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a vote that Miss Blank was a gentleman. I see them now,
returning from the imminent deadly breach of the law of
Rechab, unable to form other than the serpentine line of
beauty, while their officers, brotherly rather than imperious,
instead of reprimanding, tearfully embraced the more eccen-
tric wanderers from military precision. Under him the
Med. Facs. took their equal place among the learned socie-
ties of Europe, numbering among their grateful honorary
members Alexander, Emperor of all the Russias, who (if
College legends may be trusted) sent them, in return for
their diploma, a gift of medals, confiscated by the authori-
ties. Under him the College fire-engine was vigilant and
active in suppressing any tendency to spontaneous combus-
tion among the Freshmen, or rushed wildly to imaginary



286 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

conflagrations, generally in a direction whore punch was
to be had. All these useful conductors for the natural
electricity of youth, dispersing it or turning it harmlessly
into the earth, are taker away now, wisely or not, is ques-
tionable.

An academic town, in whose atmosphere there is always
something antiseptic, seems naturally to draw to itself cer-
tain varieties and to preserve certain humors (in the Ben
Jonsonian sense) of character, men who come not to study
so much as to be studied. At the head-quarters of Wash-
ington once, and now of the Muses, lived C , but before

the date of these recollections. Here for seven years (as
the law was then) he made his house his castle, sunning
himself in his elbow-chair at the front-door, on that seventh
day, secure from every arrest but that of Death. Here
long survived him his turbaned widow, studious only of Spi-
noza, and refusing to molest the canker-worms that annually
disleaved her elms, because we were all vermicular alike.
She had been a famous beauty once, but the canker years
had left her leafless too, and I used to wonder, as I saw her
sitting always alone at her accustomed window, whether she
were ever visited by the reproachful shade of him who (in
spite of Rosalind) died broken-hearted for her in her radi-
ant youth.

And this reminds me of J. F., who, also crossed in love,
allowed no mortal eye to behold his face for many years.
The eremitic instinct is not peculiar to the Thebais, as many
a New England village can testify, and it is worthy of con-
sideration that the Romish Church has not forgotten this
among her other points of intimate contact with human
nature. F. became purely vespertinal, never stirring abroad
till after dark. He occupied two rooms, migrating from one
to the other as the necessities of housewifery demanded,
and when it was requisite that he should put his signature
to any legal instrument, (for he was an anchorite of ample



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 287

means,) he wrapped himself in a blanket, allowing nothing
to be seen but the hand which acted as scribe. What im-
pressed us boys more than anything was the rumor that he
had suffered his beard to grow, such an anti-Sheffieldism
being almost unheard of in those days, and the peculiar
ornament of man being associated in our minds with noth-
ing more recent than the patriarchs and apostles, whose
effigies we were obliged to solace ourselves with weekly in
the Family Bible. He came out of his oysterhood at last,
and I knew him well, a kind-hearted man, who gave annual
sleigh-rides to the town paupers, and supplied the poorer
children with school-books. His favorite topic of conversa-
tion was Eternity, and, like many other worthy persons, he
used to faricy that meaning was an affair of aggregation, and
that he doubled the intensity of what he said by the sole aid
of the multiplication-table. "Eternity!" he used to say,
" it is not a day ; it is not a year ; it is not a hundred years ;
it is not a thousand years ; it is not a million years ; no, sir "
(the sir being thrown in to recall wandering attention), " it
is not ten million years ! " and so on, his enthusiasm becom-
ing a mere frenzy when he got among his sextillions, till I
sometimes wished he had continued in retirement. He used
to sit at the open window during thunder-storms, and had a
Grecian feeling about death by lightning. In a certair
sense he had his desire, for he died suddenly, not by fire
from heaven, but by the red flash of apoplexy, leaving his
whole estate to charitable uses.

If K. were out of place as president, that was not P. as
Greek professor. Who that ever saw him can forget him,
in his old age, like a lusty winter, frosty but kindly, with
great silver spectacles of the heroic period, such as scarce
twelve noses of these degenerate days could bear ? He was
a natural celibate, not dwelling " like the fly in the heart of
the apple," but like a lonely bee, rather, absconding himself
in Hymettian flowers, incapable of matrimony as a solitary



288 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

palm-tree. There was not even a tradition of youthful dis-
appointment. I fancy him arranging his scrupulous toilet,
not for Amaryllis or Neaera, but, like Machiavelli, for the
society of his beloved classics. His ears had needed no
prophylactic wax to pass the Sirens' isle, nay, he would
have kept them the wider open, studious of the dialect in
which they sang, and perhaps triumphantly detecting the
JEolic digamma in their lay. A thoroughly single man,
single-minded, single-hearted, buttoning over his single heart
a single-breasted surtout, and wearing always a hat of a
single fashion, did he in secret regard the dual number of
his favorite language as a weakness ? The son of an officer
of distinction in the Revolutionary War, he mounted the
pulpit with the erect port of a soldier, and carried his cane
more in the fashion of a weapon than a staff, but with the
point lowered in token of surrender to the peaceful proprie-
ties of his calling. Yet sometimes the martial instincts
would burst the cerements of black coat and clerical neck-
cloth, as once when the students had got into a fight upon
the training-field, and the licentious soldiery, furious with
rum, had driven them at point of bayonet to the College
gates, and even threatened to lift their arms against the
Muses' bower. Then, like Major Goffe at Deerfield, sud-
denly appeared the gray-haired P., all his father resurgent
in him, and shouted, " Now, my lads, stand your ground ;
you 're in the right now ! don't let one of them get inside
the College grounds!" Thus he allowed arms to get the
better of the toga, but raised it, like the Prophet's breeches,
into a banner, and carefully ushered resistance with a pre-
amble of infringed right. Fidelity was his strong charac-
teristic, and burned equably in him through a life of eighty-
three years. He drilled himself till inflexible habit stood
sentinel before all those postern-weaknesses which tempera-
ment leaves unbolted to temptation. A lover of the schol-
ar's herb, yet loving freedom more, and knowing that the



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 289

animal appetites ever hold one hand behind them for Satan
to drop a bribe in, he would never have two cigars in his
house at once, but walked every day to the shop to fetch his
single diurnal solace. Nor would he trust liimself with two
on Saturdays, preferring (since he could not violate the Sab-
bath even by that infinitesimal traffic) to depend on Provi-
dential ravens, which were seldom wanting in the shape of
some black-coated friend who knew his need and honored
the scruple that occasioned it. He was faithful also to his
old hats, in which appeared the constant service of the an-
tique world, and which he preserved forever, piled like a
black pagoda under his dressing-table. No scarecrow was
ever the residuary legatee of his beavers, though one of
them in aify of the neighboring peach-orchards would have
been sovran against an attack of Freshmen. He wore them
all in turn, getting through all in the course of the year, like
the sun through the signs of the Zodiac, modulating them
according to seasons and celestial phenomena, so that ne\r
was spider-web or chickweed so sensitive a weather-gauge
as they. Nor did his political party find him less loyal.
Taking all the tickets, he would seat himself apart, and care-
fully compare them with the list of regular nominations as
printed in his Daily Advertiser before he dropped his ballot
in the box. In less ambitious moments, it almost seems to
me that I would rather have had that slow, conscientious
vote of P.'s alone, than have been chosen alderman of the
ward!

If you had walked to what was then Sweet Auburn, by
the pleasant Old Road, on some June morning thirty years
ago, you would, very likely, have met two other character-
istic persons, both phantasmagoric now and belonging to the
Past. Fifty years earlier, the scarlet-coated, rapiered fig-
ures of Vassall, Oliver, and Brattle creaked up and down
there on red-heeled shoes, lifting the ceremonious three-
cornered hat and offering the fugacious hospitalities of the
19



290 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

snuff-box. They are all shadowy alike now, not one of
your Etruscan Lucumos or Roman consuls more so, my
dear Storg. First is W., his queue slender and tapering
like the tail of a violet crab, held out horizontally, by the
high collar of his shepherd's-gray overcoat, whose style was
of the latest when he studied at Leyden in his hot youth.
The age of cheap clothes sees no more of those faithful old
garments, as proper to their wearers, and as distinctive as
the barks of trees, and by long use interpenetrated with
their very nature. Nor do we see so many humors (still
in the old sense) now that every man's soul belongs to the
Public, as when social distinctions were more marked, and
men felt that their personalities were their castles, in which
they could entrench themselves against the world. Now-a-
days men are shy of letting their true selves be seen, as if
in some former life they had committed a crime, and were
all the time afraid of discovery and arrest in this. For-
merly they used to insist on your giving the wall to their
peculiarities, and you may still find examples of it in the
parson or the doctor of retired villages. One of W.'s oddi-
ties was touching. A little brook used to run across the
street, and the sidewalk was carried over it by a broad stone.
Of course, there is no brook now. What use did tliat little
glimpse of ripple serve, where the children used to launch
their chip fleets ? W., in going over this stone, which gave
a hollow resonance to the tread, used to strike upon it three
times with his cane, and mutter Tom ! Tom ! Tom ! I used
to think he was only mimicking with his voice the sound of
the blows, and possibly it was that sound which suggested
his thought, for he was remembering a favorite nephew
prematurely dead. Perhaps Tom had sailed his boats
there ; perhaps the reverberation under the old man's foot
hinted at the hollowness of life ; perhaps the fleeting eddies
of the water brought to mind the fugaces annos. W., like
P., wore amazing spectacles, fit to transmit no smaller image



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 291

than the page of mightiest folios of Dioscorides or Hercules
de Saxonia, and rising full-disked upon the beholder like
those. prodigies of two moons at once, portending change to
monarchs. The great collar disallowing any independent
rotation of the head, I remember he used to turn his whole
person in order to bring their foci to bear upon an object.
One can fancy that terrified nature would have yielded up
her secrets at once, without cross-examination, at their first
glare. Through them he had gazed fondly into the great
mare's-nest of Junius, publishing his observations upon the
eggs found therein in a tall octavo. It was he who intro-
duced vaccination to this Western World. He used to stop
and say good morning kindly, and pat the shoulder of the
blushing school-boy who now, with the fierce snow-storm
wildering without, sits and remembers sadly those old meet-
ings and partings in the June sunshine.

Then there was S., whose resounding " Haw ! haw ! haw !
by George ! " positively enlarged the income of every dwell-
er in Cambridge. In downright, honest good cheer and
good neighborhood, it was worth five hundred a year to
every one of us. Its jovial thunders cleared the mental air
of every sulky cloud. Perpetual childhood dwelt in him,
the childhood of his native Southern France, and its fixed
air was all the time bubbling up and sparkling and winking
in his eyes. It seemed as if his placid old face were only a
mask behind which a merry Cupid had ambushed himself,
peeping out all the while, and ready to drop it when the
play grew tiresome. Every word he uttered seemed to be
hilarious, no matter what the occasion. If he were sick and
you visited him, if he had met with a misfortune (and there
are few men so wise that they can look even at the back of
a retiring sorrow with composure), it was all one ; his great
laugh went off as if it were set like an alarum-clock, to run
down, whether he would or no, at a certain nick. Even
after an ordinary good-morning! (especially if to an old



292 JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

pupil, arid in French,) the wonderful Haw ! haw ! haw ! by
George ! would burst upon you unexpectedly, like a salute
of artillery on some holiday which you had forgotten. Ev-
erything was a joke to him, that the oath of allegiance
had been administered to him by your grandfather, that
he had taught Prescott his first Spanish (of which he was
proud), no matter what. Everything came to him marked
by nature right side up, with care, and he kept it so.
The world to him, as to all of us, was like a medal, on the
obverse of which is stamped the image of Joy, and on the
reverse that of Care. S. never took the foolish pains to
look at that other side, even if he knew its existence ; much
less would it have occurred to him to turn it into view and
insist that his friends should look at it with him. Nor was
this a mere outside good-humor ; its source was deeper in a
true Christian kindliness and amenity. Once when he had
been knocked down by a tipsily-driven sleigh, and was urged
to prosecute the offenders, " No, no," he said, his wounds
still fresh, "young blood! young blood! it must have its
way ; I was young myself." Was I few men come into life
so young as S. went out. He landed in Boston (then the
front-door of America) in '93, and, in honor of the cere-
mony, had his head powdered afresh and put on a suit of
court-mourning before he set foot on the wharf. My fancy
always dressed him in that violet silk, and his soul certainly
wore a full court-suit What was there ever like his bow ?
It was as if you had received a decoration, and could write
yourself gentleman from that day forth. His hat rose, re-
greeting your own, and having sailed through the stately
curve of the old regime, sank gently back over that placid
brain which harbored no thought less white than the powder
which covered it. I have sometimes imagined that there
was a graduated arc over his head, invisible to other eyes*
than his, by which he meted out to each his rightful share
of castorial consideration. I carry in my memory three



CAMBRIDGE WORTHIES THIRTY YEARS AGO. 293

exemplary bows. The first is that of an old beggar, who
already carrying in his hand a white hat, the gift of benevo-
lence, took off the black one from his head also, and pro-
foundly saluted me with both at once, giving me, in return
for my alms, a dual benediction, puzzling as a nod from
Janus Bifrons. The second I received from an old Cardinal
who was taking his walk just outside the Porta San Gio-
vanni at Rome. I paid him the courtesy due to his age and
rank. Forthwith rose first the Hat ; second, the hat of
his confessor; third, that of another priest who attended
him ; fourth, the fringed cocked-hat of his coachman ; fifth
and sixth, the ditto, ditto, of his two footmen. Here was an
investment, indeed ; six hundred per cent interest on a sin-
gle bow ! The third bow, worthy to be noted in one's alma-
nac among the other mirabilia, was that of S. in which
courtesy had mounted to the last round of her ladder, and
tried to draw it up after her.

But the genial veteran is gone even while I am writing
this, and I will play Old Mortality no longer. Wandering
among these recent graves, my dear friend, we may chance

to but no, I will not end my sentence.' I bid you

heartily farewell !



B E E T H OVE H.

A LETTER TO GOETHE.

BY BETTINA VON ARMM

IT is Beethoven of whom I will now speak to you, and
with whom I have forgotten the world and you : true,
I am not ripe for speaking, but I am nevertheless not mis-
taken when I say (what no one understands and believes)
that he far surpasses all in mind, and whether we shall
ever overtake him? I doubt it! may he only live till
that mighty and sublime enigma which lies within his
spirit be matured to its highest perfection ! Yes, may he
reach his highest aim, then will he surely leave a key to
heavenly knowledge in our hands which will bring us one
step nearer to true happiness.

To you I may confess, that I believe in a divine magic,
which is the element of mental nature; this magic does
Beethoven exercise in his art ; all relating to it which he
can teach you is pure magic; each combination is the
organization of a higher existence: and thus, too, does
Beethoven feel himself to be the founder of a new sensual
basis in spiritual life. You will understand what I mean
to say by this, and what is true. Who could replace this
spirit? from whom could we expect an equivalent? The
whole business of mankind passes to and fro before him
like clock-work ; he alone produces freely from out himself
the unforeseen, the uncreated. What is intercourse with



BEETHOVEN. 295

the world to him who ere the sunrise is already at his
sacred work, and who after sunset scarcely looks around
him, who forgets to nourish his body, and is borne in
his flight on the stream of inspiration far beyond the shores
of that e very-day life ? He says himself: " When I open
my eyes, I cannot but sigh, for what I see is against my
religion, and I am compelled to despise the world, which
has no presentrment that music is a higher revelation than
all their wisdom and philosophy. Music is the wine which
inspires new creations ; and I am the Bacchus who presses
out this noble wine for mankind, and makes them spirit-
drunk; and then, when they are sober again, what have
they not fished up to bring with them to dry land ? I have
no friend ; I must live with myself alone ; but I well know I
that God is nearer to me in my art than to others. I com- \
mune with him without dread ; I have ever acknowledged
and understood him ; neither have I any fear for my mu-
sic ; it can meet no evil fate. He to whom it makes itself
intelligible must become freed from all the wretchedness
which others drag about with them/' All this did Beetho-
ven say to me the first time I saw him. A feeling of rev-
ence penetrated me, as, with such friendly openness, he
uttered his mind to me, who could have been only very
unimportant to him. I was surprised, too, because I had
been told he was very shy, and conversed with no one.

