The Homes of the New World/Letter IV.
Brooklyn, November 5th, 1849.
My Sweet Sister,—Again in New York, or in that portion of the great city which is called Brooklyn, and which is separated from New York by the so-called East River, and which will be a city of itself, and which has also a right to be so for its own sake. Brooklyn is as quiet as New York is bewildering and noisy: it is built upon the heights of Long Island; has glorious views over the wide harbour, and quiet broad streets, planted on each side with acanthus trees, a kind of Chinese tree, and I believe of the acacia family, which has a leaf like our ash, only much broader, and which bears long pods. There is also another kind of tree, with a taller stem, which gives shade and a peaceful and rural character to the streets. It is said that the merchants of New York go over to Brooklyn, where they have their house and home, to sleep. The friend with whom I am living, Marcus S., has his place of business in New York and his proper home here in Brooklyn, one of the very prettiest rural homes, by name “Rose Cottage,” which he himself built, and around which he has himself planted trees, covered arbours with trailing vines, has sown the fields with maize, and other vegetables, so that the place has the united character of park and garden. From this place he drives every morning to New York, and hither he returns every evening, but not merely to sleep, but to rest, and enjoy himself with wife, children, and friends. Rose Cottage lies just on the outskirts of the town (you must not imagine it a little town, but one which has a hundred thousand inhabitants, its own proper town-house, very magnificent, and from fifty to sixty churches), and the country, with wooded heights and green fields, may be seen therefrom on three sides. But houses are now building at various distances, and threaten soon to shut out the country. It may, however, be some years yet before Rose Cottage comes into the city. I shall now remain here a little while before I set off to Massachusetts and Boston.
Much, very much, had I to tell you, but alas! I have neither the time nor the necessary repose; and I must here give you my life more as a compendium than I did in Denmark. My impressions of life here are more great, more massive, on a broader scale, so to say: I cannot yet bring them under control, cannot yet deal with them; I cannot give them expression. I have a feeling of the forms in the block, but it will require time and labour to hew them out. This much, however, is certain: the effect of my American journey, as far as myself am concerned, is altogether quite different to what I expected. I came hither to breathe a new and fresher atmosphere of life; to observe the popular life, institutions, and circumstances of a new country; to become clearer in my own mind on certain questions connected with the development of nations and people; and in particular, to study the women and the homes of the New World, and from the threshold of the home to obtain a view of the future of humanity, because, as the river is born from the springs of heaven, so is the life and the fate of a people born from the hidden life of the home.
I came, in a word, to occupy myself with public affairs; and it is private affairs, it is the individual which seizes upon my interest, my feelings, my thoughts. I came with a secret intention of breaking myself loose from fiction and its subjects, and of living with thinkers for other purposes; and I am compelled towards it more forcibly than ever; compelled involuntarily, both by thought and feeling, towards fiction; compelled to bring into life forms, scenes, and circumstances, which, as dim shadows, have for twenty years existed in the background of my soul. And in this so-called realist country, but which has more poetical life in it than people have any idea of in Europe, have I already, “in petto,” experienced and written more of the romance of life, than I have done for many years. And I shall continue to do so during my residence here.
When I became aware that, from my waking in the morning, I was occupied in my innermost work-room, not with American affairs and things, but with my own ideal creations, influenced by the interest which everything that surrounded me, and which my new circumstances excited within me, I then gave up the thought of attempting to do anything else but what God had given me to do. I must also here employ my talent, and follow my own vocation, and let fate and circumstances make of it what they must and will.
I shall, as hitherto, study the world of private life, but shall allow the air and life of the New World, that great world's life, to flow into it, and give to it greater effect. Thus would I always have it to be. I must work it out better hereafter. I have long had a presentiment of the romance of life, in its infinite greatness and depth of feeling. When it dawned before my glance, that first view of a transfigured world, never shall I forget that heavenly Aurora, which was, which is, which will continue for ever to be a bright spot in my earthly life. For that I have to thank Sweden. Clouds, however, veiled it for a moment; I did not see it clearly, or rather, I could no longer recal it in its first beauty. Now again I behold it; and I predict that for its perfect daybreak I shall have to thank—America. My life, also, in and with this new world, assumes a romantic form. It is not merely a new continent, a new form of things, with centuries for its future which I have here to observe; it is a living soul, a great character, an individual mind, with which I must become acquainted, live and converse with during a profoundly earnest intercourse. How I desire to see its characteristic features, to listen to its revelations, its unconsciously oracular words regarding its life and its future! And that great, universal hospitality with which this great new world receives me, makes me feel that it is a heart, a living spirit which meets me in it.
