- Extracts from the letters of Mr. Elisha Ticknor to his son George, during his absence in Europe, 1815-1819.
Boston, Sunday Evening, April 16, 1815.my Dearest and best of sons,—I hope, and pray God, that this journey may terminate for you better than any one has to those who have travelled for similar purposes. I can't but believe,—Deo volente,—should you improve the opportunities put into your hands, it will prove greatly to your advantage, should you live—which may God grant—to return to your native country again. Our trial on our last parting was more than we could bear for the moment; but, overcome as we were, nothing but an entire reliance on God could support either your mother or me. We committed you, immediately on your quitting our shore and turning your eye with a last look on our town and country, to God, depending on him for support and comfort, and relying on him to protect and encourage your heart while absent, and, when it seemeth to him good, to return you to us again in safety and in health. This evening the good man, Mr. Savage, is with us. He is good, or he would not have been here. Your note by the pilot is just handed to us by the goodness of Mr. Watson. Thank you heartily for this favor, for this little remembrance. We had better do as you say, my son,—‘we are now only to think how soon we shall meet again.’ This little scrap, which contains so much, is a precious morsel to us. We hope you will do your best to unite with us on this point. Monday, 17.—How often have we thought of you, my dear son, since our parting hands were separated! The weather has been fine with us. The moon shone bright, and the heavens seemed to favor your departure, and to tell you, while you are doing your duty, you have nothing to fear.  Tuesday, 18.—. . . . I have this day bought four yearling ewes and one yearling ram of the Montarco Merino breed flock, which I have long wished to be interested in. I now own Merinos of the three great travelling flocks of Spain, viz. of the Guadaloup, Paular, and Montarco. I keep them in distinct, separate flocks, that I may know in a few years which flock gives the finest and largest fleece, and keeps in flesh and health with the least trouble. Friday, 21.—. . . . One thing I forgot to recommend to you before you went away; that is, to use technicals in conversation much more freely than you have been in the habit of doing. They form, to all intents and purposes, when properly used, another language, and raise a man, in the estimation of good judges, as far above the common level of literary men, as they are raised above the common level of the vulgar. I don't wish you to use them on all occasions, however trifling; but never talk with a chemist, a botanist, or with philosophers and scientific men, without being able to use them as freely as you are able to use your alphabet. Monday, 24.—. . . . You have now commenced a great undertaking. I hope it has been begun with prudence and deliberation, and that it will terminate without any regret on your part. All you now have to do is, to be honest, to be faithful to yourself, and do justice to your credentials; and then, if you live, you will return with great pleasure and satisfaction to those who have interested themselves in your favor. Yours is no common case. They believe you will do them justice. Travel rather in the manner of a clergymanin the habit and simplicity of a literary, modest gentleman, which will never fail of recommending you wherever you go—than in the style of a man of property, of one at leisure, or of one travelling for pleasure alone, which is not your case. Thursday, 27.—I have just heard Captain Roulstone announce, as he passed our window, this morning, that Bonaparte was in Paris, at the head of 80, 000 men. Pho!! It may be true, but I don't believe it . . . . I begin to be quite reconciled to your absence, in the anticipation of what you will be when you return,—the use and happiness you will be to me, your friends, and your country. A short absence can be of no use to you. You must prepare yourself for a long and useful one; and I am sure this course will make the last part of your life pleasant to you, and honorable to me and yourself. I can look forward and see you, every week, and every month, employed in some part of Europe in acquiring something which will be useful and  pleasant to you in after life. So long as you continue to be the kind, discreet, wise, and dutiful son, so long I shall anticipate all I can wish in one who has been so long devoted to the wishes of his parents and friends; and so long I shall continue, even to the end of my life, to aid and assist you, and make the path of life easy and pleasant to you. . . . August 9.—. . . . The great object of your journey I am sure you will keep in mind, and never turn to the right hand nor to the left, viz. to improve in solid science, the arts, and literature, and in the knowledge of men, as well as to learn to describe the former, and those of the latter, on paper with so much candor and justice as to give pleasure to every one who reads after you. . . . . And also, from what you see and discover, to learn how to improve and economize in living, so as to live genteelly, respectably, and even profusely on a small and narrow income. . . . . You have not left your home for the sole purpose of describing the lawns, the hills, the valleys, the tops of mountains, the columns of smoke, the villages,—except for amusement, and as shades to ornament your other improvements, which may be often and happily interspersed; but you have left your father to grow wiser and better,—to learn how to be more useful to yourself, your friends, and your country. November 6.—. . . . Savage comes to see us every Sunday evening, as faithful and as constantly as the sun rises and sets. Good and charming as he is, it is not my son, my only son, whom I love and esteem so much. It is not George, whom I have so often seen sitting by us, and amusing us with his own composition, or by some well-written piece of another, or giving us some outlines of his plans and his studies, which he meant to pursue in some future time. These are scenes now past and gone, and when they will return again to cheer the hearts of your aged parents, God only knows. You are in his hands. . . . . By this time, I suppose, you want to know all about our affairs at home, and what we have been doing since you left us. We remain here in the old house, myself in the great chair reading, or at my table writing or settling my accounts, while your mother sits by me knitting, sewing, or talking, as she pleases; but we are often talking about you, looking at your likeness, and telling a thousand things you would say and do, if you were only with us, and sitting by us as you used to do. But this is what we can't have. Everything now is in imagination, although sometimes it seems almost to be a reality; and, when it is so, the happiness is inexpressible, and I almost start from  my seat, and when I come to myself, I say, Omne est rectum. Gaudeo te esse presentum mecum in imaginatione . . . . January 9, 1816.—In your absence, I dare say, you will never interest yourself in the politics of any nation. Every nation has her own peculiarities, and her party feelings and politics, and is as tenacious of her own opinions as we are, or have been, in this country. As every individual in a nation is as tenacious of his own opinion as the nation herself, so you will be willing he should enjoy it without any opposition. I know you are not violent in any of your opinions, and that is one of the best traits in your character, and it will always, should you live, give you comfort and consolation in old age. October 22.—Your No. 46 tells us that, although you have given us accounts of duels and disturbances among the students, yet you have no interest in any of their concerns, but associate with few, and those are professors of the University, who can be of use to you in all your pursuits. This course I approve, and it must be of great advantage to you. I never supposed you would associate or become acquainted with any of the students. . . . . Your No. 49, of July 6, tells us also that you are a little sad. I am very sorry for it. You are too far from home to be sad. Brighten up, my son, we will do all for you we can. We can't be on the spot, you know. You must act the father, the mother, and son. We could do no more were we with you. Do the best for yourself you can, and we shall be satisfied. Your studies go on well, you say. That is great. This ought to rouse you from your sadness, and I am sure it will. You are studying systematically, you say, the moral and political state of Germany under Professor Saalfeld. I hope all your studies will be pursued systematically, so that you can call them into use whenever necessity requires. This, I think, has so long been your practice that it has now become habitual . . . . November 4.—. . . . I am very glad to learn that you have been so fortunate as to have found such old and pleasant friends and companionable gentlemen as Professor Blumenbach and Judge Zacharia. You may remember, my son, that when you can please, and satisfy, and command their attention and esteem, and give them a fair opportunity to communicate to you, they will be infinitely more useful to you than young men of great learning, who lack in wisdom and experience. Therefore, if you mean to receive any benefit from the aged, give them an opportunity to tell their own story in their own way, and you will be improved, and they will be pleased. But they should never be contradicted, nor be told ‘I have often thought so  myself.’ And what gives me great comfort is, that I have always found this spirit, to the full, in your kind and benevolent heart, and always ready to give credit for it in others. . . . . November 9.—. . . . You wrote me, in your No. 45, of June the 5th, that you recite German to Dr. Schultze, and read aloud to him, in some book, as I desired, which requires some considerable exertion of the voice. This I like. I am pleased to learn it from you. I wish you, however, my son, in this part of your improvement, to understand me distinctly. It is not of so much importance for you to read aloud to a German, as it is that a German should read aloud to you. Select one of the finest oratorical readers in Gottingen, whose voice is round, and full, and melodious. Place yourself twenty feet from him, if possible. Request him to select and read aloud to you a pathetic oratorical piece in German. Such a piece, if possible, as will command all the powers of speech and eloquence. . . . Twenty pieces thus read to you by him, and in turn by you to him, in his tone of voice, would do you ten, twenty, yes, thirty times as much good as it would for you to read to him first, and in the common way, at common distance, and in common language. It is the tone of the voice, and the attitude of a polished German scholar, which you need, to be able to read and speak German well, like a German gentleman and scholar. Do the same in Paris, in Rome, in London, and what you will hear and see otherwise, at the bar, and from the pulpit, and in common conversation, without any particular exertion of your own, will be sufficient to answer all your purposes, and all my expectations, which are but few, although you may think they are many. . . . . You may imagine, by my writing to you so much and so frequently on the improvement of time, and on the economy of your expenses, that I am not only very much concerned, but that I am very solicitous about you. If you have any such idea as this, you are greatly mistaken. I have no fear, except for your health and happiness. If you suppose Professor Stuart and I expect too much from you and Everett, you and he should not write such flattering accounts to Dr. Kirkland and Savage, of the advantages which Gottingen possesses over Cambridge and other universities in this country. So long as you and he draw such strong comparisons, and tell us that the University of Gottingen possesses ten times the advantages, and that a student can progress ten times as fast under her auspices as one can under those of our universities, what must be the fair expectations of those to whom you two young gentlemen write? That you ought  to write the truth, and the whole truth, just as it strikes your mind, I don't doubt. Whether it ought to be communicated by private letters to your friends, or by your journal, I do not know. Your friends, I know, will expect everything in letters, therefore I would write but few letters, and those I would write in my best style, and write my sober, honest opinion, without any exaggeration. . . . February 8, 1817.