Reminiscences of Julia Ward Howe: Vi. James Freeman Clarke; In War Time; Boston Radical Club
I MUST here ask leave to turn back a little in the order of my reminiscences, my narrative having led me to pass by certain points that I wish to mention.
The great comfort which I had in Parker’s preaching came to an end when my children attained an age at which it appeared desirable that they should attend public worship. Concerning this my husband argued as follows : —
“ The children [our two eldest girls] are now of an age at which they should receive impressions of reverence. They should, therefore, see nothing at the Sunday service which would militate against that feeling. At Parker’s meeting, individuals read the newspapers before the exercises begin. A good many persons come in after the prayer, and some go out before the conclusion of the sermon. These irregularities offend my sense of decorum, and appear to me inadmissible in the religious education of the family.”
It was a grievous thing for me to comply with my husband’s wishes in this matter. I said of it to his friend, Horace Mann, that to give up Parker’s ministry for any other would be like going to the synagogue when Paul was preaching near at hand. Parker was soon made aware of Dr. Howe’s views, but no estrangement ensued between the two friends. He did, indeed, write my husband a letter, in which he laid great stress upon the depth and strength of his own concern in religion.
My husband cherished an old predilection for King’s Chapel, and would have been pleased if I had chosen to attend service there. My mind, however, was otherwise disposed. Having heard Parker, at the close of one of his discourses, speak in warm commendation of James Freeman Clarke, announcing at the same time that Mr. Clarke was about to begin a new series of services at Williams Hall, I determined that I would hear him.
With Mr. Clarke I had already some slight acquaintance, having once heard him preach at Freeman Place Chapel, and having met him on divers occasions. It is well known that, during his first pastorate in Boston, he once invited Theodore Parker to occupy his pulpit. The feeling against the latter was then so strong as to cause an influential part of the congregation to withdraw from the society, which thereafter threatened to decline for want of funds. Some years later Mr. Clarke resigned his charge, and went abroad for a prolonged stay, possibly with indefinite ideas as to the future employment of his life. He was possessed of much literary and artistic taste, and might easily have added one to the number of those who, like George Bancroft, Jared Sparks, and others, had entered the Unitarian ministry, to leave it, after a few years, for fields of labor in which they were destined to achieve greater success.
Fortunately, the suggestion of such a course, if entertained by him at all, did not prevail. Mr. Clarke’s interest in the Christian ministry was too deeply grounded to be easily overcome. Returning from a restful and profitable sojourn in Europe, he sought to gather again those of his flock who had held to him and to one another. He found them ready to welcome him back with unabated love and trust. It was at this juncture that I heard Theodore Parker make the mention of him which brought him to my remembrance ; bringing me also, very reluctantly, to his new place of worship.
The hall itself was unattractive, and the aspect of its occupants decidedly unfashionable. Indeed, a witty friend of mine once said to me that the bonnets seen there were of so singular a description as constantly to distract her attention from the minister’s sermon. This absence of fashion rather commended the place to me ; for I had had in my life enough and too much of that churchgoing in which the bonnets, the pews, and the doctrine appear to rest on one dead level of conventionalism.
Mr. Clarke’s preaching was as unlike as possible to that of Theodore Parker. While his ministrations were not wanting in the critical spirit, and were characterized by very definite views of the questions which at that time were foremost in the mind of the community, there ran through their whole course an exquisite tone of charity and good will. He had not the philosophic and militant genius of Parker, but he had a genius of his own, poetical, harmonizing. In after years I esteemed myself fortunate in having passed from the drastic discipline of the one to the tender and reconciling ministry of the other. The members of the congregation were mostly strangers to me, yet I felt from the first a respect for them. In process of time I came to know something of their antecedents, and to make friends among them. With John Albion Andrew—afterward our great war governor — I was already well acquainted. He had grown to be a dear familiar in our household before he became known to the world at large as governor of Massachusetts. He was, indeed, a typical American of the best sort. Most happy in temperament, with great vitality and enjoyment of life, he united in his make-up the gifts of quick perception and calm deliberation. His judgments were broad, sound, and charitable, his tastes at once simple and comprehensive. He was at home in high society, and not less so among the lowly. He was very genial, and much “ given to hospitality,” but without show or pretense. He had been one of the original members of the Church of the Disciples, and had certainly been drawn toward Mr. Clarke by a deep and genuine religious sympathy.
