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Chapter 22:

  • 1859 to 1864.
  • -- life of Prescott. -- civil War.

The heavy loss of dear and trusted friends had fallen on Mr. Ticknor repeatedly, for in Haven, Legare, and Webster he had parted from much that gave charm and interest to his thoughtful life at different periods; but no blow of this kind struck so near the centre of his heart as that which deprived him of the delightful companionship of Prescott. Such constant affection as had united them for forty years is very rare, and their sympathy of tastes, heightened by the charm of Prescott's winning, joyous, affectionate nature, made their daily intercourse –and it was almost daily when both were in Boston—fascinating as well as important to their happiness.

The warning of coming danger, given by Mr. Prescott's illness in 1858, had not been lost from sight, but there was much to feed the hope that he might still be spared for some years, and Mr. Ticknor said in a letter to Sir Edmund Head, 1 after his death, ‘The shock to me and to those nearest to him could hardly have been greater if he had been struck down two years ago.’ A short time afterwards, 2 in writing to Mrs. Twisleton, he says: ‘I do not get accustomed to the loss. Indeed, something or other seems to make it fall afresh and heavier almost every day. I go to the house often, of course, and always find Susan in the little upper study where he used to work, with everything just as he left it the moment before he was struck down, . . . . and the whole room crowded and tapestried with associations and memories . . . . . Much sunshine has been taken out of my way of life for the few years that I am to tread it,— [437] perhaps the few months only, for I seem to have grown old fast of late, and can see only a very little distance before me.’ The account he afterwards gave—in the Memoir—of his friend's death, and of its effect, contains no direct allusion to his own feeling, but every word bears the impress of a pathetic undercurrent of emotion, which makes that chapter wholly different from anything that would have been written by one who stood in any other relation to the subject of it.

The public recognition of its loss, ‘such a sensation as was never produced in this country by the death of a man of letters’;3 the recollection that not the slightest neglect or imprudence had hastened the end; and that at the last moment of consciousness Prescott was his natural, cheerful self,—these were all admitted sources of comfort. Mr. Ticknor's faithful devotion and most delightful relations to the family of his friend, under whose will he was a trustee of his ample property, and whose children always looked on him as if he were one of their nearest relatives, was a further source of comfort.

Very soon Mrs. Prescott and her children asked him to prepare a Memoir of his friend, and he consented, with no hesitation, except a little consideration whether, at his age, he might venture on so absorbing a task.

On the 19th of April he wrote as follows to Lady Lyell:—

Boston, April 19, 1859.
my dear Lady Lyell,—I come to you for help, which you will readily give me. I think I shall write a Life of Prescott, and, if I do, I shall set about it at once. But, first of all, I want to see the materials for it collected and arranged. Those in possession of the family are ample and interesting; especially a large number of memoranda concerning the course and modes of his studies, from the very beginning, with some of which I have been long acquainted, but did not know their extent or importance until I ran them over. Besides these, however, I want, of course, all his letters to his friends, and all the details I can get from them. Nobody in England can furnish a contribution of this sort such as you can, for nobody knew so much of him as you and Sir Charles did. [438]

What I especially desire to obtain from you is:—

1. All his letters and notes to you and your family, which I will carefully return to you, after I have taken from them all I may need; unless you prefer to send me copies.

2. Permission to print any portion of the letters from you and yours which may be found among his papers, and which may be necessary to explain or illustrate such parts of his own as may be printed.

3. Any facts about him, and especially about his visit to England, of which you knew more than anybody else; any anecdotes of him; anything, in short, which may tend to set him rightly before the world, as we knew and loved him.

In furnishing these materials for his Life, I am quite aware you will be obliged to rely on my discretion, as to the manner in which they will be used. But I hope you will feel safe, and I think I can promise that you will be.

I shall write by the next steamer, if not by this one, to Dean Milman, to Mr. Stirling, . . . . and to a few others. . . . .

When you have anything ready, be it more or less, just put it under an envelope and let it come, without waiting for more . . . . . I do not mean to be pressed or do it in a hurry . . . .

I have two capital letters from Sir Charles. Thank him for them in the most cordial manner, and tell him I shall write to him as soon as I can, and go into the Agassiz matter, 4 which is very thriving, and likely to come to excellent results. I am more engaged in it than I ought to be, considering that a more ignorant man in regard to natural science can hardly be found; but Dr. Bigelow, who is in deeper than I am, is safe, and he and Agassiz will be held responsible for any mistakes I may make. At least, I intend they shall be. . . . .

Anna writes, as usual, so that nothing remains for me but to give you my love, which you are always sure of, as well as that of all mine.

Thenceforward he gave himself to his work of love with a sad pleasure. During the following summer, when he carried out his long-cherished wish to pass several weeks at Niagara, he was busy there, and while visiting Sir Edmund Head at Toronto, writing about his friend. The following letter contains an allusion to this:— [439]

Boston, October 1, 1859.

dear Lady Lyell,—I came home some days ago and found your precious packet.5 Yesterday and to-day I have read it through,— the whole of it,—but not with tare, as I shall read it hereafter. It was too interesting for that. With many passages I was much touched, as you may well suppose; others revived a thousand recollections,—pleasurable, painful, amusing. After I began to read I could not bear to be interrupted until I had finished it. Nobody has furnished me such a contribution; no, not all put together.

I get on with my work somewhat slowly, but quite as fast as I expected. The great difficulty is to collect the materials. In this, his English friends have been more prompt than his American ones.

But I cannot speak of this, or hardly of anything else, without recollecting the Heads. I worked on Prescott's Life when I was at Toronto; but how changed is everything there now! What sorrow! what sorrow!6 . . . . We only know thus far what the telegraph has told us. . . . . But we shall have letters in a day or two.

Sir Henry Holland is somewhere in the United States,—his fifth visit, I think, within twenty years; certainly his fourth within a dozen. Why can't you and Sir Charles imitate him? . . . . He is to be here on Monday at Everett's, where I dine with him on Tuesday.

The Prescotts are still all out of town, but Susan and Elizabeth come back in four or five days. They are all well, but I have as yet seen none of them. . . . .

October 4.—Sir Henry Holland came in yesterday afternoon and told me all sorts of news about people in London. He is looking very well, and can tell you about all the great men at Washington, for he has been stopping with the President. He goes to-morrow in the steamer that takes this.

Anna sends her love, I mine.

G. T.

When he began the Life of Prescott he was already in his sixty-eighth year; and this advanced age might have influenced him unfavorably in either of two ways, making him overfas-tidious and hypercritical of his own composition, as he grew, in fact, to be a few years later; or making him use undue haste, as regarding too much the possibility of not living to finish it. He [440] avoided both dangers, wrote calmly and without hurry; and, after giving about three years to the preparation of the manuscript, finding the time unfavorable for its publication, he kept it by him for a while, and, going over it with care, undoubtedly added to the grace and proportion which distinguish it so much. Meantime the civil war broke out, the war which roused the whole country, North and South, excited the passions of men with a bitterness and intensity scarcely to be conceived of by those who did not witness it, and raged for four years in the Middle ‘border’ States, with an untiring obstinacy that kept every citizen under a strain utterly unknown in peaceful days. Mr. Ticknor's letters during the spring of 1861 have already described the popular movement. His belief that the North was gaining strength year by year, while the South was losing it, remained the same, and he always asserted, as he did in those letters, that the North was sure to conquer in the war.

No one who has read what he wrote during the previous years, when from afar he had foreseen the possibility of this conflict, and had felt that what his view of true patriotism led him to wish avoided or postponed was being rendered inevitable, can fail to perceive how deeply he would share the excitement of the time.

He was in his seventieth year when war became an actual fact. The Constitution of the United States, which had been the object of his pride and admiration from his youth, ‘the best form of government that ever was made,’7 he saw often disregarded, heard often spoken of as if it were effete. After a visit in Maine he wrote to Mr. R. H. Gardiner, in September, 1861: ‘I recollect that the acute lawyer who was at your house one evening with the mayor of your city8 did not hesitate to say that we have no longer any Constitution, and that very little of it had been in existence for some years. I could not gainsay him.’

The Union, to him a reality such as it could only be to those who had loved the country while it was small, and had seen it [441] grow and flourish, was threatened and misrepresented by men who, he felt, were misguided and despeate. A generation had grown up, under his observation (though at the South, where he had scarcely been, and where he had not an intimate friend living), which had, as he knew, been by skilful leaders wilfully made blind as to the nature of that Union which he loved. They were blind to the fact that political sovereignty is capable of division according to subjects and powers, without lessening allegiance to the central government. Therefore, seeing some subjects and powers left in the hands of individual States, they believed they could throw off that allegiance when they pleased. He had seen this process going on for many years, under the guidance of Southern leaders and the menaces of Northern extremists.

Slavery had always been to him a deeply, solemnly interesting question, the institution always in his eyes a curse, while he had dreaded both for masters and slaves any violent or sudden change. This had now become inevitable, but its consequences did not seem to him more promising than before. In February, 1862, he will be found to say, 9 ‘Since the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter we have had, in fact, no choice. We must fight it out. Of the result I have never doubted. We shall beat the South. But what after that? I do not see. . . . . For the South I have no vaticinations. The blackness of thick darkness rests upon them, and they deserve all they will suffer.’10

The passions, which, especially in the early period of the war, were at a pitch that menaced a reign of inhumanity and political persecution, and were actually expressed on both sides in acts quite exceeding a lawful warfare, caused him acute pain and anxiety. His long habit of watching and reflecting on the political movements of all Christendom made him regard the subject from a different point of view from host men; his age and comparative [442] seclusion also gave a color to his feelings. His uppermost thought seemed always to be, that the greatest troubles for the country would come after the North had triumphed and the war was over; his deepest feeling always for the success of the Northern armies and the predominance of Northern civilization. In writing to a young friend who was, for the moment, carried along with the tide of bitter and resentful feelings, he says11:—

I heard with great pain the tone of your remarks about the Southern Secessionists and their leaders. They are in revolt, no doubt, or in a state of revolution, and we must resist them and their doctrines to the death. We can have no government else, and no society worth living in. But multitudes of men in all ages of the world have been under delusions equally strange and strong, and have died loyally and conscientiously in defence of them. Multitudes more will follow. Both sides in such cases fight for their opinions, and I had hoped that the day had gone by, even in France since 1848, when the prevailing party would resort to executions for treason, after they should have established their own position by victory or even before it.

But, besides this, we should, I think, recollect, in dealing with our present enemies, not only that they are fighting for what they believe to be their rights, in open, recognized warfare, but that, whether we are hereafter to be one nation or two, we must always live side by side, and must always have intimate relations with each other for good or for evil to both; and I, therefore, sincerely deprecate, as for twenty years I have deprecated, all bitterness and violence towards the Southern States, as of the worst augury for ourselves, and for the cause of civilization on this side of the Atlantic. Such insane hatreds as are now indulged by both parties in this contest—still more at the South than with us—can, I fear, only end in calamities which none of the present generation will live long enough to survive. . . . .

I have lately seen, by accident, many letters from the South— chiefly mercantile—which breathed this spirit fully. I have seen it placarded in the streets of Boston that we should hang the secession leaders as fast as we can get them into our power. I have found this course openly urged in leading papers of New York and Boston. It is even said that the government at Washington is now considering [443] the expediency of adopting it . . . . I have, indeed, little fear that my government, or its military chief, will seriously consider such a suggestion, none that they will adopt it. But I have great fear that the spirit it implies will enter deeply into the present contest, and from time to time produce the deplorable results which it has so often, may I not say so uniformly, produced in the civil wars that have heretofore cursed the world, and of which the atrocities in the streets of Baltimore and in the hotel of Alexandria are, I fear, only a foretaste.

It was with these feelings that I answered you the other day, when I had the pleasure of meeting you, and if you do not now share them, I am sure you are of a nature too high and noble not to share them hereafter.

Your friend and servant,

G. T.

Mr. Ticknor contributed freely to the regular and the charitable expenditures of the war.12 During the early months of 1861 he carried on an animated correspondence with a distinguished lawyer in Baltimore, a Union man, for interchange of information about the daily movements of opinion, where such vehement feeling was seething and surging. He welcomed officers returning on furlough, or passing through Boston, at his house and table, getting from each whatever of news or indications of popular feeling might come from the front. He went frequently to Braintree to see his old friend General Thayer, whose opinion on military affairs was acknowledged during the war by General Scott, in conversation, to be the highest authority in the United States, and these visits were returned by the old General, most often at breakfast-time, his own breakfast having been taken at five or half after. From General Thayer Mr. Ticknor received exact and keen-sighted explanations of all the movements of the armies on both sides, and was able to form clear judgments of the merits of military men who were often misjudged by the public. [444]

Mr. Ticknor repeatedly took regular officers of high standing on pilgrimages to the old chief at Braintree,—General Robert Anderson, General Donaldson, and others. In the summer of 1862 he met General Scott at West Point, being accidentally with him at the moment he was informed that President Lincoln was on his way to consult him; and when General McClellan visited Boston in 1863, he took great pleasure in meeting him. He talked with every one who could give him trustworthy information, with the same ardor he had always shown in studying public men and measures everywhere.

The excitements of every-day life were great at that period. A long interval of military inaction, during which political intrigues, blunders, and activity of all sorts were abundant,—all watched by Mr. Ticknor with vigilant observation, while he questioned friends fresh from Washington, and often got knowledge quite beyond the public view,—would be succeeded by battles, raids, successes, failures, that filled the air with the sounds of war. More than once the peaceful house in Park Street was roused at midnight by a friend bringing some startling telegram, of which he was sure the knowledge would be nowhere more interesting than there.

During the first eighteen months of the war his work on the biography of his friend was a great solace to Mr. Ticknor. After reading the morning paper with its war news, he could retire to his quiet library, and there, for two or three hours, could work undisturbed, retracing the pleasures and interests of the past. Later some visitor was sure to come in, and probably call his thoughts back to battles, losses, sorrows. His life might seem as sheltered as any, but his mind was full of eager interest, his heart was full of sympathy; the sons of friends and relatives were exposed, and suffered and died for their country; his own house was full of stir, and the hum of voices often reached him, as he sat writing, from ladies busy in other rooms, preparing comforts for men in camps and hospitals. In the afternoon his daily walk usually ended at the Public Library or at Mrs. Prescott's. In his Sunday afternoon walks he was for many winters accompanied by Mr. William W. [445] Greenough, who says that they included occasional visits to poor dwellings, where a few moments of kindly talk and inquiry usually ended with some small gift of money. Sometimes, however, there was a curious tale, of imposture discovered, to be told at dinner after one of these Sunday explorations.

In the evening a game of whist was the almost essential sedative after exciting days; yet there are well-remembered occasions, when this, too, was interrupted by the apparition of a young officer joyously come to say good-by, on having received his commission and orders for the front, or of one limping in, full of disappointment that he could not yet be allowed to rejoin his regiment. Thus the lives of all were filled with strange elements, thoughts and duties that, by recurrence, acquired a temporary familiarity, but belong to no other than such an exceptional period.

During these years one of Mr. Ticknor's few positive recreations was that of dining, once a fortnight, with the ‘Friday Club,’ the only social club of any kind to which he ever belonged. In 1859 this most pleasant dinner-club was formed, limited to twelve members, and allowing only twelve persons to sit round its board. It need hardly be said that the party, in favor of which Mr. Ticknor made such an exception to his usual habits, was made up of his personal friends, and of men whose conversation rendered their meetings interesting and stimulating.13 Mr. Ticknor continued a member of this club until 1868, when he resigned on the ground of age.

Mr. Ticknor's duties and interests in connection with the Zoological Museum at Cambridge, to which, for the sake of his friend Agassiz, he sincerely devoted himself, and the relations he still held to the Public Library, occupied him in congenial ways, but even here the excitements of the war intruded. He was greatly annoyed, once, by an attempt which was made to cause him to appear in the light of an opponent of the popular military [446] spirit, in order to prevent his re-election as a Trustee of the Public Library. The effort failed, but it was doubly displeasing to him in its public as well as its private aspect; for he always heartily disliked and disapproved the mingling of political questions in the management of that or any other institution for education or charity.

In February, 1862, we have a long letter to Sir Charles Lyell almost entirely devoted to the subject of the war; and in November of the same year, another to Lady Lyell, wholly on the matter of the ‘Life of Prescott’; extracts from which will give an insight into his thoughts and occupations at this time.

To Sir Charles Lyell.

Boston, February 11, 1862.
my dear Lyell,—No doubt, I ought to have written to you before. But I have had no heart to write to my friends in Europe, since our troubles took their present form and proportions . . . .

You know how I have always thought and felt about the slavery question. I was never an Abolitionist, in the American sense of the word, because I never have believed that any form of emancipation that has been proposed could reach the enormous difficulties of the case, and I am of the same mind now. Slavery is too monstrous an evil, as it exists in the United States, to be reached by the resources of legislation . . . . . I have, therefore, always desired to treat the South with the greatest forbearance, not only because the present generation is not responsible for the curse that is laid upon it, but because I have felt that the longer the contest could be postponed, the better for us. I have hoped, too, that in the inevitable conflict with free labor, slavery would go to the wall. I remember writing to you in this sense, more than twenty years ago, and the results thus far have confirmed the hopes I then entertained. The slavery of the South has made the South poor. The free labor of the North has made us rich and strong.

But all such hopes and thoughts were changed by the violent and unjustifiable secession, a year ago; and, since the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter, we have had, in fact, no choice. We must fight it out. Of the results I have never doubted. We shall beat the South. But what after that? I do not see. It has pleased God that, whether we are to be two nations or one, we should live on the same [447] continent side by side, with no strong natural barrier to keep us asunder; but now separated by hatreds which grow more insane and intense every month, and which generations will hardly extinguish. . . . .

Our prosperity has entered largely into the prosperity of the world, and especially into that of England and France. You feel it to have been so. And some persons have been unwise enough to think that your interference in our domestic quarrel can do good to yourselves, and perhaps to us, by attempting to stop this cruel and wicked war. It is, I conceive, a great mistake. I have believed, since last August, that France was urging your government to some sort of intervention, —to break the blockade or to enforce a peace,—but the general opinion here has been that England has been the real mover in the matter, thus engendering a bitter hatred of your people, which the unjustifiable tone of your papers and ours increases and exasperates. All this is wrong, and so far as you are excited by it to intervention, it is most unhappy and portentous. The temptation, no doubt, is strong. It almost always is in the case of civil wars, which, from their very nature, invite interested and neighboring nations to interfere. But how rarely has good come to anybody from such interference. In the present instance I am satisfied that it would only exasperate us, and lead to desperate measures. . . . .

As to the present comparative condition of North and South, there can be no question. At Richmond, and elsewhere beyond the Potomac, gold is at forty per cent premium, coffee and tea at four or five prices, salt as dear . . . . Beef and bread they have in abundance, and so resolute and embittered are they, that they seem content with this. But it cannot be. The women, I hear, in a large part of the South, will not speak to men who stay at home from the army without obvious and sufficient cause. But the suffering is great, however the proud spirit may bear up against it, and they must yield, unless, what is all but incredible, they should speedily gain great military success . . . .

At the North the state of things is very different. There is no perceptible increase of poverty . . . . Nor is anybody disheartened. If you were here you would see little change in our modes of life, except that we are all busy and in earnest about the war.14 . . . . This, [448] however, is not to last. The government must either impose taxes heavy enough to sustain its credit, as it ought to have done long ago, and then our incomes will all feel it, or it must rush into a paper currency, and then, of course, prices must rise in proportion, and the whole end in disaster. . . . One thing, however, is certain. We are well off now. We were, I think, never so rich, and never had so much gold stored away for a specie basis. It is, therefore, owing to the unwise course of the Government that the Treasury and the banks have suspended their specie payments; or, in other words, it is owing to the incompetency and corruption of the men at Washington. . . . . The people are ready and willing to do their part. The people's agents are incompetent. . . . .

A country that has shown the resources and spirit of the North— however they may have been misused, and may continue to be—cannot be ruined by a year or two of adverse fortune, or even more. Changed it will be, how, or how much, I cannot guess, nor do I find anybody worth listening to that can tell me. But we are young and full of life. Diseases that destroy the old are cast off by the vigor of youth; and, though I may not live to see it, we shall again be strong and have an honored place among the nations. For the South I have no vaticinations. The blackness of thick darkness rests upon them, and they deserve all they will suffer. I admit that a portion of the North, and sometimes the whole North, has been very unjust to them. . . .. But it is all no justification of civil war . . . . It is the unpardonable sin in a really free State.

You will, perhaps, think me shabby if I stop without saying anything about the Trent affair, and so I may as well make a clean breast of it. Except Everett, all the persons hereabout in whose judgment I place confidence believed from the first that we had no case. I was fully of that mind. . . . .

As to the complaint about our closing up harbors, we are not very anxious. It is a harsh measure, but there are precedents enough for it,—more than there ought to be. But two will fully sustain the mere right. By the treaty of Utrecht you stipulated not only for the destruction of the fortifications of Dunkirk, but for filling up the port; and in 1777 (I think it was that year) you destroyed the entrance to Savannah, so that appropriations were made, not many years ago, by our Congress, to remove the obstructions, although the [449] river, there, has cut for itself a new channel. I do not think that we have closed any but the minor and more shallow channels to any harbor, leaving the more important to be watched by the blockade. . . . . However, if England and France want a pretext for interfering with us, perhaps this will do as well as any other. No doubt the ‘Times,’ at least, will be satisfied with it . . . .

Next week I intend to send you some photographs of Prescott, and ask you and Lady Lyell to see that they are properly engraved for my Life of him. I shall not print—though any time in the last year I could soon have been ready—until people begin to read something beside newspapers . . . . I enclose you two or three scraps from our papers of last evening and this morning. They are a fair specimen of our daily food,—bitter ashes. . . . .

Yours always,

Boston, November 25, 1862.
my dear Lady Lyell,—We have not, until within a few days, been able to settle anything about the beautiful engravings you sent us, 15 or I should earlier have written to acknowledge your everfaith-ful kindness. Nothing certainly could have been more judicious than the mode you took for getting the best that could be had, and your success has been greater than could reasonably have been expected,— so difficult or impossible is it, in a case like this, to satisfy the recollections of those who feel that they were always the nearest and dearest, and that in consequence a sort of responsibility rests on them, which is not the less sensitive nor the less to be regarded, because it is not quite reasonable. . . . .

All of us feel truly grateful to you and Sir Charles for the thoughtful and safe way in which you went about the labor of love we ventured to ask from you. For myself, I have no idea, if all who have been called to counsel about it had been in London when you took your measures to get the engravings made, that we should have done differently from what you yourself did. Or, if we had, we should not, I am persuaded, have done so well.

The Life, as you know, has been finished since early last spring, and lately I have been looking it over with his very near friend, Mr. W. H. Gardiner, who, you may remember, was his executor. Very likely I shall put it to press this winter. There seems no use in waiting. [450] If such things are postponed till the end of the war, and till the healing influences of peace shall have brought the minds of men to a tolerable degree of tranquillity, we may wait till the Greek Calends. I see no light yet in the horizon.

