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Chapter 14: men and movements in the sixties

This decade, 1860-1870, marks a new epoch in my intellectual life. In the period already described, I had found my way to recognized authorship. In this later time, an even greater enlargement of activity was before me, unanticipated until, by gradual steps, I came into it.

The results of my more serious study now began to take form in writings of a corresponding scope. I remember to have heard John Weiss use more than once this phrase, ‘the poets and men of expression.’ The antithesis to this, in his view, evidently was, ‘the philosophers and men of deep thought.’

I confess that I myself am one of those to whom expression, in some form, is natural and even necessary; and yet I think that my best studies have been those which have made me most desirous to give to my own voice the echo of other voices, and to ascertain by experiment how much or how little of my individual persuasion is in accordance with the normal direction of human experience. [305]

In the days of which I now write, it was borne in upon me (as the Friends say) that I had much to say to my day and generation which could not and should not be communicated in rhyme, or even in rhythm.

I once spoke to Parker of my wish to be heard, to commend my own thoughts with my own voice. He found this not only natural, but also in accordance with the spirit of the age, which, he said, ‘called for the living presence and the living utterance.’ I did not act at once, or even very soon, upon this prompting; the difficulties to be overcome were many. My husband was himself averse to public appearances. Women speakers were few in those days, and were frowned upon by general society. He would have been doubly sensitive to such undesirable publicity on my account. Meantime, the exigencies of the time were calling one woman after another to the platform. Lucy Stone devoted the first years of her eloquence to anti-slavery and the temperance reform. Anna Dickinson achieved a sudden and brilliant popularity. I did not dream of trying my strength with theirs, but I began to weave together certain essays which might be read to an invited audience in private parlors. I then commissioned certain of my friends to invite certain of their friends to my house for an appointed evening, and began, with [306] some trepidation, my course of parlor lectures We were residing, at this time, in the house in Chestnut Street which was afterwards made famous by the sittings of the Radical Club. The parlors were very roomy, and were well filled by those who came to hear me. Among them was my neighbor, Rev. Dr. Lothrop, who, in speaking of these occasions at a later day, once said, ‘I think that they were the best meetings that I ever knew. The conversation that followed the readings was started on a high plane.’ This conversation was only informal talk among those who had been listeners. My topics, so far as I can recall them, were as follows: ‘How not to teach Ethics;’ ‘Doubt and Belief, the Two Feet of the Mind;’ ‘Moral Triangulation, or the Third Party;’ ‘Duality of Character;’ ‘The Fact Accomplished.’ My audience consisted largely of my society friends, but was by no means limited to them. The elder Agassiz, Dr. Lothrop, E. P Whipple, James Freeman Clarke, and William R. Alger attended all my readings. After the first one, Mr. Clarke said to me, ‘You have touched too many chords.’ After hearing my thesis on ‘Duality of Character,’ he took my hand in his, and said, ‘Oh! you sweet soul!’

Mr. Emerson was not among my hearers, but expressed some interest in my undertaking, and especially in my lecture on ‘The Third Party.’ [307] Meeting me one day, he said, ‘You have in this a mathematical idea.’ This was in my opinion the most important lecture of my course. It really treated of a third element in all twofold relations, —between married people, the bond to which both alike owed allegiance; between States, the compact which originally bound them together. The civil war was then in its first stage. The air was full of secession. Many said, ‘If North and South agree to set aside their bonds of union, and to become two republics, why should they not do it?’ Then the sacredness of the bond possessed my mind. ‘Was an agreement, so solemnly entered into, so vital in its obligations, to be so lightly canceled?’ I labored with all my might to prove that this could not be done. I remember too that in one of my lectures I gave my own estimate of Auguste Comte, which differed from the general impression concerning him. I am not sure that I should take the same ground in these days.

Whether my hearers were the wiser for my efforts I cannot say, but of this I am sure, that they brought me much instruction. I learned somewhat to avoid anti-climax, and to seek directness and simplicity of statement. On the morning of the day on which I was to give my lecture, I would read it over, and a curious sense of the audience seemed to possess me, a feeling of what it would and of what it would not follow. [308] My last corrections were made in accordance with this feeling.