After some years of attendance at Williams Hall, our society, somewhat increased in numbers, removed to Indiana Place Chapel, where we remained until we were able to erect for ourselves the commodious and homelike building which we occupy to-day. Our minister was a man of much impulse, but of more judgment. In his character were blended the best traits of the conservative and of the liberal. His ardent temperament and sanguine disposition bred in him that natural hopefulness which is so important an element in all attempted reform. His sound mind, well disciplined by culture, held fast to the inherited treasures of society, while a fortunate power of apprehending principles rendered him very steadfast, both in advance and in reserve. In the agitated period which preceded the civil war, and in that which followed it, he, in his modest pulpit, became one of the leaders, not of his own flock alone, but of the community to which he belonged. I can imagine few things more instructive and desirable than was his preaching in those troublous times, so full of unanswered question and unreconciled discord. His church was like an organ, with deep undertones and lofty, aspiring treble, — the master hand pressing the keys, the heart of the congregation responding with a full melody. Festivals of sorrow were held in Indiana Place Chapel, and many of them, — James Buchanan’s hollow fast, a day of mourning for John Brown, and, saddest and greatest of all, a solemn service following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We were led through these shadows of death by the radiant light of a truly Christian faith, which our pastor ever held before us. Among the many who stood by him in his labors of love was a lady possessed of rare taste in the arrangement of floral and other decorations. We came at last to confer on her the title of the flower saint. On the occasion last mentioned, when we entered the building, full of hopeless sorrow, we saw pulpit and altar adorned with a rich violet pall, on which, at intervals, hung wreaths of white lilies. So something of the pomp of victory was mingled with our bitter sense of loss. The nation’s chief was gone, but with the noble army of martyrs we now beheld him, crowned with the unfading glory of his work.
Mr. Clarke’s life possesses an especial interest from the fact of its having been one of those rare lives which start in youth with an ideal, and follow it through manhood to old age ; parting from it only at the last breath, and bequeathing it to posterity in its full growth and beauty. This ideal appeared to him in the guise of a free church, whose pews should not be sold, whose seats should be open to all, with no cumbrous encounter of crossinterests, — a church of true worship and earnest interpretation, which should be held together by the bond of veritable sympathy. This living church be built out of his own devout and tender heart. A dream at first, he saw it take shape and grow, and when he flitted from its sphere he felt that it would stand and endure.
Let me here record my belief that society rarely attains anywhere a higher level than that which all must recognize in the Boston of the last forty years. The religious philosophy of the Unitarian pulpit; the intercourse with the learned men of Harvard College, more frequent formerly than at present; the inheritance of solid and earnest character, most precious of estates ; the nobility of thought developed in Margaret Fuller’s pupils; the cordial piety of such leaders as Phillips Brooks, James Freeman Clarke, and Edward Everett Hale; the presence of leading authors, — Holmes, Longfellow, Emerson, and Lowell, — all these circumstances combined have given to Massachusetts a halo of glory which time should not soon have power to dim.
The decade preceding the civil war was indeed a period of much agitation. The anomalous position of a slave system in a democratic republic was beginning to make itself keenly felt. The extension of the slave system to the new territories, soon to constitute new states, became the avowed purpose of Southern politicians. The conscience of the North, lulled by financial prosperity, awoke but slowly to an understanding of the situation. To enlighten this conscience was evidently the most important task of public-spirited men Among other devices to this end, a newspaper was established in Boston with the name of The Commonwealth. Its immediate object was to reach and convince that important portion of the body politic which distrusts rhetoric and oratory, but which sooner or later gives heed to dispassionate argument and the advocacy of plain issues.
My husband took an active interest in the management of this paper, and indeed assumed its editorship for one entire winter. In this task I had great pleasure in assisting him. We began our work together every morning, — he supervising and supplying the political department of the paper, I doing what I could in the way of social and literary criticism. Among my contributions to the work were a series of notices of Dr. Holmes’s Lowell lectures on the English poets, and a paper on Mrs. Stowe and George Sand.
The Commonwealth, which still exists, though in a different form, did good service in the battle of opinion which unexpectedly proved a prelude to the most important event in our history as a nation.
Sometime in the fifties, my husband spoke to me of a very remarkable man, of whom I should be sure to hear sooner or later. This man, Dr. Howe said, seemed to intend to devote his life to the redemption of the colored race from slavery, even as Christ had willingly offered his life for the salvation of mankind. It was enjoined upon me that I should not mention to any one this confidential communication ; and to make sure that I should not, I allowed the whole matter to pass out of my thoughts. It may have been a year or more later that Dr. Howe questioned me thus : “ Do you remember that man of whom I spoke to you, — the one who wished to be a savior for the negro race ? ” I replied in the affirmative. “ That man,” said the doctor, “ will call here this afternoon. You will receive him. His name is John Brown.” Thus admonished, I watched for the visitor, and prepared to admit him myself when he should ring at the door. This took place at our house in South Boston, where it was not at all undignified for me to open my own door. At the expected time I heard the bell ring, and, on answering it, beheld a middle-aged, middle-sized man, with hair and beard of amber color streaked with white. He looked a Puritan of the Puritans, forceful, concentrated, and selfcontained. We had a brief interview, of which I remember only my great gratification at meeting one of whom I had heard so good an account. I saw him once again at Dr. Howe’s office, and then heard no more of him for some time.
I cannot tell how long after this it was that I took up the Transcript, one evening, and read of an attack made by a small body of men on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Dr. Howe presently came in, and I told him what I had just read. “ Brown has got to work,” he said. I had already arrived at the same conclusion. The rest of the story is matter of history: the failure of the slaves to support the movement initiated for their emancipation, the brief contest, the inevitable defeat and surrender, the death of the rash, brave man upon the scaffold. All this is known, and need not be repeated here. In speaking of it, my husband assured me that John Brown’s plan had not been so impossible of realization as it appeared to have been after its failure. Brown had been led to hope that, upon a certain signal, the slaves from many plantations would come to him in such numbers that he and they would become masters of the situation with little or no bloodshed. Neither he nor those who were concerned with him had it at all in mind to stir up the slaves to acts of cruelty and revenge. The plan was simply to combine a considerable body of them in a position so strong that the question of their freedom would be decided then and there, possibly without even a battle.
I confess that the whole scheme appeared to me wild and chimerical. Of its details I knew nothing. None of us could exactly approve an act so revolutionary in its character, yet the greathearted attempt enlisted our sympathies strongly. The weeks of John Brown’s imprisonment were very sad ones, and the day of his death was one of general mourning in New England. Even there, however, people were not all of the same mind. I heard a friend say that John Brown was a pig-headed old fool.
The record of John Brown’s life has been fully written, and by a friendly hand. I will only mention here that he had much to do with the successful contest which kept slavery out of the territory of Kansas. He was a leading chief in the border warfare which swept back the pro-slavery immigration attempted by some of the wild spirits of Missouri. In this struggle, he one day saw two of his own sons shot by the Border Ruffians (as the Missourians of the border were then called), without trial or mercy. Some people thought that this dreadful sight had maddened his brain, as well it might.
I remember of him one humorous anecdote related to me by my husband. At one time, during the border war, he had taken several prisoners, and among them a certain judge. Brown was always a man of prayer. On this occasion, feeling quite uncertain as to whether he ought to spare the lives of the prisoners, he retired into a thicket near at hand, and besought the Lord long and fervently to inspire him with the right determination. The judge, overhearing this petition, was so much amused at it that, in spite of the gravity of his own situation, he laughed aloud. “Judge -,” cried John Brown, “if you mock at my prayers, I shall know what to do with you without asking the Almighty! ”
This brings me to the period of the civil war. What can I say of it that has not already been said? Its cruel fangs fastened upon the very heart of Boston, and took from us our best and bravest. From many a stately mansion father or son went forth, followed by weeping, to be brought back for bitterer sorrow. The work of the women in providing comforts for the soldiers was unremitting. In organizing and conducting the great bazaars which were held in furtherance of this object, many of these women found a new scope for their activities, and developed abilities hitherto unsuspected by themselves.
Prominent among the helpers called out by the war was our noble war governor, John Albion Andrew. He would sometimes seek a refuge with us, when overpowered with the stress of official duties. He was a man in whom great geniality of temperament was united with an unwavering faith in principles, and a determination to abide by them. He was frequently called to the Capitol, and had much intercourse with President Lincoln. Soon after the close of the war he fell a victim to its long-continued fatigues and anxieties, and died of apoplexy, greatly mourned and honored.
During the war Washington was naturally the centre of interest. Politicians of every grade, adventurers of either sex, inventors of all sorts of military appliances, and simple citizens, good and bad, flocked thither in large numbers.
My own first visit to it was in the late autumn of 1861, and was made in company with James Freeman Clarke, Governor Andrew, and my husband. Dr. Howe had already passed beyond the age of military service, but was enabled to render valuable aid as an officer of the Sanitary Commission, and also on the commission which had in charge the condition and interests of the newly freed slaves.
Although Dr. Howe had won his spurs, many years before this time, in the guerrilla contest of the Greek struggle for national life, his understanding of military operations continued to be remarkable. I do not remember that, throughout the course of the war, he was ever deceived by an illusory report of victory. He would carefully consider the plan of the battle, and when he said, “ This looks to me like a defeat,” the later reports were sure to justify his surmise.
As we approached the city, I saw, from time to time, small groups of armed men seated on the ground, near a fire. Dr. Howe explained to me that these were the pickets detailed to guard the railroad. The main body of the enemy’s troops was then stationed in the near neighborhood of Washington, and the capture of the national capital would have been of great strategic advantage to their cause. To render this impossible, the large army of the Potomac was encamped around the city, with General McClellan in command. Within the city limits mounted officers and orderlies galloped to and fro. Ambulances, drawn by four horses, were driven through the streets, stopping sometimes before Willard’s Hotel, where we had all found quarters. From my window I saw the office of the New York Herald, and near it the ghastly advertisement of an agency for embalming and forwarding the bodies of those who had fallen in the fight or who had perished by fever. William Henry Channing, nephew of the great Channing, and heir to his spiritual distinction, had left his Liverpool pulpit, deeply stirred by love of his country and enthusiasm in a noble cause. On Sundays, his voice rang out, clear and musical as a bell, within the walls of the Unitarian church. I went more than once with him and Mr. Clarke to visit camps and hospitals. It was on the occasion of one of these visits that I made my first attempt at public speaking. I had joined the rest of my party in a reconnoitring expedition, the last stage of which was the headquarters of Colonel William Greene, of the 1st Massachusetts heavy artillery.
Our friend received us with a warm welcome, and presently said to me, “ Mrs. Howe, you must speak to my men.” Feeling my utter inability to do this, I ran away and tried to hide myself in one of the hospital tents. Colonel Greene twice found me and brought me back to his piazza, where at last I stood, and told, as well as I could, how glad I was to meet the brave defenders of our cause, and how constantly they were in my thoughts.
Among my recollections of this period I especially cherish that of our interview with President Abraham Lincoln, arranged for us by our kind friend, Governor Andrew. The President was laboring at this time under a terrible pressure of doubt and anxiety. He received us in one of the drawing rooms of the White House, where we were invited to take seats, in full view of Stuart’s portrait of Washington. The conversation took place mostly between the President and Governor Andrew. I remember well the sad expression of Mr. Lincoln’s deep blue eyes, the only feature of his face which could be called other than plain. Mrs. Andrew, being of the company, inquired when we could have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Lincoln, and Mr. Lincoln named to us the day of her reception. He said to Governor Andrew, apropos of I know not what, “ I once heerd George Sumner tell a story.” The unusual pronunciation fixed in my memory this one unimportant sentence. The talk, indeed, ran mostly on indifferent topics.
When we had taken leave, and were out of hearing, Mr. Clarke said of Mr. Lincoln, “ We have seen it in his face, hopeless honesty ; that is all.” He spoke as if he felt that it was far from enough.
None of us knew then — how could we have known ? — how deeply God’s wisdom had touched and inspired that devout and patient soul. At the moment few people praised or trusted him. Why did he not do this, or that, or the other ? He a President, indeed ! Look at this war, dragging on so slowly ! Look at our many defeats and rare victories ! Such was the talk that one constantly heard regarding him. The most charitable held that he meant well. Governor Andrew was one of the few whose faith in him never wavered.
Meanwhile, through evil and good report, he was listening for the mandate which comes to one alone, bringing with it the decision of a mind convinced and of a conscience resolved. When the right moment came, he issued the proclamation of emancipation to the slaves. He sent his generals into the enemy’s country. He lived to welcome them as victors, to electrify the civilized world with his simple, sincere speech, to fall by the hand of an assassin, to bequeath to his country the most tragical and sacred of her memories.
It would be impossible for me to say how many times I have been called upon to rehearse the circumstances under which I wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I have also had occasion more than once to state the simple story in writing. As this oft-told tale has no unimportant part in the story of my life, I will briefly add it to these records.
I distinctly remember that a feeling of discouragement came over me, as I drew near the city of Washington, at the time already mentioned. I thought of the women of my acquaintance whose sons or husbands were fighting our great battle ; the women themselves serving in the hospitals, or busying themselves with the work of the Sanitary Commission. My husband was beyond the age of military service, my eldest son but a stripling; my youngest was a child of not more than two years. I could not leave my nursery to follow the march of our armies, neither had I the practical deftness which the preparing and packing of sanitary stores demanded. Yet, because of my sincere desire, a word was given me to say, which did strengthen the hearts of those who fought in the field and of those who languished in the prisons.
We were invited, one day, to attend a review of troops at some distance from the town. While we were engaged in watching the manœuvres, a sudden movement of the enemy necessitated immediate action. The review was discontinued, and we saw a detachment of soldiers gallop to the assistance of a small body of our men who were in imminent danger of being surrounded and cut off from retreat. The regiments remaining on the field were ordered to march to their cantonments. We returned to the city very slowly, of necessity, for the troops nearly filled the road. Mr. Clarke was in the carriage with me, as were several other friends. To beguile the rather tedious drive, we sang, from time to time, snatches of army songs; concluding. I think, with
His soul is marching on.”
The soldiers seemed to like this, and answered back, “ Good for you ! ” Mr. Clarke said, “ Mrs. Howe, why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune ? ” I replied that I had often wished to do this, but had not as yet found in my mind any leading toward it.
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept quite soundly, according to my wont. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “ I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen, which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. I had learned to do this when, on previous occasions, attacks of versification had visited me in the night, and I feared to have recourse to a light lest I should wake the baby, who slept near me. I was always obliged to decipher my scrawl before another night intervened, as it was legible only while the matter was fresh in my mind.
At this time, having completed my writing, I returned to bed and fell asleep, with the reflection, “ I like this better than most things that I have written.”
The poem, which was soon after published in The Atlantic Monthly, was somewhat praised on its appearance, but the vicissitudes of the war so engrossed public attention that small heed was taken of literary matters. I knew, and was content to know, that the poem soon found its way to the camps, as I heard now and then of its being sung in chorus by the soldiers.
As the war went on, it came to pass that Chaplain McCabe, newly released from Libby Prison, gave a public lecture in Washington, and recounted some of his recent experiences. Among them was the following : —
He and the other Union prisoners occupied one large, comfortless room, in which the floor was their only bed. The official in charge of their quarters told them, one evening, that the Union army had just been terribly defeated. While they sat together in great sorrow, the negro who waited upon them whispered to one man that the officer had given them false information, and that, on the contrary, the Union soldiers had achieved an important victory. At this good news they all rejoiced, and presently made the walls ring with my Battle Hymn, which they sang in chorus, Chaplain McCabe leading. The lecturer recited the poem with such effect that those present began to inquire, “Who wrote this Battle Hymn ? ” It became one of the leading lyrics of the war. In view of its success, one of my good friends said, “ Mrs. Howe ought to die now, for she has done the best that she will ever do.” I was not of this opinion, feeling myself still “ full of days’ works,” although I did not guess at the new experiences which then lay before me.
While the war was still at its height, I received a kind letter from Hon. George Bancroft, conveying an invitation to attend a celebration of the poet Bryant’s seventieth birthday, to be given by the New York Century Club, of which Mr. Bancroft was the newly elected president. He also expressed the hope that I would bring with me something in verse or in prose, to add to the tributes of the occasion.
Having accepted the invitation and made ready my tribute, I repaired to the station on the day appointed, to take the train for New York. Dr. Holmes presently appeared, bound on the same errand. As we seated ourselves in the car, he said to me, “ Mrs. Howe, I will sit beside you, but you must not expect me to talk, as I must spare my voice for this evening, when I am to read a poem at the Bryant celebration.”
“ By all means let us keep silent,” I replied. “ I also have a poem to read at the Bryant celebration.”
The good doctor had overestimated his powers of abstinence from the interchange of thought which was so congenial to him. He at once launched forth in his ever brilliant vein, and we were within a few miles of our destination when we suddenly remembered that we had not taken time to eat our luncheon.
I find in my diary of the time this record : “ Ur. Holmes was my companion. His ethereal talk made the journey short and brilliant.”
The journal further says : “ Arriving in New York, Mr. Bancroft met us at the station, intent upon escorting Dr. Holmes, who was to be his guest. He was good enough to wait upon me, also ; carried my trunk, which was a small one, himself, and lent me his carriage. He inquired about my poem, and informed me as to when it would be expected, in the order of exercises. . . .
“ At 8.15 drove to the Century Building, which was fast filling with welldressed men and women. Was conducted to the reception room, where I waited with those who were to take part in the performances of the evening.”
I will add here that I saw, among others, N. P. Willis, already infirm in health, and looking like the ghost of his former self. There also was Dr. Francis Lieber, who said to me in a low voice, “Nur verwegen ” (Only be audacious).
“ Presently, a double line was formed to pass into the hall. Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Bryant, and I brought up the rear, Mr. Bryant giving me his arm. On the platform were three armchairs, which were taken by the two gentlemen and myself.”
The assemblage was indeed a notable one. The fashion of New York was well represented, and the foremost artists, publicists, and literary men of the city were present. Mr. Emerson had come on from Concord. Christopher Cranch united with other artists in presenting to the venerable poet a portfolio of original drawings, to which each had contributed some work of his own. I afterward learned that T. Buchanan Read had arrived from Washington, having in his pocket his newly composed poem on Sheridan’s Ride, which he would gladly have read aloud, had the committee found room for it on their programme. A letter was received from the elder R. H. Dana, in which he excused his absence on account of his seventy-seven years and consequent inability to travel. Dr. Holmes read his verses very effectively. Mr. Emerson spoke rather vaguely. For my part in the evening’s proceedings, I will once more quote from the diary : —
“ Mr. Bryant, in his graceful reply to Mr. Bancroft’s address of congratulation, named me as ‘ she who has written the most stirring lyric of the war.’ ”
After Mr. Emerson’s remarks my poem was announced. I stepped to the middle of the platform, and read it well, I think, as every one heard me, and the large room was crammed. The last two verses were applauded. George H. Boker, of Philadelphia, followed me, and Dr. Holmes followed him. This was, I suppose, the greatest public honor of my life.
I was requested to leave my poem in the hands of the committee for publication in a volume which would contain the other tributes of the evening. Dr. Holmes told me that he had declined to do this, and said in explanation, “ I want my honorarium from The Atlantic Monthly.” We returned to Boston twenty-four hours later, by night train. Eschewing the indulgence of the sleeper, we talked through the dark hours. The doctor gave me the nickname of “ Madame Comment ” (Madam How), and I told him that he was the most perfect of traveling companions.
The Boston Radical Club appears to me one of the social developments most worthy of remembrance in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Its meetings were held on the first Monday of every month, and the proceedings were limited to the reading and discussion of a paper, which rarely occupied more than an hour. On looking over the list of essayists, I find that it includes the most eminent thinkers of the day, in so far as Massachusetts is concerned. Among the speakers mentioned are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dr. Hedge, David A. Wasson, O. B. Frothingham, John Weiss, Colonel Higginson, Benjamin Peirce, William Henry Channing, C. C. Everett, and James Freeman Clarke.
I remember, at one of these meetings, a rather sharp passage at arms between Mr. Weiss and James Freeman Clarke. Mr. Weiss had been declaiming against the insincerity of the pulpit, which he recognized in ministers who continue to use formulas of faith which have ceased to correspond to any real conviction. The speaker confessed his own shortcoming in this respect. “ All of us,” he said, — “ yes, I myself have prayed in the name of Christ, when my own feeling did not sanction its use.”
On hearing this, Mr. Clarke broke in. “ Let Mr. Weiss answer for himself,” he said, with some vehemence of manner. “ If in his pulpit he prayed in the name of Christ, and did not believe in what he said, it was John Weiss that lied, and not one of us.”
He afterward asked me whether he had shown any heat when he spoke. I replied, “ Yes, there was heat, but it was good heat.”
Another memorable day at the club was that on which the eminent Protestant divine, Athanase Coquerel, spoke of religion and art in their relation to each other. After a brief but interesting review of classic, Byzantine, and mediæval art, M. Coquerel expressed his dissent from the generally received opinion that the Church of Rome had always been foremost in the promotion and patronage of the fine arts. The greatest of the Italian masters, he averred, while standing in formal relations with that Church, had often shown opposition to its spirit. Michael Angelo’s sonnets revealed a state of mind intolerant of ecclesiastical as of other tyranny. Raphael, in the execution of a papal order, had represented true religion by a portrait figure of Savonarola. Holbein and Rembrandt were avowed Protestants. He considered the individuality fostered by Protestantism as most favorable to the development of originality in art.
With these views Colonel Higginson did not agree. He held that Christianity had reached its highest point under the dispensation of the Catholic faith, and that the progress of Protestantism marked its decline. This assertion called forth a most energetic denial from Dr. Hedge, Mr. Clarke, and myself.
I must mention a day on which, under the title of an essay on Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes favored the club with a very graphic exposition of old-time New England Calvinism. The brilliant doctor’s treatment of this difficult topic was appreciative and friendly, though by no means acquiescent in the doctrines presented. Nevertheless, Wendell Phillips thought the paper, on the whole, unjust to Edwards, and felt that there must have been in his doctrine another side not fully brought forward by the essayist. These and other speakers were heard with much interest, and the meeting was one of the best on our record.
I have heard it said that Wendell Phillips’s orthodoxy was greatly valued among the anti-slavery workers, especially as the orthodox pulpits of the time gave them little support or comfort. I was told that Edmund Quincy, one day, saw Parker and Phillips walking arm in arm, and cried out: “ Parker, don’t dare to pervert that man ! We want him as he is.”
I was thrice invited to read before the Radical Club. The titles of my three papers were, Doubt and Belief, Limitations, Representation and How to Secure it.
I must mention one more occasion at the Radical Club. I can remember neither the topic nor the reader of the essay, but the discussion drifted, as it often did, in the direction of Woman Suffrage, and John Weiss delivered himself of the following sentence : “ When man and woman shall meet at the polls, and he shall hold out his hand and say to her, Give me your quick intuition, and accept in return my ratiocination ” — A ringing laugh here interrupted the speaker. It came from Kate Field.
Mr. Emerson had a brief connection with the Radical Club ; and this may be a suitable place in which to give my personal impressions of the Prophet of New England.
In recalling Mr. Emerson, we should analyze his works sufficiently to be able to distinguish the things in which he really was a leader and a teacher from other traits peculiar to himself, and interesting as elements of his historic character, but not as features of the ideal which we are to follow. Mr. Emerson objected strongly to newspaper reports of the sittings of the Radical Club. The reports sent to the New York Tribune by Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton were eagerly sought and read in very distant parts of the country. I rejoiced in this. It seemed to me that the uses of the club were thus greatly multiplied and extended. It became an agency in the church universal. Mr. Emerson’s principal objection to the reports was that they interfered with the freedom of the occasion. When this objection failed of adoption, he withdrew from the club almost entirely, and was never more heard among its speakers.
I remember hearing Mr. Emerson, in his discourse on Henry Thoreau, relate that the latter had once determined to manufacture the best lead pencil that could possibly be made. When he attained his end, parties interested at once besought him to place this excellent article on the market. He said : “ Why should I do this ? I have shown that I am able to produce the best pencil that can be made. This was all that I cared to do.” The selfishness and egotism of this point of view did not appear to have entered into Mr. Emerson’s thoughts. Upon this principle, which of the great discoverers or inventors would have become a benefactor to the human race ? Theodore Parker once said to me, “ I do not consider Emerson a philosopher, but a poet lacking the accomplishment of rhyme.” This may not be altogether true, but at least it is worth remembering. There is something of the seer in Mr. Emerson. The deep intuitions, the original and startling combinations, the sometimes whimsical beauty of his illustrations, — all these belong rather to the domain of poetry than to that of philosophy. The high level of thought upon which he lived and moved and the wonderful harmony of his sympathies are his great lesson to the world at large. In spite of his rather defective sense of rhythm, his poems are divine snatches of melody. I think that, in the popular affection, they may outlast his prose.
I was once surprised, in hearing Mr. Emerson talk, to find how extensively read he was in what we may term secondary literature. Although a graduate of Harvard, his reading of foreign literatures, ancient and modern, was mostly in translations. I should say that his intellectual pasture ground had been largely within the domain of belles-lettres proper.
He was a man of angelic nature, pure, exquisite, just, refined, and human. All concede him the highest place in our literary heaven. First class in genius and in character, he was able to discern the face of the times. To him was intrusted not only the silver trump of prophecy, but also that sharp and two-edged sword of the Spirit with which the legendary archangel Michael overcomes the brute Satan. In the great victory of his day, the triumph of freedom over slavery, he has a record not to be outdone and never to be forgotten.
A lesser light of this time was the Rev. Samuel Longfellow. I remember him first as of a somewhat vague and vanishing personality, not much noticed when his admired brother was of the company. This was before the beginning of his professional career. A little later, I heard of his ordination as a Unitarian minister from Rev. Edward Everett Hale, who had attended, and possibly taken part in, the services. The poet Longfellow had written a lovely hymn for the occasion. Mr. Hale spoke of “ Sam Longfellow ” as a valued friend, and remarked upon the modesty and sweetness of his disposition. “ I saw him the other day,” said Mr. Hale. “ He showed me a box of colors which he had long desired to possess, and which he had just purchased. Sam said to me, ‘ I thought I might have this now.’ ” He was fond of sketching from nature. Years after this time, I heard Mr. Longfellow preach at the Hawes Church in South Boston. After the service, I invited him to take a Sunday dinner with Dr. Howe and me. He consented, and I remember that, in the course of our conversation, he said: “ Theodore Parker has made things easier for us young ministers. He has demolished so much which it was necessary to remove.”
The collection entitled Hymns of the Spirit, and published under the joint names of Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson, is a valuable one, and the hymns which Mr. Longfellow himself contributed to the repertoire of the denomination are deeply religious in tone ; and yet I must think that among Unitarians of thirty or more years ago he was held to be something of a skeptic. Thomas G. Appleton was speaking of him in my presence, one day, and said : “ He asked me whether I could not get along without the idea of a personal God. I replied, ‘ No, you - -” Mr. Appleton shook his fist, and was very vehement in his expression ; but his indignation had reference solely to Mr. Longfellow’s supposed opinions, and not at all to his character, which was esteemed of all men.
Julia Ward Howe.