[Boston—Wednesday, 14 December 1870]

Wednesday Dec. 14. Longfellow, Osgood, Aldrich, Holmes, Dana, Howells, Lowell, & Bayard Taylor dined here. The statuette of Goethe was on the table surrounded by flowers. The occasion was the completion of the Translation of Faust by Mr. Taylor’s hand. We hoped to see Mrs Taylor here also & Longfellow’s disappointment at her absence when we sat down was expressed to Taylor in a way he felt deeply.

Longfellow said Goethe never like[d] the statue by Rauch from which the statuette was made but preferred a bust made in his youth by a Swiss, a copy of which Taylor has and two copies of which he intended sending for, for Longfellow & ourselves. Taylor says it is superb, like a god and fit to compare with any of the busts of ancient fame. Longfellow gave an interesting description of a visit made to Goethe by old Dr. Weselhoeft which has never been in print, and Taylor then recalled a visit to him made by the uncle of his wife who was a geologist of some repute. Having found some stones which were curious, he called upon Goethe to show them. As he entered the room he was so overcome by bashfulness that he was speechless and in order to break up the awkward pause he thought to come to the object of his visit and put his hand to his breast to draw out the stones he wished to show. Goethe started with a look of alarm and moved away. He expected a pistol instead of these harmless specimens. The specimens were however produced and Goethe’s face soon glowed and lightened with pleasure. Before the Dr. left they had taken wine together and thoroughly enjoyed the interview begun under such inauspicious circumstances.

Longfellow said, he could never understand that unpleasant interview between Napoleon & Goethe. Erckerman[n] says Goethe liked it but Longfellow thought the emperor’s manner of address insulting. Taylor said he was always amused at that speech of Goethe’s reported by Erckerman[n] where Gothe says he should have written something in the course of his life if he had not wasted so much time for science. The haunts of Goethe in Weimar were pleasantly recalled by both the poets to whom they were familiar and that queer portrait of him standing at a window looking out over Rome. Hardly more than a back view was to be seen.

Thackeray gave Taylor Schillers Sword which except for the love he bears to Thackeray he would have given to the Schiller museum in Weimar but he intends leaving it, after he has done with it, to that museum. The mention of Thackeray recalled the fact that he read the opening chapters of that novel to Mr. Lowell in the very cider cellar in London described in its pages. So we made Lowell tell us all about it, but he did not do it very lovingly because “things go contrairy” with Lowell as Taylor says they have with him lately wh. was the reason really of his coming on alone. But Lowell feels his lack of money bitterly and grows rather sour under it, or under the constant pressure of work. As Jamie said of him this morning he seems like a lion at play, he plays so seldom and he is apt to be bitter when he speaks. There was some sparring between Dana & Taylor about an eastern fruit mangostine [sic, for mangosteen] (which they had both eaten) and at first there was considerable discrepancy in the description. This was a capital and amusing topic for Lowell who brought the two observers keenly to their bearings.

Before dinner I found opportunity for a short talk with Lowell upon literature. He thinks the chief value of Brett Harte is his local color and it would be a fatal mistake for him to come East in spite of Taylor’s representation of the aridity of intellectual life now in California. Taylor finds the same reason for leaving his native place. He regrets his large house and frankly says he is tired of living there, tired of living alone, there being really no one in the vicinity with whom he can associate as on equal grounds. There is no culture, not even a love for it in the neighbourhood.

But I have not said half enough of Longfellow. He scintillated all the evening, was filled with the spirit of the time and the scene, sweetly reprimanded Taylor for not having time to give him a visit also, darted his jeux d’esprit rapidly right and left often setting the table in a roar, a most unusual thing with him. Holmes at the other end was talking about the natural philosophers who “invented facts”. Lowell took exception, said it was an impossible juxtaposition of ideas & words. Holmes defended himself by quoting (I think the name was Carius, who ever it was, Lowell said at once and rather warningly, he is a very distinguished name) a series of created facts by which he said a woman was not articulated or not as a man is (perhaps I have not his exact idea) whereat Longfellow at once held up the inarticulate woman to the amusement of the table. Then they began to talk of the singular persons this world contains “quite as strange as Dickens” as they always say and Taylor who introduced the subject proceeded to relate an incident which happened to him in a cheap coffee house in New York. It was near a railway station so he dropped in finding it convenient so to do, at an hour not usually popular with the frequenters of such establishments. It was empty save for an extraordinary figure with long arms, short legs and misshapen body, when hearing a glass of ale ordered came forward and said if he pleased he would like to have his ale at the same table for the sake of company. There was nothing to do but to comply wh. Taylor of course did, whereupon the strange creature never asking who Taylor was went on to relate that he was the great man-monkey of the world who could hang from a tree and eat nuts and make the true noise in the throat better than any other. He had no competitor except one of the Ravel brothers but he (Ravel) was not the real thing, he himself alone could make the noise perfectly.

Altogether as may be imagined it was an extraordinary appearance & experience to Taylor. Then Longfellow told me of a widow, young but plain who called upon him with some poems in German to ask his opinion. Oddly enough they were called Die Stimmen der Nacht. She was in need but would not give her name & went away without his finding it possible to assist her.

The[y] all drank the exquisite Ehrbacher Rhine wine from tall green German glasses of antique form which delighted them greatly. Jamie was much entertained by Holmes’s finding them “good conversational aperient but ugly. I should always have them on the table but they are not handsome.” Longfellow was delighted with my Venitian lace bodice it seemed to have a flavor of Venice about it in his eyes. It was a real pleasure to me to see his appreciation of a thing Jamie & I really enjoy so much.

I have not reported all, by any means, but time fails me now. A thought of Dickens was continually present as it must be forever at a company dinner-table. How many beautiful feasts have I enjoyed by his side! There is none like him, none.

Taylor wrote a friendly German inscription in his book and presented me after dinner.

There were amusing traits of Elizabeth Peabody given. Longfellow remembered that the first time he met her was in a carriage. She was taken up in the dark. Hearing his name mentioned she leaned forward and said—Mr. Longfellow can you tell me wh. is the best Chinese Grammar!


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