Thomas Bailey Aldrich
ON the day when he last entered the Atlantic office, in January, Mr. Aldrich seemed, for the first time, to have grown old. One of his friends spoke of it, as he went out. Up to that morning, the weight of seventy years had scarcely seemed to touch the erect, jaunty figure. The lines that time had written around his clear blue eyes and firm mouth conveyed no hint of senility. His hair was scarcely gray. His voice, slightly husky in its graver, sweeter tones, retained a delicious youthful crispness as it curled and broke, wave-like, into flashing raillery. He had just completed his poem for the Longfellow centenary, his first verse after some years of silence; and when it was praised to his face — for who could help praising it! —he blushed with pleasure like a boy. Yet he had passed three-score and ten, and the shadow, invisible as yet and quite unheralded, was drawing very near.
For many years he had been wont to visit more or less regularly the editorial room which still claimed his name and fame as one of its treasured possessions. Perched upon the edge of a chair, as if about to take flight, he would often linger by the hour, to the delight of his listeners. His caustic wit played around every topic of conversation. He did not disdain the veriest “shop-talk” concerning printers’ errors and the literary fashions of the hour. “Look at those boys!” he exclaimed once, as he picked up an illustrated periodical containing the portraits of a couple of that month’s beardless novelists. “When I began to write, we waited twenty years before we had our pictures printed; but nowadays these young fellows have themselves photographed before they even sit down to write their book.” Himself a fastidious composer and reviser, Mr. Aldrich was severely critical of current magazine literature. “That was a well-written essay,” he once said of an Atlantic contribution which he liked, “but you will find a superfluous ‘of’ upon the second page.” It was very rarely that he praised a contemporary poem. Mr. S. V. Cole’s “ In Via Merulana” and some of the exquisite lyrics of Father Tabb are the only verses of recent years which I now recall as having won his unqualified approbation. More than once I have heard him declare that he would have rejected Mr. Kipling’s “Recessional ”if it had been offered to the Atlantic, — so extreme was his dislike for one or two harsh lines in that justly celebrated poem. The one American poem which he would have most liked to write, was, he said, Emerson’s “ Bacchus,” — where, amid inimitable felicities, there are surely harsh lines enough.
One of the most pleasant traits of Mr. Aldrich’s comments upon men of letters was his unfailing respect and admiration for the well-known group of New England writers whose personal friendship he had enjoyed. His gift for witty derogation found employment elsewhere; towards Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell his attitude was finely reverent, as befitted a younger associate. He was fond of retelling that anecdote of his own boyish daring which appears in his Ponkapog Papers, to the effect that when first entering James T. Fields’s office in the Old Corner Bookstore, his eyes fell upon that kindly editor and publisher’s memorandum book, open on the table. Mr. Fields was absent for the moment, and the youthful poet could not help noticing the impressive list of agenda: “Don’t forget to mail R. W. E. his contract,”—" “Don’t forget O. W. H.’s proofs,” etc. Whereupon the “young Milton,” who certainly deserved to succeed in his profession, wrote upon the memorandum book, “Don’t forget to accept T. B. A.’s poem,” and disappeared. The poem was accepted, paid for, and, truest kindness of all, — as Mr. Aldrich asserted, —was never printed. But the resourceful youth never lost his deferential attitude toward the bearers of those famous initialed names that had once preceded his own.
Of his early literary friendships with the New York set of writers in his Home Journal and Mirror days he often talked entertainingly, and in a freer vein. He knew Whitman, for example, and liked him personally, although he would never admit that Whitman was a poet except in here and there a single phrase. Many a time Has the present writer endeavored to convert Mr. Aldrich from this state of heathen blindness as to Whitman’s genius, but the debates used to end illogically with Mr. Aldrich’s delightful story of a certain nine dollars which Whitman once borrowed from him — magnificently, but alas, irrevocably — in Pfaff’s genial restaurant on Broadway. Never did Aldrich appear more truly the poet than in these light reminiscent touches upon the varied adventures of his youth. He had gone out against the Philistines armed with no weapon except a finely-pointed pen. He had written no line dishonorably, or unworthily of his craftsman’s conscience. He had compelled recognition, and taken his seat unchallenged among the choicest company of American men of letters. It amused him to look back upon his early career as a struggling journalist, to
Chuckle o’er increase of salary,
Taste the good fruits of our leisure,
Talk about pencil and lyre, —
And the National Portrait Gallery.
