the birth of a literature
We are looking abroad and back after a literature.
Let us come and live, and know in living a high philosophy and faith; so shall we find now, here, the elements, and in our own good souls the fire.
Of every storied bay and cliff we will make something infinitely nobler than Salamis or Marathon.
This pale Massachusetts sky, this sandy soil and raw wind, all shall nurture us. ... Unlike all the world before us, our own age and land shall be classic to ourselves.
The passage above quoted is from the Master
of Arts oration of a young scholar — Robert Bartlett
, of Plymouth
— at the Harvard Commencement
exercises of 1839.
The original title of the oration was, “No Good Possible but shall One Day be Real.”
, who had been the first scholar in his class, and was a tutor in the university, died a few years later, but the prophecy above given attracted much attention, and was printed in an English magazine,--“Heraud
's monthly” (April, 1840);and when in that same year “The Dial” began to be published, the very first page of the first number gave as its basis “the strong current of thought and feeling which for a few years
past has led many sincere persons in New England
to make new demands on literature.”
It was a foregone conclusion, however, that these new demands could not be fully met by the prophets who first announced them.
Prophets only clear the way, and must wait for the slower march of trained though perhaps unprophetic co-laborers.
A new era of American literature was at hand, but the Transcendental movement of itself could not directly have created it. Neither its organ, “The Dial,” nor the avowed successor of that magazine, the “Massachusetts
Quarterly review,” --announced by Theodore Parker
as being “the Dial with a beard,” --ever achieved a wide circulation.
Fortunately, in the natural progress of things a new combination effected itself, and those who, like Holmes
, had ridiculed the earlier movement found themselves ready within twenty years to unite with those who, like Emerson
, had produced it; that first impulse thus forming, by cohesion, a well-defined circle of contributors who held for a time the visible leadership in American letters.
That which saved this circle from becoming a clique and a mere mutual admiration society was its fortunate variety of personal temperaments.
, and Lowell
, to name only
the six most commonly selected as the representatives of this period, were really so dissimilar in many ways that they could not possibly duplicate one another,--indeed, could not always understand one another; and thus they were absolutely prevented from imposing on Boston
anything like the yoke which Christopher North
at one time imposed on Edinburgh
This was still more true of others just outside the circle,--Motley
,--and in this way the essential variety in unity was secured.
Then there were other men, almost equally gifted, who touched the circle, or might have touched it but that they belonged to the class of which Emerson
says, “Of what use is genius if its focus be a little too short or a little too long?” --Alcott
, Ellery Channing
, Brownlee Brown
, each of whom bequeathed to posterity only a name, or some striking anecdote or verse, instead of a well-defined fame.
It is an embarrassment, in dealing with any past period of literary history, that we have to look at its participants not merely as they now seem, but as they appeared in their day, and we must calculate their parallax.
The men who in those years were actually creating American literature — creating it anew, that is, after the earlier and already subsiding impulse given by
— do not retain the same relative precedence to which they at first seemed entitled; Emerson
having held their own more indisputably than the rest of the group.
Some who distinctly formed a part of the original Atlantic circle have indeed failed to develop staying power.
It would have scarcely appeared possible, in those days, that the brilliant and popular Whipple
, who was at first thought a second Macaulay
, should be at the end of the century an almost vanished force, while the eccentric and unsuccessful Thoreau
— whom Lowell
and even his own neighbors set aside as a mere imitator of Emerson
-is still growing in international fame.
I remember well that when I endeavored to enlist Judge Hoar
, the leading citizen of Concord
, in an effort to persuade Miss Thoreau
to allow her brother's journals to be printed, he heard me partly through, and then quickly said, “But you have left unsettled the preliminary question, Why should any one care to have Thoreau
's journals put in print?”
I had to abandon the argument as clearly hopeless.
It is also plain from Theodore Parker
's correspondence that his estimate of Thoreau
was but little higher than Judge Hoar
My own relation to this circle was the humble one of a man younger than the rest, brought
up under their influence, yet naturally independent, not to say self-willed, and very much inclined to live his own life.
