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Chapter 11


Bennoch and Bright like young housekeepers--"What did you marry that
woman for?"--"Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures"--"The worst book anybody
ever wrote"--"Most magnificent eye I ever saw"--A great deal of the
feminine in Reade--Fire, pathos, fun, and dramatic animation--A
philosophical library in itself--Amusing appanage of his own
book--Oily and voluble sanctimoniousness--Self-worship of the
os-rotundus sort--Inflamed rather than abated by years--"Every word of
it true; but--"--Better, or happier, because we had
lived--Appropriated somebody else's adventure--Filtering remarks
through the mind of a third person--A delightful
Irishman--Unparalleled audacity--An unregenerate opinion--The whole
line of Guelphs in it--"Oh, that somebody would invent a new
sin!"--"The Angel in the House"--Very well dressed--Indomitable
figure, aggressively American--Too much of the elixir of life--A
little strangeness between us--Sunshine will always rest on it.

--

The central event of 1856 was the return from Lisbon and Madeira of my
mother and sisters. Measuring time, as boys do (very sensibly), not by
the regulated pace of minutes, but by the vast spaces covered by
desire, it appeared to me, for some decades, that they had been absent
in those regions for years--two years at least; and I was astonished
and almost incredulous when dates seemed to prove that the interval
had been six or eight months only. It was long enough.

In the course of the previous spring my father made two or three
little excursions of a few days or a week or so in various directions,
commonly convoyed by Bright or Bennoch, who were most enterprising on
his behalf, feeling much the same sort of ambition to show him all
possible of England and leading English folk that a young housekeeper
feels to show her visiting school-friend her connubial dwelling and
its arrangements, and to take her up in the nursery and exhibit the
children. Had my father improved all his opportunities he would have
seen a great deal, but the consulate would have been administered by
the clerks. He took trips through Scotland and the north of England,
and south to London and the environs; dined at the Milton Club and
elsewhere, visited the Houses of Parliament, spent a day with Martin
Farquhar Tupper, author of Proverbial Philosophy, and still was not
remarkably absent from the dingy little office down by the docks, or
from the euchre games in Mrs. Blodgett's smoking-room. For the most
part, I did not accompany him on these excursions, being occupied in
Liverpool with my pursuit of universal culture; yet not so much
occupied as to prevent me from feeling insolvent while he was away,
and rich as Aladdin when he got back. For his part, he struggled with
low spirits caused by anxiety lest the next mail from Portugal should
bring ill news of the beloved invalid there (instead of the cheerful
news which always did come); his real life was suspended until she
should return. Partings between persons who love each other seem to be
absolute loss of being; but that being revives, with a new spiritual
strength, when all partings are over.

Of the people whom he met on these sallies, I saw some, either then or
later: Disraeli, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Reade, Tom Taylor, Bailey,
the author of that once-famous philosophic poem, "Festus"; Samuel
Carter Hall, and a few more. Disraeli, in 1856, had already been
chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the house, and was to hold
the same offices again two years later. He had written all but two of
his novels, and had married the excellent but not outwardly attractive
lady who did so much to sustain him in his career. At a dinner of
persons eminent in political life, about this juncture, Mr. and Mrs.
Disraeli were present, and also Bernal Osborne, a personage more
remarkable for cleverness and aggressiveness, in the things of
statesmanship, than for political loyalty or for a sense of his
obligations to his associates. This gentleman had drunk a good deal
of wine at dinner, and had sat next to Mrs. Disraeli; when the ladies
had left the table he burst out, with that British brutality which
often passes for wit, "I say, Disraeli, what on earth did you marry
that woman for?" All talk was hushed by this astounding query, and
everybody looked at the sallow and grim figure to whom it was
addressed. Disraeli for some moments played with his wineglass,
apparently unmoved; then he slowly lifted his extraordinary black,
glittering eyes to those of his questioner. "Partly for a reason," he
said, measuring his words in the silence, "which you will never be
capable of understanding--gratitude!" The answer meant much for both
of them; it was never forgotten, and it extinguished the clever and
aggressive personage. It was ill crossing swords with Disraeli.

