Some very charming young lady relatives seemed to
think quite as much of their gifted uncle as you might have done had
he been yours.
Macaulay is celebrated as a conversationalist; and, like Coleridge,
Carlyle, and almost every one who enjoys this reputation, he has
sometimes been accused of not allowing people their fair share in
conversation. This might prove an objection, possibly, to those who
wish to talk; but as I greatly prefer to hear, it would prove none to
me. I must say, however, that on this occasion the matter was quite
equitably managed. There were, I should think, some twenty or thirty
at the breakfast table, and the conversation formed itself into little
eddies of two or three around the table, now and then welling out into
a great bay of general discourse. I was seated between Macaulay and
Milman, and must confess I was a little embarrassed at times, because
I wanted to hear what they were both saying at the same time. However,
by the use of the faculty by which you play a piano with both hands, I
got on very comfortably.
Milman's appearance is quite striking; tall, stooping, with a keen
black eye and perfectly white hair - a singular and poetic contrast. He
began upon architecture and Westminster Abbey - a subject to which I am
always awake. I told him I had not yet seen Westminster; for I was now
busy in seeing life and the present, and by and by I meant to go there
and see death and the past.
Milman was for many years dean of Westminster, and kindly offered me
his services, to indoctrinate me into its antiquities.
Macaulay made some suggestive remarks on cathedrals generally. I said
that I thought it singular that we so seldom knew who were the
architects that designed these great buildings; that they appeared to
me the most sublime efforts of human genius.
He said that all the cathedrals of Europe were undoubtedly the result
of one or two minds; that they rose into existence very nearly
contemporaneously, and were built by travelling companies of masons,
under the direction of some systematic organization. Perhaps you knew
all this before, but I did not; and so it struck me as a glorious
idea. And if it is not the true account of the origin of cathedrals,
it certainly ought to be; and, as our old grandmother used to say,
"I'm going to believe it."
Looking around the table, and seeing how every body seemed to be
enjoying themselves, I said to Macaulay, that these breakfast parties
were a novelty to me; that we never had them in America, but that I
thought them the most delightful form of social life.
He seized upon the idea, as he often does, and turned it playfully
inside out, and shook it on all sides, just as one might play with the
lustres of a chandelier - to see them glitter. He expatiated on the
merits of breakfast parties as compared with all other parties. He
said dinner parties are mere formalities. You invite a man to dinner
because you _must_ invite him; because you are acquainted with
his grandfather, or it is proper you should; but you invite a man to
breakfast because you want to see _him_. You may be sure, if you
are invited to breakfast, there is something agreeable about you. This
idea struck me as very sensible; and we all, generally having the fact
before our eyes that _we_ were invited to breakfast, approved the
"Yes," said Macaulay, "depend upon it; if a man is a bore he never
gets an invitation to breakfast."
"Rather hard on the poor bores," said a lady.
"Particularly," said Macaulay, laughing, "as bores are usually the
most irreproachable of human beings. Did you ever hear a bore
complained of when they did not say that he was the best fellow in the
world? For my part, if I wanted to get a guardian for a family of
defenceless orphans, I should inquire for the greatest bore in the
vicinity. I should know that he would be a man of unblemished honor
The conversation now went on to Milton and Shakspeare. Macaulay made
one remark that gentlemen are always making, and that is, that there
is very little characteristic difference between Shakspeare's women.
Well, there is no hope for that matter; so long as men are not women
they will think so. In general they lump together Miranda, Juliet,
Desdemona, and Viola,
"As matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
And best distinguished as black, brown, or fair."
It took Mrs. Jameson to set this matter forth in her Characteristics
of Women; a book for which Shakspeare, if he could get up, ought to
make her his best bow, especially as there are fine things ascribed to
him there, which, I dare say, he never thought of, careless fellow
that he was! But, I take it, every true painter, poet, and artist is
in some sense so far a prophet that his utterances convey more to
other minds than he himself knows; so that, doubtless, should all the
old masters rise from the dead, they might be edified by what
posterity has found in their works.
Some how or other, we found ourselves next talking about Sidney Smith;
and it was very pleasant to me, recalling the evenings when your
father has read and we have laughed over him, to hear him spoken of as
a living existence, by one who had known him. Still, I have always had
a quarrel with Sidney, for the wicked use to which he put his wit, in
abusing good old Dr. Carey, and the missionaries in India; nay, in
some places he even stooped to be spiteful and vulgar.