They were afraid to introduce me to him, and I was
forced to find him out alone. He has three dwellings, in
which he alternately secretes himself; one in the country,
one in the town, and the third upon the bulwarks. Here
I found him upon the third floor ; unannounced, I entered,
he was seated at the piano ; I mentioned my name : he
was very friendly, and asked if I would hear a song that he
had just composed; then he sung, shrill and piercing, so
that the plaintiveness reacted upon the hearer, "Kno**'s1
thou the land." "It 's beautiful, is it not?" said he ;



296 BETTINA VON ARNIM.

spired, "most beautiful! I will sing it again." He was
delighted at my cheerful praise. " Most men," said he, are
touched by something good, but they are no artist-natures ;
artists are ardent, they do not weep." Then he sung an-
other of your songs, to which he had a few days ago com-
posed music, "Dry not the tears of eternal love." He
accompanied me home, and it was upon the way that he
said so many beautiful things upon art ; withal he spoke so
loud, stood still so often upon the street, that some courage
was necessary to listen; he spoke passionately and much
too startlingly for me not also to forget that we were in the
street. They were much surprised to see me enter, with
him, in a large company assembled to dine with us. After
dinner, he placed himself, unasked, at the instrument, and
played long and wonderfully: his pride and genius were
both in ferment; under such excitement his spirit creates
the inconceivable, and his fingers perform the impossible.
Since this he comes every day, or I go to him. For this
I neglect parties, picture-galleries, theatres, and even St.
Stephen's tower itself. Beethoven says, " Ah ! what should
you see there ? I will fetch you, and towards evening we
will go through the Schonbrunn alley." Yesterday, I
walked with him in a splendid garden, in full blossom, all
the hot-houses open ; the scent was overpowering. Beetho-
ven stood still in the burning sun, and said, " Goethe's
poems maintain a powerful sway over me, not only by their
matter, but also their rhythm ; I am disposed and excited
to compose by this language, which ever forms itself, as
through spirits, to more exalted order, already carrying
within itself the mystery of harmonies. Then, from the
focus of inspiration, I feel myself compelled to let the mel-
ody stream forth on all sides. I follow it, passionately
overtake it again; I see it escape me, vanish amidst the
crowd of varied excitements, soon I seize upon it again
with renewed passion ; I cannot part from it, with quick



BEETHOVEN. 297

rapture I multiply it, in every form of modulation, and
at the last moment, I triumph over the first musical thought,

see now, that 's a symphony ; yes, music is indeed
the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life. I
should like to speak with Goethe upon this, if he would
understand me. Melody is the sensual life of poetry. Do
not the spiritual contents of a poem become sensual feeling
through melody? Do we not in Mignon's song perceive
its entire sensual frame of mind through melody ? and does
not this perception excite again to new productions ? There,
the spirit extends itself to unbounded universality, where
all in all forms itself into a bed for the stream of feelings
which take their rise in the simple musical thought, and
which else would die unperceived away ; this is harmony,
this is expressed in my symphonies ; the blending of various
forms rolls on as in a bed to its goal. Then one feels that
an Eternal, an Infinite, never quite to be embraced, lies in
all that is spiritual; and although in my works I have
always a feeling of success, yet I have an eternal hunger,

that what seemed exhausted with the last stroke of the
drum with which I drive my enjoyment, my musical con-
victions, into the hearers, to begin again like a child.
Speak to Goethe of me, tell him he should hear my sym-
phonies ; he would then allow me to be right in saying that
music is the only unembodied entrance into a higher sphere
of knowledge which possesses man, but he will never be
able to possess it. One must have rhythm in the mind to
comprehend music in its essential being; music gives pre-
sentiment, inspiration of heavenly knowledge; and that
which the spirit feels sensual in it is the embodying of spir-
itual knowledge. Although the spirits live upon music, as
one lives upon air, yet it is something else spiritually to
understand it ; but the more the soul draws out of it its sen-
sual nourishment, the more ripe does the spirit become foi
a happy intelligence with it But few attain to this ; for,



298 BETTINA VON ARNIM.

as thousands engage themselves for love's sake, and among
these thousands love does not once reveal itself, although
they all occupy themselves of love, in like manner do
thousands hold communion with music, and do not possess
its revelation : signs of an elevated moral sense form, too,
the groundwork of music, as of every art. All genuine
invention is a moral progress. To subject one's self to
music's unsearchable laws ; by virtue of these laws to curb
and guide the spirit, so that it pours forth these revelations,
this is the isolating principle of art ; to be dissolved in its
revelations, this is abandonment to genius, which tranquilly
exercises its authority over the delirium of unbridled pow-



Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 21 of 66)