THE Atlantic dinners to which I purpose giving attention date back, the last of them, twenty-five years, for since June, 1882, though there have doubtless been as many dinners as diners, none have occurred that demand public investigation. The now ancient magazine was sweet sixteen when I began to ask of some of the first diners the nature of the dinners that I had heard of their taking together in Cambridge. Mr. Lowell was living, and Dr. Holmes, as well as others who were present at the birth. Cambridge seemed to be the place appropriate for such festivals, for an examination of the catalogue of Atlantic writers will show a large minority, at least, of names associated with Harvard, although, in the process of time, and owing to the widening of the scope of the magazine, the whole world is now laid under obligation to supply the demand; in spite, also, of the fact that it was the original intention to give a somewhat international character to the venture, and that the first number opened with an article by an Englishman on an English subject.
Reference to the Atlantic dinners will be found in the first number of the magazine. Mr. Lowell made it himself. “ It was said long ago,” he writes, “that poets, like canaries, must be starved in order to keep them in good voice, and in the palmy days of Grub Street, an editor’s table was nothing grander than his own knee, on which, in his airy garret, he unrolled his paper parcel of dinner, happy if its wrapping were a sheet from Brown’s last poem and not his own. Now an editorial table seems to mean a board of green cloth, at which literary broken victuals are served out with no carving but that of the editorial scissors. La Maga has her table, too, and at fitting times invites to it her various Eminent Hands. It is a round table that is, rounded by the principle of rotation for how could she settle points of precedence with the august heads of her various departments without danger of the dinner’s growing cold ? Substantial dinners are eaten thereat with Homeric appetite. ... At these feasts no tyranny of speechmaking is allowed, but the bon-bons are all wrapped in original copies of verses made by various contributors, which, having served their festive turn, become the property of the guests. Reporters are not admitted, for the eating is not done for inspection like that of the hapless inmates of a menagerie.
We are permitted to go a little farther back than Mr. Lowell, in his modesty, allowed himself to go, for before the Atlantic was begun, before any one knew that it was to be, there was a notable dinner, given by the publishers, at the new hotel of Harvey D. Parker on School Street, in Boston. It is not necessary for a sound institution that it should begin with a constitution and by-laws, and a good dinner seems to serve as a basis for permanence! At any rate, the publishing house under the auspices of which the Atlantic began, thought that a dinner was well!
Who were present on this occasion, for which we should be so grateful ? A dozen literary gentlemen had been asked to come, and at the head of the table, as we should have read in the Boston Advertiser the following morning, had reporters been admitted, sat Mr. Phillips, of the publishing firm. At the foot was Mr. Underwood, “literary adviser,” who had pressed the matter to a fruitful issue. Mr. Longfellow, then fifty years of age, Dr. Holmes, two years younger, the historian Motley, five years younger, Mr. Lowell, only thirty-eight, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Eliot Cabot were there. Pretty good names to conjure with! Mr. Underwood told me that Harriet Beecher Stowe was the person whose urgency had effectually influenced Mr. Phillips, but neither she nor any other lady was present at this initial dinner.
We know that after the dinner came to an end, there was serious discussion of the establishment of an “organ”—perhaps that business word was used — worthy of Boston’s reputation. Had not New York boasted its genial Knickerbocker, its worthy Harper’s, in whose Easy Chair Boston’s Curtis long afterwards sat, and Putnam’s, with a growing reputation well sustained ? Boston had long sustained its North American Review, which had absorbed Tudor’s Monthly Anthology; and there had been a succession of Polyanthuses, and Ordeals, and Monthly Chronicles, and there was once upon a time The Dial, with Mr. Emerson, Mr. Alcott, and Margaret Fuller at the helm. Mr. Lowell, Edward Everett Hale, W. W. Story, and E. P. Whipple had found place for their literary “output” in the Boston Miscellany, a magazine about the size of Harper s, with a dark and repellent chocolate cover. Bunker Hill monument was roughly depicted on it, and in the foreground was a comfortably dressed Cupid who had just thrown aside his bow and arrows, while his young eyes gazed curious at the obelisk, the meaning of wdiich he seemed unable to guess. LowreIl had himself edited, with Robert Carter, The Pioneer; and Charles Hale had tried to establish a literary journal entitled Today, five years before the Atlantic began; but none of these satisfied Boston, and so this dinner and this discussion.
