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Chapter 2:

  • Manners and society in Boston at the time of Mr. Ticknor's birth.
  • -- his College life. -- admitted to the bar. -- the law not congenial. -- Determines to abandon it and devote himself to a life of letters. -- Decides to go to Europe and study there. -- visits Washington and Virginia in the winter of 1814-15. -- visit to Jefferson at Monticello. -- sketch of Jeffrey.

Mr. Ticknor's sketch of his early life is so full and graphic that little need be added by his biographer. I have only to describe, very briefly, the state of society and manners in Boston during his childhood and youth, thus suggesting some of the influences which helped to train his mind and character, and exhibit the poverty and limitations of that period in the means of education, compared with present resources, but which yet produced ripe scholars through individual resolution and desire for knowledge.

Boston, at the time of Mr. Ticknor's birth, was a small town, of about eighteen thousand inhabitants, forming a homogeneous community, nearly all of whom were of native birth and English descent. They were a people of primitive habits and a plain way of life, with certain peculiarities of character and manners which the great increase in wealth, population, and luxury during succeeding years has not entirely effaced. Though Dr. Freeman had been settled over King's Chapel in 1787, as a Unitarian clergyman, yet the stern faith of the Puritan settlers of New England held very general sway. Dr. Channing, Mr. Norton, and Mr. Buckminster, the real founders of liberal Christianity in New England, were in their childhood,—Dr. Channing, the oldest of them, having been born in 1780. And with the Puritan faith there lingered something of the Puritan spirit, which threw a shade of gravity and sternness over life and manners. One expression [18] of this spirit was the drawing of the line of moral distinction in the wrong place, and branding as essentially evil that which was evil only in excess. Many amusements, now justly deemed innocent, were frowned upon as snares of Satan, spread for the capture of the soul. Indeed, in the austere Puritan code, happiness itself was almost regarded as a sin. Repression was the general rule of life. The joyous sense of existence common to healthy childhood was not allowed full play. The discipline of families was strict. Children were taught, not merely to obey, but to reverence, their parents. In the presence of their elders, they were not expected to speak unless first spoken to. They were rarely caressed, and a sense of restraint was always present, which, while it pressed heavily upon the timid and sensitive, had the good effect of producing a valuable habit of self-command.

While the narrowness of Puritan Protestantism was thus slowly yielding, before the advances of social civilization, it was not yet strenuously attacked, either by the influx of a foreign population bringing with it its own foreign creed, or by the cold scepticism of what is called modern thought. For many years after this there was but one Roman Catholic church in Boston.1 At the same time the means of intellectual training were infinitely less than they are now. Books were scarce, and there were no large libraries rich with the spoils of learning. [19] But a taste for reading and a love of knowledge were generally diffused, and there were few homes of those in comfortable circumstances where there was not at least a closetful of good books. These were carefully, almost reverently, read; and such reading was productive of sound intellectual growth. Johnson was the favorite author in prose, and Pope in verse. Hervey's Meditations and Zimmerman on Solitude were popular books, and the glittering monotony of Darwin found admirers and imitators.

Few were rich, and none were very poor. The largest estates were not more than what would now be deemed a modest competence. Political independence and popular government were of too recent a date to have wholly effaced the social customs of a colonial period. A certain line of distinction was drawn between men, according to their wealth and station. Magistrates, men in authority, the learned professions, were treated with peculiar deference and consideration. Clergymen, especially, enjoyed from their office simply an influence now given to personal superiority alone.

Friends and acquaintances saw much of each other in a simple and unostentatious way. Those in easy circumstances exercised a frequent, cordial, and not expensive hospitality. Time was not so precious, and life was not so crowded, then as now, and men and women could afford to give a larger portion of the day to social pleasures. The traditions of the fathers did not forbid a certain measure of conviviality. Excellent Madeira flowed generously at rich men's tables, and punch was a liquor that held up its head in good society. It was a pleasant life they led, in spite of the Puritan frost that yet lingered in the air.

The resources of wealth and the refinements of luxury, however, fail of their end if they do not awaken the faculty of discourse, and make conversation finer and brighter. This result of society was secured in those days in measure not less ample than in our own. The women of that day were, in beauty of person, in grace of manner, in a high sense of duty, in the power of quiet self-sacrifice, and in clearness of thought, not inferior to those of later times. The contrasts of life were not so marked: [20] if its lights were not so bright, its shadows were less deep. The struggle alike for subsistence and superiority was less eager; and every capacity found employment in the rapid growth of a young country.

Boston has been compared to Athens, sometimes in good faith and sometimes as a sneer; but there is and was at least one marked point of resemblance between the two. In both cities the people were accustomed to hear public measures discussed by leading citizens, and were thus educated to a knowledge of their political duties. Athens and the Acropolis, Rome and the Capitol, are not more associated ideas than are Boston and Faneuil Hall. From a period earlier than the Revolutionary War, the people of Boston were accustomed to crowd that hall, and listen to men whom wisdom and eloquence raised to the rank of popular teachers and speakers; and at the time of Mr. Ticknor's birth there were two men in BostonHarrison Gray Otis on the Federal side, and Charles Jarvis on the Democratic—who, in any age or country, would have been deemed excellent speakers.

Mr. Ticknor thus states his recollections of the town meetings of Boston in his youth:—

‘I now (1865) feel sure—though at the time I did not so look upon them—that the town meetings held in Boston during the war of 1812 were more like the popular meetings in Athens than anything of the kind the world has ever seen. Commerce and trade were dead; the whole population was idle, and all minds intent on the politics of the day, as affecting their individual existence and happiness. Faneuil Hall could be filled with an eager and intelligent crowd at any moment of day or night. Town meetings were often continued two or three days, morning and evening. Caucuses were constantly held on Sunday evenings, and often it was necessary to adjourn from the small hall, where they might have been collected, to the Old South Church, for greater space. The orators were eloquent, and sometimes adverse parties met to discuss questions together. Governor Eustis, Mr. George Blake, and others on one side; Mr. H. G. Otis, Mr. Samuel Dexter, Mr. William Sullivan, on the other. All the speeches were extemporaneous; it would have lowered a man's reputation materially if it had been supposed that he had prepared and committed a speech to memory. Such a thing was never [21] known; and no one thought of reporting any speech. Mr. Otis was a very captivating speaker; handsome, gesticulating gracefully, with a beautiful voice and fervent manner, he excited an audience sometimes to such a degree, that it was said, if it had pleased him, at the end of one of his speeches, to give a hurrah, and call on the people to follow him to burn the town, they would have done it. His manner was very natural.’

In politics the town was strongly Federal. This was especially true of the educated and wealthier classes. The clergymen, lawyers, physicians, and merchants were nearly all of that party. Towards Washington their feeling was such as was due to his unequalled virtues and services, and hardly stopped short of idolatry. The opening scenes of the French Revolution were watched with the keenest interest by both parties, soon passing, with the Federalists, to aversion deepening into horror.

Mr. Ticknor remembered Washington's death, and says of it:—

There never was a more striking or spontaneous tribute paid to a man than here in Boston, when the news came of Washington's death (1799). It was a little before noon; and I often heard persons say at the time that one could know how far the news had spread by the closing of the shops. Each man, when he heard that Washington was dead, shut his store as a matter of course, without consultation; and in two hours all business was stopped. My father came home and could not speak, he was so overcome; my mother was alarmed to see him in such a state, till he recovered enough to tell her the sad news. For some time every one, even the children, wore crape on the arm; no boy could go into the street without it. I wore it, though only eight years old.

In the household in which George was reared there was nothing of the Puritan austerity which has been spoken of as tingeing the domestic manners of New England at that time. Of the peculiar characteristics of the Puritans, his father had only their pure morals and their strong religious faith. Being the only child of his father, and much younger than his half brothers and sisters, he was naturally a good deal petted, but never unwisely indulged. He was a docile, affectionate, and engaging child, [22] easily controlled, taking kindly to instruction, and early showing that love of knowledge which continued in him through life. He was very delicate in his childhood, and he believed it was owing to his mother's devoted care, and a very nourishing diet, that he was reared to man's estate.2 Brought up by parents whose daily occupation had been instructing young persons, it was natural that they should give him the elements of knowledge early. He showed, especially, skill and facility in penmanship; and a copy-book is still preserved, filled by him very creditably when only four and a half years old.

Between him and his father there was the perfect love that casteth out fear. From the first he gave to this wise, good, and kind man his whole heart and full confidence, and was repaid by the most judicious care, the most thoughtful affection, the readiest and most comprehending sympathy. Mr. Ticknor carried with him through life the sweet remembrance of a happy childhood, a blessing the full value of which is only appreciated by those who have never had it.

It has always been deemed to be a sort of moral duty in New England for every one to study some profession or take up some calling. In Mr. Ticknor's youth the church and the bar divided between them the young men of studious habits and literary tastes. Mr. Ticknor's strong religious faith, pure morals, facility in writing, and easy and graceful elocution well qualified him for the sphere of a clergyman; but his thoughts were never turned that way; and, almost as a matter of course, he chose the law.

In due time he was admitted to the bar, opened an office, surrounded himself with a fair library of law-books, supplied by the kindness of his father, and stood for a year at the receipt of professional custom: nor was it a barren year; for the young lawyer [23] who, at the start, pays all his office expenses during that period does well, and has no right to complain of fortune. And there can be no doubt that, had circumstances made it his duty to apply himself to the law, Mr. Ticknor would have been useful and eminent at the bar. He would have secured all the advantages that can be gained by invincible industry, sound judgment, and uncommon capacity in all business matters. Every lawyer knows that industry and judgment form the chief elements of professional success; and his habits of order, method, and punctuality would have secured the full confidence of his clients. He was the best man of business I have ever known of men not trained to it. His judgment in all things relating to the investment and care of property was excellent.

But having faithfully prepared himself for the law, and for a year patiently attended to its practice, Mr. Ticknor decided that the life of a lawyer would not satisfy his most simple ideas of usefulness or happiness. He therefore gave up his office, and turned his thoughts to plans of study and travel which should prepare him for the greater advantages of Europe. This was a conclusion not suddenly or unadvisedly formed, nor without the approval of his father, upon due consideration of the reasons which influenced his son in thus changing his course of life.

His motives for the step he took, and his hopes and views as to the future, may be learned from the following extract from a letter to his friend Mr. Haven, a young lawyer of Portsmouth, N. H., written in July, 1814:—

My plan, so far as I have one, is to employ the next nine months in visiting the different parts of this country, and in reading those books and conversing with those persons, from whom I can learn in what particular parts of the countries I mean to visit I can most easily compass my objects. The whole tour in Europe I consider a sacrifice of enjoyment to improvement. I value it only in proportion to the great means and inducements it will afford me to study—not men, but books. Wherever I establish myself, it will be only with a view of labor; and wherever I stay,—even if it be but a week,—I shall, I hope, devote myself to some study, many more hours in the day than I do at home.


In August of the same year he gave to Mr. Daveis, of Portland, Maine, much the same sketch of his plans:—

This next winter I shall pass at the South, to see the men the cities contain, and get some notion of the state of my own country; and, in the spring, I shall go to the land of strangers. The prospect of the pleasures and profits of a voyage to Europe and of travelling there, grows dim and sad as I approach it. One who, like myself, has always been accustomed to live, in the strictest sense of the phrase, at home, and never to desire any pleasures which could not be found there,—one who has never had enough of curiosity to journey through his own country,—can hardly feel much exultation at the prospect of being absent two or three years from that country in which all his wishes and hopes rest, as in their natural centre and final home.

I began, long ago, a course of studies which I well knew I could not finish on this side the Atlantic; and if I do not mean to relinquish my favorite pursuits, and acknowledge that I have trifled away some of the best years of my life, I must spend some time in Italy, France, and Germany, and in Greece, if I can. . . . The truth is, dear Charles, that I have always considered this going to Europe a mere means of preparing myself for greater usefulness and happiness after I return,—as a great sacrifice of the present to the future; and the nearer I come to the time I am to make this sacrifice, the more heavy and extravagant it appears.

But the resolution is taken and the preparation begun.

From these letters we learn the motives which led Mr. Ticknor to give up the law. Such a change is no very uncommon experience. Our paths in life are usually marked out by the force of circumstances over which we can exert but little control, and especially by that necessity of earning one's bread which is laid upon nine men out of ten. A young man of literary tastes may not like the profession to which he has been trained; but if he have good sense and strength of purpose, he will persevere in it, feeling assured that in this way he is certain of a sufficient support; while literature, which, as Scott well said, is a good staff but a poor crutch, gives no such pledge. But to this general rule there are exceptions. Some men, sooner or later, come to the dividing of the ways, and must decide for themselves [25] whether they will take the right hand or the left. Some choose the wrong turn, and then the whole life becomes a failure, embittered by the feeling that the true vocation has been missed. Mr. Ticknor decided rightly. He gave up the law, not from a fickle temper, not from a restless and dissatisfied spirit, not because he preferred a life of indolence and ease to a life of toil, but because, upon reflection and experiment, he was satisfied that he should be more useful and happy as a man of letters than as a lawyer. He saw that the country would never be without good lawyers, because the bar presented such powerful attractions to able and ambitious young men; and that it was in urgent need of scholars, teachers, and men of letters, and that this want was much less likely to be supplied. Feeling in himself a strong love of literature, and, from the circumstances of his life, being able to indulge in it, he came to the conclusion that he should be of more service to his generation as a scholar than as a lawyer. A mere preference of taste would not alone have determined his choice; and it should always be borne in mind that, in turning from law to literature, he was merely exchanging one form of hard work for another. It was his purpose to labor in his new vocation as manfully as his contemporaries in the laborious profession he had left, and we shall see how nobly in the future he redeemed his self-imposed pledge.

This change in the plan of life involved a change in the course of study. If he were to be a scholar, and not a mere literary trifler, he must prepare himself for his new calling by diligent study, and must go where the best instruction was to be had,— to Europe, and first of all to Germany. Even at this day the earnest American scholar seeks to complete his education in Europe, for there he finds larger libraries, more accomplished teachers, and better appointed universities; but in all these respects the difference between the two countries was much greater forty or fifty years ago than it is now. The literary poverty of this country at that time cannot be better illustrated than by the fact which Mr. Ticknor gives, that when he wanted to study German he was obliged to seek a text-book [26] in one place, a dictionary in a second, and a grammar in a third; the last two very indifferent in their kind. There are now, doubtless, more facilities in New England for the study of Arabic or Persian than there were then for the study of German.

