A Bundle of Old Letters: (The Leland Papers)


A THING has only to be said often enough, and most people will believe it. I suppose this is why we are ready to agree that the art of letter-writing perished with our great-grandfathers. But if letters then did lose their fine flavor, — which, remembering FitzGerald’s, Stevenson’s, and a few others, seems to me at least an open question, — they still had to be written; and I sometimes think that, even today, more can be learned of a man from the letters he receives than from the things at which he laughs, once considered the test.

Certainly, had I been a stranger to the Rye, — as I must continue to call my Uncle, Charles Godfrey Leland, whom I would scarcely recognize by any other name, — I could not have gone through the mass of correspondence he left to my care, and not have learned something of the way he worked, endlessly and tirelessly; of the wholesale enthusiasm with which he threw himself into his tasks and friendships and appreciations; of his readiness to squander his energy in helping other people. Nor could I have doubted that, in his time, he had been a great wanderer over the face of the earth. The very confusion in which I found the letters was eloquent of the constant work and frequent journeys, that left no time for their systematic arrangement. Some were tied together anyhow; others were neatly classified and labelled; at the end they were fastened, as they came, in his books of Memoranda. And the worst of it is, there are great gaps in the correspondence, long intervals with not a letter from anybody to account for them, as if in moments of despair wholesale destruction had seemed to him the only hope of order; or else, the chances of time and travel had saved him the trouble.

Of his early student days in the Universities of Heidelberg and Paris, of his first journeys abroad, when he — like Story and Longfellow and Motley and Bancroft and how many others—was one of Mr. Henry James’s “precursors,” next to nothing has been spared. And yet, what value his impressions of German student life in their first freshness would have! What a document his story of the French Revolution of 1848, as he dashed it off in the heat of the moment to a friend, would be! — the story told while he still quivered with those adventures of battle and barricade which remained forever after so vivid in his memory that, as late as 1890, being then in his sixty-seventh year, he was writing in his Memoranda, under the date February 24: “On Feb. 24th, 1848, forty-two years ago, at this hour I was in the thick of the French Revolution — at the Tuileries. Even now the memory inspires me. What a day it was for me! I felt and knew its greatness at the time. I felt that everything in which I took part was history. ‘Shot and smoke and sabre stroke and death shots following fast.’ . . . Now I am high and dry on the beach. But I remember when I rolled in the waves.”

Of the period of storm and stress at home, from 1848 to 1869, when he was lawyer, author, journalist, editor, soldier, politician, when he wrote his Meister Karl, first translated Heine, and sprang into fame as Hans Breitmann, the letters are almost as silent. It is like the playful perversity of fate that the only two I have so far discovered should present an absurd contrast, and should have no bearing whatever upon his public career, though they reveal much to anybody with the clue. For one, from Lowell, written during the year — the first of the Civil War —spent by the Rye in Boston, makes it clear that already his literary work opened to him the then most exclusive doors of the literary world; while the other, from Max Strakosch, eight years later, proves as plainly that his critical work on the press passed him behind the scenes of musical and theatrical life.

This letter of Lowell’s may be slight compared to the endless pages he wrote to his more intimate friends. But its careful preservation, enclosed in the little old-fashioned envelope with the long superseded stamp and securely fastened in a volume of the Poems, — the literary relic in its appropriate shrine, — shows, I think, how much it was prized by the Rye, and is also suggestive of the attitude of the “younger men ” of that day toward Lowell. It is pleasant to add, as a sort of parenthesis, that this attitude, in the case of the Rye, was not weakened by years. When Lowell was sent from Madrid to London in 1880, Dr. Holmes wrote to him, “Leland (Hans Breitmann), who has been living in London some years, says you will be the most popular American Minister we have ever sent,” a prophecy that, in its fulfilment, did no small credit to the powers of the prophet. “Our Club,” referred to in Lowell’s letter, is, of course, the Saturday Club; — that the society he met there was on the whole better than any England provided, was his estimate of it even in 1883, when he had had a fair chance for comparison. The “notice,” whether of the Poems or of the Biglow Papers it is impossible now to tell, has vanished, as the most flattering notices will, once they have served their turn in review or paper. The letter is dated 1861, and is from Elmwood, — “the place I love best,” Lowell described it to his old friend Charles F. Briggs that very same year.

“It is only too flattering,” he begins abruptly. “I thought our Club did not meet Christmas week, or I should have been there and claimed you as my guest. Let me engage you now for the last Saturday in the month. I shall call upon you the first time I come to Boston, which will be next Saturday. I have a vacation before long, and then I shall hope to see more of you.

“ I was infinitely diverted by your extracts from the Ballad and shall be greatly obliged for a copy of the whole.
“ With many thanks,
Cordially yours,
P. S. I mean it is the notice of J. R. L. that is too flattering. I know not what else to say — except that I am pleased for all that. I send my beso la mano to the author with many thanks.”

With this, another note from Lowell was preserved as carefully in the same volume, where both have lain undisturbed now for almost a half century. The second is not to the Rye, however, but to give his address to Professor Child. — a businesslike hasty little scribble of a few lines, but with one personal touch in the “dear Ciarli” at the beginning, that would mean a great deal, I fancy, to all who are left of a certain group of Boston scholars.

As for the letter from Max Strakosch, it has survived most likely because it was never delivered. It is to Maurice Strakosch in Paris, introducing the Rye, then starting on his second wanderings abroad, and describing him, with the eye to the main chance and the genuine good nature that are apparently part of the stock in trade of the profession, as “ a very wealthy man and very highly educated,” the defender of Miss Kellogg from the stupid attacks of “Bohemian papers,”—in a word, a man to be brought into society, any favor to whom “will do me good.” Whether the Paris society into which Maurice Strakosch could bring him was just the kind for which the Rye was eager, is another matter. But, anyway, he says, in his Memoirs, that after his arrival in Paris “a distaste for operas, theatres, dinners, society,” suddenly came over him, which may account for the fact that the letter now lies before me, the paper torn and crumpled, and the memories it evokes of opera in the sixties as faint and faded as the writing.

Two letters are a meagre record of the correspondence covering the first fortyfive years of a busy man’s life; a meagreness I regret the more keenly when I look over the many belonging to the period that immediately follows. But, after all, that any at all should have survived is something to be grateful for. Besides, the period in question, from 1869 to 1879, spent by the Rye chiefly in England, was far from being the least amusing or least industrious of his successful career. He was in his very prime, he was full of work, his reputation had preceded him, he met all the people most worth meeting, he lived much in the world, he entertained and was entertained, he made many friends, and, now and then, he wandered from England to the Continent as far as Russia, to the East as far as Egypt, countries not then exploited by Cook or appropriated by Lunn. There are gaps here also. To wander with him through the correspondence of this decade is to be brought up constantly against a dead wall. But almost always there is a friendly letter at hand to lead the way back again, or a friendlier packet to give the entire history of one phase or branch of his studies. Sometimes, as in the case of his Gypsy correspondence, the documents are of too much importance to be separated. But from what I might call his general correspondence, a suggestive impression is to be had of his life, his work, his interests, his amusements, and, incidentally, of his delightful relations with delightful people at the time.

In all this correspondence, my pleasure is greatest — because I think his would have been — in the letters from two old friends who supply the strongest links with the past, and who go far to convince me, at any rate, that letter-writing was not a lost art in their generation. For one was Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom the Rye got to know well during that year in Boston; and the other was George Boker. whom he had always known still better, from the days when they were in frocks and pinafores and their fathers were partners in a prosperous business.

The Rye felt, but with an intensity all his own, the almost universal love of the reading public for Dr. Holmes, and his respect and admiration for the doctor’s work was great. I can remember how, when I started on my journalistic career, he urged me to write for advice and help to the kindly Autocrat in Boston, and I cannot even yet rid myself of the belief that to receive a letter from Dr. Holmes— and I did receive one — was the first step toward literary success; not so original a belief as I supposed when I wrote, five thousand among poets alone, according to Mr. Aldrich’s liberal estimate, having shared it with me. I am sure the Autocrat would have liked it could he have read the note in my Uncle’s Memoranda (1893) which dwells pleasantly on him as “far above any other man whom I can now recall, apt at illustration, marvellous in memory, quick with appropriate anecdote, judicious and sensible in his views, and genial in everything.” The doctor’s letters were not of a kind to cool this admiration, once it had been inspired, and I am the more glad to quote them because they have never been published before. The first — that is, the first in my packet — was written early in 1872. It is full of just the news the exile from home would most care to have; full, too, of the humor, the playfulness, and the sympathy that are the charm of Dr. Holmes’s books. The allusions in it explain themselves. We might wonder that so much feeling is shown about Motley when almost two years had passed since his recall, if we did not know how much longer this feeling lasted, not only with Dr. Holmes, but with all Motley’s friends. Even in 1879, Lowell, writing from Madrid, to announce his intention of remaining there, added promptly, “if they don’t Motleyize me.” The reference to Sumner is just what might be expected from the Autocrat, who always “liked his talk” about things, as he told another correspondent many years later on, even while he smiled in that kindly way of his at the “exaggerated personality.”

... “I have for the last year,” he writes, “lived in a house which we have built and the address of which you may see above. It is a great improvement in position, and I think you would say that my study with its bay windows looking out over the broad expanse of the river was too good for any but an honest man and brother author. . . .

“ I have not a great deal to tell about your friends of the Saturday Club. Agassiz has gone off on an expedition to the western coast of America. He has sent back word that he has found a fish’s nest in certain masses of gulf weed — and seems to be supremely happy about it. Nobody is so rich as a naturalist. You come across something nasty and poke it with a stick and say it stinks (good English words both, are they not?), and he springs at it, calls it by a Latin name and bags it and carries it off as if it were a nugget of virgin gold. Agassiz has almost entirely recovered from his very alarming attack of a year or two ago. The rest are as you left them. We have pretty full and very pleasant meetings — I think nobody is more constant at them than I am. That and a dinner party now and then make up my dissipations. Last summer I spent a week at a country house with Charley Sumner, whom in spite of the somewhat exaggerated personality of which some complain I always find full of knowledge such as I like to listen to. Motley has never returned to America since his most unexpected recall as Minister. He and his family are at The Hague, where the Queen of Holland makes much of them as I hear. I feel very sorry for his great disappointment, which I do not think he had deserved, but which I am disposed to attribute to indirect and not very creditable influences. I cannot believe that if Mr. Sumner and the President had not fallen out our friend could ever have been subjected to such an indignity. The reference to the old house which you speak of was in the first number of a new series of articles I am writing for the Atlantic Monthly under the title ‘the Poet at the Breakfast-Table.’ I have long thought that as I had spoken often of two characters besides the ‘Autocrat’ namely the ‘Professor’ and the ‘Poet,’ I would finish the series by a third volume, and my two instalments of this last have been very kindly received. I am glad to hear that you have secured your audience, for I feel sure you can keep it when it has once taken hold. Don’t break your neck or your legs hunting (as poor Jerry Whipple — you did n’t know him ? —did at Pau — one of his legs, that is), for there would be mourning in two worlds for Hans Breitmann. How well I remember the first time I read one of those famous poems! Their bones are full of marrow. If the new poems are as good in their way as the others were in their own vein, your triumphant success is assured. We are just trying for an International Copyright, which I hope will by and by put a good many guineas in your pocket.”

It is impossible that this letter should have led merely to a cessation of the correspondence for nine years. But the next I find from Dr. Holmes is dated July 18, 1881, wdien the Rye was back in America, — in Philadelphia. It is going ahead a trifle fast to give it just here, but the two seem all the better for being read together. I remember the occasion for the second letter only too well. The Rye had been asked to read the Phi Beta poem at Harvard in the summer of 1881. He wrote it with even more than the usual care and enthusiasm he lavished upon whatever he might have to do. I used to see him daily at that period, and he would read me in the afternoon the lines he had written in the morning. It meant much to him, — he put into it the theories that then largely preoccupied him. I do not believe it was ever published, and, after this long interval, I should not venture to explain its subject in detail. But I know it touched upon the modern materialism that he believed was leading to the noblest, the most perfect, spiritualism ever yet evolved. Therefore what he thought the indifference of his audience when he read the poem at Harvard was a deep disappointment, and he felt it enough to say so frankly to Dr. Holmes. I do not know which pleases me better, his own frankness, or the equal frankness with which the doctor met it.

“I was sorry for the circumstance you mention so quietly — very sorry,” Holmes wrote from Beverly Farms. “Now I will tell you one or two things about the Phi Beta Poem. Over and over again I wanted to get up and tell you that the last portion of many lines could not, I felt sure, be heard. But it is so awkward to interrupt — and to be interrupted — that I refrained from doing it. I was confident that many of the best points were not taken, simply because they were not clearly heard. It is the commonest fault of those who read their own verse to let their voices drop at the end and towards the end of a line. My wife has so often reproved me for it that I have learned pretty well to avoid it. . . . You must remember also that Boston was almost literally empty of its proper world when you were there, and that ‘everybody’ scattered off from Cambridge in every direction in the afternoon trains.

“ In delivering your poem you were at such a disadvantage as perhaps no other Phi Beta poet ever was before. Wendell Phillips at Harvard was an event — I don’t doubt some of the other alumni went into convulsions about it. He had utterly exhausted the sensibilities of his audience before you had a chance at them. I saw at once, before you opened your lips, that you had an impossible task — to address an audience which was exhausted by two hours of electric shocks. It is always a difficult matter to interest an audience tired with a long piece of declamation. I do not think that your predecessors of late years have succeeded in doing it. I have myself on one occasion delivered a poem after an eloquent and taking address, and experienced a wretched sense of depression after it in consequence. Your poem will read well, I have no doubt, and would have gone off finely if you had had a fresh audience.”

One pleasant incident, however, there had been in the midst of the disappointment,— an incident that reveals something of the boyish element both men retained to the end. “ When I went to Boston to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa Poem in 1881,” it is recorded in the Memoranda, “Dr. Holmes invited me to pass a day with him at his place in Beverly. It was a very delightful day. I went out to take a walk with him, and picked up on the shore some of the shells of the Unio, a thick pearl mussel. Dr. Holmes said something to the effect that it was a pity that such beautiful objects should be without value, when I replied that I could easily make them sell for five dollars apiece. So I took some to the house, and asked the Doctor to write his name on each, which he did, and I then said, ‘ These will now easily sell for five dollars each.’ At which he was much pleased, and I think was deeply touched when I remarked that by this shelling out I should induce collectors of autographs to fork over, as is usual in consuming oysters.”

