Travel Letters: University Arms, Cambridge (1866)

DEAR FRED, — I am in our Alma Mater’s Mater. There is something charmingly homelike and familiar in old Cambridge. Outwardly unattractive by situation, but very lovely with old Gothic courts and buildings, and all the beauty of noble old trees, perfect lawns, and blossomy hawthorns. The pretty Cam covered with college boats, the streets full of college faces and manners that might have been transplanted from the dear old banks of the Charles. The students seem to me very like indeed to Harvard boys, — the same average of age, the same general bearing, the same sort of talk. If anything especially gives them an advantage over us, it seems to be in the University system, the grouping of colleges so as to create a friendly corporate as well as personal rivalry, and the presence among them of older and mature scholars, residing on fellowships, etc., who raise the scholarly standards of the place higher than they could be set by mere undergraduate attainment.

Both of these advantages, I think, are capable of being engrafted on our system, and if they ever are, I see no reason why, in time, our greater freedom from old prescriptions and restraints should not make our University a better place than this. The beauty of the college grounds, their homey seclusion; and perfect vistas are past describing. Oxford, of course, surpasses Cambridge in all this, but Cambridge is a continual delight.

I only arrived today, but hope to stay a day or two, and see much more of the University life. From here I am going on a little trip to Peterborough, Ely, Norwich, and some other towns in this part of England. It is the season of seasons for its beauty. The Phillipses (this for father) came, I believe, from Raynham in Norfolk, or near it. You remember the original George, who came over and preached under a tree in Watertown, and died of an unfortunate colic. Don’t you ? Perhaps I have got them a little mixed up, but all those facts were among the household words of our childhood.

As to my time in London, it was very full, but of a lot of things that you can get from the guide-books about as well as from me. I like London immensely. Last night I spent at the House of Commons. It was one of the great nights of the Reform Bill. By the kindness of Mr. Forster, I got admission to the Speaker’s gallery. The best men on both sides spoke : Glad-stone, calm, cool, clear, and courteous ; Disraeli, jerky, spiteful, personal, very telling ; Bright, honest, solid, indignant with the small trickery and meanness of the opposition ; Mill, who holds people by sheer power of thought, as I have hardly ever seen any man do ; Whiteside, Grey, and others. The government was defeated on a side issue by the manoeuvring of the opposition, and the weakness of some of their own men. As to the look of the House, it certainly surprises one, who has heard their endless abuse of our legislative assemblies, which of course are bad enough. There was no such brutal outbreak as sometimes disgraces our noble representatives, but for constant and bitter personality, in place of argument, for boisterous and unmannerly carrying-on generally, Washington cannot beat them. In the middle of the evening, I dined with Mr. Forster and Mr. Bright, and had our great English friend pretty much to myself for two hours. He is a great talker, especially when he gets on to America, and he knows what he is talking about. Both he and Forster are friends worth having. Bright personally wins you in a minute by the frankness and cordialness and manliness of his greeting. Hughes, I saw, but not for any talk. The Reform Bill, little as it attempts, seems bound to fail.

One word about Venice. If I did not expatiate, it was not because I did not enjoy it immensely. It is all that your fancy ever painted. Some day I will tell you about it.

Many thanks for your photograph. It is capital, the very boy I used to see, lazily stretching his length in my chair in Spruce Street.

Strong wants me to remember him very kindly to you. We are having a great time. The new rector of the Trinity parish in Boston is to join us for Switzerland this summer. I wish you were to be the fourth.

I am to speak at a breakfast and public meeting in Birmingham for the freedmen. Probably I shall not have time to write to Boston this week, so either send them this letter, or let them know that I am well.

Be sure I shall think of you ever so much on your ordination day. God bless you.