Two hundred and fifty-one years ago Rev. Francis Higginson came from Old England to New England, settling at Salem as the spiritual leader of the first large colony on Massachusetts bay. In his account of the voyage he thus recorded the impression made upon him by the first sight of the north shore, one of the most beautiful stretches of coast on the Atlantic seaboard of our country, beholding it in the sunlight of a lovely June day: "We saw many scools of mackrill, infinite multitudes on every side our ship. The sea was abundantly stored with rockweed and yellow flowers like gillyflowers. By noon we were within 3 leagues of Capan [Cape Ann], and, as we sayled along the coasts, we saw every hill and dale and every island full of gay woods and high trees. The nearer we came to the shoare the more flowers in abundance, sometymes scattered abroad, sometymes joyned in sheets 9 or 10 yards long, which we supposed to be brought from the low meadowes by the tyde. Now, what with fine woods and green trees by land, and these yellow flowers paynting the sea, made us all desirous to see our new paradise of New England, whence we saw such forerunning signals of fertilitie afarre off." The chroniclers of the early days of New England were, as a rule, too matter-of-fact to give attention to the aesthetic aspects of nature, but through the writings of Francis Higginson are constantly found such passages as the one quoted, showing a delicate sensitiveness and a keen delight in the beauty abounding on every side. He was the author of the epigrammatic sentence: "A sup of New England's aire is better than a whole draught of Old England's ale."
These things are here alluded to because they belong to a marked instance of the
inheritance of literary traits, Francis Higginson being
THE FIRST ANCESTOR IN AMERICA
of Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the truest living artists in words and closest observers of natural beauties; adorning fine thoughts with the grace given by a thorough command of the technical resources of the language. John Higginson, the son of Francis, who succeeded his father in the Salem ministry and lived to the age of 95 years, was also an author, as was also Stephen Higginson, Col. Higginson's grandfather, who was a member of the Continental Congress, and who so bitterly assailed John Hancock in his "Laco" letters, famous at the time they were written.
Style, in a great measure, makes the author, but "word-painting" is something that has
been so terribly abused that it is apt to be regarded with distrust. The best authors,
however, from Homer and Shakespeare down, are word-painters in the highest degree.
Beneath the perfect style of Col. Higginson there is not the slightest trace of what might
be called illuminated gush, there being no more kindred between the sloppy
workmanship of those addicted to the latter and his method, than between the tawdry
gaudiness of a Bierstadt and the perfect coloristic glory of a Titian. Few painters have a
sense of beauty. His work is marked by the most subtle shadings and delicate tints, and
gradations of pure, rich tones. It is not thin surface color that he uses, but it has depth and
warmth,and glows with its own life. One not only sees the hues but feels the texture and
quality, and breathes the atmosphere of his subject. An artist's brush could hardly give a
truer picture nor more truthfully render the soul of a region than Col. Higginson's pen has
done for the Cape Ann country—as fresh and glorious to him of today as when its virgin
woods and pleasant shores gave the first near glimpse of a strange new
world to his ancestor. And there could hardly be truer poetry than the wonderful prose of
the description of the blooming of a Victoria Regia, in his essay on water lilies in "Out-
door Papers" : "After the strange flower-bud has reared its dark head from the placid
tank, moving it a little, uneasily, like some imprisoned water-creature, it pauses for a
moment in a sort of dumb despair. Then, trembling again, and collecting all its powers, it
thrusts open, with an indignant jerk, the rough calyx-leaves, and the beautiful disrobing
begins. The firm, white, central cone, first so closely infolded, quivers a little, and
swiftly, before your eyes,
THE FIRST OF THE HUNDRED PETALS
detaches its delicate edges, and springs back, opening toward the water, while its white reflection opens to meet it from below. Many moments of repose follow—you watch— another petal trembles, detaches, springs open, and is still. Then another, and another, and another. Each movement is so quiet, yet so decided, so living, so human, that the radiant creature seems a Musidora of the water, and you almost blush with a sense of guilt in gazing on that peerless privacy. As petal by petal slowly opens, there still stands a central cone of snow, a glacier, an alp, a jungfrau, while each avalanche of whiteness seems the last. Meanwhile a strange, rich odor fills the air, and nature seems to concentrate all fascinations and claim all senses for this jubilee of her darling."
Col. Higginson's father was the steward of Harvard College, and, according to Drake, was "habitually spoken of as the 'Man of Ross' of his day, from his profuse charities." Thomas Wentworth Higginson is the [missing text] of a family of 15 [children] [[missing text]] been his [[missing text]] [[missing text]]
in Cambridge Dec. 22, 1823, and he was fitted for Harvard at a preparatory school there, at which James Russell Lowell and W. W. Story were among his elder mates. He was graduated at Harvard at the age of 18, the youngest in his class and the second in rank. He graduated from the theological school of the university in 1847, and at once accepted a call from the First religious society in Newburyport, where he remained about three years, leaving in 1850, on account of troubles arising from his connection with the anti- slavery movement, in which he early took an active part. In 1852 he went to Worcester, where for six years he was minister of the Free Church, unconnected with any denomination, and in 1858 he retired from the pulpit altogether, to devote himself entirely to literature, becoming a most prominent contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, then just established.
As a warrior for freedom his record long antedates the civil strife, for he was wounded in the Anthony Burns riot in 1853, and was indicted with Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips and others. In the Kansas strife he was active, and served on the staff of Gen. Lane, commander of the "Free State Forces," and he organized an expedition into Virginia to rescue some of John Brown's companions, but was unsuccessful.
When the war with the South began he obtained authority from Gov. Andrew to recruit a regiment, but enlistments were suspended for the time being before he had proceeded far in the matter. In August, 1862, he recruited two companies and was commissioned as captain, and when, two months later, the first slave regiment was organized—the 1st South Carolina volunteers, afterward the 33d United States colored troops—he was appointed as its colonel. In August, 1863, he was wounded in the side at Willstown Bluff, S. C., and in consequence, in October, 1864
[he resigned his position] . His experiences in the war were [described] in a series of articles in the Atlantic, afterward gathered in a volume under the title "Army Life in a Black Regiment," which has special historical value as being probably the best account of a peculiar and most important feature of the war.
For 12 years after the war Col. Higginson
LIVED AT NEWPORT,
choosing that place as his home on account of his wife's health. In many respects he found Newport a very pleasant abiding place, and it furnished the inspiration for two of his most notable volumes; the series of sketches, "Oldport Days," and his only extended work of fiction, "Malbone, an Oldport Romance." Lord Houghton said that he felt perfectly familiar with Newport as soon as he sail it, "Malbone" having prepared him for the place. Shortly after the death of Mrs. Higginson, who was a niece of William Ellery Channing's, Col. Higginson removed to Cambridge, where he now lives. His present wife was formerly Miss Mary Thacker, known in literature as the author of "Seashore and Prairie," and she has recently published a bright story for children, "Room for One More." She is a niece of Mr. Longfellow's first wife, and the poet has taken a great interest in her literary studies and work. Their home is now in a pleasant house at the corner of Broadway and Ware street, near the college, but Col. Higginson will probably soon build a house of his own in that part of Cambridge on the high ground beyond Harvard square. Their present home, as might naturally be supposed, is furnished with thoroughly artistic taste. It is well filled with books, and Col. Higginson's study is in a quiet, sunny corner room upstairs, where, when writing, he sits at his desk in a plain old armchair that for generations belonged in the Wentworth family, his middle name, Wentworth, coming from his maternal ancestry. Col. Higginson makes it a rule to do all his work by daylight, his motto having always been the old French proverb, "De soir fontarnes, de matin montaignes"—morning for labor, evening for repose. This has, doubtless, done much toward keeping him in the vigorous health he rejoices in, and preserving his youthful appearance.
It is apt to be the popular belief that the masters of style throw off their graceful thoughts
with the spontaneity of sparks flashing out from a blazing fire; that their works are
SO PERFECT IN FORM
that they came into being as they are, as Minerva came from the head of Jove; not as
her statue was first roughly hewn and then delicately chiselled by the sculptor's hand. This, however, is rarely the case. Detached thoughts flash upon the author's mind, but the arrangement and dressing of these is apt to be a slow and laborious task. The process of crystallization is by no means an instantaneous one, and then the gem has to be cut and polished by art. Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson says of Col. Higginson's words that they "have, with the light, graceful beauty of the Damascus blade its swift sureness in cleaving to the heart of things." But this beauty and keenness of execution, this flawless polish, is only gained by persistent application. He composes slowly, revises repeatedly, and goes very carefully through his proofs, making many changes. In his admirable "Letter to a Young Contributor," included in his "Atlantic Essays," and printed in the Atlantic of April, 1862, he gives some insight into his own methods: "Disabuse yourself especially of the belief that any grace or flow of style can come from writing rapidly. Haste can make you slipshod, but it can never make you graceful. With what dismay one reads of the wonderful fellows in fashionable novels, who can easily dash off a brilliant essay in a single night! When I think how slowly my poor thoughts come in, how tardily they convect themselves, what a delicious, prolonged perplexity it is to cut and contrive a decent clothing of words for them, as a little girl does for her doll—nay, how many new outfits a single sentence sometimes costs before it is presentable, till it seems, at last, like our army on the Potomac, as if it never could be thoroughly clothed—I certainly should never dare to venture into print, but for the confirmed suspicion that the greatest writers have done even so."
Col. Higginson's more recent literary productions are his "Young Folks' History of the
United States," first published in 1875, his "Young Folks' Book of American Explorers,"
published in 1877, and a volume of essays, "Short Studies of American Authors,"
containing a half-dozen finely appreciative papers on Hawthorne, Poe, Thoreau, Howells,
Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson and Henry James, Jr., published this season. The "Young Folks'
History" has met with a great success, not only in this country, but abroad, having been
republished in England, and translated into German, French and Italian. Col. Higginson
was prompted to undertake the work by his taste for historical research, his strong love of country, and his feeling that the history of America was, contrary to the opinion expressed by many, full of interesting and romantic
episodes which could be presented in such a way as to engage the attention of the young.
The "Young Folks' Book of American Explorers" was written with a similar purpose, and
is one of the best of the books designed to lead the thoughts of youth from sensational
literature to better things. A boy once made familiar with its clear and fascinating style
would hardly care to return to cheap stories. The next work which he will probably
undertake will be the rewriting of his "Young Folks' History," in an enlarged form, as a
popular history of the United States
FOR GENERAL [READERS]
He has been hindered from [entering] [[missing text]] work by the occupation of [much] [[missing text]] time in his duties as a [representitive] [[missing text]] Cambridge in the General [Cow] [[missing text]] Among Col. Higginson's other [l] [[missing text]] has been the editorship, in [asso] [[missing text]] Samuel Longfellow, of "Thalatta [[missing text]] poetry for the seaside, published [[missing text]] the editorship of the Harvard [[missing text]] volume of biographies of student and graduates of the college who fell in the war for the Union, published in 1866. He is the author of a new translation of Epictetus, based on the translation made by Elizabeth Carter, published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1865, and now out of print. He has written many miscellaneous essays for various magazines, and has been an editorial contributor for the Independent, the New York Tribune, the Woman's Journal, the Index and other newspapers.
Col. Higginson has done excellent service as an apostle of physical culture, and, as might be expected of such a passionate lover of nature, rejoices in an active out-door life. He has a special fondness for walking and boating, and his pictures of open air things, together with his essays on physical health and athletics, form a valuable collection in "Out-Door Papers."
AS AN ORATOR,
Col. Higginson has a high reputation. The grace and ease with which he expresses himself; the brilliancy of his utterances; his full, agreeable voice and clear, clean-cut pronunciation; his tall, athletic figure and fine presence, all make him one of the best of our public speakers. He has been a great favorite as a lecturer, but has seldom appeared in the lyceum of late. Few can compare with him as a presiding officer of a public gathering, and his remarks in this capacity are always among the most interesting features of the occasion.
In religion and in politics Col. Higginson occupies a radical position. In the latter he is in full sympathy with the democratist school of political philosophy, and advocates with enthusiasm universal suffrage for both sexes. In the woman suffrage movement he is probably the ablest and most active leader that the cause possesses in America. He is a member of the American Oriental Society, the American Philological Society, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Boston Society of Natural History, the American Woman Suffrage Association, and the Free Religious Association.