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“I HAVE neither space, nor wish,” echoes sinks to a rustic murmur. “His writes Mr. Ruskin in his autobio- coat, his waistcoat, his shoes and graphy,2 “to extend my proposed stockings, his trousers, his hat, his account of things that have been by wit and humour, his pathos and his records of correspondence; it is too umbrella, all come before me like much the habit of modern biographers visions of my youth.” That is the to confuse epistolary talk with vital way of half our modern biographies. fact.” It is a long while since Mr. Mr. Sampson Brass failed as a lawyer; Ruskin has written anything soentirely
but had he lived on to our time he to the purpose. In too much, perhaps, of might have made his fortune as a all modern writing the vital fact is apt biographer. A cunning artist may to get a little confused and lost sight indeed contrive to give these dry bones of; in biography it is certainly so. some semblance of life; but cunning How could it be otherwise ? Half of artists do not just at present seem our latter-day biographies were worth inclined to labour in the field of biowriting in no circumstances ; graphy. Too often the work has not siderably more than one half of the the saving virtue of Justice remainder have too obviously been
Shallow's estate :—“ Barren, barren, written in circumstances that could barren; marry, good air ;" but we not but be fatal to the best bio- miss even the good air. grapher who ever set himself to paint And in those rare cases where the
"in his habit as he lived.' tale of the finished life is one That Gyas and Cloanthus were brave would willingly hear, still some mamen no one doubts; and all would lignant spirit is so apt to intervene. So cordially allow them the merit of fast the world moves now, so strenhaving been most charming in their uously must we all pant after it, that family circles. But when the story of unless the page comes hot from the their lives comes to be writ large in press to supplement the funeral serblack and white, how apt the charm is vice, it is, we say, or seem to say, too to fade. In the garish light of print late. The moment passes with the the ways, the looks, the arts that
It is, indeed, a wonder we do seemed so winning and so wonderful not improve on the French fashion, to those who saw and felt them in their and deliver our biographies impromptu freshness, are apt to show such little over the open grave. They could not things. The wit and the learning well be more perfunctory; and they that set the affectionate critics of the could not but be shorter. fireside in a roar, or lulled them into Small wonder then that our current mute admiring, but make the stony biographical literature is such as it so public stare. Those ethereal eyes that frequently is; so confused, so barren flashed such heavenly gleams beneath and yet so wordy, so wanting in the bar of Michael Angelo, fade to the selection, arrangement, proportion ; common light of every day. The great that so rarely the right man seems wave that was to fill the world with its to have been chosen, or to have
chosen himself, for the work. He who 1 The Life of Henry Wadsworth Long. can work fastest is the man for fellow, with Extracts from his Journals and Correspondence. Edited by Samuel Long
our money; and where angels fear to fellow. Two volumes. London, 1886.
tread who knows not what manner of 2 • Præterita,' ch. vii.
man rushes in ?
To all such biographers the habit with the author whom he has known in his Mr. Ruskin deprecates must be a boon
books ; letting him, as far as is fitting, into, indeed. To swell the volumes out
his intimacy. It presupposes an interest in,
and a familiarity with, the writings whose with an unsorted, undigested mass of inception and completion are so frequently, if letters, journals, unpublished scraps, briefly, noted.
It trusts much to the perand the like, takes little time and less
sonal interest which, in this instance, the trouble ; and thus at one blow fall the
writings seem in a remarkable degree to have
inspired-an interest which it is believed this two great foes to modern literature.
