The Homes of the New World/Letter V.
Rose Cottage, November 12th, 1849.
At length, at length I have received letters from home, letters from mamma, and from you, my sweet Agatha! I kissed the letter for joy when it was put into my hand. But ah! how it grieved me to hear that you are again ill, and that without either rhyme or reason, so soon after leaving the baths of Marstrand, where I last saw you so well. I can now merely endeavour to console myself with the belief, that by this indisposition you will get rid of all further indisposition for the year, and that you therefore will be in all the better health for the winter. Will you not? yes, we must next winter remove with you to some warmer climate, to your beautiful Italy, to Rome, or to Palermo, and next summer you can make good use of sea-bathing again at Marstrand. And I will be with you, my dear heart, and talk and write beautiful things for you, because I shall be rich in such things, and we will inhale a new and beautiful life together. I have not yet received your letter to London, but I shall have it yet, or else E. L. deserves to—lose his head, if he have not already lost it, for he took it upon himself to receive this letter and send it on to me. But yet once more, thanks for the beautiful letters.
I must now tell you about our expedition to the Phalanstery. It was a charming morning when we set out. The air felt quite young—scarcely five years old. It was not a boy, it was a girl, full of animation, but shy; a veiled beauty. The sun was concealed by light clouds, the winds were still. As Marcus, Rebecca, and I, were standing for a short time by the ferry at Brooklyn, waiting for the boat to take us over to New York, a Quakeress was also standing there, with a Roman nose, and a frank but grave countenance. I looked at her, and she looked at me. All at once her countenance brightened as if by a sunbeam. She came up to me, “Thou art Miss Bremer,” said she. “Yes,” said I, “and thou art ——” She mentioned her name, and we shook hands cordially. The inward light had illumined her in more than one way, and on such a morning I felt myself on the sweetly familiar terms of “thee and thou” with the whole world.
We crossed the river, Marcus, Rebecca, and I. The morning wind awoke, and the clouds began to move; sailing craft and steam-boats passed one another in the bay, and young lads sate in their boats fishing up large casks and planks which the current bore with it out to sea. The shores shone out green and gold. An hour afterwards and we were on board the steam-boat which would convey us to New Jersey. Bergfalk had joined us full of life and good-humour. Channing had come with his pure glance, clear as the light of a diamond, and with him Mr. H., a lover of flowers and of Channing. We steamed along amid sunshine and conversation on subjects of interest, the dialogue being principally between Channing and myself, the others putting in now and then a word, every one rather opposed to me, and I a little opposed to all, with the exception of Marcus, whose reason accorded with my views. By this time the clouds began to gather over us, and it soon began to rain.
We arrived in New Jersey amid rain, and in rain we reached the little town of Red Bank. Here a waggon from the Phalanstery met us, which had been sent for the guests, as well as for potatoes, and in it we stowed ourselves, beneath a tilted cover of yellow oil-cloth, which sheltered us from the rain. A handsome young man, one of the people of the Phalanstery, drove the pair of fat horses which drew us, and after we had ploughed the sand for a couple of hours, we arrived at the Phalanstery, a couple of large houses, with several lesser ones standing around them, without any thing remarkable in their style of architecture. The landscape around had a pleasant, park-like appearance; the fields and the trees were yet quite green. New Jersey is celebrated for its mild climate and its fine fruits. We were conducted into a hall and regaled with a dinner which could not have been better if it had been in Arcadia; it would have been impossible to have produced better milk, bread, or cheese. They had also meat here.
I here met with the family which had first invited me to the Phalanstery, and found them to be the sister and brother-in-law of Marcus, two earnest, spiritual-minded people, who have a profound faith in and love for the principle of association. He is the president of the institution at this place. Mr. A., who has not alone enthusiasm, but who is evidently a clever and straight-forward man of business, gifted with the power of organisation, was originally a minister, and devoted himself for a long time most beneficially as a missionary of the poor, “a minister at large,” as they are called in this country; after which he lived for ten years as a farmer in one of the western states in the valley of the Mississippi, cultivating maize and fruit, and finding himself well off amid the affluent solitudes of nature. As his children, however, grew up, it appeared to him too solitary for them; the house became too small, and for the sake of their education and their moral and intellectual development, he removed again, and came nearer to the great world of man. But in so doing he resolved to unite himself with that portion of it which, as it appeared to him, came the nearest to his idea of a Christian community. He and his wife and children, therefore, joined this association, which was established eight years before by a few married couples, all enthusiasts for this idea, and which now calls itself “the North American Phalanstery.” Each member advanced the sum of one thousand dollars; land was purchased, and they began to labour together, according to laws which the society had laid down beforehand. Great difficulties met them in the commencement, in particular from their want of means to build, for the purchase of implements, and so on. It was beautiful and affecting to hear what fatigue and labour the women subjected themselves to—women who had been but little accustomed to anything of this kind; how steadfastly and with what noble courage they endured it; and how the men, in the spirit of brotherhood, did their part in any kind of work as well as the women, merely looking at the honour and the necessity of the work, and never asking whether it was the fit employment for man or for woman. They had suffered much from calumny, but through it all they had become a stronger and more numerous body.
They had now overcome the worst, and the institution was evidently improving. It was in contemplation at this time to build a new house, in particular a large eating-hall and place for social meeting, together with a cooking and wash-house, provided with such machinery as should dispense with the most onerous hand-labour. The number of members was at this time somewhat above seventy. The establishment has its own peculiar income from mills and from tillage as well as from its orchards. They cultivate peaches, melons, and tomatoes. In the mills they prepare hominy (ground maize), which is boiled into a sort of pudding and eaten universally, especially for breakfast.
One evening a great portion of the members of the Phalanstery assembled in one of the sitting-rooms. Various individuals were introduced to me, and I saw a great number of very handsome young people; in particular I remarked the niece and nephew of Marcus S., Abbie and her brother, as being beautiful according to one's ideal standard. Many among the men wore coarse clothes; but all were neat, and had a something of great earnestness and kindness in their whole demeanour.
Needlework was brought in and laid upon a table. This was the making of small linen bags for containing hominy, and which, when filled and stamped with the name of the Phalanstery, are sent for sale to New York. I sewed one bag; Channing also made another and maintained that he sewed quicker than I did; my opinion, however, is that my sewing was the best. After this I played Swedish dances and ballads for the young people, which excited them in a remarkable manner, especially the Necks polska. I related also to them the legend of the Neck and the Priest, and the Wand which became verdant, a legend which shows that even the spirits of nature might be saved. This struck them very much, and the tears came into many eyes.
I had a little room to myself for the night, which some of the young girls had vacated for me. It was as small as a prison cell; had four bare white walls, but was neat and clean, and had a large window with a fine and beautiful prospect; and I was exceedingly comfortable in that little chamber, and slept well upon a good sofa bed to the sound of the plashing rain, and in the mild atmosphere which entered through the half-opened window. The bed-making sisters, two handsome, kind young girls, were the last which I saw in my room. I was awoke in the morning by the sound of labour throughout the house; people were going and coming, all full of business; it sounded earnest and industrious. I thought the “Essenes and the Pythagoreans began the day with a song, a consecration of the day's work to the service of the holy powers,” and I sighed to think that the associations of the West were so far behind those of the East. I dressed myself and went down.
As there is always an impulse within me to enter body and soul into the life which at that time exists around me, so would I now live here as a true and earnest member of the Phalanstery, and therefore I entered as a worker into one of the bands of workers. I selected that in which cooking was going forward, because I consider that my genius has a bent in that direction. I was soon standing, therefore, by the fire, with the excellent Mrs. A., who had the management of this department; and I baked a whole pile of buckwheat cakes, just as we bake cakes in Sweden, but upon a large iron plate, until breakfast, and had then the pleasure of serving Marcus and Channing with some of them quite hot for breakfast. I myself thought that I had been remarkably fortunate with my cakes. In my fervour of association I laboured also with hands and arms up to my very elbows in a great kneading trough, but had very nearly stuck fast in the dough. It was quite too heavy for me, though I would not confess it; but they were kind enough to release me from the operation in the politest manner and place it in abler hands.
The rain had ceased, and the sun began to find his way through the clouds. I now therefore went out to look about me, accompanied by Mrs. A., and the lady of the President, the latter of whom wore a short dress and pantaloons, which were very becoming to her fine and picturesque figure, and besides which, were well calculated for walking through the wet fields and woods. We first paid a visit to the mills. Two handsome young girls, also in short dresses or blouses, girt with leathern bands, and with jaunty little caps on their heads, which were remarkably becoming, went, or rather danced along the footpath before us, over hill and dale, as light and merrily as birds. They were going to assist at the hominy mills. I went through the mills, where everything seemed excellent and well arranged, and where the little millers were already at their work.
Thence we went across the meadows to the potato-fields, where I shook hands with the chief, who, in his shirt-sleeves, was digging up potatoes among his senators. Both the chief and the other members looked clever and excellent people; and the potato crop promised this year to be remarkably rich. The land in New Jersey appears to be very good and fruitful. The sun shone pleasantly over the potato field, the chief, and his labourers, among whom were many men of education and intelligence.
In my conversation with the two sensible women, my conductresses, I learned various particulars regarding the laws and life of the Phalanstery; among others, that they are wise enough not to allow the public to absorb private property. Each individual may invest as much as he likes in the association, and retain as much of his own property as he wishes. For that which he so invests he receives interest. The time required for labour is ten hours a day. All who work over hours are paid for such over work. The women participate in all rights equally with the men: vote, and share in the administration of law and justice. “But,” said Mrs. A., “we have had so much to do with our domestic affairs, that we have hitherto troubled ourselves very little about these things.”
Any one who makes known his desire to become a member may be received as such after a probation of one year in the Phalanstery, during which time he must have shown himself to be unwearied in labour, and stedfast in brotherly love and good will. As regards his religion, rank, or his former mode of life, no questions are asked. The association makes a new experiment in social and economic life: it regards the active principle of love as the ruling power of life, and wishes to place everything within the sphere of its influence; it will, so to say, begin life anew, and makes experimental researches into its laws; like those plants called exogens, it grows from the exterior inwards, but has, it appears to me, its principle much less determinate than the vegetable.
Being asked in the evening my opinion of this community, I candidly confessed in what it appeared to be deficient; in particular as regarded a profession of religion and public divine service; its being based merely upon a moral principle, the validity of which might be easily called in question, as they did not recognise a connection with a life existing eternally beyond earth and time, with any eternally binding law, nor even with a divine Lawgiver.
“The serpent may one day enter your paradise, and then—how can you expel it?”
I told them also how I had felt that morning; how empty and dead a life of labour seemed to me which was not allied to the service of the Supreme, which did not admit of space for the holy and the beautiful.
An elderly gentleman, who sat near me, with a very good and honest countenance, but who had a horrible trick of incessant spitting, was the person who in particular replied to my objections. But his reply and that of the others merely served to strengthen my impression of the cloudy state in which the intellect here is at present. I therefore remained silent after I had given my opinion. But I and many others hoped that Channing would have spoken. He, however, did not; but sat listening with his beautiful speaking head, and his beaming glance turned towards the disputants. After that Bergfalk and I began to talk with each other in Swedish, in order that they might hear that extraordinary foreign tongue. We placed ourselves opposite each other, in the midst of the company, and conversed in Swedish for the edification of our very attentive audience.
