[London—Friday, 23 July 1869]
Friday. I feel incompetent before this London life! One impression runs the chance of succeeding another before it bites in. The young son of Fredrick Robertson of Brighton has just gone out. He is in the Legation office in London not inheriting the strong taste of his ancestors for the army. He is tall, pale handsome, with a rare gift for conversation; no wonder he should be a pet of society and an indispensable adjunct of all fashionable routs. He talked much about his father; spoke of the numberless anecdotes of interest connected with his name which are continually coming up; many of these he says quite justly should be woven into any true account there might ever be of him. He gave us two of these anecdotes. One was of a gentleman who met his mother accidentally at dinner a short time ago. The lady has already married again, but who she had been was whispered to this gentleman and after expressing great feeling at meeting her he requested to be allowed to call upon her the next day. When he came he brought a little note in his hand which he had kept by him for 15 years. He had once heard Mr. Robertson preach and was deeply impressed although it was before his name was spread around. He asked him to dinner and the note simply said “I regret that I have an engagement & I shall be unable to dine with you. Very Truly Fredrick Robertson.”
The other day a work-man was painting a portion of the front of the house where his mother lives. He was near the front door when Miss Robertson a beautiful girl of 18 now ran across the hall. Who is that the workman asked of the butler, half catching her name as she had been called by her mother. “Why who should it be but my young mistress Miss Robertson and what business is it of yours” the butler replied with the manners of his guild. “Is she any relation to the preacher” he asked. “Who should she be but his daughter” the man returned. Hearing a kind of rough talk between the men Miss Robertson stopped at the head of the stairs a moment and catching some idea of what was going on, ran down again when the painter fell down before and kissed the hem of her garment for the sake of the man he had loved so well.
I could not help “a few natural tears” as the young man told me this, but I thought a little continuation of his decidedly unlike Fredrick Robertson. “This man never could have known my father much being so far below him and this made it the more remarkable”!! Robertson never used the words “far below” nor seemed to feel it towards any of God’s creatures. I found it best to say as little as possible of Stopford Brooke. They have some kind of prejudice, whether jealousy for the memory of their own, or what, I can’t say—more likely because he did not suit them in The Life. They cannot do him justice. This young man told me as a convincing proof of Mr. Brooke’s unworthiness as a preacher that he took a note-book with him the last time he went to listen to his preaching and found 35 quotations introduced, simply ideas sometimes and sometimes words for which he alone had the credit. I could not help smiling to myself at this, and at the satisfaction which this imperfect listener seemed to derive from tracing to Tennyson, Lecky, his father and others a few points from an earnest discourse. He thinks Brooke an imitator of and borrower from his father to an unworthy extent, but whether he is that or no, he is an earnest soldier of the Lord, we think.
I sometimes wonder if he has been able to do anything for the Children’s Hospital.
This young man is a capital type of the fashionable Londoner of our day. Handsome with curling dark hair and rather pale complexion, good eyes. Tall with a graceful carriage, he is everywhere sought and after his duties at the Embassy are over for the day always finds some door standing open. “I suppose I’m a fool to do it he said to Mr. Fields as he went down stairs, but Lady Shrewsbury has chartered a special train tonight and I am going 50 miles into the country to a ball at her house, of course it will be morning before I can get back.” The time of Byron is passed, licentiousness is no longer tolerated but I can easily see that such gifts for society as Robertson possesses must make him an “enormous” favorite. (I quote Katie Collins.) His fluency and real skill in conversation is inherited but the world’s Robertson now heaven’s would sigh sometimes I should say, to see the weapons with which he fought the world converted into playthings for the amusement of Society.
Mabel went to the unveiling of Story’s statue of Mr. Peabody. The Prince of Wales was there and Browning was there; but Longfellow did not go, to the displeasure and disgust of Story and his friends. Mabel looked pretty and enjoyed herself. She was a little late home for Mr. Hughes who called at 5 to take us to the Houses of Parliament. I was fatigued and would not go but Mabel went and then dined with them also afterward. Coming home late she found a long letter from her father, so her day was one of intense happiness.
I was full of intense gratitude at getting a letter from home saying the house was “all right.” Dear little place! I shall not be sorry to see it.
Longfellow seems to be enjoying himself here now. He is fond of Jamie and they go about London rejoicing together. He has no luggage from some mistake in France, so he has a capital excuse for not going anywhere. He was buying photography in a shop a day or two ago when the saleswoman offered him one of Longfellow, “whom by the by, you resemble very much, Sir,” she added.
Talking about differences of taste, a day or two ago, he said that nothing could be more unlike with respect to travel than his and his son’s. He had just received a letter from Charlie in which he said he was perfectly happy having passing [sic] the whole of the night previous in the top of a tree with a sheep at the bottom expecting a panther. Unhappily the sheep was too sly and kept perfectly still all night and no panther appeared but he seemed to enjoy the suspense intensely. Florence De Quincey, (Mrs Baird Smith) was present when he told this and the talk turned naturally to India. We were all deeply impressed with the manner in which she said to Longfellow in answer to his question—that she did not like the climate of India of course but the four happiest years of her life were passed there! He turned the course of talk skilfully and tenderly and the pain was only visible momentarily, but on both sides it was beautiful to see the tenderness exerted.
Left London by night mail.