Works of Annie Fields
LIFE AND LETTERS OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
by Annie Fields
BOSTON AND THE HARTFORD SCHOOL
FOR several years Dr. Beecher had seen himself running aground in Litchfield financially. Therefore when an invitation came from Boston, urging his presence in that city as a last and saving hope for orthodoxy, he made up his mind to leave the pleasant places which had become dear to him and turn to other fields. His letter of request "for dismission" gives a wonderfully frank description of his household affairs. He read it in full to his congregation. He begins: "When I gave myself to God in the Gospel of his Son, it was done with the following views: That all expectation of accumulating property for myself and family be relinquished, leaving it to God in his own way to take care of me when sickness or age should supersede active labor . . . . I never expected or desired to give my children anything but their own minds and faculties, properly cultivated and prepared for active usefulness . . . . With these views I gave myself to the ministry, first at East Hampton, on Long Island, with a salary of three hundred dollars and my firewood, which, after five years, was raised to four hundred dollars; and then, as my family increased, proving incompetent, at the end of another five years I obtained a dismission, and settled in this place, May 29, 1810, upon a salary of eight hundred dollars, with an understanding that I might calculate upon a voluntary supply of wood. Early after my settlement, my wife (of beloved memory) informed me from year to year that my income did not meet the unavoidable expenses of the family, and advised me to communicate the fact to the society."
Dr. Beecher continues: "I replied that I had come hither with the determination of removing no more, and that in my judgment the condition of the society forbade a request for the increase of my salary." He then gives in detail the efforts made by his wife, who used all her little fortune in the attempt to take boarders. This venture was a total loss. The two elder children were then teaching, and were able to turn their earnings into the family coffer, but the sons were all to be educated for the ministry, as they showed no talent for anything but study. The utmost economy was of no avail, and after much suffering, when they were at the lowest ebb of their fortunes, a letter came from Boston, urging Dr. Beecher to become the pastor of the Hanover Street Church.
"For several days and nights, while agitated by this subject, I endured what I shall not attempt to describe . . . . I hope you will do me the justice to believe that I have endeavored to conduct uprightly, and in the fear of God, and that the friendship between us, which has been confirmed by the joys and the sorrows of fifteen years, may not all in a moment be sacrificed, but that you will extend to me in this heart-breaking moment the consolation of believing that I have not forfeited your confidence, your affection, and an interest in your prayers."
In after life, Mrs. Stowe said of this Boston era: "It was the high noon of my father's manhood, the flood-tide of his powers; and a combination of circumstances in the history of Massachusetts brought him in to labor there just as a whole generation were on the return-wave of a great moral reaction. The strict theocracy founded by the Puritans in the State of Massachusetts had striven by all the ingenuity of legislation and institution to impress the Calvinistic seal indelibly on all the future generations of Massachusetts, so that no man of other opinions should minister in the church, or bear office in the State. As in Connecticut, so in Massachusetts, a reaction had come in and forced open the doors of the State, and rent the sole power from the clergy; but the revolution had gone deeper and farther and extended to ideas and theologies . . . . The party, called for convenience Unitarian, . . . consisted of persons of the most diverse and opposite shades of opinion, united only in the profession of not believing Calvinism as taught by the original founders of Massachusetts . . . .
"Calvinism or Orthodoxy was the despised and persecuted form of faith. It was the dethroned royal family wandering like a permitted mendicant in the city where it once had held court, and Unitarianism reigned in its stead.
"All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarian. All the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarians. All the élite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches. The judges on the bench were Unitarian, giving decisions by which the peculiar features of church organization, so carefully ordained by the Pilgrim Fathers, had been nullified. The church, as consisting, according to their belief, in regenerate people, had been ignored, and all the power had passed into the hands of the congregation. This power had been used by the majorities to settle ministers of the fashionable and reigning type in many of the towns of Eastern Massachusetts. The dominant majority entered at once into possession of churches and church property, leaving the orthodox minority to go out into schoolhouses or town halls, and build their churches as best they could. Old foundations established by the Pilgrim Fathers for the perpetuation and teaching of their own views in theology were seized upon and appropriated to the support of opposing views. A fund given for preaching an annual lecture on the Trinity was employed for preaching an anneul attack upon it, and the Hollis professorship of divinity at Cambridge was employed for the furnishing of a class of ministers whose sole distinctive idea was declared warfare with the ideas and intentions of the donor.
"So bitter and so strong had been the reaction of a whole generation against the too stringent bands of their fathers, -- such the impulse with which they broke from the cords with which their ancestors sought to bind them forever. But in every such surge of society, however confident and overbearing, there lies the element of a counter reaction, and when Dr. Beecher came to Boston this element had already begun to assert itself.
. . . .
"He had not been in Boston many weeks before every leisure hour was beset by people who came with earnest intention to express to him those various phases of weary, restless, wandering desire and aspiration proper to an earnest people whose traditional faith has been broken up, but who have not outlived the necessity of definite and settled belief. From minds of every class, in every circle of society, the most fashionable and the most obscure, these inquirers were constantly coming with every imaginable theological problem, from the inspiration of the Bible out through all the minutest ramifications of doctrinal opinion or personal religious experience . . . .
"The effect of all this on my father's mind was to keep him at a white heat of enthusiasm. Within a stone's throw of our door was the old Copp's Hill burying-ground, where rested the bones of the Puritan founders; and, though not a man ordinarily given to sentiment or to visiting of graves, we were never left to forget in any prayer of his that the bones of our fathers were before our door.
"His family prayers at this period, departing from the customary forms of unexcited hours, became often upheavings of passionate emotion such as I shall never forget. 'Come, Lord Jesus,' he would say, 'here where the bones of the fathers rest, here where the crown has been torn from thy brow, come and recall thy wandering children. Behold thy flock scattered on the mountain -- these sheep, what have they done? Gather them, gather them, O good Shepherd, for their feet stumble upon the dark mountains.'
. . . .
"Dr. Beecher kept a load of sand in his cellar, to which he would run at odd intervals and shovel vigorously, throwing it from one side the cellar to the other, on his favorite theory of working off nervous excitement through the muscles, and his woodpile and woodsaw were inestimable means to the same end. He had, also, in the back yard, parallel bars, a single bar, ladder, and other simple gymnastic apparatus, where he would sometimes astonish his ministerial visitors by climbing ropes hand over hand, whirling over on the single bar.
. . . .
"The time that he spent in actual preparation for a public effort was generally not long. If he was to preach in the evening he was to be seen all day talking with whoever world talk, accessible to all, full of everybody's affairs, business, and burdens, till an hour or two before the time, when he would rush up into his study (which he always preferred should be the topmost room of the house), and, throwing off his coat, after a swing or two with the dumb-bells to settle the balance of his muscles, he would sit down and dash ahead, making quantities of hieroglyphic notes on small, stubbed bits of paper, about as big as the palm of his hand. The bells would begin to ring and still he would write. They would toll loud and long, and his wife would say, 'He will certainly be late,' and then would be running up and down stairs of messengers to see that he was finished, till, just as the last stroke of the bell was dying away, he would emerge from the study with his coat very much awry, come down the stairs like a hurricane, stand impatiently protesting while female hands that ever lay in wait adjusted his cravat and settled his coat collar, calling loudly the while for a pin to fasten together the stubbed little bits of paper aforesaid, which being duly dropped into the crown of his hat, and hooking wife or daughter like a satchel on his arm, away he would start on such a race through the streets as left neither brain nor breath till the church was gained. Then came the process of getting in through crowded aisles wedged up with heads, the bustle, and stir, and hush to look at him, as, with a matter-of-fact, business-like push, he elbowed his way through them and up the pulpit stairs."
This period in Boston was the time when Harriet felt she drew nearer to her father than at any other period of her life; yet she did not go with the family in the first instance, but continued her stay at the school in Hartford, where she became a teacher long before she ceased to be a pupil.
There are many letters written to her brother Edward, begun about this time, which show the unnatural vein into which a delicate sympathetic girl could easily fall when exposed to influences such as have been described.
Her brain had already wearied her body in the double race for development. The sincerity of her nature is beautifully apparent in these letters. The habit of confession is not one that suited a human soul like hers, accustomed to seek the Divine throne alone, hand in hand with the Divine Son. To her mind there was no earthly intermediary necessary, nor was there a barrier of eighteen hundred years between her life and the life of Christ; she only saw a marvelous sequence of time, every day laden with new proofs of the necessity and the verity of this presence in her world. But the atmosphere of that period and the terrible arguments of her father and of her sister Catherine were sometimes more than she could endure. She says to Edward: C
"Many of my objections you did remove that afternoon we spent together. After that I was not as unhappy as I had been. I felt, nevertheless, that my views were very indistinct and contradictory, and feared that if you left me thus I might return to the same dark, desolate state in which I had been all summer. I felt that my immortal interest, my happiness for both worlds, was depending on the turn my feelings might take. In my disappointment and distress I called upon God, and it seemed as if I was heard. I felt that He could supply the loss of all earthly love. All misery and darkness were over. I felt as if restored, nevermore to fall. Such sober certainty of waking bliss had long been a stranger to me. But even then I had doubts as to whether these feelings were right, because I felt love to God alone without that ardent love for my fellow-creatures which Christians have often felt. . . . I cannot say exactly what it is makes me reluctant to speak of my feelings. It costs me an effort to express feeling of any kind, but more particularly to speak of my private religious feelings."
This difficulty in expressing the deepest feelings of her heart to another shows already the gathering wave which was to break by and by, not in lamentations over her own lot, but into a Miserere which was to become a Magnificat for the sufferings of the down-trodden of the earth, and for their regeneration. Delivered from herself, she became a deliverer. Again she writes to her brother: --
"I wish I could describe to you how I feel when I pray. I feel that I love God, -- that is, that I love Christ, -- that I find comfort and happiness in it, and yet it is not that kind of comfort which would arise from free communication of my wants and sorrows to a friend. I sometimes wish that the Saviour were visibly present in this world, that I might go to Him for a solution of some of my difficulties . . . . Do you think, my dear brother, that there is such a thing as so realizing the presence and character of God that He can supply the place of earthly friends? I really wish to know what you think of this . . . . Do you suppose that God really loves sinners before they come to Him? Some say that we ought to tell them that God hates them, that He looks on them with utter abhorrence, and that they must love Him before He will look on them otherwise. Is it right to say to those who are in deep distress, 'God is interested in you; He feels for and loves you'?"
At last came the vacation days when Harriet went to Boston to see her family. She writes to Georgiana May: --
"In the first place, on my arrival, I was obliged to spend two days in talking and telling news. Then after that came calling, visiting, etc., and then I came off to Groton to see my poor brother George, who was quite out of spirits and in very trying circumstances. To-morrow I return to Boston and spend four or five days, and then go to Franklin, where I spend the rest of my vacation.
"I found the folks all well on my coming to Boston, and as to my new brother, James, he has nothing to distinguish him from forty other babies, except a very large pair of blue eyes and an uncommonly fair complexion, a thing which is of no sort of use or advantage to a man or boy.
"I am thinking very seriously of remaining in Groton and taking care of the female school, and at the same time being of assistance and company for George. On some accounts it would not be so pleasant as returning to Hartford, for I should be among strangers. Nothing upon this point can be definitely decided till I have returned to Boston, and talked to papa and Catherine."
"Harriet reads everything," Edward wrote of his sister, "that she can lay hands on, and sews and knits vigorously." Doubtless a memory of these over-working days lingered with Mrs. Stowe in after life, when she said: "Women have no idea how much vitality runs off from the ends of their fingers when they should be resting." Neither was she a friend of the kindergarten system. "I can't bear to see these little animals (for children are hardly more in the earliest years) drawing all the vitality out of these sweet, delicate young girls just coming into womanhood." Of course Froebel and his followers stood aghast, but the improvement in method since those early days goes to prove that Mrs. Stowe's common sense was not altogether at fault.
