A Talk Over Autographs: Fifth Paper

By the kindness of a correspondent, who has read the first of my Talks, I am able to give Dr. Johnson’s famous letter to Macpherson in the very words in which it was written. It differs somewhat from the copy which the brave old man dictated from memory to Boswell. That Macpherson should have preserved the original seems strange, but he was a man little troubled by shame. It was, to be sure, mainly by this letter that he was to gain such immortality as afterward fell to his lot ; but this his vanity would not have led him to suspect. Johnson wrote as follows : —

MR. JAMES MACPHERSON, — I received your foolish and impudent note. Whatever insult is offered me I will do my best to repel, and what I cannot do for myself the law will do for me. I will not desist from detecting what I think a cheat from any fear of the menaces of a Ruffian.

You want me to retract. What shall I retract ? I thought your book an imposture from the begining, I think it upon yet surer reasons an imposture still. For this opinion I give the publick my reasons which I here dare you to refute.

But however I may despise you, I reverence truth, and if you can prove the genuineness of the work I will confess it. Your rage I defy, your abilities since your Homer are not so formidable and what I have heard of your morals disposes me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but what you can prove.

You may print this if you will.


Jan. 20, 1775.


Gray, Hume, even for a short time Horace Walpole, had all believed in Macpherson and his Ossian. Burke, I have little doubt, was the reviewer, in the Annual Register, who so finely, but so ignorantly, wrote of him, “ The editor has recovered from the obscurity of barbarism, the rust of fifteen hundred years, and the last breath of a dying language, these inestimable relics of the genuine spirit of poetry.” Gibbon, more than a full year after Johnson’s exposure of the imposture, in his Decline and Fall, paid Macpherson one of his stately compliments.

Powerful as was Johnson’s frame, age and sickness had told on him. He was older than the “ ruffian ” whom he thus defied by almost thirty years. Macpherson was a strong man, too, “ of a large size, with very thick legs, to hide which he generally wore boots, though not then the fashion.” His temper was not good. “ I have scarce ever known,” wrote Hume, “ a man more perverse and unamiable.” Against his threatened assault Johnson armed himself with an oaken cudgel, more than six feet long, but he never had to use it. The two men lie close together in Westminster Abbey. It was not on any public demand, but merely in compliance with a direction in his own will, that Macpherson found his grave there. So long as the fees for interment were paid, there was, it seems, no one to whom the dean and chapter, in those days, would have refused admittance. In Colonel Chester’s Westminster Abbey Registers, in the long list of interments, next to Johnson’s, separated from it by only two days, comes that of “ Mrs. Elizabeth Broughton, wife of John Broughton, the celebrated pugilist.” She, it is true, was not buried in Poets’ Corner, but in the west cloisters. Her famous husband received in due course the same honor. Thirty years before this prize-fighter’s death, when Robertson’s History of Scotland and the second part of Hume’s History of England were on the point of appearing, Hume wrote to his brother historian: “ Next week I am published, and then I expect a constant comparison will be made between Dr. Robertson and Mr. Hume. I shall tell you in a few weeks which of these Heroes is likely to prevail. Meanwhile I can inform both of them, for their comforts, that their combat is not likely to make half as much noise as that between Broughton and the oneeyed coachman.” On prize-fighting the great lexicographer and moralist looked with favor. One of his uncles had kept the ring in Smithfield for a whole year. He was himself “ very conversant in the art of boxing, and would descant upon it much to the admiration of those who had no expectation of his skill in such matters.” Under less happy circumstances, he might himself have practiced the noble art. John Bright, so the story runs, coming out of the House of Commons after a hot debate on the gamelaws, met in the lobby a great sportsman, Grantley Berkeley by name, who that night had been the champion of the country squires. “ Mr. Berkeley,” said Bright, “ if you had not been born a gentleman, you would have been a poacher.” “ Mr. Bright,” replied Berkeley, “ if you had not been born a Quaker, you would have been a prize-fighter.” So, in like manner, if Dr. Johnson had not been born, or at least bred, a scholar, there was that within him that might possibly have “ exuberated ” into a second Broughton.

The original of his famous letter to Macpherson once formed part of Mr. Lewis Pocock’s great Johnsonian collection, which was scattered to the four quarters of heaven twenty years ago. I have heard an old dealer in autographs say that, a few days before the sale, it might have been bought as a whole for five or six hundred pounds, though, as it turned out, it fetched nearly thrice as much at the auction. Unbroken, it would have conferred distinction even on the noblest library; but dispersed, it diffuses more pride and pleasure. I never look at the sale catalogue without sighing over an editor’s wasted opportunity. With what annotations might all these treasures have been set forth ! How the circumstances in which each letter was written might have been explained, the allusions traced, and every difficulty cleared up ! Many unpublished letters of Johnson have passed singly through my hands ; for I have let the dealers know that, if they would allow me to see them, I would in each case, as a return, furnish elucidations. But what are letters which come dribbling in one by one compared with this noble collection ? In these days, when autographs obtain such high, such extravagant prices, the preparation of the auctioneer’s catalogue should surely be entrusted to a scholar, and not be left to the ignorant industry of a clerk. The poor man, no doubt, makes the best use he can of his Biographical Dictionary and his Lowndes’s Bibliographical Manual, but far too often he confounds the persons and confuses the substance. In a catalogue that lies open before me I see entered a letter of Sir Arthur Wellesley’s. His name, I suppose, could not be found in the auctioneer’s Biographical Dictionary ; at all events, it is clear that the good man did not discover that he was selling an autograph of the Duke of Wellington. I remember my father telling me that at the beginning of the Peninsular War he heard a great deal of Sir Arthur Wellesley, but that after a little while that commander’s name was no longer mentioned, while everybody began to speak of Lord Wellington. Troubled at this sudden disappearance of his hero, he asked a schoolfellow what had become of the famous general. The lad, who was equally ignorant, replied that he believed he had gone to America, and that Lord Wellington had taken his place.

