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Chapter 10


If there were boarding-houses in paradise--Blodgett, the delight of
mankind--Solomon foresaw her--A withering retort--A modest, puny poise
about her--Hidden thoughts derived from Mother Eve and Grecian
Helen--The feminine council that ruled the Yankee captains--Bonds of
fraternity, double-riveted and copper-fastened--Through the
looking-glass--Men only of the manliest sort--The
lady-paramount--Hands which were true works of art--Retained his
dignity without putting it on--Sighed heavily over my
efforts--Unctuous M. Huguenin--"From dawn to eve I fell"--The
multum-in-parvo machine--"Beauty and the Beast"--Frank
Channing--"Blood-and water!"--A lapful of Irish stew.

--

It was observed a little way back that English boarding-houses were
much like other boarding-houses in the civilized world. The rule is
proved by the exception of Mrs. Blodgett's establishment. There never
was such another; there never will be; it was unique. It has vanished
from earth long since; but if there were boarding-houses in paradise,
I should certainly expect it to be found again there. Who was Mrs.
Blodgett? Save that she was a widow of the British middle class, I
doubt if any one of her boarders knew. She had once been rich, and had
lived at Gibraltar. I have often meditated with fruitless longing
about what manner of man Mr. Blodgett could have been. He must have
been, like the Emperor Titus, the delight of mankind in his day. He
was a man, we must surmise, whose charms and virtues were such that
his wife, having felt the bliss and privilege of knowing and living
with him, registered a vow over his bier that she would devote her
future career to the attempt to make others as happy as he had made
her; that she would serve others as faithfully and generously as she
had served him. It was a lofty and beautiful conception, for she must
have perceived that only in that way could she keep his blessed spirit
near her; that the little heaven she would make in Duke Street,
Liverpool, would attract him from the kindred heaven above; that he
would choose to hover, invisible, above her plenteous table, inhaling
the grateful aromas that arose from it as from a savory sacrifice,
basking in the smiles and sympathizing in the satisfaction of the
fortunate guests, triumphing in their recognition of his beloved
consort as a queen among women. One might almost fancy that the steam
arising from the portly soup-tureen assumed as it arose something
suggesting a human form; that from its airy and fragrant mistiness a
shadowy countenance beamed down upon the good lady in black, with the
white cap, who ladled out the delicious compound to her waiting
devotees. The murmur of the tea-urn would seem to fashion itself into
airy accents, syllabling, "Mary, thy Blodgett is here!" His genial
spirit would preside over her labors in the kitchen, suggesting ever
more delightsome dishes and delicate desserts. He would warn her
against undesirable inmates and intractable servants, and would
inspire her tradesmen to serve her with the choicest comestibles and
to temper their bills to the unprotected widow. At night he would
bless her lonely pillow with peace, and would gently rouse her in the
morning to a new day of beneficences.

Mrs. Blodgett was about five feet four inches high, and may have
weighed twelve stone; into such limits were her virtues packed. She
was perhaps in the neighborhood of her fiftieth year; her dark hair
was threaded with honorable gray. Her countenance was rotund and
ruddy; it was the flower of kindness and hospitality in full bloom;
but there was also power in the thick eyebrows and in the massy
substance of the chin--of the chins, indeed, for here, as in other
gifts, nature had been generous with her. There was shrewdness and
discernment in the good-nature of her eyes; she knew human nature,
although no one judged it with more charity than she. Her old men were
her brothers, her young men were her sons, all children were her
children. Solomon foresaw her in the most engaging of his Proverbs.
Her maid-servants arose at six in the morning and called her blessed,
for though her rule was strict it was just and loving. She was at
once the mistress and the friend of her household; no Yankee captain
so audacious that he ventured to oppose her law; no cynic so cold as
not to be melted by her tenderness. She was clad always in black, with
a white cap and ribbons, always spotless amid the grime of Liverpool;
in her more active moments--though she was always active--she added a
white apron to her attire. She was ever anywhere where she was
needed; she was never anywhere where she could be dispensed with.
Wherever she went she brought comfort and a cheerful but not restless
animation. Her boarders were busy men, but it was always with an
effort that they wrenched themselves from her breakfast-table, and
they sat down to dinner as one man. She made them happy, but she
would not spoil them. "You're a pretty young man!" she said, severely,
to complacent Mr. Crane, when, one morning, he came late to breakfast.
"I always knew that," returned he, reaching self-satisfiedly for the
toast-rack. "Well, I'm sure your glass never told you so!" was the
withering retort. Mr. Crane did not lift his neck so high after that.
The grin that went round the table was too crushingly unanimous.

