[Boston—Wednesday, 30 December 1868]

Wednesday Decr 30th Mr. Whittier came to breakfast. His niece has just gone South to teach the freed people. The conversation turned naturally upon the condition of the South and the Colored race. He said she had gone to an old town by the name of Camden in So. Carolina. The place is more than a hundred years old and must be picturesque enough with its motley inhabitants. At present it is a small town containing no more than 1000 people. He could not help feeling some anxiety with regard to his niece. She and her co-worker, a young woman from New Hampshire whom she has never seen being the only Northerners in the town. Of course they are regarded with no friendly eye by the “mean whites” and their great distance from home or from protection will make their situation dreary indeed if the natives turn against them. She kept up a good heart until the very last but “as she got into the cars to take leave of her father and me I thought I saw a little failure.” His chief anxiety however is lest she should get nothing upon which she can support life. She can eat neither salt fish nor pork nor meat and although she talked bravely of living on sweet potatoes he told her she could not do that for any length of time. I reminded him that chickens were probably to be had and if the worst came she could have canned food sent down to her. This last evidently struck him as a little Quixotic, I presume because of the expense. He then told us of Charlotte Forten. Her father was a very handsome man; perfectly black but one of the handsomest men he ever knew; her mother a mulatto. Their house was in the vicinity of Philadelphia and “I never saw so much silver plate on any private table as on theirs.” Her father was the character sketched in Anna Dickinson’s novel and her home that beautiful mansion where her heroine lived. Many facts in the book point directly to facts in the Forten family. Unfortunately the brothers mismanaged the property which Mr. Forten left so that Charlotte is nearly penniless save for what she earns. Considering her delicate health and her position which must often be a trying one in New England her lot is not an easy one. What increases the difficulty is she became engaged to a white gentleman in Boston or vicinity whose family although they like her exceedingly, cannot make up their minds to receive her as daughter & sister. She refuses therefore to allow the matter to progress and things are suspended for the present. Poor child! She must feel how fruitful of discomfort and petty shames such a marriage must often be. Even Mr. Whittier thinks it a pity and wishes she might find somebody of her own color which would be clearly little less than a miracle. Beside unfortunately these two are in love. I cannot however help feeling that the man does not quite love her as he ought.

Not knowing anything of the case personally I do not wish to judge him severely because matters of course have justly a certain right to consideration from their children. Charlotte is very sweet and attractive and unusually intelligent. Elizabeth Whittier loved her sincerely.

From this, Mr. Whittier turned to the case of Maria Dowler a young girl now teaching in Amesbury. Just before the war when Maria was 14 years old and her 2 brothers somewhat younger she came from Georgia to Amesbury with her parents. How they came to hit upon that obscure town he did not tell us, possibly they were attracted there by knowing it to be Mr. W’s home and every place being equally strange to such exiles. The father was brother to a former member of Congress, also to a Judge in Georgia, but a “forlorn” looking Southerner of no particular education himself. The mother had once been an exceedingly beautiful woman but she also betrayed her lack of education by speaking often as the colored people do saying “thar” and such words. Maria was placed immediately at the French Seminary and after the proper time had elapsed graduated with capital honors and was chosen a fit teacher of the Amesbury school—upon her earnings the family were sustained until the war was over, when her father went South to endeavour to recover the fortune he had unwisely left behind him. He found his creditors willing to pay in Confederate Bonds but in nothing else & while he was viewing the ruins of his property the poor man was stricken by paralysis. His daughter hearing of this new calamity immediately went to join him. She found him lying in a wretched and neglected condition and after nursing him according to her ability brought him back to his northern home. She in the meantime endeavored without avail to collect her father’s debts but not a penny could she gain. She called upon Mr. W. wishing to tell him her wretched tale which I have only sketched as indeed that was all he had opportunity to give me this morning. It appears her mother was a slave, very beautiful, & perfectly white and her father being a man certainly of unusual character & integrity insisted upon recognizing her as his wife. The result was, all his relatives fell away from them, they were obliged to go & live in the pine woods on the mountains of Georgia, lonely & forsaken. Not the least wretched part of this sad tale is that the grandmother of this girl, her mother’s mother also perfectly white was stolen away from Philadelphia in her youth and sold into slavery. This poor girl said, What if my story should be known. “It need never be,” said dear Mr. Whittier, “but if it should be, thee would be thought none the less of, by any of the people in our village, only rather more for the immense difficulties thee has so nobly overcome.”

How grateful the poor girl must be for such a consoler & adviser.

I was just in the midst of transcribing the above painful story when Hally Prescott Spofford came to see me. She goes again this year to Washington. She was there during the Impeachment trial last year, when strong men grew ashy pale and beads of water stood on the brows of others. Her sympathies were for Johnson.

She has a most melodious nature; her soft auburn curls were full & beautiful as ever and her eyes glowed & shone as in the old days. She is brimful of enjoyment of what life holds; never has seemed to find anything hard, too hard to bear, but the divine light is always irradiating its glories upon her and making her strong to love and endure till the end. She is forever in love and holds her husband firmly, closely to her side. He whom the world has found restless, uncertain, following every new light, finds every thing in her as indeed he should. I suppose she will wear her plain black dress always. The death of her baby did not make her less cheerful or less lovely, but she wishes to keep each trace of his tiny footprint on this shifting surface of our days.

We were just talking very busily when Mr. Higginson came in. He was very “bright” and talked sometimes “like a book.” He said a landlady of his was a most humane person. She would even warm the water in which she was about to drown her kittens.

He was full of kindness and compliment & even at the last of tenderness which I neither quite wanted nor thought in place. It shows a grievous lack of something, let us call it culture, for a man to be so at fault for expression that he must press a lady’s hand. I don’t believe in such approaches nor do I think quite as highly of a man of his talent who indulges in them.

I was grateful to him for much however, especially for two poems of Wordsworth which I did not know. He was just telling me how odd it was that Emerson should not have known two poems of Wordsworth which he considers the two which link him passionately to humanity as nothing else of his has ever done; indeed except for these he would have believed Wordsworth lacked the passion of poetry! Upon this he repeated the two he was shocked to find me equally ignorant—one the sonnet beginning “Why art thou silent”! containing that exquisite comparison, “Like a forsaken birds’ nest filled with snow” and the other a short poem which he called “the Contrast” but he meant to indicate I think the few stanzas which precede that poem, marked simply “XX”. They are indeed most lovely both of them but I do not agree with him that the soul of fire is unknown without them. Yet he has perused the past to that end and says they are the only lines to that effect in the whole volume—so to whoever needs to lay the finger in the nail prints in the side can do it here indeed and find peace.

We revelled in a quiet evening at home Jamie over Bunsen’s Life from wh. he reads in snatches, I over Tom. Jones. We have had many a hearty laugh over our extremes of morality!


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