Reminiscences of Julia Ward Howe: V. Boston in the Fifties; Movements and Public Men
In the winter of 1846—47 I one day heard Dr. Holmes speak of Agassiz, who had then recently arrived in America. He described him as a man of great talent and reputation, who added to his mental gifts the endowment of a superb physique. Soon after this time I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the eminent naturalist, and of hearing the first series of lectures which he gave at the Lowell Institute.
The remarkable personal attraction of Agassiz, joined to bis admirable power of presenting the results of scientific investigation in a popular form, made a vivid impression upon the Boston public. All his lecture courses were largely attended. These and his continued presence among us gave a new impetus to the study of natural science. In his hands the record of the bones and fossils became a living language, and the common thought was enriched by the revelation of the wonders of the visible universe. Agassiz’s was an expansive nature, and his great delight lay in imparting to others the discoveries in which he had found such intense pleasure. This sympathetic trait relieved bis discourse of all dryness and dullness. In his college days, he had employed his hour of intermission at noon in explaining the laws of botany to a class of little children. When required to furnish a thesis, at the close of his university course, he chose for his theme the proper education of women, and insisted that it ought not to be inferior to that given to men.
I need hardly relate how a most happy marriage in later life made him one of us, nor how this opened the way to the establishment in his house of a school, whose girl pupils, in addition to other valuable instruction, enjoyed daily the privilege of listening to his clear and lucid exposition of the facts and laws of his favorite science.
His memory is still bright with us. His children and grandchildren are among pur most valued citizens. His son. Professor Alexander Agassiz, inherits his father’s devotion to science, while his daughter, Mrs. Quincy Shaw, has shown her public spirit in her great services to the cause of education. An enduring monument to his fame is the Cambridge Museum of Comparative Zoölogy, while many, myself among the number, still survive who recall with gratitude the enlargement of intellectual interest which he brought to our own and other communities. Women who wish well to their own sex should never forget that, on the occasion of his first lectures delivered in the capital of Brazil, he earnestly requested the Emperor that ladies might be allowed to be present, — a privilege till then denied them on grounds of etiquette. The request was granted, and for the first time the sacred domain of science was thrown open to the women of South America.
I cannot remember just when it was that an English visitor, who brought a letter of introduction to my husband, spoke to me of the Bothie of Tober-naFuosich and its author. The gentleman was a graduate of Oxford or of Cambridge. He came to our house several times, and I consulted him with regard to the classic rhythms, in which he was well versed. I had it in mind at this time to write a poem in rhythm. It was printed in my first volume, Passion Flowers ; and Mr. Sanborn, in an otherwise very friendly review of my work, characterized as “ pitiable hexameters ” the lines which were really not hexameters at all, nor intended to pass for such. They were pentameters constructed according to my own ideas ; I did not have in view any special school or rule.
I soon had the pleasure of reading the Bothie, which I greatly admired. While it was fresh in ray mind Mr. Clough arrived in Boston, furnished with excellent letters of introduction both for that city and for Cambridge. My husband at once invited him to pass some days at our house, and I was very glad to welcome him there. In appearance, I thought him rather striking. He was tall, tending somewhat to stoutness, with a beautifully ruddy complexion and dark eyes which twinkled with suppressed humor. His sweet, cheery manner attracted my young children to him, and I was amused, on passing near the open door of his room, to see him engaged in conversation with my little son, then some five or six years of age. In Dr. Howe’s daily absences I tried at times to keep our guest company, but found him very shy. I remember that I said to him, when we had made some acquaintance, that I had often wished to meet Thackeray, and to give him two buffets, saying, " This one is for your Becky Sharp, and this one for Blanche Amory,”— regarding both as slanders upon my sex. Mr. Clough suggested that in the great world of London such characters were not out of place. The device of Blanche Amory’s book, Mes Larmes, seemed to have afforded him much amusement.
It happened that, while he was our guest, I dined one day with a German friend, who provided for us quite a wonderful repast. The feast had been a merry one, and at the dessert two such sumptuous dishes were presented to us that I, having tasted of one of them, said to a friend across the table, “ Anna, this is poetry ! ” She was occupied with the opposite dish, and, mindful of the old pleasantry to which I alluded, replied. “ Julia, this is religion.” At breakfast, the following morning, I endeavored to entertain those present with some account of the fine dinner. As I enlarged a little upon the excellence of the details, Mr. Clough said, “ Mrs. Howe, you seem to have much appreciation of these matters.” I disclaimed this; whereupon he rejoined, “ Mrs. Howe, you are modest.”
Some months later I met Mr. Clough at a friend’s house, where some informal charades were about to be attempted. Being requested to take part in one. I declined; and when urged. I replied, “No, no, I am modest. — Mr. Clough once said so.” He looked at me in some pretended surprise, and said. “ It must have been at a very early period in our acquaintance.” This “ give and take” was all in great good humor, and Mr. Clough was a delightful guest in all societies. Sorry indeed were we when, having become quite at home among us, he returned to England, there to marry and abide. I remember that he told me of one winter which he had passed at his university without fire in his quarters. When I heard of his illness and untimely death, it occurred to me that the seeds of the fatal disease might have been sown during that season of privation.
After a seven years’ residence in and near Boston, during which I labored at study and literary composition, I enjoyed an interval of rest and recreation in Europe. With me went Dr. Howe and our two youngest children, one of them an infant in arms. We passed some weeks in London, and thence we went to renew our acquaintance with the Nightingale family, at their summer residence in Derbyshire. Florence Nightingale had been traveling in Egypt, and was still abroad. Her sister, Parthenope, read us some of her letters, which, as may be imagined, were full of interest. Florence and her companions, Mr. and Mrs. Bracebridge, had made some stay in Rome, on their way to Egypt. Margaret Fuller called one day at their lodgings. Florence herself opened the door, and said to the visitor, “ Mr. and Mrs. Bracebridge are not at home.” Margaret replied. “ My visit is intended for Miss Florence Nightingale ; ” and she was admitted to a tête-à-tête of which one would be glad to know something. It was during this visit that I learned the sad news of Margaret’s death.
Dr. Howe, with all his energy of body and mind, was something of a valetudinarian. The traces of a severe malarial fever, contracted in the Greek campaign of his youth, went with him through life. He was subject to frightful headaches, and these and other ailments caused him to take great interest in theories of hygiene, and especially in the then new system of hydropathy, as formulated by Priessnitz. At the time spoken of he arranged to pass a week or two at Boppard on the Rhine, where a water cure had recently been established. He became an outside patient of this institution, and seemed to enjoy thoroughly the routine of bathing, douching, packing, etc. Beyond the limits of the water cure the little town presented few features of interest. Wandering about its purlieus one day, I came upon a sort of open cave or recess in the rocks, in which I found two rude cradles, each occupied by a silent and stolid baby. Presently, two rough-looking women, who had been carrying stones from the riverside, came in from their work. The little ones now broke out into dismal wailing. “ Why do they cry so? ” I asked, “ They ought to be glad to see you.” “ Oh, madam, they cry because they know how soon we must leave them again.” Of the water-cure theory Tom Appleton disposed in the following fashion : “ Water cure ? Oh yes, very fine. Priessnitz forgot one day to wash his face, and so he died.”
My husband’s leave of absence was for only six months, and we parted company at Heidelberg : he to turn his face homeward ; I to proceed with my two sisters to Rome, where it had been arranged that I should pass the winter. Our party occupied two thirds of the diligence in which we made a part of the journey. My sister Louisa had with her two little daughters, my youngest sister had one. These, with my two babies and the respective nurses, filled the rotonde of the vehicle. The three mammas occupied the coupé, while my brother-in-law, Thomas Crawford, took refuge in the banquette. The customhouse officer at one place approached with his lantern, to ascertain the contents of the diligence. Looking into the rotonde, he remarked, “ Baby baggage,”and inquired no further.
We reached Rome late in October. A comfortable apartment was found for me in the street named Capo le Case. A donkey brought my winter’s supply of firewood, and I made haste to hire a grand piano. Edward Freeman, the artist, occupied the suite of rooms above my own. In the apartment below, Mrs. David Dudley Field and her children were settled for the winter. Our little colony was very harmonious. When Mrs. Field entertained company, she was wont to borrow my large lamp ; when I received, she lent me her teacups. Mrs. Freeman was a most friendly little person, partly Italian by birth, but wholly English in education. She willingly became the companion and guide of my walks about Rome, which were long and many.
I had begun the study of Hebrew in America, and was glad to find a learned rabbi from the Ghetto who was willing to give me lessons for a moderate compensation.
My sister, Mrs. Crawford, was at that time established at Villa Negroni, an old-time papal residence. This was surrounded by extensive gardens, and within the inclosure were an artificial fish pond, and a lodge which my brother-inlaw converted into a studio. My days in Rome passed very quietly. The time, which flew by rapidly, was divided between study within doors, the care and companionship of my little children, and the exploration of the wonderful old city. I dined regularly at two o’clock, having with me at table my son and my baby secured in her high chair. I shared with my sisters the few dissipations of the season, — an occasional ball, a box at the opera, a drive on the Campagna. On Sunday mornings my youngest sister usually came to breakfast with me, and afterward accompanied me to the Ara Cœli Church, where a military mass was celebrated, the music being supplied by the band of a French regiment. The time, I need scarcely say, was that of the early years of the French occupation of the city, to which France made it her boast that she had brought back the Pope.
As I chronicle these small personal adventures of mine, I am constrained to blush at their insufficiency. I write as if I had forgotten the wonderful series of events which had come to pass between my first visit to Rome and this second tarrying within its walls. In the interval, the days of 1848 had come and gone. France had dismissed her citizen king, and had established a republic in place of the monarchy. The Pope of Rome, for centuries the representative and upholder of absolute rule, had stood before the world as the head of the Christianity which liberalizes both institutions and ideas. In Germany the party of progress was triumphant. Europe had trembled with the birth-pangs of freedom. A new and glorious confederacy of states seemed to be promised in the near future. The tyrannies of the earth were surely about to meet their doom.
My own dear eldest son was given to me in the spring of this terrible and splendid year of 1848. When his father wrote “ Dieu donné ” under the boy’s name in the family Bible, he added to the welcome record the new device, ” Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” The first Napoleon had overthrown rulers and dynasties. A greater power than his now came upon the stage, — the power of individual conviction, backed by popular enthusiasm.
