Gamaliel Bradford.

Portraits of American women online

. (page 11 of 14)
Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordPortraits of American women → online text (page 11 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

deep tenderness for her intimate friends and fellow
workers. In her "Autobiography" she gives a curious
analysis of the passionate affections of her girlhood.
They were marked by all the sensitiveness, all the con
fidence, all the jealousy of woman s love for man. In
the letters written in later years to one of her co-laborers
I find much the same tone of devoted personal attach
ment : " I would I could fondly believe myself one tithe
as much a woman after your own heart, as you are
after mine. I don t mean to let you go your gait away
from my ken and kindly regards never no more/

Above all, from youth to age, Miss Willard felt this
yearning, clinging affection for the members of her own


family. Her father and brother were very dear to her.
Her sister, Mary, whose brief life she commemorated
in the little volume entitled, "Nineteen Beautiful
Years/ was even dearer. When she first parted from
them, the wrench shook her whole being, and she de
scribes the pain of it in delightfully characteristic lan
guage: "I have cried like a child, no, like a strong
man, rather, until I quivered with trying to suppress
the sobs that would make themselves audible." 12 With
her mother the relation was closest of all. Mrs. Willard
reared her daughter to be a notable woman, made her
worthy to be so, and lived to see her so, with infinite
satisfaction. And Frances s admiration and adoration
for her mother continued and increased through life.
" My nature is so woven into hers that I almost think it
would be death for me to have the bond severed and
one so much myself gone over the river." 13

And how about men? It is evident enough that such
a vivid, passionate nature had treasures of affection to
bestow, if circumstances had favored it. She had lovers,
too. At least she says so, and I believe her. In the
bitter, slightly over-bitter, analysis which she makes
of herself, she says that she is "not beautiful, pretty,
or even good-looking." 14 Others thought differently,
and one enthusiast concluded from her appearance in


age that in youth she " must have possessed a rare and
exquisite beauty." 15 However this may be, I fancy she
was liked even more for her words and spirit than for
her looks. She implies that possibly, if the right man
had wooed her, she might have been won. The right
man never did. Meantime, her comments upon love
and her own capacity for love and her rigid resistance
to love are delicious. I wish I could quote the whole
of them. "I have never been in love, I have never
shed a tear or dreamed a dream, or sighed, or had a
sleepless hour for love. ... I was too cautious, loved
my own peace too well, valued myself too highly, re
membered too frequently that I was made for something
far more worthy than to spend a disconsolate life, wast
ing my heart, the richest gift I could bestow, upon a
man who did not care for it." 16 This when she was
but little over twenty. Many years later she adds : " Of
the real romance of my life, unguessed save by a trio
of close friends, these pages may not tell." 17 Oh, but
I wish they might have told! What would she have
said of the love she had, when she writes so ardently
of the love she had not !

But love in her career was a mere phantom, a drift
ing rose-cloud. She had other things to think of that
were, or seemed to her, more important. And what


apparatus and equipment had she for thinking of them?
She had a good background of intelligence and thought
behind her, came of New England stock that was ac
customed to deal with the abstract problems of life, as
well as with the practical. She had a substantial and
fairly varied education. She read very widely, even
in her younger days. When she was eighteen, she
placidly informed her father that, being of age, she was
going to read novels, though he disapproved of them. 18
She did. The list of books on her desk when she was
twenty is portentous : Watts " On the Mind," Kames s
"Elements of Criticism/ Niebuhr s "Life and Let
ters," 19 etc. She was brought up on Lord Chesterfield s
letters to his son and tried to put his precepts into
practice. She digested the disillusioned maxims of
Chamfort and quotes with approval one of the most
disillusioned of them : " In great matters men show them
selves as they wish to be seen ; in small matters as they
are." 20

