Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 8


Cataclysmic adventures--On the trail of dazzling fortunes--"Lovely,
but reprehensible Madham"--The throne saves the artist--English robin
redbreast--A sad and weary old man--"Most indelicate woman I've ever
known"--Perfectly chaste--Something human stirred dimly--"She loves
me; she loves me!"--The Prince of Wales and half-a-crown--Portentous
and thundering title--Honest English simplicity--"The spirit
lacking"--Abelard, Isaac Newton, and Ruskin--A famous and charming
woman of genius--Deep and wide well of human sympathy--The
whooping-cough.

--

In the spring of 1854 we were visited by John O'Sullivan, his wife and
mother, and a young relative of theirs, Miss Ella Rogers. O'Sullivan
had been appointed Minister to the Court of Portugal, and was on his
way thither. He was a Democrat of old standing; had edited the
Democratic Review in 1837, and had made my father's acquaintance at
that time through soliciting contributions from him; later they became
close friends, and when my sister Una was born, he sent her a silver
cup, and was ever after called "Uncle John" in the family, and, also,
occasionally, "the Count"--a title which, I believe, had some warrant
in his ancestry. For, although an American, Uncle John was born at sea
off the coast of Spain, of an Irish father and a mother of
aristocratic connections or extraction (I am a little uncertain, I
find, on this point); I think her parents were Italian. Uncle John had
all the charming qualities of the nations mentioned, and none of their
objectionable ones; though this is not to say that he was devoid of
tender faults, which were, if anything, more lovable than his virtues.
Beneath a tranquil, comely, and gentle exterior burned all the fire
and romance of the Celt; his faith and enthusiasm in "projects" knew
no bounds; he might be deceived and bankrupted a hundred times, and
would toe the mark the next time with undiminished confidence. He was
continually, and in the quietest way, having the most astonishing and
cataclysmic adventures; he would be blown up, as it were, by a
dynamite explosion, and presently would return from the sky
undisturbed, with only a slight additional sparkle in his soft eyes,
and with the lock of hair that fell gracefully over his forehead only
a trifle disordered. The most courteous and affectionate of men, with
the most yielding and self-effacing manners, he had the spirit of a
paladin, and was afraid of nothing. He would empty his pockets--or if,
as too often happened, they were already empty, he would pledge his
credit to help a friend out of a hole; and, on the other hand, he was
always hot upon the trail of a dazzling fortune, which, like Emerson's
Forerunners, never was overtaken. It would not long have availed him,
had it been otherwise, for never was there a Monte Cristo who lavished
wealth as O'Sullivan habitually did in anticipation, and would
undoubtedly have done in fact had the opportunity been afforded him.
He was gifted with a low, melodious, exquisitely modulated voice, and
a most engaging and winning manner, and when he set out to picture the
simple and easy methods whereby he proposed to make millions, it was
next to impossible to resist him. He was like a beautiful, innocent,
brilliant child, grown up, endowed with an enchanter's wand, which was
forever promising all the kingdoms of the earth to him, but never (as
our modern phrase is) delivered the goods. He regarded my father as a
king of men, and he had, times without number, been on the very edge
of making him, as well as himself, a multifold millionaire. However,
President Pierce did what he could for him by giving him the
Portuguese mission (after first offering it to my father), and
O'Sullivan did excellent work there. But he became
interested--abstractly--in some copper-mines in Spain, which, as he
clearly demonstrated, could be bought for a song, and would pay a
thousand per cent, from the start. Partly to gratify him, and partly
with the hope of at least getting his money back, my father finally,
in 1858 or 1859, advanced him ten thousand dollars to finance the
scheme. I saw the dear old gentleman, a generation later, in New York;
he had the same clear, untroubled, tranquil face as of old; his hair,
though gray, was as thick and graceful as ever; his manner was as
sweet and attractive; but though, in addition to his other
accomplishments, he had become an advanced spiritualist, he had not
yet coined into bullion his golden imagination. He had forgotten the
Spanish copper-mines, and I took care not to remind him of them. Peace
to his generous, ardent, and loving soul!

Uncle John's wife was a good mate for him, in her own way as brilliant
and fascinating as he and with an unalterable belief in her husband's
destiny. She was a tall, slender woman, with kindling eyes, a lovely
smile, and a wonderful richness and vivacity of conversation; nor have
I ever since known so truly witty a woman. But she lacked the
delightful mellowness and tenderness for which Uncle John was so
remarkable. The mother, Madame O'Sullivan, as she was called, was a
type of the finegrained, gently bred aristocrat, every outline
softened and made gracious by the long lapse of years through which
she had lived. She sat like a picture of reverend but still animated
age, with white, delicate lace about her pale cheeks and dark, kindly,
weary eyes, and making a frost-work over her silvery hair. As for Miss
Ella Rogers, it is with some embarrassment that I refer to her;
inasmuch as I fell violently in love with her at first sight, and I
have reason to think that she never fully appreciated or adequately
responded to my passion, though, at the time, I was nearly one-third
of her age--she being five-and-twenty. She was a dark and lively
beauty, thoroughly self-possessed, and versed in social
accomplishments, and gifted with dramatic talent. She afterwards made
a great impression in the court of the Portuguese monarch, and more
than once the King himself chose her as his partner in the ball.
Reports of these gayeties came to my ears; and I found the other day
part of a letter which I addressed to her, remonstrating against these
royal flirtations. It is written in pencil, upon the blue office-paper
of the consulate, and I can recall distinctly the small, indignant boy
and knight-errant, sitting at the desk opposite his hugely diverted
father, and beginning his epistle thus: "Lovely, but reprehensible
Madham!" I suspect that I consulted my father as to the spelling of
the second adjective, for it shows signs of having been overhauled;
but after that my feelings became too strong for me, and the remainder
of the letter is orthographically so eccentric that it was probably
cast aside and a copy made of it. But the rough draught, by some
inconceivable chance, was kept, and turns up now, after half a
century, with a strange thread of pathos woven by time into the
texture of its absurdity. Poor, little, lovely reprehensible Madham!
Her after-career was not a happy one.

These agreeable persons filled our stuccoed villa full, and gave
poignant addition to the quiet, gray beauty of that English spring. A
year or so later, when my mother's health compelled her to escape to a
warmer climate from fog-ridden Liverpool, she went with my sisters to
Lisbon, where the O'Sullivans were by that time established, and spent
several months with them, and saw all the splendors of the naive but
brilliant little court of Dom Pedro V. She brought home a portfolio of
etchings presented to her, and done by his youthful Majesty; which
indicate that his throne, little as he cared for it, preserved him
from the mortification of failing as an artist.

Early in the winter of the following year (1855), Mr. James Buchanan,
appointed Minister to the Court of St. James, found his way to my
father's retreat in Rock Park. The English winter was a mild affair
compared with our recent experiences of the arctic snows of Lenox;
there was no coasting, and not much snow-balling; but we had the
pleasure of making friends with the English robin-redbreast, a most
lovable little creature, who, every morning, hopped confidingly on our
window-sill and took bread-crumbs almost from our hands. The old
American diplomatist and President that was to be (though he
vehemently disclaimed any such possibility) distracted our attention
from robin for a day or two. He had the aspect, perhaps cultivated for
political and democratic purposes, of a Pennsylvania farmer; he was, I
believe, born on a farm in Franklin County, in that State, at the
beginning of the last decade of the eighteenth century. He was tall
and ungainly in figure, though he bore himself with a certain security
and dignity; his head was high and thinly covered with gray hair; he
carried it oddly, a little on one side; it was said at the time that
this was due to his having once attempted suicide by cutting his
throat. His visage--heavy, long, and noticeable--had the typical
traits of the American politician of that epoch; his eyes were small,
shrewd, and twinkling; there was a sort of professional candor in his
bearing, but he looked like a sad and weary old man. He talked
somewhat volubly to my father, who kept him going by a question now
and then, as his way generally was with visitors. There was a flavor
of rusticity in his speech; he was not a man of culture or polish,
though unquestionably of great experience of the world. He was dressed
in a wide-skirted coat of black broadcloth, and wore a white choker
put on a little askew. The English, who were prone to be critical of
our representatives, made a good deal of fun of Mr. Buchanan, and told
anecdotes about him which were probably exaggerated or apocryphal. It
was alleged, for example, that, speaking of the indisposition of a
female relative of his, he had observed that it was due to the
severity of the English climate. "She never enjoyed delicate health
at home," he had declared; "in fact, she was always one of the most
indelicate women I've ever known." And it was asserted that he had
been admonished by the Lord High Chamberlain, or by the Gold
Stick-in-Waiting, for expectorating upon the floor of her Majesty's
palace at a levee. Such ribaldries used to be popular in English
mouths concerning American visitors before the war; they were all of
similar tenor. Mrs. Abbott Lawrence was described as having bought a
handsome shawl at a shop on Lord Street, in Liverpool, and to have
walked down that populous thoroughfare with her new purchase on her
shoulders, ignorant that it bore the legend, inscribed on a white
card, which the salesman had neglected to remove, "Perfectly chaste."
The same lady was reported as saying, in asking an invitation to a
ball on behalf of Mrs. Augustus Peabody, of Boston, "I assure you, on
our side of the water, Mrs. Peabody is much more accustomed to grant
favors than to ask them." Such anecdotes seem to bear upon them the
stamp of the British manufacturer. There would not seem to be much
harm in them, yet it is such things that sometimes interfere most
acutely with the entente cordials between nations. We had another
glimpse of Mr. Buchanan, in London, about a year later, and he then
remarked to my mother, indirectly referring to such reports, that the
Queen had treated him very kindly. For the present, he faded from the
Rock Park horizon, and we returned to the robin; nor have I been able
to understand how it happened that he made so distinct an impression
upon my memory. But a child's memory is unaccountable, both in what it
loses and in what it retains.


One Sunday forenoon, when it was not too cold for the young folks to
be swinging on that gate which has been mentioned, and the elders were
in-doors, enjoying the holiday in their own way, we descried an old
gentleman approaching up the winding street. As he drew nearer he
presented rather a shabby, or, at least, rusty appearance. His felt
hat was not so black as it had been; his coat was creased and soiled;
his boots needed a blacking. He swung a cane as he stumped along, and
there was a sort of faded smartness in his bearing and a knowingness
in his grim old visage, indicating some incongruous familiarity with
the manners of the great world. He came to a halt in front of the
house, and, after quizzing it for a moment, went up the steps and beat
a fashionable tattoo with the knocker.

Summoned in-doors soon afterwards, we found this questionable
personage sitting in the drawing-room. His voice was husky, but
modulated to the inflections of polite breeding; he used a good many
small gestures, and grinned often, revealing the yellow remains of his
ancient teeth; he laughed, too, with a hoarse sound in his throat.
There was about him an air of determined cheerfulness and affability,
though between the efforts the light died down in his wrinkled old
eyes and the lines of his face sagged and deepened. He offered to kiss
my sisters, but they drew back; he took my hand in his own large, dry
one with its ragged nails and swollen joints. At length he inveigled
my younger sister to his knee, where she sat gazing unflinchingly and
solemnly into him with that persistence which characterizes little
girls of four or five who are not quite sure of their ground. Her
smooth, pink-and-white cheeks and unwinking eyes contrasted vividly
with his seamed yellowness and blinking grin; for a long time he
coquetted at her, and played peep-bo, without disturbing her gravity,
making humorous side comments to the on-lookers meanwhile. There was a
ragged and disorderly mop of gray hair on his head, which showed very
dingy beside the clear auburn of the child's. One felt a repulsion
from him, and yet, as he chatted and smirked and acted, there was a
sort of fascination in him, too. Some original force and fire of
nature still glowed and flickered in his old carcass; something human
stirred dimly under the crust of self-consciousness and artificiality.
Rose's adamantine seriousness finally relaxed in a faint smile, upon
which he threw up his hands, emitted a hoarse cackle of triumph, and
exclaimed, "There--there it is! I knew I'd get it; she loves me--she
loves me!" He then permitted her to slip down from his knee and
withdraw to her mother, and resumed the talk which our entrance had
interrupted. It was chiefly about people of whom we youngsters knew
nothing--though our ignorance only argued ourselves unknown, for he
named persons all famous in their day. He had seen George IV.,
Napoleon, Talleyrand, Wellington; he had been intimate with Coleridge,
De Quincey, Wordsworth, Lamb, Monk Lewis; he was a sort of elder
brother or deputy uncle to Tennyson, Browning, Dickens; he had quaffed
mountain-dew with Walter Scott and had tramped the moors shoulder to
shoulder with Kit North; the courts of Europe were his familiar
stamping-grounds; he had the nobility and gentry at his finger-ends;
he was privileged, petted, and sought after everywhere; if there were
any august door we wished to enter, any high-placed personage we
desired to approach, any difficult service we wanted rendered, he was
the man to help us to our object. Who, then, was he? He has long been
utterly forgotten; but he was well known, or notorious, during the
first half of the last century; he was such a character as could
flourish only in England. His name was William Jerdan; he was born in
1785, and was now, therefore, about seventy years old. He had started
in life poor, with no family distinction, but with some more or less
useful connections either on the father's or the mother's side. He had
somehow got an English education, and he had pursued his career on the
basis of his native wits, his indomitable effrontery and persistence,
his faculty of familiarity, his indifference to rebuffs, his lack of
shame, conscience, and morality. How he found the means to live nobody
could tell, but he uniformly lived well and had enjoyed the good
things of the world. After maintaining his ground during the first
twenty or thirty years, it had probably been easier for him to forge
along afterwards, for he could impose upon the new generation with his
stories of success in the former one. Uncouth and ugly though he was
by nature, the external polish and trick of good form which he had
acquired, and, no doubt, some inner force of social genius in him, had
influenced men to tolerate and often to like him, and had given him
extraordinary good-fortune with women. He had not only been twice
married, and had many children born in wedlock, but his intrigues and
liaisons had been innumerable, and they had by no means been confined
to the lower ranks of society. That he was a practised liar there can
be no doubt, but he had the long memory which the proverb recommends
to liars, and he was so circumspect that few of his claims and
pretensions lacked solid basis enough to make them pass current in a
hurrying and heedless world. Now, however, in his age, he was wellnigh
at the end of his tether; what we should call his "pull" was losing
its efficiency; he was lapsing to the condition where he would offer
to introduce a man to the Prince of Wales or to Baron Rothschild, and
then ask him for the loan of five pounds--or half a crown, as the case
might be. He was a character for Thackeray. He haunted my father for a
year or two more, and then vanished I know not where.

Poor, dingy old Jerdan purported to be himself a literary man, though
the only thing of his that I ever heard of was a work in four
pretentious volumes of "wretched twaddle"--as my father called
them--which he published under the title of My Autobiography. It
contained a long array of renowned names, with passages appended of
perfectly empty and conventional comment.

But other men crossed our path who had much sounder claims to renown
in literature; among them Samuel Warren, author of half a dozen books,
two of which are still sometimes heard of--_The Diary of a Late
Physician_ and _Ten Thousand a Year_. He lived upon the reputation
which these brought him, though they were published, the first as long
ago as 1830 and the other only ten years later. Like many other
authors, he fancied himself capable of things far better than belonged
to his true metier; and among the books in my father's library is one
called _The Moral and Intellectual Development of the Present Age_--a
thin volume, despite its portentous and thundering title--it carries
the gloss, in Warren's handwriting, "the fruit of many a long year's
reflection." So does every light comedian imagine that he can play
Hamlet. Of Warren himself I barely recall a slight, light figure with
a sharp nose and a manner lacking in repose; indeed, he was very much
like a light comedian in light comedy, eager to hold the centre of the
stage, full of small movements and remarks, and--which more interested
us children--with a gift for turning himself into other people by
slight contortions of countenance and alterations of voice. The
histrionic abilities of Dickens probably affected the social antics of
many writers at this epoch. Warren also told stories in a vivacious
and engaging manner, though, as they were about things and people out
of the sphere of his younger auditors, I remember only the way of the
telling, not what was told. I recalled, later, his anecdotes of Kit
North, who was a friend of his, on account of the contrast between the
stalwart proportions of that old worthy and the diminutive physique of
the novelist; they must have looked, together, like a bear and a
monkey. Warren was born in Wales, though whether of Welsh ancestry I
know not.

When we saw him he was only a trifle over five-and-forty years of age,
so his famous books must have been written when he was hardly more
than a boy.

As for Layard, eminent in his time for his work in Nineveh and
Babylon, and afterwards as a statesman, he did not, I think, come to
Rock Park, nor am I sure that I ever saw him. And yet it seems to me
that I have the picture in my mind of a vigorous, frank, agreeable
personage who was he; not a large man, still less a handsome one, but
full of life, manliness, and honest English simplicity. He was at this
time, like so many of his countrymen, very anxious concerning the
Crimean War, then in its first stages, and vehemently opposed to the
policy which had brought it about, for, up to that time, England and
Russia had been on friendly terms, and Layard could see no promising
or useful future for the Turk. My father shared his views, and he
wrote the following passage in commenting upon the general European
situation of that day and the prospects for England. It has never been
printed, because it stood only for the sentiment of the moment, but
may be opportunely quoted now that the aspect of European politics
shows symptoms of soon undergoing vital changes. "The truth is," wrote
my father, "there is a spirit lacking in England which we in America
do not lack; and for the want of it she will have to resign a foremost
position among the nations, even if there were not enough other
circumstances to compel her to do so. Her good qualities are getting
out of date; at all events, there should be something added to them in
the present stage of the world." England has a good deal changed since
those words were written, and the changes have probably been mainly
for the better, though all the important ones have caused our old
mother discomfort and embarrassment. The medicine of a new age, the
subtle infiltration of anti-insular ideas, the slow emergence of the
democracy have given her many qualms, but they are wholesome ones. Her
best and most cultivated minds are now on the side of progress,
instead of holding by the past, and, should the pinch come, these may
avail to save her better than martinet generals or unwieldy fleets.
The "spirit lacking" in her in 1855 may, perhaps, be found in them.
Whether the spirit in question be as conspicuous with us as it used to
be is another matter.

Henry Bright was still our most frequent visitor, and he brought us
the news and gossip of the world. It was in 1855 that Millais married
the lady who had been Mrs. Ruskin. English society was much fluttered
by this event, and many of Ruskin's friends cut him for a time in
consequence of it. Ruskin was a man of a rare type, not readily
understood in England, where a man is expected, in the fundamental
qualities of his nature at least, to be like everybody else. There are
two noted characters in history with whom, in some respects, he might
be compared, Isaac Newton being one and Abelard the other. All three
were men in whom, owing to causes either natural or accidental, the
intellect was able to absorb all the energies of the nature. The
intellect thus acquired extraordinary power and brilliance, and
appropriated to itself, in a sort of image, as it were, the qualities
which no longer possessed manifestation on the material plane. Nothing
out of the way would, therefore, be noticed, unless or until some
combination of circumstances should bring the exceptional condition
into every-day light. This happened with Ruskin, and he was, of
course, unable to regard the matter in the same light as his critics
did. He viewed his wife's disinclination towards him by the light of
mere cold logic; and the reason his friends were alienated from him
was, not that her grounds of objection to him were justifiable, but
that Ruskin (according to the common report of the time, as quoted by
Mr. Bright) did not see why he and she and Millais should discontinue
their life in common as before. Neither Millais nor Mrs. Ruskin would,
of course, accede to this proposition, and the divorce was accordingly
obtained. Ruskin intended simply to show magnanimity, and in the
course of years this was recognized and he was forgiven, just as we
forgive a person for being color-blind. In our present stage of
civilization we must, in certain matters, follow strict convention on
peril of ostracism, and nothing is less readily condoned in a man's
conduct than any suspicion of complaisance. I did not see either
Ruskin or Millais until 1879 or 1880, of which beholding I will speak
when the time comes.

But we had with us for a short time a famous and charming woman of
genius, who made me for a season forget my infatuation for the
beautiful Ella Rogers. This was Charlotte Cushman. The acquaintance
then begun was renewed in Italy, and maintained till the end of her
life. Such is the power of the spiritual in nature and character to
dominate and even render invisible the physical, that I was
astonished, in after years, to hear Charlotte referred to as a woman
of plain or unattractive features. To me, won from the first by the
expression, the voice, the sphere, the warmth, strength, and nobility
of her presence, she had always seemed one of the handsomest as well
as most delightful of women. She was in her fortieth year, but she had
already announced her purpose of retiring from the stage. Some of her
best work was done in the following twenty years. Critics might call
her face plain, or ugly, if they chose, but there was no doubt that
its range of expression was vast and poignant, that it could reflect
with immense energy the thoughts of the mind, and could radiate the
very soul of tragedy. Her figure was tall and superb and her carriage
stately without any stiffness, and appalling though she was as Lady
Macbeth or Meg Merrilies, in our little drawing-room she was only
simple, sincere, gentle, and winning. Born actress though she was, her
horizon was by no means restricted to things histrionic; she talked
well on many subjects, and was at no loss for means to entertain even
so small and inexperienced a person as myself. I had never seen a
theatre, and did not know what an actress was, but I loved her, and
she was good to me. It was not the interest of the stories she told
me, so much as the personal influence that went with them, that
entranced me. I was sensible of her kindness, and of the hearty
good-will with which she bent her great and gracious self to the task
of making me happy. That wonderful array of tiny charms on her
watch-chain was beautiful and absorbing, owing less to anything
intrinsic in themselves than to some sparkling and lovable
communication from their wearer. If a woman be only large enough and
vigorous enough to begin with, the stage seems to develop her as
nothing else could--to bring out the best in her. It was perhaps the
deep and wide well of human sympathy in Charlotte Cushman that was at
the bottom of her success in her profession, though, of course, she
was greatly aided by her mental and physical gifts. I suppose there
may be women now capable of being actresses as great as she was, but
the audience to call forth their latent powers and ambition seems,
just at present, to be lacking.

Our social diversions at Rock Park were interrupted, at about this
period, by the whooping-cough, which seized upon all of us together,
and I well remember my father almost climbing up the wall of the room
in some of his paroxysms; but he treated it all as a joke, and was
always ready to laugh as soon as he got through coughing. It left no
ill effects except upon my mother, who had bronchial trouble which, as
I have intimated, finally led to the breaking-up of our household. She
was not made for England.

Julian Hawthorne

Sorry, no summary available yet.