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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=dicey2.html


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Concord.

I HAPPENED, while in Boston, to see a good deal of the literary society of the place. Let me say something of the men whose writings I, in common with most Englishmen, had learnt to know long ago; and whose faces then, for the first time, became as familiar to me as their names.

I am afraid that to most English readers the name of Concord will recall no national reverses. We have a remarkable talent as a nation for forgetting what is unpleasant to remember, but still the fact remains that at Concord a British regiment did run away before a rabble of American volunteers. Our loss consisted of two men killed, whose names have been long forgotten. This was the first armed resistance raised by the Colonists against the imperial troops, and a little obelisk has been erected beside the nameless graves of these two British privates to record the first blow struck in behalf of American independence. A low stunted avenue leads from the Boston high-road

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to the bank of the Concord River. Along this avenue the British troops advanced and retreated, and on the bank of the river stands a squat dumpy obelisk of the Georgian era. Close to the avenue is the Old Manse, from which Hawthorne culled the mosses. Sitting one summer day by the side of that lazy stream, the author of "The Scarlet Letter" told me a story of the battle which was new to me. When the galling fire of the enemy from the opposite bank caused our troops to retire, the two British soldiers who fell at Concord were not both killed. One of them was only wounded, but in the hurry of the retreat was left for dead on the field. As the British troops withdrew, a farming lad, employed at the Old Manse, came out to look at the scene of the battle. He had an axe with him, and, holding it in his hand, he stole alongside the wounded soldiers, whom he believed to be dead. Just as he got near, the one who was still alive raised himself upon his hands and knees, and began to look about him. The boy in an agony of fear fancied that the man was going to fire, and, striking at him with the axe, cut open his skull, and then fled in terror. Shortly afterwards, some British soldiers, returning to carry off the wounded, found their comrade with his head split in two, and raised the cry that the Americans scalped dead. The cry spread through the regiment and created a panic, under whose influence the soldiers took to their heels and fled. The boy grew to be a very old

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man, and died not many years ago, and, as he grew infirm and old, the thought that he had killed a wounded man in cold blood haunted him to his grave. If the village tradition be true, it is a curious instance of what great events are produced by the smallest causes. The American revolution sprang into being from the defeat of the British troops at Concord; the British were defeated because our soldiers were struck with panic; and the panic was caused because a timid lad happened to have an axe in his hand.

But Concord has nearer and dearer claims to the thoughts of all English-speaking people than the memory of an obscure battle. It is the home of Emerson and Hawthorne. An old-fashioned, sleepy, New England village; one broad, long, rambling street of wooden houses, standing, for the most apart, and overshadowed by leafy trees; a quiet village-green or two; shady, dreamy-looking graveyards, filled with old moss-covered tombstones of colonists who lived and died subjects of the Crown of England; a rich, marshy valley, hemmed in by low-wooded hills; and a dull, lazy stream, oozing on so slowly through many turnings, that you fancy it is afraid of being carried out to the ocean that awaits it a few miles away; — these are the outward memorabilia of Concord. Passing through the village, you come to a roomy country-house, buried almost beneath trees, and looking the model of a quiet English parsonage; and then, entering it, it

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must be some fault of your own, if you are not welcome at the kindly home of Emerson.

His is not a face or figure to which photographs can do justice. The tall spare form, the strongly-marked features, and the thin scanty hair, are all, to the English mind, typical, as it were, of that distinct American nationality, of which Mr. Emerson has been the ablest, if not the first exponent. In repose, I fancy, his prevailing expression would be somewhat grave, with a shade of sadness; but the true charm of his face can be learnt only if you hear him speaking. Then, when the "slow wise smile," as some one well called it, plays about that grim-set mouth, and the flow of those lucid sentences, so simple and yet so perfect, pours forth in calm, measured sequence, the large liquid eyes seem to kindle with a magnetic light, and you feel yourself in the presence of a living power. You may sit at his feet or not — that is a matter for your own judgment, but a Gamaliel is there. Hearing him thus speak, I understood, better than I had learnt from his writings, the influence which Mr. Emerson has wielded over the mind of America, and how Concord has become a kind of Mecca, of which the representative man of American thought is the Mahomet.

Some quarter of a mile further on, hidden almost by the overhanging hill at whose foot it stands, out of sight and hearing of the village-world, you come to the home of Mr. Hawthorne — a quaint, rambling, pleasant house,

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which appears to have grown no one knows how, as some houses do, and to have culminated mysteriously in an Italian campanile tower; so that it is rather a tower with a house attached, than a house surmounted by a tower. It is a fitting place for a romancer to have fixed his dwelling in. Right above the house there stretches a pine wood, so quiet and so lonely, so full of fading lights and shadows, and through whose trees the wind sighs so fitfully, that it seems natural for all quaint fancies and strange memories to rise there unbidden. As to the tenant of the turret and the pine-wood, I could not, if I wished, describe him better than by saying that he is just what, not knowing him, you fancy the author of "The Scarlet Letter" ought to look like. I suppose that most persons form an idea to themselves of the outward look and aspect of any author they have learnt to care for; and I know that, as far as my own experience goes, the idea is but seldom realized. The author, when at last you meet with him in the flesh, may be better than your idea, but he is not the person you had pictured to yourself and dwelt on fondly. Now, if you were to place Mr. Hawthorne amongst a thousand persons, I think any one that had read his writings would guess at once, amongst all that crowd, which the author was. The grand, broad forehead; the soft wavy hair, tangling itself so carelessly; the bright dreamy hazel eyes, flashing from beneath the deep massive eyebrows; and the sweet smile, so full at once

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of sad pathos and kindly humour, all formed for me the features one would have dreamed of for the author, who, more than any living writer, has understood the poetry of prose. It is a fancy of mine — a fancy inspired, perhaps, by the atmosphere in which I formed it — that Nature, when she began to make Mr. Hawthorne, designed him for a man of action, and then, ere the work was done, she changed her mind, and sought to transform him into a poet, and that thus the combination of the two characters — of the worker and the dreamer — came out at last in the form of the writer of romance. Well, if Concord had been the scene of an English Waterloo, I am afraid I should still think of it with the kindliest of memories — should, indeed, remember it only as the dwelling-place of men who have won fresh triumphs for English words, triumphs to me far dearer than those of English arms.

It was my fortune, too, to see — though but for a short period, the great poet of America. Of all pleasant summer-houses, the houses round Boston seemed to me the pleasantest; and of such houses I know of none pleasanter than the one standing on the Mount Auburn Road, where General Washington used to dwell, and where Longfellow dwells now. The pleasant lawn, the graceful rooms, filled with books and pictures and works of art, formed the fit abode for the poet who has known so well how to use the sweet stately rhythm of the English hexameter; and of that abode the host,

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with his graceful manners, his refined and noble countenance, and his conversation, so full of learning and poetic diction, seems the rightful owner. But of this I would say nothing further, for I felt that, if I was in the presence of a great poet, I was in the presence also of a greater sorrow.

I have said thus much of the three great American writers, whose names are best known in England. Like all men of genius, they are in some sense public property; and the public has, I think, a right to know something of how they look and live. Genius has penalties as well as privileges. Of the many other men of talent and writers of note, whom it was my pleasure to meet with in America, and especially in New England, I say nothing, because I doubt whether I should be justified in so doing. A private has a right, perhaps, to criticise the Commander-in-Chief, but I doubt if he is entitled to sit in judgment on the Colonels. Like any other Englishman who has visited America with any sort of credentials, I was received into the intimacy, and I trust I may add, the friendship of many literary men in that country. I feel, that if, as there seems too much likelihood, it should become the custom for an English visitor to give a sort of moral auctioneer's catalogue of the houses, establishments, habits and customs of his hosts, then this friendly welcome must be dispensed with ere long. I have therefore made it my endeavour, in these pages, to

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quote nothing which I learnt in the character of a visitor, not of a spectator. There are two American writers, however, of whom I would say one word in passing, and they are Mr. Lowell, the author of the "Biglow Papers," and Mr. Holmes, the creator of "Elsie Venner." When America has completed her great mission of settling the New World, I cannot doubt that the wonderful energy and power of her people will produce a characteristic national literature worthy of herself, and, I say it without boasting, of the mother country also. In the works of these two gentlemen, I think you can discover the first commencement of a distinct era of American literature. The first has created a new school of poetry — the poetry of common Yankee life; the second has opened out a new vein of romance in the relations of physiology to the development of character. Both these writers have — at least so I fancy — a greater career before them than they have yet accomplished.

Let me say also, in concluding these scattered remarks on the literary men of Boston, that what struck me most about them collectively was the degree of intimacy and cordiality on which they lived with one another. To any one who knows anything of the literary world in England, it will seem a remarkable fact that all men of intellectual note in Boston should meet regularly once a month, of their own free will and pleasure, to dine with each other; and still more so, that

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they should meet as friends, not as rivals. No doubt, this absence of jealousy is due, in great measure, to the literary field of America being so little occupied, that there is nothing like the same competition between authors as there is with us; but it is due, I think, chiefly to that general kindliness and good-nature which appear to me characteristic, socially, of the American people.

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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=dicey2.html
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