Douglas Jerrold was at the height of his fame and success in this
year; he died, I think, the year following, at the age of fifty-four.
He was very popular during his later lifetime, but he seems to have
just missed those qualities of the humorist which insure immortality;
he is little more than a name to this generation. He was the son of an
actor, and had himself been on the stage; indeed, he had tried several
things, including a short service as midshipman in his Majesty's navy.
He wrote some two-score plays, and was a contributor to Punch from its
outset; there are several books to his credit; and he edited Lloyd's
Weekly Newspaper, which was first called by his own name. But people
who have read or heard of nothing else of his, have heard of or read
"Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures." Douglas Jerrold, however, is by no
means fully pictured by anything which he wrote; his charm and
qualities came out in personal intercourse. Nor does the mere
quotation of his brightnesses do him justice; you had to hear and see
him say them in order to understand them or him. He was rather a short
man, with a short neck and thick shoulders, much bent, and thick,
black hair, turning gray. His features were striking and pleasing; he
had large, clear, prominent, expressive black eyes, and in these eyes,
and in his whimsical, sensitive mouth, he lived and uttered himself.
They took all the bitterness and sting out of whatever he might say.
When he was about to launch one of his witticisms, he fixed his eyes
intently on his interlocutor, as if to call his attention to the good
thing coming, and to ask his enjoyment of it, quite apart from such
application to himself as it might have. It was impossible to meet
this look and to resent whatever might go with it. Thus a friend of
his, who wished to write telling books but could not quite do it, came
to him in haste one day and exclaimed, aggrievedly, "Look here,
Douglas, is this true that was told me--that you said my last book was
the worst I'd ever written?" Douglas gazed earnestly into the flushed
and troubled face, and said, in his softest tones, "Oh no, my dear
fellow, that isn't what I said at all; what I did say was that it was
the worst book anybody ever wrote." Such a retort, so delivered, could
not but placate even an outraged author.

Of Charles Reade my father saw little, and was not impressed by what
he saw; but Reade, writing of him to my sister Una, five-and-twenty
years after, said, "Your father had the most magnificent eye that I
ever saw in a human head." Reade was just past forty at the time he
met my father, and had just published _It Is Never Too Late to
Mend_--the first of his great series of reform novels. Christie
Johnstone and Peg Woffington were very clever, and written with
immense vigor and keenness, but did not give the measure of the man. I
doubt if my father had as yet read any of them; but later he was very
fond of Reade's writings. Certainly he could not but have been moved
by The Cloister and the Hearth, the greatest and most beautiful of all
historical novels. He saw in him only a tall, athletic, light-haired
man with blue eyes. I was more fortunate. I not only came to know
Reade in 1879, but also knew several persons who knew him intimately
and loved and admired him prodigiously; they were all in one story
about him. He was then still tall and athletic, but his wavy hair and
beard were gray; his face was one of the most sensitive men's faces I
ever saw, and his forehead was straight and fine, full of observation
and humor; his eyes were by turns tender and sparkling. There was a
great deal of the feminine in Reade, together with his robust and
aggressive masculinity. The fault of his head was its lack of depth;
there was not much distance from the ear to the nostril, and the
backhead was deficient. It was high above. There was a discord or
incongruity in his nature, which made his life not what could be
called a happy one. He had the impulses of the radical and reformer,
but not the iron or the impassivity which would have enabled him to
endure unmoved the attacks of conservatism and ignorance. He kicked
against the pricks and suffered for it. He was passionate, impatient,
and extreme; but what a lovely, irresistible genius! He was never a
society figure, and withdrew more and more from personal contact with
people; but he kept up to the last the ardor of his attack upon the
abuses of civilization--or what he deemed to be such. He fell into
some errors, but they were as nothing to the good he effected even in
external conditions; and the happiness and benefit he brought to tens
of thousands of readers by the fire, pathos, fun, sweetness,
and--dramatic animation of his stories, and by the nobility and
lovableness of many of the characters drawn in them, are immeasurable,
and will touch us and abide with us again when the welter of the
present transition state has passed. His devotion to the drama injured
his style as a novelist, and also led him to adopt a sort of staccato
manner of construction and statement which sometimes makes us smile.
But upon the ground proper to his genius Reade had no rival. A true
and full biography of him, by a man bold enough and broad enough to
write it, would be a stirring book.

