previous next

Chapter 16:

  • Return to home life.
  • -- circle of friends. -- inauguration as Professor at Harvard College. -- entrance on College duties. -- literary life. -- religious opinions. -- Mr. Webster's oration at Plymouth. -- story of Edheljertha.

Mr. Ticknor reached home, after his four years absence, on the 6th of June, 1819. He returned with character matured by unusual experience of men; with rare learning and accomplishments, acquired by diligent and systematic study; and with tastes cultivated and disciplined by acquaintance with the best society of Europe. The object of his residence abroad had been to prepare him for a career of useful activity at home, and he came back full of ardor to use his various gifts and acquisitions for the benefit of the community to which he belonged. There was nothing in him of the trifler or the dilettante.

There would have been small ground for surprise, if, after a period so crowded with interests from sources in which America had no share, Mr. Ticknor had felt something like depression at the prospect of the comparative barrenness of life, as regards aesthetic pursuits, in this Western world. But it was not so. His affectionate and cheerful disposition made his return happy for himself and delightful to his friends. His uncommon social gifts and animated spirits, his ready kindness, and his active energy, united to make him at once an important member of society, both in the circle of the cultivated, and in that of the public-spirited men of business in his native place.

Boston was still a compact town of scarcely more than forty thousand inhabitants, with the best conditions for healthy social intercourse,—leisure combined with considerable commercial activity; equality, inasmuch as there was neither a pauper class [316] nor an accumulation of great wealth in a few hands; general education; and that familiarity of each with all, which becomes impossible in great cities.1

An unusual number of men of character, and distinction in various professions, had gradually gathered here, and with all the most eminent of these Mr. Ticknor was closely associated from this time forward. With Mr. Webster, who had become a resident of Boston during his absence in Europe; with the Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing; with Dr. Bowditch, the eminent mathematician, who, like Webster, had lately made his home here; with Edward and Alexander Hill Everett; with Washington Allston, the artist; with the Prescotts, father and son; and with many others worthy to be ranked beside them, cultivated women as well as men, Mr. Ticknor found himself at once in congenial, appreciative, and animating society. Of these advantages he was by taste and principle ready to avail himself to the utmost.

There was a remarkable constancy in his friendships; all those which took an important place in his life being terminated only by death.2 In his old age he still had friends whom he had counted as such for sixty years, although he had outlived so many. With regard to two of those intimacies which colored [317] and added interest to his life in the period now opening before him, his own record has already been printed.

How he came to know and love the charming, earnest, gifted Prescott, his junior by four years, he has told in the memoir which he survived to write; and how he became a constant visitor, and an affectionate admirer of Prescott's parents,—the wise and noble-minded judge, and his vigorous, benevolent, animated wife.3 He also describes his finding young Prescott in Paris in 1817, when he arrived from Germany, and the illness through which he watched with him, adding: ‘It was in that dark room that I first learned to know him, as I have never known any other person beyond the limits of my immediate family; and it was there that was first formed a mutual regard, over which, to the day of his death,—a period of above forty years,—no cloud ever passed.’ The first friends to welcome him on his return were the Prescotts, parents and son; and thenceforward he was always treated by them and theirs as if he had been of their kin and blood.

His affectionate and intimate relations with Mr. Webster—whose great and commanding intellect, and generous, genial nature, always inspired in him an undeviating confidence and sympathy—are set forth in the reminiscences he contributed to the memoir of the statesman written by his nephew, George Ticknor Curtis. This intercourse, maintained for fifty years, was most animated and stimulating; different in its nature and manifestations from that with Prescott, but delightful, and tending to develop in Mr. Ticknor the broad and invigorating interest in public affairs which was inherent in his views of manly duty.

Some there were, whose names have been or will be mentioned from time to time in these pages, who are less known, [318] and who did not preserve the letters they received from Mr. Ticknor, so that they appear less prominently; but their influence on his happiness was, nevertheless, great, and his delight in their culture and their characteristic qualities was an important element in his experience. One of these was Joseph Green Cogswell, who, though five years his senior, survived him a few months; of whom he writes in 1820, ‘He is the same admirable creature, full of zeal for everything good, and everything that will promote the cause of learning, not exactly like other people, and not, perhaps, exactly as other people would like to have him, but always disinterested, always scattering good knowledge about him wherever he goes, and always exciting an enthusiasm for it in those he meets, from the excess of his own.’ And again in 1842, after speaking of Cogswell's great acquirements, he adds: ‘I have known him, familiarly, above thirty years, have travelled with him and lived with him, months together, and yet never saw him unreasonably or disagreeably out of temper . . . . He is always pleasant in personal intercourse, under all circumstances, to a degree which, I think, I have never known in any other man.’4

Another was Francis Calley Gray, whose immense and varied stores of accurate knowledge were scarcely made available to any except those who enjoyed his personal acquaintance; but whose conversation, enriched by them, was invaluable to his friends, among whom none was more faithful, or in more constantly familiar relations, than Mr. Ticknor.5 [319]

Jacob Bigelow, the eminent and acute physician, the shrewd and witty companion, and James Savage,6 warm-hearted, loyal, indefatigable, faithful to every obligation of friendship from youth to age; the exact and enthusiastic genealogist; quaint, vehement, and the very soul of integrity, of whom Mr. Webster once wrote, ‘He is as true a man as I know of; he would appear very awkward if he were to make trial—and try his best—to think wrong or to feel wrong’;—these both were among his earliest friends, and contributed their quota to his resources of enjoyment, as well as of intellectual stimulus.

Established in his father's house, and surrounded by an ample and well-selected library, which he had purchased with labor and care in Europe,7 Mr. Ticknor entered with zeal on the discharge of many duties, and the immediate preparations for his professorship in Harvard College. He persevered in his habit of early rising, and devoting his whole morning to study. Domestic and social claims, a wide correspondence, and the multiplied casual interests that demand the attention of a character like his, filled the remaining hours of the day to overflowing.

His formal induction to the Professorships of the French and Spanish Languages, and of the Belles-Lettres, his appointment to which has already been mentioned, took place in the church at Cambridge, on the 10th of August, 1819, scarcely more than two months after his arrival from Europe. Mr. Norton entered on the same day, and with the same ceremony, the Dexter Professorship of Sacred Literature, and each of the new professors delivered an inaugural address before a cultivated and sympathetic [320] audience, which filled the old church, and for whom such an opportunity of listening to the utterance of the ripest scholarship America could then boast was an occurrence of no small interest.

Mr. Ticknor's discourse was fresh and appropriate; its style rich, animated, yet simple; and its topics varied and comprehensive enough to embrace the range of the duties assigned to him. An extract from the portion on Spanish literature, associating itself with his later labors, will be sufficient to show its tone:—

In modern times no poetry has sprung so directly from the popular feelings, or exercised so great an influence on the national character, as that of the Peninsula, beyond the Pyrenees. This rich and admirable country, standing in some measure between Europe and Africa, served, for above seven centuries, as the advanced guard of Christendom against the attacks of the Arabs, who then threatened to overrun Europe, as they had already overrun the half of Asia. In these conflicts—where, during four hundred years, the Spaniards were uniformly beaten, without ever shrinking—a national character was gradually formed, in which chivalry and religion were mingled and confounded by the cause in which they were alike engaged; while, at the same time, the bitterness of an hereditary animosity, that tolerated neither compromise nor hesitation, was admirably softened down into a splendid gallantry and heroic emulation of excellence, by the generous virtues and higher refinement of their Moorish enemies. This spirit,—which the histories of Zaragoza and Girona prove to be still burning in the veins of the lower classes of the people of Spain, as it was in the days of Cordova and Granada,— this spirit has always been apparent in their poetry.

From the first outpourings of its rude admiration for heroes whom it has almost made fabulous, down to the death of Cadahalso before Gibraltar, and the self-sacrifice of Jovellanos, it has never had but one tone; and that tone has been purely and exclusively Spanish, nourished by a high moral feeling, and a proud and prevalent sense of honor, loyalty, and religion. It breaks upon us with the dawn of their modern history, in their unrivalled ballads; the earliest breathings at once of poetical and popular feeling among them, whose echoes, like the sweet voice of Ariel amidst the tumults of the tempest, come to us in the pauses of that tremendous warfare which seems, alternately, one merciless and interminable battle [321] wasting generation after generation, and a single wild adventure running through whole centuries of romance and glory. We trace it, too, hardly less in their drama, which is so truly national that it seems to belong to their character, like a costume, and springs so immediately from their wants and feelings that, as we read, we are persuaded they would have invented it, if antiquity had not given them the example.

And finally we see it in the individual lives of their authors, which have been, to an unparalleled degree, lives of adventure and hazard,—in Garcilaso, whose exquisite pastorals hardly prepare us for the heroic death he died, before the face of his Emperor; in Ercilla, who wrote the best of Spanish epics at the feet of the Andes, amidst the perils of war, and in the wastes of the wilderness; in Lope de Vega on board the Armada, and in Cervantes, wounded at Lepanto, and a slave in Barbary; in Quintana's prison, and Moratin's exile. Indeed, like its own Alhambra,—which was not merely the abode of all that was refined and graceful and gentle in peace and in life, but the fearful fortress of military pride and honor, amidst whose magnificent ruins the heart still treasures up long recollections of gallantry and glory,—the poetry of Spain seems to identify itself with achievements that belong rather to its history; and, as it comes down to us through the lapse of ages, almost realizes to our fancy the gorgeous fables and traditions of the elder times.

On the day preceding his inauguration, Mr. Ticknor wrote a letter to President Kirkland, giving fully his idea of the duties of the two professorships, and of the mode in which they should be fulfilled. We give some portions of it.

Boston, August 9, 1819.
dear Sir,—You have desired me to give you a projet of the instructions it may seem most advisable to give under the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literatures, and the College Professorship of the Belles-Lettres. Each, as it seems to me, should be considered separately.

The claims of the Smith Professorship, which should be first satisfied, seem to divide themselves into two parts, each requiring a distinct course of lectures, which it will probably be desirable to bring in aid of the instructions of the teacher in the French and Spanish languages, so that the whole of the Smith establishment may tend to one purpose, and operate on the same individuals. I should think, [322] therefore, that a course of lectures on French literary history and criticism, amounting perhaps to about twenty, delivered in the latter part of each year, to those who have made the most progress in the language, would be useful. To increase their utility, perhaps it would be well to take three hours in the week, on days not occupied with instruction in the language, and give two of them to lectures, and the third to an examination of the pupils, both in what they have learnt from the French teacher, and what they have heard of the professor's lectures, which I will make in French to those who are able and disposed to exercise themselves in speaking the language. This course would seem to close up the studies of those who should be about to leave the instruction of the French teacher; and to them I would propose to confine it, as I do not think it would be useful to any others.

The other course, which would be on Spanish literary history and criticism, may be made in the same way, and be delivered as often, accompanied with a similar examination; but, as it would not be quite so long,—if the rule of relative importance is to be observed, and a very few would attend it,—I should like to have it extemporaneous, both because I think more can be taught in this way, where the number of the instructed is small, and because I should like to exercise myself in this form of instruction.

Both courses, it seems to me, should be given merely to teach, never attempting to produce a popular effect; and as, in this case, utility would be their only object, I am disposed to think the attendance on them should be only by those persons who have made some progress under the instructions of the French teacher, and that there should be such an understanding and concert between him and the lecturer as to make the Smith establishment one whole, through their joint efforts.

Under any arrangement, however, these things seem to be important,—that the attendance should be purely voluntary, that the course should not be divided into two parts and delivered in successive years, and that the class should never be large, since my only object here, too, would be to teach, and this can be best done where the number is small.

Turning next to the claims of the second professorship, he says—

The belles-lettres, in general,—comprehending, of course, all the elegant literatures of Europe, from the earliest times of Greece to [323] our own,—form a subject for instruction much more extensive, and one much more calculated to be generally useful and interesting, than any of those literatures separately.

He then gives a sketch of a course in four divisions, covering ancient and modern literature, poetry, and prose; and in conclusion, he says,—

I have been thus minute in explaining the kind of lectures I have thought of delivering under the second professorship, for three reasons: 1. That the wide extent of the subject being considered, I may be allowed to spread it through more lectures than usually form a course. I should be sorry to be restricted to fewer than sixty. 2. That in consideration of the intimate connection between the different parts of the plan, and the importance of sustaining the attention and interest through the whole, I may be permitted to deliver them all in as short a time as possible. Perhaps four or five in each week during their continuance, and an examination one other day, would not be found oppressive. 3. That, as I have no experience in instruction, my plan may be examined by those who have; since I consider it merely a project, which I shall be more pleased to adapt, in any way, to the practical wants of the University, than to retain it as it is.

I am not aware that any other lectures than such as I have indicated, or some resembling them, would now be useful. At any rate, these are sufficient to occupy me for yet a long time to come; but if, hereafter, others that would naturally fall within my department should seem to be wanted, I shall always hold myself ready to prepare them, as far as my health and talents and knowledge will permit.

