He was only too ready, however, to respond if another demand should come for him to carry arms in behalf of United Italy, and through the skill of the statesman, Cavour, such a demand did come in the year 1859. Cavour, by clever diplomacy, had brought on a war between the Austrians and the French and with the aid of the powerful nation of France the Italians were victorious at the battles of Magenta and Solferino.
But while France was willing to fight the Austrians, the French were unwilling to have Italy at their doors as a united nation, and a peace was agreed upon between the two great powers in which Italian liberty was ignored. All the work of Garibaldi seemed to have been useless. All of his great sacrifices were apparently thrown away by the statesmen and diplomats who were forced to accede to the French and Austrian terms.
But the peace of Villafranca, as this agreement was called, was only the beginning of Garibaldi's greatness. He hastened to Genoa, where, with one thousand and seventy followers, he seized two steamers and embarked for Sicily. Sicily had revolted on hearing of the peace terms and Garibaldi had been invited to go there and aid the revolution.
After a voyage of six days he landed at Marsala where a tremendous welcome was given to him. The Neapolitan fleet was not far off, but they did not dare to open fire on the little band of revolutionists on account of British warships nearby, as Great Britain was known to favor the revolutionary cause.
With Garibaldi at the head of an indomitable little army, the Neapolitan soldiers were put to flight at the battle of Calatafimi and Garibaldi advanced upon the city of Palermo. After heavy fighting the city was taken, and afterward at the head of about two thousand men, Garibaldi routed an army more than three times the size of his own. All Sicily was soon in Garibaldi's possession, and now, with a considerable army at his back, he crossed over to the Italian mainland and advanced northward, with his enemies fleeing before him. Finally he captured the city of Naples and his work was completed.
Without any hesitation Garibaldi turned over his conquests to King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia, who, after Garibaldi's successes, had marched against Naples and was now in control of a large part of the Italian peninsula. After refusing many rewards Garibaldi retired again to the island of Caprera, but in 1862 he raised a volunteer army and marched against Rome in an attempt to overthrow the power of the Pope which he believed must be destroyed before Italy could ever become a united nation.
King Victor Emmanuel did not feel that he could allow this expedition of Garibaldi's, and sent his own army against him. Garibaldi was defeated and he himself was taken prisoner, but after a short confinement he was pardoned and set at liberty.
In 1866 he started another revolution but was again defeated and again captured. Once more, however, he was pardoned and allowed to go back to Caprera, where he was guarded by a warship to prevent any further activity on his part. Three years later he offered his services to the French Republic and was made a deputy of that famous body, the French Versailles Assembly. He then entered the Italian Parliament, and for his great patriotic services was given a pension for life. In later life he married again but the marriage was not a happy one and was annulled after a number of years, when Garibaldi again took a wife, a peasant woman named Francesca.
He died in 1882, at Caprera, one of the most famous of all Italians, and the one to whom modern Italy owes more than to any other man. Had it not been for Garibaldi's great endurance under the most terrible hardships and privations, and his resolute determination to free his country, there might well be no modern Italy as these pages are written.
The story of Abraham Lincoln should bring more inspiration to you than that of any other man or woman who is mentioned in this book. For Lincoln not only had a great mind, a great and forceful personality, but a great and kindly heart, filled with charity for all. He was, moreover, a man of the people. Whatever he gained in life, he gained by his own efforts. Washington created the United States, but Lincoln carried them through the most difficult crisis of their history—and it is more than probable that without him there would be no United States to-day.
He was born in 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky, on the Twelfth of February, and was the son of Thomas Lincoln, a carpenter. Thomas Lincoln was a good natured but shiftless man who never did any more work than was absolutely necessary to keep his family from starving. He had pioneer blood in his veins, as, indeed, all Lincoln's ancestors had, from the time when they first came to America in 1637; and this fact kept them pushing continually to the westward and taking up new lands in unbroken country as opportunity offered. Thomas Lincoln's wife, Nancy, was made of better stuff than her easy going husband, and it is probably from her that the boy Abraham inherited the character that was to make his name the greatest in his country, if not in the entire world.
As a boy Abraham had little or no chance to go to school, but he was so industrious and eager to learn that he borrowed every book that he could lay his hand on, and in this way he obtained a thorough knowledge of the bible and of Shakespeare as well as of a few other classics, which included AEsop's fables, Robinson Crusoe, a history of Washington and the Pilgrim's Progress.
When Abraham was eight years old, his father moved to Indiana, and there the first great sorrow of his life befell the little boy. His mother died of a fever that appeared among the settlers, leaving Abraham and his sister Sarah, a little girl of eleven, to do the housework and the heavy chores of a backwoods farm. The following year Thomas Lincoln went away to Kentucky to marry again, and he brought back with him a big hearted woman named Sally Johnson, who had three children by a former marriage.
This marriage by Thomas Lincoln was the best thing that could have happened for his two motherless children. Sally Johnson was able to give them better care and more comforts than they had ever known. She inspired their father also to work more regularly and to put a door on the cabin in which they lived. Abraham helped his father in clearing the land and hewing the trees. He was big and strong for his age, and was constantly swinging an ax or guiding a plow.
All the time when not engaged in these active forms of labor, Abraham was reading and studying, by candle light or by firelight, chalking up sums of arithmetic on a board or the back of a shovel when he lacked paper to write them on, and striving in every way to gain for himself an education. Owing to the remote region where he lived and the constant moves that were made by his family, he had less than a year's schooling in the entire course of his life,—but his eagerness to learn counterbalanced this disadvantage and when he reached young manhood he knew as much as many who had been to the finest schools in the country from their earliest years and without interruption.
When he was twenty-one years old his father moved again. This time Thomas Lincoln settled in Illinois, and Abraham worked without pay for a year, helping him to clear his property and settle his land. Then, as was the custom in those days, he left home to seek his fortune elsewhere.
By this time he had grown into a tall and powerful man who was able with great ease to outstrip all others in running or jumping, swinging an ax or carrying heavy weights. His strength, in fact, was as famous throughout the country side as was his good nature and kindness, for he was always ready to give his neighbors a hand when they needed help and to do them a good turn when the chance came his way. Everybody liked him and he was welcome wherever he went.
With two relatives Lincoln built a flatboat and started down the river for New Orleans on a trading venture. He had been south once before, when he traveled more than a thousand miles on a flatboat selling groceries to the plantations of Mississippi, and these two trips enabled him to see what slavery was like. He saw negroes being placed on the auction block and knocked down to the highest bidder, separated forever from their wives and families. He saw them toiling in the fields and triced up under the lash. It was then, without doubt, that he formed the opinions that directed his policy from the White House in later years when he was President.
On returning to his home Lincoln had his first taste of military service. A war had broken out with the Black Hawk Indians, and volunteers were called for to drive them out of the country. Lincoln was one of the first to offer his services, and although still very young, every man in the neighborhood urged that he be made the captain of the military company in which they were to serve. It was a sign of the esteem in which the ungainly young man was held that those older than himself should unanimously propose him for their leader.
Before this time Lincoln, young as he was, had announced his candidacy for the Legislature of Illinois. The County of Sangamon, where he lived, was entitled to four representatives. He had informed the residents that he was a candidate by a characteristic letter which was printed in the county newspapers and has been quoted in Lincoln's biographies.
"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition," he wrote. "Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as being truly esteemed by my fellow men by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed. I am young and unknown to many of you. I was born, and have ever remained, in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations or friends to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of the county; and if elected they will have conferred a favor upon me for which I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But if the good people in their wisdom see fit to keep me in the background I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined."
But when the Indian war broke out Lincoln sacrificed his chances of being elected, preferring to fight for his country in such fighting as came his way, and the victory was won by his opponents.
On his return after a bloodless campaign, he started a grocery store in the town of New Salem, Illinois, but the venture was destined to be an unlucky one. The town dwindled in size; the store finally failed; his partner ran away and then died, leaving Lincoln to shoulder all the burden of the debt. Although he had no money and could earn but little, he paid this debt to the last penny and with proper interest, but the burden saddened his young manhood and put him in poverty and difficulties from which he did not free himself for a number of years.
In the year 1834, Lincoln ran once more for the State Legislature, and this time, as no obstacles beyond the ordinary came his way, he was elected. This marked the turning point in his career, for he had now embarked on the course that was to end with his election to the Presidency. He was sent back to the Legislature in 1836 and again in 1838 and 1840; and his policy was marked by broad views and great liberality. As a matter of fact, he was one of the first champions of woman's suffrage, for in preparing his platform he said that he was for allowing all whites to vote who bore the burdens of the Government, including the women.
While in the Legislature Lincoln had the courage to voice a protest against slavery, and at that time the feeling ran so strongly against "abolitionists," as the would-be liberators of slaves were called, that he could only get one man beside himself to sign this protest. In it he stated that slavery in itself was evil and unjust, but that the efforts of the abolitionists only served to add to its horrors. By this statement Lincoln ran grave danger of being ruined in his political career, and only his high moral courage impelled him to make it.
In 1839 the State Capitol of Illinois was moved to Springfield and Lincoln decided to live in the same town. While he had been serving his country in the Legislature he had also been studying law—a pursuit that he commenced when he owned the unlucky general grocery store at New Salem. Now he hung up his shingle as a lawyer, going into partnership with John T. Stuart who was prominent in Lincoln's own political party, whose members were called Whigs. Before very long he had a good practice.
Here Lincoln engaged to fight a duel, showing at once his courage and the keen sense of humor that he possessed. Some women friends of his had sent to the newspapers a series of humorous letters criticizing one James Shields, an Irishman, who was engaged in tax collecting. These letters were signed by the name of "Aunt Rebecca," and to help the ladies Lincoln had written the first letter as a model. When Shields started inquiries, Lincoln took the entire responsibility. Shields belonged to the opposite political party and challenged Lincoln to a duel. As the challenged, Lincoln was allowed to chose the weapons. He decided on broadswords of the largest possible size. A plank was to be placed between the duelists, and neither allowed to cross it. On either side of the plank lines were drawn at the length of the broadsword and three feet extra,—and if the duelist stepped back across this line he lost the fight.
These terms had a large element of the ridiculous about them. The meeting came to pass but the duel never was fought, for Lincoln and his adversary were reconciled before the swords were drawn. Soon after this Lincoln married Mary Todd, a Kentucky girl who had been one of the originators of the letters that brought about this duel.
A few years later, in 1846, Lincoln was elected to Congress. In his first term in the House of Representatives he did nothing to distinguish himself, but kept his eyes and ears open and used the term more as an instructive course in some university of politics than anything else, although he took care not to neglect the work of his constituents. In fact there is, or was at that time a general idea that it was impossible to distinguish oneself in a first term to Congress. There was too much to learn, too many duties to perform, too slight an acquaintance with fellow members.
Lincoln, however, quickly became known in Washington and was liked wherever he went. He had a gift for story telling that he frequently made use of, either to amuse his hearers or to take the bitterness out of some political argument.
While in Washington as a congressman, he made his first actual effort toward the abolition of slavery by drawing up a bill for the freeing of slaves in the District of Columbia and paying their owners a good price from the coffers of the Government. This bill had many supporters, but it was obstructed and never came to a vote. It showed, however, as his earlier and courageous protest showed, the thoughts that were in Lincoln's heart about this great national evil, and that he could be relied on to do all that lay in his power to end it.
After Lincoln's term in Congress was over he returned to Springfield, where, for a number of years, he quietly practised law without thinking of returning to office. He did desire to be Governor of the Territory of Oregon and was offered this position, but gave it up because his wife refused to live so far away. It is just as well that he did so, for who knows if his great powers would ever have been recognized if he had taken this appointment and lived in even more of a wilderness than where his forefathers had cleared the land and made their homes?
The war against slavery was gaining headway, and every year the feeling became more intense over the fact that certain States were allowed to hold men in bondage and buy and sell them like animals. Whenever a new territory was acquired by the Union a dispute arose as to whether it was to be a slave or a free territory, and this discussion was opened up with bitterness in 1854 when Lincoln's great rival, Senator Douglas, offered a bill to bring about territorial government in Nebraska.
On account of this struggle Lincoln came once more into the public eye. Douglas had believed that by working to repeal a measure known as the Missouri Compromise, thereby throwing open to slavery a large amount of territory that had been closed against it, he would stand an excellent chance of being elected President of the United States. The struggle between the slave and the free factions of the country had now taken on national importance of the first order, and caused the readjustment of the political parties. The Democratic party now became the champion of slavery, while the Whig party, and those Democrats who desired slaves to be free, were merged in the Republican party to which Lincoln belonged.
In the State Convention in Illinois, where the Republican party was formed, Lincoln made a wonderful speech, of which only the memory remains. The stenographers and reporters who were supposed to take it down became so enthralled by the words of the great leader that they forgot to make note of those words, and Lincoln, who spoke with few notes, could not remember afterward what he had said. How marvelous the speech must have been is to be seen from the fact that even without written reports its fame traveled through the United States, and those that heard it never forgot the majesty and power of Lincoln's oratory.
Lincoln was not yet well enough known, to be considered as a candidate for the Presidency, but he did receive some support from his party as Republican nominee for Vice President. In the meantime, and even before this speech had been made, Douglas had realized the strength of his new opponent, and sought to silence Lincoln until after the election. Lincoln and Douglas met in joint debate, and the result of the contest made history. Hoping to entrap Lincoln, Douglas asked him a number of questions, thinking that Lincoln might answer in such a way that his reply would be unpopular to the people of the South. In return Lincoln asked Douglas such a carefully thought out question that in answering it Douglas was compelled either to deny his former words or make himself unpopular with the Democratic party. And as a result of this Douglas was greatly weakened for the presidency in the campaign of 1860.
Lincoln's brilliant speeches and his former political record, his reputation for honesty and kindness, and his known firmness against the issue of slavery were doing their work, although he himself did not dream that he might gain the presidency that Douglas had aspired to. He continued to make speeches in 1859 and followed Douglas about, speaking against his policy. In May, 1860, the Republicans of the State of Illinois declared Lincoln to be their choice for President without a dissenting vote.
The Republican National Convention for that year, held in Chicago, was a memorable meeting. The two names that stood out above all others were those of William H. Seward and Abraham Lincoln. Several ballots were taken amid scenes of great excitement, and at last the name of Lincoln was given to the country as the Republican candidate for President.
And the campaign itself was the most memorable presidential campaign in the history of this country. In all there were four candidates. The Democratic party was split into two wings, one of which, with Douglas for its choice, claimed that it did not pretend to decide whether slavery was right or wrong; the other with Breckenridge was directly in favor of slavery and sought to extend it and to add new States to the slave list. There was also the Constitutionalist Union party in which slavery was not an issue at all or anything else, for that matter—while the Republican party, with Lincoln at its head, was directly opposed to slavery and had come out as its open and declared enemy.
On the night of the election, which fell on the Sixth of November, Lincoln heard news by electric telegram of his overwhelming victory. His speeches and his strong personality had won the day. He was chosen as President at a time when the most difficult and arduous duties since the time of Washington awaited the head of the nation.
Throughout the South, bitterness had been growing more and more marked each day. The South had declared that it would never bear the rule of a Republican President and an opponent of slavery. And after the Southern States knew that Lincoln was to be their leader, one after another withdrew its congressmen and senators from Washington, and passed what they called "ordinances of secession," which meant that they no longer considered themselves a part of the United States. More than this took place, for one after one the army officers in charge of the Southern forts and arsenals went over to the side of the South, allowing the most important military strongholds and vast amounts of military stores to fall into their hands, and President Buchanan, who was Lincoln's predecessor, and in sympathy with the South himself, did nothing to prevent these outrages against the Government he had sworn to uphold.
In the meantime Lincoln had performed his first official act which would have indicated, if other things had not amply done so, his coming greatness. This was his choice of a Cabinet. Believing that he must not only surround himself with the strongest men he could find, but the ones that the people placed most reliance in, he appointed to the Cabinet all the other Republicans whose names had been mentioned for President at the Republican convention in June. William H. Seward was his Secretary of State and the other cabinet officials included Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, who was Secretary of the Treasury, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, and later Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War.
The difficulties and dangers of his position now beset him. On his way to his inauguration he was warned that in Baltimore there had been discovered a plot against his life, and so serious did this plot appear that he had to go through secretly on another train than the one on which he was expected. In his inaugural address, assuming the duties of President, Lincoln denied the right of any State to secede from the Union, and this was taken by those States that already had seceded and in fact by the entire South as little less than a declaration of war against them.
All through the South preparations for war were carried on as quickly as possible. And in less than six weeks after Lincoln had taken over the duties of his office, the Civil War was opened by the Confederates, who turned their guns against Fort Sumter, which was held by the Union commander, Major Anderson.
From that time on the story of Lincoln's life is almost the same as that of the great Civil War, in which as President he decided most of the momentous questions that came before the nation, and bore upon his shoulders a weight even greater than what had been carried by Washington when the United States was born.
In the first part of the war the South won many victories. They defeated the Union forces at Bull Run and Fredericksburg, and with smaller forces and these divided were able to fight what amounted to a drawn battle at Antietam. They defeated General Hooker at Chancellorsville, and it began to look as if the South, under the brilliant General, Robert E. Lee, had more than a chance of gaining what they desired, and winning independence from the Federal Government. General after general was placed in command of the Union forces and proved inadequate to the gigantic task that had to be fulfilled. And Lincoln, in addition to his other duties, had to study and master the art of war, so that he could intelligently understand the military situations that came to him for final decision. No greater tribute can be made to the power of his brain than to say that after he had followed his military studies this lawyer and backwoodsman was considered among the best strategists in the country.
It was shortly after the battle of Antietam that President Lincoln decided to issue his famous proclamation giving freedom to all the slaves in the United States. He decided to do this because it was a war measure and the South had been able to obtain much military aid from the slaves who were in their possession. Also it won the North to a more whole-hearted prosecution of the war, since by far the greater part of the North desired the immediate freedom of the slaves. This proclamation was called the "Proclamation of Emancipation," and under it all men in the United States really became free and equal, for the first time in American History.
At last Lincoln had realized his lifelong desire to right the wrong of slavery, and throughout the world this act added greatly to his fame. By the black race he was looked upon as a second Savior and whenever he was seen by a group of negroes they raised the echoes with their shouts of enthusiasm and jubilee.
Another great deed was done by Lincoln and one that was to have an immediate effect upon the course of the war. This was the appointment of General Ulysses S. Grant to the position of Commander in Chief of the Union forces. General Grant, like Lincoln, came from obscure beginnings. He had volunteered his services at the beginning of the war, and had won his way upward through sheer merit. On the Fourth of July, 1863, he had captured the Southern city of Vicksburg, while General Meade in the same year beat the Confederates decisively on the field of Gettysburg which was the greatest battle of the war and marked its turning point.
It was after Gettysburg that President Lincoln made the memorable address upon the field of victory that has gone down into history as one of the finest speeches ever made and has been placed above the portals of one of England's greatest colleges as an example of the purest example of English speech that has ever been uttered.
"Fourscore and seven years ago," said Lincoln, "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The turning point of the war had been reached; the victory of the Northern forces was now assured. On the Ninth of April, 1865, General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House and the war was brought to an end.
In the meantime Lincoln had been reelected President by an overwhelming majority. He now had before him the difficult task of reconstruction, and of bringing together the warring factions that so nearly had torn our nation in two halves forever.
His kindliness, his personal bravery which made him regardless of all risks and repeated threats of assassination, his infinite tact, resourcefulness and good humor, coupled with the weightier abilities as a ruler and a statesman, have made his name most justly the most famous in our history with the possible exception of George Washington's. There is an infinite fund of anecdotes concerning him and what he did in the dark days through which he piloted the country. Lincoln was always gentle when there was the least excuse for gentleness, and he pardoned so many military offenders who had been under sentence of death that the Union Generals complained that he was weakening their discipline. Yet this gentleness on his part was never confounded with weakness. No more terrible contestant could have appeared against the rebellious South than the quiet, gaunt backwoodsman who had placed himself in the President's chair by reason of his character alone.
On April 14, 1865, when attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, President Lincoln was murdered. His assassin was John Wilkes Booth, brother of the famous actor, Edwin Booth, who was in no way implicated with the terrible deed perpetrated by one that bore his name. Wilkes Booth was a rabid Southerner and believed that since the North had conquered, vengeance was necessary. He did not see, as many of the defeated Southerners saw clearly, that with the war once ended Lincoln, with his infinite tolerance and patience, was the best friend that the South could possibly have.
Booth forced an entrance into the box where the President was seated and walking up to him shot him in the head with a pistol. He then vaulted over the rail and with the shout of "sic semper tyrannis" ran from the stage in spite of the fact that he had broken his leg in his fall from the box, and succeeded in escaping from the theater. The unconscious President was tenderly lifted and carried across the street to a house that was opposite the theater. Here at seven o'clock on the following morning he passed away.
That Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time and belongs to eternity, was realized then, but is still more deeply realized now. His wonderful name has become a household word, not only in the United States but everywhere. And as the mist of the confusing events that surrounded him is clearing away in the light of history, his form is becoming mightier and more venerable every day.
The coast of Northumberland in England is rocky and severe with lofty flint-ledged cliffs where great waves thunder, hurling the white foam high into the air. It is a coast that is feared by vessels and many wrecks have taken place there. As is usual in such a locality it is the home of brave fishermen and daring boatmen who have many thrilling rescues to remember and many stormy encounters with the utmost fury of the sea. But of all the tales of daring that are talked of by the fisher folk, the bravest of all was performed by a girl whose name was Grace Darling,—a name that now is known not only in the places where she lived but all over the world.
Grace Horsley Darling was the daughter of a lighthouse keeper named William Darling, who tended a light on one of the Farne Islands as his father had done before him. Grace, who was the seventh of nine children, was born in 1815, in Bamborough, and when she was a little girl of eleven years her father was given charge of the new light on Longstone Rock, which was one of a series of dangerous reefs where no vessel ever built could live when a gale was blowing.
The highest part of Longstone Rock was only four feet above the surface of the sea, and near at hand were twenty-three other reefs or islands, between which the ocean tides ran in curious currents and eddys, and where the great rollers came racing in with a tremendous roaring to burst upon the base of the lighthouse and throw the spray high above the light itself. It was a wild spot, even in calm weather, but when a storm blew it became terrible. Then all communication with the mainland was cut off, and for days at a time the only news that the outside world had from the lonely lighthouse keeper was the yellow beam of the lantern that shone from the top of the tower across the desolate expanse of ugly rocks and roaring waters, where any ship that chanced to be entrapped was caught in the grip of strange currents and pounded into matchwood by the breakers.
Grace did not find the life at the lighthouse unpleasant. Her father was an intelligent and kind-hearted man who gave an eye to her education himself, and taught her how to read and write. He was also considered the best boatman on the whole Northumberland coast—the bravest and most skilful, and it was partly due to his reputation in these respects that he was made the keeper of the new light on the Longstone with a large increase in pay and a comfortable home for his family—for the interior of the lighthouse held several large and pleasant rooms where the Darlings lived. All of his elder children had gone off to make their living, and William Darling lived with his wife and his daughter Grace, who spent her time in reading, helping her mother with the housework, and, when it was calm, wandering over the rocks observing the gulls, the sea weeds and the strange sea creatures that the ocean brought to the surface or that crawled and swam among the more sheltered rock pools.
But the confinement of the life in the lighthouse was not good for the growing girl, and Grace never was strong and robust as would be expected from the daughter of fishermen. Nor was she handsome. But she possessed a kindly and winning nature, and, as will be seen, the ability to rise to heights of greatness when necessity called on her to do so.
When Grace was a young woman of twenty-three a terrible storm burst suddenly upon the coast and in the twinkling of an eye the reefs about the lighthouse were a sea of churning foam, while the great waves racing in from the ocean thundered so mightily at its base that it seemed as though they must tear it from its foundations and sweep it away.
A short time before this gale broke, the steamer Forfarshire had sailed from Hull for Dundee in Scotland. She was commanded by a captain named John Humble and had aboard all told about sixty-three persons, including the passengers and crew. She was a fine new steamer, well and strongly built, but she had put to sea with her boilers in poor condition, and it had been intended to give them a thorough overhauling in Dundee.
When the steamer was off Flamborough Head the boilers commenced to leak, and the ship's fires were extinguished. They were rekindled and the leak repaired, but just as the Forfarshire was off the Farne Islands the gale broke with great fury. While pitching in the heavy seas the boilers leaked terribly, the fires were again put out and the ship became unmanageable. Sails were hoisted, but were torn to ribbons by the wind. With no propelling power the Forfarshire rolled helpless in the trough of the sea, and was swiftly borne toward the rocks. Fog and rain made it impossible for the sailors to see until they were in the teeth of the breakers, and then the beam of the lighthouse showed them the wild rocks only a short distance away.
Nothing could save them from destruction. With a crash the steamer drove on the Harcars rocks and remained there, the seas breaking completely over it. Some of the crew launched a boat and escaped, deserting their captain, the passengers and the ship. The rest clung to what supports they could find and held on expecting instant death.
A wave, larger than the rest, picked up the Forfarshire bodily and drove it down again upon the rocks, breaking it in two. The after half of the vessel was swept away by the seas with many passengers and the captain and his wife. All were lost. On the forward part of the ship about twelve wretched persons remained in most desperate plight, the seas breaking over them and threatening to engulf the remaining portion of the vessel.
When day broke the wreck could be seen from the mainland, but the misery of the unfortunate persons who survived was even more plain to William Darling and his family. Grace begged her father to launch a boat and go to their assistance, but Darling, brave sailor as he was, knew that there was little or no chance of his ever reaching the doomed ship, and shook his head. Then Grace began to plead with her father, telling him it would be better for him to lose his life than to pass by people in such distress, and that she herself would go with him and bear a hand at the oars. Darling was no coward, and the prayers and entreaties of his daughter won the day. He decided to risk launching a boat from the lighthouse.
With Mrs. Darling to help them in launching their boat, Grace and her father put forth from the lighthouse, running their boat into the sea in the lee of the rocks, and pulling strongly for the wreck. Father and daughter both labored at the oars, unable to speak on account of the roar of the sea and wind, and blinded by the spray that whirled over them. Their boat was tossed like a shuttlecock in the great waves, and they knew that unless the shipwrecked persons could aid them it would be impossible to return to the lighthouse. They must succeed or die, and their chance of success was small.
Little by little they drew near the wreck. By this time the tide had ebbed sufficiently for the survivors to leave the ship and stand on the slippery rocks, but already some of them had succumbed and the rest would certainly be washed away and drowned at returning high water. As the rescuers drew near the reef, Darling leaped ashore, and Grace kept the frail rowboat from dashing itself to pieces against the rocks.
Then followed the difficult task of getting the survivors into the boat. One after one waded out as far as he dared and was pulled over the gunwale. When the last person was aboard Darling clambered back, and with new hands at the oars the boat was rowed back to the lighthouse—a trip that required great strength and much time for the current was against them. And when the light was reached, the shipwrecked people were soon made comfortable and cared for by Grace and Mrs. Darling, and nine lives were thus saved by the determination of a single girl.
In the meantime, and after the gale had abated considerably, a boat full of fishermen put out from the shore at a place called North Sunderland and after nearly being swamped in the high seas succeeded in drawing near the wreck. They saw there was no living thing left aboard, and not daring to return to the mainland in the sea then running succeeded in reaching the lighthouse. Among them was Grace's brother, Brooks Darling, and the heroism of his achievement and that of the other fishermen was only exceeded by the marvelous feat of the girl herself and of her father. In the course of a few days the fishermen succeeded in returning to the shore, taking with them the news.
All England rang with the fame of Grace's exploit, and letters and gifts poured in from every side. Scores of people visited the lighthouse. Grace was feted and admired, and a public subscription in her benefit resulted in a gift of seven hundred pounds, or about thirty-five hundred dollars of our money. She also received four medals, and a large sum of money in private gifts.
Grace and her family took their new prominence with great good sense and modesty, and disliked the publicity which came to them. They were astonished at the commotion their exploit had caused, for to them it appeared little more than a part of the day's work that duty required them to perform.
But Grace did not live long after her exploit. Her confined life at the lighthouse and the exposure she underwent there resulted in the disease of consumption from which she rapidly wasted away. In spite of the best medical aid she steadily drooped, and two years after she had done her brave deed she died in the town of Bamborough where she had been born.
Again a subscription was collected and a monument was erected in her honor. Her father and mother lived to a ripe old age, reaping benefits from the money that Grace had left them. Perhaps some of their descendants are still tending the light at the present day, but at all events the name of the Darlings has been made immortal by the bravery of this girl.
The Red Cross Nurse has become a heroic figure in the world to-day and has saved lives by hundreds of thousands in every quarter of the globe; she has labored under fire on the battlefield and in the reek of pestilence in the rear; her form is as familiar in war as that of the soldier, and her name betokens every charity and kindness—but of all the heroic women who ever bore their healing art into the dark places and black hours of history, no name stands out with the luster of Florence Nightingale.
She was born in 1822 in the city of Florence in Italy, and was named after the place where she first drew breath. Her father was William Nightingale, an English gentleman, and her elder sister, Parthenope, also took her name from the place where she was born, for Parthenope is the ancient term for Naples.
The Nightingale family did not remain long in Italy, and soon after the birth of his youngest child William Nightingale, with his wife and two little daughters, returned to England where the two girls spent their childhood in a rambling old house in Derbyshire with many traditions and stories attached to it. Here Florence conceived a love for nursing and used to tend sick animals in the neighborhood and when she grew older, to sit up with and cheer the sick among the cottagers. There were not many people, even among those who were far older than herself, who could minister to the sick with her kindness and skill, and her fame soon was general through the neighborhood. Poor men used to come hat in hand to the old house requesting that Miss Florence spend a few hours with a sick wife or a young mother, and the Nightingales were kind enough and sensible enough to allow their daughter to do the work for which she had so evident an inclination.
There were no trained nurses in those days, and the general business of nursing as a profession was considered almost disreputable. Sick people were expected to be cared for by their relatives; hospitals were inefficient and badly run, and the comforts of the modern sickroom were unknown. As Florence grew older she thought a great deal about these things, and finally decided that she would do something which at that time was regarded almost as strange as if she had declared her intention of visiting the North Pole—she said she was going to become a professional trained nurse, and went abroad to study nursing on the Continent which was far ahead of England in such matters.
In a European hospital that was more in accord with the standards we know to-day and where comfort, skill and cleanliness went hand in hand, Florence Nightingale nursed the sick and acquired a mastery of the profession as it was then understood. It was so unusual for a woman of refinement to enter such a calling that she had become known in many places simply because she had decided to become a nurse; and after she returned to England she was at once offered the position of Superintendent at a Home for Sick Governesses in London.
This home, like many another benevolent institution in those times, was badly administered. As it constantly showed a deficit, its friends had become discouraged in supporting it, and the subscriptions on which it lived had been falling off. The ladies who were compelled to remain there did not receive the care that they should have had, and were unhappy and dispirited. This was the state of affairs when Florence Nightingale became the Superintendent of the Home.
In a very short time the Home was completely changed. Miss Nightingale had personally visited the former subscribers, and secured once more their help and patronage. She had changed the system on which the Home had been run to such an extent that it served as a model for institutions of its kind, and where the unfortunate women that lived there had been on the verge of actual physical suffering, they were now well cared for and contented.
Then war broke out between England, France and Turkey on the one side and Russia on the other,—a war that was brought about among other reasons by the desire of the Russian Czar to seize and hold the port of Constantinople. Great Britain and France supported the Turks and active fighting commenced. The theater of war soon shifted to the Crimean Peninsula where the British and French laid siege to the town of Sebastopol which was Russia's most important fortress and chief base of supplies. Before the walls of Sebastopol there took place severe fighting, which continued until bitter winter rendered further campaigning impossible.
While the war was going on thousands of sick and wounded British soldiers were pouring into the base hospitals at Scutari, where no provision for their care had been made. With the constant flood of wounded men, and men who were dying of dysentery and cholera, with no medical supplies and little food, with no nurses and only a few doctors, the condition of the British wounded soon became terrible beyond description. As there were no field dressing stations they had to be carried for days with their wounds undressed before they reached the hospital, and when they arrived it was often some time before the harassed doctors could care for them. They were brought in with their uniforms covered with filth and blood, and were laid in long rows on the floors of the hospital where few cots were to be found. Vermin crawled over the floors, over the walls and over the bodies of the helpless men. Rats gnawed the fingers of the wounded who were too weak to drive them away. There were no conveniences of any kind and many men died of exhaustion because no food adequate for the sick could be prepared. All the food, we are told, consisted of beef and vegetables boiled together in one huge caldron, into which new supplies were thrown indiscriminately as fast as they were delivered. The bread was moldy and the beef too tough even for well men to eat.
Owing to the efforts of a war correspondent of the London Times, the people at home were soon informed of the state of affairs in the Crimea, and gifts and supplies poured in profusely. But owing to the inefficiency and red tape of the War Department, the supplies were not delivered, but lay rotting in warehouses and in the holds of vessels while men died for the want of them. On one occasion, we are told, a consignment of shoes for the soldiers turned out to be in women's sizes. Improper inspections resulted in high profits, for the army contractors made uniforms out of shoddy and leather accouterments from paper, filled the cores of hay bales with kale stocks and cheated the Government right and left without forbearance or conscience.
Then the newspapers began calling for English women to go to the Crimea and care for the sick, and Florence Nightingale heard the call. She wrote a letter to Sydney Herbert who was Minister of War, volunteering to organize a body of nurses and go out to the Crimea to care for the wounded.
Right then a curious thing happened. The War Department had already decided that Miss Nightingale was the one person who could take charge of the reorganization of the hospitals in the Crimea, and had written a letter requesting her services. Offer and request crossed each other in the mails. On the following day her appointment was officially announced, and she was overwhelmed with proffers of assistance from all sides.
A large number of patriotic women volunteered to aid her, but only a very few possessed the necessary qualifications for such a task. Of all that offered to go Miss Nightingale was only able to accept thirty that she considered would be capable of performing the severe tasks that lay ahead, for she knew only too well the grim welcome she would receive at the Crimea.
Without farewells, quietly and at night, seen off only by a few intimate relatives, the little group of nurses started on their mission—the first one where women were to care for the soldiers who had fallen in war.
They crossed the English Channel and arrived at Boulogne in France on the following morning, where they were given a rousing greeting by the voluble French fish-wives, who had heard of their mission and who crowded around them to get a sight of the angels of mercy. From there they made their way to the seat of the war, and Miss Nightingale looked for the first time on the hospital where she was so soon to acquire immortal fame.
It may well be thought that her heart sank when she saw the enormity of the task that lay before her, for she had been sent to bring order from chaos, plenty from want, comfort from torture and cleanliness from wholesale filth. She had to contend not only with these awful conditions, but with the dislike and distrust of the medical officers with whom she was to work, who resented the fact that a woman had been sent out to reorganize what they considered a part of their department, and who doubted, because she was a woman, that she would be capable of doing so efficiently.
And when she arrived there was no time to spend in preliminary planning, for active fighting had been going on at the front and the wounded from recent battles were pouring in, adding to the confusion that already existed. They were laid groaning in hallways and on the bare ground until such time as the doctors could look after them.
Then Florence Nightingale, hardly taking breath, plunged into the task that awaited her and sent her nurses to the quarters where they were most needed. With their own hands these brave Englishwomen scrubbed the reeking floors and supervised the work of the orderlies. They visited the quartermasters and obtained the supplies that had been tied up through faulty administration and through army red tape, and in a short time they had established a diet kitchen where several hundred sick and wounded men could have the food they required, food that would save their lives.
The death rate, we are told, before this woman nurse and her little company arrived at the hospital was sixty percent of all the cases that were treated there—and after she had effected the changes that she saw were necessary, the death rate was only one percent—a fact in itself that speaks more loudly than any words for her efficiency and her bravery.
At times this indomitable woman was on her feet for twenty hours out of the twenty-four, supervising, directing, taking the last message of some dying soldier for his family, feeding another who was too weak to feed himself. The doctors who had been her opponents soon looked up to her and became her devoted friends, and the men who had been through such terrible sufferings thought she was indeed an angel from heaven, and, as she passed down the long wards would furtively kiss her shadow as it fell across their blankets. Many a time she took charge of cases that had been given up by the doctors, who turned their attention always to those whom they believed had a fighting chance for life, and she nursed them back to life with a patience and a tenderness that the doctors could not spare.
From the ships and warehouses there commenced to appear the comforts that sick men demanded—sheets and nightgowns, socks and pillows; in the place of the nauseous beef stew, the wounded began to get broths and jellies. Should they die they were sure of a woman's hand and a kindly ministration at the last, for Florence Nightingale had resolved that no man should die unattended in her hospital. And the wonders she performed were heard of back in England, where her name became national.
She had gone to Scutari in 1854. In May, 1855, she visited other hospitals that were nearer the seat of war and went into the trenches themselves before Sebastopol. One of her biographers tells us that when she entered the trenches she was warned by a sentinel to go no further, because the enemy had the place under close watch and would certainly open fire when they beheld a group of people at that particular point.
"My good young man," replied Miss Nightingale, "more dead and wounded have passed through my hands than I hope you will ever see on the battlefield during the whole of your military career; believe me, I have no fear of death."
Then she fell ill with Crimean fever, and through the army the news was received with more consternation than a severe defeat. Men broke down and cried like children when they heard that Miss Nightingale lay at the point of death, and the Commander in Chief, Lord Raglan, rode through sleet and mud for hours to visit her personally. She did not die, however, but recovered to take up again her duties as chief nurse and organizer.
When the war was ended Miss Nightingale remained at the Crimea until the last soldiers were sent home, and then, and not till then, she followed them. After most of the men had left and only a few remained she still worked faithfully to serve them, establishing "reading huts" and places of recreation such as the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. established in France and Belgium in the course of the World War some sixty years later.
As a matter of fact the work performed by Miss Nightingale was indirectly responsible for the birth of the Red Cross which was organized in Switzerland some four years after she had finished her work at the Crimea, and certainly no name in the Red Cross, in spite of the host of noble men and women who have served there, has ever equaled the glory of her own.
She returned to England quietly as she had left, although a British Government placed a battleship at her service—and she lived in England engaged in useful and philanthropic work for a great many years. With a fund of about $250,000 she founded the Nightingale Home for the proper training of nurses, a fund that she could have doubled or trebled had she so desired, or if the needs of the home had required it. In the following years she was frequently consulted on hospital organization in the armies not only of Great Britain but of Continental nations as well. She died in 1910, one of the great figures among the heroines of history.
Many are the stories of brave doctors and ministers who have sacrificed themselves in times of pestilence and plague, caring for the sick, allowing experiments to be performed on their own bodies, and giving their lives without fear in the hope of saving invalids and sufferers; but no story is more thrilling than that of the Belgian priest named Father Damien.
Father Damien's real name was Joseph de Veuster, and he was born in the year 1840, in the little village of Tremeloo in Belgium, not far from the city of Louvain that became famous in the World War when the Germans sacked it, burned its university and murdered its inhabitants.
A strong religious impulse ruled the de Veuster family, and out of three children two were destined for a religious life. As a matter of fact all three finally entered the service of the Church—a girl named Pauline who entered a convent and two brothers, Auguste and Joseph, who became respectively Father Pamphile and Father Damien.
Originally the parents of these three children had decided that Auguste was to become a priest and Joseph was to enter business and be a merchant, but it could easily be seen the priesthood was also the life for Joseph, who had a serious and contemplative nature even when very young, and spent much of his time in prayer and meditation. On one occasion, when only four years old, Joseph had been found on his knees before the altar of the church when it was supposed that he had wandered away from home and been lost in the woods or the fields about the town, and when still a young boy he was fond of taking long walks by himself in the fields and of herding sheep until he became known as "the little shepherd."
When Joseph was eighteen his sister Pauline left home to enter the convent, and even before that time his brother had gone to Paris to study at the home of the Picpus Fathers. Joseph himself, in accordance with his parents' design that he was to become a business man, went to a town in France called Braine le Comte to learn the rudiments of a commercial career and to study the French language. But while he had gone there willingly, he felt the desire for a religious life more and more strongly, until he finally told his parents that he desired to be a priest. It was not difficult for him to obtain their consent and Joseph went to Paris to study at the same school that his brother had attended.
In Paris Joseph served as a novice and when this term was ended he went to Louvain where his brother was already a priest in holy orders, having adopted the name of Father Pamphile. Joseph himself planned to take the name of Father Damien.
For some time Joseph lived with his brother in Louvain where he continued his studies, but he was not yet ordained as a priest when an event took place that changed the whole course of his life and was destined in the end to make his name famous throughout the civilized world.
The Picpus Fathers, like many other Catholic brothers, were great missionaries, carrying on this service in what were then called the Sandwich Islands, now better known as the Hawaiian Islands, under the Government of the United States. At that time, however, the islands formed an independent state under a native king and there was a great deal to be done by the missionaries that went there.
Father Pamphile received orders to go to the Sandwich Islands and engage in missionary work. He was delighted, for this work appealed to him and he felt that he could serve his Church better in that far country than by remaining in Louvain where he had his parish. After his passage had been engaged, however, Father Pamphile was smitten with an attack of typhus fever, and found himself unable to answer the call to foreign service when the time came.
Now Joseph was even more ardent than his brother, and he burned to answer this call himself, although he was not yet a priest. He asked Father Pamphile, however, if it would be his pleasure for him to take his place and engage in the missionary work that had been intended for the elder brother; and Father Pamphile was only too glad to have Joseph perform the task that his illness had rendered him unable to perform himself. So Joseph wrote to his superiors, volunteering to go to the Sandwich Islands in place of Father Pamphile, and soon a letter was received consenting to the new arrangement. Wild with delight he told his brother of what had taken place and at once commenced making his preparations for the voyage.
The islands to which Father Damien was bound are of the greatest tropical beauty, and the natives have become known all over the world for their strange customs, their unusual music and their skill in swimming the deep blue waters that surround the land where they live. At that time, however, they were suffering from the ravages of the most terrible disease, perhaps, in the entire world,—certainly the one most feared from the times of the Bible down to the present day. This was the disease of leprosy.
Leprosy was not a native disease in the Hawaiian Islands originally, but had been carried there by merchants or voyagers from the Far East where was its home, but it spread so rapidly among the natives that before long it seemed as if the Hawaiian Islands themselves had been the cradle of this terrible scourge. This was due, we are told, to the hospitable habits of the islanders, who lived closely together, and to their kindness in persisting in keeping with them those members of their families who had already fallen its victims. At about the time that Father Damien reached the islands, however, the Government had taken the matter in hand, and all the lepers that could be found were torn from their families and carried to a lonely island named Molokai. Here they were outcasts, deserted by their friends and relatives, living in wretchedness and desolation and, in that time, provided only with the barest necessities of life.
After a voyage of five months, in which his ship contended with many gales and much rough weather, Father Damien arrived in the Sandwich Islands and was at once made a full priest and given a parish in a wild part of the country—a parish so large that it took him days to go from one end of it to the other. He worked hard and soon became well known among the natives under his care, and to his fellow churchmen as a man of great earnestness and much physical strength.
One day Father Damien happened to be at a meeting of churchmen which was being addressed by the Bishop who said that he deeply regretted that he could spare no priest to send to the Island of Molokai to the unfortunate lepers, who seemed to be cast off there forsaken of God and man alike and whose condition was wretched beyond belief. But Father Damien at once arose and pointed out to the Bishop that a priest could be spared for such service, for one of the newcomers to the islands could take charge of his own parish, while he himself, he said, would go to Molokai and spend his life in caring for the lepers, whose condition made his heart bleed whenever he thought of them.
It can be imagined that a gasp of astonishment and admiration went through the assemblage that heard this courageous offer, for the man who volunteered for such service was going to living death—to a place of horror and human suffering where life appeared in its most hideous form, and where disease wrote its imprint on the human body with such a terrible flourish that the very sight of Father Damien's future companions was enough to strike fear to the heart's core. But Father Damien thought little of all this; he knew that he could do much good among the lepers, and he made the offer in simple sincerity without a thought of himself or of the dangers that he would encounter.
It is needless to say that it was accepted. On the spot Bishop Maigret assigned to Father Damien the island of Molokai for a parish, and the brave priest left on the next boat, not even having time to take with him a change of linen or the simplest necessities of life.
It may be thought that Father Damien's heart sank when he reached the island. A high and gloomy cliff of rock towered above the settlement of the lepers, and he found them living in the rudest of huts, dying from vice as well as from disease. Water was difficult to obtain and there were none of the conveniences and few of the necessities of life. Moreover, in that settlement, which was one that had lost all hope, the only law that was known was the law of despair, and those that lived there tried to forget their unhappy lot in wild orgies and revels, drinking a fiery spirit they distilled themselves called "Ki" which was made from the root of a plant that grew in profusion on the island, fighting and gambling as they chose, and dying like dogs with none to care for them, and with little hope for even a decent burial.
Here in this hell hole Father Damien was left to his own devices and surrounded by the misshapen and hideous creatures for whose lives he had sacrificed his own. Bishop Maigret accompanied him to Molokai, and told the lepers he had brought them a new Father, who loved them so much that he was willing to live with them and become one of them. Then the good bishop went back to Honolulu, and Father Damien set himself about the task that he had made his entire life work.
As he could not sleep in the huts of the lepers, the brave priest made his lodging on the ground beneath a pandanus tree, and calling his new parishioners together he preached to them with brave and comforting words, telling them that they must not despair, but make the most of their lives as they were, and that he would help them to build better houses and bring to them the comforts that they needed. And at once he busied himself getting building materials from the Government, with which trim cottages were built, and water pipes, through which he had fresh water piped down to the settlement from a cold spring above the cliff. He built a chapel and a dispensary, and not content with this he bandaged the sores of the lepers with his own hands, and washed their wounds. Through his efforts a hospital was finally provided and a doctor came to Molokai, and following his example sisters of mercy and brave missionaries came there to work, but for a long time Father Damien was alone with his charges, performing rough tasks with none to aid him, except the aid that he obtained from the lepers themselves.
It cannot be thought that a man who performed such services could forever escape contracting the disease, and after Father Damien had been ten years on Molokai he found himself a victim of the scourge against which he had so bravely and successfully contended. A visit to the resident doctor confirmed the worst of his fears, and after that when speaking to his congregation he used the words "we lepers," telling them that he himself had received the cross from which they suffered, and henceforth was one of them in something more than name.
Although he was now an invalid, he did not fail to perform his priestly duties until the end, but he never told his family in Belgium of the misfortune that had befallen him. They learned it eventually from others, and the shock of the discovery hastened his mother's death.
After fifteen years' service among the lepers Father Damien died of the disease, leaving behind him a name for pure self-sacrifice that has not been surpassed since the beginning of the Christian era. He had lived to see the leper colony grow from a ribald, obscene settlement to an orderly hospital where as much as was possible was done for the sufferers that were compelled to remain there. And he had the satisfaction of knowing that others would carry on efficiently the work that he had begun.
But in spite of all his bravery and his self-sacrifice this heroic priest was not without his traducers. A short time after his death a certain missionary named Dr. Hyde made scurrilous charges against him which were answered by that great writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, in a letter that has become one of the classics of English literature, and in which it was predicted that Father Damien would be made a saint by the Church of Rome, as he is indeed a saint in the bravery and purity of his life and his deeds.
In the year 1844 in Russia was born one of the most remarkable women of modern times. Her full name is Ekaterina Constantinovna Breshko-Breshkovskaya, but in America she is called Catherine Breshkovsky, and as such she will be known in these pages. Both her father and her mother were of noble birth, and when she was a little girl her father had a large estate on which hundreds of serfs were held in bondage.
While the negroes in the United States were kept in slavery, the peasants in Russia were in almost as bad a plight. They lived on the estates of the great nobles and formed a part of the nobles' property. Toiling from dawn until far into the night with frequent floggings and browbeatings from their masters they bore the burdens of the Russian government that gave them nothing in return. While the noblemen feasted on the fruits of the peasants' toil, the peasants themselves starved to death. When war came it was the peasants who furnished the armies while the nobles themselves seldom went to the front but remained behind the lines in safety.
When Catherine was a little girl she saw many instances of injustice and oppression, although the serfs on her father's estate were treated far better than many others. She did not know why she herself had fine clothes and delicate food, when the children of her father's servants were ragged and dirty, and often had just enough to eat to keep them from starving. She used to ask her parents what was the reason that they had no work to perform, while others had to get up when the stars were still shining and labor until long after the sun had set at night. And why the ones who did not work were so much better off than the others who did. And before she was eight years old, she had formed the habit of giving away her own possessions to the children of the serfs, who never had the pretty things with which she was surfeited.
Before she was nine, Catherine, we are told, had read a long history of Russia in nine large volumes, and when she was a girl of sixteen she had made an especial study of the French Revolution and the causes that led up to it.
The Crimean war came, and soldiers went to the front in large numbers. They were all taken from the families of the serfs, and while a certain number of the noblemen went to the war as officers of the Russian army, many others stayed at home safely, not being compelled to fight for their country as the peasants were. And the injustice of the system was very evident to the young girl, who even then was forming the idea of devoting her life to aiding the suffering and oppressed people who surrounded her.
About the time that the Civil War began in the United States a great change came over the peasantry in Russia, but it was a change that seemed to do them little good. The Russian Czar issued a proclamation in 1861 in which he declared that all serfs in his dominions were at liberty, and if they chose could leave the estates of their former masters and seek work where they wished.
But the serfs were worse off than ever before, because in the proclamation nothing was said about the land on which they had been living and which belonged to the nobles. They knew no trade except that of tilling the soil, and now that they were no longer the property of the nobles, their land was taken away from them and they had no means by which they could earn a living. Then terrible scenes commenced to be enacted. The serfs were ruthlessly driven from their homes and when they sought to remain were beaten in great numbers, being flogged so severely with the knout that many of them died as a result. Most of them were densely ignorant, and reading and writing were far beyond their knowledge. They could not understand why the land on which they had always lived and worked was taken from them, and why they were now denied even the bitter bread that they had formerly been able to earn.
Among the Russian nobility, however, were many high minded young men and women, who like Catherine felt the injustice of the serfs' hard lot and desired to help them. These young people formed into philanthropic bands, and went into the villages to teach the serfs, help them with their labor, minister to them in sickness and to make their condition better in every way possible. Thousands of boys and girls of gentle birth flocked to the Russian Universities and from there went to befriend the serfs. Throughout the younger generation a different feeling existed toward the common people than ever before in Russian history.
Catherine's father himself was liberal in his views and had already done what he could to alleviate the sufferings of his former bondsmen. When Catherine came to him and told him that she did not think that she could endure living in idleness any longer, but desired to support herself, he consented, and the girl who all her life had been used to the greatest luxuries went away to become a governess in the house of a nobleman, where she could live honestly by the fruits of her own labor.
Her father did not long consent to this, however, and helped her to open a boarding house for girls, where she taught school until she was twenty-five years old when she was married. Her husband was a young nobleman who sympathized with her liberal ideas, and himself had done a great deal to better the condition of the Russian people. He helped his wife work for the peasants and began a cooperative banking scheme by which they might benefit.
But Catherine grew more and more discontented with the terrible conditions that surrounded her on every side. She happened to go to the city of Kiev to visit her sister and she took her meals at a student's boarding house. She heard a great deal of discussion of the condition of Russia there and saw a great many young students who were interested in public affairs. And one day she held a secret meeting of students in her room to talk over what more could be done to make Russia a better place to live in.
While the younger generation had been striving in every way possible to help the serfs, the Russian Government did all in its power to hinder them. This government was then an absolute autocracy, which means that it was under the complete control of one ruler and a few advisors. The Czar of Russia knew that when his people grew better educated and more enlightened his own power would grow less, so he did all that he could to keep them in the state of darkness and ignorance in which they had languished for centuries. When young noblemen and girls sought to teach or help the peasants, they met with obstacles on every side, and many of them were treated with great severity by the officers of the Czar. This naturally angered them, and they began to form plans to overthrow the Czar's power, since they saw that any real progress would be impossible so long as the regime that then existed remained in force. In short they became revolutionists; and Catherine herself was well on the road to becoming one.
When Catherine came home from Kiev she and her husband conducted a series of meetings in which they made speeches to the peasants and labored harder than ever to improve their condition, but this soon brought them under the eye of the Czar's spies, and they were warned that they had better discontinue their efforts and let the peasants take care of themselves. And this was the final event that determined Catherine to become a revolutionist and bend all her energies to overthrowing the Czar's government.
She talked it over with her husband and asked him if he were ready to throw in his lot with those who sought to change the government, saying that she herself had resolved to do so. It meant suffering, poverty, hardships and very probably prison or death. Her husband was unwilling to take the risk and they parted forever. Soon after this Catherine had a son, and on account of the life that she had chosen was obliged to leave him with friends. It was a bitter moment for her when she gave him up, but it only strengthened her in her purpose.
Many revolutionists were at work in Russia at that time, and were scattered all through the country in various disguises. They were sent from various revolutionary centers to preach revolution to the peasants and to kindle the flames of revolt against the Czar. Others did social work, and sought to educate the peasants to the point where they would have sufficient knowledge to understand the revolutionary doctrines when they heard them—and it was in this form of work that Catherine first engaged.
At last, however, she entered into the more active work of the revolutionists, and in person commenced to spread revolutionary ideas among the common people. With two companions disguised as peasants, and in peasant garb herself, carrying a pack crammed with revolutionary pamphlets and literature, Catherine made her way to a little village, where she took a small hut and pretended to be a woman who dyed clothes. As soon as she grew to know the peasants she commenced to preach to them and to incite them to revolution. She told them that the Czar was an evil ruler, and that he and his nobles had always fattened themselves at the peasants' expense; that the Russian people would always be poor and miserable so long as the Czar remained in power; that they had a right to the land that was taken from them, and were no better than slaves who dared not call their souls their own—and furthermore that their only salvation lay in rising throughout Russia, overthrowing the Czar and establishing a government where all men should be free and equal, and where every man would have a right to earn his daily bread.
When the peasants in one village failed to respond Catherine and her comrades moved on to another town, and little by little they brought the doctrines of revolution to the mass of ignorant people, who were looking for some means to better themselves and realize a little of the happiness of life.
The life of a traveling preacher of this sort was filled with hardship. Catherine, who had been used to every luxury, was forced to eat the coarsest food and often to go hungry. She had to sleep in houses that were filled with dirt and vermin. Her audiences were stupid in the extreme, and were often as afraid of the revolutionists as they were of the Cossacks and the Czar's officials. Moreover there was always the danger of arrest and imprisonment, followed by exile to Siberia, or death on the gallows.
One day in the town of Zlatopol, where Catherine was carrying on her revolutionary work, a police officer stopped her and demanded her passport. This passport was forged and when she showed it he suspected her. Then, when he commenced to treat her with the indignities to which the peasants were accustomed she resented it, disclosing the fact that she was from the upper classes. Her pack was torn open and the revolutionary pamphlets were found. The case against her was complete.
She was hurried to prison and thrown into a foul dungeon, where the filth and suffering forced on her were indescribable. And here she was kept for long, weary months until her case should come to trial.
It was in this prison that she first learned the secret code that prisoners in Russia used to communicate with one another. One day, as she lay on the bundle of rags that formed her couch, she heard a faint tapping on an iron pipe that ran through her cell. She responded, and on the pipe tapped out the alphabet, one tap standing for "a", two for "b" and so on. From this laborous method she learned another code which was the one generally in use among the imprisoned revolutionists; and she spent long hours communicating with friends in different parts of the prison who were in solitary confinement like herself, and whom she had never seen.
At last Catherine was brought up for trial and was sentenced to exile in Siberia. Because she told her judges that she refused to acknowledge the authority of the Czar she was given an extra sentence of five years at hard labor in the mines. She had already been in prison several years awaiting trial—and out of three hundred who had been imprisoned in the same jail more than one hundred had died or become insane.
Catherine then commenced a weary two months journey into Siberia, where she was first to go to prison and later remain as an exile. The prisoners traveled in covered wagons, that jolted and bumped endlessly over the rough roads, and at night they were thrown into roadside jails, filthy beyond description. For eight long weeks this journey continued until Catherine reached the prison at Kara.
Here she was not compelled to work after all, but was forced to eat the vilest food and wear out her soul in idleness, with no occupation except to witness the sufferings of her companions. When her prison term was ended she was taken to a little town called Barguzon near the Arctic Circle, where the thermometer often dropped to fifty below zero, and here she was kept under close guard for many years.
Words cannot describe the misery of the Siberian exiles as Catherine saw them—men, women and children, sick and forlorn, compelled to march for miles over the bleak countryside, surrounded by brutal guards who prodded them on with their bayonets. After she had been for some time at Barguzon she tried to escape with three men who were also political exiles, and sought to gain the Pacific coast a thousand miles away, where she hoped she might take ship for America. She was pursued and recaptured, and given another term in the prison at Kara on account of her attempt to escape.
Catherine was a young woman when she went into exile; she remained until she was old and her hairs were gray before her term of punishment ended. She had been in exile more than twenty years and in all that time she had not seen one of her relatives or heard the voice of a friend. At last she was set free.
When she arrived at her former home she spent several months in making visits to relatives, and once again entered the work of the revolutionists. She was now famous in their circles and known to great numbers of peasants who loved her dearly and called her "Grandmother." She had many narrow escapes from the police, but her friends always succeeded in concealing her.
On one occasion she was hiding in a house, while the police officers searched for her. It was the cook's day off, and Catherine, in the cook's dress, was stirring the soup at the stove while the police officers ranged the house to discover her.
In 1904 she came to the United States to do what she could to spread the work of the revolution by gaining money from Russians in America. She received a cordial reception and made many friends among the Americans, some of them being the most prominent men and women in the country. The Russians themselves received her most enthusiastically wherever she went, and she returned with $10,000 for the Cause.
Through the double dealing of one of her supposed friends, Catherine was arrested again in 1908 and sent once more to Siberia. She remained there until after the outbreak of the World War, while the Germans overran Belgium and Russia in turn. She remained, in fact, until the revolution for which she had labored for so many years at last took place, and the Czar was overthrown. Then she was invited to return by the Government of Kerensky, who came into power when the Czar fell.
Her return from Siberia with the other political exiles was like a triumphal ovation. At every stop the train made crowds thronged about her carriage, cheering and shouting for "the little grandmother of the Russian Revolution," as she was called on account of her many years of labor for the cause. On her arrival in Moscow she was placed in the Czar's former coach of state, and was driven in triumph through the city to the assembly of the people called the Douma, which was then sitting. At Petrograd she was given a sumptuous apartment in the Czar's former palace. Everywhere her name was on the lips of thousands, and everywhere she received cheers, kisses and handclasps. It may almost have been worth the suffering she went through to receive a triumph so generous as that afforded her by the Russian people, who realized that she had been one of the chief leaders of the revolutionary movement and that her heart was bound up in its ultimate triumph.
But the revolution did not succeed, and it was not long before Russia was once more in the grip of a force even more deadly than that of the former Czar. The Bolshevists soon organized and drove Kerensky from power, and anarchy ruled throughout Russia. Catherine Breshkovsky was declared a public enemy by the Government of Lenine and Trotsky. She was in danger of her life if captured, as the Bolshevists were talking of putting her to death. After an unsuccessful attempt to organize resistance to the new government, Catherine was hidden by friends while the Bolshevists sought her, and after traveling for six hundred miles on horseback reached Vladivostok, where she found a steamer ready to take her to America. Here she was again welcomed cordially and made much of on every side, and here too she made many speeches against the Bolshevist government. Although she is over seventy-five years old she declares that she will still aid Russia to gain the freedom and peace it craves and if given an opportunity she will no doubt take part in the future development of her country.
Among the great men who have been President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt holds a unique position. Although he had no great trial to undergo in the term of his office—no trial similar to what Washington and Lincoln were forced to endure,—he endeared himself to his fellow countrymen almost equally with these two for his splendid Americanism, his vitality, his kindness and the force of his personality. After his term of office ended and when he was a simple citizen once more, the bare word of Roosevelt's opinion had more influence on the country than the utterance of any public man who still held office. For the power of Roosevelt as a man and an American was greater than any other in the nation.