Mrs. Blodgett was helped in her duties by her niece, Miss Maria, and
by her sister, Miss Williams. Miss Maria was a little wisp of a
woman; I do not know her age then, but I think, were she alive today,
she would confess to about eighty-three. She wore ringlets, after the
fashion of the early nineteenth-century books of beauty. Her face was
thin and narrow, and ordinarily pale; but when Miss Maria had been a
little while in conversation with one or more of the gallant Yankee
captains you might see in the upper corner of each cheek a slight
touch of red. For though I would not call the little lady
coquettish--that is too coarse and obvious a word--yet there was in
her that inalienable consciousness of maidenhood, that sentiment, at
once of attraction and of recoil, towards creatures of the opposite
sex, that gentle hope of pleasing man, that secret emotion of being
pleased by him, that tremor at the idea of being desired, and that
flush at the thought of being desirable, which, I suppose, may animate
the mystic sensibilities of spinsterhood. She was anything but
aggressive and confident, yet there was a modest, puny poise about
her; she was like a plant that has always lived in a narrow, city
flower-pot, at a window too seldom visited by the sun, which has never
known the freedom of the rain, but has been skimpingly watered out of
a toy watering-pot; which has never so much as conceived of the daring
and voluptuous charms of its remote sisters of the forest and garden,
but has cherished its rudimentary perfume and its incipient tints in a
light reflected from brick walls and in the thin, stale atmosphere of
rear sitting-rooms. Yet it knows that it is a flower, and that it
might, somehow, fulfil its destiny and be beautiful. So Miss Maria
had, no doubt, hidden thoughts remotely derived from Mother Eve and
from Grecian Helen; she was aware of the potentiality in herself of
all virgin privileges and powers, and assumed thereupon her own little
dignity. Never but once did I see a masculine arm round Miss Maria's
trig, stiff little waist, and that was at Christmas-time, when there
were sprigs of mistletoe over every doorway; but, mistletoe or not,
the owner of that arm, if he did succeed in ravishing a kiss, got his
ears smartly boxed the next moment. I don't know precisely what was
Miss Maria's function in the economy of the household; I can fancy her
setting the table, and adding touches of neatness and prettiness;
dusting the ornaments and fine china on the shelves of the whatnot;
straightening the frames of the pictures on the walls; and, in her
less romantic moments, hemming towels or sheets, or putting up
preserved fruits. I know she was always amiable and obliging and that
everybody loved her.

Miss Williams was a good deal the elder of her sister, and was of a
clear white pallor and an aged delicacy and shyness that were very
captivating. She had judgment and a clear, dispassionate brain, and I
presume she acted the part in the little firm of a sort of court of
appeals and final adviser and referee. She talked little and had
little to do with outward affairs, but she sat observant and
penetrating and formed conclusions in her mind. There had been no
brother of The Blodgett to induce her to change her maidenly state,
but I think there must have been a quiet, touching romance somewhere
hidden in the shadows of the previous forty or fifty years. She
admired and delighted in her energetic, practical sister as much as
the latter adored her for her serenity and wisdom. There was between
them an intimacy, confidence, and mutual understanding that were
charming to behold. When the blessed Blodgett had died, one can
imagine the vital support and consolation which Miss Williams had been
able to afford to her afflicted sister. Each of them seemed, in some
way, to explain and enlarge one's conception of the other. Widely
different as they appeared outwardly, there was a true sisterly
likeness deep down in them. Such was the feminine council that ruled
the destinies of the Yankee captains and of their consul.