I was again requested to play for the young people. The following day at noon we were to leave. In the morning, about half a dozen beautiful young girls seized upon me, and conducted me from one house to another, and I played to all the mothers and grandmothers in the Phalanstery, and upon every piano which was to be found there, six or seven in number; and the young creatures were so charmed and so excited with the marches and the polskas and the songs which I played to them, that they both laughed and cried. N.B. Music as yet in the Phalanstery is merely a babe in swaddling clothes; they regard at present their work as their play. It is true nevertheless that the children there are unusually cheerful; the very little ones were in particular most charming. Magnificent lads were the lads of the association, and not in the least bashful before the stranger. One saw in them the dawning spirit of the co-operatist.
I became, however, horribly weary of my part as associate sister, and was glad to sit down and play for the Phalanstery, and to kiss all the young girls (and glorious warm-hearted girls they are), and shake hands with the associate brothers and sisters, and leaving the Phalanstery with my friends, seat myself again quietly in the steam-boat on my way back to New York.
Much delighted were they,
But preferred the old way.
I was like the fishes in St. Anthony's sermon, not a morsel more converted than they were. Because, although I should lose all regard for myself if I did not believe that I was inwardly associated with the interests of humanity in every various sentiment of my being, in my prayers as well as in my work—did not feel myself to be a worker in the great Phalanstery of the human race—yet is my nature altogether opposed to association when brought into too near a proximity, or in outward life. And I would rather live in a cottage on the bleakest granite mountain of Sweden, alone by myself, and live on bread and water and potatoes (which I would boil for myself), than in a Phalanstery on the most fertile soil, in the midst of associated brethren and sisters, even if they were as agreeable as are they at this place. But that belongs to my individual character; I cannot live perfectly excepting in solitude. For the greater number of people, however, even the outward life of association is the happiest and the best. Association in that form which it assumes, for example, in this Phalanstery, is evidently doing a justice to many individuals which would never be done to them in the great social system as it is usually constructed. Thus, for example, there was here a man, who was possessed of considerable knowledge and a cultivated mind, but in consequence of the weakness of his eyes, was incapacitated for maintaining himself by any means which required much eyesight. This man was poor, and without near connections. In the ordinary state of society he must either have taken refuge in some asylum for indigence, where his life, physical and spiritual, would have been scantily supplied, or he must have sunk into the coarse working class, who merely labour for the life of the body. As a member of the Phalanstery, this man gave his bodily labour ten hours in the day, and on the other hand was entitled to all the nobler enjoyments of cultivated life, intercourse with superior and educated people, good meals partaken in cheerful company, always a kind welcome, and every evening, when the work of the day was over, if he were so inclined, rest and refreshment in society, in a large light room, with agreeable women, handsome children, music, books, opportunities for conversation on the highest interests of life in connection with the interests of the association. After all, I believe that I begin to love this association, whilst I write about it, and whilst I think upon the noble justice which it does to this individual and to many others like him. Is there not something great and beautiful, when a community thus receives into its bosom even the meanest human being, who will not be useless, and which allows him to become participant of its enlightened life, so long as he takes part in its life of labour? And that it is which Christian Socialism aims at. And well may it, in the consciousness thereof, courageously bear the derision and contempt which the world at large casts upon it, and with its countenance turned towards the eternal light say consolingly, as Mr. A. (the preacher and the farmer) said to me at our departure, “We know that we have not trodden any man under foot.”
But my doubt as to the want of solid construction in this particular case returned nevertheless; and on the steamboat, in quiet conversation with my friends, we examined the question still further. I repeated my objections against this building without foundation. Channing was certain about it, in the belief that the more profound laws of reason and of life necessarily become developed from human nature when it is left to test and to experimentise itself. “That which I require in the Phalanstery,” said Channing, “will yet come, and come in a new way, and with deeper conviction.” I believe, as Channing does, that it must come, because human nature possesses these seeds of eternal ideas within its own breast, and has developed them in all ages. All historical religions and modes of philosophy, religious associations, and so on, bear witness to this truth. But I continue to demand from the Socialists, why not take up that work which is already begun and continue it? Why not accept the consciousness which the human race universally possesses of itself, its life, and its aims? Why attempt to undertake a work which has already been given up? That is to waste time and strength which might be turned to better account. But perhaps there may be something new here which I have not clearly seen the principle of a new beginning. It is evident to me, however, in the meantime, that neither do the others see it very clearly. They go en tâtonnement; but they are perhaps guided by an instinct which is clairvoyant.
I shall return to this institution and to these subjects. This Phalanstery is for the present the only one on this plan existing in the United States. Many others have been founded, but all have failed and gone to pieces from the difficulty of winning the interest of the members and their stedfast co-operation for the principle of the institution and for the common weal. The enthusiasts have done the work, the sluggish-spirited have lived upon them; the former have done everything, the latter nothing. Fourrier's theory about the attraction of labour has been effectually refuted by many sluggish natures. The advocates of the theory maintain, indeed, that it has never yet been fully proved, because mankind has not been educated to consider labour attractive. But we shall see.
