Helen Hunt Jackson letters to Charlotte Cushman at the Library of Congress
Original letters in the Charlotte Cushman Papers at the Library of Congress, MSS17525, bound volume 11, D-J. Transcribed by Nancy Knipe from photocopies, 2011.
[First page is difficult to read because verso has copied through, therefore transcription contains many gaps and guesses]
If you think you can guess how this last note of yours [pleased? every drop & more of me,] -- You can’t! and if I try to tell you, and you think you understand me, you won’t! But I shall not try; [I might dare to tell?] you though that I had seen in print that you were very ill & that the news so fitted my instinct & alarm at not knowing, that I have been for a [month?] as sure [as all you were?] but [unreadable] now that I [have …..?] read and reread it, [with every line believably?] like you, beloved, glorious, vital woman! How you [triumph?] and conquer; no wonder we who may love you as we do—with the love we have for women & the love we have for men, set into one love [unlike?] all others. My Queen [Carissima?] – I do not believe you will come to Newport; I can not believe in [medicine?] so [several lines unreadable….] I had not quite said I would go there myself though I have in the bottom of my [heart?...] that I should face my [indecisiveness/
… gone for the winter, and I [get misgiving?] how I should thrive on a sole [diet?] of self; but now I shall go. Ha! I think I see myself being under any other sky than the one over your head, when that was within my reach. Oh, shall I come daily and sit at feet of you? Are you sure you will bear with being wearied of me?
I write today – your note came yesterday, -- to that sweetest of souls, Wentworth Higginson, to ask him to [make?] question immediately about a house, and write telling you all things. You see I do not mean to go there myself till Nov. 1st, and time should not be lost; he will be more than willing; he has had time longing for you to come; more than once he has said, “Oh, so you really believe she ever will?” – Will you keep ready to love him a little for my sake, in the beginning, Regina; after the beginning you will find his own sake better; but I suppose you will have to forgive him a little in the outset, as I did in being such a [radical radical?] [sic]. It is strange – he is gentlest and more loving of men; like a tender woman in many ways, with all his strengths; [rare?] too, and merry in midst of his long hard life. Ah, I know you will be sure friend of him: -- and it will be a [Carissima?] to him to have you there. You know there are not live people in Newport! Most do not read – still less think; some one of ideas is startling in that air; I wonder if you will bring enough with you to live on all the year round! I get on because I have time in the house, to think & write --, and I go to New York also for odd weeks many times in the winter; moreover I am [sickly?] much of the time. – But I am afraid you will be [shocked?] at things said to you. Still I don’t know many of the people; I may do them a little [less?] than justice; they are [chiefly?] conservative high Church people, & I confess I don’t understand that kind of creature. You will see, I am so selfish though, -- don’t care a farthing if you are bored! I want you so to come! At least one winter will not weary you, the truth is wicked. Newport is the only place in America to lead [me/one?] [unreadable] unless you have the [hands?] of a polar bear, and can speak Hebrew! in which [case you can breathe Boston each night, and attend the social gatherings of the Enlightenment of the Brain Club!]
Darling [Queen?] I am a little flighty you see, never mind. I shall get used to thinking that you are coming; my [head?] begs How shall I show you ?, I wonder! Will you call [this loving you?] the poor darling has been looking this summer! I ache for her; [many?] things have gone [hardly?] with her while I have been floating on rosy clouds and content. Another year perhaps you will come and look at [my?] Bethlehem, the air is wonderfully clear and restorative, nothing like it this side of the Colorado plains. Agassiz is here resting his brain; & gaining fast. Mrs. Agassiz I [generally] like. The Goddards have been here and Mrs. Ruskin the (New) Edition is that odious Revolution – also the Independent’s managing Editor & his wife, those simple ones. Beyond these the crowd has come “alive” forty five (and fifty in this house); too many, but it is over now thank Heavens, and we are quiet. My dear Woolseys from New Haven, have come for a month, and we shall “do” the autumn gloriously.