It sometimes happens that the ignorance of the auctioneer tells against the buyer. A letter described, in the catalogue just referred to, as written by James Boswell to his daughter Euphemia was sold, a few years ago, for five guineas. The date, January, 1808, by which time poor Bozzy had been nearly thirteen years in his grave, shows that it was written by James Boswell, junior, to his sister. It is interesting to observe that so late as 1884, in the eyes of one of the leading literary auctioneers of London, Tupper, with his likeness thrown in, held a higher place than Browning. The two poets are thus brought together in one lot: “ Tapper (Martin). Autograph letter signed, portrait : and others of Lord Houghton, Bernard Barton, Ii. Browning, &c.” In the same catalogue, Blackstone is described, no doubt correctly so far as it goes, as “ Blackstone (Sir William), distinguished Lawyer,” while “ our good Prince Eugene ” of Southey’s poem appears in two consecutive lots as “ Engène de Savoy, distinguished General,” and as “Eugène (Prince de Savoie), distinguished Military Commander.”

In my first Talk I mentioned the forged Byron letters which are in extensive circulation. My friend Mr. R. B. Adam, of Buffalo, informs me that, some years ago, one of these was sold to him. In this case the forger had not been so careful as usual ; probably he had exhausted his stock of old paper. At all events, it was by the water-mark that the imposture was, before long, detected. The letter was returned to the dealer from whom it came, who, if he had been an honest man, would have nailed it to his counter, like a false piece of money. It was a second time put into circulation, and later on came once more to Mr. Adam through a different channel. The date, to be sure, was no longer at variance with the water-mark, but it was at a considerable sacrifice that this congruity had been obtained. As it now stood, the letter had been written a year or two after the writer’s death. “ An odd thought strikes me,” said the dying Johnson : “ we shall receive no letters in the grave.” Most certainly, if none are received, none are written there. It is not down below that the Dead Letter Office is to be found. In these days of psychical research, it may, for all I know, be maintained that it would be rash to conclude hastily, without serious and careful investigation, that a letter is a forgery, merely from the trifling circumstance that at the time it was written its alleged author had been for some while dead. Collectors of autographs, however, as a general rule, prefer that in every case the date should fall within the period of the writer’s life.

In my second Talk, in quoting one of Matthew Arnold’s letters, I said that “ my readers must not infer from the address of this letter that Matthew Arnold, who was never weary of scoffing at the Dissidence of Dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant Religion, lived in the Wesleyan Training College.” This passage, which was quoted in the London Daily News, elicited the following pleasant anecdote : “ For more than twenty years Matthew Arnold spent a week, each December, in the examination of the students. It was his custom to occupy the same examination room ; he would on no account change the old lecture hall for the newer and more commodious structure. His first request, after starting the examination, was invariably the loan of a Bible and a candle. During the dark days of December he would write continuously, only now and then leaving his stool (he would not use the comfortable armchair occupied by other inspectors) to walk round the room, surveying the ceiling rather than the students. On one occasion, whilst busily engaged in writing, and whilst half turned from view of his charge, a visit was made to him by the chief of the Education Department. Playfully remarking that he was placing great trust in the students, Arnold replied, ‘ These students are Wesleyans ; they never copy.’ This reply of the inspector is a choice treasure of both students and tutors at Westminster. How tenaciously he clung to old associations is shown by the fact that, after he had retired from the inspectorate, he came as usual to the college the same week in December, just to renew, as he said, tlie old feeling, and see the old faces.”

The following letter was written by Leigh Hunt to my uncle, the barrister, whom I have mentioned in a previous Talk : —

KENSINGTON, 12 min. to 5, Sunday [ April 9, 1848].

MY DEAR HILL, — With great vexation I sit down nearly at the time at which I ought to have been with you, to say that I am unable to come after all.

I have done all I could to do otherwise; but perhaps the very steps I have taken went counter to it. Perhaps, in the present state of my health, the mere irregularity of my having been forced to go to town yesterday on business, and walking somewhat after dinner, have disordered me, but so it is. It is no ordinary case of inability, believe me; much less of delay, etc. I finished dressing on purpose upwards of two hours ago. I ought not, you see, to have promised to come, for fear of subjecting myself to this chance of disconcerting you : but I did all I could to do as well as hope the best, and I could not resist such a combination of gentle invitations, — ladies and all conspiring. Therefore you must do your best for me in turn, and think the very sincerest (for they deserve it) of the intentions and regrets of

Yours most faithfully,


P. S. I have had a carriage waiting for me at the door this hour, and could have found it in my heart to send this letter by it; — but —

I shall think of you all half the evening, and hope you are not devoting me to the infernal Gods.

Perhaps at this very dinner-party the knives were used with which my uncle, who was a man of great humor, had had his table furnished by a stratagem. For some while, so the story runs, he had tried to convince his wife that their old set was well-nigh worn out. She, however, a “careful soul,” like Mrs. Gilpin, thought they might serve a little longer. He gave up the contention, and planned a large picnic party on the Thames. After lunch, when the baskets were being repacked, not a single knife could be found. He had dropped them over the side of the boat into the river. It was for this end, and this end alone, that the picnic had been planned.

Leigh Hunt was not a guest who could be easily spared at a dinner-party. He was for some years Carlyle’s near neighbor in Chelsea. “ He was here [in my house],” Carlyle writes, “ almost nightly, three or four times a week, I should reckon ; he came always neatly dressed, was thoroughly courteous, friendly of spirit, and talked like a singing-bird. Good insight, plenty of a kind of humor too; I remember little warbles in the tones of his fine manly voice which were full of fun and charm. . . . He had a fine, chivalrous, gentlemanly carriage, polite, affectionate, respectful (especially to her [Mrs. Carlyle]), and yet so free and natural.” Nevertheless, with that miserable habit of depreciation which led Carlyle to pass the harshest judgments on the weaknesses of the men he met, however lenient he was towards the vices of those long dead, he wrote : “It is next to an impossibility that a London-born man should not be a stunted one. Most of them, as Hunt, are dwarfed and dislocated into the merest imbecilities.”

Charles Sumner saw Hunt in his home, “ a humble house in Chelsea, with uncarpeted entry and stairs. He lives more simply, I think, than any person I have visited in England ; but he possesses a palace of a mind. He is truly brilliant in conversation.” George Ticknor also visited him on an evening when the Saturday Night Club met at his house. The young American scholar describes how “Lamb’s gentle humor. Hunt’s passion, and Curran’s volubility, Hazlitt’s sharpness and point, and Godwin’s great head full of cold brains, all coming into contact and conflict, and agreeing in nothing but their common hatred of everything that has been more successful than their own works, made one of the most curious and amusing olla-podrida I ever met with.”

Leigh Hunt, if he was the Harold Skimpole of Dickens’s story, nevertheless, in his neediness, had the simplicity of a child. From the borrower’s artifices he seems to have been entirely free. How pleasantly does this guilelessness appear in the following extract from a letter written by Macaulay soon after the publication of the Lays of Ancient Rome: “ As to poor Leigh Hunt, I wish that I could say, with you, that I heard nothing from him. I have a letter from him on my table asking me to lend him money, and lamenting that my verses want the true poetical aroma which breathes from Spenser’s Faery Queen. I am much pleased with him for having the spirit to tell me, in a begging letter, how little he likes my poetry. If he had praised me, knowing his poetical creed as I do, I should have felt certain that his praises were insincere.”

It was on April 9, 1848, that the dinner took place at which Leigh Hunt should have been one of the guests. Not many parties, I think, were given in London on that night. Half the town went to bed full of alarm for the morrow. On the Continent, that spring, “ thrones had been bowled down like ninepins.” On April 10, the Chartists in a great host were to march to Westminster, bearing a huge petition to the House of Commons. No one knew what would happen. There was a dread among the more timid that London might rise, as Paris and Berlin had risen, and overturn government and constitution. The public buildings were fortified. How great was the alarm is shown by the following entries in Sir Rowland Hill’s journal: —

April 6. Went to the Mansion House to be sworn in a special constable with all the other officials. Serious apprehensions are entertained of an attack from the Chartists on Monday next. Arms are being provided for the Post Office.

“April 8. Iron bars are being put to the lower windows. The buildings which command the entrances to the Cost Office will be occupied with our people.

“April 10. The lower windows and doors of the office are defended by bars of iron and planks. Upwards of thirteen hundred of our people, a large portion of whom are well-armed, are divided into small parties, each with its officer.”

Special constables were sworn in by tens of thousands. That day, as I well remember, we had a holiday at school; for most of the masters had been enrolled, and had gone off each armed with a stout staff. Among the properties of our school-theatre there were a few blunt cutlasses, such as the two young Crummleses used in the terrific fight in the innparlor witnessed by Nicholas Nickleby. These were sharpened on the grindstone. Part of the morning I spent in a workshop talking to an old carpenter and a blacksmith. We should not have been surprised had we heard the sound of firing from London, some few miles away. Our great trust was in “ the old Duke,”who, to the last day of his long life, was thought to be a match, and more than a match, for all the mobs, kings, and emperors in the world. How absurd the alarm seemed on the morrow, when we learnt that, so far from a throne coming tumbling down, nothing more serious had happened than a scuffle on one of the bridges, in which a policeman had been wounded ! He belonged to the village in which I lived. We all felt proud that it was our policeman, and not, this time, the old Duke, who was the hero of the day.

From the London 10th of April, with its one champion of order wounded, and its tens of thousands of staves in the hands of citizens by which scarcely a single head was broken, it is a wide step to Paris and the rising of the Commune.

In a previous Talk I have spoken of one of the Communards. I have now before me two letters written by another of that wild crew. I have rarely met a man who interested me more. When I came to know his full story, I used to look on him with an aversion which sometimes amounted to a feeling of horror, that was tempered at the same time by a certain respect. He threw a light on the Reign of Terror. At last I was willing to believe that even in a Robespierre and a St. Just some virtue might have existed. This young Frenchman had lately passed through the École Normale Supérieure with high distinction, and was fairly on the road to advancement in the career of a university professor, when he joined in the mad uprising of the Commune. What part he played in it I do not know ; certainly it was not equal to his ambition, for he did not succeed in becoming notorious. He escaped the pitiless massacre by the troops, a massacre in which the innocent and the guilty were alike shot down, and by the help of a friend found shelter, far from Paris, as tutor in the family of a colonel in the French army. Had the part he had so lately played been discovered by his employer, be would at once have been sent before a courtmartial. He lived with this officer for several months, bearing in silence the exultation of the whole family over the punishment and the miseries of his friends,renewed each day when the newspaper came in. When the storm had blown over he made his way to England, where be supported himself by teaching. A more conscientious teacher could not easily have been found. He did his duty with the utmost strictness. He had brought over with him his aged mother, a widow, and towards her he was always the tenderest and most devoted of sons. In startling contrast with this tenderness there would sometimes blaze up in him the wildest ferocity. One day he was talking to me of the success of his principles and his party, which could not, he felt sure, be long delayed. “ What do you mean to do,” I asked, “ when you have the upper hand ? ” With the fiercest glare in his eyes, clenching his right hand, he replied, “ Il faut égorger toute la bourgeoisie ! ” & Comment! toute ! ” I cried out with horror.

“ Oui, toute, toute, toute ! ” he answered, stamping on the ground. It was then I felt that at last I knew how such men as Robespierre and St. Just had looked. From England he went to America, where he spent some years. It was shortly after his return to Europe that I received from him the following letters. In 1881, as a newspaper correspondent, he accompanied the French expedition to Tunis. He had scarcely set foot on the coast of Africa when a wild Mahometan fanatic rushed upon him and struck him to the ground with a dagger, in the belief that he was killing a Christian. To be killed as a Christian would have been the greatest of all humiliations in the eyes of this poor Communard. Whether he learnt of the fatal blunder I do not know. I was told that he supported the sufferings of the few hours of life which were left to him with the greatest fortitude.

8 Juillet, 1879 [LONDRES].

MONSIEUR, — J’espérais vous voir, en retournant a Paris. Je savais que vous aviez quitté—, mais j’ignorais votre adresse. C’est pourquoi je ne vous ai point écrit pour vous faire part du mallieur qui m’a frappe l’année dernière : ma mère est morte le 16 Août, 1878. Elle dort maintenant sur la terre d’exil et je suis seul, tout seul an monde. Après tout cela vaut peut-être mieux, car toute affection est la source de plus de douleurs que de joies. Rien n’est plus dur que de voir souffrir ceux qu’on aime. Nil amare est encore meilleur que nil admirari.

