LIFE, LETTERS, AND JOURNALS
PHEBE MITCHELL KENDALL
The parents—Home life—Education, teachers, books—Astronomical instruments—Solar eclipse of 1831—Teaching—Appointment as librarian of Nantucket Atheneum—Friendships for young people—Extracts from diary, 1855—Music—The piano—Society—Story-telling—Housework—Extract from diary, 1854
"Sweeping" the heavens—Discovery of the comet, 1847—Frederick VI. and the comet—Letters from G. P. Bond and Hon. Edward Everett—Admiral Smyth—American Academy—American Association for the Advancement of Science—Extract from diary, 1855—Dorothea Dix—Esther—Divers extracts from diary, 1853, 1854—Comet of 1854—Computations for comet—Visit to Cape Cod—Sandwich and Plymouth—Pilgrim Hall—Rev. James Freeman Clarke—Accidents in observing
Wires in the transit instrument—Deacon Greele—Smithsonian fund—"Doing"—Rachel in "Phedre" and "Adrienne"—Emerson—The hard winter
Southern tour—Chicago—St. Louis—Scientific Academy of St. Louis—Dr. Pope—Dr. Seyffarth—Mississippi river—Sand-bars—Cherry blossoms—Eclipse of sun—Natchez—New Orleans—Slave market—Negro church—The "peculiar institution"—Bible—Judge Smith—Travelling without escort—Savannah—Rice plantations—Negro children—Miss Murray—Charleston—Drive—Condition of slaves—Old buildings—Miss Rutledge—Mr. Capers—Class meeting—Hospitality—Mrs. Holbrook—Miss Pinckney—Manners—Portraits—Miss Pinckney's father—George Washington—Augusta—Nashville—Mrs. Fogg—Mrs. Polk—Charles Sumner—Mammoth cave—Chattanooga
First European tour—Liverpool—London—Rev. James Martineau—Mr. John Taylor—Mr. Lassell—Liverpool observatory—The Hawthornes—Shop-keepers and waiters—Greenwich observatory—Sir George Airy—Visits to Greenwich—Herr Struve's mission to England—Dinner party—General Sabine—Westminster Abbey—Newton's monument—British museum—Four great men—St. Paul's—Dr. Johnson—Opera—Aylesbury—Admiral Smyth's family—Amateur astronomers—Hartwell house—Dr. Lee
Cambridge—Dr. Whewell—Table conversation—Professor Challis—Professor Adams—Customs—Professor Sedgwick—Caste—King's Chapel—Fellows— Ambleside—Coniston waters—The lakes—Miss Southey—Collingwood—Letter to her father—Herschels—London rout—Professor Stokes—Dr. Arnott—Edinboro'—Observatory—Glasgow observatory—Professor Nichol—Dungeon Ghyll—English language—English and Americans—Boys and beggars
Adams and Leverrier—The discovery of the planet Neptune—Extract from papers—Professor Bond, of Cambridge, Mass.—Paris—Imperial observatory—Mons. and Mme. Leverrier—Reception at Leverrier's—Rooms in observatory—Rome—Impressions—Apartments in Rome and Paris—Customs—Holy week—Vespers at St. Peter's—Women—Frederika Bremer—Paul Akers—Harriet Hosmer—Collegio Romano—Father Secchi—Galileo—Visit to the Roman observatory—Permission from Cardinal Antonelli—Spectroscope
Mrs. Somerville—Berlin—Humboldt—Mrs. Mitchell's illness and death—Removal to Lynn, Mass.—Telescope presented to Miss Mitchell by Elizabeth Peabody and others—Letters from Admiral Smyth—Colors of stars—Extract from letter to a friend—San Marino medal—Other extracts
Life at Vassar College—Anxious mammas—Faculty meetings—President Hill—Professor Peirce—Burlington, Ia., and solar eclipse—Classes at Vassar—Professor Mitchell and her pupils—Extracts from diary—Aids —Scholarships—Address to her students—Imagination in science—"I am but a woman"—Maria Mitchell endowment fund—Emperor of Brazil—President Raymond's death—Dome parties—Comet, 1881—The apple-tree—"Honor girls"—Mr. Matthew Arnold
Second visit to Europe—Russia—Extracts from diary and letters—Custom-house peculiarities—Russian railways—Domes—Russian thermometers and calendars—The drosky and drivers—Observatory at Pulkova—Herr Struve—Scientific position of Russia—Language— Religion—Democracy of the Church—Government—A Russian family—London, 1873—Frances Power Cobbe—Bookstores in London—Glasgow College for Girls
Papers—Science—Eclipse of 1878, Denver, Colorado—Colors of stars
Religious matters—President Taylor's remarks—Sermons—George MacDonald—Rev. Dr. Peabody—Dr. Lyman Abbott—Professor Henry—Meeting of the American Scientific Association at Saratoga—Professor Peirce— Concord School of Philosophy—Emerson—Miss Peabody—Dr. Harris—Easter flowers—Whittier—Rich days—Cooking schools—Anecdotes
Letter-writing—Woman suffrage—Membership in various societies.—Women's Congress at Syracuse, N.Y.—Picnic at Medfield, Mass.—Degrees from different colleges—Published papers.—Failure in health—Resigns her position at Vassar College—Letters from various persons—Death—Conclusion
Introductory note by Hon. Edward Everett
Correspondence relative to the Danish medal
BIRTH—PARENTS—HOME SURROUNDINGS AND EARLY LIFE
Maria Mitchell was born on the island of Nantucket, Mass., Aug. 1, 1818. She was the third child of William and Lydia [Coleman] Mitchell.
Her ancestors, on both sides, were Quakers for many generations; and it was in consequence of the intolerance of the early Puritans that these ancestors had been obliged to flee from the State of Massachusetts, and to settle upon this island, which, at that time, belonged to the State of New York.
For many years the Quakers, or Friends, as they called themselves, formed much the larger part of the inhabitants of Nantucket, and thus were enabled to crystallize, as it were, their own ideas of what family and social life should be; and although in course of time many "world's people" swooped down and helped to swell the number of islanders, they still continued to hold their own methods, and to bring up their children in accordance with their own conceptions of "Divine light."
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell were married during the war of 1812; the former lacking one week of being twenty-one years old, and the latter being a few months over twenty.
The people of Nantucket by their situation endured many hardships during this period; their ships were upon the sea a prey to privateers, and communication with the mainland was exposed to the same danger, so that it was difficult to obtain such necessaries of life as the island could not furnish. There were still to be seen, a few years ago, the marks left on the moors, where fields of corn and potatoes had been planted in that trying time.
So the young couple began their housekeeping in a very simple way. Mr. Mitchell used to describe it as being very delightful; it was noticed that Mrs. Mitchell never expressed herself on the subject,—it was she, probably, who had the planning to do, to make a little money go a great way, and to have everything smooth and serene when her husband came home.
Mrs. Mitchell was a woman of strong character, very dignified, honest almost to an extreme, and perfectly self-controlled where control was necessary. She possessed very strong affections, but her self-control was such that she was undemonstrative.
She kept a close watch over her children, was clearheaded, knew their every fault and every merit, and was an indefatigable worker. It was she who looked out for the education of the children and saw what their capacities were.
Mr. Mitchell was a man of great suavity and gentleness; if left to himself he would never have denied a single request made to him by one of his children. His first impulse was to gratify every desire of their hearts, and if it had not been for the clear head of the mother, who took care that the household should be managed wisely and economically, the results might have been disastrous. The father had wisdom enough to perceive this, and when a child came to him, and in a very pathetic and winning way proffered some request for an unusual indulgence, he generally replied, "Yes, if mother thinks best."
Mr. Mitchell was very fond of bright colors; as they were excluded from the dress of Friends, he indulged himself wherever it was possible. If he were buying books, and there was a variety of binding, he always chose the copies with red covers. Even the wooden framework of the reflecting telescope which he used was painted a brilliant red. He liked a gay carpet on the floor, and the walls of the family sitting-room in the house on Vestal street were covered with paper resplendent with bunches of pink roses. Suspended by a cord from the ceiling in the centre of this room was a glass ball, filled with water, used by Mr. Mitchell in his experiments on polarization of light, flashing its dancing rainbows about the room.
At the back of this house was a little garden, full of gay flowers: so that if the garb of the young Mitchells was rather sombre, the setting was bright and cheerful, and the life in the home was healthy and wide-awake. When the hilarity became excessive the mother would put in her little check, from time to time, and the father would try to look as he ought to, but he evidently enjoyed the whole.
As Mr. Mitchell was kind and indulgent to his children, so he was the sympathetic friend and counsellor of many in trouble who came to him for help or advice. As he took his daily walk to the little farm about a mile out of town, where, for an hour or two he enjoyed being a farmer, the people would come to their doors to speak to him as he passed, and the little children would run up to him to be patted on the head.
He treated animals in the same way. He generally kept a horse. His children complained that although the horse was good when it was bought, yet as Mr. Mitchell never allowed it to be struck with a whip, nor urged to go at other than a very gentle trot, the horse became thoroughly demoralized, and was no more fit to drive than an old cow!
There was everything in the home which could amuse and instruct children. The eldest daughter was very handy at all sorts of entertaining occupations; she had a delicate sense of the artistic, and was quite skilful with her pencil.
The present kindergarten system in its practice is almost identical with the home as it appeared in the first half of this century, among enlightened people. There is hardly any kind of handiwork done in the kindergarten that was not done in the Mitchell family, and in other families of their acquaintance. The girls learned to sew and cook, just as they learned to read,—as a matter of habit rather than of instruction. They learned how to make their own clothes, by making their dolls' clothes,—and the dolls themselves were frequently home-made, the eldest sister painting the faces much more prettily than those obtained at the shops; and there was a great delight in gratifying the fancy, by dressing the dolls, not in Quaker garb, but in all of the most brilliant colors and stylish shapes worn by the ultra-fashionable.
There were always plenty of books, and besides those in the house there was the Atheneum Library, which, although not a free library, was very inexpensive to the shareholders.
There was another very striking difference between that epoch and the present. The children of that day were taught to value a book and to take excellent care of it; as an instance it may be mentioned that one copy of Colburn's "Algebra" was used by eight children in the Mitchell family, one after the other. The eldest daughter's name was written on the inside of the cover; seven more names followed in the order of their ages, as the book descended.
With regard to their reading, the mother examined every book that came into the house. Of course there were not so many books published then as now, and the same books were read over and over. Miss Edgeworth's stories became part of their very lives, and Young's "Night Thoughts," and the poems of Cowper and Bloomfield were conspicuous objects on the bookshelves of most houses in those days. Mr. Mitchell was very apt, while observing the heavens in the evening, to quote from one or the other of these poets, or from the Bible. "An undevout astronomer is mad" was one of his favorite quotations.
Among the poems which Maria learned in her childhood, and which was repeatedly upon her lips all through her life, was, "The spacious firmament on high." In her latter years if she had a sudden fright which threatened to take away her senses she would test her mental condition by repeating that poem; it is needless to say that she always remembered it, and her nerves instantly relapsed into their natural condition.
The lives of Maria Mitchell and her numerous brothers and sisters were passed in simplicity and with an entire absence of anything exciting or abnormal.
The education of their children is enjoined upon the parents by the "Discipline," and in those days at least the parents did not give up all the responsibility in that line to the teachers. In Maria Mitchell's childhood the children of a family sat around the table in the evenings and studied their lessons for the next day,—the parents or the older children assisting the younger if the lessons were too difficult. The children attended school five days in the week,—six hours in the day,—and their only vacation was four weeks in the summer, generally in August.
The idea that children over-studied and injured their health was never promulgated in that family, nor indeed in that community; it seems to be a notion of the present half-century.
Maria's first teacher was a lady for whom she always felt the warmest affection, and in her diary, written in her later years, occurs this allusion to her:
"I count in my life, outside of family relatives, three aids given me on my journey; they are prominent to me: the woman who first made the study-book charming; the man who sent me the first hundred dollars I ever saw, to buy books with; and another noble woman, through whose efforts I became the owner of a telescope; and of these, the first was the greatest."
As a little girl, Maria was not a brilliant scholar; she was shy and slow; but later, under her father's tuition, she developed very rapidly.
After the close of the war of 1812, when business was resumed and the town restored to its normal prosperity, Mr. Mitchell taught school,—at first as master of a public school, and afterwards in a private school of his own. Maria attended both of these schools.
Mr. Mitchell's pupils speak of him as a most inspiring teacher, and he always spoke of his experiences in that capacity as very happy.
When her father gave up teaching, Maria was put under the instruction of Mr. Cyrus Peirce, afterwards principal of the first normal school started in the United States.
Mr. Peirce took a great interest in Maria, especially in developing her taste for mathematical study, for which she early showed a remarkable talent.
The books which she studied at the age of seventeen, as we know by the date of the notes, were Bridge's "Conic Sections," Hutton's "Mathematics," and Bowditch's "Navigator." At that time Prof. Benjamin Peirce had not published his "Explanations of the Navigator and Almanac," so that Maria was obliged to consult many scientific books and reports before she could herself construct the astronomical tables.
Mr. Mitchell, on relinquishing school-teaching, was appointed cashier of the Pacific Bank; but although he gave up teaching, he by no means gave up studying his favorite science, astronomy, and Maria was his willing helper at all times.
Mr. Mitchell from his early youth was an enthusiastic student of astronomy, at a time, too, when very little attention was given to that study in this country. His evenings, when pleasant, were spent in observing the heavens, and to the children, accustomed to seeing such observations going on, the important study in the world seemed to be astronomy. One by one, as they became old enough, they were drafted into the service of counting seconds by the chronometer, during the observations.
Some of them took an interest in the thing itself, and others considered it rather stupid work, but they all drank in so much of this atmosphere, that if any one had asked a little child in this family, "Who was the greatest man that ever lived?" the answer would have come promptly, "Herschel."
Maria very early learned the use of the sextant. The chronometers of all the whale ships were brought to Mr. Mitchell, on their return from a voyage, to be "rated," as it was called. For this purpose he used the sextant, and the observations were made in the little back yard of the Vestal-street home.
There was also a clumsy reflecting telescope made on the Herschelian plan, but of very great simplicity, which was put up on fine nights in the same back yard, when the neighbors used to flock in to look at the moon. Afterwards Mr. Mitchell bought a small Dolland telescope, which thereafter, as long as she lived, his daughter used for "sweeping" purposes.
After their removal to the bank building there were added to these an "altitude and azimuth circle," loaned to Mr. Mitchell by West Point Academy, and two transit instruments. A little observatory for the use of the first was placed on the roof of the bank building, and two small buildings were erected in the yard for the transits. There was also a much larger and finer telescope loaned by the Coast Survey, for which service Mr. Mitchell made observations.
At the time when Maria Mitchell showed a decided taste for the study of astronomy there was no school in the world where she could be taught higher mathematics and astronomy. Harvard College, at that time, had no telescope better than the one which her father was using, and no observatory except the little octagonal projection to the old mansion in Cambridge occupied by the late Dr. A.P. Peabody.
However, every one will admit that no school nor institution is better for a child than the home, with an enthusiastic parent for a teacher.
At the time of the annular eclipse of the sun in 1831 the totality was central at Nantucket. The window was taken out of the parlor on Vestal street, the telescope, the little Dolland, mounted in front of it, and with Maria by his side counting the seconds the father observed the eclipse. Maria was then twelve years old.
At sixteen Miss Mitchell left Mr. Peirce's school as a pupil, but was retained as assistant teacher; she soon relinquished that position and opened a private school on Traders' Lane. This school too she gave up for the position of librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, which office she held for nearly twenty years.
This library was open only in the afternoon, and on Saturday evening. The visitors were comparatively few in the afternoon, so that Miss Mitchell had ample leisure for study,—an opportunity of which she made the most. Her visitors in the afternoon were elderly men of leisure, who enjoyed talking with so bright a girl on their favorite hobbies. When they talked Miss Mitchell closed her book and took up her knitting, for she was never idle. With some of these visitors the friendship was kept up for years.
It was in this library that she found La Place's "Mecanique Celeste," translated by her father's friend, Dr. Bowditch; she also read the "Theoria Motus," of Gauss, in its original Latin form. In her capacity as librarian Miss Mitchell to a large extent controlled the reading of the young people in the town. Many of them on arriving at mature years have expressed their gratitude for the direction in which their reading was turned by her advice.