I had long before noted with delight in Plutarch the tale of the young Cicero
consulting the Delphic oracle, and being there advised to live for himself, and not to take the opinions of others for his guide, -this answer being called by Niebuhr
“one of the oracles which might tempt one to believe in the actual inspiration of the goddess.”
There was not one of these older men whom I had not sometimes felt free to criticise, with the presumption of youth; complaining of Emerson
as being inorganic in structure; finding Whittier
sometimes crude, Hawthorne
bloodless in style, Holmes
a trifler, Longfellow
occasionally commonplace, Lowell
All this criticism was easier because I then lived at a distance from Boston
At times, no doubt, I was disposed to fancy myself destined to unite all their virtues and avoid all their faults, while at other moments I felt, more reasonably, that I might be of some use in gathering the scattered crumbs from their table.
It is quite certain that I was greatly pleased when I had sent to the Atlantic monthly my first contribution, “Saints and their bodies,” and saw it printed in the fifth number; it being later characterized by
as “an admirable paper,” and he also
designating me as “a young friend” of his,a phrase which awakened, I regret to say, some scarcely veiled irreverence on the part of a young fellow at the Worcester Gymnastic Club
, of which I was then president.
Alas, I was already thirty-three years old, and youth is merciless.
Nor can I wonder at the criticism when I recall that the daring boy who made it died a few years after in the Civil War
, a brevet brigadier-general, at the age of twenty.
I had previously written an article for the “North American review,” another for the “Christian Examiner,” and three papers in prose for “Putnam
's magazine,” one of these latter being a description of a trip to Mount Katahdin
, written as a jeu d'esprit in the assumed character of a lady of the party.
A few poems of mine had also been accepted by the last-named periodical; but these had attracted little notice, and the comparative éclat attendant on writing for the Atlantic monthly made it practically, in my case, the beginning of a literary life.
I was at once admitted to the Atlantic Club
, an informal dinner of contributors in those days, and at first found it enjoyable.
Before this I had belonged to a larger club,rather short-lived, but including some of the same men,--the Town
and Country Club, organized in 1849, at Boston
The earlier club
had no dinners; in fact, it erred on the side of asceticism, being formed, as Emerson
declared, largely to afford a local habitation and dignified occupation to Mr. Alcott
Had its christening been left to the latter, a rhetorical grandeur would have belonged to its very opening; for he only hesitated whether the “Olympian Club” or the “Pan Club” would be the more suitable designation.
marred the dignity of the former proposal by suggesting the name “Club of Hercules
” as a substitute for “Olympian;” and since the admission of women was a vexed question at the outset, Lowell
thought the “Patty
pan” quite appropriate.
Upon this question, indeed, the enterprise very nearly went to pieces; and Mr. Sanborn
has printed in his “Life of Alcott
” a characteristic letter from Emerson
to myself, after I had, in order to test the matter, placed the names of Elizabeth Peabody
and Mary Lowell Putnam
's sister, and also well known as a writer — on the nomination book.
himself, with one of those serene and lofty coups d'etat
of which only the saints are capable, took a pen and erased these names, although the question had not yet come up for decision, but was still pending when the erasure was made.
Another vexed subject was the admission of colored members, the names of Frederick Douglass
and Charles Lenox Remond
strongly favored, but wrote to me that he thought Emerson
would vote against it; indeed, Emerson
, as he himself admitted to me, was one of that minority of anti-slavery men who confessed to a mild natural colorphobia, controlled only by moral conviction.
These names were afterwards withdrawn; but the Town
and Country Club died a natural death before the question of admitting women was finally settled.
That matter was not, however, the occasion of the final catastrophe, which was brought on by Falstaff
's remediless disease, a consumption of the purse.
said that the very name of the club had been fatal to it; that it promised an impossible alliance between Boston
lawyers, who desired only a smoking-room, and, on the other hand, as he declared, a number of country ministers, who expected to be boarded and lodged, and to have their washing done, whenever they came up to the city.
In either case, the original assessment of five dollars was clearly too small, and the utter hopelessness of raising any additional amount was soon made manifest.
After the club had existed six months, a circular was issued, asking the members to remit, if possible, two dollars each before April 4, 1850, that the debts of the
club might be paid, and their fellow members “be relieved from an unequal burden.”
This sealed the doom of the enterprise, and “the rest is silence.”