In the opening days of 1864, the first handsome quartd edition of the ‘Life of Prescott’ appeared, and was seized with avidity by the public. Mr. Ticknor gave away an unusual number of copies, and, when some allusion to this by his daughter gave him a natural opportunity for saying it, he told her that he never meant to have any profit to himself from that book. It was evidently too near his heart for him to coin it into money.

The merits of this Memoir have been fully recognized. Its genial style and the simple flow of the narrative are colored with a warm sense of the charms of Mr. Prescott's character, as well as a frank admission of those slight weaknesses which, by their peculiar flavor, only made him the more beloved by his friends. The lesson taught by that life of voluntary labor and of stern self-control, ingrafted on a facile, ease-loving nature, is kept steadily in view from first to last, while the picture of an heroic struggle against an ever-present infirmity, which might otherwise have been too sombre, is brightened by the happy use of almost trivial details. His heart went with his pen, and the narrative glows with the warmth of a strong personal affection, which gives it a charm that the best taste, the soundest judgment, and the most finished literary skill would not alone have secured.

A few extracts from letters written by Mr. Ticknor to accompany presentation copies, and from letters which he received in relation to the Memoir, will close this subject.

Boston, U. S. A., January 18, 1864.
my dear Lord Carlisle, 16—I have desired Triibner & Co. to send you a copy of the ‘Life of Prescott,’ just published. . . . . However imperfect my part of it may be, I think you will desire to see it for the sake of its subject.

That it is a truthful portrait of our friend seems to be admitted by those who knew him best. Whether there is life in the likeness I [451] know not, but I hope there is. I do not believe that there is flattery in it, or concealment, for who is there that I should seek to flatter by overpraise of him, and what was there in his life or character that anybody should desire to conceal?

About your own relations with him, I suppose I can hardly have been mistaken. I know how his heart turned to you from the very first. I know how, in his little study in Bedford Street, he showed you his private memoranda about his religious inquiries and convictions, for he told me of it at the time, and it was a proof of his intimate confidence which I think he never gave to anybody but to his wife, to you, and to me; and to me very rarely, although I saw him so constantly and we exchanged our thoughts so freely. But you will judge of this, as you will of all else; and if you are willing to give me your opinion of the book, or of any part of it, I shall be grateful for it.

In any event, my dear Lord Carlisle, believe me,

Yours very faithfully,

In answer to this Lord Carlisle writes:—

Dublin Castle, March 17, 1864.
my dear Mr. Ticknor,—I fear you must have thought that my acknowledgments of your most kind letter and thrice welcome volume come to you very tardily; but I was determined not to leave a line unread before I wrote, and notwithstanding all the pleasure of the occupation, the many distractions which beset me here have not allowed it to be as rapid as would have been both natural and agreeable. My verdict is one of unalloyed approval. I think your memorial of our dear and honored friend is simple, complete, unaffected, and thus entirely suited to the character and qualities of its subject. How much it recalls to me that ‘sunny’ countenance, pure heart, placid and blameless life. I think I can rely on myself; that I am not bribed into my admiration by the considerate manner in which I have been treated through your work, as I can assure you I consider that you have put no mean feather in my cap by exhibiting me to the world as one who had won the regard of Prescott. . . . .

Pray give my very kindest regards to Mrs. Ticknor ...

Believe me, my dear Mr. Ticknor,

Your most obliged and faithful


An old friend of Mr. Prescott, Mr. Theophilus Parsons, says:—

Let me confess at once, you have surprised me most agreeably.

Of course I knew that no mere literary excellence would be wanting. But I knew, also, that you were obliged to rely mainly on your long, close, and unreserved friendship with Prescott as the means of understanding him—the events of his life and their bearing on his character—perfectly. And yet it was necessary to avoid the influence of this very friendship, so far as it tended to make you present him too favorably; and then to avoid, with equal care, resisting this influence so far as to render your presentation of him cold and cheerless.

To me it seemed that this task was, to the last degree, difficult,— too difficult. But you have conquered the difficulty perfectly . . . .

I will not deny that my relations with Prescott made me sensitive, and fastidious as to the character of that which must be his permanent memorial. But I am satisfied. You have done him no more than justice, but that justice is ample and complete.

On the other hand, a literary man, who had not known Prescott, writes thus:—

From J. R. Chorley.

76 Chester Square, Pimlico, February 24, 1864.
my dear Ticknor,—. . . . I congratulate you on having so paid a tribute of friendship, as to make at the same time a welcome addition to literature . . . . The halo round the name of a distinguished author would not, of itself, suffice to maintain the attraction of a story the topics of which are few, and nearly uniform in their respective developments, from the critical period at which the moral and literary career of your friend was determined by a mere accident, . . . . and to give life, and a certain variety to what is essentially monotonous, is a task that an able pen could not have accomplished without a pious hand to guide it.

