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Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter XX: George Eliot
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
It is with a feeling of relief that we turn from one of the most
disagreeable experiences of Mrs. Stowe's life to one of the most
delightful, namely, the warm friendship of one of the most eminent
women of this age, George Eliot.
There seems to have been some deep affinity of feeling that drew them
closely together in spite of diversity of intellectual tastes.
George Eliot's attention was first personally attracted to Mrs. Stowe
in 1853, by means of a letter which the latter had written to Mrs.
Follen. Speaking of this incident she (George Eliot) writes: "Mrs.
Follen showed me a delightful letter which she has just had from Mrs.
Stowe, telling all about herself. She begins by saying, 'I am a little
bit of a woman, rather more than forty, as withered and dry as a pinch
of snuff; never very well worth looking at in my best days, and now a
decidedly used-up article.' The whole letter is most fascinating, and
makes one love her." [Footnote: George Eliot's Life, edited by J. W.
Cross, vol. i.]
The correspondence between these two notable women was begun by Mrs.
Stowe, and called forth the following extremely interesting letter
from the distinguished English novelist:--
THE PRIORY, 21 NORTH BANK, May 8,1869.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I value very highly the warrant to call you friend
which your letter has given me. It lay awaiting me on our return the
other night from a nine weeks' absence in Italy, and it made me almost
wish that you could have a momentary vision of the discouragement,--
nay, paralyzing despondency--in which many days of my writing life
have been passed, in order that you might fully understand the good I
find in such sympathy as yours, in such an assurance as you give me
that my work has been worth doing. But I will not dwell on any mental
sickness of mine. The best joy your words give me is the sense of that
sweet, generous feeling in you which dictated them. I shall always be
the richer because you have in this way made me know you better. I
must tell you that my first glimpse of you as a woman came through a
letter of yours, and charmed me very much. The letter was addressed to
Mrs. Follen, and one morning I called on her in London (how many years
ago!); she was kind enough to read it to me, because it contained a
little history of your life, and a sketch of your domestic
circumstances. I remember thinking that it was very kind of you to
write that long letter, in reply to inquiries of one who was
personally unknown to you; and, looking back with my present
experience, I think it was kinder than it then appeared, for at that
time you must have been much oppressed with the immediate results of
your fame. I remember, too, that you wrote of your husband as one who
was richer in Hebrew and Greek than in pounds or shillings; and as an
ardent scholar has always been a character of peculiar interest to me,
I have rarely had your image in my mind without the accompanying image
(more or less erroneous) of such a scholar by your side. I shall
welcome the fruit of his Goethe studies, whenever it comes.
I have good hopes that your fears are groundless as to the obstacles
your new book ("Oldtown Folks") may find here from its thorough
American character. Most readers who are likely to be really
influenced by writing above the common order will find that special
aspect an added reason for interest and study; and I dare say you have
long seen, as I am beginning to see with new clearness, that if a book
which has any sort of exquisiteness happens also to be a popular,
widely circulated book, the power over the social mind for any good
is, after all, due to its reception by a few appreciative natures, and
is the slow result of radiation from that narrow circle. I mean that
you can affect a few souls, and that each of these in turn may affect
a few more, but that no exquisite book tells properly and directly on
a multitude, however largely it may be spread by type and paper.
Witness the things the multitude will say about it, if one is so
unhappy as to be obliged to hear their sayings. I do not write this
cynically, but in pure sadness and pity. Both traveling abroad and
staying at home among our English sights and sports, one must
continually feel how slowly the centuries work toward the moral good
of men, and that thought lies very close to what you say as to your
wonder or conjecture concerning my religious point of view. I believe
that religion, too, has to be modified according to the dominant
phases; that a religion more perfect than any yet prevalent must
express less care of personal consolation, and the more deeply awing
sense of responsibility to man springing from sympathy with that which
of all things is most certainly known to us,--the difficulty of the
human lot. Letters are necessarily narrow and fragmentary, and
when one writes on wide subjects, are likely to create more
misunderstanding than illumination. But I have little anxiety in
writing to you, dear friend and fellow-laborer; for you have had
longer experience than I as a writer, and fuller experience as a
woman, since you have borne children and known a mother's history from
the beginning. I trust your quick and long-taught mind as an
interpreter little liable to mistake me.
When you say, "We live in an orange grove, and are planting many
more," and when I think you must have abundant family love to cheer
you, it seems to me that you must have a paradise about you. But no
list of circumstances will make a paradise. Nevertheless, I must
believe that the joyous, tender humor of your books clings about your
more immediate life, and makes some of that sunshine for yourself
which you have given to us. I see the advertisement of "Oldtown
Folks," and shall eagerly expect it. That and every other new link
between us will be reverentially valued. With great devotion and
M. L. LEWES.
Mrs. Stowe writes from Mandarin to George Eliot:--
MANDARIN, February 8, 1872.
