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are some men whom destiny has endowed with the faculty
of external neatness, whose clothes are repellant of dust
and mud, whose unwithering white neckcloths persevere
to the day's end, unappeasably seeing the sun go down
upon their starch, and whose linen makes you fancy them
heirs in the maternal line to the instincts of all the wash-
erwomen from Eve downward. There are others whose
inward natures possess this fatal cleanness, incapable of
moral dirt-spot. You are not long in discovering that the
stranger combines in himself both these properties. A
nimbus of hair, fine as an infant's, and early white, show-
ing refinement of organization and the predominance of
the spiritual over the physical, undulated and floated around
a face that seemed like pale flame, and over which the flit-
ting shades of expression chased each other, fugitive and
18



274 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

gleaming as waves upon a field of rye. It was a counts
nance that, without any beauty of feature, was very beau
tiful. I have said that it looked like pale flame, aid can
find no other words for the impression it gave. Here was
a man all soul, whose body seemed only a lamp of finest
clay, whose service was to feed with magic oils, rare and
fragrant, that wavering fire which hovered over it. You,
who ore an adept in such matters, would have detected
in the eyes that artist-look which seems to see pictures evei
in the air, and which, if it fall on you, makes you feel as
if all the world were a gallery, and yourself the rather,
indifferent Portrait of a Gentleman hung therein. As the
stranger brushes by you in alighting, you detect a single
incongruity, a smell of dead tobacco-smoke. You ask
his name, and the answer is, Mr. Allston.

" Mr. Allston ! " and you resolve to note down at once
in your diary every look, every gesture, every word of the
great painter ? Not in the least. You have the true An-
glo-Norman indifference, and most likely never think of
him again till you hear that one of his pictures has sold
for a great price, and then contrive to let your grand-
children know twice a week that you met him once in a
coach, and that he snid, " Excuse me, sir," in a very Titian-
esque manner when he stumbled over your toes in getting
out. Hitherto Boswell is quite as unique as Shakespeare.
The country-gentleman, journeying up to London, inquires
of Mistress Davenant at the Oxford inn the name of his
pleasant companion of the night before. " Master Shake-
speare, an 't please your worship," and the Justice, not with-
out a sense of unbending, says, " Truly, a merry and
conceited gentleman ! " It is lucky for the peace of great
men that the world seldom finds out contemporaneously
who its great men are, or, perhaps, that each man esteems
himself the fortunate he who shall draw the lot of mem-
ory from the helmet of the future. Had the eyes of some



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 275

Stratford burgess been achromatic telescopes capable of a
perspective of two hundred years ! But, even then, would
not his record have been fuller of says-Is than of says-hes ?
Nevertheless, it is curious to consider from what infinitely
varied points of view we might form our estimate of a great
man's character, when we remember that he had his points
of contact with the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick-
maker, as well as with the ingenious A, the sublime B,
and the Right Honorable C. If it be true that no man
ever clean forgets everything, and that the act of drowning
(as is asserted) forthwith brightens up all those o'er-rusted
impressions, would it not be a curious experiment, if, after
a remarkable person's death, the public, eager for minutest
particulars, should gather together all who had ever been
brought into relations with him, and, submerging them to
the hair's-breadth hitherward of the drowning-point, subject
them to strict cross-examination by the Humane Society,
as soon as they became conscious between the resuscitating
blankets? All of us probably have brushed against des-
tiny in the street, have shaken hands with it, fallen asleep
with it in railway carriages, and knocked heads with it in
some one or other of its yet unrecognized incarnations.

Will it seem like presenting a tract to a colporteur, my
dear Storg, if I say a word or two about an artist to you
over there in Italy ? Be patient, and leave your button in
my grasp yet a little longer. A person whose opinion is
worth having once said to me, that, however one's opinions
might be modified by going to Europe, one always came
back with a higher esteem for Allston. Certainly he is
thus far the greatest English painter of historical subjects.
And only consider how strong must have been the artistic
bias in him to have made him a painter at all under the cir-
cumstances. There were no traditions of art, so necessary
for guidance and inspiration. Blackburn, Smibert, Copley,
Trumbull, Stuart, it was, after all, but a Brentford seep-



276 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

tre which their heirs could aspire to, and theirs were not
names to conjure with, like those through which Fame, as
through a silver trumpet, had blown for three centuries.
Copley and Stuart were both remarkable men, but the one
painted like an inspired silk-mercer, and the other seems to
have mixed his colors with the claret of which he and his
generation were so fond. And what could a successful
artist hope for at that time beyond the mere wages of his
work? His pictures would hang in cramped back-parlors,
between deadly cross-fires of lights, sure of the garret or
the auction-room erelong, in a country where the nomad
population carry no household gods with them but their five
wits and their ten fingers. As a race, we care nothing
about Art, but the Puritan and the Quaker are the only
Anglo-Saxons who have had pluck enough to confess it. If
it were surprising that Allston should have become a painter
at all, how almost miraculous that he should have been a
great and original one. We call him original deliberately,
because, though his school is essentially Italian, it is of less
consequence where a man buys his tools, than what use he
makes of them. Enough English artists went to Italy and
came back painting history in a very Anglo-Saxon manner,
and creating a school as melodramatic as the French, with-
out its perfection in technicalities. But Allston carried
thither a nature open on the Southern side, and brought
it back so steeped in rich Italian sunshine that the east
winds (whether physical or intellectual) of Boston and the
dusts of Cambridgeport assailed it in vain. To that bare
wooden studio one might go to breathe Venetian air, and
better yet, the very spirit wherein the elder brothers of Art
labored, etherealized by metaphysical speculation, and sub-
limed by religious fervor. The beautiful old man ! Here
was genius with no volcanic explosions (the mechanic result
of vulgar gunpowder often), but lovely as a Lapland night ,
here was fame, not sought after nor worn in any cheap



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 277

French fashion as a ribbon at the button-hole, but so gentle,
so retiring, that it seemed no more than an assured and em-
boldened modesty ; here was ambition, undet>ased by rivalry
and incapable of the downward look ; and all these massed
and harmonized together into a purity and depth of charac-
ter, into a tone, which made the daily life of the man the
greatest masterpiece of the artist.

But let us go to the Old Town. Thirty years since, the
Muster and the Cornwallis allowed some vent to those natu-
ral instincts which Puritanism scotched, but not killed. The
Cornwallis had entered upon the estates of the old Guy
Fawkes procession, confiscated by the Revolution. It was
a masquerade, in which that grave and suppressed humor
of whiclj the Yankees are fuller than other people, burst
through all restraints, and disported itself in all the wildest
vagaries of fun. It is a curious commentary on the artifi-
ciality of our lives, that men must be disguised and masked
before they will venture into the obscurer corners of their
individuality, and display the true features of their nature.
One remarked it in the Carnival, and one especially noted
it here among a race naturally self-restrained; for Silas,
and Ezra, and Jonas were not only disguised as Redcoats,
Continentals, and Indians, but not unfrequently disguised in
drink also. It is a question whether the Lyceum, where
the public is obliged to comprehend all vagrom men, sup-
plies the place of the old popular amusements. A hundred
and fifty years ago, Cotton Mather bewails the carnal attrac-
tions of the tavern and the training-field, and tells of an old
Indian, who imperfectly understood the English tongue, but
desperately mastered enough of it (when under sentence of
death) to express a desire for instant hemp rather than
listen to any more ghostly consolations. Puritanism I
am perfectly aware how great a debt we owe it tried over
again the old experiment of driving out nature with a pitch-
fork, and had the usual success. It was like a ship inwardly



278 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

on fire, whose hatches must be kept hermetically battened
down, for the admittance of an ounce of heaven's own natu-
ral air would explode it utterly. Morals can never be
safely embodied in the constable. Polished, cultivated, fas-
cinating Mephistophiles ! it is for the ungovernable break-
ings-away of the soul from unnatural compressions that thou
waitest with a patient smile. Then it is that thou offerest
thy gentlemanly arm to unguarded youth for a pleasant
stroll through the City of Destruction, and, as a special
favor, introducest him to the bewitching Miss Circe, and to
that model of the hospitable old English gentleman, Mr.
Comus !

But the Muster and the Cornwallis were not peculiar to
Cambridge. Commencement Day was. Saint Pedagogus
was a worthy whose feast could be celebrated by men
who quarrelled with minced-pies and blasphemed custard
through the nose. The holiday preserved all the features
of an English fair. Stations were marked out beforehand
by the town constables, and distinguished by numbered
stakes. These were assigned to the different vendors of
small wares, and exhibitors of rarities, whose canvas booths,
beginning at the market-place, sometimes half encircled the
common with their jovial embrace. Now, all the Jehoiada-
boxes in town were foroal to give up all their rattling
deposits of specie, if not through the legitimate orifice, then
to the brute force of the hammer. For hither were come
all the wonders of the world, making the Arabian Nights
seem possible, and which we beheld for half price, not with-
out mingled emotions, pleasure at the economy, and shame
at not paying the more manly fee. Here the mummy un-
veiled her withered charms, a more marvellous Ninon, still
attractive in her three thousandth year. Here were the
Siamese Twins ah, if all such enforced and unnatural
unions were made a show of! Here were the flying-horses
(their supernatural effect injured like that of some po-



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 279

cms by the visibility of the man who turned the crank),
on which, as we tilted at the ring, we felt our shoulders tin-
gle with the accolade, and heard the clink of golden spurs
at our heels. Are the realities of life ever worth half so
much as its cheats ? and are there any feasts half so filling
at the price as those Barmecide ones spread for us by Im-
agination ? Hither came the Canadian giant, surrepti-
tiously seen, without price, as he alighted, in broad day
(giants were always foolish), at the tavern. Hither came
the great horse Columbus, with shoes two inches thick, and
more wisely introduced by night. In the trough of the
town-pump might be seen the mermaid, its poor monkey's
head carefully sustained above water for fear of drowning.
There were dwarfs, also, who danced and sang, and many a
proprietor regretted the transaudient properties of canvas,
which allowed the frugal public to share in the melody
without entering the booth. Is it a slander of J. H., who
reports that he once saw a deacon, eminent for psalmody,
lingering near one of these vocal tents, and, with an assumed
air of abstraction, furtively drinking in, with unhabitual ears,
a song, not secular merely, but with a dash of libertinism !
The New England proverb says, " All deacons are good,
but there's a difference in deacons." On these days
Snow became super-terranean, and had a stand in the
square, and Lewis temperately contended with the stronger
fascinations of egg-pop. But space would fail me to make
a catalogue of everything. No doubt, Wisdom also, as
usual, had her quiet booth at the corner of some street,
without entrance-fee, and, even at that rate, got never a
customer the whole day long. For the bankrupt afternoon
there were peep-shows, at a cent each.

But all these shows and their showers are as clean gone
now as those of Caesar and Timour and Napoleon, for which
the world paid dearer. They are utterly gone out, not
leaving so much as a snuff behind, as little thought of



280 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

now as that John Robins, who was once so considerable
a phenomenon as to be esteemed the last great Antichrist
and son of perdition by the entire sect of Muggletonians.
Were Commencement what it used to be, I should be
tempted to take a booth myself, and try an experiment
recommended by a satirist of some merit, whose works
were long ago dead and (I fear) deedeed to boot:

Menenius, thou who fain wouldst know how calmly men can pass

Those biting portraits of themselves, disguised as fox or ass,

Go, borrow coin enough to buy a full-length psyche-glass,

Engage a rather darkish room in some well-sought position,

And let the town break out with bills, so much per head admission,

GREAT NATURAL CURIOSITY ! ! THE BIGGEST LIVING POOL ! ! !

Arrange your mirror cleverly, before it set a stool,

Admit the public one by one, place each upon the seat,

Draw up the curtain, let him look his fill, and then retreat :

Smith mounts and takes a thorough view, then comes serenely down,

Goes home and tells his wife the thing is curiously like Brown ;

Brown goes and stares, and tells his wife the wonder's core and pith

Is that 't is just the counterpart of that conceited Smith :

Life calls us all to such a show ; Menenius, trust in me,

While thou to see thy neighbor smil'st, he does the same for thee ! "

My dear Storg, would you come to my show, and, instead
of looking in my glass, insist on taking your money's worth
in staring at the exhibitor?

Not least among the curiosities which the day brought
together, were some of the graduates, posthumous men, as
it were disentombed from country parishes and district
schools, but perennial also, in whom freshly survived all
the college jokes, and who had no intelligence later than
their Senior year. These had gathered to eat the college
dinner, and to get the Triennial Catalogue (their Libro d'oro)
referred to oftener than any volume but the Concordance.
Aspiring men they were, certainly, but in a right, unworldly
way ; this scholastic festival opening a peaceful path to the
ambition which might else have devasted mankind with
Prolusions on the Pentateuch, or Genealogies of the Dor-



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 281

mouse Family. For, since in the Academic processions
the classes are ranked in the order of their graduation, and
he has the best chance at the dinner who has the fewest
teeth to eat it with, so by degrees there springs up a
competition in longevity, the prize contended for being the
oldest surviving graduateship. This is an office, it is true,
without emolument, but having certain advantages, never-
theless. The incumbent, if he come to Commencement,
is a prodigious lion, and commonly gets a paragraph in the
newspapers once a year with the (fiftieth) last survivor of
Washington's Life Guard. If a clergyman, he is expected
to ask a blessing and return thanks at the dinner, a function
which he performs with centenarian longanimity, as if he
reckoned the ordinary life of man to be fivescore years,
and that a grace must be long to reach so very far away
as heaven. Accordingly, this silent race is watched, on
the course of the catalogue, with an interest worthy of
Newmarket ; and, as star after star rises in that galaxy of
death,* till one name is left alone, an oasis of life in the
Stellar desert, it grows solemn. The natural feeling is
reversed, and it is the solitary life that becomes sad and
monitory, the Stylites, there, on the lonely top of his cen-
tury-pillar, who has heard the passing-bell of youth, love,
friendship, hope, of everything but immitigable eld.

Dr. K. was President of the University then, a man of
genius, but of genius that evaded utilization, a great water-
power, but without rapids, and flowing with too smooth and
gentle a current to be set turning wheels and whirling
spindles. His was not that restless genius, of which the
man seems to be merely the representative, and which
wreaks itself in literature or politics, but of that milder
sort, quite as genuine, and perhaps of more contempora-
neous value, which is the, man, permeating a whole life
with placid force, and giving to word, look, and gesture a
meaning only justifiable by our belief in a reserved power



$82 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

of latent reinforcement. The man of talents possesses
them like so many tools, does his job with them, and there
an end ; but the man of genius is possessed by it, and it
makes him into a book or a life according to its whim.
Talent takes the existing moulds and makes its castings,
better or worse, of richer or baser metal, according to knack
and opportunity; but genius is always shaping new ones
and runs the man in them, so that there is always that
human feel in its results which gives us a kindred thrilL
What it will make we can only conjecture, contented always
with knowing the infinite balance of possibility against
which it can draw at pleasure. Have you ever seen a
man whose check would be honored for a million pay his
toll of one cent, and has not that bit of copper, no bigger
than your own and piled with it by the careless tollman,
given you a tingling vision of what golden bridges he could
pass, into what Elysian regions of taste and enjoyment and
culture, barred to the rest of us ? Something like it is the
impression made by such characters as K.'s on those who
come in contact with them.

There was that in the soft and rounded (I had almost
said melting) outlines of his face which reminded one of
Chaucer. The head had a placid yet dignified droop like
his. He was an anachronism, fitter to have been Abbot of
Fountains or Bishop Golias, courtier and priest, humorist
and lord spiritual, all in one, than for the mastership of a
provincial college which combined with its purely scholastic
functions those of accountant and chief of police. For
keeping books he was incompetent, (unless it were those he
borrowed,) and the only discipline he exercised was by the
unobtrusive pressure of a gentlemanliness which rendered
insubordination to him impossible. But the world always
judges a man (and rightly enough, too) by his little faults
which he shows a hundred times a day, rather than by his
great virtues which he discloses perhaps but once in a life-



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 285

time and to a single person, nay, in proportion as they are
rarer, and as lie is nobler, is shier of letting their existence
be known at all. He was one of those misplaced persons
whose misfortune it is that their lives overlap two distinct
eras, and are already so impregnated with one, that they can
never be in healthy sympathy with the other. Born when
the New England clergy were still an establishment and an
aristocracy, and when office was almost always for life and
often hereditary, he lived to be thrown upon a time when
avocations of all colors might be shuffled together in the life
of one man like a pack of cards, so that you could not
prophesy that he who was ordained to-day might not ac-
cept a colonelcy of * filibusters to-morrow. Such tempera-
ments as his attach themselves like barnacles to what seems
permanent, but presently the good ship Progress weighs
anchor and whirls them away fHm drowsy tropic inlets to
arctic waters of unnatural ice. To such crustaceous na-
tures, created to cling upon the immemorial rock amid
softest mosses, comes the bustling Nineteenth Century, and
says, " Come, come, bestir yourself to be practical : get out
of that old shell of yours forthwith ! " Alas, to get out of
the shell is to die !

One of the old travellers in South America tells of fishes
that built their nests in trees (piscium et summa haesit genus
M//WO), and gives a print of the mother fish upon her nest,
while her mate mounts perpendicularly to her without aid
of legs or wings. Life shows plenty of such incongruities
between a man's place and his nature, (not so easily got
over as by the traveller's undoubting engraver,) and one
cannot help fancying that K. was an instance in point. He
never encountered, one would say, the attraction proper
to draw out his native force. Certainly few men who
impressed others so strongly, and of whom so many good
things are remembered, left less behind them to justify
contemporary estimates. He printed nothing, and was.



284 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

perhaps, one of those the electric sparkles of whose brains,
discharged naturally and healthily in conversation, refuse
to pass through the non-conducting medium of the inkstand.
His ana would make a delightful collection. One or two
of his official ones will be in place here. Hearing that
Porter's flip (which was exemplary) had too great an at-
traction for the collegians, he resolved to investigate the
matter himself. Accordingly, entering the old inn one day,
he called for a mug of it, and, having drunk it, said, " And
so, Mr. Porter, the young gentlemen come to drink your
flip, do they?"

" Yes sir sometimes." ^

" All, well, I should think they would. Good day, Mr.
Porter," and departed, saying nothing more, for he always
wisely allowed for the existence of a certain amount of
human nature in ingenuous youth. At another time the
" Harvard Washington " asked leave to go into Boston to
a collation which had been offered them. " Certainly,
young gentlemen," said the President, " but have you en-
gaged any one to bring out your muskets ? " the College
being responsible for these weapons, which belonged to the
State. Again, when a student came with a physician's
certificate, and asked leave of absence, K. granted it at
once, and then added, " By the way, Mr. , persons in-
terested in the relation which exists between states of the
atmosphere and health, have noticed a curious fact in regard
to the climate of Cambridge, especially within the College
limits, the very small number of deaths in proportion to
the cases of dangerous illness." This is told of Judge W.,
himself a wit, and capable of enjoying the humorous deli-
cacy of the reproof.

Shall I take Brahmin Alcott's favorite word, and call him
a daemonic man? No, the Latin genius is quite old-fash-
ioned enough for me, means the same thing, and its deriva-
tive geniality expresses, moreover, the base of K.'s being.



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 285

How he suggested cloistered repose and quadrangles mossy
with centurial associations! How easy he was, and how
without creak was every movement of his mind ! This life
was good enough for him, and the next not too good. The
gentlemanlike pervaded even his prayers. His were not
the manners of a man of the world, nor of a man of the
other world either, but both met in him to balance each
other in a beautiful equilibrium. Praying, he leaned for-
ward upon the pulpit-cushion as for conversation, and seemed
to feel himself (without irreverence) on terms of friendly but
courteous familiarity with Heaven. The expression of his
face was that of tranquil contentment, and he appeared less
to be supplicating expected mercies than thankful for those
already found, as if he were saying the gratias in the refec-
tory of the Abbey of Theleme. Under him flourished the
Harvard Washington Corps, whose gyrating banner, in-
scribed Tarn Marti quam Mercurio (atqui magis IAJCBO
should have been added), on the evening of training-days,
was an accurate dynamometer of Willard's punch or Por-
ter's flip. It was they who, after being royally entertained
by a maiden lady of the town, entered in their orderly book



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 20 of 66)