Chapter 1: old Cambridge
“Old Cambridge,” as it was formerly called, to distinguish it from the later settlements called East Cambridge and Cambridgeport, is one of the few American towns that may be said to have owed their very name and existence to the pursuits of letters.
Laid out originally by Governor John Winthrop
as a fortified town,--furnished soon after with a “pallysadoe,” of which the large willows on Holmes's Field are the last lingering memorial,--it might nevertheless have gone the way of many abortive early settlements, had it not been for the establishment of Harvard College there.
We Cambridge boys early learned, however, that this event was due mainly to the renown attained, as a preacher and author, by the Rev. Thomas Shepard
, known in his day as “the holy, heavenly, sweet-affecting, and soul-ravishing Mr. Shepard
,” a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England
came to America
A voluminous author, some of whose works are yet reprinted in England
, he was the ruling spirit of the Cambridge synod
, which was held in 1637 to pronounce against “antinomian and familistic opinions.”
He was described by his contemporaries as a “poor, weak, pale-complectioned man,” yet such was his power that the synod condemned under his guidance “about eighty opinions, some blasphemous, other erroneous, all unsound,” as even the tolerant Winthrop
By this and his other good deeds he so won the confidence of the leaders of the colony that when a college was to be founded, Cotton Mather
tells us, “Cambridge
rather than any other place was fixed upon to be the seat of that happy seminary.”
On the wrecks of eighty unsound or blasphemous opinions there was thus erected one happy seminary.
And the college also brought with it the name of the English
university city, so that the settlement first called “Newetowne” became in May, 1638, Cambridge
, and has thus ever since remained.
And so essentially was the college the centre of the whole colony, as well as of
the town, that there exists among the manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society a memorandum, dated September 30, 1783, to the effect that in the early days the persons appointed to lay out roads into the interior did it only so far as “the bank by Mrs. Biglow
's house in Weston
,” and that this they considered to be quite as far as would ever be necessary, it being “about seven miles from the college in Cambridge
Fifty years ago, Cambridge
boys knew all this tradition very well; and they knew also that the soul-ravishing Mr. Shepard
, after publishing a dozen or so of his books in England
, printed the last two upon the press which came to Cambridge
in the very year when the town assumed its name.
We all knew the romance of the early arrival of this press; that the Rev. Joseph Glover
, a dissenting minister, had embarked for the colony in 1638 with his wife, his press, his types, and his printer, Stephen Daye
; that Mr. Glover
died on the passage, but the press arrived safely and was at length put in the house of President Dunster
, of Harvard College; that this good man took
into his charge not merely the printing apparatus, but the Widow Glover
, whom he finally made his wife.
For forty years all the printing done in the British Colonies
was done on this press, Stephen Daye
being followed by his son Matthew, and he by Samuel Green
We know that the first work printed here was “The Freeman
's oath,” in 1639; and that about a hundred books were thus printed before 1700, this including Eliot
's English Bible.
It was not till 1674, nearly forty years later, that a press was set up in Boston
; and Thomas
in his “History of printing” says that “the press of Harvard College was, for a time, as celebrated as the press of the Universities
And not merely were the foundations of the town and of the college thus laid in literature, but the early presidents of Harvard
were usually selected, not merely for soundness of doctrine,which was not always their strong point,--but for their scholarship and even supposed literary taste.
, for instance, was an eminent Oriental
scholar and performed also the somewhat dubious service of preparing the
As originally compiled it had dissatisfied Cotton Mather
, who had hoped “that a little more of art was to be employed in it,” and good Mr. Shepard
thus ventured to criticise its original compilers, the Rev. Richard Mather
and the Rev. Messrs. Eliot
You Roxb'ry poets, keep clear of the crime Of missing to give us very good rhyme, And you of Dorchester
, your verses lengthen But with the text's own words you will them strengthen.
Presidents Charles Chauncey
and Urian Oakes
published a few sermons — the latter offering one with the jubilant title, “The Unconquerable, All Conquering and More than Conquering Soldier,” which was appropriately produced on what was then called Artillery Election in 1674. President Increase Mather
was one of the most voluminous authors of the Puritan
period, and from his time (1701) down to the present day there have been few presidents of Harvard University who were not authors.
