Letter from MARY CHURCHILL BAIRD to CAROLINE CRANE MARSH, dated September 6, 1852.
My dear friend,
Both my husband and my conscience have been reproaching me for some time for not writing to you. Spence has no charity for such remissness, as he is never guilty of it, and seems to know nothing of the meaning of procrastination. I am afraid he would make a poor business of "writing a composition" on that famous subject. That I have not written sooner is not because I have not thought of you, but we have been involved in a succession of uncertainties, and I have been waiting to get to the end of some of them in order to tell you our plans for the summer; the end of the summer has come, but there is just as much unsettled in the future, and probably always will be.
We left Washington the first of July and went to Carlisle, where we staid a month
with Mr. Baird's mother, and it was high time for us to be off to some such place,
for with toothache & tooth-pulling, and more hard work than any other man in
Washington had done I'll venture to say, Spence had made a mere "specimen" of
himself, almost a skeleton, and really owned himself rather worn out. I believe he
actually was 12 hours in Carlisle (8 of which were wasted in sleep) before he
commenced any kind of work. Fortunately, various other relations were in
town visiting, and the clattering of women's tongues was so great that he was forced to flee from one part of the house to the other continually in search of quiet, and never finding it, so that he had to give up diffusing knowledge among men and listen to the women. The only relief he had was ransacking garrets to find old letters and papers for Col. Force, incurring thereby the semi-annual gratitude of good housekeepers, who say that this riddance of trash will greatly lessen the burden of housecleaning. With short stops in New York, Philadelphia, and New Haven, we came on here, where we have been joined by mother and father, and expect Lizzie and Dick soon. We are enjoying our stay very much in this region, tho' there is a woful dearth of fish & reptiles--all the ponds & brooks have been seined with trifling success, except that "the boys" in town were thrown into a temporary state of excitement which may result in some future naturalists. But Spence brought a little fancy work in the way of translating, and my editor cousin here (the Rev. S. S. Cutting) has books, Boston & Cambridge are near, and contain a few naturals, and we are having on the whole, a good time. You are somewhat acquainted with the characteristics and beauties of New England villages, but till you have seen Framingham "centre," don't say you have seen the prettiest. Mr. Cutting was so enthusiastic about it that we prepared ourselves for a disappointment, which we have not yet experienced, and we have explored pretty extensively in all directions. It is a very scattered village, each house,
pretty in itself, almost universally, is surrounded by trees and grass, and orchards full of fruit. Our next door neighbors are completely out of sight, which is pleasant after "the Avenue" full of faces. The surrounding country is beautiful, highly cultivated, and just sufficiently diversified with hills and valleys to give variety to the scene, and the numerous bright, clear ponds with the grass growing to the water's edge, shining through the trees, seem peculiar to this region, and are very lovely. Then there is such an appearance of comfort every where--the roads are excellent, and we have ridden in all directions, without seeing a place that gave indications of poverty or want, and my cousin says that in the year he has been here, he has not heard of such a thing, and the paupers in the poor house are so few, some old & infirmed people, that they are brought to church in a carriage--rather pleasant being a pauper, I think. My Lucy is enjoying a degree of freedom here she never dreamed of before, is running about the yards and orchard, and playing in the dirt, which is said to be essential for children. She has made friends of every one here; in fact "the freedom of the city" is presented to her every where. I haven't seen her for two hours, but the last I heard of her she was deeply engaged in enlightening a man putting up a new fence across the street. It frightens me sometime to have so many people tell me she is the strongest child they ever saw, but tho' she looks delicate, and is exceedingly nervous, I think she goes stronger. I can do nothing better for her, at any rate,
than to let her run about as she does here. She has told me so often lately that she wanted to learn to read that I have commenced teaching here her letters, and I let her learn just when she pleases. It is too bad that she is more than half way through her fifth year, and you have never seen her. Her education will not be so far advanced when you come home, but that there will be time for me to learn your views about a collegiate course. Her father believes in teaching children only what they have a talent for acquiring--not trying to force mathematics on a child who is entirely without a "gift" that way, but can & will learn languages; and as our Burlington friend, old Mr. Cottrill, says "vocy versy." Having a decided bent himself, he thinks every other mind has, which will develop itself, and make itself manifest, and tho' other tastes are to be encouraged, they can not be forced, and the prevailing tendency of the mind is to be nourished and cherished to its fullest extent. Theories are not always carried into practise, so there is no knowing how Lucy may come up. She is certainly remarkably observing, and has not by any means a sluggish mind--her father's child hardly could have-- and while I am making plans for her education, she is picking up little scraps by hearsay -- I went off on a frolic, and left Lucy with mother a few days ago, for the first time, and was gone two whole days and one night. We have received such repeated invitations from Mr. & Mrs. Agassiz to visit them, and when Spence was in Boston since we came here they were so urgent, that we finally went & passed a day and night with them very pleasantly. It is the first time I have been in Cambridge since we were there together five years ago, and Spence & I went over that pleasant time again, & wished right heartily that we could have a week with you again almost anywhere. I do wish some of those rich people about Boston would take a fancy to my good man, and give us the means to go where you are. I have no doubt they would, if they knew how much enjoyment they deprive us of by not doing it.