Miss Mitchell always had a special friendship for young girls and boys. Many of these intimacies grew out of the acquaintance made at the library,—the young girls made her their confidante and went to her for sympathy and advice. The boys, as they grew up, and went away to sea, perhaps, always remembered her, and made a point, when they returned in their vacations, of coming to tell their experiences to such a sympathetic listener.
"April 18, 1855. A young sailor boy came to see me to-day. It pleases me to have these lads seek me on their return from their first voyage, and tell me how much they have learned about navigation. They always say, with pride, 'I can take a lunar, Miss Mitchell, and work it up!'
"This boy I had known only as a boy, but he has suddenly become a man and seems to be full of intelligence. He will go once more as a sailor, he says, and then try for the position of second mate. He looked as if he had been a good boy and would make a good man.
"He said that he had been ill so much that he had been kept out of temptation; but that the forecastle of a ship was no place for improvement of mind or morals. He said the captain with whom he came home asked him if he knew me, because he had heard of me. I was glad to find that the captain was a man of intelligence and had been kind to the boy."
Miss Mitchell was an inveterate reader. She devoured books on all subjects. If she saw that boys were eagerly reading a certain book she immediately read it; if it were harmless she encouraged them to read it; if otherwise, she had a convenient way of losing the book. In November, when the trustees made their annual examination, the book appeared upon the shelf, but the next day after it was again lost. At this time Nantucket was a thriving, busy town. The whale-fishery was a very profitable business, and the town was one of the wealthiest in the State. There was a good deal of social and literary life. In a Friend's family neither music nor dancing was allowed.
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell were by no means narrow sectarians, but they believed it to be best to conform to the rules of Friends as laid down in the "Discipline." George Fox himself, the founder of the society, had blown a blast against music, and especially instrumental music in churches. It will be remembered that the Methodists have but recently yielded to the popular demand in this respect, and have especially favored congregational singing.
It is most likely that George Fox had no ear for music himself, and thus entailed upon his followers an obligation from which they are but now freeing themselves.
There was plenty of singing in the Mitchell family, and the parents liked it, especially the father, who, when he sat down in the evening with the children, would say, "Now sing something." But there could be no instruction in singing; the children sang the songs that they picked up from their playmates.
However, one of the daughters bought a piano, and Maria's purse opened to help that cause along. It would not have been proper for Mr. Mitchell to help pay for it, but he took a great interest in it, nevertheless. So indeed did the mother, but she took care not to express herself outwardly.
The piano was kept in a neighboring building not too far off to be heard from the house. Maria had no ear for music herself, but she was always to be depended upon to take the lead in an emergency, so the sisters put their heads together and decided that the piano must be brought into the house. When they had made all the preparations the father and mother were invited to take tea with their married daughter, who lived in another part of the town and had been let into the secret.
The piano was duly removed and placed in an upper room called the "hall," where Mr. Mitchell kept the chronometers, where the family sewing was done, and where the larger part of the books were kept,—a beautiful room, overlooking "the square," and a great gathering-place for all their young friends. When the piano was put in place, the sisters awaited the coming of the parents. Maria stationed herself at the foot of the stairs, ready to meet them as they entered the front door; another, half-way between, was to give the signal to a third, who was seated at the piano. The footsteps were heard at the door, the signal was given; a lively tune was started, and Maria confronted the parents as they entered.
"What's that?" was the exclamation.
"Well," said Maria, soothingly, "we've had the piano brought over."
"Why, of all things!" exclaimed the mother.
The father laid down his hat, walked immediately upstairs, entered the hall, and said, "Come, daughter, play something lively!"
So that was all.
But that was not all for Mr. Mitchell; he had broken the rules accepted by the Friends, and it was necessary for some notice to be taken of it, so a dear old Friend and neighbor came to deal with him. Now, to be "under dealings," as it is called, was a very serious matter,—to be spoken of only under the breath, in a half whisper.
"I hear that thee has a piano in thy house," said the old Friend.
"Yes, my daughters have," was the reply.
"But it is in thy house," pursued the Friend.
"Yes; but my home is my children's home as well as mine," said Mr. Mitchell, "and I propose that they shall not be obliged to go away from home for their pleasures. I don't play on the piano."
It so happened that Mr. Mitchell held the property of the "monthly meeting" in his hands at the time, and it was a very improper thing for the accredited agent of the society to be "under dealings," as Mr. Mitchell gently suggested.
This the Friend had not thought of, and so he said, "Well, William, perhaps we'd better say no more about it."
When the father came home after this interview he could not keep it to himself. If it had been the mother who was interviewed she would have kept it a profound secret,—because she would not have liked to have her children get any fun out of the proceedings of the old Friend. But Mr. Mitchell told the story in his quiet way, the daughters enjoyed it, and declared that the piano was placed upon a firm foothold by this proceeding. The news spread abroad, and several other young Quaker girls eagerly seized the occasion to gratify their musical longings in the same direction. [Footnote: It is pleasant to note that this objection to music among Friends is a thing of the past, and that the Friends' School at Providence, R.I., which is under the control of the "New England Yearly Meeting of Friends," has music in its regular curriculum.]
Few women with scientific tastes had the advantages which surrounded Miss Mitchell in her own home. Her father was acquainted with the most prominent scientific men in the country, and in his hospitable home at Nantucket she met many persons of distinction in literature and science.
She cared but little for general society, and had always to be coaxed to go into company. Later in life, however, she was much more socially inclined, and took pleasure in making and receiving visits. She could neither dance nor sing, but in all amusements which require quickness and a ready wit she was very happy. She was very fond of children, and knew how to amuse them and to take care of them. As she had half a dozen younger brothers and sisters, she had ample opportunity to make herself useful.
She was a capital story-teller, and always had a story on hand to divert a wayward child, or to soothe the little sister who was lying awake, and afraid of the dark. She wrote a great many little stories, printed them with a pen, and bound them in pretty covers. Most of them were destroyed long ago.
Maria took her part in all the household work. She knew how to do everything that has to be done in a large family where but one servant is kept, and she did everything thoroughly. If she swept a room it became clean. She might not rearrange the different articles of furniture in the most artistic manner, but everything would be clean, and there would be nothing left crooked. If a chair was to be placed, it would be parallel to something; she was exceedingly sensitive to a line out of the perpendicular, and could detect the slightest deviation from that rule. She had also a sensitive eye in the matter of color, and felt any lack of harmony in the colors worn by those about her.
Maria was always ready to "bear the brunt," and could at any time be coaxed by the younger children to do the things which they found difficult or disagreeable.
The two youngest children in the family were delicate, and the special care of the youngest sister devolved upon Maria, who knew how to be a good nurse as well as a good playfellow. She was especially careful of a timid child; she herself was timid, and, throughout her life, could never witness a thunder-storm with any calmness.
On one of those occasions so common in an American household, when the one servant suddenly takes her leave, or is summarily dismissed, Miss Mitchell describes her part of the family duties:
"Oct. 21, 1854. This morning I arose at six, having been half asleep only for some hours, fearing that I might not be up in time to get breakfast, a task which I had volunteered to do the preceding evening. It was but half light, and I made a hasty toilet. I made a fire very quickly, prepared the coffee, baked the graham bread, toasted white bread, trimmed the solar lamp, and made another fire in the dining-room before seven o'clock.
"I always thought that servant-girls had an easy time of it, and I still think so. I really found an hour too long for all this, and when I rang the bell at seven for breakfast I had been waiting fifteen minutes for the clock to strike.
"I went to the Atheneum at 9.30, and having decided that I would take the Newark and Cambridge places of the comet, and work them up, I did so, getting to the three equations before I went home to dinner at 12.30. I omitted the corrections of parallax and aberrations, not intending to get more than a rough approximation. I find to my sorrow that they do not agree with those from my own observations. I shall look over them again next week.
"At noon I ran around and did up several errands, dined, and was back again at my post by 1.30. Then I looked over my morning's work,—I can find no mistake. I have worn myself thin trying to find out about this comet, and I know very little now in the matter.
"I saw, in looking over Cooper, elements of a comet of 1825 which resemble what I get out for this, from my own observations, but I cannot rely upon my own.
"I saw also, to-day, in the 'Monthly Notices,' a plan for measuring the light of stars by degrees of illumination,—an idea which had occurred to me long ago, but which I have not practised.
"October 23. Yesterday I was again reminded of the remark which Mrs. Stowe makes about the variety of occupations which an American woman pursues.
"She says it is this, added to the cares and anxieties, which keeps them so much behind the daughters of England in personal beauty.
"And to-day I was amused at reading that one of her party objected to the introduction of waxed floors into American housekeeping, because she could seem to see herself down on her knees doing the waxing.
"But of yesterday. I was up before six, made the fire in the kitchen, and made coffee. Then I set the table in the dining-room, and made the fire there. Toasted bread and trimmed lamps. Rang the breakfast bell at seven. After breakfast, made my bed, and 'put up' the room. Then I came down to the Atheneum and looked over my comet computations till noon. Before dinner I did some tatting, and made seven button-holes for K. I dressed and then dined. Came back again to the Atheneum at 1.30, and looked over another set of computations, which took me until four o'clock. I was pretty tired by that time, and rested by reading 'Cosmos.' Lizzie E. came in, and I gossiped for half an hour. I went home to tea, and that over, I made a loaf of bread. Then I went up to my room and read through (partly writing) two exercises in German, which took me thirty-five minutes.
"It was stormy, and I had no observing to do, so I sat down to my tatting. Lizzie E. came in and I took a new lesson in tatting, so as to make the pearl-edged. I made about half a yard during the evening. At a little after nine I went home with Lizzie, and carried a letter to the post-office. I had kept steadily at work for sixteen hours when I went to bed."
MISS MITCHELL'S COMET—EXTRACTS FROM DIARY—THE COMET
Miss Mitchell spent every clear evening on the house-top "sweeping" the heavens.
No matter how many guests there might be in the parlor, Miss Mitchell would slip out, don her regimentals as she called them, and, lantern in hand, mount to the roof.
On the evening of Oct. 1, 1847, there was a party of invited guests at the Mitchell home. As usual, Maria slipped out, ran up to the telescope, and soon returned to the parlor and told her father that she thought she saw a comet. Mr. Mitchell hurried upstairs, stationed himself at the telescope, and as soon as he looked at the object pointed out by his daughter declared it to be a comet. Miss Mitchell, with her usual caution, advised him to say nothing about it until they had observed it long enough to be tolerably sure. But Mr. Mitchell immediately wrote to Professor Bond, at Cambridge, announcing the discovery. On account of stormy weather, the mails did not leave Nantucket until October 3.
Frederick VI., King of Denmark, had offered, Dec. 17, 1831, a gold medal of the value of twenty ducats to the first discoverer of a telescopic comet. The regulations, as revised and amended, were republished, in April, 1840, in the "Astronomische Nachrichten."
When this comet was discovered, the king who had offered the medal was dead. The son, Frederick VII., who had succeeded him, had not the interest in science which belonged to his father, but he was prevailed upon to carry out his father's designs in this particular case.
The same comet had been seen by Father de Vico at Rome, on October 3, at 7.30 P.M., and this fact was immediately communicated by him to Professor Schumacher, at Altona. On the 7th of October, at 9.20 P.M., the comet was observed by Mr. W.R. Dawes, at Kent, England, and on the 11th it was seen by Madame Ruemker, the wife of the director of the observatory at Hamburg.
The following letter from the younger Bond will show the cordial relations existing between the observatory at Cambridge and the smaller station at Nantucket:
CAMBRIDGE, Oct. 20, 1847.
DEAR MARIA: There! I think that is a very amiable beginning, considering the way in which I have been treated by you! If you are going to find any more comets, can you not wait till they are announced by the proper authorities? At least, don't kidnap another such as this last was.
If my object were to make you fear and tremble, I should tell you that on the evening of the 30th I was sweeping within a few degrees of your prize. I merely throw out the hint for what it is worth.
It has been very interesting to watch the motion of this comet among the stars with the great refractor; we could almost see it move.
An account of its passage over the star mentioned by your father when he was here, would make an interesting notice for one of the foreign journals, which we would readily forward.... [Here follow Mr. Bond's observations.]
Your obedient servant,
G. P. BOND.
Hon. Edward Everett, who at that time was president of Harvard College, took a great interest in the matter, and immediately opened a correspondence with the proper authorities, and sent a notice of the discovery to the "Astronomische Nachrichten."
The priority of Miss Mitchell's discovery was immediately admitted throughout Europe.
The King of Denmark very promptly referred the matter to Professor Schumacher, who reported in favor of granting the medal to Miss Mitchell, and the medal was duly struck off and forwarded to Mr. Everett.
Among European astronomers who urged Miss Mitchell's claim was Admiral Smyth, whom she knew through his "Celestial Cycle," and who later, on her visit to England, became a warm personal friend. Madame Ruemker, also, sent congratulations.
Mr. Everett announced the receipt of the medal to Miss Mitchell in the following letter:
CAMBRIDGE, March 29, 1849.
MY DEAR MISS MITCHELL: I have the pleasure to inform you that your medal arrived by the last steamer; it reached me by mail, yesterday afternoon.
I went to Boston this morning, hoping to find you at the Adams House, to put it into your own hand.
As your return to Nantucket prevented this, I, of course, retain it, subject to your orders, not liking to take the risk again of its transmission by mail.
Having it in this way in my hand, I have taken the liberty to show it to some friends, such as W.C. Bond, Professor Peirce, the editors of the "Transcript," and the members of my family,—which I hope you will pardon.
I remain, my dear Miss Mitchell, with great regard,
Very faithfully yours,
EDWARD EVERETT.[Footnote: See Appendix.]
In 1848 Miss Mitchell was elected to membership by the "American Academy of Arts and Sciences," unanimously; she was the first and only woman ever admitted. In the diploma the printed word "Fellow" is erased, and the words "Honorary Member" inserted by Dr. Asa Gray, who signed the document as secretary. Some years later, however, her name is found in the list of Fellows of this Academy, also of the American Institute and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For many years she attended the annual conventions of this last-mentioned association, in which she took great interest.
The extract below refers to one of these meetings, probably that of 1855:
"August 23. It is really amusing to find one's self lionized in a city where one has visited quietly for years; to see the doors of fashionable mansions open wide to receive you, which never opened before. I suspect that the whole corps of science laughs in its sleeves at the farce.
"The leaders make it pay pretty well. My friend Professor Bache makes the occasions the opportunities for working sundry little wheels, pulleys, and levers; the result of all which is that he gets his enormous appropriations of $400,000 out of Congress, every winter, for the maintenance of the United States Coast Survey.
"For a few days Science reigns supreme,—we are feted and complimented to the top of our bent, and although complimenters and complimented must feel that it is only a sort of theatrical performance, for a few days and over, one does enjoy acting the part of greatness for a while! I was tired after three days of it, and glad to take the cars and run away.
"The descent into a commoner was rather sudden. I went alone to Boston, and when I reached out my free pass, the conductor read it through and handed it back, saying in a gruff voice, 'It's worth nothing; a dollar and a quarter to Boston.' Think what a downfall! the night before, and
'One blast upon my bugle horn Were worth a hundred men!'
Now one man alone was my dependence, and that man looked very much inclined to put me out of the car for attempting to pass a ticket that in his eyes was valueless. Of course I took it quietly, and paid the money, merely remarking, 'You will pass a hundred persons on this road in a few days on these same tickets.'
"When I look back on the paper read at this meeting by Mr. J—— in his uncouth manner, I think when a man is thoroughly in earnest, how careless he is of mere words!"
In 1849 Miss Mitchell was asked by the late Admiral Davis, who had just taken charge of the American Nautical Almanac, to act as computer for that work,—a proposition to which she gladly assented, and for nineteen years she held that position in addition to her other duties. This, of course, made a very desirable increase to her income, but not necessarily to her expenses. The tables of the planet Venus were assigned to her. In this year, too, she was employed by Professor Bache, of the United States Coast Survey, in the work of an astronomical party at Mount Independence, Maine.
"1853. I was told that Miss Dix wished to see me, and I called upon her. It was dusk, and I did not at once see her; her voice was low, not particularly sweet, but very gentle. She told me that she had heard Professor Henry speak of me, and that Professor Henry was one of her best friends, the truest man she knew. When the lights were brought in I looked at her. She must be past fifty, she is rather small, dresses indifferently, has good features in general, but indifferent eyes. She does not brighten up in countenance in conversing. She is so successful that I suppose there must be a hidden fire somewhere, for heat is a motive power, and her cold manners could never move Legislatures. I saw some outburst of fire when Mrs. Hale's book was spoken of. It seems Mrs. Hale wrote to her for permission to publish a notice of her, and was decidedly refused; another letter met with the same answer, yet she wrote a 'Life' which Miss Dix says is utterly false.
"In her general sympathy for suffering humanity, Miss Dix seems neglectful of the individual interest. She has no family connection but a brother, has never had sisters, and she seemed to take little interest in the persons whom she met. I was surprised at her feeling any desire to see me. She is not strikingly interesting in conversation, because she is so grave, so cold, and so quiet. I asked her if she did not become at times weary and discouraged; and she said, wearied, but not discouraged, for she had met with nothing but success. There is evidently a strong will which carries all before it, not like the sweep of the hurricane, but like the slow, steady, and powerful march of the molten lava.
"It is sad to see a woman sacrificing the ties of the affections even to do good. I have no doubt Miss Dix does much good, but a woman needs a home and the love of other women at least, if she lives without that of man."
The following entry was made many years after:—
"August, 1871. I have just seen Miss Dix again, having met her only once for a few minutes in all the eighteen years. She listened to a story of mine about some girls in need, and then astonished me by an offer she made me."
"Feb. 15, 1853. I think Dr. Hall [in his 'Life of Mary Ware'] does wrong when he attempts to encourage the use of the needle. It seems to me that the needle is the chain of woman, and has fettered her more than the laws of the country.
"Once emancipate her from the 'stitch, stitch, stitch," the industry of which would be commendable if it served any purpose except the gratification of her vanity, and she would have time for studies which would engross as the needle never can. I would as soon put a girl alone into a closet to meditate as give her only the society of her needle. The art of sewing, so far as men learn it, is well enough; that is, to enable a person to take the stitches, and, if necessary, to make her own garments in a strong manner; but the dressmaker should no more be a universal character than the carpenter. Suppose every man should feel it is his duty to do his own mechanical work of all kinds, would society be benefited? would the work be well done? Yet a woman is expected to know how to do all kinds of sewing, all kinds of cooking, all kinds of any woman's work, and the consequence is that life is passed in learning these only, while the universe of truth beyond remains unentered.
"May 11, 1853. I could not help thinking of Esther [a much-loved cousin who had recently died] a few evenings since when I was observing. A meteor flashed upon me suddenly, very bright, very short-lived; it seemed to me that it was sent for me especially, for it greeted me almost the first instant I looked up, and was gone in a second,—it was as fleeting and as beautiful as the smile upon Esther's face the last time I saw her. I thought when I talked with her about death that, though she could not come to me visibly, she might be able to influence my feelings; but it cannot be, for my faith has been weaker than ever since she died, and my fears have been greater."
A few pages farther on in the diary appears this poem:
"Living, the hearts of all around Sought hers as slaves a throne; Dying, the reason first we found— The fulness of her own.
"She gave unconsciously the while A wealth we all might share— To me the memory of the smile That last I saw her wear.
"Earth lost from out its meagre store A bright and precious stone; Heaven could not be so rich before, But it has richer grown."
"Sept. 19, 1853. I am surprised to find the verse which I picked up somewhere and have always admired—
"'Oh, reader, had you in your mind Such stores as silent thought can bring, Oh, gentle reader, you would find A tale in everything'—
belonging to Wordsworth and to one of Wordsworth's simple, I am almost ready to say silly, poems. I am in doubt what to think of Wordsworth. I should be ashamed of some of his poems if I had written them myself, and yet there are points of great beauty, and lines which once in the mind will not leave it.
"Oct. 31, 1853. People have to learn sometimes not only how much the heart, but how much the head, can bear. My letter came from Cambridge [the Harvard Observatory], and I had some work to do over. It was a wearyful job, but by dint of shutting myself up all day I did manage to get through with it. The good of my travelling showed itself then, when I was too tired to read, to listen, or to talk; for the beautiful scenery of the West was with me in the evening, instead of the tedious columns of logarithms. It is a blessed thing that these pictures keep in the mind and come out at the needful hour. I did not call them, but they seemed to come forth as a regulator for my tired brain, as if they had been set sentinel-like to watch a proper time to appear.
"November, 1853. There is said to be no up or down in creation, but I think the world must be low, for people who keep themselves constantly before it do a great deal of stooping!
"Dec. 8, 1853. Last night we had the first meeting of the class in elocution. It was very pleasant, but my deficiency of ear was never more apparent to myself. We had exercises in the ascending scale, and I practised after I came home, with the family as audience. H. says my ear is competent only to vulgar hearing, and I cannot appreciate nice distinctions.... I am sure that I shall never say that if I had been properly educated I should have made a singer, a dancer, or a painter—I should have failed less, perhaps, in the last. ... Coloring I might have been good in, for I do think my eyes are better than those of any one I know.
"Feb. 18, 1854. If I should make out a calendar by my feelings of fatigue, I should say there were six Saturdays in the week and one Sunday.
"Mr. —— somewhat ridicules my plan of reading Milton with a view to his astronomy, but I have found it very pleasant, and have certainly a juster idea of Milton's variety of greatness than I had before. I have filled several sheets with my annotations on the 'Paradise Lost,' which I may find useful if I should ever be obliged to teach, either as a schoolma'am or a lecturer. [Footnote: This paper has been printed since Miss Mitchell's death in "Poet-lore," June-July, 1894.]
"March 2, 1854. I 'swept' last night two hours, by three periods. It was a grand night—not a breath of air, not a fringe of a cloud, all clear, all beautiful. I really enjoy that kind of work, but my back soon becomes tired, long before the cold chills me. I saw two nebulae in Leo with which I was not familiar, and that repaid me for the time. I am always the better for open-air breathing, and was certainly meant for the wandering life of the Indian.
"Sept. 12, 1854. I am just through with a summer, and a summer is to me always a trying ordeal. I have determined not to spend so much time at the Atheneum another season, but to put some one in my place who shall see the strange faces and hear the strange talk.
"How much talk there is about religion! Giles [Footnote: Rev. Henry Giles.] I like the best, for he seems, like myself, to have no settled views, and to be religious only in feeling. He says he has no piety, but a great sense of infinity.
"Yesterday I had a Shaker visitor, and to-day a Catholic; and the more I see and hear, the less do I care about church doctrines. The Catholic, a priest, I have known as an Atheneum visitor for some time. He talked to-day, on my asking him some questions, and talked better than I expected. He is plainly full of intelligence, full of enthusiasm for his religion, and, I suspect, full of bigotry. I do not believe he will die a Catholic priest. A young man of his temperament must find it hard to live without family ties, and I shall expect to hear, if I ever hear of him again, that some good little Irish girl has made him forget his vows.
"My visitors, in other respects, have been of the average sort. Four women have been delighted to make my acquaintance—three men have thought themselves in the presence of a superior being; one offered me twenty-five cents because I reached him the key of the museum. One woman has opened a correspondence with me, and several have told me that they knew friends of mine; two have spoken of me in small letters to small newspapers; one said he didn't see me, and one said he did! I have become hardened to all; neither compliment nor quarter-dollar rouses any emotion. My fit of humility, which has troubled me all summer, is shaken, however, by the first cool breeze of autumn and the first walk taken without perspiration.
"Sept. 22, 1854. On the evening of the 18th, while 'sweeping,' there came into the field the two nebulae in Ursa Major, which I have known for many a year, but which to my surprise now appeared to be three. The upper one, as seen from an inverting telescope, appeared double-headed, like one near the Dolphin, but much more decided than that, the space between the two heads being very plainly discernible and subtending a decided angle. The bright part of this object was clearly the old nebula—but what was the appendage? Had the nebula suddenly changed? Was it a comet, or was it merely a very fine night? Father decided at once for the comet; I hesitated, with my usual cowardice, and forbade his giving it a notice in the newspaper.
"I watched it from 8.30 to 11.30 almost without cessation, and was quite sure at 11.30 that its position had changed with regard to the neighboring stars. I counted its distance from the known nebula several times, but the whole affair was difficult, for there were flying clouds, and sometimes the nebula and comet were too indistinct to be definitely seen.
"The 19th was cloudy and the 20th the same, with the variety of occasional breaks, through which I saw the nebula, but not the comet.
"On the 21st came a circular, and behold Mr. Van Arsdale had seen it on the 13th, but had not been sure of it until the 15th, on account of the clouds.
"I was too well pleased with having really made the discovery to care because I was not first.
"Let the Dutchman have the reward of his sturdier frame and steadier nerves!
"Especially could I be a Christian because the 13th was cloudy, and more especially because I dreaded the responsibility of making the computations, nolens volens, which I must have done to be able to call it mine....
"I made observations for three hours last night, and am almost ill to-day from fatigue; still I have worked all day, trying to reduce the places, and mean to work hard again to-night.
"Sept. 25, 1854. I began to recompute for the comet, with observations of Cambridge and Washington, to-day. I have had a fit of despondency in consequence of being obliged to renounce my own observations as too rough for use. The best that can be said of my life so far is that it has been industrious, and the best that can be said of me is that I have not pretended to what I was not.
"October 10. As soon as I had run through the computations roughly for the comet, so as to make up my mind that by my own observations (which were very wrong) the Perihelion was passed, and nothing more to be hoped for from observations, I seized upon a pleasant day and went to the Cape for an excursion. We went to Yarmouth, Sandwich, and Plymouth, enjoying the novelty of the new car-route. It really seemed like railway travelling on our own island, so much sand and so flat a country.
"The little towns, too, seemed quaint and odd, and the old gray cottages looked as if they belonged to the last century, and were waked from a long nap by the railway whistle.
"I thought Sandwich a beautiful, and Plymouth an interesting, town. I would fain have gone off into some poetical quotation, such as 'The breaking waves dashed high' or 'The Pilgrim fathers, where are they?' but K., who had been there before, desired me not to be absurd, but to step quietly on to the half-buried rock and quietly off. Younger sisters know a deal, so I did as I was bidden to do, and it was just as well not to make myself hoarse without an appreciative audience.
"I liked the picture by Sargent in Pilgrim Hall, but seeing Plymouth on a mild, sunny day, with everything looking bright and pleasant, it was difficult to conceive of the landing of the Pilgrims as an event, or that the settling of such a charming spot required any heroism.
"The picture, of course, represents the dreariness of winter, and my feelings were moved by the chilled appearance of the little children, and the pathetic countenance of little Peregrine White, who, considering that he was born in the harbor, is wonderfully grown up before they are welcomed by Samoset. According to history little Peregrine was born about December 6 and Samoset met them about March 16; so he was three months old, but he is plainly a forward child, for he looks up very knowingly. Such a child had immortality thrust upon him from his birth. It must have had a deadening influence upon him to know that he was a marked man whether he did anything worthy of mark or not. He does not seem to have made any figure after his entrance into the world, though he must have created a great sensation when he came.
"October 17. I have just gone over my comet computations again, and it is humiliating to perceive how very little more I know than I did seven years ago when I first did this kind of work. To be sure, I have only once in the time computed a parabolic orbit; but it seems to me that I know no more in general. I think I am a little better thinker, that I take things less upon trust, but at the same time I trust myself much less. The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.
"Will it really unroll to us at some future time? Aside from the gratification of the affections in another world, that of the intellect must be great if it is enlarged and its desires are the same.
"Nov. 24, 1854. Yesterday James Freeman Clarke, the biographer of Margaret Fuller, came into the Atheneum. It was plain that he came to see me and not the institution.... He rushed into talk at once, mostly on people, and asked me about my astronomical labors. As it was a kind of flattery, I repaid it in kind by asking him about Margaret Fuller. He said she did not strike any one as a person of intellect or as a student, for all her faculties were kept so much abreast that none had prominence. I wanted to ask if she was a lovable person, but I did not think he would be an unbiassed judge, she was so much attached to him.
"Dec. 5, 1854. The love of one's own sex is precious, for it is neither provoked by vanity nor retained by flattery; it is genuine and sincere. I am grateful that I have had much of this in my life.
"The comet looked in upon us on the 29th. It made a twilight call, looking sunny and bright, as if it had just warmed itself in the equinoctial rays. A boy on the street called my attention to it, but I found on hurrying home that father had already seen it, and had ranged it behind buildings so as to get a rough position.
"It was piping cold, but we went to work in good earnest that night, and the next night on which we could see it, which was not until April.
"I was dreadfully busy, and a host of little annoyances crowded upon me. I had a good star near it in the field of my comet-seeker, but what star?
"On that rested everything, and I could not be sure even from the catalogue, for the comet and the star were so much in the twilight that I could get no good neighboring stars. We called it Arietes, or 707.
"Then came a waxing moon, and we waxed weary in trying to trace the fainter and fainter comet in the mists of twilight and the glare of moonlight.
"Next I broke a screw of my instrument, and found that no screw of that description could be bought in the town.
"I started off to find a man who could make one, and engaged him to do so the next day. The next day was Fast Day; all the world fasted, at least from labor.
"However, the screw was made, and it fitted nicely. The clouds cleared, and we were likely to have a good night. I put up my instrument, but scarcely had the screw-driver touched the new screw than out it flew from its socket, rolled along the floor of the 'walk,' dropped quietly through a crack into the gutter of the house-roof. I heard it click, and felt very much like using language unbecoming to a woman's mouth.
"I put my eye down to the crack, but could not see it. There was but one thing to be done,—the floor-boards must come up. I got a hatchet, but could do nothing. I called father; he brought a crowbar and pried up the board, then crawled under it and found the screw. I took good care not to lose it a second time.
"The instrument was fairly mounted when the clouds mounted to keep it company, and the comet and I again parted.
"In all observations, the blowing out of a light by a gust of wind is a very common and very annoying accident; but I once met with a much worse one, for I dropped a chronometer, and it rolled out of its box on to the ground. We picked it up in a great panic, but it had not even altered its rate, as we found by later observations.
"The glaring eyes of the cat, who nightly visited me, were at one time very annoying, and a man who climbed up a fence and spoke to me, in the stillness of the small hours, fairly shook not only my equanimity, but the pencil which I held in my hand. He was quite innocent of any intention to do me harm, but he gave me a great fright.
"The spiders and bugs which swarm in my observing-houses I have rather an attachment for, but they must not crawl over my recording-paper. Rats are my abhorrence, and I learned with pleasure that some poison had been placed under the transit-house.
"One gets attached (if the term may be used) to certain midnight apparitions. The Aurora Borealis is always a pleasant companion; a meteor seems to come like a messenger from departed spirits; and the blossoming of trees in the moonlight becomes a sight looked for with pleasure.
"Aside from the study of astronomy, there is the same enjoyment in a night upon the housetop, with the stars, as in the midst of other grand scenery; there is the same subdued quiet and grateful seriousness; a calm to the troubled spirit, and a hope to the desponding.
"Even astronomers who are as well cared for as are those of Cambridge have their annoyances, and even men as skilled as they are make blunders.
"I have known one of the Bonds,[Footnote: Of the Harvard College Observatory.] with great effort, turn that huge telescope down to the horizon to make an observation upon a blazing comet seen there, and when he had found it in his glass, find also that it was not a comet, but the nebula of Andromeda, a cluster of stars on which he had spent much time, and which he had made a special object of study.
"Dec. 26, 1854. They were wonderful men, the early astronomers. That was a great conception, which now seems to us so simple, that the earth turns upon its axis, and a still greater one that it revolves about the sun (to show this last was worth a man's lifetime, and it really almost cost the life of Galileo). Somehow we are ready to think that they had a wider field than we for speculation, that truth being all unknown it was easier to take the first step in its paths. But is the region of truth limited? Is it not infinite?... We know a few things which were once hidden, and being known they seem easy; but there are the flashings of the Northern Lights—'Across the lift they start and shift;' there is the conical zodiacal beam seen so beautifully in the early evenings of spring and the early mornings of autumn; there are the startling comets, whose use is all unknown; there are the brightening and flickering variable stars, whose cause is all unknown; and the meteoric showers—and for all of these the reasons are as clear as for the succession of day and night; they lie just beyond the daily mist of our minds, but our eyes have not yet pierced through it."
EXTRACTS FROM DIARY—RACHEL—EMERSON—A HARD WINTER
"Jan. 1, 1855. I put some wires into my little transit this morning. I dreaded it so much, when I found yesterday that it must be done, that it disturbed my sleep. It was much easier than I expected. I took out the little collimating screws first, then I drew out the tube, and in that I found a brass plate screwed on the diaphragm which contained the lines. I was at first a little puzzled to know which screws held this diaphragm in its place, and, as I was very anxious not to unscrew the wrong ones, I took time to consider and found I need turn only two. Then out slipped the little plate with its three wires where five should have been, two having been broken. As I did not know how to manage a spider's web, I took the hairs from my own head, taking care to pick out white ones because I have no black ones to spare. I put in the two, after first stretching them over pasteboard, by sticking them with sealing-wax dissolved in alcohol into the little grooved lines which I found. When I had, with great labor, adjusted these, as I thought, firmly, I perceived that some of the wax was on the hairs and would make them yet coarser, and they were already too coarse; so I washed my little camel's-hair brush which I had been using, and began to wash them with clear alcohol. Almost at once I washed out another wire and soon another and another. I went to work patiently and put in the five perpendicular ones besides the horizontal one, which, like the others, had frizzled up and appeared to melt away. With another hour's labor I got in the five, when a rude motion raised them all again and I began over. Just at one o'clock I had got them all in again. I attempted then to put the diaphragm back into its place. The sealing-wax was not dry, and with a little jar I sent the wires all agog. This time they did not come out of the little grooved lines into which they were put, and I hastened to take out the brass plate and set them in parallel lines. I gave up then for the day, but, as they looked well and were certainly in firmly, I did not consider that I had made an entire failure. I thought it nice ladylike work to manage such slight threads and turn such delicate screws; but fine as are the hairs of one's head, I shall seek something finer, for I can see how clumsy they will appear when I get on the eyepiece and magnify their imperfections. They look parallel now to the eye, but with a magnifying power a very little crook will seem a billowy wave, and a faint star will hide itself in one of the yawning abysses.
"January 15. Finding the hairs which I had put into my instrument not only too coarse, but variable and disposed to curl themselves up at a change of weather, I wrote to George Bond to ask him how I should procure spider lines. He replied that the web from cocoons should be used, and that I should find it difficult at this time of year to get at them. I remembered at once that I had seen two in the library room of the Atheneum, which I had carefully refrained from disturbing. I found them perfect, and unrolled them.... Fearing that I might not succeed in managing them, I procured some hairs from C.'s head. C. being not quite a year old, his hair is remarkably fine and sufficiently long.... I made the perpendicular wires of the spider's webs, breaking them and doing the work over again a great many times.... I at length got all in, crossing the five perpendicular ones with a horizontal one from C.'s spinning-wheel.... After twenty-four hours' exposure to the weather, I looked at them. The spider-webs had not changed, they were plainly used to a chill and made to endure changes of temperature; but C.'s hair, which had never felt a cold greater than that of the nursery, nor a change more decided than from his mother's arms to his father's, had knotted up into a decided curl!—N.B. C. may expect ringlets.
"January 22. Horace Greeley, in an article in a recent number of the 'Tribune,' says that the fund left by Smithson is spent by the regents of that institution in publishing books which no publisher would undertake and which do no good to anybody. Now in our little town of Nantucket, with our little Atheneum, these volumes are in constant demand....
"I do not suppose that such works as those issued by the Smithsonian regents are appreciated by all who turn them over, but the ignorant learn that such things exist; they perceive that a higher cultivation than theirs is in the world, and they are stimulated to strive after greater excellence. So I steadily advocate, in purchasing books for the Atheneum, the lifting of the people. 'Let us buy, not such books as the people want, but books just above their wants, and they will reach up to take what is put out for them.'
"Sept. 10, 1855. To know what one ought to do is certainly the hardest thing in life. 'Doing' is comparatively easy; but there are no laws for your individual case—yours is one of a myriad.
"There are laws of right and wrong in general, but they do not seem to bear upon any particular case.
"In chess-playing you can refer to rules of movement, for the chess-men are few, and the positions in which they may be placed, numerous as they are, have a limit.
"But is there any limit to the different positions of human beings around you? Is there any limit to the peculiarities of circumstances?
"Here a man, however much of a copyist he may be by nature, comes down to simple originality, unless he blindly follows the advice of some friend; for there is no precedent in anything exactly like his case; he must decide for himself, and must take the step alone; and fearfully, cautiously, and distrustingly must we all take many of our steps, for we see but a little way at best, and we can foresee nothing at all.
"September 13. I read this morning an article in 'Putnam's Magazine,' on Rachel. I have been much interested in this woman as a genius, though I am pained by the accounts of her career in point of morals, and I am wearied with the glitter of her jewelry. Night puts on a jewelled robe which few admire, compared with the admiration for marketable jewelry. The New York 'Tribune' descends to the rating of the value of those worn by her, and it is the prominent point, or rather it makes the multitude of prominent points, when she is spoken of.
"The writer in 'Putnam' does not go into these small matters, but he attempts a criticism on acting, to which I am not entirely a convert. He maintains that if an actor should really show a character in such light that we could not tell the impersonation from the reality, the stage would lose its interest. I do not think so. We should draw back, of course, from physical suffering; but yet we should be charmed to suppose anything real, which we had desired to see. If we felt that we really met Cardinal Wolsey or Henry VIII. in his days of glory, would it not be a lifelong memory to us, very different from the effect of the stage, and if for a few moments we really felt that we had met them, would it not lift us into a new kind of being?
"What would we not give to see Julius Caesar and the soothsayer, just as they stood in Rome as Shakspere represents them? Why, we travel hundreds of miles to see the places noted for the doings of these old Romans; and if we could be made to believe that we met one of the smaller men, even, of that day, our ecstasy would be unbounded. 'A tin pan so painted as to deceive is atrocious,' says this writer. Of course, for we are not interested in a tin pan; but give us a portrait of Shakspere or Milton so that we shall feel that we have met them, and I see no atrocity in the matter. We honor the homes of these men, and we joy in the hope of seeing them. What would be beyond seeing them in life?
"October 31. I saw Rachel in 'Phedre' and in 'Adrienne.' I had previously asked a friend if I, in my ignorance of acting, and in my inability to tell good from poor, should really perceive a marked difference between Rachel and her aids. She thought I should. I did indeed! In 'Phedre,' which I first saw, she was not aided at all by her troupe; they were evidently ill at ease in the Greek dress and in Greek manners; while she had assimilated herself to the whole. It is founded on the play of Euripides, and even to Rachel the passion which she represents as Phedre must have been too strange to be natural. Hippolytus refuses the love which Phedre offers after a long struggle with herself, and this gives cause for the violent bursts in which Rachel shows her power. It was an outburst of passion of which I have no conception, and I felt as if I saw a new order of being; not a woman, but a personified passion. The vehemence and strength were wonderful. It was in parts very touching. There was as fine an opportunity for Aricia to show some power as for Phedre, but the automaton who represented Aricia had no power to show. Oenon, whom I took to be the sister Sarah, was something of an actress, but her part was so hateful that no one could applaud her. I felt in reading 'Phedre,' and in hearing it, that it was a play of high order, and that I learned some little philosophy from some of its sentiments; but for 'Adrienne' I have a contempt. The play was written by Scribe specially for Rachel, and the French acting was better done by the other performers than the Greek. I have always disliked to see death represented on the stage. Rachel's representation was awful! I could not take my eyes from the scene, and I held my breath in horror; the death was so much to the life. It is said that she changes color. I do not know that she does, but it looked like a ghastly hue that came over her pale face.
"I was displeased at the constant standing. Neither as Greeks nor as Frenchmen did they sit at all; only when dying did Rachel need a chair. They made love standing, they told long stories standing, they took snuff in that position, hat in hand, and Rachel fainted upon the breast of some friend from the same fatiguing attitude.
"The audience to hear 'Adrienne' was very fine. The Unitarian clergymen and the divinity students seemed to have turned out.
"Most of the two thousand listeners followed with the book, and when the last word was uttered on the French page, over turned the two thousand leaves, sounding like a shower of rain. The applause was never very great; it is said that Rachel feels this as a Boston peculiarity, but she ought also to feel the compliment of so large an audience in a city where foreigners are so few and the population so small compared to that of New York.
"Nov. 14, 1855. Last night I heard Emerson give a lecture. I pity the reporter who attempts to give it to the world. I began to listen with a determination to remember it in order, but it was without method, or order, or system. It was like a beam of light moving in the undulatory waves, meeting with occasional meteors in its path; it was exceedingly captivating. It surprised me that there was not only no commonplace thought, but there was no commonplace expression. If he quoted, he quoted from what we had not read; if he told an anecdote, it was one that had not reached us. At the outset he was very severe upon the science of the age. He said that inventors and discoverers helped themselves very much, but they did not help the rest of the world; that a great man was felt to the centre of the Copernican system; that a botanist dried his plants, but the plants had their revenge and dried the botanist; that a naturalist bottled up reptiles, but in return the man was bottled up.
"There was a pitiful truth in all this, but there are glorious exceptions. Professor Peirce is anything but a formula, though he deals in formulae.
"The lecture turned at length upon beauty, and it was evident that personal beauty had made Emerson its slave many a time, and I suppose every heart in the house admitted the truth of his words....
"It was evident that Mr. Emerson was not at ease, for he declared that good manners were more than beauty of face, and good expression better than good features. He mentioned that Sir Philip Sydney was not handsome, though the boast of English society; and he spoke of the astonishing beauty of the Duchess of Hamilton, to see whom hundreds collected when she took a ride. I think in these cases there is something besides beauty; there was rank in that of the Duchess, in the case of Sydney there was no need of beauty at all.
"Dec. 16, 1855. All along this year I have felt that it was a hard year—the hardest of my life. And I have kept enumerating to myself my many trials; to-day it suddenly occurred to me that my blessings were much more numerous. If mother's illness was a sore affliction, her recovery is a great blessing; and even the illness itself has its bright side, for we have joyed in showing her how much we prize her continued life. If I have lost some friends by death, I have not lost all. If I have worked harder than I felt that I could bear, how much better is that than not to have as much work as I wanted to do. I have earned more money than in any preceding year; I have studied less, but have observed more, than I did last year. I have saved more money than ever before, hoping for Europe in 1856." ...
Miss Mitchell from her earliest childhood had had a great desire to travel in Europe. She received a very small salary for her services in the Atheneum, but small as it was she laid by a little every year.
She dressed very simply and spent as little as possible on herself—which was also true of her later years. She took a little journey every year, and could always have little presents ready for the birthdays and Christmas days, and for the necessary books which could not be found in the Atheneum library, and which she felt that she ought to own herself,—all this on a salary which an ordinary school-girl in these days would think too meagre to supply her with dress alone.
In this family the children were not ashamed to say, "I can't afford it," and were taught that nothing was cheap that they could not pay for—a lesson that has been valuable to them all their lives.
".... 1855. Deacon Greeley, of Boston, urged my going to Boston and giving some lectures to get money. I told him I could not think of it just now, as I wanted to go to Europe. 'On what money?' said he. 'What I have earned,' I replied. 'Bless me!' said he; 'am I talking to a capitalist? What a mistake I have made.'"
During the time of the prosperity of the town, the winters were very sociable and lively; but when the inhabitants began to leave for more favorable opportunities for getting a livelihood, the change was felt very seriously, especially in the case of an exceptionally stormy winter. Here is an extract showing how Miss Mitchell and her family lived during one of these winters:
"Jan. 22, 1857. Hard winters are becoming the order of things. Winter before last was hard, last winter was harder, and this surpasses all winters known before.
"We have been frozen into our island now since the 6th. No one cared much about it for the first two or three days; the sleighing was good, and all the world was out trying their horses on Main street—the racecourse of the world. Day after day passed, and the thermometer sank to a lower point, and the winds rose to a higher, and sleighing became uncomfortable; and even the dullest man longs for the cheer of a newspaper. The 'Nantucket Inquirer' came out for awhile, but at length it had nothing to tell and nothing to inquire about, and so kept its peace.
"After about a week a vessel was seen off Siasconset, and boarded by a pilot. Her captain said he would go anywhere and take anybody, as all he wanted was a harbor. Two men whose business would suffer if they remained at home took passage in her, and with the pilot, Patterson, she left in good weather and was seen off Chatham at night. It was hoped that Patterson would return and bring at least a few newspapers, but no more is known of them. Our postmaster thought he was not allowed to send the mails by such a conveyance.
"Yesterday we got up quite an excitement because a large steamship was seen near the Haul-over. She set a flag for a pilot, and was boarded. It was found that she was out of course, twenty days from Glasgow, bound to New York. What the European news is we do not yet know, but it is plain that we are nearer to Europe than to Hyannis. Christians as we are, I am afraid we were all sorry that she did not come ashore. We women revelled in the idea of the rich silks she would probably throw upon the beach, and the men thought a good job would be made by steamboat companies and wreck agents.
"Last night the weather was so mild that a plan was made for cutting out the steamboat; all the Irishmen in town were ordered to be on the harbor with axes, shovels, and saws at seven this morning. The poor fellows were exulting in the prospect of a job, but they are sadly balked, for this morning at seven a hard storm was raging—snow and a good north-west wind. What has become of the English steamer no one knows, but the wind blows off shore, so she will not come any nearer to us.
"Inside of the house we amuse ourselves in various ways. F.'s family and ours form a club meeting three times a week, and writing 'machine poetry' in great quantities. Occasionally something very droll puts us in a roar of laughter. F., E., and K. are, I think, rather the smartest, though Mr. M. has written rather the best of all. At the next meeting, each of us is to produce a sonnet on a subject which we draw by lot. I have written mine and tried to be droll. K. has written hers and is serious.
"I am sadly tried by this state of things. I cannot hear from Cambridge (the Nautical Almanac office), and am out of work; it is cloudy most of the time, and I cannot observe; and I had fixed upon just this time for taking a journey. My trunk has been half packed for a month.
"January 23. Foreseeing that the thermometer would show a very low point last night, we sat up until near midnight, when it stood one and one-half below zero. The stars shone brightly, and the wind blew freshly from west north-west.
"This morning the wind is the same, and the mercury stood at six and one-half below zero at seven o'clock, and now at ten A.M. is not above zero. The Coffin School dismissed its scholars. Miss F. suffered much from the exposure on her way to school.
"The 'Inquirer' came out this morning, giving the news from Europe brought by the steamer which lies off 'Sconset. No coal has yet been carried to the steamer, the carts which started for 'Sconset being obliged to return.
"There are about seven hundred barrels of flour in town; it is admitted that fresh meat is getting scarce; the streets are almost impassable from the snow-drifts.
"K. and I have hit upon a plan for killing time. We are learning poetry—she takes twenty lines of Goldsmith's 'Traveller,' and I twenty lines of the 'Deserted Village.' It will take us twenty days to learn the whole, and we hope to be stopped in our course by the opening of the harbor. Considering that K. has a fiance from whom she cannot hear a word, she carries herself very amicably towards mankind. She is making herself a pair of shoes, which look very well; I have made myself a morning-dress since we were closed in.
"Last night I took my first lesson in whist-playing. I learned in one evening to know the king, queen, and jack apart, and to understand what my partner meant when she winked at me.
"The worst of this condition of things is that we shall bear the marks of it all our lives. We are now sixteen daily papers behind the rest of the world, and in those sixteen papers are items known to all the people in all the cities, which will never be known to us. How prices have fluctuated in that time we shall not know—what houses have burned down, what robberies have been committed. When the papers do come, each of us will rush for the latest dates; the news of two weeks ago is now history, and no one reads history, especially the history of one's own country.
"I bought a copy of 'Aurora Leigh' just before the freezing up, and I have been careful, as it is the only copy on the island, to circulate it freely. It must have been a pleasant visitor in the four or five households which it has entered. We have had Dr. Kane's book and now have the 'Japan Expedition.'
"The intellectual suffering will, I think, be all. I have no fear of scarcity of provisions or fuel. There are old houses enough to burn. Fresh meat is rather scarce because the English steamer required so much victualling. We have a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour in the house, and father has chickens enough to keep us a good while.
"There are said to be some families who are in a good deal of suffering, for whom the Howard Society is on the lookout. Mother gives very freely to Bridget, who has four children to support with only the labor of her hands.
"The Coffin School has been suspended one day on account of the heaviest storm, and the Unitarian church has had but one service. No great damage has been done by the gales. My observing-seat came thundering down the roof one evening, about ten o'clock, but all the world understood its cry of 'Stand from under,' and no one was hurt. Several windows were blown in at midnight, and houses shook so that vases fell from the mantelpieces.
"The last snow drifted so that the sleighing was difficult, and at present the storm is so smothering that few are out. A. has been out to school every day, and I have not failed to go out into the air once a day to take a short walk.