DEAR FRIEND,--It is two years nearly since I had your last very kind
letter, and I have never answered, because two years of constant and
severe work have made it impossible to give a drop to anything beyond
the needs of the hour. Yet I have always thought of you, loved you,
trusted you all the same, and read every little scrap from your
writing that came to hand.
One thing brings you back to me. I am now in Florida in my little hut
in the orange orchard, with the broad expanse of the blue St. John's
in front, and the waving of the live-oaks, with their long, gray
mosses, overhead, and the bright gold of oranges looking through dusky
leaves around. It is like Sorrento,--so like that I can quite dream of
being there. And when I get here I enter another life. The world
recedes; I am out of it; it ceases to influence; its bustle and noise
die away in the far distance; and here is no winter, an open-air
life,--a quaint, rude, wild wilderness sort of life, both rude and
rich; but when I am here I write more letters to friends than ever I
do elsewhere. The mail comes only twice a week, and then is the event
of the day. My old rabbi and I here set up our tent, he with German,
and Greek, and Hebrew, devouring all sorts of black-letter books, and
I spinning ideal webs out of bits that he lets fall here and there.
I have long thought that I would write you again when I got here, and
so I do. I have sent North to have them send me the "Harper's Weekly,"
in which your new story is appearing, and have promised myself
leisurely to devour and absorb every word of it.
While I think of it I want to introduce to you a friend of mine, a
most noble man, Mr. Owen, for some years our ambassador at Naples, now
living a literary and scholar life in America. His father was Robert
Dale Owen, the theorist and communist you may have heard of in England
some years since.
Years ago, in Naples, I visited Mr. Owen for the first time, and found
him directing his attention to the phenomena of spiritism. He had
stumbled upon some singular instances of it accidentally, and he had
forthwith instituted a series of researches and experiments on the
subject, some of which he showed me. It was the first time I had ever
seriously thought of the matter, and he invited my sister and myself
to see some of the phenomena as exhibited by a medium friend of theirs
who resided in their family. The result at the time was sufficiently
curious, but I was interested in his account of the manner in which he
proceeded, keeping records of every experiment with its results, in
classified orders. As the result of his studies and observations, he
has published two books, one "Footfalls on the Boundary of Another
World," published in 1860, and latterly, "The Debatable Land Between
this World and the Next." I regard Mr. Owen as one of the few men who
are capable of entering into an inquiry of this kind without an utter
drowning of common sense, and his books are both of them worth a fair
reading. To me they present a great deal that is intensely curious and
interesting, although I do not admit, of course, all his deductions,
and think he often takes too much for granted. Still, with every
abatement there remains a residuum of fact, which I think both curious
and useful. In a late letter to me he says :--
"There is no writer of the present day whom I more esteem than Mrs.
Lewes, nor any one whose opinion of my work I should more highly
I believe he intends sending them to you, and I hope you will read
them. Lest some of the narratives should strike you, as such
narratives did me once, as being a perfect Arabian Nights'
Entertainment, I want to say that I have accidentally been in the way
of confirming some of the most remarkable by personal observation.
. . . In regard to all this class of subjects, I am of the opinion of
Goethe, that "it is just as absurd to deny the facts of spiritualism
now as it was in the Middle Ages to ascribe them to the Devil." I
think Mr. Owen attributes too much value to his facts. I do not think
the things contributed from the ultra-mundane sphere are particularly
valuable, apart from the evidence they give of continued existence
I do not think there is yet any evidence to warrant the idea that they
are a supplement or continuation of the revelations of Christianity,
but I do regard them as an interesting and curious study in
psychology, and every careful observer like Mr. Owen ought to be
welcomed to bring in his facts. With this I shall send you my
observations on Mr. Owen's books, from the "Christian Union." I am
perfectly aware of the frivolity and worthlessness of much of the
revealings purporting to come from spirits. In my view, the worth or
worthlessness of them has nothing to do with the question of fact.
Do invisible spirits speak in any wise,--wise or foolish?--is the
question a priori. I do not know of any reason why there should
not be as many foolish virgins in the future state as in this. As I am
a believer in the Bible and Christianity, I don't need these things as
confirmations, and they are not likely to be a religion to me. I
regard them simply as I do the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis, or
Darwin's studies on natural selection, as curious studies into nature.
Besides, I think some day we shall find a law by which all these facts
will fall into their places.
I hope now this subject does not bore you: it certainly is one that
seems increasingly to insist on getting itself heard. It is going on
and on, making converts, who are many more than dare avow themselves,
and for my part I wish it were all brought into the daylight of
Let me hear from you if ever you feel like it. I know too well the
possibilities and impossibilities of a nature like yours to ask more,
but it can do you no harm to know that I still think of you and love
you as ever.
