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Page 254


I was back again at my post before my stipulated leave
of absence had expired. Mr. Clarendon was evidently surprised,
but not disagreeably so, at my unexpected return,
and, when I reported myself to him in his private office,
asked me to take a seat, — a thing he had never done since
my first interview. Beyond an occasional scolding, varied
by a brief word of commendation, my intercourse with him
had been very limited, but I had acquired a profound respect
both for his character and his judgment.

After I was seated, he laid down his pen, pushed the long
slips of paper to one side, and looked at me across the

“How old are you, Godfrey?” he asked, after a pause.

“Just twenty-one.”

“So much the better. You have plenty of time yet to
find out what you can do best. Or are you like most young
men who can write a little, and suppose that you are capable
of everything?”

“I never supposed that,” I protested.

“I have looked through your book,” he continued. [I
had presented him with a copy soon after its publication.]
“It is about like nine-tenths of the poetry that is published
nowadays, — a good deal of genuine feeling and sentiment,
but no art. Judging by the degree of literary cultivation
in the public, — which I have had a fair opportunity of
learning, — I should think it would be generally liked. But


Page 255
I don't want you to be misled by this fact. You have a
ready pen; your talents are quick and flexible, and, with
proper schooling, you may become a useful and successful
newspaper writer. But I don't think you will ever achieve
distinction as a poet. Are you not very fond of reading
Moore, Scott, and Mrs. Hemans?”

I assented, with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment.
Mr. Clarendon's unfavorable opinion, however, affected
me much less than it would have done a fortnight

“Let me advise you,” he said, “to drop those authors for
a while, and carefully read Wordsworth. I would not ask
you to cease writing, for I know the request would be useless;
and, except in the way of fostering a mistaken ambition,
it can do you no harm. Your prose style will be
none the worse from the greater compactness of thought
and the richer vocabulary which poetry gives. Only,” he
added, with a smile, “pray keep the two in separate boxes.
It is a great mistake to mix them as some writers do.”

I assured Mr. Clarendon that I was by no means certain
of my vocation; that the volume was an experiment, which
seemed to me to be tolerably successful, but I did not suppose
it finally settled the question. I was greatly obliged
for his good opinion of my talents, and would read Wordsworth
as he recommended. I was then about to withdraw
from the room, but he detained me a moment longer.

“I am going to propose a change in your duties,” he said.
“You are now familiar with the composition of a newspaper,
and can do better service, I think, in the City Department.
It is not so mechanical as your former work, — requires
quickness, correctness, and a sprightly style. You will be
much out-of-doors, of course, and you may find it a little
harassing at the start. But there will be an increase of
salary, and you must expect to earn it.”

I willingly accepted the proposal, for, to be candid, I was
getting tired of the monotony of “condensing the miscellaneous.”


Page 256
The increase of my salary to fifteen dollars a week
was also welcome. My satisfaction in saving a portion
of my earnings was gone, but a gloomier motive supplied
its place. It was well to be independent of the selfish race
of men, — to work out the proud and contemptuous liberty,
which I proposed to myself as my sole future aim.

Mrs. Very welcomed me back with the empressement due
to a member of her domestic circle. Mr. Mortimer shook
hands with me as we went down to dinner, with an air which
said, “I admit your equality;” and Mrs. Mortimer bent her
neck some three quarters of an inch more than usual, as
she allowed her tightly gloved hand to rest for a second in
mine. Miss Dunlap being absent on a visit to her friends
in the country, my seat fell next to Miss Tatting, who made
loud and particular inquiries as to how I found my relatives,
and was it a nice part of the country, and which way
do you go to get there, and did the ladies come to New
York to buy their trimmings, — all of which I could have
well spared. Swansford, I could see, was truly happy to
have me again as his vis-à-vis, and in spite of my determination
to trust no human being, I could not help acknowledging
that he really seemed to think himself my friend.
When we had talked for an hour or two, in the attic, I was
almost sure that he was, and that I was his. The numb,
steady ache of my wounds was beginning to tire me; I
longed to cry out, even though I were heard.