Je partirai la semaine prochaine pour la France. La République y est solidement établie, toutes les places sont àa prendre, tout est à la portae des hommes de cœur et d’intelligence. Pour peu que la chance me favorise, vous entendrez parler de moi dans quelques annees. En Amérique j’ai appris une bonne chose, c’est: go ahead.

Believe me, sir, yours truly,

— —.1


4 — 7bre, 1879.

DEAR SIR, — Me voilà installé. Dès mon arrivée j’ai appris que j’étais amnistié. Je l’ignorais, et j’étais parti à tout hasard, j’en avais assez de l’exil.

J’en ai assez aussi de l’instruetion, et je veux vivre de ma plume. Déjà quelques articles out tite aeceptes et vont paraitre ineessamment. Je me suis arrange avec l’editeur d’un journal, qui m’a demandé de lui traduire quelques petites nouvelles de l’Anglais. . . . Mais ce que j’aimerais surtout à traduire co serait un grand et bel ouvrage scientifique ou historique. . . .

Et vous, quand viendrez-vous à Paris ? J’ai trouvé la grande ville bien belle.

C’est la que la vie est, je ne dis pas bonne — elle ne l’est nulle part — mais supportable. Elle passe si vîte qu’on a presque pas le temps de souffrir.

Mais vous êtes, vous, un optimiste qui, j’en suis sûr, ne goûtez pas les charmes de l’anéantissement final. Et puis vous avez à faire sur la terre, tant d’affections vous y rattachent. J’ai vu Miss L— et N—, j’ai retrouvé une jeune fille et un jeune homme où j’avais laissé des enfants. C’est à cela qu’on voit que l’on a vieilli. Miss M—doit être une femme et E—déjà un gaillard. Tout ce petit monde en grandissaut semble nous pousser vers la toinbe. La place est restreinte l’airdé de la vie.

Croyez moi Yours truly

— — 2

My gloomy correspondent made one or two additions to my collection of autographs. The following letter was written to him in English by one of his comrades, who had, he told me, held the post of “intendant ” during the Commune. It shows how these exiles had their purses in common.

Monday morning.

Dear-: When you come at London next Wednesday bring me please 2 or 3 pounds, because I have no more money. Your In Friendship

Another letter which he gave me is a strange piece of patchwork, for no two words in it — and there are more than twenty — are in the same language. It was written by Napoléon La Cecilia, a man who spoke eight languages fluently, and read twenty-five easily. Through how many more he could have groped liis way with the help of a dictionary and grammar I do not know. It was not only languages that he knew ; for some years he had taught mathematics at Jena. Frenchman though he was by birth and education, nevertheless he joined the army with which Garibaldi invaded Sicily, and rapidly rose to the rank of colonel. For his skill and gallantry he was publicly thanked by Victor Emmanuel. He would not, however, serve under a king, and resigned his commission. He was in Paris when the war with Germany broke out, and he at once offered his services to the imperial government. So sturdy a republican was as much distrusted as a German by Napoleon’s ministers, and his offer was declined. He enlisted in the Franc-tireurs, and once more was made a colonel. When the republic was established, he was transferred, with the same rank, to the regular army, in which he distinguished himself by his defense of Châteaudun - on - the - Loire. Unhappily, he was swept away by the mad frenzy of the Commune. By the insurgents he was promoted to the rank of general. How he escaped to England I do not know. To disguise himself would have been almost impossible, so peculiar were his large goggle eyes. For five years he taught French in the Royal Naval School at New Cross. His health, which had suffered greatly from exposure in the Franco-German War, began to fail, and he left England for the milder climate of Egypt. “ Here,” as I learn from one who knew him well, “he never spoke of the Commune, never uttered a single Communistic opinion. Though his convictions remained the same, he effaced the past in his talk, and seemed to find content in earning a meagre livelihood by teaching French and Italian in a few English families. His erudition and keen intellect were, however, much valued by a small circle of friends ; and it is pleasant to think that almost his last words were, ‘ France is at last in the right way. I go content.’ ” The following brief note, written by him to a brother exile, gives some insight into the straightforward character of the man:

22 juillet, 72.

MON CHER—: Dispensez-vous, je vous en prie, de m’amener le jeune F—, et avant de recommander les gens connaissez-les mieux.

Je vous serre la main.

Votre dévoué N. LA CECILIA.3

I have some interesting letters written at the time of the Franco-German War. The first five are from two young Frenchmen, whose father, a brave and honest patriot, had fled to England in 1851. When the war broke out, my correspondents were living near Paris.

July 13, 1870.

DEAR MR. HILL, — I think that we are on the eve of a terrible war with Prussia. The papers of this evening affirm that if Bismarck does not give satisfactory explanations to the French Cabinet before to-morrow evening, hostilities will begin immediately. What a horrible thing, to be sure! To see two nations murder each other to satisfy the personal ambition of those monsters who call themselves Kings and Emperors. I assure you that the majority of the French are far from desiring to fight the Prussians, and if an appeal were made to the nation the peace of Europe would not be troubled. No, this war has been plotted since a long time by Napoleon and his ministers ; they made the Plébiscite to give new life to the faltering dynasty of the Bonapartes, so as to engage in this war with more safety. An excellent proof of this is that the navy had been fitted out before the news of the Hohenzollern affair were supposed to have reached the ears of the imperial cabinet. The offer of the crown of Spain to the German prince is therefore a mere pretext to come to hands.

Very truly yours,

PARIS, le 10 Août, 1870.

MY DEAR MR. HILL, — I was at — when your letter came. Albert the eldest is probably on his way to the frontier. The younger was called yesterday. My brother and myself expect to be called in a couple of days, but we refuse to march unless the great murderer be put out of the way. We have my brother C — in the south, although being only eighteen he cannot be called. They won’t give us arms to defend our homes; they want to send us to be butchered on the frontier under the orders of their rascally and stupid Generals. We have had. treason ; the money for the troops has been stolen by N.’s creatures, who have divided the spoil. All these men must be arrested and tried. Our only safety is in the republic; if it be not proclaimed in two days France is lost. We have nought but ruin and sorrow before us. Thank God that my poor father is not here to witness it.

