ALTHOUGH the New York of my youth had little claim to be recognized as a literary centre, it yet was a city whose tastes and manners were much influenced by people of culture. One of these, Robert Sands, was the author of a poem entitled Yamoyden, its theme being an Indian story or legend. His family dated back to the Sands who once owned a considerable part of Block Island, and from whom Sands Point takes its name. If I do not mistake, they were connected by marriage with one of my ancestors, who were also settlers in Block Island. I remember having seen the poet Sands in my childhood, — a rather awkward, near-sighted man. His life was not a long one. A sister of his, Julia Sands, wrote a biographical sketch of her brother, and was spoken of as a literary woman.
It must have been in the twenties that James K. Paulding united with Washington Irving in editing a comic periodical called Salmagundi. The motto of this announced its character and intention : —
Et roastum, toastum, boilum folkses.”
William Cullen Bryant took a prominent part in politics, but mingled little in general society, being much absorbed in his duties as editor of The Evening Post, of which he was also the founder.
I first heard of Fitz-Greene Halleck as the author of various satirical pieces of verse relating to personages and events of nearly eighty years ago. He is now best remembered by his Marco Bozzaris, a noble lyric, which we have heard quoted in view of recent lamentable encounters between Greeks and barbarians.
Among the lecturers who visited New York I recall Professor Silliman of Yale College; Dr. Follen, who spoke of German literature; George Combe and Sir Charles Lyell.
Charles King, for many years editor of a daily paper entitled The New York American, was a man of much literary taste. He had been a pupil at Harrow when Scott and Byron were there. He was an appreciative friend of my father, although as convivial in his tastes as my father was the reverse. One evening when a temperance meeting was going on in one of our large parlors Mr. King called, and, finding my father thus engaged, began to frolic with us young people. He even dared to say, “Now I should like to open those folding doors just wide enough to fire off a bottle of champagne at those temperance people.” He was the patron of my early literary ventures, and kindly allowed my fugitive pieces to appear in his paper. He always advocated the abolition of slavery, and could never forgive Henry Clay his part in effecting the Missouri Compromise, confirming the rights of slaveholders below Mason and Dixon’s line. He and his brother James, my father’s junior partner, were sons of Rufus King, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I was a child of perhaps eight years when I heard my elders say with regret that “ old Mr. King was dying.” Quite late in life Mr. Charles King became president of Columbia College, which then, with the homes of its officers, occupied the greater part of Park Place. Its professors were well known in society, and the college was very conservative in its management. The professor of mathematics, when he was asked one day by one of his class whether the sun did not really stand still in answer to the prayer of Joshua, laughed at the question, and was in consequence reprimanded by the faculty.
Professor Anthon, of the college, became known through his school and college editions of many Latin classics. Professor Morse, in the department of Hellenics, was popular among the undergraduates, — partly, it was said, on account of his very indulgent method of conducting examinations. Professor MacVickar, in the chair of philosophy, was one of the early admirers of Ruskin. The families of these gentlemen mingled a good deal in the society of the time, and contributed, no doubt, to impart to it a tone of polite culture. I should say that before the forties the sons of the best families were usually sent to Columbia College. My own brothers, three in number, were among its graduates. New York parents in those days looked upon Harvard as a Unitarian institution, and shunned its influence for their children.
The venerable Lorenzo Da Ponte was for many years a resident of New York, and a teacher of the Italian language and literature. When Dominick Lynch introduced the first opera troupe to the New York public, some time in the twenties, the audience must surely have comprised some of the old man’s pupils well versed in the language of the librettos. In earlier life he had furnished the text of several of Mozart’s operas, among them Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro.
Charles Augustus Davis, the author of Jack Downing’s Letters, was a gentleman well known in the New York society of my youth. The letters in question contained imaginary reports of a tour which the writer professed to have made with General Jackson, when the latter was a candidate for reëlection to the presidency. They were very popular at the time, but have long since passed into oblivion. In one of them Major Downing describes an occasion on which it was important that the general should interlard his address with a few Latin quotations. Not possessing any learning of that kind, he concluded his speech with, “ E pluribus unum, gentlemen, sine qua non.”
