- 1859 to 1864. -- life of Prescott. -- civil War.
The heavy loss of dear and trusted friends had fallen on Mr. Ticknor repeatedly, for in Haven, Legare, and Webster he had parted from much that gave charm and interest to his thoughtful life at different periods; but no blow of this kind struck so near the centre of his heart as that which deprived him of the delightful companionship of Prescott. Such constant affection as had united them for forty years is very rare, and their sympathy of tastes, heightened by the charm of Prescott's winning, joyous, affectionate nature, made their daily intercourse –and it was almost daily when both were in Boston—fascinating as well as important to their happiness. The warning of coming danger, given by Mr. Prescott's illness in 1858, had not been lost from sight, but there was much to feed the hope that he might still be spared for some years, and Mr. Ticknor said in a letter to Sir Edmund Head, 1 after his death, ‘The shock to me and to those nearest to him could hardly have been greater if he had been struck down two years ago.’ A short time afterwards, 2 in writing to Mrs. Twisleton, he says: ‘I do not get accustomed to the loss. Indeed, something or other seems to make it fall afresh and heavier almost every day. I go to the house often, of course, and always find Susan in the little upper study where he used to work, with everything just as he left it the moment before he was struck down, . . . . and the whole room crowded and tapestried with associations and memories . . . . . Much sunshine has been taken out of my way of life for the few years that I am to tread it,—  perhaps the few months only, for I seem to have grown old fast of late, and can see only a very little distance before me.’ The account he afterwards gave—in the Memoir—of his friend's death, and of its effect, contains no direct allusion to his own feeling, but every word bears the impress of a pathetic undercurrent of emotion, which makes that chapter wholly different from anything that would have been written by one who stood in any other relation to the subject of it. The public recognition of its loss, ‘such a sensation as was never produced in this country by the death of a man of letters’;3 the recollection that not the slightest neglect or imprudence had hastened the end; and that at the last moment of consciousness Prescott was his natural, cheerful self,—these were all admitted sources of comfort. Mr. Ticknor's faithful devotion and most delightful relations to the family of his friend, under whose will he was a trustee of his ample property, and whose children always looked on him as if he were one of their nearest relatives, was a further source of comfort. Very soon Mrs. Prescott and her children asked him to prepare a Memoir of his friend, and he consented, with no hesitation, except a little consideration whether, at his age, he might venture on so absorbing a task. On the 19th of April he wrote as follows to Lady Lyell:—
Thenceforward he gave himself to his work of love with a sad pleasure. During the following summer, when he carried out his long-cherished wish to pass several weeks at Niagara, he was busy there, and while visiting Sir Edmund Head at Toronto, writing about his friend. The following letter contains an allusion to this:— 
When he began the Life of Prescott he was already in his sixty-eighth year; and this advanced age might have influenced him unfavorably in either of two ways, making him overfas-tidious and hypercritical of his own composition, as he grew, in fact, to be a few years later; or making him use undue haste, as regarding too much the possibility of not living to finish it. He  avoided both dangers, wrote calmly and without hurry; and, after giving about three years to the preparation of the manuscript, finding the time unfavorable for its publication, he kept it by him for a while, and, going over it with care, undoubtedly added to the grace and proportion which distinguish it so much. Meantime the civil war broke out, the war which roused the whole country, North and South, excited the passions of men with a bitterness and intensity scarcely to be conceived of by those who did not witness it, and raged for four years in the Middle ‘border’ States, with an untiring obstinacy that kept every citizen under a strain utterly unknown in peaceful days. Mr. Ticknor's letters during the spring of 1861 have already described the popular movement. His belief that the North was gaining strength year by year, while the South was losing it, remained the same, and he always asserted, as he did in those letters, that the North was sure to conquer in the war. No one who has read what he wrote during the previous years, when from afar he had foreseen the possibility of this conflict, and had felt that what his view of true patriotism led him to wish avoided or postponed was being rendered inevitable, can fail to perceive how deeply he would share the excitement of the time. He was in his seventieth year when war became an actual fact. The Constitution of the United States, which had been the object of his pride and admiration from his youth, ‘the best form of government that ever was made,’7 he saw often disregarded, heard often spoken of as if it were effete. After a visit in Maine he wrote to Mr. R. H. Gardiner, in September, 1861: ‘I recollect that the acute lawyer who was at your house one evening with the mayor of your city8 did not hesitate to say that we have no longer any Constitution, and that very little of it had been in existence for some years. I could not gainsay him.’ The Union, to him a reality such as it could only be to those who had loved the country while it was small, and had seen it  grow and flourish, was threatened and misrepresented by men who, he felt, were misguided and despeate. A generation had grown up, under his observation (though at the South, where he had scarcely been, and where he had not an intimate friend living), which had, as he knew, been by skilful leaders wilfully made blind as to the nature of that Union which he loved. They were blind to the fact that political sovereignty is capable of division according to subjects and powers, without lessening allegiance to the central government. Therefore, seeing some subjects and powers left in the hands of individual States, they believed they could throw off that allegiance when they pleased. He had seen this process going on for many years, under the guidance of Southern leaders and the menaces of Northern extremists. Slavery had always been to him a deeply, solemnly interesting question, the institution always in his eyes a curse, while he had dreaded both for masters and slaves any violent or sudden change. This had now become inevitable, but its consequences did not seem to him more promising than before. In February, 1862, he will be found to say, 9 ‘Since the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter we have had, in fact, no choice. We must fight it out. Of the result I have never doubted. We shall beat the South. But what after that? I do not see. . . . . For the South I have no vaticinations. The blackness of thick darkness rests upon them, and they deserve all they will suffer.’10 The passions, which, especially in the early period of the war, were at a pitch that menaced a reign of inhumanity and political persecution, and were actually expressed on both sides in acts quite exceeding a lawful warfare, caused him acute pain and anxiety. His long habit of watching and reflecting on the political movements of all Christendom made him regard the subject from a different point of view from host men; his age and comparative  seclusion also gave a color to his feelings. His uppermost thought seemed always to be, that the greatest troubles for the country would come after the North had triumphed and the war was over; his deepest feeling always for the success of the Northern armies and the predominance of Northern civilization. In writing to a young friend who was, for the moment, carried along with the tide of bitter and resentful feelings, he says11:—
Mr. Ticknor contributed freely to the regular and the charitable expenditures of the war.12 During the early months of 1861 he carried on an animated correspondence with a distinguished lawyer in Baltimore, a Union man, for interchange of information about the daily movements of opinion, where such vehement feeling was seething and surging. He welcomed officers returning on furlough, or passing through Boston, at his house and table, getting from each whatever of news or indications of popular feeling might come from the front. He went frequently to Braintree to see his old friend General Thayer, whose opinion on military affairs was acknowledged during the war by General Scott, in conversation, to be the highest authority in the United States, and these visits were returned by the old General, most often at breakfast-time, his own breakfast having been taken at five or half after. From General Thayer Mr. Ticknor received exact and keen-sighted explanations of all the movements of the armies on both sides, and was able to form clear judgments of the merits of military men who were often misjudged by the public.  Mr. Ticknor repeatedly took regular officers of high standing on pilgrimages to the old chief at Braintree,—General Robert Anderson, General Donaldson, and others. In the summer of 1862 he met General Scott at West Point, being accidentally with him at the moment he was informed that President Lincoln was on his way to consult him; and when General McClellan visited Boston in 1863, he took great pleasure in meeting him. He talked with every one who could give him trustworthy information, with the same ardor he had always shown in studying public men and measures everywhere. The excitements of every-day life were great at that period. A long interval of military inaction, during which political intrigues, blunders, and activity of all sorts were abundant,—all watched by Mr. Ticknor with vigilant observation, while he questioned friends fresh from Washington, and often got knowledge quite beyond the public view,—would be succeeded by battles, raids, successes, failures, that filled the air with the sounds of war. More than once the peaceful house in Park Street was roused at midnight by a friend bringing some startling telegram, of which he was sure the knowledge would be nowhere more interesting than there. During the first eighteen months of the war his work on the biography of his friend was a great solace to Mr. Ticknor. After reading the morning paper with its war news, he could retire to his quiet library, and there, for two or three hours, could work undisturbed, retracing the pleasures and interests of the past. Later some visitor was sure to come in, and probably call his thoughts back to battles, losses, sorrows. His life might seem as sheltered as any, but his mind was full of eager interest, his heart was full of sympathy; the sons of friends and relatives were exposed, and suffered and died for their country; his own house was full of stir, and the hum of voices often reached him, as he sat writing, from ladies busy in other rooms, preparing comforts for men in camps and hospitals. In the afternoon his daily walk usually ended at the Public Library or at Mrs. Prescott's. In his Sunday afternoon walks he was for many winters accompanied by Mr. William W.  