother’s heart than to speak pleasantly to her child, and caress it, and call it pretty names. No matter whether the child is something remarkable or not; it is her child, and that is enough. It may be made too much of, but that is not its mother’s fault. If I could believe that every attention paid me was due simply to my being an American, I should feel honored and happy in being one of the humbler media through which the good-will of a great and generous country reached the heart of a far-off people not always in friendly relations with her.
I have named many of the friends who did everything to make our stay in England and Scotland agreeable. The unforeseen shortening of my visit must account for many disappointments to myself, and some, it may be, to others.
First in the list of lost opportunities was that of making my bow to the Queen. I had the honor of receiving a card with the invitation to meet her Majesty at a garden-party ; but we were travelling when it was sent, and it arrived too late.
I was very sorry not to meet Mr. Ruskin, to whom Mr. Norton had given me a note of introduction. At the time when we were hoping to see him it was thought that he was too ill to receive visitors, but he has since written me that he regretted we did not carry out our intention. I lamented my being too late to see once more two gentlemen from whom I should have been sure of a kind welcome, — Lord Houghton and Dean Stanley, both of whom I had met in Boston. Even if I had stayed out the whole time I had intended to remain abroad, I should undoubtedly have failed to see many persons and many places that I must always feel sorry for having missed. But as it is, I will not try to count all that I lost; let me rather be thankful that I met so many friends whom it was a pleasure to know personally, and saw so much that it is a pleasure to remember,
I find that many of the places I most wish to see are those associated with the memory of some individual, generally one of the generations more or less in advance of my own. One of the first places I should go to, in a leisurely tour, would be Selborne. Gilbert White was not a poet, neither was he a great systematic naturalist. But he used his eyes on the world about him ; he found occupation and happiness in his daily walks, and won as large a measure of immortality within the confines of his little village as he could have gained in exploring the sources of the Nile. I should make a solemn pilgrimage to the little town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, where the Reverend Mr. Mompesson, the hero of the plague of 1665, and his wife, its heroine and its victim, lie buried. I should like to follow the traces of Cowper at Olney and of Bunyan at Elstow. I found an intense interest in the Reverend Mr. Alger’s account of his visit to the Vale of Llangollen, where Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby passed their peaceful days in long, uninterrupted friendship. Of course the haunts of Burns, the home of Scott, the whole region made sacred by Wordsworth and the group to which he belongs, — these would be so many shrines to which I should make pilgrimages.
But there are twenty different Englands, every one of which it would be a delight to visit, and I should hardly know with which of them to begin.
The few remarks I have to make on what I saw and heard have nothing beyond the value of first impressions ; but as I have already said, if these are simply given, without pretending to be anything more, they are not worthless. At least they can do little harm, and may sometimes amuse a reader whom they fail to instruct. But we must all beware of hasty conclusions. If a foreigner of limited intelligence were whirled through England on the railways, he would naturally come to the conclusion that the chief product of that country is mustard, and that its most celebrated people are Mr. Keen and Mr. Colman, whose great advertising boards, with yellow letters on a black ground, and black letters on a yellow ground, stare the traveller in the face at every station.
Of the climate, as I knew it in May and the summer months, I will only say that if I had any illusions about May and June in England, my fireplace would have been ample evidence that I was entirely disenchanted. The Derby day, the 26th of May, was most chilly and uncomfortable ; at the garden-party at Kensington Palace, on the 4th of June, it was cold enough to make hot drinks and warm wraps a comfort, if not a necessity. I was thankful to have passed through these two ordeals without ill consequences. Drizzly, or damp, or cold, cloudy days were the rule rather than the exception, while we were in London. We had some few hot days, especially at Stratford, in the early part of July. In London an umbrella is as often carried as a cane ; in Paris “ un homme àa parapluie ” is, or used to be, supposed to carry that useful article because he does not keep and cannot hire a carriage of some sort. He may therefore be safely considered a person, and not a personage.
