BEFORE Uncle Sam Ward came to us in Sorrento my mother had taken me to America for the first time; we stayed in the country for two years. For the summer of 1881 the same kind uncle hired a cottage for us in Newport directly next to Cliff Lawn, the summer home of the Chanlers, who were his grandchildren by his first wife, Emily Astor. Their mother had died some years before, leaving ten small children. The distracted widower, John Winthrop Chanler, had not long survived her. The two oldest boys, Armstrong and Winthrop, known always as Archie and Wintie, were just growing up; there were six younger ones — in all, five boys and three girls; two boys had died before I knew them.
Archie and Wintie came to see us very often. We used to take them on cat boat sails and picnics. Wintie was the most entirely charming boy I had ever seen, but it never for a moment occurred to me that he was for me and I for him. He was just back from Eton and preparing to enter Harvard College in September.
When a few years later, in 1884, Wintie came to Rome, I found him as delightful as ever. Again in 1886 he joined us in Vallombrosa, where we were passing the summer, and it was there we discovered what the stars must have known from the first. We were married before Christmas, and when spring came we started for America, which was to be my new home.
After the birth of my first baby at Rokeby, the Chanler family place on the Hudson, we were advised by friends that, with my foreign bringing up and my tendency to catch bad colds in winter, I should find Washington easier and pleasanter to live in than New York. Accordingly we hired and furnished a little house on Dupont Circle and settled there in the late autumn.
Our house was sunny and comfortable, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by friendly acquaintances, many of them old friends of Wintie’s parents who had lived in Washington when John Winthrop Chanler was Member of Congress from New York. One of Wintie’s earliest recollections was of being taken as a very small boy with his brother Archie to a children’s party at the White House. The rooms were crowded with grown-ups, and the ladies all wore immense crinolines; the two children got completely lost, hidden as they were among the great ballooning skirts. They could not identify their mother’s gown, nor were they tall enough to catch sight of any familiar face. Some friend of their parents finally sighted them, hand in hand, with scared faces, wandering in the vast forest of furbelows, and took them back to their anxious parents.
That winter in Washington laid the foundation of many lasting friendships. Henry Cabot Lodge was there for the first time as Congressman from Massachusetts. It did not take many meetings with him and the beautiful Nannie, his wife, to ripen acquaintance into a friendship sealed for life.
Forget any praises I may have bestowed on others. She was the most wholly charming woman I have ever known; an exquisite presence in this workaday world. She had unusual beauty, a pale face with regular features and dark eyes the color of the sky when stars begin to twinkle. She had great wit; it was the only weapon she ever used in self-defense and Cabot was a little afraid of its winged shafts. Daughter and sister to Admirals, she had perhaps caught from them a certain sense of discipline, some secret code of high behavior that guided her action but was never imposed on others. Gay and hospitable, she took delight in all that was delightful, yet never lost her bearings in fogs of enthusiasm. She combined the usually contrasting qualities of keen intelligence and warm-heartedness. I never found another human instrument so delicately tuned to understand and sympathize. She was one of the shining ones.
Cabot Lodge was made of ruder stuff. He was a militant politician, and his nature bore some of the battle scars of his encounters with the enemy. Many of his Boston friends had turned against him when, in the campaign of 1884, he had taken the stump for Blaine after having done his best to defeat him at the Republican convention — a question of loyalty to party. The harsh criticism and disavowal of Boston’s Back Bay and the enmity of many of his friends may have done something to accentuate a certain ready-to-fight element in Cabot’s character. In discussion he was one of those who care more for downing his adversary than for discovering a common ground for possible agreement.
His was the complete irreligiosity of his generation. As it was said of someone else, ‘ born in Boston and educated at Harvard, what should he know of religion?’ He never missed an opportunity to snarl or gibe at it. The Catholic Church was his favorite ‘straw man’ and he demolished it to his own satisfaction several times a week, leaving Mater Ecclesia, as it seemed to me, quite unscathed. I am not painting an agreeable picture of Cabot Lodge, yet under the captious crustiness there was a very real man whom one could not but like, respect, and grow to love. He was a true scholar and a true friend; I do not know two qualities that please me more, and he was, besides, an accomplished horseman.