But Mr. Ticknor spoke the simple truth when he said that he considered a residence in Europe as a sacrifice of enjoyment to improvement. He had all the elements of happiness in his own country. Very domestic in his tastes, he found under his father's roof a home in which affection, sympathy, and cultivation gave sweetness to every moment of life. The intelligent and agreeable society of Boston and its neighborhood, where he was always warmly welcomed, filled up pleasantly his hours of leisure, and we have seen by what strong ties of love and confidence he was bound to his friends. His was not the vacant mind which goes abroad in search of some object in life; nor did he sigh for the more highly flavored pleasures of a riper civilization than that of his own country.

Mr. Ticknor's journey to Washington and Virginia in the winter of 1814-15 was undertaken more as a matter of duty than of pleasure; for travelling in those days, in our country, was attended with wretched discomforts, of which those who were born in an age of railroads can have no conception. He felt that he ought not to go abroad without seeing something more of his own country than he had yet done; and he also hoped, in the course of his journey, to fall in with persons who had been in Europe and could give him information as to its universities and means of study.3 His letters during this journey form a natural sequel to the autobiography. They were all written to his parents, except one to his friend, Mr. Edward T. Channing. [27]

To Mr. E. Ticknor.

New York, December 31, 1814.
I devoted the greater part of this morning to Fulton's steam machinery. The first and most remarkable, of course, is the ship of war, which, instead of being called a frigate, is, in honor of its inventor, called a ‘Fulton,’ and instead of an appropriate appellation is numbered ‘1’; so that the mighty leviathan I went to see this morning is the ‘Fulton, No. 1.’ It is, in fact, two frigates joined together by the steam-enginery, which is placed directly in the centre, and operates on the water that flows between them. It has two keels and two bows, and will be rigged so as to navigate either end first. Its sides are five feet thick, and its bulwarks will be in proportion; so that it is claimed that it will be impervious to cannon shot. It will carry forty 32-pounders, and is intended chiefly for harbor defence. Here you have all I know, and perhaps all the inventor yet knows, of the prospects of this strange machine.

Philadelphia, January 6, 1815.
I dined to-day with Mr. Parish, a banker and a man of fortune. He is a bachelor, and lives in a style of great splendor. Everything at his table is of silver; and this not for a single course, or for a few persons, but through at least three courses for twenty. The meat and wines corresponded; the servants were in full livery with epaulets, and the dining-room was sumptuously furnished and hung with pictures of merit.

But what was more to me than his table or his fortune, John Randolph is his guest for some weeks. The instant I entered the room my eyes rested on his lean and sallow physiognomy. He was sitting, and seemed hardly larger or taller than a boy of fifteen. He rose to receive me as I was presented, and towered half a foot above my own height. This disproportion arises from the singular deformity of his person. His head is small, and, until you approach him near enough to observe the premature and unhealthy wrinkles that have furrowed his face, you would say that it was boyish. But as your eye turns towards his extremities, everything seems to be unnaturally stretched out and protracted. To his short and meagre body are attached long legs which, instead of diminishing, grow larger as they approach the floor, until they end in a pair of feet, broad and large, giving his whole person the appearance of a sort of pyramid. His arms are the counterparts of his legs; they rise from small shoulders, which seem hardly equal to the burden, are drawn out to a disproportionate [28] length above the elbow, and to a still greater length below, and at last are terminated by a hand heavy enough to have given the supernatural blow to William of Deloraine, and by fingers which might have served as models for those of the goblin page.

In his physiognomy there is little to please or satisfy, except an eye which glances on all and rests on none. You observe, however, a mixture of the white man and the Indian, marks of both being apparent. His long straight hair is parted on the top, and a portion hangs down on each side, while the rest is carelessly tied up behind and flows down his back.

His voice is shrill and effeminate, and occasionally broken by those tones which you sometimes hear from dwarfs and deformed people. He spoke to me of the hospitality he had found in Philadelphia, and of the prospect of returning to a comfortless home, with a feeling that brought me nearer to him for the moment; and of the illness of his nephew Tudor, and the hopes that it had blasted, with a tenderness and melancholy which made me think better of his heart than I had before. At table he talked little, but ate and smoked a great deal.

To Mr. E. Ticknor.

Georgetown, D. C., January 17, 1815.
As we drew near to the metropolis I got out and rode forward with the driver, that I might see all that was strange and new. We were travelling on the very road by which the British had approached before us. We crossed the bridge at Bladensburg by which they had crossed, and saw on its right the little breastwork by which it was so faintly and fruitlessly defended. The degree and continuance of the resistance were plainly marked by the small mounds on the wayside, which served as scanty graves to the few British soldiers who fell; and the final struggle, which took place about a mile from the spot where the opposition commenced, was shown by the tomb of Barney's captain and sailors. These few mounds, which the winters' frosts and rains will quickly obliterate, are all the monuments that remain to us in proof of the defence of the capital of the country.

We drove forward three miles farther, and in the midst of a desolate-looking plain, over which teams were passing in whatever direction they chose, I inquired of the driver where we were. ‘In the Maryland Avenue, sir.’ He had hardly spoken when the hill of the Capitol rose before us. I had been told that it was an imperfect, unfinished work, and that it was somewhat unwieldy in its best estate. I knew that it was now a ruin, but I had formed no conception [29] of what I was to see,—the desolate and forsaken greatness in which it stood, without a building near it, except a pile of bricks on its left more gloomy than itself, and the ruins of the house from which General Ross was fired at,—no, not even a hill to soften the distant horizon behind it, or a fence or a smoke to give it the cheerful appearance of a human habitation.

Mr. Ticknor dined with President Madison soon after his arrival in Washington. In a letter to his father he gives an account of the dinner.

Washington, January 21, 1815.
About half the company was assembled when I arrived. The President himself received me, as the Secretary was not on hand, and introduced me to Mrs. Madison, and Mrs. Madison introduced me to Miss Coles, her niece. This is the only introduction, I am told, that is given on these occasions. The company amounted to about twenty. There were two or three officers of the army with double epaulets and somewhat awkward manners, but the rest were members of Congress, who seemed little acquainted with each other.

The President, too, appeared not to know all his guests, even by name. For some time there was silence, or very few words. The President and Mrs. Madison made one or two commonplace remarks to me and others. After a few moments a servant came in and whispered to Mr. Madison, who went out, followed by his Secretary. It was mentioned about the room that the Southern mail had arrived, and a rather unseemly anxiety was expressed about the fate of New Orleans, of whose imminent danger we heard last night. The President soon returned, with added gravity, and said that there was no news! Silence ensued. No man seemed to know what to say at such a crisis, and, I suppose, from the fear of saying what might not be acceptable, said nothing at all.

Just at dark, dinner was announced. Mr. Madison took in Miss Coles, General Winder followed with Mrs. Madison. The Secretary invited me to go next; but I avoided it, and entered with him, the last. Mrs. Madison was of course at the head of the table; but, to my surprise, the President sat at her right hand, with a seat between them vacant. Secretary Coles was at the foot. As I was about to take my place by him, the President desired me to come round to him, and seeing me hesitate as to the place, spoke again, and fairly seated me between himself and Mrs. M. This was unquestionably [30] the result of President Adams's introduction. I looked very much like a fool, I have no doubt, for I felt very awkwardly.

