Some letters of Miss Lucy Osgood.Medford Historical Society, February 18, 1907.] MISS Lucy Osgood, some of whose letters I have the privilege of presenting, was the second daughter of David Osgood, D. D., who was the honored minister of Medford from 1774 to 1822, a period of forty-eight years. She was born June 17, 1791, and died on her eighty-second birthday, June 17, 1873. So far as I can learn the education of the daughters of Dr. Osgood, after their early years, was received wholly from himself. Miss Lucy, as well as her older sister Mary, was instructed by her father in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and in Greek and Latin she was proficient, and was the equal of college professors who, during her father's life, were frequent visitors at his house. Later in life she learned French, German and Italian—learning German when nearly fifty years old—and reading these with a facility which few persons attain in a foreign tongue. It is interesting to note how she was led to the study of German in her forty-seventh year. In a letter to Rev. Dr. Furness, after the death of Marchioness d'ossoli, she says, ‘I was a little acquainted with her, and considered her one of my great benefactors, for it was she who, in the summer of 1837, put me up to the study of German.’ Miss Osgood inherited what was then a comfortable property, which gave her leisure for study, an opportunity she improved from personal choice. She was conversant with the best literature, ancient and modern, which was so familiar to her that she unconsciously assumed a like acquaintance with it on the part of others. Endowed [p. 82] with a retentive memory, she preserved the valuable information she had acquired in study, enriched with her own reflection, and freely shared it with her friends. Hers was a strong and commanding personality. It took possession of you by tones of voice and a distinction of manner that were unusual. If any thing interested her deeply it would be living and personal when she spoke it. It was this which made her conversation so striking that she had the reputation ‘of talking like a book.’ I have not forgotten the impression she made upon me on first meeting her. I had been told of this remarkable parishioner who was a woman of rich stores of learning, and I was a little afraid of her, but I had not been told of her unusual manner of speech, and I sat through the entire hour as if listening to a carefully prepared discourse, the words were so fitly chosen, while the tones of her voice gave countenance to the illusion. The commonplaces that introduce conversation were not required, indeed were conspicuously absent, conversation introduced itself and flowed on until the subjects of present interest to her were exhausted. It was not so much conversation as it was monologue. You were the pleased listener, she the pleased speaker, and not until you had heard all that she thought you would care for did the speech stop and conversation begin. Yet she was not a tiresome talker, for you would not wish to escape from her, or to start a different topic. So much personal force was thrown into what she said, so selfrevealing was it, that you gladly listened to the end. She was a woman of exceptional culture, but culture she valued not as an ornament, but as a means of moral and spiritual growth. Conscience was supreme in her, the Puritanism from which she came showing itself in this in strong characters. All through her letters I am struck with her vital interest in whatever concerns the morals of society. She was a little late in espousing the antislavery cause, and was led to it by the prodding of her friend, Lydia Maria Child, but her acceptance of it was [p. 83] whole-hearted. The letters just previous to the war of the Rebellion, and while it continued, show the warmest interest, are filled with love of country and of the freedom of the slave which the dread ordeal must establish. One other subject only was as dear to her, that of spiritual religion. Much change in her religious convictions took place in the course of her life, as it must to a growing mind, a change from the Calvinism in which she was trained to the advanced liberal thought of Theodore Parker, but it only deepened her vital faith in the goodness of God and the hope of immortal life. The letters here presented are all taken from her correspondence of fifty years with her friend William H. Furness, D. D., of Philadelphia. The youth of Dr. Furness was passed in Medford in the Parson Turrell house, which stood near what is now known as Winthrop square. He was eleven years her junior, but a friendship began in their youth which continued through her life. In these letters may be traced the history of Miss Osgood, her scholarly, literary, moral, philanthropic, and religious interests, as well as her personal characteristics. Only a small portion of them can be presented from lack of space to print them. But it is good to preserve some clear outline of this noble and gifted woman, who was honored and beloved in Medford, and is worthy of the remembrance of a later generation, to win it, if it may be, ‘to the still air of delightful studies.’ I wish to express my deep sense of personal obligation to the kindness of Dr. Horace Howard Furness for the loan of these letters to his father, an obligation we shall all feel as we read them.
A Glimpse of herself.