My husband, who had fought for Greek freedom in his youth, who had risked and suffered imprisonment in behalf of Poland in his early manhood, and who had devoted his mature life to the service of humanity, welcomed the new state of things with all the earnestness of his generous nature. To him, as to many, the final emancipation and unification of the human race, the millennium of universal peace and good will, seemed near at hand. Alas ! the great promise brought only a greater failure. The time for its fulfillment had not yet arrived. Freedom could not be attained by striking an attitude, nor secured by the issuing of a document. The prophet could see the plan of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, but the fact remained that the city of God must be built by patient day’s work. Such builders Europe could not bring to the front. The Pope retreated before the logical sequence of his own initiative. France elected for her chief a born despot of the meaner order, whose first act was to overthrow the Roman Republic. Germany had dreamed of freedom, but had not dreamed of the way to secure it. Reaction everywhere asserted itself, and the light of the great hope died down.
Coming to Rome while these events were still fresh in men’s minds, I could see no trace of them in the popular life. The waters were as still as death ; the wrecks did not appear above the surface. I met occasionally Italians who could talk calmly about what had happened. Of such an one I asked, “ Why did Pio Nono so suddenly forsake his liberal policy ? ” “ Oh, the Pope was a puppet, moved from without. He never rightly understood the import of his first departure. When the natural result of this came about, he fled from it in terror.” These things were spoken of only in the secrecy of very private interviews. In general intercourse they were not mentioned. Now and then, a servant, lamenting the dearness of necessaries, the paper money, etc., would say, “ And this has been brought about by blessed [benedetto] Pio Nono ! ” People of higher condition eulogized thus the pontiff’s predecessor: “ Gregorio was at least a man of decided views. He knew what he wanted, and how to obtain it.” Once only, in a village not far distant from Rome, I heard an Italian peasant woman say to a prince, “We [her family] are Republicans.” Victor Emmanuel, Cavour, Garibaldi, your time was not yet come.
The French were not beloved in Rome. I was told that the mass of the people would not endure the license of their conquerors in the matter of sex, and that assassinations in consequence were common. In high society it was said that a French officer had endeavored to compel one of the Roman princes to invite to his ball a lady of doubtful reputation, by threatening to send a challenge in case of refusal. The invitation was nevertheless withheld, and the challenge, if sent, was not accepted. In the English and American circles which I frequented, I sometimes felt called upon to fight for the claim of Italy to freedom and self-government. At a dinner party, at which the altercation had been rather lively, I was invited to entertain the company with some music. Seating myself at the piano, I made it ring out the Marseillaise with a will. But I was myself too much disconcerted by the recent failure to find in my thoughts any promise of better things. My friends said, “ The Italians are not fit for self-government.” I may ask, fifty years later, “ Who is ? ”
The progress of ideas is not, indeed, always visible to superficial observers. I was engaged one day in making a small purchase at a shop, when the proprietor leaned across the counter and asked, almost in a whisper, for the loan of a Bible. He had heard of the book, he said, and wished very much to see a copy of it. Our chargé d’affaires, Mr. Cass, mentioned to me the fact that an entire edition of Deodati’s Italian translation of the New Testament had recently been seized and burned by order of the papal government.
But to return to matters purely per sonal. As the Christmas of 1850 drew near, my sister Louisa, ever intent on hospitality, determined to have a party and a Christmas tree at Villa Negroni. The tree was then a novelty unheard of in Rome. I was to dine with her, and had offered to furnish the music for an informal dance.
On Christmas Eve I went with a party of friends to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, where the Pope, according to the custom of those days, was to appear in state, bearing in his arms the cradle supposed to be that of the infant Jesus, which was usually kept at St. Peter’s. We were a little late in starting, and were soon obliged to retire from the highway, as the whole papal cortége came sweeping by, — the state coaches of crimson and gold, and the Guardia Nobile with their glittering helmets, white cloaks, and high boots. Their course was illuminated by pans of burning oil, supported by iron staves, the spiked ends of which were stuck in the ground. When the rapid procession had passed on we hastened to overtake it, but arrived too late to witness either the arrival of the Pope or his progress to the high altar with the cradle in his arms.
On Christmas Day I attended high mass at St. Peter’s. Although the weather was of the pleasantest, an aguish chill disturbed my enjoyment of the service. This discomfort so increased in the course of the day that, as I sat at dinner, I could with difficulty carry a morsel from my plate to my lips.
“ This is a chill,” said my sister. “ You ought to go to bed at once.”
I insisted upon remaining to play for the promised dance, and argued that the fever would presently succeed the chill, and that I should then be warm enough. I passed the evening in great bodily discomfort, but managed to play quadrilles, waltzes, and the endless Virginia reel. When at last I reached home and my bed, the fever did come with a will. I was fortunate enough to recover very quickly from this indisposition, and did not forget the warning which it gave me of the dangers of the Roman climate.
The shivering evening left me a happier recollection. Among my sister’s guests was Horace Binney Wallace, of Philadelphia, whom I had once met in his own city. He had angered me at that time by his ridicule of Boston society, of which he really knew little or nothing. He was now in a better frame of mind, and this second meeting with him was the beginning of a much-valued friendship. We visited together many points of historic interest in the city, — the Pantheon, the Tarpeian Rock, the bridge of Horatius Cocles. He had some fanciful theories about the traits of character usually found in conjunction with red hair. As he and I were both distinguished by this feature, I was much pleased to hear from him that “ the highest effort of nature is to produce a rosso.” He was a devoted student of the works of Auguste Comte, and had recently held some conversation with that remarkable man. In the course of this, he told me, he asked the great Positivist how he could account for the general religious instinct of the human race, so contrary to the doctrines of his philosophy. Comte replied, “ Que voulezvous, monsieur ? Anormalité cérébrale.”My new friend was good enough to interest himself in my literary pursuits. He advised me to study the most important of Comte’s works, but by no means to become a convert to his doctrines. In due time I availed myself of his counsel, and read with great interest the volumes prescribed by him. Horace Wallace was an exhilarating companion. I have never forgotten the silvery timbre of his rather high voice, nor the glee with which he would sometimes inform me that he had discovered a new and most remarkable rosso. This was sometimes a picture, but oftener a living individual. If he found himself disappointed in the latter case, he would account for it by saying that he had at first sight mistaken the color of the hair, which shaded too much upon the yellow. Despite his vivacity of temperament, he was subject to fits of severe depression. Some years after thi time, finding himself in Paris, he happened to visit a friend whose mental powers had been impaired by serious illness. He himself had been haunted for some time by the dread of becoming insane, and the sad condition of his friend so impressed him with the fear of suffering a similar disaster that he made haste to avoid that fate by taking his own life.
The husband of my youngest sister, Adolph Mailliard, had been an intimate friend of Joseph Bonaparte, Prince of Musignano. My sister was in consequence invited more than once to the Bonaparte palace. The father of the family was Prince Charles Bonaparte, who married his cousin, Princess Zénaïde. She had passed some years at the Bonaparte villa in Bordentown, New Jersey, the American residence of her father, Joseph Bonaparte, ex-king of Spain. This princess, who was tant soit peu gourmande, said one day to my sister, “ What good things they have for breakfast in America ! I still remember those hot cakes.” The conversation was reported to me, and I managed, with the assistance of the helper brought from home, to send the princess a very excellent bannock of Indian meal, of which she afterward said, “ It was so good that we ate what was left of it on the second day.”
Among the friends of that winter were Sarah and William Clarke, sister and brother of the Rev. James Freeman Clarke. It was in their company that Margaret Fuller made the journey recorded in her Summer on the Lakes. Both were devoted to her memory. I afterward learned that William Clarke considered her the good genius of his life, her counsel and encouragement having come to his aid in a season of melancholy depression and self-depreciation. Miss Clarke was characterized by an exquisite refinement of feeling and of manner. She was also an artist of considerable merit. This was the first of many winters passed by her in Rome.
I will further mention only a dinner given by American residents in Rome on Washington’s birthday, at which I was present. Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, the well-known writer, was also one of the guests. She had composed for the occasion a poem, of which I recall the opening line,—
and the closing ones, —
“ To the halo that circles our Washington’s head
Let us pour a libation the gods never knew.”
Among many toasts, my sister Annie proposed this one, “Washington’s clay in Crawford’s hand,” which was appropriate, as Thomas Crawford was known at the time to be engaged in modeling the equestrian statue of Washington which crowns his Richmond monument.
My Roman holiday came to an end in the summer of the year 1851, and my return to home and friends became imperative. As the time of departure approached, I felt how deeply the subtle fascination of Roman life had entered into my very being. Pain, amounting almost to anguish, seized me at the thought that I might never again behold those ancient monuments, those stately churches, or take part in the society which had charmed me principally through its unlikeness to any that I had known elsewhere. I have indeed seen Rome and its wonders more than once since that time, but never as I saw them then.
I made the homeward voyage with my sister Annie and her husband in an old-fashioned Havre packet. We were a month at sea, and after the first days of discomfort I managed to fill the hours of the long summer days with systematic occupation. In the morning I perused Swedenborg’s Divine Love and Wisdom. In the afternoon I read, for the first and only time, Eugène Sue’s Mystères de Paris, which the ship’s surgeon borrowed for me from a steerage passenger. In the evening we played whist; and when others had retired for the night, I often sat alone in the cabin, meditating upon the events and lessons of the last six months. These lucubrations took form in a number of poems, which were written with no thought of publication, but which saw the light a year or two later.
Returning to Boston, I found the division of public sentiment more strongly marked than ever. The Fugitive Slave Law was much in the public mind. The anti-slavery people attacked it with might and main, while the class of wealthy conservatives and their followers strongly deprecated all opposition to its enactments. During my absence Charles Sumner had been elected to the Senate of the United States, in place of Daniel Webster, who had hitherto been the political idol of the Massachusetts aristocracy. Mr. Sumner’s course had warmly commended him to a large and ever increasing constituency, but had brought down upon him the anger of Mr. Webster’s political supporters. My husband’s sympathies were entirely with the class then derided as “a band of disturbers of the public peace, enemies of law and order.” I deeply regretted the discords of the time, and would have had all people good friends, however diverse in political persuasion. As this could not be, I felt constrained to cast in my lot with those who protested against the new assumptions of the slave power. The social ostracism which visited Mr. Sumner never fell upon Dr. Howe. This may have been because the active life of the latter lay without the domain of politics, but also, I must think, because the services which he continually rendered to the community compelled from all who knew him respect and cordial good will.
