Maria L. Varney in “The Herald of Truth” (1847–1848)

Thomas & Maria L. Varney, “Equitable Commerce” (1846)


  • Maria L. Varney, “Social Relations,” Herald of Truth 1 no. 2 (February, 1847): 123–125.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Social Relations,” Herald of Truth 1 no. 3 (March, 1847): 219–223.
  • Maria L. Varney, “The Language of Nature,” Herald of Truth 1 no. 4 (April, 1847): 306–309.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Letters from the Queen City,” Herald of Truth 2 no. 1 (July, 1847): 81–87.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Letters from the Queen City—No. 2,” Herald of Truth 2 no. 4 (October, 1847): 231–237.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Letters from the Queen City—No. 3,” Herald of Truth 2 no. 5 (November, 1847): 378–382.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Letters from the Queen City—No. 4,” Herald of Truth 3 no. 1 (January, 1848):75–81.
  • Maria L. Varney, “Letters from the Queen City—No. 5,” Herald of Truth 3 no. 5 (May, 1848): 397–401

 


Art. XVI.—SOCIAL RELATIONS.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

“It’s no use talking about Religion with no flour in the house.”

I have heard a friend tell an anecdote, which I think very cleverly illustrates a prominent law, or feature of human nature. It runs thus—my friend was engaged in an extensive business, which required a goodly number of labourers. These he furnished at his own store. It was their custom to receive their wages at the close of every week, when each would take to his family such provision as they needed for the coming week. One Saturday afternoon the store happened to be out of flour: and many a poor man had to return home with a disappointed heart. One of these as he was returning from the store with a sorrowful countenance, and an empty bag slung across his shoulder, was accosted by one of the overseers with, “Dick, there’s going to be preaching to-morrow evening, at the school-house, Mr. L—–. is to speak. Will you go and hear him?” The poor fellow raising his voice in that tone of earnestness acquired by hard necessity, replied, “It’s no use talking about Religion, with no flour in the house.”

Would to Heaven, this priest-ridden world could fully appreciate the philosophy couched in this simple sentence —would that they could understand that in order to have mental health, we must have physical health. Perfect health is perfection—’tis happiness, tenderness, cheerfulness—everything! As is the physical, so is the menial condition, seems to be the truth for this age to develope practically. Hence the exertions to place man in a better condition socially. There is no use of longer continuing to preach righteousness, where the hearer is incapacitated to heed it. It is preaching honesty to a starving man, and independence to slaves.

The truth is, mankind are not so bad at least, as they have been represented. Human nature has been grossly slandered in the pulpit. She has been brought by her social relations, to the companionship of brutes, and like honest Tray, has got a bad name from the company she keeps. She has been abused, and she’s sick, but she is’nt naturally ugly. There is not a human being, but would be happy, if they had been placed in laughing circumstances always. I must admire that indestructibility of human nature, which serves her under the thousand severe trials, through which, by a false society she is made to pass, and to come out a human being still. Were we to reason the case we should calculate that demons, and nothing less, would be the product of a social state, which offers a premium to all kinds of vice. Not so, is the result—she has been starved, frozen, worked down—she has been beaten, imprisoned, hanged, for some hereditary or social disease, and yet she possesses the elements of good! Only place her now in good condition, just as she is, and she will exhibit a thousand redeeming qualities. She may not, in her lowest condition, at once, be able to commune with the great spirit of nature in all its breathings, she may not at first inhale ambition and cheerfulness from the rays of morning—meditation from the twilight of evening, or serenity and purity from the clear moonlight—she may not darken with the clouds and brighten with the sunshine —she may not at first feel the poetry of the forest, the fields and the flowers. But soon would she be able to drink of that spirit—to read poetry in all things, and to feel the diviner impulses glow on her cheeks.

But let all who are from week to week, holding forth the idea of purity of heart, without accompanying it with the means of obtaining such purity, know that their labour is vain. Let them remember, “Tis no use to talk about Religion with no Hour in the house.” If I am better or happier than my fellows, it only shows that the circumstances of my existence have been more favourable than theirs; if I have always been surrounded by good friends, and lived under the sound of kind voices, I shall in my turn deal out kindness to others.


Art. XXXVIII.—SOCIAL RELATIONS.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

“No one can be happy, with the knowledge of anothers’ misery.”

“This sentiment,” said the late N. P. Rogers, “is worth going five hundred miles to hear.” If it be a true sentiment, then is there yet something to do, before all will be made happy. In a former article, I said mankind were disposed to do right—not naturally of an Ishmaelite spirit —that the first impulse of the human being is on the side of virtue. Not that they do right. Nay, verily. They are so situated by their present relations in society, that they must live constantly at the expense of virtue—at the expense of each other, and their own better nature. Men may prate about virtue as much as they will, we cannot have it in our present relations. Vice must become virtue, until a radical change takes place. Present society offers a premium to vice. Is it not the Physician’s interest now to keep men sick—the Lawyer’s interest, to keep them by the ears—the Merchant’s, that their crops fail—the Mason’s and Carpenter’s interest, that their houses burn down—the Shoe-maker’s, Tailor’s, Dress-maker’s, and Cloth-maker’s, that their clothing is destroyed—the Crockery and Cabinet maker’s, that their furniture is ruined? Is it not the interest of nearly all the producing classes, that war shall take place? And finally, is it not the interest of the priest, that society should remain just as it is, where all become vicious and hardened, by living at the expense of each other, and their own better feelings? For if men were all good—if their relations were such as to offer no temptations to virtue and truth, we should need no priest. Again, if our relations were such, that we could learn the laws of health, we should need no Physician—if we were not living at the expense of each other, we should need no Lawyers to settle our difficulties—or merchants to feed sumptuously on the labor of others—nor the multitudinous horde of government vampires, who glut themselves at the expense of the labourer. Thus all these numerous offices and professions, filled with parasites, would be annihilated, and the thousand Lawyers, Priests, Physicians, and Politicians, would be added to the list of labourers.

The truth is, society is topsy turvey. He who merits most, has the least. Those who build palaces, live in hovels. Those who build carriages, themselves travel on foot. The idle live luxuriously, while the overworked starve. Society does not recognise the principle of labour as the only wealth of the world, aside from natural wealth. It does not perceive that workingmen produce all the wealth. There is a great and fundamental wrong somewhere, which puts vice for virtue, and the sooner this is hunted out and exposed, the better for all classes—better in every respect. Our pecuniary interest is now every way opposed to our moral interest. Hence, we not only cannot harmonise with each other, but we cannot harmonise with ourselves. Every individual in society feels this want of harmony—this everlasting uneasiness and warfare in his own feelings, created by our natural benevolent impulses, which prompt the wish that all should be happy, on the one hand, and the fear of want and cankering care on the other. No one, high or low, is, or can be exempt entirely from this feeling in present society. The merchant, when he takes the last dollar from the hardened hand of industry, feels a remorse for the office he fills. He wishes sincerely, he might live by other and more honest means. The Priest, when the truth of his position comes before him—when he discovers that he is living on the sins of the people, and that it is his interest to keep them sinners, is repulsed. The idea is revolting. His better nature condemns his office.

Although I would deal with principles, not men, I am aware these are, at present, bread-and-butter questions. I name different classes only as conspicuous examples of a wrong state of things. Not that one class is more blameworthy than another—the whole superstructure is false, we arc all seeking happiness. The goal is reached by none. All must be happy before any can be perfectly so. Or, at least, misery must be so far removed, that we shall have lost sight of it, ere we can enjoy perfect happiness. There is a mighty work to be done, yet it will be accomplished by simple means. We are manifestly on the eve of some radical change in the great human drama. “There is a better time coming.” A time when those who fold their arms to rest in idle wealth and honor, will find themselves sleeping on a volcano. A time is coming when labour will give honour and wealth, and idleness dishonour and want. When “falsehood’s trade shall be as unprofitable and unfashionable as that of truth is now.” It may come in a very different way from present expectations, as truth is wont to come. We are always looking for some mighty display, but truth never makes any. We are a blind-fold race, at best. We can see but little farther into the future than we can into a millstone. We never know our benefactors till they are out of the reach of our sympathies. As Carlisle would say: “We kill and crucify our gods, and trample them under our stupid hoofs for a century or two, then take to braying over them, still in a very long-eared manner.” The good time may come unperceived, but it will surely come!

