Front Page Titles (by Subject) PROBATION. - Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2
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PROBATION. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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“Small is it that thou canst trample the earth with its injuries under thy feet, us old Greek Zeno trained thee; thou canst love the earth while it injures thee, and even because it injures thee; for this a greater than Zeno was needed, and he, too, was sent. Knowest thou that ‘Worship of Sorrow?’ The temple thereof, opened some eighteen centuries ago, how lies in ruins, overgrown with jungle, the habitation of doleful creatures, Nevertheless, venture forward; in a low crypt, arched out of falling fragments, thou findest the altar still there, and its sacred lamp perennially burning.”—Sartor Resurtus.
“I will tell you, scholar, I have heard a grave divine say that God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart,”—Isaac Walton.
Among the strongest of the fresh feelings excited by foreign travel,—those fresh feelings which are an actual reinforcement of life,—is that of welcome surprise at the sympathy the traveller is able to yield, as well as privileged to receive. We are all apt to lose faith in the general resemblance between human beings when we have remained too long amidst one set of circumstances,—all of us, nearly as weakly as the school-girl who thinks that the girl of another school cannot comprehend her feelings; or the statesman who is surprised that the lower classes appear sometimes to understand their own interests; or the moralist who starts back from the antique page where he meets the reflection of his own convictions; or the clergyman who has one kind of truth for his study, and another for his pulpit. Intellectual sympathy comes to the traveler in a distant land like a benignant rebuke of his narrowness; and when he meets with moral beauty which is a realization of his deep and secret dreams, he finds how true it is that there is no nationality in the moral creation, and that wherever grass grows and the sun shines, truth springs up out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. Those who bring home a deep, grateful, influential conviction of this have become possessed of the best results of travel: those who are not more assured than before of the essential sympathy of every human being they meet will be little the worse for staying at home all the rest of their lives. I was delighted with an observation of a Boston merchant who had made several voyages to Chine. He dropped a remark by his own fireside on the narrowness which causes us to conclude, avowedly or silently, that, however will men may use the light they have, they must be very pitiable, very far behind us, unless they have our philosophy, our Christianity, our ways of knowing the God who is the Father of us all, and the Nature which is the home of us all. He said that his thoughts often wandered back, with vivid pleasure, to the long conversation he had enjoyed with some of his Chinese friends on the deepest themes of philosophy, and the highest truths of religion, when he found them familiar with the convictions, the emotions, the hopes which, in religious New England, are supposed to be derivable only from the Christianity of the region. His observation gave me intense pleasure at the time I heard it; and now, thought I have no such outlandish friends as the Chinese appear to a narrow imagination, I can tell him, from a distance of three thousand miles, that his animating experience is shared by other minds.
The most extensive agreement that I have ever known to exist between three minds, is between two friends of mine in America and myself, Dr. F. being German, Mrs. F. American, and I English, —by birth, education, and (at least in one of the three,) prejudice. Before any of the three met, all had become as fixed as they were ever likely to be in habits of thought and feeling; and yet our differences were so slight, our agreements so extensive, that our intercourse was like a perpetual recognition, rather than a gradual revelation. Perhaps a lively imagination may conceive something of the charm of imparting to one another glimpses of our early life. While our years wer passing amidst scenes and occupations as unlike as possible, our minds were converging through foreign regions of circumstance to a common centre of conviction. We have sat mutually listening for hours, day after day, week after week, to his account of early years spent in the range of a royal forester's domain, and of the political struggles of later years: to her history of a youthful life nourished by all kinds of American influences; and to mine, as unlike both theirs as each was to the other.
The same sort of experience is yielded by every chapter of human history which comes under the mind's eye in a foreign country. The indolence of the speculatist, however, generally prevents his making this use of any but the most extraordinary and eventful sections of this interminable history. Such contemplations rouse sympathy, extinguish nationality, and enlarge the spirit to admit new kindred by an irresistible assurance of the rightfulness of all claims of brotherhood. Every love-tale has this effect; for true love is the same all over the wide earth. Most tales of woe have the same influence; for the deepest woes spring from causes universally prevalent. But above all, spectacles of moral beauty work miracles of reconciliation between foreign minds. The heart warms to every act of generosity, and the spirit sends out a fervent greeting to every true expression of magnanimity, whether it be meek intrepidity in doing, or unconscious bravery in suffereing.
Many such a heart-warning must the stranger experience in America, where the diversities of society are as great as over the European Continent, and where all virtues can find the right soil to thrive in. If there are in some regions broader exhibitions of vice.—of licentiousness and violence.—than can be seen where slavery is not, in other regions, or amidst different circumstances, there are brighter revelations of virtue than are often seen out of a primitive state of society. One of these, one of many, may, I think, be spoken of without risk of hurting any feelings, or betraying any confidence; though I must refrain from throwing such light and beauty over the story as the letters of the parties would afford. I was never so tempted to impart a correspondence; and it is not conceivable that any harm could arise from it, beyond the mischief of violating the sacredness of private correspondence; but this is not to be thought of.
At Cincinnati, I became acquainted with the Re. E. P., whom I found to be beloved, fervently but rationally, by his flock, some of whom think him not a whit inferior, as a preacher, to Dr. Channing. He was from New England; and, till he spoke, he might have been taken for one of the old puritans risen from an early grave to walk the earth for awhile. He was tall, gaunt, and severe-looking, with rather long black hair, and very large black eyes. When he spoke, all the severity vanished; his countenance and voice expressed gentleness, and his quiet fun showed that the inward man was no puritan. His conversation was peculiar. His voice was somewhat hollow, and not quite manageable, and he was wont to express himself with schoolboy abruptness and awkwardness of phrase, letting drop gems of truth and flowers of beauty, without being in the least aware of the inequality of his conversation, or perhaps that he was conversing at all. Occasionally, when he had lighted on a subject on which he had bestowed much thought, all this inequality vanished, and his eloquence was of a very high order. He was a man who fixed the attention at once, and could not, after a single interview, be ever forgotten. The first time I saw him, he told me that his wife and he had hoped to had made their house my home in Cincinnati, but that she and the child had been obliged to set out on their summer visit to her parents in New England before my arrival. Whenever he spoke of his home, it was in a tone of the most perfect cheerfulness; so that I should not have imagined that any anxieties harboured there, but for the fervent though calm manner in which he observed in conversation one day, that outward evils are evils only as far as we think them so; and that our thinking them so may be wonderfully moderated by a full conviction of this. This was said in a tone which convinced me that it was not a fragment of preaching, but of meditation. I found that he had been about two Years married to a pretty, lively, accomplished girl from New England. Some of his friends were rather surprised at the match, for she had appeared hitherto only as a sprightly belle, amiable but a little frivolous. It was not, however, that he was only proud of her beauty and accomplishments, or transiently in love: for his young wife had soon occasion to reveal a strength of mind only inferior to his own. Her sight began to fail: it failed more and more rapidly, till, after the birth of her child, she was obliged to surrender to others all the nicer cares of maternal management. Her accomplishments became suddenly useless. Her favourite drawing was first given up; then her needle was laid aside; then she could neither write nor read, nor bear a strong light. In her state of enforced idleness (the greatest trial of all to the spirits), her cheerfulness never failed. Her step was as light, her voice as gay as ever. She said it was because her husband was as happy as ever. He aided her in every conceivable way; by doing all that was possible of what she was prevented from doing, and by upholding her conviction that the mind is its own place; and he thus proved that he did not desire for her or for himself indolent submission, but cheerful acquiescence.
As summer came on the child sickened in teething, and was sent with its mother to New England, in order to escape the greatest heats. They had set out, under good guardianship, the week before I arrived at Cincinnati. Mr. P. could not leave his church for many weeks, but was to follow in August, so as to be in time to deliver a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge. Massachusetts, in Harvard Commencement week. I fancied that I saw him meditating this poem, more than once, during our drives through the splendid scenery round Cincinnati. I was uneasy about his health, and expressed some apprehensions to one of his friends, who however made light of what I said. I thought that, made for strength as he looked, he had little of it. He seemed incessantly struggling against exhaustion, and I was confident that he often joined in conversation with his eyes alone, because he was unequal to the exertion of talking. I was quite sure of all this, and wondered how others could help seeing it too, on the day of the procession of the free schools of Cincinnati, when he was appointed to address the children. His evident effort in the pulpit, and exhaustion afterwards, made me fear that there were more trials in store for his young wife. During their separation, she could neither write to him nor read his letters.
When, towards the end of August, I arrived at Cambridge for Commencement, one of my first inquiries was for the P.s. He had joined his wife, his poem was ready, and they were in cheerful spirits, though both her sight and the child's health were rather worse than better. I did not see them among the assemblage on the great Commencement day. On the morrow, when the Phi Beta Kappa Society had marched in to music, and the oration had been delivered, and we all looked eagerly for Mr. P. and his poem, a young clergyman appeared, with a roll of M.S. in his hand, and, with a faltering voice, and a countenance of repressed grief, told us that Mr. P. had been seized with sudden and severe illness, and hail requested from him, as an office of friendship, that he would read the poem which its author was prevented from delivering. The tidings ran in a mournful whisper through the assemblage that Mr. P. had broken a blood-vessel.
The poem was descriptive, with touches of human interest, many and strong. It related the passage of an emigrant family over the Alleghanies, and their settlement in the West. It was read with much modesty, truth and grace. Atone part the reader's voice failed him,— at a brief description of the burial of an infant in the woods: it was too like a recent scene at which the reader had been present as chief mourner.
The P.s were next at a country-house within two miles of another where I was spending ten days, Mr. P. was shut up, and condemned to the trial which his wife was bearing so well.—enforced idleness. His bodily weakness made him feel it more, and he found it difficult to bear. He had been unused to sickness: and the only failure I ever saw in him was in obedience to the necessities of his situation, and the orders of his physician. He could not write a page of a letter: and reading fatigued his head: but he could not help trying to do what he had been accustomed to perform with case: and no dexterity of his visitors could prevent his clapping on his hat, and being at the carriage door before them. I thought once that I had fairly shut him into his parlour; but he was holding my stirrup before I had done my farewell to his wife. I was commissioned to carry him grapes and peaches from a friend's hot-house: and I would fain have gone every day to read to him: but I found that he saw too many people, and I therefore went seldom. Nothing can be conceived more touching than the cheerfulness of his wife. Many would have inwardly called it cruel that she could now do almost nothing for her husband: or what she thought almost nothing. She could neither read to him, nor write for him the many passing thoughts, the many remembrances to absent friends, that it would have been a relief to his now restless mind to have had set down. But their common conviction completely sustained them both; and I never saw them otherwise than unaffectedly cheerful. The child was sometimes better, and sometimes worse. I saw him but once, but I should have known him again among a thousand. The full, innocent gaze of his bright black eyes, the upright carriage, so striking in a well-tended infant, and the attitude of repose in which he contemplated from his mother's arms whatever went on about him, fixed the image of the child in my memory for over. In another month I heard, at a distance, of the child's death. For a fortnight before, he had been quite blind, and had suffered grievously. In the common phrase, I was told that the parents supported themselves wonderfully.
As the cold weather approached, it became necessary for Mr. P. to remove southwards. It was a weary journey over the Alleghanies into Ohio: but it had to be performed. Every arrangement of companionship, and about conveyance, resting-places. &c., was made to lessen the fatigue to the utmost; but we all dreaded it for him. The party was to touch at Providence, Rhode Island, where the steam-boat would wait a quarter of an hour. I was in Providence, and of course went down to the boat to greet them. Mr. P. saw me from a distance, and ran ashore, and let down the steps of the carriage with an alacrity which filled me with joy and hope. He was not nearly so thin as when I last saw him, and his countenance was more radiant that ever. “I knew we should see you.” Said he, as he led me on board to his wife. She too was smiling. They were not in mourning. Like some other persons in America who disapprove of wearing mourning, they had the courage to break through the custom. It would indeed have been inconsistent with the conviction which was animating them all this time.—the conviction that the whole disposal of us is wise and right and kind.—to have made an external profession that any thing that befell them was to be lamented. I could not but observe the contrast between their maid-servant. Whose heart was doubless aching at having to go back without the child. The mother's feelings were any thing but deadened. The cheerfulness and the hearts mourning existed together. Tears trembled in her eyes, and her voice faltered. More than once; but then came the bright smile again, and an intimation given almost in a spirit of gaiety, that it was easy to bear any thing while he was always so strong in spirit and so happy.
This was the last I saw of them, Their travel companions wrote cheerlessly of his want of strength, and of the suffering the long journey caused him. They were taken into the house of a kind friend at Cincinnati, where there was a room fitted up with green for the sake of Mrs. P. s eyes, and every arrangement made in a similar spirit of consideration. But it would not do: there was yet to be no rest for the invalid. The excitement of being among his flock, while unable to do any thing in their service, was injurious to him. He was sent down the river to New Orleans; and his wife was not allowed to accompany him. The reasons were sufficient; but the separation at a time when he was nearly as anxious about her health as she about his, was a dreadful trial. I heard of it, and wrote him a long letter to amuse him, desiring him not to exert himself to answer it. After a while, however, he did so; and I shall never part with that letter, e spoke briefly of himself and his affairs, but I saw the whole state of his mind in the little he did say. He found himself in no respect better; in many much worse. He often felt that he was going down the dark valley, and longed intensely for the voices of his home to cheer him on his way. But still his happiest conviction was the uppermost. He knew that all things were ordered well, and he had no cares. He wrote more copiously of other things.—of his voyage down the great river, of the state of mind and manners amidst the influences of slavery, which had converted his judgment and his sympathies to the abolition cause; and of the generous kindness of his people, the full extent of which he might never have known but for his present sickness. This letter left me little hope of his recovery: yet even here the spirit of cheerfulness, predominant through the whole, was irresistible; and it left me less anxious for them than before.
After this, I wandered about for some months, out of reach of any of the P. 's connexions, and could only procure general accounts of his being better. Just before I sailed, I received from Mr. P. a letter full of good news, as calmly cheerful in its tone as any written in the depths of his adversity. He had ascended the river with the first warmth of spring; was so much better as to be allowed to preach once on the Sunday, and to be about to undertake it twice; and was now writing beside the cradle of his new-born daughter, whose mother sent me word that they were all well and happy.
The power of a faith like theirs goes forth in various directions, to work many wonders. It not only fortifies the minds of sufferers, but modifies the circumstances themselves from which they suffer, bracing the nerves in sickness, and equalising the emotions in sorrow: it practically asserts the supremacy of the real over the apparent, and the high over the low; and among other kindly operations, refreshes the spirit of the stranger with a revelation of true kindred in a foreign land;—for this faith is the fundamental quality in the brotherhood of the race.