For a while we had a Tupper epidemic, and everyone grew busy writing blank verse—very blank. Then came an epidemic of Carlyle, and everyone wrote turgid, involved, twisted and breakneck sentences, each noun with as many verbs as Brigham Young had wives. Then followed a romantic craze, and everyone struggled to combine religion and romance, with frequent punches at religion, and we prided ourselves on being sceptical and independent in our literary tastes. My advice was simply to make up one’s mind what to read, and then read it. Life is short, and books are many. Instead of making your mind a garret crowded with rubbish, make it a parlour, substantially furnished, beautifully arranged, in which you would not be ashamed to have the whole world enter.
There was so much in the world to provoke the soul, and yet all persecution is a blessing in some way. The so-called modern literature, towards the close of the nineteenth century, was becoming more and more the illegitimate offspring of immaturity in thought and feeling. We were the slaves of our newspapers; each morning a library was thrown on our doorstep. But what a jumbled, inconsequent, muddled-up library! It was the best that could be made in such a hurry, and it satisfied most of us, though I believe there were conservative people who opened it only to read the marriage and the death notices. The latter came along fast enough.
In January, 1888, that well-known American jurist and illustrious Brooklynite, Judge Joseph Neilson, died. He was an old friend of mine, of everyone who came upon his horizon. For a long while he was an invalid, but he kept this knowledge from the world, because he wanted no public demonstration. The last four years of his life he was confined to his room, where he sat all the while calm, uncomplaining, interested in all the affairs of the world, after a life of active work in it. He belonged to that breed which has developed the brain and brawn of American character—the Scotch-Irish. If Christianity had been a fallacy, Judge Neilson would have been just the man to expose it. He who on the judicial bench sat in solemn poise of spirit, while the ablest jurists and advocates of the century were before him to be prompted, corrected, or denied, was not the man to be overcome by a religion of sophistry or mere pretence. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase said that he had studied the Christian religion as he had studied a law case, and concluded that it was divine. Judge Neilson’s decisions will be quoted in court rooms as long as Justice holds its balance. The supremacy of a useful life never leaves the earth—its influence remains behind.
The whole world, it seemed to me, was being spiritualised by the influences of those whose great moments on earth had planted tangible and material benefits, years after they themselves were invisible. It was an elemental fact in the death chamber of Mr. Roswell, the great botanist, in England; in the relieved anxieties in Berlin; in the jubilation in Dublin; by the gathering of noblemen in St. Petersburg; and in the dawn of this new year. I could see a tendency in European affairs to the unification of nations.