It is now far easier to organize a University Club on a fifty or one hundred dollar basis than it was then to skim the cream of intellectual Boston
at five dollars a head.
The fine phrase introduced by Mr. Alcott
into the constitution, “the economies of the club,” proved only too appropriate, as the organization had to be very economical indeed.
Its membership, nevertheless, was well chosen and varied.
At its four monthly gatherings, the lecturers were Theodore Parker
, Henry James
the elder, Henry Giles
(then eminent as a Shakespeare lecturer), and the Rev. William B. Greene
, afterwards colonel of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.
Among the hundred or more members, there were well-known lawyers, as Sumner
, E. R. Hoar
, and Sewall
; and there were clergymen, as Parker
, W. H. Channing
, and Hale
; the only non-Unitarian clergyman being the Rev. John
, a cheery little English Baptist
, who had been round the world with Commodore Vanderbilt
in his yacht, and might well feel himself equal to any worldly companionship.
The medical profession was represented by Drs
, and Loring
; and the mercantile world by the two brothers Ward, Franklin Haven
, William D. Ticknor
, and James T. Fields
Art appeared only in John Cheney
, the engraver, and literature in the persons of Emerson
, and Whipple
These five authors were contributors to the “Atlantic monthly,” and took part also in the early dinners of the Atlantic Club
, as it appears from his biography, confounded the Atlantic Club
, in his later recollections, with its larger coeval, the Saturday Club
; but they will be found very clearly discriminated in Longfellow
During the first year of the magazine under Phillips
's management, there were monthly dinners, in or near Boston
, under the generalship of Francis H. Underwood
, the office editor, and John C. Wyman
, then his assistant.
The most notable of these gatherings was undoubtedly that held at the Revere House
, on occasion of Mrs. Stowe
's projected departure for Europe
It was the only one to which ladies were invited, and the invitation was accepted with a good deal of hesitation by Mrs. Stowe
, and with a distinct guarantee that no wine should be furnished for the guests.
Other feminine contributors were invited, but for various
reasons no ladies appeared except Mrs. Stowe
and Miss Harriet Prescott
(now Mrs. Spofford
), who had already won fame by a story called “In a Cellar,” the scene of which was laid in Paris
, and which was so thoroughly French in all its appointments that it was suspected of being a translation from that language, although much inquiry failed to reveal the supposed original.
It may be well to add that the honest young author had so little appreciation of the high compliment thus paid her that she indignantly proposed to withdraw her manuscript in consequence.
These two ladies arrived promptly, and the gentlemen were kept waiting, not greatly to their minds, in the hope that other fair contributors would appear.
When at last it was decided to proceed without further delay, Dr. Holmes
and I were detailed to escort the ladies to the dining-room: he as the head of the party, and I as the only one who knew the younger lady.
As we went upstairs the vivacious Autocrat
said to me, “Can I venture it?
Do you suppose that Mrs. Stowe
disapproves of me very much?” --he being then subject to severe criticism from the more conservative theologians.
The lady was gracious, however, and seemed glad to be rescued at last from her wearisome waiting.
She came downstairs wearing a green wreath, of which
says in his diary (July 9, 1859) that he “thought it very becoming.”
We seated ourselves at table, Mrs. Stowe
's right, and Miss Prescott
's, I next to her, Edmund Quincy
next to me. Dr. Stowe
was at Holmes
's left, Whittier
at his; and Longfellow
, John Wyman
, and others were present.
I said at once to Miss Prescott
, “This is a new edition of ‘Evelina, or a Young Lady
's Entrance into the World.’
Begin at the beginning: what did you and Mrs. Stowe
talk about for three quarters of an hour?”
She answered demurely, “Nothing, except that she once asked me what o'clock it was, and I told her I did n't know.”
There could hardly be a better illustration of that curious mixture of mauvaise honte
and indifference which often marred the outward manners of that remarkable woman.
It is very likely that she had not been introduced to her companion, and perhaps had never heard her name; but imagine any kindly or gracious person of middle age making no effort to relieve the shyness of a young girl stranded with herself during three quarters of an hour of enforced seclusion!
