And he proceeds thus:—"If, therefore, all that our enemies allege against the character of the convulsionists were true, it does not follow that God would not employ such persons as the ministers of His miracles and His prophecies, provided, always, that these miracles and these prophecies have a worthy object, and tend to a knowledge of the truth, to the spread of charity, and to the reformation of the morals of mankind."
These accusations of immorality are, probably, greatly exaggerated by the enemies of the Jansenists; yet one may gather, even from the tenor of Montgeron's defence, that there was more or less truth in the charges brought against the conduct of some of the convulsionists, and that the state of ecstasy, whatever its true nature, was by no means confined to persons of good moral character.
Such are the alleged facts, physical and mental, connected with this extraordinary episode in the history of mental epidemics.
* * * * *
On the perusal of such a narrative as the above, the questions which naturally suggest themselves are,—To what extent can we rationally attach credit to it? And, if true, what is the explanation of phenomena apparently so incredible?
As to the first, the admission of a distinguished contemporary historian, noted for his skeptical tendencies, in regard to the evidence for these alleged miracles, is noteworthy. It is in these words:—"Many of them were immediately proved on the spot before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent theatre that is now in the world; nor were the Jesuits, though a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined enemies to those opinions in whose favor the miracles were supposed to have been wrought, ever able distinctly to refute or detect them."
Similar is the admission of another celebrated author, at least as skeptical as Hume, and writing at the very time, and on the very spot where these marvellous events were occurring. Diderot, speaking of the St.-Medard manifestations, says,—"We have of these pretended miracles a vast collection, which may brave the most determined incredulity. Its author, Carre de Montgeron, is a magistrate, a man of gravity, who up to that time had been a professed materialist,—on insufficient grounds, it is true, but yet a man who certainly had no expectation of making his fortune by becoming a Jansenist. An eye-witness of the facts he relates, and of which he had an opportunity of judging dispassionately and disinterestedly, his testimony is indorsed by that of a thousand others. All relate what they have seen; and their depositions have every possible mark of authenticity; the originals being recorded and preserved in the public archives."
Even in the very denunciations of opponents we find corroboratory evidence of the main facts in question. Witness the terms in which the Bishop of Bethleem declaims against the scenes of St. Medard:—"What! we find ecclesiastics, priests, in the midst of numerous assemblies composed of persons of every rank and of both sexes, doffing their cassocks, habiting themselves in shirt and trousers, the better to be able to act the part of executioners, casting on the ground young girls, dragging them face-downward along the earth, and then discharging on their bodies innumerable blows, till they themselves, the dealers of these blows, are reduced to such a state of exhaustion that they are obliged to have water poured on their heads! What! we find men pretending to sentiments of religion and humanity dealing, with the full swing of their arms, thirty or forty thousand blows with heavy clubs on the arms, on the legs, on the heads of young girls, and making other desperate efforts capable of crushing the skulls of the sufferers! What! we find cultivated ladies, pious and of high rank, doctors of law, civil and canonical, laymen of character, even curates, daily witnessing this spectacle of fanaticism and horror in silence, instead of opposing it with all their force; nay, they applaud it by their presence, even by their countenance and their conversation! Was ever, throughout all history, such another example of excesses thus scandalous, thus multiplied?"
De Lan, another opponent, thus sketches the same scenes:—"Young girls, bareheaded, dashed their heads against a wall or against a marble slab; they caused their limbs to be drawn by strong men, even to the extent of dislocation; they caused blows to be given them that would kill the most robust, and in such numbers that one is terrified. I know one person who counted four thousand at a single sitting; they were given sometimes with the palm of the hand, sometimes with the fist; sometimes on the back, sometimes on the stomach. Occasionally, heavy cudgels or clubs were employed instead.... Some convulsionists ran pins into their heads, without suffering any pain; others would have thrown themselves from the windows, had they not been prevented. Others, again, carried their zeal so far as to cause themselves to be hanged up by a hook," etc.
Modern medical writers of reputation usually admit the main facts, and seek a natural explanation of them. In the article, "Convulsions," in the great "Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales," (published in 1812-22,) which article is from the pen of an able physiologist, Dr. Montegre, we find the following, in regard to the St.-Medard phenomena:—"Carre de Montgeron surrounded these prodigies with depositions so numerous and so authentic, that, after having examined them, no doubt can remain.... However great my reluctance to admit such facts, it is impossible for me to refuse to receive them." As to the succors, so-called, he frankly confesses that they seem to him as fully proved as the rest. He says,—"There are the same witnesses, and the incidents themselves are still more clear and precise. It is not so much of cures that there is question in this case, as of apparent and external facts, in regard to which there can be no misconception."
Dr. Calmeil, in his well-known work on Insanity, while regarding this epidemic as one of the most striking examples of religious mania, accepts the relation of Montgeron as in the main true. "From various motives," says he, "these theomaniacs sought out the most frightful bodily tortures. Would it be credible, if it were not that the entire population of Paris concurred in testifying to the fact, that more than five hundred women pushed the rage of fanaticism or the perversion of sensibility to such a point, that they exposed themselves to burning fires, that they had their heads compressed between boards, that they caused to be administered on the abdomen, on the breast, on the stomach, on every part of the body, blows of clubs, stampings of the feet, blows with weapons of stone, with bars of iron? Yet the theomaniacs of St. Medard braved all these tests, sometimes as proofs that God had rendered them invulnerable, sometimes to demonstrate that God could cure them by means calculated to kill them, had they not been the objects of His special protection, sometimes to show that blows usually painful only caused to them pleasant relief. The picture of the punishments to which the convulsionists submitted, as if by inspiration, so that no one might doubt, as Montgeron has it, that it was easy for the Almighty to render invulnerable and insensible bodies the most frail and delicate, would induce us to believe, if the contrary were not so conclusively established, that a rage for homicide and suicide had taken possession of the greater part of the sect of the Appellants."
Though I am acquainted with no class of phenomena occurring elsewhere that will match the "Great Succors" of St. Medard, yet we find occasional glimpses of instincts somewhat analogous to those claimed for the convulsionists, in other examples.
In Hecker's "Epidemics of the Middle Ages" there is a chapter devoted to what he calls the "Dancing Mania," the account of which he thus introduces:—"So early as the year 1374, assemblages of men and women were seen at Aix-la-Chapelle, who had come out of Germany, and who, united by one common delusion, exhibited to the public, both in the streets and in the churches, the following strange spectacle. They formed circles hand in hand, and, appearing to have lost all control over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of the bystanders, for hours together, in wild delirium, until at length they fell to the ground in a state of exhaustion. They then complained of extreme oppression, and groaned as if in the agonies of death, until they were swathed in cloths bound tightly round their waists; upon which they recovered, and remained free from complaint until the next attack. This practice of swathing was resorted to on account of the tympany which followed these spasmodic ravings; but the bystanders frequently relieved patients in a less artificial manner, by thumping and trampling upon the parts affected. While dancing they neither saw nor heard, being insensible to external impressions through the senses, but were haunted by visions." And again,—"In Liege, Utrecht, Tongres, and many other towns of Belgium, the dancers appeared with garlands in their hair, and their waists girt with cloths, that they might, as soon as the paroxysm was over, receive immediate relief from the attack of tympany. This bandage, by the insertion of a stick, was easily twisted tight; many, however, obtained more relief from kicks and blows, which they found numbers of persons ready to administer."
Physicians of our own day, while magnetizing, have occasionally encountered not dissimilar phenomena. Dr. Bertrand tells us that the first patient he ever magnetized, being attacked by a disease of an hysterical character, became subject to convulsions of so long duration and so violent in character, that he had never, in all his practice, seen the like; and that she suffered horribly. He adds,—"Here is what happened during her first convulsion-fits. This unhappy girl, whose instinct was perverted by intensity of pain, earnestly entreated the persons present to press upon her with such force as at any other time would have produced the most serious injury. I had the greatest difficulty to prevent those around her from acceding to her urgent requests that they would kneel upon her with all their weight, that they would exert with their hands the utmost pressure on the pit of her stomach, even on her throat, with the view of driving off the imaginary hysterical ball of which she complained. Though at any other time such treatment would have produced severe pain, she declared that it relieved her; and when the fit passed off, she did not seem to suffer the least inconvenience from it."
The above, connecting as it does the phenomena exhibited during the St.-Medard epidemic with those observed by animal magnetizers, brings us to the second query, namely, as to the cause of these phenomena.
And here we find physicians, not mesmerists, comparing these phenomena, and others of the same class, with the effects observed by animal magnetizers. Dr. Montegre, already quoted, says,—"The phenomena of magnetism, and those presented by cases of possession and of fascination, connect themselves with those observed among the convulsionists, not only by the most complete resemblance, but also by the cause which determines them. There is not a single phenomenon observed in the one case that has not its counterpart in the others."
