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IT happened once in Boston, in the year 1861 or 1802,
that I was at a dinner of the Atlantic Club, such as was held
every Saturday, when the question was raised as to whether
any man had ever written a complete and candid autobiog
raphy. Emerson, who was seated by me at the right, sug
gested the "Confessions" of Rousseau. I objected that it
was full of untruths, and that for plain candour it was sur
passed by the " Life of Casanova." Of this work (regarding
which Carlyle has said, " Whosoever has looked therein, let
him wash his hands and be unclean until even ") neither
Emerson nor Lowell, nor Palfrey nor Agassiz, nor any of the
others present seemed to have any knowledge, until Dr.
Holmes, who was more adventurous, admitted he knew some
what thereof. Now, as I had read it thrice through, I knew
it pretty well. I reflected on this, but came to the conclusion
that perhaps the great reason why the world has so few and
frank autobiographies is really because the world exacts too
much. It is no more necessary to describe everything cynic
ally than it is to set forth all our petty diseases in detail.
There are many influences which, independent of passion or
shame, do far more to form character.

Acting from this reflection, I wrote this book with no in
tention that it should be published ; I had, indeed, some idea
that a certain friend might use it after my death as a source
whence to form a Life. Therefore I wrote, as fully and
honestly as I could, everything which I could remember


which had made me what I am. It occurred to me as a
leading motive that a century or two hence the true inner
life of any man who had actually lived from the time when
railroads, steamboats, telegraphs, gas, percussion-caps, ful
minating matches, the opera and omnibuses, evolution and
socialism were quite unknown to his world, into the modern
age, would be of some value. So I described my childhood
or youth exactly as I recalled, or as I felt it. Such a book
requires very merciful allowance from humane reviewers.

It seemed to me, also, that though I have not lived famil
iarly among the princes, potentates, and powers of the earth,
yet as I have met or seen or corresponded with about five
hundred of the three thousand set down in " Men of the
Time," and been kindly classed among them, it was worth
while to mention my meetings with many of them. Had
the humblest scribbler of the age of Elizabeth so much as
mentioned that he had ever exchanged a word with, or even
looked at, any of the great writers of his time, his record
would now be read with avidity. I have really never in my
life run after such men, or sought to make their acquaintance
with a view of extending my list ; all that I can tell of them,
as my book will show, has been the result of chance. But
what I have written will be of some interest, I think at least
" in the dim and remote future."

I had laid the manuscript by, till I had time to quite for
get what I had written, when I unexpectedly received a pro
posal to write my memoirs. I then read over my work, and
determined " to let it go," as it was. It seemed to me that,
with all its faults, it fulfilled the requisition of Montaigne in
being ung livre de bonne foye. So it has gone forth into
print. Jacta est alea.

The story of what is to me by far the most interesting
period of my life remains to be written. This embraces an
account of my labour for many years in introducing Indus
trial Art as a branch of education in schools, my life in Eng
land and on the Continent for more than twenty years, my


travels in Eussia and Egypt, my researches among Gypsies
and Algonkin Indians, my part in Oriental and Folklore and
other Congresses, my discovery of the Shelta or Ogham tongue
in Great Britain, and the long and very strangely adven
turous discoveries, continued for five years, among witches in
Italy, which resulted in the discovery that all the names of
the old Etruscan gods are still remembered by the peasantry
of the Toscana Ilomagna, and that ceremonies and invoca
tions are still addressed to them. All this, however, is still
too near to be written about. But it may perhaps some day
form a second series of reminiscences if the present volumes
meet with public favour.

As some of my readers (and assuredly a great many of the
American) will find these volumes wanting in personal ad
venture and lively variety of experiences, and perhaps dull
as regards " incidents," I would remind them that it is, after
all, only the life of a mere literary man and quiet, humble
scholar, and that such existences are seldom very dramatic.
English readers, who are more familiar with such men or
literature, will be less exacting. What I have narrated is
nowhere heightened in colour, retouched in drawing, or made
the utmost of for effect, and I might have gone much further
as regards my experiences in politics with the Continental
Magazine, and during my connection with Colonel Forney,
or life in the West, and have taken the whole, not more from
my memory than from the testimony of others. But if this
work be, as Germans say, at first too subjective, and devoted
too much to mere mental development by aid of books, the
" balance " to come of my life will be found to differ mate
rially from it, though it is indeed nowhere in any passage ex
citing. This present work treats of my infancy in Phila
delphia, with some note of the quaint and beautiful old
Quaker city as it then was, and many of its inhabitants who
still remembered Colonial times and Washington s Republican
Court ; reminiscences of boyhood in New England ; my revo
lutionary grandfathers and other relatives, and such men as


