[Boston—Monday, 15 March 1869]
March 15. Snow-storm and not quite strong so did not venture out till evening when I heard two German plays, well done, for the benefit of Mr. Clarke’s Sunday School.
Jamie had an unusually turbulent and exciting day and was thoroughly weary when night came. Henry James came first—and had gone so far as to abuse Emerson pretty well when the latter came in. “How do you do, Emer–son” he said with his peculiar intonation and voice as if he had expected him on the heels of what had gone before. Mr. James calls his new book “The Secret of Swedenborg.” Jamie thinks his article on Carlyle too abusive especially as he stayed in his house or was there long & familiarly. But his love of country was bitterly stung by Carlyle in “Shooting Niagara and after.”
Petroleum V. Nasby and Mark Twain also called. J. asked the latter where he lived. “I don’t know where I live but I find letters directed to Elmir-y (sic) always reach me; if they are sent anywhere else, they don’t!” Nasby gave him the history of Ralph Keelar which was really touching. Keelar’s father died leaving a widow & 2 young children heirs to land worth two millions of dollars in the West; the executors cheated them of their patrimony and the age of 16 this boy found himself, his mother and sister penniless. He was a slight, strong, agile figure and he joined the negro minstrels as a dancer, “He put brains into his dancing” said Nasby and soon became a favorite. He stayed with the minstrels until he had made enough money to pay for the education of his sister and to find himself with $180. With this sum he washed his face & left for Europe where he travelled, returned and wrote a book. I suppose he is having the hardest part of his life now. He aspires to a literary career, but he starts without anything which could properly be called culture and necessarily it will be uphill work.
The most absorbing interview of Mr. Fields’s day was with a young man who has lately abandoned the Shakers. For three years he has been endeavoring to get away and has only just now succeeded. He is a man of marked intellect and at the age of 16 (he is now a little over twenty) was placed at the head of their school at Canterbury as chief instructor. He will wake up at night in paroxysms of horror at the memory of the terrible life & terrible deeds he has seen performed among this people. He entered at the age of 2, his father being a religious fanatic and wishing his wife & 2 children to go with him. They did so but they are now all free. The young man left the Shakers with $10 in his pocket to face the wide world with. All his friends too are among them and he was perfectly ignorant of the ways of the world. He says in two or three cases he has known of, where young girls have become unhappy & left the Shakers, they have come to the city, have been, in their ignorance, misled, and fallen into wretched wretched ways.
He says he has been slain intellectually and morally, and when he remembers the confessional (for they have it just as in the Catholic churches) and the foolish things he has been led to recount as sins to the elders, he can hardly contain his indignation.
Lucy Larcom came down to dine and just as we were going to dinner who should drop in but two of our mountain & friendly country-people Mr. Willey & Esther. They did not seem to know how either to go or stay but at last they did stay to dinner. It is a curious study to watch the independence & aplomb of these mountaineers under new circumstances! They pride themselves upon being up to the occasion in an odd fashion.