Regina, think of me having actually counted every cent I have spent this summer! I am saving all my income for a great venture in the fall, which I will tell you when you come; but I feel as proud as a man or a peacock to think I could support myself for three months!
Col. Higginson will write to you about the houses. I am afraid that nothing under $1200 or $1300 a year will be large enough for you. Will that be too dear? Furnished houses are really [luxurious?] in America you know. Oh for the luxury of “apartments,” such as our finds in Europe! There is no possible boarding in Newport I think which would suit you, you couldn’t live a day in the little plain [Quaker?] house where the Higginsons and I [sun?] ourselves. I couldn’t either, except for my dear little sitting room with a bay window, the [quiet?] all day long, and all their [fire?] Oh to think that you will sit in my arm chair & rock like a baby -- yes, a cry baby [I?] fancy it. –
Once we get you here that wonderful [Luggiare?] with his electrical [units?] will clear every trail of trouble away from your dear body. There is no sham or cheat about him. I have seen with my own eyes the old lady of whom Mrs. Botta wrote you; she must be seventy years old; and has no physique at all; it is a miracle to think of her being [cured?]
Now this letter is as long as it should be. If it tells you one thing, that is enough. When you can, just tell me the good news over again! I shall grow less and less [?] of it day by day.
Goodbye. God bless you, and bring you. Perhaps you & Miss Stebbins will kiss each other for me – and Mrs. Cushman too. Will she count me among those who are friends? Regina Cara, I love you.
May 17 – 1871
Darling Queen Woman,
Am left disquieted. You looked so tired. Will you ever rest? So much giving out of vitality as you did in Boston can’t but hurt you. You are caring down your life for others daily. I suppose you can’t help it. But if you only could!
Nothing new here. I have been on my lounge for three days, but had, on the while, the most comfortable and natural illness I have had since December. I am certainly very much better than when the winter began.
Don’t say it is not good for me to be here. It hurts and troubles me, to have a point in all my thinking or living, which is out of harmony with your wish or your judgement. My Great Grand darling! Some day when I see you more quietly perhaps I can [give?] you to see all as I see it; -- most of all – to do justice to the sweetest patientest most self sacrificing human soul that ever walked in chains! – You can’t tell me of any fault I do not see. I know some which you do not.
“I see each failure he must make
Each slip he cannot but mistake
And weeping for his soul’s dear sake,
I set my faith – with – love’s own seal!”
God bless you Sweet [?]! I kiss your hands – and love you with every single bit of me there is !!
It was only my own verses which I wanted to send you, the one I had told you of before, the [Resurgance?].”
It seemed incongruous after I had left you, that I should have made such strenuous efforts to reach you with them at once.
But I had the feeling that you were setting out on the most trackless of journeyings, and that I should never hit you anywhere.
Oh, my dear Queen, it grieves me that I cannot see you. I never dreamed that you would wander off so early. I thought I should come and sit at your feet, in your own house, for three or four days, as you asked me, in the beginning [of?] my winter. But I shall certainly overtake you once more, either at Providence or Boston. I shall not call that last hurried look a Goodbye.—
It makes me anxious when I recollect how tired you looked Thursday night. Oh, do not run risks with your precious self. Think how we love you.—
Give me just half a minute, some day, not much more – and send me the list of your engagements that I may know where you are to be. Perhaps, I may hear you more than once. The [Hocabus?] rings in my ears still – and the “Lying together in silence”! I never knew what a poem that was till I heard you read it.
I wish you could have seen Adams [Ayer?] that night, the man I told you of, who was with me; he is deaf in one ear; he heard every word you said! -- He is a simple hearted quiet gentle person; he lost color under the [Hocabus?]! At end of it, he said, “That is all I can bear.” -- The next day he said, “I am hearing her all the time”! Oh you grand darling woman, do you realize what it is to be so great as you are! And then to have your heart too! When I said to him “Her heart is as great as her genius”, he sighed and said, “If there can be such women why are there not more.” He has a story poor fellow. All the men I see now-a-days have. My sympathies are fast going over to their side as the side on the whole of the greatest suffering and oppression. –
Miss Woolsey and I are alone here. The woods are ablaze; my little [den?] also, with as much of the woods as I can get in. Oh will you ever ever [sic] see my Bethlehem.
God bless you my [L---?] Lady. Goodnight -- Your faithful love Helen H
[added note on first page: Do you want some bright leaves & [ferns?] [unreadable] out next? I am pressing sections of the [unreadable]
I am so disappointed – I can’t come to Boston tomorrow, as I had planned. A friend is coming from Philadelphia, to spend a week with me, and has gone on, putting it off from day to day until now he writes that he will be due on Tuesday!—
Now where will you be, through November? I shall come down from these bleak and stormy heights early in that month; and must see you somewhere. I shall be in Boston, New York, perhaps in Newport; and shall decide then what to do for the winter. I am disquieted with this climate. Three weeks tomorrow have I been in it, and only ten days have I seen without storms. And even the days called fine, when the sun shines are so cloudy, that they seem dark to me, after the Colorado blaze of sunlight.
I send this to care of my Trustee in Boston, begging him to ascertain your address there, and I hope you will get it on Tuesday [Am?] but I am grieved not to hear that dear grand voice tomorrow night. I do so hope you are still to read in N. York, when I can be there. Goodnight -- Your faithful Helen H.
I hope you got my note in Boston, explaining that I was left here by a friends coming to spend a week with me. – I did not know your address so sent it to my Trustee, who gave it to the Clerk at Music Hall. – I did not so much grieve over that disappointment because I felt sure of seeing you in New York. I had planned to be there, the last of next week, for a week with my sister, and a week with Mrs. Botta. – But I begin now to fear that I shall not get there at all. Of course you have noticed the accounts of the fresh outbreak of diphtheria. Even friends who laughed at me for my fears in September, now beg me to stay away.
When do you set out for California? – I think it very possible that I may be in Colorado to welcome you when you come back; it feels less and less as if I should stay here. The gloom and gray of these skies and the wet and pinch of this air are odious to me. My throat burns perpetually, and I feel a sword swinging over my head all the time.
How gloriously [Will?] Winter (is it?) has written of you in the Tribune. No word so true, so satisfying to my heart has ever been said of you before. – I shall always keep one of those articles to read to people when I try to tell them as I sometimes do, what you are, off the stage, to people who love you and whom you love.
What can I ever say, -- what can I ever do – for this dear letter written with your own hand, where to write was such pain! I feel guilty at being glad of it; but I cannot help being glad all the same.
Indeed I will come and stay a day, or two with you at Lenox. Nothing that could happen would give me such pleasure as to sit at your feet again for a few hours. But I think I would better not go with you. The journey will tire you. You ought not to be spoken to by the way; and you ought to rest for some days after getting there, before seeing any one. So I will wait; but I will come any day you name; -- and if you will let me know what day you go through Worcester, I will come down, and kiss you at the station. The trains stop five minutes; that would be long enough.
I hope you will go at once. I can’t bear to think of your spending one ounce of strength in bearing up under that enervating Newport air.-- I do not know another air so subtly undermining as that is to me. -- I see by my new life now what I have been robbed of by the N. England sea coast
I suppose that there are persons whom it suits and who need it; the people who are obliged to flee from Colorado because they cannot sleep there, for instance, long for the sea, inexplicably. I know a woman in Denver who is literally dying by inches from the over stimulus of the nerves; she has not slept without opiates for months; she told me that she dreamed night after night of the sea. She so longs for it; she is nearly well as soon as she gets to it, though she is a much diseased woman. – Now I sleep like a top – even in Colorado! – and here by the sea, I sleep night and day too! – I have had hard work to keep from nodding here, every moment since I came.