Unexpectedly to himself, Mr. Lowell was now nominated as editor of the magazine to be, but he accepted the responsibility, with several provisos. He demanded that Dr. Holmes should contribute, that George Nichols, of Cambridge, should read proofs — and that did not mean what is usually meant when proofreading is spoken of, for Nichols, publisher of Lowell’s early poems, careful successor of Charles Folsom, could correct authors who misquoted authorities or fell into any other inaccuracy. Mr. Lowell meant to secure vivacity and correctness. Next he asked that Longfellow, Motley, Emerson, Whittier, and others whose names “blazon our provincial scroll,”as Holmes says, should support him, and this, of course, meant that the publishers should support them! Thus the first dinner ended in complete harmony, and a nameless magazine was ensured.
After the magazine had been launched, after the critics had exhausted themselves in discussing Emerson’s “ Brahma,” which appeared in the first number, some of the contributors conceived the idea of dining by themselves, with no publisher in the room. They chose for the purpose Porter’s Tavern, in Cambridge, situated not too far from Harvard Square and the College, — a suitable walk for a literary man before or after dinner. It was a place that Mr. Lowell once told me was the best in the world for a good dinner, and Dr. Holmes assured me that if Lowell thought it the best place it certainly was, “for,” he added, “Lowell knows.” The third number had just appeared. It was towards the end of December, 1857. Mr. Emerson was present. He was older than the others, being fifty-four.
It would not do to give imagination play, and picture to ourselves the scene and the flow of wdt. Dr. Holmes gives us the only light on the subject that I know of. With his help we may, indeed, imagine the scene and listen to the conversation. The avenue on which Porter’s Tavern was situated runs from Harvard Square to Lexington, and at the time was called “North,” in respect to the direction that it took when it left the vicinity of the College. It has since been greatly lengthened, and out of respect to the state is called Massachusetts. The evenings in December are cool, and a slight fall of snow whitened the sidewalk as the diners sat around the table. Mr. Porter was in attendance, a slight man, one of the old-time hosts who used to cut the joint themselves, stand behind the chairs of the guests, and ask them if the game was rightly cooked. He had culinary wisdom, and delighted in expressing it in aphorisms. He was accustomed to tell his guests that game to be properly cooked should be carried slowly through a warm kitchen, and when asked what was the best part of a goose after the breast, he replied, “You may as well give the rest to the poor.”
There was lively conversation at this dinner. Doubtless there was game on the table, and there may have been some sort of spirituous liquor, for Cambridge was not at that date a no-license city. The following year the Autocrat made some remarks on the subject of temperance that seem to bear on his experience that December evening. “I believe in temperance,” he said, “nay, almost in abstinence, as a rule for healthy people. I trust I practice both. But let me tell you, there are companies of men of genius in which I sometimes go where the atmosphere of intellect and sentiment is so much more stimulating than alcohol that if I thought fit to take wine, it would be to keep me sober.” Dr. Holmes recollected that particular dinner so well that he testified years afterwards that some of the tracks made in the snow on the way to Harvard Square late that evening were not in lines that the mathematical professor at Harvard would have called straight. The conclusion is forced upon us that there was no wine on the table, and that the essence of intellect and sentiment was very potent.
Later still, in 1883, Dr. Holmes reported something of the dinners at Porter’s in verse, reading it in New York before a collection of physicians, and taking advantage of the poet’s license to vary his previous account slightly, and to throw the burden of divulging the secrets of the banqueting hall upon “some reporting spy,” forgetting that Mr. Lowell had emphatically asserted that reporters were never present.
Cambridge and Concord’s demi-gods were there —
“ And who were they ? ” You know as well as I.
The stars long glittering in our eastern sky —
The names that blazon our provincial scroll
Ring round the world with Briton’s drumbeat roll!
Some whispered, devious was the homeward walk ;
The story came from some reporting spy —
They lie, those fellows — O how they do lie !
Not ours those footsteps in the new fallen snow —
Poets and sages never zigzagged so !
Master, nay, monarch in his proper sphere,
Though to belles-lettres he pretended not —
Lived close to Harvard, so knew what was what;
And, having bards, philosophers and such
To eat his dinner, put the finest touch
His art could reach those learned mouths to fill
With the best fruits of gustatory skill;
And, finding wisdom plenty at his board —
Wit, science, learning — all his guests had stored,
By way of contrast, ventured to produce,
To please their palates, an inviting goose.
