He graced with unaffected poetry a life of as hard study, of as hard work, and as varied achievement as any I have known or read of; and he played with gifts and acquirements such as in no great measure have made reputations. He had a rare and lovely humor which could amuse itself both in English and Italian with such an airy burletta as “Il Pesceballo” (he wrote it in Metastasian Italian, and Lowell put it in libretto English); he had a critical sense as sound as it was subtle in all literature; and whatever he wrote he imbued with the charm of a style finely personal to himself. His learning in the line of his Harvard teaching included an early English scholarship unrivalled in his time, and his researches in ballad literature left no corner of it untouched. I fancy this part of his study was peculiarly pleasant to him; for he loved simple and natural things, and the beauty which he found nearest life. At least he scorned the pedantic affectations of literary superiority; and he used to quote with joyous laughter the swelling exclamation of an Italian critic who proposed to leave the summits of polite learning for a moment, with the cry, “Scendiamo fra il popolo!” (Let us go down among the people.)
Of course it was only so hard worked a man who could take thought and trouble for another. He once took thought for me at a time when it was very important to me, and when he took the trouble to secure for me an engagement to deliver that course of Lowell lectures in Boston, which I have said Lowell had the courage to go in town to hear. I do not remember whether Professor Child was equal to so much, but he would have been if it were necessary; and I rather rejoice now in the belief that he did not seek quite that martyrdom.
He had done more than enough for me, but he had done only what he was always willing to do for others. In the form of a favor to himself he brought into my fife the great happiness of intimately knowing Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, whom he had found one summer day among the shelves in the Harvard library, and found to be a poet and an intending novelist. I do not remember now just how this fact imparted itself to the professor, but literature is of easily cultivated confidence in youth, and possibly the revelation was spontaneous. At any rate, as a susceptible young editor, I was asked to meet my potential contributor at the professor’s two o’clock dinner, and when we came to coffee in the study, Boyesen took from the pocket nearest his heart a chapter of ‘Gunnar’, and read it to us.
Perhaps the good professor who brought us together had plotted to have both novel and novelist make their impression at once upon the youthful sub-editor; but at any rate they did not fail of an effect. I believe it was that chapter where Gunnar and Ragnhild dance and sing a ‘stev’ together, for I associate with that far happy time the rich mellow tones of the poet’s voice in the poet’s verse. These were most characteristic of him, and it is as if I might put my ear against the ethereal wall beyond which he is rapt and hear them yet.