Atlantic Monthly, Volume 3, No. 19, May, 1859
Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.--MAY, 1859.--NO. XIX.
Two distinct yet harmonious branches of study claimed the early
attention of the youth of ancient Greece. Education was comprised in
the two words, Music and Gymnastics. Plato includes it all under these
divisions:--"That having reference to the body is gymnastics, but to the
cultivation of the mind, music."
Grammar was sometimes distinguished from the other branches classed
under the term, Music; and comprehended, besides a knowledge of
language, something of poetry, eloquence, and history. Music embraced
all the arts and sciences over which the Muses presided.
Grammar, Music, and Gymnastics, then, comprised the whole _curriculum_
of study which was prescribed to the Athenian boy. There were not
separate and distinct learned professions, or faculties, to so great
an extent as in modern times. The compass of knowledge was far less
defined, and the studies and attainments of the individual more
miscellaneous. Some of the arts rose to an unparalleled perfection.
Architecture and sculpture attained an excellence which no subsequent
civilization has reached. But the practical application of the sciences
to daily use was almost entirely neglected; and inventions and mechanics
languished until the far later uprising of the Saxon mind.
Yet the whole system of education among the Greeks was peculiarly
calculated for the development of the powers of the mind and of the body
in common. And it is from this point of view that we wish to consider
it, and to show the nature and preeminence of gymnastics in their times
as compared with our own.
Doubtless Grecian Art owed its superiority, in some degree, to the
gymnasium. Living models of manliness, grace, and beauty were daily
before the artist's eye. The _stadium_ furnished its fleet runners,
nimble as the wing-footed Mercury,--fit types for his light and airy
conceptions; while the arena of the athletes offered marvellous
opportunities for the study of muscle and posture, to show its results
in the burly limbs of Hercules or the starting sinews of Laocooen. Many
of the most lifelike groups of marble which remain to us from that time
are but copies of the living statues who wrestled or threw the quoit in
the public gymnasium.
It is worthy of remark, in corroboration of this view, that the
department of the fine arts which depended on outline surpassed
that--which derived its power from coloring and perspective. The
sculptors far excelled the painters. The statue was the natural result
of the imitative faculty surveying the nude human figure in every
posture of activity or repose. Pictures came later, from more educated
senses, and from minds which had first learned outward nature through
the medium of the simpler arts.
The ancient gymnasium, apart from its baths and philosophic groves,
was far from being, as with us, a mere appendage of the school. Modern
instructors advertise, that, in addition to teachers of every tongue and
art, "a gymnasium is attached" to their educational institutions. In old
times, the gymnasium was the school,--the public games and festivals its
The word _gymnasium_ has reference in its derivation to the nude or
semi-nude condition of those who exercised there. But in their proper
classical interpretation the public gymnasia were, to a great extent,
places set apart for physical education and training. Gymnastics,
indeed, in the broadest sense of the word, have been cultivated in all
ages. The spontaneous exercises and mimic contests of the boys of all
countries, the friendly emulation of robust youth in trials of speed and
strength, and the discipline and training of the military recruit have
in them much of the true gymnastic element. In Attica and Ionia they
were first adapted to their noblest ends.
The hardy Spartans, who valued most the qualities of bravery, endurance,
and self-denial, used the gymnasia only as schools of training for the
more sanguinary contests of war. So, too, the martial Roman despised
those who practised gymnastics with any other object than as fitting
them to be better soldiers. Yet to so great a degree were these
exercises cultivated, even by the latter nation, that the Roman private
of the line did his fifteen or twenty miles' daily march under a weight
of camp-equipage and weapons which would have foundered some of the
best-drilled modern warriors, and concluded his day's labors by digging
the trenches of his camp at night. The ponderous _pilum_, and the heavy,
straight sword of the infantry were exchanged in the barrack-yard for
drill-weapons of twice their weight; and so perfectly were the detail
and regularity of actual service carried out in their daily discipline,
that, as an ancient writer has remarked, their sham-fights and reviews
differed only in bloodshed from real battles. The soldier of the early
Republic was hence taught gymnastics only as a means of increasing his
efficiency; the lax praetorian and the corrupt populace of the Empire
turned gladly from the gymnasium to the circus and the amphitheatre.
In the same manner were these exercises regarded by the Dorians and the
people of some other of the Grecian States. The inhabitants of Attica
and of Ionia, on opposite shores of the Aegean, as more cultivated
races, viewed them in a more correct physiological light. But it was at
Athens that the gymnasium was held in highest repute.
We read that Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, first established particular
regulations for its government. Attic legends, however, gratefully
refer the earliest rules of the gymnasium to Theseus, as to one of the
mightiest of the mythical heroes,--the emulator of Hercules, slayer of
the Minotaur, and conqueror of the Amazons. Hermes was the presiding
deity, which may appear strange to us, as he was as noted for an
unworthy cunning as for his dexterity. Generous emulation and
magnanimity were regarded as the noblest qualities called forth in
gymnastic exercises; and Mercury seems a fitter tutelar divinity of the
wary boxer and of the race-course than of the whole gymnasium.
Probably no Greek town of any importance was destitute of one of
these schools of exercise. Athens boasted three public gymnasia,--the
Cynosarges, the Lyceum, and the Academy. These were the daily resort
of young and old alike, though certain penal laws forbade them from
exercising together at the same hour.
The school-boy frequented them as part of his daily task; the young man
of leisure, as an agreeable lounging-place; the scholar, to listen
to the master in philosophy; the sedentary, for their customary
_constitutional_ on the foot-course; and the invalid and the aged, to
court the return of health, or to retain somewhat of the vigor of their
earlier years. The Athenians wisely held that there could be no health
of the mind, unless the body were cared for,--and viewed exercise also
as a powerful remedial agent in disease. Such a variety of useful
purposes were thus subserved by the gymnasia, that it will be proper
to look briefly at their internal arrangements. We shall follow the
description which has been left us by Vitruvius.
The ancient gymnasium was generally situated in the suburbs, and was
often as large as a _stadium_ (six hundred and twenty-five feet)
square. Its principal entrance faced the east. A quadrangular inclosure
comprehended two principal courts, divided by a party-wall. The eastern
court was called the _peristylium,_ from the rows of columns which
surrounded it; the western also was bordered by porticos, but for it
we have no distinct name. The peristyle must have been from one to two
hundred feet square. It was sometimes termed the _palaestra_, though
this name was afterwards restricted to the training-school of the
athletes proper, who made gymnastics the business of their lives. It was
also styled the _sphaeristerium,_ or ball-ground, to which the nearest
approach in modern times is the tennis-court. The chief western
inclosure was planted with plane-trees in regular order, with walls
between them and seats of the so-called _signine_ work, and was about
one half larger than the peristyle. The space between the columns of the
latter and the outer walls allowed sufficient room for rows of chambers,
halls, and corridors, whose uses we will next designate.
The first room on the right, as one entered the east gate, was the
_loutron_, or room for washing, distinct from the regular baths. Next,
in the northeast corner, was the _conisterium_, where sand was kept for
sprinkling the wrestlers after they had been anointed for the struggle.
West of this lay the _coryceum_, a hall for exercising with a sack of
sand suspended from the roof. It seems plausible to suppose that this
exercise corresponded with that more recently practised by Mr. Thomas
Hyer, previously to his fight with Yankee Sullivan. A bag of sand, equal
in weight to his adversary, was daily pommelled by the champion of
America until he could make it swing and recoil satisfactorily.
Adjoining this room were two small apartments called the _ephebeum_ and
the _elaeothesium_ respectively. The former was devoted to preparatory
exercise, probably by way of warming up for severer efforts; the latter
was used for anointing, and was connected with the baths, which followed
next in order. These were the _frigidarium_, the _caldarium_, the
_sudatorium_, and the _tepidarium_, for the cold, the hot, the sweating
or vapor, and the warm baths. They did not possess the magnitude and
ornament of the Roman _thermae_. They were used in connection with and
after exercising, and were enough for all practical purposes. Bathing
was not then the business of hours every day, as it was later in the
Roman Empire, when the luxurious subjects of Caracalla indulged several
times in the twenty-four hours in such a variety of ablutions as would
have satisfied a Sandwich-Islander.
We have now arrived at a point nearly opposite our entrance at the east,
and, continuing round the southwest, south, and southeast sides of the
peristyle, find a large number of consecutive chambers devoted mainly to
the philosophers, as lecture-rooms and auditories for their classes
and followers. On the north side of the peristyle is a double portico
containing the _exedrae_, or seats of the sophists, where each most
cunning rhetorician delivered his opinions _ex cathedra_, and lay in
wait for any passer whom he could insnare into an argument. The groves
of the great western court were probably used by the lounger, the
contemplative, and the studious, if we may judge by numerous seats and
benches, at convenient intervals. On the south side of these was again a
double portico; and on the north, outside the pillars, the _xystus_,
or covered porch, where the athletes exercised in winter and in bad
weather. The arena was twelve feet wide, and sunk a foot and a half
below a marginal path of ten feet, where spectators could walk. On the
north and south sides of the whole building were wings, of less width,
extending nearly its entire length. That on the north contained
the _stadium_, or foot-race course, which was, however, sometimes
disconnected from the gymnasium. The south wing was of like dimensions,
and adorned with plane-trees and walks, forming a more private retreat.
It will be readily conceived that this vast area was not devoted
exclusively to physical exercises. Logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics
claimed their place in this common focus of the city's life, and were
the delight of the subtile Greeks. The Socratic reasoning and the
syllogisms of Aristotle met here on common ground. The Stoics, with
their stern fatalism, derived their name from the _stoae_, or porticos;
the Peripatetics imparted their ambulatory instructions under the
plane-trees of the Lyceum--and Plato reasoned in the Academy, which he
held with his school, and into which no ungeometrical mind was to enter.
And though some dog of a Cynic might despise the union of the ornamental
with the useful, and claim austerity as the rule of life, yet to the
great body of the social Greek people the gymnasium offered all those
attractions which _boulevards_, _cafes_, and _jardins-chantants_ do
now to the Gallic nation. There is more than one point of resemblance
between the two countries; but while the Athenian had the same mercurial
qualities, which fitted him for outdoor life, he had even a less
comfortable domestic establishment to retain him at home than the modern
We must turn, however, rather to the physical view of the gymnasium. All
the sports of the gymnasia were either games, or special exercises for
the contests of the public festivals. And here a distinction must be
made between amateur and professional gymnasts. The former were
styled _agonistae_, and exercised in the public gymnasium; the latter
_athletae_, and were trained fighters, whose school was the _palaestra_.
At first frequenting the same, they afterwards became divided between
two institutions. Some of the harsher sports of the prize-fighters were
not thought genteel for well-nurtured youths to indulge in. Among the
simpler games were the ball, played in various ways, and the top, which
was as popular with juveniles then as now. The sport called _skaperda_
can be seen in any gymnasium of to-day, and consisted in two boys
drawing each other up and down by the ends of a rope passing over a
pulley. Familiar still is also a game of dexterity played with five
stones thrown from the upper part of the hand and caught in the palm.
Various other gentle exercises might be mentioned.
The training for the public games was comprised in the _pentathlon_, or
five exercises,--which were running, leaping, throwing the _discus_,
wrestling, boxing. The first four were practised also by amateurs, and
by most persons who frequented the gymnasium for health.