All these men we Cambridge
children knew, not by their writings, from which we happily
escaped, but from their long-winded Latin inscriptions on the flat stones in the.Cambridge cemetery.
These we studied and transcribed and, with a good deal of insecurity, translated; indeed, one boy whom I knew well, son of the college librarian, made a book of them all, which is still known to collectors.
Thus we learned of President Charles Chauncey
, who died in 1672, that his tomb was the grave of “praesidis vigilantissini, viri plane ntegerrimi, concionatoris eximii, pietate pariter ac liberali eruditione ornatissimi.
It seemed to us far more impressive than the tenderer tribute to his wife, who died four years before him :
Here lies enterr'd wthin this Shrine
A spirit meeke, a Soule divine,
Endow'd wth. grace, & piety
Excelling in humility:
Preferring Gods commands above
All fine delights & this World's love.
We used to read also of the Rev. Edward Wigglesworth
, S. T. D. (1765), whose virtues took thirty-three lines to inscribe them, and of whom it is recorded that he made his Hebrew lectures not only profitable for teaching, but
delightful to all cultivated minds (“Ad docendum mire accomodatas, literatis item omnibus probatissimas reddiderunt
”). He was also, “Conjux peramans, parens benevolentissimus ;
” and it is expressly stated that while he was candid in controversy he was also exceedingly vigorous -“Simul et acer, nervosus, praepotens extitit.
If so, it is not strange that Dr. Chauncey
in his sketch of him praises his “catholic spirit and conduct, in spite of great temptations to the contrary.”
From these we turned to the humbler tomb of Thomas Longhorn
, the town drummer, who died in 1685, “aged about 68 years,” or of Thomas Fox
, whose death was in 1693, and who had a quarter of a century before been ordered by the selectmen to “look to the youth in time of public worship, & to inform against such as he find disorderly” ; or, perhaps with vague curiosity to that of “Jane, a negro servant to Andrew Boardman
,” who died in 1741, when Massachusetts
still held slaves.
These larger tombs, by reason of their horizontal position, afforded excellent seats for schoolboys, intent perhaps on exploring the
results of their walnutting or chestnutting; or possibly a defiant nap might be there indulged.
I have often wished that I had learned from Lowell
on which of them he sat during that Hallowe'en night when he watched there vainly for ghosts.
Only one of these longer epitaphs was in English
; and the frequent “Eheu,
” or “O spes inanis,
” in the others, made us feel that emotion as well as accuracy might exist in Latin.
Modern cemeteries never seem to me very aweinspiring; but the old New England
graveyards, especially in college towns, impressed on the boyish mind not only the dignity of virtue, but of knowledge; of this world's honors and grandeurs perhaps, but never of its financial treasures.
I can find only one epitaph in the Cambridge
churchyard which mentions that the person commemorated was a man of wealth; and that is on the grave of a non-collegiate man, whose inscription is in English
But we noticed that at the end of the tombstone of the Rev. Samuel Appleton
, after all the sonorous Latin
the climax came in those superb words from the English Vulgate
: “They that be wise shall shine
as the brightness of the firmament.
And they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.”
I have dwelt upon this churchyard because it is perfectly certain that every Cambridge
boy in 1830 drew from it as distinct a sense of an historic past and of the dignity of letters as any English boy receives when he glances downward, while waiting for the Temple Church
to open its doors, and sees beneath his feet the name of Oliver Goldsmith
Through its influence we naturally thought of the academical virtues — dignity, learning, the power of leadership — as being the great achievement of life, while all else was secondary.
On the other hand, the empty diamond-shaped cavities on many of the tombs represented the places where leaden escutcheons had been converted into bullets for the army of the American Revolution
both described the place in their poems; and it is certain that the Cambridge
muses would not have been just what they were without the old churchyard.
children also discovered that during the eighteenth century the Harvard
if not literary men, were at least scholars, according to the standard of their time.
, grand-nephew of the celebrated judge of that name, first taught the grammar school in Cambridge
, and then (1762) became college librarian and instructor in Hebrew.
He published a Hebrew grammar, a Latin version of the first book of Young
's “Night thoughts,” and various poems and orations in Greek
and Latin; and he left behind him a manuscript Chaldee and English dictionary, which still reposes unpublished in the College
His kinsman, Jonathan Sewell
), born in Cambridge
(1766), became an eminent lawyer and legal writer in Canada
, was one of the first to propose Canadian
federation, in a pamphlet ( 815), and left a work on “The Judicial History of France
, so far as it relates to the Law
of the Province of Lower Canada
The eighteenth century also brought the physical sciences on their conquering course, to Harvard College, displacing the established curriculum of theology and philology; but Professor Goodale
has shown that they really came in as a branch of theology, or of what is called “pastoral care,” since the
clergy of that day were also largely the medical advisers of their people and had to be instructed for that function.
The first Professor
of Mathematics and Philosophy, Isaac Greenwood
, was not appointed until 1727; he was followed ( 738) by John Winthrop
, who was greatly in advance of the science of the day, and whose two lectures on comets, delivered in the College Chapel
in 1759, are still good reading.
The year 1783 saw the founding of the Harvard Medical School; and although this was situated in Boston
, the Botanic Garden
was in Cambridge
and under the supervision (1825-1834) of a highly educated English observer, Thomas Nuttall
, whose works on botany and ornithology were pioneers in New England
These books we read, on the very ground which had produced them; and Nuttall
's charming accounts of birds, especially, were as if written in our own garden and orchard.
We further discovered that in passing from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century Old Cambridge passed from the domain of a somewhat elementary science to a more than elementary literature.
The appointment of John Quincy Adams
(1806) as Professor
and Oratory, had a distinct influence on the literary tendencies of Cambridge
, and his two volumes of lectures still surprise the reader by their good sense and judgment.
, about the same time (18 10), became Professor
of Logic and Metaphysics, and he furnished what was for many years the standard American textbook on the former subject.
A few years more brought to Cambridge
(between 1811 and 1822) a group of men at that time unequalled in this country as regarded general cultivation and the literary spirit,--Andrews Norton
, Edward Everett
, Joseph Green Cogswell
, George Ticknor
, Washington Allston
, Jared Sparks
, Edward T. Channing
, Richard H. Dana
, and George Bancroft
Most of them were connected with the University
, the rest were resident in Cambridge
, but all had their distinct influence on the atmosphere in which the Cambridge
Professor Edward T. Channing
especially-grand-uncle of the present Professor
of similar name — probably trained as many conspicuous authors as all other American instructors put together.
It has also an important bearing on the
present volume when we observe that the effect of all this influence was to create not merely individual writers, but literary families.
The Rev. Abiel Holmes, D. D.
, author of “The Annals of America
,” came to Cambridge
as pastor of the First Church
in 1809; and both his sons, Oliver Wendell
and John, became authors -the one being known to all English readers, while the other, with perhaps greater original powers, was known only to a few neighbors.
family, coming in 1825, was a race of writers, including the two Henrys, John, William, John F. W., and George.
, the head of the Boston
bar in his day, was a native of Cambridge
(1699); as was his son Francis Dana
, equally eminent and followed in lineal succession by Richard Henry Dana
, the poet; and by his son of the same name, author of “Two years before the Mast.”
family, closely connected with the Danas, was successively represented in Cambridge
by Professor E. T. Channing
, the Rev. W. H. Channing
, and Professor Edward Channing
With them must be associated Washington Allston
, whose prose and verse were as remarkable as
his paintings, and whose first wife was a Channing, and whose second wife a Dana.
Rev. Charles Lowell
came to live in Cambridge
in 1819, and he and his children, the Rev. R. T. S. Lowell
, James Russell Lowell
, and Mrs. S. R. Putnam
, were all authors.
Judge Joseph Story
, the most eminent legal writer whom America
has produced, resided for many years in Cambridge
(1829-1845), as did his son, William Wetmore Story, author and sculptor, and his son-in-law, George Ticknor Curtis
, legal writer and historian.