. . . . The character portrayed is a very peculiar one, above all, I think, in its mixture of qualities seldom found in company with each other, and still more rarely admitting, when they do meet, of any productive union or auspicious progress. It is remarkable how much of wholesome industry was evolved from a source intrinsically morbid; and this, too, in a character which, from the beginning, seems to have had a tendency to that kind of self-inspection which infirm health is apt to cherish until it becomes a positive disease. Mr. Prescott [453] seems to have been rescued from such an extremity by the aid of a genial temperament, and it is curious to observe how, in him, this and other elements, which of themselves are signs of weakness and perversion, were adjusted and brought into harmony with the better side of his nature. The contrast and the composition are such as, I think, have rarely been witnessed elsewhere.

There is one considerable underpart in the story, obvious, indeed, to any attentive eye, which, however, perhaps deserved a more prominent notice. Had Mr. Prescott been a poor man, such a solution as he made of a difficult problem would have been impossible. That he made good use of his advantages is his praise; but in having them he owed much to fortune.

Nor was he less fortunate, surely, in his friends. I suppose no man of letters ever received more zealous and constant aid (of a kind which no money can procure) in the promotion of his work. This circumstance, indeed, reflects honor on both sides; for one whom all love to help must be one who merits their love. Nor can those who knew him not better learn what he must have been than by seeing the impression he made on those to whom he was known. . . . .

Yours very affectionately,

From Hon. George Bancroft.

New York, Sunday Evening.
my dear Mr. Ticknor,—Your splendid New Years gift reached me last evening in time to dip into it deeply before going to bed. This morning I rose before any one else in the house, lighted my own fire, and gave the quiet hours of a long morning to the life of our friend. I expected a great deal, a very great deal from you; and you have far surpassed my expectation. You have given Prescott as he was, leaving no part of his character unportrayed. He was in life and in himself greater than his books, and you have shown him so. I find nothing omitted, nothing remissly done, and nothing overdone. I had feared that the uniformity of his life would cut off from your narrative the resources of novelty and variety and stirring interest; and here, in the inward struggles of his mind, and his struggles with outward trials, you have brought out a more beautiful and attractive picture than if you had had to describe the escapes of a hero or the perils of an adventurer. Well as I knew Prescott, you have raised my conception of his fortitude, and self-control, and consciously noble [454] ambition. Your volume is a sermon to the young and a refreshment to the old, the best monument that one man of letters ever reared to his friendship for another; and you have done your part so well, that, in raising a monument to Prescott, you have constructed an imperishable one for yourself. So you see how many causes I have to thank you.

I remain, my dear Mr. Ticknor, with sincere regard,


What a fortunate thing it is for the country that its two favorite authors, Prescott and Washington Irving, had each a nature so pure and generous. Prescott's example as a man will have an influence, the most chastening and the most benign, on our young men of coming generations. You have gained a triumph in letters; but I think you are still more to be congratulated in having been able to set before our people every feature and form of his mind, as a model of integrity and a persevering, manly, successful war against difficulties which would have overwhelmed the resolution of many of the most buoyant and the most strong. You see I do not know where to stop.

To Rev. Francis Wayland, D. D.

March 9, 1864.
my dear Dr. Wayland,—It can, I trust, hardly be needful, on your account, to tell you that your letter about the ‘Life of Prescott’ gave me great pleasure. I hope that you knew that it would when you wrote it. But on my own account it is quite necessary that I should do so, for if I were not to thank you I should feel that I had been guilty of a wrongful omission. Let me do it, then, very heartily, and somewhat humbly: very heartily, because I am grateful that you accept the view of my friend's character such as I have presented it; and very humbly, because I cannot conscientiously accept most of the words of praise you so kindly send me. I wish I could. I should then feel that I have done, for Prescott's character and example, what the world had a right to claim from his biographer. But I must content myself with thinking that I have done the best I could.

One thing I doubt not that you must have seen,—I was more interested about the man than about the author. The author, I think, can take care of himself; and whether he can or not, he has put himself into the hands of the world for judgment, and the world never fails to take jurisdiction in such cases. But the man, my friend was [455] put into my hands especially and trustingly. The difference of the two cases is, therefore, great, and I felt it from the outset.