The soil of England does not seem to be worn out, to judge by the wonderful verdure and the luxuriance of vegetation. It contains a great museum of geological specimens, and a series of historical strata which are among the most instructive of human records. I do not pretend to much knowledge of geology. The most interesting geological objects in our New England that I can think of are the great boulders and the scratched and smoothed surface of the rocks ; the fossil footprints in the valley of the Connecticut; the trilobites found at Quincy. But the readers of Hugh Miller remember what a variety of fossils he found in the stratified rocks of his little island, and the museums are full of just such objects. When it comes to underground historical relics, the poverty of New England as compared with the wealth of Old England is very striking. Stratum after stratum carries the explorer through the relics of successive invaders. After passing through the characteristic layers of different races, he comes upon a Roman pavement, and below this the weapons and ornaments of a tribe of ancient Britons. One cannot strike a spade into the earth, in Great Britain, without a fair chance of some surprise in the form of a Saxon coin, or a Celtic implement, or a Roman fibula. Nobody expects any such pleasing surprise in a New England field. One must be content with an Indian arrowhead or two, now and then a pestle and mortar, or a stone pipe. A top dressing of antiquity is all he can look for. The soil is not humanized enough to be interesting ; whereas in England so much of it has been trodden by human feet, built on in the form of human habitations, nay, has been itself a part of preceding generations of human beings, that it is in a kind of dumb sympathy with those who tread its turf. Perhaps it is not literally true that
In poets, heroes, martyrs, sages ;
but so many of all these lie within it that the whole mother island is a campo santo to all who can claim the same blood as that which runs in the veins of her unweaned children.
The flora and fauna of a country, as seen from railroad trains and carriages, are not likely to be very accurately or exhaustively studied. I spoke of the trees I noticed between Chester and London somewhat slightingly. But I did not form any hasty opinions from what happened to catch my eye. Afterwards, in the oaks and elms of Windsor Park, in the elms of Cambridge and Oxford and Salisbury, in the lindens of Stratford, in the various noble trees, including the cedar of Lebanon, in which Tennyson very justly felt a pride as their owner, I saw enough to make me glad that I had not uttered any rash generalizations on the strength of my first glance. The most interesting comparison I made was between the New England and the Old England elms. It is not necessary to cross the ocean to do this, as we have both varieties growing side by side in our parks, — on Boston Common, for instance. It is wonderful to note how people will lie about big trees. There must be as many as a dozen trees, each of which calls itself the “ largest elm in New England.” In my younger days, when I never travelled without a measuring-tape in my pocket, it amused me to see how meek one of the great swaggering elms would look when it saw the fatal measure begin to unreel itself. It seemed to me that the leaves actually trembled as the inexorable band encircled the trunk in the smallest place it could find, which is the only safe rule. The English elm (Ulmus campestris) as we see it in Boston comes out a little earlier, perhaps, than our own, but the difference is slight. It holds its leaves long after our elms are bare. It grows upward, with abundant dark foliage, while ours spreads, sometimes a hundred and twenty feet, and often droops like a weeping willow. The English elm looks like a much more robust tree than ours, yet they tell me it is very fragile, and that its limbs are constantly breaking off in high winds, just as happens with our native elms. Ours is not a very longlived tree ; between two and three hundred years is, I think, the longest life that can be hoped for it. Since I have heard of the fragility of the English elm, which is the fatal fault of our own, I have questioned whether it can claim a greater longevity than ours. There is a hint of a typical difference in the American and the Englishman which I have long recognized in the two elms as compared to each other. It may be fanciful, but I have thought that the compactness and robustness about the English elm, which are replaced by the long, tapering limbs and willowy grace and far-spreading reach of our own, might find a certain parallelism in the people, especially the females of the two countries.
I saw no horse-chestnut trees equal to those I remember in Salem, and especially to one in Rockport, which is the largest and finest I have ever seen.
On the other hand, I think I never looked upon a Lombardy poplar equal to one I saw in Cambridge, England. This tree seems to flourish in England much more than with us.
I do not remember any remarkable beeches, though there are very famous ones, especially the Burnham beeches.
No apple-trees I saw in England compare with one next my own door, and there are many others as fine in the neighborhood.
I have spoken of the pleasure I had in seeing by the roadside primroses, cowslips, and daisies. Dandelions, buttercups, hawkweed, looked much as ours do at home. Wild roses also grew at the roadside, — smaller and paler, I thought, than ours.
I cannot make a chapter like the famous one on Iceland, from my own limited observation : There are no snakes in England. I can say that I found two small caterpillars on my overcoat, in coming from Lord Tennyson’s grounds. If they had stayed on his premises, they might perhaps have developed into “ purple emperors,” or spread “ the tiger moth’s deep damasked wings ” before the enraptured eyes of the noble poet. These two caterpillars and a few houseflies are all I saw, heard, or felt, by day or night, of the native fauna of England, except a few birds, — rooks, starlings, a blackbird, and the larks of Salisbury Plain just as they rose, for I lost sight of them almost immediately. I neither heard nor saw the nightingales, to my great regret. They had been singing at Oxford a short time before my visit to that place. The only song I heard was that which I have mentioned, the double note of the cuckoo.
England is the paradise of horses. They are bred, fed, trained, groomed, housed, cared for, in a way to remind one of the Houyhnhnms, and strikingly contrasting with the conditions of life among the wretched classes whose existence is hardly more tolerable than that of those quasi-human beings under whose name it pleased the fierce satirist to degrade humanity. The horses that are driven in the hansoms of London are the best I have seen in any public conveyance. I cannot say as much of those in the four-wheelers.
Broad streets, sometimes, as in Bond Street, with narrow sidewalks; islands for refuge in the middle of many of them; deep areas ; lofty houses ; high walls; plants in the windows ; frequent open spaces; policemen at near intervals, always polite in my experience, — such are my recollections of the quarter I most frequented.
Are the English taller, stouter, lustier, ruddier, healthier, than our New England people ? If I gave my impression, I should say that they are. Among the wealthier class, tall, athletic-looking men and stately, well-developed women are more common, I am compelled to think, than with us. I met in company at different times five gentlemen, each of whom would be conspicuous in any crowd for his stature and proportions. We could match their proportions, however, in the persons of well-known Bostonians. To see how it was with other classes, I walked in the Strand one Sunday, and noted carefully the men and women I met. I was surprised to see how many of both sexes were of low stature. I counted in the course of a few minutes’ walk no less than twenty of these little people. I set this expression against the other. Neither is convincing. The anthropologists will settle the question of man in the Old and in the New World before many decades have passed.
In walking the fashionable streets of London one can hardly fail to be struck with the well-dressed look of gentlemen of all ages. The special point in which the Londoner excels all other citizens I am conversant with is the hat. I have not forgotten Béranger’s
*** *** moi, j’aime les Anglais; ”
but in spite of it I believe in the English hat as the best thing of its ugly kind. As for the Englishman’s feeling with reference to it, a foreigner might be pardoned for thinking it was his fetich, a North American Indian for looking at it as taking the place of his own medicine-bag. It is a common thing for the Englishman to say his prayers into it, as he sits down in his pew. Can it be that this imparts a religious character to the article ? However this may be, the true Londoner’s hat is cared for as reverentially as a High-Church altar. Far off its coming shines. I was always impressed by the fact that even with us a well-bred gentleman in reduced circumstances never forgets to keep his beaver well brushed, and I remember that long ago I spoke of the hat as the ultimum, moriens of what we used to call gentility, — the last thing to perish in the decay of a gentleman’s outfit. His hat is as sacred to an Englishman as his beard to a Mussulman.
