[Boston—Saturday, 3 June 1876]

June 3d passed the Day in Andover with Miss Phelps at her father’s house. The day itself was exceptionally lovely and the horse-chestnut trees in front of the fine old mansion were in full bloom. We drove to the house in an old stage coach which rocked to and fro after the approved old fashion. The wide door stood open to the breezes and Miss Phelps stood in it ready to receive us with the warmest of welcomes, also her father’s wife a woman ten or twelve years older than herself whom I used to see in Boston years ago, a very self denying lovely woman who has been a jewel to her family. The wide spaces with few things compared to most city houses of our day, this alone was restful to the spirit, but chiefly I think a sense which bonds over the household of perfect faith in the Divine Will and submission to it, a constant presence of aspiration and endeavor which the scourge of illness lying upon the house will never let die out and which burns in a white flame from the constant presence of the wife and mother.

Professor Park came to dinner, then for the first time also we saw Professor Phelps. He, poor man, had been shut up in a room by himself struggling with neuralgic pangs until that time, not daring to trust himself to come to meet us sooner. We were in the grounds when dinner-time (half past twelve!) arrived and were therefore rather puzzled to see Professor Park walking away from the house. Miss Phelps called to him asking if he were not going to keep his long-standing promise of coming to dinner on that day—Yes I’ll be with you in a few moments, he replied as he walked on. Presently his daughter revealed to us that her father in some fit of student-obliviousness had worn his overcoat to dinner and she discovering it had sent him home to get his frock-coat.

The talk was very pleasant; good old church anecdotes, questionings as to the sobriety of Christopher North and other conundrums!! coming up occasionally to keep us aware of the native atmosphere of the place, but the two men both wore faces worthy of Roman coins and their characters did not belie their faces. Prof. Phelps is a sleepless man who has been driven to the verge of mental incapacity by the absence of rest and it remains a question now if they can stay in Andover. He has had a two years vacation and although he is better, he seems quite unfit for work. The winters there must be fearful—so little society—so few hearts & faces stretching out beyond the narrow interests of their own door-stone. After dinner Miss Phelps showed us the old house—the room where she wrote “Gates Ajar” and her present comfortable study in the next house and at last we sauntered out behind the home where the little summer-house still stands in wh. her mother read her little books. On our way we found the hired man who is said to have suggested Sam Lawson and stopped some time to hear the vernacular. Later we took a delightful drive and returned home by nightfall.

Dr. Holmes has recalled the spirit of this place in his article called I think “Cinders among the Ashes.” It is one of the latest strongholds of the best Calvinism has to give, but there is an unnatural Substratum of thought and action which most always give pain to the thinker, remembering how the fetters must gall upon the young and the doctrinal disbelievers.


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 5-20-2024.

Copyright © 2024 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.

Back To Top