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Up the Thames

The upper portion of Greenwich (where my last article left me loitering)
is a cheerful, comely, old-fashioned town, the peculiarities of which, if
there be any, have passed out of my remembrance. As you descend towards
the Thames, the streets get meaner, and the shabby and sunken houses,
elbowing one another for frontage, bear the sign-boards of beer-shops and
eating-rooms, with especial promises of whitebait and other delicacies in
the fishing line. You observe, also, a frequent announcement of "The
Gardens" in the rear; although, estimating the capacity of the premises
by their external compass, the entire sylvan charm and shadowy seclusion
of such blissful resorts must be limited within a small back-yard. These
places of cheap sustenance and recreation depend for support upon the
innumerable pleasure-parties who come from London Bridge by steamer, at a
fare of a few pence, and who get as enjoyable a meal for a shilling a
head as the Ship Hotel would afford a gentleman for a guinea.

The steamers, which are constantly smoking their pipes up and down the
Thames, offer much the most agreeable mode of getting to London. At
least, it might be exceedingly agreeable, except for the myriad floating
particles of soot from the stove-pipe, and the heavy heat of midsummer
sunshine on the unsheltered deck, or the chill, misty air draught of a
cloudy day, and the spiteful little showers of rain that may spatter down
upon you at any moment, whatever the promise of the sky; besides which
there is some slight inconvenience from the inexhaustible throng of
passengers, who scarcely allow you standing-room, nor so much as a breath
of unappropriated air, and never a chance to sit down. If these
difficulties, added to the possibility of getting your pocket picked,
weigh little with you, the panorama along the shores of the memorable
river, and the incidents and shows of passing life upon its bosom, render
the trip far preferable to the brief yet tiresome shoot along the railway
track. On one such voyage, a regatta of wherries raced past us, and at
once involved every soul on board our steamer in the tremendous
excitement of the struggle. The spectacle was but a moment within our
view, and presented nothing more than a few light skiffs, in each of
which sat a single rower, bare-armed, and with little apparel, save a
shirt and drawers, pale, anxious, with every muscle on the stretch, and
plying his oars in such fashion that the boat skimmed along with the
aerial celerity of a swallow. I wondered at myself for so immediately
catching an interest in the affair, which seemed to contain no very
exalted rivalship of manhood; but, whatever the kind of battle or the
prize of victory, it stirs one's sympathy immensely, and is even awful,
to behold the rare sight of a man thoroughly in earnest, doing his best,
putting forth all there is in him, and staking his very soul (as these
rowers appeared willing to do) on the issue of the contest. It was the
seventy-fourth annual regatta of the Free Watermen of Greenwich, and
announced itself as under the patronage of the Lord Mayor and other
distinguished individuals, at whose expense, I suppose, a prize-boat was
offered to the conqueror, and some small amounts of money to the inferior
competitors.

The aspect of London along the Thanes, below Bridge, as it is called, is
by no means so impressive as it ought to be, considering what peculiar
advantages are offered for the display of grand and stately architecture
by the passage of a river through the midst of a great city. It seems,
indeed, as if the heart of London had been cleft open for the mere
purpose of showing how rotten and drearily mean it had become. The shore
is lined with the shabbiest, blackest, and ugliest buildings that can be
imagined, decayed warehouses with blind windows, and wharves that look
ruinous; insomuch that, had I known nothing more of the world's
metropolis, I might have fancied that it had already experienced the
downfall which I have heard commercial and financial prophets predict for
it, within the century. And the muddy tide of the Thames, reflecting
nothing, and hiding a million of unclean secrets within its breast,--a
sort of guilty conscience, as it were, unwholesome with the rivulets of
sin that constantly flow into it,--is just the dismal stream to glide by
such a city. The surface, to be sure, displays no lack of activity,
being fretted by the passage of a hundred steamers and covered with a
good deal of shipping, but mostly of a clumsier build than I had been
accustomed to see in the Mersey: a fact which I complacently attributed
to the smaller number of American clippers in the Thames, and the less
prevalent influence of American example in refining away the
broad-bottomed capacity of the old Dutch or English models.

About midway between Greenwich and London Bridge, at a rude landing-place
on the left bank of the river, the steamer rings its bell and makes a
momentary pause in front of a large circular structure, where it may be
worth our while to scramble ashore. It indicates the locality of one of
those prodigious practical blunders that would supply John Bull with a
topic of inexhaustible ridicule, if his cousin Jonathan had committed
them, but of which he himself perpetrates ten to our one in the mere
wantonness of wealth that lacks better employment. The circular building
covers the entrance to the Thames Tunnel, and is surmounted by a dome of
glass, so as to throw daylight down into the great depth at which the
passage of the river commences. Descending a wearisome succession of
staircases, we at last find ourselves, still in the broad noon, standing
before a closed door, on opening which we behold the vista of an arched
corridor that extends into everlasting midnight. In these days, when
glass has been applied to so many new purposes, it is a pity that the
architect had not thought of arching portions of his abortive tunnel with
immense blocks of the lucid substance, over which the dusky Thames would
have flowed like a cloud, making the sub-fluvial avenue only a little
gloomier than a street of upper London. At present, it is illuminated at
regular intervals by jets of gas, not very brilliantly, yet with lustre
enough to show the damp plaster of the ceiling and walls, and the massive
stone pavement, the crevices of which are oozy with moisture, not from
the incumbent river, but from hidden springs in the earth's deeper heart.
There are two parallel corridors, with a wall between, for the separate
accommodation of the double throng of foot-passengers, equestrians, and
vehicles of all kinds, which was expected to roll and reverberate
continually through the Tunnel. Only one of them has ever been opened,
and its echoes are but feebly awakened by infrequent footfalls.

Yet there seem to be people who spend their lives here, and who probably
blink like owls, when, once or twice a year, perhaps, they happen to
climb into the sunshine. All along the corridor, which I believe to be a
mile in extent, we see stalls or shops in little alcoves, kept
principally by women; they were of a ripe age, I was glad to observe, and
certainly robbed England of none of its very moderate supply of feminine
loveliness by their deeper than tomb-like interment. As you approach
(and they are so accustomed to the dusky gaslight that they read all your
characteristics afar off), they assail you with hungry entreaties to buy
some of their merchandise, holding forth views of the Tunnel put up in
cases of Derbyshire spar, with a magnifying-glass at one end to make the
vista more effective. They offer you, besides, cheap jewelry, sunny
topazes and resplendent emeralds for sixpence, and diamonds as big as the
Kohi-i-noor at a not much heavier cost, together with a multifarious
trumpery which has died out of the upper world to reappear in this
Tartarean bazaar. That you may fancy yourself still in the realms of the
living, they urge you to partake of cakes, candy, ginger-beer, and such
small refreshment, more suitable, however, for the shadowy appetite of
ghosts than for the sturdy stomachs of Englishmen. The most capacious of
the shops contains a dioramic exhibition of cities and scenes in the
daylight world, with a dreary glimmer of gas among them all; so that they
serve well enough to represent the dim, unsatisfactory remembrances that
dead people might be supposed to retain from their past lives, mixing
them up with the ghastliness of their unsubstantial state. I dwell the
more upon these trifles, and do my best to give them a mockery of
importance, because, if these are nothing, then all this elaborate
contrivance and mighty piece of work has been wrought in vain. The
Englishman has burrowed under the bed of his great river, and set ships
of two or three thousand tons a-rolling over his head, only to provide
new sites for a few old women to sell cakes and ginger-beer!

Yet the conception was a grand one; and though it has proved an absolute
failure, swallowing an immensity of toil and money, with annual returns
hardly sufficient to keep the pavement free from the ooze of subterranean
springs, yet it needs, I presume, only an expenditure three or four (or,
for aught I know, twenty) times as large, to make the enterprise
brilliantly successful. The descent is so great from the bank of the
river to its surface, and the Tunnel dips so profoundly under the river's
bed, that the approaches on either side must commence a long way off, in
order to render the entrance accessible to horsemen or vehicles; so that
the larger part of the cost of the whole affair should have been expended
on its margins. It has turned out a sublime piece of folly; and when the
New-Zealander of distant ages shall have moralized sufficiently among the
ruins of London Bridge, he will bethink himself that somewhere thereabout
was the marvellous Tunnel, the very existence of which will seem to him
as incredible as that of the hanging gardens of Babylon. But the Thames
will long ago have broken through the massive arch, and choked up the
corridors with mud and sand and with the large stones of the structure
itself, intermixed with skeletons of drowned people, the rusty ironwork
of sunken vessels, and the great many such precious and curious things as
a river always contrives to hide in its bosom; the entrance will have
been obliterated, and its very site forgotten beyond the memory of twenty
generations of men, and the whole neighborhood be held a dangerous spot
on account of the malaria; insomuch that the traveller will make but a
brief and careless inquisition for the traces of the old wonder, and will
stake his credit before the public, in some Pacific Monthly of that day,
that the story of it is but a myth, though enriched with a spiritual
profundity which he will proceed to unfold.

Yet it is impossible (for a Yankee, at least) to see so much magnificent
ingenuity thrown away, without trying to endow the unfortunate result
with some kind of use, fulness, though perhaps widely different from the
purpose of its original conception. In former ages, the mile-long
corridors, with their numerous alcoves, might have been utilized as a
series of dungeons, the fittest of all possible receptacles for prisoners
of state. Dethroned monarchs and fallen statesmen would not have needed
to remonstrate against a domicile so spacious, so deeply secluded from
the world's scorn, and so admirably in accordance with their
thenceforward sunless fortunes. An alcove here might have suited Sir
Walter Raleigh better than that darksome hiding-place communicating with
the great chamber in the Tower, pacing from end to end of which he
meditated upon his "History of the World." His track would here have
been straight and narrow, indeed, and would therefore have lacked
somewhat of the freedom that his intellect demanded; and yet the length
to which his footsteps might have travelled forth and retraced themselves
would partly have harmonized his physical movement with the grand curves
and planetary returns of his thought, through cycles of majestic periods.
Having it in his mind to compose the world's history, methinks he could
have asked no better retirement than such a cloister as this, insulated
from all the seductions of mankind and womankind, deep beneath their
mysteries and motives, down into the heart of things, full of personal
reminiscences in order to the comprehensive measurement and verification
of historic records, seeing into the secrets of human nature,--secrets
that daylight never yet revealed to mortal,--but detecting their whole
scope and purport with the infallible eyes of unbroken solitude and
night. And then the shades of the old mighty men might have risen from
their still profounder abodes and joined him in the dim corridor,
treading beside him with an antique stateliness of mien, telling him in
melancholy tones, grand, but always melancholy, of the greater ideas and
purposes which their most renowned performances so imperfectly carried
out, that, magnificent successes in the view of all posterity, they were
but failures to those who planned them. As Raleigh was a navigator, Noah
would have explained to him the peculiarities of construction that made
the ark so seaworthy; as Raleigh was a statesman, Moses would have
discussed with him the principles of laws and government; as Raleigh was
a soldier, Caesar and Hannibal would have held debate in his presence,
with this martial student for their umpire; as Raleigh was a poet, David,
or whatever most illustrious bard he might call up, would have touched
his harp, and made manifest all the true significance of the past by
means of song and the subtle intelligences of music.

Meanwhile, I had forgotten that Sir Walter Raleigh's century knew nothing
of gaslight, and that it would require a prodigious and wasteful
expenditure of tallow-candles to illuminate the Tunnel sufficiently to
discern even a ghost. On this account, however, it would be all the more
suitable place of confinement for a metaphysician, to keep him from
bewildering mankind with his shadowy speculations; and, being shut off
from external converse, the dark corridor would help him to make rich
discoveries in those cavernous regions and mysterious by-paths of the
intellect, which he had so long accustomed himself to explore. But how
would every successive age rejoice in so secure a habitation for its
reformers, and especially for each best and wisest man that happened to
be then alive! He seeks to burn up our whole system of society, under
pretence of purifying it from its abuses! Away with him into the Tunnel,
and let him begin by setting the Thames on fire, if he is able!

If not precisely these, yet akin to these were some of the fantasies that
haunted me as I passed under the river: for the place is suggestive of
such idle and irresponsible stuff by its own abortive character, its lack
of whereabout on upper earth, or any solid foundation of realities.
Could I have looked forward a few years, I might have regretted that
American enterprise had not provided a similar tunnel, under the Hudson
or the Potomac, for the convenience of our National Government in times
hardly yet gone by. It would be delightful to clap up all the enemies of
our peace and Union in the dark together, and there let them abide,
listening to the monotonous roll of the river above their heads, or
perhaps in a state of miraculously suspended animation, until,--be it
after months, years, or centuries,--when the turmoil shall be all over,
the Wrong washed away in blood (since that must needs be the cleansing
fluid), and the Right firmly rooted in the soil which that blood will
have enriched, they might crawl forth again and catch a single glimpse at
their redeemed country, and feel it to be a better land than they
deserve, and die!