I do not claim, nor can any man now claim, to be the final judge of Prescott's histories. No doubt, it is possible that in some future time different views may prevail respecting one or another of the portions of the world's affairs to which he devoted himself. Neither Gillies, nor Clavier, nor Mitford, nor Ottfried Muller could finally settle the History of Greece, though the materials for it had been ripening a thousand years in the minds of statesmen and scholars; and I dare say that Grote has not done it, though he has stood on the shoulders of all of them. The same thing may happen about the times of Ferdinand and Isabella, and about the Conquest of Mexico. I see no signs of it at present, and I do not really think it will ever happen. But if it should, those books of Prescott's will no more be forgotten, or neglected, than Herodotus, or Thucydides, or Plutarch, or Mitford, or Grote. Nobody can hereafter touch the subjects to which they are devoted without referring to them, and doing it with respect and admiration.

But the man himself is in many important senses separate from all this. I knew him well, and I claim my portrait of him to be truthful. It may be ever so imperfectly or coarsely finished, but the great lines are right, and the likeness is there. Moreover, it is not flattered; I have put in the wart. I claim, therefore, to have it received as the vera effigies. Whether the world will admit the claim, time must decide. But that spectators like you—the best and fairest of experts —have received it as such, is greatly gratifying to me. Again, therefore, I thank you.

To Wm. Picard, Esq., Cadiz.

Boston, May 10, 1864.
my dear Mr. Picard,—I am under great obligations to you for your three kind and interesting letters . . . . I should have written as soon as the first came to hand, but I was unwell, and very anxious about Mrs. Dexter, who was dangerously ill for a short time. But, thank God, she is much better, and I am nearly well; as well as a man has a right to be who is nearly seventy-three years old. . . . .

You will be glad to hear that the édition de luxe of the ‘Life of Prescott’—two thousand copies—is already sold; that another of five hundred copies is preparing as fast as possible; and that, meantime, two other editions, one in 8vo of fifteen hundred copies, and [456] one in 12mo, two thousand, are out and in good request. It is a great pleasure to me that the view I have given of my friend—I mean the view of him as greater and better than his books—is so generally accepted as I understand that it is.

Our war goes on with increasing ferocity. There has been terrible fighting between the Rapidan and Richmond, since Thursday, with considerable advantage to our side, but nothing yet (noon, Tuesday, May 10) absolutely decisive of the fate of the city. Elsewhere, especially in Louisiana, we have sustained losses. So things look as dark as ever. I still believe, however, that we shall gain the great battles, and defeat the great armies of the enemy. But after that, I fear, will begin our greatest difficulties. Meantime, luxury reigns as it never did before, in Boston, New York, and through the North generally.

With kindest regards from all of us to all of your house, I remain,

Very faithfully yours,

1 Dated February 21, 1859, Mr. Prescott having died January 27.

2 March 8, 1859.

3 To Don Pascual de Gayangoa.

4 The Museum of Comparative Zoology at Cambridge, of which Mr. Ticknor was a Trustee, as has already been said.

5 Lady Lyell's reminiscences of Mr. Prescott.

6 Sir Edmund Head lost his only son by drowning at this time.

7 See letter to Mr. Daveis, ante, p. 195.

8 Gardiner, Maine.

9 In a letter given a few pages later. Again, in April, 1863, he writes: ‘Whatever awaits us in the dark future depends, I believe, neither on elections nor speeches nor wise discussions, but on fighting. I have thought so ever since the affair of Fort Sumter, and fire cannot burn it out of me.’

10 In a letter given a few pages later. Again, in April, 1863, he writes: ‘Whatever awaits us in the dark future depends, I believe, neither on elections nor speeches nor wise discussions, but on fighting. I have thought so ever since the affair of Fort Sumter, and fire cannot burn it out of me.’

11 This letter is printed from a draft, or copy, in Mr. Ticknor's writing, found among his papers.

12 He writes in 1866, “From that moment, therefore [of the attack on Fort Sumter], I began to contribute voluntarily in money and in all ways in which a man of above threescore and ten could do it, to carry on the war, giving more in proportion to my fortune, I believe, than did most of the original Abolitionists.”

13 The original members of this club were Professor Agassiz, Mr. W. Amory, Mr. Sidney Bartlett, Hon. B. R. Curtis, Mr. C. C. Felton, Mr. W. W. Greenough, Mr. G. S. Hillard, Mr. R. M. Mason, Professor W. B. Rogers, Mr. C. W. Storey, and Mr. H. P. Sturgis. Mr. Ticknor joined it in 1861.

14 September 7, 1862, he wrote to his eldest daughter, then at Newport: ‘I was very glad to see your name on the printed paper you sent yesterday. Give what money you think best, to the ladies with whom you are associated, and look to me to make it good. I was never so much in earnest about the war as I have been for the last week, when the very atmosphere has been full of the spirit of change and trouble.’

15 One English engraving was accepted, that by Holl, of the portrait which faces the title-page.

16 This letter is printed from a rough draft.

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