Bailey, the amiable mystical poet, whom my father mildly liked, was
another man my glimpses of whom came at a date much later than this.
He was a small, placid, gently beaming little philosopher, with a
large beard and an oval brow, and though he wrote several things
besides "Festus," they never detached themselves in the public mind
from the general theme of that production. Bailey himself seemed
finally to have recognized this, and he spent his later years (he
lived to a great age) in issuing continually fresh editions of his
book, with expansions and later thoughts, until it got to be a sort of
philosophical library in itself. He appeared in society in order to
give his admirers opportunity to offer up their grateful homage, and
to settle for them all questions relative to the meaning of man and of
religion. No misgivings troubled him; his smile was as an
unintermittent summer noonday. He was accompanied by his wife, with
whom he seemed to be, as Tennyson says, "twinned, like horse's ear and
eye." She relieved him from the embarrassing necessity of saying
illuminative and eulogistic things about himself and his great work.
The book, upon its first publication, was really read by appreciable
numbers of persons; later, I think, "Festus Bailey" came to be, to the
general mind, an amusing kind of appanage of his own work, which was
now taken as read, but ceased to have readers. How happy a little
imperviousness may make a good man!

Tom Taylor, the dramatist, Punch contributor, and society wit, I
remember only as a pale face and a black beard. His wit had something
of a professional tang. There are many like him in club-land and
hanging about the stage; they catch up and remember all the satirical
sayings, the comicalities, and quips that they hear, and they maintain
a sort of factory for the production of puns. Their repartee explodes
like an American boy's string of toy crackers, and involves, to set it
going, no greater intellectual effort. They are not, in their first
state, less intelligent than the common run of men--rather the
contrary; but as soon as they have gone so far as to acquire a
reputation for wit, their output begins to betray that sad,
perfunctory quality which we find in wound-up music-boxes, and that
mechanical rattle makes us forget that they ever had brains. However,
Tom Taylor, with his century of plays and adaptations--among them "Our
American Cousin," which the genius of an actor, if not its own merit,
made memorable--should not be deemed unworthy of the reputation which,
in his time and place, he won. He was at his best when, stimulated by
applause and a good dinner, he portrayed persons and things with a
kind of laughable extravagance, in the mode introduced by Dickens.
Men of his ilk grow more easily in our soil than in the English, and
are much less regarded.