His fine library was an essential part of him, and he was at his best when, at the end of an evening, — there might have been a dinner party at his house and all but two or three of the guests departed, — he would take down one volume and then another, reading some rare lines of prose or verse with an intimate sense of their meaning and beauty. He then thawed into a most sympathetic and ‘belovable’ person, representing no longer the harshness of Plymouth Rock, but the pleasant laureled dingles of Parnassus. He knew and loved books with most intelligent affection.
Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy when we first lived in Washington. He and Mrs. Roosevelt lived in a tiny house on Jefferson Place. Theodore, Junior, was just the age of my baby; Alice, later Mrs. Longworth, daughter by the first marriage, was a little girl in pigtails. The Roosevelts used to give Sunday evening suppers where the food was of the plainest and the company of the best. Theodore would keep us all spellbound with tales of his adventures in the West. There was a vital radiance about the man — a glowing, unfeigned cordiality toward those he liked that was irresistible. When he eventually became a world-famous figure and a popular idol, he kept intaet this great gift of friendship; but he lost, which was natural enough, some of the lightheartedness of the old days when we were all young.
One of his charms lay in a certain boyish zest with which he welcomed everything that happened to him. I never knew anyone more pleased with things as they were — life was the unpacking of an endless Christmas stocking; honors and high office were elaborate toys one must learn to understand; a cantankerous opposing Senate was a jack-in-the-box that popped out and made faces at him. He sometimes had trouble in shutting down the box on the ugly face; then he took pleasure in calling it names. He loved the caricatures of himself. When he was Police Commissioner in New York (we were living in New York at the time) he came to dine one evening in great glee. He had gone to his office that morning and found the personnel at Police Headquarters gathered round a letter delivered by the postman; clerks and stenographers were tittering nervously, and hesitated to show it. ‘And here it is,’he said, pulling it out of his pocket. It bore no other address than a pair of glasses over a double row of clenched teeth. He was enchanted. ‘Few men,’ he said, ‘live to see their own hieroglyph.’ The Spanish War, the Battle of San Juan Hill, were glorious boyish experiences. He assured us that, considering the number of men engaged, the battle had been one of the bloodiest on record. As for being President, it was the greatest fun in the world, and we, his friends, all shared in the fun.
I was once staying with the Lodges, during Roosevelt’s presidency. Cabot came home for dinner tired and irritated; he was Senator then, and had been wrangling with his fellow legislators all day. After trying various subjects of conversation, I mentioned a book I had lately come across, The Lives of the Dukes of Urbino. Cabot flew out at me: ‘A pack of unmitigated ruffians and blackguards!’ (which of course they were); ‘I would rather read the lives of the Selectmen of Nahant.’ After dinner we went to the White House to hear some music, which was followed by a little supper. The President had put me next to him during the music and I had amused him with Cabot’s sally about the Dukes of Urbino. After the music had stopped and supper was announced the President called out in ringing tones, ‘Now the Selectman of Nahant will lead the Duchess of Urbino in to supper.’ Cabot gave me his arm rather sheepishly and growled through a reproachful smile, ‘You went and complained to him! ’
On another occasion, — this was after Roosevelt’s term had expired, while Wintie and I were staying with the Lodges at East Point, their country place at Nahant, — a telegram signed ‘T. R. ’ announced that he would come out to spend the day with them. He had just returned from his great world tour, and was attending some political convention in Boston that night. He came unaccompanied, and no other guests were invited. He was bursting with the things he wanted to tell us. He always liked to talk from a rockingchair; so one was brought out on the piazza, and the Lodge family — including the three children, who were by this time grown up and married — and Wintie and I sat around him while he rocked vigorously and told one story after another, holding us enchanted, making us laugh till we cried and ached. He had arrived long before luncheon and he stayed till late in the afternoon.
