Publication: The New York Times
New York, NY, United States
MRS. BROOKFIELD AGAIN.
A Charming Book About William Brookfield and Some of His Famous Friends.
In "The Cambridge Apostles" (Scribner,) a book of singular interest and charm, Mrs. Charles Brookfield has given a brief sketch of William Henry Brookfield and of twelve illustrious Cambridge men who were his friends and correspondents—Joseph Henry Blakesley, Charles Buller, Arthur Henry Hallam, John Mitchell Kemble, Henry Lushington, Frederick Denison Maurice, Richard Monckton Milnes, James Spedding, John Starling, Alfred Tennyson, Richard Chenevix Trench, George Stovin Venables.
Of these Mrs. Brookfield does not narrate the histories , save to give a slight framework of the leading events which shaped their lives. Her object is, by means of their letters and of some account of their friendships, their thoughts, their aims in life, to present, so far as may be a portrait of each man as he was known to those who stood nearest.
"The Apostles" was a name originally applied in a spirit of banter to "The Cambridge Conversazione Society," a group of brilliant undergraduates, its number limited to twelve, who met once a week, when one read an original essay, the others talking it over with the utmost frankness and freedom.
In "those dawn-golden times" of the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century youth was not only seething with speculation, penetrated with a fine distain of everything selfish, petty, false, filled to the brim with poetry, but it had the courage of its enthusiasms, it was ebullient with the consciousness of its own powers. "The world is one great thought," cried Jack Kemble, "and I am thinking it!"
Unworldliness seems to have been a characteristic of this remarkable sodality. "The gospel of getting on" seems to have been as remote from their thought as their sobriquet would imply. Envy was unknown among them. Each rejoiced in another's laurels. Each was quick and proud to recognize his superior in the gifts shared by all. Each a poet, they united with acclaim in crowning Tennyson King of them all. Long before he was Laureate of England he was Laureate of the "Apostles."
We observe, too, that the "Apostleship"—the mutual understanding, sympathy, and help, the thorough camaraderie—was not merely a feature of college years, but in life. Ecen marriage made no difference in the friendships, little in the customs of the "Apostles"; nor did the diverging interests and pursuits of mature years, and this because the links binding them together were not forged from youthful interests of the passing hour, but from the things that really matter—things of character and of mind.
Perhaps because their gifts were "so pure and obvious," perhaps because of the keen scalpel of criticism to which they subjected each other in their weekly meetings, certain it is that in after years not one of the "Apostles" ever assumed a pose, or sank to the miserable level of the "self-conscious literary lion," Each was intent to the last upon continuing to be the man who had made the name, and would have scorned to go around airing it.
Both letters and talk are so full of sayings witty and pregnant that when we have closed the book it fairly bristles with marks for reference. We can quote but a few of the many striking passages Brookfield writes:
Speaking of Carlyle to Greg, I asserted him to be a profoundly religious man "Oh, yes," says Greg, "that is always very noticeable when you find a man with a religion without a creed."
"Gladstone's method of impartiality," declares Milnes, "is being fu