the last survivor of the Boston Tea-party (I also saw the last
signer of the Declaration of Independence) ; an account of
my early reading ; my college life at Princeton ; three years
in Europe passed at the Universities of Heidelberg, Munich,
and Paris, in what was emphatically the prime of their quaint
student-days ; an account of my barricade experiences of the
French Kevolution of Forty-Eight, of which I missed no
chief scene ; my subsequent life in America as lawyer, man
of letters, and journalist ; my experiences in connection with
the Civil War, and my work in the advancement of the sign
ing the Emancipation by Abraham Lincoln ; recollections of
the Oil Region when the oil mania was at its height ; a win
ter on the frontier in the debatable land (which was indeed
not devoid of strange life, though I say it) ; my subsequent
connection for three years with Colonel John Forney, during
which Grant s election was certainly carried by him, and in
which, as he declared, I " had been his right-hand man ; "
my writing of sundry books, such as the " Breitmann Bal
lads," and my subsequent life in Europe to the year 1870.

I can enumerate in my memory distinctly half-a-dozen
little-known men whom I have known, and could with time
recall far many more, compared to whose lives my uneventful
and calm career has been as that of the mole before the
eagle s. Yet not one of their lives will ever be written,
which is certainly a pity. The practice of writing real auto
biographies is rapidly ceasing in this our age, when it is bad
form to be egoistic or to talk about one s self, and we are
almost shocked in revising those chronicled in the Causeries
de Lundi of Sainte-Beuve. Nowadays we have good gossipy
reminiscences of oilier people, in which the writer remains as
unseen as the operator of a Punch exhibition in his scliwassel
box, while he displays his puppets. I find no fault with this
a chacun sa manure. But it is very natural under such
influences that men whose own lives are full of and inspired
with their own deeds will not write them on the model of
Benvenuto Cellini. One of the greatest generals of modern


times, Lord Napier of Magdala, told me that he believed I
was the only person to whom he had ever fully narrated his
experiences of the siege of Lucknow. He seemed to be sur
prised at having so forgotten himself. In ancient Viking
days the hero made his debut in every society with a " Me
void, mes enfants ! Listen if you want to be astonished ! "
and proceeded to tell how he had smashed the heads of kings,
and mashed the hearts of maidens, and done great deeds all
round. It was bad form and yet we should never have
known much about Eegner Lodbrog but for such a canticle.
If I, in this work, have not quite effaced myself, as good taste
demands, let it be remembered that if I had, at the time of
writing, distinctly felt that it would be printed as put down,
there would, most certainly, have been much less of " me "
visible, and the dead-levelled work would have escaped much
possible shot of censure. It was a little in a spirit of defiant
reaction that I resolved to let it be published as it is, and
risk the chances. As Uncle Toby declared that, after all, a
mother must in some kind of a way be a relation to her own
child, so it still appears to me that to write an autobiography
the author must say something about himself; but it is a
great and very popular tour de force to quite avoid doing this,
and all art of late years has run to merely skilfully overcom
ing difficulties and avoiding interesting motives or subjects.
It may be, therefore, that in days to come, my book will be
regarded with some interest, as a curious relic of a barbarous
age, and written in a style long passed away

" When they sat with ghosts on a stormy shore,
And spoke in a tongue which men speak no more ;
Living in wild and wondrous ways,
In the ancient giant and goblin days."

Once in my younger time, one of the most beautiful and
intellectual women whom I ever knew, Madame Anita de
Barrera (Daniel Webster said she was beautiful enough to
redeem a whole generation of blue-stockings from the charge
of ugliness) once made a great and pathetic fuss to me about


a grey hair which had appeared among her black tresses.
" And what difference," I said, " can one white hair make to
any friend ? " " Well," she replied, " I thought if I could
not awaken any other feeling, I might at least inspire in you
veneration for old age." So with this work of mine, if it
please in naught else, it may still gratify some who love to
trace the footsteps of the past, and listen to what is told by
one who lived long " before the war."

Now for a last word which involves the only point of
any importance to me personally in this preface I would
say that there will be certain readers who will perhaps think
that I have exaggerated my life-work, or blown my own
trumpet too loudly. To these I declare in plain honesty, that
I believe there have been or are in the United States thou
sands of men who have far surpassed me, especially as re
gards services to the country during the Civil War. There
were leaders in war and diplomacy, editors and soldiers who
sacrificed their lives, to whose names I can only bow in rev
erence and humility. But as it was said of the great unknown
who passed away the fortes ante Agamemnon " they had
no poet, and they died." These most deserving ones have
not written their lives or set themselves forth, " and so they
pass into oblivion " and I regret it with all my soul. But
this is no reason why those who did something, albeit in
lesser degree, should not chronicle their experiences exactly
as they appear to them, and it is not in human nature to
require a man to depreciate that to which he honestly devoted
all his energies. Perhaps it never yet entered into the heart
of man to conceive how much has really been done by every