Some of his best stories were about King Edward’s funeral, — or ‘wake,’ as he irreverently called it, — the latest of his experiences: how he was put in a royal carriage with a foreign minister who resented not having been given a gala coach with hammercloth and footmen standing behind, and pointed out that they had not even been treated to the handsomest liveries. Roosevelt had answered him in rather broken French that he was so glad to be there at all that he would not have minded had the liveries been bright green with yellow spots. One should beware of trying to make jokes in a foreign language. The unknown diplomat reported that Mr. Roosevelt had concurred with him in his complaint about the liveries, but on the ground that they should have been bright green with yellow spots, presumably the ex-president’s own colors!
He had much to tell of Emperor William’s friendliness, which did not seem to have beguiled him overmuch, though he had enjoyed his visit to Kiel and all the hospitality shown him in the imperial palace. They met again at the funeral party, where Roosevelt had taken a great fancy to the handsome Tsar of the Bulgars, whom he found intelligent and attractive. They were holding an animated conversation when the German war lord shouldered his way through the crowd of royalties there present, took hold of his arm, and said imperiously, ‘Come with me, Roosevelt; I will present you to somebody worth your knowing — my cousin the King of Spain, ’ scowling the while at the Bulgarian monarch.
He also told us about the special train that took the funeral party to Windsor, where King Edward was to be laid beside his royal ancestors; of how one king, whose private car happened to be next to the dining car, was cross with the other kings and would not let any of them go through when luncheon was announced, so they all had to wait and grumble until the train could be stopped at a station. When this was finally done, kings and potentates scrambled out on to the platform, hurried past the car that was closed to them, and reached their food only to find it getting cold, and with hardly time to eat it before the train was due at Windsor.
These stories and many more he told us with infinite zest and humor, in the long monologue. I do not think the rest of us spoke a hundred words, but no one had a moment’s sense of boredom — all were amused and excited. It was a manifestation of that mysterious thing, nth-powered vitality, communicating itself to the listeners.
It is easy to talk about Theodore Roosevelt, delightful for us who knew and loved him to recall his life-enhancing presence, but much will yet be said and written about him before he takes his definite place in history. Clio is biting her pencil while she looks for the final word.
Washington was pleasant enough, but we did not take root there; it was no place for a young man — Wintie was only twenty-four — with no occupation and no desire to hold office. His Etonian education had in a sense unfitted him for American life, which has no place for charming idlers; yet he was essentially American and never wished to expatriate himself, but only to move about the world in search of fun and adventure, and they generally came his way. I was unfeignedly homesick for Rome. In February of the next year we took passage to Naples on a German steamer.
Oh, but it was good to be in Rome again, to feel the caress of Roman sunshine, to breathe the delicate Roman air, to hear the splash of fountains and the dear sound of bells. What joy to walk the Roman streets again! I could go out alone, now that I was married, and linger in my favorite churches, smelling of incense and old marble, or take Wintie for a morning stroll on the Pincio, stopping on the broad terrace that overlooks the city, and waiting to see the black ball come down over the tower of the observatory at noon to give the signal for the Castel Sant’ Angelo to fire the cannon by which Rome sets its watches. The sound of the cannon promptly sets off the midday Angelus, and the air is filled for several minutes with its many-voiced clangor, ranging from the solemn boom of St. Peter’s and St. Mary Major’s through every diapason of rich sonorities to the humble tinkle of little convent bells that add their quavering treble to the great harmony of prayer.
That visit was not a long one, but in September 1897 my mother died, and my husband generously suggested we should go to Rome and settle there for a few years to be near my father so long as he might live; he was then well past his fourscore years. So we rented our Tuxedo house and went abroad for an indefinite stay, with our five small children, of whom Laura, the oldest, was ten. Rome was Paradise after the years spent in Washington, New York, and Tuxedo Park. I felt as though my body and soul had come together again after a long separation; for during my exile in the country that should have been my own some part of me was forever there, in the eternal city, ‘alone and palely loitering’ about the well-remembered places. In the midst of the hurry and high tension of American existence my living ghost had haunted the streets of Rome; at any moment, had anyone asked me the question, I could have told just where I was — on the Piazza del Gesù, on the Spanish steps, in the Via della Scrofa, or wherever. There was no particular spot to which my thoughts were anchored; they were fully occupied with things and people about me and had nothing to do with this uninterrupted shadowy consciousness of being in Rome. It was an idle trick of memory and imagination and wholly involuntary so far as I was concerned. It was part of the great magic of Rome.