—I read carefully your letter to me of the 9th of November last, No. 59, as well as both of yours to Dr. Kirkland, and made up my mind, as I had done long before, and as you have learnt by my letters before now, that a seat at the University is much more congenial to your taste, genius, and habits, in my opinion, than to be employed on the boisterous and vexatious ocean of law and politics. After reading your letter, and examining the subject with care, and fearing, by the contents of your letter, that I had misstated to you the conversation which took place between me and Dr. Kirkland, at two several times, I called on him and handed him your letter in the affirmative, which he read, and was, to appearances, much pleased, as I really thought he was. I soon found that my statement to you was correct. . . . . . . . . To see Athens, my son, is not worth exposing your life, nor the time nor the money you must spend to see it. Whatever time you spend, let it be for useful purposes,—let them be like seed sown in a rich soil, from which we may expect some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold. While I think of it, I will here state, that, however corrupt may be the character of Lord Byron, and however much you ought to despise both, yet he is entitled, as a stranger, to your thanks and gratitude for his kindness and attention to you while in London, and for the facilities with which he furnished you for Greece. Yet I hope, should you hereafter meet him anywhere on the Continent, that you will seek no further acquaintance with him. It will be of no credit to you in this country. March 22.—Since I returned from Hanover, my dearest and best of sons, I have not been very deficient or neglectful, as the multiplicity of my letters show the fact. To sit down quietly by myself, and write to my son, is one of the greatest pleasures I enjoy; except when I learn he is well, prosperous, and studious, judicious and happy, and relying on God, with an honest, thankful heart for all the benefits he enjoys, and for all the improvements he has made. When I hear you are well, and healthy, and contented, and pleased, you know not the joys of your father's, your mother's heart. These joys you never will know, you never can know, till you become a father  yourself. Perhaps, under your present circumstances, you may imagine, you may persuade yourself, that no parents can feel more for their children than you feel for your parents, and your near friends and relations. I hope, my son, you will never have such sensations, such pangs for us as we have felt, and still feel, for you, exposed as you are to temptations, to sickness, and loss of life. We pray God to preserve your life, and return you to the arms and affections of your parents and friends. . . . . April 24.—. . . . [As to the time of his return.] I have always meant, whenever I wrote you, to leave it altogether with you; but to extend it beyond four years from the time you left I did not feel willing. But I have consented, in several letters, to your remaining abroad long enough to qualify yourself for the two professorships, and to remain till you were satisfied that you had done your duty. We have consented to this deprivation altogether for your good, for your happiness, my son, and for that of the public, while, at the same time, no one so much desires to see, and embrace, and enjoy the society of their son as we do; but we feel we are called, at this time, to make sacrifices which we before had never thought of. Now, you see, my son, I am explicit enough to be perfectly understood, and that you do, as to the time, as you think best. Make yourself happy and comfortable. Shun everything that does not lead to improvement; keep yourself from temptation; be just and honest; love your father and mother, as you always have done; remember your friends, they certainly don't forget you. January 17, 1819.—I wrote you on the first inst. by way of New York, my dearest, my best of sons, to give you the distressing intelligence of the death of your beloved mother; and no mother, I trust, was ever loved better by a son than she was by you, and no mother, I believe, ever loved a son better than she loved you. But she is gone, I trust, to a better world . . . . . I am now very anxious and very uneasy to hear from you, and I grow more and more so as the time of your absence draws nigher and nigher the close. Notwithstanding my feelings, I can't consent to your placing yourself upon the high seas for home till the best season for crossing the Atlantic arrives. Then, I pray you, my son, put yourself on board a sound ship, with a trusty and an intelligent captain, and come home in God's own time . . . . . Your sainted, your now glorified mother often spoke of the season of your return in the spring; and, especially in the latter part of her sickness,—when her strength was so gone as to her it appeared impossible she could ever recover,—she begged I  would write to you, and tell you not unreasonably to mourn for the loss of your mother, but to do your great work in your absence faithfully in the fear of God, that you may return honorably to your friends and to your profession, in which she trusted and hoped and believed you would be useful to yourself and friends, and serve God in your day and generation; and hoped you would remember it would be but a short time before you must go to her,—she could never return to you again. ‘Tell him, also, not to come out in the cold, distressing season, but to wait a little longer, and come in the pleasant season. Ah, I know my son. Why do I say this? I know I have long experienced his prudence and good judgment in all his affairs and all his arrangements.’ She charged Savage to beg you not to regret your last year's absence, but remember it is all right; we ought not to complain,—it is God who has done it, and all we have to do is to submit to his will and pleasure. She made all her arrangements in relation to her funeral, and made several little presents to those she loved. . . . . My son, I am satisfied, as yet, with everything you have done, and I believe your friends who are worth satisfying are as much so as I am. If you come home, my son, with the same moral, pious, and wellground-ed principles as, I trust, you had when you left me, you will be to me that comfort which I can never express to you without tears in my eyes, nor without such feelings as will be impossible for me to express . Farewell, my son. God bless you, wherever you are, and return you in safety, in God's own time, to the arms and affections of your father and friends.