We expect to be charged by the cavalry this afternoon at the Corps législatif, where we are going to ask for arms. If they won’t give them we must take them.

Believe me, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully, — —

August 10, 1ST0.

DEAR SIR, — ... All the democratic journals have been suppressed, and the language of most of the government papers is so atrociously ferocious that it touches on idiotcy. Here they only busy themselves in looking for spies and tearing them to pieces. The papers invent wonderful doings of spies disguised as admirals, nuns, shepherds. The next canard will be that Bismarck having grown an imperial has tried to pass himself off as Napoleon. However, there is a kind of terror, and one scarcely dares to express an opinion as regards the war. I maintain that the French nation is composed of Republicans, idiots and rogues, the two last classes making together a happy mixture. Yrou think his [Napoleon’s] downfall is near. I hope so, but fear it is not so, and that he will die at the Tuileries (if we are victorious) blessed by a happy people ! ! I expect everything now from the French, brutified by 20 years corruption and despotism, and if this comes to pass I shall make myself an English or American citizen.

A splendid opportunity of proclaiming the Republic has been lost. It might have been done on the opening of the French Chambers after the great defeat of Wissemburg. 10000 men were ready if only one député made a sign. Had this been done not one Prussian soldier would be this side the Rhine by this time. I am more than ever certain they will come to Paris, which town they cannot take, however. Well! let us hope for the best.

Faithfully yours, — —

P. SL The unfortunate men who attempting to take arms in a barracks killed a policeman are left to the tender mercies of a court martial. Their fate is certain. The government try to make believe these men are paid by Bismarck. They are simply victims of the coup d’état and of 1849 who have neither forgotten nor forgiven their wrongs.

The next letter I received on December 9. It is written on a small sheet of thin paper, on the outside of which is printed “Par Ballon Monté.” It had been dispatched from Paris in a balloon. Where it first touched ground there is no postmark to show. The two stamps it bears are both of the republic. It runs as follows: —

1*( December, 1870.

DEAR ME. HIEL, — To-morrow morning at three we start with 100000 men to take part in the great battle. Perhaps the anniversary of the coup d’etat will see the Republic victorious. All are resolved to fight to the last and all are confident of success, but how many brave men will not return !

Yours faithfully,

1re Compagnie Éclaireurs volontaires 13me Bataillon.

If by chance you should communicate with my brother who is with my mother near Bordeaux, pray do not mention this letter, as I have left him in utter ignorance of my brother and myself being in the army.

Both the brothers came off unwounded from the battle. One of them told me that at the beginning of the fight he was almost overcome by a feeling of horror at the thought of killing his fellow-creatures. Every time he raised his rifle to his shoulder he hoped that he should miss his mark. He had not been many minutes under fire when one of his friends, who stood next to him. fell dead. Then there came upon him a longing for vengeance, and now he hoped that every shot would strike down a man.

It was not till towards the end of the following February that I had any further news from my correspondent. On the surrender of Paris, when the posts once more began to run, I received the following letter : —

PARIS, 23 Fév. 1871.

CHER MONSIEUR HILL,— Des avantpostes où je me trouvais avec mon frère je vous ai adressé quelques mots la veille d’une sortie; je doute que vous ayez recu ma lettre.

Sommes-nous tombés assez bas ? Et cependant chacun a fait son devoir a Paris, I’impéritiés de nos chefs a seule pu nous livrer. Nous avons souvent eu la victoire entre nos mains ; le 19 Janvier nous avons pris d’assaut des murs imprenables, et nous avons refoule rennemi si loin de Paris que je m’attendais à aller coucher le soir mime dans ma raaison.

Si la guerre continue nous irons sans doute dans quelque forteresse prussienne, mais si la majorité rurale arrive à bûcher quelque chose qu’on sera convenu d’appeler la paix, il faut que nous essayions de bâtir sur les ruines. La situation est difficile, mais apres les obus, les balles, le froid et la faim rien ne peut m’effrayer.

Je crains bien que l’Angleterre n’ait à se repentir bientôl de son système de non intervention. Ce ne sont certes pas les sympathies du peuple qui nous ont manqué, nous en avons la preuve aujourd’hui. [This refers, no doubt, to the food sent from England to Paris as soon as the gates were opened.] La Prusse, dans son arrogance ne va-t-elle pas se jeter sur le Luxembourg, la Belgique et la Hollande ?

Avant 8 ans la France attaquera la Prusse, j’en suis convaincu, à moins que les peuples ne s’unissent contre les rois pour former entre eux une seule et mime famille. Mais que Bismarck et son roi nous arrachent les griffes, qu’ils nous rognent les ongles. pendant qu’ils le peuvent, car ils ont alliumé dans le coeur de tout bon francais une bien terrible haine.

Votre tout dévoué,4

The French are indeed a strange people. They had fallen on Germany with cries of “ A Berlin ! ” in the hopes of robbing it of all the country oil the western side of the Rhine ; and then, when the Germans proved the stronger, they bitterly reproached England for not coming to their rescue, A robber who had tried to run off with his neighbor’s spoons, and had been seized by the owner, might just as well reproach the constable for not coming to his aid. As Mr. Lowell says, “ they are fearfully and wonderfully made in some respects.” They are, perhaps, the most logical people in the world ; they are certainly the most unreasonable.

I have lately read the last letter to one of my friends, a Prussian colonel, who was at the siege of Paris. There was, he said, some fierce fighting on this 19th of January, though near St. Cloud, where his regiment was posted, the French were soon beaten back. Nowhere for a single moment were they within reach of victory. The German outposts were driven in, as outposts always are driven in, by the sudden attack of a large force. The murs imprenables were garden-walls which had been loopholed. These were carried at the first onset, but as soon as the reserves were brought up, and a battery of more than forty guns opened fire, the French were driven back with great loss. Close to where my friend was posted, ten or twelve of their officers, who with a strong body of men had occupied a large house, were cut off from retreat by this hasty flight. An officer of the German staff summoned them to surrender, as resistance and escape were alike hopeless. They had no help for it, and laid down their arms.

