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Chapter 12


Talked familiarly with kings and queens--Half-witted girl who giggled
all the time--It gnawed me terribly--A Scotch terrier named Towsey--A
sentiment of diplomatic etiquette--London as a physical entity--Ladies
in low-necked dresses--An elderly man like a garden-spider--Into the
bowels of the earth--The inner luminousness of genius--Isolated and
tragic situation--"Ate ever man such a morsel before!"--The great,
wild, mysterious Borrow--Her skeleton, huddled, dry, and
awful--"Ma'am, you expose yourself!"--Plane, spokeshave, gouge, and
chisel--"I-passed-the-Lightning"--Parallel-O-grams-A graduate of
Antioch--"Continual cursing"--A catastrophe--"Troubles are a sociable
sisterhood"--"In truth I was very sorry"--He had dreamed wide--awake
of these things--A friend of Emerson and Henry James--Embarked at
Folkestone for France.

--

We spent our first reunited week at the Castle Hotel, which was
founded on an ancient castle wall, or part of it; traces of it were
shown to guests. The harbor lapped the sea-wall in front; the Isle of
Wight, white-ramparted, gleamed through the haze in the offing. I
suppose, during that week, we were enough employed in telling one
another our histories during our separation; and naturally that of my
mother and sisters filled the larger space. They had brought home
words and phrases in a foreign tongue, which made me feel very
ignorant; they had talked familiarly with kings and queens; they had
had exciting experiences in Madeira; they brought with them
photographs and colored prints of people and places, unlike anything
that I had seen. My mother, who was an unsurpassed narrator of events,
gave us wonderful and vivid accounts of all they had seen and done,
which I so completely assimilated that to this day I could repeat a
great deal of them; my father listened with eyes like stars (as my
mother would have said), and with a smile in the corners of his mouth.
It was glorious weather all the time, or so it seems to have been to
me. My sisters and I renewed our acquaintance, and found one another
none the worse. Nobody called on us except a Mrs. Hume, with whom a
stay of a fortnight was projected; she kept a girls' school, and, this
being vacation, she would take us as boarders. We were starved there,
as only a pinching, English, thin-bread-and-butter housekeeper can
starve people; and my sisters and I had for our playmate a half-witted
girl who was staying over the vacation, and who giggled all the time.
Mrs. Hume had aroused my enthusiasm by telling me that there were
endless sea-anemones along the coast; but Providence seemed hostile to
my sea-anemone proclivities; for it turned out that what Mrs. Hume
understood by sea-anemones was a small, white-flowering weed that grew
on the low bluff beside the water. I never told her my disappointment,
imagining that it would distress her; but it gnawed me terribly, and
she did not merit such forbearance.

We would much better have stayed at the hotel, only that they charged
us fourteen dollars a day, which was considered exorbitant in those
days. There were seven of us, including Fanny, the nurse. What an
age, when two dollars a head was exorbitant! What Mrs. Hume charged us
I know not, but it is only just to admit that it must have been a good
deal less than one hundred dollars a week; though, again, it must not
be forgotten that translucent bread-and-butter is not expensive. We
were sent there, I suppose, in order to remind us that this was still
the world that we were living in, after all, and not yet Paradise. We
came out from her sobered and chastened, but cheerful still; and
meanwhile we visited Stonehenge and other local things of beauty or
interest. Then Mr. Bennoch (who, to tell the truth, had introduced
Mrs. Hume to us) invited us to spend a month at his house in
Blackheath, while he and his wife were making a little tour in
Germany, and we arrived at this agreeable refuge during the first half
of July. My father records that he was as happy there as he had ever
been since leaving his native land. It was a pleasant little house, in
a semi-countrified spot, and it contained, besides the usual furniture
proper to an English gentleman and his wife of moderate fortune, a
little Scotch terrier named Towsey, who commanded much of the
attention of us children, and one day inadvertently bit my thumb; and
I carry the scar, for remembrance, to this day.

Many well-known persons passed across our stage here; and London, with
all its wonders, was at our doors, the wide expanse of its
smoke-piercing towers visible in our distance. All the while my father
kept the official part of himself at Liverpool, where his consular
duties still claimed his attention; he went and came between Mrs.
Blodgett's and Black-heath. The popularity of the incomparable
boarding-house in Duke Street had continued to increase, and he was
obliged to bestow himself in a small room at the back of the building,
which was reputed to be haunted by the spirit of one of his
predecessors in office, who had not only died in it, but had often
experienced there the terrors of delirium tremens; but the ghost,
perhaps from a sentiment of diplomatic etiquette, never showed itself
to my father. Or it may have been that the real self of him being in
Blackheath, what remained was not sufficient to be conscious of a
spiritual presence. He came and went, like sunlight on a partly
cloudy day. I recollect taking a walk over the Heath at evening with
him and the doctor who was attending my mother; Mr. Bennoch was with
us; it must have been just before he and his wife went to the
Continent. After walking some distance (the gentlemen chatting
together, and I gambolling on ahead) we came to the summit of a low
rise, from which we beheld London, flung out, all its gloomy length,
before us; and in all my thoughts of London as a physical entity the
impression then received of it returns to me. It lay vast, low, and
obscure in front of the dull red of the sunset, with dim lights
twinkling dispersedly throughout it, and the dome of St. Paul's
doubtfully defining itself above the level. There is no other general
view of London to be compared with this, seen under those conditions.
Soon after, we came to some ridges and mounds, which, said Bennoch,
marked the place where were buried the heaps of the slain of some
great prehistoric battle--one, at least, which must have taken place
while the Romans yet ruled Britain. It was a noble scene for such an
antique conflict, when man met man, foot to foot and hand to hand,
with sword and spear. My mind was full of King Arthur and his
Round-Table knights of the Pendragonship, and I doubted not that their
mightiest fight had been fought here.

There were many walks in London itself. One day, going west along the
Strand, we found ourselves drawn into the midst of a vast crowd near
Charing Cross; some royal function was in progress. Threading our way
slowly through the press, we saw a troop of horsemen in steel
breastplates, with nodding plumes on their helmets, and drawn swords
carried upright on their thighs--the famous Horse Guards; and farther
on we began to see carriages with highly ornamental coachmen and
footmen passing in dilatory procession; within them were glimpses of
ladies in low-necked dresses, feathers in their hair, and their necks
sparkling with jewels.

At length we turned off towards the north, and by-and-by were entering
a huge building of gray stone, with tall pillars in front of it, which
my father told me was the British Museum. What a place for a boy!
Endless halls of statues; enormous saloons filled with glass-cases of
shells; cases of innumerable birds; acres of butterflies and other
insects; strange objects which I did not understand--magic globes of
shining crystal, enormous masses of iron which were said to have
fallen from the sky; vases and jewels; and finally, at the farther end
of a corridor, a small door, softly opening, disclosed a circular room
of stupendous proportions, domed above, the curving walls filled with
myriads of books. In the centre was a circular arrangement of desks,
and in the midst of these an elderly man, like a garden-spider in his
web; but it was his duty to feed, not devour, the human flies who sat
or walked to and fro with literary meat gathered from all over the
world. It was my first vision of a great library.

Another time we went--all of us, I think--to the Tower of London. I
vibrated with joy at the spectacle of the array of figures in armor,
and picked out, a score of times, the suit I would most gladly choose
to put on. Here were St. George, King Arthur, Sir Scudamour, Sir
Lancelot--all but their living faces and their knightly deeds! Then I
found myself immured in dungeons with walls twenty feet thick,
darksome and low-browed, with tiny windows, and some of them bearing
on their stones strange inscriptions, cut there by captives who were
nevermore to issue thence, save to the block. Here the great Raleigh
had been confined; here, the lovable, rash-tempered Essex; here, the
noble Sir Henry Vane, who had once trod the rocky coast of my own New
England. Everywhere stood on the watch or paced about the Beef-eaters
in their brilliant fifteenth-century motley. I have never since then
passed the portals of the Tower, nor seen again the incomparable gleam
of the Koh-i-noor--if it were, indeed, the Koh-i-noor that I saw, and
not a glass model foisted on my innocence.

Again, I followed my father down many flights of steps, into the
bowels of the earth; but there were lights there, and presently we
passed through a sort of turnstile, and saw lengthening out before us
two endless open tubes, of diameter twice or thrice the height of a
man, with people walking in them, and disappearing in their
interminable perspective. We, too, entered and began to traverse them,
and after we had proceeded about half-way my father told me that the
river Thames was flowing over our heads, with its ships on its
surface, and its fishes, and its bottom of mud and gravel--under all
these this illuminated corridor, with ourselves breathing and seeing
and walking therein. Would we ever again behold the upper world and
the sky? The atmosphere was not pleasant, and I was glad to find
myself climbing up another flight of stairs and emerging on the other
side of the river, which we had crossed on foot, dry-shod.