In looking at the churches and the monuments which I saw in London, and elsewhere in England, certain resemblances, comparisons, parallels, contrasts, and suggestions obtruded themselves upon my consciousness. We have one steeple in Boston which to my eyes seems absolutely perfect; that of the Central Church, at the corner of Newbury and Berkeley streets. Its resemblance to the spire of Salisbury had always struck me. On mentioning this to the late Mr. Richardson, the very distinguished architect, he said to me that he thought it more nearly like that of the Cathedral of Chartres. One of our best living architects agreed with me as to its similarity to that of Salisbury. It does not copy either exactly, but if it had twice its actual dimensions would compare well with the best of the two, if one is better than the other. SaintMartin’s -in -the -Fields made me feel as if I were in Boston. Our Arlington Street Church copies it pretty closely, but Mr. Gilman left out the columns. I could not admire the Nelson Column, nor that which lends monumental distinction to the Duke of York. After Trajan’s and that of the Place Vendôme, each of which is a permanent and precious historical record, accounting sufficiently for its existence, there is something very unsatisfactory in these nude cylinders. That to the Duke of York might well have the confession of the needy knife grinder as an inscription on its base. I confess in all honesty that I vastly prefer the monument commemorating the fire to either of them. That has a story to tell and tells it, — with a lie or two added, according to Pope, but it tells it in language and symbol.
As for the kind of monument such as I see from my library window standing on the summit of Bunker Hill, and have recently seen for the first time at Washington on a larger scale, I own that I think a built-up obelisk a poor affair as compared with an Egyptian monolith of the same form. It was a triumph of skill to quarry, to shape, to transport, to cover with expressive symbols, to erect, such a stone as that which has been transferred to the Thames Embankment, or that which now stands in Central Park. Each of its four sides is a page of history, written so as to endure through scores of centuries. A built-up obelisk requires very little more than brute labor. A child can shape its model from a carrot or a parsnip, and set it up in miniature with blocks of loaf sugar. It teaches nothing, and the stranger must go to his guide-book to know what it is there for. I was led into many reflections by a sight of the Washington monument. I found that it was almost the same thing at a mile’s distance as the Bunker Hill monument at half a mile’s distance ; and unless the eye had some means of measuring the space between itself and the stone shaft, one was about as good as the other. A mound like that of Marathon or that at Waterloo, a cairn, even a shaft of the most durable form and material, are fit memorials of the place where a great battle was fought. They seem less appropriate as monuments to individuals. I doubt the durability of these piecemeal obelisks, and when I think of that vast inverted pendulum vibrating in an earthquake, I am glad that I do not live in its shadow. The Washington monument is a hundred feet and more higher than Salisbury steeple, but it does not look to me so high as that, because the mind has nothing to climb by. But the forming taste of the country revels in superlatives, and if we could only have the deepest artesian well in the world sunk by the side of the tallest column in all creation, the admiring, not overcritical patriot would be happier than ever was the Athenian when he looked up at the newly erected Parthenon.
I made a few miscellaneous observations which may be worth recording. One of these was the fact of the repetition of the types of men and women with which I was familiar at home. Every now and then I met a new acquaintance whom I felt that I had seen before. Presently I identified him with his double on the other side. I had found long ago that even among Frenchmen I often fell in with persons whose counterparts I had known in America. I began to feel as if Nature turned out a batch of human beings for every locality of any importance, very much as a workman makes a set of chessmen. If I had lived a little longer in London, I am confident that I should have met myself, as I did actually meet so many others who were duplicates of those long known to me.
I met Mr. Galton for a few moments, but I had no long conversation with him. If he should ask me to say how many faces I can visually recall, I should have to own that there are very few such. The two pictures which I have already referred to, those of Erasmus and of Dr. Johnson, come up more distinctly before my mind’s eye than almost any faces of the living. My mental retina has, I fear, lost much of its sensitiveness. Long and repeated exposure of an object of any kind, in a strong light, is necessary to fix its image.
