was born on November 3, 1831. A chubby boy, I was possessed from the beginning with an imagination on fire. My father, an Irishman from County Tyrone (related, he claimed, to the O'Neils) was a peripatetic scholar and a dabbler, a wit and a freethinker, who read Bacon and studied medicine but perished of typhoid caught from his first patient. My mother
was an irishwoman as well, tough and hard as the breed can be, but a lover of wit and irony and oratory; she insisted on the highest achievement in Chaucer and Shakespeare, Milton and Spenser. Language was the road to success in my day. Perhaps you no longer believe this to be true.
Once I wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes, seeking his advice.
I received this reply from the great man, and I pass it on to you for its
I will give you then a little of the advice which you have courted, with a free tongue but kind spirit. You have the inward adjustments which naturally produce melody of expression and incline you to rhythmical forms, of which you will easily become a master. You are a bright scholar, who has read a good many books and perhaps have a little too much fondness of ornamenting your own composition with phrases borrowed from what you have read ---very fairly credited to your sources to be true, but perhaps a little too freely interspersed. You have a quick eye and a smart wit of our own dangerous gifts, which like young colts must be bitted and broken before they can become trusted servants. Whether you have the higher requisites which make up the true poetical character or not, I dare not undertake to decide on the strength of a school exercise. .
So typical of Victorian Yankee advice? The belief in regularity,
probity, impartiality, to replace the evils of rank luxuriance!