The Homes of the New World/Letter XXII.
Rose Cottage, Brooklyn, August 20th.
Delightful as it was, my dear little Agatha, to receive your letter of the 12th of July, warm as it made my heart to read of your tender regard for me, yet I was deeply grieved to find you so weak and suffering; and I feel almost a reproach of conscience that I am not with you, that I am not helping you by all means in my power, at all events as regards the sick people in the country, because that must be almost too much for you. Your own indisposition must prevent your bearing that of others calmly. I endeavour to console myself with the reflection that you are now at Marstand, away from the sorrows and anxieties of the day, and that you are gaining new strength by bathing, which is always so beneficial to you. Ah! if that sea-bathing could but be to you what those seventeen or eighteen days at Cape May have been to me! I have now only remaining of my former indisposition a slight tendency to palpitation of the heart, and some degree of sleeplessness; but my little homœopathic globules never fail to relieve me in these respects.
As regards my remaining here for some months yet, that has become almost an indispensable thing. I should be unable to go so far, or to see that which I must see before winter sets in. My journey to the West hes before me yet unaccomplished. This could not be done properly in less than ten or twelve weeks, and that would take me far into November, and to return home from North America without having seen the great West and its growing life, would be to me like seeing the opera of “Gustavus Wasa” played without the part of the hero. In the month of December I might return home, but I acknowledge that I am a little timid at the thoughts of that long sea-voyage at that season of the year (although I would not say anything about it), yet even then I should leave unseen a great deal which would be of infinite advantage to me to have seen, and to have become acquainted with, and which I may never again have an opportunity of being within reach of. In about four or five months, on the other side of December, I should hope to have accomplished all which I think I ought to do here, and then, my darling, I could return and be with you at Marstrand, in Stockholm, at Årsta, or wherever you might be, and then we could talk, and think, and read, and write, and, please God, enjoy life together with our good, beloved mother; and do the best we could with what was wrong if we could not make it all right. And as for me, do not be uneasy; my little travelling fairy goes with me on the journey, and with the help of God, helps me on all occasions; and since that good sea-bathing I feel again that I have courage to encounter the Giants of the West, and I think that the very sight of them will cause my strength to become as that of a giant, if I were but easy about you!
August 23rd.—Your letter from Marstrand! Ah, thank God for it! It made me really happy; for your former letter had made me deeply anxious. Ah, how glad I am that you feel yourself improving again, and that you are again able to enjoy life; I bless that sea-bathing, and thank God and hope that all will be well with you for the future. Next year we must all four labour for the establishing of your health, I, you, sea-bathing, and homœopathy. And what a pleasure, and how amusing it was, to hear you speak so charmingly and cheerfully of one thing and another: about the entrance of the crown-princess into Stockholm; yes, how delightful it was that she was so beautifully received, and that she is so good, and looks so agreeable! I wanted to hear something about her; I should have liked to have been among the people who scattered flowers over her, and have joined my shout of “Welcome!” to theirs.
And Jenny Lind is actually on her way to America! A terrific welcome awaits her; she will be lucky if she escapes with life! The fame of her beneficence, and her fine disposition, still more than that of her powers as a singer, have opened all hearts and all arms to her, and an angel from Heaven is not as perfect as people imagine Jenny Lind to be, and would not be half so welcome. The Americans are born enthusiasts, and I would be the last to reproach them with it. No human being, and no nation either, can ever become anything great, if they are not possessed of that overflowing power which finds its vent in enthusiasm. That critical disposition belongs to old people, or to little people.
The letter from home, which I waited for here before I decided farther upon my journeyings, made me so unspeakably happy that I could not help hastening down to Rebecca, that I might talk to her about its beloved contents, and we embraced each other in the joy that it afforded, and because we could still remain together for awhile.
I shall now accompany the S.'s to Cony Island, an island in the neighbourhood of New York, where there is a bathing establishment, and of which I shall again avail myself. After that they will accompany me a short distance on my way to the West, up the Hudson, to the community of the Shakers at New Lebanon, where the young Lowells will meet me, and with them I shall go to Niagara. The S.'s are not able to go so far, although they would have liked it much. I shall not see my friends, the Downings, this time, for which I am sorry; but the last week of my stay in this country shall be reserved for them.
In Rose Cottage, in that good and almost perfect home, everything is good, peaceful, affectionate, as is its wont. Ripe fruits surround Rose Cottage—peaches, apricots, plums, grapes. All Brooklyn, and even New York, is at this moment like a fruiterer's shop, full of peaches and apricots: and such peaches!—the fruit of Hesperia. Every little lad and lass in the Union can eat their full of them. Eddy is happy with a whole swarm of little rabbits, and baby stands with its golden locks in the garden, and rejoices when the butterflies come and seat themselves on their thrones, that is to say, on the flowers. The sweet little fellow is, however, still delicate, and the parents go to the sea-side principally for his sake.
I have found Marcus and Rebecca, and many of my friends, greatly distressed by the new law respecting fugitive slaves, which has annihilated all security for these unfortunates in the United States. Already are slave-catchers from the South in active operation, and thousands of slaves have now left their homes in these Northern States, and have fled to Canada or across the sea to England. Just lately an escaped slave was seized in Boston, and carried back into slavery. The people were in a great ferment, but they made no open opposition. The law commanded it, and they obeyed. But the bells of the city tolled as for a funeral. How I sympathised with my friends in this their country's great sorrow—that now there should not be a single spot of earth within the Union, which can be said to be an asylum for freedom! They are exasperated, not against the South, but against that portion of the people of the North who, for the interests of mammon, or the cotton interest, as the phrase is, have given up this noblest right. The South has fought for an ancient half-won right; the North has no such excuse. I understand and I know their willingness to sacrifice much, and to suffer much, in order to alter these unfortunate circumstances, the result of slavery. But I cannot, in all cases, participate in their views of the question. I am more hopeful than they. I have more faith in the victory of the nobler South and the nobler North. In the great combat between God and mammon this slave-law is indeed a lost battle; but all is not lost with it. I believe with Clay and Webster, that it is one step backward which has been demanded by the necessity of the moment, but only preparatory to a greater advance on the path of freedom. But of all this I have spoken with you in Washington.
Shortly after Clay left Congress for the sea-side, nearly all the measures were carried which he had proposed in his Compromise Bill (the Omnibus Bill)—the omnibus, so to speak, was unhorsed, and left empty, and the votes were taken on each separate measure, independently of the rest, and were carried with only some small alterations. That great statesman had probably hit upon the only possible means of reconciliation between the North and the South. Some of the Southern States are, however, still dissatisfied; and South Carolina, as well as Mississippi, demands a secession from the Union, and Carolina, it is said, is seriously preparing for war! But this is foolish, and can only be injurious to the Palmetto State, who will find no coadjutors, and one among the many signifies nothing, and can accomplish nothing.
Among the many subjects which here interest the public mind at the present moment is the ultimate confession of the murderer, Professor Webster, and his execution. But where throughout the United States has not his criminal history been the subject of conversation? In Charleston and Savannah, as well as in Boston and New York the public has universally given the closest attention to the trial—old gentlemen, young girls, all, in short, were either for or against Professor Webster, and a most charming young girl of fifteen, in Savannah, had taken it into her head that a Mr. Littlefield, Webster's principal accuser, was the murderer of Parkman, and not Webster; and she argued for her view of the subject both earnestly and spiritedly. In the meantime, Webster, after innumerable lies and prevarications, confessed himself to be the murderer,—confessed, it is said, in the belief that he should receive mercy, as he maintained that the murder was done in self-defence. Many circumstances, however, seemed to contradict this, and Webster throughout the whole affair had shown himself to be such an unconscionable prevaricator, that this part of his confession obtained no credence, and he was condemned to execution by the judge of Massachusetts. The Unitarian minister, Mr. Peebody, prepared him for death, which he met with resignation. His wife and children who, to the very last, believed him innocent, have behaved most admirably. They work for their maintenance, and have declined the pecuniary assistance which the widow of the murdered man had most nobly offered to them. One of the daughters is married, and resides in Madeira, another is engaged to be married, and it is said that the whole family will leave America for Madeira. I rejoice that they are able to leave the country.
Spite of this murder having been clearly proved, and of the low tone of morality in Webster, yet is the feeling in these Northern States so strongly opposed to capital punishment, that it has expressed itself even in this case by various protests. One family, residing in a house just opposite the prison, within the inner court of which the criminal suffered, removed during that time from their house, and left a placard on the door, with these words—
“Opposed to Capital Punishment.”
Cony Island, August 26th.
Again by the sea! Again I inhale the fresh breezes of the great sea in company with my excellent friends. Marcus is well, and enjoys life here. Baby improves every day. The place is solitary, and has a wild charm. The moon shines magnificently over the sea, which roars loudly, agitated by the wind. I walk on the shore in the evening with Marcus, and indoors, Rebecca tells me in the clear moonlight occurrences in the history of the inner light, which prove the wonderful life and guiding of that inner light, where the soul truly waits for it with quiet introverted attention.
Small fires in rows and circles shine out on the sands by the sea, or among the trees on the shore. There are brushwood fires in which the “clams,” a kind of large mussel, are roasted for suppers on the sands. They are delicate in flavour, and to my taste superior to oysters. The weather is cool, and bathing refreshing. We all enjoy ourselves, are all happy.
Before I left Brooklyn, we heard, one Sunday, a sermon from young Mr. Beecher. He had lately expressed his feelings very strongly on the subject of the Fugitive Slave Law in an evangelical newspaper, of which he is a co-editor. Several of his congregation had taken great offence at this, and Beecher now delivered from the pulpit his confession of faith as regarded the duty of a minister with reference to his congregation and his conscience. It was in few, but powerful words, as follows:—“If the law of God and my own conscience bid me to do one thing, and you, the people of the congregation, say that I must not obey it, but you if I would remain quiet among you—in that case, then, I must——go! And I will go, if I cannot remain quiet among you, with a good conscience.” The chapel was full to overflowing; the congregation as profoundly serious as the minister. It was reality, and no make-believe, with them all. But there is no danger that Beecher will have to go. He is too much esteemed, and beloved, for them not to concede to him, when they know that he is in reality right, at least in intention, if not always in manner.
August 27th.—I now, my beloved child, am preparing to set off to the great West, which stands before me in a kind of mythological nebulosity, half mist, half splendour, and about which I know nothing rightly, excepting that it is great, great, great! How? Why? In what way? Whether it is peopled by gods or giants, giants of frost and hobgoblins, or by all those old mythological gentry together—I have yet to discover. That Thor and Loke yet wrestle vigorously in that fairy-tale-like Utgård, is however, what I quite anticipate, and that the goblins are at home there also, that I know, because of certain “spiritual rappings or knockings,” as they are called, of which I have heard and read some very queer things, since I have been in this country. These are a standing subject in the newspapers at this time, and are treated partly in jest and partly in earnest. But I shall certainly find Iduna with the apple of the Hesperides, in that Eden of the setting sun. Do not the Alleghany Mountains and Niagara stand as giant watchers at its entrance, to open the portals of that new garden of Paradise, the latest home of the human race? Those glorious cherubim forbid not the entrance, they invite it, because they are great and beautiful.
The people of Europe pour in through the cities of the eastern coast. Those are the portals of the outer court; but the West is the garden where the rivers carry along with them gold, and where stands the tree of life and of death. There the tongue of the serpent and the voice of God are again heard by a new humanity.
That great, enigmatical land of the West, with its giant rivers and giant falls and giant lakes; with its valley of the Mississippi and its Rocky Mountains, and its land of gold and the Pacific Ocean; with its buffaloes and its golden humming-birds; the land which nourishes States as the children of men, and where cities grow great in a human life; where the watchword of existence—is growth, progress! This enigmatic, promised land, this land of the future I shall now behold!
I long for it as for the oracle which shall give a response to many of my spirit's questions. My little basket is filled with bananas and peaches, my travelling-fairy is with me, and the last letter of my beloved. God bless my precious sister, her sea-bathing and her friends, and for her sake also, her sister and her friend,
P.S. How fervently with my whole heart do I thank my beloved mamma for that permission, so kindly given, for me to remain over the winter in America. Those kind, dear words will accompany me on my pilgrimage like my mother's blessing. And be not uneasy for me, my sweet mamma. Human beings continue to be infinitely kind to my mother's daughter. And I meet with good friends and good homes everywhere. Excepting in my own country I could not find better homes, nor experience kinder care, than here. I cannot describe how thankful I am for this journey, and the effect which it has on me. May I only be able some time to develope its garnered treasure in my Swedish home, and with my beloved ones!