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XII. Edward Everett Hale

The life of Edward Everett Hale has about it a peculiar interest as a subject of study. The youngest member of his Harvard class,--that of 1839,--he was also the most distinguished among them and finally outlived them all. Personal characteristics which marked him when a freshman in college kept him young to the end of his days. When the Reverend Edward Cummings came to Dr. Hale's assistance in the South Congregational Church, he was surprised to find practically no young people in the parish, and still more surprised to know that their pastor was ignorant of the fact. These parishioners were all young when Dr. Hale took them in charge, and to him they had always remained so, for he had invested them with his own fresh and undying spirit.

Probably no man in America, except Beecher, aroused and stimulated quite so many minds as Hale, and his personal popularity was unbounded. He had strokes of genius, sometimes with unsatisfying results; yet failures never stood in his way, but seemed to drop from his memory in a few hours. An unsurpassable [160] model in most respects, there were limitations which made him in some minor ways a less trustworthy example. Such and so curiously composed was Edward Everett Hale. He was the second son of a large family of sons and daughters, his parents being Nathan and Sarah Preston (Everett) Hale, and he was born in Boston, April 3, 1822. His father was the editor of the leading newspaper in Boston, the “Daily Advertiser,” and most of his children developed, in one way or another, distinct literary tastes. The subject of this sketch had before him, as a literary example and influence, the celebrated statesman and orator whose name he bore, and who was his mother's brother.

My own recollections of him begin quite early. Nearly two years younger than he, I was, like him, the youngest of my Harvard class, which was two years later than his. My college remembrances of him are vivid and characteristic. Living outside of the college yard, I was sometimes very nearly late for morning prayers; and more than once on such occasions, as I passed beneath the walls of Massachusetts Hall, then a dormitory, there would spring from the doorway a tall, slim young student who had, according to current report among the freshmen, sprung out of bed almost at the last stroke of the bell, thrown his clothes over [161] the stairway, and jumped into them on the way down. This was Edward Everett Hale; and this early vision was brought to my mind not infrequently in later life by his way of doing maturer things.

The same qualities which marked his personal appearance marked his career. He was always ready for action, never stopped for trifles, always lacked but little of being one of the heroes or men of genius of his time. Nor can any one yet predict which of these will be the form finally taken by his fame. His capacity for work was unlimited, and he perhaps belonged to more societies and committees than any man living. In this field his exhaustless energy had play, but his impetuous temperament often proved a drawback, and brought upon him the criticism of men of less talent but more accurate habits of mind. No denominational barriers existed for him. Ready to officiate in all pulpits and welcome in all, he left it unknown to the end of his life whether he did or did not believe in the Bible miracles, for instance. Nor did anybody who talked with him care much. His peculiar and attractive personality made him acceptable to all sorts of people and to men of all creeds; for his extraordinary versatility enabled him in his intercourse with other minds to adapt his sympathy and his language to the [162] individual modes of thought and belief of each and all of them.

Some of his finest literary achievements were those which he himself had forgotten. Up to the last degree prolific, he left more than one absolutely triumphant stroke behind him in literature. The best bit of prose that I can possibly associate with him was a sketch in a newspaper bearing the somewhat meaningless title “The last shake,” suggested by watching the withdrawal of the last man with a hand-cart who was ever allowed to shake carpets on Boston Common. He was, no doubt, a dusty and forlorn figure enough. But to Hale's ready imagination he stood for a whole epoch of history, for the long procession of carpet-shakers who were doing their duty there when Percy marched to Lexington, or when the cannonade from Breed's Hill was in the air. Summer and winter had come and gone, sons had succeeded their fathers at their work, and the beating of the carpets had gone on, undrowned by the rising city's roar. At last the more fastidious aldermen rebelled, the last shake was given, and Edward Everett Hale wrote its elegy. I suppose I kept the little newspaper cutting on my desk for five years, as a model of what wit and sympathy could extract from the humblest theme.

Another stroke was of quite a different character. [163] Out of the myriad translations of Homer, there is in all English literature but one version known to me of even a single passage which gives in a high degree the Homeric flavor. That passage is the description of the Descent of Neptune (Iliad, Book Xiii), and was preserved in Hale's handwriting by his friend Samuel Longfellow, with whom I edited the book “Thalatta,” --a collection of sea poems. His classmate, Hale, had given it to him when first written, and then had forgotten all about it. Had it not been printed by us there, it might, sooner or later, have found its way into that still unpublished magazine which Hale and I planned together, when we lived near each other in Worcester, Massachusetts,--a periodical which was to have been called the “Unfortunates' magazine,” and was to contain all the prose and verse sent to us by neighbors or strangers with request to get it published. I remember that we made out a title-page between us, with a table of contents, all genuine, for the imaginary first number. Such a book was to some extent made real in “Thalatta,” and the following is Hale's brilliant Homeric translation:--

The descent of Neptune

There sat he high retired from the seas;
There looked with pity on his Grecians beaten [164]
There burned with rage at the God-king who slew them.
Then rushed he forward from the rugged mountain;
He beat the forest also as he came downward,
And the high cliffs shook underneath his footsteps;
Three times he trod, his fourth step reached his sea-home.

