Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

success

mensely fortunate in reflecting an ex- He knew more, I think, about the rustraordinary personality – takes its place tic American speech than all others towith the few great elegies in our lan- gether who have known anything of it, guage, gives a hand to Lycidas and to so much more closely, justly, and sympaThyrsis.

thetically had he noted it. He honored I may not go into detail, or I should it with the strongest scientific interest, speak of twenty other things, especial- and indeed he may well have been on ly of the mellow, witty wisdom of The terms of reciprocity with a dialect that Cathedral, and of the infinite, intricate had enabled him to produce a masterdelicacy of Endymion — more tremu- piece. The only drawback I can imalous, more penetrating, than any other of gine to a just complacency in this transthe author's poetic productions, I think, action would have been the sense that and exceptionally fine in surface. As the people are few, after all, who can for The Biglow Papers, they seem to measure the minute perfection of the me, in regard to Mr. Lowell, not so - a success not only of swift inmuch produced as productive — produc- sight, but of patient observation. Mr. tive of a clear, delightful image of the Lowell was as capable of patience in temper and nature of the man. One illustrating New England idiosyncrasies says of them, not that they are by him, as he was capable of impatience. He but that they are his very self — full never forgot, at any rate, that he stood of his opinions and perceptions, his hu- for all such things — stood for them mor and his wit, his character, his ex- particularly during the years he spent perience, his talk, and his intense con- in England; and his attitude was made sciousness of race. They testify to many up of many curious and complicated and things, but most of all to the thing I admirable elements. He was so proud have last named; and it may seem to — not for himself, but for his country — those whose observation of the author that he felt the need of a kind of official was most complete during the conclud- version of everything that in other quaring years of his life that they could ters might be judged anomalous there. testify to nothing more characteristic. Theoretically he cared little for the judgIf he was inveterately, in England and ment of other quarters, and he was alon the Continent, the American abroad ways amused — the good-natured British (though jealous indeed of the liberty to Lion in person could not have been be at home even there), so the lucubra- more so - at “well-meaning " compli- : tions of Parson Wilbur and his contrib- ment or commendation ; it required, it utors are an unsurpassably deliberate must be admitted, more tact than is exhibition of the primitive home-quali- usually current to incur the visitation of ty. I may seem to be going far when I neither the sharper nor the sunnier form say that they constitute to my sense the of his irony. But in fact the national author's most literary production ; they consciousness was too acnte in him for illustrate, at any rate, his inexhaustible slumber at his post, and he paid, in a interest in the question of style and his certain restlessness, the penalty of his extraordinary acuteness in dealing with imagination, of the fatal sense of perit. They are a wonderful study of style spective and the terrible faculty of com– by which I mean of organized ex parison. It would have been intolerable pression - and nothing could be more to him, moreover, to be an empirical significant than the fact that he should American, and he had organized his have put his finest faculty for linguis- loyalty with a thoroughness of which his tics at the service of the Yankee char- admirable wit was an efficient messenacter.

ger. He never anticipated attack, though

it would be a meagre account of his knowledge that it could have communiattitude to say it was defensive ; but cated one to an object that he cherished he took appreciation for granted, and as he cherished the English tongue. eased the way for it with reasons that That was the innermost atmosphere of were cleverer in nothing than in appear- his mind, and he never could have afing casual. These reasons were innu- forded, on this general question, any merable, but they were all the reasons policy but a policy of annexation. He of a lover. It was not simply that he was capable of convictions in the light loved his country — he was literally in of which it was clear that the language love with it.

he wrote so admirably had encountered If there be two kinds of patriotism, in the United States not corruption, but the latent and the patent, his kind was conservation. Any conviction of his on essentially the latter. Some people for this subject was a contribution to sciwhom the world is various and univer- ence, and he was zealous to show that sal, and who dread nothing so much as the speech of New England was most seeing it cornered, regard this particu- largely that of an older and more verlar sentiment as a purely practical one, nacular England than the England that a prescription of duty in a given case, to-day finds it queer. He was capable like a knack with the coiled hose when of writing perfect American to bring out the house is on fire, or the plunge of this archaic element. He kept in genthe swimmer when a man is overboard. eral the two tongues apart, save in so They grudge it a place in the fore- far as his English style betrayed a conground of the spirit — they consider nection by a certain American tact in that it shuts out the view. Others find the art of leaving out. He was perhaps it constantly comfortable and perpetual- sometimes slightly paradoxical in the ly fresh — find, as it were, the case al- contention that the language had inways given; for them the immediate curred no peril in its western advenview is the view and the very atmos- tures ; this is the sense in which I phere of the mind, so that it is not meant just now that he occasionally a question only of performance, but of crossed the line. The difficulty was not contemplation as well. Mr. Lowell's that his vision of pure English could horizon was too wide to be curtained not fail in America sometimes to be out, and his intellectual curiosity such clouded - the peril was for his vision as to have effectually prevented his of pure American. His standard was shutting himself up in his birth cham- the highest, and the wish was often, no ber; but if the local idea never kept doubt, father to the thought. The Bighis intelligence at home, he solved the low Papers are delightful, but nothing difficulty by at least never going forth could be less like The Biglow Papers without it. When he quitted the hearth than the style of the American newsit was with the household god in his paper. He lent his wit to his theories, hand, and as he delighted in Europe it but one or two of them lived on him was to Europe that he took it. ever like unthrifty sons. had a household god such a magnificent None the less it was impossible to be outing, nor was made free of so many witness of his general action during his strange rites and climes; never, in short, residence in England without feeling had any patriotism such a liberal airing. that, not only by the particular things If, however, Mr. Lowell was loath to ad- he did, but by the general thing he was, mit that the American order could have he contributed to a large ideal of peace. an infirmity, I think it was because it We certainly owe to him (and by “we” would have cost him so much to ac- I mean both countries — he made that

[ocr errors]

plural elastic) a mitigation of danger. The combination made a quality which There is always danger between coun- pervaded his whole intellectual charactry and country, and danger in small ter; for the quality of his diplomatic and shameful forms as well as big and action, of his public speeches, of his inspiring ones; but the danger is less talk, of his influence, was simply the and the dream of peace more rosy when genius that we had always appreciated they have been beguiled into a common in his critical writings. The hours and admiration. A common aversion even places with which he had to deal were will do — the essential thing is the dis- not equally inspiring; there was, ineviposition to share. The poet, the writer, tably, colorless company, there were dull the speaker, ministers to this community; dinners, influences prosaic and functions he is Orpheus with his lute — the lute mechanical; but he was, substantially, that pacifies the great stupid beasts of always the messenger of the Muses, and international prejudice; so that if a quar- of that particular combination of them rel takes place over the piping form of which had permitted him to include a the loved of Apollo it is as if he were tenth in their number — the infallible rent again by the Mænads. It was a sister to whom humor is dear. I mean charm to the observant mind to see how that the man and the author, in him, Mr. Lowell kept the Mænads in their were singularly convertible; it was what place — a work admirably continued by made the author so vivid. It was also his successor in office, who had, indeed, what made that voice of civilization to under his roof, an inestimable assistant whose harmony I have alluded practiin the process. Mr. Phelps was not, as cally the same thing as the voice of I may say, single-handed; which was his literature. Mr. Lowell's style was an predecessor's case even for some time indefeasible part of him, as his correprior to an irreparable bereavement. spondence, if it be ever published, will The prying Furies, at any rate, during copiously show; it was in all relations these years, were effectually snubbed, his natural channel of communication. and will, it is to be hoped, never again This is why, at the opening of this pahold their snaky heads very high. The per, I ventured to speak of his happy spell that worked upon them was sim- exercise of a great opportunity as at ply the voice of civilization, and Mr. bottom the revanche of letters. This, at Lowell's advantage was that he hap- any rate, the literary observer was free pened to find himself in a supremely to see in it; such an observer made a good place for producing it. He pro- cross against the day, as an anniversary duced it both consciously and uncon- for form, and an anniversary the more sciously, both officially and privately, memorable that form, when put to tests from principle and from instinct, in the that might have been called severe, was hundred spots, on the thousand occa- so far from being found wanting in subsions, which it is one of the happiest stance, met the occasion in fact so comidiosyncrasies of English life to supply; pletely. I do not pretend that during and since I have spoken so distinctly of Mr. Lowell's residence in England the his patriotism, I must add that after all public which he found constituted there he exercised the virtue most in this par- spent most of its time in reading his ticular way. His new friends liked him essays; I only mean that the faculty it because he was at once so fresh and so relished in him most was the faculty ripe, and this was predominantly what most preserved for us in his volumes of he understood by being a good Ameri- criticism. can. It was by being one in this sense It is not an accident that I do not that he broke the heart of the Furies. linger over the contents of these volumes - this has not been a part of my States will draw their sustenance it is undertaking. They will not go out of too soon to say; the question will be betfashion, they will keep their place and ter answered when we have the disciples hold their own; for they are full of more clearly in our eye. We seem albroad - based judgment, and of those ready, however, to distinguish the quarstamped sentences of which we are as ter from which they will not draw it. naturally retentive as of gold and silver Few of them, as yet, appear to have in coin. Reading them over lately in large their hand, or rather in their head, any portions, I was struck not only with the such treasure of knowledge. “good things” that abound in them, but It was when his lifetime was longest with the soundness and fullness of their that the fruit of culture was finest in inspiration. It is intensely the air of him and that his wit was most profuse. letters, but it is like that of some tem- In the admirable address on Democracy perate and restorative clime. I judge that he pronounced at Birmingham in them perhaps with extravagant fond- 1884, in the beautiful speech on the ness, for I am attached to the class to Harvard anniversary of 1886, everywhich they belong; I like such an at- thing is so supremely well said that we mosphere, I like the living fragrance seem to be reading some consecrated of the book-room. In turning over Mr. masterpiece; they represent, in the highLowell's critical pages, I seem to hear est perfection, the maturity of a masterthe door close softly behind me, and to ly talent. There are places where he see in the shaded lamplight one of the seems in a sort of mystical communicasweetest chances that life gives us of tion with the richest sources of English being happy. I see an apartment brown prose.“ But this imputed and vicarious and book-lined, which is the place in longevity, though it may be obscurely the world most convertible into fairy- operative in our lives and fortunes, is land. The turning of the leaves and no valid offset for the shortness of our the crackling of the fire are the only days, nor widens by a hair's breadth things that break its stillness the still the horizon of our memories." He ness in which mild miracles are wrought. sounds like a younger brother of Bacon These are the miracles of evocation, of and of Milton, either of whom, for inresurrection, of transmission, of insight, stance, could not have uttered a statelier of history, of poetry. It may be a little

be a little word on the subject of the relinquishroom, but it is a great world ; it

may

be ment of the required study of Greek a deep solitude, but it is a mighty com- than that “oblivion looks in the face pany. In this critical chamber of Mr. of the Grecian Muse only to forget her Lowell's there is a charm, to my sense, errand.” On the other hand, in the adin knowing what is outside of the closed dress delivered in 1884 before the Engdoor — it intensifies both the isolation lish Wordsworth Society, he sounds like and the experience. The big new west- no one but his inveterately felicitous self. ern order is outside, and yet within all In certain cases, Wordsworth, like Elias seems as immemorial as Persia. It is the prophet, “ • stands up as fire and like a little lighted cabin, full of the his word burns like a lamp.' But too ingenuities of home, in the gray of a often, when left to his own resources great ocean. Such ingenuities of home and to the conscientious performance of are what represent, in Mr. Lowell's case, the duty laid upon him to be a great the conservatism of the author. His poet quand même, he seems diligently home was the receding past — it was intent on producing fire by the primithere that his taste was at ease. From tive method of rubbing the dry sticks what quarter his disciples in the United of his blank verse one against the other, while we stand in shivering expecta- of his youth?) was lodged here, and at tion of the flame that never comes.” the end he came back every year to feel It would be difficult to express better the touch of it. He gave himself Engthe curious evening chill of the author lish summers, and if some people should of The Excursion, which is so like the say that the gift was scarcely liberal; conscious mistake of camping out in au- others, who met him on this ground, will tumn.

reply that such seasons drew from him, It was an extreme satisfaction to the in the circle of friendship, a radiance very many persons in England who val- not inherent in their complexion. This ned Mr. Lowell's society that the ter- association became a feature of the Lonmination of his official mission there don May and June – it held its own proved not the termination of the epi- even in the rank confusion of July. It sode. He came back for his friends pervaded the quarter he repeatedly in- he would have done anything for his habited, where a commonplace little friends. He also, I surmise, came back house, in the neighborhood of the Padsomewhat for himself, inasmuch as he dington station, will long wear in its entertained an affection for London narrow front, to the inner sense of many which he had no reason for conceal- passers, a mystical gold-lettered tablet. ing. For several successive years he re- Here he came and went, during several appeared there with the brightening months, for such and such a succession months, and I am not sure that this ir- of years; here one could find him at responsible and less rigorously sociable home in the late afternoon, in his lengthperiod did not give him his justest im- ened chair, with his cherished pipe and pressions. It surrendered him, at any his table piled high with books. Here rate, more completely to his friends and he practiced little jesting hospitalities. to several close and particularly valued for he was irrepressibly and amusingties. He felt that he had earned the ly hospitable. Whatever he was in his right to a few frank predilections. Eng- latest time, it was, even in muffled mislish life is a big pictured story-book, eries of gout, with a mastery of laughter and he could dip into the volume where and forgetfulness. Nothing amused him he liked. It was altogether delightful more than for people to dine with him, to turn some of the pages with him, and few things, certainly, amused them and especially to pause — for the mar

as much.

His youth came back to him ginal commentary in finer type, some not once for all, but twenty times for of it the model of the illuminating foot- every occasion. He was certainly the note - over the massive chapter of Lon- most boyish of learned doctors.

This was always particularly striking It is very possible not to feel the during the several weeks of August and charm of London at all; the foreigner September that he had formed the habit indeed who does so is a very rare bird. of spending at Whitby, on the YorkIt marks the comparative community of shire coast. It was here, I think, that the two big branches of the English race he was most naturally at his ease, most that of all aliens Americans are most humorously evaded the hard bargain of stisceptible to this many-voiced appeal. Time. The place is admirable — an old They are capable of loving the capital red-roofed fishing-town, in one of the of their race almost with passion, which indentations of a high, brave coast, with for the most part is the way it is loved the ruins of a great abbey just above it, when it is not hated. The sentiment an expanse of purple moor behind, and was strong in Mr. Lowell ; a part of a convenient extension in the way of an the spirit of his maturity (or shall I say informal little modern watering-place. VOL. LXIX.-- N0. 411.

4

don.

« AnteriorContinuar »