September 6

September Sixth

In regard to Barbara Frietchie a word may be said: An old woman by that now immortal name did live in Frederick in those days, but she was 84 years of age and bed-ridden. She never saw General Jackson, and he never saw her. I was with him every minute of the time he was in Frederick, and nothing like the scene so graphically described by the poet ever happened.

Henry Kyd Douglas

 

Jackson enters Frederick, Md., 1862

 

 

O, such a terrible day! Rain, wind, sleet and everything to make it gloomy. The Vermont troops have voted to-day as directed by the Governor. My Company (E) cast seven votes for the Republican candidate. The other men didn't know who the Democratic candidate was and so didn't vote. Nothing has disgusted me so since I left Vermont. I'm sadly disappointed politically, in my Company, but the men are good fighters and I like them. They seem devoted to me. It is disappointing, though, to have to send such a report to Vermont! It's mortifying! But I mustn't let the men know how I feel for it can't be helped now. It makes me feel queer, though, for my Republicanism is as staunch as the granite hill (the Barre granite quarries) on which I was born. I am dazed at the result of the vote in Company E! I guess I'm in the wrong pew politically; very few democrats in Barre.

September 6, 1863

Sunday. Sailing down the river on the steamer A. G. Brown, the very one our regiment and the Sixth Michigan captured on Pearl River last May. She has been repaired and chartered for the use of Colonel Bostwick and his "nigger-stealers," as the Secesh call us. The colonel says we are going with Franklin's expedition, whose destination is said to be Texas. We had a busy time getting off, for we had no hint of our departure until afternoon. I attended church this morning, but it isn't much like going to church at "The City," where every one knows every one else. We were hunted up and told where the boat lay, and were none too soon in getting to her. We have formed an officers' club, "Officers' Mess," it is called here, each one putting in $5 towards the expense of grub. We have to board ourselves now. We are each allowed one government ration for a servant, and as none of us have servants we will live on that until pay day.

It is a beautiful night, too much so for me to waste time scribbling any longer.

September 6

September 6th.--Tocqueville's book has on the whole a calming effect upon the mind, but it leaves a certain sense of disgust behind. It makes one realize the necessity of what is happening around us and the inevitableness of the goal prepared for us; but it also makes it plain that the era of mediocrity in everything is beginning, and mediocrity freezes all desire. Equality engenders uniformity, and it is by sacrificing what is excellent, remarkable, and extraordinary that we get rid of what is bad. The whole becomes less barbarous, and at the same time more vulgar.

The age of great men is going; the epoch of the ant-hill, of life in multiplicity, is beginning. The century of individualism, if abstract equality triumphs, runs a great risk of seeing no more true individuals. By continual leveling and division of labor, society will become everything and man nothing.

As the floor of valleys is raised by the denudation and washing down of the mountains, what is average will rise at the expense of what is great. The exceptional will disappear. A plateau with fewer and fewer undulations, without contrasts and without oppositions, such will be the aspect of human society. The statistician will register a growing progress, and the moralist a gradual decline: on the one hand, a progress of things; on the other, a decline of souls. The useful will take the place of the beautiful, industry of art, political economy of religion, and arithmetic of poetry. The spleen will become the malady of a leveling age.

Is this indeed the fate reserved for the democratic era? May not the general well-being be purchased too dearly at such a price? The creative force which in the beginning we see forever tending to produce and multiply differences, will it afterward retrace its steps and obliterate them one by one? And equality, which in the dawn of existence is mere inertia, torpor, and death, is it to become at last the natural form of life? Or rather, above the economic and political equality to which the socialist and non-socialist democracy aspires, taking it too often for the term of its efforts, will there not arise a new kingdom of mind, a church of refuge, a republic of souls, in which, far beyond the region of mere right and sordid utility, beauty, devotion, holiness, heroism, enthusiasm, the extraordinary, the infinite, shall have a worship and an abiding city? Utilitarian materialism, barren well-being, the idolatry of the flesh and of the "I," of the temporal and of mammon, are they to be the goal if our efforts, the final recompense promised to the labors of our race? I do not believe it. The ideal of humanity is something different and higher.

But the animal in us must be satisfied first, and we must first banish from among us all suffering which is superfluous and has its origin in social arrangements, before we can return to spiritual goods.