The other letters from the Autocrat were all written in 1888: one or two sad enough, just after the death of his wife, and one or two in answer to the Rye’s request for hints or suggestions to help him in the slang dictionary upon which he was then engaged. “I think Lowell knows more about New England dialects than anybody,” Dr. Holmes wrote to my Uncle; and a few weeks later, with his inevitable thoughtfulness, he was trying to enlist the sympathy of Lowell: “I referred Leland to you for Yankee phrases which you know better than anybody else;” Lowell being, indeed, as many others testify, an authority on “the rustic American speech.” It was like Dr. Holmes that though, modestly, he disclaimed any special knowledge, he sat down at once and wrote for the Rye eight long pages of New England slang and sayings and superstitions, and I think it may have been owing to the Rye’s request that he noted these down also in his autobiographical notes which, as one reads them now in Mr. Morse’s memoir, are almost a replica of parts of his letters.

“I wish I could write you a letter worth twenty pounds or twenty cents for the information held in it,” he writes on June 4, 1888. “If this note is worth two cents the value is more than I am expecting. All I can possibly do is to jot down a few expressions, most of which you are familiar with, some of which are not of the sort you want (probably), and a very few of which may possibly be new to you. Look these two or three columns over, and throw them in the waste-basket if useless. All I know is very little. I have never studied the subject, but I have come in contact with a certain number of local beliefs, superstitions, impressions, phrases, etc.” And then there follow too many to quote in full; the most interesting, perhaps, contributed by the “help,” imported in those days from the interior of Massachusetts, who taught him “that the Devil went round by night picking up things, and if one signed his name in his own blood and left it out, it would be gone in the morning. The same personage was thought to assist suicides in their attempts, so that a man wishing to hang himself was assisted by Satan in person as a volunteer Jack Ketch for the occasion. Other beliefs of similar origin were that one who counted the stars to a thousand would drop down dead; that if one killed a swallow, the cow would give bloody milk. Certain sandy spots in Cambridge, one near the well-known Jarvis Field beyond Holmes Field, were known as the ‘ Devil’s Footsteps ’ and looked upon with an awe not altogether displeasing.

“ Passing to the domain of medicine, I remember on the kitchen shelf one of our rustic employés kept an ill-conditioned looking bottle said to contain ‘Hicy pikey ’ — hiera picia, or sacred bitter, an alactic, Externally, ‘ Opodeldoc ’ was the favourite application. Rum was a handy substitute, for rum was to be found everywhere. I remember that my childish idea of a labouring man was a rough-skinned, hornyhanded human being who always smelt strong of rum. My brother tells a story of a poor rheumatic complaining of dreadful pain who applied at the house of our cousin Phillips (Wendell was one of the boys in it) for a little rum, which was brought him — perhaps by little warmhearted Wendell himself. Dipping the tip of his forefinger delicately in the fluid, he touched the lame joint with it, and swallowed the contents of the teacup, thinking they would be more useful internally. Cambridge was half country in those days. There were plenty of actual squirrels, — ‘field mice’ Tom Appleton told me they were called at the South, — probably wood - chucks, and possibly foxes. The language of my immediate neighbours was of a mingled character, partly rural, partly suburban. Excuse me — I did not intend to, then other boys would have said ‘I did n’t go to.’ ”

But it is needless to keep on. The substance of these letters is virtually contained in the autobiographical notes, and I print a few extracts only to show the interest Dr. Holmes took in my Uncle’s new venture. There is a flash of the old humor in the last paragraph of the last letter of all. “My charge,” he says,— for the really valuable help he gave,— “is two cents — which is more than it is worth, and which, as exchange is troublesome, I excuse you from paying.”

Into the Rye’s friendship with George Boker there entered a deeper, warmer feeling. Their intimacy, as Boker once wrote, was “almost that of brothers.” “ Dear old Charley,” he says in one of his letters, — and the “Charley” gives the measure of their friendship, — “you are the only man living with whom I can play the fool through a long letter and be sure that I shall be clearly understood at the end. To say that this privilege is cheerful is to say little, for it is the breath of life to a man of a certain humour,” — especially if that man happen to be alone in a foreign land, his daily life hedged about with the form and ceremonial of diplomacy. When I recall my Uncle’s friends, Boker is always the foremost figure,— and a very splendid figure as I remember, still the Apollo he had been called in his youth, though I only knew him in his middle age, when his hair was already white. I can still see him, his handsome head high above the crowed in Chestnut Street, where he, like Walt Whitman, and the Rye too, was apt to take his stroll at the end of the day’s work. Philadelphia is supposed to yield only commonplace, but I often wonder if three finer, more striking men were ever met anywhere than those three who, in the days of which I speak, were to be passed almost every fine afternoon, as they swaggered down from Broad Street to Seventh, before Walt took the horsecar, or still farther down, past the Ledger office, with a smile and a shrug perhaps for the great man within dispensing cups and saucers; or past the Press office, where the Rye and Boker, each in his different way, had been an influence and a power. Well — it will be long before Philadelphia can show three such men again, though while they were alive, in true Philadelphia fashion, she made as little of them as she conveniently could.

But good looks were not George Boker’s only merit. He was the truest and kindest of friends, — “the good and dear Boker” even to Mr. John Morley, who knew him infinitely less well. If his letters begin only with the seventies, it is easily understood, for the two friends were always together, except during the Rye’s first stay abroad ; and of that stay, as I have explained,no records remain. But it was early in the seventies that George Boker was sent as United States Minister to Constantinople, and what letters there are, therefore, were written during the most interesting and active part of his career.

The first is from Philadelphia, on Christmas Eve, 1871, and announces the Turkish Mission, and also the progress of Meister Karl, which Boker was seeing through the press.

MY DEAR CHARLEY, — The scarcest thing with me just now is time. I might give you a shilling at a pinch, but a half hour is an article which I do not happen to have about me. I am in a whirl of preparation for my departure from America . . . my passage is taken in the “Algeria” for the 10th of January, and I shall start then, provided the State Department do not detain me for some foolish purpose of its own. I hope that you will have taken up your abode in London by the time I arrive. . . .
Meister Karl is not yet out, which is queer, for my patchwork was finished a month ago. Long-headed Fop! he is waiting for something to turn up, I suppose. By the way, your rhapsody over the East in “ M. K.” had something to do with my acceptance of the Turkish Mission; and if you have been lying, I shall find you out, old boy: so it would be well for you to add a note about the fleas, and the cholera, and the plague, et id genus omne, to save your reputation, for which I tremble. The next time I address you, it will be face to face, laus Deo!

The letters from Constantinople have more than a personal interest. Boker knew — none better — and could himself see the sort of picturesqueness that appealed most powerfully to his friend, for whom he was always ready to make picturesque notes of it. But in his account of his own work, he was giving, without dreaming that he would ever reach a larger public, an excellent idea of the way the American diplomat is made, — or was made before the idea of the so-called Civil Service entered into the policy of Washington. The training of actual experience, from the time of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Boker and Lowell, did not turn out so badly for the country, but it was no light matter for the poor diplomats themselves. “All alone, without a human being I had ever seen before in my life, and with unaccustomed duties, feeling as if I were beset with snares on every hand, obliged to carry on the greater part of my business in a strange tongue,” Lowell wrote to Tom Hughes from Madrid. And in practically the same terms Boker reports his initiation into diplomacy in the first letter to the Rye from the Legation at Constantinople (July 27, 1872).

“You must remember that I had no experience in diplomacy, no knowledge even of the routine of business, and not the smallest acquaintance with the Turkish language. For these things I was wholly dependent upon ——, and him I was warned to distrust. I was therefore obliged to scrutinize all that he did and all that he counselled, with that sort of suspicious care which doubled the work. ... I shall not weary you with a history of my apprenticeship in diplomacy. You may fancy how difficult it has been, what caution and exhaustive inquiry it needed, and what a sea of labors I struggled through until I reached my present position of security. Now I do not feel myself to be deficient before my older diplomatic colleagues; besides possessing certain mental qualifications, which you know all about, and with which heaven has not blessed all men equally. I am sure of this, that if you saw me transacting my business with the false, wily Orientals, at the Sublime Porte, or with the foreign Ministers at one of their scheming general meetings, you would not feel ashamed of the figure cut on these occasions by the man who for many a long year has been almost your brother — wholly indeed your brother in spirit if not by the ties of blood. . . .