Letter July 9, 1847.I do think that apart from the delight of gazing at this glorious season of the year on the various beauties of the earth, the kind of transient intercourse enjoyed with our fellow creatures in the pellmell congregation of modern travel in stages, cars, steamboats and hotels is productive of the most pleasurable excitement; in a few [p. 84] hours most pleasant acquaintances are formed, and though they may be broken off as soon as commenced and never again renewed, they leave behind a larger love for our species and more favorable views of human nature in general. It was many years since I had passed so long a time in New York. At the American House where we lodged were several particular friends of my brother and his wife; we formed a party with them, and there being few other guests we felt perfectly at home, indeed we all concluded that we had won the hearts of the waiters if of no other members of the establishment. At the tea table one evening the discourse proceeded from prison discipline, reform, conservatism, etc., to the great law of human universal brotherhood, and one of the ladies gave a most eloquent description of a shoemaker now residing in Boston who is making himself as illustrious as the benevolent Howard by frequenting all the watch-houses and little police courts for the purpose of extricating luckless offenders not grown old in crime, but overtaken through folly or misfortune. The conversation was protracted until our vanity was exquisitely flattered by finding that the dozen or twenty servants in attendance had actually formed a ring round us, and were listening with open mouths as well as eyes, to our plans for mending the world; had we been queens we could not have been bowed out of the room more respectfully. A little incident in Dr. Spring's church, where I attended on Sunday afternoon, amused me considerably. My companion and I being strangers, and no sexton appearing, we were a little embarrassed in choosing a seat. Finally a lady directed me to one of the front pews, but as I found the psalm books all having the name of the owner of the pew, I stooped to an old lady sitting in the pew on my right hand and expressed the hope that we might not be considered as intruding. ‘Intruding!’ she repeated rather fiercely, ‘I am a stranger too, but I come here whenever I please. I come as God's child, and feel that I have a right to be in his house. Do you come so—are you God's child?’ Seeing that she insisted on an answer, I modestly replied that ‘I had rather He should own me as such than proclaim myself,’ and she was really human enough to laugh with real good humor.
A Bit of Playfulness.
Letter December 17, 1832.I have a long budget to open, but I hesitate to commence, for fear of doing injustice to such exquisite nonsense—nevertheless, you have a right to know what has kept us laughing the livelong day, and almost night too. To begin. I have ascertained to the utter discomfiture of all the tender recollections which I have loved to cherish of my softer days, that I never, never was in love, nor, [p. 85] alas! verging toward it. Yesterday we were favored with two very learned and argumentative discourses upon a most interesting subject, the evidence afforded by reason, nature and revelation concerning a reunion with our friends in the future state. My feelings were deeply excited, and the past and future were so intimately blended as almost to annihilate the present, and we invited the preacher to dine here with our minister, but he pleaded off, and intimated that his mind was too much absorbed with the solemnities of the day to allow him to converse. We were, however, favored with his company to tea and till ten in the evening, and after listening to him four hours, my spirit was so stirred within me, that I said to him with some warmth, ‘You have vividly recalled to me today all the most sacred associations and cherished hopes of my existence, and when I heard you in the pulpit every holy feeling was in exercise, but I am mortified and ashamed to be losing sight of all these impressions in this farrago of love nonsense which you have been pouring out ever since.’ ‘It is not nonsense,’ replied the gentleman. ‘I am stating facts to you, as ladies of discernment, and though you may call it trifling, to me the subject is most serious, and I shall treasure up your remarks and meditate on them as lights for my future course.’ Of course, such a compliment mollified my displeasure, and we continued to give our patient attention to his tale of tender misery. His affections are set on a thorough coquette, who treats him as puss does a mouse, and plays him off with a rival whom she retains as a dangler, though she has rejected his serious suit, and one tale after another of the lady's behavior was submitted to our decision, till we had reviewed the whole paraphernalia of beau-catching, and pressing hands, and twitching them away, and passed sentence upon knocking at chamber-doors, dropping pencilled notes, offered arm, affecting resentment for the sake of getting up a scene at the reconciliation, etc., etc. But each new incident was prefaced with ‘Ladies, I am betraying my weakness.’ We were requested in most solemn phrase to give our opinion on the propriety of ladies receiving presents from gentlemen,—sister in the most unqualified terms denounced it, but I said there were some things, such as books, which it would be arrant prudery to refuse, especially when the donor was a clergyman. This pleased him, as he is an author as well as preacher, and he acknowledged that his own works had been most graciously received by the fair one, except that she invidiously expunged the too tender inscription with which he had addressed them to her. Still he wished upon the whole that she were impregnable to gifts, because his hated rival plied her with them to a degree which he could not stoop to imitate. ‘I abominate,’ he exclaimed, rising with his subject, ‘largesses of sugar plums and comfits. He never visits Boston without bringing her [p. 86] whole papers of the Tremont House confectionery, and this obliged me to send her last week during my absence from her a package of the Salem Gibraltars.’ I end as I began, with assuring you of the humiliating certainty that I never was in love!
Meeting-House of the second Congregational Church.
