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WHERE THE "BROTHERS AND SISTERS" MET
NO single house in all Massachusetts has survived so many of the vicissitudes of fickle fortune and carried the traditions of a glorious past up into the realities of a prosperous and useful present more successfully than has Fay House, the present home of Radcliffe College, Cambridge. The central portion of the Fay House of to-day dates back nearly a hundred years, and was built by Nathaniel Ireland, a prosperous merchant of Boston. It was indeed a mansion to make farmer-folk stare when, with its tower-like bays, running from ground to roof, it was, in 1806, erected on the highroad to watertown, the first brick house in the vicinity.
To Mr. Ireland did not come the good fortune of living in the fine dwelling his ambition had designed. A ship-blacksmith by trade, his prospects were ruined by the Jefferson Embargo, and he was obliged to leave the work of construction on his house unfinished and allow the place to pass, heavily mortgaged, into the hands of others. But the house itself and our story concerning it gained by Mr. Ireland's lass, for it now became the property of Doctor Joseph McKean (a famous Harvard instructor), and the rendezvous of that professor's college associates and of the numerous friends of his young family. Oliver Wendell Holmes was among those who spent many a social evening here with the McKeans.
The next name of importance to be connected with Fay House was that of Edward Everett, who lived here for a time. Later Sophia Willard Dana, granddaughter of. Chief Justice Dana, our first minister to Russia, kept a boarding and day school for young ladies in the house. Among her pupils were the sisters of James Russell Lowell, Mary Channing, the first wife of Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and members of the Higginson, Parkman, and Tuckerman families. Lowell himself, and Edmund Dana, attended here for a term as a special privilege. Sophia Dana was married in the house, August 22, 1827, by the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, to Mr. George Ripley, with whom she afterward took an active part in the Brook Farm Colony, of which we are to hear again a bit later in this series. After Miss Dana's marriage, her school was carried on largely by Miss Elizabeth McKean – the daughter of the Doctor Joseph McKean already referred to – a young woman who soon became the wife of Doctor Joseph Worcester, the compiler of the dictionary.
Delightful reminiscences of Fay House have been furnished us by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who, as a boy, was often in and out of the place, visiting his aunt, Mrs. Channing, who lived here with her son, william Henry Channing, the wellknown anti-slavery orator. Here Higginson, as a youth, used to listen with keenest pleasure, to the singing of his cousin, Lucy Channing, especially when the song she chase was, "The Mistletoe Hung on the Castle Wall," the story of a bride shut up in. a chest. "I used firmly to believe," the genial colonel confessed to the Radcliffe girls, in reviving for them his memories of the house, "that there was a bride shut up in the walls of this house – and there may be to-day, for all I know."
For fifty years after June, 1835, the house was in the possession of Judge P. P. Fay's family. The surroundings were still country-like. Cambridge Common was as yet only a treeless pasture, and the house had not been materially changed from its original shape and plan. Judge Fay was a jolly gentleman of the old school. A judge of probate for a dozen years, an overseer of Harvard College, and a pillar of Christ Church, he was withal fond of a well-turned story and a lover of good hunting, as well as much given to hospitality. Miss Maria Denny Fay, whose memory is now perpetuated in a Radcliffe scholarship, was the sixth of Judge Fay's seven children, and the one who finally became, both mistress and owner of the estate. A girl of fourteen when her father bought the house, she was at the time receiving her young-lady education at the Convent of St. Ursula, where, in the vine-covered, red-brick convent on the summit of Charlestown, she learned, under the guidance of the nuns, to sing, play the piano, the harp, and the guitar, to speak French, and read Spanish and Italian. But her life on Mt. Benedict was suddenly terminated when the convent was burned. So she entered earlier than would otherwise have been the case upon the varied interests of her new and beautiful home. Here, in the course of a few years, we find her presiding, a gracious and lovely maiden, of whom the venerable Colonel Higginson has said: "I have never, in looking back, felt more. grateful to anyone than to this charming girl of twenty, who consented to be a neighbour to me, an awkward boy of seventeen, to attract me in a manner from myself and make me available to other people."
Very happy times were those which the young Wentworth Higginson, then a college boy, living with his mother at Vaughan House, was privileged to share with Maria Fay and her friends. Who of us does not envy him the memory of that Christmas party in 1841, when there were gathered in Fay House, among others, Maria White, Lowell's beautiful fiancée; Levi Thaxter, afterward the husband of Celia Thaxter; Leverett Saltonstall, Mary Story and William Story, the sculptors? And how pleasant it must have been to join in the famous charades of that circle of talented young people, to partake of refreshments in the quaint dining-room, and dance a Virginia reel and galop in the beautiful oval parlour which then, as today, expressed ideally the acme of charming hospitality! What tales this same parlour might relate! How enchantingly it might tell, if it could speak, of the graceful Maria White, who, seated in the deep window, must have made an exquisite picture in her white gown, with her beautiful face shining in the moonlight while she repeated, in her soft voice, one of her own ballads, written for the "Brothers and Sisters," as this group of young people was called.
Of a more distinctly academic cast were some of the companies later assembled in this same room – Judge Story, Doctor Beck, President Felton, Professors Pierce, Lane, Child, and Lowell, with maybe Longfellow, listening to one of his own songs, or that strange figure, Professor Evangelinus Apostolides Sophocles, oddly ill at ease in his suit of dingy black. In his younger days he had been both pirate and priest, and he retained, as professor, some of his early habits – seldom being seated while he talked, and leaning against the door, shaking and fumbling his college keys as the monks shake their rosaries. Mr. Arthur Gilman has related in a charming article on Fay House, written for the Harvard Graduates Magazine (from which, as from Miss Norris's sketch of the old place, printed in a recent number of the Radcliffe Magazine, many of the incidents here given are drawn), that Professor Sophocles was allowed by Miss Fay to keep some hens on the estate, pets which he had an odd habit of naming after his friends. When, therefore, some, accomplishment striking and praiseworthy in a hen was related in company as peculiar to one or another of them, the professor innocently calling his animals by the name he had borrowed, the effect was apt to be startling.
During the latter part of Miss Fay's long tenancy of this house, she had with her her elder sister, the handsome Mrs. Greenough, a woman who had been so famous a beauty in her youth that, on the occasion of her wedding, Harvard students thronged the aisles and climbed the pews of old Christ Church to see her. The wedding receptions of Mrs. Greenough's daughter and granddaughter were held, too., in Fay House. This latter girl was the fascinating and talented Lily Greenough, who was later a favourite at the court of Napoleon and Eugénie, and who, after the death of her first husband, Mr. Charles Moulton, was married in this house to Monsieur De Hegermann Lindencrone, at that time Danish Minister to the United States, and now minister at Paris. Her daughter, Suzanne Moulton, who has left her name scratched with a diamond on one of the Fay House windows, is now the Countess Suzanne Raben-Levetzan of Nystel, Denmark.
In connection with the Fays' life in this house occurred one thing which will particularly send the building down into posterity, and will link for all time Radcliffe and Harvard traditions. For it was in the upper corner room, nearest the Washington Elm, that Doctor Samuel Gilman, Judge Fay's brother-in-law, wrote "Fair Harvard," while a guest in this hospitable home, during the second centennial celebration of the college on the Charles. Radcliffe girls often seem a bit triumphant as they point out to visitors this room and its facsimile copy of the famous song. Yet they have plenty of pleasant things of their own to remember.
Just one of these, taken at random from among the present writer's own memories of pretty happenings at Fay House, will serve: During Duse's last tour in this country, the famous actress came out one afternoon, as many a famous personage does, to drink a cup of tea with Mrs. Agassiz in the stately old parlour, where Mrs. Whitman's famous portrait of the pre-sident of Radcliffe College vies in attractiveness with the living reality graciouslv presiding over the Wednesday afternoon teacups. As it happened, there was a scant attendance at the tea on this day of Duse's visit. She had not been expected, and so it fell out that some two or three girls who could speak French or Italian were privileged to do the honours of the occasion to the great actress whom they had long worshipped from afar. Duse was in one of her most charming moods, and she listened with the greatest attention to her young hostesses' laboured explanations concerning the college and its ancient home.
The best of it all, from the enthusiastic girl-students' point of view, was, however, in the dark-eyed Italienne's mode of saying farewell. As she entered her carriage – to which she had been escorted by this little group – she took from her belt a beautiful bouquet of roses, camellias, and violets. And as the smart coachman flicked the impatient horses with his whip, Duse threw the girls the precious flowers. Those who caught a camellia felt, of course, especially delighted, for it was as the Dame aux Camellias that Duse had been winning for weeks the plaudits of admiring Boston. My own share of the largesse consisted of a few fresh, sweet violets, which I still have tucked away somewhere, together with one of the great actress's photographs that bears the date of the pleasant afternoon hour passed with her in the parlour where the "Brothers and Sisters" met.
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