Chapter 5: poverty and sickness, 1840-1850.
- Famine in Cincinnati. -- summer at the East. -- plans for literary work. -- experience on a railroad. -- death of her brother George. -- sickness and despair. -- a journey in search of health. -- goes to Brattleboroa watercure. -- troubles at Lane Seminary. -- cholera in Cincinnati. -- death of youngest child. -- determined to leave the West.
On January 7, 1839, Professor Stowe wrote to his mother in Natick, Mass.:
You left here, I believe, in the right time, for as there has been no navigation on the Ohio River for a year, we are almost in a state of famine as to many of the necessities of life. For example, salt (coarse) has sold in Cincinnati this winter for three dollars a bushel; rice eighteen cents a pound; coffee fifty cents a pound; white sugar the same; brown sugar twenty cents; molasses a dollar a gallon; potatoes a dollar a bushel. We do without such things mostly; as there is yet plenty of bread and bacon (flour six and seven dollars a barrel, and good pork from six to eight cents a pound) we get along very comfortably. Our new house is pretty much as it was, but they say it will be finished in July. I expect to visit you next summer, as I shall deliver the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Dartmouth College; but whether wife and children come with me or not is not yet decided.Mrs. Stowe came on to the East with her husband  and children during the following summer, and before her return made a trip through the White Mountains. In May, 1840, her second son was born and named Frederick William, after the sturdy Prussian king, for whom her husband cherished an unbounded admiration. Mrs. Stowe has said somewhere: “So we go, dear reader, so long as we have a body and a soul. For worlds must mingle,--the great and the little, the solemn and the trivial, wreathing in and out like the grotesque carvings on a gothic shrine; only did we know it rightly, nothing is trivial, since the human soul, with its awful shadow, makes all things sacred.” So in writing a biography it is impossible for us to tell what did and what did not powerfully influence the character. It is safer simply to tell the unvarnished truth. The lily builds up its texture of delicate beauty from mould and decay. So how do we know from what humble material a soul grows in strength and beauty! In December, 1840, writing to Miss May, Mrs. Stowe says:--
For a year I have held the pen only to write an occasional business letter such as could not be neglected. This was primarily owing to a severe neuralgic complaint that settled in my eyes, and for two months not only made it impossible for me to use them in writing, but to fix them with attention on anything. I could not even bear the least light of day in my room. Then my dear little Frederick was born, and for two months more I was confined to my bed. Besides all this, we have had an unusual amount of sickness in our family. . . .  For all that my history of the past year records so many troubles, I cannot on the whole regard it as a very troublous one. I have had so many counterbalancing mercies that I must regard myself as a person greatly blessed. It is true that about six months out of the twelve I have been laid up with sickness, but then I have had every comfort and the kindest of nurses in my faithful Anna. My children have thriven, and on the whole “ come to more,” as the Yankees say, than the care of them. Thus you see my troubles have been but enough to keep me from loving earth too well.In the spring of 1842 Mrs. Stowe again visited Hartford, taking her six-year-old daughter Hatty with her. In writing from there to her husband she confides some of her literary plans and aspirations to him, and he answers:--
My dear, you must be a literary woman. It is so written in the book of fate. Make all your calculations accordingly. Get a good stock of health and brush up your mind. Drop the E. out of your name. It only incumbers it and interferes with the flow and euphony. Write yourself fully and always Harriet Beecher Stowe, which is a name euphonious, flowing, and full of meaning. Then my word for it, your husband will lift up his head in the gate, and your children will rise up and call you blessed. Our humble dwelling has to-day received a distinguished honor of which I must give you an account. It was a visit from his excellency the Baron de Roenne, ambassador of his majesty the King of Prussia to the United States. He was pleased to assure me of the great satisfaction my report on Prussian schools had  afforded the king and members of his court, with much more to the same effect. Of course having a real live lord to exhibit, I was anxious for some one to exhibit him to; but neither Aunt Esther nor Anna dared venture near the study, though they both contrived to get a peep at his lordship from the little chamber window as he was leaving. And now, my dear wife, I want you to come home as quick as you can. The fact is I cannot live without you, and if we were not so prodigious poor I would come for you at once. There is no woman like you in this wide world. Who else has so much talent with so little self-conceit; so much reputation with so little affectation; so much literature with so little nonsense; so much enterprise with so little extravagance; so much tongue with so little scold; so much sweetness with so little softness; so much of so many things and so little of so many other things?In answer to this letter Mrs. Stowe writes from Hartford:--
I have seen Johnson of the “Evangelist.” He is very liberally disposed, and I may safely reckon on being paid for all I do there. Who is that Hale, Jr., that sent me the “ Boston Miscellany,” and will he keep his word with me? His offers are very liberal,--twenty dollars for three pages, not very close print. Is he to be depended on? If so, it is the best offer I have received yet. I shall get something from the Harpers some time this winter or spring. Robertson, the publisher here, says the book ( “ The Mayflower” ) will sell, and though the terms they offer me are very low, that I shall make something on it. For a second volume I  shall be able to make better terms. On the whole, my dear, if I choose to be a literary lady, I have, I think, as good a chance of making profit by it as any one I know of. But with all this, I have my doubts whether I shall be able to do so. Our children are just coming to the age when everything depends on my efforts. They are delicate in health, and nervous and excitable, and need a mother's whole attention. Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts? There is one thing I must suggest. If I am to write, I must have a room to myself, which shall be my room. I have in my own mind pitched on Mrs. Whipple's room. I can put the stove in it. I have bought a cheap carpet for it, and I have furniture enough at home to furnish it comfortably, and I only beg in addition that you will let me change the glass door from the nursery into that room and keep my plants there, and then I shall be quite happy. All last winter I felt the need of some place where I could go and be quiet and satisfied. I could not there, for there was all the setting of tables, and clearing up of tables, and dressing and washing of children, and everything else going on, and the constant falling of soot and coal dust on everything in the room was a constant annoyance to me, and I never felt comfortable there though I tried hard. Then if I came into the parlor where you were I felt as if I were interrupting you, and you know you sometimes thought so too. Now this winter let the cooking-stove be put into that room, and let the pipe run up through the floor into the room above. We can eat by our cooking-stove,  and the children can be washed and dressed and keep their playthings in the room above, and play there when we don't want them below. You can study by the parlor fire, and I and my plants, etc., will take the other room. I shall keep my work and all my things there and feel settled and quiet. I intend to have a regular part of each day devoted to the children, and then I shall take them in there.In his reply to this letter Professor Stowe says:--
The little magazine ( “ The Souvenir” ) goes ahead finely. Fisher sent down to Fulton the other day and got sixty subscribers. He will make the June number as handsome as possible, as a specimen number for the students, several of whom will take agencies for it during the coming vacation. You have it in your power by means of this little magazine to form the mind of the West for the coming generation. It is just as I told you in my last letter. God has written it in his book that you must be a literary woman, and who are we that we should contend against God? You must therefore make all your calculations to spend the rest of your life with your pen. If you only could come home to-day how happy should I be. I am daily finding out more and more (what I knew very well before) that you are the most intelligent and agreeable woman in the whole circle of my acquaintance.That Professor Stowe's devoted admiration for his wife was reciprocated, and that a most perfect sympathy of feeling existed between the husband and wife, is shown by a line in one of Mrs. Stowe's letters from Hartford in which she says:
I was telling Belle yesterday  that I did not know till I came away how much I was dependent upon you for information. There are a thousand favorite subjects on which I could talk with you better than with any one else. If you were not already my dearly loved husband I should certainly fall in love with you.In this same letter she writes of herself:
One thing more in regard to myself. The absence and wandering of mind and forgetfulness that so often vexes you is a physical infirmity with me. It is the failing of a mind not calculated to endure a great pressure of care, and so much do I feel the pressure I am under, so much is my mind often darkened and troubled by care, that life seriously considered holds out few allurements,--only my children. In returning to my family, from whom I have been so long separated, I am impressed with a new and solemn feeling of responsibility. It appears to me that I am not probably destined for long life; at all events, the feeling is strongly impressed upon my mind that a work is put into my hands which I must be earnest to finish shortly. It is nothing great or brilliant in the world's eye; it lies in one small family circle, of which I am called to be the central point.On her way home from this Eastern visit Mrs. Stowe traveled for the first time by rail, and of this novel experience she writes to Miss Georgiana May:--
The winter of 1842 was one of peculiar trial to the family at Walnut Hills; as Mrs. Stowe writes, “It was a season of sickness and gloom.” Typhoid fever raged among the students of the seminary, and the house of the president was converted into a hospital, while the  members of his family were obliged to devote themselves to nursing the sick and dying. July 6, 1843, a few weeks before the birth of her third daughter, Georgiana May, a most terrible and overwhelming sorrow came on Mrs. Stowe, in common with all the family, in the sudden death of her brother, the Rev. George Beecher. He was a young man of unusual talent and ability, and much loved by his church and congregation. The circumstances of his death are related in a letter written by Mrs. Stowe, and are as follows:
Noticing the birds destroying his fruit and injuring his plants, he went for a double-barreled gun, which he scarcely ever had used, out of regard to the timidity and anxiety of his wife in reference to it. Shortly after he left the house, one of the elders of his church in passing saw him discharge one barrel at the birds. Soon after he heard the fatal report and saw the smoke, but the trees shut out the rest from sight. ... In about half an hour after, the family assembled at breakfast, and the servant was sent out to call him. ... In a few minutes she returned, exclaiming, “Oh, Mr. Beecher is dead! Mr. Beecher is dead! ” . . In a short time a visitor in the family, assisted by a passing laborer, raised him up and bore him to the house. His face was pale and but slightly marred, his eyes were closed, and over his countenance rested the sweet expression of peaceful slumber . ... Then followed the hurried preparations for the funeral and journey, until three o'clock, when, all arrangements being made, he was borne from his newly finished house, through his blooming garden, to the new church, planned and just completed under his directing eye.  . . . The sermon and the prayers were finished, the choir he himself had trained sung their parting hymn, and at about five the funeral train started for a journey of over seventy miles. That night will stand alone in the memories of those who witnessed its scenes! At ten in the evening heavy clouds gathered lowering behind, and finally rose so as nearly to cover the hemisphere, sending forth mutterings of thunder and constant flashes of lightning. The excessive heat of the weather, the darkness of the night, the solitary road, the flaring of the lamps and lanterns, the flashes of the lightning, the roll of approaching thunder, the fear of being overtaken in an unfrequented place and the lights extinguished by the rain, the sad events of the day, the cries of the infant boy sick with the heat and bewailing the father who ever before had soothed his griefs, all combined to awaken the deepest emotions of the sorrowful, the awful, and the sublime. ... And so it is at last; there must come a time when all that the most heart-broken, idolizing love can give us is a coffin and a grave! All that could be done for our brother, with all his means and all the affection of his people and friends, was just this, no more! After all, the deepest and most powerful argument for the religion of Christ is its power in times like this. Take from us Christ and what He taught, and what have we here? What confusion, what agony, what dismay, what wreck and waste! But give Him to us, even the most stricken heart can rise under the blow; yea, even triumph! “ Thy brother shall rise again,” said Jesus; and to  us who weep He speaks: “ Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are made partakers of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye also may be glad with exceeding joy!”The advent of Mrs. Stowe's third daughter was followed by a protracted illness and a struggle with great poverty, of which Mrs. Stowe writes in October, 1843:
Our straits for money this year are unparalleled even in our annals. Even our bright and cheery neighbor Allen begins to look blue, and says $600 is the very most we can hope to collect of our salary, once $1,200. We have a flock of entirely destitute young men in the seminary, as poor in money as they are rich in mental and spiritual resources. They promise to be as fine a band as those we have just sent off. We have two from Iowa and Wisconsin who were actually crowded from secular pursuits into the ministry by the wants of the people about them. Revivals began, and the people came to them saying, “We have no minister, and you must preach to us, for you know more than we do.”In the spring of 1844 Professor Stowe visited the East to arouse an interest in the struggling seminary and raise funds for its maintenance. While he was there he received the following letter from Mrs. Stowe:--
I am already half sick with confinement to the house and overwork. If I should sew every day for a month to come I should not be able to accomplish a half of what is to be done, and should be only more unfit for my other duties.This struggle against ill-health and poverty was continued  through that year and well into the next, when, during her husband's absence to attend a ministerial convention at Detroit, Mrs. Stowe writes to him--
That the necessary funds were provided is evident from the fact that the journey was undertaken and the invalid spent the summer of 1845 in Hartford, in Natick, and in Boston. She was not, however, permanently  benefited by the change, and in the following spring it was deemed necessary to take more radical measures to arrest the progress of her increasing debility. After many consultations and much correspondence it was finally decided that she should go to Dr. Wesselhoeft's watercure establishment at Brattleboroa, Vt. At this time, under date of March, 1846, she writes:
For all I have had trouble I can think of nothing but the greatness and richness of God's mercy to me in giving me such friends, and in always caring for us in every strait. There has been no day this winter when I have not had abundant reason to see this. Some friend has always stepped in to cheer and help, so that I have wanted for nothing. My husband has developed wonderfully as house-father and nurse. You would laugh to see him in his spectacles gravely marching the little troop in their nightgowns up to bed, tagging after them, as he says, like an old hen after a flock of ducks. The money for my journey has been sent in from an unknown hand in a wonderful manner. All this shows the care of our Father, and encourages me to rejoice and to hope in Him.A few days after her departure Professor Stowe wrote to his wife:--
I was greatly comforted by your brief letter from Pittsburgh. When I returned from the steamer the morning you left I found in the post-office a letter from Mrs. G. W. Bull of New York, inclosing $50 on account of the sickness in my family. There was another inclosing $50 more from a Mrs. Devereaux of Raleigh, N. C., besides some smaller sums from others. My heart  went out to God in aspiration and gratitude. None of the donors, so far as I know, have I ever seen or heard of before. Henry and I have been living in a Robinson Crusoe and man Friday sort of style, greatly to our satisfaction, ever since you went away.Mrs. Stowe was accompanied to Brattleboroa by her sisters, Catherine and Mary, who were also suffering from troubles that they felt might be relieved by hydropathic treatment. From May, 1846, until March, 1847, she remained at Brattleboroa without seeing her husband or children. During these weary months her happiest days were those upon which she received letters from home. The following extracts, taken from letters written by her during this period, are of value, as revealing what it is possible to know of her habits of thought and mode of life at this time.
The long exile was ended in the spring of 1847, and in May Mrs. Stowe returned to her Cincinnati home, where she was welcomed with sincere demonstrations of joy by her husband and children. Her sixth child, Samuel Charles, was born in January of 1848, and about this time her husband's health became so seriously impaired that it was thought desirable  for him in turn to spend a season at the Brattleboroa water-cure. He went in June, 1848, and was compelled by the very precarious state of his health to remain until September, 1849. During this period of more than a year Mrs. Stowe remained in Cincinnati caring for her six children, eking out her slender income by taking boarders and writing when she found time, confronting a terrible epidemic of cholera that carried off one of her little flock, and in every way showing herself to be a brave woman, possessed of a spirit that could rise superior to all adversity. Concerning this time she writes in January, 1849, to her dearest friend:
In the early summer of 1849 cholera broke out in Cincinnati, and soon became epidemic. Professor  Stowe, absent in Brattleboroa, and filled with anxiety for the safety of his family, was most anxious, in spite of his feeble health, to return and share the danger with them, but this his wife would not consent to, as is shown by her letters to him, written at this time. In one of them, dated June 29, 1849, she says:--
 With this severest blow of all, the long years of trial and suffering in the West practically end; for in September, 1849, Professor Stowe returned from Brattleboroa, and at the same time received a call to the Collins Professorship at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, that he decided to accept.