There was his palace in the deep sea-water,
Shining with gold and builded firm forever.;
And there he yoked him his swift-footed horses
(Their hoofs are brazen, and theirmanes are golden)
With golden thongs; his golden goad he seizes;
He mounts upon his chariot and doth fly;
Yea, drives he forth his steeds into the billows.

The sea-beasts from the depths rise under him-
They know their King: and the glad sea is parted,
That so his wheels may fly along unhinder'd.
Dry speeds between the waves his brazen axle:--
So bounding fast they bring him to his Grecians.

Earlier than this, in his racy papers called “My College days,” we get another characteristic glimpse of Hale as a student. The Sunday afternoon before being examined for admission to college, he reports that he read the first six books of the Aeneid (the last six having already been mastered) at one fell swoop,--seated meantime on the ridge-pole of his father's house!

More firmly than on any of these productions [165] Hale's literary fame now rests on an anonymous study in the “Atlantic Monthly,” called “The man without a country,” a sketch of such absolutely lifelike vigor that I, reading it in camp during the Civil War, accepted it as an absolutely true narrative, until I suddenly came across, in the very midst of it, a phrase so wholly characteristic of its author that I sprang from my seat, exclaiming “Aut Caesar Aut nullus”; “Edward Hale or nobody.” This is the story on which the late eminent critic, Wendell P. Garrison, of the “Nation,” once wrote (April 17, 1902), “There are some who look upon it as the primer of Jingoism,” and he wrote to me ten years earlier, February 19, 1892, “What will last of Hale, I apprehend, will be the phrase ‘A man without a country,’ and perhaps the immoral doctrine taught in it which leads to Mexican and Chilean wars--‘ My country, right or wrong.’ ”

Be this as it may, there is no doubt that on this field Hale's permanent literary fame was won. It hangs to that as securely as does the memory of Dr. Holmes to his “Chambered Nautilus.” It is the exiled hero of this story who gives that striking bit of advice to boys: “And if you are ever tempted to say a word or do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home and your country, pray [166] God in his mercy to take you that instant home to his own heaven!”

President James Walker, always the keenest of observers, once said of Hale that he took sides upon every question while it was being stated. This doubtless came, in part at least, from his having been reared in a newspaper office, or, as he said more tersely, having been “cradled in the sheets of the ‘Advertiser,’ ” and bred to strike promptly. His strongest and weakest points seem to have been developed in his father's editorial office. Always ready to give unselfish sympathy, he could not always dispense deliberate justice. One of his favorite sayings was that his ideal of a committee was one which consisted of three persons, one of whom should be in bed with chronic illness, another should be in Europe, and he himself should be the third. It was one of his theories that clergymen were made to do small duties neglected by others, and he did them at a formidable sacrifice of time and in his own independent and quite ungovernable way. Taking active part for the Nation during the Civil War, --so active that his likeness appears on the Soldiers' Monument on Boston Common,--he did not actually go to the war itself as chaplain of a regiment, as some of his friends desired; for they justly considered him one of the few [167] men qualified to fill that position heartily, through his powerful voice, ready sympathy, and boundless willingness to make himself useful in every direction.

A very characteristic side of the man might always be seen in his letters. The following was written in his own hurried handwriting in recognition of his seventy-seventh birthday :--

April 8, 1899.
Dear Higginson,--Thanks for your card. It awaited me on my return from North Carolina last night.

Three score & ten as you know, has many advantages,--and as yet, I find no drawbacks.

Asa Gray said to me “It is great fun to be 70 years old. You do not have to know everything!”

I see that you can write intelligibly.

I wish I could — But I cannot run a Typewriter more than a Sewing-Machine.

Will the next generation learn to write — any more than learn the alphabet?

With Love to all yours

Truly & always E. E. Hale.

This next letter was called out by the death of Major-General Rufus Saxton, distinguished for his first arming of the freed slaves--

Washington, D. C., Feb. 29, 1908.
Dear Higginson,--I have been reading with the greatest interest your article on Gen. Saxton. [168]

It has reminded me of an incident here — the time of which I cannot place. But I think you can; -and if you can I wish you would write & tell me when it happened — and perhaps what came of it.

