Helen Hunt Jackson 5-1-I transcription
Helen Hunt Jackson Papers, Part 5, Ms 0351, Box 1, Letterbook I, three
letters from Henry Root to HHJ (then Helen Maria Fiske).
It is not politeness, I assure you, it is not politeness that prompts this answer to that kind, & womanly note of yours - it is not formal etiquette, for I've not been thinking of formal etiquette to-day - I write, not because I think I ought to, but because I can't help it and in doing so, I only gratify a wish that has been constantly clamoring for some gratification ever since I bade you "good-night" - From the time our conversation ended till this very moment, I have been constantly longing in some way or other to tell you how grateful I am - Can I make you believe it? - Be assured I pray you. Those were not ill-chosen words, they were words which went directly to my heart, and they touched a chord there that seldom vibrates - and Oh! believe me, if I was ever grateful, I am grateful to you, & I want to thank you from the very depths of a true heart. Believe me, if you can trust sincerity itself - I know what I am saying, -
It gives you pain to see my sadness occasioned by that remark last evening - I am sorry - but still I must tell you it was unfeigned sadness - It did grieve me, grieve me deeply: those mild & searching looks, those kind & cutting words reached my very heart - and have been living there ever since. I have been so sad. - but it has not been all sadness. No! for I have had pleasant thoughts to-day - perfect sorrow for my error, mingled with a warm, cheering, friendly gratitude to you - You wish that your kind note may dispel some of my sadness? It shall, outwardly, if you wish it; but I cannot but remember - I wont show it to the rest, but I must think about it - And do you think it ought to chase away any of my real sorrows? it seems to me it ought not - I have done wrong - there is no use palliating it - I have been "slowly, and surely wandering" - It is a fact: I am willing to look it in the face - To be sure, there has been no great & startling vice; no gross, outward immorality, to which any one will point you: but it is nevertheless an undeniable fact that I have been "slowly, but surely wandering:" - my prevailing course has been wayward; yes, more; it has been downward! The general tenor of my actions has been inconsistent, totally inconsistent with that real fixedness of purpose which marks the actions of every true man. It is a fact; I know it & you know it - ought I not to. Can I help feeling badly? Is it not humiliating to your self-respect to see your better reason vanquished by any-thing? is it not hard to see those high, & noble hopes for the future, which have given you so many happy hours, to see your noble aims dying; your ambition beginning to falter, and do it all yourself? Is it not hard: is it not humiliating? Do you wonder then at my sadness?
You tell me I have no reason to despair - It is true, and I do not - I am full of hopes - & the future is even now all filled with fairy scenes, all glittery in the dew drops of there new existence; but still a cloud hangs, and must hang over it: it is the doleful memory of the bitter past - the bold, though unwelcome fact, of my utter inability to be what I might once have been: it is the realization that there was a point I might have reached, an ideal I might have equalled, but that point, & that ideal are with the past forever lost! & the ghosts of those "noble purposes that have been slaughtered by folly, or rather died from sheer neglect, must walk with me a while.
You tell me to "let the dead past ring it's dead" I will let it, if it will. But still should not the remembrance, think you, of time mis-spent, of privileges misimproved be to me a beacon light to warn me from the breakers? And oh! my friend, may not your sympathetic friendship be a good spirit, that shall beckon me on in the path of rectitude?
One word more; I will trouble you no longer - I have known you but a few days: but I have talked with you as I never talked with a friend before: in perfect frankness, and perfect honesty - I never felt such confidence in a woman before - Your candid, kind criticism and your soothing sympathy have won imperceptibly my complete confidence, and firm friendship - and you shall ever have them - The hours I have passed with you have been few, but they have been exceedingly pleasant: and should our acquaintance, I hope it may not, end with the few remaining days of this, I shall always thank God that I have been honored with the friendship of such a person as yourself - Exalted talents to claim my admiration; a pure heart, my sincere affection - my highest admiration, & my sincere affection are yours; and in closing this letter, dear Helen (& forgive me if I do wrong) let me assure you that wherever you may go there shall go with you I. Warmest sympathies of an honest heart; the unfeigned gratitude & affection of yr truly Sincere friend Henry D. Root
"A penny for your thoughts, my very dear friend, I'll tell you what mine were, when I re'cd your kind letter. I happened to go to the office myself last evening & my delightful surprise hardly that you could easily imagine - I opened the box, took out several letters, & papers, & among them one for myself - with a very peculiar superscription. I did not look at the post-mark: for it bore such a meaning smile upon it's very face, that I immediately recognized it as the bearer of good tidings to my heart; Oh, how I welcomed it! had you been concealed there & silently watched the successive revelations of my unfortunately transparent face, it would have taken but a very little of y'r penetration to effectively scatter all doubts you might have had of my grateful joy at it's reception - It came so unexpectedly, so modestly, & yet with such a power, right to my inner self, that it seemed to me altogether too sacred a thing to be unceremoniously thrown into a box, as a companion of business letters, Rail Road documents & etc.; it seemed to me, I remember, that it ought to have been honored with, that the infinite superiority of it's nature: to all financial, & business communications demanded a mode of conveyance, altogether difficult, from the common public mail - bag. But my delight did not suffer such critical distinctions to remain long: for these thoughts gave way to pleasanter ones - All the rest of the articles were disposed of in a very summary manner I assure you: rudely thrust into my pocket in a body, & I held my now friendly visitor alone in my hand - Then I began to display some of my emotion. Why, in my natural, & often unfortunate enthusiasm, I snapped my fingers, frisked about in the office, & "in short," I suppose I made a perfect fool of myself - at any rate, when I afterwards reviewed my actions I remember how grateful I felt that no one was there to see me at the time, for it would have proved the certain death to any pretensions to dignity which it sometimes seems necessary to make: I never should have dared afterwards to shoulder any of that convenient article, or claim any other name than "little Henry Root, the happy school-boy" - My first impulse was to read the letter, "instantaneously": but my judgement soon got the better of my impulse, I quietly & resolutely put it into my pocket, & started for home; constantly summoning to my aid a longitudinal extent of features, which was truly heart rending; & as constantly feared lest, by my very looks, & actions, & possibly even by my words, I should tell every body I met, that I'd got a letter from Miss Helen M. Fiske." But suffice it to say, that, with great exertion, I managed to keep it a profound secret, all to myself, till I got to room; then I read it, with alternately a calm, & extravagant delight, till I finished it. I was happy in reading it; I am happy in thinking about it: & thats enough on this topic: let me, however, gratify y'r woman's curiosity, & answer the "only important question of y'r deliberations," by telling you how your document was disposed of - After I had read it, I folded it nicely, placed it carefully in the left, inside, breast pocket of my frockcoat, having first enclosed it in the portfolio of my journal - where it remains at present, very near me as I write you. This, and any future disposition of it will not, I trust, be inconsistent with either y'r "long held principle, or inclination"; but if it should prove so, please write me, & it's locality should be instantly changed. -
It seems to me you gave y'r unpretendness account of those few days, altogether too pompous a title: grant it was a journal: it proved, unlike most, a very interesting one to me - Yr account of yr ride to Belchertown was as amusing as no doubtless the scenes which called it forth - By the way, I have just been reading a letter I have re'cd from Mr. Frain, in which he speaks of yr ride with a great deal of apparent self-complacency; how he'd feel if he knew I was writing to you anything about him; his feminine curiosity, would, I fear, be dangerously excited, & you know his jealousy always prompted an evil eye towards our change of thoughts, & purposes - You see I have had quite a fine time at Prof. [Lyen's?] and he let me take the opportunity of writing to you my hearty thanks, & congratulations for y'r successful extraction of so fine a compliment, from so mean a source; it must have y'r own good tact, & a surplus of the Professor's amiability combined, I think, which could alone produce so happy a result - Many thanks to y'rself & my congratulations to the Professor, his superior & & unaccountable judgement. he has, most certainly for once, shown himself a man of good taste -
