May 9

May Ninth


Because I feel that, in the Heavens above
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother.”
Edgar Allan Poe



May 9, 1864

Monday. The dam broke away in the night; all the boats near the break were swept through by the rush of water and are now where they can be used. The accident brought out a new idea, which is to repair the break and to build wing dams from each side towards it, and to depend on the rush of water pulling the whole outfit through.

Marching orders were issued this morning and every effort is being made for a sudden start. I have only my blanket and my diary to carry. Everything else besides my sword and revolver is on the Rob Roy. The troops have been moving out, getting in position, and everything betokens an early departure from Alexandria. We have a regiment of unarmed negro soldiers to get away with. They can be handled fairly well in camp, but how they will act in case of an attack is not yet known.

Our army's line is about five miles long this morning and runs northwest by southeast. General Hancock occupies the right followed by General Warren, Generals Sedgwick and Burnside in the order mentioned. Our batteries have been shelling the enemy fiercely all day and this evening, but the heaviest fighting seems to be on our left. Our regiment was terribly shelled when supporting batteries which has been all day. We were ordered to lie flat on the ground in one instant and there's no doubt but what we did for the ground was a dead level and the shells whistled and shrieked very thickly and closely over us. It was terribly  nerve-trying. The Johnnies didn't want to see us bad enough though, to come over and call. We could see many dead between the lines in our front a little to the left of where we supported a battery this morning, of both armies, as a result of the assault last night. It is a shocking sight, but such is war.

Sunday, May 9th, 1.30 a.m.—The Lions are roaring in full blast and lighting up the sky.

Have been busy to-night with an operation case who is needing a lot of special nursing, and some admissions—one in at 11 p.m., who was only wounded at 9 o'clock. I hope these magnificent roars and rumblings are making a mess of the barbed wire and German trenches. There seems to be a pretty general opinion that they will retaliate by dropping them into this place if they have time, and pulverising it like Ypres.

5.25 a.m.—It has begun. It is awful—continuous and earthquaking.

9.30 a.m.—In bed. The last ten minutes of "Rapid" did its damnedest and then began again, and we are still thundering hell into the German lines.

It began before 5 with a fearful pounding from the French on our right, and hasn't left off since.

Had a busy night with my operation case and the others (he is doing fine), and in every spare second getting ready for the rush. The M.O.'s were astir very early; the A.D.M.S. came to count empty beds. It is to-night they'll be coming in.

Must try and sleep. But who could yesterday and to-day?

Cannes May 9, 1882

We have only vague reports in French newspapers, but I cannot wait for full accounts of the tragedy that touches us all so nearly, to give you my warm tribute of sympathy and sorrow. It is shocking to think of her, so worthy of happiness and so afflicted. You, I know, have, of all people, the most soothing hand for the most cruel wounds.

It must have been a dreadful blow in your own home, and at a distance one grows anxious about many things. I apprehend a violent burst of passion in the country, with despair of healing such disease with lenient arts; and, if the tide turns, the change will be felt in Parliament, and will be used by men quite capable of seeing that Mr. Gladstone's statesmanship is confirmed by the very crime which will condemn it in common minds. Assuming that some of the Cabinet assent reluctantly to the heroic policy, and that the last few weeks have not added to his personal ascendency, I fear that they will either forsake him or urge him to forsake his own ideal lines. Thinking of this, of his strong affections, of the shadow on the hearth, I could not restrain my wish to send you my small vote of confidence.

For we heard at first that Spencer had instantly resigned.[182 ] I was ashamed to show myself, and whispered to my family how Nicholas, the bad emperor, faced a rebellious army. There is very different news to-day. I gather that Spencer remains, that Forster redeems many faults by offering to go back, that Parnell has made his choice between murder and conciliation, that the Opposition holds its hand, expecting Mr. Gladstone to turn against himself.

It seems to me that much ground must inevitably be lost, and that the true moral of this catastrophe can never be made visible to the average Englishman. Still I see great opportunities of recovery, and I know in what spirit I hope that he has had the strength to receive the blow aimed through Freddy Cavendish at himself.

I long so much to hear from you. If you can think, in sad days like these, of anything but the sorrow that is near you, do give an affectionate message from me to Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, and send me, when you have a quiet moment, a line to Munich. I start almost immediately.

[182 ] It need hardly be said that for this rumour there was no sort of foundation.

103. Abigail Adams

9 May, 1776.

I this day received yours of the 20th of April, accompanied with a letter upon government. Upon reading it I somehow or other felt an uncommon affection for it. I could not help thinking it was a near relation of a very intimate friend of mine. If I am mistaken in its descent, I know it has a near affinity to the sentiments of that person. And though I cannot pretend to be an adept in the art of government, yet it looks rational that a government of good laws well administered should carry with them the fairest prospect of happiness to a community, as well as to individuals. But as this is a prerogative to which your sex lay an almost exclusive claim, I shall quit the subject after having quoted a passage in favor of a republic, from an anonymous author entitled "Essays on the Genius and Writings of Pope."

"The fine arts in short, are naturally attendant upon power and luxury. But the sciences require unlimited freedom to raise them to their full vigor and growth. In a monarchy there may be poets, painters, and musicians, but orators, historians, and philosophers can exist in a republic alone. The Roman nation, by their unjust attempt upon the liberty of the world, justly lost their own, and with their liberty they lost not only their force of eloquence, but even their style and language itself."

This province is not in the most agreeable situation at present. It wants a poise, a stability, which it does not possess. The Council have recommended it to the Superior Court to sit at Ipswich next term. Judge Cushing called upon me yesterday with his lady, and made me a very friendly visit; said he wished earnestly for the presence of the Chief Justice. He had many things he wished to say to him. I requested him to write, and he has promised to.

The spirit of fortification has just waked, and we are now pursuing with vigor what ought before this time to have been completed. Fort Hill, the Castle, Dorchester Points, Noddle's Island are almost completed. A committee are sent down to Nantasket, and orders are given to fortify the Moon, George's Island, etc. I believe Noddle's Island has been done by subscription. Six hundred inhabitants of the town meet every morning in the town house, from whence they march with fife and drum, with Mr. Gordon, Mr. Skilman, and Mr. Lothrop at their head, to the Long Wharf, where they embark for the island; and it comes to the subscribers' turn to work two days in a week.

You have no doubt heard of the appointment of your friend as judge. He seems loath to accept, and his lady I think loath that he should. Surely it does not look well to have those offices bandied about from hand to hand; if they could not obtain one from the bar, that gentleman will fill the place with honor to himself and his brethren. But Mr. Lowell ought to have come in, instead of some others; but there are some in Council who require more than Heaven: that demands only repentance and amendment.

Let me hear from you often.

Yours unfeignedly.

May 9

May 9, 1870.--Disraeli, in his new novel, "Lothair," shows that the two great forces of the present are Revolution and Catholicism, and that the free nations are lost if either of these two forces triumphs. It is exactly my own idea. Only, while in France, in Belgium, in Italy, and in all Catholic societies, it is only by checking one of these forces by the other that the state and civilization can be maintained, the Protestant countries are better off; in them there is a third force, a middle faith between the two other idolatries, which enables them to regard liberty not as a neutralization of two contraries, but as a moral reality, self-subsistent, and possessing its own center of gravity and motive force. In the Catholic world religion and liberty exclude each other. In the Protestant world they accept each other, so that in the second case there is a smaller waste of force.

Liberty is the lay, the philosophical principle. It expresses the juridical and social aspiration of the race. But as there is no society possible without regulation, without control, without limitations on individual liberty, above all without moral limitations, the peoples which are legally the freest do well to take their religious consciousness for check and ballast. In mixed states, Catholic or free-thinking, the limit of action, being a merely penal one, invites incessant contravention.

The puerility of the freethinkers consists in believing that a free society can maintain itself and keep itself together without a common faith, without a religious prejudice of some kind. Where lies the will of God? Is it the common reason which expresses it, or rather, are a clergy or a church the depositories of it? So long as the response is ambiguous and equivocal in the eyes of half or the majority of consciences--and this is the case in all Catholic states--public peace is impossible, and public law is insecure. If there is a God, we must have him on our side, and if there is not a God, it would be necessary first of all to convert everybody to the same idea of the lawful and the useful, to reconstitute, that is to say, a lay religion, before anything politically solid could be built.

Liberalism is merely feeding upon abstractions, when it persuades itself that liberty is possible without free individuals, and when it will not recognize that liberty in the individual is the fruit of a foregoing education, a moral education, which presupposes a liberating religion. To preach liberalism to a population jesuitized by education, is to press the pleasures of dancing upon a man who has lost a leg. How is it possible for a child who has never been out of swaddling clothes to walk? How can the abdication of individual conscience lead to the government of individual conscience? To be free, is to guide one's self, to have attained one's majority, to be emancipated, master of one's actions, and judge of good and evil; but ultramontane Catholicism never emancipates its disciples, who are bound to admit, to believe, and to obey, as they are told, because they are minors in perpetuity, and the clergy alone possess the law of right, the secret of justice, and the measure of truth. This is what men are landed in by the idea of an exterior revelation, cleverly made use of by a patient priesthood.

But what astonishes me is the short-sight of the statesmen of the south, who do not see that the question of questions is the religious question, and even now do not recognize that a liberal state is wholly incompatible with an anti-liberal religion, and almost equally incompatible with the absence of religion. They confound accidental conquests and precarious progress with lasting results.

There is some probability that all this noise which is made nowadays about liberty may end in the suppression of liberty; it is plain that the internationals, the irreconcilables, and the ultramontanes, are, all three of them, aiming at absolutism, at dictatorial omnipotence. Happily they are not one but many, and it will not be difficult to turn them against each other.

If liberty is to be saved, it will not be by the doubters, the men of science, or the materialists; it will be by religious conviction, by the faith of individuals who believe that God wills man to be free but also pure; it will be by the seekers after holiness, by those old-fashioned pious persons who speak of immortality and eternal life, and prefer the soul to the whole world; it will be by the enfranchised children of the ancient faith of the human race.