New York, March 2d, 1850.
WHAT a shabby trick, or rather how negligent of fate, my sweet Agatha, to let a little creature fall who has no superabundance of strength, and yet so much patience! It grieves me to the heart! That treacherous ice which [p. 229] let you slip so sadly when you were on so good an errand! And what were the good angels about to permit it? I can hardly forgive them!
Thank God, however, that you are now getting better, and that spring is approaching, and the time for the Marstand baths, and that you can have the benefit of them. And our poor Marie stands in need of them also. I do not thank Charlotte and all our friends for being so attentive to you, because that is quite natural, but I like them all the more for it, and think better of them than of the negligent good angels. And my little Agatha, if the heart and the will could have wings, then I should be now in your chamber, and by your bed; or if, as I hope, you have said good-by to bed, by your side, as your stick or crutch, or your waiting-maid; and that you know.
Thanks be to homeopathy and my good watchful doctor, I am now again in better health, though not yet quite recovered, and have now and then relapses; but they are of short continuance, and as I now understand my complaint better, and how it ought to be treated, I hope to be myself again shortly. I have not been so during these winter months. My sun has been darkened, and at times so totally that I have feared being obliged to return to Europe with my errand in America uncompleted. I feared that it was not possible for me to stand the climate. And that has not a little astonished me, as I considered myself so strong or so elastic that I could bear and get through as much as any Yankee. But the malady which I have endured, and still endure, is like the old witch who could trip up even Thor.
It is a disagreeable, poisonous, insidiously serpent-like disease--a vampire which approaches man in the dark, and sucks away the pith and marrow of body, nerves, and even of soul. Half or two thirds of the people in this country suffer, or have suffered, in some way from this malady; and I with them. The fault lies in the articles [p. 230] of food, in their mode of life, in the manner of warming their rooms, all of which would be injurious in any climate, but which, in one so hot and exciting as this, is downright murder. The great quantity of flesh meat and fat, the hot bread, the highly-spiced dishes, preserves in an evening, oysters, made dishes--we could not bear these in Sweden (we, indeed, will never roast our meat with any thing but good butter!), and here they ought to be put in the Litany --that they ought! and so ought also the furnaces, as they are called, that is, a sort of pipe which conveys hot air into a room through an opening in the floor or the wall, and by which means the room becomes warm, or, as it were, boiling, in five or ten minutes, but with a dry, close, unwholesome heat, which always gives me a sensation of pain as well as drowsiness in the head. The small iron stoves which are in use here are not good either: they are too heating and too extreme in their heat; but yet they are infinitely better than these furnaces, which I am sure have some secret relationship with the fiery furnace of hell. They seem to me made on purpose to destroy the human nerves and lungs. Besides these, they have in their drawing-rooms the heat of the gas-lights; and when we add to this the keenness and the changeableness of the atmosphere out of doors, it is easy to explain why the women, who in particular are, in this country, so thoughtless in their clothing, should be delicate and out of health, and why consumption should be greatly on the increase in these Northeastern States. Besides this, many often suffer from dyspepsia as a consequence. I am, in the mean time, indescribably thankful to have been rescued from the claws of the monster; for I consider myself to have been so, as I understand how to defend myself with regard to food, and I take with me my physician's globules and prescriptions. And my good old physician, with his somewhat rugged exterior and his heart warm with human love, I [p. 231] am really so much attached to him! For seven Weeks has he now attended me with the greatest care, coming every day, sometimes two or three times in the day, when he thought I was in a more suffering state, giving me the most fatherly advice, and finally furnishing me with medicines, and rules and regulations as regards diet, for the whole of my journey; and when I offered to pay him for the trouble he had taken, he would not hear of such a thing, shaking his head, and saying, in his deep, serious voice, that it was one of the happiest circumstances of his life that he could in any measure contribute to the reestablishment of my health. "One thing, however, I beg of you," wrote he, in his fatherly farewell letter, "and that is that you will sometimes write to me, and tell me about your health, and what you are doing and enjoying; because I hear a great deal about human suffering and sorrow, but very seldom about human happiness."
Yes, my sweet Agatha, I can not tell whether I rightly know the American character, but of this I am certain, that what I do know of it is more beautiful and more worthy to be loved than any other that I am acquainted with in the world. Their hospitality and warm-heartedness, when their hearts are once warmed, are really overflowing, and know no bounds. And as some travelers see and make a noise about their failings, it is very well that there should be somebody who, before any thing else, becomes acquainted with their virtues. And these failings of theirs, as far as I can yet see their national failings, may all be attributed principally to the youthful life of the people. In many cases I recognize precisely the faults of my own youth--the asking questions, want of reflection, want of observation of themselves and others, a boastful spirit, and so on. And how free from these failings, and how critically alive to them are the best people in this country! America's best judges and censors of manners are Americans themselves.[p. 232]
March 5th. You thank me for my letters, my sweet Agatha; but to me they seem so wretched and so few. I meant to have written you better letters; but partly I have been so indisposed, and so depressed in mind, that I have not been able to write; and in part the daily desire to see people and things, the receiving of visits and letters, and such like, have so wholly occupied me, that my letters home have suffered in consequence. This also can be merely the slightest summa summarum of the last fortnight's occurrences, for they have come on like a torrent, and I can scarcely remember their detail.
I was present at two other Conversations of Alcott's before I left Boston. They attracted me by Emerson's presence, and the part he took in them. Many interesting persons, and persons of talent, were present, and the benches were crowded. The conversation was to bear upon the principal tendencies of the age.
First one, then another clever speaker rose, but it was most difficult to centralize. The subjects had a strong inclination to go about through space like wandering stars, without sun or gravitation. But the presence of Emerson never fails to produce a more profound and more earnest state of feeling, and by degrees the conversation arranged itself into something like observation and reply; in particular, through Emerson's good sense in calling upon certain persons to express their sentiments on certain questions. A somewhat unpolished person in the crowd suddenly called upon Emerson, with a rude voice, to stand forth and give a reason for what he meant by "the moral right of victory on earth, and justice of Providence, and many more absurd phrases which he makes use of in his writings, and which were totally opposed to the doctrines of Christianity, the testimony of the martyrs, and which would make all martyrs to be fools or cheats?" The tone in which this inquiry was made was harsh, and in the spirit of an accusation. The whole assembly directed their [p. 233] eyes to Emerson. I could perceive that he breathed somewhat quicker, but when, after a few moments' reflection, he replied, his manner was as calm, and his voice, if possible, more gentle and melodious than common, forming a strong contrast to that of the questioner. "Assuredly," replied he, "I consider that every one who combats and suffers for any truth and right will, in the end, obtain the victory; if not in his first appearance, then certainly in his second."
The inquirer was silenced by this reply, but looked angry and irresolute.
By degrees, however, the conversation, through the influence of Emerson, divided itself, as it were, into two streams, and which in fact might be called the two principal tendencies of the age; the one was Socialism, which seeks to perfect man and human nature by means of social institutions, and which seemed to have many adherents in the assembly; the second, under the guidance of Emerson, who would perfect society by means of each separate human being perfecting himself. The former begin with society, the latter with the individual. One of the company, who was called upon by Emerson to express his opinion, said "that he held the same views as Emerson, inasmuch as man must first begin the work of perfection in himself. He must adorn himself as a bride to make himself fit for a union with the divine Spirit. It was by means of this union that the most perfected humanity would be attained to!" To these remarks Emerson replied by a beautiful, grateful smile. "You see that I," continued the speaker, "like my great countrymen, Swedenborg and Linnæus, lay great stress upon marriage" (you may guess certainly who the speaker is now).
"You then regard marriage as of the highest importance in life?" said Alcott, very much pleased.
"Yes, the spiritual marriage; it is the only one which is necessary."[p. 234]
With this reply Alcott seemed less pleased. For the rest, Alcott would do without us, and without children altogether, except a few select ones, an élite corps, of which he would himself be the teacher, and who would be the new-born generation.
When the conversation had pretty fully developed the wisdom and the folly of the assembly, Theodore Parker took up the word, and gave an excellent, but covertly sarcastic statement of that which had been said during the evening, in particular of Alcott's philanthropic views with regard to the present human generation. When he had ended, an involuntary smile played upon all countenances, upon Emerson's as well as the rest; but, however, turning his eagle-like head --eagle-like in expression, if not in features--toward the speaker, he said, "That is quite right, and would be still more so if we came here to examine a speech from the chair, and not a free, unreserved conversation. But here might avail a maxim which I saw applied by one of my friends in England, who used to assemble his friends for the discussion of interesting topics. He had inscribed above the door of the room used for their discussions some words-- which I am sorry I do not accurately remember--but the substance of which was, that every body was welcome to say what he thought right, but that it was forbidden to any one to make remarks on that which was said."
On this a new smile was on every face, and evidently at Parker's expense. Parker seemed a little hurt, reddened, but said--after a moment's pause--"that he thought it was better to make some remarks on that which had been said, than to come together and talk, without knowing distinctly what they were talking about."
And now again all laughed, and Emerson also with Parker, and the assembly broke up cheerfully; and I drove home more amused and edified than I expected ever to have been at one of Alcott's "Conversations."[p. 235]
I was present, again, at two more of Fanny Kemble's Readings, and was greatly delighted. My acquaintance with her has also afforded me great pleasure and interest. She is full of genius, and is in every respect a richly-gifted woman, with a warm heart and noble mind, and with life and with "spirit" enough to ride a horse to death every day, and to master every man or woman who might attempt to master her. Proud one moment as the proudest queen, she can yet, toward an unpretending being, be the next as humble and as amiable as an amiable young girl. Loving splendor, and expensive in her way of life and her habits, she can yet be simple as a simple countryman or a peasant maiden; thus she often, in the country, dressed in man's attire, goes ranging about through wood and field, and on one occasion she herself drove a cow home to Miss Sedgwick, who had lost hers, and who now received this as a present from her "sublime" Fanny. (N. B.--She lives in Miss Sedgwick's neighborhood, and the two are very fond of each other.) She utters the noblest thoughts, yet she is deficient in the more refined womanliness, and seems to me not to understand the true dignity of her own sex. But she understands Shakspeare, and reads incomparably. Her Henry V., Brutus, Cleopatra (in the death-scene), I shall never forget.
Maria Lowell accompanied me to the forenoon readings last Saturday. She read Shakspeare's enchanting "As You Like It," and she read it enchantingly well. After the reading, I invited her to take luncheon with me, together with the young Lowells.
She came, brimful of life, warm from the reading, and warm from the increased warmth of her hearers; her eye seemed to comprehend the whole world, and the dilated nostrils seemed to inhale all the affluent life of the world. By chance it so happened that Laura Bridgeman, with her attendant, had come to call on me at the same time, and was seated in my room as Fanny Kemble entered.[p. 236]
Fanny Kemble had never before seen the blind, deaf, and dumb Laura, and she was so struck by the sight of this poor, imprisoned being, that she sat certainly above a quarter of an hour lost in the contemplation of her, while large tears streamed unceasingly down her cheeks. Laura was not quite well, and she was therefore more than usually pale and quiet. One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than these two beings, these two lives. Fanny Kemble, with all her senses awake to life, powerful enough to take possession of life in all its manifold phases and its fullness; Laura Bridgeman, shut out from life, her noblest senses closed, dead, without light, without hearing, without the power of speech!--and yet, perhaps, Laura was now the happier of the two, at least in her own sense of existence. She even made intelligible her lively sense of happiness, in reply to the question which was put to her. Fanny Kemble wept, wept bitterly. Was it for Laura, for herself, or merely from the contrast between them?
I went up to her several times to offer her some refreshment, but she merely answered "By-and-by," and continued to gaze at Laura, and tears continued to fall.
In a while she became composed, and we had an hour's cheerful and amusing conversation with the Lowells. After which I took a little sketch of Laura.
Fanny Kemble, as you know, has been married to a wealthy American and slaveholder, Mr. Butler, and is now separated from him. This marriage and its consequences seem to have embittered her life, especially the separation of herself and her two children. I have heard her lament over this in the most heart-rending manner, and I can not conceive how the social spirit of America, in general so favorable to woman and to mothers, can permit so great an injustice, when the fault which occasions the marriage separation is on the man's side. To separate a mother from her children! That ought never to take place if she does not openly forfeit her right to them![p. 237]
In this tragedy of marriage, the two principal persons have each their friends and adherents, but the general voice seems to be in her favor. I can very well believe that Fanny Kemble would not be the most excellent nor the most tractable of wives. But, why, then, did he so resolutely endeavor to win her? He knew beforehand her temper and her anti-slavery sympathies, for she is too truthful to have concealed any thing. Extraordinary, in the mean time, is that sort of magnetic power which this woman, so unfeminine in many respects, exercises upon a great number of men. For my part--to use the words of one of her friends--I am glad that there is one Fanny Kemble in the world, but I do not wish that there should be two.
The last evening party at which I was present at Boston was at the mayor's, Mr. Q., who belongs to one of the oldest families in Massachusetts. The last few days before my departure were full of occupation; and the last of all, on which I had to pack, to write many letters, to make calls and to receive visits at the latest moment, threw me again into my wretched and feverish state. But when it was over, that last day of my stay in Boston, with its various scenes, its fatigues, and its queerness, and with it a section--and one heavy enough--of my life in the New World, and when late in the evening young V. read to me some chapters in the Gospel of St. John, then was it good, then was it beautiful and pleasant. And if even at that time the fountain of tears was unsealed, it was from a deep sense of gratitude. For was not that season of sickness and depression over; and had I not, through it, learned to know and to love one of the best and the noblest of men, my good physician and friend, Dr. O., and had become acquainted with a glorious remedy both for you and for myself? And I now also understood the sufferings of nervous patients. I had never had experience of such myself, and had been inclined to be impatient toward them. I shall now do better.[p. 238]
Young V. is a complete Englishman in appearance, character, and prejudices, and in a certain solidity of manner and demeanor, which is not American. But with all this he is very agreeable and polite, and I have to thank him for many friendly attentions, most of all for his evening readings. These were the delicious outpouring of the Spirit of Peace after the restless hours and the fatigues of the day.
I left Boston on the last of February at eight in the morning. I was accompanied to the rail-way station by Mr. K. and young V., and at the station who should I see but my good doctor, who had come thither to bid me farewell, and the amiable Professor H., who presented me with a large and beautiful bouquet. With this in my hand, away I sped in the comfortable rail-way carriage, on the wings of steam, in splendid sunshine, on that bright cold morning, cheerful both in soul and body, and with a certain peace of conscience at having so far fulfilled my social duties in Boston. I, however, it is true, glanced with envy at a hen which, at one of the cottages which we passed, lay in the dust, basking in the sunshine, and I thought it was much better to be a hen than a lion.
I was invited at Springfield to dine at the Union Hotel, and there to receive visits from various ladies and gentlemen, as well as to write autographs. And then forward on my flying career. The sky, had in the mean time, become cloudy; it grew darker and darker, and I arrived at New York in a regular tempest of wind and snow. At the station, however, I was met by a servant and carriage, sent for me by Marcus S. And half an hour afterward I was at Rose Cottage, Brooklyn, drinking tea with my excellent friends, who received me in the kindest manner, and with whom I sat up talking till late.
And I am now with them, and able to hide myself from the world for a few days. This is enchanting; I hope here perfectly to regain my strength before I betake [p. 239] myself to the South. Here I have the peace of freedom which I desire, and my friends' mode of living is altogether simple and healthful; and they themselves, and the children, and Rose Cottage, with its peaceful spirit--yes, with many such homes, the New World would be also the Better World!
It is, however, very cold still, and I long for the South and for a milder air. I am not very fond of the climate of Massachusetts. Yet I have to thank Massachusetts for some glorious spring days during the winter, for its beautiful, deep blue, beaming sky, for its magnificent elms, in the long sweeping branches of which the oriole builds in full security its little nest which sways in the wind; I thank it for its rural homes, where the fear of God, and industry, family affections, and purity of life have their home. Its educational system has my esteem, and many excellent people have my love. To the good city of Boston I give my blessing, and am glad to be leaving it --for the present; but hope to return, because I must again see my friends there when the elm-trees are in leaf; above all, my good doctor and the young Lowells. And we have agreed to meet next summer. We shall together visit Niagara, which Maria Lowell as yet has never seen. When she was last with me in Boston, I saw upon the floor of my bed-room a flower which had fallen from her bonnet, a white rose with two little pale pink buds, and which had touched her light curls--they lay upon the carpet like a remembrance of her, and I picked them up, and shall keep them always as a remembrance of that lovely young woman. I thank the land of the Pilgrims, above all, for its ideal, for its conception of a higher law in society, a law of God, which ought to be obeyed rather than human law; for its conception of a standard of morality higher than that which is current in the world, and which demands the highest purity of life in man as in woman, and which admits of no lax concession; [p. 240] for its noble feeling as regards the rights of woman and her development as fellow-citizen; for its sense of the honor of labor, and its demanding for every good laborer honorable wages as such. I thank it for its magnanimous wish and endeavor to give every thing to all; for those little settlements in which the children of the New World endeavor to bring into operation the divine teaching. People say that such ideas are impractical. It is by such impractical ideas that society approaches nearer to heaven, nearer to the kingdom of God, and the very things which are insecure root themselves firmly in those which are secure.
Sunday. I am just returned from a Presbyterian church, where I have heard a young preacher from the West preach "on the Positive in Christianity," one of the best extempore Christian discourses which I ever heard in any country. The preacher, Henry Beecher, is full of life and energy, and preaches from that experience of Christian life which gives a riveting effect to his words; besides which he appears to me to be singularly free from sectarian spirit, and attaches himself with decision and clearness to the common light and life of every Christian Church. He has also considerable wit, and does not object to enliven his discourse with humorous sallies, so that more than once the whole audience of the crowded church burst into a general laugh, which, however, did not prevent them from soon shedding joyful tears of devotion. That was the case at the prayer of the young preacher over the bread and wine at the administration of the sacrament, and tears also streamed down his own cheeks as he bowed in silent, rapt contemplation of the splendid mystery of the sacrament, of that humanity which, through the life of Christ, is now born and transfigured. When we stand at the communion-table with our nearest kindred or our family, we ought to have this thought livingly present to our minds, that we should behold them as transformed by [p. 241] the spirit of Christ; we should think, how beautiful will my husband, my friend, my brother, become when this his failing or that his short-coming is done away with, when he stands forth transfigured through the divine life! Oh how patient, how gentle, how affectionate, how hopeful are we not capable of becoming! Such was the substance of the young minister's discourse, but how earnestly and convincingly he spoke is not for me to describe. I also partook of the sacrament, to which he invited all Christians present, of whatever name or sect they might be, as well as strangers from other lands. The bread (small square pieces of bread upon a plate) and the wine were carried to the benches and passed on from hand to hand, which took considerably from the solemnity of the ceremony. How beautiful is our procession to the altar, and after that the halleluiah song of the assembly!
The ritual of our Swedish Church, as expressive of the religious feeling of the assembly, seems to me, also, to be better and more perfect than that of any other Church with which I am acquainted, yet nevertheless even that might be better still. But the sermons and the hymns are better in this country; the former have considerably more reality, and are more applicable to actual life; and the latter have more life and beauty also, and would have still more if they were really sung by the congregation. This, however, I have to object against the hymns of the United States, that they are sung by a trained choir in the gallery, and all the rest of the congregation sit silently and listen, just as they would sit in a concert-room. Some accompany them, reading from their hymn-books, but others never open theirs. When I have occasionally lifted up my voice with the singers, I have seen my neighbors look at me with some surprise. And then the hymns and psalms here are so full of rhythm, have such vitalizing tunes, and such vitalizing, beautiful words, that I feel as if people ought to sing them with heart and soul. Our [p. 242] long, heavy Swedish psalms, full of self-observation and repetition,[1*] are not met with here; neither have I here met with those monotonous, feeble, poor tunes which destroy all life in the soul, and which made me, every time a hymn was begun, glance with a certain fear at its length; for if it were very long, I never reached the end of it without being weary and sleepy, though I might have begun with fervency of feeling. And was it different with others? I have often looked around me during the singing in Swedish churches, and have seen many a dull, sleepy eye; many a half-opened mouth which did not utter a word, and had forgotten to close itself--in short, a sort of idiotic expression which told me that the soul was away, and while I thus looked at others, I found it was the same with myself. The prayers, it seems to me, are better with us than with the congregations here; but still they might be improved even with us. In the Episcopal churches of this country the prayers are according to the printed form in the book, and it frequently happens that the soul has no part in these. It is a mere prating with the lips. In the Unitarian churches the preacher prays for the congregation, and in its name, prays an infinitely long prayer, which has the inconvenience of saying altogether too much, of using too many words, and yet of not saying that which any single individual ought to say. How often have I thought during these long prayers, how much more perfect it would be if the minister merely said, "Lord, help us!" or "Lord, let thy countenance shine upon us!" Better than all would it be, as Jean Paul proposed, that the minister should merely say, "Let us pray!" And then that some beautiful soul-touching music should play, during which all should pray in silence, according to. the wants and the inspirations of their souls. Of a truth, then [p. 243] would prayers ascend more pure and fervent than any prescribed by human tongues and forms. A worship of God in spirit and, in truth, a vital expression of the life and truth of Christianity--should we then have on earth.
But I must yet say a few words about that young disciple of Calvin, Henry Beecher, but who has left far behind him whatever is hard and petrified in the orthodoxy of Calvin, and, breaking away from that, has attached himself to the true Christian doctrine of mercy to all. He was with us last evening, and told us how, as a missionary, he had preached in the West, beneath the open sky, to the people of the wilderness, and how, during his solitary journeys amid those grand primeval scenes, and during, his daily experience of that most vitalizing influence of Christianity upon the fresh human soul, he had, by degrees, introduced order into his own inward world, had solved hitherto difficult religious questions, and had come forth from the old dead Church into one more comprehensive and more full of light. He described also, in the most picturesque manner, the nocturnal camp-meeting of the West; the scenes of baptism there on the banks of rivers and streams, as well in their poetical as in their frequently comic aspects. There is somewhat of the power of growth peculiar to the great Western wilds in this young man, but somewhat of its rudeness also. He is a bold, ardent young champion of that young America, too richly endowed, and too much acknowledged as such, for them not to be quite conscious of their own I. And even in his sermon this I was somewhat too prominent. But only more and more do I feel how great an interest I shall take, in visiting that great West, where "growth" seems to be the only available watch-word; where, in the immeasurable valley of the Mississippi, between the Alleghanies and the Rocky Mountains, it is said there is room for a larger population than that of the whole of Europe; and where a great and new people are developing themselves, through [p. 244] a union of all races of people, in the lap of a grand and powerful natural scenery, which, like a strong mother, will train them up into a more vigorous and higher human life. Many a thinking man here in the Eastern States has said to me, "You will not see what the American people are becoming, not see the Young American, until you reach the West."
I had intended to set off from New York to Philadelphia in company with Mrs. Kirkland, according to her, proposal, and thence go forward with Anne Lynch to Washington, to attend some of the sittings of Congress, and to see its lions; but I am so afraid of all the fatigue and excitement which mixing in society involves, and I am so anxious to go to the South, because this season of the year is best for that purpose, as in May the heat is already too great in the Southern States, that, after consultation with my friends, I have determined to go on Saturday by steamer to Charleston, in South Carolina. Within seventy-two hours I shall be there, and probably in full summer, while here the ground is covered with snow.
From Charleston I shall travel to the different places to which I am invited, and spend in Carolina and Georgia, that paradise of North America, the months of March and April. In May I shall go to Washington, and after a stay of a fortnight there, return here, and so go westward to Cincinnati (Ohio), on to Illinois and Wisconsin, where I shall visit my countrymen, the Swedes and Norwegians, and see how they are getting on. From this point I shall travel by the great inland lakes to Niagara, where, about the end of June, I have agreed to meet the Downings and the Lowells.
Thus, my sweet Agatha, you see my tour made out; and I am certain to have the eye of a good spirit from my Swedish home upon me during my journey. It may happen that after this I may not be able to write to you as often as heretofore; but once a month, at least, you [p. 245] shall have a letter, and I will try to write better letters than I have yet done. Ah! if I could only continue to be as well as I am now beginning to feel, then I should live, and think, and write so much! I sometimes, also, feel as if a book on America would come forth from me; but then it would be very different to any other of my works.
The sun and the light now come in upon me in my charming room at Rose Cottage. If they would but only shine now in upon you, my sweet child, and speak of spring and warm breezes, and the sea-baths and good health!
March 15th. I could not accomplish my journey as I had arranged. The vessel by which I thought of sailing has been sold to the Californian trade, and the next steamer which goes to Charleston will not leave till Saturday fortnight, and I had neither time nor inclination to defer my going South so long. I have therefore determined to go by a sailing vessel, and Marcus S. has arranged for me to go by a good and safe packet. If the wind is favorable, I shall be there in from four to five days; and I fancy that the voyage will be amusing. If the wind is contrary and the weather stormy, it will still be well. I do not object to being tossed a little by wind and wave.
I have packed my things to-day and got ready for the journey, and although there is a tempest of wind and snow, yet I feel cheerful and impatient to be off. The spirit of the Vikings is again awake within me, and
"Pleasant to me is the song of the billows,
Which heave on the tempested sea!"
I shall be better off amid them than in the gas-lighted drawing-rooms of Boston and New York.
I have now spent a week with Mrs. Kirkland in New York. She is not the gay and vivacious being which her book, "A New Home in the West," led us to imagine. Hers is a character of greater depth. That playful spirit, with its feeling for the comic in life, has been depressed [p. 246] by sorrow and misfortune; but it flashes forth sometimes, and then reveals the depth of the soul's earnestness. She is an ardent and strong woman, and a true fellow-citizen, and has sustained herself amid great trials by religion, and by the necessity to work for her four children, two sons and two daughters: the youngest son, Willie, and the youngest daughter, Cordelia, are especially my favorites. Friendship with the noble and distinguished preacher, Mr. Bellows, as well as her literary occupation, make her life any thing but poor. She is one of those natures in which the feminine and the manly attributes are harmoniously blended, and which, therefore, is well balanced, and is capable of taking the lead of those around her.
I saw at her house a Miss Haynes, who has been a missionary in China, and who, still young and handsome, conducts a large girls' boarding-school in New York. She interested me by her individuality, and by the interesting stories which she related of Miss Dorothea Dix (the Mrs. Fry of the New World), and her uncommon force of character and activity. I hope yet to meet this angel of prisons and hospitals, and to kiss her hand for that which she is and that which she does.
At Mrs. Kirkland's I also saw the young traveler, Bayard Taylor, who had just returned from California, and I was glad to hear his stories from the land of gold; in particular, of the character of the scenery, its climate, vegetable productions, and animals. Apropos of him. I must beg leave to tell you a little about what I think a Yankee is, or what he seems to me to be; and by Yankee is properly understood one of the boys of New England; the type of the "go ahead America" --of Young America. He is a young man--it is all the same if he is old-- who makes his own way in the world in full reliance on his own power, stops at nothing, turns his back on nothing, finds nothing impossible, goes through every thing, and comes out of every thing--always the same. If he falls, [p. 247] he immediately gets up again, and says "No matter!" If he is unsuccessful, he says "Try again!" "Go ahead;" and he begins again, or undertakes something else, and never stops till it succeeds. Nay, he does not stop then. His work and will is to be always working, building, beginning afresh, or beginning something new--always developing, extending himself or his country; and somebody has said, with truth, that all the enjoyments of heaven would not be able to keep an American in one place, if he was sure of finding another still further west, for then he must be off there to cultivate and to build. It is the Viking spirit again; not the old Pagan, however, but the Christian, which does not conquer to destroy, but to ennoble. And he does not do it with difficulty and with sighs, but cheerfully and with good courage. He can sing "Yankee Doodle" even in his mishaps; for if a thing will not go this way, then it will go that. He is at home on the earth, and he can turn every thing to his own account. He has, before he reaches middle life, been a schoolmaster, farmer, lawyer, soldier, author, statesman--has tried every kind of profession, and been at home in them all; and besides all this, he has traveled over half, or over the whole of the world. Wherever he comes on the face of the earth, or in whatever circumstances, he is sustained by a two-fold consciousness which makes him strong and tranquil; that is to say, that he is a man who can rely upon himself; and that he is the citizen of a great nation designed to be the greatest on the face of the earth. He thus feels himself to be the lord of the earth, and bows himself before none save to the Lord of lords. To Him, however, he looks upward, with the faith and confidence of a child. A character of this kind is calculated to exhibit at times its laughable side, but it has undeniably a fresh, peculiar greatness about it, and is capable of accomplishing great things. And in the attainment of the most important object in the solution of [p. 248] the highest problem of humanity--a fraternal people, I believe that the Father of all people laid his hand upon the head of his youngest son, as our Charles the Ninth did, saying, "He shall do it! he shall do it!"
As an example of those amusing and characteristic instances of Yankee spirit, which I have often heard related, take the following: A young man, brother to Charles Sumner, traveled to St. Petersburg to present an acorn to the Emperor Nicholas. But I must tell you the story as Maria Child tells it, in her entertaining letters from New York.
"One day a lad, apparently about nineteen, presented himself before our embassador at St. Petersburg. He was a pure specimen of the genus Yankee; with sleeves too short for his bony arms, trowsers half way up to his knees, and hands playing with coppers and tenpenny nails in his pocket. He introduced himself by saying, 'I've just come out here to trade, with a few Yankee notions, and I want to get a sight of the emperor.'
"'Why do you wish to see him?'
"'I've brought him a present all the way from Americky. I respect him considerable, and I want to get at him, to give it to him with my own hands.'
"Mr. Dallas smiled as he answered, 'It is such a common thing, my lad, to make crowned heads a present, expecting something handsome in return, that I am afraid the emperor will consider this only a Yankee trick. What have you brought?'
"'An acorn! What under the sun induced you to bring the Emperor of Russia an acorn?'
"'Why, just before I sailed, mother and I went on to Washington to see about a pension; and when we was there, we thought we'd just step over to Mount Vernon. I picked up this acorn there; and I thought to myself I'd bring it to the emperor. Thinks, says I, he must have [p. 249] heard a considerable deal about our General Washington, and I expect he must admire our institutions. So now you see I've brought it, and I want to get at him.'
"'My lad, it's not an easy matter for a stranger to approach the emperor; and I am afraid he will take no notice of your present. You had better keep it.'
"'I tell you I want to have a talk with him. I expect I can tell him a thing or two about Americky. I guess he'd like mighty well to hear about our rail-roads and about our free-schools, and what a big swell our steamers cut. And when he hears how well our people are getting on, may be it will put him up to doing something. The long and the short on't is, I sha'n't be easy till I get a talk with the emperor; and I should like to see his wife and children. I want to see how such folks bring up a family!'
"'Well, sir, since you are determined upon it, I will do what I can for you; but you must expect to be disappointed. Though it will be rather an unusual proceeding, I would advise you to call on the vice-chancellor and state your wishes. He may possibly assist you!'
"'Well, that's all I want of you. I will call again, and let you know how I get on.'
"In two or three days he again appeared, and said, 'Well, I've seen the emperor and had a talk with him. He's a real gentleman, I can tell you. When I gave him the acorn, he said he should set a great store by it; that there was no character in ancient or modern history he admired so much as he did our Washington. He said he'd plant it in his palace garden with his own hand, and he did do it--for I see him with my own eyes. He wanted to ask me so much about our schools and rail-roads, and one thing or another, that he invited me to come again, and see his daughters; for he said his wife could speak better English than he could. So I went again yesterday; and she's a fine, knowing woman, I tell you; and his daughters are nice gals.'[p. 250]
"'What did the empress say to you?'
"'Oh, she asked me a sight o' questions. Don't you think, she thought we had no servants in Americky! I told her poor folks did their own work, but rich folks had plenty of servants. 'But then you don't call 'em servants,' said she; 'you call 'em help.' 'I guess, ma'am, you've been reading Mrs. Trollope?' says I. 'We had that ere book aboard our ship.' The emperor clapped his hands, and laughed as if he'd kill himself. 'You're right, sir,' said he, 'you're right. We sent for an English copy, and she's been reading it this very morning!' Then I told all I knew about our country, and he was mightily pleased. He wanted to know how long I expected to stay in these parts. I told him I'd sold all the notions I brought over, and guessed I should go back in the same ship. I bid 'em good-by all round, and went about my business. Hav'n't I had a glorious time? I expect you did not calculate to see me run such a rig?'
"'No, indeed I did not, my lad. You may very well consider yourself lucky; for it's a very uncommon thing for crowned heads to treat a stranger with so much distinction.'
"A few days after he called again, and said, 'I guess I shall stay here a spell longer, I'm treated so well. T'other day a grand officer come to my room, and told me that the emperor had sent him to show me all the curiosities; and I dressed myself, and he took me into a mighty fine carriage with four horses; and I've been to the theatre and the museum; and I expect I've seen about all there is to be seen in St. Petersburg! What do you think of that, Mr. Dallas?'
"It seemed so incredible that a poor, ungainly Yankee lad should be thus loaded with attentions, that the embassador scarcely knew what to think or say.
"In a short time his visitor reappeared. 'Well,' said he, 'I made up my mind to go home; so I went to thank [p. 251] the emperor and bid him good-by. I thought I could not do less, he'd been so civil. Says he, 'Is there any thing else you'd like to see before you go back to Americky!' I told him I should like to have a peep at Moscow; for I had heard considerable about their setting fire to the Kremlin, and I'd read a deal about General Bonaparte; but it would cost a sight o' money to go there, and I wanted to carry my earnings to my mother. So I bid him good-by, and come off. Now what do you guess he did next morning? I vow he sent the same man in regimentals, to carry me to Moscow in one of his own carriages, and bring me back again when I've seen all I want to see! And we're going to-morrow morning, Mr. Dallas. What do you think now?'
"And, sure enough, the next morning the Yankee boy passed the embassador's house in a splendid coach and four, waving his pocket-handkerchief, and shouting 'Good-by! Good-by!'
"Mr. Dallas afterward learned from the emperor that all the particulars related by this adventurous youth were strictly true. He again heard from him at Moscow, waited upon by the public officers, and treated with as much attention as is usually bestowed on embassadors.
"The last tidings of him reported that he was traveling in Circassia, and writing a journal, which he intended to publish.
"Now who but a Yankee could have done all that?" adds Mrs. Child.
Between this young Yankee and the American statesman and gentleman, Henry Clay, there is a great distance, and I do not know why he just now presented himself to my memory out of the great number of persons that I saw in New York this week. I saw him at the house of Anne Lynch, who is one of his especial lady friends, and sometimes acts as his secretary. He is a very tall and thin old gentleman, with an unusually lofty, bald brow, an [p. 252] ugly but expressive countenance, an awkward figure, but with real grace of manner, and a pleasing, sonorous voice. He has, when he likes--and he always likes to have it with ladies--a remarkably obliging, I might say heart-felt, expression and manner. He is likewise surrounded by female worshipers, and he himself seems to be a great worshiper of woman. He has been some few days in New York, and overwhelmed by friends and invitations. He seemed, however, to me to bask himself in the sunshine of his popularity more than I should have thought an old man would have done. I should not have thought that he could have endured that horrible fine life of day labor! The Americans have more enthusiasm for their great statesmen than the Europeans for their kings. Clay, though from one of their Slave States (Kentucky), is, I believe, a liberal-minded man, who understands and who desires the true greatness of his country. Although not properly of the Yankee race--for the Southern States were peopled by that political party known in England under the name of Cavaliers, and opposed to the Puritans in manners, life, and temper--he has, nevertheless, some of that Viking spirit which distinguishes the sons of the New World. He is what is here designated "a self-made man"' his father was a poor farmer, and his life has been a restless combat on the stormy sea of politics; he has fought several duels, and as a senator has combated, by word and by influence in the Congress of the United States, for the well-being of the Union at home and for its power abroad, during a long course of years, both bravely and honorably.
Yet another figure glances distinctly forth from these days so rich in people--a lovely, captivating female figure, the perfect gentlewoman--Mrs. Bancroft, the wife of the historian of that name. After several years' residence in Europe, and acquaintance with the high life of the highest circles in England, she has returned to America [p. 253] with a definite understanding and a warm sense of the advantages of her native land, and of its mission to humanity.
Mrs. Kirkland took me back to the S.'s. Ah! Agatha, if I could only show to you how amiable is this married couple, how good, how pure, how delicate-minded! Marcus is certainly one of the best and most warm-hearted beings that beautify this earth. And Rebecca is good also, unusually endowed, amusing, and most charming. To do good, and to help others, is their greatest joy--their continual thought. And besides that, they are so cheerful, have such a good, and beautiful, and excellent way of taking any thing, that even that which is vexatious changes itself into something good and agreeable in their hands. And if people could only communicate such things by teaching, I should learn much from them. Happier human beings I have never seen. And they themselves are so filled with gratitude for the happiness which they have experienced and still experience, that they are prepared to receive whatever blow may come in the feeling that they have had so much of this world's good fortune. But misfortune seems not to have the heart to strike these gentle and grateful beings, who look at it with glances of submissive love; it approaches and threatens, but then passes by. Thus was it with regard to their baby, which long hovered on the brink of the grave, but which now becomes daily stronger and livelier. How kind they have been and are to me I have not words to tell! They think for me, arrange every thing for me, and look after me as if I were their sister; and they do every thing so nicely and so well. I can not be sufficiently grateful for these friends.
The Downings also--those amiable people and kind friends--are to me invaluable. They came to New York to see me, and brought me the most beautiful flowers. His dark eyes, and her gentle, bright blue ones, as blue [p. 254] as our Swedish violets, will accompany me on my journey--will remain in my heart.
March 16th. But I do not know how rightly I am to get away, there is so much difficulty both as regards the vessels and the captains. The captain, that is to say him of the sailing-vessel, when he learned the name of the lady-passenger who wished to sail in his vessel --refused to receive her on board; and when Marcus insisted upon knowing his reason why, he replied that he did not wish to have any authors on board his ship who would laugh to scorn his accommodations, and who would put him in a book. Marcus laughed, and wanted to persuade him to run the risk, assuring him that I was not dangerous, and so on. But the man was immovable. He would not take me on board; and I have now to wait till the next steamboat goes, which is eight days later. And for this I have to thank Mrs. Trollope and Dickens. But I am happy at Rose Cottage with my amiable friends, and this delay has afforded me the pleasure of hearing Emerson's lectures at various times, both here and in New York. It is a peculiar pleasure to hear that deep, sonorous voice uttering words which give the impression of jewels and real pearls as they fall from his lips. I heard him yesterday, in his lecture on Eloquence, severely chastise the senseless exaggeration and inflation of expression made use of by some of his countrymen, and which he compared with the natural and poetically beautiful, yet destructive hyperbole of the East. He produced examples of both, and the assembly, in the best possible humor with their lecturer, gave the most lively demonstrations of approval and pleasure. Marcus S. and some other gentlemen of Brooklyn invited Emerson to give these lectures, and I thus saw him there several times. Perhaps we may never meet again. But I am glad to have seen him.
20th. We have had two quiet beautiful evenings, for I do not this time either receive visits or accept invitations, [p. 255] unless exceptionally; I must rest. My friends and I have, therefore, been alone, and we have spent the evenings in reading and conversation. I have read a letter which they have received from Margaret Fuller, now the Marchioness Ossoli, for her marriage is now divulged, and her advocate, Mr. W. R., was perfectly right. Madame Ossoli is now, with her husband and child, on her way to America, where she will take up her residence. And on board the same vessel is also that young man who traveled to St. Petersburg, and gave the Emperor of Russia the acorn. Her last letter is from Gibraltar, and describes the affectingly beautiful evening when the body of the captain--he had died of small-pox--was lowered into the sea, above which the evening sun descended brilliantly, and small craft lay with white sails outspread like the wings of angels. A certain melancholy breathes through the letter, and a thoroughly noble tone of mind, with no trace whatever of that insolent and proud spirit which various things had led me to expect in her. In her letter to Rebecca she spoke of her joy as a mother, and of her beautiful child, in the most touching manner. "I can hardly understand my own happiness," she says in one place; "I am the mother of an immortal being--'God be merciful to me a sinner!'" That does not sound much like pride! She has sent home a box of presents and souvenirs for her friends, "in case I should not again see my father-land," says she. She has commenced the voyage with joyless presentiments; and now that the good captain of the vessel is dead, during the voyage they seem to increase. Yet all has gone well hitherto, and her mother, three brothers, and her only sister, the young, amiable lady at Concord, and many of her friends, expect her with longing and with joy.
22d. Yesterday I visited the Female Academy at Brooklyn, an educational institute for five hundred young girls, where they study and graduate as young men do. I admired [p. 256] the arrangement of the establishment, its museum, library, &c., and was especially pleased with the deportment of the young girls; heard their compositions both in prose and verse, liked them and the young ladies who read them. I also heard here a song, with which, to my shame I say it, I have been greeted two or three times in this country, because the words, in which I can not discover a grain of sense or connection, have been dedicated to me (they begin, "I dream, I dream of my father-land"), and the music to--Jenny Lind! C'est imprimée! These finishing schools for young girls give unquestionably a deal of finish, various kinds of knowledge, demeanor in society, self-possession, &c. But are they calculated to develop that which is best in woman? I doubt it; and I have heard sensible women in this country, even among the young, doubt also, or rather deny that they are. They may be good as a temporary means of leading women into those spheres of knowledge from which they have hitherto been excluded. Thus these young ladies are universally commended for the progress which they make, and for their skill in mathematical studies, in algebra, and physics. But it is clear to me that the pursuit of these scholastic studies must involve the neglect of much domestic virtue and pleasure. The young girl, in her zeal to prepare her lessons, snubs her mother, and looks cross at her father, if they venture to interrupt her. They call forth her ambition at the expense of her heart. They lay too much stress upon school learning. The highest object of schools should be to prepare people to do without them. At all events, the life of the young girl ought to be divided between the school and home, so that the school may have but a small part of it. The good home is the true high school.
But I almost reproach myself for saying so much against an institution where I experienced so much of the young heart's warmth as I did here. Certain it is that I embraced [p. 257] and was embraced, that I kissed and was kissed, by daughters, and nieces, and mammas, and aunts, so that there was almost too much of it. But the warm-heartedness there warmed my own heart, and I bore away with me many lively memories of it.
I am now preparing for my departure, and in the mean time have taken the portraits of my friends and their children, "the rose-colored family," in a little group of heads, which I leave with them as a memorial of me. I was very sorry to part with it. I should like to have had it always with me. But I shall see them again, for I am returning here. Great part of my books and clothes, as well as my one chest, I shall leave at their house. When I look at the former, and see the thick volumes of Hegel's Philosophy and Scandinavian Mythology, which I intended to have studied during my visit to this country, I can not but smile. I have not once thought of opening them.
March 24th. Yesterday Channing was here, the amiable W. H. Channing! He came in the morning, fresh and dewy as a morning in May. We had, during the winter, exchanged a couple of letters, and in them had got a little atwist. Emerson was the apple of discord between us. Channing set up Emerson, and I set up--myself. And thus we both became silent. When we now met, he was most cordial and beaming, gave me a volume of Wordsworth's, the "Excursion," and was perfectly kind and amiable. With such men one breathes the air of spring.
There was a little party in the evening. Channing among the rest. After he had said good-night and left the house, he came hastily back, and calling me out, led me into the piazza, where, pointing up to the starry heavens, which shone forth in beaming splendor above us, he smiled, pressed my hand, and--was gone.
But I must not talk only of myself and my own affairs; I must say a little about the affairs of the public. The [p. 258] question of universal interest, and which now occupies every one, regards the incorporation of California and Texas with the Union as independent States. The whole country may be said to be divided into two parties--Pro-slavery and Anti-slavery. California--rapidly populated, and that principally from the Northeastern States, the enterprising sons of the Pilgrims --has addressed to Congress a petition to be freed from slavery, and to be acknowledged as a Free State. To this the Southern Slave States will not consent, as California, by its position, belongs to the Southern States, and its freedom from slavery would lessen their weight in Congress. They contend desperately for the maintenance of what they call their rights. The Northern Free States contend just as desperately, in part to prevent the extension of slavery to California and Texas, and in part to bring about the abolition of that which they with reason regard as a misfortune and a plague-spot to their father-land. And the contest is carried on with a good deal of bitterness on both sides, both in and out of Congress.
Abolitionists are here of all shades. Various of my acquaintance belong to the ultras; the S.'s to the moderates, and to these last I attach myself. I think the others unreasonable.
The continually increasing emigration of the poorest classes of Europe, principally from Ireland and Germany, has given rise to great exertions, not to oppose it, but to deal with it, and to make it not merely uninjurious, but as beneficial as possible, both for the country and the people themselves.
The Irish become here the best laborers which America possesses, in particular for the making of roads and canals. The Germans are assisted for the most part to the West, to the great German colonies in the valley of the Mississippi, and where all hands and all kinds of human qualifications are in demand. There begin to be in the Eastern [p. 259] States, as in Europe, more laborers than labor; but these, also, are moving off in great numbers westward. That great West, as far as the Pacific Ocean, is the future, and the hope of North America, the free space and boundless prospect of which give to its people a freer respiration, a fresher life than any other nation enjoys.
On all questions of general interest in the separate States, meetings are held, resolutions taken, and motions or petitions sent up to Congress, where the carrying them out comes within its administration. And it is a pleasure to hear how they all, at least in the Northern States, march onward for the advancement of popular education, and for the development of popular power, and all such public measures as tend to the general advantage.
In the midst of all the agitation of these great questions there comes at this moment the news of Jenny Lind's expected arrival, which has gone like wild-fire through the country, electrifying every body, and causing every countenance to clear up. It is as if a melodious major key echoed in every breast.
Thanks, my sweet child, for what you write about our friends and acquaintance at home. Greet them for me, and tell Mrs. L. that I think of her as tenderly and as faithfully as in Sweden. One of the happiest days of my life will be when I hear that she has recovered from her illness.
I must have mentioned to you, as among my kindest acquaintance in Boston, the Longfellows, both man and wife, and Professor and Mrs. Howe. I always felt animated, both heart and soul, when I was with them. Mrs. Howe, a most charming little creature, fresh and frank in character, and endowed with a delicate sense of the beautiful, I could really get very fond of.
I have declined the offers of several portrait-painters, but I could not help sitting to one in Boston, a Mr. Furniss, an agreeable young man; and he has taken a pleasing [p. 260] likeness of me. People say it is very like, and it is to be engraved.
I now bid you farewell; embrace and kiss mamma's hand in spirit. May you be able soon to tell me that you are quite well! I salute every spring day that comes, on your account. And we have had here some beautiful, vernally mild days; but the weather is now again cold, and as severe, and keen, and snowy as it ever is at this season in Sweden. But it will soon change again. And how I long for the South!
I have rested now thoroughly for some days, and I feel myself stronger each day. May my dear Agatha only feel the same!
P.S.--Mrs. W. H., of Charleston, has written to me and kindly invited me to her house there. But I must see her first to know whether we can get on well together. I shall therefore, in the first instance, go to an hotel in the city, and remain there for a few days in the most perfect quiet, and in the enjoyment of freedom and solitude. Then we shall see!
[1*] I am not speaking here of those glorious Swedish psalms, which are capable of a comparison with the most beautiful hymns of any Christian people.
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