A Mortal Antipathy: first opening of the new portfolio

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Excerpt INTRODUCTION. "And why the New Portfolio, I would ask?" Pray, do you remember, when there was an accession to the nursery in which you have a special interest, whether the new-comer was commonly spoken of as a baby? Was it not, on the contrary, invariably, under all conditions, in all companies, by the whole household, spoken of as the baby? And was the small receptacle provided for it commonly spoken of as a cradle; or was it not always called the cradle, as if there were no other in existence? Now this New Portfolio is the cradle in which I am to rock my new-born thoughts, and from which I am to lift them carefully and show them to callers, namely, to the whole family of readers belonging to my list of intimates, and such other friends as may drop in by accident. And so it shall have the definite article, and not be lost in the mob of its fellows as a portfolio. There are a few personal and incidental matters of which I wish to say something before reaching the contents of the Portfolio, whatever these may be. I have had other portfolios before this,—two, more especially, and the first thing I beg leave to introduce relates to these. Do not throw this volume down, or turn to another page, when I tell you that the earliest of them, that of which I now am about to speak, was opened more than fifty years ago. This is a very dangerous confession, for fifty years make everything hopelessly old-fashioned, without giving it the charm of real antiquity. If I could say a hundred years, now, my readers would accept all I had to tell them with a curious interest; but fifty years ago,—there are too many talkative old people who know all about that time, and at best half a century is a half-baked bit of ware. A coin-fancier would say that your fifty-year-old facts have just enough of antiquity to spot them with rust, and not enough to give them—the delicate and durable patina which is time's exquisite enamel. When the first Portfolio was opened the coin of the realm bore for its legend,—or might have borne if the more devout hero-worshippers could have had their way,—Andreas Jackson, Populi Gratia, Imp. Caesar. Aug. Div., Max., etc., etc. I never happened to see any gold or silver with that legend, but the truth is I was not very familiarly acquainted with the precious metals at that period of my career, and, there might have been a good deal of such coin in circulation without my handling it, or knowing much about it. Permit me to indulge in a few reminiscences of that far-off time. In those days the Athenaeum Picture Gallery was a principal centre of attraction to young Boston people and their visitors. Many of us got our first ideas of art, to say nothing of our first lessons in the comparatively innocent flirtations of our city's primitive period, in that agreeable resort of amateurs and artists. How the pictures on those walls in Pearl Street do keep their places in the mind's gallery! Trumbull's Sortie of Gibraltar, with red enough in it for one of our sunset after-glows; and Neagle's full-length portrait of the blacksmith in his shirt-sleeves; and Copley's long-waistcoated gentlemen and satin-clad ladies,—they looked like gentlemen and ladies, too; and Stuart's florid merchants and high-waisted matrons; and Allston's lovely Italian scenery and dreamy, unimpassioned women, not forgetting Florimel in full flight on her interminable rocking-horse,—you may still see her at the Art Museum; and the rival landscapes of Doughty and Fisher, much talked of and largely praised in those days; and the Murillo,—not from Marshal Soup's collection; and the portrait of Annibale Caracci by himself, which cost the Athenaeum a hundred dollars; and Cole's allegorical pictures, and his immense and dreary canvas, in which the prostrate shepherds and the angel in Joseph's coat of many colors look as if they must have been thrown in for nothing; and West's brawny Lear tearing his clothes to pieces....
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