Better it were the company should starve
Than hands unskilled that goose attempt to carve;
None but the master artist shall assail
The bird that turns the mightiest surgeon pale.
The landlord answers to the pleading call;
Of stature tall, sublime of port he stands,
His blade and bident gleaming in his hands ;
Beneath his glance the strong-knit joints relax
As the weak knees before the headsman’s axe.
As some stout warrior armed for bloody strife ;
All eyes are on him; some in whispers ask,
What man is he who dares this dangerous task ?
When lo ! the triumph of consummate art,
With scarce a touch the creature drops apart!
As when the baby in his nurse’s lap
Spills on the carpet a dissected map.
Critics and men of science all admire,
And one whose wisdom I will not impeach,
Lively, not churlish, somewhat free of speech,
Speaks thus : “ Say, master, what of worth is left
In birds like this, of breast and legs bereft ? ”
And Landlord Porter, with uplifted eyes,
Smiles on the simple querist, and replies :
“ When from a goose you’ve taken legs and breast,
Wipe lips, thank God and leave the poor the rest! ”
A particular article in the number of the Atlantic under discussion impressed Dr. Holmes and some of the other diners. It was entitled Mamoul (Usage), and was discussed as the party walked towards Harvard Square. It was by Dr. J. W. Palmer, who wrote about Indian subjects at the time in an original style. Some of the men were heard to murmur in quotation, —
Very small rajah!
Sixpenny rajah !
Holes in his elbows !
The article described a scene in Calcutta, opening in a street called Cossitollah, and exhibited in a lively way the habits of impudent bearers of palkees, who, in this case, thought when they started that they were carrying a “sixpenny rajah,” but who concluded before “they turned down Flagg Street,” that they had made a grievous mistake in their estimate. Their tune changed suddenly and they went on crying “Jeldie jou, jeldie!” (that is, trot up smartly), —
Rich little Rajah!
Fierce little Rajah !
See how his eyes flash !
Hear how his voice roars !
He is a Tippoo !
Capitan Tippoo !
Tremble before him !
The earliest of the Atlantic dinners were brought about by invitation of the publishers. The next, as we have seen, were eaten without the presence of their “natural enemies,” by the contributors alone.1
When the magazine was sixteen years of age, it passed into the hands of its present owners, and the fact was emphasized a little later by another dinner at Parker’s, to which a few of the contributors were invited by the publishers. Again it was just as the number for January had appeared, — it was rather early in those days, — and December 15, 1874, was the date. Again, too, there were no reporters present; but the press heard of it notwithstanding, for George P. Lathrop, at one time assistant to Mr. Howells in editorial work, wrote an account of it for the NewYork Evening Post, and there were other journals that mentioned it. We were twenty-eight as we sat at table, at the ends of which sat Mr. Houghton and Mr. Howells. Of the company, fifteen, more than one-half, are now gone. Among them are Aldrich, Cranch, George E. Waring, E. P. Whipple, James Freeman Clarke, Dr. Holmes, Mr. Houghton himself, and the Reverend William M, Baker, author of Mose Evans, a novel pretty well known at the time. The dinner was a good one, of course, and the speeches also were good. There were notable absentees— Long-fellow, Whittier, and Emerson, of former dinners, Bryant and Stedman and John Hay, who had been invited to represent New York and parts adjacent, who would have come had they been able. Reminiscences were in order, and Dr. Holmes was asked to tell of the days when Porter’s Tavern was the dining-place. After saying that he was greatly “embarrassed” by being called up, Dr. Holmes made brief reference to Porter’s and then drew forth a manuscript which, he said, would serve as a breastwork from behind which he could speak. The poem seemed to be a tour de force in the use of uncommon rhymes. Here are a few of them: —
And bringing the sense of dismay and confusion to.
I’m up for a—something — and since I’ve begun with it,
I must give you a toast before I have done with it.
Let me pump at my wits as they pumped the Cochituate
That moistened — it may be — the very last bit you ate.
As for thoughts,—never mind —take the ones that lie uppermost,
And the rhymes used by Milton and Byron and Topper most.
Those copies of verses no doubt at least twenty of; . . .
You think they are scrawled in the languor of laziness — I tell you they ’re squeezed by a spasm of craziness,
A fit half as bad as the staggering vertigos
That seize a poor fellow and down in the dirt he goes!
He sat down, after expressing a hope that the magazine would help to humanize the world, that people would worship the true and the pure and the beautiful,
All read the Atlantic, as persons of culture do.