As in the drawing-room before dinner, no one was bold enough to venture conversation. The President did not apparently know the guest on his right, nor the one opposite to him. . . . Mrs. Madison is a large, dignified lady, with excellent manners, obviously well practised in the ways of the world. Her conversation was somewhat formal, but on the whole appropriate to her position, and now and then amusing. I found the President more free and open than I expected, starting subjects of conversation and making remarks that sometimes savored of humor and levity. He sometimes laughed, and I was glad to hear it; but his face was always grave. He talked of religious sects and parties, and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines. The conversation, however, was not confined to religion; he talked of education and its prospects, of the progress of improvement among us, and once or twice he gave it a political aspect, though with great caution. He spoke of Inchiquin's letters and the reply to them, but gave no opinion as to the truth or merits of either; and of Jeffrey, the editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ whose name, when he had mentioned it, seemed to strike him with a sudden silence. I promise you I was careful in my replies, and did not suffer him to know that I had ever seen Jeffrey or his journal. He spoke to me of my visit to Monticello, and, when the party was separating, told me if I would go with him to the drawing-room and take coffee, his Secretary would give me the directions I desired. So I had another tete-à--tete with Mr.Madison and Mrs. Madison, in the course of which Mr. M. gave amusing stories of early religious persecutions in Virginia, and Mrs. M. entered into a defence and panegyric of the Quakers, to whose sect, you know, she once belonged. . . . At eight o'clock I took my leave.

To Edward T. Channing, Boston.

Georgetown, D. C., January 22, 1815.
At the Headquarters of the assembled wisdom of the nation, I suppose, dear Edward, you will expect from me something on politics; and, if I write you anything, it must be about the last act or the last rumor, for such things here never survive the day or the hour that produced them. The last remarkable event in the history of this remarkable Congress is Dallas's Report. You can imagine nothing [31] like the dismay with which it has filled the Democratic party. All his former communications were but emollients and palliatives, compared with this final disclosure of the bankruptcy of the nation. Mr. Eppes, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, read it in his place yesterday; and when he had finished, threw it upon the table with expressive violence, and turning round to Mr. Gaston, asked him, with a bitter levity between jest and earnest: ‘Well, sir, will your party take the Government if we will give it up to them?’ ‘No, sir,’ said Gaston, in a tone which, from my little acquaintance with him, I can easily believe to have been as equivocal as that in which the question was put. ‘No, sir; not unless you will give it to us as we gave it to you.’ The truth is that this report is considered a plain acknowledgment that the administration can go forward no longer; and though it is utterly impossible to foresee what will be the next measure, it is easy to believe that it will be violent and desperate.

To Mr. E. Ticknor.

Port tobacco, Maryland, January 26, 1815.
We left Washington the 24th, just at sunrise, and drove five miles to a ferry, where our troops in their infatuation had burnt a bridge. It took an hour to cross the river through the ice, and then our way led through open fields, where only one wagon had preceded us. We had hardly driven a quarter of a mile when we broke through some ice; one horse fell, and the carriage, as the phrase is, ‘mired up to the hubs.’ In half an hour we were extricated, and went on carefully by the track, often walking to lighten the carriage; when the track suddenly turned into the woods, and left us without a guide. The snow was ten or fifteen inches deep, unbroken for a mile or two, when we again followed a cart a short distance. At last we reached the ‘Half-way House,’ a miserable hut of one room; and as I went in, I saw a girl sitting by the fire, pale and feeble from illness; and turning from her, lest she should think me too curious, saw a young man on a bed behind the door, whose countenance showed that he had not long to suffer. I was glad to leave this wretched hut. We went on at a moderate walk, foundered twice in the snow and mud, and at last broke the pole, when two miles from the nearest house. So Gray and I mounted one of the leaders and rode on, fording three brooks, one of them pretty deep. It was after three when we reached an inn, and soon sat down to our breakfast! I had not eaten anything for [32] twenty-four hours, and had worked hard, besides all the walking in the snow. When we had finished our meal we took another carriage, being solemnly warned of the difficulty of crossing the Matasmin, which, like all the other streams hereabout, has no bridge. We reached the ford just before sundown, found it frozen, broke the ice with poles; an hour and a half's hard driving and whipping got the horses into the middle of the stream, where they refused to go any farther. We got out of the carriage, and reached the bank on the ice. I left all my luggage, but a blanket, with the carriage in the middle of the stream. Through deep snow we walked a mile and a half to the first house. Though called a tavern, it was a miserable hovel; and when I went in I found two slaves stretched by the fire on one side, and two pigs on the other. As soon as the landlord had gone to the help of the driver, I began to look for accommodations for six passengers, two of whom were women. In the kitchen I found plenty of snow, but no fire or cooking utensils or eatables. I asked the boys if they had any beds. ‘Yes; one.’ ‘No more?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you any hay or straw?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why, what does your master's horse live on?’ ‘O, he lives on the borry.’ What ‘the borry’ was, was not clear at first, but, finding it meant ‘borrowing,’ I told the boy to get in a good parcel of ‘borry.’ In an hour the coach was dragged up, and I began to talk about supper. It was a long time before the woman of the house would answer distinctly; but, after much urging and much searching, she gave us each a small tumbler of milk, and a short allowance of Indian cake. At ten o'clock the table was moved away, the pigs and negroes kicked out of the room, and two things misnamed beds were thrown down on some ‘borry,’ and I went supperless to bed. The wind came in through large cracks in four doors and two windows; yet I slept well, with three white companions and two negroes. I waked in the morning more hungry than when I went to sleep; but at ‘sun up,’ as they say here, set off without a mouthful of food. We went two miles, half on foot, and then stuck fast in the mud; and, after wasting our little strength in vain, Gray and I again mounted one of the horses, took a wrong track, went a mile before we discovered our mistake, at twelve reached the tavern only four miles from where we slept, sent back a yoke of oxen to pull out the coach, sent a man forward seven miles for horses and help, and then ordered breakfast. The people were very poor, and we found sickness and suffering more moving than we had seen it yesterday.

The breakfast was so poor that, hungry and fainting as we were, we [33] could hardly eat enough to support us; but we could not complain, with such misery about us. Two miles farther we came to another stream; we had to break the ice, and, after an hour's delay, make our way to the opposite bank as we could. There, from a hill, we saw two saddle-horses and a tandem chaise coming to our relief; Gray and I took the horses, thinking a horse for each a luxury indeed. We soon reached this place, having in fifty-six hours had but one proper meal! We are in very good lodgings, and are promised better roads to Richmond. . . . . On many accounts I am not sorry that I have gone through these difficulties. You, my dear father, often talk to me of your sufferings as a Revolutionary soldier, and you, my dear mother, look down a little on the pet your indulgence has made.— but now I can answer you both.

To Mr. E. Ticknor.

Richmond, February 1, 1815.
You will expect from me some account of Mr. Wickham, and of the Chief Justice of the United States, the first lawyer—if not, indeed, the first man—in the country. You must then imagine before you a man who is tall to awkwardness, with a large head of hair, which looked as if it had not been lately tied or combed, and with dirty boots. You must imagine him, too, with a strangeness in his manners, which arises neither from awkwardness nor from formality, but seems to be a curious compound of both; and then, perhaps, you will have before you a figure something like that of the Chief Justice. His style and tones in conversation are uncommonly mild, gentle, and conciliating; and, before I had been with him half an hour, I had forgotten the carelessness of his dress and person, and observed only the quick intelligence of his eye, and the open interest he discovered in the subjects on which he spoke, by the perpetual variations of his countenance.