To find myself there again in the body, not living as a stranger, but well established, for we leased and furnished a sunny apartment in the Via Venti Settembre, seemed like a lovely fulfillment of dreams. The children had good Italian nurses who took them to play on the Pincio every morning, just as ours had done, and they soon talked Italian among themselves and made friends with the children of my old friends and fell in with the dear Roman pattern. Happily, Wintie also liked the pattern; he even brightened and enriched it for me by bringing a new element into it. He bought a couple of horses, and riding was a new delight. I had only known the country round Rome from driving on the familiar highways and picnicking in favorite places. No one knows Rome who does not love the Campagna, but no one really knows the Campagna who has not ridden or taken very long crosscountry walks over it, and this I had never done.
The Roman Campagna has a beauty all its own; it spreads its miles of lovely solitude in every direction about the great Urbs, the ancient mistress of the world, and is part of her majesty. There are stretches where no human habitation is in sight; you may come upon a Vergilian shepherd tending his tinkling flock, dressed, as his father’s fathers dressed, in his high coneshaped hat, shaggy goatskin breeches, and ample cloak. There are blue hills in the distance to the east, south, and north; to the west a shimmering line on the horizon, Il tremolar della marina, gives an occasional glimpse of the sea.
Sometimes the rise and fall of the rolling country reveal the dome of St. Peter emerging out of the hazy distance like a great blue bubble: the dear cupolone, beloved of all good Romans.
We had gone, then, to Rome because my mother died; we left it after my father’s death. Our going and coming were bordered with mourning, but the four Roman years that lay between were like a last kind gift from them to me, their final parental blessing.
We had seen Mr. Henry Adams from time to time during our winters in Washington, but had never achieved more than mere acquaintance with him; he had been formal and aloof with us, had seemed at once proud, shy, and self-conscious. In the winter of 18981899 he came to Rome with the Cabot Lodges, and as they wanted to see us every day during the several weeks of their visit, our company was somewhat thrust upon him. He began rather shyly by making friends with Laura, our lively eldest, then about eleven years old. He told her he was her little boy and that she must take care of him, as he was growing smaller all the time; she must call him her ‘Deordy,’ as did one or two of his especially privileged ‘nieces.’ He paid her almost daily visits, going straight, to the nursery while the Lodges called on me in the drawing-room. He took her for long rambles and gave her beautiful toys. She was not a little proud of his attention and puzzled by some of the strange things he told her about himself; could it be true that he was growing smaller? She knew, of course, that he was not really a little boy, but a very small old gentleman; was he shrinking back into childhood? She asked me one day if she might bring her wonderful Deordy home to lunch with the family. He had shown so little desire to see us that, beyond the hospitable gesture of asking the Lodges if they would like to bring him to lunch or dinner (and they had not brought him), I had not tried to entertain him. On Laura’s invitation he came, and from that midday meal sprang one of our warmest and most treasured friendships.
The prickly porcupine moulted his quills into angelic feathers; there was no intermediate hesitation. We discovered at once that we immensely enjoyed one another’s company and that we must be together as much as possible. Whatever had been the cause of his first aloofness, it was forgotten and forgiven from the moment Laura brought us together. He liked and even loved us, Wintie for his sparkles, and me, perhaps, for the religion I professed.
He had for the last few years passed his summers in France, and had amused himself with the French Middle Ages. He had discovered Our Lady of Chartres and her cathedral; Éleonore of Guienne, mother of Richard Cœur de Lion; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the philosophers, the mystics, the troubadours; above all, the master builders of cathedrals and makers of stained glass. At Chartres he lost his heart to the Belle Verrière, which taught him to understand the cult of the Virgin Mother and inspired that curious ‘Prayer to the Virgin and the Dynamo’ which came to light among his private papers after his death. It was found in a leather wallet with a few intimate papers, and was written in pencil. Mr. Adams’s niece, Mrs. Bancel La Farge, herself a Catholic, offered to send me a copy of the poem, and was surprised to find I had long possessed a fair copy in Mr. Adams’s delicate script-like calligraphy which I had treasured, without, however, knowing that he had never shown it to others.
He had approached the subject of mediæval Catholicism as a historian free from all bias might examine the Laws of Manu or the religion of ancient Babylon, believing it to be something long dead, of purely archæological interest. He found, to his surprise, that the thing was full of life, of beauty, of profound human significance; he discovered the Church as a living power shaping human destinies through the centuries, even to the present day, and not only among the unlettered and unreasoning masses, but among those with whom his high fastidiousness had much in common. The fact that I was a believing and practising Catholic linked me somehow with his new interests.
His family never took his Catholic philosophy for more than a literary pose, it was so remote from the things they were used to, so contrary to the Adams tradition; but to me it seemed a sincere intellectual adventure, a voyage of discovery into otherworldly regions, where Henry Adams, the Harvard Professor Emeritus, author of a standard work on American history, fell in love with the twelfth century and used all his genius to get as near to it as possible.
So he resolved to write about Mont St. Michel and Chartres for his pleasure and that of his friends. The book was privately and very handsomely printed and given away to the favored few, not lightly bestowed for the asking. A college president wanted a copy and, knowing me to be a friend of Mr. Adams, wrote a beseeching letter after sending several verbal requests, but Porcupinus Angelicus put on his prickliest quills and blankly refused: ‘No, the book was not written for college presidents.’ When Father Pardoe, a learned and eloquent Jesuit to whom I had lent the volume, was so interested in it that he wanted a copy for the college library, Mr. Adams was delighted to let him have one. Father Pardoe told me that some of the theological definitions were astonishingly brilliant, as well as perfectly sound; this cannot happen to theological definitions very often. It happened this time because Henry Adams brought not only a highly trained and gifted but a wholly fresh mind to the subject, kindled to brightest enthusiasm by his discovery of a new world.
Among his friends the Mont St. Michel and Chartres book had the most immediate and unqualified success. We all loved it and sang its praises. I remember talking to Cabot Lodge about it and saying that I liked it too much to talk about it with outsiders, with people who had not read it, to whom my praise might sound fulsome and exaggerated. To my surprise Cabot Lodge said he felt just the same way about it, and that he did not know another book which gave him quite the same intimate pleasure.
It was taken for granted that the big public could never understand it, and must at all costs be kept away from the darling thing. How little any of us imagined that it was in time to become a popular favorite and share the honors of ‘best seller’ with The Education of Henry Adams, the book which followed it, and which was written and destined for an even more intimate circle. Only one hundred copies were printed in the original edition. But Henry Adams did not live to see his volumes on every table, his writings discussed in every periodical. Not long before he died the American Institute of Architects obtained permission to publish Mont St. Michel and Chartres. They promised to have print and paper of the best, but produced a rather shoddy, commerciallooking volume, which disappointed its author by its undistinguished appearance. The public was not put off by this; it was enchanted with the book and bought it by the many thousands of copies, as it bought the Education a year or so later, but Henry Adams died in his sleep and did not hear the chorus of praise. One wonders how it would have pleased him; would he have revised his opinion on the average human intelligence, taking back his favorite saying that it was impossible to underestimate it? It could not but have embarrassed him to find so much attention centred on him, who avoided crowds and was only happy in the company of a chosen few.
Henry Adams lived the last years of his life in a rather ostentatious retirement; he did not go out into the world, but saw everyone who was worth seeing in his own house. He had a great influence with his friends and a very individual relation with every one.
When I meet any of them I think I recognize something of his point of view in theirs — a certain critical detachment, foreign to the American mind, by nature more given to incredulity than to criticism or analysis.
He was delightful with children; he had an elaborate doll’s house behind a sliding panel in his library, always ready for any little girl that might be brought to see him. I took my youngest son, Theodore, to lunch with him one day, and as I was presenting him I said, ‘This is your Uncle Henry [all my children called him that] and he knows everything.’ Teddy looked at him in round-eyed silence through part of the meal, watching his opportunity. During a pause in the conversation of the grown-ups the little boy leaned forward respectfully and said, ‘Uncle Henry, how do you feed a chameleon? ’ He had possessed one for three days, and the creature had refused meat and drink; of course the all-knowing uncle told him just what to give it.