137. John Adams

Philadelphia, Friday, 6 September, 1776.

This day, I think, has been the most remarkable of all. Sullivan came here from Lord Howe, five days ago, with a message that his lordship desired a half an hour's conversation with some of the members of Congress in their private capacities. We have spent three or four days in debating whether we should take any notice of it. I have, to the utmost of my abilities, during the whole time, opposed our taking any notice of it. But at last it was determined by a majority, "that the Congress being the representatives of the free and independent States of America, it was improper to appoint any of their members to confer in their private characters with his lordship. But they would appoint a committee of their body to wait on him, to know whether he had power to treat with Congress upon terms of peace, and to hear any propositions that his lordship may think proper to make."

When the committee came to be balloted for, Dr. Franklin and your humble servant were unanimously chosen. Colonel R. H. Lee and Mr. Rutledge had an equal number; but, upon a second vote, Mr. Rutledge was chosen. I requested to be excused, but was desired to consider of it until to-morrow. My friends here advise me to go. All the stanch and intrepid are very earnest with me to go, and the timid and wavering, if any such there are, agree in the request. So I believe I shall undertake the journey. I doubt whether his lordship will see us, but the same committee will be directed to inquire into the state of the army at New York, so that there will be business enough, if his lordship makes none. It would fill this letter-book to give you all the arguments for and against this measure, if I had liberty to attempt it. His lordship seems to have been playing off a number of Machiavelian manœuvres, in order to throw upon us the odium of continuing this war. Those who have been advocates for the appointment of this committee are for opposing manœuvre to manœuvre, and are confident that the consequence will be that the odium will fall upon him. However this may be, my lesson is plain, to ask a few questions and take his answers.

I can think of but one reason for their putting me upon this embassy, and that is this. An idea has crept into many minds here that his lordship is such another as Mr. Hutchinson, and they may possibly think that a man who has been accustomed to penetrate into the mazy windings of Hutchinson's heart, and the serpentine wiles of his head, may be tolerably qualified to converse with his lordship.

Sunday, 8 September.

Yesterday's post brought me yours of August 29. The report you mention, "that I was poisoned upon my return home, at New York," I suppose will be thought to be a prophecy delivered by the oracle, in mystic language, and meant that I should be politically or morally poisoned by Lord Howe. But the prophecy shall be false.

September 6, 1862

New York City , and my first peep at it. We are in City Hall Park, but I must go back and tell of our getting here. We had an all night's ride, passing many large places. So many knew the names of them, we greenhorns only had to listen to find out where we were all the time. Some did not want to sleep, and the rest were not allowed to. The boatmen must be glad to see the last of us. We passed laws for their observance as well as for our own. The officers kept out of sight. I suppose they were asleep somewhere. May be it is well for both them and ourselves that they did not interfere, for the devil in each man seemed to have got loose. We didn't try to run the steamer but we ran everything else in sight. We took turns riding the walking beam. Some wanted to and the rest had to, and the wonder is no one was killed, or at least crippled. We landed at the foot of Harrison Street, and marched to the City Hall Park, where I am now seated on the front porch of a tremendous great building, writing about it in my diary. Everything is clean here, and everything to me is new. I have never been in New York before, and I don't suppose I shall see very much of it now. I am on business for the boss, and cannot fool away the time running around the city, even if I was allowed to, which I am not. The officers have us shut in here, with a high picket fence, made of iron, around us on every side. Soldiers,—real soldiers,—are on guard just outside, keeping a close watch that none of us crawl under or jump over. We first had a good wash, then a good breakfast, and then were let alone to read the papers, or write letters or do anything we chose. I had a good nap. The stone I lay on was but little harder than my bunk in the barracks at Hudson, and it was a great deal warmer. The papers say the Rebs are expected to attack Harpers Ferry to-day. Why couldn't they wait until we got there? Maybe they have heard of us and are improving the time before we get there. Captain Bostwick has gone home for a visit, saying he would meet us in Washington.

Night. On the cars in Jersey City. Part of the regiment has gone on another train, and we are to meet in Philadelphia. We marched on the ferry-boat in double file, and were made to kneel on one knee, leaving the other sticking up for the man ahead to sit on. If it was done for our comfort it was a complete failure, but if it was to keep us from running all over the boat it worked well. Before we left City Hall Park I got a fellow on the outside to get me a bottle of blackberry brandy, and when we were finally seated in the car I out with my bottle and gave it a swing around my head to let the fellows see what I had, when it slipped from my hand and went to smash on the floor. Much as some of us needed it, we could only get a smell, as the fumes rose up to aggravate us.

At Elizabeth, N. J., we halted for a few minutes. Crowds of people lined the track, and although all were strangers to each other, we talked as if we were old acquaintances. Henry House, of Company B, asked a young lady to write him, and they exchanged names and addresses, promising each to write to the other.[2]


[2]They did correspond, and after the war were married, and as far as I ever knew or heard lived happily ever after.

It was about my usual time, four o'clock, the next morning,—Sunday, September 6,—that I opened my blinds. Another lovely day. I was dressed and downstairs when, a little before five, the battle recommenced.

I rushed out on the lawn and looked off. It had moved east—behind the hill between me and Meaux. All I could see was the smoke which hung over it. Still it seemed nearer than it had the day before. I had just about room enough in my mind for one idea—"The Germans wish to cross the Marne at Meaux, on the direct route into Paris. They are getting there. In that case to-day will settle our fate. If they reach the Marne, that battery at Coutevroult will come into action,"—that was what Captain Edwards had said,—"and I shall be in a direct line between the two armies."

Amelie got breakfast as if there were no cannon, so I took my coffee, and said nothing. As soon as it was cleared away, I went up into the attic, and quietly packed a tiny square hat-trunk. I was thankful that this year's clothes take up so little room. I put in changes of underwear, stockings, slippers, an extra pair of low-heeled shoes, plenty of handkerchiefs,—just the essentials in the way of toilette stuff,—a few bandages and such emergency things, and had room for two dresses. When it was packed and locked, it was so light that I could easily carry it by its handle on top. I put my long black military cape, which I could carry over my shoulder, on it, with hat and veil and gloves. Then I went down stairs and shortened the skirt of my best walking-suit, an/d hung it and its jacket handy. I was ready to fly,—if I had to,—and in case of that emergency nothing to do for myself.

I had got all this done systematically when my little French friend—I call her Mile. Henriette now—came to the door to say that she simply "could not stand another day of it." She had put, she said, all the ready money they had inside her corset, and a little box which contained all her dead father's decorations also, and she was ready to go. She took out the box and showed the pretty jeweled things,—his cross of the Legion d'Honneur, his Papal decoration, and several foreign orders,—her father, it seems, was an officer in the army, a great friend of the Orleans family, and grandson of an officer of Louis XVI's Imperial Guard. She begged me to join them in an effort to escape to the south. I told her frankly that it seemed to me impossible, and I felt it safer to wait until the English officers at Coutevroult notified us that it was necessary. It would be as easy then as now—and I was sure that it was safer to wait for their advice than to adventure it for ourselves. Besides, I had no intention of leaving my home and all the souvenirs of my life without making every effort I could to save them up to the last moment. In addition to that, I could not see myself joining that throng of homeless refugies on the road, if I could help it.

"But," she insisted, "you cannot save your house by staying. We are in the same position. Our house is full of all the souvenirs of my father's family. It is hard to leave all that—but I am

afraid—terribly afraid for the children."

I could not help asking her how she proposed to get away. So far as I knew there was not a carriage to be had.

She replied that we could start on foot in the direction of Melun, and perhaps find an automobile: we could share the expense. Together we could find a way, and what was more, that I could share my optimism and courage with them and that would help.

That made me laugh, but I didn't think it necessary to explain to her that, once away from the shelter of my own walls, I should be just as liable to a panic as any one else, or that I knew we should not find a conveyance, or, worse still, that her money and her jewels would hardly be safe inside her corset if she were to meet with some of the Uhlans who were still about us.

Amelie had not allowed me to carry a sou on me, nor even my handbag since we knew they were here. Such things as that have been hidden-all ready to be snatched up—ever since I came home from Paris last Wednesday—only four days ago, after all!

Poor Mile. Henriette went away sadly when she was convinced that my mind was made up.

"Good-bye," she called over the hedge. "I seem to be always taking leave of you."

I did not tell Amelie anything about this conversation. What was the good? I fancy it would have made no difference to her. I knew pretty well to what her mind was made up. Nothing in the world would have made Pere budge. He had tried it in 1870, and had been led to the German post with a revolver at his head. He did not have any idea of repeating the experience. It was less than half an hour later that Mile. Henriette came up the hill again. She was between tears and laughter.

"Mother will not go," she said. "She says if you can stay we must. She thinks staying is the least of two evils. We can hide the babies in the cave if necessary, and they may be as safe there as on the road."

I could not help saying that I should be sorry if my decision influenced theirs. I could be responsible for myself. I could not bear to have to feel any responsibility for others in case I was wrong. But she assured me that her mother had been of my opinion from the first. "Only," she added, "if I could have coaxed you to go, she would have gone too."

This decision did not add much to my peace of mind all that long Sunday. It seems impossible that it was only day before yesterday. I think the suspense was harder to bear than that of the day before, though all we could see of the battle were the dense clouds of smoke rising straight into the air behind the green hill under such a blue sky all aglow with sunshine, with the incessant booming of the cannon, which made the contrasts simply monstrous.

I remember that it was about four in the afternoon when I was sitting in the arbor under the crimson rambler, which was a glory of bloom, that Pere came and stood near by on the lawn, looking off. With his hands in the pockets of his blue apron, he stood silent for a long time. Then he said, "Listen to that. They are determined to pass. This is different from 1870. In 1870 the Germans marched through here with their guns on their shoulders. There was no one to oppose them. This time it is different. It was harvest-time that year, and they took everything, and destroyed what they did not take. They bedded their horses in the wheat."

You see Pere's father was in the Franco-Prussian War, and his grandfather was with Napoleon at Moscow, where he had his feet frozen. Pere is over seventy, and his father died at ninety-six. Poor old Pere just hates the war. He is as timid as a bird—can't kill a rabbit for his dinner. But with the queer spirit of the French farmer he has kept right on working as if nothing were going on. All day Saturday and all day Sunday he was busy digging stone to mend the road.

The cannonading ceased a little after six—thirteen hours without intermission. I don't mind confessing to you that I hope the war is not going to give me many more days like that one. I'd rather the battle would come right along and be done with it. The suspense of waiting all day for that battery at Coutevroult to open fire was simply nasty.

I went to bed as ignorant of how the battle had turned as I was the night before. Oddly enough, to my surprise, I slept, and slept well.




Walden Pond

Monday, 6.

To Walden with May, who takes a pencil sketch for her collection. Thoreau's hermitage has disappeared, and the grounds are overgrown with pines and sumac, leaving the site hardly traceable. The shores of Walden are as sylvan as ever near Thoreau's haunt, but have been shorn of wood on the southern side. No spot of water in these parts has a more interesting history. It well deserved the poet's praises while Thoreau dwelt on its shores.

"It is not far beyond the village church,

After we pass the wood that skirts the road,

A lake,—the blue-eyed Walden,—that doth smile

Most tenderly upon its neighbor pines,

And they as if to recompense this love,

In double beauty spread their branches forth.

This lake has tranquil loveliness and breadth,

And of late years has added to its charms,

For one attracted to its pleasant edge

Has built himself a little hermitage,

Where with much piety he passes life.

"More fitting place I cannot fancy now,

For such a man to let the line run off

The mortal reel, such patience hath the lake,

Such gratitude and cheer are in the pines.

But more than either lake or forest's depths

This man has in himself: a tranquil man,

With sunny sides where well the fruit is ripe,

Good front, and resolute bearing to this life,

And some serener virtues, which control

This rich exterior prudence, virtues high,

That in the principles of things are set,

Great by their nature and consigned to him,

Who, like a faithful merchant, does account

To God for what he spends, and in what way.

"Thrice happy art thou, Walden! in thyself,

Such purity is in thy limpid springs;

In those green shores which do reflect in thee,

And in this man who dwells upon thy edge,

A holy man within a hermitage.

May all good showers fall gently into thee;

May thy surrounding forests long be spared,

And may the dweller on thy tranquil shores

Here lead a life of deep tranquillity,

Pure as thy waters, handsome as thy shores,

And with those virtues which are like the stars."

"When I first paddled a boat on Walden," wrote Thoreau, "it was completely surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods, and in some spots, coves of grape vines had run over the trees and formed bowers under which a boat could pass. The hills which form its shore are so steep, and the woods on them so high, that as you looked down the pond from the west end, it had the appearance of an amphitheatre. For some kind of sylvan spectacle, I have spent many an hour when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats in a summer forenoon, and looking into the sky, dreaming awake until I was aroused by my boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to. In these days, when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry, many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day. For I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly. Nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them behind a counter, or in a workshop, or at the teacher's desk, in which last two places I have spent many of them.

"I must say that I do not know what made me leave the pond. I left it as unaccountably as I went to it. To speak sincerely, I went there because I had got ready to go. I left it for the same reason.

"These woods! why do I not feel their being cut more freely? Does it not affect me nearly? The axe can deprive me of much. Concord is sheared of its pride. I am certain by the loss attached to my native town in consequence, one and a main link is broken. I shall go to Walden less frequently.

"Look out what window I will, my eyes rest in the distance on a forest. Is this circumstance of no value? Why such pains in old countries to plant gardens and parks? A certain sample of wild nature, a certain primitiveness? The towns thus bordered with a fringe and tasselled border, each has its preservers. Methinks the town should have more supervisors to control its parks than it has. It concerns us all whether these proprietors choose to cut down all the woods this winter or not. I love to look at Ebby Hubbard's oaks and pines on the hillside from Brister's Hill, and am thankful that there is one old miser who will not sell or cut his woods, though it is said that they are wasting. 'It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.'"

"Walk round Walden Pond these warm winter days. The wood-chopper finds that the wood cuts easier than when it had the frost in it, though it does not split so readily. Thus every change in the weather has its influence on him, and is appreciated by him in a peculiar way. The wood-cutter and his practices and experiences are more to be attended to; his accidents, perhaps, more than any others, should mark the epochs in a winter's day. Now that the Indian is gone, he stands nearest to nature. Who has written the history of his day? How far still is the writer of books from the man, his old playmate, it may be, who chops in the woods? There are ages between them. Homer refers to the progress of the wood-cutter's work to mark the time of day on the plains of Troy. And the inference from such premises commonly is, that he lived in a more primitive state of society than the present. But I think this is a mistake. Like proves like in all ages, and the fact that I myself should take pleasure in preferring the simple and peaceful labors which are always proceeding; that the contrast itself always attracts the civilized poet to what is rudest and most primitive in his contemporaries;—all this rather proves a certain interval between the poet and the wood-chopper, whose labor he refers to, than an unusual nearness to him, on the principle that familiarity breeds contempt. Homer is to be subjected to a very different kind of criticism from any he has received. That reader who most fully appreciates the poet, and derives the greater pleasure from his work, lives in circumstances most like those of the poet himself.

"This afternoon I throw off my outside coat, a mild spring day. I must hie me to the meadows. The air is full of bluebirds. The ground is almost entirely bare. The villagers are out in the sun, and every man is happy whose work takes him out-of-doors. I go by Sleepy Hollow towards the great fields. I lean over a rail to hear what is in the air, liquid with the bluebird's warble. My life partakes of infinity. The air is deep as our natures. Is the drawing in of this vital air attended with no more glorious results than I witness? The air is a velvet cushion against which I press my ear. I go forth to make new demands on life. I wish to begin this summer well. To do something in it worthy and wise. To transcend my daily routine and that of my townsmen, to have my immortality now,—that it be in the quality of my daily life,—to pay the greatest price, the greatest tax of any man in Concord, and enjoy the most! I will give all I am for my nobility. I will pay all my days for my success. I pray that the life of this spring and summer may be fair in my memory. May I dare as I have never done. May I purify myself anew as with fire and water, soul and body. May my melody not be wanting to the season. May I gird myself to be a hunter of the beautiful, that nought escape me. May I attain to a youth never attained. I am eager to report the glory of the universe: may I be worthy to do it; to have got through regarding human values, so as not to be distracted from regarding divine values. It is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning."


A delightful volume might be compiled from Thoreau's Journals by selecting what he wrote at a certain date annually, thus giving a calendar of his thoughts on that day from year to year. Such a book would be instructive in many ways,—to the naturalist, the farmer, woodman, scholar; and as he was wont to weave a sensible moral into his writings, it would prove a suggestive treatise on morals and religion also. Not every preacher takes his text from his time, his own eyes, ears, and feet, in his sensible, superior manner.