THE PERIOD OF THE NEWNESS.
But to be young was very heaven.”
WORDSWORTH, The Prelude, Book XI.
THE above was the high-sounding name which was claimed for their own time by the youths and maidens who, under the guidance of Emerson, Parker, and others, took a share in the seething epoch sometimes called vaguely Transcendentalism. But as these papers are primarily autobiographic, it is well to state with just what outfit I left college in 1841. I had a rather shallow reading knowledge of six languages, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and had been brought in contact with classic books in each of these tongues. I may here add that I picked up at a later period German, Portuguese, and Hebrew, with a little Swedish; and that I hope to live long enough to learn at least the alphabet in Russian. Then I had acquired enough of the higher mathematics to have a pupil or two in that branch ; something of the forms of logic and of Locke’s philosophy with the criticisms of the French eclectics upon it ; a smattering of history and political economy ; some crude acquaintance with field natural history ; some practice in writing and debating; a passion for poetry and imaginative literature ; a voracious desire for all knowledge and all action ; and an amount of self-confidence which has now, after more than half a century, sadly diminished. It will be seen that this was an outfit more varied than graduates of the present day are apt to possess, but more superficial; their knowledge of what they know being often far more advanced as well as more solidly grounded than was mine. No matter :
I was a happy boy, ankle-deep in a yet unfathomed sea.
I had two things in addition not set down in the college curriculum, but of the utmost influence on my future career. One of these has always been to me somewhat inexplicable. Cambridge was then a place of distinctly graded society ; more so, probably, than it is now. Lowell has admirably described the superb way in which old Royall Morse, the village constable and auctioneer, varied the courtesy of his salutation according to the social position of his acquaintance. I can remember no conversation around me looking toward the essential equality of the human race, except as it was found in the pleased curiosity with which my elder brothers noted the fact that the President’s man-servant, who waited at table during his dinner parties, became on the muster-field colonel of the militia regiment, and there gave orders to Major Quincy, his subordinate. In each professor’s family there was apt to be a country boy “ living out,” “ doing chores ” and attending school; these boys often rose to influence and position in later life, and their children or descendants are now professors in the university and leaders in Cambridge society. The “ town school ” was distinctly a grade school; I had never entered it; did not play much with the “town boys,” and was rather afraid of them. Yet it must have been that there was left over from the American Revolution something of the popular feeling then inspired, for without aid or guidance I was democratic in feeling ; longed to know something of all sorts and conditions of men, and had a distinct feeling that I should like to be, for a year or two, a mechanic of some kind — a carpenter or blacksmith—in order to place myself in sympathy with all. The nearest I ever came to this was in making some excursions with an elder brother who, as engineer, was laying out the track of the Old Colony Railroad, and who took me as “ hind chain man ” at a dollar a day. I still recall with delight the sense of honest industry, the tramping through the woods, and the occasional dinners at farmhouses. It was at one of these festivities that, when my brother had eaten one piece of mince pie but declined a second helping, our host remarked with hospitable dignity, “ Consult your feelings, sir, about the meat pie.”
