the rearing of a reformer
Some years before the time when I entered the Harvard Divinity School, it had been described by the Rev. Dr. J. G. Palfrey
, then its dean, as being made up of mystics, skeptics, and dyspeptics.
This, being interpreted, really meant that the young men there assembled were launched on that wave of liberal thought which, under Emerson
, was rapidly submerging the old landmarks.
For myself, I was wholly given over to the newer phase of thought, and after a year of unchartered freedom was ready to concentrate my reading a little and follow the few appointed lines of study which the school then required.
The teachers were men quite worth knowing; and Dr. Convers Francis
, especially, had a noted library and as dangerous a love of miscellaneous reading as my own. Accordingly, during the first year I kept up that perilous habit, and at the end of this time stayed out of the school for another year of freedom, returning only for the necessary final terms.
There had just been a large
accession of books at the college library, and from that and the Francis
collection I had a full supply.
I read Comte
's “Life of Jesus” (a French translation), and bought by economy a fine folio copy of Cudworth
's “Intellectual system,” on which I used to browse at all odd hours — keeping it open on a standing desk.
I read Mill
's “Logic,” Whewell
's “Inductive sciences,” Landor
's “Gebir” and “Imaginary conversations.”
lent me also Landor
's “Pentameron,” a book with exquisite passages; Alford
's poems, then new, and, as she said, “valuable for their simplicity;” and the fiery German
lays of Hoffmann von Fallersleben
, some of which I translated, as was also the case with poems from Ruckert and Freiligrath
, besides making a beginning at a version of the Swedish epic “Frithiof's Saga,” which Longfellow
admired, and of Fredrika Bremer
's novel, “The H — family.”
I returned to Homer
in the originals, and read something of Plato
's French translation, with an occasional reference to the Greek text.
Some verses were contributed by me, as well as by my sister Louisa, at various times, to “The Harbinger,” published at Brook Farm and edited by the late Charles A. Dana
My first poem, suggested by the fine copy of the Sistine
Madonna which had been my housemate at Brookline
, had, however, been printed in “The present,” a short-lived magazine edited by my cousin, William Henry Channing
; the verses being afterward, to my great delight, reprinted by Professor Longfellow
in his “Estray.”
My first prose, also, had appeared in “The present,” -an enthusiastic review of Mrs. Child
's “Letters from New York,” then eagerly read by us young Transcendentalists.
I dipped ardently, about that time, into the easier aspects of German philosophy, reading Fichte
's “Bestimmung des Menschen” (Destiny of Man) with delight, and Schelling
's “Vorlesungen über die Methode des Akademische Studiums” (Lectures on Academical Study). The influence of these authors was also felt through Coleridge
's “Literary remains,” of which I was very fond, and in “Vital Dynamics,” by Dr. Green
's friend and physician.
A more perilous book was De Quincey
's “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” which doubtless created more of such slaves than it liberated: I myself was led to try some guarded experiments in that direction, which had happily no effect, and I was glad to abandon them.
It seems, in looking back, a curious escapade for one who had a natural dislike for all stimulants and narcotics and had felt no temptation of that kind; I probably
indulged the hope of stimulating my imagination.
My mother and sisters having now left Cambridge
, I rarely went to any house there, except sometimes to Lowell
's, where his sweet wife now presided over the upper story of his father's large abode.
She kept things as orderly as she could; always cruising like Admiral Van Tromp
said, with a broom at her mast-head.
She had fitted the rooms with pretty devices, and rocked her baby in a cradle fashioned from a barrel cut lengthways, placed on rockers, and upholstered by herself.
At its foot she painted three spears as the Lowell
crest and three lilies for her own, with the motto Puritas Potestas.
This was for their first child, whose early death both Lowell
mourned in song.
sometimes saw company in a modest way, and I remember spending an evening there with Ole Bull
and John Weiss
, the father, was yet living, always beneficent and attractive; he still sometimes preached in the college chapel, and won all undergraduate hearts by providing only fifteen-minute sermons.
If I belonged in the first two categories of Dr. Palfrey
's classification of the Divinity School, I happily kept clear of the third, never having been a dyspeptic, though I lived literally
on bread and milk during the greater part of a year, for purposes of necessary economy and the buying of books.
