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Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter XV.: The Third Trip to Europe, 1859.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mrs. Stowe's third and last trip to Europe was undertaken in the
summer of 1859. In writing to Lady Byron in May of that year, she
says: "I am at present writing something that interests me greatly,
and may interest you, as an attempt to portray the heart and life of
New England, its religion, theology, and manners. Sampson Low & Son
are issuing it in numbers, and I should be glad to know how they
strike you. It is to publish this work complete that I intend to visit
England this summer."
The story thus referred to was "The Minister's Wooing," and Lady
Byron's answer to the above, which is appended, leaves no room for
doubt as to her appreciation of it. She writes:--
LONDON, May 31,1859.
DEAR FRIEND,--I have found, particularly as to yourself, that if I did
not answer from the first impulse, all had evaporated. Your letter
came by the Niagara, which brought Fanny Kemble, to learn the loss of
her best friend, that Miss Fitzhugh whom you saw at my house.
I have an intense interest in your new novel. More power in these few
numbers than in any of your former writings, relatively, at least to
my own mind. More power than in "Adam Bede," which is the book
of the season, and well deserves a high place. Whether Mrs. Scudder
will rival Mrs. Poyser, we shall see.
It would amuse you to hear my granddaughter and myself attempting to
foresee the future of the "love story," being quite persuaded for the
moment that James is at sea, and the minister about to ruin himself.
We think that she will labor to be in love with the self-devoting man,
under her mother's influence, and from that hyper-conscientiousness so
common with good girls,--but we don't wish her to succeed. Then what
is to become of her older lover? He--Time will show. I have just
missed Dale Owen, with whom I wished to have conversed about the
"Spiritualism." Harris is lecturing here on religion. I do not hear
him praised. People are looking for helps to believe everywhere but in
life,--in music, in architecture, in antiquity, in ceremony,--and upon
all is written, "Thou shalt not believe." At least, if this be
faith, happier the unbeliever. I am willing to see through that
materialism, but if I am to rest there, I would rend the veil.
June 1. The day of the packet's sailing. I shall hope to be
visited by you here. The best flowers sent me have been placed in your
little vases, giving life, as it were, to the remembrance of you,
though not to pass away like them.
Ever yours, A. T. NOEL BYRON.
The entire family, with the exception of the youngest son, was abroad
at this time. The two eldest daughters were in Paris, having
previously sailed for Havre in March, in company with their cousin,
Miss Beecher. On their arrival in Paris, they went directly to the
house of their old friend, Madame Borione, and soon afterwards entered
a Protestant school. The rest of the family, including Mrs. Stowe, her
husband and youngest daughter, sailed for Liverpool early in August.
At about the same time, Fred Stowe, in company with his friend Samuel
Scoville, took passage for the same port in a sailing vessel. A
comprehensive outline of the earlier portion of this foreign tour is
given in the following letter written by Professor Stowe to the sole
member of the family remaining in America:
CASTLE CHILLON, SWITZERLAND, September 1, 1859.
DEAR LITTLE CHARLEY,--We are all here except Fred, and all well. We
have had a most interesting journey, of which I must give a brief
We sailed from New York in the steamer Asia, on the 3d of August
, a very hot day, and for ten days it was the hottest weather I
ever knew at sea. We had a splendid ship's company, mostly foreigners,
Italians, Spaniards, with a sprinkling of Scotch and Irish. We passed
one big iceberg in the night close to, and as the iceberg wouldn't
turn out for us we turned out for the iceberg, and were very glad to
come off so. This was the night of the 9th of August, and after that
we had cooler weather, and on the morning of the 13th the wind blew
like all possessed, and so continued till afternoon. Sunday morning,
the 14th, we got safe into Liverpool, landed, and went to the Adelphi
Hotel. Mamma and Georgie were only a little sick on the way over, and
that was the morning of the 13th.
As it was court time, the high sheriff of Lancashire, Sir Robert
Gerauld, a fine, stout, old, gray-haired John Bull, came thundering up
to the hotel at noon in his grand coach with six beautiful horses with
outriders, and two trumpeters, and twelve men with javelins for a
guard, all dressed in the gayest manner, and rushing along like Time
in the primer, the trumpeters too-ti-toot-tooing like a house a-fire,
and how I wished my little Charley had been there to see it!
Monday we wanted to go and see the court, so we went over to St.
George's Hall, a most magnificent structure, that beats the Boston
State House all hollow, and Sir Robert Gerauld himself met us, and
said he would get us a good place. So he took us away round a narrow,
crooked passage, and opened a little door, where we saw nothing but a
great, crimson curtain, which he told us to put aside and go straight
on; and where do you think we all found ourselves?
Right on the platform with the judges in their big wigs and long
robes, and facing the whole crowded court! It was enough to frighten a
body into fits, but we took it quietly as we could, and your mamma
looked as meek as Moses in her little, battered straw hat and gray
cloak, seeming to say, "I didn't come here o' purpose."
That same night we arrived in London, and Tuesday (August 16th),
riding over the city, we called at Stafford House, and inquired if the
Duchess of Sutherland was there. A servant came out and said the
duchess was in and would be very glad to see us; so your mamma,
Georgie, and I went walking up the magnificent staircase in the
entrance hall, and the great, noble, brilliant duchess came sailing
down the stairs to meet us, in her white morning dress (for it was
only four o'clock in the afternoon, and she was not yet dressed for
dinner), took your mamma into her great bosom, and folded her up till
the little Yankee woman looked like a small gray kitten half covered
in a snowbank, and kissed and kissed her, and then she took up little
Georgie and kissed her, and then she took my hand, and didn't kiss me.
Next day we went to the duchess's villa, near Windsor Castle, and had
a grand time riding round the park, sailing on the Thames, and eating
the very best dinner that was ever set on a table.
We stayed in London till the 25th of August, and then went to Paris
and found H. and E. and H. B. all well and happy; and on the 30th of
August we all went to Geneva together, and to-day, the 1st of
September, we all took a sail up the beautiful Lake Leman here in the
midst of the Alps, close by the old castle of Chillon, about which
Lord Byron has written a poem. In a day or two we shall go to
Chamouni, and then Georgie and I will go back to Paris and London, and
so home at the time appointed. Until then I remain as ever, Your
loving father, C. E. STOWE.
Mrs. Stowe accompanied her husband and daughter to England, where,
after traveling and visiting for two weeks, she bade them good-by and
returned to her daughters in Switzerland. From Lausanne she writes
under date of October 9th:--
MY DEAR HUSBAND,--Here we are at Lausanne, in the Hotel Gibbon,
occupying the very parlor that the Ruskins had when we were here
before. The day I left you I progressed prosperously to Paris. Reached
there about one o'clock at night; could get no carriage, and finally
had to turn in at a little hotel close by the station, where I slept
till morning. I could not but think what if anything should happen to
me there? Nobody knew me or where I was, but the bed was clean, the
room respectable; so I locked my door and slept, then took a carriage
in the morning, and found Madame Borione at breakfast. I write to-
night, that you may get a letter from me at the earliest possible date
after your return.
Instead of coming to Geneva in one day, I stopped over one night at
Macon, got to Geneva the next day about four o'clock, and to Lausanne
at eight. Coming up-stairs and opening the door, I found the whole
party seated with their books and embroidery about a centre-table, and
looking as homelike and cosy as possible. You may imagine the
greetings, the kissing, laughing, and good times generally.
>From Lausanne the merry party traveled toward Florence by easy stages,
stopping at Lake Como, Milan, Verona, Venice, Genoa, and Leghorn. At
Florence, where they arrived early in November, they met Fred Stowe
and his friend, Samuel Scoville, and here they were also joined by
their Brooklyn friends, the Howards. Thus it was a large and
thoroughly congenial party that settled down in the old Italian city
to spend the winter. From here Mrs. Stowe wrote weekly letters to her
husband in Andover, and among them are the following, that not only
throw light upon their mode of life, but illustrate a marked tendency
of her mind:--
FLORENCE, Christmas Day, 1859.
MY DEAR HUSBAND,--I wish you all a Merry Christmas, hoping to spend
the next one with you. For us, we are expecting to spend this evening
with quite a circle of American friends. With Scoville and Fred came
L. Bacon (son of Dr. Bacon); a Mr. Porter, who is to study theology at
Andover, and is now making the tour of Europe; Mr. Clarke, formerly
minister at Cornwall; Mr. Jenkyns, of Lowell; Mr. and Mrs. Howard,
John and Annie Howard, who came in most unexpectedly upon us last
night. So we shall have quite a New England party, and shall sing
Millais' Christmas hymn in great force. Hope you will all do the same
in the old stone cabin.
Our parlor is all trimmed with laurel and myrtle, looking like a great
bower, and our mantel and table are redolent with bouquets of orange
blossoms and pinks.
January 16, 1860.
MY DEAR HUSBAND,--Your letter received to-day has raised quite a
weight from my mind, for it shows that at last you have received all
mine, and that thus the chain of communication between us is unbroken.
What you said about your spiritual experiences in feeling the presence
of dear Henry with you, and, above all, the vibration of that
mysterious guitar, was very pleasant to me. Since I have been in
Florence, I have been distressed by inexpressible yearnings after
him,--such sighings and outreachings, with a sense of utter darkness
and separation, not only from him but from all spiritual communion
with my God. But I have become acquainted with a friend through whom I
receive consoling impressions of these things,--a Mrs. E., of Boston,
a very pious, accomplished, and interesting woman, who has had a
history much like yours in relation to spiritual manifestations.
Without doubt she is what the spiritualists would regard as a very
powerful medium, but being a very earnest Christian, and afraid of
getting led astray, she has kept carefully aloof from all circles and
things of that nature. She came and opened her mind to me in the first
place, to ask my advice as to what she had better do; relating
experiences very similar to many of yours.
My advice was substantially to try the spirits whether they were of
God,--to keep close to the Bible and prayer, and then accept whatever
came. But I have found that when I am with her I receive very strong
impressions from the spiritual world, so that I feel often sustained
and comforted, as if I had been near to my Henry and other departed
friends. This has been at times so strong as greatly to soothe and
support me. I told her your experiences, in which she was greatly
interested. She said it was so rare to hear of Christian and reliable
people with such peculiarities.
I cannot, however, think that Henry strikes the guitar,--that must be
Eliza, Her spirit has ever seemed to cling to that mode of
manifestation, and if you would keep it in your sleeping-room, no
doubt you would hear from it oftener. I have been reading lately a
curious work from an old German in Paris who has been making
experiments in spirit-writing. He purports to describe a series of
meetings held in the presence of fifty witnesses, whose names he
gives, in which writing has come on paper, without the apparition of
hands or any pen or pencil, from various historical people.
He seems a devout believer in inspiration, and the book is curious for
its mixture of all the phenomena, Pagan and Christian, going over
Hindoo. Chinese, Greek, and Italian literature for examples, and then
bringing similar ones from the Bible.
One thing I am convinced of,--that spiritualism is a reaction from the
intense materialism of the present age. Luther, when he recognized a
personal devil, was much nearer right. We ought to enter fully, at
least, into the spiritualism of the Bible. Circles and spiritual
jugglery I regard as the lying signs and wonders, with all
deceivableness of unrighteousness; but there is a real scriptural
spiritualism which has fallen into disuse, and must be revived, and
there are, doubtless, people who, from some constitutional formation,
can more readily receive the impressions of the surrounding spiritual
world. Such were apostles, prophets, and workers of miracles.
Sunday evening. To-day I went down to sit with Mrs. E. in her
quiet parlor. We read in Revelation together, and talked of the saints
and spirits of the just made perfect, till it seemed, as it always
does when with her, as if Henry were close by me. Then a curious thing
happened. She has a little Florentine guitar which hangs in her
parlor, quite out of reach. She and I were talking, and her sister, a
very matter-of-fact, practical body, who attends to temporals for her,
was arranging a little lunch for us, when suddenly the bass string of
the guitar was struck loudly and distinctly.
"Who struck that guitar?" said the sister. We both looked up and saw
that no body or thing was on that side of the room. After the sister
had gone out, Mrs. E. said, "Now, that is strange! I asked last night
that if any spirit was present with us after you came to-day, that it
would try to touch that guitar." A little while after her husband came
in, and as we were talking we were all stopped by a peculiar sound, as
if somebody had drawn a hand across all the strings at once. We
marveled, and I remembered the guitar at home.
What think you? Have you had any more manifestations, any truths from
the spirit world?
About the end of February the pleasant Florentine circle broke up, and
Mrs. Stowe and her party journeyed to Rome, where they remained until
the middle of April. We next find them in Naples, starting on a six
days' trip to Castellamare, Sorrento, Salerno, Paestum, and Amalfi;
then up Vesuvius, and to the Blue Grotto of Capri, and afterwards back
to Rome by diligence. Leaving Rome on May 9th, they traveled leisurely
towards Paris, which they reached on the 27th. From there Mrs. Stowe
wrote to her husband on May 28th:--
Since my last letter a great change has taken place in our plans, in
consequence of which our passage for America is engaged by the Europa,
which sails the 16th of June; so, if all goes well, we are due in
Boston four weeks from this date. I long for home, for my husband and
children, for my room, my yard and garden, for the beautiful trees of
Andover. We will make a very happy home, and our children will help
This extended and pleasant tour was ended with an equally pleasant
homeward voyage, for on the Europa were found Nathaniel Hawthorne and
James T. Fields, who proved most delightful traveling companions.
While Mrs. Stowe fully enjoyed her foreign experiences, she was so
thoroughly American in every fibre of her being that she was always
thankful to return to her own land and people. She could not,
therefore, in any degree reciprocate the views of Mr. Ruskin on this
subject, as expressed in the following letter, received soon after her
return to Andover:--
GENEVA, June 18, 1860.
DEAR MRS. STOWE,--It takes a great deal, when I am at Geneva, to make
me wish myself anywhere else, and, of all places else, in London;
nevertheless, I very heartily wish at this moment that I were looking
out on the Norwood Hills, and were expecting you and the children to
I had very serious thoughts, when I received your note, of running
home; but I expected that very day an American friend, Mr. S., who I
thought would miss me more here than you would in London; so I stayed.
What a dreadful thing it is that people should have to go to America
again, after coming to Europe! It seems to me an inversion of the
order of nature. I think America is a sort of "United" States of
Probation, out of which all wise people, being once delivered, and
having obtained entrance into this better world, should never be
expected to return (sentence irremediably ungrammatical), particularly
when they have been making themselves cruelly pleasant to friends
here. My friend Norton, whom I met first on this very blue lake water,
had no business to go back to Boston again, any more than you.
I was waiting for S. at the railroad station on Thursday, and thinking
of you, naturally enough,--it seemed so short a while since we were
there together. I managed to get hold of Georgie as she was crossing
the rails, and packed her in opposite my mother and beside me, and was
thinking myself so clever, when you sent that rascally courier for
her! I never forgave him any of his behavior after his imperativeness
on that occasion.
And so she is getting nice and strong? Ask her, please, when you
write, with my love, whether, when she stands now behind the great
stick, one can see much of her on each side?
So you have been seeing the Pope and all his Easter performances? I
congratulate you, for I suppose it is something like "Positively the
last appearance on any stage." What was the use of thinking about
him? You should have had your own thoughts about what was to
come after him. I don't mean that Roman Catholicism will die out so
quickly. It will last pretty nearly as long as Protestantism, which
keeps it up; but I wonder what is to come next. That is the main
question just now for everybody.
So you are coming round to Venice, after all? We shall all have to
come to it, depend upon it, some way or another. There never has been
anything in any other part of the world like Venetian strength well
I've no heart to write about anything in Europe to you now. When are
you coming back again? Please send me a line as soon as you get safe
over, to say you are all--wrong, but not lost in the Atlantic.
I don't know if you will ever get this letter, but I hope you will
think it worth while to glance again at the Denmark Hill pictures; so
I send this to my father, who, I hope, will be able to give it you.
I really am very sorry you are going,--you and yours; and that is
absolute fact, and I shall not enjoy my Swiss journey at all so much
as I might. It was a shame of you not to give me warning before. I
could have stopped at Paris so easily for you! All good be with you!
Remember me devotedly to the young ladies, and believe me ever
In Rome Mrs. Stowe had formed a warm friendship with the Brownings,
with whom she afterwards maintained a correspondence. The following
letter from Mrs. Browning was written a year after their first
ROME, 126 VIA FELICE, 14 March, 1861.
MY DEAR, MRS. STOWE,--Let me say one word first. Your letter, which
would have given me pleasure if I had been in the midst of pleasures,
came to me when little beside could have pleased. Dear friend, let me
say it, I had had a great blow and loss in England, and you wrote
things in that letter which seemed meant for me, meant to do me good,
and which did me good,--the first good any letter or any talk did me;
and it struck me as strange, as more than a coincidence, that your
first word since we parted in Rome last spring should come to me in
Rome, and bear so directly on an experience which you did not know of.
I thank you very much.
The earnest stanzas I sent to England for one who wanted them even
more than I. I don't know how people can keep up their prejudices
against spiritualism with tears in their eyes,--how they are not, at
least, thrown on the "wish that it might be true," and the
investigation of the phenomena, by that abrupt shutting in their faces
of the door of death, which shuts them out from the sight of their
beloved. My tendency is to beat up against it like a crying child. Not
that this emotional impulse is the best for turning the key and
obtaining safe conclusions,--no. I did not write before because I
always do shrink from touching my own griefs, one feels at first so
sore that nothing but stillness is borne. It is only after, when one
is better, that one can express one's self at all. This is so with me,
at least, though perhaps it ought not to be so with a poet.
If you saw my "De Profundis" you must understand that it was written
nearly twenty years ago, and referred to what went before. Mr.
Howard's affliction made me think of the MS. (in reference to a sermon
of Dr. Beecher's in the "Independent"), and I pulled it out of a
secret place and sent it to America, not thinking that the publication
would fall in so nearly with a new grief of mine as to lead to
misconceptions. In fact the poem would have been an exaggeration in
that case, and unsuitable in other respects.
It refers to the greatest affliction of my life,--the only time when I
felt despair,--written a year after or more. Forgive all these
reticences. My husband calls me "peculiar" in some things,--peculiarly
lâche, perhaps. I can't articulate some names, or speak of certain
afflictions;--no, not to him,--not after all these years! It's
a sort of dumbness of the soul. Blessed are those who can
speak, I say. But don't you see from this how I must want
"spiritualism" above most persons?
Now let me be ashamed of this egotism, together with the rest of the
weakness obtruded on you here, when I should rather have congratulated
you, my dear friend, on the great crisis you are passing through in
America. If the North is found noble enough to stand fast on the moral
question, whatever the loss or diminution of territory, God and just
men will see you greater and more glorious as a nation.
I had much anxiety for you after the Seward and Adams speeches, but
the danger seems averted by that fine madness of the South which seems
judicial. The tariff movement we should regret deeply (and do, some of
us), only I am told it was wanted in order to persuade those who were
less accessible to moral argument. It's eking out the holy water with
ditch water. If the Devil flees before it, even so, let us be content.
How you must feel, you who have done so much to set this
accursed slavery in the glare of the world, convicting it of
hideousness! They should raise a statue to you in America and
Meanwhile I am reading you in the "Independent," sent to me by Mr.
Tilton, with the greatest interest. Your new novel opens beautifully.
[Footnote: The Pearl of Orr's Island.]
Do write to me and tell me of yourself and the subjects which interest
us both. It seems to me that our Roman affairs may linger a little
(while the Papacy bleeds slowly to death in its finances) on account
of this violent clerical opposition in France. Otherwise we were
prepared for the fall of the house any morning. Prince Napoleon's
speech represents, with whatever slight discrepancy, the inner mind of
the emperor. It occupied seventeen columns of the "Moniteur" and was
magnificent. Victor Emmanuel wrote to thank him for it in the name of
Italy, and even the English papers praised it as "a masterly
exposition of the policy of France." It is settled that we shall wait
for Venice. It will not be for long. Hungary is only waiting,
and even in the ashes of Poland there are flickering sparks. Is it the
beginning of the restitution of all things?
Here in Rome there are fewer English than usual, and more empty
houses. There is a new story every morning, and nobody to cut off the
head of the Scheherazade. Yesterday the Pope was going to Venice
directly, and, the day before, fixed the hour for Victor Emmanuel's
coming, and the day before that brought a letter from Cavour to
Antonelli about sweeping the streets clean for the feet of the king.
The poor Romans live on these stories, while the Holy Father and king
of Naples meet holding one another's hands, and cannot speak for sobs.
The little queen, however, is a heroine in her way and from her point
of view, and when she drives about in a common fiacre, looking very
pretty under her only crown left of golden hair, one must feel sorry
that she was not born and married nearer to holy ground. My husband
prays you to remember him, and I ask your daughters to remember both
of us. Our boy rides his pony and studies under his abbé, and keeps a
pair of red cheeks, thank God.
I ought to send you more about the society in Rome, but I have lived
much alone this winter, and have little to tell you. Dr. Manning and
Mr. DeVere stay away, not bearing, perhaps, to see the Pope in his
Your ever affectionate friend,
ELIZABETH B. BROWNING.
Soon after her return to America Mrs. Stowe began a correspondence
with Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, which opened the way for the warm
friendship that has stood the test of years. Of this correspondence
the two following letters, written about this time, are worthy of
ANDOVER, September 9, 1860.
DEAR DR. HOLMES,--I have had an impulse upon me for a long time to
write you a line of recognition and sympathy, in response to those
that reached me monthly in your late story in the "Atlantic" ("Elsie
I know not what others may think of it, since I have seen nobody since
my return; but to me it is of deeper and broader interest than
anything you have done yet, and I feel an intense curiosity concerning
that underworld of thought from which Like bubbles your incidents and
remarks often seem to burst up. The foundations of moral
responsibility, the interlacing laws of nature and spirit, and their
relations to us here and hereafter, are topics which I ponder more and
more, and on which only one medically educated can write well.
I think a course of medical study ought to be required of all
ministers. How I should like to talk with you upon the strange list of
topics suggested in the schoolmaster's letter! They are bound to
agitate the public mind more and more, and it is of the chiefest
importance to learn, if we can, to think soundly and wisely of them.
Nobody can be a sound theologian who has not had his mind drawn to
think with reverential fear on these topics.
Allow me to hint that the monthly numbers are not long enough. Get us
along a little faster. You must work this well out. Elaborate and give
us all the particulars. Old Sophie is a jewel; give us more of her. I
have seen her. Could you ever come out and spend a day with us? The
professor and I would so like to have a talk on some of these matters
Very truly yours, H. B. STOWE.
ANDOVER, February 18, 1861.
DEAR DOCTOR,--I was quite indignant to hear yesterday of the very
unjust and stupid attack upon you in the----. Mr. Stowe has written to
them a remonstrance which I hope they will allow to appear as he wrote
it, and over his name. He was well acquainted with your father and
feels the impropriety of the thing.
But, my dear friend, in being shocked, surprised, or displeased
personally with such things, we must consider other people's natures.
A man or woman may wound us to the quick without knowing it, or
meaning to do so, simply through difference of fibre. As Cowper hath
somewhere happily said:--
"Oh, why are farmers made so coarse,
Or clergy made so fine?
A kick that scarce might move a horse
Might kill a sound divine."
When once people get ticketed, and it is known that one is a hammer,
another a saw, and so on, if we happen to get a taste of their quality
we cannot help being hurt, to be sure, but we shall not take it ill of
them. There be pious, well-intending beetles, wedges, hammers, saws,
and all other kinds of implements, good--except where they come in the
way of our fingers--and from a beetle you can have only a beetle's
I have suffered in my day from this sort of handling, which is worse
for us women, who must never answer, and once when I wrote to Lady
Byron, feeling just as you do about some very stupid and unkind things
that had invaded my personality, she answered me, "Words do not kill,
my dear, or I should have been dead long ago."
There is much true religion and kindness in the world, after all, and
as a general thing he who has struck a nerve would be very sorry for
it if he only knew what he had done. I would say nothing, if I were
you. There is eternal virtue in silence.
I must express my pleasure with the closing chapters of "Elsie." They
are nobly and beautifully done, and quite come up to what I wanted to
complete my idea of her character. I am quite satisfied with it now.
It is an artistic creation, original and beautiful.
Believe me to be your true friend,
H. B. STOWE.