In the spring of 1878, Colonel Higginson
went abroad for several months.
After his return in the autumn, he moved his goods and chattels to Cambridge
Here he took delight in planning a new home, and in February, 1879, was quietly married to the writer of this memoir.
His old friend, Rev. Samuel Longfellow
, performed the ceremony.
The ‘being beauteous’ of Longfellow
's poem, ‘Footsteps of Angels,’ was my mother's sister, and the poet was present at the wedding.
A visit made soon afterward to my kindred in Harper's Ferry
was described by Colonel Higginson
in a letter to his sister:—
You can imagine nothing more curious than our arrival at Harper's Ferry.
It was in the evening . . . The train stopped in a dismantled sort of station where stood an old man with soft white hair on his shoulders holding a lantern and attended by two blooming, fair-haired daughters; they seized us with joy. There seemed no houses anywhere and we set off to walk across ruined pavements feebly lighted by the one lantern.
Presently they turned up a flight of
stone steps. . . . At the top we saw a lighted chapel and throngs of people were descending from it. We went up and up with the dim outlines of river and mountains below us and the sound of the waters over their shallow bed; then we turned into a narrow street or lane paved with the natural rock and with high narrow stone houses chiefly in ruins. . . . It was all precisely like a Swiss or Italian mountain village and I felt as if I had made one step from Zermatt.
The church was the family church, they being Roman Catholics.
The old Doctor is of Irish birth and has lived all his life in Virginia.
His house is one of a block of four, two in ruins and empty belonging also to him. From another ruined house the cow looks out all day . . . . Our arriving was an excitement to all Harper's Ferry.
All knew that the bridal party was coming.
In the evening came Jacob [a Negro factotum]. He brought the largest round of beef I ever saw—with only us two to eat it until Easter, this being Friday—also a basket of provisions, and himself most important of all. He cooked, talked, waited at table in a Madras turban and glorified himself through the village at other times. . . . On opening an unexpected curtain in the morning, the whole glorious valley view was before us . . . . The poor town looked shabby and ruined by day; [but there were Turkey rugs and the rustle of silk gowns in the crumbling old house]. During the war they were here when only five families staid in the town.
After eight all windows had to be darkened, otherwise the Union pickets fired on them from the Maryland heights and the rebels from the other side.
There were bullet marks on the table. . .. We had a beautiful drive up the Shenandoah hills with Blue Ridge always in sight, amid large farms looking like Pennsylvania and very fertile.
We went to Charlestown, eight miles, a flourishing village with nice houses and buildings.
Here we saw the jail yard where John Brown was confined, the field where he was executed, the new court house on the site where he was tried, and most interesting of all, the very records of the trial of him and his men—the successive entries alternating with the commonest things.
The road we came was that over which they were brought, wounded, from Harper's Ferry.
The only memorial of him at the latter place is the little building close by the railroad—the engine house which he held—which has “John Brown's Fort” painted on it.
After this trip, we began housekeeping, and then Colonel Higginson
earnestly threw himself into the interests of his native town.
In January, 1880, our first little daughter was born and called Louisa
for her grandmother Higginson
On the day that his lifelong wish for a child was realized, Colonel Higginson
wrote in his journal:—
God! May I be worthy of the wonderful moment when I first looked round and saw the face of my child . . . .How trivial seem all personal aims and ambitions beside the fact that I am at last the father of a child.
Should she die to-morrow she will still be my child somewhere.
But she will not die.
When seven days old the baby received a visit from the poet Longfellow
, who saw beauty and intelligence in her face, and said she had the hands of a musician.
‘These three,’ wrote her father, ‘beauty, observation, and music, when coming from the lips of a poet were quite equivalent to gifts from a fairy godmother.’
Although the child seemed very robust, when a few weeks old she died of meningitis after one day's illness.
‘Thus end our pride and our earthly hope,’ wrote the bereaved father.