Among the gratifications that awaited me in England and Scotland was that of meeting many before unseen friends with whom I had been in correspondence. I have spoken of Mr. John Bellows. I should have been glad to meet Mr. William Smith, the Yorkshire antiquary, who has sent me many of his antiquarian and biographical writings and publications. I do not think I saw Mr. David Gilmour, of Paisley, whose “ Paisley Folk ” and other writings have given me great pleasure. But I did have the satisfaction of meeting Professor Gairdner, of Glasgow, to whose writings my attention was first called by my revered instructor, the late Dr. James Jackson, and with whom I had occasionally corresponded. I ought to have met Dr. Martineau. I should have visited the Reverend Stopford Brooke, who could have told me much that I should have liked to hear of dear friends of mine, of whom he saw a great deal in their hours of trial. The Reverend Mr. Voysey, whose fearless rationalism can hardly give him popularity among the conservative people I saw most of, paid me the compliment of calling, as he had often done of sending me his published papers. Now and then some less known correspondent would reveal himself or herself in bodily presence. Let most authors beware of showing themselves to those who have idealized them, and let readers not be too anxious to see in the flesh those whom they have idealized. When I was a boy I read Miss Edgeworth’s “L’Amie Inconnue.”I have learned to appreciate its meaning in later years by abundant experiences, and I have often felt unwilling to substitute my real for my imaginary presence. I will add here that I must have met a considerable number of persons, in the crowd at our reception and elsewhere, whose names I failed to hear, and whom I consequently did not recognize as the authors of books I had read, or of letters I had received. The story of my experience with the lark accounts for a good deal of what seemed like negligence or forgetfulness, and which must be, not pardoned, but sighed over.
I visited several of the well-known clubs, either by special invitation, or accompanied by a member. The Athenæum was especially attentive, but I was unable to avail myself of the privileges it laid freely open before me during my stay in London. Other clubs I looked in upon were : the Reform Club, where I had the pleasure of dining at a large party given by the very distinguished Dr. Morell Mackenzie ; the Rabelais, of which, as I before related, I have been long a member, and which was one of the first places where I dined by special invitation ; the Saville; the Savage ; the St. George’s. I saw next to nothing of the proper club-life of London, but it seemed to me that the Athenæum must be a very desirable place of resort to the educated Londoner, and no doubt each of the many institutions of this kind with which London abounds has its special attractions.
My obligations to my brethren of the medical profession are too numerous to be mentioned in detail. Almost the first visit I paid was one to my old friend and fellow-student in Paris, Dr. Walter Hayle Walshe. After more than half a century’s separation two young friends, now old friends, must not expect to find each other just the same as when they parted. Dr. Walshe thought he should have known me; my eyes are not so good as his, and I would not answer for them and for my memory. That he should have dedicated his recent original and ingenious work to me, before I had thought of visiting England, was a most gratifying circumstance. I have mentioned the hospitalities extended to me by various distinguished members of the medical profession, but I have not before referred to the readiness with which, on all occasions, when professional advice was needed, it was always given with more than willingness, rather as if it were a pleasure to give it. I could not have accepted such favors as I received had I not remembered that I, in my time, had given my services freely for the benefit of those of my own calling. If I refer to two names among many, it is for special reasons. Dr. Wilson Fox, the distinguished and widely known practitioner, who showed us great kindness, has since died, and this passing tribute is due to his memory. I have before spoken of the exceptional favor we owed to Dr. and Mrs. Priestley. It enabled us to leave London feeling that we had tried, at least, to show our grateful sense of all the attentions bestowed upon us; and if there were any whom we overlooked, among the guests we wished to honor, all such accidental omissions will be pardoned, I feel sure, by those who know how great and bewildering is the pressure of social life in London.
