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Disce ut semper victurus y vivf ut eras moriturus 


fitoerj&ib* ^tejjjS 


Published December II 








JOHN FISKE was not a voluminous correspondent; 
hence we have not many self-revealing letters to 
intimate ^ friends and kindred thinkers, regarding 
his wrestling with some of the great themes which 
from time to time engaged his mind. The absence 
of these desirable data is, however, greatly mini- 
mized by the possession of his deeply interesting 
personal letters to his wife and his mother, and of 
his diaries in which the innermost feelings of his 
nature are disclosed. These, taken in connection 
with his published writings, enable us to make out 
quite a full record of his subjective activities, which, 
when considered in relation to the seething thought 
of the time as a stimulating objective environment, 
yield copious material for a "Life" of Fiske in both 
its unity and its variety. 

In the correspondence between Fiske and Spen- 
cer, and in the letters of Fiske describing Spencer, 
we get pleasanter impressions of Spencer's person- 
ality than from any other source. To the end, Fiske 
was thoroughly loyal to Spencer, while immensely 
broadening his philosophy; at the same time it 
must be admitted that Spencer withheld the public 
acknowledgment of indebtedness to Fiske which 
he so freely admitted privately. 


In the preparation of this work I have been 
greatly assisted by George Litch Roberts, the life- 
long friend of John Fiske, who appears in these 
pages, and who, after an honored career at the 
bar, carries into the period of life when the shad- 
ows lengthen all the enthusiasm for science and 
philosophy which marked his early years. Fiske 
and Roberts, as they came to their maturity, dif- 
fered somewhat in their philosophic views; but 
their friendship was never broken, and Roberts has 
cheerfully aided in the preparation of this 'work 
as a tribute to the memory of his friend. To his 
criticism and his wise suggestions much is due. 

I also wish to make acknowledgment of the great 
assistance I have received at the Boston Athe- 
naeum. My special demands upon this library have 
been many and oftentimes perplexing; but they 
have always been met with the utmost considera- 
tion and kindness by its scholarly librarian Charles 
Knowles Bolton and his assistants. No small por- 
tion of my work has been done in the alcoves of 
this fine library, overlooking the Granary Bury- 
ing-Ground, where sleep, in the midst of the great 
city's traffic and roar, many of New England's 
distinguished worthies of years gone by. My ex- 
perience here is a delightful memory. 


BOSTON, October i, 1917. 


FAMILIES . . . * I 




TION (1847-1854) .... V V :.T '. . 25 


DOX CHURCH, MIDDLETOWN (1855-1857) ... 55 





i YALE DECIDES TO GO TO HARVARD (1857-1858) . 71 

TOWN FOR CAMBRIDGE (1859-1860) 104 


VIII. HARVARD COLLEGE (1860-1863) 147 

IX. AN UNDERGRADUATE AT HARVARD (1860-1863) . . 193 

RIAGE (1863-1864) 261 




"HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE" (1864-1866) . . . .300 



FECT OF FISKE'S LECTURES (1869) ... .341 



1873) ,.r'. : . ... . V . . 380 

(1871-1873) 412 


WICH CAMBRIDGE (1873) 423 





LEY, LYELL (1873) 456 

FAREWELL VISITS (1873-1874) \ . . . . .493 


JOHN FISKE Photogravure Frontispiece 

From a photograph taken in 1889 


PARENTS OF JOHN FISKE . . . . . . . . . 6 





JOHN FISKE IN 1850 (EIGHT YEARS OLD) . . . . - . 36 

From a daguerreotype 

AT THE AGE OF ELEVEN . . . . . . . 46 

HARVARD COLLEGE YARD . . . , . . . . 166 

ABBY MORGAN BROOKS * . . . . . . . . 248 

From a miniature made in i86r, shortly before her engagement to John Fiske 

HERBERT SPENCER .... . . .... . 292 

JOHN FISKE IN 1867 . . . ...'. . 328 

CHARLES DARWIN " .... . . ' . ... 390 

EDINBURGH . ... . . . . ... . . . ' . 43 6 

THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY . . . . ... . .462 





The illustrations for this book were selected 
under the supervision of Mrs. John Fiske 


JOHN FISKE has an exceptional and honored place 
in American literature. He was a ripe scholar, 
possessed of a great fund of well-ordered, accu- 
rate, useful knowledge; he was a profound philo- 
sophic thinker, well versed in the world's specu- 
lative thought; he was an able and fair-minded 
critic, ever alert to detect the good in men and 
things; he was an eminent historian, gifted with 
remarkable powers of insight into the cosmic prin- 
ciples which underlie the social, religious, and po- 
litical organizations of mankind ; at the same time 
he had such a rich endowment of aesthetic tastes 
so combined with exquisite humor, that he was 
keenly responsive to the beauties of nature and of 
art in all their varied forms. If to these character- 
istics it be added that in the art of thought ex- 
pression he possessed a literary style of great sim- 
plicity, beauty, and power, we have the subjective 
causes which have given him a distinctive place not 
only in American literature, but also among the 
deepest thinkers of our time. 

But Fiske was not only fortunate in his subjec- 
tive endowments; he was equally fortunate in the 
period in which his life was cast the latter half 
of the last century in many respects the most 



memorable period in the history of human think- 
ing. His life was synchronous with this great 
period, the turmoil of which in philosophic, scien- 
tific, religious, and social thinking raged all about 
him as a mighty objective environment and which, 
breaking upon his highly endowed subjective mind, 
brought forth the many intellectual treasures the 
world so greatly admires to-day. Indeed, when 
the life of Fiske is considered in its relation to his 
subjective endowments, on the one hand, and to 
his objective environment on the other, it is seen 
that his life in its totality was a distinct embodi- 
ment of the highest, most comprehensive definition 
of all life <"the continuous adjustment of inter- 
nal relations to external relations. " * 

Hence much attention is given in this biography 
to the environing conditions of thought which sur- 
rounded Fiske from his early youth, and which, in 
one way or another, served as an impelling force 
to his mind. 

Fiske's life on its productive side was of a two* 
fold character: that of a scientifico-philosophic 
thinker^combined with that of a philosophic histo- 
rian. He did not live to see his contemplated task 
in either form of activity completed, but he did 
see great and significant progress in thought in 

As a philosophic thinker he takes a prominent 
place as a protagonist of the doctrine of Evolution, 
as the process by which the cosmic universe with 



man's place in it has been brought into being, in 
conformity to immutable law. As consistent with 
this doctrine, he affirmed four important corollaries: 
a theistic basis for all cosmic phenomena; ethical 
principles an outcome from man's social experience ; 
man's immortality a rational hypothesis from cos- 
mic phenomena; religion the rational adjustment of 
man to his environment. 

In the realm of philosophic thinking Fiske lived 
to see the vital problems of life and conscious 
mind lifted by science out of the narrow mythical 
categories of theology, and centering around the 
consideration of their rightful place in a cosmic 
universe where matter and energy, and life and 
mind are harmoniously interrelated. 

At the same time he was cognizant that as yet 
no positive knowledge exists as to how the two 
orders of physical and psychical phenomena of the 
universe are interrelated; and also that two radi- 
cally different hypotheses are dividing rational 
thought on this supreme point in philosophic think- 
ing: the one, affirming that matter and energy are 
ultimate and self-existing, that life and mind in all 
their varied forms from plant to conscious man, are 
potential in matter and energy, and that they 
become manifest wholly under cosmic conditions 
materialism ; the other affirming that life and 
mind in all their varied forms, particularly in con- 
scious man, are manifestations of a force or power 
entirely distinct from cosmic matter and energy, a 



force imparted to matter and energy in some un- 
known way by a postulated Infinite Eternal Power, 
the Source and Sustainer of all that is spiritual- 
ism. Fiske did not leave any doubt as to his ac- 
ceptance of the latter hypothesis. 

As a historian Fiske took for his theme the un- 
folding of one of the great epochs in human his- 
tory: The discovery of the Western World; the 
transplanting to this new world of the elements 
of the social and political organizations of Europe; 
the rise and the establishment of the Republic of 
the United States; the reflective influence of this 
Republic upon the political organizations of the 

He was only enabled to lay the foundations of 
the great historic undertaking he had in mind, with 
intimations here and there of his ultimate conclu- 
sions regarding the fundamental principles which 
govern political development. His narrative was 
brought down to the Inauguration of Washington 
as the first President of the great Republic. He 
had fully equipped himself for tracing out, in the 
first century of its political existence, through the 
interplay of the twin evolutionary forces common 
to all forms of democratic political organization, 
local liberties or differentiations on the one hand, 
combined with provisions for national integration 
on the other hand, the rise of powerful political 
parties whose dissensions culminated in a great 
civil war, in which were displayed some of the 



noblest characteristics of humanity, and which 
was illumined by types of personal character un- 
surpassed in the records of any other race or people 
all culminating in the firm establishment of the 
most powerful political organization of the globe, 
a government of the people, by the people, for the 

Would that we had to-day Fiske's ripe judgment 
upon this present world turmoil, when our Na- 
tional Government is laying its hand upon every 
citizen demanding that he play his part, not only 
in defending his own interests, but also in doing 
his bit towards making the political condition of 
the world safe for democracy. 

There can be no question but that Fiske would 
find, in the despatching of American soldiers to 
contest for the establishment of democracy in Eu- 
rope, the legitimate evolutionary outcome from 
what he had affirmed was the greatest event in 
human history since the birth of Christ: The 
voyage of Columbus into the Sea of Darkness 
in 1492. 








JOHN FISKE was born at Hartford, Connecticut, on 
the 3Oth of March, 1842. His father was Edmund 
Brewster Green. His mother's maiden name was 
Mary Fisk Bound. His father and mother were 
married at Middletown, Connecticut, September 15, 
1840. At his birth he was given the name of Ed- 
mund Fisk Green. For reasons which will appear 
later his name was legally changed in 1855 to John 
Fisk. In 1860 he added an e to his surname. 

We have but slight record of the family of Ed- 
mund Brewster Green back of his father, Humphrey 
Green, who was born in Salem County, West New 
Jersey, October 15, 1770. Humphrey Green was 
of a Quaker family, an only child, early left an or- 
phan, and brought up by his grandparents. He 
was a man of notable personality, with qualities 
to hand down. In appearance he was a staunch, 
old-fashioned gentleman, of large, stalwart frame, 
carrying himself with that dignity and self-respect 
characteristic of a fine military bearing. He was a 
free-thinking Quaker, with a mind of his own. He 


John Fiske 

was noted for his great memory, and was respected 
by his neighbors as a man of wide knowledge and 
practical ability. 

Humphrey Green was twice married. His first 
wife was Ann Buzby, of Quaker ancestry. By her 
he had two children. For his second wife he mar- 
ried, February 19, 1807, Hannah Heaton, of Downs 
Township, Cumberland County, New Jersey, a 
daughter of Levi Heaton, who served in the Revo- 
lutionary War, and a grand-daughter of the Bap- 
tist clergyman, the Reverend Samuel Heaton. At 
this time Humphrey Green was an extensive land- 
holder in Newport, Cumberland County, and had 
given an acre and a half in Downs Township on 
which to build a Methodist Episcopal Church. 
Subsequently he removed to Smyrna, Delaware, 
and settled in the timber belt of Thoroughfare 
Neck where he farmed and dealt in ships' timber. 
At this time he was a faithful attendant at Quaker 
meetings and was a noticeable figure riding to 
and from the Quaker Meeting-House at Duck 
Creek Crossroads. 

Six children were born of Humphrey Green's 
second marriage, three sons and three daughters, of 
whom Edmund Brewster was the eldest son. He was 
born in Smyrna January 3, 1814, but later went 
with his parents to Philadelphia where Humphrey 
Green became a merchant in the coastwise trade, 
and owned vessels that plied between Philadelphia 
and Norfolk. Humphrey Green lived to the ripe old 



His Paternal Ancestry 

age of ninety years and died March 12, 1860, in the 
full possession of his mental powers. 

Humphrey Green was a man of means, and as 
Edmund Brewster Green gave decided indications 
of scholarly tastes it was decided to send him to 
Wesleyan University at Middletown, Connecticut, 
then the leading Methodist college of the country. 
Accordingly, young Green was entered at Wesleyan 
University in 1834, in the class of 1838, and his 
studies were mainly in the literary and scientific 

He was a good student and knowledge came 
easy. He had an attractive personality with very 
engaging manners. He was quite noticeable in his 
dress in that he wore the Southern style of soft hat 
and flowing cloak, which were in marked contrast 
to the stiff hats and prim, tight-fitting coats of the 
Northern students. He was popular at the college, 
and made friends among the young people of the 

On leaving the University Edmund Green read 
law in the office of William L. Storrs, of Middle- 
town, an able lawyer and a judge of the Superior 
Court of Middlesex County, Connecticut. His 
predilections, however, were for journalism and 
politics, and in 1840 he became the editor and part 
proprietor of the "New England Review, " a 
weekly Whig journal published at Hartford, which 
was then one of the two capitals of the State of 
Connecticut. The " Review " was a journal of high 


John Fiske 

character, and in former years it had had for editors 
George D. Prentice and John G. Whittier. 

In the mean time Edmund Green had become en- 
gaged to Mary Fisk Bound, who with her widowed 
mother was living with her grandfather, John Fisk, 
one of the most estimable and honored citizens 
of Middletown. Young Green's acquaintance with 
Mary Fisk Bound began early in his college days 
and quickly ripened into a strong attachment. She 
was a young woman of great beauty and charming 
personality, vivacious and independent. She had 
been carefully brought up after the New England 
fashion, was well educated, and possessed marked 
artistic ability. 

Soon after assuming his editorial position at 
Hartford, Green regarded his business prospects 
as well established. Accordingly, on the I5th of 
September, 1840, he and Mary Fisk Bound were 
married by the Reverend Dr. Crane at the Fisk 
homestead in Middletown. The young couple be- 
gan their united life at Hartford, and on the 3Oth 
of March, 1842, a son was born to them, the subject 
of this memoir, and was given the name of Edmund 

But the journalistic venture at Hartford did 
not prosper. Green made many excellent friends 
among the Whig politicians of the State, but the 
Connecticut field was not large enough to satisfy 
his ambition it did not give full scope to his 
powers. In 1843 he sold out his interest in the 


His Paternal Ancestry 

"Review," and essayed journalism in behalf of 
Whig principles in the City of New York. He found 
the effort uphill work, and he gained a very limited 
and precarious income. The day for the great 
Metropolitan journals with their large editorial 
staffs had not yet come; and during this period 
three master minds, James Gordon Bennett, Horace 
Greeley, and Henry J. Raymond, were laying the 
foundations of the powerful daily journalism that 
was to be. Mrs. Green bravely shared the struggles 
of her husband, and to eke out their slender income, 
she taught in private schools for young ladies in 
Newark and New York City. 

When Edmund Green and his wife left Hartford, 
they were glad to accept the offer of the grand- 
parents to take charge of their infant son until they 
should establish a home of their own. We shall re- 
turn to the son's maternal ancestry and his Mid- 
dletown environment when we have followed the 
fortunes of Edmund Brewster Green a little farther 
to the end. 

The election of General Zachary Taylor as Presi- 
dent of the United States in 1848 and his inaugura- 
tion in 1849 were great triumphs for the Whig 
Party. As Edmund Green had for years been an 
ardent advocate of Whig principles, and as he had 
strong support among the leaders of the party in 
New York and Connecticut, it was natural, in view 
of his labors and sacrifices in behalf of the party 
principles, that he should turn his attention to 


John Fiske 

Washington for some substantial reward now that 
his party had come into power. In the winter of 
1849 and 1850 we therefore find him in Washington, 
seeking office with the very highest credentials from 
the political Whig leaders in Connecticut and New 
York. He was for some time private secretary to 
Henry Clay, at that time one of the leading states- 
men of the country. He applied for positions in the 
State, the Interior, and the Treasury Departments. 
He was strongly commended by Mr. Clay, in an auto- 
graph letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, as one 
who "unites to excellent attainments and qualifi- 
cations for business, the manners, deportment, and 
character of a gentleman of honor and probity. " 

His political support was indeed strong and of the 
best character; but the Whig Party had been long 
out of office and the scramble for place was great, 
and the new Administration had to face a series of 
political obligations entered into by its supporters 
which necessitated to a large degree an obliviousness 
to purely personal claims. It needed time to adjust 
itself to its duties and to its political obligations. In 
the summer of 1850 the situation was still further 
complicated by the death of President Taylor and 
the accession to the Presidency of the Vice- Presi- 
dent Millard Fillmore. 

Green could not wait the slow development of 
political manipulation. At one time an important 
office was apparently within his grasp that of 
Surveyor-General of Oregon. He had been advised 


His Paternal Ancestry 

of his appointment and was then tricked out of it 
in a way he could not understand. Thus, after 
several months spent in pursuing illusions of office 
in the Treasury and the Interior Departments, he 
came to the conclusion that the Whig Party was 
ungrateful, and in the autumn of 1850 he returned 
to New York. 

The year 1850 was marked by a prodigious ex- 
citement, world-wide in extent. Two years before 
gold in unprecedented quantities had been found 
in the streams and in the surface deposits of Coloma 
County, California. These discoveries were so ex- 
tensive and the mining so easy that the story spread 
throughout the world, and started an immense emi- 
gration to California across the plains and over the 
mountains, and by way of the Isthmus of Panama. 
Edmund Green joined this great movement, and 
sailed for Panama on his way to San Francisco in 
December, 1850. On arriving at Panama he stopped 
to study the prospects for business on the isthmus 
incident to this rushing of populations to the new 
El Dorado. The conditions appealed to his jour- 
nalistic proclivities, and he at once began the pub- 
lication of a weekly newspaper the " Panama 
Herald." He was measurably successful in this un- 
dertaking. It soon became a semi-weekly, and a 
little later a tri- weekly publication. In the spring of 
1852 Green came up to New York and Middletown 
for a short visit. He returned to Panama in June, 
1852. On the 4th of July following he delivered, at 


John Fiske 

the request of the American residents, an oration 
at Panama. This address was marked by a good 
knowledge of American history, by scholarly taste, 
and great felicity of style. One week later, July 1 1 , 
1852, he died very suddenly of cholera. His loss was 
greatly felt at Panama, where he had gained a posi- 
tion of much influence through his enterprise, his 
probity, and his genial personality. 


Having given the paternal ancestry of the subject 
of this memoir, and having seen him placed in the 
charge of his grandparents, we now return to the 
Fisk family at Middletown, to trace as briefly as 
possible his maternal ancestry through the two New 
England Puritan families, the Fiskes and the Bounds, 
which were united in his mother. 

The Fiske family was of a pure New England 
Puritan type. It was descended in unbroken lineage 
for a period of over four hundred years from Simon 
Fiske, Stadhaugh Manor Parish, Laxfield, Suffolk, 
England, who was born in the reign of Richard II, 
that is, before 1399, and who died in 1463 
or '64. The full record is an honorable one. In 
the sixteenth century the Fiskes were considered 
very daring and troublesome heretics. John Noyes 
of Laxfield was burned alive in 1557, by order of 
44 Bloody Mary"; and Foxe, in his " Booke of 
Martyres," mentions that Nicholas Fiske, Noyes's 



Homestead of the Fiske family from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. 
(June 4. 1880) 

His Maternal Ancestry 

brother-in-law, visited him in prison. Cotton 
Mather, in his "Magnalia," has anecdotes of how 
these heretics were persecuted. Robert Fiske, fifth in 
descent, fled during the persecutions to the Conti- 
nent (possibly to Geneva, as that was the resort 
of the Suffolk Protestants at that time), but after 
the accession of Elizabeth, he returned and settled 
at St. James, South Elmham, Suffolk. Before his 
flight he married Sybil Gold, by whom he had four 
sons, William, Jeffrey, Thomas, and Eleazer, and one 
daughter, Elizabeth. From Robert and Sybil came 
all the Fiskes who settled in New England in the 
seventeenth century. Robert Fiske died in 1602. 

The daughter Elizabeth married Bernard 

of Custridge Hall, and was the grandmother of John 
Locke, the great English philosopher of the seven- 
teenth century. The descent we are pursuing was 
continued through the son Thomas, who married 
Margery (surname not given), and who lived at 
Fressingfield, Suffolk. Thomas died in 1611. He 
had three sons, Thomas, James, and Phineas; and 
two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. The line was 
continued through Phineas, who came to Salem, 
Massachusetts, in 1641, and moved to Wenham in 
1644. He was a man of note; was constable and 
selectman of Wenham, captain of militia, and in 
!653 was a representative in the General Court of 
Massachusetts. Phineas had three sons, James, 
John, and Thomas, all born in England. The line 
was continued through the son John, who we find 


John Fiske 

was constable at Wenham in 1645, and in 1669 was 
representative in the General Court. The Chris- 
tian name of John's wife was Remember. He had 
three sons, John, Samuel, and Noah; and two 
daughters, Elizabeth and Remember. This John 
died in 1683. The next in line was his son John, who 
was born in Wenham in 1654 the first Fiske born 
in Massachusetts. He practised medicine, and in the 
annals he was called Dr. John. He married Hannah 
Baldwin, of Milford, Connecticut, in 1682. She was 
descended from an old English family in Cheshire. 
Dr. John moved to Milford in 1694. He was a man 
of substance, as appears by the deed of his estate in 
Wenham, which he sold in 1693. Dr. John had four 
sons, Phineas, Ebenezer, John, and Benjamin. 

Continuing the line through the son John, we find 
that this representative of the family was known as 
Captain John Fiske. He was born at Wenham in 
1693 and was decidedly a man of mark. He was 
town clerk of Middletown in 1722, was ensign in 
1729, lieutenant in 1732, captain in 1735, quarter- 
master of the Eleventh Connecticut Regiment in 
1744, representative to the Connecticut General 
Court in 1742. He wore a wig and sword, and was 
41 very stylish. " He had a negro slave, appraised at 
a value of 35. He was twice married. His first 
wife was Hannah, to whom he was married in 1716, 
and by whom he had three children, John, Hannah, 
and Martha. He often dropped the e in his sur- 
name. He died in Middletown in 1761. 


His Maternal Ancestry 

Next in order is Captain John's son, who was 
known as John, Jr. He was born in 1718, and lived 
at Middletown. He succeeded his father as town 
clerk of Middletown in 1761 and he was also clerk 
of the Superior Court. The records of this member 
of the family are very slight. By Ann Tyler, a sec- 
ond wife, he had a son Bezaleel, who was born at Mid- 
dletown in 1744. There is no record of the death 
of John Jr., but it probably occurred in 1777, as in 
that year his son Bezaleel succeeded to the town 
clerkship. Bezaleel was married in 1768 to Marga- 
ret Rockwell, by whom he had a son John, born in 
1772. Bezaleel Fiske held the office of town clerk; 
for twenty years, till 1797, when he was succeeded 
by his son John. Bezaleel Fiske lived to the ripe 
old age of eighty-six years and died in 1830. 

Great probity of character is conspicuous in the 
line of the Fisk family we are pursuing: for this 
reason the following lines, written by Bezaleel Fiske, 
in his eighty-fourth year, and in which the pleas- 
anter side of the grim theology of the time is some- 
what reflected, are of interest: 


Could but our tempers move like this machine, 
Not urg'd by passion nor delayed by spleen; 
But true to Nature's regulating power, 
By virtuous acts distinguish every hour 
Then health and joy would follow as they ought, 
The laws of Nature and the laws of thought 
Sweet health to pass the present moments o'er, 
And everlasting joy when time shall be no more. 


John Fiske 

Bezaleel's son John succeeded to the town clerk- 
ship of Middletown in 1797 the fourth Fiske to 
hold this office in the order of succession. His first 
wife was Polly Merrill, of Killings worth, Connec- 
ticut, to whom he was married August 10, 1793. His 
second wife was Olive Cone, to whom he was mar- 
ried in 1837. By his first wife he had six children, 
four sons, and two daughters. His second child was 
a daughter, Polly, who was born March n, 1795. 
Polly Fisk was married in 1817 to John Bound, of 
Middletown. Of this marriage there were six chil- 
dren, two of whom grew to maturity John Fisk 
Bound, 1 born in 1819, and Mary Fisk Bound, born 
June 21, 1821. 

As we have already seen, Mary Fisk Bound was 
married September 15, 1840, to Edmund Brewster 
Green. Of this marriage we have also seen that a son 
was born March 30, 1842, who is the subject of this 
memoir, and who at his birth was given the name of 
Edmund Fisk Green. 

The Bound family, which in the ancestral line we 
are pursuing was united with the Fiske family in 
1817 by the marriage of John Bound to Polly Fisk, 
was no less Puritan in character, and no less honor- 
able in its descent, than that of the Fiskes. Its an- 
cestral line runs back, through the Bound, Francis, 
and Hall families, to John Hall, who was born in 

1 Founder of the financial house of Bound & Company, of New 


O c 


His Maternal Ancestry 

England in 1627, and who died in Medford, Massa- 
chusetts, in 1 701 . From one branch of the Hall fam- 
ily in Medford was descended Francis Parkman, 
and thus we have a clear family relationship be- 
tween the two eminent historians Francis Parkman 
and John Fiske. 

And now, having established the subject of this 
memoir in the helplessness of his infancy in the 
Fiske family at Middletown, and having put in 
order his family antecedents which have revealed, 
on the paternal side, the sturdy, free-thinking, 
genial qualities of the Quaker, in contrast, on the 
maternal side, with the strict, religious character of 
the Puritan, embodied in the attractive personal- 
ity of his mother, we will leave him to be brought 
through the critical period of his infancy, while 
we make ourselves acquainted with some of the 
physical and social characteristics of Middletown, 
which served for his environment during the period 
of his boyhood and his youth. 

Following the death of Edmund Brewster Green, 
his widow, Mary Fisk Bound Green, continued her 
teaching in New York City and vicinity, leaving her 
son, Edmund Fisk Green, in the care of his grand- 
parents in Middletown. 



READERS familiar with the historical works of John 
Fiske know the importance he attached to the town 
as the basis or unit for all social or political orga- 
nization. How much he was aided in the develop- 
ment of his thought in this direction by the in- 
fluence of the environment of his early years, we 
cannot say. This, however, may be said : that if, in 
view of his important work in the world, a place 
had been soughtwith special reference to its salutary 
influence upon his youthful mind, it is doubtful if 
more fitting surroundings could have been found 
than were presented by the physical and social 
conditions of Middletown between the years 1840 
and 1860. 

It was a typical New England town of the period, 
of the best sort. It was beautifully situated on the 
west bank of the Connecticut River, about sixteen 
miles below Hartford, and twenty-five miles above 
Saybrook, where the river enters Long Island 
Sound. The town lies on an elevation of land which 
runs along the river for about a mile from north to 
south, and between two tributary streams, Little 
River on the north and Sumner's Creek on the 
south. The land rises from the river in a gentle slope 


The Middletown Environment 

to the height of about a hundred and fifty feet, and 
then forms a sort of plateau extending nearly a mile 
westward, where it slopes into a broad valley reach- 
ing to the Meriden hills beyond. On a portion of 
the western side of the plateau there rises, quite 
abruptly, a small elevation called Indian Hill. 
Along the whole front of the eastern slope the noble 
river sweeps with slow, majestic power on its way to 
the Sound. At the southern end of the slope, and 
directly in front of the southern end of the town, 
the river makes a sharp bend to the eastward, form- 
ing almost a right angle in its course. This bend in 
the river, the slow current, and depth of water are 
the conditions that gave to Middletown in years 
gone by a commodious inland harbor for the prose- 
cution of a prosperous shipping and shipbuilding 

The main street of the town runs along the whole 
face of the slope, a short distance up from the river, 
and parallel with its course from north to south. 
The principal business buildings are along Main 
Street, and the educational buildings and the pri- 
vate residences, picturesquely placed in broad, elm- 
shaded streets, cover the upper face of the slope and 
the plateau beyond. Indian Hill has been taken as 
a cemetery. 

At the time when this narrative begins 1840 
Middletown had about ten thousand inhabitants, 
mainly of New England ancestry. It had a rich 
historical background of colonial experience and 


John Fiske 

character running back to the first settlements in 
the Connecticut Valley about the middle of the 
seventeenth century by seceders from "My Lords 
the Bretheren" of the Massachusetts Bay colonies, 
by settlers from adjacent Connecticut colonies, and 
also by seceders direct from England. Middletown 
itself was settled in 1650, and its founders had all 
the strong and distinguishing characteristics which 
marked the people of the great Puritan exodus. 
They had but little property and they had to begin 
a new social life under the most trying conditions. 
Their first dwellings were hardly a shelter from the 
wind and the storm. Their food was meagre and 
their clothing of the crudest kind, and they were 
surrounded by tribes of hostile Indians who natu- 
rally resented this powerful, unbidden intrusion into 
their domains. The privations and suffering bravely 
and cheerfully encountered by these early pioneers 
cannot be conceived by their descendants of the 
present generation. 

The demands of their religion were of the first 
consideration in their minds, for it was the "heroic 
age of theology, when John Cotton used at bed- 
time to sweeten his mouth with a morsel of Cal- 
vin " ; accordingly we find in the earliest Middletown 
records appropriations for building a meeting-house 
twenty feet square, with provisions for calling the 
people to service by the beat of a drum. They were 
none the less attentive to matters of practical, 
everyday life. People in our day sometimes wonder 


The Middletown Environment 

at the strong hold the protective idea the pro- 
tection of home industry has among the people 
of New England. The idea was indigenous among 
them from the first; it grew out of their needs and 
conditions. The early records of our New Eng- 
land towns are full of provisions for the promotion 
of home industries. In the Middletown Records of 
1658 we find a grant to "shomaeker eagellston " of 
"a peas of Meddow, he ingaging to inhabit it seven 
years upon it and also doth ingag to endevour to 
sut the towne in his trade for making and mending 
shoes/' It also appears that to get a blacksmith 
to come among them they offered him a hundred 
pound lot, he pledging himself " to inhabit upon the 
land and to do the Townes worck of smithing dur- 
ing the term of four years, before he shall make sale 
of it to any other." Wiser than the protective leg- 
islators of our day, these simple-minded Puritan 
promoters of home industry required their bene- 
ficiaries to render specific public services for the 
favors granted. 

For one hundred years 1650 to 1 750 Middle- 
town grew but slowly, and its Records during this 
period are mainly "the simple annals of the poor/' 
save where they are irradiated with matters pertain- 
ing to the Indians, to questions of church doctrine 
or discipline, and by assertions of the right of self- 
government in local affairs coupled with the desir- 
ability of corporate representation in all matters 
affecting the federation or well-being of the Connec- 


John Fiske 

ticut colonies as a whole. It is a well-known his- 
toric fact, that out of the experience of the practical 
working in unison in the Connecticut colonies or 
towns of these two forms of political association 
an experience which clearly demonstrated that 
separate communities could harmoniously pre- 
serve their autonomy in local affairs while federated 
for mutual protection and welfare came the 
Connecticut Compromise, which in the memorable 
Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a vital fac- 
tor in the formation of the Constitution of the 
United States, and gave to that immortal document 
its two most distinctive features equal represen- 
tation of States, coupled with a representation of 
the people as a whole. 

By the middle of the eighteenth century Middle- 
town had grown to a population of nearly five 
thousand. It was larger than Hartford or New 
Haven, and was the most important town in Con- 
necticut. The growth of the New England colonies 
had by this time developed an active shipping 
trade with the West Indies whereby New England's 
agricultural products and her fisheries were ex- 
changed for such staple articles as salt, sugar, mo- 
lasses, and rum. The colonists had also ventured 
into the East India trade, and Middletown from its 
situation on the largest river, with prosperous-grow- 
ing towns and well-cultivated farms on either side, 
with a commodious harbor easily accessible from 
the sea and contiguous to excellent facilities for 


The Middletown Environment 

shipbuilding and repairs, was well situated to en- 
gage in these various lines of colonial commerce. 
Accordingly the town became between 1750 and 
1775 a shipping port for the West and East India 
and China trade hardly second to any other port in 
New England. 

This trade, with the shipbuilding which followed 
in its wake, was very prosperous, and together they 
brought much wealth to the town ; they also diver- 
sified the occupations of the people. In 1770, among 
fifty persons registered as engaged in business on 
Main Street, seventeen were in one way or another 
as merchants, shipowners, skippers, rope-mak- 
ers, etc. connected with the shipping of the port. 
What is particularly noteworthy in this record 
of occupations is the frankly stated fact, that a 
Captain Gleason and a Dr. Walker were slave- 

This prosperous shipping business was almost 
wholly destroyed by the Revolutionary War. It 
revived somewhat when the war was over, but ow- 
ing to the changed conditions of commercial inter- 
course with other nations that followed upon the 
establishment of the Government of the United 
States, and to the new spirit that entered into the 
commercial relations between the people of the re- 
spective States, Middletown was, by its isolation 
from the sea, heavily handicapped for meeting the 
new conditions in competition with the larger and 
more accessible ports of Boston, Providence, New 


John Fiske 

York, and Philadelphia. Consequently, in 1840, 
the shipping business of Middletown was but a re- 
minder of a former prosperity. 

The manufacturing period of later years, involv- 
ing corporate management and entailing large 
numbers of foreign laborers and trade-union as- 
sociations, had not yet set in. The few industries 
that existed were small and had grown up with the 
shipping industry or were the outgrowth of local 
needs or of limited individual enterprise. In 1840 
the town had not entirely differentiated itself from 
the country; and on market days Main Street, alive 
with farmers whose loaded trams gave ample evi- 
dence of the rich agricultural country, also testified 
to the existence still of barter trade between the 
farmer and the storekeeper or trader. It was, more- 
over, the day of stage-coaches, and the only means 
of public transportation to the interior, to Hart- 
ford or New Haven, to Providence or Boston, was 
by stages, and their arrival and departure were 
matters of no little interest in the daily life of the 
town. Then, too, Middletown was the county seat 
of Middlesex County and when the courts were in 
session another centre of interest was created; if a 
noted case was being tried, the whole town became 
interested in the result. 

In this community in 1840 the people were well- 
to-do and the social life was as yet unstratified. 
The contrasts of great wealth on the one hand and 
of poverty on the other did not exist. The people 


The Middletown Environment 

generally knew each other, as well as their family 
histories, and personal interests were freely inter- 
mingled. The descendants of the prosperous mer- 
chants, shipowners, and traders of the colonial days 
were numerous and among them were persons of 
education and character, who, with their moderate 
fortunes of inherited wealth well invested, and their 
comfortable style of living, gave a quiet, refining 
influence to the social life of the town. This circle 
had been increased by well-to-do families from other 
places who had been attracted to Middletown by 
reason of its delightful location, its well-shaded, 
beautiful streets, its healthfulness, and its many 
comfortable homes, so that in 1840 it was one of the 
most beautiful residential towns in New England. 

It can also be said that Middletown comprised a 
religious community of a distinctly New England 
character. The Sabbath was duly respected, and 
attendance at prayer meeting and church was uni- 
versal. In the social life of the town, church mem- 
bership was an indispensable prerequisite for social 
recognition. There were six churches two ortho- 
dox Congregational, one Episcopal, one Baptist, 
and two Methodist in which were presented four 
phases of evangelical faith and doctrine. Among 
these churches the Episcopal and the two Congre- 
gational churches were the more prominent by rea- 
son of the greater number and the social standing of 
their members. The preaching in all these churches 
was of the strictest evangelical character, and in the 


John Fiske 

Congregational churches particularly the grim 
theology of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards 
was emphasized more than the simple, humanizing 
religion of Jesus. 

The Wesleyan University a Methodist college 
was also an important factor in the social and 
religious influences of the town, by reason of the 
number of students and the learning and high 
character of members of the faculty. In later years 
the University has greatly broadened in its ideals of 
religious truth, but at the period we are now con- 
sidering, it was the express purpose of the institu- 
tion to present knowledge bound in the fetters of a 
particular scheme of theology. 

In this community of good citizens, among the 
remarkable men of that day, and in some respects 
the most remarkable, was John Fisk. He was town 
clerk and treasurer, clerk of the Superior Court, , 
county treasurer and clerk of probate at the same 
time, five different offices which he filled with 
ability and to the satisfaction of the public. The 
great and growing confidence reposed in him was 
shown in the fact that just previous to his death in 
1847 he had been elected town clerk and treasurer 
for the fiftieth year in succession. He was in very 
truth a walking encyclopaedia of the town's civic 
affairs. He was a member of the First Congrega- 
tional Church and took part in all its activities. 
John Fisk was a great reader of good literature and 
was especially fond of the Waverley Novels, often 


The Fisk Homestead 

carrying one in his pocket so that when leisure 
moments came in the course of his official duties 
he could amuse himself by dipping into its pages. 

Judge William D. Shipman, an honored member 
of the New York Bar, had occasion to practise in 
the Middletown courts at this period. Fifty years 
after he was a great admirer of the writings of John 
Fiske. In a letter to Fiske's mother, Mrs. E. W. 
Stoughton, anent her son's philosophical works, 
dated October 23, 1896, he gives the following pen- 
picture of John Fisk, the old town clerk and the 
clerk of the Superior Court: " Whenever I see the 
name of John Fiske, I strike off the final ' e ' in Fiske 
and my memory goes back to his great-grandfather 
when the latter was clerk of the courts in Middlesex 
County and clerk of pretty much all the municipal, 
judicial, and ecclesiastical organizations in Middle- 
town. I recall his visage, his snuff-colored clothes, 
his gold-bowed spectacles, and the quiet way in 
which he swore the witnesses and did his other 
clerical duties, even in a case involving a death pen- 
alty, and then took a novel from his pocket and se- 
renely read while great lawyers were contending at 
the bar." 

John Fisk was moderately well-to-do. Being 
a frugal liver, he had managed to accumulate 
from the returns of his various public offices a 
small competence, and he lived in a modest way 
in a very comfortable house on Union Street. In 
1840 he built himself a more commodious house 


John Fiske 

on Hanover Street, a most desirable location, with 
fine spreading elms in front, and with ample grounds 
in the rear, over which there was an extended view 
down the broad, slowly flowing river with the eastern 
hills beyond. It was in his former house on Union 
Street that his granddaughter, Mary Fisk Bound, 
was married to Edmund Brewster Green on the isth 
of September, 1840. It was to the Hanover Street 
home that their son, the subject of this memoir, 
was brought in the autumn of 1842 bearing poten- 
tially in his infantile brain the strong, virile traits 
of the Quaker and the Puritan. 




THE Fisk household in 1842 consisted of John Fisk, 
the town clerk, "a jolly, fun-loving old man"; his 
second wife, Olive Cone Fisk, " the dearest, heartiest 
soul in the world"; Polly Fisk Bound, John Fisk's 
daughter by his first wife and grandmother to the 
infant boy, "a little, alert old lady, very refined and 
beautiful"; and four sons, Henry, John, Charles, 
and Frederick. Charles was a civil engineer. It was 
an orthodox family of the liberal sort, and all the 
members attended the First or North Congrega- 
tional Church of Middle town. 

John Fisk, as has been said, was a great reader, 
and in the house were many books of a stimulat- 
ing character to a young, inquiring mind. There 
were the Bible, with the standard orthodox Com- 
mentaries; "Pilgrim's Progress," that simple yet 
powerful dramatization of Christian character and 
experience, which has a place in English religious 
literature second only to the Bible; and that vol- 
ume so consolatory to the believer in Calvinistic 
theology, Baxter's "Saints' Rest." For histories 
there were Josephus with its Christian interpel- 


John Fiske 

lation, Rollin's "Ancient History/' Goldsmith's 
"Greece," Froissart, Gibbon's "Rome," Robert- 
son's "Charles V," with its masterly introduction 
of European history, Prescott and Hume. In bi- 
ography there were Plutarch's "Lives"; the Lives 
of many religious worthies, including John Calvin 
and Jonathan Edwards; Sparks's "Life of Wash- 
ington" was also there. In general literature there 
were the "Iliad," the "Arabian Nights," "Don 
Quixote," and the works of Shakespeare, Milton, 
Pope, and Walter Scott. To these should be added 
the textbooks of Henry Fisk on English and Latin 
grammar, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and as- 
tronomy. 1 

In this family and with these surroundings Mary 
Fisk Bound had grown to womanhood shedding 
the charms of her attractive personality over the 
entire household, and her early marriage left a sad 
void in the family circle. 

Under the tender care of his grandparents, Ed- 
mund Fisk Green emerges for our notice, when 
about four years of age, a slender, shy, open-eyed, 
inquisitive boy, with an extraordinary memory and 
an insatiable desire to know about things. He 
seemed not to forget anything that came under his 
observation, and he had already learned to read, 
mainly by his own efforts. To see a book or a 

1 This list of books should be particularly noted ; for, in the devel- 
opment of the mind whose unfolding we are to trace, nearly all of 
these works were put under tribute. 



newspaper excited his curiosity, and to have a per- 
son read from either using words, some of which 
he understood, excited him still more. When a story 
was read to him, he became as deeply interested 
in the process of reading as in the story itself he 
wanted to know how the reader could tell just those 
words in the print. When it was explained, and he 
was shown how words differed from each other, he 
began working by himself picking out words, and 
then running to his grandmother, or whoever would 
help him, to have them named. In this way he 
soon mastered quite a vocabulary of printed words, 
and then began to relate them as in speech. In fact, 
before any one had thought of teaching him his 
letters or sending him to school there were no 
kindergartens in those days he had taught him- 
self to read, mainly through his own exertions. We 
shall see later that he learned music in much the 
same way. Furthermore, in these beginnings for 
the mastery of his native English language, we 
have foreshadowings of that deep interest in philo- 
logical studies which was a marked characteristic 
of his mature years. 

In these days of character-foreshadowings, we 
should note his great regard, let us say his deep 
respect, for books. As soon as he had learned to 
read, he began to look upon books as the most de- 
sirable of possessions; and his pride in such as came 
to him, and his thoughtful care of them, are promi- 
nent among the incidents related of his very early 


John Fiske 

years. As the story of his youth unfolds, it will be 
noted how ready he was to sacrifice everything for 
books. They were always the chief measures of 
value in his mind. 1 

When Edmund was about three years of age his 
grandmother married Elias Lewis, a worthy citizen 
of Middletown, who, with Sallie, his daughter by a 
former wife, became members of the Fisk house- 
hold. Mr. Lewis's daughter took great interest in 
Edmund and encouraged all his efforts to learn 
about things and to do things. 

As soon as Edmund could read with understand- 
ing, everything in the way of print that came under 
his notice had to yield tribute to his desire to know 
what it was about; and then he was equally desir- 
ous of telling what he had learned. This twofold 
form of mental activity went out in every direction. 
He early began to observe the activities of people, 
and what he saw others do, he wanted to do himself. 
In these early years, therefore, he was interested in 
his grandmother's embroidery and was delighted 
when he could lend a hand, meanwhile telling what 
he had been reading about. 

Among the incidents of this period of which he 
retained pleasant recollections were the semi-annual 
visits of Eliza Cotton, a sort of peripatetic boys 1 
tailor for a few of the Middletown families. This 

1 This respect for books always restrained him from marking or 
in any way defacing them. In his Cambridge library the volumes 
that were his constant companions bear only the marks of respectful 



was before the days of regular tailors for boys, or of 
ready-made clothing; and throughout New England 
there was hardly a town that did not possess one 
of these indispensable public servants. They per- 
formed two important social functions: they helped 
to clothe the needy, and being, as it were, the re- 
positories of the social gossip of the town, they en- 
tertained their patrons with incidents in the lives, 
and particularly in regard to the clothes, of their 
neighbors, as interesting and as fully embellished 
with personal flavor as are to be found in the present 
weekly newspaper. 1 

Eliza Cotton was an exceptionally intelligent 
woman of good family, and for her own character 
she was greatly respected. She took great interest 
in Edmund, and he became very much attached to 

1 This peripatetic tailoring is one of New England's lost arts. 
James W. Brooks in his reminiscences of Petersham, Massachusetts, 
a town which is to figure quite largely in future pages of this work, 
speaking of one of this honorable guild of craftswomen, Mary Ann 
Howe, says: 

" How familiar to some of us her big shears, and goose, and press- 
ing-board, and big steel thimble, that for many years went from 
farm to farm, to cut and stitch and press the clothing of the farmer, 
and his boys, at fifty cents a day. How her keen wits gauged his 
character and habits, as her tape took measurements of his taber- 
nacle of flesh ! An industrious and helpful being, the product of whose 
honest and ill paid toil was many a generous deed in life, and a 
handsome sum bequeathed at death. How rough her left forefinger 
where the needle pricked it; and what conscience went into the jerk 
of her linen thread as she drew our buttons home to stay an alto- 
gether excellent woman although it must be confessed, she wrought 
such a similarity of expression in the fore and aft of our trousers, 
as to remind us of the breeches of the little chap whose mother said, 
that when too far away to see his face, she could never tell whether 
he was going to school, or coming home." 


John Fiske 

her, looking forward to her visit with pleasure for 
two reasons, she was interested in his books and his 
reading, and she would let him help in her work. In 
helping her, he learned to sew with much skill. His 
interest in needlework was no indication of effemin- 
acy in his nature or his tastes, but was prompted 
by his desire to know how to do what he saw had 
a useful purpose, and also to be helpful in the 

Another of Edmund's activities of these early 
years was his delight and facility in preaching to 
his grandparents and imitating their minister, the 
Reverend Dr. Crane, a preacher of the strict 
orthodox school who gave to his exposition of the 
orthodox creed a manner duly impressive. The re- 
markable thing about these personations was their 
accuracy in the collocation of words; whole sen- 
tences, which to Edmund must have conveyed but 
little or no meaning, were reproduced with great 
fidelity. These personations were not prompted by 
any desire to burlesque. His active little mind took 
in the religious exercises as a part of the reality 
going on about him, and back of all his expres- 
sion and wholly unobserved by his elders, he was 
forming conceptions of God and Heaven and Hell, 
which, so far as we can get at them, reflect in 
their naive truthfulness the materialistic anthro- 
pomorphic preaching to which he was an attentive 

He has given such direct testimony as to his con- 



ception, at this period, of God and His methods of 
judgment that his words are well worth quoting: 1 

" I imagined a narrow office just over the zenith, 
with a tall standing-desk running lengthwise, upon 
which lay several open ledgers bound in coarse 
leather. There was no roof over this office, and the 
walls rose scarcely five feet from the floor, so that 
a person standing at the desk could look out upon 
the whole world. There were two persons at the 
desk, and one of them a tall, slender man, of 
aquiline features, wearing spectacles, with a pen in 
his hand and another behind his ear was God. 
The other whose appearance I do not distinctly 
recall, was an attendant angel. Both were dili- 
gently watching the deeds of men and recording 
them in the ledgers. To my infant mind this pic- 
ture was not grotesque, but ineffably solemn, and 
the fact that all my words and acts were thus writ- 
ten down, to confront me at the day of judgment, 
seemed naturally a matter of grave concern." 

Perhaps it was the death at this period, Feb- 
ruary 17, 1847, of his great-grandfather John Fisk, 
full of years and honorable service, and with the 
respect and esteem of the whole community for his 
upright character, that served to impress upon 
Edmund's mind such a vivid conception of God and 
his method of keeping account of the conduct of 
people here on earth. 

In the ample grounds of the Fisk homestead 
Edmund had a plot of ground given him for his own 

1 See The Idea of God, by John Fiske, p. 116. 

John Fiske 

cultivation. This garden was a never-failing source 
of interest, and in watching and tending the germina- 
tion and development of plant life, he not only made 
himself acquainted with the more obvious facts of 
our common vegetable and flora culture: he also 
laid in a stock of direct personal observations of 
nature's processes which were of much value in 
later years when tracing the theory of Evolution 
from the inorganic in nature to the organic that 
is, the beginning of life and its development through 
the vegetable and animal kingdoms. 

It is noteworthy in these very early years that 
Edmund was an obedient, dutiful boy with an in- 
nate consideration for others. These traits will 
appear as distinct elements in his character as his 
life unfolds. We have simply to note them as active 
at the very beginning. Closely connected with these 
traits was another very pronounced one, which was 
a fitting complement to the others a strong self- 
propulsion towards doing useful work. He seemed 
to find pleasure in his tasks. Never was it neces- 
sary to put pressure upon him. He was self-directed 
from the first. He was a remarkably healthy boy 
physically, and there was nothing morbid in his in- 
tellectual make-up. While he was not robust, he 
had no ailments. He loved outdoor sports, and was 
especially fond of rowing, and as soon as he could 
handle oars he had a boat on the river. In short, he 
early presented remarkable mental power in happy 
combination with a healthy, responsive, physical 


Early Education 

organization a combination that enabled him to 
find pleasure in both work and play; and when he 
did not have agreeable companions, he could work 
and play by himself. 

Edmund began going to school when he was 
between four and five years old. He was sent to a 
private primary school kept by a Miss Wilcox, and 
he was so slight that he was sometimes carried on the 
shoulders of his great-grandfather Fisk. This was 
a school where very young pupils were inducted 
into the elements of knowledge after the methods of 
sixty years ago, when all primary education began 
with the presentation of the abstract symbols in 
language, the letters with their combination in 
simple words; in mathematics, the nine digits with 
the four forms of arithmetical process, all learned 
mnemonically. Penmanship, oral spelling, compo- 
sition, some reading, and a little geography were 
included in the course. This elementary schooling 
was continued for nearly two years, and Edmund 
proved an apt pupil. 

But he did not confine himself to his studies. He 
early began to use them in enlarging his powers of 
independent acquisition. He was not content to 
limit himself to school requirements. When six years 
old he could read readily, and as in his home 
there were some of the great works in general litera- 
ture, these were put under tribute by his inquiring 
mind. Even the dry textbooks of Charles Fisk were 
examined, "to see what they were like." At six, he 


John Fiske 

began the study of Latin, under whose instruction 
does not appear; and at seven we find him reading 
Caesar. History, language, and mathematics were 
his first loves, and before he was eight he had read 
Plutarch's " Lives," Rollin's "Ancient History," Jo- 
sephus, Goldsmith's " Greece," " Arabian Nights," 
"Pilgrim's Progress," and had dipped into Shake- 
speare, Milton, and Pope. 

We have seen that during this period his mother 
was engaged in teaching in New York City and 
Newark, New Jersey. Her visits to the Middle- 
town homestead were frequent, and occasionally 
Edmund visited her. As soon as he had acquired suf- 
ficient skill in penmanship to express his thoughts 
in writing, letter-writing, telling his mother of his 
interests and what he was doing, became a source 
of great pleasure to him. Fortunately these letters 
have been preserved, and in them we have a rec- 
ord of his youthful development, a record of his 
studies, his reading, his amusements, his ambi- 
tions all put forth spontaneously as it were, in 
the service of a dutiful affection, a record all the 
more valuable because of its naive, unconscious 

The first letter is of date March 17, 1850, when 
Edmund was nearly eight years of age. It is written 
on both sides of a half -sheet of letter paper, and with 
a bold, heavy hand. There are no erasures or blots 
on the sheet. It is the letter of a real boy, contain- 
ing a mixture of local incidents, personal experi- 


Early Education 

ences, domestic matters, and ancient history. His 
reference to Artaxerxes indicates that he had been 
browsing in Rollin's " Ancient History," or Gold- 
smith's " Greece," or Xenophon's "Anabasis." 
Only one word is misspelled " witch " and " wich " 
for " which." The following is the letter verbatim et 

MIDDLETOWN, March 17, 1850. 
Dear Mother 

There has been a terrible fire about a fortnight 
ago. Mr. Johnsons & Mr. Parmalees and Elliots, 
Mr. Storrs & a part of Mr. Putnams all burnt down 
and several other buildings got on fire. Grand- 
mother lost all her magazines wich she had brought 
to Mr. Putnams to get bound, & yet I slept through 
the whole of it! I got a new "Gladius" 1 the other 
day out of the new house witch John is building. 
There are 12 men out there to work and every one 
of them is John. I am tired of hearing John all the 
time. It is all the time John you go and take hold 
of that end of the log, and John you go and take 
hold of the middle of the log and John you take 
hold of this end of the log and John you pry up the 
log and it is all John all the time. There were 4 
Artaxerxes viz Artaxerxes Smerdis, Artaxerxes 
Longimanus Artaxerxes Mnemon and Artaxerxes 
Ochus. Don't you think this a bad letter? The 
other night Bridget said there was just enough oil 
to last that night the next night she said the same 
so I asked her what made her say there would be 
just enough for last night, and then say so again to- 

1 Sword. 

John Fiske 

night. Bridget said oh I brought out the balance 

We all send our love. 

From your affectionate son, 


It appears that a few weeks later Edmund was 
visiting his father and mother in Newark, New Jer- 
sey. At this time his father was pressing his claims 
for political preferment, and as he had promises of 
a substantial position in the government service 
in South America or on the Pacific Coast, he was 
hopefully looking forward to getting his little 
family together in a home of his own. This pleasant 
prospect in the mind of Mr. Green is indicated in 
a letter written by Edmund to his Grandmother 
Green during this visit. This letter is of special 
interest because of its self -revealing character. It 
clearly shows that Edmund had been dipping into 
his Uncle Charles's textbooks and that the pursuit 
of knowledge was assuming a dominant position in 
his mind. The letter is as follows : 

NEWARK, N.J., i9th May, 1850. 

My dear Grandmother Green 

I am very anxious to see you and Aunt Arriana 
whom I have never seen. Father says mother and 
I will visit you with him before we go to South 
America. I am going to Connecticut on Wednesday 
with grandmother Lewis where I shall have a nice 
time cultivating my little garden. I am now 8 years 
old and have read about 200 vols of books on all 


(From a daguerreotype) 

Early Education 

subjects, particularly on Nat. History, Philosophy, 
Chemistry, Astronomy, Grammar, Mathematics, 
and miscellaneous things. I have also read Spanish 
a little. I can't write very well but I shall improve 
by practice so you must excuse my first letter to 

Give my love to Aunt Roberts and my cousins 
and tell them I hope to see them soon. 

I remain, dear grandmother, 

Your very affectionate little boy, 


In this letter all the words are correctly spelled, 
and the penmanship, while clearly legible, indicates 
the hand of a boy not yet brought into complete 
subjection to his thought. There is added to the 
letter in the handwriting of Mr. Green the follow- 
ing: " Ed has written the above letter without any 
assistance, and although he can't write very well, 
he can talk 'a few 1 with anybody." 

When between eight and nine years of age 
November, 1850 Edmund was placed by his 
grandmother in a private preparatory school for 
boys in Middletown, conducted by Daniel H. 
Chase, a graduate from the Wesleyan University. 
The public schools in Middletown in 1850 were not 
what they are to-day, and in this school, which was 
of excellent repute, boys were prepared for busi- 
ness life or for college. It does not appear at this 
time that any definite aim or purpose in Edmund's 
education had been considered. The need of his 
receiving systematic schooling and the convenient 


John Fiske 

location of the school were the reasons for placing 
him under the charge of Mr. Chase. 

Edmund's regular studies at the beginning 
were English grammar, Latin and Greek gram- 
mar, arithmetic, algebra, geography, with attendant 
exercises in reading, spelling, penmanship, and com- 
position. It is worth while to note in this list 
the entire absence of many studies which are now 
universal in primary education in both public and 
private schools, such as nature study, elementary 
physics and chemistry, music, art. The advantages 
of these latter studies Edmund did not enjoy until 
his college period and then only to a very limited 
extent. In view of the important work of John 
Fiske in interpreting to his time the truly human- 
izing studies, the thought arises, in passing, would 
the influence of his life-work have been greater had 
his early educational training been directed to these 
modern "humanities" as well as to language, his- 
tory, and mathematics? 

Edmund continued in Mr. Chase's school until 
April, 1853, and here he was brought into close com- 
panionship with boys of his own age as well as with 
boys much older than himself. His studies were the 
first consideration in his mind and along with them 
went an ever-expanding range of home reading. 
He readily made himself amenable to the school 
discipline and soon distanced his classmates both 
in deportment and in his studies. His proficiency 
and the regard he received from the teachers made 


Early Education 

the older boys jealous and they took various ways 
to annoy him. In some instances they combined to 
abuse him as only cowardly boys will when they 
find a boy younger and smaller than themselves. 
What grieved him most, however, was the defacing 
of his books. This persecution was carried into the 
school, until Mr. Chase assigned him a place where 
he could study undisturbed. 

This persecution by his schoolmates tended to 
drive Edmund the more in and upon himself. There 
are no complaints in the letters. He is interested 
in telling only of what is of interest to himself. He 
is closely observant of what is going on in the town, 
and thoughtfully listens to the discussions of a 
question that then divided the people into two 
parties the building of a railroad that should con- 
nect Middletown with other Connecticut towns as 
well as with the general outside world. There were 
some who strongly opposed the movement. 

It is interesting to find that long before the days 
of manual training in education, Edmund had 
adopted this feature in his self-imposed educational 
course. This fact appears in the following letter, 
where the information is given, boy-like, along with 
matters of local interest : 

MIDDLETOWN, Sept. 17, 1851. 
Dear Mother 

I have made a splendid shop out in the wood- 
house. First there is a large box set up on edge on 
that bench and nail down. Second there are posts 


John Fiske 

set up and boards nailed across from post to post so 
that they form a roof and two sides which is all I 
want as the front is open and the box forms the 4th 
side. In the box are shelves to put tools on. Mr. 
Faxon is dead. Dr. Casey is going away and they 
are going to have his house for the great Central 
Bank. They have tore down the old hotel and are 
going to build up a new one in stone carve work. 
They have built up that place where the Great Fire 
was. They have tore down the County Bank and 
building it up in stone carve work. We all send our 

From your affectionate son, 


In this little shop Edmund found occupation for 
stormy days, and here he made many things. The 
near-by shipyards had many lessons for him, and 
beginning with a misshapen sloop he progressed in 
his miniature shipbuilding until he had made a full- 
rigged frigate with a full complement of guns the 
guns being specially cast for him by his friend Mr. 
Wilcox, who owned a foundry, and who took much 
interest in Edmund's ingenuity and skill. This 
frigate was, indeed, a remarkable piece of skilled 
workmanship, and for it at a local exhibition, he re- 
ceived a prize. Among the treasures in his library 
at Cambridge none are more interesting than the 
few mementoes of this little shop a miniature 
plane, a compass, and sun-dial. 

John Fiske tells us, in later years, that it was 
largely owing to his visits to the shipyards and his 


Early Education 

making models of vessels that he early became inter- 
ested in geography, astronomy, mathematics, and 
navigation they were of interest because they 
were of service, they had to do with the sailing of 
vessels over the ocean. 

At this early period his imagination was also 
actively at work. In one of his letters in the begin- 
ning of 1852 he tells of a dream he has had which 
he calls a "Castle in the Air." It is a boyish ex- 
travaganza, and is of interest as showing his grow- 
ing proficiency in English composition, and also as 
indicating that he had been feeding his mind with 
the "Arabian Nights " and other fairy tales. At the 
close of the letter he tells his mother that at school 
two other boys and himself have taken the first 
prize. It is worthy of note that he puts the names 
of the other two boys before his own. 

A few days later he writes and gives such an inven- 
tory, as it were, of himself and his studies such 
a genuine boy's letter that the letter is well worth 
giving in full : 

N.B. When you find a star after a word you must 
look at the bottom of the page. 

MIDDLETOWN, Feb. 25th, 1852. 
Dear Mother 

By my Geography of 1850 London is 2,520,000. 
I have o debits and 1200 credits. I went to Thads 
last Sat. and slid all day on the factory pond. Is 
there any moral to my dream? Next summer I want 
to study Surveying, Rhetoric & Psychology. To- 

John Fiske 

day I worked out a very difficult proposition in 
Engineering 2 more in Surveying & 23 in Legendre 
of Geometry. I u have got in Arithmetic to the cube 
root. Have you received Grandmother's letter 
about the worsteds? I have got three compositions 
on shell-fishes. If * you look in my last letter you 
will see the ist prize was Dickinson, Griswold and 
Green but Dickinson and Griswold have now 
I Dr. each which leaves me the whole. My garden 
for 1852 is 55 ft. long and 31 ft. wide. We all send 
our love. 

From your very aff'nate son, 

N.B. Mr. Crofoot is dead and buried. 

* Feb. 20. 

In the spring of 1852, as we have already seen, 
Edmund's father returned from Panama for a short 
visit. He and Mrs. Green came to Middletown and 
Edmund returned with them to New York City and 
saw his father' sail for Panama, where he was soon 
to end his days. Edmund retained a delightful 
memory of this last visit with his father, and in after 
years always spoke of him with much affection and 
described him as a man of great personal charm. 

There were persons in Middletown who, seeing 
this slender, open-eyed boy on the street, shunning 
the rough boys who took delight in persecuting him, 
thought him simply a little coward! If these per- 
sons had known the standing of this boy at school, 
had heard his interested, thoughtful inquiries in the 
shipyards, had seen him ingeniously at work in his 


Early Education 

own little workshop, had known something of the 
character and extent of his reading, and had they 
also been aware of the fact that all the time he was 
writing to his mother of the things uppermost in his 
mind never alluding to the persecutions he en- 
dured they would have formed a worthier esti- 
mate of him. 

It is one of the fine characteristics of these letters, 
noticeable all the way through, that they are cheer- 
ful, hopeful letters. Edmund has something before 
him constantly worth striving for, and the letters are 
the record of this striving, with many incidents by 
the way; and while they were written solely for the 
eye of his mother, they give such a naive mixture of 
knowledge and boyish expressions in gaining it as 
to make them of general interest as the record of 
the mental development of a healthy-minded boy, 
who loved knowledge and his mother in about 
equal proportions. 

Here are some reflections derived from his studies 
as well as personal experiences in the pursuit of 
knowledge that are of interest as showing the work- 
ings of his mind. He is studying astronomy and he 
desires to inform his mother that " it is now about 
5850 years since the creation. If a train of cars 30 
miles per hour had travelled ever since, it would be 
284,000,000 miles from Herschel. To reach him 
would take 1000 years. To reach Neptune would 
take 6522 years to come." His economical tenden- 
cies are manifested early and many instances might 


John Fiske 

be given. For the Fourth of July this year 1852 
he proposes to spend but twenty-five cents. But his 
crowning financial operation was his scheme for 
getting a copy of Playf air's Euclid, which his teacher 
had recommended him to study in place of Brew- 
ster's Legendre a book he already had. The story 
should be told in his own words : 

"So after school what should I do but go poking 
into Mr. Putnams to ask the price of Euclid. One 
dollar was the Binomial that met my astounded 
eares. Terrible! ! ! I could n't buy the book as I 
had but 55 cents; so I left the store. The next noon 
I saw George Smith's skates (by the way he was 
turned out of school for being impudent to Mr. 
Brewer). At the sight of the skates, a lucky thought 
struck my head. After school, I took my skates and 
went up to Mr. Atkins and sold them for 46 cents. 
So I went poking into Mr. Putnams a second time 
and got the book, together with some drawing 
paper to make the figures on. So now I have to use 
all my instruments because there are some things 
to do which you can't do with anything else." 

During the winter of 1852-53 Edmund's studies 
appear to have been Greenleaf's Arithmetic, Per- 
kins's Algebra, Euclid, Latin and Greek grammar, 
and Caesar, with geography, English grammar and 

In April, 1853, the term closed, and Edmund's 
schooling with Mr. Chase came to an end. He did 
not get a prize at the close of the term, something 
unusual for him. He appears to have made a few 


Early Education 

warm friendships among the boys, and to have be- 
come much interested in outdoor sports. He gives 
his mother a description of the game of " roly- 
poly, " which is particularly noteworthy for its 
clearness of statement and its good grammatical 
construction. He was interested in boating, and 
tells of trading off his old boat for one three times 
as large. We get glimpses of him in his little work- 
shop, for he tells of making "a seconds clock which 
will go very well until the weight gets half-way 
down (about one foot) and then I can do nothing 
with it. I have taken it to pieces in hopes to put it 
together so that it will go somehow half decent. " 
His penmanship has greatly improved. It is per- 
fectly legible and begins to show something of that 
simple elegance that characterized the handwriting 
of John Fiske in his maturity. 

For the six months from April to October, 1853, 
Edmund studied without instructors and the let- 
ters show that he was as faithful to his studies as 
when under school discipline. In one letter he says : 
" I study Cicero de Oratore Oratio, ist Collectanea 
Grseca Majora, Davis's Algebra. I have almost fin- 
ished equations of the ist degree. Flint's Geometry, 
I recite to Prof. Nobody. " In this letter he sends 
an original " Greek Oration " which he particularly 
requests his mother "not to show to any one be- 
cause it may have mistakes." The events of the 
intervening years have given this bit of boyish 
mental activity an especial value, and it does not 


John Fiske 

appear as a breach of confidence, under the cir- 
cumstances, to give this " oration " in facsimile. 
Greek scholars will appreciate it as the diversion 
of a lad eleven years of age, studying without 

In addition to keeping his mother informed in re- 
gard to his studies, Edmund tells her of the various 
incidents in his daily boyhood life of his going to 
a magician's exhibition and his being called upon to 
take part in some of the tricks; of his having four 
shirts with bosoms and collars; a flowered satin vest 
made over by Eliza Cotton, with some help from 
himself; and of his grandmother's giving him a new 
broadcloth suit. He also tells of his forming a boys' 
club and of his being elected president; of his 
rambles in the woods, and of his wading in the 
beautiful Sabetha River; and, most important of 
all, of some gifts of books from his grandmother and 
from Mr. Lewis, by which his library is increased 
to one hundred and eighty-seven volumes. In his 
naive record of these various incidents the begin- 
nings of his art of narration are clearly observed. 

In October, 1853, Edmund enters another private 
school in Middletown conducted by a Mr. Brewer, 
possibly a teacher previously with Mr. Chase, 
where he continued for six months. Shortly after 
entering this school there was an examination, 
Edmund's account of which gives us a further in- 
sight into his studies and his proficiency. 



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Early Education 

October, 1853. 
Dear Mother 

This letter will be all about studies. We had an 
examination Thursday. I was examined in Green- 
leaf's Arithmetic; Perkins* and Loomis* Algebra; 
through 4 books Euclid; through Hedge's Logic; 
through 4 books Caesar; 8 books Virgil; 4 Orat. 
Cicero and the Graeca Majora; through the Latin 
and Greek Grammars; and last, but not least 
dreaded, through Greek syntax. 

Mr. Brewer said I passed an admirable examina- 
tion. I am reading Sallust which is so easy that I 
have read 48 chapters without looking in the dic- 
tionary. My school report was thus 9 being per- 
fection: Attendance 7: Arithmetic 8: Algebra 8: 
Composition 7: Declamation 7: Geometry 9: 
Greek 7: Latin 8: Logic 8: Deportment 9: Reading 
9: Writing 9: the most perfect report of all: none 
of the other reports were above 4. I have studied 
my Sallust this morning and have got 7 cr. making 
54 in all. I guess I shall finish him in three weeks 
and then I shall take Livy. I am reading now about 
Jugurtha, king of Numidia, and his wars with the 
Romans : Sallust was governor of Numidia 40 years 
after, and so had excellent opportunities of knowing 
about it by the traditions of the people and by the 

From your affectionate son, 


P.S. Mr. B. said I was a better scholar than he 
ever had before. 

P.S. 2. If you will bring Anthon's Xenophon's 
Anabasis 1.25 I will value it more than the broad- 
cloth suit. 


John Fiske 

Edmund was so earnest and faithful in his stud- 
ies that Mr. Brewer cautioned him about studying 
too hard; evidently without much effect, for the 
letters bear witness to the great expansion of his 
mind in various directions, so much so that his 
school studies seem to have engaged the lesser part of 
his mental activities. No small portion of his spare 
time was given to translating Caesar into Greek 
ahead of his translating the Latin into English. 
His reasons for this self-imposed task are charac- 
teristic "It makes the translation into English 
easier'*; and, "I like to see the Greek letters 
they look so handsome/' He was fond of drawing 
maps, and read history with the maps before him, 
thus visualizing his historical acquisitions as much 
as possible. He committed to memory hundreds of 
dates of important events just for mental exercise. 
With his expanding knowledge he felt the necessity 
of having a systematic method of noting down for 
ready reference special subjects of interest as they 
came to his attention in his studies and in his 
reading. He therefore made a chronological record 
of important events from 1000 B.C. to 1820 A.D. as 
a sort of historical framework around which to 
group his historical acquisitions. This record filled 
a small quarto blank book of sixty pages. He also 
began an alphabetical commonplace book which he 
made out of some paper purchased with seventy- 
one cents given him by his mother for spending- 
money. This record and this commonplace book 


Early Education 

have not been preserved: the fact, however, that 
thus early, and of his own motion, he began to put 
his knowledge into order in his mind, and also to 
systematize his acquisitions, is especially worth 
noting in view of what we shall see later his 
marvellous command of his wide and varied his- 
toric knowledge. 

After studying with Mr. Brewer for about six 
months Edmund appears to have left the school (in 
April, 1854) and again to have studied at home 
without an instructor for about a year. During 
this period his mother visited Middletown fre- 
quently, and Edmund's letters are fewer than 
formerly, and less definite in regard to his studies 
and his reading. Nevertheless, in the few letters 
that were written we get interesting glimpses of his 
daily boyish life as well as evidences of his men- 
tal activity expanding in various directions. And 
here should be given in his own words the story of 
his purchase of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English 
Lexicon. 1 

" By the beginning of 1854 I had read most of the 
Collectanea Graeca Majora with the aid of Schre- 
velius' Lexicon in which the meanings of the Greek 
words were given in Latin. This I found very in- 
convenient and I longed for a good Greek- English 
dictionary; but my grandmother thought five dol- 
lars a great sum for so unpractical a luxury as Greek. 

1 From a manuscript note of John Fiske's, in the copy of Liddell 
and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon in the Fiske Library at Cam- 
bridge, written in 1883. 


John Fiske 

I then began to earn money. Among other things I 
learned that an Irishman, named Hennessey, would 
buy old bones at 37 cents a barrel. I picked up 
bones here and there till I had got five barrels which 
brought me $1.85. In other ways I raised my fund 
till it amounted to about $3.40, when my grand- 
mother, seeing my determination, suddenly fur- 
nished the remainder of the $5.00 and in June 1854 
I became the jubilant possessor of this noble dic- 
tionary, which I have ever prized most highly, as 
I count the knowledge of Greek one of my most 
spiritual possessions." 

A panorama depicting various incidents in Bun- 
yan's "Pilgrim's Progress " came to Middletown at 
this time, and an illustrated poster of the exhibition 
was placed in the post-office. Bunyan's immortal 
work was one of Edmund's classics, and he studied 
this poster carefully as he daily came for the mail. 
So impressed was he by it that he made a reproduc- 
tive drawing of it. 1 He managed by pasting to- 
gether several small sheets of paper to get a sheet 
of goodly size, and then on his visits to the post- 
office he would fix the features of the poster dis- 
tinctly in his mind, and on his return would draw 
them out on his sheet. His drawing is of interest 

1 Edmund's reproduction of this poster has been preserved and 
is now owned by Herbert Huxley Fiske. It bears the following in- 
scription : 

"Early in the summer of 1853, when I was eleven years old, a pano- 
rama of Pilgrim's Progress came to Middletown ; and while it was 
there, a picture representing the scenes of the allegory was hung up 
in the Post-Office and excited my intense interest and admiration, 
as Bunyan was one of my favorite authors. I used to stand before 


Early Education 

as showing the inherent tendency of his mind to 
grasp serious subjects, and also to render some 
account of its activity, while dealing with them. 

He hears a lecture on metals, and also attends 
the Commencement exercises at the Wesleyan 
University of which he gives excellent, thoughtful 
accounts in his simple, lucid style. One letter of 
this period gives a bit of verbal self-criticism that is 
worthy of note as showing that in these early years 
he was awake to subtile distinctions in the use of 
words. He had given his mother quite an account 
of some military operations in the Crimean War, 
then raging, and he closed with this sentence: "If 
anything has been stated wrong it is (that I have) 
understated (it)." He then scratches out the words 
in parenthesis and adds: "I scratched out these 
words because the statement might be taken in a 
different sense from what I meant." 

The only allusion to his reading during this in- 

the picture and study it every day on my way home from Daniel 
Chase's school. I presently tried to reproduce from memory its 
principal features. After making this sketch, I wished to introduce 
the human figures, but was not satisfied with my crude attempts to 
draw a man. So I decided to leave it for my mother, on her next visit 
to Middletown, to draw the men, and marked provisionally, with 
numerals, the places where they were to come. I intended afterward 
to fill out the minor details of shrubbery, etc., somewhat as already 
filled out to the left of Palace Beautiful. But with the pause thus 
necessitated, the work stopped, and was by and by forgotten. Now, 
after thirty-six years, finding it folded, frayed and torn among 
some old papers, I have had it mounted and framed as a keepsake 
for my son, Herbert Huxley Fiske, who is about the same age that 
I was when I made this sketch. 

Cambridge, June 6, 1889. 


John Fiske 

terregnum year is a remark in a letter of August 30, 
1854, that at last he has finished Gibbon's " History 
of Rome." 

The question had now arisen as to the direction 
of Edmund's future education for college or for 
practical life. His decided predilections for knowl- 
edge, his remarkable powers of acquisition and 
memory, his self-imposed studious habits, and his 
good physical health, all united with strong, up- 
right traits of character, seemed to demand a col- 
lege education as their fitting complement. In the 
year 1854 Mrs. Green received a proposal of mar- 
riage from Edwin Wallace Stoughton, of New York 
City. Mr. Stoughton had been a warm personal 
friend of Mr. Green's, and he had known Mrs. 
Green for several years and greatly admired her. 
He was a self-educated man with a wide practical 
knowledge. He had a notable and impressive per- 
sonality, which indicated great force of character. 
Without assistance he had won his way to a lead- 
ing position at the New York Bar. He had a large 
circle of friends in other professions as well as in his 
own; and, enjoying an ample income, he sought to 
surround himself with the amenities of social life. 

Mrs. Green was an exceptionally attractive 
woman in the full maturity of her powers. To her 
personal attractions were added many intellectual 
gifts. She had a keen appreciation of art in its three- 
fold forms of literature, music, and painting ; at the 


Early Education 

same time she took a deep interest in the leading 
social and political questions of the day. In addi- 
tion to these characteristics she possessed the charm 
of a dignified, gracious manner which placed every 
one at ease in her presence: in short, she possessed 
in a marked degree the endowments essential to 
leadership in refined social life. 

Mr. Stoughton's proposal appealed to Mrs. 
Green. By his abilities and his triumphs over diffi- 
culties he had won her admiration ; while his pro- 
fessional and social standing were assured. 

But Mrs. Green could not forget her son and her 
duty to him. She longed to have him with her, and 
in addition to her devoted affection for him, she also 
felt a great responsibility for his educational bring- 
ing-up in view of the very extraordinary mental 
powers he had already put forth, coupled as they 
were with certain character elements all of 
which gave promise, under proper training, of a 
mind of exceptional power on reaching its maturity. 
She took Edmund, young as he was, into her confi- 
dence. She assured him that her first duty was to 
him, and that any prospects that did not include 
his happiness as well as her own would not be con- 
sidered by her. Edmund 's ready response shows a 
remarkable maturity of mind for a boy twelve 
years of age. He told his mother of his great love for 
her and how it would grieve him to have any one 
come between them so that she should lose any of 
her love for him. But he did not want her to make 


John Fiske 

any sacrifice for him. He was happy with his 
grandmother. His wants were few; and with a few 
years more of study he could take care of himself. 
He did n't need schools or teachers; he knew how 
to study by himself; in short, he showed, along with 
his manly consideration for his mother, the simple 
optimism of youth. 

In the latter part of 1854 Mrs. Green accepted 
Mr. Stoughton's proposal of marriage. The ques- 
tion then arose as to Edmund's future home. His 
mother wanted him with her, now that she was to 
have a home of her own. The grandparents, how- 
ever, were inconsolable at the thought of giving up 
their charge, having tended him through his in- 
fancy and early boyhood, just as he was entering 
on the most interesting period of his development, 
and they could not relinquish him without much 
sorrow. It is probable that the decision finally 
reached was largely owing to the wishes of Ed- 
mund himself. Much as he loved his mother, he did 
not wish to live in New York City. He hated its 
confinement, its narrow streets, and its noise. He 
loved Middletown, its quiet, its freedom, its near- 
ness to the country where he could enjoy nature 
at his will. He dearly loved his grandparents, and 
their home was the only real home he had known. 
He wished to remain with them; and in his boyish 
way he pleaded to have his wishes respected. They 
were respected, and it was decided that he should 
remain with his grandparents. 




MR. STOUGHTON and Mrs. Green were married at 
the Fisk homestead in Middletown in March, 1855. 
As it had been decided that Edmund should remain 
with his grandparents, it seemed eminently proper 
that his surname should be changed so as to express 
his identification with the Fisk family of which 
he was then the sole male representative. This be- 
ing granted, and several of his ancestors having 
worthily borne the Christian name of John, par- 
ticularly his great-grandfather who had died in re- 
cent years leaving an honored name, it seemed 
equally fitting that he should take this Christian 
name also. Accordingly he was given the name of 
John Fisk, and the change of name was duly legal- 
ized in September, 1855, by the Superior Court of 

Henceforth in our narrative, therefore, the sub- 
ject of this memoir will appear in propria persona as 
John Fisk. 1 

1 The use of "e" in his surname does not appear until he reaches 
college in 1860. By an error in printing the Harvard Catalogue for 


John Fiske 

Immediately following the marriage of Mr. and 
Mrs. Stoughton arrangements were made for John's 
going to the Betts Academy, a well-established pre- 
paratory school at Stamford, Connecticut, in close 
proximity to his mother, so that she could visit him 
and he could visit her. 

In April, 1855, tne letters to his mother over his 
new name begin. The first letter, under date of 
April 26, relates mainly to his getting ready for go- 
ing to Stamford. He tells his mother that he is 
going to take forty books with him, not including 
Lardner, which he will also take; that he has put all 
his nicely bound books from downstairs, and up gar- 
ret, in order in his book-case. He also tells her that 
his grandmother has given him a large black trunk 
with his name on it; and that she has put one hun- 
dred dollars in the bank for him because he has taken 
his great-grandfather's name. He also tells of his 
closing up various boyish financial operations which 
leaves him four dollars to take with him, all given 
with the methodical accuracy of an official trustee. 
Then, too, he gives a list of the persons on whom he 
is to make parting calls, not omitting Bridget, an 
old family servant. The penmanship of this letter 
is very legible, and in appearance it reflects the 
characteristics of a mature mind, and yet he asks 
his mother to excuse his writing because he is so 

this year his surname appeared as Fiske. As his ancestors had been 
free to use or drop the " e," according to their good pleasure, he took 
a like liberty and retained it. 


At the Betts Academy 

"ecstatic." That he takes pride in his name is 
shown by the evident practice he has given to the 
form of his new signature. It has a resemblance to 
the signature of his great-grandfather, who was a 
fine penman. 

On May i, 1855, Mrs. Stoughton took John to 
Stamford and placed him in charge of Mr. Betts, the 
principal of the school. One week later he writes his 
mother the following letter: 

STAMFORD, May 7, 1855. 
Dearest Mother 

You promised me that you would come to see me 
within a week. By the time this reaches you it will 
be a week. I am very homesick and if you come 
up it will cheer me very much. Never mind your 
housekeeping affairs. I would have written you be- 
fore but Mr. Betts reads all the letters the boys 
send, and I was afraid to write. But Mr. Betts says 
I may write just what I please. I have got my 
garden ready for planting. Walter and I sleep in 
No. 3. Each room has two beds in it; one single 
the other double. I am very comfortable. I have 
enough to eat, warm bed, and Mr. Betts is very 
kind, but still I have an irrepressible longing to see 
home. To see Grandma Fisk take naps in her rock- 
ing chair in the corner; to sit by the side of the 
stove in the dining-room writing; to sit with Julia 
Nichols and talk about the war; 1 and to see 
Grandma Lewis, Mr. Lewis, and Mary and Allen 

I am going to write to Grandma Lewis as soon as 

1 The Crimean War. 


John Fiske 

I have finished this. I want to write a long letter 
but cannot find any more to say. 

From your very affectionate son, 


P.S. Be sure to come Wednesday if you don't 
stay more than an hour. Oh, how I shall look for 
you Tuesday 8th. I am getting along very well 
with the boys. I shall plant musk and watermelons 
only. It rains very hard. 

The letter to his grandmother is interesting in 
that it shows his dutiful consideration for all mem- 
bers of the family; and then the postscript! observe 
the fine feeling in it. 

STAMFORD, May 7, 1855. 
Dearest Grandma 

You must come down before the first of June. I 
cannot say but a few words. I am very homesick 
although surrounded with every comfort that heart 
can wish. If you do not write me a letter I shall not 
write you one. It seems as if I had been here six 
months instead of six days. Walter and I sleep to- 
gether. I like it better than sleeping alone. Give 
my best love to Grandma Fisk, Mr. Lewis, Allen 
Griswold, Mary, Miss Julia and all. 

From your affectionate grandson, 


The next morning he added the following post- 
script : 

"I am getting along very well with the boys. 
They are very polite and use no bad language. I did 
not mean to hurt your feelings by saying that I 
should not write until you wrote me." 


At the Betts Academy 

Looking at the originals of these letters, and ob- 
serving the legible handwriting, their freedom from 
blots, or erasures, or misspelled words, as well as 
the generally correct punctuation, one can hardly 
realize that they were the easy product of a boy 
just turned thirteen years of age. 

The Betts Academy was a well-conducted school 
of the period. Order and method prevailed under 
the influence of a genial religious feeling. John read- 
ily made himself amenable to the school discipline, 
and the following extracts from a letter to his 
grandmother, apropos of her visiting him, written 
after being in the school a fortnight, are of interest 
as showing his studies and his purpose to trans- 
cend the school requirements in his private study 
and reading. The pride he takes in his home li- 
brary is also shown, as well as the distinct and 
orderly way in which he has the several works in 
mind : 

"I get up at 5^ o'clock every morning, am 
dressed and ready for prayers in 15 minutes. At 
6| o'clock we have breakfast. From 8 till 10 I study 
Greek. Then there is half an hour recess. From 
loj till 12 I study mathematics. From 2 till 4 
Latin. At 6 o'clock we have supper. From *]\ till 
8J I study Latin Prose. From 8J to 9 I read. The 
playhours are from 7 to 8 A.M., from I to 2 and from 
4 to 6 P.M. Every Wednesday morning we draw. 
Every Saturday morning we speak or write com- 
positions. Wednesday and Saturday afternoons we 
go of an excursion. . . . We have a library in the 


John Fiske 

school-room with books for the use of the scholars. 
It is not one-third as large as mine though. 

"If you look in my book-case in the china closet, 
you will find ' Kuhner's Greek Grammar ' bound in 
black cloth with a morrocco back; ' Evenings with 
the Old Story Tellers,' bound in blue muslin; 
'Johnston's Natural Philosophy/ bound in yellow 
leather, and ' Second Book Practical Anatomy and 
Physiology,' bound in green muslin, with red mor- 
rocco back. Please bring them. . . . 

11 1 have ten hills of melons five of each kind. 
Probably these will yield 20 or 30 melons." 

The real boy nature comes out at the close of this 
matter-of-fact letter where he says, "You want to 
know what you shall bring me; bring me 'suthin 

From the composition and penmanship of these 
letters it might be thought that their excellence is 
owing somewhat to the criticism of the principal 
of the school. It can be said, however, that in these 
particulars the letters are in no way superior to 
what had preceded them. 

Subsequent letters show an increasing interest in 
his studies as well as in all the personnel of the 
school. His language teacher thinks him deficient 
in Latin and Greek, although he is the youngest boy 
in his class, and has already read the whole of Virgil, 
Horace, Tacitus, Sallust, Suetonius, several books 
of Livy, a dozen orations of Cicero, and some of 
his philosophical writings, with more or less of 
Ovid, Catullus, and Juvenal. 


At the Betts Academy 

Mr. Betts, observing John's predilection for 
study over everything else, early forbade his study- 
ing during play hours. John's comment is, "Now 
having once got out of doors I hate staying in school 
as bad as the other boys." His accounts of the va- 
rious amusements, of the Fourth of July celebration, 
and of the school excursions are models of simple, 
lucid narration. He early writes a composition on 
the sun and also one on Sir Isaac Newton. He reads 
Irving's "Knickerbocker's New York." His marks 
are very uniform, and remarkably high. One in- 
cident connected with his marks is worth giving 
in his own words as it shows how well balanced his 
mind was at this early age : 

" I am going to relate to you an incident which 
shows the bad results of idleness. Tuesday after- 
noon I talked to Charley Sterling in school thinking 
I would have plenty of time for my lesson. All of a 
sudden the class in Sallust was called. I knew noth- 
ing about the lesson and was simply obliged to look 
on. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Betts, when the 
lesson was called, he read off, * John 7f.'" 

John's first term at the Betts Academy closed 
the last of September, 1855, and he returned to 
Middletown to spend the vacation with his grand- 
parents. It seems that the school vacations then 
were in the months of April and October. Two in- 
cidents in this vacation are of interest as showing a 
growing appreciation of his personal appearance 
and also that the idea of going to college is firmly 


John Fiske 

fixed in his mind. For the first time in his, life he is 
to have a tailor-made suit, of which he gives this 
brief but lucid description: 

" My coat is to be of black broad-cloth to come an 
inch below my knees. My pants and vest were done 
Saturday night. The pants are small black and 
brown plaid. Grandma thinks they are the prettiest 
I ever had. The vest is dark brown with narrow 
satin stripes cutting it into squares. " 

His grandmother has given him a room for his 
study into which he has gathered his books and his 
various belongings, and the idea of going to college 
distinctly appears in his description of this room 
and its contents : 

" I have got the north bed-room for my study. I 
shall have it when I go to college. Before the east 
window is the large black rocking-chair; in the 
Northeast corner is the high table which stood in 
the upper front hall, and on it is the little book-case 
with 1 1 6 books. On the north side is the black sofa. 
At the west end of the sofa is a chair. Two chairs 
on the west side. In the middle of the room is the 
table which stood in the back parlor before the 
looking glass. It has got a red table-cloth on it; 
and my writing-desk, and blank books, and box of 
instruments and father's 'reliquae poetica' are ar- 
ranged on it so as to look as business-like and as 
much like Mr. Stoughton's table as possible." 

This description was accompanied by a very com- 
plete diagram showing the shape of the room 
and the precise location of every article referred to. 


At the Betts Academy 

It is perhaps unnecessary to point out the uncon- 
scious logical arrangement of the details in this 
description, but what we should particularly note 
is the keen sense of order here manifested. This is a 
character trait which we shall see manifested in 
later years, in the orderly arrangement of his wide 
and varied knowledge. This room became his great 
pride, and his retiring place during a very impor- 
tant period in his intellectual development. 

