The Editor Who Was Never the Editor
UPON the wall of the Atlantic office, among the portraits of former editors, there may be seen a fine open face, with striking eyes and a beard worn longer than is now the fashion. It is a fair likeness of Francis H. Underwood, the projector of the magazine. At least four years before the Atlantic came into being, he originated the plan, engaged the contributors, and but for the failure of a publisher would have enjoyed the full credit of the enterprise. When the magazine was finally launched, in 1857, Underwood was still the initiating spirit. It was he who pleaded with the reluctant head of the firm of Phillips, Sampson and Co. As “ our literary man,” in Mr. Phillips’s comfortable proprietary phrase, he sat at the foot of the table among the guests at that well-known dinner where the project of the magazine was first made public, He visited England to secure the services of the first British contributors. Recognizing that Lowell’s name was of the highest importance to the success of the new venture, Underwood loyally accepted the position of “office editor,” as assistant to his more gifted friend. When the breaking up of the firm of Phillips, Sampson and Co., in 1859, threw the ownership of the magazine into the hands of Ticknor and Fields, Underwood went out of office, as did Lowell in due time. He had thereafter a varied and honorable, although a somewhat disappointed career, which has already been sketched in this magazine 1 by the sympathetic pen of J. T. Trowbridge.
A graceful writer, and a warm-hearted, enthusiastic associate of men more brilliant than himself, Underwood’s name is already shadowed by that forgetfulness which awaits the second-rate men of a generation rich in creative energy. For it must be admitted that his ability was not of the first order; as the slang of the athlete has it, he never quite “ made the team.” But he played the literary game devotedly, honestly, and always against better men; he became, in short, a model of the “ scrub ” player. The scrubs, as every one knows, get a good dinner at the end of the season, listen to the thanks of the coaches, and then are straightway forgotten.
Underwood, however, gave alms to oblivion by several useful volumes, and by keeping an extraordinary scrap-book.2 In two huge leather-backed volumes are pasted hundreds upon hundreds of letters received during his forty years of correspondence with many of the foremost American and English writing men. There are a dozen or more from Lowell, many from Emerson, nearly forty from Holmes, and about fifty from Whittier. The letters are arranged alphabetically and run from Alcott and Allibone to Robert C. Winthrop and Elizur Wright; and in point of time they range from Richard H. Dana the elder, who helped found The North American Review in 1815, down to authors who are still struggling. Many of these letters throw light upon the unwritten history of the Atlantic, besides illustrating the literary conditions which prevailed in this country during Underwood’s life. One of the earliest letters, for example, is from N. P. Willis, then a name of first rank in the literary profession. Underwood, who was born in Enfield, Massachusetts, in 1825, had left Amherst College without graduating, had gone to Kentucky, taught school, studied law, and married. But he yearned for a literary career, and sent specimens of his poetry to Mr. Willis, who was then in Washington. The veteran’s reply is interesting, and his bland phrase, “ Your poetry is as good as Byron’s was at the same stage of progress,” betrays both a kind heart and a long editorial experience.
WASHINGTON, April 29, [about 1848]
MY DEAR SIR, — Your letter forwarded to me here is just received, and I hasten to comply with your request, tho’ young poets ask advice very much as lovers do after they are irrevocably engaged. In the first place, however, I should always advise against adopting the literary profession, for at the best, it is like making waggon-traces of your hair — wholly insufficient for wants which increase as the power gives way. Your poetry is as good as Byron’s was at the same stage of progress — correct, and evidently inspired, and capable of expansion into stuff for fame. But there are many men of the same calibre who would go on, and starve up to the empty honor of being remembered (first) when dead, were it not that they could turn their more common powers to account, and live by meaner industry. Poetry is an angel in your breast, and you had better not turn her out to be your maidof-all-work. As to writing for magazines, that is very nearly done with as a matter of profit. The competition for notoriety alone gives the editors more than they can use. You could not sell a piece of poetry now in America. The literary avenues are all overcrowded, and you cannot live by the pen except as a drudge to a newspaper. Notwithstanding all this, you will probably try it, and all I can say is, — that you shall have my sympathy and what aid I can give you. If you should come to New York and will call on me, I shall be happy to say more than I have time to write.
Yours very truly
N. P. WILLIS.
Underwood’s sojourn in Kentucky increased his native hatred of slavery, and upon his return to Massachusetts in 1850 he enlisted in the Free-Soil movement. In 1852 he was appointed Clerk of the State Senate, Henry Wilson being its President. His acquaintance with public men grew rapidly, and by 1853, when he was but twenty-eight, he conceived the notion of a new magazine. Some such project had long been in the air, as is evident from the letters of Emerson, Alcott, and Lowell, but Underwood was the first to crystallize it. It was to be anti-slavery in politics, but was to draw for general contributions upon the best writers of the country. He succeeded in interesting J. P. Jewett, who had undertaken the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin after the over-cautious Phillips had rejected it, and who was also the publisher of Whittier’s poems. With characteristic eagerness Underwood then wrote to desirable contributors, sketching the proposed magazine, and soliciting their coöperation. In selecting some of the letters received in reply, the anti-slavery men shall be heard first. Wendell Phillips was dubious: —
LYNN, Aug. 4th. 
DEAR FRIEND, — I have given your idea the best consideration in my power, and am obliged to come to a different conclusion from Messrs. May and Garrison. I believe the plan has been tried thrice within my time (I mean my antislavery life) and has each time failed. I cannot think, therefore, there is much chance for the periodical sketched in your excellent letter. At the same time I am aware my judgment on such a point is worth little; and that an experiment so useful to the general cause of Reform may not be lost, if practicable, I have enclosed your letter, with a few lines, to Theodore Parker, asking him to communicate to you his mature opinion on the subject.
very truly yours,
Mr. F. H. UNDERWOOD.
Theodore Parker was no more encouraging:—
BOSTON, 11 Oct., 1851.
My DEAR SIR, — The more I think of your enterprise the less likely it seems to me to succeed at present. You know how the Commonwealth struggled along, paying nothing and hardly enabling Mr. Wright to live. I fear this undertaking would meet with the same fate — at first. Of its ultimate triumph I have little doubt. I laid the matter before the gentlemen I spoke of Sunday night, and that seemed to be their opinion.
Mr. Phillips and Dr. Howe know much more about such things than I do, and their opinion would be better than mine. I am sorry to seem to pour cold water on your scheme, for I should be glad to see it succeed — and to help it forward if possible.
John G. Palfrey thought better of the idea, although in the first of the two letters to be quoted, he speaks of the new periodical as “a weekly newspaper.” The second letter shows a clearer understanding of the project.
CAMBRIDGE, Oct. 10, 1853.
MY DEAR SIR, — I have with great pleasure heard from you of your project of a weekly newspaper, to be devoted to the exposition and defence of anti-slavery principles. I believe that there is an opening for a paper of this description, and I have full confidence in your ability, and that of your proposed coadjutor, to conduct it to the acceptance and advantage of the public.
With great regard, I am,
Dear Sir, your friend and servant,
JOHN G. PALFREY.
CAMBRIDGE, NOV. 22, 1853.
MY DEAR SIR, — I am much gratified to hear that there is a prospect of a speedy accomplishment of your plan of a literary and anti-slavery Monthly Magazine. I shall be very happy to contribute to the work whenever it is in my power. I have little hope, however, of doing so this winter, my time being pretty strictly appropriated till next May.
With great regard, I am,
Dear Sir, your friend and servant,
JOHN G. PALFREY.
James Freeman Clarke was also optimistic : —
BOSTON, November 23, 1853.
MY DEAR SIR, — I received yesterday your favor of the 21st, in reference to the new Magazine about to be published by J. P. Jewett and Co. The plan appears to me an excellent one, and I am especially glad that it is to be started by Publishers whose business energy will place the publication part on such a basis as will, I trust, ensure success to the enterprise.
I shall be happy to be one of the Contributors to such a Magazine, and to write both for the Reformatory and Miscellaneous Departments. . . .
JAMES FREEMAN CLARKE.
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
The next three letters will serve to illustrate the attitude of the New York writing men.
NEW YORK,NOV. 20, 1853.
DEAR SIR, — Your favor of the 18th is received. It will not be in my power to furnish an article for the first number of your proposed periodical, as I have a number of extra engagements now on hand. If it suits your purpose to receive a monthly letter from New York, giving an off-hand summary of the literature, art, and social gossip of New York, I might incline to furnish it. I will communicate your note to Dana and Fry, and am truly yours,
F. H. UNDERWOOD, ESQ.
NEW YORK, NOV. 21th. 
MY DEAR SIR, — Although I have had so much experience in the starting of new periodicals as to be now habitually doubtful of the success of any, I am still pleased with your project, because I think the country wants an out and out independent and freespoken organ of the kind you propose. Putnam’s is capital in its way, but is necessarily limited in its range of topics. I cannot however promise to write you anything at present, as my engagements are so many and exacting. Nor have I anything on hand, except a few light travelling sketches which would not perhaps suit your purposes.
Mr. Bryant desires me to say that he is already engaged to write for certain periodicals only, and regrets his inability to lend you his name. Mr. Bigelow is not in the city.
With many wishes for your success I have the honour to be
Your obt. Servant,
CANANDAIGUA. N. Y.,
Nov. 24th, ’53.
MY DEAR SIR, — Your favor of the 19th, which was sent after me from home, has just reached me. It would give me great pleasure to accede to your request, but it is impossible. My engagements and occupations are such that I could not possibly assist in your enterprise and while I am honored by your application, and should be flattered by the announcement of my name as a contributor, it would be a promise which I could not perform.
I am compelled to decline, but assure you that I attach the weightiest significance to the refractory sentence of your letter, and am
Very truly yours,
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.
For the model of an exact, businesslike reply, however, demanding the “rate per page (describing the page),” we must turn to one of the Concord dreamers.
CONCORD, NOV. 22d, ’53.
DEAR SIR, — If you will inform me in season at what rate per page (describing the page) you will pay for accepted articles, — returning rejected within a reasonable time, — and your terms are satisfactory, I will forward something for your magazine before Dec. 5th, and you shall be at liberty to put my name on the list of contributors.
HENRY D. THOREAU.
Apparently Underwood’s rejoinder was satisfactory, for Thoreau’s next letter was accompanied by an actual manuscript.
CONCORD, Dec. 2d, 1853.
DEAR SIR, — I send you herewith a complete article of fifty-seven pages. Putnam’s Magazine pays me four dollars a page, but I will not expect to receive more for this than you pay to anyone else. Of course you will not make any alterations or omissions without consulting me.
HENRY D. THOREAU.
The plan was to issue the first number early in January, 1854, and the contributors, as Thoreau’s first letter indicates, were asked to send copy by December 5.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, then a young minister in Worcester, has printed in his Old Cambridge the letters which he received from Underwood. The first one ran: —
BOSTON, November 21, 1853.
DEAR Sir,— Messrs. J. P. Jewett and Co. of this city propose to establish a Literary and Anti-Slavery magazine — commencing probably in January. The publishers have energy and capital, and will spare no pains to make the enterprise completely successful. They will endeavor to obtain contributions from the best writers, and will pay liberally for all they make use of. Politics and the “Humanities,” though, of course, prominent as giving character to the Magazine, will occupy but a small portion of its pages. Current literary topics, new books, the Fine Arts, and other matters of interest to the reading public will receive the most careful attention.
I am desired to request you to become a contributor. If you are disposed to favor the project, and have anything written at this time, please forward the MS. with your reply.
If not, please state whether we may expect to receive an article soon — if before December 5th it will materially oblige us. If permitted, we shall announce you as a contributor, in the prospectus. The articles will all be anonymous, as in Putnam’s Monthly.
Your early attention is respectfully solicited. With high regard,
FRANCIS H. UNDERWOOD.
The scrap-book preserves Higginson’s reply, — a letter characterized by the prompt helpfulness which the successive editors of the Atlantic have happily experienced for more than half a century.
WORCESTER, NOV. 21, 1853.
DEAR SIR, — I hear with great interest of the proposed magazine, though I have grown distrustful of such enterprises, especially when of Boston origin. The publishers you name are in a position to do it, if any are. I gladly contribute my name to the list of writers — and any counsel I can ever give, when needed.
As to the positive amount of literary aid to be expected from me, I must speak very cautiously. I am very much absorbed by necessary writing, speaking and studies, and it is hard to do collateral work; I have been engaged some four months to write an article for the Christian Examiner on Collier’s Shakespeare; have all the books collected and yet have done about nothing and finally given up that undertaking.
Besides, I have access to Putnam for anything of a literary character in prose and verse, — a better paymaster, I suspect, than the new magazine can be expected to be. To be sure, Putnam is not . . . reformatory, and I should feel much more interest in yours. But then again I suspect Mr. Jewett would be much more keen on the scent of any theological heresy, however latent, than the Editors of Putnam.
But I know I shall have something, in time to offer, tho’ I have nothing now at hand — nor can I before Dec. 5. I hv. in mind especially an essay wh. will actually give a new aspect of the slavery subject! — called “ The Bomance of Slavery or American Feudalism,” grouping the points of analogy between Mediæval slavery and southern. Of Hebrew and Roman slavery there has been an excess of discussion: — of Mediæval serfdom hardly anything is known and yet the analogy is more picturesque and more thorough. I read a lecture on this subject at Salem this winter, but it will not be in condition to print, for a month or two. It will be, in that time, unless I decide to keep it for a lecture.
However it is a new matter to me (your magazine) and these are only first impressions. I answer thus promptly, partly to express my good will and give my name, and partly to suggest some other names, as follows: Rev. D. A. Wasson of Groveland, minister of an Independent Church — a man of rare and growing intellect — author of several verses and a remarkable article on Lord Bacon in the New Englander.
Miss Anne Whitney of Watertown, Mass., author of two remarkable poems in my Thalatta ; I know of no American woman with so much poetical genius, now that Mrs. J. R. Lowell is gone.
Miss Eliza Sproat of Philadelphia, author of the original and admirable “ Stories for Children and Poets ” in the National Era.
But especially and above all, William Henry Hurlbut of Cambridge, Mass., author of those brilliant letters fr. Cuba in National Era and of some fine articles (a few years ago) in N. A. Review and Chr. Examiner. He is a young man of the most versatile talent, great industry and (except Theo. Parker) the most universal scholar I know. He is a native of Charleston, S. C., but understands ’slavery thoroughly and is (between ourselves) the man to edit the magazine. I say this with the utmost delicacy of opinion — not knowing whether you yourself are to be Financier or Agent or Editor of the concern.
I suggest the names of these contributors, not for their sakes, but for that of the magazine to which they would all prove valuable auxiliaries. But perhaps you think I have been quite too officious already.