I often stayed with him in Washington, after we went back to America, in the handsome house he had built for himself and his wife, but which she had not lived to inhabit. It was designed by Richardson in the rather heavy New England-Romanesque style of Trinity Church in Boston and the Capitol in Albany, with a low carved archway over the entrance, and elaborately carved stone fireplaces of the same design. The rooms were large, sunny, and well proportioned; the walls were hung with good pictures, a fine collection of English nineteenth-century water colors and a great many beautiful old Italian drawings de haute époque. He liked his house and was proud of it. The library, where he and his friends passed so many pleasant hours, was of course overflowing with books, but there were choice bibelots, Chinese bronzes, and flowers on his big table; the best of the water colors were hung there, the lovely Turner landscape, the curious Nebuchadnezzar crawling on all fours and eating grass, painted by William Blake; and all the rarest Italian drawings were disposed about the mantelpiece. The chairs and sofas had all been built to his measure and were extremely low, covered with a dark maroon leather, and, I need hardly add, superlatively comfortable, so that once folded into their depths one had no wish to move. The whole room had a mellow patina left by the much good talk it had harbored.
I was there once with Henry Janies and John La Farge, both very old friends and well beloved of our host. I sat next to Henry James at luncheon; he and John La Farge were staying with Mr. Adams. (We were in a house we had taken for a couple of winter months to be near our Washington friends.) Mr. James murmured, under cover of the general conversation, that the one thing he wanted to see in Washington was the Saint Gaudens monument in Rock Creek Cemetery, where Mrs. Adams was buried, but that he could not possibly make his wish known to Henry; so I offered to take him in my brougham, and after luncheon we slipped away together without saying where we were going. Mr. James was an old friend of my family and I had known him all my life, meeting him in Rome and elsewhere, at long intervals, for we were rarely in the same place; but I had never had the privilege of his sole company for a whole afternoon. There was no one more delightful to talk with, for all his mumbling hesitation in trying to find the one matchless word that should precisely express his meaning — hesitation that the irreverent compared to a rhinoceros trying to pick up a pea. The word, when found, well justified the search; it was never a pea, nearly always a pearl. Besides having so much to give, he had the rarer conversational art of being or seeming to be immensely interested in his interlocutor. He would have made a wonderful father confessor; he solicited confidences; he wanted to know all you could tell him.
On the way to the cemetery we talked of this and that; it was a wintry day in early spring, and when we reached our destination, and found our way to the tomb, the trees that surround the monument had a slight sprinkling of snow on their boughs, and the sky was bleak. Mr. James stood for many minutes bareheaded before the solemn bronze figure, which seems to embody, more than any work of modern art, that great calm which is beyond hope or fear; he seemed deeply moved.
On the way home he told me a great deal about Mrs. Adams, whom he had warmly admired, and of whom all mention was avoided in Henry Adams’s presence, as he had himself avoided it in his Education, passing without a word over the years of his unusually happy married life. Mr. James abounded in her praises; it seems she was a brilliant and charming woman, so brilliant that the circle of intimates considered her the more interesting of the two: ‘ We never knew how delightful Henry was till he lost her; he was so proud of her that he let her shine as he sat back and enjoyed listening to what she said and what she let others say.’
In the volume of Henry Adams’s letters we get an occasional glimpse of those little parties they liked to give, how good the talk had been, how pleased they had all been with themselves and with each other (some wise Frenchman has said that he who leaves your company pleased with himself is surely pleased with you); but it was hard to imagine another focus than Henry Adams’s own wit and wisdom in any group collected about him; not that he talked much, but he was always the centre of interest, and what he had to say was always what we most wanted to hear.