I kept up habits of active exercise, played football and baseball, and swam in the river in summer.
There was then an attention paid to the art of swimming such as is not now observable; the college maintained large bath-houses where now are coalyards, and we used to jump or dive from the roofs, perhaps twenty feet high; we had a Danish student named Stallknecht
, who could swim a third of the way across the river under water, and we vainly tried to emulate him. In winter there was skating on Fresh Pond
I must not forget to add that at all seasons I took long walks with Edward Tuckerman
, then the most interesting man about Cambridge
, leading a life which seemed to us like that of an Oxford don, and already at work on his Latin treatise on lichens.
His room was a delightful place to visit,--a large chamber in a rambling old house, with three separate reading-tables, one for botany, one for the study of Coleridge
, and one for the Greek drama.
He was the simplest-hearted of men, shy, near-sighted, and lovable; the tragedy of whose life was that his cruel father had sent him to Union College instead of to Harvard; a loss he made up by staying years at the latter, graduating successively
at the Law School and the Divinity School, and finally taking his degree in the undergraduate department at what seemed to us a ripe old age.
Another tonic in the way of cultured companionship was that of James Elliot Cabot
, fresh from a German university,--then a rare experience,--he being, however, most un-German in clearness and terseness.
I remember that when I complained to him of not understanding Kant
's “Critique of pure reason,” in English
, he answered tranquilly that he could not; that having read it twice in German he had thought he comprehended it, but that Meiklejohn
's translation was beyond making out. These men were not in the Divinity School, but I met their equals there.
The leading men of a college class gravitated then as naturally to the Divinity School as now to the Law School; even though, like myself, they passed to other pursuits afterward.
I met there such men as Thomas Hill
, afterward President
; Octavius B. Frothingham
; William R. Alger
; Samuel Longfellow
and Samuel Johnson
, who compiled at Divinity Hall their collection of hymns,--a volume called modestly “A book of hymns,” and more profanely named from its editors' familiar names “The Sam book.”
was one of the born saints, but with a breadth
and manliness not always to be found in that class; he was also a genuine poet, like his elder brother, whose biographer he afterward became.
, a man of brilliant gifts and much personal charm, is now best known by his later work on “Oriental Religions.”
It is a curious fact that many of their youthful hymns as well as some of my own, appearing originally in this heterodox work, have long since found their way into the most orthodox and respectable collections.
Two of the most interesting men in the Divinity School were afterward, like myself, in military service during the Civil War
. One of them was James Richardson
, whom Frothingham
described later as “a brilliant wreath of fire-mist, which seemed every moment to be on the point of becoming a star, but never did.”
He enlisted as a private soldier and died in hospital, where he had been detailed as nurse.
The other had been educated at West Point
, and had served in the Florida Indian
wars; he was strikingly handsome and mercilessly opinionated; he commanded the first regiment of heavy artillery raised in Massachusetts
, did much for the defense of Washington
in the early days of the Civil War
, and resigned his commission when Governor Andrew
refused to see justice done — as he thought-to one
of his subordinates.
His name was William Batcheldor Greene
But all these companionships were wholly secondary to one which was for me most memorable, and brought joy for a few years and sorrow for many.
Going through the doors of Divinity Hall I met one day a young man so handsome in his dark beauty that he seemed like a picturesque Oriental
; slender, keen-eyed, raven-haired, he arrested the eye and the heart like some fascinating girl.
This was William Hurlbert
), afterward the hero of successive novels,--Kingsley
's “Two years ago,” Winthrop
's “Cecil Dreeme
,” and my own “Malbone
,” --as well as of actual events stranger than any novels.
He was the breaker, so report said, of many hearts, the disappointer of many high hopes,--and this in two continents; he was the most variously gifted and accomplished man I have ever known, acquiring knowledge as by magic,passing easily for a Frenchman in France
, an Italian in Italy
, a Spaniard in Spanish countries; beginning his career as a radical young Unitarian
divine, and ending it as a defender of despotism.
He was also for a time a Roman Catholic
, but died in the Church of England.