These captains and this consul formed nine-tenths of the population of
the house, and such other denizens as it had were at least Americans.
I never learned the cause of this predilection for representatives of
the great republic and for the seafaring variety of them in
particular. Be that as it might (and it is an interesting inquiry in
itself), it can be readily understood that it worked out well as a
business idea. There were no quarrels or heart-burnings among the
jolly occupants of Mrs. Blodgett's table; first, because they were all
Americans in the country of their hereditary enemies, and, secondly,
because they were all men of the same calling, and that calling the
sea. The bonds of fraternity between them were double-riveted and
copper-fastened. Thus all who had experienced the Blodgett regime
proclaimed its excellence far and wide, and the number of applicants
always exceeded the accommodations; in fact, during this year 1855-56,
our hostess was compelled to buy the house adjoining her own, and I
had the rare delight of watching every stroke of work done by the
carpenters and bricklayers who had the job of cutting a doorway
through the wall from the old house to the new one. There was
something magical and adventurous in stepping through that opening for
the first time--crossing a boundary which had maintained itself so
long. Probably the sensation resembled that which Alice afterwards
experienced when she stepped through the looking-glass into the room
on the other side. The additional accommodations were speedily filled;
but after the first fascination had worn off nobody regarded the new
house as comparable with the old one, and the people who roomed in it
were looked down upon by their associates of the original dwelling.
They were, I believe, as much alike as two houses could be, and that
is saying much in this age, but the feeling was different, and the
feeling is everything if you have a soul.

If the Blodgett house, or houses, were unique, so were the Yankee
boarders. The race of our merchant-marine captains disappeared with
their ships, and they will return no more. The loss is irretrievable,
for in many respects they held the ideal of patriotic and energetic
Americanism higher than it is likely to go again. When at sea, in
command of and responsible for their ships and cargoes, they were, no
doubt, upon occasion, despots and slave-drivers; but their crews were
often recruited from among the dregs of men of all nations, who would
interpret kindness as timidity and take an ell where you gave them an
inch. No doubt, too, there were incarnate devils among these
captains--actual monomaniacs of cruelty and viciousness--though none
of these were known at Mrs. Blodgett's. Round her board sat men only
of the manliest sort. They had the handiness and versatility of the
sailor, wide and various knowledge of all quarters of the globe and of
types of mankind, though, to be sure, their investigations did not
proceed far beyond their ports, and you were sometimes more astonished
at what they did not know than at what they did. They had the
self-poise and self-confidence of men who day by day and month by
month hold their lives in their hands, and are practised in finding a
way out of danger and difficulty. They had a code of good manners and
polite behavior which was not highly refined, but contained the sound,
essential elements of courtesy; not expressed in fancy, but honest and
solid. They had great shrewdness, and were capable of really fine
diplomacy, for the school they attended demanded such proficiency.
They had a dry, chuckling humor; a homely philosophy, often mingled
with the queerest superstitions; a racy wit, smacking somewhat, of
course, of the quarter-deck, or even of the forecastle; a seemingly
incongruous sensibility, so that tears easily sprang to their eyes if
the right chord of pathos were touched; a disposition to wear a
high-colored necktie and a broad, gold watch-chain, and to observe a
certain smartness in their boots and their general shore rigging; a
good appetite for good food, and not a little discernment of what was
good; a great and boylike enjoyment of primitive pleasures; a love of
practical jokes and a hearty roar of laughter for hearty fun; a
self-respecting naturalness, which made them gentlemen in substance if
not in all technical details; a pungent contempt for humbug and
artifice, though they might not mind a good, swaggering lie upon
occasion; a robust sense of honor in all matters which were trusted to
their honorable feeling; and, to make an end of this long catalogue, a
practical command of language regarded as a means of expressing and
communicating the essential core of thoughts, though the words might
not always be discoverable in Johnson's dictionary or the grammatical
constructions such as would be warranted by Lindley Murray. They were,
upon the average, good-looking, active, able men, and most of them
were on the sunny side of forty. They were ready to converse on any
subject, but if left to themselves they would choose topics proper to
their calling-ships and shipwrecks, maritime usages of various
countries, of laws of insurance, of sea-rights, of feats of
seamanship, of luck and ill luck, and here and there a little politics
of the old-fashioned, elementary sort. They boasted themselves and
their country not a little, and criticised everybody else, and John
Bull especially, very severely often, but almost always very acutely,
too. They would play euchre and smoke cigars from nine o'clock till
eleven, and would then go to bed and sleep till the breakfast-bell.
Altogether, they were fine company, and they did me much good. Such
were the captains of our merchant marine about the middle of the last
century.

Some of them would bring their wives with them for the voyage;
uniformly rather pretty women, a trifle dressy, somewhat fragile in
appearance, but really sound enough; naive, simple, good souls, loving
their husbands and magnifying them, and taking a vicarious pride in
their ships and sea-craft. The lady-paramount of these, in my
estimation, was the wife of old Captain Howes, the inventor of Howes'
patent rig, which he was at that time perfecting. He would sometimes
invite me up to his room to see the exquisitely finished model which
he had made with his own hands. He was the commodore of the captains,
the oldest, wisest, and most impressive of them; a handsome, massive,
Jovelike old gentleman, with the gentlest and most indulgent manners,
and a straightforward, simple mariner withal. He had ceased to make
voyages, and was settled, for the time being, in Liverpool. Mrs.
Howes seemed, to my boyish apprehension, to be a sort of princess of
exquisite and gracious refinement; I could imagine nothing in feminine
shape more delicate, of more languid grace, of finer patrician
elegance. She was certainly immensely good-natured and indulgent
towards me, and, in the absence of my mother, tried to teach me to be
less of an Orson; she had hands which were true works of art,
flexible, fine-grained, taper-fingered, and lily-white; these she used
very effectively, and would fain have induced me to attempt the
regeneration of my own dirty and ragged little fists. She would
beseech me, also, to part my hair straight, to forbear to soil my
jacket, and even to get my shoes blacked. I was thankful for these
attentions, though I was unable to profit by them. Sometimes, at
table, I would glance up to find her eyes dwelling with mild reproach
upon me; doubtless I was continually perpetrating terrible enormities.
Had she herself been less perfect and immaculate, I might have felt
more hopes of my own amendment; but I felt that I was not in her class
at all, and I gave up at the start. She was a wonderful human
ornament, the despair, I thought, of all pursuit, not to mention
rivalry. Beside the heroic figure of her captain, she looked like a
lily mated with an oak; but they were as happy a pair, and as well
mated, as one could hope to see.

I was, perhaps, more in my proper element among the captains down in
the smoking-room, which was at the back of the house, at the end of
the hallway, on the left. My father sat there foot to foot with them,
played euchre with them, listened to their yarns, laughed at their
jokes, and felt, probably, the spirit of his own old sea-captain
ancestors stirring within him. Some of them were a little shy of his
official position at first, and indeed he was occasionally constrained
to adopt towards one or another of them, in the consulate, a bearing
very different from the easy comradeship of the Blodgett evenings; but
in process of time they came to understand him, and accepted him, on
the human basis, as a friend and brother. My father had the rare
faculty of retaining his dignity without putting it on. No one ever
took liberties with him, and he took none with anybody; yet there was
no trace in his intercourse of stiffness or pose; there did not need
to be, since there was behind his eye that potentiality of
self--protection which renders superfluous all outward demonstration
of personal sanctity. On the other hand, he obviously elevated the
tone of our little society; the stout captains, who feared nothing
else, feared their worser selves in his presence. None of them knew or
cared a straw for his literary genius and its productions; but they
were aware of something in him which they respected as well as liked,
and there was no member of the company who was more popular or
influential.