One of the topics Mr. James had most at heart was that of Europeanized Americans; he felt so strongly about their dilemma that he developed it into a ‘case of conscience’ in which right and wrong action were somehow involved. He disapproved their divided allegiance and thought their duty lay in a deliberate and irrevocable choice. He was a little shocked to hear that I had a son at Eton and daughters in the Sacred Heart Convent at Roehampton (that was on another occasion, at a meeting some years later in New York), and said I was shifting the burden of the decision on to the shoulders of the next generation. When, shortly before his death, he became an English subject, it was his very sincere declaration of faith, the result of long and deep thought on the matter.
My own case, that of an American brought up by expatriate Americans with a strong European bias, was to him an unusually lucid statement of the problem, and he felt I should do something about it. I asked Mr. La Farge what he thought (he was much wiser and far more exotic than I), and told him all that Mr. James had said and with what earnest solicitude. ‘Dear Henry,’ was his reply, ‘he forgets how easy it has become to cross the ocean; the issue that so worries him does not exist.’ But then, La Farge was not interested in ethical conundrums.
For my own part, I have never found the whole answer to this one. Contact, sympathy, and close friendship with people of other nations may have sapped my patriotism a little, but it never occurred to me that my children had better belong to another country than their own, and this is the final test of a woman’s convictions.
I must return to Henry Adams, who will pardon my having left him for a moment to speak of Henry James, whom he dearly loved. He, at all events, solved the Jamesian problem in favor of America, for in the last years of his life he passed his summers on this side of the Atlantic, and he told me how much happier they were than many that had gone before. He was curiously shy, self-conscious, and inaccessible with foreigners; during all those summers spent in Paris he never made friends or even bowing acquaintances with any of the lights of the Sorbonne or the Collège de France. He might have known Gaston Paris, Gebhart, Langlois, — the list is too long to fill out, all great experts on the Middle Ages and the things he was studying at the time; he read all their books, but would not meet them, preferring the society of his own little group, consisting almost entirely of Americans. ‘There are no men in Paris,’ he would say to the well-dressed good-looking women of his own race who would lunch with him at Larue’s, and in whose dressmaking expeditions he took interest.
Fashions have their place in thought. To be surrounded by the young and gay, to avoid somewhat the fellowship of his learned colleagues, may have kept his spirit from gathering dust, his pen from scratching and rusting over unimportant controversies. His book was dedicated to his nieces; it was learned, although it was not addressed to the learned; it reached not only his nieces, but a vast public to whom it brought a new message.
He was essentially a teacher and had a great gift for communicating interest and imparting knowledge, or at least a desire for it, to those about him, but for all this he was keenly aware of the individual human predicament, the most understanding comforter, the most reliable counselor to his friends in trouble. Like most intelligent older people, he took great pleasure in surrounding himself with the young; he knew how to charm them, to stimulate their half-awakened minds.
My youngest daughter went to stay with him in Washington and tells of a strange evening she spent alone with ‘Uncle Henry.’ Miss Tone, the ‘niece in residence,’ was dining out, and the sixteen-year-old Gabrielle, better known to the family and friends as ‘Bebo’ (the first two syllables of her Roman nursery name of Bebolina), was rather afraid of him. She need not have been, since he was amused with her and soon made her feel at home; during the meal they chatted cheerily of places and people they had known, and then settled in the low armchairs of the library for the rest of the evening.
There was a pause; Uncle Henry leaned back with his eyes half closed and his two hands joined at the upturned fingers. Then he began to talk, softly at first, as if to himself; then, gathering momentum from his surging thoughts, he went on to speak of all that lay on his mind, the mysteries of time and eternity, man and destiny, his aspiration and helplessness. It was all way over her head, but she listened breathless, feeling that something great and wonderful was happening, though she could not understand it. At last he paused and came back to earth, looked at her, and said: ‘Do you know why I have told you all this?’ Of course she had no answer. ‘It is because you would not understand a word of it and you will never quote me.’
She could not remember what had been said, nevertheless something precious and unforgettable had been conveyed — a sense of the great problems that the human intellect is forever trying to solve; a contact with a high train of thought left her spirit deeply stirred, bubbling and luminous like the wake of an ocean liner in phosphorescent waters.
- Previous chapters of Mrs. Winthrop Chanler’s reminiscences appeared in the July and August issues.—EDITOR↩