Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter XIII - Concerning Clubs - 1867-1871; aet. 48-52

"Behold," he said, "Life's great impersonate,
Nourished by labor!
Thy gods are gone with old-time faith and fate;
Here is thy Neighbor."

J. W. H., "A New Sculptor."

After such a rush of impression and emotion, the return to everyday life could not fail to bring about a corresponding drop in our mother's mental barometer. Vexations awaited her. The Boylston Place house had been let for a year, and—Green Peace being also let on a long lease—the reunited family took refuge for the winter in the "Doctor's Wing" of the Perkins Institution.

Again, an extremely unfavorable critique of "Later Lyrics" in a prominent review distressed her greatly; her health was more or less disturbed; above all, the sudden death of John A. Andrew, the beloved and honored friend of many years, saddened both her and the Doctor deeply.

All these things affected her spirits to some extent, so that the Journal for the remainder of 1867 is in a minor key.

"... In despair about the house...."

On hearing of the separation of Charles Sumner from his wife:—

"For men and women to come together is nature—for[284] them to live together is art—to live well, high art."

"November 21. Melancholy, thinking that I did but poorly last evening [at a reading from her 'Notes on Travel' at the Church of the Disciples].... At the afternoon concert felt a savage and tearful melancholy, a profound friendlessness. In the whole large assembly I saw no one who would help me to do anything worthy of my powers and life-ideal. I have so dreamed of high use that I cannot decline to a life of amusement or of small occupation."

"... I believe in God, but am utterly weary of man."

After a disappointment:—

"... To church, where my mental condition speedily improved. Sermon on the Good Samaritan. Hymns and prayers all congenial and consoling. Felt much consoled and uplifted out of all petty discords and disappointments. A disappointment should be digested in patience, not vomited in spleen. Bitter morsels nourish the soul, not less perhaps than sweet. Thought of the following: Moral philosophy begins with the fact of accepting human life."

In November came a new interest which was to mean much to her.

"Early in town to attend the Free Religious Club. Weiss's essay was well written, but encumbered with illustrations rarely pertinent. It was neither religion, philosophy, nor cosmology, but a confusion of all three, showing the encyclopædic aim of his culture. It advocated the natural to the exclusion of the supernatural. Being invited to speak, I suggested real and ideal as a better antithesis for thought than natural and supernatural. Weiss did all that his method would allow. He is a man of parts. I cannot determine how much, but the Parkerian standard, or a similar one, has deformed his reasoning powers. He seeks something better than Christianity without having half penetrated the inner significance of that religion.

"Alcott spoke in the idealistic direction. Also Wasson very well. Lucretia Mott exceptionally well, a little rambling, but with true womanly intuitions of taste and of morality."

This association of thinkers was afterwards known as the "Boston Radical Club." She has much to say about it in her "Reminiscences."

"I did, indeed," she says, "hear at these meetings much that pained and even irritated me. The disposition to seek outside the limits of Christianity for all that is noble and inspiring in religious culture, and to recognize especially within these limits the superstition and intolerance which have been the bane of all religions—this disposition, which was frequently manifested both in the essays presented and in their discussion, offended not only my affections, but also my sense of justice....

"Setting this one point aside, I can but speak of the Club as a high congress of souls, in which many noble thoughts were uttered. Nobler than any special view or presentation was the general sense of the dignity of human character and of its affinity with things divine, which always gave the master tone to the discussions."

She says elsewhere of the Radical Club:—

"The really radical feature in it was the fact that the thoughts presented at its meetings had a root; were in that sense radical.... Here I have heard Wendell Phillips, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Weiss and James Freeman Clarke, Athanase Coquerel, the noble French Protestant preacher; William Henry Channing, worthy nephew of his great uncle; Colonel Higginson, Doctor Bartol, and many others. Extravagant things were sometimes said, no doubt, and the equilibrium of ordinary persuasion was not infrequently disturbed for a time. But the satisfaction of those present when a sound basis of thought was vindicated and established is indeed pleasant in remembrance...."

"To Dickens's second reading, which I enjoyed very much. The 'wreck' in 'David Copperfield' was finely given. His appearance is against success; the face is rather commonplace, seen at a distance, and very red if seen through a glass: the voice worn and blasé."

"... Club in the evening, at which my nonsense made people laugh, as I wished...."

"A little intoxicated with the pleasure of having made people laugh. A fool, however, can often do this better than a wise man. I look earnestly for a higher task. Yet innocent, intelligent laughter is not to be despised."

"Was taken with verses in church. They did not prove nearly as good as I had hoped...."

"Made three beds, to help Bridget, who had the washing alone. Read a difficult chapter in Fichte."

"Studied and worried as usual,—Fichte and Greek...."

"Have not been strenuous enough about the Cretan Fair...."

Any lack of strenuousness about the Cretan Fair was amply atoned for.

An "Appeal" was published, written by her and signed by Julia Ward Howe, Emily Talbot, Sarah E. Lawrence, Caroline A. Mudge, and Abby W. May.

"What shall we say? They are a great way off, but they are starving and perishing, as none in our midst can starve and perish, and we Americans are among the few persons to whom they can look for help."

In this cry for aid we hear the voice of both parents. The response was cordial and generous. The fair was held in Easter Week, at the Boston Music Hall, and recalled on a smaller scale the glories of the war-time fairs. Of the great labor of preparation, the Journal gives a lively impression; and "speaking for Crete" was added to the other burdens borne by her and the Doctor.

She could not give up her studies; the entries for the winter of 1867-68 are a curious mingling of Fichte and committees, with here and there a prayer for spiritual help and guidance, which shows her overwrought condition.

Another interest had come to her from the visit to Greece: the study of ancient Greek. Latin had been her lifelong friend, but she had always longed for the sister classic; now the time was ripe for it. She made a beginning in Athens, not only picking up a good deal[288] of modern Greek, but attacking the ancient language with the aid of primer and phrase-book. A valuable teacher was at hand in Michael Anagnos,[67] who was aiding the Doctor as secretary, and preparing himself for the principal work of his life. Anagnos encouraged and assisted her in the new study, which became one of her greatest delights. She looked forward to a Greek lesson as girls do to a ball; in later life she was wont to say, "My Greek is my diamond necklace!"

"January 1, 1868. May I this year have energy, patience, good-will and good faith. May I be guilty of no treason against duty and my best self. May I acquire more system, order, and wisdom in the use of things. May I, if God wills, carry out some of my plans for making my studies useful to others. This is much to ask, but not too much of Him who giveth all."

"January 24. A dreadfully busy day. Meeting of General Committee on Cretan Fair.... Felt overcome with fatigue, and nervous and fretful, but I am quite sure that I do not rave as I used to do...."

"January 26. Some mental troubles have ended in a determination to hold fast till death the liberty wherewith Christ has made me free. The joyous belief that his doctrine of influences can keep me from all that I should most greatly dread, lifts me up like a pair of strong wings. 'I shall run and not be weary. I shall[289] walk and not faint.' At church the first hymn contained this line:—

"'Her fathers' God before her moved'— which quite impressed me, for my father's piety and the excellence of other departed relatives have always of late years been a support and pledge to me of my own good behavior."

* * * * * *

"The thief's heart, the wanton's brow, may accompany high talent and geniality of temperament; but thanks be to God they need not."

"... Wished I could make a fine poetic picture of Paul preaching at Mars Hill. On the one side, the glittering statues and brilliant mythology—on the other, the simplicity of the Christian life and doctrine. But to-day no pictures came."

* * * * * *

"Got Anagnos to help me read two odes of Anacreon. This was a great pleasure."

* * * * * *

"Much business—no Greek lesson. I was feeble in mind and body, and brooded over the loss of the lesson in a silly manner. Habit is to me not second, but first nature, and I easily become mechanical and fixed in my routine.... I confess that to lay down Greek now would be to die, like Moses, in sight of the promised land. All my life I have longed for this language...."

"All of these days are mixed of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. I am pretty well content with my work, not as well with myself. I feel the need of earnest prayer and divine help...."

[290]"I had been invited to read the essay to the Radical Religious Club on this day at 10 A.M. I asked leave for Anagnos and took him with me. My dæmon [Socratic] had told me to read 'Doubt and Belief,' so I chose this and read it. I find my dæmon justified. It seemed to have a certain fitness in calling forth discussion. Mr. Emerson first spoke very beautifully, then Mr. Alcott, these two sympathizing in my view. Wasson followed, a little off, but with a very friendly contrast.... Much of this talk was very interesting. It was all marked by power and sincerity, but Emerson and Alcott understood my essay better than the others except J. F. C. I introduced Anagnos to Emerson. I told him that he had seen the Olympus of New England. Thought of my dear lost son, dead in this house [13 Chestnut Street, where the meeting was held]. Anagnos is a dear son to me. I brought him home to dinner, and count this a happy day."

"I have heard the true word of God to-day from Frederick Hedge—a sermon on Love as the true bond of society, which lifted my weak soul as on the strong wings of a cherub. The immortal truths easily lost sight of in our everyday weakness and passion stood out to-day so strong and clear that I felt their healing power as if Christ had stood and touched my blinded eyes with his divine finger. So be it always! Esto perpetua!"

On April 13 the fair opened; a breathless week followed. She was much exhausted after it, but in a few days "began to rehearse for Festival."[68]

"After extreme depression, I begin to take heart a little. Almighty God help me!

"Greek lesson—rehearsal in the evening—choral symphony and Lobgesang."

During the summer of 1868 she had great pleasure in reading some of her essays at Newport, in the Unitarian Church. She notes in her "Reminiscences" that one lady kissed her after the reading, saying, "This is the way I want to hear women speak"; and that Mrs. P—— S——, on hearing the words, "If God works, madam, you can afford to work also!" rose and went out, saying, "I won't listen to such stuff as this!"

The parlor readings brought her name into wider prominence. She began to receive invitations to read and speak in public.

Mr. Emerson wrote to her concerning her philosophical readings: "The scheme is excellent—to read thus—so new and rare, yet so grateful to all parties. It costs genius to invent our simplest pleasures."

The winter of 1867-68 saw the birth of another institution which was to be of lifelong interest to her: the New England Woman's Club. This, one of the earliest of women's clubs, was organized on February 16, 1868, with Mrs. Caroline M. Severance, in whose mind the idea had first taken shape, as president. Its constitution announces the objects of the association as "primarily, to furnish a quiet, central resting-place, and place of meeting in Boston, for the comfort and convenience of its members: and ultimately to become an organized social centre for united thought and action."

[292]How far the second clause has outdone and outshone the first, is known to all who know anything of the history of women's clubs. From the New England Woman's Club and its cousin Sorosis, founded a month later in New York, has grown the great network of clubs which, like a beneficent railway system of thought and good-will, penetrates every nook and corner of this country.

Our mother was one of the first vice-presidents of the Club, and from 1871 to her death in 1910, with two brief intervals, its president. Among all the many associations with which she was connected this was perhaps the nearest to her heart. "My dear Club!" no other organization brought such a tender ring to her voice. She never willingly missed a meeting; the monthly teas were among her great delights. The Journal has much to say about the Club: "a good meeting"; "a thoughtful, earnest meeting," are frequent entries. "Why!" she cried once, "we may be living in the Millennium without knowing it!"

In her "Reminiscences," after telling how she attended the initial meeting, and "gave a languid assent to the measure proposed," she adds:—

"Out of this small beginning was gradually developed the plan of the New England Woman's Club, a strong and stately association, destined, I believe, to last for many years, and having behind it, at this time of my writing, a record of three decades of happy and acceptable service."

The Club movement was henceforth to be one of her widest interests. To thousands of elder women in the[293] late sixties and early seventies it came like a new gospel of activity and service. They had reared their children and seen them take flight; moreover, they had fought through the war, their hearts in the field, their fingers plying needle and thread. They had been active in committees and commissions the country over; had learned to work with and beside men, finding joy and companionship and inspiration in such work. How could they go back to the chimney-corner life of the fifties? In answer to their question—an answer from Heaven, it seemed—came the women's clubs, with their opportunities for self-culture and for public service.

At first Society looked askance at the movement. What? Women's clubs? They would take women away from the Home, which was their Sphere! Shocking! Besides, it might make them Strong-Minded! Horrible! ("But," said J. W. H., "I would rather be strong-minded than weak-minded!")

Possibly influenced in some measure by such plaints as these, the early clubs devoted themselves for the most part to study, and their range of activities was strictly limited and defined. This, however, could not last. The Doctor used to say, "You may as well refuse to let out the growing boy's trousers as refuse larger and larger liberty to his growing individuality!" Even so the club petticoats had to be lengthened and amplified.

Our mother, with all her love of study, realized that no individual or group of individuals must neglect the present with its living issues for any past, however[294] beautiful. She threw her energies into widening the club horizon. "Don't tie too many nots in your constitution!" she would say to a young club; and then she would tell how Florence Nightingale cut the Gordian knots of red tape in the Crimea.

Did the constitution enforce such and such limits? Ah! but committees were not thus limited; let a committee be appointed, to do what the club could not! (This was what the Doctor called "whipping the devil round the stump!")

Many and many a reform had its beginning in one of those quiet Park Street rooms of the "N. E. W. C." "When I want anything in Boston remedied," said Edward Everett Hale, "I go down to the New England Woman's Club!"

When the General Federation of Women's Clubs was formed in 1892, our mother served on the board of directors for four years, and was then made an honorary vice-president. She was also president of the Massachusetts State Federation from 1893 to 1898, and thereafter honorary president.

Dr. Holmes once said to her, "Mrs. Howe, I consider you eminently clubable"; and he added that he himself was not. He told us why, when he adopted the title of "Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table." The most brilliant of talkers, he did not care to listen, as a good club member must. Now, she too loved talking, but perhaps she loved listening even more. No one who knew her in her later years can forget how intently she listened, how joyously she received information of any and every kind. She never was tired; she always[295] wanted more. All human experience thrilled her; the choreman, the dressmaker, the postman, the caller; one and all, she hung on their words. After a half-hour with her, seeing her face alight with sympathy, her delicate lips often actually forming the words as he spoke them, the dullest person might go away on air, feeling himself a born raconteur. What she said once of Mr. Emerson, "He always came into a room as if he expected to receive more than he gave!" was true of herself.

To return to the clubs! At a biennial meeting of the General Federation in Philadelphia, she said: "What did the club life give me? Understanding of my own sex; faith in its moral and intellectual growth. Like so many others, I saw the cruel wrongs and vexed problems of our social life, but I did not know that hidden away in its own midst was a reserve force destined to give precious aid in the righting of wrongs, and in the solution of discords. In the women's clubs I found the immense power which sympathy exercises in bringing out the best aspirations of the woman nature.... To guard against dangers, we must do our utmost to uphold and keep in view the high object which has, in the first instance, called us together; and let this be no mere party catchword or cry, as East against West, or North against South. We can afford to meet as citizens of one common country, and to love and serve the whole as one."

She believed firmly in maintaining the privacy of club life. "The club is a larger home," she said, "and we wish to have the immunities and defences of home;[296] therefore we do not wish the public present, even by its attorney, the reporter."

The three following years were important ones to the Howe family.

Lawton's Valley was sold, to our great and lasting grief: and—after a summer spent at Stevens Cottage near Newport—the Doctor bought the place now known as "Oak Glen," scarce half a mile from the Valley; a place to become only less dear to the family. No. 19 Boylston Place was also sold, and he bought No. 32 Mount Vernon Street, a sunny, pleasant house whose spacious rooms and tall windows recalled the Chestnut Street house, always regretted.

Here life circled ever faster and faster, fuller and fuller. Our father, though beginning to feel the weight of years, had not yet begun to "take in sail," but continued to pile labor on labor, adding the new while never abandoning the old. For our mother clubs, societies, studies were multiplying, while for both family cares and interests were becoming more and more complicated. The children were now mostly grown. To the mother's constant thought and anxiety about their teeth, their hair, their eyes, their music, their dancing—to say nothing of the weightier matters of the law—was added the consideration of their ball dresses, their party slippers, their partners. She went with the daughters to ball and assembly; if they danced, she was happy; if not, there was grief behind the cheerful smile, and a sigh was confided to the Journal next day.

Romance hovered over No. 32 Mount Vernon Street.[297] The Greek lessons which were to mean so much to Julia and Laura were brought to a sudden end by the engagement of Julia to the Greek teacher, Michael Anagnos. Florence (who was now housekeeper, lightening our mother's cares greatly) was already engaged to David Prescott Hall; while Laura's engagement to Henry Richards was announced shortly after Julia's.

The three marriages followed at intervals of a few months. Meantime Harry, whose youthful pranks had been the terror of both parents, had graduated from Harvard, and was now, after two years[69] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beginning his chosen work as a metallurgist.

She wrote of this beloved son:—

God gave my son a palace,
And a kingdom to control;
The palace of his body,
The kingdom of his soul.

In childhood and boyhood this "palace" was inhabited by a tricksy sprite. At two years Harry was pulling the tails of the little dogs on the Roman Pincio; at eighteen he was filling the breasts of the college authorities with the same emotions inspired by his father in the previous generation.

"Howe," said the old President of Brown University, when the Chevalier called to pay his respects on his return from Greece, "I am afraid of you now! There may be a fire-cracker under my chair at this moment!"

Once out of college, it fared with the son as with the father. The current of restless energy hitherto devoted to "monkey shines" (as the Doctor called them) was now turned into another channel. Work, hardly less arduous and unremitting than his father's, became the habit of his life. Science claimed him, and her he served with the same singleness of purpose, the same intensity of devotion with which his parents served the causes that claimed them. He married, in 1874, Fannie, daughter of Willard Gay, of Troy, New York.

We love to recall the time at this house on Beacon Hill. We remember it as a cheerful house, ringing with song and laughter, yet with a steady undercurrent of work and thought; the "precious time," not to be interrupted; the coming and going of grave men and earnest women, all bent on high and hopeful errands, all seeking our two Wise Ones for counsel, aid, sympathy; the coming and going also of a steady stream of "lame ducks" of both sexes and all nationalities, all requiring help, most of them getting it; yet, as ever, the father leaving State Charities and Reforms, the mother flying from Fichte or Xenophon, at any real or fancied need of any child. It is thus that we love to think of No. 32 Mount Vernon Street, the last of the many homes in which we were all together.


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