The turning-point of Hurlbert
's life occurred, for me at least, when I met him once, to my
great delight, at Centre Harbor
, I being on my way to the White Mountains
and he returning thence.
We had several hours together, and went out on the lake for a long chat.
He told me that he had decided to go to New York and enter the office of A. Oakey Hall
, a lawyer against whom there was then, justly or unjustly, some prejudice.
I expressed surprise and perhaps regret; and he said frankly, “It is the parting of the ways with me, and I feel it to be necessary.
I have made up my mind that I cannot live the simple and moderate life you and my other friends live in New England
; I must have a larger field, and more of the appliances and even luxuries of existence.”
This recalls what the latest biographer of Bayard Taylor
has said of him: “The men of New England
were satisfied with plain homes and simple living, and were content with the small incomes of professional life.
had other aims. . . . Involved in the expense of Cedarcroft, he never knew the enormous value of freedom.”
There was nothing intrinsically wrong in the impulse of either, but the ambition brought failure to both, though Taylor
, with the tradition of a Quaker ancestry, and with less of perilous personal fascination, escaped the moral deterioration and the social scandals which beset
, as well as his utter renunciation of all his early convictions.
Yet the charm always remained in Hurlbert
When we met at Centre Harbor
, I remember, he was summoned from dinner on some question about stage arrangements; and the moment he had shut the door a lady of cultivated appearance got up hastily from her chair and came round where I was sitting.
She said breathlessly, “Can you tell me who that is?
We came here in the stage with him, and he has been perfectly delightful.
I never saw such a man: he knows all languages, talks upon all subjects; my daughter and I cannot rest without knowing who he is.”
I did not even learn the lady's name, but years after I met her again, and she recalled the interview; time for her had only confirmed the instantaneous impression which Hurlbert
made,--the whole thing suggesting a similar story about Edmund Burke
's case it was apparently a matter of pure intellect, but in Hurlbert
's it was due largely to the constitutional and invariable impulse to attract and charm.
I am told — for I had utterly forgotten it — that I myself said of him in those days, “He could not stop to buy an apple of an old woman on the sidewalk without leaving her with the impression that she alone had really touched his heart.”
I have known many gifted men on both sides of the Atlantic
, but I still regard Hurlbert
as unequaled among them all for natural brilliancy; even Lowell
was not his peer.
Nor can I be convinced that he was-as President Walker
once said to me, when I urged Hurlbert
's appointment, about 1850, as professor of history at Harvard--“a worthless fellow.”
Among many things which were selfish and unscrupulous there must have been something deeper to have called out the warm affection created by him in both sexes.
I strongly suspect that if, after twenty years of noninter-course, he had written to me to come and nurse him in illness, I should have left all and gone.
Whatever may have been his want of moral principle, he certainly had the power not merely of inspiring affection, but of returning it. I know, for instance, that while borrowing money right and left, he never borrowed of me,--not that I had then much to lend; if he helped himself to my books and other small matters as if they were his own, he was not an atom more chary of the possessions that were his; and I recall one occasion when he left a charming household in Boston
and came out to Cambridge
, in the middle of a winter vacation, on purpose to have a fire ready for me in my room on my return from a journey.
I think it was
on that very evening that he read aloud to me from Krummacher
's “Parables,” a book then much liked among us,--selecting that fine tale describing the gradual downfall of a youth of unbounded aspirations, which the author sums up with the terse conclusion, “But the name of that youth is not mentioned among the poets of Greece
It was thus with Hurlbert
when he died, although his few poems in “Putnam
's magazine” --“Borodino
,” and the like — seemed to us the dawn of a wholly new genius; and I remember that when the cool and keen-sighted Whittier
read his “Gan Eden
,” he said to me that one who had written that could write anything he pleased.
Yet the name of the youth was not mentioned among the poets; and the utter indifference with which the announcement of his death was received was a tragic epitaph upon a wasted life.
Thanks to a fortunate home training and the subsequent influence of Emerson
, I held through all my theological studies a sunny view of the universe, which has lasted me as well, amid the storms of life, so far as I can see, as the more prescribed and conventional forms of faith might have done.
We all, no doubt, had our inner conflicts, yet mine never related to opinions, but to those problems of heart and emotion which come to every young
person, and upon which it is not needful to dwell.
Many of my fellow students, however, had just broken away from a sterner faith, whose shattered eggshells still clung around them.
My friend of later years, David Wasson
, used to say that his health was ruined for life by two struggles: first by the way in which he got into the church during a revival, and then by the way he got out of it as a reformer.
This I escaped, and came out in the end with the radical element so much stronger than the sacerdotal, that I took for the title of my address at the graduating exercises “The clergy and reform.”
I remember that I had just been reading Horne
's farthing epic of Orion
, and had an ambitious sentence in my address, comparing the spirit of the age to that fabled being, first blinded, and then fixing his sightless eyes upon the sun that they might be set free once more.
Probably it was crude enough, but Theodore Parker
liked it, and so I felt as did the brave Xanthus
, described by Landor
, who only remembered that in the heat of the battle Pericles
smiled on him. I was asked to preach as a candidate before the First Religious Society at Newburyport
, a church two hundred years old, then ostensibly of the Unitarian
faith, but bearing no denominational name.
Receiving a farther invitation after trial, I went
there to begin my professional career, if such it could properly be called.
There was something very characteristic of my mother in a little incident which happened in connection with my first visit to Newburyport
I had retained enough affection for the opinion of Boston
drawing-rooms to have devised for myself a well-cut overcoat of gray tweed, with a cap of the same material trimmed with fur. My elder sisters naturally admired me in this garb, but implored me not to wear it to Newburyport
“So unclerical,” they said; it would ruin my prospects.
“Let him wear it, by all means,” said my wiser mother.
“If they cannot stand that clothing, they can never stand its wearer.”
Her opinion properly prevailed; and I was perhaps helped as much as hindered by this bit of lingering worldly vanity.
The younger people expected some pleasant admixture of heresy about me, and it might as well begin in this way as in any other.
Henry C. Wright
, afterward a prominent Abolitionist, had lost his parish, a few miles above Newburyport
, for the alleged indecorum of swimming across the Merrimack River
My first actual proposal of innovation was in a less secular line, but was equally formidable.
It was that I should be ordained as Theodore Parker
had been, by the society itself: and
this all the more because my ancestor, Francis Higginson
, had been ordained in that way — the first of all New England
ordinations — in 1629.
To this the society readily assented, at least so far as that there should be no ordaining council, and there was none.
William Henry Channing
preached one of his impassioned sermons, “The gospel of to-day,” and all went joyously on, “youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm,” not foreseeing the storms that were soon to gather, although any sagacious observer ought easily to have predicted them.
It must be borne in mind that during all this period I was growing more, not less radical; my alienation from the established order was almost as great as that of Thoreau
, though as yet I knew nothing of him except through “The Dial.”
It must be remembered that two rather different elements combined to make up the so-called Transcendentalist body.
There were the more refined votaries, who were indeed the most cultivated people of that time and place; but there was also a less educated contingent, known popularly as “Come-Outers,” --a name then as familiar and distinctive as is that of the Salvation Army
These were developed largely by the anti-slavery movement, which was not, like our modern civil service reform,
strongest in the more educated classes, but was predominantly a people's movement, based on the simplest human instincts, and far stronger for a time in the factories and shoe-shops than in the pulpits or colleges.
The factories were still largely worked by American operatives, and the shoe manufacture was carried on in little shops, where the neighbors met and settled affairs of state, as may be read in Mr. Rowland Robinson
's delightful stories called “Danvis Folks.”
Radicalism went with the smell of leather, and was especially active in such towns as Lynn
, the centres of that trade.
Even the least educated had recognized it in the form of the Second Advent delusion just then flourishing.
All these influences combined to make the Come-Outer element very noticeable,--it being fearless, disinterested, and always self-asserting.
It was abundant on Cape Cod
, and the “Cape Codders” were a recognized subdivision at reform meetings.
In such meetings or conventions these untaught disciples were often a source of obvious inconvenience: they defied chairmen, scaled platforms, out-roared exhorters.
Some of them, as Emerson
says, “devoted themselves to the worrying of clergymen;” proclaiming a gospel of freedom, I have heard them boast of having ascended into pulpits and trampled
across their cushions before horrified ministers.
This was not a protest against religion, for they were rarely professed atheists, but against its perversions alone.
It must be remembered that the visible church in New England
was not then the practical and reformatory body which it is to-day, --the change in the Episcopal Church being the most noticeable of all,--but that it devoted itself very largely to the “tithing of anise and cummin,” as in Scripture times.
Of the reforms prominent before the people, nearly all had originated outside the pulpit and even among avowed atheists.
, a judge of the Marine Court
of New York city, who belonged to that heretical class, was the first person in America
, apparently, to write and print, in 1819, a strong appeal in behalf of total abstinence as the only remedy for intemperance; and the same man made, in 1837, in the New York Assembly, the first effort to secure to married women the property rights now generally conceded.
All of us were familiar with the vain efforts of Garrison
to enlist the clergy in the anti-slavery cause; and Stephen Foster
, one of the stanchest of the early Abolitionists, habitually spoke of them as “the Brotherhood of Thieves.”
Lawyers and doctors, too, fared hard with those enthusiasts, and
merchants not much better; Edward Palmer
writing against the use of money, and even such superior men as Alcott
having sometimes a curious touch of the Harold Skimpole
view of that convenience.
It seems now rather remarkable that the institution of marriage did not come in for a share in the general laxity, but it did not; and it is to be observed that Henry James
speaks rather scornfully of the Brook Farm
community in this respect, as if its members must have been wanting in the courage of their convictions to remain so unreasonably chaste.
I well remember that the contrary was predicted and expected by cynics, and the utter failure of their prophecies was the best tribute to the essential purity of the time.
It was, like all seething periods, at least among the Anglo-Saxon
race, a time of high moral purpose; and the anti-slavery movement, reaching its climax after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law
, was about to bring such qualities to a test.
This agitation, at any rate, was so far the leader in the reforms of the day that it brought to a focus all their picturesque ingredients.
There were women who sat tranquilly knitting through a whole anti-slavery convention, however exciting, and who had that look of prolonged and self-controlled patience which we
associate with Sisters
of Charity; and others who bore that uplifted and joyous serenity which now seems a part of the discipline of the Salvation lassies.
There were always present those whom Emerson
tersely classified as “men with beards;” this style, now familiar, being then an utter novelty, not tolerated in business or the professions, and of itself a committal to pronounced heresy.
Partly as a result of this unwonted adornment, there were men who --as is indeed noticed in European Socialist meetings to-day-bore a marked resemblance to the accepted pictures of Jesus Christ
This trait was carried to an extent which the newspapers called “blasphemous” in Charles Burleigh
,--a man of tall figure, benign face, and most persuasive tongue, wearing long auburn curls and somewhat tangled tempestuous beard.
, whose own bearded condition marked his initiation into abolitionism, used to be amused when he went about with Burleigh
and found himself jeered at as a new and still faltering disciple.
Finally, there was the Hutchinson Family
, with six or eight tall brothers clustered around the one rosebud of a sister, Abby: all natural singers and one might say actors, indeed unconscious poseurs
, easily arousing torpid conventions with “The Car Emancipation” and such stirring melodies; or at times,
when encored, giving “The bridge of sighs,” which seemed made for just the combination they presented.
When, in this song, the circle of stalwart youths chanted, “Had she a sister?”
or when the sweet Abby
, looking up with dovelike eyes at her guardians, sang in response, “Or had she a brother?”
it not only told its own story, but called up forcibly the infinite wrongs of the slave girls who had no such protectors, and who perhaps stood at that very moment, exposed and shrinking, on the auctionblock.
On removing to Newburyport
I found myself at once the associate of all that was most reputable in the town, in virtue of my functions; and also, by a fatality in temperament, of all that was most radical.
There prevailed then a phrase, “the Sisterhood of Reforms,” indicating a variety of social and physiological theories of which one was expected to accept all, if any. This I learned soon after my arrival, through the surprise expressed by some of my more radical friends at my unacquaintance with a certain family of factory operatives known as the “Briggs
“Not know the Briggs girls?
I should think you would certainly know them.
Work in the Globe Mills
; interested in all the reforms; bathe in cold water every morning; one of 'em is a Grahamite,” ing
a disciple of vegetarianism; that faith being then a conspicuous part of “the Sisterhood of Reforms,” but one against which I had been solemnly warned by William Henry Channing
, who had made experiment of it while living as city missionary in New York city.
He had gone, it seemed, to a boarding-house of the vegetarian faithful in the hope of finding spiritually minded associates, but was so woefully disappointed in the result that he left them after a while, falling back upon the world's people, as more carnal, possibly, but more companionable.
Without a tithe of my cousin's eloquence, I was of a cooler temperament, and perhaps kept my feet more firmly on the earth or was more guarded in my experiments.
Yet I was gradually drawn into the temperance agitation, including prohibition; the peace movement, for which, I dare say, I pommeled as lustily as Schramm
's pupils in Heine
's “Reisebilder;” the social reform debate, which was sustained for some time after the downfall of Brook Farm; and of course the woman's rights movement, for whose first national convention I signed the call in 1850.
Of all the movements in which I ever took part, except the antislavery agitation, this last-named seems to me the most important; nor have I ever wavered
in the opinion announced by Wendell Phillips
, that it is “the grandest reform yet launched upon the century, as involving the freedom of one half the human race.”
Certainly the antislavery movement, which was by its nature a more temporary one, had the right of way, and must first be settled; it was, moreover, by its nature a much simpler movement.
Once recognize the fact that man could have no right of property in man, and the whole affair was settled; there was nothing left but to agitate, and if needful to fight.
But as Stuart Mill clearly pointed out, the very fact of the closer relations of the sexes had complicated the affair with a thousand perplexities in the actual working out; gave room for more blunders, more temporary disappointments, more extravagant claims, and far slower development.
It was in one respect fortunate that most of the early advocates of the Woman Suffrage
reform had served previously as Abolitionists, for they had been thereby trained to courage and self-sacrifice; but it was in other respects unfortunate, because they had been accustomed to a stern and simple “Thus saith the Lord
,” which proved less applicable to the more complex question.
When it came to the point, the alleged aversion of the slaves to freedom always vanished; I never myself encountered an
instance of it; every man, woman, and child, whatever protestations might have been made to the contrary, was eager to grasp at freedom; whereas in all communities there is a minority of women who are actively opposed to each successive step in elevating their condition, and this without counting the merely indifferent.
All the ordinary objections to woman suffrage, as that women have not, in the phrase of old Theophilus Parsons
, “a sufficient acquired discretion,” or that they are too impulsive, or that they cannot fight,--all these seem to me trivial; but it is necessary always to face the fact that this is the only great reform in which a minority, at least, of the very persons to be benefited are working actively on the other side.
This, to my mind, only confirms its necessity, as showing that, as Mill
says, the very nature of woman has been to some extent warped and enfeebled by prolonged subjugation, and must have time to recover itself.
It was in the direction of the anti-slavery reform, however, that I felt the most immediate pricking of conscience, and it may be interesting, as a study of the period, to note what brought it about.
There was, perhaps, some tendency that way in the blood, for I rejoice to recall the fact that after Judge Sewall
, in 1700, had published his noted tract against slavery,
called “The selling of Joseph,” the first protest against slavery in Massachusetts
, he himself testified, six years later, “Amidst the frowns and hard words I have met with for this Undertaking, it is no small refreshment to me that I can have the Learned Reverend
and Aged Mr. Higginson
for my Abetter.”
This was my ancestor, the Rev. John Higginson
, of Salem
, then ninety years old; but my own strongest impulse came incidentally from my mother.
It happened that my father, in his office of steward of the college, was also “patron,” as it was called, having charge of the affairs of the more distant students, usually from the Southern States
This led to pleasant friendships with their families, and to occasional visits paid by my parents, traveling in their own conveyance.
Being once driven from place to place by an intelligent negro driver, my mother said to him that she thought him very well situated, after all; on which he turned and looked at her, simply saying, “Ah, missis!
Free breath is good.”
It impressed her greatly, and she put it into her diary, whence my eldest brother, Dr. Francis John Higginson
, quoted it in a little book he wrote, “Remarks on slavery,” published in 1834.
This fixed it in my mind, and I remember to have asked my aunt why my uncle in Virginia
did not free his slaves.
replied that they loved him, and would be sorry to be free.
This did not satisfy me; but on my afterward visiting the Virginia plantation
, there was nothing to suggest anything undesirable: the head servant was a grave and dignified man, with the most unexceptionable manners; and the white
children often played together in the afternoon.
It was then illegal to teach a slave to read, but one girl was pointed out who had picked up a knowledge of reading while the white children were learning.
The slaves seemed merely to share in the kindly and rather slipshod methods of a Southern establishment; and my only glimpse of the other side was from overhearing conversation between the overseer and his friends, in which all the domestic relations of the negroes were spoken of precisely as if they had been animals.
Returning to Cambridge
, I found the whole feeling of the college strongly opposed to the abolition movement, as had also been that among my Brookline
friends and kindred.
My uncle, Mr. Samuel Perkins
, had lived in Hayti during the insurrection, and had written an account of it which he gave me to read, and which was afterwards printed by Charles Perkins
in the “Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.”
He thought, and most men of his class firmly believed, that any step toward
emancipation would lead to instant and formidable insurrection.
It was in this sincere but deluded belief that such men mobbed Garrison
When I once spoke with admiration of that reformer to Mr. Augustus Aspinwall
, a frequent guest at my uncle's house, he replied with perfect gentleness, sipping his wine, “It may be as you say. I never saw him, but I always supposed him to be a fellow who ought to be hung.”
was a beautiful old man, who cultivated the finest roses to be found near Boston
; he had the most placid voice, the sweetest courtesy, and the most adamantine opinions,--the kind of man who might have been shot in the doorway of his own chateau during the French Revolution
If it had come in his way, he would undoubtedly have seen Garrison
executed, and would then have gone back to finish clearing his roses of snails and rose-beetles.
The early history of the anti-slavery agitation cannot possibly be understood unless we comprehend this class of men who then ruled Boston
I know of no book except the last two volumes of Pierce
's “Life of Charles Sumner
” which fully does justice to the way in which the anti-slavery movement drew a line of cleavage through all Boston
society, leaving most of the more powerful or wealthy families on the
What finally determined me in the other direction was the immediate influence of two books, both by women.
One of these was Miss Martineau
's tract, “The Martyr age in America
,” portraying the work of the Abolitionists with such force and eloquence that it seemed as if no generous youth could be happy in any other company; and the other book was Mrs. Lydia Maria Child
's “Appeal for that Class of Americans
This little work, for all its cumbrous title, was so wonderfully clear, compact, and convincing, it covered all its points so well and was so absolutely free from all unfairness or shrill invective, that it joined with Miss Martineau
's less modulated strains to make me an Abolitionist.
This was, it must be remembered, some years before the publication of “Uncle Tom's cabin.”
I longed to be counted worthy of such companionship; I wrote and printed a rather crude sonnet to Garrison
; and my only sorrow was in feeling that, as Alexander
lamented about his father Philip
's conquests, nothing had been left for me to do. Fortunately, Lowell
had already gone far in the same direction, under the influence of his wife; and her brother William, moreover, who had been for a time my schoolmate, had left all and devoted himself to anti-slavery lecturing.
He it was who, when
on a tour with Frederick Douglass
at the West
, was entertained with him at a house where there was but one spare bed. To some apologies by the hostess the ever ready and imperial Douglass
answered, with superb dignity, “Do not apologize, madam; I have not the slightest prejudice against color.”
This was the condition of things then prevailing around Boston
; and when I went to live in Newburyport
the same point of view soon presented itself in another form.
The parish, which at first welcomed me, counted among its strongest supporters a group of retired seacap-tains who had traded with Charleston
and New Orleans, and more than one of whom had found himself obliged, after sailing from a Southern port, to put back in order to eject some runaway slave from his lower hold.
All their prejudices ran in one direction, and their view of the case differed from that of Boston
society only as a rope's end differs from a rapier.
One of them, perhaps the quietest, was the very Francis Todd
who had caused the imprisonment of Garrison
It happened, besides, that the one political hero and favorite son of Newburyport
, Caleb Cushing-for of Garrison
himself they only felt ashamed — was at that moment fighting slavery's battles in the
war. It now seems to me strange
that, under all these circumstances, I held my place for two years and a half. Of course it cannot be claimed that I showed unvarying tact; indeed, I can now see that it was quite otherwise; but it was a case where tact counted for little; in fact, I think my sea-captains did not wholly dislike my plainness of speech, though they felt bound to discipline it; and moreover the whole younger community was on my side.
It did not help the matter that I let myself be nominated for Congress by the new “Free Soil” party in 1848, and “stumped the district,” though in a hopeless minority.
The nomination was Whittier
's doing, partly to prevent that party from nominating him; and he agreed that, by way of reprieve, I should go to Lowell
and induce Josiah G. Abbott
, then a young lawyer, to stand in my place.
's objection is worth recording: if elected, he said, he should immediately get into quarrels with the Southern
members and have to fight duels, and this he could not conscientiously do. This was his ground of exemption.
Years after, when he was an eminent judge in Boston
and a very conservative Democrat, I once reminded him of this talk, and he said, “I should feel just the same now.”
Having been, of course, defeated for Congress, as I had simply stood in a gap, I lived in
for more than two years longer, after giving up my parish.
This time was spent in writing for newspapers, teaching private classes in different studies, serving on the school committee and organizing public evening schools, then a great novelty.
The place was, and is, a manufacturing town, and I had a large and intelligent class of factory girls, mostly American, who came to my house for reading and study once a week.
In this work I enlisted a set of young maidens of unusual ability, several of whom were afterward well known to the world: Harriet Prescott
, afterward Mrs. Spofford
; Louisa Stone
, afterward Mrs. Hopkins
(well known for her educational writings); Jane Andrews
(author of “The seven little sisters,” a book which has been translated into Chinese
and Japanese); her sister Caroline, afterward Mrs. Rufus Leighton
(author of “Life at Puget sound
,” ) and others not their inferiors, though their names were not to be found in print.
I have never encountered elsewhere so noteworthy a group of young women, and all that period of work is a delightful reminiscence.
My youthful coadjutors had been trained in a remarkably good school, the Putnam
Free School, kept by William H. Wells
, a celebrated teacher; and I had his hearty cooperation, and also that of Professor
, one of the best scholars in New England
, and then resident in Newburyport
With his aid I established a series of prizes for the best prose and poetry written by the young people of the town; and the first evidence given of the unusual talents of Harriet Prescott Spofford
was in a very daring and original essay on Hamlet, written at sixteen, and gaining the first prize.
I had also to do with the courses of lectures and concerts, and superintended the annual Floral Processions which were then a pretty feature of the Fourth of July in Essex County
On the whole, perhaps, I was as acceptable a citizen of the town as could be reasonably expected of one who had preached himself out of his pulpit.
I supposed myself to have given up preaching forever, and recalled the experience of my ancestor, the Puritan
divine, Francis Higginson
, who, when he had left his church-living at Leicester, England
, in 1620, continued to lecture to all comers.
But a new sphere of reformatory action opened for me in an invitation to take charge of the Worcester Free Church, the first of several such organizations that sprang up about that time under the influence of Theodore Parker
's Boston society, which was their prototype.
These organizations were all more or less of the “Jerusalem wildcat” description — this
being the phrase by which a Lynn shoemaker described one of them — with no church membership or communion service, not calling themselves specifically Christian
, but resembling the ethical societies of the present day, with a shade more of specifically religious aspect.
was at that time a seething centre of all the reforms, and I found myself almost in fashion, at least with the unfashionable; my evening congregations were the largest in the city, and the men and women who surrounded me — now almost all passed away — were leaders in public movements in that growing community.
Before my transfer, however, I went up to Boston
on my first fugitive slave foray, as it might be called,--not the Anthony Burns
affair, but the Thomas Sims
case, which preceded it, and which was to teach me, once for all, that there was plenty left to be done, and that Philip had not fought all the battles.