Elihu Vedder.

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ON the day after the taking of Richmond, the whole city
went mad. People sang, danced, hurrahed, and got
drunk. The long strain was over, and we breathed
freely again. Only a newspaper man could do justice to the state
of the city on that day. We that is the Boys and myself, for
we were always together met an old gentleman who said, "I
never was drunk in my life before, but I am now and I glory in it.
Let us all take a drink."

Well, we kept the ball rolling all that day, and for my part I
passed through many stages. The Boys were fond of recalling
how in the bellicose stage, I bade them all stand back four paces
and then I would show them what I could do; they afterward
affected to admire the mixture of caution and bravery I dis-
played. Lastly I became sentimental and lachrymose and begged
them to hold up the flag, the last I heard that night was a voice
frantically imploring them to "Hold up the Flag!" Thus for me
ended the day of the taking of Richmond, but I was not proud
of it.

The War being over, tired out with the exciting life I had led,


and its many complications, a great longing for Europe came
over me, and so, packing my belongings, with a woefully small
amount of money, but with hopes high burning, I again left my
native Land.

This leaving my native Land and seeing it " fast fade o'er the
waters blue " could not have been accomplished so easily without
the aid of Boston, to me the always faithful Boston, and so
I shall make a little group of my memories of that city. I fear,
relying entirely on a poor memory, I may get things mixed,
putting in recollections of visits taking place after the "War-
time"; but it really does not matter much now, it being so long
ago ; but it did matter very much then, as you shall see.

The good people of Boston meaning the eminent ones I
had the pleasure of meeting have described themselves mutually
so thoroughly that there is nothing I can add; but the thought
strikes me, as it has so often in thinking things over, that had
I been somewhat older when I was younger, how much more
I could have profited by my opportunities. The Studio Building
was naturally my headquarters, and as naturally its inmates be-
came my good friends. First came loveable Ames, the portrait-
painter, with his great head of curly hair, his handsome, dark,
gypsy-looking wife, and Emmie, the daughter. In Emmie, this
feature of both father and mother the hair came out
strongly and shaded her brow with dark, thunderous masses,
which, however, only emitted heat-lightning, very effective in my
case but doing no permanent damage. Snell, the architect, had
his offices in the building, and his partner was that dearest of
fellows Jamie Gregerson, whose then sylph-like sister I now see
in Rome from time to time. There I formed a friendship with
William Furness, also a portrait-painter, whose early death was


such a loss. He painted my portrait for the Academy, to go
among the portraits of the Academicians; posing me with my
back to the light, my yellow hair gave much the effect that Landor
complained of, as I have told, the only resemblance between
us, I fancy. Furness having a portrait to finish, the lady no
longer being available, he advertised for a model, " for the arms
only, none but ladies need apply." The effect was wonderful;
"in flocking crowds they came." He soon had what he wanted,
but had to consult me as to the surplus, so it was agreed he should
pass them on to me. " Out. Apply at number five" was tacked on
his door. I soon found one I thought I could make some good
studies from, and put on my door, " Out. Apply at number eight "
- Bicknell's. I don't know what Bicknell would have done had
it not been for his regular model, a young lady who soon dis-
couraged them all. But such a number! and real ladies! it
must have been the romance of the thing. Some came shrouded
in mystery and a few remained shrouded, but they mostly
unshrouded with great readiness ; they evidently thought it a
lark. One I retained would have been a splendid model, but she
had one defect ; she was a schoolmistress and very well educated,
but was an incessant, incorrigible talker. I had with great regret
to get rid of her, for fear of being talked to death. I do not know
how it may be in other parts, but in the vicinity of the Studio
Building I saw much of a Boston which does not appear in

William Hunt was so identified in my mind with Boston that
to say "Hunt" was to me the same as saying "Boston." Al-
though he differed from any Bostonian I ever knew, he never
seemed the same man out of it. Hunt, aside from being one of


the most fascinating and loveable men I have ever known, was
also a most accomplished swearer. My brother Alexander once
said to me, " Ell, I wish you would n't swear. Not that I object
to the swearing, but you do not do it gracefully." Now Hunt did
do it gracefully. He could swear in any society, and did so ; and,
although I never heard him, I am persuaded he could have
sworn in church with perfect propriety. He had his days ; there
were days when he swore constantly; on others he seemed to
have sworn off swearing, and only swore intermittently.

He also told stories. One day he told the story of a father,
also a profuse swearer, who gave the very best of advice to his
son in the very worst of language in fact it consisted of a very
thin stream of advice meandering through meadows of swearing.
And this happened on one of Hunt's swearing days. I simply
cannot describe the effect.

Hunt used to tell how he and an old friend sat up until all
hours raking up reminiscences, aided by a box of cigars and sun-
dry bottles. When they found the box empty and the bottles
likewise, they concluded to go to bed ; but the smoke thirst was
on Hunt, and he felt that the rest of the night would be spoiled
for him unless he had another smoke for it is a peculiarity of
our minor vices that one never has enough until one has too
much. So he hunted through his clothes and searched the room
for tobacco in any form, but in vain. Then he remembered a
particularly fine stump of a cigar he had heedlessly thrown away
on the grass-plot in front of the veranda where they had been
sitting. Lighting a dark lantern, he crept noiselessly down the
stairs and out on to the grass. There had been a series of robber-
ies committed in the neighbourhood recently, so when he heard
a rustling in the bushes near him he at once became intensely


excited ; but, taking the bull by the horns, he opened wide the
lantern, and saw in the sudden glare the figure of a man on his
hands and knees in the grass before him it was his friend,
bound on the same errand!

Mrs. Hunt also told stories, but did not swear. She told this
little one of herself. The cook had asked her what they would
have for breakfast the next morning. Mrs. H., who had been
reading some book in which the slang word "sassengers" had
amused her, said, without thinking, "We had better have sas-
sengers" ; and then correcting herself "I mean sausengers."
This is very like a friend, who, having dipped the gum-brush into
the ink-stand, washed it out very carefully and then proceeded
to dip it right in again.

Hunt was also a most generous man. On seeing my pictures
for the first time, he wrote me a most appreciative and encourag-
ing letter, doing me no end of good, and when I went on to
Boston he proved in deed as well as word a sincere friend. I al-
ways connect La Farge with the Boston of that time. If Hunt
was comforting, La Farge was inspiring; I have never met any
one more so, and it was only my imperviousness that prevented
my profiting more by his advice and example. It was at this time
he painted those flowers one might say truthfully his flowers ;
I had never seen anything like them then, and I have never seen
anything like them since. At this time I remember Doll having
for sale that wonderful little picture of La Farge's, the old
Newport house with its large roof covered with snow, standing
solemnly in the gloom of an overcast winter day, not only
wonderful in sentiment, but for the truth of the transmitted light
through the snow-burdened air. I went to Doll's one day with
the firm intention of becoming the happy possessor of this little


picture, but La Farge by some subtle instinct must have scented
danger, and I found it was no longer for sale. This quality of
subtlety is shown in those never-to-be-forgotten flowers, particu-
larly in that damp mass of violets in a shallow dish on a window-
sill, where the outside air faintly stirring the lace curtains seems
to waft the odour towards you. This quality, peculiarly his own,
affects me in his writings, so that as a writer I was at one time
inclined to find fault with him for a certain elaborate obscurity in
his style, which I now see arises from his striving to express
shades of thought so delicate that they seem to render words
almost useless. Therefore his words seem to hover about a
thought as butterflies hover about the perfume of a flower.

A French ambassador once said to a lady who had been re-
proving somewhat shrewdly a certain act of Napoleon the Third :
"Madame, the Emperor will be very sorry when he hears this."

Boston was not in those days a maelstrom of madness as New
York is now, but the business part (the Studio Building and
where Hunt had his studio) was sufficiently lively to make a
little trip into the country a relief, and the ever hospitable home
of George Long offered such a haven of rest. Hunt had painted a
fine portrait of my dear friend Mrs. Long, and by accident or by
appointment we often found ourselves in the midst of her love-
able family. One day we were looking at a French flower-piece
which Long had bought of some dealer, when Hunt thought
he saw something peculiar about it and insisted on getting it
out of its frame and having an examination. To our surprise we
found that there were two pictures; a companion flower-piece,
every whit as good as the first, had been stretched under it. Here
was a legal question, to whom did the picture belong ? and
we argued it out as such. It would only embarrass the dealer, if




it was a case of smuggling ; and if not, why then it belonged to
Long as much as to any one else. The poor painter was not men-
tioned ; he was too far away. It ended, when framed, by mak-
ing a very good pendant for the other one, and they were hung
one on each side of Hunt's portrait of Mrs. Long for there is
nothing like symmetry.

Speaking of pendants, a very good one to this of Hunt's finding
a picture is the story of his losing one a far more serious
matter, for it was a little but beautiful picture by Millet. The his-
tory of this picture, of which I give an illustration, is as follows.

William Hunt was a great admirer and friend of Millet, and
in the early days bought of him all the pictures he could afford to
buy. These he kept in his studio in Boston, where I had a good


opportunity of admiring them. One day I made in a small
sketch-book a pencil drawing which at that time I did not so
much value, as it only served to keep the picture fresh in my
mind. When, however, I heard of the burning of Hunt's studio
with all its contents, and imagined that the catastrophe had in-
cluded this beautiful picture, I hunted up the drawing and now
cherish it as perhaps the only record left. I now see that I had
noted in my drawing all things essential to giving a good idea
of the work, which was small only in size.

I give the drawing as of interest and value in case the picture
has really perished. I have never been able to find out anything
about it, or indeed what is stranger even a person who
remembers seeing it.

As this is a zig-zag, I get back to La Farge again, but only to
tell of an Englishman who was stopping with him, at Glen Cove
I think it was. I had been invited there at the same time, for
La Farge was always most kind to me. We had breakfasted to
our satisfaction, when the English artist cleared his throat and
asked briskly, "And now where is the sketching-ground ?" Did
he expect sign-posts ? or to find the country chalked out like
a tennis-court? or "Sketching-Ground. No trespassers al-

This last idea is not a bad one. I remember when sketching
at Bordighera I used to say to my friend Coleman, " Now mind
I Ve put a chalk-mark on this subject " ; and we used to respect
each other's chalk-marks. One day, however, Coleman had
found such a good thing that I had to sit down back of him and
paint it also. I painted one of my best sketches, and so quickly
that I was through before he had drawn his in ; but I had to pay
dearly for it, for he was so disgusted that he shut up his box and


would not go on with the subject, but claimed my sketch instead,
and he has it to this day.

I have told in "Florentine Days" of the painter Mignati asking
me what I thought of a certain head he had just painted, and
my reply, that it looked like a man who saw ghosts. The
head turned out to be that of Home, the medium. The same
question in almost identical words was asked me in Boston years
after by Mr. J. T. Fields, the publisher. He was showing me his
treasures, and among them was a head the portrait of a man.
He asked me what kind of a man I thought the original must
have been. I said I saw in it a delicate temperament, that of
a poet, one who had suffered a great deal in fact, it looked
to me like the portrait of a hunchback.

"That is most extraordinary! Why, it is a portrait of Alex-
ander Pope."

This may not be very interesting; I only tell it to show how
clever I was.

Circumstances concurring, Hunt and I made a pilgrimage to
Concord. He had heard previously of a remark of Emerson to
the effect that " Nature being the same on the banks of the Ken-
nebec as on the banks of the Tiber why go to Europe ? " We,
having both been to Europe, could not reconcile ourselves to this
dictum in fact were quite riled about it, and determined that
if either of us had the opportunity he should have it out with

Now, when you saw Emerson, you saw Alcott ; but when you
saw Alcott, you did not necessarily see Emerson. Be that as it
may Emerson fell to my lot. I will not describe him he was
all that is most sweet and gracious; so was I.


I said, "Mr. Emerson, I think there is a great difference be-
tween the literary man and the artist in regard to Europe. Nature
is the same everywhere, but literature and art are Nature seen
through other eyes, and a literary man in Patagonia without
books to consult would be at a great disadvantage. Here he has
all that is essential in the way of books : but to the artist, whose
books are pictures, this land is Patagonia." (And so it was at
that time.) I continued, "Take from your shelves your Bible,
Plato, Shakespeare, Dante, Bacon, Montaigne, etc., and make it
so that you could not consult them without going to Europe, and
I think it would soon be Ho, for Europe!" Could impudence
go further ? I was very young.

"Yes, yes," said he, "that is certainly an aspect of the question
which should be taken into consideration."

Hunt and I were both jubilant ; our little torpedo had exploded
and we imagined that hereafter all would be plain sailing.

Another pilgrimage. My two good friends, Mrs. Fields and
Sara Jewett, had invited me to stay with them a few days at
Manchester-by-the-Sea, to show me, they said, the place where
I must have painted my Lair of the Sea-Serpent. As a matter
of fact I did not paint it there, but, like the talented little boy,
"drew it all out of my own head with a common lead pencil."

In our drives and walks before going to the beach I had re-
marked a singular thing namely, that the citizens of our great
country have no longer the right to go down to the shore of the
Atlantic, at least when the shore-line is at all interesting ; for the
whole place was bristling with signs: "No trespassing allowed,"
"Trespassers will be prosecuted," etc., which I thought a
singular state of affairs ; for our shore-line is not so very pictur-
esque that the best part should be preempted in this way. Finally


one day we drove over to the beach. It is indeed wonderful : the
old farmhouse and apple orchards buried under the encroach-
ing sand, the cloud-shadows sweeping over the desolate stretches


under the freshening breeze, etc., etc. Well, out on the sands
the extraordinary thing happened. I was separated from my
companions a short distance, when happening to look down I
saw at my feet, gazing up at me from out the sand, a large, clear,
beautiful human eye.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. I called my
friends, and you could have knocked them down with a feather
also ; but our amazement lasted but for an instant, for clearing
away the sand, I picked up a large glass eye. It probably had


been lost from some little girl's doll, but the doll must have
been life-size. The first moment, however, was Robinson Crusoe
and the footprint on the sand all over again.

Agro Dolce. I once attended a play given by amateurs in
Boston. All the right kind of people were there, and it was very
delightful and amusing ; at least I was amused, for at a certain
point a youth in the audience recognising a friend on the stage
dressed as a girl, cried out, "Why, Johnny Bowdoin! is that
you ? " This one touch of Boston made the whole of that little
world kin, and there was great hilarity. It would have been so
nice to be in it with the rest. In Boston you are among them, but
not of them. I ought not to say that but there is a difference :
for instance, I once attended one of those big international
yacht races in New York. I was invited by some men of the
Century Club. Now I had cocktailed and billiarded with these
men for years. On the way it was proposed to go over the great
Telephone Company's building. As we entered, I thought it
about time to know whom I was with, so I asked my friend,
"Who is this taking us over the building?" "Why, he's the
head of the Telephone Company." "Who is our other
friend?" "He's the editor of the Times." "Well, and
now who are you ?" "Why, I'm only the superintendent of
all the docks in New York." What was there to say except that
I was glad to find myself in such good company ? And yet
they had always been good company enough for me before that.
It is all very well to rail at Boston yet I know of no other
city at home in which I would rather live than in Boston now
that New York is almost impossible. I was never made to feel
poor in Boston.


A friend telling about the Abruzzi said that in the town where
he had been painting, any one who had not killed his man cut but
a "magra figura." I think it is so about fishing, and any one who
cannot tell his fish-story cuts but a meagre figure in my estima-
tion. Once, in the Tile Club, Deilman had told a variation on the
Oriental cry of the seller of figs. The variation ran, "In the name
of Allah " fish! and he was always hailed on his entrance
with that cry. My cry is now Fish.