Greenough, who says that they included occasional visits to poor dwellings, where a few moments of kindly talk and inquiry usually ended with some small gift of money. Sometimes, however, there was a curious tale, of imposture discovered, to be told at dinner after one of these Sunday explorations. In the evening a game of whist was the almost essential sedative after exciting days; yet there are well-remembered occasions, when this, too, was interrupted by the apparition of a young officer joyously come to say good-by, on having received his commission and orders for the front, or of one limping in, full of disappointment that he could not yet be allowed to rejoin his regiment. Thus the lives of all were filled with strange elements, thoughts and duties that, by recurrence, acquired a temporary familiarity, but belong to no other than such an exceptional period. During these years one of Mr. Ticknor's few positive recreations was that of dining, once a fortnight, with the ‘Friday Club,’ the only social club of any kind to which he ever belonged. In 1859 this most pleasant dinner-club was formed, limited to twelve members, and allowing only twelve persons to sit round its board. It need hardly be said that the party, in favor of which Mr. Ticknor made such an exception to his usual habits, was made up of his personal friends, and of men whose conversation rendered their meetings interesting and stimulating.13 Mr. Ticknor continued a member of this club until 1868, when he resigned on the ground of age. Mr. Ticknor's duties and interests in connection with the Zoological Museum at Cambridge, to which, for the sake of his friend Agassiz, he sincerely devoted himself, and the relations he still held to the Public Library, occupied him in congenial ways, but even here the excitements of the war intruded. He was greatly annoyed, once, by an attempt which was made to cause him to appear in the light of an opponent of the popular military  spirit, in order to prevent his re-election as a Trustee of the Public Library. The effort failed, but it was doubly displeasing to him in its public as well as its private aspect; for he always heartily disliked and disapproved the mingling of political questions in the management of that or any other institution for education or charity. In February, 1862, we have a long letter to Sir Charles Lyell almost entirely devoted to the subject of the war; and in November of the same year, another to Lady Lyell, wholly on the matter of the ‘Life of Prescott’; extracts from which will give an insight into his thoughts and occupations at this time.
In the opening days of 1864, the first handsome quartd edition of the ‘Life of Prescott’ appeared, and was seized with avidity by the public. Mr. Ticknor gave away an unusual number of copies, and, when some allusion to this by his daughter gave him a natural opportunity for saying it, he told her that he never meant to have any profit to himself from that book. It was evidently too near his heart for him to coin it into money. The merits of this Memoir have been fully recognized. Its genial style and the simple flow of the narrative are colored with a warm sense of the charms of Mr. Prescott's character, as well as a frank admission of those slight weaknesses which, by their peculiar flavor, only made him the more beloved by his friends. The lesson taught by that life of voluntary labor and of stern self-control, ingrafted on a facile, ease-loving nature, is kept steadily in view from first to last, while the picture of an heroic struggle against an ever-present infirmity, which might otherwise have been too sombre, is brightened by the happy use of almost trivial details. His heart went with his pen, and the narrative glows with the warmth of a strong personal affection, which gives it a charm that the best taste, the soundest judgment, and the most finished literary skill would not alone have secured. A few extracts from letters written by Mr. Ticknor to accompany presentation copies, and from letters which he received in relation to the Memoir, will close this subject.
In answer to this Lord Carlisle writes:—
 An old friend of Mr. Prescott, Mr. Theophilus Parsons, says:—
Let me confess at once, you have surprised me most agreeably. Of course I knew that no mere literary excellence would be wanting. But I knew, also, that you were obliged to rely mainly on your long, close, and unreserved friendship with Prescott as the means of understanding him—the events of his life and their bearing on his character—perfectly. And yet it was necessary to avoid the influence of this very friendship, so far as it tended to make you present him too favorably; and then to avoid, with equal care, resisting this influence so far as to render your presentation of him cold and cheerless. To me it seemed that this task was, to the last degree, difficult,— too difficult. But you have conquered the difficulty perfectly . . . . I will not deny that my relations with Prescott made me sensitive, and fastidious as to the character of that which must be his permanent memorial. But I am satisfied. You have done him no more than justice, but that justice is ample and complete.On the other hand, a literary man, who had not known Prescott, writes thus:—
What a fortunate thing it is for the country that its two favorite authors, Prescott and Washington Irving, had each a nature so pure and generous. Prescott's example as a man will have an influence, the most chastening and the most benign, on our young men of coming generations. You have gained a triumph in letters; but I think you are still more to be congratulated in having been able to set before our people every feature and form of his mind, as a model of integrity and a persevering, manly, successful war against difficulties which would have overwhelmed the resolution of many of the most buoyant and the most strong. You see I do not know where to stop.