He neither forgot nor forgave some of his old antagonists in that journalistic world; but one liked him all the better for the sensitiveness of nature which left him still resentful of some ancient slight, or still happily mindful of a compliment earned when he was twenty. Few of the “irritable tribe ” of poets, could, however, keep themselves more perfectly in hand. The cool audacity of his “Don’t forget to accept T. B. A.’s poem” ripened into an easy mastery of many of the arts of life. His gay confidence, when seated among his friends or guests, reminded one of some veteran commander of an ocean liner, enjoying, at the head of the “captain’s table,” the deserved deference of the company.
Yet he seemed the poet, likewise, in his air of detachment from the immediate concerns of the people who surrounded him. The legacy of a friend early secured him from any material anxieties. Thrown by force of circumstances, in his later life, into the agreeable society of the idle rich, he got and gave such pleasures as are only there obtainable; but be never abdicated his essential citizenship among the dreamers and artists. That he would have produced more printer’s “copy” under the spur of harsh necessity is easily demonstrable, but it does not follow that this conceivably ampler production would have exhibited any finer quality than is now found in the prose and verse of his collected works. He once wrote some suggestive verses on “The Flight of the Goddess,”— the fickle muse who loves poets in their garret days and deserts them in prosperity. But these verses do not demand an autobiographical interpretation. Mr. Aldrich’s own muse was of a long constancy. At nineteen he proved his kinship with the rarest spirits of his time, and for the next half-century there was no year when his friends and readers would not have spoken of him primarily as a maker of poetry. He always kept some avenue of escape from the prosaic. In his boyhood at Portsmouth the sea was ever at the end of the street:—
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet,
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Slips from, my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare ?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway ; ships of red Ceylon ;
’T is but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores !
Besides this sea-longing, so inbred in the natives of New England seaport towns, there was some delicate strand of foreignness among the ancestral fibres of Aldrich’s nature, his heritage from that
From Spain, some say, some say from France,
whom he has described in the lines entitled “ Heredity.” He touches this thought again in his sonnet “ Reminiscence: ”—”
That half the twelvemonth torpid lies, or dead ;
Though the cold azure arching overhead
And the Atlantic’s never-ending moan
Are mine by heritage, I must have known
Life otherwhere in epochs long since fled ;
For in my veins some Orient blood is red,
And through my thought are lotus blossoms strown.
It was fitting that ten years of his impressionable youth should have been passed in the New Orleans of the forties, where the rich coloring of the past still lingered, and where, though Cotton was striving to be king, Romance was queen. When the boy was brought back to Portsmouth to prepare for college, he had become, as The Story of a Bad Boy humorously portrays, the veriest Southern fireeater. His counting-room experiences in New York — which followed the abandonment of his college career upon his father’s death in 1852 — also brought him into touch with ways of life quite alien to those of his New Hampshire birthplace. Before he was twenty he had graduated from the counting-room into the Broadway school of journalists and poets, and had issued his first volume of verse, The Bells, “by T. B. A.” with a dedicatory poem to Longfellow’. This was in 1855, the year of Whittier’s “Barefoot Boy ” and Whitman’s “ Leaves of Grass.” Aldrich’s first volume is now a rarity, and all of its nearly fifty pieces — with their echoes of Chatterton, Tom Moore, Poe and Longfellow,—have disappeared from the definitive edition of his Poems.
Two years later, in November, 1857, appeared the first number of the Atlantic Monthly. I have before me a yellowing note written by Aldrich, in the following May, to F. H. Underwood, who was then acting as Lowell’s assistant upon the magazine. He had evidently returned one of Aldrich’s poems with some suggestions as to changes in wording.
HOME JOURNAL OFFICE.
May 25, 1858.
DEAR SIR:I have been trying for the last hour to alter the Blue Bell verses. “Mute worshipers of Christ” is simply bad ; but “ dawning ” and “ morning ” form a perfect rhyme when we remember the “fancies ” and “pansies ” of the old poets. It has taken you some time to find out that such rhymes are inadmissible; but you seem to have good authority in the following pasquinade, which I clip from the Boston Post of May 24: —
“ Poet. Editor.
No doubt!—I’ve known a poet
with a pair,
And very long ones — who was not
That ‘ morn ’ and ‘ dawn ’ have not
the proper chime,
By a long shot, to make a decent
As I cannot make the changes you require, I shall, of course, retain my verses. Yours, etc.
T. B. ALDRICH.
MR. F. H. UNDERWOOD.
Having thus vindicated his dignity, the youthful bard, who was himself assistant editor of the Home Journal, apparently continued to reflect upon the Atlantic’s suggestion. But he did not yield at once. In the Carleton edition of his Poems, 1863, “ The Blue Bells of New England ” contains the erring stanza: —
But open at the dawning;
Such simple faith as yours can see
God’s conning in the morning.
In the Ticknor and Fields’ Blue and Gold edition of 1865, however, the second line of the stanza becomes
no doubt, to Mr. Underwood’s satisfaction. Aldrich’s first poetical contribution to the Atlantic was “Pythagoras,” in June, 1860; his first story, which excited Hawthorne’s curiosity as to the author, and prompted some beautiful words of praise from the romancer, was “Père Antoine’s Date Palm: A Legend of New Orleans,” in June, 1862.
The letter to Underwood reveals one trait which Aldrich possessed in common with Tennyson, his chief master and guide in the art of poetry. Both men were quick to profit by adverse criticism. Some American scholar will ultimately, no doubt, edit Aldrich’s youthful poems, as Mr. Churton Collins has edited the earliest work of Tennyson, with the aim of showing, by means of the successive verbal alterations, the tireless patience and acquired cunning of the born craftsman in verse. The files of the Atlantic will yield him two striking illustrations, drawn from Aldrich’s maturer work. In December, 1874, Edgar Fawcett, in reviewing his poems, quoted approvingly “The Lunch,” — a dozen lines of genre painting in the Keats-Tennyson manner, closing as follows: —
And rich inside with chocolate like honey;
And she and I the banquet-scene completing
With dreamy words, — and very pleasant eating!
The critic remarked that the last four words marred the spirit of ethereal daintiness till then so deliciously apparent. Whereupon Mr. Aldrich, with the happiest aptitude for taking second thought, substituted the present version of the last line: —
Again, in January, 1877, Mr. Howells, whose unsigned Atlantic criticisms of Aldrich’s successive volumes are models of friendly tact and delicate instruction, quoted the quatrain “ Masks: ” —
And shows you laughing lips and roguish eyes ;
But when, unmasked, gay Comedy appears,
’T is ten to one you find the girl in tears.
Mr. Howells suggested that the strong effect in the last line was weakened by what seemed to him a mistaken colloquiality; and in the Complete Poems the line now reads, —
We must not linger over such details. They will serve for concrete illustration of the qualities which made Aldrich respected and admired by his fellow-writers. By 1865, the year of his marriage and removal to Boston as the editor of Every Saturday for Ticknor and Fields, he was already widely known as the author of refined and tender verse, as a capable and shrewd editorial worker, and as a clever man of the world. His new employers printed his Poems in one of their celebrated Blue and Gold editions. For the latitude of Boston this was comparable to an election to the French Academy. Aldrich was not yet thirty. Rarely has there been a more fortunate Return of the Native. And nevertheless, although he was to be identified with Boston henceforward until the end of his life, he was never to lose his engaging air of detachment from New England’s cherished enterprises. He cared no more for the practical later phases of Transcendentalism than for the earlier speculative ones. The various “reforms,” philanthropies, “causes,” of his excellent neighbors did not interest him deeply. The intellectual and social evolution of New England in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is not to be traced in his poetry or his prose. His favorite reading was French novels. The sombre inland New England of our own school of short-story writers, — the gaunt pastures, the lonely white farm-houses, the fierce emotional energy, the tragedies of baffled will and thwarted natural instincts, — all this was foreign to the happy sensuousness of his nature.
The fifteen years following 1865 were Aldrich’s most productive period. For ten years he edited Every Saturday. He wrote for Our Young Folks the most popular of all his books, that Story of a Bad Boy in which Portsmouth is pictured under the name of Rivermouth, and Tom Bailey is but the thinnest of disguises for the youthful Aldrich. Some of the Atlantic’s present readers remember waiting eagerly for the next installment of The Bad Boy; if they will read it over again, after an interval of nearly forty years, they will find that Binny Wallace’s drifting out to sea has lost nothing of its pathos, and that the fight between Tom Bailey and Conway is just as glorious a combat as of old. Aldrich’s technique as a writer of the short story has not been excelled by that of any American, even by Poe, although he ventured upon no daring atmospheric effects and did not go far afield for his characters. He loved to mystify the inexperienced reader, and he arranged some neatly surprising dénoûments. “Marjorie Daw,” his best known short story, is a classic example of this swift and astonishing “curtain,” “There isn’t any Marjorie Daw!” Neither is there any Miss Mehetable’s Son; Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski is a youth whose beard is getting too much for him; the fierce " Goliath " turns out to be a little panting tremulous wad of a lap-dog; “Our new neighbors at Ponkapog” are only a pair of orioles; and the charming Mrs. Rose Mason of “Two Bites at a Cherry ” proves, to the consternation of both hero and reader, to have married again! Aldrich was too clever a workman to rely exclusively upon his favorite method. “A Sea Turn,” one of his latest stories, is a flawless handling of the comedy of situation; he wrote humorous and pathetic character sketches in the style of Irving and Hawthorne; and in “Quite So” and “The White Feather” he touches with admirable restraint upon poignant tragedies of the Civil War.
