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Chapter 20: friends and worthies: social successes

Time would fail me if I should undertake to mention the valued friendships which have gladdened my many years in Boston, or to indicate the social pleasures which have alternated with my more serious pursuits. One or two of these friends I must mention, lest my reminiscences should be found lacking in the good savor of gratitude.

I have already spoken of seeing the elder Richard H. Dana from time to time during the years of my young ladyhood in New York. He himself was surely a transcendental, of an apart and individual school. Nevertheless, the transcendentals of Boston did not come within either his literary or his social sympathies. I never heard him express any admiration for Mr. Emerson. He may, indeed, have done so at a later period; for Mr. Emerson in the end won for himself the heart of New England, which had long revolted at his novelties of thought and expression. Mr. Dana's ideal evidently was Washington Allston, for whom his attachment amounted almost to [429] worship. The pair were sometimes spoken of in that day as ‘two old-world men who sat by the fire together, and upheld each other in aversion to the then prevailing state of things.’

I twice had the pleasure of seeing Washington Allston. My first sight of him was in my early youth when, being in Boston with my father for a brief visit, my dear tutor, Joseph G. Cogswell, undertook to give us this pleasure. Mr. Allston's studio was in Cambridge port. He admitted no one within it during his working hours, save occasionally his friend Franklin Dexter, who was obliged to announce his presence by a particular way of knocking at the door. Mr. Cogswell managed to get possession of this secret, and when we drove to the door of the studio he made use of the well-known signal. ‘Dexter, is that you?’ cried a voice from within. A moment later saw us within the sanctuary.

My father was intending to order a picture from Mr. Allston, and this circumstance amply justified Mr. Cogswell, in his own opinion, for the stratagem employed to gain us admittance. Mr. Allston was surprised but not disconcerted by our entrance, and proceeded to do the honors of the rather bare apartment with genial grace. He had not then unrolled his painting of Belshazzar's Feast, which, begun many years before that time, had long been left in an unfinished condition. [430]

As I remember, the great artist had but little to show us. My father was especially pleased with a group, one figure of which was a copy of Titian's well-known portrait of his daughter, the other being a somewhat commonplace representation of a young girl of modem times.

My father afterwards told me that he had thought of purchasing this picture. While he was deliberating about it Thomas Cole the landscape painter called upon him, bringing the design of four pictures illustrating the course of human life. The artist's persuasion induced him to give an order for this work, which was not completed until after my dear parent's death, when we found it something of a white elephant. The pictures were suitable only for a gallery, and as none of us felt able to indulge in such a luxury they were afterward sold to some public institution, with a considerable loss on our part.

Some years after my marriage I encountered Mr. Allston in Chestnut Street, Boston, on a bitter winter day. He had probably been visiting his friend Mr. Dana, who resided in that street; The ground was covered with snow, and Mr. Allston, with his snowy curls and old-fashioned attire, looked like an impersonation of winter, his luminous dark eyes suggesting the fire which warms the heart of the cold season. The wonderful beauty of the face, intensified by age, impressed [431] me deeply. He did not recognize me, having seen me but once, and we passed without any salutation; but his living image in my mind takes precedence of all the shadowy shapes which his magic placed upon canvas.

Boston should never forget the famous dinner given to Charles Dickens on the occasion of his first visit to America in 1842. Among the wits who made the feast one to be remembered Allston shone, a bright particular star. He was a reader of Dickens, but was much averse to serials, and waited always for the publication of the stories in book form. He died while one of these was approaching completion, I forget which it was, but remember that Felton, commenting upon this, said, ‘This shows what a mistake it is not to read the numbers as they are issued. He has thereby lost the whole of this story when he might have enjoyed a part of it.’

One other singular figure comes back to me across the wide waste of years, and seems to ask some mention at my hands.

The figure is that of Thomas Gold Appleton, a man whom, in his own despite, the old Boston dearly cherished. In appearance he was of rather more than medium height, and his countenance, which was not handsome, bore a curious resemblance to that of his beautiful sister Fanny, the beloved wife of the poet Longfellow. He wore [432] his hair in what might have been called elf locks, and the expression of his dark blue eyes varied from one of intense melancholy to amused observation.

Tom Appleton, as he was usually called, was certainly a man of parts and of great reputation as a wit, but I should rather have termed him a humorist. He cultivated a Byronic distaste for the Puritanic ways of New England. In truth, he was always ready for an encounter of arms (figuratively speaking) with institutions and with individuals, while yet in heart he was most human and humane. Born in affluence, he did not embrace either business or profession, but devoted much time to the study of painting, for which he had more taste than talent. It was as a word artist that he was remarkable; and his graphic felicities of expression led Mr. Emerson to quote him as ‘the first conversationalist in America,’ an eminence which I, for my part, should have been more inclined to accord to Dr. Holmes.

He loved European life, and had many friends among the notabilities of English society. He was a fellow passenger on the steamer which carried Dr. Howe and myself as far as Liverpool on our wedding journey. People in our cabin were apt to call for a Welsh rabbit before turning in for the night. Apropos of this, he remarked to me, ‘You eat a rabbit before going to bed, and [433] presently you dream that you are a shelf with a large cheese resting upon it.’

He was much attached to his father, of whom he once said to me, ‘We don't dare to mention anything pathetic at our table. If we did, father would be sure to spoil the soup’ (with his tears, being understood). The elder Appleton belonged to the congregation of the Federal Street Church. I asked his son if he ever attended service there. He said, ‘Oh, yes; I sometimes go to hear the minister exhort that assemblage of weary ones to forsake the vanities of life. Looking at the choir, I see some forlorn women who seem, from the way in which they open their mouths, to mistake the congregation for a dentist.’ He did not care for music. At a party devoted to classical performances, he turned to me: ‘Mrs. Howe, are you going to give us something from the symphony in P?’

He was much of an amateur in art, literature, and life, never appearing to take serious hold of matters either social or political. Wendell Phillips had been his schoolmate, and the two, in company with John Lothrop Motley, had fought many battles with wooden swords in the Appleton garret. For some unexplained reason, he had but little faith in Phillips's philanthropy, and the relations of childhood between the two did not extend to their later life. [434]

His Atlantic voyages became so frequent that he once said to a friend, ‘I always keep my steamer ticket in my pocket, like a soda-water ticket.’ Indeed, his custom almost carried out this saying. I have heard that once, being in New York, he invited friends to breakfast with him at his hotel. On arriving they found only a note informing them of his departure for Europe on that very morning.

I myself one day invited him to dinner with other friends, among whom was his sister, Mrs. Longfellow. We waited long for him, and I at last said to Mrs. Longfellow, ‘What can it be that detains your brother so late?’

‘I don't know, indeed,’ was her reply.

‘Your brother?’cried one of the guests. ‘I met him this morning on his way to the steamer. He must have sailed some hours since.’

A friend once spoke to him of matrimony, of which he said in reply, ‘Marriage? I could never undergo it unless I was held, and took chloroform.’

Yet those who knew him well supposed that he had had some romance of his own. To his praise be it said that he was a man of many friendships, and by no means destitute of public spirit.

It was from Mr. Dana that I first heard of John Sullivan Dwight, whom he characterized as a man of moderate calibre, who had ‘set up for an [435] infidel,’ and who had dared to speak of the Apostle to the Gentiles as Paul, without the prefix of his saintship. In the early years of my residence in Boston I sometimes heard of Mr. Dwight as a disciple of Fourier, a transcendental of the transcendentals, and a prominent member of a socialist club.

I first came to know him well when Madame Sontag was singing in Boston. We met often at the home of Mr.Schlesinger and Mrs. Schlesinger-Benzon, a house which deserves grateful remembrance from every lover of music who was admitted to its friendly and aesthetic interior. Many were the merry and musical festivities enjoyed under that hospitable roof. The house was of moderate dimensions and in a part of Boylston Street now wholly devoted to business. Mrs. Benzon was a sister of the well-known Lehmann artists and of the father of the late coach of the Harvard boating crew. She was very fond of music, and it was at one of her soirees that Elise Hensler made her first appearance and sang, with fine expression and a beautiful fresh voice, the air from ‘Robert le Diable:’ —

Va, dit-elle, va, mon enfant,
Dire au fils qui m'a delaissee.

These friends, with others, interested themselves in Miss Hensler's musical education and enabled her to complete her studies in Paris. As is well [436] known, she became a favorite prima donna in light opera, and was finally heard of as the morganatic wife of the King (consort) Ferdinand of Portugal.

Madame Sontag and her husband, Count Rossi, came often to the Benzon house. I met them there one day at dinner, when in the course of conversation Madame Sontag said that she never acted in private life. The count remarked rather rudely, ‘I saw you enact the part of Zerlina quite recently.’ This was probably intended for a harmless pleasantry, but the lady's change of color showed that it did not amuse her.

Before this time Dwight's ‘Journal of Music’ had published a very friendly review of my first volume of poems. It did not diminish my appreciation of this kind service to learn in later years that it had been rendered by Mrs. Ednah D. Cheney, then scarcely an acquaintance of mine, to-day an esteemed friend of many years, whom I have found excellent in counsel and constant and loyal in regard.

During the many years of my life at South Boston, Mr. Dwight and his wife were among the faithful few who would brave the disagreeable little trip in the omnibus and across the bridge with the low draw, to enliven my fireside. I valued these guests very highly, having had occasion to perceive that Bostonians are apt to [437] limit their associations to the regions in which they are most at home. Speaking of this once with a friend, I said, ‘In Boston Love crosses the bridge, but Friendship stops at the Common.’

After the death of his wife Mr. Dwight had many lonely years. He was very fond of young people, and as my younger children grew up he became strongly attached to them. As editor of the ‘Journal of Music’ he was the recipient of tickets for musical entertainments of all sorts. His enjoyment of these was heightened by congenial company, and to my children, and later to my grandchildren, he was the great dispenser of musical delights. He was to us almost as one of the family, and to him our doors were never closed. His was a very individual strain of character, combining a rather flamboyant imagination with a severe taste. He could never accept the Wagner cult, and stood obstinately for the limits of classical music, insisting even that the performance of Wagner's operas perverted the tone both of strings and brasses, and that it took some time for the instruments to recover from this misuse. He had much to do with the formation of the Harvard Musical Association, and the programmes which he arranged for its concerts are precious in remembrance.

Dr. Holmes sat near me at Mr. Dwight's funeral, which took place in the Harvard rooms, [438] whose presiding genius he had been. The services were very simple and genial. Some lovely singing, a poetical tribute or so, some heart-warm words spoken by friends, mingled with the customary prayer and scripture reading. In the interval of silence before these began, Dr. Holmes said to me, in a low tone, ‘Mrs. Howe, we may almost imagine the angels who announced a certain nativity to be hovering near these remains.’

Otto Dresel, beloved as an artist and dreaded as a critic, was an intimate of the Benzon household, and was almost idolized by Mr. Dwight. He had the misfortune to be over-critical, but no less so of himself than of others. He did much to raise the appreciation of music in Boston, possessed as he was with a sense of the dignity and sacredness of the art. His compositions, not many in number, had a deep poetical charm, as had also his soulful interpretation of Chopin's works. As a teacher he was unrivaled. Two of my daughters were indebted to him for a very valuable musical education.

Boston has seemed darker to me since the light of this eminent musical intelligence has left it. I subjoin a tribute of my affection for him in these lines, which were suggested by Mr. Loeffler's rendering of Handel's ‘Largo’ at a concert, especially dedicated to the memory of this dear friend. I also add a verse descriptive of [439] the effect of the funeral march from Beethoven's ‘Heroica,’ which made part of the programme in question.

Boston Music Hall, October 11 1980.

Handel's Largo: in Memoriam Otto Dresel.

On every shining stair an angel stood,
     And to our dear one said, ‘Walk higher, friend.’
Till, rapt from earth, in a celestial mood,
     He passed from sight to blessings without end;
And where his feet had trod, a radiant flood
     His lofty message of content did send.

Beethoven's funeral March.

The heavy steps that 'neath new burdens tread,
     The heavy hearts that wait upon the dead,
The struggling thoughts that single out, through tears,
     The happy memories of bygone years,
And on the deaf and silent presence call:
     O friend belov'd! O master! is this all?
But as the cadence moves, the song flowers fling
     To us the promise of eternal spring,
Love that survives the wreck of its delight,
     And goes, torch bearing, into darksome night.
Trumpet and drum have marked the victor's way,
     The seraph voices now their legend say:
“O loving friends! refrain your waiting fond;
     The gates are passed, and heaven is bright beyond.”

In March, 1885, I had the unspeakable grief of losing my dear eldest daughter, Julia Romana, of whose birth in Rome I have made mention. She [440] was a person of rare endowments and of great originality of character, inheriting much of her father's personal shyness, but more of his benevolence and public spirit. She was the constant companion and faithful ally of that beloved parent. During the years of our residence in the city, she would often walk over with him to South Boston before breakfast. She delighted in giving lessons to the blind pupils of the Institution, and succeeded so well in teaching German to a class of the blind teachers that these were enabled, on visiting Germany, to use and understand the language. She read extensively, and was gifted with so retentive a memory that we were accustomed to refer to her disputed dates and other questions in history. A small volume of her verses has been printed, with the title of ‘Stray Chords.’ Some of these poems show remarkable depth of thought and great felicity of expression.

A new source of delight was opened to her by the summer school of philosophy held for some years at Concord, Mass. Here her mind seemed to have found its true level, and I cannot think of the sittings of the school without a vision of the rapt expression of her face as she sat and listened to the various speakers. Something of this pleasure found expression in a slender volume named ‘Philosophiae Quaestor,’ in which she has preserved some features of the school, now, alas! a [441] thing of remote remembrance. The impressions of it also took shape in a club which she gathered about her, and to which she gave the name of the Metaphysical Club. It was beautiful to see her seated in the midst of this thoughtful circle, which she seemed to rule with a staff of lilies. The club was one in which diversity of opinion sometimes brought individuals into sharp contrast with each other, but her gentle government was able to bring harmony out of discord, and to subdue alike the crudeness of skepticism and the fierceness of intolerance.

Her interest in her father's pupils was unremitting. A friend said to me not long ago, ‘It was one of the sights of Boston in the days of the Harvard musical concerts to see your Julia's radiant face as she would come into Music Hall, leading a blind pupil by either hand.’

In December, 1869, she became the wife of Michael Anagnos, who was then my husband's assistant, and who succeeded him as principal of the Institution at South Boston. After fifteen years of happy wedlock, she suffered a long and painful illness which terminated fatally. Almost her last thought was of her beloved club, and she asked that a valued friend might be summoned, that she might consult with him, no doubt, as to its future management. To her husband she said, ‘Be kind to the little blind children, for they are [442] papa's children.’ These parting words of hers are inscribed on the wall of the Kindergarten for the Blind at Jamaica Plain. Beautiful in life, and most beautiful in death, her sainted memory has a glory beyond that of worldly fame.

A writer of my own sex, years ago, desiring to do me some pen-service, wrote to me asking for particulars of my life, and emphasizing her wishes with these words: ‘I wish to hear not of your literary work, but of your social successes.’ I could not at the time remember that I had had any, and so did not respond to her request. But let us ask what are social successes? A climb from obscurity to public notice? An abiding place on the stage of fashionable life? A wardrobe that newspaper correspondents may report? Fine equipages, furniture, and entertainments? These things have had small part in my thoughts.

As I take account of my long life, I become well aware of its failures. What may I chronicle as its successes? It was a great distinction for me when the foremost philanthropist of the age chose me for his wife. It was a great success for me when, having been born and bred in New York city, I found myself able to enter into the intellectual life of Boston, and to appreciate the ‘high thinking’ of its choice spirits. I have sat at the feet of the masters of literature, art, and [443] science, and have been graciously admitted into their fellowship. I have been the chosen poet of several high festivals, to wit, the celebration of Bryant's seventieth birthday, the commemoration of the centenary of his birth, and the unveiling of the statue of Columbus in Central Park, New York, in the Columbian year, so called. I have been the founder of a club of young girls, which has exercised a salutary influence upon the growing womanhood of my adopted city, and has won for itself an honorable place in the community, serving also as a model for similar associations in other cities. I have been for many years the president of the New England Woman's Club, and of the Association for the Advancement of Women. I have been heard at the great Prison Congress in England, at Mrs. Butler's convention de moralite publique in Geneva, Switzerland, and at more than one convention in Paris. I have been welcomed in Faneuil Hall, when I have stood there to rehearse the merits of public men, and later, to plead the cause of oppressed Greece and murdered Armenia. I have written one poem which, although composed in the stress and strain of the civil war, is now sung South and North by the champions of a free government. I have been accounted worthy to listen and to speak at the Boston Radical Club and at the Concord School of Philosophy. I have been exalted to [444] occupy the pulpit of my own dear church and that of others, without regard to denominational limits. Lastly and chiefly, I have had the honor of pleading for the slave when he was a slave, of helping to initiate the woman's movement in many States of the Union, and of standing with the illustrious champions of justice and freedom, for woman suffrage, when to do so was a thankless office, involving public ridicule and private avoidance.

I have made a voyage upon a golden river,
     'Neath clouds of opal and of amethyst.
Along its banks bright shapes were moving ever,
     And threatening shadows melted into mist.

The eye, unpracticed, sometimes lost the current,
     When some wild rapid of the tide did whirl,
While yet a master hand beyond the torrent
     Freed my frail shallop from the perilous swirl.

Music went with me, fairy flute and viol,
     The utterance of fancies half expressed,
And with these, steadfast, beyond pause or trial,
     The deep, majestic throb of Nature's breast.

My journey nears its close—in some still haven
     My bark shall find its anchorage of rest,
When the kind hand, which every good has given,
     Opening with wider grace, shall give the best.

[445] [446]

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