It was a still, sultry evening. We sat together at the
window until the stars came out, and looked down on the
felt partitions between the back-yards, and the mosquitoes
began to rise from a neighboring rain-water cistern. Swansford
had played to me his last composition, — something in
the minor key, as usual, — and I felt the hardness and coldness
of my mood give way.

“Come, old fellow,” I said, “I am five dollars a week
richer than I was. Let us go out and baptize the circumstance.”


Page 257

He was quite ready to join me. He had a pinched and
hungry look; Mrs. Very's provender was not adapted to
his delicate taste, and there were days when he scarcely ate
enough to support life. We walked up the Bowery, arm
in arm, crossed through Grand Street to Broadway, and
finally descended into a glittering cellar under the Metropolitan
Hotel. I had resolved to be as splendid as possible.
It was not long before we were installed in a little
room, as white and bright as paint and gas could make it,
with dishes of soft-shell crabs and lettuce before us, and a
bottle of champagne, in ice, on the floor.

I had a presentiment that I should tell Swansford everything,
and I did. But it was not until the crabs and lettuce
had disappeared, and an additional half-bottle found its way
to the cooler. I had no fault to find with his sympathy.
He echoed my bitterest denunciations of the treachery and
selfishness of men, but would not quite admit the utter
falsehood of women, nor, moreover, my claim to be considered
the most wronged of human beings.

“What can be worse?” I cried, quite reckless whether
or not my voice was heard in the neighboring stalls. “Can
you tell me of any harder blow than that? I don't believe

There were tears of outraged love in my eyes, and his
seemed to be filling too. He shook his head mournfully,
and said, “Yes, Godfrey, there is a worse fate than yours.
Your contempt for her will soon heal your love: but think,
now, if she were true, if she were all of womanly purity and
sweetness that you ever dreamed her to be, if you knew that
she could never love but yourself, — and then, if she were
forced by her heartless family to marry another! Think
what it would be to know her, day and night, given to him,
— to still believe that her heart turned to you as yours to
her, — to add endless pity and endless agony to the yearning
of love!”

His hands were tightly clasped on the table before him,


Page 258
and the tears were running down his thin cheeks as he
spoke. I knew his story now, and my pity for his sufferings
beguiled me into semi-forgetfulness of my own. I was
unable to speak, but stretched out my hand and grasped
his. Our palms met in a close, convulsive pressure, and
we knew that we were thenceforth friends.

The next day I was both surprised and flattered on
receiving an invitation to dine with Mr. Clarendon. Mr.
Severn, who shared the honor, stated to me confidentially,
“He would n't have done it, if he did n't look upon you as
one of our stock workers.” It was one of his Wonder dinners,
as they were called, embracing only gentlemen connected
in some way with the paper. He was in the habit
of giving three or four every year, — a large anniversary
dinner in the winter, and smaller ones at intervals of three
months. Mr. Horrocks, the chief editor of the Avenger,
gave similar entertainments to his subordinates, and there
was a standing dispute between them and us of the Wonder
as to which gentleman had the honor of originating the

I dressed myself in my best to do fitting honor to the
occasion, and punctually as the clock struck six rang the
bell of Mr. Clarendon's door, on Washington Square. A
mulatto gentleman, with a dress-coat rather finer than my
own, ushered me into the drawing-room, which was empty.
Mr. Clarendon, however, immediately made his appearance
and received me with great heartiness of manner. He had
entirely put off his official fixity of face and abruptness of
speech, and I hardly knew him in his new character of the
amiable, genial host.

“We shall have but few guests to-day,” he said, “as my
family leaves for Newport next week. Mrs. Clarendon and
my niece will join us at dinner, and there will be another
young lady, I believe. Mr. Brandagee and yourself are
the only bachelors, and I must look to you to entertain


Page 259

He smiled as he said this, and I felt that I ought to smile
and say something polite in return; but the effort, I am
afraid, must have resulted in a dismal grin. I was not in a
condition to sit down and entertain a young lady with flippant
and elegant nothings. However, there was already a
rustling at the other end of the room, and three ladies
advanced towards us. First, Mrs. Clarendon, a ripe, buxom
blond of forty, in dark-blue silk, — altogether a cheery
apparition. Then the niece, Miss Weldon, tall, slender,
with a long face, high forehead, black eyes, and smooth,
dark hair. She had the air of a daughter, which I presume
she was, by adoption. Mr. Clarendon had but one child,
a son, who was then at Harvard. Miss Weldon's friend, as
I judged her to be, was a Miss Haworth (I think that was
the name — I know it reminded me of Mary Chaworth), a
quiet creature, with violet eyes, and light hair, rippled on
the temples. Her face seemed singularly familiar to me,
and yet I knew I had never seen her before. I mutely
bowed to both the young ladies, and then turned to answer
a remark of Mrs. Clarendon, inwardly rejoicing that she
had saved me from them.

Mr. Severn presently entered, carrying his unhappy face
even to the festive board. He had the air of being, as he
perhaps was, permanently overworked, and was afflicted
with the habit, which he exercised unconsciously, of frequently
putting his hand on his side and heaving a deep
sigh. Yet he was a shrewd, intelligent fellow, and, although
usually a languid, hesitating talker, there were accidental
moments when he flashed into respectable brilliancy. After
the greetings were over, I was glad to see that he addressed
himself to the niece, leaving Mrs. Clarendon to me.

It was a quarter past six, and Mr. Clarendon began to
show signs of impatience. “Withering stays,” said he to
his wife; “as for Brandagee, I should not much wonder if
he had forgotten all about it. He seems to have the run
of a great many houses.”


Page 260

A violent ringing of the bell followed his words, and the
two delinquents entered together. I already knew Mr.
Withering, and felt grateful to him for his kindly notice of
my volume, but he was not otherwise attractive to me. He
was a man of thirty-six, with a prematurely dry, solemn air.
He wore a full, dark-brown beard, and his thick hair was
parted in the middle, so as to hide two curious knobs on his
temples. I used to wonder what Miss Hitchcock would
predict from those organs: I was sure there were no
bumps of the kind on my own skull. Perhaps they represented
the critical faculty, for Mr. Withering never wrote
anything but notices of books. He read all the English
reviews, and was quite a cyclopædia of certain kinds of
information; but, somehow, a book, in passing through his
alembic, seemed to exhale its finer aroma, to part with its
succulent juices, and become more or less mummified.
Names, at the sound of which I felt inclined to bow the
knee, rattled from his tongue as dryly as salts and acids
from a chemist's, and I never conversed with him without
feeling that my imaginative barometer had fallen several

Mr. Brandagee was barely known to me by name. He
was the author of several dashing musical articles, which
had been published in the Wonder, during the opera season,
and had created a temporary sensation. Since then he had
assailed Mr. Bellows, the great tragedian, in several sketches
characterized rather by wit and impertinence than profound
dramatic criticism: but everybody read and enjoyed
them none the less. He was said to be the scion of a rich
and aristocratic family in New-Haven, had passed through
college with high honors, and afterwards spent several
years and a moderate fortune in rambling all over Europe
and the East. He had now adopted journalism, it was
reported, as an easy mode of making his tastes and his
talents support him in such splendor as was still possible.

He made his salutations with a jolly self-possession — a


Page 261
noisy, flashy glitter of sentences — which quite threw the
rest of us into the shade. The ladies, I saw, were specially
interested in making his acquaintance. When dinner was
announced, he carried off Mrs. Clarendon, without waiting
for the host's beckon or looking behind him. Mr. Withering
followed with Miss Weldon, and then Mr. Clarendon
offered his arm to Miss Haworth. Severn, pressing his
side, and heaving profound sighs, brought up the rear with
me. I hastened to take the unoccupied seat at Mrs. Clarendon's
left hand, though it did not properly belong to me.
The lady was too well-bred even to look her dissatisfaction,
and Mr. Withering was thus interposed between me and
the niece.