I was coming up in a street [car] when Charles Sumner came in & took a seat opposite me — The car was not crowded.

Every one knew him, and he really addressed the whole car — though he affected to speak to me. But he meant to have every one hear-& they did. He said substantially this,--

The most important order since the war began has been issued at the War Department this morning.

Directions have been given for the manufacture of a thousand pair of Red Breeches. They are to be patterned on the Red Trousers of the Zouavesand are to be the uniform of the First Negro Regiment.

He surprised the car-(as he meant to).

Now, 1. I cannot fix the date, can you?

2. Were the negro troops or any regiment of them ever clothed in the Zouave Uniform?

I remember there was a “Zouave” Regiment from New York City--

[I had the pleasure of informing him that my regiment, which he mentions, had been the only one disfigured by the scarlet trousers, which were fortunately very soon worn out and gladly banished. This was in August, 1862.]

It may be well enough to end these extracts from his correspondence with one of those bits [169] of pure nonsense in which his impetuous nature delighted. This was on occasion of his joining the Boston Authors' Club:--

Roxbury, Mass., April 10, 1903.
Dear Higginson,--One sometimes does what there is no need of doing. What we call here a Duke of Northumberland day is a day when one does what he darn chooses to do, without reference to the obligations of the social order. Such is to-day.

Did you ever hear the story of the graduate who never advanced in his studies farther than that Pythagorean man did who never could learn more than the first letters of the alphabet? I am reminded of it by the elegant monogram of our Club.

This young fellow's friends were very eager to get him through the university, so they sent him out from Boston in a


After two days he came


He then went to Cambridge on a three years course by taking electives which did n't require him to repeat the alphabet.

He learned to smoke


and at the end of the time the College made him


His friends then sent him to the Cuban War, and [170] he came out a Field Marshal, so that he was able to become a member of the


This was all I knew about him till this morning I have learned that after publishing his military memoirs he became a member of the


[Boston Authors' Club]

I am sorry to say that he already drank the Lager which was furnished him by the American Bottling Company

So no more at present from your old companion in arms,

Edward E. Hale, A B 1839.

These letters give a glimpse at the more impetuous and sunny aspects of his life. Turning again to its severer duties, it is interesting to notice that in conducting the funeral services of Mr. F. A. Hill, the Secretary of the State Board of Education, Dr. Hale said in warm praise of that able man: “He lived by the spirit; I do not think he cared for method.” The same was Hale's own theory also, or, at any rate, his familiar practice. He believed, for instance, that the school hours of a city should be very much shortened, yet never made it clear what pursuits should take their places; for it was the habit of his fertile brain to formulate [171] schemes and allow others to work them out. Many of his suggestions fell to the ground, but others bore rich fruit. Among these latter are the various “Lend a hand” clubs which have sprung up all over the country, not confining themselves to sect or creed, and having as their motto a brief verse of his writing. He went to no divinity school to prepare himself for preaching, and at one time did not see clearly the necessity of preliminary training for those who were to enter the pulpit. If his friends undertook laboriously to correct any inaccuracies in his published writings, he took every such correction with imperturbable and sunny equanimity, and, taxed with error, readily admitted it. His undeniable habit of rather hasty and inaccurate statement sprang from his way of using facts simply as illustrations. They served to prove his point or exemplify the principle for which he was contending. To verify his statements would often have taken too much time, and from his point of view was immaterial. It is hard for the academic mind, with its love of system, to accept this method of working, and his contemporaries sometimes regretted that he could not act with them in more business-like ways. They were tempted to compare his aims and methods to those of Eskimo dogs, each of which has to be harnessed [172] separately to the sledge which bears the driver, or else they turn and eat each other up. When it came to the point, all of yesterday's shortcomings were forgotten next morning by him and every one else, in his readiness to be the world's errand-boy for little kindnesses. But in the presence, we will not say of death, but of a life lived for others, which is deathless, the critic's task seems ungenerous and unmeaning. This man's busy existence may not always have run in the accepted grooves, but its prevailing note was Love. If the rushing stream sometimes broke down the barriers of safety, it proved more often a fertilizing Nile than a dangerous Mississippi.

Followed and imitated by multitudes, justly beloved for his warmth of heart and readiness of hand, he had a happy and busy life, sure to win gratitude and affection when it ended, as it did at Roxbury on June 10, 1909. The children and the aged loved him almost to worshiping, and is there, after all, a better test? [173]

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