Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter XV - Santo Domingo - 1872-1874; aet. 53-56


"I sent a child of mine to-day;
I hope you used him well."
"Now, Lord, no visitor of yours
Has waited at my bell.

"The children of the Millionnaire
Run up and down our street;
I glory in their well-combed hair,
Their dress and trim complete.

"But yours would in a chariot come
With thoroughbreds so gay;
And little merry maids and men
To cheer him on his way."

"Stood, then, no child before your door?"
The Lord, persistent, said.
"Only a ragged beggar-boy,
With rough and frowzy head.

"The dirt was crusted on his skin,
His muddy feet were bare;
The cook gave victuals from within;
I cursed his coming there."

What sorrow, silvered with a smile,
Slides o'er the face divine?
What tenderest whisper thrills rebuke?
"The beggar-boy was mine!"

J. W. H.

We must go back a little to tell another story.

In the winter of 1870-71 the Republic of Santo Domingo sent through its president an urgent request for annexation to the United States. President Grant appointed a commission to visit this island republic, to inquire into its conditions and report upon the question. Of this commission Dr. Howe was one, the others being Messrs. Benjamin Wade and Andrew D. White.

The commissioners sailed on the government steamer Tennessee. At parting the Doctor said, "Remember that you cannot hear from us under a month; so do not be frightened at our long silence."

A week later came reports of a severe storm in the Southern seas. A large steamer had been seen struggling with wind and wave, apparently at their mercy. Some newspaper thought it might be the Tennessee. All the newspapers took up the cry: it probably was the Tennessee; most likely she had foundered and gone down with all on board.

Mindful of the Doctor's warning, our mother tried to disregard these voices of terror. She went quietly about her work as usual, but none the less the days of suspense that followed were "dark indeed and hard to live through."[72]

We remember these days well, the resolute cheerfulness, the avoidance of outward sign of anxiety, the sudden lifting of the cloud when the good news came of the steamer's safe arrival.

The prayer of Santo Domingo was not to be answered, spite of the favorable report of the commission: but the Doctor had been so delighted with the island that when, a year later, he was asked to visit it in the interests of the Samana Bay Company, he gladly accepted the commission.

This time our mother went with him, together with Maud and a party of friends. She had been loth to go, for she had already planned her peace crusade in England, but finding how much he desired it, she compromised on part of the time.

They sailed from New York early in February, 1872, in the steamer Tybee. The voyage was rough and stormy. The companion daughter of the time remembers how the wretched little Tybee pitched and heaved; even more vividly she recalls the way in which our mother from the first made society out of the strangely assorted company on board. She was the magnet, and drew them all to her: the group of conventional ladies who had never before been at sea, the knot of naval officers going to join their ship,—among them George W. De Long, the hero of the ill-fated Jeannette expedition; a colonel, and a judge, the former interested in the Samana Bay Company. She made out of this odd company and the gruff old captain a sort of court which she ruled in a curious way. She did not seem to compel their admiration so much as to compel each to give his best.

The Tybee cast anchor in the harbor of Puerto Plata, and the voyagers saw Mont Isabel towering above them, its foot in the clear beryl water where the palms grew down to the very edge of the yellow sea sand, its head wrapped in the clouds. The Doctor came to the stateroom, crying, "Come up and see the great glory!"

Our mother's delight can be imagined when they sailed into the harbor of Santo Domingo and landed[323] near an immense and immemorial tree, where, they were told, Columbus had landed.

The party lodged in a fine old Spanish palacio, built round a courtyard. It had been originally a convent. The nuns were gone, and their place was now taken by the gay company of American ladies, who possibly gave the sleepy little city more new ideas than it had ever received in so short a space of time. President Baez put the palace at the Doctor's disposal; he was an important person to the President and to the Dominicans, for at that time the hope of annexation had not died out. All the party were treated with extraordinary courtesy. Not only were they given the presidential palace to live in, but a guard of honor was kept in the courtyard. Their horses were lodged, Spanish fashion, on the ground floor. The trampling, the neighing, and the fleas made them rather uncomfortable neighbors. Our mother soon found out that the only way she could see the country, or enjoy its life, was by riding. At first she was a little nervous, but she soon regained her courage and her seat. This was her first riding since the days of Cora, the wicked little mare, when she read her Bible and said her prayers before every ride. She thus describes it:—

"In Santo Domingo, nothing is more charming than the afternoon ride. It is, of course, the great event of the neighborhood. Our cavalcade usually numbers four or five ladies. Sometimes we cross the river in a flat-bottomed boat, which is pulled over by a rope stretched and made fast at either end. We then visit the little village of Pajarita, and trot along under[324] the shade of heavy mango trees. Or we explore the country on this side the river. The great thing to guard against is the danger of rain. This we encountered one afternoon in some severity. Suddenly one of the party cried 'Llava!' and down came the waters. We were somewhat heated with our ride, and the penetrating rain fell chill upon us. A large tree gave us shelter for a few moments, but we were soon forced to seek more effectual protection. This we found, after some delay, in a boio, or hut, into which horses and riders were dragged pell-mell. The night was closing in, the Chief at home, and presumably anxious, the rain unabating. Which of the tropical spasms would end our far-spent life? Would it be lockjaw, a common result of severe chill in these regions? Would it be a burning, delirious fever with a touch of yellow; or should we get off with croup and diphtheria?

"The rain presently stopped, and we returned to the saddle, and then, by easy stages, to the city. On reaching home, we were advised to bathe the chilled surfaces with rum, not the wicked New England article, but the milder product of the country. Of all the evil consequences spoken of as sure to follow such an exposure, fever, lockjaw, and sore throat, we have so far not seen the earliest symptom."

It was Carnival. All the cabinet officers and their wives devoted themselves to the entertainment of the party. The Minister of War, Señor Curiel, a little twinkling fiery man, devoted himself especially to our mother, and was her right hand in the many expeditions she arranged. The Secretary of State, Señor[325] Gautier, a grave person with more culture than most of the Dominicans, was the Doctor's chosen friend. To return the many attentions showered upon them, a ball in the old convent was arranged. The Doctor once said to her, "If you were on a desert island with nobody there but one old darkey, you would give a party." (But it was from Cuba that he wrote, "Julia knows three words of Spanish, and is constantly engaged in active conversation.")

To find herself at Carnival, the leader of a gay party, living in a spacious palace, supported by the guns and the officers of an American warship (the Narragansett, with De Long and other officers on board), was an opportunity not to be missed. She thus describes the entertainment:—

"Hans Breitmann gife a barty.

"So did we. To see Santo Domingo was little, without seeing the Dominicans also. Some diplomatic overtures were made. Would the first families come and pass an evening with us at the Palacio? Yes, they would. Which were the first families? That would have been for us a point very difficult to determine. The family of the President and those of the heads of departments would certainly stand in that prominence. For the necessary beaux we were referred to a society recently established here, calling itself 'La Juventad,' 'the young people.' This body of philanthropists, being appealed to, consented to undertake the management of our party. The occasion was announced as a bailecita, 'little ball.' We asked them to provide such refreshments as are customary in this place. Thirty[326] dollars' worth of sweet cake and a bottled ocean of weak beer formed the principal items of the bill, as brought to us. The friends came at 5 P.M., to decorate the room with flowers, also to arrange two tables, on one of which las dulces were arrayed, while the other was made to display a suspicious-looking group of glasses. A band, we were told, would be indispensable. We demurred at this, having intended to musicate upon our own grand piano. Hearing, however, that the band could be had for the sum of twelve dollars, we gave in on this point.

"One long room runs the whole length of one side of the palace, and serves us at once for dining and reception room. A long corridor encounters this room at right angles, entirely open to the weather, on one side. These two spaces constitute all our resources for receiving company. We lit them with Downer's best [kerosene] and ranged rows of rocking-chairs, opposite to each other, after the manner of this country, and also of Cuba.

"The company began to arrive at 8 P.M. The young ladies were mostly attired in colored tarlatans, prettily trimmed with lace and flowers. Some of them were not over fourteen years of age. All were quite youthful in their appearance, and unaffected in their manners. The young men, mostly employed in the various shops of the city, were well-dressed and polite. The band was somewhat barbaric in its aspect. A violin, a 'cello, a tambourine, and a clarinet. The clarinet-player was of uncommon size, with wild, dark eyes, which seemed to dilate as he played....

"The dancing continued with little interruption until nearly 2 A.M. We were told that it is often continued till daylight. From time to time an attack was made upon the two tables. But the enjoyment of the good things provided was quite moderate compared with the cramming of a first-class party in Boston or New York. The guests were of many shades, as to color, although the greater number would have passed for white people, anywhere. Some of the handsomest among them were very dark. One young man reminded us of Edwin Booth in "Othello."... None of these people look like the mulattoes in the North. The features and the fibre appear finer, and the jet-black hair often suggests an admixture of Indian blood. The difference of social position shows itself in the manners of these people. The cruel colorphobia has never proscribed them. They have no artificial sense of inferiority, but take themselves as God made them, and think that if He is content with their complexions, mankind at large may be so.

"We were much pleased with our party, and with the simple and unaffected gayety of our guests. It was really a party in the open air, one whole side of our ballroom being unenclosed, save by the infrequent colonnade. We looked from the dancers to the stars, and back again to the dancers. It was all fairylike and dreamlike. The favorite 'dansa' much resembles, not a ballet, but a stage dance, such as is introduced in the course of the drama. The beer flowed, and the couples flew. One innovation we introduced, a Virginia reel, which the clever clarinet-player caught and accompanied.[328] The figures much amazed the natives. The dénouement of Mr. Leland's classic ballad was wanting. No

"'Gompany fited mit daple lecks
Till de coonshtable made em shtop';
yet we may quote further from that high source:—

"'Hans Breitmann gife a barty,
Where ish that barty now?

All goned afay mit der lager pier,
Afay in der Ewigkeit!'"

The Journal gives pleasant glimpses of the Santo Domingo days.

"M. Marne, a Frenchman ninety-seven years old, paid us a visit. Had been secretary of Joseph Buonaparte in Madrid—praised him much. Talked very copiously and not ill. Enjoys full mental and physical activity. Lives at a small village in sight of our windows, but on the other side of the river. Talked much of the Roi Cristophe."

The mention of this old gentleman recalls her visit to a Dominican padre, himself in extreme age, who told her that he had known a negress who lived to the age of one hundred and forty-three; he had confessed and buried her. "She had her teeth and her hair still."

"Not to market to-day, but breakfast early—then all hands to the cathedral to see the high mass performed—to-day in honor of the independence of the island....

"Baez' face, cunning, pretty strong, enjoué, as if he must be, or seem, a bon enfant.... The noise at the[329] elevation of the Host a perfect Babel. Music, 'Ernani,' 'Fra Diavolo,' with some similar things. A single trumpet shrieked at some high moments. The bells rang like a thousand tin pans. Orchestra and chorus not together and both out of tune. The ceremony otherwise perhaps as well as usual. A priest made a brief address in Spanish, praising the day and complimenting the President...."

"Studied Baur, Aristophanes, and 'Etudes sur la Bible.' Music lesson to Maud. O'Sullivan to dine.... Baez sent word that he would visit us between 5 and 6 P.M. We accordingly put things in the best order possible under the circumstances. Ung puo de tualetta for the ladies seemed proper. At dinner received Baez' card with a great dish of fine sapotes. Baez arrived. He speaks French quite tolerably, is affable, and has an intelligent face; in fact looks like a person of marked talent. We talked of things in the United States. He has made fourteen voyages to Europe.... I sang 'Una Barchetta' for him. He came with one servant, who stayed outside—no ceremony and no escort...."

After the beauty of the place—indeed possibly before it—she valued the opportunity that came to her of preaching. On the voyage to Santo Domingo she had learned of a shepherdless flock of colored Protestants, their minister dead, their "elder" disabled by lameness. Here was an opportunity not to be lost. She engaged to hold Sunday evening services in their church, a small wooden building with a mud floor and a mahogany pulpit. The "Reminiscences" describe these services; the tattered hymn-books whose leaves[330] were turned mechanically while the congregation (few of whom could read) sang with a will the hymns they knew by heart; the humble, devout people with their attentive faces.

When Holy Week came, the congregation begged her to hold special services. They wished their young people to understand that these sacred days meant as much to them as to the surrounding Catholics. Accordingly she and her companion "dressed the little church with flowers. It looked charmingly. Flowers all along the railing [here follows in the Journal a pen-and-ink sketch], flowers in the pulpit over my head. Church was crowded. Many people outside and at the windows."

She always remembered with pleasure one feature of her Easter sermon, her attempt to describe Dante's vision of a great cross in the heavens, formed of star clusters, each cluster bearing the name of Christ. "The thought," she says, "that the mighty poet of the fourteenth century should have something to impart to these illiterate negroes was very dear to me."

One of the party has an undying impression of this Easter service: the shabby little chapel crowded with dark faces, and the preacher, standing touched by a ray of sunlight, speaking to that congregation of simple black people. In her notes she speaks of these services.

"A pastoral charge bringing me near to the hearts and sympathies of the people. I have preached five times in the little church, including Good Friday and Easter Monday. This service, which has not been without[331] its difficulties, is so much better to me in remembrance than anything else I have done here that I must make a little break and pause before I speak of other things.

"In this pause I remember my prayer at Puerto Plata, that I and mine might come to this new region with a reverent and teachable spirit. That prayer was an earnest one to me. I hope it has, as all prayers should, accomplished its own fulfilment. I have been here among dear people. I find all the human varieties in this society, not digested and harmonized by noble culture, but existing and asking for the centralizing and discriminating agencies which in civilization sort out the different tastes, characters, and capacities, and assign to each its task, giving devotion its wings and crime its treadmill. This little population in a great country, a country in which Nature allows no one to starve, has lived and so shown its right to live and maintain itself. It has accomplished its political division from a state antipathetic to it, having its dark face turned fixedly towards barbarism [Hayti].

"I stood in a little church in the city and island of Santo Domingo, to preach the glad tidings of the gospel of Peace. It was a humble little temple, with a mud floor, and plastered walls, and a roof which scarcely kept out the rain, but it was a place full of comfort to me and to others. The seats and spaces were all filled, for it had no aisles. The small windows and doors were cushioned, so to speak, with human countenances, wearing an expression of curiosity or attention. The way to the church was lined on both sides with the[332] simple people, who held their service at night because the poverty of their attire made them ashamed to hold it by day. And this crowd came together, Sunday after Sunday, because a woman from a distant country stood in that little church to tell them what a woman can tell about the kingdom of heaven."

Loth as she had been to go to Santo Domingo, she was far more loth to leave it; but the time appointed for her peace crusade in London was at hand, and she could tarry no longer. On April 5 she writes:—

"Ah! my time is nearly out. Dear Santo Domingo, how I do love you, with your childish life, and your ancestral streets—a grandam and a babe! To-day I read my last in Baur and Greek for some time, probably, as must pack to-morrow. As at present advised, God grant that we may come here again."

"April 6. Here to-day and gone to-morrow, literally. Mostly packed—have left out my books for a last sweet morsel.... Did not get that sweet morsel. Was busy all day—farewell calls from friends, little talks, and the fear of sitting down and forgetting my preparations in my books. In the evening the Gautiers came and I played for them to dance. So, one last little gayety in common."

"Sunday, April 7. Got up at 4 A.M. Dressed and got off pretty easily.... The parting from Maud was very hard. Oh! when the line was drawn in, and my darling and I were fairly sundered, my old heart gave way, and I cried bitterly....

"Henry Blackwell is a dear, comforting man, most kind and companionable. A woman on board with a[333] wretched baby of six months, he in a muslin gown and nothing else, crying with cold. I got out a cotton flannel dressing-sack, and wrapped him up in it and tended him a good deal....

"May the purpose for which I undertake this painful and solitary journey be ever strong enough in my thoughts to render every step of it pure, blameless and worthy. Great God, do not let me desert thee! For that is the trouble. Thou dost not desert us. I dread unspeakably these dark days of suffering and confusion. To go is like being hanged...."

"Captain said something about my preaching on Sunday, so I have been laying out some points for a sermon.... But it is not very likely that the Captain will really ask me to hold service.

"Talk with purser about Homer. He has a vivacious mind, and might easily learn Greek, or anything else he would have a mind to."

"Sunday. It turned out that the Captain and passengers did wish me to hold a little service to-day, so at 10.30 A.M. I met them in the dining-saloon. I had a Bible, from which I read the 116th Psalm—a prayer followed—then the missionary hymn, 'From Greenland's icy mountains'—then my little sermon, of which I have the headings. I am so very glad to have been able and enabled to do this.

"Began to teach the purser to read from notes with a leaf of music out of some periodical. Copied Baur a little—talked and heard much talk."

"April 17.... Expect to get in to-morrow, not very late, unless another contrary gale. Frigate birds and[334] petrels yesterday—to-day, whales, blackfish, and an immense number of porpoises. Revelation cannot go beyond human consciousness.

"The Western mind has taken Christ's metaphorical illustrations literally, and his literal moral precepts metaphorically."

"April 18.... Very thankful to have got through so well so far."

As at the beginning of this chapter we took a step backward, so we must now take one forward and speak briefly of the second visit to Santo Domingo in 1874.

The Doctor's health was failing; he had suffered from the winter's cold, and longed for the warm sunshine of the beloved island. Would she go with him? he asked. She should preach to her colored folks as much as she liked.

They sailed together in the Tybee in March. After a brief visit to the capital (where Revolution had been before them, expelling the friendly Baez, and putting in his place a man opposed to the Samana Bay Company), they took up their quarters at Samana, in a little hillside cottage about a mile from the town.

Our mother writes in her Journal:—

"March 20. In Santo Domingo as glad as a child.... Went to Garcia's and foolishly bargained for the gold necklace and emerald ring I fancied the last time I was here. The necklace is for Maud."

The love of jewelry was one of the "little passions" of her whole life. Speaking once of this as her "besetting sin," she said: "It is rather respectable to have a[335] besetting sin, as it shows one must have had an ancestor from whom it was inherited!" She enjoyed a jewel as she did a flower or a song: she loved to deck her dear ones and herself with trinkets; a jeweller's window was a thing of delight to her, not to be passed without the tribute of a pause and a glance at its treasures. Yet a purchase of this kind seldom failed to bring its retributive pang the day after.

"Was sorry to have made so foolish a use of the money. Resolve never to do so again, unless some new light should make it seem right. God will not have my mind occupied with such nonsense.... Have written my sermon for to-morrow evening."

They spent two months in Samana in almost absolute retirement. The Doctor read "Don Quixote" in Spanish, she Aristotle in Greek and Baur in German. The former "was early and late in the saddle, and dashed up and down the steep hillsides of Samana with all his old fearlessness." The latter followed as she might, "in perils and dangers, in terrors often."

"I had never been a bold rider, and I must confess that I suffered agonies of fear in following him on these expeditions. If I lagged behind, he would cry, 'Come on! it's as bad as going to a funeral to ride with you.' And so, I suppose, it was. I remember one day when a great palm branch had fallen across our path. I thought that my horse would certainly slip on it, sending me to the depths below. That very day, while Dr. Howe took his siesta, I went to the place where this impediment lay, and with a great effort threw it over the steep mountain-side. The whole neighborhood[336] of Samana is very mountainous, and I sometimes found it impossible to obey the word of command. One day my husband spurred his horse and made a gallant dash at a very steep ascent, ordering me to follow him. I tried my best, but only got far enough to find myself awkwardly at a standstill, and unable to go either backward or forward. The Doctor was obliged to dismount and to lead my horse down to the level ground. This, he assured me, was a severe mortification for him."[73]

In spite of the permission given, she spoke only a few times in Samana. She tells of an open-air service in which she took part. She arrived late, and found a zealous elder holding forth and "reading" from a Bible held upside down. At sight of her he said, "And now dat de lady hab come, I will obdunk from de place!"

One day she spoke to the pupils of a little school kept by an English carpenter, who studied Greek in order to understand the New Testament, yet allowed his pupils to use the small i for the personal pronoun. The schoolhouse was perched on a hill so steep that she was thankful to mount astride on a huge white steer furnished with a straw saddle, and be led up by a friendly neighbor.

In these days the ill-fated Samana Bay Company, of which the Doctor and many others had had high hopes, came to an end, and the Dominican Government insisted that its flag should be officially withdrawn. Our mother describes the incident:—

"To town early to be present at the taking down of the Samana Company's flag by the commission sent on[337] board the Dominican war schooner. I went in the boat and found Chev in the custom-house with the commission seated around. A good many of our people present. Chev read his protest, which was strong and simple.... We then went out of the building; the employés of our Company marched up in their best clothes, their hats stuck full of roses, and stood in order on either side the flagstaff. The man ordered by the commission lowered the flag. Just before, Chev got our people to stand in a circle around him, made a lovely little address. The old Crusader never appeared nobler or better than on this occasion, when his beautiful chivalry stood in the greatest contrast to the barbarism and ingratitude which dictated this act. My mind was full of cursing rather than blessing. Yet finding myself presently alone with the superseded flag I laid my hand upon it and prayed that if I had power to bless anything, my prayers might bless the good effort which has been made here."

On April 2 she adds: "The blacks here say that the taking down of our flag was like the crucifixion of our Lord. We are assured that they would have offered forcible resistance, if we had authorized their so doing."

"May 9. The last day of our last week in Samana.... God knows when I shall have so much restful leisure again. My rides on horseback, too, are ended for the present, though I may mount once more to-day or to-morrow. All these pleasures have been mixed with pains—my fear on horseback ... but far more than all, my anxiety about the dearest ones at home. The affairs of the Company, too, have given me many sad[338] thoughts, but in spite of all this the time has been a blessed one. I have improved in mind and body, if not in estate—have had sweet leisure for thought and study, opportunity to preach the gospel (three times), and most invigorating air and exercise. Over the door of the little parlor here hangs a motto: 'God bless our Home.' I think, indeed, He has blessed this little home, though, at first, when I looked at the motto, I always thought of my own home."

The next day they saw the "last of beautiful Samana for the present," and ten days later found them in New York. Her final word on this brief and lovely episode is given in the Journal for May 24: "My heart sinks whenever Chev says he will never go to Samana again. 'There are my young barbarians all at play.'"


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