The modest entertainment proceeded; conversation set in, but there was a visible awkwardness, partly from the presence of two
ladies, one of whom was rather silent by reason of youth, and the other by temperament; and moreover, the thawing influence of wine was wanting.
There were probably no men of the party, except Whittier
and myself, who did not habitually drink it, and various little jokes began to circle sotto voce
at the table; a suggestion, for instance, from Longfellow
, that Miss Prescott
might be asked to send down into her Cellar for the wine she had described so well, since Mrs. Stowe
would allow none abovestairs.
Soon, however, a change came over the aspect of affairs.
My neighbor on the right, Edmund Quincy
, called a waiter mysteriously, and giving him his glass of water remained tranquilly while it was being replenished.
It came back suffused with a rosy hue. Some one else followed his example, and presently the “conscious water” was blushing at various points around the board, although I doubt whether Holmes
, with water-drinkers two deep on each side of him, got really his share of the coveted beverage.
If he had, it might have modified the course of his talk, for I remember that he devoted himself largely to demonstrating to Dr. Stowe
that all swearing doubtless originated in the free use made by the pulpit of sacred words and phrases; while Lowell
, at the other end of the table, was maintaining for Mrs.
's benefit that “Tom Jones
” was the best novel ever written.
This line of discussion may have been lively, but was not marked by eminent tact; and Whittier
, indeed, told me afterwards that Dr.Stowe
and Mrs. Stowe
agreed in saying to him that while the company at the club was no doubt distinguished, the conversation was not quite what they had been led to expect.
Yet Dr. Stowe
was of a kindly nature and perhaps was not seriously disturbed even when Holmes
assured him that there were in Boston
whole families not perceptibly affected by Adam
's fall; as for instance, the family of Ware
In the minor gatherings of the Atlantic Club
I became gradually conscious of a certain monotony.
was a great talker, and though the conversation was always lively enough, it had too much the character of a dialogue between Holmes
Neither of these had received the beneficent discipline of English dining-rooms, where, as I learned long after, one is schooled into self-restraint; and even if I never heard in London
any talk that was on the whole so clever as theirs, yet in the end the carving is almost as important as the meat.
Living in Worcester
, I saw little of my fellow contributors except at those dinners, though Emerson
frequently lectured in that
growing city, and I occasionally did the same thing at Concord
, where I sometimes stayed at his house.
It was a delight to be in his study, to finger his few and well-read books; a discipline of humility to have one's modest portmanteau carried upstairs by Plato
himself; a joy to see him, relapsed into a happy grandparent, hold a baby on his knee, and wave his playful finger above the little clutching hands, saying joyously, “This boy is a little philosopher; he philosophizes about everything.”
came also Alcott
, from time to time; the former to give those mystic monologues which he called conversations, and which were liable to be disturbed and even checked when any other participant offered anything but meek interrogatories.
came to take walks in the woods, or perhaps to Wachusett, with Harrison Blake
, his later editor, and with Theophilus Brown
, the freshest and most original mind in Worcester
, by vocation a tailor, and sending out more sparkles of wit and humor over his measuring-tape and scissors than any one else could extract from Rabelais
Sometimes I joined the party, and found Thoreau
a dry humorist, and also a good walker; while Alcott
, although he too walked, usually steered for a convenient log in the edge of the first grove, and, seating
himself there, “conversed” once more.
It may be that there are men now as quaint and original as were easily accessible in those days; but if so, I wish some one would favor me with a letter of introduction.
It was perhaps an advantage to me, and certainly a great convenience, that I did not begin writing for magazines until I was above thirty.
I thus escaped the preliminary ordeal of rejection, a thing which I have indeed encountered but once in respect to prose papers, during my whole literary life.
, and Underwood
all heartily approved my early essays, I was tempted to stretch their range wider and try experiments.
This was not so much from any changeableness or a wish to be credited with versatility,--a quality which I commonly distrusted and criticised in others, --but because there were so many interesting things to write about; and because I had possibly been rather too much impressed by one of Emerson
's perilous maxims as applied to any writer, “If he has hit the mark, let others shatter the target.”
If my critics agreed that I could write a fairly good historical essay such as “A charge with Prince Rupert,” or a good outdoor paper such as “A procession of the flowers,” it seemed better to try my hand at something else.