At home at Rose Cottage, in the quiet, affectionate family circle there, how pleasant was rest after the Phalanstery expedition! There also my most beautiful hours are passed in the society of the husband and wife, in conversation with them, and in reading together the poets of America. Here also is Lowell a favourite, and it is a pleasure to hear Rebecca read him and other poets, because she reads remarkably well. Marcus leaves the house generally immediately after breakfast, but during that meal he often finds time to read us some thing important either in the newspaper or from books for the most part having reference to social questions and improvement. He is now busied with a scheme for the erection of baths and washhouses on a large scale, for the benefit of the poor of New York, and with collecting subscriptions for that purpose.
I must now tell you something about W. H. Channing, because he is one of the most intimate friends of the family, and is connected with them and with the spiritual life of the country in a remarkable manner. He was some years ago the minister of a Unitarian congregation in Cincinnati, but the room, that is to say, Unitarianism, became too small for him; he could not breathe freely forth heart and soul in it, and “he therefore resigned an office which he could no longer hold with an easy conscience,” although his congregation, which was very much attached to him, did all they could to induce him to remain, and although he knew not how henceforth he was to maintain himself, his wife, and his two children. But he thought like the old patriarch, strong in faith, when he obeyed the summons of the Supreme, “the Lord indeed regards sacrifice!” And the Lord did so. Some of his friends took the subject under consideration, and wrote a letter to Charming, the contents of which were, “Come to us; become our friend and spiritual shepherd; but in perfect freedom; follow your own inspiration: preach, talk to us how and when it appears best to you. We undertake to provide for your pecuniary wants. Live free from anxiety, and happy how and where you will; teach us how we should live and work; our homes and our hearts are open to you.”
Channing's answer to this letter proved the nobility and the earnestness of his heart. He came. And since that time he has lived conformably with the invitation which enabled him to visit prisons, to become one in religious and social festivals and societies, or to lecture on social questions in New York, Boston, and other towns; following the dictates of his inspiration, and by his genial and beautifully gifted character awakening the soul and warming the heart; producing “revivals” of a higher life, scattering the seed of eternal life, and fanning up the feeble flames of the true life wherever he came.
He visits his friends whenever he likes, often unexpectedly, but he is always wished for and warmly welcomed; always finds in every house a room prepared for W. H. Channing. The good Marcus S. has such respect for intellectual and spiritual gifts, and in particular such devotion to Channing, that he has a peculiar pleasure in serving him. He and Rebecca, and some other friends, entertain the thought of building him a house near the Phalanstery. The thought of this and of Channing's satisfaction, made Rebecca quite happy. Ah, Agatha! to live among such people!—It is worth the fatigue of crossing the world's sea merely to become acquainted with them.
Next Sunday Channing will deliver a lecture in New York, and I, as well as my friends, shall go to hear him. I am well off here in Brooklyn, in this home, with this married pair and their beautiful children! Here too it is quiet and beautiful. I can wander about alone and in silence, take long walks by myself in the neighbourhood. I observe among the trees here, splendid weeping-willows, actually colossal trees. They are still quite green. The grapes ripen in the open air; Marcus has only to put his hand outside the garden-porch, around which the vine-branches form a leafy bower, to gather whole handfulls of beautiful bunches, with which he comes in and regales us. And I often walk in a long pleached alley covered with vines, where I gather and eat. The grapes are of a pale lilac colour, small, very sweet and agreeable, but have always a little lump inside which is rather sour and unripe. This may be peculiar to grapes in this country. The verandah which ornaments the front of the house is now splendid with the most beautiful chrysanthemums. In summer they tell me numbers of humming birds hover around the roses.
New York, Ninth Street
Thursday, November 15th.—Again an interruption of several days. My dear child! life is to me like a rushing river, and I must be borne on with it, taking only care that I don't lose life. The more detailed account of the career and its adventures I must leave till we meet.
Last Sunday morning I went to church with my friends—to a beautiful church with painted windows, which give a somewhat gloomy appearance to the church; people here are so afraid of sunshine. The building was fine, but the sermon, by a Unitarian preacher, was of the most meagre description. In the afternoon, we drove to New York, to hear Channing. There is always such a crowd and such a bustle on the New York side of East River, that I always feel as if one must there fight for life and limb. Yet it is very seldom that any accident occurs. I was glad to be able to hear Channing, of whose extraordinary ability as an extempore speaker I had heard so much. The room in which the lecture was to be delivered, and which might hold about five hundred persons, was quite full. It was built as an amphitheatre, in an oval half-circle. Channing entered, and commenced by prayer, standing the while with his face turned to the assembly. After this he addressed them, but with downcast eyes and in a careless and almost indifferent manner. The subject which he besought the audience, as well as himself, to consider, was “the assembly of the saints.” Some beautiful observations there were, but the whole was so devoid of any deep coherence, so undeveloped and without application, so wanting in life and warmth, that I was amazed in the highest degree. “Is this,” thought I, “American eloquence? is this the richly-gifted orator of whom I have heard so much praise? And those downcast looks, that immovability—how can it be!” But now I heard Rebecca whisper to her husband, “What is amiss with Channing? He must be ill! He is not like himself!”
This consoled me; because I now perceived that this was an unusual state with Channing. He was actually not like himself. That inspired expression of countenance which I had so often seen in him had vanished. Several times he stopped and seemed endeavouring to collect himself. But the discourse could not proceed. It was painful to see that it could not, and at length Channing brought it to a sudden close. And then, with a fine, almost hectic, flush mantling his cheek, he advanced a step or two and said—
“I feel it to be necessary to offer an excuse to the assembly for the unsatisfactory manner in which I have treated my subject, and which has arisen from a total want of spiritual life in myself this evening, and of which I was unconscious when I entered the hall.”
The undisguised and noble candour with which this explanation was given refreshed my spirit, as did also the manner in which his friends bore the disappointment of the evening. One could see that they thought, “it is of no importance, for Channing will make it up to us another time. No matter.”
A little circle of his friends surrounded him, whilst the rest of the numerous assembly quietly left the hall. Afterwards he told Marcus and Rebecca that he could not explain the weight which seemed like a bewitchment to have enchained his powers of mind that evening. He had come to New York from his house on the Hudson full of life, excited by the beautiful, star-bright evening, and full of a desire to speak. But when he entered the hall, he had become like a person deprived of the use of his limbs, and he could not shake off the heavy cramping fetters which he was disposed to ascribe to the magic influence of some opposing evil spirit.
When, however, I see at times the glance of Channing's eye, the fine clear crimson of his cheek, I cannot help asking myself whether these times of exaltation are not the contents of a dangerous chalice which, while they enhance life, bring death all the nearer; the Prometheus spirit which steals the fire of heaven is compelled to pay for it with days of imprisonment and sorrow. But who could or who would prevent the bird from seeking the mountain even though he become the prey of the fowler, or the silk-worm from spinning, although she spins her own tomb? From the very threads that she spins the human race after all make their holiday attire.
On Monday my good hosts took me to Miss Lynch, who lives in one of the quiet and fashionable quarters of New York. And, for a little time, I took leave of this couple, so pure-hearted, so happy in each other, so infinitely kind to me. But I shall return to them; with them I shall have my head-quarters, and my home whenever I return into this neighbourhood; such was the agreement between us before we parted.
On Tuesday I dined with Mrs. Kirkland, the author of that excellent and amusing book, “A New Home in the West,” and saw in the evening from sixty to seventy of her friends. Amongst these was a remarkably agreeable gentleman from Illinois, who invited me to his house there, and who promised to be my cicerone in that part of the great west. Mrs. Kirkland is one of the strong women of the country, with much à plomb, but with also much womanliness both of heart and soul, kind as a mother, a friend and fellow-citizen; one whom I like, and of a character to which I feel myself attracted; her beautiful smile and the flash of her brown eye, when she becomes animated, betray the spirit which lives in her book of the “New Home,” but over which the misfortunes and burden of life seem afterwards to have cast a veil.
On Wednesday I was taken to a lady's academy, called “the Rutger Institution,” from the name of the founder, and here I saw four hundred and sixty young girls, and some excellent arrangements for their instruction and cultivation. I also heard and read several compositions by the young girls, both in prose and verse; and I could not but admire the perspicuity of thought, the perfection of the language, and above all, the living and beautiful feeling for life which these productions displayed. Genius, properly so called, I did not find in them; and I question the wisdom of that publicity which is given to such youthful efforts. I fear that it may awaken ambition and an inclination to give importance to literary activity, which befools many young minds, while so few are possessed of the divine gift of genius which alone makes literature as well as authors good for anything. I fear that it causes them to forget for a mere show of life the beauty of that life of which Byron speaks in these glorious lines—
Many are poets, but without the name;
Many are poets who have never penned
Their inspirations, and perchance the best;
They felt, and loved, and died. * * *
The God within them, and regained the stars,
Unlaurelled upon earth, but far more blessed
Than those who are degraded by the jars
Of passion and their frailties linked to fame,
Conquerors of high renown, but full of scars.
I have also taken the liberty of expressing this in a little preface which I have been asked to write for these productions, which are about being published. And in any case, these words of Goethe, in “Faust,” apply to all writers—
First we should live; we afterwards may write.
These young girls may be said as yet scarcely to have lived, known, thought enough to write of their own experience, their own faith and conviction. They write, as people sing, by the ear. It is good, it is excellent that every one should early learn to disentangle their thoughts, to express themselves well and clearly, and for this purpose are these trials of authorship commendable. But the publicity, the having them printed, the trumpeting them abroad, the rewarding them, and so on, can that also be good for the young, for any one, or for anything?
True genius will in its own way and its own time make for itself a path to praise and renown,
For it is a god;
Its own course it knoweth,
And the paths through the clouds.
After having gone through the Institute, and taken breakfast with the family whose name it bears, and which seems to belong to the wealthy and fashionable class of the city, I dined with the N.'s, whom you may remember were with us at Årsta, and who had now kindly invited me to their house. They wished also to take me to the opera this evening, but Miss Lynch was going to have a large party, where I was to be introduced to people, and people were to be introduced to me, and I drove therefore to the house to act the parrot in a great crowd of people till towards midnight. These introductions are very wearisome; because I must for a hundred times reply to the same questions, and these for the most part of an unmeaning and trivial character, just as people would put to a parrot, whose answers are known beforehand—for example: Had you a good passage from England? How do you like New York? How do you like America? How long have you been here? How long do you think of remaining? Where are you going to from here? and such like.
It is true that numbers of really kind and good-hearted people come to see me, and I am not mistaken in the feeling which brings many others; but there are too many. It is an actual whirl of presentations and scraps of conversation which serves no other purpose than to make the soul empty and the body weary. A good earnest conversation with an earnest person would be a refreshment. But scarcely could I have begun such a one before I must turn round my head again to reply to the question, “Had you a good passage?” or “What do you think of New York?” or “How do you like America?”
Such fêtes as these are one's ruin! And in the meantime I am taken up with visits, letters, and notes, invitations, autographs, so that I have no time for myself. I had this morning a charming visit from a little lady doctor, that is to say, a lady who practises the healing art, a Miss H. H., “female physician,” as she calls herself, from Boston, who invited me to her house there, insisted upon it that I must come, would not let me escape till I had promised, and was all the time so full of animation, and so irresistibly merry that we, she and I and the whole company, burst into one peal of laughter after another. There was besides so much that was excellent and really sensible in what she said, and I felt that there was so much heart in the zealous little creature, that I could not help liking her, and made her the promise as she wished. With her was another lady, as quiet as she was active, a female professor of phrenology, who wished to get hold of my head. But my poor head has now enough to do to hold itself up in the whirl of company life.
I have passed the forenoon in making visits with Mrs. Kirkland, and at six o clock I went to dine with Consul Habicht, our Swedish Consul in New York, who is very agreeable and polite, but who dines so horribly late. In the morning I shall be taken by a lively lady, Mrs. L., to her country seat on the Hudson, and on Saturday I return to see a great number of people at Miss Lynch's. And thus is every day occupied for the whole time.
Sunday the 18th.—And now for a short time before going to church let me converse a little with my Agatha. Do you know that it is really remarkable what I have gone through, both as regards people and things. I am beginning to have an esteem for myself. But it is really necessary to be strong as a stranger and a guest in this country.
The day before yesterday Mrs. L. (an excellent type of the exuberantly youthful life of the people of the New World), fetched me and Miss Lynch to her villa on the Hudson. But firstly, we had to pay a morning visit to a rich lady, who had a morning reception, then to a little Quaker lady, eighty-four years old, the handsomest little old woman I ever saw, and who in her delicate white Quaker garments and muslin, seemed to me like a living holiday. I made a sketch of her head in my album, to Mrs. L.'s great delight, who desired people to come and look at the old lady, and at me as I sketched her.
After this we drove to a great lunatic asylum, Blumingdale, as it is called. And here I was delighted—delighted by the affectionate consideration for the patient which is shown in everything, and which treats these, the earth's most unfortunate beings, as the children of the family. Music is heard in many of the rooms, for there is a considerable number of pianos in the establishment; and the feeble mind seemed especially to enjoy the relaxation it thus obtained. Without, flowers were cultivated and planted in garden beds (within, the ladies also made flowers). There was also a museum of minerals, shells, stuffed birds, and other animals, besides a library and other things: all calculated to awaken an interest in the diseased mind, and to turn it from its morbid self-observation to the observation of other objects, and to occupy it therewith. The park which surrounds the house, is large and beautiful; and the patients may wander undisturbed in its many alleys, enjoy the beauty of the country, and rest on the benches under the trees. The flowers were a real luxury here, and on all hands one met with agreeable objects, with the exception, of course, of the poor lunatics themselves. Nay, even in them also, for in them one sees objects of much mercy—mercy which produces the most beautiful results, because the method which is universally adopted in the United States for the treatment of the insane, operates so beneficially that their recovery belongs to the rule, incurable insanity forming the exception; that is to say, if on the commencement of the disease the patient has been immediately placed in one of these excellent asylums.
From this asylum we continued our way into the country. Our hostess continually, as we drove along, springing out of the carriage, now to fetch a basket with cakes and other things for her housekeeping, now for bouquets for Miss Lynch and myself. At length we came to the beautiful villa, F. Hall, on the Hudson, where we found a large family party assembled, and where Mr. L., a kind old gentleman and a Quaker, just as quiet in body and mind as his wife was restless, was waiting dinner for us,—a substantial and delicious dinner, as were all the dinners I saw in this country. In the evening we had a party of about sixty persons. It was more agreeable than I expected, and fatigued me less. But ah! how these Americans, and in particular these lady Americans, do ask question upon question! My gay hostess—a sort of Amelia A., but with yet higher “spirits,”—refreshed and amused me. She was so full of unaffectedly fresh life. Thus, for example, she sung, and very well too; but there was a part of the song which was evidently too high for her voice, and when she came to this a second time, she stopped short just as if the notes had stuck fast in her throat, rose up and left the piano, as much untroubled as if she had been singing alone to herself, and went and chatted and laughed with various people in the company. This was all very sweet and fresh. Mr. L. is a handsome, fatherly old gentleman, whom I like much. He is his wife's second husband; and beneath this family life there is a romantic love-story, more beautiful and noble than one generally finds in written romances.
I slept well, and awoke by seeing a strong red light shining through the Venetian shutters of my window. I thought of fire, and sprang up. But it was the crimson light of sunrise which glowed with pale red flames in the eastern heavens, above the green heights, above the calm mirror-like river, and the white sails quietly sleeping, and which now, as it were, shook off sleep, awoke by its splendour. It was enchantingly beautiful. I, too, shook off sleep, both of body and mind, at this glorious spectacle. This Aurora which kissed and transfigured everything, living or dead! For such sights and such scenes is King David's song of praise alone available. “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth!”
That beautiful morning hour passed by, and I went down to breakfast. Then began the torment of the day, with company both in doors and out, and the eternal questions, which did not leave me a moment's peace, and which interrupted every dawning sentiment of delight in the lovely landscape. Some handsome young girls, in particular, drove me almost to desperation by their “Miss Bremer, have you seen the telegraph there, on the other side of the river?” “Miss Bremer, do you see the railway down there?” “Miss Bremer, do you see the splendid foliage on the river-banks?” And “Miss Bremer, have you such in Sweden?”
To hear and to have to answer such questions as these two or three times, is quite too much ; but if they are repeated six or seven times, and one does not see any end to it!—At length, quite worn out by it, I told Mrs. L. that I could not bear company in the morning, but that during this time I must be a little alone; she took it well and kindly,—mentioned it to the young girls, who also were very amiable about it, and left me in peace. But I fear that the young have lived with nature, as if they heard her not, and forgot her for railroads and outward glittering things, and see not in her an instructress and a friend. If it were not so, they would talk less and listen more, or have a little more reflection. But it is not their fault.
In the forenoon I drove round in the carriage with my hostess, Bancroft, the historian, and Anne Lynch to call on several of the neighbours. I saw in their beautiful villas a vast amount of comfort and even the exquisite luxury of pictures and statues; met in one place with a horrible lion-hunter, who tormented us with talk, albums, the desire for autographs and subscriptions and so on, and persecuted us even to our carriage, whither we had betaken ourselves, calling after Mr. Bancroft to know where he lived. “Drive, drive!” cried we, laughing, and so drove as fast as we could to the so-called “High Bridge,” where a glorious natural scene met our eyes. Yes, the scenery of this new world seems to me rich and beautiful; if one could only see it in peace, and with time for reflection! But here, in the neighbourhood of New York, people seem obliged every moment to turn their heads or their attention to the Croton Aqueduct, which conveys water from Croton to New York, a magnificent and excellent work, invaluable to the great city; but which gave me a deal of trouble! But now to proceed on our drive. Our hostess talked and laughed and joked the whole time in her overflowing animation and merriment. The carriage jumped over stock and stone along the bad road, like a leaping calf. I sat silent and patient, out of sheer fatigue. Thus drove we round the country and shore, and at length back to dinner, to see company, write autographs, and so on; then drove at full gallop to New York, where the Downings were to meet me, and a great party at Miss Lynch's. To this house on the Hudson also, and to this lady did I promise to return next summer, to go with her to her father's large farm, where she was brought up, and where her father and sisters still lived. Yes, we were to do a deal together. But ah! the exuberantly ardent lady, who I think might prevent the Hudson from freezing, I feel myself like a feeble fly beside her, and cannot but remember the story of “Le pot de fer et le pot de terre”
The Downings were already in Miss Lynch's parlour when I arrived. I was so glad to see them, and to be able to pour out my heart to them in full freedom, that all at once I felt myself rested. And if you had seen me a few hours later in a company of about a hundred people, you would not have imagined that a few hours before I had been weary and completely knocked up. Only to see the Downings revived me, to say nothing of various beautiful acts of kindness on their part. Mr. Downing looked so well this evening that he attracted the attention of many people by his remarkable and distinguished appearance, as he wandered among the crowd with his reserved demeanour, his deep and speaking eye, his half shy, half proud expression. The company at Miss Lynch's this evening was remarkably handsome: I saw some splendid toilettes and some splendid figures among the ladies. The men, in a general way, are not handsome; but they have a manly appearance,—have good foreheads, bright eyes, a cheerful and determined manner. The hostess herself, in an elegant white dress, exactly suited to her slender and well-made figure, and with a white flower in her hair, ornamenting that simply beautiful and graceful head, was one of the most agreeable forms in the company, moving about lightly and freely as a bird, introducing people to one another, mingling them in conversation in such a manner as always gave pleasure with those happy words and expressions which some people can never hit upon, let them seek ever so much, but which others can hit upon without seeking for; and Anne Lynch is one of these.
I distinguished myself peculiarly as a flower-distributor. I had received a great number of flowers to-day, and I was thus enabled to give a little bouquet of flowers to one and another lady in company. This flower-distribution pleased me greatly, because it furnished me with an opportunity of saying, or at all events, of looking a little kindness to many a one. And this is nearly the only thing I can return for all the kindness which I receive here.
Among the guests of the evening I remember in particular an agreeable Mrs. Osgood, one of the best poetesses of the United States, not only for her beautiful speaking eyes, her manner and style of expression, both so full of soul, but also because she placed in my hands her fan, saying that it must remind me of “Fanny.” All the ladies in this country use fans, and flutter and manœuvre a great deal with them; but I, as yet, had not furnished myself with one. I remember also in particular a gentleman with splendid eyes, and frank, cordial manner, whom I wished I could have had more conversation with, for there was evidently both genius and heart in him. He is one of the most celebrated preachers of the Episcopal Church of New York, and is named Hawks. This was, as yet, the most entertaining evening party I had been to in this country.
Later.—I have now been to church with Mrs. Kirkland, and have heard one of the best sermons I ever heard: no narrow-minded sectarian view of religion and life, but one in which the church—a regular cathedral church—arched itself over life, as the dome of heaven arches itself over earth and all its creatures; a large-minded sermon, such as properly befits the New World, that great new home for all the people, and all the races of the world. Bergfalk was also among the audience, and was as much struck as I was with the sermon and the preacher, Mr. Bellows.
I am now going to dine with my friends, the Downings, at the Astor House; and the evening I spend with a family of the name of S. To-morrow I go to a grand dinner, and in the evening to the opera.
Thursday.—Is there in this world anything more wearisome, more dismal, more intolerable, more indigestible, more stupefying, more unbearable, anything more calculated to kill both soul and body than a great dinner at New York? For my part, I do not believe there is. People sit down to table at half-past five or six o'clock; they are sitting at table at nine o'clock, sitting and being served with, the one course after another, with the one indigestible dish after another, eating and being silent. I have never heard such a silence as at these great dinners. In order not to go to sleep, I am obliged to eat, to eat without being hungry, and dishes, too, which do not agree with me. And all the while I feel such an emotion of impatience and wrath at this mode of wasting time and God's good gifts, and that in so stupidly wearisome a manner, that I am just ready to fling dish and plate on the floor and repay hospitality by a sermon of rebuke, if I only had courage enough. But I am silent, and suffer and grumble and scold in silence. Not quite beautiful this; but I cannot help it! I was yesterday at one of these great dinners—a horrible feast! Two elderly gentlemen, lawyers, sat opposite me, sat and dozed while they opened their mouths to put in the delicacies which were offered to them. At our peasant-weddings, where people also sit three hours at table, there are, nevertheless, talk and toasts, and gifts for the bride and bridegroom, and fiddlers to play in every dish; but here one has nothing but the meat. And the dinners in Denmark! I cannot but think of them, with their few but excellent dishes, and animated cheerful guests, who merely were sometimes too loud in their zeal for talking, and making themselves heard; the wit, the joke, the stories, the toasts, the conversations, that merry, free, lively laisser aller, which distinguishes Danish social life; in truth, it was champagne—champagne for soul and body at the entertainments there!—the last at which I was present in Europe before I came hither. But these entertainments here! they are destined to hell, as Heiberg says in “A Soul after Death,” and they are called “the tiresome.” And they ought to be introduced into the Litany. On this occasion, however, Fortune was kind to me and placed by my side the interesting clergyman, Dr. Hawks, who during dinner explained to me with his beautiful voice, and in his lucid and excellent manner, his ideas regarding the remains in Central America, and his hypothesis of the union of the two continents of America and Asia in a very remote age. It was interesting to hear him, and interesting would it be to me to see and hear more of this man, whose character and manner attract me. He also is among those who have invited me to his house and home, but whose invitation I am obliged to decline, and in this case I feel that it is a renunciation and loss.
As he led me from the dinner-table, I proposed to him to preach against such dinners. But he shook his head, and said, with a smile, “Not against dinners, Miss Bremer!”
Gentlemen, even the best of them, are decidedly too fond of eating.
When at night I went home with Anne Lynch, the air was delicious, and the walk through this night air, and in the quiet streets—the causeways here are broad and as smooth as a house-floor—very agreeable. The starry heavens—God's town—stood with streets and groups of glittering dwellings in quiet grandeur and silence above us. And here, in that quiet, starlight night, Anne Lynch unfolded all her soul to me, and I saw an earnest and profound depth, bright with stars, such as I scarcely expected in this gay being, who, butterfly-like, flutters through the life of society as in its proper element. I had always thought her uncommonly agreeable, had admired the ability with which she, without affluence, and who, alone by her talents and personal endowments, had made for herself and for her estimable mother an independence, and by which she had become the gathering point for the literary and the most cultivated society of New York, who assembled once a week in her drawing-room. I had admired also her inoffensive wit; her child-like gaiety and good-humour, and especially liked a certain expression in her eye, as if it were seeking for something, “something a long, long way off,” even in her apparently dissipated worldly life; in a word, I had liked her, had a deep interest in her—now I loved her. She is one of the birds of Paradise which skims over the world without soiling its wings with its dust. Anne Lynch, with her individuality and her position in society, is one of the peculiar figures of the New World.
The evening and night parties which I see here are, for the rest, not to compare with the most beautiful of the kind which I have seen in Sweden and Denmark. Here there is not space nor yet flowers enough, nor air enough. Above everything, I lack costume, character in dress. The ladies are handsome, are well and tastefully dressed, but they are too much like one another. The gentlemen are all dressed alike. This cannot here be otherwise, and it is good and right at the bottom. But it is not good for picturesque effect. Nor does it seem to me that the mental individuality is sufficiently marked to produce an outward impression. But to this subject I must return.
At the opera this evening I saw a large and handsome building; splendid toilettes in the boxes, and on the stage a prima donna, as Desdemona, against whom I have nothing to object, excepting that she could love such a disagreeable Othello. The music, the singing, and the scenery, all tolerably good (with the exception of Othello), but nothing very good. One might say, ce n'est pas ça! but there was nothing which would make one think “C'est ça!” like a tone, a glance, a gesture of Jenny Lind.
A lecture was delivered last Sunday evening, in the same hall where I had heard Channing, on Christian Socialism, by Mr. Henry James, a wealthy, and, as it is said, a good man. His doctrine was that which recognises no right but that of involuntary attraction, no law of duty but that of the artist's worship of beauty, no God but that of the pantheist, everywhere and yet nowhere—a doctrine of which there is no lack of preachers either in Sweden. After the conclusion of the discourse, which was given extempore, with accordant life and flashing vivacity, Channing arose and said, that “if the doctrine which we had just heard enunciated were Christian Socialism, then he did not agree with it; that the subject ought to be searched to the bottom; that he considered the views of the speaker to be erroneous, and that on the following Sunday he would take up the question in that place, and show them in what the errors of these views consisted.”
The thing has excited attention, because both speakers are fellow-labourers in a newspaper called “The Spirit of the Age,” and both are men of distinguished talent. I am glad, as I shall thus have an opportunity of hearing Channing before I leave New York, and that on one of the most interesting subjects of the day and period.
The next letter which you will receive from me will be from the homes of New England. Next Monday I set off with the S.'s. One of the first homes in which I shall rest after the festival of Thanksgiving Day, will be that of the excellent and noble poet Lowell. The invitation came to me from himself and his wife, while I was with the Downings. As yet I have scarcely done anything but go from one house to another, interesting, but troublesome, for one must always be charged, if not exactly with genius, at least with good-humour and strength to see company, and to be agreeable, when one often feels oneself so weary as not to be good for anything else than to sit in a corner and be silent—or spin. But, thank God for all that is good and joy-giving! And how much more joyfully should I spin this life of festivals and living impressions if I did but know that you, my little Agatha, were joyful and a little better. We cannot, however, expect very much at this time of the year. I kiss mamma's hand, and thank her for that dear letter, and embrace you across the great waters.