I was not sorry when the daylight reached me after a much briefer abode
in the nether regions than, I fear, would await the troublesome
personages just hinted at. Emerging on the Surrey side of the Thames, I
found myself in Rotherhithe, a neighborhood not unfamiliar to the readers
of old books of maritime adventure. There being a ferry hard by the
mouth of the Tunnel, I recrossed the river in the primitive fashion of an
open boat, which the conflict of wind and tide, together with the swash
and swell of the passing steamers, tossed high and low rather
tumultuously. This inquietude of our frail skiff (which, indeed, bobbed
up and down like a cork) so much alarmed an old lady, the only other
passenger, that the boatmen essayed to comfort her. "Never fear,
mother!" grumbled one of them, "we'll make the river as smooth as we can
for you. We'll get a plane, and plane down the waves!" The joke may not
read very brilliantly; but I make bold to record it as the only specimen
that reached my ears of the old, rough water-wit for which the Thames
used to be so celebrated. Passing directly along the line of the sunken
Tunnel, we landed in Wapping, which I should have presupposed to be the
most tarry and pitchy spot on earth, swarming with old salts, and full of
warm, bustling, coarse, homely, and cheerful life. Nevertheless, it
turned out to be a cold and torpid neighborhood, mean, shabby, and
unpicturesque, both as to its buildings and inhabitants: the latter
comprising (so far as was visible to me) not a single unmistakable
sailor, though plenty of land-sharks, who get a half-dishonest livelihood
by business connected with the sea. Ale and spirit vaults (as petty
drinking-establishments are styled in England, pretending to contain vast
cellars full of liquor within the compass of ten feet square above
ground) were particularly abundant, together with apples, oranges, and
oysters, the stalls of fishmongers and butchers, and slop-shops, where
blue jackets and duck trousers swung and capered before the doors.
Everything was on the poorest scale, and the place bore an aspect of
unredeemable decay. From this remote point of London, I strolled
leisurely towards the heart of the city; while the streets, at first
but thinly occupied by man or vehicle, got more and more thronged
with foot-passengers, carts, drays, cabs, and the all-pervading and
all-accommodating omnibus. But I lack courage, and feel that I should
lack perseverance, as the gentlest reader would lack patience, to
undertake a descriptive stroll through London streets; more especially as
there would be a volume ready for the printer before we could reach a
midway resting-place at Charing Cross. It will be the easier course to
step aboard another passing steamer, and continue our trip up the Thames.

The next notable group of objects is an assemblage of ancient walls,
battlements, and turrets, out of the midst of which rises prominently one
great square tower, of a grayish line, bordered with white stone, and
having a small turret at each corner of the roof. This central structure
is the White Tower, and the whole circuit of ramparts and enclosed
edifices constitutes what is known in English history, and still more
widely and impressively in English poetry, as the Tower. A crowd of
rivercraft are generally moored in front of it; but, if we look sharply
at the right moment under the base of the rampart, we may catch a glimpse
of an arched water-entrance, half submerged, past which the Thames glides
as indifferently as if it were the mouth of a city-kennel. Nevertheless,
it is the Traitor's Gate, a dreary kind of triumphal passageway (now
supposed to be shut up and barred forever), through which a multitude of
noble and illustrious personages have entered the Tower and found it a
brief resting-place on their way to heaven. Passing it many times, I
never observed that anybody glanced at this shadowy and ominous
trap-door, save myself. It is well that America exists, if it were only
that her vagrant children may be impressed and affected by the historical
monuments of England in a degree of which the native inhabitants are
evidently incapable. These matters are too familiar, too real, and too
hopelessly built in amongst and mixed up with the common objects and
affairs of life, to be easily susceptible of imaginative coloring in
their minds; and even their poets and romancers feel it a toil, and
almost a delusion, to extract poetic material out of what seems embodied
poetry itself to an American. An Englishman cares nothing about the
Tower, which to us is a haunted castle in dreamland. That honest and
excellent gentleman, the late Mr. G. P. R. James (whose mechanical
ability, one might have supposed, would nourish itself by devouring every
old stone of such a structure), once assured me that he had never in his
life set eyes upon the Tower, though for years an historic novelist in
London.

Not to spend a whole summer's day upon the voyage, we will suppose
ourselves to have reached London Bridge, and thence to have taken another
steamer for a farther passage up the river. But here the memorable
objects succeed each other so rapidly that I can spare but a single
sentence even for the great Dome, through I deem it more picturesque, in
that dusky atmosphere, than St. Peter's in its clear blue sky. I must
mention, however (since everything connected with royalty is especially
interesting to my dear countrymen), that I once saw a large and beautiful
barge, splendidly gilded and ornamented, and overspread with a rich
covering, lying at the pier nearest to St. Paul's Cathedral; it had the
royal banner of Great Britain displayed, besides being decorated with a
number of other flags; and many footmen (who are universally the grandest
and gaudiest objects to be seen in England at this day, and these were
regal ones, in a bright scarlet livery bedizened with gold-lace, and
white silk stockings) were in attendance. I know not what festive or
ceremonial occasion may have drawn out this pageant; after all, it might
have been merely a city-spectacle, appertaining to the Lord Mayor; but
the sight had its value in bringing vividly before me the grand old times
when the sovereign and nobles were accustomed to use the Thames as the
high street of the metropolis, and join in pompous processions upon it;
whereas, the desuetude of such customs, nowadays, has caused the whole
show of river-life to consist in a multitude of smoke-begrimed steamers.
An analogous change has taken place in the streets, where cabs and the
omnibus have crowded out a rich variety of vehicles; and thus life gets
more monotonous in hue from age to age, and appears to seize every
opportunity to strip off a bit of its gold-lace among the wealthier
classes, and to make itself decent in the lower ones.

Yonder is Whitefriars, the old rowdy Alsatia, now wearing as decorous a
face as any other portion of London; and, adjoining it, the avenues and
brick squares of the Temple, with that historic garden, close upon the
river-side, and still rich in shrubbery and flowers, where the partisans
of York and Lancaster plucked the fatal roses, and scattered their pale
and bloody petals over so many English battle-fields. Hard by, we see
tine long white front or rear of Somerset House, and, farther on, rise
the two new Houses of Parliament, with a huge unfinished tower already
hiding its imperfect summit in the smoky canopy,--the whole vast and
cumbrous edifice a specimen of the best that modern architecture can
effect, elaborately imitating the masterpieces of those simple ages when
men "builded better than they knew." Close by it, we have a glimpse of
the roof and upper towers of the holy Abbey; while that gray, ancestral
pile on the opposite side of the river is Lambeth Palace, a venerable
group of halls and turrets, chiefly built of brick, but with at least one
large tower of stone. In our course, we have passed beneath half a dozen
bridges, and, emerging out of the black heart of London, shall soon reach
a cleanly suburb, where old Father Thames, if I remember, begins to put
on an aspect of unpolluted innocence. And now we look back upon the mass
of innumerable roofs, out of which rise steeples, towers, columns, and
the great crowning Dome,--look back, in short, upon that mystery of the
world's proudest city, amid which a man so longs and loves to be; not,
perhaps, because it contains much that is positively admirable and
enjoyable, but because, at all events, the world has nothing better. The
cream of external life is there; and whatever merely intellectual or
material good we fail to find perfect in London, we may as well content
ourselves to seek that unattainable thing no farther on this earth.

The steamer terminates its trip at Chelsea, an old town endowed with a
prodigious number of pothouses, and some famous gardens, called the
Cremorne, for public amusement. The most noticeable thing, however, is
Chelsea Hospital, which, like that of Greenwich, was founded, I believe,
by Charles II. (whose bronze statue, in the guise of an old Roman, stands
in the centre of the quadrangle,) and appropriated as a home for aged and
infirm soldiers of the British army. The edifices are of three stories
with windows in the high roofs, and are built of dark, sombre brick, with
stone edgings and facings. The effect is by no means that of grandeur
(which is somewhat disagreeably an attribute of Greenwich Hospital), but
a quiet and venerable neatness. At each extremity of the street-front
there is a spacious and hospitably open gateway, lounging about which I
saw some gray veterans in long scarlet coats of an antique fashion, and
the cocked hats of a century ago, or occasionally a modern foraging-cap.
Almost all of them moved with a rheumatic gait, two or three stumped on
wooden legs, and here and there an arm was missing. Inquiring of one of
these fragmentary heroes whether a stranger could be admitted to see the
establishment, he replied most cordially, "O yes, sir,--anywhere! Walk
in and go where you please,--up stairs, or anywhere!" So I entered, and,
passing along the inner side of the quadrangle, came to the door of the
chapel, which forms a part of the contiguity of edifices next the street.
Here another pensioner, an old warrior of exceedingly peaceable and
Christian demeanor, touched his three-cornered hat and asked if I wished
to see the interior; to which I assenting, he unlocked the door, and we
went in.

The chapel consists of a great hall with a vaulted roof, and over the
altar is a large painting in fresco, the subject of which I did not
trouble myself to make out. More appropriate adornments of the place,
dedicated as well to martial reminiscences as religious worship, are the
long ranges of dusty and tattered banners that hang from their staves all
round the ceiling of the chapel. They are trophies of battles fought and
won in every quarter of the world, comprising the captured flags of all
the nations with whom the British lion has waged war since James II.'s
time,--French, Dutch, East Indian, Prussian, Russian, Chinese, and
American,--collected together in this consecrated spot, not to symbolize
that there shall be no more discord upon earth, but drooping over the
aisle in sullen, though peaceable humiliation. Yes, I said "American"
among the rest; for the good old pensioner mistook me for an Englishman,
and failed not to point out (and, methought, with an especial emphasis of
triumph) some flags that had been taken at Bladensburg and Washington. I
fancied, indeed, that they hung a little higher and drooped a little
lower than any of their companions in disgrace. It is a comfort,
however, that their proud devices are already indistinguishable, or
nearly so, owing to dust and tatters and the kind offices of the moths,
and that they will soon rot from the banner-staves and be swept out in
unrecognized fragments from the chapel-door.

It is a good method of teaching a man how imperfectly cosmopolitan he is,
to show him his country's flag occupying a position of dishonor in a
foreign land. But, in truth, the whole system of a people crowing over
its military triumphs had far better he dispensed with, both on account
of the ill-blood that it helps to keep fermenting among the nations, and
because it operates as an accumulative inducement to future generations
to aim at a kind of glory, the gain of which has generally proved more
ruinous than its loss. I heartily wish that every trophy of victory
might crumble away, and that every reminiscence or tradition of a hero,
from the beginning of the world to this day, could pass out of all men's
memories at once and forever. I might feel very differently, to be sure,
if we Northerners had anything especially valuable to lose by the fading
of those illuminated names.

I gave the pensioner (but I am afraid there may have been a little
affectation in it) a magnificent guerdon of all the silver I had in my
pocket, to requite him for having unintentionally stirred up my patriotic
susceptibilities. He was a meek-looking, kindly old man, with a humble
freedom and affability of manner that made it pleasant to converse with
him. Old soldiers, I know not why, seem to be more accostable than old
sailors. One is apt to hear a growl beneath the smoothest courtesy of
the latter. The mild veteran, with his peaceful voice, and gentle
reverend aspect, told me that he had fought at a cannon all through the
Battle of Waterloo, and escaped unhurt; he had now been in the hospital
four or five years, and was married, but necessarily underwent a
separation from his wife, who lived outside of the gates. To my inquiry
whether his fellow-pensioners were comfortable and happy, he answered,
with great alacrity, "O yes, sir!" qualifying his evidence, after a
moment's consideration, by saying in an undertone, "There are some
people, your Honor knows, who could not be comfortable anywhere." I did
know it, and fear that the system of Chelsea Hospital allows too little
of that wholesome care and regulation of their own occupations and
interests which might assuage the sting of life to those naturally
uncomfortable individuals by giving them something external to think
about. But my old friend here was happy in the hospital, and by this
time, very likely, is happy in heaven, in spite of the bloodshed that he
may have caused by touching off a cannon at Waterloo.

Crossing Battersea Bridge, in the neighborhood of Chelsea, I remember
seeing a distant gleam of the Crystal Palace, glimmering afar in the
afternoon sunshine like an imaginary structure,--an air-castle by chance
descended upon earth, and resting there one instant before it vanished,
as we sometimes see a soap-bubble touch unharmed on the carpet,--a thing
of only momentary visibility and no substance, destined to be
overburdened and crushed down by the first cloud-shadow that might fall
upon that spot. Even as I looked, it disappeared. Shall I attempt a
picture of this exhalation of modern ingenuity, or what else shall I try
to paint? Everything in London and its vicinity has been depicted
innumerable times, but never once translated into intelligible images; it
is an "old, old story," never yet told, nor to be told. While writing
these reminiscences, I am continually impressed with the futility of the
effort to give any creative truth to ink sketch, so that it might produce
such pictures in the reader's mind as would cause the original scenes to
appear familiar when afterwards beheld. Nor have other writers often
been more successful in representing definite objects prophetically to my
own mind. In truth, I believe that the chief delight and advantage of
this kind of literature is not for any real information that it supplies
to untravelled people, but for reviving the recollections and reawakening
the emotions of persons already acquainted with the scenes described.
Thus I found an exquisite pleasure, the other day, in reading Mr.
Tuckerman's "Month in England," fine example of the way in which a
refined and cultivated American looks at the Old Country, the things that
he naturally seeks there, and the modes of feeling and reflection which
they excite. Correct outlines avail little or nothing, though truth of
coloring may be somewhat more efficacious. Impressions, however, states
of mind produced by interesting and remarkable objects, these, if
truthfully and vividly recorded, may work a genuine effect, and, though
lint the result, of what we see, go further towards representing the
actual scene than any direct effort to paint it. Give the emotions that
cluster about it, and, without being able to analyze the spell by which
it is summoned up, you get something like a simulacre of the object in
the midst of them. From some of the above reflections I draw the
comfortable inference, that, the longer and better known a thing may be,
so much the more eligible is it as the subject of a descriptive sketch.

On a Sunday afternoon, I passed through a side-entrance in the
time-blackened wall of a place of worship, and found myself among a
congregation assembled in one of the transepts and the immediately
contiguous portion of the nave. It was a vast old edifice, spacious
enough, within the extent covered by its pillared roof and overspread by
its stone pavement, to accommodate the whole of church-going London, and
with a far wider and loftier concave than any human power of lungs could
fill with audible prayer. Oaken benches were arranged in the transept,
on one of which I seated myself, and joined, as well as I knew how, in
the sacred business that was going forward. But when it came to the
sermon, the voice of the preacher was puny, and so were his thoughts, and
both seemed impertinent at such a time and place, where he and all of us
were bodily included within a sublime act of religion, which could be
seen above and around us and felt beneath our feet. The structure itself
was the worship of the devout men of long ago, miraculously preserved in
stone without losing an atom of its fragrance and fervor; it was a kind
of anthem-strain that they had sung and poured out of the organ in
centuries gone by; and being so grand and sweet, the Divine benevolence
had willed it to be prolonged for the behoof of auditors unborn. I
therefore came to the conclusion, that, in my individual case, it would
be better and more reverent to let my eyes wander about the edifice than
to fasten them and my thoughts on the evidently uninspired mortal who was
venturing--and felt it no venture at all--to speak here above his breath.

The interior of Westminster Abbey (for the reader recognized it, no
doubt, the moment we entered) is built of rich brown stone; and the whole
of it--the lofty roof, the tall, clustered pillars, and the pointed
arches--appears to be in consummate repair. At all points where decay
has laid its finger, the structure is clamped with iron or otherwise
carefully protected; and being thus watched over,--whether as a place of
ancient sanctity, a noble specimen of Gothic art, or an object of
national interest and pride,--it may reasonably be expected to survive
for as many ages as have passed over it already. It was sweet to feel
its venerable quietude, its long-enduring peace, and yet to observe how
kindly and even cheerfully it received the sunshine of to-day, which fell
from the great windows into the fretted aisles and arches that laid aside
somewhat of their aged gloom to welcome it. Sunshine always seems
friendly to old abbeys, churches, and castles, kissing them, as it were,
with a more affectionate, though still reverential familiarity, than it
accords to edifices of later date. A square of golden light lay on the
sombre pavement of the nave, afar off, falling through the grand western
entrance, the folding leaves of which were wide open, and afforded
glimpses of people passing to and fro in the outer world, while we sat
dimly enveloped in the solemnity of antique devotion. In the south
transept, separated from us by the full breadth of the minster, there
were painted glass windows of which the uppermost appeared to be a great
orb of many-colored radiance, being, indeed, a cluster of saints and
angels whose glorified bodies formed the rays of an aureole emanating
from a cross in the midst. These windows are modern, but combine
softness with wonderful brilliancy of effect. Through the pillars and
arches, I saw that the walls in that distant region of the edifice
were almost wholly incrusted with marble, now grown yellow with time,
no blank, unlettered slabs, but memorials of such men as their
respective generations deemed wisest and bravest. Some of them were
commemorated merely by inscriptions on mural tablets, others by
sculptured bas-reliefs, others (once famous, but now forgotten generals
or admirals, these) by ponderous tombs that aspired towards the roof of
the aisle, or partly curtained the immense arch of a window. These
mountains of marble were peopled with the sisterhood of Allegory, winged
trumpeters, and classic figures in full-bottomed wigs; but it was strange
to observe how the old Abbey melted all such absurdities into the breadth
of its own grandeur, even magnifying itself by what would elsewhere have
been ridiculous. Methinks it is the test of Gothic sublimity to
overpower the ridiculous without deigning to hide it; and these grotesque
monuments of the last century answer a similar purpose with the grinning
faces which, the old architects scattered among their most solemn
conceptions.

From these distant wanderings (it was my first visit to Westminster
Abbey, and I would gladly have taken it all in at a glance) my eyes came
back and began to investigate what was immediately about me in the
transept. Close at my elbow was the pedestal of Canning's statue. Next
beyond it was a massive tomb, on the spacious tablet of which reposed the
full-length figures of a marble lord and lady, whom an inscription
announced to be the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle,--the historic Duke of
Charles I.'s time, and the fantastic Duchess, traditionally remembered by
her poems and plays. She was of a family, as the record on her tomb
proudly informed us, of which all the brothers had been valiant and all
the sisters virtuous. A recent statue of Sir John Malcolm, the new
marble as white as snow, held the next place; and near by was a mural
monument and bust of Sir Peter Warren. The round visage of this old
British admiral has a certain interest for a New-Englander, because it
was by no merit of his own (though he took care to assume it as such),
but by the valor and warlike enterprise of our colonial forefathers,
especially the stout men of Massachusetts, that he won rank and renown,
and a tomb in Westminster Abbey. Lord Mansfield, a huge mass of marble
done into the guise of a judicial gown and wig, with a stern face in the
midst of the latter, sat on the other side of the transept; and on the
pedestal beside him was a figure of Justice, holding forth, instead of
the customary grocer's scales, an actual pair of brass steelyards. It is
an ancient and classic instrument, undoubtedly; but I had supposed that
Portia (when Shylock's pound of flesh was to be weighed) was the only
judge that ever really called for it in a court of justice. Pitt and Fox
were in the same distinguished company; and John Kemble, in Roman
costume, stood not far off, but strangely shorn of the dignity that is
said to have enveloped him like a mantle in his lifetime. Perhaps the
evanescent majesty of the stage is incompatible with the long endurance
of marble and the solemn reality of the tomb; though, on the other hand,
almost every illustrious personage here represented has been invested
with more or less of stage-trickery by his sculptor. In truth, the
artist (unless there be a divine efficacy in his touch, making evident a
heretofore hidden dignity in the actual form) feels it--an imperious law
to remove his subject as far from the aspect of ordinary life as may be
possible without sacrificing every trace of resemblance. The absurd
effect of the contrary course is very remarkable in the statue of Mr.
Wilberforce, whose actual self, save for the lack of color, I seemed to
behold, seated just across the aisle.

This excellent man appears to have sunk into himself in a sitting
posture, with a thin leg crossed over his knee, a book in one hand, and a
finger of the other under his chin, I believe, or applied to the side of
his nose, or to some equally familiar purpose; while his exceedingly
homely and wrinkled face, held a little on one side, twinkles at you with
the shrewdest complacency, as if he were looking right into your eyes,
and twigged something there which you had half a mind to conceal from
him. He keeps this look so pertinaciously that you feel it to be
insufferably impertinent, and bethink yourself what common ground there
may be between yourself and a stone image, enabling you to resent it. I
have no doubt that the statue is as like Mr. Wilberforce as one pea to
another, and you might fancy, that, at some ordinary moment, when he
least expected it, and before he had time to smooth away his knowing
complication of wrinkles, he had seen the Gorgon's head, and whitened
into marble,--not only his personal self, but his coat and small-clothes,
down to a button and the minutest crease of the cloth. The ludicrous
result marks the impropriety of bestowing the age-long duration of marble
upon small, characteristic individualities, such as might come within the
province of waxen imagery. The sculptor should give permanence to the
figure of a great man in his mood of broad and grand composure, which
would obliterate all mean peculiarities; for, if the original were
unaccustomed to such a mood, or if his features were incapable of
assuming the guise, it seems questionable whether he could really have
been entitled to a marble immortality. In point of fact, however, the
English face and form are seldom statuesque, however illustrious the
individual.