book, if it may in some things modify, will in And it is a habit, moreover, which no degree diminish. If in anything it should looks well upon the booksellers' coun
seem to fall short, let it be remembered that ters. For we seem to have reversed
the poet had already put the best of himself
into his books." in this, as in so many instances, the decision of our fathers, and hold a Precisely; but then, why give us so great book now to be no great evil. very much of the second best? Not The reviewers may protest—when their being quite of Mr. Ruskin's stern own withers are unwrung ; but who virtue, we will cordially own that now cares for a reviewer
journals and correspondence are in Far be it from us to class Mr. themselves no bad things. Probably Samuel Longfellow among these slip- no one ever wished that Boswell or shod biographers; but we are bound Lockhart or Mr. Trevelyan had given to say that his work furnishes a very us less of either in their famous bioremarkable text to Mr. Ruskin's ser- graphies. But there are journals and mon. The two volumes make up journals, correspondence and correabout nine hundred pages, and we spondence. very much doubt if there are fifty of these unoccupied by the journals
“August 3rd (1848). The capacity of the
human frame for sleep in summer is very great. and correspondence. Mr. Longfellow, F. read Channing's Life till dinner. indeed, makes no pretence. In this “ 4th. Brought T. with us to Melville's. A fashion it seemed to him his appointed
long chat in the evening, of course ; about
France and England, and Emerson and Tennywork could best be done; and in this
son, and Milnes and Florence Nightingale. fashion he has done it. Let him be “5th. Walked with T. and C. to the pond. heard in his own defence :
Found an enormous leech ; propitious sign for bathers! Afternoon, drove to Dr. Holmes's
house on the old Wendell farm ; a snug little " The reader must be reminded at the out
place, with views of the river and the mounset, and must remember all along, that this is
tains." the life of a man of letters. Mr. Longfellow was not that exclusively, but he was that The Grand Vizier must certainly supremely. He touched life at many points; and certainly he was no bookworm or dryas
have died in Boston about that time! dust scholar shut up in a library. He kept
There are better things than this in the doors of his study always open, both the diary, of course ; just as there are literally and figuratively. But literature, as many letters in the two volumes better it was his earliest ambition, was always his most real interest; it was his constant point
worth printing than this :of view; it was his chosen refuge. His very
March 17th, 1842. profession was a literary one. Now, the life
“I beg you to accept my thanks for your of a man of letters must needs be unexciting
expressions of regard. I feel sincerely happy and uneventful in the eyes of men of activities
when I hear that anything I have written and affairs. In such a life, a new book is a
from my own heart finds a response in great adventure, a new poem or tale a chief
another's. I feel this to be the best reward event. Such a life can be painted only by a
an author can receive ; as his highest privilege multitude of minute touches. For this reason,
is to speak words of sincerity to those who will and because it was desirable that he should
in sincerity hear them.” tell his own story as far as possible, a large part of this biography is made up of extracts The sentiment here expressed is a from a daily journal. By such a method could
very just and charming one; but the reader best learn how a man of letters spends his time, and what occupies his
inasmuch as it is well-nigh as old as thoughts. It brings the reader face to face authorship it cannot well be called
characteristic of this author; and as sources of consolation, tender secrets,
“ The touch of a vanished hand sympathy, the irrelevance of the docu
And the sound of a voice that is still,” ment is, to say the least, not diminished. We do not mean to offer may be felt and heard in
linethese extracts as samples either of the but not by all. There they are; the journals or the correspondence; in mere "epistolary talk," the passing the earlier part especially there is chatter of the moment, the idle much that is very different from this, thought, the trivial record of an much that, if not absolutely vital, is empty day-and "the vital fact." It
“ at any rate pleasant to read and in- is the business of an editor to sepateresting; but certainly the supply of rate the last from the heap and to these very “minute touches "
give it to us. Mr. Longfellow has rather in excess of any reasonable not done this. One cannot be hard demand.
on him for the defects of his book, We are very far indeed from wish- remembering whence no doubt they ing to cavil at this labour of love; came; but one cannot be blind to and indeed the faults, such as they
them. are, obviously arise from a feeling
And in the case of such a life as which one cannot but respect, while Longfellow's, and such a temperament, regretting that it should have marred this business of separation was prewhat might have been so interesting eminently necessary.
That life SO a record of the life of so devoted and even, so serene, so unvexed by all sincere a man of letters. How hard jarring sounds that echoed outside the it must have been to let the editor four walls of his Cambridge library, over-ride the friend, to silence one of flowed on as tranquilly as his own dear these voices of the dead, all will river Charlesunderstand. Yet there is a duty im
“ The beauty of whose stillness posed on all who would make a book
Overflowed him like a tide.” for the people to read ; and sentiment cannot be suffered to stand in its Very beautiful was his life, and very way. There must be passages in every
of his later pieces journal which to the public eye will
there are some lines which one might seem trivial and commonplace. The
almost fancy designed for his own business of keeping a journal is apt theory of existence, if not for his to grow mechanical ; sooner than let practiceit languish the writer will jot down
“ On its terraced walk aloof anything which comes into his head, Leans a monk with folded hands, merely to keep his hand in, or to Placid, satisfied, serene, satisfy the sense of duty. And often
Looking down upon the scene
Over wall and red-tiled roof; these insignificant entries will prove
Wondering unto what good end most pleasant and capable handmaids All this toil and traffic tend, to memory, stealing fire and many And why all men cannot be another comfort from the fountains of
Free from care and free from pain,
And the sordid love of gain, the past. But to us who are not
And as indolent as he.” behind the scenes they have not this virtue. And it is the same with An indolent man he never letters. Those yellow, faded pages Indeed during his tenure of the chairs which seem perhaps to us so bald, so of Modern Literature and Languages, pointless, so unnecessary, may to him first at Bowdoin College and afterfor whose eye they were written have wards at Harvard, that is to say, been through long years inexhaustible from his twenty-second to his forty
seventh year, he was an extremely upon some situation in common life, and whose industrious man. Rarely through plot illustrates some familiar proverb which
stands at its head by way of motto.” those years did a day pass without its line. He did not, as some do, take This view of education is common the completion of a work as the signal enough now, but it was not so comfor a holiday, but rather as the signal
mon half a century ago, and even less for leisure to begin a new one.
common probably in America than in his journal for the year 1847, the
England. It is much to the young fortieth year of his life, is this pas
and untried professor's credit that he sage: Evangeline is ended. I wrote should have broken from the bondage the last lines this morning. And now of custom, and dared to amuse his for a little prose; a romance, which
pupils as well as instruct them. And I have in my brain-Kavanagh by he did more; he interested and atname. .” And most assuredly he did not tracted them. “ His intercourse with neglect his pupils. Never did a more
the students, writes
was perconscientious professor hold a chair, fectly simple, frank, and manly." and never, probably, a more popular
“His manner,” testifies another, Though the conditions of his
conditions of his invariably full of that charming courappointment at Bowdoin College only tesy which it never lacked throughout prescribed instruction in modern lan.
his whole life. . . He was always on guages, he carefully prepared a course
the alert, quick to hear, ready to of written lectures, besides selecting respond. We were fond of him from and editing many text-books for the
the start; his speech charmed us; his students. Finding no French gram
earnest and dignified demeanour inmar to his taste, we are told, he
spired us." To his chosen friend, George translated and printed for the use of
Greene, he about this time gives a his pupils the grammar of L'Homond, pleasant picture of his life at the which had the particular virtue of
collegecontaining all that was essential in a small compass. He also in the same “I rise at six in the morning, and hear a year edited a collection of French French recitation of Sophomores immediately. * Proverbes Dramatiques,' and a small
At seven I breakfast, and am then master of
my time till eleven, when I hear a Spanish Spanish reader, ‘Novelas Españolas.'
lesson of juniors. After that I take a lunch ;
and at twelve I go into the library” (he was Among the French books in the library,” librarian as well as professor)
" where I rehe writes to his father, “I have just found main till one.
I am then at leisure for the a few volumes which are so much what is afternoon till five, when I have a French wanted for a text-book that I have con- recitation of juniors. At six I take coffee ; cluded to make a selection from them for then walk and visit friends till nine ; study my pupils and others. The work is a col- till twelve, and sleep till six, when I begin lection of Dramatic Proverbs, or small plays, the same round again. Such is the daily such as are performed in Paris by ladies and routine of my life. The intervals of collegegentlemen in private society. The book is so duty, I fill up with my own studies. exactly what we stand in need of that I am You see, I lead a very sober, jog-trot kind of only surprised that something of the kind has life. My circle of acquaintances is very not appeared here before. The more I see of limited. I am on very intimate terms with the life of an instructor, the more I wonder at three families, and that is quite enough. I the course generally pursued by teachers. They like intimate footings ; I do not care for seem to forget that the young mind is to be general society. I am delighted more and interested in order to be instructed. Look at more with the profession I have embraced, the text-books in use. What are they? Ex- and hope ere long to see you in a situation tracts from the best and most polished writers
similar to my own. of the nation ; food for mature minds, but a fruit that hangs beyond the reach of children, His duties at Harvard, in which he or those whom ignorance of a foreign language succeeded George Ticknor in 1837, puts on the footing of children. But the little collection which I propose to publish unites
were more distinctly professorial, and the simplicity and ease of conversation with left him accordingly more leisure for the interest of a short comedy which turns his own studies and for society. To
the same friend he writes in the angrily to his father about “ the Littlebeginning of that year
Peddlington community of Boston."
“ Boston is only a great village,” he “I have taken up my abode in Cambridge. says; and, "the tyranny of public My chambers are very pleasant, with great opinion there surpasses all belief ; trees in front, whose branches almost touch my windows ; so that I have a nest not unlike
a private opinion one has heard more the birds, being high up in the third story. than once expressed since. To his
My life here is very quiet and agreeable. father, also, he sends this sketch Like the clown in Shakespeare, I have no of the course of his first year's enemy but winter and rough weather.' I wish
lecturesnever a worse one, I am now occupied in preparing a course of lectures on German literature, to be delivered next summer. I do
“(1) Introduction. History of the French not write them out, but make notes and trans
Language. (2) The other langnages of the lations. I think this the best way decidedly.
South of Europe. (3) History of the NorthIn this course something of the Danish and ern, or Gothic, Languages. (4) Anglo-Saxon Swedish (the new feathers in my cap) is to be
Literature. (5 and 6) Swedish Literature. mingled. From all this you will gather that
(7) Sketch of German Literature. (8, 9, 10) my occupations are of the most delightful
Life and Writings of Goethe. (11 and 12) Life kind.”
and Writings of Jean Paul Richter. Some of these are written lectures; others will be de
livered from notes. If I feel well during the A little later, when he had moved
summer and am in good spirits, I may extend into Craigie House, which was to be the course. People seem to feel some curiosity his home for the rest of his life, he about the lectures, and consequently I am sends to the same friend a rather less
eager to commence, relying mainly for success
on the interesting topics I shall be able to satisfied picture of his condition :
bring forward. Having in my own mind an
idea, and a pretty fixed one, of what lectures “I live in a great house which looks like an should be, and having undertaken nothing Italian villa ; have two large rooms opening but what I feel myself competent to do withinto each other. They were once General out effort, I have no great anxiety as to the Washington's chambers. I breakfast
result." on tea and toast, and dine at five or six, generally in Boston. In the evening I walk on the He lectured orally once a week the Common with Hillard, or alone ; then go back to Cambridge on foot. If not very late, I sit
year through, and in the summer an hour with Felton or Sparks. For nearly
term read two weekly papers on two years I have not studied at night save literary history or belles-lettres in now and then. Most of the time I am alone; addition. Besides these he was exsmoke a good deal; wear a broad-brimmed black hat, black frock coat, a black cane.
pected to generally supervise the Molest no one. Dine out frequently. In
studies in foreign languages; the winter go much into Boston society. The last tutors as well as the students, and year have written a great deal, enough to the former seem to have given him make volumes. Have not read much. Have
most trouble. In the autumn of the a number of literary plans and projects, some of which will ripen before long, and be made same year he writes to his father known to you.
I do not like this sedentary life. I want action. I want to travel."
“My lectures make something of a parade
on paper, and require of course some attention, His sedate toilette was possibly though they are all unwritten, save the sumadopted in deference to the sober tastes
mer course, which I think I shall this year
write out. The arrangement with the Comof the new community he had entered.
mittee requires me
to lecture but once a On his first appearance it was thought week. I throw in another, to show that I am his fancies that way were a little too not reluctant to work, and likewise for my florid, showing rather too much colour own good; namely, to make me read attenin the matter of waistcoats and cravats;
tively, give me practice, and keep me from
growing indolent. It is, however, astonishing just as some sterner academic tastes how little I accomplish during a week. And at first found his lectures rather “ too then this four-in-hand of outlandish animals” flowery." It was perhaps some mo
(the foreign tutors) “all pulling the wrong
way, except one,--this gives me more trouble mentary sense of revolt against this
than anything else. I have more anxiety Puritanism that led him to write rather about their doing well than about my own.