The great literary boast of the city, at the time of which I speak, was undoubtedly Washington Irving. I was still a child in the nursery when I heard of his return to America, after a residence of some years in Spain. A public dinner was given in honor of this event. One of the guests told of Mr. Irving’s embarrassment when he was called upon for a speech. He rose, waved his hand in the air, and could only utter a few sentences, which were heard with difficulty. Many years after this time, I was present, with other ladies, at a public dinner given in honor of Charles Dickens by prominent citizens of New York. The ladies were not bidden to the feast, but were allowed to occupy a small anteroom which, through an open door, commanded a view of the tables. When the speaking was about to begin, a message came suggesting that we should take possession of some vacant seats at the great table. This we were glad to do. Washington Irving was president of the evening, and upon him devolved the duty of inaugurating the proceedings by an address of welcome to the distinguished guest. People who sat near me whispered, “ He ’ll break down, — he always does.” Mr. Irving rose and uttered a sentence or two. His friends interrupted him by applause, which was intended to encourage him, but which entirely overthrew his selfpossession. He hesitated, stammered, and sat down, saying, “ I cannot go on.” It was an embarrassing and painful moment, but Mr. John Duer, an eminent lawyer, came to his friend’s assistance, and with suitable remarks proposed the health of Charles Dickens, to which Mr. Dickens promptly responded. This he did in his happiest manner, covering Mr. Irving’s defeat by a glowing eulogy of his literary merits.
“ Whose books do I take to bed with me, night after night ? Washington Irving’s, as one who is present can testify.” This one was evidently Mrs. Dickens, who was seated beside me. Mr. Dickens proceeded to speak of international copyright, saying that the prime object of his visit to America was the promotion of this important measure.
I met Washington Irving several times at the house of John Jacob Astor. He was silent in general company, and usually fell asleep at the dinner table. This occurrence was, indeed, so common with him that the other guests noticed it only with a smile. After a nap of some ten minutes he would open his eyes and take part in the conversation, apparently unconscious of having been asleep.
In his youth Mr. Irving had traveled extensively in Europe. While in Rome he had received marked attention from the banker Torlonia, who repeatedly invited him to dinner parties, the opera, and so on. He was at a loss to account for this, until his last visit to the bank, when Torlonia, taking him aside, said, “ Pray tell me, is it not true that you are a grandson of the great Washington ? ” Mr. Irving in early life had given offense to the descendants of old Dutch families in New York by the publication of Knickerbocker’s History of New York, in which he had presented some of their forbears in a humorous light. The solid fame which he acquired in later days effaced the remembrance of this old-time grievance, and in the days in which I had the pleasure of his acquaintance he held an enviable position in the esteem and affection of the community. He always remained a bachelor, owing, it was said, to an attachment the object of which had been removed by death. I have even heard that the lady in question was a beautiful Jewess, the same one whom Walter Scott has depicted in his well-known Rebecca.
It has been explained that the continued prosperity of France under varying forms of government is due to the fact that the municipal administration of the country is not affected by these changes, but continues much the same under king, emperor, and republican president. I find something analogous to this in the permanence of certain underlying tendencies in the society of New York, despite the continual variations which diversify the surface of the domain of fashion. The earliest social function which I remember is a ball given by my parents when I must have been about four years of age. Quite late in the evening I was taken out of bed and arrayed in an embroidered cambric slip. Some one tried to fasten a pink rosebud on the waist of my dress, but did not succeed to her mind. I was brought into the drawingrooms, which had undergone a surprising transformation. The floors were bare, and from the ceiling of either room was suspended a circle of wax lights and artificial flowers. The orchestra included a double bass. I surveyed the company of dancers, but soon curled myself up on a sofa, where one of the dowagers fed me with ice cream. This entertainment took place at our house on Bowling Green, a neighborhood which has long been given up to business.