“ How often I think of you as I am making my way through the motley crowds of Constantinople, or surveying the strange, wild landscape as I drive through the country. Talk of languages! There is not a boot-black who cannot speak half a dozen, and the attainments of some men, who have knocked about a little, are to me wonderful. For example, we have a man in the Consulate who speaks eleven languages fluently, and yet who cannot write his own name in any one of them. All the natives here, almost without exception, speak Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, and Armenian. Some of them have a smattering of English also. You would revel in the ‘Grande Rue de Pera; ’ you would go wild with excitement if you stood upon the bridge which crosses the Golden Horn, and saw the wonderfully costumed crowd go by you, and listened to the various languages which the individuals uttered. Within a mile of me — for I am now living at Therapia upon the Bosphorus — there is a delicious encampment of the black tents of a tribe of Gipseys. How you would like to get among them! Whenever one of the little black-skinned devils of children runs out to me with his or her, ‘Cheeli, chelibi, cheeli!’ I always think of you, and give the impudent beggar a piastre for your sake. . . .

“ By the way, the Khedive is here at present, and I like him much, and I like his Prime Minister, Nubar Pacha, still better. They have invited me to go up the Nile next winter, and I am going, to be sure. Would you not like to come along with me ? If so, I shall be glad to make room for you in our party. On the whole, why should you not go ? You ought to see the Nile before you die, and here is an excellent chance, and in such company as will open all Egypt before you. Think of this seriously. Of course, as Mrs. Boker will go, you will take Madame Belle with you, and we shall be as happy as Heaven together for two months at least.”

The trip up the Nile was made, and the chronicle of the Paradise Boker predicted is the Egyptian Sketch Book, that curious medley of knowledge and fun, never, at any time, appreciated, and now, I am afraid, neglected altogether. Innocents Abroad may be tolerated in Europe, but apparently the line must be drawn at gayety in Egypt. And the book is gay. The Rye, who had written glowingly, even a little exaltedly, of the “Morning Land” before he knew it, once he got there was clear-eyed enough to see it as it really is, with the fleas and the flies and the beggars and all the other nuisances Boker had once rallied him for ignoring. And he enjoyed everything with the zest of a schoolboy off for a holiday, describing discomforts and disappointments and absurdities, not with the traveller’s usual ill temper and pettishness, but always with a sense of their humorous aspect that is irresistible, combined with a really remarkable keenness of observation and an intelligent comprehension of the country, its people, and its traditions, that would set up a whole army of travel-writers for life. If merely for the portrait of Mohamet Wahab, who spoke from four to six languages in one, his exploits leaving Mark Twain’s excursions into German far behind, the book deserves to be revived. That it should not have met with the success that means perennial revival, is to me the mystery. It was dedicated to Boker, who, back at his post in Constantinople, wrote many more letters, — so many more records of hard work of which this is a fair specimen: —

“For the last year my diplomatic life has been one unending and violent wrangle with the Turks. I have fought them at all points that can be raised by the Capitulations, the Treaties, or by Ottoman Law, and I have licked them at the same: but even the victor suffers with the wear and the tear of such struggles. Besides these wordy fights, I have negotiated the treaties and signed a protocol with the circumcised; so that, in spite of my bad health, I have done my official duty so well that my Government did that rare thing, it condescended to thank me, and to congratulate me on my success — a thing which may not happen to the hoariest diplomat once in a lifetime.” [I wonder to how many of his already forgotten successors it has happened.] — “ For all that, I am not so set up as I might be. I still bend to salute the average man — on Sundays, and altogether I am not so disagreeable as you might naturally suppose me to be, as I still, on logical compulsion, admit my mortality and its mysterious consequences.”

This, truly, was “playing the fool,” for George Boker, the most natural, least affected of men, with a head too strong to be turned by any triumph of his own or any praise of others, — which is more than can be said for the heads of many American ministers and ambassadors nowadays. The Nile journey was in 1873. In March, 1875, thanks to the government he had toiled for, “ I am able to shake the dust of this dismal old city [Constantinople] from my shoes, and prepare my toes for a freezing at St. Petersburg.” Picturesqueness is not the one essential to happiness in the place where one’s tent is pitched. When years had softened the reality, he could still feel and write, “I hate the East so profoundly that I should not return to it if there were no other land in which I could live.” By October, 1875, it was from the legation of St. Petersburg that the story of hard work and heavy responsibility was dated: —

“ I have been so bedeviled by business in my particular line, so thoroughly engaged in putting things to rights between this country and our own, so forced to write, write, write, write, whether I wished to do it or not, that I rely on your ancient friendship to spare the scolding which I deserve for not having written to you before now. ... If you like Russia so much, why do you not pay me a visit during the coming winter, say in January, when the season is at its height ? I can board, lodge, and take care of you generally, and you know how glad I shall be to have you with me.”

Perhaps it is because the Rye accepted this invitation, spending the winter of 1876 in St. Petersburg, that two or three more letters, or rather notes, complete the series from the legation. But then, there are the Rye’s chapters on the Russian Gypsies, more eloquent as chronicle than the Egyptian Sketch Book; in them nothing of American diplomacy, but a great deal of Russian music — the “plaintive song ” of the troika bells, the mad song of the Gypsy girls. Never did he listen to music more to his liking, seldom did he give to his writing so much of the swing, so much of the sadness and the madness of it. With 1875, there begins a long interval barren of letters from Boker, five of the years, however, pleasantly fruitful of other things, for the Rye was again in Philadelphia and the two men met and talked together every Sunday afternoon. The letters Boker wrote subsequent to this period are concerned with matters too entirely different and too important for a mere passing mention. They must wait.


So far, I have given the letters of old friends. But the larger part of the correspondence of the seventies comes from the new friends the Rye made in England, and reflects the new studies and pursuits that engrossed him there. “ Without the personal interest of somebody, it is impossible to see anything in this country,” Dr. Holmes declared, when England was still for him “a nation of sulky suicides.” He was right. Present the desired credentials in England, and every man’s house is your castle; present none, and every door is slammed in your face. No people are so hospitable as the English, none so inhospitable. But the Rye was armed with the correct credentials when he came in 1870. I do not mean only the fame of Hans Breitmann, which was great. But he had the right sort of letters to the right sort of men. Moreover, once introduced, he was sure, as an American (the American invasion not having been heard of in London thirtyfive years ago), to be run after as a novelty, a crank, the sort of “society curiosity” men like Lord Houghton were always wanting “to bring out.” But, fairly launched and well known, his personality could be left to do the rest, — and it did very successfully. I have been told by Englishmen who were then “the younger men,” how much it meant to them, and how great was their excitement when asked to meet Hans Breitmann. My pile of letters now becomes a sort of cinematograph in writing of the literary life of London during the seventies, — of the few men and women whose greatness has grown with the years, of the many who already in their work appear to us as old-fashioned as the tiny sheets of paper, fit for a doll’s house, upon which they wrote, and as the elaborate crossing of their pages, a practice they were too near the days when “postage inspired reflection” to have thrown off. The picture is unfortunately imperfect, — whole sections of it have disappeared. I find hardly a reference to the Saturday receptions the Rye and Mrs. Leland held in their Park Square house, to which all London crowded ; a regret for one special Saturday from John Payne, translator of Villon, and “Your Brother in Rabelais,” as he signs himself, is the chief trace so far discovered of evenings memorable to all London old enough to have enjoyed them.