Prudence Palfrey, The Queen of Sheba, and A Stillwater Tragedy — all of which first appeared as Atlantic serials — exhibit Aldrich’s deft mastery of prose and his skill in composing a species of tale half way between romance and actuality. “Semi-idyllic” was Mr. Howells’s word for Prudence Palfrey in 1874; “in fact,” he added, “the New England novel does not exist.” A Modern Instance and The Rise of Silas Lapham had not then been written. Whatever one may think of the intellectual or imaginative limitations of the type of fiction which Aldrich here attempted, the details of these longer stories are wrought with the artistry of a poet. Ride out of Rivermouth on a June morning with Edward Lynde: “Now and then, as he passed a farm house, a young girl hanging out clothes in the front yard — for it was on a Monday — would pause with a shapeless snowdrift in her hand to gaze curiously at the apparition of a gallant young horseman.” This is no longer Rockingham County, New Hampshire; we are in Arcadia. Some connoisseur of women ought to collect the adorable vignettes that are scattered everywhere through Aldrich’s prose: Marjorie Daw in the hammock, swaying “like a pondlily in the golden afternoon;” Martha Hilton, “with a lip like a cherry and a cheek like a tea-rose;” Margaret Slocum’s eyes, “fringed with such heavy lashes that the girl seemed always to be in half-mourning;” Mrs. Rose Mason, with her “long tan-colored gloves — Rue de la Paix” — in the chill and gloom of the Naples Cathedral; Anglice, “a blonde girl, with great eyes and a voice like the soft notes of a vesper hymn;" or young Mrs. Newbury, “looking distractingly cool and edible — something like celery — in her widow’s weeds. ” All of Aldrich — save what is disclosed upon the highest levels of his poetry—is in that witty, charming, delicately sensuous description of young Mrs. Newbury. No other prose written in his generation has quite the same combination of qualities; but if Daudet had been bom in Portsmouth and compelled to write serials for a decorous Boston magazine, Aldrich might have found a rival in his own field.
It was to this matured and versatile talent that the conduct of the Atlantic Monthly was entrusted, upon Mr. Howells’s resignation in 1881. For nine years Mr. Aldrich sat in his tiny editorial room overlooking the Granary Burying Ground, reading manuscripts, scanning proof-sheets,—though he delegated more of this drudgery than his contributors supposed,— and making witty remarks to his assistant. He had the comfortsboth before and since his time considered too Capuan for an Atlantic editor in office hours — of a pipe and a red Irish setter. Once the setter ate up a sonnet. “How should he know it was doggerel ?” exclaimed Mr. Aldrich compassionately. He had leisure for frequent travel abroad, and for the cementing of many delightful friendships, among which his intimacy with Edwin Booth was notable. Peculiarly happy in his home life, he cultivated a gracious hospitality. His editorial reign, as one looks back upon it, was not so much Capuan as Saturnian. The Literature of Exposure had not yet been born, and the manners of the market-place were not thought good form in magazine offices. Mr. Aldrich printed poems by Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, Lowell, Dante Rossetti, Stedman, and Sill, with an occasional lyric of his own. Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Miss Murfree, Arthur S. Hardy, Miss Jewett, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Marion Crawford, and Mrs. Oliphant were among the writers of fiction. John Burroughs and Bradford Torrey wrote outdoor papers. Parkman and Fiske contributed historical articles. Now and then appeared articles by II. D. Lloyd, Edward Atkinson, Richard T. Ely, Laurence Laughlin, and Walter H. Page, in token that the “age of economists,” which Burke dreaded, was close at hand. But the distinctive note of the Atlantic in the eighties was its literary criticism, contributed by a group of reviewers who often preferred to write anonymously. Their criticisms maintained a more severe standard than that of any critical periodical in the country except the Nation, and they exhibited a combination of learning with urbanity, which, with the present development of specialization among scholars, seems to be growing more and more rare.
