[Boston—Wednesday, 3 February 1869]
Feb. 3. Baby still here and I do not write at all. I have nearly finished Auerbach’s novel but otherwise nichts. William Greene, his wife & both children took tea here Monday. Sunday two old English ladies—Wells by name and last week Mrs Dresel. Beside these no company. The weather has been perfect and life a luxury.
Today is our first snow since New Years day. It has stormed steadily but I have stayed at home with a little too much cold to wish to run the chance of more.
I have heard many good things and seen many good people but the voices of the days are a palimpsest and cannot be immediately unveiled.
We had a queer character here this evening. Dr. Naphegyi, a Hungarian by birth, a physician by profession, a linguist by nature, a follower of Maximilian the unfortunate by fortune. Perfumed, dyed, talking like a chapter out of Michelet, I was greatly prejudiced at first. Jamie had told me that this learned gentleman was coming to see him and to bring a book wherein he had caused the Lord’s prayer to be printed in 100 different languages and I expected to see a German savant bent and grey with neither eyes or ears for anything beyond his work. But I had a misgiving when I heard a carriage stop and a gentleman come in with a servant to bear the precious volume. He plastered me thick with flattery and Jamie also, although I could see some real feeling through it all for the little kindness we had shown him for it seems he has not been well received in this city which has given a great shock to his vanity. There is a queer discrepancy between his spoken language and the immense labor of the great book. In talk he gets many words wrong. Speaking of Boston he said “I was very foolish but I fancied I should be already known in the Athenæum of America.” Upon this subject and upon that of Carlotta & Maximilian he showed real unmistakable feeling but he gave me the impression of an unscrupulous adventurer. Yet the ability of the man in many directions is marvellous. His quickness in catching language being like that of a first-rate master of legerdemain. Few books could be more interesting to a philologer: roots of languages can here be compared side by side without toilsome searching and the first steps taken in the study of any tongue. But all this work seems to have been quite consistent with the fact that Dr. Naphegyi knows nothing of language as a medium for ideas; he is chiefly occupied with the vehicle. He appears to know nothing of the literature of any tongue but he knows the sounds of many & how the natives speak them. He has been a great traveller; among the Arabs and Bedouins, Spaniards, Indians, Americans. He introduced gas into Spanish America and made a fortune thereby, partly by the conscientious resource of filling the gas pipes which he imported with cinnamon and thus transporting vast quantities free of duty. It never occurred to him as he told us this that we might consider it a little out of the way.
His pronunciation of English was sometimes very amusing. He had been writing a burletta while left rueful and neglected by himself here in Boston, as a “Stranger”, a word upon which he rang many changes as more displeasing than any other and more frequently heard here in North America than it should be, this burletta bearing the title of the “Author and the Nabob.” It was some time before we caught the idea for the [sic, for he] pronounced it de Owtor and de Nabbob. He possesses great physical strength, beautiful hands, and fine feet. He is probably a man of fifty but his physical strength appears to be in its perfection.