Henry Stevens--"the man of libraries," as my father calls him--was a
New-Englander, born in Vermont; he took betimes to books, came abroad,
and was employed by the British Museum in getting together Americana,
and by various collectors as an agent to procure books, and in these
innocent pursuits his amiable life was passed. He had a pleasing gift
of drollery, which made his companionship acceptable at stag-parties
and in the smoking-room of the clubs, and he had also a fund of
special information on literary subjects which was often of value. I
met him in after-life--twenty-five years after--and age had not
altered him, though, perhaps, custom had somewhat staled his variety.
He was of medium stature, dark haired and bearded. With him was often
seen the egregious Mr. Pecksniff (as Samuel Carter Hall was commonly
known to his acquaintances since the publication of Martin Chuzzlewit
ten years before). Hall was a genuine comedy figure. Such oily and
voluble sanctimoniousness needed no modification to be fitted to
appear before the footlights in satirical drama. He might be called an
ingenuous hypocrite, an artless humbug, a veracious liar, so obviously
were the traits indicated innate and organic in him rather than
acquired. Dickens, after all, missed some of the finer shades of the
character; there can be little doubt that Hall was in his own private
contemplation as shining an object of moral perfection as he portrayed
himself before others. His perversity was of the spirit, not of the
letter, and thus escaped his own recognition. His indecency and
falsehood were in his soul, but not in his consciousness; so that he
paraded them at the very moment that he was claiming for himself all
that was their opposite. No one who knew him took him seriously, but
admired the ability of his performance, and so well was he understood
that he did little or no harm beyond the venting of a spite here and
there and the boring of his auditors after the absurdity of him became
tedious. Self-worshippers of the _os-rotundus_ sort are seldom
otherwise mischievous. He may be sufficiently illustrated by two
anecdotes.

They both occurred at a dinner where I was a guest, and Bennoch sat at
the head of the table. Hall sat at Bennoch's left hand, and my place
was next to Hall's. The old gentleman--he was at this period panoplied
in the dignity of a full suit of snow-white hair, and that unctuous
solemnity and simpering self-complacency of visage and demeanor which
were inflamed rather than abated by years--began the evening by
telling in sesquipedalian language a long tale of an alleged adventure
of his with my father, which, inasmuch as there was no point to it,
need not be rehearsed here; but I noticed that Bennoch was for some
reason hugely diverted by it, and found difficulty in keeping his
hilarity within due bounds of decorum, Hall's tone being all the while
of the most earnest gravity. Later I took occasion to ask Bennoch the
secret of his mirth; was the tale a fiction? "Not a bit of it,"
Bennoch replied; "it's every word of it true; but what tickled me was
that it was myself and not Hall who was in the adventure with your
father; but Hall has been telling it this way for twenty years past,
and has long since come to believe that his lie is the truth." So
ended the first lesson.

The second was administered shortly before the company dispersed. Mr.
Hall again got the floor to deliver one of his more formal moral
homilies. "And, my dear friends--my very dear friends," he went on,
resting his finger-ends upon the table, and inclining his body
affectionately towards his auditors, "may I, as an old man--I think
the oldest of any of you here present--conclude by asking your
indulgence for an illustration from the personal experience and custom
of one who may, I think--who at least has ever striven to be, a humble
Christian gentleman--may I, my dear friends, cite this simple example
of what I have been attempting to inculcate from my own personal
practice, and that of my very dear and valued wife, Mrs. Hall? It has
for very many years been our constant habit, before seeking rest at
night, to kneel down together at our bedside, and to implore,
together, the Divine blessing upon the efforts and labors of the
foregoing day. And before offering up that petition to the Throne of
Grace, my friends "--here the orator's voice vibrated a little with
emotion--"we have ever been sedulous to ask each other, and to
question our own hearts, as to whether, during that day, some human
fellow-creature had been made better, or happier, because we had
lived. And very seldom has it happened--very seldom, indeed, my dear
friends, has it happened--that we were unable to say to ourselves, and
to each other, that, during that day, some fellow-creature, if not
more than one, had had cause for thankfulness because we had lived.
And now I will beg of you, my dear friends," added Mr. Hall, producing
his large, white pocket-handkerchief and patting his eyes with it, "to
pardon a personal allusion, made in fulness of heart and brotherly
feeling, and if there be found in it anything calculated to assist any
of you towards a right comprehension of our Christian responsibilities
towards our fellow-man, I entreat that you take it into your hearts
and bosoms, and may it be sanctified unto you. I have done."