Of course, Mr. Howells spoke, and John T. Trowbridge, and James Freeman Clarke. Frank Sanborn, who might have enlivened the occasion, did not speak, so far as I recollect, but Cranch chanted one of his own songs and W. F. Apthorpe gave an operatic air. Mr. Aldrich was inquired of as to his theory of short stories. He gracefully replied that the conductors of the Atlantic wisely tried to get each writer to do what he could do best, and as his special forte, he said, was listening, he sat down, giving thus a new exhibition of the ability which he possessed in such a remarkable degree of making his denouement a surprise. Mark Twain was called upon to respond for “The President of the United States and the Female Contributors of the Atlantic.” Professing to be staggered by the greatness of the subject, he asked permission, with the utmost apparent solicitude, to attack it in sections. He thereupon began to talk on quite other matters. He expressed his reluctance to accept an invitation to “a publisher’s dinner,” and his surprise when he found that the publishers before him acted in the present instance as though they really wanted to conciliate their menials. The dinner he pronounced “nice,” in fact, “really good,” “an admirable dinner,” “ quite as good as he would have had if he had stayed at home!” The most brilliant speeches were those made quietly, as guest met guest and chatted informally, and they cannot be reported; but in this trait the dinner differed but in degree from many another one.
Publishers and authors considered the dinner of 1874 a success, but it was three years and two days before the success was repeated. In 1877, John Greenleaf Whittier became seventy years of age, and the Atlantic sought to honor him on his birthday, December 17. The occasion was this time fully reported, and I find that the press pronounced the company the “most notable that had ever been seen in this country within four walls.” It was doubted if the poet’s wellknown diffidence would permit him to attend the dinner, especially as he had a slight hoarseness that would afford him a fair excuse for absence. On the morning of the day, it was my fortune to call at the office of the publishers, for some reason, and to meet Air. Whittier as I was going out, who asked me if I could tell him the hour of the dinner! It was evident that he had come to Boston for the purpose of being present, as, indeed, he soon let the publishers know, greatly to their relief. Fie had, however, sent to Mr. Longfellow a letter saying that he should not be present, as we shall soon see.
The table was set this time in the east room of the Brunswick Flotel. Before the doors were opened there was an hour of friendly talk, during which many a contributor became acquainted with some of the men of note with whom he was to dine. As he entered the dining-room, each guest received a diagram of the table, and at once saw where he was expected to sit. He saw, too, that there were six seats, at the head of the table, reserved for Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, Howells, and Holmes, who sat on one side and the other of Mr. Henry O. Houghton, the head of the firm that published the magazine, and still publishes it, though he is gone. The scene was one to be remembered when the contributors had seated themselves, and one saw Charles Dudley Warner, Professor Charles Eliot Norton, John T. Trowbridge, Colonel Higginson, Edwin P. Whipple, Mark Twain, John Boyle O’Reilly, Richard H, Stoddard, Colonel George E. Waring, Luigi Monti, Professor John Trowbridge, and many another whom the world delighted to honor, but seldom had the privilege of seeing at short range and under festive circumstances.
As for the dinner, it was good again, as good, to say the least, as that other that Parker offered, and Mark Twain approved. It was made as memorable by its vinous offerings as that at Porter’s was by. its intellectual brilliancy, though it was by no means inferior in that respect also. Six different wines were mentioned on the neat menu that every guest was provided with, ranging from Sauterne to Burgundy, through the changes of Sherry, Chablis, “ Mumm’s Dry,” Roederer Imperial, and Claret. Despite all this, it is not recorded by any “reporting spy ” that a single guest was found making other than straight lines as he left the room after midnight to seek his home. There were no ladies at the table, but after the dinner had been properly discussed, a number of them were admitted, and some even sat at the devastated tables.
Reports of this feast were not wanting, and the great public was permitted to know at second hand of the How of soul. Mr. Houghton opened this part of the entertainment by saying that the magazine had just completed its first twenty years, and by welcoming its contributors who had been “in the vigor of manhood when it began,” and who were still giving it “the influence of their great names and well-earned reputations,” not forgetting the “younger contributors,” whom specially he addressed, giving them some encouraging historical information. His little speech was as entertaining as it was well filled with facts. He referred to the days when “pills and poetry, essences and essays, drugs and dramas, were disbursed over the same counter,” and to the fact that Whittier’s first publisher was “also the vendor of Brandreth’s pills.” He made a fortune, and Mr.