T. W. HIGGINSON.
To this Underwood replied with the second of the letters printed in Old Cambridge : —
BOSTON; November 25, 1853.
MY DEAR SIR, — Our Magazine is not yet definitely determined upon. Probably, however, it will be commenced. The letters I wrote for the enlistment of contributors have been mostly answered favorably. We have already a very respectable list engaged. We are waiting to hear definitely from Mrs. Stowe, who we hope will be induced to commence in the Feb. no. a new story. We are thankful for the interest you manifest by sending new names. I shall write to Mr. Hurlbut at once, and to the others in a day or two. Those who have already promised to write are Mr. Carter (formerly of the Commonwealth) who will furnish a political article for each number, Mr. Hildreth (very much interested in the undertaking), Thos. W. Parsons, author of an excellent translation of Dante, Parke Godwin of the New York Evening Post, Mr. Ripley of the Tribune, Dr. Elder of Phila.., H. D. Thoreau of Concord, Theodore Parker (my most valued friend), Edmund Quincy, James R. Lowell (from whom I have a most exquisite gem).
Many to whom I have written have not replied as yet.
I shall have the general supervision of the Magazine, — intending to get the best aid from professed litterateurs in the several departments. We do expect to pay as much as Putnam — that is at the rate of three dollars for such pages as Putnam’s, though it is probable that we shall use a trifle larger type than our New York contemporary. Poetry, of course, we pay for according to value. There are not above six men in America (known to me) to whom I would pay anything for poetry. There is no medium; it is good or it Is good-for-nothing, Lowell I esteem most; after him Whittier (the last I confidently expect to secure).
The first no. will probably be late — as late as Jan. 5, or even 10th. It is unavoidable. But in Feb. we shall get be fore the wind.
Mr. Jewett will be liberal as to heresy. Indeed he is almost a heretic himself. For myself I am a member of Mr. Parker’s society; but as we must get support moral and pecuniary from the whole community we shall strive to offend neither side. In haste,
Most gratefully yours,
FRANCIS H. UNDERWOOD.
Whittier, who was on cordial terms with his publisher Jewett, writes with enthusiasm; —
AMESBPRY, 25, 11 Mo., 1853.
DEAR FRIEND, — I am delighted with the prospect of a free magazine. It will go; the time has come for it and Jewett is the man for the hour.
I will try and send something on or before the 5th. At any rate I shall be glad to write for it, if my health permits. Wilt thou say to Jewett that I thank him for his capital getting up of my “ Sabbath Scene.” The illustrations are admirable — the best of the kind I ever saw. They do great credit to the artist.
J. G. WHITTIER.
In view of his later relations with the magazine, Lowell’s letter — written on the same sheet as the manuscript poem which accompanied it — is of peculiar interest. The allusion in the first paragraph is to the death of Mrs. Lowell, which had taken place a month earlier. The poem, which then bore the title “ The Oriole’s Nest,” with its sad December " Palinode,” remained unpublished until Lowell himself, as editor of the Atlantic, printed it under the title “ The Nest ” in March, 1858. It was not included in any volume of his verse until the publication of Heartsease and Rue in 1888.
MY DEAR SIR, — I have made an effort for you, for I did not wish merely to say that I wished you well. This is an old poem, and perhaps it seems better to me than it deserves — for an intense meaning has been added to it.
I might promise you something for February if Mr. Jewett would like an expensive contributor so soon again. I have once had an essay upon Valentines in my head, and I could recreate it. It would suit that month.
I should be very happy to see you some evening to talk over your undertaking. Meanwhile, thanking you heartily for the kind note which you wrote some time ago and wishing you every success,
I remain heartily yours,
J. R. L.
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
23rd Nov., 1853.
I take it for granted that articles will be anonymous as in Putnam?
Then came, alas, the hour of bitter disappointment. J. P. Jewett and Co. failed, and the magazine plans were abandoned. On the very day when the copy for the January number was to be ready, Lowell is writing to Underwood:
ELMWOOD, 5th Pec. 1853.
MY DEAR SIR, — I cannot help writing a word to say how truly sorry I was to hear of the blowing-up of your magazine. But it is not so irreparable as if it had been a powder magazine, though perhaps all the harder to be borne because it was only in posse and not in esse. The explosion of one of these castles in Spain sometimes sprinkles dust on all the rest of our lives, but I hope you are of better heart and will rather look upon the affair as a burning of your ships which only makes victory the more imperative. Although I could prove by a syllogism in barbara that you are no worse off than you were before, I know very well that you are, for if it be bad to lose mere coin, it is still worse to lose hope, which is the mint in -which most gold is manufactured.
But, after all, is it a hopeless case ? Consider yourself to be in the position of all the world before the Mansion of our Uncle Thomas (as I suppose we must call it now — it has grown so respectable) was published, and never to have heard of this Mr. Jew-wit. I think he ought to be-that something ought to be done to him, but, for that matter, nearly all booksellers stand in the same condemnation. There are as good fish in that buccaneering sea of Bibliopoly as ever were caught, and if one of them have broken away from your harpoon, I hope the next may prove a downright Kraaken on whom, if needful, you can pitch your tent and live.
Don’t think that I am trifling with you. God knows any jests of mine would be of a bitter sort just nowp but I know it is a good thing for a man to be made to look at his misfortune till it assumes its true relation to things about it. So don’t think me intrusive if X nudge your elbow among the rest.
I shall come and see you some evening this week, when I feel myself not too dull to be inflicted on anybody, and till then Believe me with sincere interest
J. R. LOWELL.
Whittier’s note, written the next day, wasted no words: —
AMESBUKY, 6th 12 Mo, 1853.
DEAR SIR, — I regret the failure of the magazine project. I was quite sure of its success.
I sent thee a poem, care of J. P. J. and Co., which I will thank thee to return to me immediately, and thereby greatly oblige
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
Whatever publicity may have been given to the failure of Underwood’s scheme, Longfellow apparently knew nothing of what had happened, as the date of the following dilatory note will show: —
CAMBRIDGE, February 17, 1854.
DEAR SIR, — I hope you will pardon me for having left so long unanswered your letter about a New Magazine or Literary Paper. The fact is, I could not say “Yes,” and did not want to say “No;” and therefore said nothing. Between the two forms proposed, a Magazine, monthly, and a weekly newspaper, I should have no hesitation in deciding. I very much prefer the latter. You can fire much faster and do more execution.
As to being a contributor to either, it would not at present be in my power. I have already more engagements on hand than I can conveniently attend to, and should feel any addition a burden and a vexation.
I remain, with best wishes for your success,
Very truly yours,
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
By the time Longfellow’s letter was written, however, Underwood had entered the counting-room of Phillips, Sampson and Co. Here he lost no opportunities of cultivating the acquaintance of literary men, and in the course of the next two or three years he became prominent in the social gatherings of the Cambridge and Boston writers. He was one of the leaders of that loosely organized group of diners who after 1857 used to meet under the name of the “ Atlantic ” or the “Magazine” Club,— a gathering often confused with the Saturday Club, although Longfellow’s Journal and many other contemporary writings clearly make the distinction. The following letter from Professor Felton gives an agreeable picture of the cordiality which characterized the group of men who were so soon to become fellow contributors to the long-deferred magazine.
CAMBRIDGE, Friday, Feb. 13, 1856.