Mr. Wickham, who has long been at the head of the Virginia bar, was by far too well bred to let me learn anything more of him in the course of a visit of twenty minutes, than that he was an uncommonly courteous, elegant gentleman. Mr. Wirt, who is the author of ‘The British Spy,’ etc., seems a little more reserved, and perhaps affected, in his manners and remarks. Indeed, on the whole, if I had not known better, I might have set him down for one of those who were ‘pretty fellows in their day,’ but who were now rather second-hand in society. But this is all wrong. He is undoubtedly a powerful advocate and a thorough lawyer, by general consent.


Charlottesville, February 7, 1815.
We left Charlottesville on Saturday morning, the 4th of February, for Mr. Jefferson's. He lives, you know, on a mountain, which he has named Monticello, and which, perhaps you do not know, is a synonyme for Carter's mountain. The ascent of this steep, savage hill, was as pensive and slow as Satan's ascent to Paradise. We were obliged to wind two thirds round its sides before we reached the artificial lawn on which the house stands; and, when we had arrived there, we were about six hundred feet, I understand, above the stream which flows at its foot. It is an abrupt mountain. The fine growth of ancient forest-trees conceals its sides and shades part of its summit. The prospect is admirable. . . . . The lawn on the top, as I hinted, was artificially formed by cutting down the peak of the height. In its centre, and facing the southeast, Mr. Jefferson has placed his house, which is of brick, two stories high in the wings, with a piazza in front of a receding centre. It is built, I suppose, in the French style. You enter, by a glass folding-door, into a hall which reminds you of Fielding's ‘Man of the Mountain,’ by the strange furniture of its walls. On one side hang the head and horns of an elk, a deer, and a buffalo; another is covered with curiosities which Lewis and Clarke found in their wild and perilous expedition. On the third, among many other striking matters, was the head of a mammoth, or, as Cuvier calls it, a mastodon, containing the only os frontis, Mr. Jefferson tells me, that has yet been found. On the fourth side, in odd union with a fine painting of the Repentance of Saint Peter, is an Indian map on leather, of the southern waters of the Missouri, and an Indian representation of a bloody battle, handed down in their traditions.

Through this hall—or rather museum—we passed to the dining-room, and sent our letters to Mr. Jefferson, who was of course in his study. Here again we found ourselves surrounded with paintings that seemed good.

We had hardly time to glance at the pictures before Mr. Jefferson entered; and if I was astonished to find Mr. Madison short and somewhat awkward, I was doubly astonished to find Mr. Jefferson, whom I had always supposed to be a small man, more than six feet high, with dignity in his appearance, and ease and graciousness in his manners. . . . . He rang, and sent to Charlottesville for our baggage, and, as dinner approached, took us to the drawing-room,—a large and rather elegant room, twenty or thirty feet high,—which, with the hall I have described, composed the whole centre of the house, [35] from top to bottom. The floor of this room is tessellated. It is formed of alternate diamonds of cherry and beech, and kept polished as highly as if it were of fine mahogany. Here are the best pictures of the collection. Over the fireplace is the Laughing and Weeping Philosophers, dividing the world between them; on its right, the earliest navigators to America,—Columbus, Americus Vespuccius, Magellan, etc.,—copied, Mr. Jefferson said, from originals in the Florence Gallery. Farther round, Mr. Madison in the plain, Quaker-like dress of his youth, Lafayette in his Revolutionary uniform, and Franklin in the dress in which we always see him. There were other pictures, and a copy of Raphael's Transfiguration.

We conversed on various subjects until dinner-time, and at dinner were introduced to the grown members of his family. These are his only remaining child, Mrs. Randolph, her husband, Colonel Randolph, and the two oldest of their unmarried children, Thomas Jefferson and Ellen; and I assure you I have seldom met a pleasanter party.

The evening passed away pleasantly in general conversation, of which Mr. Jefferson was necessarily the leader. I shall probably surprise you by saying that, in conversation, he reminded me of Dr. Freeman. He has the same discursive manner and love of paradox, with the same appearance of sobriety and cool reason. He seems equally fond of American antiquities, and especially the antiquities of his native State, and talks of them with freedom and, I suppose, accuracy. He has, too, the appearance of that fairness and simplicity which Dr. Freeman has; and, if the parallel holds no further here, they will again meet on the ground of their love of old books and young society.

On Sunday morning, after breakfast, Mr. Jefferson asked me into his library, and there I spent the forenoon of that day as I had that of yesterday. This collection of books, now so much talked about, consists of about seven thousand volumes, contained in a suite of fine rooms, and is arranged in the catalogue, and on the shelves, according to the divisions and subdivisions of human learning by Lord Bacon. In so short a time I could not, of course, estimate its value, even if I had been competent to do so.

Perhaps the most curious single specimen—or, at least, the most characteristic of the man and expressive of his hatred of royalty—was a collection which he had bound up in six volumes, and lettered ‘The Book of Kings,’ consisting of the ‘Memoires de la Princesse de [36] Bareith,’ two volumes; ‘Les Memoires de la Comtesse de la Motte,’ two volumes; the ‘Trial of the Duke of York,’ one volume; and ‘The Book,’ one volume. These documents of regal scandal seemed to be favorites with the philosopher, who pointed them out to me with a satisfaction somewhat inconsistent with the measured gravity he claims in relation to such subjects generally.

On Monday morning I spent a couple of hours with him in his study. He gave me there an account of the manner in which he passed the portion of his time in Europe which he could rescue from public business; told me that while he was in France he had formed a plan of going to Italy, Sicily, and Greece, and that he should have executed it, if he had not left Europe in the full conviction that he should immediately return there, and find a better opportunity. He spoke of my intention to go, and, without my even hinting any purpose to ask him for letters, told me that he was now seventy-two years old, and that most of his friends and correspondents in Europe had died in the course of the twenty-seven years since he left France, but that he would gladly furnish me with the means of becoming acquainted with some of the remainder, if I would give him a month's notice, and regretted that their number was so reduced.

The afternoon and evening passed as on the two days previous; for everything is done with such regularity, that when you know how one day is filled, I suppose you know how it is with the others. At eight o'clock the first bell is rung in the great hall, and at nine the second summons you to the breakfast-room, where you find everything ready. After breakfast every one goes, as inclination leads him, to his chamber, the drawing-room, or the library. The children retire to their school-room with their mother, Mr. Jefferson rides to his mills on the Rivanna, and returns at about twelve. At half past 3 the great bell rings, and those who are disposed resort to the drawing-room, and the rest go to the dining-room at the second call of the bell, which is at four o'clock. The dinner was always choice, and served in the French style; but no wine was set on the table till the cloth was removed. The ladies sat until about six, then retired, but returned with the tea-tray a little before seven, and spent the evening with the gentlemen; which was always pleasant, for they are obviously accustomed to join in the conversation, however high the topic may be. At about half past 10, which seemed to be their usual hour of retiring, I went to my chamber, found there a fire, candle, and a servant in waiting to receive my orders for the morning, and in the morning was waked by his return to build the fire. [37]

To-day, Tuesday, we told Mr. Jefferson that we should leave Monticello in the afternoon. He seemed much surprised, and said as much as politeness would permit on the badness of the roads and the prospect of bad weather, to induce us to remain longer. It was evident, I thought, that they had calculated on our staying a week. At dinner, Mr. Jefferson again urged us to stay, not in an oppressive way, but with kind politeness; and when the horses were at the door, asked if he should not send them away; but, as he found us resolved on going, he bade us farewell in the heartiest style of Southern hospitality, after thrice reminding me that I must write to him for letters to his friends in Europe. I came away almost regretting that the coach returned so soon, and thinking, with General Hamilton, that he was a perfect gentleman in his own house.