Without letting me feel that I was the object of special solicitude or
watchfulness, my father knew all that I did, and saw to it that my
time was decently occupied. In addition to the dancing-lessons already
mentioned (in which I became brilliantly proficient, and achieved such
feats in the way of polkas, mazurkas, hornpipes, and Scotch reels as
filled my instructor and myself with pride)--in addition to this, I
was closeted twice a week with a very serious and earnest
drawing-master, who taught me with infinite conscientiousness, and
sighed heavily over the efforts which I submitted to him. The
captains, who were my champions and abettors in all things, might take
in their large hands a drawing of mine and the copy by the master
which had been my model, and say, one to the other, "Well, now, I
couldn't tell which was which--could you?" But the master could tell,
and the certainty of it steeped his soul in constant gloom. I doubt
if he recovered from the pangs I gave him. The fact was, I thought an
hour of dancing with lovely Mary Warren was worth all the art in the
world. Another instructor to whom I brought honor was thick-
shouldered, portly, unctuous M. Huguenin, a Swiss, proprietor
of the once-famous gymnasium which bore his name. He so anointed me
with praise that I waxed indiscreet, and one day, as I was swinging on
the rings, and he was pointing out to some prospective patrons my
extraordinary merits, my grasp relaxed at the wrong moment and I came
sailing earthward from on high. It seemed to me that, like Milton's
Lucifer, "from dawn to eve I fell," M. Huguenin sprinting to intercept
my fall; but I landed on a mat and was little the worse for it. I fear
the prospective patrons were not persuaded, by my performance, of the
expediency of gymnastic training. On the other hand, M. Huguenin
managed to dispose to my father of one of his multum-in-parvo
exercising-machines, on the understanding that it was to be taken back
at half-price on the expiration of our stay in Liverpool; but, when
that time came, M. Huguenin failed to remember having been a party to
any such understanding; so the big framework was boxed up, and finally
was resurrected in Concord, where I labored with it for seven or eight
years more during my home-comings from Harvard.

In the intervals of my other pursuits, I was, at this period, sent
into society. The society at Mrs. Blodgett's was, indeed, all that I
desired; but it was doubtless perceived that it was not all that my
polite development required; my Orsonism was too much indulged. I was
sent alone to Sandheys, the Brights' and Heywoods' place, where I was
moderately ill at ease; and also to the house of a lady in town, who
received a good deal of company, and there I was, at first, acutely
miserable. The formalities of the drawing-room and the elegant
conversation overwhelmed me with the kind of torture which Swedenborg
ascribes to those spirits of the lower orders who are admitted
temporarily into the upper heavens. Unlike these unfortunates,
however, I presently got acclimated; other boys of my age appeared,
and numbers of little girls (Mary Warren among them), and now society
occupied all my thoughts. The lady of the house got up private
theatricals--"Beauty and the Beast" was the play. I was cast for the
parts of the Second Sister and of the Beast; Mary Warren was the
Beauty. I got by heart not only my own lines, but those of all the
other performers and the stage directions. The play was received with
applause, and after it was done the actors were feted; my father was
not present, but he appeared greatly diverted by my account of the
proceedings. He was probably testing me in various ways to see what I
was made of, and whether anything could be made of me. He encouraged
my predilection for natural history by getting me books on conchology
and taking me to museums to study the specimens and make pencil
drawings of them. In these avocations I was also companioned by Frank
Channing, whose specialty was ornithology, and who was making a series
of colored portraits of the birds in the museum, very cleverly done.

