Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter III - "The Corner" - 1835-1839; aet. 16-20

But well I thank my father's sober house
Where shallow judgment had no leave to be,
And hurrying years, that, stripping much beside,
Turned as they fled, and left me charity.

J. W. H.

The house which Mr. Ward built on the corner of Bond Street and Broadway was still standing in the middle of the nineteenth century; a dignified mansion of brick, with columns and trimmings of white marble.

In her "Reminiscences," our mother recalls the spacious rooms, hung with red, blue, and yellow silk. The yellow drawing-room was reserved for high occasions, and for "Miss Ward's" desk and grand piano. This and the blue room were adorned by fine sculptured mantelpieces, the work of a young sculptor named Thomas Crawford, who was just coming into notice.

Behind the main house, stretching along Broadway, was the picture gallery, the first private one in New York, and Mr. Ward's special pride. The children might not mingle in frivolous gayety abroad, but they should have all that love, taste, and money could give them at home; he filled his gallery with the best pictures he could find. A friend (Mr. Prescott Hall), making a timely journey through Spain, bought for him[42] many valuable pictures, among them a Snyders, a Nicolas Poussin, a reputed Velasquez and Rembrandt. It was for him that Thomas Cole painted the four pictures representing "The Voyage of Life," engravings from which may still be found in old-fashioned parlors.

Some years later, when the eldest son, Samuel, returned from Europe, bringing with him a fine collection of books, Mr. Ward built a library specially for them.

This was the house into which the family moved in 1835, Julia being then sixteen years of age; this was the house she loved, the memory of which was dear to her through all the years of her life.

The family was at that time patriarchal in its dimensions: Mr. Ward and his six children, Dr. and Mrs. Francis and their four; often, too, "Grandma Cutler" and other Cutlers, not to speak of Wards, Greenes, and McAllisters. (Louisa, youngest of the Cutler sisters, one of the most beautiful and enchanting women of her time, was married to Matthew Hall McAllister.) One and all were sure of a welcome at "The Corner"; one and all were received with cordial urbanity, first by Johnson, the colored butler, later by Mr. Ward, the soul of dignified hospitality.

Another inmate of the house during several years was Christy Evangelides, a Greek boy, orphaned in a Turkish massacre. Mr. Ward took the boy into his family, gave him his education and a start in life. Fifty years later Mr. Evangelides recalled those days in a letter to his "sister Julia," and paid beautiful tribute to his benefactor.

[43]To all these should be added a host of servants and retainers; and masters of various kinds, coming to teach music, languages, even dancing, for the children were taught to dance even if they never (or very seldom) were allowed to go to dances. Many of these teachers were foreign patriots: those were the days when one French émigré of rank dressed the hair of fashionable New York, while another made its salads, the two going their rounds before every festivity.

Julia's musical education began early. Her first teacher was a French artist, so irritable that the terrified child could remember little that he taught her. He was succeeded in her tenth year by Mr. Boocock, a pupil of Cramer, to whom she always felt that she owed a great deal. Not only did he train her fingers so carefully that after eighty years they still retained their flexibility, but he also trained and developed her inborn taste for all that was best in music.

As she grew toward girlhood, the good master found that her voice promised to be a remarkable one, and recommended to her father Signor Cardini, formerly an intimate of the Garcia family, and thoroughly versed in the famous Garcia method. Under his care Julia's voice developed into a pure, clear mezzo-soprano, of uncommon range and exquisite quality. She felt all through her life the benefit of those early lessons.

When she was eighty years old she attended a meeting of the National Peace Society at Park Street Church, Boston. The church was packed with people. When her turn came to speak, the kindly chairman said:—

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now to have the great pleasure of listening to Mrs. Howe. I am going to ask you all to be very quiet, for though Mrs. Howe's voice is as sweet as ever, it is perhaps not quite so strong."

"But it carries!" said the pupil of old Cardini. The silver tone, though not loud, reached the farthest corner of the great building; the house "came down" in a thunder of applause. It was a beautiful moment for the proud daughter who sat beside her.

Music was one of the passions of her life. Indeed, she felt that it had sometimes influenced her even too much, and in recording the delight she took in the trios and quartets which Mr. Boocock arranged for her, she adds: "The reaction from this pleasure, however, was very painful, and induced at times a visitation of morbid melancholy, which threatened to upset my health."

She felt that "in the training of young persons, some regard should be had to the sensitiveness of youthful nerves, and to the overpowering response which they often make to the appeals of music....

"The power and sweep of great orchestral performances, or even the suggestive charm of some beautiful voice, will sometimes so disturb the mental equilibrium of the hearer as to induce in him a listless melancholy, or, worse still, an unreasoning and unreasonable discontent."[10]

In a later chapter of her "Reminiscences," she says: "I left school at the age of sixteen, and began thereafter[45] to study in good earnest. Until that time a certain over-romantic and imaginative turn of mind had interfered much with the progress of my studies. I indulged in day-dreams which appeared to me far higher in tone than the humdrum of my school recitations. When these were at an end, I began to feel the necessity of more strenuous application, and at once arranged for myself hours of study, relieved by the practice of vocal and instrumental music."

These hours of study were not all passed at home. In 1836 she was taking certain courses at the boarding and day school of Mrs. E. Smith, then in Fifth Avenue, "first house from Washington Square."

The Italian master was a son of the venerable Lorenzo da Ponte, who in his youth had written for Mozart the librettos of "Don Giovanni" and "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Four languages, English, French, German, and Italian, Julia learned thoroughly; she spoke and wrote them throughout her life correctly as well as fluently, with singularly pure accent and inflection, and seldom or never was at a loss for a word; nor was she less proficient in history. For mathematics she had no gift, and was wont to say that her knowledge of the science was limited to the fact that four quarts made a gallon: yet the higher mathematics had a mysterious attraction for her, as an unexplored region of wonder and romance.

She was always a student. When she began the study of German, she set herself a task each day; lest anything should interfere to distract her mind, she had herself securely tied to her armchair, giving orders that she[46] was on no account to be set free before the appointed hour.

This was characteristic of her through life. The chain of habit once formed was never broken, and study was meat and drink to her. Her "precious time" (which we children saucily abbreviated to "P.T.") was as real a thing to us as sunrise: we were not to break in upon it for anything short of a fire—or a cut finger!

Many years later, she laid down for the benefit of the younger generation these rules:—

"If you have at your command three hours per diem, you may study art, literature, and philosophy, not as they are studied professionally, but in the degree involved in general culture.

"If you have but one hour every day, read philosophy, or learn foreign languages, living or dead.

"If you can command only fifteen or twenty minutes, read the Bible with the best commentaries, and daily a verse or two of the best poetry."

In the days when Julia was going round the corner to Mrs. Smith's school, Sam was newly returned from a long course of study and travel abroad, while Henry and Marion were at Round Hill School under the care of Dr. Joseph Greene Cogswell and Mr. George Bancroft. The former was a beloved friend of the Ward family, and often visited them. We have pleasant glimpses of the household at this time, when the lines of paternal guidance, though still firmly, were somewhat less rigidly drawn.

Breakfast at "The Corner" was at eight in winter, and at half past seven in summer, Mr. Ward reading[47] prayers before the meal, and again at bedtime. He would often wake his daughters in the morning by pelting them with stockings, crying, "Come, my rosebuds!"

The young people were apt to linger over the breakfast table in talk. If this were unduly prolonged, Mr. Ward would appear, "hatted and booted for the day," and say, "Young gentlemen, I am glad that you can afford to take life so easily. I am old, and must work for my living!"

Dinner was at four o'clock, supper at half past seven.

At table, Julia sat beside her father; he would often take her right hand in his left, half unconsciously, and hold it for some time, continuing the while to eat his dinner. Julia, her right hand imprisoned, would sit dinnerless, but never dreamed of remonstrating.

She had a habit of dropping her slippers off while at the table. Mr. Ward one day quietly secured an empty slipper with his foot, and then said: "My daughter, I have left my seals in my room. Will you be so good as to fetch them for me?" A moment's agonized search, and Julia went, "one shoe off and one shoe on," and brought the seals. Nothing was said on either side, but the habit was abandoned.

Mr. Ward's anxious care for his children's welfare extended to every branch of their conduct. One evening, walking with Julia, he met his sons, Henry and Marion, each with a cigar in his mouth. He was much troubled, and said: "Boys, you must give this up, and I will give it up too. From this time I forbid you to smoke, and I will join you in relinquishing the habit."

He never smoked again; nor did the boys—in his presence!

Three lads, young, handsome, brilliant, and eminently social as were the Wards, could not be kept out of society. They were popular, and would fain have had Julia, the only one of the three girls who was old enough, share in their pleasures; but this might not be. Mr. Ward had money and sympathy to spare for every benevolent enterprise, but he disliked and distrusted "society"; he would neither entertain it nor be entertained by it. Our mother quotes an argument between him and his eldest son on this point:—

"'Sir,' said my brother, 'you do not keep in view the importance of the social tie.'

"'The social what?' asked my father.

"'The social tie, sir.'

"'I make small account of that,' said the elder gentleman.

"'I will die in defence of it!' impetuously rejoined the younger.

"My father was so amused at this sally that he spoke of it to an intimate friend: 'He will die in defence of the social tie, indeed!'"

Julia's girlhood evenings were mostly spent at home, with books, needlework, and music, varied by an occasional lecture or concert, or a visit to some one of the uncles' houses in the street, which ought, one would think, to have been called "Ward Street," since at this time almost the whole family connection lived there.

Much as Julia loved her home, her books and music, she longed for some of the gayety which her brothers[49] were enjoying. "I seemed to myself," she says, "like a young damsel of olden times, shut up within an enchanted castle. And I must say, that my dear father, with all his noble generosity and overweening affection, sometimes appeared to me as my jailer."

Once she expostulated with him, begging to be allowed more freedom in going out, and in receiving visits from the friends of her brothers. It may have been on the occasion when he refused to allow the late Louis Rutherford, of venerated memory, to be invited to the house, "because he belonged to the fashionable world."

Her father told her that he had early recognized in her a temperament and imagination over-sensitive to impressions from without, and that his wish had been to guard her from exciting influences until she should appear to him fully able to guard and guide herself.

Alas! the tender father meant to cherish a vestal flame in a vase of alabaster; in reality, he was trying to imprison the lightning in the cloud. When our mother wrote the words above quoted, on the power of music over sensitive natures, she was recalling these days, and perhaps remembering how, denied the society of her natural mates, her sixteen-year-old heart went out in sympathy and compassion to the young harper who came to take part in the trios and quartets, and who fell desperately in love with her and was summarily dismissed in consequence.

Yet who shall say that the father's austere régime did not after all meet a need of her nature deeper than she could possibly have realized at the time; that the long, lonely hours, the study often to weariness,—though never to satiety,—the very fires of longing and of regret, were not necessary to give her mind that temper which was to make it an instrument as strong as it was keen?

The result of this system was not precisely what Mr. Ward had expected. One evening (it was probably after the marriage of his eldest son to Emily Astor, when he joined perforce in the festivities of the time) he did actually take Julia to an evening party. She did not dance, but she was surrounded by eager youths all the evening, and when her father summoned her to go home, she was deep in talk with one of them. There was no disobeying the summons; as she turned to take her father's arm, Miss Julia made a little gesture of farewell, fluttering the fingers of her right hand over her shoulder, to cheer the disconsolate swain. Mr. Ward appeared unconscious of this, but a day or two later, on leaving the room where Julia was sitting, he said: "My daughter,—" and fluttered his fingers over his shoulder in precise mimicry of her gesture.

Another anecdote describes an occasion singularly characteristic of both father and daughter.

Julia was nineteen years old, a woman grown, feeling her womanhood in every vein. She had never been allowed to choose the persons who should be invited to the house: she had never had a party of her own. The different strains in her blood were singularly diverse. All through her life Saxon and Gaul kept house together as peaceably as they might, but sometimes the French blood boiled over.

Calling her brothers in council, she told them that she was going to give a party; that she desired their help in making out lists, etc., but that the occasion and the responsibility were to be all her own. The brothers demurred, even Sam being somewhat appalled by the prospect; but finding her firm, they made out a list of desirable guests, of all ages. It was characteristic of her that the plan once made, the resolve taken, it became an obsession, a thing that must be done at whatever cost.

She asked her father if she might invite a few friends for a certain evening: he assented. She engaged the best caterer in New York; the most fashionable musicians; she even hired a splendid cut-glass chandelier to supplement the sober lighting of the yellow drawing-room.

The evening came: Mr. Ward, coming downstairs, found assembled as brilliant a gathering as could have been found in any other of the great houses of New York. He betrayed no surprise, but welcomed his guests with charming courtesy, as if they had come at his special desire; the music sounded, the young people danced, the evening passed off delightfully, to all save the young hostess. She, from the moment when the thing was inevitable, became as possessed with terror as she had been with desire. She could think of nothing but her father's displeasure, of the words he might speak, the glances he might cast upon her. During the whole evening, the cup of trembling was at her lips.

The moment the last guest had departed, the three[52] brothers gathered round her. "We will speak to him!" they cried. "Let us speak to him for you!"

"No!" said Julia, "I must go myself."

She went at once to the room where her father sat alone. For a moment she could find no words; but none were needed. Gravely but kindly Mr. Ward said he was surprised to find that her idea of "a few friends" differed so widely from his own; he was sorry she had not consulted him more freely, and begged that in the future she would do so. Then he kissed her good-night with his usual tenderness, and it was over. The matter was never mentioned again.

The Wards continued to pass the summers at Newport, but no longer at good Jacob Bailey's farmhouse. Mr. Ward had bought a house in town, which a later generation was to know as "The Ashurst Cottage," on the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Catherine Street.

Here the severity of his rule relaxed somewhat, and the pretty house became the centre of a sober hospitality. Indeed, Newport was a sober place in those days. There were one or two houses where dancing was allowed, but these were viewed askance by many people.

One evening, a dancing party was given by a couple on Bellevue Avenue. They had a manservant named Salathiel, a person of rigid piety. When supper-time came, Salathiel was not to be found. The other servants, being questioned, said that he had rushed suddenly out of the house, crying, "I won't stay to see those people dancing themselves to hell!"

Though Julia might not dance, except at home, she[53] might and did ride; first, with great contentment, on a Narragansett pacer, "Jeanie Deans," later on a thoroughbred mare, a golden bay named Cora. Cora was beautiful but "very pranky." After being several times run away with and once thrown off, it was observed by her sisters that Julia generally read her Bible and said her prayers before her ride: she has herself told us how, after being thrown off and obliged to make her way home on foot, she would creep in at the back door so that no one might see her.

She calls the "cottage" a "delightful house," and speaks with special pleasure of its garden planted with roses and gooseberry bushes by Billy Bottomore, a quaint old Newport sportsman, who took the boys shooting, and showed them where to find plover, woodcock, and snipe. Billy Bottomore passed for an adopted son of old Father Corné, another Newport "character" of those days. This gentleman had come from Naples to Boston, toward the end of the eighteenth century, as a decorative artist, and had made a modest fortune by painting the walls of the fine houses of Summer Street, Temple Place, and Beacon Hill. He chose Newport as his final home, because, as he told Mr. Ward, he had found that the climate was favorable to the growth of the tomato, "that most wholesome of vegetables." The Ward boys delighted in visiting Father Corné, and in hearing him sing his old songs, French and Italian, some of which are sung to-day by our grandchildren.

Father Corné lived to a great age. When past his ninetieth year, a friend asked him if he would not like[54] to revisit Naples. "Ah, sir," replied the old man, "my father is dead!"

Our mother loved to linger over these old-time figures. The name of Billy Bottomore always brought a twinkle to her eye, and we never tired of hearing how he told her, "There is a single sister in Newport, a sempstress, to whom I have offered matrimony, but she says, 'No.'" The single sister finally yielded (perhaps when Billy inherited old Corné's money) and he became a proud and happy husband. "She keeps my house as neat as a nunnery!" he said. "When Miss E., the housekeeper, died, she nursed her and laid her out, and when Father Corné died, she nursed him and laid him out—"

"Yes, Billy," broke in our Aunt Annie, "and she'll lay you out too!"—which in due time she did.

He congratulated Julia on having girl-children only.

"Give me daughters!" he cried. "As my good old Spanish grandfather used to say, give me daughters!"

"Of this Spanish ancestor," our mother says, "no one ever heard before. His descendant died, without daughter or son, of cholera in 185-."

We forget the name of another quaint personage, a retired sea-captain, who once gave a party to which she was allowed to go; but she remembered the party, and the unction with which the kindly host, rubbing his hands over the supper table, exclaimed: "Now, ladies and gentlemen, help yourselves sang froidy!"

The roses and gooseberry bushes of the Newport garden once witnessed a serio-comic scene. There was another sea-captain, Glover by name, who had business[55] connections with Prime, Ward & King, and who came to the house sometimes on business, sometimes for a friendly call. He was a worthy man of middle age and unromantic appearance; probably the eighteen-year-old Julia, dreamy and poetic, took no more notice of him than civility required; but he took notice of her, and one day asked her to walk out in the garden with him. Wondering much, she went. After some desultory remarks, the Captain drew a visiting-card from his pocket, wrote a few words upon it, and handed it to his young hostess. She read:—

"Russell E. Glover's heart is yours!"


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