Two little incidents which occurred while we were at Monticello should not be passed by. The night before we left, young Randolph came up late from Charlottesville, and brought the astounding news that the English had been defeated before New Orleans by General Jackson. Mr. Jefferson had made up his mind that the city would fall, and told me that the English would hold it permanently—or for some time—by a force of Sepoys from the East Indies. He had gone to bed, like the rest of us; but of course his grandson went to his chamber with the paper containing the news. But the old philosopher refused to open his door, saying he could wait till the morning; and when we met at breakfast I found he had not yet seen it.

One morning, when he came back from his ride, he told Mr. Randolph, very quietly, that the dam had been carried away the night before. From his manner, I supposed it an affair of small consequence, but at Charlottesville, on my way to Richmond, I found the country ringing with it. Mr. Jefferson's great dam was gone, and it would cost $30,000 to rebuild it.

There is a breathing of notional philosophy in Mr. Jefferson,—in his dress, his house, his conversation. His setness, for instance, in wearing very sharp toed shoes, corduroy small-clothes, and red plush waistcoat, which have been laughed at till he might perhaps wisely have dismissed them.

So, though he told me he thought Charron, ‘De la Sagesse,’ the best treatise on moral philosophy ever written, and an obscure Review of Montesquieu, by Dupont de Nemours, the best political work that had been printed for fifty years,—though he talked very freely of the natural impossibility that one generation should bind another to pay a public debt, and of the expediency of vesting all the legislative [38] authority of a State in one branch, and the executive authority in another, and leaving them to govern it by joint discretion,—I considered such opinions simply as curious indicia of an extraordinary character.

Georgetown, February 19, 1815.
. . . . This evening, Mr. Sullivan, Colonel Perkins, and myself passed delightfully at Mr. Thomas Peter's, who married Miss Nellie Custis, granddaughter of Mrs. Washington, whom you see in the picture of ‘The Washington Family.’ They are both of the Boston stamp in politics; and while Mr. Peter, as an extraordinary treat for an extraordinary occasion, regaled the ‘delegates’ with a bottle of wine from General Washington's cellar, Mrs. Peter gave me an account of her grandfather's mode of life and intercourse with his family. He rose at six during the whole year, and breakfasted precisely at seven in the summer and at eight in winter. After breakfast he went to his study for an hour, which he devoted to writing letters; then rode out, and was absent on his plantation till two; returned and dressed for dinner carefully; sat down to table at three, without waiting for any guests whom he might have invited; remained at table all the afternoon, if there were strangers who could claim such civility, but otherwise retired soon to his study; came to tea at seven or eight, and finished the evening with his family and friends.

Mrs. Peter also gave us, with a good deal of vivacity, the best account I have ever heard of the proceedings of the British at the capture of Washington; for, as she said, she was too much of a Tory to run, and therefore was an eyewitness of what happened. Of her politics you may judge by the names of her daughters, one of whom she has called Columbia Washington, another America Pinkney, and a third Britannia Wellington. What familiar abbreviations they use in common parlance for those names I did not venture to inquire. . . . .

Georgetown, February, 1815.
I passed the whole of this morning in the Supreme Court. The room in which the Judges are compelled temporarily to sit is, like everything else that is official, uncomfortable, and unfit for the purposes for which it is used. They sat—I thought inconveniently— at the upper end; but, as they were all dressed in flowing black robes, and were fully powdered, they looked dignified. Judge Marshall is such as I described him to you in Richmond; Judge Washington is a little, sharp-faced gentleman, with only one eye, and a profusion of [39] snuff distributed over his face; and Judge Duval very like the late Vice-President. The Court was opened at half past 11, and Judge Livingston and Judge Marshall read written opinions on two causes.

After a few moments' pause, they proceeded to a case in which Dexter, Pinkney, and Emmett were counsel. It was a high treat, I assure you, to hear these three lawyers in one cause. Pinkney opened it as junior counsel to Emmett; and it was some time before I was so far reconciled to his manner as to be able to attend properly to his argument. His person, dress, and style of speaking are so different from anything which I ever saw before, that I despair of being able to give you an idea of him by description or comparison.

You must imagine, if you can, a man formed on nature's most liberal scale, who, at the age of fifty, is possessed with the ambition of being a pretty fellow, wears corsets to diminish his bulk, uses cosmetics, as he told Mrs. Gore, to smooth and soften a skin growing somewhat wrinkled and rigid with age, and dresses in a style which would be thought foppish in a much younger man. You must imagine such a man standing before the gravest tribunal in the land, and engaged in causes of the deepest moment; but still apparently thinking how he can declaim like a practised rhetorician in the London Cockpit, which he used to frequent Yet you must, at the same time, imagine his declamation to be chaste and precise in its language, and cogent, logical, and learned in its argument, free from the artifice and affectation of his manner, and, in short, opposite to what you might fairly have expected from his first appearance and tones. And when you have compounded these inconsistencies in your imagination, and united qualities which on common occasions nature seems to hold asunder, you will, perhaps, begin to form some idea of what Mr. Pinkney is.

He spoke about an hour, and was followed by Mr. Dexter, who, with that cold severity which seems peculiarly his own, alluded to the circumstance of his being left alone (his coadjutor not having come) to meet two such antagonists; then went on to admit all that Mr. Pinkney had said, and to show that it had nothing to do with the case in hand, and finally concluded by setting up an acute, and, as I suppose it will prove, a successful defence.

Mr. Emmett closed the cause in a style different from either of his predecessors. He is more advanced in life than they are; but he is yet older in sorrows than in years. There is an appearance of premature age in his person, and of a settled melancholy in his countenance, which may be an index to all that we know of himself and his family. At any rate, it wins your interest before he begins to speak. [40]

He was well possessed of his cause, and spoke with a heartiness which showed that he desired to serve his client rather than to display himself. He was more bold and free in his language, yet perhaps equally exact and perspicuous; and if Mr. Pinkney was more formally logical, and Mr. Dexter more coldly cogent, Mr. Emmett was more persuasive.

When he had finished, I was surprised to find that he had interested me so much that, if he had not stopped, I should have lost my dinner.

February 21, 1815.
I was in court all this morning. The session was opened by Judge Story and the Chief Justice, who read elaborate opinions. During this time Mr. Pinkney was very restless, frequently moved his seat, and, when sitting, showed by the convulsive twitches of his face how anxious he was to come to the conflict. At last the judges ceased to read, and he sprang into the arena like a lion who had been loosed by his keepers on the gladiator that awaited him.

The display was brilliant. Notwithstanding the pretension and vehemence of his manner,—though he treated Mr. Emmett, for whom I had been much interested yesterday, with somewhat coarse contempt,—in short, notwithstanding there was in his speech great proof of presumption and affectation; yet, by the force of eloquence, logic, and legal learning, by the display of naked talent, he made his way over my prejudices and good feelings to my admiration and, I had almost said, to my respect. He left his rival far behind him; he left behind him, it seemed to me at the moment, all the public speaking I had ever heard. With more cogency than Mr. Dexter, he has more vivacity than Mr. Otis; with Mr. Sullivan's extraordinary fluency, he seldom or never fails to employ precisely the right phrase; and with an arrangement as logical and luminous as Judge Jackson's, he unites an overflowing imagination. It is, however, in vain to compare him with anybody or everybody whom we have been in the habit of hearing, for he is unlike and, I suspect, above them all.

