The Homes of the New World/Letter VIII.

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LETTER VIII.

Boston, January 1st, 1850.

A good New Year to all the beloved ones at home!

Thanks, my dearest little Agatha, for your letter! It was a heart-felt joy and refreshment to me; for although there was here and there a joyless shadow in it, yet a cheerful spirit breathed through the letter, which told me that you were sound both soul and body. And how amusing it was to see you go out to dine with the relations right and left! And all the little news of home; of the new servant, for instance, who stands so assiduously so rivetted to the back of your chair, and then darts in the way before you, out of sheer respect and zeal to open the doors; ah, how amusing is all this to read about, and how amusing it seems at several thousand miles distance! And that mamma should be looking so well, and Charlotte so much better—and Hagbert be so pleased amid his activity in the country—is very inspiriting.

I now again write to you in the house of Benzon, sitting in a handsome little parlour, furnished with green velvet, and with beautiful pictures and engravings on the walls; and I cannot tell you how glad I am to be here at rest for a time, a month at least, because I require repose both for soul and body, and I cannot possibly have more quiet, freedom, and comfort than I have here. I have not been so well for some time, for all that moving about and that life of visiting, with its incessant demands both on soul and body, were too much for me; and all the time I was losing sleep and freshness of mind. But thank God, both one and the other promises to return with giant strides after a few days rest, and the benefit of a sort of Chinese decoction, given me by my little lady-physician, and—“Hakon Jarl is still alive!” But people live quite differently here to what they do in Europe. Climate and food are different, and I do not believe that the latter is suitable to the climate.

It was not without pain that I left the Lowells. They are extremely estimable people, and I have really a sisterly affection for them. Miss H. seized upon me with all her might. I had not much inclination for the visit, but it turned out much better than I expected. In the first place it was amusing to become more nearly acquainted with this very peculiar individual. People may have better manners, more tact, and so on, but it would be impossible to have a better heart; one more warm for the best interests of mankind, and, upon the whole, more practical sagacity. She is of a Quaker family, and with that determined will and energy which belongs to the Quaker temperament, she early resolved to open both for herself and her sex a path which she conceived it important that women should pursue, and towards which she felt herself drawn in an especial manner. She therefore, together with a younger sister, took private instruction from a clever and well-disposed physician; and she has now, for her sister is married, been in practice twelve years as a physician of women and children, acquiring the public confidence, and laying up property (as, for instance, the house in which she lives, a frugally furnished but excellent house, is her own), and aiding, as I heard from many, great numbers of ladies in sickness, and in diseases peculiar to their sex. In especial has she been a benefactor to the women of the lower working classes, delivering to them also lectures on physiology, which have been attended by hundreds of women. She read them to me; and the first I heard, or rather the introductory lecture, gave me a high opinion of the little doctor and her powers of mind. I was really delighted with her, and now, for the first time, fully saw the importance of women devoting themselves to the medical profession. The view she took of the human body, and of its value, had a thoroughly religious tendency, and when she laid it upon the woman's heart to value her own and her child's physical frame, to understand them aright, and to estimate them aright, it was because their destination was lofty,—because they are the habitations of the soul and the temples of God. There was an earnestness, a simplicity, and an honesty in her representations, integrity and purity in every word; the style was of the highest class, and these lectures could not but operate powerfully upon every poor human heart, and in particular on the heart of every mother. And when one reflects how important for future generations is the proper estimation of the woman and the child, how much depends upon diet, upon that fostering which lies beyond the sphere of the physician and his oversight, and which women alone can rightly understand; who can doubt of the importance of the female physician in whose case science steps in to aid the natural sense, and to constitute her the best helper and counsellor of women and children? That women have a natural feeling and talent for the vocation of physician is proved by innumerable instances, from the experience of all ages and people. And it is a shame and a pity that men have not hitherto permitted these to be developed by science. How much good for instance might be done, especially in the country among the peasantry, if the midwife, besides the knowledge which is requisite to bring a child into the world, united also to this the requisite knowledge for helping the mother and child to a life of health. But man has neglected this, and still neglects it, and it avenges itself upon thousands of sickly mothers and sickly children. If, then, woman possesses naturally a religious tendency of mind, and the disposition to regard life and all things from a central, sanctifying point of view inclines her to treat, even the smallest thing as of importance looked at from this point of view; if she is gifted by nature with the mother's heart, and the mother's love, how well it suits her to become a priestess of the temple in which the child should be sanctified to God—to the God of health and holiness! How sacred is her right to be there consecrated!

In the old times the physician was also the priest, and consecrated to holy mysteries. The descendants of Æsculapius were a holy race, and among them were also women; the daughter of Æsculapius, Hygeia, one of them, was called the goddess of health. Of this race came Hippocrates. We now talk about Hygeia, but we only talk. She must be recalled to earth; she must have room given to her, and justice done to her if she is to present the earth with a new Hippocrates.

But to return to my little human doctoress, who is not without those sparks of the divine life, which prove her to belong to the family of Æsculapius. One sees this in her eye, and hears it in her words. But the round short figure has wholly and entirely an earthly character, and nothing in it indicates the higher ideal life, excepting a pair of small, beautiful and white hands, as soft as silk—almost too soft, and, as I already said, a glance peculiarly sagacious and penetrating.

With her I saw several of the “emancipated ladies,” as they are called; such, for instance, as deliver public lectures, speak in public at antislavery meetings, etc. One of these struck me from the picturesque beauty of her figure and head, her pale noble countenance and rich golden hair, together with the perfect gentleness and womanliness of her whole demeanour and conversation, united to manly force of will and conviction. She is a Mrs. Paulina Davis, from Providence, and has for many years delivered with great success, lectures on physiology, which are much attended by the working classes. She and my little doctoress are warm friends. I saw also her husband, Mr. Davis; he seems to he a sensible man, and perfectly approves his wife's views and activity. I promised to visit this couple in Providence.

I heard here many things about the Shakers and their community, as my little doctor is physician of some of them; I also read several letters of some of their elders, in which occurred beautiful, pious thoughts and feelings, but in a very narrow sphere. I received an invitation to visit the Shaker establishment at Harvard, near Boston, and where there is a garden of medicinal plants. I shall be glad to become better acquainted with these extraordinary people. I saw here various new kinds of people and strangers, because my little doctor has a large circle of acquaintances. Every evening, at the close of the day, she read her Bible aloud, and we had prayers in the old Puritanic style.

My visit, and the new pictures of life which I saw here, were really refreshing to me: but I was glad nevertheless to return to the repose of Mr. Benzon's house, where Mrs. K. does not say three words during the day, and yet is kind and agreeable, and where a respectable good-tempered German, Christine, takes care both of the house and of me, and where I can be alone a great portion of the day, because Benzon is occupied at his office out of the house. When he returns in the evening he is an extremely pleasant companion, reading to me, or conversing in an entertaining manner. I have hitherto neither received visits nor accepted invitations, but have so arranged that Mondays are my reception days. Thus I shall now begin to breathe in peace, and to read and write a little. To-day, however, Benzon will accompany me to the Lowells, whom I wish to surprise with a few little matters which I hope will give them pleasure. One feels oneself so poor if always receiving kindness.

December 8th.—And now, my dear child, I have received your second letter. And your letters—do you hear?—you are not to despise. To be able to see by them exactly how things are at home, that is my wish, whether it be cloudy or bright, and your letters can give me nothing more precious than the simple truth—than the reality as it is. And my little Agatha, bear in mind as much as possible that spring and summer will return—that the sun is behind the cloud and will come forth in his due time. That is an old song, but I have often experienced its truth, and I do so now.

We have here a perfectly Swedish winter, and to-day it is as grey and cold as we ever could have it at Stockholm. And it is a little satisfaction to me not to have it better than my friends in Sweden. I am most excellently well off at Benzon's house, and it is a satisfaction to pay something towards my living, though that is not done till Mr. Benzon leaves for Europe, which he will do on Wednesday. He will not however reach Stockholm before May or June. He will then call on mamma and you and convey greetings from me.

Yesterday forenoon I had my reception, between twelve and four o'clock, and saw a whole crowd of people, and received a great number of invitations. Among these was one from a lady with whom I would gladly become more intimate; this was a Mrs. B., a young and affluent widow with one child, a splendid little girl. She looked so good, so very much like a gentlewoman, was so agreeable and so unspeakably amiable towards me; she wished merely, she said, that I should be benefited by her, that she might drive me out, and endeavour to give me all the pleasure she could in the most delicate and agreeable manner. I should like it; in her nothing repels, but much pleases me. We could sit side by side in the carriage and be silent, and of that I am very fond.

I have also been present at one of the “Conversations” of Alcott, the Transcendentalist, and have even taken some part in the conversation. There were present from forty to fifty people, all seated on benches. Alcott sits in a pulpit with his face towards the people, and begins the conversation by reading something aloud. On this occasion it was from the writings of Pythagoras. He is a handsome man of gentle manners, but a dreamer whose Pythagorean wisdom will hardly make people wiser now a days. He himself has lived for many years only on bread, fruits, vegetables, and water, and this is what he wishes all other people to do; and thus fed, they would become, according to his theory, beautiful, good and happy beings. Sin is to be driven out by diet. And the sacred flood of enthusiasm would constantly flow in the human being purified and beautified by diet. Both the proposition and the conversation were in the clouds, although I made a few attempts to draw them forth. Alcott drank water and we drank—fog. He has paid me a few visits, and has interested me as a study. He passed last evening with me and Benzon, and entertained us with various portions of his doctrine. Every blaond and blue-eyed person, according to him, belongs to the nations of light, to the realm of light and goodness. I should think Lowell would be Alcott's ideal of a son of light; all persons however with dark eyes and hair, are of the night and evil. I mentioned Wilberforce and other champions of the light, with dark hair. But the good Alcott hears an objection as if he heard it not, and his conversations consist in his talking and teaching himself. We drank tea, and I endeavoured to persuade Alcott to drink at least a glass of milk. But that was too much akin to animal food. He would not take anything but a glass of water and a piece of bread. He is at all events a Transcendentalist who lives as he teaches.

I have accepted some invitations for this week. I am to dine on Sunday with Laura Bridgeman at the house of her second creator, the director of the Deaf and Dumb Institution in Boston—Dr. How. His agreeable wife came here herself with the invitation.

9th.—I shall now close my letter because Benzon is about to set out on his journey. I shall miss him, for he has been indescribably kind and agreeable to me, and has arranged everything beforehand so admirably, that it could not be better or more convenient.

To-day I shall dine and spend the evening out. So also to-morrow; and to-morrow in the forenoon I shall visit several public institutions in company with Charles Sumner, the young giant and lawyer. I begin now to rattle about again. If one could only do it in moderation. But there are difficulties here in this country.

Bergfalk is again in New York. We shall probably hardly meet again, as his ways are not my ways, excepting in our common goal and object—Sweden.