My share of the entertainment was easily performed.
Mr. Brandagee, on the opposite side, monopolized the conversation
from the start, and I had nothing to do but look
and listen, in the intervals of the dinner. The man's face
interested me profoundly. It was not handsome, it could
hardly be called intellectual, it was very irregular: I could
almost say that it was disagreeable, and yet, it was so
mobile, it ran so rapidly through striking contrasts of
expression, and was so informed with a restless, dazzling
life, that I could not turn my eyes away from it. His forehead
was sloping, narrowing rapidly from the temples down
to the brows, his eyes dark-gray and deeply set, and his
nose very long and straight, the nostrils cut back sharply
on either side, like the barbs of an arrow. His upper lip
was very short, and broken in from the line of his profile,
as if he had been kicked there by a horse when a child.
It was covered with a moustache no thicker than an eyebrow,
— short, stubby hairs, that seemed to resist growth,
and resembled, at a little distance, a coarse black powder.
The under lip and chin, on the contrary, projected considerably,
and the latter feature terminated in a goat-like tuft
of hair. His cheeks were almost bare of beard. When
he spoke slowly, his voice seemed to catch somewhere in


Page 262
the upper jaw and be diverted through his nose, but as he
became lively and spirited in conversation, it grew clear
and shrill. It was not an agreeable voice: the deep, mellow
chest-notes were wanting.

The impression he made upon me was just the reverse
of what I had felt on first meeting Penrose. The latter repelled
me, in spite of the strong attraction of his beauty;
but Mr. Brandagee repelled me in every feature, yet at the
same time drew me towards him with a singular fascination.
His language was bold, brilliant, full of startling paradoxes
and unexpected grotesquenesses of fancy; withal, he was
so agile and adroit of fence that it was almost impossible
to pin him except by weapons similar to his own. It
seemed to me that Mr. Clarendon at once admired and
disliked him. The ladies, however, were evidently captivated
by his brilliancy, and helped him to monopolize the
attention of the table.

He had just completed a very witty and amusing description
of Alexandre Dumas, and there was a lull in the
talk, while a wonderful mayonnaise was brought upon the
table, when Miss Weldon, bending around Mr. Withering,
addressed him with, —

“Oh, Mr. Brandagee, did you ever hear Rubini?”

“I did,” said he. “Not on the stage. I 'm hardly old
enough for that, if you please. But when I was living in
Turin, I called one evening on my old friend, Silvio Pellico,
and found him dressed to go out. Now I knew that
he lived like a hermit, — I had never seen him before in
swallow-tails, — so I started back and said, `cos' è?' `To
Count Arrivamale's,' says he, `and only for Rubini's sake.'
`Will Rubini be there?' I yelled; `hold on a minute!' I
took the first fiacre I could find, gave the fellow five lire
extra, galloped home and jumped into my conventionalities,
snatched up Silvio, and off we drove to Arrivamale's together.
True enough, Rubini was there, old and well preserved,
but he sang — and I heard him!”


Page 263

“What did you think of his singing?” asked the delighted
Miss Weldon.

“All fioriture. The voice was in rags and tatters, but
the method was there. You know how Benedetti sings the
finale of Lucia? — lifting up his fists and carrying the sostenuto
the whole breadth of the stage; — well, Rubini
would have kept it dancing up and down, and whirling
round and round, like a juggler with four brass balls in the
air. That was what he sang, and I shall never forget the
bell' alma innamora-ha-ha-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-ah-ha-ha-ta!

There was a general shout of laughter at this burlesque
imitation of poor Rubini, which Mr. Brandagee gave in a
cracked falsetto. There seemed to be no end to his accomplishments.
After taking a fork-full of the mayonnaise, he
turned to Mrs. Clarendon with an enthusiastic face, exclaiming,
“Admirable! I congratulate you on your cook;
or is Mr. Clarendon himself the author? It is a part of
my credo that the composition of a salad requires a high
order of intellect, as well as character, tact, and the instincts
of a gentleman. Horace, Cervantes, and Shakespeare would
have been good hands at it; St. Paul would have done it

In spite of what had gone before, I was startled and
shocked at this, and I believe Mrs. Clarendon did not like
the irreverence. But Mr. Brandagee rattled on without
regarding her, — “It is n't modest in me to proclaim my
own skill, but, then, nobody ever accused me of modesty.
Modesty is an inconvenient article for gentlemen's use. I
am prouder of my triumph at the Trois Frères than of anything
else in my life. There were only three of us, — Paul
de Kock and poor Alfred de Musset. When we came to the
salad I saw their eyes sparkle; so much the better — I had
planned a surprise. So I picked up the dish, turned it
around, smelled it suspiciously, pulled it about a little with
a fork, and then said to the garçon, `otez ça!' I wish
you could have seen their faces; I am sure De Kock


Page 264
ground `barbare!' between his teeth. But I promised to
give them a substitute, started them on their old, everlasting
dispute about the battle of Zara, — one maintained that
there had been such a battle, and the other that there had
n't, — got the ingredients I wanted, and set to work. They
were hard at it, throwing Barbarossa and Dandolo, and I
don't know who else, across the table at each other's heads,
when I put their plates before them and said, `essayez!'
Each of them made a grimace, and took a little morsel
with an air of suspicion. When they had fairly tasted it,
they looked at each other for a full minute without saying
a word. Then De Kock drew a long breath and cried out,
`incroyable!' and De Musset answered, `énorme!' We
shook hands all around, with tears in our eyes, and always
tutoyed each other from that very night. Poor De Musset!”

After the ladies had withdrawn, cigars were brought on
the table. Mr. Clarendon, I noticed, did not smoke, and I
thought he seemed pleased that I followed his example.
Mr. Severn and Mr. Withering puffed their cigars delicately
and cautiously, and drew nearer to their chief, while
Mr. Brandagee, blowing a great cloud, poured out a glass
of claret and then pushed the decanter across to me.

“They are talking over Wonder matters,” he said, taking
Mrs. Clarendon's chair. “That is very fair Lafitte; try it.
But I prefer Clos-Vougeot after dinner.”

I took a glass of the wine rather than confess my ignorance
of the proper thing, in the presence of such an authority.

“By the way,” he asked, “are you the Mr. Godfrey who
has just published a volume of poems? I read Withering's
notice of it; I wish you would send me a copy.”

I gratefully promised to comply.

“I think we all begin in that way. I published, in my
senior year, `Alcibiades at Syracuse;' — don't say you 've
heard of it, because I know you have n't. I have not seen


Page 265
the thing for ten years, but I dare say it 's insufferable
trash. Poetry does n't pay. Do you know there are not
six poets in the world who could live on the profits of their

“But it is not money alone,” — I began, and then
stopped, seeing the ends of his projecting under-lip curl
around the ends of the short upper one, in a peculiar,
mocking smile. I felt instantly how green and sentimental
I must appear in his experienced eyes.

“I know all you were going to say,” he remarked, noticing
my silence. “I was tarred with the same brush, ages
ago. It 's pretty well scrubbed out of me, but I recognize
the smell. You believe in fame, in a sort of profane coming-down
of the fiery tongues, don't you? You 've been
anointed, and shampooed, and brushed, and combed by
some barber-Apollo, for an elegant `mission,' have n't you?
And the unwashed and uncombed multitude will turn up
their noses and scent you afar off, and say to each other,
`Let us stand aside that The Poet may pass!'”

I was too dazzled by the grotesque fancy of the image to
feel much hurt by its irony. On the contrary, I was curious
to know what a man, whose youth, he confessed, had
known dreams similar to mine, now thought of Literature
and of Life, after such a large experience of both. I
therefore laughed, and said, “I don't expect any such recognition
as that; — but is it not better to have some faith
in the work you undertake? Could any one be a good poet
who despised his mission, instead of believing in it?”