MY DEAR MR. UNDERWOOD, — I am much obliged to you for taking the trouble of informing me of to-morrow’s dinner — but it is like holding a Tantalus’ cup to my lips. I returned ill ten days ago from Washington, having taken the epidemic that is raging there at the present moment, and have been bed-ridden ever since, living on a pleasant variety of porridge and paregoric. Yesterday I was allowed to nibble a small mutton-chop, but it proved too much for me and — here I am, worse than ever. I have no definite prospect of dining at Parker’s within the present century. My porridge is to be reduced to gruel and paregoric increased to laudanum. I am likely to be brought to the condition of the student in Canning’s play,—
Here doomed to starve on water gruel never shall I see the University of Gottingen,”
and never dine at Parker’s again! I hope you will have a jovial time; may the mutton be tender and the goose not tough; May the Moet sparkle like Holmes’s wit: May the carving knives be as sharp as Whipple’s criticism: May the fruits be as rich as Emerson’s philosophy: May good digestion wait on appetite and Health on both—and I pray you think of me as the glass goes round. . . .
Horizontally but ever cordially
C. C. FELTON.
The following note of regret from Emerson likewise refers to another Saturday dinner arranged by Underwood.
CONCORD, 26 August, 1856.
MY DEAR SIR, — I did not receive your note until the Boston train had already gone on Saturday. I am well contented that the Club should be solidly organized, and grow. I am so irregularly in town, that I dare not promise myself as a constant member, yet I live so much alone that I set a high value on my social privileges, and I wish by all means to retain the right of an occasional seat.
So, with thanks, and best wishes,
R. W. EMERSON.
Underwood now thought that the time was ripe for bringing the magazine project to the front once more. Mr. Phillips was slow to take an interest in it, but finally agreed tt> consult Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. He had published her Dred in 1856, although he had previously rejected Uncle Tom’s Cabin through fear of alienating his Southern trade. Mrs. Stowe was instantly enthusiastic over the proposed magazine, and promised her support. It was this fact, as Underwood often said in later years, which decided the wavering mind of the publisher. Then came the famous dinner given by Mr. Phillips on May 5, 1S57, to the men whose coöperation was thought to be essential. Although Mr. Arthur Gilman’s article, printed in the present number of the Atlantic, describes this dinner, it may be interesting to quote Mr. Phillips’s own letter about it, as given in Dr. Hale’s James Russell Lowell and His Friends (p. 157).
[May 19, 1857.]
“I must tell you about a little dinnerparty I gave about two weeks ago. It would be proper, perhaps, to state that the origin of it was a desire to confer with my literary friends on a somewhat extensive literary project, the particulars of which I shall reserve until you come. But to the party: My invitations included only R. W. Emerson, H. W. Longfellow’, J. R. Lowell, Mr. Motley (the ‘Dutch Republic’ man), O. W. Holmes, Mr. Cabot, and Mr. Underwood, our literary man. Imagine your uncle as the head of
such a table, with such guests. The above named were the only ones invited, and they were all present. We sat down at three p. M., and rose at eight. The time occupied was longer by about four hours and thirty minutes than I am in the habit of consuming in that kind of occupation, but it was the richest time intellectually by all odds that I have ever had. Leaving myself and ‘literary man’ out of the group, I think you wall agree with me that it would be difficult to duplicate that number of such conceded scholarship in the whole country besides.
“Mr. Emerson took the first post of honor at my right, and Mr. Longfellow the second at my left. The exact arrangement of the table was as follows:—
Encouraged by promises of contributions, Underwood sailed for home, leaving the manuscripts to follow. Some of them, as Mr. Norton relates elsewhere in this number, disappeared forever with Mr. Norton’s unlucky trunk. A pleasant note from Shirley Brooks, of the staff of Punch, refers to the loss of his manuscript : —
The Garrick Club,
LONDON, Oct. 28, ’57.
MY DEAR SIR, — I have been away from London, or your letter would have been answered long ago. I should be ashamed to look at its date but for this, and you will have been sure that the delay was caused in some such manner.
The mishap to which it refers, (your note, I mean) you will almost have forgotten by this time. I have no copy of the article I sent, and whether I can wind myself up to the point of doing it, decently, twice, I hardly know. I seldom can manage that. But as soon as I have my hands a little free I will send you something, In the meantime pray consider that there is no pecuniary matter between us —accept the intention to serve the new magazine — and let us start fresh. Only, if you notice in any of the New York or other papers an article called “My Ghost,” do you lay hands on the pirate—the N. Y. Herald tells us there are no police in that city, or virtually none, but by that time things may be better.
If you can forward me a copy of the magazine to the above address, I shall receive it with pleasure, and will do anything I can to promote its interests here. I trust that none of the catastrophes in your financial world have affected anybody whom you care about. Believe me,
My dear Sir, Yours very truly,
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
By August Underwood was at his desk again, soliciting articles from American authors. Herman Melville, the author of Moby Pick and Typee, writes:—
PITTSFIELD, Aug. 19th, 1857.
GENTLEMEN, —Your note inviting my contribution to your proposed magazine was received yesterday.
I shall be very happy to contribute, though I cannot now name the day when I shall have any article ready.
Wishing you the best success in your laudable enterprise, I am
Very truly yours,
PHILLIPS, SAMPSON & Co.
Horace Mann, to whom Underwood had written for articles in 1853, replies to a new invitation: “ I have no specific topic in my mind, but I could not write on anything outside of your ‘ cause of Freedom and advancement of sound literature.’ ”
Very characteristic is this note from William Douglas O’Connor, later the author of The Good Grey Poet.
Office Saturday Eve. Post,
PHILADA., Aug. 20th, ’57.
MY DEAR SIR : — I have been striving very hard to make kosmos out of the chaos of a MS tale I have for some time had on hand — a thing of shreds and patches it is, at present, existing only in stray sheets, scraps and memoranda — but to save my life I cannot get time enough to build this little world of mine, I have to give so much to the affairs of this other world — the Post — of which I am in effect, the governor, and all the more so now since the ostensible chief is away, and everything devolves on me. I am secretly chagrined to think that my little star will not be visible this month in the march of your galaxy, for, dropping similes, I wanted very much to have a paper of mine in your first number. However, man proposes and the Saturday Post disposes, so I submit, as you will find less disappointment in doing.
I shall still endeavor to give you a story — for the second number if possible, or if not, for a later number — but I beg of you to expect nothing of me, for though my promises are words of fate, I am unable to make them now, my time being already engrossed so much as to make it difficult even to attend to my casual correspondence. And then, besides, when you do get a MS of mine, it is quite likely you will not like it, the revolution and the radicalisms running so naturally to my pen, and my tales being my only present means of securing to myself the luxury of my individual views and opinions.
With many regrets and hopes, and with twice as many good wishes for the prosperity of the coming magazine, I remain very
WM. D. O’CONNOR.
F. H. UXDEEWOOD, Esq.
J. T. Trowbridge’s note, accompanying his contribution to the first number, shows that he thought that the name of the magazine was not yet determined upon:—
OGDEN, Aug. 24, 1857.
MY DEAR U—, I send you a sketch. I don’t know whether it is good or bad. It is a subject I have long wished to write upon; and on the rec’t of your letter, I dashed off the history of John Henry Pendlam. I can swear that he is a true type of a certain class of reformers; I have avoided burlesque and exaggeration. But whether the story is suitable for the Magazine, you must determine. Do not use it, if it is not up to the mark.
How about the name ? If the “ American Monthly” wall not do, what do you say to “ The Anglo-American ” ?
J. T. TROWBRIDGE.
P. S.—I have written to It. H. Stoddard to send you a story.
Address me at Wallingford, Vermont.
Here too, is the first of several girlish letters from a woman whose stories gave keen pleasure to the early readers of the magazine, and whose achievement as a pioneer in the field in which Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, and Miss Alice Brown have since wrought so notably still awaits due recognition by the critics: —
HARTFORD, August 29th, 1857.
Mr. F. H. UNDERWOOD.
DEAR SIR, — I regret that my absence from home prevented my receiving your letter of the 25th until to-day. I have been idle all summer, because I am not strong, and was forbidden to write, so I have nothing to offer you that is very fresh, or that I should choose to make a “ first appearance ” in. I have a little sketch of New England life called “ Turkey Tracks,” not copied: a romance Mr. Curtis had accepted for Putnam, “ Maya, the Child of the Kingdom,” which I have sent for: and a story partly written — “ Rachel’s Refusal: ” any one of these I could send you within a week from date, if you let me know directly. I hope by and by to do something better for you, when I shall have time and strength to fulfill other and previous engagements.
Be so good as to give me a definite address for the MSS., and let me know your decision as soon as is quite convenient. Letters will most securely reach me directed to the care of Mr. H. W. Terry. With the best wishes for your success I remain
Yours very truly
I ought perhaps to say that the romance is considered by one of my critical friends the best thing I have ever written. I cannot judge of these things myself.
We have been long in reaching the actual first number of the Atlantic. The financial stress of 1857 harassed Messrs. Phillips, Sampson and Co., and publication was nearly suspended, after all. But in October the first issue appeared, under date of November. Underwood’s scrapbook contains this highly interesting note from Emerson, concerning editorial suggestions upon two of the four poems which he contributed, in addition to the prose essay on “ Illusions,” to the initial number. If Lowell suggested, as he apparently did, the substitution of
in the fourth stanza of the “ Rommany Girl,” he certainly proposed “a new cacophony ” where there was undoubtedly an “ old one.” Emerson changed the line in later years to
But it is clear from this note that we owe the present form of the superb opening line of “ Days,” —
to the editor, who had objected to “ hypocritical.”
CONCORD, Sept 24, 1857.
DEAR SIR, — I return the proof in which I have no correction to make. Mr. Lowell showed a bad rhythm, but I do not quite like the new word he offered me —
“ beneath the moon,”
where the new cacophony troubles my ears as much as the old one; and for the second suggestion about the word “ hypocritical,” he is right again, but I cannot mend it to-day. If he will alter them, as he proposed before, or otherwise, he has my thankful consent.
R. W. EMERSON.
It is well known, also, that Lowell suggested to Whittier the peculiar form of the refrain which adds so greatly to the effectiveness of “ Skipper Ireson’s Ride.” In Lowell’s Letters we read: —
CAMBRIDGE, November 4, 1857.
MY DEAR WHITTIER, — I thank you heartily for the ballad, which will go into the next number. I like it all the better for its provincialism — in all fine pears, you know, we can taste the old pucker.
I knew the story well. I am familiar with Marblehead and its dialect, and as the burthen is intentionally provincial, I have taken the liberty to print it in such a way as shall give the peculiar accent — thus —
“ Cap’n Ireson for his horrd horrt
Was torred and feathered and eorried in a corrt.”
That’s the way I’ve always “horrd it” — only it began “Old Flud Ireson.” What a good name Ireson (son of wrath) is for the hero of such a history. . .
The scrap-book contains Whittier’s reply: —
AMESBURY 6th, 11 th Mo., 1857.
Dr. FRIEND, —I thank thee for sending the proof of Cap Ireson, with thy suggestions. I adopt them, as thou wilt see, mainly. It is an improvement. As it stands now, I like the thing well — “hugely” as Capt Shandy would say.
As to the pecuniary allusion of thy note, I am sorely in want of money, (as who is not at this time) — but of course will await your convenience.
The magazine will, shall, must succeed. The election of Banks is a good beginning for it.
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
That the ballad made an immediate impression is seen in this note from FitzJames O’Brien, who writes about the acceptance of his brilliant story “The Diamond Lens:” —
Harper’s, FRANKLIN SQ’RE
Nov. 28th. [1857.]
DEAR SIRS, — I am much pleased that my story has met your approval, and shall be glad at some future time to present you with other articles.
I have not calculated the number of pages which the “Diamond Lens” will make, and will thank you to have the computation made and remit to me the amount according to whatever scale of prices you see fit to include it in.
It will be in a great measure a labor of love to write for a magazine of so high a tone as the Atlantic. I have long felt the want of a channel in which to place articles on which I might bestow labor and thought. Here in New York we are far too apt to neglect the higher aims.
Will you permit me to express the great pleasure I have experienced in reading “Skipper Ireson’s Ride” in your last number. It abounds in lyrical fire, pathos and strength.
Messrs. PHILLIPS, SAMPSON & Co.
This reminds me that Thomas Bailey Aldrich, writing in 1897 to a member of the Atlantic’s staff who had prepared a sketch of the first forty years of the magazine, referred thus to O’Brien’s story: —
“ . . . I am sorry that the Atlantic did not put in its claim to being the father of the short story. Of course there were excellent short stories before the Atlantic was born — Poe’s and Hawthorne’s — but the magazine gave the short story a place which it had never before reached. It began with “The Diamond Lens” of Fitz-James O’Brien, and ended with — Well, it has not ended yet.”
The praise elicited by the early numbers is fairly represented by this note from Henry Ward Beecher: —
BROOKLYN, Oct. 81, ’57.
MY DEAR Sir,—The Atlantic has a good look — robust and bold. I hope for it a historic reputation. As New England has been the Brain of America, it would be a pity if her mouth did not speak worthy of her head and heart.
Very truly yours,
H. W. BEECHER.
Although the authorship of the articles was supposed to be kept secret, a privately printed list of the authors in each number was soon sent out to newspaper reviewers and other friends of the magazine. It was not until the tenth volume, however, in 1862, that an index of authors was printed at the completion of each volume. The first signed articles to appear were Harriet. Hosmer’s “Process of Sculpture” and Goldwin Smith’s “England and America,” in December, 1864. Occasional signed articles followed, such as William M. Rossetti’s in 1866 and George Eliot’s in May, 1870, but it was not until July, 1870, that signatures were regularly used. Inasmuch as the names of the more prominent contributors engaged were printed in the initial advertising pages, it was not difficult to guess the authorship of most of the articles. But even without this, discerning readers were at once aware of the singularly high quality of the new periodical.
Wilkie Collins wrote from London: —
11 Harley Place, Marylebone Road,
LONDON. December 30th, 1857.
MY DEAR SIR, — ... Pray don’t trouble yourself to answer this letter, until my contribution to the magazine reaches you — when I shall be glad to hear of its safe arrival. I shall look out with great interest for the story to which you refer in the third number. Excepting the difficulties of finding good tellers of tales (sorely felt here, let me say, as well as in America), with such men as Longfellow and Emerson to head your list of contributors, I cannot think that you need fear the rivalry of any magazine in any region of the civilized world.