You said nothing about our promised conversation on the evening preceeding my departure: whether it was known, or not? though I conclude for what Iris Emerson said (who, by the way) passed through town a day or two since, on her way to the far famed Heath-) that he might as well have stopped at ten o-clock of that P.M. as at the following A.M. for all any of the enquiring family would have known of it: Since, as usual, their eyes, & ears differed exceedingly in their mode of operation for our own - I suppose not when the issue of better for it, saw ourselves; and I am sure, I was -
You referred to Emily Fowler - she is now with my sister & has been for some time - I went to Williamstown to Commencement, & while I was gone, my sister dispatched a letter to her; her own desire to see her, conquering my prejudices against her visit - We have been riding to day; the two girls in a carriage by themselves seemed to enjoy their mutual conversation: while I followed alone on horseback - my thoughts constantly wandering away, I must confess, towards Worcester - Emily is a very fine girl - a person of great talent - but - Oh! What a deal of scandal is there in a "but" - so I'll explain it - I mean simply this - that, though her talents are of a very high order, & must demand universal admiration, there still are one or two traits in her character, which are perhaps the natural attendants of other good qualities, but which are nevertheless, unfortunate & unwomanly in the extreme - Her ambition is doubtless the prime cause of her superiority; but I have sometimes feared lest it might also be the mother of a very peculiar, & wicked jealousy - which sometimes masters her good sense, & benevolence - I may be uncharitable - if I am, I ask pardon: but it does seem to me that she often betrays such a jealousy - I have tried her in talking of third persons nor has your own name, my very dear friend, been wholly absent from our conversation; and I have sorrowfully found that the praise of remarkable talents in her Equals was awfully galling to her ardent love of admiration. I do not mean to say that she said anything to y'r disparagement: she did not: on the other hand she paid you a fine tribute - but she would her own infer, perhaps unintentionally, that y'r gifts resulted from an experience of more years than you have passed - Anything but jealousy in a woman!
That was a beautiful extract which you so kindly sent me - It seems to me that Emerson takes a thrilling, & awakening, even though it does not always prove a practical view of life - That was an eminently true & beautiful idea - & that "unbelief" of which he speaks is the legitimate offspring of the unique, practical & enquiring mind. We are so much individuals that we can't trust but must each satisfy our own reason: and so practical that we want work, when we can't see the fruit - Yes it is true, I think: but should we not fear lest in the pride of our reason, we forget there is such a thing as a humble faith? -
And now, my very dear friend, in closing let me thank you for writing me - I might have dashed all my present, & prospective pleasure in this longed for correspondence, had I seen you as you sat biting your pen that morning: for I probably could not have refrained presenting to you some very hasty & unwise entreaties, that you would silence my suspense by a solemn promise to write you - I assure you I should not have been an indifferent spectator of y'r progress in deciding what to do - I had earnestly desired it might be brought about, before I dared proffer my request: but when I did, & it met so cool a reception from you, my friend, I did feel badly - how badly, you dont know -
Then the unwelcome thought pressed itself upon me, that all the great pleasure, which I had experienced in our strange friendship, was to be so transient, & effectually end there - but y'r native kindness has given it, I trust, a longer life - and I do heartily thank you for it. It will dispel some, perhaps all the darkness, which anticipation had thrown around my next year - I had looked forward to a year of comparative lonely introversion: I had supposed that I should have to make the memory of that pleasant fortnight my unsatisfying, but principal comfort - but if I can talk with you as "friend talketh with friend": if I can occasionally receive from you those genuine words of sympathy, Oh! I am indeed grateful, and Helen, you know I am -. Y'r letters will come to me like heart treasures, which will be my companions, & will strengthen me for action - & if by my letters to you, my friend, I can afford you the slightest pleasure, or give you the least assurance of my high regard, & constant friendship for yourself, they will be gladly written.
But it is very late: & I must close - long, long past mid-night, & you are doubtless sleeping - pleasant dreams to you -
With many a wish for y'r welfare, & a hearty warm "good night"
believe me as ever
Your very sincere friend
Henry D. Root Do, do pardon me for so long a letter - I began & couldn't stop - One thing more - I didn't like at all the aspect of yr envelope - The North East corner of it was stamped with an impression entirely too business-like for your letters - Please give me next, and as soon as you can, a plain envelope - with only my name and residence & I'll thank you.
Y'r very kind letter was received in due time, or rather not in time to meet y'r intentions, or be the first to greet me here - since it reached Amherst last Monday, while the Thursday evening of the preceeding week saw me safely back again, & nicely "fixed" in my room - Let me tell you a little about my reception, & the subsequent scenes -
I first went over to Mrs. E's - to get the key to my room - saw the refined, & gentlemanly Elder bro. of the young, & fascinating ladies?, & the particularly omnipresent Laura, and Fanny, or, as the Authoress of "Olive" would say, "poor Fanny" -
It's too bad to append this last to the preeceding; it's too bad to speak of Fanny thus in jest, & to talk of her misfortune this triflingly: but it isn't for want of feeling; it isn't that I haven't often thought of her, & pitied her from the very bottom of my heart - for I often have: I've often thought she was of a finer mould than the rest: she was born with less mental deformity than some others: that she did have by nature some refinement, perhaps no little Either, susceptible of high culture - I've sometimes thought that if different suns could have shined on her, if she could have been joined with different people for her companions, she would have made a far different woman - there would never have come over her that cold selfishness, which the sullen consciousness of her own inferiority, & the dogged resolve to outlive it all, have inevitably brought upon her - for she seems to me, sometimes, when the full conviction forced itself upon her, that she had neither, physical beauty to win wealth, or mental to win power, when she feared she might never be truly loved, and while still, with woman's natural, & enchanting trait, she longed to love, & be loved. She does seem to me then to have formed high & noble resolves to turn within -, & live in self-culture: but then, when she found there nothing to satisfy her ideas, no depth of soul, sufficient to mirror back her aspirations, then, totally dissatisfied with herself, she seems to have come back again into the external world, determining not to care whether any-one loved her, or no, & resolving that she'd live by herself alone, & grimly bear her loneliness -
Such has she seemed to me: and when I've seen her long for a friend; when I've seen her struggling to repress emotions she dared not let live: I have pitied her from the bottom of my heart, but I never could else than pity her - compassion may argue a benevolent heart: it does not imply more - I kindly think I could ever love one, whom I first knew, to pity - for my bestowing pity on them implies their own inferiority to myself - & this has implications so inconsistent with the necessary foundation of love - an exalted admiration for personal superiority in the object of my affection - But I'm all off talking about abstract character - "What a bog Henry Root is: he's always talking about character - character!" "He can't talk about anything else" - I told you I went for my key: Fanny gave it to me - I went to my room - what a strange company of thoughts crowded upon me, as I entered my old house - all the past, I then thought, came rapidly before me: but I afterward found not quite all; for other scenes were still more fruitful. I had been spending a funny vacation - a vacation crowded with the most pleasing memories of the past, & high resolves for the future - The term had fairly begun - & with queer, & mysterious emotions in my one call - I should have felt lonely, but for the dear, good, old, tried friend I found in the rembrance of pleasure, & I availed myself fully of it's friendship - It needed no help from within - for almost every scene I met brought to mind the Commencement week - the quiet yard - the lonely, desolate parlor - the vacated chair by y'r window - the seat in the alcove - all these were fruitful in the most pleasing recollection & were clothed with a sanctity in my eyes to which all the rest were strangers, & to which I wanted the should be - I walked around the parlor alone, & my imagination would constantly people all the chairs with their appropriate occupants until I worked myself into the most perfect self-complacing imaginable: into the pleasing consciousness that I knew more than they did - that they knew nothing of the long, good, kind talk with which you so kindly favored me - of the kind, & Helen, I hope in some measure effective reproof you gave me - that they knew nothing of those words which had passed between us - in fine, that they knew nothing in comparison with myself - This most pleasing complacency was a good companion to begin the term with, & I thank you for it -
But there was one thing which brought up the past more vividly than all this - it was the humble request, at the supper table, that "the Lord would help us to feed in His fear" - I only wish you had been there. You could not have restrained an involuntary giggle, any more than myself an involuntary "grunt": it was almost too much: & it required an enormous draft on my newly acquired Senior dignity to preserve my gravity; but I was ultimately successful -"fed" in due fear, & then went to walk - Then came slowly marching up one of those splendid moons -
By the way Helen, what a strange thought that was of y'rs about the moon! it was of the same family as the "Virgin Mary" I guess, wasn't it? but it was beautiful though, & so pleasant - I love to think of it; but still I love to think that not all the sisterhood are dead: that the new moon which I see, is a sister to the one that's gone: I love to feel that the calm, peaceful, melancholy smile, which is always resting on her features is one of sympathy - that we have common sorrows: she for her departed sister, & I for my friend - & thus can we make friends of each other; talk together of old scenes gone by - so it is pleasant for me to welcome each new moon, & make it my friend - so did I that first night at Amherst & I enjoyed it finely - But enough of this journal -
You inferred from what [Sasha?] said that the Brattleborough trip given up? Well, so it was as he was concerned - for I thought he wouldn't be either a convenient, or particularly desirable addition to an unexpected wedding party, & so, in a letter to him, I made the suddenness of the affair a sufficient excuse for the abandonment of our intended trip, but coolly told him, at the same time, that I should go, as I did -
I suppose that was the letter which contained those "respects" to yourself - I wasnt aware that I had sent so cool a dose, or any message at all - the fact is, I suppose he was a little at loss what to say, & so framed that message - so you can offer your thanks to him for it, & not to me, since it was purely a product of his own manufacture.
You thought he'd have a more favorable opinion of you? I am exceedingly sorry to crush any of yr fond anticipations: but still, even at the risk of it's proving your view, I must tell you, they were totally without foundation! So far from being pleased excessingly, he was confirmed in his previous views - "If you have tears" & etc -
In talking with me about yr'self, he seemed laboring awfully to say something he couldnt, he had an idea of the kind of treatment he thought you bestowed upon him - I saw what he wanted, & suggested "patronizing" - he instantly grasped at the word, & has been echoing it ever since - Your hopes were vain - you'll have to "tack" again -
Yr allusion to a correspondence with "Sue" I'll confess I didnt "take" - either from a remarkable degree of "obtusion" , or because I was too much rejoiced at the reception of the letter, to once think of "Sue" - I was very sorry indeed "Sue" had gone to Baltimore - I had thought how I should enjoy her friendship - but it's "all for the best" - comprehensive faith isn't it? -
I had wanted to say something about Emily Fowler's love of admiration of which you spoke in such praiseworthy terms - the excessive length of this letter forbids it - I will only answer your question - You say that "jealous [misinformation?]" had it's foundation in fact, & ask me if I did't know y'r age - To be sure, my dear friend, I did know it exactly; not at the same time, are you not aware that there are traits of character that are talents, which are gifts of nature, & to which even the longevity of a Methusaleh could not attain -
St. Leger I have not read: "Olive" I am now reading, & am exceedingly interested in it - I have not yet fallen in love with "Olive", but perhaps I may - if I do, I'll tell you in my next -
I wish, my very dear friend, I could see you before you go to Albany - I'd try hard for some of those thoughts you say you wouldnt let me have - Oh! Let me have some soon, very soon, in your next letter -
I look forward constantly, you can't think how constantly & pleasantly, to the reception of y'r letters - they are so good; so kind, Helen; so much like the noble words you used to speak to me - let me have them as soon as you can - You wont offer any more apologies for long letters - after you see this - I'll risk thats - And I wont offer any for mine - although no matter, I'll let it go -
Balais Sanford was in my room last evening, he said he said he saw all three of you (yrself, yr sister, & Miss L) - in Boston watching the procession - that you seemed to be enjoying it etc. . While he was talking with me, there came over him that peculiar expression (luckily so?) I-don't-know-what-to-call-it-feature. I wanted to hear yr comment upon it after he had gone - but I couldn't - & was left to recall the past again -
But I have been writing on, & on till I see it is 12-40 P.M. - & I must close - Let me hear from you, my very dear friend, as soon as convenient after y'r arrival at Albany - I shall wait - I suppose you know what "wait" means. So gratify me as soon as you can -
With many thanks for yr last letter
believe me as ever
Yr sincere friend
H. D. Root - P.S. I am not over-sensitive on that point you spoke of -
If you will feel happier; if it will, as you think, keep our letters on a "footing" more agreeable to y'rself, & more consistent with yr notions of "propriety", that there sh'd be no change - Why, Helen, Of course, I will gladly yield & although it would be be perhaps of little pleasanter that there shd be one - good night - Henry
I hope you'll not hesitate at all to write to write to Sue - I know she'd
be delighted to have you -
maintained by Special Collections; last revised, 9-2006, jr