This report may be relied upon as substantially accurate, for the
reporter made a note of the apologue and exhortation soon afterwards.
Mrs. Hall, like her husband, was of Irish birth, and an agreeable and
clever woman. They were both born in 1800, and died, she in her
eighty-second, he in his ninetieth year. He remained the same Hall to
the very end of his long chapter, and really, if no one was the better
because he had lived, I don't know that any one was the worse, in the
long run, either; and there have been Pecksniffs of whom as much could
hardly be affirmed. There is, however, an anecdote of Hall which my
father tells, and seems to have credited; if it be true, it would
appear that once at least in his life he could hardly have implored
the Throne of Grace for a blessing on the deeds of the day. "He told
me," writes my father, "(laughing at the folly of the affair, but,
nevertheless, fully appreciating his own chivalry) how he and Charles
Lever, about ten years since, had been on the point of fighting a
duel. The quarrel was made up, however, and they parted good friends,
Lever returning to Ireland, whence Mr. Hall's challenge had summoned
him." I suspect good Mr. Hall must have once more appropriated
somebody else's adventure; it was not in the heat of youth that the
bloody-minded and unchristian episode is supposed to have occurred,
but when Mr. Hall was in his forty-seventh year.

Durham, the sculptor, was a lifelong friend of Bennoch's, and was
often in my father's company, and he manifested a friendly feeling
towards my father's son long afterwards. He was a man of medium
height, compactly built, with slightly curling hair, and a
sympathetic, abstracted expression of countenance. He was at this time
making a bust of Queen Victoria, and he told us that it was contrary
to court etiquette for her Majesty, during these sittings, to address
herself directly to him, or, of course, for him directly to address
her; they must communicate through the medium of the lady-in-waiting.
The Queen, however, said Durham, sometimes broke through this rule,
and so did the sculptor, the democracy of art, it would seem, enabling
them to surmount the obligation to filter through the mind of a third
person all such remarks as they might wish to make to each other.
Durham also said that when the bust was nearly finished the Queen
proposed that a considerable thickness of the clay should be removed
from the model, which was done. The bust, as an ideal work, was
thereby much improved, but the likeness to her Majesty was
correspondingly diminished. Years afterwards I was talking with W. G.
Wills, the painter and dramatist, a delightful Irishman of the most
incorrigibly republican and bohemian type. He had, a little while
before, been giving lessons in painting to the Princess Louise, who
married the Marquis of Lorne, and who was, herself, exceptionally
emancipated for a royal personage. One day, said Wills (telling the
story quite innocently), the Princess was prevented from coming as
usual to his studio, and he received a message from Windsor Castle,
where the Princess and the Queen were staying, from the Queen's
secretary, commanding his presence there to give the Princess her
lesson, and to spend the night. This would be regarded by the ordinary
British subject not only as an order to be instantly and
unhesitatingly obeyed, but as a high honor and distinction. "But the
fact is," said Wills, with his easy smile, "I'd promised to be at my
friend Corkran's reception that evening, and, of course, I couldn't
think of disappointing him; there was no time to write, so I just sent
a telegram to the castle saying I was engaged." Probably English
society history does not contain a parallel to this piece of audacity,
and one would have liked to see the face of the private secretary of
her Majesty when he opened the telegram. But Wills could not be made
to recognize anything singular in the affair.

Commenting in one of his private note-books, at this time, upon the
subject of modern sculpture in general, my father utters one of his
unregenerate opinions. "It seems to me," he says, "time to leave off
sculpturing men and women naked; such statues mean nothing, and might
as well bear one name as another; they belong to the same category as
the ideal portraits in books of beauty or in the windows of
print-shops. The art does not naturally belong to this age, and the
exercise of it, I think, had better be confined to manufacture of
marble fireplaces." As we shall see, he modified this radical view
before he left Italy; but there is some ground of truth in it,
nevertheless.

Here is another bit of art criticism. He has been giving a detailed
description of the sitting-room in one of our lodgings, and of the
objects contained in it, evidently as a part of his general practice
to record the minor facts of English life, to serve as a background
for the English romance he hoped to write afterwards. "On the
mantle-piece," he writes, "are two little glass vases, and over it a
looking-glass (not flattering to the beholder), and above hangs a
colored view of some lake or seashore, and on each side a cheap
colored print of Prince Albert and one of Queen Victoria. And, really,
I have seen no picture, bust, or statue of her Majesty which I feel to
be so good a likeness as this cheap print. You see the whole line of
Guelphs in it--fair, blue-eyed, shallow-brained, commonplace, yet with
a simple kind of heartiness and truth that make one somewhat
good-natured towards them."

"I must see Dickens before I leave England," he wrote, commenting upon
the various tales he heard of him from henchmen and critics; but he
never did see him, nor Thackeray either, whom he perhaps wished still
more to meet. Thackeray visited America while we were abroad; and when
Dickens came to Boston to read, my father was dead. Nor did he see
Bulwer, an apostrophe by whom he quotes: "Oh, that somebody would
invent a new sin, that I might go in for it!" Tennyson he saw, but did
not speak with him. He sat at table, on one occasion, with Macaulay,
and remarked upon the superiority over his portraits of his actual
appearance. He made the acquaintance, which ripened into friendship,
in Italy, of Robert Browning and his wife, and of Coventry Patmore,
the author of "The Angel in the House," a poem which he greatly liked.
But, upon the whole, he came in contact with the higher class of
literary men in England less than with others, whom he was less likely
to find sympathetic.

One afternoon, when I had accompanied him to the consulate, there
entered a tall, active man, very well dressed, with black,
thick-curling hair and keen, blue eyes. He seemed under thirty years
of age, but had the self-confident manner of a man of the world, and a
great briskness of demeanor and speech. He sat down and began to tell
of his experiences; he had been all over the world, and knew
everything about the world's affairs, even the secrets of courts and
the coming movements of international politics. He was a striking,
handsome, indomitable figure, and aggressively American. When he went
away, he left with my father a book which he had written, with an
engraved portrait of the author for frontispiece. This volume, faded
and shelf-worn, but apparently unread, bound in the execrable taste of
a generation and a half ago, I recently found among my father's
volumes. It bore on the title-page the dashing signature of George
Francis Train. Train saw things in the large--in their cosmic
relations; from us he was going forth to make a fortune compared with
which that of Monte Cristo would be a trifle. He did make fortunes, I
believe; but there seems to have been in his blood a little too much
of the elixir of life--more than he could thoroughly digest. His
development was arrested, or was continued on lines which carried him
away from practical contact with that world which he believed he held
in the hollow of his hand. My father suspected his soundness; but in
1856 there seemed to be no height to which he might not rise. The
spiritual steam-engine in him, however, somehow got uncoupled from the
mass of the machinery of human affairs, and has been plying in vacua,
so to say, ever since. On the 9th of June came a telegram from
Southampton; my mother and sisters had arrived from Madeira. My father
and I left Liverpool the next day, feeling that our troubles were
over. In the afternoon we alighted at the little seaport and took a
cab to the Castle Hotel, close to the water. My father, with a face
full of light, sprang up-stairs to the room in which my mother awaited
him; I found myself with my sisters and Fannie Wrigley, the faithful
nurse and companion who had accompanied them on their travels. How
tall and mature Una was! What a big girl baby Rose had become! There
was a little strangeness between us, but great good-will; we felt that
there were a great many explanations to be made. In a few minutes I
was called up-stairs to my mother. At the first glance she seemed
smaller than formerly; her face appeared a little different from my
memory of it; I was overcome by an odd shyness. She smiled and held
out her arms; then I saw my beloved mother, and a great passion of
affection poured through me and swept me to her. I was whole again,
and indescribably happy.

There was never such another heavenly room as that parlor in the
Castle Hotel; never another hotel so delightful, or another town to be
compared with Southampton. I was united to all I loved there, and in
my thoughts sunshine will always rest on it.

Julian Hawthorne

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