Works of Annie Fields
LIFE AND LETTERS OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
by Annie Fields
LIFE IN FLORIDA
AFTER the close of the war, the infirm condition of her son being ever in her mind, Mrs. Stowe began to discuss projects for making a winter home in Florida. "She was also," writes her son Charles, "most anxious to do her share towards educating and leading to a higher life those colored people whom she had helped so largely to set free, and who were still in the state of profound ignorance imposed by slavery." In writing of her hopes and plans to her brother Charles Beecher, in 1866, she says: --
"My plan of going to Florida, as it lies in my mind, is not in any sense a mere worldly enterprise. I have for many years had a longing to be more immediately doing Christ’s work on earth. My heart is with that poor people whose cause in words I have tried to plead, and who now, ignorant and docile, are just in that formative stage in which whoever seizes has them.
"Corrupt politicians are already beginning to speculate on them as possible capital for their schemes, and to fill their poor heads with all sorts of vagaries. Florida is the State into which they have, more than anywhere else, been pouring. Emigration is positively and decidedly setting that way; but as yet it is mere worldly emigration, with the hope of making money, nothing more.
"The Episcopal Church is, however, undertaking, under direction of the future Bishop of Florida, a wide-embracing scheme of Christian activity for the whole State. In this work I desire to be associated, and my plan is to locate at some salient point on the St. John’s River, where I can form the nucleus of a Christian neighborhood, whose influence shall be felt far beyond its own limits."
During this year Mrs. Stowe partially carried her plan into execution by hiring an old plantation called "Laurel Grove," on the west side of the St. John’s River, near the present village of Orange Park. Here she established her son Frederick as a cotton planter, and here he remained for two years. The situation did not, however, prove entirely satisfactory, nor did the raising of cotton prove to be, under the circumstances, a profitable business. After visiting Florida towards the spring, at which time her attention was drawn to the beauties and superior advantages of Mandarin on the east side of the river, Mrs. Stowe wrote from Hartford to Rev. Charles Beecher: --
MY DEAR BROTHER, -- We are now thinking seriously of a place in Mandarin much more beautiful than any other in the vicinity. It has on it five large date palms, an olive-tree in full bearing, besides a fine orange grove which this year will yield about seventy-five thousand oranges. If we get that, then I want you to consider the expediency of buying the one next to it. It contains about two hundred acres of land, on which is a fine orange grove, the fruit from which last year brought in two thousand dollars as sold at the wharf. It is right on the river, and four steamboats pass it each week, on their way to Savannah and Charleston. There is on the place a very comfortable cottage, as houses go out there, where they do not need to be built as substantially as with us.
I am now in correspondence with the Bishop of Florida, with a view to establishing a line of churches along the St. John’s River, and if I settle at Mandarin, it will be one of my stations. Will you consent to enter the Episcopal Church and be our clergyman? You are just the man we want. If my tastes and feelings did not incline me toward the Church, I should still choose it as the best system for training immature minds such as those of our negroes. The system was composed with reference to the wants of the laboring class of England, at a time when they were as ignorant as our negroes now are.
I long to be at this work, and cannot think of it without my heart burning within me. Still I leave all with my God, and only hope He will open the way for me to do all that I want to for this poor people.
H. B. STOWE.
"Mrs. Stowe," writes her son, "had some years before this joined the Episcopal Church, for the sake of attending the same communion as her daughters, who were Episcopalians." This change was not remarkable when we remember that Mrs. Stowe’s mother was an Episcopalian. Henry Ward Beecher said of their mother: "She was born in the Episcopal church, and while a devout adherent to that faith and government, married my father. She was a sensible woman, evinced not only by that but by the fact that she united herself to the Congregational church in Litchfield. She was a woman of extraordinary graces and gifts; a woman not demonstrative, with a profound philosophical nature and of wonderful depth of affection, but with a serenity that was simply charming. While my father was in the early religious experience under Calvinistic teaching, debating and swelling and floating here and there and tormenting himself, she threw the oil of faith and trust on the waters, and they were quieted, for she trusted in God." Their brother Charles did not, however, see fit to change his creed, and though he went to Florida, he settled a hundred and sixty miles west from the St. John’s River, at Newport, near St. Marks, on the Gulf coast, and about twenty miles from Tallahassee. Here he lived every winter and several summers for fifteen years, and here he left the impress of his own remarkably sweet and lovely character upon the scattered population of the entire region.
"Mrs. Stowe in the mean time purchased the property, with its orange grove and comfortable cottage, that she had recommended to him, and thus Mandarin became her winter home. No one who has ever seen it can forget the peaceful beauty of this Florida home and its surroundings. The house, a story and a half cottage of many gables, stands on a bluff overlooking the broad St. John’s, which is five miles wide at this point. It nestles in the shade of a grove of superb, moss-hung live-oaks, around one of which the front piazza is built. Several fine old orange-trees also stand near the cottage, scenting the air with the sweet perfume of their blossoms in the early spring, and offering their golden fruit to whoever may choose to pluck it during the winter months. Back of the house stretches the well-tended orange grove in which Mrs. Stowe took such genuine pride and pleasure. Everywhere about the dwelling and within it were flowers and singing birds, while the rose garden in front, at the foot of the bluff, was the admiration of all who saw it."
Her own times for going and coming were somewhat uncertain, depending upon her work, upon printers, binders, and publishers; also, perchance, upon the weather and the state of her own health. She wrote to Mrs. Howard: "I have been very hard driven of late, owing to a promise inadvertently given to a publishing firm here in Hartford that I would get a book called ‘Men of our Times’ ready for them this fall. I have been obliged to stop printing my story, and work incessantly to get that off my hands, and have written so much every day that to write even a note in addition seemed more than I could do."
Nevertheless in one of her pleasant familiar letters to me she gives the following cheerful picture: --
"My conservatory is doing splendidly. I wish you could see two crimson camellias on one stem that are opening now in front of my door as I sit writing. My ferns and ivies that I brought from Brooklyn are all doing well, -- my bulbs all asleep in pots under a blanket of earth four inches deep in the cellar. I shall expect them up about January, and in February shall have a gay time with them."
At last, having an accessible home in the pleasant city of Hartford, strangers and travelers often sought and found her. In one of her familiar notes she says: "The Amberleys have written that they are coming to us to-morrow, and of all times, accordingly, our furnace must spring a leak. We are hoping to make all right before they get here, but I am really ashamed to show such ;weather at this time of year. Poor America! It’s like having your mother expose herself by a fit of ill temper before strangers . . . . Do, I beg, write to a poor sinner laboring under a book." And again, a little later: "The book is almost done -- hang it! but done well, and will be a good thing for young men to read, and young women too, and so I’ll send you one. You’ll find some things in it, I fancy, that I know and you don’t, about the times before you were born, when I was ‘Hush, hush, my dearing’ in Cincinnati . . . . I smell spring afar off -- sniff -- do you? Any smell of violets in the distance? I think it comes over the water from the Pamfili Doria."
It was during one of Mrs. Stowe’s visits to Boston about this time that she chanced to talk with greater fullness and openness than she had done before on the subject of Spiritualism. In the simplest way she affirmed her entire belief in possible manifestations of the nearness and individual life of those who had passed to the unseen world and gave vivid illustrations of the reasons why her faith was thus assured. She never sought after such testimony unless she found herself sitting with others who were interested and who wished to try experiments, but her conclusions were definite and unvarying. At that period such a declaration of faith required a good deal of bravery; now the subject has assumed a different phase and there are few thinking persons who do not recognize a certain truth hidden within the shadows. She spoke with tender seriousness of such manifestations as are recorded in the Old and New Testament. Her husband had possessed the peculiar power from his early youth of seeing persons moving about him who could not be perceived by others. These visions were so distinct that it was impossible for him to distinguish at times between the real and the unreal. I recall one illustration which had occurred only a few years previous to their departure from Andover. She had been called to Boston one day on business. Making her preparations hurriedly, she bade the household farewell, and rushed to the station, only to see the train go out as she arrived. There was nothing to do but to return home and wait patiently for the next train; but wishing not to be disturbed, she quietly opened a side door and crept noiselessly up the staircase leading to her own room, sitting down by her writing-table in the window. She had been seated about half an hour when Professor Stowe came in, looked about him with a preoccupied air, but did not speak to her. She thought his behavior strange, and amused herself by watching him; at last the situation became so extraordinary that she began to laugh. "Why," he exclaimed, with a most astonished air, "is that you? I thought it was one of my visions! "
Mrs. Stowe wrote out one day for her children her own mature views upon the subject of Spiritualism. She says: --
"Each friend takes away a portion of ourselves. There was some part of our being related to him as to no other, and we had things to say to him which no other would understand or appreciate. A portion of our thoughts has become useless and burdensome, and again and again, with involuntary yearning, we turn to the stone at the door of the sepulchre. We lean against the cold, silent marble, but there is no answer; no voice, neither any that regardeth.
"There are those who would have us think that in our day this doom is reversed; that there are those who have the power to restore to us the communion of our lost ones. How many a heart, wrung and tortured with the anguish of this fearful silence, has throbbed with strange, vague hopes at the suggestion! When we hear sometimes of persons of the strongest and clearest minds becoming credulous votaries of certain spiritualist circles, let us not wonder: if we inquire, we shall almost always find that the belief has followed some stroke of death; it is only an indication of the desperation of that heart-hunger which in part it appeases.
"Ah, were it true! Were it indeed so that the wall between the spiritual and material is growing thin, and a new dispensation germinating in which communion with the departed blest shall be among the privileges and possibilities of this our mortal state! Ah, were it so that when we go forth weeping in the gray dawn, bearing spices and odors which we long to pour forth for the beloved dead, we should indeed find the stone rolled away and an angel sitting on it!
"But for us the stone must be rolled away by an unquestionable angel, whose countenance is as the lightning, who executes no doubtful juggle by pale moonlight or starlight, but rolls back the stone in fair, open morning, and sits on it. Then we could bless God for his mighty gift, and with love, and awe, and reverence take up that blessed fellowship with another life, and weave it reverently and trustingly into the web of our daily course.
"But no such angel have we seen, -- no such sublime, unquestionable, glorious manifestation. And when we look at what is offered to us, ah! who that has friends in heaven could wish them to return in such wise as this? The very instinct of a sacred sorrow seems to forbid that our beautiful, our glorified ones should stoop lower than even to the medium of their cast-off bodies, to juggle, and rap, and squeak, and perform mountebank tricks with tables and chairs; to recite over in weary sameness harmless truisms, which we were wise enough to say for ourselves; to trifle, and banter, and jest, or to lead us through endless moonshiny mazes. Sadly and soberly we say that, if this be communion with the dead, we had rather be without it. We want something a little in advance of our present life, and not below it. We have read with some attention weary pages of spiritual communication purporting to come from Bacon, Swedenborg, and others, and long accounts from divers spirits of things seen in the spirit land, and we can conceive of no more appalling prospect than to have them true.
"If the future life is so weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable as we might infer from these readings, one would have reason to deplore an immortality from which no suicide could give an outlet. To be condemned to such eternal prosing would be worse than annihilation.
"Is there, then, no satisfaction for this craving of the soul? There is One who says: ‘I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death;’ and this same being said once before: ‘He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself unto him.’ This is a promise direct and personal; not confined to the first apostles, but stated in the most general way as attainable by any one who loves and does the will of Jesus. It seems given to us as some comfort for the unavoidable heart-breaking separations of death that there should be, in that dread unknown, one all-powerful Friend with whom it is possible to commune, and from whose spirit there may come a response to us. Our Elder Brother, the partaker of our nature, is not only in the spirit land, but is all-powerful there. It is He that shutteth and no man openeth, and openeth and no man shutteth. He whom we have seen in the flesh, weeping over the grave of Lazarus, is He who hath the keys of hell and of death. If we cannot commune with our friends, we can at least commune with Him to whom they are present, who is intimately with them as with us. He is the true bond of union between the spirit world and our souls; and one blest hour of prayer, when we draw near to Him and feel the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love of his that passeth knowledge, is better than all those incoherent, vain, dreamy glimpses with which longing hearts are cheated.
"They who have disbelieved all spiritual truth, who have been Sadduceeic doubters of either angel or spirit, may find in modern spiritualism a great advance. But can one who has ever really had communion with Christ, who has said with John, ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father and the Son,’ -- can such an one be satisfied with what is found in the modern circle?
"Let us, then, who long for communion with spirits, seek nearness to Him who has promised to speak and commune, leaving forever this word to his church: --
"‘I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.’"
In these busy years she went away upon her Boston trips more and more rarely, but she writes after her return from one of them: "I don’t think I ever enjoyed Boston so much as in this visit. Why was it? Every cloud seemed to turn out its silver lining, every body was delightful, and the music has really done me good. I feel it all over me now. I think of it with a sober certainty of waking bliss! Our little ‘hub’ is a grand ‘hub.’ Three cheers for it!. . . I have had sent me through the War Department a French poem which I think is full of real nerve and strength of feeling. I undertook the reading only as a duty, but found myself quite waked up. The indignation and the feeling with which the author denounces modern skepticism, that worst of all unbelief, the denial of all good, all beauty, all generosity, all heroism, is splendid. He is a live man this, and I wish you would read his poem and send it to Longfellow, for it does one’s heart good to see the French made the vehicle of so much real heroic sentiment. The description of a slave hunt is splendidly and bitterly satirical and indignant and full of fine turns of language. Thank God that is over. No matter what happens to you and me, that great burden of sin and misery has tumbled off from our backs and rolled into the sepulchre, where it shall never arise more. . . I have been the most industrious of beings since my return, and am steaming away on the obstacle that stands between me and my story, which I long to be at . . . . I want to get one or two special bits of information out of Garrison, and so instead of sending my letter at random to Boston I will trouble you (who have little or nothing to do!) to get this letter to him. My own book, instead of cooling, boils and bubbles daily and nightly, and I am pushing and spurring like fury to get to it. I work like a dray-horse, and I’ll never get in such a scrape again. It isn’t my business to make up books, but to make them. I have lots to say."
The story which had so taken possession of her mind and heart was "Oldtown Folks," the one which she at the time fancied the best calculated of all her works to sustain the reputation of the author of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." The many proofs of her own interest in it seem to show that she had been moved to a livelier and deeper satisfaction in this creation than in any of her later productions. She writes respecting it: "It is more to me than a story; it is my résumé of the whole spirit and body of New England, a country that is now exerting such an influence on the civilized world that to know it truly becomes an object." But there were weary lengths of roads to be traveled, by a woman already overladen with responsibilities and in delicate health, before such a book could reach its consummation.
"I must cry you mercy," she begins one of the notes to her publisher, [“]and explain my condition to you as well as possible." The "condition" was frequently to be explained! Proofs were not ready when they were promised, the press was stopped, and both author and publisher required all the tender regard they really had for each other and all the patience they possessed to keep in tune. She says, "I am sorry to trouble you or derange your affairs, but one can’t always tell in driving such horses as we drive where they are going to bring up."
She started off in this long journey very hopefully, writing that she would like to begin printing at once, because "to have the first part of my book in type will greatly assist me in the last." A month later she writes: "Here goes the first of my nameless story, of which I can only say it is as unlike everything else as it is like the strange world of folks I took it from. There is no fear that there will not be as much matter as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin;’ there will. There could be an endless quantity if I only said all I can see and think that is strange and curious. I partake in ----’s disappointment that it is not done, but it is of that class of things that cannot be commanded; as my friend Sam Lawson (vide MSS.) says, ‘There ‘s things that can be druv and then agin there’s things that can’t,’ and this is that kind; as had to be humored. Instead of rushing on, I have often turned back and written over with care, that nothing that I wanted to say might be omitted; it has cost me a good deal of labor to elaborate this first part, namely, to build my theatre and to introduce my actors. My labor has all, however, been given to the literary part. My printers always inform me that I know nothing of punctuation, and I give thanks that I have no responsibility for any of its absurdities! Further than beginning my sentence with a capital, I go not, -- so I hope my friend Mr. Bigelow, who is a direct and lineal descendant of ‘my Grandmother,’ will put those things all right."
Who so well as authors can fully understand and sympathize with the burden of a long story in the head, long bills on the table, tempting offers to write for this and that in order to bring in two hundred dollars from a variety of pleasant editors who desire the name on their list, house and grounds to be looked after, cooks to be pacified, visits to be made -- it is no wonder that Mrs. Stowe wrote: "The thing has been an awful tax and labor, for I have tried to do it well. I say also to you confidentially, that it has seemed as if every private care that could hinder me as woman and mother has been crowded into just this year that I have had this to do."