But if there is nothing of the people who came to him, there is much of those who wanted him to go to them. Asked who was then the centre of the literary world that entertained, most Londoners would answer promptly, Lord Houghton. I must own to some satisfaction in chancing upon an invitation from him, — where have his many others gone, I wonder ? — especially as it is to one of the breakfasts which were for a while so renowned, though their model had been supplied by Rogers and their glory was to be eclipsed by Whistler. The note is in the handwriting that made Lord Houghton the despair of his friends and the compositor. Delighted as I am, for the sake of appropriateness, that the Rye should have received it, I cannot read it and not feel relieved that I was never exposed to the honor. Breakfast as understood in England — it is another matter in France — is the most barbarous form of entertainment ever devised by man. I do not marvel that Sydney Smith objected because it “deranged” him for the day. But Lord Houghton managed to add to its terrors, if I can judge by the note before me, dated from Atkinson’s Hotel, Clifford Street, Bond Street. “Will you,”it says, “do me the pleasure of breakfasting with me here at ten o’clock this morning ?” At what unearthly hour, then, I ask with compassion, did Lord Houghton rout his unfortunate guests out of their beds to summon them to the morning feast ? And what gain in the form of bacon and eggs, or talk, however good, would make up for the loss of the last precious minutes to the man with a talent for sleeping ? However, the Rye always kept up the good American habit of breakfasting early, and probably to him the drawback was that bacon and eggs had long ago been disposed of when his summons came, and work was already too well started to be interrupted by any talk. As for “all London,” had it, with Carlyle, looked upon Lord Houghton as a mere robin redbreast of a man, it would still have thought no inconvenience too heavy a price for being seen at one of his breakfasts. The present generation, however, for whom the breakfasts are no longer spread, cannot help asking what and why was the greatness of this person “whom men style Baron Houghton, but the gods call Dicky Milnes ” ?

Social success in those days might have the official seal put upon it at Lord Houghton’s breakfast-table, but to be received by Mrs. Norton was, even in the seventies, a privilege more certain to be its own reward. Unquestionably hers is the more picturesque figure, and I confess to a little thrill when I chanced upon two notes — in delicate, slanting, very feminine writing, one on violet-bordered paper, in the style of both something of old Keepsake affectations and elegance — signed “Caroline Norton.” Old as she was when the notes were written, her attraction must have been something more than the mere glamour of a romantic past. It was two or three years later on that she married Sir William StirlingMaxwell. As “the most charming woman I ever met,” the Rye recalls her in his Memoirs and again in the Memoranda. I have an idea it was because this “beauty with wit” could not help seeming charming to everybody, that she got so on the nerves of Harriet Martineau; especially as Miss Martineau, with the advantage of not being charming in the least, did not accomplish any more, if as much, for the legal welfare of her own sex.

The notes are slight. Perhaps the signature, the writing, and the many underscored and doubly underscored words have helped me to find in them more of old Keepsake sentiment than there really is.

“I called at Langham Hotel,” the first says, “to know if Mrs. Leland was ‘at home,’ — and understood that you were, but she was NOT. Will you — if ever you have a spare half-hour — remember that I always remain at home from 4 to 7 on TUESDAYS ?

“ I should be so pleased to see you, and to thank you personally for your kind remembrance of me in sending me your poems.

“No one can admire them more than I do, — except perhaps my Brother Brinsley Sheridan, who is very eager about them. He is not in town just now, but I hope by and bye to make him acquainted with you.”

The other, written a fortnight later (June 19), is to Mrs. Leland, and begins:—

“ Card leaving is a very barren cultivation of acquaintance. Do you think you are sufficiently free from engagements to be able to dine here on Monday July 1st ?

“ Let me know soon, for it is very, very seldom I venture on such an ambitious mode of securing the company of friends.” Safely put away with this invitation, I found a little card “just to remind; ” but from Mrs. Norton could a reminder have been needed ?

I reproduce these notes, in their slightness, because they are Mrs. Norton’s. But the interest of the innumerable other invitations, apart from the rare opportunity they offer to the autograph-hunter, is in showing by how many and what different people the Rye in London was appreciated for his work and liked for himself. It was the demand he was in, I do not doubt, that sent him on those many and long visits to places like Brighton and Oatlands Park. It is amusing, for the sake of contrasts, to take the notes in the order — or disorder — in which they come. For on the top of the pile lie some invitations from Mr. John Morley to his country house near Guildford — as “hermitage,” it figures in the first (1871), the visit suggested for the 4th or 5th of July, and, if the Fourth, is “a dinner of spread eagle” to be prepared? — this tribute to the Rye’s country followed by a tribute to the Rye’s countryman, for George Boker, though their acquaintance was short, was also counted among Mr. Morley ’s “best friends.” And immediately after Mr. Morley’s invitation I open one to afternoon tea, from Mrs. Lynn Linton, in “ladylike” writing on pale green note paper, in itself a reproach and an example to the Girl of the Period. And next, in an all but illegible scrawl, comes one from Tom Taylor, to luncheon at Lavender Sweep and a talk over the affairs of the road, for he, too, he says, is an “aficianado,” — and I can only hope the Gypsies treated him more tenderly than the Butterfly, though if it had not been for the Butterfly’s stings, Tom Taylor, perhaps because “too clever” as FitzGerald thought, would be a name forgotten. And next follow many letters in the neat writing of George Augustus Sala, also for some unknown reason a power in journalism during the seventies, the letters as full of quotations and references as if destined for his column of G. A. S., — surely none but an Englishman could have used such a signature in all seriousness; or is it that I bear a justified grudge against the man who ruined my first edition of Mrs. Hannah Glasse; who could write on the margin, by one of Whistler’s illustrations, in the copy of Thornbury’s Historical and Legendary Ballads now in my husband’s possession, “ Jimmy Whistler, — clever, sketchy, and incomplete, like everything he has done ? A loaf of excellent fine flour, but slack-baked.”

But to return to my invitations. After Sala, it is Jean Ingelow, asking the Rye to every possible meal, her friendliness colored by gratitude, because, as she writes in one letter, “ Scarcely a day passes that I have not to thank an American for some kindness.” The marvel to me is how she ever summoned up courage to invite any one to anything. For I remember too well, being then new to London ways and the Londoner’s gift of awkward silence, how at the only garden party at her Kensington house to which I went, she was so shy that her shyness seemed to communicate itself to everybody there: a memorable occasion, however, not only for this, but as the one party of any kind at which I ever saw Charles Keene, morose enough at the time, recent honors, he grumbled, having made even a retired person like himself live in hourly dread of the postman’s knock. And next it is Lady Wilde, — “Esperanza,” a name as redolent of Annual days and Keepsakes as Mrs. Norton’s phrases, — she also oppressed with gratitude since she also numbered among her friends “many gifted Americans, some of the noblest specimens of humanity we could meet.” And next it is her son, Oscar Wilde, in the first flush of notoriety, — his “ Bunthorne ” long since as old-fashioned as her “Esperanza,”— wanting to talk “on many subjects,” and so proposing a dinner. And next, W. W. Story, expanding in the afterglow of his London triumph, suggesting a visit to Cumberland, where “we will smoke and talk and eat and sleep and set the world right.” And next, Professor Palmer, University functions and college dinners held out as bait for a visit to Cambridge; and Walter Besant, thenthegreat person of the Savile Club; and Ralston, the reading of his Russian Folk-Tales his bait; and old George Cruikshank, celebrating his golden wedding; and the Trübners, if there could be invitation to a house where the Rye was entirely at home; and fellow Americans passing through, or established, in London,— Mrs. Julia Ward Howe longing to see an old friend again; Kate Field, about to lecture on Dickens; Moncure Conway, expecting “a few gentlemen” to dinner.

But there is another letter from Dr. Conway, in it no invitation at all, well worth quoting, so typical is it of the reverential attitude toward Carlyle to which the literary world had been brought in the seventies, and the diplomacy with which he had to be approached by the admiring stranger, however distinguished. There is no date, but it was probably in 1870, when the Rye says in his Memoirs that he met Carlyle.

“ It was necessary to find out one or two matters before sending you to Carlyle,” Dr. Conway, who managed the meeting, writes. “I now have much pleasure in writing to say that if you will call upon him between two and three to-morrow, or the day after, or the day after that, he will be glad to see you. His residence (as you probably know) is 5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea — a substantial distance from you. It is probable that Carlyle takes his afternoon walk about three, and you will know by tact whether he wishes to have company — as is sometimes the case — or would walk alone. He will be glad to hear all you can tell him about Germany and Germans.” — And then, as postscript, “Carlyle will be prepared — send up enclosed card.”

A visit to royalty could not have called for more diplomatic handling, and I find it characteristic of my Uncle that he, who was the most impatient of men with anything that he thought savored of sham or pretension, but deference itself before genius, made no objection in this case to play the courtier. And his compliance had its reward. According to the Memoirs, the visit was a success, and, the difficult Carlyle of the seventies happening to be in gracious mood, a walk in the park was its conclusion.

Carlyle was not the only great man of the day who felt the necessity of protecting himself against worshipers. Tennyson was as difficult, — but then, though even those who knew him best had a way of forgetting it, he was as easy when he wanted to see any one. There is a letter to the Rye from Frederick Locker that reads very much as if Tennyson’s friends were less sure of themselves in their capacity of special ambassadors than Carlyle’s. Locker writes with an effect of light and easy confidence, suggesting that the Rye and a friend — who this friend was I cannot say — should go and see Tennyson, at Haslemere, only about an hour from London, and that they would enjoy the trip mightily, and see him and his surroundings. But the very courage with which a final “mind” is added makes me suspect a private tremor of apprehension. However, the Rye did meet Tennyson, not once, but a number of times; for if the worship of the crowd could become an insupportable tax on the time and patience of a popular poet laureate, Hans Breitmann, the Romany Rye, was not one of the crowd, — which made all the difference.

Another of the men — the older men, the patriarchs of the seventies — who ranked highest in the Rye’s esteem was Bulwer. It is a little hard for our generation to share his enthusiasm, but I can understand it. I admit frankly that I canmot now read the novels, though I did once go through them all, beginning with the Last Days of Pompeii, which, in my schooldays, was thought especially adapted to improve the mind and do no harm in the process. But to open any one of them of late years means to be bored to extinction. The fault, no doubt, is mine. I know that Mr. Birrell, for one, revels in the very “eloquence” which I am in all haste to skip. But, notwithstanding my lack of appreciation, I can, as I say, understand my Uncle’s. For Bulwer dealt with the very subjects he loved. Whoever was interested in the occult, the mysterious, the unknown, was sure of the sympathy of the student of Gypsy sorcery, Florentine legends, and Etruscan remains. It is very touching to me, in a volume of the Memoranda as recent as 1893, to come upon passages carefully copied from the Last of the Barons, Zanoni, No Name, Kenelm Chillingly, showing that Bulwer remained with the Rye a sort of fetich to the very last. He got to know Bulwer better than either Carlyle or Tennyson; he stayed at Knebworth, and was on fairly friendly terms as these things go in London: would, indeed, have been called intimate by the Englishman, who looks upon every one he does not cut, or “ ’eave ’alf a brick at,” as a friend. But of the correspondence only two letters have been preserved, on the tiny sheets of paper with the violet coronet in the corner that make them seem as remote from us as if they had been written hundreds instead of thirty years ago. I quote them both, partly because I know the pleasure the Rye had in them, partly because I think they show Bulwer at his best. The Meister Karl referred to was probably the second edition, with the chapters on “The Morning Land,” which George Bokerhad seen through the press; a book that had its success, never with the public, but always with a few, among whom Bulwer was one. The first letter from Argyll Hall, Torquay, is dated November 25, 1871.

MY DEAR MR. LELAND, — YOU may readily conceive, alike the gratification which your letter must give me and my utter failure to reply to expressions which do me such unmerited honour, otherwise than by grateful acknowledgment. I look forward to a perusal of your book with great eagerness, — but I am somewhat alarmed lest it be already sent to Grosvenor Square; — there is only an old woman left there in charge of the House and I fear she will be unable to distinguish it from the crowd of books of all kinds which heap up the hall in my absence and are not forwarded to me. If not already sent, will you kindly order the publisher to forward it here — and if it be sent to Grosvenor Square, will you kindly inform me of the title and describe the appearance that I may remit the requisite instructions to the woman for selecting and forwarding it. I am here, D. V., for the winter.
Truly your obliged friend,

The second is longer; there is more of Bulwer in it; and it is a tribute I am glad the Rye received from the man whose opinion he so keenly valued. It also is from Torquay, the date February 22, 1872.

Many thanks for Meister Karl, to whom you are very unjust. I am delighted with him. There is, I think, no greater sign of promise in a young writer than abundant vigour of animal spirits — and this book overflows with that healthful strength. Of course there are traces of imitation in the style and mannerisms. But in that kind of humour it would be impossible to sweep Rabelais and Sterne out of one’s recollection. To me, and I think to most men, it is like breathing fresh mountain air, — after a languid season in town, — to get at a work of fiction which lifts itself high from the dull level of the conventional Novel, and awakens thought and fancy in oneself while it interests and amuses in the play of its own fancy and the course of its own thought. I shall lend the book to some lovers of German literature here and guess how much it will charm them. I ought, of course, to have acknowledged the receipt of the little volume of poems, last sent, but the plain truth is that I am keeping it in reserve for a more holiday time than I have at present. I find that I can never judge fairly of poetry, when my mind is not attuned to it — and it never is attuned to it when I am hard at work upon prosy things, which I have been for several weeks — to say nothing of causes of great domestic anxiety which have been occasioned first by a prolonged illness of my son at Vienna (he is convalescent), and second by an alarming attack of bronchitis which has laid up my brother on the banks of the Upper Nile, two hundred miles from a Doctor.
With repeated thanks for all your courtesies,
Faithfully yours,

If Bulwer’s sun was setting in the seventies, Browning’s was still high in the heavens, and from Browning one letter at least has survived; the reason for it an exchange of books. Authors still have a way — sometimes an inconvenient way — of making presents of their works; but I do not think they scatter them broadcast in the fashion of thirty years ago. I have a letter in which Walter Besant urges upon the Rye the advantage of giving away as many copies of a new book as possible; of his own Coligny, he adds, he distributed a hundred; he looked upon it as the best advertisement, — the best means of getting one’s works seen and talked about. But the Rye gave his books, rather, to the men he admired, as an expression of that admiration, and in 1872, the date of the following letter, Browning had not had the chance to refuse membership in the Rabelais Club and so forfeit his admiration. Probably Meister Karl and the Music Lesson of Confucius were the books referred to. What Browning’s book was, it is less easy now to decide.