The next two letters are from an Alsatian, one of those brave and eager spirits who in times of danger always hurry to the front. He was about fiveand-thirty years old when the war broke out, but as soon as the news reached him of disasters to his beloved France;, at a moment’s warning he threw up a good post which he had in England, and went to serve as a private soldier. He came to see me on his release from a Prussian fortress, full of bitterness towards his countrymen. By his fellow-soldiers, on his first arrival in France, he had been received, he said, with scorn. “ Why had he been such a fool as to thrust himself into this mess, when he was safe and well off in England ?” Had there been, he said, his face lighting up with fire as he spoke, one hundred thousand men like himself, the Germans would have been driven out of France. In his foreign prison he had done what little lie could for his country by secretly making a plan of the fortress.

BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, August 11th 1870.

DEAR SIR, — As soon as we heard of the bad news that the Prussians had invaded France, my friends and I we hastened to go to our Embassador to get our passeport, and went directly to Boulogne, amidst a tremendous enthusiasm. If we succeed in our enterprise, I shall come back to London : but should we experience some other defeats, we are determined to be killed. Four of my friends are enlisted among the Cuirassiers, and I and an other we are enlisted among the sharpshooters, or Chasseurs à Pied.

My address is : Mr. —, 8me Compagnie du 20me Bataillon des Chasseurs à Pied.

I remain, Dear Sir.

Yours most devotedly,— —.

GRAUDENZ, January 17th 1871.

MY DEAR SIR. — I don’t know if you have received the letter I sent to you from Sedan. You know that I was incorporated in the Chasseurs à pied, 20th Bataillon, directed from Boulogne to the Camp of Chalons, and from there to Sedan, where I was made prisoner of war. When I shall come back to London, I shall tell you all the particulars I have been able to witness during my short and fruitless campaign.

I have been brought to Graudenz, the most formidable fortress that is in Prussia. That town is situated on the Vistule. The citadelle dominates all the country ; you may perceive from there the enemy, if he was at a distance of ten miles. It is very cold here, the thermometer shows 10° Fahr. below 0° in the middle of the winter.

Amidst the miseries of my captivity I find a great relief in recalling to my memory the happy time I have spent in the company of my dear pupils. I have all their names in my pocket-book, and I fancy sometimes to live with them. But that sweet dream fades away, I am awaked by the noise made by the Prussian patrollers, when they are going out of their guard-room.

You are better able than I to know what they are doing now in France; however I should like to know it also, I prefer you to be silent about it, if you favour me with a letter.

I pray only the heaven to grant an honourable peace to my country, in order that I may come back to London and pay you a visit.

My friendly salutations to my pupils. If one of them would procure me a great pleasure, he ought to give some news about what is passing with them.

I remain yours most respectfully,

Chasseur à pied au 20me bataillon, prisonnier de guerre lre Compagnie à Graudenz, Prusse.

The letter which this brave man sent to me from Sedan, unfortunately, never reached me.

The following brief note I received from a young Frenchman who had been studying in England under my charge. I have never heard from him since, and I fear that he fell in the war.

15th Aug. ’70.

DEAR SIR, — I am obliged to go back to France, to serve my country. I am sure I would rather stay at home than go and be killed, but I am not free to act as I would.

Assuredly we have been misled by our ministers ; it is shameful to see such a state of things. But we can only say with Fénelon, “ Avant que de se jetter [sic] dans le péril, il faut le prévoir ; mais quand on y est il ne reste plus qu’à le mépriser.”

I beg now to thank you once more for your kindness towards me and remain your’s friend and obliged

From another former pupil of mine I received the following card, bearing the postmarks of Paris, October 17,1870, and of London, October 20. It had been sent, no doubt, by the balloon-post. It bears two stamps, one marked “ Empire Franfais,” and the other “ Répub. Franc.”

DEAR SIR,—I am in good health. Expecting the Prussians every day. I did not fight yet. I am in the artillerie. My father and mother are in Normandie. I have no news from them. My brother is in the 99e de ligne at Aix in Provence — near Marseilles. I do not know what is become of him.

My kindest remembrances to you and your family. — —.

On the surrender of Paris he sent me the following letter, dated February 20, 1871:—

DEAR SIR, —You will very likely believe that I am death! Thanks to God I am yet alive ! For the two first months I was a soldier, the batterie in which I was stopped in the Mont Valérien. It was very dull indeed to be confined there for two whole months without going out but now and then.

On the 15th of September we came in Paris where we are still now. Since that time untill the armistice we were not happy at all, I can assure you. We had to sleep on the ground, weit [wet] most of the time; the feeding was so miserable than very often we could not eat it. I caught rheumatism, and was sent to the ambulance. For two months I kept the bed for the whole time ; now I feel better and better, and I hope to go to a village near Périgueux, where my father is.

What do you think of our poor France ; how unhappy we were without stupid war ! What will become of Alsace and Lorraine ? I read in the papers with a great pleasure that English people were quite simpathie to us.

My brother who is in the 99e de ligne is in good health ; he did not leave Aix in Provence, what I am glad of. I must tell you something rather curious. I am in the ambulance of Mr. De—; that gentleman, about forty-eight years old, was brought up under the cares of your father. He does not remin [remember] neither you nor your brothers. I am afraid you will not be able to make out my poor English. It is so long since I could speak a single word, having no opportunity of practising.

I am, Sir, yours very respectly?

The last of these letters of the great war is from a young Spaniard, who had sought shelter in England when the Germans threatened Paris, and who had returned to his old quarters in that town. Under date of March 3,1871, he writes : “ We started from Calais at seven in the morning, and after a very tiresome journey of twelve hours we got into Paris. . . . Paris was very gloomy last Tuesday evening, for there was no gas in the streets, but to-day the weather is most beautiful, and everything is almost as gay as before the siege; the Parisians feel the Prussians are gone, and the streets are animated with a motley throng, great many soldiers of all sorts, but most of them unarmed, It is a funny thing to look at the people here, you can see les garcons de café with their white apron, but wearing under it some military ornament; the butchers, bakers, booksellers, etc., are half civilians and half soldiers.