‘Yet so unspeakable has been the joy of her little life; so profound and wonderful the feeling of parentage; so perfect a sense of individuality about this baby child that we shall soon be able to thank God for al . . . . O but the heart-break and the yearning! . . . O the hopes, the dreams, the fancies all now done, or exchanged for profounder thought belonging in the world unseen.’
A niece of Colonel Higginson
's recalls the burial and writes: ‘I shall never forget Uncle Wentworth's beautiful, transfigured look when he said in a broken yet strong voice, “The Lord
gave, the Lord
hath taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
’ After a few weeks' absence, the Colonel
with his usual elasticity wrote: ‘To-day we are back again in our dear home and I feel a sense of new life and joy and hope this lovely spring day.’
The following summer was spent at Plymouth, New Hampshire
, where we jogged about with an old horse named Dorcas
, studied ferns, and ransacked farms for old furniture.
once had an opportunity while there to indulge his boyish passion for responding to fire-alarms.
He had established himself on a roof to help extinguish the flames of a burning house and was startled when he heard the order, ‘Hand the bucket to the old gentleman!’ —this being the first time he had been thus designated.
the same season he made the wild ascent of Mount Moosilauke
described in his ‘Atlantic’ article, ‘A Search for the Pleiades.’
This paper so pleased the proprietor of the mountain hotel that he offered the author rooms and board gratis
for the next season.
At the end of the summer, this note was made in the diary:—
The old love of nature seems to have come back and the sorrow which threatened to overshadow us has been mercifully soothed.
I have neither “looked before nor after nor pined for what is not.”
In the fall of 1880, he was chosen representative to the legislature, where he served for two years. The same year he accepted an invitation from Governor Long
to serve as chief of his staff.
While in the legislature, of course he championed the Woman
's Suffrage Bill.
It is stated on good authority that ‘certain
Irish members, who hated Woman's Suffrage but loved the Colonel
, sat outside growling while the vote was taken.
They could not bring themselves to vote for the bill, but would not annoy Higginson
by voting against it.’
In December of the same year we moved into the little Queen Anne
cottage on Buckingham Street which we had built and which was henceforth Colonel Higginson
A certain policeman's opinion of this new abode afforded much amusement to the owner.
When asked where Colonel Higginson
lived, this guardian of the peace replied, ‘Look till you see the ugliest house in Cambridge
Another, somewhat later, opinion was that of our daughter Margaret, who said, ‘O papa, I am glad you are not rich!
You have such a dainty little clean house and not fancy either—no lace curtains at all.’
The fifty-seventh birthday, December 22, 1880, was celebrated by skating on Fresh Pond
, and he wrote to his sister:—
I have not been on that black ice for more than thirty years and it seemed a very appropriate birthday celebration, the ice and hills and sky were so unchanged.
It led me to the thought that this is certainly the happiest birthday since those days and probably of my life.
It is such inexpressible happiness to have at last a permanent home and one so wholly to my mind and to look around and think
that all in it is ours and we are not temporary occupants of the comforts of others only.
In July, 1881, a second little daughter arrived and was named Margaret Waldo
These were family names, and, contrary to popular belief, were not borrowed from Margaret Fuller
‘Rejoice with us!’
her father wrote to a friend; ‘another little girl, as fine and beautiful as her elder sister!’
After three months he declared, ‘A more blissful possession no one ever owned .. .The darling baby seems to have brought a good omen in every way.’
In reference to his legislative experience, Higginson
I went to the legislature (having both years had the nomination wholly unsought) because it was a thing I had thought I should always like to try . . . . I have never thought for an instant of going into politics' as people say, but simply took it as it came my way knowing it would not last long . . . . I also tried nearly a year ago to get off the staff thinking I had done the Governor all the services I could, but he was unwilling . . . going to Cowpens was a great privilege and opportunity and in a manner a piece of poetic justice. . . . Last summer the Governor wished me to be a trustee of a lunatic hospital which I declined.
This year after resigning my place on staff he wished me to take either a similar trusteeship
vacant—or to go on the Board of Education.