A general regret was expressed when my little course was ended, and Dr. Lothrop wrote me quite an earnest letter, requesting me to prolong it if possible. I could not do this at the time; but while the war was at its height, I made a second visit to Washington, where through the kindness of friends a pleasant place was found in which I repeated these lectures, having among my hearers some of the chief notabilities then present at the capital. In my journal of this time, never published, I find the following account of a day in Washington:—

To the White House, to see Carpenter's picture of the President reading the emancipation proclamation to his Cabinet. An interesting subject for a picture. The heads of Lincoln, Stanton, and Seward nearly finished, and good portraits.

Dressed for dinner at Mrs. Eames's, where Secretary Chase and Senator Sumner were expected. Mr. Chase is a stately man, very fine looking and rather imposing. I sat by him at dinner; he was very pleasant. After dinner came Mrs. Douglas in her carriage, to take me to my reading. Senator Foster and Mr. Chase announced their intention of going to hear me. Mr. Chase conducted me to Mrs. Douglas's carriage, [309] promising to follow. “Proteus, or the secret of success,” was my topic. I had many pleasant greetings after the lecture. Mr. Chase took me in his carriage to his house, where his daughter had a party for Teresa Carreño. Here I was introduced to Lord Lyons, British minister, and to Judge Harris. Spoke with Bertinatti, the Italian minister. Mr. Chase took me in to supper.

Mr. Channing brought me into the room, which was well filled. People were also standing in the entry and on the stairs. I read my lecture on “ The Third Party.” The audience proved very attentive, and included many people of intelligence. George W. Julian and wife, Solomon Whiting, Admiral Davis, Dr. Peter Parker, our former minister to China, Hon. Thomas Eliot, Governor Boutwell, Mrs. Southworth, Professor Bache,—all these, and many more, were present. They shook hands with me, very cordially, after the lecture.

I had announced ‘Practical Ethics’ as the theme of my lectures, and had honestly written them out of my sense of the lapses everywhere discernible in the working of society. Having accomplished so much, or so little, I desired to go more deeply into the study of philosophy, and, having greedily devoured Spinoza, I turned to Kant, whom I knew only by name. I fed upon his volumes with ever increasing delight and yet [310] endeavored to obey one of his rules, by having a philosophy of my own. Among my later productions was an essay entitled ‘Distinctions between Philosophy and Religion.’ This was suggested by a passage in one of Spinoza's letters, in which he says to his correspondent, ‘I thought that we were to correspond upon matters of philosophy. I find that instead of these you propose to me questions of religion.’ On reading this sentence I felt that, in the religious teaching of our own time, the two were apt to be confounded. It seemed to me that even Theodore Parker had not always distinguished the boundary line, and I began to reflect seriously upon the difference between a religious truth and a philosophical proposition.

I confess that my nearer acquaintance with the philosophers, ancient and modern, inspired me at this time with the desire of contributing something of my own to the thought of the ages. The names of certain essays of mine, composed after the series just mentioned, and never put into print, will serve to show the direction in which my efforts were tending. Of these, ‘Polarity’ was the first, ‘Limitation’ the second. Then followed ‘The Fact Accomplished,’ ‘Man a priori and aposteriori,’ and finally, ‘Ideal Causation,’ which marked my last step in this progress. These papers were designed to interest the studious [311] few who appreciate thought for thought's sake.

The paper on ‘Polarity’ was read before the Boston Radical Club. Armed with ‘Man a priori,’ I encountered an audience of scientists at Northampton, where a scientific convention was in progress. Finally, being invited to speak before the Parker Fraternity on a certain Sunday, and remembering that Parker, in his day, had not feared to let out the metaphysical stops of his organ pretty freely, I took with me into the pulpit the paper on ‘Ideal Causation,’ which had seemed to me the crown of my endeavor hitherto

To my sorrow, I found that it did not greatly interest my hearers, and that one who was reported to have wondered ‘what Mrs. Howe was driving at’ had spoken the mind of many of those present.

