Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter VI - South Boston - 1844-1851; aet. 25-32


A great grieved heart, an iron will,
As fearless blood as ever ran;
A form elate with nervous strength
And fibrous vigor,—all a man.

A gallant rein, a restless spur,
The hand to wield a biting scourge;
Small patience for the tasks of Time,
Unmeasured power to speed and urge.

He rides the errands of the hour,
But sends no herald on his ways;
The world would thank the service done,
He cannot stay for gold or praise.

Not lavishly he casts abroad
The glances of an eye intense,
And did he smile but once a year,
It were a Christmas recompense.

I thank a poet for his name,
The "Down of Darkness," this should be;
A child, who knows no risk it runs,
Might stroke its roughness harmlessly.

One helpful gift the Gods forgot,
Due to the man of lion-mood;
A Woman's soul, to match with his
In high resolve and hardihood.

J. W. H.

The name of Laura Bridgman will long continue to suggest to the hearer one of the most brilliant exploits of philanthropy, modern or ancient. Much of the good that good men do soon passes out of the remembrance of busy generations, each succeeding to each, with its own special inheritance of labor and interest. But it will be long before the world shall forget the courage[102] and patience of the man who, in the very bloom of his manhood, sat down to besiege this almost impenetrable fortress of darkness and isolation, and, after months of labor, carried within its walls the divine conquest of life and of thought.

J. W. H., Memoir of Dr. Samuel G. Howe.

In September, 1844, the travellers returned to America and took up their residence at the Perkins Institution, in South Boston, in the apartment known as the "Doctor's Wing."

At first, Laura Bridgman made one of the family, the Doctor considering her almost as an adopted child. His marriage had been something of a shock to her.

"Does Doctor love me like Julia?" she asked her teacher anxiously.


"Does he love God like Julia?"


A pause: then—"God was kind to give him his wife!"

She and Julia became much attached to each other, and were friends through life.

Julia was now to realize fully the great change that had come in her life. She had been the acknowledged queen of her home and circle in New York. Up to this time, she had known Boston as a gay visitor knows it.

She came now as the wife of a man who had neither leisure nor inclination for "Society"; a man of tenderest heart, but of dominant personality, accustomed to rule, and devoted to causes of which she knew only by hearsay; moreover, so absorbed in work for these causes, that he could only enjoy his home by snatches.

She herself says: "The romance of charity easily interests the public. Its laborious details and duties repel and weary the many, and find fitting ministers only in a few spirits of rare and untiring benevolence. Dr. Howe, after all the laurels and roses of victory, had to deal with the thorny ways of a profession tedious, difficult, and exceptional. He was obliged to create his own working machinery, to drill and instruct his corps of teachers, himself first learning the secrets of the desired instruction. He was also obliged to keep the infant Institution fresh in the interest and goodwill of the public, and to give it a place among the recognized benefactions of the Commonwealth."

From the bright little world of old New York, from relatives and friends, music and laughter, fun and frolic, she came to live in an Institution, a bleak, lofty house set on a hill, four-square to all the winds that blew; with high-studded rooms, cold halls paved with white and gray marble, echoing galleries; where three fourths of the inmates were blind, and the remaining fourth were devoting their time and energies to the blind. The Institution was two miles from Boston, where the friends of her girlhood lived: an unattractive district stretched between, traversed once in two hours by omnibuses, the only means of transport.

Again, her life had been singularly free from responsibility. First her Aunt Francis, then her sister Louisa, had "kept house" in Bond Street; Julia had been a flower of the field, taking no thought for food or raiment; her sisters chose and bought her clothes, had her dresses made, and put them on her. Her studies, her music, her dreams, her compositions—and, it must[104] be added, her suitors—made the world in which she lived. Now, life in its most concrete forms pressed upon her. The baby must be fed at regular intervals, and she must feed it; there must be three meals a day, and she must provide them; servants must be engaged, trained, directed, and all this she must do. Her thoughts soared heavenward; but now there was a string attached to them, and they must be pulled down to attend to the leg of mutton and the baby's cloak.

This is one side of the picture; the other is different, indeed.

Her girlhood had been shut in by locks and bars of Calvinistic piety; her friends and family were ready to laugh, to weep, to pray with her; they were not ready to think with her. It is true that surrounding this intimate circle was a wider one, where her mind found stimulus in certain directions. She studied German with Dr. Cogswell; she read Dante with Felice Foresti, the Italian patriot; French, Latin, music, she had them all. Her mind expanded, but her spiritual growth dates from her early visits to Boston.

These visits had not been given wholly to gayety, even in the days when she wrote, after a ball: "I have been through the burning, fiery furnace, and it is Sad-rake, Me-sick, and Abed-no-go!" The friends she made, both men and women, were people alive and awake, seeking new light, and finding it on every hand. Moreover, at her side was now one of the torch-bearers of humanity, a spirit burning with a clear flame of fervor and resolve, lighting the dark places of the earth. Her mind, under the stimulus of these influences,[105] opened like a flower; she too became one of the seekers for light, and in her turn one of the light-bringers.

Among the poems of her early married life, none is more illuminating than the portrait of Dr. Howe, which heads this chapter. The concluding stanza gives a hint of the depression which accompanied her first realization of the driving power of his life, of the white-hot metal of his nature. She was caught up as it were in the wake of a comet, and whirled into new and strange orbits: what wonder that for a time she was bewildered? She had no thought, when writing "The Rough Sketch," that a later day was to find her soul indeed matched with his, "in high resolve and hardihood": that through her lips, as well as his, God was to sound forth a trumpet that should never call retreat.

In her normal health she was a person of abounding vitality, with a constitution of iron: as is common with such temperaments, she felt a physical distaste to the abnormal and defective. It required in those days all the strength of her will to overcome her natural shrinking from the blind and the other defectives with whom she was often thrown. There is no clearer evidence of the development of her nature than the contrast between this mental attitude and the deep tenderness which she felt in her later years for the blind. After the Doctor's death, they became her cherished friends; she could never do enough for them; with every year her desire to visit the Perkins Institution, to talk with the pupils, to give them all she had to give, grew stronger and more lively.

Of the friends of this time, none had so deep and[106] lasting an influence over her as Theodore Parker, who had long been a close friend of the Doctor's. She had first heard of him in her girlhood, as an impious and sacrilegious person, to be shunned by all good Christians.

In 1843 she met him in Rome, and found him "one of the most sympathetic and delightful of men"; an intimacy sprang up between the two families which ended only with Parker's life. He baptized the baby Julia; on returning to this country, she and the Doctor went regularly to hear him preach. This she always considered as among the great opportunities of her life.

"I cannot remember," she says, "that the interest of his sermons ever varied for me. It was all one intense delight....It was hard to go out from his presence, all aglow with the enthusiasm which he felt and inspired, and to hear him spoken of as a teacher of irreligion, a pest to the community."

These were the days when it was possible for a minister of a Christian church, hearing of Parker's dangerous illness, to pray that God might remove him from the earth. To her, it seemed that "truly, he talked with God, and took us with him into the divine presence."

Parker could play as well as preach; she loved to "make fun" with him. Witness her "Philosoph-Master and Poet-Aster" in "Passion Flowers." Parker's own powers of merrymaking appear in his Latin epitaph on "the Doctor" (who survived him by many years), which is printed in the "Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe."

She used in later years to shake her head as she recalled a naughty mot of hers apropos of Parker's preaching: "I would rather," she said, "hear Theodore Parker preach than go to the theatre; I would rather go to the theatre than go to a party; I would rather go to a party than stay at home!"

A letter to her sister Annie shows the trend of her religious thought in these days.

Sunday evening, December 8, 1844.

Dear Annie,—
Do not let the Bishop or Uncle or any one frighten you into any concessions—tell them, and all others that, even if you agree with them in doctrine, you think their notion of a religious life narrow, false, superficial. You owe it to truth, to them, to yourself, to say so. I think perfect and fearless frankness one of our highest duties to man as well as to God. Only see how one half the world pragmatically sets its foot down, and says to the other half, "Be converted, my opinion is truth! I must be right and you must be wrong,"—while the other half timidly falters a reluctant acquiescence, or scarce audible expression of doubt, and continues troubled and afraid and discontented with itself and others. Let me never think of you as in this ignominious position, dear Annie. Do not think that I misapprehend you. I know you do not agree in doctrine with me, but I know too that you do not feel that you can abandon your life and conscience to the charge and guidance of such a man as Eastburn, or as Uncle Ben. Do not, therefore, be[108] afraid of them, but let their censure be a very secondary thing with you—while your life is the true expression of your faith, whom can you fear? You are accountable to man for the performance of the duties which affect his welfare and well-being—for those which concern your own soul, you are accountable to God alone. A man, though with twenty surplices on his back and twenty prayer books in his hand, can no more condemn than he can save you.... There may be a hell and a heaven, and it may be good for most people, for you and me, too, if you choose to think that it is so. But there is a virtue which rises above such considerations—there are motives higher than personal fear or hope—the love of good because it is good, because it is God's and nature's law, because it is the secret of the beautiful order of things, because they are blessed by your virtuous deeds and pure thoughts—because every holy, every noble deed, word, or thought helps to build up the ruins of the world, and to elevate our degraded humanity. Those who propose to you hell and heaven as the great incentives to right, appeal merely to your natural love of personal advantage—those who hold up to you a God now frowning and indignant, now gracious and benignant, appeal simply to your natural cowardice, to your natural love of approbation. Does one love God for one's own advantage? One loves Him for His perfection, and if one loves Him, one keeps His commandments. Abandon, I pray you, the exploded formula of selfishness!... I think one should be capable of loving virtue, were one sure even that hell and not heaven would be its reward.

The benedictions of the Sermon on the Mount are very simple—no raptures, no ecstasies are promised. Blessed are all that seek the good of others and the knowledge of truth—blessed, simply that in so doing they obey the law of God, imitate His character, and coming nearer and nearer to Him shall find Him more and more in their hearts. One word about Unitarians. It is very wrong to say that they reject the Bible, simply because they interpret it in a different manner from the (so-called) orthodox, or that they reject Christ, because they understand him in one way, and you in another—while they emulate his wonderful life, while they acknowledge his divine mission, and the divine power of his words, why should they be said to despise him?...

During the years between 1843 and 1859, her life was from time to time shadowed by the approach of a great joy. Before the birth of each successive child she was oppressed by a deep and persistent melancholy. Present and future alike seemed dark to her; she wept for herself, but still more for the hapless infant which must come to birth in so sorrowful a world. With the birth of the child the cloud lifted and vanished. Sunshine and joy—and the baby—filled the world; the mother sang, laughed, and made merry.

In her letters to her sisters, and later in her journals, both these moods are abundantly evident. At first, these letters are full of the bustle of arrival and of settling in the Institution.

"I received the silver.... The soup-ladle is my delight, and I could almost take the dear old coffee-pot to bed with me.... But here is the most important thing.

"My tragedy is left behind!... My house ... in great confusion, carpets not down, curtains not up, the devil to pay, and not a sofa to ask him to sit down upon...."

She now felt sadly the need of training in matters which her girlhood had despised. (She could describe every room in her father's house save one—the kitchen!) The Doctor liked to give weekly dinners to his intimates, "The Five of Clubs," and others. These dinners were something of a nightmare to Julia, even with the aid of Miss Catherine Beecher's cookbook. She spent weeks in studying this volume and trying her hand on its recipes. This was not what her hand was made for; yet she learned to make puddings, and was proud of her preserves.

Speaking of the dinner parties, she tells of one for which she had taken special pains, and of which ice-cream, not then the food of every day, was to form the climax. The ice-cream did not come, and her pleasure was spoiled; she found it next morning in a snowbank outside the back door, where the messenger had "dumped" it without word or comment. "I should laugh at it now," she says, "but then I almost wept over it."

Everything in the new life interested her, even the most prosaic details. She writes to her sister Louisa:

"Our house has been enlivened of late by two delightful visits. The first was from the soap-fat merchant, who gave me thirty-four pounds of good soap for my grease. I was quite beside myself with joy, capered about in the most enthusiastic manner, and was going to hug in turn the soap, the grease, and the man, had I not remembered my future ambassadress-ship, and reflected that it would not sound well in history. This morning came the rag-man, who takes rags and gives nice tin vessels in exchange.... Both of these were clever transactions. Oh, if you had seen me stand by the soap-fat man, and scrutinize minutely his weights and measures, telling him again and again that it was beautiful grease, and he must allow me a good price for it—truly, I am a mother in Israel."

Much as the Doctor loved the Perkins Institution, he longed for a home of his own, and in the spring of 1845 he found a place entirely to his mind.

A few steps from the Institution was a plot of land, facing the sun, sheltered from the north wind by the last remaining bit of "Washington Heights," the eminence on which Washington planted the batteries which drove the British out of Boston. Some six acres of fertile ground, an old house with low, broad, sunny rooms, two towering Balm of Gilead trees, and some ancient fruit trees: this was all in the beginning; but the Doctor saw at a glance the possibilities of the place. He bought it, added one or two rooms to the old house, planted fruit trees, laid out flower gardens, and in the summer of 1845 moved his little family thither.

The move was made on a lovely summer day. As our mother drove into the green bower, half shade, half sunshine, silent save for the birds, she cried out, "Oh! this is green peace!" The name fitted and clung: "Green Peace" was known and loved as such so long as it existed.

This was the principal home of her married life, but it was not precisely an abiding one. The summers were spent elsewhere; moreover, the "Doctor's Wing" in the Institution was always ready for habitation, and it often happened that for one reason or another the family were taken back there for weeks or months. Two of the six children, Florence and Maud, were born at the Institution; the former just before the move to Green Peace. She was named Florence in honor of Miss Nightingale. The Doctor had ardently desired a son; finding the baby a girl, "I will forgive you," he cried, "if you will name her for Florence Nightingale!" Miss Nightingale became the child's godmother, sent a golden cup (now a precious heirloom), and wrote as follows:—

Embley, December 26.
I cannot pretend to express, my dear kind friends, how touched and pleased I was by such a remembrance of me as that of your child's name.... If I could live to justify your opinion of me, it would have been enough to have lived for, and such thoughts, as that of your goodness, are great thoughts, "strong to consume small troubles" which should bear us up on the wings of the Eagle, like Guido's Ganymede, up to the feet of the God, there to take what work he has for us to do for him. I shall hope to see my little Florence[113] before long in this world, but if not, I trust there is a tie formed between us, which shall continue in Eternity—if she is like you, I shall know her again there, without her body on, perhaps the better for not having known her here with it.

Letters to her sisters give glimpses of the life at Green Peace during the years 1845-50.

To her sister Louisa

... I assure you it is a delightful but a terrible thing to be a mother. The constant care, anxiety and thought of some possible evil that may come to the little creature, too precious to be so frail, whose life and well-being the mother feels God has almost placed in her hands! If I did not think that angels watched over my baby, I should be crazy about it.

To the same

My trouble has been Chev's illness.... He was taken ill the night of his return, and established himself next morning on the sofa, to be coddled with Cologne, and dieted with peaches and grapes, when lo, in an hour more, no coddling save that of (Dr.) Fisher, no diet save ipecac and werry thin gruel—chills, nausea, and blue devils. Bradford to watch by night, Rosy and I by day; Fisher and I sympathizing deeply in holding the head of a perfectabilian philanthropist. I making myself active in a variety of ways, bathing Chev's eyes with cologne water by mistake instead of his brow, laying the pillow the wrong way, and[114] being banished at last in disgrace, to make room for Rosa.

Am I not the most unfortunate of human beings? Devil a bit! I enjoy all that I can—have I not milk for the baby, and the baby for milk? Cannot Julia make arrowroot pudding and cold custard? Can I not refresh myself by looking into Romana's sapphire eyes, with their deep dark fringe? Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Yea, thou, oh Bradford, art the balm, thou, oh Fisher, art the physician! Food also is there for cachinnation, that chief duty of man—Quoth Chev this morning, lifting up his feeble voice and shaking his dizzy head: "Oh, oh, if I had fallen sick in New York, and old Francis had bled me, you would not have seen me again...."

Florence's name is Florence Marion—pretty, n'est-ce pas?...

Farewell, my own darling. Your

Well, life am strange! I am again cookless. I imprudently turned old Smith off and took a young girl, who left me in four days. Why? Her lover would not allow her to stay in a family where she did not sit at table with the lady. I had read of such things in Mrs. Trollope, and thought them quite impossible. In the place from which I took her, she had done all the cooking, washing and chamber work of the house—was, in fine the only servant, for the compensation of six dollars a month. But then, she sat at table!!! oh, ho!

To the same

South Boston, April 21, 1845.
... The weather here is so gloomy, that one really deserves credit for not hanging oneself!... I passed last evening with ——. Chev was going to a "'versary," left me there at about seven, and did not come for me until after ten. Consequence was, I got heartily tired of the whole family, and concluded that bright people without hearts were in the long run less agreeable than good gentle people without wits—glory on my soul, likewise also on my baby's soul, which I am!

To the same[24]

South Boston, November, 1845.

My darling Wevie,—
The children have been so very obliging as to go to sleep, and having worried over them all day, and part of the evening, I will endeavor to give you what is left of it. When you become the mother of two children you will understand the value of time as you never understood it before. My days and nights are pretty much divided between Julia and Florence. I sleep with the baby, nurse her all night, get up, hurry through my breakfast, take care of her while Emily gets hers, then wash and dress her, put her to sleep, drag her out in the wagon, amuse Dudie, kiss, love and scold her, etc., etc.... Oh, my dear Wevie, for one good squeeze in your loving arms, for one kiss, and one smile from you, what would I not give? Anything, even my box of Paris finery, which I have just opened, with great edification. Oh, what headdresses! what silks! what a bonnet, what a mantelet! I clapped my hands and cried glory for the space of half an hour, then danced a few Polkas around the study table, then sat down and felt happy, then remembered that I had now nothing to do save to grow old and ugly, and so turned a misanthropic look upon the Marie Stuart garland, etc., etc. You have certainly chosen my things with your own perfect taste. The flowers and dresses are alike exquisite, and so are all the things, not forgetting Dudie's little darling bonnet. But I fear that even this beautiful toilette will hardly tempt me from my nursery fireside where my presence is, in these days, indispensable. I have not been ten minutes this whole day, without holding one or other of the children. I have to sit with Fo-fo on one knee and Dudie on the other, trotting them alternately, and singing, "Jim along Josie," till I can't Jim along any further possibly. Well, life is peculiar anyhow. Dudie doesn't go alone yet—heaven only knows when she will. Sunday evening. I wore the new bonnet and mantelet to church, to-day:—frightened the sexton, made the minister squint, and the congregation stare. It looked rather like a green clam shell, some folks thought. I did not. I cocked it as high as ever I could, but somehow it did plague me a little. I shall soon get used to it. Sumner has been dining with us, and he and Chev have been pitying unmarried women. Oh, my dear friends, thought I, if you could only have one baby, you would change your tune.... Heaven grant that your dear little child may arrive safely, and gladden your heart with its sweet face. What a new world will its birth open to you, an ocean of love unfathomed even by your loving heart. I cannot tell you the comfort I have in my little ones, troublesome as they sometimes are. However weary I may be at night, it is sweet to feel that I have devoted the day to them. I am become quite an adept in washing and dressing, and curl my little Fo-fo's hair beautifully. Tell Donald that I can even wash out the little crease in her back, without rubbing the skin off....

To her sister Annie[25]

My poor dear little Ante-nuptial, I will write to you, and I will come to you, though I can do you no good—sentiment and sympathy I have none, but such insipidity as I have give I unto thee.... Dear Annie, your marriage is to me a grave and solemn matter. I hardly allow myself to think about it. God give you all happiness, dearest child. Some sufferings and trials I fear you must have, for after all, the entering into single combat, hand to hand, with the realities of life, will be strange and painful to one who has hitherto lived, enjoyed, and suffered, en l'air, as you have done.... To be happily married seems to me the best thing for a woman. Oh! my sweet Annie, may you be happy—your maidenhood has been pure, sinless, loving, beautiful—you have no remorses, no anxious thought about the past. You have lived to make the earth[118] more beautiful and bright—may your married life be as holy and harmless—may it be more complete, and more acceptable to God than your single life could possibly have been. Marriage, like death, is a debt we owe to nature, and though it costs us something to pay it, yet are we more content and better established in peace, when we have paid it. A young girl is a loose flower or flower seed, blown about by the wind, it may be cruelly battered, may be utterly blighted and lost to this world, but the matron is the same flower or seed planted, springing up and bearing fruit unto eternal life. What a comfort would Wevie now be to you—she is so much more loving than I, but thee knows I try. I have been better lately, the quiet nights seem to speak to me again, and to quicken my dead soul. What I feel is a premature old age, caused by the strong passions and conflicts of my early life. It is the languor and indifference of old age, without its wisdom, or its well-earned right to repose. Sweetie, wasn't the bonnet letter hideous? I sent it that you might see how naughty I could be....

The Doctor's health had been affected by the hardships and exposures of his service in the Greek Revolution, and his arduous labors now gave him little time for rest or recuperation. He was subject to agonizing headaches, each of which was a brief but distressing illness. In the summer of 1846 he resolved to try the water cure, then considered by many a sovereign remedy for all human ailments, and he and our mother spent some delightful weeks at Brattleboro, Vermont.

To her sister Louisa

August 4, 1846.

Dearest Wevie,—
... We left dear old Brattleboro on Sunday afternoon, at five o'clock, serenely packed in our little carriage; the good old boarding-house woman kissed me, and presented me with a bundle, containing cake, biscuits, and whortleberries.... Two calico bags, one big and one little, contained our baggage for the journey. Chev and I felt well and happy, the children were good, the horses went like birds, and showed themselves horses of good mettle, by carrying us over a distance of one hundred miles in something less than two days, for we arrived here at three o'clock to-day, so that the second 24 hours was not completed. Very pleasant was our little journey. We started very early each morning, and went ten or twelve miles to becassim;[26] the country inns were clean, quiet and funny. We had custards, pickles, and pies for breakfast, and tea at dinner. Oh, it was a good time! At Athol, I found a piano, and sat down to sing negro songs for the children. A charming audience, comprising cook, ostler, and waiter, collected around the parlour door, and encouraged me with a broom and a pitchfork. Well, it was pleasant to arrive at our dear Green Peace, or Villa Julia, as they call it. We found everything in beautiful order, the green corn grown as high as our heads, and ripe enough to eat, the turkey sitting on eleven eggs, the peahen on four, six young turkeys already growing up, and two broods of young chickens. [120] Peas, tomatoes, beans, squashes and potatoes, all flourishing. Our garden entirely supplies us with vegetables, and we shall have many apples and pears. Immediately upon my arrival, I found the box and little parcel from you. You may imagine the pleasure it gave me to receive, at this distance, things which your tasteful little fingers had worked.... I am rather ashamed to see how beautiful your work is, when mine is as coarse as possible. In truth, I am a clumsy seamstress, but I make good puddings, and the little things I make do well enough here in the country.... August 15th. I have passed eleven quiet and peaceful days since I got so far with my letter. My chicks have been good, and my husband well. My household affairs go on very pleasantly and easily nowadays. My good stout German girl takes care of the chicks and helps a little with the chamber work. My little Lizzie does the cooking, all but the puddings which I always make myself, so I keep but two house servants. The man takes care of the horses, drives and keeps the garden in excellent order. I make my bed and put my room in order as well as I can. I generally wipe the dishes when Lizzie has washed them, so you see that I am quite an industrious flea. I have made very nice raspberry jam and currant jelly with my own hands.... Felton came to tea last evening. He was pleasant and bright. He will be married some time in November. Hillard, too, has been to see me. Yesterday was made famous by the purchase of a very beautiful piano of Chickering's manufacture. The value of it was $450, but the kind Chick sold it to us at wholesale price. It arrived at[121] Green Peace to-day, and has already gladdened the children's hearts by some gay tunes, the rags of my antiquated musical repertory. You will be glad, I am sure, to know that I have one at last, for I have been many months without any instrument, so that I have almost forgotten how to touch one.... My mourning [for a sister-in-law] has been quite an inconvenience to me, this summer. I had just spent all the money I could afford for my summer clothes, and was forced to spend $30 more for black dresses.... The black clothes, however, seem to me very idle things, and I shall leave word in my will that no one shall wear them for me....

To the same

Bordentown, August, 1846.
... Sumner and Chev came hither with us, and passed two days and nights here. Chev is well and good. Sumner is as usual, funny but very good and kind. Philanthropy goes ahead, and slavery will be abolished, and so shall we. New York is full of engagements in which I feel no interest. John Astor and Augusta Gibbs are engaged, and are, I think, fairly well matched. One can only say that each is good enough for the other.

These were the days when Julia sang in her nursery:

"Rero, rero, riddlety rad,
This morning my baby caught sight of her Dad,
Quoth she, 'Oh, Daddy, where have you been?'
'With Mann and Sumner a-putting down sin!'"

To her sister Annie

August 17, 1846.

My dear darling Annie,—
... After seeing the frugal manner in which country people live, and after deriving great benefit from hydropathic diet, Chev and I thought we could get along with one servant less, and so we have no cook. Lizzie[27] cooks, I make the pudding, we have no tea, and live principally upon vegetables from our own garden, hasty pudding, etc. I make the beds and do the rooms, as well as I can. We get along quite comfortably, and I like it very much—the fewer servants one has, the more comfort, I think.... I have plenty of occupation for my fingers. My heart will be much taken up with my babies; as for my soul, that part of me which thinks and believes and imagines, I shall leave it alone till the next world, for I see it has little to do in this....

Good-bye. Your own, own

To her sister Louisa

Boston, December 1, 1846.
Dearest old absurdity that you are, am I to write to you again? Is not my life full enough of business, of flannel petticoats, aprons, and the wiping of dirty little noses? Must I sew and trot babies and sing songs, and tell Mother Goose stories, and still be expected to know how to write? My fingers are becoming less and less familiar with the pen, my thoughts grow daily more insignificant and commonplace. What earthly good can my letters do to anyone? What interesting information can I impart to anyone? Not that I am not happy, very happy, but then I have quite lost the power of contributing to the amusement of others....

To her sister Annie

1845 or 1846.
... I visited my Mother Otis[28] on Thursday evening, and had a pleasant time. I went alone, Chev being philanthropically engaged—party being over, I called for him at Mr. Mann's, but they were so happy over their report that they concluded to make a night of it, and I came home alone. Chev returned at one, quite intoxicated with benevolence....

Finding that the isolation of South Boston was telling seriously upon her health and spirits, the Doctor decided on a change, and the winter of 1846 was spent at the Winthrop House in Boston.

To the same

Monday morning, 1846.

My dearest, sweetest Annie,—
... I have neglected you sadly this winter, and my heart reproaches me for it.... It has been strange to me, to return to life and to feel that I have any sympathy with living beings.... I have been singing and writing poetry, so you may know that I have been happy. Alas! am I not a selfish creature to prize these enjoyments as I do, above almost everything else in the[124] world? God forgive me if I do wrong in following with ardor the strongest instincts of my nature, but I have been doing wrong all my life, in some way or other. I have been giving a succession of little musical parties on Saturday evenings, and I assure you they have been quite successful. I have to be sure only my little parlour in the Winthrop House, but even that is larger than the grand saloon at S. Niccolo da Tolentino which managed to hold so much fun on Friday evenings. I have found some musical friends to sing with me—Lizzie Cary, Mrs. Felton, Mr. Pelosos and William Story, of whom more anon.... Agassiz, the learned and charming Frenchman, is also one of my habitués on Saturday evenings, and Count Pourtalés, a Swiss nobleman of good family, who has accompanied Agassiz to this country! I illuminate my room with a chandelier and some candles, draw out the piano into the room, and order some ice from Mrs. Mayer's—so that the reception gives me very little trouble. My friends come at half-past eight and stay until eleven. I do not usually have more than twenty people, but once I have had nearly sixty, and those of the best people in Boston. Chev is very desirous of having a house in town, and is far more pleased with my success than I am. My next party will be on the coming Saturday. It is for Lizzie Rice and Sam Guild who are just married. Am I not an enterprising little woman?... Dear Annie, I am anxious to be with you, that I may really know how you are, and talk over all the little matters with you.... I always feel that this suffering must be some expiation for all the follies of one's life, whereupon I will improvise a couplet upon the subject.

Woman, being of all critters the darn'dest,
Is made to suffer the consarn'dest.

To her sister Louisa

May 17, 1847.

My sweetest beautifullest Wevie,—
... I have not written because I have been in a studious, meditative, and most uncommunicative frame of mind, and have very few words to throw at many dogs. It is quite delightful to take to study again, and to feel that old and stupid as one may be, there is still in one's mind a little power of improvement.... The longer I live the more do I feel my utter childlike helplessness about all practical affairs. Certainly a creature with such useless hands was never before seen. I seem to need a dry nurse quite as much as my children. What useful thing can I possibly teach these poor little monkeys? For everything that is not soul I am an ass, that I am. I have now been at Green Peace some six weeks, and it is very pleasant and quiet, but oh! the season is so backward; it is the 17th of May, and the trees are only beginning to blossom. Every day comes a cold east wind to nip off my nose, and the devil a bit of anything else comes to Green Peace. I am thin and languid. I have never entirely recovered from my fever,[29] but my mind is clearer than it has ever been since my marriage. I am able to think, to study and to pray, things which I cannot accomplish when my brain is oppressed....

Boston has been greatly enlivened during the past month by a really fine opera, the troupe from Havana, much better than the N. Y. troupe, with a fine orchestra and chorus, all Italians. The Prima Donna is an artist of the first order, and has an exquisite voice. I have had season tickets, and have been nearly every night. This is a great indulgence, as it is very expensive, and I have one of the best boxes in the house, but Chev is the most indulgent of husbands. I never knew anything like it. Think of all he allows me, a house and garden, a delicious carriage and pair of horses, etc., etc., etc. My children are coming on famously. Julia, or as she calls herself, Romana, is really a fine creature, full of sensibility and of talent. She learns very readily, and reasons about things with great gravity. She remembers every tune that she hears, and can sing a great many songs. She is very full of fun, and so is my sweet Flossy, my little flaxen-haired wax doll. I play for them on the piano, Lizzie beats the tambourine, and the two babies take hold of hands and dance. "Is not your heart fully satisfied with such a sight?" you will ask me. I reply, dear Wevie, that the soul whose desires are not fixed upon the unattainable is dead even while it liveth, and that I am glad, in the midst of all my comforts, to feel myself still a pilgrim in pursuit of something that is neither house nor lands, nor children, nor health. What that something is I scarce know. Sometimes it seems to me one thing and sometimes another. Oh, immortality, thou art to us but a painful rapture, an ecstatic burthen in this earthly life. God teach me to bear thee until thou shalt bear me! The arms of the cross will one day turn into angels' wings, and lift us up to heaven. Don't think from this rhapsody that I am undergoing a fit of pietistic exaltation. I am not, but as I grow older, many things become clearer to me, and I feel at once the difficulty and the necessity of holding fast to one's soul and to its divine relationships, lest the world should cheat us of it utterly.

To her sister Annie

June 19 [1847], Green Peace.

My dearest little Annie,—

... Boston has been in great excitement at the public debates of the Prison Discipline Society, which have been intensely interesting. Chev and Sumner have each spoken twice, in behalf of the Philadelphia system, and against the course of the Society. They have been furiously attacked by the opposite party. Chev's second speech drew tears from many eyes, and was very beautiful. Both of Sumner's have been fine, but the last, delivered last evening, was masterly. I never listened to anything with more intense interest,—he held the audience breathless for two hours and a half. I have attended all the debates save one—there have been seven.

To her sister Louisa

July 1, 1847.

My dearest old Wevie,—
I should have written you yesterday but that I was obliged to entertain the whole Club[30] at dinner, prior to Hillard's departure. I gave them a neat little dinner, soup, salmon, sweetbreads, roast lamb and pigeon, with green peas, potatoes au maitre d'hotel, spinach and salad. Then came a delicious pudding and blanc-mange, then strawberries, pineapple, and ice-cream, then coffee, etc. We had a pleasant time upon the whole. That is, they had; for myself it is easy to find companions more congenial than the Club. Still, I like them very well. I had last week a little meeting of the mutual correction club, which was far pleasanter to me. This society is organized as follows: Julia Howe, grand universal philosopher; Jane Belknap, charitable censor; Mary Ward, moderator; Sarah Hale, optimist. I had them all to dinner and we were jolly, I do assure you. My children looked so lovely yesterday, in muslin dresses of bright pink plaid, made very full and reaching only to the knee, with pink ribbands in their sleeves....

How I do wish for you this summer. My little place is so green, my flowers so sweet, my strawberries so delicious—the garden produces six quarts or more a day. The cow gives delicious cream. I even make a sort of cream cheese which is not by any means to be despised. Do you eat ricotta nowadays? Chev gave me a little French dessert set yesterday, which made my table look so pretty. White with very rich blue and gold. Oh, but it was bunkum! Dear old Wevie, you must give me one summer, and then I will give you a winter—isn't that fair? Chev promises to take me abroad in five years, if we should sell Green Peace well. They talk of moving the Institution, in which case I should have to leave my pretty Green Peace in two years more, but I should be sad to leave it, for it is very lovely. I don't know any news at all to communicate. The President[31] has just made a visit here; he was coolly but civilly received. His whole course has been very unpopular in Massachusetts, and nobody wanted to see the man who had brought this cursed Mexican War upon us. He was received by the Mayor with a brief but polite address, lodgings were provided for him, and a dinner given him by the city. But there was no crowd to welcome him, no shouts, no waving of handkerchiefs. The people quietly looked at him and said, "This is our chief magistrate, is it? Well, he is très peu de chose." I of course did not trouble myself to go and see him....I send you an extract from a daily paper. Can you tell me who is the authoress? It has been much admired. Uncle John was very much tickled to see somebody in print. Try it again, Blue Jacket.

The wayward moods shown in these letters sometimes found other expression. In those days her wit was wayward too: its arrows were always winged, and sometimes over-sharp. In later life, when Boston and everything connected with it was unspeakably dear to her, she would not recall the day when, passing on Charles Street the Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary, she read the name aloud and exclaimed, "Oh! I did not know there was a charitable eye or ear in Boston!" Or that other day, when having dined with the Ticknors, a family of monumental dignity, she said to a[130] friend afterward, "Oh! I am so cold! I have been dining with the Tête Noir, the Mer(e) de Glace, and the Jungfrau!"

It may have been in these days that an incident occurred which she thus describes in "A Plea for Humour": "I once wrote to an intimate friend a very high-flown and ridiculous letter of reproof for her frivolity. I presently heard of her as ill in bed, in consequence of my unkindness. I immediately wrote, 'Did not you see that the whole thing was intended to be a burlesque?' After a while she wrote back, 'I am just beginning to see the fun of it, but the next time you intend to make a joke, pray give me a fortnight's notice.' It was now my turn to take to my bed."

In September, 1847, a heavy sorrow came to her in the death of her brother Marion, "a gallant, gracious boy, a true, upright and useful man." She writes to her sister Louisa: "Let us thank Him that Marion's life gave us as much joy as his death has given us pain.... Our children will grow up in love and beauty, and one of us will have a sweet boy who shall bear the dear name of Marion and make it doubly dear to us."

This prophecy was fulfilled first by the birth, on March 2, 1848, of Henry Marion Howe (named for the two lost brothers), and again in 1854 by that of Francis Marion Crawford.

The winter of 1847-48 was also spent in Boston, at No. 74 Mount Vernon Street; here the first son was born. The Doctor, recording his birth in the Family Bible, wrote after the name, "Dieu donné!" And, his[131] mind full of the Revolution of 1848 in France, added, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!"

On April 18 she writes: "My boy will be seven weeks old to-morrow, and ... such a darling little child was never seen in this world before.... I shall have some fears lest his temperament partake of the melancholy which oppressed me during the period of his creation, but so far he is so placid and gentle, that we call him the little saint.... I have seen little of the world since his birth, and thought still less. I shall try to pursue my studies as I have through this last year, for I am good for nothing without them. I will rather give up the world and cut out Beacon Street, but an hour or two for the cultivation of my poor little soul I must and will have...."

To her sister Annie


Dearest Annie,—
... My literary reputation is growing apace. Mr. Buchanan Read has written to me from Philadelphia to beg some poetry for a book he is about to publish, and I am going to hunt up some trash for him in the course of the week. I find that my name has been advertised in relation to Griswold's book[32]—people come to ask Chev if that Mrs. Howe is his wife. I feel as if I should make a horribly shabby appearance. Do tell me if Griswold liked the poems....

To the same

Sunday, December 15, 1849.
... I do want to see you, best Annie, and to have a few long talks with you about theology, the soul, the heart, life, matrimony, and the points of resemblance between the patriarch Noah and Sir Tipsy Squinteye. Those talks, madam, are not to be had, so instead of the rich crême fouettée of our conversation, we will take an insipid water-ice of a letter together, the two spoons being ourselves, the sugar, ice and lemon representing our three husbands, all mixed up together, the whole to be considered good when one can't get anything better. I will be hanged, however, if you shall make me say which is which.

I pass my life after a singular manner, Annie. I am in the old room, in the old house, even in the old dressing-gown, which is of some value, inasmuch as it furnishes my rent. I am in the old place, but the old Dudie is not in me; in her stead is a spirit of crossness and dullness, insensible to all the gentler influences of life, knowing no music, poetry, wit, or devotion, intent mainly upon holding on to the ropes, and upon getting through the present without too much consciousness of it.... All society has been paralyzed by the shocking murder of Dr. Parkman. There has perhaps never been in Boston so horrible and atrocious an affair. The details of the crime are too heart-sickening to be dwelt upon. There can scarcely be a doubt of the guilt of Dr. Webster—the jury of inquest have returned a verdict of guilty, but he has still a chance for his life, as his trial in court does not come on for some months. The wisest people say that he will be convicted and hanged. I saw Dr. Parkman two or three days before he was missing—he was an old friend of Chev's.... I have not been able to see much company, yet we have had a few pleasant people at the house, now and then. Among these, a Mr. Twisleton, brother of Lord Saye and Sele, the most agreeable John Bull I have seen this many a day, or indeed ever....

The winter of 1849-50 was also spent at No. 74 Mount Vernon Street. Here, in February, 1850, a third daughter was born, and named Laura for Laura Bridgman. In the spring, our parents made a second voyage to Europe, taking with them the two youngest children, Julia Romana and Florence being left in the household of Dr. Edward Jarvis.

They spent some weeks in England, renewing the friendships made seven years before; thence they journeyed to Paris, and from there to Boppart, where the Doctor took the water cure. Julia seems to have been too busy for letter-writing during this year; the Doctor writes to Charles Sumner of the beauty of Boppart, and adds: "Julia and I have been enjoying walks upon the banks of the Rhine, and rambles upon the hillside, and musings among the ruins, and jaunts upon the waters as we have enjoyed nothing since we left home."

He had but six months' leave of absence; it was felt by both that Julia needed a longer time of rest and refreshment; accordingly when he returned she, with the two little children, joined her sisters, both now[134] married, and the three proceeded to Rome, where they spent the winter.

Mrs. Crawford was living at Villa Negroni, where Mrs. Mailliard became her companion; Julia found a comfortable apartment in Via Capo le Case, with the Edward Freemans on the floor above, and Mrs. David Dudley Field on that below.

These were pleasant neighbors. Mrs. Freeman was Julia's companion in many delightful walks and excursions; when Mrs. Field had a party, she borrowed Mrs. Howe's large lamp, and was ready to lend her tea-cups in return. There was a Christmas tree—the first ever seen in Rome!—at Villa Negroni; "an occasional ball, a box at the opera, a drive on the Campagna."

Julia found a learned Rabbi from the Ghetto, and resumed the study of Hebrew, which she had begun the year before in South Boston. This accomplished man was obliged to wear the distinctive dress then imposed upon the Jews of Rome, and to be within the walls of the Ghetto by six in the evening. There were private theatricals, too, she appearing as "Tilburina" in "The Critic."

Among the friends of this Roman winter none was so beloved as Horace Binney Wallace. He was a Philadelphian, a rosso. He held that "the highest effort of nature is to produce a rosso"; he was always in search of the favored tint either in pictures or in living beings. Together the two rossi explored the ancient city, with mutual pleasure and profit.

Some years later, on hearing of his death, she recalled these days of companionship in a poem called[135] "Via Felice,"[33] which she sang to an air of her own composition. The poem appeared in "Words for the Hour," and is one of the tenderest of her personal tributes:—

For Death's eternal city
Has yet some happy street;
'Tis in the Via Felice
My friend and I shall meet.

In the summer of 1851 she turned her face westward. The call of husband, children, home, was imperative; yet so deep was the spell which Rome had laid upon her that the parting was fraught with "pain, amounting almost to anguish." She was oppressed by the thought that she might never again see all that had grown so dear. Looking back upon this time, she says, "I have indeed seen Rome and its wonders more than once since that time, but never as I saw them then."

The homeward voyage was made in a sailing-vessel, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Mailliard. They were a month at sea. In the long quiet mornings Julia read Swedenborg's "Divine Love and Wisdom"; in the afternoons Eugène Sue's "Mystères de Paris," borrowed from a steerage passenger. There was whist in the evening; when her companions had gone to rest she would sit alone, thinking over the six months, weaving into song their pleasures and their pains. The actual record of this second Roman winter is found in "Passion Flowers."


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