“ I have found all my books and things I left care of my portière on leaving Paris. I have from my window a good view of the Colonne de la Bastille, which is completely ornamented with flowers and flags. Just as I am writing to you some battalions of Gardes nationaux with bugles and beating drums are passing before, or rather under my window (I am in the 4th story) ; every one is decorated with yellow flowers, and one of them bears a huge everlasting crown, which will increase the number of those ornamenting already the Colonne. ‘Greatest order prevails.’ They seem delighted with these innocent demonstrations. the good Parisians.”

In the summer of this same year I happened to be dining with a citizen of Versailles, when he was called from the table by his servant. On his return he handed me the following document: —



M.—rent, ou la personne qui occupe le local, logera., pendant un jour. Deux Militaires.

Pour M. LE MAIRE, le Chef du Bureau militaire.

Bon pour—lit.

VERSAILLES, ce 22 Juillet, 1871.5

My friend had at once to provide lodging for the two soldiers who themselves brought him this order. France was, I thought, in point of liberty, two centuries and a half behind England ; for, by the Petition of Right, it was enacted in the reign of Charles I. “that no soldier shall be quartered on the subject without his own consent.” Nevertheless, if my memory does not play me false, more than one of George III.’s governors attempted to quarter soldiers on the citizens of New England.

That Frenchmen should so often have proved restive under the law causes little surprise to those who know how meddling their central government has at all times been. I have a curious document which shows that, less than sixty years ago. in France, no one might take a pailful of water from the sea -without first obtaining permission at the custom house. The tax on salt, which was heavy, was not to be evaded by the use of seawater. A license was granted, on my father’s application, to the landlady of the house in which he had taken lodgings : —

BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, 22 Juin, 1837.

Administration des Douanes, lèrc Division.

Il est permis à Made Talavera demeurant à Boulogne, de faire prendre àa la mer tous les jours, pendant un mois, six seaux d’eau pour de baines.6

Le chef du poste de la jetée de l’est mentionnera les quantitiés d’eau enlevées, et renverra la présente permission an bureau de la Direction.

Pour le Directeur des Douanes,

Le Premier Commis de la Direction,


When I was staying at Vichy, some years ago, I saw an extraordinary instance of that centralization of the government which, next to the corruption of Louis Napoleon and of his generals, laid France low at the feet of Germany. In the bathroom was placarded the number of towels allowed to each bather. This regulation was issued by the mayor of the towm, was countersigned at Moulins by the prefect of the department, and was approved at Paris by the Minister of the Interior. Neither Frenchman nor foreigner, though he took his bath at a distance of more than two hundred miles from Paris, was overlooked by the paternal eye of the government. Of his lawful number of towels no hireling should deprive him.

From France I shall take my readers across the Pyrenees to Spain, which in its turn was shaken by revolution. My correspondent was a young officer of the army. He wrote to me as follows : —

MADRID, 11th March, 1873.

DEAR SIR, — The letters from the special correspondents of the London newspapers will have already informed you of the state of my unhappy country. You will, no doubt, by association of ideas, now and then thought of me while you were reading of them.

If you saw my room at present you would think of the assortment of fire arms and small arms that Robinson Crusoe kept in his dwelling, when he was expecting an attack from the canibals. As unfortunately the army is now become so demoralized through Republican preachings, socialism, infidelity, and as the city is full of return convicts, french comunists, unemployed worksmen and all scum of society, we are in continual aprehension of having our houses sacked by the mob. After two or three days of desagreable panic the middle classes, stimulated by the example of the higher orders, are arming themselves.

There is scarcely a fire arm that has not been bought up, so that every house is become a military arsenal. In my house we mustered about thirty men, what with coachmen, servants, aides de camp of my father and orderlies, and as most of us have served in the regular army, I don’t think that any of the new Comunists will find it healthy to make our acquaintance, but if they think it healthy they shall be well received, for we are well prepared, that is to say my brothers and servants, for myself I shall be probably in the street with the troops.

Many officers have arrived in Madrid from the provinces, having escaped fortunately from the troops, who are now become in many places a dangerous and mischievous mob. Here they are better, but still we are always exposed to be murdered or to be insulted by the people, and we have very little authority with our soldiers. It is very annoying indeed to be an officer in these circumstances.

I avail myself of this occasion to declare myself your most obedient servant.

In my collection there are but two American autographs. I would there were more. If nature abhors a vacuum, so do I. I hasten to say that it is not by dealers that this unseemly void will be filled, if filled it ever is. The excess postage which I have just bad to pay on one of their circulars (it comes from Baltimore) leads me to give this warning. I never buy autographs. My American treasures, few as they are in number, are of a fine quality. One of them, as my readers have seen, is in the handwriting of George Washington ; the other is a letter of William Lloyd Garrison.

Not as yet has Garrison’s greatness been fully recognized by the world. Even his own countrymen too often do not seem to know that in him they had one of the great ones of the earth. In the noblest of all causes, the cause of freedom, he was “ as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.” It was not smooth things that he came to speak, for it is not by smooth things that the slumbering conscience of a mighty nation is awakened. It takes long years before the full greatness of the stern teachers of mankind like him is acknowledged. The time will come, I believe, when the historian will rank Garrison among the men —few they are in number — who by strength of character, and by strength of character alone, have worked the mightiest changes in the history of the world. John Bright saw his greatness. I was present at the public breakfast given to Garrison in London nearly thirty years ago, when that noble orator described him as a man

“ On Fame’s eternal bead-roll worthy to be

Garrison’s letter is in answer to the following strange communication : —

— ILL. Mar. 2, 1874.


DR SIR, — A little over thirteen years ago John Brown’s famous attack on Harper’s Ferry occurred. At that time the writer was a resident of Martinsburg, Va. As soon as the news of the attack reached me I, in company of quite a number of others, citizens of Martinsburg, went to assist in fighting the insurgents. Of course you are well acquainted with the whole history of the events that followed the attack, that we did nothing more than drive Brown and his associates into the Arsenal, where they stood on the defensive, until the arrival of Col. Lee and the squad of Marines, when the door was battered down, and all either captured and [sic] killed. I entered the arsenal with, or immediately after the Marines, and on the floor of the building I picked up a Sharp’s Rifle, and carried it off as a trophy. I have kept that rifle ever since, carrying it with me when I left Virginia, during the Civil War. You are, or rather were the leading Abolition [sic] of the country, and of course sympathized [sic] Brown, and perhaps would value the rifle as a relic. I also obtained one of the famous Pikes on Maryland heights the next day, but it was stolen from my house by a squad of rebel soldiers, who searched it for arms. If you wish to have the rifle and I can satisfy you in any way tliat it is what I represent it to be, I will send it to you by express, you agreeing to send me $25 for it.