Yours very respectfully,

The comprehensive plan here sketched for the department of belles-lettres was never carried out. In establishing this professorship, the Corporation had neither specifically defined the duties of the professor, nor known how far those duties were included in other established professorships. When, therefore, Mr. Ticknor thus laid before the President his ideas of what the courses should be, it was found that the Greek classics were assigned to the Greek Professor; and that the Professor of [324] Rhetoric was required, by statute, to ‘examine and compare the properties of ancient and modern languages,’ and ‘to delineate the characteristic features of the most celebrated Greek, Roman, and English historians, orators, poets, and divines.’ Here were two very considerable sections, of what most scholars would regard as belonging to the department of belles-lettres, already in the charge of other teachers. Obviously a revision of the different statutes might have been made, and the duties of the separate professors clearly defined, but nothing of the kind was done. In answer to the preceding letter of August 9, the President simply stated these facts to Mr. Ticknor, who writes in reply: ‘This, of course, very much narrows the ground of the professorship of belles-lettres, though it still leaves it as wide, I suppose, as I could occupy with profit. At any rate, it would be far from unpleasant to me to have it understood, that these branches of the belles-lettres are already occupied, and that it will not be expected of me to give any part of my attention to them.’

For some time Mr. Ticknor suffered from delays in establishing rules for his department from imperfect rules, and from their inefficient enforcement; and he often remonstrated, always evincing a desire to have the means of producing more interest, more ambition of scholarship, and better opportunities of progress for the students, at whatever cost of labor to himself. His whole attitude toward the College was that of one animated by ardent zeal to promote the cause of good learning; and in spite of many discouragements, arising from the condition of the College government, and from the general standard of scholarship in the community, he persevered, with an earnestness and patience which could not fail to have a marked and increasing effect. He entirely succeeded in rousing and holding the attention of his classes; and the love of letters was quickened in them, not only by his words and manner, but by the example they saw in him, of one who had deliberately chosen the pursuit of literature, rather than yield to the allurements of a life of unprofitable leisure, or to those of a more lucrative profession.

His work in preparing lectures on the literatures and the literary [325] histories of France and Spain was thorough and elaborate, the work of an ardent and conscientious scholar, who borrowed no learning at second hand which he could obtain from the primitive sources, and neglected no means for forming independent and correct judgments. His lectures thus became a body of consecutive, historic criticism, in which the intrinsic qualities of the works under discussion were made to illustrate the progressive development in culture of the nations to which their authors belonged.

His manner of thought and expression was simple, direct, and fluent; not distinguished so much by originality of view or brilliancy of phrase, as by excellent sense and judicious and accurate statement. At the same time his voice and style of speaking, his brilliant eye and animated countenance, his whole bearing, as he sought to put himself in close communication with the minds of the young men before him, had much magnetic attraction. He doubtless kept in mind his observations in Germany and France, and Goethe's remark to him, that ‘elo-quence does not teach.’

He did not read from a manuscript, after the first term, and thus the magnetism of the eye and the face was not lost.8 Lord Brougham said in his inaugural discourse at Glasgow, that, [326] other things being equal, he who has written most will speak best. Mr. Ticknor had written so much, that his spontaneous language took a periodic form, and his discourse, if taken down by a stenographer, might have gone to the press with hardly any correction. He did not make his hearers impatient by embarrassing pauses, nor yet uncomfortable by the over-rapid utterance which implies the want of self-possession and self-control.

Mr. G. T. Curtis says, in a letter of reminiscences of his uncle—

He always, in my time, fixed and kept the attention of his class; indeed, there was never any movement or sound in the lecture-room that evinced an absence of attention. . . . . He followed the very exact and methodical order of his syllabus, introducing discussions which were always animated and sometimes eloquent. . . .

An audience of college students is, to be sure, no very formidable body to a grown man. But you9 and I have both heard Mr. Ticknor lecture before large and mixed audiences of ladies and gentlemen, with no other appliances than he used in the College class-room, but with the same fluency and ease, and at the same time in a manner adapted to the assembly before him. On all occasions his diction was both copious and precise. The sum of my testimony is, that his lecturing was as successful teaching as I have ever listened to.

No man could be more liberal in the use of his time and his knowledge, for the assistance of individual scholars, or for the promotion of the interests of general education. His library, which was freely open to any one who desired to consult books contained in it, included many works then scarcely to be found in any other American library, public or private. Many were the hard-working students who were able to pursue their investigations by the aid of its treasures, and who received from Mr. Ticknor friendly encouragement and judicious counsel. Mr. Curtis says again—

He very early began, and always continued, the habit of lending his books freely, taking no other precaution than to write down the title of the volume, and the name of the borrower, in a note-book. The number of volumes lent was often considerable. He would lend a book to any respectable person, whether personally known to him [327] or not, if he perceived that it was really desired for use. His books have been sent to Maine, New Hampshire, even to Baltimore, and other distant places, for the use of scholars who could get them in no other way.