John's second term at the Betts Academy 
November I, 1855 to April I, 1856 does not 
appear to have been marked by any incidents of 
special significance. The latter part of November 
he thinks of writing to his Grandfather Green, but 
being perplexed as to how he should sign the letter, 
he does not write. His studies for the term appear 
to have been mainly given to Latin, Greek, and ge- 
ometry, with an intimation that he might have had 
some textbook chemistry. Being near New York 
City his mother visited him often; hence the letters 
were not so frequent, nor were they as full of detail 
as when he was writing from Middletown. He 
mentions having written two compositions, one 
of sixteen pages on the Crimean War, and one of 
nine pages about the ancient Romans a subject 
he confesses he "had not nearly exhausted. " His 
marks during this term were exceptionally high. 
One week he was perfect in everything the high- 
est record ever attained in the school. 

At the close of the term in March, 1856, the ques- 


John Fiske 

tion arose as to his preparing to enter Yale in the 
following September. At this time there was no 
thought of his entering any other college than Yale. 
That he possibly could have entered as freshman 
was admitted, but as he was only fourteen years of 
age his mother decided against his making the at- 
tempt and so he returned to the Betts Academy 
in May, but with the purpose in his mind of enter- 
ing Yale as sophomore the next year. 

The following letter written to his mother a little 
later gives a glimpse at his studies, and also shows 
that he was going about his college preparation in 
a very definite, self-reliant way: 

STAMFORD, June 25, 1856. 
Dear Mother 

In reply to your questions I can say that in my 
studies I am progressing about as well as usual. I 
am commencing the 2nd book of Virgil and the 3rd 
of Trigonometry and have entered upon a new 
Greek author, ''The Death of Socrates," by Plato. 
I have written no poems this summer. Mr. Osborn 
says he thinks I can enter Yale next summer in the 
sophomore class, and as you had rather have me do 
that than enter freshman this year, I think I will 
do it. After the time of Henry Eno leaving here 
which will be the last of next month, I shall com- 
mence the freshman studies, Livy, Xenophon, 
Latin Prose Composition. 

The letters to his mother and grandmother dur- 
ing this term show, in addition to a fine feeling of du- 
tiful consideration, a growing breadth and serious- 


Religious Stirrings 

ness of thought, while his simple, lucid style in his 
accounts of the various incidents of the school life 
continues as a very noticeable feature. The political 
contest that was then going on is reflected in the 
letters. This was the first Republican Presidential 
campaign under Fremont, with Buchanan and 
Fillmore as opposing candidates. The sentiment of 
the school was wholly in favor of Fremont, and we 
have this bit of political vaticination, which re- 
flects somewhat the nature of the contest that was 
being waged: " If Fillmore or Buchanan should be 
elected we shall be ruled by Paddies, or Dutchmen, 
for the next four years." 

And now we find John's mind beginning to be 
deeply exercised on the subject of religion. He had 
accepted the faith of his mother and his grand- 
parents as a matter of course, and regarded the cus- 
tomary religious observances as quite in the natural 
order of things matters that were settled and 
were to be accepted without question. Then, too, 
the Betts school, while not sectarian, was strictly 
evangelical in character, and attendance at prayers 
and church services was obligatory. Just what par- 
ticular experiences roused John's religious feelings 
does not appear. It is a fair supposition that to 
his upright, well-balanced mind, religion came as 
wholly in the natural order of things; and that as his 
ideals of life enlarged he seemed to see in the Chris- 
tian faith the complement to all positive knowledge 
what was unknown to man was known to God, 


John Fiske 

so that religion, the manifestation of man's faith in 
God, " who doeth all things well," was the funda- 
mental part of all human knowledge. 

Whatever may have been the direct, impelling 
causes of his religious feelings, certain it is that dur- 
ing this term they were so thoroughly roused that 
he went beyond the school requirements in his at- 
tendance upon the religious exercises: indeed, he 
went so far as to request his mother not to visit him 
on Wednesday or Friday evenings, as he had meet- 
ings on those evenings. A little later he formally 
joined the North Congregational Church in Mid- 

During this term he appears to have had diffi- 
culty with one of his eyes. He writes, August 18, 
1856: " I have been putting my drawing into effect. 
I went with Mr. Betts about a month ago to survey 
a lot for a new church. I drew several large plans 
and maps for the deacons of the church. My eyes 
have troubled me very much in consequence/' 
His school record during this term is, for deport- 
ment, perfect; while for his lessons, the average is 
9A perfect. 

John's devotion to his studies and his ambition 
for an early entrance at college combined with his 
religious earnestness gave his mother grave concern 
over preparing for college at his early age. With his 
great desire for knowledge and his faithfulness to 
his studies, it was apparent that his physical con- 
stitution could not stand the strain he was willing to 


Joins Orthodox Church 

put himself under, and that his ambition must be 
checked, at least for a period. Accordingly, toward 
the close of the term his teachers seriously advised 
him to give up his idea of entering Yale the next 
year as sophomore, to take things easier, to come 
back and take another term at the school and not 
try to enter above freshman. John accepted this 
advice in part and returned to the school in 
November for the winter term. 

During these last two terms his visits to his 
mother and her visits to him were frequent, so that 
we get in his letters but few particulars in regard to 
his studies. Apparently they were confined to Latin, 
Greek, and English grammar, with readings and 
translations of the classics, arithmetic, algebra, and 
geometry. His reading is evidently quite excur- 
sive, for he asks his mother to bring him a copy 
of "Hudibras," which he wants very much; and he 
writes an essay on the " Habitability of Planets" 
and one on the "Augustan Era," in the former of 
which he made the point, familiar now, but new 
then, that Jupiter and Saturn, owing to their great 
size and slow refrigeration, are in a much earlier 
phase of development than Venus and the Earth. 
Then, too, he appears to have been dwelling upon 
the thought that the tracing-out of God's Provi- 
dence in history would be a suitable work for his 
mature years. 

On January 2, 1857, John writes his mother a 
letter of four pages, portions of which are of special 


John Fiske 

interest as reflecting the profoundly serious char- 
acter of his religious feeling, as well as marking a 
stage in his religious development. The letter opens 
with an excuse for not writing for some days be- 
cause of illness. To use his own words: "I, John 
Fisk, have had the mumps! For a week my en- 
larged face rested upon a double chin." And here is 
a bit of adolescent moralizing, which shows how 
seriously his religious experience was affecting the 
whole order of his thought: 

"The old year has fled: those many happy hours 
which it has witnessed that happy visit 1 are fled 
likewise. It has gone, all gone. Those lost opportu- 
nities can never be recovered : those hours of pleas- 
ure will never return: those scenes have fled and 
live but in the past. Oh, may this new year be the 
witness of yet happier scenes to you, as well as to 
myself dear mother; and to all dear to us. May we 
live so that in future years we may look back upon 
it as one spent in the service of the meek and lowly 

And this is his felicitation of the advent of the 
New Year: 

"Hail New Year! It welcomes me with a glad 
smile as it beholds me reading Cicero, Xenophon, 
and^Elian; and peradventure, dipping into Algebra, 
or poring over the rules of Latin composition. 
Farewell, O Virgil! thou hast been a source of pleas- 
ure as well as profit. Many a '9' hast thou given 

1 Evidently a reference to a visit from his mother, when he con- 
fided to her his deep religious feeling, and received her sympathy. 


Religious Development 

me ; never has the bitter ' 7 ' risen from thy pages to 
meet my unwelcoming eyes." 

The letter closes in the following serious strain: 

" Mother, I wish you many * Happy New Years r ; 
and that we may meet to spend a happy eternity in 
Heaven is the prayer of your son, 


The letters during the remainder of the term 
have but little general interest, save as showing his 
faithfulness to his studies and as reflecting some- 
what the seething adolescent impulses that were 
coursing through his brain. His school record for 
the whole term was very high the highest ever 
attained in the school deportment, perfect: les- 
sons, 353.85 out of a possible 380 as perfect. 

At the close of the term there was the usual school 
exhibition, with speaking and prizes for both com- 
position and speaking. John won the first prize 
for an oration on "Silent Influences" the prize, 
awarded by three clergymen of Stamford, being 
for both the composition and the delivery. In a long 
letter to his mother John gives a graphic account of 
the exhibition and the awarding of the prizes. This 
letter is marked not only with all the felicities of 
style we have had occasion to notice in previous 
letters; it also shows an innate trait of character 
remarkable in a boy of his years a clear sense of 
justice and a desire to do justice to others, and 
especially when unfortunate in presenting their 


John Fiske 

claims. Although John was the hero of the occasion, 
the youngest in the graduating class, having the 
highest school record ever attained in the school, 
and the winner of the first prize, yet in his account 
of the affair he says as little of himself as possible, 
while he warmly praises his competitors and shows 
his greatest interest in the boy who failed through 
embarrassment: in short, he gives a clear idea of the 
excellence of his own performance by the generous 
praise he gives his competitors. 

John received for his prize a copy of Cowper's 
" Works " in one octavo volume bound in morocco; 
he also received from his teacher, Mr. Osborn, " a 
Greek Testament, a cunning little thing with maps/' 
These volumes he always prized as mementoes of 
his happy days at Stamford; and they remain to- 
day, in his library at Cambridge, among the cher- 
ished souvenirs of his educational period. 
i And thus, having just passed his fifteenth birth- 
day, John's schooling at Stamford came to an end ; 
he left the Betts Academy with the affectionate re- 
gard of his classmates, his teachers, and Mr. Betts; 
and he returned to Middletown, wearing, as he tells 
us, "a tall silk hat as an emblem of manhood." 




JOHN'S return to Middletown in April, 1857, was 
only to take up another phase of his educational 
training. His purpose was to enter Yale as sopho- 
more the following September. In this purpose he 
had the approval of his mother, and he sought a 
tutor to review him in the freshman studies. In the 
course of his inquiries he heard of an unattached 
clergyman, the Reverend Henry M. Colton, who 
had recently opened a preparatory school for boys 
in Middletown, and who had an excellent reputa- 
tion at Yale for scholarship, and also for his suc- 
cess in preparing students for the entrance examina- 
tions. John called upon Mr. Colton with reference 
to getting assistance in continuing his preparatory 
studies during the summer, and he gave his mother 
an exceedingly graphic account of the interview. 
In view of the subsequent relations between John 
and Mr. Colton, and also as an illustration of John's 
power of personal characterization at this early age, 
the letter is of particular interest : 

John Fiske 

MIDDLETOWN, May 26th, 1857. 

My dear Mother, 

I went to Mr. Colton's on Saturday, and the sub- 
stance of the proceedings is as follows after the us- 
ual preliminaries statement of case, etc., etc., etc. 

He has seven boys, all sons of nabobs. His terms 
are $500. per annum for his boarders!!! and about 
$40. for me until August 1st. Whew!!! He wished 
to know what course I intended to pursue with 
him Latin, Greek, etc., etc., etc. I said I wished 
to review everything. He made some question 
about what I had studied, etc., looked very 

Just then Dr. Taylor came in to see him about 
some hymns for the choir on Sunday. Glad to see 
me son of Mrs. E. W. Stoughton, residing in 
New York grandson of Mrs. E. Lewis in Mid- 
dletown residing with, and under care of his 
grandmother, etc., etc. To which Mr. Col ton re- 
plied "Oh!" 
, Dr. T. "He is quite young to go to college?" 

Mr. C. "Oh! Ah! Ugh! not more than 18 or 19 I 
should say." 

Dr. T. "He is only seventeen." 

J. F. "I am only fifteen." 

Mr. C. "Ha, Ha, Ha!!!" 

Exit Dr. Taylor. 

Mr. C. "Do you know German?" 

/. F. "No, sir! " 

Mr. C. "Do you know French? " 

J. F. "No!" 

Mr. C. "Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!" 

J. F. "Why?" 

Mr. C. "Why!!! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!" 


Returns to Middletown 

J. F. "Why should I understand French and 
German? they are not required. " (You see I was 
beginning to get mad at his rudeness.) 

Mr. C. (not heeding me). "Oh! you want to say 
I graduated when I was 19. You want to seem 
smart and precocious! You want to swell up and 
be big Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!! etc., etc." 

Well, after he had got through with his everlast- 
ing guffaws,he said I had no business to go to college 
(Yale especially) at 15; 'twould kill me, wear me 
out, etc., tremendous hard time of it and all that 
lingo. But you see he wanted to get me for a whole 
year or two. (Ah! thought I, you don't come that.) 
He is going to have a row-boat. His marks are 
from o to 300 pretty minute system that. He is 
very liberal, etc., has had his 7 "nabobs junior" six 
months on twelve Greek pages!! Wants to do the 
same with me! Marks boys for sitting badly, for 
hesitating, for saying a word twice over; and spends 
more time I should think with his 300 marks than 
with his pedagogical duties. 

He is not possessed of an extraordinary degree of 
politeness, though a very fine scholar; thinks he is 
just the smartest man in creation self-made man, 
educated himself, etc. Talks all the time about him- 
self, gabbles continually. Little weazen-faced man 
of about 35, hard brow, cold eyes, spectacles, high 
cheek-bones, light hair, shaggy eye-brows, no beard, 
small nose of no particular species; on the whole 
rather decidedly plain. Very pleasant face though 
odd way of speaking; very 'set' and can't be si- 
lenced : chilling repulsive feeling came over me when 
I saw him: and before I had talked with him five 
minutes I hated him like sixty. Very strange, be- 


John Fiske 

cause he was pleasant as could be. He talked, tak- 
ing it for granted that I did n't know anything, and 
seemed to have imbibed the idea that money was 
not an indigenous crop where I lived. When he 
thought I was 18 years old he was as civil as could 
be; but when he found I was only 15 he talked quite 

We have come to no agreement as yet; and I 
most ardently hope that I shall never have him for 
my boss. I would rather have Mr. Chase or "Mr. 
Squeers" 2000 times. His price is stupendous 
perfectly alarming. $40. for three months school- 
ing! Mr. Chase would be only $8. That was his 
price when I used to go to him. It can't be much 
more now. 

At any rate I don't want to go to him if you had 
just as lief have me recite to Mr. Chase. I don't 
like that particularly; but out of two evils I would 
choose the least. 

I guess you will get used to the beaver by mid- 
summer. Good-bye. 


But John's dislike of Mr. Colton was overborne 
in the mind of his grandmother by Mr. Colton's 
reputation for scholarship and for his influence at 
Yale. Speaking of Mr. Colton's influence at Yale 
John writes: "Grandmother (Mrs. Nickleby like) 
was so elated at that, that she persuaded me to go 
to him said she was willing to pay. So we went 
in the afternoon and fixed it up." 

His first day's experience with Mr. Colton was 
indeed discouraging. He writes his mother: 


Prepares for Yale 

" Yesterday I went and with all his fine (?) teach- 
ing he has got a set of dunces. Oh, I thought, if he 
could only hear us at Mr. Betts! Why, such recita- 
tions as yesterday's, would be considered at Stam- 
ford as reflecting shame on both school and teacher. 
Mr. Col ton wants to see you and convince you of 
the feasibility of my staying out. Staying out of Col- 
lege and going to Mr. Col ton's!!!! I have no words 
to express my contempt and indignation at the 
proposal unless I repeat the significant particle. 

Three days' experience in the school, however, 
brought a complete change in John's mind in regard 
both to Mr. Colton's methods of teaching and his 
own early entrance at college. The reasons for his 
change of mind are frankly given; and we have here 
a clear instance of his open-mindedness and his 
power of self-control which enabled him to face a 
very unpleasant situation with a course of action 
based upon sound judgment, and quite in opposi- 
tion to what he had, upon imperfect knowledge, set 
his mind. The following extracts are from a letter 
dated May 30, 1857, to his mother: 

"I like Mr. Colton's method more and more. 
He is without doubt a wise, kind, though very ec- 
centric, man. But just think how different from 
what I am used to. I study three hours and a half 
upon one third of a page in Greek! What do you 
think? I have to give a flowing translation which is 
not always easy. I have to trace every word through 
its different phases and dialectic changes. I have 


John Fiske 

to find and give the corresponding word in Latin, 
Hebrew, Sanskrit, German and sometimes in 
French ; so that although I have only been with him 
three days, I can already see the beautiful and won- 
derful relations of these parallel languages." 

We shall have occasion, in subsequent years, to 
observe John's great interest in comparative phil- 
ology. Here we have to note the beginning of that 
interest. Having become a convert to Mr. Colton's 
method, John now takes under favorable consid- 
eration Mr. Colton's suggestion of postponing his 
college entrance for two years or more and giving 
the time to a broader and more thorough prepara- 
tion than he had hitherto considered. Mr. Colton 
brought some strong arguments in support of his 
suggestion, basing them on John's extreme youth 
and his exceptional interest in his studies two 
points which, united as they were in his case, would 
inevitably lead to excessive mental strain and bring 
on a mental break-down before he could finish a 
thorough college course. John repeats Mr. Colton's 
arguments, and then adds: 

" Suppose I should go to Mr. Colton a year or 
two and get well grounded in this thorough system 
of education, and then keep studying and teach 
school, and go to college when I am 21 or 22 years 
old and then take the valedictory and render my- 
self immortal! for a Yale valedictorian is immor- 
talized. I don't want to do this; but I think it is 
best. I have but one life to live and I cannot live 
too well. I cannot learn too much, nor take too high 


His Studies 

a niche in the Temple of Fame. Now I am urging 
you to let me take a course which is disagreeable 
to me; but I do want to stand high in college." 

How well the fine-tempered boy comes out in this 
paragraph! What a pity that he had no adequate 
preparatory or college ideal to turn to at this in- 
teresting period ! He seems to have been left in the 
final determination to his own choice. The prepara- 
tory course for an early entrance at Yale was aban- 
doned, and John put himself under Mr. Colton's 
educational guidance for an indefinite period and 
immediately settled down to his studies in his usual 
thoroughgoing way. 

John gave an account some years later of this 
change of purpose with Mr. Col ton with the results 
that flowed from it, and his succinct account has a 
fitting place here. 

"I began reading with him (Col ton) just for a 
few weeks until I could go to Yale and I got so 
much in love with his methods of scholarship, that 
I studied with him over two years and got steeped 
in^Greek to the very ends of my toes, besides getting 
an excellent reading knowledge of German. I often 
wonder that I staid with him so long, for his man- 
ners were odious. He was cross, rude, unreasonable, 
ill-tempered, furious in his outbursts of anger 
quite a savage and I hated the sight of him : but 
1 liked his teaching." 

We have not the particulars of all his studies 
with Mr. Colton. It is evident, however, that he 


John Fiske 

put himself into full conformity to Mr. Colton's re- 
quirements, and that he took up the study of Ger- 
man, algebra, and Euclid, in addition to Latin and 
Greek. He tells us in his letters that at this time he 
could read easy Greek like Plato or Herodotus at 
sight. His reading was not in scraps as boys usually 
read Greek, but he would take up an oration of 
Lysias and read it through; and the "Iliad" he 
would read continuously. 

The latter part of July of this year 1857 he 
went to the Yale commencement, taking in Stam- 
ford by the way, and his account of the trip has 
all his felicity of style. Knowledge of his probable 
early entrance at Yale had preceded him, and while 
in New Haven he visited two college societies and 
he was "bored like sixty" to join them. What was 
of greatest interest to him on this trip was his hear- 
ing an address by Wendell Phillips, which he says 
was "perfectly splendid one of the finest things 
I ever heard." 

It was while John was settling down at Colton's 
that he became acquainted with George Litch 
Roberts, a junior at the Wesleyan University. Rob- 
erts was possessed of a strong, self-reliant character, 
and was John's senior by five years; but as both 
were earnest students, and as they had much in 
common in their ideals of the knowledge that was 
of most worth, as well as in their musical tastes 
and religious beliefs, this disparity of years was not 
felt between them, and their acquaintance ripened 


Interest in Music 

into an intellectual companionship which, as we 
shall see later, had a strong, stimulating effect upon 
John's intellectual development as he came to ma- 

Another incident of this period must be referred 
to, as we are to see an influence radiating from it, 
which, permeating the whole of John's subsequent 
life, gave to it no small degree of its richness and 
fulness. A friend had left with his grandmother for 
safe-keeping a piano. John became greatly inter- 
ested in playing upon it, and gave to this diversion 
a goodly portion of his spare time. Having a " good 
ear" he worked by himself until he could play such 
works as Mozart's Twelfth Mass, "just to see what 
they were like." He could find no encouragement in 
those days for learning the piano; and when in 
later years we are to see him finding his greatest 
solace from his intellectual labor in mastering its 
"wonderful harmonies," we shall do well to recall 
this early unpremeditated experience with a friend's 

The awakening of John's interest in music was 
coincident with the rise of his religious feelings, and 
having joined the choir of the North Church he 
sought among other interests to give his religious 
emotions musical expression. Accordingly at this 
period he composed a number of musical composi- 
tions, some of which are of a decidedly religious 
character. These compositions have been preserved, 
and are of interest, not only by reason of the neat- 


John Fiske 

ness and the technical accuracy of their execution, 
but also by what they show of his musical profi- 
ciency, gained without any instruction. 

At the opening of the year 1858 John was ap- 
proaching his sixteenth birthday, and he reveals 
himself as in good health, enjoying physical exer- 
cise, and with his mind, free from any outside pres- 
sure, expanding in several directions. He is so well 
satisfied with Mr. Colton's methods that he has 
settled down to his studies with great ardor. In 
Greek, Latin, and German he is studying the 
grammatical construction and syntactical relation 
of the three languages; and to this end he is work- 
ing simultaneously with two or more grammars of 
each language for the purpose of getting various 
views on essential points, and then discussing these 
points with Mr. Colton. In mathematics he is 
working with Euclid to the fourth book, and in 
algebra with the textbooks of Loomis and Peirce. 
He is delighted to find Mr. Colton so thorough; and 
in addition to his day study, he assigns two eve- 
nings a week to study purposes. 

As the year progressed, Spanish was added to his 
language course, and he became greatly interested 
in "theming" that is, in tracing out the origin 
and significance of words in the Greek and Latin 
languages, and their modifications and significa- 
tions in the modern languages. Nearly every letter 
during the latter half of the year contains one or 
more of these themes. 


His General Reading 

And here is a comment on the exercise of them- 
ing, not unworthy of a mature philologist, which he 
drops by the way: 

" Nothing like Theming to give one a broad view 
of language. It gives one the thoughts which lie in 
the mind, and which call forth words to embody 
ideas, and to develop the words into genera and 

John's language work leads to a study of the phil- 
ological essays of Gibbs and of Key, and also to a 
careful reading of Davidson's and of Ladewig's 
Virgil. More than this, these philological readings 
reawakened John's interest in ancient history, and 
he reread Rollin down to Greece, and then he 
took up Grote's " History of Greece." That this 
historical reading was of a thoughtful character is 
shown by an incidental remark: 

"I am reading the sixth volume of Grote. He 
must be a genius, or he never could use such splen- 
did language as he does in describing the Pelopon- 
nesian War. He seems to approach the grandeur of 
his model Thucydides or, to use the new orthog- 
raphy, Thoukydides." 

In mathematics during this year, John advanced 
in algebra to Maclaurin's Theorem inclusive; while 
in geometry he seems to have confined himself to 
working out a few theorems, some of which he gives, 
particularly one developed from the proposition of 
Pythagoras which was proposed for demonstration 


John Fiske 

by the u Mathematical Monthly/' and which he 
worked out himself, and " without once referring to 
Euclid." As a sort of mathematical diversion he 
read Sir William Hamilton's essay on " Mathe- 
matics. " 

Phrenology was a subject of wide popular interest 
in those days, and John became greatly interested 
in the rough-and-ready way of reading character 
inculcated by it. He read very thoughtfully Fowl- 
er's works on "Phrenology," then very popular, 
and immediately began to apply the "Theory of 
Bumps " to himself, to his mother, to his friend 
Roberts in fact, to all his friends in the inter- 
pretation of their characters. His phrenological 
readings are to-day very amusing, yet we must 
not forget that during the first half of the last cen- 
tury, phrenology played an important part in the 
development of what is now known as rational 

John's miscellaneous reading during this year is 
not only a further illustration of his mental activity ; 
it is also an indication of the high order of his in- 
tellectual tastes, for what a mind in the process of 
unfolding selects for its diversions reflects its in- 
herent character or tastes no less than its positive 
activities. In addition to what has been given, 
his reading comprised Dickens's "Little Dorrit," 
"TheOld Curiosity Shop," and " Barnaby Rudge " ; 
Emerson's "English Traits"; Bayne's essays on 
Macaulay and Tennyson; Shakespeare's poems; 


His General Reading 

Milton's "Lycidas"; Comstock's " Elements of 
Geology"; Hugh Miller's "The Testimony of the 
Rocks"; Humboldt's " The Cosmos "; and Mackie's 
"Life of Leibnitz." 

That these works were read with a similar 
thoughtfulness to that which marked his study- 
reading, is shown in the letters. In speaking of 
"Barnaby Rudge," he says: "I think it surpassed 
by none of his other works. I don't know which of 
Dickens's works is the best, but I think they can 
never be surpassed." Of Shakespeare and Milton 
he says: "I think Shakespeare better than Milton, 
just as Homer is to Sophocles, or Virgil to Lucre- 
tius." He was so impressed by Mackie's "Life of 
Leibnitz" that he gave his mother a complete 
sketch of the life of the great philosopher, closely 
written on three letter-sheet pages, and without 
blot or erasure. 

The most significant of his comments on his read- 
ing are with reference to Humboldt and his great 
work, "The Cosmos." We have here to note par- 
ticularly a dawning interest in cosmic phenomena, 
and that he appears to have had a dim apprehen- 
sion of the great discussion over "origins" that 
was soon to follow that was already in the air; 
for we see him reading Hugh Miller, the orthodox 
champion of special creations, almost coincidently 
with his reading of Humboldt's profoundly sug- 
gestive work. Of deep significance, therefore, in 
the life of John Fiske are the following questions 


John Fiske 

which he puts to his mother at this time, with ref- 
erence to Humboldt and to his "Cosmos": 

"Do you not consider Humboldt the greatest 
man of the igth century, and the most erudite that 
ever lived? Does not the 'Cosmos* exhibit more 
vast learning than any other uninspired book?" 

These questions of John Fiske, bearing date of 
1858, are the first dawnings that we find of the 
subject of Cosmic Evolution in his mind. 

John's musical diversions are continued through 
the year. In view of what we are to see later these 
early musical experiences are worth noting. He 
joins a musical association of which Roberts is a 
member, and he reads Marx on " Musical Composi- 
tion" and studies various oratorios. He begins the 
composition of an opera which he calls "The Storm 
Spirit," and gives an analysis of the theme, express- 
ing the hope that during his vacation there may 
be some good opera or oratorio performing in New 
York City, that he may attend with his mother. He 
adds: " I don't want to attend any American opera 
after studying the works of Schubert, Mendelssohn, 
and their less distinguished Italian contemporaries." 

In music, as we shall see, in literature, architec- 
ture, painting, and sculpture, his instinctive taste 
strikes true from the first he demands the best. 

And with all his interests, his religious duties 
were not neglected. "Something of a revival " was 
going on in Middletown this year, and John appears 
to have taken an active part in the various forms of 


Music and Religion 

service at the North Church. He and Roberts were 
members of the choir, he taught in the Sunday 
School, was interested in the Bible Class; and dur- 
ing the revival interest, he specifically assigned two 
evenings a week to the revival meetings, in the 
conduct of which he not only led the singing, but 
also took an active part in the speaking. In brief, he 
appears to have accepted the Calvinistic interpreta- 
tion of the Christian faith without reservation; 
and in all his studies and in all his acts he seems to 
have been actuated by a sincere desire to conform 
his life to the highest ideals of Christian conduct. 
At the opening of the year 1859 John had come 
to about the limit of Mr. Col ton's philological 
and mathematical knowledge, while in his historical 
studies he had gone far beyond Mr. Col ton; nev- 
ertheless, he continued to recite to him till July. 
His regular studies during this period were Greek, 
Latin, German, French, Spanish, spherical geometry , 
trigonometry, and conic sections. In his language 
studies he gave much time to theming and to the 
careful reading of classic writers in each language. 
In one of his letters he remarks: " I have just done 
with the first book of the 'Iliad.' Splendid but 
rather hard " ; and again : " I am studying the ' Iliad ' 
with the greatest minuteness through the first six 
books. I shall investigate the theme and history of 
every word. The remaining 18 books I shall read 
straight through." He also reviewed the freshman 
studies at Yale. 


John Fiske 

The latter part of July he went to Yale and took 
the freshman examinations and passed very credit- 
ably, as appears from a letter of July 26, 1859: 

"I missed only one question and that was in 
arithmetic. A tutor asked me to find the present 
worth of a sum of money. I told him I was not pre- 
pared on mercantile problems. He smiled and gave 
me a sum in square root of decimals which I did. 
Another tutor asked me for the 3d Prop., 2d book, 
Euclid. I gave it, demonstrated it, and gave the 
schol. in algebra. Another examined me a long 
time in algebra particularly in surds. I an- 
swered all his questions without hesitation, did the 
sums: he said, ' You have a decided taste for mathe- 
matics, have n't you?' But the best of all was my 
examination in Greek by Prof. Hadley. I read two 
pages without stopping to look it over beforehand. 
He asked me to decline nouns, conjugate verbs, etc., 
etc.; then points in syntax, then euphonic laws; 
finally a lot of themes. Said he, ' What does " hyp- 
eresias" come from?' (This word means 'hard 
labor' and means * hypo' 'under,' 'eiresia' 
' oars'). I answered, ' As the Greeks must have had 
to work very hard in order to propel their immense 
triremes, I suppose they called anything done "un- 
der oars," "hard service." ' Said he, 'That is suffi- 
cient for you, Mr. Fiske. I see that your preparation 
has been singularly fine!' 

"Col ton says that Hadley was delighted, and 
astonished at me. I have my certificate of admis- 
sion signed by President Porter." 

Having passed the freshman examination at Yale 
so creditably, John now has a strong desire to post- 

Decides to go to Harvard 

pone his college entrance for another year and to 
enter Harvard rather than Yale, because, as he 
says, "the course at Harvard is very different and 
very much harder," another reason being the more 
liberal intellectual atmosphere at Harvard. In 
pleading his case he says: "It is true that the in- 
struction at Harvard is conducted with less strict- 
ness than at Yale. It is a bad place for a careless 
scholar, but unequalled in facilities for an ambi- 
tious one." 

In his desire to enter Harvard instead of Yale, 
John had his way; and so his college entrance was 
again postponed and for another year until Sep- 
tember, 1860. 

But John's desire to enter Harvard rather than 
Yale had its origin in quite other considerations 
than those arising from differences in methods of in- 
struction at the two colleges. In fact, the change of 
college the preference of Harvard over Yale 
was only one of the effects produced by the great 
revolution that took place during the year 1859 in 
all John's inner life. 

Before following him, therefore, in his prepara- 
tion for and his entrance at Harvard, we must 
review his religious inquiries and experiences with 
their causes during this eventful year, for, as will 
appear, all his subsequent thinking was vitally 
affected by certain philosophical and religious con- 
clusions he reached at this time. 

We have seen that during the year 1858 John 


John Fiske 

was pushing his inquiries in various directions, and 
particularly along the lines of physical phenomena 
and human history. We have also seen that, hav- 
ing accepted in all sincerity the Calvinistic faith of 
his family and of his Puritan ancestors, he had 
entered upon the observance of his religious duties 
with great earnestness. 

Actuated by such a desire for "the knowledge 
that leadeth unto wisdom," the reading of Gibbon, 
Grote, and Humboldt could not fail to stir his 
thought in various directions; and nothing could be 
more in the order of his thinking than that, after 
converse with these stimulating and suggestive 
minds, in addition to his general knowledge of clas- 
sic literature, he should be led to inquire, in the 
finest spirit of a Christian believer, into the founda- 
tions of the religious faith which he had accepted 
as embodying the highest truth vouchsafed to the 
human mind. 

Certain it is that, at the opening of the year, he 
reveals himself as earnestly seeking light on certain 
religious problems that were engaging his thought; 
and that we may the better follow him through his 
own personal experiences in his search for religious 
truth, and the more clearly perceive the character 
of the religious faith he did so much to promote, we 
should get clearly before us the fundamental dog- 
mas of Christian theology with their verifications, 
which he found confronting him as an ultimate 
philosophico-religious system at the opening of his 


Religious Questionings 

inquiries, an implicit belief in which was regarded 
by all evangelical Christians as the essential part of 
all true religion. 

? Then, too, it is highly important that we get 
these dogmas, with their implied philosophic sys- 
tem, clearly before us at this stage of our narrative, 
not only because of Fiske's personal experience in 
emancipating his own mind from their baleful 
tyranny, but also because his emancipation was 
coincident with the rise of the philosophy of Evolu- 
tion, a philosophy based on science and "the 
sweet reasonableness of the human mind," to 
the setting forth the religious implications of which 
we are to see him, at his maturity, giving the full 
measure of his powers as a co-worker with the most 
eminent scientists and philosophic thinkers of the 

These dogmas of Christian theology, claiming to 
be the presentation of ultimate truth as to the 
Infinite Power back of the physical universe and 
of conscious man, together with the dealings of 
this Infinite Power, concisely stated were as fol- 
lows : 

Dogma I. The Bible a sacred Book. Divinely in- 
spired by the Infinite Creator of the cosmic uni- 
verse it contains His messages to man. 
The Old and the New Testaments contain the 

Divine Creator's messages to man, and also His 

covenants regarding man's Fall, his Redemption, 

and his future state. 


John Fiske 

These Testaments are to be implicitly accepted 
by man as containing the highest truth. Sub- 
mitting these divinely inspired records to criticism, 
in the light of science, or of historic evidence, or of 
reason, is infidelity ; and shows a want of faith in the 
Divine Creator; and a disbelief in His method of 
creating and sustaining the cosmic universe, in- 
cluding His creation and subsequent dealings with 
conscious man. 

Dogma II. The Infinite Creator a Trinitarian God- 

The assertion of an eternal uncreated Trinitarian 
Godhead, existing from everlasting to everlasting; 
omniscient and omnipotent; just and terrible in 
judgment, yet most merciful and forgiving; the 
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all that 
in them is; composed of three Divine Persons in 

God the Father. 

God the Son. 

God the Holy Ghost. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma III. The creation by fiat of the physical uni- 
verse by God the Father, and His direct personal 
care and supervision of it. 

The assertion of the creation of the inorganic 
physical universe out of hand in definite time by the 
omnipotent power of God the Father and its sus- 
tentation and control by His ever watchful care. 
This dogma makes the whole physical universe sub- 
ject not to universal law, but to the temporary will 
of the asserted Creator. 


Christian Dogmas 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma I V. The creation of the organic world of vege- 
tal and animal phenomena out of hand by 
Divine fiat; their endowment with the property of 
life and its power of propagation. 
The assertion that the creation of the vegetal 
and animal kingdoms, with all their multifarious 
forms of existences, was done out of hand, in defi- 
nite time, by the omnipotent power of God; and 
that he endowed these creations of His hand with 
the mysterious property of life, and its power of 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma V. The creation of man as a perfect being; 
his disobedience and fall; his condemnation; the 
total depravity of the human race. 

The assertion that God created, out of hand, 
Adam and Eve in His own likeness, as perfect hu- 
man beings and as the progenitors of the human 
race; that Adam wilfully disobeyed God's express 
command; that God thereupon condemned Adam 
and his posterity to eternal punishment therefor 
thereby establishing the total depravity of the hu- 
man race. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma VI. God plans man's redemption and salva- 
tion through His Son; the Covenant of Grace. 
The assertion that God the Father mercifully 
stayed His hand, and devised a scheme for man's 

John Fiske 

redemption and salvation through His Son; who in 
the fulness of time was to descend from Heaven ; was 
to be miraculously born into the world; and was to 
reveal God's complete plan, and give God's com- 
plete message to man. This Son was then to be 
crucified; was to arise from the dead and ascend 
into Heaven and resume His place at the right hand 
of God the Father in the final judgment of man- 
kind. Only those who believe in the Divinity of 
the Son arid His divine mission were to be saved. 
The only verification of this stupendous dogma 
presented to human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma VII. God chooses the Hebrew people as a 
special portion of the human race through whom 
to carry out His plan for man's redemption and 

It is asserted that God selected the Jews as a 
chosen people for the carrying out of His purpose; 
that He revealed Himself to them exclusively; 
that He gave them an inspired record of His crea- 
tion of the universe and its creatures; that He 
gave them a code of laws written on stone with His 
own hand ; that by inspired messages He prescribed 
how they should worship Him, as well as the main 
features of their social intercourse; that by many 
miracles He attested His watchful care over them, 
as well as His displeasure at their sinful acts; that, 
above all, He kept alive in their minds, through the 
inspired teachings of their Prophets, their belief 
that in the fulness of time their Messiah or Re- 
deemer would come. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 


Christian Dogmas 

Dogma VIII. Christ appears on earth as the Son of 
God and as man's Redeemer: His perfect life; 
His crucifixion; His resurrection; His ascension. 
It is asserted that at the beginning of the Chris- 
tian era, Christ appeared in Judea as the Son of 
God ; that He had a miraculous birth ; that He was 
anointed with the Holy Spirit; that He led a per- 
fect life; that He taught the doctrines ascribed to 
Him; that He performed miracles; that He was 
crucified; that He arose from the dead; that He 
ascended into Heaven. 

The only verification of this dogma presented 
to human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma IX. The descent of the Holy Ghost. 

It is asserted that the descent of the Holy Ghost 
took place at a Pentecostal festival; that it was a 
visible confirmation of the Divine mission of Christ; 
that it was an assurance to the Apostles that the 
Holy Spirit would henceforth be an ever-active 
Divine force in the world, tending to lead men to 
believe that God was still merciful ; and to embrace 
Christ as their only means of salvation. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma X. Resurrection A Day of Judgment 


This dogma is presented as physical phenomena 
yet to come, in the working-out of the Divine plan 
for man's redemption and salvation. There is to be 
a Day of Judgment, when Christ is to appear in great 
power and glory, when the dead are to be raised 


John Fiske 

and all mankind are to be judged in righteous- 
ness for conduct here on earth. The righteous are 
then to be separated from the wicked and awarded 
eternal joy in Heaven; while the wicked or the un- 
redeemed are to be condemned to eternal punish- 
ment in Hell. Christ's resurrection and ascension 
are adduced as physical proofs of the dogma. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Dogma XL The existence of Satan, an evil spirit in 
rebellion against God the Father, and ever active 
in endeavours to thwart God's holy purposes re- 
garding man. 

Until recent years the existence of Satan as a re- 
bellious spirit of superhuman power was asserted 
by Christian theology with hardly less positiveness 
than was the existence of God Himself/ To the in- 
spiration of Satan was attributed much of the crime 
and wickedness which afflict mankind; and fifty 
years ago Satan and his machinations to draw per- 
sons to his abode were not exceptional topics for 
pulpit discourses. 

The only verifications of this dogma presented to 
human reason are Dogma I and Milton's "Para- 
dise Lost." 

Dogma XII. Heaven and Hell. 

It is asserted that Heaven is God's holy dwelling- 
place somewhere beyond the conception of the hu- 
man mind; where the Redeemed of earth are to 
enjoy the Divine Trinity in company with the holy 
angels forever; that Hell is a place somewhere set 
apart where the unredeemed of earth are to suffer 


Christian Dogmas 

endless punishment in company with Satan and 
other evil spirits. 

The only verification of this dogma presented to 
human reason is Dogma I. 

Professor Eucken has well said: "There is a tre- 
mendous logic about the development of these dog- 
mas which cannot be broken in the middle: he who 
wants one cannot refuse the others." 1 

These dogmas were venerable in their antiquity, 
and in their origin and historic development they 
were a connecting link between the philosophico- 
religious systems of the ancient and the modern 
world in fact, it was claimed that they embodied 
and transcended all the higher phases of ancient 
philosophy. Considered by themselves these dog- 
mas presented a mighty drama of existences wherein 
God, the physical universe, organic life, conscious 
man, virtue and sin were all accounted for; and 
wherein man's religious and moral duties in the 
conduct of life with their rewards and penalties 
were distinctly set forth the whole presenting a 
complete and rounded philosophico-religious sys- 
tem embracing all existences with the Ultimate 
Cause and teleological purpose underlying the whole. 

This mighty drama was presented to human rea- 
son as resting upon one fundamental fact which 
must in no way be questioned the fact that the 
Bible, the sole authority for the scheme, was a 
divinely inspired Book and contained God's mes- 

1 Eucken and Historical Christianity, by E. Hermann, p. 107. 


John Fiske 

sages to man, and hence transcended all other 
knowledge. During the Christian centuries great 
thinkers had beaten these dogmas into shape and 
had related them for ready comprehension by 
the common mind until they had become, as it 
were, integral parts in the consciousness of the 
Christian world, while upon them had been or- 
ganized a vast system of ecclesiasticism through 
which the spiritual relations between God and man 
enshrouded in the dogmas were presented to im- 
agination and to religious faith in the most impres- 
sive forms of architecture, literature, music, and art. 
It is becoming somewhat the fashion, in these 
later days of science and new religions, to look with 
a feeling akin to supercilious disdain upon these 
dogmas and to credit them with but little good in 
the moral and intellectual development of man- 
kind. We may admit the gross anthropomorphic as 
well as the mythical character that pervades them ; 
the bitter persecutions and the terrible destruction 
of human life that have attended their promulga- 
tion as a system of religious faith may all be ad- 
mitted; yet it must be conceded that these dogmas 
have enshrouded far beyond any other religious 
system a religious truth of the utmost significance; 
a truth which was dimly apprehended in the an- 
cient civilizations, and which philosophic thinkers 
of all ages have recognized as lying back of all ex- 
periential knowledge; a truth which by its majes- 
tic spiritual import held European society together 


Christian Dogmas 

during the turbulent period of the Middle Ages 
and which modern science is now confirming as 
the ultimate truth of all cosmic phenomena the 
existence of an Infinite Eternal Power from whom 
all things have proceeded; whose Divine nature 
is reflected in the universe of material things, but 
most of all in the moral consciousness of man, 
and that this Eternal Power is ever further reveal- 
ing itself through the moral progress of the race. 
Now, it is an inevitable corollary to this ultimate 
truth of science the revealing of the Infinite 
Divine Power through moral man that between 
the Divine Creator and the individual human soul 
there is, and always has been, a direct spiritual re- 
lation which is strengthened as the cosmic knowl- 
edge and the moral life of man broadens. 

Viewed in this light these dogmas have borne an 
important part in the intellectual and moral de- 
velopment of mankind. During the long period in 
which man was slowly stumbling forward with his 
scientific knowledge to a rational conception of the 
physical universe, the conscious human mind, and 
the Infinite Eternal Power lying back of both, these 
dogmas enshrouded this great religious truth: that 
between this Infinite Eternal Power and every in- 
dividual soul there exists a direct spiritual relation 
which is ever working to greater fulness of individ- 
ual life a truth which man's arts, in their varied 
forms of architecture, painting, sculpture, litera- 
ture, and music, fully confirm. 


John Fiske 

With the progress of modern science, this great 
religious truth has been undergoing a steady pro- 
cess of dogmatic denudation ; and as this denuding 
process has gone forward, the great enshrouded 
truth has ever come forth in a clearer light as of 
vital significance to the intellectual and moral well- 
being of mankind. 

During the middle period of the last century 
there came a number of culminating discoveries in 
the physical, the biological, the psychological, the 
philological, and the sociological sciences, accom- 
panied by results in Biblical criticism, which en- 
tirely discredited the dogmatic assertion of the 
special Divine inspiration of the Bible, thereby 
completely annulling the binding force of the Chris- 
tian dogmas as ultimate truth. 

The nature and the full philosophic bearing of 
these discoveries will appear a little later when we 
come to consider the philosophy based on the doc- 
trine of evolution. In 1859 the Christian world 
was discussing these discoveries, with the results of 
Biblical criticism thrown in, mainly from the view- 
point of dogmatic theology; and thus a new phase 
was given to the long contest between theology and 

In this contest the most eminent theologians 

took a hand. They saw that they were facing a 

more serious issue than ever before, and they 

rushed with the utmost vehemence to the defence 

1 See vol. n, chap. xx. 

9 8 

Christian Dogmas 

of the Christian dogmas as the embodiment of Di- 
vine truth. They were unsparing in their condem^ 
nations of the new revelations of science and in 
Biblical criticism as the height of infidelity, as de- 
liberate attempts to invalidate the truths of re- 
vealed religion. 1 In the crusade against these new 
forms of infidelity no terms of objurgation were too 
severe against such fair-minded investigators as 
Lyell, Hooker, Asa Gray, Huxley, Tyndall, Wal- 
lace, Darwin, Mayer, Faraday, Joule, and Helm- 
hoi tz; or against such rational critics as the au- 
thors of "Essays and Reviews," Matthew Arnold, 
Buckle, Renan, and the Tubingen School ; or against 
such noble religious teachers as Channing, Emerson, 
Theodore Parker, and Bishop Colenso. In fact, the 
immediate effect of the new revelations of science 
and of Biblical criticism was a hardening of the 
theologic heart against all scientific knowledge and 
against any questioning of the special Divine in- 
spiration of the Scriptures, resulting in an emphatic 
reassertion of the old dogmatic claim that there 
was, and must ever remain, a broad line of de- 
marcation between the sacred truths of theology 
and the experiential knowledge derived from soci- 

1 People whose memories go back to fifty years ago can recall 
sermons by scholarly clergymen, in which it was seriously main- 
tained that the palaeontological discoveries attesting man's animal 
origin and great antiquity were but evidences of the adroit work of 
Satan in creating these fossils, and so distributing them as to confuse 
men's minds in regard to the Divine truth of creation revealed in 
Genesis. Happily the days for such presentations of Divine truth 
no longer exist. 


John Fiske 

ology and science; in short, that the latter must 
ever be interpreted by the former. 

John Fiske was seventeen years old when his 
rapidly expanding mind, eager in its search for 
truth, was brought within the circle of this pro- 
found discussion between dogmatic theology on the 
one hand and science and Biblical criticism on the 
other. It was not in his nature to do things by 
halves; and his religious feelings being as we have 
seen thoroughly aroused, and his inquiries showing 
him that the religious faith he had accepted rested 
wholly upon these dogmas as truths of the highest 
import, he could not rest content until he had 
brought them together and interrelated them in 
his own mind. When he had done this, when he 
had got them with all their implications inter- 
related as into a complete and rounded whole, it 
then appeared that the religion founded on these 
dogmas did not present as its vital elements the 
love of a Divine Creator "who doeth all things 
well," and ethical conduct among men as the es- 
sential condition for individual fulness of life, so 
much as it emphasized a belief in certain super- 
natural phenomena that were to be accepted wholly 
on faith. In fact, it appeared that the real religious 
elements love to God and love to man were 
so completely enshrouded in a series of unverifia- 
ble assertions in regard to God, the physical uni- 
verse, and man, that it was not only impossible 


Dogma and Science 

to bring the reasoning mind to bear upon them 
in any rational way ; it also appeared as the purpose 
of the dogmas if they may be said to have had 
a purpose so to stifle the mind in its aspiration 
for religious truth that it should be forever re- 
strained from seeking other light on the great prob- 
lems of existence than that vouchsafed by the 
dogmas themselves. 

The collocation of these dogmas, therefore, 
started trains of thought in John's mind in various 
directions. He saw more clearly than ever before 
why in Christian literature so much importance 
was attached to the dogma of the special inspira- 
tion of the Scriptures the placing of the Bible in 
authority over and above all other sources of 
knowledge. He saw that this was done, not be- 
cause of the intrinsic religious truth the Bible con- 
tained, the love of God and the love to man, 
but because such an alleged divinely inspired record 
of God's dealings with man was necessitated as a 
foundation for the scheme of Man's creation, his 
fall, his redemption through Christ, and the condi- 
tions of his future existence, as well as for the plac- 
ing of the scheme beyond the reach of any criticism 
based on verifiable knowledge. 

John's reason at once stumbled over this stu- 
pendous assumption of the Divine authority of the 
Biblical record, at this placing all other knowledge 
subordinate to it, at this begging the whole theolog- 
ico-religious question at the outset. As he studied 


John Fiske 

his Bible and brought under review his historic and 
scientific knowledge, and saw how radically the pro- 
foundly impressive scientific record of the devel- 
opment of the cosmos and its inhabitants, as in- 
terpreted by Humboldt, Lyell, and the biologists, 
differed from the crude, childish cosmogony of Gen- 
esis, and how the ancient Greek and Roman civiliza- 
tions, which knew not the Christian dogmas, yet 
presented, as interpreted by Grote and Gibbon, 
some points of moral and religious advantage over 
Christian civilization, John's whole religious nature 
was deeply stirred by the manifest incongruities 
between the revelation of the Divine Creator as 
asserted by dogma and the verifiable revelation 
given by science and by history. He began to ques- 
tion in the very sincerity of his heart, " Is this 
Christian religion as set forth in these dogmas the 
ultimate measure of the Infinite Creator of the 
physical universe, of the human soul? Can it be 
true that this religion is a veritable form of worship 
and conduct instituted by the Divine Creator of all 
things for man's special behoof and salvation; is the 
human race under such a fearful doom ; and do such 
portentous consequences to the eternal future of all 
mankind depend upon individual acceptance of the 
conditions of salvation as set forth in these dogmas? " 
Similar questions have often arisen in the minds 
of sincere Christian believers, and Christian litera- 
ture has many answers. John's answer was the 
complete emancipation of his mind from bondage 


Dogma and Science 

to these dogmas, his firm grasp of the vital religious 
truth that they partially revealed, and his subse- 
quent efforts to set forth this truth, not simply as 
consistent with, but rather as the necessary com- 
plement to the broadest scientific knowledge in 
a word, his answer was his intellectual life as we are 
to see it unfold from this point. 1 

1 Years after, in a conversation I had with Fiske in regard to these 
dogmas and the hold they had on the evangelical Christian mind 
down to the promulgation of the doctrine of Evolution, he said in 
substance : 

" I can never forget the feeling of revulsion I experienced when I 
first brought these dogmas together in my mind as an interrelated 
whole. I had received them from time to time as elements in the re- 
ligious faith which I had accepted as Divine, without any question 
whatever. When, however, in my seventeenth year, I sought to 
bring my religious views under a rational interpretation, I found it 
was required that these dogmas should first be posited as the em- 
bodiment of all ultimate truth. I then tried to get clearly before me 
the scheme of cosmic creation and sustentation which these dogmas 
set forth; and what a mighty drama of Infinite and finite coexistences 
stood revealed ! Both orders of existences appeared as inextricably 
immeshed in a mass of metaphysical assumptions, wherein science 
was disowned, where reason was discredited, and where blind, un- 
questioning faith was regarded as the only passport to true Christian 
knowledge. Fortunately science was then giving a nobler and a more 
verifiable knowledge in regard to cosmic creation and the meaning of 
human life, as well as yielding a far higher conception of the Infinite 
Power back of the cosmos than could be derived from these dogmas, 
and I was not long in freeing my mind from their benumbing influence. 

"With more mature thought, I came to see the great spiritual 
truth enshrouded in these dogmas; and a wider acquaintance with 
the philosophy of history, led me to see that the dogmatic coverings 
of this great truth had been of immense service in its protection 
and its development while knowledge was slowly being organized 
through science, for its verification in human experience. And now 
the Christian world is beginning to see that religious and social 
progress consists mainly in the freeing of this great spiritual truth 
from the dogmatic wrappings it has outgrown." 




THUS far we have been tracing the life of John Fiske 
through his boyhood and youth under the influence 
of his family and his home surroundings, his ele- 
mentary schooling and his preparation and his 
passing the examinations for entrance at Yale Col- 
lege. We have had frequent occasion to note his 
strong self-propulsion for knowledge, his orderly 
methods of study, his remarkable intellectual at- 
tainments, his high ideals of the life of a scholar, 
and his deep religious convictions. We are now to 
follow him into a broader field of experiences, and 
for the ensuing four years particularly we are to 
observe him as intellectually developing under three 
closely interrelated conditions: in his preparation 
for and as an undergraduate at Harvard; as a 
student of philosophy and religion in the new era 
of scientific thought then opening ; and in his stead- 
ily widening social relations. To use Mr. Spencer's 
definition of life: we are to observe him during this 
formative period in his "continuous adjustment of 


Preparation for Harvard 

internal relations to external relations." This plan 
of observing him will entail considerable particu- 
larity in regard to the external relations. 

It having been settled in August, 1859, that 
John should enter Harvard instead of Yale, he de- 
termined to enter as sophomore or junior; and to 
prepare for such an advanced entrance, he planned 
for several months' study by himself in Middle- 
town and then to finish with a tutor at Cambridge. 
His plans for his studies show the same orderly pre- 
vision we have had occasion to note in previous 
years. Each study had its hour and its time limit. 
In the required languages at Harvard he was al- 
ready prepared; nevertheless, he took up Latin, 
Greek, and German with fresh ardor, and added 
Italian and Hebrew thereto; he also provided for 
persistent comparative study of the structural fea- 
tures of the several languages supplemented by care- 
ful readings in the classics of each. In mathematics 
he prepared to review his geometry and algebra, to 
go twice over the freshman requirements, and to 
anticipate some of the sophomore requirements, 
and to finish in Cambridge. 1 

1 The following is a list of the textbooks and philological and classi- 
cal works studied during this preparatory period : Becker's German 
Grammar, Key's Latin Grammar, Ollendorff's French Grammar, Xeno- 
phon's Anabasis (ed. Anthon), Xenophon's Cyropadia (ed. Owen), 
Virgil's jEneid (ed. Ladewig), Sallust's De Bello Jugurthino (ed. 
Jacobi), Caesar's De Bello Gallico (ed. Kraner), Fenelon's Telemaque, 
Iliad, lib. l-vi (ed. Anthon), Chapman's Homeric Hymns, Ciceroni's 
Orationes Selectee, Sallust's De Conjuratione Catilina (ed. Jacobi), 
Arnold's Latin Prose Composition, Part I, Eaton's Elements of Arith- 
metic, Day's Algebra, Euclid's Elements (ed. Playfair), Racine's Les 


John Fiske 

Having thus laid out his preparatory course he 
writes his mother in a moment of gratulation: 
"How thankful for Harvard and self, instead of 
Yale and Col ton. " 

While this self-imposed course was substantially 
carried out, it is interesting to note that by mid- 
winter, 1860, his scientific and philosophic reading 
had awakened in his mind the importance, in a 
truly philosophical education, of a knowledge of 
science in addition to a knowledge of the languages 
and mathematics. Accordingly he puts this ques- 
tion to his mother: "Would a scientific education 
be of advantage to me or not? This question I 
would like some experienced person to answer. I 
am inclined that way, though I love classical studies 
and find no trouble in them. A scientific course 
which includes the sciences and German would not 
interfere with my private study of Latin and Greek. 
I shall read all the works of antiquity anyway." 
He appears to have answered the question himself, 
and by a preparation in science which was not at all 
called for at Harvard at that time. ! 

Frdres Ennemis, and his Alexandre, DeStaeTs UAllemagne, Peirce's 
Geometry, Vergani's Italian Grammar, Gesenius's Hebrew Grammar 
(begun), Peirce's Algebra and Trigonometry. 

1 His scientific reading during 1859 and the early part of 1860 
comprised the following works: Agassiz's Principles of Zoology and 
his Essay on Classification, Johnston's Natural History, Turner's 
Chemistry, Lambert's Practical Anatomy and Physiology, Lardner's 
Astronomy and Physics, Chambers's Elements of Zoology, Milne- 
Edwards's Elemens de Zoology, Cuvier's Le Regne Animal, Redfield's 
Zoology, Herschel's Outlines of Astronomy, Laplace's Systeme du 
Monde, Dalton's Human Physiology, Peaslee's Human Histology, 

1 06 

Wide Reading 

His thoughtful manner of self-study is indicated 
by his passing remarks anent his studies in the 
languages and in classic literature. Speaking of 
language he says: "It is the objective correla- 
tive to the subjective reason or mind"; and in 
speaking of the origin of languages we have this: 
"The similarities of languages do not prove that 
they all sprang from one primitive dialect." These 
remarks are indicative of his mental alertness 
in grasping significant points in his studies. But 
here is something that is distinctly self-reveal- 
ing. He has procured a copy of Rawlinson's He- 
rodotus containing the discoveries revealed by the 
cuneiform writings, and he is jubilant: "Just the 
thing," he says, "to read with Grote! How blest I 
am to learn such things before college! What a 
treasure to the mind is a critical and extensive 
acquaintance with ancient history! Grote is a phil- 
osopher; he lays open the Hellenic mind and traces 
beautiful thoughts and lovely guesses on every 

Wilson's Human Anatomy, Dunglison's Human Physiology, Gray's 
Structural and Systematic Botany, Darwin's Origin of Species, Ves- 
tiges of the Natural History of Creation, Viery's Philosophic de V His- 
toric Naturelle, Ampere's Sur la Philosophic des Sciences, Thompson's 
Inorganic Chemistry, Williams's Principles of Medicine. 

In years to come, we are to see him discussing questions of the 
highest philosophic import growing out of the interrelations between 
the physiological and the psychological forces in the human organism. 
We may marvel at his ready command of the varied scientific knowl- 
edge involved in the discussions. We should note here, therefore, 
that in this self-directed scientific study and reading of this early 
period, we have the beginning of his scientific acquisitions; and the 
thing to be particularly noted is the fundamental character and the 
high quality of these acquisitions. 


John Fiske 

page. His chapter on Socrates is perfectly enrap- 
turing." 1 

John's preparation for Harvard was completed 
at Cambridge; but before entering upon that very 
interesting phase of his preparatory work, we must 
stop to note quite another phase in his life in Mid- 
dletown during the year 1859 and the early part of 
1860 from that of the preparatory student we have 
been considering. 

We have seen that during the latter half of 1858 
he was greatly interested in ancient history as 
portrayed by Rollin and by Grote, and also in 
the development of the physical universe as pre- 
sented by Humboldt. During these months, there- 
fore, while all this preparation, first for Yale, and 
then for Harvard, was going forward, questions 
of the highest import in religion and philosophy 
were engaging his mind. 

Humboldt's " Cosmos " was one of the really 
great works of the middle period of the last century. 
Its encyclopaedic learning, its lucid arrangement of 
subject-matter, its eminent fairness on controverted 
points, and its entire freedom from dogmatic pre- 
suppositions gave it the character of an impartial 
textbook of physical science; while its record of 
wide and rare personal experiences, all given in a 
graphic, easy-flowing style, secured for it a wide 
circulation among fair-minded readers throughout 
the world. It was a masterly summing-up of the 
1 See Grote on Ffeke, post, p. 312. 
1 08 

Humboldt and Grote 

results of cosmic science, a presentation of the 
cosmic universe as "that which is ever growing 
and unfolding in new forms, " and it came as a sig- 
nificant preparation for the doctrine of Evolution 
which was soon to follow. 

John read this work with deep interest, and he 
could not but contrast the physical universe as 
presented by Humboldt accompanied by positive, 
scientific verifications, with the wholly different 
presentation given by dogmatic theology without 
any scientific verifications whatever. His question- 
ing of the theological dogmas as the embodiment 
of all ultimate truth had its origin, therefore, 
in 1858 when he was reading Humboldt's great 
work contemporaneously with Grote's " History of 
Greece." 1 

This questioning once started in Fiske's mind 
could not be suppressed; the more he investigated 
and reflected, the greater seemed the variance be- 
tween the positive, verifiable truths of science and 
the unverifiable claims of theology. And his his- 
torical reading perplexed him still more. Early in 
1859 he took up Gibbon's " History of Rome," and 
Gibbon's fifteenth and sixteenth chapters in addi- 
tion to Grote's portrayal of Hellenic civilization led 
him seriously to question the credibility of much 
of the Biblical history. The points of contrast be- 
tween the Hellenic and the Jewish civilizations 
were great and showed much in favor of the former 
1 See ante, pp. 84, 88. 

John Fiske 

over the latter. If dogmatic theology was true, then 
the whole Hellenic civilization was foolishness, and 
its great exemplars, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, 
were expiating for misspent lives in Hell. 

John's reason was staggered with such a confron- 
tation, and he reveals himself during the early part 
of 1859 as in a greatly perturbed state of mind over 
his religious questioning and as earnestly seeking 
light. He was greatly encouraged in his search for 
truth by contact with two congenial minds the 
Reverend John Langdon Dudley, pastor of the 
South Congregational Church, Middletown, and 
his student friend, George Litch Roberts. 

Mr. Dudley, although the pastor of an orthodox 
Congregational church, was a clergyman of exceed- 
ingly liberal views for the time. In philosophic 
thought he was a sort of Fichtean Emersonian 
Transcendentalist, who was endeavoring to find 
points of agreement between the assumptions of 
Christian theology and the claims of the Transcen- 
dentalists of the innate existence in the conscious- 
ness of man of the Divine Immanence that makes for 
righteousness. Mr. Dudley was cheerily optimistic 
in his religious faith and saw the good in life. He 
was a great comfort to John at this time, for he 
had a sympathetic, appreciative feeling for the ex- 
perience through which the latter was passing. We 
shall meet with him in years to come. 

Young Roberts, as we have seen, had all of John's 
ardor for knowledge. He was also animated with a 


Religious Questioning 

spirit of free inquiry, to such an extent that he did 
not acknowledge any subject as too sacred for the 
fullest investigation in the light of reason; in brief, 
he possessed the true critical spirit with perfect 
frankness in self-expression. John and Roberts were 
much together in their church relations as well as 
in their musical diversions; they also took long 
walks together discussing the subjects uppermost 
in their minds ; and as their philosophico-religious in- 
terests broadened they grew into a close intellectual 
relationship which was stimulating and helpful to 

John had another friend in Middletown who aided 
him much in his studies and his reading and for 
whom he always cherished a kind remembrance 
Joseph Whitcomb Ellis. Mr. Ellis was an alumnus 
of Wesleyan University, and at this time he was 
a teacher of mathematics in the Middletown High 
School. He was a good mathematician, and was 
well read in science. He had a choice library which 
contained the mathematical works of Lagrange, 
Laplace, Goss, and Peirce ; as well as representative 
works in science and philosophy. Mr. Ellis was a 
liberal-minded Swedenborgian in his belief, and to 
encourage John in his pursuit of knowledge he gave 
him the free use of his library a kindness which 
was greatly appreciated. 

It was in many ways unfortunate that at this 
period of his religious questioning John should 
have had dogmatic Christianity preached to him in 


John Fiske 

its most repulsive form. His pastor at the North 
Church, Middle town, the Reverend Jeremiah 
Taylor, D.D., was in no sense a learned man, either 
in history or in Biblical criticism, much less in 
science. His sermons, therefore, partook of vigorous 
assertions of the divinity of dogma, combined with 
ignorant condemnations of the recent advance- 
ments in science and in Biblical criticism. These 
advancements in knowledge he alleged were only 
fresh devices of Satan to discredit the religion of 
Christ divinely revealed in the Bible. 

John's fairness of mind is shown at this point. 
He was not ready to give up his Christian belief 
without investigation ; and so we find him reading, 
in addition to a very broad course in science and 
history, such works in sound orthodoxy as Hugh 
Miller's "Testimony of the Rocks," Walker's "God 
Revealed in the Creation and in Christ," Walker's 
"Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation," Wayland's 
" Intellectual Philosophy," Isaac Taylor's "The 
World of Mind," Edwards on "The Will," Hickok's 
"Rational Psychology," Nelson's "Cause and 
Cure of Infidelity," Hopkins's and Alexander's 
"Evidences of Christianity," Alford's "Prole- 
gomena to the Gospels," Campbell and Douglas 
on "Miracles," Watson's "Reply to Gibbon and 
Paine," and Bushnell's "Nature and the Super- 
natural" the last then regarded as a master- 
piece in the defence of Christian theology. 

In his investigations John's mind appears to have 


Influence of Buckle 

been centred on the Christian dogmas as a whole 
on the theologic claim that they presented a 
completely rounded philosophical system of all 
existences; and it further appears that he early be- 
came impressed with the conviction that the de- 
fenders of these dogmas almost wholly ignored 
science, and rested their defences mainly on as- 
sumptions rather than on positive verifications. In 
regard to Bushnell's work he writes, a little later, 
"The rhetorical work of Bushnell, with its total 
ignorance of physical science, did more to shake my 
faith than anything else." 

It was while thus investigating for ultimate 
truth in May, 1859 that Roberts brought him 
the first volume of Buckle's "History of Civiliza- 
tion in England.'* Few books published during the 
last century made such a stirring of philosophic and 
religious thought as this. Its laudation of science 
over metaphysics, its proclamation of the superi- 
ority of external or natural forces over internal or 
subjective forces in the development of civilization, 
its bold grappling with many accepted philosophic 
conclusions and religious beliefs, and its great dis- 
play of learning, all presented in a vigorous, at- 
tractive style, fairly took by storm the unsettled 
condition of philosophic thought of sixty years ago, 
and set serious-minded thinkers to a careful reen- 
visagement of the philosophic verities that underlie 
human well-being. The book made a profound im- 
pression on the public mind, and the discussion it 

John Fiske 

called forth was an interesting prelude to the far 
deeper philosophic discussion which came, a little 
later, with the publication of Darwin's "Origin of 
Species," with its philosophic complement, Her- 
bert Spencer's theory of Evolution. 

Fiske fairly devoured Buckle. The book stirred 
his thought to the uttermost. His own reading 
gave him great equipoise in weighing Buckle's 
arguments. In Buckle's main contentions he found 
much to dissent from as well as much to agree with. 
He finished the volume with a greatly clarified 
mind and with the conviction that it was "a great 
and noble book, written by a great and noble 


Later thought has somewhat lessened the value 
of Buckle's contribution to the great discussion of 
which it was the forerunner. It had an immediate 
effect upon Fiske's mind, however, in two directions. 
In the first place, it led him to focus his thought 
upon the important part played by nature in the 
development of civilized man, and upon the need 
of a philosophy which should present the objective 
world of phenomena as revealed by science and the 
subjective world of human consciousness as revealed 
by civilization in harmony with some universal 
principle which could absorb both in unity or pur- 
pose. In the second place, it was the culminating 
influence which completely freed his mind from 
bondage to dogmatic theology. Two years later we 
are to see him writing an article on Buckle which 


Abandons Dogmatic Christianity 

stands to-day among the best judgments upon this 
eminent thinker that have been published. 

It was no easy matter for John to break away 
from the religious faith in which he had been bred, 
and which he had himself embraced in full credence 
of its Divine origin and character. Granting its as- 
sumptions, dogmatic theology gave the Christian 
believer something veritable to tie to. Denial of 
its Divine origin and character left the mind ap- 
parently without a positive hitching-post in the 
vast swirl of cosmic phenomena. That John fully 
realized the significance of the change, and that 
the breaking-away was attended with distress of 
mind, the letters bear witness. In this hour of trial 
he could not appeal to his mother or to his grand- 
mother. They could not understand him. He could 
turn for sympathy only to his friend Roberts, who 
was passing through a similar experience ; and both 
found comfort and encouragement in their broad- 
minded friend Dudley. 

By midsummer Fiske's abandonment of dog- 
matic Christianity was complete, and the following 
remark in a letter to his mother in July is indicative 
of what was passing in his mind : 

"I must not try to write about the Trinity in a 
letter: I will tell you what I think about it when you 
come. If the system is true, orthodoxy, Unitarian- 
ism, and Swedenborgianism are alike false." 

His mother came to see him shortly after, and he 
opened his mind to her in regard to his change of 

John Fiske 

religious views freely and frankly. He pointed out 
how unphilosophical and how unreasonable the 
orthodox scheme of theology appeared to him as 
a basis for religious faith; that the existence of a 
personal, triune Godhead as the first Great Cause 
and as a Divine Ruler was an anthropomorphic as- 
sumption; that the Mosaic cosmogony by which a 
universe was created by fiat out of nothing was un- 
thinkable; that the creation of man also by fiat 
as a perfect being was opposed to all the teach- 
ings of science; that man's temptation, fall, and re- 
demption through Christ had no valid historic veri- 
fication; while the existence of a veritable Heaven 
and Hell, where the Divine Ruler eternally re- 
warded or punished mankind for its belief or non- 
belief in Him, had no justifiable basis in reason or 
experience. He assured her that with no honesty or 
sincerity of heart could he any longer believe in a 
religion based on such foundations a religion 
which made such a monster of God and held such 
a frightful doom over the greater portion of the 
human race, a doom which included some of the 
noblest characters that have ever lived. 

His mother could neither say nor do anything to 
oppose him. She found comfort, however, in his 
assurance that he regarded atheism as more unrea- 
sonable and unthinkable than dogmatic theology, 
and in the fact that his ideals of moral conduct 
were heightened, while his desire to prepare him- 
self for service through a thorough course of col- 


Abandons Dogmatic Christianity 

lege training showed no abatement whatever. Real- 
izing, therefore, that if he was in error, he could be 
convinced of the fact only through his own experi- 
ence, she let him go forward; but, grievously for 
him, without her sympathy or understanding. 

Resuming John's personal experiences in Mid- 
dletown, we find that during the latter part of 1859 
the change in his religious views began to have effect 
upon his religious conduct. He no longer believed 
in the orthodox theology or the religious faith based 
on that theology. Out of filial regard for his grand- 
mother he had retained his connection with the 
North Congregational Church, where he had to 
listen to such presentations of religious truth by 
Dr. Taylor as this: 

" But at this point of the discussion a scene bursts 
upon my vision: it is from the depths of eternity. 
A multitude of holy angels enter singing 'Holy, 
Holy, Lord God Almighty' but the scene changes. 
Envy enters into the breast of the mightiest of that 
angel host. He asserts his dominion against the 
Father. Consternation reigns in Heaven ; but Christ 
sent by Jehovah hurls in holy wrath and Godlike 
vengeance that rebel host to hell," etc. 

Such crude expositions of "Divine truth" out- 
raged all John's religious nature, and we can easily 
understand his indignant outburst in giving his 
mother an account of the sermon: " I wished some 
one had pitched him out of the pulpit in the same 


John Fiske 

Dr. Taylor's sermons reflected the religious un- 
rest of the time and abounded with ignorant preju- 
dice against what was termed " scientific infidelity," 
as well as with bitter invective against the rising 
school of "scientific infidels " who would discredit 
God's inspired messages to man. 

John could not endure such preaching. He began 
to absent himself from the communion service, and 
finally he withdrew from church attendance alto- 
gether. He felt that with his disbelief in the Chris- 
tian dogmas it was pure hypocrisy to appear as their 
supporter. He was supported by his friend Roberts. 
They acted together, and it soon became current 
throughout the town that young Fiske and Roberts, 
the two brightest young minds and the two most 
exemplary young men in the North Church, had 
turned infidels. 

In a conservative, orthodox community like 
Middletown of fifty years ago, to be called an in- 
fidel was one of the severest terms of social reproach. 
There was charity for the moral delinquent, and 
even for the burglar, for they might be reclaimed 
by subscribing to the dogmatic orthodox creed; 
but for the infidel, the disbeliever in the creed itself, 
one who boldly denied the inspiration of the Bible 
and the Divinity of Christ, he had no title what- 
ever to social recognition; he was to be regarded, in 
fact, as the foe of all social and religious order; and 
all the more dangerous if well educated and of un- 
exceptionable moral character. 


Social Ostracism 

John's pastor, Dr. Taylor, was greatly exercised 
at the outbreak of such a virulent form of heresy 
under his own preaching. He felt it not only a 
scandal to the orthodox Christian faith, but also an 
imputation upon his own faithfulness in presenting 
the dogmatic foundations of that faith. He must 
bestir himself. He called upon Mrs. Lewis, John's 
grandmother, to get more light upon the cause of 
John's ''backsliding." This true Christian woman, 
firm in her belief that moral conduct is the real test 
of religious character, stoutly maintained that John 
could not be an infidel. "Why," said she, "he never 
did a bad thing in his life; and then, he is such a 
faithful student." "Yes," said Dr. Taylor, "that 
makes him all the worse. He does not believe in 
the inspiration of the Bible nor in the Divinity of 
Christ; and he has given up the church." Still she 
maintained he could not be an infidel; and in the 
innocence of her heart she took Dr. Taylor into 
John's library to see the fine collection of books he 
had got together, all of which she knew he had read. 

Alas, to the heresy-hunter the exhibit was too 
conclusive ! There side by side with books of sound 
orthodoxy were many ancient classics, and the 
works of Humboldt, Voltaire, Lewes, Fichte, 
Schlegel, Buckle, Cuvier, Laplace, Milne-Edwards, 
De Quincey, Theodore Parker, Strauss, Comte, 
Grote, Gibbon, and John Stuart Mill. Dr. Taylor 
had no praise to bestow upon such a collection of 
books in the hands of his young parishioner; and in 


John Fiske 

response to the inquiry as to what he thought of 
them, he could only shake his head. 

Shortly after, Dr. Taylor had an interview with 
John himself. John frankly stated his views in re- 
gard to the inspiration of the Bible and in regard to 
creation and the Divinity of Christ, with the reasons 
therefor. He also stated that to his mind the dog- 
matic presentation of God was belittling and vulgar, 
when compared with the conception of a Divine 
Creator and Sustainer which reason, informed by 
science, must postulate as the Ultimate Source of 
all things. Dr. Taylor was not equipped for parish- 
ional service against such views. He could only 
condemn them as rank infidelity. John then said: 
"You see where I stand. Why not expel me from 
the church? " Dr. Taylor replied : " That we cannot 
do unless you commit some gross act of immoral- 
ity." "That," said John, " I pray God I may never 
do." Dr. Taylor then asked: "How do you explain 
your conversion?" John replied: "You will find 
that accounted for in Esquirol's 'Des Maladies 

Finding that John was not to be brought back to 
the church by any means at his command, Dr. 
Taylor resorted to the course usually pursued in 
such cases by clergymen with narrow minds. He 
began to decry John in the most unjust manner. 
There was hardly any epithet too opprobrious to 
apply to him. He was an atheist, an infidel, a 
blasphemer, a hypocrite, an immoral person, and 

1 20 

A Religious Storm-Centre 

finally he was a Unitarian. 1 As a result, this 
modest, scholarly youth found himself a religious 
storm-centre, as it were, in the orthodox com- 
munity of Middletown, which swept reason, jus- 
tice, and even common courtesy entirely out of 
consideration. Worst of all, it brought great dis- 
tress of -mind to his grandmother. At the church 
gatherings she was subjected to expressions of sym- 
pathy, made personally poignant by being accom- 
panied by reflections upon the base conduct of 
John in turning against all the precepts of his 
Christian training. With his whole life before her 
as an open book, wherein on every page was written 
his dutiful consideration for others as well as his 
faithfulness to his studies, she could not understand 
how it was possible for him to become such a moral 
reprobate as Dr. Taylor had pronounced him to 

In her sore perplexity she went to John and asked 
him if it was true that he did not believe in the 
Bible and in the Divinity of Christ. He told her 
that in the way in which the Church and Dr. Taylor 
presented the Bible and Christ he did not believe, 
but that in a far higher and nobler interpretation of 

1 I have never been able fully to understand just why it was that 
in orthodox communities of fifty years ago the name " Unitarian" 
had such an opprobrious signification. I recall that about this period 
I was visiting, in Western New York, the family of a Presbyterian 
deacon. The deacon's wife, a most estimable woman, told me, as a 
Bostonian, that during her girlhood she lived in Boston; and then, 
with much seriousness, she added: " I then attended Dr. Channing's 
church. I have since deeply repented; but I don't think it ever did 
me any harm." 


John Fiske 

them he did believe. And then, as patiently and 
as simply as possible, he tried to explain to her 
his conviction that the Bible, although containing 
much of error and superstition, was still the great- 
est of books ; that the real Jesus of history, although 
perverted to men's minds by the Christ of dogma, 
was still the noblest character that ever lived; 
while over all was a Divine Creator and Ruler, of 
whose wisdom, goodness, and power the human 
mind can form no adequate conception. 

Accustomed to regard the positive, dogmatic as- 
sumptions which formed the basis of her religious 
faith as divinely inspired messages to man, the dear 
old lady could hardly grasp the implications or the 
meaning of this purer, more abstract faith; but 
she found comfort in John's assurance that his belief 
in a Divine Creator, " Who doeth all things well/' 
and in upright conduct as the imperative condition 
for fulness of life, was stronger than ever. 

Another incident in John's Middletown experi- 
ence should be given, as it shows that at this early 
stage he was getting his mental acquisitions into 
order for effective use either in argument or for 
lucid exposition. 

There was living in or near Middletown a retired 
orthodox clergyman, the Reverend Jonathan Eben- 
ezar Barnes, D.D. Dr. Barnes was a contributor 
to religious magazines, and had published one or 
more articles in the "New Englander," then a dis- 
tinctly representative organ of dogmatic theology, 


Controversy with Dr. Barnes 

especially in its philosophic bearings or implications. 
Dr. Barnes had much local reputation as a scholar, 
and occasionally prepared students for college. His 
orthodoxy was sound. He knew John as a youth of 
good family and of studious habits. He had heard 
of his heretical opinions and of his withdrawal from 
the North Church. Out of his Christian feeling, he 
wrote John a friendly letter, in which, as an older 
scholar and a student of philosophy, he offered 
by correspondence to guide his steps through the 
"specious" mazes of the " Positive Philosophy " 
then current, to the goal he felt sure he would ulti- 
mately reach, "Christ and Him crucified," as the 
ultimate truth of all philosophy. 

John was somewhat piqued at the tone of this 
letter, notwithstanding the evident good intention 
of the writer. Its quiet assumption that all knowl- 
edge, all philosophy outside of Christian theology 
was foolishness; and that he, in his eagerness for 
knowledge, owing to his extreme youth, was greatly 
in need of a friendly Christian adviser seemed 
slightly too presumptuous. Then, too, it would 
appear that John welcomed the receipt of this let- 
ter as a fitting opportunity to defend his heretical 
opinions. Accordingly, in answering Dr. Barnes, 
he not only stated his reasons for giving up the 
orthodox Christian faith, he also challenged Dr. 
Barnes to the defence of that faith. The letter is 
too long for insertion here. It was a remarkable 
production for a youth who had but just turned his 


John Fiske 

eighteenth year. Its points may be summarized as 

First. His faith was not shaken by .the " specious " 
philosophy of the " Positivists " ; he was convinced 
of the insufficiency of the "evidences" of Chris- 
tianity long before he knew what " Positivism" 

Second. He considers the "internal evidences" 
of Christianity as presented by its supporters, in- 
cluding the originality of its doctrines; the unique 
character of Jesus and its ethics. These points he 
analyzes with great clearness and impartiality, and 
he finds no satisfaction in them. 

Third. He next considers the ' ' external evidences, ' ' 
the miracles, the prophecies, the historic record in 
the different books of the Bible ; the argument from 
existing institutions and from the rapid spread of 
Christianity. He applies to the evidences adduced 
on these points the canons of logic and historic 
criticism and finds that they do not stand the 

Fourth. He interrogates metaphysics, but does 
not find much to rest upon in " Kant's negations or 
Fichte's beautiful dreams," or anything of the kind 
he touched. The metaphysicians appear to have 
neglected or ignored science, and to have established 
a cosmogony of their own in place of the well-es- 
tablished truths of science. 

Fifth. He interrogates science. Here he finds 
rest; for in the verifiable phenomena of the universe 
he finds a revelation of its Divine Creator, written 
in hieroglyphics the sacred language which sci- 
ence is daily translating into the dialects of man- 


Controversy with Dr. Barnes 

The letter closed with this quotation from the 
early philosopher Thales: 

" Tldvra 7T\rjprj Oeov" 
All things are full of God. 

Dr. Barnes acknowledged the receipt of the letter 
and expressed himself as pleased at the evidences 
it gave of John's " industry." He promised a full 
reply later. That reply never came. 1 

From contemporary evidence and from the fact 
that John's mind was too well balanced to accept 
any negative philosophy, it appears that at this 
time the ultimate problem of philosophy as the 
quest of reason, had shaped itself in his mind sub- 
stantially as follows: 

I. Granting the existence of the world of subjec- 
tive phenomena as revealed in individual con- 
sciousness and as objectified in the various 
elements and phases of man's civilization ; 

1 During this period that is, the year 1859 and the first quarter 
of 1860 of active searching for a new base for philosophic thinking 
we have John's record of reading the following works in addition to 
the works named on page 106: Grote's History of Greece, the last six 
volumes; Arnold's History of Rome, and also his Later Roman Com- 
monwealth ; Merivale's History of the Romans, Gibbon's History 
of Rome, Guyot's Earth and Man, Coleridge's Religious Musings, 
Bayne's Essays, Upham's Mental Philosophy, Ferrier's Institutes of 
Metaphysic, Schlegel's Philosophy of History, also his Philosophy of 
Life; Finlay's Greece under the Romans, Hallam's Middle Ages, 
Thompson's Outlines of the Laws of Thought, Fichte's Nature of the 
Scholar, and The Destination of Man; Hume's History of England, 
De Quincey's Philosophical Writers, several volumes of sermons and 
addresses by Theodore Parker, Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship, 
and Past and Present; Lewes's History of Philosophy, Strauss's Life of 
Jesus, Paine's Age of Reason, Max Mullet's Survey of Languages, 


John Fiske 

II. Granting the existence of the universe of ob- 
jective phenomena as verified to human con- 
sciousness or mind through experience; 

III. Granting that the human mind has never been 
able to penetrate with any verifiable experi- 
ence the causal mystery that enshrouds the 
world of subjective, and the universe of ob- 
jective, phenomena, and their interrelations; 

IV. Granting that the creation or emanation of 
these two orders of phenomena out of nothing 
is an unthinkable proposition to the reasoning 

V. What, then, as the very basis of philosophic 
thinking, must the rational mind postulate as 
the Ultimate First Cause back of all phe- 
nomena; and what must be its method of man- 
ifestation or revelation to the human mind? 

To the solution of this problem John's intellect- 
ual powers were now fully roused, and he took up 
its solution as a quest for a higher and purer phil- 
osophic religious faith than he had known. This 
quest he took up at this early period with as sincere 
and lofty a devotion as ever animated knight of the 
Holy Grail; and it was pursued, in addition to his 
collegiate and legal studies and his subsequent liter- 
ary work, without any intermission for the ensuing 
fifteen years, forming, as it were, a background to 

Vie de Voltaire, par Condorcet ; Comte's Positive Philosophy, Whate- 
ley's Elements of Logic, Mills's System of Logic, Wallon's His- 
toire de Vesclavage Ancienne, Rousseau's Confessions, Comte's 
Philosophy of Mathematics, Newman's History of the Hebrew Mon- 
archy, De Wette's Introduction to the Old Testament, Mansel's Limits 
of Religious Thought, Mackay's Progress of the Intellect. 


Social Ostracism 

his intellectual life during this period. The ground 
he covered in this quest was immense, and his 
method of investigation, as we shall see, was re- 
markable for its fair-mindedness as well as its 
breadth; and it was an investigation which brought 
him to some ultimate philosophical conclusions 
which he embodied in his "Outlines of Cosmic 
Philosophy," published in 1874 one f tne most 
important philosophical works of the last century. 

Meantime, while all this deep study was going 
forward and all this high thinking was taking shape 
in John's mind, his life in Middletown was most un- 
happy. Socially he was practically ostracized from 
homes where he had formerly been cordially wel- 
comed. On the street he was shunned by his ac- 
quaintances, and was pointed at as the " Infidel of 
the North Church/' while in his own home at his 
grandmother's, where all his life he had received 
affection and encouragement in his studies, he was 
not at all understood and consequently was with- 
out sympathy in his high purpose. His letters bear 
witness to his great mental perturbation and to the 
"dull and sunless days" through which he passed; 
and in the midst of it all he plaintively appealed to 
his mother to let him get out of Middletown, and 
be freed from the atmosphere of ignorance and reli- 
gious intolerance which had such a depressing influ- 
ence upon his mind. 

His mother granted his request, and on the i8th 
of May, 1860, he left Middletown to prepare for his 


John Fiske 

collegiate life at Cambridge under more congenial 
surroundings. He left with a saddened heart; for 
he could not forget that back of the persecutions of 
the past few months all the tender recollections of 
his boyhood and youth were indissolubly linked 
with the dear old town. 

Just forty years after, Middletown celebrated the 
two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of her civic 
existence. She chose for her orator on this memo- 
rable occasion the most eminent of American histo- 
rians and one of the profoundest thinkers of the 
time, proud in the consciousness that during the 
period of his boyhood and his youth he too had 
trod her pavements: he too had breathed her air. 1 

1 Longfellow's poem "Nuremberg" contains his beautiful tribute 
to Albrecht Diirer, as " the Evangelist of Art." In this tribute occurs 
the following line: 

" That he once has trod its pavement, that he once has breathed its air." 

In borrowing the sentiment of this line, I have made some slight 
verbal changes in it, to fit the time conditions of the narrative as 
well as change of person. 



YOUNG Fiske arrived in Boston Friday afternoon, 
May 1 8, 1860, and immediately went out to the 
home of Mr. J. G. Bradford in the suburban town 
of Quincy, by whom it had been arranged he should 
be definitely prepared for the Harvard examina- 
tions to be held the last of August. 

Fiske's first interview with Mr. Bradford re- 
vealed the fact that the latter entirely misunder- 
stood what was desired. He supposed that Fiske 
was to be prepared for the freshman entrance at 
Harvard. When he found that a preparation for 
sophomore and possibly junior entrance was 
desired, he frankly said he was not qualified to give 
such a preparation; and he advised Fiske to seek a 
tutor acquainted with the requirements of the soph- 
omore and junior examinations. 

And thus, far from home and among strangers, 
young Fiske found himself at the outset of his new 
life thrown upon his own resources to meet a rather 
embarrassing situation. 

The eminence of Mr. Stoughton at the New York 
Bar had given him a wide acquaintance with the 
leading attorneys and jurists of the country, and the 


John Fiske 

charming personality of Mrs. Stoughton had added 
to this professional acquaintance social relations 
of the highest character. In Boston, Judge Benja- 
min R. Curtis, formerly Justice of the United States 
Supreme Court, and greatly honored for his dissent- 
ing opinion in the famous Dred Scott case, one of 
the most important cases ever brought before the 
Supreme Court, was the warm personal friend of 
both Mr. and Mrs. Stoughton in fact, the two 
families were socially intimate. Since his retire- 
ment from the Supreme Bench, Judge Curtis had 
resumed active practice, and was at this time the 
most distinguished member of the Boston Bar. In 
his practice he had associated with himself his 
brother, George Ticknor Curtis. 

