Front Page Titles (by Subject) SIXTH PERIOD. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SIXTH PERIOD. - 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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My life, it has been seen, began with winter. Then followed a season of storm and sunshine, merging in a long gloom. If I had died of that six years’ illness, I should have considered my life a fair average one, as to happiness, — even while thinking more about happiness, and caring more for it, than I do now. I did not know, ten years ago, what life might be, in regard to freedom, vigour, and peace of mind; and, not knowing this, I should have died in the persuasion that I had been, on the whole, as happy as the conditions of human existence allow. But the spring, summer and autumn of life were yet to come. I have had them now, — all rapidly succeeding each other, and crowded into a small space, like the Swedish summer, which bursts out of a long winter with the briefest interval of spring. At past forty years of age, I began to relish life, without drawback; and for ten years I have been vividly conscious of its delights, as undisturbed by cares as my anxious nature, and my long training to trouble could permit me ever to be. I believe there never was before any time in my life when I should not have been rather glad than sorry to lay it down. During this last sunny period, I have not acquired any dread or dislike of death; but I have felt, for the first, time a keen and unvarying relish of life. It seems to be generally supposed that a relish of life implies a fear or dislike of death, except in the minds of those shallow and self-willed persons who expect to step over the threshold of death into just the same life that they have quitted, — with the same associates, employments, recreations, — the same every thing, except natural scenery. But this does not at all agree with my experience. I have no expectation of that kind, — nor personal expectation of any kind after death; and I have a particularly keen relish of life, — all the keener for being late: yet now, while in daily expectation of death, I certainly feel no dislike or dread of it; nor do I find my pleasant daily life at all overshadowed by the certainty that it is near its end. If this seems strange to people who hold other views than mine, their baseless conclusions, — that I must dread death because I enjoy life, — appear no less strange to me. They surely do not refuse to enjoy any other pleasure because it must come to an end; and why this? And if they feel sad as the end of other pleasures draws near, it is because they anticipate feeling the absence and the blank. Thus, we grieve, and cannot but grieve, at the death of a friend, whose absence will leave a blank in our life: but the laying down our own life, to yield our place to our successors, and simply ceasing to be, seems to me to admit of no fear or regret, except through the corruption introduced by false and superstitious associations. I suppose we must judge, each for ourselves, in such matters: but I cannot but remember that I have gone through the Christian experience in regard to the expectation of death, and feel that I understand it, while Christians have not experienced, and I perceive do not understand, my present view and feeling in the expectation of death. But if they care to have my own statement, they are welcome to it. It is what I have said: — that for ten years I have had as keen a relish of life as I believe my nature to be capable of; and that I feel no reluctance whatever to pass into nothingness, leaving my place in the universe to be filled by another. The very conception of self and other is, in truth, merely human, and when the self ceases to be, the distinction expires.
I remember that when the prospect of health and prolonged life opened before me, there was a positive drawback, and a serious one, in the dread of having the whole thing to go over again, some time or other. I had recourse to desperate comforts under this apprehension. I hoped I might die by a railway crash, or some other sudden accident; or that I might sink away in mere old age; or I trusted that time might somehow make some change. I little thought how short a time would make so vast a change! I little thought that in ten years I should find myself far more fatally ill, without the slightest reluctance, and with the gayest feeling that really it does not matter whether I feel ill or well, — (short of acute and protracted pain, of which I have still a great dread) if only other people are not made unhappy. All the solemn, doleful feeling about my sufferings, which seemed right and appropriate, if not religious, a dozen years ago, now appears selfish, and low, and a most needless infliction on myself and others. Once become aware of how little consequence it is, and how the universe will go on just the same, whether one dies at fifty or seventy, one looks gaily on the last stage of one’s subjection to the great laws of nature, — notes what one can of one’s state for the benefit of others, and enjoys the amusement of watching the course of human affairs from one’s fresh and airy point of view, above the changes of the elements with which one has no further personal concern. The objective and disinterested contemplation of eternity is, in my apprehension, the sublimest pleasure that human faculties are capable of; and the pleasure is most vivid and real when one’s disinterestedness is most necessary and complete, — that is, when our form of its life is about to dissolve, to make way for another.
After spending a month on the shores of Windermere, I went for a long visit to my dear elder brother’s, some of whose children had grown up from infancy to youth during my illness. He and his wife had attached me to them more than ever by their recent conduct. Thinking me right in my effort to recover health, and wronged in much of the treatment I had received, they upheld me steadily and effectually, while, at the same time, they saw how the wrong was mainly owing to prejudice and want of the knowledge pertinent to the case; and they therefore did not find it necessary to quarrel with any body. I thought then, and I think now, that they were just and kind all round; and I am sure they were no small assistance to me in keeping my temper. They took a great interest in the subject of mesmerism, and enjoyed seeing its operation in cases similar to my own, and in many others, in which sufferers, pronounced incurable by the doctors, were restored as I had been. One amusement to us all at that time was the pity with which the doctors regarded me. I could quote several medical men who reasoned that, as my disease was an incurable one, I could not possibly be radically better; that I was then in a state of exhilaration, infatuation, and so forth; and that in six months (or three months or a year, as might be) I should be as ill as ever, and mourning over my having been duped by the mesmerists. Now and then we heard, or saw in the newspapers, that I was as ill as ever, and mourning my infatuation, — though I was walking five or seven miles at a time, and giving every evidence of perfect health. The end of it was that I went off to the East, — into the depths of Nubia, and traversing Arabia on a camel; and then the doctors said I had never been ill! It is very curious, — this difficulty of admitting evidence about any new, or newly revived, fact in nature. I remember Mr. Hallam (the last man open to the charge of credulity) telling me at Tynemouth a story which struck me very much. He told me how he and his friend Mr. Rogers had had the privilege of witnessing that very rare spectacle, “the reception by a great metropolis, of the discovery of a pregnant natural fact.” He told me, — and he has so manfully told plenty of other people, that I am betraying no confidence in repeating the story once more, — that Mr. Rogers and he had, many years before, seen some mesmeric facts in Paris which convinced and impressed them for life. When they returned, they told what they had seen, and were met by such insulting ridicule that they were compelled to be silent, or to quarrel with some of their pleasantest friends. One physician in particular he named, who treated them at his own table in a way which prevented their ever again communicating their knowledge to him, if they wished to remain on civil terms with him. By degrees, in course of years, facts became known; higher scientific authorities on the continent declared themselves convinced, or in favour of that genuine inquiry which has always ended in conviction; and the tone of London society began to change. The physician referred to ceased to gibe and jeer, and sat silent and embarrassed while the subject was discussed; and at length began to ask questions, and show a desire to learn: “and now,” continued Mr. Hallam, “we can say that we are acquainted with nobody who has attended to the subject with any earnestness who does not consider certain facts of mesmerism to be as completely established as any facts whatever in the whole range of science.” He added, “this reception of a great truth is a great thing to have seen.” — In a note I had from Mr. Hallam before I left Tynemouth, he declared his view to be this. “I have no doubt that mesmerism, and some other things which are not mesmerism properly so-called, are fragmentary parts of some great law of the human frame which we are on the verge of discovering.” It appears to be the method of the London doctors now to admit the facts (being unable longer to suppress them) and to account for them, each according to his own favourite physiological view; and thus the truth is near its full admission. When the facts are admitted in London, the medical men in the provinces will not long continue to scoff and perpetrate slander: and when a score of commentators on a single class of facts offer a score of explanations, the true solution is so much needed that it must soon be obtained.
Amidst the happiness of my visit at my brother’s, I felt a really painful longing to see verdure and foliage. On leaving Newcastle, I had been carried swiftly past a railway embankment covered with broom; and the dark green of that bank made my heart throb at the time, and bred in me a desperate longing to see more. I did not think I could have wished so much for any thing as I did to see foliage. I had not seen a tree for above five years, except a scrubby little affair which stood above the haven at Tynemouth, exposed to every wind that blew, and which looked nearly the same at midsummer and Christmas. It was this kind of destitution which occasioned some of the graceful acts of kindness which cheered my Tynemouth sojourn. An old friend sent me charming coloured sketches of old trees in Sherwood Forest: and an artist who was an entire stranger to me, Mr. McIan, stayed away from a day’s excursion at a friend’s house in the country, to paint me a breezy tree. For months the breezy tree was pinned up on the wall before me, sending many a breeze through my mind. But now I wanted to see a real tree in leaf; and I had to wait sadly long for it. The spring of 1846 was the latest I remember, I think, — unless it be the present one (1855). My impatience must have been very apparent, for my sister-in-law “fooled” me, when I came down to breakfast on the 1st of April, with lamentations about “the snow under the acacia.” There was no snow there; but the hedges seemed dead for ever; and there was scarcely a tinge of green on them when I left Edgbaston for Nottingham, on the second of May.
There, — at Lenton, near Nottingham, — new pleasures awaited me. Spring is always charming on the Trent meadows at Nottingham, where the clear shoaly river runs between wide expanses of meadow, where crocuses almost hide the grass for a few weeks of the year. It was an unspeakable pleasure to me to move freely about blossoming gardens; but no one but a restored invalid can conceive what it was to ramble for miles, to Clifton woods, or to Woollaton, drinking in the sunshine in the fields, and the cool shade under the green avenues. Now, at the end of ten years, I do not find my thirst for foliage fully quenched, after the long absence at Tynemouth. There were excursions from Nottingham to Newstead and elsewhere, — all delightful; but I don’t know that I had not more pleasure from the common lawn, with the shadows of the trees flickering upon it, than from any change of objects. The surprise to my friends, and also to myself, was that I was so little nervous, — so capable of doing like other people, as if I had not led a sick and hermit life for so many years. This exemption from the penalties of long illness I believe I owe to mesmerism being the means of cure. I had left off all drugs for ten months, except the opiates, which had been speedily reduced from the outset of the experiment, and now discontinued for half a year. I had not therefore to recover from the induced illness and constitutional poisoning caused by drugs; and my nerves had been well strung by the mesmerism which I had now discontinued. I certainly felt at first, when at the Lakes and at Edgbaston, by no means sure that I knew how to behave in society; but old associations soon revived, and I fell into the old habit of social intercourse. It was not very long indeed before we proposed, — my friends and I, — to ignore altogether the five years at Tynemouth, — to call me 38 instead of 43, and proceed as if that awful chasm had never opened in my path which now seemed closed up, or invisible as it lay behind. There were things belonging to it, however, which I should have been sorry to forget, or to lose the vivid sense of; and chief among these was the kindness of a host of friends. I have observed, however, at intervals since, that though the sense of that kindness is as vivid as ever, the other incidents and interests of that term of purgatory have so collapsed as to make the period which seemed in experience to be an eternity, like a momentary blank, — a night of uneasy dreams, soon forgotten between the genuine waking interests of two active days.
With this new day of activity arose a strong fresh interest. It was at Lenton, near Nottingham, that I first saw Mr. Atkinson, whose friendship has been the great privilege of the concluding period of my life. I have told above that Mr. and Mrs. Basil Montagu mentioned him to me in the letter in which they besought me to try mesmerism. I had never heard of him before, as far as I know. I have often said, as I am ready to say again, that I owe my recovery mainly to him, — that my ten last happy years have been his gift to me: but it is not true, as many people have supposed and led others to believe, that I was mesmerised by him at Tynemouth. I am careful in explaining this, because many persons who think it necessary to assign some marvellous reason for my present philosophical views, and who are unwilling to admit that I could have arrived at them by my own means and in my own way, have asserted that Mr. Atkinson was my mesmeriser, and that he infused into me his own views by the power he thus gained over my brain. I might explain that I never was unconscious, — never in the mesmeric sleep, — during the whole process of recovery; but the simplest and most incontestible reply is by dates. I was first mesmerised on the 22nd of June, 1844; I was well in the following November: I went forth on my travels in January, 1845, and first saw Mr. Atkinson on the 24th of May of that year. The case was this. Mr. and Mrs. Montagu, earnest that I should try mesmerism, brought about a meeting at their house, in June, 1844, between Mr. Atkinson and an intimate friend of mine who had visited me, and was about to go to me again. They discussed the case: and from that time Mr. Atkinson’s instructions were our guidance. He, too, obtained for me the generous services of the widow lady mentioned above, when my maid’s operations were no longer sufficient; and we followed his counsel till I was well. As for the share he had in the ultimate form assumed by my speculations, on their becoming opinions, — he himself expressed it in a saying so curiously resembling one uttered by a former guide and instructor that it is worth quoting both. The more ancient guide said, when I was expressing gratitude to him, “O! I only helped you to do in a fortnight what you would have done for yourself in six weeks.” Mr. Atkinson said “I found you out of the old ways, and I showed you the shortest way round the corner — that ’s all.” I certainly knew nothing of his philosophical opinions when we met at Lenton; and it was not till the close of 1847, when, on my setting about my book on Egypt, I wrote him an account of my opinions, and how I came by them, and he replied by a somewhat similar confidence, that I had any clear knowledge what his views were. I shall probably have more to say about this hereafter. Meantime, this is the place for explaining away a prevalent mistake as to my recovery having been wrought by the mesmerising of a friend whom I had, in fact, never seen.
I vividly remember the first sight of him, when one of my hostesses and I having gone out to meet him, and show him the way, saw him turn the corner into the lane, talking with the gardener who was conveying his carpet-bag. He also carried a bag over his shoulder. He looked older than I expected, and than I knew he was. His perfect gentlemanliness is his most immediately striking and uncontested attribute. We were struck with this; and also with a certain dryness in his mode of conversation which showed us at once that he was no sentimentalist; a conviction which was confirmed in proportion as we became acquainted with his habit of thought. We could not exactly call him reserved; for he was willing to converse, and ready to communicate his thoughts; yet we felt it difficult to know him. It was years before I, in particular, learned to know him, certainly and soundly, though we were in constant correspondence, and frequently met: but I consider myself no rule for others in the matter. All my faults, and all my peculiarities, were such as might and did conspire to defer the time when I might understand my friend as he was perfectly willing to be understood. One of the bad consequences of my deafness has been the making me far too much of a talker: and, though friends whom I can trust aver that I am also a good listener, I certainly have never allowed a fair share of time and opportunity to slower and more modest and considerate speakers. I believe that, amidst the stream of talk I poured out upon him, it was impossible for him to suppose or believe how truly and earnestly I really did desire to hear his views and opinions; and as, in spite of this, he did tell me much which I thought over, and talked over when he was gone, it is plain that he was not reserved with me. A yet greater impediment to our mutual understanding was that I, hitherto alone in my pursuit of philosophy, had no sufficient notion of other roads to it than that which I had found open before me; and Mr. Atkinson’s method was so wholly different that it took me, prepossessed as I was, a very long time to ascertain his route and ultimate point of view. I had, for half my life, been astray among the metaphysicians, whose schemes I had at my tongue’s end, and whose methods I supposed to be the only philosophical ones. I at first took Mr. Atkinson’s disregard of them and their methods for ignorance of what they had done, as others who think themselves philosophers have done since. Let it not be supposed that I set this down without due shame. I have much to blush for in this matter, and in worse. I now and then proffered him in those days information from my metaphysical authors, for which he politely thanked me, leaving me to find out in time how he knew through and through the very matters which the metaphysicians had barely sketched the outside of. In truth, he at his Baconian point of view, and I at my metaphysical, were in our attempts to understand each other something like beings whose reliance is on a different sense, — those who hear well and those who see well, — meeting to communicate. When the blind with their quick ears, and the deaf and dumb with their alert eyes meet, the consequences usually are desperate quarrels. In our case, I was sometimes irritated; and when irritated, always conceited and wrong; but my friend had patience with me, seeing what was the matter, and knowing that there were grand points of agreement between us which would secure a thorough understanding, sooner or later. If, amidst my metaphysical wanderings, I had reached those points of agreement, there was every reason to suppose that when I had found the hopelessness of the metaphysical point of view, with its uncertain method and infinite diversity of conclusions, — corresponding with the variety of speculators, — I should find the true exterior point of view, the positive method, and its uniform and reliable conclusions. In this faith, and in wonderful patience, my friend bore with my waywardness and occasional sauciness, till at length we arrived at a complete understanding. When our book, — our “Letters on Man’s Nature and Development,” — came out, and was abused in almost every periodical in the kingdom, it amused me to see how very like my old self the metaphysical reviewers were; — how exclusively they fastened on the collateral parts of the book, leaving its method, and all its essential part, wholly untouched. It is a curious fact that, of all the multitude of adverse reviewers of our book that we read, there was not one that took the least notice of its essential part, — its philosophical Method. Scarcely any part of it indeed was touched at all, except the anti-theological portion, which was merely collateral.
Such was my method of criticism of Mr. Atkinson, on the first occasion of our meeting. As we walked up and down a green alley in the garden, he astonished and somewhat confounded me by saying how great he thought the mistake of thinking so much and so artificially as people are for ever striving to do about death and about living again. Not having yet by any means got out of the atmosphere of selfishness which is the very life of Christian doctrine, and of every theological scheme, I was amazed at his question, — what it could signify whether we, with our individual consciousness, lived again? I asked what could possibly signify so much, — being in a fluctuating state then as to the natural grounds of expectation of a future life, (I had long given up the scriptural) but being still totally blind to the selfish instincts involved in such anxiety as I felt about the matter. I was, however, in a certain degree struck by the nobleness of his larger view, and by the good sense of the doctrine that our present health of mind is all the personal concern that we have with our state and destiny: that our duties lie before our eyes and close to our hands; and that our business is with what we know, and have it in our charge to do, and not at all with a future which is, of its own nature, impenetrable. With grave interest and an uneasy concern, I talked this over afterwards with my hostess. At first she would not credit my account of Mr. Atkinson’s view; and then she was exceedingly shocked, and put away the subject. I, for my part, soon became able to separate the uneasiness of contravened associations from that of intellectual opposition. I soon perceived that this outspoken doctrine was in full agreement with the action of my mind for some years past, on the particular subject of a future life; and that, when once Christianity ceases to be entertained as a scheme of salvation, the question of a future life becomes indeed one of which every large-minded and unselfish person may and should say, — “What does it signify?” Amidst many alternations of feeling, I soon began to enjoy breathings of the blessed air of freedom from superstition, — which is the same thing as freedom from personal anxiety and selfishness; — that freedom, under a vivid sense of which my friend and I, contrasting our superstitious youth with our emancipated maturity, agreed that not for the universe would we again have the care of our souls upon our hands.
At length, the last day of May arrived, and my longings for my Lake lodgings were to be gratified. The mossy walls with their fringes of ferns; the black pines reflected in the waters: the amethyst mountains at sunset, and the groves and white beaches beside the lake had haunted me almost painfully, all spring; and my hosts and hostesses must have thought my unconcealable anticipations somewhat unmannerly. They could make allowance for me, however: and they sent much sympathy with me. It was truly a gay life that was before me now. My intention was not to work at all; an intention which I have never been able to fulfil when in health, and which soon gave way now, before a call of duty which I very grudgingly obeyed. On the day of my arrival at Waterhead, however, I had no idea of working; and the prospect before me was of basking in the summer sunshine, and roving over hill and dale in fine weather, and reading and working beside the window overlooking the lake (Windermere) in rainy hours, when lakes have a beauty of their own. My lodging, taken for six months, was the house which stands precisely at the head of the lake, and whose grass-plat is washed by its waters. The view from the windows of my house was wonderfully beautiful, — one feature being a prominent rock, crowned with firs, which so projected into the lake as to be precisely reflected in the crimson, orange and purple waters when the pine-crest rose black into the crimson, orange and purple sky, at sunset. When the young moon hung over those black pines, the beauty was so great that I could hardly believe my eyes. On the day of my arrival, when I had met my new maid from Dublin (my Tynemouth nurse being unable to leave her mother’s neighbourhood,) and when I had been welcomed by a dear old friend or two, I found an intoxicating promise of bliss whichever way I turned. I was speedily instructed in the morality of lakers, — the first principle of which is, (at least, so they told me) never to work except in bad weather. The woods were still full of wild anemones and sorrel, and the blue bells were just coming out. The meadows were emerald green, and the oaks were just exchanging their May-golden hue for light green, when the sycamores, so characteristic of the region, were growing sombre in their massy foliage. The friends whom I had met during my winter visit were kind in their welcome; and many relations and friends came that summer, to enjoy excursions with me. It was all very gay and charming; and if I found the bustle of society a little too much, — if I felt myself somewhat disappointed in regard to the repose which I had reckoned on, that blessing was, as I knew, only deferred.
As to this matter, — of society. There is a perpetual change going on in such neighbourhoods in the Lake District as that of Ambleside. Retired merchants and professional men fall in love with the region, buy or build a house, are in a transport with what they have done, and, after a time, go away. In five or six years, six houses of friends or acquaintance of mine became inhabited by strangers. Sorry as I was, on each occasion, to lose good friends or pleasant acquaintances, I did not call on their successors, — nor on any other new-comers: nor did I choose, from the beginning, to visit generally in Ambleside. When I made up my mind to live there, I declined the dinner and evening engagements offered to me, and visited at only three or four houses; and very sparingly at those. It did not suit me to give parties, otherwise than in the plainest and most familiar way; and I had some idea of the mischiefs and dangers of such society as is found promiscuously cast into a small neighbourhood like this. I had not time to waste in meeting the same people, — not chosen as in London, but such as chanced to be thrown together in a very small country town, — night after night: I was aware how nearly impossible it is to keep out of the gossip and the quarrels which prevail in such places; and there was no adequate reason for encountering them. I foresaw that among a High-church squirearchy, and Low-church evangelicals, and the moderate-church few, who were timid in proportion to their small numbers, I might be tolerated, and even courted at first, on account of my reputation, but must sooner or later give deadly offence by some outbreak of heresy or reforming tendency, stronger than they could bear. I therefore confined my visiting to three or four houses, merely exchanging calls with others: and it is well I did. Of those three or four, scarcely one could endure my avowal of my opinions in 1851. Even with them, I had before ceased, or did then cease, to exchange hospitalities. As they had sought me, and even urgently pressed themselves upon me, (one family in particular, whose mere name I had never heard when I arrived) they were especially in need of my compassion at the plight they found themselves in, — with goodness of heart enough to remember that our acquaintance was all of their seeking, but with too much narrowness and timidity to keep up intercourse through such opprobrium as my opinions brought on me among their High-church neighbours. They had the shame (which I believe them to be capable of feeling) of being aware, and knowing that I was aware, that they sought me, as they are wont to seek and flatter all celebrities, for my fame, and to gratify their own love of excitement; and that their weakness stood confessed before the trial of my plain avowal of honest opinions. It made no difference that, after a time, when the gossip had blown over, and my neighbours saw that I did not want them, and did not depend on their opinions in any way, they came round, and began to be attentive and kind: — their conduct at a moment of crisis proved to me that I had judged rightly in declining Ambleside visiting from the beginning; and their mutual quarrelling, fierce and wide and deep, certainly confirmed my satisfaction with my independent plan of life. My interests lay among old friends at a distance; and I had as much social intercourse as I at all desired when they came into the district. I was amused and instructed by the words of an ingenuous young friend, who, taking leave of me one winter afternoon at her own gate, said: “Ah! now, — you are going home to a comfortable quiet evening by your own fire! Really, I think it is quite hypocritical in us! — We dress and go out, and seem to be so pleased, when we are longing all the time to be at home! We meet the same people, who have only the same talk; and we get so tired!” It was not long before that family withdrew from the Ambleside visiting which I had always declined. A very few faithful friends, whose regard did not depend on the popular nature of my opinions, remained true and dear to me; and thus I found that book, — the “Atkinson Letters,” — do me the same good and welcome service in my own valley that it did in the wide world; — it dissolved all false relations, and confirmed all true ones. Finally, now that that business has long been settled, and that all my other affairs are drawing near their close, I may make my declaration that I have always had as much society as I wished for, and sometimes a great deal more. And this leads me to explain why I came to live where I am; — a prodigious puzzle, I am told, to the great majority of my London acquaintance.
When I had been thoroughly and avowedly well for half a year, I found my family had made up their minds, as I had scarcely a doubt that they would, that my mother’s settlement at Liverpool had better not be disturbed. She was among three of her children settled there, and she was suited with a companion better adapted to aid her in her nearly blind condition than any deaf person could be. It would have been a most serious and injurious sacrifice to me to live in a provincial town. The choice for me, in regard to my vocation, was between London and a purely country residence. I was partly amused and partly shocked at the amazement of some of my really intimate friends, to whom I supposed my character fully known, at my choosing the latter. One of these friends wrote to me that she could not at all fancy me “a real country lady;” and another told Mr. Atkinson that she did not believe I had any genuine love of natural scenery. Mr. Hallam told me, some years afterwards, that he and others of my friends had considered my retreat from London, after having known the delights of its society, “a most doubtful and serious experiment, — a most doubtful experiment;” but that they found, by the testimony of mutual friends who had visited me, that it had “answered completely.” — My reasons are easily told. I was now, when at liberty to form my own plan of life, past the middle of its course. I had seen the dangers and moral penalties of literary life in London for women who had become accustomed to its excitements; and I knew that I could not be happy if I degenerated into “a hackney-coach and company life.” No true woman, married or single, can be happy without some sort of domestic life; — without having somebody’s happiness dependent on her; and my own ideal of an innocent and happy life was a house of my own among poor improvable neighbours, with young servants whom I might train and attach to myself; with pure air, a garden, leisure, solitude at command, and freedom to work in peace and quietness. When to all this could be added fine natural scenery, the temptations were such as London could not rival. If I had country, I would have the best; and my mind was made up at once, — to live at the Lakes, — as soon as I was sure of my liberty to choose. I began to look about in the neighbourhood at cottages to let or on sale. The most promising was one at Clappersgate, at the head of Windermere, which was offered me for £20 a year. It had more rooms than I wanted, and an exceedingly pretty porch; and a little garden, in which was a tempting copper-beech. But the ceilings were too low for my bookcases, and the house was old; and it commanded no great beauty, except from the attic windows. A friend who went with me to view it said that £20 was the interest of £500; and that for £500 I could build myself a cottage after my own heart. This was strikingly true and thus the idea of having at once a house of my own was suggested. By the necessity of the case, the matter was soon settled. A dissenting minister, an opulent man who had built a chapel and school, and bought a field for cottage-building, found life too hard for a dissenter among the orthodox at Ambleside, and especially after he had proposed to supply the want of cottages which is there the screw which the rich put upon the labouring classes; and, after his health had sunk under the treatment he encountered, he was obliged to leave the place to save his life. My house-viewing friend brought me, on the 27th of June, the plan of this minister’s field, which was to be sold in lots the next day but one. The time was short; but land was becoming rare in the neighbourhood; and I went to see the field. One of the lots was a rocky knoll, commanding a charming view. I knew no one whom I could ask to go and bid; and I could not feel sure of a due supply of water; not knowing then that wherever there is rock, there is a tolerable certainty of water. The other lots appeared to me to lie too low for building; and I, in my simplicity, concluded that the pretty knoll would be the first and surest to sell. Next day, I found that that lot, and the one at the foot of the rise remained unsold. I went to the minister for a consultation. His wife satisfied me about the water-supply; and she moreover said that as the other unsold slip, valued at £70, would not sell by itself, if I would buy the Knoll, I should have the other for £20. I agreed on the spot. There was one other three-cornered piece, lying between these and the meadows which were entailed land, certain never to be built on: and this bit had been bought at the sale by an exciseman, to graze his pony when he came his rounds. My friends all agreed in lamenting over that sale, and said the exciseman would soon be running up some hideous structure, to make me pay “through the nose” for his nook. I replied that I must stop somewhere; and that the matter seemed settled by the land having been sold. It makes me grateful now to think what pains my friends took on my behalf. Mrs. Arnold consulted the Wordsworths; and they all came to exhort me to try to get the nook, for the sake of myself and my heirs; and my original adviser found up the exciseman, and came back with the news that no conveyance had yet been made out, and that the man would let me have the land for a bonus of £5. I whipped out my five sovereigns; and the whole was mine. It may seem that I have gone into much detail about a trifle: but I am giving an account of myself; and there have been few things in my life which have had a more genial effect on my mind than the possession of a piece of land. Those who consider what some scenes of my life had been, — my being left with a single shilling at the time of our losses, my plodding through London mud when I could not get my series published, and my five years’ confinement at Tynemouth, may conceive what it was to me to go, in the lustrous days of that summer, to meditate in my field at eventide, and anticipate the healthful and genial life before me. The kind cousin whom I have mentioned as always at my elbow in all time of need, or when a graceful service could be rendered, came with his family to the Lakes at that precise time. Knowing my affairs, — of which he generously took the management, — he approved my scheme; and he did more. I asked him plainly whether he thought me justified in building a house of the kind I explained, and of which I showed him the builder’s estimate. He called on me alone one morning, — on business, as he said; and his “business” was this. He told me that he considered me abundantly justified: he added that there could be no difficulty in obtaining, on such securities as I could offer, whatever additional money would be requisite for finishing the house (the land was already paid for,) but that, to save trouble and speculation, I had better send in the bills to him; and he would, to save me from all sense of obligation, charge me with interest till I had paid off the whole. The transaction, of which this was the graceful beginning, was no less gracefully carried on and ended. The amount was (as always happens in such cases) more than we expected; and I was longer, owing to the failure of one of my plans, in repaying the loan; but my cousin cheered me by his approbation and sympathy; and at last presented me with the final batch of interest, to purchase something for the house to remember him by.
Then came the amusement of planning my house, which I did all myself. It was the newest of enterprises to me; and seriously did I ponder all the requisites; — how to plan the bedrooms, so that the beds should not be in a draught, nor face the window nor the fireplace, &c. I did not then know the importance of placing beds north and south, in case of illness, when that position may be of the last consequence to the patient; but it so happens that all my beds stand, or may stand so. The whole scheme was fortunate and charming. There is not a single blunder or nuisance in my pretty house; and now that it is nearly covered with ivy, roses, passion-flowers, and other climbers, and the porch a bower of honeysuckles, I find that several of my neighbours, and not a few strangers, consider my Knoll, — position and house together, — the prettiest dwelling in the valley; — airy, gay, and “sunny within and without,” as one family are pleased to say. “It is,” said Wordsworth, “the wisest step in her life; for” ... ... ... and we supposed he was going on to speak of the respectability, comfort and charm of such a retreat for an elderly woman; but not so. “It is the wisest step in her life; for the value of the property will be doubled in ten years.”
One of those London friends whom I have mentioned as doubting my discretion in settling here, was paying me a morning visit at my lodgings when I was planning my house, and while taking a kind interest in looking over the plan and elevation, she thought it right to make a remonstrance which she has since recalled with a generous amusement. “Now, my dear friend,” said she, “I take a real interest in all this: but, — do be persuaded, — sell your field, and stay where you are, in this nice lodging. Do, now! Why should you not stay here?”
“First,” said I, “because it costs me more to live here in three rooms than it would in a whole house of my own.
“Second: there is no room here for my book-cases; and I want my library.
“Third: I am paying for house-room for my furniture at Tynemouth.
“Fourth: this house stands low, and is apt to be flooded and damp in winter.
“Fifth: this house was a barn; and the dust lies a quarter of an inch thick, in some weathers, on every thing in the sitting-room.
“Sixth: the chimney smokes so that I could not have a fire without keeping a window open.
“Seventh: Being close on the margin of the lake, the house is swarming with rats.
“Eighth: ... ... ... .”
“O! stop — stop!” cried my friend, now quite ready to leave my own affairs in my own hands. She long after spent some days with me at the Knoll, and pronounced my house and my scheme of life perfect for me.
The whole business of the house-building went off without a difficulty, or a shadow of misunderstanding throughout. The contractor proposed his own terms; and they were so reasonable that I had great pleasure in giving him all his own way. It is the pernicious custom of the district to give very long credit, even in the case of workmen’s wages. One of my intentions in becoming a housekeeper was to discountenance this, and to break through the custom in my own person. I told all the tradesmen that I would not deal with them on any other terms than ready money payments, alleging the inconvenience to persons of small income of having all their bills pouring in at Candlemas. At first I was grumbled at for the “inconvenience;” but, before I had lived here two years, I was supplicated for my custom, my reputation being that of being “the best paymaster in the neighbourhood.” I began with the house itself, offering to pay down £ 100 every alternate month, on condition that the work-people were paid weekly. At the end, when the contractor received his last £ 100, I asked him whether he and all his people were fully satisfied, saying that if there was any discontent, however slight, I wished to hear of it, there and then. His answer was “Ma’am, there has not been a rough word spoken from beginning to end.” “Are you satisfied?” I asked. “Entirely,” he replied. “I underrated the cost of the terrace; but you paid me what I asked; a bargain is a bargain: and I gained by other parts, so as to make up for it, and more; and so I am satisfied, — entirely.” When I afterwards designed to build a cottage and cow-stable, he came to beg the servants to help to get the job for him, — complimenting my mode of payment. I mention this because the poor man, whom I greatly esteemed, got his head turned with subsequent building speculations, fell into drinking habits, and died of a fever thus brought on, — leaving debts to the amount of £ 1,000: and I wish it to be clearly understood that I was in no degree connected with his misfortunes.
The first sod was turned on the 1st of October, by Mr. Seymour Tremenheere, in the presence of my elder brother and myself. There was only one tree on the summit of the knoll; and that was a fine thorn, which the builder kindly managed to leave, to cover a corner; and I seldom look at it, powdered with blossom in May and June, without thinking of the consideration of the poor fellow who lies in the churchyard, so miserably cut off in the vigour of his years. The winter of 1845 - 6 was, (as the potato-rot makes us all remember) the rainiest in the experience of our generation: but the new house was not injured by it; and it was ready for occupation when April arrived. If I am to give an account of my most deep-felt pleasures, I may well mention that of my sunset walks, on the few fine days, when I saw from the opposite side of the valley the progress of my house. One evening I saw the red sunset glittering on the windows, which I did not know were in. Another day, I saw the first smoke from the chimney; — the thin blue smoke from a fire the workmen had lighted, which gave a homelike aspect to the dwelling. — When the garden was to take form, new pleasures arose. The grass was entirely destroyed round the base of the knoll by the carts which brought the stone and wood; and I much wished for some sods. But the summer had been as dry as the winter and spring were wet; and no sods were to be had for love or money, — every gardener assured me. In riding over Loughrigg terrace, I saw where large patches of turf had been cut; and I asked Mr. Wordsworth whether one might get sods from the mountain. He told me that the fells were the property of the dalesmen, and that it takes 100 years to replace turf so cut. So I made up my mind to wait till grass-seed would grow, and wondered how I was to secure the seed being good. One morning, the servants told me that there was a great heap of the finest sods lying under the boundary wall; and that they must have been put over during the night. It was even so: and, though we did our best to watch and listen, the same thing happened four times, — the last load being a very large one, abundantly supplying all our need. A dirty note, wafered, lay under the pile. It pretended to come from two poachers, who professed to be grateful to me for my Game Law Tales, and to have rendered me this service in return for my opinion about wild creatures being fair game. The writing and spelling were like those of an ignorant person; and I supposed that the inditing was really so, at the bidding of some neighbour of higher quality. The Archbishop of Dublin, who was at Fox How at the time, offered me the benefit of his large experience in the sight of anonymous letters: (not the reading of them, for he always burns unread, before the eyes of his servants, all that come to him) and he instantly pronounced that the note was written by an educated person. He judged by the evenness of the lines, saying that persons who scrawl and misspell from ignorance never write straight. Every body I knew declared to me, sooner or later, in a way too sincere to be doubted, that he or she did not know any thing whatever about my sods: and the mystery remains unsolved to this day. It was a very pretty and piquant mystery. Several friends planted a young tree each on my ground. Some of the saplings died and some lived: but the most flourishing is one of the two which Wordsworth planted. We had provided two young oaks: but he objected to them as not remarkable enough for a commemorative occasion. We found that the stone pine suited his idea: and a neighbour kindly sent me two. Wordsworth chose to plant them on the slope under my terrace wall, where, in my humble opinion, they were in the extremest danger from dogs and cats, — which are our local nuisance. I lay awake thinking how to protect them. The barriers I put up were broken down immediately; but I saved one by making a parterre round it: and there it flourishes, — so finely that my successor will have to remove my best peartree ere long, to leave room for the forest tree.
The planting-scene was characteristic. Wordsworth had taken a kindly interest in the whole affair; and where my study now is, he had thrown himself down, among the hazel bushes, and talked of the meadows, and of the right aspect and disposition of a house, one summer day when he and his wife and daughter had come to view the site, and give me the benefit of their experience; and long after, when I had begun to farm my two acres, he came to see my first calf. On occasion of the planting of his pine, he dug and planted in a most experienced manner, — then washed his hands in the watering-pot, took my hand in both his, and wished me many happy years in my new abode, — and then, proceeded to give me a piece of friendly advice. He told me I should find visitors a great expense, and that I must promise him, — (and he laid his hand on my arm to enforce what he said) I must promise him to do as he and his sister had done, when, in their early days, they had lived at Grasmere.
“When you have a visitor,” said he, “you must do as we did; — you must say ‘if you like to have a cup of tea with us, you are very welcome: but if you want any meat, — you must pay for your board.’ Now, promise me that you will do this.” Of course, I could promise nothing of the sort. I told him I had rather not invite my friends unless I could make them comfortable. He insisted: I declined promising; and changed the subject. The mixture of odd economies and neighbourly generosity was one of the most striking things in the old poet. At tea there, one could hardly get a drop of cream with any ease of mind, while he was giving away all the milk that the household did not want to neighbouring cottagers, who were perfectly well able to buy it, and would have been all the better for being allowed to do so. — It was one of the pleasures of my walks, for the first few years of my residence here, to meet with Wordsworth, when he happened to be walking, and taking his time on the road. In winter, he was to be seen in his cloak, his Scotch bonnet, and green goggles, attended perhaps by half-a-score of cottagers’ children, — the youngest pulling at his cloak, or holding by his trousers, while he cut ash switches out of the hedge for them. After his daughter’s death, I seldom saw him except in his phaeton, or when I called. He gave way sadly, (and inconsiderately as regarded Mrs. Wordsworth) to his grief for his daughter’s loss; and I heard that the evenings were very sad. Neither of them could see to read by candle-light; and he was not a man of cheerful temperament, nor of much practical sympathy. Mrs. Wordsworth often asked me to “drop in” in the winter evenings: but I really could not do this. We lived about a mile and a half apart; I had only young girls for servants, and no carriage; and I really could not have done my work but by the aid of my evening reading. I never went but twice; and both times were in the summer. My deafness was a great difficulty too, and especially when his teeth were out, as they were in the evenings, when the family were alone. He began a sentence to me, and then turned his head away to finish it to somebody on the other side: so that I had no chance with him unless we were tête-à-tête, when we got on very well. — Our acquaintance had begun during the visit I paid to the Lakes in January 1845, when he and Mrs. Wordsworth had requested a conversation with me about mesmerism, which they thought might avail in the case of a daughter-in-law, who was then abroad, mortally ill. After a long consultation, they left me, much disposed for the experiment: but I supposed at the time that they would not be allowed to try; and I dare say they were not. They invited me to Rydal Mount, to see the terrace where he had meditated his poems; and I went accordingly, one winter noon. On that occasion, I remember, he said many characteristic things, beginning with complaints of Jeffrey and other reviewers, who had prevented his poems bringing him more than £ 100, for a long course of years, — up to a time so recent indeed that I will not set it down, lest there should be some mistake. Knowing that he had no objection to be talked to about his works, I told him that I thought it might interest him to hear which of his poems was Dr. Channing’s favourite. I told him that I had not been a day in Dr. Channing’s house when he brought me “the Happy Warrior,” — (a choice which I thought very characteristic also.) “Ay,” said Wordsworth: “that was not on account of the poetic conditions being best fulfilled in that poem; but because it is” (solemnly) “a chain of extremely valooable thoughts. — You see, — it does not best fulfil the conditions of poetry; but it is” (solemnly) “a chain of extremely valooable thoughts.” I thought this eminently true; and by no means the worse for the description being given by himself. — He was kind enough to be very anxious lest I should overwalk myself. Both he and Mrs. Wordsworth repeatedly bade me take warning by his sister, who had lost first her strength, and then her sanity by extreme imprudence in that way, and its consequences. Mrs. Wordsworth told me what I could not have believed on any less trustworthy authority, — that Miss Wordsworth had — not once, but frequently, — walked forty miles in a day. In vain I assured them that I did not meditate or perpetrate any such imprudence, and that I valued my recovered health too much to hazard it for any self-indulgence whatever. It was a fixed idea with them that I walked all day long. One afternoon Mr. Atkinson and I met them on the Rydal road. They asked where we had been; and we told them. I think it was over Loughrigg terrace to Grasmere; which was no immoderate walk. “There, there!” said Wordsworth, laying his hand on my companion’s arm. “Take care! take care! Don’t let her carry you about. She is killing off half the gentlemen in the county!” I could not then, nor can I now, remember any Westmoreland gentleman, except my host on Windermere, having taken a walk with me at all.
There had been a period of a few years, in my youth, when I worshipped Wordsworth. I pinned up his likeness in my room; and I could repeat his poetry by the hour. He had been of great service to me at a very important time of my life. By degrees, and especially for ten or twelve years before I saw him, I found more disappointment than pleasure when I turned again to his works, — feeling at once the absence of sound, accurate, weighty thought, and of genuine poetic inspiration. It is still an increasing wonder with me that he should ever have been considered a philosophical poet, — so remarkably as the very basis of philosophy is absent in him, and so thoroughly self-derived, self-conscious and subjective is what he himself mistook for philosophy. As to his poetic genius, it needs but to open Shelley, Tennyson, or even poor Keats, and any of our best classic English poets, to feel at once that, with all their truth and all their charm, few of Wordsworth’s pieces are poems. As eloquence, some of them are very beautiful; and others are didactic or metaphysical meditations or speculations poetically rendered: but, to my mind, this is not enough to constitute a man a poet. A benefactor, to poetry and to society, Wordsworth undoubtedly was. He brought us back out of a wrong track into a right one; — out of a fashion of pedantry, antithesis and bombast, in which thought was sacrificed to sound, and common sense was degraded, where it existed, by being made to pass for something else. He taught us to say what we had to say in a way, — not only the more rational but the more beautiful; and, as we have grown more simple in expression, we have become more unsophisticated and clear-seeing and far-seeing in our observation of the scene of life, if not of life itself. These are vast services to have rendered, if no more can be claimed for the poet. In proportion to our need was the early unpopularity of the reform proposed; and in proportion to our gratitude, when we recognized our benefactor, was the temporary exaggeration of his merits as a poet. His fame seems to have now settled in its proper level. Those who understand mankind are aware that he did not understand them; and those who dwell near his abode especially wonder at his representation of his neighbours. He saw through an imagination, less poetic than metaphysical; and the heart element was in him not strong. He had scarcely any intercourse with other minds, in books or in conversation; and he probably never knew what it was to have any thing to do. His old age suffered from these causes; and it was probably the least happy portion of a life too self-enclosed to be very happy as a whole. In regard to politics, however, and even to religion, he grew more and more liberal in his latter years. It is in that view, and as a neighbour among the cottagers, that he is most genially remembered: and, considering the course of flattery he was subjected to by his blue-stocking and clerical neighbours, who coaxed him into monologue, and then wrote down all he said for future publication, it is wonderful that there is any thing so genial to record. His admirable wife, who, I believe, never suspected how much she was respected and beloved by all who knew them both, sustained what was genial in him, and ameliorated whatever was not so. Her excellent sense and her womanly devotedness, — (especially when she grew pale and shrunk and dim-eyed under her mute sorrow for the daughter whom he mourned aloud, and without apparent consideration for the heart-sufferer by his side) made her by far the more interesting of the two to me. But, while writing these recollections, the spring sunshine and air which are streaming in through my open window remind me of the advent of the “tourist season,” and of the large allowance to be made for a “lake-poet,” subject to the perpetual incursions of flatterers of the coarsest order. The modest and well-bred pass by the gates of celebrated people who live in the country for quiet, while the coarse and selfish intrude, — as hundreds of strangers intruded every year on Wordsworth. When I came into the district, I was told that the average of utter strangers who visited Rydal Mount in the season was five hundred! Their visits were not the only penalty inflicted. Some of these gentry occasionally sent letters to the newspapers, containing their opinions of the old man’s state of health or of intellect: and then, if a particularly intrusive lionhunter got a surly reception, and wrote to a newspaper that Wordsworth’s intellects were failing, there came letters of inquiry from all the family friends and acquaintances, whose affectionate solicitudes had to be satisfied.
For my part, I refused, from the first, to introduce any of my visitors at Rydal Mount, because there were far too many already. Mrs. Wordsworth repeatedly acknowledged my scrupulosity about this: but in time I found that she rather wished that I would bear my share in what had become a kind of resource to her husband. I never liked seeing him go the round of his garden and terraces, relating to persons whose very names he had not attended to, particulars about his writing and other affairs which each stranger flattered himself was a confidential communication to himself. One anecdote will show how the process went forward, and how persons fared who deserved something better than this invariable treatment. In the first autumn of my residence, — while I was in lodgings, — Mr. Seymour Tremenheere and his comrade in his Educational Commissionership, Mr. Tufnell, asked me to obtain lodgings for them, as they wished to repose from their labours beside Windermere. When they came, I told them that I could not take them to Rydal Mount. They acquiesced, though much wishing to obtain some testimony from the old poet on behalf of popular education. In a week or two, however, I had to call on Mrs. Wordsworth, and I invited the gentlemen to take their chance by going with me. We met Mr. and Mrs. Wordsworth just coming out of their door into the garden. I twice distinctly named both gentlemen; but I saw that he did not attend, and that he received them precisely after his usual manner with strangers. He marched them off to his terraces; and Mrs. Wordsworth and I sat down on a garden seat. I told her the state of the case; and she said she would take care that, when they returned, Mr. Wordsworth should understand who his guests were. This was more easily promised than done, however. When they appeared, Mr. Wordsworth uncovered his grey head as usual, wished the gentlemen improved health and much enjoyment of the lake scenery, and bowed us out. My friends told me (what I could have told them) that Mr. Wordsworth had related many interesting things about his poems, but that they doubted whether he had any idea who they were; and they had no opportunity of introducing the subject of popular education. That evening, when a party of friends and I were at tea, an urgent message came, through three families, from Rydal Mount, to the effect that Mr. Wordsworth understood that Mr. Seymour Tremenheere was in the neighbourhood; and that he was anxious to obtain an interview with Mr. Tremenheere for conversation about popular education! — Mr. Tremenheere called at the Mount the next day. He told me on his return that he had, he hoped, gained his point. He hoped for a sonnet at least. He observed, “Mr. Wordsworth discoursed to me about Education, trying to impress upon me whatever I have most insisted on in my Reports for seven years past: but I do not expect him to read Reports, and I was very happy to hear what he had to say.” The next time I fell in with Mr. Wordsworth, he said “I have to thank you for procuring for me a call from that intelligent gentleman, Mr. Tremenheere. I was glad to have some conversation with him. To be sure, he was bent on enlightening me on principles of popular education which have been published in my poems these forty years: but that is of little consequence. I am very happy to have seen him.”
In no aspect did Wordsworth appear to more advantage than in his conduct to Hartley Coleridge, who lived in his neighbourhood. The weakness, — the special vice, — of that poor, gentle, hopeless being is universally known by the publication of his life; and I am therefore free to say that, as long as there was any chance of good from remonstrance and rebuke, Wordsworth administered both, sternly and faithfully: but, when nothing more than pity and help was possible, Wordsworth treated him as gently as if he had been, — (what indeed he was in our eyes) — a sick child. I have nothing to tell of poor Hartley, of my own knowledge. Except meeting him on the road, I knew nothing of him. I recoiled from acquaintanceship, — seeing how burdensome it was in the case of persons less busy than myself, and not having, to say the truth, courage to accept the conditions on which his wonderfully beautiful conversation might be enjoyed. The simple fact is that I was in company with him five times; and all those five times he was drunk. I should think there are few solitary ladies, whose time is valuable, who would encourage intercourse with him after that. Yet I quite understood the tenderness and earnestness with which he was tended in his last illness, and the sorrow with which he was missed by his personal friends. I witnessed his funeral; and as I saw his grey-headed old friend Wordsworth bending over his grave, that winter morning, I felt that the aged mourner might well enjoy such support as could arise from a sense of duty faithfully performed to the being who was too weak for the conflicts of life. On his tombstone, which stands near Wordsworth’s own, is the cross wreathed with the thorny crown, and the inscription, so touching in this case, “By thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord, deliver me!”
One of my objects during this summer was to become acquainted with the Lake District, in a complete and orderly manner. It has been a leading pleasure and satisfaction of mine, since I grew up, to compass some one department of knowledge at a time, so as to feel a real command of it, succeeding to a misty ignorance. The first approach to this was perhaps my acquaintance with the French and Latin languages; and the next my study of the Metaphysical schools of Mental Philosophy. But these pursuits were partly ordained for me in my educational course; and they belonged to the immature period of my mind. Perhaps my first thorough possession was of the doctrine of Necessity, as I have explained in its place. Then, there was the orderly comprehension of what I then took to be the science of Political Economy, as elaborated by the Economists of our time: but I believe I should not have been greatly surprised or displeased to have perceived, even then, that the pretended science is no science at all, strictly speaking; and that so many of its parts must undergo essential change, that it may be a question whether future generations will owe much more to it than the benefit (inestimable, to be sure) of establishing the grand truth that social affairs proceed according to great general laws, no less than natural phenomena of every kind. Such as Political Economy was, however, I knew what it meant and what it comprehended. — Next came my study of the United States republic: and this study yielded me the satisfaction I am now referring to in full measure. Before I went, I actually sat down, on the only spare evening I had, to learn how many States there were in the American Union. — I am not sure that I knew that there were more than thirteen: and in three years after, one of the first constitutional lawyers in America wrote me the spontaneous assurance that there was not a single mistake in my “Society in America,” in regard to the political constitution of the republic. I really had learned something thoroughly: — not the people, of course, whom it would take a lifetime to understand; but the social system under which they were living, with the geography and the sectional facts of their country. — The next act of mastery was a somewhat dreary one, but useful in its way. I understood sickness and the prospect of death, with some completeness, at the end of my five years at Tynemouth. — Now, on my recovery, I set myself to learn the Lake District, which was still a terra incognita, veiled in bright mists before my mind’s eye: and by the close of a year from the purchase of my field, I knew every lake (I think) but two, and almost every mountain pass. I have since been complimented with the task of writing a Complete Guide to the Lakes, which was the most satisfactory testimony on the part of my neighbours that they believed I understood their beloved District. — After that, there was the working out for myself of the genealogy of the faiths of the East, as represented in my “Eastern Life.” Lastly, there was the history of the last half century of the English nation, as shown in my “History of the Peace,” and in my articles for the “Daily News,” at the beginning of the present war. I need not say that I feel now, as I have ever felt, hedged in by ignorance on every side: but I know that we must all feel this, if we could live and learn for a thousand years: but it is a privilege, as far as it goes, to make clearings, one at a time, in the wilderness of the unknown, as the settler in the Far West opens out his crofts from the primeval forest. Of these joyous labours, none has been sweeter than that of my first recovered health, when Lakeland became gradually disclosed before my explorations, till it lay before me, map-like, as if seen from a mountain top.
I had not been settled many days in my lodging at Waterhead before I was appealed to by my landlady and others on behalf of sick neighbours, to know whether mesmerism would serve them, and whether I would administer it. After what I owed to mesmerism, I could not refuse to try; and, though my power has always been very moderate, I found I could do some good. Sometimes I had seven patients asleep at one time in my sitting-room; and all on whom I tried my hand were either cured or sensibly benefited. One poor youth who was doomed to lose both arms, from scrofulous disease in the elbows, was brought to me, and settled beside me, to see what could be done till it could be ascertained whether his lungs were or were not hopelessly diseased. I mesmerised him twice a day for ten weeks, giving up all engagements which could interfere with the work. He obtained sleep, to the extent of thirteen hours in twenty-four. He recovered appetite, strength, and (the decisive circumstance) flesh. In six weeks, his parents hardly knew him, when they came over to see him. He lost his cough, and all his consumptive symptoms; we made him our postman and errand-boy; and he walked many miles in a day. But alas! my house was not built: he could not remain in the lodging when the weather broke up: his return to his father’s cottage for the winter was inevitable; and there he fell back: and the damps of February carried him off in rapid decline. None who knew him doubt that his life was lengthened for several months, and that those were months of ease and enjoyment through the mesmeric treatment. The completest case under my hands was one which I always think of with pleasure. My landlady came up one day to ask my good offices on behalf of a young nursemaid in the service of some ladies who were lodging on the ground floor of the house. This girl was always suffering under sick headache, so that her life was a burden to her, and she was quite unfit for her place. I agreed to see her; but her mistress declared that she could not spare her, as she was wanted, ill or well, to carry the baby out. One day, however, she was too ill to raise her head at all; and, as she was compelled to lie down, her mistress allowed her to be brought to my sofa. In seven minutes, she was in the mesmeric trance. She awoke well, and never had a headache again. The ladies were so struck that they begged I would mesmerise her daily. They came, the second day, to see her asleep, and said she looked so different that they should not have known her; and they called her the “little Nell,” of Dickens. In a few days she went into the trance in seven seconds: and I could do what I pleased with her, without her being conscious that I sent her all over the house, and made her open windows, make up the fire, &c., &c. She began to grow fast, became completely altered, and was in full health, and presently very pretty. Her parents came many miles to thank me; and their reluctant and hesitating request was that I would not mesmerise her in the presence of any body who would tell the clergy, on account of the practice of unbelievers of traducing the characters of all who were cured by mesmerism. I was sorry, because Professor Gregory and his lady, and some other friends, were coming for the purpose of pursuing the subject; and this girl would have been valuable to us in the inquiry: but, of course, I could not resist the wish of the parents, which I thought perfectly reasonable. — This reminds me of an incident too curious not to be related. There is at Ambleside a retired surgeon, confined to the sofa by disease. A former patient of his, an elderly woman, went to him that summer, and told him that the doctors so completely despaired of her case that they would give her no more medicine. Mr. C— was very sorry, of course; but what could be said? The woman lingered and hesitated, wanting his opinion. There was a lady, — she was lodging at Waterhead, — and she did wonderful cures. What did Mr. C— think of an application to that lady? “Why not?” asked Mr. C—, if the doctors would do nothing more for the patient? He advised the attempt. After more hesitation, the scruple came out. “Why, Sir, they do say that the lady does it through the Old ’Un.” The sick woman feared what the clergy would say; and, in spite of Mr. C—’s encouragement, she never came.
My own experience that year was an instructive one. I have mentioned that, during my recovery, I was never in the mesmeric sleep, — never unconscious. From the time that I was quite well, however, I fell into the sleep, — sometimes partially and sometimes wholly; though it took a long while to convince me that I was ever unconscious. It was only by finding that I had lost an hour that I could be convinced that I had slept at all. One day, when mesmerised by two persons, I had begun to speak; and from that time, whenever I was thus double mesmerised, I discoursed in a way which those who heard it call very remarkable. I could remember some of the wonderful things I had seen and thought, if questioned immediately on my waking; but the impressions were presently gone. A shorthand writer took down much of what I said; and certainly those fragments are wholly unlike any thing I have ever said under any other circumstances. I still believe that some faculties are thus reached which are not, as far as can be known, exercised at any other time; and also that the conceptive and imaginative faculties, as well as those of insight and of memory, are liable to be excited to very vigorous action. When consciousness is incomplete, — or rather, when unconsciousness is all but complete, — so that actual experience is interfused with the dreams of the mesmeric condition, there is danger of that state of mind which is not uncommon under mesmeric treatment, and which renders the superintendence of an experienced and philosophical mesmeriser so desirable as we see it to be — a state of exaltation almost amounting to delusion, when imaginative patients are concerned. Nobody would consider me, I think, a particularly imaginative patient; and nothing could be more common-place and safe than the practice while I was either wide awake or so completely asleep as to remember nothing of my dreams afterwards; but, in the intermediate case, I was subject to a set of impressions so strong that, — having seen instances of the clairvoyant and prophetic faculty in others, — it was scarcely possible to avoid the belief that my constant and highly detailed impressions were of the same character. It is impossible to be absolutely certain, at this moment, that they were not; but the strongest probably is that they were of the same nature with the preachments and oracular statements of a host of mesmeric patients who give forth their notions about “the spiritual world” and its inhabitants.* It is observed, in all accounts of spirit-rappings and mesmeric speculation, that, on the subject of religion, each speaker gives out his own order of opinions in the form of testimony from what he sees. We have all the sects of Christendom represented in their mesmerised members, — constituting, to the perplexity of inexperienced observers, as remarkable a Babel in the spiritual world as on our European and American soil; and, when there is no hope of reconciling these incompatible oracles, the timid resort to the supposition of demoniacal agency. There is no marvel in this to persons who, like myself, are aware, from their own experience, of the irresistible strength of the impressions of mesmeric dreaming, when more or less interfused with waking knowledge; nor to philosophical observers who, like my guardian in this stage of my experience, have witnessed the whole range of the phenomena with cool judgment, and under a trained method of investigation. Under different management, and without his discouragements and cool exposure of the discrepancies of dreaming, I might have been one of the victims of the curiosity and half-knowledge of the time; and my own trust in my waking faculties, and, much more, other people’s trust in them, might have been lost; and my career of literary action might have prematurely come to an end. Even before I was quite safe, an incident occurred which deeply impressed me. — Margaret Fuller, who had been, in spite of certain mutual repulsions, an intimate acquaintance of mine in America, came to Ambleside while Professor and Mrs. Gregory and other friends were pursuing the investigations I have referred to. I gave her and the excellent friends with whom she was travelling, the best welcome I could. My house was full: but I got lodgings for them, made them welcome as guests, and planned excursions for them. Her companions evidently enjoyed themselves; and Margaret Fuller as evidently did not, except when she could harangue the drawing-room party, without the interruption of any other voice within its precincts. There were other persons present, at least as eminent as herself, to whom we wished to listen; but we were willing that all should have their turn: and I am sure I met her with every desire for friendly intercourse. She presently left off conversing with me, however; while I, as hostess, had to see that my other guests were entertained, according to their various tastes. During our excursion in Langdale, she scarcely spoke to any body; and not at all to me; and when we afterwards met in London, when I was setting off for the East, she treated me with the contemptuous benevolence which it was her wont to bestow on common-place people. I was therefore not surprised when I became acquainted, presently after, with her own account of the matter. She told her friends that she had been bitterly disappointed in me. It had been a great object with her to see me, after my recovery by mesmerism, to enjoy the exaltation and spiritual development which she concluded I must have derived from my excursions in the spiritual world: but she had found me in no way altered by it: no one could have discovered that I had been mesmerised at all; and I was so thoroughly common-place that she had no pleasure in intercourse with me. — This was a very welcome confirmation of my hope that I had, under Mr. Atkinson’s wise care, come back nearly unharmed from the land of dreams; and this more than compensated for the unpleasantness of disappointing the hopes of one whom I cordially respected for many fine qualities, intellectual and moral, while I could not pretend to find her mind unspoiled and her manners agreeable. She was then unconsciously approaching the hour of that remarkable regeneration which transformed her from the dreaming and haughty pedant into the true woman. In a few months more, she had loved and married; and how interesting and beautiful was the closing period of her life, when husband and child concentrated the powers and affections which had so long run to waste in intellectual and moral eccentricity, the concluding period of her memoirs has shown to us all. Meantime, the most acceptable verdict that she could pronounce upon me in my own function of housekeeper and hostess, while the medical world was hoping to hear of my insanity, was that I was “common-place.”
Some members of that medical world were, in that summer at Waterhead (1845) demonstrating to me what my duty was in regard to poor Jane, at Tynemouth, — usually called my maid, but not yet so, nor to be so till the spring of 1846. The sudden cessation of mesmerism was disastrous to the poor girl. — Her eyes became as bad as ever; and the persecution of the two doctors employed by Dr. Forbes fell upon her alone, — her ignorant and selfish aunt refusing to let her be mesmerised, and permitting her rather to go blind. When she was blind, these two men came to her with a paper which they required her to sign, declaring that she had been guilty of imposture throughout; and they told her that she should be taken to prison if she did not, then and there, sign their paper. She steadily refused, not only to sign, but to answer any of their questions, saying that they had set down false replies for both her aunts; and in this her aunts took courage to support her, in the face of threats from the doctors that they would prevent these poor widows having any more lodgers. An Ambleside friend of mine, calling on Jane at Tynemouth, found her in this plight, and most kindly brought over from South Shields a benevolent druggist, accustomed to mesmerise. The aunt refused him admission to her house; and he therefore went to the bottom of the garden, where Jane was supported to a seat. At the end of the séance, she could see some bright thing on her lap; and she had an appetite, for the first time for some weeks. The aunt could not resist this appeal to her heart and her self-interest at once; and she made the druggist welcome. As soon as I heard all this, I begged my kind aunts to go over from Newcastle, and tell Jane’s aunt that if she could restore Jane so far as to undertake the journey to Ambleside, I would thenceforth take charge of her. It was a fearful undertaking, under the circumstances; but I felt that my protection and support were due to the poor girl. The aunt had her mesmerised and well cared for; and in two or three weeks she said she could come. I had, as yet, no house; and there was no room for her in my lodging; so I engaged a cottager near Ambleside to receive the girl, and board her for her services in taking care of the children till my house should be habitable. She was so eager to reach me that, when she found the Keswick coach full, she walked sixteen miles, rather than wait, and presented herself to me tearful, nervous, in sordid clothes (for her aunt had let the poor girl’s wardrobe go to rags while she was too blind to sew) and her eyes like those of a blind person, looking as if the iris was covered with tissue paper. My heart sank at the sight. I told her that I had not mentioned mesmerism to her hostess, because, after all she had gone through, I thought the choice should be hers whether to speak of it or not. I had simply told the woman that I wished Jane to take a walk to my lodgings, three or four times a week. Jane’s instant reply was that she did not wish for any secret about the matter; and that she thought she ought not to mind any ill-treatment while God permitted sick people to get well by a new means, whether the doctors liked it or not. I soon found that she was mesmerising a diseased baby in the cottage, and teaching the mother to do it; — whereby the child lived for months after the medical man declined visiting it any more, because it was dying. I mesmerised Jane three times a week; and in ten days her eyes were as clear as my own. When, henceforth, I saw any doubtful appearance in them, I mesmerised her once or twice; and that set all right. She never had any more trouble with them, except during my long absence in the East. They looked ill when I returned; when again, and finally, a few séances cured them. She lived with me seven years, and then went, with my entire approbation, to Australia. She immediately became cook in the family of the High Sheriff of Melbourne, where she is still. The zeal with which she assisted in furnishing and preparing my new house may be imagined; and how happy she was in those opening spring days when we met at the house early in the mornings, and staid till nine at night, making all ready in the new house which we longed to occupy. The first night (April 7th, 1846) when we made our beds, stirred up the fires, and locked the doors, and had some serious talk, as members of a new household, will never be forgotten, for its sweetness and solemnity, by my maids or myself.
Many persons, before doubtful or adverse, began to take a true view of this girl and her case when I was in the East. When they saw that, instead of accepting large sums of money to go about as a clairvoyante, with lecturers on mesmerism, she remained at her post in my house, during the long fourteen months of my absence, they were convinced that she was no notoriety-seeker, or trickster, or speculator for money. She practiced the closest economy, and invested her savings carefully, because she doubted her eyes, and wished to provide against accidents; and, when she emigrated, she had money enough for a good outfit, and to spare. But she might have had ten times as much if she had been tempted to itinerate as a clairvoyante. With these facts I close her history. I have given it fully, because it happened repeatedly during the seven years that she lived with me, that reports appeared in the newspapers, or by applications to myself through the post, that I had dismissed her in disgrace. My reply always was that if I had seen reason to doubt her honesty in the matter of the mesmerism, or in any other way, I should have felt myself bound to avow the fact in print, after all that had happened. My final declaration is that I have never known a more truthful person than my Jane; and I am confident that, among all the neighbours to whom she was known for seven years, and among her Tynemouth neighbours, who knew her for the nineteen preceding years of her life, there are none who would dissent from my judgment of her.
My notion of doing no work during the gladsome year 1845 soon gave way, — not before inclination, (for I was sorely reluctant) but duty. When the potato famine was impending, and there was alarm for the farming interest, Mr. Bright’s Committee on the Game-laws published the evidence laid before them; and it appeared that there could not be a better time for drawing public attention to a system more detrimental to the farming class, and more injurious to the production of food than any of the grievances put forth by the complaining “agricultural interest.” I was told that I ought to treat the subject as I had treated the topics of Political Economy in my Series; and I agreed that I ought. Mr. Bright supplied me with the evidence; I collected historical material; and I wrote the three volumes of “Forest and Game-Law Tales” in the autumn of 1845. Above 2,000 copies of these have sold; but, at the time, the publication appeared to be a total failure; — my first failure. The book came out, as it happened, precisely at the time when Sir R. Peel was known to be about to repeal the Corn-laws. It was said at the time that for three weeks no publisher in London sold any thing, with the one exception of Wordsworth’s new and last edition of his works, wherein he took his farewell of the public. Nearly 1,000 copies of my book were sold at once; but, reckoning on a very large sale, we had stereotyped it; and this turned out a mistake, — the stereotyping more than cutting off the profits of the sale. From that work I have never received a shilling. On my own account, I have never regretted doing the work, — reluctant as I was to work that happy autumn. I know that many young men, and some of them sure to become members of the legislature, have been impressed by those essentially true stories to a degree which cannot but affect the destination and duration of the Game-laws; and this is enough. That the toil was an encroachment on my fresh pleasures at the time, and has proved gratuitous, is of no consequence now, while it is certain that a few young lords and gentry have had their eyes opened to the cost of their sport, and to their duty in regard to it. If I could but learn that some of the 2,000 copies sold had gone into the hands of the farmers, and had put any strength into their hearts to assert their rights, and resist the wrongs they have too tamely submitted to, I should feel that the result deserved a much greater sacrifice. As it was, I set down the gratuitous labour as my contribution to, or fine upon, the repeal of the Corn-laws.
That repeal was now drawing nigh. It was in the November and December of that year that Lord John Russell condescended to that struggle for power with Sir R. Peel which will damage his fame in the eyes of posterity, and which reflected disgrace at the time on the whole Whig party, as it waned towards dissolution. During the struggle, and the alternate “fall” of the two statesmen, much wonder was felt by people generally, and, it is believed, especially by Sir R. Peel, that the great middle-class body, including the Anti-corn-law League, showed so little earnestness in supporting Peel; so that when the matter was placed in Peel’s hands by his restoration to power, it did not seem to get on. I had occasion to know where the hitch was; and, as it appeared to me, to act upon that knowledge, in a way quite new to me, — indisposed as I have always been to meddle in matters which did not concern me. — While I was ill at Tynemouth, Colonel Thompson and Mr. Cobden called on me; and we had a long talk on League affairs, and the prospect of a repeal of the Corn Laws. Mr. Cobden told me that he and his comrades were so incessantly occupied in lecturing, and in showing up to multitudes the facts of a past and present time, that they had no leisure or opportunity to study the probable future; and that the opinions or suggestions of a person like myself, lying still, and reading and thinking, might be of use to the leaders of the agitation; and he asked me to write to him if at any time I had any thing to criticise or suggest, in regard to League affairs. I had not much idea that I could be of any service; but I made the desired promise.
In the autumn of 1845, when Sir R. Peel retired from the government to make way for Lord J. Russell, Mr. Cobden made a speech to his Stockport constituents, in which he spoke in terms of insult of Peel. I saw this with much regret; and, recalling my promise, I wrote to Mr. Cobden, telling him that it was as a member of the League, and not as a censor that I wrote to him. It was no business of mine to criticise his temper or taste in addressing his constituents; but I reminded him that his Stockport speech was read all over the kingdom; and I asked him whether he thought the object of the League would be furthered by his having insulted a fallen Minister; — whether, indeed, any thing had ever been gained, since society began, by any man having insulted any other man. Before my letter reached Mr. Cobden, he had spoken in yet more outrageous terms of Peel, at a crowded meeting in Covent Garden theatre, leaving himself without the excuse that, in addressing his constituents, he had lost sight of the consideration of the general publicity of his speech. Mr. Cobden’s reply was all good-humour and candour as regarded myself; but it disclosed the depth of the sore in his mind in regard to his relations with Sir R. Peel. There is no occasion to tell at length the sad story of what had passed between them in February 1843, when Peel charged Cobden with being answerable for assassination, and Cobden, losing his presence of mind, let the occasion turn against him. It was the worst act of Peel’s public life, no doubt; and the moment was one of such anguish to Cobden that he could never recall it without agitation. He referred to it, in his reply to me, in extenuation of his recent outbreak, — while declining to justify himself. I wrote again, allowing that Peel’s conduct admitted of no justification; but showing that there were extenuating circumstances in his case too. Of these circumstances I happened to know more than the public did; and I now laid them before my correspondent, — again saying that I did not see why the cause should suffer for such individual griefs. In the course of two or three weeks, plenty of evidence reached me that the great manufacturing classes were holding back on account of this unsettled reckoning between Peel and their leader; and also that Cobden had suffered much and magnanimously, for a course of years, from the remonstrances and instigations of liberal members, who urged his seeking personal satisfaction from his enemy. Mr. Cobden had steadily refused, because he was in parliament as the representative of the bread-eaters, and had no right, as he thought, to consume the time and attention of parliament with his private grievances. It struck me that it was highly important that Sir R. Peel should know all this, as he was otherwise not master of his own position. I therefore wrote to a neutral friend of his and mine, laying the case before him. He was a Conservative M. P., wholly opposed to the repeal of the Corn-laws; but I did not see that that was necessarily an obstacle. I told him that he must see that the Corn-laws must be repealed, and that there would be no peace and quiet till the thing was done; and I had little doubt that he would be glad of the opportunity of bringing two earnest men to a better understanding with each other. My friend did not answer my letter for three weeks; and when he did, he could send me nothing but fierce vituperation of his abjured leader. Time was now pressing; and I had not felt it right to wait. The whole move would have failed but for the accident that Mr. Cobden had sat in a draught, and suffered from an abscess in the ear which kept him from the House for three weeks or so. What I did was this.
As I sat at breakfast on New Year’s day, (1846) thinking over this matter, it struck me that no harm could be done by my writing myself to Sir R. Peel. He would probably think me meddlesome, and be vexed at the womanish folly of supposing that, while the laws of honour which are so sacred in men’s eyes remain, he could make any move towards a man who had insulted him as Mr. Cobden had recently done. But it was nothing to me what Sir R. Peel thought of the act. He was a stranger to me; and his opinion could not weigh for an instant against the remotest chance of abridging the suspense about the Corn-laws. I frankly told him this, in the letter which I wrote him after breakfast. I laid the case before him; and, when I came to the duelling considerations, I told him what a woman’s belief is in such a case, — that a devoted man can rise above arbitrary social rules; and that I believed him to be the man who could do it. I believed him to be capable of doing the impossible in social morals, as he was proving himself to be in politics. I told him that my sole object was to put him in possession of a case which I suspected he did not understand; and that I therefore desired no answer, nor any notice whatever of my letter, which was written without any body’s knowledge, and would be posted by my own hand. By return of post came a long letter from Sir R. Peel which moved me deeply. Nothing could be more frank, more cordial, or more satisfactory. It was as I suspected. He had not had the remotest idea that what he had said in the House by way of amende, the next (Monday) evening after the insult, had not been considered satisfactory. He wrote strongly about the hardship of being thus kept in the dark for years, — neither Mr. Cobden nor any other member on either side of the House having hinted to him that the matter was not entirely settled. — Now that it was clear that Sir R. Peel would act on his new knowledge in one way or another, the question occurred to me, — what was to be done with Mr. Cobden, whose want of presence of mind had aggravated the original mischief. The same deficiencies might spoil the whole business now. — I had told Sir R. Peel, whilst praising Mr. Cobden, that of course he knew nothing of what I was doing. I now wrote to Mr. Cobden, the most artful letter I ever penned. It really was difficult to manage this, my first intrigue, all alone. I told Mr. Cobden that the more I pondered the existing state of the Corn-law affair, the more sure I felt that Sir R. Peel must become aware of the cause of the backwardness of the Manchester interest; and also, that my view of certain unconspicuous features of the Minister’s character led me to expect some magnanimous offer of an amende; and I ventured to observe what a pity it would be if Mr. Cobden should be so taken by surprise as to let such an occasion of reconciliation be lost. I also wrote to Sir R. Peel, telling him that, however it might appear to him, Mr. Cobden was of a relenting nature, likely to go more than half way to meet an adversary; and that, though he knew nothing of my interference, I had a confident hope that he would not be found wanting, if an occasion should present itself for him finally to merge his private grief in the great public cause of the day.
The next morning but one, the post brought me a newspaper directed by Sir R. Peel, and autographed by him; and, as usual, the “Times.” There was also a note from Mr. Cobden which prepared me for something interesting in the report of the Debates. His note was scrawled in evident feebleness, and expressive of the deepest emotion. He dated at 3 a. m., and said he had just returned from the House, and that he could not lay his head on his pillow till he had sent me the blessing on the peacemaker. He declared that his mind was eased of a load which had burdened it for long and miserable years; and now he should be a new man. The “Times” told me how immediately Sir R. Peel had acted on his new information, and that that union of effort was now obtained under which the immediate repeal of the Corn-laws was certain. How well the hostile statesmen acted together thenceforth, every body knows. But scarcely any body knows (unless Sir R. Peel thought proper to tell) how they came to an understanding. Mr. Cobden has told his friends that it was somehow my doing; but he never heard a word of it from or through me. — He wrote, after some time, to beg me to burn any letters of his which contained his former opinion of Sir R. Peel. I had already done so. I wished to preserve only what all the parties implicated would enjoy seeing twenty years later: and I should not have related the story here if I had not considered it honourable to every body concerned.
I little dreamed during that winter how I should pass the next. The months slipped away rapidly, amidst the visits of family and friends, writing, study, house-building, and intercourse with the few neighbours whom I knew. A young nephew and niece came late in the autumn, and others in the spring; and we went little journeys on foot among the mountains, carrying knapsack or basket, and making acquaintance among the small country inns. In the spring, there was the pleasure of bringing home basketsful of the beautiful ferns and mosses of the district, and now and then a cartful of heather, to cover my rocks; and primroses and foxgloves and daffodils and periwinkle for the garden; and wood-sorrel for the copses, where the blue-bells presently eclipsed the grass. A friend in London, who knew my desire for a sundial, and heard that I could not obtain the old one which had told me so important a story in my childhood, presented me with one, to stand on the grass under my terrace wall, and above the quarry which was already beginning to fill with shrubs and wild-flowers. The design of the dial is beautiful, — being a copy of an ancient font; and in grey granite, to accord with the grey-stone house above it. The motto was an important affair. A neighbour had one so perfect in its way as to eclipse a whole class; — the class of bible sayings about the shortness of life and the flight of time. “The night cometh.” In asking my friends for suggestions, I told them of this; and they agreed that we could not approach this motto, in the same direction. Some good Latin ones, to which I inclined, were put aside because I was besought, for what I considered good reasons, to have nothing but English. It has always been my way to ask advice very rarely, and then to follow it. But on this occasion, I preferred a motto of my own to all that were offered in English; and Wordsworth gave it his emphatic approbation. “Come, Light! visit me!” stands emblazoned on my dial: and it has been, I believe, as frequent and impressive a monitor to me as ever was any dial which bore warning of the fugacious nature of life and time.
Summer brought a succession of visitors, — very agreeable, but rather too many for my strength and repose. I began to find what are the liabilities of Lake residents in regard to tourists. There is quite wear and tear enough in receiving those whom one wishes to see; one’s invited guests, or those introduced by one’s invited friends. But these are fewer than the unscrupulous strangers who intrude themselves with compliments, requests for autographs, or without any pretence whatever. Every summer they come and stare in at the windows while we are at dinner, hide behind shrubs or the corner of the house, plant themselves in the yards behind or the field before; are staring up at one’s window when one gets up in the morning, gather handfuls of flowers in the garden, stop or follow us in the road, and report us to the newspapers. I soon found that I must pay a serious tax for living in my paradise: I must, like many of my neighbours, go away in “the tourist season.” My practice has since been to let my house for the months of July, August and September, — or for the two latter at least, and go to the sea, or some country place where I could be quiet.
I do not know that a better idea of the place could be given than by the following paragraphs from a palpable description of our little town (under the name of Haukside, — a compound of Hawkshead and Ambleside) which appeared some time since in “Chambers’s Journal.”
“The constitution of our town suffers six months of the year from fever, and the other six from collapse. In the summer-time, our inns are filled to bursting; our private houses broken into by parties desperate after lodgings; the prices of every thing are quadrupled; our best meat, our thickest cream, our freshest fish, are reserved for strangers; our letters, delivered three hours after time, have been opened and read by banditti assuming our own title; ladies of quality, loaded with tracts, fusillade us; savage and bearded foreigners harass us with brazen wind instruments; coaches run frantically towards us from every point of the compass; a great steam-monster ploughs our lake, and disgorges multitudes upon the pier; the excursion-trains bring thousands of curious vulgar, who mistake us for the authoress next door, and compel us to forge her autograph; the donkeys in our streets increase and multiply a hundredfold, tottering under the weight of enormous females visiting our waterfalls from morn to eve; our hills are darkened by swarms of tourists; we are ruthlessly eyed by painters, and brought into foregrounds and backgrounds, as ‘warm tints’ or ‘bits of repose;’ our lawns are picknicked upon by twenty at a time, and our trees branded with initial letters; creatures with introductions come to us, and can’t be got away; we have to lionise poor, stupid, and ill-looking people for weeks, without past, present, or future recompense; Sunday is a day of rest least of all, and strange clergymen preach charity-sermons every week with a perfect kaleidoscope of religious views.
“The fever lasts from May until October.
“When it is over, horses are turned out to grass, and inn-servants are disbanded; houses seem all too big for us; the hissing fiend is ‘laid’ upon the lake; the coaches and cars are on their backs in outhouses, with their wheels upward; the trees get bare, the rain begins to fall, grass grows in the streets, and Haukside collapses.
“Our collapse generally lasts from November to May. During this interval, we residents venture to call upon each other. Barouches and chariots we have none, but chiefly shandrydans and buggies; we are stately and solemn in our hospitalities, and retain fashions amongst us that are far from new; we have evening-parties very often, and at every party — whist! Not that it is our sole profession: not that it is our only amusement: it is simply an eternal and unalterable custom — whist! We have no clubs to force it into vigour; the production is indigenous and natural to the place. It is the attainment of all who have reached years of maturity; the dignity of the aged, and the ambition of the young; a little whirling in the dance, a little leaning over the piano, a little attachment to the supper-table, a little flirting on both sides — all this is at Haukside as elsewhere; but the end, the bourn to which male and female alike tend at last after experiencing the vanity of all things else, and from which none ever returns, is — the whist-table.”
The autumn of 1846 had been fixed on for a series of visits to some of my family, and to London; and I let my house to a young couple of my acquaintance for their honeymoon, and went to Liverpool, to my younger sister’s, on the last day of August, little dreaming how long it would be before I came back again. I should have gone away even more sad than I was, if I had known.
While at Liverpool, I was the guest of my old friends, the Misses Yates, for a few days; on one of which days, Miss E. Yates and I went out to dinner, while Miss Yates paid a family visit. On our return, she looked very bright and happy; but it did not strike me that it was from any hidden secret. Mr. Richard V. Yates came to breakfast the next morning; and he was placed next to me, — and next to my best ear. The conversation soon turned on his projected Eastern journey, about which I had before had some talk, — remarkably free in regard to the dangers and disagreeables, — with Mrs. R. V. Yates, as we afterwards remembered with much amusement. Mr. Yates now renewed that conversation, consulting me about turning back at the first cataract of the Nile, or going on to the second. From “Would you go on to the second?” Mr. Yates changed his question to “Will you go on to the second?” and, after a few moments of perplexity to me, he said “Now, seriously, — will you go with us? Mrs. Yates will do every thing in her power to render the journey agreeable to you; and I will find the piastres.” At first, I felt and said, while deeply gratified, that I could not go; and for hours and days it seemed impracticable. I was engaged to write a new series of “The Playfellow” for Mr. Knight, and had sent him the M.S. of the first (“The Billow and the Rock.”) I had just begun housekeeping, and had left home without any other idea than returning for the winter: and the truth was, I had the strongest possible inclination to return, and indisposition to wander away from the repose and beauty of my home. But the way soon cleared so as to leave me no doubt what I ought to do. My family urged my accepting an opportunity too fine ever to recur; Mr. Knight generously proposed to put my story into his “Weekly Volume,” and wait for more “Playfellows,” — sending the money at once, to make my outfit easy; and my neighbours at Ambleside promised to look after my house and servant, and let the house if possible. Tenants were in it for a part of the time, and Jane was well taken care of for the rest; so that nothing could turn out better than the whole scheme. We were joined en route by Mr. J. C. Ewart, the present representative of Liverpool; and he remained with us till we reached Malta on our return. He thence wrote to his sister about our parting, — he to go to Constantinople, and we homewards; saying that our experience was, he feared, a very rare one; — that of a travelling party who had been in the constant and close companionship imposed by Nile and Desert travelling, for eight months, and who, instead of quarrelling and parting, like most such groups, had travelled in harmony, were separating with regret, and should be more glad to meet in future than we were before we set out. It is worth mentioning this, because I heard, a year or so afterwards, that a report was abroad that our party had quarrelled immediately, — in France, — and that I had prosecuted my Eastern journey alone. My book, however, must have demolished that fiction, one would think: but such fictions are tenacious of life. In my preface to that book, I related the kindness of my companions in listening to my journal, and in authorising me to say that they bore testimony to the correctness of my facts, to the best of their judgment, while disclaiming all connexion with the resulting opinions. I have a letter from Mr. Yates, in acknowledgment of his copy of the book, in which he bears the same testimony, with the same reservation, and adds an expression of gratification, on Mrs. Yates’s part and his own, at the manner in which they are spoken of throughout the work. Some idle reports about this matter, injurious to those excellent friends of mine, are probably extinct already: and if not, this statement will extinguish them.
My travelling companions and I met in London in October, after I had secured my outfit there, and run down into Norfolk to see old Norwich again. We had had hopes that Mr. Atkinson could go with us; and the plan had been nearly arranged; but he was prevented at the last, and could accompany us no further than Boulogne. We traversed France to Marseilles, resting for two days at Paris, where, strange to say, I had never been before. We were quite late enough at best; but the evil chance which sent us on board the mail-packet Volcano caused a most vexatious delay. We were detained, at the outset, for the mails. The captain started with a short supply of coal, because it was dear at Marseilles, and soon found that he had been “penny wise and pound foolish.” The engines of the vessel were too weak for her work; and the wind was dead against us. The captain forsook the usual route, and took the northerly one, for I forget what reason; and thus we were out of the way of succour. The vessel swarmed with cockroaches; two ill-mannered women shared the cabin with Mrs. Yates and me; the captain was so happy flirting with one of them as to seem provokingly complacent under our delays. It was really vexatious to see him and the widow sitting hand-in-hand, and giggling on the sofa, while our stomachs turned at the sea-pie to which we were reduced, and our precious autumn days were slipping away, during which we ought to have been at Cairo, preparing for our ascent of the Nile. It was worse with others on board, — gentlemen on their way to India, whose clothes and money were now sure to have left Malta before they could arrive there. One of these gentlemen was to meet at Malta a sister from Naples, whom he had not seen for twenty years, and who must either be in agony about his fate, or have given up the rendezvous as a failure. This gentleman, whose good manners and cheerfulness in company never failed, told me on deck, when no one was within hearing, that the trial was as much as he could bear. Some passengers were ill, — some angry, — some alarmed; and the occasion was a touch-stone of temper and manners. All our coal was consumed, except enough for six hours, — that quantity being reserved to carry us into port. Every morning, the captain let us sail about a little, to make believe that we were on our way; but every evening we found ourselves again off Pantellaria, which seemed as much an enchanted island to us as if we had seen Calypso on its cliffs. Now and then, Sicily came provokingly into view, and the captain told us he was bound not to touch there or any where till we were in extremity; and we should not be in extremity till he had burned the cabin wainscot and furniture, and the stairs and berths, and there was nothing whatever left to eat. We now had cheese and the materials for plum-pudding. Every thing else on table began to be too disgusting for even sea-appetites. A young lieutenant offered us a receipt for a dish which he said we should find palatable enough when we could get nothing better, — broiled boot leather, well seasoned. — As for me, I was an old sailor; and, when the sickness was once over, I kept on deck and did very well. The weather was dreary, — the ship sticky and dirty in every part, — and our prospects singularly obscure; but there was clearly nothing to be done but to wait as good-humouredly as we could.
One afternoon, just before dinner, the fellow-passenger who pined for his sister, hastily called the captain, who, looking towards the southern horizon, was in earnest for once. A thread of smoke was visible where all had been blank for so many days; and it was astonishing to me that the wise as well as the foolish on board jumped to the conclusion that it was a steamer sent from Malta in search of us. They were right; and in another hour we were in tow of our deliverer. There had been time for only two or three questions before we were on our course. I left the dinner-table as soon as I could, and went to the bows, to see how her Majesty’s mail-steamer looked in tow. The officers of the two vessels wanted to converse; but the wind was too high. “Try your trumpet,” was written on a black board in the other vessel. “Have not got one,” was our Lieutenant’s reply; to which the black board soon rejoined, “Why, that lady has got it.” They actually took my special trumpet for that of the ship. When in sight of Malta, we burned our remnant of coal; and at midnight a gun in Valetta harbour told the inhabitants that the Volcano was safe in port. Our party remained on board till the morning; but the brother and sister met that night; and we saw them on the ramparts next day, arm-in-arm, looking as happy as could be. I was made uneasy about my own family by hearing that Valetta newspapers had gone to England the day before, notifying the non-arrival of the Volcano, and the general belief that she was gone to the bottom, with the addition that I was on board. My first business was to close and dispatch the journal-letter which I had amused myself with writing on board. Before it arrived, some of my relatives had been rendered as uneasy as I feared by the inconsiderate paragraph in the Valetta paper.
At Malta I began to feel (rather than see) the first evidences of the rivalry then existing between the English and French at the Egyptian Court. I could not conceive why Captain Glasscock, whose ship was then in the port, made so much of me; but his homage was so exaggerated that I suspected some reason of policy. He came daily, bringing his lady, and all his officers in parties; he loaded me with compliments, and seized every occasion of enforcing certain views of his own, which I was glad to hear in the way of guidance in a new scene; and his most emphatic enforcement of all was in regard to the merits of a certain Englishman who was waiting, he intimated, to worship us on our landing at Alexandria. Captain Glasscock insisted on sending my party in his man-of-war’s boat to the Ariel, in which we were to proceed to Egypt. We saw his friend at Alexandria, and received the promised homage, and, really, some agreeable hospitality, but not the impressions of the gentleman’s abilities of which we had been assured. By degrees it became apparent to me that what was wanted was that I should write a book on Egypt, like Mrs. Romer, who had preceded me by a year or two; and that, like Mrs. Romer, I should be flattered into advocating the Egyptian Railway scheme by which the English in Egypt hoped to gain an advantage over the French, and for which the Alexandrian gentleman had already imported the rails. There they lay, absorbing his capital in a very inconvenient manner; and he seized every chance of getting his scheme advocated. With Mrs. Romer he succeeded, but not with me. At Cairo I had the means of knowing that much more was involved in the scheme, — much difficulty with the Bedoueens and others besides the French, — than I had been told at Alexandria. I knew what would be the consequences of my treatment of the matter in my book; and I learned them in an amusing way. An acquaintance of mine in London told me, a day or two after publication, that the brother of the Alexandrian gentleman, and part-owner of the rails, had got a copy of the book already. “And he does not like it,” said I: “he tells you it is damned humbug.” My friend burst into a fit of laughter, shouting out, “Why, that is exactly what he did say.”
The greater was my reluctance to go this journey under my new and happy domestic circumstances, the stronger is the evidence of my estimate of its advantages. I should not have gone but for the entire conviction that it would prove an inestimable privilege. Yet, I had little idea what the privilege would turn out to be, nor how the convictions and the action of the remnant of my life would be shaped and determined by what I saw and thought during those all-important months that I spent in the East. I need say nothing here of the charms of the scenery, and the atmosphere, and the novelty, and the associations with hallowed regions of the earth. The book I wrote on my return gives a fresher impression of all that enjoyment than any thing I could write now: but there were effects produced on my own character of mind which it would have been impertinent to offer there, even if the lapse of years had not been necessary to make them clear to myself. I never before had better opportunity for quiet meditation. My travelling companions, and especially the one with whom I was the most inseparably associated, Mrs. Yates, had that invaluable travelling qualification, — the tact to leave me perfectly free. We were silent when we chose, without fear of being supposed unmannerly; and I could not have believed beforehand that so incessant and prolonged a companionship could have entailed so little restraint. My deafness which would, in the opposite case, have imposed a most disabling fatigue, was thus rather an advantage. While we had abundance of cheerful conversation at meals and in the evenings, and whenever we were disposed for it, there were many hours of every day when I was virtually as much alone as I could have been in my own house; and, of the many benefits and kindnesses that I received from my companions, none excited my lasting gratitude more than this. During the ten weeks that we were on the Nile, I could sit on deck and think for hours of every morning; and while we were in the desert, or traversing the varied scenery of Palestine, or winding about in the passes of the Lebanon, I rode alone, — in advance or in the rear of the caravan, or of our own group, without a word spoken, when it was once understood that it was troublesome and difficult to me to listen from the ridge of my camel, or even from my horse. I cannot attempt to give an idea what I learned during those quiet seasons. All the historical hints I had gained from my school days onward now rose up amidst a wholly new light. It is impossible for even erudite home-stayers to conceive what is gained by seeing for one’s self the scenes of history, after any considerable preparation of philosophical thought. When, after my return, the Chevalier Bunsen told me that he would not go to Egypt, if he had the leisure, because he already knew every thing that could be learned about it, I could not but feel that this was a matter which could be judged of nowhere but on the spot; and that no use of the eyes and mind of Lepsius could avail him so well as the employment of his own. Step by step as we proceeded, evidence arose of the true character of the faiths which ruled the world; and my observations issued in a view of their genealogy and its results which I certainly did not carry out with me, or invent by the way side. It was not till we had long left the Nile, and were leaving the desert, that the plan of my book occurred to me. The book itself had been determined on from the time when I found the influx of impressions growing painful, for want of expression; and various were the forms which I imagined for what I had to say; but none of them satisfied me till that in which it afterwards appeared struck me, and instantly approved itself to me. It happened amidst the dreariest part of the desert, between Petra and Hebron, — not far from the boundary of Judea. I was ill, and in pain that day, from the face-ache which troubled me in the dryest weather, amidst the hottest part of the desert; and one of our party rode beside me, to amuse me with conversation. I told him that I had just been inspired with the main idea of my book about the East. “That is,” said he, “you think it the best scheme till you prefer another.” “No,” I replied; “there can be but one perfect one; and this completely answers to my view. My book will illustrate the genealogy, as it appears to me, of the old faiths, — the Egyptian, the Hebrew, the Christian and the Mohammedan.” After my life-long study of the Hebrew and Christian, our travels in Palestine brought a rich accession of material for thought; and the Syrian part of the journey was the more profitable for what had gone before. The result of the whole, when reconsidered in the quiet of my study, was that I obtained clearness as to the historical nature and moral value of all theology whatever, and attained that view of it which has been set forth in some of my subsequent works. It was evident to me, in a way which it could never have been if I had not wandered amidst the old monuments and scenes of the various faiths, that a passage through these latter faiths is as natural to men, and was as necessary in those former periods of human progress, as fetishism is to the infant nations and individuals, without the notion being more true in the one case than in the other. Every child, and every childish tribe of people, transfers its own consciousness, by a supposition so necessary as to be an instinct, to all external objects, so as to conclude them all to be alive like itself; and passes through this stage of belief to a more reasonable view: and, in like manner, more advanced nations and individuals suppose a whole pantheon of Gods first, — and then a trinity, — and then a single deity; — all the divine beings being exaggerated men, regarding the universe from the human point of view, and under the influences of human notions and affections. In proportion as this stage is passed through, the conceptions of deity and divine government become abstract and indefinite, till the indistinguishable line is reached which is supposed, and not seen, to separate the highest order of Christian philosopher from the philosophical atheist. A future point of my narrative will be the proper one for disclosing how I reached the other point of view for which I was now exchanging the theological and metaphysical. What I have said will indicate the view under which I set about relating what I had seen and thought in the birthplaces of the old family of faiths.
I have said thus much, partly to show how I came by the views which I have been absurdly supposed to derive, in some necromantic way, from Mr. Atkinson. The fact is, our intercourse on these subjects had as yet hardly amounted to any thing. It may be dated, I think, from a letter which I wrote him in November 1847, and his reply. I had returned from the East in June 1847, after an absence of eight months: I had then paid the visits which had been intercepted by my eastern travel, and had returned home early in October. After settling myself, and considering the plan and materials of my book, I consulted Mr. Atkinson as to whether honesty required that I should avow the total extent of my dissent from the world’s theologies. I thought not, as my subject was the mutual relation of those theologies, and not their relation to science and philosophy. I had no desire to conceal, as my subsequent writings have shown, my total relinquishment of theology; but it did not seem to me that this book was the natural or proper ground for that kind of discussion. The birthplaces of the four faiths had been my study; and the four faiths were my specific subject; and it seemed to me that it would spoil the book to intrude any other. Thus it was settled; and the consideration of the point led to my writing the following letter to Mr. Atkinson. I give it here that it may be seen how my passage from theology to a more effectual philosophy was, in its early stages, entirely independent of Mr. Atkinson’s influence. It is true, these letters exhibit a very early stage of conviction, — before I had attained firmness and clearness, and while a large leaven of the old anxiety and obscurity remained. I was, as Mr. Atkinson said, out of the old ways; and he was about to show me the shortest way round the corner.
“Sunday evening, Nov. 7th, 1847.
“My dear Friend, —
I seem to have much to say; but I waited to hear from you, because, when people’s letters once cross, as ours did last time, they generally continue to do so. How I pity you for your yellow fog! Here it is grey mist, hanging or driving about the mountain ridges. In the early morning I love to see it rising from the lake. I always go out before it is quite light; and in the fine mornings I go up the hill behind the church, — the Kirkstone road, — where I reach a great height, and see from half way along Windermere to Rydal. When the little shred of moon that is left, and the morning star, hang over Wansfell, among the amber clouds of the approaching sunrise, it is delicious. On the positively rainy mornings, my walk is to Pelter Bridge and back. Sometimes it is round the south end of the valley. These early walks (I sit down to breakfast at half-past seven) are good, among other things, in preparing me in mind for my work. It is very serious work. I feel it so, more and more. The more I read (and I am reading a good deal) and the more I am struck with the diversity of men’s views, and the weakness, in some point or other, of all, in the midst of great learning, the more presumptuous it appears in me to speak at all. And yet, how are we to learn, if those who have travelled to the birthplaces of the old world do not tell what they think, in consequence of what they have seen? I have felt a good deal depressed, — or rather, say oppressed, — today about this. Tomorrow morning I begin upon my (necessary) sketch of the history of Egypt; and in preparation, I have been today reading again Heeren and Warburton. While I value and admire their accumulation of facts, I cannot but dissent from their inferences; that is, some of the most important of them. For instance, Warburton declares that rulers have ever strenuously taught the people the doctrines of a future life, and reward and punishment, without believing them; admits that some of the Egyptian priests believed in the Unity of God, and that Moses knew their opinions; and then argues that it is a proof that Moses’ legation was divine that he did not teach a future life, but a protracted temporal reward and punishment, extending to future generations. The existence, on the temple walls, of representations of judgment scenes, from the earliest times, and the presumption that the Egyptian priests believed in One (national) god, — Moses being in their confidence, — are inestimable facts to me; but my inference from the silence of Moses about a future life is that he was too honest to teach what he did not know to be true. But no more of this.
“The depressing feeling is from the conflict of opinions among people far wiser than myself about points which I do not believe at all; points which they believe, but in different ways. I am pretty confident that I am right in seeing the progression of ideas through thousands of years, — a progression advanced by every new form of faith (of the four great forms) — every one of these faiths being beset by the same corruptions. But I do not know of any one who has regarded the matter thus: and it is an awful thing to stand alone in; — for a half-learned person at least. But I cannot decline speaking about it. We cannot understand the old Egyptians and Arabians through any other channel of study. I must speak as diffidently as I truly feel, and as simply as possible. One thing (which I am to work out tomorrow) I cannot be wrong in; — in claiming for the old heathens the same rule we claim to be judged by. If we refuse to have our faith judged by our state of society, we must not conclude on theirs by their state of society. If we estimate our moral ideas by the minds of our best thinkers, we must estimate theirs by their philosophers, and not by the commonalty. Insisting on this, I think I can show that we have no right to despise either their faith or their best men. I must try, in short, to show that Men’s faculties exist complete, and pretty much alike, in all ages; and that the diversity of the objects on which they are exercised is of far less consequence than the exercise itself. — Do you not feel strangely alone in your views of the highest subjects? I do. I really know of no one but you to whom I can speak freely about mine. To a great degree, I always did feel this. I used to long to be a catholic, though I deeply suspected that no reliance on authority would give me peace of mind. Now, all such longings are out of the question; for I feel that I never could believe on any ground of reasoning what I once took for granted in prejudice. But I do feel sadly lonely, for this reason, — that I could not, if I tried, communicate to any one the feeling that I have that the theological belief of almost every body in the civilized world is baseless. The very statement between you and me looks startling in its presumption. And if I could, I dare not, till I have more assurance than I have now that my faith is enough for my own self-government and support. I know, as well as I ever knew any thing, that for support I really need nothing else than a steady desire to learn the truth and abide by it; and, for self-government, that it is enough to revere my own best nature and capabilities: but it will require a long process of proof before I can be sure that these convictions will avail me, under daily pressure, instead of those by which I have lived all my life. At my age, when the season of moral resolution, and of permanent fervour from the reception of new ideas is pretty well over, one’s goodness must be, I fear, more the result of habit than of new inspiration. — And yet there is hope that some youthfulness is left in me, too. I trust so from my interest in the subjects I am now writing about: and I have lately fairly broken the only two bad habits that ever had much power over me. ... ...
“I quite enjoy your letter. I am always pleased to have your thoughts on your present subjects of study, — as I show by sending you mine. I agree emphatically with you about philosophers inventing methods instead of learning from nature how to teach.
“My house is so pretty, now it is finished! I hope Emerson is coming. Would you like to come and meet him or not? I don’t know whether he interests you. ... ... ... ... .”
Mr. Atkinson’s reply was delightful to me at the time; and it is so now, in remembrance of that time, — the beginning of my free communication to him of my views and studies. It is no fair specimen of his letters when I rose to a more equal reciprocity of intercourse, and when the comfort and satisfaction which I derived from standing firm on a higher standpoint than I had at this time reached rendered unnecessary the kind of encouragement which I derived from the following letter.
“18, Upper Gloucester Place, November 13, 1847.
“My dear Friend, —
Your letter has interested me extremely. — Most certainly we must judge the tree by its fruit, and the doctrine by its influence; calculating, of course, the whole circumstances and material in which that doctrine has to operate: and it would appear that all opinions with regard to a God and a future life had much the same fruits and sustaining influence, though producing results in proportion to the grossness and immorality of the times. But we must consider each view as a stage in the progress of knowledge and reason, and so, perhaps, essential to the circumstances of the times in which it existed. I would strongly urge a full consideration of this view; that Man cannot interfere with truth or nature; but that himself and his opinions are evolved in due course, — not in a perceptible direct line, but necessarily so, as regards the whole; so that in a wide view of the question, whatever is, is right, in its general and ultimate bearing, and ever must be so. That legislators have ever given forth certain views from motives of policy, and not from conviction of their truth, seems to me a most unwarrantable assertion, and certainly not agreeing with facts of the present times which we are able to recognise; though doubtless it was and is often so. You will do a great and good thing if you can trace the origin and progress of opinion in Egypt. I had designed to do this in a general and philosophical sense in the Introduction to my contemplated work, and to wage war, tooth and nail, as they say, against the assumptions of natural theology. Philosophers, with hardly an exception, cling to the idea of a God creator: Bacon at the head of them, saying that he would rather believe in all things most gross and absurd, than that creation was without a mind. How unphilosophical — I had almost said contemptible!* I recognised a godhead long after I rejected a revelation; but I can now perceive no tittle of evidence, in the mind or out of the mind, so to speak, — for such a belief, but that all evidence, reason and analogy are against it; and that the origin of the idea is traceable to the errors (and necessary errors) of the mind striving in ignorance.
“I delight in the tone of mind in which you enter on the inquiry with regard to Egypt’s Faith. That noble feeling — faith, how sadly is it cramped and misapplied, — though never to be considered sad in its position in the chain of progress, any more than pain or death is sad, as essential to the progress of life, and the fulfilment of the law. It is well that men feel loneliness in advancing in truth, for it holds them back to instruct and bring others forward, and gives them a mission to perform, to save their fellows from that to which they cannot return. For knowledge, to the truthful and earnest, is a mistress to whom you are wedded for life: and in confidence and constancy must you seek your self-respect and happiness, whatever may be the peril and disaffection of the world. ‘I place a sword in the world,’ said Christ, ‘and set brother against brother.’—‘But blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’ I see no pleasure in martyrdom: but I feel it necessary to die if it must be, in maintaining what I believe — earnestly, and in reason and faith believe, — to be true: to sacrifice friendship and every other thing to maintain this predominating impulse and want. You feel, nevertheless, a sense of loneliness now; and so do I; and have done more than I do now. But this is passing away, and one friend in truth is a host against the world assembled. The time may come when you, and perhaps I, may be pointed at and despised by thousands. Pshaw! what matter? I have more fear of an east wind or a November fog, than of all the hubbub they can make. But we may reasonably hope that it will not be so. There are too many believing as we believe on vital questions, and many more who are indifferent; and others may be convinced. Yet, still, the sense of loneliness will accompany you more or less through much of your social intercourse; and friends may grow cold, and you may be misrepresented and misunderstood. But out of this sense of loneliness shall grow your strength, as the oak, standing alone, grows and strengthens with the storm; whilst the ivy, clinging for protection to the old temple wall, has no power of self-support. Be sure that you will find sufficient, if you hold to the truth, and are true to yourself. How well does the great philosopher speak of the pleasure of standing fortified in truth watching the wandering up and down of other minds, and in pity and charity bending over their weakness! Strong in the faith and knowledge of good intentions, we must endeavour to fix the good, true, and noble impulses, and obliterate the evil ones. Thus we shall be strong in resignation and gratitude, enjoying all things that we may; indifferent as to the end, seeing that it is of no more consequence that we should live again, than that the pebble-stones should rise and become living beings. The difficulty is not in the condition of self-reliance, but in the want of sympathy under the pressure of adverse opinion, and the mass of our prejudices which still encumber the brain’s action, and the soil where better thoughts and habits should have been early sown. Lesser minds will hereafter float easily and merrily down the stream where you find impediments; but the necessity of self-support will give you strength, and pleasures which they shall not feel; and so the balance and opportunity are more even than would at first appear. A noble path lies before you, and stern necessity bids you accept unmoved what was ‘designed’ — for you from all time, — that link of being in which you exist and act. Not alone are we, but bound in the eternal laws of the whole. Let us unindividualize ourselves; — merge our personality in the infinite; — raise the ideal in our mind; — see each as but a part of that ideal; — and we lose the sense of imperfection — the sense of individual opinions and character, and rise into a new life of god-like conceptions — active, practical, and earnest; but above the accidents of life: not altogether separate from, but superior to them; enjoying all the harmonious action of mind and body; loving with all our heart and in spirit, all that is good and noble and most beautiful; — casting out and destroying every wrong action of the mind, as we would the pains and ills of the body: — warming with affection and interest for every human being; untouched except by pity for their ill thoughts of us: — such are aspirations which may live in the breast which has rejected its Man-God, and lost all faith in consciousness revived in the same shape and being from the grave. At least we lose the fear, (if we have not the hope,) and the curse of a cruel uncertainty, and are left free to enjoy the present in seeking our best and highest happiness and exaltation. The highest minds will still impress the world with the sense of what is right; and the religion of morals and philosophy will advance, until theology is in the grave, and man will be free to think, and, morally expanded, will be more free to act than perhaps has yet entered into many brains to conceive; because men, in their fears and ignorance, look into the darkness and not into the light, and cannot measure beyond their knowledge. But this is too much of a preachment, — so I say stop!
“I should like, indeed, very much to see Emerson if it could be, you may be sure. I think you have a very high opinion of him. I fear I have filled up my letter with nothing, when I have so much in my thoughts to say that has engaged my attention.
“Well, well, — all in time. I am glad to hear Mr. — — is talking over such important questions with you. I hope you will find him free and wise. Pray remember me to them, will you? and to that cheerful, dear woman, Mrs. —. You have not told me what is to be the motto of your dial. Never mind but you should differ from the world; and, with that wise doubt of self which you express, you need not fear; for that will lead you to dwell on evidence, and on the cause of your opponent’s errors, and how you should be satisfied if your convictions be indeed the truth.
“Adieu, &c., &c.,
“H. G. ATKINSON.”
“P. S. — A friend just writes to me that he cannot understand the consciousness of doing wrong, if we have no free will, and are not accountable. This is at the root of the errors of philosophers, who take a particular state of feeling for the simple and essential condition of an innate sense. They argue a God from a similar error. Conscience arises from a sense of right, with the desire that the right should be done. But what is felt to be right depends much on the state of opinion and society. The sense of sinning is a mere condition and habit of thinking, arising from a belief in free will — a deifying of the mind.
“Much of the manner that has been thought pride in me, has arisen from a sense of loneliness and non-sympathy with the opinions of others, and that they would dislike my opinions if they fully knew them. But I am passing over this barrier, in losing the care and thought of sympathy, in a livelier interest and care for the happiness of all, and in the thought of the ultimate glory and triumph of all truth — when the wrong shall prove right, and the right shall become wrong.”
My reply will close, for the present, the subject of my anti-theological views, at the beginning of my intimate correspondence with Mr. Atkinson.
“Ambleside, November 21, 1847.
“My dear Friend, —
It was very kind of you to write that last letter to me. I agree in, and like, almost every word of it: but I was especially pleased to see your distinct recognition of the good of the old superstitions in their day. As a necessarian, you are of course bound to recognize this: but the way in which you point it out pleases me, because it is the great idea I have before me in my book. I have found the good of those old superstitions in my day. How it might have been with me (how much better) if I had had parents of your way of thinking, there is no saying. As it was, I was very religious (far beyond the knowledge and intentions of my parents) till I was quite grown up. I don’t know what I should have done without my faith; for I was an unhealthy and most unhappy child, and had no other resource. Yet it used to strike me often, and most painfully that, whatever relief and comfort my religion gave to my feelings, it did not help me much against my faults. Certainly, my belief in a future life never was either check or stimulus to me in the matter of self-government. Five-and-twenty years ago I became a thoroughly grounded necessarian. I have never wavered for an hour on that point since; and nothing ever gave me so much comfort. Of course this paved the way for the cessation of prayer. I left off praying however, less from seeing the absurdity, (though I did see it) of petitioning about things already ordained, than from a keen sense of the impiety of prayer. First, I could not pray for daily bread, or for any outward good, because I really did not wish to ask for them, — not knowing whether they would be good for me or not. So, for some years, I prayed only for good states of mind for myself and others. Of course, the feeling grew on me that true piety required resignation about spiritual matters as much as others. So I left off express prayer: and without remorse. As for Christ’s example and need of prayer, — I felt that he did not mean what we mean by prayer: and I think so still. I think he would condemn our prayers as much as he did those of the Pharisees of his time: and that with him prayer was contemplation and aspiration chiefly. — Next, I saw very painfully, (I mean with the pain of disgust) how much lower a thing it is to lead even the loftiest life from a regard to the will or mind of any other being, than from a natural working out of our own powers. I felt this first as to resignation under suffering, and soon after as to moral action. Now, I do know something of this matter of resignation. I know it to the very bottom. I have been a very great sufferer, — subject to keen miseries almost all my life till quite lately; and never, I am pretty confident, did any one acquiesce in God’s will with a more permanent enthusiasm than I did; — because this suited the bent of my nature. But I became ashamed of this; — ashamed of that kind of support when I felt I had a much higher ground of patience in myself. (Only think how shocked the orthodox would be at this, and how they would talk of the depravity of our nature, and of my awful presumption! I saw a sort of scared smile on Mrs. —’s face the other day, when, in talking about education, I said we had yet to see what could be done by a direct appeal to our noble human nature. She, liberal as she is, thinks we have such active bad tendencies, such interior corruption, that we can do nothing without — not effort, or toil, but — Help. Yet she, and Mrs. — too, devours my Household Education papers, as if she had never met with any thing true before on that subject. She says I most certainly have been a mother in a pre-existent state: and yet, if she knew that these papers were founded on ‘infidel’ and phrenological principles, she would mourn over me with deep grief.) — Well but, — you see now, how long a preparation I have had; and how gradual, for my present freedom. — As to what my present views are, when clearly brought to the point of expression, they are just these. I feel a most reverential sense of something wholly beyond our apprehension. Here we are, in the universe! this is all we know: and while we feel ourselves in this isolated position, with obscurity before and behind, we must feel that there is something above and beyond us. If that something were God, (as people mean by that word, and I am confident it is not) he would consider those of us the noblest who must have evidence in order to belief; — who can wait to learn, rather than rush into supposition. As for the whole series of Faiths, my present studies would have been enough, if I had not been prepared before, to convince me that all the forms of the higher religions contain, (in their best aspect) the same great and noble ideas, which arise naturally out of our own minds, and grow with the growth of the general mind; but that there is really no evidence whatever of any sort of revelation, at any point in the history. The idea of a future life, too, I take to be a necessary one, (I mean necessary for support) in its proper place, but likely to die out when men better understand their nature and the summum bonum which it incloses. At the same time, so ignorant as I am of what is possible in nature, I do not deny the possibility of a life after death: and if I believed the desire for it to be as universal as I once thought it, I should look upon so universal a tendency as some presumption in favour of a continuous life. But I doubt the desire and belief being so general as they are said to be: and then, the evidence in favour of it is nothing; — except some unaccountable mesmeric stories. — As for your correspondent’s very young question, about why we should do right, — how such remarks show that we neglect our own nature while running after the supposed pleasure of another! I am sure I never felt more desirous of the right than I do now, or more discomposed when it flashes across me that I have done wrong. But I need not write about this to you, of all people. — What a long confession of faith I have written you! Yes, it is faith, is it not? — and not infidelity, as ninety-nine hundredths of the world would call it. — As for the loneliness I spoke of, I don’t generally mind it: and there is abundant ground of sympathy between me and my best friends, as long as occasion does not require that I should give names to my opinions. I have not yet had any struggle with my natural openness or indiscretion. I never could conceal any opinion I hold, and I am sure I never would: and I know therefore that I am at the mercy (in regard to reputation and some of my friendships) of accident, which may at any hour render an avowal necessary. But I do not fear this. I have run so many inferior risks, and suffered so little in my peace by divers avowals and heresies, that I am not likely to tremble now. What does give me a qualm sometimes, is thinking what such friends as — and as — will suffer, whenever they come to know that I think their “Christian hope” baseless. They are widows, and they live by their expectation of a future life.* I seriously believe that — would go mad or die, if this hope was shaken in her: and my opinions are more to her than any others since her husband’s death. But I say to myself as you would say, — that these matters must take care of themselves. If the truth comes to me, I must believe it. — Yes, I should not wonder if there is a prodigious clamour against me, some day, as you say; — perhaps after this book comes out. But I don’t think I should care for that, about a matter of opinion. I should (or might) about a matter of conduct; for I am sadly weak in my love of approbation: but about a matter of opinion, I can’t and don’t believe what I once did; and there ’s an end. It is a thing which settles itself; — for there is no going back to discarded beliefs. It is a great comfort to me to have you to speak to, and to look to for sympathy. It is a delightful indulgence and refreshment: but if you were to die, or to be engrossed by other interests and occupations, so as to diverge from me, I think I could do without sympathy, in a matter so certain as my inability to believe as I once did. — But enough and too much. There will surely never be occasion to write you such a letter again. But I have written, not so much about my mind, as about a mind, which you, as a philosopher, may like to see into, as well as to sympathise with as a friend. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
I walk every morning, never stopping for weather. I shall have the young moon now for ten days. Emerson is engaged (lecturing) deep at present, but hopes to come by and by. He is free, if any man is. So I hope you can come when he does. — The motto of the dial is, “Come, light! Visit me!” Old Wordsworth likes this much.
“O! your letter was very pleasant to me. We rarely agree as completely as I do in that.
“Good night! — it is late.
Ever yours truly,
Mr. Emerson did come. He spent a few days in February with me; and, unfavourable as the season was for seeing the district, — the fells and meadows being in their dunnest hay-colour instead of green, — he saw in rides with a neighbour and myself some of the most striking features in the nearer scenery. I remember bringing him, one early morning, the first green spray of the wild currant, from a warm nook. We met soon after in London, where Mr. Atkinson made acquaintance with him. It was a great pleasure to me to have for my guest one of the most honoured of my American hosts, and to find him as full as ever of the sincerity and serenity which had inspired me with so cordial a reverence twelve years before.
The mention of “Household Education” in the letter just quoted reminds me of some work that I was busy about when invited to go to the East. “The People’s Journal” was then in the hands of Mr. Saunders, who has since shown more of his quality than he had scope for in that periodical, but who engaged my respect by the spirit in which he carried on his enterprise. He was a perfect stranger to me before; but we soon became friends on the ground of that enterprise of his; and I wrote a good deal for him; — a set of papers called “Surveys from the Mountain,” and many on desultory subjects: I forget when it was that he suggested the subject of “Household Education” to me, as one which required different treatment from any that it had hitherto met with: but it was certainly after my return from the East, and after his discontinuance of the “People’s Journal,” that I planned the volume, — the first chapters of which had been written at his request. When I was entirely independent of him, and had nothing to consider but the best use to make of my opportunity, I resolved to write the book for the Secularist order of parents. It had been conveyed to me, before this time, that there was a great want of juvenile literature for the Secularists, who could obtain few story-books for their children which were not stuffed with what was in their eyes pernicious superstition. People of all beliefs can see the hardship of this; and I was forcibly struck by it. If the age of fiction-writing had not been over with me, so that I felt that I could not write good stories, I should have responded to the appeal by writing more children’s tales. The next best thing that I could do was to write for the Secularists a familiar book on “Household Education.” Two surprises awaited me, on the appearance of that volume: — the bulk of the Secularist body, and the cordial reception of the book by Christian parents. After the publication of the “Atkinson Letters,” I had reason to know how very different was the state of opinion in England from any thing that I had supposed when I had felt lonely in my views. I then found that I was, as far as I can discover, actually on the side of the majority of sensible and thoughtful persons; and that the Christians, who are apt to look on a seceder as, in some sort, a fallen person, are in fact in a minority, under that mode of reckoning. The reception of my book, when its qualities came to be understood, prepared me for the welcome discovery of the actual condition of the Secularists, and their daily extending prospects; while it proved that there are a good many Christian parents who can accept suggestion and aid from one who will not pronounce their Shibboleth; and that they can enter into moral sympathy with one who finds aspiration to be wholly unconnected with notions of inherent human corruption, free will, and the immortality of the soul. The book was published in 1848; and it must be published again; for it has been for some time out of print.
The winter of 1847-8 passed delightfully in the preparation of my book. I doubt whether there is any higher pleasure, in which intellectual and moral enjoyment are commingled, than in writing a book from the heart; — a book of one’s own conception and wrought out all alone: and I doubt whether any author could feel more satisfaction, (in proportion to individual capacity for pleasure, of course) in the production of a book than I did in regard to “Eastern Life.” I wrote on in entire security about its publication; for I had made an agreement with Mr. Murray in the autumn. His father had wished to publish for me, and had made more than one overture; and I wished to try whether there was advantage, in point of circulation, in being published by Murray. After the failure of the “Game Law Tales,” I considered myself fully authorised to do the best I could for my next work; and especially for one so considerable as “Eastern Life.” I had every desire that Mr. Murray should know precisely what he was undertaking; and I explained to him, in the presence of a witness, as distinctly as possible, and even with reiteration, what the plan and agreement of the book were designed to be. He seemed so entirely satisfied, and offered his terms afterwards with so much good will, that I never dreamed of difficulty, and sent him the M. S. of the two first volumes when finished. After a note of acknowledgment and compliment, the M. S. was immediately returned, with a curt note which afforded no explanation. Mr. Murray could not publish the book; and that was all. The story goes that Mr. Murray was alarmed by being told, — what he then gave forth as his plea for breach of contract, — that the book was a “conspiracy against Moses.” Without crediting this joke in full, we may suppose that his clerical clients interfered to compel him to resign the publication; and I understood, on good authority, long after, when the success of the book was secure, that he heartily regretted the mischance. I wrote by the same day’s post to Mr. Moxon, to tell him the facts of the case, and to offer him the publication, which he accepted by return of post, — on the usual terms; viz., that Mr. Moxon should take the risk, and give me two-thirds of the profits. The first year’s proceeds made my house and its contents my own. I declined all interest in the second edition, desiring that my share of the proceeds should go to the cheapening of the book. I had got all I wanted from it, in the way of money, and I had an earnest desire that it should circulate widely among the less opulent class who were most likely to sympathise with its contents. I do not know why I should not relate an incident, in connexion with this matter, which it gratifies me to recall. One day in the desert, when some hostile Arabs waylaid our party, my camel-leader trotted me away, against my will, from the spectacle of the fight which was to ensue. The same thing happened to Mr. and Mrs. Yates; and we three found ourselves near a clump of acacias where we were to await the event of the feud, and the rest of our caravan. We alighted, and sat down in the scanty shade. Mr. Yates observed that this encounter would be a picturesque incident for my book: and this led us to talk of whether there should be a book or not. I told Mr. Yates that this was a good opportunity for mentioning my chief scruple about writing the book at all. I knew he and Mrs. Yates would not sympathise in it; but yet it was best to utter it frankly. I scrupled about making money by a journey which was his gift. The surprise expressed in his countenance was really amusing. “O, dear!” said he: “I am sure Mrs. Yates and I shall be very happy indeed if you should be able so soon to make your house completely your own. It will be, indeed, another pleasant consequence of this journey, that we had not thought of.” It gave me hearty satisfaction, after this, to write to them that, through this book, their kind wish was fulfilled.
An event occurred last Saturday night which makes us ask ourselves whether we have really passed the middle of our century. In the course of Saturday night, the twentieth of November, one died who could and did tell so much of what happened early in the reign of George the Third, that hearers felt as if they were in personal relations with the men of that time. Miss Berry was remarkable enough in herself to have excited a good deal of emotion by dying any time within the last seventy years. Dying now, she leaves as strong as ever the impression of her admirable faculties, her generous and affectionate nature, and her high accomplishments, while awakening us to a retrospect of the changes and fashions of our English intellect, as expressed by literature. She was not only the woman of letters of the last century carried forward into our own — she was not only the woman of fashion who was familiar with the gaieties of life before the fair daughters of George the Third were seen abroad, and who had her own will and way with society up to last Saturday night: she was the repository of the whole literary history of fourscore years; and when she was pleased to throw open the folding-doors of her memory, they were found to be mirrors, and in them was seen the whole procession of literature, from the mournful Cowper to Tennyson the laureate.
It was a curious sight — visible till recently, though now all are gone — the chatting of three ladies on the same sofa — the two Miss Berrys and their intimate friend, Lady Charlotte Lindsay. Lady Charlotte Lindsay was the daughter of Lord North; and the Miss Berrys had both received, as was never any secret, the offer of the hand of Horace Walpole. It is true he was old, and knew himself to be declining, and made this offer as an act of friendship and gratitude; but still, the fact remains that she, who died last Saturday night, might have been the wife of him who had the poet Gray for his tutor. These ladies brought into our time a good deal of the manners, the conversation and the dress of the last century; but not at all in a way to cast any restraint on the youngest of their visitors, or to check the inclination to inquire into the thoughts and ways of men long dead, and the influence of modes long passed away. It was said that Miss Berry’s parties were rather blue; and perhaps they were so; but she was not aware of it: and all thought of contemporary pedantry dissolved under her stories of how she once found on the table, on her return from a ball, a volume of “Plays on the Passions,” and how she kneeled on a chair at the table to see what the book was like, and was found there — feathers and satin shoes and all — by the servant who came to let in the winter morning light; or of how the world of literature was perplexed and distressed — as a swarm of bees that have lost their queen — when Dr. Johnson died; or of how Charles Fox used to wonder that people could make such a fuss about that dullest of new books — Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” He was an Eton boy, just promised a trip to Paris by his father, when Miss Berry was born; and Pitt was a child in the nursery, probably applauded by his maid for success in learning to speak plain. Burns was then toddling in and out, over the threshold of his father’s cottage. Just when she was entering on the novel-reading age, Evelina came out; and Fanny Burney’s series of novels were to that generation of young people what Scott’s were to the next but one. If the youths and maidens of that time had bad fiction, they had good history; for the learned Mr. Gibbon gave them volume after volume which made them proud of their age. They talked about their poets, and, no doubt, each had an idol in that day as in our’s and every body’s. The earnestness, sense, feeling and point of Cowper delighted some; and they reverently told of the sorrows of his secluded life, as glimpses were caught of him in his walks with Mrs. Unwin. Others stood on tiptoe to peep into Dr. Darwin’s “chaise” as he went his professional round, writing and polishing his verses as he went; and his admirers insisted that nothing so brilliant had ever been written before. Miss Berry must have well remembered the first exhibition of this brilliancy before the careless eyes of the world; and she must have remembered the strangeness of the impression when Crabbe tried the contrast of his homely pathos, encouraged to do so by Burke. And then came something which it is scarcely credible that the world should have received during the period of Johnson’s old age, and the maturity of Gibbon, and Sir William Jones, and Burns — the wretched rhyming of the Batheaston set of sentimental pedants. In rebuke of them, the now mature woman saw the theory of Wordsworth rise; and in rebuke of him, she saw the young and confident Jeffrey and his comrades arise; and in rebuke of them, saw the “Quarterly Review” arise, when she was beginning to be elderly. She saw Joanna Baillie’s great fame rise and decline, without either the rise or decline changing in the least the countenance or the mood of the happy being whose sunshine came from quite another luminary than fame. She saw the rise of Wordsworth’s fame, growing as it did out of the reaction against the pomps and vanities of the Johnsonian and Darwinian schools; and she lived to see its decline when the great purpose was fulfilled, of inducing poets to say what they mean, in words which will answer that purpose. She saw the beginning and the end of Moore’s popularity; and the rise and establishment of Campbell’s. The short career of Byron passed before her eyes like a summer storm: and that of Scott constituted a great interest of her life for many years. What an experience — to have studied the period of horrors — represented by Monk Lewis — of conventionalism in Fanny Burney — of metaphysical fiction in Godwin — of historical romance in Scott — and of a new order of fiction in Dickens, which it is yet too soon to characterise by a phrase.
We might go on for hours, and not exhaust the history of what she saw on the side of literature alone. If we attempted to number the scientific men who have crossed her threshold — the foreigners who found within her doors the best of London and the cream of society, we should never have done. And what a series of political changes she saw — the continental wars, the establishment of American independence — the long series of French revolutions — the career of Washington, of Napoleon, of Nelson, of Wellington, with that of all the statesmen from Lord Chatham to Peel — from Franklin to Webster! But it is too much. It is bewildering to us, though it never overpowered her. She seemed to forget nothing, and to notice every thing, and to be able to bear so long a life in such times; but she might well be glad to sink to sleep, as she did last Saturday night after so long-drawn a pageant of the world’s pomps and vanities, and transient idolatries and eternal passions.
Reviewing the spectacle, it appears to us, as it probably did to her, that there is no prevalent taste, at least in literature, without a counteraction on the spot, preparing society for a reaction. Miss Berry used to say that she published the later volumes of Walpole’s correspondence to prove that the world was wrong in thinking him heartless; she believing the appearance of heartlessness in him to be ascribable to the influence of his time. She did not succeed in changing the world’s judgment of her friend; and this was partly because the influences of the time did not prevent other men from showing heart. Charles James Fox had a heart; and so had Burke and a good many more. While Johnson and then Darwin were corrupting men’s taste in diction, Cowper was keeping it pure enough to enjoy the three rising poets, alike only in their plainness of speech — Crabbe, Burns, and Wordsworth. Before Miss Burney had exhausted our patience, the practical Maria Edgeworth was growing up. While Godwin would have engaged us wholly with the interior scenery of man’s nature, Scott was fitting up his theatre for his mighty procession of costumes, with men in them to set them moving; and Jane Austen, whose name and works will outlive many that were supposed immortal, was stealthily putting forth her unmatched delineations of domestic life in the middle classes of our aristocratic England. And against the somewhat feeble elegance of Sir William Jones’s learning there was the safeguard of Gibbon’s marvellous combination of strength and richness in his erudition. The vigor of Campbell’s lyrics was a set-off against the prettiness of Moore’s. The subtlety of Coleridge meets its match, and a good deal more, in the development of science; and the morose complainings of Byron are less and less echoed now that the peace has opened the world to gentry whose energies would be self-corroding if they were under blockade at home, through an universal continental war. Byron is read at sea now, on the way to the North Pole, or to California, or to Borneo; and in that way his woes can do no harm. To every thing there is a season; and to every fashion of a season there is an antagonism preparing. Thus all things have their turn; all human faculties have their stimulus, sooner or later, supposing them to be put in the way of the influences of social life.
It was eminently so in the case of the aged lady who is gone from us; and well did her mind respond to the discipline offered by her long and favorable life of ninety years. One would like to know how she herself summed up such an experience as hers, — the spectacle of so many everlasting things dissolved — so many engrossing things forgotten — so many settled things set afloat again, and floated out of sight. Perhaps those true words wandered once more into her mind as her eyes were closing: —
To his Excellency, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: —
The undersigned respectfully represent that they are informed that Abner Kneeland, of the city of Boston, has been found guilty of the crime of Blasphemy, for having published, in a certain newspaper called the “Boston Investigator,” his disbelief in the existence of God, in the following words:
“Universalists believe in a God, which I do not; but believe that their God, with all his moral attributes, (aside from nature itself) is nothing more than a chimera of their own imagination.”
Your petitioners have learned, by an examination of the record and documents in the case, made by one of their number, that the conviction of said Kneeland proceeded on the ground above stated. For though the indictment originally included two other publications, one of a highly irreverent, and the other of a grossly indecent character; yet it appears by the Report, that, at the trial, the prosecuting officer mainly relied on the sentence above quoted, and that the Judge who tried the case confined his charge wholly to stating the legal construction of its terms, and the law applicable to it.
In these circumstances, the undersigned respectfully pray, that your Excellency will grant to the said Kneeland an unconditional pardon, for the offence of which he has been adjudged guilty. And they ask this, not from any sympathy with the convicted individual, who is personally unknown to most or all of them; nor from any approbation of the doctrines professed by him, which are believed by your petitioners to be as pernicious and degrading as they are false; but
Because the punishment proposed to be inflicted is believed to be at variance with the spirit of our institutions and our age, and with the soundest expositions of those civil and religious rights which are at once founded in our nature, and guarantied by the constitutions of the United States and this Commonwealth;
Because the freedom of speech and the press is the chief instrument of the progress of truth and of social improvements, and is never to be restrained by legislation, except when it invades the rights of others, or instigates to specific crimes;
Because, if opinion is to be subjected to penalties, it is impossible to determine where punishment shall stop; there being few or no opinions, in which an adverse party may not see threatenings of ruin to the state;
Because truths essential to the existence of society must be so palpable as to need no protection from the magistrate;
Because the assumption by government of a right to prescribe or repress opinions has been the ground of the grossest depravations of religion, and of the most grinding despotisms;
Because religion needs no support from penal law, and is grossly dishonored by interpositions for its defence, which imply that it cannot be trusted to its own strength and to the weapons of reason and persuasion in the hands of its friends;
Because, by punishing infidel opinions, we shake one of the strongest foundations of faith, namely, the evidence which arises to religion from the fact, that it stands firm and gathers strength amidst the severest and most unfettered investigations of its claims;
Because error of opinion is never so dangerous as when goaded into fanaticism by persecution, or driven by threatenings to the use of secret arts;
Because it is well known that the most licentious opinions have, by a natural reaction, sprung up in countries where the laws have imposed severest restraint on thought and discussion;
Because the influence of hurtful doctrines is often propagated by the sympathy which legal severities awaken towards their supporters;
Because we are unwilling that a man, whose unhappy course has drawn on him general disapprobation, should, by a sentence of the law, be exalted into a martyr, or become identified with the sacred cause of freedom; and lastly,
Because we regard with filial jealousy the honor of this Commonwealth, and are unwilling that it should be exposed to reproach, as clinging obstinately to illiberal principles, which the most enlightened minds have exploded.
Boston, Massachusetts, 1839.
A MONTH AT SEA.
The following is an account of a real voyage, perfectly true, except in one respect. For obvious reasons the names are all changed. As to every other particular, the scene is presented exactly as it appeared to the eye and the imagination of a landswoman.
Some weeks before the sailing of the packet, I went on board, as she lay alongside the wharf on the East River, New York, to select my state-room. I engaged one for myself and Miss Saunders, who was one of the party with whom I had arranged to cross the ocean. I bore in mind the exhortation I had received from an experienced sailor, to secure a berth on the starboard side of the ladies’ cabin; for the sake, among other reasons, of being out of the way of the scents and sounds of the steward’s pantry. The state-room I secured was on the starboard side. The captain wrote my name and Miss Saunders’s on slips of paper, which he pinned to the curtains of the berths. He then introduced me to the stewardess, Margaret, a bonny, obliging Scotch girl, whose countenance and manner pleased me exceedingly.
The ship, which I shall call the Eurydice, was not so new, so clean, or so convenient, as most on the line; but there were considerations in favour of our going by her which overbalanced these objections. The high character of the captain, and his being a personal friend of some of our party, were the chief inducements to us to go by the Eurydice. She sailed too on the first of August, which was the season at which we wished to cross.
The day before we were to sail, I was informed that Miss Lamine, a passenger, had been to the ship, and had removed Miss Saunders’s ticket from the curtain of the berth, and substituted her own, on the ground of Miss Saunders’s passage having been only conditionally engaged. This was true; but it was no excuse for the lady’s ill-manners. As anything is better than squabbling anywhere, and particularly on board ship, where people cannot get out of each other’s way, I gave up the point, surrendering my berth to Miss Saunders, who was an invalid, and taking up with a state-room on the larboard side, which I had to share with a young orphan girl, Kate, who, being left destitute by the recent death of both her parents, was allowed by the captain’s kindness to work her way over to her friends in Wales, by assisting the stewardess.
My things were packed so as to occasion the least possible trouble to myself and the people on board. Some passengers are not so considerate as they should be about this. The ladies’ cabin is small enough at best; and it should never be crowded with trunks and bandboxes, for people to tumble over in rough weather. Such encumbrances are unsightly, too; and in a situation like that of being on board ship, every care should be taken to avoid offence to eye or mind. The ladies’ cabin should be as neat as any parlour in a private house. A carpet-bag and bandbox, such as the state-room will easily hold, may be made to contain all that is necessary for a month’s voyage; with the addition of a few good books, in which the owner’s name should be written, and which should not be too fine to be willingly lent.
I carried no stores. Everything requisite for good eating and drinking is so abundantly provided on board these packets, that it is useless to burden oneself with anything more. Some of the ladies found comfort in ginger lozenges, and each should have a vinaigrette. I do not remember that anything else was in request. Warm clothing is essential to comfort. While basking in a July sun on shore, it is difficult to believe how bitter the cold will be a few miles out at sea; but no amount of cloaks, furs, and woollen over-shoes can be too great for comfort during the first and last days of a voyage, usually the coldest of the term. There is much comfort in having two cloaks; one to wear, and another to wrap round the feet on cold days, and in a high wind.
The 1st of August was an intensely hot day: I looked with amazement at my boa, fur tippet, warm cloak and gown, and wondered whether it was possible that I should in a few hours be shivering, in spite of them all. About eleven o’clock, the passengers assembled on board a steam-boat which was to convey them to their ship. Some, of whom I was one, were attended by friends who meant to accompany them as far as Sandy Hook, the southern point of New York bay. It was a dismal morning, sad with the sorrows of parting. We tried to amuse ourselves after we had stepped on board by showing the ship to the children who were to return. I was rather dismayed to see the range of water-casks on deck, looking like a very ugly encumbrance. In the more modern packets they are out of sight.
We were towed out of the harbour by a steamer; and the motion was so smooth, the shores so bright, and the luncheon in the cabin so good, that the children evidently thought a voyage must be an extremely pleasant affair. They little knew how heavy were the hearts of their parents and friends round the table, with the parting glass at their lips, and parting emotions struggling in their hearts.
A certain square box of mine contained some papers of value; and this circumstance was mentioned to the captain by a mutual friend, without my knowledge. The captain said the box should not go down into the hold with the rest, but should stand under the table in the gentlemen’s cabin, where it would be in nobody’s way, and would be kept dry. It will be seen what grew out of this small circumstance.
The characters of the passengers will appear in the course of the narrative. At present they may be thus indicated. My own party consisted of Professor Ely and his lady; Miss Saunders; Mr. Tracy, a youth just from college, and going to travel in Europe with the professor and his lady; and Lieutenant Browning, of the American navy. With Miss Lamine was an old Dutch lady, Mrs. Happen. A very stout widow lady, with her two daughters, Irish, and strangers to us all, and Miss Taylor, the captain’s invalid sister, made up the number of ladies. An elderly Scotch gentleman, Mr. Bruce, appeared after two days, having been laid up in his berth with a bruised leg. Some young men from New Orleans and Mobile; Dr. Sharp, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Larkin, and Mr. Mann, were the only others that I now remember.
By four o’clock we were off Sandy Hook, and it was necessary for our New York friends to return. I promised to send them a minute journal of the events of our voyage. With a few suppressions and amplifications, the following is what I sent them: —
August 3. — Already I feel or believe myself able to write; if you can but manage to read an unsteady scrawl on damp paper. Fortified by chicken broth, red with cayenne pepper, I begin my journal: —
Before we had quite lost sight of your steamer the pilot began to be in a hurry off. “Haul away, boys, and no humbugging!” cried he. Soon after, he told the captain to “sail due east, and keep the white buoy on his weather bow,” and departed — too soon — before we were over the bar; and the captain was too anxious to go down to dinner. Mrs. Ely was too much of something else, and so sat still in the round-house (the sort of summer-house on deck, built round the head of the stairs leading down into the cabin.) Miss Saunders went down with me, still declaring that no Saunders was ever yet sea-sick since the world began. Presently, however, she said at table, “Shall I pass you?” and glad enough she was to get into the air. The motion of the ship now became unpleasant, and I was not sorry when the ladies left their dessert to repair to the deck.
I found that Mrs. Ely did not present a model of colouring for a portrait-painter; her eyes and lips being yellow, and her cheeks ash-colour. I tried to read the Boston newspapers I had received in the morning, but was too heavy at heart, and found them strangely uninteresting. Just before I went down for the night, at seven o’clock, I was cheered by a single charm in Miss Saunders — a precious look and gesture of fun in the midst of distress. O the worth of good-humour at sea! What a contrast was here to Miss Lamine, who made a noise all evening and night, such as was never heard in these upper regions before, I should think. She was evidently anxious that every one on board should know the extent of her sufferings. The captain told me in the morning that he had been explaining to his sister that “noise does no good, and is not fair.”
When in the morning with much toil I got myself on deck (the only lady,) the captain congratulated me on our rough sea and rapid progress: “very good for the sea-sick.” These favourable circumstances, however, sent me down before noon, to re-appear no more till evening. The captain is as kind as a brother, and as handy as a lady’s maid. In the midst of our distresses, Margaret’s innocent face and kind voice are a comfort to see and hear. To set against these solaces, the flies are almost intolerable, notwithstanding my state-room (which it was thought would not be wanted) being luxuriously hung with cobwebs. These flies must be of American extraction, to judge by the pertinacity of their disposition. Only two or three showed the breeding of English flies in keeping away after a certain number of rebuffs. What can be the reason of the difference between your flies and ours in pertinacity? If Margaret was driven at last to throw her apron over her face, what must have been the annoyance to us invalids? I lay on the sofa. I wish you had seen the august captain approach, pepper-box in hand, and followed by a cup of hot chicken-broth. I felt seasoned for half a century, and took to the ‘Life of Mackintosh,’ of which I read half a volume before laying the book down. Then I thought of three particularly pleasant things, which you said to me on Sunday and Monday. Can you remember or imagine what they were? I will only say that they were nothing personal. Then I toiled up on deck to see the sun set; admired him the minute before; and then forgot all about him till he had disappeared. Lieutenant Browning offered me the astronomical comfort of assuring me that I had really seen the last of the sun, and that it was only the refraction that I had missed. This was about as effectual as consolation usually is.
Thinking that the captain looked grave about his poor flock of ladies, and knowing that nothing is more dispiriting to the captain than the absence of passengers from the table, I plunged down into the cabin to tea, and staid an hour, beguiled by some pleasant conversation.
Some remarkable events have happened to-day. Mrs. Happen’s cat has caught a mouse. This opens a prospect of some unlooked-for provisions, in case of our voyage being three months long, and our stock failing. Professor Ely has donned his sea-dress, popping his head up the stairs in a cap, which must have been a grenadier’s. We dubbed him Captain Ely. Dr. Sharp is disconsolate for want of “two small buttons” for the straps of his pantaloons. He implored the steward to furnish him with some, — in vain. The under-steward, — in vain also. The captain. The captain was brought down into the cabin, to hear this petition; and offered that “two small buttons” should be cut off his own pantaloons for Dr. Sharp’s use; — which Dr. Sharp accepted! Miss Saunders saw a Portuguese-man-of-war before I did, which makes me jealous. Do you know why this little fish is thus called? I have endeavoured in vain to learn. Some wag says that it is because, as soon as a gale rises, it fills and goes down; but this must be said out of some special grudge against the Portuguese navy. I have seen these beautiful little mariners of the deep of various hues and sizes, some as large as my fist, some as small as my grandmother’s teacups. I have seen them of a rich violet, of a pale lilac, and of a dingy pink; their hue evidently not depending wholly on the sunshine or shade in which they may be gliding. Before I became acquainted with them, I fancied that they floated only in sunshine, and on a calm sea; but I have seen them in almost all weathers. They are most beautiful when shining on the surface of a deep blue sea; but they allow themselves to be tossed about on the crests of troubled waves, and turned over and over in rough weather, before “they fill and go down.” I never handled one. The sailors are unwilling to catch them; and when they do, are careful to fetch them up in bowls or nets, and to avoid touching the fish; as, on being touched, it discharges a fluid which raises a large blister on the skin, and is very painful. The part of the fish which answers to the shell of the nautilus is soft, — a mere membrane; but its form is that of a nautilus shell, and it floats like a tiny but substantial boat, the fibrous parts of the little fish depending and moving as it changes its direction. Except the dolphin, I think the Portuguese-man-of-war the prettiest of the inhabitants of the deep which come to the surface to delight the eye of the passenger.
I saw to-day two Mother Carey’s chickens. We shall have them now sporting about our ship all the way. I wish we could change our swarms of flies into these pretty creatures.
Mrs. Happen’s quick eye saw my box under the table in the gentlemen’s cabin. She says “If some people’s boxes are taken care of, so shall other people’s be;” and she has actually ordered the steward to bring up her trunks from between decks, and put them in the same place. Her jealousy being once roused, there will be no more peace in her mind all the voyage. She quarrelled with the captain at the dinner-table, for letting the lamp in the ladies’ cabin blow out at two in the morning. He answered by sending us the binnacle lamp, which cannot blow out. He is much too good to her. She is on bad terms with several of the passengers already.
The captain has been making war against the flies, sweeping thousands of them out of the skylight to the birds; so that they will be changed into Mother Carey’s chickens in a different way from what I meant. He brought me down a chick of Mother Carey’s brood. Pretty creature! with its long legs and yellow web-feet, and curious hooked beak! It stumbled and fluttered about the deck, and then we let it get away. I never could conceive before how these birds walked on the water, which I saw they certainly did. They never leave us, flitting about, apparently without rest, from the time we are out of sight of land, till we come near it again. They are in flocks of from two or three to thirty or forty. They feed on the refuse food thrown from the ship.
The captain lashed up a stool on the rail, to serve for the back of a chair. Here I sat in the breeze, enjoying some feelings of health again, and proceeding rapidly with “Mackintosh’s Life,” which is very interesting.
Mrs. Ely is on deck to-day, dizzy but better. The other ladies are still disconsolate, and show no disposition to be sociable.
4th. — A heavenly day: the perfection of sailing. It is unreasonable to expect more than one such a day in a month’s voyage. The wind was fair, mild, and balmy; the sea radiant in all directions. The captain gave orders to “square the yards” (a delightful sound always), and we cut steadily through the waves all day, — perceiving only in the cabin that we were on the sighing bosom of the deep. Our sails being all set, the captain and crew seemed quite at leisure. I saw no less than six Portuguese-men-of-war, wetting their lilac sails in the purple sea. I could not leave such a sight, even for the amusement of hauling over the letter-bags. Mr. Ely put on his spectacles; Mrs. Ely drew a chair; others lay along on deck to examine the superscriptions of the letters from Irish emigrants to their friends. It is wonderful how some of these epistles reach their destination; the following, for instance, begun at the top left-hand corner, and elaborately prolonged to the bottom right one: — “Mrs. A. B. ile of man douglas wits sped England.” The letter-bags are opened for the purpose of sorting out those which are for delivery in port from the rest. A fine day is always chosen, generally towards the end of the voyage, when amusements become scarce, and the passengers are growing weary. It is pleasant to sit on the rail, and see the passengers gathered round the heap of letters, and to hear the shouts of merriment when any exceedingly original superscription comes under notice. Though the ladies seem by this time all well, some of them show no disposition to render themselves agreeable; and the captain was thus tempted to an early development of all his resources of amusement.
Mrs. Happen presently came up, and indulged in a passion of tears. Her cat is missing, and she is sure some cruel person has thrown it overboard, because somebody wrung her Poll-parrot’s neck on her first voyage. We suggested that it was more probable that pussy, feeling frightened, had hidden herself, and would re-appear. But the weeping lady was sure that all was over with pussy. At dinner, her eyes were much swollen, but she was disposed for some turkey, and sent her plate to Mr. Ely for some, begging that it might be without bone. He sent her a plump wing, which she returned with an order to him to take the bones out. In the evening there was a bustle on deck: all the stewards were running with hot water and cold, and the ladies with “eau-de-Cologne.” Mrs. Happen was hysterical, — fainting, from the news having been too suddenly imparted to her that her cat had re-appeared in the cabin. Mrs. Happen’s negromaid, Sally, has orders to keep her mistress’s state-room so shut up (in August) as that pussy may not hide herself again.
The two Miss O’Briens appeared today on deck, speaking to nobody, sitting on the same seats, with their feet on the same letter-bag, reading two volumes of the same book, and dressed alike, even to the yellow spectacles, which are so far unbecoming as that they make good grey eyes look grass-green. Their mother has not yet appeared at table, and keeps her pillows about her; but I twice saw her during dinner steal to the steward’s pantry, and come forth with a replenished plate, in addition to the lobster-salad we sent her. There is fear that she will not shrink materially, though she assures Mrs. Ely that “a spare diet is the only thing at sea.” In this opinion I do not agree with her. I have reason to think a full and generous diet necessary to health at sea, — and particularly during the season of sickness. The reason, I believe, why some do not think so, is that they feel ill and miserable after eating; but they should remember how ill and miserable they felt before eating; and how much more so they might have been without eating. Disagreeable as is the effort to eat during sea-sickness, I am persuaded that, where it can be made, it obviates much suffering.
We began to be uneasy about knowing nothing of the steerage passengers. To be in the same bottom, on the wide ocean, and to be strangers, cannot be right. If some of the ladies prefer alienation, so be it: but we mean to give the rest of the people the means of acquaintanceship with us, if we can do it without intrusion. What can these worthy folks, amidst their real privations, think of the story of Mrs. Happen’s troubles, if the tale should reach their end of the ship?
The stars came out softly in our wide sky; and the sun set amidst indications of continued fair winds. Mr. Browning shows me our place on the chart every noon. We are about 400 miles from New York; — going further from you, the more we exult in our fair breeze. We meant to have had a rubber to-night, but found the cabin too warm. Every body is on deck, except some gentlemen who are at cards. I am going to see how the dim ocean looks under the stars.
I found less dimness than light upon deck. The captain never knew so sultry a night in this latitude. The sea was luminous; the exquisite light spreading in a flood from every breaking wave. There were explosions of lightning from the cloudy west. We dashed through the sea, and made great progress during the night, having accomplished one-fifth of our voyage by morning.
What a loss has there been of this glorious day to such as were stormy within while all was bright around!
August 5th. — A day as disagreeable as yesterday was the contrary. Damp, stifling, with much rain, and rolling, which threw us back upon our patience. Miss Saunders is gentle and merry. Every body begins to praise her. The ship is very inferior to the one I came out in; — in stewards, and in all manner of arrangements; but I can scarcely regret this, as it is the means of displaying the captain’s virtues. We are in constant admiration of his patience, ingenuity, and consideration of everybody. Mrs. Happen’s insults only make him more generous.
Before breakfast, for two dreary hours, Mrs. Ely beguiled us with capital sketches of character; — oddities. She does this very well: a little coarsely, perhaps, and not absolutely simply; but with much power. I read the first half of her book in the proofs.
Mr. Simpson began talking to me to-day about some mutual acquaintance. He can tell me every thing about Mexico, where he has been living. He has a true understanding of the Texan cause. He says the Mexicans hate all foreigners, and call them all English. It is too bad to mix us up with the Texans; though, as I am sorry to say, there have been English in the Texan ranks.
An hour before dinner, the clouds parted, and the wind became fresher and drier. I fell asleep on the rail, while looking for seasights, and woke refreshed.
In the afternoon, Miss Saunders and I had a long talk on the rail on the difference between religion, spontaneous and artificial: natural and arbitrary; professionally and unconsciously administered; with examples: all this arising out of some lines she brought me about gradual and sudden death. I amazed her by telling her of the incessant conflict in —’s mind, between her free and joyous nature, and the separate, arbitrary religion which she has had imposed upon her; but which will not for ever prevent her discovering that religion has a natural affinity with whatever is free, pure, lofty and exhilarating. She is one who would certainly break loose, or grow hypocritical in time, if she could not get liberty for her devotional spirit.
Then followed, our own party having assembled, not a few tales of travel, I furnishing an account of my Michigan trip. In the evening, the Elys, Mr. Tracy and I played a rubber. They are slow and young players, but pleasant partners and adversaries. Tracy will play well. — On deck, to see that there was nothing to be seen this moonless night. So uncomfortable with the damp heat of the day as to be unwilling to go down; but it is against my conscience to keep the girls up; and they will not go to rest till we do. I slept pretty well after all.
6th. — I really cannot write down all Mrs. Happen’s freaks. The captain is now busy with hammer and nails, trying to please her. She is jealous of a bandbox of Kate’s, standing in the entire stateroom, which her negro maid is allowed to have. She cannot possibly spare the curtains from the berth in her state-room, that she does not sleep in; and so forth.
I like Mr. Browning. He has been telling me some anecdotes of greatness, all full of the richest moral beauty. When he was at Marseilles, he went about hunting for the house where Guyon died. Nobody knew anything about Guyon!
At breakfast, five or six of us had a long talk about dressing-boxes, of all things. This led to the display of our respective ones, which was very amusing. Mrs. Ely’s was the most nice and complete; and Lieutenant Browning’s perhaps the most commodious, — being nothing else than a stocking! He thinks us worthy to hear the whole truth about our voyage; and so tells us that to-day we are going slowly, four points out of our course; that we got too far south at the outset; that we shall not cross “the Banks,” and shall therefore see neither icebergs nor cod-boats; that we have got into a region of calms and light winds, and shall probably have a long voyage. My heart sank for a moment, — I had so long counted the days which had home at the end of them; but I esteem it a sin to let one’s countenance fall on board ship; and we all joked upon the matter.
Found on deck Mr. Bruce, who has been in his berth nursing a wounded leg, ever since we came on board. He is Scotch, acquainted with divers literary folk in London; droll, and pretty sensible: — an acquisition, particularly to the captain, as he has promised to turn his novelty to good account with Mrs. Happen, who has quarrelled with every body else. He is going to lay himself out to amuse her. He has written some things for “Hood’s Comic Annual.” He will get some fine new material here.
Dr. Sharp asks the captain to-day if rain is quite fresh at sea.
Mrs. Happen owns she had a prejudice against Mr. Tracy from the moment she saw him. — She supposes Mrs. Ely and I enjoy the voyage from knowing that we shall never be in such society again. — She begs Mr Browning to inform her rightly about our course; for she never saw such mates in her life. Miss Lamine is very nearly as bad. She complains of everything, and has nicknamed every body. The captain told her not to feel uneasy at being of the same party with Mrs. Happen, as no one supposed Miss Lamine to have anything to do with the old lady’s behaviour. Miss Lamine went directly, and told Mrs. Happen every word that the captain had said.
Scene. — Ladies’ Cabin.
“Where’s the cat now?”
“In Missus’s state-room.”
“She’ll get away, as sure as she’s alive.”
(A groan from Sally.)
“Why don’t you tie her up?”
“I vow I will, if I can get a bit o’ cord.”
“Only, perhaps, your mistress will tie you up, if the cat happens not to like it.”
“Perhaps she will: only then she must get a pretty strong cord; that I can tell her.”
Scene. — Deck.
“I’ll tell you what, sir — we ’ve got this head-wind, all because you will keep catching Mother Carey’s chickens. If you go on catching them, we shall have a gale ahead.”
“In that case, I should advise your throwing the cat overboard.”
“Then we shall have a gale within ship that will last us all the way to Liverpool.”
11th. — Found it calm: chickens “tripping a ballet,” as Mrs. Ely says; and Lieutenant Browning predicting a fair wind, — which has this moment arrived. — The weather has been deplorable, and we have been rolled about, in the midst of one of those pelting rains which make every body busy in keeping dry without being stifled. Mr. Ely was wholly and happily absorbed in Southey’s “Cowper.” The rest of us talked and laughed in the round-house till poor Mrs. O’Brien (who begins to show herself a second Mrs. Happen) abruptly left the company, and burst into the cabin, exclaiming that we were all the lowest and most ignorant society she ever was in. For my part, I thought some of the conversation, particularly the captain’s, Mr. Browning’s, and Miss Saunders’s, very clever and entertaining. After a while, the weather conquered most of us. In vain the captain sent round his champagne, and his jokes, and kind sayings. Poor man! when the stars showed themselves, and the long tempest seemed over, and he was going to bed, after two days and a night of toil, the weather changed, and he could not leave the deck for hours. What a life it is!
Mr. Browning put on his sea-coat and went out into the storm, and came back, the rain streaming from his hat and chin, to praise the ship. He knew few that would stand such a wind under so much sail. I was glad to hear this, for certainly her inside is not to be praised. How strange it is to see music and lyres stuck up all over her, old and dirty as she is! and to see black coal buckets, with “Eurydice” painted on them! Miss Lamine lays down the law that “each passenger ought to have a whole state-room, twice the size of ours; but the people try to make money instead of accommodating the passengers.” The question is, whether she would like to pay accordingly. She never uses her berth, after all, but sleeps on the sofa.
Mrs. Happen could not perceive that there was any particular motion to-day. On the instant over went her rocking-chair on one side, throwing her into Miss O’Brien’s lap.
12th. — We do long for a little cheery weather. The captain is somewhat serious about it. He never knew so much damp, changeable weather at this season. We are past the Banks without having seen anything. Only one porpoise has shown himself. Only one ship has been hailed, and she did not answer; all which sounds very dull. I have been reading Southey’s “Cowper,” which has not mended the matter much. It is as interesting as possible, but most dismal.
I feel very small in the presence of the sailors. How they must look down upon us, fleeing in from every drop of rain; getting under the awning as soon as the sun shines, and going to bed comfortably every night, whatever the weather may be! I feel myself truly contemptible.
The captain and I had a full hour’s talk in the evening, when he was tired, after forty-eight hours of toil. He told me a great deal about his wife and children, and all about the loss of his brother last winter. The death of this brother has made a deep impression upon him. He asked me much about the degree of faith which it is possible to have in a future life, and gave me his own conceptions of it. I was heartily sorry when the tea-bell rang. The simplicity of this man, with all his other qualities, is beautiful. So serious, so funny (he has now been peeping down upon us through the skylight, with his round face in a lady’s long deck-bonnet;) so brave and cheerful, so amiable with his cross passengers, and his inefficient crew! Mrs. Ely says he is just as gentle with his crew in the midst of a stormy night, as with Mrs. Happen at table. Her room is where she can hear all that passes on deck. One miserable day, he looked himself to the making of the pea-soup, ordering the ham-bone in; then he mended the lock on Mrs. Ely’s room-door; then he came and talked of this life and other with me.
Mr. Browning is not in very good spirits. He says he has had more experience of bad company than ever before; and he now associates only with us. Poor Mrs. Happen sits all alone on deck. People speak kindly to her, but she makes no sort of answer. I am glad to see she reads a good deal.
The box of books, sent on board for the steerage by a benevolent gentleman, was brought up a few days ago, and immediately emptied. It is a fine resource for the idle men, and I like to see them perched on casks and chests absorbed in their books. We cannot succeed in making acquaintance with these people. Perhaps they have found out that our end of the ship is squally.
Yesterday the captain shouted, for the first time, “Splice the mainbrace” (Give out grog.) Mrs. Ely and I had previously done it in a small private way, without having so earned the comfort. The captain is now heard giving orders to kill the finest pig tonight. I think I shall ask him to shave and soap its tail first, and set the passengers to catch it. It might unite them in a common object, and restore good-humour. The cow was not milked on our two roughest days, at which the complainers profess to be very angry, and threaten to report the captain for it. If I were he, I would set them to try what milking cows in a rolling sea is like. Miss Saunders’s geranium pines, and will be as yellow as the mast before we land.
The captain told me this evening, what he does not wish the other ladies to know till we are within sight of port, lest they should be alarmed, that the mate behaved so ill as to be necessarily sent back with the pilot. The second mate was made first, and the carpenter second mate; and neither of them knows much of his business; so the captain has hard work to do. He says, “There is Lieutenant Browning to command, if anything should happen to me.”
Mr. Bruce gave me a dreadful account today of his sufferings from tic-douloureux, and of his cure, which he ascribes to his having taken nightly a pill consisting of three grains of mercury and one of stramonium. He is well now and very kind and agreeable.
15th. — Better news. For some hours we had a fair wind and delicious weather. We have been becalmed for days, between two winds, catching all the bad consequences of each, and none of the good. But these are the times for feeling that one stands between two worlds; looking forward and back upon the divisions of human society, and able to survey them without prejudice, and to philosophize upon them without interruption. These are the times for feeling as if one could do something for one’s race by toiling for it, and by keeping aloof from the storms of its passions and its selfish interests; humbly, not proudly, aloof. Such thoughts arise in the isolation of a voyage, as if they came up from the caverns of the deep. On the centre of the ocean one is as in another state of existence, with all one’s humanity about one.
Everybody’s ailments are gone, and all but the two unhappy old ladies look cheery this morning. I saw a whale yesterday. Mr. Bruce pronounced it “no orator, because it did not spout well;” but I was quite satisfied with its performances, — heaving its black carcase, and wallowing and plunging in the dirty-looking boiling sea. How different was everything the next morning. The sapphire sea, with its fleet of Portuguese-men-of-war; a single land-bird flitting and fluttering, from Newfoundland no doubt. Pity it had not faith to come on board, for I fear it will never get back.
I saw three flying fish — very pretty — leaping from the crest of one wave into another: but nothing was to me so beautiful as the transparent ripple, seen above the surface when the sun got low. After reading —’s capital sermon, I read no more, but sat with Miss Saunders on the rail all day, having much talk, with long intervals of silence. Mrs. Ely wrote all the morning; but I could not bear to lose a breath of balmy air, or a hue of the sweet sea. In the afternoon, we repeated poetry and sang, and promised each other scientific lectures on deck daily this next week. Do not laugh at us. You would have promised anything whatever on such an afternoon.
In the evening, five of us had a long conversation on European politics and American democracy, till the captain came to take me, first to the bows, to see the full sails swelling against the star-lit sky, and then to the stern, to see how bright a train of light we left behind us, as we dashed through at the rate of ten knots an hour. Professor Ely gave us a little history of the improvements in astronomy and navigation, the elements of these sciences being furnished by observation in the bright regions of the East to the foggy and scientific West. When these improvements are carried back to the starlit East, what may not the science become?
The captain brought me today a book, about the size of the palm of my hand, that I might look at a short poem, — rather pretty. He was very mysterious: the book was not published; was written by some one on board. We all guessed Mr. Bruce. But no; everybody had been told in a whisper, before two hours were over, that it was by Mr. Kitton, the artist and poet. Mr. Kitton was a poor sick gentleman, who had been in his berth ever since we sailed, and who now began to creep out into the sunshine. Dr. Sharp attended him professionally, and he had a friend to nurse him. We saw nothing of him except when he sat on deck in the middle of the day. He looked wretchedly, but I believe his complaints were not alarming.
Mrs. Happen treated the captain cruelly to-day. He looks grave, though he owns he ought not to mind her. The ship we saw on Thursday kept dallying about us for three days, and would not speak when hailed. I wish Mrs. Happen could have been put on board of her; they would suit exactly.
There is one thing interesting about the Miss O’Briens. They are very attentive and affectionate to their mother; which, considering how she sometimes treats them, speaks well for their tempers. She may well pronounce them “very steady girls.” But their conversation is of that kind which, however often one may hear it, one can scarcely credit on recollection. I set down one specimen, as a fair example. Dr. Sharp was called yesterday to one of the crew who was ill. As he returned, looking rather thoughtful, Mr. Mann observed to the O’Brien family that the doctor was quite a man of consequence to-day. Thereupon ensued, —
First Miss O.
“La! Doctor, how consequential you look!”
Second Miss O.
“Well! Doctor, how consequential you look!”
“Why, the Doctor does look consequential indeed!”
First Miss O.
(to Mr. Mann.) “La! Sir, how consequential the Doctor does look!”
Second Miss O.
“Now does n’t the Doctor look quite consequential?” — And so on, for above ten minutes.
The captain has just been unpacking a hundred towels; a goodly sight for those who rehearse drowning every morning (in salt water,) as I do. I am certain that no practice is so beneficial to health at sea as plenty of bathing, with friction afterwards. A large foot-bath, or small tub, may easily be procured; and the steward will draw up a bucket or two of sea-water every morning. A sea-faring friend told me this before I sailed; and I have often been thankful for the advice.
Our cargo is partly turpentine. The vessel leaks and so do the turpentine casks; and what comes up by the pumps is so nauseous as to cause much complaint among the passengers. There was no time at New York to get the copper bottom mended; and the crew are hard worked with the pumping. The captain says if the leak increases, he shall employ the steerage passengers at the pumps. Mr. Browning shows me the chart. We are rather more than half way. He considers it two-thirds, as the best is all to come. “All down hill now,” he says.
August 17th. — Going on most prosperously. We have never slackened on our course since I made my last entry. Kind-hearted Margaret came to my bed-side early this morning, to tell me that at four o’clock we were going twelve knots, right on our course. If we hold on till noon, we are pretty sure of being carried straight in by this blessed wind. All are well, and in better temper, unless it be Mrs. Happen. Yesterday, while all was bright and gleesome, she was “low.” She did not know that we should ever arrive! Betting is the order of the day with the idle young men. As the weather is not wet, and they cannot therefore bet upon the raindrops running down the cabin windows, they are obliged to find or make other subjects for bets. Yesterday at dinner they betted about whether they could roll up bits of bread so tight as not to break when thrown down on deck! Also whether they could swallow a pill of bread so rolled up, the size of the end of the thumb. They were so impatient they could not wait till the cloth was removed, but missed their dessert for the sake of this thumbed bread. They bet at cards, and one of them declared he had lost sixteen dollars, — £4. After having talked very loud over their cards, till just midnight, last night Dr. Sharp got his flute, and played execrably, till requested to be quiet till morning. It did not occur to him that he was disturbing anybody.
The captain is very grave, while all looks so prosperous. His sister says, with tears, that “it is a hard voyage to him;” but we tell her it will not matter a month hence, when his unamiable passengers will have dispersed to the four winds. He discovered yesterday that the stewards have been leaving the ice-house door open, so that the ice is nearly all gone; and he fears he shall lose some of his best joints of beef. Upon this he good-humouredly said, “Sea-captains are not intended to be good-tempered. It should not be looked for. At the top of a heap of little vexations, comes a gale; and then they should not be expected not to shout pretty sharply to their crews.” We do not believe he ever does. He showed good manners yesterday to a ship that we hailed. In the early morning, when the fog drew up, there was an ethereal vision of a ship on our horizon. We overtook her just at noon. (We overtake every thing.) She looked so beautiful all the morning, that we did nothing but watch her. As we approached we went to leeward, the captain explaining, in answer to our questions, that it is worth losing a little time to be civil. She was the St. Vincent of Bristol, thirty-three days from Jamaica. I pitied the poor ladies on board, of whom we saw many on deck. The captains each asked the other to report him, in case of arriving first Our young men laughed at the idea of our being reported by a ship thirty-three days from Jamaica; but our captain looked grave, and said it looked presumptuous to make sure of our having no accident; and uncivil to assure the St. Vincent that she could not, by possibility, be of any service to us. She could have spared us some limes; but it would have used up too much time to send a boat for them; so we dashed on, and she was out of sight westward before the afternoon. I never saw a greater press of sail than she carried; but her bows were like a breakwater, so square and clumsy.
In the afternoon I read “Much Ado about Nothing,” and watched a shoal of porpoises. They are welcome visitors in any weather; but they seem extremely lively in a rough sea, chasing one another, and shooting through the midst of a rising billow. They are sometimes caught and killed, to be eaten more as a curiosity than a delicacy. I am told that the meat resembles coarse and tough beef. The mate wounded one to-day; and its companions crowded on it to eat it up. Some Jaques on board asked me if this was not the way of the world; to which I indignantly answered, No!
18th. — Still dashing on. Mr. Browning expects that we shall get in on Tuesday of next week: the captain says Thursday or Friday. I listen to neither, knowing how little such calculations are to be depended upon.
21st, Sunday. — We have been rolling about so that it has been impossible to write. We have had a fine run for eight days now. Yesterday’s observation gave 220 miles for the twenty-four hours. The captain says we are pretty sure of running straight up to Liverpool. By to-morrow morning, we may see land. I dreamed last night that I saw it first; — a lovely Irish hill. It is almost too cold now to be on deck, with any amount of cloakage: a sign of being near land. The joke since we passed half-way, has been to annoy me by ascribing all evils whatever to the foggy English climate. Mr. Browning began; the captain carries it on; and the ingenuity with which they keep it up is surprising. Something of the sort drops from the captain’s lips, like a grave passing observation, many times a day. I shall have no respite now; for every one will be too cold till we land.
We had a prodigious run last night. While we were at our rubber, the news spread (as news does on board ship) that the captain was on deck, taking in sail, ordering in the dead-lights (the shutters which block up the cabin-windows in the stern,) and “expecting a blow.” Under the idea that it was raining, I was, for once, about to retire to my room without running up on deck; but the captain came for me, thinking I should like to see what was doing: and indeed he was right. Though he had taken in the studding-sails, mainsail, and royals, we were flying through at the rate of twelve knots. The clouds were blown down the eastern sky, — and the stars so bright, they looked as if they were coming down. But below us, what a sight! The dazzling spray was dashed half a mile off, in a level surface which looked like a white marble floor, gemmed with stars. The captain says, people talk of the monotony of the sea; but the land is to him monotonous in comparison with the variety in which he revels in his night-watches. It is evidently a perpetual excitement and delight to him. But, truly, the contrast between the deck and the cabin is wonderful. When I came down at midnight, I thought it possible that some of the ladies might be alarmed; and I therefore told Margaret, in a voice loud enough to be heard by any who might be trembling in their berths, that the captain said it would be a fine night, and that the stars were already bright. Half an hour after, when I was asleep, Miss Saunders came down, and the following took place: —
A trembling voice from somewhere cried, “Miss Saunders! Miss Saunders!”
Miss Saunders peers into all the ladies’ rooms, and finds it is Miss O’Brien who calls.
“Miss Saunders, is the storm very bad? — is there much danger?”
“There is no storm, ma’am: only a brisk, fair wind. I heard nothing of any danger.”
When Miss Saunders is falling asleep, she is roused by another call. She puts on a cloak, and goes to Miss O’Brien’s room.
“O, Miss Saunders! have n’t we shipped a sea?”
looks round the cabin. “No, ma’am: I do not see any sea.”
Before she is quite asleep, she hears Miss Lamine’s voice from the sofa, to which the captain has kindly lashed chairs, to prevent her falling off; as she persists in sleeping there, though retaining her berth.
“O, Mrs. Happen! Mrs. Happen!”
“Well! what do you want?”
“We are sinking, ma’am. I feel the ship sinking!”
Miss Saunders wakes up to assure the ladies that the ship is on the surface. Mrs. Happen grumbles at her first sleep being broken. She slept no more; and of course is out of humour with the whole universe to-day. Nothing is on her lips but that Miss Lamine broke her first and only sleep.
I have had a talk, prodigious for its breadth, length, depth, and earnestness, with Mr. Browning, about the duty of republicans exercising the suffrage; brought on by his saying that he had never voted but once in his life. I believe we said an octavo volume between us, — I hope to some purpose. He is a good man, with a warm simple heart, a full sense of what he owes to his excellent wife, and a head which only wants to be put a little in order. He is full of knowledge, and fond of thinking.
Mrs. O’Brien has, we suppose, kept her temper in check as long as she can; for now it is coming out worse than Mrs. Happen’s, if that be possible. At dinner, the other day, she began to scold her daughters, in the presence of passengers and servants: but the captain warded it off by saying that he would not have the young ladies found fault with, for that I had been telling him that I thought them very attentive and affectionate daughters. She looked gratified and complacent; but not for long. In the evening, she complained to Mrs. Ely, who was on the sofa, very unwell, of her own sensibilities; and confessed she felt very hysterical. The confession from her lips is always a signal for the cabin being cleared; every one dreading a scene. It was so now; and there were no hysterics. This morning, however, the sensibilities thus repressed have broken out; and a most unsanctified scene has disgraced our Sunday. The lady was cold in the night. Margaret was sorry: would have been happy to supply her with as many blankets as she pleased, if she had but asked for them. The lady would perish rather than ask Margaret for anything. She would have no breakfast. Margaret entreated: the daughters implored, with many tears. The lady compelled them to go to the breakfast-table with their swollen eyes; but no breakfast would she have. Margaret, in the kindness of her heart, prepared a delicate breakfast, — strong tea, hot buttered roll and sliced tongue. The woman actually threw the breakfast at the girl’s head! Margaret was fluttered, and said she did not know whether to laugh or cry. I advised her to do neither, if she could help it. At breakfast, the captain, knowing nothing of this scene, called — “Margaret, why don’t you carry Mrs. O’Brien some breakfast?” “I did, sir,” replied the girl in a whisper; “and she hove the bread at me.” “O ho!” said the captain. Presently, he strode down the room, and into the ladies’ cabin, both doors of which he shut. He soon came forth, looking his gravest. The lady was very “hysterical” all day. Every heart ached for her weeping daughters.
We have been asking Mr. Browning to propose the captain’s health, with an expression of thanks and friendship on the part of the passengers, the day before we land. This is the usual practice, we believe, when the captain has done his duty. Mr. Browning heartily consents, saying that it is only the captain’s temper which has kept any order at all. We hope that Mrs. Happen may be so overawed as not to dare to move an amendment.
Afternoon. — Mr. Browning says he fears we must give the matter up. The young men have been abusing the captain so grossly over their wine, — particularly for not having the cow milked these two days, and for letting Mr. Tracy have a room to himself, that something disagreeable would certainly arise out of any attempt to gratify our good friend. Our acknowledgments must be made individually. Mr. Bruce drew up a very good letter of thanks; but any formal proceeding from which one-third of the passengers would probably choose to exclude themselves, would give the captain as much pain in one way as pleasure in another.
We took our seats at the bottom of the table at the outset, to avoid any contention about precedence. It is well we did; for the captain’s immediate presence is required to keep the conversation from being really offensive: it ’s being very silly, even the captain cannot prevent. Here is a specimen or two.
“Mr. A. has so many bales of cotton for sale this year.”
“I am sure I have not got that number of bales of cotton.”
“No; because you are a bale of cotton yourself.” (Roars of laughter.)
“Somebody always says to me at tea-time, ‘Sir, will you have black tea or green tea?’ I expect somebody will say to me some day, ‘Sir, will you have red tea or yellow tea?’ ” (Roars of laughter.)
Since I came on board, I seem to have gained a new sense of the value of knowledge, of an active, reasonable mind, as well as of a disciplined and benevolent temper. Notwithstanding the occasional mirth of these people, and their ostentatious party merriment, I think I never saw persons so unhappy. No suffering from poverty or sickness ever struck me so mournfully as the misery of these ship-mates, from vacuity of mind; from selfishness, with all its little affectations; from jealousy, with its intolerable torments. How they get on in their homes I have no means of knowing; but the contrast at sea between them and such of their fellow-passengers as are peaceable, active, employed, and mutually accommodating is one of the most striking and instructive spectacles I ever witnessed. The mischief has not stopped with their immediate suffering from ennui and ill-humour: some have been led to plot crime, which it is no merit of their own that they do not execute. I cannot enter here upon this part of their disgusting history: suffice it that the captain’s vigilance and authority are too strong for them.
The wind blew us on gloriously all day; and there was every expectation at bed-time that we might see land at daybreak. In the evening, we sketched out European tours, by the map, for such of our party as were going to travel; and we were all in fine spirits. The young men at the upper end of the table had an argument as to whether Sunday was over, so that they might go to cards. They appealed to Miss Lamine whether Sunday was not over when the sun set. She decided in the negative; so Dr. Sharp began doling forth a Report of a Charity, in the most melancholy voice imaginable; and the whole coterie moved off very early to bed.
22nd. — The young men are making up for last evening’s abstinence. They are busy at cards, almost before breakfast is cleared away. What can they suppose religion is?
I have seen some Irish earth. On sounding, we find sixty fathoms; and some sand came up on the lead. Mr. Browning thinks it not so clean and neat as American sand. A calm fell at five o’clock; and we are moving very slowly. There is fog at a distance; but we have seen a faint, brief line of coast. I do hope the sun will come out, and the wind freshen at noon. Meantime, the sea has lost its deep blue beauty, and we have not arrived at the beauty of the land; so I think it an excellent time for writing.
You should see how faded and even rotten our dresses look, from head to foot. To-morrow or Wednesday we hope to have the pleasure of dressing so as not to be ashamed of ourselves and one another. But it is a piece of extravagance, which none but silly people are guilty of, to dress well at sea, where the incessant damp and salt ruin all fabrics and all colors. Silks fade; and cottons cannot be washed; stuffs shrink and curl. Dark prints perhaps look neat the longest. Mrs. Ely’s drawn bonnet, of gingham, looks the handsomest article of dress now on board; unless it be Miss Taylor’s neat black-print gown.
23rd. — The rest of yesterday was very interesting. On going up, before noon, I found Ringan Head visible at forty-five miles off; and three other points of high land. At one, a favourable breeze sprang up, and lasted till evening, when it died away. We drew nearer and nearer to land, till we were within twelve miles. This was off the Point of Kinsale, where we were when the calm fell. The captain called me up after dinner, to show me where the Albion was lost; the packet commanded by Captain Williams, which was lost, with all the crew and passengers but two or three, I think, some ten or twelve years ago. I could see the spot distinctly; a bay between two high points of land. The captain ran into this bay in thick weather, and was unable to get out again. If the Albion had struck a few rods further on, she would have gone on a sloping sand-beach, and the passengers might have got out, almost without wetting their feet. As it was, she struck against a perpendicular wall of rock.
The captain stayed talking with me all the afternoon, and we watched for the kindling of the light on the high Point of Kinsale, 400 feet above the sea. It looked so beautiful and so friendly that we could attend to nothing else. The last light I saw was the Fort Gratiot light, on the wild evening when I left lake Huron in a thunder-storm. How familiar did the Kinsale light look in comparison! The captain’s heart was quite opened by it. “I shall stand here,” he had declared, “till I see that light. It is of no consequence to me; I know where I am, and how to steer, but it is pleasant to me to see those lights. They ought to have kindled it by this time. I wonder we don’t see it. There! there it is! You can’t see it well yet. It will be deep red presently. So many pleasant thoughts belong to such a light — so many lives saved — so many feelings made comfortable!” I felt it like the first welcome home. The dim outline of land in the morning was pleasant but mute: here were human hands at work for us. It was, to all intents and purposes, a signal; and I could not turn my eyes from it.
We saw, this afternoon, a fishing-boat with its dark brown sails. Through the glass, I discerned two men in her, and cried out that I had seen two Irishmen. Everybody laughed at me. To be sure, we have more than that on board; and you may meet 100 per hour in New York; but that is not like seeing them in their own boat, fishing in their own sea. Sail hovered about us all day. Mrs. O’Brien is busy in the cabin among her bandboxes, quilling and trimming. I shall not take out any of my land-clothes yet, to get mildewed, when we may still be some time in reaching port. I am afraid of growing restless if I prepare for shore too soon. One would shun the heart-sickness of hope deferred when one can. Pouring rain to-night; so we sit down to our rubber as if we had not seen the land. This is chiefly (as it has been throughout) for Mr. Ely’s sake. He is very poorly, and reads quite enough by daylight. He seems to enjoy his rubber in the evening.
This morning the weather is not favourable. The wind has been round to every point of the compass during the night, and is now blowing from the north-east, “right a-head.” I do not feel very impatient at present. Miss Saunders is rather glad of the delay. She dreads landing among strangers, though she knows they are already friends.
Mrs. Ely has been very bold this morning with Mrs. O’Brien (as the lady had no buttered roll by her) about the fees to the stewardess. The stewardess depends solely upon the fees paid by the lady passengers; and the service is so important, and so extremely fatiguing, that it ought to be well paid. The stewardess has to attend upon the ladies, night and day, in their sea-sickness; to keep their state-rooms; to wait at meals in the large cabin; to be up before all the ladies, and go to rest after them. Among such a company of ladies, there are usually some who rise early, and always some who go to rest very late; and commonly a few who cannot be easily pleased, and who keep their attendant on the foot at all hours, without any consideration. When all this is considered, and it is remembered how helpless and uncomfortable the ladies would be without such a servant, it is clear that the stewardess should be handsomely paid. The captain interested us particularly for Margaret, by telling us that she was extremely poor, as she sent every shilling she could spare from her absolute wants to her old father and mother in Scotland. Judging by what we knew to have been done in similar cases, we agreed that Margaret should have a sovereign from each of us. Miss Lamine, and Miss Taylor, and the ladies of our party paid this; but Mrs. O’Brien declared she would pay nothing, as Margaret had shown her no attention at all! It will be too bad if, in addition to the many crying fits this woman has occasioned to the poor girl, and all the toil she and her daughters have imposed upon her, night and day, she defrauds her of the money she has fairly earned. Mrs. O’Brien became so “hysterical” that Mrs. Ely had to desist for this time; but she does not mean to let the matter stop here. As for Mrs. Happen, she not only refused to give anything, but, in her passion at being asked, sent the plate down the whole length of the table. There is something really terrifying in such tempers. Mrs. Ely changed colour as if she had been in the wrong, instead of the right. Mr. Browning says there are occasions on which people show their real selves, — in the treatment of their servants. I own that I was as much surprised as I was indignant, to find that people of good property, as these ladies both are, could stoop to accept the hard service of a very poor girl, with the knowledge all the time that they meant to defraud her of her wages. They might at least have given her warning, that she might know that she was conferring charity upon them in serving them. I trust they will think better of the matter, and repair their injustice to her at last.
We are now between Cork and Milford Haven, out of sight of land.
25th. — Now, did you not expect that the next entry would be of our arrival? Far from it. There is much to be said first. I was obliged to quit my writing, last time, by the rolling of the ship; and for the rest of the day, we were treated with a gale, far more stormy than any we had during the voyage. It blew tremendously from the north-east. With the tide in our favour, and every sail snug, we were driven in the direction of the Devonshire coast; and thankful we were that we had plenty of sea-room. Mrs. Ely and others were as sick as ever; and at dinner there was the well-remembered scene of every thing solid slipping about the dishes, and every thing liquid being spilled: though the frames were on, — the wooden frames, made to fit the tables, with holes for the bottles and glasses. It was a truly uncomfortable day, though there was nothing to occasion fear in any but the most timid persons.
Yesterday morning we had the alternative of being sick below, or half-sick and half-frozen on deck. We preferred the latter, and were ere long repaid. We were going over the ground lost the day before, standing in for the Irish coast. There were large flocks of Neptune’s sheep (waves breaking into foam;) and the sky was so clear, that Mr. Browning, with his malicious eye-glass, could not discern a streak of English fog all day.
About noon, the outline of the Dungarvon Mountains appeared, and the bay of Tramore, with three white towers at one extremity, and one at the other, and the town of Tramore, at the bottom of the bay. We saw, too, the high lighthouse at the extremity of Waterford Bay, and a steam-boat in the entrance. Seven other sail were about us, and we felt in the midst of society once more. Before we tacked we came near enough to see the recesses in the sharp-cut rocks or cliffs on the shore, and the green downs sloping up from their summits. With the glass I could distinguish the windows of three large houses in Tramore. The outline of the mountains behind was very fine, and the lights and shadows on them delicious to behold. We tacked all day, and amused ourselves with watching the points of the shore, advancing and receding; with speaking the ship “Georgia of Boston,” bound to New York, which we hope will report us to you; and with admiring the clear setting sun, and the rising moon, almost at the full. She never looked finer since she was first set spinning.
There was some sad nonsense among us, even on this important and pleasurable day. Mrs. O’Brien looked cold, as she sat on the rail, in the breeze, and Mr. Simpson caused his warm broad-cloth cloak to be brought for her. Mrs. Happen, who was sitting on deck, sheltered and in the sun, growled out, “You never offered me your cloak.” Immediately after dinner, when the gentlemen were at their wine, she sent Sally down for Mr. Simpson’s cloak, and wore it all the afternoon.
The captain promised us the quietest night we had had since we left New York; and I accordingly went to sleep, nothing doubting, though the last thing I was aware of was that there was a prodigious tramping upon deck, which I concluded was from the crew shifting the sails. I slept till daylight, and thus missed a scene, partly dreadful, partly ridiculous. This tramping excited the attention of the ladies; and Mrs. Ely next heard a cry of distress from the deck, and then another, a sort of scream. The gentlemen rushed from their rooms, and up on deck; the ladies screamed, and said it was fire, the ship sinking, running foul of another ship, and much besides. Miss Taylor (still very delicate) heard every voice calling “Captain! Captain!” and naturally supposing that something had happened to her brother, fainted away in her berth, where she was found some time after still insensible. One gentleman brought out his pistol, and Mrs. Happen entreated that she might not be shot. Mrs. Ely and Miss Saunders remained in their rooms, and were presently told that there was no danger, that it was all over. The captain put forth his authority, and ordered every body to bed. How much the passengers really knew of the cause of this bustle I cannot say; but the affair was this. The captain had a bad crew. Yesterday, at the instigation of a mischievous fellow among them, there was a sort of mutiny about their beef; a silly complaint, particularly foolish when preferred almost within sight of port. Mr. Browning knew that the captain meant to shut up the ringleader in the ice-house (now as warm as any part of the ship) at midnight, when the passengers should be asleep. The man resisted, making so much noise over the passengers’ heads, that the captain sent him into confinement in the forepart of the ship: but it was too late for secrecy. The captain is much annoyed at the confusion created; and I do not think he is aware that any of us know the cause.
All is quiet enough this morning. It is bright and cold. We are off Tusca lighthouse, the extreme south-east point of Ireland; and the little wind there is is fair. This mutiny is a good hint. If we grow dull, I shall propose a mutiny about the handles of the milk pitchers, which were broken off in the gale; the pitchers being thus rendered inconvenient to hold.
At this moment, Mr. Tracy brings news that the captain expects to be off Holyhead this evening; so I jump up, and run to unpack and arrange for landing, that I may have the last few hours free. O, with what pleasure I took out gown, shawl, bonnet and gloves for to-morrow! packing up books; putting away everything sea-spoiled, and being completely at liberty by dinner-time!
In the afternoon, the captain found a dry seat on the binnacle for Miss Saunders and me; and then went and stood by himself, too much excited for conversation. Mr. Browning told us we could not understand the emotions of the captain of a ship on concluding his voyage. We talked of our homes on either side of the water; and looked out through the fog and rain, dimly discerning a ship which we supposed to be the packet of the 24th. — After tea we played, for Mr. Ely’s sake, our final rubber: but we could not attend to our cards, and were glad to throw them away. At half-past ten o’clock, we ran up to see the Holyhead light. As we passed in the dark, there could be no telegraphic communication to Liverpool of our approach, and we must give up the hope of seeing our friends on the pier.
26th. — At six, Miss Saunders came to my room, dressed, and talked for an hour, the cabin being in great confusion with the preparations of the ladies. We sent Margaret to learn where we were. About thirty miles from Liverpool; but the tide would not allow us to get to port before eleven. Every body was assembled early on deck, dressed for landing; and each, as he appeared, more spruce than the last. The cook could not be prevailed upon to let us have a slovenly breakfast early, that we might be wholly at leisure at the last. By a little after nine, however, the steams of breakfast ascended; and before that time I saw, through the glass, the church steeples of Liverpool. The Welsh mountains looked lovely through the thin haze, which Mr. Browning chose to call a fog.
Mr. Bruce gratified me by a piece of truly kind consideration. He said that, from the absence of notice of our approach from Holyhead, my friends would not probably be awaiting me. He was alone, with time to spare. If I would give him a line to my friends, he would be the first to step ashore, and would bring them to me. I promised to accept his good offices, if, after reasonable waiting, no familiar faces appeared on the pier.
Soon after breakfast we saw the floating lights and the castle at the mouth of the Mersey; then New Brighton, with its white houses, trim gardens and plantations; and then some golden harvest-fields. The post-office boat was soon seen coming towards us — a sign we were expected. Then came the custom-house boat, to deposit an officer on board. We pointed out to Miss Saunders the gable of a house covered with ivy; — a plant which she had read of, since she could read at all, but never seen, as it does not grow in America. She was surprised at the narrowness of the Mersey; Mr. Bruce apologized for it; — a bad habit which he had learned in America, we told him.
As we hove alongside the pier groups began to assemble; chiefly work-people from about the docks. All had their hands in their pockets; and Miss Saunders asked me, laughing, whether she was to conclude that all Englishmen carried their hands there. In a few minutes breathless gentlemen came running down the Parade. Among them I found the face I was looking for. A watchman had given notice, from the top of the Exchange, that the Eurydice was coming up the river, and in an incredibly short time the news spread over the town. With eager kindness the captain fixed the plank, and handed me on shore.
I am sure this gentleman must by this time have more of your esteem and regard than ever. We, his passengers, feel that we are more deeply indebted to him than he knows of; not only for his professional qualities and hospitality, but for a lesson on the value of good temper, and the dignity of greatness of mind.
As for the rest, they kept up their characters to the end. Miss Lamine’s last act on board was ordering the steward to throw overboard Miss Saunders’s geranium, brought from Dr. Channing’s garden in Rhode Island, and kept alive through the voyage by great care. Wherever these ladies may have gone (and we have heard nothing of them since,) they carry with them our sincerest pity. Others of the company of shipmates have since repeatedly met, and enjoyed, as shipmates do, the retrospect of the brighter days of their Month at Sea.
CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT A PENSION.
Putney Park, Sunday, 27th December, 1840.
Dear Miss Martineau, —
I have often regretted that Lord Grey’s intention had been so strenuously resisted by you, and that he had not remained in power long enough to afford time for you to reconsider your first impulse.
I write now to say that although I have only spoken to one person on the subject, we were both strongly of opinion that it ought to be a gratification to Lord Melbourne to do what Lord Grey would have done; and I only wish to know that, if such a step were taken, it would not be resisted by you.
I do not wish to give you the trouble of writing to me on this subject. Your silence will be quite sufficient; and I trust you know me well enough to confide in the discretion of
Dear Miss Martineau,