Chapter 4: girlhood 1839-1843; aet. 20-23
In Julia's childhood her brother Sam was her ideal and her idol. She describes him as a “handsome youth, quick of wit and tender of heart, brilliant in promise, and with a great and versatile power of work in him.” He had early shown special proficiency in mathematics, and to the end of his life rejoiced in being one of the few persons who clearly understood the function called “Gamma.” His masters expected great things from him; but his brilliant and effervescent spirit was forced into the Wall Street mould, with kindly intent but disastrous effect. His life was checkered, sun and shadow; but from first to last, he remained the delight of all who knew him. Sam Ward; Uncle Sam to three generations, his was a name to conjure with: the soul of generosity, the essence of wit, the  spirit of kindliness. No one ever looked in his face, ever met the kindling glance of his dark eyes, ever saw the sunshine break in his smile, without forgetting all else in love and admiration of one of the most enchanting personalities that ever brightened the world. Sam Ward returned from Europe in 1835, and took up his residence under his father's roof. In 1838 he married Emily, daughter of William B. Astor. The wedding was a grand one. Julia was first bridesmaid, and wore a dress of white moire, then a material of the newest fashion. Those were the days of the ferroniere, an ornament then so popular that “evening dress was scarcely considered complete without it.” 1 Julia begged for one, and her father gave her a charming string of pearls, which she wore with great contentment at the wedding. The young couple took up their residence with the family at “The corner,” the Francises having by this time moved to a house of their own. With all these changes, little by little, the discipline relaxed, the doors opened wider. The bridal pair, feted everywhere, must, in their turn, entertain their friends; and in these entertainments the daughters of the house must have their share. Julia Ward was now nineteen, in the fulness of her early bloom. Her red-gold hair was no longer regarded as a misfortune; her gray eyes were large and well opened; her complexion of dazzling purity. Her finely chiselled features, and the beauty of her hands and arms, made an ensemble which could not fail to impress  all who saw her Add to this her singing, her wit, and the charm which was all and always her own, and we have the Diva Julia, as she was called by some who loved her. Her sisters, also, were growing up, each exquisitely attractive in her way: they became known as the “Three graces of Bond Street.” Louisa was like a damask rose, Annie like a dark lily; dark, too, of eyes and hair were Sam and Marion, while Henry was fair and blue-eyed. At this distance of time, it may not be unpardonable to touch briefly on another aspect of our mother's youth; indeed, it would hardly be candid to avoid it. From the first she seems to have stirred the hearts of men. Her masters, old and young, fell in love with her almost as a matter of course. Gilded youth and sober middle-age fared no better; her girlhood passed to the sound of sighing. “Mfy dear,” said an intimate friend of the three, speaking of these days, “Louisa had her admirers, and Annie had hers; but when the men saw your mother, they just flopped!” Among her papers we have found many relics of these days, from the faded epistle addressed, “c Julie, la respected, la choisie, l'aimte, la cherie,” to the stern letter in which Mr. Ward “desires not to conceal from the Rev. Mr. the deliberate and dispassionate opinion, that a gentleman whose sacred office commanded ready access to his roof, might well have earlier ascertained the views of a widow'd Father on a subject so involving the happiness of his child.” The unhappy suitor's note to Miss Julia is enclosed,  and Mr. Ward trusts that “the return will be considered by the Rev. Mr.--as finally terminating the matter therein referred to.” Julia had for her suitors a tender and compassionate sympathy. She could not love them, she would not marry them, but she was very sorry for them, and — it must be admitted — she liked to be adored. So she sang duets with one, read German with another, Anglo-Saxon with a third; for all, perhaps, she may have had something the feeling of her “Coquette et Tendre” in “Passion flowers.”
The torch that lit these silent halls,
Has now extinguished been;
The windows of the soul are dark,
And all is gloom within.
But lo! it shines, a star in heav'n,
And through death's murky night,
The ruins of the stately pile
Gleam softly in its light.
And it shall be a beacon star
To cheer us, and to guide;
For we would live as thou hast lived,
And die as thou hast died.Julia Ward, on her father's death, 1839.