Houghton left us in doubt “ whether it was from the pills or the poetry.”
Mr. Houghton introduced the poet in whose honor we were gathered, and Mr. Whittier was received with rapturous applause when he arose, to respond, as was expected, the entire company rising and giving cheer upon cheer. Mr. Whittier diffidently thanked his friends for their reception, and said that his voice was like a certain hero’s conscience, which was “of a timorsome nature and rarely heard above her breath.” He then sat down after asking Mr. Longfellow to read a letter that he had written when he thought that he could not be present. Mr. Longfellow said that he did not know why it was impossible for him to make a speech, and that he was glad that Friend Whittier had come to his assistance. He then proceeded to read Air. Whittier’s letter, which had a touch of humor when read with assumed gravity in the presence of its writer. He also read the poem that it inclosed: —
Nigh unto setting, sheds its last, low rays
On word and work irrevocably done,
Life’s blending threads of good and ill outspun,
I hear, O friends, your words of cheer and praise
Half doubtful if myself or otherwise,
Like him who, in the old Arabian joke,
A beggar slept and crownèd Caliph woke.
Thanks not the less. Not with unglad surprise
I see my like-work through your partial eyes ;
Assured, in giving to my home-taught songs
A higher value than of right belongs,
Yon do but read between the written lines
The finer grace of unfulfilled designs.
After asking Mr. Emerson to speak, Mr. Houghton passed the further responsibility of the evening to Mr. Howells. The Sage of Concord said that as soon as he knew that something was expected of him he determined to read Whittier’s “Ichabod,” characterizing it as unique and striking, and saying that he hardly knew any poem written in America of equal merit. He read the denunciation of Webster so feelingly that it seemed to be the anathema of a Hebrew prophet.
The Editor, who now removed from the side of Dr. Holmes to the other end of the room, called upon the Autocrat, distinguishing him from those authors who had been floated by the Atlantic as the one who floated the Atlantic, as Mr. Lowell used often to say that he did. Dr. Holmes was ready, as usual, with his manuscript, and in his offering spoke of Mr. Whittier as
We hear but one strain, and our verdict is sure —
Thee cannot elude us, — no further we search, —
’T is holy George Herbert, cut loose from his church !
Mr. Howells then eulogized Lowell, the first editor, and asked Professor Charles Eliot Norton to respond for him. Mr. Norton praised Lowell as “the humorist, the wit, the wise thinker, the poet, the sage, the scholar, the friend,” in one of the most exquisite of his vignettes, with which those who know’ him have long been familiar, and assured us that our castles in Spain would be secure so long as James Russell Lowell remained ambassador to the land of Don Quixote.
There were so many other good speeches that the clock struck the midnight hour before the guests could make their way homeward. Among these was a characteristic one by Mark Twain, told in his characteristic style, of an experience of a “literary feller ” in the hut of a miner in the wilds of Nevada. The six lights at the head of the table, not being “humorists,” were a study while this speech was making. So far as I recall, the Sage of Concord was the only one among them wTho smoked the excellent cigars that the hosts provided, and, as he performed that restful function, he seemed to make an effort to understand what it all meant, and to fail! It was evidently something not dreamt of in his philosophy. Dr. Holmes, wdio was mentioned in the speech, covered his blushes with the manuscript from which he had just read, and Mr. Longfellow assumed his usual amiable countenance, as much as to say, “I understand it all, and am amused!”
Time fails me to speak of what was said by Colonel Waring, Colonel Higginson, Mr. Underwood, Charles Dudley Warner, and the rest. It was a severe strain on the sensitive, shrinking poet in whose honor it was all done, especially as he was suffering from his cold. He retired before the exercises concluded. Of the fifty-seven men who sat at the board, Waring and O’Reilly, and Stoddard and Fiske, and Whipple and Scudder, are no more.
That thronging came with merriment and jests.
