"Gentlemen and my very kind friends:- I feel not only honored but deeply moved by the letter you have been good enough to write me. During my long service in the University, my relations with the students were always agreeable, not seldom fruitful, to me, and in some good measure, I trust, to my pupils also. But in my experience as a teacher nothing ever gave me such pleasure as your friendly words. The proverb tells us that "he who plants pears, plants for his heirs." I seem to myself (and it is no small gratification to an old man) to be tasting fruit from a tree of my own setting as I read what you say to me. I shall treasure your letter with its long list of signatures as the most precious collection of autographs I could leave to my descendants. No doubt many of the names will one day have the same price in the eyes of the world as now in mine-but they can never suffuse them so pleasantly. I look at this document as a kind of acquaintance from my past.
But I must take leave to regard it as a nune dimittis too.
It is very hard to say no to such an appeal, and it costs me a struggle to say it. I can scarce find in my vocabulary a negative soft enough and hesitating enough for the occasion. Were I living in Cambridge I should search in vain for any such. But so far away as I am, at my age too (who am on the edge of my seventieth year) and with the many duties that just now demand my instant and exclusive attention-for it is high time I should be putting my house in order-I feel that I am warranted in denying a petition which, under other circumstances, I should receive as a command, and in declining a duty to which, at best I could give but half of even what strength is left me.
Begging you to accept my hearty thanks, since I can give no more, I remain very sincerely, your friend and fellow-student, James Russell Lowell. DEERFOOT FARM, Jan. 7th, 1888.