I was, no doubt, often more or less confused, in my perceptions, by the large number of persons whom I met in society. I found the dinner-parties, as Mr. Lowell told me I should, very much like the same entertainments among my home acquaintances. I have not the gift of silence, and I am not a bad listener, yet I brought away next to nothing from dinner-parties where I had said and heard enough to fill out a magazine article. After I was introduced to a lady, the conversation frequently began somewhat in this way : —
“It is a long time since you have been in this country, I believe ? ”
“ It is, a very long time : fifty years and more.”
“You find great changes in London, of course, I suppose ? ”
“Not so great as you might think. The Tower is where I left it. The Abbey is much as I remember it. Northumberland House with its lion is gone, but Charing Cross is in the same old place. My attention is drawn especially to the things which have not changed, — those which I remember.”
That stream was quickly dried up. Conversation soon found other springs. I never knew the talk to get heated or noisy. Religion and politics rarely came up, and never in any controversial way. The bitterest politician I met at table was a quadruped, — a lady’s dog, — who refused a desirable morsel offered him in the name of Mr. Gladstone, but snapped up another instantly on being told that it came from Queen Victoria. I recall many pleasant and some delightful talks at the dinner-table ; one in particular, with the most charming woman in England. I wonder if she remembers how very lovely and agreeable she was ? Possibly she may be able to identify herself.
People, — the right kind of people, — meet at a dinner-party as two ships meet and pass each other at sea. They exchange a few signals ; ask each other’s reckoning, where from, where bound ; perhaps one supplies the other with a little food or a few dainties ; then they part, to see each other no more. But one or both may remember the hour passed together all their days, just as I recollect our brief parley with the brig Economist, of Leith, from Sierra Leone, in mid ocean, in the spring of 1833.
I am very far from despising the science of gastronomy, but if I wished to institute a comparison between the tables of England and America, I could not do it without eating my way through the four seasons. I will say that I did not think the bread from the bakers’ shops was so good as our own. It was very generally tough and hard, and even the muffins were not always so tender and delicate as they ought to be. I got impatient one day, and sent out for some biscuits. They brought some very excellent ones, which we much preferred to the tough bread. They proved to be the so-called “ sea-foam ” biscuit from New York. The potatoes never came on the table looking like new-fallen snow, as we have them at home. We were surprised to find both mutton and beef overdone, according to our American taste. The French talk about the Briton’s " bifteck saignant,” but we never saw anything cooked so as to be, as we should say, “rare.”The tart is national with the English as the pie is national with us. I never saw on an English table that excellent substitute for both, called the Washington pie, in memory of him whom we honor as first in pies, as well as in war and in the hearts of his countrymen.
The truth is that I gave very little thought to the things set before me, in the excitement of constantly changing agreeable companionship. I understand perfectly the feeling of the good liver in Punch, who suggests to the lady next him that their host has one of the best cooks in London, and that it might therefore be well to defer all conversation until they adjourned to the drawing-room. I preferred the conversation, and adjourned, indefinitely, the careful appreciation of the menu. I think if I could devote a year to it, I might be able to make out a graduated scale of articles of food, taking a well-boiled fresh egg as the unit of gastronomic value, but I leave this scientific task to some future observer.
The most remarkable piece of European handiwork I remember was the steel chair at Longford Castle. The most startling and frightful work of man I ever saw or expect to see was another specimen of work in steel, said to have been taken from one of the infernal chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a complex mechanism, which grasped the body and the head of the heretic or other victim, and by means of many ingeniously arranged screws and levers was capable of pressing, stretching, piercing, rending, crushing, all the most sensitive portions of the human body, one at a time or many at once. The famous Virgin, whose embrace drove a hundred knives into the body of the poor wretch she took in her arms, was an angel of mercy compared to this masterpiece of devilish enginery.
Ingenuity is much better shown in contrivances for making our daily life more comfortable. I was on the lookout for everything that promised to be a convenience. I carried out two things which seemed to be new to the Londoners : the Star Razor, which I have praised so freely, and still find equal to all my commendations; and the mucilage pencil, which is a very handy implement to keep on the writer’s desk or table. I found a contrivance for protecting the hand in drawing corks, which all who are their own butlers will appreciate, and luminous match-boxes which really shine brightly in the dark, and that after a year’s usage ; whereas one professing to shine by night, which I bought in Boston, is only visible by borrowed light. I wanted a very fine-grained hone, and inquired for it at a hardware store, where they kept everything in their line of the best quality. I brought away a very pretty but very small stone, for which I paid a large price. The stone was from Arkansas, and I need not have bought in London what would have been easily obtained at a dozen or more stores in Boston. It was a renewal of my experience with the sea-foam biscuit. “ Know thyself ” and the things about thee, and “ Take the good the gods provide thee,” if thou wilt only keep thine eyes open, are two safe precepts.
Who is there of English descent among us that does not feel with Cowper,
Our recently naturalized fellow-citizens, of a different blood and different religion, must not suppose that we are going to forget our inborn love for the mother to whom we owe our being. Protestant England and Protestant America are coming nearer and nearer to each other every year. The interchange of the two peoples is more and more frequent, and there are many reasons why it is likely to continue increasing.
Hawthorne says in a letter to Longfellow, “ Why don’t you come over, being now a man of leisure and with nothing to keep you in America ? If I were in your position, I think I should make my home on this side of the water, — though always with an indefinite and never-to-be-executed intention to go back and die in my native land. America is a good land for young people, but not for those who are past their prime. . . . A man of individuality and refinement can certainly live far more comfortably here—provided he has the means to live at all — than in New England. Be it owned, however, that I sometimes feel a tug at my very heart-strings when I think of my old home and friends.” This was written from Liverpool in 1854.
We must not forget that our fathers were exiles from their dearly loved native land, driven by causes which no longer exist. “ Freedom to worship God ” is found in England as fully as in America, in our day. In placing the Atlantic between themselves and the Old World civilizations they made an enormous sacrifice. It is true that the wonderful advance of our people in all the arts and accomplishments which make life agreeable has transformed the wilderness into a home where men and women can live comfortably, elegantly, happily, if they are of contented disposition ; and without that they can be happy nowhere. What better provision can be made for a mortal man than such as our own Boston can afford its wealthy children ? A palace on Commonwealth Avenue or on Beacon Street; a countryplace at Framingham or Lenox ; a seaside residence at Nahant, Beverly Farms, Newport, or Bar Harbor ; a pew at Trinity or King’s Chapel ; a tomb at Mount Auburn or Forest Hills ; with the prospect of a memorial stained window after his lamented demise, — is not this a pretty programme to offer a candidate for human existence ?
Give him all these advantages, and he will still be longing to cross the water, to get back to that old home of his fathers, so delightful in itself, so infinitely desirable on account of its nearness to Paris, to Geneva, to Rome, to all that is most interesting in Europe. The less wealthy, less cultivated, less fastidious class of Americans are not so much haunted by these longings. But the convenience of living in the Old World is so great, and it is such a trial and such a risk to keep crossing the ocean, that it seems altogether likely that a considerable current of re-migration will gradually develop itself among our people.