With some reluctance I did the latter.
The allusion to Cowpens
referred to the address which Colonel Higginson
gave in May, 1881, at Spartansburg
, South Carolina
, the occasion being the celebration of the Battle of Cowpens
during the Revolution, which Bancroft
called the ‘most extraordinary victory of the war.’
had requested his chief of staff to represent Massachusetts
and incidentally the original New England
States at the one hundredth anniversary of this battle, although it was one in which the New England
colonies had no direct share.
The letter quoted above continues:—
All these things have much interfered with literature and I was getting impatient with myself and feeling that I had lost power of writing.
Then on waking very early one morning I suddenly decided to make a book out of my “Woman's Journal” articles and similar things.
I jumped up, went downstairs for a volume of the “Woman's Journal” and began in bed the process of selection which went rapidly on and now the book is finished . . . . And this detour into public life has been an immense benefit to me in the way of extempore speaking which is now really no effort at all.
The result of all is that I am a truly happy man and can well wait and accept whatever comes—
only knowing that I cannot have that boundless horizon of years (at 57) that stretches before one at forty or almost at fifty.
Margaret gives me a new love of life, and I should like, at 75, to go into company with her at 18!
On Thanksgiving Day of the same year, he yet further moralized:—
That I should at 57 have the happiness dreamed of (as impossible) for so many years—with a healthy and beautiful baby of my own . . . and a charming home . . . this is a boon beyond asking or thanking.
I have had much of what the world calls success and yet feel profoundly what Howells suggests that perhaps success always looks like failure from inside.
I have what would have seemed to me reputation and wealth from the standpoint of my early years; I have also a singular health of body and youthfulness of mind; even the fire of passion and adventure is I fear unabated in me; but in the anchorage of my own home I am guaranteed from danger . . . .My imagination is as active as ever, and my literary faculty; they are only checked by the multiplicity of cares and interests that come with advancing years.
On his sixty-third birthday, the author wrote, ‘Can work better than ever in my life.’
Had a striking instance to-day of that great wealth and activity of mind which seems to come to me in rushes for a short time together especially the
first thing in the morning.
In fifteen minutes . . . I entirely planned two addresses on distinct subjects —the birthday address at Concord on Emerson and the address for the blind . . . . For all this—but chiefly for my wife, child and home, let me give thanks . . . . Whenever I think of illness or death, then it seems beautiful to have one child on earth and one in heaven.
In 1882, he began the chapters of his ‘Larger History of the United States
,’ which were published in ‘Harper
's Magazine’; of these he told his sister, August 24, 1883, ‘I have written one of my Harper
's papers regularly every month for the last eleven months; besides other things too much for anybody.’
It was a rare thing for him to admit that he worked beyond his strength, but such was often the case.
In the autumn of this year, Colonel Higginson
wrote to his sister:—
I invited Matthew Arnold to spend a few days with us, but he is not coming, being engaged to Phillips Brooks.
This morning I spent in taking Matthew Arnold to schools in Boston . . . . He is very cordial and appreciative, not in the least cynical, or patronizing.
In the poem called ‘Sixty and Six,’ Colonel Higginson
describes the joy he found in the ‘blithe littie,
lithe little daughter of mine.’
The following extracts, referring to his new and absorbing possession, are taken partly from his letters and partly from his diaries:—
To-day the crocuses are up and I have been taking off part of their covering of leaves. . . . But what is all the promise of early spring beside the round rosy cheeks of our darling, her great earnest brown eyes and her happy little face . . . .
Margaret rosy and sunburnt with dandelions and sand-pies said this morning, “Oh, won't it be beautiful in the autumn, when it is all red and ripe” ... then she added, “I do like it awfully.”
She looked down meditatively a moment and said, “To live.” . .. Baby is wheeling her little barrow of red crab-apples under the trees . . . . Every morning she wakes laughing.