, who was college librarian (1826-1831), was father of the celebrated mathematician of that name; and his two grandchildren, James Mills Peirce
and Charles Sanders Peirce
, have followed with distinction in the same path.
The Rev. John G. Palfrey
, the historian of New England
, bequeathed similar tastes to his children, both of his sons having contributed to military history, while his oldest daughter has written both poetry and fiction under the name of “E. Foxton
Professor Charles Eliot Norton
, in the same way, has prolonged and enhanced the literary eminence of his name, as did Professor
F. H. Hedge
and Tutor William Everett
Other instances of literary families-more, perhaps, than any other place in America
has produced --might be added to these; but these are enough to show how a literary atmosphere was produced by which the young people of Cambridge
were inevitably moulded.
The passage into literature seemed an easy thing when so many of one's elders had already accomplished it, each in his own fashion.
To these influences may well be added that of a group of cultivated foreigners, escaped from revolutions or prisons in Germany
, and finding at last (from 1826 onward) a foothold in Harvard University.
Such were Charles Follen
, Charles Beck
, Pietro Bachi
; and to these must be added (1816) that delightful and sunny representative of Southern France
, that living Gil Bias in hair-powder and pigtail, Francis Sales.
To these was later joined (1847) the attractive and inspiring Louis Agassiz
There were also in Cambridge
several private libraries which were, for their period, remarkable; as that of Professor Convers Francis
, rich in theology and in general
literature; that of George Livermore
, devoted especially to Bibles and Biblical literature; and that of Thomas Dowse
, a leather-dresser in Cambridgeport
, whose remarkable historical collections were bequeathed to the Massachusetts Historical Society.
At a time when the Harvard Library
held but forty thousand books, these collections had a relative importance which they would not now possess.
They were enough to make Cambridge
, in its library opportunities, whereas for music and the plastic arts Cambridge
had then as now to seek Boston
; and at that day would have been more liable even than Boston
to the criticism made by a brilliant New York woman, upon the latter city, some thirty years ago, that it was a place where music, painting, and sculpture “seemed to be regarded simply as branches of literature” ; in other words, people knew more of the biographies of artists than of their works.
We boys knew the early traditions of Cambridge
: of the famous hunt which brought in seventy-six wolves' heads as late as 1696, and the hunts which yielded many bears annually down
to the time of the Revolution.
We knew the tradition of Andrew Belcher
's stately funeral in 1717, when ninety-six pairs of mourning gloves were issued and fifty suits of mourning clothes were made for guests at the cost of the estate.
We knew the place where two negroes were legally put to death in 1755 for the crime of petty treason in murdering their master, the one being hanged, the other burned to death.
We knew that two of the regicides took refuge in Cambridge
after the death of Charles I., and it was preserved in our memories through a curious oath “By Goffe
” then extant among Cambridge
boys, but now vanished.
We knew the spot where stood the oak tree, on the north side of the common, where the Rev. John Wilson
, first minister of Boston
and a portly man, climbed the tree on Election Day, in 1637, and exhorted the people to vote for Governor Winthrop
and not for Harry Vane
We read in a book by a Cambridge woman, Mrs. Hannah Winthrop
, “the horrors of that midnight cry,” as she calls it, when all the women and children of Cambridge
were awakened by drums and bells on
the night before the battle of Lexington
; when they were bidden to take refuge at Fresh Pond
, away from the redcoats' line of march, and when, after the watchful night was over, they went on foot to Andover
, passing the dead bodies that lay in what is now Arlington
It must be remembered that the Cambridge
of sixty years ago was not merely that number of years nearer to the great Revolution which made us a nation, but was especially full of its associations.
In the old First Church, where Dane Hall now stands,--the present church having been built in 1833,--the First Provincial Congress met, which was presided over by John Hancock, from October 17 to December 10, 1774.
Here the Committee of Safety met, November 2, and here, on February 1, 1775, the Second Provincial Congress was convened, adjourning to Concord
on the 17th.