I laid this lesson much to heart, and, becoming convinced that metaphysics did not supply the universal solvent for human evils, I determined to find a pou sto nearer to the sympathies of the average community, from which I might speak for their good and my own.

From my childhood the Bible had been dear and familiar to me, and I now began to consider texts and sermons, in place of the transcendental webs which I had grown so fond of spinning. The passages of Scripture which now occurred to [312] me filled me with a desire to emphasize their wisdom by a really spiritual interpretation. From this time on, I became more and more interested in the religious ministration of women; and though it is looking forward some way in my chronicle, this may be the proper place to say that in the spring of the year 1875, I had much to do with calling the first convention of women ministers, which was held in the Church of the Disciples, in anniversary week. Among those who met with us were some plain women from Maine, who told us that they had long acted as evangelists in portions of the State in which churches were few and far between. Several clergymen of different denominations attended our exercises, and one of them, Rev. J. J. Hunting, pronounced ours the best meeting of the week. Among the ordained women who took part with us were Rev. Ellen Gustin, Mary H. Graves, Lorenza Haynes, and Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a fair young mother, who went to her pulpit full of the inspiration of her cradle songs.

I would gladly enlarge here, did my limits allow it, upon the theme of the woman ministry, but must take up again the thread of my tale.

My husband was greatly moved by the breaking out of the Cretan insurrection in 1866. He saw in this event an opportunity of assisting his beloved Greece, and at once gathered together a [313] committee for collecting funds in aid of this cause. A meeting was held in Boston Music Hall, at which Dr. Holmes, Wendell Phillips, Edward Everett Hale, and other prominent speakers presented the claims of the Cretans to the sympathy of the civilized world.

Dr. Howe's appearance did not indicate his age. His eye was bright, his hair abundant, and but slightly touched with gray. When he rose and said, ‘Fifty years ago I was very much interested in the Greek Revolution,’ it seemed almost incredible that he should be speaking of himself. The public responded generously to his appeal, and a considerable sum of money was raised. The greater part of this was devoted to the purchase of provisions and clothing for the families of the Cretan combatants, which were known to be in a very destitute condition.

In the spring of 1867 Dr. Howe determined to visit Greece, in order to have a nearer view of the scene of action. I accompanied him, and with us went two of our daughters, Julia Romana, remembered as the wife of Michael Anagnos, and Laura, now Mrs. Henry Richards, known as the author of ‘Captain January.’

We received gratifying attentions from the wealthy Greeks of London. Passing thence to the continent, we were soon in Rome, where I enjoyed some happy days with my beloved sister, [314] Louisa, then, after some years of widowhood, the wife of Luther Terry. Dr. Howe hastened on to Athens, taking with him our eldest daughter. I followed him later, bringing the younger one with me.

Arriving at the Piraeus, we were met by a messenger, who told us that Dr. Howe had just escaped a serious danger at sea, and was too much fatigued to be able to come to meet us. We soon joined him at the Hotel des Etrangers, and inquired eagerly regarding the accident which had befallen him. He had started in a small steamer lent him by the government, intending to visit one of the islands on which were congregated a number of Cretan refugees, mostly women and children. The steamer had proceeded some way on its course when the machinery gave out, leaving them at the mercy of the waves. They were without provisions, and were in danger of drifting out to sea, with no power of controlling the course of the vessel. After many hours of anxious uncertainty, a favorable breeze sprang up, and Dr. Howe tore down the canvas canopy which had shielded the deck from the sun. This he managed to spread for a sail, and by this the vessel was in time brought within reach of the shore. A telegram summoned help from Athens, and the party reached the city an hour or so before our arrival. [315]

I here insert some passages from a book of travels, in which I recorded the impressions of this first visit to Greece. The work was published soon after my return to Boston, and was named ‘From the Oak to the Olive.’

Here is the Temple of Victory; within are the bas-reliefs of the Victories arriving in the hurry of their glorious errands. Something so they tumbled in upon us when Sherman conquered the Carolinas, and Sheridan the valley of the Shenandoah, when Lee surrendered, and the glad President went to Richmond. One of these Victories is untying her sandal, in token of her permanent abiding. Yet all of them have trooped away long since, scared by the hideous havoc of barbarians. And the bas-reliefs, their marble shadows, have all been battered and mutilated into the saddest mockery of their original tradition. The statue of Wingless Victory that stood in the little temple has long been absent. But the only Victory that the Parthenon now can seize or desire is this very Wingless Victory, the triumph of a power that retreats not—the power of Truth. . . .

Poor Greece, plundered by Roman, Christian, and Mussulman! Hers were the lovely statues that grace the halls of the Vatican—at least, the loveliest of them. And Rome shows to this day two colossal groups, of which one bears the inscription, “Opus Praxitelae,” the other that of [316] “Opus Phidiae.” And Naples has a Greek treasure or two, one thinks, besides her wealth of sculptural gems, of which the best are of Greek workmanship. And in England those bas-reliefs, which are the treasure of art students and the wonder of the world, were pulled from the pediment of the Parthenon, like the pearly teeth from a fair mouth, the mournful gaps remaining open in the sight of the unforgiving world. “Thou art old and decrepit,” said England. “I am still in strength and vigor. All else has gone, as well thy dower as thy earnings. Thou hast but these left. I want them, so give them me.” . . .

We were ushered into a well-sized room, in which lay heaps of cotton underclothing and of calico dresses, most of them in the shape of sacks and skirts. These were the contents of one or two boxes recently arrived from Boston. Some of them were recognized by me as the work of a hive of busy bees who used to gather weekly in my own New England parlor, summoned thither by my daughter Florence, now Mrs. David P. Hall. And what stress there was at those meetings, and what hurrying! And how the little maidens took off their feathery bonnets and dainty gloves, wielding the heavy implements of cutting, and eagerly adjusting the arms and legs, the gores and gathers! With patient pride the mother trotted off to the bakery, that a few buns might [317] sustain these strenuous little cutters and sewers, whose tongues, however active over the charitable work, talked, we may be sure, no empty nonsense nor unkind gossip.

For charity begins indeed at home, in the heart, and, descending to the fingers, rules also the rebellious member whose mischief is often done before it is meditated. At the sight of these wellmade garments a little swelling of the heart seized me, with the love and pride of a remembrance so dear. But sooner than we could turn from it to set about our business, the Cretans were in presence.

Here they come, called in order from a list, with names nine syllables long, mostly ending in poulos, a term signifying descent, like the Russian “witzch.” Here they come,—the shapely maiden, the sturdy matron, the gray-haired grandmother, with little ones of all small sizes and ages. Many of the women carried infants at the breast; many were expectant of maternity. Not a few of them were followed by groups of boys and girls. Most of them were ill clothed; and many of them appeared extremely destitute of attire. A stronglymarked race of people, with dark eyes, fine black hair, healthy complexions, and symmetrical figures. They bear traces of suffering. Some of the infants have pined, but most of them promise to do well. Each mother cherishes and shows her little [318] beggar in the approved way. The children are usually robust, although showing in their appearance the very limited resources of their parents. Some of the women have tolerable gowns; to these we give only underclothing. Others have but the rag of a gown—a few strips of stuff over their coarse chemises. These we make haste to cover with the beneficent growth of New England factories. They are admitted in groups of three or four at a time. As many of us fly to the heaps of clothing, and hastily measure them by the length and breadth of the individual. A papa, or priest, keeps order among them. He wears his black hair uncut, his narrow robe is much patched, and he holds in his hand a rosary of beads, which he fingers mechanically.

The dresses sent did not quite hold out, but sufficed to supply the most needy, and, in fact, the greater number. Of the underclothes we carried back a portion, having given something to every one. To an old papa who came, looking ill and disconsolate, I sent two shirts and a good dark woolen jacket. Among all of these only one discontented old lady demurred at the gift bestowed. She wanted a gown; but there was not one left, so that she was forced to content herself, much against her will, with some underclothing. The garments supplied, of which many were sent by the Boston Sewing Circle, under [319] the superintendence of Miss Abby W. May, proved to be very suitable in pattern and quality. As we descended the steps we met with some of the children, already arrayed in their little clean shirts, and strutting about with the inspiration of fresh clothing, long unfelt by them. . . .

Despite the velvet flatteries and smiling treasons of diplomacy, the present government of Greece is, as every government should be, on its good behavior before the people. Wonderfully clever, enterprising, and liberal have the French people made the author of the “Life of Julius Caesar.” Wonderfully reformative did the radicals of 1848 make the Pope. And the Greek nation, taken in the large, may prove to have some common sense to impart to its symbolical head, of whom we can only hope that the “something rotten in the state of Denmark” may not have been taken from it to corrupt the state of Greece.

But it was not through one sense alone that I received in Athens the delight of a new enchantment. My ear drank in the music of the Greek tongue which I constantly heard spoken by those around me. My husband's Greek committee held their sessions in our hotel parlors, and I found that, by closely listening to their talk, I could make out a word here and there. Encouraged by this, I presently purchased a primer and devoted myself to the study of its contents. I had [320] in earlier life made one or two futile attempts to master the language. Now that it became a living tongue to me, I determined to acquire it, and in some measure succeeded. From that time to the present I have never ceased the serious pursuit of what I then began almost in play.

In spite of the fact that a price had been set upon his head by the Turkish authorities in Crete, Dr. Howe persisted in his determination to visit the island. His stay there was necessarily limited to a few hours, but what he was able to observe of the character and disposition of the inhabitants led him to anticipate a triumph for their cause.

We returned to Boston in the autumn of the same year, and at once began to make arrangements for a fair by which we hoped to raise some money for the Cretans. A great part of the winter was devoted to this work, and in the early spring a beautiful bazaar was held at Boston Music Hall, where the post of president was assigned to me. I was supported by a very efficient committee of ladies and gentlemen, and it was in this work that I became well acquainted with Miss Abby W. May, whose invaluable method and energy had much to do with the success of the undertaking. The fair lasted one week, and our sales and entertainments realized something more than thirty thousand dollars. But [321] alas! the emancipation of Crete was not yet to be.

We passed the summer of 1868 at Stevens Cottage, which was very near the town of Newport. I do not exactly remember how it came about that my dear friend and pastor, Rev. Charles Brooks, invited me to read some of my essays at his church on Sunday afternoons. I had great pleasure in doing this. The church was well filled, and the audience excellent in character, and a lady among these one day kissed me after my lecture, saying, ‘This is the way I want to hear women speak.’ Another lady, it is true, was offended at some saying of mine. I think that it was to this effect. Speaking of the idle lives of some rich women, I said, ‘If God works, Madam, you can afford to work also.’ At this the person in question rose and went away, saying, ‘I won't listen to such stuff as this.’ I was not at all aware of the occurrence at the time, nor did I hear of it until the same lady having sent me cards for a reception at her house, I attended it, thereby provoking some comment. I was glad afterwards that I had done so, as the lady in question paid me every friendly attention, and made me quite sure that she had only yielded to a momentary ebullition of temper, to which, indeed, she was too prone.

I read the ‘Phaedo’ of Plato in the original [322] Greek this summer, and was somewhat helped in this by an English scholar, a university man, who was passing the summer in Newport. He was ‘coaching’ two young men who intended to enter one of the English universities, and was obliged to pass my house on his way to his lessons. He often paid me a visit, and was very willing to help me over a difficult passage.

The report of my parlor readings soon brought me invitations to speak in public. The first of these that I remember came from a committee having in charge a meditated course of Sunday afternoon lectures on ethical subjects, to be given without other exercises, in Horticultural Hall. I was heard more than once in this course, and remember that one of my themes was ‘Polarity,’ on which I had written an essay, of which I thought, perhaps, too highly. In the course of the season I was engaged in preparing for another reading. Meeting Rev. Phillips Brooks one day in my sunset outing, I said to him, ‘Do you ever, in writing a sermon, lose sight of your subject? I have a discourse to prepare and have lost sight of mine.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ he replied, ‘it often happens to me.’ This confession encouraged me to persevere in my work, and I finished my lecture, and read it with acceptance.

I suppose that I may have greatly exaggerated in my own mind the value of these writings to [323] other people. To me, they brought much reflection and unfolding of thought. As I have said in another place, I read the two first named to a small circle of friends at my own house, and was somewhat disappointed at the result, as none of those present seemed willing to assume my point of view. Repeating one of them under similar circumstances at the house of a friend, Henry James, the elder, called upon me to explain some point which my lecture had brought into view. I asked if he could explain the point at issue. He replied that he could not. Being somewhat disconcerted, I said to him, ‘You should not ask questions which you yourself cannot answer.’ I meant by this to say that one must not be called upon to explain what is evidently inexplicable. Mr. James, however, did not so understand me, but told me afterwards that he considered this the most extraordinary statement that he had ever heard. He discoursed a good deal after my lecture with much color and brilliancy, as was his wont. His views of the Divine were highly anthropomorphic, and I remember that he said among other things, ‘My dear Madam, God is working all the time in his shirt-sleeves with all his might.’

This dear man was a great addition to the thought-power current in Boston society. He had lived much abroad, and was for many years [324] a student of Swedenborg and of Fourier. His cast of mind was more metaphysical than logical, and he delighted in paradox. In his writings he would sometimes overstate greatly, in order to be sure of impressing his meaning upon his readers or hearers. Himself a devout Christian, he nevertheless once said, speaking on Sunday in the Church of the Disciples, that the moral law and the Christian Church were the meanest of inventions. He intended by this phrase to express his sense of the exalted moral and religious obligation of the human mind, the dignity of which ought to transcend the prescriptions of the Decalogue and the discipline of the church. My eldest daughter, then a girl of sixteen, said to me as we left the church, ‘Mamma, I should think that Mr. James would wish the little Jameses not to wash their faces for fear it should make them suppose that they were clean.’ Mr. Emerson, to whom I repeated this remark, laughed quite heartily at it. In anecdote Mr. James was inexhaustible. His temperament was very mercurial, almost explosive. I remember a delightful lecture of his on Carlyle. I recall, too, a rather metaphysical discourse which he read in John Dwight's parlors, to a select audience. When we went below stairs to put on our wraps, I asked a witty friend whether she had enjoyed the lecture. She replied that she had, but added, ‘I would give [325] anything at this moment for a look at a good fat idiot,’ which seemed to show that the tension of mind produced by the lecture had not been without pain.

I once had a long talk with Mr. James on immortality. I had recently lost my youngest child, a beautiful little boy of three years. The question of a future life then came to me with an agonized intensity. Should I ever meet again the exquisite little creature who had been taken from my arms? Mr. James was certain that I should have this coveted joy. He illustrated his belief in a singular way. ‘I lost a leg,’ he said, ‘in early youth. I have had a consciousness of the limb itself all my life. Although buried and out of sight, it has always remained a part of me.’ This reassuring did not appeal to me strongly, but his positive faith in a life after death gave me much comfort. Mr. James occasionally paid me a visit. As he was sitting in my parlor one day my little Maud, some seven or eight years old, passed by the open door. Mr. James called out, ‘Come here, Maud; You are the wickedest looking thing I have seen in some time.’ The little girl came, and Mr. James took her up on his knee. Presently, to my horror, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, how ugly you are! You are the ugliest creature I ever saw.’ This freak of the child so impressed my visitor that, meeting some days later with a [326] lady friend, he could not help saying to her, ‘Mrs. ——,I know that I am ugly, but am I the ugliest person that you ever saw? Maud Howe said the other day that she had never seen any one so ugly.’

My friend was in truth far from ill-looking. His features were reasonably good, and his countenance fairly glowed with amiability, geniality, and good-will. I found afterwards that my Maud had seriously resented the epithet ‘wicked looking’ applied to her, and had simply sought to take a childish revenge in accusing Mr. James of ugliness. Although Mr. James held much to Swedenborg's point of view, he did not belong to the Swedenborgian denomination. I have heard that, on the contrary, he was considered by its members as decidedly heterodox. I think that he rarely attended any church services. I have heard of his holding a communion service with one member of his family. He published several works on topics connected with religion.

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