Memories of Hawthorne
By Rose Hawthorne Lathrop
A FEW words from a letter of Emerson's to my mother, written after my father's death, will give a true impression of the friendship which existed strongly between the two lovers of their race, who, though they did not have time to meet often, may be said to have been together through oneness of aim:
CONCORD, 11th July .
DEAR MRS. HAWTHORNE, -- Guests and visitors prevented me from writing you, last evening, to thank you for your note, and to say how much pleasure it gives me, that you find succor and refreshment in sources so pure and lofty. The very selection of his images proves Behman poet as well as saint, yet a saint first, and poet through sanctity. It is the true though severe test to put the Teacher to,--to try if his solitary lessons meet our case. And for these thoughts and experiences of which you speak, their very confines and approaches lift us out of the world. I have twice lately proposed to see you, and once was on my way, and unexpectedly prevented. I have had my own pain in the loss of your husband. He was always a mine of hope to me, and I promised myself a rich future in achieving at some day, when we should both be less engaged to tyrannical studies and habitudes, an unreserved intercourse with him. I thought I could well wait his time and mine for what was so well worth waiting. And as he always appeared to me superior to his own performances, I counted this yet untold force an insurance of a long life. Though sternly disappointed in the manner and working, I do not hold the guarantee less real. But I must use an early hour to come and see you to say more.
R. W. EMERSON.
If my father expected a full renewal of comradeship with American men of his own circle, and even the deeper pleasure of such friendship in a maturer prime alluded to by Emerson, circumstances sadly intervened. The thunderstorm of the war was not the only cause of his retiring more into himself than he had done in Europe, although he felt that sorrow heavily. Or perhaps I might say with greater correctness that when he appeared, it was without the joyous air that he had lately displayed in England, among his particular friends, when his literary work was over for the time being after the finishing of "Monte Beni." I remember that he often attended the dinners of the Saturday Club. A bill of fare of one of the banquets, but belonging to an early date, 1852 read: "Tremont House. Paran Stevens, Proprietor. Dinner for Twelve Persons, at three o'clock." A superb menu follows, wherein canvas-back ducks and madeira testify to the satisfaction felt by the gentlemen whose names my father penciled in the order in which they sat; Mr. Emerson, Mr. Clough, Mr. Ellery Channing, Mr. Charles Sumner, Mr. Theodore Parker, Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Lowell, Mr. Greenough, Mr. Samuel Ward, and several others making the shining list. His keen care for the health of his forces induced him to hold back from visits even to his best friends, if he were very deeply at work, or paying more rapidly than usual from his capital of physical strength, which had now begun to sink. Lowell tried to fascinate him out of seclusion, in the frisky letter given in "A Study of Hawthorne;" but very likely did not gain his point, since Longfellow and others had infrequent success in similar attempts.
I chanced to discover the impression my father made upon Dr. Holmes, as we sat beside each other at a dinner given by the Papyrus Club of Boston more than fifteen years ago, on ladies' night. That same evening I dashed down a verbatim account of part of our conversation, which I will insert here.
He passed his card over to my goblet, and took mine. "That is the simplest way, is it not?" he asked.
"I was just going to introduce myself," said I. Then Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard sat down by me, and I turned to speak with her.
In a moment Dr. Holmes held my card forward again "Now let me see!" he said "And you don't know who I am, yet?" I asked. He smiled, gazed at the card through his eyeglasses, and leaned towards me hesitatingly "And what was your name?" he ventured.
He started, and beamed. "There! I thought--but you understand how--if I had made a mistake--Could anything have been worse if you had not been? I was looking, you know, for the resemblance. Some look I seemed to discover, but"--
"The complexion," I helped him by interrupting, "is entirely different."
He went on: "I was--no, I cannot say I was intimate with your father, as others may have been; and yet a very delightful kind of intercourse existed between us. I did not see him often; but when I did, I had no difficulty in making him converse with me. My intercourse with your mother was also of a very gratifying nature."
To this I earnestly replied respecting the admiration of my parents for him.
"I delighted in suggesting a train of thought to your father," Dr. Holmes ran on, in his exquisitely cultured way, and with the esprit which has surprised us all by its loveliness. "Perhaps he would not answer for some time. Sometimes it was a long while before the answer came, like an echo; but it was sure to come. It was as if the high mountain range, you know!--The house-wall there would have rapped out a speedy, babbling response at once; but the mountain!--I not long ago was visiting the Custom House at Salem, the place in which your father discovered those mysterious records that unfolded into 'The Scarlet Letter.' Ah, how suddenly and easily genius renders the spot rare and full of a great and new virtue (however ordinary and bare in reality) when it has looked and dwelt! A light falls upon the place not of land or sea! How much he did for Salem! Oh, the purple light, the soft haze, that now rests upon our glaring New England! He has done it, and it will never be harsh country again. How perfectly he understood Salem!"
"Salem is certainly very remarkable," I responded.
"Yes, certainly so," he agreed. "Strange folk! Salem had a type of itself in its very harbor. The ship America, at Downer's wharf, grew old and went to pieces in that one spot, through years. Bit by bit it fell to atoms, but never ceded itself to the new era. So with Salem, precisely. It is the most delightful place to visit for this reason, because it so carefully retains the spirit of the past; and 'The House of the Seven Gables'!" Dr. Holmes smiled, well knowing the intangibility of that house.
Said I: "The people are rich in extraordinary oddities. At every turn a stranger is astonished by some intense characteristic. One feels strongly its different atmosphere."
"And their very surroundings bear them out!" Dr. Holmes cried, vivacious in movement and glance as a boy. "Where else are the little door-yards that hold their glint of sunlight so tenaciously, like the still light of wine in a glass? Year after year it is ever there, the golden square of precious sunbeams, held on the palm of the jealous garden-patch, as we would hold the vial of radiant wine in our hand! Do you know?" He so forcibly appealed to my ability to follow his thought that I seemed to know anything he wished. "I hope I shall not be doing wrong," he continued,--" I hope not,--in asking if you have any preference among your father's books; supposing you read them, which I believe is by no means always the case with the children of authors."
"I am surprised by that remark. After the age of fifteen, when I read all my father's writings except 'The Scarlet Letter,' which I was told to reserve till I was eighteen, I did not study his books thoroughly till several years ago, in order to cherish the enjoyment of fresh effects,--except 'The Marble Faun,' which I think I prefer."
He answered: "I feel that 'The Scarlet Letter' is the greatest. It will be, it seems to me, the one upon which his future renown will rest."
I admitted that I also considered it the greatest.
In the above conversation I was entranced by what I have experienced often: the praise of my father's personality or work (in many cases by people who have never met him) is not only the courtesy that might be thought decorous towards a member of his family, or the bright zest of a student of literature, but also the glowing ardor of a creature feeling itself a part of him in spirit; one who longs for the human sweetness of the grasp of his hand; who longs to hear him speak, to meet his fellowship, but finds the limit reached in saying, at a distance of time and space, "I love him!" I have lowered my eyes before the emotion to be observed in the faces of some of his readers who were trying to reach him through a spoken word of eagerness. Very few have seen him, but how glad I am to cross their paths! Dr. Holmes's warmth of enthusiasm was so radiant that it could not be forgotten. It lit every word with the magic of the passion we feel for what is perfect, unique, and beyond our actual possession, now and forever.
Towards the last an unacknowledged fear took hold of my mother's consciousness, so that she gave every evidence of foretelling my father's death without once presenting the possibility to herself. This little note of mine, dated April 4, 1864, six weeks before he died, shows the truth:--"I am so glad that you are getting on so well; but for your own sake I think you had better stay somewhere till you get entirely well. Mamma thought from the last letter from Mr. Ticknor that you were not so well; but Julian explained to her that, as Mr. Ticknor said in every line that you were better, he did not see how it could possiblv be. I do not either."
From the first year of our return to America letters and visitors from abroad had interrupted the sense of utter quiet; and many friends called in amiable pilgrimage. But a week of monotony is immensely long, and a few hours of zest are provokingly short. Nature and seclusion are welcome when, at our option, we can bid them good-by. All England is refreshing with the nearness of London. In the rush of cares and interruptions which we suppose will kill the opportunity, while we half lose ourselves and our intellectual threads of speculation, the flowers of inspiration suddenly blow, the gems flash color. This is a pleasant, but not always an essential satisfaction; yet, in my father's case, I think his life suffered with peculiar severity from the sudden dashing aside of manly interests which he had already denied to himself, or which circumstances had denied to him, with the utmost persistence ever known in so perceptive a genius. He undoubtedly had a large store of inherited experiences to draw upon; he was richly endowed with these, and could sit and walk alone, year after year (except for occasional warm reunions with friends of the cleanest joviality), and feel the intercourse with the world, of his ancestors, stirring in his veins. He tells us that this was ghostly pastime; but it is an inheritance that makes a man well equipped and self-sustained, for all that. When too late, the great men about him realized that they had estimated his presence very cheaply, considering his worth. Should he frequently have sought them out, and asked if they were inclined to spare a chat to Hawthorne; or should they have insisted upon strengthening their greatness from his inimitably pure and unerring perception and his never weary imagination? It is impossible to ignore the superiority of his simplicity of truth over the often labored searchings for it of the men and women he knew, whose very diction shows the straining after effect, the desire to enchant themselves with their own minds, which is the bane of intellect, or else the uneasy skip and jump of a wit that dares not keep still. As time ripens, these things are more and more apparent to all, as they were to him. In a manner similar to Emerson's, who spoke of his regret for losing the chance of associating fully with my father, Longfellow wrote to my mother:--
CAMBRIDGE, June 23, 1864.
DEAR MRS. HAWTHORNE,--I have long been wishing to write to you, to thank you for your kind remembrance, in sending me the volume of Goldsmith, but I have not had the heart to do it. There are some things that one cannot say; and I hardly need tell you how much I value your gift, and how often I shall look at the familiar name on the blank leaf--a name which, more than any other, links me to my youth.
I have written a few lines trying to express the impressions of May 23, and I venture to send you a copy of them. I had rather no one should see them but yourself as I have also sent them to Mr. Fields for the "Atlantic." I feel how imperfect and inadequate they are; but I trust you will pardon their deficiencies for the love I bear his memory. More than ever I now regret that I postponed from day to day coming to see you in Concord, and that at last I should have seen your house only on the outside!
With deepest sympathy, Yours truly,
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
To go back to our Concord amusements. Mr. Bright caroled out a greeting not very long after our return:--
WEST DERBY, September 8, 1860.
MY DEAR MR. HAWTHORNE,--Of course not!--I knew you'd never write to me, though you declared you would. Probably by this time you've forgotten us all, and sent us off into mistland with Miriam and Donatello; possibly all England looks by this time nothing but mistland, and you believe only in Concord and its white houses, and the asters on the hill behind your house, and the pumpkins in the valley below. Well, at any rate I have not forgotten you or yours; and I feel that, now you have left us, a pleasure has slipped out of our grasp. Do you remember all our talks in that odious office of yours; my visits to Rockferry; my one visit, all in the snow, to Southport; our excursions into Wales, and through the London streets, and to Rugby and to Cambridge; and how you plucked the laurel at Addison's Bilton, and found the skeleton in Dr. Williams's library; and lost your umbrella in those dark rooms in Trinity; and dined at Richmond, and saw the old lady looking like a maid of honor of Queen Charlotte's time; and chatted at the Cosmopolitan; and heard Tom Hughes sing the "Tight Little Island;" and--But really I must stop, and can only trust that now at last you will be convinced of my existence, and remember your promise, and write me a good long letter about everything and everybody. "The Marble Faun" [manuscript] is now in process of binding. The photograph came just as I had begun to despair of it, and I lost not a moment in putting the precious manuscript into my binder's hands. I've been for a week's holiday at Tryston, and met several friends of yours: Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hughes, Mrs. and Miss Procter, Mrs. Milnes. The latter spoke most affectionately about you. And so did Mrs. Ainsworth, whom I met two days ago. But she says you promised to write her the story of the Bloody Footstep ["The Ancestral Footstep"], and have never done it. I'm very fond of Mrs. Ainsworth; she talks such good nonsense. She told us gravely, the other day, that the Druses were much more interesting than the Maronites, because they sounded like Drusus and Rome, whereas the Maronites were only like marrons glacés, etc. The A s are at Norris Green. Mrs. H. is becoming "devout," and will go to church on Wednesdays and Fridays. I want news from your side. What is Longfellow about? Tell me about "Leaves of Grass," which I saw at Milnes's. Who and what is the author; and who buy and who read the audacious (I use mildest epithet) book? I must now bring this letter to an end. Emerson will have forgotten so humble a person as I am; but I can't forget the pleasant day I spent with him. Ask Longfellow to come over here very soon. And for yourself, ever believe me most heartily yours,
H. A. BRIGHT.
He writes to my mother, "Thank you for the precious autograph letters, and the signatures of the various generals in your war.... What a pleasant account you give of Julian. Remember me to him. What a big fellow he has become, and formidable. I sincerely hope he's given up his old wish to 'kill an Englishman, some day!' Don't forget us all, for we think of all of you." He speaks of my father's friendship as "the proudest treasure of my life."
A friend of Mr. Bright's pardons my father's unfeeling indifference by a request:--
WALTHAM HOUSE, WALTHAM CROSS,
August 10, 1861
DEAR MR. HAWTHORNE,--AM I not showing my Christian charity when, in spite of the terrible disappointment which I felt at your broken promise to come with Bright to smoke a cigar with me about this time last year, I entreat you, in greeting Mr. Anthony Trollope, who with his wife is about to visit America, to give him an extra welcome and shake of the hand, for the sake of yours most sincerely and respectfully,
W. W. SYNGE.
I will quote two letters from Mr. Chorley, written before we left England, to show that even writers and friends there could be a trifle irksome in comment. My mother amused me sometimes by telling me how she had written warringly to this noted critic (a cherished acquaintance), when he had printed a disquisition upon "Monte Beni" which did not hit the bull's-eye. But the last supplementary chapter in the Romance was due to his fainting desire for more revelation,--a chapter which my father and mother looked upon as entirely useless, and British.
13 EATON PLACE, WEST, March 6, '60.-
DEAR MRS. HAWTHORNE,-- I cannot but affectionately thank you for your remembrance of me, and your patience with my note.--If I do not return on my own critical fancies about the "Romance" (and pray, recollect, I am the last who would assume that critics wear a mail celestial, and as such can do no wrong)--it may be from some knowledge, that those who have lived with a work while it is growing--and those who greet it, when it is born, complete into life,--cannot see with the same eyes. I don't think, if we three sate together, and could talk the whole dream out, a matter, by the way, hardly possible, we should have so much difference as you fancy--so much did I enjoy, and so deeply was I stirred by the book, that (let alone past associations and predilections) I neither read, nor wrote (meant to write, that is) in a caviling spirit: but that which simply and clearly seemed to present itself in regard to a book which had possessed me (for better for worse) in no common degree--by one on whom (I think is known) I set no common store.--If I have seemed to yourselves hasty or superficial or flippant--all I can say is, such was not my meaning--Surely the best things can bear the closest looking at,--whether as regards beauty or blemish.--
I repeat that, while I thank you affectionately for the trouble you have taken to expostulate with my frowardness (if so it be)--I am just as much concerned if what was printed gave any pain. But, when I look again (I have been interrupted twenty times since I began this)--did I not say that Hilda was "cousin"-- that is, family likeness, not identity--though it means, what I meant, the same sort of light of purity and grace, and redemption let into a maze, through somewhat the same sort of chink.--I totally resist any idea of mannerism, dear friend Hawthorne,--on your part,--and as to the story growing on you, as you grow into it: well, I dare say that has happened ere this:--the best creations have come by chance: and if Hawthorne did not mean to excite an interest when he wanted merely to make a Roman idyl, why did we go into those Catacombs?--
Might I say (like Molière's old woman) how earnestly I desire, that for a second edition, a few more openings of the door should be added to the story--towards its close?
You have been so kind in bearing with me,--in coming to me when in London,--and in remembering the nothing I could do here to make you welcome, as I fancied you might like best to be welcomed,--that I venture to send you this letter out of my heart,--and if there be nonsense in it, or what may seem spectacled critical pedantry, I must trust to your good nature to allow for them.
Won't you come to town again? and wont you eat another cosy dinner at my table ?--And pray, dear friend Hawthorne, don't be so long again:--and pray, once for all, recollect that you have no more faithful nor real literary friend (perhaps, too, in other ways might I show it)
Than yours as always,
HENRY N. CHORLEY.
P. S. This is a sort of salad note, written both to "He" and "She" (as they said in old duetts) --once again, excuse every incoherence. I am still very ill--and have all the day been interrupted.
13 EATON PLACE, WEST, March 10, '60.
DEAR MRS. HAWTHORNE,--I assure you I feel the good nature not to be on my side of the treaty. It is not common for a critic to get any kind construction, or to be credited with anything save a desire to show ingenuity, no matter whether just or unjust.--Most deeply, too, do I feel the honor of having a suggestion such as mine adopted,--I thought when my letter had gone that I had written in a strange, random humor, and that had I got a "Mind your own business" sort of answer, it was no more than such unasked-for meddling might expect. I am glad with all my heart at what you tell me about the success of the tale. But we really will not wait so long for number five?
To-day's train takes you my Italian story:--I had every trouble in the world to find a publisher for it: having the gift of no-success in a very remarkable degree. The dedication tells its own story. It was begun in 1848:--and ended not before the Italian war broke out.--Some of my few readers (within a dozen) are aggrieved at my having only told part of the story of Italian patriotism.--I meant it merely as a picture of manners: and have seen too much of the class "refugee," not to have felt how they have as a class retarded, not aided, the cause of real freedom and high morals. I should have sent it before, but I always feel, like Teresa Panza, when she sent acorns to the Duchess.
You will come to town, and eat in my quiet corner before you go, I know:--Perhaps, I may call on you at Easter: as there is just a chance of my being at Birmingham.
There is an old house, Compton Wingates, that I very much want to see. Has Hawthorne seen it?
Once more thank you affectionately,--these sort of passages are among the very few set-offs to the difficulties of a harsh life and all ungracious career. My seeing you face to face was, I assure you, one of my best pleasures in 1859.
Ever yours faithfully,
HENRY N. CHORLEY.
Hawthorne had returned, for the purpose of cherishing American loyalty in his children, from a scene that was after his own heart, even to the actors in it. He had hoped for quietude and the inimitable flavor of home, of course; but this hope was chiefly a self-persuasion. The title of his first book after returning, "Our Old Home," was a concise confession. He would have considered it a base resource to live abroad during the war, bringing up his son in an alien land, however dear and related it might be to our bone and sinew; and if his children did not enjoy the American phase of the universe in its crude stage, he, at any rate, had done his best to make them love it. His loyalty was always something flawless. A friend might treat him with the grossest dishonor, but he would let you think he was himself deficient in perception or in a proper regard for his money before he would let you guess that his friend should be denounced. With loyal love, he had, for his part, wound about New England the purple haze of which Dr. Holmes spoke in ecstasy, because he had found his country standing only half appreciated, though with a wealth of virtue and meaning that makes her fairer every year. With love, also, he came home, after having barely tasted the delights of London and Oxford completeness.
In Concord he entered upon a long renunciation. Of necessity this was beneficial to his art. He was now fully primed with observation, and "The Dolliver Romance," hammered out from several beginnings that he successively cast aside, appeared so exquisitely pure and fine because of the hush of fasting and reflection which environed the worker. It is the unfailing history of great souls that they seem to destroy themselves most in relation to the world's happiness when they most deserve and acquire a better reward. He was starving, but he steadily wrote. He was weary of the pinched and unpromising condition of our daily life, but he smiled, and entertained us and guided us with unflagging manliness, though with longer and longer intervals of wordless reserve. I was never afraid to run to him for his sympathy, as he sat reading in an easy-chair, in some one of those positions of his which looked as if he could so sit and peruse till the end of time. I knew that his response would be so cordially given that it would brim over me, and so melodiously that it would echo in my heart for a great while; yet it would be as brief as the single murmurous stroke of one from a cathedral tower, half startling by its intensity, but which attracts the birds, who wing by preference to that lofty spot.
A source of deep enjoyment to my father was a long visit from his sister, Ebie Hawthorne (he having given her that pretty title instead of any other abbreviation of Elizabeth). I came to know her very well in after-years, and was astonished at her magic resemblance to my father in many ways. I always felt her unmistakable power. She was chock-full of worldly wisdom, though living in the utmost monastic retirement, only allowing herself to browse in two wide regions,--the woods and literature. She knew the latest news from the papers, and the oldest classics alongside of them. She was potentially, we thought, rather hazardous, or perverse. But language refuses to explain her. Her brother seemed not to dream of this, yet no doubt relished the fact that a nature as unique as any he had drawn sparkled in his sister. She was a good deal unspiritual in everything; but all besides in her was fine mind, wisdom, and loving-kindness of a lazy, artistic sort. That is to say, she was unregenerate, but excellent; and she fascinated like a wood-creature seldom seen and observant, refined and untrained. My sister was devoted to her, and says, for the hundredth time, in a passage among many pages of their correspondence bequeathed to me:--
MY OWN DEAR AUNTIE,--I was made very happy by your letter this week. What perfectly charming letters you write! Now, don't laugh and say I am talking nonsense; it is really true. You make the simplest things interesting by your way of telling them; and your observations and humor are so keen that I often feel sorry the world does not know something of them. I never remember you to have told me anything twice, and that can be said of very few people; but there are few enough people in the least like you, my dearest auntie....