The race, run upon the foot-race course, was between fixed boundaries,
about a _stadium_ apart. The distances run were from one to twenty
_stadia_, or from one-eighth of a mile to two and a half miles, and
sometimes more. This exercise was much followed. Horses were sometimes
introduced, but then the hippodrome was the course. They ran without
riders, as at the Roman carnival, or with chariots. Horse-racing was
most popular in the Roman circus, whose ruins still show its massiveness
and great size.
Leaping was performed also within fixed limits,--generally with metallic
weights in the hands, but sometimes attached to the head or shoulders.
The quoit, or _discus_, was made of stone or metal, of a circular form,
and thrown by means of a thong passing through the centre. It was three
inches thick and ten or twelve in diameter. He who threw farthest, won.
It is a modern game also, and is imitated in the Old-Country custom of
pitching the bar.
Wrestling has been a favorite contest in all times. Milo of Crotona
was the prince of wrestlers. He who threw his adversary three times
conquered. The wrestlers were naked, anointed, and covered with sand,
that they might take firm hold. Striking was not allowed. Elegance was
studied in the attack, as well as force. There was a distinction between
upright and prostrate wrestling. In the former the one thrown was
allowed to get up; in the latter the struggle was continued on the
ground. The vanquished held up his finger when he acknowledged himself
Boxing was a severer sport, and not much followed except by gentlemen of
the "profession." It was practised with the clenched fists, either naked
or armed with the deadly _cestus_. The "science" of the game was to
parry the blows of the antagonist, as it is in the "noble and manly" art
of self-defence now. The exercise was violent and dangerous, and the
combatants often lost their lives, as they do at the present day. The
_cestus_, like our "brass-knuckle," was a thong of hide, loaded with
lead, and bound over the hand. At first used to add weight to the blow,
it was afterwards continued up the fore-arm, and formed also a weapon
of defence. Mr. Morrissey, or any other "shoulder-hitter," would hardly
need more than a few rounds to settle his opponent, if his sinewy arm
were garnished with the _cestus_.
We read that the late contest for the "American belt," though short, was
unusually fierce, and afforded intense delight to the spectators,--in
proportion, probably, to its ferocity. By all means let the "profession"
take the _cestus_ from the hands of the highwayman and adopt it
themselves. It would be one step nearer the glorious days of the
gladiators, and would render their combats more bloody and more
exciting. Or, better still, let us revive the ancient mode of sparring
called the _klimax_, where both parties "faced the music" _without
warding_ blows at all. We scarcely think the ancients were up to
"countering," as it is understood now; but they fully appreciated the
facetious practice of falling backwards to avoid a blow, and letting the
adversary waste his strength on the air. The deceased Mr. Sullivan
would hardly recognize his favorite dodge under its classic name of
_hyptiasmos_, or be aware that it was in use by his very respectable
predecessor, Sostratus of Sicyon, who was noted for such tricks.
The _pankration_, again, was a mode of battle which the modern
prize-ring is yet too magnanimous to adopt, and which excelled in
brutality the so-called "getting one's nob in chancery,"--the most
stirring episode of our pugilistic encounters. The Greek custom alluded
to was so named because it called all the powers of the fighter into
action. It was a union of boxing and wrestling. It began by trying to
get one's antagonist into the unfavorable position of facing the sun.
Then the sport commenced with either wrestling or sparring. As soon as
one party was thrown or knocked down, the other kept him so until he had
pommelled him into submission; and when he arose, at last, to receive
the plaudits of the assembly, it was often from the corpse of his
Beginning as the most promising pupils of the gymnasium, and becoming
victors in the public games, certain gymnasts gradually grew into
a distinct class of prize-runners, wrestlers, and fighters, called
Athletes. They then devoted their lives to attaining excellence in these
exercise, and withdrew to the _palaestra_, or training-school. Those who
quitted the profession became instructors in the public gymnasium. To
attain great bodily strength, they submitted to many rigid rules. By
frequent anointing, rubbing, and bathing, they rendered their bodies
very supple. The trainer, or teacher in the _palaestra_, was termed
_xystarch_. He was himself the Nestor of the "ring." The food of the
athlete was mainly beef and pork. The latter, we believe, is excluded
from the diet-list of the modern prize-fighter. Of their particular
rules of living and "getting into condition" we know but little. Before
being allowed to contend, they were subjected to a strict examination by
the judges. In so high estimation were the victors held, that they were
rewarded with a public proclamation of their names, the laudations
of the poet, statues, banquets, and other privileges. The immediate
material gain was not the winning of the stakes, but a simple crown or
garland of laurel, olive, pine, or parsley, according to the festival at
which they fought. Pindar has embalmed the names of many victors in his
Olympic, Pythian, and other odes.
But let us leave the athletes for something more inviting. The
_lampadephoria_, or torch-race, must have been a singular spectacle.
There were five celebrations of this game at Athens, of which the most
noted was at the Panathenaea, where horsemen often contended. The text
describing it has been a puzzle to commentators;--the most rational
and accepted interpretation seems to be, that it was a contest between
opposite parties, and not between individuals. Lighted lamps, protected
by a shield, were passed from runner to runner along the lines of
players, to a certain goal. They who succeeded in carrying their lights
from boundary to boundary unextinguished were declared the victors. This
game will at once recall the _moccoletti_, which close the carnival at
Dancing to the sound of the _cithara_, flute, and pipe, was a favorite
amusement wish all classes. The grizzly veterans and the younger
soldiers all joined in martial dances. The dance and the game of ball
were often connected. The Romaic dance, peculiar to the modern Greeks,
is an inheritance from their ancestors. Dancing by youths and maidens
formed part of the entertainment of guests. Tumblers threw somersets
and leaped amid sharp knives, somewhat after the manner of the Chinese
jugglers. Music was also usually associated with either poetry or
Incitements to the various gymnastic exercises which have been mentioned
could be found only in public emulation, for which abundant opportunity
was offered in the national games or festivals. These were a part of
the religious customs of the Greeks, and were originally established
in honor of the gods. It was their effect to bring into nearer contact
people from the several parts of Greece, and to stimulate and publicly
reward talent, as well as bodily vigor. They afforded orators, poets,
and historians the best opportunities of rehearsing their productions.
Herodotus is said to have read his History, and Isocrates to have
recited his Panegyric at the Olympic games. The four sacred games were
the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean; and to these should be added
the Panathenaea, or festival of Minerva. The five exercises before
mentioned, together with music, in its classic sense, formed the
programme. In the lesser Panathenaea occurred, first, the torch-race;
next, the gymnastic exercises; thirdly, a musical contention, instituted
by Pericles; and lastly, a competition of the poets in four plays.
Numerous other observances, of a religious nature, were varied with the
different festivals. It may be doubted whether subsequent times have
seen any gatherings of equal magnitude for similar objects.
So rigid was the discipline of the ancient gymnasium, and so important
was it considered that confidence should be undoubting there, that
thefts, exceeding ten _drachmae_ in amount, committed within its
precincts, were punished with death.
The _Gymnasiarch_, or presiding magistrate, clothed in a purple cloak,
with white shoes, possessed almost unlimited authority. He had the
superintendence of the building, and could remove the teachers and
under-officers at his pleasure. The exercises practised were ordained
by law, subject to regulations and animated by the commendation of
the masters. Instructions were given by the _gymnastae_ and the
_paedotribae_, two classes of officers. The former gave practical
lessons, and were expected to know the physiological effect of the
different exercises, and to adapt them to the constitution and needs of
the youth. The latter possessed a knowledge of all the games, and taught
them in all their variety. Nor were the morals of the young less cared
for by the _sophronistae_, a set of officials appointed for that
The plan and scope of Grecian education were more adapted to the common
purposes of the community, and less to the individual aim of the pupil.
Beside the public teachings of philosophers and sophists, common schools
were established at Athens by Solon. Government provided for their
management, and strict discipline was enforced. Here the boy was
instructed in music and grammar. Until the age of sixteen, he pursued
these two branches in connection with gymnastics. Some authorities
assert, that, even at this period of his life, as much time was devoted
to the latter as to the other two together. At sixteen, he left the
school, and, until he was eighteen years of age, frequented the
gymnasium alone; probably devoting most of his time to physical
training, though enjoying opportunities of listening to the masters
in philosophy. The period of adolescence past, and his growing frame
expanded and well knit by exercise, he either continued to follow
athletic sports, or began a military or other career. If a young man
of leisure, he probably needed all the virtue imparted by his moral
teachers to restrain him from dice, quail-fights, and fine horses, and
all his physical vigor to resist the dissipations of Athens or Corinth,
and the potations of the _symposia_.
So far the male rising generation was well cared for. What became of the
In accordance with the freer manners, but not less virtuous habits of
Lacedemon, maidens were there admitted as spectators and sharers of the
gymnastic sports. Though clad only in the Spartan _chiton_, they took
vigorous part in dancing and probably wrestling. The Athenian maid could
not air even her modest garments in public with the consent of popular
opinion. The girls were educated and the women stayed at home. The
_gynaekeion_, or female apartment, was nearly as secluded as the
_seraglio_. The females were under direct, though not slavish submission
to the men. Modesty forbade their appearance in the gymnasium. Domestic
occupations, the rearing of children, spinning, light work, and
household cares filled up their time. We are told that an Athenian
mother once ventured in male attire to mingle among the spectators of
the Olympic games. Her cry of joy at the triumph of her son betrayed
her. Because she was the mother of many victors, she was spared from
infamy; and her services to the state, in rearing men, alone saved her
from the consequences of an act which maternal solicitude could not have
Too much license in the intermingling of the sexes formed part of the
arguments of many distinguished Romans against the gymnasium. Habits of
idle lounging and waste of time, together with even graver vices, were
imputed to its influence. Some said it favored _polysarkia_, or obesity,
and unfitted for military or other active life. The Romans were too
utilitarian to see its higher aims. Though there was some justice, it
must be confessed, in these accusations, yet they applied with more
force to the _palaestra_ than to the gymnasium,--to the trained
fighters, who devoted their lives to exercise, than to the mass of the
Greeks, who cultivated it for nobler purposes.
The ancients valued gymnastics highly as curative agents in disease.
Some of the gymnasia were dedicated to Apollo, god of physicians. The
officers of these establishments passed for doctors, and were so called,
on account of the skill which long experience had given them. The
directors regulated the diet of the youth, the _gymnastae_ prescribed
for their diseases, and the inferiors dressed wounds and fractures. Not
only was the general idea entertained that bodily exercise is good for
the health, but different kinds of exertion were selected as adapted to
particular maladies. Upright wrestling was thought most beneficial to
the upper portion of the body, and the cure of dropsy was believed to be
peculiarly promoted by gymnastic sports. Hippocrates had some faith in
the "motor cure." In some cases he advises common wrestling; in others,
wrestling with the hands only. The practice with the _corycus_, or
hanging-bag of sand, and a regular motion of the upper limbs, resembling
the manual exercise of the soldier, were also esteemed by him. Galen
inveighs against the more violent exercises, but recommends moderate
ones as part of the physician's art. Asclepiades, in the time of Pompey
the Great, called exercises the common aids of physic, and got great
glory--and money, it is to be hoped--by various mechanical contrivances
for the sick.
The ancients probably esteemed gymnastics too much, as the moderns do
too little, for medical or sanative purposes. The Greeks, with a very
limited knowledge of physiology and pathology, would be more apt to
treat symptoms than to trace the causes of disease; and no doubt they
sometimes prescribed exercises which were injudicious or positively
injurious. We still trust too much, perhaps, to medication, and do not
keep in view the great helps which Nature spreads around us. Truth lies
between the two extremes; and we are beginning to recognize the fact,
which experience daily teaches us, that light, air, and motion are more
potent than drugs,--and that iron will not redden the cheeks, nor bark
restring the nerves, so safely and so surely as moderate daily exercise
out of doors.
In the nourishing days of Attica, the gymnasium was in its perfection.
It degenerated with the license of later times. It was absorbed and sunk
in the fashions and vices of imperial Rome. Though Nero built a
public gymnasium, and Roman gentlemen attached private ones to their
country-seats, it gradually fell into disuse, or existed only for
ignoble purposes. The gladiator succeeded naturally to the athlete, the
circus to the stadium, and the sanguinary scenes of the amphitheatre
brutalized the pure tastes of earlier years. Then came the barbarians,
and the rough, graceless strength of Goths and Vandals supplanted the
supple vigor of the gymnast. The rude, migratory life of the Dark Ages
needed not the gymnasium as a means of physical culture, and was too
changeable and evanescent to establish permanent institutions. Chivalry
afforded some exception. The profession of knighthood and the calling
of the men-at-arms gave ample scope to warlike exercises, reduced to
something like a science in armor, horses, and modes of combat. The
tournament recalled somewhat the generous emulation of the gymnasium;
but bodily exercise for physiological ends was lost sight of in the
midst of advancing civilization, until its culture was resumed in
Sweden, in the latter half of the last century.
The reviver of gymnastics was PETER HENRY LING. Born of humble
parentage, and contending in his earlier years with the extremest
poverty, he completed a theological education, became a tutor,
volunteered in the Danish navy, travelled in France and England, and
began his career of gymnast as a fencing-master in Stockholm. He died
a professor, a knight, and a member of the Swedish Academy, and was
posthumously honored as a benefactor of his country.
While fencing, he was struck with the wholesome effects which may
be produced on the body by a rational system of movements, and this
suggested the idea which he developed by practice and precept through
his entire life. It was, that "an harmonious organic development of the
body and of its powers and capabilities by exercises ought to constitute
an essential part in the general education of a people." Ling thought
not of merely imitating the gymnastics of the ancients, but he aimed at
their reformation and improvement. Wishing to put gymnastics in harmony
with Nature, he studied anatomy, physiology, and the natural sciences.
Of their value in directing rational exercise he says: "Anatomy, that
sacred genesis, which shows us the masterpiece of the Creator, and which
teaches us how little and how great man is, ought to form the constant
study of the gymnast. But we ought not to consider the organs of the
body as the lifeless forms of a mechanical mass, but as the living,
active instruments of the soul." And even this is not sufficient; "for
the gymnast, the ultimate aim of whose art is the _beau ideal_ of
humanity, must know what effects applied movements produce upon the
corporeal and psychical condition of man; a knowledge which can be
obtained only from the most careful and untiring examination."
It has been asserted, that, in pursuance of this plan, Ling invented a
separate movement or exercise for every muscle in the body. This is not
strictly true, for it is practically impossible. Few muscles act alone,
and such as do are developed symmetrically, and are antagonized by those
of the opposite side. Most movements are performed by groups of muscles.
The cripple, swinging on his crutches, develops the broad sheet of
muscular fibres which enfolds the back and loins, and approaches in
form the simian tribe, the business of whose life is climbing. The
sledge-hammer brings out the _biceps_ of the blacksmith, and striking
out from the shoulder the _triceps_ of the pugilist. The calves of the
ballet-dancer are noted for the abrupt line which marks the transition
from muscle to tendon; and other instances might be cited. As a general
rule, however, numerous muscles act in concert. Trades stamp their
impress on special groups; and the power of co-ordination, which is
supposed to derive its impulse from the cerebellum, varies in different
persons, and marks them as clumsy or dexterous, sure-footed or the
reverse. Ling aimed only at the regulation of associated, or the equal
development of antagonistic groups. For, as the Supreme Medical Board of
Russia say in their report on his system, made to the Emperor in 1850,
"empirical gymnastics develop the muscular strength sometimes to a
wonderful degree, and teach the execution of movements combined with
an extraordinary effort of the muscles; by these means, instead of
fortifying the whole body equally and generally, they often contribute
to the development of the most dangerous diseases, since they do not
teach the evil which the injudicious use of movements may produce." It
was the harmonious and equable increase of all the voluntary and some of
the involuntary muscles which the Swedish system sought to attain.
The authority just quoted, in continuation, says:--"Notwithstanding
bodily exercises under the name of _Turnen_ were generally known and
practised in Germany at the beginning of the present century, and many
of its enlightened professional writers tried to give to them a proper
direction by combining them with anatomy and physiology, Ling must be
considered as the founder of the rational system of movements." We have
all seen deformed gymnasts, with square shoulders and lank loins, or
with some particular group of muscles projecting in ugly prominences
from the violated outlines of nature. All this the followers of Ling
claim that he avoided or overcame. His gymnastics were introduced years
ago, not only into all the military academies of Sweden, but into all
town-schools, colleges, and universities, and even orphan-asylums and
country-schools. Three objects are asserted to be obtained by his
disciples: development of muscular fibre, increased arterialization,
and improved innervation. Increase of function promotes the growth and
capability of organic structures, and causes an augmented afflux of
arterial blood and nervous influence to the part.
The ambitious reformer of the gymnasium did not pause here; but,
pursuing a still bolder course, undertook "to make gymnastics not only a
branch of education for healthy persons, but to demonstrate them to be
a remedy for disease." The new science was called _Kinesipathy_, or the
"motor-cure." The curative movements were first practised in 1813,
while Ling remained at Stockholm. A motor-hospital was established in
connection with the gymnasium; and to accommodate the invalid and the
feeble, new exercises, called "passive movements," were devised. These
were executed by an external agent upon the patient,--that agent being
usually the hand of the physician. The sick man, too weak for violent,
voluntary effort, was stretched and champooed, the muscles of his trunk
and limbs alternately flexed and extended by another person, until he
gradually acquired strength to use active movements. As he gained power,
he increased the voluntary resistance which he made to the operator, and
thus, at the same time, the amount of his own muscular exertion. It is
claimed that volition is thus called forth to neglected parts, and their
innervation and vascularity increased; and that so at length the normal
fulness of life and function is restored. This system confines itself
mostly to chronic diseases. In the paralysis of the young, in defective
volition from hysteria, in impaired local nutrition, in local
deformities dependent on muscular contraction, and in lateral curvature
of the spine, if unquestionably often produces the best results. Its
advocates claim for it much more. On its further benefits we are unable
to decide. Like all things else, it is susceptible of abuse.
Russia and Prussia have adopted, to a limited extent, the Ling system
of corporeal training and the "motor-cure." In London there exists an
institution of this kind, and more recently one has been established
by the Doctors Taylor in New York. In a still less degree the Swedish
gymnastics are used in some educational institutions here.
Ling died in 1839, in his seventy-third year. Even on his death-bed he
spoke till the last hour, and gave instructions in his favorite science.
His life is a remarkable instance of purity, energy, and devotion to a
Meanwhile, what have modern nations done to atone for the neglect of the
ancient gymnasium? Germany, to some extent, has supplied its place with
the _Turnverein_. _Turnkunst_, or the gymnastic art, is cultivated by
a limited number of youth. As we see the public exhibitions of the
_Turners_ in this country, they are as noted for their libations to
Bacchus, and their sacrifices to the god of tobacco,--a deity still
wanting in the Pantheon,--as for their culture and superiority in
athletic sports. Still they exert a wide, and, for the most part, a good
influence. Other continental nations of Europe furnish a large portion
of their young men with the gymnastic element in the shape of military
discipline and, drill. As affording the best examples of martial
training, Prussia and France are to be signalized,--the former for the
universality, the latter for the kind of its instructions.
All young Prussians are liable to a call to actual service in the army
for three years. After this, if they do not continue members of the
regular standing army, they remain until a certain age in that portion
of the active force which is mustered and drilled every year. Past the
age referred to, they fall into the corps of reserve, a sort of National
Guard of veterans, summoned to the field only in emergencies. Young men
who have the means to purchase an immunity can obtain one for only two
years. One year they must serve, parade, drill, march, and mount guard,
though they are not required to live in the barracks. Occasional cases
of hardship or injustice occur. We know of a poor, but promising
pianist whose studies were cut short and his fingers stiffened by the
three-years' service. Leaving out of view exceptional facts, the system
works well. All the youth of the country acquire health, strength, an
upright carriage, and habits of punctuality and cleanliness. The clumsy
rustic is soon licked into shape, and leaves his barrack, to return to
the fields, a soldier and a more self-reliant man. Prussia, too, secures
the services of an army, in time of need, commensurate in numbers with
the adult male population.
The French conscript, if he draws the unlucky number, can buy a
substitute. All are not enrolled as recruits; and all those so enrolled
are not obliged to serve. The only sons of widows, and some other
persons, are always exempt. Once in "the line," however, the young man
is engaged for five or seven years, and receives a training in matters
gymnastic and military which turns out the best soldiers in Europe.
Little would one imagine, as he passes the groups of dainty and
scrupulously neat French officers upon the _boulevards_, looking the
laziest persons in the world, that these seeming carpet-knights are out
upon the _Champ de Mars_ at three o'clock in the morning, and
often drill until nine or ten in the forenoon,--or that the little
_toulourou_, as he is nicknamed, or private of the _ligne_, in his
brick-colored trowsers and clean gaiters, whose voice is the gayest and
whose legs are the nimblest in the barrier-ball, has done a day's work
of parade and gymnastics which equals the toil of an _ouvrier_. Running,
swimming, climbing, and fencing with the bayonet, are often but the
preludes of long marches on duty, or equally long walks to reach the
parade-ground, or to fetch the daily rations of the "mess." Then, too,
during several months of summer, camp-life is led on a grand scale. Vast
encampments, which for size, regularity, and order vie with the old
Roman _castra_, are formed at convenient spots. And here all the details
of actual service are imitated; cavalry and infantry are disciplined in
equally arduous labors; nor does the artillery escape the fatigue of
mock-sieges, sham-fights, and reviews.
The _Chasseurs de Vincennes_, or rifle-corps, are the pride of the army.
Their training is still more severe. They are all athletic men, taught
to march almost upon the run, and to go through evolutions with the
rapidity of bush-fighters. There are few more stirring sights than a
French regiment upon the march. Advancing in loose order, and with a
long, swinging gait, their guns at an angle of forty-five degrees,
lightly carried upon the shoulder, they impart an idea of alertness and
efficiency which no other soldiers present to the same degree.
Gymnasia are somewhat patronized by the civilians. The art of fencing is
a national accomplishment, and few gentlemen complete their education
without the instructions of the _maitre d'escrime_. The _savate_ is a
rude exercise in vogue among rowdies, and consists in kicking with
the peasant's wooden shoe. The French are a tough, but not a large or
powerful race. The same amount of training dispensed among as large a
proportion of the youth of this country would show much greater results.