Happily more peaceful days were in store for her. Her daughters, now grown to womanhood, were beginning to take the reins of home work and government into their own hands; and as the darkest hour foreruns the dawn, so almost imperceptibly to herself her cares began to fade away from her.
A new era opened in Mrs. Stowe’s life when she made her first visit to Florida. She was tired and benumbed with care and cold. Suddenly the thought came to her that she would go to the South, herself, and see what the stories were worth which she was constantly hearing about its condition. In the mean time, if she could, she would enjoy the soft air, and find retirement in which she might continue her book. She says in one of her letters: --
"Winter weather and cold seem always a kind of nightmare to me. I am going to take my writing-desk and go down to Florida to F---’s plantation, where we have now a home, and abide there until the heroic agony of betweenity, the freeze and thaw of winter, is over, and then I doubt not I can write my three hours a day. Meanwhile, I have a pretty good pile of manuscript.. . . The letters I have got about blossoming roses and loungers in linen coats, while we have been frozen and snowed up, have made my very soul long to be away. Cold weather really seems to torpify my brain. I write with a heavy numbness. I have not yet had a good spell of writing, though I have had all through the story abundant clairvoyance, and see just how it must be written; but for writing some parts I want warm weather, and not to be in the state of a ‘froze and thawed apple.’ . . . The cold affects me precisely as extreme hot weather used to in Cincinnati, -- gives me a sort of bilious neuralgia. I hope to get a clear, bright month in Florida, when I can say something to purpose.
"I did want to read some of my story to you before I went. I have read it to my husband; and though one may think a husband a partial judge, yet mine is so nervous and so afraid of being bored that I feel as if it were something to hold him; and he likes it -- is quite wakeful, so to speak, about it. All I want now, to go on, is a good frame, as father used to say about his preaching. I want calm, soft, even dreamy, enjoyable weather, sunshine and flowers. Love to dear A---, whom I so much want to see once more."
Unhappily, she could not get away so soon as she desired. There were contracts to be signed and other businesses to arrange. These delays made her visit southward much shorter than she intended, but it proved to be only the introduction, the first brief chapter, as it were, of her future winter life in Florida. Before leaving she wrote to Mr. Fields: --
"I am so constituted that it is absolutely fatal to me to agree to have any literary work done at certain dates. I mean, to have this story done by the 1st of September. It would be greatly for my pecuniary interest to get it done before that, because I have the offer of eight thousand dollars for the newspaper use of the story I am planning to write after it. But I am bound by the laws of art. Sermons, essays, lives of distinguished people, I can write to order at times and seasons. A story comes, grows like a flower, sometimes will and sometimes won’t, like a pretty woman. When the spirits will help, I can write. When they jeer, flout, make faces, and otherwise maltreat me, I can only wait humbly at their gates, watch at the posts of their doors.
"This story grows even when I do not write. I spent a month in the mountains in Stockbridge composing before I wrote a word.
"I only ask now a good physical condition, and I go to warmer climes hoping to save time there. I put everything and everybody off that interferes with this, except Pussy Willow, which will be a pretty story for a child series."
At last she sailed away, about the first of March, and with that delightful power of knowing what she wanted, and being content when she attained her end, which is too rare, alas! her letters glowed and blossomed and shone with the fruit and flowers and sunshine of the South. It was hardly to be expected that her literary work could actually reach the printers’ hands under these circumstances as rapidly as if she had been able to write at home; therefore it was with no sense of surprise that we received from her, during the summer, what proved to be a chapter of excuses instead of a chapter of her book: "I have a long story to tell you of what has prevented my going on with my story, which you must see would so occupy all the nerve and brain force I have that I have not been able to write a word except to my own children. To them in their needs I must write chapters which would otherwise go into my novel."
In the autumn she found herself able to come again to Boston for a few days’ visit. There were often long croonings over the fire far into the night; her other-worldliness and abstractions brought with them a dreamy quietude, especially to those whose harried lives kept them only too much awake. Her coming was always a pleasure, for she made holidays by her own delightful presence, and asked nothing more than what she found in the companionship of her friends.
After her return to Hartford and in December of the same year, I find some curious notes showing how easily she was attracted by new subjects of interest away from the work she had in hand; not that she saw it in that light, or was aware that her story was in the least retarded by such digressions, but her keen sympathy with everything and everybody made it more and more difficult to concentrate herself upon the long story she held after all to be of the first importance. She writes to the editor of the "Atlantic Monthly:" "I see that all the leading magazines have articles on ‘Planchette.’
"There is a lady of my acquaintance who has developed more remarkable facts in this way than any I have ever seen; I have kept a record of these communications for some time past, and everybody is very much struck with them.
"I have material to prepare a very curious article. Shall you want it? And when?"
We can imagine the feeling of a publisher waiting for copy of her promised story on reading this note! Also the following of a few days later: --
"I am beginning a series of articles called ‘Learning to Write,’ designed to be helpful to a great many beginners.. . . I shall instance Hawthorns as a model and speak of his ‘Note-Book’ as something which every young author aspiring to write should study . . . . My materials for the ‘Planchette’ article are really very extraordinary, . . . but I don’t want to write it now when I am driving so hard upon my book . . . . It costs some patience to you and certainly to me to have it take so long, yet I have conscientiously done all I could, since I began. Now the end of it is in plain sight, but there is a good deal to be done to bring it out worthily, and I work upon it steadily and daily. I never put so mach work into anything before."
A week later she says again: --
"I thank you very much for your encouraging words, for I really need them. I have worked so hard that I am almost tired. I hope that you will still continue to read, and that you will not find it dull . . . . I have received the books. What a wonderful fellow Hawthorne was!"
Happily the time was near for a second flight to Florida, and she wrote with her own rested hand en route from Charleston: --
"Room fragrant with violets, banked up in hyacinths, flowers everywhere, windows open, birds singing."
She inclosed some fans, upon which she had been painting flowers busily during the journey in order to send them back to Boston to be sold at a fair in behalf of the Cretans: "Make them do the Cretes all the good you can," she said.
"At last," she writes a few days later, "after waiting a day and a half in Charleston, we arrived at Mandarin about ten o’clock Saturday morning, just a week from the day we sailed. The house looked so pretty, and quiet, and restful, the day was so calm and lovely, it seemed as though I had passed away from all trouble, and was looking back upon you all from a secure resting-place. Mr. Stowe is very happy here, and is constantly saying how pleasant it is, and how glad he is that he is here. He is so much improved in health that already he is able to take a considerable walk every day.
"We are all well, contented, and happy, and we have six birds, two dogs, and a pony. Do write more and oftener. Tell me all the little nothings and nowheres. You can’t imagine how they are magnified by the time they have reached into this remote corner."
In the summer a new experience came to her. The death of Lady Byron a few years before had closed an episode in Mrs. Stowe’s earthly affections. Lady Byron possessed for her a strong personal fascination. She said once: "When I was first introduced to her I felt in a moment the words of her husband: --
“There was awe in the homage that she drew;
Her spirit seemed as seated on a throne."
It was altogether natural that with Mrs. Stowe’s temperament and the sincere affection which ripened between her and Lady Byron, she should have attempted after her death to try to prove to the world the exceptional purity of her character and her devotion to her marriage oath. Mrs. Stowe wrote to Dr. Holmes upon this subject: --
HARTFORD, June 26, 1869.
DEAR DOCTOR, -- I am going to ask help of you, and I feel that confidence in your friendship that leads me to be glad that I have a friend like you to ask advice of. In order that you may understand fully what it is, I must go back some years and tell you about it.
When I went to England the first time, I formed a friendship with Lady Byron which led to a somewhat interesting correspondence. When there the second time, after the publication of "Dred" in 1856, Lady Byron wrote to me that she wished to have some private confidential conversation with me, and invited me to come spend a day with her at her country seat near London. I went, met her alone, and spent an afternoon with her. The object of the visit she then explained to me. She was in such a state of health that she considered she had very little time to live, and was engaged in those duties and reviews which every thoughtful person finds who is coming deliberately, and with their eyes open, to the boundaries of this mortal life.
Lady Byron, as you must perceive, has all her life lived under a weight of slanders and false imputations laid upon her by her husband. Her own side of the story has been told only to that small circle of confidential friends who needed to know it in order to assist her in meeting the exigencies which it imposed on her. Of course it has thrown the sympathy mostly on his side, since the world generally has more sympathy with impulsive incorrectness than with strict justice.
At that time there was a cheap edition of Byron’s works in contemplation, meant to bring them into circulation among the masses, and the pathos arising from the story of his domestic misfortunes was one great means relied on for giving it currency.
Under these circumstances some of Lady Byron’s friends had proposed the question to her whether she had not a responsibility to society for the truth; whether she did right to allow these persons to gain influence over the popular mind by a silent consent to an utter falsehood. As her whole life had been passed in the most heroic self-abnegation and self-sacrifice, the question was now proposed to her whether one more act of self-denial was not required of her, namely, to declare the truth, no matter at what expense to her own feelings.
For this purpose she told me she wished to recount the whole story to a person in whom she had confidence, -- a person of another country, and out of the whole sphere of personal and local feelings which might be supposed to influence those in the country and station in life where the events really happened, -- in order that I might judge whether anything more was required of her ins relation to this history.
The interview had almost the solemnity of a death-bed confession, and Lady Byron told me the history which I have embodied in an article to appear in the "Atlantic Monthly." I have been induced to prepare it by the run which the Guiccioli book is having, which is from first to last an unsparing attack on Lady Byron’s memory by Lord Byron’s mistress.
When you have read my article, I want, not your advice as to whether the main facts shall be told, for on this point I am so resolved that I frankly say advice would do me no good. But you might help me, with your delicacy and insight, to make the manner of telling more perfect, and I want to do it as wisely and well as such story can be told."
Dr. Holmes mentions the subject several times in writing to his friend Lothrop Motley. "Mr. Fields was absent in Europe," he says, "and his sub-editor, fearing to lose Mrs. Stowe as a contributor altogether, assented to her request to print the Byron paper." In another letter he writes: "We have had three storms this autumn: first, the great gale of September 8, which I recognized while it was blowing as the greatest for fifty-four years, for you remember that I remember the September gale; second, the Byron whirlwind, which began here and swiftly traveled across the Atlantic; and third, the gold-storm, as I christened the terrible financial conflict of the last week."
That Lady Byron should herself have contemplated the publication of the statements made to Mrs. Stowe just before her death and should have sought her advice on the subject, proves how deeply she had suffered. Mrs. Stowe and her sister advised against this step, but all the more we can conceive of the responsibility accepted by Mrs. Stowe in saving her friend from public obloquy at the moment of her failing health. In finally answering Lady Byron’s question Mrs. Stowe wrote: --
On that subject on which you spoke to me the last time we were together, I have thought often and deeply. I have changed my mind somewhat. Considering the peculiar circumstances of the case, I could wish that the sacred veil of silence, so bravely thrown over the past, should never be withdrawn during the time that you remain with us. I would say then, leave all with some discreet friends, who, after both have passed from earth, shall say what was due to justice. I am led to think this by seeing how low, how unworthy, the judgments of this world are; and I would not that what I so much respect, love, and revere should be placed within reach of its harpy claw, which pollutes what it touches. The day will yet come which will bring to light every hidden thing. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known;" and so justice will not fail.
Such, my dear friend, are my thoughts; different from what they were since first I heard that strange, sad history. Meanwhile I love you forever, whether we meet again on earth or not.
H. B. S.
The subject lay in abeyance in Mrs. Stowe’s mind for several years after Lady Byron’s death until the publication of the Guiccioli memoirs, succeeded by an article in "Blackwood’s Magazine," where Lady Byron was spoken of in a way to sting Mrs. Stowe to the quick.
Nothing more was needed. She arranged the statements given her by Lady Byron and published them in the "Atlantic Monthly," showing them, as we have seen, to Dr. Holmes.
To a more worldly minded person such a step would have been impossible, but to Mrs. Stowe’s love and to her sense of right nothing was impossible, and she braved the world for her friend’s sake, hardly knowing that she was brave. She always spoke and behaved as if she recognized herself to be an instrument breathed upon by the Divine Spirit. When we consider how this idea absorbed her to the prejudice of what appeared to others a wholesome exercise of human will and judgment, it is not wonderful that the world was offended when she made conclusions contrary to the opinion of the public, and thought best to publish them. But the world could not understand the motives which moved her.
She wrote to Mrs. Howard: "It is worth while to have a storm of abuse once in a while, for one reason to read the Psalms, -- they are a radiant field of glory that never shines unless the night shuts in. Sometimes in my sleep I have such nearness to the blessed, it is almost as if one voice after another whispers to me, ‘Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder.’ ‘The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath thee are the everlasting arms.’ . . . It’s worth while to have trouble to have friends stand by one as mine do by me. . . . Depend upon it, the spirit of the Lord didn’t pitch me into this seething caldron for nothing, and the Son of Man walketh with me in the fire. Eternal right and justice are with me and I shall triumph by and by on the other side of the river and here too . . . . Your letter and one from Sister Mary gave me more support than any other. At first I thought the world’s people must have all lost their senses, -- or I -- Could that account be called uncalled-for!"
One is reminded in all this of Tennyson’s lines written at about the same epoch, where Arthur says: --
"And some among you held, that if the King
Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow;
Not easily, seeing that the King must guard
That which he rules, and is but as the hind
To whom a space of land is given to plough,
Who may not wander from the allotted field
Before his work be done; but being done
Let visions of the night or of the day
Come as they will . . .
In moments when he feels he cannot die."
Perhaps a deeper sense of reverence for poetic genius with which alone the world has learned to concern itself in regard to Byron, would have suggested continued silence and the Scripture warning, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord;" but Mrs. Stowe felt her message as from the Most High, and who are we to condemn her?
Meanwhile her legitimate work, "Oldtown Folks," for which the publishers had impatiently waited long after the promised time, was at length fairly off her hands. The book was published in the spring or early summer, and she was free once more.
During the following winter she appeared to enjoy Mandarin with peculiar zest, and wrote contentedly therefrom save for a vision of having to go to Canada in the early spring to obtain the copyright of her story.
The visits to Florida had now become necessary to her health, and before long she perceived that to pass the entire season there, and to surrender her large house in Hartford, was the next step for her to take. She wrote: "I am leaving the land of flowers on the 1st of June with tears in my eyes; but having a house in Hartford, it must be lived in. I wish you and --- would just come to see it. You have no idea what a lovely place it has grown to be, and I am trying to sell it as hard as a snake to crawl out of his skin. Thus on, till reason is pushed out of life. There’s no earthly sense in having anything, -- lordy massy, no! By the bye, I must delay sending you "The Ghost in the Captain Brown House" till I can go to Natick, and make a personal inspection of the premises and give it to you hot.”
Her busy brain was again at work with new plans for future books and articles for magazines. "Gladly would I fly to you on the wings of the wind," she says, "but I am a slave, a bound thrall to work, and I cannot work and play at the same time. After this year I hope to have a little rest, and above all things I won’t be hampered with a serial to write.. . . We have sold out in Hartford."
All this routine of labor was to have a new form of interruption, which gave her intense joy. "I am doing just what you say," she wrote, "being first lady-in-waiting on his new majesty. He is very pretty, very gracious and good, and his little mamma and he are a pair . . . . I am getting to be an old fool of a grandma, and to think there is no bliss under heaven to compare with a baby." Later she wrote on the same subject: "You ought to see my baby. I have discovered a way to end the woman controversy. Let the women all say that they won’t take care of the babies till the laws are altered. One week of this discipline would bring all the men on their marrow-bones.
Only tell us what you want, they would say, and we will do it. Of course you may imagine me trailing after our little king, -- first granny-in-waiting."
Only those who have followed Mrs. Stowe through the exciting episodes of her life can know what the repose of those winters in Florida became to her. Her human interests were still fed and nourished by her wish to help the freed people and to build a church for them, and poor as she was herself at this time, she was able through her busy pen and by writing letters to her friends to get money enough together to carry out her projects for them. But she was removed from much of the stress and strain of life in New England. In spite of all her previous labors the year 1870 was one of the hardest of her life. She writes fully on the question to young Mr. Howard, who was not only her friend, but also a member of a publishing firm and one of the editors of the "Christian Union:" --
MANDARIN, February, 1870.
George Eliot writes me that she and Mr. Lewes have both read Henry’s sermon, and, lying on their parlor table, it has often been borrowed and read . . . . I was encouraged, and have sent her another lately on "The Comforting God." They have just lost a son, -- his son, not hers, -- but she is a warm-hearted, devoted woman, and was attached to him as a mother. It is the real religious element, the deep reality of a life in God that gives these things their power, that must give your paper its distinctive power, if it is to have any. Every denomination has its paper, -- but there is a yearning after a centralizing point, a point where all shall feel themselves one. That feeling is the one to which a new religious paper may address itself with mighty power.
I wish I could settle on a story. I am like a spider that is puzzled where to attach its threads for a web.
She had invested, she tells him, thirty-four thousand dollars in various ways, none of which could give her any immediate income. She had persuaded Professor Stowe to give up his position in Andover, which she thought too laborious for him, and of course, in consequence, any mention of her difficulties to him was out of the question. There was probably no human being except Mr. Howard to whom she could confide her anxieties and troubles, and she pours herself out to him. During the three previous years Mr. Fields had given her ten thousand dollars for "Oldtown Folks," -- much of it in prepayments, that she might write with a mind at leisure. This sum was not sufficient, it appeared, in spite of her calculations, and much to her publisher’s dismay she had undertaken, as we have seen, the editorship of "Men of our Times," the completion of "The Pearl of Orr’s Island," and had contemplated other projects, while her story sometimes halted altogether, and sometimes progressed under conditions of extreme exhaustion.
All these conditions were renewed with Mr. Howard. She was deeply solicitous for the success of the "Christian Union," of which her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was called the editor, and where his sermons were published. She believed that a good religious paper was necessary, and she was willing to write for it, as she said, for nothing. On the other hand she had no income for the year. If she would promise a serial story, she asked him, would he guarantee her a certain sum of money every month? Would he accept some very interesting papers from her husband on the Old Testament, to be counted at the same value as her own work? Would he remember how deeply she believed in the necessity of the strictly religious character of the paper and allow her to write a series of unsigned articles on religious topics only? Indeed, with her poor, tired little hand she wrote a volume of letters to Mr. Howard during the year, showing the anxieties which beset her.
"My investment in this Southern place," she wrote, "is still one whose returns are in the future, and so, as I say, I need to use my talents to bring an immediate return for a year or two;" and again she says, "My mind is bubbling and boiling, and I think of so many stories I could write that I don’t settle upon any." "I see," she writes again, "you have advertised a serial story from me as one of the attractions of the year to come, and I ought therefore to be thinking what to write. On looking back to the time when ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ came forth, I see myself then a woman with no particular capital of reputation, driven to write then as now by the necessity of making some income for family expenses. In this mood, with a mind burning with the wrongs of slavery, I undertook to write some loose sketches of slave life in the ‘National Era,’ and out of that attempt grew ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ If there had been a grand preparatory blast of trumpets or had it been announced that Mrs. Stowe would do this or that, I think it likely I could not have written; but nobody expected anything, nobody said anything, and so I wrote freely. Now what embarrasses me is to be announced as an attraction, -- to have eyes fixed on me, and people all waiting . . . . I have a desire, a longing to express myself once more on a certain subject, but a story ought to grow out of one’s heart like a flower and not be measured off by the yard . . . . There is a misery -- a desolation -- an anguish deeper than that of the slave; there is a cause where every soul ought to be roused, but how to do it? Temperance stories have been thick as pigweed in rich land. I think I see how a better one could be written, but am not sure yet," -- and thus the painful effort went on in her mind. Sometimes she wished to write about the church, sometimes about society, but something which publishers and editors needed enough to give her a salary, that was what she must find. Mr. Howard did everything in his power, but the result was she wrote continually upon whatever subject moved her. There was one story called "My Wife and I," which fulfilled the promise of the much hated advertisement, but she threw the weight of her influence upon the religious character of the paper and also secured some valuable contributors. "To have a paper," she wrote, "that, passing with the power of a strong magnet over the confused heap of modern thought, shall make every fragment of pure Christian faith start up and show itself, and come into such nearness that the furnace of love may smelt them all together, that would be something worth praying for." She adds, "Perhaps it must be ready to lose subscribers or get them slowly and not to be a brilliant financial success."
"I feel, the more I think of it, sure that the world that hates Christ is just as real in our times as it was in his. Under the various forms of sentimental religion, spiritualism, free inquiry, and philanthropic reform, there is a spirit working that is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be. How in such a world is a paper, the animus of which is that of Christ and the apostles, to succeed? I have pondered that question in relation to Henry’s popularity; but I feel that the world really does hate him to a degree that makes it safe to hope that he is about right. Such demonstrations as now and then occur show that they are only waiting for him to be down to spring on him, . . . in proportion as he makes Christianity aggressive on sin they are malignant and spring joyfully on him when their time comes."
She wrote to Mrs. Howard from Florida in January: "I cannot realize what time of year it is. Here the spring is coming on with such a rush that there is no time for anything. I have been down seeing about my own little flower garden and setting out the plants I brought down from my greenhouse, and have just finished tying up the wax plant to the sides of the veranda, where it looks quite green and handsome. Yesterday we had service in our mission church for the first time. There has been no preaching and no religious exercises of any sort except those held by the negroes, since last May, except one Sunday. Now we have a neat little building that will hold three hundred, and yesterday on short notice we got quite an audience. Mr. Stowe preached. He is going to hold service for the colored folks in the morning. We need a bell, as we live so scattered through the woods. I wish you would inquire what the cost of a small bell would be. It would be a new sound in these woods, and if we get it, I shall see that everybody within three miles shall awake to the consciousness of a ‘first bell’ on Sunday morning and a Sunday-school bell and a ‘meeting bell.’ I bought a little Mason and Hamlin’s organ in New York and brought it down. H--- plays, and the others make quite a choir in which I humbly join . . . . The white school moved into the new building to-day; the colored school is not yet organized, but you see we are like to have our hands full . . . . We have had an unusual spell of damp, chilly, sultry weather, which is very provoking, as our climate is our only strong point. Florida is like a woman whose good temper is her beauty, -- our sunny days are what must cover a multitude of sins, and when we don’t have them, of course the sins have no cloak . . . . What will the World, the Flesh, and the Devil do to Henry now that he won’t take twenty thousand dollars, and yet has had it offered!
"I have had a very handsome letter from Professor Phelps of Andover, written purposely to express his strong unqualified sympathy with my course in the Byron matter. The ‘Congregationalist’ has also a strong article. But I don’t dwell on that. It is a duty done and left with God who takes care of duties done. I have no more concern with it."
The work of writing her story and other papers promised to the "Christian Union" was not accomplished without painful delays. In the summer she found herself in a weak physical condition. "I must have a little time to recuperate before I begin," she wrote Mr. Howard. "I should do you no good writing feebly. I am not one of those who, if they have three months before them, do not write till almost the end. I have all the plod and regularity about me of a plough horse, and I have worked mostly up towards my engagements, but every hot spell has thrown me upon my back and lasts me sometimes a week or ten days. It is dangerous to try to write when you feel that the brain and spinal system are prostrate or inflamed. There is nothing for it but to wait then, and thus I am behindhand . . . . I know all your burdens and worries, and be assured I shall do all I can daily."
At this time her youngest daughter fell under a nervous disease which finally, after many years of intense suffering, ended her life. At first it was "sudden and utter prostration with nervous sleeplessness and such depression of spirits as made her, so gay and buoyant, a distress to look at." The suffering of this illness reacted upon Mrs. Stowe, occupied all her thought, and prevented her from sleep. Happily, as time went on, and she saw her daughter less seldom, she was able to return to her work. "I cannot positively come under binding engagements," she says in October, "to begin my story next month, yet I think I shall be ready, unless such heavy blows of family afflictions fall as paralyze me. I wanted to begin with a month’s supply ahead . . . . I have not been writing, but I have been composing the story all this time in the intervals of nursing and tending baby, and now I feel a degree of assurance respecting it; though I am never sanguine in anything, but am a waiter on Providence.
"The blow has fallen! My dear brother" (the husband of her sister Mary, Thomas C. Perkins) "has left us. Nowhere in the world had I a truer friend. It is a blow that strikes deep on my life and makes me feel that it is like ice breaking under my feet. Those who truly love us, and on whom we can at all times depend, are not many, and all my life he has been one of these."
From this period, although she continued to write, she lived chiefly in the retirement of the Florida orange grove, which she always enjoyed. Her sympathy was strong with the new impetus benevolent work in cities had received, and she helped it from her "grotto" in more ways than one. Sometimes she would write soothing or inspiriting letters, as the case might demand, to individuals.
The following note, written at the time of the Boston fire in 1872, will show how alive she was to the need of that period.
"I send inclosed one hundred dollars to the fund for the firemen. I could wish it a hundred times as much, and then it would be inadequate to express how much I honor those brave, devoted men who put their own lives between Boston and mine. No soldiers that fell in battle for our common country ever deserved of us all greater honor than the noble men whose charred and blackened remains have been borne from the ruins of Boston; they are worthy to be inscribed on imperishable monuments.
"I would that some such honorary memorial might commemorate their heroism."
In the autumn we find her writing to her daughters as follows regarding her work: --
"I have at last finished all my part in the third book of mine that is to come out this year, to wit, ‘Oldtown Fireside Stories,’ and you can have no idea what a perfect luxury of rest it is to be free from all literary engagements, of all kinds, sorts, or descriptions. I feel like a poor woman I once read about, --
"‘Who always was tired,
‘Cause she lived in a house
Where help wasn’t hired,’
and of whom it is related that in her dying moments,
"‘She folded her hands
With her latest endeavor,
Saying nothing, dear nothing,
Sweet nothing forever.’
"I am in about her state of mind. I luxuriate in laziness. I do not want to do anything or go anywhere. I only want to sink down into lazy enjoyment of living."
"I am very much gratified," she writes Mr. Howard, "with the success of ‘My Wife and I.’ I get a great many more letters about it than I received about anything except ‘Uncle Tom.’ An English novelist has purloined my title and published ‘My Wife and I‘ in Queensland. The title was a good hit, more shame to him for stealing it. When you advertise again there is no harm in saying how many you have sold. I like people to know it for very many reasons. A letter from the Duchess of Argyll today, by which it appears she has been reading it."
She writes, also, to her friend’s husband, from Mandarin, after the death of their son Frank: "I hoped fully to see him down here, but he has gone where the flowers never fade, --
"Each new morning ray
Brings no sigh for yesterday."
This is my idea of heaven, -- a land where we can recall nothing to sigh for; the present overpays the past.
"Of late I have seen the glory so wonderful, -- so overpowering -- that it seems too much to be ours, as if one longed to suffer or endure a little something before one is weighed down with such an overplus of joy.
"Your Frank, like my Henry, was your heart’s flower, and Christ honored each by taking them for his bosom. When you look over a bush for a flower to wear in your bosom, it is not the mildewed or imperfect ones you choose, but the very ones whose loss makes the bush empty . . . . Oh, my dear brother, think of your blessedness by my sorrow. Where is my poor Fred? You know where Frank is, and that he is safe and blessed. I never forget my boy. Can a woman forget her child?"
Her son Frederick had remained on the Florida plantation which Mrs. Stowe bought for his sake for several years. At last he was possessed by the idea that a long sea-voyage would do him more good than anything else. He sailed away from New York to San Francisco around the Horn. His brother says: "That he reached the latter city in safety is known; but that is all. No word from him or concerning him has ever reached the loving hearts that have waited so anxiously for it, and of his ultimate fate nothing is known."
In August Mrs. Stowe writes: "I find it is a good thing for me sometimes to fly from place to place, so that I cannot think continuously. It shakes out morbid thoughts and brooding ones, and my nature is such that I need just that to keep the whole stream of thought from running inward. I hope I have learned something on the way to the ‘other and better’ to which we are all hastening."
There was at this time a pleasant home at St. John’s Wood, in London, which possessed peculiar attractions to the lovers of best society. Other houses were as comfortable to look at, other hedges were as green, other drawing-rooms were gayer, but this was the home of George Eliot, and on Sunday afternoons the resort of those who desired the best that London had to give. Here it was that she told me of her admiration and deep regard, her affection, for Mrs. Stowe. Her reverence and love were expressed with such tremulous sincerity that the speaker won our hearts by her love for our friend. Many letters had already passed between Mrs. Stowe and herself, and she confided to us her amusement at a fancy Mrs. Stowe had taken that Casaubon, in "Middlemarch," was drawn from the character of Mr. Lewes. Mrs. Stowe took it so entirely for granted in her letters that it was impossible to dispossess her mind of the illusion. Evidently it was the source of much harmless household amusement at St. John’s Wood. I find in Mrs. Stowe’s letters some pleasant allusions to this correspondence. She writes: "We were all full of George Eliot when your note came, as I had received a beautiful letter from her in answer to one I wrote from Florida. She is a noble, true woman; and if anybody doesn’t see it, so much the worse for them, and not her." Again Mrs. Stowe says she is coming to Boston, and will bring George Eliot’s letters with her that we may read them together; but that pleasant plan was only one of the imagination, and was never carried out.
Later George Eliot wrote Mrs. Stowe to comfort her anxieties about the success of "Oldtown Folks" in England:
"I have good hopes that your fears are groundless as to the obstacles your new book (‘Oldtown Folks’) may find here from its thorough American character. Most readers who are likely to be really influenced by writing above the common order will find that special aspect an added reason for interest and study; and I dare say you have long seen, as I am beginning to see with new clearness, that if a book which has any sort of exquisiteness happens also to be a popular, widely circulated book, the power over the social mind for any good is, after all, due to its reception by a few appreciative natures, and is the slow result of radiation from that narrow circle. I mean that you can affect a few souls, and that each of these in turn may affect a few more, but that no exquisite book tells properly and directly on a multitude, however largely it may be spread by type and paper. Witness the things the multitude will say about it, if one is so unhappy as to be obliged to hear their sayings. I do not write this cynically, but in pure sadness and pity. Both traveling abroad and staying at home among our English sights and sports, one must continually feel how slowly the centuries work toward the moral good of men, and that thought lies very close to what you say as to your wonder or conjecture concerning my religious point of view. I believe that religion, too, has to be modified according to the dominant phases; that a religion more perfect than any yet prevalent must express less care of personal consolation, and the more deeply awing sense of responsibility to man springing from sympathy with that which of all things is most certainly known to us, -- the difficulty of the human lot. Letters are necessarily narrow and fragmentary, and, when one writes on wide subjects, are likely to create more misunderstanding than illumination. But I have little anxiety in writing to you, dear friend and fellow-laborer; for you have had longer experience than I as a writer, and fuller experience as a woman, since you have borne children and known a mother’s history from the beginning. I trust your quick and long-taught mind as an interpreter little liable to mistake me."
Mrs. Stowe replies: --
MANDARIN, February 8, 1872.
DEAR FRIEND, -- It is two years nearly since I had your last very kind letter, and I have never answered because two years of constant and severe work have made it impossible to give a drop to anything beyond the needs of the hour. Yet I have always thought of you, loved you, trusted you all the same, and read every little scrap from your writing that came to hand.
One thing brings you back to me. I am now in Florida in my little hut in the orange orchard, with the broad expanse of the blue St. John’s in front, and the waving of the live-oaks with their long, gray mosses overhead, and the bright gold of oranges looking through dusky leaves around. It is like Sorrento, -- so like that I can quite dream of being there. And when I get here I enter another life. The world recedes -- I am out of it; it ceases to influence; its bustle and noise die away in the far distance; and here is no winter, an open-air life, -- a quaint, rude, wild wilderness sort of life, both rude and rich: but when I am here I write more letters to friends than ever I do elsewhere. The mail comes only twice a week, and then is the event of the day. My old rabbi and I here set up our tent, he with German, and Greek, and Hebrew, devouring all sorts of black-letter books, and I spinning ideal webs out of bits that he lets fall here and there.
I have long thought that I would write you again when I got here, and so I do. I have sent North to have them send me the "Harper’s Monthly," in which your new story is appearing, and have promised myself leisurely to devour and absorb every word of it.
- - - - -
In regard to the subject of Spiritualism I am of the opinion of Goethe that "it is just as absurd to deny the facts of Spiritualism now as it was in the middle ages to ascribe them to the devil."
I think Mr. Owen attributes too much value to his facts. I do not think the things contributed from the ultra-mundane sphere are particularly valuable, apart from the evidence they give of continued existence after death.
I do not think there is yet any evidence to warrant the idea that they are a supplement or continuation of the revelations of Christianity, but I do regard them as an interesting and curious study in psychology.. . . I am perfectly aware of the frivolity and worthlessness of much of the revealings purporting to come from spirits. In my view, the worth or worthlessness of them has nothing to do with the question of fact.
Do invisible spirits speak in any wise, -- wise or foolish? -- is the question a priori. I do not know of any reason why there should not be as many foolish virgins in the future state as in this. As I am a believer in the Bible and Christianity, I don’t need these things as confirmations, and they are not likely to be a religion to me. I regard them simply as I do the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis, or Darwin’s studies on natural selection, as curious studies into nature. Besides, I think some day we shall find a law by which all these facts will fall into their places.
I hope now this subject does not bore you; it certainly is one that seems increasingly to insist on getting itself heard. It is going on and on, making converts, who are many more than dare avow themselves, and for my part I wish it were all brought into the daylight of inquiry.
Let me hear from you if ever you feel like it. I know too well the possibilities and impossibilities of a nature like yours to ask more, but it can do you no harm to know that I still think of you and love you as ever.
H. B. STOWE.
Mrs. Stowe paid a visit to her brother Charles in Florida during the winter, and, continuing her journey to New Orleans, was made to feel how little of bitterness towards her was felt by the best class of Southerners. In both New Orleans and Tallahassee she was warmly welcomed, and tendered public receptions that gave equal pleasure to her and to the throngs of cultivated people who attended them. She was also greeted everywhere with intense enthusiasm by the colored people, who, whenever they knew of her coming, thronged the railway stations in order to obtain a glimpse of her whom they venerated above all women.
Finding by George Eliot’s former letter that she was not quite well, Mrs. Stowe wrote again: --
(Begun April 4.)
MANDARIN, FLORIDA, May 11.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I was very glad to get your dear little note, -- sorry to see by it that you are not in your full physical force. Owing to the awkwardness and misunderstanding of publishers, I am not reading "Middlemarch” as I expected to be, here in these orange shades; they don’t send it, and I am too far out of the world to get it. I felt, when I read your letters, how glad I should be to have you here in our Florida cottage, in the wholly new, wild, woodland life. Though resembling Italy in climate, it is wholly different in the appearance of nature, -- the plants, the birds, the animals, all different. The green tidiness and culture of England here gives way to a wild and rugged savageness of beauty. Every tree bursts forth with flowers; wild vines and creepers execute delicious gambols, and weave and interweave in interminable labyrinths. Yet here, in the great sandy plains back of our house, there is a constant sense of beauty in the wild, wonderful growths of nature. First of all, the pines -- high as the stone pines of Italy -- with long leaves, eighteen inches long, through which there is a constant dreamy sound, as if of dashing waters. Then the live-oaks and the water-oaks, narrow-leaved evergreens, which grow to enormous size, and whose branches are draped with long festoons of the gray moss. There is a great, wild park of these trees back of us, which, with the dazzling, varnished green of the new spring leaves and the swaying drapery of moss, looks like a sort of enchanted grotto. Underneath grow up hollies and ornamental flowering shrubs, and the yellow jessamine climbs into and over everything with fragrant golden bells and buds, so that sometimes the foliage of a tree is wholly hidden in its embrace.
This wild, wonderful, bright and vivid growth, that is all new, strange, and unknown by name to me, has a charm for me. It is the place to forget the outside world, and live in one’s self. And if you were here, we would go together and gather azaleas, and white lilies, and silver bells, and blue iris. These flowers keep me painting in a sort of madness. I have just finished a picture of white lilies that grow in the moist land by the watercourses. I am longing to begin on blue iris. Artist, poet as you are by nature, you ought to see all these things, and if you would come here I would take you in, heart and house, and you should have a little room in our cottage. The history of the cottage is this: I found a hut built close to a great live-oak twenty-five feet in girth, and with overarching boughs eighty feet up in the air, spreading like a firmament, and all swaying with mossy festoons. We began to live here, and gradually we improved the hut by lath, plaster, and paper. Then we threw out a wide veranda all round, for in these regions the veranda is the living-room of the house. Ours had to be built around the trunk of the tree, so that our cottage has a peculiar and original air, and seems as if it were half tree, or a something that had grown out of the tree. We added on parts, and have thrown out gables and chambers, as a tree throws out new branches, till our cottage is like nobody else’s, and yet we settle into it with real enjoyment. There are all sorts of queer little rooms in it, and we are accommodating at this present a family of seventeen souls. In front, the beautiful, grand St. John’s stretches five miles from shore to shore, and we watch the steamboats plying back and forth to the great world we are out of. On all sides, large orange-trees, with their dense shade and ever-vivid green, shut out the sun so that we can sit, and walk, and live in the open air. Our winter here is only cool, bracing outdoor weather, without snow. No month without flowers blooming in the open air, and lettuce and peas in the garden. The summer range is about 90° but the sea-breezes keep the air delightfully fresh. Generally we go North, however, for three months of summer. Well, I did not mean to run on about Florida, but the subject runs away with me, and I want you to visit us in spirit if not personally.
My poor rabbi! -- he sends you some Arabic, which I fear you cannot read: on diablerie he is up to his ears in knowledge, having read all things in all tongues, from the Talmud down . . . .
Ever lovingly yours,
H. B. STOWE.
BOSTON, September 26, 1872.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I think when you see my name again so soon, you will think it rains, hails, and snows notes from this quarter. Just now, however, I am in this lovely little nest in Boston, where dear -- like a dove, "sits brooding on the charméd wave." We are both wishing we had you here with us, and she has not received any answer from you as yet in reply to the invitation you spoke of in your last letter to me. It seems as if you must have written, and the letter somehow gone astray, because I know, of course, you would write. Yesterday we were both out of our senses with mingled pity and indignation at that dreadful stick of a Casaubon, -- and think of poor Dorothea dashing like a warm, sunny wave against so cold and repulsive a rock! He is a little too dreadful for anything; there does not seem to be a drop of warm blood in him, and so, as it is his misfortune and not his fault to be cold-blooded, one must not get angry with him. It is the scene in the garden, after the interview with the doctor, that rests on our mind at this present. There was such a man as he over in Boston, high in literary circles, but I fancy his wife wasn’t like Dorothea, and a vastly proper time they had of it, treating each other with mutual reverence, like two Chinese mandarins.
My love, what I miss in this story is just what we would have if you would come to our tumble-down, jolly, improper, but joyous country, -- namely, "jollitude." You write and live on so high a plane! It is all self-abnegation. We want to get you over here, and into this house, where, with closed doors, we sometimes make the rafters ring with fun, and say anything and everything, no matter what, and won’t be any properer than we ‘s a mind to be. I am wishing every day you could see our America, -- travel, as I have been doing, from one bright, thriving, pretty, flowery town to another, and see so much wealth, ease, progress, culture, and all sorts of nice things. This dovecot where I now am is the sweetest little nest imaginable; fronting on a city street, with back windows opening on a sea view, with still, quiet rooms filled with books, pictures, and all sorts of things, such as you and Mr. Lewes would enjoy. Don’t be afraid of the ocean, now! I’ve crossed it six times, and assure you it is an overrated item. Froude is coming here -- why not you? Besides, we have the fountain of eternal youth here, that is, in Florida, where I live, and if you should come you would both of you take a new lease of life, and what glorious poems, and philosophies, and whatnot, we should have! My rabbi writes, in the seventh heaven, an account of your note to him. To think of his setting-off on his own account when I was away!
Come now, since your answer to dear Mrs. Fields is yet to come, let it be a glad yes, and we will clasp you to our heart of hearts.
Your ever loving,
H. B. S.
The following season she wrote with her usual sense of calm from Florida: --
"I am writing as a pure recreative movement of mind, to divert myself from the stormy, unrestful present . . . . I am being chatelaine of a Florida farm. I have on my mind the creation of a town on the banks of the St. John. The three years since we came this side of the river have called into life and growth a thousand peach-trees, a thousand orange-trees, about five hundred lemons, and seven or eight hundred grapevines. A peach orchard, a vineyard, a lemon grove, will carry my name to posterity. I am founding a place which, thirty or forty years hence, will be called the old Stowe place . . . . You can have no idea of this queer country, this sort of strange sandy, half-tropical dreamland, unless you come to it. Here I sit with open windows, the orange buds just opening and filling the air with sweetness, the hens drowsily cackling, the men planting in the field, and callas and wild roses blossoming out of doors. We keep a little fire morning and night. We are flooded with birds; and by the bye, it is St. Valentine’s Day . . . . I think a uniform edition of Dr. Holmes’s works would be a good thing. Next to Hawthorns he is our most exquisite writer, and in many passages he goes far beyond him. What is the dear Doctor doing? If you know any book good to inspire dreams and visions, put it into my box. My husband chews endlessly a German cud. I must have English. Has the French book on Spiritualism come yet? If it has, put it in . . . . I wish I could give you a plateful of our oranges . . . . We had seventy-five thousand of these same on our trees this year, and if you will start off quick, they are not all picked yet. Florida wants one thing, -- grass. If it had grass, it would be paradise. But nobody knows what grass is till they try to do without it."
Three months later she wrote: "I hate to leave my calm isle of Patmos, where the world is not, and I have such quiet long hours for writing. Emerson could insulate himself here and keep his electricity. Hawthorne ought to have lived in an orange grove in Florida.. . . You have no idea how small you all look, you folks in the world, from this distance. All your fusses and your fumings, your red hot hurrying newspapers, your clamor of rival magazines, -- why, we see it as we see steamboats fifteen miles off, a mere speck and smoke."
Again she writes: "You ought to see us riding out in our mule-cart. Poor ‘Fly!’ the last of pea-time, who looks like an animated hair-trunk, and the wagon and harness to match! It is too funny, but we enjoy it hugely. There are now in our solitude five Northern families, and we manage to have quite pleasant society.
"But think of our church and school house being burned down just as we were ready to do something with it. I feel it most for the colored people, who were so anxious to have their school and now have no place to have it in. We have all been trying to raise what we can for a new building and intend to get one up by March.
"If I were North now I would try giving some readings for this and perhaps raise something."
PUBLIC READINGS: TRIAL OF HENRY WARD BEECHER
IT was a strange contrast to Mrs. Stowe's usual life, and one at variance with her natural taste, when she appeared before the public as a reader of her own stories in the autumn and winter of 1872-73. She was no longer able to venture on the effort of a long story, therefore it was manifestly unwise for her to forego the income which was offered through this proposed channel. She wrote to her friends in Boston: "I have had a very urgent business letter, saying that the lyceums of different towns were making up their engagements, and that if I were going into it I must make my engagements now. It seems to me that I cannot do this. The thing will depend so much on my health and ability to do. You know I could not go round in cold weather . . . . I feel entirely uncertain, and, as the Yankees say, 'didn't know what to do nor to don't.' My state in regard to it may be described by the phrase 'Kind o' love to -- hate to -- wish I didn't -- want ter.' I suppose the result will be I shall not work into their lecture system."
In April she wrote from Mandarin: "I am painting a Magnolia grandiflora, which I will show you . . . . I am appalled by finding myself booked to read. But I am getting well and strong, and trust to be equal to the emergency. But I shrink from Tremont Temple, and ____ does not think I can fill it. On the whole I should like to begin in Boston." And in August she said: "I am to begin in Boston in September . . . . It seems to me that is a little too early for Boston, isn't it? Will there be anybody in town then? I don't know as it's my business, which is simply to speak my piece and take my money."
Her first reading actually took place in Springfield, not Boston, and the next day she unexpectedly arrived at our cottage at Manchester-by-the-Sea. She had read the previous evening in a large public hall, had risen at five o'clock that morning, and found her way to us. Her next readings were given in Boston, the first in the afternoon, at the Tremont Temple. She was conscious that her effort at Springfield had not been altogether successful, -- she had not held her large audience; and she was determined to put the whole force of her nature into this afternoon reading at the Tremont Temple. She called me into her bedroom, where she stood before the mirror, with her short gray hair, which usually lay in soft curls around her brow, brushed erect and standing stiffly. "Look here, my dear," she said; "now I am exactly like my father, Dr. Lyman Beecher, when he was going to preach," and she held up her forefinger warningly. It was easy to see that the spirit of the old preacher was revived in her veins, and the afternoon would show something of his power. An hour later, when I sat with her in the ante-room waiting for the moment of her appearance to arrive, I could feel the power surging up within her. I knew she was armed for a good fight.
That reading was a great success. She was alive in every fibre of her being; she was to give portions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to men, women, and children who could hardly understand the crisis which inspired it, and she determined to effect the difficult task of making them feel as well as hear. With her presence and inspiration they could not fail to understand what her words had signified to the generation that had passed through the struggle of our war. When her voice was not sufficient to make the audience hear, men and women rose from their seats and crowded round her, standing gladly, that no word might be lost. It was the last leap of the flame which had burned out a great wrong.
One of her lively and observant hearers in another city described Mrs. Stowe as "small in stature, with a complexion bordering on the blonde, and with the merriest twinkle in her eye, betokening a reservoir of fun and mirth sufficient to explode a funeral assembly with laughter . . . . In some parts of the scene between Eva and Topsy, she reached the hearts of her audience, and many a tear was pushed out of sight by finger tips and umbrella handles.
"In 'part third,'" continues this writer, “'Laughing in Meeting,' a constant ripple of laughter followed her reading till she reached the point where the deacon was sent sprawling in the centre aisle of the church, when the entire audience 'broke out' and shook the hall with laughter and applause."
These readings were conducted for her by a Lecture Bureau, who made her a very liberal offer if she would give forty readings in the New England States. She agreed to this plan with the understanding that the readings should be over before December in order to allow her to go at once to Florida.
She wrote to her husband during this tour at a time when he was peculiarly depressed, from Westfield, Massachusetts: --
"I have never had a greater trial than being forced to stay away from you now. I would not, but that my engagements have involved others in heavy expense, and should I fail to fulfill them, it would be doing a wrong.
"God has given me strength as I needed it, and I never read more to my own satisfaction than last night.
"Now, my dear husband, please do want, and try, to remain with us yet a while longer, and let us have a little quiet evening together before either of us crosses the river. My heart cries out for a home with you; our home together in Florida. Oh, may we see it again! Your ever loving wife."
Again she told him that she had driven to Chelsea and found no hotel there. "So," she continues, "I turned at once toward 148 Charles Street, where I tumbled in on the Fieldses before they had got their things off. We had a good laugh, and I received a hearty welcome. I was quickly installed in my room, where, after a nice dinner, I curled up for my afternoon nap. At half past seven the carriage came for me, and I was informed that I should not have a hard reading, as they had engaged singers to take part. So, when I got into the carriage, who should I find, beshawled, and beflowered, and betoggled in blue satin and white lace, but ____ now become Madame Thingumbob, of European celebrity. She had studied in Italy, come out in Milan, sung there in opera for a whole winter, and also in Paris and London.
"Well, she sings very sweetly and looks very nice and pretty. Then we had a little rosebud of a Chelsea girl who sang, and a pianist. I read 'Minister's Housekeeper' and Topsy, and the audience was very jolly and appreciative. Then we all jogged home."
"One woman in Portland the other night," she wrote again, "totally deaf, came to me afterwards and said: 'Bless you. I come jist to see you. I'd rather see you than the Queen.' Another introduced her little girl named Harriet Beecher Stowe, and another, older, named Eva. She said they had traveled fifty miles to hear me read. An incident like that appeals to one's heart, does it not?
"The people of Bangor were greatly embarrassed by the horse disease; but the mayor and his wife walked over from their house, a long distance off, to bring me flowers, and at the reading he introduced me. I had an excellent audience, notwithstanding that it rained tremendously, and everybody had to walk because there were no horses. The professors called on me, also Newman Smyth, now a settled minister here.
"It stormed all the time I was in Portland and Bangor, so I saw nothing of them. Now I am in a palace car riding alongside the Kennebec, and recalling the incidents of my trip. I certainly had very satisfactory houses; and these pleasant little visits, and meetings with old acquaintance, would be well worth having, even though I had made nothing in a pecuniary sense. On the whole it is as easy a way of making money as I have ever tried, though no way of making money is perfectly easy, -- there must be some disagreeables. The lonesomeness of being at a hotel in dull weather is one, and in Portland it seems there is nobody now to invite us to their homes. Our old friends there are among the past. They have gone on over the river. I send you a bit of poetry that pleases me. The love of the old for each other has its poetry. It is something sacred and full of riches. I long to be with you and to have some more of our good long talks.
"The Lord bless and keep you. It grieves me to think you are dull and I not with you. By and by we will be together and stay together. Good-by, dear. Your ever loving wife, H. B. S."
She continues in another letter to her husband: --
"Well, my course is almost done, and if I get through without any sickness, cold, or accident, how wonderful it will seem. I have never felt the near, kind presence of our Heavenly Father so much as in this. 'He giveth strength to the faint, and to them of no might He increaseth strength.' I have found this true all my life."
From Newport she writes, November 26: --
"It was a hard, tiring, disagreeable piece of business to read in New London. Had to wait three mortal hours in Palmer. Then a slow, weary train, that did not reach New London until after dark. There was then no time to rest, and I was so tired that it did seem as though I could not dress. I really trembled with fatigue. The hall was long and dimly lighted, and the people were not seated compactly, but around in patches. The light was dim, except for a great flaring gas jet arranged right under my eyes on the reading desk, and I did not see a creature whom I knew. I was only too glad when it was over and I was back again at my hotel. There I found that I must be up at five o'clock to catch the Newport train.
"I started for this place in the dusk of a dreary, foggy morning. Traveled first on a ferry, then in cars, and then in a little cold steamboat. Found no one to meet me, in spite of all my writing, and so took a carriage and came to the hotel. The landlord was very polite to me, said he knew me by my trunk, had been to our place in Mandarin, etc. All I wanted was a warm room, a good bed, and unlimited time to sleep. Now I have had a three hours' nap, and here I am, sitting by myself in the great, lonely hotel parlor.
"Well, dear old man, I think lots of you, and only want to end all this in a quiet home where we can sing 'John Anderson, my Jo' together. I check off place after place as the captive the days of his imprisonment. Only two more after to-night. Ever your loving wife."
These difficult experiences of which she made so light were continued one more year. She wrote to her son Charles, then in Harvard, in October, 1873: C
"I read two successive evenings in Chicago, and traveled the following day for thirteen hours, a distance of about three hundred miles, to Cincinnati. We were compelled to go in the most uncomfortable cars I ever saw, crowded to overflowing, a fiend of a stove at each end burning up all the air, and without a chance to even lay my head down. This is the grand route between Chicago and Cincinnati, and we were on it from eight in the morning until nearly ten at night.
- - - - -
"Those who planned my engagements failed to take into account the fearful distances and wretched trains out here. On none of these great Western routes is there a drawing-room car. Mr. Saunders tried in every way to get them to put one on for us, but in vain. They are all reserved for the night trains; so that there is no choice except to travel by night in sleeping cars, or take such trains as I have described in the daytime.
"I had a most sympathetic audience in Cincinnati; they all seemed delighted and begged me to come again. The next day George took us for a drive out to Walnut Hills, where we saw the seminary buildings, the house where your sisters were born, and the house in which we afterwards lived. In the afternoon we had to leave and hurry away to a reading in Dayton. The next evening another in Columbus, where we spent Sunday with an old friend.
"By this time I am somewhat rested from the strain of that awful journey; but I shall never again undertake such another. It was one of those things that have to be done once, to learn not to do it again. My only reading between Columbus and Pittsburgh is to be here in Zanesville, a town as black as Acheron, and where one might expect to see the river Styx.
- - - - -
“I met the other day at Dayton a woman who now has grandchildren; but who, when I first came West, was a gay, rattling girl. She was one of the first converts of brother George's seemingly obscure ministry in the little new town of Chillicothe. Now she has one son who is a judge of the supreme court, and another in business. Both she and they are not only Christians, but Christians of the primitive sort, whose religion is their all; who triumph and glory in tribulation, knowing that it worketh. patience. She told me, with a bright sweet calm, of her husband killed in battle the first year of the war, of her only daughter and two grandchildren dying in the faith, and of her own happy waiting on God's will, with bright hopes of a joyful reunion. Her sons are leading members of the Presbyterian Church, and most active in stirring up others to make their profession a reality, not an empty name. When I thought that all this came from the conversion of one giddy girl, when George seemed to be doing so little, I said, 'Who can measure the work of a faithful minister?' It is such living witnesses that maintain Christianity on earth."
At last Mrs. Stowe was again installed in the calm of her Florida home, where she wrote a series of Florida sketches, called "Palmetto Leaves." She sends a note to her brother Charles at Newport, Florida: --
"I cannot leave Florida without saying good-by. I send you the 'Palmetto Leaves' and my parting love. If I could either have brought or left my husband, I should have come to see you this winter. The account of your roses fills me with envy.
AWe leave on the San Jacinto next Saturday, and I am making the most of the few charming hours yet left; for never did we have so delicious a spring. I never knew such altogether perfect weather. It is enough to make a saint out of the toughest old Calvinist that ever set his face as a flint. How do you think New England theology would have fared if our fathers had been landed here instead of on Plymouth Rock?
AThe next you hear of me will be at the North, where our address is Forest Street, Hartford. We have bought a pretty cottage there, near to Belle, and shall spend the summer there."
Again this heart, which was never allowed to rest from ceaseless anxieties, was to be put to another proof. Mrs. Stowe wrote to her friend, Mrs. Howard: --
"We are on our way to Cambridge for Charley's Class Day, and of course my heart and hands are full of his feelings and joys and interests . . . . But amid all these scenes there is a deep undercurrent of fellow-suffering with you all in this great trial, and my heart is constantly ascending in silent prayer. I prayed without ceasing for Henry, that his strength, health, and courage might not fail, and when I saw the report of the Friday night meeting I was comforted. I saw that God was manifestly with you, and since then my heart has been at rest. But I am all on fire to hear more, and cannot buy a 'Tribune.'"
The notorious scandal aroused against her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, has been very clearly outlined by the Rev. Lyman Abbott, D. D. It may be considered that Mr. Abbott has made the final report. He has studied the subject and sifted the evidence with the careful conscience of a man of truth, and his words may well be reprinted here to make the reasons for Mrs. Stowe's sufferings and consolations more distinct to future readers.
Dr. Abbott says: "It is certain no other man in America could have lived and retained his position and influence through such a scandal . . . . He had formerly been editor of the 'Independent,' but had resigned in favor of Mr. Tilton, who for some years was extremely successful and popular, but at last fell under a cloud. Finding his own morality impeached, he adopted the peculiar defense of darkly insinuating that Mr. Beecher (who was now the successful editor of the 'Christian Union') was open to grave suspicion in the same direction. He determined to drive him from his pulpit, and the city, accused Mr. Beecher of improper advances to his wife, whispered to his friends that Mrs. Tilton had become the victim of a morbid passion, which had utterly wrecked her happiness and health. This last coming to Mr. Beecher's ears, he believed he had not been sufficiently discreet, and with the instinct of a true gentleman overwhelmed himself with reproaches both by word and by letter . . . . Finally a direct charge appeared against him in the newspapers; whereupon he appointed a committee to look into the matter, consisting of some of the most eminent and respected members of his church and society. They reported unanimously, after giving Mr. Tilton a full hearing, that the charge was entirely false . . . . Tilton, however, brought an action at law; the trial lasted six months, when Mr. Beecher was entirely acquitted. The suit was never tried again.
- - - - -
"A council of Congregational churches and ministers was then called in Plymouth Church, . . . including many men of strong prejudices against Mr. Beecher on theological grounds, and some men full of suspicions engendered by the trial and public reports . . . . After nearly a week spent in a most thorough and scrutinizing inquiry, it extended to Mr. Beecher, without a dissenting voice, the confidence of the entire council in his integrity. The whole affair was complicated in the public mind by Mr. Beecher's unwisdom in the selection of some confidential friends at this trying period of his life, prior to the first publication of the scandal, and by his evident endeavor to keep it from becoming public, an endeavor not only not strange, but abundantly justified by the injurious effects of its publication.
- - - - -
"Dreadful as was the ordeal through which Mr. Beecher was dragged, and fearful as his sufferings must have been at times, the sufferings of his people were little less than agony. Strong men with faltering voice and falling tears attested the sympathy and intense love of his people for their pastor, and how completely they made his trouble their own. His support, serenity, and cheerfulness, his ability to preach as he did every Sabbath during those dark, dark months, showing almost no appearance of wear or suffering, was, and still is, an unsolved wonder to those who did not see the position occupied by his church. Its members suffered more than the pastor. Their prayers and sympathies buoyed him up, rendering him almost unconscious of the malignant billows that were dashing against him. During those dreadful days no one ever intruded upon Mr. Beecher; -- the love and sympathy of his people were not kept alive by personal intercourse with him, and not one in a hundred of his people had a moment's conversation with him then or since about these fearful troubles."
No one can understand the life of Mrs. Stowe without some knowledge of this trial. If his people suffered, if Plymouth Church prayed, what were her sufferings and prayers, whose existence was so bound up in affection for her brother! Her strength, continually tried to the full by the daily work at her desk, visibly failed. She sought refuge as much as possible in Florida, where, remote from newspapers and the battle of the world, her exhausted forces found space to recuperate. She wrote once: "Christ says, that amid the vaster ruins of man's desolation, ruins more dreadfully suggestive than those of sculptured frieze and architrave, we can yet live a bird's life of unconscious joy; or as Martin Luther beautifully paraphrases it, 'We can be like a bird that sits singing on his twig and lets God think for him.'"
Her confidence in her brother was never for a moment shaken, but she could neither write much nor speak with him. Her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Howard, at this crisis gave her great comfort. She wrote to Mrs. Howard: --
"Tell me how Henry is, -- how you all are. I am increasing in the hope and belief that the Lord will yet manifest himself and scatter this wicked host. Prayer and hope are our trust. Lately I have thought often of what the Lord said to Moses when the army of Pharaoh was behind, the mountains on one side, and the sea in front, and the rebellious people cried to God: ‘Wherefore liest thou on thy face ? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.' They went forward and the sea divided for them, but drowned their adversaries. It is for us these things were done. We are heirs of them that through faith and patience inherit the promises."
It was in this spirit that she endured the agony which had fallen upon her in behalf of her beloved brother. From the Twin Mountain House, where she had been with Mr. Beecher, she wrote: "We leave to-morrow, and you must not fail to be at home. There is preparing a reception for Henry that shall show him, on his return, how his people feel. I am coming down, and we Plymouthites must all be together and have one sing. We have had serene and lovely times here sitting in heavenly places; prayers every morning with so many of the church around that it seemed quite natural; some also of the best and loveliest of our land. Not a breath of the slander reaches here. Sundays, there is great crowding to hear the word! Twenty-four or five cars! and so much tenderness and emotion and love! Truly it has been good to be here!"
DEAR SUSIE, ?? Suffer a word! This crisis must be met in the closet and with the Father that seeth in secret. All looking here and there, rushing to and fro, listening to reports, guesses, apprehensions, only exhaust the strength, and take away the power of endurance. Thank God, He not only can help, but is not displeased to be importuned. If God could be wearied and made impatient by importunity, it were hard with us when we have troubles that will not let us rest, and keep us saying the same thing again and again. But He, our Lord, prayed in an agony three times, saying the same words . . . . God bless you, and help us all.
I have been thinking much how Christ, when they were binding Him, asked a moment's delay that He might touch the ear of Malchus and heal him.
What unruffled sweetness of nature was in this! Malchus perhaps was forward and provoking, and thus drew on himself the attack of Peter; but Christ was, as He is always, not a destructive but a healing force. Across all this gulf of misery and scandal and sin that has swallowed so many who seemed to be Christ's, I look and pray for his healing power.
I cannot but look on T ___ 's history as most pitiable and no subject for scorn . . . .
“Scorn! would the angels laugh to seeA bright soul drivenFiend-dragged adown the awful trackTo Hell from Heaven!"Some of his letters, written in better moments, reminding me that he had been at our prayer-meetings and our sacraments . . . fill me with a sense of the pitiableness of his mind. Then, too, he is the father of those poor, innocent children, the husband of that poor wife . . . . I have read a great deal in "Pilgrim's Progress" lately, and his case seems to me like that of the man in the iron cage.
The man said, "'I was once a fair and flourishing professor of religion both in my own eyes and those of others. I was once, as I thought, fair for the Celestial City and had then even joy at the thought that I should get thither.' 'Well, but what art thou now?' 'I am now a man of despair. I am shut up in this iron cage. I cannot get out! Oh, now I cannot!' 'But how camest thou in this condition?' 'I left off to watch and be sober; I laid the reins on the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the word and the goodness of God. I grieved the Spirit and He is gone. I tempted the devil and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and He has left me; I have hardened my heart so that I cannot repent.'"
This to all human view is his miserable state . . . . I have been quite unwell for two days, and no letter comes! . . . Meanwhile, faithful friend, cease not to write, for your letters are as cold water to a thirsty soul.
Again she says: "I find since Henry's testimony that it is impossible for me to pray for ___, Do you suppose Mary and John joined in the 'Father, forgive them,' when they saw the nails driven? No! I pray, 'Oh, God, to whom vengeance belongeth, lift up Thyself!' . . . Pity me and stick to me, to the end. I am perfectly heartsick and homesick to be with you once more, but when I consider that Mr. Stowe is pastor and preacher, and that the Sunday services, Sunday-school, and all, depend on us, I feel it would be a mere yielding to my feelings to leave our few poor sheep in the wilderness."
Later in the same year she writes from Hartford: "I am more and more impressed with a sense of the dreadful, irreparable wrong and injustice this wicked husband has done to his wife, and which to her is deadly; for as he forced her into sinful and weak compliances, he did the greatest injury to her possible to a human being. God only knows the limit of endurance, but I think she is to be judged of as the poor witches who, under torture, sleeplessness, and exhaustion, criminated themselves and others at the will of barbarous persecutors . . . . The way the slanderer of St. Francis de Sales was brought to confess often occurs to me, and I beg and pray that something like that be done in this case."
To her sister Mary she says: "To think that Henry, who never would listen to an indelicate word, who has kept all this nauseous thing out of his mind, being obliged to sit in open court and have this foulness dribbled out before him! It seems as if it was not permitted to him to avoid drinking this most nauseous cup to the dregs. If he can pity and forgive now he does it with his eyes open and with full consciousness of what he forgives."
Happily there was always Florida, bright beautiful soothing Florida, to help her through the deep waves of trouble, and there were also the letters of her friends.
She writes: "We have had heavenly weather, and we needed it; for our house was a cave of spider-webs, cockroaches, dirt, and all abominations, but less than a week has brought it into beautiful order. It now begins to put on that quaint, lively, pretty air that so fascinates me. Our weather is, as I said, heavenly, neither hot nor cold; cool, calm, bright, serene, and so tranquillizing. There is something indescribable about the best weather we have down here. It does not debilitate me like the soft October air in Hartford."
During the following February she writes in reply to an invitation to visit a Northern watering-place later in the season: "I shall be most happy to come, and know of nothing to prevent. I have, thank goodness, no serial story on hand for this summer, to hang like an Old Man of the Sea about my neck, and hope to enjoy a little season of being like other folks. It is a most lovely day to-day, most unfallen-Eden-like."
In a letter written later in the same season, March 28, Mrs. Stowe gives us a pleasant glimpse at their preparations for the proper observance of Easter Sunday in the little Mandarin schoolhouse. She says: "It was the week before Easter, and we had on our minds the dressing of the church. There my two Gothic fireboards were to be turned into a pulpit for the occasion. I went to Jacksonville and got a five-inch moulding for a base, and then had one fireboard sawed in two, so that there was an arched panel for each end. Then came a rummage for something for a top, and to make a desk of until it suddenly occurred to me that our old black walnut extension table had a set of leaves. They were exactly the thing. The whole was trimmed with a beading of yellow pine, and rubbed, and pumice-stoned, and oiled, and I got out my tubes of paint and painted the nail-holes with Vandyke brown. By Saturday morning it was a lovely little Gothic pulpit, and Anthony carried it over to the schoolhouse and took away the old desk which I gave him for his meeting-house. That afternoon we drove out into the woods and gathered a quantity of superb Easter lilies, papaw, sparkleberry, great fern-leaves, and cedar. In the evening the girls went over to the Meads to practice Easter hymns; but I sat at home and made a cross, eighteen inches long, of cedar and white lilies. This Southern cedar is the most exquisite thing; it is so feathery and delicate.
"Sunday morning was cool and bright, a most perfect Easter. Our little church was full, and everybody seemed delighted with the decorations. Mr. Stowe preached a sermon to show that Christ is going to put everything right at last, which is comforting. So the day was one of real pleasure, and also, I trust, of real benefit, to the poor souls who learned from it that Christ is indeed risen for them."
During the season of her great trouble George Eliot wrote to her: --
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- The other day I had a letter from Mrs. Fields, written to let me know something of you under that heavy trouble, of which such information as I have had has been quite untrustworthy, leaving me in entire incredulity in regard to it except on this point, that you and yours must be suffering deeply. Naturally I thought most of you in the matter (its public aspects being indeterminate), and many times before our friend's letter came I had said to Mr. Lewes: "What must Mrs. Stowe be feeling!" I remember Mrs. Fields once told me of the wonderful courage and cheerfulness which belonged to you, enabling you to bear up under exceptional trials, and I imagined you helping the sufferers with tenderness and counsel, but yet, nevertheless, I felt that there must be a bruising weight on your heart. Dear, honored friend, you who are so ready to give warm fellowship, is it any comfort to you to be told that those afar off are caring for you in spirit, and will be happier for all good issues that may bring you rest?
I cannot, dare not, write more in my ignorance, lest I should be using unreasonable words. But I trust in your not despising this scrap of paper which tells you, perhaps rather for my relief than yours, that I am always in grateful, sweet remembrance of your goodness to me and your energetic labors for all.
To this letter Mrs. Stowe replies after a delay of more than two years: --
MANDARIN, March 18, 1876.
MY DEAR FRIEND, -- I always think of you when the orange-trees are in blossom; just now they are fuller than ever, and so many bees are filling the branches that the air is full of a sort of still murmur. And now I am beginning to hear from you every month in "Harper's." It is as good as a letter. "Daniel Deronda" has succeeded in awaking in my somewhat worn-out mind an interest. So many stories are tramping over one's mind in every modern magazine nowadays that one is macadamized, so to speak. It takes something unusual to make a sensation. This does excite and interest me, as I wait for each number with eagerness. I wish I could endow you with our long winter weather, -- not winter, except such as you find in Sicily. We live here from November to June, and my husband sits outdoors on the veranda and reads all day. We emigrate in solid family: my two dear daughters, husband, self, and servants come together to spend the winter here, and so together to our Northern home in summer. My twin daughters relieve me from all domestic care; they are lively, vivacious, with a real genius for practical life. We have around us a little settlement of neighbors, who like ourselves have a winter home here, and live an easy, undress, picnic kind of life, far from the world and its cares. Mr. Stowe has been busy on eight volumes of Görres on the mysticism of the Middle Ages.* This Görres was Professor of Philosophy at Munich, and he reviews the whole ground of the shadow-land between the natural and the supernatural, -- ecstasy, trance, prophecy, miracles, spiritualism, the stigmata, etc. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and the so-called facts that he reasons on seem to me quite amazing; and yet the possibilities that lie between inert matter and man's living, all-powerful, immortal soul may make almost anything credible. The soul at times can do anything with matter. I have been busying myself with Sainte-Beuve's seven volumes on the Port Royal development. I like him (Sainte-Beuve). His capacity of seeing, doing justice to all kinds of natures and sentiments, is wonderful. I am sorry he is no longer our side the veil.
There is a redbird (cardinal grosbeak) singing in the orange-trees fronting my window, so sweetly and insistently as to almost stop my writing. I hope, dear friend, you are well, -- better than when you wrote last.
It was very sweet and kind of you to write what you did last. I suppose it is so long ago you may have forgotten, but it was a word of tenderness and sympathy about my brother's trial; it was womanly, tender, and sweet, such as at heart you are. After all, my love of you is greater than my admiration, for I think it more and better to be really a woman worth loving than to have read Greek and German, and written books. And in this last book I read, I feel more with you in some little, fine points, -- they stare at me as making an amusing exhibition. For, my dear, I feel myself at last as one who has been playing and picnicking on the shores of life, and waked from a dream late in the afternoon to find that everybody almost has gone over to the beyond. And the rest are sorting their things and packing their trunks, and waiting for the boat to come and take them.
It seems now but a little time since my brother Henry and I were two young people together. He was my two years' junior, and nearest companion out of seven brothers and three sisters. I taught him drawing and heard his Latin lessons, for you know a girl becomes mature and womanly long before a boy. I saw him through college, and helped him through the difficult love affair that gave him his wife; and then he and my husband had a real German, enthusiastic love for each other, which ended in making me a wife. Ah! in those days we never dreamed that he, or I, or any of us, were to be known in the world. All he seemed then was a boy full of fun, full of love, full of enthusiasm for protecting abused and righting wronged people, which made him in those early days write editorials, and wear arms and swear himself a special policeman to protect the poor negroes in Cincinnati, where we then lived, when there were mobs instigated by the slaveholders of Kentucky.
Then he married, and lived a missionary life in the new West, all with a joyousness, an enthusiasm, a chivalry, which made life bright and vigorous to us both. Then in time he was called to Brooklyn, just as the crisis of the great anti-slavery battle came on, and the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. I was then in Maine, and I well remember one snowy night his riding till midnight to see me, and then our talking, till near morning, what we could do to make headway against the horrid cruelties that were being practiced against the defenseless blacks. My husband was then away lecturing, and my heart was burning itself out in indignation and anguish. Henry told me then that he meant to fight that battle in New York; that he would have a church that would stand by him to resist the tyrannic dictation of Southern slaveholders. I said: "I, too, have begun to do something; I have begun a story, trying to set forth the sufferings and wrongs of the slaves." "That's right, Hattie," he said; "finish it, and I will scatter it thick as the leaves of Vallombrosa," and so came "Uncle Tom," and Plymouth Church became a stronghold where the slave always found refuge and a strong helper. One morning my brother found sitting on his doorstep poor old Paul Edmondson, weeping; his two daughters, of sixteen and eighteen, had passed into the slave warehouse of Bruin & Hill, and were to be sold. My brother took the man by the hand to a public meeting, told his story for him, and in an hour raised the two thousand dollars to redeem his children. Over and over again, afterwards, slaves were redeemed at Plymouth Church, and Henry and Plymouth Church became words of hatred and fear through half the Union. From that time until we talked together about the Fugitive Slave Law, there was not a pause or stop in the battle till we had been through the war, and slavery had been wiped out in blood. Through all he has been pouring himself out, wrestling, burning, laboring, everywhere, making stump speeches when elections turned on the slave question, and ever maintaining that the cause of Christ was the cause of the slave. And when all was over, it was he and Lloyd Garrison who were sent by government once more to raise our national flag on Fort Sumter. You must see that a man does not so energize without making many enemies. Half of our Union has been defeated, a property of millions annihilated by emancipation, a proud and powerful slave aristocracy reduced to beggary, and there are those who never saw our faces that to this hour hate him and me. Then he has been a progressive in theology. He has been a student of Huxley, and Spencer, and Darwin, -- enough to alarm the old school, -- and yet remained so ardent a supernaturalist as equally to repel the radical destructionists in religion. He and I are Christ-worshipers, adoring Him as the Image of the Invisible God and all that comes from believing this. Then he has been a reformer, an advocate of universal suffrage and woman's rights, yet not radical enough to please that reform party who stand where the Socialists of France do, and are for tearing up all creation generally. Lastly, he has had the misfortune of a popularity which is perfectly phenomenal. I cannot give you any idea of the love, worship, idolatry, with which he has been overwhelmed. He has something magnetic about him that makes everybody crave his society, -- that makes men follow and worship him. I remember being at his house one evening in the time of early flowers, and in that one evening came a box of flowers from Maine, another from New Jersey, another from Connecticut, -- all from people with whom he had no personal acquaintance, who had read something of his and wanted to send him some token. I said, "One would think you were a prima donna. What does make people go on so about you?"
My brother is hopelessly generous and confiding. His inability to believe evil is something incredible, and so has come all this suffering. You said you hoped I should be at rest when the first investigating committee and Plymouth Church cleared my brother almost by acclamation. Not so. The enemy have so committed themselves that either they or he must die, and there has followed two years of the most dreadful struggle. First, a legal trial of six months, the expenses of which on his side were one hundred and eighteen thousand dollars, and in which he and his brave wife sat side by side in the court-room, and heard all that these plotters, who had been weaving their webs for three years, could bring. The foreman of the jury was offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to decide against my brother. He sent the letter containing the proposition to the judge. But with all their plotting, three fourths of the jury decided against them, and their case was lost. It was accepted as a triumph by my brother's friends; a large number of the most influential clergy of all denominations so expressed themselves in a public letter, and it was hoped the thing was so far over that it might be lived down and overgrown with better things.
But the enemy, intriguing secretly with all those parties in the community who wish to put down a public and too successful man, have been struggling to bring the thing up again for an ecclesiastical trial. The cry has been raised in various religious papers that Plymouth Church was in complicity with crime, -- that they were so captivated with eloquence and genius that they refused to make competent investigation. The six months' legal investigation was insufficient; a new trial was needed. Plymouth Church immediately called a council of ministers and laymen, in number representing thirty-seven thousand Congregational Christians, to whom Plymouth Church surrendered her records, -- her conduct, -- all the facts of the case, and this great council unanimously supported the church and ratified her decision; recognizing the fact that, in all the investigations hitherto, nothing had been proved against my brother. They at his request, and that of Plymouth Church, appointed a committee of five to whom within sixty days any one should bring any facts that they could prove, or else forever after hold their peace. It is thought now by my brother's friends that this thing must finally reach a close. But you see why I have not written. This has drawn on my life, -- my heart's blood. He is myself; I know you are the kind of woman to understand me when I say that I felt a blow at him more than at myself. I, who know his purity, honor, delicacy, know that he has been from childhood of an ideal purity, -- who reverenced his conscience as his king, whose glory was redressing human wrong, who spoke no slander, no, nor listened to it.
Never have I known a nature of such strength, and such almost childlike innocence. He is of a nature so sweet and perfect that, though I have seen him thunderously indignant at moments, I never saw him fretful or irritable, -- a man who continuously, in every little act of life, is thinking of others; a man that all the children on the street run after, and that every sorrowful, weak, or distressed person looks to as a natural helper. In all this long history there has been no circumstance of his relation to any woman that has not been worthy of himself, --pure, delicate, and proper; and I know all sides of it, and certainly should not say this if there were even a misgiving. Thank God, there is none, and I can read my New Testament and feel that by all the beatitudes my brother is blessed.
His calmness, serenity, and cheerfulness through all this time has uplifted us all. Where he was, there was no anxiety, no sorrow. My brother's power to console is something peculiar and wonderful. I have seen him at death-beds and funerals, where it would seem as if hope herself must be dumb, bring down the very peace of Heaven and change despair to trust. He has not had less power in his own adversity. You cannot conceive how he is beloved, by those even who never saw him, -- old, paralytic, distressed, neglected people, poor seamstresses, black people, who have felt these arrows shot against their benefactor as against themselves, and most touching have been their letters of sympathy.
In your portrait of Deronda, you speak of him as one of those rare natures in whom a private wrong bred no bitterness. "The sense of injury breeds, not the will to inflict injuries, but a hatred of all injury;" and Henry's friends and lawyers have sometimes been aroused and sometimes indignant with his habitual caring for others, and his habit of vindicating and extending even to his enemies every scrap and shred of justice that might belong to them. From first to last of this trial he has never for a day intermitted his regular work. Preaching to crowded houses, preaching even in his short vacations at watering-places, carrying on his missions which have regenerated two once wretched districts of the city, editing a paper, and in short giving himself up to work. He cautioned his church not to become absorbed in him and his trials, to prove their devotion by more faithful church work and a wider charity; and never have the Plymouth missions among the poor been so energetic and effective. He said recently, "The worst that can befall a man is to stop thinking of God and begin to think of himself; if trials make us self?absorbed, they hurt us." Well, dear, pardon me for this outpour. I loved you -- I love you -- and therefore wanted you to know just what I felt. Now, dear, this is over, don't think you must reply to it or me. I know how much you have to do, -- yes, I know all about an aching head and an overtaxed brain. This last work of yours is to be your best, I think, and I hope it will bring you enough to buy an orange grove in Sicily, or somewhere else, and so have lovely weather such as we have.
Your ancient admirer, who usually goes to bed at eight o'clock, was convicted by me of sitting up after eleven over the last installment of "Daniel Deronda," and he is full of it. We think well of Guendoline, and that she isn't much more than young ladies in general so far.
Next year, if I can possibly do it, I will send you some of our oranges. I perfectly long to have you enjoy them.
Your very loving H. B. STOWE.
P. S. I am afraid I shall write you again when I am reading your writings, they are so provokingly suggestive of things one wants to say.
H. B. S.
This friendship was one that greatly enlisted Mrs. Stowe's sympathies and enriched her life. Her interest in any woman who was supporting herself, and especially in any one who found a daily taskmaster in the, pen, and above all when, as in this case, the woman was one possessed of great moral aspiration half paralyzed in its action by finding itself in an anomalous and (to the world in general) utterly incomprehensible position, made such a woman like a magnet to Mrs. Stowe. She inherited from her father a faith in the divine power of sympathy, which only waxed greater with years and experience. Wherever she found a fellow-mortal suffering trouble or dishonor, in spite of hindrance her feet were turned that way. The genius of George Eliot and the contrasting elements of her life and character drew Mrs. Stowe to her side in sisterly solicitude. Her attitude, her sweetness, her sincerity, could not fail to win the heart of George Eliot. They became loving friends.
It was the same inborn sense of fraternity which led her, when a child, on hearing of the death of Lord Byron, to go out into the fields and fling herself, weeping, on the mounded hay, where she might pray alone for his forgiveness and salvation. It is wonderful to observe the influence of Byron upon that generation. It is on record that when Tennyson, a boy of fifteen, heard some one say, "Byron is dead," he thought the whole world at an end. "I thought," he said one day, "everything was over and finished for every one; that nothing else mattered. I remember that I went out alone and carved 'Byron is dead' into the sandstone."
Mrs. Stowe belonged to the sympathetic order of genius; but it is to be observed how little of the "vatis irritabile" was to be found in her. She wrote to Dr. Holmes, putting aside all mention of the sorrows which had so weighed her down: --
MANDARIN, February 23.
DEAR DOCTOR, -- How kind it was of you to write me that very beautiful note! and how I wish you were just where I am, to see the trees laden at the same time with golden oranges and white blossoms! I should so like to cut off a golden cluster, leaves and all, for you. Well, Boston seems very far away and dreamy, like some previous state of existence, as I sit on the veranda and gaze on the receding shores of the St. John's.
Dear doctor, how time slips by! I remember when Sumner seemed to me a young man, and now he has gone. And Wilson has gone, and Chase, whom I knew as a young man in society in Cincinnati, has gone, and Stanton has gone, and Seward has gone, and yet how lively the world races on! A few air-bubbles of praise or lamentation, and away sails the great ship of life, no matter over whose grave!
Well, one cannot but feel it! To me, also, a whole generation of friends has gone from the other side of the water since I was there and broke kindly bread with them. The Duchess of Sutherland, the good old duke, Lansdowne, Ellesmere, Lady Byron, Lord and Lady Amberley, Charles Kingsley, the good Quaker, Joseph Sturge, all are with the shadowy train that has moved on. Among them were as dear and true friends as I ever had, and as pure and noble specimens of human beings as God ever made. They are living somewhere in intense vitality, I must believe, and you, dear doctor, must not doubt.
I think about your writings a great deal, and one element in them always attracts me. It is their pitiful and sympathetic vein, the pity for poor, struggling human nature. In this I feel that you must be very near and dear to Him whose name is Love.
You wrote some verses once that have got into the hymn-books, and have often occurred to me in my most sacred hours as descriptive of the feelings with which I bear the sorrow and carry the cares of life. They begin:
"Love Divine, that stooped to share;"
I have not all your books down here, and am haunted by gaps in the verses that memory cannot make good; but it is that "Love Divine" which is my stay and comfort and hope, as one friend after another passes beyond sight and hearing. Please let me have it in your handwriting.
I remember a remark you once made on spiritualism. I cannot recall the words, but you spoke of it as modifying the sharp angles of Calvinistic belief, as a fog does those of a landscape. I would like to talk with you some time on spiritualism, and show you a collection of very curious facts that I have acquired through mediums not professional.
I have long since come to the conclusion that the marvels of spiritualism are natural, and not supernatural phenomena, -- an uncommon working of natural laws, I believe that the door between those in the body and those out has never in any age been entirely closed, and that occasional perceptions within the veil are a part of the course of nature, and therefore not miraculous. Of course such a phase of human experience is very substantial ground for every kind of imposture and superstition, and I have no faith whatever in mediums who practice for money. In their case I think the law of Moses, that forbade consulting those who dealt with "familiar spirits," a very wise one.
Do write some more, dear doctor. You are too well off in your palace down there on the new land. Your Centennial Ballad was a charming little peep; now give us a full-fledged story. Mr. Stowe sends his best regards, and wishes you would read "Görres." It is in French also, and he thinks the French translation better than the German.
Yours ever truly,
H. B. STOWE.
Writing in the autumn to her son Charles, who was at that time abroad, studying at Bonn, Mrs. Stowe describes a most tempestuous passage between New York and Charleston, during which she and her husband and daughters suffered so much that they were ready to forswear the sea forever. The great waves, as they rushed boiling and seething past, would peer in at the little bull's-eye window of the stateroom, as if eager to swallow up ship and passengers. From Charleston, however, they had a most delightful run to their journey's end. She writes: "We had a triumphal entrance into the St. John's, and a glorious sail up the river. Arriving at Mandarin, at four o'clock, we found all the neighbors, black as well as white, on the wharf to receive us. There was a great waving of handkerchiefs and flags, clapping of hands and cheering, as we drew near. The house was open and all ready for us, and we are delighted to be once more in our beautiful Florida home."
In 1877 she writes her son: "I am again entangled in writing a serial, a thing I never mean to do again, but the story, begun for a mere Christmas brochure, grew so under my hands that I thought I might as well fill it out and make a book of it. It is the last thing of the kind I ever expect to do. In it I condense my recollections of a bygone era, that in which I was brought up, the ways and manners of which are now as nearly obsolete as the Old England of Dickens's stories is.
"I am so hampered by the necessity of writing this story that I am obliged to give up company and visiting of all kinds and keep my strength for it. I hope I may be able to finish it, as I greatly desire to do so, but I begin to feel that I am not so strong as I used to be. Your mother is an old woman, Charley mine, and it is best she should give up writing before people are tired of reading her.
"I would much rather have written another such a book as 'Footsteps of the Master,' but all, even the religious papers, are gone mad on serials. Serials they demand and will have, and I thought, since this generation will listen to nothing but stories, why not tell them?"
She was speaking in this letter of "Poganuc People," one of the most exquisite of her books of sketches. The flame of her genius seemed to awaken once more as she wrote, and the tenderness in its pages, the power to move both laughter and tears, is of her very own and of her very best. It was her last long book. The habit of her life was to write, and she did not lose it, but she was nearing her seventieth year, and the responsibility of a serial story was never assumed by her again.
In January she wrote from Mandarin to Dr. Holmes: --
DEAR DOCTOR, -- I wish I could give to you and Mrs. Holmes the exquisite charm of this morning. My window is wide open; it is a lovely, fresh, sunny day, and a great orange-tree hung with golden balls closes the prospect from my window. The tree is about thirty feet high, and its leaves fairly glisten in the sunshine.
I sent "Poganuc People" to you and Mrs. Holmes as being among the few who know those old days. It is an extremely quiet story for these sensational days, when heaven and earth seem to be racked for a thrill; but as I get old I do love to think of those quiet, simple times when there was not a poor person in the parish, and the changing glories of the year were the only spectacle. We, that is the professor and myself, have been reading with much interest Motley's Memoir. That was a man to be proud of a beauty, too (by your engraving). I never had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance.
I feel with you that we have come into the land of leave-taking. Hardly a paper but records the death of some of Mr. Stowe's associates. But the river is not so black as it seems, and there are clear days when the opposite shore is plainly visible, and now and then we catch a strain of music, perhaps even a gesture of recognition. They are thinking of us, without doubt, on the other side. My daughters and I have been reading "Elsie Venner" again. Elsie is one of my especial friends, -- poor, dear child! -- and all your theology in that book I subscribe to with both hands.
Does not the Bible plainly tell us of a time when there shall be no more pain? That is to be the end and crown of the Messiah's mission, when God shall wipe all tears away. My face is set that way, and yours, too, I trust and believe.
Mr. Stowe sends hearty and affectionate remembrance both to you and Mrs. Holmes, and I am, as ever, truly yours,
H. B. STOWE.
There is one more letter to her son Charles and his wife, which must close the record of her seventy years.
"Dear children," she says, writing from Florida to Saco, Maine, where her son was busy in his parish, -- "Well, we have stepped from December to June, and this morning is sunny and dewy, with a fresh sea-breeze giving life to the air. I have just been out to cut a great bunch of roses and lilies, though the garden is grown into such a jungle that I could hardly get about in it. The cannas, and dwarf bananas, and roses are all tangled together so that I can hardly thread my way among them. I never in my life saw anything range and run rampant over the ground as cannas do. The ground is littered with fallen oranges, and the place looks shockingly untidy, but so beautiful that I am quite willing to forgive its disorder . . . .
"Your father is quite well. The sea had its usual exhilarating effect upon him. Before we left New York he was quite meek, and exhibited such signs of grace and submission that I had great hopes of him. He promised to do exactly as I told him, and stated that he had entire confidence in my guidance. What woman couldn't call such a spirit evidence of being prepared for speedy translation? I was almost afraid he could not be long for this world. But on the second day at sea his spirits rose, and his appetite reasserted itself. He declared in loud tones how well he felt, and quite resented my efforts to take care of him. I reminded him of his gracious vows and promises in the days of his low spirits, but to no effect. The fact is, his self?will has not left him yet, and I have now no fear of his immediate translation. He is going to preach for us this morning."
Still well, but not at all strong, we must leave her here upon the entrance of the long valley of age.
This woman, who seems to have touched every note in the gamut of human joy and suffering; she who had known physical weakness, overwork, poverty on one hand, and on the other great success, who had possessed devoted friends and household happiness; she who had lived through the sorrows of war, had lost her two sons, who had watched a large company pass into the unseen land of those who made this world lovely to her; she who had seen the great of the earth fall away and despise her for works she felt herself called upon to perform; who had seen one dearest to her cast down from the high places and trampled on, was now to experience a slow descent towards the dark gate of death. There was to be no sudden release from decadence, but every step of the journey of life was to be painfully traversed.
A sense of fellowship in the joys and sorrows of humanity was as I have said, a characteristic of her nature; but this sacred fellowship was not alone born of imagination and tenderness of feeling; she was indeed in harmony with the children of men in that she walked with them through the low gates of failure and decay, yet the light of her faith so irradiated her whole nature that she always had the secret of unspeakable peace if not of joy to give to those who were walking the same road.
*Die Christliche Mystic, by Johann Joseph Görres, Regensburg, 1836-42. [ Back ]
NEARING THE END
AFTER the many instances of Mrs. Stowe's natural eloquence which have been quoted in these pages, it is scarcely necessary to say that she was a delightful talker. Nevertheless, the affectionateness of her character, her intense interest in all human experience, qualified her for personal communion to a most uncommon degree. She loved to gather a small circle of friends around a fireside, when she easily took the lead in fun and story telling. This was her own ground, and upon it she was not to be outdone. "Let me put my feet upon the fender," she would say, "and I can talk till all is blue."
It appeared to those who listened most frequently to her conversation that a large part of the charm of her tales was often lost in the writing down; yet with all her unusual powers she was an excellent listener herself. Her natural modesty was such that she took keen pleasure in gathering fresh thought and inspiration from the conversation of others. Nor did the universal homage she received from high and low leave any unworthy impression upon her self?esteem. She was grateful and pleased and humble, and the only visible effect produced upon her was the heightened pleasure she received from the opportunities of knowing men and women who excited her love and admiration. Her name was a kind of sacred talisman, especially in New and Old England. It was a banner which had led men to battle against slavery. Therefore it was often a cause of surprise and social embarrassment when the bearer of this name proved to be sometimes too modest, and sometimes too absent-minded, to remember that anything was expected of her on great occasions, or anything arranged for her special entertainment. I have already told how she was utterly taken by surprise once in a foreign city by being invited out to breakfast, as she supposed privately, and finding herself suddenly in a large hall, upon a raised platform crowded with local dignitaries, and greeted before she could get her breath by a chorus of children's voices singing an anthem in her honor, especially composed for the occasion. Her love of fun was greatly excited by this unexpected situation, and she used to relate the anecdote, with details about her unprepared condition which were irresistibly amusing.
The sense that a great work had been accomplished through her only made her, if possible, less self-conscious. Late in life (when her failing powers made it impossible for her to speak as one living in a world which she seemed to have left far behind) she was accosted, I was told, in the garden of her country retreat, in the twilight one evening, by a good old retired sea-captain who was her neighbor for the time. "When I was younger," said he respectfully, holding his hat in his hand while he spoke, "I read with a great deal of satisfaction and instruction 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' The story impressed me very much, and I am happy to shake hands with you, Mrs. Stowe, who wrote it." "I did not write it," answered the white-haired old lady gently, as she shook the captain's hand. "You didn't?" he ejaculated in amazement. "Why, who did, then?" "God wrote it," she replied simply. "I merely did his dictation." "Amen," said the captain reverently, as he walked thoughtfully away.
This was the expression in age of what lay at the foundation of. her life.
Her absent-mindedness grew upon her with increasing years. It was only by an effort that she was able to restrain herself sometimes after a brief conversation from lapsing into a calm world known only to herself; but this condition approached gradually. As she explained to her husband in the early years of their life together, this habit of mind was frequently the result of fatigue even while she was still in the prime of life. Perhaps a dinner-table of invited guests were eagerly listening to her conversation, when at some suggestion of a new train of ideas, either from within or thrown out in response by another, she would become silent and hardly speak again. Occasionally at a reception she would wander away, only to be found strolling about in the conservatory, if there were one, or quietly observant in some coigne of vantage where she was not likely to be disturbed.
There is an anecdote given to me by a friend which illustrates her shortcomings in this direction. Once when she was at the height of her fame and popularity she was expected on a certain day to dine at the old President Quincy house in Quincy. The ladies, his daughters, received their guest with the great dignity and courtesy which were native to them, and she was shown to an upper room to arrange her dress after the journey. The ladies waited in the drawing-room below; but presently there seemed to be unnecessary delay in Mrs. Stowe's joining them. They waited more and more impatiently; they began to watch the clock while the minutes passed, but still there was no step on the stair. At last dinner was announced and still they waited, and the maid who was sent up to speak to Mrs. Stowe returned to say that she had knocked at the door but there was no answer. Then the hostesses became anxious, and hurried to her room in person to see what the serious reason might be. They opened the door; there stood Mrs. Stowe just as they had left her, her bonnet and shawl still on, standing before a bookcase reading a volume which she had taken down. "Oh," said she, returning suddenly to the present scene of things; "do forgive me! I found this dear old copy of Sir Charles Grandison just like the one I used to read. I haven't seen it for years and years!"
Among the responsibilities of the later period of her life was that of getting Professor Stowe to consent to publish a book. This was no laughing matter; at first the book was planned merely as an article on the "Talmud" for the "Atlantic Monthly." Afterwards Professor Stowe enlarged the design. Later, in speaking of his manuscript, she says: "You must not scare him off by grimly declaring that you must have the whole manuscript complete before you set the printer to work; you must take the three quarters he brings you and at least make believe begin printing, and he will immediately go to work and finish up the whole; otherwise what with lectures and the original sin of laziness, it will all be indefinitely postponed. I want to make a crisis, that he shall feel that now is the accepted time, and that this must be finished first and foremost."
And again she says: "My poor Rab. has been sick with a heavy cold this week, and if it hadn't been for me you wouldn't have had this article, which I send in triumph. I plunged into the sea of Rabbis and copied Mr. Stowe's insufferable chaldaic characters so that you might not have your life taken by wrathful printers . . . . Thus I have ushered into the world a document which I venture to say condenses more information on an obscure and curious subject than any in the known world -- Hosanna!"
In 1881 she wrote to her son Charles: "I send you a newspaper clipping showing the disposition of educated Christians to return to the primitive basis of the great facts of Christianity . . . . I have so rich a blessing from my own keeping of Lent and Holy Week that I cannot but rejoice when I see the minds of our pious people turning in this direction, for it is turning from all controversial issues to the one spot where Christian union becomes a verity. At Gethsemane, the Cross, and the Sepulchre, Christians feel together. They feel, not know, they are one. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathæa, Peter, James, and John were all disciples together at the sepulchre.
"I have just heard of the sudden death of my friend Mr. Fields, . . . and now we all ask, What has he left of all his life's accumulations? Houses, lands, pictures, literary reputation, all that gone -- dreams, things of the past. Had he any treasure laid up in Heaven? I think from my remembrance of him that he had just what Jesus meant by treasure laid up in Heaven. He had a habit of quiet benevolence; he did habitually and quietly more good to everybody he had to do with than common. He favored with all his power ___'s charitable work, and such habits as these are, I think, what Christ meant by laying up treasure in Heaven. A spirit sympathetic with Christ's spirit, prepared to appreciate and enjoy Christ's work, is what He Himself, in the only account He gives of the last award, makes the test of fitness for eternal life. I find many traces of childlike faith in his last pieces . . . . When a friend is gone to the great hereafter how glad we are that he did believe."
Mrs. Stowe's last public appearance was in June, 1882, when her Boston publishers arranged a reception for her at the beautiful country-seat of Ex-Governor Claflin. Henry Ward Beecher accompanied his sister and responded to the address of welcome in his own natural and touching manner. After poems by Whittier, Holmes, and others had been read, Mrs. Stowe herself came to the front of the platform. The whole company rose and remained standing until she had finished. In her quiet, modest way, and yet so clearly as to be plainly heard by all, she said: --
"I wish to say that I thank all my friends from my heart, -- that is all. And one thing more, -- that is, if any of you have doubt, or sorrow, or pain, if you doubt about this world, just remember what God has done; just remember that this great sorrow of slavery has gone, gone by forever. I see it every day at the South. I walk about there and see the lowly cabins. I see these people growing richer and richer. I see men very happy in their lowly lot; but, to be sure, you must have patience with them. They are not perfect, but have their faults, and they are serious faults in the view of white people. But they are very happy, that is evident, and they do know how to enjoy themselves, -- a great deal more than you do. An old negro friend in our neighborhood has got a new, nice two-story house, and an orange grove, and a sugar-mill. He has got a lot of money, besides. Mr. Stowe met him one day, and he said, 'I have got twenty head of cattle, four head of "hoss," forty head of hen, and I have got ten children, all mine, every one mine.' Well, now, that is a thing that a black man could not say once, and this man was sixty years old before he could say it. With all the faults of the colored people, take a man and put him down with nothing but his hands, and how many could say as much as that? I think they have done well.
"A little while ago they had at his house an evening festival for their church, and raised fifty dollars. Every one of his daughters knew how to cook. They had a good place for the festival. Their suppers were spread on little white tables with nice clean cloths on them. People paid fifty cents for supper. They got between fifty and sixty dollars, and had one of the best frolics you could imagine.
"That is the sort of thing I see going on around me. Let us never doubt of the result."
During the year Mrs. Stowe busied herself with the labor of putting her letters and papers in some order. She had written to her son Charles at the beginning of this task: --
MY DEAR CHARLEY, -- My mind has been with you a great deal lately. I have been looking over and arranging my papers with a view to sifting out those that are not worth keeping, and so filing and arranging those that are to be kept that my heirs and assigns may with the less trouble know where and what they are. I cannot describe (to you) the peculiar feelings which this review occasions. Reading old letters, when so many of the writers are gone from earth, seems to me like going into the world of spirits, -- letters full of the warm, eager, anxious, busy life, that is forever past. My own letters, too, full of bygone scenes in my early life and the childish days of my children. It is affecting to me to recall things that strongly moved me years ago, that filled my thoughts and made me anxious, when the occasion and emotion have wholly vanished from my mind. But I thank God there is one thing running through all of them from the time I was thirteen years old, and that is the intense unwavering sense of Christ's educating, guiding presence and care. It is all that remains now. The romance of my youth is faded; it looks to me now, from my years, so very young -- those days when my mind only lived in emotion, and when my letters never were dated, because they were only histories of the internal, but now that I am no more and never can be young in this world, now that the friends of those days are almost all in eternity, what remains?
I was passionate in my attachments in those far back years, and as I have looked over files of old letters, they are all gone (except one, C. Van Rensselaer), Georgiana May, Delia Bacon, Clarissa Treat, Elizabeth Lyman, Sarah Colt, Elisabeth Phenix, Frances Strong, Elisabeth Foster. I have letters from them all, but they have been long in spirit land, and know more about how it is there than I do. It gives me a sort of dizzy feeling of the shortness of life and nearness of eternity when I see how many that I have traveled with are gone within the veil. Then there are all my own letters, written in the first two years of marriage, when Mr. Stowe was in Europe and I was looking forward to motherhood and preparing for it -- my letters when my whole life was within the four walls of my nursery, my thoughts absorbed by the developing character of children who have now lived their earthly life and gone to the eternal one, -- my two little boys, each in his way good and lovely, whom Christ has taken in youth, and my little one, my first Charley, whom He took away before he knew sin or sorrow, -- then my brother George and sister Catherine, the one a companion of my youth, the other the mother who assumed the care of me after I left home in my twelfth year -- and they are gone. Then my blessed father, for many years so true an image of the Heavenly Father, -- in all my afflictions he was afflicted, in all my perplexities he was a sure and safe counselor, and he too is gone upward to join the angelic mother whom I scarcely knew in this world, who has been to me only a spiritual presence through life.
Mrs. Stowe and her husband passed some time in Boston at this period with her married daughter. She wrote of the pleasure they had in reading: --
"Your father enjoys his proximity to the Boston library. He is now reading the twelve or fourteen volumes of the life and diary of John Quincy Adams. It is a history of our country through all the period of slavery usurpation that led to the war. The industry of the man in writing is wonderful. Every day's doings in the House are faithfully daguerreotyped, -- all the mean tricks, contrivances of the slave-power, and the pusillanimity of the Northern members from day to day recorded. Calhoun was then secretary of state. Under his connivance even the United States census was falsified, to prove that freedom was bad for negroes. Records of deaf, dumb, and blind, and insane colored people were distributed in Northern States, and in places where John Quincy Adams had means of proving there were no negroes. When he found that these falsified figures had been used with the English ambassador as reasons for admitting Texas as a slave State, the old man called on Calhoun, and showed him the industriously collected proofs of the falsity of this census. He says: 'He writhed like a trodden rattlesnake, but said the census was full of mistakes; but one part balanced another, -- it was not worth while to correct them.' His whole life was an incessant warfare with the rapidly advancing spirit of slavery, that was coiling like a serpent around everything.
"At a time when the Southerners were like so many excited tigers and rattlesnakes, -- when they bullied, and scoffed, and sneered, and threatened, this old man rose every day in his place, and, knowing every parliamentary rule and tactic of debate, found means to make himself heard. Then he presented a petition from negroes, which raised a storm of fury. The old man claimed that the right of petition was the right of every human being. They moved to expel him. By the rules of the house a man, before he can be expelled, may have the floor to make his defense. This was just what he wanted. He held the floor for fourteen days, and used his wonderful powers of memory and arrangement to give a systematic, scathing history of the usurpations of slavery; he would have spoken fourteen days more, but his enemies, finding the thing getting hotter and hotter, withdrew their motion, and the right of petition was gained.
"What is remarkable in this journal is the minute record of going to church every Sunday, and an analysis of the text and sermon. There is something about these so simple, so humble, so earnest. Often differing from the speaker, -- but with gravity and humility, -- he seems always to be so self-distrustful; to have such a sense of sinfulness and weakness, but such trust in God's fatherly mercy, as is most beautiful to see. Just the record of his Sunday sermons, and his remarks upon them, would be most instructive to a preacher. He was a regular communicant, and, beside, attended church on Christmas and Easter, -- I cannot but love the old man. He died without seeing even the dawn of liberty which God has brought; but oh! I am sure he sees it from above. He died in the Capitol, in the midst of his labors, and the last words he said were, 'This is the last of earth; I am content.' And now, I trust, he is with God.
"All, all are gone. All that raged; all that threatened; all the cowards that yielded; truckled, sold their country for a mess of pottage; all the men that stood and bore infamy and scorn for the truth; all are silent in dust; the fight is over, but eternity will never efface from their souls whether they did well or ill -- whether they fought bravely or failed like cowards. In a sense, our lives are irreparable. If we shrink, if we fail, if we choose the fleeting instead of the eternal, God may forgive us; but there must be an eternal regret! This man lived for humanity when hardest bestead; for truth when truth was unpopular; for Christ when Christ stood chained and scourged in the person of the slave."
Meanwhile, the comfort Mrs. Stowe drew in from the beauty of nature and the calm around her seemed yearly to nourish and renew her power of existence. Questions which were difficult to others were often solved to her mind by practical observation. It amused her to hear persons agitating the question as to where they should look to supply labor for the South. "Why," she remarked once, "there was a negro, one of those fearfully hot days in the spring, who was digging muck from a swamp just in front of our house, and carrying it in a wheelbarrow up a steep slope, where he dumped it down, and then went back for more. He kept this up when it was so hot that we thought either one of us would die to be five minutes in the sun. We carried a thermometer to the spot where he was working, to see how great the heat was, and it rose at once to one hundred and thirty-five degrees. The man, however, kept cheerfully at his work, and when he went to his dinner sat with the other negroes out in the white sand without a bit of shade. Afterward they all lay down for a nap in the same sheltered locality. Toward evening, when the sun was sufficiently low to enable me to go out, I went to speak to this man. 'Martin,' said I, 'you 've had a warm day's work. How do you stand it? Why, I couldn't endure such heat for five minutes.' 'Hah! hah! No, I s'pose you couldn't. Ladies can't, missus.' 'But, Martin, aren't you very tired?' 'Bress your heart, no, misses.' So Martin goes home to his supper, and after supper will be found dancing all the evening on the wharf near by! After this, when people talk of bringing Germans and Swedes to do such work, I am much entertained."
Many were the pleasant descriptions of her home sent forth to tempt her friends away from the busy North. "Here is where we read books," she said in one of her letters, written in the month of March. "Up North nobody does, -- they don't have time; so if ___ will mail his book to Mandarin, I will 'read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.' We are having a carnival of flowers. I hope you read my 'Palmetto Leaves,' for then you will see all about us . . . . Our home is like a martin-box . . . . I cannot tell you the quaint odd peace we have here in living under the oak. 'Behold she dwelleth under the oak at Mamre.' All that we want is friends, to whom we may say that solitude is sweet. We have some neighbors, however, who have made pretty places near us. Mr. Stowe keeps up a German class of three young ladies, with whom he is reading Faust for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time, and in the evening I read aloud to a small party of the neighbors. We have made up our home as we went along, throwing out a chamber here and there, like twigs out of the old oak . . . . The orange blossoms have come like showers of pearl, and the yellow jessamine like golden fleeces, and the violets and the lilies, and azaleas. This glorious, budding, blossoming spring, and we have days when merely to breathe and be is to be blessed. I love to have a day of mere existence. Life itself is a pleasure when the sun shines warm, and the lizards dart from all the shingles of the roof, and the birds sing in so many notes and tones the yard reverberates; and I sit and dream and am happy, and never want to go back North, nor do anything with the toiling, snarling world again. I do wish I could gather you both in my little nest."
"This was the last winter passed in their well-loved Southern home," writes Rev. C. E. Stowe, "for the following season Professor Stowe's health was in too precarious a state to permit him to undertake the long journey from Hartford. By this time one of Mrs. Stowe's fondest hopes had been realized; and, largely through her efforts, Mandarin had been provided with a pretty little Episcopal church, to which was attached a comfortable rectory, and over which was installed a regular clergyman."
In January, Mrs. Stowe writes: --
"Mandarin looks very gay and airy now with its new villas, and our new church and rectory. Our minister is perfect. I wish you could know him. He wants only physical strength. In everything else he is all one could ask.
"It is a bright, lovely morning, and four orange-pickers are busy gathering our fruit. Our trees on the bluff have done better than any in Florida.
"This winter I study nothing but Christ's life. First I read Farrar's account and went over it carefully. Now I am reading Geikie. It keeps my mind steady, and helps me to bear the languor and pain, of which I have more than usual this winter."
But in the spring she wrote from Mandarin to Mrs. Howard: --
"I have been very unwell the season past. I have suffered more pain, more weariness and weakness than ever in my life before . . . . But one thing, dear, precious friend, I cannot do, while my husband lives, I cannot visit and leave him, neither can I take him. He requires personal attentions that only a wife ought to render. They are not fatiguing nor exhausting, but require that I should be constantly with him. I think we have never enjoyed each other's society more than this winter. His mind is still clear and bright, and he is competent as ever to explain a text or instruct me in the merits of a verse. At our home in Hartford everything is arranged with reference to his comfort and he is perfectly comfortable, but my friends must come there to see me. I cannot leave him to go to them."
In December of the same year she writes again from Forest Street, Hartford, Connecticut: --
DEAR SUSIE, -- Instead of the annual fuss and rumpus of this time of the year, the packing of trunks and the writing for passage tickets and arranging for a sea-voyage, I am quietly settled down for the winter in my Hartford home, and devoutly blessing my dear Father in Heaven that I have so quiet a home to settle down into.
It has become clear that Mr. Stowe cannot take the journey. We dare not undertake it. Our Southern home has no such conveniences as an invalid needs. It was charming while Mr. Stowe was well enough to sit on the veranda and take long daily walks, but now it is safer and better that we all stay with him here . . . . I can make him happy, and I look on this as my appointed work, and hope to do it faithfully . . . . H. and E. aid me heroically in everything. I have no household cares.
Pray for me, dear sister, and believe me ever your loving and true friend,
H. B. STOWE
Susie, do, do write to me.
Again she writes to Mrs. Howard in January, still in Hartford: --
"You could not do a more generous deed than to enrich me with one of your precious letters. I am watching the slow sinking of my dear husband under an incurable disease, and only praying now that he may be spared pain. I do not feel strength within me to see him suffer.
"I have many things to be thankful for: a comfortable home, with every convenience for the care of the sick; two daughters, who relieve me of every household care, and a trained hospital nurse, who knows how to do everything and does it with neatness, order, and efficiency . . . . So I live day by day. I feel myself rather weak and weary, not with physical labor, for of that I have none, but you know all about it, just how it would be . . . . Please ask Henry to write me a few lines that I can read to my dear husband; his mind is clear, and I read all my letters to him, and nothing would please him more than a few lines from Henry, whom he always loved peculiarly from the time he was a student onward."
"For nearly a year now," she writes in December of the same year, to Mrs. Howard, "I have been a watcher and a waiter by my husband's sick-bed; caring for my own health and spirits that I might always show a cheerful and hopeful face to him, and have something cheerful to say to him when he feels cast down and discouraged."
Mrs. Stowe always insisted that no small proportion of her success in literature should be attributed to her husband. But her love for him made her see, not what was untrue, but what was secondary in her work, as if it were of primary importance. He appears to have been a genuine scholar, one of a race rare enough at any time, nor was his mind confined to any narrow groove. He was first, above all, learned in the Scriptures, but his mind was a strange storehouse of an endless variety of things which his vigorous memory never suffered him to forget. Professor Stowe died in August, 1886.
A period of rest now opened before Mrs. Stowe, who, bending under the weight of seventy-six years of unremitting toil, seemed to be possessed by a great calm. She had written thirty books, beside an incredible number of magazine papers, journals, short stories, letters, and charitable missives. There are few lives which can approach such a showing of industry. She continued to write a few, a very few, notes to her friends. She says in one of these: --
"I have thought much lately of the possibility of my leaving you all and going home. I am come to that stage of my pilgrimage that is within sight of the River of Death, and I feel that now I must have all in readiness day and night for the messenger of the King. I have sometimes had in my sleep strange perceptions of a vivid spiritual life near to and with Christ, and multitudes of holy ones, and the joy of it is like no other joy, -- it cannot be told in the language of the world. What I have then I know with absolute certainty, yet it is so unlike and above anything we conceive of in this world that it is difficult to put it into words. The inconceivable loveliness of Christ! It seems that about Him there is a sphere where the enthusiasm of love is the calm habit of the soul, that without words, without the necessity of demonstrations of affection, heart beats to heart, soul answers soul, we respond to the Infinite Love, and we feel his answer in us, and there is no need of words. All seemed to be busy coming and going on ministries of good, and passing each gave a thrill of joy to each as Jesus, the directing soul, the centre of all, 'over all, in all, and through all,' was working his beautiful and merciful will to redeem and save. I was saying as I awoke: --
"’T is joy enough, my all in all,At Thy dear feet to lie.Thou wilt not let me lower fall,And none can higher fly.'"This was but a glimpse; but it has left a strange sweetness in my mind."
To Mrs. Howard she wrote: "Your note to me since brother Henry's exaltation was exactly word for word what I can send back to you . . . . If you dreamed I was in trouble the other night, you dreamed the truth, for I have been suffering . . . . I see that almost all your family have crossed over Jordan, leaving you still here . . . . I had written thus far" [she says, and it is a very brief note, alas!] "when I was obliged to stop through fatigue. It is long since I have tried to write anything, and my strength gives out quickly; but I hope this imperfect scrawl will show you that I am still your ever affectionate
H. B. STOWE."
This was almost the end; occasionally she was known to write an exceptional note, but, as she says to Mrs. Howard, "My mind wanders like a running brook, and I do not think of my friends as I used to, unless they recall themselves to me by some kind action . . . . I think I am in something of the condition of a silkworm who has spun out all his silk, and can spin no more, unless he has some fresh mulberry leaves. When I reach the 'golden shores,' where grow the trees of life, there I may be able to renew the happy friendships with those who have gone before and may come after me to that happy land."
Finally, she says to Mrs. Howard: --
"My sun has set. The time of work for me is over. I have written all my words and thought all my thoughts, and now I rest me in the flickering light of the dying embers, in a rest so profound that the voice of an old friend arouses me but momentarily, and I drop back again into repose . . . . Since the going home of my dear brother Henry, our country has not sustained such a loss as this of Phillips Brooks. He was one of the truly great ones of this earth, -- great in the noble simplicity of his life and character."
As I have said, she was like her father, Dr. Lyman Beecher, in many things. The scorching fire of the brain seemed to devour its essence, and she endured, as he did before her, some years of existence when the motive power of the mind almost ceased to act. She became "like a little child," wandering about, pleased with flowers, fresh air, the sound of a piano, or a voice singing hymns, but the busy, inspiring spirit was asleep.
Gradually she faded away, shrouded in this strange mystery, hovered over by the untiring affection of her children, sweet and tender in her decadence, but "absent."
The tenderness and patience of her waiting years could only be told perfectly by the daughters who hung over her. She knew her condition, but there was never a word of complaint, and so long as her husband lived she performed the office of nurse and attendant upon his lightest wishes as if she felt herself strong. Her near friends were sometimes invited to dine or to have supper with her at that period, but they could see even then how prostrated she became after the slightest mental effort. It was upon occasion of such a visit that she told me, with a twinkle of the eye, that "Mr. Stowe was sometimes inclined to be a little fretful during the long period of his illness, and said to her one day that he believed the Lord had forgotten him." "Oh, no, He hasn't," she answered; "cheer up! your turn will come soon."
She was always fond of music, especially of the one kind she had known best; and the singing of hymns never failed to soothe her at the last; therefore when the little group stood round her open grave on a lovely July day and sang the hymns she loved, it seemed in its simplicity and broken harmony a fitting farewell to the faded body she had already left so far behind.
She died July 1, 1896, at the age of eighty-five years, and her body was buried beside those of her husband and the children who had preceded her, in the burial ground at Andover.
A great spirit has performed its mission and has been released. The world moves on, unconscious; but the world's children have been blessed by her coming, and they who know and understand should praise God reverently in her going. In the words of the prophet we can almost hear her glad cry: --
"My sword shall be bathed in heaven."
Works of Annie Fields