We hear this delicious little singing sound from her crib . . . . You may well imagine that I could not have a happier birthday celebration than to take baby out for the first time on her new sled! . . . Showed her little icicles which interested her like a new flower and she picked them off eagerly. . . . It is delicious thus to show her for the first time one wonder after another in the beautiful world.
We threw snowballs too . . . . She inherits from me amusingly a trait I remember very well and still occasionally manifest—a dislike to being watched when doing anything difficult.
“Pe'se don't watz me,” she often says . . . . Margaret had this morning her first introduction to the masterpieces of English literature.
She brings a copy of “Christobel.”
objects: “But that has no picture.”
“Papa read Baby 'at.”
Papa dutifully reads—
'T is the middle of the night by the castle clock Baby points to the stuffed owl in the hall.
“Dere he are.”
Then Papa reads on about the toothless mastiff bitch with illustrative “bow-wows.”
Baby runs to the window, looks out and says, “Where bow-wow?”
Then returning says, “Papa, play ball,” having had enough of English literature for the first time.
She has had a great access of lovingness lately.
“Papa, I love you so much it breaks my heart” ; or “Papa, I shall never leave you.” ... Margaret said this morning, “What church shall I go to when I am big enough?
Why do people go to church?”
After some reflection I said, “To learn to be good.”
After some reflection she said, “But they're good already!” —a happy conviction.
This morning she asked her favorite question, “Where God?”
and when her mother said, “He is everywhere,” she answered with superior information, “He in Heabby” (Heaven) . . . . She is growing sternly speculative.
“Papa dear, do the little fishes at the Botanic Garden like to be caught?”
“Well, they've got to be caught or how can we have fish to eat?”
I do think it would be much prettier to [follow a] vegetarian [diet] in rearing children; I hate to have her kill even a mosquito, it seems to be a profanation of her own life.
I tell her to drive them away as papa does—but even then I kill clothes-moths—not in her presence, though . . . . She said
one time when I was neglectful, “Papa, why don't you amuse me?
That is what you came into the world for, to amuse people.” ... When we spoke of some one's being married—she slipping down to my side as usual, “Papa, whisper!
What is married?”
(Papa, hesitating.) “It is when two people live together in a house.”
“Well, then you and I are married.”
And the owls have awakened the crowing cock.
To the above record of this close companionship Colonel Higginson
I have always hoped that if I might not live to see her grow up, I might at least fix myself so definitely in her memory that I should always be a vivid and tender recollection and of this I now for the first time feel sure.
Margaret's first intimation of the difference in age came one day when her little hands wandered over his face and she exclaimed in a surprised tone, ‘Why, your face is as twinkled as a little star.
Anyhow, Papa, when did you get so many lines in your face?’
The proud father's little letters to his daughter show his innate sympathy with childhood:—
Father and daughter rode on the tricycle together until one day he looked around and discovered with alarm that the child of four was fast asleep.
After that he decided to ride alone.
When Margaret was still a small child we spent three successive summers on a farm in Holden, Massachusetts
, a village near Worcester
It was Colonel Higginson
's delight both there and in Cambridge
to amuse Margaret's little friends by making bonfires and roasting potatoes and apples in the embers.
He wrote to his sister: ‘We have now a cow,
calf, dog, two white fantail pigeons, two kittens and expect a lamb to-morrow to complete the menagerie.’
Both father and child entered into the farm labors, tossing pumpkins into the barn and feeding the animals.
This has been the after breakfast programme.
She and I go out of the back door taking with us stale bread for the hens, soft bread for the doves; then in the barn we get ears of corn for the rabbits and a pan of ‘shorts’ for the calf and lamb.
Then we open the high gate of the great pleasant poultry yard, sloping down the hill and crossed by rows of raspberries and roses and sunflowers and apple trees.
The creatures all come to us except the rabbits which are in their own enclosure within.
