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Page 269


A few days after the dinner, Mr. Brandagee, being in
the Wonder office to read the proof of his article on Mrs.
Pudge, came to my desk and entered into conversation. I
had just completed my graphic description of the fall,
death, and removal of an omnibus-horse on the slippery
pavement of Broadway (an item afterwards copied in all
the country papers), and had half an hour to spare, in the
course of which time quite a pleasant familiarity was established
between us. He had looked over my book, which
he pronounced better than “Alcibiades at Syracuse,” to the
best of his recollection. As he was leaving, he said, —

“Do you go to Mrs. Yorkton's on Friday evening?”

“Mrs. Yorkton?”

“Yes — the poetess. Though she mostly writes under
the signature of `Adeliza Choate.'”

Was it possible? Adeliza Choate, — the rival of my
boyish ambition, — the sister of my first poetic dreams! I
had always imagined her as a lovely, dark-eyed girl, with
willowy tresses and a lofty brow. And she was Mrs. Yorkton,
— married, and giving receptions on Friday evenings!
That fact seemed to bring her down to common earth, — to
obscure the romantic nimbus in which my fancy had enveloped
her form; yet I none the less experienced a violent
desire to see her.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, “I have read her poems, but I do
not know her personally. I should very much like to go.”

“Nothing easier: I 'll take you. Friday night, remember.


Page 270
She lives in Fourth Street, and you may as well call
at the Smithsonian for me. Come early. I had a note
from her this morning, and she wants me to be there by
eight o'clock, to assist her in some deuce of a mysterious
arrangement. She always gets up some sentimental clap-trap
or other — `to start conversation in intellectual channels,'
she says. You 'll find all the literary small fry on
hand, — Smithers, Danforth, Clara Collady, and the like.
You need n't dress particularly, — it 's quite Bohemian.
Smithers always wears a scarlet cravat, and an old black
velvet coat, with half the buttons off.”

This information was rather attractive than otherwise.
It denoted a proper scorn of conventionalities, which I had
always looked upon as one of the attributes of genius. A
side-door, at least, was now opened for me into the enchanted
circle which I so longed to enter. The anticipation
of the event diverted my mind from its gloomy
apathy, and helped me along more swiftly through the
weary days.

Fortunately, when the evening arrived, there was no
moral, charitable, political, or religious meeting to report, —
no pyrotechnic display or torch-light procession to describe,
— and I could venture to be absent from the office until
midnight, at which time I was obliged to revise the fires
and accidents. Notwithstanding Mr. Brandagee's hint as to
costume, I put on my evening dress, and sprinkled my
handkerchief with jockey-club. Reaching the Smithsonian
at half-past seven, I found my chaperon in his room on the
third story, reading a volume of Balzac, with his feet on a
chair and a mint-julep at his elbow.

“By Jove, I forgot!” he exclaimed, jumping up. “Damn
Adeliza Choate and the whole tribe! I 'd ten thousand
times rather go on with La Peau de Chagrin. But it won't
do to have you get out of your bandbox for nothing, Godfrey.
Whew! You have come from Araby the Blest, —
will you let me `pursue your triumph and partake your


Page 271
gale?' Adeliza will have a sonnet `To J. G.' in the next
`Hesperian,' commencing, —

`On thine ambrosial locks my heart reclines.'”

But he changed his coat and brushed his black hair
while talking, and we set out for the eastern part of Fourth
Street. The Yorkton Mecca was a low and somewhat ancient
brick house, with a green door and window-blinds.
Heavy, badly smelling ailanthus-trees in front conveniently
obscured the livery-stable and engine-house on the opposite
side of the street, and as there happened to be no fires at
the time, and no carriages in requisition, the place had a
quiet, contemplative air. The bell was answered by a small
mulatto-boy, whose white jacket and trousers were ornamented
with broad red stripes down the arms and legs,
giving him the air of a little yellow harlequin.

He grinned on seeing Mr. Brandagee, said, “She 's in
the parlor,” and threw open the door thereto.

Only one gas-burner was yet lighted, but, as the rooms
were small, I could very well observe the light-blue figure
which advanced to meet us. Heavens and earth! where
was the lovely creature with dark eyes and willowy tresses?
I saw, to my unutterable surprise, a woman of forty-five,
tall, lean, with a multitude of puckers about her yellowish-gray
eyes, and long thin lips. On her faded brown hair
she wore a wreath of blue flowers. Her nose was aquiline,
and her neck seemed to throw out strong roots in the direction
of her shoulders. As I looked at the back of it,
afterwards, I could not help thinking I saw a garland of
forget-me-nots laid on the dry, mossy stump of a sapling.

“Faithful friend! Fidus Achates!” (which she pronounced
Akkatees,) she exclaimed, holding out both hands
to Brandagee. “You are just in time. Adonis,” (this to
the striped mulatto-boy,) “light the other burners!”

“You know you can always depend upon me, Adeliza,”
Brandagee replied, with a side-wink to me; “I consider


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myself as your fidibus. Let me present to you my friend,
Mr. Godfrey, whose name is familiar to you, no doubt, as
one of our dawning bards, — `Leonora's Dream, and Other

“Is it possible? This is an unexpected acquisition to
our circle of choice spirits. Mr. Godfrey! I am delighted
to make your acquaintance. I have long known and admired
your poetical self: we are fellow-Hesperians, you

Though I was so confounded by the reality of Adeliza's
appearance, I could not help being flattered by the warmth
of her reception. I glowed with gratified vanity, as I took
her offered hand, and said I was very happy to meet Miss
Choate, whose poems I had read with so much pleasure.

Brandagee burst into a laugh at my blunder, which I
also perceived, the moment after it was uttered. Much
embarrassed, I stammered some awkward words of apology.

Mrs. Yorkton, however, was rather pleased than offended.

“No apology is necessary, Mr. Godfrey,” she said: “I
am quite as accustomed to my poetic as to my prosaic
name. I adopted the former when I first began to write,
on account of the prejudice which The Herd manifests
when a woman's hand dares to sweep the strings of the
Delphic lyre. But the secret was soon discovered by those
friends who knew my Inner Self, and they still like to address
me by what they call my `Parnassian name.'”

By this time the remaining burners had been lighted,
and all the features of this bower of the Muses were revealed
to view. The furniture was well-worn, and had apparently
been picked up piece by piece, without regard to
the general harmony. Over the front mantelpiece hung
a portrait in crayons of the hostess, with a pen in her hand,
and her eyes uplifted. On a small table between the windows
stood a large plaster bust of Virgil, with a fresh wreath
of periwinkle (plucked from the back-yard) upon its head.
On the two centre-tables were laid volumes of poetry, and


Page 273
some annuals, bound in blue and scarlet cloth. The most
remarkable feature of the room, however, was a series of
four oblong black-boards, suspended like picture-frames on
the walls, each one bordered with a garland of green leaves.
Upon two of these there were sentences written with chalk;
the other two were still empty.

“There, Mr. Brandagee!” she exclaimed, waving her thin
arm with an air of triumph; “that is my idea for to-night.
Don't you think it suggestive? Instead of pictures, a pregnant
sentence on each of these dark tablets. It seems to
symbolize Thought starting out in white light from the midnight
of Ignorance. Words give mental pictures, you know,
and I want to have these filled up by distinguished masters.
Come, and I 'll show you what I have done!”

She led the way to the farthest black-board, stationed
herself before it, with Brandagee on one side and myself
on the other, and resumed her explanation. “This I have
written,” she said, “not because I could not find any sentence
adapted to the purpose, but because my friends seem
to expect that I should always offer them some intellectual
food. `Congenial Spirits Move in Harmonious Orbits,' —
how do you like it? There must be a great deal of meaning
compressed into a very few words, you know, — oracular,
suggesting various things. Now, I want to have the same
thought, or a kindred one, in other languages, on the other
boards. The next, you see, is French, but I can't go any
further without your help. What do you think of this?”

“`Les beaux esprits se rencontrent,'” read Brandagee.
“Very appropriate, indeed! Not only abstractly true, but
complimentary to your guests. And you want the same
thing in other languages, — what languages?”

“One must be German, of course,” said she. “Can't
you remember something from Schiller, or Goeethy, or

“I have it! Give me the chalk. Your own Orphic utterance
reproduced in the immortal words of Goethe! Did


Page 274
you know it? — the finest line in `Faust'; — what a singular
coincidence of genius?”

Taking the chalk from the ready hand of the delighted
Mrs. Yorkton, Brandagee wrote on the third black-board:
Gleiches gesellt sich gern mit Gleichem!” I understood the
words, and was a little at a loss to account for his enthusiasm
about them.

“Now for the last!” said he. “It must be Italian, Spanish,
Swedish, or Dutch. I might take a line from Dante, —
`Lasciate ogni speranza,' and so forth, but that would be
too palpable to some of the beaux esprits. You want something
more vague and mystical. Who is there, — Tegner,
Calderon, Lope de Vega? — Calderon is best, and now I recall
the very sentence for you. There it is, white on black:
`Cada oveja ha sin pareja.'”

“It has a lovely sound,” she murmured; “what is the

“Something like this,” he answered; “`No gentle creature
is condemned to solitude,'” — but he afterwards whispered
to me that the sentence actually read: “Every sheep
has its fellow.”

Mrs. Yorkton grasped his hands with gratitude, and twice
made the circuit of the rooms to inspect, with radiant satisfaction,
her suggestive mental pictures. Then, as Brandagee
had flung himself into a chair, and was tossing over
the leaves of the annuals, she invited me to take a seat beside
her on the sofa.

“Tell me now, Mr. Godfrey,” said she, “what is your
usual process of composition? I don't mean the fine frenzy,
because all poets must have that, of course; but how do
you write, and when do you find the combination of influences
most favorable? It is a subject which interests me
greatly; my own temperament is so peculiar. Indeed,
I have found no one upon whom the Inspiration seizes
with such power. Does it visit you in the garish light
of day, or only awake beneath the stars? Must you


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wear a loose dressing-gown, like Mr. Danforth, or is your
Muse not impeded by the restraints of dress?”

I scarcely knew what answer to make to these questions.
In fact, I began strongly to suspect that I was no poet.
I had never supposed that any particular time or costume
was required for the exercise of the faculty, — had never
thought of instituting a series of observations upon myself,
for the purpose of determining what conditions were most

“I am really unable to say,” I answered. “I have always
been in the habit of writing whenever I felt that I had a
good subject, whether by day or night.”

“How fortunate!” she exclaimed; “how I envy you!
Your physique enables you to do it; but with my sensitive
frame, it would be impossible. I feel the approach of Inspiration
in every nerve; — my husband often tells me
that he knows beforehand when I am going to write, my
eyes shine so. Then I go up-stairs to my study, which is
next to my bedroom. It always comes on about three
o'clock in the afternoon, when the wind blows from the
south. I change my dress, and put on a long white gown,
which I wear at no other time, take off my stays, and let
my hair down my back. Then I prance up and down the
room as if I was possessed, and as the lines come to me
I dash them on the black-board, one after another, and chant
them in a loud voice. Sometimes I cover all four of the
boards — both sides — before the Inspiration leaves me.
The frail Body is overcome by the excitement of the Soul,
and at night my husband often finds me lying on the floor
in the middle of the room, panting — panting!”

She gave this information in so wild and excited a manner,
flapping her hands up and down before her to illustrate
the operation of prancing, hurling forth one arm, and
making a convulsive, tremulous line in the air with her
closed fingers when she came to dashing the words on the
black-board, and panting so very literally at the close, that


Page 276
I began to be alarmed lest the Inspiration was approaching.
I looked at her head, and was reassured on finding that the
forget-me-nots still crowned it, and that her hair was not
coming down behind.

“I should think it must be very exhausting,” I ventured
to remark.

“Killing!” she exclaimed, with energy. “I am obliged
to take restoratives and stimulants, after one of these visits.
It would n't be safe for me to have a penknife in the room,
— or a pair of scissors, — or a sharp paper-cutter, — while
the frenzy is on me. I might injure myself before I knew
it. But it would be a sweet, a fitting death. If it ever
comes, Mr. Godfrey, you must write my thanatopsis!”

Here Brandagee, sitting at the table with his back to us,
startled us by bursting into the most violent laughter. Mrs.
Yorkton evidently did not find the interruption agreeable.

“What is the matter?” she asked, in a stiff voice.

“Oh,” said he, “these things of Mrs. Mallard. I have
just been turning over the `Female Poets.' The editor
has given her ten pages. I wonder what she paid him;
there must have been an equivalent.”

“Ten pages, indeed!” ejaculated Mrs. Yorkton, with
bitterness, “and barely three for me! That is the way
literature is encouraged. How anybody can find the traces
of Inspiration in Mrs. Mallard's machinery — I won't call
it poetry — I cannot comprehend. I am told, Mr. Brandagee,
that she has become very spiteful, since my receptions
have made a noise in the literary world.”

“I don't doubt it. Detraction and Envy are the inevitable
attendants of Genius. But the Eagle should not be
annoyed at the hostile gyrations of the Vulture.”

“What grand dashes of thought you strike out!” she
cried, in an excess of delight and admiration. “That image
would close a sonnet so finely. If it should return to my
mind, hereafter, in some Inspired Moment, you will know
whose hand planted the Seeds of Song.”


Page 277

“You don't know what a poet I am!” he said, in his
mocking way. “If I dared to write. Dr. Brown-Sequard
said to me one day, in Paris, when he was attending me
for the rupture of a blood-vessel, caused by writing a poem
on hearing a nightingale singing in Rue Nôtre Dame de
Lorette, — said he, `Brandagee, my boy, avoid these exaltations,
if you don't want to bring up at Père la Chaise or
Charenton. Your nature is over-balanced: you must drop
the spiritual and cultivate the animal.' It was a hard sentence:
but I wanted to live, and I was forced to obey.”

He heaved a deep sigh, which was echoed, in all seriousness,
by Mrs. Yorkton. I admired the amazing command
of face and manner, which enabled him to perpetrate such
barefaced irony, without exciting her suspicion. It was
evident that she both believed and admired him.

The arrival of guests interrupted the conversation. Two
gentlemen and a lady entered the room. I recognized
Mr. Smithers at once, by the scarlet cravat and velvet
coat; the others, as Mrs. Yorkton whispered before presenting
me, were “appreciative sympathizers, not authors.”
The black-board answered their purpose by furnishing
immediate subjects for talk, and I got on very well with
the appreciative sympathizers. Presently Mr. Danforth
arrived, escorting Clara Collady, and followed by Mr. Bluebit,
a sculptor, and Mr. S. Mears, a painter. Brandagee
persisted in calling the latter “Smears.” I looked curiously
at the gentleman who could only write in a loose dressing-gown,
and found the peculiarity intelligible, supposing he
usually went as tightly clad as at present. His coat was
buttoned so that there were horizontal creases around the
waist, and the seams were almost starting, and it seemed
impossible for him to bend forward his head without having
respiration suspended by his cravat. Whenever he
nodded in conversation, his whole body, from the hips
upward, shared the movement.

Clara Collady was a dumpy person of twenty-eight or


Page 278
thirty, with a cheerful face and lively little black eyes.
I sought an introduction to her, and soon found that we
were mutually ignorant of each other's works. I was surprised
to learn that her name was genuine and not “Parnassian.”
She was disposed to enjoy the society without
criticizing its separate members, or suspecting any of them
of the crime of overlooking her own literary importance.

“I like to come here,” she said. “It rests and refreshes
me, after a week in the school-room. Mrs. Yorkton is
sometimes a little too anxious to show people off, which I
think is unnecessary. They are always ready enough to
do it without instigation. But it is very pleasant to say
and do what you please, and I find that I generally learn
something. I could n't aspire to the higher literary circles,
you know.”

Loud talking, near at hand, drew my attention. It was
Smithers engaged in a discussion with S. Mears.

“Classical subjects are dead — obsolete — antediluvian!”
cried the former. “Take the fireman, in his red
flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, —
the clam-fisher, bare-legged on the sea-shore, — the woodchopper,
— the street-sweeper: where will you find anything
more heroic?”

“Very good for genre,” said S. Mears, “but you would n't
call it High Art?”

“It 's the Highest, sir! Form and Action, in their grand
primitive sublimity! That 's the mistake you painters
make; you go on forever painting leather-faced Jeromes,
and Magdalens with tallow bosoms, instead of turning to
Life! Life 's the thing! A strong-backed 'long-shore-man,
with his hairy and sunburnt arms, and the tobacco-juice
in the corners of his mouth, is worth all your saints!”

“Very well,” said S. Mears; “will you let me paint
yourself, with vine-leaves in your hair, and only a bit of
goat-skin around your loins? I 'll call it Silenus. You 'll
have your `Life,' and I 'll have my classic subject.”


Page 279

Mr. Smithers was evidently getting angry, and would
have hotly retorted, but for the interposition of Mr. Bluebit,
who took an arm of each and shook them good-humoredly,
saying, “Congenial spirits move in harmonious
orbits.” Brandagee, also, had been attracted by the
voices, and joined the group. The other three gentlemen,
I noticed, treated him with a cautious deference, as if they
had been pricked by his tongue and did not wish to repeat
the sensation.

Other guests dropped in, by ones and twos, until the
small apartments were well filled, and the various little
centres of animated talk blended in an incessant and not
very harmonious noise. Mrs. Yorkton seemed to consider
me as an acquisition to her circle, — probably because it
embraced more “appreciative sympathizers” than authors,
— and insisted on presenting me to everybody, as “one of
our dawning bards.” The kindly cordiality with which I
was received awoke my benumbed ambition, and cheated
me into the belief that I had already achieved an enviable

While I was talking to a very hirsute gentleman, — Mr.
Ponder, who wrote short philosophical essays for “The
Hesperian,” — I heard a familiar female voice behind me.
Turning around, I beheld the nose, the piercing Oriental
eyes, and the narrow streak of a forehead of Miss Levi,
whom I had not seen since Winch's reconciliation ball.
She was dressed in a dark maroon-colored silk, and the
word “Titianesque!” which I heard S. Mears address to
his friend Bluebit, must have been spoken of her. Among
so many new faces she impressed me like an old acquaintance,
and I bowed familiarly as soon as I caught her eye.
To my surprise, she returned the salutation with an uncertain
air, in which there was but half-recognition.

“How have you been, since we met at Mr. Winch's?”
I asked, taking a vacant seat beside her.

“Oh, very true! It was there we met: I remember


Page 280
the song you sang. What a pity Mrs. Yorkton has no

I was too much disconcerted by the mistake to set her
right; but Mrs. Yorkton, beholding us, bent down her
forget-me-nots and whispered, “And you never told me,
Miss Levi, that you knew Mr. Godfrey! Why did you not
bring him into our circle before?”

Miss Levi cast a side-glance at me, recalled my personality,
and answered, with perfect self-possession, “Oh, I
think poets should find their way to each other by instinct.
I can understand them, though I may not be of them.
Besides, he is false and faithless. You know you are, Mr.
Godfrey: you are like a bee, going from flower to flower.”

“Which is worse, Miss Levi,” I asked, — “the bee that
visits many flowers, or the flower that entertains many

She spread her fan, covered the lower part of her face
with it, and fixed me with her powerful eyes, while Mrs.
Yorkton nodded her head and observed, “An admirable

“Now, Mr. Godfrey,” Miss Levi resumed, removing her
fan, “that is a spiteful remark, and you know it. You
must repeat to me your last poem, before I can forgive

“Pray do!” cried Mrs. Yorkton, clasping her hands in
entreaty. “Let us be the first to welcome it, before you
cast it forth to the hollow echoes of the world. Mr. Danforth
has promised to read to us the first act of his new
tragedy, and your poem will be a lyrical prelude to the
sterner recitation.”

But I was steadfast in my refusal. I had written nothing
since the publication of my volume, and how was I to utter
to the ears of others the words of love which had become
a mockery to my own heart? The controversy drew the
eyes of others upon us, until Brandagee came to my rescue,
by proclaiming his own lack of modesty, and demanding a
test upon the spot.


Page 281

“What shall it be?” he asked: “a recitation, a lyrical
improvisation, or an extemporaneous dramatic soliloquy?
There 's no difference between writing a thing for others
to read, and speaking it for others to hear. Poetry is only
a habit of the mind — a little practice makes it come as
pat as prose. There was my friend, Von Struensee, the
great composer, who took it into his head, when he was
fifty years old, to write the librettos of his own operas.
Never had attempted a line of poetry before; so he began
by lifting the calf, and it was n't long before he could shoulder
the ox. The first day he wrote two lines; the second,
four; the third, eight; the fourth, sixteen; doubling every
day until he could do eighteen hundred lines without stopping
to take breath. Do you know that Sir Egerton
Brydges wrote fourteen thousand sonnets, and I 've no doubt
they were as good as Cardinal Bembo's, who took forty
days to a single one. Give me an inspiring subject, — the
present occasion, for instance, or an apostrophe to our talented
hostess, — and I 'll turn out the lines faster than you
can write them.”

The proposal was hailed with acclamation, and the little
interval which occurred in choosing a subject gave Brandagee
time to collect his thoughts for the work. He had
skilfully suggested a theme, which, having been mentioned,
could not well be overlooked, and, to Mrs. Yorkton's intense
satisfaction, she became his inspiration. He rattled off
with great rapidity a string of galloping lines, in which
there was not much cohesion, but plenty of extravagant
compliment and some wit. However, it passed as a marvellous
performance, and was loudly applauded.

Other subjects were immediately suggested, considerably
to Mr. Danforth's annoyance. This gentleman had been
fidgeting about the room uneasily, with one hand in his
pocket, occasionally drawing forth a roll of paper tied with
red ribbon, and then thrusting it back again. Brandagee,
perceiving the movement, said, —


Page 282

“Do not run the Pierian fountain dry all at once, I beg
of you. But, if Mr. Danforth will allow me, I will read
the portion of his tragedy with which he intends to favor
us. I flatter myself that I can do justice to his diction.”

The proposal met with favor from all except the author.
Thrusting the roll deeper into his pocket, and stiffening his
head angrily, he protested that no one could or should read
his own manuscript except himself. Besides, he had not
positively promised that the company should hear it; the
plot was not yet developed, and hence the situations would
not be properly understood. It would be better, perhaps,
if he waited until the completion of the second act.

“Wait until all five are finished!” said Mr. Smithers.
“It is a bad plan to produce your torsos; I never knew of
any good to come of it. Give me the complete figure, —
bone, muscle, and drapery, and then I 'll tell you what
it is!”

Brandagee seconded Mr. Smithers's views so heartily that
the postponement of the reading was soon accepted, as a
matter of course, by the company. Mr. Danforth was consequently
in a very ill humor for the rest of the evening.
He would have gone home at once but that Clara Collady,
whom he escorted, declared that she was very well pleased
with the entertainment and was determined to remain.

Adonis now reappeared with a tray, and we were regaled
with cups of weak tea, and cakes of peculiar texture.
Under the influence of these stimulants, harmony was restored,
and the orbits of the congenial spirits ceased to
clash. The midnight reports of fires and accidents called
me away soon afterwards, and I tore myself from Miss
Levi's penetrating eyes, and Mrs. Yorkton's clutching
hands, promising to return on successive Friday evenings.
Brandagee left with me, satisfied, as he said, with having
“choked off Danforth.”

As I was leaving the room, I caught sight of a mild,
diminutive gentleman, seated alone in the corner nearest


Page 283
the door. He was looking on and listening, with an air of
modest enjoyment. None of the others seemed to notice
him, and I suspected that he had been even forgotten by
Adonis and the tea-tray. Catching my eye, he jumped up
briskly, shook hands, and said, —

“Very much obliged to you for the call. Come again!”

It was Mr. Yorkton.