[Boston—Monday, 1 May 1876]

May day. Longfellow, Greene, Alexander Agassiz & Dr. Holmes dined with us. This made summer. Longfellow said at table that this was May Day enough, it was no matter how cold it was outside. (The wind outside had been raging all day and winter seemed to be giving us a last fling.)

Jamie recalled one or two things “Mark Twain” had said which I have omitted. When he lectured a few weeks ago in New York he said he had just reached the middle of his lecture and was going on with flying colors when he saw in the audience just in front of him a noble grey head and beard—“nobody told me that William Cullen Bryant was there but I had seen his picture and I knew that was the old man. I was sure he saw the failure I was making and all the weak points in what I was saying and I couldn’t do anything more—that old man just spoiled my work. When they told me afterward that my lecture was good and all that, I could only say—no, no, that fine old head spoiled all I had to say that night.” Jamie also recalled an anecdote of his B.M.L.’s early days when he was in a bar-room one night and saw some young men drinking when a third came in—will you drink? They said to him “no, I guess not—well yes, since you are I will.” I made up my mind that I would never let a young fellow see me drink if that was to be the result, so I stopped then.

Longfellow was quite like himself again but the talk was mainly sustained by Dr. Holmes & Mr. Agassiz. When Dr. Holmes first came in he looked earnestly at the portrait of Sidney Smith. “It reminds me of our famous story teller Sullivan,” he said “it is full of Epicureanism.” “The mouth is made for kisses & canvasbacks.” Later on in the dinner when A. Agassiz was describing the fatigue he suffered after talking Spanish all day while he still understood the language very imperfectly, “Why,” said Holmes, “it’s like playing the piano with mittens on.”

There was something pathetic in the fact of this young man sitting here among his father’s friends, almost in the very place his father had filled so many times—but his speech was manly and wise, from a full brain. They talked of the spectroscope as on the whole the most important discovery the world had known. Well what is it said Longfellow, explain it to us. (I was glad enough to have him ask.) Agassiz explained quite clearly that it was an instrument to discover the elements which compose the sun and proceeded to unfold its working in some detail. Two men made the discovery simultaneously, one in India and one in England. This spectroscope has been infinitely improved however by every living mind brought to bear upon it, almost, since its first, so called discovery. It is so difficult Dr H. said to tell where an invention began, you could go back until it seemed that no man that ever lived really did it—like some verses whereupon one of Gray’s was given as an example. The talk turned somewhat upon the manner of putting things, the English manner being so poor an[d] inexpressive as compared with the southern natures. The French being the masters of Expression.

Longfellow gave a delightful account of the old artist and spiritualist Kirkup the discoverer of the Dante portrait, though Greene undertook to say that a certain Wilde was the man. I never heard any body else have the credit but Kirkup and certainly England believes it was he.

I think they all had “a good time.” I am sure I did, though the talk was not so deep or wide or exciting or alas! so purposeful, as I could not wished in those eager days, but I trust the company enjoyed it and the dinner was good. They all seemed happy, and pleased to be here.


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