Some very sober truths, are now in very sober agitation. Men are beginning to perceive that all belong to one brotherhood. They begin to understand that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is synonymous with a right to the earth, which alone gives life. They are coming to see that labour is the only wealth of the world. They already feel that the extremes of civilisation (?) are reached. Some of the manufacturing districts of Europe, show the ultimatum of the present social condition. All society based on the same foundation, is tending to the same result. The wages of the labourer in some of the trades of our larger cities, is already reduced to the lowest point of endurance, a mere sustenance; and what is to prevent all from sharing the same fate? The constant invention of labour-saving machinery is throwing its thousands out of employ, and reducing the wages of all who have work. This god-like power is employed to make the rich richer, and the poor poor indeed; and that, with tremendous velocity. This alone, is proof of the falseness of present arrangements. This one power is enough to revolutionize society, could it be thrown into the hands of the people, and made to work for, instead of against them, as now. Now it is the greatest enemy the labourer has to fear. There is an abundance produced but the producer has no right to it. It has been estimated by (Lord) Brougham, that there is at present in operation, in the island of Great Britain, labour-saving machinery enough to give all the comforts and conveniences of life, with but twenty minutes useful labour by every citizen. And we may safely add, we have labour-saving machinery enough in this country, if it worked for the poor, to produce all the comforts of life, provided every citizen laboured as much as his health and pleasure require.

But the constant drudgery of the labouring population is not the worst feature of the system. The all-absorbing avarice, and the slavery and imbecility of mind are still more to be dreaded. This robbing men of their right to the soil, and consequently their self-respect, and time to think, has made them mere slaves and ninnies. They do not appreciate their condition. They just follow in the wake, without asking questions; none of us realise how comparatively few possess the earth, and, those for the most part, of the idle classes. But these things must be ferreted out, and spoken out. Who dare stand up in the dignity of his manhood, and declare the actual state of things as it really exists before our eyes—as we feel it down deep in our hearts—as we daily feel it in the expense of our nerve and muscle? Who dare speak it? Does not our very life depend on our good behaviour to our masters? Long enough has this been our subterfuge. Let us learn to put liberty above life. Spirit of Emmet and Henry! hast thou fled forever?

Who, of the most keen-sighted among us, has a glimpse of the real state of the matter? Not one. We have not learned the A, B, C, of the absolute falseness of present commerce, and its enslaving and debasing consequences—the terrible enslavement of mind engendered thereby. A few leading minds now do nearly all the thinking. I recollect on one occasion, when Mr. Rogers arose to speak to a new audience, some one called out, “this is Nathaniel P. Rogers, editor of the Herald of Freedom.” “It’s no matter who I am,” said Mr. Rogers—”it’s no matter who any body is—it is time every body was heard from.” This is the true sentiment. We have been in leading strings long enough. It is time each began to think for himself and herself—(she has experienced this herself, the climax of all slavery.) There is no use in being mealy-mouthed in this matter, milk-and-water have nothing to do on so grave a subject. Our social relations must be changed. In what form that change shall be made, is yet a question among Social Reformers. Whatever it may be, two things must be guarantied thereby—co-operating interests, and individual independence.


Art. LVI.—THE LANGUAGE OF NATURE.

BY MRS. MARIA L. VARNEY.

I was awakened this morning by my little Mozart, singing in the tree before the window—

Get up, get up, get up,
The sun’s a shining, shining, shining,
Get up, the sun’s a shining.

He seems to have followed me from that beautiful orchard, and more beautiful forest, through which the chrystal stream is forever murmuring along, then bounding over the rocks, in that “Land o’ the Lakes,” Skaneateles, where I

Wandered away from the haunts of men
To the wildest spot in the forest glen,
Where our beautiful river comes dashing along
And mingles its noise with the wild bird’s song.

I’m not quite sure ‘t is him. It certainly sounds very like his note—shall know when he sings again. If so, he is an intelligent bird, and one who knows how to appreciate and reciprocate affection. He knows his friends. There is no bird who sings more sweetly than himself. Not even redbreast. His throat is as mellow, and his notes are stolen directly from the cheerful god. He is the angel of cheerfulness. It seems as though the birds were up in the air and trees, for careful earth-worms to imitate. Their songs are always of that sweet, careless, cheerful nature. They don’t write them down in a book, and then square all to the same rule. No, they go for individual liberty. They hav’nt lost their bird-hood by restraint, or government, or policy. They have free meetings, and free singings—no chairman, or singing-schools. Each warbles out his own feelings, in his own way. Like a part of great, beautiful Nature, inhaling her inspirations, and breathing them out again, as pure and free. They have no pledges, constitutions and by-laws; because no bird has monopolised the air, the trees, and the sun-light, to sell it in parcels, or receive usury therefor. No bird sets a limit to the quantity of air, or the number of sun’s rays that shall fall upon other birds. They do not feed and house themselves at the expense of others. Each builds his own nest, and collects his own food. Each throws himself on the bosom of great Nature, and reflects back her image. They partake of the seasons as much as do the trees. In the Spring they break forth, like all nature, in their liveliest and gayest tunes. They are in ecstacy as Summer wanes, and their notes become deeper and richer. In Autumn they grow more plaintive, and in Winter they are silent. This is the appearance up here in our northern latitudes. I suppose it is owing partly to the change of birds. Some go to the sunny south, where the fields and forests are clothed in perpetual spring, as soon as Nature begins to look a little more sober here. They are made with sparkling nerves and eyes, which must meet a reciprocation in nature around them. Others keep leaving us as Nature grows graver and graver, and by the time Jack has the leaves stript off, and old Boreas is well waked up, we are left pretty much alone. The birds and green leaves come and go together, leaving us but the cold, empty frame.

Then, what an impulse, when the first Spring-sun begins to shine. It is one mighty thrill, sent through the living world! All at once, the sun shines brighter and warmer; the grass springs out, the birds begin to sing, the buds burst, the animals jump about for joy, and even we, cold, reflecting monuments, feel the universal thrill. The blood jumps through our veins quicker, as the general resurrection touches the chords and shakes off our grave-clothes. Last forever, O Spring! Why should not we pine for the tropical clime?

“Ah, who would not dwell in the sunny south land,
Where the flowers are ever blooming o’er mountain and strand?”

It is a wonder that the birds ever come to us at all, when they have such beautiful, wild, gunless forests, and sunshine at home. I suppose these are only some little rovers, who are fond of change, and just come up here for curiosity. And how do they get treated sometimes? I blush for my species! What, kill little tender birds, who come here just to see us, and sing to us, and teach us to be cheerful! They have no ill feeling toward us. Why, here they come, away to the centre of this great, noisy city, to sing on the trees in this beautiful garden. Who kills little birds and squirrels?

“I would not enter on my list of friends
The man (though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
Yet wanting sensibility,) who needlessly sets foot upon a worm
That crawls at evening in the public path.”

Much less he who wantonly kills the birds and squirrels.

We find the same language of freedom and happy cheerfulness in the green trees, as they wave their graceful tops in the breeze; and the little flowers, as they peep out their pretty faces to the sun. They choose their own dress, and suck their own nourishment, from generous mother earth. Little children, too, breathe out the same breath of freedom and love. Who but admires that free, frolicsome cheerfulness, which shines out in their sweet faces, their merry laugh, and bounding limbs; that innocent frankness, which shines out through their whole being, as they float on the bosom of nature. Nay, who does not feel this impulse at times gushing up through his own feelings, and reminding him that he too was once an innocent, happy child? Will the time ever come, when we shall carry loving, merry, innocent childhood up to maturity with us? Yes, my own heart answers.

Nature has written her poetry every where, and each nerve vibrates its corresponding feeling in the human heart. The form and colour of every leaf and flower, has its language. The vast blue sky, the silent twinkling stars, the serene moon, and the smooth surface of the sea, lake, or river; the plain, the ever rolling surface, the hill, the mountain, and the valley; the still midnight, the morning sunrise; the noon-day, and evening twilight; Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter; the silent, majestic forest, and the roaring waterfall.

I stood alone with Nature, face to face,
Charmed by her ever speaking silence. Then,
I thought in loftier strains, than ever yet
Inspired the speaking multitudes.

Again, in the works of the Artist, we feel the same great pulse of nature beating through different veins, whether in music, painting, or sculpture. For it is the Artist’s work, to embody this poetry of nature—this language of the heart, which words cannot reach. And when we shall have done with unnatural drudgery and care, next to our lessons in the open temple of Nature, shall we sit at the Artist’s feet. The picture gallery, the drama, and the opera, have much to do yet, in bringing this human world to enjoy its own paradise. But we would, by no means, neglect the Artisan, who figures more directly on the active stage of life. He also figures largely in the formation of human character, perhaps as much as any other human being. But the Novel writers and Poets, seem now to be actually leading the car of Reform. Already, they rise in Judgment, and condemn the wise of this generation. Such free writers as Lydia Maria Child, Mary Howitt, Eugene Sue, and George Sand, are doing more for Reform, than all our policy writers put together.


Art. XI. —LETTERS FROM THE QUEEN CITY.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

June 10, 1847.

I had intended to turn critic toward the first number of the “ Herald of Truth,” in right fashionable style, headed Review; showing my likes and dislikes; faulting this, and praising that; commending the “Simplicity of Truth,” for such gems as the following:

“The man who is just because he loves justice, is just in obedience to the will of God. * * * It makes no difference whether he acknowledges God or Nature as the controlling power of the Universe, because they are one and the same. Could the Atheist and the Christian have a clear understanding of each other’s views, the Nature of the one would be invariably found identical with the God of the other. The Atheist invests Nature with all the attributes of God; and what is there in a name? All names applied to the Eternal are the inventions of men.”

This just accords with my own cherished idea. Therefore, I was going to praise this, and then fault right heartily an article by the same author, for using the epithet “Rankest Infidelity” toward a body of Reformers who practised more than any others the religion which he preaches. Then I was going to show the inconsistency of talking loudly of Individual Sovereignty, while belonging to a close combination, and while we do not recognize Individuality. I was going to commend “The Mission of Art,” “Architecture,” “The College—the Church,” “The Poor,” “Heaven on Earth,” “Religion—Morality—Philosophy,” “Struggles of Genius,” “The Next Presidency,” and many articles perhaps equally good—(these I quote from memory.) Then I was going to fault Scribe, for wishing Percy B. Shelley anything different from what he was, Percy B. Shelley; and the Editor, for publishing Judge Hall’s speech, without comment. Indeed, I might have annihilated some authors, and brought others into everlasting renown. But as I had forgotten much that I had read, and as I feel in too good humor for a critic to-day, I concluded to spare all the terrible sifting intended; and so I will leave them, and just write you that long-intended letter, and be content to allow every one liberty to be inconsistent, if he chooses. For every one naturally possesses this right of differing with himself at different times. Indeed, it is the legitimate result of progress. This is just the position we ought to retain for ourselves. The tendency to combine in parties or sects, and get up a creed or constitution of some kind to support at all hazards, is truly astonishing. Mankind does not yet perceive what a burden to the mind is this chaining one’s self to a car of the Past, and being obliged to sustain ideas which we have long since outgrown; it is a false position, and by it the mind is constantly trained to falsehood. Our nature is to progress,—we are not intended to stand still. Hence the constant bursting up and splitting of churches and parties. And this will continue until all come to the true ground of individual sovereignty, until each is satisfied with being just a human being, and nothing else—neither Jew, Christian, Infidel, Mohammedan, or anything than simply a human being.

Poets have always recognized the necessity of having their minds untrammeled by any of these fetters. I believe it is acknowledged by all parties, that we have no poets worthy of the name, either ancient or modern, who undertake to sustain a party or creed. Freedom, to them, is absolutely necessary. Poetry, like Music, is a universal language, and its authors must be as free as the birds of the air. Nor is this freedom less necessary to manhood or womanhood. I speak from my own impressions. This unlimited freedom is necessary to me, and I judge it is for all others. When I wish to speak or write, I cannot afford to stop and consult the extensive and elaborate views and rules of a false literature, before daring to use a word or sentence. Neither can I afford to stop and consult the theology or politics of any body, party, or nation, before venturing an original idea. The only true way seems to be, to speak out our own thoughts in our own way.

But I like to have kept on moralising forever. I will just give you something, now, of a sketch of this great smoking city,—I might have said this mighty pork-house. As you approach it from the North, you look down on a great Babylon of houses stretching in every direction, and nearly enveloped in black smoke, and you wonder how it came to pass that the people should choose to leave the beautiful hills which encircle it, for such a forbidding siie as it at first appears. But look again, and you will see that handsomely winding sheet of silver in the distance, “the pleasant Ohio,” which is, indeed, a river of silver to all this part of the country. This explains the choice of site in this avaricious age—health, pleasure, scenery, happiness, life—all are as a bubble, in comparison. If this city, and Covington, which lies on the opposite side of the river, should be blended into one in name, as it is, in reality, one city, then we might say it is surrounded on every side by high and beautiful hills, with the Ohio winding through the center. For several miles around Cincinnati, the hills, or knolls on the tops of the hills, seem as if intended for the most delightful residences, each one offering a handsome building site, with a nice yard, and elbow room around it; and almost all have a gently rolling surface—rolling every way from the center. This seems to be the general form, although there are some exceptions. Cincinnati is the great commercial depot for this part of the country,—the great half-way house from New York to New Orleans,—and, like New York, Enterprise is written on its forehead. It is, indeed, the “Queen City” of the West, in its commerce, and this, I think, is the source whence it took the name Queen City. Like almost all other places where commerce is the ruling spirit, too little attention is paid to health, neatness, and taste. Hence the effluvia from Mill Creek, a stagnant pool on the west, and from a hundred slaughter-houses in different parts of the city, which send forth rivers of blood, to be exposed in the open-breathing atmosphere. The streets are always covered with a good depth of mud or dust, and the atmosphere thick with dust most of the time in the summer season. The muddy, filthy water of the river, too, is drunk by the great mass of the people, without filtering or cleansing of any kind. But I have said enough of these things. There are some quite pretty residences, with handsome yards, and green trees. Some of these houses are painted slate or brown, like some of the late patterns in New York. If a house is painted white here, you could not know it, in a year’s time, as a new house. It very soon gets that dingy, sooty appearance, which characterizes all the buildings. I cannot learn to like these smoky cities as well as our neat white villas at the East. There is, however, a greater quantity of green trees here than is common at the East, which is quite a redeeming feature. The climate is warm and moist, and I have been told by those who have lived in London, that it very much resembles that climate. I think it must have a much more bilious tendency,—it certainly has much more than the Eastern States. The complexion of the people generally is not so rosy,—more of a swarthy paleness; and most of the diseases are of a bilious nature, and much less of a disposition to lung diseases, so common at the East. The soil around in the adjacent country is incomparably richer, producing almost every fruit of the temperate zone, and this fertility of soil, in its turn, produces greater liberality in the people. I have seen but few paupers, comparatively, in this city. The long succession of fine weather which we sometimes have here is truly delightful.

One of the greatest luxuries of which we are susceptible, results from the habit of observing Nature, and Art, in her imitations of Nature. Take a pure moonlight eve; one of those atmospheres of devotional love, when all is still and calm, and you almost hear Nature speaking through her silence, and feel it sacrilege to stir a leaf. The same silence dwells in the dense rich forest; but here it has more of awe, and less of purity. It is a different language. Another equally bright moonlight eve, the feelings of all are changed to happy, light-hearted, joyous bounding. Every appearance is the same. The lovely moon looks down from the clear blue sky, casting her silver light through the green trees, and painting their shadows on the clear sward or earth, converting the sweet lake or river into a beautiful silver mirror, all the same as yester eve, yet how changed the feelings. These differences I have observed lately, and have charged them to the different states of the atmosphere. And perhaps, too, they are colored more or less by the medium through which they are seen. Did you ever think how much scenery has to do in the formation of character? how the form, color and odor of every leaf and flower has its different effect? I have often heard of the balmy breezes of Italy, and think, from the description, we are having a regular Italian breeze this morning—so balmy and so sweet, one can imagine, under its influence, the delightful zephyrs which are supposed to fan Elysian fields. It is so congenial to all the senses, that it just makes all good natured and pleasantly happy. We seldom have so good an atmosphere in the city, and that makes me sigh for the country. The atmosphere has much to do not only with our health, but our tempers. What a pity we cannot have city advantages united to country atmosphere and scenery! Aye, we can, and shall so have them, in that “good time coming.” This habit of observing and communing with Nature, in her own pure temple, forms a great share of my happiness.

A voice lov’d and familiar, yet unknown
As mortals know,—often through gentle streams,
And murmuring brooks, and forest shades,
And moonlit eves, and rumbling water-falls,—
Has come to me.

When spring came, and forced out the fresh grass and leaves, my thoughts traveled to the old red and brindle cow, and the foaming milk-pail. I rambled over the forest with my sweet sister, in search of wild flowers, and then, spade in hand, over the waiting garden, and saw the fresh violets and daffodils already blooming. Even now I can almost scent the fresh hay in the distant fields. Although among green trees, on an elevated site, where we can overlook the brick, and smoke, and dust of the city, and admire the distant hills beyond, yet we are in the atmosphere of the city. But I should not talk so much of things out of reach, while I have so much to enjoy near at hand, and all around me. Contentment is a never-failing road to happiness. Not exactly a lazy contentment, but a hoping contentment,—this is the true philosopher’s stone. For instance, when I go out into the street, and see a row of beautiful houses with pretty yards, I admire them, and enjoy them as much as the owner can do. He has expended much to please our eyes, and it does please our eyes, and hearts, too. Others dress most tastefully, to please us. Some fill their shop windows with the most beautiful articles and patterns they can contrive, all for our admiration. I hope always to be able to appreciate such kindness. Indeed, I never walk through Fourth and Fifth streets, without feeling a sort of gratitude for the kindness thus displayed by the good people, both in the show windows, and the ladies’ dresses, (bating the slim waist.)

Another higher source of pleasure I find in visiting the works of the Artist, of which I have visited a few in this city. But I will not speak of these now. You know I have a passion for these, not unlike that which draws the inebriate to the charmed cup. I shall have to write again, and tell you about these things. But, pray, tell me if the war-spirit for Mexican butchery is as rampant at the East? I can hardly believe my own senses, when the atmosphere comes from the political press so choked up with this spirit. This surely must be war’s last death struggle in this nation, or I have dreamed myself on to the wrong planet, or, at least, into the wrong century. The approval or silent acquiescence in this crime is almost and altogether unbearable. There are a few hearts brave enough to speak out what is the true feeling of all; for, after all, it is this scramble for life, this bread and butter world only which acquiesces—the deep feelings of the heart nowhere sympathise with this spirit. And this true under-current will, by and by, set matters right—

“Wait a little longer.”


Art. XXXVI. —LETTERS FROM THE QUEEN CITY.

No. II.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

July 16, 1847.

Well, the Fourth of July is past. It came on the fifth here, since the first of the week is regarded as holy time. (All time is holy.) I arose very early on the morning of the fifth, expecting, at the first beams of the approaching sun, to hear the roaring of cannon, the ringing of bells, and to see the flags waving from every high point, preparatory to the reading of the declaration and the orations and dinners of the day. But nothing of the kind worthy of notice occurred. I heard nothing louder than fire-crackers, until near noon. Then some cannon were fired on the opposite side of the river. Nor have I heard of any orations or dinners on the occasion. There was a great display of words placarded about the city, concerning a performance which was to take place in the Garden. But it turned out a mock ceremony—a nothing—except the fire-works in the evening. These were very fine. Celebrating the Fourth here, strongly reminds one of the make-believe attempts at “military duty” throughout the country, before the Mexican slaughter commenced. “Ichabod” is written on its altars. I do not complain of these things. It were well that all of the bloody scenes, both of the past and present, were already consigned to the tomb of forgetfulness, and moral deeds taking their place. Yet there was some reason to expect something on this occasion; unless, indeed, the present war has already eclipsed that of ‘76. For we have had “ Banner Presentations” by ladies; the firing of cannon, and offering up of human sacrifices to returned volunteers, and military parading, until this seemed itself the seat of war. The atmosphere got so full of glory, that it created a dense fog in the eyes of many of the papers, even so much that it became a very sensitive subject to some of neutral politics. I speak of the papers as the index of public sentiment. But the momentary triumph of this glory, and its sudden departure, teaches us that there is a large body of the people who do not sympathize with these things. Really, it is a treat to read one of your reform papers, which ventures to call things by their right names.

There is something, after all, in those declarations of seventy-six, which, when separated from bloody deeds, it seems sorrowful to lose. The spirit which dictated those declarations was right; it was dignified human nature, standing upright, and proclaiming its own natural freedom —not a contracted selfishness, but a God-like independence, which were much better maintained without the sword. Yet, the declaration that “all men are born free and equal,” is absurd. Very few are born free from servitude and drudgery; and “equal,” here, is an undefined term. Men are not equal in person or possession—the farthest from it possible! The idea intended, is, evidently, that all men (and women, too,) have, by nature, an equal right to the use of all the natural wealth, as earth, ocean, atmosphere, and sunlight, including a view of the heavens. And this sentiment must not be lost sight of. It stands the first of all human questions. Would that I could, on the Fourth of July, have listened to a declaration of rights to the earth, as an outburst of the landless laborers

Who barter life for gold, for fear of want;
Or, homeless, waste it on the battle-field.

Oh, it would be so fitting for the laborers to come out en masse on this day, and declare their rights and wrongs! And then to listen to an oration setting forth the consequences with all the eloquence which such a theme could inspire, exhibiting, as the final consummation, the earth one great community farm, as the ocean is now the community farm of the world; not by arbitrary combination, but because there is abundance left free for all; and, for the same reason, I should not be surprised if this should come to be the way of celebrating yet. Pity the cannon cannot be used with safety, and without the association of blood and destruction. It is grand, and much of the martial music is grand and beautiful, and might happily participate in the celebration of a peaceful revolution.

I think strongly of voting this year, although you know I have always regarded government as the greatest of absurdities. The National Reformers propose to government to take their hands off the people’s land, and then leave them to transact their own business on the principle of honor; that is, they ask government to cut off her right hand, and then try and see if she can maintain herself. In addition to this, they are talking of Garrett Smith and Elihu Burritt—personifications of peace and benevolence —for the Presidency. Yes, I must vote this year! There has been nothing before worth voting for.

I commence writing this morning as happy as the birds; for I am now breathing the pure, free, country air, while the heavenly breezes are playing with my unfettered hair, and fanning my joyous limbs and bounding heart; in prospect of gently rolling, green hill-sides, with shady trees printing their dark green shadows on the light sunny surface. Then the dense forest vale, with its cool spring, and, a little way off, the half-mown hay-field, scenting the air with its sweetness, while the gay birds are chanting their merry notes for very joy. Oh, it is so grand! But “Tam,” at my elbow, reminds me that this is no finer than most country landscapes. Perhaps I am too much captivated with the present, to be able to compare notes. Of this, I am often guilty. The present is apt to be the prettiest and sunniest in the world. A few mornings since, two fine fat robins stopped in a large tree just before my door, and chatted a long time about locating a nest for their anticipated family. As soon as the matter was settled, one of them perched himself on the topmost limbs, and sang in the proudest, mellowest, and sweetest strain, for the greater part of the forenoon. Then I was so charmed, that I declared in favor of redbreast over all the other birds in the world. Away went Mozarts and Bethovens, and a whole tribe of songsters of various merit. This morning Mozart is out again with his bright cheerful song, and I am again charmed. He says,—

I am as happee, happee, happee,
As I can be-e, be-e, be-e.

That birds are intelligent, and talk and sing intelligently, will be doubted only by those who have not watched them closely—seen them so carefully, ingeniously, and wisely build their nests—heard them chat lovingly to each other, with corresponding gestures—or seen them teach their young to fly, as I saw a blue-bird last week. She would fly out before the little one, and, without lighting, return and chat to it; then fly out again, and return as before. Then she would fly down and get a worm to put in its mouth—all the while giving oral instructions. Then, when it finally made an eflbrt to fly, not understanding how or when to light, it hit against a limb, and fell to the ground. After a deal of effort, the mother succeeded in starting the little fellow again; but this time she flew, too, and lighted just before him, to show him where to stop. By this course of instruction—which is continued perseveringly by both parents, first with one of the little ones, then with the other—they learn to fly in a few hours. I am more and more convinced that the animals generally possess a vast deal more of intelligence than we have ever awarded them. A short time since, I listened to an interesting anecdote of a large dog, who stands by me grinning, as if conscious of his part in the story. Lion had been taught always to take good care of the mother and children, in the absence of the father, and often distinguished himself by some funny incidents, to show his fatherly care, and the responsibility which he felt for the welfare of the children. He would never allow the toddling infant to stray away by itself, but would always accompany it. And a lame woman who visited the house was always guarded by Lion. Although kind and affectionate to his friends, he was ready to tear an unbidden stranger in pieces. He is so aged, that he never leaves home for pleasure, and never goes out, except when the children go out by themselves. Then he goes purely out of duty, of his own accord, to take care of them. It is really amusing to watch him, and see the interest he feels. He does not enjoy their sports, but goes steadily along, with the air and anxiety of an aged person. On the occasion alluded to, in the absence of the father, he would watch where the children slept. If they all slept in the same room, he would place himself against the door of the room, and remain there through the night. If they slept in two different rooms in the chamber, he always took his position half way between. If some slept above, and some below stairs, he would place himself in the hall below, with his head to the stairs. This is only one of the thousand incidents which we have, to show the lively intelligence of animals —incidents which show various reasoning powers. And yet we have stupidly and egotistically named ourselves “intelligent beings,” and all the rest “the brute creation,” simply because we do not understand their language; and we treat them accordingly. How many affectionate families are brutally separated, to satisfy the palates of the “Lords of creation.” How are the noble horse and ox treated, as though they had no feelings of freedom in common with the rest of the living world! Oh, inconsistent mortals! You moan of slavery in the distance, while in your own hand you hold the tyrant rein and the goading lash, to break a spirit, by nature, as independent as your own. Shame on this horrid custom! Every time I hear the sound of the whip in the street, I feel the smart of that cruel slavery to which the poor animal is doomed, without the hope of emancipation.

I have been again to the “Art Union,” a gallery dedicated to the fine arts of painting and statuary, notices of which you have before seen in the Herald. Some new and charming pictures have been added since my last visit, among which are the last three paintings by Mrs. Spencer. One is a little boy, some two years old, with his torn hat cocked on one side, and pleased all to pieces with some little fish sporting in the water in the glass jar before him. This is really life-like. The expression is that of excessive childish glee—just what it would be under the circumstances. The jar and water are fine. Another is a tray, with a collation of strawberries, cherries, ice cream, fruit dishes, cream pitchers, etc.—all so real, that you can see it only with an excited palate. The third is a sunny-faced woman, basking in the playful smiles of her infant, who stands on her knee, with one hand on her head, clasping a bunch of flowers. In the other, he holds that loveliest of bloomies, my beautiful white water-lily—fit emblem of purity. It is “one of life’s happy hours.” Both are so happy, that you catch the same inspiration while admiring them. The tunic and veil, and the limbs and dress of the child, are beautifully life-like. Indeed, the whole is a charmingly expressive picture. Mrs. S. seems to excel in giving expression to her characters. She has many interesting pieces, both in the gallery, and in her own rooms on Walnut street, where everything around you breathes the atmosphere of industry. You would hardly believe that here, in this western world of land, an artist of her talent would be shoved into such contracted quarters. For talent she has, of no common order. If you miss a shade or finish on some of her earlier pictures, others, and particularly her last three, will convince you that it is neither for lack of taste or ability; but that prowling necessity which is ever saying in the ear of the artist, “march, march, march.”

I was sorry to see nothing here yet of Frankenstein’s beautiful shading—nothing that does him justice. But I need not speak of his peculiar art of distinctness in shading, and the fine relief of his pieces. You will, probably, see some of his last, for they have gone East. I think he is destined to make a figure, and that justly. Among the fine, soft landscapes, there is one sweet little river scene, in a foggy morning, before the sun is up, which arrested and riveted my attention, and still haunts me, like some fair spot on early memory. I seem to have looked on that scene before—when, or where, I cannot tell. It is not quite my wild vale, by the bend of the wild-bounding stream, in the land o’ the lakes, although the bend is the same; nor is it that green spot on the banks of the smooth Owasco. Yet I have seen it, or its like, in very early life; for its image was found still on one of the lower plates of my memory. I judge that a scene that could make such an impression as this has, must be executed by an artist. It is well chosen, as well as beautifully painted. The bend of a beautiful river through a rich forest is not easily forgotten. If you should ever chance to visit this gallery, you will remember this piece. I would have you see it— not so much for the beauty of the scene, as for the execution. The water and trees are real. It was painted by a Mr. Muzzey, I think.

But I did not expect to give you a critique of the pictures of the Art Union. In such case, I might do more injustice to those named than to those unnamed. I can only speak of the impressions I received as a common observer. Pictures, like everything else, have their language, and if they fail to speak as the objects speak, they fail as pictures. For instance, there is a Niagara Falls in the gallery, which I could stand before an hour without hearing the roar of falling waters, feeling the dashing spray on my cheek, or yielding my whole soul in adoration of the beautiful, sublime. Yet there is a deal of work in the piece, and it is justly drawn. Whether it is for want of proper light and coloring, or what is its deficiency, I cannot tell. I judge only of the language it speaks to me. I am, as yet, acquainted with only a few of the artists of the city; yet, in the different works which I have examined, I see a promise of a future Queen City, of which even Powers may be proud.


Art. LIX. —LETTERS FROM THE QUEEN CITY.

No. III.

By Maria L. Varney.

Dear Friend:

In looking over my last letter to you, I discover that in speaking of the Art Union, I made a very important omission of a sweet little “twilight,” which I intended to have named. It is by our own states-man, Cole. That peculiar, dewy softness of twilight is stretched oyer the whole scene—there is the last light of day still lingering in the horizon—the water has assumed its dark, glassy appearance—the grass has put on its beautiful, even green, and the soft dew is resting on the grass, the water and the ivy of the ruined arch, putting its finger to the silent lip of nature, and lulling her deep bosom to rest. It is a perfect daguerreotype of those dear, deep inspiration moments which make us breathe softly lest we disturb the quiet haunt of some presiding genius. Cole puts the soul in his landscape, as Mrs. Spencer does in her figures. He makes it breathe and talk.

I have, for a long time, felt very curious to know what the people of the future will be, and do, and what they will think of some of our strange customs. Sometimes I seem to be visiting their public assemblies, and hear them compare their lightning times to our stupid present—when people are eleven days in getting from one continent to the other—when a great unbroken Atlantic is allowed to cover that large portion of fine country now occupied by the beautiful villas, lovely rivers, lakes and fish ponds of the Atalantis—when people were content to travel over the Earth at forty miles an hour, instead of riding on the lightnings, or scribble on paper to communicate with friends some days distant, instead of speaking to the most distant inhabitants of the earth, as if face to face—when multititudes suffered sickness and death from bad climates, imperfect diffusion of gases and electricity in the atmosphere, when they allowed the Earth to lie in vast swamps and deserts, monotonous oceans, frozen hemispheres and burning zones, instead of turning the key and equilibriating the temperature, gases and electricity, as easily as turning the hands on the dial plate, making the atmosphere and temperature just what we wish, at any moment, in any part of the earth—so that one can luxuriate in regions formerly uninhabited, or stand on the end of the North Pole with bare feet—when people, instead of living in earthy grossness, with its limited sphere, dwell forever in the sublimated region and extended horizon of clairvoyance! These glimpses of the future are so pleasing, that I shouldn’t wonder if I really got off there, in some clairvoyant way, yet. If this happens, I will give you a faithful history of those regions.

Knowing, my dear friend, that you keep a large bible, in which you paste all the scraps which you think will be interesting and useful for your children to read when you have passed off; and having a great anxiety that the people of the future shall have an unbiased history of our present customs, I have concluded to write a very brief account of matters and things, to be transmitted to them by means of your sacred scrap-book. You will, therefore, please place the following letter in said place of deposit:

TO THE PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE.

Sept. 17, 1847.

Dear Friends:

I have an ardent desire that you should come into possession of the real character of our times. I will therefore give you a brief account thereof, without a word of comment.

The Earth on which we live is now supposed to be round, and to turn quite over every 24 hours, and to pass around the sun every 365 days, 5 hours and 36 minutes. The human race now differ in some respects from any other species of animals now extant. They have no general language, food or clothing. Their theories and customs are various. In some countries they go naked, live in the forests without houses, and subsist by hunting and fishing, or on the uncooked spontaneous productions of the earth. In others they dress in loose robes, and sandals for covering to the feet. In some countries the dress is constructed so as to form the body into whatever shape they please, binding closely some parts to prevent their enlargement, and leaving others to expand proportionately. The most common custom is that of bandaging the chest tightly with strong cloth, so as to produce a fine taper waist and a corresponding large breast and diaphragm, and, on the whole, a most beautiful figure! This is more particularly the custom of the female; but the practice has been so long continued, that the shape of body, in both sexes, conforms to it more or less. This, in time, produces a very delicate race of people. Narrow bandages are also placed around the lower limb, until a handsome groove is produced. The feet are cased in iron, wood or leather made from the skins of other animals; to prevent their growing large, to screen them from bruises and the weather, and to produce a toddling gait. In some countries children are laced to a board to make them grow straight, or weights are placed on the head to produce a degree of flatness. All these things are done to beautify the form, and are perpetuated from one generation to another. The external shape and color of dress in different countries is hardly less various. But the people of one country generally adopt nearly the same kind of dress, lest they should be thought strange. In some countries people cultivate grains, fruits and animals; and they cook them with fire, putting all manner of stuff into their stomachs, and toiling from early morning till late at night, in order to eat and dress. These countries are called civilized, and if you were to pass through them, you would find splendid mansions intermixed with humble shanties; and along the road side you would find many wretched beggars. These mansions belong to the idle men, who own the land; the shanties, to those who labor so hard, and the beggars are those who have no chance to labor. I know you will wonder at this; but I am not to give the reason, or comment at all; and, besides, you will find in the antiquarian library a “History of Land Monopoly,” which will tell you all about it. The women of all countries are slaves by law.

In all countries, the people are ignorant concerning matters most intimately connected with existence and happiness. All are under government of others, and the different plans of governing are called politics. All being ignorant of the proper kind and quantity of food, dress and government, and having no general instinct in these matters, their plans continue to be experiments. And from the universal wretchedness consequent, all consider themselves in a stray condition, and look to the future to reveal the mystery. In every country there are a few positive characters, whose thoughts become the standard for all the rest: whatever sentiment or custom they adopt, is adopted by all, and is thence called public opinion. In all countries, they have an idea of a great general source of intelligence and power. In some, they give forms to this idea, with the attributes they suppose it to possess, and build temples to contain them. Others worship the Idea in their temples, without any visible image. Others again recognise the body of this intelligence in universal nature: these worship in the open temple of the sky. Some afflict their bodies in various ways, to please this great spirit—hanging their flesh in hooks—being buried in the earth, &c. Some afflict their souls—go to their temples every seventh day; and one of their number stands before the congregation, and prays, with closed eyes, to the divine spirit. Then the congregation sings. Then the same man reads a few lines from a book, which is considered as instruction from this great spirit, and explains their meaning to the people. Of these there are many hundred parties, disagreeing with each other.

There are different books in different countries, claiming to be from this divine source. These contain knowledge of a great good spirit, and a great bad spirit; and each book has its priests or illuminators. There are also those who scoff at these things, disbelieving them altogether, but having something in their stead which they consider infallible. These are generally called infidels. Some think that everything happens by necessity, because there is an apparent chain of cause and effect. Others think that we act altogether from free will, because every one seems to possess a consciousness of power of choice Some think that when this life closes, we go to a state of wretchedness or happiness. Others suppose when the breath ceases, all is over. Others believe they are to live right on, only throwing off this mortal body, for a more spiritual one.

It is a generally prevailing opinion that we live in a peculiar age—on the eve of some great day. And this thought, assisted by the fact that the inequalities of the human race are constantly widening—and the rapid improvement in arts and sciences—has driven many to expect that happy island in the future—directly. All think they live in the most enlightened age and nation, and regard all others as heathen. Every clan thinks itself alone in the right. And while praying their bullets into their neighbors’ hearts, believe that, when all the world is converted to their sentiments, there will be a grand millennium of peace and happiness.


Art X.—LETTERS FROM THE QUEEN CITY.

No. IV.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

December 9, 1847.

“But now his radiant course is run,
For Matthew’s course was bright;
His soul was like the glorious sun—
A matchless, heavenly light.”—Burns.

What hangs that black pall in the radiant sky,
Stretching its shade over the bright green earth?
What spreads this cold dearth sudden o’er my soul,
Freezing the very source and love of life?

My Dear Friend,—With feelings of the deepest grief do I address you on this occasion. You have, ere this, learned the sudden decease of our mutual friend, Charles Van Loon.

“Oh! why has worth so short a date?
While villains ripen grey with time!
Must thou, the noble, gen’rous, great,
Fall in bold manhood’s hardy prime?”

Heaven never made a more glorious being. His was the sunshine of the heart. While living, I distinguished him with the title, a live man! Nor am I now going to speak of him as though annihilated. It were a debasing thought, indeed, to regard Charles Van Loon as only flesh and blood. Those philosophers who scoff at everything not tangible to their five senses, because they think others carry hypothetical matters too far, it seems to me, go quite as far astray on the side of negation. But I would not fault the one or the other. Our good mother Nature has left the Universe uncovered, both the tangible and mysterious, to every son and daughter. That they may not only plunge physically into that form of occupation which best suits their taste, but construct mentally from the mysterious world such ideal forms, existences, scenes, and places, as their own organization dictates. If any be bound to the creeds of others, it is no fault of hers. She leaves them free. My own tendencies lead me to figure a world of beings all around me, whom I can neither see with my eyes, nor hear with my ears, who are not ghosts or immaterialities, but living realities. Among these do I sometimes recognize the sparkling face of our beloved Charles, and, for the time being, sorrow disappears.

Never was there a being with finer feelings or warmer heart. He was one to love. The cold word respect suited not his character. His creed was love. He was made up of affection, benevolence, and humor. Although a good public speaker and writer, it was in the social circle, and in works of philanthropy, that he really lived. Like Burns in humor and tenderness, he was not less companionable. His domestic affections were ever alive and active. His matrimonial life was one continued flow of youthful affection. He spoke of his companion with all the warmth that an ardent lover lavishes on the mistress of his heart, and his love for his children was nothing short of devotion.

“Fate often tears the bosom chords
That Nature finest strung.”

As a philanthropist, he had scarcely an equal. Knowing that the disease of the heart to which he was subject must soon and suddenly carry him off, he seemed eager to do all he could while life lasted, expecting that every public lecture might be his last.

“The good die first,
And those whose hearts are dry as summer’s heat,
Burn to the socket.

At one time, but a few weeks since, while speaking on Temperance in a public hall in this city, just at a time when he had the audience convulsed with laughter, the derangement of the heart re-appeared, and he suddenly staggered back with a certain feeling that his heart would never again perform its office. But he soon recovered and proceeded as though nothing unusual had happened. In relating this scene afterwards, he said, “I had always desired to die in pleasant circumstances; but the thought of dying amid a roar of laughter seemed rather ludicrous.” On the same occasion, when speaking of his anticipated decease, he placed his hand on his heart, saying, “l have a trouble here which often reminds me of the immortal lines of Longfellow:—

“Art is long, and time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”

On one occasion, when conversing about the certainty of future existence, he said, “It is no matter what others think, I, Charles Van Loon, am going to exist always.”

On the day of his decease, he spoke to his congregation in the morning, and gave out for his text, for the evening’s discourse, “We are as the leaf that fadeth.” Before the time for the evening service, he was taken in a fit of apoplexy, and died at one o’clock that same night. What an impressive sermon upon the proposed text!

The manliness and perseverance he exhibited while yet a lad, when the church would deal with him for his abolition sentiments—a total unpopularity at that time—and also in after years towards the deacon’s brewery, which controlled the church where he was speaking, and finally closed its doors against him, were but specimens of his whole career. Although the son of one of the wealthiest citizens of Albany, with every privilege that wealth bestows, he chose, in preference to dependence, ease, and idleness, to devote his days to the good of his kind, and no man more than he hath done it. You and N. may well be proud that he recognized you as his goats, for I am quite certain that you were as dear to him as any part of the flock. You, my dear friend, knew Charles. You know that I am not merely breathing out an after-death-recollection of a few bright spots in his character. His was ever a sparkling soul—a bright halo of all the virtues continually radiated from his face to the charmed atmosphere around him. Words have not power to praise him in the ears of those who knew and loved him. Shall his memoir be unwritten, and his virtues unsung?

“Princes, whose cumbrous pride was all their worth,
Shall venal lays their pompous exit hail?
And thou, sweet excellence! forsake our earth,
And not a muse in honest grief bewail?”

Since writing to you, I took a short ride of four or five miles into the country, north of the city, to take a look at dame Nature in her undress. Along the road side were splendid mansions, some of which are not surpassed in beauty on the banks of the Hudson. The distant view of Spring Grove Cemetery is quite enchanting. This Cemetery belongs to the city, is chartered, and contains some 300 acres. It is most tastefully laid out on a site which, it is said, is equaled in natural advantages by only one other in the United States. We stopped on a most beautiful spot, which overlooks the country for miles around. Here I found a large glass house for plants contiguous to a gentleman’s residence. I could see the green trees waving their handsome tops so invitingly, and, the door being open, I walked in, and there, in all the exuberance of a tropical climate, were growing a most splendid collection of tropical and other trees and shrubs, among which were the mammoth-leafed banana, the thick leather-leafed India-rubber, the beautiful Norfolk pine, the thrifty American aloe, and numerous other rich specimens, which were strangers to me. Here, also, were a variety of roses and other choice flowers blooming and sending forth their fragrance as sweetly as in early June. The grandeur, the freshness, the beauty, and the fragrance—such a sudden and unexpected contrast to Nature without—all united to overpower me, and I could hardly restrain myself from falling down in the attitude of devotion. The trees and shrubs were not in urns, but firmly growing in the rich soil. While contemplating this silent yet speaking grandeur, this thought came to me, if plants and trees require this amount of air and sunlight, in order to such exuberance, why do we not require the same amount of air and sunlight? If they require glass houses to admit the light, why do we not also require something of the kind? It is always acknowledged that the out-of-door laborer is the most vigorous. A late discovery has been made for manufacturing glass of sufficient thickness for floors fifty per cent. cheaper than marble. The method of coloring the glass any variety of shade, known to the ancients, has also been re-discovered. Why might not a great part of our buildings be constructed of this material? It could be made sufficiently thick to give the required strength, and could also be made translucent without difficulty.

This is a “growing country,” apply the term as you will, to the soil, the works of the artizan, or to the progress of enlightenment among the people. Although the mass of the people, in general, are far behind the East in education, general refinement, and public spirit, this is by no means applicable to all. There are very many of the highest degree of attainment in knowledge and practical skill. The Catholic religion is many times more popular, among all classes. There is so little prejudice against it, that many Protestants patronize their schools, which are considered the best in the city. Indeed, I think the Catholic religion is the most popular religion of the place. If you discover a splendid public building on some picturesque site, a few miles out of town, you will not often err in calling it a Catholic Institution. Besides the Catholic, there are specimens of all the different varieties of Protestant religionists; and amongst these various degrees of liberality. Some time since we heard that one of the preachers in the Presbyterian connexion had turned Social Reformer. Of course, everybody turned out to hear in such a novel case. But, to our great discomfit, we were compelled to listen to the veriest pettifogging in favor of the unrivalled beauty of the Jewish code of laws, particularly that in reference to taking human life. On the other hand, there is a Mr. Perkins, who speaks to a Unitarian audience, who has thrown off all the pulpit shackles, and refuses to speak to the people, only as he can speak his own independent thought. Not long since, I heard him recommend that the Sons of Temperance establish halls for amusement throughout the city, in which he thought, in addition to books and newspapers, dancing and theatricals, if under their control, would be among the best pastimes, and furnish that necessary stimulus which the homeless young men in the city could obtain nowhere but in the coffee houses; but, lastly, recommended Association as the only thorough antidote for intemperance. He has uniformly, from the very commencement, spoken of the Mexican War in its true light, not scrupling to use men’s names who have been influential in calling it into existence, and this, too, when the war-spirit was raging to such an extent as to choke every breath of disapprobation from the public prints in the city. Not long since, in a discourse before his audience, he said—History shows that ages, like men, have their times of Faith and of Infidelity or negation. He alluded to the times of the greatest corruption in the Romish church, when the friars and monks were vastly more vile (true Infidelity) than the open negation in the times of Voltaire, Hume, and others, which followed. And this alternation of Faith and its negative has all along been characterized by Progression. Every period of Faith presents a different and better view of the Christian religion, and every period of negation is better than even the Christianity of the preceding period. He distinguished the different periods of Faith, as the days of Calvin, Wesley, Luther, and others, the intervening periods being led off by some negative leader, as Paine, Gibbon, &c.

The present age, said he, is characterized by the universal spread of German rationalism. It is not in the least to be feared. It is an endeavor, not to tear down any existing form of religion, but to seek out something better than the Christian religion. He expected an age of Faith to follow this, which should be a vast progress on any view of the Christian religion heretofore entertained. indeed, he could already see the foreshadowings of a faith not based on the tenets of any creed in particular, but which allowed of creeds as various as the men. He could see that the greater share of Unitarians—not all who call themselves by that name—were already imbued with that Faith. But not these exclusively. He recognized the same Faith in Swedenborg and his followers—in Alexander Campbell and his followers—the great body scattered over the country under the name of Christians—and it was the vital part of every Associationist, no matter what form of Association he might take—it was that Faith which imbued the heart of every earnest seeker after Truth!

I think we are fast passing into that age of positive earnestness which the speaker sees so beautifully foreshadowed. It seems to me that the negative age and spirit is nearly past, and the dawning of the better day already arrived—an age of positive, honest earnestness—a faith in human nature and its future development—a spirit ready to sacrifice everything to truth and human destiny. As a proof, I would name such as Swedenborg, Fourier, Owen, Perkins, F. Bremer, L. M. Child, Jenny Lind, George Sand, and a whole host of those of kindred spirit. The story of Consuelo, by George Sand, is an embodiment of the earnest truthfulness of the dawning age. Consuelo was the being of the age. She existed a personification of what the rest talk and believe for the future. It is one thing to talk about Truth, and another to live Truth—to be—to really exist.

“Futurity
Exposes now its treasure: let the sight
Renew and strengthen all thy failing hope.
O, human spirit! spur thee to the goal
Where virtue fixes universal peace,
And, midst the ebb and flow of human things,
Show somewhat stable, somewhat certain still,
A light-house o’er the wild of dreary waves.”


Art. LVI. — LETTERS FROM THE QUEEN CITY.

No. V.

BY MARIA L. VARNEY.

April 20, 1848.

Dear Friend–Though it is a long time since I last addressed you, the delay has not been caused by want of interesting themes. For never, surely, was there a time fraught with deeper interest to the world. Never was there a time when the spirit of liberty seemed to burst its setters so easily, and to be communicated from kingdom to kingdom with such magnetism. Never before did a nation unite to move along the car of Reform. The revolution in France is more than a political revolution. It is a social revolution! The French people will never be satisfied with a national bank, or state banks—a high tariff, or low tariff—which it has been the business of the United States to create and annihilate alternately for the last half century. Their aspirations are for something more radical and more permanent—in short, for a new social state. The social sentiments of St. Simon, Fourier, and Owen, have been widely diffused in that country, and the people have become pretty generally aware of their present relations in society. And they have also drank deeply of that hope which animates the breasts of social reformers in America—the hope of a glorious future.

“From shore to shore
Doctrines of human power their words have told;
They have been heard, and men aspire to more
Than they have ever gain’d, or even lost of yore.”

They will be satisfied only with some sort of association. What an interesting spectacle do they present to the world. What human heart but beats in sympathy with theirs, while a body of their best men—aye, Social Reformers—are about to form a new constitution for a republic, with the experience of the United States before them, added to the general clamor for equal rights, and the enthusiastic hopes of the nation. Heaven give them wisdom to move understandingly and firmly.

Nor is the scene confined to the boundaries of the French nation. There is not a kingdom or state in Europe that has not felt the shock, like the throes of a mighty earthquake. O, interesting sight! The thrones of the world do tremble and totter toward their final doom. It is indeed ominous of that future foreseen by the prophet Shelly, when

“Kingly glare
Will lose its power to dazzle; its authority
Will silently pass by ; the gorgeous throne Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
Fast falling to decay.”

You have already heard of the terrible inundation of this city and vicinity last winter, from the overflowing of the Ohio river. It was a disaster with which fire has no parallel, spreading over at least one-fourth of the city, which was covered with every variety of little boats flying in all directions, strongly reminding one of the canals and gondolas of Venice. The damage to property was immense. The churches became receptacles to hundreds who were driven from their homes by the rising waters. And thus, for once, at least, became the means of salvation to the perishing. Many were received into private houses, to share the comforts of the generous inmates. Indeed, the right feeling seemed to pervade every heart. Almost all ordinary business seemed deserted, and the community went into a committee of the whole to extend a generous relief. How such a calamity will bring out the better part—the true part of human nature. It shows what we are when lifted out of that miserable scramble to get a living.

I have lately heard of a somewhat novel incident which occurred at Harveysburgh, Warren county, in this State—a county somewhat notorious for its progress and liberality. At a new Academy lately opened in this place, among the students who applied for admission, was a beautiful young lady of eighteen. Seven days after her admission, she was publicly dismissed during school hours, with the tears streaming down her cheeks. The only charge alleged against her, was, that her mother has a small portion of African blood in her veins, although the girl was much fairer than many of her fellow students. Is comment necessary? Your anti-Slavery heart is already burning with indignation, as are thousands of others, for such a shameless outrage. Nor could pro-Slavery invent a better touch to expose its own hideous face, or to light anew the abolition fires.

But Social Reform, under its various phases, has brought so vividly to view the forlorn condition of all classes, that it has well nigh put out the eyes, and assumed the place not only of abolition, but of all partial reforms. What is to come of all this agitation and revolution, is a question that may well be asked, and may be partially answered by anticipation in view of the co-operations and guaranteeisms which are starting into being everywhere. These are not the ultimate, but they plainly point toward a new order of things. Social Reform is fast becoming a popular subject, notwithstanding the repeated failures and disappointments it has already encountered. Not long since, I listened to a speech, by Robert Dale Owen, to a crowded house, on the past and present history of labor. He stated clearly the facts as they are, leaving them as a problem; and Mr. Allen, of New York, has been here for some time past, endeavoring to give the solution through Fourier. He has had good audiences, and created a degree of interest in many. Mr. Warren, with some others, are going silently and hopefully on, confident of success, at their co-operative village, about forty-five miles up the river. All the theories extant seem to lack something. I am not quite certain that we can get up an entire new suit beforehand for society, and make it fit exactly when applied;—the coat may be too tight, or the vest too loose. It may be that we shall have to take the measure only as fast as she is ready to fling off the old garment. I know that “the good time is coming,” for

“Genius has seen thee in her passionate dreams,
And dim forebodings of thy loveliness,
Haunting the human heart, have there entwined
Those rooted hopes of some sweet place of bliss.”

The sky is full of signs of the dawn of that better day, and my heart yearns to hasten it on, to be engaged practically.

A few evenings since, I had the pleasure of attending a delightful party got up by the Associationists of the city, in honor of Fourier’s birthday. It was also the anniversary of the settlement of Ohio. These occasions, together with the pleasing news from France, made a rich theme for the different speakers, who enter- . tained us happily for a few minutes each, in response to the different sentiments read by the chairman. Between the reading of each sentiment and the response, we had some of the most delightful instrumental music. The selection of the pieces was the most appropriate possible. I cannot name all the sentiments given on the occasion, nor the order in which they appeared. They were all appropriate, short and pithy, and together embracing all the leading landmarks of Progress. The sentiment given to France was immediately followed by “The Marseilles Hymn,” in the true spirit of the piece, and responded to by a gentleman from Europe, who was well acquainted with its different governments and institutions. The one given to Ireland was followed by “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning,” and warmly responded to by a son of the Emerald Isle. In the one given to Greece, I have forgotten the piece that followed. The response was given by a Greek, in the true Grecian spirit and eloquence. It came like the breathings of poetry over a charmed audience. In the sentiment given to Woman, Judge Walker gave a humorous and spirited response. That given to Land Reform, was followed by “Sweet Home”; the one to Association, by “Life let us cherish”; and that to Democracy, by “Yankee Doodle.” The whole occasion was one of profit, and equally enjoyed by all Reformers. It was indeed a “feast of reason and flow of soul.” The music was perfectly enchanting. The refreshments were indifferent. But the gay dance which closed the entertainment was a full satisfaction for all physical demands. The very best and brightest feelings pervaded every heart and beamed from every face throughout the evening. I have not had my social feelings so waked up for the last two years. The National Resormers also propose a grand party for the first of May, on the occasion of a visit from Mr. Van Amridge.

If our Art Union of last season was beautiful, that of this season is glorious! I wish you could see it. You may be accustomed to seeing a more extensive collection of pictures and statuary, but I will venture, you have not seen a more choice collection. It is a perfect paradise of the beautiful and the sublime. I cannot give a description, as I have only made one visit as yet. The new gallery, prepared expressly for the purpose, is every way convenient, tasteful and elegant. And the pieces are arranged in the most tasteful manner. In the collection are some most rare pieces of statuary, by our own artizans. Among these, Power’s Prosepine is prominent. The pictures are mostly by native artists. Among them I noticed a fine portrait of life size, by a Mr. Eaton, who, I am told, is but twenty years of age. It is really a work of promise. Mrs. Spencer appears there in her pictures as life-like as ever. She has lately sent two beautiful pieces to the great city, which I think are a little more than equal to any of her former pieces. One is more than a copy of “Life’s sunny hours,” about which I wrote you last summer. The other, an old gentleman reclining his silvered head in pleasant sleep—his face exhibiting that calm happiness which succeeds a whole life of sunshine. While his daughter—a beautiful girl of 18, places her hands soothing on the old man’s forehead, and looks up with a face full of affection and devotion, saying “God bless my father.” Mrs. Spencer is an artist of no common stamp. Were I permitted, I could tell a tale of privation that would unloose the purse-strings, if not the tearfountains of some of her wealthy admirers. When a few years have rolled away, and the enchanted wand of time has set his seal on them, her pieces will be sought with avidity, and with gold, as are those of the old masters, at the present day. Cole’s “Journey of human life,” in four pieces, representing infancy, youth, middle e and old age, is the most attracting of the collection in the Art Union. It surpasses in execution, beauty and design, anything of the kind I have ever seen. To attempt a description, would be madness. The first two represent all that is brilliant and hopeful in infancy and youth. In the second picture I recognized the same scenes that so often visit my day-dreams. Everything about it partakes of that same buoyant, hopeful nature which colors every youthful thought. It is the brightest, most beautiful and valuable landscape picture upon which these eyes have ever rested. It might well be named The sunshine of youthful hope. Hung in one’s room, it would be a certain preventive of grey hairs and wrinkled brows.—’Twould keep one always youthful. The last two of these series represent the wretched, rocky, clouded state of perverted human nature, as it is often made by the blue doctrines of priestcraft. They are true to the design. But by no means true to human nature, as it should be. Nor as it is in the absence of orthodoxy. Thomas Cole, the chief of landscape painters, though dead, yet speaks, and will continue to speak for a long time to come. The death of such men is a severe loss to the world. They cultivate the taste, and inspire the people to observe and love nature. I mourn the loss of Thomas Cole. His like may not again soon appear; but his genius will live in the scenes he has left to inspire that world which is yet reposing in the womb of the future. None but the man of genius can taste that cup of delight which the scene on the canvass—breathing the very soul of nature—gives him, as he adds the finishing touch of the pencil and stands gazing on his own production in silent rapture. Nor can the common imagination picture the depth of that misery which fills his breast when self-distrust hovers over his soul, and darkens every surrounding object. Are his sympathies drawn out toward any object, they are but imperfectly appreciated. Are his affections bestowed on another, they are but half returned. He feels these things as they are, and he is sick at heart. The repulses he meets at every moment from the cold world, come over his warm heart like the icy coldness of death. He is a superior being. His thoughts are more expansive—his affections warmer—his passions, and indeed, his whole nature stronger.

You will wonder if I have forgotten that Spring has come with its fresh leaves and odors; its singing birds and warm suns. No, I have not forgotten it, though there is no nature here amid bricks and mortar. I can see the green trees in the distance, and now and then after a shower, can smell the grass in the yard. As for the birds, I have heard an occasional note from some isolated tree, ever since Valentine week, when a couple of blue birds seemed to be celebrating their nuptials. Could not say whether they had lately chosen mates, or whether they were celebrating the annual return of their nuptial day. Yet, I should think, from their great joyness, it must be the latter. For you know in a happy union, each successive return of the day brings a brighter festival. I hav’nt enjoyed the full fruition and inspiration of Spring yet, for I always begin life new every Spring, and consequently have lived as many lives as years. I shall soon taste its sweets, for I am going into the country soon as I can get a peep at those little fairies —the Venoise children. I am just waiting to see them, when I expect a treat which I shall enjoy through life.


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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2009 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.