Yours truly — —.

Garrison replied : —

BOSTON, March 7, 1874.

DEAR SIR, — In answer to your letter I would state that I must decline the proposition contained in it, in regard to purchasing the rifle in your possession, as, for forty years, I have been avowedly a radical peace man, and am still for beating all swords into ploughshares, and all spears into pruning-hooks, so that every man may sit under his own vine and fig-tree, with none to molest or make afraid. I gave no sanction to John Brown’s method of emancipating the slaves, though conceding to him the purest and noblest motives. According to the theory of our government and the example of our revolutionary sires, he was a hero and a martyr, and so the civilized world regards him. That you should have had a hand in his capture and death, however true to your sense of duty at that time, is now, I trust, a matter of deep regret on your part, seeing that while he remembered those in bonds as bound with them, you took sides with their cruel oppressors.

Yours for the reign of universal freedom and peace,


I trust that I have not wearied my audience with my talk about autographs. Collectors are apt to be garrulous over their treasures, and garrulity does not lessen as the years creep over a man. I warned my readers in the beginning that I should treat them as I treat my friends when they enter my study. I should be sorry to think that I have taken an ungenerous advantage of their kindness. If they are not weary of me, perhaps, by the help of a friendly editor, we may meet again before very long, and once more converse about men and books. Whether that hope is granted or not, may some of the readers of the Atlantic Monthly, as they now take leave of me, be able honestly to say with Dr. Johnson, “Sir, we had good talk.”

George Birkbeck Hill.

  1. July 8, 1870 [LONDON]. SIR, — I had hoped to see you on my way back to Paris. I was a ware you had left—, but, I did not know your address ; or else I should have written to inform you of the heavy blow which struck me last year: my mother died on August 16, 1878. She sleeps in the land of exile, and I am alone, all alone, in the world. After all, perhaps it is better thus, for from our affections spring more sorrows than joys. To see the sufferings of those we love is the hardest lot of all. Nil amare is even better than nil admirari.
  2. I shall leave next week for France. The Republic is firmly established ; every post is open to him who can seize it; everything is within the grasp of men of courage and understanding. If fortune gives me but a small share of her favors, before many years have passed my name shall be known. One good thing I learnt in America — to go ahead.
  3. Believe me, sir, yours truly,
  4. 59 RUE DES FEUILLANTINES [PARIS], September 4, 1879.
  5. DEAR SIR,— Here I am settled down. On my arrival I learnt that I had been included in the amnesty. In ignorance of this I had set out ready to run every risk, for I had had enough of exile.
  6. I have had enough of teaching, too, and I mean to live by my pen. Some of my articles have already been accepted, and are to appear at once. I have come to an understanding with the publisher of a journal, who has asked me to translate for him some short stories from the English, But what I should like above all to translate is some important work on science or history.
  7. But when are you coming to Paris ? I have found the great city beautiful indeed. There, if anywhere, life is — I will not say good, for it is good nowhere, but endurable. It passes by so swiftly that time is scarcely left for suffering.
  8. But as for you, you are an optimist, with not the least taste, I am sure, for the charms of that annihilation which ends everything. And then you have your work to do on this earth ; you are bound to it by so many ties of affection. I have seen Miss L—and N ; I have found on my return a young girl and a young man where I had left children. It is changes such as these which show us that we have ourselves grown old. Miss M—is, no doubt, a woman, and E—must be by this time a fine young fellow. All this little world, in growing big, seems to thrust us towards the grave. On this threshing-floor of the world there is only room for the sheaves of a single harvest.
  9. Believe me Yours truly,
  10. July 22, 1872.
  11. My dear—: I must beg you not to bring1 young 1H with you ; before giving a recommendation know your man better. With every friendly feeling,
  12. Yours sincerely, N. LA CECILIA.
  13. PARIS, February 23, 1871.
  14. DEAR MR. HELL, — From the outposts where I was stationed with my brother I sent you a few lines on the eve of a sally. I have my doubts whether the letter reached you.
  15. Are we fallen low enough ? Nevertheless, in Paris every one has done his duty ; nothing but the unskillfulness of our leaders could have delivered us up to the enemy. We have often had victory in our hands; on January 19 we carried impregnable walls by storm, and we thrust back the enemy to such a distance from Paris that I looked to sleep that very night in my own house.
  16. If the war lasts we shall doubtless he sent to some Prussian fortress ; but if the country people who form the majority succeed in hewing out something which by common agreement shall be called peace, we must do our best to build on the ruins. The state of affairs is hard indeed ; but after bombshells and bullets, cold and hunger, nothing can scare me.
  17. England, I fear, will soon have reason to repent of her system of non-intervention. Most certainly it was not the sympathy of the people which failed us; of that we have proof this very day. Will not Prussia in her arrogance fall on Luxemburg, Belgium, and Holland ?
  18. Eight years, I feel certain, will not have gone by before France attacks Prussia, unless the peoples league themselves against the kings and form one single family. But let Bismarck and his king clip our claws and pare our nails whilst they can, for in the heart of every good Frenchman they have kindled the flame of dreadful hatred.
  19. Yours very sincerely,
  21. Mr.—, gentleman, or the person in actual occupation of the premises, is required to lodge two soldiers for one day.
  22. For the MAYOR,
  23. the Superintendent of the War Office. Valid for—beds.
  24. VERSAILLES, July 22, 1871.
  25. In the original it is either “ de baines ” or “ de bainer.” It. is not “ des bains,”
  26. BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, June 22, 1837. Custom House, First Department.
  27. Permission is hereby given to Mme Talavera, an inhabitant of Boulogne, to have six pails of sea-water fetched from the sea for baths everyday for a month.
  28. The head of the guard stationed on the eastern jetty will report the quantity of water taken each day, and will return this license to the chief office.
  29. For the Collect or of Customs,
  30. ROUGET, Chief Clerk.