Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, August 1860

August, 1860

The [boarding] house was further enlivened last night by the presence of Mr. Longfellow's son and heir . . . who with a companion sailed round from Nahant. Late in the evening — that is, probably so near the small hours as half-past nine — he was heard in the entry, rousing the echoes with the unwonted cry of Landlord! and when at last Mary Moody or some similar infant appeared, it appeared that they desired pen, ink, paper, and postage stamps. Mary thinks they had run away from their nurses and wished to send word home.

We have decided that Americans think their own race so beautiful, something must be done to disguise it; and bathing is taken as the occasion, certainly with great success. Mary was especially impressed with one man in scanty raiment, exhibiting an amount of bald head which Mary declared to be positively indelicate.

Also a tall, slim, red, unpleasing Californian with a perpetual pipe and a capacity for steady flirtation so long as his wife can be kept at a safe distance.

. . . To-day (Sunday) we thought would be hot, but there is a cool breeze and Miss Susanna's supposed lover is patiently stirring or revolving water-ice for dinner. Little “Parkie” Haven just called to him from the window, “Is it did yet?” — he responding, “No.”

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I had a characteristic letter from Charles H. [a cousin] yesterday, closing with a hint that there was often trouble in the army about delay of pay, etc., and begging me to draw on him up to five hundred dollars at any time, if needed. I have a great mind to take it and then turn miser and strike out a new path for Higginsons.

This is Sunday, the B—— visiting day, and their, loud voices pervade the promontory — Miss Susanna perhaps does not extend into the afternoon her impressive attire of this morning, which consisted of three vast curtains of white cotton (shall I say dimity?), the first draping her head, the second reaching to her waist, the third touching the ground, and the whole filling the horizon and making a shade in sunny places. She and Isa and brother David can protect this place from sunstroke, never fear. The present delight of visitors is the calf, to inspect which all are invited by the mighty voice of Mr. George Swett, resident ambassador from the court of Cupid near the headquarters of Susanna. “George” is the Gloucester widower of whom we used to hear, and who is now admitted to a nearer probation, and has been so indispensable in the family for two years that if he struck for higher wages I certainly think Miss B. would, with the family eye for the main chance, give him herself instead. Many are the anxious observations made with the sleepless microscopic eyes of childhood by Florence and Annie, who think nothing of popping out of bed for this purpose by moonlight, and who have composed a poem thereon, which ends, perhaps ingloriously, with

Another rhyme I wish to make
That his name is Mr. Swett, —

which may remind you of some of Pet Marjorie's poetical difficulties.

It is a singular compensation of human skill that while all other B—— voices are so vast and resounding, that their copperness of head must go down to the lungs, at least; one youth of eighteen next door was born with a squeak. Yet by one stroke he has outwitted Fate, and by dint of a piano fortissimo and twelve hours' daily and nightly practice he has attained skill to drown any of his relations, voice and all, and is now performing “The Maiden's Prayer” in tones to silence the Mighty Deep.

. . . Looking about for some literature suited for “a lonely and athletic student” temporarily on half rations, I have selected Miss Austen, the only author except Dr. Bartol whose complete works the house possesses, and one whose perfect execution cheers, while her mild excitements do not inebriate the mind of man.

. . . There is a Mrs. D—— of Cambridge, with a gentle dyspeptic daughter, whom (the mother) I should define as a Cambridge waiter — a perpetual tone of motherly despair, with the personal grandeur peculiar to that classic town, when represented by its citizens abroad. She was née W——, and there is a suppressed-Quincy sacredness in her every gesture. Her husband is the noted antiquarian, I believe; but nothing unbends her but perch, of which she has caught more than anybody; thus linking her to humanity through the indirect tie of a fishline.

SOURCE: Mary Potter Thacher Higginson, Editor, Letters and Journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1846-1906, p. 148-50

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