Works of Annie Fields
LIFE AND LETTERS OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
by Annie Fields
WE have now reached the period, both in the life of our country and of Mrs. Stowe, which, looked at with the eye of history, may be called the moment of culmination.
The red hand of war, dreaded in itself, inexorable in its touch, yet inevitable, as Daniel Webster and others had seen a quarter of a century earlier, was looked upon at last by the regenerators of our people as the red-hot iron which was to burn away our disease. This belief was the only consolation in the miserable deep of suffering into which the nation was plunged, and it held the hearts of men high with courage and good cheer.
All the private interests and emotions which necessarily occupied Mrs. Stowe were subservient in her heart to the interests of her country. To use her own words: --
"It was God's will that this nation – the North as well as the South -- should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South; that the ill-gotten wealth, which had arisen from striking hands with oppression and robbery, should be paid back in the taxes of war; that the blood of the poor slave, that had cried so many years from the ground in vain, should be answered by the blood of the sons from the best hearthstones through all the free States; that the slave mothers whose tears nobody regarded should have with them a great company of weepers, North and South, -- Rachels weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted; that the free States, who refused to listen when they were told of lingering starvation, cold, privation, and barbarous cruelty, as perpetrated on the slave, should have lingering starvation, cold, hunger, and cruelty doing its work among their own sons, at the hands of these slave masters, with whose sins our nation had connived."
"Mrs. Stowe spoke from personal experience," writes the Rev. C. E. Stowe, "having seen her own son go forth in the ranks of those who first responded to the President's call for volunteers. He was one of the first to place his name on the muster-roll of Company A of the First Massachusetts Volunteers." While his regiment was still at the camp in Cambridge, Mrs. Stowe was called to Brooklyn on important business, from which place she writes to her husband under the date June 11.
"Yesterday noon Henry" (Ward Beecher) "came in, saying that the Commonwealth, with the First (Massachusetts) Regiment on board, had just sailed by. Immediately I was of course eager to get to Jersey City to see Fred. Sister Eunice said she would go with me, and in a few minutes she and I were in a carriage, driving towards the Fulton Ferry. Upon reaching Jersey City we found that the boys were dining in the depot, an immense building with many tracks and platforms. It has a great cast-iron gallery just under the roof, apparently placed there with prophetic instinct of these times. There was a crowd of people pressing against the grated doors, which were locked, but through which we could see the soldiers. It was with great difficulty that we were at last permitted to go inside, and that object seemed to be greatly aided by a bit of printed satin that some man gave Mr. Scoville.
"When we were in, a vast area of gray caps and blue overcoats was presented. The boys were eating, drinking, smoking, talking, singing, and laughing. Company A was reported to be here, there, and everywhere. At last S. spied Fred in the distance, and went leaping across the tracks towards him. Immediately afterwards a blue-overcoated figure bristling with knapsack and haversack, and looking like an assortment of packages, came rushing towards us.
"Fred was overjoyed, you may be sure, and my first impulse was to wipe his face with my handkerchief before I kissed him. He was in high spirits, in spite of the weight of blue overcoat, knapsack, etc., etc., that he would formerly have declared intolerable for half an hour. I gave him my handkerchief and Eunice gave him hers, with a sheer motherly instinct that is so strong within her, and then we filled his haversack with oranges.
"We stayed with Fred about two hours, during which time the gallery was filled with people, cheering and waving their handkerchiefs. Every now and then the band played inspiriting airs, in which the soldiers ;joined with hearty voices. While some of the companies sang, others were drilled, and all seemed to be having a general jollification. The meal that had been provided was plentiful, and consisted of coffee, lemonade, sandwiches, etc.
"On our way out, we were introduced to the Rev. Mr. Cudworth, chaplain of the regiment. He is a fine-looking man, with black eyes and hair, set off by a white havelock. He wore a sword, and Fred, touching it, asked, `Is this for use or ornament, sir?'
"'Let me see you in danger,' answered the chaplain, 'and you'll find out.'
"I said to him I supposed he had had many a one confided to his kind offices, but I could not forbear adding one more to the number. He answered, 'You may rest assured, Mrs. Stowe, I will do all in my power.'
"We parted from Fred at the door. He said he felt lonesome enough Saturday evening on the Common in Boston, where everybody was taking leave of somebody, and he seemed to be the only one without a friend, but that this interview made up for it all.
"I also saw young Henry. Like Fred he is mysteriously changed, and wears an expression of gravity and care. So our boys come to manhood in a day. Now I am watching anxiously for the evening paper to tell me that the regiment has reached Washington in safety."
"In November, 1862," says her son Charles, "Mrs. Stowe was invited to visit Washington, to be present at a great thanksgiving dinner provided for the thousands of fugitive slaves who had flocked to the city. She accepted the invitation the more gladly because her son's regiment was encamped near the city, and she should once more see him. He was now Lieutenant Stowe, having honestly won his promotion by bravery on more than one hard-fought field." She writes of this visit: --
Imagine a quiet little parlor with a bright coal fire, and the gaslight burning above a centre-table, about which Hatty, Fred, and I are seated. Fred is as happy as happy can be to be with mother and sister once more. All day yesterday we spent in getting him. First we had to procure a permit to go to camp, then we went to the fort where the colonel is, and then to another where the brigadier-general is stationed. I was so afraid they would not let him come with us, and was never happier than when at last he sprang into the carriage, free to go with us for forty-eight hours. "Oh!" he exclaimed in a sort of rapture, "this pays for a year and a half of fighting and hard work!"
We tried hard to get the five o'clock train out to Laurel, where J.'s regiment is stationed, as we wanted to spend Sunday all together; but could not catch it, and so had to content ourselves with what we could have. I have managed to secure a room for Fred next ours, and feel as though I had my boy at home once more. He is looking very well, has grown in thickness, and is as loving and affectionate as a boy can be.
I have just been writing a pathetic appeal to the brigadier-general to let him stay with us a week. I have also written to General Buckingham in regard to changing him from the infantry, in which there seems to be no prospect of anything but garrison duty, to the cavalry, which is full of constant activity.
General B. called on us last evening. He seemed to think the prospect before us was, at best, of a long war. He was the officer deputed to carry the order to General McClellan, relieving him of command of the army. He carried it to him in his tent about twelve o'clock at night. Burnside was there. McClellan said it was very unexpected, but immediately turned over the command. I said I thought he ought to have expected it, after having so disregarded the President's order. General B. smiled and said he supposed McClellan had done that so often before that he had no idea any notice would be taken of it this time.
Now, as I am very tired, I must close, and remain as always, lovingly yours,
Just before she left Hartford for Washington I received the following hurried note from her: --
"I am going to Washington to see the heads of departments myself, and to satisfy myself that I may refer to the Emancipation Proclamation as a reality and a substance, not a fizzle out at the little end of the horn, as I should be sorry to call the attention of my sisters in Europe to any such impotent conclusion … . I mean to have a talk with 'Father Abraham' himself, among others."
Mrs. Stowe lost no time, but proceeded to carry out her plan as soon as practicable. Of this visit to Washington she says little in her letters beyond the following meagre words: "It seems to be the opinion here, not only that the President will stand up to his proclamation, but that the Border States will accede to his proposition for emancipation. I have noted the thing as a glorious expectancy . . . To-day to the home of the contrabands, seeing about five hundred poor fugitives eating a comfortable Thanksgiving dinner, and singing, 'Oh, let my people go!' It was a strange and moving sight."
During this visit Mrs. Stowe wrote and dispatched to the "Atlantic Monthly" her most eloquent and noble appeal to the women of England.