The hens and ducks scramble and flutter; and I always wish I could make a sketch in oils of Margaret as she stands rosy and sunburnt holding the pan of grain as best she can against the vehement appetites of calf and lamb growing daily stronger and larger, nudging each other away and stretching over or under each other's heads till the pan is empty.
Then they trot along by us in hope of more, the hens and ducks also following till we go inside the rabbit hutch and tempt the timid things with clover and green corn.
Then Margaret looks for eggs in the various boxes and we climb on the haymow to see if the doves are laying . . . . Our two white fantails are the most devoted little creatures and seem like two immaculate ladies, always keeping the rooms in order.
Yesterday we found some
eggs of the common pigeons just hatched; one little creature had got his head out before and his tail behind but the shell hung round its neck and almost choked it till I loosened it; I never helped a pigeon into the world before.
In the village of Holden
, Colonel Higginson
rendered signal service, as was his wont in all his abiding places, by advice as to the management of the library and selection of books, by willingness to give public addresses, and by his kindly interest in the people of the town, all of which was warmly appreciated.
One of the Holden women said to him afterward, ‘It seemed so nice to see you there; you seemed like one of us’; and the diary commented, ‘This identifying with the simple village life is what I like best about it all.’
To go back to Cambridge
; it was in February, 1884, that the occupations of one week were thus enumerated:—
During the last week I have had the laborious and careful closing days of my “Life of Madame Ossoli ” ; have spoken four evenings (out of five successive evenings) on four different subjects, two of them new, and have had the great excitement and absorption of Phillips's death and funeral, with two papers to write on him—one ( Evening Post ) very elaborate, besides one speech about him and revising the report.
All this has made more work than I hope
ever to be entangled in again.
I have had the immediate prospect too of two more chapters in “Harper,” and a revision of my Young Folks' History, these being demanded at once.
I finished and sent the last of my “Harper” papers and also corrected the last proof of my Ossoli book.
Thus ends the most anxious literary task I ever undertook and one which I shall never try again —virtually writing two difficult books at the same time.
Of his weekly editorials he said:—
Sometimes I have to write my editorials at a gallop or not at all.
Later in the same year he discontinued his papers in the ‘Woman's Journal’ and wrote to his sister:—
I have engaged to write a weekly article for “Harper's Bazar,” under the general heading “Women and men” similar in tone to my “Woman's Journal” papers, but not entering on the suffrage question.
On the latter point I expect to write occasionally in the “Independent.”
And the following winter he noted:—
I enjoy writing my “Bazar” papers, having an audience of 100,000 all over the world.
In 1884, Colonel Higginson
also plunged with ardor into the ‘Mugwump’ movement, calling anti-
meetings and making campaign speeches for Cleveland
His diary reports an anti-Blaine meeting in early June,—‘Great success, which gratified me, since it was I who proposed it and drew up call which was signed by 1500.’
From the same record it appears that in the autumn he gave political harangues on five successive evenings in as many cities.
This letter gives his impressions of Cleveland
, that of the latter being less flattering than an earlier estimate, some thirty years before.
New York is fairly seething . . . . Business is practically suspended—nobody talks of anything but politics . . . . Gov. Cleveland was at my hotel . . . . I found him a large man, nearly as tall as I and heavily built . . . decidedly plain, but with a very good clear eye and a frank and honest though not handsome mouth.
He has not an air of polish— rather what we should call a Western than Eastern type,—but prepossessing through frankness and strength . . . . On the whole my impression was favorable.
Not so my impression of Beecher, who is the only man I have spoken with in public of whom I felt ashamed.
The Jersey City audience was a regular Bowery audience and he took them completely on their own level.
It was a wonderful exhibition of popularity and power, but there was a coarse jauntiness in his way of treating the attacks on Cleveland
that disgusted me . . . . till Beecher is Beecher, at his best and worst.
Yet politics did not exclude other public interests:—
A curious result of this meeting was the arrival at our home, on the same evening, of six bottles of wine labelled ‘For a man who has the courage of his convictions.’