Of the famous personages of this epoch I did not see much; only I
remember that a woman who seemed taller than common, dressed in a dark
silk gown, and moving with a certain air of composure, as if she knew
she was right, and yet meant to be considerate of others; whose
features were plain, and whose voice had a resonance and modulation
unlike other voices, was spoken of in my hearing as bearing a name
which I had heard often, and which had a glamour for my boyish
imagination--Jenny Lind. There also rises before me the dark,
courteous visage and urbane figure of Monckton Milnes; but there was
something more and better than mere courtesy and urbanity about him;
the inner luminousness, I suppose, of what was nearly genius, and
would have been altogether that but for the swaddling-clothes of rank
and society which hampered it. My father thought him like Longfellow;
but there was an English materialism about Milnes from which the
American poet was free. Henry James told me long afterwards a comical
tale of how, being left to browse in Mimes's library one afternoon, he
strayed into an alcove of pretty and inviting volumes, in sweet
bindings, mellowed by age, and was presently terrified by the
discovery that he was enmeshed in the toils of what bibliophiles term,
I think, "Facetiae"--of which Milnes had a collection unmatched among
private book-owners. Milnes's social method was The Breakfast, which
he employed constantly, and nothing could be more agreeable--in
England; we cannot acclimate it here, because we work in the
afternoon. Of Miss Bacon, of the Bacon-wrote-Shakespeare theory, I saw
nothing, but heard much, for a time, in our family circle; my father
seemed to have little doubt of her insanity, and absolute certainty of
the despotic attitude she adopted towards her supporters, which was
far more intolerable than the rancor which she visited on those who
disregarded her monomaniacal convictions. My mother, out of pure
compassion, I believe, for the isolated and tragic situation in which
the poor woman had placed herself, tried with all her might to read
the book and believe the theory; she would take up the mass of
manuscript night after night, and wade through it with that truly
saintlike self-abnegation which characterized her, occasionally, too,
reading out a passage which struck her. The result was that she could
not bring herself to disbelieve in Shakespeare, but she conceived a
higher admiration than ever of Bacon; and that, too, was
characteristic of her.

We made several incursions into the surrounding country. One was to
Newstead, where, from the talkative landlady of the hotel, we heard
endless stories about Byron and his wife; this was before Mrs. Harriet
Beecher Stowe published her well-intended but preposterous volume
about the poet. Then we visited Oxford, and were shown about by the
mayor of the town, and by Mr. S. C. Hall, and were at one moment
bathed in the light emanating from Lady Waldegrave, of which interview
my father, in his private note-book, speaks thus: "Lady Waldegrave
appeared; whereupon Mr. Speirs (the mayor) instantly was transfigured
and transformed--like the English snob he is, worthy man--and looked
humbler than he does in the presence of his Maker, and so respectful
and so blest that it was pleasant to behold him. Nevertheless, she is
but a brummagem kind of countess, after all, being the daughter of
Braham, the famous singer, and married first to an illegitimate son of
an Earl Waldegrave--not to the legitimate son and possessor of the
title (who was her first love)--and after the death of these two to
the present old Mr. Harcourt. She is still in her summer, even if it
be waning, a lady of fresh complexion and light hair, a Jewish nose
(to which her descent entitles her), a kind and generous expression of
face, but an officer-like figure and bearing. There seems to be a
peculiarity of manner, a lack of simplicity, a self-consciousness,
which I suspect would not have been seen in a lady born to the rank
which she has attained. But, anyhow, she was kind to all of us, and
complimentary to me, and she showed us some curious things which had
formerly made part of Horace Walpole's collection at Twickenham--a
missal, for instance, splendidly bound and beset with jewels, but of
such value as no setting could increase, for it was exquisitely
illuminated by the own hand of Raphael himself! I held the precious
volume in my grasp, though I fancy (and so does my wife) that the
countess scarcely thought it safe out of her own hands. In truth, I
suppose any virtuoso would steal it if he could; and Lady Waldegrave
has reason to look to the safe-keeping of her treasures, as she
exemplified by telling us a story while exhibiting a little silver
case. This once contained a portion of the heart of Louis XII. (how
the devil it was got I know not), and she was showing it one day to
Strickland, Dean of Westminster, when, to her horror and astonishment,
she saw him open the case and swallow the royal heart! Ate ever man
such a morsel before! It was a symptom of insanity in the dean, and I
believe he is since dead, insane." It was after this interview with
the countess that we visited Old Boston, and when my parents told old
Mr. Porter about the missal his jolly eyes took on a far-away
expression, as if he saw himself in the delightful act of purloining
it, "in obedience to a higher law than that which he broke."