Another most important change was passing in me at about this time ; the sudden development of social aptitudes hitherto dormant. As an overgrown boy — for I was six feet tall at fourteen — I had experienced all the agonies of bashfulness in the society of the other sex, though greatly attracted to it. I find it, difficult to convince my associates of later years that I then habitually sat mute while others chattered. A word or two of remonstrance from my mother had in a single day corrected this, during my senior year, so far as the family table was concerned ; and this emboldened me to try the experiment on a wider field. I said to myself, thinking of other young men who made themselves quite agreeable. “ These youths are not your superiors, — perhaps, in the recitation-room or on the playground, hardly your equals ; why not cope with them elsewhere ? ” Thus influenced, I conquered myself in a single evening and lost my shyness forever. The process was unique, so far as I know, and I have often recommended it to shy young men. Being invited to a small party, I considered beforehand what young ladies would probably be there. With each one I had, of course, something in common, — kinship, or neighborhood, or favorite pursuit. This would do, I reasoned, for a starting-point; so I put down on a small sheet of paper what I would say to each, if I happened to be near her. It worked like a charm ; I found myself chatting away, the whole evening, and heard the next day that everybody was surprised at the transformation. I have to this day the little bit of magic paper, on which I afterwards underscored, before sleeping, the points actually used. It set me free; after this I went freely to tolerably large parties in Cambridge and Boston, in the latter case under guidance of my brother Waldo, who had now graduated from the Harvard Washington Corps into the Boston Cadets, and was an excellent social pilot. I saw the really agreeable manners which then prevailed in the little city, and cannot easily be convinced that there are now in the field any youths at once so manly and so elegant as were the two especial leaders among the beaux of that day, John Lothrop Motley and his brother-in-law, John Lewis Stackpole. It did not surprise me to read in later days that the former was habitually addressed as “ Milord ” to a degree that vexed him by waiters in Continental hotels. Such leaders were doubtless good social models, as was also my brother ; but I had more continuous influences in the friendship of two fair girls, both of whom were frank, truthful, and attractive. One of them — Maria Fay of convent fame, already mentioned — was a little older than myself, while the other, just my own age, Mary Devens, was the younger sister of Charles Devens, afterwards eminent in war and peace. She died young, but I shall always be grateful for the good she unconsciously did me ; and I had with both the kind of cordial friendship, without a trace of love-making, yet tinged with refined sentiment, which is for every young man a most fortunate school. They counseled and reprimanded and laughed at me, when needful, in a way that I should not have tolerated from boys at that time, nor yet from my own sisters, wise and judicious though these were. Added to all this was a fortunate visit, during my last year in college, to some cousins on a Virginia plantation, where my uncle, Major Storrow, had married into the Cutter family, and where I experienced the hospitality and gracious ways of Southern life.
A potent influence was also preparing for me in Cambridge in a peculiarly fascinating circle of young people, — more gifted, I cannot help thinking, than any later coterie of the same kind, — which had grouped itself around James Lowell and Maria White, his betrothed, who were known among the members as their "King and Queen.” They called themselves “ The Brothers and Sisters,” being mainly made up in that way : the Whites of Watertown and their cousins the Thaxters ; the Storys from Cambridge ; the Hales and the Tuckermans from Boston ; the Kings from Salem, and others. They had an immense and hilarious intimacy, rarely however, for some reason, culminating in intermarriage; they read the same books, and had perpetual gatherings and picnics, their main headquarters being the large colonial house of the White family in Watertown. My own point of contact with them was remote, but real; my mother had removed, when her family lessened, to a smaller house built by my elder brother, and belonging in these latter days to Radcliffe College. This was next door to the Fay House of that institution, then occupied by Judge Fay. And as my friend Maria Fay was a cousin of some of the Brothers and Sisters, they made the house an occasional rendezvous; and as there were attractive younger kindred whom I chanced to know, I was able at least to look through the door of this paradise of youth. Lowell’s first volume had just been published, and all its allusions were ground of romance for us all; indeed, he and his betrothed were to me, as they seemed to be to the Brothers and Sisters, a modernized Petrarch and Laura or even Dante and Beatrice ; and I watched them with unselfish reverence. Their love-letters, about which they were extremely frank, were passed from hand to hand and sometimes reached me through Thaxter. I have some of Maria White’s ballads in her own handwriting; and 1 still know by heart a letter which she wrote to Thaxter, about the delay in her marriage : “It is easy enough to be married ; the newspaper corners show us that, every day ; but to live and to be happy as simple King and Queen, without the gifts of fortune, this is a triumph that suits my nature better.” Probably all the atmosphere around this pair of lovers had a touch of exaggeration, a slight greenhouse aroma, but it brought a pure and ennobling enthusiasm ; and whenever I was fortunate enough to hear Maria White sing or “ say ” ballads in moonlight evenings it seemed as if I were in Boccaccio’s Florentine gardens.
If this circle of bright young people was not strictly a part of the Transcendental Movement, it was yet born of “ the Newness.” Lowell and Story, indeed, both wrote for the Dial, and Maria White had belonged to Margaret Fuller’s classes. There was, moreover, passing through the whole community a wave of that desire for a freer and more ideal life which made Story turn aside from his father’s profession for sculpture, and made Lowell forsake law after his first client. It was the time when Emerson wrote to Carlyle, “ We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform ; not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.” I myself longed at times to cut free from prescribed bondage, and not, in Lowell’s later phrase, to “ pay so much of life for a living ” as seemed to be expected. I longed anew, under the influence of George Sand and Mrs. Child’s Letters from New York, to put myself on more equal terms with that vast army of hand - workers who were ignorant of much that I knew, yet could do so much that I could not. Under these combined motives I find that I carefully made out, at one time, a project of going into the cultivation of peaches, an industry then prevalent in New England, but now practically abandoned, — thus securing freedom from study and thought by moderate labor of tlie hands. This was in 1843, two years before Thoreau tried a similar project with beans at Walden Pond ; and also before the time when George and Burrill Curtis undertook to be farmers at Concord. A like course was actually adopted and successfully pursued through life by another Harvard man a few years older than myself, the late Marston Watson, of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Such things were in the air, and even those who were not swerved by “ the Newness ” from their intended pursuits were often greatly modified as to the way in which these were undertaken ; as when the recognized leader of a certain class of the Harvard Law School abandoned, from conscientious scruples, the career of a practicing lawyer, and spent his life as a conveyancer.
What turned me away from the study of the law was not this moral scruple, but what was doubtless an innate preference, strengthened by the influence of one man and one or two books. After leaving college I taught for six months as usher in the boarding-school at Jamaica Plain, kept by Mr. Stephen Minot Weld; and then, greatly to my satisfaction, became private tutor to the three young sons of my cousin, Stephen Higginson Perkins, a Boston merchant, residing in a pretty cottage which he had designed for himself in Brookline. In him I encountered the most attractive man I had yet met and the one who was most to influence me. He was indeed a man of unique qualities and great gifts ; he was in the prime of life, handsome and refined, a widower, whose modest household was superintended by a maiden sister ; his training had been utterly unlike my regular academical career ; he had been sent to Germany to school, under the guidance of Edward Everett, then to the East and West Indies as supercargo, then into business, but not very successfully as yet. This pursuit he hated and disapproved ; all his tastes were for art, in whicli he was at that time perhaps the best connoisseur in Boston, and he had contrived by strict economy to own several good paintings which he bequeathed later to the Boston Art Museum, — a Reynolds, a Van der Velde, and a remarkable oil copy of the Sistine Madonna by Moritz Retzsch. These were the first fine paintings I had ever seen, except the Copleys then in the Harvard College Library, and his society, with that he assembled round him, was to me a wholly new experience. He disapproved and distrusted all classical training, and was indifferent to mathematics ; but he had read largely in French and German literature, and he introduced me to authors of permanent interest, such as Heine and Paul Louis Courier. He was also in a state of social revolt, enhanced by a certain shyness and by deafness ; full of theories, and ready to encourage all independent thinking. He was withal affectionate and faithful.
I was to teach his boys four hours a day, — no more; they were most interesting, though not always easy to manage. I was young enough to take a ready part in all their sports, and we often had school in the woods adjoining the house, perhaps sitting in large trees and interrupting work occasionally to watch a weasel gliding over a rock or a squirrel in the boughs. I took the boys with me in my rambles and it was a happy time. Another sister of Stephen Perkins’s, a woman of great personal attractions, kept house for her father, who lived near by, Mr. Samuel G. Perkins, younger brother of Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, then the leading merchant of Boston. Mr. Samuel Perkins had been at one time a partner of my grandfather and had married his daughter, but had retired, not very successful, and was one of the leading horticulturists near Boston, the then famous “ Boston nectarine ” being a fruit of his introducing. His wife, Barbara Higginson, my aunt, had been a belle in her youth, but had ripened into an oddity, and lived in Boston during the winter and in a tiny cottage at Nahant during the summer, for the professed reason that the barberry blossoms in the Brookline lanes made her sneeze.