Now for a little of the exterior of my life. I last left you when I was just about to pay a visit with Mr. Downing to Mr. H. and his family. As we came down to the bridge at Newburgh two men were there, the one fat, and the other lean, who were talking loudly, and with so much warmth, that they seemed to be in a state of anger with each other. “Everybody who goes with this steam-boat is robbed!” exclaimed the one; “it is full of pickpockets and rogues!” “Let everyone who is careful of his life,” cried the other, “take care not to go in the boat he recommends: it has a cracked boiler, and will blow up before long!”—“That is not true, but the greatest lie!” returned the first, and they cast terrible glances at each other from under their contracted eyebrows, whilst they continued to go on commending their own boats and abusing each other's.
“What is the meaning of this?” said I to Mr. Downing, who smiled quietly, and replied: “Here is an opposition. Two vessels are emulous for passengers; and these fellows are hired by the two parties to puff their boats. They act this part every day, and it means nothing at all.”
I observed, also, that whilst they cast the most ferocious glances at each other, there was frequently a smile on their lips at the ready abuse which they poured out against each other's boats, probably alike innocent, and alike safe, the one as the other; and the people around them laughed also, or did not trouble themselves the least about their contention. I saw that the whole thing was a comedy, and wondered only how they could endure to play it so often.
Mr. Downing had already made choice of his boat: and we had not long been on board before the captain sent to offer “Miss Bremer and her friends” free passage by the steamer as well as by the railway of the Hudson. And thus by means of my good name and American politeness, we sailed down the Hudson in the warm, calm summer air. But the brickmaker, Mr. A., who had already declared himself as my friend, had brought me beautiful flowers, invited me to his villa by the Hudson, and discovered some good phrenological developments in my forehead, here seized upon me, and conducted me to his wife, who introduced me to a poet, whose verses, she maintained I must have read; and the poet introduced three ladies, and the three ladies various other ladies and gentlemen. I became, as it were, walled in, felt as hot as if in an oven, and fled out of the saloon to my silent friend on deck, upbraiding him because he had given me up as a prey to the natives of the country. Nevertheless, I very much liked my friend the brickmaker, who is a broad, substantial, kind creature, with an open heart and countenance. I liked also the poet, who was evidently a lively and good-tempered person, only that I had not read his verses, and all these my new friends were too many for me. I was now able to sit silently on deck with the silent Mr. Downing; but yet, with the consciousness that I inwardly conversed with him, that his glance rested upon the same objects as mine, and that his mind received them and judged of them, if not as I did, yet in a manner which I could understand, because I understood him. Now and then a word was uttered, now and then a remark was made, and all was cheerful and amusing. How pleasant is such companionship!
When we left the steamboat we took our places on the Hudson Railway, the same which is in progress opposite to Newburgh, and along which we flew with arrow-like speed to Mr. H.'s villa, which lies upon a height by the river-side. There we were soon in the midst of a beautiful home and domestic circle. The father of the family, Mr. H., is the son of the general of that name, the contemporary and friend of Washington, and one of the great men of the American War of Inde pendence. Mr. H., his wife, a still handsome elderly lady, of quiet motherly appearance, a son, and three daughters, constitute the family. Mrs. S., the married daughter, whose praise, as a woman remarkably gifted both in heart and head, I had heard from many people, gave me an invitation to visit with her the schools and various other benevolent institutions of New York, which I gratefully accepted. The two younger, unmarried daughters, Mary and Angelica, seemed to me like types of the two female characters which are often introduced in Cooper's novels. Mary is of a lively, ardent character, full of energy; she has bright brown eyes, is witty and merry in conversation. Angelica is Madonna-like, gentle and fair, a beautiful, noble, and, in mine and many other people's eyes, a most highly attractive being. I remarked in particular the charm of her voice, and her movement, and how, without asking any questions, she could, even with ladies, set a conversation afloat, and keep it up with animation.
Mr. H., the father, took me out with him to visit various small farmers of the district, so that I might see something of their circumstances. At two of the houses we arrived just at dinner-time, and I saw the tables abundantly supplied with meat and cakes of Indian meal, vegetables, and fruit, as well as with the most beautiful white bread. The houses were for the most part “frame-houses,” that is to say, a sort of neatly-built wooden house; the rooms had large windows, which were light and clean. It was a real pleasure to me to converse with Mr. H., who is well acquainted with the country, and a warm friend of its free institutions, the excellence of which he has had an opportunity of testing during a long official life.
The day was beautiful, but a little cool in the wind—not a “well-mingled air,” as you are accustomed to call it. And the air here has something so keen, so penetrating, that I am affected by it as I never was in Sweden.
There was a whole crowd of strangers to dinner, among whom was Washington Irving, a man of about sixty, with large beautiful eyes, a large well-formed nose, a countenance still handsome, in which youthful little dimples and smiles bear witness to a youthfully fresh and humorous disposition and soul. He must be a man of an usually happy temperament, and of the most excellent heart. He has surrounded himself with a number of nieces (he says he cannot conceive of what use boys are in the world), whom he makes happy, and who make him so by their affection. He says he has the peculiar faculty of liking everything which he possesses, and everything which seeks his protection. He is an optimist, but not a conceited one.
He was my neighbour at table, and I have to thank him for not becoming sleepy; nor should I have supposed, as people told me, that he was accustomed to be sleepy at great dinners, at which I certainly am not surprised. But the dinner to-day was not one of the long and tedious description, besides which he evidently endeavoured to make the conversation interesting and agreeable; and I, too, did my best, as you may easily suppose.
In the afternoon I begged him to allow me to take a profile likeness of him; and, in order that he might not go quite asleep during the operation, I begged Angelica H. to sit just opposite to him, and talk to him; and the plan succeeded excellently. The handsome old gentleman now became wide awake, loquacious and lively, and there was such vivacity in his smile, and so much fun in all the merry dimples of his countenance, that it is my own fault if I have not made one of the best and most characteristic portraits that has ever been taken of this universally beloved author. I am glad to have it to show to his friends and admirers in Sweden. Washington Irving invited me and my friends to his house for the following evening; but, as we were obliged to return home that day, we could not accept his invitation, but engaged to pay him a visit in the morning.
In the evening, the new married son of the family returned home from a journey. It was delightful to see the handsome young man sitting between his father and mother, full of mirth and cordiality, endeavouring to divide himself, as it were, equally between them, replying to their questions, and acknowledging their tokens of affection.
Among other objects of interest which I saw here, and which I had also seen in a few other houses on the Hudson, was the “American Birds” of Audubon, a work of real genius and merit; for one does not merely see the various kinds of American birds, but also their characteristics, their life, and history; how they build and feed themselves; their quarrels, perils, and joys. Some of the paintings seem to me to show a little eccentricity in design; but what can be more eccentric than nature herself in certain hours and humours?
Another interesting acquaintance which I made here was with Mr. Stevens, who discovered and has written upon the remains of Central America. What a rich field is there presented for American enterprise and love of investigation. And they ought not to rest, these Vikings of the present time, before all this is their own, and they have there free space to work in. At present there are great difficulties in the way of their advancing into these regions.
On the following morning, we had, among other good things for breakfast, (they have only too many and too highly-seasoned dishes—cayenne pepper here spoils both meat and the stomach); we had also honey from Hymettus, which had been sent by a friend of the family who had lately returned from his travels in Greece. This classical honey seemed to me not any better than the virgin honey of our northern bees. Flowers and bees are pretty nearly alike all over the world, and are fed by the same heavenly honey-dew. I thought how our bees at Årsta murmur their songs in autumn around the mignonette, and how thou thyself seest them now as thou movest like a little queen among thy subjects in the flower-garden, among beds of flowers which thou hast had planted. Alas! but it is true that even now it is there the winter trance, and the bees have forgotten themselves in their hives! I forget here how the year goes on, because the Indian summer is a time of enchantment.
I went in the forenoon with Mary H. to Washington Irving's. His house or villa, which stands on the banks of the Hudson, resembles a peaceful idyll; thick masses of ivy clothe one portion of the white walls and garland the eaves. Fat cows fed in a meadow just before the window. Within, the room seemed full of summer warmth, and had a peaceful and cheerful aspect. One felt that a cordial spirit, full of the best sentiment of the soul, lived and worked there. Washington Irving, although possessed of the politeness of a man of the world, and with great natural good-temper, has, nevertheless, somewhat of that nervous shyness which so easily attaches itself to the author, and in particular to him who is possessed of delicacy of feeling and refinement. The poetical mind, by its intercourse with the divine spheres, is often brought somewhat into disharmony with clumsy earthly realities. To these belong especially the visits of strangers and the forms of social intercourse, as we make them in good society on earth, and which are shells that must be cracked if one would get at the juice of either kernel or fruit. But that is a difficulty for which one often has not time. A portrait which hangs in Washington Irving's drawing-room, and which was painted many years since, represents him as a remarkably handsome man, with dark hair and eyes—a head which might have belonged to a Spaniard. When young, he must have been unusually handsome. He was engaged to a young lady of rare beauty and excellence; it would have been difficult to meet with a handsomer pair. But she died, and Washington Irving never again sought for another bride. He has been wise enough to content himself with the memory of a perfect love, and to live for literature, friendship, and nature. He is a wise man, but without wrinkles and grey hair. Washington Irving was at this time occupied with his “Life of Mahomet,” which will shortly be sent to press. Two ladies, the one elderly, the other younger, neither of them handsome, but with countenances full of intelligence and feeling, and near relations of his, were at his house.
Again at Mr. H.'s, I received a number of visitors, all handsome, and in manners kind and open-hearted. The ladies have in general fine figures, but they are somewhat too spare. After that we had music. Mary H. and I had just sate down, full of enthusiasm, to an overture for four hands, which we played so that they who heard us cried bravo! when Mr. Downing, with his melodious voice, and decided manner, which makes him sometimes a sort of amiable despot, interrupted us with the words, “Now it is time,” namely, time for us to take leave, and I hastened to the railway, which as with an iron hand had stopped the music of life. But it accompanied me nevertheless in the impression of that beautiful family life which I have again seen here; and to the railroad also accompanied me that fine old gentleman, Mr. H., who, during the whole time, had shown me the greatest kindness, and now, at parting begged me to regard him as a father, to consider his house as mine, and to come and remain there whenever I might find myself not so well off in any of the United States. And I know that this offer on his part is as equally sincere as is that of Mr. Downing, that I would regard him as a brother, and allow him to serve me whenever I might find occasion. “Bear that well in mind!” these were his words at parting, so that I have now both father and brother in this new world—that will do to begin with!
I sate silent in the railway carriage beside my silent friend, but the music of whose soul I am always conscious of, though he speak not a word; so that after all, there was no interruption to the music.
We sailed up the Hudson on a gloomy but beautiful evening. The air was quite calm; now and then a steam-boat came thundering towards us with its flaming chimney, but the river was unusually quiet. From out the dark shadows which the lofty mountains threw upon the shores, gleamed here and there small red lights. “They are from the cottages of the labourers on the railway,” said Mr. Downing.
“Not they,” said I; “they are little dwarfs that are peeping out of the rocks and that unclose the openings to the mountain halls within; we Scandinavians know all about it!”
Mr. Downing laughed and allowed my explanation to pass. That which I seem to want here, if I think about a want at all, where so much new and affluent life presents itself, is that life of sagas and traditions which we possess everywhere in Sweden, and which converts it into a poetic soil full of symbolical runes, in forest, and mountain, and meadow, by the streams and the lakes, nay, which gives life to every stone, significance to every mound. In Sweden all these magnificent hills and mountains by the Hudson would have symbolical names and traditions. Here they have only historical traditions, mostly connected with the Indian times and wars, and the names are rather of a humorous than a poetic tendency. Thus a point of rock somewhat nose-like in form, which runs out into the river, is called St. Anthony's Nose, and in sailing past it I could not help thinking of a merry little poem which Mr. Downing read to me, in which St. Anthony is represented as preaching to the fishes, who came up out of the depths quite astonished and delighted to hear the zealous father of the Church preaching for their conversion. The end, however, is,
Much delighted were they,
But preferred the old way.
And thus continued in their natural vices; and St. Anthony got—a long nose.
I spent yet a few Indian summer days with my friends by the Hudson—days rich in many things; intercourse with human beings, and with nature, and the enjoyment of beautiful paradisaical fruits: the new moon lit her torch, and gave a yet more highly romantic character to the summer veil on mountain and river—wonderfully beautiful days and scenes! and wonderfully beautiful was that day when, during a storm, I travelled with my friends down the Hudson to New York. Autumn had during its advance given uniformity of colouring to the woods. It varied now between copper and gold, and shone like an infinitely rich golden embroidery on the Indian veil of mist which rested upon the heights along the Hudson. The wind was so violent that at times the vessel was driven on the banks, and, as the evening advanced, the groups of people became more and more silent in the crowded saloon. Friend drew near to friend, husband to wife; mothers pressed their children closer to their breasts. My eye by chance fell on the tall figure of a man of energetic appearance; a little woman stood close beside him, and her hand was pressed to his heart. A speechless and passionate life prevailed there—prevailed throughout the atmosphere that stormy, hot evening. This and some other scenes have inscribed themselves ineffaceably on my soul; thou shalt read them there some time—there or upon paper, for whatever I experience forcibly and deeply thou knowest that I must, sooner or later, give back either in word or form.
We arrived in storm and darkness at New York, but nevertheless reached the Astor House most comfortably; and very soon was I seated familiarly with my friends in a light and handsome room, drinking tea and the most delicious milk cooled with ice.
“In order that I may now show you proper respect,” said Mr. Downing, “as we are about to part, I believe that I must beg from you—an autograph!”
Thus he often good-humouredly teases me, knowing, as he does, my abhorrence of the American autograph collectors. We spent the evening pleasantly reading by turns from our favourite poets, Lowell, Bryant, and Emerson. It was twelve o'clock when we separated, and I went to my room. But I remained up for some time, listening through the open window to the softly plashing rain, drinking in the balsamic air, and allowing the breath of a new life to penetrate my very being.
I remained yet a few days at the Astor House with the Downings. During these we visited the Exhibition of the American Art-Union in New York. Among the paintings of native artists, I saw none which indicated peculiar genius, with the exception of a large historical painting from the first Mexican War between the Spaniards and the Indians. A few pieces of sculpture gave me great pleasure, from their delicacy of expression and mastership in execution. Among these in particular was a marble bust of Proserpine, and a fisher-boy listening to the sound of the sea in a conch-shell, both the works of the American artist Hiram Powers. One could almost wish for something greater and more national in subject; but greater beauty, or more perfection in form, would be impossible. Just opposite to the room of the American Art-Union they have placed, with good judgment, as it seemed to me, the so-called Düsseldorf Gallery, a collection of old paintings, principally of the German school, which has been opened for the benefit and instruction of American artists and lovers of art. But the want of time prevented me from visiting this gallery, at the present moment.
Among other good things which awaited me here was an offer from a much-esteemed publisher of New York, Mr. George Putnam, the same who is bringing out the works of Miss Sedgwick, to publish a new and handsome edition of my writings, which have hitherto been printed and circulated here at a low price, and to allow me the same pecuniary advantage as a native author. Mr. Downing was pleased with the proposal, because he knows Mr. Putnam to be a thoroughly honourable and trustworthy man.
It was not without pain that I parted from the Downings, with whom I had spent so richly intellectual and delightful a time (I will call it my honeymoon in the New World), and to whom I am really cordially attached. But I shall see them again; I have to thank Mr. Downing for many things; for the wisdom and the tact, as well as the brotherly earnestness with which he has assisted me to arrange my movements here in the new world, and as regarded invitations and other marks of friendliness which I have received. At parting he admonished me with his beautiful smile, that I should on all occasions make use of a little inborn tact—(N.B. a thing which I was born without)—so as to know what I ought to do and to permit. I think, in the meanwhile that I made good use of his advice, by immediately afterwards declining the proposal of a young gentleman to climb a lofty church tower with him. Nothing strikes me so much as the youthfulness of this people—I might almost say childish fervour and love of adventure. They hesitate at nothing, and regard nothing as impossible. But I know myself to be too old to climb up church towers with young gentlemen.
When the Downings left me, I was intrusted to the kind care of Mr. Putnam, who was to conduct me to his villa on Staten Island. It was with difficulty that we drove through the throng of vehicles of all kinds which filled the streets leading to the harbour, in order to reach the steamboat in time. I cannot help admiring the way in which the drivers here manage to get out of the way, and twist about and shoot between and disentangle themselves without any misadventure from the really Gordian knot of carts and carriages. It is extraordinary, but it is not excellent. I sat all the time in expectation of seeing the head of a horse come through the carriage-window, or of the carriage being smashed to pieces. In the meanwhile, all went well; we reached the steamboat in time, had a beautiful sail upon the calm waters of the extensive bay, where large and small steamboats incessantly are passing and winding their way among the sailing craft. That is a scene of life!
At Mr. Putnam's beautiful house on one of the heights of Staten Island, I saw a most charming, cheerful, and agreeable little hostess and three pretty children, and in the evening a whole crowd of people from the neighbourhood. I played Swedish polskas and ballads for them. The best thing of the evening was a comic song, sung by an excellent elderly gentleman.
I was frozen in my bedroom, because the weather is now cold, and they do not heat the bedrooms in this country. It is here as in England, not as in our good Sweden; and I can hardly accustom myself to these cold bedchambers. It was to me particularly hard to get up and to dress myself in that chilly room, with my fingers benumbed with cold. But I forgot both the numbness and the frost when I went down to breakfast, and saw the bright sun, and the lovely and kind hostess in that cheerful room, with its prospect over the bay, the city, and the island. In the forenoon Mr. Putnam drove me in a covered carriage to see the island, and to call upon various families. The rich golden woods shone in their autumnal pomp of varied gold or brown—a colouring both warm and deep, like that of the soul's noblest sufferings. I indulged the emotion which it excited, and I drove through the woods as through a temple filled with symbolic inscriptions, and that which it presented to me I could read and decipher. Thus we advanced to the loftiest point of the island, whence the prospect was glorious, from its vast extent over land and water. The height was lost; and the eye hovered and circled, like the eagle, in the air; but with no rock, no mountain-crag, on which to rest.
I saw also two handsome houses, with their gardens, and two handsome, kind ladies. One of them was really beautiful, but sorrowing: death had lately taken from her her heart's joy. In the second home joy and happiness were the dwellers; there was no mistake about that. I was obliged to promise to return there in the spring, and there to witness that lovely season. But I wonder how many breaches of promise I shall be guilty of in this country!
Mr. Putnam conveyed me back to New York, and to the kind Mrs. S., who now took charge of me, and with her I visited various public institutions, among which were a couple of large schools, where I saw hundreds of cheerful children, as well as young people. I remarked in particular the bright, animated, beautiful eyes of the children. The mode of instruction seemed to me especially calculated to keep the children awake and attentive. One building contained many, or all gradations of scholars. The lowest rooms are appropriated to the smallest children, of from four to six years old (each child having its little chair and detached desk standing before it), and with each story ascends the age of the pupils, and the branches of knowledge in which they are instructed. In the uppermost story they have advanced to nineteen or twenty, or even above (as well in the girls' school as the boys'), take diplomas, and go thence out into the world to live and teach according as they have learnt here. I however did not gain much information. I wished to put questions, but they gave themselves little time to answer, and I saw that my visit was regarded not as for instruction, but for display. In the institution for the deaf and dumb a young teacher indicated by signs to the pupils a long history, which they were to write upon the writing-tablets which hung around the walls. They did it excellently; and I could not but marvel at their powers of memory and their quickness of apprehension and expression.
The following day an excursion was proposed to one of the islands in the neighbourhood of the city, where right-minded men have established a large institution for the reception and assistance of emigrants, who, in sickness or destitution, arrive in New York from Europe. The island is called “Ward's Island,” the institution “the Emigrant's Asylum.” One of its principal founders and supporters, Mr. Colden, formerly one of the chief lawyers of New York, and now a man of affluence, occupying himself solely and entirely with benevolent institutions, conducted Mrs. S. and myself, as well as Bergfalk, whom I persuaded to accompany us thither, in his carriage. Bergfalk is addicted to burying himself among law-books and acts of parliament, to living with the dead, and I must decoy him forth to breathe the fresh air with the living, and to live among them.
The day was glorious, and the sail in the boat upon that calm, fragrant water (I never knew water give forth a fragrance as it does here) in that warm autumnal sun, was one of the most agreeable imaginable. On Ward's Island people may form a slight idea of the difficult question which the Americans have to meet in the reception of the poor, and often most wretched population of Europe, and how they endeavour to meet it. Thousands who come clad in rags, and bowed down with sickness, are brought hither, succoured, clothed, fed, and then sent out westward to the States of the Mississippi, in case they have no friends or relations to receive them at a less remote distance. Separate buildings have been erected for the sick of typhus fever; for those afflicted with diseases of the eye; for sick children; for the convalescent; for lying-in women. Several new houses were in progress of erection. Upon those verdant, open hills, fanned by the soft sea-breezes, the sick must, if possible, regain health, and the weak become strong. We visited the sick; many hundreds were ill of typhus fever. We visited also the convalescent at their well-supplied dinner-table.
“But if,” said I to Mr. Colden, “they are supplied every day with such soup and such meat as this, how can you manage to get rid of them, at least of such as live only to eat?”
“With them we do as the Quaker did with his adversary,” replied Mr. Colden, smiling: “he took hold of him in a rough manner. ‘How now?’ said the enemy. ‘You are really not going to strike me: that is against your religious principles!’ ‘No,’ said the Quaker, ‘I shall not strike thee; but I shall keep hold of thee in a very uncomfortable manner.’ ”
Bergfalk was as much pleased as I was, in seeing this noble, flourishing institution, which the people of the New World have established for the unfortunate children of the Old; and I enjoyed no less the peculiar individuality of Mr. Colden, one of those strong characters who sustain such institutions as easily as a mother her child upon her arm—a man strong of heart, soul, and body. For such men I feel an admiration which is akin to a child-like love; I would willingly serve them as a daughter. They have the magnetism which is ascribed to the mountain character.
I visited also with Mrs. S., the home established for the restoration of fallen women: it appeared to me excellent, and well arranged. Miss Sedgwick is one of the managers, and does a very great deal of good. She reads to the women stories which call forth their better nature, and talks to them cordially and wisely. She must be one of the most active supporters of this reformatory home.
Mrs. S., who is a gentle, motherly, and domestic woman, as well as a good citizen even beyond the sphere of her own house—and every noble woman ought to be the same—was an amiable hostess to me; and the only thing which I lacked was, that I was unable to talk more with her. But these schools, asylums, etc., they are in the highest degree excellent and estimable: but ah! how they weary me! Mrs. S, conducted me to the house of Miss Lynch, where I saw a whole crowd of people, and among them Bryant the poet, who has a beautiful characteristic head, with silvery locks.
From Miss Lynch's I was taken by a kind and respectable professor,—Hackitt, I believe, he was called—to the Elysian Fields, a park-like tract, on an island near New York, and so called from their beautiful idyllian scenery; and they were beautiful as an idyll,—and the day, and the air—nay, my child, we have nothing like them in the Old World! at least, I have never felt any such. I drink in this air as I would drink nectar, and feel it almost like a pleasant intoxication: it must belong to this time of the year, and to the magic life of this Indian summer. I wandered in the Elysian Fields with really Elysian feelings, saw flocks of white sails coming down the Hudson, like winged birds of peace, and I allowed my thoughts to float up it to the friends there, the new and yet so dear; far from me, and yet so near. It was an enchanting day that day in the Elysian Fields of the new world. My professor was good and wise, as Mentor, in “Les Aventures de Télémaque,” and I fancy wiser, because he did not talk, but followed me with fatherly kindness, and seemed to enjoy my pleasure. In the evening he conducted me across East River to Rose Cottage, in that quiet Brooklyn; and there I shall rest some days a little apart from the world.
Now a word about my new friends, Marcus and Rebecca. They are a very peculiar kind of people; they have a something about them remarkably simple and humane, serene, and beautiful, which seems to me of angelic purity. The first day that I dined at their house they called me by my name, and wished that I should call them the same; and now I live with them familiarly as with a brother and a sister. They have been, and are, indescribably kind to me. The first day I was there I was somewhat out of humour: I suffered from the cold, especially in my bed-room, and from having to place myself in new circumstances, to which I always have a repugnance. But they had a stove set in my chamber, made it warm and comfortable, and I soon felt myself at home with them, and happy.
Marcus is also what is called a self-made man. But I rather suspect that our Lord himself was of his kind, both in heart and head. His countenance reminds me of Sterne's expression about a face— “it resembles a blessing.” His wife, Rebecca, comes of the race of Quakers, and has something about her of that quiet, inward light, and that reflectiveness, which, it is said, belongs to this sect. Besides this, she has much talent and wit, and it is especially agreeable to hear her converse. Her exterior is pleasing, without being beautiful; her mouth remarkably fresh and cheerful, and her figure classically beautiful. Both husband and wife are true patriots and warm friends of humanity, loving the ideal in life, and living for it. They are people of affluence, and are able to do much good. They are interested in Socialism, but rather as amateurs than as the actually initiated. Yet Marcus has associated several of his clerks with him in his business. But he is one of that class who do not like to talk about what they do, or that others should busy themselves therewith. His wife and friends like to talk about him; and I do not wonder at it. The family consists of three children. Eddy, the eldest boy, twelve years old, and who might serve as a model either for a Cupid or for one of Raphael's angels, has a quiet, thoughtful demeanour, with great refinement of expression. Little Jenny, the only daughter, is a sweet little girl; and then comes “the baby,” a yellow-haired little lad, with his father's brow and clear blue eyes: a delicate, but delightful child.
With Marcus I talk about what is going on both now and for hereafter in the country, whether afar off or near; with Rebecca about the history of the inward life; and thus learn much which both affects and interests me. Yes, my sister, there is here much more poetry, much more of the romance of life, than we have imagined. Life here is new youth. The climate, also, is youthful, but not always most agreeably so: it is very fickle. The first days I spent here at Brooklyn were so bitterly cold that I was frozen both body and mind. Now, and for the last three days, it has been so warm, that I have lain at night with my window open, have seen the stars shining through the Venetian shutters, and been saluted in the crimson dawn by the mildest zephyrs, and that air, and that odour, which has in it something magical.
November 7th.—I have not been able to write for several days. I am sorry for it, my sweet child, but I cannot help it. I will some time, by word of mouth, fill up the gaps which remain in my letters. Many things which are flattering, and many things which are difficult, occur to me every day, which are not worth putting down on paper. My life is a daily warfare against kindness and politeness, and curiosity, during which I often am weary and worn out; often, also, I feel the wafting influence of an extraordinary youthfulness and enjoyment gush through my soul. I felt this one day during a conversation with the noble, enthusiastic W. H. Channing,—a character as ardent as it is pure, with a beaming eye, and a countenance as pure and regular as I could imagine that of a seraph to be. His figure, which is noble and elegant, is well suited for that of a public speaker. He is rather a critical admirer than an enthusiast as regards his country. He loves enthusiastically merely the ideal and the perfect, and knows that the reality falls short of this.
“We are very young, very young!” said he, speaking of the people of the United States. He spoke of Waldo Emerson with admiration, but as of a remotely lofty spirit. “He is the best of us all!” said he. “Is he your friend?” I inquired. “No,” replied he; “I cannot flatter myself with such a relationship between us. He is besides too much apart, too——. But you ought to see him to be able to understand him.”
I made some observation against Emerson's turn of mind. Channing did not make much reply to this, but continued mentally to look up to Emerson as one looks up to some star of the first magnitude. This man must have the power of fascination.
On Wednesday I go with Channing and Marcus and Rebecca to the North American Phalanstery in New Jersey, take a near view of that wonderful thing, and learn more about Christian Socialism. Bergfalk will go with us. After that I return here, where I remain to the end of the week. The following week I shall spend with Miss Lynch in New York, and give myself up to a life of society there. After that, I return here, and accompany my friends to Massachusetts, in order to celebrate with their relations there the great festival of Thanksgiving-day, as it is called. This day, which is fixed this year for the 26th of November, is celebrated with particular solemnity in the States of New England, where it first originated. After that, I shall visit the Lowells, the Ernersons, and many others, to whom I am invited, and so on to Boston, where I think of spending the winter months, and whence my friends will return home.
In the evening, at sunset, I went out for a solitary walk in the road, half town, half country. I walked beneath the green trees; and by my side went the beautiful Eddy, quite silent. The evening sky glowed, and cast its warm reflections over meadow and wooded height. And when I turned my eyes from these to the beautiful boy at my side, I met his, as gentle and winning as an angel's glance. He seemed to see and to understand that which lived within my soul. Thus walked we onward. But it began to grow dusk; and now a man on horseback rode up to us with a large box or package upon his arm: it was that good Marcus, on his Dolly; and the package which he carried was for me, and was full of the most beautiful flowers, from Mr. Downing; and with them a few words for me, still more beautiful than the flowers. Rebecca and I arranged the flowers in a beautiful alabaster vase, in the form of a lily, rising from its basin. Marcus and Channing assisted us with their eyes.
I am quite well, my little Agatha, spite of vagaries both of body and soul, and am infinitely thankful for what I here learn and experience, and for these good, cordial friends! That which I want is to hear good news both from you and from mamma. I hope to hear by this day's post, hope and long. I must now send off this letter, and set to work on many others. Kiss mamma for me, and greet all who wish for greetings