And she had the natural thinking power, without
which books, even disillusioned, obscure the spirit s
progress rather than help it. She made up her mind
about things independently, made it up quickly, made
it up firmly, though she always recognized the possibil
ity of change with a changing point of view. "This


is my opinion now; will it change? It may seem wrong
to others. It is my way of thinking, and I have a right
to it. That right I will maintain." 21 She analyzed
everything fearlessly, analyzed her own heart, ana
lyzed nature and the world, analyzed the men and
women about her. Her analysis may not always have
been perfect or profound. It was at least sincere, and,
on the whole, free from prejudice. She analyzed life,
and especially, with curious force and bareness, she
analyzed death. How simple and direct is the account
in her Journal of her feelings at the bedside of her
dying sister: "I leaned on the railing at the foot of
the bed and looked at my sister my sister Mary
and knew that she was dead, knew that she was alive!
Everything was far off; I was benumbed and am but
waking to the tingling agony." 22 How vivid and poign
ant are the reflections suggested by the same scene
in regard to herself: "Then, too, I am coming right
straight on to the same doom : I, who sit here this bright
morning, with carefully made toilet, attentive eyes, ears
open to every sound, I, with my thousand thoughts, my
steady-beating heart, shall lie there so still, so cold, and
for so long." 23

If she applied such analysis to everything, and from
her early childhood, how was it with religion, when


did it take hold of her, how fully, how genuinely, how
deeply? Her sensibility was keen enough to be much
stirred by its emotional side. She was sensitive to
everything. Art indeed did not come within her youth
ful range, and in later life she was too busy for it. But
music she loved and felt, and music as the expression
of religious feeling had an almost overpowering effect
on her. The sense of mystery was present with her,
too, always, even in the midst of common things: "I
have the feeling of one who walks blindfold among
scenes too awful for his nerves to bear, in the midst
of which we eat and drink, wash our faces and com
plain that the fire won t burn in the grate, or that the
tea-bell doesn t ring in season." 24 But in early days
her analytical temper reacted against religion as against
other things. The letter of doubt and questioning which
she wrote to her teacher in the midst of a revival, with
its unconscious reproduction of a wicked jest of Vol
taire, "O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if
I have a soul," 25 is a curious document. Neverthe
less, she later accepted the orthodox faith in full and
with complete, though always enlightened, abandonment.
Only religion to her was action, doing something for
somebody, not dreaming or theological speculation.
Her creed was broad enough to take in the whole world,


but its essence was practice. In other words, her re
ligion was not a science, but an art, the art she meant
when one of her friends complained, " How can you
think it right to give up your interest in literature and
art?" and Miss Willard answered, "What greater art
than to try to restore the image of God to faces that
have lost it?" 28


FOR she was above all, and more than all, a worker for
humanity, and it as such that the study of her character
becomes profoundly interesting. Let us first consider
her work objectively, as it were, that is, in its effect
upon others, and then in its even more interesting effect
upon herself. From a child she wanted to do some
thing in the world, to make men happier and better and
fitter for this life and for another. She realized in
tensely the miseries of existence, those unavoidable and
those that might so easily be avoided. She heard the
cries of suffering that all might hear, and her vivid
imagination pictured the cries that were heard of none.
"I wish my mission might be to those who make no
sign, yet suffer most intensely under their cold, impas
sive faces." 27 All through her youth she, was restless,
eager, longing, yet knew not what to do more than the


daily task that came in her way. Then the temperance
cause called her, with suffrage and the general advance
ment of women as adjuncts. She had found what she
wanted and she worked for it till death, with every
power that was in her. Thought of personal profit there
was none; we may say it with absolute certainty. She
liked comfort and she spent with freedom, but when
she declares " I 11 never lay up money and I 11 never be
rich," 28 we know it is true.