Letter July 30, 1824.In your next ride to Medford your attention will be attracted by the new meeting-house which will first open to your view upon the bridge. Steeple or no steeple was a knotty question among the builders; but after examining the new church at Lynn, the classic taste of Mr. J. Bishop decided in favor of a tower of considerable altitude. In raising it one of the main beams fell, but without doing any other damage than breaking itself and shattering my reputation for christian charity. I was stopped some days afterward in the street by a member of our society who entreated me to abstain in the future from any evening rambles, as the carpenters were resolved to mob me, Mr. Bishop having told them that I very devoutly raised my eyes to heaven and thanked God while the timber was falling on their heads. The house is to be dedicated on the first of August, and Mr. Warner is to be installed at the same time. The salary will be six hundred dollars. The ladies of his parish have offered to provide him a gown, but he refuses it, alleging that such trappings are not worn by the orthodox clergy. Is it not a singular discrepancy that they should lay aside the bands and gown, while at the same time in their families and social meetings they zealously affect the posture of kneeling in prayer,—a relic of popery against which Jack kicked as stoutly as at any part of Lord Peter's trumpery. I should think it would be a luxury to all of them to worship within consecrated walls, especially since they have received the animating prediction of the Rev. Mr. Wisner, who assures them that the glory of the latter temple will infinitely exceed that of the former. In a sermon delivered at the hotel a short time since he congratulated himself upon the privilege of addressing that small band of believers who ‘faithful found among the faithless,’ had come out from the ark upon its falling into the hands of the Philistines. We also are not without our comforters. Last Sunday afternoon the minister prayed with an air of strong assurance rather than of dubious supplication, that the ancient church which had stood for centuries.—(a poetic license)—might be defended by the Lion of the tribe of Judah now that she was passing through the deep waters, and the roaring billows threatened to overwhelm her. He proceeded on the assumption that her sea of troubles was fordable, and prayed that her feet might be of iron, shod with [p. 87] brass,—that her pastor also might draw down a blessing on her by treading closely in the steps of the chief Shepherd, neither stepping forward beyond him, nor turning off on either side, or loitering, but following close behind while he went before,—that he might be frequently at funerals and rarely at feasts, having his delight in the house of mourning. There is little doubt that this latter petition will be granted, for the parties have been over ever since the spring.
Brook farm gossip.
Letter April 15, 1841.You will not wish me to forget the ‘Community.’ You know that your friends at the old manse have the spider property, within its retired obscurity, of seizing and accumulating the buzzing flies of gossip, and though fourteen or fifteen miles, with the city of Boston between, did seem to interpose a barrier, it so happened that the grand debut of the first farm-operations of the philosophical agriculturists flew straight into our windows. Four gentlemen, Mr. B. at the head in a new woolen frock, which gained in grace what it lost in convenience, by being made open in front, whereas real farmers' frocks are close, a pair of oxen and a horse sallied forth to plow—their operations were watched by a young farmer who had carried on the place for the last seven years, and who married a pet domestic of our own about a year and a half ago. The oxen were duly yoked, but it was long before they would budge a step–yo, hor, gee, all in vain, go they would not-at last with a desperate plunge they started and drew two or three zig-zag, not straight, furrows across the field, to the infinite weariness of their followers who were mercilessly pulled first to the right and then to the left. After vain endeavors on their part to rectify the furrow, the real Simon Pure farmer quietly told them that all the difficulty arose from their having misplaced the oxen, as in a yoke one is always the off ox and the other the in. A day or two after this the philosophers undertook to drive a load of hay, the team consisting of two yokes of oxen and a horse. In the division of labor several undertook to harness it, but at last all came to a stand for the want of the chain which should be attached to the horse. It must be in the barn — it was not—in some outhouse—no;—left in the field; away went all hands in search of it, up and down; after a long search in vain Simon was summoned, and the first thing he saw was the chain which had been all the time laid in a coil on the horse's back. It was then hitched to the team and the horse began to draw; but here was a new trouble, the chain was meant for two horses, and by the time one had got to the end of it he was almost out of sight of his four companions, the oxen. This was not perceived by the philosophers however, until [p. 88] the farmer in an agony of laughter, taught them that only one half of the chain need be used if they had but one horse. But all these little incidents are but the resistance of matter to their inexperience, and if they can be sufficiently transcendental to subdue it by the superior law of spirit they will win the game.
Letter March 8, 1825.I answer your letter thus early in the hope of giving you some details of Gov. Brooks's last days which you may not have received from other friends; there is also a sort of mournful pleasure in dwelling upon the thoughts and feelings excited by his departure. To us in particular, it will form a new era in our existence; for we are now necessitated to acquire the strange habit of placing our affections and hopes upon our juniors in life. After my father's decease, it was an easy thing to transfer to his most valued friend the confidence which we had been accustomed to repose in him, and accordingly Gov. Brooks became the prop on which we leaned. We considered his judgment as almost unerring, and the sympathy which he always showed for us entitled him to our warmest affection. The intimacy that had subsisted between our father and ourselves notwithstanding the great disparity of our ages, prevented our feeling toward Gov. Brooks that awe and distance which old age usually inspires. Indeed I have always had such a decided taste and preference for the society of my seniors, that with one or two exceptions all my particular friends have been at least a score of years older than myself. Whatever advantages may in time past have arisen from such intercourse, it has rendered us now almost solitary pilgrims in the journey of life, at an age when the generality of people possess the greatest number of companions. This state of loneliness on the threshold of middle life is an inverse of the order of things produced by the peculiar circumstances in which we have been placed. Dearly as I loved my father and Gov. Brooks it gives me no pleasure to hear people say that their places can never be supplied, that poor Medford is forever shorn of its glory. Why should not the future resemble the past? Half a century ago a raw youth, totally ignorant of the world, and by no means prepossessing either in manners or appearance was settled here as colleague with the aged pastor, a man celebrated for his sprightly talents and engaging person, much against the will of a few of the most respectable inhabitants, who dreaded his rigid Calvinism. A few years afterwards, at the close of the war, a young disbanded officer educated as a physician, returned to this his native place nearly penniless, encumbered with a wife and a family of small children. There [p. 89] being an established physician in the town, he at first traded in a humble way, and entirely failed. He was then urged by his friends, and especially the minister, to resume the profession of medicine,— he did so, and succeeded. The raw scholar and needy soldier rose to eminence and reputation by no uncommon series of events, but solely by the diligent improvement of the sound minds which they received from nature; and I cannot but hope that others will appear to imitate their example. Though we who have known and loved them never hope or desire to have their places supplied to us; yet the gloom occasioned by this idea is dissipated by religion which paints the pleasure of a future reunion with them. In their temporal lot, it was a delightful circumstance that both were spared to old age and that both were exempted from that decay of their mental powers and state of uselessness which they had most dreaded. We would gladly have spared Gov. Brooks the severe sufferings which attended his closing scenes but even the contrast between his bitter agonies and my father's gentle falling asleep, exhibits I think, a beautiful arrangement of Providence. The aged minister of Christ could have nothing peculiarly new or impressive to say upon the religion he had so long preached; but all desire to know how religion appears to the man of business, the soldier and the statesman, when summoned in sickness and suffering to contemplate the leisurely approach of the king of terrors. Gov. Brooks was taken sick on Friday. Having grown alarmingly worse on Sunday, Mrs. Jonathan Brooks (who was his own cousin by the mother's side) watched with him. He conversed with her a good deal in the course of the night, said that he believed this sickness would be his last, and that he could not now, as in times past, even pray to be restored, as life had nothing more in store for him, and his days of usefulness must be nearly over. Mrs. B. reminded him how necessary he was to the town and parish, to which he replied, ‘When I am gone every one must do a little.’ On Monday, Tuesday, and through Wednesday morning he was so comfortable that the physicians were somewhat encouraged, and his other friends had sanguine hopes of his recovery. But on Wednesday afternoon he became greatly distressed, and was convinced that his case was desperate. He immediately sent for Mr. Dudley Hall and gave him the most particular directions respecting his interment. Mr. H. was fearful that he might fatigue himself with speaking, but he said, ‘Let me say all while my reason is left. I know not how long I shall be capable of thinking.’ The sum of his directions was, to forbid all useless parade at his funeral, and to desire that the remains of his wife shall be removed from the tomb in which they had been deposited, and placed by his side. On Sunday he saw Rev. Mr. Bigelow for the first time, making a great effort to gratify him and his other friends by an expression of [p. 90] his views and feelings on the near approach of death, reviewing his past existence, blessing God for the mercies which had crowned it, glorifying him for the hopes and promises of religion, and insisting on the importance of making it the governing principle of life if we would enjoy its consolations in death. One of his expressions was, ‘I make no pretensions to die a philosopher or Stoic, this is my hope, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their trespasses and sins.’ He was scarcely able to speak on Monday, but had his senses the whole time, and appeared wrapped in thought.
Letter September 4, 1824.You have still the pleasure of anticipating the delightful bustle we have made in welcoming Lafayette. Those who have first greeted him will have the advantage of giving as well as receiving pleasure. Were he at liberty to utter his real wish, I think he would exclaim, ‘Leave me, leave me to repose.’ Indeed he told the Mayor on quitting Boston, that he was weary of parade and longed to seat himself at the fireside of the citizens and play with their children. His countenance expresses these kind, good feelings, and nothing more. Our Medford show was very pleasant and extremely gratifying to Gov. Brooks. While we were standing under the leafy arch erected just below Mr. Bigelow's, waiting his approach, I asked Colonel Pickering who was with Gov. Brooks, if the Marquis was much altered. In reply he drew a lively portrait of his youthful, contrasted with his present, appearance, concluding with, ‘that vile scratch disfigures him.’ Turrell Tufts delivered his address as chairman of the selectmen quite like an orator, with vast propriety of emphasis and more sensibility than he was suspected of possessing. After the speech we, that is everybody, followed on to Gov. Brooks' house, where we had the honor of touching our benefactor's hand. When he shakes hands his grasp is said to be that of a giant. Of the ladies, Mrs. P. alone made him a speech, saying, ‘I am happy to take by the hand the best man in the whole world.’ But what do you think Mr. Coleman said on the day he was escorted into Boston? ‘I was never so happy before, nor expect to be again, here, nor hereafter.’ To return: a small party dined with Gov. Brooks,—among the rest Charles Brooks and Mr. Bigelow. The former I have not seen since, but Mr. Bigelow acknowledged that dissatisfaction so often felt in the presence of great characters from whose conversation we have anticipated a fund of delight. Indeed, the Marquis speaks English too imperfectly to display any colloquial talents if he possesses them.
Inauguration of President Quincy.
Letter June 6, 1829.The newspapers will give you the order of the performances at the inauguration of President Quincy, and I will notice only those points that arrested my attention. Mr. Quincy looked like a man who was engaging with his whole soul in a great and solemn undertaking, but who felt himself to be equal to the task, and his deportment seemed to inspire all with confidence. . . . . Gov. Lincoln quite captivated me, I had never seen him before, and had always heard him spoken of by the angry bridge-men as a little whipper-snapper, who owed his election rather to accident than his own merit, but on this occasion he performed his part with a gracefulness and dignity that delighted everybody,—his address was quite long, but was delivered with perfect ease, and I was pedant enough to admire the display of Latin in the whole ceremony. After the salvetes, praestantissimes, and excellentissimzes were over, one of the theological students in behalf of the graduates delivered an English salutatory which was very happily conceived and invented:—in addressing the President, he deprecated employing the language of adulation, as the flowing superlatives of the Latin ill became the sober honesty of our mother tongue. But the principal topic of this address was a beautiful tribute to the memory of President Kirkland,—he was mentioned by all the speakers,—and I was struck with the difficulty they seemed to find in recollecting that he was still numbered with the living, the occasion appeared so imperatively to require him to be numbered among the departed. Mr. Newhall eulogized with all the warmth of affection his various knowledge, discrimination, sagacity, playful wit, ready sympathy, expansive generosity, universal kindliness, large conceptions and entire disinterestedness; and in addressing his successor, he warned him by the example of the past to be moderate in his expectations of reaping the reward of his virtuous exertions, as we had recently witnessed the same malevolence which led the Athenians of old to become weary of hearing Aristides called the Just, and to denounce Socrates as the perverter of youth. These allusions were received with a thunder of applause, and we fancied that some of the corporation looked a little green and yellow. The inaugural address itself was very grave, dignified and sensible; full of discriminating observations upon the spirit of the age, earnestly inculcating right notions of education as consisting not in external means, places, teachers, books, sciences, but in the grand inward mental and moral process by which every individual with unremitting labor and self-denial, laying self-knowledge for the basis of his whole superstructure, must train himself up for glory and immortality. He was for banishing all ephemeral pursuits and compositions, and [p. 92] substituting in their place such studies as could only be mastered by ‘might of mizen strength,’ and which would enable their successful votaries to leave behind them monuments inscribed with the strong, deep, manly characters which distinguish the institutions of our pilgrim fathers. For this reason, he was totally adverse to the multiplication of colleges,—‘collect the rays of science into one or two focuses, from whence they may diverge and enlighten the whole land–if you would illumine a spacious apartment,’ says Lord Bacon, ‘do not place a farthing candle in its corners, but light a torch in its centre, beware of suffering your streams to flow on a level with the original fountain.’ The whole tendency of the address must have quashed the hopes of those who have expected him to be the great patron of innovations. The commons halls were decorated with the utmost beauty, and the illumination, it was said, resembled the scenes of the Arabian nights. I was very sorry that I could not stay to see it.
Letter August 4, 1850.You hardly knew, I believe, the Marchioness d'ossoli, though the catastrophe which terminated her eccentric career must have struck home to all hearts. I was a little acquainted with her and considered her as one of my great benefactors, for it was she who in the summer of 1837 put me up to the study of German. It was hard to like her, but very easy to respect and admire her. Her foible was that of noble minds, ambition and the excessive love of distinction lying at the bottom of everything that was objectionable in her, conjoined with many noble traits of character. The eclat of her death, I make no doubt, would have gone far to reconcile her to it, had she known of it beforehand. She was returning to her friends in utter poverty, and what she would have been able to do with her husband in this prosaic country it is not easy to conjecture,—much younger than herself, uneducated, but very handsome and extremely amiable and pious; a devout Roman Catholic; at the very last when he should have dashed into the surge to save their lives, praying fervently for the salvation of his wife's heretical soul, and paralyzed for all physical exertion because a witch bade him, when a boy, in telling his fortune, to beware of the sea, and accordingly he had never before been on board of a vessel. Had Miss Fuller been less gifted, and less confident in her own judgment, she would hardly have run the risk of such a disproportionate match; and had she cultivated literature and philosophy for their own exceeding excellence rather than as a means of glorification and distinction all the toil and hardship of her life would have been escaped; but to Margaret life in retirement and obscurity was not [p. 93] worth having. She was willing to work hard, and it was essential to her happiness to live in the eye of the public. Her friends now anxiously hope that her. last work, a history, I believe, of the Roman movement, said to be now going through the press in England under the inspection of Carlyle, will procure for her the lasting fame to which she aspired. Her life in a human view was incomplete, having been passed in great preparation rather than effective execution. During the fighting in Rome she was a true sister of charity among the wounded.
Letter June 18, 1854.Last Monday was a white bear day for me, to be long remembered. Sister and I went to Andover in the early morning train to pass the day with an old friend and to make several calls in the North Parish. After returning to the South Parish I plucked up courage to call on Mrs. Stowe to whom I had been introduced two years since at Mr. Bartol's. She has purchased on the summit of Zion Hill, near the Theological institution, a large stone edifice erected some years since for a workshop to unite manual labor with the training of the different schools of the place. But as the plan did not prosper and the building remained on hand Mrs. Stowe purchased and fitted it up as a dwelling house. Nothing can be more massive and solid than the building or more remote on the outside from architectural beauty; but the prospect is perfectly magnificent, and the interior was most conveniently and tastefully arranged. Mrs. G.'s companion went with me, as my modest sister wholly eschewed such lionizing. By stilting myself on the shoulders of Theodore Parker and Mr. Pierpont, sketching to her trust in God of the first, and a great law argument of the last, the wherein he proved from Coke, Blackstone and other huge common law authorities that real law required disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law, instead of compliance with it, I managed to reach the level of her eye, and the lady who was with me assured me that she had never seen her so agreeable and animated in a call. Absence of mind is one of her strong personal peculiarities, and this causes her often to seem quite regardless of strangers. I found her however most charming, her eye often lighted up with genuine fun and humor. She talked with perfect ease, and there seemed a sincerity and truthfulness in the tone of her voice and her whole manner. She has been very ill this spring, and looks as if the mind was causing its grosser companion to evaporate. She was dressed like a real lady, in the nicest materials, though worn as if no careful thought had been bestowed on them. I mean that she was perfectly neat without in the least affecting fashion or style. Her [p. 94] voice is low but very expressive, and the play of her mouth and eye seemed to me quite beautiful. Once or twice Mrs. S. was called out of the room and this gave me an opportunity to survey her environments. The apartment was lofty and spacious and decorated with many of the beautiful presents made to her while abroad. On two little fancy tables stood the superb silver tray, and the inkstand which she received from the ladies of Edinburgh and Bath. Flowers too adorned it, arranged in the most tasteful manner, and my companion informed me that Mrs. S. was a great proficient in drawing. The walls were covered with presentation pictures. Two portraits beautifully framed in white and gold of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, one of herself in crayons, framed in the same manner, and presented to her by the artist who had painted Grenville Sharpe, Wilberforce and Clarkson; no less than three pictures designed from Uncle Tom, two of them by French artists, besides a multitude more of which I had not time to take the inventory. Four different pieces of sculpture I also noticed. On leaving her we met two fine looking, curly headed boys, her sons; she has in all six children, and diligently mends their clothing while she dictates to her amanuensis. Miss C. told us that in a day which Mrs. Stowe passed in London with her and Mrs. Follen, Mrs. F. said to her, ‘How do you feel Mrs. Stowe, when the earls and dukes are soliciting the honor of touching your hand?’ ‘As if I were a great humbug! But as I cannot hinder them there is nothing for me but to submit.’
Letter September 15, 1856.I wish to give you an account of a most interesting guest who was with us last evening. Mrs. Holman came in bringing with her a lady whom she introduced to me as a Mrs. Brown just arrived from Kansas where her husband, the editor of the Herald of Freedom, is now imprisoned with Gov. Robinson and his companions. We gazed upon her with interest. She was a superb looking woman, six feet high at the least, from thirty-three to thirty-eight years old apparently; not a mother, but the partner of all her husband's labors and dangers. She had learned the use of fire-arms, and could defend herself with muskets, revolvers or pistols. She had gone from Pennsylvania to Kansas two years or more since with three hundred other emigrants, and the implements for a large printing establishment which was in successful operation when the Missouri ruffians demolished it. She had ventured alone from Kansas to St. Louis by the river route in a boat lined with the ruffians, who held her in suspicion and endeavored in every way to detect her business and objects. Though entrusted with important [p. 95] despatches she succeeded in baffling their curiosity, and proceeded to her main object, which was to obtain from some of the U. S. Judges a habeas corpus act for the release of her husband. In part of her mission she had failed; all with one consent having found some excuse for evading her just demand. She is now impatiently waiting for an opportunity to return; and to the inquiry, what were her prospects? modestly but firmly replied, ‘Whether my husband lives or dies, his paper will be carried on; I shall edit it in his absence.’ She was brought here last evening by Mr. Andrew, a lawyer from Boston, who was to address our Fremont Club, and supposing that it might be attended here as in so many other places by the women, he had invited this lady to accompany him and tell her story, so that we had the benefit of hearing what she had expected to relate to the public. Her narrative was absolutely thrilling; she described one night in which she and her husband were watched by an armed band of ruffians, who not content with thrusting their heads into the room through an open window, finally broke open the door which was fastened on the inside, and marched round the bed. ‘I lifted myself up,’ said the six foot lady, ‘and bowed over my husband, determined that they should assail me first.’ Last autumn during the week that should have been devoted to gathering in the harvest and preparing for winter, these poor settlers were defending their lives and property against eight hundred Missourians who poured in upon them to control the election, and the consequent suffering during the long hard winter could hardly, she said, be imagined. This morning I have been perambulating our town inviting the good women and true to put their fingers to the work of preparing a box of warm garments to be forwarded to a Boston committee which pledges itself that whatever is committed to them for the benefit of the champions of liberty shall safely reach its destination. Our visitor was sanguine in the expectation that the present reign of iniquity will soon come to an end. I can only say, ‘God grant it may.’
Letter June 18, 1854.I went to Boston on Sunday to hear Theodore Parker. We had a little chat with him after service, and asked him his opinion of the state of things. He thinks that what we see is but the beginning of worse to come, and that blood will flow at the next attempt to arrest a fugitive in Boston. Nothing astonishes me so much as the miserable stupidity of the people. They seem to lack the faculty to discern any difference between rebelling against a law which compels them to sin and a vulgar riot designed for the perpetration of deeds of lawlessness. I went twice for a few hours at a time to the city [p. 96] during anniversary week, and heard ‘the mob, the mob,’ so often spoken of in tones of disgust and horror, that at last I stood up on the defensive and constantly retorted, ‘The mob is on my side, I belong to it.’ I did meet with one funny adventure. When I left the cars my feeling was that I could not for the world pass through Court Square and see the barricaded temple of Justice; but on the same principle I suppose, that people are drawn to look at executions, I had an impulse on returning home to go through the street which I had so sedulously avoided a few hours before. A gentleman pulled me by the sleeve just as I had entered it. ‘Where now?’ said he. ‘To liberate yonder prisoner,’ said I. ‘I wish you Godspeed,’ he called after me. After a few steps more a lady plucked my shawl, one of the noble Boston women. I stopped to speak with her but she soon interrupted me with, ‘You must fall into our rank or the police will order you off the sidewalk.’ As I looked more attentively I perceived that she was standing with her back leaning against the wall of the shops directly opposite the Court House, on the other side of the street, and a long row of women on each side of her were her companions. ‘Rank?’ repeated I, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Bearing our protest!’ was her answer. ‘How? by looking at the Court House!’ ‘We hiss every soldier, and wish all the women to do the same.’ I confess this mode of protest struck me as irresistibly comic. But it was a real fact, and by night these good ladies were completely spent. Yet how much better this was than the applause and thanks paid by many to the military.
More about Anti-Slavery.
Letter June 9, 1850.It is indeed a great comfort in these trying times through which we are passing, to feel that we are drawn more closely than ever to a few choice spirits. Mr. Abner Bartlett stands first among them, and we look with constant admiration at the buoyant elasticity and expansiveness of his mind at an age when the generality of people are stereotyped and crystallized, all alive to every high thought and enlarged views. My own cross of crosses,—as I hold myself to be by nature an indolent, good-natured person, too easy to cotton to fault-finding,—is the finding myself absolutely compelled either to hoodwink my moral sense of right and wrong, or to withdraw esteem and fellowship from old familiar acquaintances, friends even, in the common acceptation of the term. For one like Mr. A., abounding in ten thousand kindnesses, but of no very quick perceptions, I can exercise charity, though he fumes and frets at the very name of anti-slavery; but Mr. B. was for years a warm personal friend of Mr. Stetson, admitted to his inmost thoughts and indoctrinated [p. 97] by his views upon the great topics of the day, and when I saw his name appended to the infamous lick-spittle flattery addressed to Daniel Webster, I felt sick at heart. So too with our female friends, those with whom we are most intimate. Miss A. and the Misses B. regard with holy horror our position in consenting to be known to stand on the unpopular side. In the common assertion, ‘you may agree to differ,’ there is much that is idle. Decided difference of opinion upon these great questions neutralizes, to say the least, all the pleasure to be derived from harmony on other topics. Like the roots of the forbidden tree, it interferes with and obstructs all the pleasure of social intercourse, and taboos most of the common subjects of discussion. Sister's decided nature must have peace or war, or non-intercourse; she therefore adopts the latter course, and I have to enact the Christian, watch my looks, and count my words, and eschew the giving or taking offense. As regards the individuals personally this is no effort, as I would not hurt a hair of their heads, and I can cordially smile on them, and inquire after all their uncles, aunts, and cousins, but it is a rather tiresome business to drain your conversation clean dry of all thought and feeling, and keep it down to the lowest level of commonplace. There is no alternative, however, and I try with all my might to keep my mind and heart fixed only on the great principles of righteousness, avoiding that bitterness and superciliousness towards persons with which our friends, the abolitionists, are so often justly charged.
During the Rebellion.
Letter August 17, 1861.When the news of the Bull Run defeat arrived in Medford I was on my way to visit an encampment just below the town, towards Boston. The fear was that our Medford boys who belonged to the fifth regiment, which fought next to the Zouaves, had all perished. But thanks to the rare discretion of their Colonel, who was from Medford, comparatively few are lost, and of the Medford company only the standard bearer, who hailed from Chelsea. I may be very dull and short-sighted, but until I have more real knowledge about military matters I think I shall continue to feel annoyed at the perpetual fault-finding to which all who are trying to help us, from President Lincoln downwards, seem subjected. It seems to me that this whole affair stands but at the beginning, and that none of us can foresee the end. The marvel would be if blunders were not committed. I want to believe that thus far at least, the want of energy so much complained of has been the long-suffering of true magnanimity, and that as the nation at large can be brought to a thorough understanding of the grounds of the conflict only by degrees, [p. 98] the slowness with which matters are carried on will be rather an advantage than a disservice. It seems to me that a great, decided victory on our side at the outset would have renewed those loathsome compromises which have been the curse of the country. It is very hard to wait, but we have all been so deeply complicated in the sins which have brought these judgments on us that nothing is left for us but that each one, as though the guilt were his own, should strive to retrieve the past by the solemn dedication of his time, fortune, and even life itself, to the country's need.
Letter April 6, 1862.Who can say that the martyr age is over? For though reason, or the doctrine of chances, or religious faith may forbid despair, it seems to me that only the true martyr spirit of self-immolation can sustain the fond parents who are now called on every hand to bid farewell to their blooming sons bound for this sacred conflict. The clouds gather and the plot thickens on every side. Quick-coming decided victory seems even more perilous than defeat, so far are we still as a nation from being completely purified by the purgatory fires through which we are passing. And yet I fully appreciate the grandeur and glory of living in these times. No choice is left one, but the end of one act of disinterestedness becomes perforce the beginning of another. Frivolity will surely in a good degree be banished from the rising generation of young women. The mother of one of our pretty girls told me the other day that her daughter had brought to her some spending money which had been bestowed on her for the purchase of jewelry, and begged with tears in her eyes that she might be allowed to buy with it things for the Sanitary Commission. I love to retire to rest every night weary with sewing for the sick soldiers. In our Unitarian society alone we have made and bestowed this winter nearly a thousand garments which have been sent chiefly to Louisville and St. Louis. Indeed, we ought to regard all that we can do as but the humblest of thankofferings for our exemption from the actual horrors of the war. Day by day I am more profoundly impressed with the providential results of the conflict, how it brings together those who were far off, and if slowly yet surely opens the eyes of people to the barbarism of slavery. The when and the how of the closing of our difficulties remain wrapped in darkness, but I repose with a gladness and a trust never reached before upon the comforting assurance that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Extracts from various letters.
When President Kirkland was settled in Boston one of his good women accosted him, as he entered her house, in a whining tone, [p. 99] with, ‘Dear Dr., why is it so long since you have been here?’ ‘I want to know something,’ was his laconic reply. ‘What?’ ‘I say I want to know something, and must therefore keep at home and study.’ What a pity it is that what ought to be the universal characteristic of the followers of him who gave the new commandment of love, is so rarely exhibited except toward the members of our own sect, and even towards them must be limited by the pitiful considerations of caste, and style, and intellectual endowments. In censuring others I know that I condemn myself, but no considerations of consistency shall hinder me from uttering my sense of duty, however poorly I may practise it. What do you think of Hiawatha? Is it not an aroma of sweet fern, cedar, and all woodland odors, mingled with the song of birds, the fall of cascades, and the sighing of the zephyrs, which the poet has concocted out of the Indian grunt, grease, and vermillion? One day week before last I was making a call in Boston, and in walked Rev.——with gold-headed cane, sleek and trim in shining broadcloth, and looking very like a stall-fed bishop. He began immediately to talk of Mr. Stetson, and to do him justice seemed very glad that he was to remain in Medford. But turning to me, ‘I did not know but his abolitionism and his transcendentalism might have brought him into difficulty among you.’ ‘On the contrary,’ was my retort, ‘every good person in the parish agreed with him upon abolitionism, and if I speak with less assurance of transcendentalism, it is because I consider myself in the attitude of one rather reverently looking up to it than actually partaking of and possessing it.’ He had the grace to laugh, and then our host whipped in with several cavalier speeches which roused my ire, and I growled out, ‘Pray, do you clergymen live for public opinion, and the “they say” of everybody and nobody, or for your consciences and consciousness of what is actual truth?’ Mr. F. told this anecdote of Goethe. In a conversation on a future life, he said he should have no objection to a future state provided he could be sure of not seeing in it such and such persons (naming them), who would be sure to torment him with their bragging, ‘we told you it would be so; now you see for yourself, we knew.’