The strong religious impressions which Mr. Ticknor received in early years deepened, as his character matured, into personal convictions, that confirmed the ruling principles of his life. He had been brought up in the doctrines of Calvinistic Orthodoxy, but later serious reflection led him to reject those doctrines; and soon after his return from Europe he joined Dr. Channing's church, of which he continued through life a faithful member. He was a sincere Liberal Christian, and his convictions were firm, but they were held without bigotry, and he never allowed them to interfere with kindliness and courtesy.

The Rev. E. S. Gannett, for many years his pastor and friend, wrote a notice of Mr. Ticknor after his death,10 in which he called him ‘a scholar,—we wish to lay emphasis on the fact,— whose faith clung to the gospel of Christ, and who recognized in him, whose name is the burden of the New Testament, a messenger of the Divine will, and a ruler over human souls.’

He maintained a cordial interest in the church of which he was a member, and early took a class of boys in its Sunday school, founded in 1822, which he kept for eight years, receiving it, during the last year, in his own library on Sunday mornings. Some of the members of this class who are now living, gentlemen engaged in different professions, retain pleasant recollections of its meetings. Later, in 1839-40, he gave a course of instruction on the history of the contents of the Bible, to a class of young girls, including his eldest daughter, for which he prepared himself carefully, and the notes he made for it were found among his papers.

In December, 1820, Mr. Ticknor joined a party of friends who went to Plymouth to attend the celebration of the twohun-dredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, and to hear Mr. Webster's oration on the occasion. His fresh impressions [328] of this memorable discourse, and of the effect it produced, are given in the following letter.11

Plymouth, Thursday Evening, December 21.
. . . . We set off this morning at half past 8 precisely. Our own party consisted of Mr.Davis and Mrs. I. P. Davis, Miss Russell, Frank Gray, Mr.Webster and Mrs. Webster, Miss Stockton, Miss Mason, and myself; but in the course of the forenoon we overtook fifty or sixty persons more, most of them of our acquaintance, and at the dining-house found Colonel Perkins, Mrs. S. G. Perkins, and Susan. The dinner was very merry, . . . . in the afternoon ride Mr. Webster became extremely interested, and I enjoyed myself as much as anybody.

At last we reached the hill that opened the Bay of Plymouth upon us, and it seemed in a moment as if I were at home, so familiar to me were the names and relations of everything I saw. It was like coming upon classic ground, where every object was a recollection and almost a history,—the point of land called the Governor's Farm, because it was owned by the first governor; Clarke's Island, where the Pilgrims landed on Saturday, the 20th December, 1620, and kept their Sabbath with all the severity of their peculiar notions of religion, and refused to come to the main shore until Monday; and finally the very town itself, that now covers and hides the little spot they consecrated by their first footsteps.

The moment I got out of the carriage I set off to see whatever the daylight would still permit me to enjoy, of a spot to which more recollections tend than to any other in America. The first thing was of course the Rock, on which the first boatload that came from the Mayflower landed, on Monday, 22d of December, 1620. It was already surrounded by a crowd of the strangers who have arrived this afternoon, and a cannon was mounted on it to fire a forefathers' salute to-morrow morning.

I have seldom had more lively feelings from the associations of place than I had when I stood on this blessed rock; and I doubt whether there be a place in the world where a New England man should feel more gratitude, pride, and veneration than when he stands where the first man stood who began the population and glory of his country. The Colosseum, the Alps, and Westminster Abbey have nothing more truly classical, to one who feels as he ought to feel, than this rude and bare rock. [329]

From this interesting monument I went up to the southern side of the sunny hill, which in that cold season probably tempted the fathers to establish themselves here, and where they pitched their tents the first night; and from there went to the height where the first victims of their sufferings and privations were secretly buried. No stone marks the spot, and it is only the fidelity of an unquestionable tradition that has preserved its memory. In the course of December,—or in eight days,—out of one hundred and one that landed, four died, and in the course of January and February, forty others; so that in a little more than two months their numbers were diminished almost one half.

But they did not dare to let it be known, lest the Indians should take advantage of their weakness, and cut them off altogether. The dead, therefore, received no visible monument; but the tears and sufferings and terrors of the survivors have been to them more than all records and memorials.

It was now nearly dark, but still I was able to go and see the hill, or rather little mound, where King Massasoit came, in the following spring, and held a conference with the poor reduced settlers, and gave them assurances of good — will which induced them to remain, and found an empire of whose greatness they little dreamt. . . . .

This evening . . . . we have had a good deal of company, both old colonists and strangers. The most curious was Mr. Sam Davis, brother to the Judge; who, if I understand his character rightly, unites in his person all the attributes of a forefather, and all the recollections, traditions, and feelings of one of their descendants, so that I look upon him as a kind of ghost, come down from the seventeenth century to preserve for us what without him would certainly have been forever lost. At any rate, we found him very interesting, very curious, and very amusing. . . . .