There was no indolence about
this; it was simply an eager desire to fill all the parts.
Such versatility makes life very enjoyable, but perhaps not so really useful or successful as a career like that of my contemporary, Francis Parkman, who used to be surrounded, even in college, by books of Indian travel and French colonial history, and who kept at work for half a century on his vast theme until he achieved for himself a great literary monument.
He was really a specialist before the days of specialism.
To adopt a different method, as I did, is to put one's self too much in the position of a celebrated horse once owned by a friend of mine,--a horse which had never won a race, but which was prized as having gained a second place in more races than any other horse in America
Yet it is to be remembered that there is a compensation in all these matters: the most laborious historian is pretty sure to be superseded within thirty years as it has already been prophesied that even Parkman
will be-by the mere accumulation of new material; while the more discursive writer may perchance happen on some felicitous statement that shall rival in immortality-Fletcher of Saltoun's one sentence, or the single sonnet of Blanco White
In 1859 the Atlantic monthly passed into the hands of Ticknor
& Fields, the junior publisher
becoming finally its editor.
It was a change of much importance to all its contributors, and greatly affected my own literary life.
had been, of course, an appreciative and a sympathetic editor, yet sometimes dilatory and exasperating.
Thus, a paper of mine on Theodore Parker
, which should have appeared directly after the death of its subject, was delayed for five months by being accidentally put under a pile of unexamined manuscripts.
had, moreover, some conservative reactions, and my essay “Ought women to learn the alphabet?”
which would now seem very innocent, and probably had a wider circulation than any other magazine article I ever wrote, was not accepted without some shaking of the head, though it was finally given the place of honor in the number.
Fields had the advantage over Lowell
of being both editor and publisher, so that he had a free hand as to paying for articles.
The prices then paid were lower than now, but were raised steadily; and he first introduced the practice of paying for each manuscript on acceptance, though he always lamented that this failed of its end so far as he was individually concerned.
His object was to quiet the impatience of those whose contributions were delayed; but he declared that such persons complained more than
ever, saying, “Since you valued my contribution so highly as to pay for it, you surely should print it at once.”
He had a virtue which I have never known in any other editor or publisher, --that of volunteering to advance money on prospective articles, yet to be written; and he did this more than once to me. I have also known him to increase the amount paid, on finding that an author particularly needed the money, especially if it were the case of a woman.
His sympathy with struggling women was always very great; and I think he was the only one in the early “Atlantic” circle, except Whittier
and myself,--with Emerson
also, latterly,--who favored woman suffrage.
This financial kindliness was a part of his general theory of establishing a staff, in which effort he really succeeded, most of his contributors then writing only for him,--an aim which his successors abandoned, as doubtless became inevitable in view of the rapid multiplication of magazines.
Certainly there was something very pleasant about Fields
's policy on this point; and perhaps he petted us all rather too much.
He had some of the defects of his qualities,could not help being a little of a flatterer, and sometimes, though not always, evaded the telling of wholesome truths.
I happened to be one of his favorites; he
even wished me, at one time, to undertake the whole critical department, which I luckily declined, although it appears by the index that I wrote more largely for the first twenty volumes of the magazine than any other contributor except Lowell
Fields was constantly urging me to attempt fiction, and when I somewhat reluctantly followed his advice, he thought better of the result, I believe, than any one else did; for my story of “Malbone
,” especially, he prophesied a fame which the public has not confirmed.
Yet he was not indiscriminate in his praise, and suggested some amendments which improved that tale very much.
He was capable also of being influenced by argument, and was really the only editor I have ever encountered whose judgment I could move for an instant by any cajoling; editors being, as a rule, a race made of adamant, as they should be. On the other hand, he advised strongly against my writing the “Young Folks' history of the United States
,” which nevertheless turned out incomparably the most successful venture I ever made, having sold to the extent of two hundred thousand copies, and still selling well after twenty years. His practical judgment was thus not infallible, but it came nearer to it than that of any other literary man I have ever known.
With all his desire to
create a staff, Fields was always eagerly looking out for new talent, and was ever prompt to counsel and encourage.
He liked, of course, to know eminent men; and his geese were apt to be swans, yet he was able to discriminate.
He organized Dickens
's readings, for instance, and went to every one of them, yet confessed frankly that their pathos was a failure; that Little Nell was unreal, and Paul Dombey
a tiresome creature whose death was a relief.
Fields was really a keen judge of character, and had his own fearless standards.
I once asked him which he liked the better personally, Thackeray
, and he replied, after a moment's reflection, “Dickens
, because Thackeray
enjoyed telling questionable stories, a thing which Dickens
There has been endless discussion as to the true worth of the literary movement of which the circle of “Atlantic” writers was the source.
By some, no doubt, it has been described with exaggerated claims, and by others with a disapprobation quite as unreasonable.
Time alone can decide the precise award; the essential fact is that in this movement American literature was born, or, if not born,--for certainly Irving
had preceded,--was at least set on its feet.
Whether it could not have been better born is a profitless question.
of writers was doubtless a local product; but so is every new variety of plum or pear which the gardener finds in his garden.
He does not quarrel with it for having made its appearance in some inconvenient corner instead of in the centre, nor does he think it unpardonable that it did not show itself everywhere at once; the thing of importance is that it has arrived.
The new literary impulse was indigenous, and, as far as it felt an exotic influence, that force was at any rate not English
; it was French
, and above all German
, so far as its external factors went.
Nothing could be much further from the truth than the late remark of an essayist that Boston
is “almost the sole survival upon our soil of a purely English influence.”
As a matter of fact, the current of thought which between 18 16 and 18 8 took our whole American educational system away from the English
tradition, and substituted the German methods, had been transmitted through four young men from New England
, who had studied together at Gottingen
These reporters had sent back the daring assertion that while our cisatlantic schools and colleges had nothing to learn from England
,--not even from the Oxford and Cambridge
of that day,--they had, on the contrary, everything to learn from the German institutions.
The students in question
, and, in a less degree, Bancroft
Three of these went from Harvard College, Everett
at the expense of the university; while Ticknor
went from Dartmouth
They all brought back to Harvard
what they could not find in England
, but had gained in Germany
writing to my father in a letter which lies before me (dated June 6, 1818), “There is more teaching and more learning in our American Cambridge than there is in Oxford
They laid the foundation for non-English training not only in Boston
, but in America
, at a time when the very best literary journal in New York, and indeed in this country, was called “The Albion
,” and was English through and through.
It was, in fact, made a temporary reproach to the early Transcendental movement that it was too French or too German
, and not English enough; and when George Ripley's library was sold, it proved to be by far the best German library in New England
except Theodore Parker
's. There was at that time an eager clamoring not only for German
, but for French
, and even Swedish
literature; then, when the “Atlantic” circle succeeded to the domain of the Transcendentalists, it had in Longfellow
the most accomplished translator of his
day; and the Continental
influence still went at least side by side with the English
, if it did not prevail over it. But behind this question of mere intellectual aliment lay the problem whether we should have a literature of our own; and it was a strength, not a weakness, in these men when they aimed, in the words of young Robert Bartlett
, to make us “classic to ourselves.”
Probably no one who did not live in those days can fully realize what it was to us to have our own aspects of nature, our own historic scenes, our own types of character, our own social problems, brought up and given a prominent place.
The mere substitution of bobolink and oriole for lark and nightingale was a delicious novelty.
At any rate, for good or evil, the transition was made.
If the achievement took on too much flavor of moral earnestness, as is now complained, this may have been inevitable.
In hewing down the forest, the axe must have weight as well as edge.
In the work that obtruded itself while this literature was being created,--the crushing of American slavery by the strong hand,--it was not found that this moral force had been a thing superfluous.
It was not a Bostonian, but a New Yorker (Mr. John Jay Chapman
), who lately said of Emerson
, “It will not be denied that he sent ten thousand sons to the war.”
It is certain, at any rate, that a belief like this, in a literature actually forming before my eyes, was an important part of my happiness during my Worcester
life, and that the work growing out of it became by degrees a serious interference with that required by the Free Church, and led me to quit the latter.
I had also many other affairs on hand, being, as Mr. Alcott
said of me, “a man of tasks;” and all these, while multiplying enjoyment and usefulness, were crowding too much on one another.