In Christ Church (built in 1761) the company of Captain John Chester
was quartered, after the battle of Lexington
, and a bullet mark in the porch still recalls that period.
The only member of the church who took the colonial side was appointed commissary general to the
forces; the rest fleeing to General Gage
All these things were traditional among Cambridge
boys; we knew the spot where the troops had been drawn up, opposite Dr. Holmes
's “Old Manse,” while President Langdon
offered prayer, ere he dismissed them to their march toward Bunker Hill
We all knew the spot where Washington
took command of the army; and the house (the Craigie House
) where he dwelt.
We played the battle of Bunker Hill
on the grass-grown redoubts built during the siege of Boston
Only one of these is left, the three-gun battery known as. Fort Washington
, but there was a finer one on Putnam Avenue, where greenhouses now stand.
More elaborate than any were those around the ruins of the convent on Mount Benedict
; they encircled the hill and could accommodate a regiment of schoolboys.
Moreover, there still lingered one or two wounded veterans whom we eyed with reverence, chief of whom was Lowell
's “Old Joe” :
Old Joe is gone, who saw hot Percy goad
His slow artillery up the Concord road-
A tale which grew in wonder, year by year,
As, every time he told it, Joe drew near
To the main fight, till, faded and grown gray,
The original scene to bolder tints gave way:
Then Joe had heard the foe's scared double-quick
Beat on stove-drum with one uncaptured stick,
And, ere death came the lengthening tale to lop,
Himself had fired and seen a redcoat drop.
Had Joe lived long enough, that scrambling fight
Had squared more nearly to his sense of right,
And vanquished Percy, to complete the tale,
Had hammered stone for life in Concord jail.
There were still those in Cambridge
who could recall the American Revolution
and whose sons enacted the surrender of Cornwallis at every country muster.
The houses of Tory Row still stood in isolated dignity, some of them suspected, like the two Vassall Houses, of being connected by secret underground passages which none could find, or else surrounded with quaint walls and fishponds and “topiary work” of carved yew trees, as at the Brattle House
, now converted into the Social Union
I myself used to play among these trees with Margaret Fuller
's younger brothers.
Not far off was the house of the elder Professor Hedge
, previously occupied by his father-in-law, Dr.
, who, being suspected as a Tory, had his house protected by red-coated sentries, for whom his little daughter imbibed such reverence that long after the British
evacuation she never passed a deserted and battered sentrybox without dropping a courtesy in salutation.
In short, the British
lion was to Cambridge
boys of that day but a dethroned deity, who might again be restored should such boys relax for a moment their defiance to tyrants.
Then there was “the constant service of the antique world” in the direction of costume.
, the Franco-Spanish teacher, who lived till 1854, had cue and hair powder; Dr. Popkin
, who died in 1852, wore the last of the cocked hats, which, with his umbrella, is carefully preserved in the Cambridge Public Library
This implement was one of the three eminent umbrellas which dignified the university town; vast and heavy structures, equally hard to spread or furl; the second belonged to William Jennison
, tax-collector, and the other to Professor Hedge
, this being commemorated in Holmes
's letters as held by the hands of his son Dunham
old-fashioned republican-looking one, such as Dunham
used to carry his aunt home with.”
These and many other traditions were a part of the education of Cambridge
boys threequarters of a century ago; on such traditions Holmes
were nurtured, and it was into an atmosphere full of such that Longfellow
entered when he removed to Cambridge
It may be called provincial, certainly, but it was such a provincialism as that of the heronry of which we were proud, in the deep swamps called the Fresh Pond
marshes, where successive broods of birds were hatched, varying in length of wing or power of flight, but agreeing in this, that all flew from it at morning and winged their way back to it as evening drew on.
Add to all this that Cambridge
, like other college towns in America
, was a place of simple habits, where wealth counted for little and intellect for a great deal; indeed, wealth counts for comparatively little in Cambridge
to this day. When a boy, hearing complaint made of the low salaries paid to all professors,--then about $1,000,--I asked why they remained in
office, and was told by my elder brother that these instructors were considered to be partly paid in honor-this being certainly a high lesson to impress on schoolboys.
