Chapter XII. New York.

From: The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch (1917)
Author: Leonora Cranch Scott
Published: Houghton Mifflin Company 1917 Boston


THESE paragraphs are from the Autobiography:—

  The last two or three years of our stay in Paris were a time of great anxiety about the War of Secession. We had now remained abroad much longer than we had intended.

  Our children had been at very good French schools, but we felt that it was time we should return, for many reasons.

  In July, 1863, we all left Paris for Havre and Southampton where we took the steamer Hansa for New York. We had a passage of about ten days. It was a gloomy time for our country. We had been a good while without any definite news of the war. So that as the pilot came aboard before arriving there was great excitement. The passengers crowded around the newspapers, one head over another, eager for the news, and it came, all in a heap. Vicksburg—the opening of the Mississippi—Gettysburg- and on the top of all the New York Riots of about a week before.

  All was quiet when we landed. It was on Sunday, and of course we were kept back by the Custom-House rules. My son George and I went ashore in a boat, and walked up Broadway as far as the printing-offices, when whom should we meet but Horace Greeley going to his office in the Tribune Building. After greeting me, he took us up into his office and showed us the guns, hand grenades, etc., which had been in readiness all over the building in case of attack by the mob. . .

Mr. Cranch to George William Curtis

NEW YORK, January 15, 1866.
  Suffer the poor “belligerent” to repose his weary limbs in your “Easy Chair,” if you like. He is fagged out and weary, having asked admittance at one or two editorial doors, but was refused. . . . I shall be thankful to have my say anywhere, for my tongue has long been silenced. The “Easy Chair” has a warm, cosey, generous fireside sound to my ears, and I shall be in excellent company.

  You draw it mild as to the Myopians. I also respect their spirit, when it is not a cantankerous spirit, and their purpose, whenever it rises in the least above microscopic imitation of the dry statistics of nature. But wherein do their spirit and purpose differ from, or exceed in excellence, a large number of conscientious and laborious and enthusiastic painters of another school? When we speak of pictures, we suppose they are to be criticised as works of art. But what principles of art do these new men not violate in producing their ugly crudities? I cannot regard them, therefore, as artists. I except, of course, men like Griswold, and one other man whom the Pre-Raphaelites praise, but whose name I forget. Griswold is one of the very best of them, if, indeed, he can be said to belong to them, but he is one whom the sapient “Tribune” Oracle thinks to be among the least in his Kingdom of Heaven. I think Griswold’s last picture in the Academy was one of the very best landscapes on the walls. But because it had artistic qualities which an Academician might admire possibly, the Pre-Raphaelites dismiss it with a patronizing modicum of faintest praise.

  But I had at least no thought of dipping again into these matters when I took up my pen.

  Times are hard with us this winter. Greenbacks melt like snowflakes on hot griddles. New York is so terribly expensive. . . .

James Russell Lowell to Mr. Cranch

ELMWOOD, 21st May, 1866.
  I trust you have not forgotten that you are to spend some time with me at the end of this month and beginning of June. And perhaps you remember that I said I wished you to come in the last week of May so as to dine with our Club on the last Saturday of the month. Now I believe all external and visible housecleaning is over for this spring, except in the cellar, and with that you are not concerned, except as to a particular comer thereof where some babes of Bacchus are cruelly prisoned by the giant Glass.

  When you come, bring all your initial letters with you, for I think I can kill two birds with one block, by getting you something amusing to do in odd moments and by improving our breed of blockheads (to chapters, I mean, the other is beyond all bettering). You see I have a “frugal mind” like Mrs. Gilpin. Hereof fail not! I have been looking forward to your visit ever since I was in New York. Remember that nm Saturday is the last of the month, and that I have a week of holidays beginning then. Don’t forget the blocks. It would be a pleasant way of adding to your income without trouble to yourself, and a great gain to our books. The faculty of invention which you have is the rarest of any. Have you forgotten that I “ordered” a picture of you to be enlarged from King Frost the first? I want it as much as ever. I think your drawing one of the few original things I have seen. You must do more of the same kind, my dear boy, and make fame and fortune. Get rid of your whoreson modesty, which I love, nevertheless.

ELMWOOD, Friday. (July, 1866.)
  As nobody on the face of this planet has the most faint conception of how the ancient Greeks pronounced their language, and as the custom in singing is likely to be as near right as any other, I should let it stand. I do not know whether I altogether like the impersonation of Afternoon—but the rhyme at worst is only an imperfect one, and your putting “ horizon” first has already put the reader’s ear on its guard, or on the right scent, as Lord Castlereagh would have said. Elāïson and Elīzon are to me the only conceivable ways of pronouncing it. You do not tell me Mr. Howells’s objection. As for your other question, I take it that “tribe,” like all other nouns of multitude, may be used either in the singular or plural according to sense. For example—“Among the N. A. Indians the tribe is represented by the chief.” And, “this tribe was exterminated.” But on the other hand, “Big Thunder’s tribe meanwhile scattered in every direction and buried themselves.” That last is from Thucydides, and I should pluralize it whenever the image presented to the eye required it.

  . . . We have been having our usual yearly row of Commencement. It gets rather tiresome at last. But folks are giving to the College with both hands.

George William Curtis to Mr. Cranch

ALBANY, September 10, 1867.
  . . . Send me a line telling me how things stand, and how George bears this Autumn weather. Give my heartiest love to the incomparable Lizzie. I admire her more than ever, and you ought to thank Jupiter and all his moons—which I don’t believe you can do with that opera glass—that you have so steady and strong a will in her to annihilate difficulty.

  Almost at the end of the Civil War, George Cranch procured through Wilkinson James a commission as second lieutenant in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment. He was but eighteen, but looked much older. He was in the South five months and was promoted to a first lieutenancy. His work was mostly receiving complaints, settling them, drilling his men, hoping all the time to be ordered to the front. Fortunately for the peace of his family, there was no more fighting. He afterward entered the Scientific School of Columbia College, taking high rank in his studies. He undoubtedly worked too hard, and a severe cold which he contracted in the spring of 1867 developed into a lung fever with complications. In the early summer he was removed to the country, where in September the end came peacefully.

George William Curtis to Mr. and Mrs. Cranch

ALBANY, September 21, 1867.
  I have only this moment seen the sad news in the paper, which could not surprise me, but which draws me very near to you in your great sorrow. I know that you expected nothing else and that long and harrowing suffering had reconciled you somewhat to his release, but when I think of my own boy and remember that you have lost yours, my heart aches, and I pray God to console you. I wish I had known in time to be with you at the last,—and sometime when you can, let me hear of the end and of all his sickness and suffering.

  What happy days they were for us all twenty years ago when he was born! How well I remember the fair-faced, placid baby, the little King of Rome! I thought of it the other day when I sat by him and he told me in his tranquil way that he did not expect to live, and I saw the same light in his clear, beautiful eyes that I remembered in the child. It was the pure light from which he came, and to which he has gone. It was the light of heaven that lies all around us, yes, around you, too, for, if much is gone, how much also is left! Dearer, better, lovelier children than remain to you, do not live. Give all my love and sympathy to them, and make them feel always that I am theirs.

ALBANY, September 23, 1867.

  Your most interesting note came to me this morning and I thank you heartily for it. It is pleasant to know that the poor boy did not suffer greatly and did truly sink to sleep; I am glad too that Frothingham was near you and that all was done as you would have wished. These things give a peacefulness to the memory of sorrow, which is itself a consolation.

  Do give my sincerest love and sympathy to Lizzie, who I hope will recover before long from the physical prostration which is inevitable.

  . . . Good-bye, dear Pearse. I suppose we shall go home from Ashfield by the twelfth of October. . . . I mean to stay there till January; I am tired of being away.

  A cottage called “Mon Bijou” was built for our accommodation at Fishkill by Grandfather De Windt, and we fell so in love with the place that we spent a winter there, my father coming from his New York studio, for Saturdays and Sundays. It was in the early summer of 1868 that Mr. Curtis visited us there, a visit which was an idyl, a dream of pleasure in the prose of our everyday life.

  I cannot imagine a more genial and sympathetic guest. His friends knew well that gentle urbanity of his, which, contrasted with his strength of will, and nobility of purpose, made his unbending so sweet and beautiful. I am inclined to think he was the most just man, as well as tender, I ever knew—if being just means the ability to put one’s self into other people’s places.

  The visit must have lasted a day or two, for I remember gathering roses to put at his plate in the morning. There was a climbing Baltimore Belle with a tea centre, that had opened, seemingly expressly for the Howadji, as my mother sometimes called him.

  What a delightful breakfast it was, and what interesting scraps of talk we had that June morning! There was music, too, to lull the senses and carry the listeners back to enchanted isles of sentiment and suggestive thought.

  Out of the haze of memory come to me the tones of Mr. Curtis’s voice, clear, ringing, which carried far, with deep chest-tones as in his addresses. He naturally articulated well and used unconsciously the best English, and as one accustomed to speak with authority as well as dramatic effect. His smile and humor were irresistible. And I never heard him say a mean thing about any one.

  I was especially interested in what he said about keeping a journal when a young man. What he said was something like this: –

  “If I had kept a journal in the days when I first went abroad, not of the little happenings, but of the impressions of the places and of the people I have met, and of the books I have read, it would be invaluable to me now. I advise every young person to keep a journal for impressions of the events which affect him, and not of the daily routine of life.”

  He told us how to read the morning newspaper. First, to glance over the headings, read carefully the condensed news, then the reports of the proceedings of the House; next the foreign news and an editorial or two,—and presto! you have the kernel of the nut in a short time, leaving the shell empty.

  The drives taken with our neighbors’, the Verplancks’, horses were through aisles of woods, on country roads, looking down the river, to majestic old Storm King, little Dutch Sugar Loaf, and Crow’s Nest,—these mountains shutting out the great noisy world without, while within, it was Utopia.

  After Mr. Curtis returned to his work, there appeared in the next month’s “Harper’s Easy Chair,” an account of the music of our voices, blending with the mountain breezes. It was done in that graceful, suggestive vein, which had all the charm of his own personality.

George William Curtis to Mr. Cranch

August 11, 1868.
  No, my dear old Boy, Planchette is a liar and the daughter of the father of lies. I never knew her to tell the truth, and I never expect her to. We had her at the island, and she scrawled and scrambled, but whatever she did, she lied. She is a tiresome imposter, and the Lady Elizabeth will soon discover it.

  I am glad you went to Boston and saw Lowell, for there is a certain air in their regions—I do not mean the east wind—of which we get no whiff in our diggings of New York. I shall miss seeing several of the Cambridge men up here, where they come to see Norton.

  We are very comfortable in his house and we should be mighty glad to see you. It is a splendid region for walking over the hills and far away, and for remembering the dear old friends and the dear old days.

  Good-bye, dear old Arcadian, for that you must always be. My love of loves to Lizzie, and Nora, and the youngers.

James Russell Lowell to Mr. Cranch

ELMWOOD, September 28, 1868.
  Why should n’t Howells write you a pleasant letter without my being to the fore? Are n’t you going to celebrate your silver wedding on the “10th prox.” (as the newspapers say), and isn’t Howells a young man who knows the respect due to such old fogies as you and me? My dear boy, we have arrived at a period of life when our years (if not our poetry) command respectful attention, and we ought to make the most of it. I liked the verses you sent me, though I should have liked to make a criticism or two before you printed ‘em—but why, after sending them to the “Atlantic,” are they to appear in “Putnam”? Are you tom in pieces, like Orpheus, by contending editors? Or are you still so young that you can’t wait to hear from one before you print in the other?

  By the way, Lee and Shepard are going to print a new edition of “Kobboltozo.” Did you know it? And are you still interested in the copyright? They wrote me to ask if your middle name was Pearse, and I took the opportunity to advise them to make haste and secure your story of “Burlibones,” or they might lose it, the publishers were so crazy after it. I shall sell it yet, you may depend, and I shall act on the Sibyllian precedent.

  The longer I keep it, the more I mean you shall get for it. It is good, and that’s the main thing, whether printed or not.

  I am going to print a volume of poems this fall, and I shall send you a copy among the first, emboldened by what you say of the “Biglow Papers,” which was very pleasant to me. If you don’t like some of ‘em, I shall be crusty.

  Shouldn’t I like to be at Fishkill on the “10th prox.” and to meet George Curtis and to have a good time generally? But I can’t, because I am not a gentleman, but merely a professor, and the 10th October comes of a Saturday and on Monday I have to be here to deliver a lecture. You need n’t have been so sensitive about my bringing any silver, for I am poor in that respect as an apostle, and am at my wits’ end to pay my taxes, which, more by token, must be paid precisely on the day of your jollification. But had it not been for my lecture, I would have been with you, if I had had to borrow the money for the journey. My mouth waters to think of it. Let me hope that when you celebrate your golden wedding I shall be luckier.

  Meanwhile, my dear old boy, let me wish you all kinds of a good time on the 10th, and drink my health as if I were there, as I shall not fail to do for you when the day comes. I will pronounce it a festival and spend a bottle of champagne on it, if it be my last. And, though I can’t come to you, why can’t you, who are a gentleman and lord of your own time, come to us this winter for a day or two? Let us consider it settled. I shall complete my half-century on the 22d February, ‘69, and why should not you help me?

ELMWOOD, December 18, 1868.
  How could you think that I had forgotten you—I, who would rather have (if I can say so with this abominable pen) one old friend with a silver-mine in his hair, than all the new ones that were ever turned out? You don’t even deserve to be forgotten, if such a notion ever entered your absurd old head. No, I had you down on my list of persons to whom my new volume was to be sent, but I had of course forgotten your number on Broadway, and yet was pretty sure you would n’t be at Fishkill. I did n’t wish the book to become the prey of some Johnson Postmaster (and just consider the feelings of an author whose book was derelict because not called for), nor to go wandering up and down Broadway in an express wagon, as disconsolate as a Peri we used to read about in the days when Plaucus was Consul. Now all you have to do is just to send me word whether the volume will reach you safely, if sent by express to No. 1267 Broadway, or whether I shall have it forwarded to T. & F.’s New York house, to be called for by C. P. C. And when you get it, I am of so singular a tum of mind that I don’t care a d—— (d stands for penny) whether you find anything in it to like or not, provided you will continue to like J. R. L. Nay, on those terms, you may even dislike it, if you will. I would rather have a pennyweight of honest friendship than a pound of fame, or—what is about as solid-flattery.

  Now I am going to put your friendship to the test. I am to be fifty years old, and to celebrate my golden wedding with life, on the 22d February of next year.

  G. Washington was forthputting enough to be born on that day (pereant qui ante nos!) but he did not take all the shine off it. H he was the father, I am the son of my country—a relationship as close as his’n. Well, now to the test of friendship. I was never so far ahead of the Sheriff of Middlesex County (the very one for a poet to be born in, who must have lots of mother in him, like vinegar), as I am now. Therefore I wish to make myself a present of a visit from you about that time, and in short will you come if I will stump the rusty? Say yes, or I will cross you out of my will in which I divide the unsold copies of my works among my more patient friends.

  My old clock in the entry has just given that hiccup with which tall fellows of their hands like him are wont to prelude the hours—and the hour is midnight. My fire and my pipe are both low. I must say good-night. I have had great difficulty in saying what I wished with this pen, which has served me I know not how long. But I have stood by it, and that should convince you (if you needed convincing, as I am sure you did n’t) that I don’t give up an old friend even when he has lost his point. But that is something you can never do for me, and I shall expect you on the 22d of February, 1869, G. W. to the contrary notwithstanding. You shall meet Rowse and John Holmes and a few other old boys, and shall have a warm welcome from Mrs. Lowell (who thinks you handsome—that way madness lies!) and Mabel and me.

George William Curtis to Mr. Cranch

January 16, 1870.
  I am not surprised that your mind has turned to lecturing, and you may be sure that I will do all I possibly can; but you know that it is a work in which no man can be helped—except to a hearing. If an expected speaker fails, the Committee do not accept a substitute, but choose him,—and notoriety is the ground of choice. But if a speaker gets a chance and pleases—it is easy enough to go on. Committees are rather wary of the recommendations of speakers given to other speakers, as they have been abused, by the good nature of the craft. But everybody can get a chance somehow. Why should n’t you speak in the little course at Fishkill, where I was this last week, staying at Eustatia and having a delightful visit. Of course you would be willing to take a small fee in beginning. Getting the chance leads to getting the money, and therefore you can afford to take the chance cheaply. Then there is the Sunday afternoon Horticultural Hall course in Boston, where all the liberals speak and of which Frothingham will tell you. It would introduce you to that most desirable Lyceum neighborhood, and if you would like to see if there is a door open I will write to the chief manager.

  Your subject is capital. The difficulty that I always encounter is to remember the difference between an oration and an essay. I am so in the habit of writing to be read, that I forget how entirely different a thing written to speak is, and my lecture in the course of delivery is transformed from the cabinet picture that leaves my study, into a fresco. A lecture is twenty times better the twentieth time of its delivery. . . . But you have been a speaker in other days and you know these things.

GRIDIRONVILLE,1 August 9, 1870.
  When I was in Paris a friend of mine, a French artist, made a very clever caricature. The king’s prime minister in the likeness of a monkey, a knife in his hand and a cuisinier’s cap on his head, meets a flock of ducks and addresses them thus: “My dear ducks! The king, my master, desires me to ask you in what sauce you would prefer to be cooked.” The poor ducks reply, “But we don’t wish to be cooked at all!”—to which the prime minister rejoins, “Mes chers Canards, vous sortez de la question!

  In this broiling and seething weather, the thermometer playing at unheard-of heights, and everything out of doors baking and frying and browning and gradually turning to cinder, I often imagine myself one of these poor ducks, dreaming of visionary rivers and ponds and distant phantom lakes in a sandy desert, and the great clerk of the weather threatening me in common with all human creatures in these parts, with sardonic monkey grin and gleaming kitchen knife, and asking the perpetual question, “In what sauce would you prefer being cooked?” Then I fancy the whole out-door landscape converted into a great kitchen. Everything fries and sizzles. The summer sounds are all culinary. The branches of the trees are ribs of gridirons, and the locusts, which are more lively now than all the other insects, except the tickling and stinging and importunate house flies,—the locusts, which seem to be singing, are only bubbling and simmering and sizzling deliciously in fat. They really seem to take intense satisfaction in being cooked. Some modern John the Baptist might enjoy the frittata which seems to be preparing from their unctuous little bodies, far better than the old-fashioned Oriental mode of devouring them raw. As for the poor birds, they are all roasted and sent to market. All I can hear of them is one melancholy little phœbe bird, who seems to be in the last agonies of culinary martyrdom.

  The frogs, too, are all sacrificed, baked brown on the clayey bottom of the dried-up ponds. The blessed sun is only a mighty kitchen fire, and the earth is but a huge pumpkin turning on a spit beneath his blaze. The upper crust is very well done. Great cracks and seams are visible in the soil. The winds and breezes are only the breath of mighty bellowses; adding fuel to the flames. In what sauce shall we be cooked? Sometimes it seems as if the tyrannous prime minister of the weather allows a little choice. For he now and then sends us a close steam bath of a summer morning, when our roast or broil or fry changes to a boiling state. Then we simmer and stew as quietly as the voracious flies allow. For it is on such mornings these pests are most lively and virulent. You may escape the heat a little, but there is no escape from the flies. If you are drowsy in the afternoons and would indulge in a nap, they become aware of your intentions and redouble their attacks upon every portion of your epidermis that may be exposed. There is no killing them with heat. Frost is their only enemy.

  I happen to live near a railroad station and a junction and a vast amount of cooking seems to go on there, and at most unseasonable hours. For sometimes at midnight there are four or five huge locomotives that meet together and pass an hour in a sort of nocturnal and mysterious picnic. Nobody could object to this if they did it quietly, but they don’t. For miles around, they declare their shrieking and sputtering sentiments. I look out of my window down the hill, and there the black monsters are all squatting like so many gigantic cooking stoves on wheels, and after half an hour spent in puffing backwards and forwards, and hissing and yelling, with occasional spasms in which they all appear to be laughing a sort of demon laugh, or else tumbling off the track into the river, they all commence in a somewhat milder strain, and spend the rest of their picnic in frying fish,—and from the fumes now and then wafted to my olfactories, I should think there were omelets of very bad eggs, after which, they start off with frightful and unearthly noises, each his own way, and blessed silence reigns.

  But the secret reason of these midnight steam orgies I can’t discover. With a little imagination they might be as good as Norse mythologies. Thor and Jotunheim and Asgard and all that. But, alas,—they are too palpable to hearing as to smell for the imagination to have any hand in it. I defy even Messrs. Fish and Vanderbilt, those conscientious interpreters of all railroad affairs, to explain what these iron demons can be about at these witching hours of the midsummer nights.

  In 1871, Mr. Cranch took a cottage at Staten Island, belonging to Mr. Hoyt, so as to be near his sister, Mrs. Brooks, and his friend, George William Curtis. He writes from there to his elder daughter:—

July 29, 1871.
  You must be thinking of packing your trunk and leave your pleasures and palaces, where though you may roam be it ever so humble and without closets and lock-up places, and surrounded by a rude Hibernian population, there’s no place like Home! The piano threatens to go into mourning with black crêpe around its legs and is getting sulky and out of tune; the black spiders are spinning their webs over your music, and no sentimental listeners stand at the gate in the moonlight to hear your dulcet notes, and the Irish boys have all the wind taken out of their lungs, and all their jovial and refreshing hilarity has evaporated now that they grieve to hear no more “As it fell upon a Day” and the other duets which they are wont to appreciate with those gentle and sympathetic demonstrations of joy peculiar to the tumultuous and excitable temperaments of the exiles of Erin.

George William Curtis to Mr. Cranch

October 2, 1870.
 We are coming home this week and I hope to see you before long, but I want to say how beautiful your poem in the “Atlantic” seems to me. It is as sunny and mellow and grape-rich as one of these soft October days and above all, it is unspeakably true.

  I had the most striking corroboration of that in a letter which I received just as I had read your poem. It is from a man who makes money rapidly. Fancy turning from your skylight to read this: “I feel as if I should stop trying to make money, and I seriously think of going out of business at the end of the year. One has only one life, and when one has such friends as I have, one ought to be able to see them now and then. No money compensates.” Isn’t that pleasant to read under the light from the sky?

  . . . Give my love to the dear Lizzie and Nora and Carrie. Did you think sometimes in the September days of our journey through the Tuscan vineyards?

James Russell Lowell to Mr. Cranch

ELMWOOD, May 12, 1871.
  I have sold enough land to add about three thousand dollars to an income which was nothing in particular before, except as I could earn it. But I am not going abroad yet a while. I hope to manage that in a year from now at soonest. However, a great load is taken off my shoulders, for since Atlas, nobody ever carried so weary a burthen of real estate as I, and he, if he had been taxed for his load as I have been, would have thrown it down long ago. Pray Heaven Boutwell and his allies don’t get at him in our day—at least not before I have enjoyed my new-fangled ease a year or two.

  Your letter anticipated one which I was about to write you. The time of the singing of birds has come, and I have been meaning for some time to ask you, my dear old singer, to come on and meet them in my garden before the blossoms go. I depend on you to help make spring every year, and we will have a jolly good time, for I am younger than I have been these ten years, and have tapped a new cask of good spirits. I won’t even be depressed by your manuscripts and you may be thankful that I have been too busy lecturing to have any of my own to revenge myself with. So come as soon as you like and bring your winsome Maro.2 Fair hangs the apple from the rock, and we will try and bring it down together. As a commercial venture, I am doubtful about your enterprise, though for the literary part of it I would back you against the field. At any rate, you may reckon safely on any service that I can render. A visit to Elmwood will do you good, and there are the Oaks and the Waterfall, and my apple trees will be blooming next week. Therefore, stand not on the order of your coming, but come at once. Though your doleful tone would lead me to think you had never a shirt to your back, borrow a clean one as soon as you get this and start for the boat before the owner reclaims it in order to send his other to the wash. And be sure and bring me a copy of Sarony’s larger photograph of C. P. C., which I want that I may have it framed and hung in my dining-room with other friends to make me merry at meals. If you don’t, I won’t let you have a drop of anything weaker than well water while you are here.

  I am delighted to hear of Page’s deserved promotion, God bless him I It recalls the days of my youth, as Ossian, I think, remarked on some similar occasion. Of course, gentlemen in easy circumstances can’t be expected to take more than a distant and depressing interest in artists and that kind of thing, but I shall endeavor to show all proper sympathy that shall not be misinterpreted into an encouragement of undue familiarity. I think I may safely ask you to give him my love, for it costs nothing and cannot, I should suppose, be twisted into an order for a picture.

  Now remember: on getting this you are to start eastward forthwith, and expect to be jolly and help waste a little time, which will be excellent fun, for on such a day as this, it is worth a thousand dollars a breath. Wealth doesn’t protect one from headaches, I find. I have had one these three days.

Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot to Mr. Cranch

ST. LOUIS, January 8, 1873.
  I came home from college work to-day soon after one, having had two lectures and continued close occupation for four hours, so that I was tired all over; but on the table was your book by express, and before I sat down I opened it, admired the whole getting up, and began to read; and read and read until legs rebelled; then kept on until nearly two books were completed. Several special places also, and a description of Rumor, I read carefully, equally delighted with the poetry and the literal rendering.

  Then the Latin Virgil I went over, page after page, my two boys following me. On the whole, it seems to me the most successful translation of poetry into poetry I know anything of. You remember Bentley’s criticism of Pope’s Iliad? It is a very pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer”; but yours is Virgil and as exact almost as if you were making a school translation for students, while the verse is pure English.

  If you come to a second edition, I should like to suggest a word, here and there, but perhaps not to its improvement. Undoubtedly it will work its way and that quickly.

Mr. Cranch to Mrs. Scott

May 22, 1873.
  I think you are right when you say it is about time I wrote to you. And though I have no special news to tell you, I know you will be glad to have a letter from me, though it be a short one or a dull one. There is a season of life—and you are in that sunny zone—when letters flow out of one like trickling streams down the mountainside. I think I have got into the Arctic Circle. With old gentlemen of my years, the streams flow with a sort of slow, glacier movement, save at rare intervals, when thawed out by some unwonted solar rays.

  We are having rather dull times here. The spring is a cold one, but the trees are growing very green, and the blossoms are out in abundance. We are trying to let the house for the summer, but I don’t think there is much chance, for there are about a dozen other houses to let in the neighborhood.

  By Mrs. Shaw’s kindness, I have heard Rubinstein two or three times, and never can cease from my delight, as well as my amazement at his wonderful memory, no less than his absolute perfection of execution. To-night is his last concert in America, where he plays nothing but his own music. I heard him at one concert play Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, and Haydn, and that exquisite Fantasie of Mozart’s which you play—commencing with those grand, deep, changing chords. I thought of you when he played it, and so did George Curtis, who sat near me, and I enjoyed it tenfold for its associations, and that I knew every note of it almost by heart. The next concert I heard him in, was the Chopin recital. It was fine, though a little of a surfeit of Chopin, and I thought he took several pieces too fast; and others thought the same. But I wish you could have heard him play the Berceuse,—perhaps you did. This was the fourth time I heard him.

To his brother Edward

May 29, 1878.
  . . . I don’t forget that this is your birthday, and that you are sixty-four to-day. Time was when I considered you very much my senior, but when we reach the sixties, why, those small differences of age are almost obliterated. Here am I, sixty years old. Somehow sixty seems to set the stamp of old age upon a man.

  While I was in the fifties I fought against the Stamp Act. I was rebellious, like our forefathers of the Revolution. And even now, except now and then when age will shake his finger at me with a lugubrious air, I can’t well believe that he hath “clawed me in his clutch,” for I am not very old as yet. Still in my ashes live their wonted fires. The other day I was told that a lady whom I know, set me down as forty-five!! I was not much puffed up by the compliment, and laid half of its weight to a want of observation on her part. . . .

  We are all well, spite of the hot weather, which has sprung upon us with a tiger leap.

  Did you get an “Independent” I sent you? I write for it still. The “Galaxy” and” Atlantic” for June contain verses of mine, and there will be an article about Fontainebleau Forest in “Appleton’s Journal” soon, with some illustrations of mine. . . .

To George William Curtis

STATEN ISLAND, September 27, 1873.
  My wife insists upon my writing, though I tell her I am not in the mood. What with packing books, and pictures, storing away in closets of the odds and ends of things left, trying to smooth down the various bristling ends of other things that can’t be packed away, or satisfactorily disposed of, seeing to this, and seeing to that and the entire brain be-cobwebbediddled and set on eend, and flying all abroad,—the time is not exactly favorable to writing, particularly as I have so much to say.3

  But when I get beyond Jordan, in that classic land to which the Fates are calling me, like old Æneas, then I hope to write to you. I am sorry on many accounts to leave Staten Island, especially in the winter while you are here, but hope to gain by going to Boston, where I shall try to get a studio, and sell some pictures. . . . Glad to see you Harpering again.

George William Curtis to Mr. Cranch

October 2. 1873.

  How could you do so? In these beautiful days I have been strolling about the splendid country thinking of the happy winter when I should not lecture, and we should come in upon each other every day. For a month I have been reproaching myself that I had not written to tell you that we should soon appear, and now comes your letter, and I want to cry.

  Well, the world is a place in which we play at hide and seek with our friends. I thought that we had at last found each other—but it turns out that we are lost instead. I wonder will you come back with the bluebirds? Will you stay until the east winds of June start you in your classic shades?

  Will you ever come back again?

  My dear old friend, if you knew how sorry I am, you would know how much I love you always.

  We have all been very well all summer. But oh!—no matter! I hope that you will all be very happy.

Mr. Cranch to George William Curtis

October 8, 1878.
  It is too true, alas, that we have all taken wings and flown from your New York. Considering all things, this seemed to be best. The Island had many attractions, though you were away, and we seemed to have struck down some roots which it was hard to pull up. But housekeeping was expensive; we were cut off from the city more than we liked; there was no school near us for Quincy; and no chance for me to make any money by painting. Though boarding here is not cheap, and though it costs a good deal to get a tutor for Quincy, yet the change is, I think, good for him and for us all. We have a few friends here and in Boston, and I certainly can do no worse in my profession as a painter here than there. And for whatever literary work I am to do, this may be the best place for me.

  I am grieved that I shall not see you as I expected, for I had looked forward to having you near us all the winter, and must bear this disappointment as I can. . . .

  We have seen Henry James, and Frank Boott, and their households. Shall you not be coming this way, ere long? . . .

1 My father was boarding with his family at Lexington, Massachusetts, quite too near the railroad station for his sensitive ears. He ludicrously makes an amusing tale of the annoyances which kept him, no doubt, from sound sleep a part of the warm nights spent there. In one of his letters to a friend he calls it the “Devil’s Kitchen,” and here “Gridironville.”
2 Mr. Cranch began his translation of the Æneid in 1869. At first it was an amusement, but he became deeply interested in it, and translated book after book. In 1870 he went over his work with three clever young friends, Titus Munson Coan, N. B. Emerson, and Frank T. Brownell. Later he read it at Elmwood, where Mr. Lowell would criticise and comment on it.
3 Mr. Cranch used to groan beforehand over these changes, but at the time was cheerful, and packed books, china, and anything requiring special care, beautifully.

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