I did not then, nor at any time, make any willful breach with the society to which I was naturally related. It did, however, much annoy me to hear those spoken of with contempt and invective who, I was persuaded, were only far in advance of the conscience of the time. I suppose I sometimes repelled the attacks made upon them with a certain heat of temper, to avoid which I ought to have remembered Talleyrand’s famous admonition, “ Surtout point de zèle.” Better, perhaps, would it have been to rest in the happy prophecy which assures us that “ Wisdom is justified of all her children.” Ordinary society is apt to class the varieties of individuals under certain stereotyped heads, and I have no doubt that it held me at this time to be a seeker after novelties, and one disposed to offer a premium for heresies of every kind. Yet I must say that I was never made painfully aware of the existence of such a feeling. There was always a leaven of good sense and good sentiment even in the worldly world of Boston, and as time went on I became the recipient of much kindness, and the happy possessor of a circle of substantial friends.
When I came back from Europe, in 1851, my husband spoke to me about a new acquaintance, — a Polish nobleman, Adam Gurowski by name, —concerning whom he related the following circumstances. Count Gurowski had been implicated in one of the later Polish insurrections. In order to keep his large estates from confiscation he had made them over to his younger brother, upon the explicit condition that a remittance should be regularly sent him, sufficient to enable him to live wherever his lot should thenceforth be cast. He came to this country, but the remittance failed to follow him, and he presently found himself without funds in a foreign land. Being a man of much erudition, he had made friends with some of the professors of Harvard University. They offered him assistance, but he declined it, and applied for work at the gardens of Hovey & Co., in or near Cambridge. His new friends remonstrated with him, pleading that this work was unsuitable for a man of his rank and condition. He replied, “ I am Gurowski; labor cannot degrade me.” This independence of his position commended him much to the esteem of my husband, and he was more than once invited to our house. He obtained some literary employment, and finally, through influence exerted at Washington, a position as translator was secured for him in the State Department. He was at Newport during a summer that we passed at the Cliff House, and he it was who gave to this the title of Hotel Rambouillet. His proved to be a character of remarkable contradictions, in which really noble and generous impulses contrasted with an undisciplined temper and an insatiable curiosity. While inveighing constantly against the rudeness of American manners, he himself was often guilty of great impoliteness. To give an example : At his boarding-house in Newport a child at table gave a little trouble, upon which the count animadverted with much severity. The mother, waxing impatient, said. “ I think, count, that you have no right to say so much about table manners ; for yesterday you broke the crust of the chicken pie with your fist, and pulled the meat out with your fingers.”
His curiosity, as I have said, was unbounded. Meeting a lady of his acquaintance at her door, and seeing a basket on her arm, he asked, “ Where are you going, Mrs.-, so early, with that basket ? ” She declined to answer the question, on the ground that the questioner had no concern in her errand. On the evening of the same day he again met the lady, and said to her, “I know now where you were going this morning with that basket.” If friends on whom he called were said to be engaged or not at home, he was at great pains to find out how they were engaged, or whether they were really at home in spite of the message to the contrary. One gentleman in Newport, not desiring to receive the count’s visit, and knowing that he would not be safe anywhere in his own house, took refuge in the loft of his barn and drew the ladder up after him.
And yet Adam Gurowski was a truehearted man, loyal to every good cause and devoted to his few friends. His life continued to the last to be a very checkered one. When the civil war broke out, his disapprobation of men and measures took expression in vehement and indignant protest against what appeared to him a willful mismanagement of public business. William H. Seward was then at the head of the Department of State, and against his policy the count fulminated in public and in private. He was warned by friends, and at last officially told that he could not be retained in the department if he persisted in stigmatizing its chief as a fool, a timeserver, no matter what. He persevered, and was dismissed from his place. He had been on friendly terms with Charles Sumner, to whom he probably owed his appointment. He tormented this gentleman to such a degree as to end all relations between the two. Of this breach Mr. Sumner gave the following description : “ The count would come to my rooms at all hours. When I left my sleeping-chamber in the morning, I often found him in my study, seated at my table, reading my morning paper and probably any other matter which might excite his curiosity. If he happened to come in while a foreign minister was visiting me, he would stay through the visit. I bore with this for a long time. At last the annoyance became insupportable. One evening, after a long sitting in my room, he took leave, but presently returned for a fresh séance, although it was already very late. I said to him, ‘ Count, you must go now, and you must never return.' 'How is this, my dear friend?’ exclaimed the count. 'There is no explanation,’ said I; 'only you must not come to my room again.’ This terminated the acquaintance.” After this the count spoke very bitterly of Mr. Sumner, whose procedure did seem to me a little severe. The lesson was quite lost upon Gurowski, and he continued to make enemies of those with whom he had to do, until nearly every door in Washington was closed to him. There was one exception. Mrs. Charles Eames, wife of a well-known lawyer, was one of the notabilities of Washington. Hers was one of those central characters which are able to attract and harmonize the most diverse social elements. Her house had long been a resort of the worthies of the capital. Men of mark and of intelligence gathered about her, regardless of party divisions. No one understood Washington society better than she did, and no one in it was more highly esteemed or less liable to be misrepresented. Mrs. Eames well knew how provoking and tormenting Count Gurowski was apt to be, but she knew, too, the remarkable qualities which went far to redeem his troublesome traits of character. And so, when the count seemed to be entirely discredited, she stood up for him, warning her friends that if they came to her house they would always be likely to meet this unacceptable man. He, on his part, was warmly sensible of the value of her friendship, and showed his gratitude by a sincere interest in all that concerned her. The courageous position which she had assumed in his behalf was not without effect upon the society of the place, and people in general felt obliged to show some respect to a person whom Mrs. Eames honored with her friendship.