The summer life around Boston was then an affair so unlike anything now to be found in the vicinity as to seem like something observed in another country or period. Socially speaking, it more resembled the plantation life of the South or the ranch life of the West. Many of the prosperous people lived in Boston all summer, with occasional trips to Nahant or Saratoga or Ballston, or for the more adventurous a journey by stage among the White Mountains, encountering rough roads and still rougher taverns. But there existed all around Boston, and especially in Roxbury, Brookline, and Milton, a series of large estates with ample houses, all occupied by people connected in blood or intimacy, who drove about and exchanged calls in summer afternoons. Equipages were simple ; people usually drove themselves ; there were no liveries, but the hospitality was profuse. My uncle Perkins was a poor man compared with his rich brother ; there was a theory that his beautiful pears and nectarines were to be a source of profit, but I fear that the balance-sheet, if perchance there ever was any, would have showed otherwise. No matter, he had the frank outdoor hospitality of a retired East India merchant, which he was : every afternoon, at a certain hour, sherry and madeira were set out on the sideboard in the airy parlor, with pears, peaches, grapes, nectarines, strawberries and the richest cream, and we knew that visitors would arrive. Cousins and friends came, time-honored acquaintances of “ the old gentleman,”eminent public men, Mr. Prescott the historian, or Daniel Webster himself, received like a king. Never did I feel a greater sense of an honor conferred than when that regal black-browed man once selected me as the honored messenger to bring more cream for his chocolate. There was sometimes, though rarely, a little music; and there were now and then simple games on the lawn, — battledore or grace-hoops, — but as yet croquet and tennis and golf were not, and the resources were limited. I n winter, the same houses were the scene of family parties with sleigh-riding and skating and coasting ; but the summer life was simply a series of outdoor receptions, from house to house. It must be noted that Brookline was then, as now, the garden suburb of Boston, beyond all others; the claim was only comparative, and would not at all stand the test of English gardening or even of our modern methods, except perhaps in the fruit produced. I remember that Stephen Perkins once took an English visitor, newly arrived, to drive about the region, and he was quite ready to admire everything he saw, though not quite for the reason that his American host expected. “It is all so rough and wild" was his comment.
Into this summer life, on the invitation of my cousin Barbara Charming, who spent much time in Brookline, there occasionally came delegations of youths from Brook Farm. then flourishing. Among these were George and Burrill Curtis, and Larned, with Charles Dana, now editor of the New York Sun; all presentable and agreeable, but the first three peculiarly costumed. It was then very common for young men in college and elsewhere to wear what were called blouses, — a kind of hunter’s frock made at first of brown holland belted at the waist,— these being gradually developed into garments of gay - colored chintz, sometimes, it was said, an economical transformation of their sisters’ skirts or petticoats. All the young men of this party but Dana wore these gay garments and bore on their heads little round and visorless caps with tassels. Mr. Perkins, whose attire was always defiantly plain, regarded these vanities with ill-concealed disapproval, but took greatly to Dana, who dressed like a well-to-do young farmer and was always handsome and manly. My uncle declared him to be full of sense and knowledge, and the others to be nonsensical creatures. Dana was indeed the best all-round man at Brook Farm, — a good teacher, editor, and farmer, — but was held not to be quite so zealous or unselfish for the faith as were some of the others. It was curious that when their public meetings were held in Boston, he was their most effective speaker, while I cannot remember that George William Curtis, afterwards so eloquent, ever opened his lips at all.
