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Chapter 10: between the acts.

Mr. Garrison, in a private letter to a friend under date of September 12, 1834, summarises the doings of the preceding twelve months of his life, and makes mention of a fact which lends peculiar interest to that time: “It has been the most eventful year,” he remarks, “in my history. I have been the occasion of many uproars, and a continual disturber of the public peace. As soon as I landed I turned the city of New York upside down. Five thousand people turned out to see me tarred and feathered, but were disappointed. There was also a small hubbub in Boston on my arrival. The excitement passed away, but invective and calumny still followed me. By dint of some industry and much persuasion, I succeeded in inducing the Abolitionists in New York to join our little band in Boston, in calling a national convention at Philadelphia. We met, and such a body of men, for zeal, firmness, integrity, benevolence, and moral greatness, the world has rarely seen in a single assembly. Inscribed upon a declaration which it was my exalted privilege to write, their names can perish only with the knowledge of the history of our times. A National Anti-Slavery Society was formed, which astonished the country by its novelty, and [193] awed it by its boldness. In five months its first annual meeting was held in the identical city in which, only seven antecedent months, Abolitionists were in peril of their lives. In ability, interest, and solemnity it took precedence of all the great religious celebrations which took place at the same time. During the same month, a New England anti-slavery convention was held in Boston, and so judicious were its measures, so eloquent its appeals, so unequivocal its resolutions, that it at once gave shape and character to the antislavery cause in this section of the Union. In the midst of all these mighty movements, I have wooed” a fair ladye, “and won her, have thrown aside celebacy, and jumped body and soul into matrimony, have sunk the character of bachelor in that of husband, have settled down into domestic quietude, and repudiated all my roving desires, and have found that which I have long been yearning to find, a home, a wife, and a beautiful retreat from a turbulent city.”

Garrison does not exaggerate the importance of the initiatives and achievements of the year, or the part played by him in its history. His activity was indeed phenomenal, and the service rendered by him to the reform, was unrivaled. He was in incessant motion, originating, directing, inspiring the agitation in all portions of the North. What strikes one strongly in studying the pioneer is his sleeplessness, his indefatigableness, his persistency in pursuit of his object. Others may rest after a labor, may have done one, two, or three distinct tasks, but between Garrison's acts there is no hiatus, each follows each, and is joined to all like links in a chain. He never closed his eyes, nor folded his arms, but went forward [194] from work to work with the consecutiveness of a law of nature.

But amid labors so strenuous and uninterrupted the leader found opportunity to woo and win “a fair ladye.” She was a daughter of a veteran Abolitionist, George Benson, of Brooklyn, Conn., who with his sons George W. and Henry E. Benson, were among the stanchest of the reformer's followers and supporters. The young wife, before her marriage, was not less devoted to the cause than they. She was in closest sympathy with her husband's anti-slavery interests and purposes. Never had husband found wife better fitted to his needs, and the needs of his life work. So that it might be truly said that Garrison even when he went a-wooing forgot not his cause and that when he took a wife, he made at the same time a grand contribution to its ultimate triumph.

How did Helen Eliza Garrison serve the great cause? One who knew shall tell. He has told it in his own unequaled way. “That home,” he says, “was a great help. Her husband's word and pen scattered his purpose far and wide; but the comrades that his ideas brought to his side her welcome melted into friends. No matter how various and discordant they were in many things — no matter how much there was to bear and overlook-her patience and her thanks for their sympathy in the great idea were always sufficient for the work also. . . . In that group of remarkable men and women which the anti-slavery movement drew together, she had her own niche-which no one else could have filled so perfectly or unconsciously as she did. . . . She forgot, omitted nothing. How much we all owe her!” These were words [195] spoken by a friend, whose name will appear later on in this story; words spoken by him at the close of her beautiful life, as she lay dead in her coffin.