Dear old Mrs. Cross came this morning with Mrs. Emmons and took Mrs. Hunt and me for a fine drive toward the [Crescent?] of the Beach, Little Boars Head &c. It is to me a most uninteresting sea coast, -- so inferior to Newport; the great charm of the region is in the quaint old life here. – The apple trees, and the farmhouses. The apple orchards look fairly twisted with astonishment at the gay world which has come in; since I was here the tone of the place has changed marvelously. Little Boars Head where I spent two months twelve years ago, in a primitive farmhouse, is now a sort of Brighton promontory, -- full of villas with names, and Mrs. [Secretary?] Robeson’s flag flying on the breeze! –
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your warm words about my marriage. It is a joy to have somebody glad of it, for most of my friends seem only dismayed – and think evidently that I have taken leave of my last sense; and as I have such mighty misgivings myself, such things disturb me. My misgivings are much more for Mr. Jackson than for myself however. He deserves a much better wife than I can possibly make; and he needs a different sort of woman; but he will never see this [crossed out: and I only] unless we are married, and I can only pray he may not after! Why do you say to me, Dear Queen, “only stick to it.” -- I do not come of a race of liars – and having taken eighteen months to determine to give my word, I shall most surely abide by it, unless something were to happen to change all things, and make it plainly my duty to abandon the plan. One thing is certain that I do not marry with any romantic illusions to be [displaced?]; any ideal to be shattered. I have sat opposite this man three times a day, at meals, for nearly two years. He has spent about every hour out of business hours in my presence! I know every foible, & fault he possesses. I know all he is not! -- But he rests me; and I trust him to the core, which is what I have seldom felt of an man. I think he is very much what old Mr. Crow must have been twenty years ago; -- You can form from that perhaps some idea of the marvelousness of my being brought to think it possible to marry him. I know perfectly well that I haven’t a friend in the world who will not wonder on seeing him; I know perfectly well that there will be moments where he will jar on my taste, or my prejudices or conventional customs, so that I shall turn red; -- but – of all the men I have known who would never have jarred me, that way, there has not been one of whom I should be so sure of never having to blush at heart, for a meanness or a falsity which I alone knew! He is truth, and uprightness itself -- & as sunny as sunshine; and he has won me to care for him by so slow a winning that I am persuaded it must last. Forgive this egotism. I know you love me enough to care; and I know I love you so much that to have you glad and sure I am right is more to me than to have all the rest sorry!
I stay with Mrs. Hunt today and tomorrow – and go back to Princeton on Sat. She looks well, but is full of the troubles. When is there to be any rest for her! -- Farewell beloved Queen. – Your faithful H.H.
[The following seems to be a copy of a poem Charlotte Cushman wrote out, with initials ESH noted at the bottom of the four verses. ]
Tomorrow – and the tide has ebbed away
These last three verses are fine aren’t they, dear people! & now I am going to copy for you an unknown of H.H.’s which you must not tell [about … it]
H.H. from unpublished poem
[The following text seems to come from a letter written by Charlotte Cushman to C.G. page 1 is missing]
“oh God, who in they dear still heaven
How deep must be thy causal [sic] love,
The Little leaven
[The following picks up HHJ correspondence again, with first part of letter apparently missing, although content may refer to some of poems above.]
Sentimental school, and these two last ones have been so much less noticed and praised than the others were, that it has discouraged me. I wish the artistic temperament were not so dependent on praise and recognition. It is a subtle source of strength no doubt as well as of weakness; -- this need of recognition; but it is a source of pain. I suppose there is no artist in the world who does not have hours, or days, of feeling that he has no power whatsoever, that it has been all a presumption and mistake. As for the mysterious interdependence of soul and body in the artist nature – it frightens me, to realize it. – I, my whole self, can cease to exist, in a twenty four hours time, if the rascally mucous membrane in which I am sheathed, sees fit to swell up a millionth of an inch, or turn red, a shade or two!
You ask why I do not send you my verses occasionally, Regina. Partly this distrust of them all; partly an ever increasing dislike of the manual labor of writing; partly because I have written fewer, of late. Last year the two Saxe Holms, and the Colorado Letters were the chief of my work. In Bethlehem, last October, I wrote “Room” which you seem not to have got. I shall write to Roberts asking him to send it again. It must have missed you on some road. It is the longest poem I have written; too long and too sad to be popular but it was “laid on me” to write it. I am now at work on another long poem “The Lost Symphony” – I hope it will be good.