It would be idle to search the eighteen volumes of the Atlantic edited by Mr. Aldrich for any very plain indication of his personality, except his fondness for clear, competent, and workmanlike writing. Contributions poured into his little office, and he made such selections as he saw fit. It was before the day of Wild West feats of editorial chase, capture, and exhibition. The Atlantic was like a stanch ship sailing a well-charted course, and Aldrich, who was fond enough of salt water and knew how to steer, took his trick at the wheel with pleasure. Some of the unkindly necessities incident to his vocation naturally irritated him. He disliked to give pain. “Here goes for making twenty more enemies,” he was wont to say as he sat down in the morning at his desk. When recently urged by the present writer to prepare some account of his editorship for the anniversary number of the Atlantic, next November, he said that if he told anything he would like to tell the story of the warlike contributor who once threatened him with personal violence, but who, upon being challenged by the editor to appear at Park Street to make good his threat, failed to come to time. As Mr. Aldrich described this imminent encounter of a score of years ago, his blue eyes flashed fire, and one could see little Tom Bailey, with both eyes blinded by big Conway, standing up to him, and thrashing him too, on the playground at Rivermouth. Here is the contributor’s letter, preserved by Mr. Aldrich and printed at his desire.
SIR: — On the 24th day of February and again on the 7th inst. I gave you opportunity to apologize for the willfully offensive manner in which you treated me in relation to my manuscript entitled Shakespeare’s Viola.
You retained that manuscript nearly seven weeks. Then you returned it and expressed your regret that you could not accept it.
That is to say, you intended to deceive me by the inference that the manuscript was declined on its merits.
The truth was and is you did not read it nor even open the package. Therefore you could not judge its merits nor say, with truth, that you regretted to decline it.
You decline to apologize.
My robust nature abhors your disgusting duplicity. You are a vulgar, unblushing Rascal and an impudent audacious Liar.
Which I am prepared to maintain any where, any time. You ought to be publicly horsewhipped. Nothing would gratify me more than to give you a sounder thrashing than any you have yet received.
Moreover I am determined that the Literary Public shall know what a putrid scoundrel and Liar you are.
Boston, March 30, 1887.
Then follows, in Aldrich’s beautiful open handwriting, the penciled comment: “The gentleman with the ‘robust nature ’ was politely invited to call at No, 4 Park St. on any day that week between 9 A. M. and 3 p. M.; but the ‘robust nature’ failed to materialize.”
One smiles at such things, of course; but now that Air. Aldrich is gone from the places that once knew him, it is these trivialities, rather than his accomplishment and his fame, that come first to the mind. Perhaps it is the very security of his fame which lends to these anecdotal memories of his editorship a sort of ironic relief. “The power of writing one fine line,” said Edward FitzGerald, “transcends all the Able-Editor ability in the ably-edited universe.” Aldrich wrote not merely one fine line, but hundreds of them, and it is inconceivable that they will all pass out of human memory. Time, which is sure to winnow so sternly the work of the more famous New England poets, will find that Aldrich has done most of the winnowing himself. The text of his Complete Poems represents his own final choice of what was most excellent. In his lighter vein he was acknowledged to be unrivaled upon this side of the water. But even the fairylike daintiness of “Latakia,” “Corydon,” “At a Reading,” “Pampina,” “Palabras Cariñosas,” and “A Petition,” or the pure lyricism of “A Nocturne,” “Pillared Arch,” “I’ll not Confer with Sorrow,” and “Imogen,” and still more the popular “Baby Bell,” — written, like Rossetti’s “Blessed Damozel,” at nineteen,— fail to represent the full power of his ripened mind and art. There is a deeper note in his lines in memory of Bayard Taylor and upon Booth’s portrait, in “Sea-Longings,” in “The Funeral of a Minor Poet” and in the startling verses, “Identity.” The darker questionings that occasionally shadowed the sunny Greek sky of Aldrich’s fancy are reflected in “An Untimely Thought,” “Apparitions,” and “Prescience.” No American poet save Longfellow has written such perfect sonnets as “ I Vex me Not,” “Sleep,” “Fredericksburg,” “Enamored Architect of Airy Rhyme,” “Andromeda,” and others not inferior to these. In general indifferent toward public affairs, the memories of the Civil War inspired two of his elegiac pieces, “Spring in New England” and the “Ode on the Shaw Memorial.” He was stirred to the composition of a fine sonnet upon reading William Watson’s splendid poetical invective against the Armenian outrages. “Unguarded Gates” was the result of many weeks of excitement, quite unusual with him, over the national dangers involved in unrestricted immigration. But these were almost his only excursions into the field of communal verse, whether political or social. The one great personal sorrow of his life, the death of his son Charles in 1904, came after his work as a poet was finished.
Aldrich wrote Tennysonian blank verse with consummate skill, as may be seen in “Wyndham Towers,” “White Edith,” and other narrative pieces. His Oriental poetry is picturesque, but, like Mrs. Rose Mason’s gloves, suggests the Rue de la Paix, — or at least Horace Vernet and Fromentin. His wit, his cleverness of phrase, his keen sense of the comic, and his lifelong interest in the stage and stage-folk, might have made him, one would think, an unexcelled writer of comedies. Yet his chief ventures in dramatic composition — aside from some early unpreserved fragments — are tragedies. Mercedes, as played by Julia Arthur, was a notable performance, although narrow in its range of dramatic forces. Judith of Bethulîa, a dramatized version of his early narrative poem Judith and Holofernes, was an experiment which brought new zest, followed by disappointment, into his closing years. The play was skillfully put together, and its third act was powerful, but it was acted, on the first night at least, with a crude commonness that failed alike to do justice to Aldrich’s rich lines and to compel the admiration of the indifferent playgoer. The failure of the play was a pity, yet one may question whether a success would have made any difference in the total impression left by Aldrich upon his generation.
In reviewing his latest volumes of prose,1 the Atlantic applied to Mr. Aldrich a sentence from his own charming essay upon Herrick: “A fine thing incomparably said instantly becomes familiar, and has henceforth a sort of dateless excellence.” The secret of that dateless excellence was possessed by Aldrich himself. To judge merely by their mood, many of his poems might have been written in the garden of Herrick’s Devon parsonage, or a whole century later, upon the sloping lawn of Horace Walpole’s villa of Strawberry Hill. Aldrich would have been a delightful companion for George Selwyn and Harry Montague, and he could also have joyously discussed the art of polishing verse and prose with Théophile Gautier and Prosper Mérimée. His spirit escapes the rigid limits set by the biographical dictionary. In his choice of metrical forms and his vocabulary he is obviously indebted to Tennyson’s volume of 1842, yet it is usually impossible to determine by internal evidence — as one often can in Tennyson’s case — in what decade of the nineteenth century his various poems were written. The general trend of the philosophical, religious, or political speculation of Aldrich’s day is not discoverable in his work. He had no such ethical and doctrinaire preoccupations as colored the verse of Whittier and Arnold, and troubled, though it sometimes strangely exalted, the later lyrics of Tennyson. Aldrich’s poetry, like that of Keats and Rossetti, is free from the alloy of essentially unpoetical elements; it bears no traces of Tendenz; its excellence is dateless.
In this tranquil aloofness from the passions and convictions of the hour, and in the beautiful perfection of its workmanship, lie its promise of long life. There will always be some readers who are no more likely to forget Aldrich’s poetry than Mozart’s music or the crocus breaking through the mould in March. The very lightest of his pieces, marked “Fragile” as they are, are dear to the spirit of beauty, and will possess something of the perpetually renewed immortality of the cobwebs sparkling on the lawn and the fairy frostwork on the pane. And yet, if one were to choose where no choice is needful, one might hazard the guess that the hearts of future readers are more likely, as the years go by, to be turned toward the few poems in which Aldrich has deepened the wistful beauty of his lines by thoughts of the mysteries which encompass us. Whether he pondered often upon such themes one cannot tell, but one likes to think of him, at the last, as sustained by the noble mood in which he composed his final sonnet: —
That were ere I drew breath: why should I then
Distrust the darkness that may fall again
When life is done ? Perchance in other spheres —
Dead planets — I once tasted mortal tears,
And walked as now amid a throng of men,
Pondering things that lay beyond my ken,
Questioning death, and solacing my fears.
Ofttimes indeed strange sense have I of this,
Vague memories that hold me with a spell,
Touches of unseen lips upon my brow,
Breathing some incommunicable bliss !
In years foregone, O Soul, was all not well ?
Still lovelier life awaits thee. Fear not thou !
- In November, 1903.↩