In the days of my childhood silver forks were in use at dinner parties, though on ordinary occasions we used the three-pronged steel fork, which is now rarely seen. My father sometimes admonished my maternal grandmother not to put her knife into her mouth, but in her youth every one had used the knife in this way. Meats were carefully roasted in what was called a tin kitchen, before an open fire. Desserts on state occasions consisted of pastry, wine jelly, and blanc mange, with pyramids of ice cream, which was always supplied by a French resident. Jean Contoit by name, whose very modest garden long continued to be the only place at which such a dainty could be obtained. It may have been M. Contoit who, speaking to a compatriot of his first days in America, said, “ Imagine ! When I first came to this place people cooked vegetables with water only, and the calf’s head was thrown away!”
The ladies of that period wore white cambric gowns, finely embroidered, in winter as well as in summer, and walked abroad in thin morocco slippers. Pelisses were worn in cold weather, often of some bright color, rose pink or blue. I have found in a family letter of that time the following description of a bride’s toilet: “Miss E. was married in a frock of white merino, with a full suit of steel, comb, ear-rings, and so on.” I once heard Mrs. William Astor, née Armstrong, tell of a pair of brides, twin sisters, who appeared at church dressed in pelisses of white merino trimmed with chinchilla, with caps of the same fur. They were much admired at the time.
Among the festivities of old New York the observance of New Year’s Day held an important place. In every house of any pretension the ladies of the family sat in the drawing-room, arrayed in their best dresses, and the gentlemen of their acquaintance made short visits, during which wine and rich cakes were offered. It was allowable to call as early as ten o’clock in the morning, but the visitor sometimes did little more than appear and disappear, hastily muttering something about the “ compliments of the season.” The gentlemen prided themselves upon the number of visits paid, the ladies upon the number received. Girls at school vexed one another with emulative boasting.
“ We had fifty callers on New Year’s Day.”
“ Oh! but we had sixty-five.”
This perfunctory performance grew very tedious by the time that the calling hours were ended, but apart from this the day was one on which families were greeted by distant relatives rarely seen, while old friends met and revived their pleasant memories. In our house the rooms were all thrown open, and bright fires burned in the grates. My father, after his adoption of temperance principles, forbade the offering of wine to visitors, and ordered it to be replaced by hot coffee, — a prohibition at which we were rather chagrined, but his will was law. I recall a New Year’s Day, early in the thirties, on which a yellow chariot stopped before our door. A stout elderly gentleman descended from it, and came in to pay his compliments to my father. This gentleman was John Jacob Astor, who was already known to be possessed of great wealth.
The pleasant custom just described was said to have originated with the Dutch settlers of the olden time. As the city grew in size, it became difficult and wellnigh impossible for gentlemen to make the necessary number of visits. Finally, a number of young men of the city took it upon themselves to call in squads at houses which they had no right to molest, consuming the refreshments provided for other guests, and making themselves disagreeable in various ways. This offense against good manners led to the discontinuance, by common consent, of the New Year’s receptions.
Mrs. Jameson’s visit to the United States in the year 1835 gave me the opportunity of making acquaintance with that very accomplished lady and author. I was then a girl of sixteen summers, but I had read The Diary of an Ennuyée, which first brought Mrs. Jameson into literary prominence. I afterward read with avidity the two later volumes in which she gives so good an account of modern art works in Europe. In these she speaks with enthusiasm of certain frescoes in Munich, which I was sorry, many years later, to be obliged to consider less remarkable than her description of them had warranted me in supposing. When I perused these works, having myself no practical knowledge of art, their graphic style gave me a vision of the things described. The beautiful Pinakothek and Glyptothek of Munich became to me as if I actually saw them ; and when it was my good fortune to visit them, I seemed, especially in the case of the marbles, to meet with old friends. Mrs. Jameson’s connoisseurship was not limited to pictorial and sculptural art; she was passionately fond of music, also. I still remember her account of one evening passed with the composer Wieck in his German home. In this she mentions his daughter Clara, and her lover, young Schumann. Clara Wieck became well known in Europe as a pianist of eminence, and of Schumann as a composer there is now no need to speak.