The whole town has the air of a fete. The streets are filled with idlers, lounging about to see the curiosities, or people busily running to and fro, to get their quarters and make them comfortable; the houses and chambers are all lighted up, as if there was a party in every room, and a band of military music has been nearly all the time marching up and down the street, followed by the crowd and rabble, who seem to share not a little of the general enthusiasm. Everything, in short, gives token of a goodly day to-morrow. . . . .

Friday Evening.—I have run away from a great levee there is down stairs, thronging in admiration round Mr. Webster, to tell you a little word about his oration. Yet I do not dare to trust myself about it, [330] and I warn you beforehand that I have not the least confidence in my own opinion. His manner carried me away completely; not, I think, that I could have been so carried away if it had been a poor oration, for of that I apprehend there can be no fear. It must have been a great, a very great performance, but whether it was so absolutely unrivalled as I imagined when I was under the immediate influence of his presence, of his tones, of his looks, I cannot be sure till I have read it, for it seems to me incredible.

It was on the point of time where we now stand, both in relation to our ancestors and to posterity; and he discussed it, first, as to the Pilgrims who came here, what they suffered at home and on their arrival, and how different were the principles of colonization from those in Greece, Rome, and the East and West Indies; secondly, as to the progress of the country, and its situation an hundred years ago, compared with what it is now, in which he drew a fine character of President Adams; thirdly, as to the principles of our governments, as free governments,—where he had a tremendous passage about slavery,—as governments that encourage education,—where there was a delightful compliment to President Kirkland,—and as governments founded on property; . . . . and finally, in the fourth place, as a great people welcoming its posterity to the enjoyment of blessings which all the rest of the world cannot offer, with which he ended in a magnificent flood of eloquence.

I was never so excited by public speaking before in my life. Three or four times I thought my temples would burst with the gush of blood; for, after all, you must know that I am aware it is no connected and compacted whole, but a collection of wonderful fragments of burning eloquence, to which his manner gave tenfold force. When I came out I was almost afraid to come near to him. It seemed to me as if he was like the mount that might not be touched, and that burned with fire. I was beside myself, and am so still.

We went this morning to the Registry Office, where are records of some sort or other, from as early as 1623, and where we saw the handwriting of the venerable Elder Brewster, and all the documents that give us, as it were, a more distinct ancestry than any other people on the globe. Then we went to the burying-ground, where rest the bones of one of the Pilgrims of 1620; the only one who lived so far into settled times that it was safe to bury him with a gravestone. After that to the oration, from which we went with all our recollections, all our burning feelings, to the Rock, and stood there, just two centuries from the moment when the first Pilgrims landed. [331]

Saturday Morn, 23d.—When I had gone thus far, I returned down stairs, to see if I might be excused from going to the ball, and talked quite hoarse, and looked more than usually heavy, to sustain my pretensions. But there seemed to be no means of escape. . . . . So I made a merit of necessity, and went as gayly as if I had gone from choice; at least, I thought I did. The room was enormously full, four hundred persons at least, and my spirits soon fell in proportion to the crowd. I walked up and down with Palfrey, and talked about College; and with Eliza Buckminster; . . . . and with Mrs. Webster; . . . . . but as for dancing, I could not undertake it. At half past 10 I brought home Mrs. Webster and Mrs. Perkins, . . . . and was very glad to sit down with a delightful circle about the fire. . . . .

Mr. Webster was in admirable spirits. On Thursday evening he was considerably agitated and oppressed, and yesterday morning he had not his natural look at all; but since his entire success, he has been as gay and playful as a kitten. The party came in one after another, the spirits of all were kindled brighter and brighter, and we fairly sat up till after two o'clock. I think, therefore, we may now safely boast the Plymouth Expedition has gone off admirably.

Parts of two letters, written in the following year, contain the particulars of a singular story, of which the mystery has never been explained, but of which this authentic account seems worthy of insertion here.

To S. A. Eliot, London.