Calmeil, while admitting that the "nervous effects produced by animal magnetizers bear a close resemblance to those which have been observed at Loudun, at Louviers, and during other convulsive epidemics," offers the following, in explanation of the physical phenomena connected with the "Great Succors":—
"The energetic resistance, which, in the case of the convulsionists, the skin, the cellular tissue, and the surface of the body and limbs offered to the shock of blows, is certainly calculated to excite surprise. But many of these fanatics greatly deceived themselves, when they imagined that they were invulnerable; for it has been repeatedly proved that several of them, as a consequent of the cruel trials they solicited, suffered from large ecchymoses on the integuments, and numerous contusions on those portions of the surface which were exposed to the rudest attacks. For the rest, the blows were never administered except during the torments of convulsion; and at that time the tympany (meteorisme) of the abdomen, the state of spasm of the uterus in women and of the alimentary canal in both sexes, the state of contraction, of orgasm, of turgescence in the fleshy envelopes, in the muscular layers which protect and inclose the abdomen, the thorax, the principal vascular trunks, and the bony surfaces, must essentially contribute to weaken, to deaden, to nullify, the effect of the blows. Is it not by means of an analogous state of orgasm, which an over-excited will produces, that boxers and athletes find themselves in a condition to brave, to a certain point, the dangers of their profession? In fine, it is to be remarked, that, when dealing blows on the bodies of the convulsionists, the assistants employed weapons of considerable volume, having flat or rounded surfaces, cylindrical or blunted. But the action of such physical agents is not to be compared, as regards its danger, with that of thongs, switches, or other supple and flexible instruments with distinct edges. Finally, the contact and the repeated impression of the blows produced on the convulsionists the effect of a sort of salutary pounding, and rendered less poignant and less sensible the tortures of hysteria. It would have been preferable, doubtless, to make use of less murderous succors; the rage for distinction as the possessor of a miraculous gift, even more perhaps than the instinctive need of immediate relief, prompting these convulsionary theomaniacs to make choice of means calculated to act on the imagination of a populace, whose interest could be kept awake only by a constant repetition of wonders."
Calmeil, of all the medical authors I have consulted, appears to have the most closely studied the various phases of the St.-Medard epidemic. Yet the explanations above given seem to me quite incommensurate with the phenomena admitted.
Some of the patients, he says, suffered from ecchymosis and contusions. In plain, unprofessional language, they were beaten black and blue. That is such a result as usually follows a few blows from a boxer's fist or from an ordinary walking-stick. But when the weapon employed is a rough iron bar weighing upwards of twenty-nine pounds, when the number of blows dealt in succession on the pit of the stomach of a young girl exceeds a hundred and fifty, and when these are delivered with the utmost force of an athletic man, is it bruises and contusions we look for as the only consequence? Or does it explain the immunity with which this frightful infliction was received, to call it a salutary pounding? The argument drawn from the turgescence of the viscera and other organs, from the spasmodic contraction of the muscles and the general state of orgasm of the system, has doubtless great weight; but does it reach far enough to explain to us the fact, (if it be a fact, and as such Calmeil accepts it,) that a girl, bent back so that her head and feet touched the floor, the centre of the vertebral column being supported on a sharp-pointed stake, received, day after day, with impunity, directly on her stomach and bowels, one hundred times in succession, a flint stone weighing fifty pounds, dropped suddenly from a height of twelve or fifteen feet? Boxers, it is true, in the excited state in which they enter the ring, receive, unmoved, from their opponents blows which would prostrate a man not prepared, by hard training, for the trial. But even such blows, in the end, sometimes prove mortal; and what should we say of substituting for the human fist a sharp-pointed rapier, and expecting that the tension of the nervous system would render impenetrable the skin of the combatant? Finally, it is to be admitted, that flexible weapons, especially if loaded, as the cat-o'-nine-tails, still used in some countries as an instrument of military punishment, occasionally is, with hard, angular substances, are among the most severe that can be employed to inflict punishment or destroy life. But what would even the poor condemned soldier, shrinking from that terrible instrument of torture which modern civilization has not yet been shamed into discarding, think of the proposal to substitute for it the andiron with which Montgeron, at the twenty-fifth blow, broke an opening through a stone wall,—the executioner-drummer being commanded to deal, with his utmost strength, one hundred and sixty blows in succession, with that ponderous bar, (a bar with rough edges, no cylindrical rod,) not on the back of the culprit, but on his unprotected breast?
No wonder that De Gasparin, with all his aversion for the supernatural, and all his disinclination to admit anything which he cannot explain, after quoting from Calmeil the above explanation, feels its insufficiency, and seeks another. These are his words:—
"How does it happen, that, after being struck with the justice of these observations, one still retains a sort of intellectual uneasiness, a certain suspicion of the disproportion between the explanation and the phenomena it seeks to explain? How does it happen, that, under the influence of such an impression, many suffer themselves to be seduced into an admission of diabolical or miraculous agency? It happens, because Dr. Calmeil, faithful to the countersign of all learned bodies in England and France, refuses to admit fluidic action, or to make a single step in advance of the ordinary theory of nervous excitement. Now it is in vain to talk of contractions, of spasms, of turgescence; all this evidently fails to reach the case of the St.-Medard succors. To reach it we need the intervention of a peculiar force,—of a fluid which is disengaged, sometimes by the effect of certain crises, sometimes by the power of magnetism itself. Those who systematically keep up this hiatus in the study of human physiology are the best allies of the superstitions they profess to combat.... Suppose that study seriously undertaken, with what precision should we resolve the problem of which now we can but indicate the solution! Habituated to the wonders of the nervous fluid, knowing that it can raise, at a distance, inert objects, that it can biologize, that it can communicate suppleness or rigidity, the highest development of the senses or absolute insensibility, we should not be greatly surprised to discover that it communicates also, in certain cases, elasticity and that degree of impenetrability which characterizes gum-elastic."
De Gasparin further explains his theory in the following passage:—"The great difficulty is not to explain the perversion of sensibility exhibited by the convulsionists. Aside from that question, does it not remain incomprehensible that feeble women should have received, without being a hundred times crushed to pieces, the frightful blows of which we have spoken? How can we explain such a power of resistance? A very small change, operated by the nervous fluid, would suffice to render the matter very simple. Let us suppose the skin and fibres of the convulsionists to acquire, in virtue of their peculiar state of excitement, a consistency analogous to that of gum-elastic; then all the facts that astonish us would become as natural as possible. With convulsionists of gum-elastic, or, rather, whose bony framework was covered with muscles and tissues of gum-elastic, what would happen?"
He then proceeds to admit that "a vigorous thrust with a rapier, or stroke with a sabre, as such thrusts and strokes are usually dealt, would doubtless penetrate such an envelope"; but, he alleges, the St.-Medard convulsionists never, in a single instance, permitted such thrusts or strokes, with rapier or sabre, to be given; prudently restricting themselves to pressure only, exerted after the sword-point had been placed against the body. He reminds us, further, that neither razors nor pistol-balls, both of which would penetrate gum-elastic, were ever tried on the convulsionists; and he adds,—"Neither flint stones nor andirons nor clubs nor swords and spits, pressed against it, would have broken the surface of the gum-elastic envelope. They would have produced no visible injury. At the most, they might have caused a certain degree of internal friction, more or less serious, according to the thickness of the gum-elastic cuirass which covered the bones and the various organs."
I am fain to confess, that this imagining of men and women of gum-elastic, all but the skeleton, does not seem to me so simple a matter as it appears to have been regarded by M. de Gasparin. Let us take it for granted that his theory of a nervous fluid, which is the agent in table-moving, is the true one. How is the mere disengaging of such a fluid to work a sudden transmutation of muscular and tendinous fibre and cellular tissue into a substance possessing the essential properties of a vegetable gum? And what becomes of the skin, ordinarily so delicate, so easily abraded or pierced, so readily injured? Is that transmuted also? Let us concede it. But the concession does not suffice. There remain the bones and cartilages, naturally so brittle, so liable to fracture. Let us even suppose the breast and stomach of a convulsionist protected by an artificial coating of actual gum-elastic, would it be a safe experiment to drop upon it, from a height of twelve feet, a flint stone weighing fifty pounds? We are expressly told that the ribs bent under the terrible shock, and sank, flattened, even to the backbone. Is it not certain, that human ribs and cartilages, in their normal state, would have snapped off, in spite of the interposed protection? Must we not, then, imagine osseous and cartilaginous fibre, too, transmuted? Indeed, while we are about it, I do not see why we should stop short of the skeleton. Since we understand nothing of the manner of transmutation, it is as easy to imagine bone turned to gum-elastic, as skin and muscle and tendon.