There were various legends regarding Mrs. Jameson’s private history. It was said that her husband, marrying her against his will, parted from her at the church door, and thereafter left England for Canada, where he was residing at the time of her visit. I first met her at an evening party at the house of a friend. I was invited to make some music, and sang, among other things, a brilliant bravura air from Semiramide. When I would have left the piano Mrs. Jameson came to me and said, “ Altra cosa, my dear.” My voice had been cultivated with care, and though not of great power was considered pleasing in quality, and was certainly very flexible. I met Mrs. Jameson at several other entertainments devised in her honor. She was of middle height and red blonde in color; her face was not handsome, but sensitive and sympathetic in expression, and her want of taste in dress somewhat scandalized the elegant dames of New York. I actually heard one of them say, “ How like the devil she does look ! ” After a winter passed in Canada, Mrs. Jameson again visited New York, on her way to England. She called upon me one day with a friend, and asked to see my father’s pictures. Two of these, portraits of Charles I. and his queen, were supposed to be by Vandyke, but Mrs. Jameson doubted their genuineness. She spoke of her intimacy with the celebrated Mrs. Somerville, and said, “ I think of her as a dear little woman who is very fond of drawing.” When I went to return her visit, I found her engaged in earnest conversation with a son of Sir James Mackintosh. When he had taken leave she said to me, “ Mr. Mackintosh and I were almost at daggers drawn.” So far as I could learn, their dispute related to democratic forms of government and the society therefrom resulting, which he viewed with favor and she with bitter dislike. I inquired about her winter in Canada. She replied, “ As the Irishman said, I had everything that a pig could want.” Soon after this time her volume entitled Winter Studies and Summer Rambles appeared; her work on Sacred and Legendary Art and her Legends of the Madonna were not published, however, until after a long interval of time.
My first peep at the gay world in grownup days was at a dinner party given by the lady mentioned above, a daughter of General Armstrong married to the eldest son of the original John Jacob Astor. Mrs. Astor was a person of very elegant taste. She had received a part of her education in Paris at the time when her father represented our government at the court of France, and her notions of propriety in dress were stringent. According to these, jewels were not to be worn in the daytime ; glaring colors and striking contrasts were also to be avoided. Much that is in favor to-day would have been ruled out by her as inadmissible. At the dinner of which I speak the ladies were in evening dress, which in those days did not exceed modest limits. One pretty married lady wore a white turban, which was much admired. Another lady was adorned with a coronet of fine stone cameos, which has recently been presented to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by a surviving member of her family. My head was dressed for tins occasion by Martel, a dainty half Spanish or French octoroon, endowed with exquisite taste, a ready wit, and a saucy tongue. He was the Figaro of the time, and his droll sayings were often quoted among his lady customers. The hair was then worn low at the back of the head, woven into elaborate braids and darkened with French pomade, and upon the forehead, or just above it, there was usually an ornament called a féronière. This was sometimes a string of pearls with a diamond star in the middle, oftener a gold chain or band ornamented with a jewel. The fashion, while it prevailed, was so general that evening dress was scarcely considered complete without it.
Not long after the dinner party just mentioned my eldest brother married the eldest daughter of the Astor family. I officiated at the wedding as first bridesmaid, the others being a sister of the bride and one of my own sisters. The bride wore a dress of rich white silk, and was coifed with a scarf of some precious lace in lieu of a veil. On her forehead shone a diamond star, the gift of her grandfather, Mr. John Jacob Astor. The bridesmaids’ dresses were of white moire, then a material of the newest vogue. I had begged my father to give me a féronière for this occasion, and he had presented me with a very pretty string of pearls, with a pearl pansy and drop in the centre. This fashion, I afterward learned, was ill suited to the contour of my face ; at the time, however, I had the comfort of supposing that I looked uncommonly well. The ceremony took place in the evening, at the house of the bride’s parents, and an elaborate supper was afterward served, at which the first groomsman proposed the health of the bride and groom, which was drunk, I remember, without response. A wedding journey was not a sine qua non in those days, but a wedding reception was usual. In this instance it took the form of a brilliant ball, every guest being in turn presented to the bride. On the floor of the ballroom a floral design had been traced in colored chalks. The evening was at its height when my father gravely admonished me that it was time to go home; and since paternal authority was without appeal, in those days, I sadly withdrew. In my character of bridesmaid, I was allowed to attend one or two of the entertainments given in honor of this marriage. The gayeties of New York were then limited to balls, dinners, and evening parties, for the afternoon tea was not invented, or imported, until a much later period. A very few extra élégantes received on stated afternoons. A dear uncle of mine, taking up a card left for me, with the inscription, “ Mrs. S. at home on Thursday afternoons,” remarked, “ At home on Thursday afternoons ? I am glad to learn that she is so domestic.” This lady, who was a leading personage in the social world, used also to receive privileged friends one evening in the week, when she served only a cup of chocolate and some cakes or biscuits.
Young as my native city was in my youth, it still retained some fossils of an earlier period. Conspicuous among these were two sisters, of whom the elder had been a recognized beauty and belle at the time of the war of independence. Miss Charlotte White was what was called “ a character ” in those days. She was tall and of commanding figure, and was always attired after an ancient fashion, but with great care. I remember her calling upon my aunt, one morning, in company with a lady friend much inclined to embonpoint. The lady’s name was Euphemia, and Miss White addressed her thus: “Feme, thou female Falstaff.” She took some notice of me, and began to talk of the gayeties of her youth, and especially of a ball given at Newport during the war, at which she had received special attention. “I was unwilling,” she said, “to have my hair, which was the finest I ever saw, touched by a hairdresser. It was considered necessary, however, and I consented.” I cannot now remember the names of the distinguished officers with whom she had danced, though they impressed me at the time. On returning the visit we found the sisters in the quaintest little sitting-room imaginable, the floor covered with a green Brussels carpet that had a medallion of flowers in the centre, evidently woven to order and in one piece. The furniture was of enameled whitewood, and we were entertained with cake and wine. The younger sister was much afraid of lightning, and had devised a curious little refuge to which she always betook herself when a thunderstorm appeared imminent. This was a wooden platform standing on glass feet, with a seat and a silken canopy ; the latter the good lady drew closely around her, remaining thus enveloped until the dreaded danger was past.
My father sometimes endeavored to overcome my fear of lightning by taking me up to the cupola of our house and bidding me admire the beauty of the storm. Wishing to impress upon me the absurdity of giving way to fear, he told me of a lady whom he had known in his youth, who, being overtaken by a thunderstorm at a place of public resort, so lost her head that she seized the wig of a gentleman standing near her and waved it wildly in the air, to his great wrath and discomfiture. I am sorry to say that this dreadful warning provoked my laughter, but did not increase my courage.
My brother and his bride came to reside with us shortly after their marriage. In their company I often visited the Astor mansion, which was made delightful by good taste, good manners, and hospitable entertainments. Mr. William B. Astor, the head of the family, was a rather shy and silent man. He had received the best education that a German university could offer. The Chevalier Bunsen had been his tutor, and Schopenhauer, then a student at the same university, had been his friend. He had a love for letters, and might perhaps have followed his natural leaning to advantage had he not become his father’s man of business, and thus been forced to devote much of his life to the management of the great estate. At the time of which I speak he resided on the unfashionable side of Broadway, not far below Canal Street. I was often invited to the house of his father, Mr. John Jacob Astor, —a house which the old gentleman had built for himself, situated on Broadway, between Prince and Spring streets. Adjoining it was one he had built for a favorite granddaughter, Mrs. Boreel. He was very fond of music, and sometimes engaged the services of a professional pianist. I remember that he was much pleased at recognizing, one evening, the strains of a brilliant waltz, of which he said, “ I heard it at a fair in Switzerland, years ago. The Swiss women were whirling round in their red petticoats.” On another occasion we sang the well-known song Am Rhein, and Mr. Astor, who was very stout and infirm of person, rose and stood beside the piano, joining with the singers.
My sister-in-law, Emily Astor Ward, was gifted with a voice whose unusual power and beauty had been enhanced by careful training. We sometimes sang together or separately at old Mr. Astor’s musical parties, and at one of them he said to us, as we stood together, “ You are my singing birds.” Of our two repertoires, mine was the more varied, as it included French and German songs, while she sang mostly operatic music ; the rich volume of her voice, however, carried her hearers quite away. Her figure and carriage were fine, and in her countenance beauty of expression lent a great charm to features which in themselves were not handsome. The presence of the opera in New York had done much to create a taste for Italian, and especially for operatic music. One or two of the artists who accompanied Garcia’s troupe remained in the city after his departure, and found occupation in cultivating the voices of amateur singers. Garcia’s eldest daughter, the signorina so much admired in her early performances, had married a French resident of New York, Malibran by name. He was supposed to be very rich, but went into bankruptcy soon after his marriage, and his young wife was obliged to work for her own support. She gave singing lessons in families, and sang in the choir of Grace Church, which was then by far the best in New York. I remember attending a special service held there in commemoration of John Henry Hobart, Bishop of New York, then recently deceased. A soprano solo was introduced, of which the words were, “ When the eye saw him, it blessed him, and when the ear heard him, it gave witness of him.” A female voice, rich, powerful wonderful, seemed to fill the building with pathetic melody. Every heart was thrilled, and those who listened whispered, “ Malibran.”
Although the elder Astor had led a life mainly devoted to business interests, he found great pleasure in the society of literary men. Fitz-Greene Halleck and Washington Irving were among his familiar visitors, and he conceived so high a regard for Dr. Cogswell, the founder and former principal of Round Hill School, as to insist upon his becoming one of his household. Dr. Cogswell made his home with us for some years after the closing of his famous school, but finally went to reside with Mr. Astor, attracted partly by the latter’s promise to endow a public library in the city of New York. This was accomplished after some delay, and the doctor was for many years director of the Astor Library. He used to relate some humorous anecdotes of excursions which he made with Mr. Astor. In the course of one of these the two gentlemen took supper together at a hotel recently opened. Mr. Astor remarked, “ This man will never succeed.”
“ Why not ? ” inquired the other.
“ Don’t you see,” replied the financier, “ what large lumps of sugar he puts in the sugar-bowl ? ”
As they were walking slowly to a pilot boat which the old gentleman had chartered for a trip down the harbor, Dr. Cogswell said, “ Mr. Astor, I have just been calculating that this boat costs you twenty-five cents a minute.” Mr. Astor immediately hastened his pace, reluctant to waste so much money.
In his own country Mr. Astor had been a member of the German Lutheran Church. He once mentioned this fact to a clergyman who called on him in the interest of some charity. The visitor congratulated Mr. Astor upon the increased ability to do good which his great fortune gave him. “ Ah ! ” said Mr. Astor, “ the disposition to do good does not always increase with the means.” In the last years of his life he was afflicted with insomnia, and Dr. Cogswell often sat with him through a large part of the night; the coachman, William, being also in attendance. In these sleepless nights his mind appeared to be much exercised with regard to a future state. On one occasion, when the doctor had done his best to expound the theme of immortality, Mr. Astor suddenly said to his servant, “ William, where do you expect to go when you die ? ” The man replied, “ Why, sir, I always expected to go where the other people went.”
The house of my young-ladyhood was situated at the corner of Bond Street and Broadway. When my father built it, the fashion of the city had not proceeded so far up town. The model of the house was a noble one. Three spacious rooms and a small study occupied the first floor. These were furnished with curtains of blue, yellow, and red silk. The red room was that in which we took our meals. The blue room was the one in which we received visits and passed the evenings. The yellow room was thrown open only on high occasions, but my desk and grand piano were placed in it, and I was allowed to occupy it at will. This and the blue room were adorned with beautiful sculptured mantelpieces, the work of Thomas Crawford, afterward known as a sculptor of great merit. Many years after this time he became the husband of the sister next me in age, and the father of F. Marion Crawford, the now celebrated novelist. Our family was patriarchal in its dimensions. The aunt who had taken my dear mother’s place lived with us thenceforth. She had married the young physician of whom my father was so fond. Their children, born in our house, were very dear to him. My maternal grandmother also passed much time with us. My two younger brothers, Henry and Marion, were at home with us after a term of years at Round Hill School. My eldest brother, Samuel (the Sam Ward of the Lobby), was sent to Europe immediately after graduating from Columbia College. He had shown an unusual aptitude for mathematics, and it was hoped that he would become eminent as a scientist. His residence in Europe, however, was not strictly devoted to mathematical studies. He returned home after an absence of some years, speaking French and German with fluency,— a most accomplished and agreeable young man. He had been permitted to collect a noble library, and my father, having added to his large house a spacious art gallery, added to this a study whose walls were entirely occupied by my brother’s books. I had free access to them, and did not neglect to profit by it.
From what I have said it may rightly be inferred that my father was a man of fine tastes, inclined to generous and even lavish expenditure. He desired to give us the best educational opportunities, the best and most expensive masters. He filled his art gallery with the finest pictures that money could command in the New York of that day. He gave largely to public undertakings, and was one of the founders of the New York University and one of the foremost promoters of church building in the then distant West. He relucted only at expenses connected with dress and fashionable entertainment, for he always disliked and distrusted the great world.
Our way of living was simple ; though the table was abundantly supplied, it was not with the richest food, and for many years no alcoholic stimulant appeared on it. My father gave away by dozens the bottles of costly wine stored in his cellar, but neither tasted it nor allowed us to do so. He was for a great part of his life a martyr to rheumatic gout, and a witty friend of his once said, “ Ward, it must be the poor man’s gout that you have, as you drink only water.” We breakfasted at eight in the winter, at half past seven in the summer. My father read prayers before breakfast and before bedtime. If my brothers lingered over the morning meal, he would come in, hatted and booted for the day, and would say, “ Young gentlemen, I am glad that you can afford to take life so easily ! I am old and must work for my living,” — a speech which broke up our coterie. Dinner was served at four o’clock, — a light lunch abbreviating the fast for those at home, — and at half past seven we sat down to tea, a meal of which toast, preserves, and cake formed the staple. In the evening we usually sat together, with books and needlework, often with an interlude of music. An occasional lecture, concert, or evening party varied this routine. My brothers went much into fashionable society, but my own participation in its doings came only after my father’s death, and after the two years’ mourning which, according to the usage of those days, followed it. He had retained the Puritan feeling with regard to Saturday evening, and would remark that it was not a proper evening for company, but a time of preparation for the exercises of the day following, the order for which was very strict. We were indeed indulged on Sunday morning with coffee and muffins at breakfast, but, besides the morning and afternoon services at church, we young folks were expected to attend the two meetings of the Sunday school. We were supposed to read only Sunday books, and I must here acknowledge my indebtedness to Mrs. Sherwood, an English writer now almost forgotten, whose religious stories and romances were supposed to come under this head. In the evening we sang hymns, and sometimes received a quiet visitor.
My readers may ask whether this restricted routine satisfied my mind, and whether I was at all sensible of the privileges which I really enjoyed or ought to have enjoyed. I must own now that, after my schooldays, I warmly coveted an enlargement of intercourse with the world. I did not desire to be counted among fashionables, but I did aspire to much greater freedom of association than was allowed me. I lived, indeed, much in my books, and my sphere of thought was a good deal enlarged by the foreign literatures, German, French, and Italian, with which I became familiar. Yet I seemed to myself like a young damsel of olden time, shut up within an enchanted castle, and I must say that my dear parent, with all his noble generosity and overweening affection, sometimes appeared to me as my jailer. My brother’s return from Europe and his subsequent marriage opened the door a little for me. It was through his intervention that Mr. Longfellow first visited us, to become a valued and lasting friend. Through him, in turn, we formed an acquaintance with Professor Felton, Charles Sumner, and Dr. Howe. My brother was very fond of music, of which he had heard the best in Paris and in Germany. He often arranged musical parties at our house, at which trios of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert were given. His wit, social talent, and literary taste unfolded a new world to me, and enabled me to share some of the best results of his long residence in Europe.