The next Atlantic “dinner” was a breakfast, but it was eaten at noon, still the dinner hour of some literary folk. It was in honor of the seventieth birthday of the Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, but as the birthday occurred on the 29th of August, in 1809, it was considered best to postpone the cheerful celebration until winter had brought the poet’s friends back from their hot weather vacations. December 3 was chosen, and again the Brunswick was the place. The numbers asked this time were greater than ever before, — they had been increasing, in fact, ever since the first dinner given by Mr. Phillips at Parker’s. When the day arrived, more than one hundred sat together around six large tables. A remarkable change is found in the fact that more than one-third of the company were ladies! There were two tables at the ends of the room, at one of which sat Mr. Houghton, with Dr. Holmes on one side and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe on the other. There sat, also, President Eliot, and Mr. Whittier, Mrs. Houghton, Mrs. Wister, Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney, Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson, Phillips Brooks, Mrs. James T. Fields, and Charles Dudley Warner. At a corresponding table at the other end of the room Mr. Howells was flanked by Julia Ward Howe, Mrs. Mifflin, Mrs. Howells, Rose Terry Cooke, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, James T. Fields, and Mr. Aldrich.
James R. Osgood sat at one of the four other tables intermediate, with Sarah Orne Jewett on one side, and that Miss Sprague whose Earnest Trifler was the latest literary sensation, on the other. Governor Rice, Mr. Burlingame, of Scribner’s Magazine, Mrs. M. E. W. Sherwood, Dr. Freeman Clarke, and Senator Lodge were directly under his eye. Opposite this table were Colonel Higginson, with Clara Erskine Clement, Mrs. Moulton, Lucy Larcom, John T. Trowbridge, John Fiske, William Winter, Alexander Agassiz, and John Burroughs. Still another table seemed to be under the care of Dr. Bellows, of New York, with Kate Gannett Wells and Mrs. Aldrich at his sides, and Professor Norton, Dr. Angell, James Parton, and others near by. The last table to be mentioned was presided over by Mr. Mifflin, now head of the publishing house, with Francis Parkin an, Mr. Stedman, Frank Sanborn, Mark Twain, the Reverend Dr. Wharton, and others.
As Mr. Houghton looked over the six tables, he must have felt proud of his growing family! It may be said in passing that during this dinner a telegram was handed to Mr. Osgood ordering a large number of An Earnest Trifler, the phenomenal sale of which was surprising the publishers, though the orders would not to-day be considered startling, so great has the country become, and so largely has the circle of readers increased.
The conventional order was followed after dinner, — Air. Houghton began, and Mr. Howells followed in guiding the flow of eloquence and poetry. The presence of ladies was something to be accounted for, and Mr. Houghton said that they had always been wanted, but that the publishers had been “too bashful ” to invite them up to that time, leaving it to be understood that, the magazine being twenty-two years of age, additional strength of nerve had been developed. He called upon “The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, O King, live forever!”
Dr. Holmes rose and after giving some reminiscences of the beginning of the magazine, read the poem entitled The Iron Gate, which seemed like a farewell. It gave the title to the next volume of Holmes’s verse; but the last farewell was not to come for a decade. He said, —
Let me not vex the too long suffering lyre ;
Though to your love untiring still beholden,
The curfew tells me — cover up the fire.
And warmer heart than look or word can tell,
In simplest phrase — these treacherous eyes are tearful —
Thanks, Brothers, Sisters, — Children, — and farewell.
Mr. Whittier had retired from the room, but again he had left a poem, this time to be read by Mr. James T. Fields. Then it was that Mr. Floughton, apologizing for the absence of the editor, whom he described as “tall, cadaverous, and grave,” using a sharp knife to cut out the brilliant passages and to reduce the articles to the standard Atlantic length, introduced Mr. Howells as his representative. Mr. Howells accepted the situation, and said that he was not the author of a printed letter that some of those present might possibly have seen “in the hands of their friends,” informing him that the editor regrets that he “cannot use the inclosed contribution,” but thanks the author for the opportunity of reading it. On the contrary. Mr. Howells asserted that he was the person who urged the author of a ten-page article to make it twenty, or, better, to extend it into a series, and that the cheques that the authors present had all been in the habit of receiving were from his personal bank account. Of course, he eulogized Dr. Holmes as the one who had made the Atlantic. He asked Mrs. Julia Ward Howe to respond for “The Girls we have not left behind us.” Mrs. Howe related her experience in endeavoring to attend in Paris a meeting of gens de lettres, and finding that women were not of that class. After saying that the present banquet looked much better in her eyes for having ladies at the table, she read a poem in honor of Dr. Holmes. Charles Dudley Warner followed with expression of the feelings of all for the guest, and then he read a poem by Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson, in which she wove the titles of Dr. Holmes’s poems:
But fifty sunny springs to learn ;
His “ Comet ” speeds across the sky,
But year by year will swift return.
