Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION III. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 1 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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A little while before my departure for the United States, I met Mr. James Mill one evening, and had a good deal of conversation with him. By the way, he made the frankest possible acknowledgment of his mistake in saying what had so critically and mischievously alarmed Mr. Fox; — that political economy could not be conveyed in fiction, and that the public would not receive it in any but the didactic form. Having settled this business, he asked me how long I meant to be abroad; and then, whether I expected to understand the Americans in that time; — that is, two years. He was glad to find I had no such idea, and told me that five-and-twenty years before, he had believed that he understood the Scotch: and that in another five-and-twenty, he should no doubt understand the English; but that now he was quite certain that he understood neither the one nor the other. As this looked rather as if he supposed I went out on a book-making expedition, I told him that it was not so. I would not say that I certainly should not write a book on my return: but I had actually refused to listen to the urgent recommendation of a gentleman who professed to have influence with the booksellers, to allow him to obtain for me advances of money for my travelling expenses from a publishing house which would be glad to advance £500 or so, on my engaging to let them publish the book on my return. I have since had strong reason to rejoice that I did not permit such intervention. My reply was that I would not bind myself by any pledge of the sort; and that my travelling money was in fact ready. The friend who gave me credits to the American banks offered to obtain from Lord Brougham the £100 he owed me, as part payment: but that also I declined, — kindly as it was meant; because I did not think it quite a proper way to obtain payment. I preferred going out free from all misgiving and anxiety about pecuniary matters; so I paid in my £400, and carried credits to that amount, without being under obligation to any body. — Mr. Bentley the publisher met me one day at dinner at Miss Berry’s, and he sounded me about a book on America. I rather think, from his subsequent conduct, that that was his real object in getting an introduction to me, though he put forward another; — his desire to issue my Series in a new form. I told him as I told others, that I knew nothing of any American book, and that I was going to the United States with other objects, — the first of which was to obtain rest and recreation. I went and returned entirely free from any kind of claim on me, on any hand, for a book. I can truly say that I travelled without any such idea in my mind. I am sure that no traveller seeing things through author spectacles, can see them as they are; and it was not till I looked over my journal on my return that I decided to write “Society in America” (I never can bear to think of the title. My own title was “Theory and Practice of Society in America;” but the publishers would not sanction it. They had better have done so.)
My first desire was for rest. My next was to break through any selfish “particularity” that might be growing on me with years, and any love of ease and indulgence that might have arisen out of success, flattery, or the devoted kindness of my friends. I believed that it would be good for me to “rough it” for a while, before I grew too old and fixed in my habits for such an experiment. I must in truth add that two or three of my most faithful friends, intimate with my circumstances, counselled my leaving home for a considerable time, for the welfare of all who lived in that home. My position had become a difficult one there, even while my work afforded an incontestable reason for my being sought and made much of. If my social position remained the same after the work was done, my mother’s happiness would not, they thought, be promoted by my presence. This was too obviously true already: and I took the advice of my friends to go without any misgiving, and to stay away as long as I found it desirable. I made provision for my mother’s income not being lessened by my absence: but she declined, for generous reasons, all aid of that sort. She never touched the money I left for the purpose, but received in my place a lady who made an agreeable third in the little household. I have already said that Lord Henley’s suggestions first turned my project in the direction of the United States; and the reasons he urged were of course prominent in my mind during my travels.
I was singularly fortunate in my companion. I had been rather at a loss at first what to do about this. There are great difficulties in joining a party for so very long a journey, extending over so long a time. To be with new friends is a fearful risk under such an ordeal: and the ordeal is too severe, in my opinion, to render it safe to subject an old friendship to it. There was a plan for a time that the same friends with whom I was to have gone to Italy (if the continent had been my playground) should go with me to America: but there were aged parents and other reasons against their going so far; and my friends and I went on our several ways. — It would never do, as I was aware, to take a servant, to suffer from the proud Yankees on the one hand and the debased slaves on the other: nor would a servant have met my needs in other ways. Happily for me a lady of very superior qualifications, who was eager to travel, but not rich enough to indulge her desire, offered to go with me, as companion and helper, if I would bear her expenses. She paid her own voyages, and I the rest; and most capitally she fulfilled her share of the compact. Not only well educated but remarkably clever, and, above all, supremely rational, and with a faultless temper, she was an extraordinary boon as a companion. She was as conscientious as able and amiable. She toiled incessantly, to spare my time, strength and faculties. She managed the business of travel, and was for ever on the watch to supply my want of ears, — and, I may add, my defects of memory. Among the multitudes of strangers whom I saw, and the concourse of visitors who presented themselves every where, I should have made hourly mistakes but for her. She seemed to make none, — so observant, vigilant and retentive were her faculties. We fulfilled the term of our compact without a shadow of failure, but rather with large supererogation of good works on her part; and she returned under the care of the excellent captain, — a friend of some of my family, — who brought me home four months later. I remained that much longer, for the purpose of accompanying a party of friends to the Northern Lakes, and some new territory which it was important that I should visit. I could not afford this additional trip to more than myself; and there was not room for more than one: so my comrade preceded me homewards, sorry not to have taken that northern trip, but well satisfied with the enterprise she had achieved. She has been married for many years; and it is pleasant still to talk over our American adventures in her house or in mine. Her husband and children must be almost as glad as she and I that she had the spirit to go.
After leaving home, I paid visits to my family and friends, (followed from place to place by my last proofs) and was joined by Miss J. at Liverpool, a day or two before we sailed. The first steam voyage to the United States took place in 1838: and I set forth in 1834: so there was no thought of a quicker passage than a month. I did not wish for a shorter one; and when it stretched out to forty-two days, I was not at all discontented. I have enjoyed few things more in life than the certainty of being out of the way of the post, of news, and of passing strangers for a whole month: and this seems to show how overwrought I must have been at the close of my long work. My felicity would have been complete if I could have looked forward to a month of absolute idleness: but my constitutional weakness, — my difficulty in saying “No,” was in my way, and a good deal spoiled my holiday. A friend, whom indeed I was bound to oblige, requested me to write for him a long chapter for a book he contemplated, to be called “How to Observe.” The subject he gave me was Morals and Manners. Before my return, his proposed volume was given up; and Mr. Knight was arranging about a series of volumes, under that title. The Chapter I wrote on board ship served as the basis of my own volume for that series; and thus, the reluctant toil was not thrown away. But thoroughly reluctant it was. The task weighed upon me more than the writing of a quarto volume would have done at another time: and circumstances of time and place were indeed most unfavourable to work of the kind. My long confinement within stringent bounds of punctuality had produced bad effects, — narrowing my mind, and making my conscience tender about work. So, when that chapter was done at last, I wrote no more till I was settled at home again, in the autumn of 1836, — with two small exceptions. It was necessary to accede to a request to bring out myself, while in America, two volumes of “Miscellanies,” under penalty of seeing it done by some unauthorised person, with alterations, and probably the introduction of pieces which would be as new to me as to any body. In order to secure the copyright to the American proprietors, I wrote an essay for their edition: (on “Moral Independence.”) Being asked to furnish a story for some Sunday school festival, I wrote the little tale “The Children who lived by the Jordan.” These two trifles were all I wrote for press, as far as I remember, for above two years. I need not say that I had a large correspondence to sustain, — a correspondence perpetually increasing as my travel and my intercourses extended: and I kept a very ample journal.
On the morning of the 4th of August, we were summoned on board our ship, — the United States. As I stood on the wharf in my sea-dress, watching the warping out of the vessel, I saw an old acquaintance observing the same process. Sir James Parke was one of the Judges then at Liverpool on circuit; and he and some ladies were amusing themselves with seeing the American packet clear out. He would hardly believe me when I told him I was going to step on board presently; and for how long. He was the last of my London acquaintances whom I saw before that long absence.
I have said quite enough about that voyage, and very nearly enough about my American travel, in the two books I published after my return. One subject remains nearly untouched in those books; and on that alone I propose now to speak at any length. I refer to my own personal connexion with the great controversy on negro slavery which was then just beginning to stir the American community. While speaking largely of the controversy in my book, I said as little as possible of my own relation to it, because some undeserved suspicion of resentment on my own account might attach to my historical narrative; and because it was truly my object to present an impartial view, and by no means to create an interest in my personal adventures. In this place I feel it right to tell my story. Supported as it is by documents in the hands of my Executor, and by the testimony of Americans who know me best, it will stand as a record of what really took place, in answer to some false reports and absurd misrepresentations. For one instance of what Americans, — even American gentlemen, — will persuade themselves to do in the case of the Slavery question, which seems to pervert all its advocates; — I heard some time since that two American gentlemen, who were college youths when I saw them, claim the credit of having beguiled me into publishing some nonsensical stories with which they mystified me when I was the guest of their parents. I not only clearly remember that I had no conversation with those boys (who were shy of my trumpet) but I possess the best possible evidence that it is their present statement which is the mystifying one. By some lucky inspiration of prudence, I kept a lock-up copy of my American books, in which the name of every authority for every statement is noted in the margin. I have referred to this copy since I heard of the claim of these two gentlemen; and I have called my biographer to witness that the names of the gentlemen in question do not once occur. — So many false things having been said about my American experiences, in regard to the anti-slavery agitation, during my life, it is probable that there may be more when I am no longer here to contradict them: and therefore it is that I now give a plain account of what really took place. I do not altogether trust my memory for an experience which is however deeply impressed upon it. My journal, and my entire American correspondence on that subject are my warrant: and I have before me also the narrative as written down many years ago, from the same materials, and when my remembrance of the events of 1835 and 1836 was so fresh as to obviate any objection that can be made to my statement on the score of lapse of time.
It will be remembered that I wrote, near the beginning of my Series, a number called “Demerara,” which was as open a committal of myself, on every ground, to hostility to slavery as was possible. I therein declared myself satisfied that slavery was indefensible, economically, socially, and morally. Every body who knew any thing about me at all, at home or in America, knew that from the spring of 1832 I was completely committed against slavery. The American passengers on board our ship were certainly aware of it before they saw me; and so was a Prussian fellow-passenger, Dr. Julius, who had been introduced to me in London as a philanthropist going to America with a direct commission from the late King of Prussia to inquire into the state of prison discipline there. Every one on board regarded Dr. Julius as so commissioned; but he told Miss J. and me, one day, when in a communicative mood, that he had sought the sanction of the King to his object, and believed he had obtained it: but that when he was admitted to an audience, to take leave, he found that the King had forgotten all about it (if he had really known) and that nothing could make him understand that this was a leave-taking visit, or why Dr. Julius presented himself, though the King approved of inquiries into prison-discipline. Whether there was a prevalent doubt about the reality of his commission, or whether his habit of petty concealment induced suspicion, I do not know; but the impression on board ship, and in American society afterwards, certainly was that there was something mysterious and doubtful about him. I was disposed to conclude, on the whole, that there was nothing worse in the case than that he was a Jew, and was anxious to conceal the fact. The clearest thing in the matter was that, with all his big talk, he was in a continual state of panic. He was afraid of the elements and of man: convulsed with terror during a storm; and in great horror on the subject of Slavery, though the American “reign of terror” was only then beginning, and it had not, I believe, been heard of in Europe. Mr. George Thompson had half-engaged a cabin in our ship for himself and his family, but was by some accident prevented sailing so soon. It was very well: for, while we were crossing the sea, the first serious pro-slavery riots were taking place in New York; — those riots by which the Messrs. Tappan were driven from the city, their houses destroyed, and their furniture burnt in the streets.
The last news I heard of Dr. Julius was some time after my return to England: and I acknowledge that I was considerably disturbed by it. After I had left Washington, he petitioned for certain State Papers, and government information, either in my name expressly, or on the ground of our being fellow-travellers. I need not say that this was without any authority whatever from me, or that I took pains to disavow in the right quarter all connexion with Dr. Julius’s inquiries. I was distinctly informed that the papers and information would not have been granted, but on the supposition that they were asked for by me, for my own use.
When we took in a pilot at Sandy Hook, we all observed how hastily he tossed down his bundle of newspapers for the amusement of the passengers, and then beckoned the captain to the stern; and we were not so absorbed in the newspapers as not to perceive that the conversation in the stern was earnest and long. Though there was a good deal about me and my reception in those newspapers, it never occurred to me that I was the subject of the conversation between the captain and pilot. When the pilot went to the wheel, the captain requested a private interview with an American lady who had talked with me a good deal during the voyage. Long after, I heard that he wanted to know from her what my opinions were upon Slavery; and, if anti-slavery, whether I had ever professed them publicly. It is odd that she did not tell him, (what she certainly knew) that I was completely committed to anti-slavery opinions by my writings. By her own account, her reply to the captain was that I was opposed to Slavery; but that I had been more than once heard to say on board, when questioned about my opinion of American institutions, that I went to learn, and not to teach. The captain seemed satisfied to let Slavery pass muster among “American institutions;” and he declared that he should now know what to say. He avowed that if he had been less well satisfied, he should not have ventured to put me ashore: and he made it his particular request that I should hear nothing of what had passed. The pilot had warned him that if Mr. Thompson was on board, he had better hide him in his cabin; for, if his presence was known in New York, he would be a dead man before night.
Knowing nothing of all this, being carefully kept ignorant while in New York, (as many resident ladies were) of the fact of the riots, and travelling for weeks among persons who either took no interest in the subject or anxiously ignored it, Miss J. and I long remained in a state of profound unconsciousness of the condition of society around us. It was not merely as travellers that we were thus kept in the dark. On the last occasion of my being at New York, I was assured by the ladies of Mrs. Jeffrey’s family that I was entirely misinformed about there having been any disturbances there at all in the autumn of 1834. I told them the particulars, — some notorious, and others of unquestionable truth; but they believed me so little that they asked husband and brother about it, in the middle of dinner, in the presence of the servants. The gentlemen could not, of course, deny the facts; but they did their best to make light of them, on the one hand; and, on the other, accounted for their silence to the wondering ladies by declaring that they were ashamed of the whole business, and did not wish to alarm or annoy the ladies unnecessarily. Such was the bondage in which the inhabitants of the boasted republic were living so long ago as 1834. Such bondage was, to English women, an inconceivable and incredible thing, till the fact was forced on our observation by further and more various travel.
We went among the Sedgwicks, on our ascent of the Hudson: we went to Niagara, and by Western Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, where we staid six weeks, proceeding to Baltimore (a Slave State) in December. There was all this while scarcely any thing to remind us of the subject of Slavery but the virulent abuse of the Abolitionists in the newspapers. I afterwards learned that the whole country was divided into three parties: the Pro-slavery multitude, the Colonisationists (represented in Europe by the before-mentioned Elliot Cresson), and the Abolitionists. The Colonisationists were simply a selection from the Pro-slavery multitude, who did the Slave States the service of ridding them of clever and dangerous slaves, and throwing a tub to the whale of adverse opinion, and easing lazy or weak consciences, by professing to deal, in a safe and beneficial manner, with the otherwise hopeless difficulty. Care was taken, so early as my visit to Philadelphia, and yet more at Baltimore and Washington, that I should hear much in favour of the Colonisation scheme, and nothing but horrors of the Abolitionists. I acknowledge here, once for all, that it is very probable that expressions unfavourable to the Abolitionists may be fairly remembered and quoted against me throughout the Southern and Western States. I never wavered, of course, in my detestation of Slavery; and I never intended to take any part against the Abolitionists; but it is scarcely possible to hear from day to day, for ten months, that persons whom one has never seen are fanatical, bloodthirsty and so forth, without catching up some prejudice against them. We were constantly and gravely informed, as a matter of fact, that Garrison and his followers used incitements to the slaves to murder their masters, and sent agents and publications into the South to effect insurrections. Till we had the means of ascertaining that these charges were totally and absolutely false, — Garrison and most of his followers being non-resistants, and thoroughly consistent opponents of physical force, — it was really impossible to remain wholly unimpressed by them. I steadily declared my intention to hear, when opportunity offered, what the Abolitionists, as well as others, had to say for themselves: but it certainly never entered my imagination that I could possibly find them the blameless apostles of a holy cause which I afterwards saw that they were.
The first perplexing incident happened at Philadelphia, ten or twelve weeks after our landing. A lady of that city whose manners were eminently disagreeable to us, beset us very vigorously, — obtruding her society upon us, and loading me with religious books for children, — some of her own writing, and some by others. When we made our farewell calls, we were not sorry to be told that this lady could see no visitors, as she had a cold. We were speeding away from the door, when a servant ran after us, with an unwelcome summons to the lady’s chamber. She made me sit beside her on her sofa, while Miss J. sat opposite, — out of my hearing. The lady having somehow introduced the subject of the blacks, a conversation ensued between her and Miss J. of which I did not hear a syllable. I saw my companion look embarrassed, and could not conceive why, till the lady turned full upon me with, “Can it be as your friend assures me? She says that if any young person known to you was attached to a negro, you would not interfere to prevent their marrying.” I replied that I had no notion of interfering between people who were attached; that I had never contemplated the case she proposed; but that I did not believe I should ever interfere with lovers proposing to marry. The lady exclaimed against my thus edging off from the question, — which I had not the least intention of doing: and she drove her inquiries home. Mystery is worse than any other mischief in such matters; and I therefore replied that, if the union was suitable in other respects, I should think it no business of mine to interfere on account of complexion. The lady cried out in horror, “Then you are an Amalgamationist!” “What is that?” I asked: and then remonstrated against foreign travellers being classified according to the party terms of the country. I was not then aware of the extent to which all but virtuous relations are found possible between the whites and blacks, nor how unions to which the religious and civil sanctions of marriage are alone wanting, take place wherever there are masters and slaves, throughout the country. When I did become aware of this, I always knew how to stop the hypocritical talk against “amalgamation.” I never failed to silence the cant by pointing to the rapidly increasing mulatto element of the population, and asking whether it was the priest’s service which made the difference between holy marriage and abhorred “amalgamation.” But I was not yet possessed of this defence when assailed by the Philadelphia saint. — When we rose to go, the woman insisted on kissing me, and poured out lamentations about my departure. The moment we were in the street, I said to my friend, “You must be careful, and not get me or yourself into any more such scrapes till we know what people mean on this subject of the blacks.” Miss J. justified herself completely. She had been so questioned that she could not avoid saying as much as she did, unless by the more dangerous method of refusing to reply. This was the beginning of many troubles: but the troubles would have occurred from some other beginning, if we had escaped this.
The day before we left Philadelphia, Dr. Julius called at the house where we were staying. He had just arrived from New York. He burst into the room with an air of joy which did not look very genuine; and I presently saw that he was absent and uneasy. After staying an unconscionable time, while I was fidgety about my preparations, he explained a long series of unintelligible nods and winks by asking to speak with me alone for a few minutes. My host (a clergyman, and in character, though not in circumstances, the original of Hope in “Deerbrook”) left the room, taking his little boy with him: and then Dr. Julius, turning as white as the marble chimney-piece, said he came to warn me to proceed no further south than Philadelphia. He had not been two hours in the city before he heard that I had avowed myself an amalgamationist, and that my proceeding southwards would bring upon me certain insult and danger. It appeared to me that there was every reason why this conversation should not be private; and I summoned my host. While I repeated to him what Dr. Julius had been saying, he too turned as pale as ashes; and between his ghastly countenance, and the gesticulations of Dr. Julius, the scene was a strange one. Dr. Julius declared the whole city was ringing with the news. — After a moment’s consideration, I declared that I should not alter my plans in any respect. I was a well-known anti-slavery writer before I thought of going to America; and my desire to see the operation of the system of Slavery could hardly be wrongly interpreted by any one who took an interest in my proceedings. I was disposed to trust to the openness of my plans, and the simplicity of my purpose, and to the common sense of those among whom I was going. Dr. Julius shrugged his shoulders; and my host suggested a method by which the difficulty might be probably obviated. The Editors of the two leading Philadelphia newspapers were well acquainted with me, and would undoubtedly, according to custom, give their report of me on my departure. They could with perfect truth, and would on the slightest hint, declare that my opinions on slavery were candidly held, and that they afforded no obstacle to the most friendly intercourse with me. I positively forbade any such movement on the part of my personal friends, feeling that I should never succeed in seeing the Americans as they were, if my road was paved for me from one society to another. Knowing Dr. Julius’s tendency to panic, I felt little apprehension from any thing he could say; and I particularly requested my host and hostess not to alarm Miss J. with any account of what had passed. I took on myself the duty which belonged to me, of enlightening her sufficiently to put her own case into her own hands.
At Baltimore, further obscure intimations of danger were conveyed to me: and at Washington, so many, that I felt the time was come for laying the case before my companion. Reflecting that she and I had discussed the whole matter of my anti-slavery opinions before we left home; and that she was very prudent and extremely clever, and fully able to take care of herself, all I thought it necessary to do was this.
In our own room at Washington, I spread out our large map, showed the great extent of Southern States through which we should have to pass, probably for the most part without an escort; and always, where we were known at all, with my anti-slavery reputation uppermost in every body’s mind. — “Now, Louisa,” said I, “does it not look awful? If you have the slightest fear, say so now, and we will change our route.” — “Not the slightest,” said she. “If you are not afraid, I am not.” This was all she ever heard from me of danger.
The intimations I refer to came to me in all manner of ways. I was specially informed of imprisonments for opinions the same as are found in “Demerara;” which indeed might well be under the laws of South Carolina, as I found them in full operation. Hints were offered of strangers with my views not being allowed to come away alive. But the most ordinary cunning or sensitiveness of the slave-holders would account for attempts like these to frighten a woman from going where she might see slavery for herself. I was more impressed by less direct warning; by words dropped, and countenances of anxiety and pity. — Before I left Washington, I wrote to my Philadelphia host and hostess, who were not only my most intimate American friends, but witnesses of the first attempt to alarm me. I told them of the subsequent incidents of the same kind, and that I had communicated them to no other person whatever, supposing that they might be only empty threats. As they might however be real, I wrote to assure these friends, and other friends and my family through them, that I went into the danger warily: and I requested that my letter might be kept in evidence of this, in case of my never returning.
As for the terms on which I went, I took timely care that there should be no mistake about that. I carried letters to some of the leading statesmen at Washington; and the first to acknowledge them were the senators from the Southern States. On the very first day, several of these gentlemen came straight from the senate, with their wives, not only to offer me their services at Washington, but to engage us to visit them at their homes, in our progress through the South. Before I pledged myself to make any visit whatever, I took care to make it understood that I was not to be considered as silenced on the subject of slavery by the hospitality of slave-owners. I made an express reservation of my freedom in this matter, declaring that I should not, of course, publish names or facts which could draw attention upon individuals in private life; but that it must not be forgotten that I had written upon Slavery, and that I should write on it again, if I saw reason. They all made in substance the same reply; that my having published “Demerara” was the main reason why they wished me to visit them. They desired me to see their “peculiar institution” for myself: they would show me the best and the worst instances of its working; and their hope was — so they declared, — that I should publish exactly what I saw. The whole conduct and conversation of my southern entertainers showed an expectation of seeing in print all that was then passing. I often told them that they were much more sure than I was that I should write a book. I am not aware that there was ever any misunderstanding between them and me on this head; and if any charge of my having accepted hospitalities from slave-holders, and then denounced their mode of life has ever been brought, or should ever be brought against me, I repel it as wholly groundless. A fair lady of blue-stocking Boston said of me after my book appeared, “She has ate of our bread and drunk of our cup; and she calls dear, delightful, intellectual Boston pedantic!” on which a countryman of the complainant remarked, “If she thinks Boston pedantic, did you mean to bribe her, by a cup of tea, not to say so?” The southerners might be more easily excused for this sort of unreasonableness and cant: but I never heard that they were guilty of it. Angry as they were with my account of slavery, I am not aware that they imputed ingratitude and bad manners to me in consequence.
It was not in the south that I saw or heard any thing to remind me of personal danger: nor yet in the west, though the worst inflictions of Lynch law were beginning there about that time. My friend and I were in fact handed on by the families of senators, to the care and kindness of a long succession of them, from the day we reached Washington, till we emerged from the Slave States at Cincinnati. Governor Hayne and his friends, and Mr. Calhoun’s family secured every attention to us at Charleston: and Colonel Preston was our host at Columbia. Judge Porter, of the federal senate, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, was the familiar friend who took us in charge at New Orleans: and Mr. Clay conducted us on board the steamer there, — his son-in-law being our escort up the Mississippi, and our host afterwards in Kentucky, where Mr. Clay, whose estate adjoined, spent part of every day with us. No one of these, nor any other of our intimate acquaintance can ever, I am sure, have complained of my act of publishing on the institution which they exhibited to me, however they may dislike my opinions on it.
Our host at Charleston was a clergyman from the north, with a northern wife, who had rushed into that admiration of Slavery which the native ladies do not entertain. I never met with a lady of southern origin who did not speak of Slavery as a sin and a curse, — the burden which oppressed their lives; whereas Mrs. Gilman observed to me, in the slave-market at Charleston, in full view of a woman who, with her infant, was on the stand, — that her doctrine was that the one race must be subordinate to the other, and that if the blacks should ever have the upper hand, she should not object to standing on that table with her children, and being sold to the highest bidder. This lady’s publications bear the same testimony. Her brother-in-law is Mr. Ellis Gray Loring of Boston, well known as an avowed Abolitionist, and a most generous contributor to the cause. The Gilmans adored this brother-in-law, — speaking of his abolitionism as his only fault. I was gratified by receiving, in their house, a message from him, to say that his wife and he would call on me as soon as I went into their neighbourhood, and that they begged I would reserve some time for a visit to them. I was aware that this excellent pair, and also Dr. and Mrs. Follen, were, though abolitionists, not “blood-thirsty” nor “fanatical.” One of my chief objects in meeting their advances was to learn what the abolitionists really thought, felt and intended. I had attended Colonisation meetings, whenever invited, and heard all that the advocates of slavery had to say; and I made no secret of my intention to give the same ample hearing to the abolitionists, if they should desire to instruct me in their views and objects.
My first intercourse with any abolitionist took place when I was staying in Kentucky, on my way northwards, and when Mr. Clay was daily endeavouring, at his daughter’s house or his own, to impress me in favour of slavery. A long and large letter from Boston arrived one day. The hand was strong and flowing; the wording wonderfully terse, the style wonderfully eloquent; but the whole appearing to me rather intrusive, and not a little fanatical. It was from her who has been my dear, honoured and beloved friend from that year to the present day. When I saw the signature “Maria Weston Chapman,” I inquired who she was, and learned that she was one of the “fanatics.” The occasion of her writing was that some saying of mine had reached her which showed, she thought, that I was blinded and beguiled by the slave-holders; and she bespoke for the abolitionists, in the name of their cause, a candid hearing. She then proceeded to remonstrance. I cannot bear to think of my answer. I have no clear remembrance of it; but I am sure it was repulsive, cold and hard. I knew nothing of what was before her eyes, — the beginning of the reign of terror in New England on the slave question; and I knew myself to be too thoroughly opposed to slavery to need caution from an abolitionist. I was not aware of the danger of the Colonisation snare. I was, in short, though an English abolitionist, quite unaware of the conditions of abolitionism in America. Mrs. Chapman received my reply, and then myself, with a spirit of generosity, disinterestedness and thorough nobleness which laid a broad foundation for friendship between us, whenever I should become worthy of it: but not one woman in a thousand, (and that one in a thousand only for the sake of the cause) would have ever addressed me again after receiving my letter, if my general impression of it is at all correct.
In August, 1835, Miss J. and I were the guests of a clergyman at Medford, near Boston: and there I saw Dr. and Mrs. Follen, and Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Gray Loring, and enjoyed sufficient intercourse with them to find that some abolitionists at least were worthy of all love and honour. We travelled in other parts of Massachusetts before paying our Boston visits; and it was in passing through Boston, on my way from Salem to Providence, that I saw, but without being aware of it, the first outbreak of Lynch law that I ever witnessed. In that August, 1835, there had been a public meeting in Boston (soon and long repented of) to denounce, rebuke and silence the abolitionists; a proceeding which imposed on the abolitionists the onus of maintaining the liberty of speech and action in Massachusetts. How they did it, few or none can have forgotten; how, on the 21st of the following October, the women held their proper meeting, well knowing that it might cost them their lives; how Mr. Garrison was mobbed and dragged through the streets towards the tarkettle which he knew to be heating near at hand, but was saved by the interference and clever management of a stout truckman, who got him into the gaol: and how Mrs. Chapman, the leader of the band of confessors, remained in possession of the moral victory of the day. Miss J. and I asked the meaning of the crowded state of the streets in the midst of Boston that day; and our fellow-travellers in the coach condescended to explain it by the pressure near the post-office on foreign post day! At Providence, we heard what had really happened. President Wayland agreed with me at the time about the iniquitous and fatal character of the outrage; but called on me, after a trip to Boston, to relieve my anxiety by the assurance that it was all right, — the mob having been entirely composed of gentlemen! Professor Henry Ware, who did and said better things afterwards, told me that the plain truth was, the citizens did not choose to let such a man as Garrison live among them, — admitting that Garrison’s opinions on slavery were the only charge against him. Lawyers on that occasion defended a breach of the laws; ladies were sure that the gentlemen of Boston would do nothing improper: merchants thought the abolitionists were served quite right, — they were so troublesome to established routine; the clergy thought the subject so “low” that people of taste should not be compelled to hear any thing about it; and even Judge Story, when I asked him whether there was not a public prosecutor who might prosecute for the assault on Garrison, if the abolitionists did not, replied that he had given his advice (which had been formally asked) against any notice whatever being taken of the outrage, — the feeling being so strong against the discussion of slavery, and the rioters being so respectable in the city. These things I myself heard and saw, or I would not ask any body to believe what I could hardly credit myself. The rural settlements were sounder in principle and conduct; and so were the working men of Boston, and many young men not yet trammelled and corrupted by the interests of trade and the slavery of public opinion: but the public opinion of Boston was what I have represented in the autumn of 1835, when I was unexpectedly and very reluctantly, but necessarily, implicated in the struggle.
It was in the interval between that dispersed meeting of the abolitionists and their next righteous attempt to assemble, that Miss J. and I returned to the neighbourhood, — paying our first visit at Professor Henry Ware’s at Cambridge. Dr. and Mrs. Follen called on us there one morning; and Dr. Follen said, with a mild and serious countenance, “I wish to know whether we understood you rightly, — that you would attend an abolition meeting, if opportunity offered.” I repeated what I had said before; — that, having attended Colonisation meetings, and all others where I thought I could gain light on the subject of slavery, I was not only willing but anxious to hear what the Abolitionists had to say, on their public as well as their private occasions. Dr. Follen said that the opportunity might presently occur, as there was to be a meeting on the next Wednesday, (November 18th) adding that some were of opinion that personal danger was incurred by attending abolition meetings at present. This was, of course, nothing to me in a case where a principle, political or moral, was involved; and I said so. Dr. Follen inquired whether, if I should receive an invitation to attend a meeting in a day or two, I would go. I replied that it must depend on the character of the meeting. If it was one at which ladies would merely settle their accounts and arrange their local affairs, I would rather defer it till a safer time: but if it was one where I could gain the knowledge I wanted, I would go, under any circumstances. Dr. Follen said the meeting would be of the latter kind: and that, as it was impossible to hold it at the Anti-slavery Office without creating a mob, the meeting was to be held at the house of Mr. Francis Jackson. This house was only just finished, and built according to the taste of this most faithful citizen, for himself and his daughters: but he said he would willingly sacrifice it, rather than the ladies of Boston should not have a place to meet in.
The Follens had not been gone many minutes before the invitation arrived. It was signed by the President and the Secretary of the Ladies’ Society; and it included in its terms any friend whom I might like to take with me. The note was enclosed in one from Mr. Loring, proposing to call for Miss J. and me on the Wednesday, that we might dine early at his house, and go to the meeting with his family party. His house was near Mr. Jackson’s, and it was not considered safe to go otherwise than on foot. I had before satisfied myself as to the duty of not involving any of my hosts in any of my proceedings on the abolition question. But it was now necessary to give Miss J. time to consider the part she should take. Three ladies, all inadequate to the subject, were dining at Dr. Ware’s that day; and it was impossible at the moment to have any private conversation with my companion. I therefore handed her the letters across the table, with a sign of silence; and she had five hours for reflection before the guests departed. “Have you read those letters?” I then inquired of her. — “Yes.” — “Do you mean to go?” — “Certainly, if you do.” — “Shall I say so for you?” — “If you please.” — I therefore accepted both invitations for both of us, and returned to the drawing-room, where I soon found an opportunity of saying to my host and hostess, “I do not ask or wish an opinion from you: but I tell you a fact. Miss J. and I are going to dine at Mr. Loring’s on Wednesday, to attend an abolition meeting.” Dr. Ware turned round as he stood in the window, and said, “You will be mobbed. You will certainly be mobbed.” — “Perhaps so,” I replied. I then explained that Mr. Loring was coming for us; so that none of our Cambridge friends would be seen in the streets, or involved in our proceeding. I was sorry to hear, the next morning, that my host had desired Mr. Loring not to trouble himself to fetch us, as Mrs. Ware had some shopping to do in Boston, and Dr. Ware would drive us there in his “carry-all.” — From time to time during the intervening day, our host observed, “You will certainly be mobbed:” and when I once more and finally explained that this would make no difference, he jokingly declared that he said it so often, partly to be proved right, if any accident should happen, and partly for a jest, if all went well.
At Mr. Loring’s house we found Mrs. Chapman and one of her sisters, and the Rev. Samuel May. During dinner, the conversation was chiefly on the Southern slave-holders, whose part was taken by Miss J. and myself, so far as to plead the involuntariness of their position, and the extreme perplexity of their case, — over and above the evil conditions of prejudice and ignorance in which they were brought up. Our line of argument was evidently worth little in the estimate of all present, who appeared to us, in our then half-informed state, hard and narrow. But we were now in the way to learn better. Mr. Loring was too ill to eat or speak: and it was plain that he ought to have been in bed: but he would not leave his wife’s side on that day. — Immediately after dinner it was time to be gone. When I was putting on my shawl upstairs, Mrs. Chapman came to me, bonnet in hand, to say, “You know we are threatened with a mob again to-day: but I do not myself much apprehend it. It must not surprise us; but my hopes are stronger than my fears.” I hear now, as I write, the clear silvery tones of her who was to be the friend of the rest of my life. I still see the exquisite beauty which took me by surprise that day; — the slender, graceful form, — the golden hair which might have covered her to her feet; — the brilliant complexion, noble profile, and deep blue eyes; — the aspect, meant by nature to be soft and winning only, but that day, (as ever since) so vivified by courage, and so strengthened by upright conviction, as to appear the very embodiment of heroism. “My hopes,” said she, as she threw up her golden hair under her bonnet, “are stronger than my fears.”
Mr. Loring and I walked first. Just before turning into the street where Mr. Jackson lived, he stopped, and looking me full in the face, said, “Once more, — have you physical courage? for you may need it now.” On turning the corner we were pleased to find only about a dozen boys yelling in front of Mr. Jackson’s house, as often as the coloured women went up the steps. No one was detained there an instant. The door opened and shut as rapidly as possible. As it was a ladies’ meeting, there were no gentlemen in the house but the owner, and the two who accompanied us. When all were admitted, the front door was bolted, and persons were stationed at the rear of the house, to keep a way clear for escape over the fence, if necessary. About a hundred and thirty ladies were assembled; all being members except Mrs. George Thompson, Miss J. and myself. The folding-doors between the two drawing-rooms were thrown back; and the ladies were seated on benches closely ranged in both rooms. The President’s table was placed by the folding-door; and near her were seated the officers of the society. The three gentlemen overheard the proceedings from the hall. I may refer to my “Retrospect of Western Travel,” (volume iii., page 153) for some account of the proceedings; and to an article of mine in the “Westminster Review,” of December, 1838, entitled “The Martyr Age of the United States,” for evidence of the perils dared by the women who summoned and held this meeting. To me, the commotion was a small matter, — provided we got away safely. I was going home in less than a year; and should leave peril and slander behind me. But these women were to pass their lives in the city whose wrath they were defying; and their persecutors were fellow-citizens, fellow-worshippers, and familiar acquaintances. I trust that any who may have the least doubt of the seriousness of the occasion will look back to that year of terror, 1835, in that sketch in the “Westminster Review” or other records. The truth is, it was one of the crises which occur in the life of a youthful nation, and which try the quality of the people, bringing out the ten righteous from among the multitude who are doing evil.
In the midst of the proceedings which I have elsewhere detailed, a note was handed to me, written in pencil on the back of the hymn which the party were singing. It was from Mr. Loring; and these were his words. “Knowing your opinions, I just ask you whether you would object to give a word of sympathy to those who are suffering here for what you have advocated elsewhere. It would afford great comfort.” The moment of reading this note was one of the most painful of my life. I felt that I could never be happy again if I refused what was asked of me: but, to comply was probably to shut against me every door in the United States but those of the Abolitionists. I should no more see persons and things as they ordinarily were: I should have no more comfort or pleasure in my travels; and my very life would be, like other people’s, endangered by an avowal of the kind desired. George Thompson was then on the sea, having narrowly escaped with his life; and the fury against “foreign incendiaries” ran high. Houses had been sacked; children had been carried through the snow from their beds at midnight: travellers had been lynched in the market-places, as well as in the woods; and there was no safety for any one, native or foreign, who did what I was now compelled to do. — Having made up my mind, I was considering how this word of sympathy should be given, when Mrs. Loring came up with an easy and smiling countenance, and said — “You have had my husband’s note. He hopes you will do as he says; but you must please yourself, of course.” I said “No: it is a case in which there is no choice.” “O! pray do not do it unless you like it. You must do as you think right.” “Yes,” said I: “I must.”
At first, (out of pure shyness) I requested the President to say a few words for me: but, presently remembering the importance of the occasion, and the difficulty of setting right any mistake that the President might fall into, I agreed to that lady’s request that I would speak for myself. Having risen therefore, with the note in my hand, and being introduced to the meeting, I said, as was precisely recorded at the time, what follows.
“I have been requested by a friend present to say something — if only a word — to express my sympathy in the objects of this meeting. I had supposed that my presence here would be understood as showing my sympathy with you. But as I am requested to speak, I will say what I have said through the whole South, in every family where I have been; that I consider Slavery as inconsistent with the law of God, and as incompatible with the course of his Providence. I should certainly say no less at the North than at the South concerning this utter abomination — and I now declare that in your principles I fully agree.”
I emphasized the word “principles,” (involuntarily,) because my mind was as yet full of what I had heard at the South of the objectionable methods of the Abolitionists. I have already explained that I ascertained all reports of the kind to be entirely false. — As I concluded, Mrs. Chapman bowed down her glowing face on her folded arms, and there was a murmur of satisfaction through the room, while outside, the growing crowd (which did not however become large) was hooting and yelling, and throwing mud and dust against the windows.
Dr. Ware did the brave act of driving up to Mr. Jackson’s door, to take us home. On our road home, he questioned me about the meeting. “What have you been doing?” he asked. “Why,” said I, “I have been speaking.” — “No! you have not!” he exclaimed in alarm. I told him that I was as sorry for it as he could be; but that it was wholly unavoidable. He communicated the fact, first to his wife and then to his brother-in-law, at home, in a way which showed how serious an affair they considered it. They could only hope that no harm would come of it. As I heard nothing about it for nearly three weeks, I began to hope so too. — During those three weeks, however, the facts got into print. Dr. Follen went to the Antislavery office one day, and found the Secretary and Mr. May revising the report of the meeting, — Mr. May taking extreme care that my precise words should be given. Nothing could be more accurate than the report, as far as I was concerned.
About three weeks after the meeting, I was staying at the Rev. Dr. Walker’s, at Charlestown, — a suburb of Boston, the weather being extremely bad with snow-storms, so that visiting was almost out of the question, — considering that a windy and immensely long bridge stretches between Charlestown and Boston. The weather prevented my being surprised that so few people came; but my host and hostess were in daily expectation of some remark about their seclusion from society. It was not till many months afterwards that I was told that there were two reasons why I was not visited there as elsewhere. One reason was that I had avowed, in reply to urgent questions, that I was disappointed in an oration of Mr. Everett’s: and the other was that I had publicly condemned the institution of Slavery. I hope the Boston people have outgrown the childishness of sulking at opinions, not in either case volunteered, but obtained by pressure. At the time, I could not have conceived of such pettishness; and it was now nearly twenty years ago; so we may hope that the weakness is more or less outgrown, — so little as the indulgence of it can matter to passing strangers, and so injurious as such tendencies are to permanent residents. At length, some light was thrown on the state of my affairs, which I found every body knew more of than Miss J. and myself.
Miss Peabody of Boston was staying at Dr. Walker’s at the same time with ourselves. The day before she returned home, she happened to be in the Doctor’s library when his newspaper came in. It was the leading paper in Boston, conducted by Mr. Hale, the brother-in-law of Mr. Everett. Mr. Hale knew me, — having travelled a whole day in company with me, during which the party conversed abundantly. His paper contained, on this day, an article on my attending an abolition meeting, very bad in itself, but made infinitely worse by giving, with its sanction, large extracts from a New York paper of bad repute (The Courier and Enquirer) — those extracts being, to speak plainly, filthy. Dr. Walker and Miss Peabody burned the paper, hoping that I might not hear of it. In the course of the morning, however, Miss Tuckerman called, in company with two other ladies, and was evidently full of something that she was eager to say. With a solemn countenance of condolence she presently told me that she had never seen Dr. Channing so full of concern as on that day, on the appearance of a most painful article in the “Daily Advertiser;” and she proceeded to magnify the misfortune in a way which astonished me. I begged her to tell Dr. Channing not to be troubled about it, as I was, in the first place, prepared for the consequences of what I might say or do; and, in the next, I acknowledged no foreign jurisdiction in the case. The next time I saw Dr. Channing, he quietly observed that it was all a mistake about his having been troubled on my account. His anxiety was for Mr. Hale, not for me. He did not offer an opinion, then or ever afterwards, as to whether I was right or wrong in regard to that act: and I never inquired. I found from others, some time afterwards, that he had written a strong remonstrance to Mr. Hale, declaring that he would not throw up the newspaper, as many other citizens did that day; because, having the independence of the newspaper press at heart, he thought it unjustifiable to desert an Editor for one slip, however great. Many others thought differently; and Mr. Hale lost so many subscribers before night as to be in a thorough ill-humour about the whole business. His excuse to the public for having delayed the “exposure” of me so long was, like that of the New York editor, that he had not credited the fact of my attending an abolition meeting till he saw it confirmed in the Liberator, though daily assured of it by many anonymous letters. — In the course of that strange day, many other papers came out, full of fury against me, till Miss Peabody was almost frantic with grief. She had to return to Boston in the evening. Two hours after her return, late in the snowy night, a special messenger brought a letter from Miss Peabody, requiring an immediate answer. The letter told me that the Abolitionists were far from grateful for what I had done, while all the rest of society were alienated; and the justification of this assertion was that an abolition lady had made a saucy speech about it at the supper table of the boarding-house. (I was glad to find afterwards that this was a mistake, — the lady being no Abolitionist, and her meaning being also misapprehended by Miss Peabody.) The main business of the letter was to tell me that there was one newspaper not yet committed against me, — the Atlas; and the Editor had just promised Miss Peabody to wait the return of her messenger for any explanation that I or my friends might send. My reply was, of course, that I had no explanation to give, — the report in the Liberator, on which all this censure was grounded, being perfectly accurate. I requested Miss Peabody to repeat to me no more conversations which were not intended for me to hear, and to burn no more newspapers, which I had a right to see. Next morning, the Atlas came out against me, as strong as all the rest. I was truly concerned for Dr. and Mrs. Walker, who could obtain no guests to meet me but their own relatives, and those, I believe, only by special entreaty.
