« PoprzedniaDalej »
while and went down to the parlor, it was simply because politeness and filial obedience were the ruling motives of my conduct. Of the first formal introduction to my friend I have but a shadowy recollection. He said, I think, that he wanted to know the impetuous little boy he had met outside; but nothing more which I can recall. My own share in the conversation has entirely faded from my memory: it is probable indeed that I had no share in it at all, being less at my ease in the conventional sphere of a drawing-room than in the more unconstrained atmosphere of a back alley. Yet in hours of depression, when, in spite of the most sincere desire to think favorably of mankind, I cannot fail to notice that I am not appreciated as I should be by the undiscerning world, and my soul seeks consolation and forgetfulness from higher sources, I half believe that when he went back to his own country, and spoke there, as I have heard he did very often, of the pleasant people he had met here, of the American friends he valued so much, it was perhaps not without an arrière-pensée of his noisy acquaintance of the doorstep in Locust Street.
The intercourse so tempestuously begun was threatened with an early extinction, for my newly acquired friend returned soon after this to his home, where were the two little girls whom he was fond of describing while saying that he would not dare to bring them to this country, lest they should come to despise the simple muslin gowns with which they were then quite content; home to the toil of the hard-worked brain, the steady labor of the untiring pen, which was to give us before it rested forever nothing indeed like his earlier works, but much which we shall not willingly let die; home to England, in truth, but only that, having written the story of certain of its kings, as he had before written the worthier history of some of its unsceptred monarchs, whose sovereign sway is over our spirits still, he might come again across the ocean to greet all who should wish to hear him tell of the Britain of a century past, when our own history had as yet scarcely seen the conclusion of its opening chapter; giving as he did, so minute, life-like details relating to the great men of
that time, whose familiar names were to most of his hearers not much more than names, but which, thanks in great part to him, are now as household words. And so we met, and being two years older, I was accorded the honor of becoming one of his auditors, going with my mother to hear each of his lectures. We sat in a box on one side of the stage in Concert Hall, and at this moment I recall the tall, dignified figure standing before the desk on which were placed his notes, and the crowded room full of indistinguishable attentive faces. I sometimes fancy too that I cannot have forgotten what are now favorite passages from those lectures passages read and re-read, and then read again, till they are known almost by heart. I cannot acknowledge to myself that I do not remember his voice and look, and the tribute of listening silence which waited upon him while he spoke.
One at least of these evenings is well remembered. Its distinguishing feature was my being tipped. My mother and I had gone on this occasion quite early to our places half an hour or three quarters before the time when the lecture should begin—and we found the lecturer already at his post. He, with head thrown back, had been walking with long strides up and down the little waiting-room, and talking in bright spirits to my mother, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and diving into one of his pockets he brought out a sovereign — perhaps it was a five-dollar gold piece and insisted upon giving it to me; but the proposal produced at once a most severe parental resistance, while I disinterestedly looked on a resistance apparently quite unlooked for by "my illustrious friend," who had much trouble in explaining that this species of beneficence was a thing of course in England. But American pride was silenced at last, though not convinced, as will be seen, for it planned on the spot a compromise which should reconcile the differences of national feeling, though I was induced to suppose that the sovereign was as far out of my reach as ever; and being then, as I said before, above or below such things, I turned all my attention to the lecture, which began soon afterward, and whose
subject, the royal bugbear of patriotic school-boys of that time, I imagined I knew all about. It was therefore with astonished awe that I heard the peroration, when the speaker said, appealing directly to us all: "O brothers! speaking the same dear mother tongue! O comrades! enemies no more, let us take a mournful hand together, as we stand by this royal corpse and call a truce to battle! Low he lies to whom the proudest used to kneel once, and who was cast lower than the poorest: dead, whom millions prayed for in vain. Driven off his throne; buffeted by rude hands; with his children in revolt; the darling of his old age killed before him untimely; our Lear hangs over her breathless lips and cries, Cordelia ! Cordelia ! stay a little!'
'Vex not his ghost: oh, let him pass! He hates him
Hush! strife and quarrel, over the solemn grave! Sound, trumpets, a mournful march! Fall, dark curtain, upon his pageant, his pride, his grief, his awful tragedy." This view of the subject was altogether new.
The compromise just spoken of — and I must bring to an end my story, already too long-consisted in the expenditure of the five-dollar piece in two of the books written by the bestower of that inflammatory coin. I open the volumes of "Pendennis" and "Vanity Fair" which have been lying at my elbow, and across the title-page of each I see written, in curiously small and delicate hand, " with W. M. Thackeray's kind regards. April, 1856." These were the books.
A CHILD'S GLIMPSE OF THACKERAY.
So many years ago that I do not care to count them I was taken by my guardian to an evening party at the house of a distinguished physician in Philadelphia. Though too much of a boy at the time to appreciate or understand thoroughly what was going on, there were certain little occurrences which made an impression on me then, and which have dwelt in my memory ever since.
The agreeable occupation of munching sponge-cake in which I spent the first part of the evening did not prevent my noticing a personage, tall, large, spectacled, slightly gray, leaning against one of the folding doors, and engaged in conversation with a number of gentlemen, among whom I recognized Mr. Peter, then British consul. What it was that attracted me I cannot exactly tell, but there certainly must have been something to beguile me out from a coign of vantage " well adapted both for seeing and eating-a snug ambuscado behind the piano.
“Who is that_man?" said I to my guardian, with indicating forefinger.
"That gentleman is Mr. Thackeray," was the smiling reply as the forefinger yielded to gentle pressure and fell by my side; "and when your mouth is empty I wish to take you up and present you to him. I will come back for you in a few minutes."
Forthwith I retreated again to my fastness to finish the cake and prepare for the ordeal, curiously eyeing the Transatlantic author all the time.
It seems strange, but even now - and I have visited many scenes and mixed with many people since that night — I can perfectly remember the tenor of my boyish cogitations. They were about as follows: So, that was Mr. Thackeray? What had I heard about him?
I knew that he had written a book called "Vanity Fair," because a charming lady (that is, she seemed charming to me in those halcyon days) had talked about it in my hearing, and said it was very clever. That was all I knew. How the people pressed round him and looked at him, while those across the room pointed and whispered! Was it, then, so very hard to write a book? How those girls on the sofa were pointing, and my guardian had just told me it was very rude to point !
I wonder if the manner in which fame first breaks upon him who achieves it is the same in which the reputation of another first looms upon the mind of a thinking boy? I had not yet
learned that those talents which win power and position for their possessor compel alike admiration from equals and obsequiousness from inferiors. Before many years had passed over me I had learned that lesson by heart; but it is pleasant to recall those independent hours when my little mind indulged in such unbiased speculations, as heedless of the future as the sponge-cake I had just devoured.
My guardian came back, and after due inspection of hands, mouth, and clothes, took me up to the chatting group between the folding doors. The group separated, and I stood face to waistcoat with the great novelist, he looking kindly down on me through his glasses; I, after gazing up in his face for a moment, dropping my eyes and beginning a minute inspection of the watch-chain with which his left hand was playing, his right meanwhile holding my little pair tight in its mighty grasp. What he said to me I forget. It was probably more his manner than his words that induced me to stay at his side and listen to what others were talking about.
It struck me, from his languid position, that, without wishing to appear so, he was fatigued, and sometimes a little annoyed by the trivial questions so often put to him. At last he took me with him across the room, where he sat down on a sofa, and soon made me feel quite at home beneath his genial sway. Some young ladies were sitting near, with whom he entered into some little talk about music, and flowers, and such things as women love. Anon, a dashing young secretary of legation made his appearance - keen, pert, semi-witty, just from abroad, perfectly satisfied with himself, ready to show the latest fashions to all true believers. He lounged on the other end of the sofa, picked up the thread of conversation immediately, and was soon in the middle of a fluent speech, oratorically instructing everybody. Mr. Thackeray waited patiently till he was through, rather glad, I think, to be relieved from talking himself, and then, in reply to some new and extraordinary doctrine the young diplomat had broached, laughed and said, "Bravo, jeune homme ! à la bonne heure! Vraiment, on fait des progrès dans ce pays ci! ”