‘Is that kind of imitation high art?’

[Author’s noteThis series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary began here.]

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
With the end of the summer in sight, I thought I would finish up this review of the Gray diary between 1860 and 1880 with several August entries from the latter year. Dr. Gray [1] had died in February 1880, and his widow was visiting her Gray in-laws before retreating to New Hampshire for a stay at a hotel.

East Milton, Massachusetts, Sunday, 8 August 1880: I left Beverly on Monday last, and came out here the same afternoon – Sallie [Gray][2] having sent me word the barouche would call for me after leaving Isa Loring[3] at the Eastern Depot, on her way to Beverly Farms. I was very glad to drive out comfortably, instead of hurrying to the [train] cars. The place is very lovely in its quiet secluded way; the house is surrounded by fine woods, oaks, elms, beeches, maples, and evergreens, the aromatic piny odors of wh. last are very delightful. I ramble through the shady alleys carpeted with pine needles daily after breakfast, for my constitutional – accompanied often by the watch-dog, a terrier – and not averse to his escort either, for the woods are lonely, and sudden suggestions of possible tramps, or, what would be quite as unnerving to me, herds of “horned beasts” at pasture, are for the moment very discomfiting to my equanimity.

The house itself is very extensive, built of stone, with large halls & rooms; each chamber has its dressing room, and its own bath tub with hot & cold water in a tile-lined closet &c. It is a most commodious house and sumptuously appointed. Superb toilette sets of Japan[ese] & high colored Chinese porcelains; crowds of curios, jades, bronzes, rare china, cloisonnée enamels; elaborately carved ebony & teak chairs & tables & wardrobes; the great hall is panelled with bamboo carved into delicate lace work upon which are thrown delicate bronze vines & grasses &c., struggling over the lace. The dining room is sumptuously got up in Moorish style & painted after the Alhambra, around the arches, columns, mouldings &c, in blue, white, red, and gold.

The place is quite a museum to me, as I wander round taking note of all its rare things. We had early in the week bountiful rains for three days, wh. began Monday and cleared off in time on Thursday for us to take a pleasant drive, under a still threatening sky. The country looks very fresh & green now.

Sallie Gray is decidedly better – but still very feeble. She has no appetite and swallows every mouthful of food with reluctant effort; but she has little severe pain now and that is a great gain; and her surgical boot enables her to walk with much more comfort. They bear up bravely under the “Pearl Patent” disappointment[4] – but have advertised their fine house in town[5] for sale, and no doubt will try to rearrange their home & life to more economical issues. W.G.[6] himself looks well & appears cheerful. He is a sanguine man, of firm will and resolute fortitude; and has a family of invalid women dependent on him, to whom, a few years ago, he could and did afford every luxury & advantage & indulgence wh. money could bestow. It is going to be sad change for them all. God help them!

The hall here has for a centre piece Richard Greenough’s[7] statue of Elaine – a graceful figure, very girlish, with sweet, pure face, and a dreamy look in the pensive smile and eye that renders quite charmingly, I think the passage in Tennyson’s Idylls[8] wh. seems to be the motif of the Statue –

And thus they moved away: she stayed a minute

Then made a sudden step to the gate, and there –

Her bright hair blown about the serious face

Yet rosy – kindled with her brother’s kiss ─

Paused in the gateway, standing by the Shield

In silence, while she watched their arms far off

Sparkle, until they dipt below the downs.

The knit Cardigan-jacket with low neck & short sleeves, which clings so prettily to her young figure is, I suppose, a manifest anachronism! but quite a marvel of technical dexterity, and the effect of it is certainly pleasing. Richard had to invent for himself the instruments necessary to give this effect of ribbed knitting, and the imitation is wonderfully good – but is that kind of imitation high art?!

I am reading here with pleasure Henry James’ “Essay on Hawthorne.”[9] It is well written and very readable. I have skimmed [the new novel] “Democracy”[10] – poor trash – and disheartening enough if it gives, as on dit, a true picture of social and political life in Washington – corrupt & self-seeking to the core!

Continued here.


[1] Dr. Francis Henry Gray (1813–1880) married Hedwiga Regina Shober in 1844. Entry from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] The diarist’s sister-in-law, Sarah Frances Loring (1811–1892), who married William Gray in 1834.

[3] Sallie Gray’s youngest sister, Isanna Elizabeth Loring (1814–1900).

[4] A company with which William Gray was associated had failed.

[5] At 22 Mount Vernon Street, around the corner from Mrs. Gray’s household on Bowdoin Street and Beacon Hill Place.

[6] Mrs. Gray’s brother-in-law, William Gray (1810–1892).

[7] The American sculptor Richard Saltonstall Greenough (1819–1904); his wife was Sallie Gray’s niece.

[8] Idylls of the King, a series of narrative poems published between 1859 and 1885 by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809–1892).

[9] Hawthorne (1879) by Henry James (1843–1916).

[10] Published anonymously in 1880, Democracy was later revealed as the work of Henry Adams (1838–1918).

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward