When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and then settled into steady radiance, talk begins. There is no place like the chimney-corner for confidences; for picking up the clews of an old friendship; for taking note where one’s self has drifted, by comparing ideas and prejudices with the intimate friend of years ago, whose course in life has lain apart from yours. No stranger puzzles you so much as the once close friend, with whose thinking and associates you have for years been unfamiliar. Life has come to mean this and that to you; you have fallen into certain habits of thought; for you the world has progressed in this or that direction; of certain results you feel very sure; you have fallen into harmony with your surroundings; you meet day after day people interested in the things that interest you; you are not in the least opinionated, it is simply your good fortune to look upon the affairs of the world from the right point of view. When you last saw your friend,—less than a year after you left college,—he was the most sensible and agreeable of men; he had no heterodox notions; he agreed with you; you could even tell what sort of a wife he would select, and if you could do that, you held the key to his life.
Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day from the antipodes. And here he sits by the fireplace. I cannot think of any one I would rather see there, except perhaps Thackery; or, for entertainment, Boswell; or old, Pepys; or one of the people who was left out of the Ark. They were talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt’s about whom they would most like to have seen, when Charles Lamb startled the company by declaring that he would rather have seen Judas Iscariot than any other person who had lived on the earth. For myself, I would rather have seen Lamb himself once, than to have lived with Judas. Herbert, to my great delight, has not changed; I should know him anywhere,—the same serious, contemplative face, with lurking humor at the corners of the mouth,—the same cheery laugh and clear, distinct enunciation as of old. There is nothing so winning as a good voice. To see Herbert again, unchanged in all outward essentials, is not only gratifying, but valuable as a testimony to nature’s success in holding on to a personal identity, through the entire change of matter that has been constantly taking place for so many years. I know very well there is here no part of the Herbert whose hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting; but it is an astonishing reproduction of him,—a material likeness; and now for the spiritual.