Frank was the son of the Rev. William Henry Channing, who was pastor
of a Unitarian church in Liverpool; he had brought his family to
England at about the same time that we came. He was a nephew, I
believe, of the William Ellery Channing who was one of the founders of
American Unitarianism, and the brother, therefore, of the Ellery
Channing of Concord. Frank inherited much of the talent of his family.
He was afterwards sent to Oxford, where he took the highest honors.
All intellectual operations came easy to him. He also showed a strong
proclivity to art, and he was wonderfully clever in all kinds of fine
handwork. He was at this time a tall and very handsome boy, about two
years my senior. He was, like myself, fanatically patriotic, an
American of Americans, and this brought us together in a foreign land;
but, aside from that, I have seldom met a more fascinating companion.
I followed him about with joy and admiration. He used to make for me
tiny little three-masted ships, about six inches long, with all the
rigging complete; they were named after the famous American clippers
of the day, and he painted microscopic American flags to hoist over
the taff-rail. He tried to teach me how to paint in water-colors, but
I responded better to his eloquence regarding the future of our
country. He proved to me by a mathematical demonstration, which I
accepted without in the least understanding it, that in fifty years
New York would be larger and more populous than London at the end of
the same period. This brilliant boy seemed fitted for the highest
career in his native country; his father did not contemplate a
permanent stay in England, and in after years I used to look for his
name in our Senate, or among the occupants of the Supreme Bench. But,
as it turned out, he never revisited America, except for short
periods. His father was induced to remain abroad by the success of his
preaching, and Frank, after his career at Oxford, was overpowered by
the subtle attractions of English culture, and could not separate
himself from the old country. I saw him once while I was at Harvard.
He was an Englishman in all outward respects, and seemed to be so
inwardly likewise. The other day I heard of a Frank Channing in
Parliament; probably the same man. But either the effect upon him of
his voluntary expatriation--his failure to obey at eve the voice
obeyed at prime--or some other cause, has prevented him from ever
doing anything to attract attention, or to appear commensurate with
his radiant promise. Henry James is the only American I know who has
not suffered from adopting England; and even he might have risen
higher than he has done had he overcome his distaste to the external
discomforts of the democracy and cast in his lot with ours.

Frank's father was a tall, intellectual, slender Yankee, endowed with
splendid natural gifts, which he had improved by assiduous
cultivation. In the pulpit he rose to an almost divine eloquence and
passion, and a light would shine over his face as if reflected from
the Holy Spirit itself. My father took a pew in his church, and sent
me to sit in it every Sunday; he never went himself. He was resolved,
I suppose, if there was any religion in me, to afford it an
opportunity to come out. Now, I had a religious reverence for divine
things, but no understanding whatever of dogma of any sort. I never
learned to repeat a creed, far less to comprehend its significance. I
was moved and charmed by Mr. Channing's discourses, but I did not like
to sit in the pew; I did not like "church." I remember nothing of the
purport of any of those sermons; but, oddly enough, I do recall one
preached by a gentleman who united the profession of preacher with
that of medicine; he occupied Channing's pulpit on a certain occasion,
and preached on the text in John xix., 34: "But one of the soldiers
with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came thereout blood and
water." The good doctor, drawing on his physiological erudition,
demonstrated at great length how it was possible that blood should be
mingled with the water, and showed at what precise point in Christ's
body the spear must have entered. I seem to hear again his mellifluous
voice, repeating at the close of each passage of his argument, "And
forthwith came thereout blood-AND WATER!" I did not approve of this
sermon; I was not carried to heaven in the spirit by it, as by
Channing's; but somehow it has stuck in my memory all these
forty-eight years.

Often I stayed for a few days at a time at Channing's house; his wife
was a handsome, delicate, very nervous woman; his daughter Fanny was a
beauty, and became still more beautiful in after years; she was
married, when past her first youth, to Edwin Arnold, author of "The
Light of Asia," and of many rhetorical leading articles in the London
Telegraph. She died a few years ago. They were, all of them, kind to
me. I did the best I could to be a good little boy there; but I
recollect Mrs. Channing's face of sorrow and distress when, one day
at dinner, I upset into my lap my plate, which she had just filled
with Irish stew--one of my best-loved dishes. "Frank never does that,"
she murmured, as she wiped me up; "never-never!" Nobody looked
cheerful, and I never got over that mortification.

Julian Hawthorne

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