I myself have reason to remember with gratitude Mrs. Eames’s hospitality. I made more than one visit at her house, and I well recall the distinguished company that I met there. The house was simple in its appointments, for the hosts were not in affluent circumstances, but its atmosphere of cordiality and of good sense was delightful. I remember meeting at one of her parties Hon. Salmon P. Chase, afterward Chief Justice of the United States, Secretary Welles of the Navy, and Senator Grimes of Iowa. I had seen that morning a life-size painting representing President Lincoln surrounded by the members of his Cabinet. Mr; Chase, I believe, asked what I thought of the picture. I replied that I thought Mr. Lincoln’s attitude rather awkward, and his legs out of proportion in their length. Mr. Chase laughed, and said, “ Mr. Lincoln’s legs are so long that it would be difficult to exaggerate them.”
I came to Washington soon after the conclusion of the war, and heard that Count Gurowski was seriously ill at the home of his friend. I hastened thither to inquire about him, and learned that his life was almost despaired of. Mr. Eames told me this, and said that his wife and a lady friend of hers were incessant in their care of him. He promised that I should see him as soon as a change for the better should appear. Instead of this I received one day a message from Mrs. Eames, saying that the count was now given up by his physician, and that I might come, if I wished to see him alive once more. I went to the house at once, and found Mrs. Eames and her friend at the bedside of the dying man. He was already unconscious, and soon breathed his last. At Mr. Eames’s request, I now gave up my room at the hotel and came to stay with Mrs. Eames, who was prostrated with the fatigue of nursing the sick man and with grief for his loss. While I sat and talked with her Mr. Eames entered the room, and said, “Mrs. Howe, my wife has always had a menagerie here in Washington, and now she has lost her faithful old grizzly.”
I was intrusted with some of the arrangements for the funeral. Mrs. Eames said to me that, as the count had been a man of no religious belief, she thought it would be best to invite a Unitarian minister to officiate at his funeral. I accordingly secured the services of the Rev. John Pierpont, who happened to be in Washington at the time. Charles Sumner came to the house before the funeral, and actually shed tears as he looked on the face of his former friend. He remarked upon the beauty of the countenance, saying in his rather oratorical way, “ There is a beauty of life, and there is a beauty of death.” The count’s good looks had been spoiled in early life by the loss of one eye, which had been destroyed, it was said, in a duel. After death this blemish did not appear, and the distinction of the countenance was remarkable.
Among his few effects was a printed volume containing the genealogy of his family, which had thrice intermarried with royal houses, once in the family of Maria Lesczinska, wife of Louis XV. of France. Within this book he had inclosed one or two cast-off trifles belonging to Mrs. Eames, with a few words of deep and grateful affection. So ended this troublous life. The Russian minister at Washington called upon Mrs. Eames soon after the funeral, and spoke with respect of the count, who, he said, could have had a brilliant career in Russia, had it not been for his quarrelsome disposition. Despite his skepticism, and in all his poverty, he caused a mass to be said every year for the soul of his mother, who had been a devout Catholic. To the brother whose want of faith added the distresses of poverty to the woes of exile Gurowski once addressed a letter in the following form : “ To John Gurowski, the greatest scoundrel in Europe,” A younger brother of his, a man of great beauty of person, enticed one of the infantas of Spain from the school or convent in which she was pursuing her education. This adventure made much noise at the time. Mrs. Eames once read me part of a letter from this lady, in which she spoke of “ the fatal Gurowski beauty.”
It was in the early years of this decade (1850-60) that I definitively came before the world as an author. My first volume of poems, entitled Passion Flowers, was published by Ticknor and Fields, without my name. In the choice and arrangement of the poems James T. Fields had been very helpful to me. My lack of experience had led me to suppose that my incognito might easily be maintained, but in this my expectations were disappointed. The authorship of the book was at once traced to me. It was much praised, much blamed, and much called in question. From the highest literary authorities of the time it received encouraging commendation. Mr. Emerson acknowledged the copy sent him, in a very kind letter. Mr. Whittier did likewise. He wrote, “ I dare say thy volume has faults enough.” For all this, he spoke warmly of its merits. Prescott, the beloved historian, made me happy with his good opinion. George Ripley in the New York Tribune, Edwin Whipple and Frank Sanborn in Boston, reviewed the volume in a very genial and appreciative spirit. I think that my joy reached its height when I heard Theodore Parker repeat some of my lines from the pulpit. Miss Catharine Sedgwick, discussing the poems with a mutual friend, quoted with praise a line from my long poem on Rome. Speaking of my first hearing of the nightingale, I had written : —
A note Fell as a star falls, trailing sound for light. Dr. Francis Lieber quoted the following passage as having a Shakespearean ring : —
But, as none can tell
Among the sunbeams which unconscious one Comes weaponed with celestial will, to strike The stroke of Freedom on the fettered floods, Giving the spring his watchword — even so Rome knew not she had spoke the word of Fate That should, from out its sluggishness, compel The frost-bound vastness of barbaric life,
Till, with an ominous sound, the torrent rose And rushed upon her with terrific brow, Sweeping her back, through all her haughty ways,
To her own gates, a piteous fugitive.
I make mention of these things because the volume has long been out of print, and perhaps out of date. It was a timid performance upon a slender reed, but the great performers in the noble orchestra of writers answered to its appeal, which won me a seat in their ranks.
The work, such as it was, dealt partly with the stirring questions of the time, partly with things near and familiar. The events of 1848 were still in fresh remembrance : the heroic efforts of Italian patriots to deliver their country from foreign oppression, the struggle of Hungary to maintain her ancient immunities. The most important among my Passion Flowers were devoted to these themes. The wrongs and sufferings of the slave had their part in the volume. A second publication, following two years later, and styled Words for the Hour, was esteemed by some critics better than the first. George William Curtis, at that time editor of Putnam’s Magazine, wrote me, “ It is a better book than its predecessor, but will probably not meet with the same success.” And so, indeed, it proved.
I had always contemplated writing for the stage, and was now emboldened to compose a drama entitled The World’s Own, which was produced at Wallack’s Theatre, in New York. The principal characters were sustained by Matilda Heron, then in the height of her popularity, and Mr. Sothern, afterward so famous in the rôle of Lord Dundreary. The play was performed several times in New York, and once in Boston. It was pronounced by one critic “ full of literary merits and of dramatic defects.” It did not “keep the stage.” as the saying is.
My next literary venture was a series of papers descriptive of a visit made to the island of Cuba in 1859, under the following circumstances.
Theodore Parker had long intended to make this year one of foreign travel. He had planned a journey in South America, and Dr. Howe had promised to accompany him. The sudden failure of Parker’s health at this time was thought to render a change of climate imperative, and in the month of February a voyage to Cuba was prescribed for him. Dr. Howe willingly consented to the change of plan, and decided that I must be of the party.
To our hotel in Havana came, one day, a lovely lady, with pathetic dark eyes and a look of ill health. She was accompanied by her husband and little son. This was Mrs. Frank Hampton, formerly Miss Sally Baxter, a great belle in her time, and much admired by Mr. Thackeray. When we were introduced to each other, I asked, “ Are you the Mrs. Hampton?” She asked, “ Are you the Mrs. Howe ?” We became friends at once. The Hamptons went with us to Matanzas, where we passed a few pleasant days. Dr. Howe was very helpful to the beautiful invalid. Something in the expression of her face reminded him of a relative known to him in early life, and on inquiry he found that Mrs. Hampton’s father was a distant cousin of his own. Mrs. Hampton talked much of Thackeray, who, while in this country, had been a familiar visitor at her father’s house. She told me that she recognized bits of her own conversation in some of the sayings of Ethel Newcome, and I have little doubt that in depicting the beautiful and noble though wayward girl he had in mind something of the aspect and character of the lovely Sally Baxter.
When we left Havana our new friends went with us to Charleston, and invited us to visit them at their home in Columbia, South Carolina. This we were glad to do. The house at which the Hamptons received us belonged to an elder brother, Wade Hampton, whose family were at this time traveling in Europe. Wade Hampton called upon Dr. Howe, and soon introduced a topic which we would gladly have avoided, namely, the strained relations between the North and the South. “ We mean to =fight for it,” said Wade Hampton. But Dr. Howe afterward said to me: “ They cannot be in earnest about meaning to fight. It would be too insane, too fatal to their own interests.” So indeed it proved, but they then knew us as little as we knew them. They thought that we could not fight, and we thought that they would not. Both parties were soon made wiser by sad experience.
My account of this trip, after publication in The Atlantic Monthly, was issued in book form by Ticknor and Fields. Years after this time, a friend of mine landed in Cuba with a copy of the book in her hand luggage. It was at once taken from her by the custom-house officers, and she never saw it again. This little work was favorably spoken of and well received, but it did not please everybody. In one of its chapters, speaking of the natural indolence of the negroes in tropical countries, I had ventured to express the opinion that compulsory employment is better than none. Good Mr. Garrison seized upon this sentence, and impaled it in a column of The Liberator headed, “The Refuge of Oppression.”I certainly did not intend it as an argument in favor of negro slavery. As an abstract proposition, and without reference to color, I still think it true.
The publication of my Cuban notes brought me an invitation to chronicle the events of the season at Newport for the New York Tribune. This was the beginning of a correspondence with that paper which lasted well into the time of the civil war. My letters dealt somewhat with social doings in Newport and in Boston, but more with the great events of the time. To me, the experience was valuable in that I found myself brought nearer in sympathy to the general public, and helped to a better understanding of its needs and demands.
It was in the days now spoken of that I first saw Edwin Booth. Dr. Howe and I betook ourselves to the Boston Theatre one rainy evening, expecting to see nothing more than an ordinary performance. The play was Richelieu, and we had seen but little of Mr. Booth’s part in it before we turned to each other and said. “ This is the real thing.” In every word, in every gesture, the touch of genius made itself felt. A little later I saw him in Hamlet, and was even more astonished and delighted. While he was still completing this his first engagement in Boston, I received a letter from his manager, proposing that I should write a play for Mr. Booth. My first drama, though not a success, had made me somewhat known to theatrical people. I had become painfully aware of its defects, and desired nothing more than to profit by the lesson of experience in producing something that should deserve entire approbation. It was therefore with a good hope of success that I undertook to write the play. Mr. Booth himself called to see me, in support of his request. The favorable impression which he had made upon me was not lessened by a nearer view. I found him modest, intelligent, and above all genuine, — the man as worthy of admiration as the artist. Although I had seen Mr. Booth in a variety of characters, I could only think of representing him as Hippolytus, a beautiful youth, of heroic type, enamored of a high ideal. This was the part which I desired to create for him. I undertook the composition without much delay, and devoted to it the months of one summer’s sojourn at Lawton’s Valley.
This lovely little estate had come to us almost fortuitously. George William Curtis, writing of the Newport of forty years ago, gives a character sketch of one Alfred Smith, a well-known real estate agent, who managed to entrap strangers in his gig, and drove about with them, often succeeding in making them purchasers of some bit of property in the sale of which he had a personal interest. In the summer of 1852 my husband became one of his victims. I say this because Dr. Howe made the purchase without much deliberation. In fact, he could hardly have told any one why he made it. The farm was a very poor one, and the farmhouse very small. Some necessary repairs rendered it habitable for our family of little children and ourselves. I did not desire the purchase, but I soon became much attached to the valley, which my husband’s care greatly beautified. This was a wooded gorge, perhaps an eighth of a mile from the house, and extending some distance between high rocky banks. We found it a wilderness of brambles, with a brook which ran much out of its proper course. Dr. Howe converted it into a most charming out-of-door salon. A firm green sod took the place of the briers, the brook was restrained within its proper limits, and some fine trees replaced as many decayed stamps. An old, disused mill added to the picturesqueness of the scene. Below it rushed a small waterfall. Here I have passed many happy hours with my books and my babies, but it was not in this enchanting spot that I wrote my play.
I had at this time and for many years afterward a superstition about a north light. My eyes had given me some trouble, and I felt obliged to follow my literary work under the circumstances most favorable for their use. The exposure of our little farmhouse was south and west, and its only north light was derived from a window at the top of the attic stairs. Here was a platform just large enough to give room for a table two feet square. The stairs were shut off from the rest of the house by a stout door. Here, through the summer heats, and in spite of many wasps, I wrote my five-act drama, dreaming of the fine emphasis which Mr. Booth would give to its best passages, and of the beautiful appearance he would make in classic costume. He, meanwhile, was growing into great fame and favor with the public, and was called hither and thither by numerous engagements. The period of his courtship and marriage intervened, and a number of years elapsed between the completion of my work and his first reading of it.
At last there came a time in which the production of Hippolytus seemed possible. Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth were both in Boston, performing, as I remember, but not at the same theatre. They agreed to act in my play. E. L. Davenport, manager of the Howard Athenæum, undertook to produce it, and my dream was very near becoming a reality. But lo ! on a sudden, the manager bethought him that the time was rather late in the season : that the play would require new scenery; and, more than all, that his wife, who was also an actress, was not pleased with a secondary part assigned to her. A polite note informed me of his change of mind. This was, I think, the greatest “ let down ” that I ever experienced. It affected me seriously for some days, after which I determined to attempt nothing more for the stage.
In truth, there appeared to be little reason for this action on the part of the manager. Miss Cushman, speaking of it, said to me, “ My dear, if Edwin Booth and I had done nothing more than to stand upon the stage and say goodevening to each other, the house would have been filled.” Mr. Booth, in the course of these years, experienced great happiness and great sorrow. On the occasion of our first meeting he had spoken to me of “little Mary Devlin as an actress of much promise, who had recently been admired in “ several heavy parts.” In process of time he became engaged to this young girl. Before the announcement of this fact he appeared with her several times before the Boston public. Few among those who saw it would ever forget a performance of Romeo and Juliet in which the two true lovers were at their best, ideally young, beautiful, and identified with their parts. Of the untimely death of this exquisite little woman the poet Parsons wrote : —
Or say or write that shall express the half ?
What can we do but pillow that fair head,
And let the spring-time write her epitaph? —
Wind-flower and columbine and maiden’s tear;
Each letter of that pretty alphabet
That spells in flowers the pageant of the year.
Set her down gently at the iron door!
Eyes look on that loved image for the last:
Now cover it in earth, — her earth no more.”
These lines recall to me the scene of Mary Booth’s funeral, which took place in wintry weather, the service being held at the chapel in Mount Auburn. Hers was a most pathetic figure, as she lay, serene and lovely, surrounded with flowers. As Edwin Booth followed the casket, his eyes heavy with grief, I could not but remember how often I had seen him enact the part of Hamlet at the stage burial of Ophelia. Beside or behind him walked a young man of remarkable beauty, to be sadly known at a later date as Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln and the victim of his own crime. Henry Ward Beecher, meeting Mary Booth one day at dinner at my house, was so much impressed with her peculiar charm that, on the occasion of her death, he wrote a very sympathetic letter to Mr. Booth, and became thenceforth one of his most esteemed friends.
The years between 1850 and 1857, eventful as they were, appear to me almost a period of play, when compared with the time of trial which was to follow. It might have been likened to the tuning of instruments before some great musical solemnity. The theme was already suggested, but of its wild and terrible development who could have had any foreknowledge ? Parker, indeed, writing to Dr. Howe from Italy, said : “ What a pity that the map of our magnificent country should be destined to be so soon torn in two on account of the negro, that poorest of human creatures, satisfied, even in slavery, with sugar cane and a banjo ! ” On reading this prediction, I remarked to my husband : “This is poor, dear Parker’s foible. He always thinks that he knows what will come to pass. How absurd is this forecast of his ! ”
“ I don’t know about that,” replied Dr. Howe.
Julia Ward Howe.