- Return to home life. -- circle of friends. -- inauguration as Professor at Harvard College. -- entrance on College duties. -- literary life. -- religious opinions. -- Mr. Webster's oration at Plymouth. -- story of Edheljertha.
Mr. Ticknor reached home, after his four years absence, on the 6th of June, 1819. He returned with character matured by unusual experience of men; with rare learning and accomplishments, acquired by diligent and systematic study; and with tastes cultivated and disciplined by acquaintance with the best society of Europe. The object of his residence abroad had been to prepare him for a career of useful activity at home, and he came back full of ardor to use his various gifts and acquisitions for the benefit of the community to which he belonged. There was nothing in him of the trifler or the dilettante. There would have been small ground for surprise, if, after a period so crowded with interests from sources in which America had no share, Mr. Ticknor had felt something like depression at the prospect of the comparative barrenness of life, as regards aesthetic pursuits, in this Western world. But it was not so. His affectionate and cheerful disposition made his return happy for himself and delightful to his friends. His uncommon social gifts and animated spirits, his ready kindness, and his active energy, united to make him at once an important member of society, both in the circle of the cultivated, and in that of the public-spirited men of business in his native place. Boston was still a compact town of scarcely more than forty thousand inhabitants, with the best conditions for healthy social intercourse,—leisure combined with considerable commercial activity; equality, inasmuch as there was neither a pauper class  nor an accumulation of great wealth in a few hands; general education; and that familiarity of each with all, which becomes impossible in great cities.1 An unusual number of men of character, and distinction in various professions, had gradually gathered here, and with all the most eminent of these Mr. Ticknor was closely associated from this time forward. With Mr. Webster, who had become a resident of Boston during his absence in Europe; with the Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing; with Dr. Bowditch, the eminent mathematician, who, like Webster, had lately made his home here; with Edward and Alexander Hill Everett; with Washington Allston, the artist; with the Prescotts, father and son; and with many others worthy to be ranked beside them, cultivated women as well as men, Mr. Ticknor found himself at once in congenial, appreciative, and animating society. Of these advantages he was by taste and principle ready to avail himself to the utmost. There was a remarkable constancy in his friendships; all those which took an important place in his life being terminated only by death.2 In his old age he still had friends whom he had counted as such for sixty years, although he had outlived so many. With regard to two of those intimacies which colored  and added interest to his life in the period now opening before him, his own record has already been printed. How he came to know and love the charming, earnest, gifted Prescott, his junior by four years, he has told in the memoir which he survived to write; and how he became a constant visitor, and an affectionate admirer of Prescott's parents,—the wise and noble-minded judge, and his vigorous, benevolent, animated wife.3 He also describes his finding young Prescott in Paris in 1817, when he arrived from Germany, and the illness through which he watched with him, adding: ‘It was in that dark room that I first learned to know him, as I have never known any other person beyond the limits of my immediate family; and it was there that was first formed a mutual regard, over which, to the day of his death,—a period of above forty years,—no cloud ever passed.’ The first friends to welcome him on his return were the Prescotts, parents and son; and thenceforward he was always treated by them and theirs as if he had been of their kin and blood. His affectionate and intimate relations with Mr. Webster—whose great and commanding intellect, and generous, genial nature, always inspired in him an undeviating confidence and sympathy—are set forth in the reminiscences he contributed to the memoir of the statesman written by his nephew, George Ticknor Curtis. This intercourse, maintained for fifty years, was most animated and stimulating; different in its nature and manifestations from that with Prescott, but delightful, and tending to develop in Mr. Ticknor the broad and invigorating interest in public affairs which was inherent in his views of manly duty. Some there were, whose names have been or will be mentioned from time to time in these pages, who are less known,  and who did not preserve the letters they received from Mr. Ticknor, so that they appear less prominently; but their influence on his happiness was, nevertheless, great, and his delight in their culture and their characteristic qualities was an important element in his experience. One of these was Joseph Green Cogswell, who, though five years his senior, survived him a few months; of whom he writes in 1820, ‘He is the same admirable creature, full of zeal for everything good, and everything that will promote the cause of learning, not exactly like other people, and not, perhaps, exactly as other people would like to have him, but always disinterested, always scattering good knowledge about him wherever he goes, and always exciting an enthusiasm for it in those he meets, from the excess of his own.’ And again in 1842, after speaking of Cogswell's great acquirements, he adds: ‘I have known him, familiarly, above thirty years, have travelled with him and lived with him, months together, and yet never saw him unreasonably or disagreeably out of temper . . . . He is always pleasant in personal intercourse, under all circumstances, to a degree which, I think, I have never known in any other man.’4 Another was Francis Calley Gray, whose immense and varied stores of accurate knowledge were scarcely made available to any except those who enjoyed his personal acquaintance; but whose conversation, enriched by them, was invaluable to his friends, among whom none was more faithful, or in more constantly familiar relations, than Mr. Ticknor.5  Jacob Bigelow, the eminent and acute physician, the shrewd and witty companion, and James Savage,6 warm-hearted, loyal, indefatigable, faithful to every obligation of friendship from youth to age; the exact and enthusiastic genealogist; quaint, vehement, and the very soul of integrity, of whom Mr. Webster once wrote, ‘He is as true a man as I know of; he would appear very awkward if he were to make trial—and try his best—to think wrong or to feel wrong’;—these both were among his earliest friends, and contributed their quota to his resources of enjoyment, as well as of intellectual stimulus. Established in his father's house, and surrounded by an ample and well-selected library, which he had purchased with labor and care in Europe,7 Mr. Ticknor entered with zeal on the discharge of many duties, and the immediate preparations for his professorship in Harvard College. He persevered in his habit of early rising, and devoting his whole morning to study. Domestic and social claims, a wide correspondence, and the multiplied casual interests that demand the attention of a character like his, filled the remaining hours of the day to overflowing. His formal induction to the Professorships of the French and Spanish Languages, and of the Belles-Lettres, his appointment to which has already been mentioned, took place in the church at Cambridge, on the 10th of August, 1819, scarcely more than two months after his arrival from Europe. Mr. Norton entered on the same day, and with the same ceremony, the Dexter Professorship of Sacred Literature, and each of the new professors delivered an inaugural address before a cultivated and sympathetic  audience, which filled the old church, and for whom such an opportunity of listening to the utterance of the ripest scholarship America could then boast was an occurrence of no small interest. Mr. Ticknor's discourse was fresh and appropriate; its style rich, animated, yet simple; and its topics varied and comprehensive enough to embrace the range of the duties assigned to him. An extract from the portion on Spanish literature, associating itself with his later labors, will be sufficient to show its tone:—
In modern times no poetry has sprung so directly from the popular feelings, or exercised so great an influence on the national character, as that of the Peninsula, beyond the Pyrenees. This rich and admirable country, standing in some measure between Europe and Africa, served, for above seven centuries, as the advanced guard of Christendom against the attacks of the Arabs, who then threatened to overrun Europe, as they had already overrun the half of Asia. In these conflicts—where, during four hundred years, the Spaniards were uniformly beaten, without ever shrinking—a national character was gradually formed, in which chivalry and religion were mingled and confounded by the cause in which they were alike engaged; while, at the same time, the bitterness of an hereditary animosity, that tolerated neither compromise nor hesitation, was admirably softened down into a splendid gallantry and heroic emulation of excellence, by the generous virtues and higher refinement of their Moorish enemies. This spirit,—which the histories of Zaragoza and Girona prove to be still burning in the veins of the lower classes of the people of Spain, as it was in the days of Cordova and Granada,— this spirit has always been apparent in their poetry. From the first outpourings of its rude admiration for heroes whom it has almost made fabulous, down to the death of Cadahalso before Gibraltar, and the self-sacrifice of Jovellanos, it has never had but one tone; and that tone has been purely and exclusively Spanish, nourished by a high moral feeling, and a proud and prevalent sense of honor, loyalty, and religion. It breaks upon us with the dawn of their modern history, in their unrivalled ballads; the earliest breathings at once of poetical and popular feeling among them, whose echoes, like the sweet voice of Ariel amidst the tumults of the tempest, come to us in the pauses of that tremendous warfare which seems, alternately, one merciless and interminable battle  wasting generation after generation, and a single wild adventure running through whole centuries of romance and glory. We trace it, too, hardly less in their drama, which is so truly national that it seems to belong to their character, like a costume, and