H. B. STOWE.
THE PRIORY, 21 NORTH BANK, REGENT'S PARK, March 4, 1872.
DEAR, FRIEND,--I can understand very easily that the two last years
have been full for you of other and more imperative work than the
writing of letters not absolutely demanded either by charity or
business. The proof that you still think of me affectionately is very
welcome now it has come, and more cheering because it enables me to
think of you as enjoying your retreat in your orange orchard,--your
western Sorrento--the beloved rabbi still beside you. I am sure it
must be a great blessing to you to bathe in that quietude, as it
always is to us when we go out of reach of London influences and have
the large space of country days to study, walk, and talk in. . . .
When I am more at liberty I will certainly read Mr. Owen's books, if
he is good enough to send them to me. I desire on all subjects to keep
an open mind, but hitherto the various phenomena, reported or attested
in connection with ideas of spirit intercourse and so on, have come
before me here in the painful form of the lowest charlatanerie. . . .
But apart from personal contact with people who get money by public
exhibitions as mediums, or with semi-idiots such as those who make a
court for a Mrs. ----, or other feminine personages of that kind, I
would not willingly place any barriers between my mind and any
possible channel of truth affecting the human lot. The spirit in which
you have written in the paper you kindly sent me is likely to touch
others, and arouse them at least to attention in a case where you have
been deeply impressed. . . .
Yours with sincere affection,
M. L. LEWES.
(Begun April 4th.)
MANDARIN, FLORIDA, May 11,1872.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I was very glad to get your dear little note,--sorry
to see by it that you are not in your full physical force. Owing to
the awkwardness and misunderstanding of publishers, I am not reading
"Middlemarch," as I expected to be, here in these orange shades: they
don't send it, and I am too far out of the world to get it. I felt,
when I read your letters, how glad I should be to have you here in our
Florida cottage, in the wholly new, wild, woodland life. Though
resembling Italy in climate, it is wholly different in the appearance
of nature,--the plants, the birds, the animals, all different. The
green tidiness and culture of England here gives way to a wild and
rugged savageness of beauty. Every tree bursts forth with flowers;
wild vines and creepers execute delirious gambols, and weave and
interweave in interminable labyrinths. Yet here, in the great sandy
plains back of our house, there is a constant wondering sense of
beauty in the wild, wonderful growths of nature. First of all, the
pines--high as the stone pines of Italy--with long leaves, eighteen
inches long, through which there is a constant dreamy sound, as if of
dashing waters. Then the live-oaks and the water-oaks, narrow-leaved
evergreens, which grow to enormous size, and whose branches are draped
with long festoons of the gray moss. There is a great, wild park of
these trees back of us, which, with the dazzling, varnished green of
the new spring leaves and the swaying drapery of moss, looks like a
sort of enchanted grotto. Underneath grow up hollies and ornamental
flowering shrubs, and the yellow jessamine climbs into and over
everything with fragrant golden bells and buds, so that sometimes the
foliage of a tree is wholly hidden in its embrace.
This wild, wonderful, bright and vivid growth, that is all new,
strange, and unknown by name to me, has a charm for me. It is the
place to forget the outside world, and live in one's self. And if you
were here, we would go together and gather azaleas, and white lilies,
and silver bells, and blue iris. These flowers keep me painting in a
sort of madness. I have just finished a picture of white lilies that
grow in the moist land by the watercourses. I am longing to begin on
blue iris. Artist, poet, as you are by nature, you ought to see all
these things, and if you would come here I would take you in heart and
house, and you should have a little room in our cottage. The history
of the cottage is this: I found a hut built close to a great live-oak
twenty-five feet in girth, and with overarching boughs eighty feet up
in the air, spreading like a firmament, and all swaying with mossy
festoons. We began to live here, and gradually we improved the hut by
lath, plaster, and paper. Then we threw out a wide veranda all round,
for in these regions the veranda is the living-room of the house. Ours
had to be built around the trunk of the tree, so that our cottage has
a peculiar and original air, and seems as if it were half tree, or a
something that had grown out of the tree. We added on parts, and have
thrown out gables and chambers, as a tree throws out new branches,
till our cottage is like nobody else's, and yet we settle into it with
real enjoyment. There are all sorts of queer little rooms in it, and
we are accommodating at this present a family of seventeen souls. In
front, the beautiful, grand St. John's stretches five miles from shore
to shore, and we watch the steamboats plying back and forth to the
great world we are out of. On all sides, large orange trees, with
their dense shade and ever-vivid green, shut out the sun so that we
can sit, and walk, and live in the open air. Our winter here is only
cool, bracing out-door weather, without snow. No month without flowers
blooming in the open air, and lettuce and peas in the garden. The
summer range is about 90°, but the sea-breezes keep the air
delightfully fresh. Generally we go North, however, for three months
of summer. Well, I did not mean to run on about Florida, but the
subject runs away with me, and I want you to visit us in spirit if not
My poor rabbi!--he sends you some Arabic, which I fear you cannot
read: on diablerie he is up to his ears in knowledge, having read all
things in all tongues, from the Talmud down. . . .
