Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter XVI - The Last of Green Peace - 1872-1876; aet. 53-57

He who launched thee a bolt of fire
Strong in courage and in desire
Takes thee again a weapon true
In heaven's armory ever new.

Still shall the masterful fight go on,
Still shall the battle of Right be won
And He who fixed thee in upper air
Shall carry thy prowess otherwhere.

J. W. H.

As our father's health failed more and more, his heart turned to the home he had made. He longed for Green Peace; and—the lease falling in about this time—in the spring of 1872 he and our mother and Maud moved thither, and took up their quarters in the "new part," while Laura and her husband came to occupy the old. Here the first grandchild (Alice Maud Richards) was born; here and at Oak Glen the next four years were mainly passed.

The Doctor's ardent spirit longed for new fields of work, new causes to help; the earthly part could not follow. How he struggled, toiling, suffering, fighting the good fight to his last breath, has been told elsewhere:[74] suffice it to say that these years were grave ones for the household, spite of new joys that dawned for all.

The grandchildren opened a new world for both our parents: a world which one was to enjoy for a space all too brief, the other through long years, in which she was to be to the youngest generation a lamp of wisdom, a flame of warmth and tenderness, a fountain of joy.

Among the memory pictures of this time is one of her sitting at her desk, laboring at her endless correspondence; beside her, on the floor, the baby of the period, equally absorbed in the contents of the waste-paper basket.

Or we see the tall figure of the Doctor, stooping in the doorway between the two houses, a crowing child on his shoulders, old face and young alight with merriment. These were Richards grandbabes; the Hall children were the summer delight of the grandparents, as they and their mother usually spent the summer at Oak Glen.

"Friday, September 13. Before I open even my New Testament to-day, I must make record of the joyful birth of Flossy's little son [Samuel Prescott Hall].... God bless this dear little child! May he bring peace and love....

"During the confinement I could not think of anything divine or spiritual. It was Nature's grim, mechanical, traditional task. But now that it is over, my heart remembers that Life is not precious without God, and the living soul just given stands related to the quickening spirit."

"...I can get little time for study, as I must help[341] nurse dear Flossy. My mind is strangely divided between my dear work and my dear child and grandchild. I must try to keep along with both, but on no account to neglect the precious grandchild."

"October 1. O year! thou art running low. The last trimester."

"October 2. This day, thirty-two years ago, my dearest brother Henry died in my arms, the most agonizing experience. Never again did Death so enter into my heart, until my lovely son of three years departed many years later, leaving a blank as sad and bitter. Henry was a rare and delicate person.... His life was a most valuable one to us for help and counsel, as well as for affection. Perhaps no one to-day thinks about his death except me, his junior by two years, wearing now into the decline of life. Dear brother, I look forward to the reunion with you, but wish my record were whiter and brighter."

"October 5. Boston. Came up for directors' meeting of New England Woman's Club. Went afterward to Mrs. Cheney's lecture on English literature.... A suggestive and interesting essay, which I was glad to hear and have others hear. It gave me a little pain, that, though she pleasantly alluded to me as one who has laid aside the laurel for the olive branch, she said nothing whatever about my writings, which deserve to be spoken of in characterizing the current literature of the day; but she perhaps does not read or like my works, and besides, people think of me nowadays more as an active woman's woman than as a literary character, as the phrase is. All life is full of trial, and when I[342] hear literary performance praised, and remember my own love for it, and for praise, I think a little how much of all this I have sacrificed in these later years for a service that has made me enemies as well as friends. I felt called upon to do this, and I still think that if I made a mistake, it was one of those honest mistakes it is best to make."

She was giving Maud music lessons this autumn, reading Plutarch with her, taking her to parties and giving parties for her. Later, we find her holding mission services at Vineyard Haven; addressing the Saturday Morning Club ("Subject—Object: I smile at this antithesis"); delivering a lecture at Albany—with the lecture left behind.

"Got to work at once making abstracts from memory.... Spoke more than an hour.... Got my money—would rather have paid it than have had such an experience. Felt as if my inner Guide had misled and deserted me. But some good to some one may come of what I said and tried to say."

She returned from this trip very weary, only to find "my lecture advertised, not one line of it written—subject, 'Men's Women and Women's Women.' Set to work at once, almost overpowered by the task, and the shortness of the time."

The lecture was finished in the morning, delivered in the afternoon.

"Warm congratulations at the close.... Such a sense of relief!"

On December 19 she notes the departure of "dear[343] Flossy and her dearest little Boy.... House very desolate without them. This boy is especially dear to Doctor Howe and myself."

"December 28. Maria Mitchell's Club lecture to-day was beautiful exceedingly. I might have envied her the steady grasp and unbroken advance of scientific study, did I not feel sure that God gives to each his own work. Mine, such as it is, would be helped and beautified by the knowledge which she imparts so easily, but perhaps all of her that I shall remember and try to follow is her spirit. Her silver hair seems lustrous with spiritual brightness, as do her dark eyes. Her movements are full of womanly grace, not ballroom grace."

From now on the movement is sempre crescendo. Work for peace, work for clubs; lecturing, preaching, tending the Doctor in his days of illness; taking the youngest daughter to balls and parties; founding a club for her, too. She felt that the young girls of Maud's age needed the onward impulse as much as their elders; accordingly, in November, 1871, she called together a meeting of young women, and with their aid and good-will formed the Saturday Morning Club of Boston. The energy with which this organization sprang into being showed that the time was ripe for it. That energy, handed on through two generations, is no less lively to-day; the name of the club recalls a hundred beautiful and interesting occasions.

The Journal hurries us on from day to arduous day. Even the aspiration of New Year's Day, 1873, breathes[344] the note of hurry: "Dear Lord, let me this year be worthy to call upon thy name!"

February 5 finds her on another quest: "Mem. Never to come by this route again. Had to turn out at Utica at 4 A.M. Three hours in depot...."

"March 1. Went to Saturday Morning Club. Found that John Fiske had failed them. Was told to improvise a lecture on the spot. Did so...."

"March 5. Went to hear the arguments in favor of rescinding the vote of censure against Charles Sumner...."

[In 1872, Sumner introduced in the Senate of the United States a resolution that the names of battles with fellow-countrymen should not be continued in the Army Register, nor placed on the regimental colors of the United States. This measure was violently opposed; the Legislature of Massachusetts denounced it as "an insult to the loyal soldiery of the Nation, ... meeting the unqualified condemnation of the Commonwealth." For more than a year Sumner's friends, headed by John G. Whittier, strove to obtain the rescinding of this censure; it was not till 1874 that it was rescinded by a large majority.]

"March 10. A morning for work in my own room, so rare a luxury that I hardly know how to use it. Begin with my Greek Testament...."

"March 17. Radical Club.... It was an interesting sitting, but I felt as if the Club had about done its work. People get to believing that talk turns the world: it is much, but it is nothing without work...."

"May 27. Fifty-four years old to-day. Thank God[345] for what I have had and hope to have.... In the afternoon my dear children had a beautiful birthday party for me, including most of my old friends and some of the newer ones. Agassiz came, and his wife; he brought a bouquet and kissed me. I had beautiful flowers.... Poor Chev was ill with a frightful headache. I was much touched by the dear children's affectionate device and shall remember this birthday."

This was the first of the Birthday Receptions, which were to be our happiest festivals through many happy years.

Monday, June 2, was the day she had appointed as Mothers' Peace Day, her annual Peace Festival.

"The day of many prayers dawned propitious, and was as bright and clear as I could have wished."

She was up early, and found the hall "beautifully decorated with many fine bouquets, wreaths, and baskets, the white dove of Peace rising above other emblems." There were two services, morning and evening, and many speakers. "Mr. Tilden and Mr. Garrison both did nobly for me.... Thank God for so much!"

She had the great joy of hearing that the day was celebrated in other countries besides her own. In London, Geneva, Constantinople, and various other places, services were held, and men and women prayed and sang in behalf of peace: this she counted among the precious things of the year, and of several years to come.

"June 6. Quiet at last, and face to face with the eternal Gospel. Weary and confused, anxious to wind up my business well, and begin my polyglot sheet...."

[346]Yet on June 10 she is arriving in New York at 5.40 A.M., bound for a peace meeting.

"June 11. I got two bricks from the dear old house at the corner of Broadway and Bond Street, now all down and rebuilding. Will have one enamelled for myself. Ah, Lord, what a bitter lesson is in this tearing-down! How I was wanting in duty to the noble parent who built this grand home for me! I hope to help young people to understand something of parental love and its responsibilities. But parents also must study children, since each new soul may require a new method."

"June 12. Home very gladly. Helped Maud with her Latin. At 3.30 to rehearse 'Midsummer-Night's Dream.' I Hermia and Snout. At 7.30 the reading, which was the pleasantest we have had."

[These readings were in the vestry of the Church of the Disciples. Mr. Clarke, our mother, Erving Winslow, and others of the congregation took part: we remember the late Professor James Mills Pierce as Orlando in "As You Like It"; his beautiful reading of the part contrasting oddly with his middle-aged, long-bearded personality. Our mother's rendering of Maria in "Twelfth Night" was something to remember.]

"June 17. Up at five and to get a boat. Maud and the Lieutenant [Zalinski] rowed me to Fort Independence and back, a most refreshing excursion. Dear Dr. Hedge came out to make a morning visit. I kept him as long as I could. We talked of Bartol, Rubinstein, Father Taylor, and Margaret Fuller, whom he knew when she was fourteen years old. He urged me to labor[347] for dress reform, which he considered much needed. Had preached two sermons on the subject which his dressy parishioners resented, telling him that their husbands approved of their fine clothes. I begged him to unearth these sermons and give them to us at the club. We spoke of marriage, and I unfolded rapidly my military and moral theory of human relations. Thought of a text for a sermon on this subject: 'Arise, take up thy bed and walk.' This because the ills of marriage which are deemed incurable are not. We must meet them with the energetic will which converts evil into good, and without which all good degenerates into evil."

July finds her at Oak Glen. She is full of texts and sermons, but makes time to write to Fanny Perkins,[75] proposing "Picnics with a Purpose, sketching, seaside lectures, astronomical evenings." This thought may have been the germ from which grew the Town and Country Club, of which more hereafter.

The writing of sermons seems to have crowded serious poetry out of sight in these days, but the Comic Muse was always at hand with tambourine and flageolet, ready to strike up at a moment's notice. There was much coming and going of young men and maidens at Oak Glen in those days, and much singing of popular songs of a melancholy or desperate cast. The maiden was requested to take back the heart she had given; what was its anguish to her? There were handfuls of earth in a coffin hid, a coffin under the daisies, the[348] beautiful, beautiful daisies; and so on, and so on, ad lachrymam. She bore all this patiently; but one day she said to Maud, "Come! You and these young persons know nothing whatever of real trouble. I will make you a song about a real trouble!" And she produced, words and tune, the following ditty:—


My Irish cook has gone away
Upon my dinner-party day;
I don't know what to do or say—
Cookery bookery, oh!


Sing, saucepan, range, and kitchen fire!
Sing, coals are high and always higher!
Sing, crossed and vexed, till you expire!
Cookery bookery, oh!

She could cook every kind of dish,
"Wittles" of meat and "wittles" of fish,
And soup as fancy as you wish—
And she is gone away!

She weighed two hundred pounds of cheek,
She had a voice that made me meek,
I had to listen when she did speak—
Cookery bookery, oh!

My husband comes, a saucy elf,
And eyes the saucepan on the shelf;
Says he, "Why don't you cook yourself?"
Cookery bookery, oh!


Sing, saucepan, range, and kitchen fire!
Sing, coals are high and always higher!
Sing, crossed and vexed, till you expire!
Cookery bookery, oh!

[Jocosa Lyra! one chord of its gay music suggests 
another. It may have been in this summer that she wrote 
"The Newport Song," which also has its own lilting melody.]

Non sumus fashionabiles:
Non damus dapes splendides:
But in a modest way, you know,
We like to see our money go:
Et gaudeamus igitur,
Our soul has nought to fidget her!

We do not care to quadrigate
On Avenues in gilded state:
No gold-laced footmen laugh behind
At our vacuity of mind:
But in a modest one-horse shay,
We rumble, tumble as we may,
Et gaudeamus igitur,
Our soul has nought to fidget her!

When æstivation is at end,
We've had our fun and seen our friend.
No thought of payment makes us ill,
We don't know such a word as "bill":
Et gaudeamus igitur,
Our soul has nought to fidget her!

She always tried to go at least once in the summer to see the old people at the Town Farm, a pleasant, gray old house, not far from Oak Glen.

"In the afternoon visited the poorhouse with J. and F. and found several of the old people again, old Nancy who used to make curious patchwork; old Benny, half-witted; Elsteth, Henrietta, and Harriet, very glad to see us. Julia read them a Psalm, then Harriet and Elsteth sang an interminable Methodist hymn, and I was moved to ask if they would like to have me pray[350] with them. They assented, and I can only say that my heart was truly lifted up by the sense of the universality of God's power and goodness, to which these forlorn ones could appeal as directly as could the most powerful, rich, or learned people."

Later she writes:—

"The summer seems to me to have been rich in good and in interest as I review it. Sweet, studious days, pleasant intercourse with friends, the joy of preaching, and very much in all this the well-being of my dear family, children and grandchildren, their father and grandfather enjoying them with me. This is much to thank God for."

Some of the family lingered on after most of the household impedimenta had been sent up to Boston, and were caught napping.

"Sitting quietly with Chev over the fire after a game of whist with Julia and Paddock,—a hack-driver knocked at the door of our little back parlor, saying that a gentleman was waiting at the front door for admission. I opened the door and found Dr. Alex Voickoff, who had learned in Boston of our being here and had come down to stay over Sunday. The floors of nearly every parlor and bedroom had been newly oiled. We had no spare bedding. I spared what I could from my ill-provided bed—we made the guest as comfortable as we could. The bedding had been sent up to Boston. Hinc illæ lachrymæ."

"November 26. Saw Salvini's 'Othello.' As wonderful as people say it is. The large theatre [the Boston] packed, and so quiet that you could have heard a pin[351] drop. From the serene majesty of the opening scenes to the agony of the end, all was grand and astounding even to us to whom the play is familiar. The Italian version seemed to me very fine, preserving all the literary points of the original. In fact it seemed as if I had always before heard the play through an English translation, so much did the Italian speech and action light it up."

She found Salvini's "Hamlet" "not so good for him as 'Othello,' yet he was wonderful in it, and made a very strong impression."

She met the great actor, and found his manners "cordial, natural, and high-toned." She gave a dinner-party for him, and found him to improve more and more on further acquaintance. He became a valued friend, always greeted with delight.

In December, 1873, Richard Ward, her last surviving uncle, died. He had lived on at No. 8 Bond Street after the death of Uncle John, and had kept up the traditions of that hospitable house, always receiving her most affectionately.

"December 11. Uncle Richard's funeral. A quiet one, but on the whole satisfactory and almost pleasant, he having lived out his life and dying surrounded by his children and other relatives, and the family gathering around his remains wearing an aspect of cordiality and mutual good-will. I put a sprig of white daphne in the folds of the marble drapery of dear father's bust and kissed the bust, feeling that it had taken all of these years to teach me his value and the value of the moral and spiritual inheritance which I had from him and[352] could not wholly waste with all the follies which checker the better intentions of my life. I went to Greenwood and into the vault, and saw the sacred names of the dear departed on the slabs which sealed the deposit of their remains. It was all like a dream and a sad one."

"December 12. No. 8 Bond Street. I came down here to write the records of yesterday and to-day in this dear old house, whose thronging memories rise up to wring my heart, in the prospect of its speedy dismantlement and the division of its dear contents. Here I came on my return from Europe in 1844, bringing my dear Julia, then an infant of six months. Uncle John had just bought and fitted it up. Here I came to attend Sister Louisa's wedding, Uncle John being rather distant to me, supposing that I had favored the marriage. Here I saw dear Brother Marion for the last time. Here I came in my most faulty and unhappy period. Here, after my first publications; here, to see my play acted at Wallack's. Here, when death had taken my dearest Sammy from me. Uncle John was so kind and merciful at that time, and always except that once, when indeed he did not express displeasure, but I partly guessed it and learned it more fully afterwards. God's blessing rest upon the memory of this hospitable and unstained house. It seems to me as if neither words nor tears could express the pain I feel in closing this account with my father's generation."

The most important episode of 1874, the visit to Samana, has already been described. Turning the[353] leaves of the Journal for this year, we feel that the change and break were necessary to her as well as to the Doctor. There were limits even to her strength.

"January, 1874. A sort of melancholy of confusion, not knowing how I can possibly get through with the various requisitions made upon my time, strength, thought, and sympathy. Usually I feel, even in these moods, the nearness of divine help. To-day it seems out of my consciousness, but is not on that account out of my belief...."

"The past week one dreadful hurry. Things look colorless when you whirl so fast past them."

"The month ending to-day seems the most hurried of my life. Woman's Club, Saturday Club, Philosophical group, Maud's music, ditto party, and all her dressing and gayety, beside writing for [the Woman's] Journal, ... two lectures [Salem and Weston], both gratuitous, and the care of getting up and advertising Bishop Ferrette's lectures. And in all these things I seem not to do, rather than to do, the dissipation of effort so calls me away from the quiet, concentrated sort of work which I love."

It was time for the Doctor to say "Come!" and to carry her off to those tropical solitudes they had learned to love so well. Yet the departure was painful, for Maud must be left behind. On March 1 we read:—

"Of to-day I wish to preserve the fact that, waking early in painful perplexity about Maud, Santo Domingo, etc., and praying that the right way might open for me and for all of us, my prayer seemed answered by the very great comfort I had in hearing the[354] prayer and sermon of Henry Powers of New York. The decided spiritual tone of the prayer made me feel that I must try to take, every day, this energetic attitude of moral will and purpose, even if I fail in much that I wish to do."

On May 27 she writes:—

"My birthday. Fifty-five years old. Still face to face with the mercies of God in health and sanity, enjoying all true pleasures more than ever and weaned from some false ones. I feel a great lassitude, probably from my cold and yesterday's fatigue. I have not worked this year as I did the year before, yet I have worked a good deal, too, and perhaps have tried more to fulfil the duty nearest at hand.... I thank God for my continued life, health, and comfort.... I ask to see Samana free before I go.... 'Thy will be done' is the true prayer."

Samana was not to be free, spite of the efforts of its friends, and she was not to see it again.

The record of this year and the next is a chronicle of arduous work, with the added and ever-deepening note of anxiety; it was only for a time that the visit to Samana checked the progress of the Doctor's physical failure. He was able in the summer of 1874 to write the forty-third report of the Perkins Institution: an important one in which he reviewed his whole work among the blind. He felt that this would probably be his last earthly task; yet the following summer found him again taking up the familiar work, laboring with what little strength was left him, and when eyes and hand refused to answer the call of the spirit, dictating[355] to his faithful secretary. It has been told elsewhere how in this last summer of his life he labored to make more beautiful and more valuable the summer home which had become very dear to him.

Returned to Green Peace, he had some happy days in his garden, but for gardener and garden they were the last days. The city had decided to put a street through Green Peace: already workmen were digging trenches and cutting trees. Our mother went to the authorities, and told them of his feeble condition. The work was stopped at once, and not resumed during his lifetime.

Through these years her time was divided between the invalid and the many public duties which had already taken possession of her life. Little by little these were crowded out: instead of lecture or concert came the ever-shortening walk with the Doctor, the evening game of whist or backgammon which lightened a little his burden of pain and weariness.

Yet she was preparing, on January 4, 1876, to keep a lecture engagement of long standing, when the blow fell. He was stricken down, and lay for some days insensible, waiting the final summons.

There was no hope of his recovery: those around him waited patiently, any violence of grief held in check by the silent rebuke of the serene face on the pillow.

The day after his death she writes:—

"I awoke at 4.30, but lay still to bear the chastening hand of God, laid upon me in severe mercy....

"Some good words came to me: 'Let not your heart be troubled,' etc. 'He doth not willingly afflict,' etc.

"Before breakfast went into Chev's room, so sweet and peaceful.... I laid my lace veil, my bridal veil, upon the head of his bedstead.... In place of my dear husband I have now my foolish papers. Yet I have often left him for them. God accept the poor endeavor of my life!"

On the day after the funeral she writes: "Began my new life to-day. Prayed God that it might have a greatly added use and earnestness."

And several weeks later, after the memorial meeting in his honor:—

"Yesterday seems to have filled the measure of the past. To-day I must forward in the paths of the future. My dear love is sometimes with me, at least as an energizing and inspiring influence, but how shall I deserve ever to see him again?"

The paths of the future! She was to tread them with cheerful and willing feet through many long years, never wholly losing the sense of companionship with her good comrade.

She devoted the spring of 1876 to the writing of a brief memoir of him, which was printed in pamphlet form and in raised type for the use of the blind. With the latter object in view the memoir was necessarily brief. The labor of condensing into a small space the record of a long and super-active life was severe, but it was the tonic she needed. The days of quiet at Green Peace, the arduous work, with a page of Greek or a chapter of Baur for relaxation, brought mind and nerves back to their normal condition.

The work speaks for itself. As it is little known to-day[357] outside the schools for the blind, we quote the concluding paragraph:—

"In what is said, to-day, concerning the motherhood of the human race, the social and spiritual aspects of this great office are not wholly overlooked. It must be remembered that there is also a fatherhood of human society, a vigilance and forethought of benevolence recognized in the individuals who devote their best energies to the interests of mankind. The man to whose memory the preceding pages are dedicated is one of those who have best filled this relation to their race. Watchful of its necessities, merciful to its shortcomings, careful of its dignity, and cognizant of its capacity, may the results of his labor be handed down to future generations, and may his name and example be held in loving and lasting remembrance."


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