The British soldier has long been considered by his own nation as a
model of manliness. He owes his long limbs and round chest to his
ancestors and his mode of life before enlisting. While on the
home-service, he does not yet exercise enough to harden him or to ward
off disease. Recent returns show a higher comparative rate of mortality
in the British army from consumption than among other Englishmen. His
close barracks, unvarying diet, and listless life explain it all. His
countrymen and countrywomen, however, who have the time and means,
largely cultivate athletic sports. The English lady is noted for her
long walks in the open air, and for the preservation of her youthful
bloom,--the English gentleman for his red face, broad shoulders, and
How do we compare with them in vigor and attention to gymnastics and
health-giving exercises? Better than we did ten years ago, but still not
The Western Border-States are noted for the production of a large and
hardy race. New Hampshire and Vermont contribute a good share of the
tall and well-developed men who yearly recruit the population of
our Eastern cities. Let a generation pass, however, and we find the
offspring of such sires with equally capacious frames, but far less
muscular power. The skeleton is laid of a man mighty in strength, but
the filling-in is wanting. Broad-jointed bones swing listlessly in their
sockets, the head projects, and the shoulders bend, under the influence
of a sedentary life. The laboring and mechanical classes bring certain
groups of muscles to perfection in development and dexterity, but
present few instances of an harmonious organization. Commercial and
professional men do not accomplish even a limited muscular development.
For the other sex, Nature seems to have provided a certain immunity from
the necessity of active exercise for the rounding and completion of
their bodies. The lack of fresh air, however, soon tells with them a
fatal story of fading complexions and departing bloom. That ethereal
beauty which peculiarly marks the American woman is also the earliest to
decay. As they are the prettiest, so are they the soonest _passees_ of
any Northern nation. Could they but realize that exercise in the open
air is Nature's great and only cosmetic, the reproach of early old age
would cease. Nothing will give that peach-bloom to the cheek and that
peculiar sweetness to the eye which a long walk through the fields, of a
clear October day, bestows unbought.
One evil breeds another. The brain fed only with thin blood gives rise
to morbid thoughts. Activity, sharpness, and quickness of perception
are but poor compensations for the want of the milder and more generous
attributes of the mind. Dyspepsia spawns a moody literature. Broad,
manly views and hopeful thoughts of life exist less here, we think, than
in England. The cities are supplied year by year with people from the
country; yet the latter, the source of all this supply, does not produce
so healthy mothers as the city; and were it not for the increasing study
of physiology and its vital truths, we fear that we should awaken too
late to a knowledge of our physical degeneration.
Now what means are in use among us to furnish the needed stimulant of
exercise? It is paradoxical to say that the average of people take more
exercise in the city than in the country; yet we believe it to be true.
That exercise is only of one form, to be sure, namely, walking. The
common calls of business, and the mere daily locomotion from point to
point of an extended city, necessitate a large amount of this simplest
exercise. Other sources of health, as sunlight and the vivifying
influence of trees and grass upon the air, exist more in the real
country. Yet as many girls attain a vigorous development in town as out
of it; for in our smaller New England villages indoor cares and labors
confine the females excessively and prevent their using much exercise in
the open air.
Our militia system, including the exercises of volunteer companies,
supplies but to a very limited extent the want of real gymnastics. The
common militia meet too infrequently and drill too little to gain much
sanative benefit. The old-fashioned "training-day" was always a day of
drunkenness and subsequent sickness. The "going into camp" now adopted
is even worse; for here youths taken from the sheltered counting-room
and furnace-heated house are exposed to the inclemencies of the weather
not long enough to harden them, but long enough to lay the foundation of
disease. Volunteer companies parade and are reviewed oftener, and
drill more constantly; but the good effects of the manual exercise are
rendered nugatory by its being conducted in confined armories and a bad
The frequency of conflagrations and the emulation of rival volunteer
corps render the fire-companies an active school of exercise. But the
benefits of this are neutralized by the violence and irregularity of
their exertions. Quitting the workshop half-clad, and running long
distances, the fireman arrives panting at the fire, to breathe in, with
lungs congested by the unusual effort, the rarefied and smoky atmosphere
of the burning buildings. We should naturally suppose this a fertile
source of pulmonary complaints. Besides, were it the most healthy of
exercises, it is followed only by the mechanic and the laborer, who use
their muscles enough without it.
The "prize-ring" and the professed athlete still exist among us.
Unfortunately, their habits brutalize the mind. A limited knowledge
of sparring, and a full vocabulary of the slang of the pugilist, are
fashionable among many youths. Few young men, however, can cultivate the
one, or frequent the society of the other, without the risk of becoming
rowdies or bullies, if nothing worse.
The revival of the Old-Country games of cricket and base-ball affords
some of the best examples of a growing desire for athletic sports.
They have many things to recommend them, and, as we conceive, no
The suicidal war waged against trees and birds alike by the early
settlers has left but little inducement to follow in this country the
field-sports so fashionable in England. Riding on horseback, however, is
now more popular than it has been since our carriage-roads were first
laid out. This exercise is peculiarly beneficial to the feeble in body.
Accelerated inspiration of pure air and a gentle succussion of all the
internal organs are blended with that consciousness of power and that
self-dependence which the good horseman always feels in the saddle.
Hardly less do we value the intimate acquaintance into which it brings
us with the noble animal who bears us, establishing a sympathy which no
amount of driving can awaken to its full extent.
Our rivers, lakes, and bays spread around us a vast and inviting field
for the cultivation of summer or winter sports. Boating and sailing are
adapted, from their gentleness of motion, even to the most delicate
organizations. Rowing is equally suited to the young and strong.
Boat-clubs are quite popular in our colleges, and we hope they will ere
long become so in our academies and minor schools. Few exercises bring
more muscles into play than the steady stroke of the oar. Few are more
exhilarating and pleasant to those who have tried them. Give us the
strong pull through an open bay before all boating on placid lakes or
rivers. The long, well-timed stroke becomes a mere mechanical effort,
leaving the mind at liberty to enjoy the sense of freedom, the tonic
salt-breeze, and the enlivening scenes of the sea.
When the boats are beached, and the wharf-logs grow, with successive
layers congealed from every tide, into huge spindles of ice, the same
element offers its glassy surface to the skater. That skating has
actually become fashionable among the gentler sex we regard as the
strongest indication of an awakening national taste for exercise. But
there is need of caution. Most persons skate with too heavy clothes.
The quick movements of the limbs in the changing evolutions of this
pastime--though the practised skater is unconscious of much muscular
effort--quicken the circulation enough to increase palpably the
animal heat and produce a very sensible perspiration. In this exposed
condition, the quiet walk home is taken without additional covering, and
is the origin of many colds.
Returning to "first principles," we find one useful exercise more or
less within reach of all, without preparation or expense. We mean
walking. The flexors and extensors of the legs, the broad muscles of the
back and abdomen, and the slender and intricate bundles of fibres which
support and steady the spine, are all gently exercised in locomotion.
The respiration and circulation are moderately increased, and the blood
aerated with fresh air. And all this can be had by simply stepping out
of doors and setting in motion the muscular machinery, which moves so
automatically that we soon become unconscious of its exertions. This,
like all other exercise, should be taken at seasonable hours. We enter
our protest against long walks before breakfast. To any but the robust
they are positively injurious. The early riser and walker, unless long
habituated and naturally vigorous, returns from his exercise draggled,
faint, and exhausted, to begin the digestive labors of the day, and take
his food with hunger rather than appetite. Abstinence has blunted the
nicer perceptions of taste, and the jaded organs lose the power not
only of discriminating flavors, but of knowing when to cry, "Enough!"
"Brushing away the morning dew," like "love in a cottage," is very
pretty in a book, but needs a solid basis in the stomach or in the
Running is a very healthy and an equally neglected exercise. Few
vocations call upon us to fully expand the chest once a month. Running
improves the wind, it is said. We give the name of long-winded to those
who have a reserve of breathing capacity which they do not use in
ordinary exertions, but which lies ready to carry them through
extraordinary efforts without distress or exhaustion. Such persons
breathe quietly and deeply. Running forms part of the training of the
prize-fighter. It should be begun and ended at a moderate pace, as
a knowing jockey drives a fast horse; otherwise, panting, and even
dangerous congestion, may arise from the too sudden afflux of blood to
Nothing so pleasantly combines mental occupation with bodily labor as
a pursuit of some one of the natural sciences, particularly zooelogy
or botany. If our means allow a microscope to be added to our natural
resources, the field of exercise and pleasure is boundlessly enlarged.
To the labor of collecting specimens is joined the exhilaration of
discovery; and he who has once opened the outer gate of the sanctuary of
Nature finds in the study of her _arcana_ a pastime which will be a joy
Our larger towns and cities still support gymnasia of greater or
less size and perfectness. But the modern gymnasium has two great
deficiencies: the lack of open air, and of the emulation arising from
publicity. The first is a very grave objection. Not a tithe of the
benefits of exercise can be obtained within-doors. The sallow mechanic
and the ruddy farmer are the two points of comparison. The one may work
as hard and be as strong as the other, and yet we cannot call him as
healthy. Nothing short of Nature's own sweet air will supply the highest
physical needs of the human frame. As our gymnasia are usually private,
and only moderately frequented, the gymnast is not stimulated to those
exertions which society and competition would arouse. _Ennui_ often mars
his enjoyment. We have seen men methodically pursuing, day after day,
the same exercises, with all the listless drudgery of a hack-horse.
Geniality and generous emulation are among the great benefits of the
"But how shall I find time to follow out even one of these exercises?"
objects the victim of American social life. It is true, he cannot. We
live so fast that we have no time to live. Nevertheless, gymnastics
have one advantage adapted to our hurried habits. They afford the most
exercise in the shortest time. In no other way, so easily accessible,
can as much powerful motion be used in so brief a space.
The tired clerk or merchant comes home late, with feverish brain and
weary legs. His chest and arms have had no exercise proportional to the
rest of his system. What shall he do to restore the balance? If he can,
let him erect in some upper room, away from furnace-heat, instead of a
billiard-table, a private shrine to Apollo or Mercury. He will need but
little apparatus. A set of weights and pulleys, a pair of parallel bars,
two suspended rings, and a leaping-pole are all the necessary permanent
fixtures. Other articles, as the dumb-bells, the Indian club,
boxing-gloves, foils, or single-sticks, take up no room, and can be
added as his growing taste for their use demands. We would single out
the parallel bars and the weights as the most generally useful. The
former develop particularly the chest, stretch the pectoral muscles, and
lengthen the collar-bones. The latter increase the volume and power
of the extensors of the shoulder, arm, and forearm, and are to be
sedulously practised, because we have fewer common and daily movements
of these muscles than of their antagonists, the flexors, and they are
consequently weaker in most persons. The windows should be widely
opened, and the room warmed by the sun alone.
Though, after the first few trials, the whole body will ache, and the
astonished muscles tremble with soreness, a week's perseverance will
overcome these earlier drawbacks. The gymnast will be surprised at the
new feeling of vigor in the back and shoulders, and to find the upright,
military posture as natural as it was before difficult to maintain.