The man who, of all writing men, was nearest to my heart in those
years, and long after, was George Borrow, whose book, Lavengro, I had
already begun to read. The publication of this work had made him
famous, though he had written two or three volumes before that, and
was at this very time bringing out its sequel, Romany Rye. But Borrow
was never a hanger-on of British society, and we never saw him. One
day, however, Mr. Martineau turned up, and, the conversation chancing
to turn on Borrow, he said that he and George had been school-mates,
and that the latter's gypsy proclivities had given him a singular
influence over other boys. Finally, he had persuaded half a dozen of
them to run away from the school and lead a life of freedom and
adventure on the roads and lanes of England. To this part of Mr.
Martineau's tale I lent an eager and sympathetic ear; bat the narrator
was lowered in my estimation by the confession that he himself had not
been a member of Borrow's party. He went on to say that the fugitives
had been pursued and captured and brought back to bondage; and upon
Borrow's admitting that he had been the instigator of the adventure,
he was sentenced to be flogged, and that it was on the back of this
very Martineau that he had been "horsed" to undergo the punishment!
Imagine the great, wild, mysterious Borrow mounted upon the ascetic
and precise cleric that was to be, and the pedagogue laying on! My
father asked concerning the accuracy of some of Borrow's statements in
his books, to which Martineau replied that he could not be entirely
depended on; not that he meant to mislead or misrepresent, but his
imagination, or some eccentricity in his mental equipment, caused him
occasionally to depart from literal fact. Very possibly; but Borrow's
imagination brought him much nearer to essential truth than adherence
to what they supposed to be literal facts could bring most men.

One of the most interesting expeditions of this epoch--though I cannot
fix the exact date--was to an old English country-seat, built in the
time of Henry VIII., or earlier, and added to from age to age since
then, until now it presented an irregularity and incongruousness of
plan which rendered it an interminable maze of delight to us children
wandering through it. We were taken in charge by the children of the
family, of whom there were no fewer than fourteen, all boys, with only
twelve years between the eldest and the youngest (some of them being
twins). Hide-and-seek at once suggested itself as the proper game for
the circumstances, but no set game was needed; the house itself was
Hide-and-seek House; you could not go twenty feet without getting
lost, and the walls of many of the rooms had sliding panels, and
passages through the thickness of them, and even staircases, so that
when one of us went into a room there was no predicting where he would
come out. Finally they brought us to a black, oaken door with a great,
black lock on it, and bolts at the top and bottom; it was near the end
of a corridor, in the oldest wing of the building. The door, in
addition to its native massiveness, was studded with great nails, and
there were bands of iron or steel crossing it horizontally. When we
proposed to enter, our friends informed us that this door had been
closed one hundred and eighty years before and had never been opened
since then, and that it had shut in a young woman who, for some
reason, had become very objectionable or dangerous to other persons
concerned. The windows of the room, they added, had been walled up at
the same time; so there this unhappy creature slowly starved to death
in pitch darkness. There, doubtless, within a few feet of where we
stood, lay her skeleton, huddled, dry, and awful in the garments she
wore in life. Sometimes, too, by listening long at the key-hole, you
could hear a faint sound, like a human groan; but it was probably
merely the sigh of the draught through the aperture. This story so
horrified me and froze my young blood that the fancies of Mrs.
Radcliffe and Edgar Allan Poe seemed like frivolous chatter beside it.

About the middle of September the Bennochs returned from the
Continent, and we made ready to transfer ourselves to the lodgings in
Southport which had been prepared for us. Bennoch, who was soon to
meet with the crucial calamity of his career, was in abounding
spirits, and he told my father an anecdote of our friend Grace
Greenwood, which is recorded in one of the private note-books.
"Grace, Bennoch says," he writes, "was invited to a private reading of
Shakespeare by Charles Kemble, and she thought it behooved her to
manifest her good taste and depth of feeling by going into hysterics
and finally fainting away upon the floor. Hereupon Charles Kemble
looked up from his book and addressed himself to her sternly and
severely. 'Ma'am,' said he, 'this won't do! Ma'am, you disturb the
company! Ma'am, you expose yourself!'"

This last hit had the desired effect, for poor Grace probably thought
that her drapery had not adjusted itself as it ought, and that perhaps
she was really exposing more of her charms than were good to be
imparted to a mixed company. So she came to herself in a hurry, and,
after a few flutterings, subsided into a decorous listener. Bennoch
says he had this story from an eye-witness, and that he fully believes
it; and I think it not impossible that, betwixt downright humbug and a
morbid exaggeration of her own emotions, Grace may have been betrayed
into this awful fix. I wonder how she survived it!

At Southport we remained from the middle of September to the following
July, 1857. In addition to my aquarium, I was deeply involved in the
ship-building industry, and, the more efficiently to carry out my
designs, was apprenticed to a carpenter, an elderly, shirt-sleeved,
gray-bearded man, who under a stern aspect concealed a warm and
companionable heart. There were boys at the beach who had little
models of cutters and yachts, and I conceived the project of making a
sail-boat for myself. My father seems to have thought that some
practical acquaintance with the use of carpenter's tools would do me
no harm--by adding a knowledge of a handicraft to my other culture--so
he arranged with Mr. Chubbuck that I should attend his work-shop for
instruction. Mr. Chubbuck, accordingly, gave me thorough lessons in
the mysteries of the plane, the spokeshave, the gouge, and the chisel,
and finally presented me with a block of white pine eighteen inches
long and nine wide, and I set to work on my sloop. He oversaw my
labors, but conscientiously abstained from taking a hand in them
himself; the model gradually took shape, and there began to appear a
bluff-bowed, broad-beamed craft, a good deal resembling the French
fishing-boats which I afterwards saw off the harbors of Calais and
Havre. The outside form being done, I entered upon the delightful and
exciting work of hollowing it out with the gouge, narrowly avoiding,
more than once, piercing through from the hold into the outer world.
But the little ship became more buoyant every day, and finally stood
ready for her deck. This I prepared by planing down a bit of plank to
the proper thickness--or thinness--and carefully fitted it into its
place, with companionways fore and aft, covered with hatches made to
slide in grooves. Next, with chisel, spoke-shave, and sand-paper, I
prepared the mast and fitted a top-mast to it, and secured it in its
place with shrouds and stays of fine, waxed fishing-line. The boom
and gaff were then put in place, and Fanny Wrigley (who had aforetime
made my pasteboard armor and helmet) now made me a main-sail,
top-sail, and jib out of the most delicate linen, beautifully hemmed,
and a tiny American flag to hoist to the peak. It only remained to
paint her; I was provided with three delectable cans of oil-paint, and
I gave her a bright-green under-body, a black upper-body, and white
port-holes with a narrow red line running underneath them. Thus
decorated, and with her sails set, she was a splendid object, and the
boys with bought models were depressed with envy, especially when I
called their attention to the stars and stripes. This boat-building
mania of mine had originated while we were at Mrs. Blodgett's, where
the captain of one of the clippers gave me a beautiful model of his
own ship, fully rigged, and perfect in every detail; only it would not
sail, being solid. Concerning his clipper, by-the-way, I once
overheard a bit of dialogue in Mrs. Blodgett's smoking-room between my
captain and another. "Do you mean to say," demanded the latter, "that
you passed the Lightning?" To which my captain replied, in measured
and impressive tones, "I-passed-the-Lightning!" The Lightning, it may
be remarked, was at that time considered the queen of the Atlantic
passage; she had made the trip between Boston and Liverpool in ten
days. But my captain had once shown her his heels, nevertheless. I
wanted to christen my sloop The Sea Eagle, but my father laughed so
much at this name that I gave it up; he suggested The Chub, The
Mud-Pout, and other ignoble titles, which I indignantly rejected, and
what her name finally was I have forgotten. She afforded me immense
happiness.

At Southport we had a queer little governess, Miss Brown, who came to
us highly recommended both as to her personal character and for
ability to instruct us in arithmetic and geometry, geography, English
composition, and the rudiments of French. She was barely five feet in
height, and as thin and dry as an insect; and although her personal
character came up to any eulogium that could be pronounced upon it,
her ignorance of the "branches" specified was, if possible, greater
than our own. She was particularly perplexed by geometry; she aroused
our hilarity by always calling a parallelogram a parallel-O-gram, with
a strong emphasis on the penultimate syllable; and she spent several
days repeating over to herself, with a mystified countenance, the
famous words, "The square of the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of
the squares of the two legs." What were legs of a triangle, and how,
if there were any, could they be square? She never solved this enigma;
and although we liked little Miss Brown very much, she speedily lost
all shadow of control over us; we treated her as a sort of inferior
sister, and would never be serious. "English governess" became for us
a synonym for an amiable little nonentity who knew nothing; and I was
surprised to learn, later, from the early works of Miss Rhoda
Broughton, that they could be beautiful and intelligent. Miss Brown
did not outlast our residence in Southport.

From Southport we removed to Manchester, and thence, after exhausting
the exposition, to Leamington, where we spent September and October of
1857. We expected to proceed direct from Leamington to France and
Italy, but we were destined to be delayed in London till January of
1858.

It was in Leamington that we were joined by Ada Shepard. She was a
graduate of Antioch, a men-and-women's college in Ohio, renowned in
its day, when all manner of improvements in the human race were
anticipated from educating the sexes together. Miss Shepard had got a
very thorough education there, so that she knew as much as a
professor, including--what would be of especial service to us--a
knowledge of most of the modern European languages. What seemed, no
doubt, of even more importance to her was her betrothal to her
classmate, Henry Clay Badger; they were to be married on her return to
America. Meanwhile, as a matter of mutual convenience (which rapidly
became mutual pleasure), she was to act as governess of us children
and accompany our travels. Ada (as my father and mother presently
called her) was then about twenty-two years old; she had injured her
constitution--never robust--by addiction to learning, and had
incidentally imbibed from the atmosphere of Antioch all the
women's-rights fads and other advanced opinions of the day. These,
however, affected mainly the region of her intellect; in her nature
she was a simple, affectionate, straightforward American maiden, with
the little weaknesses and foibles appertaining to that estate; and it
was curious to observe the frequent conflicts between these
spontaneous characteristics and her determination to live up to her
acquired views. But she was fresh-hearted and happy then, full of
interest in the wonders and beauties of the Old World; she wrote,
weekly, long, criss-crossed letters, in a running hand, home to
"Clay," the king of men; and periodically received, with an
illuminated countenance, thick letters with an American foreign
postage-stamp on them, which she would shut herself into her chamber
to devour in secret. She was a little over the medium height, with a
blue-eyed face, not beautiful, but gentle and expressive, and wearing
her flaxen hair in long curls on each side of her pale cheeks. She
entered upon her duties as governess with energy and good-will, and we
soon found that an American governess was a very different thing from
an English one (barring the Rhoda Broughton sort). Her special aim at
present was to bring us forward in the French and Italian languages.
We had already, in Manchester, made some acquaintance with the books
of the celebrated Ollendorff; and my father, who knew Latin well, had
taught me something of Latin grammar, which aided me in my Italian
studies. I liked Latin, particularly as he taught it to me, and it
probably amused him, though it must also often have tried his patience
to teach me. I had a certain aptitude for the spirit of the language,
but was much too prone to leap at conclusions in my translations. I
did not like to look out words in the lexicon, and the result was
sometimes queer. Thus, there was a sentence in some Latin author
describing the manner in which the Scythians were wont to perform
their journeys; relays of fresh horses would be provided at fixed
intervals, and thus they were enabled to traverse immense distances at
full speed. The words used were, I think, as follows: "Itaque
conficiunt iter continuo cursu." When I translated these, "So they
came to the end of their journey with continual cursing," I was
astonished to see my father burst into inextinguishable laughter,
falling back in his chair and throwing up his feet in the ebullience
of his mirth. I heard a good deal of that "continual cursing" for some
years after, and I believe the incident prompted me to pay stricter
attention to the dictionary than I might otherwise have done.

However, what with Ollendorff and Miss Shepard, we regarded ourselves,
by the time we were ready to set out for the Continent, as being in
fair condition to ask about trains and to order dinner. My mother,
indeed, had from her youth spoken French and Spanish fluently, but not
Italian; my father, though he read these languages easily enough,
never attained any proficiency in talking them. After he had wound up
his consular affairs, about the first week in October, we left
Leamington and took the train for a few days in London, stopping at
lodgings in Great Russell Street, close to the British Museum.

We were first delayed by friendly concern for the catastrophe which at
this moment befell Mr. Bennoch. He was a wholesale silk merchant, but
his literary and social tendencies had probably led him to trust too
much to the judgment and ability of his partners; at all events, on
his return from Germany he had found the affairs of his establishment
much involved, and he was now gazetted a bankrupt. In the England of
those days bankruptcy was no joke, still less the avenue to fortune
which it is sometimes thought to be in other countries; and a man who
had built up his business during twenty years by conscientious and
honorable work, and who was sensitively proud of his commercial honor,
was for a time almost overwhelmed by the disaster. My father felt the
most tender sympathy and grief for him, and we were additionally
depressed by a report, circumstantially detailed (but which proved to
be unfounded), that Mrs. Bennoch had died in childbirth--they had
never had children. "Troubles," commented my father "(as I myself
have experienced, and many others before me), are a sociable
sisterhood; they love to come hand-in-hand, or sometimes, even, to
come side by side, with long-looked-for and hoped-for good-fortune."
He was doubtless thinking of that dark and bright period when his
mother lay dying in his house in Salem and The Scarlet Letter was
waiting to be born.

A few days later he went by appointment to Bennoch's office in Wood
Street, Cheapside, and I will quote the account of that interview for
the light it casts on the characters of the two friends:

"When I inquired for Bennoch, in the warehouse where two or three
clerks seemed to be taking account of stock, a boy asked me to write
my name on a slip of paper, and took it into his peculiar office. Then
appeared Mr. Riggs, the junior partner, looking haggard and anxious,
poor man. He is somewhat low of stature, and slightly deformed, and I
fancied that he felt the disgrace and trouble more on that account.
But he greeted me in a friendly way, though rather awkwardly, and
asked me to sit down a little while in his own apartment, where he
left me. I sat a good while, reading an old number of Blackwood's
Magazine, a pile of which I found on the desk, together with some
well-worn ledgers and papers, that looked as if they had been pulled
out of drawers and pigeon-holes and dusty corners, and were not there
in the regular course of business. By-and-by Mr. Riggs reappeared,
and, telling me that I must lunch with them, conducted me up-stairs,
and through entries and passages where I had been more than once
before, but could not have found my way again through those extensive
premises; and everywhere the packages of silk were piled up and ranged
on shelves, in paper boxes, and otherwise--a rich stock, but which had
brought ruin with it. At last we came to that pleasant drawing-room,
hung with a picture or two, where I remember enjoying the hospitality
of the firm, with their clerks all at the table, and thinking that
this was a genuine scene of the old life of London City, when the
master used to feed his 'prentices at a patriarchal board. After all,
the room still looked cheerful enough; and there was a good fire, and
the table was laid for four. In two or three minutes Bennoch came
in--not with that broad, warm, lustrous presence that used to gladden
me in our past encounters--not with all that presence, at
least--though still he was not less than a very genial man, partially
be-dimmed. He looked paler, it seemed to me, thinner, and rather
smaller, but nevertheless he smiled at greeting me, more brightly, I
suspect, than I smiled back at him, for in truth I was very sorry. Mr.
Twentyman, the middle partner, now came in, and appeared as much or
more depressed than his fellows in misfortune, and to bear it with a
greater degree of English incommunicativeness and reserve. But he,
too, met me hospitably, and I and these three poor ruined men sat down
to dinner--a good dinner enough, by-the-bye, and such as ruined men
need not be ashamed to eat, since they must needs eat something. It
was roast beef, and a boiled apple-pudding, and--which I was glad to
see, my heart being heavy--a decanter of sherry and another of port,
remnants of a stock which, I suppose, will not be replenished. They
ate pretty fairly, but scarcely like Englishmen, and drank a
reasonable quantity, but not as if their hearts were in it, or as if
the liquor went to their hearts and gladdened them. I gathered from
them a strong idea of what commercial failure means to English
merchants--utter ruin, present and prospective, and obliterating all
the successful past; how little chance they have of ever getting up
again; how they feel that they must plod heavily onward under a burden
of disgrace--poor men and hopeless men and men forever ashamed. I
doubt whether any future prosperity (which is unlikely enough to come
to them) could ever compensate them for this misfortune, or make them,
to their own consciousness, the men they were. They will be like a
woman who has once lost her chastity: no after-life of virtue will
take out the stain. It is not so in America, nor ought it to be so
here; but they said themselves they would never again have put
unreserved confidence in a man who had been bankrupt, and they could
not but apply the same severe rule to their own case. I was touched by
nothing more than by their sorrowful patience, without any fierceness
against Providence or against mankind, or disposition to find fault
with anything but their own imprudence; and there was a simple
dignity, too, in their not assuming the aspect of stoicism. I could
really have shed tears for them, to see how like men and Christians
they let the tears come to their own eyes. This is the true way to do;
a man ought not to be too proud to let his eyes be moistened in the
presence of God and of a friend. They talked of some little
annoyances, half laughingly. Bennoch has been dunned for his gas-bill
at Blackheath (only a pound or two) and has paid it. Mr. Twentyman
seems to have received an insulting message from some creditor. Mr.
Riggs spoke of wanting a little money to pay for some boots. It was
very sad, indeed, to see these men of uncommon energy and ability, all
now so helpless, and, from managing great enterprises, involving vast
expenditures, reduced almost to reckon the silver in their pockets.
Bennoch and I sat by the fireside a little while after his partners
had left the room, and then he told me that he blamed himself, as
holding the principal position in the firm, for not having exercised a
stronger controlling influence over their operations. The two other
men had recently gone into speculations, of the extent of which he had
not been fully aware, and he found the liabilities of the firm very
much greater than he had expected. He said this without bitterness,
and said it not to the world, but only to a friend. I am exceedingly
sorry for him; it is such a changed life that he must lead hereafter,
and with none of the objects before him which he might heretofore have
hoped to grasp. No doubt he was ambitious of civic, and even of
broader public distinction; and not unreasonably so, having the gift
of ready and impressive speech, and a behavior among men that wins
them, and a tact in the management of affairs, and many-sided and
never-tiring activity. To be a member of Parliament--to be lord
mayor--whatever an eminent merchant of the world's metropolis may
be--beyond question he had dreamed wide-awake of these things. And now
fate itself could hardly accomplish them, if ever so favorably
inclined. He has to begin life over again, as he began it twenty-five
years ago, only under infinite disadvantages, and with so much of his
working-day gone forever.

"At parting, I spoke of his going to America; but he appeared to think
that there would be little hope for him there. Indeed, I should be
loath to see him transplanted thither myself, away from the warm,
cheerful, juicy English life into our drier and less genial sphere; he
is a good guest among us, but might not do well to live with us."

Bennoch was never lord mayor or member of Parliament; I do not know
that he cared to be either; but he lived to repay all his creditors
with interest, and to become once more a man in easy circumstances,
honored and trusted as well as loved by all who knew him, and active
and happy in all good works to the end of his days. There could be no
keeping down such a man, even in England; and when I knew him, in
after years, he was the Bennoch of yore, grown mellow and wise.

We were now ready for the Continent, when symptoms of some malady
began to manifest themselves among the younger persons of the family,
which presently culminated in an attack of the measles. It was six
weeks before we were in condition to take the road again. Meanwhile we
were professionally attended by Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson, a
homoeopathist, a friend of Emerson and of Henry James the elder, a
student of Swedenborg, and, at this particular juncture, interested in
spiritualism. In a biography of my father and mother, which I
published in 1884, I alluded to this latter circumstance, and some
time afterwards I received from his wife a letter which I take this
opportunity to print:

"4 FINCHLEY ROAD, N. W., June 19, 1885.

"DEAR SIR,--May I beg of you in any future edition of the Life of your
father to leave out your passage upon my husband and spiritualism? He
is utterly opposed to it now. On Mr. Home's first appearance in
England very remarkable things did occur; but from the first I was a
most decided opponent, and by my firmness I have kept all I know and
love from having anything to do with it for at least thirty-five
years. You may imagine, therefore, I feel hurt at seeing so
spiritually minded a man as my husband really is to be mixed up with
so evil a thing as spiritism. You will pardon a faithful wife her just
appreciation of his character. One other author took the liberty of
using his name in a similar way, and I wrote to him also. Believe me,

"Yours faithfully,

"E. A. WILKINSON."

The good doctor and his wife are now, I believe, both of them in the
world where good spirits go, and no doubt they have long ere this
found out all about the rights and wrongs of spiritism and other
matters, but there is no doubt that at the time of my father's
acquaintance with him the doctor was a very earnest supporter of the
cult. He was a man of mark and of brains and of most lovable personal
quality; he wrote books well worth deep study; Emerson speaks of "the
long Atlantic roll" of their style. Henry James named his third son
after him--the gentle and brave "Wilkie" James, who was my school-mate
at Sanborn's school in Concord after our return to America, and who
was wounded in the fight at Fort Fisher while leading his negro
soldiers to the assault. But for the present, Dr. Wilkinson, so far
as we children knew him, was a delightful and impressive physician,
who helped us through our measles in masterly style, under all the
disadvantages of a foggy London winter.

On the 5th of January, 1858--we were ready to start the next
day--Bennoch came to take tea with us and bid us farewell. "He keeps
up a manly front," writes my father, "and an aspect of cheerfulness,
though it is easy to see that he is a very different man from the
joyous one whom I knew a few months since; and whatever may be his
future fortune, he will never get all the sunshine back again. There
is a more determinate shadow on him now, I think, than immediately
after his misfortunes; the old, equable truth weighs down upon him,
and makes him sensible that the good days of his life have probably
all been enjoyed, and that the rest is likely to be endurance, not
enjoyment. His temper is still sweet and warm, yet, I half fancy, not
wholly unacidulated by his troubles--but now I have written it, I
decide that it is not so, and blame myself for surmising it. But it
seems most unnatural that so buoyant and expansive a character should
have fallen into the helplessness of commercial misfortune; it is most
grievous to hear his manly and cheerful allusions to it, and even his
jokes upon it; as, for example, when we suggested how pleasant it
would be to have him accompany us to Paris, and he jestingly spoke of
the personal restraint under which he now lived. On his departure,
Julian and I walked a good way down Oxford Street and Holborn with
him, and I took leave of him with the truest wishes for his welfare."

The next day we embarked at Folkestone for France, and our new life
began.

Julian Hawthorne

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