And I do most earnestly and solemnly protest, as if it
were my last word in life, that I have said nothing whatever
as regards my political work and its results which was not
seriously said at the time by many far greater men than I, so
that I believe I have not the least exaggerated in any trifle,
even unconsciously. Thus I can never forget the deep and


touching sympathy which Henry W. Longfellow expressed
to me regarding my efforts to advance Emancipation, and
how, when some one present observed that perhaps I would
irritate the Non-Abolition Union men, the poet declared em
phatically, " But it is a great idea " or " a noble work." And
Lowell, Emerson, and George W. Curtis, Bayard Taylor, and
many more, spoke to the same effect. . And what they said
of me I may repeat for the sake of History and of Truth.

The present work describes more than forty years of life
in America, and it is therefore the American reader who will
be chiefly interested in it. I should perhaps have mentioned
what I reserved for special comment in the future : that dur
ing more than ten years residence in Europe I had one thing
steadily in view all the time, at which I worked hard, which
was to qualify myself to return to America and there intro
duce to the public schools of Philadelphia the Industrial or
Minor Arts as a branch of education, in which I eventually
succeeded, devoting to the work there four years, applying
myself so assiduously as to neglect both society and amuse
ments, and not obtaining, nor seeking for, pay or profit thereby
in any Avay, directly or indirectly. And if I have, as I have
read, since then " expatriated " myself, my whole absence has
not been much longer than was that of Washington Irving,
and I trust to be able to prove that I have " left my country
for my country s good "albeit in a somewhat better sense
than that which was implied by the poet.

And I may here incidentally mention, with all due mod
esty, that since the foregoing paragraph came to me " in re
vise," I received from Count Angelo di Gubernatis a letter,
beginning with the remark that, in consequence of my gentile
cd insistente premura, or " amiable persistence, begun four
years ago," he has at length carried out my idea and sugges
tion of establishing a great Italian Folklore Society, of
which I am to rank as among the first twelve members.
This is the fourth institution of the kind which I have been
first, or among the first, to found in Europe, and it has in


every case been noted, not without surprise, that I was an
American. Such associations, being wide-reaching and cos
mopolitan, may be indeed considered by every man of culture
as patriotic, and I hope at some future day that I shall still
further prove that, as regards my native country, I have only
changed my sky but not my heart, and laboured for American
interests as earnestly as ever.

BAGNI DI LUCCA, ITALY, August 20, 1S03.


I. EARLY LIFE (1824-1837) 1

II. BOYHOOD AND YOUTH (1837-1845) 65

IV. THE RETURN TO AMERICA (1848-1862) . . . .190


1866) 245

VI. LIFE ON THE PRESS (1866-1869) 318

VII. EUROPE REVISITED (1869-1870) 370

VIII. ENGLAND (1870) 387




My birthplace Count Bruno and Dufief Family items General
Lafayette The Dutch witch-nurse Early friends and associations
Philadelphia sixty years ago Early reading Genealogy First
schools Summers in New England English influences The
Revolutionary grandfather Centenarians The last survivor of
the Boston Tea-party and the last signer of the Declaration
Indians Memories of relations A Quaker school My ups and
downs in classes Arithmetic My first ride in a railway car
My marvellous invention Mr. Alcott s school A Transcendental
teacher Rev. W. H. Furness Miss Eliza Leslie The boarding-
school near Boston Books A terrible winter My first poem I
return to Philadelphia.

I AYAS born on the 15th of August, 1824, in a house
which was in Philadelphia, and in Chestnut Street, the
second door below Third Street, on the north side. It had
been built in the old Colonial time, and in the room in
which I first saw life there was an old chimney-piece, which
was so remarkable that strangers visiting the city often came
to see it. It was, I believe, of old carved oak, possibly me
diaeval, which had been brought from some English manor
as a relic. I am indebted for this information to a Mr.
Landreth, who lived in the house at the time.*

* As I was very desirous of learning more about this celebrated fire
place, I inserted a request in the Public Ledger for information regard
ing it, which elicited the following from some one to me unknown, to
whom I now return thanks :

" ME. CITY-EDITOR OF THE Public Ledger, In your edition of this
date, I notice a communication headed To Local Antiquarians. With-


It was then a boarding-house, kept by a Mrs. Rodgers.
She had taken it from a lady who had also kept it for board
ers. The daughter of this latter married President Madison.
She was the well-known " Dolly Madison," famous for her
grace, accomplishments, and belle humeur, of whom there are
stories still current in Washington.

My authority informed me that there were among the
boarders in the house two remarkable men, one of whom
often petted me as a babe, and took a fancy to me. He was
a Swedish Count, who had passed, it was said, a very wild
life as pirate for several years on the Spanish Main. He
was identified as the Count Bruno of Frederica Bremer s
novel, " The Neighbours." The other was the famous phi
lologist, Dufief, author of " Xature Displayed," a work of
such remarkable ability that I wonder that it should have
passed into oblivion.

My mother had been from her earliest years devoted to
literature to a degree which was unusual at that time in the
United States. She had been, as a girl, a special protegee of
Hannah Adams, the author of many learned works, who was
the first person buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery of
Boston. She directed my mother s reading, and had great

out any well-founded pretensions to the designation Antiquarian, as I
get older I still take a great interest in the early history of our beloved
city. I remember distinctly the fact, but not the date, of reading a de
scription of the mantelpiece. It was of wood, handsomely carved on
the pillars, and under the shelf, and on the centre between the pillars,
was the following quaint and witty hieroglyphic inscription :

When the grate is M. T. put :
When it is . putting :

which is a little puzzling at first sight, but readily translated by con
verting the punctuation points into written words. SENIOR.
"Frankford, May 24, 1892."

I can add to this, that the chimney-piece was originally made for
wood-fires, and that long after a grate was set in and the inscription


influence over her. My mother had also been very intimate
with the daughters of Jonathan Russell, the well-known
diplomatist. My maternal grandfather was Colonel God
frey, who had fought in the war of the Revolution, and who
was at one time an aide-de-camp of the Governor of Massa
chusetts. He was noted for the remarkable gentleness of
his character. I have heard that when he went forth of a
morning, all the animals on his farm would run to meet and
accompany him. He had to a miraculous degree a certain
sympathetic power, so that all beings, men included, loved
him. I have heard my mother say that as a girl she had a
tame crow who was named Tom, and that he could distinctly
cry the word " What ? " When Tom was walking about in
the garden, if called, he would reply " What ? " in a per
fectly human manner.

When I was one month old, General Lafayette visited our
city and passed in a grand procession before the house. It is
one of the legends of my infancy that my nurse said, " Char
ley shall see the General too ! " and held me up to the win
dow. General Lafayette, seeing this, laughed and bowed to
me. He was the first gentleman who ever saluted me for
mally. Wlien I reflect how in later life adventure, the study
of languages, and a French Revolution came into my experi
ences, it seems to me as if Count Bruno, Dufief, and Lafa
yette had all been premonitors of the future.

I was a great sufferer from many forms of ill-health in
my infancy. Before my second birthday, I had a terrible ill
ness with inflammation of the brain. Dr. Dewees (author of
a well-known work on diseases of women and children), who
attended me, said that I was insane for a week, and that it
was a case without parallel. I mention this because I believe
that I owe to it in a degree whatever nervousness and tend
ency to " idealism " or romance and poetry has subsequently
been developed in me. Through all my childhood and youth
its influence was terribly felt, nor have I to this day recov
ered from it.


I should mention that iny first nurse in life was an old
Dutch woman named Van der Poel. I had not been born
many days before I and my cradle were missing. There was
a prompt outcry and search, and both were soon found in the
garret or loft of the house. There I lay sleeping, on my
breast an open Bible, with, I believe, a key and knife, at my
head lighted candles, money, and a plate of salt. Nurse Van
der Poel explained that it was done to secure my rising in
life by taking me up to the garret. I have since learned
from a witch that the same is still done in exactly the same
manner in Italy, and in Asia. She who does it must be,
however, a strega or sorceress (my nurse was reputed to be
one), and the child thus initiated will become deep in dark
some lore, an adept in occulta, and a scholar. If I have not
turned out to be all of this in majoribus, it was not the fault
of my nurse.

Next door to us lived a family in which were four daugh
ters who grew up to be famous belles. It is said that when
the poet N. P. Willis visited them, one of these young ladies,
who was familiar with his works, was so overcome that she
fainted. Forty years after Willis distinctly recalled the cir
cumstance. Fainting was then fashionable.

Among the household friends of our family I can remem
ber Mr. John Vaughan, \vho had legends of Priestley, Berke
ley, and Thomas Moore, and who often dined with us on
Sunday. I can also recall his personal reminiscences of Gen
eral Washington, Jefferson, and all the great men of the pre
vious generation. lie was a gentle and beautiful old man,
with very courtly manners and snow-white hair, which he
wore in a queue. He gave away the whole of a large fortune
to the poor. Also an old Mr. Crozier, who had been in
France through all the French Revolution, and had known

Online LibraryCharles Godfrey LelandMemoirs → online text (page 1 of 38)