Believe me to remain
Very cordially yours,
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
Charles Reade, several of whose vigorous and pugnacious epistles were preserved by Underwood, wrote in the autumn of 1858:—
6 Bolton Row, MAYFAIR, Oct. 10.
DEAR SIR, — I beg to acknowledge yours of date Sept. 28, and as requested answer by return mail. I will never under any circumstances submit a MS. of mine to the chance of any other writer comprehending it and seeing its merit. If therefore that is an absolute condition, you will never see a line of mine in the Atlantic Monthly while I live. The stories you do publish in the Monthly could never have been selected by any judge competent to sit in judgment on me. We had better wait a little. You will find that every word of fiction I produce will succeed more or less; this in a world crammed with feeble scribblers is a sufficient basis for treaty. As to the exact manner of success no man can pronounce on it before-band.
“ White Lies ” which you seem to think has failed has on the contrary been a greater success than “It is Never Too Late to Mend.” At all events it is so represented to me by the Publishers and this not in complimentary phrases only of which you and I know the value but in figures that represent cash.
Yet, as you are aware it had to resist a panic. A truce to egotism, and let me congratulate you on the circulation and merit of your monthly. It is a wonderful product at the price. Good paper, excellent type, and the letters disengaged so that one can read it.
Then as for the matter, the stories are no worse than Blackwood’s and Frasers’, etc., etc., and some of the other matter is infinitely beyond our monthly and trimestral scribblers, being genuine in thought and English in expression. Whereas what passes for criticism here is too often a mere mixture of Cuck-oo and hee-haw. A set of conventional phrases turned not in English but in Norman French and the jargon of the schools.
After five and twenty years of these rotten old cabbage stalks without a spark of thought, novelty or life among them, I turn my nose to such papers as your “ Autocrat of the Breakfast Table ” etc. with a sense of relief and freshness. . . . Success attend you, and when you are ripe for
let me know.
Meanwhile Underwood was unweariedly active, not only at his desk but in the pleasures of good fellowship with other musical, artistic, and literary spirits. His scrap-book contains many a charming whimsical letter from F. J, Child, who usually addressed him as “Sottobosco,” and was wont to drop into French or Italian for a convenient word. Even the self-contained Emerson writes about the “luck which goes to a dinner” in anything but a transcendental vein: —
CONCORD, 21 Nov. [1857.]
DEAR SIR, — I am sorry I cannot come to town to-day, and join your strong party at dinner. I shall be in town on Tuesday, probably, and I will not fail to come to your Counting Room and I will think in the meantime what I can do. From what you say of the club dinner, I have no dream of any such self-denying ordinance as you intimate. There is always a good deal of luck goes to a dinner, and if ours was a heavy one, as you say it was, there is the more reason to believe the luck will turn and be with us next time.
But I was in the dark about it, and only regretted that I could not stay longer to hear the stories out. I can send you nothing for the Atlantic sooner than the end of the month, but of this I will speak when I see you.
R. W. EMERSON. Mr. UNDERWOOD.
Emerson’s next letter alludes to the famous dinner at Porter’s Tavern, already described for this month’s Atlantic by Mr. Gilman.
CONCORD, Friday Evening,
18 Dec. [1857.]
DEAR SIR, — I have been out of town for a few days and find your messages only now on my return to-night. I am sorry you should have deferred the good meeting on my account, for though I cannot help a feast, I hate to hinder one. But if Mr. Lowell and you have chosen that I shall come, I will not stay away on Monday at 5. You say at Porters which I suppose to be Porters at Cambridge. If not send me word. You are very kind to offer me a bed; but I shall have to go to my old haunts. So with thanks,
R. W. EMERSON.
After the appearance of the January number (1858) Whittier writes: —
DEAR FD, — A lady friend of mine, Mrs. Randolph of Philada. sends me the enclosed to hand over to thee if I think best. I believe there is something due me — but I would not mention it were it not for the fact that, in common with most others, I am at this time sadly “ out of pocket.”
Dr. Holmes’ “ Autocrat ” is thrice excellent and the little poem at its close is booked for immortality.3
Very truly thy friend,
J. G. W.
Give us more papers like “ N. E, Ministers.”
Of the February number Judge Hoar of Concord writes: —
Jan. 27, 1858.
My DEAR SIR, — I am extremely flattered and obliged by your invitation to dine with the Magazine Club, and (as the French have it) inexpressibly desolated by my inability to accept it. I am attending a hearing before a Railroad Committee at the State House wliich is to go on at 3 P. M. and would leave no time for the dinner.
My best wishes attend the Magazine, its editors and contributors. May it never blow up! I think the February number surpassed any promises that were made for it — and that the Doctor’s exquisite little “ Nautilus ” is in rather a finer strain than anything he has given us before.
Very truly yours,
E. R. HOAR.
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
Meanwhile Charles Eliot Norton was writing from Newport, December 25, 1857: “I am very glad to hear of the success of the Atlantic. The third number certainly shows no falling off. . . . If you care for this that follows from Ruskin you are welcome to have it published. . . . Mr. Ruskin says: ‘I was delighted with the magazine and all that was in it. What a glorious tiling of Lowell’s that is, — but it is too bad to quiz Pallas. I can stand it about anybody but her.’ ”
A little later Mr. Norton, with a kindness which has not ceased during half a century, was commending a new English story writer to the Atlantic’s attention, — no less a personage than “ Mr. George Eliot ”!
NEWPORT, Monday. [1858.]
DEAR MR. UNDERWOOD, ...”Adam Bede ” seems to me the best novel in point of artistic development of the story and clear drawing of character that we have had for a long time. It does not show so much imagination as Miss Brontë’s books, — nor such fine feminine insight and tenderness of feeling as Mrs. Gaskell’s.
But if you could get Mr. George Eliot to write a story for the Atlantic I think it would be sine to answer well. It would require a handsome offer to tempt him, — for his book is universally popular in England, and he can make his own terms with the publishers. . . .
Ever truly yours,
CHARLES E. NORTON.
That there were some thorns in the editorial cushions, however, is plainly indicated in some of Lowell’s Letters, and Underwood had his share of them. Would-be contributors then, as now, studied the pages of the magazine and could not understand why their own articles were not better than those selected by the editors. Witness this sorrowful note from the author of Bitter Sweet and Kathrina : —
SPRINGFIELD, Dec. 24, 1857.
DEAR SIR : — I am too old and too busy to make myself miserable over what in other circumstances would be a great disappointment to me. It is simply mortification, but I bow to the editorial right. The reason given for not publishing the “ Talk with my Minister ” I understand. The reason for declining the sketch, I find it hard to understand with the pages of the Atlantic before me. So of “ My Children.” You and the enterprise with which you are connected have my best wishes, and you will be relieved to know that I shall read the Monthly and trouble you no more. With regards to Mr. Phillips,
Very truly yours,
J. G. HOLLAND.
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
It is pleasant to see that Underwood pasted into his scrap-book another letter from Dr. Holland, twenty years later, and of a more agreeable kind: —
Editorial Rooms of Scribner’s Monthly,
NEW YORK, October 10, 1878.
DEAR MR. UNDERWOOD, — Do you remember me ? I used to write for you — a little. Now, by Dr. Holmes’s suggestion, I am going to ask you to “ return the compliment.”
We are to have an illustrated biography of the brilliant doctor, and you are the man chosen to write it. Will you do it ? About 8,000 words.