The day after the declaration of hostilities, while two ladies, yet ignorant of the hubbub, were calling on me, a coach drove up, and Mr. Loring entered, looking like a corpse from the grave. He had been confined to his bed ever since the day of the meeting, had risen from it that morning, to be wrapped in blankets, and put into the coach, and came over the long bridge, and through wind and snow to relieve his mind. He intimated that he must see me alone. I asked him if he could wait till the ladies were gone. “I can wait all day,” he replied. When I could go to him, I took Miss J. with me as a witness, as I did on all occasions of importance, lest my deafness should cause mistake, or the imputation of it. With strong emotion, Mr. Loring said, “I find I have injured you; and I have come to know if I can make reparation.” My good friend thought he could never be happy again! I bade him be comforted, telling him that the responsibility of the act of avowal was mine at bottom. The suggestion was his; the decision was mine. “Thank God!” he exclaimed: “then my mind is relieved. But the question is, what can I do?” “Nothing,” I told him: — “that is, supposing the account is accurately given in the papers which have copied from the Liberator.” I asked him whether he had the Advertiser with him. Yes, he had; but he never could show it me. I desired to see it, as I could not form a judgment without. He threw it into my lap, and walked to the window, and up and down the room, paler, if possible, than before. The facts were correctly stated, and I had therefore only to send my friend home, desiring him to get well, and trust me to bear the consequences of saying abroad what I had long ago printed at home. He left me much relieved, as he said; but he was long in getting over it. When Miss J. and I were staying at his house some weeks afterwards, we observed with pain the cloud that came over the faces of himself and his wife at every slight and insult, public and private, offered to me. I took occasion one day, when they and I were alone, to rebuke this, reminding them that when they devoted themselves to the cause, it was with a determination to bear, for themselves and each other, all its consequences; and that they ought to exert the same faith on behalf of their friends. To this they agreed, and never looked grave on the matter again.
As I anticipated, I saw nothing of Boston society, for some time, but what I had seen before; and at no time was I admitted as I should since have been, if I had accepted the invitations sent me in recent years, to go and see what reparation awaited me. I am told that many people who were panic-stricken during that reign of terror are heartily ashamed now of their treatment of me. I should be glad if they were yet more ashamed of the flatteries and worship with which the Americans received and entertained me, till I went to that meeting. The “enthusiasm” of which they boasted, and which, I hereby declare, and my companion can testify, was always distasteful to me, collapsed instantly when I differed publicly from them on a sore point: and their homage was proved to be, like all such idolatries, a worship of the ideal, and no more related to myself, in fact, than to the heroine of a dream. There was something diverting, but more vexatious, in the freaks and whims of imaginative people, during the season of my being (in American phrase) “Lafayetted” in the United States; that is, during the first half of my stay; and the converse experience of the last few months was not devoid of amusement, though it was largely mingled with disgust. The “lion-hunters” who embarrassed me with invitations which I had no inclination to accept, now backed out of their liability with a laughable activity. Mrs. Douglass Cruger, of New York, who amused and bored Sir Walter Scott so wonderfully, and of whom most English celebrities have curious anecdotes to tell, was one of the most difficult to deal with, from her pertinacity in insisting that I should be her guest when I made my stay at New York: but, before I went there, I had made my abolition avowal; and never was there such a list of reasons why a hostess could not invite guests, as Mrs. Cruger poured out to me when we met in a crowd at a ball; nor any thing so sudden as her change of tone, with some hesitation lingering in it, when she saw that I was well received after all. A somewhat similar instance was that of General and Mrs. Sullivan, of Boston, with whom Miss J. and I had travelled for many days together, and who had been urgent in their entreaties that we would spend a long time with them in Boston. On the appearance of the Advertiser article, they ceased their attentions, taking no further notice of me than once inviting me to a family party. Moreover, Dr. Channing inquired of some friends of mine whether I had been informed of the manner in which the Sullivans were speaking of me throughout Boston; for that I ought to be put on my guard against looking for, or accepting attentions from persons who so treated my name. Again, I called one day on Mr. and Mrs. C. G. L., with whom we had had friendship on the Mississippi, and who had been then, and were always afterwards, kind to us in every possible way. I found Mr. L. ill, and almost unable to speak from a swelled face. Mrs. L. explained for him that he was wretched on my account, and had had two sleepless nights. Three gentlemen had called on him, entreating him to use his influence in persuading me not to expose myself to the censure and ridicule of the whole country. In answer to all that I said, Mrs. L. pleaded the wretchedness of her family in hearing “such things” said of me; and she continued piteously beseeching me not to do “such things.” She said all Boston was in an uproar about it. Alas! no power availed to put “all Boston in an uproar” about the intolerable lot of millions of slaves, or about the national disgrace of their fate. My friends could lie awake at night from concern about what their neighbours were saying of a passing stranger, to whom Boston opinion would be nothing a year hence; and they could not spare a moment, or an emotion, for the negro mother weeping for her children, nor for the crushed manhood of hundreds of thousands of their countrymen whose welfare was their natural charge. In vain I told my friends how ashamed I was of my troubles being cared for, and how much better their grief and agitation might be bestowed on real sufferers whom they could aid, than on me who complained of nothing, and needed nothing. But really the subservience to opinion in Boston at that time seemed a sort of mania; and the sufferers under it were insane enough to expect that their slavery was to be shared by a foreigner accustomed to a totally different state of society.
For a considerable time, my intercourse was confined to the Abolitionists and their friends, and my own former friends; but before the end of my stay, it seemed to be discovered that I was not the monster that had been described; and sundry balls and parties were given for my entertainment. In other States, however, the prejudice remained as long as I was in the country, and some time after, giving place at length to an earnest desire (to judge by the warmth of invitations from various quarters) that I would return, and see their country in what my correspondents call its normal state. I am pleased to find, however, within the last few days, that in the South I am still reviled, as I was twenty years ago, and held up, in the good company of Mrs. Chapman and Mrs. Stowe, to the abhorrence of the South. If I am proud of my company, in one sense, I am ashamed of it in another. Mrs. Chapman and Mrs. Stowe have really sacrificed and suffered, and thrown their whole future into the cause; whereas mine is so cheap a charity that I blush to have it associated with theirs. By their side, I am but as one who gives a half-penny to a beggar, in comparison with those who have sold all their goods to feed the poor.
From Boston I went to New York; and, though several months had passed, the impression against me was so strong that my host, on whose arm I entered a ball-room, was “cut” by fourteen of his acquaintance on that account. When he told me this, as a sign of the time, he related that, seeing a group of gentlemen gathered round a pompous young man who was talking vehemently, he put his head in to see what it was all about, when he heard the following; — “My verdict is that Harriet Martineau is either an impertinent meddler in our affairs, or a woman of genius without common sense.” My host replied, with equal solemnity, “If, sir, such be your sentence, Miss Martineau must bear it as she may!” thus exploding the serious business with a general laugh. These instances are mere samples of social rudenesses too numerous to be related.
To return to the Daily Advertiser; — in about ten days, an article appeared which the Editor declared to be his amende, and which the public seemed to consider such. The Editor professed to choose, from among an amazing number, a letter which was afterwards avowed to be by Mr. Minot, a respected Boston merchant, and a connexion of the Sedgwicks. The insertion of this letter was considered by all who understood the principle involved in the case an aggravation of the original offence against that principle. It observed that American travellers were allowed in England, by courtesy, the liberty of expressing their opinions on all subjects; and it was to be hoped that Boston would not refuse a similar courtesy to a distinguished lady who was allowed in private relations to be, &c., &c., and to whom a debt of gratitude was owing for her writings. I have strong reason to believe that the discussions arising out of this treatment of me, — the attacks and the yet worse amende, — roused the minds of many young citizens to a consideration of the whole subject of freedom of opinion, and made many converts to that, and also to abolitionism. One clear consequence of my conversation and experience together was that the next prosecution for Blasphemy in Massachusetts was the last. An old man, above seventy, was imprisoned in a grated dungeon for having printed that he believed the God of the Universalists to be “a chimera of the imagination.” Some who had listened to my assertions of the rights of thought and speech drew up a Memorial* to the Governor of the State for a pardon for old Abner Kneeland, — stating their ground with great breadth and clearness, while disclaiming any kind of sympathy with the views and spirit of the victim. The prime mover being a well-known religious man, and Dr. Channing being willing to put his name at the head of the list of requisitionists, the principle of their remonstrance stood out brightly and unmistakeably. The religious corporations opposed the petitioners with all their efforts; and the newspapers threw dirt at them with extraordinary vigour; so that the Governor did not grant their request: but when old Abner Kneeland came out of his prison every body knew that that ancient phase of society had passed away, and that there would never again be a prosecution for Blasphemy in Massachusetts. The civil rights of Atheists have not since been meddled with, though those of the coloured race and their champions are still precarious or worse.
The general indignation which I encountered at every step was, however disagreeable, far less painful to me than some experience among my personal friends. A letter from my Philadelphia host (the same who turned pale at Dr. Julius’s news) grieved me much. He told me that his first intimation of what I had done was from the abuse in the newspapers; that his great hope was that I had not acted without purpose; but that still, under any circumstances, he could not but greatly lament the act, as he feared it would totally ruin the effect upon the American public of any book I might write. In my reply, I reminded him of his own exhortation to me to forget all about writing a book, in order that my own impressions and ideas of what I witnessed might be true and free. He abandoned his objection to my attending the meeting, but still wished that I had not further committed myself. When I visited Philadelphia some months afterwards, I found the aspect of society much changed towards me; and my hostess and her coterie of friends surrendered none of their objections to what I had done. How changed is the whole scene now! That host of mine has become one of the most marked men in the cause. The scales fell from his eyes long years ago, and he perceived that there can be small virtue in preaching and teaching which covers up the master sin and sorrow of the time. He has seen from his pulpit a large proportion of his hearers rise and go away on his first mention of the subject on which they most needed to hear him. He has undergone social reproach and family solicitude for doing what I did, — under the same objection, but at infinitely greater risk, and under temptations to silence which scarcely another in his profession has had grace to resist. In those days however, I had to feel that I must stand alone; and, far worse, my friend’s disapprobation (he being the most unworldly and upright of men) could not but cause some perplexity in my mind, even in so simple an action as this, in the midst of a clamour which left me scarcely any quietness for reflexion. I found it best to accept this new trouble as retribution if I had indeed been wrong, and to defer too close a questioning of past acts to a calmer time. If any are surprised that I could be shaken even thus far, I can only say that they cannot conceive of the hubbub of censure in which I was living, — enough to confound the soberest senses.
On one occasion, my indignation was fairly roused. Among the passengers in my voyage out was the Rev. Charles Brooks, who showed me great kindness during our whole acquaintance, and whose first wife was a special friend of mine. I was their guest at the time of the anniversary festival of Forefathers’ Day, at Plymouth, and I accompanied them to the celebration. The first incident of the day was a rather curious one. The orator of the occasion was Senator Sprague, whom I had known well at Washington. He took particular pains to have me seated where I could hear him well; and then he fixed his eye on me, as if addressing to me particularly the absurd abuse of England which occupied much of his address, and some remarks which were unmistakeably intended for my correction. On our returning to our quarters while the gentlemen went to dinner, an aged lady who could not brave the cold out of doors, asked me how I liked Mr. Sprague’s address; on which her daughter burst out with an exclamation which I have never forgotten. The blood rose to her temples, and she threw her bonnet on the table as she cried “O mother! I am sick of this boasting and exaltation of ourselves over others. When I think of what we might be and what we are, I want to say only ‘God be merciful to us sinners!’ ” While we were dressing for the ball, the gentlemen were dining. When Mr. Brooks came for us, he bent over my chair to inform me that my health had been proposed by the President to the Sons of the Pilgrims, and drunk with honour; and that it had fallen to him to return thanks for me, as my nearest friend present. I was struck by his perplexed and abashed countenance; but I might have gone to the ball believing his tale without deduction but for an accident which gave me some notion of what had really taken place. Mr. Brooks, who always went out of the room, or at least covered his face with a screen, when the subject of anti-slavery was mentioned, would willingly have kept from me, if it had been possible, all knowledge of the toast: but it was not possible; and he told me himself in order that I might know only what was convenient to him, at the risk of my making myself ridiculous at the ball. Happily, there was some one who served me better. — The method in which the President had introduced my health was this. After designating “the Illustrious Stranger” who was to be toasted, he said that he was confident no son of the Pilgrims would refuse to drink, considering that the lady in question was their guest, and how they and their children were indebted to her for her writings. Considering these things, could they not forgive her, if, holding absurd and mischievous opinions, she had set them in operation in a sphere where she had no concern? Could they not forgive one such act in a guest to whom they were under such large obligations? — What Mr. Brooks took upon him to say for me, I was never able, with all my pains, to ascertain; for the newspapers gave merely an intimation that he acknowledged the toast. From his unwillingness that I should hear exactly what passed, I have always trembled to think what surrender of principle he may have made in my name.
From Boston, the abuse of me ran through almost every paper in the Union. Newspapers came to me from the South, daring me to enter the Slave States again, and offering mock invitations to me to come and see how they would treat foreign incendiaries. They would hang me: they would cut my tongue out, and cast it on a dunghill; and so forth. The calumnies were so outrageous, and the appeal to the fears of the Slave-holders so vehement that I could feel no surprise if certain interested persons were moved to plot against my life. My name was joined with George Thompson’s, (who had already escaped with difficulty:) I was represented as a hired agent, and appeals were made to popular passions to stop my operations. I believe that almost all the extreme violences perpetrated against Abolitionists have been by the hands of slave-traders, and not by the ordinary kind of American citizens. The slave-traders on the great rivers are (or were then) generally foreigners, — outcasts from European countries, — England and Ireland among the number. These desperate men, driving a profitable trade, which they believe to be endangered by the Abolitionists, were not likely to scruple any means of silencing their enemies. Such, and such only, have I ever believed to have designed any violence against me. Such as these were the instigators of the outrages of the time, — the floggings in the market-places, as in Amos Dresser’s case, — the tarrings and featherings of travellers who were under suspicion of anti-slavery opinion, and the murder of Lovejoy on his own threshold, in Illinois, on account of his gallant and heroic defence of the liberty of the press on the subject of Slavery.
These fellows haunted the Ohio at the time when I was about to descend the river with a party of friends, on a visit to the west which was to occupy the last three months of my stay in America. The party consisted of Dr. and Mrs. Follen and their child, and Mr. and Mrs. Loring. We intended first to visit Mr. Birney at Cincinnati, and afterwards to meet a brother of Dr. Follen’s, who had a farm in Missouri. We knew that we could not enter Missouri with safety; but Mr. Follen was to cross the river, and join us in Illinois. Every thing was arranged for this in the winter, and we were rejoicing in the prospect, when the consequences of my abolition avowal interfered to spoil the plan. Miss J. and I were staying at Dr. Channing’s towards spring, when, on our return about eleven o’clock one night from a visit, we were rather surprised to find Mr. Loring sitting in Dr. Channing’s study. We were surprised, not only on account of the lateness of the hour, but because Mr. Loring was not then a visiting acquaintance of Dr. Channing’s. Both of us were struck with the air of gloom in every body’s face and manner. We attempted conversation; but in vain: nobody supported it. Presently, Dr. Channing crossed the room to say to me “I have requested Mr. Loring to remain, in order to tell you himself the news he has brought. I desire that you should hear it from his own lips.” It appeared that Mr. Loring had been waiting some hours. He told us that an eminent merchant of the city, with whom he was previously unacquainted, had that day called on him to say that he felt it his duty to give some intelligence to my friends of a matter which nearly concerned my safety. He took no interest whatever in the abolition question, on the one side or the other; but he could not allow the personal safety of a stranger to be imperilled without giving warning. He had been in the West on business, and had there learned that I was expected down the Ohio in the spring: that certain parties had sworn vengeance against me; and that they had set a watch upon the steamboats, where I should be recognised by my trumpet. At Cincinnati, the intention was to prosecute me, if possible; and, at any rate, to prevent my going further. Much worse things were contemplated at the slave-holding city of Louisville. My going upon the Ohio at all would not be permitted, the gentleman was sure, by any who cared for my security; and he explained that he was reporting what he positively knew, from the testimony of his own ears, as well as by trustworthy information; and that the people to be feared were not the regular inhabitants of the towns, but the hangers-on at the wharves; and especially the slave-traders. This gentleman’s first business on his return was to ascertain who were my most intimate friends, and to appeal to them to prevent my going near the Ohio. All this seemed so incredible to me that I made light of it at first: but the party looked more and more grave, and Mr. Loring said: “Well, then, I must tell you what they mean to do. They mean to lynch you.” And he proceeded to detail the plan. The intention was to hang me on the wharf before the respectable inhabitants could rescue me.
Not wishing to detain Mr. Loring, as it was just midnight, I gave at once, as my decision, what seemed plain to my own mind. I told him that I had less means of judging what was likely to happen than natives of the country; and I would leave it to my own party to determine what should be done. I supposed that none of them would think of relinquishing such a scheme for mere threats; and if they were not afraid, neither was I. The decision must rest with them. — The gloom of the “good-night” which the Channings gave me oppressed me even more than what I had just heard. While pondering the affair in the middle of the night, I recurred to what my brother James had suggested in a recent letter. He had abstained from giving any opinion of what I had done, as none from such a distance could be of any value: but he had proposed that I should transmit my papers piecemeal to England; for the obvious reason that destroying my papers would be the aim of the enemy, in order to prevent my publication of my journals at home. I had no immediate means of transmitting my papers: but I had obtained permission from a clergyman who was not an Abolitionist to deposit my papers in his unsuspected keeping. I had resolved now that this should be my first work in the morning.
After breakfast, while I was sealing up my parcel, Dr. Channing stood beside me, more moved than I had ever seen him. He went to his bookshelves, and came back again, and went again, as if to look at his books, but in truth to wipe away the tears that rolled down under his spectacles. What he said I remember, and the tone of his voice, as if it was five minutes ago. “I am ashamed,” he said, “that after what you have done for the people of this country, there should be any part of it in which you cannot set your foot. We are accustomed to say that we are under obligations to you; and yet you are not safe among us. I hope that, as soon as you return home, you will expose these facts with all the boldness of which you are capable.” I replied that I should not publish, in my accounts of America, any personal narrative of injury: for, besides the suspicion and odium that attach to a narrative of personal sufferings from insult, it was to me a much more striking fact that native citizens, like himself and Mr. Garrison and others, to whom the Constitution expressly guarantees the liberty of traversing all the States as freely as any one of them, should be excluded by intimidation from half the States of the Union. Dr. Channing said, “As to this journey, you must indeed give it up. I think, if you consider that no immediate call of duty takes you to the Ohio, and that your destruction might involve that of the whole party, you will feel it to be your duty to change your plan.” My party unhesitatingly decided this for me. Mrs. Loring declared that she would not go; and the gentlemen were of opinion that the risk was too serious. I had myself no idea how I should suffer or act in circumstances so new. We therefore gave up the idea of visiting Messrs. Birney and Follen, and determined on another route.
During that spring, as during many preceding months, there were Lynchings of Abolitionists in various parts of the country, and threatenings of more. Wherever we went, it was necessary to make up our minds distinctly, and with the full knowledge of each other, what we should say and do in regard to the subject which was filling all men’s minds. We resolved, of course, to stand by our anti-slavery principles, and advocate them, wherever fair occasion offered: and we never did omit an opportunity of saying what we knew and thought. On every steamboat, and in every stage (when we entered public conveyances) the subject arose naturally; for no subject was so universally discussed throughout the country, though it was interdicted within the walls of the Capitol at Washington. Mr. Loring joined in the conversation when the legal aspects of the matter were discussed; and Dr. Follen when the religious and moral and political bearings of Slavery were the subject. Mrs. Follen and Mrs. Loring were full of facts and reasons about the working of Abolitionism in its head quarters. As for me, my topic was Texas, in regard to which I was qualified to speak by some recent inquiries and experience at New Orleans. This was three years before the annexation of Texas, and while the adventurers under Colonel Austin were straining every nerve to get Texas annexed. They thought that if, among other devices, they could obtain any sort of sanction from the British government, or could induce English settlers, in any considerable number, to go to Texas, their chances of every sort would be improved. My visit to New Orleans was seized on, among other incidents, for the prosecution of this chance. After duly preparing me by sending me “information” in the shape of bragging accounts of the country, they sent a deputation to me at New Orleans, consisting of the notorious Mrs. Holley (who did more than perhaps any other individual for the annexation of Texas) and two or three companions. Concealing from me the fact that Colonel Austin was at that very time in jail at Mexico, my visitors offered me, in the name of the Texan authorities, an estate of several thousand acres in a choice part of the country, and every aid and kindness that could be rendered, if I would bind myself to live for five years in Texas, helping to frame their Constitution, and using my influence to bring over English settlers. The conversation was to me a most ludicrous one, from the boasts made by my guests of their happy state of society, though my questions compelled them to admit that they were living without a Constitution, or any safeguard of law; and in fact subject to the dictatorship of Colonel Austin, a mere adventurer, and then actually in the hands of the Mexicans, who were far too merciful in releasing him after a few months’ imprisonment. One plea was urged on me which it was hoped I should find irresistible. There was to be no slave-trade or slavery in Texas. I knew there was none before the Americans intruded themselves; but I could not, and did not, believe in this piece of ostentatious virtue in a set of southern speculators who staked their all on the preservation of Slavery in the United States. I was not surprised to find that, in the absence of an avowed slave-trade, there were negroes conveyed from Louisiana, and landed at night on a spit of sand on the frontier, whence in the morning they immigrated into Texas, where they were not to be slaves: — O dear, no! — not slaves but apprentices for ninety-nine years! I gave my visitors a bit of my mind, in return for their obliging offer. An English visitor, a scholar and a minister of religion, was deluded by similar offers and suggestions; and deeply concerned he was that I would not go into the enterprise. He wrote repeatedly to offer his assistance for any number of years, and implored me to consider well before I rejected so unequalled an opportunity of usefulness. He offered to come and see me wherever I might stop on the Mississippi; and he fully believed he should induce me to turn back. Poor gentleman! his was a mournful story. His wife died of consumption, on the bank of the Mississippi, just as I reached New Orleans; and he and his children were in their first desolation when he made up his mind to embrace the Texan enterprise. Soon after I answered his final appeal to me to go, I heard of his death by fever. The disease of the country laid him low at the outset of his first season. His children were most benignantly cared for by the American citizens. One died; but the two little daughters were adopted, — one by a planter’s lady in the West, and the other by an English lady in the North. — My attention being thus turned towards Texas, I was qualified to bring the subject under Dr. Channing’s notice as the interest of it deepened; and to converse upon it in our northern journey when we were perpetually encountering citizens who had been listening to the boasts of Austin’s emissaries, at New York or elsewhere. — Dr. Channing’s “Letter” on the Annexation of Texas is perhaps the most honoured in England of all his writings. The credit of originating it belongs in the first place, and chiefly, to Mr. David Lee Child, who furnished an admirable history of the province, and of its sufferings from the Americans, in the Anti-slavery Quarterly Review. From that article I avowedly derived the facts which I gave as the basis of my own account of the Texas business, in my “Society in America.” I besought Dr. Channing’s especial attention to that chapter; and the whole subject so moved him that he sat down and wrote that noble “Letter,” by the moral effect of which the annexation of Texas was unquestionably deferred for two years. It is not often that the writings of divines have even that much effect in bridling the lusts of ambition and cupidity.
Our route had for its chief objects (after Niagara) the Northern Lakes. The further we went, the more we heard of Lynchings which had lately taken place, or were designed for the next Abolitionists who should come that way. At Detroit, Mr. Loring entered the reading-room of the hotel, immediately on our arrival; and while he read the newspaper, he heard one citizen telling another how during the temporary absence of the latter, there had been a Lynching of a fellow who pretended to be a preacher, but was suspected to be an Abolitionist. The speaker added that a party of Abolitionists was expected; and that every thing was in readiness to give them a similar reception. He finished off with saying that Lynching did not look well in newspapers, or sound well at a distance; but that it was the only way. Our Abolitionism could be no secret, ready as we always were to say what we knew and thought: and that very evening, I had the pleasure of so far converting the Governor of the State (Michigan) as to possess him with a true idea of Garrison, and to obtain his promise, — which was indeed freely offered, as we took leave, — to protect, to the utmost of his power, every Abolitionist within the boundary of the State.
The woods of Michigan were very beautiful; but danger was about us there, as everywhere during those three months of travel. It was out of such glades as those of Michigan that mobs had elsewhere issued to stop the coach, and demand the victim, and inflict the punishment earned by compassion for the negro, and assertion of true republican liberty. I believe there was scarcely a morning during those three months when it was not my first thought on waking whether I should be alive at night. I am not aware that the pleasure of that glorious journey was materially impaired by this: yet I learned by that experience to sympathise with the real griefs of martyrdom, and to feel something different from contemptuous compassion for those who quail under the terror of it. — At Pittsburg, sitting by our open window one hot night, we heard an uproar at a distance, the cause of which my companions truly divined to be a proslavery riot. “What can it be?” I exclaimed, as it drew nearer. “Only a little execration coming this way,” replied Dr. Follen, smiling, referring to our reputation as execrated persons. We were not the objects that night, however: but the houses of several free negro families were destroyed. What we met with was, usually, prodigious amazement, a little scorn, and a great many warnings.
After so many weeks, during which the idea of danger had become the rule, and safety the exception, we were struck with a kind of astonishment when we entered the great cities, — Philadelphia and New York, — where the comfortable citizens assumed an air of scepticism about the critical state of the country which was truly marvellous in republicans. I have mentioned before how the ladies of one of the first families in New York were kept in ignorance of riots so serious that one might almost as soon expect the ladies of Birmingham and Bristol to have been unaware of the High-church and Reform riots of 1791 and 1831. We now found that selfish, or aristocratic, or timid citizens had kept themselves as ignorant of the dangers of their neighbours as the same kind of men of every country are, in times of great moral revolution. Quiet and complacent were the smiles with which some who ought to have known better declared their disbelief even that threats had been offered to a guest and a woman; and various were the excuses and special reasons given for the many instances of violence to their own citizens which could not be denied. Some were sorry that I believed such threats to myself, and such inflictions upon others as were as certainly and notoriously true as the days of the month on which they happened. Some would not listen to the facts at the time: others, who could not doubt them at the time, have tried to get rid of the belief since, but are incessantly thrown back upon the old evidence by the new troubles which arise from day to day out of the cursed and doomed institution of Slavery. I happened to witness the opening of the martyr age of its reformers; and I am thankful that I did witness it. There were times when I was sorry that I was not the victim of the struggle, instead of Lovejoy, or some other murdered citizen. I was sorry, because my being a British subject would have caused wider and deeper consequences to arise from such a murder than followed the slaughter of native Abolitionists, — despised and disowned by their government for their very Abolitionism. The murder of an English traveller would have settled the business of American Slavery (in its federal sense) more speedily than perhaps any other incident. It is no wonder that some Americans, who shut their eyes to the whole subject, should disbelieve in any body being in any danger, and that others should try to make me forget my share of it. The latest and most general method of propitiating me has been by inviting me to go again, and see what Abolitionists my acquaintances have become, — every where north of Mason and Dixon’s line.
When I returned home, the daily feeling of security, and of sympathy in my anti-slavery views gave me a pleasure as intense as if I had returned from a long exile, instead of a tour of recreation. I was not left without paltry disturbances, however. In the preface to “Society in America,” I invited correction as to any errors in (not opinion, but) matters of fact. After this, I could not, of course, decline receiving letters from America. Several arrived, charged double, treble, even quadruple postage. These consisted mainly of envelopes, made heavy by all manner of devices, with a slip of newspaper in the middle, containing prose paragraphs, or copies of verses, full of insults, and particularly of taunts about my deafness. All but one of these bore the post-mark of Boston. I was ashamed to mention this back to America; and I hope that most of this expensive and paltry insult was the work of one hand.
My story seems a long one: but I do not think it could have been honestly omitted in a history of my life: and it seems to be worth telling for another reason, — that it may afford material for an instructive comparison between the state of the cause, (and of American society as determined by it,) in 1835 and 1855. When I was at Washington, the leading statesmen were, or declared themselves to be, confident that the abolition of Slavery would never be even named in Congress; to which I replied that when they could hedge in the wind and build out the stars from their continent, they might succeed in their proposed exclusion: and now, at the end of twenty years, what has come of the attempt? It was prosecuted with all diligence. A rigid censorship in the Southern States expunged from English and other classics every reference to Slavery, and every perilous aspiration after freedom. Abolitionists were kept out by the most vigilant cruelty, which inflicted torture on mere suspicion. Free negroes were lodged in prison, even when they were British sailors; as indeed they are still liable to be. The right of petition to Congress was temporarily abolished. Every liberty, personal and social, was sacrificed in the attempt to enforce silence on that one sore subject. And now the whole world rings with it. Congress can, in fact, talk about nothing else: for, whatever subject a debate may ostensibly be upon, it always merges in a wrangle on Slavery. The entire policy of the Republic has been shaped by it; and the national mind also, in as far as the public mind depends on the national policy in a democratic republic. The moral deterioration has been more rapid than the most cautious of the early Presidents could have apprehended, or than the despots of the world could have hoped. Because it was necessary to obtain new territory for the support of the destructive institution, a process of aggression and annexation was entered upon; and that policy has dragged back the mind and morals of the people into that retrograde state in which territorial aggrandisement is the national aim. This, again, implicates foreign nations in the interest of the question. It was not enough that every political movement in the United States was modified by this great controversy; — that it ruined, and still ruins, every statesman who takes the immoral side; — that it destroyed the career and broke the hearts of the most eminent of them, — of Calhoun, of Clay, and of Webster; — that it shattered the reputation of more, and is now rendering absolutely certain the dissolution of the Union, in one way or another, and with more or less chance of its virtuous reconstitution: — it was not enough that all this has happened at home, amidst the most desperate efforts to cover up the difficulty under an enforced silence: — it has enlisted almost every people and ruler in the world on the one side or the other. The Czars are making friendships with the slave power, as the most hopeful ally on earth of Russian tyranny. Spain is immediately interested, because Cuba is the next morsel for which the ogre lusts. The friendship of Western Europe, otherwise so certain to be cordial and durable, is rendered in the last degree precarious by the lawless and barbaric proceedings of the pro-slavery Americans. The depressed nationalities of Europe, who might otherwise look up to America for protection and aid, can now only blush at the disgrace reflected by America on republicanism all over the world, and sigh at the hopelessness of any real assistance from a nation which cannot aid freedom abroad because it has to take care of its own slavery, and beware of its victims at home. That which was the protest of almost a solitary voice when I went to America has now expanded into a world-wide controversy. — It was in 1832 that Garrison, the apostle of the deepest and broadest cause of our century, said those immortal words. “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.” This humble printer, so speaking after the first taste of persecution, a quarter of a century ago, has made himself “heard” round the globe, and from pole to pole. There is no saying what fates and policies of nations were involved in those first utterances of his. The negroes first heard him, by some untraceable means: and the immediate consequence was the cessation of insurrection. There were frequent risings of the slaves before; and there have been none since. But the lot of the negro race is by no means the only or the chief fate involved in the controversy. Every political and social right of the white citizens has been imperilled in the attempt to enforce silence on the subject of slavery. Garrison will be recognised hereafter, not only as at present, — as the Moses of the enslaved race, leading them out of their captivity, — but as more truly the founder of the republic than Washington himself. Under the first Presidents, democratic republicanism made a false start. It has bolted from the course, and the abolitionists are bringing it back to the starting-post. If it is found capable of winning the race against old despotisms and temporary accommodations of constitutional monarchy, the glory of the consummation will be awarded more plentifully to the regenerators of the republic than to its originators, great as they were; for they left in it a fatal compromise. — But I must not enlarge further on this subject, on which I have written abundantly elsewhere. I could say much; and it requires self-denial to abstain from a statement of what Garrison’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Grafton Chapman, and their relatives on both sides of the house contributed to the cause by deeds and sufferings. But my peculiar connexion with Mrs. Chapman in this memoir renders it impossible to speak as I would. Happily, the claims of that privileged family are and will be understood without any appeal from me to the veneration and gratitude of society.
The accident of my arriving in America in the dawning hour of the great conflict accounts for the strange story I have had to tell about myself. Any person from England, so arriving, pledged as I was to anti-slavery views, and conspicuous enough to draw attention to those views, was sure to meet with just such treatment; — a blinding incense first; and then, if the incense failed to blind, a trial of the method of intimidation. Other English persons were indeed so prepared for and received. Some did not understand their position, and went unconsciously into the snare. Some took fright. Some thought prudence necessary, for the sake of some other cause which they had more at heart. Some were even converted by the romancing of the slave-owners. Some did their duty. It is not, and it never will be, forgotten how Lord Carlisle did his, when, as Lord Morpeth, he traversed the whole country, never failing in the kindliness and candour which adorn his temper, while never blinking the subject of slavery, or disguising his anti-slavery convictions. The reign of terror (for travellers at least) was over before he went; and he would have been safe under any circumstances: but he was subject to insults and slander, and was abundantly visited with a laborious contempt: and in bringing this upon himself and bearing it good-humouredly, he threw his mite into the treasury which is to redeem the slaves. He seems to have been pitied and excused in somewhat the same style as myself by persons who assumed to be our protectors. When I had conversed on board a steamboat with a young lady of colour, well educated and well mannered, and whom I had been acquainted with at Philadelphia, I was of course, the object of much wrath and denunciation on deck; and my spontaneous protectors thought themselves generous in pleading that I ought to be excused for such conduct, on the ground of the “narrowness of my foreign education!” Such were the vindications with which Lord Carlisle also was insulted when he was vindicated at all.
It was impossible, during such a crisis, to avoid judging conspicuous persons more or less by their conduct in regard to the great conflict of their time. Ordinary persons might be living as common-place people do in such times, — in utter unconsciousness of their position. As in the days of Noah, such people buy and sell and build and plant, and are troubled by no forecast of what is to happen. But in a republic, it cannot be so with the conspicuous citizens. The Emersons, for instance, (for the adored Charles Emerson was living then:) — they were not men to join an association for any object; and least of all, for any moral one: nor were they likely to quit their abstract meditations for a concrete employment on behalf of the negroes. Yet they did that which made me feel that I knew them, through the very cause in which they did not implicate themselves. At the time of the hubbub against me in Boston, Charles Emerson stood alone in a large company in defence of the right of free thought and speech, and declared that he had rather see Boston in ashes than that I, or anybody, should be debarred in any way from perfectly free speech. His brother Waldo invited me to be his guest, in the midst of my unpopularity, and, during my visit, told me his course about this matter of slavery. He did not see that there was any particular thing for him to do in it then: but when, in coaches or steamboats or any where else, he saw people of colour ill-used, or heard bad doctrine or sentiment propounded, he did what he could and said what he thought. Since that date, he has spoken more abundantly and boldly the more critical the times became; and he is now, and has long been, completely identified with the Abolitionists in conviction and sentiment, though it is out of his way to join himself to their organisation. The other eminent scholars and thinkers of the country revealed themselves no less clearly, — the literary men of Boston and Cambridge sneering at the controversy as “low” and disagreeable, and troubling to their repose, and Edward Everett, the man of letters par excellence, burning incense to the south, and insulting the abolitionists while they were few and weak, endeavouring to propitiate them as they grew strong, and finally breaking down in irretrievable disgrace under a pressure to which he had exposed himself by ambition, but which he had neither courage nor conscience to abide. I early saw in him the completest illustration I met with of the influences of republican life upon a man of powers without principle, and of knowledge without wisdom. He was still worshipped through vanity, when I knew him, though his true deserts were well enough understood in private: he had plenty of opportunity to retrieve his political character afterwards: he obtained in England, when ambassador, abundance of the admiration which he sacrificed so much to win; and then at last, when the hour arrived which must test his quality, he sank, and must abide for the rest of his life in a slough of contempt from which there is no rescue. This is precisely what was anticipated twenty years ago by (not his enemies, for I believe he then had none, but) friends who mourned over his quitting a life of scholarship, for which he was eminently qualified, for one of political aspiration. They knew that he had not self-reliance or courage enough for effective ambition, nor virtue enough for a career of independence. It is all over now; and the vainest of men, who lives by the breath of praise, is placed for the sad remnant of his days between the scorn of the many and the pity of the few. Vindicators he has none; and I believe no followers. The Sedgwicks were beginning to be interested in the great controversy; but they were not only constitutionally timid, — with that American timidity which we English can scarcely conceive of, — but they worshipped the parchment idol, — the Act of Union; and they did not yet perceive, as some of them have done since, that a human decree which contravenes the laws of Nature must give way when the two are brought into conflict. I remember Miss Sedgwick starting back in the path, one day when she and I were walking beside the sweet Housatonic, and snatching her arm from mine when I said, in answer to her inquiry, what I thought the issue of the controversy must be. “The dissolution of the Union!” she cried. “The Union is sacred, and must be preserved at all cost.” My answer was that the will of God was sacred too, I supposed; and if the will of God which, as she believed, condemned slavery should come into collision with the federal constitution which sanctioned it, the only question was which should give way, — the Divine will or a human compact. It did not appear to me then, any more than now, that the dissolution of the Union need be of a hostile character. That the elimination of the two pro-slavery clauses from the constitution must take place sooner or later was always clear to me; but I do not see why the scheme should not be immediately and peaceably reconstituted, if the Americans will but foresee the necessity in time. The horror expressed by the Sedgwicks at what seemed so inevitable a consequence of the original compromise surprised me a good deal: and I dare say it seems strange to themselves by this time: for Miss Sedgwick and others of her family have on occasion spoken out bravely on behalf of the liberties of the republic, when they were most compromised. I had a great admiration of much in Miss Sedgwick’s character, though we were too opposite in our natures, in many of our views, and in some of our principles, to be very congenial companions. Her domestic attachments and offices were charming to witness; and no one could be further from all conceit and vanity on account of her high reputation in her own country. Her authorship did not constitute her life; and she led a complete life, according to her measure, apart from it: and this is a spectacle which I always enjoy, and especially in the case of a woman. The insuperable difficulty between us, — that which closed our correspondence, though not our good will, was her habit of flattery; — a national weakness, to which I could have wished that she had been superior. But her nature was a timid and sensitive one; and she was thus predisposed to the national failing; — that is, to one side of it; for she could never fall into the cognate error, — of railing and abuse when the flattery no longer answers. She praised or was silent. The mischief was that she praised people to their faces, to a degree which I have never considered it necessary to permit. I told her that I dreaded receiving her letters because, instead of what I wished to hear, I found praise of myself. She informed me that, on trial, she found it a gêne to suppress what she wanted to say; and thus it was natural for us to cease from corresponding. I thought she wanted courage, and shrank from using her great influence on behalf of her own convictions; and she thought me rash and rough. She thought “safety” a legitimate object of pursuit in a gossipping state of society; and I did not care for it, — foreigner as I was, and witnessing, as I did, as critical a struggle as has ever agitated society. I said what I thought and what I knew of the Websters and the Everetts, and other northern men who are now universally recognised as the disgrace rather than the honour of the region they represented. Their conduct, even then, authorised my judgment of them: but she, a northern woman, shared the northern caution, if not the sectional vanity, which admired and upheld, as long as possible, the men of genius and accomplishment who sustained the intellectual reputation of New England. Through all our differences of view and temperament, I respected and admired Miss Sedgwick, and I was sorry to be absent from England in 1839 when she was in London, and when I should have enjoyed being of any possible use to her and her connexions, who showed me much hospitality and kindness in their own country. What I think of Miss Sedgwick’s writings I told in a review of her works in the Westminster Review of October, 1837. Her novels, and her travels, published some years later, had better be passed over with the least possible notice; but I think her smaller tales wonderfully beautiful; — those which, as “Home” and “Live and Let Live,” present pictures of the household life of New England which she knows so well, and loves so heartily.
Of Webster, as of Clay, Calhoun, President Jackson and others, I gave my impressions in my books on America, nearly twenty years ago. I will not repeat any thing I then and there said: but will merely point out how their fate corresponded with their ordeal. “My dear woman,” said Mr. Webster to me at his own table, laying his finger on my arm to emphasize his words, — “don’t you go and believe me to be ambitious. No man can despise that sort of thing more than I do. I would not sacrifice an hour of my ease for all the honours and powers in the world.” Mr. Clay made no protestations of the sort to me; nor Mr. Calhoun, whom, with all his absurdities, I respected by far the most of the three, in the long run. All were hugely ambitious: but Calhoun was honest in the main point. He lived and died for the cause of Slavery; and, however far such a career is from the sympathies of English people, the openness and directness of his conduct were at least respectable. He was infatuated by his sectional attachments: but he was outspoken and consistent. Mr. Clay never satisfied me of his sincerity on the great question of his time; but there was much, outside of that trying matter, that was interesting and even honourable; — a genuine warmth, a capacity for enthusiasm, and vast political ability. Our intercourse amounted to friendship at last; but his unworthy conduct during the closing years of his life overthrew my esteem, and destroyed my regard for him. While professing a desire to provide for the future abolition of slavery, he prevented in some parts its immediate abolition, and he extended in others the area of its prevalence. He was as well aware as any body of the true character of the Colonisation scheme of which he accepted the presidency; and he continued to laud it to foreigners as an agency of emancipation, when he knew that it was established and upheld by slaveholders like himself, for the protection and security of the institution of slavery. His personal ambition was as keen as Webster’s; and the failure of both in their aspirations for the Presidentship destroyed them both. In regard to genius, both were of so high an order, and their qualifications were so little alike that there is no need to set the one above the other. Webster’s training was the higher; his position as a Massachusetts man the more advantageous, morally and politically; his folly and treachery in striving to win the supreme honours of the state by winning the south, through the sacrifice of the rights and liberties of the north were, of necessity, more extreme and more conspicuous than any double dealing of Mr. Clay’s: his retribution was the more striking; and the disgrace which he drew down on his last days was the more damning of the two. But both these men, who might have rivalled the glory of Washington himself, by carrying the state through a stress as real and fearful as that of eighty years ago, will be remembered as warnings and not as examples. As far as appears, they were the last of the really great men who led the statesmanship of the republic; and to their failure, moral and political, may perhaps be mainly charged the fatal mischief which now hangs as a doom over the state, that the best men decline entering political life, and that there is every inducement for the least capable and the least worthy to be placed in the highest seats. The ablest men of their generation did not attempt to reverse, or even to retard the retrogression of their country; but, on the contrary, for their own ends they precipitated it. I feared this when I observed their proceedings on the spot; and they afterwards proved the fact to all the world; and sad has the spectacle been. There is not even the consolation that, being dishonest, they failed; for their failure was on account of their eminence, and not their dishonesty. They were put aside to make way for knaves of an obscure cast, who might more readily beguile or evade the indignation of the world, which would not waste on a Fillmore or a Pierce the reprobation which would have attended on a Webster or a Clay who had done their deeds and committed their laches. Already, so long ago as twenty years, there was a striking contrast between the speech and manner of venerable elders, like Madison and Chief Justice Marshall, and those of the aspiring statesmen, Webster, Clay, and, in a smaller way, Everett and other second-rate politicians. The integrity, simplicity and heart-breathing earnestness of the aged statesmen were singularly contrasted with the affectations, professions, cautious procedures, and premeditated speech of the leaders of the time. How rapid and how great the deterioration has been since, every new page of American history bears witness. Still, there is no reason for despair. A safe issue is always possible, and most probable, where there is any principled and active body of true patriots, like the abolitionists of the United States. Their light shines the brighter for the gathering darkness about them; and they belong to a people who, however scared at new dangers for a time, cannot for ever love darkness rather than light. The choice is being offered to them more and more plainly; and my knowledge of them, personal and by study, gives me every hope that their choice will be the right one, if only they are compelled to make it before the lust of territorial aggrandisement has become overwhelming by indulgence.
In Margaret Fuller’s Memoirs there is a letter which she declared she sent to me, after copying it into her common-place book. It is a condemnatory criticism of my “Society in America;” and her condemnation is grounded on its being what she called “an abolition book.” I remember having a letter from her; and one which I considered unworthy of her and of the occasion, from her regarding the anti-slavery subject as simply a low and disagreeable one, which should be left to unrefined persons to manage, while others were occupied with higher things: but I do not think that the letter I received was the one which stands in her common-place book. I wish that she had mentioned it to me when my guest some years afterwards, or that my reply had appeared with her criticism. However, her letter, taken as it stands, shows exactly the difference between us. She who witnessed and aided the struggles of the oppressed in Italy must have become before her death better aware than when she wrote that letter that the struggle for the personal liberty of millions in her native republic ought to have had more of her sympathy, and none of the discouragement which she haughtily and complacently cast upon the cause. The difference between us was that while she was living and moving in an ideal world, talking in private and discoursing in public about the most fanciful and shallow conceits which the transcendentalists of Boston took for philosophy, she looked down upon persons who acted instead of talking finely, and devoted their fortunes, their peace, their repose, and their very lives to the preservation of the principles of the republic. While Margaret Fuller and her adult pupils sat “gorgeously dressed,” talking about Mars and Venus, Plato and Gothe, and fancying themselves the elect of the earth in intellect and refinement, the liberties of the republic were running out as fast as they could go, at a breach which another sort of elect persons were devoting themselves to repair: and my complaint against the “gorgeous” pedants was that they regarded their preservers as hewers of wood and drawers of water, and their work as a less vital one than the pedantic orations which were spoiling a set of well-meaning women in a pitiable way. All that is settled now. It was over years before Margaret died. I mention it now to show, by an example already made public by Margaret herself, what the difference was between me and her, and those who followed her lead. This difference grew up mainly after my return from America. We were there intimate friends; and I am disposed to consider that period the best of her life, except the short one which intervened between her finding her real self and her death. She told me what danger she had been in from the training her father had given her, and the encouragement to pedantry and rudeness which she derived from the circumstances of her youth. She told me that she was at nineteen the most intolerable girl that ever took a seat in a drawing-room. Her admirable candour, the philosophical way in which she took herself in hand, her genuine heart, her practical insight, and, no doubt, the natural influence of her attachment to myself, endeared her to me, while her powers, and her confidence in the use of them, led me to expect great things from her. We both hoped that she might go to Europe when I returned, with some friends of hers who would have been happy to take her: but her father’s death, and the family circumstances rendered her going out of the question. I introduced her to the special care of R. Waldo Emerson and his wife: and I remember what Emerson said in wise and gentle rebuke of my lamentations for Margaret that she could not go to Europe, as she was chafing to do, for purposes of self-improvement. “Does Margaret Fuller, — supposing her to be what you say, — believe her progress to be dependent on whether she is here or there?” I accepted the lesson, and hoped the best. How it might have been with her if she had come to Europe in 1836, I have often speculated. As it was, her life in Boston was little short of destructive. I need but refer to the memoir of her. In the most pedantic age of society in her own country, and in its most pedantic city, she who was just beginning to rise out of pedantic habits of thought and speech relapsed most grievously. She was not only completely spoiled in conversation and manners: she made false estimates of the objects and interests of human life. She was not content with pursuing, and inducing others to pursue, a metaphysical idealism destructive of all genuine feeling and sound activity: she mocked at objects and efforts of a higher order than her own, and despised those who, like myself, could not adopt her scale of valuation. All this might have been spared, a world of mischief saved, and a world of good effected, if she had found her heart a dozen years sooner, and in America instead of Italy. It is the most grievous loss I have almost ever known in private history, — the deferring of Margaret Fuller’s married life so long. The noble last period of her life is, happily, on record as well as the earlier. My friendship with her was in the interval between her first and second stages of pedantry and forwardness: and I saw her again under all the disadvantages of the confirmed bad manners and self-delusions which she brought from home. The ensuing period redeemed all; and I regard her American life as a reflexion, more useful than agreeable, of the prevalent social spirit of her time and place; and the Italian life as the true revelation of the tender and high-souled woman, who had till then been as curiously concealed from herself as from others.
If eccentricities like Margaret Fuller’s, essentially sound as she was in heart and mind, could arise in American society, and not impair her influence or be a spectacle to the community, it will be inferred that eccentricity is probably rife in the United States. I certainly thought it was, in spite (or perhaps in consequence) of the excessive caution which is prevalent there in regard to the opinion of neighbours and society. It takes weeks or months for an English person to admit the conception of American caution, as a habit, and yet more as a spring of action: and the freedom which we English enjoy in our personal lives and intercourses must find an equivalent in Americans, somehow or other. Their eccentricities are, accordingly, monstrous and frequent and various to a degree incredible to sober English people like myself and my companion. The worst of it is, there seem to be always mad people, more or fewer, who are in waiting to pounce upon foreigners of any sort of distinction, as soon as they land, while others go mad, or show their madness, from point to point along the route. Something of the same sort happens elsewhere. A Queen, or a Prime Minister’s secretary may be shot at in London, as we know; and probably there is no person eminent in literature or otherwise, who has not been the object of some infirm brain or another. But in America, the evil is sadly common. The first instance I encountered there was of a gentleman from the west who foretold my arrival in his country, and the time of it, before I had any notion of going, and who announced a new revelation which I was to aid in promulgating; and this incident startled and dismayed me considerably. I am not going into the history of the freaks of insanity, in that case or any other. Suffice it that, in any true history of a life, this liability must be set down as one condition of literary or other reputation. The case of the poor “High Priest” at Philadelphia was not the only one with which I was troubled in America; and I have met with others at home, both in London and since I have lived at Ambleside.
I encountered one specimen of American oddity before I left home which should certainly have lessened my surprise at any that I met afterwards. While I was preparing for my travels, an acquaintance one day brought a buxom gentleman, whom he introduced to me under the name of Willis. There was something rather engaging in the round face, brisk air and enjouement of the young man; but his conscious dandyism and unparalleled self-complacency spoiled the satisfaction, though they increased the inclination to laugh. Mr. N. P. Willis’s plea for coming to see me was his gratification that I was going to America: and his real reason was presently apparent; — a desire to increase his consequence in London society by giving apparent proof that he was on intimate terms with every eminent person in America. He placed himself in an attitude of infinite ease, and whipped his little bright boot with a little bright cane while he ran over the names of all his distinguished country-men and country-women, and declared he should send me letters to them all. This offer of intervention went so very far that I said (what I have ever since said in the case of introductions offered by strangers) while thanking him for his intended good offices, that I was sufficiently uncertain in my plans to beg for excuse beforehand, in case I should find myself unable to use the letters. It appeared afterwards that to supply them and not to have them used suited Mr. Willis’s convenience exactly. It made him appear to have the friendships he boasted of without putting the boast to the proof. It was immediately before a late dinner that the gentlemen called; and I found on the breakfast-table, next morning, a great parcel of Mr. Willis’s letters, enclosed in a prodigious one to myself, in which he offered advice. Among other things, he desired me not to use his letter to Dr. Channing if I had others from persons more intimate with him; and he proceeded to warn me against two friends of Dr. and Mrs. Channing’s, whose names I had never heard, and whom Mr. Willis represented as bad and dangerous people. This gratuitous defamation of strangers whom I was likely to meet confirmed the suspicions my mother and I had confided to each other about the quality of Mr. Willis’s introductions. It seemed ungrateful to be so suspicious: but we could not see any good reason for such prodigious efforts on my behalf, nor for his naming any country-women of his to me in a way so spontaneously slanderous. So I resolved to use that packet of letters very cautiously; and to begin with one which should be well accompanied. — In New York harbour, newspapers were brought on board, in one of which was an extract from an article transmitted by Mr. Willis to the “New York Mirror,” containing a most audacious account of me as an intimate friend of the writer. The friendship was not stated as a matter of fact, but so conveyed that it cost me much trouble to make it understood and believed, even by Mr. Willis’s own family, that I had never seen him but once; and then without having previously heard so much as his name. On my return, the acquaintance who brought him was anxious to ask pardon if he had done mischief, — events having by that time made Mr. Willis’s ways pretty well known. His partner in the property and editorship of the “New York Mirror” called on me at West Point, and offered and rendered such extraordinary courtesy that I was at first almost as much perplexed as he and his wife were when they learned that I had never seen Mr. Willis but once. They pondered, they consulted, they cross-questioned me; they inquired whether I had any notion what Mr. Willis could have meant by writing of me as in a state of close intimacy with him. In like manner, when, some time after, I was in a carriage with some members of a pic-nic party to Monument Mountain, a little girl seated at my feet clasped my knees fondly, looked up in my face, and said “O! Miss Martineau! you are such a friend of my uncle Nathaniel’s!” Her father was present; and I tried to get off without explanation. But it was impossible, — they all knew how very intimate I was with “Nathaniel”: and there was a renewal of the amazement at my having seen him only once. — I tried three of his letters; and the reception was in each case much the same, — a throwing down of the letter with an air not to be mistaken. In each case the reply was the same, when I subsequently found myself at liberty to ask what this might mean. “Mr. Willis is not entitled to write to me: he is no acquaintance of mine.” As for the two ladies of whom I was especially to beware, I became exceedingly well acquainted with them, to my own advantage and pleasure; and, as a natural consequence, I discovered Mr. Willis’s reasons for desiring to keep us apart. I hardly need add that I burned the rest of his letters. He had better have spared himself the trouble of so much manœuvring, by which he lost a good deal, and could hardly have gained anything. I have simply stated the facts because, in the first place, I do not wish to be considered one of Mr. Willis’s friends; and, in the next, it may be useful, and conducive to justice, to show, by a practical instance, what Mr. Willis’s pretensions to intimacy are worth. His countrymen and countrywomen accept, in simplicity, his accounts of our aristocracy as from the pen of one of their own coterie; and they may as well have the opportunity of judging for themselves whether their notorious “Penciller” is qualified to write of Scotch Dukes and English Marquises, and European celebrities of all kinds in the way he has done.
For some weeks, my American intercourses were chiefly with literary people, and with leading members of the Unitarian body, — far more considerable in America than among us. All manner of persons called on us; and every conceivable attention and honour was shown us, for the first year. Of this nothing appears in my journal, except in the facts of what we saw and did. Such idolatry as is signified by the American phrase, — that a person is Lafayetted, — is not conceivable in England: and its manifestations did not appear to me fit matter for a personal journal. Not a word is to be found in that journal therefore of either the flatteries of the first year or the insults of the second. A more difficult matter was how to receive them. I was charged with hardness and want of sympathy in casting back praise into people’s faces: but what can one do but change the subject as fast as possible? To dwell on the subject of one’s own merits is out of the question; but to disclaim praise is to dwell upon it. If one is silent, one is supposed to “swallow every thing.” I see nothing for it but to talk of something else, on the first practicable opening. While under the novelty of this infliction of flatterers, it was natural to turn to those most homelike of our acquaintance, — the chief members of the Unitarian body, clergymen and others. Among them we found a welcome refuge, many a time, from the hubbub which confounded our senses: and exemplary was the kindness which some few of the body showed me even throughout the year of my unpopularity. But before that, my destiny had led me much among the families of statesmen, and the interests of political society: and finally, as I have shown, the Abolitionists were my nearest friends, as they have ever since remained.
It was while my companion and I were going from house to house in the Unitarian connexion, between Philadelphia and our visits to our Congressional friends, that an incident occurred which is worth relating as curious in itself, and illustrative of more things than one. Our host in Philadelphia, (a Unitarian clergyman, as I have said) had a little boy of six who was a favourite of mine, — as of a good many other people. Mr. Alcott, the extraordinary self-styled philosopher, whose name is not unknown in England, was at Philadelphia at that time, trying his hand on that strange management of children of which I have given my opinion elsewhere.* Little Willie went to Mr. Alcott sometimes; and very curious were the ideas and accounts of lessons which he brought home. Very early in my visit, Willie’s father asked me whether I could throw any light on the authorship of a parable which was supposed to be English, and which the children had learned from Mr. Alcott’s lips. This parable, called “The Wandering Child,” was creating such a sensation that it was copied and sent in all directions. It seemed to me, when Willie recited it, that I had somewhere seen it; but the impression was so faint as to be entirely uncertain, even to that extent. From Philadelphia, we went to the house of another clergyman at Baltimore; and there one of the first questions asked by my host was the origin of that parable. He had used the extraordinary license of taking the parable for the text of a recent sermon, instead of a passage of scripture; and his friends wanted to know where it came from. He was sadly disappointed that we could not tell him. More inquiries were made even at Washington, where we had no particular connexion with Unitarians. At Charleston, we found in our host a Unitarian clergyman who knew more of the “Monthly Repository” than any English readers I was acquainted with. He possessed it; and he had a fancy to look there for the parable, — some notion of having seen it there remaining on his mind. I went with him to his study; and there we presently found the parable, — in a not very old volume of the Monthly Repository, and, to my unspeakable amazement, with my own signature, V., at the end of it. By degrees my associations brightened and began to cohere: and at last I perfectly remembered when and where the conception occurred to me, and my writing the parable in my own room at Norwich, and carrying it down to my mother whom I saw in the garden, and her resting on her little spade as she listened.
The readers of Dr. Priestley’s Life will not pronounce on me, (as I was at first disposed to pronounce on myself) that I was losing my wits. Dr. Priestley tells how he once found in a friend’s library a pamphlet on some controverted topic which he brought to his friend with praise, as the best thing he had seen on the subject. He wanted to know, — the title-page being torn off, — who wrote it. His friend stared as my Charleston host did; and Dr. Priestley began to fear that he was losing his faculties: but he remembered (and this was my plea after him) that what we give out from our own minds, in speech or in writing, is not a subject of memory, like what we take in from other minds: and that there are few who can pretend to remember what they have said in letters, after a few years. There was the fact, in short, that we had completely forgotten compositions of our own; and that we were not losing our faculties.
Here is the parable which went through such curious adventures.
THE WANDERING CHILD.
“In a solitary place among the groves, a child wandered whithersoever he would. He believed himself alone, and wist not that one watched him from the thicket, and that the eye of his parent was on him continually; neither did he mark whose hand had opened a way for him thus far. All things that he saw were new to him, therefore he feared nothing. He cast himself down in the long grass, and as he lay he sang till his voice of joy rang through the woods. When he nestled among the flowers, a serpent arose from the midst of them; and when the child saw how its burnished coat glittered in the sun like a rainbow, he stretched forth his hand to take it to his bosom. Then the voice of his parent cried from the thicket ‘Beware!’ And the child sprang up, and gazed above and around, to know whence the voice came; but when he saw it not, he presently remembered it no more.
He watched how a butterfly burst from its shell, and flitted faster than he could pursue, and soon rose far above his reach.
When he gazed and could trace its flight no more, his father put forth his hand, and pointed where the butterfly ascended, even into the clouds.
But the child saw not the sign.
A fountain gushed forth amidst the shadows of the trees, and its waters flowed into a deep and quiet pool.
The child kneeled on the brink, and looking in, he saw his own bright face, and it smiled upon him.
As he stooped yet nearer to meet it, the voice once more said ‘Beware!’
The child started back; but he saw that a gust had ruffled the waters, and he said within himself, ‘It was but the voice of the breeze.’
And when the broken sunbeams glanced on the moving waves, he laughed, and dipped his foot that the waters might again be ruffled: and the coolness was pleasant to him. The voice was now louder, but he regarded it not, as the winds bore it away.
At length he saw somewhat glittering in the depths of the pool; and he plunged in to reach it.
As he sank, he cried aloud for help.
Ere the waters had closed over him, his father’s hand was stretched out to save him.
And while he yet shivered with chillness and fear, his parent said unto him, ‘Mine eye was upon thee, and thou didst not heed; neither hast thou beheld my sign, nor hearkened to my voice. If thou hadst thought on me, I had not been hidden.’
Then the child cast himself on his father’s bosom and said, — ‘Be nigh unto me still; and mine eyes shall wait on thee, and my ears shall be open unto thy voice for ever more.’ ”
I need say no more of my American travels. Besides that I have given out my freshest impressions in the two works on America which were published in the year after my return, it is as impossible to me here as in other parts of this Memoir to give any special account of my nearest and dearest friends. To those who have seen by the volumes I refer to how I lived and travelled with Dr. and Mrs. Follen no avowal or description of our intercourse can be necessary; and the relation in which Mrs. Chapman stands to me now, in the most deliberate and gravest hour of my life, renders it impossible to lay open our relation further to the world. I will simply state one fact which may show, without protestation, what my near and dear American friends were to me. They and I did not half believe, when I came away, that we had parted: and it was some years before I felt at all sure that I should not live and die in America, when my domestic duties should, in the course of nature, have closed. It was my Tynemouth illness, in fact, which decided the conflict. Something of a conflict it was. If I had gone to America, it would have been for the sole object of working in the cause which I believed then, and which I believe now, to be the greatest pending in the world. While my mother lived, my duty was clear — to remain with her if she and the family desired it. I did not think it the best arrangement; especially when I witnessed the painful effect on her of the resumption of my London life and acquaintances: but she and the others wished things to go on as they were; and I never thought of objecting. I did my utmost to make the two old ladies under my charge happy. It did not last very long, — only two years and a half, when I broke down under the anxiety of my position. During that time, the vision of a scheme of life, in which the anti-slavery cause (for the sake of the liberties of every kind involved in it) should be my vocation, was often before me, — not as a matter of imagination, but for decision by the judgment, when the time should arrive. The immediate objections of the judgment were two: — that, in the first place, it seldom or never answers to wander abroad for duty; every body doing best what lies nearest at hand: and, in the second place, that my relation to Mrs. Chapman required my utmost moral care. The discovery of her moral power and insight was to me so extraordinary that, while I longed to work with and under her, I felt that it must be morally perilous to lean on any one mind as I could not but lean on hers. Thus far, whenever we had differed, (and that had not seldom happened) I had found her right; and so deeply and broadly right as to make me long to commit myself to her guidance. Such a committal can never be otherwise than wrong; and this it was which, more than any thing, made me doubt whether I ought to contemplate the scheme. As usual in such cases, events decided the matter. My mother was removed from under my care by my own illness; and, when I had recovered, and she died at an advanced age, I had a clear course of duty to pursue at home, in which perhaps there may be as decided an implication of human liberties of thought, action and speech as in the anti-slavery cause itself.
To a certain extent, my travels in America answered my purposes of self-discipline in undertaking them. Fearing that I was growing too much accustomed to luxury, and to an exclusive regularity in the modes of living, I desired to “rough it” for a considerable time. The same purpose would have been answered as well, perhaps, and certainly more according to my inclination, if I could have been quiet, instead of travelling, after my great task was done; — if I could have had repose of body and peace of mind, in freedom from all care. This was impossible; and the next best thing was such a voyage and journey as I took. America was the right country too, (apart from the peculiar agitation it happened to be in when I arrived;) the national boast being a perfectly true one, — that a woman may travel alone from Maine to Georgia without dread of any kind of injury. For two ladies who feared nothing, there was certainly nothing to fear. We had to “rough it” sometimes, as every body must in so new and thinly peopled a country; but we always felt ourselves safe from ill usage of any kind. One night, at New Orleans, we certainly did feel as much alarmed as could well be; but that was nobody’s fault. From my childhood up, I believe I have never felt so desolating a sense of fear as for a few moments on that occasion, — which was simply this.
A cousin of mine whom I saw at Mobile had a house at New Orleans, inhabited by himself or his partner, as they happened to be there or at Mobile. My cousin kindly offered us the use of this house during our stay, saying that we might thus obtain some hours of coolness and quiet in the morning which would be unattainable in a boarding-house, or in the capacity of guests. The “people,” that is, the slaves, received orders to make us comfortable, and the partner saw that all orders were obeyed. We arrived at about ten in the forenoon, — exceedingly tired, — not only by long travel in the southern forests, but especially by the voyage of the preceding night, — in hot, thundery weather, a rough sea, and in a steamboat which so swarmed with cockroaches that we could not bring ourselves to lie down. — It was a day of considerable excitement. We found a great heap of letters from home; we saw many friends in the course of the day; and at night I wrote letters so late that my companion, for once, went to bed before me. We had four rooms forming a square, or nearly: — two sitting-rooms, front and back; and two bed-rooms opening out of them, and also reaching, like them, from the landing at the top of the stairs to the street front. On account of the heat, we decided to put all our luggage (which was of considerable bulk) into one room, and sleep in the other. The beds were very large, and as hard as the floor, — as they should be in such a climate. Mosquito nets hung from the top; and the room was plentifully provided with sponging baths and water. — Miss J. was in bed before I finished my writing: and I therefore did not call her when I found that the French window opening on the balcony could not be shut, as the spring was broken. Any one could reach the balcony from the street easily enough; and here was an entrance which could not be barred! I set the heaviest chair against it, with the heaviest things piled on it that I could lay my hands on. I need not explain that New Orleans is, of all cities in the civilised world, the most renowned for night robbery and murder. The reputation is deserved; or was at that time: and we had been in the way of hearing some very painful and alarming stories from some of our friends who spoke from their own experience. Miss J. was awake when I was about to step into bed, and thoughtlessly put out the candle. I observed on my folly in doing this, and on our having forgotten to inquire where the slave-quarter was. Here we were, alone in the middle of New Orleans, with no light, no bell, no servants within reach if we had had one, and no idea where the slaves were to be found! We could only hope that nothing would happen: but I took my trumpet with me within the mosquito curtain, and laid it within reach of Miss J.’s hand, in case of her having to tell me any news. I was asleep in a trice. Not so Miss J.
She gently awoke me after what seemed to her a very long time; and, putting the cup of my tube close to her mouth, whispered slowly, so that I could hear her, “There is somebody or something walking about the room.” I whispered that we could do nothing: and that, in our helpless state, the safest way was to go to sleep. “But I can’t,” replied she. I cannot describe how sorry I was for her, sitting up listening to fearful sounds that I could not hear. I earnestly desired to help her: but there was nothing that I could do. To sit up, unable to hear anything, and thus losing nerve every minute, was the worst thing of all for us both. I told her to rouse me again if she had the slightest wish: but that I really advised her going to sleep, as I meant to do. She again said she could not. I did; and it must be remembered how remarkably tired I was. After another space, Miss J. woke me again, and in the same cautious manner said, “It is a man without shoes; and he is just at your side of the bed.” We each said the same thing as before; and again I went to sleep. Once more she woke me; and this time she spoke with a little less caution. She said he had been walking about all that time, — for hours. He had pushed against the furniture, and especially the washstand, and seemed to be washing his hands: and now he had gone out at the door nearest the stairs. What did I think of her fastening that door? I feared she would let the mosquitoes in if she got up; and there were two other doors to the room; so I did not think we should gain much. She was better satisfied to try; and she drove a heavy trunk against the door, returned without letting in any mosquitoes, and at last obtained some sleep. In the morning we started up to see what we had lost. My watch was safe on the table. My rings were not there; but we soon spied them rolled off to the corners of the room. The water from the baths was spilled; and our clothes were on the floor; but we missed nothing.
We agreed to say and do nothing ungracious to the servants, and to make no complaint; but to keep on the watch for an explanation of the mystery; and, if evening came without any light being thrown on the matter, to consult our friends the Porters about spending another night in that room. — At breakfast, the slave women, who had been to market, and got us some young green peas and other good things, hung over our chairs, and were ready to gossip, as usual. I could make nothing of their jabber; and Miss J. not much: but she persevered on this occasion; and, before breakfast was over, she gave me a nod which showed me that our case was explained. She had been playing with a little black dog the while: and she told me at length that this little black dog belonged to the personage at the back of my chair; but that the big dog, chained up in the yard, belonged to my cousin; and that the big dog was the one which was unchained the last thing at night, and allowed the range of the premises, to deal with the rats, which abounded in that house as in every other in New Orleans. The city being built in a swamp, innumerable rats are a necessary consequence. The intruder was regarded very differently the next night; and we had no more alarms. I own that the moments when my companion told me that a man without shoes was walking about the room, and when, again, she heard him close by my bedside, were those of very painful fear. I have felt nothing like it on any other occasion, since I grew up.
Safe as we were from ill usage, our friends in America rather wondered at our fearlessness about the perils of the mere travel. We were supposed, before we were known, to be fine ladies; and fine ladies are full of terrors in America, as elsewhere. When it was seen that we could help ourselves, and had no groundless fears, some of our friends reminded us that their forests and great rivers were not like our own mailroads; and that untoward accidents and detentions might take place, when we should be glad of such aid as could be had from its being known who we were. Chief Justice Marshall, the survivor of the great men of the best days of the republic, and the most venerated man in the country, put into my hands “a general letter,” as he called it, commending us to the good offices of all citizens, in case of need. The letter lies before me; and I will give it as a curiosity. No occasion of peril called it forth for use; but it was a show, in many a wild place, — gratifying the eyes of revering fellow-citizens of the majestic old Judge. Here it is.
“I have had the honour of being introduced to, and of forming some acquaintance with, Miss Martineau and Miss J—, two English ladies of distinction who are making the tour of the United States. As casualties to which all travellers, especially those of the female sex, are liable may expose these ladies to some difficulties in situations remote from those populous towns in which they may find persons to whom they will be known, it gives me pleasure to state that these ladies have the fairest claims to the aid, protection and services which their possible situation may require: that they are of high worth and character, and that I shall, individually, feel myself under obligations to any gentleman who, in the event described, shall be in any manner useful to them.
A parting act of gallantry has puzzled me many a time; and the more I have thought of it, the less have I known what to make of it. For many months it had been settled, as I have mentioned, that I was to return in Captain Bursley’s ship, — he being a friend, in virtue of mutual friendships on both sides the water. Some days before I sailed, my last American host undertook the business of paying my passage, and changing my American money for English. We were not aware of any extraordinary precipitation in settling this business. When I was out at sea, however, a fellow-passenger, one of our party of six, put into my hands a packet of money. It was the amount of my fare; and my fellow-passenger either could not or would not tell me who sent it. She said she was as helpless in the matter as I was. All that she could tell me was that somebody had gone, in supposed good time, to pay my passage, was disconcerted to find I had paid it, and could think of no other way than returning the money through a fellow-passenger. — I know no more of the motive than of the person or persons. Whether it was shame at the treatment I had received on the anti-slavery question, or a primitive method of hospitality, or any thing else, I have never been able to satisfy myself, or to get any light from any body. I could do nothing, and say nothing. The only certain thing about the case is that the act was meant in kindness: and I need not say that I was grateful accordingly.
The New York host whom I have referred to was an intimate friend of our captain: and he knew enough of one or two of the passengers to be pretty well aware that there would be moral tempests on board, however fair the weather might be overhead. He and his wife kindly forbore to give me any hint of coming discomfort which could not be avoided; but they begged me to keep a very full journal of the voyage, and send it to them, for their private reading. I did so: and they next requested that I would agree to a proposal to print it, — the names being altered; and the most disgraceful of the incidents (e. g., a plot for the seduction of an orphan girl) being omitted. The narrative accordingly appeared in the “Penny Magazine” of October and November, 1837, under the title of “A Month at Sea.” As it may amuse somebody to see, in such detail, what such a voyage was like, the narrative will be found in the Appendix.* It is enough to say here that I had the advantage of the companionship of Professor and Mrs. Farrar, of Harvard University; of Lieutenant Wilkes, who was on his way to England to prepare for the American Exploring Expedition, of which he was Commander; and of two or three younger members of the party, who were good-humoured and agreeable comrades, in the midst of a set of passengers who were as far as possible from being either.
We arrived at Liverpool on the 26th of August, 1836; and there I found several members of my family awaiting me.
[* ]Appendix B.
[* ]Society in America, vol. III., page 175.
[* ]Appendix C.