I was on the point of writing to thank you heartily for your first book, the letter that accompanied it, and the pleasure given to me by both [Browning wrote from Warwick Crescent], when a second gift made me your debtor, and now, before I can discharge any part of what I owe, your letter from Brighton comes to add to the burthen of my obligations, if what is so pleasant could be justly called burthensome. This is, however, the least pleasant and most burthensome part of the business, that your kind words about my own book do really obstruct the very sincere congratulations I was about to offer you on your book, and other books beside, which I have long ago delighted in. For myself, if I know myself at all, such appreciation as you assure me of is quite reward enough, and a “ third reading” from you is the best honour you can pay me. Believe in the grateful acknowledgment and true regards of

If I keep to my scheme of taking the letters as they come, stranger contrasts follow. For, from Tom Hughes, at Trinity College, writing with something of the “sunshine” Lowell loved in him, to recall “the pleasant hours your visit to Cambridge gave to me and my friends” (1875), I turn at once to Agnes and Dion Boucicault, sending just a few sad words on black-edged paper, to acknowledge the sympathy offered them on the death of their son (1876). Letters from William Allingham, at the very end of his working life, — the letters short and perfunctory enough, but the signature bringing with it memories of Rossetti and his own Music Master, the book that inaugurated the great days of English illustration, — are immediately succeeded by letters from Edmund Gosse, on the very threshold of his career. And Mr. Gosse gives place to Miss Genevieve Ward, begging the Rye to come that they may “Romanize together;” and Fanny Janauschek, who to him was the greatest of tragic actresses, but to me just missed greatness, probably owing to the same lack of humor, or sense of proportion, that prevented her seeing the absurdity of a woman of her massive presence answering to the name of “Fanny;” and Hermann Merivale, urging a visit to his house at Eastbourne; and Frances Elliot, whom the Rye, in his usual fashion, was helping, the particular work in question, her Byron; and Sir Edwin Arnold, the “Sir” in parenthesis prefixed to the signature, and a happy little note below to explain that “Her Majesty has lately been pleased to make me K. C. I. E.”— I am not sufficiently familiar with Sir Edwin’s affairs to be sure as to the period to which the letter belongs, and it is not dated. “I examined his hand,” the Rye, writing of him in the Memoranda, recalls, “and found it very characteristic and well lined. Unfortunately, all hands which are well lined by fate are not equally so by fortune.” But Sir Edwin, surely, was one of the exceptions for whom fortune justified the signs.

I do not know what lines the Rye may have found in the hand of another of his correspondents, Edwin Edwards, but I do know that whatever they were, fortune ignored them in his case. For Edwards, an excellent artist, was never recognized during his lifetime as he should have been; and is now, except by a few, best remembered as the friend of Charles Keene, — “The Master,” C. K. called him, — and Edward FitzGerald, who counted him “among his pleasures.” One of his letters — and all explain why his friends loved him — has for me a particularly personal interest.

“Le citoyen Bracquemond,” he writes, “ has just finished a very fine portrait of my friend, C. Keene, and now wants you to come and sit. Don’t disappoint us; — he thinks of doing only that large head, and that, of course, will include the beard and just a tip of shoulder; — now this won’t take long, — do write or come at once.”

Bracquemond was not disappointed, for I have the etching as proof that the proposed sitting was given. He was hardly the artist, however, to do full justice to the beauty and impressiveness of “that large head.” There is another etching by Legros, also made probably at the suggestion of Edwards, the friend of both these artists, as of Whistler and Fantin, and all that distinguished group who began life together in Paris, and were, in M. Duret’s phrase, l’avant garde of everything that is most vital and original in modern art. I have always regretted that there are so few portraits of the Rye. Besides these two, I know of none except a very early painting by Mrs. Merritt, and a drawing by Mr. Alexander, done for the Century Magazine, where, unfortunately, it has not yet appeared. It is a pity. He was an unusually handsome man, even in his old age, when he was like a mighty prophet, a model for Michael Angelo or Rembrandt.

Another letter that I want to quote, not only for the name signed to it, but as a suggestive comment on the value of lion-hunting, — to the lion, — is from Bret Harte. The date is February 18,1876. The Rye had been six years in England, time enough for the people who ran after him to know who he was and what he had done. The Heathen Chinee and the Luck of Roaring Camp had made Bret Harte already as famous. But the eagerness of lion-hunters outruns their knowledge. Hans Breitmann and Bret Harte were perpetually being confused when both were together in London. “Mr. Hart Bretmann” was a combination for which lion-hunters roared in vain. As the “author of Bret Harte,” Hans Breitmann was criticised. And so, I suppose, it was only according to the law of compensation that the photograph of the Rye should have been seen about town with the name of Bret Harte attached to it, and that one of the Rye’s stories should have been entirely credited to him. It was about this that Bret Harte, in New York at the moment, wrote: —

MY DEAR MR. LELAND, — I confess I was a little astonished yesterday on reading in the Tribune a statement — made with all that precision of detail which distinguishes the average newspaper error — that I had written a story for Temple Bar entitled “The Dancing God.” But the next day I received my regular copy of the magazine and find your name properly affixed to the story. The error was copied from the English journals evidently before the correction had been made.
Nevertheless, let me thank you, my dear Sir, for your thoughtful courtesy in writing to me about it, You are a poet yourself, and know his “irritability” — to use the word the critics apply to that calm conceit which makes us all shy from the apparitions of a praise we know belongs to another. But I am glad of this excuse to shake hands with an admirable and admired fellow countryman across the water, and I beg you to believe, dear Mr. Leland, that I would not pluck one leaf from that laurel which our appreciative cousins have so worthily placed on your brow.
Always your admiring compatriot and friend,

I do not think that for this letter it was too much to pay the threepence half-penny extra postage I see charged on the envelope. I only wish the American letters upon which I have to squander my pence, and even shillings, with almost every post, were so well worth the money.

Of the letters from publishers I say nothing,—those on the familiar blue paper of the Trübners alone would make a volume. For being lionized never led the Rye into idleness. The ten years in England yielded a long list of book after book: English Gypsies, the Egyptian Sketch Book, the Music Lesson of Confucius, English Gypsy Songs, Johnnykin, Life of Lincoln, Minor Arts; there is a longer list of article after article for magazines and papers. But the correspondence relating to them forms a subject,— a business subject apart. Then there are the letters from people he helped by advice or by throwing work in their way, letters too personal for me to use. Busy as he was, as he loved to be, much as he went about, like all busy people he always had time to do more, and, unlike most people, busy or otherwise, he was as ready to undertake this little more for the benefit of somebody else as for his own.

His energy, his enthusiasm, his thoughtfulness for others, his popularity, being what they were, it is appropriate that the seventies should have been rounded out by his work as creator and founder of the Rabelais Club. In looking back over his past life, it was one of the things that gave him most complete satisfaction. Literary men have always had a fancy — a passion, really — for joining together in clubs, with eating and drinking in some fashion as an immediate object, and a closer social union, and consequent intellectual stimulus, as the ultimate hope. Did not Dr. Johnson take The Club as solemnly as he was taken by it and all its members ? Was not Dr. Holmes always as eager for the monthly dinner of the Saturday Club as a child for its first party ? Would not voluntary absence from the “Dîner Magny ” have seemed a mortal, if not the unpardonable, sin to the De Goncourts ? And so with all literary clubs, of which the Rabelais was to be the most typical and the most wonderful, with such infinite possibilities as only those who share Mr. Henry James’s opinion of “the club,” as “a high expression of the civilization of our time,” can value at their full worth. The Rye’s correspondence on the subject with Walter Besant has in it the conviction and zeal that would convert the most cynical. The idea — the “ Golden Find,” he called it — was originally his, as no one could doubt who knew how for him, as for “the wisest and soundest minds” before him, the whole philosophy of life was contained in Rabelais. But there is further evidence. For while I have not the first letter in which he actually made the suggestion,I haveBesant’s, almost as zealous, in answer. The date is the 4th of November, 1878: —

MY DEAR LELAND, — Your idea is a most captivating one. Let us by all means talk it over. I am going to meet Pollock at the Savile on Saturday to discuss his Richelieu. Come round, then, at 1.15, and talk about the Rabelais Club, which we will instantly found.