I was but twice at Brook Farm, once driving over there in a sleigh during a snowstorm, to convey my cousin Barbara to a fancy ball at “ the Community,” as it was usually called, where she was to appear in a pretty creole dress made of madras handkerchiefs and brought by Stephen Perkins from the West Indies. She was a most attractive and popular person, and was enthusiastic about Brook Farm, where she went often, being a friend of Mrs. Ripley, who was its “ leading lady.” Again I once went for her in summer and stayed for an hour, watching the various interesting figures, including George William Curtis, who was walking about in shirt-sleeves, with his boots over his trousers, yet was escorting a young maiden with that elegant grace which never left him. It was a curious fact that he, who was afterwards so eminent, was then held wholly secondary in interest to his handsome brother Burrill, whose Raphaelesque face won all hearts, and who afterwards disappeared from view in England, surviving only in memory as My Uncle the Curate, in Lotus-Eating. But if I did not see much of Brook Farm on the spot, I met its members frequently at the series of exciting meetings for Social Reform in Boston, at which the battle raged high between Associationists and Communists, the leader of the latter being John A. Collins. Defenders of the established order also took part; one of the best of the latter being Arthur Pickering, a Boston merchant; and in all my experience I have never heard a speech so thrilling and effective as that in which Henry Clapp, then a young radical mechanic, answered Pickering’s claim that individuality was better promoted by the existing method of competition. Clapp was afterwards the admired leader of a Bohemian clique in New York and had a melancholy career; but that speech did more than anything else to make me at least a halfway socialist for life.
The Brook Farm people were also to be met occasionally at Mrs. Nichols’s confectionery shop in School Street, where they took economical refreshments : and still oftener at Miss Elizabeth Peabody’s foreign bookstore in West Street, which was a part of the educational influence of the period. It was an atom of a shop, partly devoted to the homœopathic medicines of her father, a physician : and she alone in Boston, I think, had French and German hooks for sale. I here I made further acquaintance with Cousin and Jouffroy, with Constant’s I)e la Religion and Leroux’ De l’Humanité, the relics of the French Eclecticism, then beginning to fade, but still taught in colleges. There, too, were Schubert’s Geschichte der Seele and many of the German balladists who were beginning to inthrall me. There was also Miss Peabody herself, desultory, dreamy, but insatiable in her love for knowledge and for helping others to it. James Freeman Clarke said of her that she was always engaged in supplying some want that had first to be created; it might be Dr. Kraitsir’s lectures on language, or General Bem’s historical chart. She always preached the need, but never accomplished the supply until she advocated the kindergarten ; there she caught up with her mission and came to identify herself with its history. She lived to be very old, and with her broad benevolent face and snowy curls was known to many as “ The Grandmother of Boston.” I best associate her with my last interview, a little before her death, when I chanced to pick her out of a snowdrift into which she had sunk overwhelmed during a furious snow-squall, while crossing a street in Boston. I did not know her until she had scrambled up with much assistance, and recognizing me at once, fastened on my offered arm, saying breathlessly, “ I am so glad to see you. I have been wishing to talk to you about Sarah Winnemucca. Now Sarah Winnemucca ” — and she went on discoursing as peacefully about a maligned Indian protégée as if she were strolling in some sequestered moonlit lane, on a summer evening.
I have said that, the influence wrought upon me by Brookline life was largely due to one man and one or two writers. The writer who took possession of me, after Emerson, was the German author, Jean Paul Richter, whose memoirs had just been written by a Brookline lady, Mrs. Thomas Lee. This biography set before me, just at the right time, the attractions of purely literary life, carried on in a perfectly unworldly spirit: and his story of Siebenkäs, just then opportunely translated, presented the same thing in a more graphic way. From that moment poverty, or at least extreme economy, had no terrors for me, and I could not bear the thought of devoting my life to the technicalities of Blackstone. Not that the law-book had failed to interest me, — for it was a book, — but I could not consent to surrender my life to what it represented, nor have I ever repented that decision. I felt instinctively what the late Dwight Foster said to me long after : “ The objection to the study of the law is not that it is not interesting, — for it is eminently so, — but that it fills your mind with knowledge which cannot be carried into another stage of existence.” Long after this, moreover, my classmate Durant, at the height of his professional success, once stoutly denied to me that there was any real interest to be found in legal study.
“ The law,” he said, “ is simply a system of fossilized injustice; there is not enough of intellectual interest about it to occupy an intelligent mind for an hour.” This I do not believe ; and he was probably not the highest authority ; yet his remark and Judge Foster’s always helped me to justify to myself that early choice.
With all this social and intellectual occupation, much of my Brookline life was lonely and meditative ; my German romances made me a dreamer, and I spent much time in the woods, nominally botanizing but in reality trying to adjust myself, being still only nineteen or twenty, to the problems of life. One favorite place was Hammond’s Pond, then celebrated among botanists as the only locality for the beautiful Andromeda polifolia, so named by Linnæus because like the fabled Andromeda it dwelt in wild regions only. The pond was, and I believe still is, surrounded by deep woods and overhung by a hill covered with mossgrown fragments of rock, among which the pink Cypripedium or lady’s slipper used to grow profusely. The Andromeda was on the other side of the lake, and some one had left a leaky boat there, which I used to borrow and paddle across the dark water, past a cedar forest which lined it on one side, and made me associate it with the gloomy Mummelsee of one of my beloved German ballads : —
Do live the palest lilies many.
All day they droop so drowsily
In azure air of rainy,
But when the dreadful moon of night
Rains down on earth its yellow light
Up spring they, full of lightness,
In woman’s form and brightness.”
My lilies were in the water, not beside it, yet this was but a small variation ; and among them there was to be seen motionless the black prow of some old boat which had sunk at its moorings and looked so uncanny that I never would row near it. Across the lake a faint path wound up the hill among the rocks, and at the summit there was a large detached boulder with a mouldering ladder reaching its top, where I used to climb and rest after my long rambling. Close by there was one dead pine-tree of the older growth towering above the younger trees ; and sometimes a homeward faring robin or crow would perch and rest there as I was resting, or the sweet bell of the Newton Theological Seminary on its isolated hill would peal out what seemed like the Angelus.
What with all these dreamings, and the influence of Jean Paul and Heine, the desire for a free life of study, and perhaps of dreams, grew so strong upon me that I decided to go back to Cambridge as “ resident graduate,” — there was then no graduate school, — and establish myself as cheaply as possible, to live after my own will. I was already engaged to be married to one of the Brookline cousins, but I had taken what my mother called “ the vow of poverty,” and was willing to risk the future. Mrs. Farrar, an old friend of the family, with whom I had spent a part of the summer before entering college, reported with satisfaction that she had met me one day driving my own small wagon-load of furniture over muddy roads from Brookline to Cambridge, like any emigrant lad, whereas the last time she had seen me before was at the opera in Boston, with soiled white kid gloves on. Never was I happier in my life than at that moment of transformation when she saw me. It was my Flight into Egypt.
I established myself in the cheapest room I could find, in a house then called “ College House,” and standing on part of the ground now occupied by the block of that name. Its familiar appellation in Cambridge was “ The Old Den,” and my only housemate at first was an eccentric law student, or embryo lawyer, popularly known as “ Light-House Thomas,” because he had fitted himself for college in one of those edifices. Here at last I could live in my own way, making both ends meet by an occasional pupil, and enjoying the same freedom which Thoreau, then unknown to me, was afterwards to possess in his hut. I did not know exactly what I wished to study in Cambridge ; indeed, I went there to find out. Perhaps I had some vague notion of preparing myself for a professorship in literature or mathematics and metaphysics, but in the mean time I read, as Emerson says of Margaret Fuller, "at a rate like Gibbon’s.” There was the obstacle to be faced, which has indeed always proved too much for me, — the enormous wealth of the world of knowledge, and the stupendous variety of that which I wished to know. Doubtless the modern elective system, or even a wise teacher, would have helped me; they would have compelled me to concentration, but perhaps I may have absolutely needed some such period of intellectual wild oats. This was in September, 1843.
I read in that year, and a subsequent similar year, the most desultory and disconnected books, the larger the better: Newton’s Principia and Whewell’s Mechanical Euclid ; Ritter’s History of Ancient Philosophy; Sismondi’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ; Lamennais’ Paroles d’un Croyant and Livre du Peuple ; Homer and Hesiod; Linnæus’s Correspondence ; Emerson over and over. Fortunately I kept up outdoor life also and learned the point where books and nature meet; learned that Chaucer belongs to spring, German romance to summer nights, Amadis de Gaul and the Morte d’Arthur to the Christmas time; and found that books of natural history, in Thoreau’s phrase, “ furnish the cheerfulest winter reading.” Bettina Brentano and Günderode—the correspondence between the two maidens being just then translated by Margaret Fuller,— also fascinated me; and I have seldom been happier than when I spent two summer days beside the Rhine, many years after, in visiting the very haunts where Bettina romanced, and the spot where Günderode died.
I tried to read all night occasionally, as Lowell told me he had sometimes done, and as a mathematical classmate of mine had done weekly, to my envy; but sleepiness and the morning chill soon checked this foolish enterprise. On one of these nights I had an experience so nearly incredible that I scarcely dare to tell it, yet it was, I believe, essentially true. Sitting up till four one morning over a volume of Lamennais, I left the mark at an unfinished page, having to return the book to the college library. A year after I happened to take the book from the library again, got up at four o’clock to read, began where I left off, and afterwards, — not till afterwards, — looking in my diary, found that I had simply skipped a precise year and gone on with the passage.
I continued to teach myself German on a preposterous plan brought forward in those days by a learned Hungarian, Dr. Charles Kraitsir, who had a theory of the alphabet, and held that by its means all the Indo-European languages could be resolved into one ; so that we could pass from each to another by an effort of will, like the process of mind-healing. Tried on the German ballads this method proved very seductive, but when one went a step farther it turned out very superficial ; as is therefore all my knowledge of German, though I have read a good deal of it. All this way of living was intellectually very risky, as is the process of “ boarding one’s self ” — which I have also tried — for the body ; and I am glad to have come with no more serious injury through them both. For a specialist it would have been disastrous, but I was plainly not destined for a specialist ; for a predestined essayist and public speaker, it was not so bad, since to him nothing comes amiss. Fortunately it was a period when a tonic influence and a cohesive restraint came from a wholly different direction ; indeed, I might say from two directions.
The first of these influences was the renewal of my acquaintance with Lowell, which had been waived during my two years’ stay in Brookline. He recognized in Thaxter, who about this time went to New York to study for the dramatic profession, and in myself, two of his stoutest advocates. We met a little more on a level than before ; the difference of nearly five years which had formerly made him only my elder brother’s crony was now becoming less important, and I found myself approaching that maturer period which a clever woman defined as “ the age of everybody.”To be sure, I could recall the time when my brother had come home one evening with the curt remark, “ Jim Lowell doubts whether he shall really be a lawyer, after all : he thinks lie shall be a poet.”Now that poet was really launched, and indeed was “ the best launched man of his time,”as Willis said. I used to go to his room and to read books he suggested, such as Puttenham’s Arte of Poesie, and Chapman’s plays. He did most of the talking ; it was a way he had ; but he was always original and trenchant, though I sometimes rebelled inwardly at his very natural attitude of leadership. We sometimes walked out together, late in the evening, from Emerson’s lectures or the concerts which were already introducing Beethoven. Sometimes there was a reception after the lecture, usually at the rooms of a youth who was an ardent Fourierite, and had upon his door a blazing sun, with gilded rays emanating in all directions, and bearing the motto “ Universal Unity.” Beneath this appeared a neat black-and-white inscription, thus worded : “Please wipe your feet.”
Our evening walks from Boston were delightful: and Longfellow’s poem of The Bridge does little more than put into verse the thoughts they inspired. The walk was then, as is certainly not now the case, a plunge into darkness ; and there is no other point from which the transformation of the older Boston is more conspicuous. You now cross the bridge at night through a circle of radiant lights glancing in brilliant lines through all the suburbs ; but in the old nights there was here and there in the distance a dim oil lamp ; in time oil gave place to kerosene; then came gas, then electricity, and still the brighter the lamps, the more they multiplied. The river itself was different; there were far more vessels, and I have myself been hailed on the bridge and offered money to pilot a coasting schooner to Watertown. Seals also came above the wharves and gave Lowell the material for one of his best stories, but one which he never, I think, quite ventured to print. He saw two farmer lads watching from the bridge one of these visitors as he played in the water. “ Wal, neaow,” said one of the youths, “he them kind o’ critters common up this way, do ye suppose ? Be they — or be they?” “Wal,” responded the other, “ dunno ’s they be, and dunno ez they be.”This perfect flower of New England speech, twin blossoms on one stem, delighted Lowell hugely; and it was so unexampled in my own experience that it always inspired in me a slight distrust, as being too good to be true. Perhaps it created a little envy, as was the case with Alfred Dicey, when he and James Bryce first visited America, and I met them at a dinner party in Newport. Dicey came in, rubbing his hands, and saying with eagerness, “ Bryce is very happy ; at the Ocean House he has just heard a man say Eurōpean twice ! ”
Another and yet more tonic influence, though Lowell was already an ardent Abolitionist, came from the presence of reformatory agitation in the world outside. There were always public meetings in Boston to be attended; there were social reform gatherings where 1 heard the robust Orestes Brownson and my eloquent cousin William Henry Chauning ; there were anti-slavery conventions, with Garrison and Phillips ; then on Sunday there were Theodore Parker and James Freeman Clarke, to show that one might accomplish something and lead a manly life even in the pulpit. My betrothed was one of the founders of Clarke’s Church of the Disciples, and naturally drew me there; the services were held in a hall and were quite without those churchly associations which were then unattractive to me. My old friend Mr. John Glen King, of Salem, used to call the Disciples “ Jerusalem wildcats,” and to declare that the pastor strolled about and chatted with the parishioners during the singing. There was just enough of this sociability of manner to win my very heterodox heart; and at Theodore Parker’s services there was yet more. To this day I sometimes dream of going to hear him preach, — the great, free, eager congregation ; the strong, serious, commanding presence of the preacher ; his reverent and earnest prayer ; his comprehensive hour - long sermon full of sense, knowledge, feeling, courage, he being not afraid even of his own learning, absolutely holding his audience in the hollow of his hand. Once in New York a few years ago I went to Dr. Rainsford’s church and felt for a moment or two — not, indeed, while the surpliced choir was singing — that I was again in the hands of Theodore Parker.
Under the potent influences of Parker and Clarke I found myself gravitating toward what was then called the “ liberal “ ministry ; one very much secularized it must be, I foresaw, to satisfy me. Even in this point of view my action was regarded rather askance by some of my more strenuous transcendental friends, even George William Curtis expressing a little disapproval; though in later years he himself took to the pulpit, — in a yet more secular fashion, to be sure, — a good while after I had left it. I had put myself meanwhile in somewhat the position of that backsliding youth at Concord of whom some feminine friend said anxiously, “ I am troubled about Eben ; he used to be a real Come Outer, interested in all the reforms ; but now he smokes and swears and goes to church, and is just like any other young man.” Yet I resolved to risk even this peril, removed my modest belongings to Divinity Hall, and bought one of those very Hebrew Bibles which my father had once criticised as having their title-pages at the wrong end.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson.