[Boston—Saturday, 19 September 1863]

Saturday. Sep. 19. 1863. We had asked to an early dinner at three o’clock Mr Longfellow, Mr Greene who is passing a few days with his friend in order to be with George Sumner oftener (now very low at the Mass. Gen. Hospital), Mr Charles Sumner and Mr Dempster the singer. They were to attempt the difficult game of punctuality but Mr Longfellow was the only one who was quite successful. Even Mr F. had been detained. A very cosy pleasant little party it was. The afternoon was cool and all were in kindly humor. Mr Sumner came last in his own stately way, a manner he can lay aside on occasion however as was soon proved. He shook his head sadly upon the subject of the English Iron clads. “I fear they will come out.” Lord Lyons he told us was but 43 years old and was in the same class in college with Goldwin Smith who has just published in the London Daily News a fine letter about American affairs. He laughed at our faith that Thomas Carlyle would read the letter addressed to him by Mr Wasson. Nevertheless J.T.F. has sent it to Carlyle in three different ways and I believe he must read it. From Carlyle to Tennyson was but a short step because Mr Dempster has often visited the latter and is always ready to talk of him, but it was very fine to see Mr Longfellow’s kindling indignation against England. He could not be persuaded that Tennyson had really written his loyal poems out of the deepest sincerity. “Impossible”! said he, with eyes glowing. Longfellow is a truly magnificent patriot. His son is with the Army now and his heart has always been purely with the cause and his feeling toward England runs more deeply and strongly than with any body else I know, because it is not prejudice, it is not childish-partisanship but hatred of the course she has pursued which causes him to abjure England.

Talking of lesser poets, Mr Dempster repeated in a low mellifluous voice a little poem by Isa Craig he had lately set to music—about an allegorical rose-tree—the precise title has escaped me. Longfellow then spoke of Bessie Parkes poems. He thinks there are good passages among these verses. Jean Ingelow too they all liked somewhat.

Mr Sumner speaking of the care taken by Ticknor in preparing his “Spanish Literature” said he heard Macaulay say he had obtained some information of which he himself was not possessed and, added Mr S., he must have labored indeed to have found what Macaulay had not. The life of Prescott they thought would be very interesting. I saw, said Mr Longfellow in a few sheets I took up the other day a memorandum from Prescott to this effect. “Arrived at Washington yesterday in company with my dear friend Sumner.” This pleased S. evidently. Mr Greene was quiet as usual, yet very jocose on the subject of Tupper’s being the favorite poet of the queen.

As evening approached we left the table and came to the library, there in the shadows Mr Dempster sat down at the piano and sang to us. He was pressed to sing the “Bugle Song” first but he answered, “May I choose another to sing first”? and then sang Mr Longfellow’s exquisite poem called “Children” with such delicate feeling that it touched every body—then came the stirring “Bugle Song” which was fine then “Turn Fortune turn thy wheel” which inspired every body. Mr Sumner stretched out both hands excited as I had never seen him before and said—you must not get up, you must sing all the songs from the Idyls straight through. Oh! why could not I have written a “Bugle Song” or “Turn Fortune”! At this we all smiled that the statesman should be turned poet even in desire at the touch of music. Again Mr Dempster turned to the piano and this time sang “Break, Break, Break.” It was very solemn and no one spoke when he had finished only one deep sob broke from the chair where the beloved Longfellow sat. Again and again each time more uncontrolled we heard the heart-rending sounds. I said, do sing again and added in a low tone, something not so sad. Then he sang “too late,” still sad, but immediately after Longfellow’s song “to wine” which was sweet and truly poetic. This lightened the heavy pall which hung over us. Sumner slipped away first without speaking to see his brother and afterward Longfellow silently wrung my hand and departed.

Dempster sang again to us, this time “Tears, idle tears,” also a snatch of the “May Queen” and afterward full of expressions of gratitude for a visit which had been made so agreeable also went away.


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