springs so immediately from their wants and feelings that, as we read, we are persuaded they would have invented it, if antiquity had not given them the example. And finally we see it in the individual lives of their authors, which have been, to an unparalleled degree, lives of adventure and hazard,—in Garcilaso, whose exquisite pastorals hardly prepare us for the heroic death he died, before the face of his Emperor; in Ercilla, who wrote the best of Spanish epics at the feet of the Andes, amidst the perils of war, and in the wastes of the wilderness; in Lope de Vega on board the Armada, and in Cervantes, wounded at Lepanto, and a slave in Barbary; in Quintana's prison, and Moratin's exile. Indeed, like its own Alhambra,—which was not merely the abode of all that was refined and graceful and gentle in peace and in life, but the fearful fortress of military pride and honor, amidst whose magnificent ruins the heart still treasures up long recollections of gallantry and glory,—the poetry of Spain seems to identify itself with achievements that belong rather to its history; and, as it comes down to us through the lapse of ages, almost realizes to our fancy the gorgeous fables and traditions of the elder times.On the day preceding his inauguration, Mr. Ticknor wrote a letter to President Kirkland, giving fully his idea of the duties of the two professorships, and of the mode in which they should be fulfilled. We give some portions of it.
Turning next to the claims of the second professorship, he says—
The belles-lettres, in general,—comprehending, of course, all the elegant literatures of Europe, from the earliest times of Greece to  our own,—form a subject for instruction much more extensive, and one much more calculated to be generally useful and interesting, than any of those literatures separately.He then gives a sketch of a course in four divisions, covering ancient and modern literature, poetry, and prose; and in conclusion, he says,—
The comprehensive plan here sketched for the department of belles-lettres was never carried out. In establishing this professorship, the Corporation had neither specifically defined the duties of the professor, nor known how far those duties were included in other established professorships. When, therefore, Mr. Ticknor thus laid before the President his ideas of what the courses should be, it was found that the Greek classics were assigned to the Greek Professor; and that the Professor of  Rhetoric was required, by statute, to ‘examine and compare the properties of ancient and modern languages,’ and ‘to delineate the characteristic features of the most celebrated Greek, Roman, and English historians, orators, poets, and divines.’ Here were two very considerable sections, of what most scholars would regard as belonging to the department of belles-lettres, already in the charge of other teachers. Obviously a revision of the different statutes might have been made, and the duties of the separate professors clearly defined, but nothing of the kind was done. In answer to the preceding letter of August 9, the President simply stated these facts to Mr. Ticknor, who writes in reply: ‘This, of course, very much narrows the ground of the professorship of belles-lettres, though it still leaves it as wide, I suppose, as I could occupy with profit. At any rate, it would be far from unpleasant to me to have it understood, that these branches of the belles-lettres are already occupied, and that it will not be expected of me to give any part of my attention to them.’ For some time Mr. Ticknor suffered from delays in establishing rules for his department from imperfect rules, and from their inefficient enforcement; and he often remonstrated, always evincing a desire to have the means of producing more interest, more ambition of scholarship, and better opportunities of progress for the students, at whatever cost of labor to himself. His whole attitude toward the College was that of one animated by ardent zeal to promote the cause of good learning; and in spite of many discouragements, arising from the condition of the College government, and from the general standard of scholarship in the community, he persevered, with an earnestness and patience which could not fail to have a marked and increasing effect. He entirely succeeded in rousing and holding the attention of his classes; and the love of letters was quickened in them, not only by his words and manner, but by the example they saw in him, of one who had deliberately chosen the pursuit of literature, rather than yield to the allurements of a life of unprofitable leisure, or to those of a more lucrative profession. His work in preparing lectures on the literatures and the literary  histories of France and Spain was thorough and elaborate, the work of an ardent and conscientious scholar, who borrowed no learning at second hand which he could obtain from the primitive sources, and neglected no means for forming independent and correct judgments. His lectures thus became a body of consecutive, historic criticism, in which the intrinsic qualities of the works under discussion were made to illustrate the progressive development in culture of the nations to which their authors belonged. His manner of thought and expression was simple, direct, and fluent; not distinguished so much by originality of view or brilliancy of phrase, as by excellent sense and judicious and accurate statement. At the same time his voice and style of speaking, his brilliant eye and animated countenance, his whole bearing, as he sought to put himself in close communication with the minds of the young men before him, had much magnetic attraction. He doubtless kept in mind his observations in Germany and France, and Goethe's remark to him, that ‘elo-quence does not teach.’ He did not read from a manuscript, after the first term, and thus the magnetism of the eye and the face was not lost.8 Lord Brougham said in his inaugural discourse at Glasgow, that,  other things being equal, he who has written most will speak best. Mr. Ticknor had written so much, that his spontaneous language took a periodic form, and his discourse, if taken down by a stenographer, might have gone to the press with hardly any correction. He did not make his hearers impatient by embarrassing pauses, nor yet uncomfortable by the over-rapid utterance which implies the want of self-possession and self-control. Mr. G. T. Curtis says, in a letter of reminiscences of his uncle—
He always, in my time, fixed and kept the attention of his class; indeed, there was never any movement or sound in the lecture-room that evinced an absence of attention. . . . . He followed the very exact and methodical order of his syllabus, introducing discussions which were always animated and sometimes eloquent. . . . An audience of college students is, to be sure, no very formidable body to a grown man. But you9 and I have both heard Mr. Ticknor lecture before large and mixed audiences of ladies and gentlemen, with no other appliances than he used in the College class-room, but with the same fluency and ease, and at the same time in a manner adapted to the assembly before him. On all occasions his diction was both copious and precise. The sum of my testimony is, that his lecturing was as successful teaching as I have ever listened to.No man could be more liberal in the use of his time and his knowledge, for the assistance of individual scholars, or for the promotion of the interests of general education. His library, which was freely open to any one who desired to consult books contained in it, included many works then scarcely to be found in any other American library, public or private. Many were the hard-working students who were able to pursue their investigations by the aid of its treasures, and who received from Mr. Ticknor friendly encouragement and judicious counsel. Mr. Curtis says again—
He very early began, and always continued, the habit of lending his books freely, taking no other precaution than to write down the title of the volume, and the name of the borrower, in a note-book. The number of volumes lent was often considerable. He would lend a book to any respectable person, whether personally known to him  or not, if he perceived that it was really desired for use. His books have been sent to Maine, New Hampshire, even to Baltimore, and other distant places, for the use of scholars who could get them in no other way.The strong religious impressions which Mr. Ticknor received in early years deepened, as his character matured, into personal convictions, that confirmed the ruling principles of his life. He had been brought up in the doctrines of Calvinistic Orthodoxy, but later serious reflection led him to reject those doctrines; and soon after his return from Europe he joined Dr. Channing's church, of which he continued through life a faithful member. He was a sincere Liberal Christian, and his convictions were firm, but they were held without bigotry, and he never allowed them to interfere with kindliness and courtesy. The Rev. E. S. Gannett, for many years his pastor and friend, wrote a notice of Mr. Ticknor after his death,10 in which he called him ‘a scholar,—we wish to lay emphasis on the fact,— whose faith clung to the gospel of Christ, and who recognized in him, whose name is the burden of the New Testament, a messenger of the Divine will, and a ruler over human souls.’ He maintained a cordial interest in the church of which he was a member, and early took a class of boys in its Sunday school, founded in 1822, which he kept for eight years, receiving it, during the last year, in his own library on Sunday mornings. Some of the members of this class who are now living, gentlemen engaged in different professions, retain pleasant recollections of its meetings. Later, in 1839-40, he gave a course of instruction on the history of the contents of the Bible, to a class of young girls, including his eldest daughter, for which he prepared himself carefully, and the notes he made for it were found among his papers. In December, 1820, Mr. Ticknor joined a party of friends who went to Plymouth to attend the celebration of the twohun-dredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, and to hear Mr. Webster's oration on the occasion. His fresh impressions  of this memorable discourse, and of the effect it produced, are given in the following letter.11
Parts of two letters, written in the following year, contain the particulars of a singular story, of which the mystery has never been explained, but of which this authentic account seems worthy of insertion here.
Time has not, however, brought any satisfactory solution of this mystery, which remains, like the fate of Caspar Hauser, unexplained.