We had a very pleasant visit with the A.s, who are both agreeable people, and by way of adding to our pleasure, all the scientifics of Cambridge, and one of the literary stars, Prof. Felton (Mrs. A's brother-in-law) were invited to spend the evening with my husband. It is astonishing how much more pleasantly people of learning can talk nonsense than people who never talk anything else. It occurs to me to be thankful that my married lot has cast me into association with such people, and that my husband stands among them with a name & reputation sufficient for himself, and some to spare for me, to help me along where I might not stand securely by myself. Altogether, I have numerous reasons for thankfulness.
I must not forget to tell you of an old friend of yours I met in Carlisle--a Mr. Morgan, whom you knew in Washington, and who was in C. doing up his last courting previous to matrimony. He and I were in a fair way to sociability when I found out he knew you and Mr. Marsh, and that helped us on amazingly. He spoke warmly enough of you both to satisfy , and told me to tell you what he was about, and that he thought he was doing wisely. So do I, except that I have some fears for the health of Miss Emory. She is a sister of our former Pres. Emory, of Dickinson Coll., and is a good little methodist, quiet, but a girl of talents, and has been carefully educated, and is much superior to the usual sort of young ladies. They both seem very happy.
I suppose we shall go back to Washington the beginning of October, but what we shall
do when we get there I can not say. We are discussing various plans, and it may all
end in our staying an other winter at Mrs. Wise's, where we are certainly far from
fortable, or we may go to housekeeping. They gave us $2000 last winter, but you know that will not do much in W., and leave a little for a rainy day. It might, if we were to live entirely in seclusion, which we can not do. I believe I have told you pretty much this before, and I have no doubt we sympathize with each other in this want of the means to do what we think becomes us in our respective situations. I wish my husband & child had the "comforts of a home"--however, we are very happy as it is. But it is too bad that you who have to live creditably to the nation should not have enough to do that amply, and yet more, in consideration of your being an honor to the nation under any circumstances. If there were brain-ometers, and people were valued according to the measurement, what changes would be wrought ---- I was exceeding glad that my last letter was answered so soon, and hope you will keep to your principles. Your letters are most welcome to us. How much there is to say to you. So many questions to ask that there is not use in beginning, so I just write of ourselves, and you must do the same of yourselves. You must come home and tell us all you have seen, and then go again and see something else, tho' it would be pleasanter to us to have you in Washington. Mr. Baird has gone to Boston today, but told me to say all about him, and send "lots of love" to you both. Mother & father send theirs also. Mother was in Bur. when Susan Lyman was married, tho' not at the wedding. Mrs. Mahew made a display of thread lace on the occasion. I don't know that there is anything novel in Burlington. Give more love from me to your husband than to any one but yourself. And my remembrances to George too. Don't forget how much we care for your letters, both because they are from and to . With love to "my ancient" and yourself, yours most affectionately,
Mary H. C. Baird.
References in this letter:
Manning Ferguson Force (1824-1899) retired from the military to become a professor of law and anthropology.
Mary Baird's cousin, the Rev. Sewall Sylvester Cutting (d. 1880), was a professor at the University of Rochester. He encouraged exploration expeditions in the American northwest.
Swiss born zoologist and geologist, Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) emigrated to the U.S. in 1846 to join the faculty at Harvard where he became a leading figure in American science. He a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian and initially supported Baird but later disparaged his scientific accomplishments and, in 1863, attempted to block Baird's election to the National Academy of Sciences.
Cornelius C. Felton (1807-1862) was professor of Greek at Harvard; in 1860 he was made president of the College.