September 9

A fair day. Lieutenant H. W. Kingsley ate supper with us. He brought up three days' rations. Pert writes she is having a fine time in East Boylston, Mass. teaching. She sent me a letter from Cousin Byron Bradley. Cousin Abby Pierce is coming East this fall. I have finished reading East Lynne; it's a fine story.

September Ninth

Their conduct indeed was exemplary. They had been warned that pillage and depredations would be severely dealt with, and all requisitions, even fence-rails, were paid for on the spot.

Lieut.-Col. G. F. R. Henderson, C.B.


Lee and Jackson in occupation of Frederick, Md., 1862



September 9, 1863

Wednesday. I was mistaken last night. We only arrived off the bar this morning. The fires I saw and thought were camp-fires were dry grass on the prairie, and which is still burning. The fleet is lying outside the bar, and unable to cross, though these boats are said to run on a good big dew. General Franklin is on the Suffolk, and signals are being wig-wagged from vessel to vessel. The wind is getting stronger every minute, and what will become of Franklin's expedition if it really comes on to blow can be guessed to a certainty. It will fetch up on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Later. We are going back. What's the matter I don't know. We were signaled to go back and that it all we need to know. The water is rough, and if it were not for the danger, which is becoming apparent to all, the sight of the boats pitching and diving, this way and that, would be worth sitting up all night to see. We are going farther out from land than when we came, but that makes little difference, for at the nearest we are too far to swim ashore. The wind is dead ahead, and our progress is very slow.

Wednesday, September 9th.—It is a month to-day since I left home, and seems like six, and no work yet. Isn't it absolutely rotten? A big storm last night, and the Bay of Biscay tumbling about like fun to-day: bright and sunny again now. The French infants, boys and girls up to any age, are all dressed in navy knickers and jerseys and look so jolly. Matron has gone into St Nazaire to-day to get all the whole boiling of our baggage out here to repack. P'raps she'll bring some news or some letters, or, best of all, some orders.

This is a lovely spot. I'm writing on our balcony at the Riffelalp, above the tops of the pines, and straight over the sea. Three Padres are stranded at Pornichet—two were troopers in the S.A. War, and they do duty for us. The window of the glass lounge where we have services blew in with a crash this morning, right on the top of them, and it took some time to sort things out, but eventually they went on, in the middle of the sentence they stopped at.

A French rag this morning had some cheering telegrams about the Allies—that left, centre, and right were all more than holding their own, even if the enemy is rather near Paris. What about the Russians who came through England? We've heard of trains passing through Oxford with all the blinds down.

September 9, 1862

Tuesday. About midnight, an officer of some sort rode into camp with some word that was the means of our being routed out by the "Long Roll," the first time any of us ever heard it. It appears the "Long Roll" is only sounded when the quickest possible getting into line in fighting trim is necessary, as when the enemy is about to pounce upon us, etc. But we didn't hurry. One after another got up and all the time the officers were shouting, and some of them swearing. I thought they had all gone crazy. But finally we understood, and then down came our tents. The quartermaster team rushed up with boxes of guns, which were broken open and the guns handed out as fast as possible. Ammunition, too, was passed out, and we were told to load up and defend ourselves. The excitement was so great, and the ammunition so new to us, about half the guns were loaded with the bullet end down. The cartridges are a charge of powder, a big long bullet and a piece of paper. The paper is rolled up with the powder in one end and the bullet in the other, and to us, in the dark, both ends looked alike. But no great harm was done, for no enemy appeared. Just what it was all for I don't know now, and quite likely never will. We got a ration of bread and coffee and with our guns—great heavy, clumsy things—and our tents added to our already heavy load, started off on a brisk pace, which was kept up until some began to fall out, completely exhausted. These were picked up by the quartermaster and commissary wagons, and so we went for about six miles along the road that is said to lead to Frederick. Then we halted, and after the stragglers had caught up, started back again, soon turning off in another direction on another road, and marched for about the same distance, where we turned into a field, partly level, and the rest a side hill. We halted when a little way from the road and were told we were to go into permanent camp there. Baltimore is in plain sight, although it is some way off. We were so tuckered out by our long tramp in the hot sun and with the heavy loads on our backs, we were glad to get up our tents, and after a coffee and bread supper, to turn in and sleep.

September 9

September 9, 1880.--It seems to me that with the decline of my active force I am becoming more purely spirit; everything is growing transparent to me. I see the types, the foundation of beings, the sense of things.

All personal events, all particular experiences, are to me texts for meditation, facts to be generalized into laws, realities to be reduced to ideas. Life is only a document to be interpreted, matter to be spiritualized. Such is the life of the thinker. Every day he strips himself more and more of personality. If he consents to act and to feel, it is that he may the better understand; if he wills, it is that he may know what will is. Although it is sweet to him to be loved, and he knows nothing else so sweet, yet there also he seems to himself to be the occasion of the phenomenon rather than its end. He contemplates the spectacle of love, and love for him remains a spectacle. He does not even believe his body his own; he feels the vital whirlwind passing through him--lent to him, as it were, for a moment, in order that he may perceive the cosmic vibrations. He is a mere thinking subject; he retains only the form of things; he attributes to himself the material possession of nothing whatsoever; he asks nothing from life but wisdom. This temper of mind makes him incomprehensible to all that loves enjoyment, dominion, possession. He is fluid as a phantom that we see but cannot grasp; he resembles a man, as the manes of Achilles or the shade of Creusa resembled the living. Without having died, I am a ghost. Other men are dreams to me, and I am a dream to them.

Later --Consciousness in me takes no account of the category of time, and therefore all the partitions which tend to make of life a palace with a thousand rooms, do not exist in my case; I am still in the primitive unicellular state. I possess myself only as Monad and as Ego, and I feel my faculties themselves reabsorbed into the substance which they have individualized. All the endowment of animality is, so to speak, repudiated; all the produce of study and of cultivation is in the same way annulled; the whole crystallization is redissolved into fluid; the whole rainbow is withdrawn within the dewdrop; consequences return to the principle, effects to the cause, the bird to the egg, the organism to its germ.

This psychological reinvolution is an anticipation of death; it represents the life beyond the grave, the return to school, the soul fading into the world of ghosts, or descending into the region of Die Mütter ; it implies the simplification of the individual who, allowing all the accidents of personality to evaporate, exists henceforward only in the indivisible state, the state of point, of potentiality, of pregnant nothingness. Is not this the true definition of mind? Is not mind, dissociated from space and time, just this? Its development, past or future, is contained in it just as a curve is contained in its algebraical formula. This nothing is an all. This punctum without dimensions is a punctum saliens. What is the acorn but the oak which has lost its branches, its leaves, its trunk, and its roots--that is to say, all its apparatus, its forms, its particularities--but which is still present in concentration, in essence, in a force which contains the possibility of complete revival?

This impoverishment, then, is only superficially a loss, a reduction. To be reduced to those elements in one which are eternal, is indeed to die but not to be annihilated: it is simply to become virtual again.

138. Abigail Adams

Braintree, 9 September, 1776.

This night our good uncle came from town and brought me yours of August 20, 21, 25, 27, and 28, for all of which I most sincerely thank you. I have felt uneasy to hear from you. The report of your being dead has no doubt reached you by Bass, who heard enough of it before he came away. It took its rise among the Tories, who, as Swift said of himself, "By their fears betray their hopes." How they should ever take it into their heads that you was poisoned at New York, a fortnight before that we heard anything of that villain Zedwitz's plan of poisoning the waters of the city, I cannot tell.[159] I am sometimes ready to suspect that there is a communication between the Tories of every State; for they seem to know all news that is passing before it is known by the Whigs.

We have had many stories concerning engagements upon Long Island this week; of our lines being forced and of our troops returning to New York. Particulars we have not yet obtained. All we can learn is that we have been unsuccessful there; having lost many men as prisoners, among whom are Lord Stirling and General Sullivan.

But if we should be defeated, I think we shall not be conquered. A people fired like the Romans with love of their country and of liberty, a zeal for the public good, and a noble emulation of glory, will not be disheartened or dispirited by a succession of unfortunate events. But like them may we learn by defeat the power of becoming invincible!

I hope to hear from you by every post till you return. The herbs [160] you mention I never received. I was upon a visit to Mrs. S. Adams about a week after Mr. Gerry returned, when she entertained me with a very fine dish of green tea. The scarcity of the article made me ask her where she got it. She replied that her sweetheart  sent it to her by Mr. Gerry. I said nothing, but thought my sweetheart might have been equally kind, considering the disease I was visited with, and that was recommended a bracer. A little after, you mentioned a couple of bundles sent. I supposed one of them might contain the article, but found they were letters. How Mr. Gerry should make such a mistake I know not. I shall take the liberty of sending for what is left of it, though I suppose it is half gone, as it was very freely used. If you had mentioned a single word of it in your letter, I should have immediately found out the mistake.

It is said that the efforts of our enemies will be to stop the communication between the Colonies by taking possession of Hudson's Bay. Can it be effected? The Milford  frigate rides triumphant in our bay, taking vessels every day, and no colony or Continental vessel has yet attempted to hinder her. She mounts but twenty-eight guns, but is one of the finest sailers in the British navy. They complain we have not weighty metal enough, and I suppose truly. The rage for privateering is as great here as anywhere, and I believe the success has been as great.


[159]Herman Zedwitz, a German who had received a lieutenant-colonel's commission in the Continental army, appears to have conceived a clumsy scheme of treachery, by communicating to Governor Tryon, among other things, a supposed plot to poison the waters of the city of New York. He was tried by wart martial and cashiered.


September 9

September 9, 1879.--"Non-being is perfect. Being, imperfect:" this horrible sophism becomes beautiful only in the Platonic system, because there Non-being is replaced by the Idea, which is, and which is divine.

The ideal, the chimerical, the vacant, should not be allowed to claim so great a superiority to the Real, which, on its side, has the incomparable advantage of existing. The Ideal kills enjoyment and content by disparaging the present and actual. It is the voice which says No, like Mephistopheles. No, you have not succeeded; no, your work is not good; no, you are not happy; no, you shall not find rest--all that you see and all that you do is insufficient, insignificant, overdone, badly done, imperfect. The thirst for the ideal is like the goad of Siva, which only quickens life to hasten death. Incurable longing that it is, it lies at the root both of individual suffering and of the progress of the race. It destroys happiness in the name of dignity.

The only positive good is order, the return therefore to order and to a state of equilibrium. Thought without action is an evil, and so is action without thought. The ideal is a poison unless it be fused with the real, and the real becomes corrupt without the perfume of the ideal. Nothing is good singly without its complement and its contrary. Self-examination is dangerous if it encroaches upon self-devotion; reverie is hurtful when it stupefies the will; gentleness is an evil when it lessens strength; contemplation is fatal when it destroys character. "Too much" and "too little" sin equally against wisdom. Excess is one evil, apathy another. Duty may be defined as energy tempered by moderation; happiness, as inclination calmed and tempered by self-control.

Just as life is only lent us for a few years, but is not inherent in us, so the good which is in us is not our own. It is not difficult to think of one's self in this detached spirit. It only needs a little self-knowledge, a little intuitive preception of the ideal, a little religion. There is even much sweetness in this conception that we are nothing of ourselves, and that yet it is granted to us to summon each other to life, joy, poetry and holiness.

Another application of the law of irony: Zeno, a fatalist by theory, makes his disciples heroes; Epicurus, the upholder of liberty, makes his disciples languid and effeminate. The ideal pursued is the decisive point; the stoical ideal is duty, whereas the Epicureans make an ideal out of an interest. Two tendencies, two systems of morals, two worlds. In the same way the Jansenists, and before them the great reformers, are for predestination, the Jesuits for free-will--and yet the first founded liberty, the second slavery of conscience. What matters then is not the theoretical principle; it is the secret tendency, the aspiration, the aim, which is the essential thing.

* * * *

At every epoch there lies, beyond the domain of what man knows, the domain of the unknown, in which faith has its dwelling. Faith has no proofs, but only itself, to offer. It is born spontaneously in certain commanding souls; it spreads its empire among the rest by imitation and contagion. A great faith is but a great hope which becomes certitude as we move farther and farther from the founder of it; time and distance strengthen it, until at last the passion for knowledge seizes upon it, questions, and examines it. Then all which had once made its strength becomes its weakness; the impossibility of verification, exaltation of feeling, distance.

* * * *

At what age is our view clearest, our eye truest? Surely in old age, before the infirmities come which weaken or embitter. The ancients were right. The old man who is at once sympathetic and disinterested, necessarily develops the spirit of contemplation, and it is given to the spirit of contemplation to see things most truly, because it alone perceives them in their relative and proportional value.