Catherine's affection for Harriet did not allow any symptoms of ill to escape her observation. While the latter was at home, Catherine wrote to Dr. Beecher: --
"I have received some letters from Harriet to-day which make me feel uneasy. She says, 'I don't know as I am fit for anything, and I have thought that I could wish to die young, and let the remembrance of me and my faults perish in the grave, rather than live, as I fear I do, a trouble to every one. You don't know how perfectly wretched I often feel: so useless, so weak, so destitute of all energy. Mamma often tells me that I am a strange, inconsistent being. Sometimes I could not sleep, and have groaned and cried till midnight, while in the daytime I tried to appear cheerful, and succeeded so well that papa reproved me for laughing so much. I was so absent sometimes that I made strange mistakes, and then they all laughed at me, and I laughed, too, though I felt as though I should go distracted. I wrote rules; made out a regular system for dividing my time; but my feelings vary so much that it is almost impossible for me to be regular."
"But let Harriet 'take courage in her dark sorrows and melancholies,' as Carlyle says; Samuel Johnson, too, had hypochondrias; all great souls are apt to have, and to be in thick darkness generally till the eternal ways and the celestial guiding stars disclose themselves, and the vague abyss of life knits itself up into firmaments for them."
"At the same time (the winter of 1827),'' continues her son, "Catherine writes to Edward concerning Harriet: 'If she could come here (Hartford) it might be the best thing for her, for she can talk freely to me. I can get her books, and Catherine Cogswell, Georgiana May, and her friends here could do more for her than any one in Boston, for they love her, and she loves them very much. Georgiana's difficulties are different from Harriet's -- she is speculating about doctrines, etc. Harriet will have young society here all the time, which she cannot have at home, and I think cheerful and amusing friends will do much for her. I can do better in preparing her to teach drawing than any one else, for I best know what is needed.'"
Catherine seems to have had a sublime confidence in herself which goes more than half way to fight the battles of life. This confidence does not come without foundation. A distinguished theologian of New England said to a German professor, concerning one of her publications: --
"The ablest refutation of Edwards on 'The Will' which was ever written is the work of a woman, the daughter of Dr. Lyman Beecher." The worthy Teuton raised both hands in undisguised astonishment. "You have a woman that can write an able refutation of Edwards on The Will?' God forgive Christopher Columbus for discovering America!"
It does not appear at this juncture that the forces worked together for returning Harriet immediately to the school. She went instead with her friend Miss May to visit her grandmother again, where she seems in some degree to have recovered the tone of her spirits.
In the autumn, however, she returned, and in January wrote to her grandmother, Mrs. Foote: "I have been constantly employed from nine in the morning until after dark at night, in taking lessons of a painting and drawing master, with only an intermission long enough to swallow a little dinner which was sent to me in the schoolroom.
"You may easily believe that after spending the day in this manner, I did not feel in a very epistolary humor in the evening, and if I had been, I could not have written, for when I did not go immediately to bed I was obliged to get a long French lesson.
"The seminary is finished, and the school going on nicely. Miss Clarissa Brown is assisting Catherine in the school. Besides her, Catherine, and myself, there are two other teachers who both board in the family with us: one is Miss Degan, an Italian lady who teaches French and Italian; she rooms with me, and is very interesting and agreeable. Miss Hawks is rooming with Catherine. In some respects she reminds me very much of my mother. She is gentle, affectionate, modest, and retiring, and much beloved by all the scholars . . . . I am still going on with my French, and carrying two young ladies through Virgil, and if I have time, shall commence Italian.
"I am very comfortable and happy.
"I propose, my dear grandmamma, to send you by the first opportunity a dish of fruit of my own painting. Pray do not now devour it in anticipation, for I cannot promise that you will not find it sadly tasteless in reality. If so, please excuse it, for the sake of the poor young artist. I admire to cultivate a taste for painting, and I wish to improve it; it was what my dear mother admired and loved, and I cherish it for her sake. I have thought more of this dearest of all earthly friends these late years, since I have been old enough to know her character and appreciate her worth. I sometimes think that, had she lived, I might have been both better and happier than I now am, but God is good and wise in all His ways."
When we consider the somewhat stern character of "Sister Catherine," and remember how this young girl worked without intermission day in and day out, we see that she was quite right; "happier," if not "better," indeed she might have been.
In the spring of the same year Harriet writes again to Edward: --
It is only to the most perfect Being in the universe that imperfection can look and hope for patience. How strange! . . . You do not know how harsh and forbidding everything seems, compared with His character. All through the day in my intercourse with others, everything has a tendency to destroy the calmness of mind gained by communion with Him. One flatters me, another is angry with me, another is unjust to me.
"You speak of your predilections for literature having been a snare to you. I have found it so myself. I can scarcely think, without tears and indignation, that all that is beautiful and lovely and poetical has been laid on other altars. Oh! will there never be a poet with a heart enlarged and purified by the Holy Spirit, who shall throw all the graces of harmony, all the enchantments of feeling, pathos, and poetry, around sentiments worthy of. them? . . . It matters little what service He has for me . . . . I do not mean to live in vain. He has given me talents, and I will lay them at his feet, well satisfied if He will accept them. All my powers He can enlarge. He made my mind, and He can teach me to cultivate and exert its faculties."
Her schemes for going to Groton to help George did not meet with approval. In February, 1829, she writes again to Edward, as usual, from the school in Hartford: --
"My situation this winter is in many respects pleasant. I room with three other teachers, Miss Fisher, Miss Mary Dutton, and Miss Brigham. Ann Fisher you know. Miss Dutton is about twenty, has a fine mathematical mind, and has gone as far into that science, perhaps, as most students at college. She is also, as I am told, quite learned in the languages. . . . Miss Brigham is somewhat older; is possessed of a fine mind and most unconquerable energy and perseverance of character. From early childhood she has been determined to obtain an education, and to attain to a certain standard. Where persons are determined to be anything, they will be. I think, for this reason, she will make a first-rate character. Such are my companions. We spend our time in school during the day, and in studying in the evening. My plan of study is to read rhetoric and prepare exercises for my class the first half hour in the evening; after that the rest of the evening is divided between French and Italian. Thus you see the plan of my employment and the character of my immediate companions. Besides these, there are others among the teachers and scholars who must exert an influence over my character. Miss Degan, whose constant occupation it is to make others laugh; Mrs. Gamage, her room-mate, a steady, devoted, sincere Christian . . . . Little things have great power over me, and if I meet with the least thing that crosses my feelings, I am often rendered unhappy for days and weeks . . . . I wish I could bring myself to feel perfectly indifferent to the opinions of others. I believe that there never was a person more dependent on the good and evil opinions of those around than I am. This desire to be loved forms, I fear, the great motive for all my actions . . . . I have been reading carefully the book of Job, and I do not think that it contains the views of God which you presented to me. God seems to have stripped a dependent creature of all that renders life desirable, and then to have answered his complaints from the whirlwind; and, instead of showing mercy and pity, to have overwhelmed him by a display of his power and justice . . . . With the view I received from you, I should have expected that a being who sympathizes with his guilty, afflicted creatures would not have spoken thus. Yet, after all, I do believe that God is such a being as you represent Him to be, and in the New Testament I find in the character of Jesus Christ a revelation of God as merciful and compassionate; in fact, just such a God as I need.
"Somehow or another you have such a reasonable sort of way of saying things that, when I come to reflect, I almost always go over to your side . . . . My mind is often perplexed, and such thoughts arise in it that I cannot pray, and I become bewildered. The wonder to me is, how all ministers and all Christians can feel themselves so inexcusably sinful, when it seems to me all come into the world in such a way that it would be miraculous if we did not sin. Mr. Hawes always says in prayer, 'We have nothing to offer in extenuation of any of our sins,' and I always think when he says it, that we have everything to offer in extenuation. The case seems to me exactly as if I had been brought into the world with such a thirst for ardent spirits that there was just a possibility, though no hope, that I should resist, and then my eternal happiness made dependent on my being temperate. Some times when I try to confess my sins, I feel that after all I am more to be pitied than blamed, for I have never known the time when I have not had a temptation within me so strong that it was certain I should not overcome it. This thought shocks me, but it comes with such force, and so appealingly, to all my consciousness, that it stifles all sense of sin."
The following summer, in July, she writes to Edward: "I have never been so happy as this summer. I began it in more suffering than I ever before have felt, but there is One whom I daily thank for all that suffering, since I hope that it has brought me at last to rest entirely in Him."
"So after four years of struggling and suffering," writes her son, "she returns to the place where she started from as a child of thirteen. It has been like watching a ship with straining masts and storm-beaten sails, buffeted by the waves, making for the harbor, and coming at last to quiet anchorage. There have been, of course, times of darkness and depression, but never any permanent loss of the religious trustfulness and peace of mind indicated by this letter."
Happily, also, those striving years, when learning and imparting were accomplished almost with the same breath, at last were ended. Yet a change had been wrought in herself, which must not be overlooked; a change wholly disregarded in the intensified atmosphere of her life. She had not grown to be a strong woman; the apparently "healthy and hearty" child had been suffered to think and feel, to study and starve (as we may say), starve for relaxation, until she became a woman subject to much suffering and many inadequacies of physical life. If we seem to be brought by a contemplation of this subject to a lower level, it is because Mrs. Stowe, by physical weakness, was often unable to bear the stress and strain of her experience, and was brought to a lower level herself. She loved more, and consequently suffered more than others, and the weight of her suffering was heavier because she had grown up, apparently, almost without care either from herself or others in behalf of her body. Yet Dr. Beecher had already discovered that his own life of intellectual storm and stress required a physical balance. The wood that he sawed, the land that he redeemed, the trees that he planted and nourished, all attest to his faith in these matters; but, for women, life in the open air was not thought to be necessary; the same canons were not brought to bear in their behalf. They were always tired from the ceaseless round of indoor duties and lack of true relaxation which should draw neither too much upon the brain nor the body. Now every child is regarded from the physical point of view as well as the mental.
As to the spiritual life, perhaps, she was better off than the larger number of children of our day. With all our boasted education, it is only here and there when some holy man or woman appears as an educator for the people that Christ is born anew and the principles of his teaching are again made to live before us.
From this period of Harriet Beecher's life we must look upon her as a woman far from vigorous, yet laying upon herself every burden within her reach. She was twenty-one years old when we find her writing to her friend Miss May: --
"After the disquisition on myself above cited, you will be prepared to understand the changes through which this wonderful ego et me ipse has passed.
"The amount of the matter has been, as this inner world of mine has become worn out and untenable, I have at last concluded to come out of it and live in the eternal one, and, as F-- S-- once advised me, to give up the pernicious habit of meditation to the first Methodist minister that would take it, and try to mix in society somewhat as another person would.
"'Horas non numero nisi serenas.' Uncle Samuel, who sits by me, has just been reading the above motto, the inscription on a sun-dial in Venice. It strikes me as having a distant relationship to what I was going to say. I have come to a firm resolution to count no hours but unclouded ones, and to let all others slip out of my memory and reckoning as quickly as possible . . . .
"I am trying to cultivate a general spirit of kindliness towards everybody. Instead of shrinking into a corner to notice how other people behave, I am holding out my hand to the right and to the left, and forming casual or incidental acquaintances with all who will be acquainted with me. In this way I find society full of interest and pleasure, -- a pleasure which pleaseth me more because it is not old and worn out. From these friendships I expect little; therefore generally receive more than I expect. From past friendships I have expected everything, and must of necessity have been disappointed. The kind words and looks and smiles I call forth by looking and smiling are not much by themselves, but they form a very pretty flower border to the way of life. They embellish the day or the hour as it passes, and when they fade they only do just as you expected they would. This kind of pleasure in acquaintanceship is new to me. I never tried it before. When I used to meet persons, the first inquiry was, 'Have they such and such a character, or have they anything that might possibly be of use or harm to met?'
. . . . .
"Your long letter came this morning. It revived much in my heart. Just think how glad I must have been this morning to hear from you. I was glad. . . . I thought of it through all the vexations of school -- I have a letter at home; and when I came home from school, I went leisurely over it.