Aunt Ebie did not look romantic, or exactly mysterious, as I first saw her. But she puzzled me splendidly nevertheless. She was knitting some very heavy blue socks in our library, and her needles were extremely large and shining. I do not know why she had undertaken this prosaic occupation. Everybody was, to be sure, knitting socks for the soldiers at that time; but somehow aunt Ebie did not strike me as absolutely benevolent, and I doubt if she would have labored very eagerly for a soldier whom she had never seen. She desired to teach me to knit; and, as I was really afraid of her, I pretended to be anxious to learn.
I had been told that it was almost an impossibility to get her to travel even a few miles; that the excitement of change and crowds, and danger from steam and horse, made her extremely tremulous and wretched. I was the more impressed by these quavers in her because I also knew that she had sufficient strength of character to upset a kingdom, if she chose; that she could use a sceptre of keen sarcasm which made heads roll off on all sides; that there was nothing which her large, lustrous eyes could not see, and nothing they could not conceal. To think, then, that she trembled beside a steam-engine made her a problem.
She wore a quaintly round dress of lightish-brown mohair, which would not fall into graceful folds. So there she sat in the little library, knitting Titanically; and I sat alone with her, learning to round Hatteras at the heel in a swirl of contradictory impressions. I felt that she ought to have been dressed in soft dark silks, with a large, half-idle fan before her lips.
She quickly saw that I was a miniature mystery myself, and presently got me out into the woods. Here I came into contact with her for the first time.
She stepped along under the trees with great deliberation, holding up the inflexible mohair skirt as if it could tear on brambles or in gales, and looking around quickly and ardently at the sound of a bird-note or the glance of a squirrel-leap; her great eyes peering for a moment from their widely opened lids, and then disappearing utterly again under those white veils. Her dark brown, long lashes and broadly sweeping eyebrows were distinct against the pallor of her skin, which was so delicately clear, yet vigorous, that I felt its gleam as one feels the moon, even if I were not looking directly at her. By and by her cheeks took on a dawn-flush of beautiful pink. The perfection of her health was shown, until her last sickness, by this girlish glow of color in her wood-rambles.
Long before we had arrived at a particularly nice flower or species of moss, she knew it was to be found, and gathered it up as Fate makes a clean sweep of all its opportunities. I was almost as happy when out of doors with her as when I was with my father. She had the same eloquence in her silences; and when she spoke, it was with a sympathy that played upon one's whole perception, as a harp is swept inclusively of every string by an eager hurry of music. Still, aunt Ebie seemed to love moss and leaves as much as some people love souls, and I thought she had chosen them as the least dangerous objects of affection; whereas my father seemed most to love souls, and would have saved mine or another's at the expense of all the forests and vines of Eden.
To Miss Peabody I wrote of this visit in a manner which shows its reviving effect upon me:--
MY DEAR AUNT LIZZIE,--I like to get your letters, as they tell about everything which everybody does not do. What a pleasant time I did have with aunt Ebie Hawthorne last summer! It was last summer; and all the lovely flowers were nodding, and the sun shone with all its might, and we each took a basket and a book and stayed all the afternoon. We brought home heaps of flowers and greens. I never had such a pleasant time here in the woods. In England my nurse Fanny and I used to take long walks on Sunday through the lanes, or into the parks; and take baskets and pick baskets full of daisies, pink-and-white. Then we went into the endless lanes, long, without a single sign of house or cottage (until we came to walk so far as to come to a little village). Nobody came along in rattling gigs or carriages; on Sunday you would not meet a person. With great ditches on each side, filled with tall grass as high as yourself, if you chose to get down into it. But I used to jump across, to get wild hawthorn and rose and honeysuckle and wallflowers, and make great bunches of them. And then the buttercups and daisies and violets in the green grass! For in the lanes there was not a sign of earth,--all high, green grass. The sun shining so hot that you could go in your house-dress but for the properness of it. But I cannot explain and you cannot imagine; you must go to the place and look for yourself, and then you will know all about it. The parks are not level at all, but are nothing but high hills all together,--dear! --so lovely to run down and roll over on, and skip rope and jump!
My father began to express his wishes in regard to provision for our aunt in case of his death; to burn old letters; and to impart to my mother and Una all that he particularly desired to say to them, among other things his dislike of biographies, and that he forbade any such matter in connection with himself in any distance of the future. This command, respected for a number of years, has been, like all such forcible and prophetic demurs, most signally set aside. It would take long to explain my own modifications of opinion from arguments of fierce resistance to the request for a biographical handling of him; and it matters, no doubt, very little. Such a man must be thoroughly known, as great saints are always sooner or later known, though endeavoring to hide their victories of holiness and charity. Certainly my father did not like to die, though he now wished to do so. My mother, later, often spoke, in consolation for us and for herself, of his dread of helpless old age; and she tried to be glad that his desire to disappear before decrepitude had been fulfilled. But such wise wishes are not carried out as we might choose. The sudden transformation which took place in my father after his coming to America was like an instant's change in the atmosphere from sunshine to dusky cold. I have never had the least difficulty in explaining it to myself.
One large item in the sum of his regrets was his unexpectedly narrowed means. It would have required a generous amount of money to put The Wayside and its grounds into the delectable order at first contemplated, to bring them into any sort of English perfection, and my parents found that they could not afford it; and so all resulted in semi-comfort and rough appearances. This narrowing of means was caused not a little by the want of veracity of a person whom my father had trusted with entire affection and a very considerable loan, about which we none of us ever heard again. A crust becomes more than proverbially dry under these circumstances.
My mother bore every reverse nobly. She writes, after her husband's death: "I have 'enjoyed life,' and 'its hard pinches' have not too deeply bitten into my heart. But this has been because I am not only hopeful and of indomitable credence by nature, but because this temperament, together with the silent ministry of pain, has helped me to the perfect, the unshadowed belief in the instant providence of God; in his eternal love, patience, sweetness; in his shining face; never averted. It is because I cannot be disappointed on account of this belief. To stand and wait after doing all that is legitimate is my instinct, my best wisdom, my inspiration; and I always hear the still, small voice at last. If man would not babble so much, we could much oftener hear God. The lesson of my life has been patience. It has only made me feel the more humble that God has been so beyond count benignant to me. I have been cushioned and pillowed with tender love from the cradle. Such a mother seldom falls to the lot of mortals. She was the angel of my life. Her looks and tones and her acts of high-bred womanhood were the light and music and model of my childhood. Then God joined my destiny with him who was to be all relations in one. Pain passed away when my husband came. Poverty was lighter than a thistledown with such a power of felicity to uphold it. With 'lowering clouds' I have never been long darkened, because the sun above has been so penetrating that their tissue has directly become silvered and goldened. Our own closed eyelids are too often the only clouds between us and the ever-shining sun. I hold all as if it were not mine, but God's. and ready to resign it."
It seemed to me a terrible thing that one so peculiarly strong, sentient, luminous, as my father should grow feebler and fainter, and finally ghostly still and white. Yet when his step was tottering and his frame that of a wraith, he was as dignified as in the days of greater pride, holding himself, in military self-command, even more erect than before. He did not omit to come in his very best black coat to the dinner-table, where the extremely prosaic fare had no effect upon the distinction of the meal. He hated failure, dependence, and disorder, broken rules and weariness of discipline, as he hated cowardice. I cannot express how brave he seemed to me. The last time I saw him, he was leaving the house to take the journey for his health which led suddenly to the next world. My mother was to go to the station with him,--she who, at the moment when it was said that he died, staggered and groaned, though so far from him, telling us that something seemed to be sapping all her strength; I could hardly bear to let my eyes rest upon her shrunken, suffering form on this day of farewell. My father certainly knew, what she vaguely felt, that he would never return.
Like a snow image of an unbending but an old, old man, he stood for a moment gazing at me. My mother sobbed, as she walked beside him to the carriage. We have missed him in the sunshine, in the storm, in the twilight, ever since.