It must finally be remembered that an essential part of the atmosphere of Old Cambridge was what may be called the habit of precocity on the intellectual side.
The period described was one of infant schools,--institutions quite unlike the modern kindergarten,--and the forcing process was applied very early, so as insensibly to modify us all. Margaret Fuller
began to study Latin at the age of six, and recited to her father after he had come back from his lawyer's office, being often kept up for the purpose until late in the evening.
The Rev. Dr. Hedge
, afterwards so intimately associated with her, assured me that there was nothing remarkable about this process of forcing except that it was applied to a girl; all the professors' sons, he said, were educated in the same way. He himself was fitted for college at eleven, and had read at least half of the whole body of Latin literature before that time.
I have given elsewhere a letter I once received from a little girl
of my acquaintance, the daughter of a professor, a letter written by her own hand, congratulating me on being six years old and boasting that she should be four in three months. When we read in Lowell
's letters of his poring over French stories at seven and of his mother's giving him the three volumes of Scott
's “Tales of a grandfather” at nine, we must bear in mind this habitual precocity of the period.
That it was physically disastrous to Margaret Fuller
we know from her own statements; but that it did any visible injury to the Cambridge
men of her generation I am unable to say. Certain it is that Holmes
, Story, and Hedge
retained into age — except for the last few years of the latter's life a wonderful share of the vivacity and freshness of youth — the very qualities which precocious training is thought by many to impair.
The people among whom the Cambridge
authors were born or lived were thus a race of simple, well-meaning, studious, and even cultivated persons, having the advantages and limitations of a college town, not yet a university city.
When we judge the Cambridge
life of that day by the present standard of an English university, we of course commit great injustice; we can only compare it with the corresponding English conditions of the same period; and these had, as the accomplished Edward Everett
, fresh from German universities, had written, absolutely no advantage over the American Cambridge
He wrote to my father from Oxford
(June 6, 1818): “There is more teaching and more learning in our American Cambridge than there is in both the English
universities together, thoa between them they have four times our number of students.”
Yet he had, with Cogswell
, written letter after letter to show the immeasurable superiority of Gottingen
to the little American institution; and his low estimate of the English
universities as they were in 1818 is confirmed by those who teach in them to-day.
It is fair to say that, provincial as the Cambridge
of sixty years ago may have been, it offered at least a somewhat refined provincialism, with the good manners and respectable attainments prevailing at that time.
more curious than the impression held by some of Lowell
's English friends — even, it is said, that most intimate friend to whom his letters are dedicated by Mr. Norton
--that the “Hosea Biglow
” dialect was that of Lowell
's father, family, and personal circle.
All who know anything of the period know that the speech of educated families in New England
at that time resembled essentially — perhaps more closely than now --the dialect of corresponding families in England
There had been less time than now for differences of climate and social habit to develop different intonations and pronunciations.
The speech of Hosea Biglow
was the speech, on the other hand, not of peasants,--for there was no such class,--but of New England
farmers, and consequently of their sons who came to the neighborhood of cities to do farmwork and get on in life.
The Irish invasion had then scarcely begun, and the “hired man” of the Cambridge
household was usually a country boy — half servant and half equal — who took care of the horse and did the chores.
As a rule, he was little educated,--for the modern public school system was hardly inaugurated,--but he had plenty
of sense and energy; and his descendants now often occupy high social positions, very likely employing in some capacity the descendants of those who paid wages to their progenitors.
Even at that time, the “hired men” held their own at the town meeting and in the muster field; and President Quincy
, the dignified head of the college, was only major in the militia regiment of which his man-servant was colonel.
It was at this period and under these conditions that the “Biglow
papers” were written.
The dialect of Lowell
's father and his mates, on the other hand, was only too scholastic and academic; he who doubts this has merely to consult the early volumes of the North American Review
It was perhaps fortunate, on the whole, as being an essential part of the broader training of Cambridge
authors, that the population and traditions of the town were not wholly Puritanic, or rather that it included some representative of that gypsy-like element which has here and there cropped out, in a repressed minority,--a sort of submerged stratum,--in New England
ever since the days of Morton
of Merry Mount.
found but two recognized autobiographers,--Stephen Burroughs
and Henry Tufts
; but it made itself manifest on every Commencement Day at Cambridge
and at every “Cornwallis” --a form of military muster — on Waltham Plain.