I interested myself in the new question of a prohibitory liquor law, was for a time secretary of the state committee, and also took a handagain aided by Martin Stowell
— in enforcing the law in Worcester
Experience brought me to the opinion, which I have ever since held, that such a law is useless except under the limitations of local option, so that the moral pressure of each locality may be behind its enforcement.
I have already spoken of continued antislavery work in Worcester
I was also deeply interested in the problem of discharged convicts, having in that direction one experience so interesting that I must find room for it. In another town of Massachusetts
I had known a young man of most respectable family, who, after a series of skillful burglaries, had been sent to prison on an eight years sentence.
had there sustained an excellent character, and, after visiting him just before liberation, I had brought him to Worcester
, and placed him in a family of worthy English people belonging to the Free Church, who carried on at home a little manufacturing business which he readily learned.
Of course they were told his story, and their willingness to take him was the more admirable inasmuch as they had once tried much the same experiment and had been deceived.
He behaved perfectly well, yet told me frankly that he used to loiter before jewelers' windows and think how easily he could get possession of the glittering treasures inside.
He ultimately married a farmer's daughter in a village near Worcester
; he set up a little shop on very scanty capital, but made no effort to eke it out by any dishonorable action; and when the war came he somehow got a lieutenant's commission, but for some reason was never assigned to any regiment, and eventually died of disease.
Here was a life saved from further wrong, and by the simplest means; and when, in later life, I attended as a delegate the meetings of prison reformers in Europe
, I was firm in the conviction that such things as I have described could be done.
As to work within the circle of my own people, I found plenty of it, and on the whole
enjoyed it. They had almost all come from more conservative religious bodies, and some of the best of them were Spiritualists.
Only one of the local clergy would exchange with me,--the exception being, as may be easily believed, Edward Everett Hale
, who had not yet migrated to Boston
,--but I was gradually brought into amicable relations with many of the others, and had no reason to complain.
I was on the school committee until I was dropped, during the Know-Nothing excitement, for defending the right of a Roman Catholic
father to decide which version of the Scriptures his child should read in school.
Twice I have thus been honorably dismissed from school committees; for the same thing happened again in Newport, Rhode Island
, ten years later, in consequence of the part I took in securing the abolition of separate colored schools.
In both cases I was reinstated later; being appointed on a special examination committee in Worcester
together with a Roman Catholic
priest, and on the regular committee in Newport
with a colored clergyman; thus “bringing my sheaves with me,” as a clever woman said.
I had a hand in organizing the great Worcester Public Library, and was one of its early board of trustees, at a time when we little dreamed of its expansion and widespread usefulness.
The old love for natural history survived, and I undertook again the microscopic work which I had begun in Newburyport
under the guidance of an accomplished biologist, Dr. Henry C. Perkins
He had also introduced me to the works of Oken
and Richard Owen
; and I had written for the Christian Examiner (July, 1852) a paper called “Man and nature,” given first as a lyceum lecture, which expressed something of that morning glow before sunrise which existed after the views of Goethe
had been made public, but when Darwin
's great discoveries were yet to be achieved.
I did a great deal in the way of field observation, and organized, with Hale
and others, the local Natural History Society, one branch of which, the botanical club, still bears my name.
I also read many books on anthropology, and wrote for the “Atlantic” various essays on kindred themes, which were afterwards published in a volume as “Out-door papers.”
The preparation for this work gave that “enormity of pleasure,” in Wordsworth
's phrase, which only the habit of minute and written observation can convey; and I had many happy days, especially in the then unprofaned regions of Lake Quinsigamond
With all this revived the old love of athletic exercises: I was president of a gymnastic club, a
skating club, and a cricket club, playing in several match games with the latter.
I never actually belonged to a volunteer engine company, such as then existed everywhere,--it is a wonder that I did not,--but was elected an honorary member of Tiger Engine Company Number 6
, though unluckily the Tigers engaged in a general fight at their annual meeting, before I could join, and the company was dissolved by the city fathers in consequence; so that this crowning distinction was at the last moment wrested from me. Thus passed the years, until the Kansas
excitement burst upon the nation and opened the way to new experiences.