In truth, if we look at it narrowly, this theory of De Gasparin is little more than a virtual admission, that, during convulsion, by some sudden change, the bodies of the patients did, as they themselves declared, become, to a marvellous extent, invulnerable,—with the suggestion added, that the nervous fluid may, after some unexplained fashion, have been the agent of that change.
For the rest, though the alleged analogy between the properties of gum-elastic and those which, in this abnormal state, the human body seems to acquire, is, to a certain extent, sustained by many of the observations above recorded,—for example, when a sharp-pointed rapier, violently pushed against Gabrielle Moler's throat, sank to the depth of four finger-breadths, and, when drawn back, seeming to attach itself to the skin, drew it back also, causing a trifling injury,—yet others seem to prove that there is little strictness in that analogy. The King's Chaplain and the Advocate of Parliament, whose testimony I have cited, both certify that the flesh occasionally reacted under the sword, swelling up, so as to thrust back the weapons, and even push back the assistants. There is no corresponding property in gum-elastic. And Montgeron expressly tells us, that, at the close of a terrible succor called for by Gabrielle Moler, when she caused four sharpened shovels, placed, one above, one below, and one on each side, of one of her breasts, to be pushed by the main force of four assistants, a committee of ladies present "had the curiosity to examine her breast immediately after this operation, and unanimously certified that they found it as hard as a stone." If this observation can be depended on, the gum-elastic theory, even as an analogically approximating explanation of this entire class of phenomena, is untenable.
It is further to be remarked, that one of the positions assumed by M. de Gasparin, as the basis of his hypothesis, does not tally with some of the facts detailed by Montgeron. It was pushes with swords, the former alleges, never thrusts, to which the convulsionists were exposed. I have already stated that this was usually the fact; but there seem to have been striking exceptions. On the authority of a priest and of an officer of the royal household, Montgeron gives us the details of a symbolical combat of the most desperate character, with rapiers, between Sisters Madeleine and Felicite, occurring in May, 1744, in the presence of thirty persons. One of the witnesses says,—"I know not if I ever saw enemies attack each other with more fury or less circumspection. They fell upon one another without the slightest precaution, thrusting against each other with the points of their rapiers at hap-hazard, wherever the thrust happened to take effect. And this they did again and again, and with all the force of which, in convulsion, they were capable,—which, as all the world knows, is a force far greater than the same persons possess in their ordinary state."
And the officer thus further certifies:—"After the combat, Madeleine took two short swords, resembling daggers, and, holding one in each hand, dealt seven or eight blows, pushed home with all her strength, on the breast of Felicite, raising her hands and then stabbing with the utmost eagerness, just as an assassin who wished to murder some one would plunge two daggers repeatedly into his breast. Felicite received the strokes with perfect tranquillity, and without evincing the slightest emotion. Then, taking two similar daggers, she did the very same to Madeleine, who, with her arms crossed, received the thrusts as tranquilly as the other had done. Immediately afterwards, these two convulsionists attacked one another with daggers, as with the fury of two maniacs, who, having resolved on mutual destruction, were solely bent each on poniarding the other."
It is added, that "neither the one nor the other received the least appearance of a wound, nor did either seem at all fatigued by so long and furious an exercise."
It is not stated, in this particular instance, as it is in others, that these girls were examined by a committee of their sex, before or after the combat, to ascertain that they had under their dresses no concealed means of protection; so that the possibility of trickery must be admitted. If, as the officer who certifies appears convinced, all was fair, then M. de Gasparin's admission that a vigorous sword-thrust would penetrate the gum-elastic envelope is fatal to the theory he propounds.
Yet, withal, we may reasonably assent to the probability that M. de Gasparin, in seeking an explanation of these marvellous phenomena, may have proceeded in the right direction. Modern physicians admit, that, at times, during somnambulism, complete insensibility, resembling hysteric coma, prevails. But if, as is commonly believed, this insensibility is caused by some modification or abnormal condition of the nervous fluid, then to some other modification or changed condition of the same fluid comparative invulnerability may be due. For there is connection, to a certain extent, between insensibility and invulnerability. A patient rendered unconscious of pain, by chloroform or otherwise, throughout the duration of a severe and prolonged surgical operation, escapes a perilous shock to the nervous system, and may survive an ordeal which, if he had felt the agony usually induced, would have proved fatal. Pain is not only a warning monitor, it becomes also, sometimes, the agent of punishment, if the warning be disregarded.
But, on the other hand, we must not forget that insensibility and invulnerability, though to a certain extent allied, are two distinct things. Injury the most serious may occur without the premonitory warning, even without immediate subsequent suffering. A person in a perfect state of insensibility might doubtless receive, without experiencing any pain whatever, a blow that would shatter the bones of a limb, and render it powerless for life. Indeed, there is on record a well-attested case of a poor pedestrian, who, having laid himself down on the platform of a lime-kiln, and dropping asleep, and the fire having increased and burnt off one foot to the ankle, rose in the morning to depart, and knew nothing of his misfortune, until, putting his burnt limb to the ground, to support his body in rising, the extremity of his leg-bone, calcined into lime, crumbled to fragments beneath him.
Contemporary medical authorities, even when they have the rare courage to deny to the convulsions either a divine or a diabolical character, furnish no explanation of them more satisfactory than the citing of similar cases, more or less strongly attested, in the past. This may confirm our faith in the reality of the phenomena, but does not resolve our difficulties as to the causes of them.
It does not fall within my purpose to hazard any opinion as to these causes, nor, if it did, am I prepared to offer any. Some considerations might be adduced, calculated to lessen our wonder as to an occasional phenomenon on this marvellous record. Physiologists, for example, are agreed that the common opinion as to the sensibility of the interior of the eye is an incorrect one; and that consideration might be put forth, when we read that Sisters Madeleine and Felicite suffered with impunity swords to be pressed against that delicate organ, until the point sank an inch beneath its surface. But all such isolated considerations are partial, inconclusive, and, as regards any general satisfactory explanation, far short of the requirements of the case.
More weight may justly be given to another consideration: to the exaggerations inseparable from enthusiasm, and the inaccuracies into which inexperienced observers must ever fall. As to the necessity of making large allowance for these, I entirely agree with Calmeil and De Gasparin. But let the allowance made for such errors be more or less, it cannot extend to an absolute denial of the chief phenomena, unless we are prepared to follow Hume in his assertion that what is contrary to our experience can be proved by no evidence of testimony whatever,—and that, though we have here nothing, save the marvellous character of the events, to oppose to the cloud of witnesses who attest them, that alone, in the eyes of reasonable people, should be regarded as a sufficient refutation.
The mental and psychological phenomena, only less marvellous than the physical because we have seen more of their like, will, on that account, be more readily received.
HOUSE AND HOME PAPERS.
BY CHRISTOPHER CROWFIELD.
It is among the sibylline secrets which lie mysteriously between you and me, O reader, that these papers, besides their public aspect, have a private one proper to the bosom of mine own particular family.
They are not merely an ex post facto protest in regard to that carpet and parlor of celebrated memory, but they are forth-looking towards other homes that may yet arise near us.
For, among my other confidences, you may recollect I stated to you that our Marianne was busy in those interesting cares and details which relate to the preparing and ordering of another dwelling.
Now, when any such matter is going on in a family, I have observed that every feminine instinct is in a state of fluttering vitality,—every woman, old or young, is alive with womanliness to the tips of her fingers; and it becomes us of the other sex, however consciously respected, to walk softly, and put forth our sentiments discreetly and with due reverence for the mysterious powers that reign in the feminine breast.
I had been too well advised to offer one word of direct counsel on a subject where there were such charming voices, so able to convict me of absurdity at every turn. I had merely so arranged my affairs as to put into the hands of my bankers, subject to my wife's order, the very modest marriage-portion which I could place at my girl's disposal; and Marianne and Jennie, unused to the handling of money, were incessant in their discussions with ever-patient mamma as to what was to be done with it. I say Marianne and Jennie, for, though the case undoubtedly is Marianne's, yet, like everything else in our domestic proceedings, it seems to fall, somehow or other, into Jennie's hands, through the intensity and liveliness of her domesticity of nature. Little Jennie is so bright and wide-awake, and with so many active plans and fancies touching anything in the housekeeping world, that, though the youngest sister, and second party in this affair, a stranger, hearkening to the daily discussions, might listen a half-hour at a time without finding out that it was not Jennie's future establishment that was in question. Marianne is a soft, thoughtful, quiet girl, not given to many words; and though, when you come fairly at it, you will find, that, like most quiet girls, she has a will five times as inflexible as one who talks more, yet, in all family-counsels, it is Jennie and mamma that do the discussion, and her own little well-considered "Yes," or "No," that finally settles each case.
I must add to this family-tableau the portrait of the excellent Bob Stephens, who figured as future proprietor and householder in these consultations. So far as the question of financial possibilities is concerned, it is important to remark that Bob belongs to the class of young Edmunds celebrated by the poet:—
"Wisdom and worth were all he had."