It ill becomes me, perhaps, to have lapsed into this mood of half-jocose
criticism in describing my first visit to Westminster Abbey, a spot which
I had dreamed about more reverentially, from my childhood upward, than
any other in the world, and which I then beheld, and now look back upon,
with profound gratitude to the men who built it, and a kindly interest, I
may add, in the humblest personage that has contributed his little all to
its impressiveness, by depositing his dust or his memory there. But it
is a characteristic of this grand edifice that it permits you to smile as
freely under the roof of its central nave as if you stood beneath the yet
grander canopy of heaven. Break into laughter, if you feel inclined,
provided the vergers do not hear it echoing among the arches. In an
ordinary church you would keep your countenance for fear of disturbing
the sanctities or proprieties of the place; but you need leave no honest
and decorous portion of your human nature outside of these benign and
truly hospitable walls. Their mild awfulness will take care of itself.
Thus it does no harm to the general impression, when you come to be
sensible that many of the monuments are ridiculous, and commemorate a mob
of people who are mostly forgotten in their graves, and few of whom ever
deserved any better boon from posterity. You acknowledge the force of
Sir Godfrey Kneller's objection to being buried in Westminster Abbey,
because "they do bury fools there!" Nevertheless, these grotesque
carvings of marble, that break out in dingy-white blotches on the old
freestone of the interior walls, have come there by as natural a process
as might cause mosses and ivy to cluster about the external edifice; for
they are the historical and biographical record of each successive age,
written with its own hand, and all the truer for the inevitable mistakes,
and none the less solemn for the occasional absurdity. Though you
entered the Abbey expecting to see the tombs only of the illustrious, you
are content at last to read many names, both in literature and history,
that have now lost the reverence of mankind, if indeed they ever really
possessed it.

Let these men rest in peace. Even if you miss a name or two that you
hoped to find there, they may well be spared. It matters little a few
more or less, or whether Westminster Abbey contains or lacks any one
man's grave, so long as the Centuries, each with the crowd of personages
that it deemed memorable, have chosen it as their place of honored
sepulture, and laid themselves down under its pavement. The inscriptions
and devices on the walls are rich with evidences of the fluctuating
tastes, fashions, manners, opinions, prejudices, follies, wisdoms of the
past, and thus they combine into a more truthful memorial of their dead
times than any individual epitaph-maker ever meant to write.

When the services were over, many of the audience seemed inclined to
linger in the nave or wander away among the mysterious aisles; for there
is nothing in this world so fascinating as a Gothic minster, which always
invites you deeper and deeper into its heart both by vast revelations and
shadowy concealments. Through the open-work screen that divides the nave
from the chancel and choir, we could discern the gleam of a marvellous
window, but were debarred from entrance into that more sacred precinct of
the Abbey by the vergers. These vigilant officials (doing their duty all
the more strenuously because no fees could be exacted from Sunday
visitors) flourished their staves, and drove us towards the grand
entrance like a flock of sheep. Lingering through one of the aisles, I
happened to look down, and found my foot upon a stone inscribed with this
familiar exclamation, "O rare Ben Jonson!" and remembered the story of
stout old Ben's burial in that spot, standing upright,--not, I presume,
on account of any unseemly reluctance on his part to lie down in the
dust, like other men, but because standing-room was all that could
reasonably be demanded for a poet among the slumberous notabilities of
his age. It made me weary to think of it!--such a prodigious length of
time to keep one's feet!--apart from the honor of the thing, it would
certainly have been better for Ben to stretch himself at ease in some
country churchyard. To this day, however, I fancy that there is a
contemptuous alloy mixed up with the admiration which the higher classes
of English society profess for their literary men.

Another day--in truth, many other days--I sought out Poets' Corner, and
found a sign-board and pointed finger, directing the visitor to it, on
the corner house of a little lane leading towards the rear of the Abbey.
The entrance is at the southeastern end of the south transept, and it is
used, on ordinary occasions, as the only free mode of access to the
building. It is no spacious arch, but a small, lowly door, passing
through which, and pushing aside an inner screen that partly keeps out an
exceedingly chill wind, you find yourself in a dim nook of the Abbey,
with the busts of poets gazing at you from the otherwise bare stone-work
of the walls. Great poets, too; for Ben Jenson is right behind the door,
and Spenser's tablet is next, and Butler's on the same side of the
transept, and Milton's (whose bust you know at once by its resemblance to
one of his portraits, though older, more wrinkled, and sadder than that)
is close by, and a profile-medallion of Gray beneath it. A window high
aloft sheds down a dusky daylight on these and many other sculptured
marbles, now as yellow as old parchment, that cover the three walls of
the nook up to an elevation of about twenty feet above the pavement. It
seemed to me that I had always been familiar with the spot. Enjoying a
humble intimacy--and how much of my life had else been a dreary
solitude!--with many of its inhabitants, I could not feel myself a
stranger there. It was delightful to be among them. There was a genial
awe, mingled with a sense of kind and friendly presences about me; and I
was glad, moreover, at finding so many of them there together, in fit
companionship, mutually recognized and duly honored, all reconciled now,
whatever distant generations, whatever personal hostility or other
miserable impediment, had divided them far asunder while they lived.
I have never felt a similar interest in any other tombstones, nor
have I ever been deeply moved by the imaginary presence of other famous
dead people. A poet's ghost is the only one that survives for his
fellow-mortals, after his bones are in the dust,--and be not ghostly, but
cherishing many hearts with his own warmth in the chillest atmosphere of
life. What other fame is worth aspiring for? Or, let me speak it more
boldly, what other long-enduring fame can exist? We neither remember nor
care anything for the past, except as the poet has made it intelligibly
noble and sublime to our comprehension. The shades of the mighty have no
substance; they flit ineffectually about the darkened stage where they
performed their momentary parts, save when the poet has thrown his own
creative soul into them, and imparted a more vivid life than ever they
were able to manifest to mankind while they dwelt in the body. And
therefore--though he cunningly disguises himself in their armor, their
robes of state, or kingly purple--it is not the statesman, the warrior,
or the monarch that survives, but the despised poet, whom they may have
fed with their crumbs, and to whom they owe all that they now are or
have,--a name!