There happened to be in Worcester
in this very year a reunion of the Company
which Colonel Higginson
‘It was a bewildering evening and night,’ he wrote, ‘living back 21 years in an hour.
The youngest member of the Company
who enlisted at 17 is far grayer than I.
All night I could hardly get back from the strange resurrection of my first army experiences—so intense and utterly absorbing—now so inconceivably remote.’
It was always a pleasure to Colonel Higginson
to live over his dreams by relating them to his family.
As early as 1844, when a theological student, he recorded this one:—
I was mingling in the concerns of life as usual and suddenly became aware of the presence of a red haired wife and two children with large gray eyes; I remember distinctly my utter astonishment and dismay at finding myself so emphatically in for it without any personal consciousness or accountability; what steps I took on the matter I don't know, but I have certainly got rid of the incumbrances this morning much to my relief.
And when he was eighty-five he wrote:
I find that my dreams grow more interesting all the time because they have more material in them from the “hoarded memories of the past,” as Browning says.
In the summer of 1886, he wrote the story, ‘The Monarch
It was his first effort in the story-telling line for many years, and he exclaimed:— ‘It is a great and almost unexpected delight to me to find that I can really write an imaginative story.’
This tale did not prove acceptable to magazine editors and was finally published as a booklet at the author's own expense.
of Dreams’ was, however, translated into French and was always a favorite of the author's. His relatives fancied that this weird little tale had a morbid tinge, and in answer to their solicitudes, he wrote:—
I am sorry I printed it, if it troubled you, but I never can be sorry that I wrote it, for it is the first
strong bit of purely imaginative work I ever did and I shall always be glad to know that I could do it, and it was a real vacation after so much historical and critical work . . . . I like to do things in order to know that I can do them; and the old spirit of adventurousness still lives in me.
The latter statement was proved when the strike of the street-car employees in Cambridge
occurred, and he wrote in his diary in March, 1887:—
Evening to Cambridgeport to meet procession of strikers—rode through them on platform of car; one stone hit me. Find myself enjoying the little danger as of yore.
After another car-ride he reported:—
The young trolley conductor told me that he had just taken Cheerful Yesterdays from the library and that it was the third book of mine he had read.
He spoke especially of the anti-slavery part and has been sorry not to hear me on Irish wrongs at Town Hall.
In May, 1886, Emily Dickinson
Her acquaintance with Colonel Higginson
began in 1862, when she wrote to him enclosing some poems and asking his opinion of her verse.
While he was in camp in South Carolina
she wrote again to ask if he would be ‘her preceptor.’
Henceforth her letters, in extraordinary script, were signed ‘your scholar.’
One summer he made his unseen correspondent a long-delayed visit which he has described in the volume
He wrote in his diary after her death:—
To Amherst to the funeral of that rare and strange creature Emily Dickinson. .. . E. D.'s face a wondrous restoration of youth—she is 54 and looked 30, not a gray hair or wrinkle, and perfect peace on the beautiful brow.
There was a little bunch of violets at the neck and one pink cypripedium; the sister, Vinnie, put in two heliotropes by her hand “to take to Judge Lord” [an old family friend]. I read a poem by Emily Bronte.
How large a portion of the people who have most interested me have passed away.
But the sad entries in his journal were infrequent and presently he recorded:—
One of these days on which, as Emerson says, “every hour brings book or starlight scroll.”
At breakfast got letters from England, one from W. Sharp about sonnets of mine for his book of American sonnets—another from——asking about my literary methods for his pupils.
Then came the copies of Italian version of my history and finally (next day) Mrs. Hood's news that she had “The open Garden” ready—her name for illustrations of “Outdoor Papers.”
There has always been a confusion in the public mind between Colonel Wentworth Higginson
and his cousin, Major Henry Higginson
, and musicians sometimes applied to the former for a position in the
He was wont to say that he received everything that was intended for his cousin except cheques.
Reporting to his family in their absence various funny stories that he had heard, he added, ‘But best of all was the news that several New York papers have just printed advance puffs of the Symphony Orchestra
headed by my picture.’
He wrote to his brother-in-law, in July, 1887:—
Did you hear that I had been invited to be president of the Handel and Haydn Society?
Of course I refused, but it seemed as if they wanted a good figurehead with a musical name.
“If it be not Bran it is Bran's brother,” as the Scotch proverb says.
Yet Colonel Higginson
had a great love of music, and a good, though untrained, tenor voice.
He usually sang while dressing in the morning, and often manufactured his own melodies.
He composed music to Cleveland
's ‘sea-ditty’ in Scott
's ‘Pirate,’ beginning, ‘Farewell, farewell,’ and to sundry Scotch ballads.
‘Lassie come near me,’ and ‘We'el may we aa be,’ for instance, were put into permanent musical form by a friend and one of them was published.
The Negro melodies heard in camp, he sang with our little girl, going through the lively motions and gestures with great animation.
Many organizations secured Colonel Higginson
's services as president, for longer or shorter periods.
Among these were the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Boston Browning Club
, and the Round Table of which he was the first and only president, this office lasting for more than twenty-five years. Of one of the meetings of this club, he wrote to his sister, November, 1891:—
Lady Henry Somerset was at Round Table and charmed all—short, square-shouldered, with a fine generous face, the simplest and sweetest manner and no cant.
It seemed her mission to pour oil on troubled waters.
Nothing specially dainty or highbred about her, but no English awkwardness or brusquerie.
A most mellow voice of course.
Later the Boston
Authors' Club was organized through the efforts of Mrs. Howe
and Colonel Higginson
, they bearing to it during the former's life the relations of president and vice-president.
This association of interests brought to the latter many amusing letters from Mrs. Howe
, usually beginning ‘My dear Vice.’
One of the members called this club Higginson
's ‘last plaything.’
Among the annual public gatherings which he frequently attended was the meeting of the Social Science Association
, where he presided over the educational department or gave addresses.
He sometimes lectured at Chautauqua
which he called ‘An innocent Saratoga
When he went
forth on these expeditions to ‘scream among his fellows,’ as an irreverent friend was fond of quoting from Bryant
's ‘Waterfowl,’ unforeseen difficulties sometimes arose.
In such cases a happy versatility saved the day, as when in Bangor
, in 1887:—
Last night I had a good lecture, though I learned just as we went into the church door that the subject was different from what I had supposed, so that I had to switch my thoughts off very suddenly.
In January, 1888, he meditated:—
It is curious to see how my 64th birthday seems the turning-point for my reputation such as it is. I had a notice of nearly a column with a horrible portrait in a Detroit newspaper and a good many western letters referring to it in one way or another, showing it well advertised.
This somewhat tardy repute has the advantage that it comes at a time when my head is past turning.
His interest in public affairs never flagged, and he lent his influence to defeat the bill condemning parochial schools.
‘Spoke before Legislative Committee,’ he wrote in his diary for March of the same year, ‘against the private school bill amid a howling audience of sectarians.’
In the same year he went West on a lecture trip and wrote to his sister:—
It was impossible not to be drawn into politics and, in the fall of 1888, Colonel Higginson
was nominated as Representative to Congress by the Democrats of the Fifth Congressional District.
The question whether to accept this nomination required much deliberation.
He wrote in his diary September 23:—
Thinking all day about Congressional proposal and decided to decline it . . . . Wrote accordingly in evening.
Felt so dissatisfied and troubled at my decision that I decided to revoke it . . . and substituted another letter.
I hope I have at last done right, but it is a risk.
I hope some one else will be nominated.
was required to do more or less stump-speaking in this campaign and wrote:—
Election Day . . . . Globe reporter surprised to find me quietly reading and said that all the other candidates were in rooms at hotels with newspapers, telegraphers, and tables of figures.
Learned news of defeat by the morning paper—felt political but not much personal regret, as I have never supposed I should like the life and there is plenty besides to be done.