Boston, August 7, 1821.
. . . . Great noise and interest has been made here lately about a young man, Edheljertha, a Swede of about thirty, of much learning, who came out here perfectly authenticated to Mr. William Parsons, as a poor young man of respectable connections, and a thorough education, who was entitled to an estate in the West Indies, which was violently withheld from him by a Spaniard. His money failed him here; but he declined receiving any from Mr. Parsons until he should know something more about his claim; and undertook to earn his bread, first by working at the composition of acids, with a man who lives on the Neck, and afterwards, as that affected his health, in the Botanical Garden at Cambridge, where his botanical knowledge was soon found important. [332]

Cogswell took him into the library, to help make catalogue; but about this time he received an anonymous, threatening letter, which very much alarmed him, in his unprotected state as a stranger, for Cogswell was then gone. . . . . Soon afterwards he believed himself poisoned in a very strange way, and had dreadful fits, but in all else preserved the simplicity of his character, and the apparent sanity and consistency of his mind. A few evenings since, however, he set out to walk into Boston, and was found at daybreak on the beach in Marblehead, much bruised, saying he had been forcibly carried there in a boat, from which he escaped, though fired at when he ran and dreadfully ill-treated during the passage. He was, evidently, slightly deranged, but has preserved entire consistency in his story ever since, though he has once had a perfect access of insanity.

Now upon this statement of facts the town is grievously exercised and divided. His testimonials and documents are all so clear and sure, and his life such a perfect confirmation of them, that very few believe him to be an impostor, while, on the other hand, many— among whom are the Parsonses, Mr.Farrar and Mrs. Farrar, President Kirkland, Mr.Peck and Mrs. Peck, etc.—believe the whole of his stories, think he really was poisoned and kidnapped, and that his life is constantly in a mysterious danger, which, with his sufferings, has produced transient and slight affections of insanity.

The greater part, however, think, I believe, that in consequence of his situation, the anonymous letter, and his poor health, he has become, quoad hoc, deranged, and that, in his derangement, he took the laudanum; . . . . perhaps went on board a boat for Marblehead, and became so outrageous that they tied him; or, perhaps, wandering all night, had fits, in which he was bruised, etc., etc. In short, in our healthy, well-organized community, it is not possible that a man should be persecuted in this way for several weeks, without getting some trace of the invisible agents; and when to this it is added, that his stories are improbable, and almost impossible in themselves, and that he certainly has been seen deranged twice,—once of which was immediately after he thinks he was kidnapped,—I should find it very difficult to think of him either better or worse than of an interesting and unfortunate crazy man. . . . .

September 6 . . . . . I wrote you the last time a good deal about Edheljertha, the Swede. That mystification still continues to an extraordinary degree; but as far as I can find out, this is the story now believed by those who have been most satisfied, not only of his honesty,—which hardly any doubt,—but of his sanity. He was [333] brought up as the twin son of a deceased clergyman, whose widow died while he was quite young, and who had a brother in business at Vera Cruz. His education was, however, totally different from that of his brother, much higher, more refined, luxurious, and careful, and out of proportion to the family means. When he left the University of Upsala, where he acquired no small amount of learning, he entered the army, rose with unaccountable rapidity, and at last was placed near the person of Prince Oscar.

While there, about twenty-three or twenty-four, he received a letter purporting to be from his uncle at Vera Cruz, saying he was rich, and promising to make him his heir, if he would come out there. On his proposing to go, the Prince endeavored to detain him; but, on the whole, he thought the American prospect of fortune quite as good as the Swedish; and, having some love for adventure besides, he provided himself with all necessary papers, and embarked for Boston. Here he received other letters, saying his uncle was dead, and he must wait. Then came the anonymous threats, as from a person who possessed his uncle's estate, and was determined to keep it; then the alleged poisoning; then the kidnapping to Marblehead, etc., as I told you before.

Since then, he has generally been in a high state of nervous excitement, sometimes extremely ill; . . . . his hearing failed him, his tongue was so swollen he could not speak, and he was constantly agitated, whether awake or asleep, by slight convulsions.

. . . . In this state, Mr. Froden, the Swedish Consul, being about to return home, arrangements were made to have him put on board the same vessel, so privately that any persons here employed to annoy or poison him should know nothing of it; and a fortnight ago he sailed, leaving all still in doubt and mystery.

Those most familiar with the circumstances of the case believe him to be the son of some considerable personage, who being about to acknowledge him, those who had an opposite interest, under pretence of this South American estate, . . . . had spirited him away; while the rest of us, who are told we know nothing about the secret history of the matter, believe it to be a singular case of insanity. All agree that his sufferings have been dreadful, and his character and conduct, while here, singularly simple and interesting. The rest, time must show.

Time has not, however, brought any satisfactory solution of this mystery, which remains, like the fate of Caspar Hauser, unexplained.

1 ‘A more peculiar and unmixed character,’ wrote Mr. William Tudor in this very year, ‘arising from its homogeneous population, will be found here than in any other city in the United States. There is none of the show and attractions of ostentatious and expensive luxury, but a great deal of cheerful, frank hospitality, and easy social intercourse. In short, if a man can limit his wishes to living in a beautiful country, among a hospitable people, where he will find only simple, unobtrusive pleasures, with a high degree of moral and intellectual refinement, he may be gratified.’—Letters on the Eastern States, p. 319.