Eight years earlier an address had been received from England by Mrs. Stowe with the names of some of the most distinguished women of Great Britain at the head, urging the abolition of slavery. This appeal was beautifully illuminated, and the twenty-six folio volumes which accompanied it contain the signatures of more than half a million of British women.
No published reply had as yet been made to this address. Now, however, the conditions had changed. The North was giving her children, her possessions, her life, in a vast struggle against slavery, and a strong party had arisen in England in favor of the South.
Mrs. Stowe's reply was calm and strong, but written with her heart's blood. She begins: "Sisters," -- and after quoting their own words and describing the wonderful memorial in its oaken case as it stood before her, she continues, -- "The signatures to this appeal are not the least remarkable part of it; for, beginning at the very steps of the throne, they go down to the names of women in the very humblest conditions in life, and represent all that Great Britain possesses, not only of highest and wisest, but of plain, homely common sense and good feeling. Names of wives of cabinet ministers appear on the same page with the names of wives of humble laborers, -- names of duchesses and countesses, of wives of generals, ambassadors, savants, and men of letters, mingled with names traced in trembling characters by hands evidently unused to hold the pen, and stiffened by lowly toil. Nay, so deep and expansive was the feeling, that British subjects in foreign lands had their representation. Among the signatures are those of foreign residents, from Paris to Jerusalem. Autographs so diverse, and collected from sources so various, have seldom been found in juxtaposition. They remain at this day a silent witness of a most singular tide of feeling which at that time swept over the British community and made for itself an expression, even at the risk of offending the sensibilities of an equal and powerful nation.
"No reply to that address, in any such tangible and monumental form, has ever been possible. It was impossible to canvass our vast territories with the zealous and indefatigable industry with which England was canvassed for signatures. In America, those possessed of the spirit which led to this efficient action had no leisure for it. All their time and energies were already absorbed in direct efforts to remove the great evil, concerning which the minds of their English sisters had been newly aroused, and their only answer was the silent continuance of these efforts.
"From the slaveholding States, however, as was to be expected, came a flood of indignant recrimination and rebuke. No one act, perhaps, ever produced more frantic irritation, or called out more unsparing abuse. It came with the whole united weight of the British aristocracy and commonalty on the most diseased and sensitive part of our national life; and it stimulated that fierce excitement which was working before, and has worked since, till it has broken out into open war.
"The time has come, however, when such an astonishing page has been turned, in the anti-slavery history of America, that the women of our country, feeling that the great anti-slavery work to which their English sisters exhorted them is almost done, may properly and naturally feel moved to reply to their appeal, and lay before them the history of what has occurred since the receipt of their affectionate and Christian address.
"Your address reached us just as a great moral conflict was coming to its intensest point. The agitation kept up by the anti-slavery portion of America, by England, and by the general sentiment of humanity in Europe, had made the situation of the slaveholding aristocracy intolerable. As one of them at the time expressed it, they felt themselves under the ban of the civilized world. Two courses only were open to them: to abandon slave institutions, the sources of their wealth and political power, or to assert them with such an overwhelming national force as to compel the respect and assent of mankind. They chose the latter."
She then most eloquently and succinctly rehearses the steps of the struggle.
The whole paper is eminently worth reproduction, but it is already in print and we must therefore deny ourselves. Towards the end she says: --
Now, sisters of England, in this solemn, expectant hour, let us speak to you of one thing which fills our hearts with pain and solicitude. It is an unaccountable fact, and one which we entreat you seriously to ponder, that the party which has brought the cause of freedom thus far on its way during the past eventful year has found little or no support in England. Sadder than this, the party which makes slavery the chief corner-stone of its edifice finds in England its strongest defenders.
The voices that have spoken for us who contend for liberty have been few and scattering. God forbid that we should forget those few noble voices, so sadly exceptional in the general outcry against us! They are, alas! too few to be easily forgotten. False statements have blinded the minds of your community, and turned the most generous sentiments of the British heart against us. The North is fighting for supremacy and the South for independence, has been the voice. Independence? for what? to do what? To prove the doctrine that all men are not equal; to establish the doctrine that the white man may enslave the negro!
- - - - -
This very day the writer of this has been present at a solemn religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a portion of those fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for protection, -- who, under the shadow of our flag, find sympathy and succor. The national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a thousand redeemed slaves, and for whom Christian charity had spread an ample repast. Our sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the scene. We wish you could have heard the prayer of a blind old negro, called among his fellows John the Baptist, when in touching broken English he poured forth his thanksgivings. We wish you could have heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant which is now forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations, -- the psalm of this modern exodus, -- which combines the barbaric fire of the Marseillaise with the religious fervor of the old Hebrew prophet: --
"Oh, go down, Moses,Way down into Egypt's land!Tell King PharaohTo let my people go!Stand away dere,Stand away dere,And let my people go!"As we were leaving, an aged woman came and lifted up her hands in blessing. "Bressed be de Lord dat brought me to see dis first happy day of my life! Bressed be de Lord!" In all England is there no Amen?
We have been shocked and saddened by the question asked in an association of Congregational ministers in England, the very blood relations of the liberty-loving Puritans -- "Why does not the North let the South go?"
What! give up the point of emancipation for these four million slaves? Turn our backs on them, and leave them to their fate? What! leave our white brothers to run a career of oppression and robbery, that, as sure as there is a God that ruleth in the armies of heaven, will bring down a day of wrath and doom? Remember that wishing success to this slavery-establishing effort is only wishing to the sons and daughters of the South all the curses that God has written against oppression. Mark our words! If we succeed, the children of these very men who are now fighting us will rise up to call us blessed. Just as surely as there is a God who governs in the world, so surely all the laws of national prosperity follow in the train of equity; and if we succeed, we shall have delivered the children's children of our misguided brethren from the wages of sin, which is always and everywhere death.
And now, sisters of England, think it not strange if we bring back the words of your letter, not in bitterness, but in deepest sadness, and lay them down at your door. We say to you, Sisters, you have spoken well: we have heard you; we have heeded; we have striven in the cause, even unto death. We have sealed our devotion by desolate hearth and darkened homestead, -- by the blood of sons, husbands, and brothers. In many of our dwellings the very light of our lives has gone out; and yet we accept the life-long darkness as our own part in this great and awful expiation, by which the bonds of wickedness shall be loosed, and abiding peace established on the foundation of righteousness. Sisters, what have you done, and what do you mean to do?
We appeal to you as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices to your fellow-citizens, and your prayers to God for the removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.
In behalf of many thousands of American women,
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.
John Bright and Archbishop Whately sent personal replies to this letter. John Bright said: "Before this reaches you, you will have seen what large and earnest meetings have been held in all our towns in favor of abolition and the North. No town has a building large enough to contain those who come to listen, to applaud, and to vote in favor of freedom and the Union. The effect of this is evident on our newspapers and on the tone of Parliament, where now nobody says a word in favor of recognition, or mediation, or any such thing."
Mrs. Browning says: --
"I had much anxiety for you after the Seward and Adams speeches, but the danger seems averted by that fine madness of the South which seems judicial. The tariff movement we should regret deeply (and do, some of us), only I am told it was wanted in order to persuade those who were less accessible to moral argument. It's eking out the holy water with ditch water. If the Devil flees before it, even so, let us be content. How you must feel, you who have done so much to set this accursed slavery in the glare of the world, convicting it of hideousness.
"Meanwhile I am reading you in the 'Independent,' sent to me by Mr. Tilton, with the greatest interest. Your new novel opens beautifully."
Mrs. Stowe wrote to Mrs. Howard: --
"Can it be that New York is going into revolution? I am writing on the decisive day (the 4th), yet ignorant what its vote. Why did not Henry stump the state for Wadsworth rather than this thing should be? We are all on tip-toe with anxiety. I don't know that there will long be any use in investing in anything, if New York is going to rebel and join the South as the 'Tribune' announces to-night. I think I see her 'a doin' of it'!"
It was left for others to speak of Mrs. Stowe's interview with President Lincoln. Her daughter was told that when the President heard her name he seized her hand, saying, "Is this the little woman who made this great war?" He then led her to a seat in the window, where they were withdrawn, and undisturbed by other guests. No one but those two souls will ever know what waves of thought and feeling swept over them in that brief hour.
Afterwards she heard these words pronounced in the Senate Chamber in the Message of President Lincoln; it was in the darkest hour of the war, Mrs. Stowe wrote, when defeat and discouragement had followed the Union armies and all hearts were trembling with fear: "If this struggle is to be prolonged till there be not a home in the land where there is not one dead, till all the treasure amassed by the unpaid labor of the slave shall be wasted, till every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be atoned by blood drawn by the sword, we can only bow and say, 'Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints!'"
To the Duchess of Argyll Mrs. Stowe wrote from
ANDOVER, July 31.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- Your lovely, generous letter was a real comfort to me, and reminded me that a year -- and alas! a whole year -- had passed since I wrote to your dear mother, of whom I think so often as one of God's noblest creatures, and one whom it comforts me to think is still in our world.
So many, good and noble, have passed away whose friendship was such a pride, such a comfort to me! Your noble father, Lady Byron, Mrs. Browning, -- their spirits are as perfect as ever passed to the world of light. I grieve about your dear mother's eyes. I have thought about you all, many a sad, long, quiet hour, as I have lain on my bed and looked at the pictures on my wall; one, in particular, of the moment before the Crucifixion, which is the first thing I look at when I wake in the morning. I think how suffering is, and must be, the portion of noble spirits, and no lot so brilliant that must not first or last dip into the shadow of that eclipse. Prince Albert, too, the ideal knight, the King Arthur of our times, the good, wise, steady head and heart we -- that is, our world, we Anglo-Saxons need so much. And the Queen! yes, I have thought of and prayed for her, too. But could a woman hope to have always such a heart, and yet ever be weaned from earth, "all this and heaven, too"?
Under my picture I have inscribed, "Forasmuch as Christ also hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind."
This year has been one long sigh, one smothering sob, to me. And I thank God that we have as yet one or two generous friends in England who understand and feel for our cause.
The utter failure of Christian, anti-slavery England, in those instincts of a right heart which always can see where the cause of liberty lies, has been as bitter a grief to me as was the similar prostration of all our American religious people in the day of the Fugitive Slave Law. Exeter Hall is a humbug, a pious humbug, like the rest. But I saw your duke's speech to his tenants! That was grand! If he can see these things, they are to be seen, and why cannot Exeter Hall see them? It is simply the want of the honest heart.
Why do the horrible barbarities of Southern soldiers cause no comment? Why is the sympathy of the British Parliament reserved for the poor women of New Orleans? Why is all expression of sympathy on the Southern side? You wonder at my brother. He is a man, and feels a thousand times more than I can, and deeper than all he ever has expressed, the spirit of these things. You must not wonder, therefore. Remember it is the moment when every nerve is vital; it is our agony; we tread the winepress alone, and they whose cheap rhetoric has been for years pushing us into it now desert en masse. I thank my God I always loved and trusted those who now do stand true, -- your family, your duke, yourself, your noble mother. I have lost Lady Byron. Her great heart, her eloquent letters, would have been such a joy to me! And Mrs. Browning, oh, such a heroic woman! None of her poems can express what she was, -- so grand, so comprehending, so strong, with such inspired insight! She stood by Italy through its crisis. Her heart was with all good through the world. Your prophecy that we shall come out better, truer, stronger, will, I am confident, be true, and it was worthy of yourself and your good lineage.
Slavery will be sent out by this agony. We are only in the throes and ravings of the exorcism. The roots of the cancer have gone everywhere, but they must die -- will. Already the Confiscation Bill is its natural destruction. Lincoln has been too slow. He should have done it sooner, and with an impulse, but come it must, come it will. Your mother will live to see slavery abolished, unless England forms an alliance to hold it up. England is the great reliance of the slave-power to-day, and next to England the faltering weakness of the North, which palters and dare not fire the great broadside for fear of hitting friends. These things must be done, and sudden, sharp remedies are mercy. Just now we are in a dark hour; but whether God be with us or not, I know He is with the slave, and with his redemption will come the solution of our question. I have long known what and who we had to deal with in this, for when I wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" I had letters addressed to me showing a state of society perfectly inconceivable. If I had written what I knew of the obscenity, brutality, and cruelty of that society down there, society would have cast out the books; and it is for their interest, the interest of the whole race in the South, that we should succeed. I wish them no ill, feel no bitterness, -- they have had a Dahomian education which makes them savage. We don't expect any more of them, but if slavery is destroyed, one generation of education and liberty will efface these stains. They will come to themselves, these States, and be glad it is over.
I am using up my paper to little purpose. Please give my best love to your dear mother. I am going to write to her. If I only could have written the things I have often thought! I am going to put on her bracelet, with the other dates, that of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Remember me to the duke and to your dear children. My husband desires his best regards, my daughters also.
I am lovingly ever yours,
H. B. STOWE.
Mrs. Stowe heard from her son directly after the battle of Gettysburg. But it was the chaplain who wrote: --
Saturday, July 11, 9:30 P.M.
Dear Madam, -- Among the thousands of wounded and dying men on this war-scared field, I have just met with your son, Captain Stowe. If you have not already heard from him, it may cheer your heart to know that he is in the hands of good, kind friends. He was struck by a fragment of a shell, which entered his right ear. He is quiet and cheerful, longs to see some member of his family, and is, above all, anxious that they should hear from him as soon as possible. I assured him I would write at once, and though I am wearied by a week’s labor here among scenes of terrible suffering, I know that, to a mother’s anxious heart, even a hasty scrawl about her boy will be more than welcome.
May God bless and sustain you in this troubled time!
Yours with sincere sympathy,
J. M. CROWELL.
In the autumn of 1864 she wrote to me: "I feel I need to write in these days, to keep from thinking of things that make me dizzy and blind, and fill my eyes with tears so that I cannot see the paper. I mean such things as are being done where our heroes are dying as Shaw died. It is not wise that all our literature should run in a rut cut through our hearts and red with our blood. I feel the need of a little gentle household merriment and talk of common things, to indulge which I have devised the following."
Notwithstanding her view of the need and her skillfully devised plans to meet it, she soon sent another epistle, showing how impossible it was to stem the current of her thought.
She wrote to the Editor of the Atlantic: --
November 29, 1864.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I have sent my New Year’s article, the result of one of those peculiar experiences which sometimes occur to us writers. I had planned an article, gay, sprightly, wholly domestic; but as I began and sketched the pleasant home and quiet fireside, an irresistible impulse wrote for me what followed, -- an offering of sympathy to the suffering and agonized whose homes have forever been darkened. Many causes united at once to force on me this vision, from which generally I shrink, but which sometimes will not be denied, -- will make itself felt.
Just before I went to New York two of my earliest and most intimate friends lost their oldest sons, captains and majors, -- splendid fellows physically and morally, beautiful, brave, religious, uniting the courage of soldiers to the faith of martyrs, -- and when I went to Brooklyn it seemed as if I were hearing some such thing almost every day; and Henry, in his profession as minister, has so many letters full of imploring anguish, the cry of hearts breaking that ask help of him . . . .
In writing to Mrs. Howard at this time she says: “I left my poor Fred at home. I do hope he will get a good ship. The sea air works marvels in our family. That wound in his head will never heal unless by a general tonic to the whole system. . . . I feel a weight of solicitude for the poor fellow which I can only lay where you lay yours.”
At last the war was ended, and she wrote to the Duchess of Argyll: --
HARTFORD, February 17.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- Your letter was a real spring of comfort to me, bringing refreshingly the pleasant library at Inveraray and the lovely day I spent there.
Oh, my friend, when I think of what has been done these last few years, and of what is now doing, I am lost in amazement. I have just, by way of realizing it to myself, been reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” again, and when I read that book, scarred and seared and burned into with the memories of an anguish and horror that can never be forgotten, and think it is all over now, all past, and that now the questions debated are simply of more or less time before granting legal suffrage to those who so lately were held only as articles of merchandise, -- when this comes over me I think no private or individual sorrow can ever make me wholly without comfort. If my faith in God’s presence and real, living power in the affairs of men ever grows dim, this makes it impossible to doubt.
I have just had a sweet and lovely Christian letter from Garrison, whose beautiful composure and thankfulness in his hour of victory are as remarkable as his wonderful courage in the day of moral battle. His note ends with the words, “And who but God is to be glorified?” Garrison’s attitude is far more exalted than that of Wendell Phillips. He acknowledges the great deed done. He suspends his “Liberator” with words of devout thanksgiving, and devotes himself unobtrusively to the work yet to be accomplished for the freedmen; while Phillips seems resolved to ignore the mighty work that has been done, because of the inevitable shortcomings and imperfections that beset it still. We have a Congress of splendid men, -- men of stalwart principle and determination. We have a President honestly seeking to do right; and if he fails in knowing just what right is, it is because he is a man born and reared in a slave State, and acted on by many influences which we cannot rightly estimate unless we were in his place. My brother Henry has talked with him earnestly and confidentially, and has faith in him as an earnest, good man seeking to do right. Henry takes the ground that it is unwise and impolitic to endeavor to force negro suffrage on the South at the point of the bayonet. His policy would be, to hold over the negro the protection of our Freedman’s Bureau until the great laws of free labor shall begin to draw the master and servant together; to endeavor to soothe and conciliate, and win to act with us, a party composed of the really good men at the South.
For this reason he has always advocated lenity of measures towards them. He wants to get them into a state in which the moral influence of the North can act upon them beneficially, and to get such a state of things that there will be a party at the South to protect the negro.
Charles Sumner is looking simply at the abstract right of the thing. Henry looks at actual probabilities. We all know that the state of society at the South is such that laws are a very inadequate protection even to white men. Southern elections always have been scenes of mob violence when only white men voted.
Multitudes of lives have been lost at the polls in this way, and if against their will negro suffrage were forced upon them, I do not see how any one in their senses can expect anything less than an immediate war of races.
If negro suffrage were required as a condition of acquiring political position, there is no doubt the slave States would grant it; grant it nominally, because they would know that the grant never could or would become, an actual realization. And what would then be gained for the negro?
I am sorry that people cannot differ on such great and perplexing public questions without impugning each other's motives. Henry has been called a backslider because of the lenity of his counsels, but I cannot but think it is the Spirit of Christ that influences him. Garrison has been in the same way spoken of as a deserter, because he says that a work that is done shall be called done, and because he would not keep up an anti-slavery society when slavery is abolished; and I think our President is much injured by the abuse that is heaped on him, and the selfish and unworthy motives that are ascribed to him by those who seem determined to allow to nobody an honest, unselfish difference in judgment from their own.
Henry has often spoken of you and your duke as pleasant memories in a scene of almost superhuman labor and excitement. He often said to me: "When this is all over, -- when we have won the victory, -- then I will write to the duchess." But when it was over and the flag raised again at Sumter his arm was smitten down with the news of our President's death! We all appreciate your noble and true sympathy through the dark hour of our national trial. You and yours are almost the only friends we now have left in England. You cannot know what it was, unless you could imagine your own country to be in danger of death, extinction of nationality. That, dear friend, is an experience which shows us what we are and what we can feel . . . . It seems almost like a dream to look back to those pleasant days with you all. I am glad to see you still keep some memories of our goings on. Georgie's marriage is a very happy one to us. They live in Stockbridge, the loveliest part of Massachusetts, and her husband is a most devoted pastor, and gives all his time and property to the great work which he has embraced, purely for the love of it. My other daughters are with me, and my son, Captain Stowe, who has come with weakened health through our struggle, suffering constantly from the effects of a wound in his head received at Gettysburg, which makes his returning to his studies a hard struggle. My husband is in better health since he resigned his professorship, and desires his most sincere regards to yourself and the duke, and his profound veneration to your mother. Sister Mary also desires to be remembered to you, as do also my daughters. Please tell me a little in your next of Lady Edith; she must be very lovely now.
I am, with sincerest affection, ever yours,
H. B. STOWE.
The labor, the shock, were past, but the fatigue and the strain of the long struggle for freedom which she carried always on her own heart could never be over-lived. She was already, as Mrs. Hawthorne used to say, "tired far into the future." The woman who had written "Uncle Tom" was not to continue a series of equally exciting stories, but she was to bear the burden and heat of much every-day labor with the patience and the rejoicing of all faithful souls.
We are reminded, as we study Mrs. Stowe's life, of Swinburne's noble tribute to Sir Walter Scott after reading his Journals, which appeared in full only five or six years ago. He says: "Now that we have before us in full -- in all reasonable or desired completeness -- the great man's own record of his troubles, his emotions, and his toils, we find it, from the opening to the close, a record, not only of dauntless endurance, but of elastic and joyous heroism. .. . It is no longer pity that any one may presume to feel for him at the lowest ebb of his fortunes or his life; it is rapture of sympathy, admiration, and applause."
The wound received by her son in his head was one from which he was never entirely to recover. "After weary months of intense suffering," his brother says, "it only imperfectly healed; the cruel iron had too nearly touched the brain of the young officer. He was never to be himself again. Soon after the war his mother bought a plantation in Florida, largely in the hope that the out-of-door life connected with its management might be beneficial to her afflicted son."
No more harrowing experience than this was endured during our war; it is impossible to imagine anything more painful, in its slow continuance; the doubt respecting her boy's ultimate return to health; the methods to be employed for his best welfare; the constantly increasing incompetence, and the final silence. She who was always a comforter for the sorrowful still wrote from the centre of divine peace: --
"When winds are raging o'er the upper ocean
And billows wild contend with angry roar,
'T is said, far down beneath the wild commotion,
That peaceful stillness reigneth evermore.
- - - - -
"Far, far away, the roar of passion dieth,
And loving thoughts rise calm and peacefully;
And no rude storm, how fierce soe'er it flieth,
Disturbs the soul that dwells, O Lord, in thee."
PRIVATE LIFE IN WAR-TIME
IN a period of great public excitement a contrast is always to be observed. Private life still goes on, and it depends upon the temperament, the religion, the imagination of individuals whether the surface of their existence is greatly deflected from ordinary channels by the public necessity. With Mrs. Stowe, as we have seen, thought, feeling, and her spiritual life on earth, if we may say so, were swallowed up in the struggle; but as men lived on from day to day and the war stretched its dreadful length over years of time, life often appeared hardly more exciting to some persons than in certain periods before the strife began. We shall see how during this time Mrs. Stowe kept steadily at her desk, providing stories which were eagerly read by a large public.
In order to make the picture of her life during the war a true one, we must return to the month of June, 1860, in which she left England for the last time. She was about leaving Paris for Liverpool when the news reached her of the sudden death of Annie Howard, the beautiful young daughter of her friend, and the companion of her children. Mrs. Stowe at once wrote Mrs. Howard: "Oh, my dear sister! Why am I not with you . . . the blow has almost crushed us all . . . . We have thought of all things that we could do, -- we thought of waiting here for you, but we have no hope that you could be here . . . . Our fears are for you, dear child, but we can only commend you to God . . . . How many stings and agonies and living thorns there are for every hour and moment in a wrench like this, God only knows -- but God will reveal himself to you in the deep waters. 'When thou passest through the waters they shall not overflow thee, for I am with thee.' . . . Sorrow not, even as others, who have no hope. For, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so also them that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him."
SWAYLANDS, PENSHURST, June 10.
MY DEAR SUSIE, -- We are resting a day or two in this peaceful retreat under the shaded skies of England, -- literally amid green pastures, and my thoughts return to you, as this letter will find you weary and desolate on your way to Paris . . . .
Ah! Susie, I who have walked in this dark valley for now three years, what can I say to you who are entering it? One thing I can say -- be not afraid and confounded if you find no apparent religious support at first. When the heartstrings are all suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation; there is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God it is rather by a constant painful effort than by a sweet attraction. There are cases when a superhuman grace is given and the soul is buoyed above itself, but more often we can only bleed in silent pain . . . .
For such deep places there is nothing but the remembrance of Him who though He were a son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered. We see that it cost Him a conflict with agony and bloody sweat to say, Not my will but thy will. It did not come easily even to Him, and He said it over and over in his anguish as we must. Since that fearful night at your home" [the night when Mrs. Stowe heard of the death of her son] "every hour of life has been to me with an upper and an under current, and every day I have been making again and again that hard sacrifice, and it is a submission now as painful as at first.
"Time but the impression stronger makesAs streams their channels deeper wear."
and I know all the strange ways in which this anguish will reveal itself, -- the prick, the thrust, the stab, the wearing pain, the poison that is mingled with every bright remembrance of the past, -- I have felt them all, -- and all I can say is that, though "faint," I am "pursuing," although the crown of thorns secretly pressed to one's heart never ceases to pain. Yet as the day is the strength will be. So often this summer I have looked on you with your children all round you prosperous and happy, and thought in what peace and prosperity your life was passing, and how little you could know of the inner cell in my heart where I spend so many sad hours. But I know whose hand holds ours . . . and that He makes no mistakes . . . .
These are our weanings from earth, and we fill the long night with tossings and moanings . . . . Our Father, loving us better than we love ourselves, will educate us for our inheritance. It is no small thing, .- this eternal glory, and we must suffer something for it . . . . I am very poorly, but I am going to finish by copying one of the Plymouth hymns, which I have said over almost every day this winter and which I hope one day will be the expression of my feelings.
"I worship thee, sweet will of God,And all thy ways adore;And every day I live, I longTo love thee more and more."
- - - - -
To this I add some lines that I thought of much after Henry's death: --
"God never does, nor suffers to be done,But that which we would do, if we could seeThe end of all events as well as He."
ON BOARD THE EUROPA, June.
MY DEAR SUSIE, -- We had a great fright yesterday coming on in the express train. H -- was faint and we thought she was restored, but just as we were stopping at the next station she called out that she was dying, and must be taken into the air . . . . We hurried out, all of us, on to the platform with her, -- we had been sitting with our hats off and had no time to put them on, -- got her in all haste into a chamber of the railroad hotel, for she seemed to be in a death agony . . . . At last she began to be more comfortable and we telegraphed to know when the ship would sail; put her on a mattress, caught the next express, found a physician, who gave her a tonic, and she had a tolerable night. I think all this the culmination of the excitement and fatigue of the last few weeks . . . . I thought I had lost her, and felt all calm, for I know she is Christ's, whether it is yet made clear to her sad heart or not . . . . She has not been well since the shock of the sad news . . . . We are now lying by in Cork Harbor, with the prospect of spending the rest of the day here . . . . H. seems much better this morning, is dressed and on deck like anybody else. Each of you had a letter in Paris from one or another of us.
Ever affectionately yours,
H. B. STOWE.
It was a beautiful voyage in every sense; and at that period a voyage was no little matter of six days, but a good fourteen days of sitting together on deck in pleasant summer weather, and having time enough and to spare. Hawthorne and his family also concluded to join the party. Mrs. Hawthorne, who was always the romancer in conversation, filled the evening hours by weaving magic webs of her fancies, until we looked upon her as a second Scheherezade, and the day the head was to be cut off was the day we should come to shore. "Oh," said Hawthorne, "I wish we might never get there." But the good ship moved steadily as fate. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stowe often took her turn at entertaining the little group. She was seldom tired of relating stories of New England life and her early experiences.
When the ship came to shore, Mrs. Stowe and her daughters went at once to Andover, where Professor Stowe had remained at his post during the long winter. She went also with equal directness to her writing-desk; and though there are seldom any dates upon her letters, the following note must have been written shortly after her return: --
MY DEAR MR. FIELDS, -- "Agnes of Sorrento" was conceived on the spot, -- a spontaneous tribute to the exceeding loveliness and beauty of all things there.
One bright evening, as I was entering the old gateway, I saw a beautiful young girl sitting in its shadow selling oranges. She was my Agnes. Walking that same evening through the sombre depths of the gorge, I met "Old Elsie," walking erect and tall, with her piercing black eyes, Roman nose, and silver hair, -- walking with determination in every step, and spinning like one of the Fates glittering silver flax from a distaff she carried in her hands.
A few days after, our party, being weatherbound at Salerno, had to resort to all our talents to pass the time, and songs and stories were the fashion of the day. The first chapter was my contribution to that entertainment. The story was voted into existence by the voices of all that party, and by none more enthusiastically than by one young voice which will never be heard on earth more. It was kept in mind and expanded and narrated as we went on to Rome over a track that the pilgrim Agnes is to travel. To me, therefore, it is fragrant with love of Italy and memory of some of the brightest hours of life.
I wanted to write something of this kind as an author's introduction to the public. Could you contrive to print it on a fly-leaf, if I get it ready, and put a little sort of dedicatory poem at the end of it? I shall do this at least in the book, if not now.
She wrote to Mrs. Howard, Sunday, August 3,
We have watched your course across the ocean from the first day of your sailing until now, every day, noting the wind and weather . . . . I feel as if I had a sort of right in you which I never had before, as if you and I were united by a bond that could unite no others . . . . It was you who broke to me the sudden news of my life, and I no less seem to be associated in your kindred sorrow. Will you not therefore come to us as soon as you can? . . . The old stone cabin will open wide its arms . . . when the ship arrives that brings the dear form -- no longer Annie, but associated with her parted spirit; then we shall come to Brooklyn and mingle our tears with yours. Today we have been reading Henry's sermon, "The Sepulchre in the Garden." "Italy," H. said, "was the lovely garden where we found the unexpected tomb." . . . Do come to us as soon as you can. It is calm, quiet, still, and shady, and we all long for you . . . . My health has been very poor since I came home. A most oppressive languor has weighed upon me. I have felt entirely prostrate and longed for friends to lean on . . . .
H. B. S.
A network of difficulties seems to have closed about her at this time, because in spite of her interest in the new story and the hopeful view which she took of its speedy completion, several months passed by before anything definite came respecting her literary plans.
Meanwhile she had been tempted into beginning "The Pearl of Orr's Island," a story good enough, if she had been left to herself and not overridden by greedy editors and publishers, to have added a lustre even to her name. It is to this she refers in the following letter when she speaks of her "Maine story." Unhappily the first number, which is one of her finest pieces of writing, drew off power which belonged to "Agnes of Sorrento," and Agnes served to prevent her from ending "The Pearl of Orr's Island" in a manner worthy of its first promise.
She says, writing in January, "Authors are apt, I suppose, like parents, to have their unreasonable partialities. Everybody has, -- and I have a pleasure in writing 'Agnes of Sorrento' that gilds this icy winter weather. I write my Maine story with a shiver, and come back to this as to a flowery home where I love to rest.
"My manuscripts are always left to the printers for punctuation, -- as you will observe; I have no time for copying."
These incessant drafts upon Mrs. Stowe's energy had greatly enfeebled her; but her spirit was indomitable, and when she was weary a brief visit to Boston was, she considered, sufficient to restore her nervous force. During these visits she sometimes rehearsed the story of the early days of her married life when, as we have seen, she fought her way through difficulties and under the burden of sorrows which would have crushed many another woman.
In an unpublished prefatory note for "The Pearl of Orr's Island," the first seventeen chapters of which appeared in April of this year, Mrs. Stowe wrote in November: "The writer was applied to a year ago to furnish a serial story for 'The Independent.' This offer she promptly and decidedly declined, on the ground that she had not time nor strength, having just come under engagements to furnish one to the 'Cornhill Magazine,' simultaneously with the `Atlantic Monthly,' in America. [This was "Agnes of Sorrento."] The engagement for this story lasted from May, 1861, to May, 1862, and Mrs. Stowe thought it would absorb all her time and strength.
"The editor of 'The Independent' subsequently wrote to know whether she could not furnish a short story to run through four or five numbers . . . . She responded that it had always been her experience that a short story once begun was taken possession of by certain spirits." . . .
In spite of her better reason she was induced to begin, and found, as she says in continuing: "a Captain Kittridge with his garrulous yarns, Misses Roxy and Ruey given to talk," and herself on the verge of her engagement for the "Atlantic Monthly" quite unprepared.
Mrs. Stowe then wrote to "The Independent," proposing to stop her story then and there in two numbers, or to promise a continuation after six months, beginning again in December. The latter scheme was accepted. "But," she says, "the agitations and mental excitements of the war have, in the case of the writer, as in the case of many others, used up the time and strength which would have been devoted to authorship.
"Who could write on stories that had a son to send to battle, with Washington beleaguered and the whole country shaken as with an earthquake? Who could write fiction when fact was so imperious and terrible, in the days of Bull Run and Big Bethel? But the author has labored assiduously on her literary engagements, and if she must commence a month or two later in the autumn than she expected, it is no greater delay than the war has caused everywhere and in every department of business.
"The readers will see by this frank statement that there has been no intention of dealing unfairly with them, but only the result of unforeseen circumstances. The story will be resumed the first of December."
Accordingly the second part, beginning with what is now chapter eighteenth, was begun in the number for December, and completed in April. Upon taking up the story again, Mrs. Stowe issued in "The Independent" the following card: --
TO OUR READERS
In commencing again "The Pearl of Orr's Island," the author meets the serious embarrassment of trying to revive for the second time an unexpected pleasure.
That a story so rustic, so woodland, so pale and colorless, so destitute of all that is ordinarily expected in a work of fiction, should be advertised in the columns of "The Independent" as this was last week, as "Mrs. So-and-So's great romance," or with words to that effect, produces an impression both appalling and ludicrous.
It is as if some golden-haired baby, who had touched her mother's heart by singing: --
"Jesus, tender shepherd, hear us!"
should forthwith be announced with flaming playbills, to sing in the Boston Theatre as the celebrated Prima Donna, Madame Trottietoes!
We beg our readers to know that no great romance is coming, -- only a story pale and colorless as real life, and sad as truth.
You will not be interested as you have been, kind friends, -- we cannot hope it; your expectations are raised only to be dashed; for our characters have no strange and wonderful adventures of outward life, and the changes that occur to them and the history they make is that of the inner life, that "cometh not with observation."
We are most sorry for our dear little child-audience, who, now that Mara and Moses have grown up, will, we fear, lose their interest in them. What a pity, boys and girls, that you are not grown up too in these six months, -- and then Mara and Moses would not seem to you to be getting dull, and talking all sorts of unintelligible talk.
But no, dear little folks, we don't wish it, either. We pray you may stay long little and believing, and able to be pleased with child's stories; for Christ says of such as you is the kingdom of heaven. We must try and see what can be done for you, and whether Captain Kittridge has not a story or two left in his pocket, with which to beguile your time.
She speaks of the severe winter in her letters to Mrs. Howard: "Snow over the fences -- up to the frames of the kitchen window. No cyclamen to be looked for yet, -- no violets or anemones, nothing but wintry white, --and after this is gone will come unlimited water and slush. We have seemed to be on an island in the frozen ocean, -- going nowhere and seeing nobody." . . .
"'Thursday evening of this week we inaugurated a society to be called the Pic-nic, to meet every week for mutual amusement, -- pieces are to be written, songs sung, plays played. The first one was a brilliant success and we are in hopes to make the snows tolerable. I appoint you all corresponding members. Send us something."
Thus we see the days wore on during this winter, while she was struggling against failing strength, much labor, and the hard weather, but cheerful still, as we who saw her in Boston know. It was during these war years that Mrs. Stowe exchanged many letters with three distinguished persons whose correspondence was always a joy to her: Mrs. Browning, Mr. Ruskin, and Dr. Holmes. She writes to the latter: --
DEAR DR. HOLMES, -- I have had an impulse upon me for a long time to write you a line of recognition and sympathy, in response to those that reached me monthly in your late story in the "Atlantic" ("Elsie Venner").
I know not what others may think of it, since I have seen nobody since my return; but to me it is of deeper and broader interest than anything you have done yet, and I feel an intense curiosity concerning that under-world of thought from which like bubbles your incidents and remarks often seem to burst up. The foundations of moral responsibility, the interlacing laws of nature and spirit, and their relations to us here and hereafter, are topics which I ponder more and more, and on which only one medically educated can write well. I think a course of medical study ought to be required of all ministers. How I should like to talk with you upon the strange list of topics suggested in the schoolmaster's letter! They are bound to agitate the public mind more and more, and it is of the chiefest importance to learn, if we can, to think soundly and wisely of them. Nobody can be a sound theologian who has not had his mind drawn to think with reverential fear on these topics.
Allow me to hint that the monthly numbers are not long enough. Get us along a little faster. You must work this well out. Elaborate and give us all the particulars. Old Sophie is a jewel; give us more of her. I have seen her. Could you ever come out and spend a day with us? The professor and I would so like to have a talk on some of these matters with you!
Very truly yours,
H. B. STOWE.
ANDOVER, February 18.
DEAR DOCTOR, -- I was quite indignant to hear yesterday of the very unjust and stupid attack upon you in the --. Mr. Stowe has written to them a remonstrance which I hope they will allow to appear as he wrote it, and over his name. He was well acquainted with your father and feels the impropriety of the thing.
But, my dear friend, in being shocked, surprised, or displeased personally with such things, we must consider other people's natures. A man or woman may wound us to the quick without knowing it, or meaning to do so, simply through difference of fibre. As Cowper hath somewhere happily said: --
"Oh why are farmers made so coarse,
Or clergy made so fine?
A kick that scarce might move a horse
Might kill a sound divine."
When once people get ticketed, and it is known that one is a hammer, another a saw, and so on, if we happen to get a taste of their quality we cannot help being hurt, to be sure, but we shall not take it ill of them. There be pious, well-intending beetles, wedges, hammers, saws, and all other kinds of implements, good, -- except where they come in the way of our fingers, -- and from a beetle you can have only a beetle's gospel.
I have suffered in my day from this sort of handling, which is worse for us women, who must never answer, and once when I wrote to Lady Byron, feeling just as you do about some very stupid and unkind things that had invaded my personality, she answered me, "Words do not kill, my dear, or I should have been dead long ago."
There is much true religion and kindness in the world, after all, and as a general thing he who has struck a nerve would be very sorry for it if he only knew what he had done.
I would say nothing, if I were you. There is eternal virtue in silence.
I must express my pleasure with the closing chapters of "Elsie." They are nobly and beautifully done, and quite come up to what I wanted to complete my idea of her character. I am quite satisfied with it now. It is an artistic creation, original and beautiful.
Believe me to be your true friend,
H. B. STOWE.
Mrs. Stowe's correspondence with George Eliot did not begin until a few years later, although the letter written by Mrs. Stowe to Mrs. Follen, printed in the earlier pages of this volume, had already awakened a strong feeling for the writer in Mrs. Lewes. She said of it, "The whole letter is most fascinating and makes me love her."
Mrs. Stowe's replies to the interesting letters of Mr. Ruskin have not been found, nor those written to Mrs. Browning. We can only judge of their contents by the intimate and affectionate answers, portions of which are reproduced here, where they bear upon the subjects of the time.
The ceaseless mill, whose engine was her own pen, still went on whatever interruptions or preoccupations came to her.
The varied currents of thought and feeling excited by the war, and her trouble with two serial stories, made Mrs. Stowe's work much more difficult, although she would not recognize it even in her own mind. She explained herself sometimes to Mrs. Howard by saying: "I never was so hard run in writing as I have been lately, so you must appreciate this so large letter writ with my own hand."
In April, she writes the same friend: "At last I am free. Both stories are finished, and the last copy sent to England, thanks to the girls' busy copying fingers. I have been pressed and overdriven . . . . Next I have to go to Canada and spend ten days or a fortnight securing copyright. Not a pleasant journey, but we shall try to make the best of it."
From the moment of our return from Europe together Mrs. Stowe began to form the habit of getting a little much-needed rest and change by coming to us for brief visits in Boston.
During these vacations she was always interested to observe the benevolent work going on about her and to lend a hand if it were possible. One incident flavored with a strong touch of the ludicrous still lingers in my memory. We had fallen in somewhere with a poor little waif of a boy, one easily to be recognized by the practiced eye of to-day as a good specimen of the street Arab. This little being was taken up by us and brought home. His arrival was looked upon with horror by the servants, who recognized existing facts and foresaw future miseries veiled from our less educated vision. A visit to the bathroom was at once suggested; but as none of the house maidens offered to take charge of the business, Mrs. Stowe announced herself as more than equal to the occasion and proceeded to administer the first bath probably ever known to that specimen of the human family. Hawthorne's clasping the leprous child was but a shadow compared to that hour, but happily Mrs. Stowe was not Hawthorne and she combed and scrubbed faithfully.
I cannot recall the precise ending of the tale. I can only remember the whole house being aroused at some unearthly hour of that night by the child's outcries, from his unusual indulgence in a good supper, and Mrs. Stowe's amusement at the situation. She declared the household was far better constituted to look after young cherubim than young male humans. Something of the canary-bird order would be much more in its line, she said. I believe he ran away the next day, probably understanding the fitness of things better than ourselves. At any rate I find a comforting note on the subject from Andover saying: "If we can do no more we must let him go. He certainly stands a better chance in his life's journey for the little good we have been able to put into him. When we try a little to resist the evil current and to pull one out here and there, we learn how dreadful is the downward gravitation, the sweep and whirl of the maelstrom. Let us hope all these have a Father, who charges Himself with them somewhere further on in their eternal pilgrimage when our weak hold fails."
In the autumn a plan for leaving Andover altogether was finally matured. She wrote, "You have heard that we are going to Hartford to live, and I am now in all the bustle of house planning, to say nothing of grading, under-draining, and setting out trees around our future home. It is four acres and a half of lovely woodland on the banks of a river and yet within an easy walk of Hartford; in fact, in the city limits; and when our house is done you and yours must come and see us. I would rather have made the change in less troublous times, but the duties here draw so hardly on Mr. Stowe's strength that I thought it better to live on less and be in a place of our own, and with no responsibilities except those of common gentlefolk."
Mrs. Stowe's love of home, of the fireside, and her faith in family ties were marked characteristics of her nature. For the first time in her life she was now to make the material house, at least, after her own idea, and for many months she was absorbed in the enjoyment of forming plans for her Hartford home.
In November she was in Hartford superintending the growing establishment. She wrote, -- "My house with eight gables is growing wonderfully. I go over every day to see it. I am busy with drains, sewers, sinks, digging, trenching, and above all with manure! You should see the joy with which I gaze on manure heaps in which the eye of faith sees Delaware grapes and D'Angoulême pears, and all sorts of roses and posies, which at some future day I hope you will be able to enjoy.
"Do tell me if our friend Hawthorne praises that arch traitor Pierce in his preface, and your loyal firm publishes it. I never read the preface, and have not yet seen the book, but they say so here, and I can scarcely believe it of you, if I can of him. I regret that I went to see him last summer. What! patronize such a traitor to our faces! I can scarce believe it.
"Meanwhile old Hartford seems fat, rich, and cosy, C stocks higher than ever, business plenty, -- everything as tranquil as possible. The drawings of our house, that is to be, are now finished, the spot where it is to stand is staked out, and if you will come here I will show you both. To-night I was there, and the great full moon shining down on the river and the red trees growing redder in the twilight made a beautiful picture."
The year proved an eventful one to Mrs. Stowe. "In the first place," says her son Charles, "the long and pleasant Andover connection of Professor Stowe was about to be severed, and the family were to remove to Hartford. They were to occupy a house that Mrs. Stowe was building on the bank of Park River. It was erected in a grove of oaks that had in her girlhood been one of Mrs. Stowe's favorite resorts. Here, with her friend Georgiana May, she had passed many happy hours, and had often declared that if she were ever able to build a house, it should stand in that very place. Here, then, it was built; and as the location was at that time beyond the city limits, it formed, with its extensive, beautiful groves, a particularly charming place of residence. Beautiful as it was, however, it was occupied by the family for only a few years. The needs of the growing city caused factories to spring up in the neighborhood, and to escape their encroachments ten years later, Mrs. Stowe bought and moved into the house on Forest Street that was ever afterward her Northern home. Thus the only house Mrs. Stowe ever planned and built for herself has been appropriated to the use of factory hands, and is now a tenement occupied by several families."
In this year, also, was finally published "Agnes of Sorrento. "
In the month of May came the first letter to her publisher from the new place. Already we find that the ever-present need has driven Mrs. Stowe to print her thoughts about "House and Home."
HARTFORD, OAKWOLD, May 1.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I came here a month ago to hurry on the preparations for our house, in which I am now writing, in the high bow window of Mr. Stowe's study, overlooking the wood and river. We are not moved in yet, only our things, and the house presents a scene of the wildest chaos, the furniture having been tumbled in and lying boxed and promiscuous.
I sent the sixth number of "House and Home Papers" a week ago, and, not having heard from it, am a little anxious. I always want faith that a bulky manuscript will go safe, -- for all I never lost one.. . . I should like to show you the result here when we are fairly in, and the spring leaves are out. It is the brightest, cheerfulest, homeliest home that you could see, -- not even excepting yours.
The pursuit of literature under such circumstances is neither natural nor profitable. In Mrs. Stowe's case it proved that she was pursuing, not literature, but the necessities of life. Everything in the household economy now depended upon her; and however strong her tendencies were naturally, she no longer possessed the reserved strength to forge the work from her brain. In the writing of "Uncle Tom," great as were the odds against her, she had been preparing to that end from the moment of her birth. Her father's fiery powers of expression; her mother's nature, absorbed in the still dream of love and duty; her own solitary childhood in spite of the enormous household in which she was brought up; above all her brooding nature quietly absorbing and assimilating the knowledge and thought which were finding expression around her; the first years of married life in Cincinnati, where the slaves were continually harbored and assisted, notwithstanding the risks to life and property, -- everything, in short, within and around her was nourishing the child of her genius which was to leap into being and gather the armies of America.
On the whole we may rather wonder at the high average value of the literary work by which she lived, especially when we follow the hints given in her letters of her interrupted and crowded existence.
In June she says, -- "I wrote my piece in a sea of troubles. I had, as you see, to write by amanuensis, and yet my little senate of girls say they like it better than anything I have written yet." It was a touching characteristic to see how the "senate of girls," or of such household friends as she could muster wherever she might be, were always called in to keep up her courage and to give her a sympathetic stimulus. During the days when she was writing, it was never safe to be far away, for she was rapid as light itself, and before a brief hour was ended we were pretty sure to hear her voice calling "Do come, come and hear and tell me how you like it."
Her June letter continues: "Can I begin to tell you what it is to begin to keep house in an unfinished home and place, dependent on a carpenter, a plumber, a mason, a bell-hanger, who come and go at their own sweet will, breaking in, making all sorts of chips, dust, dirt, going off in the midst leaving all standing, -- reappearing at uncertain intervals and making more dust, chips, and dirt. One parlor and my library have thus risen piecemeal by disturbance and convulsions. They are now almost done, and the last box of books is almost unpacked, but my head aches so with the past confusion that I cannot get up any feeling of rest. I can't enjoy -- can't feel a minute to sit down and say 'It is done.'
"The fountain plays, the plants flourish, and our front hall minus the stair railing looks beautifully; my pictures are all hung in parlor and library, and yet I feel so unsettled. Well, in a month more perhaps I shall get my brains right side up."
The following year was made memorable in Mrs. Stowe's life by the marriage of her youngest daughter. Again I find that no description can begin to give as clearly as the glimpses in her own letters the multifarious responsibilities which beset her. She says: "I am in trouble, -- have been in trouble ever since my turtle-doves announced their intention of pairing in June instead of August, because it entailed on me an immediate necessity of bringing everything out of doors and in to a state of completeness for the wedding exhibition in June. The garden must be planted, the lawn graded, harrowed, rolled, seeded, and the grass up and growing, stumps got out and shrubs and trees got in, conservatory made over, belts planted, holes filled, -- and all by three very slippery sort of Irishmen who had rather any time be minding their own business than mine. I have back doorsteps to be made, and troughs, screens, and what not; papering, painting, and varnishing, hitherto neglected, to be completed; also spring house-cleaning; also dressmaking for one bride and three ordinary females; also C and C and C's wardrobes to be overlooked; also carpets to be made and put down; also a revolution in the kitchen cabinet, threatening for a time to blow up the whole establishment altogether." And so the letter proceeds with two more sheets, adding near the end: "I send you to-day a 'Chimney Corner' on 'Our Martyrs,' which I have written out of the fullness of my heart . . . . It is an account of the martyrdom of a Christian boy of our own town of Andover, who died of starvation and want in a Southern prison on last Christmas Day."
Just one month before the marriage she writes again: "The wedding is indeed an absorbing whirlpool, but amid it all I have the next 'Chimney Corner' in good train and shall send it on to-morrow or next day."
How small a portion of the world outside can understand the lives of writers, actors, and those whose professions compel them to depend directly upon the public! No private joy, no private sorrow, no rest, no change, is recognized by this taskmaster. It is well: on the whole we would not have it otherwise; because those who can minister to the great Public embrace their profession in a spirit of conscious or unconscious self-denial: In either case the result is the same: development, advancement, and sometimes attainment.
The wedding is not two days over when another letter arrives full of her literary work, yet adding that she longs for rest and if we will only tell her where Campton is, whither we had gone, she would gladly join us. "I was a weary idiot," she continues, "by the time the wedding was over, and said 'Yes ma'am' to the men and 'No sir' to the women in sheer imbecility."
Nevertheless she did not get to Campton, but kept on, with the exception of a few brief visits at Peekskill and elsewhere until the autumn. In one of her notes she says: "I have returned to my treadmill. AC is to leave as soon as she can get ready, and I am trying to see her off, -- helping her to get her things together, and trying to induce her to take a new stand in a new place and make herself a respectable woman. When she is gone a load will be off my back. If it were not for the good that is still left in our fellows our task would be easier than it is -- we could cut them adrift and let them swim; but while we see much that may be turned to good account in them we hang on, or let them hang on, and our boat moves slow. So behold me fighting my good fight of womanhood against dust and disorganization and the universal downward tendency of everybody, hoping for easier times by and by."
With her heroic nature she was always ready to lead the forlorn hope. The child no one else was willing to provide for, the woman the world despised, were brought into her home and cared for as her own. Unhappily, her delicate health at this time (though she was naturally strong), her constant literary labors, her uncertain income, her private griefs, all united, caused her to fall short in ability to accomplish what she undertook; hence there were often crises from sudden illness and non-fulfillment of engagements which were very serious in their effects, but the elasticity of her spirits was something marvelous and carried her over many a hard place.
The truth was, and it may seem a singular antithesis to say of the writer of one of the greatest stories the world has yet produced, that she was not a student of literature. Books as a medium of the ideas of the age, and as the promulgators of morals and religion, were of course like the breath of her life; but a study of the literature of the past as the only true foundation for a literature of the present was outside the pale of her occupations, and for the larger portion of her life outside of her interest. During the riper season of her activity with the pen, the necessity of studying style and the thoughts of others gained a larger hold upon her mind; but she always said, with a twinkle of amusement and pride, that she never could have done anything without Mr. Stowe. He knew everything, and all she had to do was to go to him. All this double service, the impossibility of devoting herself to a career which was after all her appointed work, made her work exceptionally difficult.
All her life she stimulated the activity of her pen rather by her sympathy with humanity than by studies of literature. In one of her letters she says: "You see whoever can write on home and family matters, on what people think of and are anxious about and want to hear from, has an immense advantage. The success of the 'House and Home Papers' shows me how much people want this sort of thing, and, now I am bringing the series to a close, I find I have ever so much more to say; in fact, the idea has come in this shape . . . . A set of papers for the next year to be called 'Christopher's Evenings,' which will allow great freedom and latitude; a capacity of striking anywhere when a topic seems to be in the public mind and that will comprise a little series of sketches or rather little groups of sketches out of which books may be made. You understand Christopher writes these for the winter-evening amusement of his family. One set will be entitled An Account of the Seven Little Foxes that spoil the Vines.' This will cover seven sketches of certain domestic troubles. Another set is the 'Cathedral; or, the Shrines of Home Saints,' under which I shall give certain sketches of home characters contrasting with that of the legends of the saints: the shirt-making, knitting, whooping-cough-tending saints, the Aunt Esthers and Aunt Marias . . . . Hum" [her-humming bird [her humming-bird]] "is well -- notwithstanding the dull weather; we keep him in a sunny upper chamber and feed him daily on sugar and water, and he catches his own mutton."
Thus in swift succession we find, not only charming little idyls here and there like her story of "Hum the Son of Buzz" in "Our Young Folks," being the tale of her captured and tamed humming-bird, but also "Little Foxes," "The Chimney Corner," a volume of collected Poems, "Oldtown Folks," "Sam Lawson's Fireside Tales," and others, following with tireless rapidity, bearing the same stamp of living sympathy with difficulties of the time and breathing a spirit of helpfulness and faith.
The world is yet to recognize the value of her writings in their influence upon the suffering of our common humanity. When this power was concentrated upon the evil of slavery the response was national, universal, and unprecedented; but such papers as "The Ministries of Departed Friends; A New Year Reverie," and others of like character, will long keep her pages sacred to the dwellers in silent places.
Works of Annie Fields