The president of Harvard University had never been heard at the Atlantic dinners, but now he was present. He said, “How shall I interpolate my unprepared prose into this mass of poetical manuscript ? . . . I see here only one or two representatives of the medical profession. It seems to me that it is my duty to remind all these poets, essayists, and story-tellers who are gathered here, that the main work of our friend’s life has been of an altogether different nature. I know him as the professor of anatomy and physiology in the Medical School of Harvard University for the last thirtytwo years, and I know him to-day as one of the most active and hard-working of our lecturers. , . . When I read his writings, I find traces of this life-work of his on every page. . . . Let us honor him to-day, not forgetting — they can never be forgotten — his poems, his essays, as a noble representative of the profession of the scientific student and teacher.”
Mark Twain greeted Dr. Holmes as the first great man who had ever written him a letter, and as the first great literary man from whom he had ever stolen anything. He then related the story of how he had so thoroughly absorbed the dedication of Songs of Many Keys that when he wrote the dedication of his Innocents Abroad, he reproduced it, greatly to his surprise! The story has lately been revived in the papers, after nearly thirty years. Mark said that he called upon Dr. Holmes to apologize, and that after he had received absolution, he authorized the Autocrat to “make perfectly free ” with any of his ideas, and so, he said, “we got along right from the start.”
After Mr. J. W. Harper, of the New York publishing house, had spoken, Aldrich was called upon, and he said that he was like Artemus Ward, who felt that he had the gift of oratory, but did not happen to have it by him. Nevertheless he gave a page from his experience. He said that probably five thousand rising poets had sent their books to Dr. Holmes and Dr. Holmes had written to every one of them a letter of kindly advice. Twenty years ago, he added, he sent a book of boyish verse to Dr. Holmes himself, — the first copy that came from the press, as though the doctor was anxiously waiting for it. In acknowledgment he received the “kindest note ever written by a celebrity to an obscurity,” in which he was virtually told that he had better not write any more verses until he could write better ones!
E. C. Stedman made a brief speech, and read a poem of which a stanza was,
Whose carol so instant, so joyous, so true ?
Sound it cheerly, dear Holmes, for the sun is still high,
And we ’re glad, as he halts, to he outsung by you!
William Winter also came from New York. It is remarkable how well Artemus Ward is remembered. Mr. Winter began by saying that he had been attending a meeting of the Y. M. C. A. with Artemus, and as it did not close until three o’clock in the morning, they were late in reaching their hotel. Then Ward rang for a bell-boy and asked him if he could call up the landlord to receive an important message. The boy said that he could, but he did n’t want to, whereupon Artemus insisted that he take the message, “ Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” The incident, Winter said, impressed him with the necessity of being always prepared for what might happen, and he had brought with him a little poem which he read. It was entitled “Hearts and Holmes.” Mr. J. T. Trowbridge followed with a poem — “Filling an Order,” and Mr. Howells asked Mr. Osgood to read letters from President Hayes, George Bancroft, George William Curtis, and John Holmes, who were unable to be present. Then Mr. Cranch read a sonnet to Dr. Holmes, after which Colonel T. W, Iligginson spoke, as one who, he said, had not lately been a frequent contributor. Naturally he made reference to the presence of ladies for the first time, saying that it reminded him of a political poster that he had seen inviting an attendance at a gathering at which “Ladies, without distinction of sex,” were promised a welcome. Colonel Higginson then gave some reminiscences of Dr. Holmes’s father, which he was able to do, for he was born and brought up in the adjoining house. Mr. Howells read letters from many more who could not attend: from Carl Scliurz, President Porter of Yale, President Gilman of Johns Hopkins, Richard Grant White, Henry Watterson, Mrs. Burnett, Mrs. Agassiz, D. G. Mitchell, Edward Everett Hale, Professor Child, and others, and the great Holmes breakfast was over. Its memories will not pass away, for it was a day of days.
The last Atlantic “dinner” was al fresco. It was called by the hosts a Garden Party, and -was given in honor of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who owned that she was at least seventy years old on the 14th of June, 1882. The place was the beautiful grounds of the late Governor Claflin at Newtonville. The hour was one at which some literary persons still dine, being from three to six in the afternoon. On this occasion, the “literary exercises ” were the chief feature. It is true that there were tables set in the house, and there were sociable groups around them, but there was a tent outside and under that there were two hundred seats in front of a platform which proved to be the place of chief attraction. Any list of the men and women who occupied the chairs would seem like the index to the Atlantic, though, as Mr. Houghton intimated, there were many missing who had shared the pleasures of the former gatherings, — Longfellow and Emerson were specially mentioned, and in truth it seemed as though old times had passed away and a new generation was upon the stage. John T. Trowbridge, Edwin Percy Whipple, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Whittier, Frank Sanborn, Howells, and Aldrich remained, but they made a small minority, especially when the gathering was so much more inclusive than those of yore had been.