And what admirable powers she had for the work!
Energy? Her energy was inexhaustible, and as well
directed as it was tireless. She herself tells us so: "I
have never been discouraged, but ready on the instant
with my decision, and rejoicing in nothing so much as
the taking of initiatives." 29 But we know it without
her telling us. Labor? She can labor like a machine.
" What it would be to have an idle hour I find it hard
to fancy." 30 She was careful as to sleep and regular
as to exercise, but beyond that every minute was util
ized. She traveled scores of thousands of miles, spoke
often several times a day, answered every letter, some
twenty thousand a year. 31 She wasted no strength in
worry or regret over lost opportunities. All the thought
she gave to failure was to learn from it. "If it be
ambitious to have no fear of failure in any undertak-


ing, to that I must plead guilty. ... I frankly own
that no position I have ever attained gave me a single
perturbed or wakeful thought, nor could any that I
would accept." 32

Other gifts besides effort are needed, however, to
ensure the triumph of a great cause. Whatever they
may be, Miss Willard had them. There is the gift of
organization, of combining great bodies of men and
women together for a clearly defined purpose and mak
ing them work in unison till that purpose is achieved.
When she was a child, she devised clubs and framed
elaborate constitutions for them. When she became a
woman, she did the same work, efficiently, rapidly, and
with eminent success.

And there is the gift of speech. So many great ideas
and noble conceptions are lost in realization because the
initiators of them cannot put them into adequate words
and fire the world ; just as a fluent and admirable power
of the tongue is too often given to those who have
nothing behind it. Miss Willard s tongue had assuredly
something behind it; but her power of expression was
always ample, adequate, and either seductive or com
manding, as she wished. She herself knew well what
this gift of eloquence was, and used it to the full, and
cultivated it. " The spoken word, with a life and char-


acter back of it, the spoken word, sped home by earn
est voice, conversational tone, and punctuating gesture,
is the final human factor in the progress of reform." 3S
Yet all testimony shows that her speeches were not ora
torical, not rhetorical, not stuffed with formal figures
or pompous trumpery. She went right to the heart,
spoke as if her hearers were friends or brothers and
sisters, unveiled her own feelings and experiences as
if she were chatting at the fireside. "That was the
most homey talk I ever heard," 34 said an old farmer,
after listening to her with tears.

This quality of simplicity in her, public utterance was
immensely emphasized by her appearance and manner.
There was nothing imposing or dominating about her;
rather an impression of frankness, gentleness, sympa
thetic and insinuating grace. One of her admirers, in
endeavoring to describe her, says that her features re
fuse " to be impressed separately in your memory. Only
her smile and voice abide. She envelops you, perme
ates you, enfolds you. 5 35 The general suggestion of
grace, of graciousness, recurs and is reiterated in all
attempts to reproduce her charm.

For she did charm. She charmed multitudes from
the platform, made them, for the time at least, anxious
to carry out her ideas and do her bidding. She charmed


individuals, took them in quiet corners and whispered
to them some spell of conviction which sent them out
into the world to try to make life over, as she would
have it. She entered into other peoples souls, put her
self in their places, saw the world as they saw it. There
was a certain amount of theory about this attitude on
her part. Tact, adaptation, adjustment, were all a mat
ter of principle with her. For a child to have been
brought up on the " Letters of Lord Chesterfield " 36 was
no bad preparation for meeting the world, though one
is rather surprised to find it on a Wisconsin farm. She
preaches deference, courtesy, and consideration to
everybody, no matter what their position in life. " Who
says kind words to the man that blacks his boots, to
the maid that makes his bed and sweeps his hearth? . . .
Oh, we forget these things ! " 37 But with Miss Willard
there was more to it than theory. She was interested
in the lives of all men and women, curious about them.
"I am somewhat of a questioner," 38 she says. She
questioned everybody, and so got a peep into the heart.
But back of the questioning were tenderness and sym
pathy and kindness, the desire not only to understand
but to help, not only to analyze but to make over. And
precisely in this combination of understanding with love
lay her mighty power over men, the infinite tact which


enabled her to identify other wills with her own and
so to persuade rather than to command for the achieve
ment of a great purpose.

Even in her early days of teaching she formulated
clearly the method that later obtained such vast results :
"When you get them all to think alike and act alike
by your command, you can do with them what you
will/ 39 But I prefer the testimony of a simple heart,
which elucidates the whole point: "A poor seamstress
said the other day : I go to sew at Miss Willard s some
times. I see very little of her, scarcely hear her speak,
but why is it I always leave there saying to myself:
" I must be a better woman, I must indeed." " 40 So the
world said, when Miss Willard had done with it.

This is not the place to attempt more than to sum
marize briefly what the fullness of Miss Willard s actual
achievement was. It may be that her ardent admirers
somewhat exaggerate it, as is natural. To say that in
her work for American women " she has done more to
enlarge our sympathies > widen our outlook, and develop
our gifts, than any man, or any other woman of her
time," 41 is making a broad claim, though perhaps not
too broad. It is, at any rate, certain that, as head of
the Woman s Christian Temperance Union, she dimin
ished almost incalculably the sum of human misery, and


who would wish to have more said of them than that?
One who knew her work well writes : " There are count
less men and women all over the world to-day living use
ful lives, filling positions of trust and responsibility, who
owe to Frances Willard all that they are, because her
word first aroused their dormant powers and gave them
faith in themselves/ 42 It is a just and noble eulogy.

Above all, in this year 1919, when, among a multi
tude of surprising and far-reaching events, few are
more notable than the establishment of absolute prohi
bition in the United States of America, the name of
Miss Willard deserves to be widely remembered
and commemorated by her countrymen and country


YET I confess that I am even more interested in what
prohibition did for Miss Willard than in what Miss
Willard did for prohibition. Here, again, let us con
sider the external influences first, and then follow them
to their spiritual results. To begin with, take the praise,
the eulogy, the idolatry almost, which were necessarily
and naturally poured upon her during the last years
of her life. " She has won a love and loyalty that no
other woman, I think, has ever before possessed/ says


her biographer. 43 It was immense, in any case. Huge
audiences shouted and screamed with enthusiasm over
her mere presence. Princes and potentates welcomed
her; high functionaries bowed down to her; precious
souls rescued from destruction hailed her as their
savior. Children were named after her, so many that her
secretary has to keep the record, over one hundred,
she says. No exuberance of praise seems excessive,
and one adorer assures us that " Frances Willard lived,
literally, the Christ-life on earth." 44 That "literally"
is, I think, about as far as ecstasy can go. The mind
that could not be affected by such treatment as this
would indeed have something superhuman.

And besides the influence of unlimited applause, there
is what I may call the platform habit, the peculiar and
unavoidable effect of appearing constantly before muK
titudes of people and exhibiting one s personality, one s
soul to them, more or less unreservedly. Of course
every preacher is exposed to this to some extent and
few preachers wholly escape the consequences of it.
But the ordinary preacher is limited in his audiences
and constrained to forget himself to some extent in his
holy calling. The lecturer, the political orator, and,
most of all, the reformer and the revivalist, are almost
always moulded by this habit of public appearance in


ways most curious to consider, and few have been ex
posed to the influence more overwhelmingly than Miss

The platform instinct was born in her. At three or
four years old she was set up on a chair to recite
hymns, and enjoyed it. Of one favorite she says:
"Mother taught me how to speak it, where to put in
the volume of sound and the soft, repressed utterance,
and as for the pathos I knew where to put that in my
self." 45 She always knew. And this instinct is not
one that loses anything with the process of time. As
years went on, publicity became existence to her; she
thought in public, as it were, and all her inner life was
lived in the presence of her faithful followers. Do not
take this as in any way contradicting what I have said
above about her charm and about her simplicity. There
is no incompatibility here. It was just because life in
public was so natural and easy to her, because she faced
it without shrinking and without embarrassment, that
she was able to convey herself, all her enthusiasms and
ideals, so directly to others. The stimulus of a crowd
roused her to intenser thought and feeling, just as one
sympathetic auditor rouses others of a different tem
perament. To her, vast numbers were just one sympa
thetic auditor. Hear how shrewd and vivid is her own


statement of this: "To me an audience is like a well-
bred person, quiet, attentive, sympathetic, and, best of
all, not in a position to answer back." 46

And, as she felt the stimulus of an audience when it
was before her, so she gradually came to carry one
always in her mind, to feel that she was living before
the vast audience of the world, and to put into every
action the consciousness that it must be a lesson and
an example. An amiable hostess thoughtlessly invites
her to take a glass of wine when much fatigued. " The
blood flushed in cheek and brow as I said to her,
Madam, two hundred thousand women would lose
somewhat of their faith in humanity if I should drink a
drop of wine/" 47 Think what it must be to feel the
eyes of two hundred thousand women fixed upon you
from the time you wake till the time you sleep again.
This is the way Miss Willard lived.