"This evening I have spent in a little social party, -- a dozen or so, -- and I have been zealously talking all the evening. When I came to my cold, lonely room, there was your letter lying on the dressing-table. It touched me with a sort of painful pleasure, for it seems to me uncertain, improbable, that I shall ever return and find you as I have found your letter. Oh, my dear G--- , it is scarcely well to love friends thus. The greater part that I see cannot move me deeply. They are present, and I enjoy them; they pass, and I forget them. But those that I love differently; those that I love; and oh, how much that word means! I feel sadly about them. They may change; they must die; they are separated from me, and I ask myself why should I wish to love with all the pains and penalties of such conditions? I check myself when expressing feelings like this, so much has been said of it by the sentimental, who talk what they could not have felt. But it is so deeply, sincerely so in me, that sometimes it will overflow. Well, there is a heaven, -- a heaven, -- a world of love, and love after all is the life-blood, the existence, the all in all of mind."
LIFE IN CINCINNATI AND MARRIAGE
IT was a momentous affair to the family when Dr. Beecher decided to leave Boston after six years of service and go to Cincinnati. There was a project on foot of founding the Lane Theological Seminary at that place, but the whole idea was to be given up unless Dr. Beecher would become its president.
"With Dr. Beecher and his wife," writes his grandson, "were to go Miss Catherine Beecher, who had conceived the scheme of founding in Cincinnati, then considered the capital of the West, a female college, and Harriet, who was to act as her principal assistant. In the party were also George, who was to enter Lane as a student, Isabella, James, the youngest son, and Miss Esther Beecher, the 'Aunt Esther' of the children."
In the autumn they started upon their long journey, and Harriet writes to one of her friends in Hartford:--
"Well, my dear, the great sheet is out, and the letter is begun. All our family are here (in New York), and in good health.
"Father is to perform to-night in the Chatham Theatre! 'positively for the last time this season!' I don't know, I'm sure, as we shall ever get to Pittsburgh. Father is staying here begging money for the Biblical Literature professorship; the incumbent is to be C. Stowe. Father begged two thousand dollars yesterday, and now the good people are praying him to abide certain days, as he succeeds so well. They are talking of sending us off and keeping him here. I really dare not go and see Aunt Esther and mother now; they were in the depths of tribulation before at staying so long, and now, 'in the lowest depths, another deep'! Father is in high spirits. He is all in his own element, -- dipping into books; consulting authorities for his oration; going round here, there, everywhere; begging, borrowing, and spoiling the Egyptians; delighted with past success and confident for the future.
"Wednesday. Still in New York. I believe it would kill me dead to live long in the way I have been doing since I have been here. It is a sort of agreeable delirium. There's only one thing about it, it is too scattering. I begin to be athirst for the waters of quietness."
Writing from Philadelphia, she adds: --
"Well, we did get away from New York at last, but it was through much tribulation. The truckman carried all the family baggage to the wrong wharf, and, after waiting and waiting on board the boat, we were obliged to start without it, George remaining to look it up. Arrived here late Saturday evening, -- dull, drizzling weather; poor Aunt Esther in dismay, -- not a clean cap to put on, -- mother in like state; all of us destitute. We went, half to Dr. Skinner's and half to Mrs. Elmes's: mother, Aunt Esther, father, and James to the former; Kate, Bella, and myself to Mr. Elmes's. They are rich, hospitable folks, and act the part of Gaius in apostolic times . . . . Our trunks came this morning. Father stood and saw them all brought into Dr. Skinner's entry, and then he swung his hat and gave a 'hurrah,' as any man would whose wife had not had a clean cap or ruffle for a week. Father does not succeed very well in opening purses here. Mr. Eastman says, however, that this is not of much consequence. I saw to-day a notice in the `Philadelphian' about father, setting forth how 'this distinguished brother, with his large family, having torn themselves from the endearing scenes of their home,' etc., etc., 'were going, like Jacob,' etc., -- a very scriptural and appropriate flourish. It is too much after the manner of men, or, as Paul says, speaking 'as a fool.' A number of the pious people of this city are coming here this evening to hold a prayer-meeting with reference to the journey and its object. For this I thank them."
From Downington she writes: --
"Here we all are, -- Noah and his wife and his sons and his daughters, with the cattle and creeping things, all dropped down in the front parlor of this tavern, about thirty miles from Philadelphia. If to-day is a fair specimen of our journey, we shall find a very pleasant, obliging driver, good roads, good spirits, good dinner, fine scenery, and now and then some 'psalms and hymns and spiritual songs;' for with George on board you may be sure of music of some kind. Moreover, George has provided himself with a quantity of tracts, and he and the children have kept up a regular discharge at all the wayfaring people we encountered. I tell him he is peppering the land with moral influence.
"We are all well; all in good spirits. Just let me give you a peep into our traveling household. Behold us, then, in the front parlor of this country inn, all as much at home as if we were in Boston. Father is sitting opposite to me at this table, reading; Kate is writing a billet-doux to Mary on a sheet like this; Thomas is opposite, writing in a little journal that he keeps; Sister Bell, too, has her little record; George is waiting for a seat that he may produce his paper and write. As for me, among the multitude of my present friends, my heart still makes occasional visits to absent ones, -- visits full of pleasure, and full of cause of gratitude to Him who gives us friends. I have thought of you often to-day, my G. We stopped this noon at a substantial Pennsylvania tavern, and among the flowers in the garden was a late monthly honeysuckle like the one at North Guilford. I made a spring for it, but George secured the finest bunch, which he wore in his button-hole the rest of the noon.
"This afternoon, as we were traveling, we struck up and sang 'Jubilee.' It put me in mind of the time when we used to ride along the rough North Guilford roads and make the air vocal as we went along. Pleasant times those. Those were blue skies, and that was a beautiful lake, and noble pine-trees and rocks they were that hung over it. But those we shall look upon 'na mair.'
"Well, my dear, there is a land where we shall not love and leave. Those skies shall never cease to shine, the waters of life we shall never be called upon to leave. We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come. In such thoughts as these I desire ever to rest, and with such words as these let us 'comfort one another and edify one another.'"
"Harrisburg, Sunday evening. Mother, Aunt Esther, George, and the little folks have just gathered into Kate's room, and we have just been singing. Father has gone to preach for Mr. De Witt. To-morrow we expect to travel sixty-two miles, and in two more days shall reach Wheeling; there we shall take the steamboat to Cincinnati."
As soon as the first letters from Hartford were received, Harriet responded to her sister Mary: --
"MY DEAR SISTER, -- The Hartford letter from all and sundry has just arrived, and after cutting all manner of capers expressive of thankfulness, I have skipped three stairs at a time up to the study to begin an answer. My notions of answering letters are according to the literal sense of the word, -- not waiting six months and then scrawling a lazy reply, but sitting down the moment you have read a letter, and telling, as Dr. Woods says, 'how the subject strikes you.' I wish I could be clear that the path of duty lay in talking to you this afternoon, but as I find a loud call to consider the heels of George's stockings, I must only write a word or two, and then resume my darning-needle. You don't know how anxiously we all have watched for some intelligence from Hartford. Not a day has passed when I have not been the efficient agent in getting somebody to the post-office, and every day my heart has sunk at the sound of 'No letters.' I felt a tremor quite sufficient for a lover when I saw your handwriting once more, so you see that in your old age you can excite quite as much emotion as did the admirable Miss Byron in her adoring Sir Charles. I hope the consideration and digestion of this fact will have its due weight in encouraging you to proceed.
"The fact of our having received said letter is as yet a state secret, not to be made known till all our family circle 'in full assembly meet' at the tea-table. Then what an illumination! 'How we shall be edified and fructified,' as that old Methodist said. It seems too bad to keep it from mother and Aunt Esther a whole afternoon, but then I have the comfort of thinking that we are consulting for their greatest happiness 'on the whole,' which is metaphysical benevolence.
"So kind Mrs. Parsons stopped in the very midst of her pumpkin pies to think of us? Seems to me I can see her bright, cheerful face now! And then those well-known handwritings! We do love our Hartford friends dearly; there can be, I think, no controverting that fact. Kate says that the word love is used in sixsenses, and I am sure in some one of them they will all come in. Well, good-by for the present.
"Evening. Having finished the last hole on George's black vest, I stick in my needle and sit down to be sociable. You don't know how coming away from New England has sentimentalized us all! Never was there such an abundance of meditation on our native land, on the joys of friendship, the pains of separation. Catherine had an alarming paroxysm in Philadelphia which expended itself in 'The Emigrant's Farewell.' After this was sent off she felt considerably relieved. My symptoms have been of a less acute kind, but, I fear, more enduring. There! the tea-bell rings. Too bad! I was just going to say something bright. Now to take your letter and run! How they will stare when I produce it!
"After tea. Well, we have had a fine time. When supper was about half over, Catherine began: 'We have a dessert that we have been saving all the afternoon,' and then I held up my letter. 'See here, this is from Hartford!' I wish you could have seen Aunt Esther's eyes brighten, and mother's pale face all in a smile, and father, as I unfolded the letter and began. Mrs. Parsons's notice of her Thanksgiving predicament caused just a laugh, and then one or two sighs (I told you we were growing sentimental!). We did talk some of keeping it (Thanksgiving), but perhaps we should all have felt something of the text, 'How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?' Your praises of Aunt Esther I read twice in an audible voice, as the children made some noise the first time. I think I detected a visible blush, though she found at that time a great deal to do in spreading bread and butter for James, and shuffling his plate; and, indeed, it was rather a vehement attack on her humility, since it gave her at least 'angelic perfection,' if not 'Adamic' (to use Methodist technics). Jamie began his Sunday-school career yesterday. The superintendent asked him how old he was. 'I'm four years old now, and when it snows very hard I shall be five,' he answered. I have just been trying to make him interpret his meaning; but he says, 'Oh, I said so because I could not think of anything else to say.' By the by, Mary, speaking of the temptations of cities, I have much solicitude on Jamie's account lest he should form improper intimacies, for yesterday or day before we saw him parading by the house with his arm over the neck of a great hog, apparently on the most amicable terms possible; and the other day he actually got upon the back of one, and rode some distance. So much for allowing these animals to promenade the streets, a particular in which Mrs. Cincinnati has imitated the domestic arrangements of some of her elder sisters, and a very disgusting one it is.
"Our family physician is one Dr. Drake, a man of a good deal of science, theory, and reputed skill, but a sort of general mark for the opposition of all the medical cloth of the city. He is a tall, rectangular, perpendicular sort of a body, as stiff as a poker, and enunciates his prescriptions very much as though he were delivering a discourse on the doctrine of election. The other evening he was detained from visiting Kate, and he sent a very polite, ceremonious note containing a prescription, with Dr. D.'s compliments to Miss Beecher, requesting that she would take the inclosed in a little molasses at nine o'clock precisely.
"The house we are at present inhabiting is the most inconvenient, ill-arranged, good-for-nothing, and altogether to be execrated affair that ever was put together. It was evidently built without a thought of a winter season. The kitchen is so disposed that it cannot be reached from any part of the house without going out into the air. Mother is actually obliged to put on a bonnet and cloak every time she goes into it. In the house are two parlors with folding doors between them. The back parlor has but one window, which opens on a veranda, and has its lower half painted to keep out what little light there is. I need scarcely add that our landlord is an old bachelor, and of course acted up to the light he had, though he left little enough of it for his tenants."
The story continues in her letters to Georgia May: --
"Bishop Purcell visited our school to-day, and expressed himself as greatly pleased that we had opened such an one here. He spoke of my poor little geography,(1) and thanked me for the unprejudiced manner in which I had handled the Catholic question in it. I was of course flattered that he should have known anything of the book.
"How I wish you could see Walnut Hills. It is about two miles from the city, and the road to it is as picturesque as you can imagine a road to be without 'springs that run among the hills.' Every possible variety of hill and vale of beautiful slope, and undulations of land set off by velvet richness of turf and broken up by groves and forests of every outline of foliage, make the scene Arcadian. You might ride over the same road a dozen times a day untired, for the constant variation of view caused by ascending and descending hills relieves you from all tedium. Much of the wooding is beech of a noble growth. The straight, beautiful shafts of these trees as one looks up the cool green recesses of the woods seem as though they might form very proper columns for a Dryad temple. There! Catherine is growling at me for sitting up so late; so 'adieu to music, moonlight, and you.' I meant to tell you an abundance of classical things that I have been thinking to-night, but 'woe's me.'
