[Manchester—Tuesday, 5 September 1871]

Tuesday Sep 5. J. went to Boston. I wrote in the pasture and walked all the morning. Coming home, after dinner, came a telegram for me to meet J. and Bret Harte at Beverly station with the pony-carriage. I drove hard to catch the train but arrived in season glad to take up the two good boys and show them Beverly shore. Stopped at Mrs Cabot’s, returning, to see Mrs Silsbee etc: They were all glad [to] have a glimpse of Bret Harte. The talk turned a little upon Hawthorne and I was much amused to hear Mrs Silsbee say, drawing herself up—“Yes he was born in Salem but we never knew anything about him” (the truth was Mr. Silsbee was the last person to appreciate him, indeed was likely to have been one of his persecutors) fortunately Miss Howes was present whose father was one of Hawthorne’s best friends so matters were made clear there. We left soon and came on to Manchester, where, after showing him the shore we sat and talked during the evening. Mr Harte had much to say of the beautiful flowers of California, roses being in bloom about his own house there every month in the year. He found the cloudless skies and continued drought of California very hard to bear. For the first time in my life I considered how terrible perpetual cloudlessness would be! He thinks there is no beauty in the mountains of California. Hard, bare snowless peaks. Neither are there trees, nor any green grass. He is delighted with the fragrant lawns of Newport and has I believe put into verse a delightful ghost story which he told us. He has taken a home of some antiquity in Newport connected with which is the story of a lady who formerly lived there and who was very fond of the odor of mignonette. The flower was always growing in her house and after her death at two o’clock every night a strong odor has always been perceived passing through the house as if wafted along by the garments of a woman. One night at the appointed hour, but entirely unconnected in his thought with this story Mr. Harte had long ago heard he was arrested in his work by a strong perfume of mignonette which appeared to sweep by him. He looked about thinking his wife might have placed a vase of flowers in the room but finding nothing he began to follow the odor which seemed to flit before him. Then he recalled, for the first time, the story he had heard. He opened the door, the odor was in the hall, he opened the room where the lady died but there was no odor there, until returning after making a circuit of the house, he found a faint perfume as if she had passed but not stayed there also. At last, somewhat oppressed perhaps by the ghostliness of the place and hour he went out and stood upon the porch—there his dream vanished. The sweet lawn and the flowers were emitting an odor as is common at the hour when dews congeal, more sweet than at any other time of day or night and the air was redolent of sweets which might easily be construed into mignonette. The story was well told and I shall be glad to see his poem.

Many good stories came off during the evening, some very characteristic California ones such as that of an uproar in a theatre and a man about to be killed when someone shouts “Don’t waste him but kill a fiddler with him”. Also one of the opening nights at the California theatre, the place packed when a man who has taken too much whiskey makes a noise, immediately the manager, a strong executive soon catches him up with the help of a police man, and before anybody knows the thing is done or the disturber what is the matter, he finds himself set down on the sidewalk outside in the street. Well, said he with an oath, is this the way you do business here, raise a feller before he has a chance to draw (referring to the game of poker).

Mr. Harte is a very sensitive and nervous man. He struggles against himself all the time. He sat on the piazza with J. and talked till a late hour. This morning at breakfast I found him most interesting. He talked of his early and best loved books. It appears that at the age of nine he was a lover and reader of Montaigne. Certain writers he says seem to him to stand out as friends and brothers side by side in literature. Now Horace and Montaigne are so associated in his mind. Mr. Emerson he thinks never in the least approaches a comprehension of the character of the men. With an admiration for his great sayings he has never guessed at the subtle springs from which they come. The pleasant acceding to both sides in politics! and other traits of like nature, giving him affinity with Hawthorne. By the way. He is a true appreciator of Hawthorne & he was moved to much merriment yesterday by remembering a passage in the notes where he slyly remarks “Margaret Fuller’s cow hooked the other cows.” Speaking of Dr. Bartol he said, “What a dear old man he is! A venerable baby, nothing more!”

But Harte is most kindly and tender. His wife has been very ill and has given him cause for terrible anxiety. This accounts for much left undone—but he is an oblivious man oftentimes to his surroundings—leaves things behind!!


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