The author's spelling and hyphenation are inconsistent, and have not been changed except in the case of obvious typographical errors, which are listed at the end of this e-text. Spellings and accents in foreign languages are particularly eccentric.}
RECORDS OF LATER LIFE
FRANCES ANN KEMBLE
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1882.
COPYRIGHT, 1882, BY HENRY HOLT & CO.
RECORDS OF LATER LIFE.
PHILADELPHIA, October 26th, 1834. DEAREST MRS. JAMESON,
However stoutly your incredulity may have held out hitherto against the various "authentic" reports of my marriage, I beg you will, upon receipt of this, immediately believe that I was married on the 7th of June last, and have now been a wife nearly five mortal months. You know that in leaving the stage I left nothing that I regretted; but the utter separation from my family consequent upon settling in this country, is a serious source of pain to me....
With regard to what you say, about the first year of one's marriage not being as happy as the second, I know not how that may be. I had pictured to myself no fairyland of enchantments within the mysterious precincts of matrimony; I expected from it rest, quiet, leisure to study, to think, and to work, and legitimate channels for the affections of my nature....
In the closest and dearest friendship, shades of character, and the precise depth and power of the various qualities of mind and heart, never approximate to such a degree, as to preclude all possibility of occasional misunderstandings.
"Not e'en the nearest heart, and most our own, Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh."
It is impossible that it should be otherwise: for no two human beings were ever fashioned absolutely alike, even in their gross outward bodily form and lineaments, and how should the fine and infinite spirit admit of such similarity with another? But the broad and firm principles upon which all honorable and enduring sympathy is founded, the love of truth, the reverence for right, the abhorrence of all that is base and unworthy, admit of no difference or misunderstanding; and where these exist in the relations of two people united for life, it seems to me that love and happiness, as perfect as this imperfect existence affords, may be realized....
Of course, kindred, if not absolutely similar, minds, do exist; but they do not often meet, I think, and hardly ever unite. Indeed, though the enjoyment of intercourse with those who resemble us may be very great, I suppose the influence of those who differ from us is more wholesome; for in mere unison of thought and feeling there could be no exercise for forbearance, toleration, self-examination by comparison with another nature, or the sifting of one's own opinions and feelings, and testing their accuracy and value, by contact and contrast with opposite feelings and opinions. A fellowship of mere accord, approaching to identity in the nature of its members, would lose much of the uses of human intercourse and its worth in the discipline of life, and, moreover, render the separation of death intolerable. But I am writing you a disquisition, and no one needs it less....
I did read your praise of me, and thank you for it; it is such praise as I wish I deserved, and the sense of the affection which dictated it, in some measure, diminished my painful consciousness of demerit. But I thank you for so pleasantly making me feel the excellence of moral worth, and though the picture you held up to me as mine made me blush for the poor original, yet I may strive to become more like your likeness of me, and so turn your praise to profit. Those who love me will read it perhaps with more satisfaction than my conscience allows me to find in it, and for the pleasure which they must derive from such commendation of me I thank you with all my heart.
What can I tell you of myself? My life, and all its occupations, are of a sober neutral tint. I am busy preparing my Journal for the press. I read but little, and that of old-fashioned kinds. I have never read much, and am disgracefully ignorant: I am looking forward with delight to hours of quiet study, and the mental hoards in store for me. I am busy preparing to leave town; I am at present, and have been ever since my marriage, staying in the house of my brother-in-law, and feel not a little anxious to be in a home of my own. But painters, and carpenters, and upholsterers are dirty divinities of a lower order, not to be moved, or hastened, by human invocations (or even imprecations), and we must e'en bide their time.
I please myself much in the fancying of furniture, and fitting up of the house; and I look forward to a garden, green-house, and dairy, among my future interests, to each of which I intend to addict myself zealously.
My pets are a horse, a bird, and a black squirrel, and I do not see exactly what more a reasonable woman could desire. Human companionship, indeed, at present, I have not much of; but as like will to like, I do not despair of attracting towards me, by-and-by, some of my own kind, with whom I may enjoy pleasant intercourse; but you can form no idea—none—none—of the intellectual dearth and drought in which I am existing at present.
I care nothing for politics here, ... though I wish this great Republic well. But what are the rulers and guides of the people doing in England? I see the abolition of the Peerage has been suggested, but, I presume, as a bad joke.... If I were a man in England, I should like to devote my life to the cause of national progress, carried on through party politics and public legislation; and if I was not a Christian, I think, every now and then, I should like to shoot Brougham.... You speak of coming to this country: but I do not think you would like it; though you are much respected, admired, and loved here.
I have not met Miss Martineau yet, but I am afraid she is not likely to like me much. I admire her genius greatly, but have an inveterate tendency to worship at all the crumbling shrines, which she and her employers seem intent upon pulling down; and I think I should be an object of much superior contempt to that enlightened and clever female Radical and Utilitarian.
I was introduced to Mrs. Austin some years ago, and she impressed me more, in many ways, than any of the remarkable women I have known. Her husband's constant ill-health kept her in a state of comparative seclusion, and deprived London society of a person of uncommon original mental power and acquired knowledge; in most respects I thought her superior to the most brilliant female members of the society of my day, of which her daughter, Lucy Gordon, was a distinguished ornament.
Once too, years ago, I passed an evening with Lady Byron, and fell in love with her for quoting the axiom which she does apply, though she did not invent it—"To treat men as if they were better than they are, is the surest way to make them better than they are:"—and whenever I think of her I remember that.
I congratulate you on your acquaintance with Madame von Goethe: to know any one who had lived intimately with the greatest genius of this age, and one of the greatest the world has produced, seems to me an immense privilege.
Your letter is dated July—how many things are done that you then meant to do?
I am just now seeing a great deal of Edward Trelawney; he traveled with us last summer when we went to Niagara, and professing a great regard for me, told me, upon reading your "notice" of me, that he felt much inclined to write to you and solicit your acquaintance....
Good-bye, and God bless you; write to me when the spirit prompts you, and believe me always
Yours very truly, F. A. B.
[My long experience of life in America presents the ideas and expectations with which I first entered upon it in an aspect at once ludicrous and melancholy to me now. With all an Englishwoman's notions of country interests, duties, and occupations; the village, the school, the poor, one's relations with the people employed on one's place, and one's own especial hobbies of garden, dairy, etc., had all been contemplated by me from a point of view which, taken from rural life in my own country, had not the slightest resemblance to anything in any American existence.
Butler Place—or as I then called it, "The Farm," preferring that homely, and far more appropriate, though less distinctive appellation, to the rather pretentious title, which neither the extent of the property nor size and style of the house warranted—was not then our own, and we inhabited it by the kind allowance of an old relation to whom it belonged, in consequence of my decided preference for a country to a town residence.
It was in no respect superior to a second-rate farm-house in England, as Mr. Henry Berkeley told a Philadelphia friend of ours, who considered it a model country mansion and rural residence and asked him how it compared with the generality of "country places" in England.
It was amply sufficient, however, for my desires: but not being mine, all my busy visions of gardening and green-house improvement, etc., had to be indefinitely postponed. Subsequently, I took great interest and pleasure in endeavoring to improve and beautify the ground round the house; I made flower-beds and laid out gravel-walks, and left an abiding mark of my sojourn there in a double row of two hundred trees, planted along the side of the place, bordered by the high-road; many of which, from my and my assistants' combined ignorance, died, or came to no good growth. But those that survived our unskillful operations still form a screen of shade to the grounds, and protect them in some measure from the dust and glare of the highway.
Cultivating my garden was not possible. My first attempt at cultivating my neighbors' good-will was a ludicrous and lamentable failure. I offered to teach the little children of my gardener and farmer, and as many of the village children as liked to join them, to read and write; but found my benevolent proposal excited nothing but a sort of contemptuous amazement. There was the village school, where they received instruction for which they were obliged and willing to pay, to which they were accustomed to go, which answered all their purposes, fulfilled all their desires, and where the small students made their exits and their entrances without bob or bow, pulling of forelock, or any other superstitious observance of civilized courtesy: my gratuitous education was sniffed at alike by parents and progeny, and of course the whole idea upon which I had proffered it was mistaken and misplaced, and may have appeared to them to imply an impertinent undervaluing of a system with which they were perfectly satisfied; of the conditions of which, however, I was entirely ignorant then. These people and their children wanted nothing that I could give them. The "ladies" liked the make of my gowns, and would have borrowed them for patterns with pleasure, and this was all they desired or required from me.
On the first 4th of July I spent there, being alone at the place, I organized (British fashion) a feast and rejoicing, such as I thought should mark the birthday of American Independence, and the expulsion of the tyrannical English from the land. I had a table set under the trees, and a dinner spread for thirty-two guests, to which number the people on the two farms, with children and servants, amounted. Beer and wine were liberally provided, and fireworks, for due honoring of the evening; and though I did not take "the head of the table" (which would have been a usurpation), or make speeches on the "expulsion of the British," I did my best to give my visitors "a good time"; but succeeded only in imposing upon them a dinner and afternoon of uncomfortable constraint, from which the juniors of the party alone seemed happily free. Neither the wine nor beer were touched, and I found they were rather objects of moral reprobation than of material comfort to my Quaker farmer and his family, who were all absolute temperance people; he, indeed, was sorely disinclined to join at all in the "festive occasion," objecting to me repeatedly that it was a "shame and a pity to waste such a fine day for work in doing nothing"; and so, with rather a doleful conviction that my hospitality was as little acceptable to my neighbors as my teaching, I bade my guests farewell, and never repeated the experiment of a 4th of July Celebration dinner at Butler Place.
Of all my blunders, however, that which I made with regard to the dairy was the most ludicrous. Understanding nothing at all of the entirely independent position of our "farmer"—to whom, in fact, the dairy was rented, as well as the meadows that pastured the cattle—and rather dissatisfied at not being able to obtain a daily fresh supply of butter for our home consumption, I went down to the farm-house, and had an interview with the dairymaid; to whom I explained my desire for a small supply of fresh butter daily for our breakfast table. But words are faint to express her amazement at the proposition; the butter was churned regularly in large quantities twice a week, and the necessary provision for our household being set aside and charged to us, the remainder was sent off to market with the rest of the farm produce, and there disposed of to the public in general. Philadelphia butter had then a high reputation through all the sea-board States, where it was held superior to that of all other markets; it was sold in New York and Baltimore, and sent as far as Boston as a welcome present, and undoubtedly not churned oftener than twice a week. Fresh butter every morning! who ever heard the like? Twice-a-week butter not good enough for anybody! who ever dreamt of such vagaries? The young woman was quiet and Quakerly sober, in spite of her unbounded astonishment at such a demand; but when, having exhausted my prettiest vocabulary of requests and persuasions, and, as I thought, not quite without effect, I turned to leave her, she followed me to the door with this parting address: "Well—anyhow—don't thee fill theeself up with the notion that I'm going to churn butter for thee more than twice a week." She probably thought me mad, and I was too ignorant to know that to "bring" a small quantity of butter in the enormous churn she used was a simple impossibility: nor, I imagine, was she aware that any machine of lesser dimensions was ever used for the purpose. I got myself a tiny table-churn, and for a little while made a small quantity of fresh butter myself for our daily breakfast supply; but soon weaned of it, and thought it not worth while—nobody cared for it but myself, and I accepted my provision of market butter twice a week, with no more ado about the matter, together with the conclusion that the dairy at Butler Place would decidedly not be one of its mistress's hobbies.
Of any charitable interest, or humane occupation, to be derived from the poverty of my village neighbors, I very soon found my expectation equally vain. Our village had no poor—none in the deplorable English acceptation of that word; none in the too often degraded and degrading conditions it implies. People poorer than others, comparatively poor people, it undoubtedly had—hard workers, toiling for their daily bread; but none who could not get well-paid work or find sufficient bread; and the abject element of ignorant, helpless, hopeless pauperism, looking for its existence to charity, and substituting alms-taking for independent labor, was unknown there. As for "visiting" among them, as technically understood and practiced by Englishwomen among their poorer neighbors, such a civility would have struck mine as simply incomprehensible; and though their curiosity might perhaps have been gratified by making acquaintance with my various (to them) strange peculiarities, I doubt even the amusement they might have derived from them being accepted as any equivalent for what would have seemed the strangest of them all—my visit.
A similar blessed exemption from the curse of pauperism existed in the New England village of Lenox, where I owned a small property, and passed part of many years. Being asked by my friends there to give a public reading, it became a question to what purpose the proceeds of the entertainment could best be applied. I suggested "the poor of the village," but, "We have no poor," was the reply, and the sum produced by the reading was added to a fund which established an excellent public library; for though Lenox had no paupers, it had numerous intelligent readers among its population.
I have spoken of the semi-disapprobation with which my Quaker farmer declined the wine and beer offered him at my 4th of July festival. Some years after, when I found the men employed in mowing a meadow of mine at Lenox with no refreshment but "water from the well," I sent in much distress a considerable distance for a barrel of beer, which seemed to me an indispensable adjunct to such labor under the fervid heat of that summer sky; and was most seriously expostulated with by my admirable friend, Mr. Charles Sedgwick, as introducing among the laborers of Lenox a mischievous need and deleterious habit, till then utterly unknown there, and setting a pernicious example to both employers and employed throughout the whole neighborhood. In short, my poor barrel of beer was an offense to the manners and morals of the community I lived in, and my meadow was mowed upon cold "water from the well"; of which indeed the water was so delicious, that I often longed for it as King David did for that which, after all, he would not drink, because his mighty men had risked their lives in procuring it for him.
 In writing thus, I do not mean to imply that the abuse of intoxicating liquors, or the vice of drunkenness were then unknown in America. The national habits of the present day would suggest that such a change (albeit in the space of fifty years) would surpass the rapidity of movement of even that most rapidly changing nation. But the use of either beer or wine at the tables of the Philadelphians, when I first lived among them, was quite exceptional. There was a small knot of old-fashioned gentlemen (very like old-fashioned Englishmen they were), by whom good wine was known and appreciated; especially certain exquisite Madeira, of the Bingham and Butler names, the like of which it was believed the world could not produce; but this was Olympian nectar, for the gods alone; and the usual custom of the best society, at the early three-o'clock dinner, was water-drinking. Nor had the immense increase of the German population then flooded Philadelphia with perennial streams from innumerable "lager beer" cellars and saloons: the universal rule, at the time when these letters were written, was absolute temperance; the exception to it, a rare occasional instance of absolute intemperance.
Very many fewer than fifty years ago, a celebrated professional English cricketer consulted, in deep dudgeon, a medical gentleman upon certain internal symptoms, which he attributed entirely to the "damned beastly cold water" which had been the sole refreshment in the Philadelphia cricket-field, and which had certainly heated his temper to a pitch of exasperation which made it difficult for the medical authority appealed to, to keep his countenance during the consultation.
I need not say that, under the above state of things, no provision was made for what I should call domestic or household drunkenness in American families. Beer, or beer money, was not found necessary to sustain the strength of footmen driving about town on a coach-box for an hour or two of an afternoon, or valets laying out their masters' boots and cravats for dinner, or ladies'-maids pinning caps on their mistresses' heads, or even young housemaids condemned to the exhausting labor of making beds and dusting furniture. The deplorable practice of swilling adulterated malt liquor two or three times a day, begun in early boy and girlhood among English servants, had not in America, as I am convinced it has with us, laid the foundation for later habits of drinking in a whole class of the community, among whom a pernicious inherited necessity for the indulgence is one of its consequences; while another, and more lamentable one, is the wide-spread immorality, to remedy (and if possible prevent) which is the object of the institution of the Girls' Friendly Society, and similar benevolent associations—none of which I am persuaded will effectually fulfill their object, until the vicious propensity to drink ceases to be fostered in the kitchens and servants' halls of our most respectable people.
To English people, the character and quality of my "mowers" would seem astonishing enough; at the head of them was the son of a much respected New England judge, himself the owner of a beautiful farm adjoining my small estate, which he cultivated with his own hands—a most amiable, intelligent, and refined man, a gentleman in the deepest sense of the word, my very kind neighbor and friend, whose handsome countenance certainly expressed unbounded astonishment at my malt liquor theory applied to his labor and that of his assistants.]
PHILADELPHIA, November 27th, 1837. MY DEAR H——,
If in about a month's time you should grumble and fall out with me for not writing, you will certainly be in some degree justified; for I think it must be near upon three weeks since I wrote to you, which is a sin and a shame. To say that I have not had time to write is nonsense, for in three weeks there are too many days, hours, and minutes, for me to fancy that I really had not had sufficient leisure, yet it has almost seemed as if I had not. I have been constantly driving out to the farm, to watch the progress of the painting, whitewashing, etc., etc.: in town I have been engaging servants, ordering china, glass, and furniture, choosing carpets, curtains, and house linen, and devoutly studying all the time Dr. Kitchener's "Housekeeper's Manual and Cook's Oracle." You see, I have been careful and troubled about many things, and through them all you have been several thorns in both my sides; for I thought of you perpetually, and knew I ought to write to you, and wanted and wished to do so—and didn't; for which pray forgive me.
I want to tell you two circumstances about servants, illustrative of the mind and manners of that class of persons in this country. A young woman engaged herself to me, as lady's-maid, immediately before my marriage; she had been a seamstress, and her health had been much injured by constantly stooping at her sedentary employment. I took her into my service at a salary of L25 a year. She had little to do; I took care that every day she should be out walking for at least an hour; she had two holidays a week, all my discarded wardrobe, and every kindness and attention of every sort that I could bestow upon her, for she was very gentle and pleasant to me, and I liked her very much. A short time ago, she gave me warning; the first reason she assigned for doing so was that she didn't think she should like living in the country, but finally it resolved itself into this—that she could not bear being a servant. She told me that she had no intention of seeking any other situation, for that she knew very well that after mine she could find none that she would like, but she said the sense of entire independence was necessary to her happiness, and she could not exist any longer in a state of "servitude." She told me she was going to resume her former life, or rather, as I should say, her former process of dying, for it was literally that; she took her wages, and left me. She was very pretty and refined, and rejoiced in the singular Christian name of Unity.
 A lady's-maid was quite an unusual member of a household in America, at this time; I remember no lady in Philadelphia who then had such an attendant: it is not impossible that the singularity of her service, and therefore apparently anomalous character of her position, may have helped to disgust my maid Unity with her situation. Probably the influence of Quaker modes of thought, and feeling, and habits of life (even among such of the community as were not "friends"—technically so called), had produced the peculiarities which characterized the Philadelphian society of that day, and made people among whom I lived strange to me—as I to them.
The other instance of domestic manners in these parts was furnished me by a woman whom I engaged as cook; terms agreed upon, everything settled: two days after, she sent me word that she had "changed her mind,"—that's all—isn't it pleasant?...
My dear H——, you half fly into a rage with me all across the Atlantic, because I tell you that I hope ere long to see you; really that was not quite the return I expected for what I thought would be agreeable news to you; however, hear further.... If I am alive next summer, I hope to spend three months in England: one with my own family and Emily Fitzhugh: one in Scotland; and one with you, if you and Mrs. Taylor please.... I have been obliged to give up riding, for some time ago my horse fell with me, and though I was not at all hurt, I was badly frightened; so I trot about on my feet, and drive to and from town and the farm in a little four-wheeled machine called here a wagon.
The other day, for the first time, I explored my small future domain, which is bounded, on the right, by the high-road; on the left, by a not unromantic little mill-stream, with bits of rock, and cedar-bushes, and dams, and, I am sorry to say, a very picturesque, half-tumbled-down factory; on the north, by fields and orchards of our neighbors, and another road; and on the south, by a pretty, deep, shady lane, running from the high-road to the above-mentioned factory.... I think the extent of our estate is about three hundred acres. A small portion of it, perhaps some seventy acres, lies on the other side of the high-road. Except a kitchen-garden, there is none that deserves the name: no flower-beds, no shrubberies, no gravel-walks. A large field, now planted with maize, or Indian corn, is on one side of an avenue of maple-trees that leads to the house; on the other is an apple-orchard. There is nothing that can call itself a lawn, though coarse grass grows all round the house. There are four pretty pasture meadows, and a very pretty piece of woodland, which, coasting the stream and mill-dam, will, I foresee, become a favorite haunt of mine. There is a farm-yard, a cider-press, a pond, a dairy, and out-houses, and adjuncts innumerable.
I have succeeded, after difficulties and disasters manifold, in engaging an apparently tolerably decent staff of servants; the house is freshly painted and clean, the furniture being finished with all expedition, the carpets ready to lay down; next week I hope to send our household out, and the week after I sincerely hope we shall transfer ourselves thither, and I shall be in a home of my own.
Miss Martineau is just now in Philadelphia: I have seen and conversed with her, and I think, were her stay long enough to admit of so agreeable a conclusion, we might become good friends. It is not presumptuous for me to say that, dear H——, because, you know, a very close degree of friendship may exist where there is great disparity of intellect. Her deafness is a serious bar to her enjoyment of society, and some drawback to the pleasure of conversing with her, for, as a man observed to me last night, "One feels so like a fool, saying, 'How do you do?' through a speaking-trumpet in the middle of a drawing-room;" and unshoutable commonplaces form the staple of all drawing-room conversation. They are giving literary parties to her, and balls to one of their own townswomen who has just returned from abroad, which makes Philadelphia rather gayer than usual; and I have had so long a fast from dissipation that I find myself quite excited at the idea of going to a dance again.
I toil on, copying my Journal, and one volume of it is already printed; but now that the object of its publication is gone, I feel rather disgusted at the idea of publishing it at all. You know what my Journal always was, and that no word of it was ever written with the fear of the printer's devil before my eyes, and now that I have become careless as to its money value, it seems to me a mere mass of trivial egotism.... When I sold it, it was an excellent, good book, for I thought it would help to make a small independence for my dear Dall; now she is gone, and it is mere trash, but I have sold it....
My country life will, I hope, be one of study, and I pray and believe, of quiet happiness. I drove out to the farm yesterday, and walked nearly four miles, through meadows and lanes and by-roads, and over plowed fields, and found mill-streams and bits of picturesque rock, and pretty paths to be explored at further length on horseback hereafter.... I have one very great pleasure almost in contemplation; I think it probable that my friend, Miss Sedgwick, will visit Philadelphia this winter. If she does, I am sure she will remain a short time here, which will be a great delight to me.... I wish to have no more acquaintance—that is a pure waste of time: I do not wish to know any one whom, if opportunity served, I should not desire to make my friend, as well as my visitor. I have begun learning book-keeping by double entry, and find it unspeakably tiresome; indeed, nothing in it engages my attention but various hypothetical cases of Loss of Ships and Cargoes (as per invoice, so and so, and so and so); Bankruptcies, with so much in the pound for creditors; Dissolutions of partnership, with estimates of joint property, or calculations of profit and loss; Insurances and fire-catastrophes; Divisions of capital invested in failing securities, or unlucky speculations; instead of attending to all which in their purely business aspect, my imagination flies off to the dramatic, passionate, human element involved in such accidents, and I think of all manner of plays and novels, instead of "Cash Accounts," to be extracted therefrom....
Good-bye, dearest H——.
Ever affectionately yours, F. A. B.
BRANCHTOWN, May 1st, 1835. DEAREST EMILY,
Reflecting upon the loss I have sustained in the death of my dear Dall, you exclaim, "How difficult it is to realize that life has become eternity, hope is become certainty! How strange, how impossible, it seems to conceive a state of existence without expectation, and where all is fulfillment!" I have marked under the word "impossible," because such a belief is literally impossible to my mind; the sense of activity, of desire for, and aiming at, and striving after something better than what I am, is so essential a portion of the idea of happiness to me that I absolutely can conceive of no happiness but in the attempt at, and consciousness of, progress. The state where that hope did not exist, and where the spiritual energies were not presented with deeper and higher objects of attainment, would be no state of enjoyment to me. I cannot imagine heaven without inexhaustible means of increasing knowledge and excellence.... Perhaps in that state, dear Emily, we shall be able to find out how a mummy of the days of Memnon should have preserved in its dead grasp a living germ for 3000 years.... [This last sentence referred to a striking fact, which Miss Fitz Hugh's uncle, Mr. William Hamilton, told us, of a bulb found in the sarcophagus of a mummy, which was planted, and actually began to germinate and grow.]
BRANCHTOWN, May 27th, 1835. MY DEAREST H——,
... It is curious that in a comparatively inactive state of life, the sense of the infinite business of living has become far more vivid to me than it ever was before; existence seems so abounding in duties, in objects of interest and energy, in means of excellence and pleasure—happiness, I ought rather to say,—the immense and important happiness of constant endeavor after improvement.... Dear H——, my letter was interrupted here yesterday by a visitor. I will join my thread, and go on with a few words which I have this moment read in Hayward's Appendix to Goethe's "Faust." When Goethe had to bear the death of his only son, he wrote to Zelter thus: "Here then can the mighty conception of duty alone hold us erect—I have no other care than to keep myself in equipoise. The body must, the spirit will, and he who sees a necessary path prescribed to his will has no need to ponder much." The first part of this is noble; but I am not going to do what I used to quarrel so much with you for doing—fill my letters with quotations, or even make disquisitions of them; at any rate, till I have answered your last.
I am extremely vexed at all the trouble you and Emily have taken about my picture: for the artist himself (Mr. Sully, of Philadelphia) is not satisfied with it, and I am sure would be rather sorry than glad that it were exhibited. That artist is a charming person; and I must tell you how he proceeded about that picture. When your letter came, acknowledging the receipt of it, he asked how you were satisfied: I told him the truth, and what you had written on the subject of the likeness. He did not appear stupidly annoyed, but sorry for your disappointment, and told me that he had been from the first dissatisfied with it as a likeness, himself. He pressed upon my acceptance for you a little melancholy head of me, an admirable and not too much flattered likeness; but as he had given that to his wife, of whom I am very fond, of course I would not deprive her of it; and there the matter rested. But when, some time after, some pictures he had painted for us were paid for, he steadfastly refused the price agreed upon for yours, because it had not satisfied him himself. He said that had you been even less pleased with it, he should not therefore have refused the money; but his own conscience, he added, bore witness to the truth of your objections, and when that was the case, he invariably acted in the same way, and declined to receive payment for what he didn't consider worth it. As he is our friend, we could not press the money upon him; but we have got him to undertake a portrait of Dr. Mease, and I have added sundry grains more to my regard for him. As to the likeness, had you seen me about three months after my marriage, you would have thought better of it. [The portrait in question, painted for my friend, and now, I believe, still at Ardgillan Castle, was one of six that my friend, Mr. Sully, painted of me at various times, the best likeness of them all being one that he took of me in the part of Beatrice, for which I did not sit.] You talk of "nailing me down," to send me to the Academy, and the expression brought a sudden shuddering recollection to my mind of the dismal night I passed in Boston packing up our stage clothes in dear Dall's bedroom while she was lying in her coffin. I know not why your words recalled that miserable circumstance to me, and all the mingled feelings that accompanied such an occupation in such company....
You ask me if I do not love the country as I used to do. Indeed I do; for, like all best good things, it seems the lovelier for near and intimate acquaintance. Yet the country here, and this place in particular, is not to me what it might be, and will be yet. This place is not ours, and during the life of an old Miss B. will not belong to us: this, of course, keeps my spirit of improvement in check, and indeed, even if it were made over to us, with signing and sealing and all due legal ceremonies, I should still feel some delicacy in making wholesale alterations in a place which an elderly person, to whom it has belonged, remembers such as it is for many years.
The absolute absence of all taste in matters of ornamental cultivation is lamentably evident in the country dwellings of rich and poor alike, as far as I have yet seen in this neighborhood. No natural beauty seems to be perceived and taken advantage of, no defect hidden or adorned; proximity to the road, for obvious purposes of mere convenience, seems to have been the one idea in the selection of building sites; and straight, ungraveled paths, straight rows of trees, straight strips of coarse grass, straight box borders, dividing straight narrow flower-beds, the prevailing idea of a garden; together with a deplorable dearth of flowers, shrubberies, ornamental trees, and everything that really deserves the name.
Good-bye, and God bless you.
Ever, as ever, yours, F. A. B.
[The country between the Wissihiccon and Pennipack—two small picturesque streams flowing, the one into the Schuylkill, the other into the Delaware—is a prosperous farming region, with a pleasingly varied, undulating surface, the arable land diversified with stretches of pretty wild woodland, watered by numerous small water-courses, and divided by the main highroad, once the chief channel of communication between New York and Philadelphia.
Six miles from the latter city, at a village called Branchtown, and only a few yards from the road, stood my home; and it would be difficult for those who do not remember "the old York road," as it was called, and the country between that and Germantown, in the days when these letters were written, to imagine the change which nearly fifty years have produced in the whole region.
No one who now sees the pretty populous villadom which has grown up in every direction round the home of my early married years—the neat cottages and cheerful country houses, the trim lawns and bright flower-gardens, the whole well laid out, tastefully cultivated, and carefully tended suburban district, with its attractive dwellings, could easily conceive the sort of abomination of desolation which its aspect formerly presented to eyes accustomed to the finish and perfection of rural English landscape.
Between five and six miles of hideous and execrable turnpike road, without shade, and aridly detestable in the glare, heat, and dust of summer, and almost dangerously impassable in winter, made driving into Philadelphia an undertaking that neither love, friendship, nor pleasure—nothing but inexorable business or duty—reconciled one to. The cross roads in every direction were a mere succession of heavy, dusty, sandy pitfalls, or muddy quagmires, where, on foot or on horseback, rapid progress was equally impossible. The whole region, from the very outskirts of the city to the beautiful crest of Chestnut Hill, overlooking its wide expanse of smiling foreground and purple distant horizon, was then, with its mean-looking scattered farm-houses and huge ungainly barns (whatever may have been its agricultural merits), uninteresting and uninviting in all the human elements of the landscape, dreary in summer and dismal in winter, and absolutely void of the civilized cheerful charm that now characterizes it.
Per contra, it then was country, and now is suburb: there were woods and lanes where now there are stations and railroads, and the solitude of rural walks and rides instead of the "continuation of the city" which has now cut up and laid waste the old Stenton estate, and threatens the fields of Butler Place and the lovely and beloved woods of Champlost, and will presently convert that whole neighborhood into a mere appendage of Philadelphia, wildly driven over by city rowdies with fast-trotting teams or mad, gigantic daddy-long-legs-looking sulkies, and perambulated by tramps pretending poverty and practicing theft.]
BRANCHTOWN, 1835. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I have not written to you since I received a most interesting and delightful letter of yours from Saxe-Weimar, containing an account of your stay in Goethe's house. My answering you at all is a movement of gratitude for your kindness in remembering me in the midst of such surroundings, and nothing but my faith in your desire to hear something of me would induce me to send into the world of romantic and poetic associations you are now inhabiting, any dispatch from this most prosaic and commonplace world of my adoption.
I think, however, it will please you to hear that I am well and happy, and that my whole state of life and being has assumed a placid, tranquil, serene, and even course, which, after the violent excitements of my last few years, is both agreeable and wholesome. I should think, ever since my coming out on the stage, I must have lived pretty much at the rate of three years in every one—I mean in point of physical exertion and exhaustion. The season of my repose is, however, arrived, and it seems almost difficult to imagine that, after beginning life in such a tumult of action and excitement, the remainder of my years is lying stretched before me, like a level, peaceful landscape, through which I shall saunter leisurely towards my grave. This is the pleasant probable future: God only knows what changes and chances may sweep across the smiling prospect, but at present, according to the calculations of mere human foresight, none are likely to arise. As I write these words, I do bethink me of one quarter from which our present prosperous and peaceful existence might receive a shock—the South. The family into which I have married are large slaveholders; our present and future fortune depend greatly upon extensive plantations in Georgia. But the experience of every day, besides our faith in the great justice of God, forbids dependence on the duration of the mighty abuse by which one race of men is held in abject physical and mental slavery by another. As for me, though the toilsome earning of my daily bread were to be my lot again to-morrow, I should rejoice with unspeakable thankfulness that we had not to answer for what I consider so grievous a sin against humanity.
I believe many years will not pass before this cry ceases to go up from earth to heaven. The power of opinion is working silently and strongly in the hearts of men; the majority of people in the North of this country are opposed to the theory of slavery, though they tolerate its practice in the South: and though the natural selfishness with which men cling to their interests is only at present increasing the vigilance of the planters in guarding their property and securing their prey, it is a property which is crumbling under their feet, and a prey which is escaping from their grasp; and perhaps, before many years are gone by, the black population of the South will be free, and we comparatively poor people—Amen! with all my heart....
I had hoped to revisit England before the winter, ... but this cannot be, and I shall certainly not see England this year, if ever again.... I think women in England are gradually being done justice to, and many sources of goodness, usefulness, and happiness, that have hitherto been sealed, are opened to them now, by a truer and more generous public feeling, and more enlightened views of education.
I saw a good deal of Harriet Martineau, and liked her very much indeed, in spite of her radicalism. She is gone to the South, where I think she cannot fail to do some good, if only in giving another impulse to the stone that already topples on the brink—I mean in that miserable matter of slavery.
Yours very truly, F. A. B.
[No more striking instance can be given of the rapidity of movement, if not of progress, of American public opinion, than the so-called "Woman's Rights" question. When these letters were written, scarcely a whisper had made itself heard upon this and its relative subjects: the "Female Suffrage" was neither demanded nor desired; Margaret Fuller had not made public her views upon the condition of "Woman in the Nineteenth Century"; the different legislatures of the different States had not found it expedient to enact statutes securing to married women the independent use of their own property, and women's legal disabilities were, in every respect, much the same in the United States as in the mother country. Now, however, so great and rapid has been the change of public opinion in this direction in America, that in some of the States married women may not only possess and inherit property over which their husbands have no control, but their personal earnings have been so secured to them that neither their husbands nor their husbands' creditors can touch them; while at the same time, strange to say, their husbands are still liable for their support, and answerable for any debts they may contract, and men must pay these independent ladies' milliners' bills, if all these additional rights have not brought with them some additional sense of justice, honesty, and old-fashioned right and wrong.
This amazing consideration for the property claims of women is not, however, without its possible advantages for the magnanimous sex bestowing it; and unprincipled speculators, gamblers, in pursuits calling themselves business, but in reality mere games of chance, may now secure themselves from the ruin they deserve, and have incurred, by settling upon their wives large sums of money, or estates, which, by virtue of the women's independent legal tenure of property, effectually enable their husbands to baffle the claims of their creditors. Every use has its abuse. The melancholy process of divorce, by which an insupportable yoke may be dissolved with the sanction of the law, is achieved in America with a facility and upon grounds inadmissible for that purpose in England. Pennsylvania has long followed the German practice in this particular, allowing divorce, in cases of non-cohabitation for a space of two years, to either party claiming it upon those grounds; in some of the Western States the ease with which divorces are obtained is untrammeled by any condition but that of a sufficient term of residence, often a very brief one, within the State jurisdiction.
Women lecture upon all imaginable subjects, and are listened to, whether treating of the right of their sex to the franchise, or the more unapproachable theme of its degraded misery in the public prostitution legally practiced in all the cities of this great New World, or the frantic vagaries of their theory of so-called Free Love. They are professors in colleges, practicing physicians; not yet, I believe, ordained clergywomen (the Quakers admit the female right to preach without the ceremony of laying on of hands), or admitted members of the bar; but it is difficult to imagine society existing at all under more absolute conditions of freedom for its female members than the women of the United States now enjoy. It is a pity that the use sometimes made of so many privileges forms a powerful argument to reasonable people in other countries against their possession.]
 I have learned since writing the above that in some of the Western States and cities—among others, I believe, Chicago—women are now practicing lawyers. A "legal lady" made at one time, I know not how successfully, an attempt to become a received member of the profession in Washington. In this, as in all other matters, the several States exercise uncontrolled jurisdiction within their own borders, and the Western States are naturally inclined to favor by legislation all attempts of this description; they are essentially the "New World." In the Eastern States European traditions still influence opinion, and women are not yet admitted members of the New York bar.
BRANCHTOWN, 1835. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
It is so very long since I have written to you, that I almost fear my handwriting and signature may be strange to your eyes and memory alike. As, however, silence can hardly be more than a passive sin—a sin of omission, not commission—I hope they will not be unwelcome to you. I am desirous you should still preserve towards me some of your old kindliness of feeling, for I wish to borrow some of it for the person who will carry this letter over the Atlantic—a very interesting young friend of mine, who begged of me, as a great favor, a letter of introduction to you.... I think you will find that had she fallen in your way unintroduced, she would have recommended herself to your liking. [The lady in question was Miss Appleton, of Boston, afterwards Mrs. Robert Mackintosh, whose charming sister, cut off by too sad and premature a doom, was the wife of the poet Longfellow.]
And now, what shall I tell you? After so long a silence, I suppose you think I ought to have plenty to say, yet I have not. What should a woman write about, whose sole occupations are eating, drinking, and sleeping; whose pleasures consist in nursing her baby, and playing with a brace of puppies; and her miseries in attempting to manage six republican servants—a task quite enough to make any "Quaker kick his mother," a grotesque illustration of demented desperation, which I have just learned, and which is peculiarly appropriate in these parts? Can I find it in my conscience, or even in the nib of my pen, to write you all across the great waters that my child has invented two teeth, or how many pounds of tea, sugar, flour, etc., etc., I distribute weekly to the above-mentioned household of unmanageables? To write, as to speak, one should have something to say, and I have literally nothing, except that I am well in mind, body, and estate, and hope you are so too.
Our summer has been detestable: if America had the grace to have fairies (but they don't cross the Atlantic), I should think the little Yankee Oberon and Titania had been by the ears together: such wintry squalls! such torrents of rain! The autumn, however, has been fine, and we spent part of it in one of the most charming regions imaginable.
A "Happy Valley" indeed!—the Valley of the Housatonic, locked in by walls of every shape and size, from grassy knolls to bold basaltic cliffs. A beautiful little river wanders singing from side to side in this secluded Paradise, and from every mountain cleft come running crystal springs to join it; it looks only fit for people to be baptized in (though I believe the water is used for cooking and washing purposes.)
In one part of this romantic hill-region exists the strangest worship that ever the craving need of religious excitement suggested to the imagination of human beings.
I do not know whether you have ever heard of a religious sect called the Shakers; I never did till I came into their neighborhood: and all that was told me before seeing them fell short of the extraordinary effect of the reality. Seven hundred men and women, whose profession of religion has for one of its principal objects the extinguishing of the human race and the end of the world, by devoting themselves and persuading others to celibacy and the strictest chastity. They live all together in one community, and own a village and a considerable tract of land in the beautiful hill country of Berkshire. They are perfectly moral and exemplary in their lives and conduct, wonderfully industrious, miraculously clean and neat, and incredibly shrewd, thrifty and money-making.
Their dress is hideous, and their worship, to which they admit spectators, consists of a fearful species of dancing, in which the whole number of them engage, going round and round their vast hall or temple of prayer, shaking their hands like the paws of a dog sitting up to beg, and singing a deplorable psalm-tune in brisk jig time. The men without their coats, in their shirt-sleeves, with their lank hair hanging on their shoulders, and a sort of loose knee-breeches—knickerbockers—have a grotesque air of stage Swiss peasantry. The women without a single hair escaping from beneath their hideous caps, mounted upon very high-heeled shoes, and every one of them with a white handkerchief folded napkin-fashion and hanging over her arm. In summer they all dress in white, and what with their pale, immovable countenances, their ghost-like figures, and ghastly, mad spiritual dance, they looked like the nuns in "Robert the Devil," condemned, for their sins in the flesh, to post-mortem decency and asceticism, to look ugly, and to dance like ill-taught bears.
The whole exhibition was at once so frightful and so ludicrous, that I very nearly went off into hysterics, when I first saw them.
We shall be in London, I hope, in the beginning of May next year, when I trust you will be there also, when I will edify you with all my new experiences of life, in this "other world," and teach you how to dance like a Shaker. Be a good Christian, forgive me, and write to me again, and believe me,
Yours truly, F. A. B.
BRANCHTOWN, June 27th, 1835. MY DEAREST H——,
... Did I tell you that the other day our farmer's wife sent me word that she had seen me walking in the garden in a gown that she had liked very much, and wished I would let her have the pattern of it? This message surprised me a little, but, upon due reflection, I carried the gown down to her with an agreeable sense of my own graceful condescension. My farmer's wife gave me small thanks, and I am sure thought I had done just what I ought....
I have resumed my riding, and am beginning to feel once more like my unmarried self. I may have told you that I had some time ago a pretty thoroughbred mare, spirited and good tempered too; but she turned out such an inveterate stumbler that I have been obliged to give up riding her, as, of course, my neck is worth more to me even than my health. So, this morning I have been taking a most delectable eight miles' trot upon a huge, high, heavy carriage-horse, who all but shakes my soul out of my body, but who is steady upon his legs, and whom I shall therefore patronize till I can be more genteelly mounted with safety.
You bid me study Natural Philosophy ... and ask me what I read; but since my baby has made her entrance into the world, I neither read, write, nor cast up accounts, but am as idle, though not nearly as well dressed, as the lilies of the field; my reading, if ever I take to such an occupation again, is like, I fear, to be, as it always has been, rambling, desultory, and unprofitable....
Come, I will take as a sample of my studies, the books just now lying on my table, all of which I have been reading lately: Alfieri's Life, by himself, a curious and interesting work; Washington Irving's last book, "A Tour on the Prairies," rather an ordinary book, upon a not ordinary subject, but not without sufficiently interesting matter in it too; Dr. Combe's "Principles of Physiology"; and a volume of Marlowe's plays, containing "Dr. Faustus." I have just finished Hayward's Translation of Goethe's "Faust," and wanted to see the old English treatment of the subject. I have read Marlowe's play with more curiosity than pleasure. This is, after all, but a small sample of what I read; but if you remember the complexion of my studies when I was a girl at Heath Farm, and read Jeremy Taylor and Byron together, I can only say they are still apt to be of the same heterogeneous quality. But my brain is kept in a certain state of activity by them, and that, I suppose, is one of the desirable results of reading. As for writing anything, or things—good gracious! no, I should think not indeed! It is true, if you allude to the mechanical process of caligraphy, here is close to my elbow a big book, in which I enter all passages I meet with in my various readings tending to elucidate obscure parts of the Bible: I do not mean disputed points of theology, mysteries, or significations more or less mystical, but simply any notices whatever which I meet with relating to the customs of the Jews, their history, their language, the natural features of their country; and so bearing upon my reading of passages in the Old Testament. I read my Bible diligently every day, and every day wish more and more earnestly that I understood what I was reading; but Philip does not come my way, or draw near and join himself to me as I sit in my wagon.
I mean this with regard to the Old Testament only, however. The life of Christ is that portion of the New alone vitally important to me, and that, thank God, is comparatively comprehensible.
I have just finished writing a long and vehement treatise against negro slavery, which I wanted to publish with my Journal, but was obliged to refrain from doing so, lest our fellow-citizens should tear our house down, and make a bonfire of our furniture—a favorite mode of remonstrance in these parts with those who advocate the rights of the unhappy blacks.
You know that the famous Declaration of Independence, which is to all Americans what Moses commanded God's Law to be to the Israelites, begins thus: "Whereas all men are born free and equal." Somebody, one day, asked Jefferson how he reconciled that composition of his to the existence of slavery in this country; he was completely surprised for a moment by the question, and then very candidly replied, "By God! I never thought of that before."
To proceed with a list of my works. Here is an article on the writings of Victor Hugo, another on an American book called "Confessions of a Poet," a whole heap of verses, among which sundry doggerel epistles to you; and last, not least, the present voluminous prose performance for your benefit.
These are some of my occupations: then I do a little housekeeping; then I do, as the French say, a little music; then I waste a deal of time in feeding and cleaning a large cageful of canary-birds, of which, as the pleasure is mine, I do not choose to give the rather disgustful trouble to any one else; strolling round the garden, watching my bee-hives, which are full of honey just now; every chink and cranny of the day between all this desultoriness, is filled with "the baby"; and study, of every sort (but that most prodigious study of any sort, i.e., "the baby,") seems further off from me than ever....
I am looking forward with great pleasure to a visit we intend paying Miss Sedgwick in September. She is a dear friend of mine, and I am very happy when with her.
And where will you be next spring, wanderer? for we shall surely be in England. [Miss St. Leger and Miss Wilson were wintering at Nice for the health of the latter.] Will you not come back from the ends of the earth that I may not find the turret-chamber empty, and the Dell without its dear mistress at Ardgillan?
Dear H——, I shall surely see you, if I live, in less than a year, when we shall have so much to say to each other that we shall not know where to begin, and had better not begin, perhaps; for we shall know still less where to stop.
Ever affectionately yours, F. A. B.
BRANCHTOWN, October 31st, 1835. MY DEAREST H——,
I wonder where this will find you, and how long it will be before it does so. I have been away from home nearly a month, and on my return found a long letter from you waiting for me.... I cannot believe that women were intended to suffer as much as they do, and be as helpless as they are, in child-bearing. In spite of the third chapter of Genesis, I cannot believe [the beneficent action of ether had not yet mitigated the female portion of the primeval curse] that all the agony and debility attendant upon the entrance of a new creature into life were ordained; but rather that both are the consequences of our many and various abuses of our constitutions, and infractions of God's natural laws.
The mere items of tight stays, tight garters, tight shoes, tight waistbands, tight arm-holes, and tight bodices,—of which we are accustomed to think little or nothing, and under the bad effects of which, most young women's figures are suffered to attain their growth, both here and in civilized Europe,—must have a tendency to injure irreparably the compressed parts, to impede circulation and respiration, and in many ways which we are not aware of, as well as by the more obvious evils which they have been proved to produce, destroy the health of the system, affect disastrously all its functions, and must aggravate the pains and perils of child-bearing.... Many women here, when they become mothers, seem to lose looks, health, and strength, and are mere wrecks, libels upon the great Creator's most wonderful contrivance, the human frame, which, in their instance, appears utterly unfit for the most important purpose for which He designed it. Pitiable women! comparatively without enjoyment or utility in existence. Of course, this result is attributable to many various causes, and admits of plenty of individual exceptions, but I believe tight-lacing, want of exercise, and a perpetual inhaling of over-heated atmosphere, to be among the former.... They pinch their pretty little feet cruelly, which certainly need no such embellishment, and, of course, cannot walk; and if they did, in the state of compression to which they submit for their beauty's sake, would suffer too much inconvenience, if not pain, to derive any benefit from exercise under such conditions....
When one thinks of the tragical consequences of all this folly, one is tempted to wish that the legislature would interfere in these matters, and prevent the desperate injury which is thus done to the race. The climate, which is the general cause assigned for the want of health of the American women, seems to me to receive more than its due share of blame. The Indian women, the squaws, are, I believe, remarkable for the ease with which they bear their children, the little pain they suffer comparatively, and the rapidity with which they regain their strength; but I think in matters of diet, dress, exercise, regularity in eating, and due ventilation of their houses, the Americans have little or no regard for the laws of health; and all these causes have their share in rendering the women physically incapable of their natural work, and unequal to their natural burdens.
What a chapter on American female health I have treated you to!... Sometimes I write to you what I think, and sometimes what I do, and still it seems to me it is the thing I have not written about which you desire to know.... You ask if I am going through a course of Channing,—not precisely, but a course of Unitarianism, for I attend a Unitarian Church. I did so at first by accident (is there such a thing?), being taken thither by the people to whom I now belong, who are of that mode of thinking and have seats in a church of that denomination, and where I hear admirable instruction and exhortation, and eloquent, excellent preaching, that does my soul good.... I am acquainted with several clergymen of that profession, who are among the most enlightened and cultivated men I have met with in this country. Of course, these circumstances have had some effect upon my mind, but they have rather helped to develop, than positively cause, the result you have observed....
In reading my Bible—my written rule of life—I find, of course, much that I have no means of understanding, and much that there are no means of understanding, matters of faith.... Doctrinal points do not seem to me to avail much here: how much they may signify hereafter, who can tell? But the daily and hourly discharge of our duties, the purity, humanity, and activity of our lives, do avail much here; all that we can add to our own worth and each other's happiness is of evident, palpable, present avail, and I believe will prove of eternal avail to our souls, who may carry hence all they have gained in this mortal school to as much higher, nobler, and happier a sphere as the just judgment of Almighty God shall after death promote them to....
I have been for the last two days discharging a most vexatious species of duty—vexatious, to be sure, chiefly from my own fault. We have a household of six servants, and no housekeeper (such an official being unknown in these parts); a very abundant vegetable garden, dairy, and poultry-yard; but I have been very neglectful lately of all domestic details of supply from these various sources, and the consequences have been manifold abuses in the kitchen, the pantry, and the store-room; and disorder and waste, more disgraceful to me, even, than to the people immediately guilty of them. And I have been reproaching myself, and reproving others, and heartily regretting that, instead of Italian and music, I had not learned a little domestic economy, and how much bread, butter, flour, eggs, milk, sugar, and meat ought to be consumed per week in a family of eight persons, not born ogres.... I am sorry to find that my physical courage has been very much shaken by my confinement. Whereas formerly I scarcely knew the sensation of fear, I have grown almost cowardly on horseback or in a carriage. I do not think anybody would ever suspect that to be the case, but I know it in my secret soul, and am much disgusted with myself in consequence.... Our horses ran away with the carriage the other day, and broke the traces, and threatened us with some frightful catastrophe. I had the child with me, and though I did not lose my wits at all, and neither uttered sound nor gave sign of my terror, after getting her safely out of the carriage and alighting myself I shook from head to foot, for the first time in my life, with fear; and so have only just attained my full womanhood: for what says Shakespeare?—
"A woman naturally born to fears."
... God bless you, dearest friend.
I am ever yours affectionately, F. A. B.
... I was at first a little disappointed that my baby was not a man-child, for the lot of woman is seldom happy, owing principally, I think, to the many serious mistakes which have obtained universal sway in female education. I do not believe that the just Creator intended one part of his creatures to lead the sort of lives that many women do.... In this country the difficulty of giving a girl a good education is even greater, I am afraid, than with us, in some respects. I do not think even accomplishments are well taught here; at least, they seem to me for the most part very flimsy, frivolous, and superficial, poor alike both in quality and quantity. More solid acquirements do not abound among my female acquaintance either, and the species of ignorance one encounters occasionally is so absolute and profound as to be almost amusing, and quite curious; while there is, also, quite enough native shrewdness, worldly acuteness, and smattering of shallow superficial reading, to produce a result which is worthless and vulgar to a pitiable degree. Of course there are exceptions to this narrowness and aridity of intellectual culture, but either they are really rare exceptions, or I have been especially unfortunate....
My dear Dorothy, this letter was begun three months ago; I mislaid it, and in the vanity of my imagination, believed that I had finished and sent it; and lo! yesterday it turns up—a fragment of which the Post Office is still innocent: and after all, 'tis a nonsense letter, to send galloping the wild world over after you. It seems hardly worth while to put the poor empty creature to the trouble of being sea-sick, and going so far. However, I know it will not be wholly worthless to you if it brings you word of my health and happiness, both of which are as good as any reasonable human mortal can expect....
Kiss dear Harriet for me, and believe me,
Very affectionately yours, F. A. B.
BRANCHTOWN, March 1st, 1836. DEAREST H——,
Are you conjecturing as to the fate of three letters which you have written to me from the Continent? all of which I have duly received, I speak it with sorrow and shame; and certainly 'tis no proof that my affection is still the same for you, dear H——, that I have not been able to rouse myself to the effort of writing to you.... You will ask if my baby affords me no employment? Yes, endless in prospect and theory, dear H——; but when people talk of a baby being such an "occupation," they talk nonsense, such an idleness, they ought to say, such an interruption to everything like reasonable occupation, and to any conversation but baby-talk....
You ask of my society. I have none whatever: we live six miles from town, on a road almost impracticable in the fairest as well as the foulest weather, and though people occasionally drive out and visit me, and I occasionally drive in and return their calls, and we semi-occasionally, at rare intervals, go in to the theatre, or a dance, I have no friends, no intimates, and no society.
Were I living in Philadelphia, I should be but little better off; for though, of course, there, as elsewhere, the materials for good society exist, yet all the persons whom I should like to cultivate are professionally engaged, and their circumstances require, apparently, that they should be so without intermission; and they have no time, and, it seems, but little taste for social enjoyment.
There is here no rich and idle class: there are two or three rich and idle individuals, who have neither duties nor influence peculiar to their position, which isolates without elevating them; and who, as might be expected in such a state of things, are the least respectable members of the community. The only unprofessional man that I know in Philadelphia (and he studied, though he does not practice, medicine) who is also a person of literary taste and acquirement, has lamented to me that all his early friends and associates having become absorbed in their several callings, whenever he visits them he feels that he is diverting them from the labor of their lives, and the earning of their daily bread.
No one that I belong to takes the slightest interest in literary pursuits; and though I feel most seriously how desirable it is that I should study, because I positively languish for intellectual activity, yet what would under other circumstances be a natural pleasure, is apt to become an effort and a task when those with whom one lives does not sympathize with one's pursuits.... Without the stimulus of example, emulation, companionship, or sympathy, I find myself unable to study with any steady purpose; however, in the absence of internal vigor, I have borrowed external support, and on Monday next I am going to begin to read Latin with a master.... Any pursuit to which I am compelled will be very welcome to me, and I have chosen that in preference to German, as mentally more bracing, and therefore healthier.
I have already described what calls itself my garden here—three acres of kitchen-garden, and a quarter of an acre of flower-garden, divided into three straight strips, bordered with mangy box, and separated from the vegetables by a white-washed paling. I am the more provoked with this, because there are certain capabilities about the place; money is spent in keeping it up, and three men, entitled gardeners, are constantly at work on it; and it is not want of means, but of taste and knowledge and care, that makes it what it is. The piece of coarse grass dignified by the name of a lawn, in front of the house, is mowed twice in the whole course of the summer; of course, during the interval, it looks as if we were raising a crop of poor hay under our drawing-room windows. However, the gardening of Heaven is making the whole earth smile just now; and the lights and shadows of the sky, and wild flowers and verdure of the woods are beneficently beautiful, and make my spirit sing for joy, in spite of the little that men have done here gratefully to improve Heaven's gifts. This is not audacious, for Adam and Eve landscape-gardened in Paradise, you know; and I wish some little of their craft were to be found among their descendants hereabouts.
My paper is at an end: do I tell you "nothing of my mind and soul"? What, then, is all this that I have been writing? Is it not telling you more than if I were to attempt to detail to you methodically, circumstantially (and perhaps unconsciously quite falsely), the state of either?...
I am expecting a visit from Dr. Channing, whom I love and revere. After reading a sermon of his before going to bed the other night, I dreamt towards morning that I was in Heaven, from whence I was literally pulled down and awakened to get up and go to church, which, you will allow, was a ridiculous instance of bathos and work of supererogation. But, dear me, that dream was very pleasant! Rising, and rising, and rising, into ever-increasing light and space, not with effort and energy, as if flying, but calmly and steadily soaring, as if one's property was to float upwards, mounting eternally. I send you my dream across the Atlantic; there is something of my "mind and soul" in that.
God bless you, dear.
Ever affectionately yours, F. A. B.
[After my first introduction to Dr. Channing, I never was within reach of him without enjoying the honor of his intercourse and the privilege of hearing him preach. I think he was nowhere seen or heard to greater advantage than at his cottage near Newport, in the neighborhood of which a small church afforded the high advantage of his instruction to a rural congregation, as different as possible from the highly cultivated Bostonians who flocked to hear him whenever his state of health permitted him to preach in the city.
King's Chapel, as it originally was called, dating back to days when the colony of Massachusetts still acknowledged a king, was dedicated at first to the Episcopal service of the Church of England, and I believe the English Liturgy in some form was the only ritual used in it. But when I first went to America, Boston and the adjacent College, Cambridge, were professedly Unitarian, and the service in King's Chapel was such a modification of the English Liturgy as was compatible with that profession: a circumstance which enabled its frequenters to unite the advantage of Dr. Channing's eloquent preaching with the use of that book of prayer and praise unsurpassed and unsurpassable in its simple sublimity and fervid depth of devotion.
I retain a charmingly comical remembrance of the last visit I paid Dr. Channing, at Newport; when, wishing to take me into his garden, and unwilling to keep me waiting while he muffled himself up, according to his necessary usual precautions, he caught up Mrs. Channing's bonnet and shawl, and sheltering his eyes from the glare of the sun by pulling the bonnet well down over his nose, and folding the comfortable female-wrap (it was a genuine woman's-shawl, and not an ambiguous plaid of either or no sex) well over his breast, he walked round and round his garden, in full view of the high-road, discoursing with the peculiar gentle solemnity and deliberate eloquence habitual to him, on subjects the gravity of which was in laughable contrast with his costume, the absurdity of which only made me smile when it recurred to my memory, after I had taken leave of him and ceased hearing his wise words.]
MY DEAREST HARRIET,
... There is one interest and occupation of an essentially practical nature, such as would give full scope to the most active energies and intellect, in which I am becoming passionately interested,—I mean the cause of the Southern negroes.
We live by their labor; and though the estate is not yet ours (elder members of the family having a life interest in it), it will be our property one day, and a large portion of our income is now derived from it.
I was told the other day, that the cotton lands in Georgia, where our plantation is situated, were exhausted; but that in Alabama there now exist wild lands along the Mississippi, where any one possessing the negroes necessary to cultivate them, might, in the course of a few years, realize an enormous fortune; and asked, jestingly, if I should be willing to go thither. I replied, in most solemn earnest, that I would go with delight, if we might take that opportunity of at once placing our slaves upon a more humane and Christian footing. Oh, H——! I can not tell you with what joy it would fill me, if we could only have the energy and courage, the humanity and justice, to do this: and I believe it might be done.
Though the blacks may not be taught to read and write, there is no law which can prevent one from living amongst them, from teaching them all—and how much that is!—that personal example and incessant personal influence can teach. I would take them there, and I would at once explain to them my principles and my purpose: I would tell them that in so many years I expected to be able to free them, but that those only should be liberated whose conduct I perceived during that time would render their freedom prosperous to themselves, and safe to the community. In the mean time I would allot each a profit on his labor; I would allow them leisure and property of their own; I would establish a Savings Bank for them, so that at the end of their probation, those into whom I had been able to instill industrious and economical habits should be possessed of a small fund wherewith to begin the world; I would remain there myself always, and, with God's assistance and blessing, I do believe a great good might be done. How I wish—oh, how I wish we might but make the experiment! I believe in my soul that this is our peculiar duty in life. We all have some appointed task, and assuredly it can never be that we, or any other human beings were created merely to live surrounded with plenty, blessed with every advantage of worldly circumstance, and the ties of happy social and domestic relations,—it cannot be that anybody ought to have all this, and yet do nothing for it; nor do I believe that any one's duties are bounded by the half-animal instincts of loving husband, wife, or children, and the negative virtue of wronging no man: besides we are villainously wronging many men.... What would I not give to be able to awaken in others my own feeling of this heavy responsibility!
I have just done reading Dr. Channing's book on slavery; it is like everything else of his, written in the pure spirit of Christianity, with judgment, temper and moderation, yet with abundant warmth and energy. It has been answered with some cleverness, but in a sneering, satirical tone, I hear. I have not yet read this reply, but intend doing so; though it matters little what is said by the defenders of such a system: truth is God, and must prevail.
Enough of this side of the water. Your wanderings abroad, dear H——, created a feeling of many mingled melancholies in my mind: in the first place, you are so very, very far off, the dead seem scarcely further; perhaps they indeed are nearer to us, for I believe we are surrounded by "a cloud of witnesses." Your description of those southern lands is sad to me. I have always had a passionate yearning for those regions where man has been so glorious, and Nature is so still. I thought of your various emotions at my uncle's grave at Lausanne. Life seems to me so strange, that the chain of events which forms even the most commonplace existence has, in its unexpectedness, something of the marvelous.
I rejoice that dear Dorothy is benefited by your traveling, and pray for every blessing on you both. As to the possibility of my coming to England and not finding you there, my dear H——; I can say nothing and you must do what you think right.
God bless you.
I am ever yours, F. A. B.
[The ideas and expectations, with which I entered upon my Northern country life, near Philadelphia, were impossible of fulfillment, and simply ridiculous under the circumstances. Those with which I contemplated an existence on our Southern estate, or the new one suggested in this letter, in the State of Alabama, were not only ridiculously impossible, but would speedily have found their only result in the ruin, danger, and very probably death, of all concerned in the endeavor to realize them.
The laws of the Southern States would certainly have been forestalled by the speedier action of lynch-law, in putting a stop to my experimental abolitionism. And I am now able to understand, and appreciate, what, when I wrote this letter, I had not the remotest suspicion of,—the amazement and dismay, the terror and disgust, with which such theories as those I have expressed in it must have filled every member of the American family with which my marriage had connected me; I must have appeared to them nothing but a mischievous madwoman.]
BRANCHTOWN, March 28th, 1836. MY DEAREST H——,
You say that thinking of you makes me fancy that I have written to you: not quite so, for no day passes with me without many thoughts of you, and I certainly am well aware that I do not write to you daily.... But, dearest H——, once for all, believe this: whether I am silent altogether, or simply unsatisfactory in my communications, I love you dearly, and hope for a happier intercourse with you,—if never here—hereafter, in that more perfect state, where, endowed with higher natures, our communion with those we love will, I believe, be infinitely more intimate than it can be here, subject as it is to all the imperfections of our present existence.
You laugh at me for what you consider my optimism, my incredulity with regard to the evils of this present life, and seem to think I am making out a case of no little absurdity in ascribing so much of what we suffer to ourselves. But I do not think my view of the matter is altogether visionary. Even from disease and death, those stern and inexorable conditions of our present state, spring, as from bitter roots, some of the sweetest virtues of which our nature is capable; and I do not believe it to be the great and good God's appointment that the earth should be loaded as it is with barren suffering and sorrow. And as to believing that women were intended to lead the helpless, ailing, sickly, unprofitable, and unpleasurable lives, which so many of them seem to lead in this country, I think it would be a direct libel on our Creator to profess such a creed....
I walked into town, the other day, a distance of only six miles, and was very much tired by the expedition: to be sure I am not a good walker, riding being my natural exercise, in which I persist, in spite of stumbling and shying horses, high-roads three feet deep in dust, and by-roads three feet deep in mud, at one and the same time. Taking exercise has become, instead of a pleasure, a sometimes rather irksome duty to me; a lonely ride upon a disagreeable horse not being a great enjoyment; but I know that my health has its reward, and I persevere....
The death of an elderly lady puts us in possession of our property, which she had held in trust during her life.... Increase of fortune brings necessarily increased responsibility and occupation, and for that I am not sorry, though the circumstance of the death of this relation, of whom I knew and had seen but little, has been fruitful in disappointments to me.... In the first place, I have been obliged to forego a visit from my delightful friend, Miss Sedgwick, who was coming to spend some time with me; this, in my lonely life, is a real privation. In the next place, our proposed voyage to England is indefinitely postponed, and from a thing so near as to be reckoned a certainty (for we were to have sailed the 20th of next month), it has withdrawn itself into the misty regions of a remote futurity, of the possible events of which we cannot even guess....
We have had a most unprecedented winter; the cold has been dreadful, and the snow, even now, in some places, lies in drifts from three to five feet deep. There is no spring here; the winter is with us to-day, and to-morrow the heat will be oppressive; and in a week everything will be like summer, without the full-fledged foliage to temper the glare.
I have taken up your letter to see if there are any positive questions in it, that I may not this time be guilty of not replying to you while I answer it....
I do not give up my music quite, but generally, after dinner, pass an hour at the piano, not so much from the pleasure it now gives me, as from the conviction that it is wrong to give up even the smallest of our resources; and also because, as wise Goethe says, "We are too apt to suffer the mean things of life to overgrow the finer nature within us, therefore it is expedient that at least once a day we read a little poetry, or sing a song, or look at a picture." Upon this principle, I still continue to play and sing sometimes, but no longer with any great pleasure to myself.
Good-bye, dearest H——.... Oh, I should like to see you once again!
I am ever yours, F. A. B.
BRANCHTOWN, July 31st, 1836. MY DEAREST H——,
You ask me if I do not write anything; yes, sometimes reviews, for which I am solicited. It is an occupation, but returns neither reputation, the articles being anonymous; nor remuneration, as they are also gratuitous; and I do it without much interest, simply not to be idle. As to anything of more literary pretension, I never shall attempt it again: I do not think nature intended mothers to be authors of anything but their babies; because, as I told you, though a baby is not an "occupation," it is an absolute hindrance to everything else that can be called so. I cannot read a book through quietly for mine; judge, therefore, how little likely I am to write one....
You ask me if I take no pleasure in gardening; and suggest the cutting of carnations and raising of lettuce, as wholesome employments for me. The kitchen-garden is really the only well-attended-to horticulture of this place. The gardener raises early lettuces and cauliflowers in frames, which remunerate him, either by their sale in market or by prizes that he may obtain for them. His zeal in floriculture is less; as you will understand, when I tell you that, discovering some early violets blowing along a sunny wall in the kitchen-garden, and seizing joyfully upon them, with reproaches to him for not having let me know that there were any, he replied—"letting fall a lip of much contempt,"—"Well, ma'am, I quite forgot them violets. You see, them flowers is such frivolous creatures." Profane fellow!
I spend generally about three hours a day pottering in my garden, but, alas! my gardening consists chiefly of slaughter. The heat of the climate generates the most enormous quantity of insects, for the effectual prevention or destruction of which the gardeners in these parts have yet discovered no means. The consequence is that, in spite of my daily executions, every shrub and every flower-bush is fuller of bugs (so they here indiscriminately term these displeasing beasts) than of leaves. They begin by eating up the roses bodily (these are called distinctively, rose-bugs; of course, they have a pet name, but it's Latin, and is only used by their familiars); they then attack and devour the large white lilies, and honeysuckles; finally, they spread themselves impartially all over the garden, and having literally stripped that bare, are now attacking the fruit. It is an insect which I have never seen in England; a species of beetle, much smaller, but not unlike the cockchafer we are familiar with. Their number is really prodigious, and they seem to me to propagate with portentous rapidity, for every day, in spite of the sweeping made by the gardener and myself, they appear as thick as ever. But for the dread of their coming in still greater force next year, if we do not continue our work of extermination, I should almost be tempted to give it up in despair.
I have a few flower-beds that I have had made, and keep under my own especial care; also some pretty baskets, which I have had expressly manufactured with exceeding difficulty; these, filled with earth, and planted with roses, I have placed on the stumps of some large trees, which were cut down last spring and form nice rustic pedestals; and thus I contrive to produce something of an English garden effect. But the climate is against me. The winter is so terribly cold that nothing at all delicate can stand it unless cased up in straw-matting and manure. We have, therefore, no evergreen shrubs, such as the lauristinus, and Portugal and variegated laurels, which form our English garden shrubberies; nor do they seem to replace these by the native growth of their own woods, the kalmias and rhododendrons, but principally by hardy evergreens of the fir and pine species, which are native and abundant here. Then, with scarcely any interval of spring to moderate the sudden extreme change, the winter becomes summer—summer, without its screen of thick leaves to shelter one from the blazing, scorching heat. Everything starts into bloom, as it were, at once; and, instead of lasting even their proverbially short date of beauty, the flowers vanish as suddenly as they appeared, under the fierce influence of the heat and the devastations of the swarming insects it engenders.
To make up for this, I have here almost an avenue of fine lemon-trees, in cases; humming-birds, which are a marvel and enchantment to me; and fire-flies, which are exquisite in the summer evenings.
I have, too, a fine hive of bees, which has produced already this spring two strong young swarms, whose departure from the parent hive formed a very interesting event in my novel experiences; especially as one of the stablemen, who joined the admiring domestic crowd witnessing the process, proved to be endowed with the immunity some persons have from the stings of those insects, and was able to take them by handfuls from the tree where they were clinging, and put them on the stand where the bee-hive prepared for them was placed. I had read of this individual peculiarity with the incredulity of ignorance (incomparably stronger than that of knowledge); but seeing is believing, and when my fiery-haired Irish groom seized the bees by the handful, of course there was no denying the fact.
There is a row of large old acacia-trees near the house, inhabited by some most curious ants, who are gradually hollowing the trees out. I can hear them at work as I stand by the poor vegetables, and the grass all round is literally whitened with the fine sawdust made by these hard-working little carpenters. The next phenomenon will be that the trees will tumble on my head, while I am pursuing my entomological studies. [To avert this catastrophe, the trees had all to be cut down].... Dear H——, I never contemplated sacrificing my child's, or anybody else's, health to my desire for "doing good." There is a difference between living all the year round on a rice-swamp, and retiring during the summer to the pinewood highlands, which are healthy, even in the hot season; nor am I at all inclined to advocate the neglect of duties close at hand for quixotical devotion to remote ones. But you must remember that we are slave owners, and live by slave-labor, and if the question of slavery does not concern us, in God's name whom does it concern? In my conviction, that is our special concern.... There is a Convention about to meet at Harrisburg, the seat of Government of this State, Pennsylvania, for the election of Van Buren, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency....
The politics of this country are in a strange, uncertain state, but I have left myself no room to enlarge upon them.
I have just finished reading Judge Talfourd's "Ion," and Lamartine's "Pelerinage" to Palestine. God bless you, dearest H——.
Ever yours, F. A. B.
[Sydney Smith said that he never desired to live in a hot climate, as he disliked the idea of processions of ants traversing his bread and butter. The month of June had hardly begun in the year 1874, when I was residing close to the home of my early married life, Butler Place, when the ants appeared in such numbers in the dining-room sideboards, closets, cupboards, etc., that we were compelled to isolate all cakes, biscuits, sugar, preserves, fruit, and whatever else was kept in them, by placing the vessels containing all such things in dishes of water—moats, in fact, by which the enemy was cut off from these supplies. Immediately to these succeeded swarms of fire-flies, beautiful and wonderful in their evening apparition of showers of sparks from every bush and shrub, and after sunset rising in hundreds from the grass, and glittering against the dark sky as if the Milky Way had gone mad and taken to dancing; but even these shining creatures were not pleasant in the house by day, where they were merely like ill-shaped ugly black flies. These were followed by a world of black beetles of every size and shape, with which our room was alive as soon as the lights were brought in the evening. Net curtains, and muslin stretched over wooden frames, and fixed like blinds in the window-sashes, did indeed keep out the poor mouthful of stifling air for which we were gasping, but did not exclude these intolerable visitors, who made their way in at every crack and crevice and momentarily opened door, and overran with a dreadful swiftness the floor of the room in every direction; occasionally taking to the more agreeable exercise of flying, at which, however, they did not seem quite expert, frequently tumbling down and struggling by twos and threes upon one's hair, neck, and arms, and especially attracted to unfortunate females by white or light-colored muslin gowns, which became perfect receptacles for them as they rushed and rattled over the matting. After the reign of the beetles came that of the flies, a pest to make easily credible the ancient story of the Egyptian plague. Every picture and looking-glass frame, every morsel of gilding, every ornamental piece of metal about the rooms, had to be covered, like the tarts in a confectioner's shop, with yellow gauze; whatever was not so protected—unglazed photographs, the surface of oil pictures, necessary memoranda, and papers on one's writing-table—became black with the specks and spots left by these creatures. Plates of fly-paper poison disfigured, to but small purpose, every room; and at evening, by candlelight, while one was reading or writing, the universal hum and buzz was amazing, and put one in mind of the—
"Hushed by buzzing night-flies to thy slumber"
of poor King Henry. The walls and ceiling of the servants' offices and kitchen, which at the beginning of the spring had been painted white, and were immaculate in their purity, became literally a yellow-brown coffee color, darkened all over with spots as black as soot, with the defilement of these torments, of which three and four dustpanfuls a day would be swept away dead without appreciably diminishing their number.