Ever lovingly yours,
H. B. STOWE.
BOSTON, September 26, 1872.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I think when you see my name again so soon, you will
think it rains, hails, and snows notes from this quarter. Just now,
however, I am in this lovely, little nest in Boston, where dear Mrs.
Field, like a dove, "sits brooding on the charmed wave." We are both
wishing we had you here with us, and she has not received any answer
from you as yet in reply to the invitation you spoke of in your last
letter to me. It seems as if you must have written, and the letter
somehow gone astray, because I know, of course, you would write.
Yesterday we were both out of our senses with mingled pity and
indignation at that dreadful stick of a Casaubon,--and think of poor
Dorothea dashing like a warm, sunny wave against so cold and repulsive
a rock! He is a little too dreadful for anything: there does not seem
to be a drop of warm blood in him, and so, as it is his misfortune and
not his fault, to be cold-blooded, one must not get angry with him. It
is the scene in the garden, after the interview with the doctor, that
rests on our mind at this present. There was such a man as he over in
Boston, high in literary circles, but I fancy his wife wasn't like
Dorothea, and a vastly proper time they had of it, treating each other
with mutual reverence, like two Chinese mandarins.
My love, what I miss in this story is just what we would have if you
would come to our tumble-down, jolly, improper, but joyous country,--
namely, "jollitude." You write and live on so high a plane! It is all
self-abnegation. We want to get you over here, and into this house,
where, with closed doors, we sometimes make the rafters ring with fun,
and say anything and everything, no matter what, and won't be any
properer than we's a mind to be. I am wishing every day you could see
our America,--travel, as I have been doing, from one bright, thriving,
pretty, flowery town to another, and see so much wealth, ease,
progress, culture, and all sorts of nice things. This dovecot where I
now am is the sweetest little nest imaginable; fronting on a city
street, with back windows opening on a sea view, with still, quiet
rooms filled with books, pictures, and all sorts of things, such as
you and Mr. Lewes would enjoy. Don't be afraid of the ocean, now! I
've crossed it six times, and assure you it is an overrated item.
Froude is coming here--why not you? Besides, we have the fountain of
eternal youth here, that is, in Florida, where I live, and if you
should come you would both of you take a new lease of life, and what
glorious poems, and philosophies, and whatnot, we should have! My
rabbi writes, in the seventh heaven, an account of your note to him.
To think of his setting-off on his own account when I was away!
Come now, since your answer to dear Mrs. Fields is yet to come; let it
be a glad yes, and we will clasp you to our heart of hearts.
Your ever loving, H. B. S.
During the summer of 1874, while Mrs. Stowe's brother, the Rev. Henry
Ward Beecher, was the victim of a most revolting, malicious, and
groundless attack on his purity, Mrs. Lewes wrote the following words
MY DEAR, FRIEND,--The other day I had a letter from Mrs. Fields,
written to let me know something of you under that heavy trouble, of
which such information as I have had has been quite untrustworthy,
leaving me in entire incredulity in regard to it except on this point,
that you and yours must be suffering deeply. Naturally I thought most
of you in the matter (its public aspects being indeterminate), and
many times before our friend's letter came I had said to Mr. Lewes:
"What must Mrs. Stowe be feeling!" I remember Mrs. Fields once told me
of the wonderful courage and cheerfulness which belonged to you,
enabling you to bear up under exceptional trials, and I imagined you
helping the sufferers with tenderness and counsel, but yet,
nevertheless, I felt that there must be a bruising weight on your
heart. Dear, honored friend, you who are so ready to give warm
fellowship, is it any comfort to you to be told that those afar off
are caring for you in spirit, and will be happier for all good issues
that may bring you rest?
I cannot, dare not, write more in my ignorance, lest I should be using
unreasonable words. But I trust in your not despising this scrap of
paper which tells you, perhaps rather for my relief than yours, that I
am always in grateful, sweet remembrance of your goodness to me and
your energetic labors for all.
It was two years or more before Mrs. Stowe replied to these words of
Orange-blossom time, MANDARIN, March 18, 1876,
My Dear Friend,--I always think of you when the orange trees are in
blossom; just now they are fuller than ever, and so many bees are
filling the branches that the air is full of a sort of still murmur.
And now I am beginning to hear from you every month in Harper's. It is
as good as a letter. "Daniel Deronda" has succeeded in awaking in my
somewhat worn-out mind an interest. So many stories are tramping over
one's mind in every modern magazine nowadays that one is macadamized,
so to speak. It takes something unusual to make a sensation. This does
excite and interest me, as I wait for each number with eagerness. I
wish I could endow you with our long winter weather,--not winter,
except such as you find in Sicily. We live here from November to June,
and my husband sits outdoors on the veranda and reads all day. We
emigrate in solid family: my two dear daughters, husband, self, and
servants come together to spend the winter here, and so together to
our Northern home in summer. My twin daughters relieve me from all
domestic care; they are lively, vivacious, with a real genius for
practical life. We have around us a little settlement of neighbors,
who like ourselves have a winter home here, and live an easy, undress,
picnic kind of life, far from the world and its cares. Mr. Stowe has
been busy on eight volumes of Görres on the mysticism of the Middle
Ages. [Footnote: Die Christliche Mystik.] This Görres was
Professor of Philosophy at Munich, and he reviews the whole ground of
the shadow-land between the natural and the supernatural,--ecstacy,
trance, prophecy, miracles, spiritualism, the stigmata, etc. He was a
devout Roman Catholic, and the so-called facts that he reasons on seem
to me quite amazing; and yet the possibilities that lie between inert
matter and man's living, all-powerful, immortal soul may make almost
anything credible. The soul at times can do anything with matter. I
have been busying myself with Sainte-Beuve's seven volumes on the Port
Royal development. I like him (Sainte-Beuve). His capacity of seeing,
doing justice to all kinds of natures and sentiments, is wonderful. I
am sorry he is no longer our side the veil.
There is a redbird (cardinal grosbeak) singing in the orange trees
fronting my window, so sweetly and insistently as to almost stop my
writing. I hope, dear friend, you are well--better than when you wrote
It was very sweet and kind of you to write what you did last. I
suppose it is so long ago you may have forgotten, but it was a word of
tenderness and sympathy about my brother's trial; it was womanly,
tender, and sweet, such as at heart you are. After all, my love of you
is greater than my admiration, for I think it more and better to be
really a woman worth loving than to have read Greek and German and
written books. And in this last book I read, I feel more with you in
some little, fine points,--they stare at me as making an amusing
exhibition. For, my dear, I feel myself at last as one who has been
playing and picnicking on the shores of life, and waked from a dream
late in the afternoon to find that everybody almost has gone over to
the beyond. And the rest are sorting their things and packing their
trunks, and waiting for the boat to come and take them.
It seems now but a little time since my brother Henry and I were two
young people together. He was my two years junior, and nearest
companion out of seven brothers and three sisters. I taught him
drawing and heard his Latin lessons, for you know a girl becomes
mature and womanly long before a boy. I saw him through college, and
helped him through the difficult love affair that gave him his wife;
and then he and my husband had a real German, enthusiastic love for
each other, which ended in making me a wife. Ah! in those days we
never dreamed that he, or I, or any of us, were to be known in the
world. All he seemed then was a boy full of fun, full of love, full of
enthusiasm for protecting abused and righting wronged people, which
made him in those early days write editorials, and wear arms and swear
himself a special policeman to protect the poor negroes in Cincinnati,
where we then lived, when there were mobs instigated by the
slaveholders of Kentucky.
Then he married, and lived a missionary life in the new West, all with
a joyousness, an enthusiasm, a chivalry, which made life bright and
vigorous to us both. Then in time he was called to Brooklyn, just as
the crisis of the great anti-slavery battle came on, and the Fugitive
Slave Law was passed. I was then in Maine, and I well remember one
snowy night his riding till midnight to see me, and then our talking,
till near morning, what we could do to make headway against the horrid
cruelties that were being practiced against the defenseless blacks. My
husband was then away lecturing, and my heart was burning itself out
in indignation and anguish. Henry told me then that he meant to fight
that battle in New York; that he would have a church that would stand
by him to resist the tyrannic dictation of Southern slaveholders. I
said: "I, too, have begun to do something; I have begun a story,
trying to set forth the sufferings and wrongs of the slaves." "That's
right, Hattie," he said; "finish it, and I will scatter it thick as
the leaves of Vallambrosa," and so came "Uncle Tom," and Plymouth
Church became a stronghold where the slave always found refuge and a
strong helper. One morning my brother found sitting on his doorstep
poor old Paul Edmonson, weeping; his two daughters, of sixteen and
eighteen, had passed into the slave warehouse of Bruin & Hill, and
were to be sold. My brother took the man by the hand to a public
meeting, told his story for him, and in an hour raised the two
thousand dollars to redeem his children. Over and over again,
afterwards, slaves were redeemed at Plymouth Church, and Henry and
Plymouth Church became words of hatred and fear through half the
Union. From that time until we talked together about the Fugitive
Slave Law, there was not a pause or stop in the battle till we had
been through the war and slavery had been wiped out in blood. Through
all he has been pouring himself out, wrestling, burning, laboring
everywhere, making stump speeches when elections turned on the slave
question, and ever maintaining that the cause of Christ was the cause
of the slave. And when all was over, it was he and Lloyd Garrison who
were sent by government once more to raise our national flag on Fort
Sumter. You must see that a man does not so energize without making
many enemies. Half of our Union has been defeated, a property of
millions annihilated by emancipation, a proud and powerful slave
aristocracy reduced to beggary, and there are those who never saw our
faces that, to this hour, hate him and me. Then he has been a
progressive in theology. He has been a student of Huxley, and Spencer,
and Darwin,--enough to alarm the old school,--and yet remained so
ardent a supernaturalist as equally to repel the radical
destructionists in religion. He and I are Christ-worshippers, adoring
Him as the Image of the Invisible God and all that comes from
believing this. Then he has been a reformer, an advocate of universal
suffrage and woman's rights, yet not radical enough to please that
reform party who stand where the Socialists of France do, and are for
tearing up all creation generally. Lastly, he has had the misfortune
of a popularity which is perfectly phenomenal. I cannot give you any
idea of the love, worship, idolatry, with which he has been
overwhelmed. He has something magnetic about him that makes everybody
crave his society,--that makes men follow and worship him. I remember
being at his house one evening in the time of early flowers, and in
that one evening came a box of flowers from Maine, another from New
Jersey, another from Connecticut,--all from people with whom he had no
personal acquaintance, who had read something of his and wanted to
send him some token. I said, "One would think you were a prima
donna. What does make people go on so about you?"
My brother is hopelessly generous and confiding. His inability to
believe evil is something incredible, and so has come all this
suffering. You said you hoped I should be at rest when the first
investigating committee and Plymouth Church cleared my brother almost
by acclamation. Not so. The enemy have so committed themselves that
either they or he must die, and there has followed two years of the
most dreadful struggle. First, a legal trial of six months, the
expenses of which on his side were one hundred and eighteen thousand
dollars, and in which he and his brave wife sat side by side in the
court-room, and heard all that these plotters, who had been weaving
their webs for three years, could bring. The foreman of the jury was
offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to decide against my brother.
He sent the letter containing the proposition to the judge. But with
all their plotting, three fourths of the jury decided against them,
and their case was lost. It was accepted as a triumph by my brother's
friends; a large number of the most influential clergy of all
denominations so expressed themselves in a public letter, and it was
hoped the thing was so far over that it might be lived down and
overgrown with better things.
But the enemy, intriguing secretly with all those parties in the
community who wish to put down a public and too successful man, have
been struggling to bring the thing up again for an ecclesiastical
trial. The cry has been raised in various religious papers that
Plymouth Church was in complicity with crime,--that they were so
captivated with eloquence and genius that they refused to make
competent investigation. The six months' legal investigation was
insufficient; a new trial was needed. Plymouth Church immediately
called a council of ministers and laymen, in number representing
thirty-seven thousand Congregational Christians, to whom Plymouth
Church surrendered her records,--her conduct,--all the facts of the
case, and this great council unanimously supported the church and
ratified her decision; recognizing the fact that, in all the
investigations hitherto, nothing had been proved against my brother.
They at his request, and that of Plymouth Church, appointed a
committee of five to whom within sixty days any one should bring any
facts that they could prove, or else forever after hold their peace.
It is thought now by my brother's friends that this thing must finally
reach a close. But you see why I have not written. This has drawn on
my life--my heart's blood. He is myself; I know you are the kind of
woman to understand me when I say that I felt a blow at him more than
at myself. I, who know his purity, honor, delicacy, know that he has
been from childhood of an ideal purity,--who reverenced his conscience
as his king, whose glory was redressing human wrong, who spake no
slander, no, nor listened to it.
Never have I known a nature of such strength, and such almost
childlike innocence. He is of a nature so sweet and perfect that,
though I have seen him thunderously indignant at moments, I never saw
him fretful or irritable,--a man who continuously, in every little act
of life, is thinking of others, a man that all the children on the
street run after, and that every sorrowful, weak, or distressed person
looks to as a natural helper. In all this long history there has been
no circumstance of his relation to any woman that has not been worthy
of himself,--pure, delicate, and proper; and I know all sides of it,
and certainly should not say this if there were even a misgiving.
Thank God, there is none, and I can read my New Testament and feel
that by all the beatitudes my brother is blessed.
His calmness, serenity, and cheerfulness through all this time has
uplifted us all. Where he was, there was no anxiety, no sorrow. My
brother's power to console is something peculiar and wonderful. I have
seen him at death-beds and funerals, where it would seem as if hope
herself must be dumb, bring down the very peace of Heaven and change
despair to trust. He has not had less power in his own adversity. You
cannot conceive how he is beloved, by those even who never saw him,
--old, paralytic, distressed, neglected people, poor seamstresses,
black people, who have felt these arrows shot against their benefactor
as against themselves, and most touching have been their letters of
sympathy. From the first, he has met this in the spirit of Francis de
Sales, who met a similar plot,--by silence, prayer, and work, and when
urged to defend himself said "God would do it in his time." God was
the best judge how much reputation he needed to serve Him with.
In your portrait of Deronda, you speak of him as one of those rare
natures in whom a private wrong bred no bitterness. "The sense of
injury breeds, not the will to inflict injuries, but a hatred of all
injury;" and I must say, through all this conflict my brother has been
always in the spirit of Him who touched and healed the ear of Malchus
when he himself was attacked. His friends and lawyers have sometimes
been aroused and sometimes indignant with his habitual caring for
others, and his habit of vindicating and extending even to his enemies
every scrap and shred of justice that might belong to them. From first
to last of this trial, he has never for a day intermitted his regular
work. Preaching to crowded houses, preaching even in his short
vacations at watering places, carrying on his missions which have
regenerated two once wretched districts of the city, editing a paper,
and in short giving himself up to work. He cautioned his church not to
become absorbed in him and his trials, to prove their devotion by more
faithful church work and a wider charity; and never have the Plymouth
missions among the poor been so energetic and effective. He said
recently, "The worst that can befall a man is to stop thinking of God
and begin to think of himself; if trials make us self-absorbed, they
hurt us." Well, dear, pardon me for this outpour. I loved you--I love
you--and therefore wanted you to know just what I felt. Now, dear,
this is over, don't think you must reply to it or me. I know how much
you have to do,--yes, I know all about an aching head and an overtaxed
brain. This last work of yours is to be your best, I think, and I hope
it will bring you enough to buy an orange grove in Sicily, or
somewhere else, and so have lovely weather such as we have.
Your ancient admirer, [Footnote: Professor Stowe.] who usually goes to
bed at eight o'clock, was convicted by me of sitting up after eleven
over the last installment of "Daniel Deronda," and he is full of it.
We think well of Guendoline, and that she isn't much more than young
ladies in general so far.
Next year, if I can possibly do it, I will send you some of our
oranges. I perfectly long to have you enjoy them. Your very loving
H. B. STOWE.
P. S. I am afraid I shall write you again when I am reading your
writings, they are so provokingly suggestive of things one wants to
H. B. S.
In her reply to this letter Mrs. Lewes says, incidentally: 'Please
offer my reverential love to the Professor, and tell him I am
ruthlessly proud of having kept him out of his bed. I hope that both
you and he will continue to be interested in my spiritual children.'
After Mr. Lewes's death, Mrs. Lewes writes to Mrs. Stowe:--
The Priory, 21 North Bank, April 10, 1879.
My Dear Friend,--I have been long without sending you any sign (unless
you have received a message from me through Mrs. Fields), but my heart
has been going out to you and your husband continually as among the
chief of the many kind beings who have given me their tender fellow-
feeling in my last earthly sorrow. . . . When your first letter came,
with the beautiful gift of your book, [Footnote: Uncle Tom's Cabin,
new edition, with introduction.] I was unable to read any letters, and
did not for a long time see what you had sent me. But when I did know,
and had read your words of thankfulness at the great good you have
seen wrought by your help, I felt glad, for your sake first, and then
for the sake of the great nation to which you belong. The hopes of the
world are taking refuge westward, under the calamitous conditions,
moral and physical, in which we of the elder world are getting
involved. . . .
Thank you for telling me that you have the comfort of seeing your son
in a path that satisfies your best wishes for him. I like to think of
your having family joys. One of the prettiest photographs of a child
that I possess is one of your sending to me. . . .
Please offer my reverential, affectionate regards to your husband, and
believe me, dear friend,
Yours always gratefully,
M. L. Lewes.
As much as has been said with regard to spiritualism in these pages,
the subject has by no means the prominence that it really possessed in
the studies and conversations of both Professor and Mrs. Stowe.
Professor Stowe's very remarkable psychological development, and the
exceptional experiences of his early life, were sources of
conversation of unfailing interest and study to both.
Professor Stowe had made an elaborate and valuable collection of the
literature of the subject, and was, as Mrs. Stowe writes, "over head
and ears in diablerie."
It is only just to give Mrs. Stowe's views on this perplexing theme
more at length, and as the mature reflection of many years has caused
them to take form.
In reference to professional mediums, and spirits that peep, rap, and
mutter, she writes:--
"Each friend takes away a portion of ourselves. There was some part of
our being related to him as to no other, and we had things to say to
him which no other would understand or appreciate. A portion of our
thoughts has become useless and burdensome, and again and again, with
involuntary yearning, we turn to the stone at the door of the
sepulchre. We lean against the cold, silent marble, but there is no
answer,--no voice, neither any that regardeth.
"There are those who would have us think that in our day this
doom is reversed; that there are those who have the power to restore
to us the communion of our lost ones. How many a heart, wrung and
tortured with the anguish of this fearful silence, has throbbed with
strange, vague hopes at the suggestion! When we hear sometimes of
persons of the strongest and clearest minds becoming credulous
votaries of certain spiritualist circles, let us not wonder: if we
inquire, we shall almost always find that the belief has followed some
stroke of death; it is only an indication of the desperation of that
heart-hunger which in part it appeases.
"Ah, were it true! Were it indeed so that the wall between the
spiritual and material is growing thin, and a new dispensation
germinating in which communion with the departed blest shall be among
the privileges and possibilities of this our mortal state! Ah, were it
so that when we go forth weeping in the gray dawn, bearing spices and
odors which we long to pour forth for the beloved dead, we should
indeed find the stone rolled away and an angel sitting on it!
"But for us the stone must be rolled away by an unquestionable
angel, whose countenance is as the lightning, who executes no doubtful
juggle by pale moonlight or starlight, but rolls back the stone in
fair, open morning, and sits on it. Then we could bless God for his
mighty gift, and with love, and awe, and reverence take up that
blessed fellowship with another life, and weave it reverently and
trustingly into the web of our daily course.
"But no such angel have we seen,--no such sublime, unquestionable,
glorious manifestation. And when we look at what is offered to us, ah!
who that had a friend in heaven could wish them to return in such wise
as this? The very instinct of a sacred sorrow seems to forbid that our
beautiful, our glorified ones should stoop lower than even to the
medium of their cast-off bodies, to juggle, and rap, and squeak, and
perform mountebank tricks with tables and chairs; to recite over in
weary sameness harmless truisms, which we were wise enough to say for
ourselves; to trifle, and banter, and jest, or to lead us through
endless moonshiny mazes. Sadly and soberly we say that, if this be
communion with the dead, we had rather be without it. We want
something a little in advance of our present life, and not below it.
We have read with some attention weary pages of spiritual
communication purporting to come from Bacon, Swedenborg, and others,
and long accounts from divers spirits of things seen in the spirit
land, and we can conceive of no more appalling prospect than to have
"If the future life is so weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable as we
might infer from these readings, one would have reason to deplore an
immortality from which no suicide could give an outlet. To be
condemned to such eternal prosing would be worse than annihilation.
"Is there, then, no satisfaction for this craving of the soul? There
is One who says: "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am
alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death;" and
this same being said once before: "He that loveth me shall be loved of
my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself unto him."
This is a promise direct and personal; not confined to the first
apostles, but stated in the most general way as attainable by any one
who loves and does the will of Jesus. It seems given to us as some
comfort for the unavoidable heart-breaking separations of death that
there should be, in that dread unknown, one all-powerful Friend with
whom it is possible to commune, and from whose spirit there may come a
response to us. Our Elder Brother, the partaker of our nature, is not
only in the spirit land, but is all-powerful there. It is he that
shutteth and no man openeth, and openeth and no man shutteth. He whom
we have seen in the flesh, weeping over the grave of Lazarus, is he
who hath the keys of hell and of death. If we cannot commune with our
friends, we can at least commune with Him to whom they are present,
who is intimately with them as with us. He is the true bond of union
between the spirit world and our souls; and one blest hour of prayer,
when we draw near to Him and feel the breadth, and length, and depth,
and heighth of that love of his that passeth knowledge, is better than
all those incoherent, vain, dreamy glimpses with which longing hearts
"They who have disbelieved all spiritual truth, who have been
Sadduceeic doubters of either angel or spirit, may find in modern
spiritualism a great advance. But can one who has ever really had
communion with Christ, who has said with John, "Truly our fellowship
is with the Father and the Son,"--can such an one be satisfied with
what is found in the modern circle?
"For Christians who have strayed into these inclosures, we cannot but
recommend the homely but apt quotation of old John Newton:--
"'What think ye of Christ is the test
To try both your word and your scheme.'
"In all these so-called revelations, have there come any echoes of the
new song which no man save the redeemed from earth could learn;
any unfoldings of that love that passeth knowledge,--anything, in
short, such as spirits might utter to whom was unveiled that which eye
hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered the heart of man to
conceive? We must confess that all those spirits that yet have spoken
appear to be living in quite another sphere from. John or Paul.
"Let us, then, who long for communion with spirits, seek nearness to
Him who has promised to speak and commune, leaving forever this word
to his church:--
"'I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.'"