“The greatest poet of this generation,” he said, “is
Heine, who is n't afraid to satirize himself, — who treats his
poetic faculty very much as Swift treated Celia. The mission,
and the anointing, and all that, are pleasant superstitions,
I admit; but one can't live in the world and hold on
to them. The man who is n't afraid to look at the naked
truth, under all this surface flummery, is the master. You
believe, I suppose, that all men are naturally kind, and


Page 266
good, and honest, — that politicians are pure patriots, and
clergymen are saints, and merchants never take advantage
of each other's necessities, — that all married couples love
each other, and all young lovers will be true till death” —

I could not bear this. My blood was up, and I interrupted
him with a passionate earnestness which contrasted
strangely with the cold-blooded, negligent cynicism of his

“I am not quite such a fool as that,” I said. “I believe
that men, and women too, are naturally selfish and bad. I
have no particular respect for them; and if I should desire
fame, it would only be for the sake of making them respect

He looked at me more attentively than before, and I felt
that his keen gray eyes were beginning to spy out my secret
wound. I took another sip of the claret, in the hope
of turning aside his scrutiny. This movement, also, he
seemed to understand, but could not resist imitating it. He
filled his glass, emptied it, and then turned to me with, —

“So, you would like to be respected by those for whom
you have no respect. What satisfaction is there in that?”

“Not much, I know,” I answered; “but if they honored
me for saying what I feel to be true and good, I should
think better of them.”

“Ho, ho! That 's it, is it? Your logic is equal to the
puzzle of Epimenides and the Cretans. You despise men;
therefore they respect you; therefore you respect them.
I should n't wonder if you had gone through the converse
experience, to arrive at such a conclusion.”

I was quite bewildered by his rapid, flashy sentences, and
knew not how to reply. Besides, I saw how keenly he
tracked my expressions back to their source in my life, and
made a feeble effort to throw him off the scent.

“Then you don't think a literary reputation is worth
having?” I said.

“By all means; it is positive capital, in a certain way.


Page 267
It makes publishers indorse your promissory notes, opens
the doors of theatres and opera-houses to you, supplies you
with dinners without end, gives you the best rooms in hotels,
— sometimes complimentary passes on steamboats and
railways; in the words of the pious, smooths the asperities
of this life, and does you no harm in the world beyond
the grave. I should n't in the least object to those advantages.
But if only the school-girls weep over my pages,
and pencil the words `sweet!' and `beautiful!' on the margin,
their tears and their remarks won't butter my bread.
I 'd rather sit on velvet, like Reynolds the Great, propped
up by forty-seven flash romances, than starve, like Burns,
and have the pilgrims come to kneel on my bones. Fame 's
a great humbug. `Who hath it? — he that died o' Wednesday!'”

I was not prepared to disagree with him. His words
gave direction to the reflux of my feelings from their warm,
trusting outflow. I acknowledged the authority which his
great knowledge of life conferred; and though his hard,
mocking tone still affected me unpleasantly, I was desirous
to hear more of views which might one day be my own.

“Then there is no use in having any ambition?” I remarked.

Cela dépend. If a man feels the better for it, let him
have it. Théophile Gautier used to say, there are but three
divinities — Youth, Wealth, and Beauty. Substitute Health
for Beauty, and I agree with him. I have no beauty; —
I 'm as ugly as sin, but I don't find that it makes any difference,
either with women or men. Give me health and
wealth, and I 'll be as handsome as the Antinous. One
must get old some day; but even then, what is given to
youth can be bought for age. Hallo! the Lafitte is out.
Stretch down your arm and get the other decanter. Severn
won't miss it.”

I did as he requested, and Mr. Clarendon, noticing the
movement, got up and took a seat near me. “Brandagee,”


Page 268
he said, “I hope you have not been putting any mischief
into Godfrey's head.”

“I have none to spare,” he replied. “I am keeping it
bottled up for my article on Mrs. Pudge in Ophelia. By-the-by,
it 's nine o'clock. I must go down to Niblo's to see
her once more in the mad scene. These are capital Figaros,
Mr. Clarendon. I 'll take another, to give me a start
on the article.”

He took six, went into the drawing-room to take leave
of the ladies, and departed.

“A brilliant fellow,” said Mr. Clarendon, “but spoiled
by over-praise when young, and indulgence abroad.”

“He 's good company, though,” said Seven.

As for myself, I found myself mentally repeating his
words, on the way home. Youth, health, and wealth — was
he not right? What else was there to be enjoyed, — at
least for me?