Temper and digestion undergo a parallel improvement, and it will require
much to make him forego the luxury of exercise which he at first thought
Many persons become discouraged by beginning too violently. Alarmed at
the fatigue and suffering at first induced, they shrink from further
efforts. Gymnastics are, to be sure, an injudicious mode of exercise
for some. Children get a good many sprains, and sometimes permanent
deformity, from their use. The growing period requires care to avoid
injuring the articulations; yet it is the most favorable time to spread
the shoulders and deepen the chest. The young grow most in height and
can best gain an harmonious development by frequenting the GYMNASIUM.
* * * * *
WHY DID THE GOVERNESS FAINT?
We were all sitting together in the evening, and my sister Fanny had
been reading aloud from the newspaper. For my father's benefit, she had
read all the political articles, and all about business, till he had
said he had heard enough, and there was nothing in the papers, and then
had left the room. So Fanny looked over the marriages and deaths, and
read about the weather in New York and Chicago, and some other things
that she thought would interest us while we were sewing. Suddenly I
looked up, towards where Miss Agnes was sitting, far away at the other
end of the room. She was leaning back in her chair, and, all in a
moment, I thought she looked white, as though she had fainted. I did not
say a word, but got up and went quietly towards her. I found she had
fainted quite away, and her lips were pale, and her eyes shut. I opened
the window by her; for the night was cool, and all the windows were
closed. There came in a little breeze of fresh air, and then I ran to
fetch a glass of water. When I returned, I found Miss Agnes reviving a
little. The air and the water served to refresh her, and very gradually
she came back to herself. As she opened her eyes, she looked at me
wonderingly, then round the room,--then a shudder came over her, as if
with a sudden painful memory.
"I'm better,--thank you for the water," she said; and then she rose up
and went to the window, and leaned against the casement. I had a glimpse
of her face; so sad a face I had never seen before.
For Miss Agnes was not often sad, though she was quiet in her ways and
manners. She could be gay, when it was the time to be gay. She was our
governess,--that is, she taught Mary and Sophy and me. Fanny was too old
to be taught by her, and had an Italian master and a French teacher;
but she practised duets for the piano with Miss Agnes, and read with
her,--and she made visits with her, for Miss Agnes was a favorite
everywhere. She had a kind word for everybody, and listened kindly
to all that was said to her. She talked to everybody at the sewing
societies, had something to say to every one, and when she came home she
had always something to tell that was entertaining. I often wished I
could be one-quarter as amusing, but I never could succeed in making my
little experiences at all agreeable in the way Miss Agnes did. I have
tried it often since, but I always fail. Only the other day, I quite
prided myself that I had found out all about Mrs. Endicott's going to
Europe, and came home delighted with my piece of news. She was going
with her husband; two of the children she was to leave behind, and take
the baby with her; they were to be gone six months; and I even knew
the vessel they were going in, and the day they were to sail. My
intelligence was very quickly told;--Miss Agnes and many others would
have made a great deal more of it. I had no sooner come to the end than
Fanny said, "Who is going to take care of the children she leaves at
home?" I had never thought to ask! I was disappointed;--my news was
quite imperfect; I might as well not have tried to bring any news. But
it was never so with Miss Agnes. I believe it was because she was really
interested in what concerned others, that they always told her willingly
about themselves; and though she never was inquisitive about others'
affairs, yet she knew very well all that was going on.
So she was a most valuable member of our home-circle, and was welcome
also among our friends. And we thought her beautiful, too. She was very
tall and slender, and her light-brown eyes were of the color of her
light-brown hair. We liked to see her come into the room,--her smile and
face made sunshine there; and she was more to us than a governess,--she
was our dear friend.
But now she looked round at me, pale and sad. She suddenly saw that I
looked astonished at her, and she said, "I am not well, Jeanie, but we
will not say anything about it. I am going to my room; to-morrow I shall
be better." She held her hand to her head, and I thought there must be
some heavy pain there, she still looked so sad and pale. She bade us all
good night and went away.
I did not tell the others what had happened,--partly because, as I have
said, I was not in the way of telling things, and partly because they
were all talking and had not observed what had been going on. But I
found the paper Fanny had been reading, and wondered if there were
anything in what she had read that could have moved Miss Agnes so much.
I had not been paying much attention to the reading, but I knew upon
which side of the paper to look. Fanny told me it was time for me to go
to bed, however, and I left my search before I could find anything that
seemed to concern Miss Agnes. I stopped at her door, and bade her good
night again; and she came out to me, and kissed me, and said,--I was a
good child, and I must not trouble myself about her.
The next day she seemed quiet, yet the same as ever. Though I said
nothing to anybody else about her fainting, I could not help telling my
friend Jessie of it;--for I always told Jessie everything. Fanny called
us the two Jays, we chattered so when we were together. I knew she would
not tell anybody, so I could not help sharing my wonder with her,--what
could have made Miss Agnes faint so suddenly? She thought it must have
been something in the newspaper,--perhaps the death of some friend, or
the marriage of some other. I was willing to look again, and this time
remembered three things that Fanny had just been reading when I had
looked up at Miss Agnes. One was about Mr. Paul Shattuck;--in descending
from a haycart, he had fallen upon a pitchfork, and had seriously
wounded his thigh. Another was the marriage of Mr. Abraham Black to
Miss Susan Whitcomb, and Fanny had wondered if she were related to the
Whitcombs of Hadley. Then she had read a singular advertisement for a
lost ring, a seal ring, with some Arabic letters engraved upon it. I
was of opinion that Miss Agnes was somehow connected with this
signet-ring,--that it had some influence over her fate. Jessie thought
that Miss Agnes must have been formerly engaged to Mr. Abraham Black,
and that when she heard of his marriage----but I interrupted her in
this suggestion. In the first place, she could never have been engaged
to a Mr. Abraham Black; and then, nobody who could marry Miss Agnes
would think of taking up with a Susan Whitcomb. So Jessie fell back upon
Paul Shattuck, and, to tell the truth, we had some warm discussions on
Time passed on, and it was June. One lovely afternoon, we had quite a
frolic with the hay, the grass having been cut on the lawn in front of
the house. Miss Agnes had been with us. We had made nests in the hay,
and had buried each other in deep mounds of it, and had all played till
we were quite tired. I went into the house in search of Miss Agnes,
after she had gone in, and found her sitting at one of the side windows.
I came near, then wished to draw back again, for I saw there were tears
in her eyes. But when I found she had seen me, I tried to speak as if I
had seen nothing.
"How high the cat has to step, to walk over the grass!" I said, as I
looked out of the window.
Miss Agnes put her arms about me. "You wonder, because you see me
crying," she said, and looked into my face.
"I never before saw anybody cry that was grown up," said I.
Miss Agnes smiled and said, "They tell children it is naughty to cry;
but sometimes you can't help crying, can you?" And her tears came
"Oh, Miss Agnes," I said, "I wish I could help your crying! It is too
bad!--it is too bad!"
"Yes, it is very bad," she said, as she held me in her arms, "it is very
bad; but you do help me. You shall be my little friend."
That was all. She did not tell me anything;--yet I felt as if she had
said a great deal, and I did not speak of this to Jessie.
A few days after, as I was passing the door of the parlor, I fancied I
heard a little cry, and it sounded to me as if I had heard the voice
of Miss Agnes. I hurried in. A stranger had just entered the room. But
before me stood Miss Agnes, pale, erect, her lips quivering. She held
fast a chair, which she had drawn up in front of her, as one would
place a shield between one's self and some wild animal. How slender and
defenceless she looked! I followed the terrified glance of her eyes.
There, in the middle of the room, stood a stranger,--not so terrible to
look upon, for he was young, and it seemed to me I had never seen so
handsome a man. His black hair and eyes quite pictured the hero of my
romance. He was strongly built, and directly showed his strength by
seizing a large marble table that stood near the centre of the room, and
wheeling it between himself and Miss Agnes.
"If you are afraid of me," he said, "I will build up a barrier between
us. Poor lamb, you would like to be free from the clutches of the wolf!"
"I am afraid of you," said Miss Agnes, slowly,--and the color came into
her cheeks. "You know your power over me. I begged you, if you loved me,
not to come to me."
"And all for that foolish ring! And the spirits of mischief betrayed its
loss to you; it was none of my work that published it in the papers. Can
you let a fancy, an old story in a ring, disturb your faith in me?"
"If the faith is disturbed," answered Miss Agnes, "what use in asking
what has disturbed it? Ernest, as you stand there, you cannot say you
love me as you once professed to love me!"
"I can say that you are my guiding star,--that, if you fail me, I fall
away into ruin."
"Can my little light keep you from ruin?" said Miss Agnes, shuddering.
"Do not talk to me so! Alas, you know how weak I am!"
"I know that you are an angel, and that I am too low a wretch to dare
to speak to you. I came here to tell you I was worthy of your deepest
hatred. But, Agnes, when you speak to me of my power over you, it tempts
me to wield it a little longer, before I fall below your contempt."
He walked up and down the room, and presently saw me standing there.
"A listener!" he exclaimed; "you are afraid to be alone with me!"
I was about to leave the room, but he called me back.
"Stay, child!" he said; "if I can speak in _her_ presence, it makes
little difference that any one else should hear me. Agnes, little Agnes,
you would not like to be quite alone;--let the child stay. Yet you know
already that I am faithless to you. You know what I am going to tell
you. I love you, passionately, as I have always loved you. But there are
other passions hold me tighter. Money, and position,--I need them,--I
cannot live without them. The first I have lost already, and the claims
I have to reputation will follow soon. I am mad. I am flinging away
happiness for the sake of its mask. Next week I marry riches,--a
fortune. With the golden lady, I go to Europe. I forsake home,--my
better self. I leave you, Agnes;--and you may thank God that I do leave
you; I am not worthy of you."
She lifted herself from the chair on which she was leaning, and walked
towards him. She laid her hand upon his shoulder, and, white and pale,
looked in his face.
"Do not go, Ernest!" she said. "You are mine. A promise cannot be
broken;--you are promised to me.--Stay,--do not go away!"
"My beautiful Agnes!" he said, "do you come to lay your pure self down
in the scale against my follies and all my passions? You stand before
me too fair, too lovely for me. It is only in your presence that I can
appear noble enough for you. Even here, by your side, I see the life I
must lead with you, the struggle that you must share. In that life you
would only see me fail. I am weak; I can never be strong. Let me go
down the current. Your heart will not break;--I am not worth such a
"You are desperate," said she. "You say these cold, bitter words, and
you must know that each word cuts me. Oh, Ernest, you are false, indeed,
if you come to taunt me with your faithlessness!"
"I needed to see you once more," he said, imperiously,--"I needed it.
But you were right, Agnes,--the ring was a true talisman. It seemed to
me that its letters had changed color. I carried it to an old Eastern
scholar. He declared that the letters could never have formed the word
'Faith,'--that the word was some black word that meant death. I left it
with him, that he might study it. When I saw him again, he declared he
had lost it, and had advertised it. You see you can trust your talisman
sooner than you can trust me."
At this moment the outer door opened, and presently Fanny came in,
with one of her friends. Miss Agnes looked bewildered, but her visitor
recovered his composure directly.
"Miss Fanny, I believe;--I have met you before. I have just been bidding
good-bye to Miss Agnes, before leaving for Europe. Can I be of service
Before we had time to think, he had said something to each one of us,
and had left the house. Fanny turned to speak to Miss Agnes, but she had
fallen to the ground before we could reach her.
She was ill, very ill, for a long time. She had the brain fever,--so the
doctor said. They let me stay with her,--she liked to have me with her.
I was glad to sit in the darkened room all the long day. I never was a
"handy" child, but I learned to be useful to her. I waited on all her
wants. I held her hand when she reached it out as if to meet some kindly
In the quiet of her room, I had not heard the great piece of news,--of
the terrible railroad accident: that Mr. Carr, the Ernest who had been
to see Miss Agnes, was among those who were suddenly killed,--the very
day he left our house! I had not heard it; so I was not able to warn
Fanny, when she came into the sick room of Miss Agnes, the first day she
was able to talk,--I could not warn Fanny that she must not speak of it.
But she did. How could she be so thoughtless? Miss Agnes, it is true,
looked almost well, as she was lying on her couch, a soft color in her
cheeks. But then Fanny need not have told her anything so painful. Miss
Agnes looked quite wild, and turned to me as if to know whether it were
true. I could not say anything to her, but knelt by her,--and she seemed
almost calm, as she asked to know all that was known, all the terrible
particulars that Fanny knew so well.
She was worse after that. We thought she would die, one night. But she
did not die. Either she was too weak or too strong to die of a broken
heart. Perhaps she was not strong enough to love so earnestly such a one
as Mr. Carr, or else she had such strength as could bear the trial that
was given her to bear. She lived, but life seemed very feeble in her for
a long time.
One day she began to talk with me.
"You would like to know, Jeanie, the story of that ring," she said.
I told her I was afraid to have her talk about it, but she went on:--
"It is an old heirloom, and all our family history is full of stories of
this ring. There are so many tales connected with it, that every one of
us has looked upon it with a sort of superstition, and cherished it as
a talisman connected with our lives. It was always a test of constancy,
and the stories of those occasions when it has detected falsehood have
always been remembered. I suppose there are many when it has been
quietly worn, undisturbed, that have been forgotten. It has told many a
sad tale in my own family. It came back, broken, to my brother Arthur,
and he died of a broken heart. My sister Eveline gave it to her young
cousin, to whom she engaged herself. But afterwards, when she went to
live with a gay and heartless aunt of mine, she broke her promise to him
for the sake of a richer match. The day that she was married, our cousin
far away saw the black letters turn red upon the signet-ring."
"Oh, Miss Agnes!" I exclaimed.
"And why should not letters change?" she asked, abruptly; and I saw her
eyes look out dreamily, as if at something I did not see. "The letter
clothes the spirit; and the spirit gives life to the form. A face grows
lovely or unlovely with the spirit that lies behind it. I cannot say if
there be a spirit in such things. Yet what we have worn we give a value
to. It has an expression in our eyes. Do we give it all that expression,
or has it some life of its own?"
She interrupted herself, and went on:--
"I had known that Ernest was not true to me. I had known it by the words
he wrote to me. They did not have the ring of pure silver; there was a
clang to them. When Fanny read aloud the loss of that ring, it spoke to
a suspicion that was lying in the depth of my heart, and roused it into
life. My little Jeanie, I was very sad then.
"You do not know how deeply I loved Ernest Carr. You do not know how I
might have loved your brother George,--yes, the noble, upright George.
He loved me, and treated me most tenderly; he found this home for me.
I did not banish him from it,--he would have stayed all these years in
Calcutta, if it had not been for me,--so he said. You cannot understand
how it was that Ernest Carr, whom I had known before, should have
impressed me more. You do not know, yet, that we cannot command our
love,--that it does not always follow where our admiration leads. I
loved Ernest for his very faults. The fascinations that made the world,
its prizes, its money, its fame, so attractive to him, won me as I saw
them in him. It is terrible to think of my last meeting with him; but
his fate seems to me not so awful as the fate towards which he was
hurrying,--the life which could never have satisfied him."
She left off speaking, and dreamed on, her eyes and thoughts far away.
And I, too, dreamed. I fancied my brother George coming home, and that
he would meet with that ring somehow. I knew it must come back to her.
And it did; and he came with it.
TWO YEARS AFTER.
Oh, I forgot that, long ago!
It was very fine at the time, no doubt,--
Remembering is so hard, you know;--
Well, you will one day find it out.
I love the life of the happy flowers,
But I hate the brown and crumbling leaves;
You cannot with spices embalm the hours,
Nor gather the sunshine into sheaves.
We are older now, and wiser, too.
Only two summers ago, you say,
Two autumns, two winters, two springs, since you----
Will you hold for a moment my bouquet?
Yes,--take that sprig of mignonette;
It will wither with you as it would with me:
Freshness and sweetness a half-hour yet,
Then a toss of the hand, and one is free.
Why will you talk of such silly things?--
What a pretty bride! Do you like her hair?
See Madam there, with her twenty rings.
Ogling the youth with the foreign air!--
The moon was bright and the winds were low,
The lilies bent listening to what we said?
I did not make your lilies grow;
Will they bloom for me now they are dead?
You hate the rooms and the heartless hum,
The thick perfumes and the studied smile?
'Tis the air I love to breathe,--yet come,
I will watch the stars with you awhile;
But you won't talk nonsense, you promise me?
Tear from the book the page we read;
We are friends,--dear friends. You must come and see
My new home, and soon.--What was it you said?
Heartsick, and weary, and sad, and strange,--
Ashes and dust where swept the fire?
I am sorry for you, but I cannot change.--
Did you see that star fall from the Lyre?
A moment's gleam, and a deeper night
Closing around its wandering way:
But then there are other orbs as bright;
Let your incense burn to them, I pray.
Oh, conjure your mighty manhood up!
Let it blaze its best in your flashing eyes!
Can it stare my womanhood down, or hope
To scorch my pride till it droops and dies?--
There, do not be angry;--take my hand;
Forgive me;--I meant not anything:
I am foolish, and cannot understand
Why you throw life out for one dumb string.
Sweeter its music than all the rest?
It may be so, though I cannot tell;
But take the good when you lose the best,
And school yourself till it seems as well.
Love may pass by, but here is fame,
And wealth, and power;--when these are gone,
God is left,--and the altar-flame
May, brightening ever, burn on and on.
And yet to my heart at times there come
Tidings of lands I shall never see,
Sweet odors, and wooing winds, and hum
Of bees in the fields that are far from me,--
Far fields, and skies that are always fair;
And I dream the old dreams of heaven, and you.--
But here comes the youth of the foreign air.
I will dance and forget,--and you must, too.
A BUNDLE OF OLD LETTERS.
To struggle painfully for years, spending all of life's energies for
others, and then to be forgotten by those for whom all was hazarded and
consumed, is a lot demanding the most unselfish aims. Yet this befell
many a suffering patriot in our Revolutionary struggle. The names of
those who were the leaders in battle and in council, men whose
position in the field or whose words in Congress gave them a country's
immortality, have remained bright in our memory. But others there were
who cheerfully surrendered eminence in their private walks and happiness
in social life to endure the hardships of a protracted contest till life
was spent, and who, from the very nature of the services they rendered,
have remained in obscurity. They would not themselves repine at this;
for they gave their strength, not for their country's applause, but
their country's good. They sought, not our remembrance, but our freedom.
In many an old garret, or treasured up in some old man's safest nook,
are worn-out, faded letters, telling of struggles and hopes in that long
contest, that would make their writers' names bright on the nation's
record, were not the number of those who rendered that our golden age
so countless. Pious is the task of tracing the services of some revered
ancestor, who gave whatever he had to give, when his country called, but
whose name is not now remembered. Those days are fast becoming to our
younger race almost mythical, so that every living word from the actors
in them is of use in vivifying scenes that else would seem dim fable.
From a somewhat bulky bundle of yellow, tattered letters, long cherished
with fond and filial care, a few are selected to interest the readers of
the "Atlantic," who, it is supposed, will first be glad to know a little
about their writer.
Dr. Isaac Foster was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on the 28th of
August, 1740. His father, in early life a sea-captain, making frequent
voyages between Boston and Europe, was for many years a prominent
citizen of Charlestown, participating largely in the measures that
preceded and led to the Revolution. At the age of eighteen, Dr. Foster
graduated at Harvard, in the class of 1758. He then studied medicine
under Dr. Lloyd of Boston, and afterwards completed his studies in
England. He married, as his first wife, Martha, daughter of Thaddeus
Mason of Cambridge, and at her death, some years later, Mary, daughter
of Richard Russell of Charlestown. In his profession he achieved a
considerable reputation, acquired a large practice, and numbered among
his pupils Doctors Bartlett, Welch, and Eustis.
But while he was working his way to position and influence, more
exciting themes began to attract his attention. With the earliest signs
of coming conflict he took a determined stand on the Colonial side. In
the town-meetings of the day he seems to have been prominent, and his
name appears on most of the important committees appointed by the town
in reference to public affairs. Thus, when, as early as November, 1772,
the Committee of Correspondence in Boston called upon the other towns
"to stand firm as one man," his name is found upon a committee appointed
to answer this letter and prepare instructions to the representative of
the town in the General Court.[A]
[Footnote A: FROTHINGHAM'S _History of Charlestown_, p. 286.]
He was also one of a committee appointed to consult with the committees
of other towns concerning the expected importation of a quantity of
tea. This was November 24th. On the 22d of December of the same year, a
petition numerously signed was presented to the selectmen, asking that a
meeting might be called to take some effectual measures to prevent the
consumption of tea. Among the signatures is Dr. Foster's.[B]
[Footnote B: FROTHINGHAM'S _History of Charlestown_, p. 293.]
He was elected a delegate to the Convention in the County of Middlesex,
in August, 1774, and a member of the first Provincial Congress of
Massachusetts, in October, of the same year. Early in 1775, he was
appointed a surgeon, and was, for some months, at the head of the
military medical department, while General Ward commanded at Cambridge.
The day after the battle of Concord, at the urgent request of General
Ward and Dr. Warren, he gave up his private practice, then very large,
to attend the wounded. On the 18th of June, he was appointed by the
Committee of Safety to attend the men wounded on the previous day at
the battle of Bunker's Hill. He was soon after appointed Surgeon of
the State Hospital, and by General Washington, on the discovery of the
treachery of Dr. Church, in October, Director-General, _pro tem._, of
the American Hospital Department. Congress soon nominated to this post
Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia, Dr. Foster remaining as the oldest
surgeon in the hospital.
It seemed necessary, before selecting some of Dr. Foster's letters, to
give this account of his earlier life, to show that he was no soldier of
fortune or eleventh-hour laborer, but that his sympathies were enlisted
and his aid given among the earliest of the friends of a then doubtful
cause,--and that he ventured influence, wealth, and professional fame,
and abandoned home and ease, at what seemed to him the call of his
The first extracts shall be from a letter to his wife, dated
"_New York, Sunday, P.M.,
"June 2, 1776_.
"MY DEAR POLLY,
"I received your kind letter of the 27th last, and thank you for your
ready acceptance of my invitation to come to me. Indeed, my dear, you
could not have given a stronger proof of your affection for me. Heaven
only knows what dangers and difficulties you may be exposed to in this
undertaking; but it shall be my constant endeavor to keep you out of the
way of danger, and procure the best accommodation for you this country
affords. If mother will add to her former kindness by taking the charge
of our children, it will greatly ease my mind; and as our enemies have,
by their wanton barbarity, from being inhabitants of Charlestown, made
us citizens of the United Colonies at large, I believe you will be as
safe and happy with or near me as anywhere....