In the foregoing paragraph I seem to have been betrayed into a flight
above or beyond the customary level that best agrees with me; but it
represents fairly enough the emotions with which I passed from Poets'
Corner into the chapels, which contain the sepulchres of kings and great
people. They are magnificent even now, and must have been inconceivably
so when the marble slabs and pillars wore their new polish, and the
statues retained the brilliant colors with which they were originally
painted, and the shrines their rich gilding, of which the sunlight still
shows a glimmer or a streak, though the sunbeam itself looks tarnished
with antique dust. Yet this recondite portion of the Abbey presents few
memorials of personages whom we care to remember. The shrine of Edward
the Confessor has a certain interest, because it was so long held in
religious reverence, and because the very dust that settled upon it was
formerly worth gold. The helmet and war-saddle of Henry V., worn at
Agincourt, and now suspended above his tomb, are memorable objects, but
more for Shakespeare's sake than the victor's own. Rank has been the
general passport to admission here. Noble and regal dust is as cheap as
dirt under the pavement. I am glad to recollect, indeed (and it is too
characteristic of the right English spirit not to be mentioned), one or
two gigantic statues of great mechanicians, who contributed largely to
the material welfare of England, sitting familiarly in their marble
chairs among forgotten kings and queens. Otherwise, the quaintness of
the earlier monuments, and the antique beauty of some of them, are what
chiefly gives them value. Nevertheless, Addison is buried among the men
of rank; not on the plea of his literary fame, however, but because he
was connected with nobility by marriage, and had been a Secretary of
State. His gravestone is inscribed with a resounding verse from
Tickell's lines to his memory, the only lines by which Tickell himself is
now remembered, and which (as I discovered a little while ago) he mainly
filched from an obscure versifier of somewhat earlier date.

Returning to Poets' Corner, I looked again at the walls, and wondered how
the requisite hospitality can be shown to poets of our own and the
succeeding ages. There is hardly a foot of space left, although room has
lately been found for a bust of Southey and a full-length statue of
Campbell. At best, only a little portion of the Abbey is dedicated to
poets, literary men, musical composers, and others of the gentle artist
breed, and even into that small nook of sanctity men of other pursuits
have thought it decent to intrude themselves. Methinks the tuneful
throng, being at home here, should recollect how they were treated in
their lifetime, and turn the cold shoulder, looking askance at nobles and
official personages, however worthy of honorable intercourse elsewhere.
Yet it shows aptly and truly enough what portion of the world's regard
and honor has heretofore been awarded to literary eminence in comparison
with other modes of greatness,--this dimly lighted corner (nor even that
quietly to themselves) in the vast minster, the walls of which are
sheathed and hidden under marble that has been wasted upon the
illustrious obscure. Nevertheless, it may not be worth while to quarrel
with the world on this account; for, to confess the very truth, their own
little nook contains more than one poet whose memory is kept alive by his
monument, instead of imbuing the senseless stone with a spiritual
immortality,--men of whom you do not ask, "Where is he?" but, "Why is he
here?" I estimate that all the literary people who really make an
essential part of one's inner life, including the period since English
literature first existed, might have ample elbow-room to sit down and
quaff their draughts of Castaly round Chaucer's broad, horizontal
tombstone. These divinest poets consecrate the spot, and throw a
reflected glory over the humblest of their companions. And as for the
latter, it is to be hoped that they may have long outgrown the
characteristic jealousies and morbid sensibilities of their craft, and
have found out the little value (probably not amounting to sixpence in
immortal currency) of the posthumous renown which they once aspired to
win. It would be a poor compliment to a dead poet to fancy him leaning
out of the sky and snuffing up the impure breath of earthly praise.

Yet we cannot easily rid ourselves of the notion that those who have
bequeathed us the inheritance of an undying song would fain be conscious
of its endless reverberations in the hearts of mankind, and would
delight, among sublimer enjoyments, to see their names emblazoned in such
a treasure-place of great memories as Westminster Abbey. There are some
men, at all events,--true and tender poets, moreover, and fully deserving
of the honor,--whose spirits, I feel certain, would linger a little while
about Poets' Corner for the sake of witnessing their own apotheosis among
their kindred. They have had a strong natural yearning, not so much for
applause as sympathy, which the cold fortune of their lifetime did but
scantily supply; so that this unsatisfied appetite may make itself felt
upon sensibilities at once so delicate and retentive, even a step or two
beyond the grave. Leigh Hunt, for example, would be pleased, even now,
if he could learn that his bust had been reposited in the midst of the
old poets whom he admired and loved; though there is hardly a man among
the authors of to-day and yesterday whom the judgment of Englishmen would
be less likely to place there. He deserves it, however, if not for his
verse (the value of which I do not estimate, never having been able to
read it), yet for his delightful prose, his unmeasured poetry, the
inscrutable happiness of his touch, working soft miracles by a
life-process like the growth of grass and flowers. As with all such
gentle writers, his page sometimes betrayed a vestige of affectation,
but, the next moment, a rich, natural luxuriance overgrew and buried it
out of sight. I knew him a little, and (since, Heaven be praised, few
English celebrities whom I chanced to meet have enfranchised my pen by
their decease, and as I assume no liberties with living men) I will
conclude this rambling article by sketching my first interview with Leigh
Hunt.

He was then at Hammersmith, occupying a very plain and shabby little
house, in a contiguous range of others like it, with no prospect but that
of an ugly village street, and certainly nothing to gratify his craving
for a tasteful environment, inside or out. A slatternly maid-servant
opened the door for us, and he himself stood in the entry, a beautiful
and venerable old man, buttoned to the chin in a black dress-coat, tall
and slender, with a countenance quietly alive all over, and the gentlest
and most naturally courteous manner. He ushered us into his little
study, or parlor, or both,--a very forlorn room, with poor paper-hangings
and carpet, few books, no pictures that I remember, and an awful lack of
upholstery. I touch distinctly upon these external blemishes and this
nudity of adornment, not that they would be worth mentioning in a sketch
of other remarkable persons, but because Leigh Hunt was born with such a
faculty of enjoying all beautiful things that it seemed as if Fortune,
did him as much wrong in not supplying them as in withholding a
sufficiency of vital breath from ordinary men. All kinds of mild
magnificence, tempered by his taste, would have become him well; but he
had not the grim dignity that assumes nakedness as the better robe.

I have said that he was a beautiful old man. In truth, I never saw a
finer countenance, either as to the mould of features or the expression,
nor any that showed the play of feeling so perfectly without the
slightest theatrical emphasis. It was like a child's face in this
respect. At my first glimpse of him, when he met us in the entry, I
discerned that he was old, his long hair being white and his wrinkles
many; it was an aged visage, in short, such as I had not at all expected
to see, in spite of dates, because his books talk to the reader with the
tender vivacity of youth. But when he began to speak, and as he grew
more earnest in conversation, I ceased to be sensible of his age;
sometimes, indeed, its dusky shadow darkened through the gleam which his
sprightly thoughts diffused about his face, but then another flash of
youth came out of his eyes and made an illumination again. I never
witnessed such a wonderfully illusive transformation, before or since;
and, to this day, trusting only to my recollection, I should find it
difficult to decide which was his genuine and stable predicament,--youth
or age. I have met no Englishman whose manners seemed to me so
agreeable, soft, rather than polished, wholly unconventional, the natural
growth of a kindly and sensitive disposition without any reference to
rule, or else obedient to some rule so subtile that the nicest observer
could not detect the application of it.