Perhaps the most curious illustration of the sense of
exemplariness is her "Autobiography." Here is a book
of seven hundred closely printed pages, written by her
self about herself, to be given to the world in her own
lifetime, and the publishers inform us frankly that she
originally wrote twelve hundred pages that had to be
cut down. Assuredly no one ever turned themselves
inside out more absolutely for the improvement of a


Hearkening world. And everywhere the necessity of
setting an example is apparent. This becomes evident
at once, when you compare the simple, natural journals
of Miss Willard s youth with the carefully prepared
matter of the later narrative. Of course nothing is
false, nothing is misrepresented. Yet the consciousness
of edification, the overwhelming nearness of the lecture
platform, are everywhere present.

Now let us analyze a little more fully the effect of
this curious life upon the woman s soul. To begin with,
in the immense work she had undertaken of making
over the world by the power of speech, did she experi
ence alternations of hope and despair, enthusiasm and
discouragement? Most men, and especially most
women, one would think, would have had their hours
of being exalted with the assured confidence of success,
and hours again when blank depression would have
made it seem as if they were beating at a stone wall*
Symptoms of such depression may perhaps be detected
in Miss Willard s "Autobiography," but I have looked
for them curiously and I have found but few indeed.
She had splendid health, she had an even temper, and
she had an unfailing faculty of hope. If she had dark
moments, she concealed them, perhaps out. of considera
tion for the two hundred thousand.


I have also enjoyed probing the personal motives that
lay behind her tremendous and constant effort, for she
herself, in the seven hundred close pages, has invited
such probing too earnestly for any one to resist it. We
have already seen that she aimed to help mankind, set
out to do a noble work in the world, no doubt mainly
for the sake of doing it. Her one sole aim, says her
enthusiastic biographer, "has been to do the will of
God as far as she knew it." 48 But to talk of the sole
aim of any one is perilous. We are not made so neatly
of one piece. Besides her large philanthropy, Miss
Willard had a lot of healthy human ambition, just
plain common desire to be admired and spoken well of
and generally famous. She admits this herself very
freely. "I have been called ambitious, and so I am,
if to have had from childhood the sense of being born
to a fate is an element of ambition." 49 She was keenly
anxious to help on such fate also. In confessing her
faults, she enumerates : " My chief besetments were,
as I thought, a speculative mind, a hasty temper, a too
ready tongue, and the purpose to be a celebrated per
son." 50 She even confesses with admirable frankness
that it hurt her to be excelled by others. "I have
odious little inwardnesses of discomfort when dis
tanced." 51 -


Her ambition was as wide as it was intense. Politics ?
Oh, yes, certainly politics. " Next to a wish I had to
be a saint some day," she tells an audience, "I really
would like to be a politician." 52 Literature? In youth
she feels an overpowering desire to utter great thoughts
and emotions, which she can never quite put into words.
And all her life the same desire haunted her, so that
the immense realized glory of her public achievement
was never thoroughly satisfying. She would have liked
to write something that the future would have read and
read forever. One curious passage from her "Auto
biography " is worth quoting at length, as an illustration
of her mind and temper and also of her frankness of
self-revelation: "Just here I will say, though it is not
usual to reveal one s highest literary ambition, espe
cially when one has failed to attain it, that I am willing
to admit that mine has been during the last thirty years
to write for the Atlantic Monthly ! . . . I have writ
ten for Harper s and had a letter in the Century/
but I have never yet dared offer one to the Atlantic/
Once I went so far as to send its admired editor,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14

Online LibraryGamaliel BradfordPortraits of American women → online text (page 11 of 14)