He is, in fact, an excellent-hearted and clever fellow, with a world of agreeable talents, a good tenor in a parlor-duet, a good actor at a charade, a lively, off-hand conversationist, well up in all the current literature of the day, and what is more, in my eyes, a well-read lawyer, just admitted to the bar, and with as fair business-prospects as usually fall to the lot of young aspirants in that profession.
Of course, he and my girl are duly and truly in love, in all the proper moods and tenses; but as to this work they have in hand of being householders, managing fuel, rent, provision, taxes, gas- and water-rates, they seem to my older eyes about as sagacious as a pair of this year's robins. Nevertheless, as the robins of each year do somehow learn to build nests as well as their ancestors, there is reason to hope as much for each new pair of human creatures. But it is one of the fatalities of our ill-jointed life that houses are usually furnished for future homes by young people in just this state of blissful ignorance of what they are really wanted for, or what is likely to be done with the things in them.
Now, to people of large incomes, with ready wealth for the rectification of mistakes, it doesn't much matter how the menage is arranged at first; they will, if they have good sense, soon rid themselves of the little infelicities and absurdities of their first arrangements, and bring their establishment to meet their more instructed tastes.
But to that greater class who have only a modest investment for this first start in domestic life mistakes are far more serious. I have known people go on for years groaning under the weight of domestic possessions they did not want, and pining in vain for others which they did, simply from the fact that all their first purchases were made in this time of blissful ignorance.
I had been a quiet auditor to many animated discussions among the young people as to what they wanted, and were to get, in which the subject of prudence and economy was discussed, with quotations of advice thereon given in serious good-faith by various friends and relations who lived easily on incomes four or five times larger than our own. Who can show the ways of elegant economy more perfectly than people thus at ease in their possessions? From what serene heights do they instruct the inexperienced beginners! Ten thousand a year gives one leisure for reflection, and elegant leisure enables one to view household economies dispassionately; hence the unction with which these gifted daughters of upper-air delight to exhort young neophytes.
"Depend upon it, my dear," Aunt Sophia Easygo had said, "it's always the best economy to get the best things. They cost more in the beginning, but see how they last! These velvet carpets on my floor have been in constant wear for ten years, and look how they wear! I never have an ingrain carpet in my house,—not even on the chambers. Velvet and Brussels cost more to begin with, but then they last. Then I cannot recommend the fashion that is creeping in, of having plate instead of solid silver. Plate wears off, and has to be renewed, which comes to about the same thing in the end as if you bought all solid at first. If I were beginning as Marianne is, I should just set aside a thousand dollars for my silver, and be content with a few plain articles. She should buy all her furniture at Messrs. David and Saul's. People call them dear, but their work will prove cheapest in the end, and there is an air and style about their things that can be told anywhere. Of course, you won't go to any extravagant lengths,—simplicity is a grace of itself."
The waters of the family-council were troubled, when Jennie, flaming with enthusiasm, brought home the report of this conversation. When my wife proceeded, with her well-trained business-knowledge, to compare the prices of the simplest elegancies recommended by Aunt Easygo with the sum-total to be drawn on, faces lengthened perceptibly.
"How are people to go to housekeeping," said Jennie, "if everything costs so much?"
My wife quietly remarked, that we had had great comfort in our own home,—had entertained unnumbered friends, and had only ingrain carpets on our chambers and a three-ply on our parlor, and she doubted if any guest had ever thought of it,—if the rooms had been a shade less pleasant; and as to durability, Aunt Easygo had renewed her carpets oftener than we. Such as ours were, they had worn longer than hers.
"But, mamma, you know everything has gone on since your day. Everybody must at least approach a certain style nowadays. One can't furnish so far behind other people."
My wife answered in her quiet way, setting forth her doctrine of a plain average to go through the whole establishment, placing parlors, chambers, kitchen, pantries, and the unseen depths of linen-closets in harmonious relations of just proportion, and showed by calm estimates how far the sum given could go towards this result. There the limits were inexorable. There is nothing so damping to the ardor of youthful economies as the hard, positive logic of figures. It is so delightful to think in some airy way that the things we like best are the cheapest, and that a sort of rigorous duty compels us to get them at any sacrifice. There is no remedy for this illusion but to show by the multiplication and addition tables what things are and are not possible. My wife's figures met Aunt Easygo's assertions, and there was a lull among the high contracting parties for a season; nevertheless, I could see Jennie was secretly uneasy. I began to hear of journeys made to far places, here and there, where expensive articles of luxury were selling at reduced prices. Now a gilded mirror was discussed, and now a velvet carpet which chance had brought down temptingly near the sphere of financial possibility. I thought of our parlor, and prayed the good fairies to avert the advent of ill-assorted articles.
"Pray keep common sense uppermost in the girls' heads, if you can," said I to Mrs. Crowfield, "and don't let the poor little puss spend her money for what she won't care a button about by-and-by."
"I shall try," she said; "but you know Marianne is inexperienced, and Jennie is so ardent and active, and so confident, too. Then they both, I think, have the impression that we are a little behind the age. To say the truth, my dear, I think your papers afford a good opportunity of dropping a thought now and then in their minds. Jennie was asking last night when you were going to write your next paper. The girl has a bright, active mind, and thinks of what she hears."
So flattered, by the best of flatterers, I sat down to write on my theme; and that evening, at fire-light time, I read to my little senate as follows:—
WHAT IS A HOME, AND HOW TO KEEP IT.
I have shown that a dwelling, rented or owned by a man, in which his own wife keeps house, is not always, or of course, a home. What is it, then, that makes a home? All men and women have the indefinite knowledge of what they want and long for when that word is spoken. "Home!" sighs the disconsolate bachelor, tired of boarding-house fare and buttonless shirts. "Home!" says the wanderer in foreign lands, and thinks of mother's love, of wife and sister and child. Nay, the word has in it a higher meaning, hallowed by religion; and when the Christian would express the highest of his hopes for a better life, he speaks of his home beyond the grave. The word home has in it the elements of love, rest, permanency, and liberty; but besides these it has in it the idea of an education by which all that is purest within us is developed into nobler forms, fit for a higher life. The little child by the home-fireside was taken on the Master's knee when he would explain to his disciples the mysteries of the kingdom.
Of so great dignity and worth is this holy and sacred thing, that the power to create a HOME ought to be ranked above all creative faculties. The sculptor who brings out the breathing statue from cold marble, the painter who warms the canvas into a deathless glow of beauty, the architect who built cathedrals and hung the world-like dome of St. Peter's in mid-air, is not to be compared, in sanctity and worthiness, to the humblest artist, who, out of the poor materials afforded by this shifting, changing, selfish world, creates the secure Eden of a home.
A true home should be called the noblest work of art possible to human creatures, inasmuch as it is the very image chosen to represent the last and highest rest of the soul, the consummation of man's blessedness.
Not without reason does the oldest Christian church require of those entering on marriage the most solemn review of all the past life, the confession and repentance of every sin of thought, word, and deed, and the reception of the holy sacrament; for thus the man and woman who approach the august duty of creating a home are reminded of the sanctity and beauty of what they undertake.
In this art of home-making I have set down in my mind certain first principles, like the axioms of Euclid, and the first is,—
No home is possible without love.
All business-marriages and marriages of convenience, all mere culinary marriages and marriages of mere animal passion, make the creation of a true home impossible in the outset. Love is the jewelled foundation of this New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven, and takes as many bright forms as the amethyst, topaz, and sapphire of that mysterious vision. In this range of creative art all things are possible to him that loveth, but without love nothing is possible.
We hear of most convenient marriages in foreign lands, which may better be described as commercial partnerships. The money on each side is counted; there is enough between the parties to carry on the firm, each having the appropriate sum allotted to each. No love is pretended, but there is great politeness. All is so legally and thoroughly arranged, that there seems to be nothing left for future quarrels to fasten on. Monsieur and Madame have each their apartments, their carriages, their servants, their income, their friends, their pursuits,—understand the solemn vows of marriage to mean simply that they are to treat each other with urbanity in those few situations where the path of life must necessarily bring them together.
We are sorry that such an idea of marriage should be gaining foothold in America. It has its root in an ignoble view of life,—an utter and pagan darkness as to all that man and woman are called to do in that highest relation where they act as one. It is a mean and low contrivance on both sides, by which all the grand work of home-building, all the noble pains and heroic toils of home-education,—that education where the parents learn more than they teach,—shall be (let us use the expressive Yankee idiom) shirked.
It is a curious fact that in those countries where this system of marriages is the general rule there is no word corresponding to our English word home. In many polite languages of Europe it would be impossible neatly to translate the sentiment with which we began this essay, that a man's house is not always his home.
Let any one try to render the song, "Sweet Home," into French, and one finds how Anglo-Saxon is the very genius of the word. The structure of life, in all its relations, in countries where marriages are matter of arrangement, and not of love, excludes the idea of home.
How does life run in such countries? The girl is recalled from her convent or boarding-school, and told that her father has found a husband for her. No objection on her part is contemplated or provided for; none generally occurs, for the child is only too happy to obtain the fine clothes and the liberty which she has been taught come only with marriage. Be the man handsome or homely, interesting or stupid, still he brings these.
How intolerable such a marriage! we say, with the close intimacies of Anglo-Saxon life in our minds. They are not intolerable, because they are provided for by arrangements which make it possible for each to go his or her several way, seeing very little of the other. The son or daughter, which in due time makes its appearance in this menage, is sent out to nurse in infancy, sent to boarding-school in youth, and in maturity portioned and married, to repeat the same process for another generation. Meanwhile, father and mother keep a quiet establishment, and pursue their several pleasures. Such is the system.
Houses built for this kind of life become mere sets of reception-rooms, such as are the greater proportion of apartments to let in Paris, where a hearty English or American family, with their children about them, could scarcely find room to establish themselves. Individual character, it is true, does something to modify this programme. There are charming homes in France and Italy, where warm and noble natures, thrown together, perhaps, by accident, or mated by wise paternal choice, infuse warmth into the coldness of the system under which they live. There are in all states of society some of such domesticity of nature that they will create a home around themselves under any circumstances, however barren. Besides, so kindly is human nature, that Love, uninvited before marriage, often becomes a guest after, and with Love always comes a home.
My next axiom is,—
There can be no true home without liberty.
The very idea of home is of a retreat where we shall be free to act out personal and individual tastes and peculiarities, as we cannot do before the wide world. We are to have our meals at what hour we will, served in what style suits us. Our hours of going and coming are to be as we please. Our favorite haunts are to be here or there, our pictures and books so disposed as seems to us good, and our whole arrangements the expression, so far as our means can compass it, of our own personal ideas of what is pleasant and desirable in life. This element of liberty, if we think of it, is the chief charm of home. "Here I can do as I please," is the thought with which the tempest-tossed earth-pilgrim blesses himself or herself, turning inward from the crowded ways of the world. This thought blesses the man of business, as he turns from his day's care, and crosses the sacred threshold. It is as restful to him as the slippers and gown and easy-chair by the fireside. Everybody understands him here. Everybody is well content that he should take his ease in his own way. Such is the case in the ideal home. That such is not always the case in the real home comes often from the mistakes in the house-furnishing. Much house-furnishing is too fine for liberty.
In America there is no such thing as rank and station which impose a sort of prescriptive style on people of certain income. The consequence is that all sorts of furniture and belongings, which in the Old World have a recognized relation to certain possibilities of income, and which require certain other accessories to make them in good keeping, are thrown in the way of all sorts of people.
Young people who cannot expect by any reasonable possibility to keep more than two or three servants, if they happen to have the means in the outset, furnish a house with just such articles as in England would suit an establishment of sixteen. We have seen houses in England having two or three housemaids, and tables served by a butler and two waiters, where the furniture, carpets, china, crystal, and silver were in one and the same style with some establishments in America where the family was hard pressed to keep three Irish servants.
This want of servants is the one thing that must modify everything in American life; it is, and will long continue to be, a leading feature in the life of a country so rich in openings for man and woman that domestic service can be only the stepping-stone to something higher. Nevertheless, we Americans are great travellers; we are sensitive, appreciative, fond of novelty, apt to receive and incorporate into our own life what seems fair and graceful in that of other people. Our women's wardrobes are made elaborate with the thousand elegancies of French toilet,—our houses filled with a thousand knick-knacks of which our plain ancestors never dreamed. Cleopatra did not set sail on the Nile in more state and beauty than that in which our young American bride is often ushered into her new home. Her wardrobe all gossamer lace and quaint frill and crimp and embroidery, her house a museum of elegant and costly gewgaws; and amid the whole collection of elegancies and fragilities, she, perhaps, the frailest.
Then comes the tug of war. The young wife becomes a mother, and while she is retired to her chamber, blundering Biddy rusts the elegant knives, or takes off the ivory handles by soaking in hot water,—the silver is washed in greasy soap-suds, and refreshed now and then with a thump, which cocks the nose of the teapot awry, or makes the handle assume an air of drunken defiance. The fragile China is chipped here and there around its edges with those minute gaps so vexatious to a woman's soul; the handles fly hither and thither in the wild confusion of Biddy's washing-day hurry, when cook wants her to help hang out the clothes. Meanwhile, Bridget sweeps the parlor with a hard broom, and shakes out showers of ashes from the grate, forgetting to cover the damask lounges, and they directly look as rusty and time-worn as if they had come from an auction-store; and all together unite in making such havoc of the delicate ruffles and laces of the bridal outfit and baby-layette, that, when the poor young wife comes out of her chamber after her nurse has left her, and, weakened and embarrassed with the demands of the new-comer, begins to look once more into the affairs of her little world, she is ready to sink with vexation and discouragement. Poor little princess! Her clothes are made as princesses wear them, her baby's clothes like a young duke's, her house furnished like a lord's, and only Bridget and Biddy and Polly to do the work of cook, scullery-maid, butler, footman, laundress, nursery-maid, house-maid, and lady's maid. Such is the array that in the Old Country would be deemed necessary to take care of an establishment got up like hers. Everything in it is too fine,—not too fine to be pretty, not in bad taste in itself, but too fine for the situation, too fine for comfort or liberty.
What ensues in a house so furnished? Too often, ceaseless fretting of the nerves, in the wife's despairing, conscientious efforts to keep things as they should be. There is no freedom in a house where things are too expensive and choice to be freely handled and easily replaced. Life becomes a series of petty embarrassments and restrictions, something is always going wrong, and the man finds his fireside oppressive,—the various articles of his parlor and table seem like so many temper-traps and spring-guns, menacing explosion and disaster.
There may be, indeed, the most perfect home-feeling, the utmost coziness and restfulness, in apartments crusted with gilding, carpeted with velvet, and upholstered with satin. I have seen such, where the home-like look and air of free use was as genuine as in a Western log-cabin; but this was in a range of princely income that made all these things as easy to be obtained or replaced as the most ordinary of our domestic furniture. But so long as articles must be shrouded from use, or used with fear and trembling, because their cost is above the general level of our means, we had better be without them, even though the most lucky of accidents may put their possession in our power.
But it is not merely by the effort to maintain too much elegance that the sense of home-liberty is banished from a house. It is sometimes expelled in another way, with all painstaking and conscientious strictness, by the worthiest and best of human beings, the blessed followers of Saint Martha. Have we not known them, the dear, worthy creatures, up before daylight, causing most scrupulous lustrations of every pane of glass and inch of paint in our parlors, in consequence whereof every shutter and blind must be kept closed for days to come, lest the flies should speck the freshly washed windows and wainscoting? Dear shade of Aunt Mehitabel, forgive our boldness! Have we not been driven for days, in our youth, to read our newspaper in the front veranda, in the kitchen, out in the barn,—anywhere, in fact, where sunshine could be found, because there was not a room in the house that was not cleaned, shut up, and darkened? Have we not shivered with cold, all the glowering, gloomy month of May, because, the august front-parlor having undergone the spring cleaning, the andirons were snugly tied up in tissue-paper, and an elegant frill of the same material was trembling before the mouth of the once glowing fireplace? Even so, dear soul, full of loving-kindness and hospitality as thou wast, yet ever making our house seem like a tomb! And with what patience wouldst thou sit sewing by a crack in the shutters, an inch wide, rejoicing in thy immaculate paint and clear glass! But was there ever a thing of thy spotless and unsullied belongings which a boy might use? How I trembled to touch thy scoured tins, that hung in appalling brightness! with what awe I asked for a basket to pick strawberries! and where in the house could I find a place to eat a piece of gingerbread? How like a ruffian, a Tartar, a pirate, I always felt, when I entered thy domains! and how, from day to day, I wondered at the immeasurable depths of depravity which were always leading me to upset something, or break or tear or derange something, in thy exquisitely kept premises! Somehow, the impression was burned with overpowering force into my mind, that houses and furniture, scrubbed floors, white curtains, bright tins and brasses were the great, awful, permanent facts of existence,—and that men and women, and particularly children, were the meddlesome intruders upon this divine order, every trace of whose intermeddling must be scrubbed out and obliterated in the quickest way possible. It seemed evident to me that houses would be far more perfect, if nobody lived in them at all; but that, as men had really and absurdly taken to living in them, they must live as little as possible. My only idea of a house was a place full of traps and pitfalls for boys, a deadly temptation to sins which beset one every moment; and when I read about a sailor's free life on the ocean, I felt an untold longing to go forth and be free in like manner.
But a truce to these fancies, and back again to our essay.
If liberty in a house is a comfort to a husband, it is a necessity to children. When we say liberty, we do not mean license. We do not mean that Master Johnny be allowed to handle elegant volumes with bread-and-butter fingers, or that little Miss be suffered to drum on the piano, or practise line-drawing with a pin on varnished furniture. Still it is essential that the family-parlors be not too fine for the family to sit in,—too fine for the ordinary accidents, haps and mishaps, of reasonably well-trained children. The elegance of the parlor where papa and mamma sit and receive their friends should wear an inviting, not a hostile and bristling, aspect to little people. Its beauty and its order gradually form in the little mind a love of beauty and order, and the insensible carefulness of regard.
Nothing is worse for a child than to shut him up in a room which he understands is his, because he is disorderly,—where he is expected, of course, to maintain and keep disorder. We have sometimes pitied the poor little victims who show their faces longingly at the doors of elegant parlors, and are forthwith collared by the domestic police and consigned to some attic-apartment, called a play-room, where chaos continually reigns. It is a mistake to suppose, because children derange a well-furnished apartment, that they like confusion. Order and beauty are always pleasant to them as to grown people, and disorder and defacement are painful; but they know neither how to create the one nor to prevent the other,—their little lives are a series of experiments, often making disorder by aiming at some new form of order. Yet, for all this, I am not one of those who feel that in a family everything should bend to the sway of these little people. They are the worst of tyrants in such houses,—still, where children are, though the fact must not appear to them, nothing must be done without a wise thought of them.
Here, as in all high art, the old motto is in force, "Ars est celare artem." Children who are taught too plainly by every anxious look and word of their parents, by every family-arrangement, by the impressment of every chance guest into the service, that their parents consider their education as the one important matter in creation, are apt to grow up fantastical, artificial, and hopelessly self-conscious. The stars cannot stop in their courses, even for our personal improvement, and the sooner children learn this, the better. The great art is to organize a home which shall move on with a strong, wide, generous movement, where the little people shall act themselves out as freely and impulsively as can consist with the comfort of the whole, and where the anxious watching and planning for them shall be kept as secret from them as possible.
It is well that one of the sunniest and airiest rooms in the house be the children's nursery. It is good philosophy, too, to furnish it attractively, even if the sum expended lower the standard of parlor-luxuries. It is well that the children's chamber, which is to act constantly on their impressible natures for years, should command a better prospect, a sunnier aspect, than one which serves for a day's occupancy of the transient guest. It is well that journeys should be made or put off in view of the interests of the children,—that guests should be invited with a view to their improvement,—that some intimacies should be chosen and some rejected on their account. But it is not well that all this should, from infancy, be daily talked out before the child, and he grow up in egotism from moving in a sphere where everything from first to last is calculated and arranged with reference to himself. A little appearance of wholesome neglect combined with real care and never-ceasing watchfulness has often seemed to do wonders in this work of setting human beings on their own feet for the life-journey.
Education is the highest object of home, but education in the widest sense,—education of the parents no less than of the children. In a true home the man and the woman receive, through their cares, their watchings, their hospitality, their charity, the last and highest finish that earth can put upon them. From that they must pass upward, for earth can teach them no more.
The home-education is incomplete, unless it include the idea of hospitality and charity. Hospitality is a biblical and apostolic virtue, and not so often recommended in Holy Writ without reason. Hospitality is much neglected in America for the very reasons touched upon above. We have received our ideas of propriety and elegance of living from old countries, where labor is cheap, where domestic service is a well-understood, permanent occupation, adopted cheerfully for life, and where of course there is such a subdivision of labor as insures great thoroughness in all its branches. We are ashamed or afraid to conform honestly and hardily to a state of things purely American. We have not yet accomplished what our friend the Doctor calls "our weaning," and learned that dinners with circuitous courses and divers other Continental and English refinements, well enough in their way, cannot be accomplished in families with two or three untrained servants, without an expense of care and anxiety which makes them heart-withering to the delicate wife, and too severe a trial to occur often. America is the land of subdivided fortunes, of a general average of wealth and comfort, and there ought to be, therefore, an understanding in the social basis far more simple than in the Old World.
Many families of small fortunes know this,—they are quietly living so,—but they have not the steadiness to share their daily average living with a friend, a traveller, or guest, just as the Arab shares his tent and the Indian his bowl of succotash. They cannot have company, they say. Why? Because it is such a fuss to get out the best things, and then to put them back again. But why get out the best things? Why not give your friend, what he would like a thousand times better, a bit of your average home-life, a seat at any time at your board, a seat at your fire? If he sees that there is a handle off your tea-cup, and that there is a crack across one of your plates, he only thinks, with a sigh of relief, "Well, mine a'n't the only things that meet with accidents," and he feels nearer to you ever after; he will let you come to his table and see the cracks in his tea-cups, and you will condole with each other on the transient nature of earthly possessions. If it become apparent in these entirely undressed rehearsals that your children are sometimes disorderly, and that your cook sometimes overdoes the meat, and that your second girl sometimes is awkward in waiting, or has forgotten a table-propriety, your friend only feels, "Ah, well, other people have trials as well as I," and he thinks, if you come to see him, he shall feel easy with you.
"Having company" is an expense that may always be felt; but easy daily hospitality, the plate always on your table for a friend, is an expense that appears on no account-book, and a pleasure that is daily and constant.
Under this head of hospitality, let us suppose a case. A traveller comes from England; he comes in good faith and good feeling to see how Americans live. He merely wants to penetrate into the interior of domestic life, to see what there is genuinely and peculiarly American about it. Now here is Smilax, who is living, in a small, neat way, on his salary from the daily press. He remembers hospitalities received from our traveller in England, and wants to return them. He remembers, too, with dismay, a well-kept establishment, the well-served table, the punctilious, orderly servants. Smilax keeps two, a cook and chambermaid, who divide the functions of his establishment between them. What shall he do? Let him say, in a fair, manly way, "My dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you. I live in a small way, but I'll do my best for you, and Mrs. Smilax will be delighted. Come and dine with us, so and so, and we'll bring in one or two friends." So the man comes, and Mrs. Smilax serves up such a dinner as lies within the limits of her knowledge and the capacities of her servants. All plain, good of its kind, unpretending, without an attempt to do anything English or French,—to do anything more than if she were furnishing a gala-dinner for her father or returned brother. Show him your house freely, just as it is, talk to him freely of it, just as he in England showed you his finer things. If the man is a true man, he will thank you for such unpretending, sincere welcome; if he is a man of straw, then he is not worth wasting Mrs. Smilax's health and spirits for, in unavailing efforts to get up a foreign dinner-party.
A man who has any heart in him values a genuine little bit of home more than anything else you can give him. He can get French cooking at a restaurant; he can buy expensive wines at first-class hotels, if he wants them; but the traveller, though ever so rich and ever so well-served at home, is, after all, nothing but a man as you are, and he is craving something that doesn't seem like a hotel,—some bit of real, genuine heart-life. Perhaps he would like better than anything to show you the last photograph of his wife, or to read to you the great, round-hand letter of his ten-year-old which he has got to-day. He is ready to cry when he thinks of it. In this mood he goes to see you, hoping for something like home, and you first receive him in a parlor opened only on state occasions, and that has been circumstantially and exactly furnished, as the upholsterer assures you, as every other parlor of the kind in the city is furnished. You treat him to a dinner got up for the occasion, with hired waiters,—a dinner which it has taken Mrs. Smilax a week to prepare for, and will take her a week to recover from,—for which the baby has been snubbed and turned off, to his loud indignation, and your young four-year-old sent to his aunts. Your traveller eats your dinner, and finds it inferior, as a work of art, to other dinners,—a poor imitation. He goes away and criticizes; you hear of it, and resolve never to invite a foreigner again. But if you had given him a little of your heart, a little home-warmth and feeling,—if you had shown him your baby, and let him romp with your four-year-old, and eat a genuine dinner with you,—would he have been false to that? Not so likely. He wanted something real and human,—you gave him a bad dress-rehearsal, and dress-rehearsals always provoke criticism.
Besides hospitality, there is, in a true home, a mission of charity. It is a just law which regulates the possession of great or beautiful works of art in the Old World, that they shall in some sense be considered the property of all who can appreciate. Fine grounds have hours when the public may be admitted,—pictures and statues may be shown to visitors; and this is a noble charity. In the same manner the fortunate individuals who have achieved the greatest of all human works of art should employ it as a sacred charity. How many, morally wearied, wandering, disabled, are healed and comforted by the warmth of a true home! When a mother has sent her son to the temptations of a distant city, what news is so glad to her heart as that he has found some quiet family where he visits often and is made to feel AT HOME? How many young men have good women saved from temptation and shipwreck by drawing them often to the sheltered corner by the fireside! The poor artist,—the wandering genius who has lost his way in this world, and stumbles like a child among hard realities,—the many men and women who, while they have houses, have no homes,—see from afar, in their distant, bleak life-journey, the light of a true home-fire, and, if made welcome there, warm their stiffened limbs, and go forth stronger to their pilgrimage. Let those who have accomplished this beautiful and perfect work of divine art be liberal of its influence. Let them not seek to bolt the doors and draw the curtains; for they know not, and will never know till the future life, of the good they may do by the ministration of this great charity of home.
We have heard much lately of the restricted sphere of woman. We have been told how many spirits among women are of a wider, stronger, more heroic mould than befits the mere routine of housekeeping. It may be true that there are many women far too great, too wise, too high, for mere housekeeping. But where is the woman in any way too great, or too high, or too wise, to spend herself in creating a home? What can any woman make diviner, higher, better? From such homes go forth all heroisms, all inspirations, all great deeds. Such mothers and such homes have made the heroes and martyrs, faithful unto death, who have given their precious lives to us during these three years of our agony!
Homes are the work of art peculiar to the genius of woman. Man helps in this work, but woman leads; the hive is always in confusion without the queen-bee. But what a woman must she be who does this work perfectly! She comprehends all, she balances and arranges all; all different tastes and temperaments find in her their rest, and she can unite at one hearthstone the most discordant elements. In her is order, yet an order ever veiled and concealed by indulgence. None are checked, reproved, abridged of privileges by her love of system; for she knows that order was made for the family, and not the family for order. Quietly she takes on herself what all others refuse or overlook. What the unwary disarrange she silently rectifies. Everybody in her sphere breathes easy, feels free; and the driest twig begins in her sunshine to put out buds and blossoms. So quiet are her operations and movements, that none sees that it is she who holds all things in harmony; only, alas, when she is gone, how many things suddenly appear disordered, inharmonious, neglected! All these threads have been smilingly held in her weak hand. Alas, if that is no longer there!
Can any woman be such a housekeeper without inspiration? No. In the words of the old church-service, "Her soul must ever have affiance in God." The New Jerusalem of a perfect home cometh down from God out of heaven. But to make such a home is ambition high and worthy enough for any woman, be she what she may.
One thing more. Right on the threshold of all perfection lies the cross to be taken up. No one can go over or around that cross in science or in art. Without labor and self-denial neither Raphael nor Michel Angelo nor Newton was made perfect. Nor can man or woman create a true home who is not willing in the outset to embrace life heroically, to encounter labor and sacrifice. Only to such shall this divinest power be given to create on earth that which is the nearest image of heaven.
We have been lovers now, my dear, It matters nothing to say how long, But still at the coming round o' th' year I make for my pleasure a little song; And thus of my love I sing, my dear,— So much the more by a year, by a year.
And still as I see the day depart, And hear the bat at my window flit, I sing the little song to my heart, With just a change at the close of it; And thus of my love I sing alway,— So much the more by a day, by a day.
When in the morning I see the skies Breaking into a gracious glow, I say you are not my sweetheart's eyes, Your brightness cannot mislead me so; And I sing of my love in the rising light,— So much the more by a night, by a night.
Both at the year's sweet dawn and close, When the moon is filling, or fading away, Every day, as it comes and goes, And every hour of every day, My little song I repeat and repeat,— So much the more by an hour, my sweet!
We entered gayly on our great contest. At the first sound from Sumter, enthusiasm blazed high and bright. Bells rang out, flags waved, the people rose as one man to cheer on our troops, and the practical American nation, surveying itself with astonishment, pronounced itself—finger on pulse—enthusiastic; and though, in the light of the present steadily burning determination, it has been the fashion gently to smile at that quick upspringing blaze, and at the times when it was gravely noted how the privates of our army took daily baths and wore Colt's revolvers, and pet regiments succumbed under showers of Havelocks, in contrast with the grim official reports of to-day, I cannot but think that enthusiasm healthful, and in itself a lesson, if only that it proves beyond question that our patriotism was not simply a dweller on the American tongue, but a thing of the American heart, so vitalizing us, so woven every day into the most minute ramifications of our living, so inner and recognized a part of our thinking, that there have been found some to doubt its existence, just as we half forget the gracious air, because no labored gasps, in place of our sure and even breathing, ever by any chance announce to us that somewhere there have been error and confusion in its vast workings.
Bitterer texts were ready all too soon. When we heard how one had fallen, bayoneted at the guns, and another was struck, charging on the foe, and a third had died after long lingering in hospital,—when we saw our brave boys, whom we had sent out with huzzas, coming back to us with the blood and grime of battle upon them, maimed, ghastly, dying, dead,—we knew that we, whom God had hitherto so blessed that we were compelled to look into the annals of other nations for misery and strife, had now commenced a record of our own. Henceforth there was for us a new literature, new grooves of thought, new interests. By all the love of father, brother, husband, and children, we must learn more of this tragic and tender lore; and our soldiers have been a thought not far from the heart and lips of any one of us, and what is done, or doing, or possible for them, held worthiest of our thought and time.
Respecting these, we have had all to learn. True, with us, satisfaction has at all times followed close upon the announcement of a need; but wisdom in planning and administering is not a marketable commodity, and so we are educating ourselves up to the emergency,—the whole mighty nation at school, and learning, we are bound to say, with Yankee quickness. Love has been for us, also, a marvellous brain-prompter. Some of our grandest charities—I mean charities in the broadest and sweetest sense, for it is we who owe, not our soldiers—have been the inspiration of a moment's need,—thoughts of the people, who, in crises and at instance of the heart, think well and swiftly. Take this one example.
When New England's sons seized their arms, the first to answer the trumpet-call that rang out over the land, and went in the spirit of their fathers to the battle,—when these men passed through Philadelphia, hungry and weary, the great heart of the city went out to meet them. Citizens brought them into their houses, the neighboring shops gave gladly what they could, women came running with food snatched from their own tables, and even little squalid children toddled out of by-lanes and alleys with loaves and half-loaves, all that they had to give, so did the whole people yearn over their defenders; and then it was seen how other regiments would come to them, ready for the fray, but dusty and way-worn, and how the ambulances would bring them back parched and fainting, and—it was hardly known how, only that, as in the old times, "the people were of one mind and one accord," and brought of such things as they had; but on that sad, yet proud day, that brought back to them those who fell in Baltimore on the memorable nineteenth of April,—the heroes in whom all claim a share, and the right to say, not only Massachusetts's dead and wounded, but ours—there was ready for them a shelter in the unpretending building famous since as the Cooper Shop. There the people crowded about them, weeping, blessing, consoling; and from that day there has no regiment from New England, New York, or any other State, been suffered to pass through Philadelphia unrefreshed. Water was supplied them, and tables ready spread, by the Volunteer Corps always in attendance, within five minutes after the firing of the gun that announced their arrival. There was shortly added, also, a volunteer hospital for the more dangerously wounded when first brought from the battle-field, and of it is told a story that Americans will like to hear.
It is of a Wisconsin soldier, who, taken prisoner, effected his escape from Richmond. Hiding by day, he forced his way at night through morass and forest, snatched such sleep as he dared on the damp and sodden earth, went without food whole days, reached our lines bruised, torn, shivering, starving, and his wounds, which had never been properly cared for, opened afresh. Let him tell the rest, straight from his heart.
"When I had my rubber blanket to wrap about me, I was comfortable, and, snug and warm in the cars, I thought myself happy; and when I heard them talk of the 'Cooper Shop,' I said to myself, 'A cooper's shop! that will be the very place of all the earth, for there I shall have a roof over me, and the shavings will be so warm and dry to lie upon!' but when they carried me in, and I opened my eyes and saw what was the Cooper Shop, and the long tables all loaded for the poor soldiers, and when they took me to the hospital up-stairs, and placed me in a bed, and real ladies and gentlemen, with tears in their eyes, came and waited on me, my manliness left me."
A want of manliness, O honest heart, for which there need be no shame! Precious tribute to our country's great love for her sons! For this is no sectional charity, only one example culled from thousands; for the land must, of a necessity, be overshadowed by the tree that has a root under almost every Northern hearth-stone; and then see how we are all bound together by the heart-strings!
Forty thousand men-at-arms are looking gravely at the height towering above the valley in which they stand. "Impregnable" military science pronounced it; but the men scaling it know nothing of this word "impregnable." They have heard nothing of an order for retreat,—they are filled with a divine wrath of battle, and each man is as mad as his neighbor, and the officers are powerless to hold them back, and catch the infection and are swept on with them, and climbing, jumping, slipping, toiling on hands and knees, swinging from tree and bush, any way, any how, but always onward, never backward, they surge up over the mountain-top, deadly volleys crashing right in among them, and set on the Rebels with a wild hurrah! and the hearts below beat faster, and rough lips curse the blinding smoke and fog that veil all the crest, and on a sudden a shout,—such a one as the children of Israel gave, when the high-piled walls of water bent and swayed and came waving and thundering down on Pharaoh's hopeless hosts,—for there, high up in heaven, streaming out through parting smoke, is the flag, torn, blood-stained, ball-riddled, but the dear old red, white, and blue, waving over the enemy's works; and then the telegraph flashed out the brave news over the exulting country, and the press took up the story, and women said, with kindling faces, "My son, or my brother, or my husband may be dead, but, oh, our boys have done glorious things at Lookout Mountain!"—and History will tell how a grander charge was never made, and calmly note the loss in dead and wounded,—so many thousands,—and pass on.
But we are not History, and our dead,—well, we will give them graves that shall be ever green with laurels, and their swords shall be our most precious legacy to our children, and their memories shall be a part of our household; but our wounded, for whom there is yet hope, who may yet live,—the cry goes up from Wisconsin, and Maine, and Iowa, and New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Where are they, and how cared for? We are all, as I said, bound by the heartstrings in a common interest. The Boston woman with her boy in the Army of the Cumberland, and the Maine mother with one in New Orleans or Texas, and the Kansas father with a son in the Army of the Potomac, all clamor, "Is mine among the wounded, and do care and science for him all that care and science should?"
The Field Relief Corps of the Sanitary Commission are prompt on the battle-field, reaching the groaning sufferers even before their own surgeons. Said one man, lying there badly wounded,—
"And what do they pay yez for this? What do you get?"
"Pay! We ask nothing, only the soldier's 'God bless you.'"
"And is that all? Then sure here's plenty of the coin, fresh minted! God bless you! God bless you! and the good Lord be good to you, and remember yez as you have remembered us, and love yez and your children after you; and sure, if that is all, it's plenty of that sort of pay the poor soldier has for you!"
God bless such men! we echo; but after that, what then? Our beloved are taken to the hospitals, and we know, in a general way, that hospitals are buildings containing long rows of beds, and that science is doing its utmost in their behalf; but when our friends write us from across seas, they tell us, not only how they are, but where,—jotting down little pen-and-ink pictures to show us how stands the writing-table, and how hangs the picture, and where is the fauteuil, that we may see them as they are daily; so we crave something more, we feel shut out, we want to get at their daily living, to know something of hospital-life.
Hospitals have sprung up as if sown broadcast, and these, too, of no mean order. True, in our first haste and inexperience, viciously planned hospitals were erected; but these and the Crimean blunders have served us as beacons, and the anxious care of the Government has been untiring, the outlay of money and things more precious unbounded; and those who have had this weighty matter in charge have no reason to fear an account of their stewardship. The Boston Free Hospital in excellence of plan and beauty of design can be excelled by none. Philadelphia boasts the two largest military hospitals in the world. Of the twenty-three in and about Washington many are worthy of all praise. The general hospital at Fort Schuyler is admirable in plan and locale, and this latter condition is found to be of vast importance. A Rebel battery, with an incurable habit of using the hospital as a target, would scarcely be so dangerous as a low, water-sogged, clayey soil, with its inevitable results of fever, rheumatism, and bowel-complaints.
Spotless cleanliness is another indispensable characteristic,—not only urged, but enforced; for there is no such notable housewife as the Government. The vast "Mower" Hospital at Chestnut Hill, the largest in the world, is as well kept as a lady's boudoir should be. It is built around a square of seven acres, in which stand the surgeon's lecture-room, the chapel, the platform for the band, etc. A long corridor goes about this square, rounded at the corners, and lighted on one side by numerous large windows, which, if removed in summer, must leave it almost wholly open. From the opposite side radiate the sick-wards, fifty in number, one story in height, one hundred and seventy-five feet in length, and twenty feet farther apart at the extremity than at the corridor, thus completely isolating them from each other. A railway runs the length of the corridor, on which small cars convey meals to the mess-rooms attached to each of the wards for those who are unable to leave them, stores, and even the sick themselves; and the corridor, closed in winter and warmed by stoves, forms a huge and airy exercise-hall for the convalescent patients. As for the cooking-facilities, they are something prodigious, at least in the sight of ordinary kitchens, leaving nothing to be desired, unless it were that discriminating kettle of the Erse king, that could cook for any given number of men and apportion the share of each to his rank and needs. Such a kettle might make the "extra-diet" kitchen unnecessary; otherwise, I can hardly tell where improvement would be possible.
But though, with the exception of the West Philadelphia, none can compare in hugeness with this Skrymir of hospitals, the hospital-buildings, as a rule, have everywhere a strong family-likeness. The pavilion-system, which isolates each of the sick-wards, allowing it free circulation of air about three of its sides, is conceded to be the only one worthy of attention, and is introduced in all such buildings of modern date. Ridge-ventilation, obtained by means of openings on either side of the ridge, is also very generally used, and advocated even in permanent hospitals of stone and brick. Science and Common Sense at last have fraternized, and work together hand in hand. The good old-fashioned plan of slowly stewing the patient to death, or at least to a fever, in confined air and stale odors, equal parts, is almost abandoned; and to speak after the manner of Charles Reade, "Nature gets now a pat on the back, instead of a kick under the bed." Proper ventilation begins, ends, and forms the gist of almost every chapter in our hospital-manuals; and I think they should be excellent summer-reading, for a pleasant breeze seems to rustle every page, so earnestly is, first, pure air, second, pure air, and third, pure air, impressed upon the student, "line upon line and precept upon precept."
The Mower Hospital, which employs ten hundred and fifty gas-burners, uses daily one hundred and fifty thousand gallons of water, and can receive between five and six thousand patients, is free even from a suspicion of the "hospital-smell." The Campbell and Harewood, at Washington, are models in this respect, and can rank with many a handsome drawing-room. The last-named institution is also delightfully situated on grounds once belonging to the Rebel Corcoran, comprising some two hundred acres, laid out with shaded walks, and adorned with rustic bridges and summer-houses,—a fashion of deriving aid and comfort from the enemy which doesn't come under the head of treason.
On hygienic grounds, all possible traps are set to catch sunbeams. One hospital has a theatre in the mess-room, of which the scenery is painted by a convalescent, and the stage, foot-lights, etc., are the work of the soldiers. The performers are amateurs, taken from among the patients; and the poor fellows who can be moved, but are unable to walk, are carried down in the dumb-waiter to share in the entertainment. Another has a library, reading-room, and a printing-press, which strikes off a weekly newspaper, in which are a serial story, poetry, and many profound and moral reflections. The men play cards and backgammon, read, write, smoke, and tell marvellous stories, commencing, "It wasn't fairly day, and we were hardly wide enough awake to tell a tree-stump from a gray coat,"—or, "When we saw them coming, we first formed in square, corner towards them you know, and waited till they were close on us, and then, Sir, we opened and gave them our cannon, grape-shot, right slap into them,"—or good-humoredly rally each other, as in the case of that unlucky regiment perfectly cut up in its first battle, and known as "six-weeks' soldiers and six-months' hospital-men."
But these are mere surface-facts. Hospital-life is woven in a different pattern from our own, the shades deeper, the gold brighter, and we find in it very much of heroism in plain colors, and self-sacrifice of rough texture.
One poor fellow, yet dim-eyed and faint from long battling for his ebbing life, will motion away the offered delicacy, pointing to some other bed:—"Give it to him; he needs it more than I"; or sometimes, if money is offered, "I have just been paid off; let that man have it; he has nothing." Then some of the convalescents furnish our best and tenderest nurses. A soldier was brought from Richmond badly wounded in the leg. While in the prison his wounds had received no attention, and he was in such enfeebled condition, that, when amputation became inevitable, it was feared he would die of the operation. Hardly breathing, made over apparently unto death, one of these soldier-nurses took him in charge, for five days and nights kept close by his bed, scarcely leaving him an instant, watching his faltering, flickering breath, as his mother might have done, wresting him by force of vigilance and tenderest care from the very clutch of the Destroyer, rejoicing over his recovery as for that of a dear and only brother. Another, likewise brought from Richmond, won the pity of a lady, a chance visitor. She came to him every day, a distance of five miles, washed his wounds, dressed them, nursed him back into the confines of life, obtained for him a furlough, took him to her own house to complete the cure, and sent him back to his regiment—well.
Over a third, a ruddy-faced New-England boy hardly yet into manhood, hung the shadow of death, and quivering lips and swimming eyes—for they come, there, to love our poor boys most tenderly—had spoken his death-warrant. He was silent a moment. Even a brave soul stops and catches breath, at the unexpected nearness of the Great Revelation; then he asked to be baptized,—"because his mother was a Christian, and he had promised her, if he died, and not on battle-field, to have this rite performed, that she might know that he shared this Holy Faith with her, and was not forgetful of her wishes"; and so he was baptized, and died.