"The night before last, the city was much alarmed. A signal had been
made from one of the islands of the arrival of a ship to join the small
fleet at the Hook. Some one raised this to a large number of transports
with the expected German forces; some of the Tories here had the
impudence to affirm they had seen eleven sail. When I came from the
hospital to my lodging, in the evening, I found the neighborhood in
confusion, the women talking of and preparing for flight. I thought it
my duty to wait on General Putnam, who at present commands here; in my
way, I met Major Webb, who acquainted me with the truth of the matter.
Upon this occasion, I could not help thinking I should go to my post
with much more alacrity, if I might have the pleasure of seeing you
"Your affectionate husband,
* * * * *
The next is a short extract from a letter to his father, bearing date
June 6th, 1776. Speaking of his wife, he says:--
"I wish she may have a pleasant journey, and arrive here in season to
see the city before our enemies attack us. We are in daily expectation
of them, and tolerably prepared to receive them. I am under no
apprehension of their being able to get footing here; but if they behave
with spirit, the city must suffer in the contest."
The next is also to his father.
"_New York, July 7th, 1776_.
"It is with the greatest pleasure I embrace this opportunity of
congratulating you on the most important event that has happened
since the commencement of hostilities. On Tuesday, the 2nd inst., the
Honorable the Continental Congress declared the Thirteen United Colonies
free and independent States. This Declaration is to be published at
Philadelphia to-morrow, with all the pomp and solemnity proper on such
an occasion; and before the week is out, we hope to have the pleasure of
proclaiming it to the British fleet, now riding at anchor in full
view between this city and Staten Island, by a _feu de joie_ from our
musketry, and a general discharge of the cannon on our works. This step,
whatever some lukewarm would-be-thought friends or concealed enemies
may think, the cruel oppression, the wanton, insatiable revenge of the
British Administration, the venality of its Parliament and Electors, and
the unaccountable inattention of the people of Great Britain in general
to their true interest and the importance of the contest with their
late Colonies, had rendered absolutely necessary for our own
preservation,--and has given great spirits to the army, as, by shutting
the door against any reconciliation in the least degree connected with
dependence on Great Britain, they know for what they are fighting, and
are freed from the apprehension of being duped by Commissioners, after
having risked their lives in the service of their country, and to secure
the enjoyment of liberty to their posterity."
* * * * *
The next letters of public import are addressed to his father, and
relate mainly to the expected attack upon New York.
"_New York, July 22nd, 1776_.
"I received your kind favor of the 15th inst. I am glad to hear our
friends are all well. I congratulate you on the spirited behavior and
glorious success of our army under General Lee. It is generally thought
to have been a decisive action, at least for this summer, as the two
fifty-gun ships are never like to get to sea again. I hope by the next
post you will hear some of our exploits, if the enemy have courage
enough to attack us. It is my week at the hospital; and if anything
happens, I hope to give you the particulars. Polly has got much better;
she joins me in duty to mother and love to the children. There has been
another flag from the fleet; the Adjutant-General of the British troops
has been on shore to wait on his Excellency. He endeavored, but in vain,
to persuade him to accept the letter which had been twice refused. In
conversation he related its contents, much the same as those to the late
Governor. He was answered, (as I am told from good authority,) that it
could not be expected people who were sensible of having committed
no offence should ask pardon,--that, as the American States owed no
allegiance, so they were not accountable, to any earthly prince. He
tarried about half an hour, and seemed pleased with the politeness of
"_July 23d, P.M._
"I write to congratulate you on advice received this day from Virginia,
an agreeable supplement to the paper I sent yesterday. On the 9th
instant, Lord Dunmore with his slavish mercenaries and stolen negroes
were driven from their post on Gwin Island in Virginia, and the
piratical fleet from their station near it, with the loss of one ship,
two tenders or armed vessels burnt by themselves, three armed vessels
taken by our people, and Lord Dunmore wounded; on our side not a man
lost. I would be more particular, but, as I had only time to read the
Philadelphia paper of yesterday which contains the account, and Mr. Mayo
is just setting out, it is not in my power."
"_New York, Aug. 12, 1776_
"Polly is still here with me, and we are both very well, but
disappointed in not hearing oftener from our friends at Boston. For news
in general I must refer to the inclosed paper. I was in company the
evening they came to this city with the two gentlemen who came from
England in the packet. They say the British force on Staten Island
is from twelve to fifteen thousand, of which about one thousand are
Hessians; that Lord and General Howe speak very respectfully of our
worthy commander-in-chief, at their tables and in conversation giving
him the title of General; that many of the officers affect to hold our
army in contempt, calling it no more than a mob; that they envy us our
markets, and depend much on having their winter-quarters in this city,
out of which they are confident of driving us, and pretend only to dread
our destroying of it; that the officers' baggage was embarked, a number
of flat-bottom boats prepared, and every disposition made for an attack,
which we may hourly expect. On our side, we have not been wanting; our
army has for several nights lain on their arms, occasioned by several
ships of war and upwards of thirty transports going out at the Narrows
and anchoring at that part of Long Island best calculated for their
making a descent, and where they received, by means of flat-bottom
boats, a large detachment from the army on Staten Island. But this fleet
went to sea yesterday, where bound we know not; some think, to go round
the east end of Long Island, come down the Sound, and land on our backs,
in order to cut off any retreat, and oblige us to surrender ourselves
and the city into their hands: but if they are so infatuated as to
venture themselves into a broken, woody country, between us and the
New England governments, I trust they will have cause to repent their
rashness. Generals Heath, Spencer, Greene, and Sullivan are promoted by
the Honorable Congress to the rank of Major-Generals; and the
Colonels Reed, Nixon, Parsons, Clinton, Sinclair, and McDougall to be
Brigadier-Generals. We have removed all our superfluous clothing, and
whatever is not necessary for present use, to Rye, whither General
Putnam's lady has retired. Miss Putnam is yet in town, and the chaise is
in readiness for her and Polly to remove at a minute's warning."
* * * * *
The following copy of an "Order from Head-Quarters" was found among the
papers, directed apparently to his father; and as Washington's Orderly
Books have never been published, with the exception of a few orders
chiefly relating to court-martials, it has been thought that it would
be interesting. Though dated on successive days, it seems to have been
issued as one order. A note by Dr. Foster, at the close, says,--"This
copy was made in a hurry by one of the mates. Some sentences are
omitted. Imperfect as it is, I thought it would be agreeable. The
principal omission is the order for having three days' provisions
ready-dressed, and that all who do not appear at their posts upon the
signal are to be deemed cowards, and prosecuted as such."
_Head-Quarters, August_ 14, 1776.
"The enemy's whole reinforcement is now arrived, so that an attack must
and soon will be made. The General, therefore, again repeats his
earnest request, that every officer and soldier will have his arms and
ammunition in good order, keep within their quarters and encampment as
much as possible, to be ready for action at a moment's call,--and when
called upon, to remember that liberty, property, and honor are all at
stake, that upon their courage and conduct rest the hopes of their
bleeding and insulted country, that their wives, children, and parents
expect safety from them only, and that we have every reason to expect
that Heaven will crown us with success in so just a cause.
"The enemy will endeavor to intimidate us by show and appearance; but
remember how they have been repulsed on these occasions by a few brave
Americans. Their cause is bad, their men are conscious of it, and,
if opposed with firmness and coolness at their first onset, with our
advantages of works and knowledge of the ground, the victory is most
assuredly ours. Every good soldier will be silent and attentive,
wait for orders, and reserve his fire till he is sure of its doing
execution;--the officers to be particularly careful of this. The
colonels and commanding officers of regiments are to see their
supernumerary officers so posted as to keep their men to their duty; and
it may not be amiss for the troops to know, that, if any infamous rascal
shall attempt to skulk, hide himself, or retreat from the enemy without
the orders of his commanding officers, he will instantly be shot down
as an example of cowardice. On the other hand, the General solemnly
promises that he will reward those who shall distinguish themselves by
brave and noble actions; and he desires every officer to be attentive to
this particular, that such men may be afterwards suitably noticed."
"_Head-Quarters, August 15, 1776_.
"The General also flatters himself that every man's mind and arms are
now prepared for the glorious contest upon which so much depends.
"The time is too precious, nor does the General think it necessary, to
spend it in exhorting his brave countrymen and fellow-soldiers to behave
like men fighting for everything that can be dear to free-men. We must
resolve to conquer or die. With this resolution, victory and success
certainly will attend us. There will then be a glorious issue to this
campaign, and the General will reward his brave soldiers with every
indulgence in his power."
"_New York, August 16, 1776_.
"It is now past ten o'clock, and Mr. Adams, who favors me by carrying
this, sets out by five o'clock to-morrow morning, so that I have only
time to acknowledge the favors received by Dr. Welch. If I survive the
grand attack hourly expected, or if it is delayed until then, I will
write again by next post. Polly has her things packed up; the chaise can
be ready at a minute's warning; if the wind favors our enemies, it is
probable she will breakfast out of the way of danger. To-morrow is
watched for by our army in general with eager expectation of confirming
the independence of the American States. All the Ministerial force from
every part of America except Canada, with the mercenaries from Europe,
being collected for this attempt, God only knows the event. To His
protection I commend myself, earnestly praying that in this glorious
contest I may not disgrace the place of my nativity, nor, after it is
over, be ashamed to see my wife, my children, and my parents again. To
the care of Providence, and, under that, to you, honored Sir, with our
other friends, I commend all that is near and dear to me, and am, with
duty to mother, love to the children, &c., &c.,
"YOUR DUTIFUL SON."
"P.S. Our troops are in good spirits, and, relying on the justice of
their cause and favor of Heaven, assured of victory."
* * * * *
The next four months were, of course, spent amid the hardships of camps
and removals. The frequent letters sent to his father and other friends
are all of interest to those who claim descent from him, but the general
reader can be concerned in but a few of more public import, and, in most
cases, only in extracts from these.
"_Bethlehem, State of Penn.,
"Dec. 24, 1776_.
"I returned from General Washington's head-quarters last evening, and
had the pleasure of finding Polly well and as agreeably situated as I
could expect. Were I to attempt writing all I wish to communicate, a
week's time and a quire of paper would hardly suffice. I fancy I shall
be no gainer by lending my furniture to the General Court;--General
Washington would have paid me for the use of it before I left Cambridge,
but, for the credit of Massachusetts, I declined it."
_"Fishkill, State of N. York,
"Jan_. 20, 1777.
"After spending the winter hitherto in Pennsylvania and the Jerseys,
with frequent removals, some loss, much expense and fatigue, we are once
more on the east side of Hudson's River. We arrived at this place last
Friday, in good health, after a journey of more than one hundred miles,
in severe weather, through the upper part of New Jersey, a new-settled,
uncultivated country. The sight of a boarded house or glass window was a
great rarity; a cordial welcome to any connected with the American army
still greater. Although they are fully sensible of the value of money,
and we offered cash for all we wanted, yet I believe we were not a
little obliged to their fears for what civility we met with, except only
from one family. But I must defer a particular account until I have the
happiness to see you.
"I have nothing of news to write but what you must hear sooner
in another way. General Heath and the militia are besieging Fort
Independence; if they can carry that, they will attempt New York. It is
not improbable I shall join him in a few days."
* * * * *
The office of Deputy Director--General of Hospitals was established by
ordinance, April 7th, 1777; and four days later, Dr. Foster was chosen
by Congress to this office, having charge of the Eastern Department. His
subsequent residence was mainly at Danbury, Connecticut.
* * * * *
Of Tryon's expedition against Danbury we have the following account,
differing in some respects from the common version:--
"_Danbury, May_ 1, 1777.
"You have doubtless heard of the enemy's expedition to this place, and
been anxious for us. This is the first moment of leisure I have had,
and, if not interrupted, I will endeavor to give you a particular
"On Saturday morning, about three o'clock, an express from Fairfield
brought advice, that a large body, three or four thousand British
troops, had landed from upwards of twenty transports, under cover of
some ships of war near that place, and that it was probable their design
was against the provision and other stores collected in this town;
another express soon after sunrise informed us of their being on the
march. The militia were mustered, and a few Continental troops that
were here on their way to Peekskill prepared to receive them; but their
number was so inconsiderable, and that of the enemy so large, with a
formidable train of artillery, I had no hope of the place being saved.
"I had, upon the first alarm, ordered all the stores in my charge to
be packed up, ready for removal at a minute's warning. Upon the second
express, I persuaded Polly, with what money was in my hands, to quit the
town: she was unwilling, but I insisted on it. We were so much put to it
for teams to remove the medicines and bedding, that I determined rather
to lose my own baggage than put it on any cart intended for that
purpose; and had not a gentleman's team, already loaded with his own
goods, taken it up, I must have lost it. As the enemy entered the room
at one end, after our troops had retreated to the heights, I went out at
the other, not without some apprehension (as I was to cross the route of
their flank-guard) of being intercepted by the light horse.
"After having seen the medicines, all of them that were worth moving,
safe at New Milford, I returned to town the next morning, and went with
our forces in pursuit of the enemy. About noon the action began in their
rear, and continued with some intermission until night; the running
fight was renewed next morning, and lasted until the enemy got under
cover of their ships. We have lost some brave officers and men. Their
loss is unknown, as they buried some of their dead, and carried off
others; but, from the dead bodies they were forced to leave on the
field, it must have greatly exceeded ours. General Wooster was wounded
early in the action; he is in the same house with me, and I fear will
not live till morning.
"Our loss in provisions, &c., is between two and three thousand barrels
of pork, a quantity of flour, some wheat, and some bedding."
* * * * *
In this bundle are many letters from Mrs. Foster. They are interesting
for their true-hearted patriotism and domestic love; but there is
room for only a brief extract from a letter referring to this same
"_Danbury, May 13, 1777_.
"I received yours and father's by Messrs. Russell and Gorham. Doctor had
not the pleasure of seeing either of the gentlemen, as he was gone to
Fishkill to oversee the inoculation of the troops, which was a very
"I expected last Monday to have been with you by this time, as I was
driven from here by the enemy (tho' very unexpected, as this place was
thought to be very secure). I removed to New Milford, from whence I
intended to have set out for Boston. On Sunday, the Doctor took his
leave, and left me to take care of the wounded. Monday morning,
everything was got ready for me to set out at twelve o'clock, when I
received a note from the Doctor, desiring I would tarry a little longer.
I have now returned to my old lodgings at Danbury, where the Doctor
thinks of building a hospital. He joins me in duty and love.
"Your affectionate daughter,
* * * * *
Much of Dr. Foster's time was necessarily spent in journeyings to the
several divisions of the army and various military stations. On such
journeys his letters to his wife were very frequent. We extract a part
"_Palmer, Thursday even'g,
"July 31, 1777_.
"I arrived here, which is eighty-three miles from Boston, about sunset
this evening, in good health. The enemy's fleet has sailed from New
York, and was seen standing to eastward. Some suppose them bound for
Boston; but I cannot think so, as General Washington, who, I presume,
has the best intelligence, is moving towards Philadelphia. Before you
receive this, it will be made certain with you. Should they attack
Boston, I would have you get as many of our effects as possible removed
out of their way, and inform me by the post where you remove to. Should
such an event take place, it will become my duty, after visiting
Danbury, to return to the scene of action. To your own prudence and the
care of Heaven I leave all, and am, with love to the children, ever
* * * * *
In the lapse of years, many letters have, without doubt, been lost.
Thus, but two remain bearing date of 1778. Neither of these contains
matter of public import. In May, he speaks of intending a journey to
Yorktown, and says, "if anything extraordinary happens between the two
armies," he shall be on the spot. In a letter addressed to his father,
dated November 27, 1778, he says,--
* * * * *
"Public business calls me to Philadelphia; but the state of your health,
and my own, which is much impaired, determine me to visit Boston first.
I expect a visit from the Marquis La Fayette next week, on his way to
Boston, and shall set out with him."
* * * * *
May 11th, 1779, he writes,--
"To-morrow all the gentlemen of the department at this post [Danbury]
dine with me, and the next morning I begin my journey to Head-Quarters.
I mean to take Newark in my way.
"General Silliman was taken prisoner last week, and carried to Long
* * * * *
In the two following letters to his wife he speaks of this visit.
"_Philadelphia, June_ 5, 1779.
"My business is almost completed, and to my mind. I now wait for nothing
but the money which the Medical Committee recommended I should be
furnished with; I expect to receive it the beginning of next week, when
I shall set out immediately. Mr. Samuel Adams travels with me; indeed,
the time seems tedious until get away. Give my duty to our parents,
love to the children, &c., and believe me to be, with the sincerest
affection, my dearest Polly,
* * * * *
_Philadelphia, June_ 9, 1779.
"MY DEAR POLLY,
"Another post has arrived, and no letter from Boston. It is now a month,
and near five weeks, since I have heard from you. If I thought you had
neglected writing, it would make me very unhappy; but, from your usual
goodness, I cannot think that is the case, but am confident your letters
must have miscarried. I have wanted nothing but hearing from you to make
my time here perfectly agreeable. I have been received with the greatest
politeness and friendship, and every attention paid to me, by men I
most esteem, I could wish for; at the same time my business has gone
perfectly to my mind. I have leave to reside in Boston for the future,
and shall be under no necessity of attending the camp, nor be obliged
to visit Philadelphia oftener than once a year. I am to have a mode of
settling my accounts pointed out to me, that will be easy, simple, and
much to my mind. I now wait for nothing but money to begin my journey.
The Treasury Board this morning passed a resolve recommending it to
Congress to furnish me with $150,000. I expect to receive the warrant
to-morrow, and as soon as I get the money shall set out, which I expect
will be about next Monday, until which time I am engaged for almost
every day. I dine this day with Mr. Adams; tomorrow with Dr. Shippen, in
company with the New England delegation; Thursday and Friday I expect
to spend with Dr. Craigie in visiting Red Bank, Mud Island, and other
principal scenes of action while the enemy were here. We have an account
that the enemy are in motion up the North River; but of them you will
hear sooner than I can inform you. General Lincoln has actually defeated
the enemy in Carolina, and is like to take them all prisoners. The
express is on the road, and expected in town to-morrow, when there will
be great rejoicing."
* * * * *
The following letter describes one of Dr. Foster's frequent journeys on
business of his department.
"_Windsor, October_ 7, 1779.
"MY DEAR POLLY,
"As I am waiting for Mr. De Lamater to come up, I will endeavor to give
you an account of our journey. The evening we left Boston Dr. Warren
rode with us as far as Jamaica Plains; after he left us we proceeded
to Dedham, where we arrived about dark, and were exceedingly well
entertained: we had a brace of partridges for supper. Colonel Trumbull
spent the evening with us. The next morning we proceeded nine miles to
Heading's to breakfast, and from thence seven miles to Mann's, where
we fed our horses, and dined at Daggett's, nine miles further; that
afternoon we arrived at Providence, and put up at our old friend
Olney's. The next day we dined with Adams and Townshend at their
quarters; the General honored us with his company; the same evening
supped with the General. Sunday, dined with the General, in company with
some of the principal ladies of the place; here I also saw your old
acquaintance, General Stark; he drank tea at my quarters one afternoon,
and inquired after you. Having finished my business much to my mind, I
continued my journey on Monday morning; the General, Colonel Armstrong,
and Dr. Brown were so polite as to ride out four miles with us. After
they left us, we proceeded to Angell's, twelve miles from Providence,
where we dined,--not on the fat of the land. After dinner we rode to
Dorrence's, an Irishman, but beyond all comparison the best house on the
road; here we were exceedingly well entertained, and, as it looked like
a storm, intended staying there, but, it growing lighter towards noon,
we set out, but had not rode far before the rain came on; however, as
we had begun, we determined to go through with it, and rode a very
uncomfortable ten miles to Canterbury, where we dined, poorly enough, at
one Backus's. Not liking our quarters, we proceeded, notwithstanding the
rain, to Windham, eight miles further, where we were well entertained at
one Cary's. As the storm looked likely to continue, and I was so near
Windsor, I was determined, if I must lie by for it, to lie by in a place
where I could do some business. I accordingly proceeded fifteen miles in
the forenoon to Andover, where I dined at one White's, and fifteen miles
in the afternoon to Bissell's at East Windsor, where I lodged. I was
thoroughly soaked, but do not find that I have got any cold. Indeed, I
find my health considerably better than when I left Boston. This morning
it has cleared off very pleasant, and I crossed from East Windsor to
this place. I have just returned from visiting Mr. Hooker's and Dr.
Johonnot's stores. I find everything in such excellent order as to do
credit to the department. Mr. De Lamater is not yet come up; as soon as
he arrives we shall visit Springfield. I shall not close this letter
until I meet the post; if anything worth notice occurs, I shall mention
it. Adieu, my love.
"_October_ 8.--Mr. De Lamater arrived last night. Altho' it is very
raw and uncomfortable, I shall proceed immediately after dinner to
Springfield. We have certain advice that the Count D'Estaing has been
at Georgia, and taken all the British ships there; it is reported, and
believed by many, that he is arrived off Long Island. You see, my dear
Polly, I have set you the example of a very long letter. I hope, as you
have leisure enough, you will follow it, as nothing can give me greater
* * * * *
"_Fishkill, October_ 21, 1779.
"MY DEAR POLLY,
"I returned from Head-Quarters this forenoon. We went down yesterday
morning, and dined with General Heath, who was so good as to lend us
his barge to carry us to Head-Quarters. His Excellency received us as I
could wish. He invited us to dine with him this day. Upon my excusing
myself, as being in haste to finish my journey, he accepted the excuse,
and invited us to breakfast with him, which we did. We returned last
night to Robinson's house, and slept with our friend Eustis. General
Heath favored us again with his barge to carry us to Head-Quarters,
and after breakfast his Excellency ordered his own to convey us to
our horses, which we had ordered four or five miles up the river. One
principal reason of my declining the General's invitation to dinner was
my impatience to return to Fishkill, that I might receive a letter from
you. Judge, then, what was my disappointment to find the post arrived
and no letter. I shall cross the North River to-morrow morning to
proceed on my journey to Philadelphia. If the nature of the service will
allow it, General Heath and his suit propose returning with me to spend
the winter in Boston. Eustis desires you would look out some suitable
object of his attentions, while in Boston. He pretends it is only with a
view to keep him alert and properly attentive to the ladies in general;
but I suspect he designs to become the domestic man."
* * * * *
"_Morristown, Oct. 26th, 1779_.
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