The 3d of June was a memorable day for us, for on the evening of that day we were to hold our reception. If Dean Bradley had proposed our meeting our guests in the Jerusalem Chamber, I should hardly have been more astonished. But these kind friends meant what they said, and put the offer in such a shape that it was impossible to resist it. So we sent out our cards to a few hundreds of persons,--those who we thought might like invitations. I was particularly desirous that many members of the medical profession whom I had not met, but who felt well disposed towards me, should be at this gathering. The meeting was in every respect a success. I wrote a prescription for as many baskets of champagne as would be consistent with the well-being of our guests, and such light accompaniments as a London company is wont to expect under similar circumstances. My own recollections of the evening, unclouded by its festivities, but confused by its multitudinous succession of introductions, are about as definite as the Duke of Wellington's alleged monosyllabic description of the battle of Waterloo. But A---- writes in her diary: "From nine to twelve we stood, receiving over three hundred people out of the four hundred and fifty we invited." As I did not go to Europe to visit hospitals or museums, I might have missed seeing some of those professional brethren whose names I hold in honor and whose writings are in my library. If any such failed to receive our cards of invitation, it was an accident which, if I had known, I should have deeply regretted. So far as we could judge by all we heard, our unpretentious party gave general satisfaction. Many different social circles were represented, but it passed off easily and agreeably. I can say this more freely, as the credit of it belongs so largely to the care and self-sacrificing efforts of Dr. Priestley and his charming wife.
It had been the intention of Mr. Willett to go with us to visit Mr. Ruskin, with whom he is in the most friendly relations. But a letter from Mr. Ruskin's sister spoke of his illness as being too serious for him to see company, and we reluctantly gave up this part of our plan.
Take lodgings next door to it,--in a garret, if you cannot afford anything better,--and pass all your days at the Museum during the whole period of your natural life. At threescore and ten you will have some faint conception of the contents, significance, and value of this great British institution, which is as nearly as any one spot the noeud vital of human civilization, a stab at which by the dagger of anarchy would fitly begin the reign of chaos.
My heart has gone back over the waters to my old friends and my own home. When this vision has faded, I will return to the silence of the lovely Close and the shadow of the great Cathedral.
I am sorry that I did not ask Tennyson to read or repeat to me some lines of his own. Hardly any one perfectly understands a poem but the poet himself. One naturally loves his own poem as no one else can. It fits the mental mould in which it was cast, and it will not exactly fit any other. For this reason I had rather listen to a poet reading his own verses than hear the best elocutionist that ever spouted recite them. He may not have a good voice or enunciation, but he puts his heart and his inter-penetrative intelligence into every line, word, and syllable. I should have liked to hear Tennyson read such lines as
Ah, but here is one marble countenance that I know full well, and knew for many a year in the flesh! Is there an American who sees the bust of Longfellow among the effigies of the great authors of England without feeling a thrill of pleasure at recognizing the features of his native fellow-countryman in the Valhalla of his ancestral fellow-countrymen? There are many memorials in Poets' Corner and elsewhere in the Abbey which could be better spared than that. Too many that were placed there as luminaries have become conspicuous by their obscurity in the midst of that illustrious company. On the whole, the Abbey produces a distinct sense of being overcrowded. It appears too much like a lapidary's store-room. Look up at the lofty roof, which we willingly pardon for shutting out the heaven above us,--at least in an average London day; look down at the floor and think of what precious relics it covers; but do not look around you with the hope of getting any clear, concentrated, satisfying effect from this great museum of gigantic funereal bricabrac. Pardon me, shades of the mighty dead! I had something of this feeling, but at another hour I might perhaps be overcome by emotion, and weep, as my fellow-countryman did at the grave of the earliest of his ancestors. I should love myself better in that aspect than I do in this coldblooded criticism; but it suggested itself, and as no flattery can soothe, so no censure can wound, "the dull, cold ear of death."
I begin this record with the columnar, self-reliant capital letter to signify that there is no disguise in its egoisms. If it were a chapter of autobiography, this is what the reader would look for as a matter of course. Let him consider it as being such a chapter, and its egoisms will require no apology.
Invested with the academic gown and cap, I repaired in due form at the appointed hour to the Senate Chamber. Every seat was filled, and among the audience were youthful faces in large numbers, looking as if they were ready for any kind of outbreak of enthusiasm or hilarity.
The university town left a very deep impression upon my mind, in which a few grand objects predominate over the rest, all being of a delightful character. I was fortunate enough to see the gathering of the boats, which was the last scene in their annual procession. The show was altogether lovely. The pretty river, about as wide as the Housatonic, I should judge, as that slender stream winds through "Canoe Meadow," my old Pittsfield residence, the gaily dressed people who crowded the banks, the flower-crowned boats, with the gallant young oarsmen who handled them so skilfully, made a picture not often equalled. The walks, the bridges, the quadrangles, the historic college buildings, all conspired to make the place a delight and a fascination. The library of Trinity College, with its rows of busts by Roubiliac and Woolner, is a truly noble hall. But beyond, above all the rest, the remembrance of King's College Chapel, with its audacious and richly wrought roof and its wide and lofty windows, glowing with old devices in colors which are ever fresh, as if just from the furnace, holds the first place in my gallery of Cambridge recollections.