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Chapter 67: France and Germany; Convention of young men's Christian Association, Berlin, 1884

On our return to Paris June 11th, we turned to the Hotel Brisil, Rue Helder. The rooms were small and we were obliged to climb three flights of stairs, but the hotel was neat enough excepting the bathrooms, which were poorly supplied with the main essential, water. In those days we furnished our own candles and all other small needs and conveniences and there were not any “lifts.” None then existed in Paris except in the largest public houses.

On Sunday, June 15th, we all went quite early to the Madeleine. Perhaps no music could be more effective than that filling the great spaces, caught as one entered and stood near the doorway. There was an annual church festival in progress and the auditorium was filled to overflowing. It was from the front of this building that Bonaparte in the very beginning of his career made his artillery so effective against the National Guard. On this day Jamie gave us a treat in what is called a “Duval.” It was a peculiarly constructed restaurant, very economical in its furnishing and in its bill of fare. To our astonishment, we met a number of American friends who were seated at a neighboring table. They recognized us as we came in; thus happily and cheerfully friends meet unexpectedly in all parts of the world. [526]

That evening we attended Dr. Beren's church (an Evangelical), and listened to a sermon in French of which I was not able to gather much because the clergyman spoke too rapidly for my American ears.

On June 17th we had a charming walk through the Bois de Boulogne. The groves, bright green and fresh in June, have been well preserved and the paths are as well kept as those in our New York Central Park. There is no better success anywhere in cultivating trees, shrubs, and flowers something akin to nature. We passed from this delightful park into cross streets, emerging at last into a broad boulevard which led us to Napoleon's “Arc de Triomphe.” When we had sufficiently fatigued ourselves with walking and studying heroic figures and historic inscriptions, we took a carriage and returned to our hotel.

One establishment that I frequently and hopefully visited was the American Exchange, at that time kept by Drexel, Harjes & Co. There I always met friends from America and gathered from New York papers items of news not procurable elsewhere. We naturally looked for letters and went away greatly disappointed when we found none from home. My wife, however, was very faithful to write something and send her letters with choice newspaper clippings by every mail.

My son went to the depot with me on June 21st, and as I was to go to Evreux, France, without him, he gave me pretty thorough instructions. The journey took three hours, and M. Chauvet, our friend, very kindly met me at the railroad station of his small city, and took me to his home. There I remained for six weeks. His family then consisted of himself, wife, and three daughters. The eldest was near sixteen. [527] My object in tarrying with these good people so long was to learn more French. M. Chauvet was a clergyman of the Protestant faith, called the Evangelical, paid, however, by the Government a regular salary, as church and state were not yet separate. From him I took daily lessons. The family received students from England and America. The daughters could speak a little English, but the father and mother spoke French only. My son, Jamie, had been with .them some years before. During my stay I was introduced to several officers of a regiment of dragoons and became a friend of the major, whose office corresponds to that of our regimental quartermaster and commissary, only he habitually lived with his family separate from the regiment. Several times a week the commanding officer sent me a saddle horse accompanied by a mounted orderly, so that I had the coveted opportunity of attending reviews and parades, and was treated with all the courtesy, official and unofficial, that one could desire. On Sundays I attended M. Chauvet's church. While at his house Mrs. Leech, the wife of my West Point classmate, Colonel Leech, came with her two children and niece to spend some weeks. Miss Greble, the niece, my godchild, always talked English to me and so interrupted my French, to her amusement and mine.

A short distance from M. Chauvet's was an extensive forest. The trees were not very near together and there was no underbrush. During a holiday all the family, including the pupils from abroad, would at times go through the forest, hunting for champignons. We wandered about at will and enjoyed every experience that an extensive woodland filled with roads and crossroads without fences could give us. In the heart [528] of the forest we would unexpectedly run upon little homes and hamlets. We enjoyed particularly the variety of birds, and here drank in with relish the fresh air during the hot summer days. Having filled our baskets with the right kind of mushrooms, we made our way back.

One Sunday afternoon after the quiet morning service I was taken to what one might call the village green; for Evreux, though a city of small size, is made up of villages in communes. To the village green, I speak of, light-hearted people came in families, and I saw about the liveliest dance ever seen. A strong young man full of fun and ardor would seize a maiden, lift her up, and swing her round, making some joyous exclamation which she usually met by short screams and vigorous attempts to free herself from his embrace. The young people were very happy and graceful, as the French always are, however irregular and wild their performances. The parents and children, laughing and clapping their hands, looked on with delight. Even our Protestant friends did not think this fun and exercise inappropriate to the French Sabbath.

I had been some time in Evreux before I discovered the peculiarity of the people's reception of strangers. Again and again I had talked with a Jewish friend, M. Goldsmith, and he appeared to enjoy my society, and I wondered why he did not call and see me. At last, on inquiry as to the reason, my preceptor told me that it was my duty, being the newcomer, to visit him first. Then I did so and he soon returned my call. Subsequently his house was open to me, and I always received from him a cordial welcome.

One day I had occasion to go to a shoe shop, and finding the shoemaker himself disposed to chat with [529] me in French while he continued his work, became interested in him. He and his wife were sending to school in Evreux their only son, a lad of twelve. They were very fond of him and hopeful that he would make a scholar, and by and by learn a profession or trade more remunerative than shoemaking. Several times I visited the worthy couple and they repeatedly inquired concerning the chances of earning a living in North America. I was careful in my answers not to increase their discontent. One day I asked this workman if he did not have holidays. Shaking his head he said, “I have none except Christmas.” “Why,” I remarked, “you do not work on Sundays” “Oh, yes, I do. I am obliged to work hard seven days in the week to get enough together to give us a decent living.” Poor people Like so many other European workers, L'Amerique du Nord was their constant hope.

During one pleasant Sunday I accompanied M. Chauvet and part of his family to a distant village named St. Opportune. Here we attended the anniversary exercises of one of the numerous Evangelical schools. A large congregation, made up principally of the fathers and mothers of the children, was present. As a rule they were dressed in clean blue workday frocks, such as the peasantry in France usually wear. The exercises were similar to what we have on anniversary occasions in our village schools, consisting of literary exercises, examinations, and singing. There were two sessions in this public exhibition. During intermission, while we were at lunch, M. Chauvet asked me to make an address to the school and assembled people that afternoon. I told him that I hardly dared trust myself in French. He smiled and said that I could try. So, mustering courage, [530] I took a memorandum book from my pocket and wrote down a brief address in which I called the attention of the people to the sympathy between our two republics. I told them how the name of Lafayette was regarded in our country and pointed out some things which Lafayette had so generously done for us during our Revolutionary War; and spoke of the mutual attachment and friendship that had always existed between him and Washington. I submitted my proposed address to M. Chauvet. He ran it over and made a few corrections and returned the manuscript to me with the comment, “C'est bon.” I read my composition as well as I could to the audience, and was surprised at the evident sympathy and marked applause which punctuated my queer delivery. This was my first and last attempt to give a public address in French.

It was Friday, August 8th, when I left Evreux for Paris. Mr. Beddhoes, my English fellow-student, very kindly accompanied me to the station, conveying my luggage upon a wheelbarrow. Clara Greble and Susie Leech also came with M. Chauvet to see me off.

I arrived in Paris without accident and hastened to the American Exchange to secure as soon as possible news from home. After dining with a few friends, I set out from Paris for Cologne the same evening. While en route I formed the acquaintance of a Captain Buscho, a very companionable regular officer in the Swiss army. He could speak English, French, or German, and so did me much needed service as an interpreter.

By six o'clock the next morning we had crossed the Rhine. Having been in Cologne before, I only stopped for a brief period between the trains. I had, however, some new and beautiful views up and down the Rhine [531] and took another coveted glimpse at the outside of the Grand Cathedral. The train moved on and I reached the city of Hanover by the middle of the afternoon. The day was delightful. Hanover was neat and seemed finished above any city I had seen. It was very complete and attractive, even at the railway station; but I was troubled, in spite of the instructions which my son had given me, namely, “Speak English slowly and you will be understood.” I did so, but everyone shook his head, saying, “Verstehe nicht.” The Swiss captain had left me at a previous junction so that I was indeed feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I asked that my luggage be transferred from one station to another so as to take the train for Gottingen. At last I came across an official who understood my French, so my purpose was accomplished. After a little amusing experience at the main station at Go(ttingen, where I was making an effort to find my way to Bodemeyer Cottage, I met Mr. Arthur Lawrence, of Boston, whom I knew. He interpreted for me and conducted me to the home of my friends.

The order and completeness of everything in this university town strike the stranger at once. The little home of the family (von Bodemeyer's) was no exception. The family consisted of an aged mother, Frau Morestadt, her widowed daughter Frau von Bodemeyer, and the three grandchildren, young ladies. There was a brother who was then away at Dresden. The grossmutter was the widow of a clergyman, who had died while working as a missionary abroad. In this sweet home was a household of five good women. They took into their family students from England and America, and instructed them in the German language. Those who came into the family were fortunate, [532] for they were taught the very best German, and their student life was made happy. When I arrived my son was absent with two of the young ladies, Adelheid and Hedwig. They had gone on an excursion into the country. The youngest, Gertrude, who spoke English with some difficulty, welcomed me pleasantly and introduced me to her mother and grandmother, and was my interpreter until the return of the excursionists. I once read “Undine” and was greatly interested in the character of an aged grandmother, who had the homage of all the family and occupied the chair of honor. The grossmutter at Gottingen had the homage and almost the worship of this family, and she too occupied the chair of honor, which was a little elevated and apart. My conversation with her, even by interpretation, was delightful. I found her remarkably intelligent and well versed in history, especially in the accounts of Napoleon's battles which took place on German soil and at a period that she well remembered. Her strong sympathy seemed to be with Bonaparte, perhaps because Hanover had been absorbed by Prussia.

After the return of my son and the young ladies I became better acquainted with the family. Adelheid and Hedwig spoke English perfectly, and very soon this home in Gottingen became to me a home indeed. Jamie was a little ashamed of his father, I think, at that time, because of his having a swollen face, and nose much too large. He soon, however, took me to a skillful German doctor who could speak English. My son explained to him with some care that his father had not been in any convivial company or place. The doctor hushed him instantly and said in plain English, “Oh, no, no, this could come from dust in a railway [533] coach.” Then with a keen lancet he'removed the germ which caused the swelling and put it, after showing it to us, in a vial for preservation. In three days my face had recovered its healthy tone and wonted shape.

It was delightful to my son and myself to visit different parts of the University of Gottingen together. He had enjoyed the benefits of this institution for nearly two years. On the Sunday I was in this educational center I accompanied the young people to a large church. The altar was decorated, probably for some festival. I was surprised to see in this Lutheran church a large-sized image of the Virgin and the Child in one corner. A noticeable crucifix was near the high pulpit. The service was long and so was the sermon. I knew too few German words to follow the discourse, though the clergyman spoke with deliberation and clearness. The singing was excellent. The Sabbath in Goittingen was kept very much as it is in a university village in the United States, except that there was a band concert held in the afternoon in an inclosure near an extensive hall with ample grounds. It was a beautiful day in August, so that the seats and music were all out of doors. I do not think that I have ever heard music more restful and satisfying. This appeared to my New England mind to be more appropriate to the Sabbath than the dancing and hilarity that I witnessed on a Sunday in Evreux.

The day before my departure for Berlin I went with my son to an evening entertainment. It was a club meeting where nearly all the members were bicycle devotees. I was asked to give a brief address to the young gentlemen. I did so and Jamie was my interpreter. His translation brought abundant and [534] somewhat noisy applause. I had never seen such large mugs as those from which the members of this club drank their beer. The young men were merry and lively enough, but I saw no signs of intoxication even after several returns to the mug. We were helped to lemonade, which we, with our American taste, preferred to beer.

As I had been called by our International Young Men's Christian Association to a conference in Berlin, I invited my son, Hedwig, and Gertrude to go with me, and we set out August 19th, and, arriving on the evening of the 20th, stopped at the Thiergarten Hotel. I had been invited to the residence of General Zeitung, a regular officer of the German army. He kept bachelor quarters, but at this time was absent from the city. He had left his servants in the house with a royal welcome for me. I dined with Count Bernsdorff and his wife. There I met many Y. M. C. A. delegates, some of whom I knew. The count, who was on the staff of the old Emperor Wilhelm, was of remarkable size. His height was at least six feet four inches, and his handsome wife was almost as tall as he. They had fine figures, and in their reception of guests and at the table presented a notable appearance. I can never forget the sensation that came over me when I was presented to this lady. When, a little later after dinner, I had a chance of conversing with her, she was seated and I was standing; she liked this manner of entertainment better and so did I. This couple could speak English perfectly. The count printed his welcoming address in four languages, German, English, French, and Italian. He delivered it first in German and then repeated it in English. [535]

There were two occurrences at this Young Men's conference which have remained especially bright and clear in my recollection. One was meeting with Friedrich Blumenbach. He had been an officer during the Civil War in the quartermaster's department in my Eleventh Corps. At that time he was a skeptic and inclined to laugh at those who professed to be Christians. Indeed, it was a difficult thing to be a consistent Christian in an active war. Blumenbach had criticised me particularly at that time. After the war, through the influence of one of our Christian officers and his wife he was converted and became as pronounced a Christian as he had been an opponent. He became remarkable for establishing Young Men's Christian Associations, carrying his work into the far South, even through the State of Texas. He and I met at this Berlin conference and I found him actively engaged in Germany, as he had been in Texas, speaking and writing and organizing associations. He was evidently glad to meet me and translated a brief address for me at the conference.

The other occurrence was my visit to Potsdam, where I went with members of the conference. Here we had the opportunity to look at the best-drilled troops that I had ever seen. We went through the rooms of Frederick the Great, which had remained substantially the same as they had been during his life. After our inspection of everything that was interesting, we attended a banquet there given us by our German friends. I had been asked to speak for the Emperor, who had written us a pleasant letter and asked to be considered a “young old man” and to be made at least a nominal member of the association. I was willing to perform this function but I could not speak [536] in German. So I said that if my friend Blumenbach would translate for me, I would take that part and respond to the toast of the Emperor. Blumenbach translated a few sentences at a time as I spoke. When I had finished, he told the story of his conversion and said that he had laughed at me when he was in the army, but now he wished to testify publicly that I had been right and he wrong at that time. After the adjournment of the association and a profitable visit to the fields of the German military maneuvers, I took the cars with my friends for Gottingen and Elberfeld; I soon arrived at the latter city.

Here I again met Mrs. Holloway and the Blavatsky company. They had several people of their way of thinking with them, and Mohini, who had come from India. Mrs. Holloway and her friends were staying at Mr. Gebhart's, a worthy man and a large silk manufacturer. Sorrow came to him and his family in the loss of one of his sons. The young man was away from home, and, getting into some difficulty, wrote to his father for money. His father, thinking him extravagant, sent him a letter complaining of his conduct. The young man, driven to desperation, in some way made a draft upon his father, and his father in order to frighten him had suit brought against him. The son declared that in case of arrest he would take his life. His parents did not really believe that he meant to do so, but as soon as the magistrate put him under arrest he committed suicide. The Gebharts were Lutherans and had held to the orthodox faith, but not long after this they withdrew from the church and united with the Theosophists. They were trying to substitute the Buddhist belief for the orthodox creed --so said their friends. The Buddhist idea of reincarnation [537] would promise them a reunion somewhere in the long future with their son.

I saw that, in spite of Madame Blavatsky's great learning and her claims of power to work miracles, she herself was not satisfied; she was not contented, and I endeavored to show her how to become so. I was never able to determine whether or not she was sincere in her claims. She certainly had some extraordinary powers. I came to the conclusion, however, that the simple, straightforward, plain teaching of the Great Master was better than the mysteries clustering about this woman and her followers.

During this stay at Elberfeld I made several visits to neighboring towns. At Diisseldorf I enjoyed the libraries and the picture galleries, which are famous. While there with my friend Mr. Keitly, I was told that the Emperor would make a visit that day to Diisseldorf. I went to a hall on the second floor of a public house where we had a good view up and down the street; there we saw the Emperor with his suite in procession, one carriage following another having outriders. There were a great many people gathered around our window, men and women trying to catch a glimpse of the procession. One lady who stood near me touched me on the arm and said to me in fairly good English: “You are an American officer, I am told.” I said, “Yes, I am General Howard of the American army.” “Then,” she asked, “do you know my brother in the United States?” I smiled as I thought of the vast expanse of the United States and answered, “Pray, tell me what was his name” She replied, “His name is A. Von Steinwehr.” Of course I was surprised, and so was she when I exclaimed, “General Steinwehr was under my command when I [538] had the Eleventh Army Corps! He commanded a division under me and held the Cemetery Ridge the first day at Gettysburg.”

I remained till August 30th and then went to make another visit of a day in Cologne; then had the pleasure of ascending the Rhine and of contrasting it with the Hudson; surely there was beauty everywhere. Of course we were reminded of many of the old legends when, from our steamer the Humboldt, the location of ancient castles was pointed out.

Landing at Bingen, I went to Paris and was delighted to find at my hotel waiting for me, my son and aid, Lieutenant Guy Howard, and his wife. Later Miss Clara Greble came to us to remain with Mrs. Guy Howard that my son might accompany me to the French maneuvers, which were to take place in southwestern France, near the Spanish border.

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