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Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 2/26


First Visit to Boston—1863

THE main consequence of the Charleston affair to me personally remains to be told. My vacation accidentally led to an episode destined to direct the course of my whole life. When Sydney Howard Gay, the managing editor of the Tribune, announced to me that I could have two weeks leave of absence, I remarked, “I am much obliged, but where shall I spend it?” “Have you ever been to Boston?” he asked; and when I answered, “No,” he said, “Go to the Hub by all means.” Accordingly, after having “taken it easy” for a few days in New York, I followed his advice. I reached Boston on Thursday, April 21st, and spent the next day in walking about the city. On the 23d I called on Mrs. Severance, presenting a letter of introduction to her from her husband, the Collector at Port Royal. As she was not at home, her daughter Julia received me, and invited me to accompany her to the gymnasium of Dr. Diocletian Lewis, to witness the exercises of a class of young men and women. I accepted, went with her, and stayed through the performance. I was introduced to Dr. Lewis and others, among them the son of William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist. From the latter I received an invitation to go with him to hear the Rev. Samuel Johnson of Salem, a well-known liberal-minded, free-religious preacher, speak the next (Sunday) morning, and afterwards to dine with his family, in order to make their acquaintance. I gladly accepted.

I mentioned, in speaking of my deep interest in the Frémont campaign of 1856, that, like most Europeans, I looked upon the existence of slavery as an outrageous shame and an abominable disgrace to the American Republic; that I was shocked and disgusted by the incomprehensible and most contemptible prejudice in the Northern States against the inspired patriots who demanded the abolition of the horrible institution, at the risk of constant, bitter persecution and personal danger. For them I had always felt the deepest sympathy and admiration; hence, I was delighted to receive from George W. Smalley a letter of introduction to Wendell Phillips, which I had not then delivered, and was, of course, rejoiced at the opportunity to become acquainted with his noble compeer.

Young William Lloyd and his younger brother Frank, a boy fifteen years of age, called for me, as agreed, and took me to hear Mr. Johnson, who preached in a public hall. Their sister was also present and joined us after the sermon, and we all walked together to their home. I was heartily welcomed by the parents, and at once felt entirely at home with them. Mrs. Garrison was a fine-looking woman, with a pleasant expression, but seemingly of a shy, retiring disposition. Mr. Garrison's exterior was a complete surprise to me. His public character as the most determined, fearless antislavery champion had so impressed me, as it did most people, that I had supposed his outward appearance must be in keeping with it. In other words, I had expected to see a fighting figure of powerful build, with thick hair, full beard, and fiery, defiant eyes. It seemed almost ludicrous to behold a man of middle size, completely bald and clean shaven, with kindly eyes behind spectacles, and, instead of a fierce, an entirely benignant expression. He appeared, indeed, more like the typical New England minister of the Gospel than the relentless agitator that he was. The inner man corresponded fully to the outer one. He was forbearing, and mildness itself, in manner and speech. Being a journalist himself, he took a special interest in my war experiences as a correspondent, which I was made to relate during and after the dinner, with the whole family as eager listeners.

The next morning Mr. Garrison's youngest son, Frank, called for me early, and acted as my guide in an exploration of the older part of Boston. We climbed to the cupola of the State House and ascended Bunker Hill Monument. If I remember rightly, he also took me to the residence of Wendell Phillips, to whom I presented Mr. Smalley's letter of introduction. The latter had had close personal relations with the great orator ever since he had protected him from the violence of a Boston mob, and subsequently married his adopted daughter. Mr. Phillips lived in a very small house with hardly space for the enjoyment of even ordinary comfort. He received me very cordially, and I conversed for an hour with this famous man, and became deeply impressed by his fascinating personality. Throughout the rest of my stay in Boston, I was much in company with the Garrisons, visiting with them (among others places) Readville, some fifteen miles south of Boston, where the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts colored regiments — the first ones organized in Massachusetts — were encamped. The oldest son of Mr. Garrison, George Thompson, had entered the army, much against the wishes of his father, who had always been an advocate of the doctrine of non-resistance. Mr. Garrison finally gave his sanction, however, and George ultimately became quartermaster in the Fifty-fifth Regiment. At Readville, Colonel Robert G. Shaw, of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, attracted especial attention, no one knowing how soon his fine young life was to be sacrificed in battle. He fell in the assault on Fort Wagner.

On reaching my hotel on my return from the camp, I found a letter from Mr. Gay, saying that he had received reliable information that Rosecrans's army was to enter upon aggressive movements, early in May, from Murfreesboro', and asking whether I was willing to shorten my leave of absence and start at once for Tennessee, to report the impending campaign. It was midnight when I reached a definite resolution, and, with deep regret that I should have to give up the rest of my vacation, wrote in answer to Mr. Gay that I would report for duty the day after the morrow. It was to this chance visit to Boston that I owe the greatest happiness of my life — my marriage to Miss Fanny Garrison, the only daughter of the great abolitionist, to whose charms of mind and person I surrendered on first acquaintance.

I returned to New York by the night train.