Ere I knew life's sober meaning,The suitors called her “Diva,” but in the family circle she was “Jules,” or “Jolie Julie.” The family letters of this period are full of affectionate cheerfulness. When “Jolie Julie” is away on a visit, the others send her a composite letter. Louisa threatens to shut her up on her return with nothing to read but her Anglo-Saxon grammar and “Beowulf.” ( “If that does not give you a distaste for all wolves,” she says, “not excepting those Long fellows,2 I do not know what will!” )  Annie tells of opening the window in Julia's room and of all the poetical ideas flying out and away. Emily, her brother's wife, describes Mr. Ward sighing, “Where is my beauty?” as he sits at the table; and the letter closes with a lively picture of the books in the library “heaving their dusty sides in sorrow for her absence.” In describing life at “The corner,” we must not forget the evenings at No. 23, Colonel Henry Ward's house. Uncle Henry and his namesake son (the boy who was to “see death approaching with joy” !) were musical. When Mr. Ward permitted (in his later and more lenient days) an informal dance at “The corner,” the three girls sent for Uncle Henry as naturally as they sent for the hair-dressing and salad-making emigres; and the stately, handsome gentleman came, and played waltzes and polkas with cheerful patience all the evening. On Sunday the whole family from “The corner” took tea with Uncle Henry, and music was the order of the evening. Mr. Ward delighted in these occasions, and was never ready to go home. When Uncle Henry thought it was bedtime, he would go to the piano and play the “Rogue's March.”
Nature taught me simple wiles,
Gave this color, rising, waning,
Gave these shadows, deepening smiles.
More she taught me, sighing, singing,
Taught me free to think and move,
Taught this fond instinctive clinging
To the helpful arm of love.
(Twice flogged for stealing a sheep,We hear the fife shrill through the lively air!) “No! No, Colonel!” Mr. Ward would cry. “We won't march yet; give us half an hour more!” And  in affectionate mischief he would stay the half-hour through before marshalling his flock back to “The corner.” A stern period was put to all this innocent gayety by the death of Mr. Ward, at the age of fifty-three. His life, always laborious, had been doubly so since the death of his wife. Stunned at first by the blow, his strong sense of duty soon roused him to resume his daily responsibilities — with a difference, however. Religion had always been a powerful factor in his life; henceforth it was to be his main inspiration, and he found his chief comfort in works of public and private beneficence. An earnest patriot, he was no politician; but when his services were needed by city, state, or country, they were always forthcoming. Throughout the series of financial disasters beginning with Andrew Jackson's refusal to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States, and culminating in the panic of 1837, Mr. Ward acted with vigor, decision, and sagacity. His denunciation of the removal of the public deposits from the Bank of the United States by the famous Specie Circular as “an act so lawless, violent, and fraught with disaster, that it would and must eventually overthrow the men and the party that resorted to it,” was justified, literally and entirely. The crisis of 1836-37 called for all the strength, wisdom, and public spirit that the men of the country could show. Mr. Ward labored day and night to prevent the dishonor of the banks of New York. “Individual effort, however, was vain, and the  10th of May saw all the banks reduced to suspend specie payments; and upon no man did that disastrous day close with deeper mortification than upon him. Personally, and in his business relations, this event affected Mr. Ward as little possibly as any one at all connected with affairs; but, in his estimation, it vitally wounded the commercial honor and character of the city. He was not, however, a man to waste, in unavailing regrets, hours that might be more advantageously employed to repair the evil, and he therefore at once set about the arrangement of measures for inducing and enabling the banks to resume at the earliest possible moment.” 3 This was accomplished within the year. About the same time the Bank of England sent to Prime, Ward & King a loan of nearly five million dollars in gold. Mr. King says, “This extraordinary mark of confidence, this well-earned tribute to the prudence and integrity of the house, Mr. Ward did not affect to undervalue, and confirming, as it did, the sagacity of his own views, and the results which he had so confidently foretold, it was not lost upon the community in the midst of which he lived.” Our mother never forgot the afternoon when Brother Sam came into her study on his return from Wall Street and cried out to her:-- “Julia, men have been going up and down the office stairs all day long, carrying little wooden kegs of gold on their backs, marked ‘Prime, Ward & King’ and filled with English gold!”  That English gold saved the honor of the Empire State, and the fact that her father procured the loan was the greatest asset in her inheritance from the old firm. Mr. Ward did not see the kegs, for he was in bed, prostrated by a severe fit of sickness brought on by his labors for the public honor. The few years that remained to him were a very martyrdom, his old enemy, rheumatic gout, attacking him more and more fiercely; but his spirit was indomitable. He labored almost single-handed to establish the Bank of Commerce, and became its first president, stipulating that he should receive no compensation. What he did receive was his death-warrant. The dampness of the freshly plastered walls of the new building brought on in the spring of 1839 two successive attacks so severe that he could not rally from them. Still he toiled on, giving all his energies to perfect and consolidate the enterprise which he believed would be of lasting benefit to his beloved city. In October of the same year came another financial crisis. The banks of Philadelphia and the Southern States suspended specie payments, and every effort was made to induce the New York banks to follow suit. Mr. Ward was ill at Newport, but hearing the news he hurried back and threw himself into the conflict, exhorting, sustaining, encouraging. A friend protested, warning him of the peril to his enfeebled health of such exertions. “I should esteem life itself not unworthily sacrificed,” said Mr. Ward, “if by word or deed, I could aid the banks in adhering faithfully to their duty.”  For nearly two weeks he labored, till the work was done, his city's honor and fair fame secure; then he went home literally to die, departing this life, November 27, 1839. Julia was with him when he died, his hand in hers. The beauty of his countenance in death was such that Anne Hall, the well-known miniature painter, begged permission to paint it, and his descendants may still gaze on the majestic features in their serene repose. Our mother writes of this time: “I cannot, even now, bear to dwell upon the desolate hush which fell upon our house when its stately head lay, silent and cold, in the midst of weeping friends and children.” 4 Her love for her father was to cease only with her life. She never failed to record his birthday in her diary, with some word of tender remembrance. Shortly before Mr. Ward's death, Sam and his wife had moved to a house of their own. The five unmarried children would have been desolate, indeed, if left to themselves in the great house: but to the joy and comfort of all, their bachelor uncle, John Ward, left his own house and came to live with them. From this time until his death in 1866, he was a second father to them. Uncle John! The words call up memories of our own childhood. We see a tall, stalwart figure, clad in loosefitting garments; a noble head crowned by a small brown scratch wig; a countenance beaming with kindliness and humor. A Manila cheroot is between his lips -the fragrance of one never fails to call up his image -and he caresses an unamiable little dog which he  fondly loves. He offers a grand-niece a silk dress if she will make it up herself. This was the “Uncle John” of No. 8 Bond Street, one of the worthies of Wall Street, and uncle, by courtesy, to half New York. In his youth he had received an injury which deprived him of speech for more than a year. It was feared that he would never speak again; one day his mother, trying to help him in some small matter, and not succeeding to her mind, cried, “I am a poor, awkward, old woman!” “No, you are not!” exclaimed John Ward; and the trouble was over. His devotion to his orphan nieces and nephews was constant and beautiful. He desired ardently that the three girls should be good housekeepers, and grudged the amount of time which one of them at least devoted to books and music. To them also he was fond of giving dress-materials, with the proviso that they should make them up for themselves. This they managed to do, “with a good deal of help from the family seamstress.” When Julia published her first literary venture, a translation of Lamartine's “Jocelyne,” Uncle John showed her a favorable notice of it in a newspaper, saying: “This is my little girl who knows about books, and writes an article and has it printed, but I wish she knew more about housekeeping.” “A sentiment,” she adds, “which in after years I had occasion to echo with fervor.” While Sam was her ideal of youthful manhood, Henry was her mate, the nearest to her in age and  in sympathy. The bond between them was close and tender; and when in October, 1840, he died of typhoid fever, the blow fell on her with crushing severity. “When he closed his eyes,” she says, “I would gladly, oh, so gladly have died with him!” And again, “I remember the time as one without light or comfort.” She turned to seek consolation in religion, andnaturally — in that aspect of religion which had been presented to her childish mind as the true and only one. At this time a great Calvinistic revival was going on in New York, and a zealous friend persuaded Julia to attend some of the meetings. In her anguish of grief, the gloomy doctrines of natural depravity, of an angry and vengeful Deity, of a salvation possible only through certain strictly defined channels, came home to her with terrible force. Her deeply religious nature sought the Divine under however portentous an aspect it was presented; her poet's imagination clung to the uplifted Cross; these were days of emotion, of fervor, of exaltation alternating with abasement; thought was to come later. While under these influences, Julia, now at the head of the household, enforced her Calvinistic principles with rigor. The family were allowed only cold meat on Sunday, to their great discomfort; the rather uninviting midday dinner was named by Uncle John “Sentiment” ; but at six o'clock they were given hot tea, and this he called “Bliss.” Pious exhortations, sisterly admonitions, were the order of the day. “The old Bird” --this nom de tendresse had now superseded “Jolie Julie,” and was to be hers while her sisters and brothers  lived — hovered over the younger ones with maternal anxiety. In the poems and letters of this period, she adopts unconsciously the phraseology of the day. Being away on a visit, she writes to her sisters: “Believe me, it is better to set aside, untasted, the cup of human enjoyment, than to drink it to the bitter dregs, and then seek for something better, which may not be granted to us. The manna fell from heaven early in the morning, those who then neglected to gather it were left without nourishment; it is early in life's morning that we must gather the heavenly food, which can alone support us through the burden and heat of the day.” The emotional fervor of this time was heightened by a complication which arose from it. A young clergyman of brilliant powers and passionate nature fell deeply in love with Julia, and pressed his suit with such ardor that she consented to a semi-engagement. Fortunately, a visit to Boston gave her time to examine her feelings. Relieved from the pressure of a twofold excitement, breathing a calmer and a freer air, she realized that there could be no true union between her and the Rev. Mr.--, and the connection was broken off. The course of Julia's studies had for some years been leading her into wider fields of thought. In her brother's library she found George Sand and Balzac, and read such books as he selected for her. In German she became familiar with Goethe, Jean Paul, and Matthias Claudius. She describes the sense of intellectual freedom derived from these studies as “half delightful, half alarming.”  Mr. Ward one day had undertaken to read an English translation of “Faust” and came to her in great alarm. “My daughter,” he said, “I hope that you have not read this wicked book!” She had read it, and “Wilhelm Meister,” too (though in later life she thought the latter “not altogether good reading for the youth of our country” ). Shelley was forbidden, and Byron allowed only in small and carefully selected doses. The twofold bereavement which weighed so heavily upon her checked for a time the development of her thought, throwing her back on the ideas which her childhood had received without question; but her buoyant spirit could not remain long submerged, and as the poignancy of grief abated, her mind sought eagerly for clearer vision. In the quiet of her own room, the bounds of thought and of faith stretched wide and wider. Vision often came in a flash: witness the moment when the question of Matthias Claudius, “And is he not also the God of the Japanese?” changed from a shocking suggestion to an eternal truth. Witness also the moment when, after reading “Paradise lost,” she saw “the picture of an eternal evil, of Satan and his ministers subjugated, indeed, by God, but not conquered, and able to maintain against Him an opposition as eternal as his goodness. This appeared to me impossible, and I threw away, once and forever, the thought of the terrible hell which till then had always formed part of my belief. In its place I cherished the persuasion that the victory of goodness must consist in making  everything good, and that Satan himself could have no shield strong enough to resist permanently the divine power of the divine spirit.” New vistas were opening everywhere before her. She made acquaintance with Margaret Fuller, who read her poems, and urged her to publish them. Of one of these poems, Miss Fuller writes:--
Thrice flogged for desartion!
If ever I go for a soldier again,
The devil may be my portion!
“I know of many persons in my own circle to whom I think the poem would be especially grateful.” 5 On every hand she met people, who like herself were  pressing forward, seeking new light. She heard Channing preach, heard him say that God loves bad men as well as good; another window opened in her soul. Again, on a journey to Boston, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson. The train being delayed at a wayside station, she saw the Transcendentalist, whom she had pictured as hardly human, carrying on his shoulder the child of a poor and weary woman; her heart warmed to him, and they soon made acquaintance. She, with the ardor of youth, gave him at some length the religious views which she still held in the main, and with which she felt he would not agree. She enlarged upon the personal presence of Satan on this earth, on his power over man. Mr. Emerson replied with gentle courtesy, “Surely the angel must be stronger than the Demon!” She never forgot these words; another window opened, and a wide one. Julia Ward had come a long way from old Ascension Church, where Peter Stuyvesant, in a full brown wig, carried round the plate, and the Reverend Manton (afterwards Bishop) Eastburn preached sermons “remarked for their good English” ; and where communicants were not expected to go to balls or theatres. The years of mourning over, the Ward sisters took up the pursuits natural to their age and position. Louisa was now eighteen, very beautiful, already showing the rare social gift which distinguished her through life. The two sisters began a season of visiting, dancing, and all manner of gayeties. The following letter illustrates this period of her girlhood:-- 
In these days also she first met her future husband. Samuel Gridley Howe was at this time (1842) forty-one years of age; his life had been a stirring and adventurous one. After passing through Brown University, and the Harvard Medical School, in 1824 he threw in his lot with the people of Greece, then engaged in their War of Independence, and for six years shared their labor and hardships in the field, and on shipboard, being surgeon-in-chief first to the Greek army, then to the fleet. It was noted by a companion in arms, that “the only fault found with him was that he always would be in the fight, and was only a surgeon when the battle was over.” He eventually found, however, that his work was to be constructive, not destructive. The people were perishing for lack of food; he returned to America, preached a crusade, and took back  to Greece a shipload of food and clothing for the starving women .nd children. Having fed them, he set them to work; built a hospital and a mole (which stands to this day in XEgina), founded a colony, and turned the half-naked peasants into farmers. These matters have been fully related elsewhere.8 Returning to this country in 1831, he took up the education of the blind, which was to be chief among the multifarious labors of his life. When Julia Ward first met him, he had been for nine years Director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind, and was known throughout the civilized world as the man who had first taught language to a blind deaf mute (Laura Bridgman). Up to this time a person thus afflicted was classed with idiots, “because,” as Blackstone says, “his mind cannot be reached.” This dictum had been recently reaffirmed by a body of learned men. Dr. Howe thought otherwise. Briefly, he invented a new science. “He carefully reasoned out every step of the way, and made a full and clear record of the methods which he invented, not for his pupils alone, but for the whole afflicted class for which he opened the way to human fellowship.... His methods have been employed in all subsequent cases, and after seventy years of trial remain the standard.” 9 Hand in hand with Dorothea Dix, he was beginning the great fight for helping and uplifting the insane; was already, with Horace Mann, considering the condition  of the common schools, and forging the weapons for other fights which laid the foundations of the school system of Massachusetts. Later, he was to take up the cause of the feeble-minded, the deaf mute, the prisoner, the slave; throughout his life, no one in “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity” was ever to call on him in vain. His friends called him the “Chevalier” ; partly because the King of Greece had made him a Knight of St. George, but more because they saw in him a good knight without fear and without reproach. Charles Sumner was his alter ego, the brother of his heart; others of his intimates at that time were Longfellow, George Hillard, Cornelius Felton, Henry Cleveland. This little knot of friends called themselves “The five of Clubs,” and met often to make merry and to discuss the things of life. The summer of 1842 was spent by Julia Ward and her sisters at a cottage in the neighborhood of Boston, in company with their friend Mary Ward.10 Here Longfellow and Sumner often visited them, and here Julia first heard of the Chevalier and his wonderful achievement in educating Laura Bridgman. Deeply interested, she gladly accepted the offer of the two friends to drive her and her sisters over to the Perkins Institution. She has described how “Mr. Sumner, looking out of a window, said, ‘Oh! here comes Howe on his black horse.’ I looked out also, and beheld a noble rider on a noble steed.”  The slender, military figure, the jet-black hair, keen blue eyes, and brilliant complexion, above all the vivid presence, like the flash of a sword — all these could not fail to impress the young girl deeply; the Chevalier, on his part, saw and recognized the Diva Julia of his friends' description. She has told us “how acquaintance ripened into good-will” between the two. The Chevalier, eager to push the acquaintance further, went to New York to call on the Diva and her family. In a private journal of the time we find the following glimpse of the pair:-- “Walked down Broadway with all the fashion and met the pretty blue-stocking, Miss Julia Ward, with her admirer, Dr. Howe, just home from Europe. She had on a blue satin cloak and a white muslin dress. I looked to see if she had on blue stockings, but I think not. I suspect that her stockings were pink, and she wore low slippers, as Grandmamma does. They say she dreams in Italian and quotes French verses. She sang very prettily at a party last evening, and accompanied herself on the piano. I noticed how white her hands were.” During a subsequent visit to Boston in the winter of 1842-43, Julia Ward and Dr. Howe became engaged. The engagement was warmly welcomed by the friends of both. Charles Sumner writes to Julia:--
Longfellow's letter to Dr. Howe also has been preserved among the precious relics of the time.
At the same time Diva writes to her brother Sam:--
The Chevalier says truly-I am the captive of his bow and spear. His true devotion has won me from the world, and from myself. The past is already fading from my sight; already, I begin to live with him in the future, which shall be as calmly bright as true love can make it. I am perfectly satisfied to sacrifice to one so noble and earnest the day dreams of my youth. He will make life more beautiful to me than a dream.... The Chevalier is very presumptuous — says that he will not lose sight of me for one day, that I must stay here till he can return with me to New York. The Chevalier is very impertinent, speaks of two or three months, when I speak of two or three years, and seems  determined to have his own way: but, dear Bunny, the Chevalier's way will be a very charming way, and is, henceforth, to be mine.It was not to be supposed that the Chevalier would wait longer for his bride than was absolutely necessary. The wedding preparations were hurried on, most of them being made by Sisters Annie and Louisa, as Julia could not be brought down from the clouds sufficiently to give them much attention. It was hard even to make her choose her wedding dress; but this was finally decided upon, “a white embroidered muslin, exquisitely fine, to be worn over a satin ‘slip.’ ” The wedding, a quiet one, took place at Samuel Ward's house, on April 23, 1843, and four days later, Chevalier and Diva sailed together for Europe.