His eyes were dark and very fine, and his delightful voice accompanied
their visible language like music. He appeared to be exceedingly
appreciative of whatever was passing among those who surrounded him, and
especially of the vicissitudes in the consciousness of the person to whom
he happened to be addressing himself at the moment. I felt that no
effect upon my mind of what he uttered, no emotion, however transitory,
in myself, escaped his notice, though not from any positive vigilance on
his part, but because his faculty of observation was so penetrative and
delicate; and to say the truth, it a little confused me to discern always
a ripple on his mobile face, responsive to any slightest breeze that
passed over the inner reservoir of my sentiments, and seemed thence to
extend to a similar reservoir within himself. On matters of feeling, and
within a certain depth, you might spare yourself the trouble of
utterance, because he already knew what you wanted to say, and perhaps a
little more than you would have spoken. His figure was full of gentle
movement, though, somehow, without disturbing its quietude; and as he
talked, he kept folding his hands nervously, and betokened in many ways a
fine and immediate sensibility, quick to feel pleasure or pain, though
scarcely capable, I should imagine, of a passionate experience in either
direction. There was not am English trait in him from head to foot,
morally, intellectually, or physically. Beef, ale, or stout, brandy or
port-wine, entered not at all into his composition. In his earlier life,
he appears to have given evidences of courage and sturdy principle, and
of a tendency to fling himself into the rough struggle of humanity on the
liberal side. It would be taking too much upon myself to affirm that
this was merely a projection of his fancy world into the actual, and that
he never could have hit a downright blow, and was altogether an
unsuitable person to receive one. I beheld him not in his armor, but in
his peacefulest robes. Nevertheless, drawing my conclusion merely from
what I saw, it would have occurred to me that his main deficiency was a
lack of grit. Though anything but a timid man, the combative and
defensive elements were not prominently developed in his character, and
could have been made available only when he put an unnatural force upon
his instincts. It was on this account, and also because of the fineness
of his nature generally, that the English appreciated him no better, and
left this sweet and delicate poet poor, and with scanty laurels in his
declining age.

It was not, I think, from his American blood that Leigh Hunt derived
either his amiability or his peaceful inclinations; at least, I do not
see how we can reasonably claim the former quality as a national
characteristic, though the latter might have been fairly inherited from
his ancestors on the mother's side, who were Pennsylvania Quakers. But
the kind of excellence that distinguished him--his fineness, subtilty,
and grace--was that which the richest cultivation has heretofore tended
to develop in the happier examples of American genius, and which (though
I say it a little reluctantly) is perhaps what our future intellectual
advancement may make general among us. His person, at all events, was
thoroughly American, and of the best type, as were likewise his manners;
for we are the best as well as the worst mannered people in the world.

Leigh Hunt loved dearly to be praised. That is to say, he desired
sympathy as a flower seeks sunshine, and perhaps profited by it as much
in the richer depth of coloring that it imparted to his ideas. In
response to all that we ventured to express about his writings (and, for
my part, I went quite to the extent of my conscience, which was a long
way, and there left the matter to a lady and a young girl, who happily
were with me), his face shone, and he manifested great delight, with a
perfect, and yet delicate, frankness for which I loved him. He could not
tell us, he said, the happiness that such appreciation gave him; it
always took him by surprise, he remarked, for--perhaps because he cleaned
his own boots, and performed other little ordinary offices for himself--
he never had been conscious of anything wonderful in his own person. And
then he smiled, making himself and all the poor little parlor about him
beautiful thereby. It is usually the hardest thing in the world to
praise a man to his face; but Leigh Hunt received the incense with such
gracious satisfaction (feeling it to be sympathy, not vulgar praise),
that the only difficulty was to keep the enthusiasm of the moment within
the limit of permanent opinion. A storm had suddenly come up while we
were talking; the rain poured, the lightning flashed, and the thunder
broke; but I hope, and have great pleasure in believing, that it was a
sunny hour for Leigh Hunt. Nevertheless, it was not to my voice that he
most favorably inclined his ear, but to those of my companions. Women
are the fit ministers at such a shrine.

He must have suffered keenly in his lifetime, and enjoyed keenly, keeping
his emotions so much upon the surface as he seemed to do, and convenient
for everybody to play upon. Being of a cheerful temperament, happiness
had probably the upper hand. His was a light, mildly joyous nature,
gentle, graceful, yet seldom attaining to that deepest grace which
results from power; for beauty, like woman, its human representative,
dallies with the gentle, but yields its consummate favor only to the
strong. I imagine that Leigh Bunt may have been more beautiful when I
met him, both in person and character, than in his earlier days. As a
young man, I could conceive of his being finical in certain moods, but
not now, when the gravity of age shed a venerable grace about him. I
rejoiced to hear him say that he was favored with most confident and
cheering anticipations in respect to a future life; and there were
abundant proofs, throughout our interview, of an unrepining spirit,
resignation, quiet, relinquishment of the worldly benefits that were
denied him, thankful enjoyment of whatever he had to enjoy, and piety,
and hope shining onward into the dusk,--all of which gave a reverential
cast to the feeling with which we parted from him. I wish that he could
have had one full draught of prosperity before he died. As a matter of
artistic propriety, it would have been delightful to see him inhabiting a
beautiful house of his own, in an Italian climate, with all sorts of
elaborate upholstery and minute elegances about him, and a succession of
tender and lovely women to praise his sweet poetry from morning to night.
I hardly know whether it is my fault, or the effect of a weakness in
Leigh Haunt's character, that I should be sensible of a regret of this
nature, when, at the same time, I sincerely believe that he has found an
infinity of better things in the world whither he has gone.

At our leave-taking he grasped me warmly by both hands, and seemed as
much interested in our whole party as if he had known us for years. All
this was genuine feeling, a quick, luxuriant growth out of his heart,
which was a soil for flower-seeds of rich and rare varieties, not acorns,
but a true heart, nevertheless. Several years afterwards I met him for
the last time at a London dinner-party, looking sadly broken down by
infirmities; and my final recollection of the beautiful old man presents
him arm in arm with, nay, if I mistake not, partly embraced and supported
by, another beloved and honored poet, whose minstrel-name, since he has a
week-day one for his personal occasions, I will venture to speak. It was
Barry Cornwall, whose kind introduction had first made me known to Leigh
Hunt.


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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