I wish I had space for the entire correspondence, but it is far too voluminous. I do believe there is something, if not everything, about the club in almost all the Rye’s letters to Besant at this period. I must, however, give at least one, just as it is, that it may be seen how much more than dining he expected to come of the enterprise. It was written in March, 1879, and the two friends must have been working hard in the meantime.

“ Now this Rabelais is, and must be, in your hands and mine. We ought to manage it, without doubt. It is a grand idea. We invented it. Carry it out as it should be carried out, and we shall make a great power of it. Let us go step by step, and only admit strong men of European or world fame. Just now we are (beyond ourselves) Lord Houghton, Sir Patrick Colquhoun, Bret Harte, Pollock, Palmer, James, Collier.

“Now while I admit that ——, ——, and ——’s other nominee (whose name I forget), are all good men and true, I object to them, entre nous, for the present. Just now we need Names. Of course names with genius. It is all very pleasant for us to have jolly and clever boys, but we must not yield to personal friendship. I want these smaller men to apply to us.

“ My dear friend, if to these names we should add Lowell and the great French and German guns, we shall make at once a world-name. B. and D. are not known outside of the Savile. Let us settle these points at once. James is unobjectionable, but he was proposed and elected, I may say, without my knowing anything about it.

“We have an able man in Sir Patrick. Knowing nothing of your plan, he has sent me, written in pure French with a delicious old-time smack, a modest suggestion or basis to work on, for our rules — comme ça:

“ ‘ 1. Admissables sont les gens de lettres dejà connus, ou non, au monde comme tels.’

“ ‘ 2. Personne ne sera élu avantd’avoir assisté à une réunion comme invité.’

“ Collier, Palmer, and I revised your programme on Sunday, but Sir Patrick has given such an original and excellent plan that I must revise it with you. Entends tu ? He is an old stager, a wise head of great experience, and an incarnate Pantagruelist. God has been very good to us, my dear Besant, in our little work.

“I do not know or remember whether Sir P. heard your rules read. Did he?

“ It will require only a little resolution and understanding between you and me to make a great thing of this. But frankly, I see that we must manage it to make of it a power. There has been no neglect, no slowness, but a great deal too much haste and democracy in it. We are to meet at Sir Patrick’s on the 13th March, Thursday, at 8 P. M. and will then and there settle details. Don’t forget.”

From this it is clear that the club to him meant not only a friendly association of writers and artists, but a tremendous force, a wide influence. “We must make it very great to begin with and make it real at the same time. We, its founders, must be earnest and true.” Only get the right elements into it in the right way and “we shall make a power of it.” “We may make it the very first in London if we are wise and careful.” “This Rabelais— this Savile — d—n it, we ought to make the Circle of the Cyclus of the Decade somehow. Why even M—— has ambition to make the Savile beat the Athenæum. When I hear him talk so, I blush. It could be done. Build up the Savile and draw its best into the Rabelais,” — so he keeps on repeating in letter after letter. As for the right elements, the name of the club expresses what should be the definition of rightness. For “to understand and feel Rabelais is per se a proof of belonging to the higher order — the very aristocracy of intellect. As etching is ‘ an art for artists ’ only, and as a love of etching reveals the true artsense, so Rabelais is a writer for writers only.” Love of Rabelais, too, may be a protest against a younger generation that, however clever, “is very rotten with sentiment, Pessimism, and a sort of putrid Byronism, and sees in Rabelais howling, rowdy, blackguard trash, just as Voltaire did.” — But this love or understanding of the Master was not sufficient of itself. No one was to be elected who had not done great or good work, who had not “distinctly made a name in letters or art.” Let rejection be encouraged. While, to secure the right people, no effort could be thought too troublesome. Lord Houghton must be treated as “un père noble,” — not “a gilded bait,”—but still it was best that no further appointments be made till “his cordial coöperation be secured.” “Great names are our great game.” “Admit foreign members by all means; for one, About, through whom Victor Hugo may be reached and captured, — About can persuade Victor Hugo,” etc. For others, Lowell, Longfellow, Holmes, in America; and Tennyson “will hardly decline to join when invited” by these three, which will “punish” Browning, who did decline immediately, as if he “thought himself too good for the Rabelais;” who might be a “great poet,” but— Well, that is all over and past, why revive it ? It is pleasant, however, in the light of after events, to note that Besant proposed, as contributor to one volume of the Rabelais Transactions, “Young Stevenson,” whom both the founders of the club, so much his seniors, were to outlive.

The Rye returned to America at the end of 1879, but the Rabelais was still dear to him. “Let us rejoice!” a letter in February, 1880, begins, “for Dr. O. W. Holmes has joined the Rabelais. I had a long, very jolly interview with him in his house in Boston. Before he appeared I heard him singing for joy that he was to see me again, and his greeting was effusive.” And Dr. Holmes suggested Mr. Howells, then editing the Atlantic, — and, what with the Autocrat, Howells, Bret Harte, George Boker, and Hans Breitmann himself, Lowell cannot decline, and here is a fine American contingent anyway. “ Great names draw great names and make us a great club, — small or mediocre names detract from every advantage. We don’t want Anybody who is other than ourselves. . . . Now the Rabelais has enough men to be jolly at its dinner — but not enough great men. When it is so strong that nobody can afford to decline, when it is distinctly a proof of the very highest literary-social position per se to be in it — when we shall be all known men, then I shall be satisfied to admit the mute Miltons. I have never got over Browning’s declining. I want him to regret it. He will regret it if we progress as we are doing.” “We might have got Browning had —— not undertaken to scoop him in. Poor boy, he wrote a regular wooden schoolboy letter — and this kind of thing requires infinite finesse.”

And this from another letter, also from America: —

“I want the Rabelais to coruscate — whizz, blaze and sparkle, fulminate and bang. It must be great and wise and good, bland, dynamitic, gentle, awful, tender and tremulous. That is the kind of Tongs we must be. Tongs, I say, and not hairpins like the Philistines — nor clothespins like the vulgar. Handsome drawing-room tongs fit for ladies to handle. The American public only recognizes hairpins and clothespins. I add tongs. Strive, my son, to be tongs in this life and not a mere hairpin.”

It may be because he was in America that things did not go as he wanted with the Rabelais. “ Messenger of Evil,” a letter in April of 1881 begins, “did ever man unfold such a budget of damnable news, as you anent the Rabelais.” It was not, however, until 1889 that, as Besant puts it, the club “fell to pieces.” “Perhaps,” Besant concludes, “we had gone on long enough; perhaps we spoiled the club by admitting visitors. However, the club languished and died.” It had,in its day, included enough “great names” to please the Rye, — those of Thomas Hardy, John Hay, and others may be added to the many already mentioned. But it included popular names, too, and in no fewer numbers. The warning against democracy fell unheeded, and democracy, as the Rye knew, whatever it may be to political and social life, is fatal to art and letters.

  1. Copyright, 1905, by ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL.