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- The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe - 60/82 -
settle at Mandarin, it will be one of my stations. Will you consent to enter the Episcopal Church and be our clergyman? You are just the man we want. If my tasks and feelings did not incline me toward the Church, I should still choose it as the best system for training immature minds such as those of our negroes. The system was composed with reference to the wants of the laboring class of England, at a time when they were as ignorant as our negroes now are.
I long to be at this work, and cannot think of it without my heart burning within me. Still I leave all with my God, and only hope He will open the way for me to do all that I want to for this poor people.
H. B. STOWE.
Mrs. Stowe had some years before this joined the Episcopal Church, for the sake of attending the same communion as her daughters, who were Episcopalians. Her brother Charles did not, however, see fit to change his creed, and though he went to Florida he settled a hundred and sixty miles west from the St. John's River, at Newport, near St. Marks, on the Gulf coast, and about twenty miles from Tallahassee. Here he lived every winter and several summers for fifteen years, and here he left the impress of his own remarkably sweet and lovely character upon the scattered population of the entire region.
[Illustration: THE HOME AT MANDARIN, FLORIDA.]
Mrs. Stowe in the mean time purchased the property, with its orange grove and comfortable cottage, that she had recommended to him, and thus Mandarin became her winter home. No one who has ever seen it can forget the peaceful beauty of this Florida home and its surroundings. The house, a story and a half cottage of many gables, stands on a bluff overlooking the broad St. John's, which is five miles wide at this point. It nestles in the shade of a grove of superb, moss-hung live-oaks, around one of which the front piazza is built. Several fine old orange trees also stand near the cottage, scenting the air with the sweet perfume of their blossoms in the early spring, and offering their golden fruit to whoever may choose to pluck it during the winter months. Back of the house stretches the well-tended orange grove in which Mrs. Stowe took such genuine pride and pleasure. Everywhere about the dwelling and within it were flowers and singing birds, while the rose garden in front, at the foot of the bluff, was the admiration of all who saw it.
Here, on the front piazza, beneath the grand oaks, looking out on the calm sunlit river, Professor Stowe enjoyed that absolute peace and restful quiet for which his scholarly nature had always longed, but which had been forbidden to the greater part of his active life. At almost any hour of the day the well-known figure, with snow-white, patriarchal beard and kindly face, might be seen sitting there, with a basket of books, many of them in dead and nearly forgotten languages, close at hand. An amusing incident of family life was as follows: Some Northern visitors seemed to think that the family had no rights which were worthy of a moment's consideration. They would land at the wharf, roam about the place, pick flowers, peer into the house through the windows and doors, and act with that disregard of all the proprieties of life which characterizes ill-bred people when on a journey. The professor had been driven well-nigh distracted by these migratory bipeds. One day, when one of them broke a branch from an orange tree directly before his eyes, and was bearing it off in triumph with all its load of golden fruit, he leaped from his chair, and addressed the astonished individual on those fundamental principles of common honesty, which he deemed outraged by this act. The address was vigorous and truthful, but of a kind which will not bear repeating, "Why," said the horror-stricken culprit, "I thought that this was Mrs. Stowe's place!" "You thought it was Mrs. Stowe's place!" Then, in a voice of thunder, "I would have you understand, sir, that I am the proprietor and protector of Mrs. Stowe and of this place, and if you commit any more such shameful depredations I will have you punished as you deserve!" Thus this predatory Yankee was taught to realize that there is a God in Israel.
In April, 1869, Mrs. Stowe was obliged to hurry North in order to visit Canada in time to protect her English rights in "Oldtown Folks," which she had just finished.
About this time she secured a plot of land, and made arrangements for the erection on it of a building that should be used as a schoolhouse through the week, and as a church on Sunday. For several years Professor Stowe preached during the winter in this little schoolhouse, and Mrs. Stowe conducted Sunday-school, sewing classes, singing classes, and various other gatherings for instruction and amusement, all of which were well attended and highly appreciated by both the white and colored residents of the neighborhood.
Upon one occasion, having just arrived at her Mandarin home, Mrs. Stowe writes:--
"At last, after waiting a day and a half in Charleston, we arrived here about ten o'clock Saturday morning, just a week from the day we sailed. The house looked so pretty, and quiet, and restful, the day was so calm and lovely, it seemed as though I had passed away from all trouble, and was looking back upon you all from a secure resting- place. Mr. Stowe is very happy here, and is constantly saying how pleasant it is, and how glad he is that he is here. He is so much improved in health that already he is able to take a considerable walk every day.
"We are all well, contented, and happy, and we have six birds, two dogs, and a pony. Do write more and oftener. Tell me all the little nothings and nowheres. You can't imagine how they are magnified by the time they have reached into this remote corner."
In 1872 she wrote a series of Florida sketches, which were published in book form, the following year, by J. E. Osgood & Co., under the title of "Palmetto Leaves." May 19, 1873, she writes to her brother Charles at Newport, Fla.:--
"Although you have not answered my last letter, I cannot leave Florida without saying good-by. I send you the 'Palmetto Leaves' and my parting love. If I could either have brought or left my husband, I should have come to see you this winter. The account of your roses fills me with envy.
"We leave on the San Jacinto next Saturday, and I am making the most of the few charming hours yet left; for never did we have so delicious a spring. I never knew such altogether perfect weather. It is enough to make a saint out of the toughest old Calvinist that ever set his face as a flint. How do you think New England theology would have fared if our fathers had been landed here instead of on Plymouth Rock?
"The next you hear of me will be at the North, where our address is Forest Street, Hartford. We have bought a pretty cottage there, near to Belle, and shall spend the summer there."
In a letter written in May of the following year to her son Charles, at Harvard, Mrs. Stowe says: "I can hardly realize that this long, flowery summer, with its procession of blooms and fruit, has been running on at the same time with the snowbanks and sleet storms of the North. But so it is. It is now the first of May. Strawberries and blackberries are over with us; oranges are in a waning condition, few and far between. Now we are going North to begin another summer, and have roses, strawberries, blackberries, and green peas come again.
"I am glad to hear of your reading. The effect produced on you by Jonathan Edwards is very similar to that produced on me when I took the same mental bath. His was a mind whose grasp and intensity you cannot help feeling. He was a poet in the intensity of his conceptions, and some of his sermons are more terrible than Dante's 'Inferno.'"
In November, 1874, upon their return to Mandarin, she writes: "We have had heavenly weather, and we needed it: for our house was a cave of spider-webs, cockroaches, dirt, and all abominations, but less than a week has brought it into beautiful order. It now begins to put on that quaint, lively, pretty air that so fascinates me. Our weather is, as I said, heavenly, neither hot nor cold; cool, calm, bright, serene, and so tranquillizing. There is something indescribable about the best weather we have down here. It does not debilitate me like the soft October air in Hartford."
During the following February, she writes in reply to an invitation to visit a Northern watering place later in the season: "I shall be most happy to come, and know of nothing to prevent. I have, thank goodness, no serial story on hand for this summer, to hang like an Old Man of the Sea about my neck, and hope to enjoy a little season of being like other folks. It is a most lovely day to-day, most unfallen Eden-like."
In a letter written later in the same season, March 28, 1875, Mrs. Stowe gives us a pleasant glimpse at their preparations for the proper observance of Easter Sunday in the little Mandarin schoolhouse. She says:--
"It was the week before Easter, and we had on our minds the dressing of the church. There my two Gothic fireboards were to be turned into a pulpit for the occasion. I went to Jacksonville and got a fiveinch moulding for a base, and then had one fireboard sawed in two, so that there was an arched panel for each end. Then came a rummage for something for a top, and to make a desk of, until it suddenly occurred to me that our old black walnut extension table had a set of leaves. They were exactly the thing. The whole was trimmed with a beading of yellow pine, and rubbed, and pumice-stoned, and oiled, and I got out my tubes of paint and painted the nail-holes with Vandyke brown. By Saturday morning it was a lovely little Gothic pulpit, and Anthony carried it over to the schoolhouse and took away the old desk which I gave him for his meeting-house. That afternoon we drove out into the woods and gathered a quantity of superb Easter lilies, papaw, sparkleberry, great fern-leaves, and cedar. In the evening the girls went over to the Meads to practice Easter hymns; but I sat at home and made a cross, eighteen inches long, of cedar and white lilies. This Southern cedar is the most exquisite thing; it is so feathery and delicate.
"Sunday morning was cool and bright, a most perfect Easter. Our little church was full, and everybody seemed delighted with the decorations. Mr. Stowe preached a sermon to show that Christ is going to put everything right at last, which is comforting. So the day was one of real pleasure, and also I trust of real benefit, to the poor souls who learned from it that Christ is indeed risen for them"
During this winter the following characteristic letters passed between Mrs. Stowe and her valued friend, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, called forth by the sending to the latter of a volume of Mrs. Stowe's latest stories:--
Boston, _January_ 8, 1876.
My dear Mrs. Stowe,--I would not write to thank you for your most
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