The most charming man, John Morley and I agree, that we ever knew was Matthew Arnold. He had, indeed, „a charm” – that is the only word which expresses the effect of his presence and his conversation. Even his look and grave silences charmed.
He coached with us in 1880, I think, through Southern England – William Black and Edwin A. Abbey being of the party. Approaching a pretty village he asked me if the coach might stop there a few minutes. He explained that this was the resting-place of his godfather, Bishop Keble, and he should like to visit his grave. He continued:
„Ah, dear, dear Keble! I caused him much sorrow by my views upon theological subjects, which caused me sorrow also, but notwithstanding he was deeply grieved, dear friend as he was, he traveled to Oxford and voted for me for Professor of English Poetry.”
We walked to the quiet churchyard together. Matthew Arnold in silent thought at the grave of Keble made upon me a lasting impression. Later the subject of his theological views was referred to. He said they had caused sorrow to his best friends.
„Mr. Gladstone once gave expression to his deep disappointment, or to something like displeasure, saying I ought to have been a bishop. No doubt my writings prevented my promotion, as well as grieved my friends, but I could not help it. I had to express my views.”
I remember well the sadness of tone with which these last words were spoken, and how very slowly. They came as from the deep. He had his message to deliver. Steadily has the age advanced to receive it. His teachings pass almost uncensured to-day. If ever there was a seriously religious man it was Matthew Arnold. No irreverent word ever escaped his lips. In this he and Gladstone were equally above reproach, and yet he had in one short sentence slain the supernatural. „The case against miracles is closed. They do not happen.”
He and his daughter, now Mrs. Whitridge, were our guests when in New York in 1883, and also at our mountain home in the Alleghanies, so that I saw a great deal, but not enough, of him. My mother and myself drove him to the hall upon his first public appearance in New York. Never was there a finer audience gathered. The lecture was not a success, owing solely to his inability to speak well in public. He was not heard. When we returned home his first words were:
„Well, what have you all to say? Tell me! Will I do as a lecturer?”
I was so keenly interested in his success that I did not hesitate to tell him it would never do for him to go on unless he fitted himself for public speaking. He must get an elocutionist to give him lessons upon two or three points. I urged this so strongly that he consented to do so. After we all had our say, he turned to my mother, saying:
„Now, dear Mrs. Carnegie, they have all given me their opinions, but I wish to know what you have to say about my first night as a lecturer in America.”
„Too ministerial, Mr. Arnold, too ministerial,” was the reply slowly and softly delivered. And to the last Mr. Arnold would occasionally refer to that, saying he felt it hit the nail on the head. When he returned to New York from his Western tour, he had so much improved that his voice completely filled the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He had taken a few lessons from a professor of elocution in Boston, as advised, and all went well thereafter.
He expressed a desire to hear the noted preacher, Mr. Beecher; and we started for Brooklyn one Sunday morning. Mr. Beecher had been apprized of our coming so that after the services he might remain to meet Mr. Arnold. When I presented Mr. Arnold he was greeted warmly. Mr. Beecher expressed his delight at meeting one in the flesh whom he had long known so well in the spirit, and, grasping his hand, he said:
„There is nothing you have written, Mr. Arnold, which I have not carefully read at least once and a great deal many times, and always with profit, always with profit!”
„Ah, then, I fear, Mr. Beecher,” replied Arnold, „you may have found some references to yourself which would better have been omitted.”
„Oh, no, no, those did me the most good of all,” said the smiling Beecher, and they both laughed.
Mr. Beecher was never at a loss. After presenting Matthew Arnold to him, I had the pleasure of presenting the daughter of Colonel Ingersoll, saying, as I did so:
„Mr. Beecher, this is the first time Miss Ingersoll has ever been in a Christian church.”
He held out both hands and grasped hers, and looking straight at her and speaking slowly, said:
„Well, well, you are the most beautiful heathen I ever saw.” Those who remember Miss Ingersoll in her youth will not differ greatly with Mr. Beecher. Then: „How’s your father, Miss Ingersoll? I hope he’s well. Many a time he and I have stood together on the platform, and wasn’t it lucky for me we were on the same side!”
Beecher was, indeed, a great, broad, generous man, who absorbed what was good wherever found. Spencer’s philosophy, Arnold’s insight tempered with sound sense, Ingersoll’s staunch support of high political ends were powers for good in the Republic. Mr. Beecher was great enough to appreciate and hail as helpful friends all of these men.
Arnold visited us in Scotland in 1887, and talking one day of sport he said he did not shoot, he could not kill anything that had wings and could soar in the clear blue sky; but, he added, he could not give up fishing – „the accessories are so delightful.” He told of his happiness when a certain duke gave him a day’s fishing twice or three times a year. I forget who the kind duke was, but there was something unsavory about him and mention was made of this. He was asked how he came to be upon intimate terms with such a man.
„Ah!” he said, „a duke is always a personage with us, always a personage, independent of brains or conduct. We are all snobs. Hundreds of years have made us so, all snobs. We can’t help it. It is in the blood.”
This was smilingly said, and I take it he made some mental reservations. He was no snob himself, but one who naturally „smiled at the claims of long descent,” for generally the „descent” cannot be questioned.
He was interested, however, in men of rank and wealth, and I remember when in New York he wished particularly to meet Mr. Vanderbilt. I ventured to say he would not find him different from other men.
„No, but it is something to know the richest man in the world,” he replied. „Certainly the man who makes his own wealth eclipses those who inherit rank from others.”
I asked him one day why he had never written critically upon Shakespeare and assigned him his place upon the throne among the poets. He said that thoughts of doing so had arisen, but reflection always satisfied him that he was incompetent to write upon, much less to criticize, Shakespeare. He believed it could not be successfully done. Shakespeare was above all, could be measured by no rules of criticism; and much as he should have liked to dwell upon his transcendent genius, he had always recoiled from touching the subject. I said that I was prepared for this, after his tribute which stands to-day unequaled, and I recalled his own lines from his sonnet:
Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,
Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea, Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place, Spares but the cloudy border of his base To the foil’d searching of mortality;
And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know, Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure, Didst stand on earth unguess’d at – Better so!
All pains the immortal spirit must endure, All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow, Find their sole voice in that victorious brow.
I knew Mr. Shaw (Josh Billings) and wished Mr. Arnold, the apostle of sweetness and light, to meet that rough diamond – rough, but still a diamond. Fortunately one morning Josh came to see me in the Windsor Hotel, where we were then living, and referred to our guest, expressing his admiration for him. I replied:
„You are going to dine with him to-night. The ladies are going out and Arnold and myself are to dine alone; you complete the trinity.”
To this he demurred, being a modest man, but I was inexorable. No excuse would be taken; he must come to oblige me. He did. I sat between them at dinner and enjoyed this meeting of extremes. Mr. Arnold became deeply interested in Mr. Shaw’s way of putting things and liked his Western anecdotes, laughing more heartily than I had ever seen him do before. One incident after another was told from the experience of the lecturer, for Mr. Shaw had lectured for fifteen years in every place of ten thousand inhabitants or more in the United States.
Mr. Arnold was desirous of hearing how the lecturer held his audiences.
„Well,” he said, „you mustn’t keep them laughing too long, or they will think you are laughing at them. After giving the audience amusement you must become earnest and play the serious rôle. For instance, ‚There are two things in this life for which no man is ever prepared. Who will tell me what these are?’ Finally some one cries out ‚Death.’ ‚Well, who gives me the other?’ Many respond – wealth, happiness, strength, marriage, taxes. At last Josh begins, solemnly: ‚None of you has given the second. There are two things on earth for which no man is ever prepared, and them’s twins,’ and the house shakes.” Mr. Arnold did also.
„Do you keep on inventing new stories?” was asked.
„Yes, always. You can’t lecture year after year unless you find new stories, and sometimes these fail to crack. I had one nut which I felt sure would crack and bring down the house, but try as I would it never did itself justice, all because I could not find the indispensable word, just one word. I was sitting before a roaring wood fire one night up in Michigan when the word came to me which I knew would crack like a whip. I tried it on the boys and it did. It lasted longer than any one word I used. I began: ‚This is a highly critical age. People won’t believe until they fully understand. Now there’s Jonah and the whale. They want to know all about it, and it’s my opinion that neither Jonah nor the whale fully understood it. And then they ask what Jonah was doing in the whale’s – the whale’s society.'”
Mr. Shaw was walking down Broadway one day when accosted by a real Westerner, who said:
„I think you are Josh Billings.”
„Well, sometimes I am called that.”
„I have five thousand dollars for you right here in my pocket-book.”
„Here’s Delmonico’s, come in and tell me all about it.”
After seating themselves, the stranger said he was part owner in a gold mine in California, and explained that there had been a dispute about its ownership and that the conference of partners broke up in quarreling. The stranger said he had left, threatening he would take the bull by the horns and begin legal proceedings. „The next morning I went to the meeting and told them I had turned over Josh Billings’s almanac that morning and the lesson for the day was: ‚When you take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail; you can get a better hold and let go when you’re a mind to.’ We laughed and laughed and felt that was good sense. We took your advice, settled, and parted good friends. Some one moved that five thousand dollars be given Josh, and as I was coming East they appointed me treasurer and I promised to hand it over. There it is.”
The evening ended by Mr. Arnold saying:
„Well, Mr. Shaw, if ever you come to lecture in England, I shall be glad to welcome and introduce you to your first audience. Any foolish man called a lord could do you more good than I by introducing you, but I should so much like to do it.”
Imagine Matthew Arnold, the apostle of sweetness and light, introducing Josh Billings, the foremost of jesters, to a select London audience.
In after years he never failed to ask after „our leonine friend, Mr. Shaw.”
Meeting Josh at the Windsor one morning after the notable dinner I sat down with him in the rotunda and he pulled out a small memorandum book, saying as he did so:
„Where’s Arnold? I wonder what he would say to this. The ‚Century’ gives me $100 a week, I agreeing to send them any trifle that occurs to me. I try to give it something. Here’s this from Uncle Zekiel, my weekly budget: ‚Of course the critic is a greater man than the author. Any fellow who can point out the mistakes another fellow has made is a darned sight smarter fellow than the fellow who made them.'”
I told Mr. Arnold a Chicago story, or rather a story about Chicago. A society lady of Boston visiting her schoolmate friend in Chicago, who was about to be married, was overwhelmed with attention. Asked by a noted citizen one evening what had charmed her most in Chicago, she graciously replied:
„What surprises me most isn’t the bustle of business, or your remarkable development materially, or your grand residences; it is the degree of culture and refinement I find here.” The response promptly came:
„Oh, we are just dizzy on cult out here, you bet.”
Mr. Arnold was not prepared to enjoy Chicago, which had impressed him as the headquarters of Philistinism. He was, however, surprised and gratified at meeting with so much „culture and refinement.” Before he started he was curious to know what he should find most interesting. I laughingly said that he would probably first be taken to see the most wonderful sight there, which was said to be the slaughter houses, with new machines so perfected that the hog driven in at one end came out hams at the other before its squeal was out of one’s ears. Then after a pause he asked reflectively:
„But why should one go to slaughter houses, why should one hear hogs squeal?” I could give no reason, so the matter rested.
Mr. Arnold’s Old Testament favorite was certainly Isaiah: at least his frequent quotations from that great poet, as he called him, led one to this conclusion. I found in my tour around the world that the sacred books of other religions had been stripped of the dross that had necessarily accumulated around their legends. I remembered Mr. Arnold saying that the Scriptures should be so dealt with. The gems from Confucius and others which delight the world have been selected with much care and appear as „collects.” The disciple has not the objectionable accretions of the ignorant past presented to him.
The more one thinks over the matter, the stronger one’s opinion becomes that the Christian will have to follow the Eastern example and winnow the wheat from the chaff – worse than chaff, sometimes the positively pernicious and even poisonous refuse. Burns, in the „Cotter’s Saturday Night,” pictures the good man taking down the big Bible for the evening service:
„He wales a portion with judicious care.”
We should have those portions selected and use the selections only. In this, and much besides, the man whom I am so thankful for having known and am so favored as to call friend, has proved the true teacher in advance of his age, the greatest poetic teacher in the domain of „the future and its viewless things.”
I took Arnold down from our summer home at Cresson in the Alleghanies to see black, smoky Pittsburgh. In the path from the Edgar Thomson Steel Works to the railway station there are two flights of steps to the bridge across the railway, the second rather steep. When we had ascended about three quarters of it he suddenly stopped to gain breath. Leaning upon the rail and putting his hand upon his heart, he said to me:
„Ah, this will some day do for me, as it did for my father.”
I did not know then of the weakness of his heart, but I never forgot this incident, and when not long after the sad news came of his sudden death, after exertion in England endeavoring to evade an obstacle, it came back to me with a great pang that our friend had foretold his fate. Our loss was great. To no man I have known could Burns’s epitaph upon Tam Samson be more appropriately applied:
„Tam Samson’s weel-worn clay here lies: Ye canting zealots, spare him! If honest worth in heaven rise, Ye’ll mend or ye win near him.”
The name of a dear man comes to me just here, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, of Boston, everybody’s doctor, whose only ailment toward the end was being eighty years of age. He was a boy to the last. When Matthew Arnold died a few friends could not resist taking steps toward a suitable memorial to his memory. These friends quietly provided the necessary sum, as no public appeal could be thought of. No one could be permitted to contribute to such a fund except such as had a right to the privilege, for privilege it was felt to be. Double, triple the sum could readily have been obtained. I had the great satisfaction of being permitted to join the select few and to give the matter a little attention upon our side of the Atlantic. Of course I never thought of mentioning the matter to dear Dr. Holmes – not that he was not one of the elect, but that no author or professional man should be asked to contribute money to funds which, with rare exceptions, are best employed when used for themselves. One morning, however, I received a note from the doctor, saying that it had been whispered to him that there was such a movement on foot, and that I had been mentioned in connection with it, and if he were judged worthy to have his name upon the roll of honor, he would be gratified. Since he had heard of it he could not rest without writing to me, and he should like to hear in reply. That he was thought worthy goes without saying.
This is the kind of memorial any man might wish. I venture to say that there was not one who contributed to it who was not grateful to the kind fates for giving him the opportunity.