Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to CHARLES ELIOT NORTON, dated September 16, 1861.
My dear Sir,
I have delayed hitherto to answer your letter of August 15, in the hope of receiving the pamphlets from Trübner, but they have not yet arrived. I shall read the review with much interest, and will endeavor to put the spare copies into the hands of gentlemen who will appreciate the essay.
I am glad that you and other hopeful spirits at home find the course of our public affairs even "moderately satisfactory," while to me, who see only New York journals at irregular & sometimes long intervals and European comments upon the facts and opinions they chronicle, the state of those affairs inspires no feeling of courage or of hope.
I sailed from New York the week after the great meeting of April
20, When all were full of zeal and enthusiasm, and when every man with whom I
conversed seemed resolved not only to crush the rebellion, but to take advantage of
it to settle the question of slavery upon terms which would
at least check the extension and reduce the political influence, if not promote the abolition of that infernal institution.
I thought one of the first measures of Congress would be to repeal the Judiciary Act,
and thus legislate out of office those base justices, whose subserviency to party
and sectional interests has so monstrously perverted the principles of our organic
law, and give us a judiciary which would interpret the Constitution as it was
construed and understood by those who framed and those who adopted it. I supposed
the Administration would formally declare that slavery in rebel states had "no rights which" the federal government and the federal army "were
bound to respect," and I supposed that if a Boston colonel in the national
service disgraced his uniform and his flag by turning slave-catcher, the Boston boys
would throw him where their ancestors threw the tea. I thought there would be a
general outburst of popular indignation throughout the North not only against the
advocates and champions of slavery at the South, but against their treasonable
accomplices nearer home, and I even went so far as to dream that human punishment might be meted out to Franklin Peirce and James Buchanan.
But neither the papers nor the letters I receive now hold out the least encouragement of any such salutary condition of public opinion as I had hoped for, present or prospective, and the excited feeling I left behind me seems to have sustained a collapse more alarming and disheartening to me than a dozen defeats of Bull's Run.
The passage of Crittenden's vile resolution by a nearly unanimous vote took me altogether by surprise. In fact it was only this news that dispelled the illusion under which I had labored, and I can as yet see no symptom of improvement in the of our public men, unless Mr Everett's semi-conversion is to be counted as one.
On arriving in Paris, I found that the secessionists had made some impression, but
the French government and people were, as there was good reason to believe, still
with us, and, though
the British aristocracy meant us mischief plainly enough, the heart of England was right. This was far more emphatically the case here, but the last few weeks have produced a disastrous change everywhere in Europe. Bull's Run has stamped us as cowards, and as to the merits of the question I hear it constantly repeated that this is a quarrel which involves no principle, and that the government and people of the North deserve the sympathy of Europe as little as the rebels.
A great victory might prevent the immediate recognition of the Southern Confederacy by England and France, but it would not regain for us the forfeited confidence of European philanthropists, who had hoped we should show some signs of a national conscience, and for my part, I much prefer an immediate recognition of the South to a triumphant campaign of our army followed by a apocatastasis to the status of 1860.
I feel the profoundest sympathy with Longfellow, but do not
know him well enough to think myself at liberty
to say as much to himself. Mrs Longfellow I never met but once, and I have had but two or three short interviews with him.
I am very glad Lowell is out of the Atlantic. I don't know any man, the next ten years of whose life, all things considered, ought to be worth so much as Lowell's coming decade, and I hope his path may be cleared by all incumbrances.
To get anything here from America, except papers & letters, is a hard matter, and therefore I have not seen a Number of the Atlantic since that April, but I perceive your name among the newspaper lists of contributors and on a timely theme. I hope I shall have the back Nos soon.
We are delighted with Turin though we came in summer & all the world is
& remains out of town. I have always been pazzo per
gl'Italiani, and am
sure of a pleasant winter, Providence favoring.
Mrs. Marsh is wonderfully revived by this glorious atmosphere, and has not been so well for fifteen years as since our arrival here.
She joins me in sincere regards to your mother sisters as well as to yourself,
Yours very trulyGP MarshChas E. Norton Esq
P.S. I have written to several political friends, strong Republicans, to ask what all this backing and filling of the party means, but I get no answer. I know the Northern are rightenough, but why are those who should lead them lagging in the rear? Can you enlighten me?
References in this letter:
Trübner & Co., founded 1851 in London by Nikolaus Trübner (1817-1884), a native of Germany, published scholarly works for, among others, the Early English Text Society and the Royal Asiatic Society.
In A review of a translation into Italian of the commentary by Benvenuto da Imola on the Divina commedia, 1861, Norton pronounced the translation by Giovanni Tamburini "worse than worthless."
One week after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and one day after the 6th Massachusetts regiment was attacked by a mob while passing through Baltimore, a large rally supporting the Union was held in New York City.
Marsh's language echoes a comment in the Dred Scott decision, issued by the Supreme Court in 1857, that the framers of the Constitution believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
In the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, Confederate forces under General P. G. T. Beauregard defeated a Union army commanded by General Erwin McDowell in the first significant engagement of the Civil War.
On July 25, 1861, Congress passed a resolution offered by Representative John J. Crittenden of Kentucky that declared the object of the war was the preservation of the Union.
Edward Everett (1794-1865), Unitarian clergyman, held many public posts, including Governor of Massachusetts, President of Harvard, and U.S. Senator. When the Civil War broke out, he abandoned compromise with the slave states and campaigned for the Union.
Usually used in a religious sense, "apocatastasis" means "restoration."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had been badly burned attempting to put out a fire that took the life of his second wife, Frances.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), poet, critic, and professor at Harvard, was editor of the Atlantic Monthly 1857-1861.
Italian: "crazy about the Italians."