Fiske in his perplexity bethought himself to ap- 
ply to Judge Curtis for counsel. Accordingly, the 
next morning he found his way to Judge Curtis's 
office. He was received by George Ticknor Curtis, 
whom he describes as "a very stiff man, but quite 
good-hearted," who told him that the Judge was 
out of town for the day and advised him to pack up 
his things in Quincy, and to see the Judge in the 
evening. In the evening he called on Judge Curtis 
at his home, 32 Hancock Street, Boston, and what 
followed is best told in Fiske' s own words in his 
first letter to his mother written the following 
Monday : 

"I found the Judge's house easily. Delightful 
man received me with the kindest of welcomes, 


Consults Judge Curtis 

and urged me to stay at his house. I declined at 
first, but as he urged me warmly I stayed. He in- 
troduced me to his nephew Greenough, a freshman, 
and to his daughters the eldest, Miss Bessie, is 
a lovely girl. I felt at once perfectly at home with 
the family. Sunday morning I went to church with 
them at Kings Chapel a Unitarian church re- 
taining a part of the Episcopal service. I heard a 
Unitarian minister but no one could tell the dif- 
ference. I supposed he was an Episcopalian until 
Miss Minnie (who is Miss Curtis number two) in- 
formed me. After church Miss Minnie and I took 
a walk to see the common and the mill-dam. In 
the afternoon I went to church with Miss Minnie. 
After church the Judge invited me to take a walk 
with him we went to Long Wharf and to Faneuil 
Hall. The evening I spent talking about philology 
with Miss Bessie; she knows something of Latin, 
Italian, French, and German, and she delights in 
such studies. 

"This morning the Judge very kindly went to 
Cambridge with me, and leaving me with Green- 
ough to look at rooms, he called on President Felton 
to find a tutor for me. Meanwhile I examined the 
rooms in the house where Greenough was, and I en- 
gaged a study room for the summer at somewhere 
about twenty dollars. The room is one of the pleas- 
antest in Cambridge and in full sight of the college. 
There is no table connected with it, but board can 
be had for from $2.50 to $4.00 per week. The 
Judge said on returning I could do no better, that 
is why I took the room. The Judge found a tutor, 
a resident graduate, named Bates, highly recom- 
mended by Felton. His terms are enormous two 

John Fiske 

hours a day at $1.00 per hour; that will come to 
$172.00 by Sept. ist. It will be more than my tui- 
tion in college for the whole two years. I made no 
engagement with Bates but said I would call on 
Friday, at 12 o'clock. I did not like to make such a 
stupendous bargain without consulting you. 

I returned here to the house of this most en- 
chanting of men. I don't know when I was ever so 
fascinated by any one. Indeed, harmony and love 
seem to reign through the whole family. Never be- 
fore was I treated with such kind attention; and 
to-morrow, I shall leave for Cambridge in love with 
all the family, from the Judge, to his representa- 
tive of four years, who spent Sunday morning play- 
ing marbles with me on the carpet/' 

Fiske began his Cambridge life on Wednesday, 
May 23, 1860, in a house in Holmes Place kept by 
"the ancient" Royal Morse. The house was next 
door to the house which was the birthplace of Oliver 
Wendell Holmes. Both houses long since gave way 
to the more imposing buildings of the Harvard Law 
School. The letters give full particulars of his get- 
ting settled for a summer of efficient study. 

Mrs. Stoughton readily assented to all John's 
arrangements and also to the engagement of Bates 
as tutor, and so on Monday, May 28, 1860, he be- 
gan his definite preparatory studies. On the advice 
of both Judge Curtis and his tutor, he gave up the 
idea of trying for a junior entrance and settled down 
for the sophomore examination. His preparatory 


Visits George Ticknor 

reading and studies were not at all exacting for him. 
They comprised : 

Reading: Peirce's "Analytic Geometry/ 1 

Smyth's "Differential Calculus/' 
Thompson's " Inorganic Chemistry/' 
Reviewing : Latin and Greek Grammar and Com- 

Latin and Greek prose and poetry. 
Geometry, algebra, and arithmetic. 

Early in June he received a visit from his friend 
Roberts, who was then balancing in his mind the 
choice of a profession teaching or the law. They 
took counsel with Judge Curtis on this point. The 
Judge after "drawing Roberts out," strongly ad- 
vised him to take the law 1 and recommended that 
he should also consult George Ticknor, the eminent 
Spanish scholar, who took great pleasure in encour- 
aging young men to lives of professional usefulness. 
The Judge gave Fiske and Roberts a cordial letter 
of introduction to Mr. Ticknor. This was an in- 
troduction in Boston at that time of the highest 
social character. Fiske's account of what followed 
is of much interest : 

"Went up to Mr. Ticknor's study. Most splen- 
did room I was ever in. Mr. Ticknor was most 
gracious he advised George to be a lawyer. Then 
he talked with me said I had better not get ac- 
quainted with the students 'fast set of fellows'; 
more, he gave me full permission, 'since I was an 

1 Two years after Roberts entered the office of Judge Curtis. 


John Fiske 

earnest scholar,' to come to his library whenever I 
choose and take away any book whatever which 
I wanted to read. Was n't that a great favor?" 

The young men must have made a very favor- 
able impression upon Mr. Ticknor, who was one 
of the most precise and unimpressionable of men. 

Fiske's letters to his mother and to Roberts give 
full particulars of his activities during this prepar- 
atory period. He was delighted with his tutor's 
method of instruction, and he gave himself unre- 
servedly to it. In addition he read widely and with 
exceeding thoughtfulness upon the philosophic prob- 
lems that were working in his mind. We have to 
note that at an age when most young men would 
have found themselves pretty heavily taxed to pre- 
pare through the summer months for a sophomore 
entrance at Harvard, he was taking his preparatory 
work with the greatest ease and giving much the 
greater part of his time to philosophical studies. 

In these studies his friend Roberts went with him 
hand in hand, so that we have in their correspond- 
ence a very high order of self-imposed thinking 
common to both young men. The few extracts 
from this correspondence which are to follow will 
show that, while indulging in the freest thought 
in religious and philosophic matters, they were as 
insistent upon upright conduct in all matters per- 
taining to social life, as are those who maintain 
that right living can be the product only of certain 
forms of religious belief. 


Settled in Cambridge 

Fiske's early Cambridge letters to his mother tell 
of his delight in getting the choice books from his 
Middletown library into more congenial surround- 
ings. He has weeded out the less desirable books 
and has made some additions, so that his library 
now numbers two hundred and sixty-six volumes, 
every one of which is identified with a bit of per- 
sonal experience in his pursuit of knowledge. Con- 
spicuous were a choice selection of the Greek and 
Latin classics, and a complete edition of the works 
of Voltaire. Beside these were the works of Gibbon, 
Grote, Humboldt, Lyell, Darwin, Buckle, Comte, 
Mill, Spencer, Mackay, Lewes, Lagrange, Donald- 
son, Emerson, Theodore Parker, and several vol- 
umes of Dickens. 

He also tells his mother about the adjustment of 
his furniture and pictures. Over his mantelpiece 
he has a framed portrait of Humboldt and he has 
turned his " study table halfway around so as to 
face the portrait." He has also a portrait of Voltaire 
in the room. He has seen a full-length statuette of 
Goethe, which "looks very majestic, in other words 
very much like Goethe," and he wishes his mother 
would get it for his room which she did. 

Fiske's Saturdays were usually spent in "mous- 
ing among the book-shops in Boston," not only to 
keep in touch with the new books along his chosen 
lines of study, but also to see and handle any new 
or fine edition of a favorite author. He had a great 
fondness for fine editions of good books, not 


John Fiske 

editions-de-luxe, but serviceable editions with good 
print and margins and substantial bindings. To 
him a good book was far more than a material 
object, far more than a product of mechanical 
processes. It was the latter into which had been 
breathed, as it were, a human soul. His tender re- 
gard for good books grew out of his reverent feeling 
towards them as distinct embodiments of man's 
spiritual nature. 

In a letter to his mother of June 17, 1860, he 
tells of a visit to the book-store of Little, Brown 
& Company 1 and in speaking of the interesting 
books he saw there, he says : 

" I saw the works of all the English Positivists 
they comprise some of the first men of the cen- 

f Logic, 2 vols. 
John Stuart Mill his works < Political Economy, 2 vols. 

(_ Philosophical Writings, 2 vols. 
f Seaside Studies. 

Exposition of Comte. 
George Henry Lewes " M X History of Philosophy. 

Life of Goethe. 

I. Physiology of Common Life. 

George Grote History of Greece, 12 vols. 

Henry T. Buckle Civilization in England. , 

f Outlines of Astronomy. 

Sir John Herschel " " -J Natural Philosophy. 

(. Essays. 

Principles of Psychology. 
Social Statics. 
Senses and the Intellect. 


Herbert Spencer- " " | 


Rain - 

>am ~~ -> ji ITTMI 

( Emotions and the Will. 

1 Little, Brown & Company's book-store and publishing house 
was at 1 12 Washington Street, and the firm was famous throughout 
the country for choice editions of standard English works. 


Interest in Positivism 

Robert W. Mackay - his works { l^ 688 ot . * h . e . I "* ell f ct ' 

( Progress of Christianity. 

Charles Darwin The Origin of Species. 

Sir Charles Lyell - " " \ Wor t ks ?. 9 eol ^ e 

( greatest living geologist. 

"In Germany, to omit lesser names, the Posi- 
tivists enumerate among their number that of 
Humboldt and also Ehrenberg probably the first 
living zoologist. In France there is Comte himself, 1 
Robin the first anatomist, Littre and Berard and 
Pouchet, three of the greatest physiologists, and 
Verdeil, perhaps the greatest chemist. So it seems at 
present all departments of science are under the 
control of Positivism. What does it mean? No pre- 
vious instance in the history of thought can be 
found of so many great thinkers uniting under the 
same standard. I did n't know but you might like 
to know who the great men are to whose school I 
belong. " 

This extract is of interest, not only as showing the 
wide range of Fiske's thought at this time, but also 
as reflecting somewhat the confusion which pre- 
vailed in the scientifico-philosophic thought of the 
period. The philosophic speculations of Auguste 
Comte were, during the middle period of the century, 
much in evidence, and were presented with some 
original and striking suggestions regarding the pro- 
gressive development of human knowledge. Fur- 
thermore, it being claimed that these speculations 
were based on positive science, and as scientific in- 
vestigations in various directions were opening lines 

1 Comte was not then living, he died in 1857. 

John Fiske 

of thought in direct opposition to established re- 
ligious and philosophic beliefs, there was much con- 
fusion of thought in the general situation, with a 
very prevalent disposition to regard the advance- 
ments in science as in harmony, if not identified, 
with the claims of the Positive Philosophy of Comte. 
In fact, the Comtean philosophy was credited with 
too much on the one hand, while science was deb- 
ited with too much on the other hand. It was a 
false kind of double-entry. It appears that at this 
time Fiske was more or less in sympathy with the 
Comtean philosophy. He had studied the Positive 
Philosophy of Comte with great interest and much 
care. It does not appear that he had given much, 
if any, attention to the later sociological vagaries of 
Comte. In the years to come, we are to see him 
battling vigorously to defend the doctrine of Evolu- 
tion which was charged with Comtean character- 
istics against any affiliations with the Comtean 

In the latter part of June, on one of the Saturday 
excursions to Boston referred to, Fiske found in the 
"Old Corner Book-Store " of Ticknor & Fields, the 
original prospectus of Herbert Spencer's system of 
philosophy, the publication of which, in quarterly 
numbers, to be sold by subscription, was an- 
nounced. In view of what is to follow in the 
development of Fiske's own mind and in his per- 
sonal acquaintance with Spencer, the following 
extracts from the letters are of special interest. 


Enthusiasm over Spencer 

Writing Roberts under date of June 24, 1860, he 

"Oh, George, my soul is on fire! (to use a favorite 
expression of Horace), for Herbert Spencer is about 
to execute a gigantic series of Positive books on 
which he has been at work for years. I will try to 
get you a printed notice of them before sending this. 
He cannot finish them unless he gets subscribers 
enough to sustain him. My name goes down to- 
morrow subscription only $2.50 per year. There 
will be about ten volumes comprising Organic Na- 
ture. There is Biology, Psychology, Sociology, and 
Morality. Language comes in, too, and the 'Re- 
ligion of Science' will also be treated. George, if I 
were you, I would put down my name, for every one 
counts. Mill's name is down, so is Herschel's besides 
Buckle, Lewes, Grote, Mackay, Newman, Froude, 
Darwin, Lyell, Hooker, Carpenter, Bain, De Mor- 
gan, Lieveking, Morell, and many others whom I 
do not think of." 

Writing the same day to his mother he expresses 
his enthusiasm over Spencer's undertaking thus: 

" I will try to get you a notice of Herbert Spen- 
cer's gigantic series of works a perfect library of 
Positivism. You will see all about them in the 
notice. I hope Mr. Stoughton will subscribe. I 
consider it my duty to mankind as a Positivist to 
subscribe; and if I had $2,000,000 I would lay 
$1,000,000 at Mr. Spencer's feet to help him exe- 
cute this great work." 

Little did he dream in these moments of exulta- 
tion over this announcement of Spencer's great 


John Fiske 

work that in the years to come he was to be brought 
into close personal relations with him in the work- 
ing-out of the latter' s philosophic system; and also 
to become the chief interpreter of its spiritual im- 

The letters, and particularly those to Roberts, 
show not only great mental activity outside of his 
preparatory studies; they also show the wide range 
of his interests under his new surroundings. In 
the letter of June 24, which contains the above ref- 
erence to Spencer's undertaking, there is the follow- 
ing passage: 

" I am slamming into German and find ' Kosmos' 
much easier than Lessing. If you ever get 'Kos- 
mos' get the German edition. It is splendid, but 
the translation murders it. I am reading Boccaccio 
and I find I have stumbled on one of the hardest 
authors next to Guicciardini. Machiavelli is one of 
the easiest Italian authors, he is so clear and precise. 
In Spanish I am reading Navarrete's 'Veda 7 Cer- 
vantes prefixed to his edition of 'Don Quixote/ 
The second volume of Lewes' s * Physiology of Com- 
mon Life ' is out and he goes into the cerebral part 
like the devil." 

Fiske is studying Sanskrit and dropping into 
Confucius, and in a letter of July 8 he says: 

" If you are going to be a lawyer, you will need 
to learn Sanskrit so as to read the 'Institutes of 
Menu.' Nothing like going to the fountain head. 
... I am reading Confucius, and it is the most 
infernal piece of nonsense I have got hold of 


Wide Range of Study 

neither head nor tail to it. Shape it hath none dis- 
tinguishable in member, joint, or limb. Though I 
have read in it for two evenings with praiseworthy 
diligence, I confess my ignorance of what it is about. 
The Chinese may understand it; I don't, for my 
brains are not celestial as theirs are.*' 

And then follows this fine tribute to Humboldt's 

"Ye Gods: what a book is 'Kosmos/ It is the 
Epic of the Universe. It would pay to learn Ger- 
man if that were the only book in the language. 
Every now and then Humboldt quotes some beau- 
tiful ode or sonnet of his brother William; e.g.: 

1 Wie Gras der Nacht myriaden Wei ten keimen.' l 

"What a line that is! The entire style of the 
work is grand and majestic. It is the poem of Posi- 
tivism; though Peter Bayne says that Positivism 
chills the poetry in man's nature." 

Fiske visited the Harvard Library, and was cor- 
dially received by the genial old librarian, Dr. 
Sibley, whose chief delight was rummaging among 
old books and papers for the chance of finding a 
volume or sermon or address not hitherto collected, 
and Fiske was given free access to the rare books in 
the library. It is interesting to note that he at once 
turned to the rare philological works. In an alcove 
given to philological and Asiatic books he found 
much to engage his attention. He tells Roberts that 
there were "books in Sanskrit, Persian, Prakrit, 

1 Like grass of the night myriads of worlds come into being. 


John Fiske 

Arabic, Turkish, and all sorts. " He itemizes from 
memory the following: 

" There was W. v. Humboldt's 'Ueber die Kawi- 
sprache auf der Insel Jawa,' in 3 vols. huge quarto : I 
am going to read it. They say it is the best philolog- 
ico-ethnological work out. There was Diez : ' Gram- 
matik der Romanischen Sprachen,' 3 vols.: I am 
bound to read that; it is the best grammar out, of 
French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norman Provencal, 
Italian, and Wallachian. There was Schlegel's 
' Etudes sur les langues Asiatiques' ; Lassen's ' Insti- 
tutiones Linguae Pracriticse ' and ' Indische Alter- 
thumskunde'; Ritter's ' Erdkunde,' about 12 vols.; 
' Mahabharata/ 'Ramayana,' and 'Rig Veda' in 
Sanskrit, bound in red calf. Also Klaproth's 'Asia 
Polyglotta,' and so many other books that I was 
driven nearly wild by the sight of them. I tell you 
your uncle goes into these books like the very devil. 
No use in being scared. I spend 2 j- hours per day 
on German now, and it is coming by degrees. I shall 
read it readily by winter. Then I can take out Deiz, 
and old W. von Humboldt, and Grimm, and cram a 
deuced lot of philology into my cocoa-nut shell." 

Among the subjects uppermost at this time in the 
minds of Roberts and Fiske was the early history 
of Christianity, a subject on which both had read 
widely and thoughtfully. They felt that no true 
history of this important period in human civiliza- 
tion had yet been written. But light was breaking. 
German scholarship and historic research had so 
clearly punctured many of the theologic dogmas of 
the Christian religion that many minds had begun 


Early Christianity 

to think rationally on the historic development of 
Christianity, where they had hitherto accepted 
what they had been commanded or induced to be- 
lieve. Nevertheless, there was very little tolerance 
for rationalistic views on this subject, and we shall 
see later that among the unfinished projects of 
Fiske 's life the one that was nearest his heart 
was the writing of a popular history of the first five 
centuries of the Christian era. Bearing on this sub- 
ject, if not the first suggestion of it, to the mind of 
Fiske is the following passage in one of the letters 
of Roberts, apropos of his reading Mackay's "Rise 
and Progress of Chris tianity": 

" I wish there was a good edition of the 50 apocry- 
phal Gospels, the 36 apocryphal Acts, and the 12 
apocalypses, together with a good critical history 
of the early Church. It would disabuse the public 
of their prejudices amazingly. I recommend the 
work for your consideration.' 1 

Fiske spent a Sunday with the family of Judge 
Curtis, and the Judge and Fiske got into a theologic 
discussion regarding which Fiske writes: 

" In a respectful way I used the Judge up cor- 
nered him everywhere. The Judge seemed to enjoy 
it, and appeared puzzled at me. Finally he gave 
up, beaten, and ordered a bottle of ale and some 

He had a conversation with the Judge about 
Agassiz, concerning which he reports to Roberts 

John Fiske 

"The Judge can't say that Agassiz is a Christian 
only a theist that's all. I '11 tell you a story 
Agassiz told the Judge about Arago. It seems that 
Agassiz, Arago, and several other scientific men 
were dining with the Murchisons. Says Lady Mur- 
chison, * Now, M. Arago, what can be the reason that 
in France all your men of science, so learned as they 
are, invariably reject Christianity?' 'Madame,' 
said Arago rather drily, ' they never give any atten- 
tion to such matters.' Arago's answer strikes me 
forcibly as showing how in France Christianity is 
all a thing of the past." 

The last sentence should be interpreted as refer- 
ring to the opinion of Christianity among the scien- 
tists of France. The high ideals of scholarship held 
by both Fiske and Roberts is reflected in a passage 
in a letter of Roberts apropos of a remark by a per- 
son in Middletown who knew Fiske but slightly, to 
the effect that Fiske was somewhat conceited, and 
that he would get taken down tremendously if he 
entered Harvard above freshman. Roberts says : 

" I do not think you or any earnest scholar con- 
ceited. I would like to know if we both do not de- 
plore our ignorance enough, and see a field broad 
enough to cure us of complacency at our present 

Only once during this preparatory period was 
Fiske interrupted in his studies. About the first of 
August the hot midsummer weather of Cambridge 
began to tell upon his physical strength, pushed as 
it had been in the support of his varied intellectual 


Enters Harvard 

activity, and he was forced to take a few days' rest 
at Middle town. On the loth of August he re- 
turned to Cambridge and resumed his studies; 
and so confident was he of creditably passing the 
entrance examinations that he engaged his rooms 
for the ensuing year and set about getting his 
things in order for an undergraduate three years' 
life at Harvard. 

Thus, with his mind variedly occupied, the sum- 
mer rapidly passed, and on Thursday, the 3Oth of 
August, 1860, Fiske presented himself for exami- 
nation for the freshman and the sophomore en- 
trances at Harvard. 

The examinations lasted three days. They con- 
sisted of: 

Written exercises in 

Latin Grammar and Composition. 

Greek Grammar and Composition. 

Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic. 
Oral Examinations in 

Latin Prose and Poetry. 

Greek Prose and Poetry. 

Geography and History. 

The absence of all requirements in the sciences 
and in modern languages is noticeable. 

Fiske passed both examinations creditably in all 
subjects, he was one of six unconditioned, 
and at the close, he telegraphed Roberts as follows: 
" Sophomore without conditions. Please promul- 
gate." To his mother he gave a detailed account 


John Fiske 

of the examinations; and then he went down to 
Swampscott and spent Sunday with Judge Curtis 
and his family, by whom he was most cordially wel- 
comed, and congratulated on the auspicious open- 
ing of his college career. 



FROM what we have already seen it appears that 
young Fiske brought to Harvard a mind well 
stocked with an exceptional amount of varied, well- 
arranged knowledge, remarkable powers of appli- 
cation and acquisition, together with high ideals of 
scholarship and of personal character in a word, 
he came fairly as a model student. To trace under- 
standingly his development through the next three 
years it is essential that we become acquainted 
with the intellectual and social life that prevailed 
at Harvard during the period of 1860-1863. This 
is necessary inasmuch as the more important phases 
of Fiske's intellectual development took definite 
shape during this period, and in directions so op- 
posed to the accepted academic thought, and owing 
to influences so entirely independent of the college, 
as to relieve us from measuring the student by the 
college, even if we are not led to some unflattering 
measure of the college itself. 

The freshman and sophomore examinations 
through which Fiske so easily passed reveal how 
completely modern science and modern languages 
the latter the necessary tools with which to 


John Fiske 

master the former were ignored in the entrance 
examinations, and even a cursory view of the aca- 
demic course as a whole shows that at this time 
Harvard College as an institution of learning was 
still under the dominance of mediaeval ideas of 
"what knowledge is of the most worth"; and that 
the great seething, virile thought of the nineteenth 
century, which was demanding of knowledge veri- 
ties rather than speculation, which was placing new 
values on intellectual culture, values based on sci- 
ence and its application to social well-being, had as 
yet no properly recognized place in its academic 
course of instruction. 

With these facts before us, and as we are tracing 
the intellectual development of one of the most il- 
lustrious of Harvard's alumni, it is well worth while 
to take a brief glance at the academic course of 
study and also at the faculty the governing body 
of the college "as they were in themselves" at 
the time young Fiske was seeking knowledge at 
their hands. We shall find this diversion of much 
assistance in tracing our alumnus through his under- 
graduate experiences. 

There were two Presidents of the college during 
the period Cornelius Conway Pel ton and the Rev- 
erend Thomas Hill, D.D. For thirty years previ- 
ous to his presidency, President Felton had been 
Professor of Greek at the college. He had written 
upon Greek literature, but he was not distinguished 
for scholarship. His administration was brief 


The Harvard Faculty 

less than two years. President Hill was a Unitarian 
clergyman. He had been President of Antioch 
College. He excelled as a mathematician. He was 
a sincere, devout man; and in the great discussion 
then opening between Science and Religion, he 
would have the former held in bondage by the latter. 
He was not a man of impressive personality, nor 
was he noted for scholarship or executive ability. 
He was a very worthy man, but he was singularly 
out of place as President of Harvard College. 
Neither incumbent left any marked impress upon 
the college. 

The Classical Department, which comprised 
instruction in the Greek and Latin languages and 
literatures, was the best equipped department of 
the college. It was in charge of three Professors: 
the Greek, of William W. Goodwin, Ph.D., Eliot 
Professor of Greek Literature, and Evangelinus A. 
Sophocles, A.M., University Professor of Ancient, 
Byzantine, and Modern Greek; the Latin, in charge 
of George M. Lane, Ph.D., University Professor of 
Latin. For the Greek, there were two assistant in- 
structors or tutors, and for the Latin, there were 

While the study of these two languages was re- 
quired in the first three classes, and was an elective 
in the senior class, and while a greater teaching 
force was given to this department than to any 
other in the college, we have to notice the absence 
of any adequate provisions for making students 


John Fiske 

acquainted with classic history or literature while 
studying the languages ; and classical philology, in 
the sense in which philology is now understood, does 
not appear to have been at all considered. One of 
the most significant points of contrast between the 
educational ideals of the Harvard academic course 
in 1860 and that which obtains at present, is shown 
in the provisions for classical instruction at the two 

Of the professors and instructors in this depart- 
ment much that is good can be said. Professor Good- 
win was a young man who had studied at Gottingen 
under the eminent classical scholar Hermann, and 
he brought to his chair at Harvard a knowledge of 
the Greek language and literature quite exceptional 
at the time, as well as an enthusiastic love for the 
products of the Hellenic mind. The glimpses we 
get of him during the period under review are highly 
creditable to his scholarship and also to his influence, 
which was of an inspiring nature, upon the students. 
He appears to have been absorbed principally in 
his own line of work. Technically he was a Greek 
grammarian, and his influence during the last half- 
century upon the instruction in Greek at Harvard 
and throughout the country has been great. 

The most distinct personality in the department 
if not in the whole college was Professor 
Sophocles, who, by reason of his Greek features, 
his flowing locks, his simple, quaint garb, presented 
a noticeable appearance. His manners, too, were 


The Harvard Faculty 

unique a combination of the courteous gentle- 
man, the scholarly recluse, and the cynic, which 
caused him as an instructor to appear in various 
aspects. Many are the incidents related of his se- 
verely brusque and unjust treatment of students, 
partially atoned for by acts of courtesy, which 
show that a tenderness of heart was as genuine a 
part of his nature as was his love for his noble lan- 
guage. And he did love his Greek tongue! He 
seemed to know every Greek word, and its proper 
use, that has come down to us from the classic pe- 
riod, and his insights into the great masterpieces of 
Greek literature were the valuable parts of his teach- 
ing. He had no patience with indifferent students, 
but to those who took an interest in the Greek lan- 
guage and literature he was a great help, an in- 
spiration. Often he was unjust in his judgments. 1 

Professor Lane was an excellent Latin scholar 
and he had a fine appreciation of Latin literature. 

1 The following incidents illustrate somewhat Professor Sophocles's 
manner of dealing with his students: 

A backward student called to explain his remissness and to assure 
the Professor that he did love his Greek study. " Then name two of 
your favorite passages," said the Professor. The student named one 
in the Iliad and one in the (Edipus. Professor Sophocles then handed 
him the books, saying, " Find those passages and read them to me." 
The student, in his reading, revealed serious errors. Said the Pro- 
fessor in his brusque way: "Young man, you do not understand 
Greek ! You have no love for that noble language ! You murder it ! 
Enough. I want no more to do with you." 

There was much complaint in the class of '63 that the Professor's 
marks were incorrect, and particularly in the cases of three students 
who were entitled to widely different marks. On complaint being 
made, Professor Sophocles replied: " I can't distinguish between you 
gentlemen. You must take your chances as to what you get." 

John Fiske 

Although somewhat reserved in manner he was at 
heart of a kindly, genial disposition. While firm in 
his insistence upon the importance of technical 
drill, he sought to throw students upon their own 
resources in mastering the grammatical construc- 
tion of the Latin language and also in interpreting 
the masterpieces of Latin literature. He was a clear 
and inspiring lecturer. 

The department was fortunate in having as in- 
structor Ephraim W. Gurney, sometime tutor, and 
later assistant professor in Latin. In the teaching 
staff of the college no one exercised a more stimu- 
lating, healthful influence upon the students than 
did Mr. Gurney. He was a man of broad culture, 
with a scholarly love for knowledge not that of 
the pedantic sort, but of that knowledge which 
leadeth unto wisdom. He was an earnest student of 
the educational, and also the scientific and philo- 
sophic, problems of the time. He held his knowledge 
as a gift for distribution, and his method of teach- 
ing was through lending his torch to every one's 

It should be mentioned that, although not a fea- 
ture of the Classical Department, instruction in 
Hebrew and other Oriental languages was optional 
to the senior class, the instruction to be given by 
George R. Noyes, D.D., Professor of these lan- 
guages in the Divinity School. There does not ap- 
pear to have been any demand for this instruction 
among the seniors. We shall see that Fiske, how- 


The Harvard Faculty 

ever, was prompt to avail himself of it by taking up, 
as extras, Hebrew and Sanskrit, in his sophomore 
year. 1 

The Department of Mathematics was presided 
over by Benjamin Peirce, LL.D., Perkins Professor 
of Astronomy and Mathematics. There were three 
assistant instructors. Mathematics was a required 
study during the first two years and was an elective 
during the junior and senior years. 

Professor Peirce was one of the leading astron- 
omers and mathematicians of his time. He had a 
deeply reverent mind and possessing an active, 
fertile imagination the heavens were his dwelling- 
place no less than the surface of our globe. Having 
crystallized his thought into mathematical formulae 
of the widest generality, he explored the vast realms 
of space and brought forth fresh evidences of the 
existence throughout the sidereal universe of im- 
mutable, ever-unfolding law. 

Professor Peirce was one of the most important 
personalities in the intellectual and social life of 
the Harvard of his day. His strong features and 
his flowing locks of iron-gray hair gave him an im- 
pressive appearance, and he did not fail to attract 
attention when strolling through Harvard's classic 
yard. It was not an infrequent sight to see him 
and Professor Agassiz strolling through the yard 
together. His enthusiasm in his own line of work 

1 Fiske read the Bible in Hebrew with Dr. Noyes, who pronounced 
him the best Hebrew scholar he ever had. 


John Fiske 

was great, and his ready command of his vast 
knowledge, combined with rare powers of exposi- 
tion, made him an attractive lecturer, and gave to 
his conversation a peculiar charm. At times, it 
must be confessed, his enthusiasm in his sidereal 
excursions led him to soar beyond the grasp of the 
undergraduate mind. Even in such instances his 
greatness was fully admitted by his hearers. 

Professor Peirce had accepted the theory of Evo- 
lution as the Divine order of creation, and in re- 
ligious belief he was a theist akin to Channing and 
to Emerson. It may be said that his deep reverence 
for the Divine Power which he saw back of all the 
phenomena of the universe was so sincere that no 
one ventured to measure him with a doctrinal 
creed. Of him it was truly said : 

"For him the Architect of all 
Unroofed our Planet's star-lit hall. 
Through voids unknown to worlds unseen 
His clearer vision rose serene." l 

The Department of History, one of the most 
important departments of the college, appears to 
have been sadly neglected. Henry W. Torrey, Pro- 
fessor of Ancient and Modern History, with one 
assistant, was in charge of the department. The 
instruction was limited to the freshman and senior 
classes. Professor Torrey was a very amiable man, 
but he had not the preparation essential for the 
head of this department at the college. It appears 
1 Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

The Harvard Faculty 

that, not unlike Mr. Wegg, he dropped into history 
"in a friendly sort of way." The character and 
scope of the instruction shows that the value at- 
tached to history in the general academic course 
was very slight. Better historic instruction is now 
given in the public high schools. 

In the Department of Rhetoric and Oratory, the 
college tried to hide a really fine scholar and critic 
in the subordinate position of a literary pedagogue. 
The department was in charge of Francis J. Child, 
Ph.D., Boylston Prof essor of Rhetoric and Oratory. 
Professor Child was an authority on all matters re- 
lating to early European, and particularly to early 
English, literature; and besides, he was one of the 
best critics of general literature of the day. To 
Professor Child, with one assistant, was given the 
task of seeing that in all the classes the students' 
training in the use of English was consistent with a 
college course. He went farther. Beyond the formal 
exercises in grammar and rhetoric, he sought to 
make students acquainted with the resources of 
their native language as a vehicle of thought ex- 
pression, thus lifting mere pedagogic instruction 
to the higher plane of philologic study. Professor 
Child was a most genial man. He read his certifi- 
cate of professorship as an unlimited authorization 
to lend a helping hand wherever needed, and his life, 
therefore, was a constant overflow of assistance to 
students in many directions. In religious belief, he 
was broad-minded and without creedal limitation. 


John Fiske 

He was short of stature and familiarly known 
by the students as "Stubby " Child, a sobriquet 
which he made synonymous with rare learning so 
that it became a veritable title of honor in the un- 
dergraduate mind. How Professor Child would have 
gloried in the provisions that are now given for the 
study of his noble English tongue at Harvard! 

The Department of Modern Languages was un- 
der the direction of James Russell Lowell, Smith 
Professor of the French and Spanish languages, and 
Professor of Belles-Lettres. He was assisted by two 
instructors one in French and one in German. 
Professor Lowell gave lectures and also personal in- 
struction in Spanish and Italian. The slight value 
that was then put upon modern languages is shown 
not only by their absence from the entrance ex- 
aminations, but also by the fact that in all the col- 
lege classes their study was optional. 

But slight as was the value put upon modern lan- 
guages and literature in the framing of the college 
course of study, Professor Lowell made his lec- 
tures one of the most valuable, and to some of the 
students, one of the most attractive, features of the 
course. He was at the maturity of his rare powers, 
and his lectures partook of the nature of informal 
talks. He made them occasions for blending his 
ripe scholarship, his keen, illuminating criticism, 
his genial wit, and his profound thought, in a man- 
ner wholly his own: in truth, he happily illustrated, 
in his own case, how "language curtsys to its nat- 


The Harvard Faculty 

ural king." People familiar with Professor Lowell's 
11 Letters" and "Essays" particularly his essays 
on Shakespeare, Dante, Lessing, Don Quixote, 
and on Modern Languages and Literatures can 
readily imagine what intellectual occasions these 
lectures must have been. Their fame still lingers 
among the finer traditions of the college. 

The provisions for scientific instruction in the 
academic course were in 1860 very meagre. The 
fact that the claims of science were entirely ignored 
in the entrance examinations is indicative of the 
low estimate that was put upon science as a subject 
in collegiate education. It appears, however, that 
its claims had some recognition in the academic 
course, although the methods of instruction were 
sadly deficient. There were provisions for in- 
struction in what was designated as three Depart- 
ments of Science: the Department of Physics; the 
Department of Chemistry and Mineralogy; the 
Department of Natural History, Anatomy, and 

The first of these departments, that of Physics, 
was in charge of Joseph Lovering, A.M., Hollis 
Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. 
Instruction was given only to the junior and se- 
nior classes, wholly by textbook recitations and by 
illustrated lectures; there does not appear to have 
been any laboratory work whatever. Professor Lov- 
ering was painstaking and precise in all his work. 


John Fiske 

He was not an original investigator, but a facile in- 
terpreter of the work of others. He was a clear, but 
not an inspiring, teacher. At a time when the fun- 
damental conceptions of physics were undergoing a 
radical change it does not appear that he brought 
any intimation of this fact to the knowledge of his 

The second of these departments was under the 
direction of Josiah P. Cooke, A.M., Erving Pro- 
fessor of Chemistry and Mineralogy. This depart- 
ment, as a practical feature in the academic course, 
had been created virtually by Professor Cooke. He 
was graduated in 1848, when no instruction in 
chemistry worth speaking of existed at the college. 
He had, however, much enthusiasm for this branch 
of science. He saw its great importance in the de- 
velopment of the industrial arts, and he prepared 
himself, mainly by self-study, to give instruction 
in it. In 1850 he was appointed to the Erving 
Professorship and he secured the placing of chem- 
istry as a required study in the sophomore year and 
as an elective in the junior year the instruction 
being by textbooks and lectures. By 1860 he had 
managed to get together a small equipment of ap- 
paratus for laboratory work. The study was still 
confined to the sophomore and junior classes and the 
method of instruction continued to be mainly by 
textbook recitations and lectures: laboratory work 
was given as an elective in the junior class. 

Professor Cooke was an earnest teacher and was 


The Harvard Faculty 

fertile in devices for utilizing his limited facilities 
for effective illustrative and laboratory work. It 
does not appear that in his instruction he paid any 
attention to the " Correlation and Conservation of 
Forces," a subject which in 1860 was engaging the 
thought of the scientific world, and the acceptance 
of which has been productive of great changes in 
the fundamental conceptions of chemical and phys- 
ical phenomena. 

Professor Cooke was a deeply religious man, and 
his lectures were permeated with a sincere desire 
so to interpret the principles of chemical and phys- 
ical science that they should appear as but con- 
firmations of the assertions of Christian theology. 1 

The third of these scientific departments that 
of Natural History, Anatomy, and Physiology 
had at this period hardly more than an incidental 
relation to the academic course. The instruction 
was mainly by lectures given to the three upper 
classes. In the junior and senior classes attendance 
was optional. Incidental as was the instruction 
in this department, it served to bring some of the 

1 It was the opinion of Fiske, often expressed in later years that 
" Joby Cooke " as the Professor was known in the undergraduate 
life mixed too much theology with his science for the good of 
either his science or his theology. 

Here it is well to note that in 1860 and 1861 we catch glimpses of 
a young man reserved in manner, hovering, as it were, between the 
departments of mathematics and chemistry, positive in his teach- 
ing and a member of the faculty, who had already made a strong 
impression at the college. This was Charles W. Eliot, who, a few 
years later, as President of the college, was to reconstruct it from its 
foundations and place it among the great universities of the world. 


John Fiske 

students into personal relations with three eminent 
men of science. These were Asa Gray, M.D., Fisher 
Professor of Natural History, one of the greatest of 
living botanists; Louis Agassiz, LL.D., Lawrence 
Professor of Zoology and Geology, one of the 
world's great zoologists and geologists; and Jeffreys 
Wyman, M.D., Hervey Professor of Anatomy, of 
world-wide reputation as an anatomist. 

These eminent instructors were greatly hampered 
in the presentation of their respective subjects by 
the absence of adequate facilities for illustrative 
and laboratory work. Two of them, Professors 
Agassiz and Gray, figured prominently, as we shall 
soon see, in the great controversy over the "Origin 
of Species," a subject which was then engaging the 
thought of the scientific and religious world. Pro- 
fessor Wyman, although not so conspicuous in the 
public eye, was an authority in his special subject 
of anatomy, which he had studied in its relations to 
all phases of organic life. His personal character 
was of the highest, and it had a fine, pervasive, en- 
nobling influence in the intellectual life of the col- 
lege. He was an Evolutionist in his philosophico- 
religious belief, but he was not disputatious in its 
advocacy. His life was well summed up by Dr. 
Oliver Wendell Holmes: "He suffered long and was 
kind; he envied not; he vaunted not himself; he was 
not puffed up; he sought not his own; was not 
easily provoked; he thought no evil, and rejoiced jn 
the truth." 


The Harvard Faculty 

In all matters relating to instruction in the sci- 
ences, the difference between what obtained at 
Harvard in 1860, and what obtains now, is simply 

The Department of Philosophy was in charge of 
Francis Bowen, A.M., Alford Professor of Religion 
and Moral Philosophy. The instruction was con- 
fined to the senior class. The Department of Phil- 
osophy in a college should be the meeting-place 
where the instruction in the other departments is 
brought to focus around the ultimate questions of 
the physical cosmos, the human soul, and the In- 
finite Power that lies back of both. The wise di- 
rection of such a department requires not only a 
familiar acquaintance with the various depart- 
ments of human knowledge, but also the possession 
of the philosophic temper, which enables its pos- 
sessor to look with equanimity upon all phases 
of human thinking as adumbrating to some extent 
the truth regarding the above three questions, the 
ultimates of all knowledge. Professor Bowen was a 
Unitarian of the indeterminate religious belief pre- 
vailing at the period. He held firmly to the tenets 
of Christian theology save in regard to the Trinity, 
a dogma he seems to have ignored; and he sought 
to interpret the later developments of science as 
but confirmation of the claims of dogmatic theology. 
He was bitterly opposed to the doctrine of Evolu- 
tion in any of its forms, and he found something 


John Fiske 

atwist in the arguments of all its advocates. He 
was not an educated man in science; yet he de- 
livered himself on scientific questions with the air 
of one who thought his judgment final, and that 
metaphysical vociferation would prevail over scien- 
tific demonstration. Holding an important posi- 
tion at a great epoch in philosophic and religious 
development, he appears as endeavoring to stifle, 
rather than as striving to stimulate and direct, the 
awakening thought of the period. The course of 
study in this department presents a noticeable as- 
semblage of me taphysico- theological husks. In the 
undergraduate life of the college, Professor Bowen 
was known by the expressive sobriquet of "Fanny." 

Religious instruction was given a place in the 
academic course. The instruction was given by 
Andrew P. Peabody, D.D., Preacher to the Univer- 
sity, and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. 
It was confined to the freshman and senior classes, 
and consisted of textbook recitations from Whate- 
ley's" Lessons on Christian Morals and Evidences" 
and Butler's " Analogy and Ethics." Attendance 
at daily morning prayers, and at two church serv- 
ices on Sunday, was compulsory for all students. 

Dr. Peabody was of the Unitarian faith, but be- 
tween the assumptions of dogmatic theology and 
the affirmations of positive science, he seems to 
have found a sort of religious resting-place which 
did not put him in strong antagonism to either side 


Orders and Regulations 

in the religious controversy then raging, while it en- 
abled him to draw support from both. This reli- 
gious peace he sought to share with others. His was, 
indeed, a kindly soul. He recommended the study 
of the works of broad-minded, devout thinkers ; he 
preached "the efficacy of good works" as of greater 
value in life than creedal beliefs; and he gained the 
affectionate regard of the students. 

'* Before passing from the consideration of the 
academic course, we should take a brief glance at 
the "Orders and Regulations" of the faculty espe- 
cially in regard to attendance at religious services by 
the students, for here we shall see the strong hold 
the " theological bias" had upon the most " liberal " 
college in New England. 

We have already seen that daily attendance at 
prayers, and that attendance at two church serv- 
ices on Sunday, were compulsory for all students. 
We have now to note that non-compliance with 
these requirements was strictly noted, and more 
heavily penalized than were absences from, or 
failures in, recitations or lectures. For instance: a 
" Private " that is, a private admonition was 
given to a student for his unexcused absence from 
a single church service, while he could "cut" six 
recitations or lectures before being called to account. 
Again a "Public" that is, a public admonition 
was given to a student for two half-day absences 
from church services, while he could "cut" twelve 


John Fiske 

recitations or lectures before being subjected to such 
punishment. And again: a student could be ''sus- 
pended, dismissed, or otherwise punished at the 
discretion of the faculty," for being absent from 
three church services, while he could indulge in 
eighteen absences from recitations or lectures be- 
fore receiving the severest censure of the college. 
Then, too, in the "scale of merit," attendance at 
prayers and church services played an important 
part. In the final summing-up of the term's record 
there were deducted from the total favorable marks 
eight for every absence from a lecture or recitation, 
while for "every absence from daily prayers" two 
were deducted, and for "every half -day absence 
from public worship," thirty-two were deducted; 
and in case a student received a "Private," thirty- 
two were additionally deducted; and if he gained 
a "Public," sixty-four were additionally deducted. 

It also appears that a strict record was kept of 
"all tardinesses at prayers and Sunday services," 
and that this record was sent to the faculty at the 
end of each term, and that for every instance eight 
marks were deducted from the rank of the student 
so reported. 

The strictness with which the conforming of stu- 
dents to the religious requirements was supervised 
is indicated by the following provisions in the "Or- 
ders and Regulations of the Faculty for 1860": 

"Every student obtaining leave of absence for 
Sunday must bring back a certificate from his par- 

Orders and Regulations 

ent or guardian or some other accredited person of 
his having attended church. " 

" Absences from prayers and Sunday services 
shall be reported at the Regent's office by the re- 
spective monitors every Monday." 

" Whenever, in the course of any one term, any 
student's unexcused absences from prayers shall 
amount to ten, or his tardinesses at prayers to five, 
or his absence from church (half-day) to one, he 
shall be immediately reported to the faculty, and 
shall receive a private admonition." 

From what will appear later, we should note that 
reading during church services was considered as 
an offence against "Good Order and Decorum." 
Then, too, the faculty were not unmindful of the 
propriety of dress on the part of students; as wit- 
ness this provision: " On Sabbaths, on Examination 
Days, and on all public occasions, each student is 
required to wear in public a black coat with buttons 
of the same color." 

A careful study of the "Orders and Regulations" 
gives the impression that in the minds of the faculty 
the greatest delinquency on the part of a student, 
and the one against which the heaviest penalties 
should be brought, was the neglect of religious 

The enforcing of the "Orders and Regulations" 
with reference to religious services was in the hands 
of a " Parietal Committee" composed of the officers 
of the college living within the college walls. This 
Committee deputized many of its duties to mon- 


John Fiske 

itors chosen from approved students of the senior 
class. Thus, under these provisions, a system of re- 
ligious espionage was established throughout the 
college in behalf of requirements which instinc- 
tively aroused opposition, which made a virtue of 
hypocrisy, and which heavily discredited the value 
of scholarship honors. 

Growing out of these religious requirements was 
a very noticeable sight to be seen at seven o'clock 
every morning the rush of students to morning 
prayers. At the first stroke of the chapel bell, 
a motley throng of students was seen streaming 
through Harvard Square, out from Garden Street, 
and the purlieus of Kirkland Street, all surging into 
the college yard and all intent upon one thing: 
getting within the chapel door before the last stroke 
of the bell. It was, indeed, a motley throng: some 
were adjusting any old hat to locks of hair much 
dishevelled; some were putting on collars or tying 
neckerchiefs; some were getting into coats or ad- 
justing discordant garments; some were making 
long coats, buttoned closely at the neck, " cover a 
multitude of sins"; some were hopping on one foot 
and lacing a shoe on the other; while here and there 
might be observed students, who, having paid due 
attention to their sartorial appearance, were pro- 
ceeding leisurely to the chapel. In one sense the 
scene was intensely amusing. It was a very distinct 
presentation of some of the difficulties which sur- 
rounded the pursuit of knowledge at Harvard. In 

1 66 

College Halls 

another and far deeper sense, the scene, as a whole, 
showed that the attempt to teach or inculcate re- 
ligion by a universal, formal observance had made 
the observance ridiculous. Viewed in its everyday 
aspect, the call to prayers, with its penalties, had 
much more the aspect of a roll-call of the students 
for the purpose of bringing them under the eye of a 
monitor, to be checked off and counted, than as a 
summons to a religious exercise. 

Reviewing the academic course as a whole and 
in the light of the "Orders and Regulations," the 
criticism of the college in 1866, by a distinguished 
alumnus, applies with even greater force to the col- 
lege of 1 860. At the inauguration of the new era at 
the college in 1866, the Reverend Frederick H. 
Hedge, D.D., gave an address before a triennial 
festival of the alumni and spoke of the then condi- 
tion of the college thus: 

"The college proper is simply a more advanced 
school for boys, not differing essentially in principle 
and theory from the public schools in all our towns. 
In this, as in those, the principle is coercion. Hold 
your subject fast in one hand and pour knowledge 
into him with the other. The Professors are task- 
masters and police-officers the President the 
chief of the college police. " 

As complementary to this state of things, in 1860, 
the college halls or dormitories were the Massachu- 
setts, Stoughton, and Hollis buildings. These halls 
were hardly more than barracks: they were sadly 

John Fiske 

deficient in sanitary provisions as well as without 
the conveniences of common life. Each student had 
to supply himself with water for all purposes from 
the pumps in the college yard ; and water stood in 
the cellars of all the halls most of the time. It was 
not until 1860 Fiske's entrance year that gas 
was put into the halls and the yard lighted. 

But the academic course of study and its inter- 
pretation by the faculty and instructors were not 
the only educative influences that were operative 
upon the broadly developing mind of Fiske during 
his three years of undergraduate life at Harvard. 
These three years comprised a portion of an event- 
ful period in religious, scientific, and political think- 
ing at Harvard, the results of which were more or 
less felt in all departments of the college, while they 
were prolific of much grave questioning on the part 
of thoughtful students. As the great activity along 
these fundamental lines of thinking had a powerful 
effect upon the expanding mind of Fiske, and as in 
subsequent years we are to trace his career as a 
leader in setting forth the philosophic import of 
these new lines of thought, it is well to take here a 
brief survey of three important questions three 
fundamental subjects of thought, which, by the 
circumstances of the time, were, during his under- 
graduate period, thrust, as it were, directly into 
the very life of the college. 

It should be stated that in the course of its de- 



velopment there had grown up around the college 
some professional and observational schools which 
were more or less incidentally related to the college, 
either as giving aid to the instruction or as offering 
post-graduate courses of professional study. These 
were the Harvard Divinity School, the Harvard 
Law School, the Harvard Medical School, the Law- 
rence Scientific School, an Astronomical Observ- 
atory, and a Museum of Comparative Zoology. 
These professional and observational schools, with 
the college proper, made up the institution known 
as Harvard University the whole being under the 
executive management and control of the President 
of Harvard College. ! 

The three questions referred to were of a reli- 
gious, a scientific, and a political nature; and they 
were focussed at the college mainly through the 
incidental relations existing between the Divinity 
School, the Scientific School, and the Law School, 
respectively, on the one hand; and on the other 
hand, the college as an institution of learning, with 
a large body of inquiring students. 

What is Unitarianism ? 

The first of these questions may be stated thus: 
Is Unitarianism, as interpreted by the Divinity 
School, and as accepted by the college, consistent 
with the fundamental tenets of the Christian re- 
ligion and the revelations of science ? 

For full fifty years the Presidents of Harvard 


John Fiske 

College had been clergymen or laymen of the Uni- 
tarian faith. For over thirty years the Harvard 
Divinity School had been the headquarters of Uni- 
tarianism in America. Here the great preachers of 
the denomination had been trained : men like Gan- 
nett, Bellows, Furness, Emerson, Osgood, Dewey, 
Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, Froth- 
ingham, Ellis, Huntington, Hale, and others. Its 
leading professors were Unitarians, and on the es- 
tablishment of the Plummer Professorship of Chris- 
tian Morals, in 1855, on an endowment from Miss 
Caroline Plummer, of Salem, Massachusetts, with 
its accompanying post of Preacher to the Univer- 
sity, one of the most distinguished clergymen of the 
Unitarian denomination, the Reverend Frederick 
D. Huntington, was selected for the chair. Harvard 
College, therefore, was rightly regarded as a Unita- 
rian college, and as such it was generally credited 
with admitting the utmost liberality of thought in 
all matters pertaining to religious belief. 

In January, 1860, Harvard College, the Divinity 
School, and the Unitarian denomination were all 
startled from their state of religious complacency 
by Dr. Huntington's resignation from his professor- 
ship at the college, and from his post of Preacher to 
the University, followed shortly after by his be- 
coming a candidate for orders in the Episcopal 
Church. Never before in this country did a change 
in any individual's religious faith and practice make 
such a profound and widespread impression upon 



the public mind as did this. The prominence, the 
abilities, the high character of Dr. Huntington 
gave much denominational significance to his ac- 
tion. It was a severe blow to conservative Unitari- 
anism. It was hailed with great joy by the various 
evangelical denominations. But the reasons assigned 
for the change of faith went deeper than mere de- 
nominational lines. They were such as to bring 
under full review the binding force of the funda- 
mental Christian dogmas in the light of modern 
science and historic and philologic criticism. 1 

1 In an autobiographic article published in The Forum for June, 
1886, we find a summary of Dr. Huntington's reasons for his change 
of religious faith: 

" It appeared to H. that beneath the shiftings on the current of 
speculation, there was a change at work in the whole doctrinal basis 
of the denomination to which he had belonged. Doubtless that the 
jejune self-interested moralizing of the Priestley and the English 
socinian school should be spiritualized by a lofty appeal to conscious- 
ness and insight under a direct power of the spirit of God, was an im- 
measurable gain. St. Paul proclaimed an eternal law when he wrote 
'Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.' But Christianity is a 
revelation. Of that revelation there is a record. Its credentials, its 
history, the general and reverent consent of eighteen Christian cen- 
turies, its marvellous power over civilized peoples hardly less than 
miraculous, invest it with tremendous sanctions. There is no trace 
of anything like Christian culture apart from its authority. In open 
questions it has been, what there must be, a court of ultimate ap- 
peal. Hitherto H. had seen it so held in his own as well as in other 
Protestant bodies. Throughout the Unitarian and Trinitarian polem- 
ics, that appeal had been made with confidence by both sides alike. 
The main question was: What do the Scriptures teach and mean? 
It was a question of interpretation of documents, hardly a question 
of whether the documents were authentic and binding. ... In the 
short space of twenty years the Unitarian press and pulpit virtually 
ceased to. make a stand on the foundation which had been known as 
the Word of God. . . . He asked himself: Is there anywhere in eccle- 
siastical annals, an instance of so swift a plunge downwards in any as- 
sociation of people bearing the name of Christ, simply losing hold of 


John Fiske 

Thus, during the period we are reviewing, 1 860-63, 
What is Unitarianism? and, What is its attitude 
toward modern knowledge? were flung as vital ques- 
tions into the intellectual life of Harvard. 

Fiske, as might be expected, took a deep interest 
in this discussion; and as we are to see in later years 
that his mature philosophic thought found a ready 
welcome among Unitarians generally, it is worth 
while to pause a bit in our narrative, and take a 
glance at the kind of religious faith which, under 
the name of Unitarianism, Harvard was offering at 
this time to her students, accompanied by such pen- 
alties as we have seen for non-compliance with its 
formal requirements, penalties which were made to 
weigh so heavily against scholarly honors. 

Just a brief chapter of ecclesiastical history. It 
was under the lead of William Ellery Channing 
that Unitarianism as a distinct form of religious 
belief became established during the early part of 
the last century 1815 to 1825 in New England. 
It came as a quiet protest on the part of a number of 

the central fact of revelation? H. could no longer be content with a 
kind of Christianity destitute of a Christ in whom is all the fulness 
and power of God, without an inspired charter, without the law and 
inheritance and corporate energy and universal offer of the gifts and 
graces of eternal life, in a visible church." 

That Dr. Huntington left the college with " strained relations " is 
evident from the curt mention of his resignation in the Annual Re- 
port of the President for the college year 1859-60: 

" Professor Huntington having resigned his place after five years 
of devoted service, his resignation was accepted at the close of the 
year, and a special arrangement was made with him by the President 
to perform or provide for the duties of the office until the end of the 
following term." 



sincerely religious minds against many of the dog- 
mas of the Calvinistic theology. It grew directly 
out of the Calvinistic Congregational churches: 
many of these churches transforming themselves 
bodily into Congregational Unitarian churches. It 
was a change of religious faith, without a schism 
in the church organization. 1 With Dr. Channing, 
Unitarianism stood for the freest thought in reli- 
gious matters and the widest toleration for religious 
beliefs. It affirmed the Divine Fatherhood of God 
and His creating all things good; it affirmed the 
innate goodness of the human soul as a part of the 
Divine Nature, and as possessing conscious reason 
as a means of knowing the good; it affirmed a belief 
in God's revelation of Himself: in the world of Na- 
ture; in the heart of man, inclining him to worship 
and to acts of brotherhood; and in the Bible the 
last a special revelation of the Divine Will and Pur- 
pose; it affirmed a belief in Christ as a divinely in- 
spired man sent as a type for humanity to model 
itself by. 

The enunciation of this comparatively simple 
form of religious belief brought the Unitarians into 
a bitter controversy with their orthodox brethren 

1 People outside of New England are often confused by the fact 
that in New England both the orthodox or Calvinistic churches and 
the Unitarian churches have the same generic title of Congregational 
churches or societies. Even Theodore Parker's church had its legal 
title in the " Twenty-eighth Congregational Society." This anomalous 
condition of things has its explanation in the text the original Unita- 
rian churches or societies were simply Calvinistic churches or societies 
transformed as to their religious belief. 


John Fiske 

over points of doctrine in the Calvinistic theology. 
The Unitarians were charged with leaving the vital 
elements of Christianity out of their scheme; some 
of their opponents went so far as to call them down- 
right infidels. But in spite of the opposition the 
Unitarians steadily grew in numbers, and among 
them were the most cultivated people of New Eng- 
land ; and they soon came to possess a controlling in- 
fluence at Harvard College. 

In 1825 they formed an Association for confer- 
ence and mutual support; and in order the better 
to supply their denomination with pastors and 
preachers they established a Divinity School in con- 
nection with Harvard College. They wished to be 
known as liberal Christians, and by 1830 they had 
become a powerful religious organization in New 

But they were not long in religious peace among 
themselves. Out from their own Association came 
two heretics, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore 
Parker, men of the broadest culture, both breathing 
the same spirit of religious liberty and toleration; 
and both animated with the same love to God and 
man that the Unitarians themselves professed. But 
Emerson and Parker went further than their Uni- 
tarian brethren in their dissent from Calvinistic 
theology. They would have religion consist of 
heartfelt affirmations of the Divine Fatherhood of 
God revealed in all that exists; together with affirm- 
ations of the brotherhood of man, to be exemplified 



in upright conduct as necessary for the fulness of 
individual human life; these affirmations to be at- 
tended by no sacraments or binding formalities be- 
yond the expression of grateful, cheerful hearts and 
upright lives. 

Conservative Unitarians were shocked at the 
simplicity of these affirmations, and were fright- 
ened at the application of their boasted liberality 
to these progressives. Like their orthodox brethren 
of a few years before, they found themselves facing 
a heresy in their own midst which swept away all 
theologic dogmas and creeds whatsoever,, and to 
which by their own principles they must extend 
complete toleration. Had Dr. Channing lived a 
few years longer, the course of events might have 
been different. Deprived of his inspiring leader- 
ship, the Unitarians lost faith in their affirmations 
as well as in the great principle of toleration. Ac- 
cordingly, in the words of Lowell : 

" They brandished their worn theological birches, 
Bade natural progress keep out of the churches/' 

and began a retreat. They treated Emerson and 
Parker shabbily. By sugar-coating with mystical 
phrases the dogmas of Biblical inspiration, the 
miracles, the nature and office of Christ, and the 
Sacraments, the orthodox view of them was made 
more acceptable to timid souls. With a show of 
learning. German criticism of Biblical and ecclesi- 
astical history as well as dogma was patronized, 
and was thought unsuited to the lay mind of New 


John Fiske 

England. Much thought was given to speculative 
philosophy, with but little or no application to the 
social needs of the time. Science was well bespoken, 
and in its name the varied phenomena of the uni- 
verse were presented as evidences of Divine crea- 
tion and sustentation in conformity to a specially 
revealed will or purpose. In short, by eschewing 
Emerson and Parker, Unitarianism shut itself out 
from the great forward intellectual movement of 
the period, and about the middle of the century it 
became an eminently respectable, cultured, self- 
satisfying form of religious observances. Well might 
Fiske think, as he did, on his first attendance at a 
Unitarian Church, that he was present at an Epis- 
copal service. 1 

It was between 1850 and 1860 that the scientifico- 
philosophic thought of the nineteenth century broke 
upon all religious systems, bringing wholly new 
conceptions of the Divine First Cause and its mode 
of action in the universe of objective phenomena, 
and also in the world of subjective phenomena re- 
flected in the conscious mind of man. The effect of 
this new movement in thought was the reconsidera- 
tion of all religious dogmas in the light of positive 
knowledge and reason, and when Unitarianism, 
with its smug religious complacency, was brought 
under philosophic envisagement in the light of sci- 
ence and historic criticism, it was found that as a 
religious organization it had nothing tangible to tie 
1 Cf. ante, p. 131. 



to but the three fundamental points given by Dr. 
Channing: the loving Fatherhood of God, declared 
in all His work; the brotherhood of man, an essen- 
tial condition for the fulness of life; and the utmost 
toleration of thought as absolutely necessary for at- 
taining religious truth all of which had been com- 
promised by evasions. 

There followed a notable parting of the ways: 
a movement backward as well as forward; and the 
backward movement had its culmination in the ac- 
tion taken by Dr. Huntington. And his was the 
action of a sincerely devout man, in whose intel- 
lectual make-up emotional sensibility had prece- 
dence over ratiocinative methods of thinking. He 
deliberately chose to set aside (if he knew them) 
the facts of science bearing upon man's origin and 
development, as well as the results of Biblical criti- 
cism as affecting the truth of a special Divine revela- 
tion, that he might give himself up unreservedly to 
an unquestioning belief in the fundamental dogmas 
of Christian theology. Of him this can be said, that 
into his interpretation of these dogmas he imparted 
such an ethical character and meaning as enabled 
him to become a preacher of social righteousness 
hardly second to any man of his time. 

Many followed Dr. Huntington's example. In 
the forward movement, however, quite other per- 
sonal influences were at work. From his quiet retreat 
at Concord, Emerson, wholly undisturbed by the 
religious perturbations of the time, was affirming, 


John Fiske 

in words that have taken a place in the aphoristic 
wisdom of the race, that "the world is a temple 
whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures, and 
commandments of the Deity" ; that " the faith that 
stands on authority is not faith"; that "reliance 
on authority measures the decline of religion, the 
withdrawal of the soul"; that "we can never see 
Christianity from the catechism ; from the pastures, 
from a boat in the pond, from amidst the song of 
wood-birds we possibly may"; that "it is the office 
of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; 
that He speaketh, not spake"; that "there is no 
pure lie, no pure malignity in nature. The enter- 
tainment of the proposition of depravity is the 
last profligacy and profanation"; that "Ought and 
Duty are one with Science, Beauty, and Joy"; and 
that "ineffable is the union of God and man, in 
every act of the soul." Over all was heard the res- 
onant voice of Parker, as, like a prophet of old, 
with sublime faith, he cried out from his national 
pulpit in Music Hall "On to reason and be a 
man, or back to Rome and be a chimpanzee." 

During the period 1860-63 this fermentation of 
religious thought caused by Dr. Huntington's res- 
ignation was greatly intensified by events we are 
next to consider. This fermentation was surging 
all about the Divinity School, and permeated the 
whole intellectual atmosphere of the college, giving 
rise to much questioning on the part of thoughtful 
students and producing a discreet silence on con- 



troverted points by some members of the faculty. 
We are to see this negative sort of Harvard Unita- 
rianism threatening Fiske with expulsion for opin- 
ions which a few years later he was called to ex- 
pound to the college. 

Darwinism, or the "Origin of Species 11 
The second of the three questions referred to 
came before the public primarily as a scientific 
one whence the origin of the varied forms of the 
faunal and floral life of the globe. The question was 
presented in the form of two rival theories: the first 
by Professor Louis Agassiz in 1858, in an "Essay 
on the Classification of the Animal Kingdom," in 
which the theory of special Divine creation of 
species was very positively asserted; the second, in 
1859 by Charles Darwin, by the publication of his 
"Origin of Species," a work in which he suggested 
the theory of organic development under the prin- 
ciple of natural selection. He brought forward a 
remarkable series of original observations in sup- 
port of his theory. Involved in the discussion of 
these two theories was the vital question, the 
origin of the human race, and as the conclusions 
of these two eminent scientists bore, the one affirma- 
tively, and the other negatively, upon some of the 
fundamental dogmas of the Christian faith, there 
arose immediately a scientifico-religious contro- 
versy, world-wide in its extent, and in which the 
ablest scientists and theologians were engaged. 


John Fiske 

In America, this discussion was centred in a 
measure around Harvard College by reason of the 
fact that two of the leading scientists in this country 
engaged in this controversy and representing the 
opposing sides were professors in the Lawrence 
Scientific School and instructors in the college 
Professor Agassiz, one of the world's great zoologists, 
and Professor Asa Gray, one of the world's great 
botanists and the firm supporter of the views of Mr. 
Darwin. The points of difference between these 
two eminent teachers as to origins of organic life 
were apparent in their instruction, while the larger 
scientific implications of their views as to "origins" 
were set forth in their public discussions. 1 

It is not in place here to enter into the full details 
of the Darwinian discussion. But inasmuch as it 
was an active element in the Harvard thought of 
the time, and inasmuch as the labors of Mr. Darwin 
were a very important contribution to the doctrine 
of Evolution, in the setting-forth of which Fiske 
was to take a conspicuous part in subsequent years, 
and particularly as in years to come we are to see 
Fiske in close friendly relations with Mr. Darwin 
growing out of their respective labors in behalf of 
Evolution, a brief presentation of the origin of the 
discussion is appropriate here. 

The first half of the last century was a period of 

1 Professor Gray published a series of articles on the Darwinian 
theory in the Atlantic Monthly, which were so imbued with his wide 
knowledge of organic phenomena, and were withal so admirable in 
tone, that they were a great influence in favor of the new theory. 

1 80 


great scientific activity, and it was specially marked 
by searching inquiries into the phenomena of or- 
ganic life as revealed in the past and present con- 
dition of the globe. To this end the departments of 
geology, palaeontology, embryology, zoology, ethnol- 
ogy, physiology, and botany were interrogated by 
able observers intent upon getting at the funda- 
mental facts conditioning organic life, both in its 
particulars and in its widest generalities. 

It is in evidence that these investigators at 
every stage of their inquiries found themselves face 
to face with a fresh and greater mystery the 
mystery of origins. From the knowledge we now 
possess of these various investigations, we know that 
the idea of transformation or development in con- 
formity to changed conditions of physical environ- 
ment, an idea suggested by Goethe and Lamarck in 
the early part of the century, was not an infrequent 
thought in the minds of some of the investigators. 
This idea, however, being directly opposed to the 
accepted theory of origin by the direct, miraculous, 
creative action of Divine Power, and having no 
sufficient basis in observed phenomena to rest 
upon, was regarded by the leaders in science as 
untenable 'and by theologians as the height of in- 
fidelity if not downright atheism. But this opposi- 
tion could not keep the broadening thought of in- 
dependent inquirers wholly in subjection. Witness 
the anonymous publication of "Vestiges of Crea- 
tion," a superficial book viewed from to-day, but 


John Fiske 

a work profoundly significant of the unrest of the 

In 1850 Professor Agassiz was rightly regarded 
as one of the great scientific men of the world. His 
contributions to science had been important and 
many. His zoological knowledge had been acquired 
largely by personal observations and was indeed 
profound. He had received from orthodox theolo- 
gians the titles of infidel and atheist, because, as a 
geologist, he had denied as Divine truth the Mosaic 
cosmogony, and as a zoologist the "one pair " theory 
for the origin of animal life. In 1855 he undertook 
a fresh classification of the animal kingdom on the 
basis of Cuvier's classification in 1817, with the 
additions that had since been made to zoological 
knowledge. This was a task commensurate with 
his wide knowledge and his rare powers of lucid ex- 

The first volume of this great work was published 
in 1857 and it contained an "Essay on Classifica- 
tion" which was a prolegomena to the whole work, 
in which Professor Agassiz affirmed, with great 
positiveness and much heat of argument, the direct 
and miraculous action of the Divine Creator in the 
origin and distribution of the animal life of the 
globe; and further, that this special form of creative 
action had existed through the vast periods of geo- 
logic time. 

This essay was written in such a trenchant, ag- 
gressive style, it was so positive in its interpretation 



of observed phenomena, and was fortified with such 
a display of apparently supporting authorities, that 
the scientific world was roused to the consciousness 
that under a great scientific name Science and 
Theology were conjoined in giving a special teleo- 
logical interpretation to the origin, distribution, 
and sustentation of all organic life. Professor 
Agassiz went so far as to invoke the aid of meta- 
physics by claiming that species had no material 
existence, that they were but objective representa- 
tions of categories of thought existing in the Divine 

Theologians of all orthodox creeds were delighted. 
In view of Professor Agassiz 's uncompromising ad- 
vocacy of special Divine creations, the charges 
against him of infidelity and atheism were over- 
looked, and he was hailed as the great champion 
who had at last enthroned a personal, miracle- 
working God upon a thoroughly scientific basis. 

While Professor Agassiz was collecting the ma- 
terials for his great work, another eminent scientist, 
an earnest, patient observer of the phenomena of 
organic life, one who had had exceptional oppor- 
tunities for personal observations by extended ex- 
plorations in various parts of the world, and who 
found himself sorely perplexed satisfactorily to ac- 
count for the origin and distribution of the great 
variety of the earth's flora and fauna, had retired to 
Down, a quiet place just outside London, where he 
could, the while in communication with leading 


John Fiske 

scientists, pursue his quest ^for a more rational 
explanation of the origin and distribution of the 
world's organic life than was afforded by the gener- 
ally accepted theory of special Divine creations. 

The story of the life of Charles Darwin during 
the twenty years he spent in brooding over the 
theory of organic development and natural selec- 
tion with which his name is identified; the honest 
patience with which he sought facts from every 
possible source ; the care with which he classified the 
facts and the fairness with which he weighed their 
evidence both for and against his theory; his cor- 
respondence with Sir Charles Lyell, the eminent 
geologist, with Sir Joseph D. Hooker and our own 
Professor Asa Gray, two of the most distinguished 
botanists then living, a correspondence which 
shows how these leaders in science, starting in op- 
position to Darwin's theory, at last became con verts 
to it, so that on its publication they became sponsors 
for it to the scientific world, is one of the most 
interesting chapters in the whole history of science. 

Darwin published his theory under the title of 
"The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Se- 
lection," in which he placed himself squarely in 
favor of the theory of Development or Evolution, 
as the method by which the world had been peopled 
with its varieties of organic life. The work was 
issued in 1859, just two years after the publication 
of Professor Agassiz's "Essay on Classification." 
The style was simple, clear, direct, and not in the 



slightest degree dogmatic in tone. The facts pre- 
sented, however, were so significant, and they were 
so clearly and logically arranged, as completely to 
traverse the fundamental points in Professor Agas- 
siz's essay; and further, the points that naturally 
arose against the theory of Development were so 
frankly stated and so dispassionately reviewed that 
no impartial mind could rise from a reading of the 
work without a respect for the author, even if un- 
able to accept his views. 

The publication of the theory made a profound 
impression on the public mind. It was bitterly at- 
tacked by theologians of all schools, as well as 
by scientists with theological beliefs stronger than 
their faith in the truths of science. On the other 
hand, it was cordially endorsed by scientists like 
Lyell, Hooker, Lubbuck, Alfred Wallace, Asa Gray, 
and particularly by Huxley, the champion debater 
of the time, who came to its support well equipped 
witH a knowledge drawn from the whole armory 
of science, and whose pen in the bitter theologic 
contests that ensued became as potent as the magic 
spear of Ithuriel. 

And thus between the upholders of the theologic 
theory of special creations and the advocates of 
the theory of Evolution in regard to the origin and 
the distribution of the organic life of the globe, an 
issue was distinctly joined, perhaps the most im- 
portant issue, in the long contest between Science 
and Theology. 


John Fiske 

As we survey this conflict just half a century 
after, 1 what a transformation has taken place in all 
the higher phases of human thinking. The doctrine 
of Evolution has been accepted by science, causing 
the remodelling of nearly every one of its depart- 
ments. Evolution has also given a scientific basis 
to sociology, the great benefit of which to the so- 
cial and spiritual well-being of the race cannot yet 
be estimated. Above all, it is causing all religious 
creeds to remodel their dogmas so as to present their 
conceptions of the Divine Power back of all that is, 
consistent with the manner of unfolding Himself 
in the universe of material things, as well as con- 
sistent with the conceptions of his spiritual existence 
adumbrated in the ethical consciousness of man. 
And the one great work of the epoch, the one that 
rises above all others, and takes its place in the ad- 
vancement of learning beside the works of Aristotle, 
the "Novum Organum" of Bacon and the "Prin- 
cipia" of Newton, is Darwin's "Origin of Species." 

As we leave this great discussion, it is interesting 
to note that in March, 1860, shortly before leaving 
Middletown for Cambridge, Fiske records the con- 
secutive reading of Agassiz's "Essay on Classifi- 
cation," Asa Gray's "Structural and Systematic 
Botany," and Darwin's "Origin of Species." In 
this record Darwin and his work appear thus: 

DARWIN, "The Origin of Species." 

1 This chapter was written in 1909. 

War Powers of the President 

This putting the author's name in capitals was 
Fiske's way of indicating that Darwin was one of 
the great thinkers who were influential in shaping 
his own thought at this period. 

The War Powers of the President 
The third of these questions grew out of a memo- 
rable exigency in our great Civil War struggle. It 
might be termed "The War Powers of the Presi- 
dent." It arose primarily as a legal or constitutional 
question, but by the disturbed political condition 
of the time it soon became a political as well as a 
military question and thus was brought home to 
every citizen. It had its origin as a political ques- 
tion in the action of President Lincoln in issuing 
his Proclamation of Emancipation and military or- 
ders supplementary thereto for the suppression of 
the rebellion. These acts were immediately chal- 
lenged by the opponents of the Administration at 
the North, on the alleged ground of their uncon- 
stitutionally, and a bitter political controversy en- 
sued which for a time greatly endangered the Union 
cause. This controversy, aside from the great pub- 
lic interest in it, was projected directly into the 
intellectual atmosphere of Harvard College by rea- 
son of the strong divisive opinions regarding it 
which prevailed in the Law School: the Profes- 
sor of Constitutional Law, Joel Parker, LL.D., bit- 
terly assailing the President both privately and 
publicly, while the Professor of Commercial Law, 


John Fiske 

Theophilus Parsons, LL.D., was vigorously sustain- 
ing him. 

In view of the historic importance of this great 
discussion, and as we are soon to see the serenity of 
Fiske's student life greatly disturbed by it, and 
further, as in his mature years Fiske is to give us 
the best history we have of the growth and the es- 
tablishment of the Constitution, a brief sketch of 
the events which brought this " Charter of our 
Liberties'* to its greatest trial, and under his own 
observation, is in place here. 

In the summer of 1862 President Lincoln found 
himself facing a critical period in his Administration. 
The partial victory at Antietam had not retrieved 
McClellan's terrible disaster before Richmond. 
There were divided counsels in the Administration, 
and the war languished. Hitherto the war had been 
conducted on the theory that the issue was simply 
and only a constitutional one the protection of 
an abstract instrument of political organization and 
the enforcement of its provisions as interpreted 
by the people of the Northern States. No person, 
no one in rebellion in the Southern States even, un- 
less a prisoner of war, had yet been deprived of his 
legal rights to person or property under the Consti- 
tution. The moral sentiment of the people of the 
Northern States, reflected in their opposition to 
slavery, was strong in the insistence that the insti- 
tution of slavery, being the real cause of the war, 
should be made to suffer by the war. This anti- 


War Powers of the President 

slavery feeling had very generally gone to the sup- 
port of the President, at the same time urging with 
much impatience more aggressive measures against 
the "peculiar institution." But the Administration 
had a strong, unrelenting pro-slavery party at the 
North to contend with as well as with the South- 
erners in arms. 

President Lincoln, by the summer of 1862, had 
come to see that the war as it had been conducted 
by the Administration had no clearly defined moral 
issue back of it, and that he could no longer find 
justification in continuing such a terrible conflict 
as he was waging against the people of the Southern 
States on the sole issue of an interpretation of the 
Constitution. He saw the necessity, for the salva- 
tion of the Nation, of getting the issue squarely on 
its merits as a moral issue a conflict between the 
idea of freedom and the idea of slavery, and then 
uniting the moral and political forces of the North 
in support of his policy. 

To this end he moved on his own initiative; and 
one of the finest chapters in all statesmanship is the 
history of his skill, his patience, his wisdom, his 
faith in rousing the dominant moral feeling of the 
North and focussing it in support of his Proclama- 
tion of Emancipation. 

This memorable document was issued on the 22d 
of September, 1862, and two days later the Presi- 
dent proclaimed the establishment of martial law 
and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus 


John Fiske 

throughout the United States, as against any per- 
sons "guilty of any disloyal practice in affording 
aid and comfort to the rebels against the authority 
of the United States.*' These two proclamations, 
with subsidiary orders from the War Department 
putting them into effect, were issued as war meas- 
ures; and while they served to unite the loyal peo- 
ple of the North in a more vigorous prosecution of 
the war, they stirred to greater activity than ever 
the opponents of the Administration who declared 
that the President's proclamations were not only 
unconstitutional, but that they were also subver- 
sive of the fundamental principles of republican 
government in short, the Administration was 
more severely denounced than the rebels it was 

Among the prominent citizens in the North who 
took this position of opposition to the Administra- 
tion was Benjamin R. Curtis, of Boston, late Justice 
of the United States Supreme Court, of whose en- 
gaging personality we have already had some de- 
lightful sketches. Judge Curtis enjoyed the repu- 
tation of being one of the ablest judges that ever 
sat on the Supreme Bench. His knowledge of con- 
stitutional law was indeed profound, and he was 
not identified with any political party. 

In this great crisis Judge Curtis, as an independ- 
ent citizen, felt called upon to speak. In a pam- 
phlet under the title of "Executive Power," ad- 
dressed "to all persons who have sworn to support 


War Powers of the President 

the Constitution, and to all citizens who value civil 
liberty/* he reviewed in a respectful manner the 
President's war measures; and in language of great 
plainness and force, he pointed out how in his 
judgment the President, under the plea of mili- 
tary necessity, was subverting the Constitution, 
and establishing in its stead the supremacy of mil- 
itary law. 1 

This pamphlet was widely read and the inde- 
pendent position of Judge Curtis gave his views 
great weight in the public mind. His argument 
gave the Northern opponents of the President the 
semblance of a distinct constitutional ground for 
their opposition, and the issue was brought directly 
home to Harvard College by the prominence in the 

. discussion of the two professors in the Law School 
already named. The contest waxed strong and fu- 

: rious. By one party, President Lincoln was branded 
as a tyrant who ought to be impeached; by the 
other, Judge Curtis and Professor Parker were 
branded as traitors who ought to be imprisoned. 2 

1 Studying, in the light of to-day, this pamphlet and what followed, 
we see how clearly the loyal people of the North, in the darkest days 
of the war, saw the real issue involved in the struggle; and we also 
see how much wiser was President Lincoln, in his interpretation of 
his duty under the Constitution, than were the eminent jurists who 
found its provisions for the protection to persons and property of 
those who would destroy the Government stronger than its provisions 
for the protection of those who would save it. 

It is said that when Mr. Lincoln had read Judge Curtis's argu- 
ment, he remarked, in his pithy Rabelaisian way, " I never heard of a 
patient's acquiring a taste for emetics by being obliged to take one 
now and then." 

2 I recall attending public meetings in Boston at this time, and 


John Fiske 

The students in the Law School represented both 
sides in this discussion, and as these students 
mingled freely, in the college halls and boarding- 
houses, with members of the junior and senior 
classes, the current opinions in the Law School, as 
well as the wide public discussions, had free access 
to the undergraduate mind. We shall soon see 
from Fiske's letters how deeply he was impressed 
by President Lincoln's action, and how closely the 
discussion we have been considering was brought 
home to him. 

hearing Professor Parker denounce President Lincoln in the severest 
terms, he was not given to moderate speech, and if my mem- 
ory serves me rightly, the feeling against him in Cambridge was 
so strong that his friends were apprehensive of some expression of 
public indignation. 



WE have seen that Fiske, just previous to his en- 
trance examinations at Harvard, was so confident 
of passing them that he had engaged his rooms 
for the ensuing year. In view of the condition of 
the college halls many parents objected to placing 
their sons in such forbidding surroundings. Conse- 
quently there fiad grown up around the college a 
number of boarding-houses, all under the approval 
of the faculty, which, as living places, were by many 
students preferred to the college halls. Of these 
boarding-houses none had a better repute than the 
one kept by Miss C. Upham on the corner of Kirk- 
land and Oxford Streets. The house gave a full 
view of the college yard, Memorial Hall and 
Sanders Theatre did not then exist, and it was 
within sound of the chapel bell, a very important 
consideration in the pursuit of knowledge at Har- 
vard at this time, as we have already seen. 

It was at Miss Upham's that Fiske had taken 
rooms. They were pleasant rooms and he found 
much pleasure in getting settled in them, particu- 
larly in getting his books and pictures in order. 
From the particulars he gives, his library must have 


John Fiske 

been the most scholarly student's library in Cam- 

And thus, very happily domiciled, on Monday, 
September 2, 1860, Fiske began his college life. He 
continued his letters to his mother and to his friend 
Roberts, and it is from these letters mainly that 
the following record of his undergraduate life is 
made up. 

From what we have seen of Fiske's attainments, 
his methods of study and his ideals of scholarship, 
together with what we have learned in regard to 
the academic course of study, it is evident that this 
course did not present sufficient requirements to 
give a healthy, varied activity to his inquiring mind. 
Had he chosen to confine himself to the prescribed 
course and to work for honors, he could easily have 
gone to the head of his class. The honors secured by 
such efforts, however, appeared to him as tempo- 
rary they did not seem to him worth the sacri- 
fice of better scholarship to be attained by broader 
study than was offered by the college course. Ac- 
cordingly, he deliberately chose to do the necessary 
work for the recitations and examinations, and 
to concentrate himself upon his favorite studies of 
history, philology, literature, science, and philoso- 
phy, utilizing, as far as possible in these studies, the 
facilities of the college. 

As his conception of an undergraduate life was 
quite an exceptional one, it is of interest to see how 
it was embodied in experience. This can best be 


Collegiate Work 

done by seeing his college life grouped around cer- 
tain centres of interest with which his mind was en- 
gaged during this period. These centres of interest 
were the following : 

I. His collegiate work, and his class associa- 
1 1 . His methods of study ; the mass'of his reading. 

III. His college and living expenses; his book 

IV. His visit to Emerson. 
V. His literary work. 

VI. His thoughts by the way. 
VII. He receives a "Public Admonition," with a 

threatened expulsion. 

VIII. The Civil War; its effect upon his mind. 
IX. His engagement to Abby Morgan Brooks. 

We will take up these centres of interest in the 
above order. 

/. His collegiate work and his class associations 
In regard to his collegiate work it can be said 
that he did not neglect any study; that he added 
Italian, Hebrew, and Sanskrit to the language re- 
quirements ; that he stood high in his classes through 
the three years; that he creditably passed all ex- 
aminations, and was graduated in 1863, the forty- 
seventh in his class. It should be said that his rank 
would have been near the head had it not been for 
his cutting prayers and church services, and some 


John Fiske 

recitations and lectures. He failed of winning a 
scholarship in his first, the sophomore, year, simply 
through cutting prayers. In fact, the only serious 
dereliction of duty charged against him during the 
three years was a neglect of religious services. 

The excellence of his recitations and the interest 
he took in his studies soon attracted the attention 
of some members of the faculty, and we find Pro- 
fessor Child reporting "that the breadth of his 
views was perfectly astonishing." In mathematics 
his proficiency is also noted, Professor James M. 
Peirce speaking of him "as a jewel of a mathe- 
matician" ; while President Pel ton, writing to Judge 
Curtis, says that "Fiske is going to be one of the 
most distinguished in his class;" in support of his 
opinion he quotes Bates, the tutor in Latin, as say- 
ing that " Fiske was the best scholar he ever had." 

But the best testimony to the high quality of his 
college work is the fact that he established cor- 
dial personal relations with several members of the 
faculty relations that were continued after his 
graduation, that ripened into strong friendships 
which were terminated only by death. Among these 
may be mentioned his friendships with Professors 
Lowell, Child, Goodwin, Sophocles, Peirce, Gurney, 
Wyman, Asa Gray, and Dr. Peabody. From each of 
these professors he gathered much outside of and 
beyond their formal teaching ; and in his mind these 
men stood in their personalities more than in their 
professorial relations for the Harvard College that 


Collegiate Work 

he loved. Particular mention should be made of 
the friendship which was formed between Fiske and 
Professor Gurney during the college period. The 
letters bear witness to the existence of a far deeper 
feeling between them than that of instructor and 
pupil. In fact, Professor Gurney appears as Fidus 
Achates, and in this relation we have a reflection of 
him both as a scholar and a friend. 

It does not appear that Fiske came into any per- 
sonal relations with Professor Agassiz. The reason 
we can understand Fiske' s strong dissent from 
Professor Agassiz 's theory of special creations in the 
organic world. This is to be regretted. Agassiz had 
such a vast fund of valuable zoological knowledge, 
he was also such an inspiring instructor, and with it 
all was such a lovable man, that Fiske lost much by 
not establishing personal relations with him while 
in college. Fiske was less inclined to listen to 
Agassiz during his college period, inasmuch as both 
Professors Gray and Wyman were opponents of the 
special creation theory they were in fact advo- 
cates of the Darwinian theory of organic evolution. 
He did not establish any cordial relations with 
either Professor Cooke or Professor Bowen. He 
regarded both as more earnest in presenting pre- 
conceived theological ideas in their respective de- 
partments than in presenting the facts of modern 
science freed from metaphysical interpretation. It 
is evident that, in a respectful way, he sometimes 
questioned their conclusions. In chemistry and 


John Fiske 

philosophy, therefore, his marks were lower than in 
other studies. 

Among his classmates Fiske was generally liked, 
but his reserved, studious nature did not invite to 
elose intimacy save with a few. He had a quiet 
frankness of manner in greeting his friends that was 
inviting; but he instinctively shrank from every- 
thing like boisterous conviviality. There was no 
suggestion of swagger or pretence about him, and 
his only dissipation was a pipe and a mug of beer. 
His studious habits, his excellent recitations, and 
ready command of his wide and varied knowledge, 
together with the impressions given by his library, 
soon made him a marked member of his class. It 
was not long before the first scholar in the class said 
to him, "Do you know, Fiske, that your transla- 
tions in Greek are the astonishment of the class?" 
In mathematics his proficiency was no less marked. 
He soon went to the head of the class in this study, 
and the class feeling was reflected in the remark of 
a classmate who, on trying on Fiske's hat, said, 
"Tell you what, fellows, the reason Fiske has got 
such a big head is because he is such a thundering 
mathematician. " From the records we find that 
his marks from the first were very high, nearly per- 
fect, save in chemistry and chemistry was a 
study he particularly liked. From his letters it ap- 
pears that he regarded his college studies as mere 

One or two incidents are worth noting by the way, 


Collegiate Work 

as reflecting Fiske's ready command of his knowl- 
edge, as well as the prevailing undergraduate ideas 
of scholarship. At table a classmate put to him the 
following questions : The situation of Potidaea, Am- 
phipolis, and Delium; the years of Socrates's birth 
and death; the circumstances of the battle of Argi- 
nusae. Fiske answered clearly right out of hand, 
whereupon another classmate said, "What in God's 
name, Fiske, did you expect to learn by coming to 
college?" And the following is reported of a class- 
mate who in subsequent years attained high profes- 
sional honors. Fiske writes: "The other day, when 

reading over his Whateley's Rhetoric cried 

out to me, ' Fiske, what the devil is an enthy- 
meme?' 'Why/ said I, 'it is a syllogism with the 
major premise suppressed/ 'Well, what in hell is 
a syllogism? ' was the hyperastonished reply. Great 
Zeus! I thought I should split! There 's a speci- 
men of Harvard scholarship ! " 

Fiske's comments upon the student life displayed 
about him are many. His standard of judgment of 
his fellow students was their scholarship and their 
love of study. He writes: "Among the students 
here scholarship is held in disrepute"; "To study 
closely is considered disgraceful"; "The present 
senior class, having studied somewhat more faith- 
fully than others, is called 'scrubby'"; "A good 
recitation is called a 'squirt,' and some fellows have 
undertaken to call me 'Squirty,' a name which has 
been fastened on to one of the mathematical tutors 


John Fiske 

on account of his superior scholarship." He also 
gives this incident: " A poll student told me to-day 
that twenty pipes of tobacco a day would not in- 
jure a man as much as six hours of study. I asked 
that ignoramus if he considered six hours of study 
much? He replied he could n't say as he never 
studied over three. " 

How instinctively he made a fellow-feeling for 
scholarship the condition of intimacy with fellow- 
students is shown by a passage in a letter to his 
mother written about a fortnight after his entrance. 
The passage also shows his fine democratic feeling 
that he was no respecter of persons, save in their 
love for knowledge. He writes : 

"I have found a nice man here named Ethridge, 
about 27 or 28 years old; entered Soph, with me. 
He boards with Dr. Gray at the entrance to the 
Botanic Gardens, and rooms in the Gardener's 
house. He is a plain, practical, common-sense man; 
perfectly simple, very diligent quite a fun-lover 
withal. I like him on the whole very much. He is a 
good scholar but poor; speaks Spanish and Dutch; 
reads German and French. I went up to see him 
the other day and he showed me about the Gardens. 
I wish you could see them. Ethridge has studied 
Botany a great deal, and has a great love for it; is 
a real old Darwin man. He has been down to see 

me once." 

In the college societies Fiske does not appear to 
have taken much interest. He was elected to the 
O.K. Society, but the letters contain only a brief 


Student Life 

reference to this society and no reference to the 
other societies. 

Athletics were not at this time regarded as abso- 
lutely necessary for a college education. Previous 
to 1860 football played in a ladylike sort of way 
was permitted; but at the beginning of the college 
year 1 860-61 Fiske's sophomore year the fac- 
ulty prohibited it. This caused much grief among 
Harvard's young knights of learning, and the let- 
ters give full particulars of how, on the evening of 
September 3, 1860, the class of 1863 gave expression 
to their feelings at the want of sympathy on the 
part of the faculty with the ideals of football educa- 
tion. It appears that the class buried their Idol with 
ceremonial rites in the classic Delta, the field of many 
a football contest. A procession numbering about 
one hundred and twenty was formed with officers, a 
chaplain, a coffin, pall-bearers, grave-diggers, and 
with muffled drums. All were dressed in mourning 
and the main body bore torches. They marched 
through the principal streets about the college and 
came to the Delta. Here a grave was dug. Then a 
funeral oration was delivered, and, as the coffin was 
lowered into the grave, the following dirge was 
sung to the tune of " Auld Lang Syne" : 


Ah ! woe betide the luckless time 
When manly sports decay, 

And foot-ball, stigmatized as crime, 
Must sadly pass away. 


John Fiske 

Chorus Shall Sixty-three submit to see 

Such cruel murder done, 
And not proclaim the deed of shame? 
No: let 's unite as one. 

O, hapless ball, you little knew, 

When, last upon the air, 
You lightly o'er the Delta flew, 

Your grave was measured there. 

Chorus But Sixty-three will never see 

Your noble spirit fly 
And not unite in funeral rite, 
And swell your Dirge's cry. 

Beneath this sod, we lay you down, 

This scene of glorious fight; 
With dismal groans and yells we '11 drown 

Your mournful burial rite. 

Chorus For Sixty-three will never see 

Such cruel murder done, 
And not proclaim the deed of shame: 
No! let 's unite as one. 

This important event occurred on the second day 
of Fiske's undergraduate life, and he became an in- 
terested participator in the ceremonies. 1 

Notwithstanding Fiske's intellectual tastes and 
studious habits he was by no means wanting in the 

1 College boating, while practised to quite an extent on the 
Charles River, had not developed into anything like its present 
status in education. Not unfrequently the class clubs entered the 
holiday regattas of the City of Boston. The boats of those days were 
quite different in construction from the racing-boats of to-day. Pres- 
ident Eliot tells us they served for transportation as well as sport; and 
were so constructed that while they could conveniently take nine men 
into Boston, they could not with safety carry out more than six. 

Fiske took no interest in football or boating. During his sopho- 
more year he was quite faithful to daily exercise in the Gymnasium ; 
but as his intellectual interests broadened in his junior and senior 
years his physical exercises gradually diminished. 


Student Life 

fine trait of comradeship, which in college life is 
manifested in class feeling. A memorable incident 
occurred in the first term of his sophomore year, 
which put his class allegiance to a severe test, a 
test which proved that it was of fine quality. 

The incident grew out of an attempt at " hazing" 
by some members of his own class. It appears that 
eight sophomores took two freshmen to one of their 
rooms to introduce them to some of the unauthor- 
ized ceremonial mysteries attending collegiate edu- 
cation at Harvard. Another freshman ran and told 
the faculty who were holding a weekly meeting 
of the highly objectionable educational experiment 
that was under way. The faculty, or some of the 
members, led by the President, pounced upon the 
assembled sophomores and found them with the two 
freshmen imprisoned in a closet. The next morning 
the eight sophomores were suspended. So far, in 
the opinion of the sophomore class, the faculty were 
justified in their action. But the faculty went fur- 
ther, and forbade any public demonstration by the 
class in bidding the suspended men good-bye. This 
edict seemed to the class unjust and uncalled for; 
and as the suspended members were all very popu- 
lar, the class decided to disregard the faculty edict, 
and as a whole to express their regard for the sus- 
pended members. This they did by drawing them 
in an open carriage to the Boston line. There, with 
much display of affection, they bade the suspended 
men good-bye and marched back past the Presi- 


John Fiske 

dent's house to the college yard Bowditch, the 
first scholar of the class, at their head. 

In regard to this demonstration Fiske writes: 

" Now this was only intended as an expression of 
sympathy with those who were sent away, called 
forth by their many excellent traits of character and 
their fine scholarship. Had it been some fellows, 
there would have been no such demonstration ; but 
these were the cream of the class, respected by all 
and none of them 'fast.' No one disputed the jus- 
tice of the sentence; or intended this as an insult to 
the Faculty. If such had been its aim I never should 
have joined it." 

And in regard to what followed he writes: 

"Now I think the Faculty have begun to act 
shamefully. Bowditch was 'summoned.' He is the 
First Scholar, a grandson of the great geometer and 
a perfect gentleman. He made a speech to the 
Faculty, perfectly respectful and conciliatory in its 
tendency. It met with the manifest approval of 
some of the Faculty. But the President spoke up: 
' Mr. Bowditch, you have disgraced your illustrious 
name; you are no gentleman, sir, and all unworthy 
the name of scholar.' 'Mr. President,' said Bow- 
ditch, ' I came here to render an account of yester- 
day's proceedings; not to be insulted." 

The result was that Bowditch was suspended 
a result brought about wholly by the efforts of 
President Felton and secured by his own vote 
the vote of the faculty being ten for, and nine 
against his suspension. 


Student Life 

The verdict created intense feeling throughout 
all the classes. The sophomore class petitioned 
the faculty in a body asking that Bowditch be 
recalled or that the whole class be suspended 
alleging that the whole class were equally guilty 
with him. 

In time the excitement passed by and all the sus- 
pended members returned to the class. Fiske never 
regretted his action in the matter. We shall soon 
see that not long after, Fiske himself gave President 
Felton a still more memorable occasion for display- 
ing his constitutional narrow-mindedness. 

Early in his senior year Fiske was elected asso- 
ciate editor of the "Harvard Magazine " a task 
which was a great bore to him, but one which he 
cheerfully undertook as an obligation to his class. 
During his editorship, he contributed the following 
articles to the " Magazine": "Y e Vital Principle/' 
"A Very Old Tale," "Diatribe on Archbishop 
Whateley," "The Life and Teachings of Gotama 

There were several Emerson men and Theodore 
Parker men in the various classes, and there is evi- 
dence of much religious discussion among the stu- 
dents growing out of Dr. Huntington's resignation 
and the opening-up of the Darwinian question. We 
have glimpses of students coming from Agassiz's 
lectures enthusiastic over his "triumphant vindica- 
tion of special creations" and of Fiske' s quietly tak- 


John Fiske 

ing Agassiz's own premises and bringing the argu- 
ment right around in favor of the doctrine of Devel- 
opment or Evolution. In short, at the opening of 
Fiske' s junior year, his fine library and his command 
of scientific knowledge gave him the reputation 
throughout the college of being a well-equipped 
Darwinian, and of holding philosophic views of a 
Positivist character views that were at least open 
to suspicion. The undergraduate dissensions grow- 
ing out of the Civil War will presently be considered 
by themselves. 

In Fiske's life, as we are to see it unfold after 
college, we shall have frequent occasion to note his 
great interest in music that music was, in fact, 
his chief means of diversion, and that he became, 
principally through self-study, proficient both as a 
composer and as a performer. During his college 
life, however, this deep harmonic element in his 
nature was wholly untouched by anything in the 
academic course. It was a matter of profound regret 
that his college course had no provisions whatever 
for making students acquainted with the artistic 
principles governing the higher forms of musical 
expression. His deprivation in this respect was par- 
tially remedied, however, by his acquaintance with 
Professor John K. Paine, which began at the time 
of Fiske's marriage in 1864, and which ripened into 
a lifelong brotherly friendship of the most ennobling 
kind. To know Professor Paine intimately was to 
enjoy the fruits of the ripest musical culture. We 


Methods of Study 

are to see much of the effect of this fine friendship in 
the years to come. 

//. His methods of study: the mass of his reading 
From his early boyhood we have had frequent 
occasions to note Fiske's great fondness for books 
and his passionate love of study. To read and to 
study were to him the most delightful of occupa- 
tions and especially if we include composition as re- 
lated to them or as their complement. The letters 
are full of the particulars of his devotions. Twelve 
hours a day, except Saturdays and Sundays, was his 
regular allowance for reading and study; and this 
generous allowance was often extended to sixteen 
hours or more when specially interested in any sub- 
ject. He had a very clear method in his reading- 
study, and various hours were apportioned to speci- 
fic subjects. Throughout the college period he was 
seeking the fundamental truths of science and phil- 
osophy, and the breadth or catholicity of his read- 
ing is a noteworthy characteristic, particularly when 
it is considered that this whole line of study-read- 
ing was self-imposed and self -directed. According 
to his usual methodical custom he kept an accu- 
rate account of his reading, and the mere mass of 
it was something extraordinary. During the three 
college years he read two hundred and thirty-three 
volumes containing nearly sixty thousand pages. 
Most of these works were on subjects requiring the 
deepest thought. Many were in foreign languages. 


John Fiske 

All were thoughtfully read as the extracts from 
the letters we shall give abundantly show, and 
as the literary work of subsequent years clearly 
proves. 1 

His mother and Roberts were insistent upon his 
keeping up a regular course of physical exercise. He 
did play at exercise in the kind of gymnasium that 
was then attached to the college; but this exercise 
was not pursued with just the ardor he bestowed 
upon his favorite authors Grote, Gibbon, Donald- 
son, Humboldt, Voltaire, Mill, Mackay, Darwin, 
Spencer, Dickens, Scott, Goethe, and many others. 

///. His college and living expenses: his book purchases 
A student's college expenses are a very clear 
revealer of both his inner and his outer life. In 
Fiske' s letters to his mother we have quite full de- 
tails of his receipts and expenditures, so that we 
have in this account a pretty complete voucher, as 
it were, for the general uprightness of his under- 
graduate conduct. From this evidence it appears 
that the whole cost of his college education did 
not exceed six hundred dollars a year. This in- 
cluded his living expenses. There was absolutely 
nothing spent in dissipation of any sort. He gave 
his mother a pledge at the beginning that he would 

1 The rapidity with which he read was indeed remarkable. The 
letters make frequent mention of his reading from two hundred and 
fifty to three hundred pages per day in addition to his studies. As 
an instance, in one place he says: " I began Miiller's Dorians to-night, 
and read ninety pages in about two hours." 


College Expenses 

not drink wine or spirituous liquors and this pledge 
he faithfully kept. As has been said already, the 
extent of his dissipation was a pipe and a mug of 
beer. His aversion to dissolute conduct, which is a 
marked characteristic of the letters, was no less 
marked in his intercourse with fellow students. 
Yet such is the tendency of the shallow mind to 
think evil and to see evil even where it does not exist, 
Fiske the student, owing to the fact that he was 
a reader of Voltaire, Emerson, Theodore Parker, 
Buckle, Darwin, and other liberal thinkers, and that 
he sometimes cut prayers, had gained, at the open- 
ing of his junior year, the reputation in certain 
quarters of being a very objectionable young man. 
This opinion was undoubtedly heightened by reports 
of his wide knowledge and his liberal way of think- 
ing. Fiske became conscious of this impeachment 
of his moral character, and in a letter to Roberts he 
says: " It is quite amusing to see that I have got the 
reputation of being a dreadful hard fellow, while 
other students who drink, gamble, and go about 
with women are pronounced 'only a little fast.' It 
shows the prevalence of superstition. " 

With the full particulars that we have of the 
unfolding of Fiske's life to the full maturity of his 
intellectual powers, it can be positively asserted 
that biographical literature presents no instance of 
a mind unfolding to high ideas and ideals with a 
sweeter, purer life than his. 

And yet, in the mind of his mother, kind mother 


John Fiske 

that she was, he had a great extravagance a 
propensity to buy books. We have seen that from 
his early boyhood his love of books, and his pride 
in possessing books, was a dominant passion in his 
life in fact, that books were his chief companions. 
The amount of his "book extravagance" during 
his college period does not appear to have greatly 
exceeded one hundred dollars a college extrava- 
gance that most parents would gladly encourage in 
their sons. Yet, as in the first instance the pur- 
chases were books not in any way required in his 
collegiate studies and as some of them related to 
subjects regarding which his mother was not in full 
sympathy with him, she raised decided objection to 
what she felt was an impulsive act on his part. Let 
us not criticise her action. If she could not see the 
propriety of his purchases in this instance, her ob- 
jection served to bring into clear light certain traits 
in his character which, if she could have seen them in 
their relations, would have appeared of far greater 
value than the cost of the books. The instance is 
worth giving. No sooner was Fiske settled in Cam- 
bridge, in June, 1860, for his examinations than he 
began to plan his future lines of study in science, 
philology, history, and philosophy in addition to his 
collegiate work. His letters to Roberts are quite 
full of the details of what was gestating in his mind. 
Falling in with one of Quaritch's catalogues of rare 
books for sale, he ordered through Mr. Sever, the 
Harvard book-seller of that day, the following 


Visit to Emerson 

works: Donaldson's " Varronianus " and his Greek 
Grammar, Wilson's Sanskrit Grammar, Bleek's 
Persian Grammar, Stewart's Arabic Grammar, 
Mill's "Logic," von Bohlen's "Genesis," Sainte- 
Hilaire's "Histoire des Anomalies de 1'Organisa- 
tion." When the bill came in September it amountd 
to forty-five dollars and his mother gave him a 
severe chiding for what she thought was a wholly 
needless purchase. Fiske patiently and dutifully 
pointed out how essential the books were to the lines 
of thought he was pursuing and the help they would 
be in giving him enlarged views in his college 
studies. He took his mother's chiding much to 
heart, and for months afterwards the letters show 
little economies, that he might recoup towards the 
bill. He even went so far as to propose giving up his 
dearly prized Thanksgiving visit to his grandmother, 
that "money might be saved towards that dreadful 
book-bill." * 

IV. His visit to Emerson 

One incident which occurred at the beginning of 
Fiske's college life, and was wholly unconnected with 
his college course, deserves a setting by itself, and 
should be given in his own words: this is his visit to 
Emerson. How greatly in the development of his 
own thought Fiske was influenced by Emerson has 
hardly been noted. When we come to the considera- 
tion of Fiske's mind at its maturity and with the 
evidences then at hand, we shall see that he re- 


John Fiske 

garded Emerson as the true protagonist of Evolu- 
tion; that he clearly "insighted" it as the Divine 
order of creation before science had laid the founda- 
tions upon which the doctrine could be established. 
We shall also see that Fiske was a free partaker of 
the Emersonian philosophy as a source of noble 
thinking pure and undefiled. 1 

Early in his sophomore experience Fiske made 
the acquaintance of Edward Dorr McCarthy, a very 
brilliant but erratic student, quite radical in his 
general views and acquainted with the leading radi- 
cal men of the time. McCarthy was somewhat ac- 
quainted with Emerson, and about the middle of 
September he asked Fiske to join him in an excur- 
sion to Concord for the purpose of calling on Emer- 
son. Fiske gladly accepted the invitation and the 
next day he gave an account of the visit, to his 
mother and to Roberts. The account of the visit is 
essentially the same in both letters. The following 
is the account given in the letter to his mother 
with a few words interpolated from his letter to 

CAMBRIDGE, Sept r . i6th, 1860. 
My dear Mother : 

Yesterday I shall never forget. McCarthy was 
going to drive up to Concord to see Ralph Waldo 
Emerson with whom he is quite well acquainted, 
and to try to get a school for the winter. He came 
and got me to go too. We got to Mr. Emerson's 

1 See vol. n, chap, xxxvi. See also vol. ii, chap, xxvii, Emerson 
and Herbert Spencer. 


Visit to Emerson 

about 7 o'clock. The family were just through tea 
and Mr. Emerson was out. He soon came in and 
McCarthy introduced me. He welcomed us warmly 
and said he was going out to supper alone and we 
had better come out and take tea with him. He had 
just that winning, Judge Curtis like way which 
compels assent, and so we went out and took tea 
with him, while Mrs. Emerson and his daughters 
sat sewing at the other end of the table. He talked 
with us about all sorts of things: with McCarthy 
about Carlyle and other literary men ; and with me 
about Bichat, Voltaire and Buckle. He says that 
Buckle is the master mind of the age; that Voltaire 
deserves all the praise that Buckle has given him, if 
not more. About Bichat he ran into raptures. 1 I 
did n't expect to find him booked on science, but I 
find him tremendously so. I was astonished not only 
at his learning but also by his wisdom and his good- 
ness. I thought him the greatest man I ever saw. 

But most of all he liked to talk about Carlyle. He 
showed us a daguerreotype which Carlyle had given 
him when he last saw him. He told anecdotes about 
Carlyle some of which were amusing. He said that 
Theodore Parker went to see Carlyle one Sunday 
evening, and found him alone over a great bowl of 
whiskey punch ladling it into his mouth with a 
tablespoon. "Why, Tom," said Parker, "what on 
earth are you doing?" Carlyle's face was radiant. 
"Why, I take a whole bowl of whiskey punch every 
Sunday night, Theodore, don't you?" said the old 

We talked some time. Emerson's voice is a very 

1 Marie Francois Xavier Bichat, a celebrated French physiologist 
and anatomist, 1771-1802. 


John Fiske 

deep bass. I felt as much at my ease as I would 
with an old acquaintance; there was something so 
charming, so simple and unaffected and exquisitely- 
bred about Emerson. 

At last we got up to go, and Emerson said he 
was very glad indeed to have seen us, and hoped 
we would come and see him again. Of all the men 
I ever saw, none can be compared with him for 
depth, for scholarship, and for attractiveness, at 
least so I think. 

With this expression of youthful enthusiasm over 
his first meeting with Emerson, it is in place to note 
that in the years to come, we are to observe that in 
Fiske' s personal contact with Nature in her quiet 
moods or in her grand and sublime aspects, with the 
world's masterpieces of literature, sculpture, paint- 
ing, music, and architecture, as well as with other 
of the most eminent thinkers of his time, his own 
thought instinctively strikes true as to what is en- 
nobling in nature, in art, and in human character. 

V. His literary work 

At the close of Fiske's sophomore year, July, 1 861 , 
the fur or scribendi was full upon him. The second 
volume of Buckle's "History of Civilization in 
England" had just been published, and the reading 
of it brought back a recollection of his reading of 
the first volume two years before and the effect 
produced upon his mind. Since then he had reread 
the volume twice, and had weighed well its general 
argument in connection with a wide course of his- 


Literary Work 

torical and scientific reading, inspired by his ac- 
ceptance of Spencer's theory of Evolution. Wider 
knowledge had led him to see serious defects in 
Buckle's contentions; and much as he admired 
some portions of Buckle's general argument, there 
were some points he desired to bring under a critical 
review. The publication of the second volume in- 
vited him to the task. Rather a heroic courage, this, 
entering the lists against one of the master minds of 
the age, by a youth who had only just turned his 
nineteenth year. 

Yet was Fiske nothing daunted. The letters 
during the summer vacation of 1861 reveal him 
as in active preparation, reviewing his authorities. 
The latter part of September we see him in the 
midst of composition. On the I4th of October, let 
us mark the date, the article is finished. Before 
sending it to the "National Quarterly Review," 
where it was published in the number of that jour- 
nal for December, 1861, he submitted it to his 
friend Professor Gurney, who was warm in its 
praise, assuring Fiske that "it was the ablest, most 
just, and philosophical review of Buckle that had 
been written." 

Reading this article to-day we note the easy grace 
with which, in opening, he surveys the phenomena 
of political and social development as presented by 
eminent thinkers previous to Buckle; then we note 
the perfect fairness with which he states Buckle's 
contentions, and the frankness with which he 


John Fiske 

assents to some of them. The significant feature of 
the article, however, is his firm grappling with 
Buckle's main contention, "Intellect vs. morals in 
the development of civilization," in which Buckle 
substantially affirms that all progress is owing to the 
growth or expansion of man's intellectual nature, 
while his moral nature remains stationary. Fiske 
takes a square issue with Buckle on this point; and, 
basing his argument on the law of Evolution, he 
marshals his wide knowledge of both science and 
history with great skill ; and, to use his own words, 
he "bangs Buckle's argument all to pieces." 

Throughout the article Fiske's respect for Buckle 
as a thinker of rare independence and force is appar- 
ent, and he closes with this fine tribute : 

"With respect to Mr. Buckle's work, an unprej- 
udiced mind can have but one opinion. It is cal- 
culated to awaken independent thought, and to 
diffuse a spirit of scientific inquiry. Written in an 
easy and elegant style, it will be read with pleasure 
by many who would not otherwise have the patience 
to go through the subjects of which it treats. Thus, 
grand and startling in its views, impressive and 
charming in its eloquence, it cannot fail to arouse 
many a slumbering mind to intellectual effort. Such 
has its tendency already been, and such will it con- 
tinue to be. ... Whatever may be thought about 
the correctness or incorrectness of Mr. Buckle's 
opinions, the world cannot be long in coming to 
the conclusion that his 'History of Civilization in 
England' is a great and noble book, written by a 
great and noble man." 


Literary Work 

This article was fully abreast with the Evolu- 
tionary thought of the time. Since his first reading 
of Buckle in 1859, Fiske had made a careful study 
of the philosophy of Auguste Comte, in the light 
of Mill and of Lewes; and he had also followed 
Spencer, so far as Spencer had developed his theory 
of Evolution. All this line of philosophic thinking 
based on science was known as " Positivism/' and 
was supposed to reflect the philosophic vagaries of 
Comte. We shall see later the difficulties both 
Spencer and Fiske had in freeing the doctrine of 
Evolution from any implied affiliations with the 
Positive Philosophy of Comte. This article bears 
evidence of Fiske's study of Comte, but it has none 
of the vagaries of the latter. Nor has it any marks 
of juvenility. The argument is clear, compact, and 
logical in its arrangement, while the style is re- 
markably simple and easy in its flow. There is no 
suggestion of pedantry in it; no attempt at fine 
writing. In short, the article has all the marks of 
a skilled, practised debater. As such it at once ap- 
pealed to Professor E. L. Youmans, the champion 
in this country of the doctrine of Evolution, and 
was by him sent to Spencer, as evidence that the 
light of Spencer's philosophy was breaking in 
America. We shall see later that both Spencer and 
Lewes were desirous of knowing who wrote the 

Fiske's next literary effort was not until near 
the close of his senior year. By this time he was 


John Fiske 

pretty thoroughly grounded in the theory of Evolu- 
tion. Spencer had formulated a very substantial 
philosophic basis for the theory in his immortal 
work " First Principles," and it remained for the 
specialists in the various departments of science to 
gather impartially the facts from the two worlds 
of objective and subjective phenomena for collation 
and integration under this theory. What a new 
light was thrown upon, what a new impulse was 
given to, all branches of scientific inquiry by the 
promulgation of this theory is a story which belongs 
to the history of science to tell. Philology, as soon 
as scholars began to study language as a natural 
growth and not as a manufactured product, as soon 
as they had begun to see that its origin and develop- 
ment were largely conditioned by objective sur- 
roundings, took on a new character. It could no 
longer be regarded as a metaphysical study with no 
rational raison d'etre back of it. Rather, it was seen 
to be a subject broadly open to scientific observa- 
tion, and that it was related to other branches of 
science at many points. The middle period of the 
last century saw much stirring of philological 
thought in the direction of its scientific character 
and also of its scientific relativity. Fiske, as we have 
seen, in his boyhood days was deeply interested in 
philological studies; and we have had occasion to 
note his quick appreciation of philological works 
whenever he came in contact with them. When, 
therefore, he came to see the full implications of 


Literary Work 

Evolution, and that language was a subject which 
presented a fruitful field for investigation under the 
illumination of this new scientific searchlight, he 
turned to his philological studies with greater in- 
terest than ever. 

The letters tell us of his frequent dipping into 
these philological studies during his college days, 
and in the months of March, April, and May, 1863, 
while preparing for his graduation, we see him ac- 
tively engaged in writing an essay on. ''The Evo- 
lution of Language." When the essay was finished 
he submitted it to Professor Gurney, who pro- 
nounced it "splendid." He then offered it to Dr. 
Peabody, the editor of "The North American 
Review," who promptly accepted it, and it was 
published in the "Review" for October, 1863. 

In this essay Fiske took as his text the philolog- 
ical theories of Max Miiller, Renan, and Spencer, 
and with the ideas of these thinkers as a basis, he 
reviewed the whole philological question as to the 
origin and development of language, undertaking 
to show that the growth of human speech has con- 
formed throughout to a fixed regular law of Evolu- 

After clearing away, as inconsistent with an at- 
tempt to give a rational explanation of language, the 
two alternate theories that "it was invented by an 
academy of mute philosophers, or that some super- 
human instructor came down with grammar and 
dictionary and taught mankind the rudiments of 


John Fiske 

speech, " he gave a rapid survey of the results of 
philologic induction. These he claimed had estab- 
lished the fact that there were root words which 
were the ultimate constituent elements of all lan- 
guages; that these root words were of two kinds: 
predicative, expressing actions or existences, and 
demonstrative, denoting locality. A rational sys- 
tem of classification was then seen to be that which 
recognizes as its basis a degree of coalescence be- 
tween roots, and that this degree of coalescence was 
an index of a certain degree of integration. Integra- 
tion and differentiation were then traced as prime 
factors in the development of language, not only in 
the coalescences of roots, but also in the concentra- 
tion of syllabic sounds and in the increasing logical 
coherence of clauses. Moreover, the generation of 
dialects, the rise of parts of speech, the growth of 
widely divergent words from a common root, and 
the development of widely divergent languages 
from a common stock, were seen to be pronounced 
instances of differentiation or linguistic evolution. 
The external causes of the evolution of language 
were then considered, and emphasis was put upon 
coherence and stability in social relations a sta- 
bility implied in family relationships which are alike 
removed from Turanian nomadism and from Chi- 
nese immutability. 

In the development of his argument the results 
of philological science seem to have been at his 
ready command. The ideas of Tooke, Schelling, 


Literary Work 

Humboldt, Grimm, Bunsen, Bopp, Muller, Gar- 
nett, Donaldson, Becker, Renan, Rapp, Diez, and 
Spencer are cited so apropos and illustrative of his 
own thought that they seem to drop into place in 
his argument as a matter of course. This relieves 
the essay from the taint of pedantry. While im- 
mensely learned, the points are so clearly and logi- 
cally arranged and the style is so lucid that any 
person acquainted with the declension and gram- 
matical arrangement of words can readily under- 
stand the general argument. 

The article was one which appealed, of course, 
only to scholars. One eminent reviewer said of it : 

"This is by far the most thoughtful and elab- 
orate article in this number of the 'Review/ The 
author has something of the tone and trend of the 
' great reviewers * in his style, and we are glad to see 
one who can leave the nervous, jack-o'-lantern style 
of our New England Transcendentalists, and talk 
like a man of some growth, stature and dignity/* 

Professor Youmans was quick to detect the qual- 
ity of the article ; and we shall see a little later, how 
he sought out Fiske and induced him to open corres- 
pondence with Spencer. 

Of Fiske's contributions to the "Harvard Maga- 
zine " during his senior year, already alluded to, it 
can be said that they bear witness to his wide read- 
ing and the fertility of his thought. His "Diatribe 
on Archbishop Whateley" is an instance of how 
pungent he could make his criticism of theologic 


John Fiske 

assumptions when fully roused, while his brief ar- 
ticle on Buddha is a fine illustration of his fair- 
minded historico-religious criticism. He did not re- 
publish this article in his collected works because 
he intended to do the subject greater justice in a 
complete essay. 

' ' Y e Vital Principle ' ' is a brief undergraduate bur- 
lesque on the metaphysical manner of argumenta- 
tion. It is of interest as showing that at this time 
Fiske's thought, even in its lighter moods, was cen- 
tred around the ultimate questions of philosophy. 

"A Very Old Tale" gives us a glimpse of the 
working of his mind in a humorous way in the re- 
gions of classic fable. This "Very Old Tale " and his 
" Class Supper Ode " are the only instances we have 
of his invoking the muse. 

It is a little remarkable that Fiske, with his 
high order of thinking, his great familiarity with 
the masterpieces of poetry, and his rare musical 
gifts, should not have felt impelled at times to self- 
expression in poetic form. This apparent anomaly 
is in a great measure accounted for by the high 
poetic quality of much of his prose. We shall see 
later that in the expression of fine and noble feeling 
through the medium of elegant prose no writer of 
his time has exceeded him. 

VI. His thoughts by the way 

There is a common saying, very much in evi- 
dence in some branches of industry, that "a good 


Thoughts by the Way 

workman is known by his chips." Fiske's under- 
graduate letters are so full of fine bits of thought in- 
cidentally thrown off by him while " hewing to line," 
as it were, in his various studies, that a few examples 
of his thoughts by the way are in place, as show- 
ing how continuously and naturally and easily his 
mind was working with great themes. 

His mother has asked him the meaning of " ham " 
in Petersham a town we are to know a great deal 
about in the years to come. Fiske replies, quite 
incidentally, with the following interesting bit of 
philologico-historic information: 

1 ' ' Ham ' means town or village. 1 1 is kindred with 
'home* in old Teutonic. 'Hamlet* means a little 
village ' let/ like ' leaflet/ a little leaf. Appended 
to the names of towns we have 'ham/ 'wick/ 
'stead/ 'burg/ 'ville/ 'Wick* is from the Latin 
' Vicus ' a village. ' Vicus ' comes from ' victim ' 
the participial of 'vivere/ to live, and is kindred 
with 'victuals/ 'vital/ 'vivacity/ and a host of 
words. 'Stead/ as 'Barnsted/ comes from 'stadt* 
: town, that which stands. ' Ipswich ' ' Ips ' and 
'vicus.' 'Burg St. Edmunds' 'Burg* and 'St. 
Edmunds/ No use in filling a quire called up by 
association. Suffice that the ends of towns show the 
different conquerors of England. 

Wick is Celtic. 

Ham is Danish. 

Sted 1 

Stead > are Saxon. 

Burg J 

Ville is Norman French. 


John Fiske 

"Language is a witness that cannot give false 

Fiske is reading Lewes's "Life of Goethe," and 
with it he is also reading Goethe's "Faust." He 

"I had no idea that Goethe was such a miracu- 
lous giant of intellect. His mind was clear and ob- 
jective, almost positive. As a poet he must be 
placed almost on the level of Shakespeare; and his 
conception of the Law of Development in the organic 
world will place him in the first rank of scientific 
thinkers; while his universal learning could put to 
despair the most assiduous plodder Germany has 
ever produced. Lewes says, 'Faust' is the greatest 
poem of modern times; and I will say that I never 
before came across such a marvellous poem in my 
life. The metres in 'Faust' are magical; the most 
exquisite little short verses, light and airy as gossa- 
mer, are mingled with, or rather followed by, as the 
thought changes, massive hexameters which pound 
like the tramp of a thousand battalions." 

He is reading the Old Testament in Hebrew with 
Dr. Noyes, and his penetrating eye has caught 
an anachronism in the sacred record. He writes 

"This week I found a Chaldee word in the Elo- 
him document. There was no Semitic Chaldee how- 
ever until after David. What could that Chaldee 
word be doing in a document written by the fes- 
tive Moses? The Elohim is the earlier document 
you know." 


Thoughts by the Way 

There is much in the letters regarding his philo- 
logical studies. He is reading Garnett's "Philo- 
logical Essays," and he says: 

"Garnett's analysis of the verb is glorious and is 
based on an immense induction from the principal 
languages of both continents. He shows it to be 
simply a noun or other part of speech always in com- 
bination with a pronoun in an oblique case. This is 
said by Donaldson to be a great discovery and he 
proves it in regard to the Greek verb in Cratylus." 

There are many references to Donaldson, the 
eminent English philologist and Biblical critic. In 
one letter Fiske says: 

"I have read nearly the whole of Donaldson's 
' Varronianus' this week. It gives some most won- 
derful revelations as to the origin of the different 
original races, particularly those of ancient Italy." 

i Speaking of Donaldson's death in 1 861 , from over- 
work, he says: 

"I don't wonder at it, for I believe he had read 
every square inch of paper that had been dirtied by 
ink since the world began." 

One of the important scientific books of the time, 
and one that has been of much influence upon the 
development of physical and chemical science dur- 
ing the last half-century was Grove's "Correlation 
and Conservation of Forces." This work Fiske read 
with great eagerness and he comments thus: 

"Grove's work is just the thing. He shows that 
heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, 


John Fiske 

and motion can all be transformed into one an- 
other and are but manifestations of one and the 
same force. What I like best of all in the book is 
that the author entirely abstains from bringing in 
metaphysical ethics or entities. He writes in a 
positive spirit, and everything he writes is forcible 
and striking." 

Fiske's comments upon President Felton's Greek 
scholarship are of interest, not only by reason of 
the latter's long service at the college as Professor 
of Greek, but also because we are soon to see him 
administering to Fiske a "Public Admonition." 
Fiske is reading Grote's " History of Greece" for 
the second time and in a letter to Roberts he ex- 
presses himself thus: 

"I am disgusted to see that Felton, in his notes 
on the ' Clouds of Aristophanes, 1 embraces all those 
old-fashioned Kronian ideas about the * base prin- 
ciples of the Sophists' and the 'corruption* which 
they produced in Athens during the Age of Pericles 
and the Peloponnesian War. ... He likewise amuses 
himself with blackguarding Klion and the Athen- 
ian constitution. ... I consider Grote's chapters on 
the Sophists and on Socrates to be two of the best 
chapters I ever read." 

In this same letter he gives quite a full sketch of 
the life and works of Voltaire, with the judgment 
upon him of Goethe, Humboldt, Carlyle, Buckle, 
and others. In closing he says: 

"When we consider the immense influence which 
Voltaire's writings have had upon the European 


Dogmatic Christianity 

mind, we may perhaps affirm that he did more than 
any other single man to destroy (dogmatic) Chris- 
tianity. It may be well however to remark that he 
never mentioned the Founder of Christianity except 
in terms of the deepest respect." 

The very earnest public discussion of dogmatic 
Christianity at this time, occasioned by the resigna- 
tion of Dr. Huntington and the publication of Mr. 
Darwin's great work, can hardly be conceived. This 
discussion was greatly heightened by the publi- 
cation in England and America of a remarkable 
volume of seven " Essays and Reviews " by seven 
prominent English churchmen, in which there was 
given out a distinctly evangelical call for a more 
rational interpretation of Scripture and dogma, in 
the light of science and Biblical criticism, than 
had hitherto prevailed. Accordingly, we find Fiske 
giving much attention to ecclesiastical history, 
especially in its bearing upon dogma. The many 
bare-faced assumptions by Christian apologetics 
for the Divine origin of the principal dogmas of the 
Christian religion ; the long and terrible struggle the 
human mind has undergone to free itself from 
bondage to these dogmas, together with the fact 
that through ecclesiastical intolerance belief in them 
was still enforced, made Fiske indignant that in 
these later days the love for knowledge and the 
search for truth should be held in subordination to 
belief in a dogmatic religious creed. 

His conviction that the great body of Christian 


John Fiske 

believers were ignorant of the facts regarding the 
origin and development of the Christian dogmas 
finds frequent expression in the letters. In a letter 
to Roberts he has occasion to refer to the Christian 
forgery of the account of Jesus in the eighteenth 
book of Josephus and to the opinions of the scholars 
of the first centuries of the Christian era regarding 
the doctrines of the early Christians (some extracts 
were given), and he says: 

"Of course, if Christianity had been anything in 
A.D. 80 or 90, Josephus would have spoken of it. 
The Christians must have felt the force of this, or 
they would not have forged a passage to suit them- 
selves; and may we not infer from these extracts 
that Christianity was an insignificant thing in the 
3d century when a man like Plotinus knew it only 
through one of its most heretical forms; while men 
of genius like Lucian and Porphyry rejected it with 
contempt Porphyry showed up its shortcomings 
with an erudition unequalled until modern times. 
Dogmatic Christianity reigned supreme in the Dark 
Ages of ignorance; and the first heralds of the new 
dawn of the intellect such as Abelard were here- 
tics, and the men of three or four centuries after, 
such as Vanini and Giordano Bruno were down- 
right infidels. Talk about its miraculous progress! 
When Plotinus in the 3d century had hardly heard 
of it; when Mohammed, one century after his death 
was acknowledged as Prophet from Delhi to Cor- 
dova; and when Mohammedan science and learn- 
ing was all that kept the lamp of knowledge from 
expiring. While Christians were going through 
their mummeries to save their souls the Kalif Al 


Dogmatic Christianity 

Mamum was observing stars and measuring a de- 
gree on the surface of the earth." 

Many extracts from the letters might be given 
showing Fiske's bitter hostility at this time to dog- 
matic Christianity; and this feeling was intensified 
by the discussion going on about him, and as we 
shall further see, by his own college experiences. In 
later years, however, we are to see him give Chris- 
tianity a place in his scheme of philosophy as em- 
bodying the highest phase yet reached in the de- 
velopment of the religious nature of man, and as 
undergoing a process of development to a higher 
stage of religious manifestation. 

There are, of course, many references to Spencer 
in the letters. All are of interest as showing how 
readily Fiske's thought responded to Spencer's as 
the latter was unfolded, but three extracts must 
suffice the purpose here. In a letter to Roberts he 

"The 5th number of Spencer 1 concludes the ex- 
planation of the change from the homogeneous to 
the heterogeneous differentiation and the re- 
maining numbers are to be taken up in explaining 
the change from the indefinite to the definite in- 
tegration. I see that the old fellow is gradually 
proving that the Law of Evolution is itself a co- 
rollary from the Persistence of Force, and conse- 
quently possesses the highest deductive as well as 
the highest possible inductive proof." 

1 Spencer was then bringing out First Principles in " Numbers." 


John Fiske 

" I read Spencer on the 'Laws of Organic Form' 
last night, but it was so omnisciently learned that 
I could barely understand it. He brought up as il- 
lustrations, nearly one hundred kinds of plants 
of which I knew absolutely nothing. He brought 
them in with such perfect coolness, and proceeded 
to argue from the way the leaves are cleft and the 
petals arranged in each kind, with such an apparent 
unconsciousness that other people did n't know all 
the vegetables in creation that I began to think 
myself a block-head. However, though I did n't 
know all the facts, I was enough of a naturalist to 
appreciate the argument; and he showed that same 
amazing power of thought, and that same incon- 
ceivable amount of learning he shows in whatever 
he undertakes to write about. I felt a sense of awe 
after closing the book as if I had been holding 
communion with Omniscience; and this I never felt 
when reading any one else. During a country 
ramble with Lewes in 1851, he, Spencer, happened 
to pick up a buttercup, and as he drew it through 
his fingers so as to alter the shape in a curious way, 
an idea struck him which he has since developed into 
one of the greatest discoveries of the century. In 
reading this one thinks of Newton and the apple." 

And again : 

" I am more and more persuaded that Spencer is 
the greatest thinker of this time. He has found the 
summum genus; he has made all the specific divi- 
sions and sub-divisions ; and has not only pointed out 
the methods of constructing a Positive philosophy, 
but has also constructed one." 


Publicly Admonished 

In the letters are equally thoughtful references 
to Grote, Bunsen, Gibbon, Comte, Humboldt, Max 
Miiller, Lyell, Calvin, Tocqueville, Dickens, Bul- 
wer, Huxley, Tyndall, Herschel, Darwin, Agassiz, 
and others. The foregoing extracts are sufficient, 
however, to show the general tendency of Fiske's 
thought at this period, and how far and away it 
was beyond the college requirements. 

VII. He receives a "Public Admonition" with a 
threatened expulsion 

And yet, notwithstanding his excellent scholar- 
ship and his exemplary personal conduct, Fiske was 
persona non grata to some members of the Harvard 
Faculty, who fain would have had students meas- 
ured, not by their attainments and general upright- 
ness, but rather by their religious beliefs and their 
observance of church services. Mention has been 
made of the reputation Fiske achieved during his 
sophomore year of being a pretty well-equipped 
Darwinian. He was also credited with holding 
the heretical opinions of Emerson and Theodore 
Parker, as well as being infected with the highly 
objectionable virus of Positivism. 

The opening of his junior year, therefore, reveals 
him as a " suspect" with some members of the fac- 
ulty who appear to have been apprehensive of his 
* l silent influence ' ' among the students. Accordingly, 
he was closely "observed" by the Parietal Commit- 
tee for discipline on the slightest occasion. And the 


John Fiske 

committee had not long to wait. In October, 1861, 
he was caught flagrante delicto in a high "misde- 
meanor. ' ' He was ' ' observed * ' reading in church from 
a volume of Com te and was promptly "summoned." 

Students had read in this church without cen- 
sure for years, and Professor Goodwin said that 
Fiske was probably the least guilty of all. On 
answering the summons he was first questioned by 
the President in regard to his religious views. Fiske 
frankly stated his disbelief in many of the dogmas 
of Christian theology, and was equally frank in 
expressing his adherence to what was then termed, 
for want of a better name, the Positive Philosophy. 
He was then taken before the faculty and charged 
with disseminating infidelity among the students 
and with gross misconduct at church by reading 
during the service. The effort was made to inter- 
relate the two offences by presenting the latter as 
the natural outgrowth of the former a desire to 
show a disrespect for the Christian faith. 

Fiske met the two charges in a manner character- 
istic of the fair-minded youth that he was. He had 
no apologies to make for his opinions; and he dis- 
sociated the two charges as having in his mind 
not the slightest relation to each other. He denied 
having in any way tried to influence the religious 
views of others ; asserted that such an effort would 
be wholly against his principles; and that he re- 
spected the views of others as much as he wished 
his own respected. As to the misconduct at church 


Publicly Admonished 

he frankly admitted that it was unjustifiable; that 
if it had been meant as a deliberate insult to the 
Christian faith, it would have been also an insult 
to the college, and there could be no punishment 
too severe for such misconduct. He fully justified 
the faculty for calling him to account. He did the 
act unthinkingly, but that was no excuse; he had 
violated a regulation of the college; he apologized 
and assured the faculty there would be no repeti- 
tion of the offence. 

The President and Professors Bowen and Cooke 
were very bitter Professor Bowen contending 
that the misconduct at church was not only a legiti- 
mate outcome, but was also a mild form of mani- 
festation, of such reprehensible doctrines as were 
held by Fiske and they wanted him suspended 
for a year. They would have carried their point had 
it not been for the very active part taken by several 
members of the faculty, and especially by Dr. A. P. 
Peabody, who maintained that it would be a dis- 
grace to the college to suspend one of the best 
students simply for reading in church and especially 
after an ample apology had been freely made. 

Fiske was let off with a "Public Admonition." 
He read no more in church, nor do we hear of 
charges against him of disseminating infidelity 
among the students; but we do hear of the preva- 
lence of opinions very similar to his, all through the 
junior and senior classes, while they appear to have 
been rife among the members of the faculty itself. 


John Fiske 

The most significant fact, however, connected 
with this church incident is President Felton's sub- 
sequent action. It appears that under date of Oc- 
tober 16, 1861, he wrote Mrs. Stoughton, giving his 
version of the affair, which does not differ materi- 
ally from the foregoing account, and closed his 
letter with the following courteous, but no less pos- 
itive, admonition, as to the result which would at- 
tend her son's giving any further expression to his 
religious views while at college. He said: 

" Your son's good character in general, and his 
faithful attention to his studies, induced the faculty 
to limit the censure to a Public Admonition. I have 
only to add, that while we claim no right to inter- 
fere with the private opinion of any student, we 
should feel it our duty to request the removal of 
any one who should undertake to undermine the 
faith of his associates. I hope you will caution your 
son upon this point; for any attempt to spread the 
mischievous opinions which he fancies he has es- 
tablished in his own mind, would lead to an instant 
communication to his guardian to take him away." 

It should be noted that this church incident and 
this letter of President Felton to Mrs. Stoughton 
are coincident with Fiske's completion of his article 
on Buckle, which was finished, as we have seen, 
October 14, 1861. A cursory glance at that article, 
with its evidences of wide reading and deep think- 
ing on some of the profoundest problems that can 
engage the human mind, shows how far and away 


The Civil War 

was the thought of this upright youth beyond the 
minds of his instructors, who would fain have found 
in his "daily walk and conversation" reasons fof 
expelling him from college. 

It is a significant commentary on this letter of 
President Felton's, threatening the expulsion of 
Fiske if found guilty of disseminating Positive or 
Evolutionary ideas among students, that eight 
years later, in the first dawn of the new era at 
Harvard, Fiske should be officially called by the 
new President to expound these same ideas to the 

VIII. The Civil War: its effect upon his mind 
And still the record of these eventful college days 
is incomplete. These well-preserved letters of fifty 
years ago, with their display of a noble love for 
learning, coupled with high ideals of personal char- 
acter, show yet another phase of the life of this 
scholarly student which is of great interest to-day, 
as reflecting somewhat the terrible ordeal through 
which the Nation was passing. 

We have already seen how the main issue in the 
great Civil War struggle was projected into the col- 
lege life through the Law School : we are now to see 
how the undergraduate life was affected thereby. 

The baleful effect of this fearful conflict was at 
the outset severely felt in the quiet, academic shades 
of Harvard. In the spring of 1 86 1 every class experi- 
enced the sundering of class ties through the resig- 


John Fiske 

nations of students from the Southern States, or by 
the departure of loyal students who resigned to join 
the Union Army; and Harvard's peaceful yard re- 
sounded with military preparations in response to 
President Lincoln's "call to arms." Harvard's noble 
Memorial Hall is an eloquent witness to the patriot- 
ism of her sons. 

At the outbreak of the war Fiske appears to have 
been indifferent to the issues involved in the strug- 
gle. His youth and his scholarly tastes had pre- 
cluded his taking an active interest in the political 
discussions which had preceded the war. He saw 
no vital difference between the contending political 
parties. Strongly anti-slavery in his own views, the 
political issues appeared to him mainly as questions 
of more or less slavery. The outbreak of the war, 
therefore, found him so deeply interested in the 
profound philosophic questions then coming for- 
ward, and so engrossed in his studies, that he was 
in great measure oblivious to the social, industrial, 
and political questions involved in the struggle. 
* This attitude of mind is not surprising, for the 
only direct issue presented by the Northern States 
or by the Administration was a political one the 
saving of the Union under a Constitution which 
legalized human slavery. Fiske's friend Roberts, 
however, was alive to the deeper issues involved in 
the struggle, and in April, 1861, he wrote Fiske a 
very thoughtful letter on the two diverse forms of 
political and social organizations presented by the 


The Civil War 

Northern and Southern States, in which he pointed 
out what might be expected in case the war should 
be prolonged. 

Fiske did not reply to the political portion of 
Roberts's letter, but he did write giving full par- 
ticulars of his reading. Roberts then chides him for 
his indifference to the condition of the country and 
the impending struggle; whereupon Fiske writes: 

" What fools people make of themselves about 
this confounded war! Why, I forget there is a 
war half the time. What's war when a fellow has 
'Kosmos' on his shelf, and 'Faust' on his table?" 

One is reminded by this sententious remark that 
a good portion of ' ' Faust ' ' was written when all Ger- 
many was engaged in the great Napoleonic strug- 
gle, and that Goethe has been subjected to much 
criticism for his apparent national indifference. 

But with the whole nation aroused, Fiske could 
not long remain indifferent, and the events of the 
war soon brought his eminently philosophic mind 
to the realization, in the pithy words of Lowell 

"That civlyzation doos git forrid 
Sometimes upon a powder-cart." 

During the winter and spring of 1862, in full 
sympathy with the Union people of the North, he 
became an interested observer of the gathering of 
the Army of the Potomac under General McClellan 
for the campaign against Richmond. With a feeling 
of loyal pride he saw this magnificent army officered 


John Fiske 

by the ripest experience and the best blood of the 
Northern States and thoroughly equipped with all 
the munitions for offensive warfare. Never before 
.in human history was there gathered a nobler army 
for a nobler purpose than was this Army of the 
Potomac ; and never before did an army go forth to 
combat with greater confidence on the part of its 
supporters in its ultimate victory. 

With dismay Fiske saw this heroic army when 
within sight of Richmond caught in the treacherous 
swamps of the Chickahominy, where, divided by an 
impassable stream and without the possibility of 
concentration, it was attacked by a greatly inferior 
force and was compelled to fight defensively day 
after day, until, banged and beaten in detail, it was 
at last driven, after immense losses, to the shelter 
of its guns on the banks of the James, whence it was 
rescued by the naval transports. 

It is impossible for the present generation to real- 
ize the effect of this disaster upon the people of the 
Northern States, accompanied as it was by an effort 
on the part of General McClellan to shift the re- 
sponsibility for the disaster on to the War Depart- 
ment, and also by a letter from him to the President 
advising the latter as to the political conduct of the 
war. This letter was a strong pro-slavery document. 
Fiske became thoroughly aroused, and he expressed 
in strong language his opinion as to McClellan's 
incapacity, and his indignation at his attempt to 
"play politics" in the face of such a disaster. 


The Civil War 

Three months after McClellan's defeat before 
Richmond, September 22, 1862, President Lincoln 
issued his first Proclamation of Emancipation, fol- 
lowed by more vigorous measures for the prosecu- 
tion of the War. How these measures were received 
by many influential "constitutional" people at the 
North we have already seen. How they were re- 
ceived by the loyal people of the North is clearly 
reflected in the following extract from a letter of 
Fiske's, written September 24, 1862, two days after 
the Emancipation Proclamation: 

"What a splendid thing the President's Procla- 
mation is. I am really enthusiastic about the war 
now. I feel as if we were fighting henceforth with 
an end in view. I hope that the fiendish institution 
of slavery, which has hitherto made me ashamed of 
America, is at last to fall. I always was a red-hot 
anti-slavery man in principle, but never cared much 
for the success of a war that was to leave us on 
this question just where we were before. I always 
felt that union was impossible without abolition. 
I think the Union cause is better off now than ever; 
and if this Proclamation takes effect, I shall con- 
sider homely ' Old Abe ' the most glorious ruler we 
ever had. I am studying the war hard, strategy and 

Fiske's manner of studying the war strategy was 
characteristic of his thorough way of doing things. 
He subscribed to the "New York Daily Times." 
He then procured large maps of the various fields 
of military operations which he fastened to the 


John Fiske 

walls of his rooms, and with pins of different col- 
ored heads he was able on his maps to follow the 
movements of the contending forces. Every eve- 
ning after supper he took his strategy lesson. 

But what is of special significance, in view of 
Fiske's future history of the Federal Constitution, 
and his subsequent thought as to its practical work- 
ing, was his deep interest in the Constitutional ques- 
tions that now arose from President Lincoln's ex- 
ercise of the war powers of his great office. 

In the autumn of 1862 the political opposition 
to President Lincoln was focussed around the can- 
didacy of Horatio Seymour for Governor of New 
York; and the issue was the alleged usurpation of 
unconstitutional power by the President. This 
phase of the contest was brought directly home to 
Fiske, not only by reason of his warm personal re- 
gard for Judge Curtis, but also by the fact that the 
views of Judge Curtis were shared by Mr. and Mrs. 
Stoughton and they were all heartily support- 
ing Mr. Seymour. Fiske, however, did not waver 
for a moment in his support of the President ; and in 
a letter to his mother, after expressing a wish that 
she would read John Stuart Mill's pamphlet on 
"The Contest in America," he says: "When next 
you see me you will find me full to the brim of 
war and politics a fierce anti-secession and anti- 
slavery man." 

Shortly after, he received from his mother a 
letter, in which, besides giving him her own views, 


The Civil War 

she sent him a batch of the politico-constitutional 
literature of the day, in which the Administration 
was presented as a greater foe to the country than 
the Southerners in arms. Fiske's loyal indignation 
knows no bounds: and in a letter under date of 
November 3, 1862, the day before the New York 
election, he frees his mind. This letter contains 
one paragraph which to-day has a historical as 
well as a deep personal interest: 

"Oh, I cannot sleep in peace until I know the 
result of to-morrow's election in New York. If all 
were confided to our armies it would be well; but 
here is a great secession party arisen at the North, 
and calling itself Democratic! what shall we do? 
Just think of voting for Horatio Seymour and 
Fernando Wood ! It is high time to suspend Habeas 
Corpus, when treason is rife in every dwelling. 
Much as I love liberty of thought and speech, it 
were better to have a despotism than this horrible 
anarchy. What is the use of getting up these im- 
mense armies of 600,000 men and building iron- 
clad fleets, if we are going to have a hornet's nest of 
treason growing here at home. I am getting dis- 
couraged. I hear treason and nothing else talked 
all the time. If Lincoln would hang the leaders of 
the Democratic party, and kick McClellan out of 
the army, it would be well ; but such a result is too 
good to be hoped for." 

Some worthy people might say that the foregoing 
extract was rather an extravagant ebullition of a 
somewhat heated youthful patriotism. Neverthe- 


John Fiske 

less, it reflects with great truth the terrible ordeal 
through which President Lincoln's Administration 
was passing, as well as the depth of feeling of the 
loyal people of the Northern States who were deter- 
mined that the Nation in its entirety should live, 
and that the disgrace of upholding slavery should 
be removed forever from its Constitution. 

From this time forward Fiske' s absorbing inter- 
est in the success of the Union cause never lessened. 
He carefully followed Grant's campaign against 
Vicksburg, as well as the movements of the contend- 
ing forces around Washington; and the letters give 
instances of sharp altercations with students of 
"Secesh" proclivities. To Mr. Lincoln's letters in 
1862 and 1863 to various persons, defending his 
Administration, Fiske paid particular attention, re- 
garding them as the best and clearest expositions 
of the war powers of the President under the Consti- 
tution that were called forth by the President's 
exercise of " Executive Power/' 

IX. His Engagement to Abby Morgan Brooks 
Still another phase of Fiske' s life during his col- 
lege days remains to be told. Not his study, not 
his writing, not his college rank, not his patriotism 
are the full index of his intellectual activities during 
this memorable period. No record of his collegiate 
life would be in any sense complete that did not 
include his romantic acquaintance with Abby Mor- 
gan Brooks, their engagement, and the ennobling 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

influence of their betrothal upon the whole range 
of his intellectual activities during his junior and 
senior years. Briefly as this story must be told, it 
will be seen that it reveals an affectionate element 
as a marked characteristic in Fiske' s intellectual 
make-up ; and that this element is a fitting comple- 
ment to his love for knowledge, in that it gives to 
the latter its finest zest a desire to share its tri- 
umphs and honors with another. 

There is further reason for this story here with 
much particularity of incident, for in the years to 
come we are to see this betrothal experience, of 
which we have such an interesting and faithful 
record, unfold and ripen into a domestic life of 
great richness and fulness, carrying with it, in ever- 
increasing measure to the very end, the fine, enno- 
bling flavor with which it began. 

At Miss Catharine Upham's, where, as we have 
seen, Fiske had taken rooms, there were a goodly 
number of boarders. Professor and Mrs. Child 
were there; and, in addition to a few undergradu- 
ates like Fiske, there were students from the Law 
School, as well as some young women attending 
Professor Agassiz's school for young ladies. Among 
the students from the Law School was James W. 
Brooks, of Petersham, Massachusetts, who, having 
been graduated at the Law School in 1858, was now 
pursuing some extra studies. The elder sister of 
Mr. Brooks, Abby Morgan Brooks, had previously 
been a student at Professor Agassiz's school, and 


John Fiske 

had also boarded at Miss Upham's. She had many 
friends in Cambridge, and during the spring of 1861 
she was much with her brother at Miss Upham's. 

Miss Brooks enjoyed intimate social relations 
with Professor and Mrs. Child, and Professor Child 
had frequently spoken of young Fiske as one of the 
very best scholars in the college. He seemed to take 
pleasure in telling of Fiske's devotion to his studies, 
of how he economized his time, and especially of his 
library a most extraordinary one for a student. 
Miss Brooks being with Professor and Mrs. Child 
one morning at prayer time, he took her to the 
window and said, "With the first stroke of the 
chapel bell, Fiske will start and you will see a race 
to reach the chapel door on the last stroke." Sure 
enough, the first stroke brought a rush from the 
house, and then, with rapid strides across the Delta, 
where now stands Memorial Hall, Fiske reached 
the chapel just as the last stroke announced the 
closing of the doors. 

"This," said Professor Child in his genial way 
"this is the devotion we see every morning." 

Miss Brooks and Fiske, although they lived in 
the same house for several weeks in the spring of 
1 861 , did not meet until the evening of June 1 1 , at a 
lawn party given for Miss Brooks previous to her 
leaving for her home at Petersham. They then met 
casually, and Fiske was introduced to her. They 
had a pleasant general conversation of less than 
half an hour; and on her remarking that she was 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

leaving the next day, he expressed his regret that 
he had not met her before, and the hope that he 
might have a further acquaintance in the autumn. 

Miss Brooks was favorably impressed. Fiske was 
deeply so; and the impression with him endured. 
She was much in his mind during the summer vaca- 
tion. Soon after his return in September he learned 
that Miss Brooks was planning to go to Chicago in 
October, with the intention of spending the winter 
there with her brother John. He was so deeply in- 
terested that he decided upon prompt action. He 
would go at once to Petersham, have an interview 
with Miss Brooks in her home, and, as a preliminary 
to a better acquaintance, ask for the privilege of a 
correspondence. Accordingly, he got a week's leave 
of absence from the college for the ostensible pur- 
pose of seeking a school for teaching during the 
winter, and on Friday, September 13, 1861, he set 
out for Petersham, by way of Athol a pilgrimage 
which involved at its farther end, by reason of the 
train arriving too late for the coach, a tramp of nine 
miles on foot. The long tramp was without ad- 
venture, save that at a roadside watering-place he 
was accosted by some country folk, probably by 
reason of his somewhat blousy costume, with a 
question which reflects the agitation of the time 
11 Be ye a solger"? Fiske could only assure his ques- 
tioners that he had no belligerent intentions. 

The day was fine. It was one of those September 
days in New England when all nature seems at- 


John Fiske 

tuned. The glories of autumn's rich foliage were 
just beginning to manifest themselves in the occa- 
sional burning bush, the scarlet maple, and the 
variegated tints creeping over the woodlands. As 
Fiske plodded the long rise of road from Athol to 
the high plateau of Petersham, every step forward 
was the revelation of an ever-increasing charm, 
until, as he reached the summit, he found spread 
before him a scene of indescribable beauty and of 
singular impressiveness, as on either hand the re- 
spective valleys with their ridges of wooded hills, 
just blushing with autumn's coming colors, rolled 
miles and miles away. 

As Fiske moved onward he was profoundly 
affected by the beauty of the surrounding country, 
and as he approached Petersham, lying a little be- 
low him on the southern slope of the plateau, he 
stepped aside to survey the whole scene with this 
hamlet lying so quietly before him, its church spire 
gilded by the setting sun and rising so picturesquely 
among the trees, and to speculate upon what these 
surroundings held in store for him. 

Could he only have known! In the years to come 
we are to see this temporary resting-place trans- 
formed in his mind into a veritable Mount Pisgah; 
we are also to see this romantic adventure ripen, in 
the midst of these beautiful surroundings, into the 
holiest of human ties. Further, we are to see these 
surroundings so made a part of his own life that they 
are to become a measure of nature's beauty in many 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

Old- World places famous for their scenic charms, 
while they are also to serve as a fitting setting to 
some of the profoundest thinking that can engage 
the human mind. 

Fiske was graciously received by Miss Brooks 
and the other members of her family her mother, 
her brother James and sister Martha. At first he 
sought to disguise the purpose of the visit under the 
plea that he was looking for a school to teach dur- 
ing the winter. James Brooks, however, soon saw 
through this gentle subterfuge, and on his remark- 
ing " that there was n't much to call a young fellow 
to such an out-of-the-way place as Petersham un- 
less he has some object of special interest in view/' 
Fiske smiled, and frankly admitted, " That's just 
my case, Mr. Brooks!" His errand, therefore, was 
revealed and he remained in Petersham until the 
following Wednesday. 

He saw Miss Brooks several times. She was very 
gracious, and his regard for her greatly increased. 
Just before leaving he asked for the privilege of a 
correspondence, and he accompanied the request 
with the assurance that there was not an act of his 
life that he was not perfectly willing she should 
know. Somewhat confused by the directness and 
the evident purpose of the request, Miss Brooks 
thanked him for his desire for a further acquaint- 
ance and told him she would be pleased to corre- 
spond with him were it not that she was under 
certain obligations that would prevent her doing so 


John Fiske 

at present. Seeing his evident embarrassment, she 
delicately gave him to understand that she was not 
engaged to be married. Feeling that it would be 
impertinent to press for further explanation of the 
nature of her obligations, Fiske let the matter of the 
correspondence rest for the present. By her gra- 
cious manner Miss Brooks placed him at his ease, 
and on his leaving, she thanked him for his visit, 
telling him that she would be in Boston for a few 
days previous to going to Chicago, and that it would 
give her pleasure to see him there. 

Fiske returned hopeful if not confident. What 
could be the nature of the obligation Miss Brooks 
was under? Was it a promise to some member of 
her family given to protect her from all "entangling 
alliances," or was it a bit of womanly tactfulness or 
reserve thrown out as a protection against a rather 
impetuous suitor? In either case he felt that he had 
made decided progress in his suit. He had enlarged 
his knowledge of the conditions, and he had an- 
nounced his purpose, which had not been rejected. 
Further than this, he had found Petersham the most 
delightful place he had ever seen; that the Brooks 
family and homestead fitly represented the best 
type of the pure New England character; and that 
Miss Brooks, in her own home, appeared to much 
better advantage even than on the occasion of his 
chance meeting with her in Cambridge. He deter- 
mined, therefore, to follow up his suit on the visit of 
Miss Brooks to Boston. 


(From a miniature made in 1861, shortly before her engagement to John Fiske) 

Engagement to Miss Brooks 

In the meantime her ideal in his mind is greatly 
heightened and becomes a fresh source of inspira- 
tion to his thought. He goes at his Buckle article, 
which we have already seen was under way, with 
renewed ardor, the while hoping that ere long she 
may read it and like it, and that he may be able to 
tell her that she was in no small degree an elemental 
force in its composition. 

Just as he was leaving for his Thanksgiving visit 
to his grandmother, Fiske learned that Miss Brooks 
was spending Thanksgiving week at her brother's 
in Boston. He called upon her on his way to his 
train, but did not find her at home. He cut short 
his visit to his grandmother, and returned on Satur- 
day of the Thanksgiving week. In the evening he 
called upon Miss Brooks and was cordially received. 
During the interview he asked if she was willing to 
explain the nature of the "obligations" to which 
she had referred in their conversation at Petersham. 
This she said she was perfectly willing to do, and it 
was arranged that he should call the next Monday 
afternoon for the explanation. 

It is needless to say that Fiske was prompt in 
keeping the appointment, and it is quite probable 
that he "cut" a recitation or lecture in so doing. 
He found Miss Brooks knitting socks for the soldiers, 
a very general occupation then for loyal women, 
and he " lent a hand " in the unwinding of the yarn. 

The "obligation" proved to be a promise to her 
brother John that she would not enter into cor- 
-* 249 

John Fiske 

respondence with any gentleman without his con- 
sent. The evidence is abundant that Miss Brooks 
was under the thoughtful care of her brothers. In 
the course of the conversation, she told Fiske that 
she had thought much over his proposal of a cor- 
respondence since his Petersham visit, and inas- 
much as her mother and her brother James had 
no objection to her engaging in it, she had decided 
to ask the consent of her brother John. They 
parted with mutual expressions of much good-will, 
not again to meet until Miss Brooks's return in the 

Miss Brooks was delayed in getting away by 
reason of the departure of her brother James for 
Paris as Vice-Consul with John Bigelow, and she 
sent Fiske a brief note in explanation. He re- 
sponded by sending her a copy of his article on 
Buckle, then just published. On Christmas Day he 
received a letter from Miss Brooks in which she 
acknowledged the receipt of the article and ex- 
pressed her profound admiration of it. Best of all, 
she told him that her brother John gave his cordial 
consent to their correspondence. 

Fiske was supremely happy, and in his New 
Year's letter to his mother of January i, 1862, he 
gave her the full particulars of his acquaintance 
with Miss Brooks, and he wished his mother "A 
Happy New Year" in nine different languages! 

In replying to Miss Brooks's letter assenting to 
their correspondence, Fiske expressed his great 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

pleasure at her approval of his Buckle article, and 
added, "More than one sentence in it was framed 
with the thought that you were one day to read it; 
and since you like it, what more could I desire?" 

He proposed, for their better acquaintance, that 
they exchange confidences and tell each other what 
they had felt, studied, thought, done; and as an 
evidence of the strength and sincerity of his own 
feeling he enclosed a letter he wrote her on the eve- 
ning of their meeting at Miss Upham's the previ- 
ous June a letter he had withheld. In this letter 
he asked for "an occasional" friendly correspond- 
ence, and then added : 

Something almost compels me to write this, 
though I readily imagine how assuming I may ap- 
pear in doing so. But I can sincerely say that were 
the state of things now to exist, of which we read in 
fairy fable, and were some beneficent genii to ask 
me what boon of all I would soonest have granted 
me, I should at once answer this that you might 
deign to bestow upon me the favor for which I 
have just asked. Should you think best to refuse 
this request, I beg you to think no more of it. I am 
yours, with deep respect, 


In the exchange of confidences which followed, 
there are delightful passages of self-revealing on 
both sides. On his part he gives, in a simple, truth- 
ful way, charming sketches of his past life from 
his earliest boyhood; of his father, his mother, his 
grandparents; his Middletown life, his schooling, 


John Fiske 

his religious experiences, his search for truth and 
his high ideals of scholarship, which are in accord 
with the presentation in the foregoing pages. Miss 
Brooks responded with equal frankness and gave 
an account of her life as a member of a cultured New 
England family in the midst of the pleasantest sur- 
roundings; of her educational training and the free- 
dom of her mind from religious sectarianism or 
intolerance; and then, with fine womanly feeling, 
she expressed her appreciation of the upright, 
manly traits in his character, her deep sympathy 
with him in his aspirations, and her desire to follow 
him as far as possible in his scholarly pursuits. 

Only a few, comparatively, of the fine passages in 
Fiske' s letters can be given here. The letters as a 
whole are another witness to the uprightness of his 
character and the breadth of his knowledge, as well 
as to the fact that through his affections he was 
being stirred to still broader and nobler ideals of 
life and of duty.] 

He spent his winter vacation in Middletown, and 
he gives Miss Brooks the following bit of evidence 
that she possesses rare magical powers: 

"I brought to Middletown, for vacation study, 
the text of the Hebrew Bible with the theoretic com- 
ments of several old tobaccoy, lager-beery Germans, 
a book on Hebrew syntax, a book on Sanskrit in- 
flections, and several other highly interesting and 
profitable works of a similar stamp. Just for vari- 
ety, I brought along Dante and a book on zoology. 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

Ordinarily, I should have been engrossed in these 
interesting works; but since I have come within 
the radius of your attractive power, which extends 
more than 1000 miles, the attraction NOT di- 
minishing as the square of the distance increases, 
I feel compelled to write to you rather than to 
study. So Q.E.D. you must be a magician of no 
ordinary power." 

Miss Brooks has given him a sketch of her edu- 
cational training, and he comments upon it with 
such ripe judgment that we forget it is not a ma- 
ture, experienced mind that is speaking : 

"I supposed you must have acquired a familiar- 
ity with French, and I am very glad to know that 
you have studied Latin and German. After all, my 
dear girl, you have hit upon those dialects which are 
most useful and most fraught with pleasure. I 
mean especially French and German, though I would 
not discourage the study of Latin for young ladies. 
Still, Latin has less charms for me than the others. 
I have got a thorough acquaintance with the gram- 
mar and structure of it and some little facility in 
translating; but from what I have seen of Roman 
literature I think it so dry and dull, so wanting in 
freshness and thought and feeling, that it seems 
almost a waste of time for a young lady to study 
it when she might be spending her leisure on Ger- 
man a language of eternal freshness, beauty, and 
poetry. Of all the languages I have looked into, I 
know of none which possesses such intense and 
growing fascination, such exquisite beauty, such 
exhaustless wealth of learning, thought, fancy, 
and emotion as the German. I will make but one 


John Fiske 

exception to this the dear English, which, thank 
Heaven, we know already. But next to your own 
language you can learn no other which will so 
richly repay you as German." 1 

Miss Brooks modestly told him that she had 
"a smattering of Latin, a little French and German, 
some geometry, a trifle of history, and more or less 
of current literature. ' ' He responds : 

"That is very promising. Don't laugh! I am in 
earnest. It looks chaotic to be sure, but the wand 
of the Positivist conjurer can bring shape and order 
into the mass. 'A smattering of Latin' is all you 
need for my purposes; ' a little French and German ' 
can soon become much French and German ; ' some 
geometry ' can grow into a perception of the posi- 
tion and scope of mathematics and into wide 
views of space, etc.; 'a trifle of history* may de- 
velop, imperceptibly, into a knowledge of the un- 
folding of the human intellect in all ages and coun- 
tries. I know I could do all this if I were with you. 
Besides, I could tell you ' anecdotes' of any or every 
science, which would be sweeter than fairy-legend." 

Speaking of his own linguistic acquirements he 

"I can't talk in any language but my own; but 
I read in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portu- 
guese, Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon. Then with 
hard study I can decipher sentence by sentence 

1 When Miss Brooks was studying Italian with Mr. Fiske dur- 
ing their engagement, he carefully preserved in his notebook all 
the Italian exercises written by her; the lessons came to an end 
with the reading of I Prcmessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni. 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Hebrew, Chaldee, and 
Sanskrit; and there are some few which I have 
dipped into without doing much, either because 
they have little literature, or because I have no 
time for them Zend, Gothic, Wallachian, and 
Provencal. Persian and Arabic I long to know, but 
I despair of ever having the time to learn them; 
there is so much to be done in other things. Before 
long anatomy, physiology, and kindred sciences 
will engross me, and I am afraid I shall have to bid 
a last farewell to philology/ 1 

Even at this early age, he has a clear concep- 
tion of the need of an underlying philosophy which 
shall unify all knowledge; hence this fine passage: 

"There are so many things to be learned, that at 
first sight they may seem like a confused chaos. 
The different departments of knowledge may ap- 
pear so separate and conflicting, and yet so mingled 
and interdependent, as to render it a matter of 
doubt where the beginning should be made. But 
when we have come to a true philosophy, and make 
that our stand-point, all things become clear. We 
know what things to learn, and what, in the in- 
finite mass of things to leave unlearned and then 
the Universe becomes clear and harmonious. 1 ' 

Fiske is greatly pleased to know that Miss 
Brooks wishes to follow him in his scholarly pursuits, 
and he tells her how he would have her follow him. 
The passage in which he tells her this is worthy of 
special note, in view of their intellectual compan- 
ionship, as we are to see its future unfolding: 


John Fiske 

" Believe me, these pursuits are sweet and pleas- 
ant as no others are : they never weary, they never 
satiate. Yet for all that I would not have my dar- 
ling a book- worm. I would not care to have her 
immensely learned and wise do you appreciate 
and not misunderstand the feeling? I would have 
her 'follow me,' as she says, 'in my pursuits.' I 
would have her sympathy in them. I would im- 
part to her the ideas which keep coming into 
my mind. Then I would love her so dearly, and 
honor and respect her so deeply and truly, that the 
thought of her that her blest influence would 
keep me ever from the wrong, and call forth all 
that is best and holiest in me. God grant that it 
may be so." 

Such a correspondence (and these extracts in- 
dicate the character of the thought which imbued 
the letters) led, as might be expected, to an early 
engagement. On the return of Miss Brooks in 
March, 1862, she spent a few days in Boston and 
the engagement was announced. On her return to 
Petersham the correspondence is resumed and we 
have further revelations of her inspiring influence 
upon his mind. His thought turns to the means of 
gaining a livelihood for them both after his gradu- 
ation, and very naturally, with his youthful opti- 
mism, he looks forward to engaging in some form 
of literary work. The following passage reflects his 
state of mind : 

11 1 am going to work now, and the thought of you 
will inspire me to new exertion. I am going to 


Engagement to Miss Brooks 

study more thoroughly than ever the Hebrew lan- 
guage, history and mythology, and trace the con- 
fluence of ancient philosophies and theologies into 
the great stream of thought which issued in Chris- 
tianity; then the rise, culmination and decline of 
dogmatic Christianity, till its forms fell away and 
the deep religion which lay beneath them was taken 
up by Positive philosophers and grew into the 
world religion announced by Herbert Spencer, the 
greatest of the sons of men! Won't it be glorious 
when I can pursue these studies with you by my 
vside, and some day write a history of the religious 
development of mankind. I am confident that the 
happy time will come. No use in despairing. What 
a book I could write if you were sitting by me. 
' On dira dans mille ans, " 0, 1'ceuvre vive et tendre, 
brulante encore!" Mais, c'est qu'elle etait la!' 
Don't you believe it is so? I will show you some 

At this time his friend Roberts had also become 
engaged, and the high philosophico-religious feeling 
that animates both young men finds expression in 
the following terms. After the departure of Miss 
Brooks for her home at Petersham, Fiske writes 
Roberts thus : 

"The last twelve days have been by far the 
happiest of my life. I know now what it is to be 
loved. I am at last SAVED. My religion is the reli- 
gion of love. My God is the Eternal incarnate in 
my beloved. I hate this infernal college life of poll- 
debauchery which is going on about me, and look 
forward to the time when we shall together lead 
the life of the Eternal man." 


John Fiske 
Roberts promptly responded: 

" It is with the greatest pleasure that I read your 
letter, and I again feel that we both have the same 
noble aims, the same ambitious purposes, the same 
religion, the same creed but not the same Gods. 
For I perceive that this religion is polytheistic, con- 
sidered socially; but considered with reference to 
the individual worshipper, monotheistic. This is the 
grand reconciliation of the past with the present 
the grand paradox of the universe. Man pronounces 
a creed which is more mystic than the Nicene 
a creed wherein not three only, but an infinite num- 
ber of pure and holy Beings are confounded in the 
person of the Eternal Woman. But the worshipper 
finds his Saviour, his Redeemer, his Evangel in that 
one Divinity of his free choice, before whom there 
are no other Gods." 

Space forbids further extracts from these interest- 
ing letters. The ennobling influence which entered 
into Fiske's soul through his engagement to Miss 
Brooks is apparent during the remainder of his col- 
lege life, broadening his sympathies and heighten- 
ing his purposes, and in the years to follow we 
are to trace it as an enriching influence to the very 

In closing the account of this episode in Fiske's 
college life, it only remains to be added that Peters- 
ham soon became endeared to him beyond all other 
places; that he made occasional visits to Miss 
Brooks which involved heavy penalties against his 
"honors" for recitations and religious services 


His College Rank 

unduly "cut," while Petersham absorbed the princi- 
pal part of his subsequent vacations. In the years 
to come, we shall see that in his personal calendar 
of memorable days, the I3th of September was al- 
ways held in tender regard as the anniversary of his 
romantic journey to Petersham, when to him, foot- 
sore and weary, its beauties and its interests were 
first revealed. 


And so, faithfully going through his college ex- 
ercises, completing his essay on the "Evolution of 
Language" for the "North American Review," 
reading widely on scientific and philosophic sub- 
jects, following with great interest Grant's cam- 
paign in Mississippi as well as the movements of 
the contending armies around Washington, the 
while looking forward with radiant hope to the 
"large excitement that the coming years would 
yield" when he should be united to the object of 
his affections, Fiske's senior year at Harvard comes 
to its close, and on the I5th of July, 1863, he was 
graduated with his class, while the great Union vic- 
tories at Vicksburg and at Gettysburg were echo- 
ing through the land. 

At his graduation Fiske supposed that owing to 
his marks he stood near the foot of his class, and he 
did not care enough about the matter to find out 
what his rank was. Several years after, he was in 
the Dean's office overhauling the books, when he 


John Fiske 

came across the records of his class and he writes 
his mother : 

" I found I stood 47th among 112 and my name 
ought to have been printed: eleven names were 
printed which stood lower than mine. The amount 
of my deductions for absences, etc., was above 5000. 
Omitting these from the amount, and calculating 
my rank on my marks on my examinations alone, 
I should have stood first for senior year, and 
fourth or fifth for the whole course. My average 
percentage for senior year was almost unprece- 
dentedly high. But the measles spoiled it: I lost six 
weeks and never cared enough about it to make 
them up." 




DURING the latter half of his senior year Fiske's 
thought was much given to the choice of a profes- 
sion. Spurning the thought of being dependent 
upon his mother, and at the same time desirous of 
being married, the letters reveal the balancing in 
his mind of the comparative advantages and dis- 
advantages of the two professions law and teach- 
ing. Each was considered from two viewpoints 
as a means of earning a livelihood, and as giving at 
the same time opportunity for the pursuit of his 
scientific and philosophic studies. The law was the 
choice of his mother, while his own preference was 
decidedly for teaching. Following his own inclina- 
tions, he secured before graduation commendations 
for his scholarship from Professors Peabody, Low- 
ell, Child, Gurney, and Bowen, and also one from 
Mr. George Ticknor. He was somewhat surprised 
at getting a commendation from Professor Bowen, 
and he says regarding it: "Professor Bowen is a 
fellow who loves to argue and likes opposition, and 


John Fiske 

he has taken quite a fancy to me because I pitch 
into him." 

Thus equipped, the securing of a good position as 
instructor in the classic or modern languages, or in 
history, in a high school or in a well-established 
private school, did not appear to him as a matter 
likely to be attended with much difficulty. He also 
felt quite confident that his scholarship and the 
personal good-will of Professors Peabody, Lowell, 
Child, and Gurney would secure him a position as 
tutor at the college should he desire to begin teach- 
ing there. 

We have seen that during the latter half of his 
senior year, he was busily engaged upon an essay 
on the "Evolution of Language" for the "North 
American Review." While finishing this essay, he 
sends Miss Brooks the following declaration of his 
purpose to push the teaching project as soon as the 
essay is off his hands : 



To be done 

But without experience in teaching, the getting 
of a position as instructor that would warrant his 
being married was not a matter of such easy accom- 
plishment as appeared to the student Fiske. His 


Choice of Profession 

first contact with the conditions of practical life 
brought him to a distinct realization that "expe- 
rience" was not wholly a philosophic term and 
limited to the theory of knowledge; but that it em- 
bodied something tangible, something negotiable in 
the interchange of social service which takes place 
when a person earns his living. 

Before his graduation Fiske made application to 
Dr. Francis Gardner, the Principal of the Boston 
Latin School, and to Dr. J. D. Philbrick, the Super- 
intendent of the Boston Public Schools, for any 
position as instructor in the languages or in his- 
tory at their disposal. His letters of commendation 
and his modest, scholarly bearing secured for him 
courteous consideration; and it was while pressing 
his case in Boston that he learned of a vacancy 
in the High School in Charlestown, which had not 
then been annexed to Boston. It appears that he 
applied to the Committee of the Charlestown High 
School for the position in July. His application was 
well received. There were twelve applicants all 
recent graduates and he was made to feel that he 
was the preference of the Committee. He was much 
elated. The action of the Committee was post- 
poned from time to time during the summer, and 
until early in September, when a fresh candidate 
appeared, one who had had several years' expe- 
rience in teaching, and he was elected. 

During the period of suspense Fiske was at 
Petersham and at Middletown, and plans for his 


John Fiske 

marriage and for settling down to a life of strenu- 
ous labor as teacher, student, and occasional writer 
on the many philosophic questions that were en- 
gaging public attention, were much in his mind. It 
disappointed him greatly to learn as he did dur- 
ing this period that one line of teaching, which 
he felt sure he could fall back upon in case of ne- 
cessity, was not open to him professional work at 
Harvard College. He consulted Professor Gurney 
about applying for a tutorship. Professor Gurney 
frankly told him that his application would not 
be favorably received in the minds of some of the 
faculty ; that his reputation as a pronounced Dar- 
winian would preclude any consideration of his ex- 
ceptional qualifications as a tutor. 

It appears that during these few weeks of un- 
certain waiting and partial discouragement, he 
found a sort of solace as well as mental recreation 
in reading the Waverley Novels. He gave himself 
with perfect abandon to the charm of the " Scotch 
Romancer/' After reading "The Heart of Mid- 
Lothian" and "The Bride of Lammermoor" he 
writes his mother thus : 

"I am almost or quite as much delighted with 
Scott as with Dickens. What a rich treat I shall 
have in the score or so of novels I am now going to 
read! In view of the delight now in store for me I 
am almost inclined to forgive myself for not hav- 
ing looked into Scott before. What a great writer 
he is!" 


Choice of Profession 

The other reading he indulged in during this 
period was Spencer's "Biology," which was then 
appearing in numbers. He has secured a photo- 
graph of Spencer, and he gives his mother the im- 
pression the portrait makes upon his mind : 

"Spencer's face is a magnificent one. There is 
something not quite perfect about the mouth; but 
the eyes are like those of a lynx, and the grandest I 
ever saw. Taken all together, the effect of the head 
and face is as imposing as Newton's; while at the 
same time the expression is gentle, humorous, and 
lovable, in the extreme. 11 

We also get from the letters of this waiting period 
other glimpses of the great Civil War struggle, par- 
ticularly what followed in the wake of the decis- 
ive victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg how 
Boston and Cambridge were alive with rockets and 
candles; how the draft riots in New York made 
Fiske apprehensive for his mother's house there; 
how the draft was being enforced in Cambridge; 
how Fiske had escaped, while a " secesh " class- 
mate who had ridiculed Lincoln and had jeered at 
"Mr. U. S. Grant," had been drafted; and how 
"Copperheads," believing that Lee would capture 
Philadelphia, had bought gold at $1.45 which they 
were now selling at $1.28. 

Failing to get a position as instructor in a high 
school, and finding that he was persona non grata 
for a tutorship at Harvard, Fiske realized that he 
must look to some other profession than that of 


John Fiske 

teaching as a means of support and that his mar- 
riage might be indefinitely postponed. He now 
turned his attention seriously to the law. All 
through his college course his mother and Mr. 
Stoughton had held before him the study and 
practice of the law as a proper sequence to his 
collegiate studies. He had, however, steadily re- 
fused to entertain the thought of giving up the pur- 
suit of scientific knowledge in the very interesting 
era that was opening before him. 

But now that he was graduated and found him- 
self facing the question of a self-supporting profes- 
sion, with the desire of being married uppermost in 
his mind, and with the profession of teaching not 
practically available to him, he turned to the con- 
sideration of the law as offering the best way out of 
the difficulties that confronted him . He reviewed 
the whole situation calmly, and after consulting 
with Professor Gurney and Judge Curtis, he writes 
his mother, under date of September 19, 1863, two 
days after the Charlestown decision, as follows : 

4 'As soon as I have thought things over a little 
and discussed with Abby, I want to come to New 
York, if it is convenient, and talk with both you 
and Mr. Stoughton. Writing is a poor means of 
communication. I am quite sure that my present 
views will please you and Mr. Stoughton; and Mr. 
Gurney thinks it of the first importance that I go 
to New York in person as soon as I have seen 
Abby. Don't telegraph for me, but let me take 
time and be mysterious for a few days. I think, 


Chooses the Law 

perhaps, you will not be sorry at my failure, when 
you hear what it has brought me to." 

After a full consideration of the situation with 
Miss Brooks, and with her hearty consent, he de- 
cided to accept the law, and he went to New York 
to see his mother and Mr. Stoughton. 1 He was re- 
ceived with special cordiality. His decision was 
highly commended, and he was encouraged to 
think that the law, in some of the higher phases 
of its practice, would afford ample scope for the 
employment of his eminently philosophical and ju- 
dicial mind. That Mr. and Mrs. Stoughton were 

1 In this connection the following letter from Judge Curtis to Mr. 
Stoughton is of interest: 

BOSTON, September 22, 1863. 
Dear Stoughton, 

Some time last spring we had a conversation about the choice of 
a profession for John, and I then told you, if I remember, quite de- 
cidedly that I did not think he had best study law. My reasons, I 
believe, were, that I thought he was better adapted for a teacher, a 
profession now of much importance and of increasing consideration. 
I have lately had some further means of judging, from intercourse 
with him and conversations with Roberts about him, and I think I 
ought to write to you and say that I believe I expressed too confident 
an opinion, and that I am inclined to change it. I should trust 
Roberts's opinion rather than my own. From conversation with 
him I suppose he is getting much inclined to study law. His friend, 
Professor Gurney, strongly advises it, and Roberts is very much of 
the same opinion. And having reflected a good deal upon it, I cer- 
tainly should not dissuade him if I would be asked what my opinion 
is. I have therefore thought I ought to write to you and say that 
you should not be influenced by anything I have heretofore said to 
the contrary. 

Yours always, 



John Fiske 

greatly pleased at the turn his thought had taken is 
evident from the fact that they made ample pro- 
vision for his taking a two years' course of study at 
the Harvard Law School, at the same time assur- 
ing him that on his admission to the bar for 
which the course at the Law School was a prepa- 
ration he should have their hearty assent to his 

Fiske returned to Cambridge in a happy state of 
mind. He now had a definite purpose before him, 
the accomplishment of which was to take prece- 
dence of all other interests. His entrance at the 
Law School bears date of October 7, 1863. 

As the Harvard Law School was at this time the 
leading law school of the country, a glance at its 
course of study and its requirements is not without 
interest. The course of study embraced "the vari- 
ous branches of the Common Law and of Equity; 
Admiralty; Commercial, International and Consti- 
tutional Law, and the Jurisprudence of the United 
States." There were but three instructors or pro- 
fessors, and the instruction was mainly by lectures. 
Students elected their own lines of study, could 
enter at any time and without examination; and 
upon the certificate and recommendation of the 
faculty and on payment of all dues to the 
college could receive, without any examination 
whatever, the degree of Bachelor of Laws. The only 
requirement was with reference to the degree, and 
this was that eighteen months' study of the law 


At Harvard Law School 

should be the condition of its award. There seems 
to have been a genial "go-as-you-please" air about 
the whole school. 

The letters to his mother give many incidents 
connected with his settling down to his new line of 
work such as arrangements for convenient study, 
allotment of hours to his legal studies, his enthusi- 
asm for these studies, his provisions for scientific, 
historic, and philosophic reading, as well as for in- 
cidental work. We will note a few of them. 

During the latter half of his senior year we saw 
him writing his essay on the "Evolution of Lan- 
guage." The essay was published in the "North 
American Review" for October, 1863, and he re- 
ceived as payment for it the very moderate sum 
of forty dollars. This money he appropriated to 
his convenience in working, and he gives his mother 
the particulars as follows : 

" My desk came yesterday. It is the most beauti- 
ful piece of furniture almost that I ever saw. I take 
the more pride in it that it is peculiarly the fruit of 
my own brain. In the first place, I paid for it 
within $3 by writing that article ; and 2nly , I 
designed the whole thing, leaving nothing to the 
cabinet-maker but to put my ideas into wooden 
shape. I take more pleasure in it than in almost 
any chattel I ever possessed." 

In another place he tells his mother that he has 
"got a Worcester's Dictionary, for in reading law, 
a lexicon is an absolute necessity. I have occasion 


John Fiske 

to use it at least two dozen times a day. I had no 
English dictionary before/' 

That he began his new line of work in his usual 
systematic way is shown by his general plan, which 
he gives as follows : 

" My plan is to study law from 8 A.M. to 4^ P.M., 
then go to the gymnasium and bowling alley till 6, 
and then have the evening for side study. As soon 
as I get a little more settled, I shall set apart some 
special time every week for writing letters." 

What was the nature of his side study is partially 
revealed in the following incidental passage : 

"George l has been here all the afternoon and 
evening, and we have been discussing a little law, 
and reading together about Cause and Effect, and 
trying to ascertain the date of the passage of the 
Earth's perihelion through the vernal equinox." 2 

In the beginning, his comments on his legal 
studies are of interest, especially upon the classic 
11 Commentaries" of Blackstone which came first in 
his order of legal study. In an early letter to his 
mother, he says : 

" Since Wednesday morning I have been steadily 
engaged on Blackstone, the first volume of which 
I shall finish to-morrow. Then I shall commence 
Story on Bailments and read it and Blackstone to- 

1 His friend George Litch Roberts. 

2 In a letter to Miss Brooks, referring to this astronomical calcula- 
tion, he says: "We found the year, viz. 3987 B.C., but couldn't suc- 
ceed in ascertaining the exact day." 


At Harvard Law School 

gether. I am perfectly enraptured with Blackstone. 
I scarcely ever read anything so interesting in my 
life. I get so engrossed in it that I can hardly bear 
to leave it to go to bed. I am inclined to think that 
this notion of the law being 'dry' is all humbug, 
and that I shall find it as attractive as any study I 
ever pursued." 

And a few days later he writes: 

"I have been working hard at law all this week 
have got well along in the second volume of 
Blackstone, and by to-night shall be half through 
Story on Bailments. I have also read 'Rob Roy/ 
which probably closes my account with Scott for 
the present barring his remaining ' Tales of a 
Grandfather/ I never knew what I was talking 
about when I professed a dislike for the law. The 
subject of 'Contingent Remainders/ is said to be 
one of the driest in the whole science, but from what 
I get of it in Blackstone I think it perfectly fascin- 
ating; and as for Bailments, it is as pretty reading as 

To Miss Brooks he writes in the same strain: 

" I am really getting in love with the law. My 
scholarly habits are beginning to tell. Instead of 
taking it up with a listless dilettante air like those 
fellows who don't know how to study, I am going 
right into it just as I have been wont to go into 
other things 'head over heels/ I think I have got 
into my true sphere now." 

By the end of October Fiske is completely settled 
in his former student rooms, Holyoke Place, Cam- 


John Fiske 

bridge, and is fully "squared away" in his attack 
upon the law, the while keeping up his scientific, 
historic, and philosophic studies; and at the same 
time watching with intense interest the movements 
of the contending armies in Virginia and eastern 
Tennessee. 1 From the letters we have these further 
glimpses of his state of mind, his surroundings, and 
his manner of working. 

In a letter to Miss Brooks he says: 

"The day is perfectly divine, and the sunlight 
just beginning to creep in at the bay-window on the 
plants, looks so mild and dreamily beautiful that 
it makes me feel perfectly happy like one of 
Tennyson's Lotus-Eaters. I think myself in that 
blessed land 

'In which it seemed always afternoon.' 

" These beautiful October days are the pleasant- 
est in the year to me. Now that I have begun to 
quote poetry, and since I am smoking my after- 
dinner pipe, let me quote Scott's exquisite lines 
about tobacco: 

'The Indian leaf doth briefly burn; 
So doth man's strength to weakness turn; 
The fire of youth extinguished quite, 
Comes age, like embers dry and white.' " 

And to his mother he writes: 

" I am all alone; nobody comes to hinder me, and 
so the coast is clear. I mean to make it a rule to read 

1 To Miss Brooks he sends diagrams of the military movements 
in the two fields of operation. 


Visited by E. L. Youmans 

one volume of Law and one volume of Science or 
History every week, except when I write instead 
of extra reading. This can be done in 6 hours per 
day for Law, and 4 for Science. I am going to 
study like a biquadrated Joseph Scaliger." 

But his quiet life as an isolated student at law 
was not to continue. His two essays the one on 
Buckle and the other on " Language" had at- 
tracted the attention of thoughtful minds in Eng- 
land and at Cambridge, and it may properly be 
said that the progressive thought of the time sought 
him out, and in two notable ways that had a marked 
effect upon his young', expanding mind. The man- 
ner in which his quiet student life was invaded is 
given in a letter to his mother, November 2, 1863. 
The letter covers five closely written pages, and evi- 
dently was written at different times. He writes : 

" I have a great deal to say and must be brief on 
each subject. Youmans, the author of the Chemis- 
try, has called upon me. He got Buckle republished 
in this country, was attracted by my article, and 
tried to discover the author, but could n't. He 
knows Spencer, Lewes, Mill, Tyndall, Huxley, 
Bain, Lyell, Morell, and all the great thinkers. He 
told Spencer that my article on Buckle was the 
ablest one that had been written on that subject. 
Spencer wanted to see the article, and told You- 
mans to hunt up the author by all means. Lately 
Youmans saw my last article, found out who wrote 
it, and came out to see me. He wishes me to write 
to Spencer at once and says that both Spencer and 


John Fiske 

Lewes want to know the author of the Essay on 
Buckle. He tells me to send Spencer both articles, 
and await a reply. 

" Youmans manages the publication of Spencer's 
serial. He is going to issue an edition of Spencer's 
Essays and wants me to write an Introduction for 
it, which I have agreed to do a popular thing, 
you know, about ten pages, for American readers. 

"Youmans promised to send a copy of Draper's 
work, 1 and if he thinks to send it, I think I can write 
an article on it in time for the April number of the 
' North American Review/ Youmans came out and 
spent the afternoon with me yesterday, and George 
and I went in and took supper with himself, wife 
and sister at the Parker House." 

Fiske interrupts his narrative of Youmans's visit 
to speak of the change of editors of the "North 
American Review/' and what the change signifies 
to him. 

"The 'North American* has again changed 
hands. Peabody is superseded by C. E. Norton and 
J. R. Lowell. Norton has just sent down to me to 
come and see him at once, for he wants me to keep 
him supplied with critical notices and also to write 
an article whenever I have time. The ' Review ' is 
going to give double pay, viz.: $2. a page instead of 
$1.00. Of course I shall accept. I am going over to 
see him as soon as I have mailed this. I think I am 
being taken up in great style. Bully! is n't it?" 

1 History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, by John William 
Draper, M.D., LL.D., Professor of Chemistry, University of New 


Visited by E. L. Youmans 

That the visit of Youmans was a predominating 
influence in his mind, and that Youmans gave 
him much interesting information in regard to the 
personnel of his English friends, is evident from the 
closing paragraphs of this letter, where the follow- 
ing particulars in regard to Spencer, Lewes, and 
George Eliot are abruptly introduced: 

" Spencer is forty- two years old bachelor. 
Lewes is forty-six, married to Marian Evans; a big 
imperturbable Englishman; has written 'History 
of Philosophy,' 'Comte's Philosophy of the Sci- 
ences/ 'Life of Goethe,' 'Philosophy of Common 
Life,' (his chef d'&uvre) 'Studies in Animal Life/ 
'Seaside Studies' the last I have read two or 
three times also a Spanish drama, ' Ranthorpe, ' 
a novel, and several dramas. He is now writing a 
1 History of Science/ Mrs. Lewes has made $35,000 
off of 'Romola/ 

" Spencer has been a Civil Engineer by profession 
has never been to college but is by all compari- 
son the most learned man living. His power of 
concentration is so intense as to be dangerous, for it 
brings the blood rushing to the head so that he has 
to desist from work and go out and play. He is six 
feet high, rather slender, very graceful, prodigious 
head, quite bald, voice very melodious and rich; 
temperament very nervous and excitable. You- 
mans calls him the kindest and dearest old fellow 
that ever lived ; says his conversational powers are 
absolutely miraculous; most magnetic man he ever 
saw. Takes great interest in our war and sides with 
the North. Gets mad if anybody says a word for 
the South! bangs into the London Times and the 


John Fiske 

aristocracy for their course in the matter. You- 
mans says all the scientific men abroad are for the 
North. Nobody for the South but old fogies like 

Youmans was a very inspiring man. His life had 
been a struggle against obstacles that would have 
daunted an ordinary mind. Born into a family life 
where prudent living was a necessity, where good 
literature was common, and where serious thinking 
on questions of social life and duties prevailed, he 
early became imbued with high ideals of social 
serviceableness. Just as he was preparing for col- 
lege he became afflicted with partial blindness, 
which at times became total, and which made con- 
secutive, persistent study impossible. He never re- 
covered from this affliction. Notwithstanding such 
a heavy physical handicap he struggled bravely 
on in his pursuit of knowledge; and at the age of 
thirty he had become, through his own exertions, 
one of the best-informed scientific men of his time. 
He then thought to put his knowledge to use; and 
through lectures, essays, and textbooks, he became, 
in a national sense, an " Interpreter of Science to the 

In 1860 he was among the first persons in Amer- 
ica to recognize the significance of the new school of 
thought rising in England and crystallizing around 
the scientific researches of Lyell, Huxley, Tyndall, 
Faraday, Grove, and Darwin, with its philosophic 
culmination in Spencer's Law of Evolution. Nor 


Visited by E. L. Youmans 

was he slow to perceive the bearing of this thought 
upon theology, upon education in fact, upon all 
the interests of social well-being. His wise counsels 
induced the eminent publishing firm of D. Appleton 
& Company to undertake the publication in Amer- 
ica, on a copyright basis, of the works of these 
eminent English scientists. This led to a visit to 
England by Youmans in 1862 and to his personal 
acquaintance with the whole group of English 
scientists and thinkers who made the middle period 
of the last century the most memorable in the 
history of science. His intelligent enthusiasm won 
their respect, and he returned with assurances of 
their hearty cooperation in his efforts to make 
science a fundamental feature in the education of 
the people. 

It was while engaged in various projects to this 
end that he fell in with Fiske's two essays men- 
tioned above. He saw at once that here was an 
American scholar whose erudition was of full meas- 
ure, and who was gifted with remarkable powers 
of lucid exposition. Youmans saw the need of such 
a thinker and writer properly to present the new 
philosophy of science to the American public, and 
he sought out Fiske, as we have seen. 1 

This visit of Youmans was the beginning of a 
warm personal friendship between the two men, 
which had no interruption until the death of 

1 In his endeavor to find the author of the two essays, Youmans 
made inquiry of a clergyman in Boston, and was told that " they were 
written by a young atheist in Cambridge, named Fiske." 


John Fiske 

Youmans in 1887. In the years to come, we shall 
see them working side by side in the propagation of 
ideas common to both, with Fiske's fine tribute to 
the memory of his friend when that friend's hand 
was still. At present we should note two things: 
that this visit is the first substantial recognition of 
his thought that has come to Fiske outside his own 
personal circle; and also, that it brings to him direct 
personal knowledge of the group of English scientists 
and thinkers whose thought was so largely influ- 
encing his own, and in so sympathetic a way, that 
he feels that in support of the higher phases of his 
own thinking, friendly hands are stretched out to 
him across the sea. 

Norton's request for contributions, and Fiske's 
visit to Norton, which followed at once, were only 
a little less gratifying to Fiske than the visit of 
Youmans. The " North American Review" had 
long been the representative organ of the best 
scholarship in America; and now that its editorial 
control had passed into the hands of such scholars 
as James Russell Lowell and Charles Eliot Norton, 
a personal editorial request for contributions was 
one of the most flattering recognitions an American 
scholar could receive. 

In his call upon Norton, Fiske was received with 
such courtesy and marked appreciation that the 
call insensibly lengthened to a visit. The conversa- 
tion ranged over a wide variety of subjects in classic 
and mediaeval history, literature, and art; it also 


Visits Charles Eliot Norton 

covered the~general principles of criticisnTapplica- 
ble to the interpretation of life both in the past and 
the present. In this delightful atmosphere, Fiske 
for the time being forgot all about the law, and 
yielded himself without reserve to the simple yet 
helpful way in which Norton bore himself as scholar, 
critic, and adviser. In after years Fiske referred to 
this visit as one of the most helpful incidents in his 
life. We shall see later that some thirty years after 
Norton also held a distinct and pleasant remem- 
brance of this interview. 1 

These visits of Youmans to Fiske and of Fiske to 
Norton, occurring almost simultaneously, were sig- 
nificant events in the life of Fiske. He was not yet 
twenty-two years of age. His intellectual output 
had been but incidental in his college life, and yet 
it was of such mature character as to attract the 
attention of leaders of thought in England and 
America. His gratulatory remark, therefore, to his 
mother, that he thinks he is " being taken up in 
great style/' was only the expression of a na'ive 
youthful enthusiasm fully warranted under the cir- 
cumstances. The letters are absolutely free from all 

1 As this paragraph is being written, October 22, 1908, the 
obsequies attendant upon the close of the life of Charles Eliot Norton 
scholar, teacher, and eminent citizen are being paid. Among 
the many tributes to his memory it is to be regretted that none can 
come from the scholar and historian whose advent into literature 
Norton so cordially welcomed forty-five years ago. What Fiske 
would have said of Norton to-day would have been a scholar's 
appreciation of a scholar, with a historian's estimate of eminent 
citizenship, expressed in language befitting the subject and the 


John Fiske 

pedantic conceit. With his mother he is perfectly 
open and frank because he wishes her to share in 
every honor that comes to him. 

From this time forward we have to recognize in 
Fiske's mind a growing sense of " touching elbows" 
in the great world of thought he saw surging around 
him, but before tracing further the interesting phase 
of his philosophical activities, we must follow him 
in his legal studies for the next few months, as they 
were the dominating consideration in his life at this 

These studies, as we have seen, were given the 
complete right of way in his allotment of study 
hours, and in his letters to his mother and to Miss 
Brooks there is revealed a Boanerges sort of energy 
in his manner of pursuing them. To Miss Brooks 
he writes: " I am in the highest imaginable spirits: 
nothing agrees with me like a regular furious set-to 
at Books." He did not find the various legal text- 
books as easy or as entertaining reading as the clas- 
sical "Commentaries" with which he began. Yet 
no subject daunted him. All the required textbooks 
were taken up in order and plunged into with per- 
fect abandon, their special points mentally digested 
and put in place in his orderly mind. His comments 
on some of the textbooks through which he waded 
are many, but most of them are without special 
interest to-day, owing to the changes that have 
taken place in recent years in the courses of study 
in the leading law schools of the country. It can be 


His Legal Studies 

said, in a general way, that he took the " Com- 
mentaries*' and the works on " Contracts" and on 
" Maritime Law" with delightful ease, hiving much 
philosophic thought therefrom; that while he re- 
garded the subject of "Notes and Bills" as clearly 
presented, he yet found "that 1300 pages of en- 
dorser and endorsee, acceptor and payee, grantor, 
etc., etc., gets rather insipid before it is all read"; 
that he found the textbooks on "Real Property" 
"the very salts and senna of reading" one of 
which so completely exhausted his patience that he 
characterizes it as "detestable: the style is clumsy, 
inelegant, ungrammatical, lame, feeble, muddy, 
inaccurate, systemless, metaphysical, ambiguous; 
while the thinking is but a little more lucid than the 
style." 1 

But no irritation over the subject-matter of his le- 
gal studies could check his steady progress to their 
mastery for the immediate end he had in view 
his admittance to the bar and marriage. The two 
years' course of study at the Law School was de- 

I To Miss Brooks he sends, in a playful way, the following extract 
from one of his legal textbooks a bit of feudalism as a sample 
of the "nice reading" he finds in his legal studies: 

II The tenant cannot in an avowry avoid the lords possessory right, 
because of the seizin given by his own hands. This writ does not lie 
for tenant in tail ; for he may avoid such seizin to the lord by plea to 
an avowry in replevin. The writ of mesne lies when upon a subin- 
feudation the mesne lord suffers his tenant paravail to be distrained 
upon by the lord paramount. In such case, the tenant shall be in- 
demnified by the mesne lord; and if he make default therein, he 
shall be forejudged of his mesnality, and the tenant shall hold imme- 
diately of the lord paramount." 


John Fiske 

signed as a proper preparation for admittance to 
legal practice, and it was embodied in some thirty- 
seven volumes of legal lore. After six months' study 
Fiske saw that he could compass the course in much 
less than the allotted time in fact, within nine 
months! This accomplished, he regarded his ad- 
mittance to the bar assured, and then the way was 
clear to his marriage in the following autumn. 
With this plan in mind, and to guard against any 
misunderstanding of the condition attached to his 
marriage, he had the condition of his admittance to 
the bar distinctly reaffirmed by both Mr. Stoughton 
and his mother. This secured, he bent himself un- 
reservedly to his legal studies for the next three 
months. His scientific and philosophic studies are 
much curtailed. His critical and essay writings are 
entirely given up, and he gives graphic pictures 
of his ploughing his way through such works 
as Abbott on Shipping, Stearns on Real Actions, 
Stephens on Pleading, Greenleaf on Evidence, 
Story on Equity Pleading and Jurisprudence, Long 
on Sales, Byles on Bills, etc. the course closing 
with the eminently practical and entertaining work, 
the General Statutes of Massachusetts. 

To be examined for admittance to the bar, it was 
necessary that he should be recommended to the 
examining board by some reputable lawyer. Fiske 
thought of Judge Curtis for a sponsor: but would 
the Judge recommend him on the basis of nine 
months' preparation? He sounded the Judge by 


Admitted to the Boston Bar 

asking if it was possible to pass the examination 
with a year's study. The Judge very positively 
assured him it was not such a thing had never 
been heard of, and the examination was much more 
thorough than formerly. Fiske saw he could get no 
assistance from the Judge in his project. Not at all 
disheartened, he took another method of approach. 
He got from Professor Parsons, of the Harvard Law 
School, a certificate of membership, attendance, 
general character and intelligence; and through his 
friend Roberts was introduced to Judge George 
White, of the Probate Court. Judge White, upon 
being told of Fiske's college training, his literary 
work, and his having taken the two years' course of 
reading at the Law School, very readily consented 
to propose him for examination and admission to the 
Boston Bar. What followed is best told in Fiske's 
own words, in a letter to his mother under date of 
July 13, 1864: 

" I was admitted to the Bar Monday morning. 
Last week Tuesday, I went into Court and passed an 
eight hours' written examination, answering every 
question at length, and correctly. There were 39 
questions. I was then told to come in Monday, and 
learn the result. On Monday morning I was ad- 
mitted, took the oath of office, and received my cer- 
tificate Judge Russell saying I had passed ' a most 
excellent examination.' I did not expect to be ex- 
amined in writing, or on Tuesday; but supposed 
that the Judge would appoint some attorney to 
examine me orally, on Wednesday or Thursday. 


John Fiske 

However, I am glad that it was in writing, on the 
whole, for I was thereby enabled to work up my 
answers into better shape. I felt dreadfully tired. 
I feel as if I could bid good-bye to Law with good- 
will until October." 

He duly signs this letter " John Fiske, Attorney 
at Law." 

The condition precedent to his marriage having 
been fully complied with, preparations for this im- 
portant event in his life engrossed his attention 
to the exclusion of all else save the reading of 
Scott's novels during the remainder of the sum- 
mer of 1864. Before following him to this long- 
looked-for consummation of ennobling companion- 
ship, we must return to the previous November and 
trace what followed from Dr. Youmans's visit to 
Fiske and Fiske's visit to Norton in other words, 
take note of some of the things that Fiske did in 
those hours for side study he had so carefully re- 
served from his legal studies. 

His letters and his record of his reading show that 
during the following winter and early spring his 
mind was as active along the main lines of scientific, 
historic, and philosophic thinking as ever as 
active as though he knew not law. The following 
titles of some of the works he read show that he 
ranged over a wide variety of subjects, while his 
letters make it clear that he read thoughtfully, and 
always with a definite purpose. Among the works 
read were Huxley's "Man's Place in Nature"; 


Side Study and Reading 

"Authority in Matters of Opinion*' and "Observa- 
tion in Politics," by Sir George Cornewall Lewis; 
Maine's "Ancient Law"; Irving's "Mahomet and 
his Successors"; the Koran; several volumes in 
Italian, including Vico's "Scienza Nuova"; Mill's 
"Political Economy"; Weiss's "Life of Theodore 
Parker"; Youmans's "Chemistry"; Draper's "In- 
tellectual Development of Europe "; Kenan's "Vie 
de Jesu"; "Autobiography of a Dissenting Minis- 
ter"; and he read again the works of Spencer and 
of Buckle. 

The breadth of Fiske's thought at this time is in- 
dicated by his giving attention, in this "storm and 
stress" period of his affairs, to a seventeenth and 
eighteenth-century thinker like Vico. We have, 
however, a ready explanation in the fact that Vico 
was one of the first of modern thinkers to give a 
philosophy to history based on natural law. Vico's 
place in modern thought was discussed by Fiske 
and Norton at the visit referred to, and Norton 
loaned Fiske his copy of the "Scienza Nuova." 
Fiske's comments on the work illustrate his thor- 
ough method of study. He says : 

"It is the driest, obscurist metaphysicalist book 
I ever got hold of. Confucius is a more lucid writer. 
'Mortgages' and 'Remainders' are pleasanter to 
peruse. And still it has many capital ideas some 
of them quite Maine-y-Cornewall Lewisy enough 
to keep me from throwing down the book, even 
while I curse at its clumsy phraseology." 


John Fiske 

During the winter Fiske was giving serious 
thought to a rationalistic philosophy of human his- 
tory, with the idea of embodying his thought in a 
review of Draper's "Intellectual Development of 
Europe." In his search for this philosophy he had 
better rewards than anything he found in Vico. 
One of the first thinkers of this period along the 
lines of ethical and jurisprudential evolution was Sir 
Henry Sumner Maine, whose profoundly thought- 
ful essays on "Roman Law" and "Ancient Law" 
were not only the most important contributions 
ever made by any Englishman to historical jurispru- 
dence; they were also extremely valuable contribu- 
tions to the doctrine of Evolution in its applica- 
tion to human society. 

It might well be expected that the thought of 
Sir Henry Maine would find a hearty reception in 
Fiske's expanding mind. What really occurred is 
given in a letter to Miss Brooks written imme- 
diately after reading Maine's "Ancient Law." He 
writes : 

" I have passed through an Era, and entered upon 
an Epoch in my life. Thursday evening I began 
Maine's 'Ancient Law,' and read it all day New 
Year's, finishing it at exactly twelve in the evening. 
No novel that I ever read enchained me more. I 
consider it almost next to Spencer. It has thrown 
all my ideas of Law into definite shape. It has sug- 
gested to me many new and startling views of social 
progress. It has confirmed many new generaliza- 
tions. I scarcely ever read a work so exceedingly 


Side Study and Reading 

suggestive. In fact it suggests far more than it says. 
Almost every proposition in it may be made the 
foundation of a long train of thought. But what it 
hints at, what it expresses, is wonderful. 

"He lays open the whole structure of ancient 
society; penetrates into the ideas of primitive men; 
discovers the origin of International Law; explains 
the notion of succession to property, and shows 
how wills arose ; points out the origin of the idea of 
Property; shows the progress of the idea of Contract 
and of our moral notions of Obligation ; shows how 
Criminal Law has grown up; illustrates the progress 
of men's ideas of Justice; lays bare the whole 
structure of the Feudal System, and exhibits the 
condition of society in the Middle Ages; traces 
the history of Roman jurisprudence; shows up the 
social condition of India, Russia and Austria; ex- 
plains the influence of Roman law on theology, on 
Morality and on Metaphysics; shows the way in 
which national thought depends on its language 
O, my dear! it is perfectly GLORIOUS! I am 
going to read it over and over until I know it by 

"And I am going to get you so posted up that 
you can read it. Years of study are richly rewarded, 
when they enable one to experience such an intel- 
lectual ecstasy as I felt New Year's day! When I 
came out to dinner and heard the fellows talking 
the small-talk the stuff that people talk when 
they have nothing in them to let out you can't 
imagine how dreadfully low and worthless their pur- 
suits and ideas seemed to me. O, my dear! there 
is nothing in this world like SCIENCE; nothing so 
divine as the life of a scholar! " 


John Fiske 

It was with his review of Draper's work in mind 
that he also read at this period "living's Life of 
Mahomet and his Successors," and also the Koran, 
suggested by Draper's laudation of Saracenic sci- 
ence, social well-being, toleration, and culture, in 
contrast to the ignorance, squalor, immorality, and 
persecution that prevailed throughout Christian 
Europe during the Dark Ages. Fiske did not write 
his contemplated essay on Draper, but the thoughts 
he gathered while holding the subject in mind he 
utilized later in his essays on " Rationalism" and 
"The Laws of History." Here it is interesting to 
note the effect produced on his mind by the read- 
ing of the Koran. Writing to Miss Brooks he says : 

" I have nearly finished the Koran, and though it 
is a tedious piece of reading, requiring a great deal 
of patience and attention to wade through its intri- 
cate oriental sentences yet I cannot help being 
amazed at its wonderful eloquence, its sublime poe- 
try and its lofty morality, as well as its extensive 
knowledge of Eastern traditions. 

"Mohammed must have been one of the most 
extraordinary men that ever lived to have com- 
posed such a book, without knowing how either to 
read or to write. That he did compose nearly all of 
it, can hardly be doubted. The work bears every 
evidence of genuineness. To any one that has read 
it, it is easy to see how the Arabians must have 
looked upon him as inspired, or even how he might 
well have deemed himself so, without having re- 
course to any of the old theories of his being an 


The Kor^n 

11 1 expect to finish it on Monday; I am glad that 
I have read it; for I can now appreciate the history 
of the Arabs far better than before. Our ideas of 
Mohammedanism which we get from its enemies 
mostly, are extremely distorted and falsified. Peo- 
ple don't scruple to lie about it. The Korin is 
continually accused of being sensual. On the con- 
trary it is as free from sensuality as the New Testa- 
ment; and far more so than the Old Testament. Its 
ethical tone is not quite equal to the New Testa- 
ment; but much higher than the Old. On the other 
hand, as a specimen of sublime composition it ex- 
cels the New Testament, but falls short of the poetic 
books of the Old. But when I consider it as the 
work of one man, and that an untaught man, then 
am I stupefied at the magnitude of the genius which 
produced it." 

The wide variety of his interests is reflected 
throughout the letters. Intellectually he seems to 
have been busy every waking hour of the day, and 
yet there does not appear to have been any hurry 
or confusion in the steady working of his mind. 

He is guiding Miss Brooks in a course of reading 
in ancient history, and the following are among the 
suggestions he gives her; they show how orderly 
his historical knowledge is in his own mind. 


"All Roman history previous to the invasion of 
Italy, by Pyrrhus, is largely myth, legend, and 
fable. Authentic contemporary records begin with 
Pyrrhus. This has been decisively proved by Sir 


John Fiske 

G. C. Lewis since Arnold wrote. I do not mean that 
early Roman history is all false, but that it is very 
unreliable. " 

f And here he counsels her in a way that reflects 
the scope and accuracy of his own historic knowl- 

"Yes, read your Roman history next, if you like. 
As a general rule it would be best to read Greek 
history first; but it is always best to read what we 
feel most in the mood for. Study can't be gov- 
erned by recipes. 

"When you tell me how you are getting along, 
please tell me by the events, thus: 'I am in the 
reign of Henry VI 1 1/ or wherever you may be in 
English history. Similarly in Greek and Roman 
history, where there are no reigns to go by, tell me 
at what war or other great event you have arrived. 
Any event or man mentioned at random will do, for 
I have them all tabulated in my mind." 

And here we have a passage which reflects his 
deep feeling in regard to the Athenians and to 
Athens, apropos of Miss Brooks's reading in Greek 

"Their twenty-eight years' resistance to almost 
all the rest of Greece combined is one of the grand- 
est things in history. I will quote the surpassingly 
beautiful lines of Byron to Athens in ' Childe Har- 

'And still his honeyed wealth Hymettus yields; 
There the blithe bee his fragrant fortress builds, 
The freeborn wanderer of thy mountain-air; 


Literary Writing 

Apollo still thy long, long summer gilds 

Still in his beam Mendeli's marbles glare; 

Art, Glory, Freedom fail, but Nature still is fair.' 

" Is n't that divine? Apollo is the Sun, you know. 
I think that one of the most exquisite things ever 
written. It brings the tears even when I write it. 
The history and life of Athens have always taken 
hold of my feelings intensely. Its career is one of 
the sublimest things in the world's history. Were 
n't you deeply interested in that glorious struggle 
with the Persians at Marathon, at Plataea, at 
Thermopylae and Salamis?" 

We have had occasion to notice Fiske's keen 
appreciation of fine thought wherever found. In 
a postscript to a letter to Miss Brooks we find the 
following gem : 

"The Vedas, inculcating forgiveness, say: 
"'The tree withdraweth not its shade from the 
woodcutter. ' 

" Is n't this splendid? Nothing in the Bible sur- 
passes it in my opinion. The beauty of the figure is 
perfectly irresistible." 

Fiske's literary writing during this period was 
limited to two review notices Mill's "Political 
Economy" and Youmans's "Chemistry." Both 
were written for the "North American Review." 
The review of Mill was marked by a clear, mature 
handling of a very abstruse subject, and it was 
accepted with cordial approval by Mr. Norton. 
The review of Youmans's " Chemistry " Mr. Norton 
declined, because of Fiske's hearty commendation 


John Fiske 

of the new views in chemistry which Youmans had 
introduced into his work, views which then were 
not accepted at Harvard, but which have since been 
universally accepted and have fairly reconstructed 
chemical science. Fiske had no difficulty in getting 
the review accepted by the " Atlantic," as we shall 
see a little later. 

But the most interesting feature of Fiske 's life 
at this period was his growing interest in Herbert 
Spencer and the opening of their correspondence. 
His letters to his mother show that Spencer's per- 
sonality what he could learn of it strongly im- 
pressed him. In one of his letters he expresses a 
wish that his mother would paint him a portrait of 
Spencer from a photograph which he sends her. Of 
this photograph he says: 

4 'The principal thing about the face is the ex- 
pression of the eyes and that is given in the photo- 
graph to perfection. I think I had rather have a 
picture of him as good as my head of Galileo than 
anything else in the world almost." 

He advises his mother to read Spencer's essay on 
the "Nebular Hypothesis," saying: 

" It is the greatest production of the human in- 
tellect since the Principia of Newton. With La- 
place's own data he proves what Laplace could n't." 

After the visit of Youmans, Fiske brooded much 
over the idea of writing to Spencer as Youmans 
had suggested. He hesitated, awed apparently by 



Correspondence with Spencer 

the thought of Spencer's greatness. In January 
he received a letter from Youmans in which the 
latter said that Spencer had read Fiske' s essay 
on the "Evolution of Language" with marked ap- 
proval ; and again he urged Fiske to write Spencer 
without delay. After some further deliberation 
Fiske wrote Spencer the following letter: 

PETERSHAM, MASS., February 20, 1864. 
My dear Mr. Spencer: 

I have known you a long time through your 
writings and have felt a strong desire to become 
personally acquainted with you, but the fear of 
appearing presumptuous has hitherto restrained 
me from taking any steps to secure that end. This 
apprehension has, however, been allayed by re- 
cently-occurring circumstances. 

Early in November I received a visit from Dr. 
E. L. Youmans, of New York, who had heard of 
me as the author of two Essays; the one entitled 
"Fallacies of Buckle's Theory of Civilization, " 
published in the "National Quarterly Review" for 
December, 1861 ; and the other entitled "The Evo- 
lution of Language," published in the "North 
American Review" for October, 1863. 

Dr. Youmans encouraged me to gratify my long 
felt desire of writing to you, and advised me to ac- 
company my letter with the two Essays just men- 
tioned as the most appropriate means of introduc- 
tion. Both articles have fared somewhat roughly in 
the hands of the Editors; and especially the latter 
one several entire passages were omitted by the 
late Editor of the "N. A. R." an exhibition of 
moral cowardice none the less reprehensible because 


John Fiske 

born of Christian narrowness, and accompanied by 
Christian intolerance. The most important of these 
omissions I have inserted in manuscript, thus re- 
storing the Essay, as nearly as is worth while, to 
its original form. 

The first article, written when I was nineteen 
years old and had but recently become acquainted 
with your Discovery, marks a transitional phase in 
my thought. I was brought up in the most repul- 
sive form of Calvinism in which I remained until I 
was sixteen years of age. My skepticism, excited in 
1858 by geological speculations, was confirmed in 
the following year by the work of Mr. Buckle. 

At the time when I reviewed Buckle I was just 
passing out from Comtism. During six months of 
incessant study and reflection my former idols were 
all demolished. Having successively adopted and 
rejected the system of almost every philosopher 
from Descartes to Professor Ferrier, I began the 
year 1860 with Comte, Mill, and Lewes. I then 
favored the scheme of acquiring a general knowl- 
edge of all the sciences in their hierarchical order 
as laid down by Comte, which scheme was eventu- 
ally carried out. I first noticed your name in Mr. 
Lewes's little exposition of Comte early in 1860, and 
the extract from "Social Statics" there given led 
me to put down my name for "First Principles," 
before there could have been as yet more than a 
dozen subscribers. 

It is unnecessary to enter into further details. 
The influence of your writings is apparent alike in 
every line of my writings and every sentence of my 
conversation : so inextricably have they become in- 
tertwined with my own thinking, that frequently 


Correspondence with Spencer 

on making a new generalization, I scarcely know 
whether to credit myself with it or not. 

I graduated at Harvard last summer and am 
now connected with the University as a student 
of Law. It is my purpose to occupy the leisure 
time left by my profession in working out a com- 
plete theory of the origin and evolution of Lan- 
guage after the manner sketched in my Essay on 
that subject. 

Associated with me to some extent in my stud- 
ies, and endeavoring to carry the same principles 
into Jurisprudence, is Mr. George L. Roberts, an 
attorney in the office of Mr. Justice Curtis. 

If the articles which I now send meet with your 
approval, I can desire nothing better. Hoping 
sincerely that the encouragement and assistance 
which you have so long unconsciously given me, 
you will not think it unworthy to consciously 

I am, yours truly, 



Spencer's reply was as follows : 

March 26, 1864. 

My dear Sir: 

Excuse the delay in replying to your letter of 
February 2Oth. I have been so busy with a pam- 
phlet that I have in hand that I have been able to 
attend to nothing else. 

It is very refreshing to me to meet with so much 
sympathy as that expressed in your letter. The 


John Fiske 

account you give of your intellectual progress from 
a narrow form of theology to wider beliefs is inter- 
esting; and the amount of labor and thought you 
have evidently gone through in the course of this 
change implies an unbiased search after truth very 
unusual would it were more usual. It is a satis- 
faction to me to find that after traversing such wide 
and various fields of speculation as those you de- 
scribe, you should express so decided an adhesion 
to the doctrines I have set forth. As your fellow- 
countryman, Emerson, remarks, "One's own be- 
liefs gain in strength on finding that another's co- 
incides with them." 

Thank you for sending copies of the two essays 
with the manuscript additions. I had already seen 
the one in the " North American Review." After 
reviews of the ordinary unthinking kind it was 
pleasant to read a review which showed not only 
power of appreciation but also power of independ- 
ent thought. Judging from the indications given 
in that article I doubt not that you will render im- 
portant service in elaborating the doctrine of Evo- 
lution in its application to Language. By all 
means persevere; and encourage your friend Mr. 
Roberts to do the like in his department. The field 
is so vast a one that it requires more than one 
labourer to work in it. 

The pamphlet named at the outset as having so 
much absorbed my energies since receiving your 
letter, is on the " Classification of the Sciences," 
with an appendix rebutting the current idea that 
I belong to the school of Comte. This will be is- 
sued here in a few days: and I hope will be issued 
in the United States some few weeks after you 


Correspondence with Spencer 

receive this. I will request Professor Youmans to 
forward copies to you, and to Mr. Roberts. 
I am, dear Sir, 

Very truly yours, 

U.S. A. 

That Fiske was delighted to receive this recogni- 
tion from Herbert Spencer a recognition which, 
considering Spencer's habitual reserve, was remark- 
ably cordial the following bears testimony. The 
letter was at once shown to Roberts and was then 
sent to his mother in New York, with whom Miss 
Brooks w r as visiting, with the following hasty com- 

"I have had a splendid letter from Spencer 
hardly dare to send it by mail. Yet I will put it in 
with this. Give it to Abby to bring back with her 
when she comes. Treat it as carefully as if it were a 
scroll of Al Koran just tumbled from the Prophet's 
pen which he did n't use, by the way, as he 
could n't write." 

Having by April fully made up his mind that he 
would prepare for the bar examination to be held in 
Boston in July, Fiske gave up all writing during the 
intervening time, and concentrated his mind upon 
his legal studies, as we have seen, with an occasional 
dip into his philosophical studies. His review of 
Youmans 's "Chemistry," which Norton declined, 


John Fiske 

was readily accepted by the " Atlantic Monthly* 1 
and was published in the August number of that 
magazine for 1 864 thus becoming his first con- 
tribution to the magazine that subsequently came 
to regard him as one of its most valued contributors. 

Reviewing Fiske's intellectual activity in its 
variety and its totality, during the nine months in 
which he was preparing for admission to the bar, 
one cannot but be impressed both by its quantity 
and its quality. His law reading speaks for itself. 
His general reading centering around the doctrine 
of Evolution reflects not only his own predilections, 
but also the philosophic trend of the time. An ex- 
amination of the leading journals of thought during 
this, the middle period of the last century, shows 
most convincingly the great unrest that was affect- 
ing all phases of religious and philosophic thinking, 
arising from the then recent advances in science and 
their bearing upon all the interests of social well- 

Fiske was not insensible to this great discussion. 
He could not be. He was surrounded by an atmos- 
phere of doubt and speculation as to absolute veri- 
ties, the like of which had never before occurred in 
the development of human thinking, and he was 
simply seeking for the truth. We shall soon see what 
these advances in science were that were producing 
such momentous changes in the development of hu- 
man thought. At present we have only to note that 


His Marriage 

the study of the law even under the very excep- 
tional conditions we have been considering could 
not crowd out, could hardly diminish, Fiske's activ- 
ity in the pursuit of his favorite studies in science, 
history, and philosophy. And this statement should 
be made during these months of persistent, stren- 
uous mental labor, he was cheered, encouraged, and 
sustained by the ever-considerate, sympathetic af- 
fection of Miss Brooks. The state of his mind just 
before his examination for the bar is reflected in this 
passage in one of his letters: "Tell you what, my 
dear, Petersham hills will look pleasant, if I am a 
member of the bar when I next see you." 

Following his admission to the bar, the letters to 
his mother give interesting details of his and Miss 
Brooks's happy cooperative work in furnishing and 
arranging his student rooms at Holyoke Place, 
Cambridge, in which they were to begin, in a mod- 
est way, their wedded life. These letters show his 
ever- thoughtful consideration for his mother and his 

On the 6th of September, 1864, at 11.30 A.M., 
John Fiske and Abby Morgan Brooks were mar- 
ried by the Reverend Edmund B. Willson, assisted 
by Dr. A. P. Peabody, at Appleton Chapel, Harvard 
University, Cambridge. This was the first wedding 
in Appleton Chapel, and Professor Paine played the 
organ on the occasion. 




FISKE'S practice of the law was brief and uneventful. 
On his return from his wedding journey he sought 
office room with an established attorney, where, by 
paying a portion of the rent, he could have a desk, 
and thus to some extent come into touch with pro- 
fessional practice. He had the good wishes of a 
number of influential friends, and Mr. Stoughton's 
extensive clientage required occasional professional 
work in Boston. After applications in a few direc- 
tions he finally secured desk-room with Edward F. 
Hodges at No. 42 Court Street, where on the office 
door his name duly appeared as "Attorney at 
Law." He was afterwards in the office of David P. 
Kimball for a time. Desiring to obtain the degree 
of LL.B. from the Harvard Law School, he kept his 
connection with the Law School as student for an- 
other year, and took part " on the wrong side " in 
a moot case. In July, 1865, he received his degree. 
He was as methodical in his practice of the law 
as in his literary work, and was faithfully at his 


Attorney at Law 

office desk five hours a day. But clients were not 
forthcoming. Meantime he seems to have given 
himself largely to the reading of modern fiction 
as represented by the novels of Scott, Dickens, 
Hawthorne, George Eliot, Charles Reade, Dumas, 
Bulwer, Thackeray, and Charles Kingsley. This 
fiction reading appears to have been interspersed 
with quite a wide range of general reading in phil- 
ology, history, science, and philosophy, and with 
very little law. His admiration for Scott and Dick- 
ens finds frequent expression, as well as his strong 
liking for Thackeray, Charles Reade, and George 
Eliot. Hawthorne he does not like at all, and he 
expresses himself thus "Hawthorne's 'Marble 
Faun* and 'House of Seven Gables' are trash. 
'Scarlet Letter' is bearable." 

The record of his reading shows that the works 
of Spencer, Darwin, Mill, Lewes, and Lyell were 
read and re-read, while the letters reveal the fact 
that the whole tenor of his thought was centring 
around the evolutionary philosophy. And this fact 
seemed to enlarge his sympathies and interests in 
various directions, as a few extracts from the letters 
will show. 

Fiske's historical reading included Prescott's 
"Ferdinand and Isabella," and "Philip the Sec- 
ond," together with Motley's "Rise of the Dutch 
Republic" and his "United Netherlands." Fiske 
comments upon Prescott and Motley as historians 


John Fiske 

" I like Motley better than Prescott. He treats tyr- 
anny more disrespectfully. If a king like Philip II 
is a rake, a bigot, a burglar, an assassin, he calls 
him so, instead of his speaking of his 'arbitrary 
and somewhat unscrupulous policy/ While, on the 
other hand, his reverence for a great defender of hu- 
man rights, like William the Silent, almost amounts 
to worship. Motley is a historian of the People. 
Prescott of Kings and Nobles: so that, although 
Prescott is a rather better writer, I consider Motley 
much more of a historian. Motley's style is a little 
too jerky and mannerish, but it has vitality. " 

His thought is turned to making a list of the 
men who should be placed in the first rank for intel- 
lectual power, and he is struck by the fact that 
"Florence has been the birthplace of four men of 
the first order of genius Dante, Leonardo da 
Vinci, Michael Angelo, Machiavelli; and Galileo, 
although born in Pisa, was of a Florentine family/' 

Speaking of Shakespeare, he says : 

" I am angry because I am so ignorant of Shake- 
speare. I have thought of beginning at once and 
reading him through, interrupting Spanish history 
for the purpose/' 

Writing of a translation of Goethe's "Faust," he 
says : 

"The prayer of Margaret to the Virgin is, in the 
German, one of the most heart-breaking things in 
poetry. I have never read it without crying aloud. 


Essay Writing 

The translation is as good as it could be made; but 
not having been done by miracle, it necessarily fails 
to produce the combined effect of music and mean- 
ing, of sound and sense, which the German does." 

Referring to his philological studies, he says: 

"Getting a lot of languages is like getting a lot of 
money. You have to keep at it all the time in order 
not to lose your acquisitions. A word has a tend- 
ency to slip out of one's head, much as a quarter 
has a tendency to crawl out of one's pocket-book. 
With sufficient digging and scrubbing, however, 
I suppose that both words and quarters could be 
saved and accumulated." 

While waiting for clients and reading discursively 
in various directions, Fiske's thought was centring 
around questions pertaining to man's sociological 
development and the application to these ques- 
tions of the doctrine of Evolution. Two subjects 
along the lines of historico sociological inquiry were 
brought freshly before him by the publication of 
Max Miiller's "Lectures on the Science of Lan- 
guage" and Lecky's "History of Rationalism in 
Europe." He took these two works as texts for 
writing two essays, entitled "Problems in Lan- 
guage and Mythology" and "The Conflict of Rea- 
son with Bigotry and Superstition." Both essays 
were published in the "Christian Examiner," the 
leading organ of the Unitarian denomination. 

The latter essay was first sent to Norton for the 
"North American Review." Norton accepted it 


John Fiske 

with marked approval "as an excellent piece of 
work," but, after keeping it for several months, he 
returned it for some changes, which Fiske, as a care- 
ful student of mediaeval and modern history, could 
not make. This essay is especially noteworthy for 
its fine spirit of critical equilibrium or tolerance 
throughout. Having occasion to review the whole 
history of Christian superstition, bigotry, and per- 
secution, he writes not at all in the spirit of a parti- 
san, but with the fairness of an Evolutionist, who 
saw, beneath the perturbations of European society 
from the beginning of the Christian era down to 
the present time, the steady unfolding of ever- 
higher ethical ideals, as well as of conduct based on 
those ideals; in other words, the slow but steady 
metamorphosing of Christianity itself through the 
evolution of its own ethical and spiritual content. 

During this period of waiting, Fiske reveals him- 
self to his mother through his reading, his thought, 
his writing as frankly as before his marriage. On 
July 21, 1865, his daughter Maud was born, open- 
ing, as we shall see, through parenthood, a fresh and 
deeply interesting phase in Fiske' s character. 
. Still few clients: and facing the future with a 
family on his hands, it appears that, during the 
autumn of 1865, thoughts of giving up the law and 
devoting himself to literature, science, and philoso- 
phy were forcing themselves on Fiske 's mind. His 
experience of a year in an endeavor to unite the 
practice of the law with the pursuit of his favorite 


Gives up Law for Literature 

studies had shown him that the task was a hopeless 
one, that they had nothing in common, and that 
one must be given up. 

But he hesitated to give up a definitely formed 
purpose. He writes: "My obstinacy comes in and 
says, ' By George, I won't give up what I have once 
tried, unless I have to!'" And so, at the opening 
of the year 1866, we find him still in doubt as to 
his future course literature and philosophy or 
the law. His predilections were all for the former, 
while his respect for the wishes of his mother and of 
Mr. S tough ton restrained him from decisive action. 
But his mother and Mr. Stoughton were not un- 
observant. They saw his desire to respect their 
wishes and the uncomplaining way in which he had 
entered upon a course of professional life that had 
for him but few attractions; while his letters re- 
vealed the great activity of his mind along the new 
lines of thought which science was now opening for 
human consideration. His mother and Mr. Stough- 
ton, .therefore, clearly saw that any form of pro- 
fessional life that would compel him to give up his 
favorite studies would be a perversion of his re- 
markable intellectual powers, and they readily ac- 
quiesced in his proposal to give up the law and con- 
centrate himself upon a literary life, with whatever 
results the future might unfold. 

This decision having been reached early in 1866, 
in the spring of this year Fiske took his little family 
for a while to his grandmother's home in Middle- 


John Fiske 

town, Connecticut, where amidst the scenes of his 
youth he could quietly get his thoughts into order 
and make a beginning upon the various literary 
projects that for some time had been shaping in his 

In the first place, he seems to have made a care- 
ful inventory, as it were, of his intellectual prop- 
erty, to see where his mental capital was most ad- 
vantageously invested for productive working. He 
realized that while he had a fair grasp of the gen- 
eral principles underlying the physical, chemical, 
and biological sciences, he was not an original in- 
vestigator in any one of them. He saw that his 
chief acquisitions were in the mathematical, the 
historical, and the sociological sciences, with a de- 
cided taste for philosophic science; that is, the 
science of the sciences the ultimate postulates of 
the human mind as to the origin and destiny of the 
phenomena of the physical cosmos and human con- 
sciousness, as well as to the reality that lies back 
of all cosmic phenomena. 

This survey of his intellectual equipment was 
accompanied by an equally thoughtful survey of 
the historical and sociological sciences, wherein it 
appeared that the record of human history was still 
to a large extent under bondage to certain theo- 
logico-historic assumptions which denied to the 
various historic periods all causal sequence, and 
made them the unrelated, mysterious workings of a 
Divine personality whose methods of dealing with 

The Doctrine of Evolution 

humanity were forever inscrutable to the reason- 
ing mind. Fiske's chief acquisitions were in these 
sciences, and he had been a careful student of 
Vico, Lessing, Herder, Comte, Mommsen, Grote, 
and Buckle in their efforts to free the historic record 
of civilization from its bondage to theologic dogmas. 
Further, he was familiar with the recent advances 
in the ethnological, the philological, and the eco- 
nomical sciences, wherein the existence of some deep- 
seated physico-sociological laws governing man's 
relations to the cosmos and to his brother man were 
clearly adumbrated. Again, he had come to the 
acceptance of Spencer's definition of life "the 
continuous adjustment of internal relations to ex- 
ternal relations" as the law of the organic world 
and the master key to all social phenomena. The 
doctrine of Evolution in its physical and sociolog- 
ical bearings meant to him the reenvisagement of 
human knowledge for the synthetic production of 
higher ideals of character and life than had prevailed 
in previous dispensations, and hence, the presenta- 
tion of the bearing of this doctrine upon all the 
higher interests of humanity seemed to him to be 
his special vocation. 

That Fiske clearly saw that his generation was 
passing through a memorable epoch in the unfold- 
ing of civilization, and that he realized what the 
doctrine of Evolution meant to the social well- 
being of the future, is evident from his letters and 
his essays, while those who enjoyed his personal 


John Fiske 

friendship bear testimony to the radiant hope with 
which (in the face of much discouragement) he 
entered upon his task. 

One thing should be specially noted here. Among 
scholars in America he stood practically alone in 
his advocacy of Evolution. The only scholar with 
whom he could have familiar converse on this sub- 
ject was Professor Gurney, but he was too closely 
identified with the negative feeling prevailing at 
Harvard, in regard to the scientific thought of the 
time, to act other than as a friendly, conservative 
adviser. He sympathized with Fiske in his aspira- 
tions and his ideals, but he could not counsel Fiske 
to their advocacy. It is difficult at the present time 
to understand the bitter feeling the doctrine of 
Evolution brought forth at Harvard a generation 
ago. The doctrine was associated with Darwinism, 
or man's simian ancestry, and Agassiz stood for- 
ward as the great scientific champion of the theo- 
logical dogma of special Divine creation. His word 
was law, in both science and philosophy; and as he 
had characterized Darwinism as but an ephemeral 
phase of English thought, and was active in cham- 
pioning the idea of special Divine creation through- 
out the organic world, the whole philosophic weight 
of his teaching was thrown directly against any 
rational philosophy of organic life, or of human 
history. Both were regarded as but the mysterious 
workings of a Divine will, and this Divine will was 
but an outcome from the finite mind of man. Hence, 


Laws of History 

as we have already seen, the courses in philosophy 
and history were wholly unworthy of the college. 

It is worth noting that at this time, while Fiske 
was preparing himself for a ministration a little 
later at Harvard which was to be one of the first 
steps in a significant change in all departments of 
the university, he was practically isolated in his 
thought from all the Harvard influences. And yet 
he was not isolated from the active world of thought 
that was surging around every independent, fair- 
minded thinker. Free to give his mind its natural 
tendency, he turned to the philosophy of history as 
offering, through the new light of Evolution, rich 
fields for exploration. 

The first fruits of his intellectual freedom were 
two essays on the "Laws of History/' in which he 
reviewed some theories of historical development 
recently set forth by Goldwin Smith, William 
Adam, John W. Draper, and Sir Henry Sumner 
Maine. He sent these essays to George Henry 
Lewes, the editor of the "Fortnightly Review," the 
organ of liberal thought in England, and they were 
promptly accepted. These essays were not repub- 
lished by Fiske, for the reason that he used their 
main points in his subsequent writings. They are 
of interest, however, in tracing the development of 
Fiske's thought, by reason of the emphasis he put 
upon certain points which have since held no un- 
important place in the philosophic discussion of 
history. These points were: 


John Fiske 

Fir st t he asserted the existence of a universal law 
of life governing all organic phenomena - a law as 
operative in the development of human society as in 
the vegetable and animal kingdoms, a law which 
had been defined by Spencer as " the continuous ad- 
justment of internal relations to external relations. " 

Second, he claimed that human history should 
be regarded in relation to its origins, and also in re- 
gard to its wholeness as embracing a fundamental 
ethical content. 

Third, he denied the volitional theory of history 
both in regard to its being the product of man's 
free will, or the product of a Divine Will, so long 
as the latter is limited to the finite conceptions 
of man the Divine Will of theology. 

Fourth, he postulated the existence of "an all-per- 
vading, all-sustaining Power, eternally and every- 
where manifested in the phenomenal activity of 
the universe, alike the Cause of all and the in- 
scrutable essence of all, without whom the world 
would become like the shadow of a vision and 
thought itself would vanish" a power far trans- 
cending any possible conception of the human mind, 
and whose manifestations in human history are to 
be truly traced only by a careful and reverent study 
of "the conditions of co-existence, and the modes 
of sequence of historic phenomena. " 

In his notes for the essays there appears the fol- 
lowing fine passage which does not appear in his 

"Though the history of our lives written down 
by the unswerving finger of Nature presents motive 
and volition in an ever unbroken sequence, yet the 


Laws of History 

detached fragments of the record, like the leaves of 
the Cumsean sibyl caught by the fitful breeze of cir- 
cumstance, and whirled wantonly hither and thither 
lie in such intricate confusion that no ingenuity can 
enable us wholly to reconstruct the legend. But 
could we attain to a knowledge commensurate with 
the facts could we reach the hidden depths, 
where according to Dante, 1 the story of Nature 
scattered over the universe in truant leaves, is lying 
firmly bound in a mystic volume, we should find 
therein no traces of hazard or incongruity." 

In summing up the points in these two essays 
Fiske says: " Doubtless to many persons the views 
here maintained may seem all but atheistical. They 
are precisely the reverse. Our choice is no longer be- 
tween an intelligent Cause and none at all. It lies 
between a limited Cause, and one that is without 
limit"; and he adds that the conception of a pre- 
siding Will, the product of the finite mind, "is a 
truly shocking conception." 

We should note the distinction that Fiske makes 
here, for we shall see him emphasizing it again and 
again in the years to come. He does not deny the 
existence of God. What he denies is the power of 
the finite mind to conceive God. What he affirms 
is the existence of a Divine Being transcending the 
power of the human mind in any way to measure or 
to limit. What he denies is the existence of any 

1 Dante's Paradise, xxxm, 85 : 

Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna 
Legato con amore in un volume 
Cid che per 1'universo si squaderna. 


John Fiske 

such limited Being as dogmatic theology has im- 
posed on the Christian world. 

The first of these essays attracted the attention of 
the eminent historian George Grote, who, in writ- 
ing his friend Alexander Bain, under date of Sep- 
tember 4, 1868, says: 

"The same number ["Fortnightly Review" for 
September, 1868] contained also an admirable ar- 
ticle upon the 'Science of History,' written with 
great ability and in the best spirit by an American 
whose name I never heard before John Fiske. I 
am truly glad to find that there are authors capa- 
ble, as well as willing, to enunciate such thoughts. 
This article is the first of an intended pair: it con- 
tains the negative side exceedingly well handled. I 
scarcely dare to hope that the positive matter in the 
sequel will be equally good." 1 

It was while engaged upon these essays that 
Fiske, through his friend Youmans, heard with pro- 
found sorrow of Herbert Spencer's contemplated 
abandonment of the further development of his 
philosophical system owing to the want of sufficient 
support. Fiske was stirred to prompt action in 
Spencer's behalf, and he sent to the "New York 
World" a brief yet remarkably lucid exposition of 
the philosophy of Spencer with the following earn- 
est plea for its support : 

"One of Mr. Spencer's eminent countrymen re- 
marks that the closing of his series of works would 
1 Life and Letters of George Grote. 

Correspondence with Spencer 

be a blow to English thought and a shame to Eng- 
lish education. The disgrace would not be Eng- 
land's alone, but would fall more or less upon the 
whole civilized world. Mr. Spencer's discoveries, 
though the production of one country and one 
epoch are destined to become the heritage of all 
nations, and of all time and all are interested in 
seeing that they are not permanently brought to 
a close." 

Fiske's thought at this time turned strongly to- 
ward Spencer personally. His deep interest in the 
latter's philosophy, his isolation in America as an 
advocate of that philosophy, together with the 
knowledge of Spencer's financial embarrassment in 
the publication of his work, all combined to pro- 
duce in Fiske's mind a feeling of profound respect, 
if not veneration, for Spencer himself. The feeling 
of the two men toward each other and the difficul- 
ties under which they were both laboring in the 
propagation of their philosophical ideas are reflected 
in the sort of autobiographical letters that passed 
between them at this time: 

Fiske to Spencer 

MlDDLETOWN, CONN., June 3, l866. 

My dear Mr. Spencer: 

I have allowed two years to elapse without writ- 
ing to you, from a natural unwillingness to encroach 
upon your valuable time. At present, however, I 
have something to tell that may interest you. But 
first, let me say, that since my first letter to you I 


John Fiske 

have graduated at the Law School, been admitted 
to the Bar, become a husband, and a father, prac- 
ticed law a year, and abandoned the profession in 
disgust. I have made the discovery that I am, as 
regards my constitutional relations to my environ- 
ment, an idealist and not a realist; and that in order 
to accomplish anything worthy I must not seek to 
quit my ideal world. I have therefore come to a 
quiet country town where I expect to stay (alone 
with my books and family) until some philological 
professorship or other place, which " practical" 
men cannot fill shall take me away. I shall devote 
much time to acquiring a thorough knowledge of 
Sanskrit and Greek, as the basis of future labors; 
and hope from time to time to write articles, as 
a means both of mental training and of material 

At Dr. Youmans's request, I recently wrote for 
"The World," a New York paper, a short exposi- 
tion of the Law of Evolution adapted to the com- 
prehension of newspaper readers. There is nothing 
remarkable in the article, but as it relates to your 
philosophy I send you a copy. I also sent copies to 
Mr. Mill and Professor Huxley, neither of whom I 
have the pleasure of knowing but who as I thought 
might be interested in it by reason of its subject. 

To come to what I had chiefly in mind in be- 
ginning this letter I hope to publish next year a 
volume of essays illustrative of your philosophy, 
entitled "Essays of Evolution," unless I can find a 
better title. I twill consist of the following essays: 
I, the Evolution of Language; II, Language and 
Mythology; III, The Evolution of Written Lan- 
guage; IV, The Laws of History; V, Buckle's 

Correspondence with Spencer 

Theory of History; VI, The Positive Philosophy; 
VII, Ancient Science; VIII, The Influence of Ra- 
tionalism. I wrote number VIII six months ago, 
but the Editor of the " North American Review/* 
after enthusiastically accepting it, has returned it 
unpublished. It will, I trust, appear elsewhere be- 
fore long and then I will send you a copy. Number 
IV is nearly finished and I have offered it to Mr. 
Lewes for the " Fortnightly. " The rest all exist in 
embryo, except number VII, in which I may include 
some remarks on Mr. Lewes's Aristotle. Number V, 
which I think I sent you, will be greatly improved. 
Into number VI, I wish to introduce some consider- 
ations respecting your true relations to Comte and 
Mill. It seems to me that a book of this sort will 
not be wholly without raison d'etre, even though it 
may contain but little that is absolutely new under 
the sun. 

May I ask if you know of an English periodical 
which will publish an article on Positivism? I 
hardly dare apply to the "Westminster"; and in 
the "Fortnightly," also, the ground is taken up. 
I shall be obliged to depend to a great extent on 
English reviews, for the Editor of the "North 
American" looks askance at everything written 
from my point of view. It is indeed almost impos- 
sible to deal with him, and all the other periodicals 
here are, I grieve to say, orthodox (except the 
"Christian Examiner," which is pecuniarily poor). 

The proposed abandonment of your series of 
works has filled me with consternation and sorrow, 
but I cannot bring myself to contemplate that 
abandonment as final. I live in the hope that the 

John Fiske 

present state of things will sometime be changed 
and that your scheme will be ultimately completed. 
Whatever can be done in my humble way to excite 
interest in your work will always be cheerfully done, 
and as I grow older, I trust that I shall be able to do 
more than at present. 

With all the deep affection and respect of a dis- 
ciple, I am, my dear sir, very truly yours, 


Spencer to Fiske 


LONDON, June 19, 1866. 
My dear Mr. Fiske: 

Your letter, received the other day, gave me much 
gratification as one coming from so active a sym- 
pathizer was sure to do. I read it, however, not with 
a uniform feeling of pleasure; for some of the pas- 
sages giving me an account of your personal affairs 
and prospects and intentions caused me some re- 
gret. Judging from my own experience I fear that 
you will meet with much difficulty in getting an 
adequate demand for the kind of writing with which 
you propose to occupy yourself. Besides the very 
limited number of periodicals sufficiently liberal to 
admit articles of the kind you have sketched out, 
there is even among such liberal ones, a very general 
unreadiness to receive such articles, on the ground 
that they are unattractive to readers. As I have 
myself had ample proof in the case of the "West- 
minster Review," it frequently and I believe gen- 
erally happens, that periodicals established for the 
purpose of propagating liberal opinions, but pres- 
ently having to struggle for existence from want of 
sufficient support, are prone to subordinate their 


Correspondence with Spencer 

original aims to the cultivation of a light literature 
that will bring more readers, and while there comes 
to be a great anxiety to secure lively articles, the 
graver articles, having for their aim the diffusion of 
the ideas which the periodical specially represents, 
come to be looked at coldly, and to be postponed 
or declined in favor of articles of a more popular 

Possibly this state of things may be less marked 
in America than it is here: you have a larger public 
interested in advanced opinions. This aspect of the 
matter will I fear be unexpected and disappointing 
to you ; for you appear to imply the hope that there 
may be a larger sphere for philosophical writings 
with us, than with you. This, however, as I have 
hinted, is by no means the case, and I fear there will 
be great difficulty in getting places here for articles 
of the kind you describe. 

Dr. Chapman, the Editor of the "Westminster/ 1 
who has all along been under pressure to make as 
much income as he can by it, has been in the habit 
of obtaining a considerable proportion of gratuitous 
articles articles of the graver kind being more es- 
pecially those for which he is least willing to pay. 
This, as you may suppose, is an obstacle in the way 
of those who have not established relations with 
him. I will, however, name the matter to him 
mentioning more especially the article on the " Evo- 
lution of Written Language" as one which he might 
look upon favorably, because it gives some prom- 
ise of facts of popular interest. The only other 
periodical besides the "Fortnightly Review" which 
occurs to me as a possible sphere is "Macmillan's 
Magazine." I will speak to Professor Masson on 


John Fiske 

the matter if I can see him before leaving town, and 
will read him the titles of the articles you propose 
some of which I think he may consider available. 

Thank you for the copies of papers you have been 
so good as to send me, as also for the labor you have 
bestowed on the clear expositions they contain, 
which will, I doubt not, be of great service in diffus- 
ing general and approximate conceptions. The vol- 
ume you name would I think help very much to 
popularize the general doctrine as well as strengthen 
it by further illustrative matter. To the average 
mind the special applications to minor groups of 
the phenomena are more instructive than more 
general expositions; and are especially desirable as 
steps by which they may ascend to a comprehen- 
sion of the whole. I hope, therefore, that you will 
be able to fulfil your intentions; and shall be heartily 
glad to hear that you make the book remunerative. 

Respecting my own affairs to which you so sym- 
pathetically refer, you will perceive by the notice 
appended to the forthcoming number, that I have 
cancelled the notice of cessation issued with the 
last. An unforeseen event the sudden death of 
my father has changed my position so far as will 
enable me to continue my work without going on 
sinking what little property I possess; as I have 
been doing year by year ever since I began writing 
books. I shall therefore persevere as hitherto, and 
hope, indeed, after the completion of the present 
volume, to proceed somewhat more rapidly. 1 

Very truly yours, 


1 The references in these letters to the cessation by Spencer cf 
his work on his philosophy and its resumption do not tell the whole 


New Era at Harvard 

These letters are of interest as showing how diffi- 
cult it was at this time (1866) to get any phase of 
the doctrine of Evolution before the public, even 
through the periodicals devoted to the propagation 
of liberal thought. Both Spencer and Fiske lived to 
see the day when anything.they might write on the 
subject would be gladly welcomed by the leading 
periodicals and at the highest rate of payment. 

In the meantime events were taking place at 
Harvard which were destined completely to change 
the ideals of education and the methods of instruc- 
tion throughout the university. The recent discover- 
ies in the physical and chemical sciences and their 
applications in the arts and the industries, the re- 
sults of investigations in the physiologico-sociolog- 
ical sciences and their social import, the advances 
in historical, philological, and Biblical criticism 
and their bearing upon men's religious beliefs and 
ideas of causation, were bringing great changes 
in the vocations of the people and opening new 
avenues for scholarly research. They were also pre- 
senting human life in its sociological aspects as 
of supreme importance, as well as emphasizing, as 
never before, that the outcome of University educa- 
tion should bear directly upon the production of the 

story. The month following these letters (July, 1866) Youmans 
called upon Spencer and presented him with seven thousand dol- 
lars in good securities, and a beautiful gold watch of American 
manufacture, as an expression of appreciation from his American 
friends. (See Spencer's A utobiography, vol. n, p. 165, Fiske's Life of 
Edward L. Youmans, p. 215.) 


John Fiske 

broadest efficiency in individual social serviceable- 

In a way, Harvard was not insensible to the on- 
ward trend of the deeper thought of the time. With 
men like Benjamin Peirce, James Russell Lowell, 
Asa Gray, Ephraim Gurney, Jeffries Wyman, 
Francis J. Child, William W. Goodwin, and Louis 
Agassiz as members of her staff of instruction, she 
could not be. Yet the best aspirations of her faculty 
were held in check or thwarted by a system of 
control wholly undemocratic in character, and which 
held the administration tied to mediaeval ideals 
and methods of education which had been practi- 
cally outgrown. 

This year 1866 distinctly marks the beginning of 
a new era in the life of Harvard. As an outgrowth 
of her Puritanical foundation, the college had since 
1810 been held in a sort of vassalage to an external 
ministerial and political control, exerted through a 
Board of Overseers. The duties of this Board were 
not well defined, nor were its prerogatives clearly 
established. Since 1851 the Board had consisted of 
the Governor of the State, the Lieutenant-Gover- 
nor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the 
House of Representatives, the Secretary of the State 
Board of Education, the President and the Treasurer 
of the College, and thirty other persons elected by the 
joint action of both houses of the State Legislature. 
The thirty persons elected by the Legislature were 
citizens of the State eminent in the professions and 


New Era at Harvard 

they represented more or less the local religious and 
political interests of the State. By virtue of its 
political creation and its vaguely defined duties, 
the Board assumed much authority; and often, 
through its affirmative and its negative action, 
proved a serious obstruction to needed changes in 
the conduct of the university, while the very na- 
ture of its local, political creation stood as a bar to 
any broad interest in the university on the part of 
its alumni. 

In 1865 some broad-minded members of the 
alumni sought to break up this archaic ministerial 
and political alliance in the control of the univer- 
sity. They succeeded in getting an act through the 
Massachusetts Legislature on April 28, 1865, by 
virtue of which the State entirely withdrew from 
any further connection with the Board of Over- 
seers, both on the part of its executive officers and 
through the Legislature. By this act also it was 
ordered, that, beginning with Commencement Day, 
1866, all future members of the Board should be 
elected by the alumni of the college. 

Accordingly on Commencement Day, July 19, 
1866, the new method of electing the Board of Over- 
seers was inaugurated ; and as the alumni on this 
occasion held one of their triennial festivals, the 
orator of the day, the Reverend Frederick H. 
Hedge, D.D., an alumnus of the class of 1828, and a 
liberal-minded Unitarian clergyman, took the occa- 
sion of the coming of the alumni as an electorate 


John Fiske 

into the government of Harvard as a fitting oppor- 
tunity for offering some suggestions as to needed 
reforms at their Alma Mater. 

Dr. Hedge was outspoken in his condemnation of 
the educational ideals and methods that then pre- 
vailed at Harvard. He described the college "as a 
place where boys are made to recite lessons from 
textbooks, and to write compulsory exercises, and 
are marked according to their proficiency and 
fidelity in these performances, with a view to a 
somewhat protracted exhibition of themselves at 
the close of their college course, which, according 
to a pleasant academic fiction, is termed their 
' Commencement/ ' 

After this arraignment, Dr. Hedge pleaded for 
the abolishment of the whole system of marks and 
college rank and compulsory tasks, and for the free- 
dom of a true university freedom for the young 
men to select their studies and their teachers from 
the material and the personnel that was offered to 

The address was an inspiring call to the alumni, 
now that they had become invested with no small 
degree of responsibility for the future conduct of 
the university, so to use their power that their 
beloved Alma Mater might "lay off the pr&texta of 
its long minority, and take its place among the 
universities, properly so called, of modern times." 

Fiske came up to this Commencement for his 
degree of M.A., and heard Dr. Hedge's address. 


New Era at Harvard 

Shortly after I met him with Professor Gurney. 
Fiske was delighted with the address, and was full 
of enthusiasm for the possible development of Har- 
vard, now that the shackles which had bound her 
to the past had been broken and her alumni had 
become a positive force in her government. In the 
course of the conversation Fiske expressed the hope 
that Dr. Hedge's address would be supplemented 
by a more detailed statement of what the reform 
at Harvard should be, and the ground upon which 
it should be based. Professor Gurney then said: 
"John, why don't you write such a paper your- 
self? You can do it." "Yes," said Fiske, "but I 
am not sufficiently known, and I don't know where 
I could get such a paper published. " I then said: 
"There is no doubt but Mr. Fields would take it for 
the ' Atlantic Monthly/ l as he is greatly interested 
in this whole question here at Harvard, and has 
arranged to print Dr. Hedge's address in the next 
number of the ' Atlantic.' " Professor Gurney imme- 
diately said: "John, here is your chance. You are 
just the man for this task. You know the conditions 
here and what the nature of the reform should be. Go 
in and identify yourself with the new movement!" 
The next day I brought the matter to Mr. 
Fields's attention, and he was only too glad to fol- 
low up in the "Atlantic " Dr. Hedge's address with 
such a paper as Fiske proposed. Accordingly I 

1 James T. Fields was then the editor of the Atlantic Monthly 
and I was one of its publishers. 


John Fiske 

arranged with Fiske for an article on " University 
Reform" of about ten pages. He sent me the 
article in November following, and Mr. Fields was 
so greatly pleased with it that, in paying for it, 
a substantial sum was added to the stipulated 
price. The article was published in the " Atlantic 
Monthly " for April, I867. 1 

One cannot read this article to-day without be- 
ing impressed by the clear insight with which Fiske 
viewed the various problems of University educa- 
tion that then confronted Harvard and the judicial 
fairness with which they were brought under con- 
sideration. He defined the object of university edu- 
cation to be the teaching of " the student how to 
think for himself, and then to give him the material 
to exercise his thought upon." He then adds: 
" When a University throws its influence into the 
scale in favor of any party, religious or political, 
philosophic or aesthetic, it is neglecting its conse- 
crated duty, and abdicating its high position. It 
has postponed the interests of truth to those of 
dogma." His appraisement of the distinctive values 
of the mathematical, the scientific, the historical, 
and the classical studies, and his adjustment of 
them in a well-rounded scheme of University edu- 
cation, were very clearly set forth, while his sugges- 
tions for introducing the elective system under the 
varied conditions of elementary education which 

1 My recollections in regard to this article are confirmed by 
Fiske's letters to his mother, written at this time. 


University Reform 

so seriously handicapped every freshman class at 
Harvard, show the thoroughness with which he had 
studied this very perplexing phase of the general 

As might be expected, he emphasized the impor- 
tance of providing for fine scholarship at the uni- 
versity, by establishing a course of post-graduate 
instruction. This, however, was not, perhaps, the 
immediate need of the college so much as the getting 
a right appraisement of the undergraduate studies, 
with good methods of instruction. He, of course, 
touched upon some of the police regulations by 
which the undergraduate life was so absurdly har- 
assed, but in no unfilial way these shortcomings 
were simply survivals of obsolete social conditions 
and should be quietly brushed away. 

The argument and the whole tone of the article 
were admirably adapted to further the object for 
which the best friends of Harvard were then work- 
ing a reform and not a revolution in the conduct 
of the university. The article was widely read, and 
it served a good purpose in crystallizing opinion in 
regard to the nature of the reform. It distinctly 
identified Fiske with the new movement, albeit his 
well-known Evolutionary views or his Positivism, 
as Darwinism or any phase of Evolutionary thought 
was then called tended to make him persona non 
grata to some of the leaders in the movement. 1 

1 This article, entitled "University Reform," is included in 
Fiske's collected works, in the volume Darwinism and Other 


John Fiske 

The record of his brief literary sojourn in Middle- 
town may well close with the following jubilant 
extract from a letter to Roberts concerning James 
Bryce's "Holy Roman Empire." This is another 
instance of his " striking true" in his estimates of 
the really fine things in literature. Under date of 
December 16, 1866, he writes: 

"Well, my boy, I have finished Gibbon at last, 
and have derived therefrom much healthful nutri- 
ment to my soul as well as to my notebooks ; hav- 
ing made upwards of 400 notes on the 8 vols. But 
now, O Zeus SCDTTJP ! Yesterday and to-day I have 
had the greatest intellectual treat since I first 
read Maine. 1 I have one of the good old fits 
of enthusiasm upon me. Get, old fellow, out of 
the Athenaeum, and read Bryce's 'Holy Roman 
Empire/ Caesarism, Papacy, Feudalism, World- 
Empire, World-Church, Guelfs, Ghibellines, Terri- 
torial Sovereignty, mediaeval philosophy, politics, 
religion mediaeval ideas generally are all eluci- 
dated here as never before. It will clarify your 
ideas of history more than almost any book you 
ever read. And it is written in a charming style 
to boot. Worth reading once a year as we used 
to say of Mill's ' Logic/ Yes, sir, James Bryce, 
B.C.L., of Oriel College, Oxford, is one of the rising 
stars of the age. Do get it and read it; it can be 
read as quickly as Maine. By Jove, the rising gen- 
eration in England is hard at work. I am eager 
to get hold of E. A. Freeman's 'Lectures on the 
Saracens/ I think of reviewing Bryce, using its 
principles to illustrate the late war in Germany." 
1 See ante, p. 286. 




MEANWHILE dissatisfaction with the Reverend 
Thomas Hill as President of Harvard was increas- 
ing. A most worthy man in the ordinary amenities 
of life, and well fitted for pastoral duties, he was 
without any high degree of scholarship and was 
lacking in executive efficiency. He was therefore 
singularly out of place as Harvard 's chief execu- 
tive at this very important period in her develop- 
ment. The first convocation of the alumni for the 
election of members to the Board of Overseers gave 
clear indication that in the new electorate, now in- 
vested with a large degree of responsibility in the 
conduct of the university, there was a very posi- 
tive feeling that the first step in the way of reform 
was the complete breaking up of the current idea 
that the presidency of the university was a sort 
of perquisite belonging to the clergy of the Uni- 
tarian denomination. 

The participation of the alumni in the govern- 
ment of Harvard started, therefore, at the very be- 
ginning, with ideas of reform in various directions. 


John Fiske 

This was a development Fiske had not considered 
when he retired to Middletown. By the time he 
had finished his article for the "Atlantic," how- 
ever, he was made aware by Professor Gurney and 
others of the rapid spread of the reform movement 
now that it had a status in the government itself 
of the university. He bethought himself, therefore, 
to return to Cambridge and establish a home in 
close proximity to the college, where he could be in 
touch with the friends of the reform movement and 
ready to lend a hand whenever needed. In this pro- 
ject he was encouraged by his friends in Cambridge. 
He also had the support of his mother and Mr. 
Stoughton as well as of Mrs. Fiske's family. Con- 
sequently the month of March, 1867, saw him very 
happily settled in a house of his own at 123 Oxford 
Street, Cambridge. 

Fiske's domiciliation at Cambridge was coinci- 
dent with the publication of his article on " Uni- 
versity Reform" in the " Atlantic Monthly," and 
he was cordially welcomed by all the liberal- 
minded people connected with the university. Mr. 
Longfellow, Professors Lowell, Peirce, Child, Gur- 
ney, Gray, and Goodwin were very emphatic in 
their commendations of his article as well as cor- 
dial in welcoming him back to the social life of 

It would be pleasant to linger over the letters of 
this period to his mother, in which he gives in a 
delightful way the details of the ups and downs 



Moves to Cambridge 

attendant upon his youthful experience in home- 
building, where provisions for literary work and 
high philosophic thinking were made coincident 
and harmonious with the details of his domestic 
social life. In the midst of all, his second child, 
Harold Brooks Fiske, was born. 

The letters give so many touches of a purely 
personal character, revelations of the finely tem- 
pered soul behind the scholar and the critic, that a 
few extracts are in place here. After getting his 
family settled in the new home he writes: 

"Our house is rather a gem in its way, being 
perfectly convenient all the rooms being very 
pleasant and there is lots of sunshine coming into 
it. It is such a jolly feeling to be in a home of my 
own, and back among literary men, that I boil over 
with good nature all the time don't get cross at 
anything, and so get credit for being a gem of a 
boy! When it is really only the result of circum- 
stances. I have thus far been up at six o'clock 
every morning, and have done a good slice of work 
before breakfast. " 

In a letter a few days later he reveals his aesthetic 
taste. His mother had given him a sum of money 
as a birthday present, and in acknowledging its 
receipt, he writes: 

" After some discussion and contemplation I re- 
solved to put it into something yea even into 
the one thing which our house lacked, to wit: a 
picture for the parlour chimney-piece. So after 
a thorough inspection of the treasures at De Vries', 


John Fiske 

Abby and I selected a magnificent engraving; viz. 
Benvenuto Cellini in his workshop at Fontainebleau, 
showing his newly-finished statue of Jupiter To- 
nans to Francis I and some members of his court. 
The group is very grand ; all the separate pieces are 
portraits. Cellini stands in a noble attitude in the 
centre, pointing to the great statue elevated on 
the right; his sculptor's tools and a few unfinished 
works lie around. King Francis and his Mistress, 
the Duchesse d'Etampes, sit in carved, high- 
backed chairs to the left, gazing at the statue just 
uncovered. On the back of the Duchesse's chair 
leans Margaret de Valois, Queen of Navarre, and 
grand-mother of Henri Quatre. Behind her stands 
her husband Henri d' Albert; by her side, Catherine 
de Medicis, and her husband, afterwards Henry 
II. In the background is the Cardinal Jean de 
Lorraine, chief of the house of Guise. The faces 
are so good that I recognized most of them at 
once. Nothing could be finer than the tout en- 
semble; and nothing could have gone further to 
make our parlour pleasant and elegant." 

From the very beginning of his daughter Maud's 
learning to talk, Fiske became a close observer of 
her linguistic development, and the letters are 
many that make mention of her naive efforts to 
conjoin sound and meaning in her childish prattle. 
Let one instance suffice. He had already reported 
her use of the phrase " pick-a-wow " ; he now adds: 

"She has developed the phrase 'pick-a-wow' 
into ' peck-a-boo,' from which I think that ' pick-a- 
wow ' was meant for picture book. I shall quote her 


Domestic Life 

'puttaba' for apple, as it throws some light on 
the origin of language. She can say 'dear* and 
'papa'; but putting them together makes 'dear- 
wawa.' Now this change occurs regularly in Welsh 
compounds, and throws great light on the conso- 
nantal structure of the Aryan languages. " 

Fiske's reading at this period, while as discursive 
as ever, was yet in its general trend related to 
modern culture, which, by the great advancement 
in the sciences, was assuming a new significance in 
his mind. His writing at this time was confined to 
book reviews, many of which were really essays, 
in which is shown the ready command he had of 
his wide and varied knowledge. The more not- 
able among these review-essays were: "The Life 
and Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing," by 
Adolf Stahr; Longfellow's " Translation of Dante" ; 
Alger's "History of the Doctrine of a Future 
Life"; Fel ton's "Greece Ancient and Modern"; 
Youmans's "Culture for Modern Life "; Whitney's 
4 ' Lectures on Language ' ' ; Matthew Arnold's ' ' Cel- 
tic Literature," etc. 

The quality of his review writing was such as to 
make it in great demand, and periodicals and jour- 
nals like the "North American Review," the "At- 
lantic Monthly," the "Christian Examiner," the 
"Nation," the "New York World," and the "Bos- 
ton Advertiser" were solicitors for review notices 
of important works; so much so that during the 
summer of 1867, Fiske writes: 


John Fiske 

" I am terribly busy to-night as usual, but must 
turn aside from work a minute to give you a bit 
of surprising news. You will be proud to hear that 
I have been elected a Member of the American 
Oriental Society. I was notified of it to-day by 
a note from Prof. Whitney (Prof, of Sanskrit at 
Yale). I was thoroughly surprised by it, not expect- 
ing anything of the sort for some years to come." 

"I have had my fill of book-noticing for one 
while; but the end does n't seem to have come. 
More work is offered me than I can do. I don't 
expect to make a business of this transient work: 
but it will do for a while." 

With his usual discursive reading and this re- 
view writing, and at odd times working upon the 
plot of ground that surrounded his house, the sum- 
mer of 1867 was passed. The autumn found him 
well established in a home of his own, and free to 
work out the various literary projects that were 
germinating in his mind. His social surroundings 
were indeed pleasant. William D. Howells, re- 
cently called to the editorship of the " Atlantic 
Monthly," was a near neighbor. Norton's delight- 
ful home was not far away. Longfellow, Lowell, 
Child, and Asa Gray among others had called, and 
had welcomed him and Mrs. Fiske to their homes: 
while Gurney, J. M. Peirce (son of Benjamin Peirce), 
N. S. Shaler, Chauncey Wright, William James, the 
psychologist, John K. Paine, the eminent composer, 
and his faithful Middletown friend, George L. 
Roberts, were frequent visitors. In this widely 


Wide Reading 

cultured atmosphere Fiske found not only generous 
appreciation, but also much stimulating thought. 1 

The letters for 1868 reveal still further Fiske's 
simple, happy domestic life, his methodical way 
of working, his constantly expanding thought, his 
great productiveness, and his steadily growing 

The expanding minds of his children and their 
childish ways are a constant delight, as well as of 
deep interest to him. We get charming glimpses of 
little Maud especially of her incursions into his 
library, and her arrangements of his books accord- 
ing to her childish fancy instead of their subject 
order and his treatment of her visits as pleasant 
episodes in his daily routine of work, rather than 
as troublesome interruptions. 

Fiske's reading this year covered more than a 
hundred volumes in English, French, and German, 
comprising the latest thought along the lines of 
history, philology, physiology, the sciences, and 
philosophy, with a generous mingling of general 

1 One incident connected with this period is worth relating. 
Fiske and Chauncey Wright the best of friends while in agree- 
ment on the question of Darwinism, were in apparent opposition in 
regard to many points in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. Their 
discussions were many and were often prolonged to a late hour. One 
summer evening the discussion had been exceptionally vigorous; 
and when Wright started for home, Fiske set out to accompany him 
a little way. Fiske walked to Wright's gate, and the discussion not 
being finished, Wright walked back to Fiske's gate. Not having 
then arrived at any concluding point, the two started again for 
Wright's home and this gate-to-gate discussion was continued 
until the light of a new day forced its postponement. 


John Fiske 

literature. Complementary in a measure to his 
reading was the production of some twenty essays 
or book reviews, the more notable of which were 
essays on "Liberal Education " and "Myths of 
the New World/' published in the "North Ameri- 
can Re view "; and reviews in the "New York 
World " of Lewes's " History of Philosophy/ 1 Mot- 
ley's "United Netherlands/' Lessing's "Nathan 
the Wise" (in which Fiske's religious ideas are 
clearly indicated), Froude's "Short Stories on 
Great Subjects," Freeman's "Norman Conquest," 
Max Miiller's "Chips from a German Workshop," 
Taine's "Philosophy of Art," and George Eliot's 
"Spanish Gipsy." 

Some of these papers were republished by Fiske 
in his volumes of essays; all were characterized by 
a wealth of learning bearing upon the several sub- 
jects treated, 'and also by a spirit of judicial fair- 
ness in statement and discussion that reminds one 
of that master of critical style, Sainte-Beuve. 

We have also to note that at this time there was 
shaping in his mind the project of a work about the 
size of the first volume of Buckle's "History of 
Civilization in England," to be entitled "Studies 
in Philosophy"; a work "that would be an illus- 
tration, though by no means a mere exposition, of 
the views of Mr. Spencer." 

During the latter part of the year Fiske in- 
dulged in a bit of polemical criticism that attracted 
no little attention at the time, and which showed 


Essay Writing 

his quality as a skilful debater. James Parton, a 
popular writer, had published a little book entitled 
"Smoking and Drinking, " in which he sought to 
maintain the two theses, that the coming man 
would not smoke, nor would he drink wine. It was 
a very superficial work made up of illogical asser- 
tions and perversion of much physiological knowl- 
edge; yet it was warmly welcomed by an ti- tobacco 
and temperance reformers, as a conclusive argu- 
ment against the use of tobacco and of alcohol in 
any form or degree whatever. 

Fiske's attention as critic, or public reviewer 
was called to the book; and, as in his psycho- 
physiological investigations he had given much 
attention to the effects of narcotics upon the hu- 
man organism, he thought the great importance of 
temperance in the use of tobacco and alcohol could 
be much more convincingly shown, through a clear 
and popular presentation of the laws of physiologi- 
cal action in regard to these two narcotics, than 
through the heated assertions of ignorant social 
reformers who denied all virtue to them whatever 
in pharmacology, and who saw in their use the 
source of all social ills. Accordingly he took Mr. 
Parton's essay under consideration, and applying 
to it sound physiological and pathological knowl- 
edge combined with common sense, he so com- 
pletely shattered its contention that no rejoinder 
was attempted. 

Fiske's essay was published by his friend Henry 


John Fiske 

Holt, in a little volume under the title of " Tobacco 
and Alcohol: It does Pay to Smoke The Coming 
Man will Drink Wine." The essay attracted much 
attention at the time, and Fiske received many 
commendations of it from leading members of the 
medical profession. In tracing the development of 
Fiske's philosophic thought, the essay is of interest 
as showing the wide diversity and accuracy of his 

Among his pleasurable recreations of the year, 
two are especially worthy of note, because of their 
high artistic character and his intense enjoyment 
of them. These were the Readings of Charles 
Dickens from his own works, and the presentation 
of a series of great tragedies by Edwin Booth and 
Madame Janauschek in combination. In his re- 
creations as in his serious work Fiske's taste in- 
variably asserted itself in demanding what was 
best. He instinctively guarded his mind against 
wasting itself on frivolous things. We have seen 
his great fondness for the works of Charles Dickens, 
whose various characters became in his mind 
familiar friends. The Readings by Dickens in 
Boston, in which (with his great mimetic power) he 
gave masterly personations of some of the charac- 
ters he had created, was one of the chief artistic 
features of the season. Fiske entered into the en- 
joyment of these Readings with a full appreciation 
of their quality, as he found Dickens hardly less 



great in the presentation of character through the 
dramatic art than in creating character through 
the literary art. As a result of these Readings 
Dickens's characters had a new birth in Fiske's 
mind. They became more distinctly Dickensized, 
and remained his faithful companions to the last. 
Fiske was profoundly impressed by the dramatic 
genius of Janauschek. As a dramatic artist he 
placed her beside Mrs. Siddons. He gives a fine 
bit of critical appreciation in a description of her 
rendering of Lady Macbeth; but what is of greater 
interest is the account of a call he made upon her. 
Fiske had made her acquaintance in New York. 
Under date of November 4, 1868, he writes: 

" Yesterday I called on Janauschek. Had a most 
delightful time and staid two hours. For about 
half an hour we talked in German, and I succeeded 
in talking it very well. Then we changed to Eng- 
lish which she has learned since April. Then we 
mixed up languages just as came handy, and so 
had a most charming talk. I found her to be very 
highly cultivated, her knowledge of things being by 
no means limited to tragedy and acting. Her talk 
was so entertaining, her eyes so bright and her face 
so full of expression, that I thought it about as 
great a pleasure to sit and talk with her as to see 
her on the stage. We talked about Greek tragedy, 
Shakespeare, Goethe, Corneille, German politics, 
mythology, and all sorts of things. I told her about 
Maud's strutting about with a tragic air and call- 
ing herself Janauschek, and she was exceedingly 
pleased at the idea. She professed herself to be 


John Fiske 

crazy over children, and said she wished I would 
call again and bring das kleine Mddchen with me. 
Perhaps I shall if I can get time. To-night, Abby 
and I are going to see her in Mary Stuart." 

I have reserved, as a fitting close to the record of 
this year, the following letter of Fiske to Spencer, 
as it has a sort of autobiographical interest. 

September 27, 1868. 

My dear Mr. Spencer: 

Having for some time felt an inclination to write 
to you in reply to your letter of June 19, 1868, I 
am now stimulated to do so by the circumstance 
that I wish to ask a favour of you. 

(Fiske asks Spencer to have sent to him two 
numbers of the parts of the "Biology," which he 
had failed to receive, and which he could not get 
in America.) 

I am better able now than when I received it, to 
answer your letter expressing misgivings as to the 
possibility of my succeeding in a literary career. 
I could then only hope: I can now point to some- 
thing achieved. I now laugh at the times when I 
dreamed of paying my monthly bills by means of 
money earned from English reviews. I soon learned 
that magazines alone would never give work enough 
to keep one from starving ; and that in order to suc- 
ceed, I must attach myself to a daily paper. I 
therefore made an arrangement with Mr. Marble, 
editor of the "New York World," to write for him 
causeries on literary and philosophical subjects as 


Letter to Spencer 

often as I pleased. His terms were so generous that 
my ability to earn is limited only by my ability to 
produce; and that, in point of quantity, is about 
300 columns, equivalent to two or three octavos 
per year. Thus, so far as money goes, I am cer- 
tainly prospering. In March, 1867, I became the 
owner of a pleasant little house in Cambridge, and 
planted with my own hands the maples which I 
hope will shade me in my old age. I live in my 
library, walled with books, like a mollusc in his 
shell, writing six hours, reading six, and sleeping 
nine, all days except Sunday: always well, and 
hardly ever more than pleasantly weary; and have 
reason, therefore, to believe that I am "seeing my 
best days." The difficulty of doing anything elab- 
orately and the necessity of constantly writing 
crude thoughts, occur to trouble me: but these 
things, with due economy of time, may by and by 
be changed. At any rate, my thoughts are always 
busy with philosophical subjects; and this is cer- 
tainly far better than to be wasting one's strength, 
physical, intellectual and emotional in harassing 

I have published no magazine articles during the 
past two years except one on " University Reform," 
in the "Atlantic Monthly," April, 1867, upon 
which, I am proud to say, the University have seen 
fit to base several reformatory acts; and one on 
"Liberal Education" in the "North American 
Review" July, 1868. Of my two papers on the 
"Laws of History," after a delay of more than two 
years, the first has appeared in the "Fortnightly"; 
and when I behold every one of the gross typo- 
graphical errors (such as would not pass unchal- 


John Fiske 

lenged by the first proof-reader at our University 
Press, and which I carefully corrected on the proof- 
sheets in 1866) conscientiously reproduced, it is 
difficult to bear the sight with philosophic resigna- 
tion, or wholly to refrain from the use of language 
having theologic implications. In the second of 
these papers on the "Laws of History " there are 
some speculations which, though too briefly stated, 
may perhaps interest you. In a future paper in 
the " North American" I hope to devote fifty pages 
to what I have said in the last six or eight of the 
second part of the present article. 

I am eager to see your " Psychology " finished and 
your "Sociology" begun, and gladly hailed the 
appearance of No. 20 as an indication that you 
were again going to work with renewed health and 
vigour. It was with pleasure that I heard, some 
time ago, that you were coming to this country, and 
it is with disappointment that I see spring and 
autumn go by without bringing you. When you 
come, you will doubtless not fail to look at Cam- 
bridge; and I shall esteem it a favour if you will 
consider my house and myself entirely at your ser- 
vice, so long as you like to be about here. 

Meanwhile, dear Sir, believe me, 

Ever faithfully yours, 





THE year 1869 was a memorable one in the history 
of Harvard and a very important one in the life of 
Fiske. In September, 1868, the Reverend Thomas 
Hill resigned as President of Harvard, and the 
year 1869 opened with the Reverend Andrew P. 
Peabody acting as President ad interim. There 
was much strife as to the professional character of 
the person who should be chosen to fill the vacancy ; 
that is, as between a clergyman and a professional 
educator. Conservative people, impressed by Har- 
vard's long line of clerical Presidents, would follow 
precedent; and all those friends of Harvard who 
wished to see a distinctly religious character main- 
tained in the administration of the university, 
albeit that religious character was of the negative 
Unitarian faith of the period, would fain have a 
candidate selected from the Unitarian clergy. On 
the other hand, the newer life and fresher thought 
which were permeating the great body of the 
alumni had already gained several strong repre- 


John Fiske 

sentations on the Board of Overseers, who saw a 
better state of things for their beloved alma mater 
only through the complete breaking-up of the 
clerical domination of the past, and the bringing of 
the University, in all its educational provisions, 
into line with the conditions of modern culture 
and social development. These representatives of 
university reform naturally sought a candidate for 
President among professional educators rather than 
among clergymen. 

In December and January this Harvard Presi- 
dential canvass appears to have been in a sort of 
tentative stage of crystallization around two can- 
didates, the Reverend Andrew P. Peabody, D.D., 
the candidate of the conservative party, and Pro- 
fessor Ephraim W. Gurney, the candidate of the 
reform party. 

At the height of the discussion James Russell 
Lowell and E. L. Godkin, the editor of the "New 
York Nation/' asked Fiske for a trenchant article 
for the "Nation," on the situation at Harvard, 
with special reference to advancing the candidacy 
of Professor Gurney. Fiske wrote the article, which 
was published as an editorial in the "Nation" 
of December3i, 1868, under the title of "The Pres- 
idency of Harvard College." It was an admir- 
able article, well balanced against both toryism 
and radicalism, and holding even scales for rational 

In view of what took place a short time after, 


A Memorable Year 

the following paragraph from this article is of in- 
terest : 

"To sum up, then: What we do not want is a 
mere business man, a fossil man, an ultra-radical 
man, or a clergyman. What we do want, is a man 
of thorough scholarship not a specialist, not a 
mere mathematician, or physicist, or grammarian; 
but a man of general culture, able to estimate at 
their proper importance the requirements of cul- 
ture, and at the same time endowed with sound 
judgment, shrewd mother wit, practical good sense. 
If such a man is to be found among those who have 
already taken a part in the management of the 
college, so that he will come to his new office with 
some adequate knowledge of the work before him, 
so much the better; he will be the better able to 
understand what the college needs. If he should 
also happen to be found among those who have 
been graduated within the past twenty years, he 
will be the better able to understand what the 
present time requires." 

The article made a great impression at Cam- 
bridge. It presented the whole situation so clearly 
and fairly that it practically killed the candidacy 
of Dr. Peabody, while it paved the way for a 
greater reformer than Professor Gurney. 

Shortly after the publication of Fiske's article in 
the "Nation," there appeared in the "Atlantic 
Monthly" for February, 1869, the first of two 
articles entitled "The New Education Its Or- 
ganization"; the second appearing in the March 
number. These two articles comprised, first, a re- 


John Fiske 

view of the recent attempts in this country to or- 
ganize a system of practical education based chiefly 
on the pure and applied sciences, the modern lan- 
guages, and mathematics, instead of upon Greek, 
Latin, and mathematics as in the established col- 
lege system; and, secondly, a discussion of what 
should be the preparatory training of a youth who 
is to enter a scientific or technological school by the 
time he is seventeen years old. 

Under these two subject divisions was clearly 
set forth the need of a high-grade technical educa- 
tion for the youth of America, to be developed har- 
moniously, side by side with, and out of similar 
preparatory schooling for, the broadest collegiate 
education. These articles were written by Charles 
William Eliot, Professor of Chemistry and Miner- 
alogy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 
and one of the recently elected members of the 
Board of Overseers of Harvard College. They at- 
tracted wide public attention, and since they re- 
vealed the possession by the writer of a clear com- 
prehension of the needs of higher education in the 
two fields of technological training and collegiate 
culture, together with a full knowledge of the 
various problems attending all higher education 
arising from the varied conditions of preparatory 
or secondary education throughout the country, 
attention was at once directed to Professor Eliot as 
a candidate for the Presidency of Harvard. There 
was much beside in his favor. He was an alumnus 


Election of President Eliot 

of the class of 1853. He had been Assistant Pro- 
fessor in the Departments of Mathematics and of 
Chemistry. He possessed executive ability of a 
high order, and was in the prime of manhood. All 
these considerations, fused as they were in a per- 
sonality marked by great force of character, made 
Professor Eliot particularly acceptable to the ad- 
vocates of reform at Harvard, and after a short 
canvass, he was, on the I2th of March, 1869, 
chosen President of the University by the Cor- 
poration, and this choice was confirmed by the 
Board of Overseers on the igth of May following. 

Fiske, as may well be supposed, took great in- 
terest in this election, and although his predilec- 
tions were strong in favor of Professor Gurney, he 
readily acquiesced in the choice of President Eliot. 
And he had not long to wait for the institution of 
great and wise reforms, in which he was to bear a 
part, in both the ideals and methods of education 
throughout the university. 

Before entering, however, upon the significant 
changes which soon began at Harvard, and which 
were fraught, as we shall see, with great impor- 
tance to the subsequent life of Fiske, we should 
pause to take a glance at his domestic and liter- 
ary life during the first half of this year 1869. The 
letters reveal the same abounding delight in his 
home surroundings and especially in the expand- 
ing minds of his children that we have noted in 
previous years. On the loth of May, a second son, 


John Fiske 

Clarence Stoughton Fiske, was born into his fam- 
ily circle. 

The letters also reveal the high order of his 
thought. His reading appears to have been mainly 
of a philological character, while his productive 
writing was limited to three essays "Ancient 
and Modern Life," published in the "New York 
World"; "The Genesis of Language," published in 
the "North American Review"; "Are we Celts or 
Teutons?" published in "Appleton's Journal." He 
also gave much thought to collecting material for, 
and preparing a volume on "Liberal Education," 
as well as one on the "Evolution of Language." 
But these two projects did -not materialize for, 
as we shall soon see, he had his mind and his hands 
full of work in another direction. 

One incident of this period is worth noting as 
showing his growing reputation as a thinker and a 
writer. He received from responsible parties in 
New York an offer of the editorship of a free- trade 
journal at a salary of six thousand dollars per year. 
This offer he declined. 

It was in June, while absorbed in the problems of 
language and their bearing on the doctrine of Evo- 
lution, and also while mulling over his projected 
volume on Education, that he received from Presi- 
dent Eliot a call for a special service at the univer- 
sity which roused all the enthusiasm of his nature. 
It appears that President Eliot was preparing, 
among other things, to inaugurate his administra- 


Lecturer at Harvard 

tion by bringing within the pale of the university 
provisions for the broadest interpretations of 
philosophy. To this end, while allowing Professor 
Bowen, from his chair of philosophy within the 
college, to fulminate at will against recent progress 
in philosophic thinking, he determined that un- 
der the auspices of the university undergraduates 
and all persons interested in philosophic discussion 
should have critically and fairly interpreted the 
" thoughts that move mankind" embodied in 
the leading philosophic systems especially in the 
modern systems. Accordingly, he arranged for the 
academic year 1869-70 seven courses of univer- 
sity lectures on Philosophy, two of which were to 
represent recent philosophic thought thought 
which had been particularly taboo at Harvard. 

The first of these two courses in significance at 
the time was the one on "The Natural History 
of the Intellect," by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The 
significance of this course arose from the fact that 
ever since Emerson's famous address before the 
Harvard Divinity School in 1838, and while during 
the intervening years his thought had been a great 
illuminating moral force in the culture of the mod- 
ern world, Emerson, as a philosophic thinker, had 
been persona non grata at Harvard. 

The second of these two notable courses was one 
on what was then called "The Positive Philosophy." 
At this period the English Evolutionary school 
of philosophy had not been clearly differentiated 


John Fiske 

from what was known as the Scientific or Positive 
Philosophy of Auguste Comte. As the latter was 
first in the field and had found some favor in Eng- 
land, the rising Evolutionary thought in England, 
also based on Science, was by theologians identi- 
fied with Comtism, and by them baptized with all 
the philosophico-atheistical vagaries that they read 
into the Positive Philosophy of Comte. The reader 
should bear in mind that this was in the year 1869, 
when the bitter theological controversy started by 
the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species 11 
and Spencer's "First Principles" of Evolution was 
at its height, and that Positivism in the public 
mind was the summation of infidel philosophy and 
included along with the vagaries of Comte, Dar- 
winism and Spencer's theory of Evolution. Presi- 
dent Eliot appears to have seen somewhat the op- 
posing philosophical principles that were jumbled 
together in the popular conception of the "Posi- 
tive Philosophy"; and it is a fair inference that he 
desired such an exposition of this philosophy as 
should clearly set forth both its Comtian and its 
English Evolutionary connotations. For this pur- 
pose he selected Fiske. 

The high purpose and the moral courage of the 
new President could not have been better shown 
than in inaugurating his administration by these 
two acts the summoning of Emerson and Fiske, 
with their respective subjects, into service at the Uni- 
versity in the highest department of knowledge. 


Lecturer at Harvard 

Fiske responded favorably to President Eliot's 
request, and his reasons for doing so are fully given 
in a letter to his mother of July 5, 1869. He writes: 

"As you will see from the enclosed slip, I have 
been chosen as one of the university lecturers on 
Philosophy for the year 1869-70. The subject on 
which I have been especially invited to deliver a 
course of from 12 to 20 lectures, is Positivism. . . . 
Eliot invited me, and I accepted sur le champ, for 
it gives me a chance to elaborate the book which I 
have had lying in scraps for 4 years on this subject. 
There are two aspects from which this event may 
be viewed the sentimental, and the practical. 

"I. From the sentimental aspect it is worthy of 
notice, that only 8 years ago I was threatened with 
dismissal from college if caught talking Comtism 
to any one. Now, without any solicitation on my 
part, I am asked to expound Comtism to the col- 
lege, and defend or attack it as I like. This shows 
how vast is the revolution in feeling which has 
come over Harvard in 8 years, and which is shown 
among other things in the election of such a Presi- 
dent as Eliot. I silently regard this as a triumph 
for me, and the pleasantest kind of vengeance! 

"II. Practically, this is a very great honour, and 
is considered so by every one to be chosen as 
lecturer along with such eminent men as Emer- 
son and Cabot. Furthermore, if I do myself credit 
in the lectures, my success for the future is almost 
certain. The days of old fogyism here are num- 
bered, and the young men are to have a chance. 
I have a chance now to come out strong, as Mark 
Tapley says; and if I improve it I shall be sure to 
get into the college as professor before a great while. 


John Fiske 

Eliot has a great liking for me now. He thinks 
my article helped to get him elected. He saw the 
best side of my college career. He never had any 
prejudice against me. He never gave me anything 
but a perfect mark in my recitations. Now he is 
prepared to be pleased with anything I may do. 
He expects me to do a good thing, and I must do 
it. It won't do to fail or only half succeed. There- 
fore I want to throw my whole force into this thing, 
and come out with brilliant success. No subject 
could have been better selected for me to treat! 
I have studied Comte off and on, for 10 years; 
have already mapped out a discussion of his doc- 
trines ; have a good many original views about him ; 
have once believed in him, but do so no longer; 
so that I can criticize him without misrepresent- 
ing him; and the subject, moreover, is one of great 
variety, embracing questions of science, logic, phil- 
osophy, ethics, history and religion, so that I can 
bring almost all my reading to bear upon it. I 
don't want to have people say merely, that I did 
very well. I want to make a profound stir, and 
have people say: ' Well, now here is something new; 
these are philosophical lectures such as one does n't 
hear every term.' In short, I want to conquer a 
permanent position here; and I believe I can do it." 

Animated with this high purpose, Fiske spent 
the rest of the summer in finishing some literary 
work he had in hand for the "New York World," 
in revising his essay on "The Genesis of Language" 
for the "North American Review," in reading 
Plato and two or three recent works on Positivism, 
and blocking out his course of lectures in his mind. 


Lecturer at Harvard 

A good portion of the time was spent with his fam- 
ily at the delightful ancestral Brooks homestead 
in Petersham; and the letters give charming pic- 
tures of his sweet family life with his children in 
this beautiful old town, which, associated as it was 
with the tenderest feelings of his nature, he loved 
to call his home. 

Early in September we find him back in Cam- 
bridge and fully " squared away" at his lectures. 
His method of work is of interest as revealing the 
firm mental grasp of his subject, and also the or- 
derly way in which he held the wide and varied 
knowledge essential to his purpose at ready com- 
mand. He first mentally blocked out the whole 
course of eighteen lectures with a distinctive title 
for each lecture. There is no indication whatever 
that he made any preliminary sketch or outline of 
any of the lectures. I do find, however, that he 
took into consideration the time at his command 
the lectures were to begin October 26 and that 
he made a careful computation of the quantity of 
manuscript to be prepared and the time limit to 
be given to the preparation of each lecture. The 
result was that a lecture must be written each 

Considering the vast knowledge in the depart- 
ments of science, history, sociology, and philoso- 
phy that had to be brought into order and made 
subservient to the end in view, this was a most ex- 
traordinary undertaking. So wisely was the whole 

John Fiske 

scheme planned, however, so carefully had he meas- 
ured his own powers, that the course was carried 
through without the slightest interruption. The 
lectures when delivered were marked by such a full, 
lucid, easy-flowing style of exposition, as gave no 
indication whatever of undue pressure or haste in 
their composition. 

Fiske's article on "The Genesis of Language," 
to which reference has been made, was published 
in the October number of the "North American 
Review." In this article, after a brief survey of 
the field of philological discussion Fiske advanced 
some new views in regard to disputed points in the 
interpretation of linguistic phenomena. Starting 
with the simple juxtapositive form of objective 
words as the barbaric genesis of language, he traced, 
by a process of subjective elimination and inte- 
gration, the gradual development, through the ag- 
glutinative languages, of the present highly com- 
plex inflexional or amalgamative languages. In brief, 
his article was an attempt to apply the principles 
of Evolution to some of the problems of philology. 

Fiske sent a copy of this article, not only to Her- 
bert Spencer, but also to Dr. J. Muir, an eminent 
Sanskrit scholar at Edinburgh, to Professor Max 
Miiller, the distinguished philologist at Oxford, and 
to Michel Breal at Paris, Professor of Sanskrit in 
the College de France. 1 

1 While this article was highly commended for its erudition, Fiske 
never reprinted it. 


President Eliot Inaugurated 

Fiske's letters to his mother during October, 
while showing his steady progress with his lec- 
tures, give also an account of an occurrence at Har- 
vard which has passed into history as one of the 
most memorable events in the life of the univer- 
sity, and from what we have already seen was an 
event of great significance to Fiske the inaugura- 
tion of President Eliot, and his inaugural address. 
As the delivery at Harvard of such a course of lec- 
tures as we are about to consider had been made 
possible through the action of President Eliot, 
Fiske's impression of the new President's inau- 
gural address has a historic value as well as a per- 
sonal interest here. On the 2Oth of October, 1869, 
he writes : 

"Yesterday President Eliot was inaugurated. 
Abby and I went to the Church. The music was 
perfectly sublime. I don't know when I ever heard 
anything equal to it. Eliot's Inaugural address 
was also very fine indeed. I never before heard a 
speech so grand and impressive. It lasted an hour 
and three quarters; and during all you might have 
heard a pin drop, save when the old arches rang 
with thunders of applause. We are going to have 
new times here at Harvard. No more old fogyism, 
I hope. Abby was moved to tears; and I felt 'the 
chokes come' many times at the grand ideas he 
put forth. We have got for President a young man 
and a practical genius. Everybody so far as I know, 
went away feeling that the light of a new day 
had dawned upon us. I had a very high opinion of 
Eliot before, but I had no idea of what was in him, 


John Fiske 

till I heard him yesterday announce his views. In 
the evening I went to his reception. " 1 

Another incident connected with these lectures 
and related to the philosophic ideas they were to 
set forth is of interest here the interchange of 
letters between Fiske and Herbert Spencer. Only 
the main points in the letters will be noted. 

Under date of October 6, 1869, Fiske sends 
Spencer proof-sheets of his article in the "North 
American Review" on " The Genesis of Language" 
and he explains how he proposes to elaborate 
this in connection with his essay on "The Evo- 
lution of Language," published in 1863, into a 
volume which should be an illustration of the law 
of Evolution applied to language. He tells Spencer 
this volume "will set forth results of philological 
as well as philosophical value, obtained by the ap- 
plication of your doctrine and method to a set of 
phenomena which you have not yet come to treat 

1 As the inauguration of President Eliot was such a memorable 
event in the history of Harvard, I give an extract from the charge 
of the President of the Board of Overseers, the Honorable John H. 
Clifford, as he placed the keys, the ancient charter, and the seal of 
the college in President Eliot's hands, these being the symbols 
and the warrant of the authority conferred upon him as Harvard's 
official head, and also President Eliot's response. 

President Clifford said : 

" When, sir, the far-reaching issues that are involved in the great 
trust now confided to you, and the influence its wise, faithful and 
efficient performance is to exert upon the country and the world are 
measured and understood; when we reflect that we indulge but a 
reasonable hope in looking forward from your period of life, that 
through this day's proceedings your hand will be instrumental in 
leading the minds and moulding the characters of a larger number 
of the best youth of the country than were guided by any of your 


Correspondence with Spencer 

in detail"; and he asks for any suggestions Spencer 
has to offer on his proposed task. 

He then gives some particulars in regard to the 
course of lectures he has in hand the circum- 
stances under which he was called to deliver them, 
the ground he proposes to cover, and the difficulty 
he finds in the endeavor to give an interpretation 
of the philosophy of Evolution under the title of 
" Positive Philosophy, " by reason of the various 
connotations of Positivism in the public mind. He 
calls for a new title for the new Evolutionary phil- 
osophy one that shall differentiate it entirely 
from the " Philosophic Positive " of Auguste Comte. 
He does not think Spencer's proposed title, " Syn- 
thetic Philosophy/' sufficiently generic. 

This statement in regard to the lectures leads 

predecessors, it is no exaggeration to say, that the ceremony 
surpasses in interest and importance any that accompanies the 
investiture of ruler or magistrate with the functions of civil govern- 
ment, however imposing or significant they may be. ... Tender- 
ing you, therefore, the awaiting confidence, the cordial sympathies 
and the ready cooperation of the Fellows and Overseers, in their 
name and in their behalf, I now greet and welcome you as the Presi- 
dent of Harvard College." 

President Eliot's response: 

"Mr. President, I hear in your voice the voice of the Alumni 
welcoming me to high honours and arduous labours, and charging me 
to be faithful to the duties of this consecrated office. I take up this 
weighty charge with a deep sense of insufficiency, but yet with 
youthful hope and a good courage. High examples will lighten the 
way. Deep prayers of devoted living and sainted dead will further 
every right effort, every good intention. The university is strong 
in the ardor and self-sacrifice of its teachers, in the vigor and wis- 
dom of the Corporation and Overseers, and in the public spirit of 
the community. Above all, I devote myself to this sacred work in 
the firm faith that the God of the fathers will be also with the 


John Fiske 

him to refer to the great changes that have taken 
place at Harvard during the past eight years 
since the time when, as an undergraduate, he was 
threatened by the President with immediate ex- 
pulsion if detected in disseminating "Positive" 
ideas among his fellow students; whereas he has 
now been called to expound to the students from 
the lecturer's chair these same "pernicious opin- 
ions." He then tells how the change has been 
brought about, by overthrowing the clerical do- 
mination of the college and placing the governing 
power in the alumni, who, as an electorate, choose 
the Board of Overseers. Fiske concludes his state- 
ment thus: "So the university governs itself: the 
alumni elect competent men for Overseers, who 
choose a modern man for President, who appoints 
a Spencerian as lecturer and this is the house 
that Jack built." 

Spencer replied to this under date of November 
I, 1869: 

"I congratulate you, Harvard, and myself, on 
the event of which your letter tells me. It is 
equally gratifying and surprising. That eight years 
should have wrought such a change as to place the 
persecuted undergraduate in the chair of lecturer 
is something to wonder at, and may fill us with 
hope, as it must fill many with consternation." 

Spencer approved of Fiske's proposed volume 
on language, and made some pertinent suggestions, 
but admits that he is hardly prepared to offer any 


Correspondence with Spencer 

positive criticism. He finds Fiske's programme of 
his lectures inviting, but regrets the use of the title 
" Positive Philosophy," and fears that the confu- 
sion between Comtism and English Positivism will 
be worse confounded. He writes: "The scientific 
world in .England, in repudiating * Comtism/ re- 
pudiates also the name 'Positivism 1 as the name 
for that general aggregate of scientific doctrine to 
which they adhere." He then makes this sugges- 
tion: "Why should you not by using some neutral 
title avoid committing yourself in any way? Might 
not such a title as 'Modern Philosophy* or 'The 
Philosophy of the Time* or 'Reformed Philoso- 
phy 1 or something akin, answer the purpose?" 

The whole tone of Spencer's letter shows his 
appreciation of Fiske's growing power. 

As both letters refer to the confusion of thought 
that then existed in regard to the nature and im- 
plications of Comtism, Positivism, and the rising 
philosophy of Evolution, a brief explanation is in 
place here. 

For a number of years the "Philosophic Posi- 
tive" of Auguste Comte had been in the field as a 
philosophy based on science, as a philosophy freed 
from all ontological metaphysics in short, as the 
last word in philosophy. While it made parade of 
much scientific and historic knowledge, and while 
it contained many suggestive insights into the 
great universe of cosmic phenomena, as a philo- 
sophical system it was so overladen with Comte's 


John Fiske 

purely subjective ideas, and was withal so atheis- 
tical in its implications, that it met with the utmost 
hostility from the theological world, and only a lim- 
ited, quasi-support from the scientific world. Posi- 
tivism, therefore, in the public mind, was classed 
as a sort of scientific atheism. 

About 1860 the philosophy of Evolution arose 
out of the discovery of the correlation of physical 
forces by Mayer, Joule, Helmholtz, the scientific 
labors of Darwin in tracing the origin of species in 
the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and the philo- 
sophic thought of Herbert Spencer, seeking for 
some universal principle underlying the whole 
realm of the cosmic universe. This philosophy 
presented the cosmic universe, including man, as 
forever unfolding, as evolving from a lower to a 
higher stage of phenomenal existence. It was also 
founded on science, and presented all knowledge as 
relative to human experience, as conditioned by 
human experience. It could not rest, however, on 
the relativity of knowledge as an ultimate datum, 
and it therefore postulated as its final ultimate the 
highest ontological conception that has been given 
in the whole history of philosophy an Infinite 
and Eternal Being, far beyond the determination 
of science, far beyond the power of the human 
mind to cognize, as the source and sustentation of 
the whole cosmic universe. 

This Evolutionary philosophy, by reason of its 
rising above and beyond all metaphysical onto- 


Evolutionary Philosophy 

logical speculation, was not comprehended in its 
profound theistic implications by the theological 
folk. It was by them denounced as atheistic in 
character, and at one with the Positive philosophy 
of Comte as in fact the Comtian philosophy in 
an English guise. 

We shall see both Spencer and Fiske contending 
for years to come against this confusion of thought 
in regard to the Positive and the Evolutionary 
philosophies. At present we have to note Fiske's 
purpose, which was to show the completeness of a 
philosophy based on the doctrine of Evolution as 
an explanation of the Cosmos, and by contrast to 
point out the very serious shortcomings of the 
philosophy of Comte. He labored, however, under 
one serious disadvantage alluded to by Spencer 
a public misconception of the scope of his lec- 
tures. The title was a misnomer. They were 
called "Lectures on the Positive Philosophy " : they 
were, in fact, "Lectures on the Evolutionary Phil- 
osophy versus the Positive Philosophy." 

While Fiske's direct purpose was the setting- 
forth of philosophic doctrine, he was well aware 
that the religious implications of this doctrine 
would not find acceptance among the believers 
in a revealed religion, in a religion based on theo- 
logical dogmas transcending scientific verification. 
He well knew that by such people the profoundly 
religious character of the Evolutionary philosophy 
would be entirely overlooked, and that he would 


John Fiske 

come under severe condemnation as an atheist and 
an infidel. Yet he was not deterred from express- 
ing his full thought; and the sincerity of his con- 
viction that he was setting forth a Divine truth 
of a higher, more commanding religious charac- 
ter than any born of theological assumptions 
a truth that would ultimately become universal 
among thinking men was so strong, that it gave 
to his whole exposition a deeply reverent tone. 

The lectures began October 26 and were con- 
tinued to December 10, 1869. Ordinarily they 
would have passed without special comment be- 
yond the collegiate circle. The audience, although 
appreciative, was small and not in the slightest 
degree revolutionary in character. Yet an explo- 
sion was at hand. Professor Youmans, in New 
York, ever on the lookout for opportunities to 
advance the Spencerian philosophy of Evolution, 
arranged, with Fiske's consent, for the publication 
of the lectures unabridged in the "New York 
World." The first lecture appeared in the " World" 
for November 13, 1869, with a little flourish of the 
editorial trumpet over the significance of such a 
course of lectures at Harvard. Immediately an 
alarm was sounded at what was called "Harvard's 
Raid on Religion," and a wave of bitter objurga- 
tion and denunciation broke forth from the religi- 
ous and a portion of the secular press, against Har- 
vard, President Eliot, Fiske, and the "World," 
in which it was charged that the institution and 


Effect of his Lectures 

publication of these lectures was "part of a plan 
obtaining among free-thinkers to disseminate far 
and wide attacks upon the system of revealed 

This outburst of religious intolerance, so wide- 
spread and so virulent in character, fairly startled 
the quiescent conservative feeling in Cambridge 
into questioning as to what the new President 
would do to avert impending danger to Harvard 
from such an aroused state of religious feeling. But 
President Eliot apparently was not in the slightest 
degree disturbed. He appears to have accepted as 
a governing principle in the highest teaching of 
the university the wise saying of Jefferson, "All 
error may be safely tolerated, where reason is left 
free to combat it." He knew what Fiske was try- 
ing to do that in a critical way, marked by 
thorough knowledge and great fairness, he was try- 
ing to rid the true Positive Philosophy of science of 
the unphilosophical vagaries of Comte and give 
it an interpretation in harmony with the English 
school of scientific thinkers men like Darwin, 
Spencer, Huxley, Lyell, Mill, Bain, etc. There- 
fore, he met the situation with perfect composure, 
and in the midst of the hubbub, he took occasion 
to express to Fiske his approval of the lectures 
and requested their repetition the following year, 
with an additional course devoted more particu- 
larly to the presentation of the philosophy of Evo- 
lution from the English viewpoint. 

John Fiske 

Fiske had much to cheer him, from his outside 
audience, against this wholly unreasoning theolog- 
ical rattle-t'-bang. The most significant of all the 
sympathetic expressions he received came from 
the everyday readers of the "World." I have be- 
fore me as I write at least a hundred of the letters 
sent to the editor of the "World," and sent by 
him to Fiske; and they are indeed a revelation. 
They are from professional men, business men, and 
working men throughout the country, and they 
testify, by the varied interests they represent, to 
the great craving that exists in the public mind for 
the highest philosophic truth when presented with 
fullness, clearness, and honesty. 

When the lectures were over, Fiske was tired. 
For over three months his mind had been at ex- 
treme tension, without any relaxation whatever. 
He had in eighty-two days written six hundred and 
fifty-four pages, quarto letter-paper manuscript, 
hardly looking into a book save to verify quotation 
or date. He writes thus: "I feel like a cat in a 
strange garret with my work done. I can actually 
take a nap in my hammock without telling Abby 
to come and rout me out in half an hour." 

After a few days of absolute rest he went to visit 
his mother in New York. There he met many of 
his friends, particularly Professor Youmans, Henry 
Holt, the publisher, Manton Marble, the editor of 
the "World," Mr. E. L. Godkin and John Dennett, 
of the editorial staff of the "Nation," and several 


Effect of his Lectures 

old classmates. He was everywhere received with 
marked appreciation, and Dr. William A. Ham- 
mond, late Surgeon General of the United States 
army, and an eminent alienist, gave a dinner in his 
honor, where to a company of distinguished scien- 
tists he was introduced as the expounder of the 
new philosophy of science. 

Thus the year 1869, which opened with Fiske's 
plea for a new administration at Harvard that 
should place the university in line with modern 
progress, came to an end, having witnessed a series 
of changes at the university that more than real- 
ized his fondest hopes changes which had called 
him to service of the very highest character in be- 
half of his beloved alma mater, the performance of 
which had placed him foremost among the leaders 
of liberal thought in America. 




EARLY in January, 1870, President Eliot renomi- 
nated Fiske as Lecturer on the Positive Philosophy 
for the academic year 1870-71, and the nomina- 
tion was confirmed by the Board of Overseers 
without opposition. This fact, in connection with 
the wide interest aroused by his first course of lec- 
tures, led to a significant change in the whole tenor 
of Fiske's thought gave it, in fact, quite a new 
direction and purpose. We have seen that ever 
since his graduation his thought had been concen- 
trated mainly upon philological questions, in the 
endeavor to establish in the genesis and develop- 
ment of language the working of the law of Evolu- 
tion a purely scholastic piece of work. 

The wide discussion which followed his lectures, 
even in their newspaper form of publication, and 
the request by President Eliot for their repetition 
and enlargement, brought to his consideration a 
far more important task than the tracing-out of 


Renominated as Lecturer 

the law of Evolution in any single department of 
knowledge a no less important task than the 
setting-forth of the theory of Evolution as a dy- 
namic principle underlying all Cosmic phenomena, 
with its theistic, its ethical, and its religious impli- 

It is true that some of these implications had 
been touched upon in the lectures recently given; 
but as the lectures were prepared without any 
definite purpose beyond combating the idea that 
the theory of Evolution was synonymous with 
the Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, Fiske 
could not think of letting the lectures as delivered 
stand as in any way an adequate presentation of 
the doctrine of Evolution. 

The response to his lectures, in the way of both 
condemnation and approval, was clear evidence 
to Fiske's mind that a presentation of the new 
doctrine, stripped of all "Comtism" and with its 
legitimate philosophical implications clearly set 
forth, was greatly needed; and during the winter 
of 1870 we find him giving serious thought to this 
important undertaking. He weighed the whole 
matter in his usual methodical way. He saw that 
such an undertaking would necessitate a thorough 
review of the sciences particularly the historical 
and sociological sciences, as well as a careful review 
of the modern schools of philosophy in the light of 
recent advances in biology, ethnology, physiology, 
and psychology. He also saw, as conditioning the 


John Fiske 

proper execution of such a task, the necessity of a 
visit to London, for he could not think of bringing 
out a work on such a subject without consulting 
with Spencer and the leading English scientists. 

While considering this project, Fiske received 
the following significant letter from Spencer: 



February 2, 1870. 

My dear Fiske: 

Our friend Professor Youmans has duly for- 
warded me, from time to time, copies of the "New 
York World/' containing the reports of your lec- 
tures. Though my state of brain obliges me to be 
very sparing in the amount of my reading, and 
though, consequently, I have not read them all 
through, yet I have read the larger parts of them; 
and of the latter ones I have read nearly or quite 
all. This fact shows that they have produced in 
me an increasing interest. Taken together they 
constitute a very complete and well-arranged sur- 
vey of the whole subject, which can scarcely fail 
to be extremely serviceable, especially when it 
comes to be repeated in an improved form, as I 
learn from Professor Youmans it is likely to be 
next session. 

Into the latter lectures especially, you have put 
an amount of original thought which gives them 
an independent value. Indeed, in several of the 
sociological propositions you set forth, you have 
to some extent forestalled me in the elaboration 
of the doctrine of Evolution under its sociological 
aspects. I refer to the dominance you have given 


Letter from Spencer 

to the influence of the sociological environment, 
and to the conception of social life as having its 
action adjusted to actions in the environment, 
which you have presented in a more distinct way 
than I have as yet had the opportunity of doing. 
When, some two or three years hence, you get a 
copy* of the first volume of a set of doubly-classi- 
fied Sociological Facts, which has been in course 
of preparation for upwards of two years by Mr. 
Duncan (who now holds the pen for me), you will 
see that I have made the character of the environ- 
ment, inorganic, organic and sociological, a con- 
spicuous element in the tabulated account of each 
society, with the intention of tracing the connex- 
ion between it and the social structure. 

You have made out a better case for Comte than 
any of his disciples have done, so far as I am aware. 
Or, perhaps, it seems so to me because you have 
not joined with the more tenable claim, a num- 
ber of untenable claims. If the word "Positive" 
could be dissociated from the special system with 
which he associated it, and could be connected in 
the general mind with the growing body of scientific 
thought to which he applied it, I should have no 
objection to adopt it, and by so doing accord to 
him due honour as having given a definite and co- 
herent form to that which the cultivated minds of 
his time were but vaguely conscious of. But it 
seems to me as the case stands, and as the words 
are interpreted both by the Comtists and by the 
public, the amount of correct apprehension result- 
ing from the adoption of the word will be far 
outbalanced by the amount of misapprehension 


John Fiske 

In so far as I am myself concerned, I still hold 
that the application of the word to me, connotes a 
far greater degree of kinship between Comte and 
myself than really exists. I say this not simply in 
virtue of a reason which you naturally do not rec- 
ognize in the way that it is recognized by me. I 
refer to the fact that the elements of my general 
scheme of thought which you have brought into 
prominence as akin to those of Comte (such as the 
relativity of knowledge and the deanthropomor- 
phization of men's conceptions), have never been 
elements that have occupied any conspicuous or 
distinctive place in my own mind they have been 
all along quite secondary to the grand doctrine of 
Evolution, considered as an interpretation of the Cos- 
mos from a purely scientific or physical point of 
view. You may judge of the proportional impor- 
tance which these respective elements have all 
along had in my mind, when I tell you that as I 
originally conceived it, "First Principles" was 
constituted of what now forms its second part; 
that along with the succeeding volumes, it was in- 
tended to be a detailed working-out through all 
its ramifications of that conception crudely set 
forth in the essay on "Progress, its Law and its 
Cause," and that I subsequently saw the need for 
making such preliminary explanation as is now 
given in Part I (The Unknowable) simply for 
the purpose of guarding myself against the charges 
of atheism and materialism, which I foresaw would 
most likely be made in its absence. 

If you deduct the doctrines contained in this 
part, and the doctrines set forth in the reply to 
M. Laugel, which were not consciously included 


Letter from Spencer 

in my original scheme if you conceive that as 
I originally entertained it, and still consider it, 
as essentially a Cosmogony that admits of being 
worked out in physical terms, without necessarily 
entering upon any metaphysical questions, and 
without committing myself to any particular form 
of philosophy commonly so called; you will begin 
to see why I have all along protested, and continue 
to protest, against being either classed with Comte 
or described as a Positivist in the wider meaning 
of that word. If you bear in mind that my sole 
original purpose was the interpretation of all con- 
crete phenomena in terms of the redistribution of 
Matter and Motion, and that I regard all other 
purposes as incidental and secondary; and if you 
remember that a cosmogony as so conceived has 
nothing in common with the Positive Philosophy, 
which is an organon of the sciences; and further, 
that a Cosmogony as so conceived is not involved 
in that general Positivism that was current before 
Comte or has been current since; you will see why 
I regard the application of the word Positivist to 
me as essentially misleading. The general doctrine 
of universal Evolution as a necessary consequence 
from the Persistence of Force, is not contained or 
implied either in Comtism or in Positivism as you 
define it. 

I have gone thus at length into the matter, 
partly because I want you to understand most 
fully the grounds of my dissent, which you prob- 
ably have thought inadequate; and partly because 
it might be that in preparing your course for a 
second delivery, the explanation I have given may 
lead to some modification of statement. 


John Fiske 

Hence it happens that when certain views of 
mine which are in harmony with those of Comte, 
are put into the foreground as implying a funda- 
mental kinship which makes the same title appli- 
cable to both, the inevitable result is to exhibit, 
as all essential, these quite secondary views, which 
I should have been content never to have expressed 
at all ; and by so doing to put into the background 
the one cardinal view which it has been, and still 
is my object to elaborate. 

Pray do not suppose that in saying all this, I am 
overlooking the sympathetic appreciation which is 
everywhere manifested throughout your lectures, 
or the frequent passages in which you have seized 
the occasion to draw contrasts and to point out 
the essential differences. But I have gone thus at 
length into the matter with the view of showing 
you a ground for my dissent which you have prob- 
ably never perceived. 

I was glad to gather from Professor Youmans 
that your lectures were being favorably received. 
I should hope that the appreciation has continued 
to grow as you have progressed toward the end of 
your series. Let me add that I hope you have not 
suffered in health by the close application you must 
have entailed on yourself in preparing so elaborate 
a course of lectures in so short a time. 

I am, very sincerely yours, 


The significance of this letter lies, not so much 
in what it reveals of Spencer's thought regarding 
Comte and the Positive Philosophy, as in what it 
reveals of Spencer's attitude at the time toward 


Letter from Spencer 

the ultimate questions of all philosophy with their 
religious implications. This letter clearly states 
that he regarded these ultimate questions as of 
" incidental and secondary importance"; that in 
his scheme as originally planned they were en- 
tirely ignored; and that their consideration in his 
" First Principles " was an afterthought, introduced, 
not as necessary to his argument, but, as he says, 
"simply for the purpose of guarding myself against 
the charges of atheism and materialism, which I 
foresaw would most likely be made in their ab- 


This letter is perhaps the clearest evidence we 
have of Spencer's wholly indifferent attitude to- 
ward the Christian religion, and especially toward 
the Christian conceptions of God and of the broth- 
erhood of man. It has been felt by many that the 
implications of the doctrine of Evolution as pre- 
sented by him completely sweep away the funda- 
mentals of the Christian religion without leaving 
in their stead any tangible religious truth for the 
mind to grasp; that while destroying that which 
the Christian of whatever sect has for ages been 
taught to regard as the highest verity a dis- 
tinctly personal, knowable God he offers in its 
place nothing but a vague intellectual generality or 

This letter, coming at a time when Fiske was 
giving serious thought to devoting himself to the 
exposition of the new doctrine, produced a crys- 


John Fiske 

tallizing effect in his mind. He felt that Spencer 
was making a grave mistake in minimizing the 
religious implications of his great doctrine. In 
Fiske's mind these implications, with their bearing 
on the religious faith and social well-being of Chris- 
tendom were by no means unimportant considera- 
tions, in that, rightly interpreted, they enlarged 
the Christian conception of God from a purely 
finite anthropomorphic conception to that of an 
Infinite Eternal Being incapable of being conceived 
by the human mind ; a Being of whom the cosmos 
is but a phenomenal manifestation. And the sub- 
jective implications of the doctrine were no less 
ennobling, inasmuch as he found deeply implanted 
in the human consciousness a feeling of depend- 
ence upon, and aspiration towards, a Being or 
Power transcending finite experience, together 
with certain innate ideas of ethical conduct in 
social relations the whole conditioning man's 
fulness of life, whereof his various civilizations 
are but the evidences of his progressive develop- 

And further, these philosophico-religious impli- 
cations were of supreme importance in Fiske's 
mind; not only because they formed the highest 
aspect of Spencer's profound definition of life 
"the continuous adjustment of internal relations 
to external relations"; but also because they were 
intellectually constructive in their nature, and 
prepared the way for higher and purer religious and 


Acting Professor of History 

social ideals than had obtained in any previous 
system of philosophy. 

While his mind was thus seething with these pro- 
found philosophico-religious questions Fiske wrote 
two articles, one entitled "The Jesus of History," 
and the other, "The Christ of Dogma/' * These two 
articles were a clear, impartial summing-up of the 
results of New Testament criticism at the time; and 
were intended as a prelude to a work which had 
been near his heart since his college days, a work 
the preparation of which he was looking forward to 
amidst all his subsequent engagements with the 
deepest interest; a work to which he proposed to 
give the title "Jesus of Nazareth and the Founding 
of Christianity. " 

In this winter of 1870, therefore, Fiske decided 
that he would devote himself to the exposition of 
the doctrine of Evolution with special regard to its 
religious and social implications, as a most impor- 
tant task. 

And yet with such a noble purpose he did not 
escape the relentless heresy-hunter. In January 
of this year Professor Gurney, the University Pro- 
fessor of History, was elected Dean of the Faculty; 
and President Eliot nominated Fiske to occupy 
Professor Gurney's chair for the spring term, as 
Acting Professor of History. It was a good test of 
the "liberality" of the Board of Overseers as well 

1 These two essays were subsequently published in his volume of 
essays entitled The Unseen World. 


John Fiske 

as of Fiske's prospects of advancement at the 
college. The orthodox element in the Board of 
Overseers, chafing under the steady progress of 
President Eliot's liberalizing policy, was roused to 
opposition, and a vigorous protest to Fiske's con- 
firmation was promptly made. Itwas openly charged 
that Fiske was a pronounced atheist, and the more 
dangerous because of his learning and ability. It 
was alleged that the Board had gone to the ex- 
treme limit of toleration in confirming him as Lec- 
turer on Philosophy : to go further and sanction his 
occupancy of the chair of History, even tempora- 
rily, would be an insult to all the traditions of the 
college. The opposition was, indeed, bitter. Sev- 
eral members lost their temper, and vowed they 
would take their sons away from the college. The 
confirmation was referred to a special committee, 
who reported in favor of Fiske; and yet it required 
the utmost persistency on the part of President 
Eliot, supported by the very positive action of such 
broad-minded clergymen as James Freeman Clarke 
and Edward Everett Hale, members of the 
Board, to carry the nomination through. Fiske 
was confirmed, but by a bare majority. 1 

1 The following letter from the Reverend James Freeman Clarke 
to his friend, the Reverend William R. Alger, is of interest here: 

JAMAICA PLAIN, February 17, 1870. 
Dear Alger: 

I thank you for your note, and wish I had received it before the 
meeting of the Board of Overseers. I decided to recommend the 
Board to concur in the appointment of Mr. Fiske, for after reading 
the reports of his lectures in the " New York World " I saw that he 


Acting Professor of History 

In the teaching of history Fiske found congenial 
labor. His specific task as Acting Professor of 
History was the interpretation of mediaeval history 
to the senior class, and it was a great pleasure to 
him to come in contact with a group of fresh young 
minds in the exposition of one of his favorite stud- 
ies. He met his class for recitation or lecture twice 
a week, and the class appear to have been greatly 
pleased with their instructor. Here are a few ex- 
tracts from the letters : 

"May 26. Gave my seniors an extempore lec- 
ture yesterday on the services of the Catholic 
Church during the Middle Ages and they seemed 
to like it a good deal. . . . James Freeman Clarke 
witnessed a recitation of mine last week, and he 
seemed to like the way I did it. ... To instruct 
1 20 cheerful and gentlemanly fellows is not an 
unpleasant task. I shall be rather sorry to get 

" June 8. Had my last recitation Monday and 
was vociferously clapped and hurrahed by the 
class for a good-bye and am invited to more 

was no more of an atheist than Mansel was an atheist. I do not in 
the least agree with his philosophy, nor that of Herbert Spencer. 
I believe we can know God, though we cannot comprehend Him ; just 
as we know a great many other facts which neither the understand- 
ing nor the imagination can grasp. The knowing, however, goes 
deeper than either. But if a man does not call himself an atheist, I 
shall not call him so ; because from my premises my logic would lead 
me to that conclusion. So I decided to recommend Mr. Fiske, which 
made a majority of the Committee, and perhaps a majority of the 
Board on that side. I shall hope some day to know Mr. Fiske, whose 
vigorous and clear thoughts are very interesting to me. 

Very truly yours, 



John Fiske 

' spreads ' on Class-day than a man can go to in a 
month. " 

It was hoped by Fiske's friends that a better 
understanding of his philosophical views, and the 
demonstration of his rare qualifications for histori- 
cal instruction would greatly mitigate, if not en- 
tirely overcome, the theologic prejudice against 
him at the college, so that he might at least be 
given the Assistant Professorship of History. But 
it should be considered that the controversy over 
Darwinism and Evolution was at its height, and 
that Positivism, Darwinism, and Evolution were 
jumbled together by the theological folk as the 
latest form of scientific infidelity, which not only 
antagonized common sense, but also insulted a 
divinely revealed religion by presenting man with 
his rational mind as descended (we should now say 
ascended) from a Simian ancestry. It should also 
be considered that the theologic dogma of man's 
special creation by Divine fiat was affirmed within 
the college as an ultimate truth of science by Agas- 
siz, with all the weight of his great influence. 

Fiske's pronounced Darwinian and Evolution- 
ary views had the effect, therefore, of uniting all 
these influences into a bitter opposition to his 
holding any permanent position in the instruction 
at the college; and the opposition was so pro- 
nounced that President Eliot did not again nomi- 
nate him. 

Fiske's labors in the Department of History, for 


Studies and Literary Work 

the spring term of 1870 were therefore the full ex- 
tent of his instruction, but by no means the meas- 
ure of his work at Harvard. 

Notwithstanding his duties as Acting Professor 
of History and the claims of philosophy upon his 
thought, Fiske did not at any time neglect his clas- 
sical or his philologic studies. In his mind these 
studies, along with music, appear to have been 
regarded as diversions, albeit to most persons the 
manner in which the diversions were pursued 
would seem a serious form of study. This personal 
characteristic, however, should be noted, for it 
appears throughout Fiske's whole intellectual life, 
he found a supreme pleasure in whetting his 
thought upon the intellectual masterpieces of the 
race, and tracing in them the development of lan- 
guage as a vehicle of thought expression. Of his 
classical reading at this time he writes: 

" I am getting to read Greek almost like English. 
I began the ' Odyssey ' last Sunday, and at odd 
moments have read two thirds of it in five days. I 
believe there is no intellectual pleasure like that 
derived from reading the Greek poets. Divine old 

During the summer and autumn of 1870, Fiske's 
chief activities were given to writing a series of 
papers on popular mythology and superstition for 
the "Atlantic Monthly, " some book reviews for 
the "New York World," and to studies in the 
history of music, with the purpose of writing an 


John Fiske 

article on the philosophy of music. This article 
was never written ; and as I look over the prepara- 
tion for it, bearing in mind his rare musical 
gift, I cannot but express a regret that he 
never carried out his purpose. He greatly enjoyed 
writing the mythological articles, and they were 
warmly appreciated by Mr. Howells, then editor 
of the "Atlantic," indeed, the letters reveal de- 
lightful neighborly interviews between editor and 
contributor during their preparation. 

The book reviews for the "New York World" 
comprised such works as Proctor's "Other Worlds 
than Ours," Dalton's "Hereditary Genius," Hux- 
ley's "Lay Sermons," Lankester's "Comparative 
Longevity in Man and the Lower Animals," Dar- 
win's "Descent of Man," and Gladstone's "Ju- 
ventus Mundi The Gods and Men of the Heroic 

These reviews were not mere "book notices." 
They were real reviews, and in the choice of sub- 
jects and method of treatment there is shown the 
steady broadening of the Evolutionary doctrine in 
Fiske's mind, with its application to a wide variety 
of subjective phenomena. The review of Glad- 
stone's "Juventus Mundi" was in Fiske's best 
vein, and was a clear and scholarly presentation of 
the fact that while Gladstone, as a statesman, 
might notably succeed in holding a "fretful realm 
in awe," as a classical scholar, in the philological 
and historical sense of the term, he was sadly de- 


Book Reviews 

ficient. Fiske showed the fairness and fine quality 
of his criticism by heartily commending Glad- 
stone's classical enthusiasm amid his great public 
duties, as well as his " extensive and accurate knowl- 
edge of the surface of the ' Iliad* and 'Odyssey/ " 

In common with all thoughtful minds Fiske was 
profoundly stirred by the Franco- Prussian War, 
then raging, upon "which he comments thus to his 

"The downfall of Napoleon pleases me much. 
He has been a fearful curse to France, killing her 
morally, while cheating her with an appearance 
of material prosperity. I hope this will be the last 
of the Bonapartes. The Prussian success does not 
surprise me unless by its wonderful rapidity and 
completeness. I had n't the slightest expectation 
that the French could withstand them. To under- 
stand how the best class of Frenchmen regard 
Bonapartism you should read Taxile Delord's 
'Histoire du Second Empire.' ' 

On November 16, 1870, his third son, Ralph 
Browning Fiske, was born. And during this latter 
half of 1870, side by side with these varied inter- 
ests, his second course of Harvard lectures, as- 
signed to the spring term of 1871, were mulling in 
his mind. 




THE year 1871 opened to Fiske with a task before 
him of no slight nature the delivery of thirty- 
seven lectures on Philosophy, the last nineteen of 
which were yet to be prepared, while of the first 
eighteen many were to be materially revised. The 
lectures were to begin February 15, and were to 
continue twice a week until the 1 5th of June. The 
letters during January reveal Fiske as completely 
absorbed in thinking out the nineteen new lec- 
tures preparatory to their composition, and it is 
interesting to note what the "thinking-out" proc- 
ess was. It consisted of getting into his mind, first 
of all, through pure mental abstraction, a very 
definite conception of his object. This done, the 
writing out of his thought became to him com- 
paratively an easy matter. I find no indication 
whatever that he made any sketch plan of the 
course, or that he even made any notes or refer- 
ences to authorities; and yet the lectures, when 


Second Course of Lectures 

written out, fairly bristled with apposite quota- 
tions from authorities in all departments of knowl- 
edge. In fact, we have in his preparation for, and 
writing-out of, these Evolutionary lectures, an- 
other illustration not only of his method of working, 
but also of the thorough command of his wide and 
varied knowledge, and the readiness and logical 
force with which he could marshal it in the exposi- 
tion of his ideas. 

It was while thinking out these lectures on Evo- 
lution that Fiske clearly saw his way to weave 
into them, as a permeating woof of thought, three 
considerations of the very highest import in devel- 
oping the doctrine of Evolution into a philosophi- 
cal system. These were, first, the complete demon- 
stration of the fact that there was not, nor could 
there be, any possible congruity between the Posi- 
tive Philosophy of Comte and the philosophy of 
Evolution. Secondly, the positive, teleological, con- 
structive nature of a philosophy founded on Evo- 
lution, in that it posits an Infinite and Eternal 
Being ' ' everywhere manifested in the phenomenal 
activity of the Universe, alike the cause of all and 
the inscrutable essence of all, without whom the 
world would become 'like the shadow of a vision/ 
and thought itself would vanish/' Thirdly, the 
identification of the religious implications of such 
a philosophy with the two fundamental elements 
of the Christian religion love to God and love 
to man. On the first point Spencer and Fiske were 

John Fiske 

in accord: the second and third points, as we have 
seen, Spencer regarded as of incidental and secon- 
dary importance. 

The thirty-seven lectures were delivered pre- 
cisely as planned the last on the I4th of June. 
The audience was small, with a slightly increased 
number for the concluding lectures on Evolution, 
notably by a few clergymen and students from the 
Divinity School. While not large, the audience was 
a thoughtful and responsive one. The publication 
of the Evolutionary lectures in the "New York 
World " promptly followed their delivery. They 
were widely read; but their publication did not 
cause any such outburst of theological denuncia- 
tion as attended the first series. The fact was, the 
theological folk saw that they had a new antago- 
nist to face; one who was far from setting forth 
any Comtian or atheistical doctrine; one who was 
backed by the highest authorities in science; one 
who was in very truth presenting a higher, a purer 
form of theism than obtains in any Christian creed ; 
and who was giving to existing ethical morality, 
on the basis of individual and social conduct, an 
origin and a binding force far transcending any- 
thing found in the assumptions of Christian the- 

Fiske was, of course, desirous of getting Spen- 
cer's opinions on several points in the lectures, and 
especially on his treatment of the sociological and 
religious bearings of Evolution. Accordingly, he 


Correspondence with Spencer 

sent copies of the lectures to him, and from the 
exchange of letters that took place the following 
extracts are made. 

Under date of September 29, 1871, Fiske writes 

. . . After much incubation on the subject, I have 
come to think that you are right in refusing to ac- 
cept the appellation "Positivist" in any sense in 
which it is now possible to use the word ; and I can 
see many points of difference between your phil- 
osophy and that of the Littre school, which es- 
caped my notice last year, and which are quite 
fundamental, albeit not very conspicuous on a su- 
perficial survey of the case. . . . 

As the clear statement of the points of agree- 
ment and difference between your philosophy and 
Positivism is a matter of much importance, I hope 
that, if you can spare the time to look over the 
first part of lecture i8th, you will do so, and kindly 
communicate to me any criticisms which may oc- 
cur to you. I should like also to know what you 
think of the term "Cosmic Philosophy 1 ' and "Cos- 
mism." In the iQth lecture, the significance of 
these terms is still further illustrated. 

Besides this I should like to invite your atten- 
tion to lecture nth on "The Evolution of Intelli- 
gence," and especially to lecture iyth on "Moral 
Progress." In the latter I have rudely sketched a 
theory of the transition from animality to human- 
ity, from gregariousness to sociality, as determined 
by that prolongation of infancy which is itself 
due to the increasing complexity of intelligence. I 
do not know that I have been anticipated in this 


John Fiske 

theory, and it seems to me to be a valuable con- 
tribution to the discussion of the origin of society. 
It would give me great pleasure to know what you 
think of it. ... 

. . . Before publication, I feel it very desirable 
to come to England, and talk things over with you 
and with Lewes, Mill, and Huxley. I should also 
like to secure an English copyright on the book. 
Always desirous of seeing you more than any one 
else in the world, I now feel that I can make "busi- 
ness 1 ' a legitimate excuse for leaving home for a 
few weeks. If I can possibly bring it about, I shall 
sail for England early in the spring. 

In reply to your kind inquiries after my health 
and private circumstances, I may say, figuratively, 
that to the strength of a gorilla and the appetite 
of a wolf, I add the capacity for sleep of a Rip van 
Winkle. Having a wife and little daughter and 
three little sons to take care of, and having a strong 
" gout du bien-etre" not to call it a taste for luxury, I 
may find it rather hard to get on. Still, I find that 
literary work pays better than I ever expected it 
would. .This is partly due to the generosity of Mr. 
Man ton Marble, proprietor of the "New York 
World, " who has always given me unstinted space 
in his columns, and paid me at high rates. 

Rumour tells me that you are in better health 
than usual, and ready to proceed rapidly with your 
work. I am getting very impatient to see the " So- 
ciology, " and the rapid appearance of the last four 
numbers of the "Psychology" I have hailed with 
unseemly and barbaric laughs of exultation. One 
of my dearest hopes is to see you finish the whole 
work, and then go back and insert the unwritten 


Correspondence with Spencer 

portion on inorganic phenomena; and one of my 
most earnest labours will be to do what little I can 
in helping to secure for the results of your profound 
studies, the general recognition which they deserve, 
and are surely destined to obtain. 1 . . . 

Hoping before long to meet you, I am 
Yours faithfully, 


The particular lectures in regard to which Fiske 
especially desired Spencer's criticism were those 
dealing with the evolution of human intelligence 
and the development of theism and of moral and 
religious ideals through the working of the un- 
known evolutionary principle of life a principle 
which had been defined by Spencer as "the con- 
tinuous adjustment of internal relations to exter- 
nal relations." In point of fact, Fiske's request was 
a courteous way of asking Spencer to define him- 
self, on the subjects of theism and religion, more 
completely than he had yet done in the setting- 
forth of his philosophy. j 

Under date of November 27, 1871, Spencer re- 
plied : 

My dear Mr. Fiske : 

The packet of lectures safely reached me along 
with your letter. Thank you very much for them. 
Already I had read a good number of them with 

1 In Fiske's original draft of this letter he wrote, and then can- 
celled, the following: 

11 1 trust you will not tyrannize over later generations as Aristotle 
did ; but I am sure they will rate you as high as he was rated in the 
Middle Ages." 


John Fiske 

much interest (some of them brought by Youmans , 
and others sent to him), but several were missing, 
and I am glad to have a tolerably complete series. 
They cannot fail to be of immense service by pre- 
senting the general view in a comparatively mod- 
erate space. Beyond the advantage of brevity, 
however, they have the great advantage of being 
a coherent re-presentation of the doctrine as it 
appears to another mind, a re-presentation which 
cannot fail to be helpful to many. To the great 
value which your lectures thus possess in their ex- 
pository character, has to be added the farther 
value they derive from the original thought run- 
ning through them, which here and there eluci- 
dates and carries out the general doctrine to great 

It is satisfactory to me to hear that the course 
is likely to be repeated in Boston this winter, and 
that you contemplate subsequently embodying it 
in a volume. Good arrangements can doubtless 
be made for you here, under the general system 
of international publication which Youmans has 
been doing so much to inaugurate. It will give me 
great pleasure to see you in England, and to do 
what I can toward furthering your aims. Mill, 
you will not, I fear, be able to see. He is now at 
Avignon and intends, I am told, to spend most of 
his time there henceforth ; coming to England only 
for a few weeks, probably in the summer. But with 
the others you name, I shall have pleasure in bring- 
ing you in contact. 

... I have not had time to read, or re-read those 
particular lectures, or parts of lectures to which you 
refer, for I have been recently pressed in finishing 


Correspondence with Spencer 

some work that had to be done to date. Either 
soon, or else before you come, I hope to prepare 
myself to say something about them. 

Meanwhile, respecting one of the questions you 
raise, that of the title, I may as well say 
what has occurred to me. To put my view in its 
most general form, I should say that a system of 
philosophy, if it is to have a distinctive name, 
should be named, from its method, not from its 
subject-matter. Whether avowedly recognized as 
such or not, the subject-matter of philosophy is 
the same in all cases. If it is consistently inter- 
preted as that order of science which unifies the 
sciences (and it has from the beginning had uncon- 
sciously, if not consciously, this character), then 
its subject-matter has all along been essentially 
the same. The speculations of the Greeks had ref- 
erence to the genesis of the cosmos, just as clearly 
as the doctrine of Evolution has. And if so, it 
seems to me that the title "Cosmic'* is not distinc- 
tive. It applies to the system of Hegel, of Oken, 
and of all who have propounded cosmogonies. The 
word expresses simply the extent of the theory, and 
may be fairly applied to every theory which pro- 
poses to explain all the arrangement of things 
even though it be the theory of final causes. Hav- 
ing regard to this requirement, that the title for a 
Philosophy shall refer not to its subject-matter, 
which it must have in common with other Philos- 
ophy, but to its method, in which it may more 
or less differ from them; I continue to prefer the 
title " Synthetic Philosophy." 

This and various other questions, however, we 
can discuss at length, when you come to England. 


John Fiske 

Respecting the final revision of your lectures be- 
fore publication, I would suggest that you should, 
if you can, obtain the criticisms of experts on the 
respective divisions of science dealt with. Here 
and there there are statements and hypotheses 
which seem to me open to criticism; while they 
are not essential to the argument it is very impor- 
tant to avoid giving handles to antagonists. In the 
popular mind, a valid objection to some quite un- 
important detail of an argument, is very often 
taken for a disproof of the argument itself. 

I am glad to have good accounts of your health 
and vigour. There is plenty of work to be done, 
and it is satisfactory to hear of one otherwise able 
to do it, who is at the same time physically strong 

Very sincerely yours, 


While the general tenor of this letter gave Fiske 
great encouragement, it left a tinge of disappoint- 
ment in his mind, in that Spencer had evaded his 
request, for particular criticism on the lectures 
dealing with the application of the law of Evolu- 
tion to the development of human intelligence, to 
theistic, to moral, and to religious ideals. He was 
further disturbed by Spencer's strong insistence 
upon " Synthetic Philosophy" as a suitable title 
for a philosophy based on Evolution a title 
which seemed to Fiske neither generic nor in any 
way distinctive. 

Two years later, we shall see these points again 
brought under consideration, when Fiske, in per- 


Correspondence with Darwin 

sonal conference with Spencer in London, was re- 
vising his lectures for publication. 

Fiske also sent copies of the lectures to Darwin, 
and the following correspondence ensued. As we 
have here two self-revealing letters: the one from 
a young man with rare mental endowments, seek- 
ing with the utmost sincerity of purpose the high- 
est truths in science and philosophy; the other from 
one of the world's greatest scientists, wherein we 
see a mind serenely poised after a contribution to 
human knowledge of the very highest import, and 
ready generously to welcome fresh thought from 
whatever source, I give the letters entire: 

Fiske to Darwin 

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., October 23, 1871. 

Mr. Charles Darwin: 

My dear Sir, Since it came in my way, in dis- 
charge of my duties as lecturer at the university, 
to notice your discoveries in so far as they bear 
upon the organization of scientific truths into a 
coherent body of philosophy, it has been my in- 
tention to write and seek the honour of your ac- 
quaintance, forwarding to you, as a sort of letter 
of introduction the reports of my lectures. 

A few days ago I met your two sons at dinner 
(who afterwards kindly called at my house) and I 
gave to Mr. F. Darwin the reports of a few of my 
lectures to transmit to you. I cannot however re- 
sist the temptation to write to you, and tell you 
directly how dear to me is your name for the mag- 
nificent discovery with which you have enriched 


John Fiske 

human knowledge, winning for yourself a perma- 
nent place beside Galileo and Newton. 

When your " Origin of Species" was first pub- 
lished, I \vas a boy of seventeen; but I had just 
read Agassiz's "Essay on Classification" with 
deep dissatisfaction at its pseudo-Platonic attempt 
to make metaphysical abstractions do the work 
of physical forces; and I hailed your book with 
exultation, reading and re-reading it till I almost 
knew it by heart. Since then "Darwinism" has 
formed one of the pivots about which my thought 
has turned. And though I am no naturalist, and 
cannot claim any ability to support your discov- 
ery by original observations of my own, yet I have 
striven, to the best of my ability, to point out the 
strong points of your theory of natural selection, 
and to help win for it acceptance on philosophic 

There is one place in which it seems to me that 
I have thrown out an original suggestion, which 
may prove to be of some value in connection with 
the general theory of man's descent from an ape- 
like ancestor. In the lecture on "Moral Progress" 
(which along with others your son will hand you) 
I have endeavoured to show that the transition 
from Animality (or bestiality, stripping the word 
from its bad connotations), to humanity, must 
have been mainly determined by the prolongation 
of infancy or immaturity, which is consequent 
upon a high development of intelligence, and which 
must have necessitated the gradual grouping to- 
gether of pithecoid men into more or less defined 

I will not try to state the hypothesis here, as you 



Correspondence with Darwin 

will get a clearer statement of it in the lecture. 
I should esteem it a great favour if you would, 
after looking at the lecture, tell me what you think 
of the hypothesis. It seems to me quite full of 

I am on the point of giving a few popular lec- 
tures in illustration and defence of your views. 
You will see from the papers, which I have sent 
you, that I am an earnest admirer of Mr. Herbert 
Spencer a thinker to whom I am more indebted 
than I can possibly tell ; and who has been so kind as 
to give me some of his personal advice and assist- 
ance by way of letters during the past seven years. 
I hope before next summer to visit England, and 
I count much upon seeing you, as well as Mr. 
Spencer and Mr. Huxley. Meanwhile and always, 
believe me, dear sir, 

Yours with deep respect, 


Charles Darwin to Fiske 

November 9, 1871. 

My dear Sir: 

I am greatly obliged to you for having sent me, 
through my son, your lectures; and for the very 
honourable manner in which you allude to my works. 
The lectures seem to me to be written with much 
force, clearness, and originality. You show also an 
extraordinary amount of knowledge of all that has 
been published on the subject. The type in many 
parts is so small that, except to young eyes, it is 
very difficult to read. Therefore I wish you would 
reflect on their separate publication; though so 


John Fiske 

much has been published on the subject that the 
public may possibly have had enough. 

I hope this may be your intention; for I do not 
think I have ever seen the general argument more 
forcibly put so as to convert unbelievers. 

It has surprised and pleased me to see that you 
and others have detected the falseness of much of 
Mr. Mivart's reasoning. I wish I had read your 
lectures a month or two ago, as I have been pre- 
paring a new edition of the "Origin," in which I 
answer some special points; and I believe I should 
have found your lectures useful; but my manu- 
script is now in the printer's hands, and I have not 
strength or time to make any more additions. 

With my thanks and good wishes, 

I remain, my dear sir, 
Yours sincerely, 


P.S. By an odd coincidence since the above was 
written I have received your very obliging letter 
of October 23d. I did notice the point to which 
you refer, and will hereafter reflect more over it. 
I was indeed on the point of putting in a sentence 
to somewhat the same effect, in the new edition of 
the " Origin" in relation to the query why have 
not apes advanced in intellect as well as man? but 
I omitted it on account of the asserted prolonged 
infancy of orang. I am also a little doubtful about 
the distinction between gregariousness and hered- 
ity. Memo, case of baboons. 

When I have time and thought, I will send you 

When you come to England, I shall have much 
pleasure in making your acquaintance; but my 


Lectures on Evolution 

health is habitually so weak, that I have very small 
power of conversing with my friends as much as 
I wish. 

Let me again thank you for your letter. To be- 
lieve that I have at all influenced the minds of able 
men is the greatest satisfaction which I am capable 
of receiving. 


These letters of Spencer and Darwin confirmed 
in Fiske's mind the wisdom of his purpose to de- 
vote himself to the exposition of the philosophy of 
Evolution, and he now sought engagements for a 
course of lectures presenting Evolution as a philo- 
sophic system, or for single lectures presenting 
special points in the system, such as "The Mean- 
ing of Evolution,'* "Evolution and Comtism," 
"The Nebular Hypo thesis, " "The Composition of 
Mind," "Darwinism," "Science and Religion," etc. 

During the winter of 1872 he delivered the com- 
plete course of lectures in Boston, and he had rea- 
son to be well pleased with the manner in which 
they were received by a popular audience. The 
audience was sympathetic from the beginning, and 
two of the lectures he repeated by request. At 
the concluding lecture, the expressions of grati- 
tude for the new light he had thrown on the deep- 
est of all problems man's relations to the In- 
finite were so marked that Fiske was greatly 
affected thereby. Writing to his mother, under 
date of March 31, 1872, he says: _ 


John Fiske 

11 My concluding lecture on the ' Critical Atti- 
tude of Philosophy toward Christianity,' in which, 
as the consummation of my long course, I throw a 
blaze of new light upon the complete harmony be- 
tween Christianity and the deepest scientific phil- 
osophy, was given Friday noon, and was received 
with immense applause. You ought to have been 
there. I suppose there was some eloquence as well 
as logic in it, for many of the ladies in the audi- 
ence were moved to tears. Many were the expres- 
sions almost of affection which I got afterwards, 
and tokens thereof in the shape of invitations to all 
sorts of things, concert tickets, etc., etc. Abby and 
I held a regular levee for about an hour. Several 
people told me that their lives would be brighter 
ever after hearing these lectures; that they had 
never known any pleasure like it, etc., etc.; and as 
these things were said with moistened eyes, I have 
no doubt they came from the heart. To me it is a 
delight to have made so many friends. . . . The 
best effect of it will be to destroy the absurd theo- 
logical prejudice which has hitherto worked against 
me, chiefly with those people who have n't had the 
remotest idea of what my views are. 

"I have long known that my views needed only 
to be known to be sympathized with by the most 
truly religious part of the community of whatever 
sect; that when thoroughly stated and understood, 
they disarm opposition, and leave no ground for 
dissension anywhere and this winter's experi- 
ment has proved that I was right." 

And yet, at this very time, while preaching this 
profoundly religious philosophy, and holding to a 


Lectures on Evolution 

faith in the fair-mindedness of people that they 
would understand the highest philosophic and re- 
ligious truth when properly presented, Fiske could 
not, because of his heretical opinions, speak before 
the Lowell Institute of Boston, an institution es- 
pecially established for the dissemination of knowl- 
edge among the people. 

It appears that President Eliot sought to have 
Fiske invited to give his course of lectures before 
this institution. He was not successful; and he 
gives the result of his effort in the following letter 
to Fiske : 



27 March, 1872. 

Dear Mr. Fiske: 

I have done my best with Mr. Lowell about a 
course of lectures for you, and on some accounts 
he would like to give you one. But public atten- 
tion has been called to your religious opinions - 
through no fault of your own and Mr. Lowell 
does not feel able to disregard in such a case the 
following expression of the wishes of the founder of. 
the Lowell Institute: 

"As infidel opinions appear to me injurious to 
society, and easily insinuate themselves into a man's 
dissertations on any subject, however remote it 
may be from the subject of religion, no man ought 
to be appointed a lecturer, who is not willing to 
declare his belief in the Divine revelation, of the 
Old and New Testaments, leaving the interpreta- 
tion thereof to his own conscience." 


John Fiske 

I could not declare my belief in the "Divine 
revelation" of the Old Testament and I don't be- 
lieve you can; that is, in the accepted sense of the 
words "Divine revelation." 

I am very sorry for this obstacle to your prog- 
ress; but I beg you not to be discouraged, and not 
to abandon faith in the force of scholarship, and 
sincerity, and in the real and ultimate liberality 
of this community. 

Very truly yours, 

To JOHN FISKE, Esq r . 

In spite, however, of theological opposition, 
Fiske's reputation for fine scholarship, for fair- 
mindedness in the discussion of controverted points 
of doctrine, and for rare powers of philosophic ex- 
position, steadily broadened. He was fortunate 
in his friendships. In New York his friends, Pro- 
fessor Youmans, Henry Holt, John R. Dennett, 
and W. P. Garrison (of the "Nation"), Homer 
Martin (the artist), Benjamin Frothingham (his 
classmate), and a few others, were active in ra- 
diating, as it were, from the Century Club at 
that time the centre of literary, scientific, and ar- 
tistic thought in New York influences in his fa- 
vor, as the chief exponent in America of the new 
philosophy of Evolution. The result was that soon 
after the close of his lectures in Boston, he was 
called to give four lectures in New York one at 
the Century Club on the "Composition of Mind," 
and three on "Evolution" at the Cooper Union. 


Growing Reputation 

The result was all that his friends could desire 
to hear him was, in the court of reason, to be per- 
suaded in behalf of his doctrine. And this, with the 
profound discussion over the origin of man opened 
up by Darwinism, drew to the consideration of 
his doctrine an ever-widening circle of thoughtful 

Personal honors were not wanting. While in 
New York William Appleton, the publisher, gave 
a " Cosmos Dinner" in his honor, and among the 
distinguished guests were William Cullen Bryant, 
Abram S. Hewitt, Dr. William A. Hammond, 
George Ripley (literary editor of the "New York 
Tribune"), Professor Youmans, and Dr. Austin 

John Hay, then one of the editors of the "New 
York Tribune," also gave a dinner in his honor. 

Meanwhile, the influence of Fiske's thought, un- 
known to himself, was spreading in the West, and 
he received a call from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 
for the delivery of the complete course of Evolu- 
tionary lectures with a guaranty of at least five 
hundred dollars for the course. The call was ac- 
cepted for the following September, and its fulfil- 
ment became (as we shall soon see) a memorable 
experience in his life. 

At this time Fiske had under consideration an 
appointment as non-resident Professor of History 
at Cornell University. President White of Cornell 
was in full sympathy with Fiske's philosophical 


John Fiske 

views, and he very much desired to have the new 
university rising at Ithaca, New York, give recog- 
nition to the new school of scientific philosophy. 
Very properly, therefore, he turned to Fiske for 
assistance. Why Fiske did not accept an appoint- 
ment which at the time would have been a con- 
spicuous honor, was owing to a call to service in 
behalf of his own alma mater. 1 

k This call is set forth in the following letters to 
Fiske from Professor Gurney and President Eliot. 

Professor Gurney to Fiske 

^CAMBRIDGE, i8 th May, 1872. 
Dear John : 

I proposed to Eliot, some time ago, that you 
should be offered Abbot's place in the Library. 1 
I am glad to say that he has taken to the idea more 
and more, and I dare say, has communicated with 

As I had thought the matter over with care 
before proposing it to him, I hope I shall have 
a chance of talking about it with you, before you 
give an answer at any rate. 

Very truly yours, 


This note was immediately followed by the of- 
fer to Fiske, by President Eliot, of the position of 
Assistant Librarian at Harvard College. The offer 
was cordially accepted, and in a few days Fiske 

1 Ezra Abbot was Assistant Librarian; but owing to the infirmi- 
ties of the Librarian, John Langdon Sibley, Mr. Abbot had for some 
time been the Acting Librarian. He had tendered his resignation. . 


Assistant Librarian at Harvard 

had the pleasure of receiving the following letter 
from President Eliot : 



29 May, 1872. 
JOHN FISKE, Esq r . 
Dear Mr. Fiske : 

You were duly appointed Asst. Librarian for the 
ensuing academic year by the Corporation on Mon- 
day last with a salary for the year of $2500. 

This appointment was to-day concurred in by 
the Board of Overseers, with one dissenting voice. 
You had better have a talk with Mr. Abbot about 
getting instructed in the work, after you have paid 
your respects to your official superior, Mr. Sibley. 
Very truly yours, 


This unsolicited appointment came to Fiske as 
a most gratifying surprise. And it came at a time 
of special need. While his philosophical lectures 
had greatly extended his reputation, they had 
taken a great deal of time from his productive liter- 
ary work and this had brought him but very slight 
return. He was therefore somewhat exercised over 
his financial future. His new appointment gave an 
assurance of a modest and steady income, although 
it brought a round of exacting duties which left 
but little time for literary and philosophical writ- 
ing, or for lecturing. It was the hope of his friends 
that this appointment would pave the way for his 
advancement to a professorship at the college. 


John Fiske 

Fiske's work at the Harvard Library did not be- 
gin until October. During the summer he was busy 
getting settled in a new home at No. 4 Berkeley 
Street, Cambridge, and in finishing various liter- 
ary matters, among them getting his "Atlantic 
Monthly' 1 mythological papers ready for publi- 
cation in book form under the title of "Myths 
and Myth-Makers/' and also in making himself 
acquainted with his duties as librarian. 

On July 22, 1872, his second daughter, Ethel, 
was born. 

The month of September was given to the de- 
livery of his Evolutionary lectures in Milwaukee, 
Wisconsin. I regret that I can make room for but 
a few extracts from the very deeply interesting let- 
ters to Mrs. Fiske, in which Fiske so graphically 
sets forth his experiences during this his first isola- 
tion at a distance from all his home surroundings. 

On his arrival at Milwaukee he was cheered 
by the good prospect for his lectures. There had 
been a sale of over one hundred season tickets. 
He was especially pleased to find that the lectures 
were to be given in a Unitarian Church. 

He gives his first impressions of Milwaukee 

"There is celestial music of brass and reed bands. 
The city is very beautiful. I am ravished with the 
yellow Milwaukee brick. Never saw anything so 
picturesque for building material. 

"No language can do justice to the beauty of 


Lectures in Milwaukee 

the weather and the climate, the blue loveliness of 
Lake Michigan, and the cheery brightness of the 
city. The streets are lively here on Sunday; beer- 
shops wide open, and street music quite Euro- 
pean. I have Germans at my lectures, and am 
smiled on at the big beer-garden where a glass is 
ordered for the 'Herr Professor,' as I make my ap- 
pearance about 4 P.M." 

He meets two old friends, the Reverend John L. 
Dudley, formerly of Middletown, Connecticut, and 
a sort of spiritual adviser in his youth, when Fiske 
was passing through his trying religious experi- 
ences; 1 and his classmate Jeremiah Curtin. We 
shall meet with both these old friends later. Of 
the former he writes : 

"I should be lonely, and homesick, were it not 
for Dudley with his good old smile, and his dreamy 
talks about philosophy. The old fellow's black 
hair is getting plentifully streaked with gray; but 
he is the same dear old dreamer, myth-maker, and 
poet, that he always was. His house is quite a little 
garden of delights." 

Of Curtin, Fiske writes: 

" Thursday who should call to see me but the 
world-renowned Jeremiah Curtin, with whom I 
spent all day Friday, and who left for Russia yes- 
terday morning. Jerry is still on his muscle lin- 
guistically speaks now more than 40 languages 
fluently, and reads about 25 or 30 more. During the 
past few years he has been exploring the by-ways 

1 See ante, p. no. 

John Fiske 

of Slavonic Europe, and can now talk in every 
Slavonic language almost as readily as in English 
so he says, and I have no doubt he can. I found 
him possessed of a very plethoric budget of amus- 
ing and instructive experiences." 

Here is a passage in a letter written September 
17, which reflects the deep tenderness of Fiske's 
nature : 

" Eleven years ago to-day was the day I asked 
you to write to me up at Petersham. 1 O, if we only 
were in Petersham now (dearest spot on earth) 
with our precious little flock! I am eaten up with 
homesickness, and think if I can ever see New 
England again, I shall be content never to travel 
at all! I crave every word from home as a drunk- 
ard craves his liquor, and the kindest thing you 
can do for me will be to write a little almost every 
day, even if it is only half a page, so that only I 
may see an envelope directed by you, when I go 
for my mail. Do keep writing, and tell me about 
all the little ones don't leave one of them cut!" 

And here is the record of the beginning of an ac- 
quaintance that deepened into a warm personal 
friendship which lasted to the end of Fiske's 

"Monday I was handsomely treated by a uni- 
versally accomplished young man by the name of 
Peckham." 2 

1 See ante, pp. 245-48. 

2 George William Peckham, City Librarian, Milwaukee; Presi- 
dent of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters; and 
author of several notable contributions to entomological science. 


Library Work 

Of Mr. Peckham's many courtesies, of Fiske's 
pleasant meetings with many cultivated people, 
German refugees and Catholics among the num- 
ber, and of the public interest in his lectures, which 
increased to the end, the letters make frequent 

Fiske returned from Milwaukee, by way of New 
York, stopping there three or four days to visit his 
mother and to receive the felicitations of his 
friends Youmans, Holt, Dennett, and others upon 
the favoring prospects that were opening before him. 

Fiske began his official work at the Harvard 
Library the 1st of October, 1872. The Library at 
this time contained some 160,000 volumes with a 
great quantity of unclassified and uncatalogued 
material consisting of pamphlets and unbound vol- 
umes. For several years Fiske's predecessor, the 
eminent Biblical scholar and critic, Professor Ezra 
Abbot, had been engaged upon the great task of 
bringing this in many respects unorganized collec- 
tion into condition for ready reference through 
what is now known as the card system of cata- 
loguing, a system then comparatively new, 
whereby the whole collection of books and pam- 
phlets was to be alphabetically catalogued by titles, 
and then these titles classified by subjects, and the 
subjects also alphabetically catalogued. Professor 
Abbot's work had been greatly hampered for want 
of assistants, and at the time of his resignation the 
cataloguing was greatly in arrears. 


John Fiske 

Of his varied duties as librarian, Fiske has 
given such an interesting account in his published 
volume, " Darwinism and Other Essays," that I 
need not dwell upon them here, further than to say 
that the carrying-on of the cataloguing of the Li- 
brary with the means at his command was a press- 
ing need and one that he had to face. While he did 
not bring to his task any practical experience in 
the clerical routine work of the library, he brought 
something far more necessary to its practical needs, 
a service wholly exceptional in character and 
without which the library would have been even 
more severely handicapped than it was during 
this period of transition to the great practical li- 
brary that it is to-day This service was his power 
of classification arising from his familiar acquaint- 
ance with the various departments of human knowl- 
edge, whereby he was enabled to carry on in some 
measure, although checked by serious obstacles, 
Professor Abbot's scheme of having the contents 
of the library classified and catalogued by subjects 
as well as by titles. 

Fiske entered upon his duties with great ardor 
and soon brought himself in conformity with the 
routine requirements. He quickly mastered the 
conditions for the work of cataloguing, and planned 
for expediting the work; but just as he had got his 
plans ready for the consideration of the Commit- 
tee on the Library there came the great Boston 
fire, November 9 and 10, 1872, byjwhich Harvard 


Library Work , 

College met with a heavy loss in its invested funds. 
For a time, it seemed as though a material reduc- 
tion in expenditures would have to be made through- 
out the college; and the letters reveal Fiske as fac- 
ing not only the giving-up of his plans for expe- 
diting the catalogue work, but also the probable 
reduction of the present inadequate library force, 
with perhaps a reduction of salary for those who 

By the prompt action of the friends of Harvard, 
however, the current needs of the college were pro- 
vided for by the raising of a generous relief fund, 
and the administration was relieved from the ne- 
cessity of curtailing in any marked degree its exist- 
ing very economical expenditures. Fiske's plans, 
however, for expediting the cataloguing of the 
library had to be postponed. 

Obliged to suspend that portion of his work as 
librarian most congenial to him, Fiske soon settled 
down to the daily routine of supervising the cleri- 
cal work of the library, and during the ensuing six 
months, November, 1872 to May, 1873, his 
literary work was entirely suspended save the writ- 
ing each month of two or three pages of " Science 
Notes " for the " Atlantic Monthly." During this 
period two things worthy of note occurred the 
publication of his book on "Myths and Myth- 
Makers," and the repetition of his lectures on 
Evolution in Boston. His Myths volume was his 
first book publication, and it was felicitously dedi- 


John Fiske 

cated to his friend Howells. 1 The book was very 
favorably received both in America and England, 
and as we shall see later, it formed a very mem- 
orable introduction of Fiske to George Eliot. 2 

The repetition of his lectures in Boston in the 
winter of 1873 attracted a much larger audience 
than on their first delivery at Harvard, and they 
were attended with even more marked expressions 
of appreciation than were given to their delivery in 
Bos ton the year previous. Indeed, their close brought 
to him a tribute the most gratifying he could re- 
ceive, and one that touched his deepest feelings. 

Among his hearers in Boston was Mrs. M. A. 
Edwards, a lady of great refinement and intelligence, 
who became profoundly impressed with the impor- 
tance of the religious implications of the philosophy 
of Evolution as presented by Fiske, and who saw a 
supreme act of social service in assisting Fiske to 
get his ideas before the public in published form. 
On hearing that Fiske was withholding his lectures 
from publication until he could make it conven- 
ient to consult with Herbert Spencer, Darwin, 

1 The dedication was as follows: 






2 See post, p. 484. 


European Trip 

Huxley, and other Evolutionists in England, Mrs. 
Edwards, with true womanly delicacy, sent a note 
to Mrs. Fiske enclosing a check for one thousand 
dollars, which she wished appropriated to the ex- 
penses of a journey to England for the revision of 
Fiske's lectures for publication in the light of the 
Evolutionary thought prevailing in England. 
i A most enthusiastic family council was at once 
held. The next step was to get a leave of absence 
from the college and here, President Eliot met 
Fiske's application in the most cordial spirit, telling 
him he should * 'seize the opportunity by all means ' ' ; 
and to give Fiske ease of mind, he not only had 
his leave of absence granted, he also had his ap- 
pointment as assistant librarian made permanent. 
i With every obstacle to his long-looked-for Euro- 
pean trip removed, Fiske turned his thought to 
arranging a detailed plan of his journey. I have 
before me his itinerary of four and a half letter- 
pages in his clear, beautiful handwriting, in which, 
after a careful study of the European means of 
transportation, he projected a plan for every day's 
activity during the entire Continental journey. 
While the plan was not carried out in all its de- 
tails, he at first thought of visiting Greece and 
Constantinople, the itinerary, as originally laid 
out, is a self-revealing autobiographic document, in 
that it unmistakably shows what were the domi- 
nant interests in European history and civiliza- 
tion in Fiske's mind, as he contemplated bringing 


John Fiske 

a goodly portion of the physical features of the 
European continent under direct obsersation. 

It is evident that he proposed to observe Euro- 
pean civilization in the light of Spencer's law of 
life "the continuous adjustment of internal re- 
lations to external relations." Hence we see him 
proposing to observe Nature with her external pro- 
visions for human life, together with man's utili- 
zation of her forces for convenient living as well 
as his artistic creations especially his architec- 
ture expressive of his spiritual life. And then, 
as supplementary to all these, Fiske longed to look 
upon places made memorable by great lives 
lives which have left the human race their debtors. 
Hence in his original plan he proposed to look 
upon what remains of the physical and social en- 
vironment of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well 
as upon the surroundings of Marcus Aurelius and 
Caesar, of Dante and Michael Angelo, of Shake- 
speare and Newton, of Voltaire and Goethe. i 

As one of the principal objects of his visit to 
England was to consult with Herbert Spencer, as 
soon as he had completed his arrangements for 
sailing he advised Spencer of his projected visit 
by the following letter: 

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., June 8, 1873. 

My dear Mr. Spencer : 

At last I seem likely to see you face to face. An 
unexpected and surprising stroke of good fortune 


European Trip 

enables me to spend a year in Europe. I shall sail 
from Boston in the ' Olympus' August I2th reach- 
ing Queenstown, I suppose August 22d. I shall land 
there and run through Ireland and over to Glas- 
gow; and my further plan is to go slowly through 
parts of Scotland and England, reaching London 
about the middle of October. 

I should now like very much to know whether 
you are likely to be in Scotland or northern Eng- 
land in September, so that I might run across your 
path? Also when are you likely to return to Lon- 
don for the winter? When are Mr. and Mrs. Lewes 
likely to have returned to London? Mr. Darwin 
has invited me to visit him, at his place in Kent: 
am I likely to be able to accomplish all these things 
by reaching London about October I5th and re- 
maining there till Christmas? 

I intend to take a room in London and devote 
myself to completing and publishing my lectures 
in book-form. If this can be accomplished by mid- 
winter, I hope then to go to Italy, and thence in 
April to Germany and thence in July to Switzerland, 
returning to America in August I should be glad 
to spend the whole year in England, but as I may 
not again have an equally good opportunity to 
visit the Continent, I feel that I ought not to let 
this one slip. During the past two years my health 
has suffered somewhat from overwork and monot- 
ony; and I think a good deal of variety for one 
year will bring back some of the youthful snap. 

I count more upon seeing you than upon any- 
thing else connected with my journey; and I hope 
to get a few good talks with you without making 
too great demands upon your time. 


John Fiske 

Youmans has just sent me a specimen of your 
Sociological Tables, and I am very much interested 
in it. I hope the " Sociology " itself is not to be long 

With warm anticipations of the coming autumn 
I remain, 

Ever faithfully yours, 


In addition to arranging for the conduct of the 
work at the library during his absence, Fiske had 
two pieces of literary work to do before sailing 
the writing of an essay on Darwinism, or " From 
Brute to Man," for the " North American Review," 
and an article on Agassiz for the " Popular Science 
Monthly." The letters reveal him tugging at his 
task during the intervening hot July days, cheered 
by visions of the Scotch Highlands, which he 
seemed to see near at hand. Both articles were 
finished on time, although work on the Agassiz 
article was continued till the last moment. Just 
before starting for the steamer he writes : I 

" Chauncey Wright dropped in and solaced 
or distracted my last packing moments with phil- 
osophy. But I fixed up my Agassiz article, in spite 
of him." Fiske's purpose in the Agassiz article was 
to show that Agassiz's opposition to Darwinism was 
individual and personal, was not based on a com- 
plete knowledge of Darwin's contribution to the 
great discussion, and was not in accord with the 
leading scientific thought of the time. Fiske duly 


European Trip 

appreciated Agassiz's important contributions to 
science, and was by no means insensible to the 
charms of his rare personality; but he was deeply 
stirred at the wholly undue weight which the theo- 
logical world was attaching to Agassiz's opinions, 
making him a sort of pope on ultimate scientific 
questions, notwithstanding the fact that the scien- 
tific world was against him. Hence Fiske was 
goaded into a criticism which, had he known the 
critical condition of Agassiz's health, he would have 
greatly modified. His object was to bring Agassiz's 
contention for the special creation of man by Di- 
vine fiat, which was then a vital religious as well as 
an important scientific question, under the broad- 
est discussion. 1 

August 12, 1873, Fiske sailed from Boston for 
Queenstown, on the Cunard steamer " Olympus/ 1 

1 The article was published in the Popular Science Monthly for 
October, 1873. Agassiz died December 14, 1873. Through his teach- 
ing, through his public lectures, and through his personal sacrifices 
in establishing his great Museum of Natural History at Cambridge, 
a monument to the very doctrine of Evolution which he condemned, 
Agassiz had won the hearts of the American people, who felt his death 
as a national loss. Under these circumstances Fiske's article was 
untimely, and so far as it was considered in America, was regarded 
as unjust. Quite a different opinion, however, in regard to the article 
was expressed in England, as we shall see a little later when Agassiz's 
position as a scientist was brought under discussion by some of the 
foremost thinkers and scientists of the time. 




Now that we have seen Fiske set sail for England 
for the purpose of completing his philosophic task, 
before following him through his English experi- 
ences which made the visit a memorable epoch in 
his life, it is well to turn back and briefly note 
two forms of diversion which accompanied the 
phase of his intellectual life that we have been 

We have had frequent occasion to note his 
strong musical taste we might say, his passion 
for music. It is evident that had he chosen to de- 
vote himself to music, he would have become dis- 
tinguished in the musical profession. As it was, he 
became greatly respected by leading musicians, as 
a keen appreciator and critic of the higher forms 
of musical composition and rendering. It is inter- 
esting, therefore, to note that at this important 
period of his life, when he was grappling with the 
greatest of themes that can engage the human 
mind, his musical taste asserted itself, and in two 
directions in piano studies for the mastery of 


Musical Diversion 

the piano as a means for musical expression, and 
in musical composition. 

Fiske's piano studies were an after-dinner diver- 
sion of an hour. He was aided in this practice 
by his friend Mrs. Alexander Mackenzie, of whose 
generous assistance he writes to his mother under 
date of March 2, 1871, thus: 

" My amusements at present are limited to play- 
ing piano duets with the orthodox minister's wife, 
our warm friend, once a week. She is a most fin- 
ished and artistic pianist, and it is about as useful 
to me as taking lessons. I felt much encouraged 
and flattered by the invitation. I take the hour be- 
tween the close of lecture and dinner each Wednes- 
day. We began with Mendelssohn's ' Midsum- 
mer Night's Dream/ and shall by-and-by take 
something harder. I learn much in this way, and 
am getting into the true way of fingering." 

And a little later he writes : 

"We are now on Mozart's four-hand Sonata in 
D and several polonaises. I have mastered a Noc- 
turne of Chopin all but two bars. If you ever see a 
concert programme with Mendelssohn's Meerestile 
Overture on it, don't fail to go and hear it. You 
would never forget it. It is one of the most mar- 
vellous pieces of harmony ever conceived. It is 
like the music of angels." 1 

Fiske became very proficient with the piano, so 
much so that he could readily extemporize upon 
it, and thus it became to him a great means of men- 
tal relaxation, of expressing feelings through harmo- 


John Fiske 

nies and without words. He soon put his musical 
proficiency to service in giving form to his reli- 
gious feeling. I find mention of two hymns com- 
posed at this time with these suggestive titles, 
"Come unto Me/' and "A Hymn of Trust." The 
latter was in E major with modulation in C sharp 
minor, and he says of it: " I composed it last even- 
ing. It is good, I think." 

Under date of December 24, 1871, he writes: 

" I have sketched the Qui Tollis of my Mass, 
soprano solo, semi-chorus, full chorus in D minor. 
I am trying to avoid my fault of too complicated 
harmony and excursive modulation, and so far feel 
more satisfied with it than with any of my older 
things. I don't know as I shall finish it, for a Mass 
is a long thing, and I get no time to write what I 
have already composed of it. Sometimes my head 
is bubbling and boiling with harmonies as I go 
about in the horse-cars or on foot." 

A little later: 

"My Mass has spoiled, for the time being, my 
piano practice. I have scored the Kyrie and Glo- 
ria, and composed the Qui Tollis, Quoniam, Cum 
Sancto Spiritu, and got half-way through the 
Credo. The accompaniments bother me. I can hear 
the violins, clarionets, hautboys, flutes, trumpets, 
drums and organ coming in where they ought: the 
double-basses crooning, the cellos sighing, etc., but 
I don't know how to write for these instruments, 
and so shall have to be content with a plain organ 
accompaniment. Not much matter though, as I 


Composing a Mass 

shall probably never hear it any way except with 
the ears of the imagination. Two or three musi- 
cians have examined the score as far as it has gone, 
and like it. John Paine says the melody and har- 
mony are good, some of the themes grand at 
any rate, a few bars per day of it serve for a relief 
to the mind." 

And still later he writes : 

" My Mass has got thus far: 

"i. Kyrie Eleeson Chorus Adagio. 

"2. Gloria in Excelsis Chorus, Allegro Mod- 

"3. Qui Tollis Solos and Chorus Larghetto. 

"4. Quoniam Solo Allegretto. 

"5. Cum Sancto Spiritu Fugue Allegro Con- 

" 6. Credo Chorus Allegro. 

11 7. Et incarnatus est Chorale Andante. 

"This makes just half of the whole Mass. The 
1 Crucifixus ' an alia breve fugue is taking 
shape in my head. You will like this music even 
as sketched on the piano. Paine says, it contains 
much that ' a great composer need n't be ashamed 
of.' The harmony is for the most part simple, 
and the general style rather antique. The ' Cum 
Sancto ' is a very rapid and spirited fugue a 
style which I always supposed beyond my reach 
but I did it in one after-dinner hour I don't 
know how." 

In 1872 he was still at work upon it. On April 1 1, 
1872, he writes: 

" I have finished my ' Crucifixus' and sketched 


John Fiske 

the ' Resurrexit,' so that the Mass is two- thirds 
done." , 

The last mention of the Mass in this connection 
was February 6, 1873, when he wrote: 

11 1 am studying Cherubini on counterpoint, and 
am working at the 'Pleni Sunt Coeli' of my Mass 
which I am making an elaborate fugue, the 
parts entering at regular distances and intervals, 
and working up into a tremendous climax with a 
long cantus firmus." ; j 

It may be said that there is a marked inconsist- 
ency here between Fiske's philosophical thinking 
and his musical feeling that while intellectually 
he had no place for Christian dogma, yet in his 
heart he made the Eucharist the subject of his 
sublimest feeling and aspirations. , 

But there was no inconsistency. In his philosoph- 
ical system Fiske regarded the Christian dogmas 
as outgrown symbols of religious thought and be- 
lief which had served their purpose and a great 
purpose in the development of man's religious 
thought; and he was so justly minded that he could 
survey with impartiality and with a sympathetic 
feeling, the centuries of Christian history when the 
Eucharist was the deepest, the profoundest expres- 
sion of the religious feeling of mankind. His Mass 
was an attempt to give expression to this feeling in 
its historic, poetic sense, with all the enrichment 
he could give to it through the musical art. His 
philosophy and his Mass, therefore, were in accord 


Domestic Life 

in this, that both affirmed the religious emotions 
as the deepest impulses of the human soul: the 
Mass was an attempt to give to this feeling an 
artistic, historic form. In the same sense he re- 
garded the oratorios of Handel, Bach, and Haydn 
as the highest expression of religious emotion, and 
he could enter into the full enjoyment of the " Crea- 
tion," the "Elijah," or the " Messiah" without 
thought of their dogmatic significance. There are 
many who recall occasions when the great oratorios 
were produced by the Handel and Haydn Society 
of Boston how the profoundly impressive cho- 
ral parts quite overcame him. 

In Fiske's mind Christianity was the mightiest 
drama in human civilization: it was his rare gift 
that he could appreciate it with the feeling of the 
poet as well as with the critical judgment of the 

Fiske was preeminently a domestic man in all 
his tastes and feelings. His home was the centre 
of his life, his "earthly paradise." And the letters, 
while revealing the workings of his mind on the 
profoundest questions of philosophy, constantly 
bear witness to the tender regard and solicitude, 
the deep affection, he had for his wife and his chil- 
dren. The anniversaries of the main events in his 
courtship and marriage were never forgotten, and 
we already have had occasion to note how ten- 
derly they were cherished if perchance he was away 
from his home. His patience with and his delight 


John Fiske 

in his children, which have already been noted, re- 
flected the happy poise of his mind in his inter- 
course with them. He delighted in their childish 
propensities to know about things, and he had a 
ready sympathy for them in all their little mis- 
fortunes. One of his chief delights was to picnic 
with them: if in Cambridge, at Spy Pond, a beau- 
tiful sheet of water a couple of miles or so distant; 
if in Petersham, in the many attractive places 
roundabout, such as Tom's Swamp, Philipston 
Pond, and " Cut-Supper " Wood, so called by 
William James; a beautiful spot, where he and the 
Fiskes were wont to tarry beyond the supper-hour. 
The picnics at Spy Pond were of special interest. 
They were usually made on Sunday. Apropos of 
this statement we have a letter to his mother of 
November 12, 1873: 

"Next Sunday Abby and Harold, Clarence and 
I are going to take a car to Arlington and then 
walk around Mystic Pond, a most exquisitely 
beautiful bit of country road of six miles. We shall 
take a basket of sandwiches and ale, and picnic 
under a giant oak tree and have a good time. Pos- 
sibly the weather may turn cold and prevent us, 
but so far the season is warm and we hope to carry 
out this little November picnic. These little Sun- 
day frolics with Abby and the children make up my 
greatest happiness. And how I bless the day when 
I can enjoy life with them!" 

Partly for such excursions Fiske had had made 
from his own design a double perambulator, or 


Domestic Life 

push carriage, large enough to take in two, and, if 
need be, three, of the children. Into this carriage he 
would pack Maud and Harold and sometimes little 
Clarence, and then pushing the carriage he would 
wend his way through the market gardens of North 
Cambridge and Arlington to the pond, supremely 
happy to put aside for the time being all the prob- 
lems of philosophy to make himself one in the little 
world of his children 's delights and imaginations. 
Occasionally his friend John K. Paine was one of 
the party, and on one excursion he met James Rus- 
sell Lowell, who, looking at his precious freight, 
said in the vernacular of Hosea Biglow, "I wish 
they wuz every one on 'em mine." 

And then there was the annual June visit to Bos- 
ton of Barnum's Circus, which was looked forward 
to every spring by the little Fiskes with the fondest 
anticipations. One of my pleasantest recollections 
of Fiske is his appearance on one of these happy 
occasions with Maud and Harold on either side and 
little Clarence in his lap, and his own countenance 
to use a Dickens expression "one vast sub- 
stantial smile." 

This becoming a companion with his children 
in the little world of their concerns produced at 
times striking effects when the children, having 
been brought into contact with his larger philo- 
sophic thought, endeavored in a naive, childish 
way to appropriate this thought to their own expe- 
rience. Maud and Harold were not excluded from 


John Fiske 

the library when intimate friends like Paine, Wil- 
liam James, Howells, Chauncey Wright, Professor 
Gurney, or Roberts were calling, and when the 
conversation turned, as it often did, on the great 
problems of Evolution. The children were quiet, 
thoughtful observers and listeners; and reflections 
of the library discussions were not unfrequently 
taken upstairs and seriously applied to questions 
less complicated than that of Evolution. On one oc- 
casion a difference of opinion arose between Maud 
and Harold over some weighty matter in their ex- 
perience, when the following argument was over- 
heard : i 

"Well, Maudie, I guess it was due to the eccen- 
tricity of the earth's corbit." 

41 No, Rally, I think it was due to the convapora- 
tion of Saturn's rings." 

The fine poetic side of Fiske' s nature is clearly 
reflected in the following passage in a letter to his 
mother of June 19, 1872, in which he sketches his 
immediate home surroundings : 

"As I sit here at work and occasionally glance 
out of the window, I might imagine myself in thick 
woods. I cannot see the street or any other house 
nothing but a little Gothic church spire over the 
tree tops. Still I get plenty of sunlight all day 
it breaks in through the leaves. Though in the 
very centre of Cambridge the stillness is profound, 
almost like Petersham. The song of birds is al- 
most the only sound which comes in from morn 
till night little sweet twitters, with now and then 


Domestic Life 

a distant cock-crow. It is a delicious place. Now 
and then I hear a little voice, and, looking out, 
see Maudie's flax, or Clarence's or ' Barley's' little 
red head down among the bushes; or perhaps Wini- 
fred Howells, reading to Maud under the apple- 

And now, August n, 1873, the time had come 
when Fiske must leave his little flock for a whole 
year's absence. They were all in Petersham. The 
day before leaving he took them to drive to the 
various places made dear by associations. He left 
at six o'clock in the morning, and the parting was 
"sorrowful and heavy." His ride to the cars at 
Athol, nine miles distant, took him over the same 
road he had walked nearly twelve years before, on 
the occasion of his first, romantic visit to Peters- 
ham. As he came to the rise in the road, a short 
distance from the village, giving an overlook of 
the village, and which he had called Mount 
Pisgah, 1 as he said, " from here I got my first view 
of the Holy City," he turned to look back at a 
scene which was now familiar to him; and at once 
there came surging through his mind the series of 
events which had followed from that romantic ad- 
venture of September 13, 1861, and which had knit 
him to Petersham as the dearest spot on earth. 

The next day, just after going on board the 
steamer, he sends a good-bye message to Mrs. 
Fiske containing this request: 

1 See ante, p. 246. 

John Fiske 

" I must have a pickerwow l of basket- wagon, 
with yourself on back seat holding Ethel, and all 
the other babies artistically disposed. It will be 
better without me: for it will be as if I had just 
stepped out, and was looking at the rest of you. 
Don't forget to send this to me." 

1 "We shall see that this particular "pickerwow" was of much 
interest to Fiske's friends in England. 




FISKE reached Queenstown August 23, 1873, after 
an uneventful voyage of eleven days. He made 
a few friends on board, and with the captain, 
McDowall, "a jolly old Scot who liked a pot of 
beer and a pipe," he soon established friendly rela- 
tions. With the captain he usually had a good 
"chin- wag" after lunch or before going to bed. 

At Queenstown he left the steamer for a trip 
through Ireland which comprised a visit to Cork, 
to Blarney Castle, to the Lakes of Killarney, and 
to Dublin. During this trip he surrendered him- 
self completely to the beauty of the Irish land- 
scape and to the charm he felt in the naive charac- 
teristics of the Irish people. The letters show such 
penetrating observation, such keen appreciation 
of nature and life and human history, that it may 
be doubted if Ireland ever had a more sympathetic 
visitor. From the Imperial Hotel, Cork, he writes 
Mrs. Fiske, August 24: 


John Fiske 

"I got off at Queenstown and am doing Ould 
Ireland. This is a dear old quaint hotel, ever so 
comfortable. No words can describe my delight in 
the beauty and sleepiness of Ould Ireland and at 
the queer Corkonian Paddies. I laughed yesterday 
till I cried. How lovely the old walls covered with 
thick ivy! To-day our party, six in number, are 
going to Blarney Castle in jaunting cars. We go to 
Killarney to-morrow. I feel new life in my veins." 

Fiske gives a delightful description of Cork, and 
he was intensely amused by the Irish in their own 
home. The slow deliberation that characterized 
all forms of social activity greatly impressed him. 
This is the first thing one notices, and coming in 
contrast with our Yankee hurry gives the impres- 
sion that everything is slower than "stock-still." 
Speaking of the waiters at a sleepily served dinner 
he says : 

"You will never know what slowness is till you 
have visited Ould Ireland. Barley at dressing time 
is lightning compared with 'em." 

Of his visit to Blarney Castle he gives an amus- 
ing account, and particularly of his attempt to kiss 
the well-known Blarney stone : 

" I prostrated myself, and Williams and Ingalls 
took tight hold of my ankles, and I got nearly out 
to the cussed thing, when all at once I became 
aware of the horrible distance between me and the 
ground below, and my head was turned, and I be- 
came sea-sick, and said, 'For God's sake, pull me 
back!' So they hauled me in, and I said, 'Blast 


The Lakes of Killarney 

all beetling eminences henceforth, and let those 
kiss the Blarney stone who are willing to lean over 
a place higher than a church steeple with nothing 
to hold on to but their ankles.' ' 

Fiske's most interesting experience in this Irish 
journey was his visit to the Lakes of Killarney. 
Many as have been the visitors to these lakes it 
may be doubted if their poetic charms ever had a 
keener appreciation than was brought to them by 
this young American who, fresh from the experi- 
ences of a nineteenth-century civilization, saw for 
the first time in the midst of nature's surpassing 
loveliness the ruined vestiges of a mediaeval civili- 
zation which had passed away, and with whose 
history he was familiar. 

How deeply, how profoundly he was impressed 
is shown in the following extract from a letter to 
Mrs. Fiske written at Killarney: 

"And now let me change the scene to fairy Kil- 
larney. Away ocean voyage! Away groves of 
Blarney! Off with you, into dim antiquity! For 
it is now August 27th and I have been at Killar- 
ney since Monday morning, and what I have gone 
through here just crowds a year into three days. 
It seems whole ages since I saw Blarney Castle. 
For this place is one that fascinates you like the 
wand of a fairy, so that minutes here are as good 
as months elsewhere. I used to think I knew what 
a fine landscape was; but now I give it up. Killar- 
ney beats them all, even Petersham. We got here 
Monday in time for noon lunch; and after lunch 


John Fiske 

started for the Muckross Abbey a wonderful old 
place built in 1190, and now covered with ivy, 
with a gigantic yew-tree, 700 years old growing in 
the court-yard. 

" I lingered and lingered here over the old graves, 
and the old hearth-stones, till my less romantic 
friends yanked me aboard of the wagon, and we 
proceeded to Dinis Island and there took a four- 
oared boat for the Middle Lower Lakes. I won't 
say anything about these lakes, for anything like 
an adequate description of them would fill quires 
of paper, and would seem like raving to any one 
who has not seen them. And now the climax. We 
did many things which I don't allude to, 'but to 
dear Innesfallen I must give a word or two. Of 
all the islands which God ever made this is the 
most sweet and truly heart-resting paradise. As 
I walked about the sacred precincts, I felt such 
thrills as I never felt before the hoary old mon- 
astery, built more than thirteen hundred years 
ago, now fallen into the richest ivy-grown ruins, 
but with the outlines of every room and every fire- 
place still distinct ; and the landscape lovely be- 
yond everything my wildest imagination ever con- 
ceived a perfect heaven on earth. Stupendous 
ash trees, one of them 40 feet in circumference, 
and others but little less, enormous beeches, 
with their dark iodine- tinted leaves, and their stems 
standing ten feet in diameter; amazing holly- 
trees of a size that would do credit to a New 
England maple; and round, above, below, and 
everywhere, the omnipresent ivy, with leaves four 
inches in breadth and the deepest of deep greens. 
And then the blue lake visible through every vista 


The Lakes of Killarney 

whichever way you turn; and beyond, the grand 
Kerry mountains, like a dozen or twenty Monad- 
nocks piled one upon another in desolate, awe-in- 
spiring grandeur! And when amid all this wondrous 
glory of nature I sat down for a moment on the 
grave of an old friar 1 dead more than a thousand 
years and tried feebly to look about and take 
in all the miraculous picture I felt the chokes 
come and the tears in my eyes, and I knew that 
words would be utterly powerless to describe any 
such thing, you must feel it to know it; but I will 
say that I never before had, and somehow can 
hardly hope to have again, such a moment as I 
felt in Innesfallen. . . . 

"I wandered once more along the whispering 
aisles of this temple of loveliness. I sat down just 
inside the door of the ruined monastery where 
there was a bit of dry stone, and looked out at the 
gigantic ash-tree, and in my fancy filled the scene 
with the stalwart figures of those grand old monks 
men of mighty placidity, begotten of trust in 
God who in the days of the decrepit Roman 
Empire, built their refuge here, secure amid the 
deep lake- waters from sacrilegious attacks. All the 
long, long past, richly freighted with memories 
came rushing by me, as I sat listening to the soft 
dropping of the summer shower on the holly leaves, 
and to the song of the thrush at my feet a grave 
where one of these heroes of Christianity had slept 
these thousand years. 

" I waited till the sunlight came once more flick- 
ering through the leaves, and then took a last lin- 
gering look, and went away 

1 He enclosed a fern leaf from the grave of the old friar. 

John Fiske 

"Sweet Innesfallen! fare thee well, 

May calm and sunshine long be thine; 
How fair thou art let others tell, 

While but to feel how fair, be mine.' " 

From Killarney, Fiske went direct to Dublin 
"a stupid ride of nine hours through a tame and 
uninteresting country. 1 ' He tarried but a couple 
of hours in Dublin, and then set out for Chester 
by way of Kingstown and Holyhead. He reached 
Chester in a rain-storm, weary after his Irish 
journey and fearfully hungry. He took a stroll 
about the town, it having "cleared up," to get 
his English bearings. He strolled along the famous 
"Rows," and also on the city walls, "and then 
moused around among the droll old dens of the 
town." He also attended vespers in the cathedral, 
where he heard some good music. He was delighted 
with Chester, and his first impressions can best be 
given in his own words: 

"O Zeus, and all the other gods of Olympus, 
what an old place! I can't try to describe it; and 
so before I leave, I shall send you a guide-book 
giving an account, and some views, of the town. 
I am supremely happy here, and shall explore it 
from the sole of its head to the crown of its foot." 

He tells of the good things he finds to eat, and 

" I mention these little things to show you what 
an abundance of animal vigour the sea voyage, 
and the seeing of novelties have awakened in me. 


At Chester 

I feel the blood bounding in my veins. I run up 
three flights of stairs, two steps at a time, to my 
room without puffing. " 

At Chester he found letters awaiting him and 
among them was a cordial welcome from his genial 
friend Laurence Hutton. Fiske's joy was great and 
he writes: 

" Glory Hallelujah! Hutton comes here to-day, 
and I have secured a room for him next to mine. 
He sails for America a week from next Tuesday, 
and till then he will be with me." 

The two friends explored Chester quite thor- 
oughly. They walked in nearly all the "Rows," 
through the market in the evening, around the 
walls, and visited Eaton Hall, the seat of the Duke 
of Westminster. 

The letters show how keenly Fiske was alive to 
his new surroundings. What most impressed him 
at Chester was the sort of English homogeneity of 
all he saw about him. Hitherto in America he had 
seen the Englishman as he had seen the Irishman, 
the Scotchman, the Frenchman, the German, each 
isolated from his own social habitat, and more or 
less in antagonism with his surroundings. Here, 
for the first time, he saw the Englishman in his 
own social home with everything downright English 
about him. The buildings had a sort of uniform 
English character, the shop-signs all bore English 
names, the shopkeepers, the clerks, the officials, 
the servants were all English, save here and there 


John Fiske 

a stray Scotchman or Irishman, who served by a 
little contrast, to emphasize the universal English 

r Fiske from the very first felt much at home in 
this English environment. Not only did its social 
homogeneity impress him; there was also a straight- 
forward, outspoken, pay-as-you-go honesty in the 
social life as a whole which challenged his admira- 
tion. Of course he had to notice the many contrasts 
in speech, language, and social customs between this 
distinctly old and unified form of social life and the 
opposite, new, composite character of the social 
life of America. But the interest in his obser- 
vations arises principally from the fact that he 
does not philosophize; he simply gives his impres- 
sions without other thought than to interest, for the 
time being, the persons to whom he was writing 
and whose main interest was in his own enjoy- 

Fiske did not fail to note the strong English pro- 
pensity for good, substantial living, and the letters 
are at times quite appetizing from the relishing 
way in which he sets forth the beef, the mutton, 
the puddings, the ale, and the wholesome, savory 
manner in which they were served. The charac- 
teristics of the English system of railway transpor- 
tation so different from what obtained in Amer- 
ica he had to note, especially as he experienced, 
as all American travellers do, the annoyance of be- 
ing tied to one's " luggage"; and he expresses the 


Impressions of England 

opinion that "the Yankees can teach the English 
people a good many things about railway conven- 
iences that they have n't yet dreamed of." 

With his musical ear, so sensitive to vocal har- 
mony, he notes much unpleasantness in the English 
speech. He says: 

"The English talk just as if they were Germans! 
So much guttural is very unpleasant, especially as 
half the time I can't understand them, and have 
to say, ' I beg your pardon?' Our American enun- 
ciation is much pleasanter to the ear." 

Fiske's plan was to go from Chester to Liver- 
pool, where he was to meet his sister-in-law, Miss 
Martha Brooks, who had been spending some time 
in Europe, see her aboard ship on her homeward 
journey, and then to strike north for Glasgow and 
Edinburgh, taking the Lake District on the way. 
But Hutton, who was also to sail for America in a 
few days, induced Fiske to change his plan, to run 
up to London for a few days and to get his first 
impressions of London with him. So they rushed 
from Chester up to London and took lodgings at 
II Craven Street, Strand, "a jolly and cheap lodg- 
ing-house taken straight from Dickens's novels." 
Fiske found Hutton "the most delightful of travel- 
ling companions. He knows the economical ways 
of doing things. We had charming, cosy break- 
fasts together in our rooms, and then would sally 
forth about town, and meet at 6 P.M. to dine at some 
French restaurant and so I have picked up a 

John Fiske 

good many notions about London, and when I get 
back it will seem homelike. " 

Fiske found Miss Brooks in London, and to- 
gether they visited some of the noted places and 
had several interesting walks about town. As this 
visit to London was for provisional observation 
mainly, he did not look up any of the people he 
was desirous to see, and the letters contain but a 
few observations upon what he saw. Of the chim- 
panzee at the Zoological Gardens he remarks that 
"he looks more like a man than a monkey, and I 
believe he would be called a man if he could talk." 
He got himself a suit of clothes at Poole's, the 
famous tailor, and remarks, " I shall not patronize 
Poole any more; for although the work is all done 
in the finest style, I don't like the cut." 

After four days of these preliminary observations 
in London, September 5, 1873, Fiske, Miss Brooks, 
and Hutton set out for Liverpool, with the purpose 
of taking in Leamington, Kenil worth, Warwick 
Castle, and Stratford-on-Avon by the way. They 
visited these intervening places, but Fiske makes 
no observations upon them he simply notes the 
fact to Mrs. Fiske that on Saturday, the 6th of 
September, "the ninth anniversary of our wed- 
ding-day, we drove to Kenilworth, then to War- 
wick Castle, and then to Stratford-on-Avon." 

On the following Tuesday he saw Miss Brooks 
and Hutton sail from Liverpool for America, and 
then set out alone on his trip to Scotland by way 


The Lake District 

of the Lake District, so well known on account of 
its many natural charms as well as from its identi- 
fication with much that is finest in English litera- 
ture. He gives quite in detail his coaching and ho- 
tel experiences while passing through this famous 
section of Great Britain's " tight little island, " and 
summarizes his impressions of this District and 
of English landscape in general to Mrs. Fiske, as 
follows : 

"I had seen nine lakes, viz., Windermere, Es- 
thwaite Water, Coniston Water, Brothers Water, 
tills Water, Rydal Water, Grasmere, Thirlmere, 
and Derwent Water ' some on 'em big and some 
on 'em little ' and I had acquired definite asso- 
ciations with ten villages; and so I thought the re- 
mainder would be more of the same kind. 

"The Lake country is exceedingly beautiful, and 
some of it quite grand; and one can understand 
why Wordsworth, and Southey, and De Quincey, 
and others chose to live there, more thoroughly 
away from all civilization than one would now be 
in Tom Swamp. But it does n't bewitch me like 
Petersham. The only scenery that has fairly 
thrilled me is that of Killarney. Still there was one 
place on the road to Patterdale so much like Peters- 
ham, that it made me cry, for it seemed as if the 
basket-wagon with you and the little ones was 
required to make the scene complete and comfort- 
able. The Lake country is more American in ap- 
pearance than the other parts of England which I 
have seen. As for English landscape in general, 
it has all the monotony of a face which is perfect 
in beauty, without any play of expression. I say 


John Fiske 

every moment, 'How lovely/ but it does n't charm 
or interest me one particle. Everything is deli- 
ciously clean. The roads are like the drives in 
Central Park; you never see old tomato-cans, cut- 
tings of tin, piles of brush, etc., by the road-side; 
every hedge is fresh and thrifty, every field is like 
green velvet, every house is picturesquely and dur- 
ably built, the stone walls are unexceptionable, 
the trees are dotted about in sweet confusion, there 
are flowers in all the windows, and ivy over all the 
walls ; in short, it is the cleanest, happiest, most 
smiling landscape conceivable; and the effect of 
about a hundred miles of it is to weary the eye so 
that you are glad to look away from it, and read 
your guide-book or the newspaper. 

"I still say, give me New England for scenery. 
I can say that I see things in London that would 
make me like to live there; but I have n't seen any 
rural part of England which would tempt me to 
spend my days in it. I still swear by Petersham. " 

He visited Furness Abbey and makes this note : 

11 Furness Abbey is fine for massiveness, but it is 
very inferior in architecture to Muckross, and lacks 
moreover the tenderness of the latter. I don't think 
much of its architecture. There are two styles 
patched together, a,nd they don't harmonize." 

Fiske reached Edinburgh Saturday night, Sep- 
tember 13, weary from an all-day's journey, and 
fairly sickened by the disgusting habits of some 
drunken Scotch passengers. The next day was a 
rainy Sunday, and as all active life was suspended 
by reason of religious faith, his first impressions 


In Edinburgh 

of the Scotch people were far from favorable. Writ- 
ing to Mrs. Fiske in the afternoon, in the midst of 
the prevailing gloom, he gives free expression to 
his feelings : 

"Such a melancholy frowning set of people as 
the Scotchmen, of a Sunday, you never saw. This 
is a land where Puritanism still holds sway. . . . 
Asceticism and mental acuteness, drunkenness and 
thrift, somehow manage to get along together/' 

But the next day brought an entire change of 
scene, with a wholly different state of mind, on his 
part, and the glories of Edinburgh found a keen 
appreciator. It was while under the spell of this 
fresh experience that he writes in the following 
strain : 

"The ancient rhyme goes: 

"' Yankee Doodle came to town 

In his striped trowsers, 
Swore he could n't see the town, 
There were so many houses.' 

" This remark of the acute and sagacious Y. D. 
will apply to most towns, but it does n't apply to 
Edinburgh. Here everything is on top of something 
else, and wherever you are, you can see a big town 
around you. Even when you get down to the bot- 
tom, the effect is not belied; for then you look up 
and see another huge town all around in the sky. 
Never before was such a stunning spread made 
with an equal amount of granite and mortar. First 
the New Town is built, in the coolest way, right 
over the roofs of the Old Town. And then both 


John Fiske 

Old and New Towns have a way of running into two- 
storiedness on their own hook. At one place I ac- 
tually found three tiers of streets one above another, 
and crossing each other on superb arched bridges, 
while the railway burrowed away down in the 
basement below all else. The effect is astonishingly 
magnificent. " 

Then follows quite a full account of the day's 
experiences from which we take some extracts: 

"This morning I got up with my cold about cured, 
and the sun shone bright, and the Sunday being 
over, the town relaxed its severe countenance. 
After breakfast, I started off afoot in a vagabond 
way, without any object except to bask in the 
glories of this glorious place, lit up by one of the 
most gorgeous September days that was ever seen 
since the earth began to rotate on its axis. A mir- 
aculous atmosphere, such as you don't see six 
times in a whole lifetime: a most brilliant sun 
shining through the loveliest, thinnest veil of mist, 
softening everything, obscuring nothing just like 
one of Turner's gorgeous misty pictures, you know 
that's the way it looked. I never got so much 
eye pleasure in a day before. 

"First I walked (my brain running riot with 
musical phrases) up the Calton Hill, and ascended 
Nelson's monument; then I went to Regent's Ter- 
race to see my Sanskrit friend Dr. Muir but he 
was out of town; then I pegged along to Holyrood 
Palace and saw the portraits of all the Scottish 
kings all the bloody, treacherous Stuart tribe 
and the bed Queen Mary slept in, and all the 
scene of Rizzio's murder. . . . Cosy old rooms 


In Edinburgh 

Mrs. Darnley had; I would n't mind living in them 
myself and a grand old place it is hoary with 
antiquity, long before Queen Mary saw the light. 
Not one of the long line of her Stuart ancestors 
whose ' pickerwows ' I saw but has walked in those 
very rooms. And perhaps it has been the scene of 
more bitter tears and more atrocious villainy, than 
any other house now standing in Europe. By 
the way, look in the 7th or 8th or 9th volume of 
Froude's " History of England" (I think it is the 
8th) and hunt up his magnificent description of the 
murder of Rizzio and read it. It all came back to 
me this morning, and every one of the rooms was 
peopled for me with living figures. You will find 
Froude behind the piano, among the histories. Do 
read it first of all; it is a great piece of descriptive 

Then he walked up the Canongate, and High 
Street, crossed the Waverley Bridge, and roamed 
northward as far as he could ; then he turned and 
roamed southward, never losing his way and never 
asking it, not even consulting the map in his pocket. 

Fiske tells of going to the Castle, the Royal 
Institution, and the National Gallery, only to find 
them closed; and then, for want of something bet- 
ter to do he made himself seasick by going to the 
top of Scott's monument. While wandering, pur- 
poseless, about the streets he espied a " tram-omni- 
bus" a horse-car and to use his own words: 

" Happy thought 'jerk the horse-car!' J. Bull 
is a sorry idiot in some things; but in the horse-car 


John Fiske 

he beats us Yankees quite hollow. Here there are 
seats on top of the car where you can smoke and 
enjoy the view." 

Accordingly he took the horse-car, not knowing 
or caring where it went, and was taken through 
streets he had not seen, out into the country, 
through lovely suburbs, and finally was brought 
back through still another part of the town and 
landed square in front of his hotel. 

He gives the following incident as occurring dur- 
ing his stroll about town : 

" I met a Highland shepherd who had never 
been to Edinburgh before, and did n't know his way 
to the railway station. I had n't the remotest idea, 
but here was a definite object to walk for, and so 
I volunteered and led him along with his dog. He 
asked so many questions that I was obliged to own 
that I was an American, and a stranger in Edin- 
burgh. By this time we had got close to the station 
and great was his astonishment ' Ne 'er been in 
Edinboro' afore, mon; weel, ye maun ha' hurd it 
verra weel descraibed ! ' 

And thus, after an eight hours' walk and a two 
hours' horse-car ride, he found himself "ripe for 
dinner"; and at 9.30 ''ripe for bed, after a day 
never once to be forgotten." 

The next morning Fiske set out for a week's trip 
to the Scotch Highlands by way of Stirling. Of 
this trip he gives a full account to Mrs. Fiske in a 
letter dated at Inverness, September 21, 1873. He 
begins as follows: 


The Scotch Highlands 

"What a week this has been! I came to see 
mountains and lakes, and by Jove, I have seen 
mountains and lakes, and felt 'em, I might say, in 
various ways. Ben Ledi, Ben A'an, Ben Venue, 
Ben Lomond, Ben Cruachan, Ben Nevis, and I 
know not how many more of the Benjamin family 
and as for the lakes they are like the long list of 
one's early loves, and which is the loveliest, I 
thought I knew when I had only seen the first one, 
but now I give it up. I have sailed over the fol- 
lowing Lochs Katrine, Lomond, Fyne, Linnhe, 
Leven Lochy, Oich and Ness; and I have walked 
or ridden by the side of Lochs Vennachar Achray, 
Leven, Etive, Awe, Tullich, Lydoch, and Eil. A 
good week's work! ! For simple loveliness give me 
Loch Katrine, for beauty and grandeur, Loch Lo- 
mond, for magnificence, Loch Awe, for awful sub- 
limity, Loch Linnhe." 

It can be well understood that this letter is one of 
great interest. Fiske's observations, his emotions 
are depicted so simply, yet so graphically, that 
the reader fairly feels that he is making the jour- 
ney himself. A few extracts must suffice to give 
an idea of his keen susceptibility to the beauty and 
sublimity of nature, so opulently conjoined, in 
this region consecrated as it were to human in- 
terest by Scotch history, poetry and romance: 

Stirling Castle. "I went all over the castle, from 
the ramparts of which there is one of the most 
magnificent views to be had on this planet. The 
whole Benjamin family in the distance; and an 
immense plain at your feet, through which winds 


John Fiske 

the silvery Forth. In the midst of this plain the 
rock of Stirling rises sheer into cloudland, and 
on the very crest of this beetling eminence stands 
the castle. Below me on the right lay the battle- 
field of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace defeated 
the English in 1297 so that they had to quit 
the castle. A little farther on are the ruins of Cam- 
buskenneth Abbey. To the left is Wallace's Tower, 
and beyond that the battlefield of Bannockburn, 
where Bruce defeated the English in 1314. ... 
Every portion of the field was entirely within view 
and a soldier of the garrison pointed out to me 
all the strategic points so that the whole battle 
came back to my mind with great vividness. Then 
I went into the so-called Douglas room, where 
James II basely murdered William, Earl of Doug- 
las, after inviting him to an interview, and furnish- 
ing him with a safe conduct a crime which was 
regarded with abhorrence even in those fiendish 
times. I stood in the little bay window where the 
king stabbed him, and imagined how the servants 
came in from the little ante-room and threw the 
body out of the window while others below dug a 
grave in the garden and buried the great Earl like 
a dog." 

The Trossachs. "At Callander I took the top of 
a coach for a superb ride of nine miles past Lochs 
Vennachar and Achray, with Ben Ledi and other 
Bens towering on the right. It was about I o'clock 
when we reached the Trossach's Hotel, which is 
famed for its cold weal pie (said Mr. Weller, etc.); 
and after a rather exhaustive experiment upon it, 
I can say it well deserves its reputation." 

Loch Lomond. ' ' The scenery about Loch Lomond , 


The Scotch Highlands 

for combined grandeur and sweetness surpasses 
anything else which I have ever seen. There is noth- 
ing else here which a painter would set before it, 
though there is other scenery equally impressive 
in a different way." 

Loch Linnhe. "Leaving the Bay of Oban, the 
steamer entered Loch Linnhe towards sunset. This 
is a very large lake hemmed in by giant mountains 
without a trace of vegetation, and the effect is aw- 
fully sublime. It was the greatest sight I ever saw 
fairly overpowering in its weird solemnity. The 
lake was rough, and its water inky black, with 
savagely laughing white crests. I felt as if in the 
black domains of some terrible enchanter." 

An Experience at Ballachulish. "After 26 miles 
of Loch Linnhe, we entered by twilight the beau- 
tiful Loch Leven, and stopped at Ballachulish, 
where I put up at the jolliest inn that I have found 
in Great Britain. There was an Englishman there 
who looked the very image of Manton Marble, so 
that I fell in love with him at once, and when he 
opened his mouth, it was Marble's voice that came 
out of it. Him I will call M. and his wife was 
of similar style to Mrs. Edwards; and they both 
looked at me ever so much, and by and bye we 
spake together, and they were cultivated and at- 
tractive people. M. said I would n't see anything 
of Glencoe in such a rain, but I said I had made 
up my mind to despise rain and flood, and so off 
we started. Rain? Floods? Far from it. Hail- 
stones? By no means. It rained as if some arch- 
angel had accidentally tipped over the biggest 
water-butt in heaven, and sent it all down onto us 
4 to onct ' ; it did n't come in drops the air was 


John Fiske 

nothing but solid water, and we were like fishes 
at the bottom of the sea, and the floods ran across 
the road so profusely that I wondered they did n't 
float the coach, and wash us all into Loch Leven. 
The tempest was such that the driver turned back 
before we had got to the heart of the glen, and 
about noon we returned to the inn, where I sent 
my boots and my ulster to the kitchen to be dried, 
and went upstairs and changed clothes, and went 
down into the parlour, where there was a pretty 
good piano, and began to play with all the zest 
of a chap that has been famished for a piano for 
weeks and weeks. I began on the 'Squitch' and 
extemporised several variations on it, and was go- 
ing along with great glory when I looked up and 
saw Mrs. M. seated in the bay-window with hood 
and water-proof on, looking intently at me, with 
tears on her cheeks, and then I became aware 
that there were a dozen people in the room. When 
I had finished there was a grand clapping of hands ; 
and M. came lip and said that was grand, and could 
I give 'em a dose of Mendelssohn? It was one of 
my good days, when I can get the cantabile out of 
a piano, and I played considerable of Mendelssohn, 
Beethoven, and Chopin, with genuine applause 
from all present; and then we all became very 
sociable, and passed a charming afternoon in con- 
versation and games, and dined together like a 
family party." 

The Pass of Glencoe, and the way thither. "It 
was a superb morning, and at 8 I started on top of 
coach for Tyndrum, through one of the grandest 
roads in Scotland. We coasted along the banks of 
Loch Etive, passed the ruined Dunstaffnage Castle, 


The Scotch Highlands 

an old stronghold of the Campbells, passed the 
Brigg of Awe, the scene of Scott's story of the 
' Highland Widow/ went through the wild pass 
of Brander, and approached the head of Loch Awe. 
Here several of us got down and walked two miles, 
while the coaches toiled up an ascending grade. 
It was a lovely walk. For magnificent scenery of 
the true New England type, Loch Awe surpasses 
anything I have seen! 

"Resuming the coach, we passed through lovely 
Glenorchy, and then came upon a long stretch of 
very desolate moorland, with the giant Ben Crua- 
chan in the background. Here some of us crossed 
a bye-path over steep moorlands, overgrown with 
heather, while the coach proceeded along the tor- 
tuous main road. I enclose a sprig of the heather 
which I plucked on this lonely spot. Here the scen- 
ery is not at all like anything you ever saw in New 
England. On every hand are steep mountains, 
rising almost perpendicularly, without one solitary 
tree to be seen nothing but heather. The lone- 
liness of the scene is beyond description. It is ' like 
a lone land where no man comes or hath come 
since the beginning of the world/ Everywhere 
barrenness, everywhere blank desolation. After a 
while we reached Tyndrum, which consists of one 
granite hotel superbly built in the pointed Norman 
style, and about two dozen nasty shanties. Here 
I changed coaches, and bore toward Glencoe. We 
passed pretty Loch Tullich, and halted at Invero- 
ren, where I tried to see how much cold mutton I 
could dispose of in ten minutes; and then we passed 
Loch Lydoch, which is not especially interesting, 
and then our road lay through utter desolation 


John Fiske 

not a tree, not a house, nothing but mighty hills 
rising on every hand like icebergs in the midst of the 
sea. Towards dusk we entered the pass of Glen- 
coe, where the scenery becomes terribly sublime; 
even the heather appears no longer, the great 
masses of jagged rock rise three thousand feet sheer 
up each side the narrow glen and stand like grim 
giants guarding some unearthly citadel. Here in 
February, 1692, about forty Macdonalds were 
foully and cruelly massacred by a body of English 
troops under Col. Campbell of Glenlyon, at the in- 
stigation of Sir John Dalrymple and the Earl of 
Breadalbane, who had a grudge against the Mac- 
jdonalds. It was the most perfidious and atrocious 
.thing, I think, that ever happened in Scotland, 
'which is indeed a land of horrors. " 

To Inverness through the Caledonian Canal. "We 
were now on the famous * Caledonian Canal/ which 
it is thus, and this is the reason of this thusness. 
Loch Linnhe, as the map will show you, commun- 
icates directly with the Bay of Oban. From Loch 
Linnhe, you pass into Loch Eil, along the banks 
of which we posted Friday night in our wagonet 
seeing just enough to see that we were losing a great 
deal. At the head of Loch Eil stands the village of 
Banavie. Now between Banavie and Inverness, 
there lie three magnificent lakes Loch Lochy, 
Loch Oich and Loch Ness and the art of man has 
joined these lakes with each other, and with Loch 
Eil at one end, and with the Moray Firth at the 
other, by a deep canal, so that an ocean steamer 
can go through the very heart of the Highlands 
from the Atlantic to the German Ocean. Only as 
some of these lakes lie high up in the mountains, 


The Scotch Highlands 

your steamer has to be hoisted up from one lake 
to another by means of locks, and then let down 
again. It so happened yesterday that it was a su- 
perb day, bitter cold, with a very brilliant sun and 
no rain at all, being the third rainless day since 
I landed at Queens town. You can perhaps imag- 
ine how perfectly delightful the voyage was. Part 
of the time in a canal so narrow that we seemed to 
be sailing on land right between the most beauti- 
ful hills; part of the time ploughing through wild 
lakes bordered with forests of Scotch fir. It was 
more fairy like than anything else I have seen. 
First we passed by Ben Nevis, biggest of the Ben- 
jamins, his hoary pate covered with snow; then we 
sailed through Loch Lochy, which is sublime like 
Loch Linnhe, only less so; then we climbed into 
the lofty Loch Oich, away up in the mountains, 
and passed through exquisite wooded scenery, like 
that of Loch Katrine, only less so. Then we were 
lowered down through seven locks, during which 
operation many of us got 'out and took a walk. 
Our steerage passengers consisted of a great flock 
of sheep en route for Inverness to be slain for mut- 
ton a circumstance which caused Paine's great 
chorus ' He was brought as a lamb to the slaugh- 
ter, yet he opened not his mouth ' to run in my 
head all day. No joke about it; such are the 
queer ways in which big and little ideas tie them- 
selves together. One of these sheep had evidently 
made up his mind to commit suicide, for he jumped 
overboard in one of the locks, and was yanked up 
and rescued by a shepherd's hook inserted under 
one of his horns. He jumped overboard again, and 
was rescued by a rope, which was skilfully lassoed 


John Fiske 

about his neck, though I should have thought it 
would have strangled him. Poor sheep! He must 
have been very desperate; for while we were in the 
last lock, he tried it again; and before he could be 
rescued the steamer sort of rubbed against the wall 
of the lock and crushed him. Exit sheep from this 
vale of tears! 

"Then we entered Loch Ness which is twenty- 
six miles long and only a mile and a quarter in width, 
so that it seems like a river. It is more than 1000 
feet deep. The scenery on it is very much like that 
of the Hudson River near West Point. At Foyers 
Pier we got out and walked a mile uphill to see the 
Fall of Foyers tumbling down 200 feet into a wild 
chasm, while the steamer waited for us. At 6 P.M. 
(of a Saturday) we reached Inverness, the capital 
of the Highlands, which is very likely the most 
northerly point I shall ever reach." 

Fiske was obliged to remain at Inverness until 
Monday morning, and he had an attack of real 
homesickness, as in his loneliness he pictured in 
his imagination his little home group gathered in 
the "obally" at Cambridge. He tells with what 
eagerness he is looking forward to getting a batch 
of letters at Edinburgh on the morrow, and there 
is a touch of tender pathos in his remark, " I hope 
that among them will be the 'pickerwow' of the 
basket-wagon and its precious freight." He found 
occupation, during what he calls "this vile Scotch 
Sunday," in writing the letter to Mrs. Fiske, from 
which the foregoing extracts are taken it is a 
letter of twenty-four closely written pages, care- 


In Edinburgh 

fully punctuated as to its meaning, and without a 
single erasure or change of word. 

On Monday, September 22, 1873, Fiske left In- 
verness, by rail for Edinburgh. The weather was 
fine, and he found the scenery delightful "ex- 
ceedingly like Petersham. " He remained in Edin- 
burgh four days "and got more in love with the 
city than ever/' He visited the castle, which he 
thought one of the grandest places he ever saw 
standing on a beetling eminence more steep than 
that of Stirling. He wondered how the Earl of 
Murray in 1313, with thirty picked men, could 
have climbed clean up the side, and captured it. 
He went to the Advocate's Library, about the size 
of the Boston Public Library, and thought that as 
to cataloguing they were way back in the Dark 
Ages as compared with Harvard. Next he went 
to the National Gallery, where he found "many 
splendid pictures by Rubens, Salvator Rosa, Rem- 
brandt, Titian, Paul Veronese, Giorgione, Murillo, 
etc., and lots of English and Scottish masters." 
He says, "I staid there ever so long, and was so 
stupefied with delight, that going out of doors 
seemed like waking up into a dull every-day world 

This was Fiske's first experience with a large 
collection of great masterpieces of representative 
art, and it is to be noted that his appreciation 
strikes true in regard to them he is overpow- 
ered by them. 


John Fiske 

Wednesday was spent in a futile attempt to find 
an uncle of his friend Hutton, by an excursion to St. 
Andrews. He partly compensated himself by visit- 
ing the ruins of the cathedral and the castle which 
brought to mind the "eminent virtues " as well 
as "the somewhat acrid and irreverent temper " 
of John Knox. He also found much to interest him 
in the monument to the martyrs Wishart and his 
four associates. 

Thursday he says : 

" I spent a long time in the University Library 
about the same size as ours and was so fortunate 
as to meet the librarian of the Glasgow Univer- 
sity. Had a long talk with the two librarians. The 
more I see of these things, the more I appreciate 
the greatness of what Ezra Abbot has done" (for 
the Harvard Library). 

At the library he found that his friend Dr. Muir 
was not away, but had moved out to Morning- 
side, one of the suburbs. Accordingly in the after- 
noon he rode out and called. Dr. Muir was out. 
He left his card and walked back to the city. 

Friday he went to Melrose Abbey, which he says 
"is a superb ruin, worthy of all that has been said 
about it." Then he drove to Abbotsford. His com- 
ments upon this shrine for all lovers of true romance 
are brief : 

"Tell you what, my dear, Sir Walter Scott's 
library is a rouser. The ceiling is a beautiful 
specimen of oak carving. The house is a regular 


In Edinburgh 

curiosity shop,~and I saw so much that I will not 
try to tell anything about it." 

But Fiske's last experience in Edinburgh was 
to himself at least the most interesting of all. 
Dr. Muir promptly acknowledged his call by in- 
viting him to dinner Friday evening. What fol- 
lowed is given in a letter to Mrs. Fiske: 

"On returning from Melrose, I had just time to 
get out to his lovely villa before dinner. He is a 
very old bachelor and his niece Mrs. Lowe keeps 
house for him. He had invited to meet me Dr. 
Findlater, one of the first philologists in Scotland, 
Dr. Aufrecht who is one of the greatest Sanskrit 
scholars in the world, and who published many 
years ago a great work on the Umbrian language. 
I was at first overwhelmed at meeting so much 
erudition, all at once, and was afraid I should ap- 
pear to be a fool. But I got along very well. 

They all knew the Myth-book. Dr. Muir said it 
was ' the finest specimen of lucid exposition he had 
ever seen in his life ' ; and he singled out one or two 
of my own particular points in a way that showed 
that he understood both their merit and their 
novelty. The others appeared to agree with him. 
Three more modest men, and three more consum- 
mate gentlemen, I never met. . . . The dinner 
was delicious, with some choice wines and the con- 
versation was ferociously learned. We discussed 
the Sankhya philosophy, and all sorts of stuff, and 
Mrs. Lowe, having lived in India, also enjoyed it, 
or seemed to. I staid till after horse cars were 
over, and then Dr. Muir walked part way back to 
town with me." 


John Fiske 

The next morning he left Edinburgh in a state of 
mind very different from that in which he entered 
the town a fortnight before. He writes: 

" I left Scotland almost tearfully, after two weeks 
of such exuberant happiness, as is rarely experi- 
enced this side of heaven." 

On his way to London Fiske stopped at the 
cathedral towns of York, Lincoln, Boston, Peter- 
borough, Ely, and Norwich, and also at Ipswich 
and Cambridge, and in his letters to Mrs. Fiske 
we have quite full records of his impressions of the 
cathedrals of Boston and of Cambridge. The few 
extracts we can take from these deeply interesting 
letters show a mind as keenly appreciative of the 
beauty and grandeur of man's constructive arts as 
it was responsive to the beauty and sublimity of 
nature. The cathedrals gave him his first impres- 
sions of grand constructive architecture, and how 
he felt in the presence of these sublime creations 
he tells in many passages in the letters. Writing 
from York, he says : 

4 ' After writing some ' tezzletelts ' I went out again 
and attended vespers in the cathedral. This, you 
know, is one of the largest and grandest churches 
in the world. I believe it is the largest in England. 
The one at Ely is longer, but this beats it in area. 
It is a truly magnificent building lovely and 
awful, solemn and sweet. It is like music to be in 
it, and if you go in of a Sunday afternoon you hear 
music too. The organ looks small probably be- 


Visits Cathedral Towns 

cause it is in such an enormous place; but when it 
opens its mouth, there issue forth such stupendous 
volumes of sound as take your soul right off its 
feet and float it up, away up, among the dim 
arches overhead. I never felt so full of inspiration 
as when the people were going out and the whole 
vast space was fairly shaking and trembling with 
harmony, as the organist worked up to the tremen- 
dous fortissimo climax of some ancient fugue. This 
alone was worth the whole voyage across the At- 
lantic and the window-tracing is absolutely 
miraculous. I loafed around entranced till I got 
'kicked out,' so to speak. One might spend a 
month in this holy place. . . . They are always 
tinkering it, to keep it fresh and vigorous; and in- 
deed are repairing it now in one corner. But the 
finest windows are just as they were in the thir- 
teenth century. " 

He sums up his cathedral impressions thus: 

" I have every reason to regard this tour among 
the cathedrals as a great success. If there is any- 
thing in England worth seeing, it is these gigantic 
and exquisite buildings. The sensation you get 
when inside of one is something that cannot be 
described you must feel it yourself. I have now 
seen eight altogether, viz., Chester, Carlisle, Dur- 
ham, York, Lincoln, Peterborough, Ely and Nor- 
wich. Of these the first two are not especially grand, 
though the east window of Carlisle is considered 
the finest stained window in the world. Durham, 
I only saw the outside of and that is exceedingly 
magnificent. Norwich is fine but inferior to Lincoln 
and Peterborough. York is considered the grand- 


John Fiske 

est, but I think Ely rivals it. Its length is stupen- 
dous, and you get the full effect of this because the 
screen between the choir and the nave is of open 
work. Instead of a plain lantern in the centre there 
is a Gothic dome (the only one in the world) the 
effect of which is incredibly grand. As you look 
slantwise across this dome, taking in at one view 
the entire north transept with parts of the nave 
and choir the effect is said to be unsurpassed 
by any other architectural effect in Europe. The 
finish of the interior (the carvings, etc.) is far more 
elaborate than that of the other English cathe- 
drals. It would take a month to drink in the effect 
of all the curious carvings. At the east end of the 
choir, there is a superb shrine of carved marble, 
exhibiting six scenes from Christ's Passion a 
marvellous specimen of sculpture, so exquisitely 
done that you could study it with a microscope and 
find it perfect: still there are scores of figures, 
over a hundred I should say, in these six scenes. 
The whole is set in a frame-work of mosaics of 
precious stones onyx and jasper, and lapis lazuli, 
etc. . . . The building was terribly defaced by the 
Puritans who smashed 280 statues in one of the 
chapels alone, and broke every pane of glass in 
the church. ... At Lincoln, they tore up all the 
oak carvings in the choir, and substituted plain 
church pews and the effect of these in contrast with 
the grand Gothic pillars is odd enough. Fortu- 
nately at Ely, they left the oak carved seats and 
stalls, and they are very wonderful. ... I have 
learned a great deal about Gothic architecture 
since Sunday, compared to the little I knew before 
from books. There is nothing like seeing things. 1 ' 


At Ipswich 

When Fiske had finished his cathedral observa- 
tions at Ely, although in great haste to reach Lon- 
don, being in the vicinity of Ipswich he could not 
resist the temptation to spend a night at the Great 
White Horse Inn, made forever memorable in Eng- 
lish literature by Dickens, as the house where Mr. 
Pickwick had the romantic adventure with the 
lady in yellow curl-papers. From this inn he writes 
his cathedral impressions just quoted, and appends 
the following brief account of the inn itself: 

"This old tavern where I am now writing was 
famous long before Dickens made it immortal. It 
has been standing here since thirteenth century, 
and has been the Great White Horse Inn all that 
time. It is a very ancient building with a paved 
court yard, and trees in the middle. It is the 
most picturesque tavern I have ever seen, and is 
alone worth the short journey to Ipswich. The 
house is so crooked I don't wonder old Pickwick 
lost his way in it. Dickens often stopped here, and 
there was once a l boots ' named Sam Weller. The 
cooking is very good, and my ancient brass bed- 
stead with its fat feather bed is the most comfort- 
able affair I ever slept on. We must give old 
England the first prize for home like and comfort- 
able hotels, though as far as railroad travelling goes, 
I think no language can do justice to the intense 
feeling of contempt for the British intellect with 
which it inspires me. Anything more heathenish 
than an English railway train I have never seen. 
And they are slower than snails. That 50 miles an 
hour business is all a myth, except on the Irish 
mail and one or two other trains. Mostly they 


John Fiske 

don't make over eighteen miles an hour; and they 
jolt equal to a horse-car off the track. And they 
are always, without any exception, 30 minutes be- 
hind time." 

From Ipswich Fiske went to Cambridge, where 
he spent two days of rare intellectual enjoyment 
in visiting various points of interest in the uni- 
versity. He first called at the library, and intro- 
duced himself to Mr. Bradshaw, the chief librarian. 
Mr. Bradshaw received him with great cordiality, 
took him all over the library containing 300,000 
volumes, and explained very fully their system of 
cataloguing, "wherein," he says, "I maintain that 
Ezra Abbot has beaten them out of sight." 

Among the curiosities in the library, the tele- 
scope invented by Newton and used by him in his 
researches greatly interested Fiske. He says : 

"It looks as much like our Harvard telescope 
as a bark canoe looks like the steamer Olympus. 
The greater the wonder at what he accomplished. 
I never felt more like echoing the sentiment en- 
graved on the pedestal of his statue in Trinity 

1 Isaacus Newton 
Qui humanum genus ingenio superavit.' " 

After a delightful forenoon together Fiske was 
taken by Mr. Bradshaw to the latter's rooms in 
King's College for luncheon. Of this courtesy 
Fiske writes to Mrs. Fiske as follows : 

"Such luxurious college rooms I never saw. The 


In Cambridge 

librarian is a senior Fellow of the college, has a 
man-servant of his own and lives like a nabob. 
We lunched on mutton-pie deliciously cooked, 
sweet bread and butter and celestial beer! There 
was a piano, also fine ' pickerwows,' bustuettes, and 
everything jolly. He had seen Stubby Child quite 
recently. He is rather a swell chap; quite a Don, 
you know; and perhaps more swell than profound, 
but very satisfactory in his good-breeding and 
kindliness of manner.'' 

Fiske explored the buildings and grounds of 
several of the colleges King's, Trinity, St. John's, 
Corpus Christi, Pembroke, St. Peter's, etc., and 
he writes : 

"The buildings and grounds here so far surpass 
what we have got at Harvard, that there is no use 
in talking of them on the same day." 

He left Cambridge for London Saturday, Octo- 
ber 4, 1873, with the most delightful impressions 
floating in his mind of the whole university, form- 
ing in his imagination the fore-front of a perspec- 
tive of the seventy-four towns and villages with 
which he had so recently established associations. 




FISKE'S delight in getting back to London was 
something like what he was wont to feel in ap- 
proaching Petersham, only as he says "less so." 
He was in great spirits. He writes: " All these fine 
things I have seen have put fresh blood into my 
veins. I feel so wide awake and full of vim as I 
have n't felt before since the days when we first 
moved to Cambridge. " 

- His first thought was to arrange for the publi- 
cation of his book, and to this end he desired to 
consult Herbert Spencer first of all. Accordingly, 
Sunday, October 5, 1873, the next day after his ar- 
rival, he walked out to Bayswater, near the farther 
end of Hyde Park, Spencer's town residence, but 
only to find that he was away for a few days. While 
waiting his return, Fiske called upon William Ral- 
ston, an eminent Russian scholar, and assistant 
librarian at the British Museum. Fiske and Ral- 


In London 

ston at once took a strong liking for each other, and 
by Ralston's advice Fiske took lodgings opposite 
the museum at 67 Great Russell Street. In the 
museum itself he was given every facility for carry- 
ing on his work. He gives the following description 
of his lodgings and his immediate surroundings : 

"My rooms look right out on the British Mu- 
seum. I have a comfortable sitting-room and bed- 
room well furnished, with grate and gas, etc. ; and 
have got a cottage piano on hire. I have my break- 
fast in my room and dine at a French restaurant 
near by and am living very comfortably on ten or 
twelve shillings per day piano included." 

He was pleased to find in the same house his 
classmate Jeremiah Curtin, still in pursuit of lin- 
guistic lore, and on his way to the Caucasus, which, 
Fiske remarks, "being the almightiest Babel of 
languages on earth, is a paradise for Jeremiah !" 

On Thursday Fiske received a cordial note of 
welcome from Spencer. He called immediately and 
was very warmly received. Spencer entered heart- 
ily into Fiske's plan for an international publi- 
cation of his philosophical work, and strongly rec- 
ommended Macmillan for his English publisher. 
He also offered his good services if any way needed 
in the negotiation. But Fiske had no difficulty in 
getting his work accepted by the Macmillans and 
on precisely the same terms as he had arranged for 
the American publication with the firm of James 
R. Osgood & Co., of which I was then a member. 


John Fiske 

With the question of the English publication of 
his work decided, Fiske settled down to steady 
work in revising his lectures and in the writing of a 
few new chapters in order to round out his Evolu- 
tionary thought into the desired philosophic form. 
He was engaged with this task for four months, 
and during this period kept his rooms at 67 Great 
Russell Street, which soon assumed in his mind 
so far as any rooms away from Cambridge could 
the nature of a home. 

It should be borne in mind that at this time the 
sociological implications of the doctrine of Evolu- 
tion, in their bearing upon current political, ethi- 
cal, and religious thought, were under very general 
discussion by the leading English thinkers, and 
that Fiske in his work in hand proposed to bring 
these sociological implications more distinctly 
under review than any Evolutionist who had pre- 
ceded him had done. Spencer, it is true, in his 
''Social Statics " and in his essays, had thrown out 
many fruitful suggestions along these lines; but 
his encyclopaedic works, " Descriptive Sociology/' 
"The Principles of Sociology/' and "The Prin- 
ciples of Ethics/' were still in embryo, while his 
foundational work, "First Principles/' had left 
the thinking world in doubt as to the nature and 
realm of the Unknowable as postulated by him. 
Fiske, therefore, had a very definite object before 
him in this London visit. It was nothing less than 
the freeing of the doctrine of Evolution from all 


Cordially Received 

kinship with the Positive Philosophy of Auguste 
Comte, from all identification with atheism or 
materialism, while at the same time rounding it 
out into a philosophic system based upon science; a 
system consisting of affirmations as to the existence 
of Deity, accompanied by verifiable data regarding 
the cosmic universe, with man's place in it with his 
rational mind, as a unified, ever-developing mani- 
festation of Deity. And it was for the completion 
of this important task that he desired converse 
with Spencer, Darwin, Huxley, Lewes, Tyndall, 
Hooker, Clifford, Lockyer, and a few others of the 
new school of scientific thought in England. 

Fiske found himself on his arrival by no means 
unknown to a goodly number of the English scien- 
tific thinkers. His essay on Buckle, his articles in 
the "North American Review " and the "Fort- 
nightly," together with the reports of his Harvard 
lectures, which his friend You mans had widely 
circulated in England, had already drawn attention 
to him as an exceptionally well-equipped thinker, 
as well as a lucid expositor along the new lines of 
thought which the investigations of science were 
daily opening to view. Then, too, his trenchant 
article on Agassiz, published since he had left 
home, commended him to all the Darwinians in 
England: so much so, that, to his surprise, where- 
ever he was introduced he not only found himself 
known, but people also very glad to meet him. 
Then his bearing was so simple and modest, his 


John Fiske 

scholarship so broad and thorough, and his speech 
so unaffected and rich with well-digested thought 
that he gained the confidence and cordial coopera- 
tion of the group of eminent men whose assistance 
he so much desired. 

The letters not only show how cordially he was re- 
ceived by the great body of the English Evolution- 
ists; they also contain interesting particulars of the 
individual assistance rendered him. Professor W. 
K. Clifford, the eminent mathematician, rendered 
him a particularly valuable service, as Fiske says, 
11 by punching through about six pages of my Nebu- 
lar Hypothesis at once, and so saved me from 
getting into trouble hereafter. " With Lockyer, 
the astronomer, he had several interviews and an 
evening's conference on the Nebular Hypothesis 
and Spectroscopic Astronomy. Of Darwin he 
sought particularly some information regarding 
peculiarities in the arrangement of leaves around 
the stem. He writes: "It was delightful to see 
what oceans of illustrations Darwin had ready, and 
how absolutely precise his conception of the case 
was and how simply and quietly he said what he 
had to say." 

Fiske also had opportunities to ply Hooker, Tyn- 
dall, Crookes, Galton, Foster, Sir Henry Sumner 
Maine with questions bearing upon their special 
lines of investigation ; while with Spencer, Huxley, 
and Lewes he enjoyed the freest possible converse 
extending over the whole period of his London so- 


Letter from Huxley 

journ. With Spencer and Huxley he discussed very 
fully the various aspects of the doctrine of Evolu- 
tion and its implications upon the future of phil- 
osophic thought. 

In the midst of these memorials of earnest minds 
grappling with the profound mysteries of existence, 
it is pleasant now and then to come across a brief 
note a mere scrap of paper which, redolent 
of an abounding personality, illumines with a bit 
of delightful humor the whole Evolutionary sur- 

We have seen that among Fiske's ancestors in 
Middletown there were four generations who con- 
secutively held the office of Town Clerk, and that 
Fiske himself wrote a beautiful hand. It appears 
that during this London visit, he desired some 
information regarding Amphioxus, one of the low- 
est orders of vertebrates; and so he plied Huxley 
with one of his beautiful notes. Huxley, after an- 
swering Fiske 's question, gives what lawyers would 
call an obiter dictum on the probable working of the 
Evolutionary process as applied to Fiske's hand- 
writing, which is full of pertinent suggestions: 

Huxley to Fiske 

My dear Fiske: 

Amphioxus is quite rightly said to have no 
brain. The anterior extremity of the nerve end, 
what represents the spinal marrow, is rounded off 
without any such differentiation as would give it 
a title to the name of brain. 


John Fiske 

I did not expect you yesterday, knowing that 
Macmillan is wise in his generation, but we shall 
look for you on Sunday next. 

What a pity you did not continue in the line of 
your ancestors. In another generation or two we 
might have had a Homo Townclerkensis whom the 
orthodox of the day would have declared to have 
been specially created in the latitude of Cambridge, 
U.S.; and they would have justly pointed to the 
difference between his handwriting and that of 
my progeny (all of whom write badly) as the best 
evidence of specific distinctness. 

Yours very truly, 


It was under these favoring conditions that the 
physical or scientific portions of his work were re- 
vised, that the sociological chapters were largely 
rewritten, and the chapters entitled " Matter and 
Spirit/' " Religion as Adjustment," and the " Criti- 
cal Attitude of Philosophy" were entirely com- 

Fiske's gratulatory feeling at being enabled to 
revise and finish his work under such happy aus- 
pices, finds frequent expression in his letters. In 
November he writes: 

11 1 am thankful to be over here doing this work, 
where there are so many ready and glad to help 


And again in December: 

"This is what I always longed for, to be able 
to revise my book in England, where I can get good 



Discussions with Spencer 

criticism and advice from competent men, before 
publishing; and now I seem to be getting my wish 
accomplished." v 

Among the many interesting people he met in 
London was the Reverend Moncure D. Conway, 
an American Unitarian minister who preached 
very liberal sermons to a very liberal and intelli- 
gent congregation at South Place Chapel, and 
who enjoyed the acquaintance of all the best 
thinkers in London. Conway and Fiske became 
very warm friends, and at Conway's earnest re- 
quest Fiske occupied his pulpit for two Sundays, 
giving two discourses on Darwinism, which were 
received with marked approval. 

Fiske' s conferences with Spencer were many, and 
were of an exceedingly pleasant nature. During 
their conferences two incidents arose of some phil- 
osophic interest which are referred to in Fiske' s 
work, but which are more clearly set forth in the 
letters. The first relates to Fiske's use of the word 
" Cosmic " in the title to his work, " Outlines of Cos- 
mic Philosophy." We have already seen that while 
Fiske was delivering his lectures at Harvard under 
the title of "The Positive Philosophy," Spencer 
objected to the title "Positive Philosophy" being 
applied to the philosophy of Evolution, and that 
for his own system he had adopted the title "Syn- 
thetic Philosophy." In the latter part of Decem- 
ber Fiske was nearing the completion of his work, 
and with the assistance of Huxley he had decided 


John Fiske 

upon the following as his general title: "Outlines 
of Cosmic Philosophy based on the Doctrine of 
Evolution, with criticisms of the Positive Phil- 
osophy. " 

On submitting this title to Spencer, he at once 
raised objections, evidently the outcome of a feel- 
ing that Fiske was in a way giving a title to the 
philosophy of Evolution, a right or a duty that 
belonged to himself. Several letters passed: those 
from Spencer, although perfectly courteous in tone, 
indicate some degree of personal irritation; while 
the letters of Fiske are so free from all personal 
self-seeking in the matter, so direct in setting forth 
the implications of the word " Cosmic " in the 
sense in which he has used the term, so emphatic 
in his desire to clear the doctrine of Evolution 
from all affiliations with the philosophy of Posi- 
tivism, and so frank in his acknowledgment of his 
great indebtedness to Spencer for thoughtful in- 
spiration throughout the work, that Spencer grace- 
fully withdrew his objections, remarking, "All 
that I wish is that it should be made clear that I did 
not myself adopt the word ' Cosmic ' and do not 
think it desirable as a distinctive title.' 1 The con- 
troversy was conducted with such perfect frank- 
ness on both sides that its settlement left no feeling 
of rancor behind. 

As the substance of this controversy is given by 
Fiske in the preface to his "Cosmic Philosophy," 
none of the letters are given here. It appears that 


Discussions with Spencer 

Fiske had the cordial support of Huxley during the 
controversy; and that Huxley strongly opposed the 
title of "Synthetic Philosophy" when originally 
proposed by Spencer as a distinctive title for the 
philosophy of Evolution. 

The other incident relates to Fiske' s notable 
emendation of Spencer's phrase "nervous shock 1 ' 
into "psychical shock," in his chapter "Matter 
and Spirit." This emendation was an important 
one, and much has been made of it in subsequent 
psychological and philosophical discussion. Fiske 
says, in a footnote, that the emendation was 
thoroughly approved by Spencer. In a letter to Mrs. 
Fiske we have the particulars of the interview at 
which Spencer authorized the emendation, with 
just a glimpse at the personality of Spencer that 
is not without interest. Fiske says: 

"Spencer called yesterday, to see what had be- 
come of me. I had n't seen him for two weeks. 
When he came in, I had just been quoting and 
altering and mending a very important passage 
from his ' Psychology,' and apologising in a foot- 
note for the liberty I had taken with it. Just as I 
had done this he came in and I read it to him, and 
he told me to add in my footnote that he approved 
of my emendation and considered it a bully thing." l 

Fiske then adds this pleasing incident: 

1 This emendation was an important one and struck at a vital 
point in Spencer's philosophy, where he had unwittingly placed 
himself in the hands of the Materialists. Emphatic as he was in 
commending Fiske's emendation, it does not appear that he made 
any change in his text. 


John Fiske 

" We went in a cab to St. James's Square and I sat 
by while he had his hair cut (what little he has got) 
and it tickled me to hear him tell the barber: ' Now 
hold your scissorrrrrs verrrrtically, etc.'!!! It is 
positively wonderful the way he rrrrolls his rrrs." 

How diligently and with what spirit Fiske worked 
at his task we get glimpses from the letters in fre- 
quent passages similar to the following: 

"Next day I got up early and did 8 pages on 
religion, and worked like thunder the rest of the 
week. . . . To-day I have worked all day and have 
written 13 bran-new pages on ' Matter and Spirit.' " 

In January, when he saw that the end of his task 
was near, he writes: 

"Oh, how happy I have been in London! I can 
never outlive it or forget it. It has been all solid 
pure unbroken happiness. But after all, Peters- 
ham, next summer, will beat it!!/ 19 

And when he finishes his task on the evening of 
February n, he writes at 10 P.M. in the following 
jubilant strain : 

"Glory to God!!! 

"I have finished 'Matter and Spirit' and have 
been out (feeling hungry) to get a mutton chop and 
glass of beer in Tottenham Court Road. Glory 
Hallelujah! MY WORK is DONE! This has been a 
profitable four months in London! To get that 
everlasting big book into shape has been no fool 
of a job; and it has been well done, too O, sing 


Finishes " Cosmic Philosophy " 

Here, as we make record of the finishing of his 
book, which was at the time the completest presen- 
tation of the philosophy of Evolution in its bearing 
upon religious thought that had been made, it is 
eminently fitting that we insert the following ex- 
tract from a letter to his mother, written during 
his stay in London, in which he gives expression 
to the profoundly religious thought that underlies 
the whole of his philosophy. His mother had 
questioned the nature of the comfort his views had 
for aching hearts, for people in affliction, to which 
he replied: 

" As for the comfort which ' my science ' has for 
aching hearts, the form of your question shows how 
little you understand what 'my science* is. If I 
were to say that my chief comfort in affliction 
would be the recognition that there is a Supreme 
Power manifested in the totality of phenomena, 
the workings of which are not like the workings of 
our intelligence, but far above and beyond them, 
and which are obviously tending to some grand 
and worthy result, even though my individual 
happiness gets crushed in the process, so that the 
only proper mental attitude for me, is that which 
says, 'not my will but thine be done* if I were 
to say this, you would probably reply, 'Why, this 
is Christianity/ Well, so it is, I think. This, how- 
ever, is my faith, and it is 'a faith which owns 
fellowship with thought/ as Miss Hennell says. 
The difference between the Christianity of Herbert 
Spencer, and that of Mrs. Pickett 1 is nothing but 

1 Mrs. Pickett was a faithful family servant in Middletown. 


John Fiske 

a difference of symbols. One uses the language of 
a man, and the other that of a child. 

"But the germ of a faith which sustains Mrs. 
Pickett is something which Spencer has not got 
rid of, it is something which mankind will never 
get rid of. Read Matthew Arnold's 'Literature 
and Dogma ' and you will see how little he cares 
for doctrinal symbols, how much he cares for the 
kernel of the thing. And when my ' Cosmic Phil- 
osophy ' comes out, you will see how utterly im- 
possible it is that Christianity should die out; but 
how utterly inevitable it is, that it should be meta- 
morphosed, even as it has been metamorphosed 
over and over again." 

And so, with his task of composition finished, 
Fiske spent a few days in visiting Westminster 
Abbey, the House of Commons, Westminster Hall, 
and a few other places of interest which he had 
not had time to visit before; and in saying good- 
bye for a season to Spencer, the Huxleys, Mr. and 
Mrs. Lewes, Ralston, and Macmillan. On Wednes- 
day, the 1 7th of February, he delivered the last 
of his manuscript to the printer, and in stating 
this fact to Mrs. Fiske he takes great pleasure in 
noting that the delivery was on the twelfth anni- 
versary of their engagement. 

On the 1 9th of February he left London for 
Brighton, and on the 2Oth he set out for the Con- 
tinent, via Dieppe, Rouen, and Paris. 

Fiske's sojourn in London, however, is of gene- 


Personal Sketches 

ral interest for another reason than the comple- 
tion of his "Cosmic Philosophy " his personal 
sketches of the eminent persons with whom he 
came in contact. Reference has been made to 
the reputation that had preceded him, and to the 
social attentions he received. The latter were in- 
deed remarkable, and they began immediately upon 
his arrival. His cordial reception by Spencer, 
Lewes, Darwin, Huxley, and his genial publisher 
Macmillan, opened to him entrances to the high- 
est intellectual and social converse that London 
had to bestow. He was given the full privileges 
of the Athenaeum and of the Cosmopolitan clubs 
two of the most select and distinguished clubs in 
London. He dined with the X Club, the most 
exclusive club in England. Darwin gave him a 
luncheon. Spencer gave him a special dinner with 
Huxley, Tyndall, Lewes, and Dr. Jackson. He was 
Huxley's guest at a dinner of the Royal Society. 
He was given a special dinner by the "Citizens of 
Noviomagas," a club of " jolly good fellows." And 
then, best of all, he was made an ever-welcome 
guest at the delightful home of Mr. and Mrs. 
Lewes (George Eliot), the Huxleys, and of his 
"bonny old Scot" publisher, Macmillan. 

It was under these favorable conditions that 
Fiske had the pleasure of becoming personally ac- 
quainted, not only with all the persons named, 
but also with several others hardly less distin- 
guished for their contributions to the science and 


John Fiske 

the literature of the time; as, for instance, Sir 
Charles Lyell, Hooker, Foster, Clifford, Lockyer, 
Proctor, Pollock, Crookes, Galton, Max Miiller, 
Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Browning, Tom 
Hughes, Anthony Trollope, James Sime, Lord 
Arthur Russel, Lord Acton, and others. 

Fiske's letters to Mrs. Fiske, to his mother, and 
to his children written during his London sojourn 
would fill a volume by themselves. They have 
been carefully preserved and abound with graphic 
sketches of the eminent people with whom he was 
brought into close personal relations in the work- 
ing-out of his philosophic scheme. They also give 
full accounts of his social diversions, at the clubs, 
at the homes of Macmillan, the Huxleys, the Lewes's, 
of Triibner (the publisher), and others: and they 
also abound in rare and appreciative criticisms 
upon the musical entertainments he enjoyed. 
Then, too, the letters give expression to the ever- 
painful feeling in his heart at his isolation from his 
home from his wife and his children. This feel- 
ing of isolation, combined with a feeling of sadness 
at having pleasures he cannot share with them, 
permeates all the letters like a sad refrain, revealing 
the deep tenderness of his nature, and giving to 
the letters a rare personal charm. 

Space can be given to but a few additional ex- 
tracts from these letters: and these extracts are 
limited to personal sketches of Spencer, Darwin, 
Huxley, Lewes, George Eliot, and Sir Charles 


Herbert Spencer 

Lyell, because these persons, beyond all others 
that he met, had been influential in shaping the 
current of his evolutionary thought. 

Herbert Spencer 

The reader, as he recalls Fiske's enthusiasm for 
Herbert Spencer during his college days, together 
with his efforts during the intervening years to 
interpret Spencer's philosophy, that of Evolution, 
to the American mind, will be interested in getting 
his impressions of Spencer's personality as derived 
from their intercourse during this London sojourn. 

Fiske's first impressions of Spencer are given in 
two letters written October 13 and 17, 1873, the 
one to Mrs. Fiske, and the other to his mother, and 
the following is the merging, in his own words, of 
the sketches in both letters: ' 

" I called on Herbert Spencer last Thursday. He 
received me very warmly, and we walked back to 
town together. He is a ferocious walker. I would 
like to see him and James [Brooks] start out on a 
wager. He is built for travel. I dined with him on 
Friday, and narrated my projects and he took 
great interest. He is exceedingly refined and ele- 
gant in manner, and appears like the great man 
he is, though he seems overworked. He is at last 
getting a handsome income from his books. I 
shall see a great deal more of him. I told him all 
about my infancy chapter, and he says it is a grand 
discovery, and belongs entirely to me! He was 
very much wrought up by it, and had never 
dreamed of it before." 