My father’s extremely jealous care of us was by no means the result of a disposition tending to social exclusiveness. It proceeded, on the contrary, from an overanxiety concerning the moral and religious influences to which his children might become subjected. His ideas of propriety were very strict. He was, moreover, not only a strenuous Protestant, but also an ardent Evangelical, holding the Calvinistic views which then characterized that portion of the Episcopal Church in America. I remember that he once spoke to me of the anguish he had felt at the death of his own father, of the orthodoxy of whose religious opinions he had had no sufficient assurance. My grandfather, indeed, was supposed in the family to be of a rather skeptical and philosophizing turn of mind. He fell a victim to the first visitation of the cholera, in 1832.
Despite a certain austerity of character, my father was greatly beloved and honored in the business world. He did much to give to the firm of Prime, Ward & King the high position which it attained and retained during his lifetime. He told me once that when he first entered the office, he found it, like many others, a place where gossip circulated freely. He determined to put an end to this, and did so. Among the foreign correspondents of his firm were the Barings of London, and Hottinguer & Cie of Paris. In the great financial trouble which followed Andrew Jackson’s overthrow of the Bank of the United States, several states became bankrupt, and repudiated the obligations incurred by their bonds, to the exceeding indignation of business people in both hemispheres. The state of New York was at one time on the verge of pursuing this course, which my father strenuously opposed. He called meeting after meeting, and was unwearied in his efforts to induce the financiers of the state to hold out. When this appeared well-nigh impossible, he undertook that his firm should negotiate with English correspondents a loan to carry the state over the period of doubt and difficulty. This he was able to effect. My eldest brother came home one day and said to me, “ As I walked up from Wall Street to-day, I saw a dray loaded with kegs on which were inscribed the letters ‘ P. W. & K.’ ” Those kegs contained the gold just sent to the firm from England, to help our state through this crisis.
My father once gave me some account of his early experiences in Wall Street. He had been sent, almost a boy, to New York, to try his fortune. His connection with Block Island families, through his grandmother, Catherine Ray Greene, had probably aided in securing for him a clerk’s place in the banking house of Prime & Sands, afterward Prime, Ward & King. He soon ascertained that the Spanish dollars brought to the port by foreign trading vessels could be sold in Wall Street at a profit. He accordingly employed his leisure hours in the purchase of those coins, which he carried to Wall Street and there sold. This was the beginning of his fortune.
A work published a score or more of years since, entitled The Merchant Princes of Wall Street, concluded a sketch of my father with the statement that he died without fortune. This was far from true. His death came indeed at a very critical moment, when, on account of extensive investments in real estate, his skill would have been requisite to carry this extremely valuable property over a time of great financial disturbance. His brother, our uncle, who became the guardian of our interests, was familiar with the stock market, but little versed in real estate transactions. By forced and untimely sales, much of the valuable estate was scattered. Yet it gave to each of my father’s six children a fair inheritance for that time ; for the millionaire fever did not break out until long afterward.
The death of this dear and noble parent took place when I was a little more than twenty years of age. Six months later I attained the period of legal responsibility ; but before this a new sense of the import of life had begun to alter the current of my thoughts. With my father’s death came to me a realization of my lamentable insensibility to his great kindness, and of my ingratitude for the many comforts and advantages which his affection had secured to me. He had given me the most delightful home, the most careful training, the best masters and books. He had even built a picture gallery for my especial instruction and enjoyment. All this I had taken as a matter of course and as my natural right. He had done his best to keep me out of frivolous society, and had been extremely strict about the visits of young men to the house. Once, when I expostulated with him upon these points, he told me that he had early recognized in me a temperament and an imagination oversensitive to impressions from without, and that his wish had been to guard me from exciting influences until I should appear to him fully able to guard and guide myself. It was hardly to be expected that a girl in her teens, or just out of them, should acquiesce in this restrictive guardianship, tender and benevolent as was its intention. My little acts of rebellion were met with considerable severity, but I now recall my father’s admonitions as “ soft rebukes in blessings ended.”
Julia Ward Howe.