"Since writing the above my whole time has been taken up in the labor of our new school, or wasted in the fatigue and lassitude following such labor. To-day is Sunday, and I am staying at home because I think it is time to take some efficient means to dissipate the illness and bad feelings of divers kinds that have for some time been growing upon me. At present there is and can be very little system or regularity about me. About half of my time I am scarcely alive, and a great part of the rest the slave and sport of morbid feeling and unreasonable prejudice. I have everything but good health.
"I still rejoice that this letter will find you in good old Connecticut -- thrice blessed -- 'oh, had I the wings of a dove' I would be there too. Give my love to Mary H. I remember well how gently she used to speak to and smile on that forlorn old daddy that boarded at your house one summer. It was associating with her that first put into my head the idea of saying something to people who were not agreeable, and of saying something when I had nothing to say, as is generally the case on such occasions."
Again she writes to the same friend: "Your letter, my dear G., I have just received, and read through three times. Now for my meditations upon it. What a woman of the world you are grown. How good it would be for me to be put into a place which so breaks up and precludes thought. Thought, intense emotional thought, has been my disease. How much good it might do me to be where I could not but be thoughtless . . . .
"Now, Georgiana, let me copy for your delectation a list of matters that I have jotted down for consideration at a teachers' meeting to be held to-morrow night. It runneth as follows. Just hear! 'About quills and paper on the floor; forming classes; drinking in the entry (cold water, mind you); giving leave to speak; recess-bell, etc., etc.' 'You are tired, I see,' says Gilpin, 'so am I,' and I spare you.
"I have just been hearing a class of little girls recite, and telling them a fairy story which I had to spin out as it went along, beginning with 'Once upon a time there was,' etc., in the good old-fashioned way of stories.
"Recently I have been reading the life of Madame de Staël and 'Corinne.' I have felt an intense sympathy with many parts of that book, with many parts of her character. But in America feelings vehement and absorbing like hers become still more deep, morbid, and impassioned by the constant habits of self-government which the rigid forms of our society demand. They are repressed, and they burn inward till they burn the very soul, leaving only dust and ashes. It seems to me the intensity with which my mind has thought and felt on every subject presented to it has had this effect. It has withered and exhausted it, and though young, I have no sympathy with the feelings of youth. All that is enthusiastic, all that is impassioned in admiration of nature, of writing, of character, in devotional thought and emotion, or in the emotions of affection, I have felt with vehement and absorbing intensity, -- felt till my mind is exhausted, and seems to be sinking into deadness. Half of my time I am glad to remain in a listless vacancy, to busy myself with trifles, since thought is pain, and emotion is pain."
It was at this time that Harriet first tried her wings before the public of letters. An award of fifty dollars being offered by the editor of "The Western Magazine" for a story, she entered into competition, and easily took the prize. From this moment she devoted herself to an occupation more congenial to her nature than any other. She also joined a social and literary club, which counted among its members nearly all the distinguished men and women of Cincinnati.
She writes of this club to Miss May: --
"I am wondering as to what I shall do next. I have been writing a piece to be read next Monday evening at Uncle Sam's soirée (the Semi-Colon). It is a letter purporting to be from Dr. Johnson. I have been stilting about in his style so long that it is a relief to me to come down to the jog of common English. Now I think of it, I will just give you a history of my campaign in this circle.
"My first piece was a letter from Bishop Butler, written in his outrageous style of parentheses and foggification. My second a satirical essay on the modern uses of languages. This I shall send to you, as some of the gentlemen, it seems, took a fancy to it and requested leave to put it in the 'Western Magazine' and so it is in print. It is ascribed to Catherine, or I don't know that I should have let it go. I have no notion of appearing in propria persona.
"The next piece was a satire on certain members who were getting very much into the way of joking on the worn-out subjects of matrimony and old maid and old bachelorism. I therefore wrote a set of legislative enactments purporting to be from the ladies of the society, forbidding all such allusions in future. It made some sport at the time. I try not to be personal, and to be courteous, even in satire.
"But I have written a piece this week that is making me some disquiet. I did not like it that there was so little that was serious and rational about the reading. So I conceived the design of writing a set of letters, and throwing them in, as being the letters of a friend. I wrote a letter this week for the first of the set, -- easy, not very sprightly, -- describing an imaginary situation, a house in the country, a gentlemen and lady, Mr. and Mrs. Howard, as being pious, literary, and agreeable. I threw into the letter a number of little particulars and incidental allusions to give it the air of having been really a letter. I meant thus to give myself an opportunity for the introduction of different subjects and the discussion of different characters in future letters.
"I meant to write on a great number of subjects in future. Cousin Elisabeth, only, was in the secret; Uncle Samuel and Sarah Elliott were not to know.
"Yesterday morning I finished my letter, smoked it to make it look yellow, tore it to make it look old, directed it and scratched out the direction, postmarked it with red ink, sealed it and broke the seal, all this to give credibility to the fact of its being a real letter. Then I inclosed it in an envelope, stating that it was a part of a set which had incidentally fallen into my hands. This envelope was written in a scrawny, scrawly gentleman's hand.
"I put it into the office in the morning, directed to 'Mrs. Samuel E. Foote,' and then sent word to Sis that it was coming, so that she might be ready to enact the part.
"Well, the deception took. Uncle Sam examined it and pronounced, ex cathedra, that it must have been a real letter. Mr. Greene (the gentleman who reads) declared that it must have come from Mrs. Hall, and elucidated the theory by spelling out the names and dates which I had erased, which, of course, he accommodated to his own tastes. But then, what makes me feel uneasy is that Elisabeth, after reading it, did not seem to be exactly satisfied. She thought it had too much sentiment, too much particularity of incident, -- she did not exactly know what. She was afraid that it would be criticised unmercifully. Now Elisabeth has a tact and quickness of perception that I trust to, and her remarks have made me uneasy enough. I am unused to being criticised, and don't know how I shall bear it."
About a year after the arrival of Dr. Beecher's family in Cincinnati, the subject of slavery was first brought under Harriet's personal observation during a visit in Kentucky. Miss Dutton, one of the teachers in Miss Beecher's Institute, was her companion. Harriet found herself on the estate which was later known as Colonel Shelby's in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Many years after, Miss Dutton said, in speaking of this visit: --
"Harriet did not seem to notice anything in particular that happened, but sat much of the time as though abstracted in thought. When the negroes did funny things and cut up capers, she did not seem to pay the slightest attention to them. Afterwards, however, in reading 'Uncle Tom,' I recognized scene after scene of that visit portrayed with the most minute fidelity, and knew at once where the material for that portion of the story had been gathered."
But the great subject of slavery was not yet the ruling thought of her existence. She continues to write to Miss May on the subject of education: --
"We mean to turn over the West by means of model schools in this, its capital. We mean to have a young ladies' school of about fifty or sixty, a primary school of little girls to the same amount, and then a primary school for boys. We have come to the conclusion that the work of teaching will never be rightly done till it passes into female hands. This is especially true with regard to boys. To govern boys by moral influences requires tact and talent and versatility; it requires also the same division of labor that female education does. But men of tact, versatility, talent, and piety will not devote their lives to teaching. They must be ministers and missionaries, and all that, and while there is such a thrilling call for action in this way, every man who is merely teaching feels as if he were a Hercules with a distaff, ready to spring to the first trumpet that calls him away. As for division of labor, men must have salaries that can support wife and family, and, of course a revenue would be, required to support a requisite number of teachers if they could be found.
"Then, if men have more knowledge they have less talent at communicating it, nor have they the patience, the long-suffering, and gentleness necessary to superintend the formation of character. We intend to make these principles understood, and ourselves to set the example of what females can do in this way. You see that first-rate talent is necessary for all that we mean to do, especially for the last, because here we must face down the prejudices of society, and we must have exemplary success to be believed. We want original, planning minds, and you do not know how few there are among females, and how few we can command of those that exist."
In after years Mrs. Stowe wrote of their home in Cincinnati: --
"Dr. Beecher's residence on Walnut Hills was in many respects peculiarly pleasant. It was a two-story brick edifice of moderate dimensions, fronting the west, with a long L running back into the primeval forest, or grove, as it was familiarly called, which here came up to the very door. Immense trees -- beech, black oak, and others -- spread their broad arms over the back yard, affording in summer an almost impenetrable shade.
"An airy veranda was built in the angle formed by the L along the entire inner surface of the house, from which, during the fierce gales of autumn and winter, we used to watch the tossing of the spectral branches, and listen to the roaring of the wind through the forest. Two or three large beeches and elms had been with difficulty saved from the inexorable woodman's axe, and though often menaced as endangering the safety of the house from their great height, they still flourish in beauty. Through that beautiful grove the doctor and two of his sons, during the three years 1834-37, passed daily to and from the seminary buildings. A rustic gate was hung between the back yard and the grove, and the path crossed a run, or gully, where for a season an old carpenter's bench supplied the place of bridge. In that grove was a delightful resort of the young people from the city, of Dr. Beecher's flock, who often came out to spend a social hour or enjoy a picnic in the woods.
"During the first year of Dr. Beecher's Walnut Hills life, the care of the family was shared between Mrs. Beecher and Aunt Esther, though, as the health of the former declined, the burden of responsibility fell more and more upon the latter. The family was large, comprising, including servants, thirteen in all, besides occasional visitors.
"The house was full. There was a continual high tide of life and animation. The old carryall was constantly vibrating between home and the city, and the excitement of going and coming rendered anything like stagnation an impossibility. And if we take into account the constant occurrence of matters for consultation respecting the seminary and the students, or respecting the Church and congregation in the city, or respecting Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly, as well as the numberless details of shopping, marketing, which must be done in the city, it will be seen that at no period of his life was Dr Beecher's mind more constantly on the stretch, exerted to the utmost tension of every fibre, and never, to use an expressive figure of Professor Stowe, did he wheel a greater number of heavily laden wheelbarrows all at one and the same time. Had he husbanded his energies and turned them in a single channel, the mental fire might have burned steadily on till long after threescore years and ten. But this was an impossibility. Circumstances and his own constitutional temperament united to spur him on, and for more than twenty of his best years he worked under a high pressure, to use his favorite expression, to the ne plus, -- that is, to the utmost limit of physical and moral endurance.
"It was an exuberant and glorious life while it lasted. The atmosphere of his household was replete with moral oxygen, -- full charged with intellectual electricity. Nowhere else have we felt anything resembling or equaling it. It was a kind of moral heaven, the purity, vivacity, inspiration, and enthusiasm of which only those can appreciate who have lost it, and feel that in this world there is, there can be, 'no place like home.'"
"During the summer of 1834," writes her son, "the young teacher and writer made her first visit East since leaving New England two years before. Its object was mainly to be present at the graduation of her favorite brother, Henry Ward, from Amherst College. The earlier part of this journey was performed by means of stage to Toledo, and thence by steamer to Buffalo. A pleasant bit of personal description, and also of impressions of Niagara, seen for the first time on this journey, are given in a letter sent back to Cincinnati during its progress. In it she says of her fellow-travelers: --
"'Then there was a portly, rosy, clever Mr. Smith, or Jones, or something the like; and a New Orleans girl looking like distraction, as far as dress is concerned, but with the prettiest language and softest intonations in the world, and one of those faces which, while you say it isn't handsome, keeps you looking all the time to see what it can be that is so pretty about it. Then there was Miss B., an independent, good-natured, do-as-I-please sort of a body, who seemed of perpetual motion from morning till night. Poor Miss D. said, when we stopped at night, "Oh, dear! I suppose Lydia will be fiddling about our room till morning, and we shall not one of us sleep." Then, by way of contrast, there was a Mr. Mitchell, the most gentlemanly, obliging man that ever changed his seat forty times a day to please a lady. Oh, yes, he could ride outside, -- or, oh, certainly, he could ride inside, -- he had no objection to this, or that, or the other. Indeed, it was difficult to say what could come amiss to him. He speaks in a soft, quiet manner, with something of a drawl, using very correct, well-chosen language, and pronouncing all his words with carefulness; has everything in his dress and traveling appointments comme il faut; and seems to think there is abundant time for everything that is to be done in this world, without, as he says, "any unnecessary excitement." Before the party had fully discovered his name he was usually designated as "the obliging gentleman," or "that gentleman who is so accommodating." Yet our friend, withal, is of Irish extraction, and I have seen him roused to talk with both hands and a dozen words in a breath. He fell into a little talk about abolition and slavery with our good Mr. Jones, a man whose mode of reasoning consists in repeating the same sentence at regular intervals as long as you choose to answer it. This man, who was finally convinced that negroes were black, used it as an irrefragable argument to all that could be said, and at last began to deduce from it that they might just as well be slaves as anything else, and so he proceeded till all the philanthropy of our friend was roused, and he sprung up all lively and oratorical and gesticulatory and indignant to my heart's content. I like to see a quiet man that can be roused.'"
In this same letter she describes Niagara. Her style is of the very fibre of her own being, and she lives again for us as we read: --
"Let me tell, if I can, what is unutterable. I did not once think whether it was high or low; whether it roared or didn't roar; whether it equaled my expectations or not. My mind whirled off, it seemed to me, in a new, strange world. It seemed unearthly, like the strange, dim images in the Revelation. I thought of the great white throne; the rainbow around it; the throne in sight like unto an emerald; and oh! that beautiful water rising like moonlight, falling as the soul sinks when it dies, to rise refined, spiritualized, and pure; that rainbow, breaking out, trembling, fading, and again coming like a beautiful spirit walking the waters. Oh, it is lovelier than it is great; it is like the Mind that made it: great, but so veiled in beauty that we gaze without terror. I felt as if I could have gone over with the waters; it would be so beautiful a death; there would be no fear in it. I felt the rock tremble under me with a sort of joy. I was so maddened that I could have gone too, if it had gone.",
It was during Harriet's absence in the East that the news reached her of the death of a dear friend, Eliza Tyler, the young wife of Professor Stowe. Calvin E. Stowe and his wife Eliza Tyler had been among the most valued members of the social club of which Harriet Beecher has already given us a picture. Eliza Tyler was about the same age as Harriet. They became very close friends, and the news of her death was a true sorrow. There were not many women of her character and tastes anywhere, but Cincinnati was robbed of its dearest joy to Harriet when Eliza Tyler died. Professor Stowe was born in Natick, Massachusetts, in 1802, early enough to be cognizant of all the theological warfare of the period. The battle was hotly fought out in Connecticut between the factions of the Doctors Taylor and Tyler, the latter representing the radical branch of the argument. Professor Stowe was sensitive to impressions, eager for learning, with an extraordinary memory, reading German and Hebrew with absolute ease, with a keen sense of humor, and a still keener power of suffering from depression of spirits. His quick insight and unusual, almost exceptional, learning doubtless caused him early to espouse the Tyler views in theology, and ultimately led him to find his first wife.
When Harriet Beecher returned from her visit to the East, she found Mr. Stowe plunged in the deepest woe. He was always very dependent upon cheerful surroundings, and now she saw him suffering from grief, utterly lonely and forlorn. When he could be aroused from his sorrow his mind reasserted itself and made him a very witty and delightful companion; but left to himself he easily relapsed into the darkness of grief. For two years, while busily occupied as usual with matters of education, with ever closer observation of the South, and the condition of the slaves, with theological discussions and the social life around her, she spent herself in endeavoring to soothe this sad and solitary man.
The distance was not great between the sympathy and loving care she gave to Professor Stowe during this period, and the love which by and by declared itself. At the end of the two years she became his wife. She writes to Miss May: --
January 6, 1836.
"Well, my dear G., about half an hour more and your old friend, companion, schoolmate, sister, etc., will cease to be Hatty Beecher, and change to nobody knows who. My dear, you are engaged, and pledged in a year or two to encounter a similar fate, and do you wish to know how you shall feel? Well, my dear, I have been dreading and dreading the time, and lying awake all last week wondering how I should live through this overwhelming crisis, and lo! it has come, and I feel nothing at all."
This letter was interrupted by the arrival of Professor Stowe upon the scene, and was left in her desk unfinished until three weeks after the wedding, when she added: --
"My husband and self are now quietly seated by our own fireside, as domestic as any pair of tame fowl you ever saw; he writing to his mother, and I to you. Two days after our marriage we took a wedding excursion, so called, though we would most gladly have been excused this conformity to ordinary custom had not necessity required Mr. Stowe to visit Columbus, and I had too much adhesiveness not to go too. Ohio roads at this season are no joke, I can tell you, though we were, on the whole, wonderfully taken care of, and our expedition included as many pleasures as an expedition at this time of the year ever could.
"And now, my dear, perhaps the wonder to you, as to me, is how this momentous crisis in the life of such a wisp of nerve as myself has been transacted so quietly. My dear, it is a wonder to myself. I am tranquil, quiet, and happy. I look only on the present, and leave the future with Him who has hitherto been so kind to me. 'Take no thought for the morrow' is my motto, and my comfort is to rest on Him in whose house there are many mansions provided when these fleeting earthly ones pass away.
"Dear Georgy, naughty girl that I am, it is a month that I have let the above lie by, because I got into a strain of emotion in it that I dreaded to return to. Well, so it shall be no longer. In about five weeks Mr. Stowe and myself start for New England. He sails the first of May. I am going with him to Boston, New York, and other places, and shall stop finally at Hartford, whence, as soon as he is gone, it is my intention to return westward."
Thus, at the very threshold of their new life, Harriet and her husband discovered that, great as their love for each other might be, it was ever to be enlarged and made more beautiful by their devotion to the common welfare. The condition of the public schools of Cincinnati was then far behind the best intelligence of the age. Harriet had devoted herself, up to the time of her marriage, to bringing about some reformation in education, private as well as public, and Professor Stowe had been one of the founders of "The College for Teachers," an institution which exercised much influence in elevating the standard of teaching. It was natural, under the circumstances, that Professor Stowe should have been selected by the state legislature as the right man to send abroad and report upon the common schools of Europe, especially those of Prussia. There was great need also of foreign books for Lane Seminary, and who was so well fitted as Professor Stowe to select these? It was decided, therefore, that he should leave home on this double mission. Mrs. Stowe could hardly have been a child of her father without a feeling of being born to serve the world as well as to live and love in her own little round. Professor Stowe was of the same mind, and lived in the same atmosphere as his wife in this respect. There seems to have been no question between them as to the acceptance of this call. The need was clear to them both; also it must have been quite evident that he was the only man capable of fulfilling such errands, with intelligence, for Cincinnati. His knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, German and Italian, was remarkable for any period, but was exceptional at a time when German dictionaries were so rare and inaccessible that Theodore Parker was obliged to walk from Watertown to Professor Ticknor's house in Boston to consult one. Professor Stowe's scholarship was not always, we have heard, of the most accurate kind, but he read with absolute ease the most recondite books in many languages. To the end of his life he carried a small Greek Testament and a copy of the Divina Commedia in his pocket, and died with them under his pillow; when one copy of either of his favorites was worn out he would buy a new one; they were his inseparable companions.
This long parting of the newly married lovers was not easy. Evidently Mrs. Stowe found it difficult to keep up her husband's spirits. She was already unable to go with him, but she went to watch his departure from New York, and to cheer him on his way by a letter, to be opened on the voyage, sparkling with her wit and wisdom.
"Now, my dear, that you are gone where you are out of the reach of my care, advice, and good management, it is fitting that you should have something under my hand and seal for your comfort and furtherance in the new world you are going to. Firstly, I must caution you to set your face as a flint against the 'cultivation of indigo,' as Elisabeth calls it, in any way or shape . . . . But seriously, dear one, you must give more way to hope than to memory. You are going to a new scene now, and one that I hope will be full of enjoyment to you. I want you to take the good of it.
"Only think of all you expect to see: the great libraries and beautiful paintings, fine churches, and, above all, think of seeing Tholuck, your great Apollo. My dear, I wish I were a man in your place; if I wouldn't have a grand time!"
During the long summer and autumn of her husband's absence Mrs. Stowe lived at her father's home in Cincinnati, writing busily for a local paper, of which Henry Ward had accepted the temporary editorship, as well as for other journals in New York and at the West; beside these engagements, she wrote a daily journal to her husband, wherein we see, as in a glass, the crumbling and upheaving here and there of the great earthquake of war for slavery which was still to wait a quarter of a century for its awful development.
Mrs. Stowe was not yet altogether an abolitionist. Theodore D. Weld was a young student in the Seminary, who by lecturing in the South had earned the money for his education. He also earned what he had not foreseen, a knowledge of slavery, which made him a strong advocate for its abolition. He had won several slaveholders over to his faith, some of whom had freed their slaves. One of these gentlemen, Mr. Birney, came to Cincinnati and joined with Dr. Bailey in editing an anti-slavery newspaper there. Kentucky slave owners, getting wind of this, came to Cincinnati, and destroyed the Press. Mobocracy reigned; the people took sides hotly. Mrs. Stowe wrote to her husband: --
"For my part, I can easily see how such proceedings may make converts to abolitionism, for already my sympathies are strongly enlisted for Mr. Birney, and I hope that he will stand his ground and assert his rights. The office is fire-proof, and inclosed by high walls. I wish he would man it with armed men, and see what can be done. If I were a man I would go, for one, and take good care of at least one window. Henry sits opposite me writing a most valiant editorial, and tells me to tell you he is waxing mighty in battle
- - - - -
"I told you in my last that the mob broke into Birney's Press, where, however, the mischief done was but slight. The object appeared to be principally to terrify. Immediately there followed a general excitement in which even good men in their panic and prejudice about abolitionism forgot that mobs were worse evils than these, talked against Birney, and winked at the outrage; N. Wright and Judge Burnet, for example. Meanwhile the turbulent spirits went beyond this and talked of revolution and of righting things without law that could not be righted by it. At the head of these were Morgan, Neville, Longworth, Joseph Graham, and Judge Burke. A meeting was convoked at Lower Market Street to decide whether they would permit the publishing of an abolition paper, and to this meeting all the most respectable citizens were by name summoned.
- - - - -
"For a day or two we did not know but there would actually be war to the knife, as was threatened by the mob, and we really saw Henry depart with his pistols with daily alarm, only we were all too full of patriotism not to have sent every brother we had rather than not have had the principles of freedom and order defended.
"But here the tide turned. The mob, unsupported by a now frightened community, slunk into their dens and were still."
The sense of obedience to law still holds her: "Pray what is there inCincinnati to satisfy one whose mind is awakened on this subject?" she continues. "No one can have the system of slavery brought before him without an irrepressible desire to do something; and what is there to be done?"
In the early autumn, before Professor Stowe could return to his wife, she gave birth to twin daughters, who were named by her Eliza and Isabella; but the moment he reached New York, in mid-winter, after a two months' voyage home from London, and heard the news, he insisted they should be called Eliza Tyler and Harriet Beecher.
During the following summer, Mrs. Stowe's; health became very delicate, and she went to make a long visit at the house of the Rev. William Beecher in Putnam, Ohio. Professor Stowe wrote to her: --
"This alliance between the old school (Presbyterians) and slaveholders will make more abolitionists than anything that has been done yet."
In January, Mrs. Stowe's third child, Henry, was born. She wrote in June to Georgiana May: --
"MY DEAR, DEAR GEORGIANA, -- Only think how long it is since I have written to you, and how changed I am since then, -- the mother of three children! Well, if I have not kept the reckoning of old times, let this last circumstance prove my apology, for I have been hand, heart, and head full since I saw you.
"Now, to-day, for example, I'll tell you what I had on my mind from dawn to dewy eve. In the first place I waked about half after four and thought, 'Bless me, how light it is! I must get out of bed and rap to wake up Mina, for breakfast must be had at six o'clock this morning.' So out of bed I jump and seize the tongs and pound, pound, pound over Mina's sleepy head, charitably allowing her about half an hour to get waked up in, -- that being the quantum of time that it takes me, -- or used to. Well, then baby wakes -- quâ, quâ, quâ, so I give him his breakfast, dozing meanwhile and soliloquizing as follows:
'Now I must not forget to tell Mr. Stowe about the starch and dried apples' -- doze -- 'ah, um, dear me! why doesn't Mina get up? I don't hear her,' -- doze -- 'a, um, -- I wonder if Mina has soap enough! I think there were two bars left on Saturday' -- doze again -- I wake again. 'Dear me, broad daylight! I must get up and go down and see if Mina is getting breakfast.' Up I jump and up wakes baby. 'Now, little boy, be good and let mother dress, because she is in a hurry.' I get my frock half on, and baby by that time has kicked himself down off his pillow, and is crying and fisting the bedclothes in great order. I stop with one sleeve off and one on to settle matters with him. Having planted him bolt upright and gone all up and down the chamber barefoot to get pillows and blankets to prop him up, I finish putting my frock on and hurry down to satisfy myself by actual observation that the breakfast is in progress. Then back I come into the nursery, where, remembering that it is washing day, and that there is a great deal of work to be done, I apply myself vigorously to sweeping, dusting, and the setting to rights so necessary where there three little mischiefs always pulling down as fast as one can put up.
- - - - -
"Well, Georgy, this marriage is -- yes, I will speak well of it, after all; for when I can stop and think long enough to discriminate my head from my heels, I must say that I think myself a fortunate woman both in husband and children. My children I would not change for all the ease, leisure, and pleasure that I could have without them. They are money on interest whose value will be constantly increasing."
One of her friends at this time was anxious to get her to finish a story she had partly written, and for the conclusion of which the editor was waiting. This friend's account of difficulties is amusing, because both the ladies chose to be amused, and carried the matter off in such a humorous vein; but it easily has another side, when we consider Mrs. Stowe's health, and the work which lay before her.
"'Come, Harriet,' said I," wrote her friend, "as I found her tending one baby and watching two others just able to walk, 'where is that piece for the "Souvenir" which I promised the editor I would get from you and send on next week? You have only this one day left to finish it, and have it I must.'
"'And how will you get it, friend of mine?' said Harriet. 'You will at least have to wait till I get house-cleaning over and baby's teeth through.'
"'As to house-cleaning,** you can defer it one day longer; and as to baby's teeth, there is to be no end to them, as I can see. No, no; to-day that story must be ended. There Frederick has been sitting by Ellen and saying all those pretty things for more than a month now, and she has been turning and blushing till I am sure it is time to go to her relief. Come, it would not take you three hours at the rate you can write to finish the courtship, marriage, catastrophe, éclaircissement, and all; and this three hours' labor of your brains will earn enough to pay for all the sewing your fingers could do for a year to come. Two dollars a page, my dear, and you can write a page in fifteen minutes! Come, then, my lady housekeeper, economy is a cardinal virtue; consider the economy of the thing.'
"'But, my dear, here is a baby in my arms and two little pussies by my side, and there is a great baking down in the kitchen, and there is a "new girl" for "help," besides preparations to be made for housecleaning next week. It is really out of the question, you see.'
"'I see no such thing. I do not know what genius is given for, if it is not to help a woman out of a scrape. Come, set your wits to work, let me have my way, and you shall have all the work done and finish the story, too.'
"'Well, but kitchen affairs?'
"'We can manage them, too. You know you can write anywhere and anyhow. Just take your seat at the kitchen table with your writing weapons, and while you superintend Mina, fill up the odd snatches of time with the labors of your pen.'
"I carried my point. In ten minutes she was seated; a table with flour, rolling-pin, ginger, and lard on one side, a dresser with eggs, pork, and beans, and various cooking utensils on the other, near her an oven heating, and beside her a dark-skinned nymph, waiting orders.
"'Here, Harriet,' said I, 'you can write on this atlas in your lap; no matter how the writing looks, I will copy it.'
"'Well, well,' said she, with a resigned sort of amused look. `Mina, you may do what I told you, while I write a few minutes, till it is time to mould up the bread. Where is the inkstand?'
"'Here it is, close by, on the top of the tea-kettle,' said I.
"At this Mina giggled, and we both laughed to see her merriment at our literary proceedings.
"I began to overhaul the portfolio to find the right sheet.
"'Here it is,' said I. 'Here is Frederick sitting by Ellen, glancing at her brilliant face, and saying something about "guardian angel," and all that -- you remember?'
"'Yes, yes,' said she, falling into a muse, as she attempted to recover the thread of her story.
"'Ma'am, shall I put the pork on the top of the beans?' asked Mina.
"'Come, come,' said Harriet, laughing. 'You see how it is. Mina is a new hand and cannot do anything without me to direct her. We must give up the writing for to-day.'
"'No, no; let us have another trial. You can dictate as easily as you can write. Come, I can set the baby in this clothes-basket and give him some mischief or other to keep him quiet; you shall dictate and I will write. Now, this is the place where you left off: you were describing the scene between Ellen and her lover; the last sentence was, "Borne down by the tide of agony, she leaned her head on her hands, the tears streamed through her fingers, and her whole frame shook with convulsive sobs." What shall I write next?'
"'Mina, pour a little milk into this pearlash,' said Harriet.
- - - - -
"'Here,' said I, 'let me direct Mina about these matters, and write a while yourself.'
"Harriet took the pen and patiently set herself to the work. For a while my culinary knowledge and skill were proof to all Mina's investigating inquiries, and they did not fail till I saw two pages completed.
"'You have done bravely,' said I, as I read over the manuscript; 'now you must direct Mina awhile. Meanwhile dictate and I will write.'
"Never was there a more docile literary lady than my friend. Without a word of objection she followed my request.
"'I am ready to write,' said I. 'The last sentence was: "What is this life to one who has suffered as I have?" What next?'
"'Shall I put in the brown or the white bread first?' said Mina.
"'The brown first,' said Harriet.
"'What is this life to one who has suffered as I have?'" said I.
"Harriet brushed the flour off her apron and sat down for a moment in a muse. Then she dictated as follows:
"'"Under the breaking of my heart I have borne up. I have borne up under all that tries a woman, -- but this thought, -- oh, Henry!"'
"'Ma'am, shall I put ginger into this pumpkin?' queried Mina.
"'No, you may let that alone just now,' replied Harriet. She then proceeded: --
"'"I know my duty to my children. I see the hour must come. You must take them, Henry; they are my last earthly comfort."'
"'Ma'am, what shall I do with these egg-shells and all this truck here?' interrupted Mina.
"'Put them in the pail by you,' answered Harriet.
"'"They are my last earthly comfort,"' said I. 'What next?'
"She continued to dictate: --
"'"You must take them away. It may be -- perhaps it must be -- that I shall soon follow, but the breaking heart of a wife still pleads, 'a little longer, a little longer.'"'
"'How much longer must the gingerbread stay in?' inquired Mina.
"'Five minutes,' said Harriet.
"'"A little longer, a little longer,"' I repeated in a dolorous tone, and we burst into a laugh.
"Thus we went on, cooking, writing, nursing, and laughing, till I finally accomplished my object. The piece was finished, copied, and the next day sent to the editor."
It is not wonderful, certainly, to find the following letter written to Georgiana May in December, 1840. In the previous month of May, another boy, Frederick William, had been brought into the world, Mrs. Stowe says: --
"For a year I have held the pen only to write an occasional business letter such as could not be neglected. This was primarily owing to a severe neuralgic complaint that settled in my eyes, and for two months not only made it impossible for me to use them in writing, but to fix them with attention on anything. I could not even bear the least light of day in my room. Then my dear little Frederick was born, and for two months more I was confined to my bed. Besides all this, we have had an unusual amount of sickness in our family….
"For all that my history of the past year records so many troubles, I cannot, on the whole, regard it as a very troublous one. I have had so many counterbalancing mercies that I must regard myself as a person greatly blessed. It is true that about six months but of the twelve I have been laid up with sickness, but then I have had every comfort and the kindest of nurses in my faithful Anna. My children have thriven, and on the whole 'come to more,' as the Yankees say, than the care of them. 'Thus you see my troubles have been but enough to keep me from loving earth too well."
During this hard time the navigation of the Ohio had been impeded for several months. Cincinnati was like a besieged city; no supplies could reach the people. Flour and pork, which happily could be had at reasonable prices, kept them from starving, but in Mrs. Stowe's delicate condition it was especially difficult to bear. She was singularly uncomplaining, and the only mention we find of this state of public affairs is in a letter from Professor Stowe to his mother. A few months earlier there had been a meeting of all the Beecher family in Cincinnati, a very exciting affair to old Dr. Beecher as well as to the eleven children. Two of them had never met before! The Doctor's pulpit was filled that Sunday, in the morning by his son Edward, by William in the afternoon, and by George in the evening. All these things drew upon Mrs. Stowe's nervous energy, already at a low ebb. She was obliged to leave home. Taking her six-year-old daughter Hattie with her she went first to Hartford, where the following letter reached her from her husband. She had confided to him in a previous letter some of her literary plans and aspirations; Professor Stowe replies: --
"My dear, you must be a literary woman. It is so written in the book of fate. Make all your calculations accordingly. Get a good stock of health and brush up your mind. Drop the E. out of your name. It only incumbers it and interferes with the flow and euphony. Write yourself fully and always Harriet Beecher Stowe, which is a name euphonious, flowing, and full of meaning. Then my word for it, your husband will lift up his head in the gate, and your children will rise up and call you blessed.
"Our humble dwelling has to-day received a distinguished honor of which I must give you an account. It was a visit from his excellency the Baron de Roenne, ambassador of his majesty the King of Prussia to the United States. He was pleased to assure me of the great satisfaction my report on Prussian schools had afforded the king and members of his court, with much more to the same effect. Of course, having a real live lord to exhibit, I was anxious for some one to exhibit him to; but neither Aunt Esther nor Anna dared venture near the study, though they both contrived to get a peep at his lordship from the little chamber window as he was leaving.
"And now, my dear wife, I want you to come home as quick as you can. The fact is I cannot live without you, and if we were not so prodigious poor I would come for you at once. There is no woman like you in this wide world. Who else has so much talent with so little self-conceit; so much reputation with so little affectation; so much literature with so little nonsense; so much enterprise with so little extravagance; so much tongue with so little scold; so much sweetness with so little softness; so much of so many things and so little of so many other things?"
In answer to this letter, Mrs. Stowe writes from Hartford: --
"I have seen Johnson of the 'Evangelist.' He is very liberally disposed, and I may safely reckon on being paid for all I do there. Who is that Hale, Jr., that sent me the 'Boston Miscellany,' and will he keep his word with me? His offers are very liberal, -- twenty dollars for three pages, not very close print. Is he to be depended on? If so, it is the best offer I have received yet. I shall get something from the Harpers some time this winter or spring. Robertson, the publisher here, says the book ('The Mayflower') will sell, and though the terms they offer me are very low, that I shall make something on it. For a second volume I shall be able to make better terms. On the whole, my dear, if I choose to be a literary lady, I have, I think, as good a chance of making profit by it as any one I know of. But with all this, I have my doubts whether I shall be able to do so.
"Our children are just coming to the age when everything depends on my efforts. They are delicate in health, and nervous and excitable, and need a mother's whole attention. Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts?
"There is one thing I must suggest. If I am to write, I must have a room to myself, which shall be my room. I have in my own mind pitched on Mrs. Whipple's room. I can put the stove in it. I have bought a cheap carpet for it, and I have furniture enough at home to furnish it comfortably, and I only beg in addition that you will let me change the glass door from the nursery into that room and keep my plants there, and then I shall be quite happy.
"All last winter I felt the need of some place where I could go and be quiet and satisfied. I could not there, for there was all the setting of tables, and clearing up of tables, and dressing and washing of children, and everything else going on, and the continual falling of soot and coal dust on everything in the room was a constant annoyance to me, and I never felt comfortable there, though I tried hard. Then if I came into the parlor where you were, I felt as if I were interrupting you, and you know you sometimes thought so, too.
"Now this winter let the cooking-stove be put into that room, and let the pipe run up through the floor into the room above. The children can be washed and dressed and keep their playthings in the upper room and play there when we don't want them below. You can study by the parlor fire, and I and my plants, etc., will take the other room. I shall keep my work and all my things there, and feel settled and quiet. I intend to have a regular part of each day devoted to the children, and then I shall take them in there."
In his reply to this letter Professor Stowe says: --
"The little magazine ('The Souvenir') goes ahead finely. Fisher sent down to Fulton the other day and got sixty subscribers. He will make the June number as handsome as possible, as a specimen number for the students, several of whom will take agencies for it during the coming vacation. You have it in your power by means of this little magazine to form the mind of the West for the coming generation. It is just as I told you in my last letter. God has written it in his book that you mast be a literary woman, and who are we that we should contend against God? You must therefore make all your calculations to spend the rest of your life with your pen.
"If you only could come home to-day how happy should I be. I am daily finding out more and more (what I knew very well before) that you are the most intelligent and agreeable woman in the whole circle of my acquaintance."
"That Professor Stowe's devoted admiration for his wife was reciprocated," writes their son Charles, "and that a most perfect sympathy of feeling existed between the husband and wife, is shown by a line in one of Mrs. Stowe's letters from Hartford in which she says: 'I was telling Belle yesterday that I did not know till I came away how much I was dependent upon you for information. There are a thousand favorite subjects on which I could talk with you better than with any one else. If you were not already my dearly loved husband I should certainly fall in love with you.'"
In this same letter she writes of herself: --
"One thing more in regard to myself. The absence and wandering of mind and forgetfulness that so often vexes you is a physical infirmity with me. It is the failing of a mind not calculated to endure a great pressure of care, and so much do I feel the pressure I am under, so much is my mind often darkened and troubled by care, that life seriously considered holds out few allurements, -- only my children.
"In returning to my family, from whom I have been so long separated, I am impressed with a new and solemn feeling of responsibility. It appears to me that I am not probably destined for long life; at all events, the feeling is strongly impressed upon my mind that a work is put into my hands which I must be earnest to finish shortly. It is nothing great or brilliant in the world's eye; it lies in one small family circle, of which I am called to be the central point."
We find in a journal of this period: "For many weeks past my mind has been oppressed with a strong sense of the importance of the early education of my children, and with an ever agonizing sense of incompetence to undertake it. Where so many of the wisest and best fail, how can I hope to succeed. My only hope is in prayer. God is all powerful . . . .
"The most fearful thing about this education matter is, that it is example more than word. Talk as you will, the child follows what he sees,not what he hears. The prevailing tone of the parent's character will make the temper of the household; the spirit of the parent will form the spirit of the child."
On the way home from her visit to the East, Mrs. Stowe traveled for the first time by rail, and of this novel experience she writes to Miss Georgiana May: --
BATAVIA, August 29.
"Here I am at Brother William's, and our passage along this railroad reminds me of the verse of the psalm: --
'Tho' lions roar and tempests blow,
And rocks and dangers fill the way.'
"Such confusion of tongues, such shouting and swearing, such want of all sort of system and decency in arrangements, I never desire to see again. I was literally almost trodden down and torn to pieces in the Rochester depot when I went to help my poor, near-sighted spouse in sorting out the baggage. You see there was an accident which happened to the cars leaving Rochester that morning, which kept us two hours and a half at the passing place this side of Auburn, waiting for them to come up and go by us. The consequence was that we got into this Rochester depot aforesaid after dark, and the steamboat, the canal boat, and the Western train of cars had all been kept waiting three hours beyond their usual time, and they all broke loose upon us the moment we put our heads out of the cars, and such a jerking, and elbowing, and scuffling, and swearing, and protesting, and scolding you never heard, while the great locomotive sailed up and down in the midst thereof, spitting fire and smoke like some great fiend monster diverting himself with our commotions. I do think these steam concerns border a little too much on the supernatural to be agreeable, especially when you are shut up in a great dark depot after sundown.
"Well, after all, we had to ride till twelve o'clock at night to get to Batavia, and I've been sick abed, so to speak, ever since."
The winter was one of peculiar trial to the family at Walnut Hills; as Mrs. Stowe writes, "It was a season of sickness and gloom." Typhoid fever raged among the students of the seminary, and the house of the president was converted into a hospital, while the members of his family were obliged to devote themselves to nursing the sick and dying.
In July, a few weeks before the birth of her third daughter, Georgiana May, a most terrible and overwhelming sorrow came on Mrs. Stowe, in common with all the family, in the sudden death of her brother, the Rev. George Beecher.
In October she writes to one of her brothers: --
"Our straits for money this year are unparalleled even in our annals. Even our bright and cheery neighbor Allen begins to look blue, and says six hundred dollars is the very most we can hope to collect of our salary, once twelve hundred dollars. We have a flock of entirely destitute young men in the seminary, as poor in money as they are rich in mental and spiritual resources. They promise to be as fine a band as those we have just sent off. We have two from Iowa and Wisconsin who were actually crowded from secular pursuits into the ministry by the wants of the people about them. Revivals began, and the people came to them saying, 'We have no minister, and you must preach to us, for you know more than we do.'"
Professor Stowe was obliged to go to the East in order to raise money for the struggling seminary. His wife wrote to him: --
"I am already half sick with confinement to the house and overwork. If I should sew every day for a month to come I should not be able to accomplish a half of what is to be done, and should be only more unfit for my other duties."
Exception has been taken to the idea that Mrs. Stowe suffered from poverty. Her children were always made comfortable. She had a devoted young woman, Anna, who was her friend, companion, nurse for her children, and a second self in household labors, such as only a loving, sympathetic heart like Mrs. Stowe's could draw to her side and hold by her affection through a long series of years; also there was a colored woman in the kitchen for the simple cooking and the rougher work of the household. Nevertheless, for Mrs. Stowe it was indeed "suffering from poverty." Professor Stowe's salary was very uncertain, as we have seen. They were both pledged to Christ's work in the world, and did not count the dollars and cents before undertaking any labor which was required of them. Even if a salary generous for a professor in those days had been regularly paid, it would not have been more than sufficient for seven children and an invalid wife! Her husband was not lacking in affection nor in constant endeavor, but they were neither of them far-sighted from a worldly point of view. For nearly two years at this period the trouble continued which bore so hardly upon the wife and mother. Professor Stowe having been called away to a ministerial convention at Detroit, his wife wrote to him: --
MY DEAR HUSBAND, -- It is a dark, sloppy, rainy, muddy, disagreeable day, and I have been working hard (for me) all day in the kitchen, washing dishes, looking into closets, and seeing a great deal of that dark side of domestic life which a housekeeper may who will investigate too curiously into minutiæ in warm, damp weather, especially after a girl who keeps all clean on the outside of cup and platter, and is very apt to make good the rest of the text in the inside of things.
"I am sick of the smell of sour milk, and sour meat, and sour everything, and then the clothes will not dry, and no wet thing does, and everything smells mouldy; and altogether I feel as if I never wanted to eat again.
"Your letter, which was neither sour nor mouldy, formed a very agreeable contrast to all these things; the more so for being unexpected. I am much obliged to you for it. As to my health, it gives me very little solicitude, although it is bad enough and daily growing worse. I feel no life, no energy, no appetite, or rather a growing distaste for food; in fact, I am becoming quite ethereal. Upon reflection I perceive that it pleases my Father to keep me in the fire, for my whole situation is excessively harassing and painful. I suffer with sensible distress in the brain, as I have done more or less since my sickness last winter, a distress which some days takes from me all power of planning or executing anything; and you know that, except this poor head, my unfortunate household has no mainspring, for nobody feels any kind of responsibility to do a thing in time, place, or manner, except as I oversee it.
"Georgiana is so excessively weak, nervous, cross, and fretful, night and day, that she takes all Anna's strength and time with her; and then the children are, like other little sons and daughters of Adam, full of all kinds of absurdity and folly.
"When the brain gives out, as mine often does, and one cannot think or remember anything, then what is to be done? All common fatigue, sickness, and exhaustion is nothing to this distress. Yet do I rejoice in my God, and know in whom I believe, and only pray that the fire may consume the dross; as to the gold, that is imperishable. No real evil can happen to me, so I fear nothing for the future, and only suffer in the present tense.
"God, the mighty God, is mine, of that I am sure, and I know He knows that though flesh and heart fail, I am all the while desiring and trying for his will alone. As to a journey, I need not ask a physician to see that it is needful to me as far as health is concerned, that is to say, all human appearances are that way, but I feel no particular choice about it. If God wills I go. He can easily find means. Money, I suppose, is as plenty with Him now as it always has been, and if He sees it is really best He will doubtless help me."
Professor Stowe was doubtless much moved by this letter. We find he was able to get the means for sending his wife eastward to her friends in Hartford and Boston during the summer, but her condition was such that he was not greatly relieved. In March she writes:--
"For all I have had trouble I can think of nothing but the greatness and richness of God's mercy to me in giving me such friends, and in always caring for us in every strait. There has been no day this winter when I have not had abundant reason to see this. Some friend has always stepped in to cheer and help, so that I have wanted for nothing. My husband has developed wonderfully as housefather and nurse. You would laugh to see him in his spectacles gravely marching the little troop in their nightgowns up to bed, tagging after them, as he says, like an old hen after a flock of ducks. The money for my journey has been sent in from an unknown hand in a wonderful manner. All this shows the care of our Father, and encourages me to rejoice and to hope in Him."
It was decided that she must try Dr. Wesselhoeft's water-cure at Brattleboro', Vermont, her increasing debility giving cause for anxiety. On her journey she sends a line back from Pittsburgh to her husband, to which he replies, giving her the names of two ladies, strangers, who have sent him money, hearing of illness in the family. He continues: --
"Henry and I have been living in a Robinson Crusoe and man Friday sort of style, greatly to our satisfaction, ever since you went away."
Happily, two of Mrs. Stowe's sisters, Catherine and Mary, were able to be with her during a part of her absence, but she was obliged to be away from her husband and children eleven months! It was a weary interval.
MY DEAR HUSBAND, -- I have been thinking of all your trials, and I really pity you in having such a wife. I feel as if I had been only a hindrance to you instead of a help, and most earnestly and daily do I pray to God to restore my health that I may do something for you and my family. I think if I were only at home I could at least sweep and dust, and wash potatoes, and cook a little, and talk to my children, and should be doing something for my family. But the hope of getting better buoys me up. I go through these tedious and wearisome baths and bear that terrible douche thinking of my children. They never will know how I love them . . . .
"There is great truth and good sense in your analysis of the cause of our past failures. We have now come to a sort of crisis. If you and I do as we should for five years to come the character of our three oldest children will be established. This is why I am willing to spend so much time and make such efforts to have health. Oh, that God would give me these five years in full possession of mind and body, that I may train my children as they should be trained. I am fully aware of the importance of system and order in a family. I know that nothing can be done without it; it is the keystone, the sine quû non, and in regard to my children I place it next to piety. At the same time it is true that both Anna and I labor under serious natural disadvantages on this subject. It is not all that is necessary to feel the importance of order and system, but it requires a particular kind of talent to carry it through a family. Very much the same kind of talent, as Uncle Samuel said, which is necessary to make a good prime minister . . . .
"I think you might make an excellent sermon to Christians on the care of health, in consideration of the various infirmities and impediments to [the]** developing the results of religion, that result from bodily ill health, and I wish you would make one, that your own mind may be more vividly impressed with it. The world is too much in a hurry. Ministers think there is no way to serve Christ but to overdraw on their physical capital for four or five years for Christ, and then have nothing to give, but become a mere burden on his hands for the next five . . . .
November 18. "The daily course I go through presupposes a degree of vigor beyond anything I ever had before. For this week, I have gone before breakfast to the wave-bath and let all the waves and billows roll over me till every limb ached with cold, and my hands would scarcely have feeling enough to dress me. After that I have walked till I was warm, and come home to breakfast with such an appetite! Brown bread and milk are luxuries indeed, and the only fear is that I may eat too much. At eleven comes my douche, to which I have walked in a driving rain for the last two days, and after it walked in the rain again till I was warm. (The umbrella you gave me at Natick answers finely, as well as if it were a silk one.) After dinner I roll ninepins or walk till four, then sitzbath, and another walk till six.
"I am anxious for your health; do be persuaded to try a long walk before breakfast. You don't know how much good it will do you. Don't sit in your hot study without any ventilation, a stove burning up all the vitality of the air and weakening your nerves, and above all, do amuse yourself. Go to Dr. Mussey's and spend an evening, and to father's and Professor Allen's. When you feel worried go off somewhere and forget and throw it off. I should really rejoice to hear that you and father and mother, with Professor and Mrs. Allen, Mrs. K., and a few others of the same calibre would agree to meet together for dancing cotillons. It would do you all good, and if you took Mr. K.'s wife and poor Miss Much-Afraid, her daughter, into the alliance, it would do them good. Bless me! what a profane set everybody would think you were, and yet you are the people of all the world most solemnly in need of it. I wish you could be with me in Brattleboro' and coast down hill on a sled, go sliding and snowballing by moonlight! I would snowball every bit of the hypo out of you! Now, my dear, if you are going to get sick, I am going to come home. There is no use in my trying to get well if you, in the meantime, are going to run yourself down."
"MY DEAR SOUL, -- I received your most melancholy effusion, and I am sorry to find it's just so. I entirely agree and sympathize. Why didn't yon engage the two tombstones -- one for you and one for me?
- - - - -
"But, seriously, my dear husband, you must try and be patient, for this cannot last forever. Be patient and bear it like the toothache, or a driving rain, or anything else that you cannot escape. To see things as through a glass darkly is your infirmity, you know; but the Lord will yet deliver you from this trial. I know how to pity you, for the last three weeks I have suffered from an overwhelming mental depression, a perfect heartsickness. All I wanted was to get home and die. Die I was very sure I should, at any rate, but I suppose I was never less prepared to do so."
Happily the long exile was ended at last, and Mrs. Stowe returned to her rejoicing family. In the following January her son, Samuel Charles, was born. Shortly after, Professor Stowe became ill and was sent in turn to Brattleboro', where he remained alone for fifteen months. Mrs. Stowe writes to Miss May: --
"MY BELOVED GEORGY, -- For six months after my return from Brattleboro' my eyes were so affected that I wrote scarce any, and my health was in so strange a state that I felt no disposition to write. After the birth of little Charley my health improved, but my husband was sick, and I have been so loaded and burdened with cares as to drain me dry of all capacity of thought, feeling, memory, or emotion.
"Well, Georgy, I am thirty-seven years old! I am glad of it. I like to grow old and have six children and cares endless. I wish you could see me with my flock all around me. They sum up my cares, and were they goneI should ask myself, What now remains to be done? They are my work, over which I fear and tremble."
Cholera was rife this year in Cincinnati. Professor Stowe was anxious to return, and be with his family, but his wife would not hear of it.
Her journal letter says, June 29th: --
"MY DEAR HUSBAND, -- This week has been unusually fatal. The disease in the city has been malignant and virulent. Hearse drivers have scarce been allowed to unharness their horses, while furniture carts and common vehicles are often employed for the removal of the dead. The sable trains which pass our window, the frequent indications of crowding haste, and the absence of reverent decency have, in many cases, been most painful. Of course all these things, whether we will or no, bring very doleful images to the mind.
"On Tuesday one hundred and sixteen deaths from cholera were reported, and that night the air was of that peculiarly oppressive, deathly kind that seems to lie like lead on the brain and soul.
"As regards your coming home, I am decidedly opposed to it. First, because the chance of your being taken ill is just as great as the chance of your being able to render us any help. To exchange the salubrious air of Brattleboro' for the pestilent atmosphere of this place with your system rendered sensitive by water-cure treatment would be extremely dangerous. It is a source of constant gratitude to me that neither you nor father are exposed to the dangers here. Second, none of us are sick, and it is very uncertain whether we shall be.
- - - - -
"July 4. All well. The meeting yesterday was very solemn and interesting. There is more or less sickness about us, but no very dangerous cases. One hundred and twenty burials from cholera alone yesterday, yet to-day we see parties bent on pleasure or senseless carousing, while to-morrow and next day will witness a fresh harvest of death from them. How we can become accustomed to anything! A while ago ten a day dying of cholera struck terror to all hearts; but now the tide has surged up gradually until the deaths average over a hundred daily, and everybody is getting accustomed to it. Gentlemen make themselves agreeable to ladies by reciting the number of deaths in this house or that. This, together with talk of funerals, cholera medicines, cholera dietetics, and chloride of lime, form the ordinary staple of conversation. Serious persons, of course, throw in moral reflections to their taste.
"July 10. Yesterday little Charley was taken ill, not seriously, and at any other season I should not be alarmed. Now, however, a slight illness seems like a death sentence, and I will not dissemble that I feel from the outset very little hope. I still think it best that you should not return. By so doing you might lose all you have gained. You might expose yourself to a fatal incursion of disease. It is decidedly not your duty to do so.
"July 12. Yesterday I carried Charley to Dr. Pulte, who spoke in such a manner as discouraged and frightened me. He mentioned dropsy on the brain as a possible result. I came home with a heavy heart, sorrowing, desolate, and wishing my husband and father were here.
"About one o'clock this morning Miss Stewart suddenly opened my door, crying, 'Mrs. Stowe, Henry is vomiting.' I was on my feet in an instant, and lifted up my heart for help. He was, however, in a few minutes relieved. Then I turned my attention to Charley, who was also suffering, put him into a wet sheet, and kept him there until he was in a profuse perspiration. He is evidently getting better, and is auspiciously cross. Never was crossness in a baby more admired. Anna and I have said to each other exultingly a score of times, 'How cross the little fellow is! How he does scold!'
"July 15. Since I last wrote, our house has been a perfect hospital, -- Charley apparently recovering, but still weak and feeble, unable to walk or play, and so miserably fretful and unhappy. Sunday Anna and I were fairly stricken down, as many others are, with no particular illness, but with such miserable prostration. I lay on the bed all day reading my hymn-book and thinking over passages of Scripture.
"July 17. To-day we have been attending poor old Aunt Frankie's(2) funeral. She died yesterday morning, taken sick the day before while washing. Good, honest, trustful old soul! She was truly one who hungered and thirsted for righteousness.
"Yesterday morning our poor little dog, Daisy, who had been ailing the day before, was suddenly seized with frightful spasms, and died in half an hour. Poor little affectionate thing! If I were half as good for my nature as she for hers I should be much better than I am. While we were all mourning over her the news came that Aunt Frankie was breathing her last. Hatty, Eliza, Anna, and I made her shroud yesterday, and this morning I made her cap. We have just come from her grave.
"July 23. At last, my dear, the hand of the Lord hath touched us. We have been watching all day by the dying bed of little Charley, who is gradually sinking. After a partial recovery from the attack I described in my last letter he continued for some days very feeble, but still we hoped for recovery. About four days ago he was taken with decided cholera, and now there is no hope of his surviving this night.
"Every kindness is shown us by the neighbors. Do not return. All will be over before you could possibly get here, and the epidemic is now said by the physicians to prove fatal to every new case. Bear up. Let us not faint when we are rebuked of Him. I dare not trust myself to say more, but shall write again soon.
"MY DEAR HUSBAND, -- At last it is over, and our dear little one is gone from us. He is now among the blessed. My Charley -- my beautiful, loving, gladsome baby, so loving, so sweet, so full of life and hope and strength -- now lies shrouded, pale and cold, in the room below. Never was he anything to me but a comfort. He has been my pride and joy. Many a heartache has he cured for me. Many an anxious night have I held him to my bosom and felt the sorrow and loneliness pass out of me with the touch of his little warm hands. Yet I have just seen him in his death agony, looked on his imploring face when I could not help nor soothe nor do one thing, not one, to mitigate his cruel suffering, do nothing but pray in my anguish that he might die soon. I write as though there were no sorrow like my sorrow, yet there has been in this city, as in the land of Egypt, scarce a house without its dead. This heart-break, this anguish, has been everywhere, and when it will end God alone knows."
Professor Stowe returned to Cincinnati with a new purpose in his mind. He had struggled through seventeen of the best years of his life serving Lane Seminary and the people of Cincinnati as far as in him lay. Now, two or three invitations had been received from the East, one of which (from Bowdoin College he accepted with peculiar pleasure, because he graduated there, and passed in Brunswick his happy early years. He could not leave Lane Seminary until he should find some one to fill his place, but it was decided that Mrs. Stowe, with three of the children, should leave Cincinnati in April and establish herself in a house in Brunswick, ready to receive the rest of the family.
Of this journey Mrs. Stowe writes: --
"The boat got into Pittsburgh between four and five on Wednesday. The agent for the Pennsylvania Canal came on board and soon filled out our tickets, calling my three chicks one and a half. We had a quiet and agreeable passage, and crossed the slides at five o'clock in the morning, amid exclamations of unbounded delight from all the children, to whom the mountain scenery was a new and amazing thing. We reached Hollidaysburg about eleven o'clock, and at two o'clock in the night were called up to get into the cars at Jacktown. Arriving at Philadelphia about three o'clock in the afternoon, we took the boat and railroad line for New York.
"At Lancaster we telegraphed to Brooklyn, and when we arrived in New York, between ten and eleven at night, Cousin Augustus met us and took us over to Brooklyn. We had ridden three hundred miles since two o'clock that morning, and were very tired . . . . I am glad we came that way, for the children have seen some of the finest scenery in our country . . . . Henry's people are more than ever in love with him, and have raised his salary to $3300, and given him a beautiful horse and carriage worth $600 . . . . My health is already improved by the journey, and I was able to walk a good deal between the locks on the canal. As to furniture, I think that we may safely afford an outlay of $150, and that will purchase all that may be necessary to set us up, and then we can get more as we have means and opportunity . . . . If I got anything for those pieces I wrote before coming away, I would like to be advised thereof by you . . . . My plan is to spend this week in Brooklyn, the next in Hartford, the next in Boston, and go on to Brunswick some time in May or June."
May 18, we find her writing from Boston, where she is staying with her brother, Rev. Edward Beecher:--
"MY DEAR HUSBAND, -- I came here from Hartford on Monday, and have since then been busily engaged in the business of buying and packing furniture.
"I expect to go to Brunswick next Tuesday night by the Bath steamer, which way I take as the cheaper. My traveling expenses, when I get to Brunswick, including everything, will have been seventy-six dollars . . . . And now, lastly, my dear husband, you have never been wanting . . . in kindness, consideration, and justice, and I want you to reflect calmly how great a work has been imposed upon me at a time when my situation particularly calls for rest, repose, and quiet.
"To come alone such a distance with the whole charge of children, accounts, and baggage; to push my way through hurrying crowds, looking out for trunks, and bargaining with hackmen, has been a very severe trial of my strength, to say nothing of the usual fatigues of traveling."
"It was at this time," continues her son, "and as a result of the experiences of this trying period, that Mrs. Stowe wrote that little tract dear to so many Christian hearts, 'Earthly Care a Heavenly Discipline.'"
Few women have known greater earthly cares. That she saw her way through them, even while in the valley of darkness, and was able to guide others to the light, giving them the help and support by which she learned to live and to rejoice, this was her mission to the world.
1. This geography was begun by Mrs. Stowe during the summer of 1832 while visiting her brother William at Newport, R. I. It was completed during the winter of 1833, and published by the firm of Corey, Fairbank & Webster, of Cincinnati.
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2. An old colored woman. [ Back ]
**Editor's note. The text is not consistent in hyphenating "house-cleaning." Brackets indicate apparent errors in the text.
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Works of Annie Fields