John Fiske 

While this rather meagre presentation of Spen- 
cer's personality leaves much to be desired, it con- 
firms in a marked degree the impression we have of 
him derived from a variety of sources that he 
lacked the power of inspiring enthusiasm. But 
Fiske's veneration for him was so great, he could 
overlook his personal shortcomings in apprecia- 
tion of his greatness, and in the following extracts 
we have perhaps the completest presentation of 
Spencer's personality that has been given. Writ- 
ing to Mrs. Fiske, a little later he says: i 

"This morning dear old Spencer came in to see 
me just after breakfast, and staid an hour. He 
does n't feel very well, having overworked during 
the summer, without much if any vacation; and 
he said to me that he would be darned if he would 
ever again undertake to do any work on time. 
'Dear me, 1 I told him, 'have n't you been making 
that same vow over and over again ever since you 
were 30 years old, and have n't you invariably 
busted it?' Yes, he said, he was always vowing 
never to do so again, but his vows were always 
busted. . . . The old fellow was as charming as a 
magician, and we had an almighty fine chin-wag." 

In his account of the dinner which Spencer gave 
him, at which Huxley, Lewes, Tyndall, and others 
were present, and at which, he says, "we dis- 
cussed pretty much the whole universe from cellar 
to attic," Fiske writes to Mrs. Fiske: 

"Spencer was benign and admirable as always; 
and the reverence which all these men feel for him 


Herbert Spencer 

was thoroughly apparent, in the way in which 
they listened to every word that came out of his 

And to his mother Fiske writes: 

"You don't seem to know that Spencer is a 
bachelor. How he came to know so much about 
bringing up children I don't know, except that such 
imperial common-sense as his cannot go far wrong 
on any subject. Of all the men I have ever seen 
he impresses me as the most remarkably endowed 
with good straightforward common-sense. . . . 
This illustrates what I have often thought, that 
a really good psychologist a man who really 
fathoms all the processes of thinking and the 
methods of reaching conclusions has an advan- 
tage over all other kinds of men. He gets down to 
the bottom of what they are thinking about. It is 
now getting to be generally admitted that in all 
human history, the only men to be compared with 
Spencer for insight into mental processes, are Aris- 
totle, Berkeley, and Kant. And it is this wonder- 
ful insight into the mind which is the secret of that 
supreme common-sense which he shows in his chap- 
ters on Education, and in everything he writes. 1 ' 

A little later he writes to Mrs. Fiske: 

"Then Conway and I went to Spencer's. Spen- 
cer was down with his liver, and his stomach, 
and his back-bone, and caved-in generally, and 
disposed to be grouty; but he shook my hand in 
an unmistakably affectionate way, and evidently 
tried to be as jolly as he could. The more I see of 
the poor old fellow, the more I pity him from the 


John Fiske 

bottom of my heart. He is so lonely and so cur- 
tailed from want of human sympathy. And I don't 
see how he is ever going to finish his work with his 
present health. He thinks it a wonderful day's 
work, if he can only keep at it from 9 A.M. until 

noon.' ! 

And again : 

"Yesterday I lunched with Spencer, and walked 
back through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park 
with him. It was a beautiful day warm as 
summer and such a delicious grey-blue sky as I 
never saw before. I was wild with delight. But 
Spencer never seems to warm up to anything but 
ideas. He has got so infernally critical, that not 
even the finest work of God a perfect day is 
quite fine enougli for him. So he picked flaws with 
the grey-blue sky, and the peculiar Turner-like 
light, and everything. However, he was very jolly, 
and we had a grand talk about primitive language, 
which he has got on the brain just now. His talk 
is very charming." ( 

It appears that on one occasion, Spencer in- 
vited Fiske to luncheon at the Athenaeum Club, 
forgetting that he (Spencer) had an important 
engagement. At the appointed hour, Spencer did 
not appear, and Fiske, on his return to his rooms, 
found a note explaining matters. Fiske sends the 
note to Mrs. Fiske with the following comments, 
and with an additional sketch of Spencer's per- 
sonality : ) 

"Keep it [the note] as a relic. People would 



C^Ov- lyS^^, 

/^LaSL^si ^P^~-^-^_ 


Herbert Spencer 

give a good deal for some such little scrap show- 
ing how Newton got his head overburdened and 
made an impracticable appointment*, with a friend. 
But Spencer is as wonderful a man as Newton, and 
this little bit from him is worth as much as the 
other would be. Poor old fellow! One can easily 
see that he labours under the weight of his mighty 
mind, and that the body protests against the quan- 
tity of work it has to do in keeping said mind a- 
going. Thus is the world made; you can't eat your 
cake and keep it. Books like 'First Principles' 
are made at the cost of terrible wear and tear of the 
nerves. But Spencer does n't show it in the same 
way that Lewes does. He does n't look feeble, but 
he looks tired. He is wiry, and tough, and athletic, 
and looks like a very strong man, tired. Lewes 
looks feeble. That is the difference. I can fear that 
Lewes may come in with his work half done, but 
I can imagine it more likely that Spencer may stick 
to it, tired as he is, for many a year to come. They 
are a wonderful pair, anyway, and either one of 
them would have been worth the journey across 
the ocean to see. 

"I showed Spencer the basket- wagon * picker- 
wow/ this morning, and also the 'pickerwow' of 
'Tick' sitting on the cricket, and of ' Barl' with his 
hat and waterproof cape-coat on; and I told him 
how I used to go to Spy Pond with my babies, and 
he said he should like to be there, and go along with 
us! When I think how lonely he must be without 
any wife and babies, and how solitary he is in all 
his greatness, it makes me pity him, and feel very 
tenderly toward him. When I watched him in- 
tently examining the basket- wagon 'picker wow/ 


John Fiske 

I felt, though I did not say it 'By Jove, that 
wagon-load is worth more than all the philosophy 
that ever was concocted, from Aristotle to Spencer 
inclusive.' ' ^ 

Charles Darwin 

Fiske's veneration for Darwin was hardly less 
than his veneration for Spencer.^ While he cred- 
ited Spencer with being the first thinker of mod- 
ern times to bring forward the idea of Evolution 
as the mode of manifestation of an unknown power 
underlying all the phenomena of the inorganic and 
organic universe, he recognized Darwin as having 
furnished the most indubitable proof of Evolution 
in the organic world by his epoch-making books, 
"The Origin of Species" and "The Descent of 
Man." Fiske's desire to meet Darwin, therefore, 
for converse on some of the points in the philoso- 
phy of Evolution he was working out, especially in 
its relation to sociologic man, was hardly less than 
his desire to meet Spencer. 

He learned, however, that Darwin was in quite 
feeble health, and hesitated about asking for an 
interview, fearing it would be an intrusion upon 
Darwin's necessary seclusion. But as he settled 
down to his task, the desire to consult Darwin be- 
came so strong that he was induced to send the 
latter a note in which he stated his purpose in Lon- 
don and from which the following extract is taken: 

"I have known and revered you so many years, 
that it would give me great pleasure if I could 


Charles Darwin 

meet you and shake hands with you before leav- 
ing England. There are some subjects about 
which I would fain have a word or two of conver- 
sation; but as Mr. Spencer tells me that you are 
(like himself) feeling poorly at present, and as I 
know what a bore philosophy is under such cir- 
cumstances, I shall seek for nothing more than to 
tell you face to face, how much I, in common with 
all thinking men, owe to you." 

This note brought the following prompt reply 
from Darwin : 

DOWN, November 3, 1873. 
My dear Sir : 

I am much obliged for your very kind letter. I 
am very glad of the nature of the work on which 
you are engaged. I see so few people that I had 
not heard of your presence in London. At the end 
of the week I shall be in London at my daughter's 
house, and I will on the following week propose your 
coming to luncheon, which is generally my best time, 
and I trust this may not be inconvenient to you. 

I did receive the " Popular Science Monthly " 
and read your attack (an attack it was with a 
vengeance though properly admitting his great 
services) on Agassiz, with great interest. I have 
not received the " North American " and shall be 
very glad to see it, but I can order a copy for my- 
self. Until we meet, 1 
Yours very sincerely, 


On the evening after the luncheon Fiske writes 
Mrs. Fiske as follows: 

477 , 

John Fiske 

"To-day, I lunched with Darwin and Mrs. Dar- 
win, Mrs. Litchfield (Darwin's daughter), Frank 
Darwin (whom I saw in Boston two years ago) and 
Miss Bessie Darwin, and Dr. Hooker, the greatest 
living botanist, and Mrs. Hooker. . . . Darwin is 
the dearest, sweetest, loveliest old Grandpa that 
ever was. And on the whole he impresses me 
with his strength more than any man I have yet 
seen. There is a charming kind of quiet strength 
about him and about everything he does. He is 
not burning and eager like Huxley. He has a mild 
blue eye, and is the gentlest of gentle old fellows. 
I think he would make a noble picture after the 
style of mother's picture which I call 'Galileo/ 
His long white hair and enormous beard make 
him very picturesque. And what is so delightful 
to see, as that perfect frankness and guileless sim- 
plicity of manner, which comes from a man having 
devoted his whole life to some great idea, without 
a thought of self, and without ever having become 
a ' man of the world ' ? I had a warm greeting from 
the dear old man, and I am afraid I shall never see 
him again, for his health is very bad, and he had 
to make a special effort to see me to-day. Of all 
my days in England, I prize to-day the most; and 
what I pity you most of all for, my dear, is that 
you have n't seen our dear grand old Darwin! I 
think we both felt it might be the last time. He 
came to the door with me and gave me a warm grip 
of the hand and best wishes, and watched me down 
the road till I turned the corner, when I took off my 
hat and bowed good-bye." 

On the same day, November 13, Fiske wrote his 
mother as follows: 


Sketch of George Henry Lewes 

"Of course I have formed opinions of all these 
men, but it is interesting to see how they seem in 
the flesh. There is no doubt that Spencer is the 
profoundest thinker of all. But Darwin impressed 
me with a sense of strength more than any other 
man I have ever seen. Instead of Huxley's intense 
black eye, he has got a mild blue eye, and his man- 
ner is full of repose. None of these men seem to 
know how great they are. But Darwin is one of 
the most truly modest men I ever saw. The com- 
bination of power and quiet modesty in him, is more 
impressive than I can describe. I regard my lunch 
with Darwin the climax of everything thus far." 

George Henry Lewes 

Next to Spencer and Darwin, the man Fiske 
most desired to meet in the prosecution of his work 
was George Henry Lewes. We have seen that when 
Fiske gave up the practice of the law to devote 
himself to literature, Lewes, as editor of the " Fort- 
nightly Review," the organ of liberal thought in 
England, cordially welcomed him as an unham- 
pered contributor, with a more satisfactory re- 
muneration that he had received at home. Then, 
beside this fact, Fiske had been a careful reader of 
Lewes's "Life of Goethe," his "Seaside Studies," 
and his essay on Aristotle ; while Lewes's "History 
of Philosophy," with its masterly analyses of the dif- 
ferent schools of philosophy from Thales to Comte, 
had been familiar to Fiske ever since his college 
days as a sort of textbook of human thinking, illus- 
trating one great evolutionary truth that 


John Fiske 

Through the ages one increasing purpose runs, 
And the thoughts of men are widen 'd with the process of 
the suns." 

Fiske's first meeting with Lewes was by chance 
in the store of Trubner, the publisher, and under 
date of October 23 he gives the following graphic 
sketch of Lewes's personality: 

"Tuesday, I went down to Trubner's store in 
Ludgate Hill, near St. Paul's, and there I met 
Mr. Lewes. He looks very old and feeble for a 
man of 55 ; somewhat weazen, and little, like Ezra 
Abbot, and ever so homely a great deal more 
homely than his picture. But when he opens his 
mouth to speak, he becomes transfigured in a 
moment. I never saw anything more winning than 
the beautiful and cordial smile with which he met 
me, and expressed his pleasure at seeing me at 
last. I had meant to say all that to him, but he 
forestalled me. His manners are fascinating beyond 
all description, and he took my heart captive at 
once. I never before saw a man who seemed so 
full of the divine indescribable something that 
makes a man different from common men and 
all this in spite of his homely, and meagre and 
puny physique. I don't wonder that he captivated 
George Eliot. I think he is just the man that any 
woman would get in love with, who had an eye for 
the spirituelle. We talked about an hour, when he 
said he must run and catch a train to get home to 
his wife, for he had promised her not to stay more 
than three hours in the city. 

"The work which he is beginning to publish is 
one of great scope, and will fill many volumes if 



Sketch of George Henry Lewes 

it is ever finished. 1 But it was with a pang that I 
heard him allude to the probability of his never 
finishing it, for it seems only too probable. He 
said his wife called him her 'Mr. Casaubon' 2 and 
kept egging him on to publish and get rid of what 
he had got on hand anyway the force of which 
you will appreciate if you read ' Middlemarch.' 
He is reading my Myth-book with his wife, and 
they like it much. I am at last to see the great 
George Eliot on Sunday, November 23, at two 
o'clock P.M. They will then have returned to town, 
and I am to lunch with them on that day. So you 
can then imagine Hezzy in clover. I am perfectly 
in love with Lewes/' 

Lewes gave Fiske, in sheets, a copy of his forth- 
coming book, "Problems of Life and Mind," and 
under date of November 18, Fiske writes Mrs. 
Fiske as follows: 

"I read Lewes's book, ('Problems of Life and 
Mind') in the sheets, and I consider his treatment 
of Kant one of the most masterly pieces of philo- 
sophical criticism I ever read. I told Darwin about 
it, and found that he has a great admiration for 
Lewes's straightforward and clean-cut mind. I 
have made up my mind that Lewes will have a 
permanent place in history as the critic of Kant, 
to say nothing of the other things he has done. 
What a comical old fellow he is! At the dinner the 
other day [Spencer's dinner to Fiske] I was say- 

1 A history of science, the first section of which was " Problems 
of Life and Mind." 

2 Fiske says: " Mrs. Lewes calls it Cas-au'bon, with the accent on 
the second syllable, but she says a good many people of that name in 
England call themselves Cas'au-b&n, with accent on first syllable." 


John Fiske 

ing that very soon we should see Evolution taken 
up by the orthodox. 'To be sure/ says Lewes, 'for 
don't you see that Evolution requires an Evolver? ' 
Huxley was telling about something I said in my 
Agassiz article, when Spencer blandly interrupted 
with 'What will Agassiz say to all that?' 'O,' 
said Lewes, ' he will say what Louis XIV said after 
the- battle of Ramillies Dieu nCa, abandonne; 
et apres tout ce que fai fait pour Lull! I ' " 

George Eliot 

Fiske was no less desirous of meeting Mrs. 
Lewes George Eliot than he was of meeting 
Lewes. He had been a careful reader of her various 
books and regarded them as the products of a 
genius of the highest order. The wide variety of 
characters she had created into the world of litera- 
ture, such as Dinah, Mrs. Poyser, Dorothea, Rom- 
ola, Fidalma, Adam Bede, Caleb Garth, Felix 
Holt, Tito, Savonarola, and Zarca, he considered 
unexcelled in modern fiction; while he seemed to 
see through them all the reflection of a mind that 
was looking out upon the drama of human life, not 
with the pessimistic view of the theologic-dogma- 
tist, but rather with an optimistic faith born of 
a belief in Evolution "of a power within us, 
not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." 

The story of the marital relations of Lewes and 
Marian Evans (George Eliot) is not in place here. 
Fiske gave to his mother the whole story, and in 
closing it he says: 


Sketch of George Eliot 

"My notions of these things are almost asceti- 
cally strict; but about this case I have always felt 
(knowing the thoroughly upright and noble charac- 
ter of Lewes, and presuming George Eliot to be no 
less so) that in all probability they did the very 
best they knew how; and there are mighty few 
people who are in a position to go pitching stones 
at them/' 

We have seen that at his first meeting with Lewes 
Fiske was invited to luncheon with Mr. and Mrs. 
Lewes on November 23, shortly after their return 
to town. Fiske looked forward to meeting these 
two people in their own home with great anticipa- 
tions; and on October 31 he writes to Mrs. Fiske: > 

"Remember that on Sunday, November 23, I 
lunch with Lewes and George Eliot. Imagine 
Hezzy as hard as you can when that day comes 
around, and if George Eliot is half as bewitching as 
her husband, I shall no doubt have a day of it long 
to be remembered.' 1 

On November 23, with the interview fresh in 
mind, he writes Mrs. Fiske as follows: 

"To-day, my dear, I have been to the Lewes's 
. . . And Ralston was there and there never was 
a room so dark that his presence would n't at once 
make sunlight in it. And ' Kingdon ' Clifford was 
there, and several others too many, indeed, for 
Mr. and Mrs. Lewes had to play hostess to so 
many that I could n't talk to her half so much as 
I wanted to. 

"Well, what do I think of her? She is a plain- 


John Fiske 

looking woman, but I think not especially homely. 
She is much better looking than George Sand. She 
is n't a blooming beauty, of course: you don't ex- 
pect that at fifty-two. But her features are regular, 
her nose is very good, her eyes are a rich blue and 
very expressive, her mouth is very large, but it is 
pleasant in expression. Her hair is light and profuse, 
and she wears a lovely lace cap over it and looks 
simple, and frank, and cordial, and matronly, and 
seems ever so fond of Lewes, and he ever so fond 
of her. I call her a real good, honest, genuine, 
motherly woman with no nonsense about her. She 
seemed glad to see me. She said when my Myth- 
book came to her (I sent her a copy last sum- 
mer, as you know), she was sitting on the floor, 
fixing a rug, or something of the sort, and she got 
so absorbed in my book that she sat on the floor 
all the afternoon, till Lewes came in, and routed 
her up! She thought it was a beautiful book; but 
she had known me ages ago, when I first wrote to 
Lewes and sent things to the 'Fortnightly/ But 
she disagreed with me as to the unity of the Hom- 
eric poems. I found she was a strong Wolfian! 
Well, we had a hard battle over it she and I. 
I never saw such a woman. There is nothing a 
bit masculine about her. She is thoroughly femi- 
nine. But she has a power of stating an argument 
equal to any man. Equal to any^man, do I say? I 
have never seen any man, except Herbert Spencer, 
who could state a case equal to her. I found her 
thoroughly acquainted with the whole literature of 
the Homeric question; and she seems to have read 
all of Homer in Greek, too, and could meet me 
everywhere. She did n't talk like a blue-stocking 



Sketch of George Eliot 

as if she were aware she had got hold of a big 
topic but like a plain woman, who talked of 
Homer as simply as she would of flat-irons. She 
showed an amazing knowledge of the subject. But, 
you see, Hezzy is not a fool on the Homer-question. 
He knows every bit of the ' Iliad ' and * Odyssey ' as 
well as he knows the ' Pickwick Papers/ and so he 
was a little too much for her. On the whole, she 
was inclined to beat a retreat before we got through, 
and said she was glad of some new considerations 
that Hezzy had presented on the subject though, 
on the whole, I don't think I converted her. 

"I never before saw just such a clear-headed 
woman. She thinks just like a man, and can put 
her thoughts into clear and forcible language at a 
moment's notice. And her knowledge is quite 
amazing. I have often heard of learned women, 
whose learning, I have usually found, is a mighty 
flimsy affair. But to meet with a woman who 
can meet you like a man, on such a question as that 
of the Homeric poems, knowing the ins and outs of 
the question, and not putting on any airs, but talk- 
ing sincerely of the thing as a subject which has 
deeply interested her this is, indeed, quite a 
new experience. 

"On the whole, I enjoyed Mr. and Mrs. Lewes 
immensely to-day; and I think Lewes a happy man 
in having such a simple-hearted, honest, and keenly 
sympathetic wife. I call them a wonderful couple. 
Spencer thinks she is the greatest woman that has 
lived on the earth the female Shakespeare, so 
to speak; and I imagine he is not far from right. 
My only sorrow is that the afternoon was not quite 
long enough; but I shall go there again." 


John Fiske 

Thomas Henry Huxley 

Huxley was one of the men Fiske was most de- 
sirous to meet. In Fiske's mind there were four men 
whose several labors had prepared the way for the 
theory of Evolution; but before a complete system 
of philosophy could be developed therefrom their 
respective labors must be correlated into one con- 
sistent whole. These were Spencer, Darwin, Lewes, 
Huxley. Of these four men Fiske knew Huxley the 
least, and only as an eminent zoologist, a valiant 
defender of Darwinism, and as a bitter opponent 
of the Positive Philosophy of Comte. 

Fiske first met Huxley at the dinner given to 
Fiske by Spencer, and next at the dinner at the X 
Club; and from this time forth the letters overflow 
with sketches of Huxley, and his delightful home 
surroundings. After the dinner at the X Club he 
writes to Mrs. Fiske: 

"Huxley seems to have taken a great fancy to 
Hezzy. He devoted himself almost exclusively to 
me during the evening, and we had one of the best 
talks that two poor creeters ever succeeded in 
getting up together. What a treat it is to meet 
with such a fine- tempered mind! and none the 
worse for having a handsome face to reveal itself 
through !" 

And again he writes : 

"I am quite wild over Huxley. He is as hand- 
some as an Apollo. His photograph does n't begin 


Sketch of Huxley 

to do him justice. I never before saw such magnifi- 
cent eyes. They are black, and his face expresses 
an eager, burning intensity, and there is none of 
that self-satisfied smirk which has crept into the 
picture. He seems earnest immensely in earnest 
and thoroughly frank, and cordial, and modest. 
And, by Jove, what a pleasure it is to meet such a 
clean-cut mind! It is like Saladin's sword which 
cut through the cushion. When we parted it was a 
heart-felt grip that I gave his hand, I can tell you. 
There is no doubt at all that he is a grand man, and 
a great man, too. There is nothing so pleasant as 
seeing these men after one has known them in a 
shadowy way so long. Reading their books doesn't 
give you the flesh-and-blood idea of them. But once 
to see such a man as Huxley is never to forget him/' 

And a little later he gives the following account 
of a Sunday evening at one of Mrs. Huxley's " tall 

"Then I went to Huxley's, where we had what 
he calls a 'tall tea,' i.e., on Sunday they dine early 
and have an old-fashioned tea at 6.30 with meat. 
Huxley's house is the nearest to an earthly para- 
dise of anything I have ever seen. . . . After tea 
Huxley and I retired to his study, which is the 
cosiest I have seen in England, and had a smoke 
and the very best talk I ever had. Words can't 
describe what a glorious fellow he is. Darwin is the 
only man I have seen that equals him. Spencer 
does n't begin to. And then Darwin is a dear old 
grandpa, but Huxley is a younger man, not over 
45 or 46, I think, 1 and so I feel more at home with 

1 He was forty-eight. 


John Fiske 

him. He is very much interested in the book, and 
hopes I will add the chapter on * Matter and Spirit' 
which I have been mulling for a year back. We 
had a splendid talk about the soul. . , . And when 
I left, Huxley said there would be a plate set for 
me every Sunday, as long as I stay in London, and 
it will be my own fault if I don't come and use it 
in which Mrs. Huxley joined. And I must say, I 
never met more warm-hearted, loveable people in 
my whole life." 

- To his mother Fiske writes: 

"December nth, I went to a great dinner of the 
Royal Society, as Huxley's guest. . . . My ' vio- 
lent' friendship with Huxley began that evening. 
He attracted me wonderfully the first time I met 
him at Spencer's. But now I quite lost my heart 
to him. The next Sunday evening I began going 
to tea at his house, and now I go every Sunday 
evening, and am becoming one of the family. It is 
a lovely family. Mrs. Huxley is a sweet, motherly 
woman. . . . And Huxley is such an immense- 
hearted old fellow! Such a great, all-embracing 
sympathy about him! Such tenderness, such ex- 
quisite delicacy, such truthfulness, such a shrewd, 
sensible, clear head, such immense and accurate 
knowledge! And his great black eyes as Charles 
Reade says, ' the eye of a hawk, with the eye of a 
dove beneath it. 1 I never saw another such a man 
as Huxley, and everybody warms up just so when 
I express my opinion of him. Sir F. Pollock told 
me the other day, that there was 'enough good- 
ness in Huxley to make all England Christian, if 
it could only be parcelled out, and distributed 
around.' " 

Sketch of Huxley 

The following note shows the cordial relations 
which existed between Fiske and the whole Hux- 
ley family: 


December 26, 1873. 
My dear Fiske: 

I have a great mind to say that you will not be 
welcome at Sunday's " tall tea" in revenge for your 
entertaining any doubt as to the sufficiency of our 
general invitation. 

But it would be too big a lie for a man who has 
not had the advantage of being brought up in a 
pious family. Also I am prepared to play third 
person competent or otherwise as the case may be. 
Have you anything to do on New Year's Day? 
I mean to interfere with your dining with us. If 
not it will give us great pleasure to see you. 

Any time these eighteen years, with hardly a 
break, Spencer and Tyndall have dined with us on 
that day, and we mean to hold high feast this year 
to contrast with the last two occasions when I have 
been wretchedly ill. 

With the best regards and good wishes from all 
of us, 

Believe me, 

Yours very faithfully, 


Fiske accepted Huxley's invitation to a New 
Year's dinner, where he had the pleasure of meet- 
ing Spencer, Tyndall, Michael Foster, and others, 
around Huxley's hospitable board. 

These sketches of Huxley may well close with an 
incident in Fiske's own experience which he re- 


John Fiske 

lated at one of the Sunday "tall teas" to the great 
amusement of the whole Huxley family. On one of 
his trips to New York, Fiske fell in with an Eng- 
lishman who expressed much surprise at the great 
interest Americans seemed to take in the scientific 
thought of Spencer, Darwin, Tyndall, Lyell, etc. 
On Fiske' s mentioning Huxley as one of the leaders 
in the new movement, the Englishman broke out: 
11 What, 'Uxley! 'orrid old hinfidel! Why, we don't 
think hany 'think of 'im in Hingland. We think 'e's 
'orrid. You don't say you hadmire 'Uxley? 'E's 
perfectly 'orrid!" 

Sir Charles Lyell 

Among the eminent men of science no one was 
at this time held in higher honor in England than 
Sir Charles Lyell, the venerable geologist, whose 
life was now drawing to a close after fifty years 
devoted to the advancement of geologic science. 
Fiske was perfectly familiar with Lyell's geological 
writings. They had been stepping-stones to his 
own comprehension of the cosmic universe. He 
was no less acquainted with the facts connected 
with Lyell's valiant stand in support of Darwin, 
on the publication of the latter's "Origin of Spe- 
cies"; as well as with his recantation of previous 
views in regard to the antiquity of man, occasioned 
by his acceptance of Darwin's theory of natural 
selection as a vera causa of the multifarious forms 
of the organic life of the globe. 



Sketch of Sir Charles Lyell 

In Fiske's mind Lyell appeared as one of the 
advanced guard of scientists, who, in the face of 
theologic ignorance and prejudice, had added im- 
mensely to the boundaries of human knowledge, 
while increasing in men's minds a reverence for 
the profound mystery that lies beyond. Accord- 
ingly, on the 22d of December, 1873, he paid his 
respects to Sir Charles by calling, being presented 
by his friend Conway. 

Of this memorable interview he writes to Mrs. 
Fiske the same day as follows: 

"This afternoon Conway and I called on Sir 
Charles Lyell. Think what an event in one's life, 
my dear! Here is this old man whose great work 
was really done forty- four years ago, when grandma 
Stoughton was a little girl like Maudie, when Comte 
was a young fellow like Hezzy, and Darwin a boy 
in college, and Spencer a boy nine years old. Away 
back in those days he laid the foundations of a 
work so great and strong, that his name will here- 
after hold the same place in geology forever, that 
Newton's holds in astronomy. Scouted at in the 
beginning, he has lived to witness his own immor- 
tality to see all men adopting as self-evident 
the truths which he was the first to discover. A 
rare good fortune for a man! To see him was like 
looking at an age gone by. He is probably from 80 
to 85 years old. 1 He cannot see much of anything, 
and walks with difficulty. He was glad to lean on 
my arm in getting to his easy-chair before the fire. 
We sat an hour before the bright fire in his lovely 

1 He was eighty-six. 

John Fiske 

obally, 1 aad talked about "many things. His mind 
is as clear and clean-cut as ever no nonsense 
about him. And such exquisite politeness! Such 
a well-bred, courteous, sweet old man! How ten- 
derly he spoke of Agassiz (who had just died) and 
with how much appreciation of his son Alexander 
Agassiz, whom he hoped to see elected to his 
father's place. He had dim and amusing recollec- 
tions of old Dr. Barratt, of Middletown, 2 but was 
not very sure on the subject. He was as keenly 
curious of all new things as a young man, but 
owned that he reads nothing now-a-days; and he 
said in a delicate way, that since Lady Lyell's 
death, he did n't get much of the good flavor of 
life. He reminds me very much of. Darwin the 
same gentleness, the same keenness of glance ; the 
same precision of mind, the same kingly demean- 
our. It was a great event in Hezzy's life a thing 
to tell the babies of years hence, when they have 
grown up. I am so glad to have seen the dear old 
man, and had him lean on me. He may die of old 
age almost any day. 3 And still his mind is just as 
young, just as jolly as ever. Conway did n't say 
much, leaving the field to me; but when we had 
got away, he broke out with his admiration, and 
our tongues ran pretty fast until we got to where 
our roads diverged. 

And here these interesting personal sketches for 
the present must close. 

1 His children's nickname for library. 

* A former pupil of Lyell's. 3 He died February 22, 1875. 




FISKE'S plan for his Continental journey, which he 
had worked out in all details before he left home, 
was a comprehensive one, and it embraced visits 
to the chief countries, and places of historic interest. 
The trip was to begin December 20, 1873, and was 
to take nearly eight months' time. The plan in- 
cluded a visit to Constantinople and Athens. To 
each country was allotted a definite portion of the 
time one month was to be given to France ; two 
months to Italy; three weeks to Constantinople 
and Athens; three and a half weeks to Austria; six 
weeks to Germany ; one month to Switzerland ; one 
week to the Rhine; and two weeks to Belgium and 
Holland. With what we know of his historic and 
philosophic interests, the underlying purpose of this 
journey, so definitely planned, is apparent. He 
wished to observe Continental Europe with all the 
concomitants of modern life, surrounded with the 


John Fiske 

vestiges of the ancient and mediaeval civilizations, 
out of which the present social and political condi- 
tions have grown. 

' It is to be regretted that this carefully planned 
journey was not carried out, for a series of letters 
from him, giving his observations under condi- 
tions which brought substantially all Continental 
history within his purview, would have been a per- 
manent addition to literature and he certainly 
would have written such letters. But his stay in 
England to finish his book had been prolonged two 
months beyond the allotted period, thus mate- 
rially shortening his available time for the Conti- 
nent; and besides, when he was ready to leave 
England, he had been over six months from home, 
and was terribly homesick. 

This home-longing, this feeling of loneliness 
when separated for any length of time from his 
family, was a personal characteristic we have had 
occasion to notice in previous years, and we shall 
also have occasion to note it in years to come. On 
the present occasion this loneliness became almost 
a veritable disease, and his longing to get home be- 
came so great that it led him to cut down his Con- 
tinental journey to a period of about ten weeks, a 
limitation of time which only admitted a hasty 
run through France, Italy, and Switzerland, a 
mere glance at the Rhenish provinces of Germany, 
with a very few days given to Belgium. 

Then, too, no small portion of his time when not 


His Continental Journey- 
travelling was taken up with revising his "proofs, 
writing the preface, and indexing his forthcom- 
ing work, so that his letters are not as full of " im- 
pressions " as might be desired. He took pains, 
however, to gather photographs, as far as possible, 
of the principal objects of interest to him, and on 
his return he consecutively arranged these photo- 
graphs in an album, so that we have his journey, 
brief as it was, quite copiously illustrated, as it 
were, by his own hand. And it will be noted that 
he left England deeply in love with the English 
people, and their ways; and that throughout his 
journey he seemed to carry with him a sort of Eng- 
lish social yardstick, filled out with subsidiary 
American notations, with which he measured the 
social life of the Continental peoples with whom 
he came in contact: in short, he gives, in a way, 
the impression of a highly cultivated American 
John Bull on his travels. 

A word in regard to the free, colloquial style of 
his letters. It should be borne in mind, as has been 
noted in regard to his English letters, that they 
were written for the privacy of his own family, with 
no thought that they would ever be submitted for 
publication. Consequently, they abound with 
sobriquets of the different members of the fam- 
ily, together with familiar childish forms of expres- 
sion, full of "local color" and well understood in 
his home. To remove these reflections of his happy 
home life, these evidences also of the tender work- 


John Fiske 

ings of his own mind, from even the serious por- 
tions of the letters, would take from the letters 
themselves much of their individual character and 
charm. His story is best told in his own way. * 

Notwithstanding the rapidity with which he 
travelled and his greatly preoccupied mind, his 
Continental letters, and his photographs, reveal 
three subjective lines of thought called forth by 
his observations his great interest in the re- 
mains of the ancient architecture and civilization; 
his profound admiration for Gothic architecture, 
and his seeming indifference to Renaissance archi- 
tecture, and Renaissance painting. In these archi- 
tectural predilections, we get another glimpse of 
his religious nature and the inherent catholicity of 
his mind which we have already noted in his musi- 
cal predilections and creations. No philosophic 
aversion to Christian theology could close his mind 
to the beauty, the sublime spiritual impressive- 
ness of Gothic art. It is a fair inference that in 
Gothic architecture, as in the great Christian ora- 
torios, he saw, he felt, man's spiritual instinct of 
love and aspiration to a Divine Creator welling up 
from the very heart of the race, bursting through 
the bonds of dogmatic theology, and asserting the 
everlasting reality of man's religious nature. In 
Renaissance architecture he saw only a misap- 
plied reflection of the greater art of ancient imperial 
Rome. As the Renaissance period was the begin- 
ning of modern civilization, a phase of civilization 


His Continental Journey 

the foundations of which are laid in a form of social 
order, based on the democratic idea, which is yet 
in a process of development to the complete en- 
franchisement of man, he saw in Renaissance 
architecture only an attempt to give architectural 
expression to the new order of thought in an imita- 
tive, in a wholly incongruous way. His general 
unresponsiveness to Renaissance painting, I have 
noted in connection with his visits to the Louvre 
in Paris, and to the Uffizi and Pitti galleries in 

The Continental letters begin with a brief one 
from Dieppe, wherein he gives a sketch of his last 
day in England, spent at Brighton, and where he 
found his greatest interest in the famous Brighton 
Aquarium. Here is one observation: 

" I devoted three full hours to the octopus tank! 
The octopus (cuttlefish) beats the chimpanzee all 
hollow. If the chimpanzee looks like a man, the 
octopus looks like nothing but the Devil. There 
are nine of 'em in one tank absolutely diabolical 
monsters! I am going to write Huxley about the 
octopus. " 

He was not at all seasick in crossing the Channel, 
and he found the temperature of France much 
colder than that of England. On his way to Paris 
he stopped four hours at Rouen, the richest of the 
cities of France, in mediaeval architecture, par- 
ticularly to see its three famous examples of the 
Gothic style the Cathedral of Notre Dame, 


John Fiske 

the Church or Cathedral of St. Ouen, one of the 
most beautiful buildings in the world, and the 
Church of St. Marclou. He did not make any notes 
on these fine buildings, but from the photographs 
he gathered of their special points of interest, it is 
evident that he was impressed with the differences 
between the English and the French rendering of 
the Gothic style. He wandered about, without a 
guide, until he reached Mont St. Catherine, one 
of the environs of the city, from which he had a 
general view which he briefly describes: 

11 No pen could do justice to the magnificence of 
the view, comprising the old city, the two giant 
cathedrals, the winding river and miles of flat and 
rolling country round about, all in a blaze of 
sunlight, and gorgeous tents of cloud." 

On reaching Paris, February 22, 1874, ne went 
to the H6tel de Rivoli, just opposite the Tuileries. 
His first impressions were forbidding: -- j 

"I am up 6 flights of stairs in a bleak, inhospit- 
able little room. Nobody in the hotel understands 
a word of English, except the proprietor. There is 
one German waiter whom I fall back on when I 
want an interpreter, for I can get along much bet- 
ter with German than with French. Everything 
looks bare and inhospitable here, after cosy old 
England. Instead of carpets, and warm fires, and 
chops and ale, they run to glass and gilding and 
sardines and claret. It is colder than in London, 
anyway. There is a bright sun, which is one good 


Impressions of Paris 

thing; but the streets don't seem so cheerful as in 

After two days' experience things look better, and 
on February 24 he writes: 

"Which I will now change my tone, and will not 
blackguard poor Paris. I am now writing out-of- 
doors (!) at a little round table in front of a cafe in 
a sort of triangular square just out of the Rue St. 
Honore near the Louvre: before me, a glass of black 
Bavarian beer, which is better than claret, though 
not equal to the peerless Bass. I correct my proofs 
and write ' tezzletelts ' [letters] in similar places, be- 
cause there is no attractive place in-doors. I don't 
like it as well as an English fireside ; but it is a new 
experience, and that is what I came here for. One 
can't have London everywhere, and so I will freely 
confess that Paris is very charming. I never could 
get to like it so well as London though. My tastes 
are out and out Teutonic." 

Fiske spent nine days in Paris, chiefly, as he says, 
in tramping around and seeing things: 

"I saw the whole inside of the Louvre, and 
Palais de Luxembourg, H6tel de Cluny, Sainte 
Chapelle, Notre Dame, Pantheon, and heaps else; 
and * parcourired ' the whole of the Boulevards in 
all directions, and geographized the town generally, 
and spent a whole day at Versailles which is 
better than anything in Paris. I made it a point to 
walk up and down the Seine every day whatever 
else I did. The views on the Seine are exceedingly 
beautiful. The Seine is prettier than the Thames; 
but I prefer the grand views, up and down, from 


John Fiske 

Waterloo Bridge, to anything here. There is a 
grandeur about London which one misses here, 
though this is more beautiful. Perhaps it looks a 
little like New York I am not quite sure." 

He seems not to have been specially impressed 
with the pictures in the Louvre. I find it difficult 
to account for this fact, as he was usually so respon- 
sive to great art in any of its forms of manifesta- 
tion. Rewrites: ,. - ~ ?rv:^ ^ 

"I have spent the whole blessed day in the 
Louvre, and have seen more things than I can ever 
remember. I revelled in the sculptures, and an- 
tiques, but was rather disappointed with the paint- 
ings. Did n't see anything comparable to the 
Raphael Cartoons at South Kensington." , 

Fiske's love of Gothic architecture, of course, 
took him to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and to 
" La Sainte Chapelle." He makes no comments 
on these historic buildings, but he sends several 
photographs of their details. 

Of his visit to the great library he speaks thus: 

''Of course I went to the great library in Paris, 
and got posted as to their tricks and manners. I 
think old Ezra Abbot knows more than the whole 
of 'em." 

And here is a remark he drops by the way in his 
Paris letter: 

"The manners of the French are certainly very 
charming especially the common people." 


Hasty Run through France 

From Paris he went to Lyons, where he stopped 
one day, and tramped all over the town seeing 
the chief things, and where he also had a lovely 
little trip in a wee steamer on the Saone. 

His next stop was at Avignon, where he was 
pleased to find the peach trees in blossom. One 
day was given to visiting the points of interest in 
this historic city, which was for nearly seventy 
years 1309-1377 the residence of the Popes 
of Rome and where remains of their palaces still 
exist. As notes for his "impressions" of this his- 
toric place he sent photographs of the remains of 
an old Roman bridge, as well as of the castle of the 

At Avignon, being so near to Nismes, he turned 
aside to take a look at the many memorials of the 
ancient civilization which are here so well preserved. 
First he went to see the great Roman aqueduct, the 
Pont du Card, probably constructed by Vipsanius 
Agrippa in the time of Augustus for conveying 
water to Nismes; and then he went to Nismes it- 
self. And here he was for the first time in his own 
experience brought into direct contact with some 
of the impressive remains of the civilization of the 
ancient world with the history of which he was so 
familiar. Of his visit to the Pont du Card and to 
Nismes he writes: 

"The Pont du Card alone was worth coming to 
France for; but as I can't describe it you must wait 
till you see the 'pickerwow' which won't help you 


John Fiske 

much. The country round about looks like Peters- 
ham, only far inferior. 

" Next day I went to Nismes which is well worth 
seeing. You may believe I was beset by cicerones 
till I lost my patience and told them 'Allez au 
diable,' and finally lifted my umbrella at one of 
'em whereupon they all Allez! Relieved of these 
pests, I serenely walked straight to the Amphi- 
theatre which is smaller than the Colosseum at 
Rome, but completely preserved. It is very fine. 
As I sat on one of the tiers basking in a southern 
sun (in about the latitude of Portland, Maine) and 
trying to imagine how an old fight would have 
looked, a real fight was kindly gotten up for my 
benefit. Some workmen, with trowels, etc., were 
making a few repairs in the arena. Which two of 
'em began to call each other 'bete/ 'imbecile/ etc., 
and shrugged their shoulders until their heads were 
half hid, and pounded and clawed the air, and be- 
gan to make allusions to each other's mother, when 
one of 'em threw his trowel at the other, and hit 
the other on the chin, whereat the hittee retorted 
by jabbing a big sort of trident into his assailant's 
forehead. Blood ran briskly ; and the wounded man 
began to scream 1 , when other workmen came up and 
separated 'em. Bah!" 

From Nismes Fiske went to Florence by way of 
Nice, Genoa, and Pisa. 

His first impression of Florence he gives in a let- 
ter to Mrs. Fiske of March 20, 1874: 

" If you want to know how Florence seems, read 
the first chapter of 'Romola/ 1 where the old chap 

1 The "Proem" to George Eliot's great novel Romola. 

In Florence 

is standing on San Miniato. I have been there twice. 
Next to Edinburgh, and Oxford, it is the finest city 
I have seen. I have been around and seen the out- 
side of almost every thing, and the inside of some 
things. To-day, I did the Uffizi, and to-morrow, 
I do the Pitti Gallery. 1 . . . 

11 1 can get along in talking without any trouble, 
for most folks do understand French after all, I find, 
and on a pinch I can talk Italian. My greatest 
achievement in linguistics, was yesterday, when I 
went to the Biblioteca Nazionale and found there 
was n't a man there who knew a word of English, 
except to read it! ! ! Well, darn you, said I, if 
you can't talk English, I '11 talk French, which I did 
glibly for two hours, inquiring into all the details 
of their cataloguing, treatment of pamphlets, etc., 
etc., and getting some really good ideas out of 
'em. But I could n't have talked French to them 
if they had understood English." 

Fiske remained in Florence thirteen days and he 
gives these further details of his observations and 

"Visited the interior of San Marco, and the 
Annunziata. These churches did not impress me, 
though the outside of the Cathedral is superb. 
The Campanile or bell-tower by Giotto is the most 
perfect thing, the most beautiful building I have 

1 It seems impossible that, with his artistic nature and his his- 
toric appreciation, he could visit these galleries without being pro- 
foundly impressed. His graphic sketch of the Sacconi picture in 
La Certosa Monastery leads us to think that in these two marvel- 
lous collections of masterpieces of ancient and modern art, he must 
have been quite overpowered. Certainly his was the mind to appre- 
ciate the full significance of what is here gathered as representative 
of the highest products of human civilization. 


John Fiske 

ever seen, and the bronze gates of the Baptistry, 
by Ghiberti, are marvellous beyond description. 
Altogether Florence is a wonderful place. . . . 

" Sunday afternoon, I went out to La Certosa, a 
Carthusian monastery about two miles from the 
city. It was a gorgeous day. The monastery stands 
on a high hill from which you get a magnificent 
view of Florence, and all its surroundings. They 
are very strict there. No woman is allowed even 
to come and look at the premises. An old monk, 
with a coarse white dress that looked as if made of 
dingy crash, and which covered him from head to 
foot, escorted us around and showed us the things. 
In the crypts are some fine tombs by Donatello; 
and in one of the chapels a great painting, (though 
quaint) by Giotto. But what pleased me most was 
a painting by Sacconi, representing a thinker tired 
and overwhelmed with the mystery of the prob- 
lem of existence, his book dropped from one hand 
which lies idly across the knee, while the other 
hand supports the cheek, the elbow resting on the 
table. His eyes are half closed, as if in profound- 
est reverie. All this is as realistic as if done yester- 
day it is just like real flesh and blood. But up 
in the right-hand foreground, wrapped in a cloud- 
like mystery, are dim forms of archangels, their 
faces full of sublime sympathy, looking down upon 
the wearied thinker, while yet beyond is I-know- 
not-what in the colouring, something utterly mys- 
terious, suggesting ineffable light, and glory like 
the triumphant final allegro of Schumann's fourth 
symphony. Something that seemed to say the 
riddle is hard, but behind the veil is an answer 
yet. I do not know what the painter intended, 


In Florence 

by the picture, but this is what it meant to me. It 
quite overcame me and brought the tears. The 
painting was masterly, both in drawing, and in 
colouring. I do not know who Sacconi was, and 
no one seems to know unless it was one of the 
names of Andrea del Sarto, but this picture is 
hardly in his style, so they say. I have got a book 
at home, which I think will clear the matter up. 1 

"I saw the refectory, the rooms where Pius VI 
used to live, the cells where the monks live : there is 
a monk there now who has n't left his cell for 28 
years except to step out into the enclosed garden. 
I lingered long in this garden, and found it hard to 
tear myself away. You know the little picture 
'Disce ut semper victurus, vive ut crasmoriturus' 2 
which I like so much. The same air of profound 
rest is all about this monastery-garden. In the 
centre of it is a lovely well, built by Michael An- 
gelo, who seems to have been everywhere, and to 
have done everything, indomitable worker that he 
was. The monks make delicious chartreuse and 
I bought a flask of it to bring home. . . . 

" I drove to the cemetery where Theodore Parker 
is buried, and there I also saw the graves of Mrs. 
Browning, and Walter Savage Landor. Why Par- 
ker should have gone to Florence for his consump- 
tion, I cannot imagine. He might as well have 
staid in Boston. The Italian climate is excessively 
bad, for catching cold, and the Italians have a 
great deal of consumption, and bronchitis. . . . 

" * Hezzy ' is having an awfully good time here in 
Florence. It is a charming place. I spent a truly 

1 Carlo Sacconi was a draughtsman who lived in Florence about 
1718. He prepared many drawings for Florentine Gallery work. 

2 Fiske had this line inscribed over the fire-place in his library. 


John Fiske 

delightful evening last evening at Larkin Mead's. 1 
He is one of the gentlest and sweetest fellows I ever 
saw. I am really enchanted with him. He looks 
just like Mrs. Howells. I should have known him 
for her brother, if I had stumbled on him in the 
interior of Australia." 

This Florence letter contains a brief summing- 
up of his impressions thus far of his Continental 

"How do I like the Continent on the whole? 
Well, it is all very pretty to look at, but beastly un- 
comfortable, inhospitable, cold, dreary, and gloomy. 
I don't cotton to the French people, or to the Ital- 
ians. I feel lonesome all the time, and homesick 
for London; and to be honest, I don't enjoy this 
trip nearly as much as I did the trip to Scotland; 
for I love the Scotch." 

In one of her letters, Mrs. Fiske had intimated 
that he had never seen Petersham in the resplend- 
ent glories of its October foliage; whereupon he 
promptly gives, from memory, the date and du- 
ration of every visit to Petersham, since his 
memorable first visit September 13-18, 1861, 
twenty-four in number. To this list he adds 
these remarks 

"There, Mrs. Fiske, if you can diskiver any 
month of the year that is n't represented, you are 
smarter than Hezekiah. But by Jove, we will go 
up for a day or two next October, and see autumn 

1 Larkin G. Mead, an eminent American sculptor, lived in Flor- 
ence. The wife of William Dean Howells was his sister. 

In Rome 

leaves. The reason they don't have bright au- 
tumn leaves in Europe, is because they don't 
have maples of course! The woodbine, imported 
into England, turns just as bright red as at home. 
We can beat all Europe (out of its boots) on trees." 

On March 24 he left Florence for Rome, via 

Fiske was in Rome four days, during which 
time he visited some twenty-five of the more 
noted buildings and places of interest. The list, 
of course, includes the Piazza, del Popolo, the Corso, 
several churches, the Forum of Trajan, the great 
Forum, the Colosseum, the Tarpeian Rock, the 
arches of Severus, Titus, and Constantine, the 
palaces of the Caesars and of Nero, the Marmentine 
Prison, the Baths of Caracalla, the Catacombs, the 
Appian Way, and the statues of Marcus Aurelius, 
Castor and Pollux, Michael Angelo's Moses, etc. 

It appears from his records that his visits to 
these memorable places, buildings, etc., in this 
"Niobe of Nations," were devoid of any notable 
experiences. It also appears that his observations 
did not at the time stir his mind to much activity 
in the way of critical or philosophic reflections, yet 
we must suppose that it was intensely active in 
both directions. 

The two bits of artistic criticism in which he 
indulged were in regard to the Catacombs and the 
works of Michael Angelo. Referring to the former 
he says: 


John Fiske 

" There is nothing interesting there except to 
say that you have seen them. The bug-a-boo feel- 
ing is perhaps the chief attraction. To be sure, 
there are frescoes grotesque enough, too. I saw 
the whale casting up Jonah, a very sea-sick look- 
ing monster. " 

Fiske's first reference to Michael Angelo is in 
connection with his visit to the tomb of S. Pietro 
in Vincole, where he saw Michael Angelo's Moses, 
which he pronounces a "wonderful, wonderful 
statue." And again, after visiting Sta. Maria degli 
Angeli, built by Michael Angelo out of a part of 
the Baths of Diocletian just behind, he says: 

" It is a grand church built by a great architect; 
but in architecture M. Angelo is surpassed by 
nameless builders of Gothic, as in sculpture he is 
surpassed by nameless Greeks. I am not impressed 
with Italian churches generally, they are too pagan, 
gaudy affairs. York Minster for me, before the 
whole of 'em, tho' I have n't seen St. Peter's yet" 

On March 29 Fiske left Rome with his friend 
Adkins an English traveller he had met in Rome 
for a six days' trip to Naples. He writes: 

"Left Rome at 9.40 and reached Naples at 5 P.M. 
Adkins and I were put into a double-bedded room, 
up one flight. It is a fine room with sofa, easy-chairs, 
large writing-table, etc., and Brussels carpet. I 
could easily throw a stone from my window into 
the sea. Magnificent situation, and the most com- 
fortable hotel I have found on the Continent. 1 And 
1 Evidently the Hdtel cTAngleterre. 

Naples and Vicinity- 
why? Because it is patronized almost entirely by 
grumbling Englishmen, who will have what they 
want. Every one here is a Britisher except Heze- 
kiah, and one Hindu a Brahman, who took hon- 
ours at Cambridge, about 1864, and is both learned 
and accomplished speaking English with ab- 
solute perfection, and Italian and French very 
finely, besides many other languages. Handsome 
and elegant too, like all the Hindus I have seen. 
And there is an Englishman on his way home from 
India a fine-looking man of Charles Eliot's 
style, and with such a musical voice that I sit 
after meals as long as he sits, in order to hear him 
talk. Also a big, rough-looking English captain, as 
gentle as a kitten. 

"Monday, March 30. My birthday. Went, along 
o' my chum, Adkins, to Pompeii and spent the 
day there. And now, what's the use of saying 
anything about it except to tell you to read what 
Howells says about it, 1 and to say that it was the 
very greatest day I have had since I left home; 
and, like Howells, I swear to go again, and very 
likely shall not? There's no use trying to grow elo- 
quent about it, for it is altogether beyond words. 
There is nothing else so wonderful or so solemn 'on 
the earth or under it/ I bought a little book of 
'pickerwows' of it, and will explain 'em when I 
get home. My chum also, thought it was the 
greatest day of his life, and after dinner we smoked 
our pipes on the stone parapet by the sea here, 
listening to the sound of the waves and talking it 
all over. 

" Tuesday, March j i. My chum left for Rome, 

1 Italian Journeys, by W. D. Howells. 

John Fiske 

being tied by a circular ticket good for so many 
days. Poor chap! he is in Venice by this time. He 
said I was the best fellow he had ever seen, and he 
was very mournful at parting. Left alone, I hired 
a carriage (one-hoss barouche) for all day at 12 
francs, and drove through the grotto of Posilipo to 
Puzzuoli, where I first saw the Temple of Serapis 
which is a Greek temple with three great col- 
umns left standing. They have all been lowered 
into the sea by the sinking of the land, and ele- 
vated again, and you can see where the little beasts 
have chewed 'em! While I was examining this 
place, in came an elderly man with his wife and two 
sons about twenty years old, with very much the 
air of fine Harvard boys. The old gentleman got 
very sociable with me; and finally when I put up 
my umbrella to keep off the sun, I observed that 
I never had had to do such a thing before in 
Europe; whereat he was very much surprised at 
my being an American, and said he should have 
taken me for a typical John Bull. Which they are 
New York people, cultivated and pleasant, but I 
don't know their names nor they mine. It was 
agreed that our carriages should keep together, 
and so we kept on to the ruins of Cumae (Kymai) 
the oldest Greek city in Italy. Nothing left now 
but a bit of the citadel and the Acropolis, and a 
few scattered stones. From here the direct road to 
Lake Avernus lies through a tunnel, half a mile 
long, cut by Agrippa a few years B.C. We drove 
through, lighted by torches for which the lying, 
thieving rascal of a torch bearer, demanded three 
francs, and was glad to get one, when he found 
it was all he could get. Lake Avernus is very 

Naples and Vicinity 

lovely, and with the vineyards and fields of wheat, 
and green peas growing on the slopes all around 
it, lighted up by intensest sunshine, it suggests 
Eden, much more than Hades. 

" Near by is a hill, some 150 feet high, which was 
thrown up at one thrust by an earthquake in 1538. 
We didn't go into the Sibyls' Cave here, because it 
is bogus the genuine cave is over at Cumse. Passed 
Lake Lucrinus, and came to the sulphur-baths of 
Nero, where you go into a hole in the side of the 
mountain and boil in a brimstone atmosphere. 
Guides pestered us at the entrance; but having little 
tapers with us, the two young men and I went in, 
though I did n't go far for fear of catching cold on 
issuing forth. I will give a specimen of the Italian 
character. A guide pestered me till I told him (in 
good Italian) that I did n't want his services, and 
that he might * allez au Diable.' He followed after 
me when I went in, and followed me out to the car- 
riage, and demanded a fee for having showed me the 
place! ! ! I again gave him the same directions 
with emphasis, and told the coachman to drive on. 
The old fraud held with one hand on to the car- 
riage and followed me a mile demanding the money 
that I owed him, until at last I ordered cabby to hit 
him with the whip, and you ought to have heard 
the fellow as he moved off. The party in the other 
carriage were similarly pestered. 

"Next we reached the Capo d. Miseno, where 
a beautiful little boy conducted us into an old 
Roman reservoir, and afterwards up to a place 
which commands the Bay of Naples, just as Mian- 
tonomah Hill commands Newport. All the way 
up, I was beset with little beggar children, some_pf 

John Fiske 

them as beautiful as cherubs, especially an angelic 
little girl, about the size of Maudietick, who ran 
along after me busily crocheting, and whom I 
offered two pennies for a kiss, but she would n't 
agree to it, whereupon I gave her the pennies 
gratis, 'perche voi siete bellissima,' as I told her, 
to the great glee of the other little girls, who evi- 
dently admitted her beauty, and felt a common 
interest in the compliment. Our American old 
gentleman said he would give a great deal to see me 
photographed with all those little brown young- 
sters around me. This was our farthest point. 

"Returning, we stopped opposite the Temple 
of Hermes at Baiae, for lunch, and my American 
friends called me to come and share their lunch, 
which I did willingly. I sat upon the box, and we 
did eat like Wardle, and the Pickwickians, at the 
review. During our lunch we were surrounded by 
Italians of every age and sex, who seemed highly 
interested in our proceedings, and kept offering 
us coral, and violets, etc. ; and asking for pence, and 
making such a din that we could hardly hear our- 
selves talk. The American lady said it took her 
appetite away, and I could hardly blame her; but 
to get 'shut of 'em 1 (as Bridget would say) was 
impossible! The best fun was after we had fin- 
ished. Scraps of bread and meat were handed to 
all, as to so many beseeching dogs, and then there 
was great clamour for the empty wine-bottle, which 
at last we gave to a little girl with a big baby over 
her shoulder, which she bore off the said bottle in 
the exuberant glee of triumph. We threw away the 
fragments of eggshells, and one chap began to pick 
them carefully up, though what he could do with 


Naples and Vicinity 

'em he knows better than I. Poor wretches! they 
are poor because they are too lazy to work. They 
will lie in the dirt by the roadside in the blazing 
sun, and sleep rather than work. What can be 
done with such people; they have neither honesty, 
ambition, nor self-respect. The lowest Irish are 
far above the level of these creatures. 

" After lunch, my friends drove directly back to 
Naples, but I went to the amphitheatre and Puz- 
zuoli, which was overwhelmed by an eruption of 
Solfatara, and has been partially dug out. The 
inside is so complete that you have even the trap- 
doors where the lions came up through the floor; 
it is very interesting. Then I went to the now- 
dried-up Lake of Agnano and saw the Grotto del 
Cane or place where there is enough carbonic acid 
to kill a dog in two minutes, and where sulphurous 
acid comes smoking out of holes in the ground, 
which yields under your feet if you stamp on it. 
Last of all I visited the Tomb of Virgil. What do 
you think of that for 'A Day's Pleasure'? 

" Wednesday, April i. Yesterday I took steamer 
for Capri, touching at Sorrento. Went into the 
Blue Grotto of which I will only say that you go in 
by boats through an opening about two feet high 
in the side of the hill; and within, the water is a 
most gorgeous blue, and the whole cave shimmers 
with lovely blue, and it is a wonderful sight. I was 
more successful with it than Howells, who went in 
on a bad day. 1 We lunched at the Hotel du Louvre, 
on a balcony overlooking the bay one of the 
most glorious landscapes in the world. Capri also 
has its share of beggars." 

1 See the charming description of Capri and the Capriotes in 
Italian Journeys, by W. D. Howells. 


John Fiske 

The next day was spent in Naples, and was given 
to writing the letter to Mrs. Fiske from which I 
have quoted, to work on his proofs and on his index, 
and to strolling about the town and the museum. 
Here are a few additional extracts from the letter: 

" Naples smells fearfully, and so does Rome. 
Mother expected me to go crazy over Rome, but 
save for the antiquities, I think it is a disgusting 
place. I have seen quite enough of this country to 
know how lovely it is. Tell Mrs. McKenzie that I 
think of her here in Naples and fully agree with 
her as to the surpassing beauty of this country. 
The glory and beauty of this week at Naples I shall 
never forget. I don't say that it is better than Eng- 
land, or better than Petersham; but of its kind, it is 
certainly quite a garden of Eden. Naples, too, as 
a city, is more picturesque than Rome, barring 
only the Forum and the Capitol. - .. 

"My conversation now-a-days is a grand pot- 
pourri of English, French, German and Italian, 
so that I don't know what I am talking. I could 
talk Italian pretty well with another month here. 
"Love to all the babies. I saw three little tots, 
aged 9, 7, and 5, paddling their own canoe on the 
Bay yesterday, and threw 'em a sou apiece, which 
they cotched 'em." 

Fiske had planned a visit to Sorrento and also 
another visit to Pompeii, but his home writing so 
intensified his home longing, his desire to set his 
face homeward, that both visits were cut out, and 
after a brief visit to Herculaneum he returned the 
next day, April 3, to Rome. 


Returns to Rome 

His next letter is from Venice, wherein, under 
date of April 14, he resumes the story of his jour- 
ney in a very jubilant state ofjnind: 

"O, my dear! Glory hallelujah! ! ! PREFACE 
WRITTEN! ! ! ! Only 150 pages more to be in- 
dexed! ! ! Coming home right away! ! ! ! ! ! What 
do you think of that? 

" Did n't go again to Pompeii, nor to divine Sor- 
rento, either. (Read Howells's 'Italian Journeys' 
for Pompeii and Capri. It is one of the most charm- 
ing books that ever was written a real work of 
genius, as you'll see if you ever see Italy, the fairy 
land.) Got eager to get homeward bound! Went 
to Herculaneum next morning, and felt richly re- 
paid, though I can see why Howells was disap- 
pointed. Went in the P.M. to Rome. Saw a lot 
more things at Rome, and did the Capitoline 
Museum and Vatican. But the Sistine Chapel was 
shut all the time, and I could n't get in. The Pope 
is full of obstinacy in these days, because he has 
to play second fiddle to Victor Emanuel. Went to 
St. Peter's Sunday,- but the Mass was n't worth 
two cents. I don't see either the grandeur or the 
beauty of St. Peter's, and I would back York 
Minster against all the churches I've seen in 
Italy put together!" 

After a stop of two days in Rome he went again 
to Florence, where he remained three days visiting 
his friends the Grahams and Meads. Of what 
he saw in these three days he makes no mention 
beyond a casual remark that he again visited the 
Uffizi Gallery. It is noticeable that, although on 


John Fiske 

both his visits to Florence he went to this famous 
gallery, he does not mention impressions made upon 
his mind by the great collection of masterpieces of 
ancient sculpture and modern painting gathered 
there, while he had much to say about them when 
he reached home. He does not appear to have 
noted in Florence anything suggestive of Michael 
Angelo or Leonardo da Vinci, or Savonarola: yet 
with the varied contributions of these great work- 
ers to the world's thought, he was most familiar. 

On his way from Florence to Venice, he stopped 
one day at Bologna. From Venice he wrote his 
mother, giving her some general impressions of 
his Continental trip thus far: 

"I believe this is the first time I have written 
to you, since I left London, and I have been very 
wicked, I know, but it is very hard to write letters 
when one is travelling fast, and I have hardly done 
justice, even to Abby. I have usually told her to 
send you my letters to her, and so have written 
less often than I should otherwise have done. I am 
beginning to get tired of Europe, and anxious to 
get home. It is eight months now since I left home, 
and it is a pretty long pull. And besides, I have 
found travelling on the Continent rather tame 
after my glorious days in London. I have n't found 
any trouble in talking French, and Italian, enough 
to get along comfortably; but it seems very lone- 
some and dreary to be where you don't hear Eng- 
lish spoken. I don't see how the people can prefer 
the Continent to England. I am glad to have seen 

Some General Impressions 

France and Italy once, but I would n't give a six- 
pence to visit either country again not even to 
revisit Paris. They don't fascinate or draw me, 
though I enjoy everything I see very much and 
especially enjoyed my 32d birthday, at Pompeii, 
more than any other one day in Europe. Rome, I 
enjoyed very much more than I can tell until I 
have had more time to think about it; but what 
I enjoyed was ancient Rome, and the sculptures in 
the Vatican. In modern Rome I can see nothing 
attractive at all. St. Peter's is neither impressive 
nor beautiful to me I think it hideous; and of 
the dozen or twenty famous churches I saw, none 
impressed me at all except St. Pauls- Without-the- 
Walls. I do like St. Mark's, though, here in Venice; 
and I don't know when I have more thoroughly en- 
joyed paintings than the Titians, Tin tore ttos, and 
Veroneses here in the Ducal Palace and the Acad- 
emy especially, on the whole, the Tintorettos. 
I have been here about a week, and rather hate to 
go away. I like Venice, on the whole, better than 
any other city on the Continent, so far, although 
I am very fond of Florence. It is delicious to go 
gliding about in a gondola in these quaint old 
canals; and I am not sure that I don't like the 
little canals with their labyrinthine twists and con- 
tinual surprises, even better than the big one. I 
have got a most comfortable room, in a very queer 
German hotel just off the Grand Canal, about two 
minutes' walk from the Piazza. Did you ever see a 
richer building than the Ducal Palace, unless pos- 
sibly the palace at Versailles? . . . 

"I saw considerable of Larkin Mead; of course 
I like him very much never yet saw a Mead that 

John Fiske 

I did n't like. The same brightness, sweetness, and 
simplicity runs through the whole family. 

"I go from here to Verona, and then to Milan 
and Como. Hope to be able to get over either the 
Spliigen or the St. Gothard into Switzerland. If 
not, I shall go around by Geneva, through Turin. 
In choosing routes, I find that, whichever one I 
choose I am sure to enjoy it, but somebody else 
always assures me I ought to have chosen some 
other. I shall go down the Rhine from Switzerland 
to Belgium, and leave out central Germany alto- 
gether. I have seen quite enough for this time, and 
I want to get home! I am much more homesick 
than I was in London, for I am homesick for home, 
and for London too." 

This letter he signs "From a Homesick Phil- 

Fiske remained in Venice but seven days, and a 
goodly portion of his time was given to putting the 
finishing touches to his book. The photographs he 
collected, however, show that he managed to see 
the points of greatest interest, although but few 
are mentioned in his letters. 

His next letter is from Interlaken, dated April 
27, wherein he resumes the story of his journey: 

"Since I left Venice, every day has been better 
than the other. Spent half a day at Verona and 
then went on to Milan. Went thrice to the Milan 
Cathedral and ascended the spire. The interior is 
in some respects grander than any other that I have 
seen; the facade is ruined by classical doors and 

In Switzerland 

windows; otherwise the exterior is wonderfully 
light and beautiful, but not so grand as Lincoln 
or York. There are upwards of 2000 statues carved 
on it, which will serve to give you some idea of 
the elaborateness of it. Went up the lake of Como, 
and stopped at Cadenabbia beautiful place. 
Went over Lake Lugano and stopped at Luvino 
on Lake Maggiore, where I was the sole occupant 
of a big hotel with over 200 rooms. Those swin- 
dling Italians at Milan told me that the Spliigen 
and St. Gothard passes were not open, and I was 
fool enough to believe them, although nearly every 
word ever yet told me, by an Italian, has been a 
lie! When I got to the lakes, I found I could get 
over easily, but I had left my portmanteau at 
Milan, and so had to go back. I concluded to go 
by Mont Cenis, and stop at Chambery, and 
carry out the dream of my boyhood by seeing 
Rousseau's home at Les Charmettes. I enclose a 
picture, and think you will see why I like it 'also, 
some flowers gathered there. I also saw Voltaire's 
chateau at Ferney a much less charming place." 

To Switzerland Fiske gave but seven days, and 
his route was from Mont Cenis to Genoa, thence, 
via Freiburg, Bern, Interlaken, and Luzerne to 
Bale and Strasburg. 

Two things are noticeable in his record of this 
portion of his Continental journey, notwithstanding 
the haste with which it was made his interest in 
Les Charmettes, one of the temporary abodes of 
Rousseau during his vagrant social life, and his 
visit to Ferney, so memorable as the home of 


John Fiske 

Voltaire, when as the " Squire of Ferney" he was 
the most important personage in Europe. 

"The visitor to Geneva, whose studies had 
made him duly acquainted with the most interest- 
ing human personality of all that are associated 
with that historic city, will never leave the place 
without making a pilgrimage to the chateau of 
Ferney. In that refined and quiet. rural homestead, 
things still remain very much as on the day when 
the aged Voltaire left it for the last visit to Paris, 
where his long life was worthily ended, amid words 
and deeds of affectionate homage. One may sit 
down at the table where was written the most per- 
fect prose, perhaps, that ever flowed from pen, 
and look about the little room with its evidences of 
plain living and high thinking, until one seems to 
recall the eccentric figure of the vanished master, 
with his flashes of shrewd wisdom and caustic wit, 
his insatiable thirstier knowledge, his consum- 
ing hatred of bigotry and oppression, his merciless 
contempt for shams, his boundless enthusiasm of 
humanity. As we stroll in the park, that quaint 
presence goes along with us till all at once, in a 
shady walk, we come upon something highly sig- 
nificant and characteristic, the little parish church 
with its Latin inscription: ' Deo erexit Voltaire ' ; 
i.e. , ' Voltaire built it for God ' ; and as we muse upon 
it, the piercing eyes, and sardonic but not unkindly 
smile seem still to follow us. What meant this ec- 
centric inscription? " * 

Fiske regarded Voltaire as much the greater 
and much the more fruitful thinker. His estimate 
1 See Fiske's essay, The Everlasting Reality of Religion. 

Les Charmettes and Ferney 

of these two diverse illuminators of eighteenth- 
century thought accorded with John Morley's, 
whose judgment upon them Fiske regarded as the 
fairest, on the whole, that had been given. 1 

Fiske's special interest in Les Charmettes arose 
from the fact that during the early period of Rous- 
seau 's social vagabondage it was his abiding place; 
and when, in his "Emile," became to set forth his 
ideas of " Religion according to Nature " in the guise 
of a profession of faith on the part of a Savoyard 
Vicar, he drew upon the natural scenery about Les 
Charmettes for his inspiration, portraying the im- 
pressiveness of nature as a religious influence, with 
all his marvellous powers of exposition. The effect 
upon the perturbed religious thought of Europe 
of this fervid appeal to deistic religious sentiment- 
alism is familiar to every student of the literature 
and thought of the eighteenth century, and Fiske's 
desire to take a glance at the nature surroundings 
identified with the production of this remarkable 
deistic polemic is readily understood. 

Of his journey through Switzerland to Inter- 
laken he writes: 

11 Heard the organ at Freiburg (one of the finest 
in Europe) and spent half a day at Bern, a city of 
great interest to me, historically. 2 I like everything 

1 See Morley's Voltaire, pp. 4-6; Morley's Rousseau, pp. 5-7. 

2 Fiske probably refers to the history of Bern during the thir- 
teenth century, when, after being declared a free imperial city by 
the Emperor Frederick II, it established a democratic constitutional 
government, out of which grew a legislative body of two hundred, 


John Fiske 

about Switzerland. The people are neat and honest, 
the food is good, and you can get good cigars for 
two cents apiece! It is a great relief after the ever- 
lasting lying and thieving of Italy. I have n't seen 
any beggars either. However, it would n't be fair 
to blackguard the poor Italians too much. Switzer- 
land has the advantage of having been a free coun- 
try for 600 years.' In Italy you constantly meet 
troops of lazy little beggar children, often beauti- 
ful, but dirty as poison, holding out their hats for 
coppers. Here it is a relief to see little boys and 
girls on their way to school, with books and slates, 
just as in New England. In many ways it seems 
more homelike here than anywhere else in Europe. 
If I had got to live on the Continent, I believe I 
should choose some place in Switzerland." 

He stopped at Interlaken to see the great Grin- 
del wald glacier and also to take in Alpine scenery 
roundabout and from Interlaken he writes: 

" I did n't break my neck on the glacier, though 
I seemed to come rather near it. The eight-mile 
ride, going and coming, was occasionally pokerish 
in aspect, but sound in principle, as the hoss was 
sure footed a dear honest old hoss. The worst 
part was the glacier, which, I did n't have arctics 
on, and found it very slippery, and though I did n't 
go on the edge of any 1000 foot precipices, I went 
on the edge of some 50 foot ones, and did n't like 
it much. But it was a grand experience; to get 
away up between two big Alps was quite a new sen- 

which formed the germ of one of the most remarkable oligarchies of 
modern European history. 


At Interlaken 

sation: And then the Ice Grotto! which is fine! 
We had a truly superb day, only at noon it was 
hotter than Shadrach's furnace. After doing the 
glacier, I drove to Lauterbrunnen and lunched on 
fresh trout just under the Staubbach. Returned 
to Interlaken and walked up the Heimweh-Fluh 
through a pine grove very much like picnic grove 
[Petersham]. So I am awfully tired to-night and 
call this my very greatest day in Europe so far. 
At the Bear hotel, at Grindelwald, you are just at 
the foot of three giant mountains, every one of 
'em over 12,000 feet high; and I shall never forget 
the sensations as I looked out of my bed-room 
window at 5 this morning. 

"I don't know that Switzerland is more sublime 
than Scotland, for nothing can excel in sublimity 
Loch Linnhe, and Glencoe, and the awful moors by 
the King's House Inn. I don't know that it is more 
beautiful than Italy, meaning by beautiful ' what the 
eye admires.' And I don't know that it is any more 
lovely than Petersham meaning by lovely what 
the heart clings to. But for sublimity, and beauty, 
and loveliness combined, I say that Switzerland is so 
far above all other countries, that there is no use in 
saying any more about it. To compare any other 
country with it is absurd. You must see it some 
time. We '11 contrive to get a summer vacation over 
here and give two or three weeks to Switzerland." 

It was with profound regret that Fiske here de- 
finitely gave up the German portion of his trip, espe- 
cially his long-contemplated visit to Weimar; for, if 
there was one particular place on earth he longed 
to see, it was the one that for fifty years formed the 


John Fiske 

social environment of the many-sided Goethe. He 
resumes the story of his journey at Cologne: 

" Been travelling like smoke went from Inter- 
laken to Lucerne over Lake Brienz, and 'one hoss 
shay' over the Briinig Pass. Splendid ride. Next 
A.M. got up at 4.30 and went the whole length 
of Lake Lucerne to Fliielen, omnibus to Altdorf ; 
breakfasted there, and saw Tell's statue. Grand 
statue, exquisite little town, magnificent lake, one 
of the grandest lakes I have seen. Returned by 
shanks mare to Fliielen, steamer to Vitznau, and 
halfway up the Rigi by railway. In summer, you 
pays 12 cents, and goes to the end of the road. Now, 
you only pay 6 cents and go halfway, and have to 
walk the balance. Made me puff; but it paid for 
the trouble. Sublime view, and far grander now 
than in summer, because there is more snow. Forty- 
six mountains, over 10,000 feet high, and nine over 
12,000 feet. What do you think of that for a 
'pickerwow'? Also nine lakes, and a batch of 
country measuring 300 miles in circuit. It was a 
superb day, and I never saw so magnificent a 
sight before. The point where I stood was about 
6000 feet high. Home again (to Lucerne) by 
steamer, loafed about town an hour by moonlight, 
and went to bed tired enough! 

"Up at 5 next A.M. and went to Strasburg and 
had three hours there to see the Cathedral. The 
fagade is very fine, but otherwise it was disappoint- 
ing far inferior to the English cathedrals. Saw 
also the remarkable clock there. Every woman in 
Strasburg carries a baby in her arms. Never saw 
so many babies before in all my life; had to pick 


At Strasburg 

my way carefully to keep from stepping onto some 
baby or other, and crushing it! Went on to Heidel- 
berg, and was too eager for tezzletelts to take bene- 
fit of sleep next morning, and so got up early and 
found a huge pile of letters at banker's from you, 
the bairns, mother, George, Paine (a lovely lovely 
letter), and Mrs. Ad ml Fanshawe. Also several 
4 Notices' from Dennett. Did the castle and uni- 
versity especially library. Next day left at 
8 A.M. for Worms. Saw the Cathedral (a second- 
rate affair), and the new Luther monument, which 
is sublime beyond description; one of the grandest 
things I have seen in Europe. Went on to Mayence 
and saw the Cathedral a rather fair one ; also 
some Roman remains. Went on by steamer down 
the Rhine to Bingen just opposite the town where 
the rats ate up Bishop Hatto. 

"Read my Myth-book. Went to bed beastly 
tired. Got up at 4 this A.M. bright as a lark, and 
had a superb sail down the Rhine to-day reaching 
Cologne, at 2.30 P.M. 

'The Rhine is not equal to the Hudson, and I 
think not equal to the Connecticut; but it is very 
lovely and romantic, and there's an old castle 
with forty-eleven legends to it, about once a mile. 
I shall bring 'pickerwows.'" 

Here are his impressions of the cathedral at 

"The Cathedral here at Cologne is unquestion- 
ably the grandest that I have seen externally; 
internally it is also absolutely perfect; but in im- 
pressiveness not quite equal to Milan. The French 
partly destroyed it in 1795 but they (not the 


John Fiske 

French) are restoring it fast. Six hundred workmen 
are at it daily $2,000,000 have already been spent 
upon it, and by 1880, probably, the grand towers, 
over 500 feet high, will be finished. As for stained 
glass, that is a lost art, and happy are the old Cathe- 
drals like York, Lincoln, Carlisle (and Cologne) that 
still keep their matchless old windows the most 
glorious things of beauty that the mind of man ever 
conceived. Ever since I saw the great east window 
at Carlisle, I have had stained glass on the brain." 

At Cologne Fiske indulged in visions of a few 
happy days in London before sailing for home. 

" A week from this eve I shall probably spend at 
the 'orrid 'Uxleys', and it will be worth all the past 
ten weeks put together. I have had a magnificent 
journey; but grudge every minute lost from h'old 
h'England, and am satiated with sight-seeing, and 
am homesick!" 

He was three days in making the trip from 
Cologne to London, the main incidents of which he 
gives in a letter from London of May 9, 1874: : 

"O my dear! Hezzy's back in London! and in 
Bloomsbury, too, just around the corner from where 
I lived before. 

"Left Cologne early Monday morning and 
stopped at Aachen (what the French call Aix-la- 
Chapelle), which, as you may not know, was the 
titular capital of the Empire 1 from 800 to 1793. 
Saw the cathedral and Charlemagne's tomb therein. 
Did n't see the Amsterdam Dutch, or the Rotter- 

1 The Holy Roman Empire. 

Down the Rhine to Belgium 

dam Dutch, but rode through a part of Holland 
(and saw a little of various kinds of Dutch). 
Stopped at Antwerp, saw the cathedral, and in it 
the truly stupendous and amazing picture by 
Rubens the ' Descent from the Cross ' also 
several other magnificent pictures by Rubens. 
Rubens seems to me one of the greatest of all who 
have held the brush, and I wish I had more time 
to study him. His 'Last Supper' in the gallery at 
Milan is immense in conception. By Jove, I am 
beginning faintly to realize what an amount I have 
seen and learned these three months. 

"Went on to Bruges, and put up at a little one- 
horse Flemish tavern opposite the Belfry. All this 
was one day's work. It was 9 P.M. when I reached 
Bruges, and there was a grand May festival in the 
great square, which was brightly illuminated, and 
covered with little tents and booths. I was awfully 
tired, but this waked me up, and I staid out till 
12 o'clock. O, how I wished I had the little ones 
there! If some little 'deils' I know, had been there, 
their wings would have flapped, I know. It was one 
of the richest and jolliest sights I have seen in Eu- 
rope Dwarfs and Giants, operatic performances, 
'pickerwows,' hobby-horse-riding, games, trials 
of strength, etc. I went in for everything! laughing 
and talking with the people; tried my hand at a 
dead lift, both hands in front and lifted 60 kilo- 
grammes not quite my own weight (87 kilo- 
grammes), but better than I thought I could do on 
a dead lift. Also mesmerism, clairvoyance, legerde- 
main, music a regular carnival. 

" Got up next morning at 7 and went about town 
a little, which many of the streets are canals, just 


John Fiske 

as in Venice, but with common boats instead of gon- 
dolas. Went on to Ostend, and embarked at 10 A.M. 
Told the steward to wake me up in time to see the 
white cliffs of h'old h'England and then went to 
sleep and slept for four hours. When I got up we 
were approaching Dover, and could see the shore of 
France opposite just on the horizon. Gorgeous day. 
I was absolutely frantic with delight at setting foot 
on English ground again! 

"Went to a beer-shop and drank the 'elth of 
h'old h'England in a bright pewter mug; and went 
on to Canterbury, and put up at the Rose Tavern, 
in Rose Lane lovely little cosy inn, with white 
dimity curtains, and jolly little back-parlour, with 
one lump of cannel flickering in a wee grate. Sat 
down to a good plain supper of cold roast beef, and 
home-made bread, pickles and beer; and O how 
good things tasted ! 

" Spent all day Wednesday, till 4.30 P.M. in 
Canterbury one of the loveliest towns on the 
face of the earth. Saw the inn where Chaucer's tales 
were told an inn no longer, or I would have 
stopped there. The cathedral is very grand and 
beautiful, and the King's school so bewitching that 
I should like to have one just like it for Barl, and 
Lacry. I also saw St. Martin's Church where 
Christianity was first preached in heathen England, 
where Ethelbert was baptized, and where he and 
his queen Bertha lie buried. 

"And, my dear, I always thought England lovely, 
but what shall I say of these country lanes in May? 
The beautiful green grass, the wild flowers, the 
budding hedge-rows, the air heavy with the scent of 
blossoms, the tinkling cow-bells, the superb great 


Back in London 

Southdown sheep, the clean little cottages, with 
their windows all scarlet with geraniums, and the 
ivy drooping about their eaves. Other countries 
may be grander, but for pure delicious loveliness, 
give me an English country lane. No wonder the 
English poets love to sing of the beauties of spring 
and no wonder they love nature so much that 
Taine does n't quite understand 'em. But la belle 
France is a poor country in comparison. 

"Got up to London Wednesday evening, and 
next day found this room up here near the Museum, 
where I feel at home. SawTrubner and Macmillan, 
and they were awfully glad to see me. Thursday 
evening called at the 'orrid 'Uxleys'. Huxley was 
out, but Mrs. Huxley and the children were all 
around the dining-room table, reading, and draw- 
ing, and cutting things out of paper. A general 
shout went up when ' Hezzy ' was announced, and 
for about two minutes there was a deal of affec- 
tionate greeting and hand shaking. Took a cup of 
tea and spent the evening, and the young people 
could hardly be coaxed or driven off to bed when the 
time came, they were so much entertained by my 

". . . After getting my ticket, I called at Spencer's 
and found him out, and left a note for him. Went 
to Conway's and was warmly greeted. Went down 
to the Royal Institution to see Tyndall, and found 
him out, but saw Spottiswoode, who told me there 
would be a roaring dinner of the Royal Society the 
2 ist, after which Tyndall will illustrate some new 
discoveries of his own on sound. That will be grand, 
and I am to receive a formal invitation. Was in- 
vited to a grand blow-out at Hyde Park Gardens, 


John Fiske 

last evening, and had to get my trunk and unpack 
my dress-suit the first thing. Dined alone at the 
Criterion Grill-Room on Piccadilly, where they 
broil a delicious rump steak right^before your eyes, 
and serve it piping hot, tender and juicy, with 
mealy boiled potatoes, a pint pot of unequalled beer, 
and a bit of cream cheese afterward a truly 
royal dinner for half-a-crown : never made a 
dinner like that on the Continent. I have learned 
that a plain steak, cooked that way, is far ahead of 
all the filets aux champignons you can get in France. 

4 'After this magnificent repast, I went to the 
Royal Institution, and heard a lecture by Sedley 
Taylor, and saw Tyndall. Then went to the party 
at Hyde Park Gardens, along with Conway, and 
saw A. J. Ellis, the philologist, Mrs. Linton, who 
wrote the ' Girl of the Period ' articles in the ' Satur- 
day Review,' and many others. Got to bed at i 
o'clock, which is as early as one can do here in 

"It bids fair to be a busy time the next fortnight. 
To-morrow, I spend the day at Macmillans, with 
hopes of much music. Monday, I go to the new 
Museum of Archaeology, and dine at the Royal In- 
stitution with Tyndall. Wednesday, there's a din- 
ner for me at Conway 's. There's to be a grand 
dinner for me also at Trubner's day not yet fixed. 
The 'orrid 'Uxley is to let me know when he'll have 
me. No doubt I shall dine at least once at Spencer's. 
Next Saturday, I am to go to Debrow to see the 
Fanshawes, and Monday we are to go to St. Albans 
together. I shall probably return to London the fol- 
lowing day. Besides this, Conway and I are plan- 
ning a trip to Salisbury together. We propose to 


Back in London 

leave next week Thursday for Winchester, and see 
the Cathedral and antiquities, go on to Salisbury 
and sleep at the Red Lion, famous all over England 
for beer and stewed eels; and go to Stonehenge 
next day, see the Cathedral, and return to London 
total, two days. I grudge the time from London, but 
fear I shall never forgive myself if I don't see Salis- 
bury Cathedral, the spire of which is thought by 
many to be the finest in the whole world. And be- 
sides all this, I must go to Windsor Castle, Rich- 
mond, and Stoke Poges; and also hear a debate in 
Parliament, if possible. Then there is the great ex- 
hibition of pictures now, and lots more things. You 
see I shall be gadding every minute from dawn till 
dewy eve, and may be I shall not write again except 
just a line before sailing one steamer before. You 
know I am safe and among friends, and dreadfully 
stingy of time. Here I am writing to you, when I 
ought to be putting the finishing strokes to my 
Index so as to give it to Clay Monday, and get rid 
of the proofs of it next week that job will fill 
up to-day. f **M 

"Now that I am back in London I love it more 
than ever, and I believe it would n't take much to 
make me willing to migrate here with all my traps, 
and stay here ad infinitum. You would like it too ! 
It is a place that grows upon one more and more; 
and you can no more exhaust it than you could 
compass infinity. Other cities are great: this is 
without beginning, or end; no human mind can 
take it all in, and that is one reason why the sen- 
sation of being here never loses its strange charm. 

"But, after all, I stick to Petersham! Good-bye 
for four weeks, two of which will be nearly gone when 


John Fiske 

you get this. It will seem mighty good to get to work 
in the Library again. I feel equal to almost hany- 
thirik. With 'eaps of love h'all around. 

" 'EZZY." 

Not all of Fiske's programme for the close of his 
visit to England could be carried out. His much- 
desired excursion with his friend Conway to Win- 
chester and Salisbury had to be omitted, for the 
social courtesies extended to him were of such a 
cordial nature that he could not well refuse them, 
and they took up all his spare time. He saw his 
book, the production of which was the main object 
of his visit, completely finished, and he sent some 
last messages to Mrs. Fiske and to his mother, from 
which the following extracts are taken. 

To his mother he writes, May 21 : 

" I have had a great time since I returned to Lon- 
don. Spent two days at Debrow. Had a farewell 
Sunday at Macmillan's. Had a stupendous din- 
ner party at Sherman's, Norbiton Hall, Surrey, at 
which among others, Gen. Pleasonton was present, 
and he and I staid all night there. Tuesday there 
was a grand dinner at Triibner's, and Wednes- 
day at Conway's, and to-night I dined at Spen- 
cer's, with Masson, Bain, Lewes, and Clifford. It 
was a glorious evening, and Lewes was in his most 
bewitching humour. He kept us in a roar all the 
evening and Spencer and I fairly laughed till we 
cried, and my sides are still sore. He is an exceed- 
ingly droll man. Masson and Bain are not devoid of 
wit either, and their brrrroad Scotch accent helps it. 


Farewell Visits 

"I also had a grand dinner with Tyndall at the 
Royal Institution, in the room which used to be 
Davy's and Faraday's." 

To Mrs. Fiske he writes, May 23: 

" I am just going down to Macmillan's to get a 
complete bound copy of my book to bring home 
I pack up to-day. To-morrow, I lunch at Spencer's, 
make a parting call on the little Oppenheims (at 
Triibner's) and have a farewell evening at the 
'orrid 'Uxleys'. Last evening I. spent with Ralston, 
and he says that Huxley spoke to him about me in 
'terms of the warmest affection.' 

" Lord Arthur Russell got me into the House of 
Commons yesterday afternoon, and I heard a great 
debate about nothing tempest in a teapot. Saw 

11 1 want you to meet me in New York I shall 
be very much disappointed if you don't. 

" I weigh 192!!" 

Glory Hallelujah!! 

Book done!! 
Coming home!!! 
Love to the bairns!!!! 
Meet me in New York!!!!! 




This book is due on the last DATE stamped below. 

MAY 5 1971 


I H0| 

50m-l,'69(J5643s8)2373 3A,1