, who always got closer to the heart of the community than any one else, thus depicted some of its elements in Cambridge
through a magazine called The Writer
“Old Cambridge in Mr. Lowell
's youth was little more than a village; indeed, the expression, ‘down to the village,’ was in use. The old Puritan
industry and thrift prevailed; but there were those who were not content with life in water colors, but demanded a stronger liquid to produce the desired tints, and chose the path of pleasure rather than that of thrift.
They did some desultory work, in deference to necessity, but their best efforts were given to the small game on the marshes.
The exertion necessary in this pursuit, they could endure, it being free from any taint of regular industry.
But angling, sedentary and contemplative, was their preference.
To throw the line into the dark eddies
by the Brighton Bridge
, and at ease to await the fish who was to outrun the largest dimensions offered by tradition, was complete happiness.
viewed these exceptional beings with the eye of a humorist, rather than of the moralist.
As a spectator, he appreciated the irregular light which they threw on the monotonous path of steady industry.”
There is abundant evidence in Lowell
's letters and in his printed works of his humorous enjoyment of this under-side of human nature.
It was after his final return from England
that he had an appeal, on the day before one Fourth of July, from a broken-down companion of his boyhood who had led a somewhat questionable life, to go down to East Cambridge jail and release another similar worthy, also a playmate, that he might at least spend Independence Day in freedom.
went promptly and paid the fine, which was very likely assessed over again, and for adequate cause, within forty-eight hours. The element of sailor vagrancy, too, was then far more prominent than now. The East India
trade was still a lingering Boston
boys were still sent to sea as a cure for naughtiness, or later as supercargoes, this being a mark of confidence.
Groups of sailors sometimes strayed through Cambridge
, and there were aromatic smells among the Boston wharves
in particular had a naval uncle, and he wrote of what had been told from childhood when he said in “The Growth of the legend” :--
The sailors' night watches are thrilled to the core
With the lineal offspring of Odin and Thor.
In two respects the group of Cambridge
authors had gained from their restricted life certain qualities which some might call bourgeois, and many others admirable.
They were all honest men pecuniarily; they habitually paid their debts and lived within their means.
Neither in Holmes
nor in Longfellow
was there anything of that quality of thriftlessness so dear to lovers of the picturesque, but so exasperating to market-men and other base creatures.
If the Cambridge
men were not “great wits,” they were not “to madness near allied” in this respect, nor did they drive creditors
regards with amused interest the discovery that N. P. Willis
, in 1840, had earned by his pen annually ten thousand dollars, while Longfellow
himself says, “I wish I had made ten hundred;” but it did not inspire him with the wish to do Willis
's work of gossip, only with a desire to keep his own method.
was never rich, nor was Holmes
, but they lived within their means.
's salary in 1834 was but fifteen hundred dollars, although in later life his income became ample.
There was nothing pharisaical in this moderation, nor did either of these poets deal harshly with persons of the Harold Skimpole
race who hovered around them, as about all those who have incurred the imputation of success in their trade, whatever it be. Any lack of interest pertaining to the names of Cambridge
bards for this reason must be endured; there have been many persons in our literature to whom no such despicable habits of abstinence belonged, and who found a loftier philosophy in Pistol's “Base is the slave that pays.”
And the other point which seems noticeable
is that while they were ready to accept fame and prosperity as they came, they did not copy the tricks of politicians, pulling their own wires, lauding their own achievements, asking puffs from others, and exhibiting themselves in attitudes.
There was also in their immediate circle the heartiest mutual regard and not a trace of jealousy.
They may have been called a Mutual Admiration Society, but this was incomparably better than to belong to one of those societies for Mutual Defamation which literary history has much oftener seen.
, in spite of its soothing name, did not always exhibit among its literary men that relation of unbroken harmony which marked the three most eminent of those here classed as Cambridge
It is well known that Emerson
distrusted the sombre tone of Hawthorne
's writings and advised young people not to read them; and that Judge Hoar
's inseparable friend, could conceive of no reason why any one should wish to see Thoreau
's Journals published.
Among the Knickerbocker
circles in New York it seems to have been still worse,
Cooper the novelist, says Parke Godwin
, always brought “a breeze of quarrel with him.”
wrote thus to Rufus W. Griswold
(August 7, 1842): “A published eulogy of myself from Irving
's pen could not change my opinion of his career .... Cuvier
has the same faults as Irving
, and so had Scott
They were all meannesses, and I confess I can sooner pardon crimes, if they are manly ones.
I have never had any quarrel with Mr. Irving
, and give him full credit as a writer.
Still I believe him to be below the ordinary level, in moral qualities, instead of being above them, as he is cried up to be.”
He adds: “Bryant
is worth forty Irvings in every point of view, but he runs a little into the seemly (?) school.”
writes to Griswold
six years later: “I have no patience with the New York literati.
They are all the time quarrelling with each other.
Why not kiss and be friends?”
No such letter could ever have been written about the three most eminent Cambridge
authors, nor could anything
be more simple, delightful, and free from clouds than the whole intercourse between Holmes
, and Longfellow
To those outside their own circle, and especially to Margaret Fuller
, this cordiality did not always extend, but it is to be noted that as she permanently removed from Cambridge
, her birthplace, in 1833, before Lowell
had even entered college and before Longfellow
had become a Harvard professor, she formed no part of the local group.
The conservative Holmes
, who had been a schoolmate of hers, rather sympathized with Lowell
's attack upon her;5
but when she criticised Longfellow
in the New York Tribune
, the latter only mentions it in his journal as “what might be called a bilious attack,” and on hearing the news of her death he writes: “What a calamity!
A singular woman for New England
to produce; original and somewhat self-willed, but full of talent and full of work.
A tragic end to a somewhat troubled and romantic life.”
It would indeed have been difficult, perhaps, for mutual jealousy
or envy to exist in any literary circle of which Longfellow
was the centre; and the centre of the Cambridge
circle, so far as the little town itself was concerned, he surely was.
has left on record the perfect frankness with which Lowell
and himself criticised the final revision of Longfellow
's Dante, “with a freedom that was made perfect” by the absolute modesty of the author.6
As between Holmes
, those who think that mutual admiration went too far, and became flattery, would do well to read and digest the letters of Holmes
as published in the “Life and letters” 7
of the former, and see how utterly frank was their intercourse from the beginning, and how keenly Holmes
recognized, for instance, the weak points not merely of the “Fable for critics,” but of the “Vision of Sir Launfal.”
No contemporary critic, perhaps, insisted with such fearless justice on the incongruities which form the very basis of that otherwise charming work-“the picture part of the poem” being “Yankee in its
effect,” as Holmes
says, with the dandelion and the Baltimore
oriole “in the tableaux of the old feudal castle.”
In even the description of June he finds some of these discords and gives absolute praise only to the description of the brook.
His criticism on the measure of the poem is only the natural revolt of what he calls the “old square-toed heroic” against the “rattlety-bang sort of verse” which came in with Coleridge
All this was, however, written in 1849, and certainly no finer “appreciation” --in the current phrase — of the man Lowell
was ever penned than that which Holmes
wrote in 1868: “I cannot help, however, saying how much I am impressed by the lusty manhood of your nature as shown in the heroic vigor of your verse; by the reach and compass of your thought; by the affluence, the felicity, and the subtilty of your illustrations, which weave with the thoughts they belong to as golden threads through the tissue of which they form part; and perhaps most of all by that humanity
in its larger sense, which belongs to you beyond any of those with whom your name is often joined.
While I have been reading these grave and noble poems I
have forgotten that you were a wit and a humorist,--that you were a critic and an essayist, to say nothing of your being a scholar such as we breed, if at all, only as the phoenix is bred.”
Such was the generosity of tone, such the frankness of intercourse, that prevailed in the little circle of Cambridge
authors half a century ago.