And here is another account of her written by the husband on the first anniversary of their marriage: “I did not marry her,” he confides to her brother George, “expecting that she would assume a prominent station in the anti-slavery cause, but for domestic quietude and happiness. So completely absorbed am I in that cause, that it was undoubtedly wise in me to select as a partner one who, while her benevolent feelings were in union with mine, was less immediately and entirely connected with it. I knew she was naturally diffident, and distrustful of her own ability to do all that her heart might prompt. She is one of those who prefer to toil unseen — to give by stealth-and to sacrifice in seclusion. By her unwearied attention to my wants, her sympathetic regards, her perfect equanimity of mind, and her sweet and endearing manners; she is no trifling support to Abolitionism, inasmuch as she lightens my labors, and enables me to find exquisite delight in the family circle, as an offset to public adversity.”

And here is a lovely bit of self-revelation made to her betrothed several months before they were wedded. “I am aware of the responsibility that will devolve upon me,” she writes, “and how much my example will be copied among that class you have so long labored to elevate and enlighten. I have been considering how the colored people think of dress, and how much of their profits are expended for useless ornaments that foolishly tend to make a show and parade. As much stress will, of course, be laid on [196] Garrison's wife by that class, it behooves me to be very circumspect in all things, when called upon to fill so important a station.”

The marriage occurred September 4, 1834, and the next day the pair set up housekeeping in “Freedom's Cottage,” on Bower street, Roxbury. The young housekeepers were rich in every good thing except money; and of that commodity there was precious little that found its way into the family till. And money was indispensable even to a philanthropist, who cared as little for it as did Garrison. He had never in his twenty-eight years experienced the sensation which a bank account, however small, gives its possessor. He had been toiling during the last three years in a state of chronic self-forgetfulness, and of consequence in a state of chronic inpecuniosity. He had never been careful of what he got — was careful only of what he gave. For himself he was ready to subsist on bread and water and to labor more than fourteen hours at the case to make the issue of the Liberator possible. But surely he could not put “a fair ladye” on such limited commons even for the sake of his cause. The laborer is worthy of his hire, and an unworldly minded reformer ought to be supplied with the wherewithal needful to feed, clothe, and house himself and those dependent upon him. Some such thought shaped itself in Garrison's mind as his circumstances grew more and more straitened, and his future as the head of a family looked more and more ominous. Anxiety for the morrow pressed heavily upon him as his responsibilities as a breadwinner hugged closer and closer his everyday life. Poverty ceased to be the ordinary enemy of former years, [197] whom he from the lookouts of the unconquerable mind used to laugh to scorn; it had become instead a cruel foe who worried as by fire the peace of his soul.

There was the Liberator The Liberator as a moral engine was a marvelous success; but the Liberator as a money-maker was a most dismal failure. If its owners had possessed only common aptitude for business the failure need not have been so complete, indeed the enterprise might have been crowned with a moderate degree of success. But never were two men more entirely lacking in the methods, which should enter into ventures of that character, than were Garrison and Knapp. Garrison was unfortunate in this respect but it seems that Knapp was more so. Neither took to book-keeping, and neither overcame his serious deficiency in this regard. The consequence was that the books kept themselves, and confusion grew upon confusion until the partners were quite confounded. Garrison naively confesses this fault of the firm to his brother-in-law thus: “Brother Knapp, you know, resembles me very closely in his habits of procrastination. Indeed I think he is rather worse than I am in this respect!”

The paper was issued originally without a single subscriber. At the end of the first volume the subscription list numbered five hundred names. In the course of the next two volumes this number was more than doubled, almost tripled, in fact. The subscription price was two dollars. The property would have begun from this point to make returns to its owners had they possessed the business training and instinct requisite to its successful management. But [198] they were reformers, not money-getters, and instead of enjoying the profits they proceeded to use them up incontinently in their first enlargement of the paper. But while they had added to the cost of publication, they took no thought to augment the cost of subscription. The publishers gave more and the subscribers received more for the sum of two dollars. The pecuniary embarrassments of the Liberator increased, and so the partners' “bondage to penury” increased also. This growing pressure was finally relieved by “several generous donations,” made for the support of the paper. At the beginning of the fourth volume, the publishers wisely or otherwisely, again enlarged their darling, and again neglected to raise the subscription rates at the same time.

Misfortunes never come without company, but alight in flocks, and a whole flock of misfortunes it was to the Liberator when Joshua Coffin, “that huge personification of good humor,” was appointed canvassing agent for the paper. He was as wanting in business methods as his employers were. Confusion now gathered upon confusion around the devoted heads of the partners, was accelerated and became daily more and more portentous and inextricable. The delinquencies of subscribers grew more and more grave. On the three first volumes they were two thousand dollars in arrears to the paper. This was a large, a disastrous loss, but traceable, to no inconsiderable extent, doubtless, to the loose business methods of the reformer and his partner. The Liberator at the beginning of its fourth year was struggling in a deep hole of financial helplessness [199] and chaos. Would it ever get out alive, or “Shall the Liberator die?” burst in a cry of anguish, almost despair, from its editor, so weak in thought of self, so supreme in thought of others.

This carelessness of what appertained to the things which concerned self, and devotion to the things which concerned his cause, finds apt and pathetic illustration in this letter to Samuel J. May in the summer of 1834, when his pecuniary embarrassments and burdens were never harder to carry:

In reply to your favor of the 24th [July], my partner joins with me in consenting to print an edition of Miss Crandall's [defence] as large as the one proposed by you, at our own risk. As to the profits that may arise from the sale of the pamphlet, we do not expect to make any; on the contrary, we shall probably suffer some loss, in consequence of the difficulty of disposing of any publication, however interesting or valuable in itself. But a trial so important as Miss C.'s, involving such momentous consequences to a large portion of our countrymen, implicating so deeply the character of this great nation, ought not to go unpublished, and shall not while we have the necessary materials for printing it.

It is interesting to note that the weekly circulation of the Liberator, in the spring of 1834, was twenty-three hundred copies, and that this number was distributed in Philadelphia, four hundred ; in New York, three hundred; in Boston, two hundred; in other parts of the free States eleven hundred; and that of the remaining three hundred, one-half was sent as exchange with other papers, and eighty of the other half were divided equally [200] between England and Hayti, leaving seventy copies for gratuitous distribution. The colored subscribers to the paper were to the whites as three to one.

There were several suggestions by sundry friends looking to the release of the Liberator from its embarrassments, and, to the relief of its unselfish publishers, from the grinding poverty which its issue imposed upon them. The most hopeful and feasible of them was the scheme of which Garrison wrote his betrothed April 14, 1834: “I am happy to say,” he pours into her ears, “that it is probable the managers of the New England Anti-Slavery Society will determine, to-morrow afternoon, to take all the pecuniary liabilities of the Liberator hereafter, and give me a regular salary for editing it, and friend Knapp a fair price for printing it. My salary will not be less than $8000 per annum, and perhaps it will be fixed at a $i,000. . . . The new arrangement will go into effect on the ist of July.” But alas; the managers took no such action on the morrow, nor went the “new arrangement” into effect at the time anticipated. The editor was married in September, and two months later the eagerly expected relief was still delayed. This hope deferred must have caused the young husband meanwhile no little anxiety and heart sickness.

Love in a cottage is very pretty and romantic in novels, but love in a cottage actually thriving on “bread and water,” was a sweet reality in the home of the young couple in Roxbury. “All the world loves a lover,” says Emerson, but alas! there are exceptions to all rules, and all the world loved not Garrison in his newly found felicity as shall presently appear. [201]

The pledge made by the reformer in the initial number of the Iberator to be “as harsh as truth,” had been kept to the letter. To some minds there is nothing more difficult to understand and tolerate than is the use of harsh language toward individual wrongdoers. They appear to be much more solicitous to turn away the wrath of the wicked than to do away with their wickedness. Multitudes of such minds were offended at the tremendous severities of Garrison's speech. They were for peace at any cost, while Garrison was for truth at any cost. These proslavery critics were not necessarily wanting in good feelings to the slaves, or lacking in a sense of the justice of their cause. But the feelings and the sense were transitive to an abstract object, intransitive to that terrible reality, the American slave. The indignation of such people exceeded all bounds when contemplating wrongs in the abstract, iniquity in the abstract, while the genuine article in flesh and blood and habited in broadcloth and respectability provoked no indignation, provoked instead unbounded charity for the willing victims of ancestral transgressions. Upon the Southern slaveholder, as a creature of circumstances, these people expended all their sympathy while upon the Southern slave, who were to their view the circumstances, they looked with increasing disapprobation. Garrison's harsh language greatly shocked this class-excited their unbounded indignation against the reformer.

Besides this class there was another, composed of friends, whom Garrison's denunciatory style offended. To Charles Follen and Charles Stuart, and Lewis Tappan, this characteristic of the writings of the [202] great agitator was a sore trial. To them and to others, too, his language seemed grossly intemperate and vituperative, and was deemed productive of harm to the movement. But Garrison defended his harsh language by pointing to the state of the country on the subject of slavery before he began to use it, and to the state of the country afterward. How utterly and morally dead the nation was before, how keenly and marvelously alive it became afterward. The blast which he had blown had jarred upon the senses of his slumbering countrymen he admitted, but he should not be blamed for that. What to his critics sounded harsh and abusive, was to him the trump of God. For, at the thunder-peal which the Almighty blew from the mouth of his servant, how, as by a miracle, the dead soul of the nation awoke to righteousness. He does not arrogate to himself infallibility, indeed he is sure that his language is not always happily chosen. Such errors, however, appear to him trivial, in view of indisputable and extraordinary results produced by the Liberator. He believes in marrying masculine truths to, masculine words. He protests against his condemnation by comparison. “Every writer's style is his own — it may be smooth or rough, plain or obscure, simple or grand, feeble or strong,” he contends, “but principles are immutable.” By his principles, therefore he would, be judged. “Whittier, for instance,,” he continues,

is highly poetical, exuberant, and beautiful. Stuart is solemn, pungent, and severe. Wright is a thorough logician, dextrous, transparent, straightforward. Beriah Green is manly, eloquent, vigorous, devotional.

May is persuasive, zealous, overflowing with the milk [203] of human kindness. Cox is diffusive, sanguine, magnificent, grand. Bourne thunders and lightens. Phelps is one great, clear, infallible argumentdemonstration itself. Jocelyn is full of heavenlymindedness, and feels and speaks and acts with a zeal according to knowledge. Follen is chaste, profound, and elaborately polished. Goodell is perceptive, analytical, expert, and solid. Child (David L.) is generously indignant, courageous, and demonstrative; his lady combines strength with beauty, argumentation with persuasiveness, greatness with humility. Birney is collected, courteous, dispassionate-his fearlessness excites admiration, his conscientiousness commands respect.

Of these writers, which is acceptable to slaveholders or their apologists? Some have been cruelly treated and all been calumniated as “fanatics, disorganizers, and madmen.” And why? “Certainly not for the phraseology which they use, but for the principles which they adopt.”

From another quarter came presently notes of discord, aroused by Garrison's hard language. Sundry of the Unitarian clergy, under the lead of Rev. Henry Ware, Jr., took it into their heads that the editor of the Liberator and some others were outrageously abusing the Abolition cause, “mismanaging it by their unreasonable violence” of language. Wherefore those gentlemen interposed to rescue the great cause from harm by a brilliant scheme designed to secure moderation in this regard. This brilliant scheme was nothing less ubsurd than the establishment of a censorship over the Liberator. But as these solicitous souls had reckoned without their [204] host, their amiable plan came to naught; but not, however, before adding a new element to the universal discord then fast swelling to a roar. To the storm of censure gathering about his head the reformer bowed not-neither swerved he to the right hand nor to the left-all the while deeming it, “with the apostle, a small thing to be judged by man's judgment.” “I solicit no man's praise,” he sternly replies to his critics, “I fear no men's censure.”

There was still another cause of offence given by Garrison to his countrymen. It was not his hard language, but a circumstance less tolerable, if that was possible, than even that rock of offence. It seems that when the editor of the Liberator was in England, and dining with Thomas Fowell Buxton, he was asked by the latter in what way the English Abolitionists could best assist the anti-slavery movement in America, and he had replied, “By giving us George Thompson.” This unexpected answer of the American appeared without doubt to the Englishman at the time somewhat extraordinary. He had his misgivings as to the wisdom, to say nothing of the propriety, of an international act of such importance and delicacy as the sending of George Thompson to America. He questioned whether the national self-love of the American people would not resent the arrival of an Englishman on such a mission among them and refuse him a fair hearing in consequence. But Garrison was confident that while Thompson's advent would stir up the pro-slavery bile of the North and all that, he would not be put to much if any greater disadvantage as a foreigner in speaking in New England on the subject of slavery, than wern those Abolitionists [205] who were to the manner born. As to his friend's personal safety in the East, Garrison was extremely optimistic, had not apparently the slightest apprehensions for him in this regard.

Well, after due deliberation, George Thompson consented to undertake the mission to America, and the English reformers to send him, though not all of them. For some there were like James Cropper, who were indisposed to promoting such a mission, or “paying agents to travel in the United States.” It was natural enough for Mr. Garrison to prefer such a request after hearing George Thompson speak. For he was one of those electric speakers, who do with popular audiences what they will. In figure and voice and action, he was a born orator. His eloquence was graphic, picturesque, thrilling, and over English audiences it was irresistible. Garrison fancied that such eloquence would prove equally attractive to and irresistible over American audiences as well. But in this he was somewhat mistaken, for Thompson had to deal with an element in American audiences of which he had had no experience in England. What that element was he had occasion to surmise directly he arrived upon these shores. He reached New York just sixteeen days after the marriage of his friend, the editor of the Liberator to be immediately threatened with mob violence by the metropolitan press in case he ventured to “lecture in favor of immediate Abolition,” and to be warned that: “If our people will not suffer our own citizens to tamper with the question of slavery, it is not to be supposed that they will tolerate the officious intermeddling of a foreign fanatic.” Then as if by way of giving him [206] a taste of the beak and talons of the American amour propre, he and his family were put out of the Atlantic Hotel in deference to the wish of an irate Southerner.

Thus introduced the English orator advanced speedily thereafter into closer acquaintance with the American public. He lectured in many parts of New England where that new element of rowdyism and virulence of which his English audiences had given him no previous experience, manifested its presence first in one way and then in others, putting him again and again in jeopardy of life and limb. At Augusta, Maine, his windows were broken, and he was warned out of the town. At Concord, New Hampshire, his speech was punctuated with missiles. At Lowell, Massachusetts, he narrowly escaped being struck on the head and killed by a brickbat. Indeed it was grimly apparent that the master of Freedom's Cottage would be obliged to revise his views as to the hazard, which his friend ran in speaking upon the subject of slavery in New England. To do so was weekly becoming for that friend an enterprise of great personal peril. But it added also to the fierce hatred with which the public now regarded Garrison. He was the author of all the mischief, the slavery agitation, the foreign emissary. He had even dared to inject the poison of Abolitionism into the politics of Boston and Massachusetts. This attempt on the part of the Liberator to establish an anti-slavery test of office was only another proof of the dangerous character of the new fanaticism and the Jacobinical designs of the Garrisonian fanatics, ergo, the importance of suppressing the incendiaries. Down with Thompson! Garrison must be destroyed! The [207] Union--it must and shall be preserved! All these the public excitement, which had risen everywhere to a tempest, had come more and more to mean. A tremendous crisis had come in the life of Garrison, and a great peril, eagle-like, with the stirred — up hate of a nation, was swooping upon him.

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