Thursday, September 20, 2007

Boston Brahmin Honours Invitation, Twice

[Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to Mr. Fields]

296 Beacon Street, February 11, 1862

My Dear Mr. Fields,

On Friday evening last I white-cravated myself, took a carriage, and found myself at your door at eight of the clock p. m.-

A cautious female responded to my ring, and opened the chained portal about as far as a clam opens his shell to see what is going on in Cambridge Street, where he is waiting for a customer.

Her first glance impressed her with the conviction that I was a burglar. The mild address with which I accosted her removed that impression, and I rose in the moral scale to the comparatively elevated position of what the unfeeling world calls a "sneak-thief."

By dint, however, of soft words, and that look of ingenuous simplicity by which I am so well known to you and all my friends, I coaxed her into the belief that I was nothing worse than a rejected contributor, an autograph collector, an author with a volume of poems to dispose of, or other disagreeable but not dangerous character.

She unfastened the chain, and I stood before her.

I calmed her fears, and she was calm and told me how you and Mrs. F. had gone to New York, and how she knew nothing of any literary debauch that was to come off under your roof, but would go and call another unprotected female who knew the past, present, and future, and could tell me why this was thus, that I had been lured from my fireside by the ignis fatuus of a deceptive invitation.

It was my turn to be afraid, alone in the house with two of the stronger sex; and I retired.

On reaching home, I read my note and found it was Friday the 16th, not the 9th, I was invited for. . . .
Dear Mr. Fields, I shall be very happy to come to your home on Friday evening, the 16th February, at eight o'clock, to meet yourself and Mrs. Fields, and hear Mr. James read his paper on Emerson. . . .
-from The Friendly Craft: a Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, Ph.D. (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 323-324.

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