Over the platform were the numbers, 1812-1882, and in the midst of the group under them were Mrs. Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher and other Beechers, Mrs. Stowe’s husband and son, .Miss Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Whittier, Dr. Holmes, and Mr. Frank Sanborn, besides others. At about four o’clock Mr. Houghton made his graceful little speech in which he ranked Mrs. Stowe with “the Miriams, the Deborahs, and the Judiths of old, who now,” he said, “shout back the refrain, when you utter the inspired song, — ‘ Sing ye to the Lord, for be hath triumphed gloriously, The Almighty Lord hath disappointed them by the hand of a woman.’ ”
Henry Ward Beecher responded for his sister, in a witty speech, saying among other things that when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written, some insisted that Mrs. Stowe did not do it, but that her brother Henry did; whereupon, said he, “I wrote Norwood, — that killed the thing dead.” This launched the speaking, and Mr. Sanborn read a poem by Whittier, Dr. Holmes one of his own, and then one by Miss Phelps. In Dr. Holmes’s poem was a stanza containing a Greek pun, —
Spoke out so grandly, “ dos pou sto,
Give me a place to stand on,
I ’ll move your planet for you now,” —
He little dreamed or fancied how
The sto at last should find its pou
For woman’s faith to land on.
Mr. Whittier’s tribute contained the following lines: —
And golden-fruited orange bowers,
To this sweet, green-turfed June of ours ! . . ,
To her, at three score years and ten
Be tributes of the tongue and pen,
Be honors, praise and heart-thanks given,
The loves of earth, the hopes of heaven ! . . .
Long ages after ours shall keep
Her memory living while we sleep ;
The waves that wash our grey coast lines,
The winds that rock the Southern pines
Shall sing of her.
Letters were read from a number who were not able to be present, and remarks made by Judge Tourgee, author of A Fool’s Errand, and by the Rev. Edward Beecher, and there was a poem by Mrs. James T. Fields, absent in Europe. Mrs. Stowe made a little address in response to the greetings, and the last “dinner ” of the Atlantic diners was over! It was a very different occasion from those at Porter’s, — even from the small gatherings at Parker’s. The enlargement of the borders was like adding water to a cup of tea. There was a suggestion of the old times, but the strength of comradeship had been weakened. A quarter of a century had made a change in the men who remained of the first group of contributors, and the loss of those who had fallen by the way, while it awakened tender thoughts, also made the contributors to the first numbers look with strange feelings at the young persons who seemed to be carrying things on in, perhaps, a doubtful way!
Twenty-five years have now passed since the last of the entertainments — memories of which I have been trying to summon from the vasty deep — occurred.
Fifty years ago the diners dined at the call of the publishers; next they sought no company but their own; and at last they were brought to their feast under the noble elms of Newton, with greatly inrceased numbers. At first, men only came; at last, the women were almost as many as the men. The first groups were small enough to allow every one to have intimate converse with every other one. Never did they go to the extreme of the afternoon teas as Dr. Holmes is said to have described them, — “Giggle, gabble, gobble and git! ” but they came dangerously near to that limit, and then they passed away. The character of the feasts changed, and the men who met were not the same at the end of the quarter-century that they were at its beginning. The chapter ended and history makes its record. The Autocrat, you remember, hoped that the Atlantic would endure until an ideal state of society should be established. That time has not yet arrived, but the magazine is still doing its best to bring it on, and the world is better than it was at the end of the year 1857, though we must feel with Dr. Holmes that
There is no place like the old place,—keep green the dear old spot!
There are no friends like our old friends, — May Heaven prolong their lives !
- Readers of Colonel Higginson’s Cheerful Yesterdays will recall his vivacious description (pp. 178—180) of the Atlantic dinner at the Revere House, July 9, 1859, at which Mrs. Stowe and Miss Harriet Prescott (now Mrs. Spofford) were the quests of honor. Longfellow’s Journal mentions that “ Mrs. Stowe was there with a green wreath on her head, which I thought very becoming.↩