Some find the climate of the other side of the Atlantic suits them better than their own. As the New England characteristics are gradually superseded by those of other races, other forms of belief, and other associations, the time may come when a New Englander will feel more as if he were among his own people in London than in one of our seaboard cities. The vast majority of our people love their country too well and are too proud of it to be willing to expatriate themselves. But going back to our old home, to find ourselves among the relatives from whom we have separated for a few generations, is not like transferring ourselves to a land where another language is spoken, and where there are no ties of blood and no common religious or political traditions. I, for one, being myself as inveterately rooted an American of the Bostonian variety as ever saw himself mirrored in the Frog Pond, hope that the exchanges of emigrants and re-migrants will be much more evenly balanced by and by than at present. I hope that more Englishmen like James Smithson will help to build up our scientific and literary institutions. I hope that more Americans like George Peabody will call down the blessings of the English people by noble benefactions to the cause of charity. It was with deep feelings of pride and gratitude that I looked upon the bust of Longfellow, holding its place among the monuments of England’s greatest and best children. I see with equal pleasure and pride that one of our own largehearted countrymen has honored the memory of two English poets, Milton and Cowper, by the gift of two beautiful stained windows, and with still ampler munificence is erecting a stately fountain in the birthplace of Shakespeare. Such acts as these make us feel more and more the truth of the generous sentiment which closes the ode of Washington Allston, America to England : “We are one ! ”
I have told our story with the help of my daughter’s diary, and often aided by her recollections. Having enjoyed so much, I am desirous that my countrymen and countrywomen should share my good fortune with me. I hesitated at first about printing names in full, but when I remembered that we received nothing but the most generous hospitality and the most considerate kindness from all we met, I felt sure that I could not offend by mentioning who the friends were that made England a second home to us. If any one of them is disturbed by such reference as I have made to him or to her, I most sincerely apologize for the liberty I have taken.
If I were asked what I think of people’s travelling after the commonly accepted natural term of life is completed, I should say that everything depends on constitution and habit. The old soldier says, in speaking of crossing the Beresina, where the men had to work in the freezing stream, constructing the bridges, “ Faut du tempérament pour cela ! ” I often thought of this expression, in the damp, chilly weather which not rarely makes English people wish they were in Italy. I escaped unharmed from the windy gusts at Epsom and the nipping chill of the Kensington garden-party; but if a score of my contemporaries had been there with me, there would not improbably have been a couple of funerals or more within a week. If, however, the super-septuagenarian is used to exposures, if he is an old sportsman or an old officer not retired from active service, he may expect to elude the pneumonia which follows his footsteps whenever he wanders far from his fireside. But to a person of well-advanced years, coming from a counting-room, a library, or a studio, the risk is considerable, unless he is of hardy natural constitution ; any other will do well to remember, “ Faut du tempérament pour cela ! ”
Suppose there to be a reasonable chance that he will come home alive, what is the use of one’s going to Europe after his senses have lost their acuteness, and his mind no longer retains its full measure of sensibilities and vigor ? I should say that the visit to Europe under those circumstances was much the same thing as the petit verre, — the little glass of Chartreuse, or Maraschino, or Curaçoa, or, if you will, of plain Cognac, at the end of a long banquet. One has gone through many courses, which repose in the safe recesses of his economy. He has swallowed his coffee, and still there is a little corner left with its craving unappeased. Then comes the drop of liqueur, chasse-café, which is the last thing the stomach has a right to expect. It warms, it comforts, it exhales its benediction on all that has gone before. So the trip to Europe may not do much in the way of instructing the wearied and overloaded intelligence, but it gives it a fillip which makes it feel young again for a little while.
Let not the too mature traveller think it will change any of his habits. It will interrupt his routine for a while, and then he will settle down into his former self, and be just what he was before. I brought home a pair of shoes I had made in London ; they do not fit like those I had before I left, and I rarely wear them. It is just so with the new habits I formed and the old ones I left behind me.
But am I not glad, for my own sake, that I went ? Certainly I have every reason to be, and I feel that the visit is likely to be a great source of happiness for my remaining days. But there is a higher source of satisfaction. If the kindness shown me strengthens the slenderest link that binds us in affection to that ancestral country which is, and I trust will always be to her descendants, “dear Mother England,”that alone justifies my record of it, and to think it is so is more than reward enough. If this account of our summer experiences is a source of pleasure to many friends, and of pain to no one, as I trust will prove to be the fact, I hope I need never regret giving to the public the pages which are meant more especially for readers who have a personal interest in the writer.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
- Copyright, 1887, by OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. All rights reserved.↩