About the result of the election, he told his sister:—
I don't doubt that many who at first meant to vote for me decided at last to stick by their party; and this is not strange, as one vote may determine the majority in the House ... The defection of the colored people's Club in Boston at the last moment was rather unexpected . . . . But on the whole the Irish-Americans stood by me well and so did some of the colored people. ... M. volunteered the use of Dapple [a small Shetland pony] all day yesterday for bringing up voters.
In another letter to his brother-in-law he reported:—
The Election was really on pretty strict party lines. . . . I don't feel that I have wasted time and strength; it has done me no apparent harm and made me feel that I am younger and stronger than I thought . . . the morning disappointment already seems a good way off. Margaret dances about and says, “O papa, I'm so glad you are not elected.”
Restored to the quiet of his study, he edited, with his friend Mrs. Ella H. Bigelow
, a volume of ‘American Sonnets’; in 1888, wrote his book ‘Travellers and Outlaws’; and on New Year's Day, 1889, the diary recorded: ‘Looking forward also to my volume of poems, the fulfilled dream of a life’; and soon adds: ‘Translated two Camoens sonnets and revised Ruckert's “ Cradle Song” and got them into volume.’
This was his first volume of verse and was called ‘An Afternoon Landscape.’
A little later, he writes:—
At printing office—last proofs.
I shall miss the fine and delicate pleasure of revising these verses—the flower of my life; a sort of witchhazel.
When a summons came from the Governor
in June, 1889, to appear at the State House
, Colonel Higginson
supposed that the interview would relate to the controversy on parochial schools, but instead he was offered the post of military historian.
This offer he at first declined, but being urged to consider it, he decided a few days later to accept.
November saw him fairly launched in this new literary enterprise, and he wrote to his sister:—
. . . I see that I must be very careful and as I now have Margaret in full force upon me ( “Papa, I am going to take good sound care of you,” ) I shall probably be protected.
She requires me to go to bed early. . . . I am quite free from extra engagements
and cares and shall keep so for the history's sake.
While engaged on this complicated undertaking, which continued for seven years, Colonel Higginson
was very active in civic service.
For fourteen years he was one of the hard-working trustees of the Cambridge Public Library
, and as a representative member of the Citizens' Committee was in frequent communication with Governor Russell
and Mr. F. H. Rindge
, of California
, in reference to the public gifts of the latter to the city of Cambridge
(1888). Mr. Richard H. Dana
has called attention to the fact that when petitions or documents relating to public movements were brought to Colonel Higginson
to endorse, he always carefully considered them and asked searching questions before giving the influence of his name.
This scrutiny often resulted, not only in important changes in the text of such papers, but in an entirely different way of presenting the scheme.
When Margaret was eight years old, we spent the summer at East Gloucester.
Here Colonel Higginson
bought a fisherman's dory and taught the little girl to row. These notes are taken from his diary of that summer (1889):—
P. M. . . . to Gloucester and bought things for boat, and then rowed over—enjoying it as much as thirty years ago at Pigeon Cove.
July 13. Dr. Rogers here, our first meeting for some ten years; enjoyed seeing him, but felt something of that “secret pain” described in Longfellow's Driftwood Fire. . . . P. M. rowed to Gloucester and back against wind and sea . . . the best pull I have had for years.
Rowed to Gloucester and Ten Pound Island—finding the descendants of Francis Higginson's “sweet single rose.”
In October Margaret went home before her father, and he thus described a day without her:—
The day seemed a concentrated solitude and partial death without Margaret and every little starfish and sea urchin she scattered seemed a part of her and too sacred to be touched.
It brought home with terrible vividness the possible desolation of a life without her, and by sympathy, more remotely, the blow that it will be to her ardent nature on that day when she must lose me. That is the only drawback on a long delayed parentage—that one cannot as in youth look forward to a long lifetime within reach of a child.
For me it may be something that I shall not live to see her with gray hairs—but for her—The more need to love each other while we can.