Bicknell had been talking over with me Emerson's theory re-
garding Art, that Nature was the same on the banks of the Ken-
nebec as on the banks of the Tiber, then "Why to Europe?"
And Bicknell thought that this theory could be pretty well re-
futed, or at least given a lively turn, in a certain place he knew
of, namely, Turner, Maine. So we went for Turner, Maine,
but never got there. We found indeed an embarras de richesses :
North, South, East and West Turner, Turner Four Corners, and
Turner P. O., but never a Turner, neat. I think we settled in
West Turner. There was one tavern, one store, one blacksmith,
shop, one of everything, and I believe one house. Standing
on the porch of the tavern, I saw across a narrow field in front of
us the track of a small meandering brook, bordered with alder-
bushes. Asking one of the inevitable boys hanging about if there
was trout in it, his answer was, "They ain't no trout, but there's
sum pickerel!" "Why don't you go fishing?" "Ain't got no
hooks." "Well, take this and go to the store and buy some
lines and hooks. How about bait ? " " Hain't no worms
araound here have to use grasshoppers." "Where's your
grasshoppers?" "Git 'em over in that lot."

Now, remember, only a narrow field, and then the brook. Cut-
ting a long switch, I tied on line and hook, and while the boy was


catching grasshoppers, I crossed the field, and putting aside the
bushes saw there in a clear little shallow of the stream a splendid
pickerel. He seemed to be sleeping with his eyes open. I had no
bait, but something had to be done ; so very cautiously I lowered
the hook over him on the side away from me, and with a quick
but gentle twitch the hook caught, and a nicely calculated hoist
landed him at my feet the most astonished fish you ever saw.
Taking him up, I at once crossed the field and road, and passing
through the crowd of loafers, gave him to my landlord, saying,
"Please let us have this fish for supper"; and telling the boy I
guessed I had fish enough for that day and would leave him to go
on with the sport, I went upstairs to wash my hands. My window
was open, and I heard the crowd discussing the event. "What's
up?" said one. "Why nawthin' 'cept that city chap jest
bought a hook and string and went down to the stream here and
cums right back with a big pickerel and asts the landlord to cook
it fer his supper, quickest thing I ever see." Bicknell told them
that did n't begin; he only wondered I had n't brought back two.
The story of the woodchuck is the same, only for fish read
rodent. Having been given a gun, I brought it along. It was an
army carbine, and had a kick like an army mule. It was called a
Maynard rifle and was, by the way, an invention of my old friend
Maynard's father. It carried any distance, and I had not dared
to use it for fear some farmer miles away should be found dead at
his plough. One day a man came to me and said, "See here, if
you want to try your gun, there 's a big woodchuck over there,
and you might get a shot at him if you crawled along this stone
wall. Ye got to be mighty careful though, they're mighty
spry; got to kill 'um dead, or they'll get to their hole as quick as
wink." No Indian ever crawled as I crawled. I got as near as I


could, but it was a long shot. The chuck was constantly sitting
up to look around, then he would go down again and feed. The
wall gave me a splendid rest, and I took deliberate aim and
pulled the trigger. I got the kick and the chuck got the ball,
or I supposed so, but on coming to him I could not see where I
had hit him. However, the crowd had gathered, so I seized him
by the scruff of the neck, when to my amazement I found that,
like the contents of a half-filled carpet-bag, he went all down into
the other end. I took him by the other end and he reversed the
process. I concluded that woodchucks had very roomy skins.
Getting to the crowd I said, "Well, here's the chuck; what am
I to do with him ? " " If you don't mind, you might give him
to us ; we '11 eat him they're mighty good eating." " But I
can't see where you hit him," said one ; "guess it must have been
the wind of the ball." I was a little frightened at this remark,
but putting on a bold face, said, "Not much!" On skinning him
it turned out that he was beautifully fat, and that I had shot him
plumb through the head. I confess I aimed at his middle, and
without any great expectations either, but as far as that crowd
went Nimrod was n't in it. I shot no more in the Turners, but,
wisely resting on my laurels, turned to painting.

Mrs. Ruggles, on seeing the Apollo Belvedere, remarked,
' Well, I have now seen the Apollo Belvedere ; and I have seen
Ruggles ; as for me, give me Ruggles." I had seen the Tiber
and I had metaphorically speaking seen the Kennebec, and
I said, Give me the Tiber. I thought Emerson's theory cut but
a "magra figura." We found absolutely nothing to paint. I had
seen those wonderfully wild and quaint stump-fences and had
thought to make a picture of some children passing one by .moon-
light or very late twilight, or some belated timid traveller fright-

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 16 of 29)