Family counted in Cambridge, without doubt, as it counts in New England everywhere, but family alone did not mean position, and the want of family did not mean the want of it. Money still less than family commanded; one could be openly poor in Cambridge without open shame, or shame at all, for no one was very rich there, and no one was proud of his riches.
I do not wonder that Turguenieff thought the conditions ideal, as Boyesen portrayed them to him; and I look back at my own life there with wonder at my good fortune. I was sensible, and I still am sensible this had its alloys. I was young and unknown and was making my way, and I had to suffer some of the penalties of these disadvantages; but I do not believe that anywhere else in this ill-contrived economy, where it is vainly imagined that the material struggle forms a high incentive and inspiration, would my penalties have been so light. On the other hand, the good that was done me I could never repay if I lived all over again for others the life that I have so long lived for myself. At times, when I had experienced from those elect spirits with whom I was associated, some act of friendship, as signal as it was delicate, I used to ask myself, how I could ever do anything unhandsome or ungenerous towards any one again; and I had a bad conscience the next time I did it.
The air of the Cambridge that I knew was sufficiently cool to be bracing, but what was of good import in me flourished in it. The life of the place had its lateral limitations; sometimes its lights failed to detect excellent things that lay beyond it; but upward it opened illimitably. I speak of it frankly because that life as I witnessed it is now almost wholly of the past. Cambridge is still the home of much that is good and fine in our literature: one realizes this if one names Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Mr. John Fiske, Mr. William James, Mr. Horace E. Scudder, not to name any others, but the first had not yet come back to live in his birthplace at the time I have been writing of, and the rest had not yet their actual prominence. One, in deed among so many absent, is still present there, whom from time to time I have hitherto named without offering him the recognition which I should have known an infringement of his preferences. But the literary Cambridge of thirty years ago could not be clearly imagined or justly estimated without taking into account the creative sympathy of a man whose contributions to our literature only partially represent what he has constantly done for the humanities. I am sure that, after the easy heroes of the day are long forgot, and the noisy fames of the strenuous life shall dwindle to their essential insignificance before those of the gentle life, we shall all see in Charles Eliot Norton the eminent scholar who left the quiet of his books to become our chief citizen at the moment when he warned his countrymen of the ignominy and disaster of doing wrong.