2 On his seventy-sixth birthday Mr. Ticknor made a memorandum which was preserved, and which may appropriately be introduced here. It is headed, ‘Aug. 1, ‘67. Persons with whom I have lived in long friendship,’ and contains the names of sixteen early friends, and the dates of the commencement of each acquaintance. They are these: Curtis, C. P., from 1793; Everett, E., 1806; Everett, A. H., 1806; Prescott, W. H., 1808; Webster, D., 1808, but also slightly 1802, 1805, 1807; Haven, N. A., 1808; Daveis, C. S., 1809; Gardiner, R. H., 1812; Story, J., 1815; Allston, W., 1819. Others who survive, Curtis, T. B., from 1795; Thayer, S., 1805; Bigelow, J., 1808; Savage, J., 1809; Mason, W. P., 1809; Cogswell, J. G., 1810. Five of these gentlemen outlived him.

3 His letters from Europe, to his father and mother, frequently contain messages to Mrs. Prescott. On the 5th August, 1816, we find the following: ‘Remember me very particularly to Mrs. Prescott, whose kindness to you, dearest mother, I can never forget. It is not impossible that I shall meet her son somewhere in Europe, and if I do I shall rejoice in the opportunity of repaying, in a way which I am sure will be most welcome to her, some of the debt she has thus laid upon me.’

4 Mr. Cogswell's attachment to Mr. Ticknor, which lasted through their joint lives, was thus expressed in a letter written in 1814: ‘George's affection has been very dear to me. He has entered into my feelings, he has loved those that I did, he has felt an unfeigned sympathy in my sorrow, he has uniformly sought my happiness and shared my unlimited confidence. Besides, I was proud in being known to be his friend; when I was walking with him I loved to meet those who knew me; as his companion I felt myself welcome wherever I went.’ Mr. Cogswell, then twenty-eight years old, had already seen the world, and endured severe trials.

5 In the Preface to his ‘History of Spanish Literature,’ Mr. Ticknor calls Mr. F. C. Gray ‘a scholar who should permit the world to profit more than it does, by the large resources of his accurate and tasteful learning’; and Mr. Prescott said of him, ‘I think he was the most remarkable man I ever knew, for variety and fulness of information, and a perfect command of it. He was a walking encyclopedia. I have seen many men who had excellent memories, provided you would let them turn to their libraries to get the information you wanted; but no matter on what subject you talked with him, his knowledge was at his fingers' ends, and entirely at your service.’—Life of Prescott, Appendix F.

6 Mentioned ante, p. 2, as a friend of the father, he survived the son, living to the great age of eighty-seven. He was the author of a ‘Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England,’ in four volumes, a work of the highest value.

7 Though the Journal contains no allusion to it and his letters very few, yet it had been one of his constant occupations, in every country he visited, to buy books. He confined himself to collections of literature, for he wanted the books as the instruments of his labor. The Spanish collection was already remarkable.

8 The students were provided with a printed syllabus of the arrangement of his subject. That of the Spanish lectures was printed in 1823, and the following extract is taken from the preface to it, adopting one or two verbal changes made by Mr. Ticknor in an interleaved copy. ‘The Lectures on the History and Criticism of Spanish Literature, for which the present syllabus has been prepared, are about thirty-four in number, each an hour in length. In print they would amount to two octavo volumes. They are prepared for private classes, in Harvard College, and delivered, three or more in each week, so long as the course continues. The subject to which they are devoted is, in many respects, new in Europe, and in this country quite untouched. The Spaniards themselves have no work of history or criticism embracing the whole of their literature, or even its best portions; and in England and in Italy nothing has been done to assist them. . . . . . Both Bouterwek and Sismondi complain of the want of access to a sufficient collection of Spanish books, and their respective histories have certainly suffered from it. This want I have not felt. Accidental circumstances have placed within my control a collection of works in Spanish literature nearly complete for such purposes. The deficiencies, therefore, which will be found in this course of lectures . . . . are not to be imputed to the want of materials.’

9 The letter is addressed by Mr. Curtis to Mr. Hillard.

10 The article is entitled ‘A Christian Scholar,’ and appeared in the ‘Old and New,’ May, 1871.

11 An account of this discourse, by Mr. Ticknor, appears in another form in the reminiscences he furnished to Mr. Curtis for his ‘Life of Webster.’ See that work, Vol. I. p. 192.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: