Westborough, December 2d, 1849.
MY DEAR LITTLE AGATHA,--I now write to you from a little town near Boston, while waiting for the rail-way train, which at five o'clock will take us, that is to say, myself, Mr. and Mrs. S., their little son Eddy, and Professor Bergfalk, whom I induced to come with us. He must not begin here to bury himself among books as he did in Sweden: he must go abroad, and see a little of life and mankind here to begin with, and celebrate the festival of Thanksgiving --one of the really national festivals of the Americans--in the heart of the state where it arose, and where it still is cordially maintained. When winter comes, he may read to his heart's content in his beloved books. The truth is, Bergfalk was not hard to persuade, but came willingly and with pleasure.
I wrote to you last in New York during my warfare there. It was very troublesome to me, and did not mend at Brooklyn. Strangers came from morning to evening, and, though many amiable people were among them longed many a time merely to lie down and sleep. I must, however, tell you of the occasions when the interest of the moment chased away all drowsiness and fatigue, and made me more awake than ever. Among these stands foremost the evening of Channing's improvised lecture. Last Sunday evening Channing was fully himself, and his discourse poured forth like a clear, rushing river, logical, perspicuous, glorious in subject and in elaboration. [p. 105] It was to me a spiritual feast. He started With the idea of a personal God in opposition to that of the pantheist, every where and nowhere; developing from that divine personality the thence derived doctrine of duty, of social law, of beauty, of immortality as applicable to every man, to every human society, and proved how merely upon this ground Christian Socialism, or Christian community, could become stable, could advance humanity to its highest purpose. Channing did not this time interrupt himself once; he did not replace a single word, carried along by a continued inspiration, sustained by an enthusiasm without extravagance, without passion, never violating the law of beauty, and with a polemical creed which never wounded the divine law. He merely once said, in a somewhat sharper tone, that the "person who did not in his own breast become conscious of the duality of human nature, who did not combat with a lower self, is either without humanity, or is deeply to be pitied."
The hail was quite full of people, and the profoundest attention prevailed. At the close of the oration a circle of congratulating friends gathered around Channing. I saw even the speaker of the former evening, Mr. H. James, go forward to Channing, lay his hand upon his shoulder, as if caressingly, as he said "You have done me an injustice; you have misunderstood me!" He seemed pale and agitated, but perfectly kind.
I went in a little carriage alone with Channing from Brooklyn to New York this evening, and remarked how desirous he seemed of dissipating his thoughts and occupying them with subjects foreign to that of the lecture. Now, as he took me back to the carriage, and we were about to separate (he was to remain in New York, and I was returning to Brooklyn), I could not avoid saying to him, "How happy you must have felt this evening!"
"Yes, oh yes!" he replied, with a half sigh; "but then I have wounded Mr. James!"[p. 106]
Afterward he extended to me his hand, with his beaming smile, and said,
"We shall meet in the morning!"
But when comes that morning? We have now parted for a long time. But it is true, that if one ever meets a spirit like that of Channing, it must be felt like a meeting in the morning.
I recollect one evening party at the S.'s with especial pleasure. There were a sufficiency of space, air, flowers, and some remarkably agreeable people. A noble, handsome Miss S. recited a poem with much pathos of voice, but otherwise altogether quietly. She and her handsome sister wore real chrysanthemums in their hair. One most charming young girl played on the piano one of her own compositions, full of sweet feeling. Young C. sang. They danced also. It was a gay, agreeable party, where each performed some social duty, and where all seemed to enjoy life, and each other's society.
On Monday morning we set off, taking our way through Connecticut. I left New York and Brooklyn with many an unanswered letter of invitation, many unvisited schools and institutions coming speeding after me, as if to lay hold upon me! I had a bad conscience. I actually ran away from the battle of people. I could not do otherwise. If I had been two people, I could not have answered all the invitations, calls, etc., and I am only one! But I shall return to New York. I must yet see something more of its best and of its worst; among the latter, that portion of the city which is called "Five Points," from five streets coming together at one place, and where the lowest and the most dangerous population of the city has its abode. I asked Mr. D., in joke, whether he would go through the "Five Points" with me. He answered decidedly, "No." Ah! Il bello èil buono is not there to be met with. But beyond the beautiful and the good seek I for truth and for reality in every thing and every where. I must [p. 107] also make myself somewhat better acquainted With the five points in the refined life of New York; for I know that there, as in all great cities, is also to be found in the life of the higher class the five ugly and dangerous points. As the first point, I reckon the long and tiresome dinners.
New York appears to me outwardly a plodding and busy city, Without beauty and interest. There are beautiful and quiet parts, with beautiful streets and dwellings; but there the life in the streets is dead. On Broadway, again, there is an endless tumult and stir, crowd and bustle, and in the city proper people crowd as if for dear life, and the most detestable fumes poison the air. New York is the last city in the world in which I would live. But it is also to be regarded merely as a vast hotel, a caravanserai both for America and Europe. Besides, it is true that I always felt myself there in such a state of combat and so fatigued, that I had not time to look around for any thing beautiful. But, thank Heaven! I know Brooklyn, and there I could both live and sleep.
And now let us proceed on our way through the valleys of Connecticut to the small homes of New England, the home-land of the earliest pilgrims.
In the afternoon we reached Hartford. We were invited for the evening to Mrs. Sigourney's, the author of "Pleasant Memories from Pleasant Lands;" and here I shook hands with. the whole town, I believe--from the bishop, a handsome old prelate, to the school-girl, and played my usual part in society. Mrs. Sigourney, a very kind little sentimentalist, but a very agreeable lady, dressed in green, about fifty years old, with a good motherly demeanor, would perforce keep me with her all night, and I could not go back to my excellent chamber at the hotel, which I would so gladly have done, where I might rest and have been silent. In the morning, however, I forgot the little annoyance in breakfast and conversation with my kind hostess and her agreeable, only daughter.[p. 108]
The sun shone into the room, and the whole had the character of a good home made warm by love. In such homes I always do well, and I should have liked to have stayed longer with Mrs. Sigourney had it been possible. At parting, she presented me with a handsome volume of her collected poetical works, and therein I read a poem called "Our Country," for which I could have kissed her hand, so beautiful was it, and so noble and so truly feminine is the spirit it breathes. As coming from a woman and a mother, there is great beauty in the following address to her native land:
Ah, beautiful and glorious! thou dost wrap
The robes of Liberty around thy breast,
And as a matron watch thy little ones
Who from their cradle seek the village school,
Bearing the baptism on their infant brow
Of Christian faith and knowledge; like the bud
That, at the bursting of its sheath, doth feel
Pure dews, and heavenward turn.There is thy strength,
In thy young children, and in those who lead
Their souls to righteousness. The mother's prayer
With her sweet lisper ere it sinks to rest--
The faithful teacher 'mid a plastic group--
The classic halls, the hamlet's slender spire,
From whence, as from the solemn gothic pile
That crowns the city's pomp, ascendeth sweet
Jehovah's praise; these are thy strength, my land!
These are thy hope.Oh, lonely ark, that rid'st
A tossing deluge, dark with history's wrecks,
And paved with dead that made not heaven their help,
God keep thee perfect in thy many parts,
Bound in one living whole.
After those pleasant morning hours I was obliged again to see people, and was therefore taken out by my hostess in a carriage to see the town, which appears to me to be well built and well situated. The public buildings are the largest and the most ornamented of any in the town. But every thing, both within and without, testifies of [p. 109] affluence and prosperity. About noon I took leave of my friends at Hartford, and promised to come back.
It was rather late when we reached Worcester, where we had an invitation from the mayor, and who this evening kept open house in our honor. As soon, therefore, as we had arrived, we were obliged to dress ourselves and go to a grand party. As there was a great gathering in the town of the schools and the teachers of the district, the house was so crowded that we could scarcely move in the rooms, and my host himself did not know the names of many persons whom he presented to me. But it was all the same to me, because it is very seldom that those foreign names fix themselves in my memory; and kind people are all alike welcome to a friendly hand-shaking with me. We were received, also, with beautiful and cordial songs of welcome, and with gifts of flowers from handsome girls and young men. I played the Neck's polka to them, and Rebecca S. related to them, in my stead, the legend of the Neck and the Priest, the profound sentiment of which never fails to impress the mind of the hearer, and which is an excellent specimen of the popular poetry of Scandinavia.
Among the guests in company was the celebrated blacksmith and linguist, Elihu Burrit, a very tall and strong-limbed man, with an unusually lofty forehead, large, beautiful eyes, and, above all, handsome and strong features--a man who would excite attention in any company whatever, as well for his appearance as for the expression of singular mildness and human love which marks his countenance. He had lately arrived here from the Peace Congress, I believe in Paris, and talked about peace principles, of which much is said and taught in these the oldest lands of the Pilgrim Fathers. I declared myself to be a friend of war, of a good, righteous war, when, at least, peace can not have a great and prolonged life on earth. But what is now the state of the world during a long [p. 110] peace? Do not thousands of little dwarfs stick up their heads and fight with pins or pen-points, sticking and scratching from right to left, calling up petty-mindedness, selfishness, bitterness, causing petty affronts, wretched gratification, idle tales, and endless vexation in every quarter? Is not society broken up into a thousand little quarrels and little contentions? If now a serious, honorable war occurred, like the giants who crush the dwarfs, people would then forget their petty contentions for great common interests. In these they would again become brothers; and after the giants come the gods, and with them the renovation of life.[1*] Mankind must evidently grow in heart and in intelligence; and the community must perfect its work before they talk about universal peace. This must proceed from within. Among the questions which were this evening put to me was this: "What do you think of so many people coming to see you? "I wish that I were handsomer!" replied I, simply, and with truth.
Our host was a man of agreeable person, frank and kind as a true American; his wife was a graceful, agreeable woman, with the stamp of peacefulness and refinement, which I have frequently observed in the Quaker women, and which makes them particularly charming to me. She had lost an only child, and had now adopted as her own a little boy, who loved her as a mother, and who scarcely could be happy when away from her.
We spent the forenoon of the following day in visiting several small homes, many of them belonging to families of Quakers, which were all distinguished by their order and neatness; but also, at the same time, I fancied by a something of stiffness and emptiness which would be oppressive to me. After this, we continued our way to Uxbridge, where we were to keep the Thanksgiving festival.[p. 111]
I saw from the rail-road the paternal home of Marcus S., that country house and home where he had been brought up with many brothers and sisters, and to which his looks were now directed with affection. The moon arose and shone upon the waters of the Blackstone River, along which the rail-road runs. Lights glimmered from the factories on the other side of the river. I saw this landscape, as in a dream, hour after hour, and rather saw than felt its beauty, because the motion and the rattle of the rail-way carriage produced a fatiguing and deafening effect.
We took up our quarters with a newly-married couple, a physician and his little wife, the eldest niece of Marens S. They had built their house according to one of Mr. Downing's designs, and laid out their garden also after his plan; and here they lived without a servant, the wife herself performing all the in-doors work. This is very much the custom in the small homes of the New England States, partly from economic causes, and partly from the difficulty there is in getting good servants. I slept in a little chamber without a fire-place, according to the custom of the country; but the night was so very cold that I could not sleep a wink; besides which, I was visited during the long night by some not very pleasing doubts as to how, in the long run, I should be able to get on in this country, where there is so much that I am unaccustomed to. When the sun, however, rose, it shone upon a little white church, which, with its taper spire rising out of a pine wood upon a height just before my window, and the whole landscape lit up by the morning sun, presented so fresh, so Northern, so Swedish an aspect, that it warmed my very heart, and I sainted Thanksgiving-day with right thankful feelings. The whole scene, with its hills and its valleys now brightened by the morning sun, actually resembled the scenery around us, and I thought of the Christmas morning at our church, with its burning [p. 112] candles; the pine wood, and the lit-up cottages Within it, the peasants, the sledges with their little bells, and all the cheerful life of the sacred Christmas time! But our little red-painted cottages were changed into small White houses, which looked much more affluent.
My hands were so benumbed with cold, that I had difficulty in dressing, and was all in a shiver when I went down to breakfast in that little room, where, on the contrary, it was stiflingly hot from an iron stove. The breakfast, as is usual in the country, was abundant and excellent; but I can not believe that these abundant, hot breakfasts are wholesome.
After breakfast we went to church, for this day is regarded as sacred throughout the country. The preacher enumerated all the causes for thankfulness which his community had had, as well publicly as privately, all the good which they had experienced since the Thanksgiving festival of the foregoing year; and although he was evidently not of a practical mind, and the history of the year was given rather in the style of a chronicle, "on this solemn and interesting occasion," yet, from its subject and purpose, it was calculated to engage the mind. Why have not we-- why have not all people such a festival in the year? It has grown out of the necessities of the nobler popular heart; it is the ascribing of our highest earthly blessings to their heavenly Giver. We have many publicly appointed days for prayer, but none for thanksgiving: it is not right and noble.
I have inquired from many persons here the origin of this festival in America; but it is remarkable how little people are able to throw light upon its historical commencement. They know merely that it arose in the "earliest times of the Pilgrim Fathers in America," and that it has since established itself in the Church as the expression of the higher popular feeling. I have, nevertheless, heard it said.--and it does not seem to me improbable [p. 113] --that it arose at the commencement of the colony, when, at a time of great scarcity, and in the prospect of approaching famine, five ships laden with wheat arrived from England; that, therefore, it was for a long time the custom in Massachusetts to lay, at this festival, five grains of corn upon the dinner-plate of each guest, which custom is retained to this day in certain of the parts of the state.
The weather was splendid, but cold, as after church we walked through the rural city, with its small houses and gardens, and saw the well-dressed inhabitants returning home from church. Every thing testified of order and of easy circumstances, without show and luxury. We dined in a large company, the dinner being at once abundant yet frugal, at the house of one of Marcus S.'s relations. We spent the evening with his sister and her family, who own and cultivate a large farm near Uxbridge, the mother of our doctor's little wife; and here all the relations were assembled. The mistress of the house, a quiet, agreeable motherly woman, "lady-like" in her manners, as was her sister at the Phalanstery, and that from nobility and refinement of soul, pleased me extremely, as did all the simple, cordial people of this neighborhood; they were much more hearty, and much less given to asking questions than the people I had met with in the great city parties. We had a great supper, with the two indispensable Thanksgiving-day dishes, roast turkey and pumpkin pudding. It is asserted that the turkeys in the states of New England always look dejected as the time of Thanksgiving approaches, because then there is a great slaughter among them. The clergyman who had preached in the morning asked a blessing, which would have appeared too long had it not been for its excellence.
After supper the young people danced. I taught them the Swedish dance called "Väfa Wallmar," and played the music for them, which excited general applause. Toward [p. 114] midnight we returned to our little home, Marcus and Rebecca occupying my former cold chamber, and a bed being made up for me in the pretty parlor, where I had a bright coal fire and a letter from the Downings, which made me still warmer than the fire--it was almost too many good things! Marcus and Rebecca said that they liked a cold sleeping-room, and that they were accustomed to it; and it may be so; but yet it was very kind! In the morning my little hostess brought me a cup of coffee, which she herself had made, and waited upon me in the most sweet and kind manner. I was thankful, but rather ashamed; nor would I have permitted it had I been younger and stronger than I am.
Bergfalk had also suffered much from the cold, although lodged in excellent quarters with Marcus's sister.
Friday forenoon we drove to Hopedale Community, a little Socialist settlement a few miles from Uxbridge, where also my friends have relatives and acquaintances. The day was mild and the air soft, and the drive through the yet verdant meadows agreeable. One of Marcus's nephews drove us.
Hopedale Community is a small settlement altogether founded upon Christian principles, and with a patriarchal basis. The patriarch and head of the establishment, Adin Ballou, a handsome old gentleman, received us, surrounded by a numerous family. Each family has here its separate house and garden. The greater number of the people are handcraftsmen and agriculturists. Here, also, were we received with songs of welcome and flowers. Here, also, I remarked in the young people a singularly joyous and fresh life, and it was delightful to see the happy groups passing to and fro in the sunshine from one comfortable home to another. The church of the little community, as well as its school-house, struck me as remarkably unchurch-like. Various moral aphorisms, such as "Hope on, hope ever;" "Try again," and such like, [p. 115] might be read upon the naked walls. For the rest, it was evident that the poetic element had much more vitality here than among the community of New Jersey. The moral element constituted, nevertheless the kernel even here, the poetic was merely an addition--the sugar in the moral cake.
We dined in an excellent little home. They asked no questions of the guests, merely entertained them well and kindly. A negro and his wife came hither wishing to be received as members of the community. Hopedale Community would suit me better than the North American Phalanstery, partly from the separate dwellings, and partly from the recognition of the Christian faith, as well as for the sake of the patriarch, who has the appearance of a man in whom one might place the most heartful confidence. The little community has been in existence about seven years, and consists of about thirty families, comprising in all one hundred and seventy souls. Every member pledges himself to "the Christian faith, non-resistance, and temperance." Adin Ballou has published a work on the right understanding of these subjects, which he gave me.
Taking one thing with another, it seemed to me as if life in this home, and in this community, was deficient in gayety, had but few enjoyments for the intellect, or the sense of the beautiful; but it was at the same time most truly estimable, earnest, God-fearing, industrious; upon the whole, an excellent foundation for a strong popular life. From these small homes must proceed earnest men and women, people who take life seriously, and have early learned to labor and to pray. Hopedale Community simply describes its object to be, "a beginning upon a small scale of those industrial armies which shall go forth to subdue, to render fruitful and to beautify the barren fields of the earth, and to make of them worthy dwelling-places for practical Christian communities, and the wider extension [p. 116] of general improvement for the best interests of mankind." Practical Christianity is the watch-word of these peaceful conquerors. "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall inherit the earth."
I shall for the present write no more about my campaign. Although often amused and interested, I wonder continually whether I shall ever again have any rest. There seems no prospect of it, however. The cold is now also come here, and it is a hard master to strive against. To-day it is a regular tempest. I wonder how it is with you, my darling, and whether you find yourself warm and comfortable in our quiet home in Stockholm. May you be so, my beloved Agatha, and may the winter not be too severe for you!
[1*] As translator, I beg to dissent considerably from these views of Miss Bremer.--M. H.
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