He spoke about three hours and a half, and when he sat down, Emmett rose very gravely. ‘The gentleman,’ said the grand Irishman, in a tone of repressed feeling which went to my heart,—‘the gentleman yesterday announced to the court his purpose to show that I was mistaken in every statement of facts and every conclusion of law which I had laid before it. Of his success to-day the court alone have a right to judge; but I must be permitted to say that, in my estimation, the manner of announcing his threat of yesterday, and of [41] attempting to fulfil it to-day, was not very courteous to a stranger, an equal, and one who is so truly inclined to honor his talents and learning. It is a manner which I am persuaded he did not learn in the polite circles in Europe, to which he referred, and which I sincerely wish he had forgotten there, wherever he may have learnt it.’

Mr. Pinkney replied in a few words of cold and inefficient explanation, which only made me think yet less well of him, and impelled me to feel almost sorry that I had been obliged so much to admire his high talents and success.


Baltimore, March 1, 1815.
I called this morning on the venerable Archbishop Carroll. The good old man was employed in writing a pastoral letter to his Massachusetts diocesan. By his side was a beautiful copy of Tasso's ‘Jerusalem Delivered,’ open on a frame, an apt indication of the union of letters with official duties. He recollected me, inquired after Mr. Jefferson and his library, and seemed interested in what I told him. When I came away he bestowed a patriarchal benediction upon me.

I dined at Mr. Robert Oliver's, with a large company of some of the more considerable men of Maryland; the most distinguished being Mr. Charles Carroll, the friend of Washington, one of the three surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, at one time Senator of the United States, and the richest landholder, I suppose, in the country. At eighty he reads and enjoys his classical books more than most young men of the present generation. He is a specimen of the old regime, one of the few who remain to us as monuments of the best bred and best educated among our fathers. He wears large gold buckles in his shoes and broad lace ruffles over his hands and bosom, the fashion, I suppose, of the year ‘60. His manner has a grave and stately politeness, and his tact and skill in conversation lead him to the subjects most familiar to his hearer; while he is so well read that he appears to have considered each himself.

Mr. Ticknor, like all young men of full minds and warm hearts, was a frequent and copious correspondent. Of the letters written to his friends before his departure for Europe, many are still preserved, and of these two are given as specimens of his intellectual activity and the warmth of his affections. The [42] sketch of Mr. Jeffrey, in the letter to Mr. Daveis, will be recognized as an admirable pen-portrait, especially for so young an artist. The power of drawing characters with a firm and discriminating touch does not usually come till later in life. Mr. Jeffrey came to America in a cartel, in the depth of winter. Having, in Edinburgh, made the acquaintance of Miss Wilkes, of New York, he crossed the ocean to seek her for his wife, and won her.

To Edward T. Channing.

Essex St., April, 1812, 11 P. M.
dear Ned,—By Jove, you are a rare one! Nature may run over all the old spoons in her mint, and never make two ninepences like you. Two such as you don't come in one generation. ‘Non terra duos soles, neque Asia, duos reges tolerare pbtest’; and if two Ned Channings should fall together, the world would not know which end it stood upon. Only an hour ago you went off, convincing me that I was a fool, and did not know my Horace. You shut up my mouth, when I was right, by a sleight of hand peculiar to yourself; and these presents are to let you know that I shall understand you for the future.

Touching that passage,—Sat. 1, line 100,—the facts are these. Horace, in conversation with a miser, endeavors to dissuade him from parsimony, by telling him that one Numidius had his brains beat out for it by his servant. This wench he calls ‘fortissima Tyndaridarum,’ not because she was one of the descendants of Tyndarus, but because she was more brave than the daughters of Tyndarus, Helen and Clytemnestra, who had murdered their husbands, Deiphobus and Agamemnon. The same objection, therefore, lies against this, which meets us in Paradise Lost, Book IV.; for Horace had no more right to say that this liberta was the boldest of the daughters of Tyndarus— when she was none of them—than Milton had to call ‘Adam the goodliest man of men since born his sons.’

The cases, you must confess, are parallel, and, to save your feelings, literary vanity, etc., etc., I will acknowledge that the case of Milton is the strongest and most obvious.

Homer, however, settles the whole question. He says that Thetis went to heaven and implored Jupiter to honor her son, telling him, as a motive, that his life would be very short. But, on your ground, how could he be the most short-lived of the rest? [43]

My last example is similar to this one. In enumerating the Grecian heroes, and assigning them their several qualities and virtues, he gives Nereus beauty.

Here it is again. Milton is a fool to this! The example is tangible,—it cannot be evaded; you may as well try to jump clear of space, or forget yourself into nonentity, as to run away from it. To make assurance doubly certain, however, I will show you, on the authority of Pope, that I have not mistaken the meaning of the passages I cite. The first is done badly enough, to be sure:—

Some mark of honor on my son bestow,
And pay in glory what in life you owe.
Fame is at least by heav'nly promise due
To life so short, etc.

This is miserable enough; the other is better:—

Nereus, in faultless shape and blooming grace,
The loveliest youth of all the Grecian race.

I suppose you are convinced against your will; and I know from Hudibras what I am to expect in such a case; but still, in spite of precedent and authority, I calculate on your submission to Horace, Homer, Milton, and George Ticknor! Vive atque vale.

To Charles S. Daveis, Portland.

Boston, February 8, 1814.
‘If all the world had their deserts,’ said the heir-apparent of Denmark in my hearing last night, ‘who should escape whipping?’ And so, my dear Charles, though I knew when I received your letter, a few moments ago, that it was a great deal more than I deserved, yet I felt much less compunction, I fear, than I ought, and less than I should have felt, if I had not been persuaded that other people were the objects of greater kindness than they merit. . . . .

I had seriously intended to send you a sketch of the Abraham of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ while I was running over with speculations and opinions about him; and as you seem to regret that I did not, and as it is impossible to hear too much about a man who exercises some influence over every one of us, I think I may venture to give you a page about him.

You are to imagine, then, before you, a short, stout, little gentleman, about five and a half feet high, with a very red face, black hair, and black eyes. You are to suppose him to possess a very gay and animated [44] countenance, and you are to see in him all the restlessness of a will-oa — wisp, and all that fitful irregularity in his movements which you have heretofore appropriated to the pasteboard Merry Andrews whose limbs are jerked about with a wire. These you are to interpret as the natural indications of the impetuous and impatient character which a further acquaintance develops.

He enters a room with a countenance so satisfied, and a step so light and almost fantastic, that all your previous impressions of the dignity and severity of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ are immediately put to flight, and, passing at once to the opposite extreme, you might, perhaps, imagine him to be frivolous, vain, and supercilious. He accosts you, too, with a freedom and familiarity which may, perhaps, put you at your ease and render conversation unceremonious; but which, as I observed in several instances, were not very tolerable to those who had always been accustomed to the delicacy and decorum of refined society. Mr. Jeffrey, therefore, I remarked, often suffered from the prepossessions of those he met, before any regular conversation commenced, and almost before the tones of his voice were heard. It is not possible, however, to be long in his presence without understanding something of his real character,—for the same promptness and assurance which mark his entrance into a room carry him at once into conversation. The moment a topic is suggested—no matter what or by whom—he comes forth, and the first thing you observe is his singular fluency.

He bursts upon you with a torrent of remarks, and you are for some time so much amused with his earnestness and volubility, that you forget to ask yourself whether they have either appropriateness or meaning. When, however, you come to consider his remarks closely, you are surprised to find that, notwithstanding his prodigious rapidity, the current of his language never flows faster than the current of his thoughts. You are surprised to discover that he is never, like other impetuous speakers, driven to amplification and repetition in order to gain time to collect and arrange his ideas; you are surprised to find that, while his conversation is poured forth in such a fervor and tumult of eloquence that you can scarcely follow or comprehend it, it is still as compact and logical as if he were contending for a victory in the schools or for a decision from the bench.

After all this, however, you do not begin to understand Mr. Jeffreys character; for it is not until you become interested in the mere discussion, until you forget his earnestness, his volubility, and his skill, that you begin to feel something of the full extent of his powers. [45] You do not, till then, see with how strong and steady a hand he seizes the subject, and with what ease, as well as dexterity, he turns and examines it on every side. You are not, until then, convinced that he but plays with what is the labor of ordinary minds, and that half his faculties are not called into exercise by what you at first supposed would tax his whole strength. And, after all, you are able to estimate him, not by what you witness,—for he is always above a topic which can be made the subject of conversation,—but by what you imagine he would be able to do if he were excited by a great and difficult subject and a powerful adversary.

With all this, he preserves in your estimation a transparent simplicity of character. You are satisfied that he does nothing for effect and show; you see that he never chooses the subject, and never leads the conversation in such a way as best to display his own powers and acquirements. You see that he is not ambitious of being thought a wit; and that, when he has been most fortunate in his argument or illustration, he never looks round, as some great men do, to observe what impression he has produced upon his hearers. In short, you could not be in his presence an hour without being convinced that he has neither artifice nor affectation; that he does not talk from the pride of skill or of victory, but because his mind is full to overflowing, and conversation is his relief and pleasure.

But, notwithstanding everybody saw and acknowledged these traits in Mr. Jeffrey's character, he was very far from winning the good opinion of all. There were still not a few who complained that he was supercilious, and that he thought himself of a different and higher order from those he met; that he had been used to dictate until he was unwilling to listen, and that he had been fed upon admiration until it had become common food, and he received it as a matter of course.

There is some ground for this complaint; but I think the circumstances of the case should take its edge from censure. It seems to me that Mr. Jeffrey has enough of that amiable feeling from which politeness and the whole system of the petite morale springs, but that he has not learned the necessary art of distributing it in judicious proportions. He shows the same degree of deference to every one he meets; and, therefore, while he flatters by his civility those who are little accustomed to attention from their superiors, he disappoints the reasonable expectations of those who have received the homage of all around them until it has become a part of their just expectations and claims. [46]

This, at least, was the distinction here. The young men and the literary men all admired him; the old men and the politicians found their opinions and dignity too little regarded by the impetuous stranger. The reasons of this are to be sought, I should think, in his education and constitution; and I was, therefore, not disposed to like him the less for his defect. I was not disposed to claim from a man who must have passed his youth in severe and solitary study, and who was not brought into that class of society which refines and fashions all the external expressions of character, until his mind and habits were matured, and he was brought there to be admired and to dictate,—I was not disposed to claim from him that gentleness and delicacy of manners which are acquired only by early discipline, and which are most obvious in those who have received, perhaps, their very character and direction from early collision with their superiors in station or talents.

Besides, even admitting that Mr. Jeffrey could have been early introduced to refined society, still I do not think his character would have been much changed; or, if it had been, that it would have been changed for the better. I do not think it would have been possible to have drilled him into the strict forms of society and bienseance without taking from him something we should be very sorry to lose.

There seems to me to be a prodigious rapidity in his mind which could not be taken away without diminishing its force; and yet it is this rapidity, I think, which often offended some of my elder friends, in the form of impatience and abruptness. He has, too, a promptness and decision which contribute, no doubt, to the general power of his mind, and certainly could not be repressed without taking away much of that zeal which carries him forward in his labors, and gives so lively an interest to his conversation; yet you could not be an hour in his presence without observing that his promptness and decision very often make him appear peremptory and assuming.

In short, he has such a familiar acquaintance with almost all the subjects of human knowledge, and consequently such an intimate conviction that he is right, and such a habit of carrying his point; he passes, as it seems to me, with such intuitive rapidity from thought to thought, and subject to subject,—that his mind is completely occupied and satisfied with its own knowledge and operations, and has no attention left to bestow on the tones and manners of expression. He is, in fact, so much absorbed with the weightier matters of the discussion,—with the subject, the argument, and the illustrations,—that he forgets the small tithe of humility and forbearance which he owes [47] to every one with whom he converses; and I was not one of those who ever wished to correct his forgetfulness, or remind him of his debt.

You will gather from these desultory and diffuse remarks, that I was very much delighted with Mr. Jeffrey. . . . . All that he knew —and, as far as I could judge, his learning is more extensive than that of any man I ever met—seemed completely incorporated and identified with his own mind; and I cannot, perhaps, give you a better idea of the readiness with which he commanded it, and of the consequent facility and fluency of his conversation, than by saying, with Mr. Ames, that ‘he poured it out like water.’

You have by this time, I suspect, heard enough of Mr. Jeffrey; at any rate, it is a great deal more than I thought I should send you when I began, as soon as I received yours. I was very soon interrupted. The next day was Edward Everett's ordination, but still I wrote a little. Yesterday I added another page, and this morning (February 11) have finished it. I hope it has coherence and consistency. . . . .

Yours affectionately,

1 Mr. Ticknor was present at the dedication of the first Roman Catholic church, built with the aid of Protestants. In 1865 he dictated the following account of the scene:—

‘In 1803 the Catholic Church in Franklin Street was dedicated, and now, at sixty-two years distance, I remember it as if it were yesterday. I went to the dedication, and to the service there the next Sunday, and was thoroughly frightened. There were very few Catholics here then, and the church was half filled with Protestants. We little boys were put on a bench in front of the upper pews, before the chancel. Bishop Cheverus,—who spoke English pretty well,—before he began the mass, addressed the Protestants, and told us all that we must not turn our backs to the altar. I dare say we boys had turned round to look at the singers, for the music was a good deal more gay and various than we were used to. Cheverus told us we must not turn round, for the Host would be raised, and the Holy Ghost would descend into the chancel and fill it. I did n't know what was coming; but I was well frightened, and did n't turn round.’

2 When eight or ten years old, he was allowed to get up as early as he pleased, to occupy himself quietly. In the winter he went to the kitchen, opened the fire, which, being of wood, was always covered with ashes the last thing at night, and there he read, or otherwise amused himself. He remembered and told with much amusement, his mortification when, coming down one winter night, with part of his clothes on his arm, he found the servants just preparing to go to bed, and, amidst many jokes, he was ignominiously dismissed to his own.

3 In the course of his journey Mr. Ticknor met at dinner, and I believe sat next to, Mr. William B. Astor, who, having recently returned home after a long residence in Germany, could have given him most valuable information as to its universities and teachers. But, unluckily, Mr. Ticknor was not aware of the fact, and the conversation did not take such a turn as to open the subject; and so the opportunity passed by unimproved, to his great regret when he learned what he had lost.

4 The case in which Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Emmett came into collision, described in this letter, was the Nereide, reported in 9 Cranch, 388. That spoken of in the previous letter, in which Mr. Dexter was opposed to Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Emmett, must have been The Frances, 9 Cranch, 183.

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