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The Recovery
by [?]

To the visiting stranger Hillbridge’s first question was, “Have you seen Keniston’s things?” Keniston took precedence of the colonial State House, the Gilbert Stuart Washington and the Ethnological Museum; nay, he ran neck and neck with the President of the University, a prehistoric relic who had known Emerson, and who was still sent about the country in cotton-wool to open educational institutions with a toothless oration on Brook Farm.

Keniston was sent about the country too: he opened art exhibitions, laid the foundation of academies, and acted in a general sense as the spokesman and apologist of art. Hillbridge was proud of him in his peripatetic character, but his fellow-townsmen let it be understood that to “know” Keniston one must come to Hillbridge. Never was work more dependent for its effect on “atmosphere,” on milieu. Hillbridge was Keniston’s milieu, and there was one lady, a devotee of his art, who went so far as to assert that once, at an exhibition in New York, she had passed a Keniston without recognizing it. “It simply didn’t want to be seen in such surroundings; it was hiding itself under an incognito,” she declared.

It was a source of special pride to Hillbridge that it contained all the artist’s best works. Strangers were told that Hillbridge had discovered him. The discovery had come about in the simplest manner. Professor Driffert, who had a reputation for “collecting,” had one day hung a sketch on his drawing-room wall, and thereafter Mrs. Driffert’s visitors (always a little flurried by the sense that it was the kind of house in which one might be suddenly called upon to distinguish between a dry-point and an etching, or between Raphael Mengs and Raphael Sanzio) were not infrequently subjected to the Professor’s off-hand inquiry, “By-the-way, have you seen my Keniston?” The visitors, perceptibly awed, would retreat to a critical distance and murmur the usual guarded generalities, while they tried to keep the name in mind long enough to look it up in the Encyclopaedia. The name was not in the Encyclopaedia; but, as a compensating fact, it became known that the man himself was in Hillbridge. Hillbridge, then, owned an artist whose celebrity it was the proper thing to take for granted! Some one else, emboldened by the thought, bought a Keniston; and the next year, on the occasion of the President’s golden jubilee, the Faculty, by unanimous consent, presented him with a Keniston. Two years later there was a Keniston exhibition, to which the art-critics came from New York and Boston; and not long afterward a well-known Chicago collector vainly attempted to buy Professor Driffert’s sketch, which the art journals cited as a rare example of the painter’s first or silvery manner. Thus there gradually grew up a small circle of connoisseurs known in artistic, circles as men who collected Kenistons.

Professor Wildmarsh, of the chair of Fine Arts and Archaeology, was the first critic to publish a detailed analysis of the master’s methods and purpose. The article was illustrated by engravings which (though they had cost the magazine a fortune) were declared by Professor Wildmarsh to give but an imperfect suggestion of the esoteric significance of the originals. The Professor, with a tact that contrived to make each reader feel himself included among the exceptions, went on to say that Keniston’s work would never appeal to any but exceptional natures; and he closed with the usual assertion that to apprehend the full meaning of the master’s “message” it was necessary to see him in the surroundings of his own home at Hillbridge.

Professor Wildmarsh’s article was read one spring afternoon by a young lady just speeding eastward on her first visit to Hillbridge, and already flushed with anticipation of the intellectual opportunities awaiting her. In East Onondaigua, where she lived, Hillbridge was looked on as an Oxford. Magazine writers, with the easy American use of the superlative, designated it as “the venerable Alma Mater,” the “antique seat of learning,” and Claudia Day had been brought up to regard it as the fountain-head of knowledge, and of that mental distinction which is so much rarer than knowledge. An innate passion for all that was thus distinguished and exceptional made her revere Hillbridge as the native soil of those intellectual amenities that were of such difficult growth in the thin air of East Onondaigua. At the first suggestion of a visit to Hillbridge–whither she went at the invitation of a girl friend who (incredible apotheosis!) had married one of the University professors–Claudia’s spirit dilated with the sense of new possibilities. The vision of herself walking under the “historic elms” toward the Memorial Library, standing rapt before the Stuart Washington, or drinking in, from some obscure corner of an academic drawing-room, the President’s reminiscences of the Concord group–this vividness of self-projection into the emotions awaiting her made her glad of any delay that prolonged so exquisite a moment.