Yours very truly,
J. G. HOLLAND.
One contributor, at least, smarted under Lowell’s exercise of the editorial functions. This was Parke Godwin, an able and opinionated man, who had written for the first number an article on “ The Financial Flurry,” — a subject not untimely, by the way, for November, 1907. He followed it with political articles in January and February, 1858, but to his eight pages on “ Mr. Buchanan’s Administration,” in the April number, Lowell, apparently without consulting Mr. Godwin, added six pages of his own, expressing “ contempt ” and “ humiliation ” at the administration. The editor’s portion of the article was indeed separated from the contributor’s by a blank line, and the article was of course unsigned. But Godwin was very angry, as his letter to poor Underwood, who had apparently attempted an explanation, will show: —
NEW YORK, March 26, ’58.
MY DEAR MR. UNDERWTOOD, — The purport of your note, if I understand it, is, that “your publishers ” do not like my articles, because a certain alleged want of “ fervor ” disappoints the newsvenders. As this is the first expression of opinion that I have had from anybody, connected with the magazine, I am glad to be enlightened.
The deficiency imputed to them, or any other deficiency, would have been a good reason for suppressing them, altogether: but it is not a good reason for mutilating them; nor does it justify any man in appending to them, without my knowledge or consent, several pages of his own remarks.
These articles were written after a careful survey of the whole field of discussion, — from a pretty good knowledge of the state of public opinion; and in view of the yet nascent tendencies of parties. They were addressed to the reason and good sense of the American people rather than to the feelings and prejudices of factions. I constructed them also — particularly in the omissions — with reference to the near and probable future of Parties, so that the Cause of the Right would not be injured by any needless virulence, — and yet the truth be quite openly and roundly asserted. I did not hope to satisfy the “ fervid ” Abolition sentiment of New England; nor to write sensation articles for the newsvendors; but I did hope to make the Magazine gradually a power and an authority in the best minds of the country. It seems that I have made a mistake: and that my considerate sentences are unsuited to the “ fervid ” atmosphere of Boston.
Now, this is a mistake that I cannot, because I will not correct. I have never yet written for mere factions or localities. I have studied the politics of this country many years, with an average degree of intelligence, I hope: with the sincerity of a patriot, I know: and also in the large and thoughtful spirit of philosophy. I am therefore as a writer, no “thunderer” — as the gentleman who attempts to supply my deficiencies is, — perhaps, — and consequently, as thunder is needed, I willingly resign my place to him. I shall hereafter look with much interest towards the demonstrations of this new Love, — hoping that you too may be satisfied!
I learn from your note that Mr. Lowell was the person who took upon himself to curtail my article, and then to substitute his own matter. For Mr. Lowell’s general poetic and literary abilities I have a high respect: but I have never heard of him as a peculiarly competent political thinker or writer: and, however that may be, I must say frankly that I should prefer to put my writings before the public without his “ improvements.”
Under these circumstances I do not see how you can expect from me the promised article on the “ Decadence of Democracy;” a part of what I reserved to say in that Mr, Lowell has anticipated, and the rest, I imagine, would be exposed to the same liabilities the former articles have been. The conditions are not accordant with my sense of self-respect. At the same time, as I may not have contributed my full number of pages according to our original agreement, I will endeavor to satisfy the terms of the contract in some other line.
The sketch entitled “ Attilee ” you do not refer to, — nor my offer of the history, — and I beg leave therefore to withdraw both from your consideration.
You speak of “ conflicting interests and opinions,” — but let me say that I have had no conflict with anybody. I was solicited to write, and did so (often in too great hurry under your urgency): and since what I have written does not suit you, you have a perfect right to say so. I should have liked it better if you had been more direct and frank in your method of communicating the fact; but I certainly acquit you personally of an unkindness or unfriendliness in the premises. My sentiments as to Mr. Lowell’s proceedings are another affair.
Fred Correns and I had arranged to go and eat a dinner with you on Saturday: but as we are afraid that we should be found very cold and dull clods amid the fervid and glowing wits who surround Maga, our prudence has got the better of our valour: we shall instead warm up our heavy clay with some less Olympian bre wages.
Other editorial embarrassments were of a slighter character. In a sketch of Thomas Bailey Aldrich which the present writer prepared for the May (1907) Atlantic, there was printed a dignified letter from the young Aldrich to Underwood, May 25, 1858, refusing to make some suggested changes in the rhymes of his poem “ Blue Bells ” and consequently withdrawing the verses. Further search in the scrap-book reveals the fact that it was Lowell himself who had desired the alteration, and who was now wondering what had become of the poem. But the Atlantic never saw it again; although Aldrich ultimately adopted the editorial suggestion.
MY DEAR UNDERWOOD, — You will remember that I asked you to send the “ Blue Bells ” to Mr. Aldrich for an alteration in one of the stanzas. When that is made it shall go in. I think you have it.
I am going to make a gaol-delivery of verse in the next number.
J. R. L.
One is tempted to quote all of Aldrich’s inimitable notes to Underwood, as well as letters from Sainte-Beuve and other foreign writers, and many a friendly line from Holmes and Whittier. How characteristic of the Autocrat is the blithe “ let her slide ” of the following epistle, referring to the lines “ The Living Temple ” (May, 1858).
MY DEAR MR. UNDERWOOD, — If it is possible to change a word in my last poem I can get rid of a repetition I have just noticed. If it is too late, let her slide.
“ But warmed by that mysterious flame ”
“ But warmed by that unchanging flame.”
Yours, O. W. H.
But the end of Underwood’s editorial work upon the magazine was at hand. Mr. Phillips’s death in the summer of 1859, following the death of Mr. Sampson, led to the suspension and dissolution of the firm. A letter from a worried New York poet paints the situation: —
Debenture Room, Custom House,
NEW YORK, Sept. 7, ’59.
DEAR SIR, — I wrote Messrs. Phillips and Sampson a business note two or three weeks ago, asking them to send me a check for a poem of mine in the August number of the Atlantic Monthly. No check has reached me; no notice has been taken of the note. As both members of the firm have “ gone dead,” I suppose it useless to write them beyond the Styx, so I trouble you. The house lives, I suppose, if the men die. I want the money for the poem, whatever it may be, or I want to know that I am not to have it, so that I may forget alt about it, and turn to
“ Fresh fields and pastures new.”
Will you not see to the affair and oblige me ? Have a check, or the money sent me (my direction is over leaf) or tell me for what sum to draw on Phillips and Sampson. At any rate answer this note, that I may know that it reaches you. Perhaps I had better tell you that the poem was printed under the head of “The End of All.”
R. H. StODDARD.
F. H. UNDERWOOD, Esq.
A kindly note from George William Curtis, two weeks later, is like the fall of the curtain: —
NEW YORK, 20 Sep., 1859.
MY DEAR SIR, — Will you send me all the unused MSS. of Mr. Cranch’s that you have, and can you tell me the probable destiny of the plates of Huggermugger and Kobbotozo? Was the contract for a limited term, — I have forgotten.
The news of the suspension of your house fell heavily upon all of us who were interested in the publishing of good books and of the Atlantic. My constant employments have engaged me elsewhere, — but could not lead me beyond the heartiest sympathy with the spirit of the magazine and admiration of its excellence.
What will you do ? Can I keep you here in New York ?
Very truly yours,
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.
The magazine itself was transferred to the house of Ticknor and Fields, in a fashion amusingly described in the Contributors’ Club of the present issue. Both Lowell and Underwood lingered in office for a while, the former until May, 1861. J. L. Motley, writing to Underwood from London on November 11, 1860, in praise of the Atlantic, says “I am writing this under the impression that you are still editor of the magazine.” But the happiest part of Underwood’s life was over. He now moved from Cambridge to South Boston. For many years he served as Clerk of the Superior Court, devoting his spare hours to music and literature. His friends remained faithful, and the following polyglot note from Lowell, inviting him to an evening of whist with John Bartlett and John Holmes, is but one of many invitations which testify to the intimacy of such companionship.
MY DEAR UNDERWOOD, — Come early and come often. J’ai tout arrange: les deux Jeans y seront de bonne heure, et nous en ferons une vraie nuit de vacanees. Votre billet., tout cordial qu’il était, et plein de bonté a mon regard, m’a vraiment rechauffe le cœur. Vous trouverez un lit cliez nous, et retournerez a la Cour Supérieure de bon matin, y portant un mal de tête des meilleurs, si le vieux Bourbon et les heures tardes n’ont pas perdu de force. Venite, dunque, a che ora vi piacera, e sarete il benvenuto!
J. R. L.
In 1871 and 1872 Underwood issued Handbooks of British and American authors, and the correspondence involved in these tasks, as well as in his biographies of Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell, is well represented in his scrap-book. There are long letters, for example, from Parkman and Motley, setting forth their aims in the great historical undertakings to which their lives were so largely devoted.
One passage from a letter of Parkman attempts to explain why Underwood had not enjoyed a greater prestige. He was “ neither a Harvard man nor a humbug”!
50 Chestnut St.,
April 15, 1875.
MY DEAR MR. Underwood,— . . , I wish that your connection with the Atlantic could have been continued long enough to give your literary powers and accomplishments a fair chance of just recognition. It is for the interest of us all that men like you should be rated for what they are worth. Harvard College and its social allies answer a very good purpose in defending us — to some extent— against the intellectual clap-trap and charlatanry which prosper so well throughout the country; but those who are neither Harvard men nor humbugs may be said to be the victims of their own merit, having neither the prestige of the one nor the arts of the other. . . .
With cordial regards,
Very truly yours,
Occasionally a former contributor would write him a cordial note. One of these letters, from Rose Terry, inclosed a charming girlish photograph, — the only photograph preserved in the scrap-book.
COLLINSVILLE, NOV. 28th, 1869.
MY DEAR MR. UNDERWOOD, — Your letter of October 24th only reached me yesterday, and I am afraid you have thought me very uncivil.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of doing even so little a thing for you, to whom I owe so much kindness and consideration during our mutual engagements with the old Atlantic, which after all seems to me far better than the new! I congratulate you on having “drifted” out of literature, it is “weariness to the flesh” and small satisfaction to the spirit. The photograph I send you is one from a picture (an ambrotype) taken about the time when I first wrote for the Atlantic; I send it because it is the prettiest one I ever had; a feminine reason, but then I never was strong-minded. A picture now would be anything but pleasant, illness and anxiety for years are not beautifiers! I hope at least the face may express to you all the good wishes I have for you and yours; and be to you always the face of a friend even when its original has “gone over to the majority.”
Yours very cordially,
Of the letters of congratulation received upon Underwood’s appointment as United States Consul at Glasgow, in 1885, Whittier’s is worth printing, as showing that he, like Motley, was under the impression that Underwood had been the Atlantic’s first editor: —
These later notes from Whittier refer to the biography upon which Underwood was engaged. They are vigorous, and very characteristic.
AMESBURY, 4 Mo. 14, 1883.
DEAR FD., — ... Don’t make too big a book, and don’t try to account for everything I have written or not written, or done, or not done. A mere mention of the fact that I have written in my first attempts a great [deal] of prose and rhyme which I would not now insult the reader by reproducing, is enough. And do not forget that I have lived a hard life outside of my verse making. I am a man and not a mere verse maker.
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
AMESBURY, 6 Mo. 14. [1883.]
DEAR F. H. UNDERWOOD, — ... I see one of the chapters headed “Beginnings of Fame.”| I don’t think at the time mentioned the word Fame is applicable. It is safe to say that there are now in the United States ten thousand boys and girls who can wuite better verses than mine at their age. The single fact is that my first scribblings are very poor and commonplace.
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
ASQUAM, HOLDERNESS, N. H.,
7 Mo. 21, 1883.
DEAR FRIEND, — I am grateful for thy generous estimate of my writings in “ Characteristics,” but I fear the critics will not agree with thee. Why not anticipate them, and own up to faults and limitations which everybody sees, and none more clearly than myself. Touch upon my false rhymes and Yankeeisms: confess that I sometimes “ crack the voice of melody and break the legs of time. ” Pitch into “ Mogg Megone.” That “ big Injun ” strutting round in Walter Scott’s plaid, has no friends and deserves none. Own that I sometimes choose unpoetical themes. Endorse Lowell’s “ Fable for Critics ” that I mistake occasionally simple excitement for inspiration. In this way we can take the wind out of the sails of ill-natured cavillers. I am not one of the master singers and don’t pose as one. By the grace of God I am only what I am, and don’t wish to pass for more.
I return the sheets, with this note. Think of my suggestions and act upon them if it seems best to thee.
Always thy friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
AMESBCRY, 1 Mo. 20, 1884.
MY DEAR UNDERWOOD, — I am very sorry to find thee lay so much stress on dragging to light all the foolish things written by me, and which I hate the thought of. For mercy’s sake let the dead rest. (1) in regard to " Mogg Megoue " (a poem I wish was in the Red Sea), — I know Benjamin had it, I thought in New York. It seems he was Ed. of the N. E. Magazine & published it there. (2) Abolition poem by Isaac Knapp. I know nothing of it. All my anti-slavery poems are in my collected works. I see no use in setting all the literary ghouls to digging for somelhing I have written in my first attempts at rhyme. I detest the whole of it. . . .
Ever and truly thy friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER.
Underwood’s experiences in Great Britain, both at Glasgow and later at Edinburgh, — where he was Consul during Cleveland’s second administration,— have already been touched upon by Mr. Trowbridge. Between the two consulships he wrote a novel, Quabbin, in which he described from that benign distance his native town. He received many social honors during his residence abroad, and the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the University of Glasgow. He made friends, as always and everywhere, and the most brilliant of living English writers is represented in the scrap-book by some letters inquiring into the value of certain American securities. To name these securities now might invoke the Comic Spirit.
Underwood never came home to that world which had more or less grown away from him. He died at Edinburgh in 1894. Versatile in gifts and genial in spirit, he was associated, as we have seen, with some of the best men of his day, but he himself never quite “ arrived.” There were Celts of old time who “always went forth to the fight, but they always fell.” One likes them none the worse for that. During the Civil War, Underwood’s fertile brain devised a curious project, which had no other result, apparently, than the creation of one more remarkable autograph for his scrap-book. He wished to start a saw-mill in Florida. Every magazine editor, as is well known, has his moments of keen desire to be running a sawmill somewhere. But Underwood picked out an actual spot, then under occupation by Federal troops, and addressed a respectful letter to President Lincoln, setting forth the benefits to the nation which would accrue from the said saw-mill through the promotion of emigration to Florida. Here is the very document, thrown carelessly into the scrap-book, endorsed by leading citizens of Boston, with Ex-Governor Boutwell at the head, by Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, Senators from Massachusetts, by Major General Gillmore, then at Hilton Head, and by the President of the United States:—
I fully approve, subject [to] the discretion and control of the Commanding General.
March 26, 1864.
A saw-mill in Florida! What a castle in Spain, for this editor who was never the Editor !