As soon as you return to Newport my dear friend Miss Sarah Woolsey “Susan Coolidge who wrote the delicious “New Years Bargain”, will come to see you with a note from me. The Woolseys are probably to buy a house in Newport and I know that Sally will be a woman after your own heart. As for her, the town will become transformed to her once you are in it. She finds it hard to like the place heartily, as indeed any one must who demands clever people in plenty; and Sally has had too long a taste for Boston to like anything else, or less, very much. (Do not tell her I am S.H. She believes but does not know it. She is not one I could trust with the secret.) They have been living in my old rooms at Mrs. Dames for two months, and strange to say, like the Newport climate!
I saw Mrs. Wm. Hunt in Boston. How I wish I could talk with you about that sad tragedy of those two lives. She seems to me like some grand old heroic creature out of another age. How she has stood in the breach for that untrue soul; even William Hunt’s art is no longer true to me – I find his falseness between my eyes and the picture all the time; and yet, I know that the picture is the same it always was.
If I come East in May, I shall find you in Newport? I think now that I shall come then. Perhaps people will have told you that I have been very near staying here the rest of my life. It has seemed to me almost possibly to do it but not quite. I think this is one reason I have not written to you. I have thought each week, I might have that to tell you. When I sit at your feet, I will tell you the whole story. It is an uncommon one, and will touch you. It is a strange thing in the life of a woman organized as I am, and who has had the experience that I have, -- that the only man who has compelled me seriously to think of marrying, should be a plain unvarnished, comparatively uneducated business man. – But so it is, and when I go away from him in the spring, I shall miss his simple-hearted, quiet, patient devotion out of my life, more than I have ever yet missed anything a man had to give me! He is one of the three absolutely pure souled and upright men I have every known – Did you ever notice any of Gilder’s sonnets in Scribners, in the “Old Cabinet”? – He who has married Helena de Kay? – They were lovelier than anybody’s since Petrarchs, and now I hear that a baby is to come to them; (to Gilder and Helena I mean, not to the sonnets!) – and much I wonder what soul will be born to that artist woman & poet man. – By the way, he wrote me last fall, & asked me if I dared ask you for the stick with which you played Meg [Meinties?] that last immortal time in N. York? He said that he & Helena would keep it enshrined as long as they lived.
Dear Queen, this is a long and egotistical letter; -- all the suppressed letters of the last four silent months, poured out in one. – I shall be ashamed of it after it is gone.
If Miss Stebbins is with you, give my dear love to her – and to you, oh my beloved Regina, goes in this letter, -- the whole soul of allegiance from
Your fond & faithful, H.H.
Dear Queen, -- Not having gold & silver to buy anything worthy for you, -- I thought of this. But now having done it, I am seized with a misgiving that it is horrible impudence in me to suppose that you would like a great book of my verses! I tried very hard to get a smaller book however; give me credit for that, but I could not find any thinner ones, in which the page was large enough.—
Never but once before have I done this thing, -- and that was for a man; Nor no woman in the world but you, -- our great sweet darling, -- have I done it; from no other woman have words of praise been so dear and helpful to me.
This is all my apology; if for this, you cannot forgive me, what shall I do! But I know your goodness too well; I am not afraid.
Where shall I kiss you again, after tonight? I think, in America, next. – God keep you till then.
Most that I would say I cannot. I am dumb at Goodbyes; they are a species of dying -- and hurt almost worse than the greater thing they are like; for that shines out so full of compensations. If I were going to Heaven, I should not miss you so much as I shall in Malvern! – Now and then I will reach out and feel if you are in Italy; but I will not tire you. God bless you, for all the sweet help & joy your words have given me.
Always so –
maintained by Special Collections; last revised, 7-2011, jr