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THE GRIMKE SISTERS
SARAH AND ANGELINA GRIMKE
_THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMEN ADVOCATES
OF ABOLITION AND WOMAN’S RIGHTS_
By CATHERINE H. BIRNEY
“The glory of all glories is the glory of self-sacrifice.”
It was with great diffidence, from inexperience in literary work of such length, that I engaged to write the biography which I now present to the public. But the diaries and letters placed in my hands lightened the work of composition, and it has been a labor of affection as well as of duty to pay what tribute I might to the memory of two of the noblest women of the country, whom I learned to love and venerate during a residence of nearly two years under the same roof, and who, to the end of their lives, honored me with their friendship.
Washington City, Sept., 1885.
Childhood of Sarah, 7. Practical teachings, 9. Teaching slaves, 11. Sarah a godmother, 13. Their mother, 15.
Thirst for knowledge, 17. Religious impressions, 19. Providence interposes, 21. Their father’s death-bed, 23. Sarah and slavery, 25. Salvation by works, 27. The Friends, 29. Sarah resists the call, 31. Sarah leaves Charleston, 33.
Sarah a Quaker, 35. Visit to Charleston, 37. Angelina, 39. Angelina’s slave, 41. Angelina converted, 43. Sarah’s heart trial, 45.
Contrasts, 47. Spiritual change, 49. Novels and finery, 51. Plain dress, 53.
Angelina’s progress, 55. Abandons Presbyterianism, 57. Adopts Quakerism, 59. A Quaker quarrel, 61. Angelina goes north, 63. Trimming a cap, 65.
Christian frugality, 67. Christian reproofs, 69. Faithful testimony, 71. Sitting in silence, 73. Sympathy with slaves, 75. Intercedes for a slave, 77. A sin to joke, 79. Introspection, 81.
Intellectual power, 83. Anti-slavery in 1829, 85. Bane of slavery, 87. Longs to leave home, 89. Narrow life, 91. Farewell to home, 93.
Not in favor, 95. Doubts, 97. Benevolent activities, 99. Nullification, 101. Thomas Grimke, 103. Quaker time-serving, 105. Separation, 107.
Visits Catherine Beecher, 109. Morbid feelings, 111. Growing out of Quakerism, 113. Lane Seminary debate, 115. Death of Thomas Grimke, 117. The cause of peace, 119.
Sarah Douglass, 121. The fire kindled, 123. Letter to Garrison, 125. Apology for letter, 127. Publication of letter, 129. Sarah disapproves, 131.
Practical efforts, 133. Visit to Providence, 135. The sisters differ, 137. Elizur Wright’s invitation, 139. Asking advice of Sarah, 141. The last straw, 143. Sarah resolves to leave Philadelphia, 145. Angelina’s A.S. feelings, 147. Her clear convictions, 149.
The sisters together, 151. A rebellious Quaker, 153. Removal to New York, 155. The anti-slavery leaders, 157. T.D. Weld, 159. Epistle to the clergy, 161. First speeches to women, 163. Lectures, 165. Disregard of the color line, 167. Henry B. Stanton, 169. Success on the platform, 171. They go to Boston, 173.
Woman’s rights, 175. Sentiment at Boston, 177. Speaking to men, 179. Women’s preaching, 181. Opposition, 183. The pastoral letter, 185. Mixed audiences, 187. Hardships–eloquence, 189. Sarah prefers the pen, 191. A public debate, 193. Sarah’s impulsiveness, 195.
Catherine Beecher, 197-99. Woman and abolition, 201. Whittier’s letter, 203. Weld’s letter, 205. Weld’s third letter, 207. How reforms fail, 209. Friendly criticism, 211. No human government-ism, 213. The sisters desist, 215. Weld on dress, 217. Henry C. Wright, 219. Friendship renewed, 221.
Crowded audiences, 223. Sickness, 225. The Massachusetts legislature, Speeches in Boston, 229. Angelina’s marriage, 231. The ceremony, 233. Pennsylvania Hall, 235. The mob, 237. Last public speech, 239. Burning the hall, 241.
Disownment, 243. The home, 245. Self-denial, 247. Sarah Douglass, 249. An ex-slave, 251. Uses of retirement, 253. Mutual love, 255. “Slavery as it is,” 257. Going to church, 259. The baby, 261. Life at Belleville, 263-5. Educators, 267. Piety, 269. Christianity, 271.
Eagleswood, 273. Sarah as teacher, 265. Sarah at sixty-two, 277. Love of children, 279. Success of the school, 281. Affliction, 283. War to end in freedom, 285. Sisterly affection, 287. The colored nephews, 289. The discovery, 291. A visit to nephews, 293. Nephews educated, 295. Voting petitions, 297. Work for charities, 299. Contented old age, 301.
Sarah’s sickness, 303. Death of Sarah, 305. Eulogies, 307. Paralysis, 309. Sublime patience, 311. Death of Angelina, 313. Elizur Wright, 315. Wendell Phillips, 317. The lesson of two lives, 319.
THE SISTERS GRIMKE.
Sarah and Angelina Grimke were born in Charleston, South Carolina; Sarah, Nov. 26, 1792; Angelina, Feb. 20, 1805. They were the daughters of the Hon. John Fauchereau Grimke, a colonel in the revolutionary war, and judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina. His ancestors were German on the father’s side, French on the mother’s; the Fauchereau family having left France in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
From his German father and Huguenot mother, Judge Grimke inherited not only intellectual qualities of a high order, but an abiding consciousness of his right to think for himself, a spirit of hostility to the Roman Catholic priesthood and church, and faith in the Calvinistic theology. Though he exhibited, during the course of his life, a freedom from certain social prejudices general among people of his class at Charleston, he seems to have never wavered in his adhesion to the tenets of his forefathers. That they were ever questioned in his household is not probable.
From a diary kept by him, it appears that his favorite subject of thought for many years was moral discipline, and he was fond of searching out and transcribing the opinions of various authors on this subject.
His family was wealthy and influential, and he received all the advantages which such circumstances could give. As was the custom among people of means in those days, he was sent to England for his collegiate course, and, after being graduated at Oxford, he studied law and practised for a while in London, having his rooms in the Temple. With a fine person, a cultivated mind and a generous allowance, he became a favorite in the fashionable and aristocratic society of Great Britain; nevertheless, he did not hesitate to quit the pleasant life he was leading and return home as soon as his native country seemed to need him. He speedily raised a company of cavalry in Charleston, and cast his lot with the patriots whom he found in arms against the mother-country. We have no record of his deeds, but we know that he distinguished himself at Eutaw Springs and at Yorktown, where he was attached to Lafayette’s brigade.
When the war was over, Col. Grimke began the practice of law in Charleston, and rose in a few years to the front rank at the bar. He held various honorable offices before he was appointed judge of the Supreme Court of the State.
Early in life Judge Grimke married Mary Smith of Irish and English-Puritan stock. She was the great granddaughter of the second Landgrave of South Carolina, and descended on her mother’s side from that famous rebel chieftain, Sir Roger Moore, of Kildare, who would have stormed Dublin Castle with his handful of men, and whose handsome person, gallant manners, and chivalric courage made him the idol of his party and the hero of song and story. Fourteen children were born to this couple, all of whom were more or less remarkable for the traits which would naturally be expected from such ancestry, while in several of them the old Huguenot-Puritan infusion colored every mental and moral quality. This was especially notable in Sarah Moore Grimke, the sixth child, who even in her childhood continually surprised her family by her independence, her sturdy love of truth, and her clear sense of justice. Her conscientiousness was such that she never sought to conceal or even excuse anything wrong she did, but accepted submissively whatever punishment or reprimand was inflicted upon her.
Between Sarah and her brother Thomas, six years her senior, an early friendship was formed, which was ever a source of gratification to both, and which continued without a break until his death. To the influence of his high, strong nature she attributed to a great extent her early tendency to think and reason upon subjects much beyond her age. Until she was twelve years old, a great deal of her time was passed in study with this brother, her bright, active mind eagerly reaching after the kind of knowledge which in those days was considered food too strong for the intellect of a girl. She begged hard to be permitted to study Latin, and began to do so in private, but her parents, and even her brother, discouraged this, and she reluctantly gave it up.
Judge Grimke’s position, character, and wealth placed his family among the leaders of the very exclusive society of Charleston. His children were accustomed to luxury and display, to the service of slaves, and to the indulgence of every selfish whim, although the father’s practical common sense led him to protest against the habits to which such indulgences naturally led. He was necessarily much from home, but, when leisure permitted, his great pleasure was teaching his children and discussing various topics with them. To Sarah he paid particular attention, her superior mental qualities exciting his admiration and pride. He is said to have frequently declared that if she had been of the other sex she would have made the greatest jurist in the land.
In his own habits, Judge Grimke was prudent and singularly economical, and, in spite of discouraging surroundings, endeavored to instil lessons of simplicity into his children. An extract from one of Sarah’s letters will illustrate this. Referring in 1863 to her early life, she thus writes to a friend:–
“Father was pre-eminently a man of common sense, and economy was one of his darling virtues. I suppose I inherited some of the latter quality, for from early life I have been renowned for gathering up the fragments that nothing be lost, so that it was quite a common saying in the family: ‘Oh, give it to Sally; she’ll find use for it,’ when anything was to be thrown away. Only once within my memory did I depart from this law of my nature. I went to our country residence to pass the summer with father. He had deposited a number of useful odds and ends in a drawer. Now little miss, being installed as housekeeper to papa, and for the first time in her life being queen–at least so she fancied–of all she surveyed, went to work searching every cranny, and prying into every drawer, and woe betide anything which did not come up to my idea of neat housekeeping. When I chanced across the drawer of scraps I at once condemned them to the flames. Such a place of disorder could not be tolerated in my dominions. I never thought of the contingency of papa’s shirts, etc., wanting mending; my oversight, however, did not prevent the natural catastrophe of clothes wearing out, and one day papa brought me a garment to mend, ‘Oh,’ said I, tossing it carelessly aside, ‘that hole is too big to darn.’
“‘Certainly, my dear,’ he replied, ‘but you can put a piece in. Look in such a drawer, and you will find plenty to patch with.’
“But behold the drawer was empty. Happily, I had commuted the sentence of burning to that of distribution to the slaves, one of whom furnished me the piece, and mended the garment ten times better than I could have done. So I was let to go unwhipped of justice for that misdemeanor, and perhaps that was the lesson which burnt into my soul. My story doesn’t sound Southerny, does it? Well, here is something more. During that summer, father had me taught to spin and weave negro cloth. Don’t suppose I ever did anything worth while; only it was one of his maxims: ‘Never lose an opportunity of learning what is useful. If you never need the knowledge, it will be no burden to have it; and if you should, you will be thankful to have it.’ So I had to use my delicate fingers now and then to shell corn, a process which sometimes blistered them, and was sent into the field to pick cotton occasionally. Perhaps I am indebted partially to this for my life-long detestation of slavery, as it brought me in close contact with these unpaid toilers.”
Doubtless she had many a talk with these “unpaid toilers,” and learned from them the inner workings of a system which her friends would fain have taught her to view as fair and merciful.
Children are born without prejudice, and the young children of Southern planters never felt or made any difference between their white and colored playmates. The instances are many of their revolt and indignation when first informed that there must be a difference. So that there is nothing singular in the fact that Sarah Grimke, to use her own words, early felt such an abhorrence of the whole institution of slavery, that she was sure it was born in her. Several of her brothers and sisters felt the same. But she differed from other children in the respect that her sensibilities were so acute, her heart so tender, that she made the trials of the slaves her own, and grieved that she could neither share nor mitigate them. So deeply did she feel for them that she was frequently found in some retired spot weeping, after one of the slaves had been punished. She remembered that once, when she was not more than four or five years old, she accidentally witnessed the terrible whipping of a servant woman. As soon as she could escape from the house, she rushed out sobbing, and half an hour afterwards her nurse found her on the wharf, begging a sea captain to take her away to some place where such things were not done.
She told me once that often, when she knew one of the servants was to be punished, she would shut herself up and pray earnestly that the whipping might be averted; “and sometimes,” she added, “my prayers were answered in very unexpected ways.”
Writing to a young friend, a few years before her death, she says: “When I was about your age, we spent six months of the year in the back country, two hundred miles from Charleston, where we would live for months without seeing a white face outside of the home circle. It was often lonely, but we had many out-door enjoyments, and were very happy. I, however, always had one terrible drawback. Slavery was a millstone about my neck, and marred my comfort from the time I can remember myself. My chief pleasure was riding on horseback daily. ‘Hiram’ was a gentle, spirited, beautiful creature. He was neither slave nor slave owner, and I loved and enjoyed him thoroughly.”
When she was quite young her father gave her a little African girl to wait on her. To this child, the only slave she ever owned, she became much attached, treating her as an equal, and sharing all her privileges with her. But the little girl died after a few years, and though her youthful mistress was urged to take another, she refused, saying she had no use for her, and preferred to wait on herself. It was not until she was more than twelve years old that, at her mother’s urgent request, she consented to have a dressing-maid.
Judge Grimke, his family and connections, were all High-Church Episcopalians, tenacious of every dogma, and severe upon any neglect of the religious forms of church or household worship. Nothing but sickness excused any member of the family, servants included, from attending morning prayers, and every Sunday the well-appointed carriage bore those who wished to attend church to the most fashionable one in the city. The children attended Sabbath-school regularly, and in the afternoon the girls who were old enough taught classes in the colored school. Here, Sarah was the only one who ever caused any trouble. She could never be made to understand the wisdom which included the spelling-book, in the hands of slaves, among the dangerous weapons, and she constantly fretted because she could only give her pupils oral instruction. She longed to teach them to read, for many of them were pining for the knowledge which the “poor white trash” rejected; but the laws of the State not only prohibited the teaching of slaves, but provided fines and imprisonment for those who ventured to indulge their fancy in that way. So that, argue as she might, and as she did, the privilege of opening the storehouse of learning to those thirsty souls was denied her. “But,” she writes, “my great desire in this matter would not be totally suppressed, and I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my long locks. The light was put out, the keyhole screened, and flat on our stomachs before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the laws of South Carolina.”
But this dreadful crime was finally discovered, and poor Hetty barely escaped a whipping; and her bold young mistress had to listen to a severe lecture on the enormity of her conduct.
When Sarah was about twelve years old, two important events occurred to interrupt the even tenor of her life. Her brother Thomas was sent off to Yale College, leaving her companionless and inconsolable, until, a few weeks later, the birth of a little sister brought comfort and joy to her heart. This sister was Angelina Emily, the last child of her parents, and the pet and darling of Sarah from the moment the light dawned upon her blue eyes.
Sarah seems to have felt for this new baby not only more than the ordinary affection of a sister, but the yearning tenderness of a mother, and a mysterious affinity which foreshadowed the heart and soul sympathy which, notwithstanding the twelve years’ difference in their ages, made them as one through life. She at once begged that she might stand godmother for her sister; but her parents, thinking this desire only a childish whim, refused. She was seriously in earnest, however, and day after day renewed her entreaties, answering her father’s arguments that she was too young for such a responsibility by saying that she would be old enough when it became necessary to exercise any of the responsibility.
Seeing finally that her heart was so set upon it, her parents consented; and joyfully she stood at the baptismal font, and promised to train this baby sister in the way she should go. Many years afterwards, in describing her feelings on this occasion, she said: “I had been taught to believe in the efficacy of prayer, and I well remember, after the ceremony was over, slipping out and shutting myself up in my own room, where, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I prayed that God would make me worthy of the task I had assumed, and help me to guide and direct my precious child. Oh, how good I resolved to be, how careful in all my conduct, that my life might be blessed to her!”
Entering in such a spirit upon the duties she had taken upon herself, we cannot over estimate her influence in forming the character and training the mind of this “precious Nina,” as she so often called her. And, as we shall see, for very many years Angelina followed closely where Sarah led, treading almost in her footsteps, until the seed sown by the older sister, ripening, bore its fruit in a power and strength and individuality which gave her the leadership, and caused Sarah to fall back and gaze with wonder upon development so much beyond her thoughts or hopes.
From the first, Sarah took almost entire charge of her little god-daughter; and, as “Nina” grew out of her babyhood, Sarah continued to exercise such general supervision over her that the child learned to look up to her as to a mother, and frequently when together, and in her correspondence for many years, addressed her as “Mother.”
It does not appear that Judge Grimke entertained any views differing greatly from those of intelligent men in the society about him. He was a man of wide culture, varied experience of life, and a diligent student. Therefore, as he made a companion of his bright and promising daughter, he doubtless did much to sharpen her intellect, as well as to deepen her conscientiousness and sense of religious obligation. Her brother Thomas, too, added another strong influence to her mental development. She was nearly fifteen when he returned from college, bringing with him many new ideas, most of them quite original, and which he at once set to work to study more closely, with a view to putting them into practical operation. Sarah was his confidante and his amanuensis; and, looking up to him almost as to a demi-god, she readily fell in with his opinions, and made many of them her own.
Of her mother there is little mention in the early part of her life. Mrs. Grimke appears to have been a very devout woman, of rather narrow views, and undemonstrative in her affections. She was, however, intelligent, and had a taste for reading, especially theological works. Her son Thomas speaks of her as having read Stratton’s book on the priesthood, and inferring from its implications the sect to which the author belonged. The oldest of her children was only nineteen when Angelina was born. The burdens laid upon her were many and great; and we cannot wonder that she was nervous, exhausted, and irritable. The house was large, and kept in the style common in that day among wealthy Southern people. The servants were numerous, and had, no doubt, the usual idle, pilfering habits of slaves. All provisions were kept under lock and key, and given out with scrupulous exactitude, and incessant watchfulness as to details was a necessity.
As children multiplied, Mrs. Grimke appears to have lost all power of controlling either them or her servants. She was impatient with the former, and resorted with the latter to the punishments commonly inflicted by slaveowners. These severities alienated her children still more from her, and they showed her little respect or affection. It never appears to have occurred to any of them to try to relieve her of her cares; and it is probable she was more sinned against than sinning,–a sadly burdened and much-tried woman. From numerous allusions to her in the diaries and letters, the evidence of an ill-regulated household is plain, as also the feelings of the children towards her. From Angelina’s diary we copy the following:–
“On 2d day I had some conversation with sister Mary on the deplorable state of our family, and to-day with Eliza. They complain very much of the servants being so rude, and doing so much as they please. But I tried to convince them that the servants were just what the family was, that they were not at all more rude and selfish and disobliging than they themselves were. I gave one or two instances of the manner in which they treated mother and each other, and asked how they could expect the servants to behave in any other way when they had such examples continually before them, and queried in which such conduct was most culpable. Eliza always admits what I say to be true, but, as I tell her, never profits by it…. Sister Mary is somewhat different; she will not condemn herself…. She will acknowledge the sad state of the family, but seems to think mother is altogether to blame. And dear mother seems to resist all I say: she will neither acknowledge the state of the family nor her own faults, and always is angry when I speak to her…. Sometimes when I look back to the first years of my religious life, and remember how unremittingly I labored with mother, though in a very wrong spirit, being alienated from her and destitute of the spirit of love and forbearance, my heart is very sore.”
This unfortunate state of things prevailed until the children were grown, and with more or less amelioration after that time. Sarah’s natural tenderness, and the sense of justice which, as she grew to womanhood, was so conspicuous in Angelina, drew their mother nearer to them than to her other children, though Thomas always wrote of her affectionately and respectfully. She, however, with her rigid orthodox beliefs, could never understand her “alien daughters,” as she called them; and she never ceased to wonder how such strange fledglings could have come from her nest. It was only when they had proved by years of self-sacrifice the earnestness of their peculiar views that she learned to respect them; and, though they never succeeded in converting her from her inherited opinions, she was towards the last years of her life brought into something like affectionate sympathy with them.
It was quite the custom in the last century and the beginning of the present one for cultivated people to keep diaries, in which the incidents of each day were jotted down, accompanied by the expression of private opinions and feelings. Women, especially, found this diary a pleasant sort of confessional, a confidante to whose pages they could entrust their most secret thoughts without fear of rebuke or betrayal. Sarah Grimke’s diary, covering over five hundred pages of closely written manuscript, though not begun until 1821, gives many reminiscences of her youth, and describes with painful conscientiousness her religious experiences. She also repeatedly regrets the fact that her education, though what was considered at that time a good one, was entirely superficial, embracing only that kind of knowledge which is acquired for display. What useful information she received she owed to the conversations of her father and her brother Thomas, her “beloved companion and friend.”
There is no doubt that this want of proper training was to her a cause of regret during her whole life. With her, learning was always a passion; and, in passing, I may say she never thought herself too old for study and the acquisition of knowledge. As she grew up, and saw the very different education her brothers were receiving, her ambition and independence were fired, and she longed to share their advantages. But in vain she entreated permission to do so. The only answer she received was: “You are a girl; what do you want of Latin and Greek and philosophy? You can never use them.” And when it was discovered that she was secretly studying law, and was ambitious to stand side by side with her brother at the bar, smiles and sneers rebuked her “unwomanly” aspirations. And though she argued the point with much spirit, unable to see why the mere fact of being a girl should confine her to the necessity of being a “doll, a coquette, a fashionable fool,” she failed to secure a single adherent to her strong-minded ideas. Her nature thus denied its proper nutriment, and her most earnest desires crushed, she sought relief in another direction. Painting, poetry, general reading occupied her leisure time, while she was receiving private tuition from the best masters in Charleston.
At sixteen she was introduced into society, or, as she phrases it, “initiated into the circles of dissipation and folly.” In her account of the life she led in those circles she does not spare herself.
“I believe,” she writes, “for the short space I was exhibited on this theatre, few have exceeded me in extravagance of every kind, and in the sinful indulgence of pride and vanity, sentiments which, however, were strongly mingled with a sense of their insufficiency to produce even earthly happiness, with an eager desire for intellectual pursuits, and a thorough contempt for the trifles I was engaged in. Often during this period have I returned home, sick of the frivolous beings I had been with, mortified at my own folly, and weary of the ball-room and its gilded toys. Night after night, as I glittered now in this gay scene, now in that, my soul has been disturbed by the query, ‘Where are the talents committed to thy charge?’ But the intrusive thought would be silenced by the approach of some companion, or a call to join the dance, or by the presentation of the stimulating cordial, and my remorse and my hopeless desires would be drowned for the time being. Once, in utter disgust, I made a resolution to abstain from such amusements; but it was made in self-will, and did not stand long, though I was so earnest that I gave away much of my finery. I cannot look back to those years without a blush of shame, a feeling of anguish at the utter perversion of the ends of my being. But for my tutelary god, my idolized brother, my young, passionate nature, stimulated by that love of admiration which carries many a high and noble soul down the stream of folly to the whirlpool of an unhallowed marriage, I had rushed into this lifelong misery. Happily for me, this butterfly life did not last long. My ardent nature had another channel opened for it, through which it rushed with its usual impetuosity. I was converted, and turned over to doing good.”
Up to this time she was a communicant in the Episcopal church, and a regular attendant on its various services. But, as she records, her heart was never touched, her soul never stirred. She heard the same things preached week after week,–the necessity of coming to Christ and the danger of delay,–and she wondered at her insensibility. She joined in family worship, and was scrupulously exact in her private devotions; but all was done mechanically, from habit, and no quickening sense of her “awful condition” came to her until she went one night, on the invitation of a friend, to hear a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Henry Kolloch, celebrated for his eloquence. He preached a thrilling sermon, and Sarah was deeply moved. But the impression soon wore off, and she returned to her gay life with renewed ardor. A year after, the same minister revisited Charleston; and again she went to hear him, and again felt the “arrows of conscience,” and again disregarded the solemn warning. The journal continues:–
“After this he came no more; and in the winter of 1813-14 I was led in an unusual degree into scenes of dissipation and frivolity. It seemed as if my cup of worldly pleasure was filled to the brim; and after enjoying all the city afforded, I went into the country in the spring with a fashionable acquaintance, designing to finish my wild career there.”
While on this visit, she accidentally met the Rev. Dr. Kolloch, and became acquainted with him. He seems to have taken a warm interest in her spiritual welfare, and his conversations made a serious impression on her which her gay friends tried to remove. But her sensitive spirit was so affected by his admonitions, and warnings of the awful consequences of persisting in a course of conduct which must eventually lead to everlasting punishment, that she was made very miserable. She trembled as he portrayed her doom, and wept bitterly; but, though she assented to the truth of his declarations, she did not feel quite prepared to give up the pomps and vanities of her life, unsatisfactory as they were. A sore conflict began in her mind, and she could take no pleasure in anything. Dr. Kolloch’s parting question to her, spoken in the most solemn tones, “Can you, then, dare to hesitate?” rang continually in her ears; and the next few days and nights were passed in a turmoil of various feelings, until, exhausted, she gave up the struggle, and acknowledged herself sensible of the emptiness of worldly gratifications, and thought she was willing to resign all for Christ. She returned home sorrowful and heavy-hearted. The glory of the world was stained, and she no longer dared to participate in its vain pleasures. She felt “loaded down with iniquity,” and, almost sinking under a sense of her guilt and her danger, she secluded herself from society, and put away her ornaments, “determined to purchase Heaven at any price.” But she found no relief in these sacrifices; and, after enduring much trial at her ill success, she wrote to Dr. Kolloch, informing him of her state of mind.
“Over his answer,” she writes, “I shed many tears; but, instead of prostrating myself in deep abasement before the Lord, and craving his pardon, I was desirous of doing something which might claim his approbation and disperse the thick cloud which seemed to hide him from me. I therefore set earnestly to work to do good according to my capacity. I fed the hungry and clothed the naked, I visited the sick and afflicted, and vainly hoped these outside works would purify a heart defiled with the pride of life, still the seat of carnal propensities and evil passions; but here, too, I failed. I went mourning on my way under the curse of a broken law; and, though I often watered my couch with my tears, and pleaded with my Maker, yet I knew nothing of the sanctifying influence of his holy spirit, and, not finding that happiness in religion I anticipated, I, by degrees, through the persuasions of companions and the inclination of my depraved heart, began to go a little more into society, and to resume my former style of dressing, though in comparative moderation.”
She then states how, some time after she had thus departed from her Christian profession. Dr. Kolloch came once more, and his sad and earnest rebukes made her unutterably wretched. But she tried to stifle the voice of conscience by entering more and more into worldly amusements, until she had lost nearly all spiritual sense. Her disposition became soured by incessantly yielding to temptation, and she adds:–
“I know not where I might have been landed, had not the merciful interposition of Providence stopped my progress.”
This “merciful interposition of Providence” was nothing less than the declining health of her father; and it affords, indeed, a curious comment on the old Orthodox teachings, that this young woman, devotedly attached to her father, and fully appreciating his value to his family, should have regarded his ill-health as sent by God for her especial benefit, to interrupt her worldly course, and compass her salvation.
Judge Grimke’s illness continued for a year or more; and so faithfully did Sarah nurse him that when it was decided that he should go to Philadelphia to consult Dr. Physic, she was chosen to accompany him.
This first visit to the North was the most important event of Sarah’s life, for the influences and impressions there received gave some shape to her vague and wayward fancies, and showed her a gleam of the light beyond the tangled path which still stretched before her.
She found lodgings for her father and herself in a Quaker family whose name is not mentioned. About their life there, little is said; Sarah being too much occupied with the care of her dear invalid to take much interest in her new surroundings. Judge Grimke’s health continued to decline. His daughter’s account of the last days of his life is very touching, and shows not only how deep was her religious feeling, but how tender and yet how strong she was all through this great trial. The father and daughter, strangers in a strange land, drawn more closely together by his suffering and her necessary care, became friends. indeed; their attachment increasing day by day, until, ere their final separation, they loved each other with that fervent affection which grows only with true sympathy and unbounded confidence. Sarah thus wrote of it:–
“I regard this as the greatest blessing, next to my conversion, I have ever received from God, and I think if all my future life is passed in affliction this mercy alone should make me willingly, yea, cheerfully and joyously, submit to the chastisements of the Lord.”
During their stay in Philadelphia, she had hoped for her father’s recovery, but when, by the doctor’s advice, they went to Long Branch, and she saw how weak and ill he was, this hope forsook her, and she describes her agony as something never to be effaced from her memory. Doubtless this was intensified by her lone and friendless position. They were in a tavern, without one human being to soothe them or sympathize with them. “But,” she writes, “let me here acknowledge the mercy of that Being whose everlasting arms supported me in this hour of suffering. After the first burst of grief I became calm, and felt an assurance that He in whom I trusted would never leave nor forsake me, and that I would have strength given me, even to the performance of the last sad duties. But the end was not yet; the disease fluctuated, some days arousing a gleam of hope, only to be extinguished by the next day’s weakness. Alas! I was compelled to see that death was certainly, though slowly, approaching, and all feeling for my own suffering was sunk in anxiety to contribute to my father’s comfort, and smooth his passage to the grave. And, blessed be God, I was not only able to minister to many of his temporal wants, but permitted to strengthen his hopes of a happy immortality. I prayed with him and read to him, and I cannot recollect hearing an impatient expression from him during his whole illness, or a wish that his sufferings might be lessened or abridged. He often tried to conceal his bodily pain, and to soothe me by every appearance of cheerful piety. Thus he lingered until the 6th of August, when he grew visibly worse. Many incoherent expressions escaped him, but even then how tenderly he spoke of me, I ever shall remember…. About eight o’clock I moved him to his own bed, and, sitting down, prepared to watch by him. He entreated me to lie down, and I told him when he slept I would.
“‘Oh, God,’ he exclaimed with fervent energy, ‘how sweet to sleep and wake in heaven!’ This last desire was realized. He clasped one of my hands, and as I bent over him and arranged his pillow he put his arm around me. I did not stir; apparently he slept. But the relaxed grasp, the dewy coldness, the damps of death which stood upon his forehead, all told me that he was hastening fast to Jesus. Alone, at the hour of midnight, I sat by this bed of death. My eyes were fixed on that face whose calmness seemed to say, ‘I rest in peace.’ A gentle pressure of the hand, and a scarcely audible respiration, alone indicated that life was not extinct; at length that pressure ceased, and the strained ear could no longer hear a breath. I continued gazing on the lifeless form, closed his eyes and kissed him. His spirit, freed from the shackles of mortality, had sprung to its source, the bosom of his God. I passed the rest of the night alone.”
And alone, the only mourner, this brave, heart-stricken girl followed the remains of her beloved father to the grave.
When all was over she went back to Philadelphia, where she remained two or three months, and then returned to Charleston.
During the season of family mourning which followed, having nothing especial to do, Sarah became more than ever concerned about her spiritual welfare. She constantly deplored her lukewarmness, and regarded herself as standing on the edge of a precipice from which she had no power to withdraw. The subject of slavery began now also to agitate her mind. After her residence in Philadelphia, where doubtless she had to listen to some sharp reflections on the Southern institution, it seemed more than ever abhorrent to her, but it does not appear that she gave utterance to her feelings on more than one or two occasions. Even her diary contains only a slight and occasional reference to them. She saw, she says, how useless it was to discuss the subject, as even Angelina, the child of her own training, could see nothing wrong in the mere fact of slave-holding, if the slaves were kindly treated.
Her brother Thomas, to whom she might have opened her overburdened heart, and received from his affection and good sense, comfort and strength, she saw little of; besides, he was a slave-owner, and among his numerous reform theories of education, politics, and religion, he does not seem to have thought of touching slavery. He was a leading member of the bar, very busy with his literary work, had a wife and family, and resided out of the city.
Alone, therefore, Sarah brooded over her trials, and those of the slaves, “until they became like a canker, incessantly gnawing.” Upon the latter she could only look as one in bonds herself, powerless to prevent or ameliorate them. Her sole consolation was teaching the objects of her compassion, within the lawful restrictions, whenever she could find the opportunity. But she began to look upon the world as a wilderness of desolation and suffering, and herself as the most miserable of sinners, fast hastening to destruction. In this frame of mind she was induced to listen to the doctrine of universal salvation, and eagerly adopted it, hoping thereby to find relief from her doubts and fears. Her mother discovered this with horror, and, trembling for her daughter’s safety, she aroused herself to argue so strongly against what she termed the false and awful doctrine, that, though Sarah refused to acknowledge the force of all she said, it had its effect, and she gradually lost her hold on her new belief. But losing that, she lost all hope. “Wormwood and gall” were her portion, and, while she fulfilled the outward duties of religion, dreariness and settled despondency took possession of her mind. She writes:
“Tears never moistened my eyes; to prayer I was a stranger. With Job I dared to curse the day of my birth. One day I was tempted to say something of the kind to my mother. She was greatly shocked, and reproved me seriously. I craved a hiding-place in the grave, as a rest from the distress of my feelings, thinking that no estate could be worse than the present. Sometimes, being unable to pray, unable to command one feeling of good, either natural or spiritual, I was tempted to commit some great crime, thinking I could repent and thus restore my lost sensibility. On this I often meditated, and assuredly should have fallen into this snare had not the mercy of God still followed me.”
I might go on for many pages painting this dreary picture of a misdirected life, but enough has been quoted at present to show Sarah Grimke’s strong, earnest, impressionable nature, and the effects upon it of the teachings of the old theology, mingled with the narrow Southern ideas of usefulness and woman’s sphere. Endowed with a superior intellect, with a most benevolent and unselfish disposition, with a cheerful, loving nature, she desired above all things to be an active, useful member of society. But every noble impulse was strangled at its birth by the iron bands of a religion that taught the crucifixion of every natural feeling as the most acceptable offering to a stern and relentless God. She was now twenty-eight years of age, and with the exception of the period devoted to her father she had as yet thought and worked only for herself. I do not mean that she neglected home duties, or her private charities and visits to the afflicted, but all these offices were performed from one especial motive and with the same end in view to avert from herself the wrath of her Maker. This one thought filled all her mind. All else was as nothing. Family and friends, home and humanity, were of importance only as they furthered this object. It is in this spirit that she mentioned her father’s illness and death, and the heroic, self-sacrificing death, by shipwreck, of her brother Benjamin, to which she could resign herself from a conviction that the stroke was sent as a chastisement to her, and was a merciful dispensation to draw his young wife nearer to God. We read not one word of solicitude for mother, or brothers, or sisters, not a single prayer for their conversion. She was too busy watching and weeping over her own short-comings to concern herself about their doom. The long diary is filled with the reiteration of her fears, her sorrows, and her prayers. Many years afterwards she thus referred to this condition of her mind:–
“I cannot without shuddering look back to that period. How dreadful did the state of my mind become! Nothing interested me; I fulfilled my duties without any feeling of satisfaction, in gloomy silence. My lips moved in prayer, my feet carried me to the holy sanctuary, but my heart was estranged from piety. I felt as if my doom was irrevocably fixed, and I was destined to that fire which is never quenched. I have never experienced any feeling so terrific as the despair of salvation. My soul still remembers the wormwood and the gall, still remembers how awful the conviction that every door of hope was closed, and that I was given over unto death.”
Naturally, such a strain at last impaired her health, and, her mother becoming alarmed, she was sent in the autumn of 1820 to North Carolina, where several relatives owned plantations on the Cape Fear River. She was welcomed with great affection, especially by her aunt, the wife of her uncle James Smith, and mother of Barnwell Rhett. (This name was assumed by him on the inheritance of property from a relative of that name.)
In the village near which this aunt lived there was no place of worship except the Methodist meeting-house. Sarah attended this; and under the earnest and alarming preaching she heard there, together with association with some of the most spiritual-minded of the members, she was aroused from her apathetic state, and was enabled to join in their services with some interest. She even offered up prayer with them, and at one of their love feasts delivered a public testimony to the truths of the gospel. Thus associated with them, she was induced to examine their principles and doctrines, but found them as faulty as all the rest she had from time to time investigated. She therefore soon decided not to become one of them. From her earliest serious impressions, she had been dissatisfied with Episcopacy, feeling its forms lifeless; but now, after having carefully considered the various other sects, and finding error in all, she concluded to remain in the church whose doctrines at least satisfied her as well as those of any other, and were those of her mother and her family.
Of the Society of Friends she knew little, and that little was unfavorable. To a remark made one day by her mother, relative to her turning Quaker, she replied, with some warmth:–
“Anything but a Quaker or a Catholic!”
Having made up her mind that the Friends were wrong, she had steadily refused, during her stay in Philadelphia, to attend their meetings or read any of their writings. Nevertheless many things about them, scarcely noticed at the time,–their quiet dress, orderly manner of life and gentle tones of voice, together with their many acts of kindness to her and her father,–came back to her after she had left them, and especially impressed her as contrasting so strongly with the slack habits and irregular discipline which made her own home so unhappy.
On the vessel which carried her from Philadelphia to Charleston, after her father’s death, was a party of Friends; and in the seven days which it then required to make the voyage, an intimacy sprang up between them and Sarah which influenced her whole after-life. From one of them she had accepted a copy of Woolman’s works,–evidence that there must have been religious discussions between them. And that there was talk– probably some jesting–in the family about Quakers is shown by the little incident Sarah relates of her brother Thomas presenting her, soon after her return from North Carolina, with a volume of Quaker writings he had picked up at some sale. He placed it in her hand, saying jocosely,–
“Thee had better turn Quaker, Sally; thy long face would suit well their sober dress.”
She was, as we have said, of a naturally cheerful disposition; but her false views of religion led her to believe that “by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better,” and she shed more tears, and offered up more petitions for forgiveness, over occasional irresistible merriment than I have space to record.
She accepted the book from her brother, read it, and, needing some explanation of portions of it, wrote to one of the Friends in Philadelphia whose acquaintance she had made on the vessel. A correspondence ensued, which resulted after some months in her entire conversion to Quakerism.
She had now reached, she thought, a resting-place for her weary, sore-travailed spirit; and, like a tired pilgrim, she dropped all her burdens beside this fresh stream, from whose waters she expected to drink such cooling draughts. The quiet of the little meeting-house in Charleston, the absence of ornament and ceremony, the silent worship by the few members, the affectionate thee and thou, all soothed her restless soul for a while, and a sweet calm fell upon her. But she believed that God constantly spoke to her heart, directing her by the still, small voice; and the fidelity with which she obeyed this invisible guide was not only a real detriment to her spiritual progress, but the cause of much distress to her.
When, as sometimes happened from various causes, she failed in obedience, her mental suffering was intense, and in abject humility she accepted as punishment any mortification or sorrow that came to her afterwards. As a sequence to this hallucination, she also had visions at various times, and saw and communed with spirits, and did not hesitate to acknowledge their influence and to respect their intimations. So marvellously real were her feelings on these points that her immediate friends, though greatly deploring their effect upon her, seldom ventured any remonstrance against them. Now, under the influence of her new belief, the impression of a divine call to be made upon her deepened, and soon took shape in the persuasion that it was to be a call to the ministry. Her soul recoiled at the very thought of work so solemn, and she prayed the Lord to spare her; but the more she prayed, the stronger and clearer the intimations became, until she felt that no loop-hole of escape was left her from obedience to her Master’s will. From the publicity the work involved, she intuitively shrank. Her natural sensitiveness and all the prejudices of her life rebelled against it, and she could not look forward to it without fear and trembling. Every meeting now found her, she says, like a craven, dreading to hear the summons which would oblige her to rise and open her lips before the two or three gathered there. Vainly did she try to “hide herself from the Lord.” The evidence came distinctly to her one morning that some words of admonition were required of her; but so appalling did the act appear to her that she trembled, hesitated, resisted, and was silent. Sorrow and remorse at once filled her soul; and, feeling that she had sinned against the Holy Ghost, she thought that God never could forgive her, and that no sacrifice she could ever offer could atone for this first act of disobedience. Through long and dreary years it was the spectre that never would down, but stood ready to point its accusing finger whenever she was tempted to seek the cause of her disappointments and sorrows.
Thus, in the very outset of her new departure, arose apprehensions which followed her continually, robbing her religious exercises of all peace, and bringing her such a depth of misery that, she says, it almost destroyed her soul. The frequent letters of her Quaker friend, though calculated to soothe and encourage her, were all firm on the point of implicit obedience to the movements of the Spirit; and she found herself in a straight and narrow path, from which she was not allowed to deviate.
To this friend, Israel Morris, Sarah seems to have confessed all her shortcomings, all her fears, until, encouraged by his sympathy, and led by her longing for a wider field of action, she began to contemplate a removal to the North. There were other causes which urged her to seek another home. The inharmonious life in her family, joined to the reproaches and ridicule constantly aimed at her, and which stung her to the quick, naturally inspired the desire to go where she would be rid of it all, and live in peace. In her religious exaltation, it was easy for her to persuade herself that she was moved to make this important change by the Lord’s command. She sincerely believed it was so, and speaks of it as an unmistakable call, not to be disregarded, to go forth from that land, and her work would be shown her. Naturally, Philadelphia was the spot to which she was directed. When informed of her desires, Israel Morris not only gave his approval, but invited her to a home in his family. A door of shelter and safety being thus thrown open to her, she no longer hesitated, but at once made known her intention to her relatives. There seems to have been little or no opposition offered to a step so serious; in fact, her brothers and sisters, though much attached to her,–for her loving nature was irresistible,–evidently felt it a relief when she was gone, her strict and pious life being a constant rebuke to their worldly views and practices.
Her sister Anna, at her urgent request, accompanied her on the voyage. This sister, the widow of an Episcopal clergyman, though a defender of slavery as an institution, recognized its evil influences on the society where it existed, and gladly accepted the opportunity offered to take her young daughter away from them. It was necessary, too, that she should do something to increase her slender income, and Sarah advised opening a small school in Philadelphia,–a thing which she could not have done in Charleston without a sacrifice of her own social position and of the family pride.
There is nothing said of the parting, even from Angelina, though we know it must have been a hard trial for Sarah to leave this young sister, just budding into womanhood, and surrounded by all the snares whose alluring influences she understood so well. That she could consent to leave her thus is perhaps the strongest proof of her faith in the imperative nature of the summons to which she felt she was yielding obedience.
The exiles reached Philadelphia without accident in the latter part of May, 1821. Lodgings were found for Mrs. Frost and her child, and Sarah went at once to the residence of her friend, Israel Morris.
It is very much to be regretted that all of Sarah Grimke’s letters to Angelina, and to other members of her family at this time, were, at her own request, destroyed as received. They would not only have afforded most interesting reading, but would have thrown light on much which, without them, is necessarily obscure. Nor were there more than twenty-five or thirty of Angelina’s letters preserved, and they were written between the years 1826 and 1828. We therefore have but little data by which to follow Sarah’s life during the five years succeeding her return to Philadelphia, and before she again went, to Charleston; or Angelina’s life at home, during the same period. Sarah’s diary, frequently interrupted, continues to record her religious sorrows, for these followed her even into the peaceful home at “Greenhill Farm,” the name of Israel Morris’s place, where she was received and treated like a near and dear relative; and it was but natural and proper that she should be so accepted by the members of Mr. Morris’s family. He was literally her only friend at the North. Through his influence she had been brought into the Quaker religion, and encouraged to leave her mother and native land. She was entirely unpractised in the ways of the world, and was besides in very narrow circumstances, her only available income being the interest on $10,000, the sum left by Judge Grimke to each of his children. The estate had not yet been settled up. Add to all this the virtue of hospitality, inculcated by the Quaker doctrine, and it seems perfectly natural that Sarah should accept the offer of her friend in the spirit in which it was made, and feel grateful to her Heavenly Father that such a refuge was provided for her.
The notes in her journal for that summer are rather meagre. She attended meeting regularly, but made no formal application to be received into the Society of Friends. It would hardly have been considered so soon; she must first go through a season of probation. How hard this was is told in the lamentations and prayers which she confided to her diary. The “fearful act of disobedience” of which she was guilty in Charleston lay as a heavy load on her spirit, troubling her thoughts by day and her dreams by night, until she says: “At times I am almost led to believe I shall never know good any more.”
Notwithstanding these trying spiritual exercises, the summer seems to have passed in more peace than she had dared to hope for. Israel Morris was a truly good man, with a strong, genial nature, which must have had a soothing effect upon Sarah’s troubled spirit. But before many months her thoughts began to turn back to home. Her mother’s want of spirituality, from her standpoint, grieved her greatly. The accounts she received of the disorder in the family added to her anxieties, and she felt that her influence was needed to bring about harmony, and to guide her mother on the road to Zion. She laid the case before the Lord, and, receiving no intimation that she would be doing a wrong thing, she decided to return to Charleston.
Before leaving Philadelphia, however, she felt that it was her duty to assume the full Quaker dress. She had worn plain colors from the time she began to attend meeting in her native city, but the clothes were not fashioned after the Quaker style, and she still indulged herself in occasionally wearing a becoming black dress; though when she did so, she not only felt uncomfortable herself, but knew that she made many of her friends so. “Persisting in so doing,” she says, “I have since been made sensible, manifested a want of condescension entirely unbecoming a Christian, and one day conviction was so strong on this subject, that, as I was dressing, I felt as if I could not proceed, but sat down with my dress half on, and these words passed through my mind: Can it be of any consequence in the sight of God whether I wear a black dress or not? The evidence was clear that it was not, but that self-will was the cause of my continuing to do it. For this I suffered much, but was at length strengthened to cast away this idol.”
Remembering the fashionable life she had once led, and her natural taste for the beautiful in all things, it must have been something of a sacrifice, even though sustained by her religious exaltation, to lay aside everything pretty and becoming, and, denying herself even so much as a flower from nature’s own fields, to array herself in the scant and sober dress of drab, the untrimmed kerchief, and the poke bonnet.
Writing from Greenhill in October, she says:
“On last Fifth Day I changed my dress for the more plain one of the Quakers, not because I think making my clothes in their peculiar manner makes me any better, but because I believe it was laid upon me, seeing that my natural will revolted from the idea of assuming this garb. I trust I have made this change in a right spirit, and with a single eye to my dear Redeemer. It was accompanied by a feeling of much peace.”
Late in the autumn she sailed for Charleston, and was received by the home circle with affection, though her plain dress gave occasion for some slighting remarks. These, however, no longer affected her as they once had done, and she bore them in silence. Surrounded by her family, all of whom she warmly loved, in spite of their want of sympathy with her, rooming with her “precious child,” with full opportunity to counsel and direct her, and intent upon carrying out reform in the household, she was for a time almost contented. She took up her old routine, her charities, and her schools, and attended meeting regularly. But a very few weeks sufficed to make her realize her utter inability to harmonize the discordant elements in her home, or to make more than a transient impression upon her mother. Day by day she became more discouraged; everything seemed to conspire to thwart her efforts for good, which were misconstrued and misunderstood. Surrounded, too, and besieged by all the familiar influences of her old life, it became harder to sustain her peculiar views and habits, and spiritual luke-warmness gained rapidly upon her. With deep humility she acknowledged the mistake she had made in going back to Charleston, which place was evidently not the vineyard in which she could labor to any profit.
In July she was again in Philadelphia, a member now of the family of Catherine Morris, sister to Israel. Here she remained until after her admission into Friends’ Society, when, feeling it her duty to make herself independent of the friends who had been so kind to her, she cast about her for something to do, and was mortified and chagrined to find there was nothing suited to her capacity.
“Oh!” she exclaims, “had I received the education I desired, had I been bred to the profession of the law, I might have been a useful member of society, and instead of myself and my property being taken care of, I might have been a protector of the helpless, a pleader for the poor and unfortunate.”
The industrial avenues for women were few and narrow in those days; and for the want of some practical knowledge, the doors Sarah Grimke might have entered were closed to her, and she was finally forced to abandon her hopes of independence, and to again accept a home for the winter in Israel Morris’s house, now in the city. It must not be supposed, however, that either here or at Catherine’s, where she afterwards made her steady home, she was a burden or a hindrance. She was too energetic and too conscientious to be a laggard anywhere. So kind and so thoughtful was she, so helpful in sickness, so sympathetic in joy and in sorrow, that she more than earned her frugal board wherever she went. Could she only have been persuaded that it was right to yield to her naturally cheerful temper, she would have been a delightful companion at all times; but her sadness frequently affected her friends, and even drew forth an occasional reproof. The ministry, that dreadful requirement which she felt sure the Lord would make of her, was ever before her, and in fear and trembling she awaited the moment when the command would be given, “Arise and speak.”
This painful preparation went on year after year, but her advance towards her expected goal was very slow. She would occasionally nerve herself to speak a few words of admonition in a small meeting, make a short prayer, or quote a text of scripture, but her services were limited to these efforts. She often feared that she was restrained by her desire that her first attempt at exhorting should be a brilliant success, and place her at once where she would be a power in the meetings; and she prayed constantly for a clear manifestation, something she could not mistake, that she might not be tempted by the hope of relief from present suffering to move prematurely in the “awful work.”
Thus she waited, trying to restrain and satisfy her impatient yearnings for some real, living work by teaching charity schools, visiting prisons, and going through the duties of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. But she could not shut out from herself the doubts that would force themselves forward, that her time was not employed as it should be.
We hear nothing of her family during these years, nothing to indicate any change in their condition or in their feelings. We know, however, that Sarah kept up a frequent correspondence with her mother and with Angelina, and that chiefly through her admonitions the latter was turned from her worldly life to more serious concerns.
Like Sarah, Angelina grew up a gay, fashionable girl. Her personal beauty and qualities of mind and heart challenged the admiration of all who came in contact with her. More brilliant than Sarah, she was also more self-reliant, and, though quite as sympathetic and sensitive, she was neither so demonstrative nor so tender in her feelings as her elder sister, and her manner being more dignified and positive, she inspired, even in those nearest to her, a certain degree of awe which forbade, perhaps, the fulness of confidence which Sarah’s greater gentleness always invited. Her frankness and scrupulous conscientiousness were equal to Sarah’s, but she always preserved her individuality and her right to think for herself. Once convinced, she could maintain her opinion against all arguments and persuasions, no matter from whom. As an illustration of this, it is related of her that when she was about thirteen years of age the bishop of the diocese called to talk to her about being confirmed. She had, of course, been baptized when an infant, and he told her she was now old enough to take upon herself the vows then made for her. She asked the meaning of confirmation, and was referred to the prayer-book. After reading the rite over, she said:–
“I cannot be confirmed, for I cannot promise what is here required.”
The bishop urged that it was a form which all went through who had been baptized in the Church, and expected to remain in it. Looking him calmly in the face, she said, in a tone whose decision could not be questioned:–
“If, with my feelings and views as they now are, I should go through that form, it would be acting a lie. I cannot do it.” And no persuasions could induce her to consent.
Like Sarah, she felt much for the slaves, and was ever kind to them, thoughtful, and considerate. She, too, suffered keenly when punishments were inflicted upon them; and no one could listen without tears to the account she gave of herself, as a little girl, stealing out of the house after dark with a bottle of oil with which to anoint the wounds of some poor creature who had been torn by the lash. Earlier than Sarah, she recognized the whole injustice of the system, and refused ever to have anything to do with it. She did once own a woman, but under the following circumstances:–
“I had determined,” she writes, “never to own a slave; but, finding that my mother could not manage Kitty, I undertook to do so, if I could have her without any interference from anyone. This could not be unless she was mine, and purely from notions of duty I consented to own her. Soon after, one of my mother’s servants quarrelled with her, and beat her. I determined she should not be subject to such abuse, and I went out to find her a place in some Christian family. My steps were ordered by the Lord. I succeeded in my desire, and placed her with a religious friend, where she was kindly treated.”
Afterwards, when the woman had become a good Methodist, Angelina transferred the ownership to her mother, not wishing to receive the woman’s wages,–to take, as she said, money which that poor creature had earned.
There is no evidence that, up to the time of her first visit to Philadelphia, in 1828, she saw anything sinful in owning slaves; indeed, Sarah distinctly says she did not. She took the Bible as authority for the right to own them, and their cruel treatment by their masters was all that distressed her for many years.
Like most of her young companions, Angelina had great respect for the ordinary observances of religion without much devotional sense of its sacred obligations. But Sarah did not neglect her duty as godmother. Her searching inquiries and solemn warnings had their effect, and soon awakened a slumbering conscience. But its upbraidings were not accepted unquestionably by Angelina, as they had been by Sarah. They only stung her into a desire for investigation. She must know the why; and her strong self-reliance helped her judgment, and buoyed her up amid waves of doubt and anxiety that would have submerged her more timid sister.
In the first letter of hers that was preserved, written in January, 1826, we are introduced to her religious feelings, and find that they were formed by the pattern set by Sarah, save that they lacked Sarah’s earnestness and sincere conviction. She acknowledges herself a poor, miserable sinner, but the tone is that of confidence that she will come out all right, and that it isn’t really such a dreadful thing to be a sinner after all. In this letter, too, she mentions the death of her brother Benjamin, and in the same spirit in which Sarah wrote of it.
“I was in Beaufort,” she says, “when the news of my dear Ben’s fate arrived. You may well suppose it was a great shock to my feelings, but I did not for one moment doubt all was right. This blow has been dealt by the hand of mercy. We have been much comforted in this dispensation. I have felt that it was good for me, and I think I have been thankful for it.”
And further on: “If this affliction will only make Mary (Benjamin’s wife) a real Christian, how small will be the price of her salvation!”
Poor Ben! heroic, self-sacrificing soul, he was not a professing Christian.
In this same letter she expresses the desire to become a communicant of the Episcopal Church.
But she did not wait for Sarah’s answer. Before it came, she and one of her sisters had joined the Church. This was in January. Before a month had passed she began to be dissatisfied, and grew more and more so as time went on. Why, it is not difficult to surmise. From having been accustomed to much society and genial intercourse, she found herself, from her own choice, shut out from it all, and imprisoned within the rigid formalism and narrow exclusiveness of a proud, aristocratic church society. The compensation of knowing herself a lamb of this flock was not sufficient. She starved, she says, on the cold water of Episcopacy, and, to her mother’s distress, began going to the Presbyterian church, just as Sarah had done.
In April, she writes thus to her sister:–
“O, my dear mother, I have joyful news to tell you. God has given me a new heart. He has renewed a right spirit within me. This is news which has occasioned even the angels in heaven to rejoice; surely, then, as a Christian, as my sister and my mother, you will also greatly rejoice. For many years I hardened my heart, and would not listen to God’s admonitions to flee from the wrath to come. Now I feel as if I could give up all for Christ, and that if I no longer live in conformity to the world, I can be saved.”
She then states that this change was brought about by the preaching of Mr. McDowell, the Presbyterian minister, and that she can never be grateful enough, as his ministry had been blessed to the saving of her soul. A little further on she adds:–
“The Presbyterians, I think, enjoy so many privileges that, on this account, I would wish to be one. They have their monthly concert and prayer-meetings, Bible-classes, weekly prayer-meetings, morning and evening, and many more which spring from different circumstances. I trust, my dear mother, you will approve of what I have done. I cannot but think if I had been taking an improper step, my conscience would have warned me of it, but, far otherwise, I have gone on my way rejoicing.
“Mr. Hanckel sent me a note and a tract persuasive of my remaining in his church. The latter I think the most bigoted thing I ever read. He said he would call and see me on the subject. I trust and believe God will give me words whereby to refute his arguments. Brother Tom sanctioned my change, for his liberal mind embraces all classes of Christians in the arms of charity and love, and he thinks everyone right to sit under that minister, and choose that form, which makes the deepest impression on the heart. I feel that I have begun a great work, and must be diligent. Adieu, my dear mother. You must write soon to your daughter, and tell her all your mind on this subject.”
There is something very refreshing in all this, after poor Sarah’s pages of bitterness and self-reproach. At that time, at any rate, Angelina enjoyed her religion. It was to her the fulfilment of promise. Sarah experienced little of its satisfactions, and groaned and wept under its requirements, from a sense of her utter unworthiness to accept any of its blessings. And this difference between the sisters continued always. Angelina knew that humility was the chief of the Christian virtues, and often she believed she had attained to it; but there was too much self-assertion, too much of the pride of power, in her composition, to permit her to go down into the depths, and prostrate herself in the dust as Sarah did. She could turn her full gaze to the sun, and bask in its genial beams, while Sarah felt unworthy to be touched by a single ray, and looked up to its light with imploring but shaded eyes.
In November, 1827, Sarah again visited Charleston. Her heart yearned for Angelina, whose religious state excited her tenderest solicitude, and called for her wisest counsel. For that enthusiastic young convert was again running off the beaten track, and picking flaws in her new doctrines. But there was another reason why Sarah desired to absent herself from Philadelphia for a while.
I can touch but lightly on this experience of her life, for her sensitive soul quivered under any allusion to it; and though her diary contains many references to it, they are chiefly in the form of prayers for submission to her trial, and strength to bear it. But it was the key-note to the dirge which sounded ever after in her heart, mingling its mournful numbers with every joy, even after she had risen beyond her religious horrors.
For months she fought against this new snare of Satan, as she termed it, this plain design to draw her thoughts from God, and compass her destruction. The love of Christ should surely be enough for her, and any craving for earthly affection was the evidence of an unsanctified heart. In a delicate reference to this, in after years, she says:–
“It is a beautiful theory, but my experience belies it, that God can be all in all to man. There are moments, diamond points in life, when God fills the yearning soul, and supplies all our needs, through the richness of his mercy in Christ Jesus. But human hearts are created for human hearts to love and be loved by, and their claims are as true and as sacred as those of the spirit.”
It was very soon after her first doubts concerning her worthiness to accept the happiness offered to her that she determined to go to Charleston and put her feelings to the test of absence and unbiased reflection. The entry in her diary of November 22d is as follows:–
“Landed this morning in Charleston, and was welcomed by my dear mother with tears of pleasure and tenderness, as she folded me once more to her bosom. My dear sisters, too, greeted me with all the warmth of affection. It is a blessing to find them all seriously disposed, and my precious Angelina one of the Master’s chosen vessels. What a mercy!”
The strong contrast between Sarah and Angelina Grimke was shown not only in their religious feelings, but in their manner of treating the ordinary concerns of life, and in carrying out their convictions of duty. In her humility, and in her strong reliance on the “inner light,” Sarah refused to trust her own judgment, even in the merest trifles, such as the lending of a book to a friend, postponing the writing of a letter, or sweeping a room to-day, when it might be better to defer it until to-morrow. She says of this: “Perhaps to some who have been led by higher ways than I have been into a knowledge of the truth, it may appear foolish to think of seeking direction in little things, but my mind has for a long time been in a state in which I have often felt a fear how I came in or went out, and I have found it a precious thing to stop and consult the mind of truth, and be governed thereby.”
The following incident, one out of many, will illustrate the sincerity of her conviction on this point.
“In this frame of mind I went to meeting, and it being a rainy day I took a large, handsome umbrella, which I had accepted from brother Henry, accepted doubtfully, therefore wrongfully, and have never felt quite easy to use it, which, however, I have done a few times. After I was in meeting, I was much tried with a wandering mind, and every now and then the umbrella would come before me, so that I sat trying to wait on my God, and he showed me that I must not only give up this little thing, but return it to brother. Glad to purchase peace, I yielded; then the reasoner said I could put it away and not use it, but this language was spoken: ‘I have shown thee what was required of thee.’ It seemed to me that a little light came through a narrow passage, when my will was subdued. Now this is a marvellous thing to me, as marvellous as the dealings of the Lord with me in what may appear great things.”
In a note she adds: “This little sacrifice was made. I sent the umbrella with an affectionate note to brother, and believe it gave him no offence to have it returned. And sweet has been the recompense–even peace.”
Whenever she acted from her own impulses, she was very clever in finding out some disappointment or mistake, which she could claim as a punishment for her self-will.
As sympathy was the strongest quality of her moral nature, she suffered intensely when, impelled by a sense of duty, she offered a rebuke of any kind. The tenderest pity stirred her heart for wrong-doers, and though she never spared the sinner, it was always manifest that she loved him while hating his sin.
Angelina, on the other hand, was wonderfully well satisfied with her own power of distinguishing right from wrong; this power being, she believed, the gift of the Spirit to her. She sought her object, dreading no consequences, and if disaster followed she comforted herself with the feeling that she had acted according to her best light. She was a faithful disciple of every cause she espoused, and scrupulously exact in obeying even its implied provisions. In this there was no hesitancy. No matter who was offended, or what sacrifices to herself it involved, the law, the strict letter of the law, must be carried out.
In the early years of her religious life, she frequently felt called upon to rebuke those about her. She did it unhesitatingly, and as a righteous and an inflexible judge.
In order to make these differences between the sisters more plain, differences which harmonized singularly with their unity in other respects, I shall be obliged, at the risk of wearying the reader, to make some further extracts from their diaries, before entering upon that portion of their lives in which they became so closely identified.
After Sarah’s return home, in 1827, we learn more of her mother and of the family generally, and see, though with them, how far apart she really was from them. The second entry in her diary at that date shows the beginning of this.
“23d. Have been favored with strength to absent myself from family prayers. A great trial this to Angelina and myself, and something the rest cannot understand. But I have a testimony to bear against will worship, and oh, that I may be faithful to this and to all the testimonies which we as a Society are called to declare.
“26th. Am this day thirty-five years old. A serious consideration that I have passed so many years to so little profit.
“How little mother seems to know when I am sitting solemnly beside her, of the supplications which arise for her, under the view of her having ere long to give an account of the deeds done in the body.”
A month later she writes: “The subject of returning to Philadelphia has been revived before me. It seems like a fresh trial, and as if, did my Master permit, here would I stay, and in the bosom of my family be content to dwell; but if he orders it otherwise, great as will be the struggle, may I submit in humble faith.”
By the following extracts it will be seen that living under the daily and hourly influence of Sarah, Angelina was slowly but surely imbibing the fresh milk of Quakerism, and was preparing for another great change on her spiritual journey.
In March, 1828, she wrote as follows to her sister, Mrs. Frost, in Philadelphia:–
“I think I can say that it was owing in a great measure to my peculiar state of mind that I did not write to you for so long. During that time it seemed as though the Lord was driving me from everything on which I had rested for happiness, in order to bring me to Christ alone. My dear little church, in which I delighted once to dwell, seemed to have Ichabod written upon its walls, and I felt as though it was a cross for me to go into it. At times I thought the Saviour meant to bring me out of it, and I could weep at the bare thought of being separated from people I loved so dearly. Like Abraham, I had gone out from my kindred into a strange land, and I have often thought that by faith I was joined to that body of Christians, for I certainly knew nothing at all about them at that time.”
In the latter part of the letter she mentions the visit to her of an Episcopal minister, from near Beaufort. He asked her if she could not do something to remove the lukewarmness from the Episcopal Church, and if a real evangelical minister was sent there would she not return to it. “But,” she says, “I told him I could not conscientiously belong to any church which exalted itself above all others, and excluded ministers of other denominations from its pulpit. The principle of _liberty_ is what especially endears the Presbyterian church to me. Our pulpit is open to all Christians, and, as I have often heard my dear pastor remark, our communion table is the _Lord’s table_, and all his children are cheerfully received at it.”
About the same time Sarah says in her diary: “My dear Angelina observed to-day, ‘I do not know what is the matter with me; some time ago I could talk to the poor people, but now it seems as if my lips were absolutely sealed. I cannot get the words out.’ I mark with intense interest her progress in the divine life, believing she is raised up to declare the wonderful works of God to the children of men.”
In the latter part of March, 1828, she makes the following entry: “On the eve of my departure from home, all before me lies in darkness save this one step, to go at this time in the _Langdon Cheeves_. This seems peremptory, and at times precious promises have been annexed to obedience,–‘Go, and I will be with thee.'”
Angelina had been very happy during the year spent in the Presbyterian Church, all its requirements suiting her temperament exactly. Her energy and activity found full exercise in various works of charity, in visiting the prison, where she delighted to exhort the prisoners, in reading, and especially in expounding the scriptures to the sick and aged; in zealously forwarding missionary work, and in warm interest in all the social exercises of the society. She was petted by the pastor, and admired by the congregation. It was very pleasant to her to feel that she not only conformed to all her duties, but was regarded as a shining light, destined to do much to build up the church. She still retained most of her old friendships in the Episcopal church, which had not given up all hope of luring her back to its fold. Altogether, life had gone smoothly with her, and she was well satisfied. The change which she now contemplated was a revolution. It was to break up all the old habits and associations, disturb life-long friendships, and, stripping her of the attractions of society and church intercourse, leave her standing alone, a spectacle to the eyes of those who gazed, a wonder and a grief to her friends. But all this Sarah had warned her of, and all this she felt able to endure. Self-sacrifice, self-immolation, in fact, was what Sarah taught; and, although Angelina never learned the lesson fully, she made a conscientious effort to understand and practise it. She began very shortly after Sarah’s arrival at home. In January her diary records the following offering made to the Moloch of Quakerism:–
“To-day I have torn up my novels. My mind has long been troubled about them. I did not dare either to sell them or lend them out, and yet I had not resolution to destroy them until this morning, when, in much mercy, strength was granted.”
Sarah in her diary thus refers to this act: “This morning my dear Angelina proposed destroying Scott’s novels, which she had purchased before she was serious. Perhaps I strengthened her a little, and accordingly they were cut up. She also gave me some elegant articles to stuff a cushion, believing that, as we were commanded to lead holy and unblamable lives, so we must not sanction sin in others by giving them what we had put away ourselves.”
Angelina also says, “A great deal of my finery, too, I have put beyond the reach of anyone.”
An explanation of this is given in a copy of a paper which was put into the cushion alluded to by Sarah. The copy is in her handwriting.
“Believing that if ever the contents of this cushion, in the lapse of years, come to be inspected (when, mayhap, its present covering should be destroyed by time and service), they will excite some curiosity in those who will behold the strange assemblage of handsome lace veils, flounces, and trimmings, and caps, this may inform them that in the winter of 1827-8, Sarah M. Grimke, being on a visit to her friends in Charleston, undertook the economical task of making a rag carpet, and with the shreds thereof concluded to stuff this cushion. Having made known her intention, she solicited contributions from all the family, which they furnished liberally, and several of them having relinquished the vanities of the world to seek a better inheritance, they threw into the treasury much which they had once used to decorate the poor tabernacle of clay. Now it happened that on the 10th day of the first month that, sitting at her work and industriously cutting her scraps, her well-beloved sister Angelina proposed adding to the collection for the cushion two handsome lace veils, a lace flounce, and other laces, etc., which were accepted, and are accordingly in this medley. This has been done under feelings of duty, believing that, as we are called with a high and holy calling, and forbidden to adorn these bodies, but to wear the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, as we have ourselves laid aside these superfluities of naughtiness, so we should not in any measure contribute to the destroying of others, knowing that we shall be called to give an account of the deeds done in the body.”
This was at least consistent, and in this light cannot be condemned. From that time Angelina kept up this kind of sacrifices, which were gladly made, and for which she seems to have found ample compensation in her satisfied sense of duty.
One day she records: “I have just untrimmed my hat, and have put nothing but a band of ribbon around it, and taken the lace out of the inside. I do want, if I _am_ a Christian, to look like one. I think that professors of religion ought so to dress that wherever they are seen all around may feel they are _condemning_ the world and all its trifling vanities.”
A little later, she writes: “My attention has lately been called to the duty of Christians dressing _quite_ plain. When I was first brought to the feet of Jesus, I learned this lesson in part, but I soon forgot much of it. Now I find my views stricter and clearer than they ever were. The first thing I gave up was a cashmere mantle which cost twenty dollars. I had not felt easy with it for some months, and finally determined never to wear it again, though I had no money at the time to replace it with anything else. However, I gave it up in faith, and the Lord provided for me. This part of Scripture came very forcibly to my mind, and very sweetly, too, ‘And Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord.’ It was then clearly revealed to me that if the true ark Christ Jesus was really introduced into the temple of the heart, that every idol would fall before it.”
Elsewhere she mentions that she had begun with this mantle by cutting off the border; but this compromise did not satisfy conscience.
But the work thus begun did not ripen until some time after Sarah’s departure, though the preparation for it went daily and silently on.
Sarah in the meanwhile was once more quietly settled at Catherine Morris’ house in Philadelphia.
But we must leave this much-tried pilgrim for a little while, and record the progress of her young disciple on the path which, through much tribulation, led her at last to her sister’s side, and to that work which was even now preparing for them both.
Angelina’s diary, commenced in 1828, is most characteristic, and in the very beginning shows that inclination to the consideration and discussion of serious questions which in after years so distinguished her.
It is rather remarkable to find a girl of twenty-three scribbling over several pages about the analogy existing between the natural and the spiritual world, or discussing with herself the question: “Are seasons of darkness always occasioned by sin?” or giving a long list of reasons why she differs from commentators upon certain texts of scriptures. She enjoyed this kind of thinking and writing, and seems to have been unwearying in her search after authorities to sustain her views. The maxims, too, which she was fond of jotting down here and there, and which furnished the texts for long dissertations, show the serious drift of her thoughts, and their clearness and beauty.
From this time it is interesting to follow her spiritual progress, so like and yet so unlike Sarah’s. She, also, early in her religious life, was impressed with the feeling that she would be called to some great work. In the winter of 1828, she writes:–
“It does appear to me, and it has appeared so ever since I had a hope, that there was a work before me to which all my other duties and trials were only preparatory. I have no idea what it is, and I may be mistaken, but it does seem that if I am obedient to the ‘still small voice’ in my heart, that it will lead me and cause me to glorify my Master in a more honorable work than any in which I have been yet engaged.”
Knowing Sarah’s convictions at this time, it is easy to imagine the long, confidential talks she must have had with Angelina, and the loving persuasion used to bring this dear sister into the same communion with herself, and it is no marvel that she succeeded. Angelina’s nature was an earnest one, and she ever sought the truth, and the best in every doctrine, and this remained with her after the rest was rejected. The Presbyterian Church satisfied her better than the Episcopal, but if Sarah or anyone else could show her a brighter light to guide her, a better path leading to the same goal, she would have thought it a heinous offence against God and her own true nature to reject it. That no desire for novelty impelled her in her then contemplated change, and that she foresaw all she would have to contend with, and the sacrifices she would have to make, is evident from several passages like the following:–
“Yesterday I was thrown into great exercise of mind. The Lord more clearly than ever unfolded his design of appointing me another field of labor, and at the same time I felt released from the cross of conducting family worship. I feel that very soon all the burdens will drop from my hands, and all the cords by which I have been bound to many Christian friends will be broken asunder. Soon I shall be a stranger among those with whom I took sweet counsel, and shall have to tread the wine press alone and be forsaken of all.”
A day or two after she says:–
“This morning I felt no condemnation when I went into family prayers, and did not lead as usual in the duties. I felt that my Master had stripped me of the priest’s garments, and put them on my mother. May He be pleased to anoint her for these sacred duties.”
Her impressions may be accounted for by the influence of Sarah’s feelings regarding herself, and as there was then no other field of public usefulness open to women, especially among the Quakers, than the ministry, her mind naturally settled upon that as her prospective work. But, unlike Sarah, the anticipation inspired her with no dread, no doubt even of her ability to perform the duties, or of her entire acceptance in them. It is true she craved of the Lord guidance and help, but she was confident she would receive all she needed, and in this state of mind she was better fitted, perhaps, to wait patiently for her summons than Sarah was.
She gives a minute and very interesting account of the successive steps by which she was led to feel that she could no longer worship in the Presbyterian Church, and we see the workings of Sarah’s influence through it all. But it was not until after Sarah left for Philadelphia that Angelina took any decided measures to release herself from the old bonds. All winter it had grieved her to think of leaving a church which she had called the cradle of her soul, and where she had enjoyed so many privileges. She loved everything connected with it; the pastor to whom she had looked up as her spiritual guide; the members with whom she had been so intimately associated, and the Sunday-school in which she was much beloved, and where she felt she was doing a good work. Again and again she asked herself: “How can I give them up?”
Her friends all noticed the decline of her interest in the church work and services, and commented upon it. But she shrank for a long time from any open avowal of her change of views, preferring to let her conduct tell the story. And in this she was straightforward and open enough, not hesitating to act at once upon each new light as it was given to her. First came the putting away of everything like ornament about her dress. “Even the bows on my shoes,” she says, “must go,” and then continues:–
“My friends tell me that I render myself ridiculous, and expose the cause of Jesus to reproach, on account of my plain dressing. They tell me it is wrong to make myself so conspicuous. But the more I ponder on the subject, the more I feel that I am called with a high and holy calling, and that I ought to be peculiar, and cannot be too zealous. I rejoice to look forward to the time when Christians will follow the apostolical injunction to ‘keep their garments unspotted from the world;’ and is not every conformity to it a spot on the believer’s character? I think it is, and I bless the Lord that He has been pleased to bring my mind to a contemplation of this subject. I pray that He may strengthen me to keep the resolution to dress always in the following style: A hat over the face, without any bows of ribbon or lace; no frills or trimmings on any part of my dress, and materials _not_ the finest.”
This simplicity in dress, and the sinfulness of every self-indulgence, she also taught to her Sunday-school scholars with more or less success, as one example out of several of a similar character will show.
“Yesterday,” she writes, “I met my class, and think it was a profitable meeting to all. One of them has entertained a hope for about a year. She asked me if I thought it wrong to plant geraniums? I told her _I_ had no time for such things. She then said that she had once taken great pleasure in cultivating them, but lately she had felt so much condemnation that she had given it up entirely. Another professed to have some little hope in the Saviour, and remarked that I had changed her views with regard to dress very much, that she had taken off her rings and flounces, and hoped never to wear them again. Her hat also distressed her. It was almost new, and she could not afford to get another. I told her if she would send it to me I would try to change it. Two others came who felt a little, but are still asleep. A good work is evidently begun. May it be carried triumphantly on.”
Towards spring she began to absent herself from the weekly prayer-meetings, to stop her active charities, and to withdraw herself more from the family and social circle. In April she writes in her diary:–
“My mind is composed, and I cannot but feel astonished at the total change which has passed over me in the last six months. I once delighted in going to meeting four and five times every week, but now my Master says, ‘Be still,’ and I would rather be at home; for I find that every stream from which I used to drink the waters of salvation is dry, and that I have been led to the fountain itself. And is it possible, I would ask myself to-night, is it possible that I have this day paid my last visit to the Presbyterian Church? that I have taught my interesting class for the last time? Is it right that I should separate myself from a people whom I have loved so tenderly, and who have been the helpers of my joy? Is it right to give up instructing those dear children, whom I have so often carried in the arms of faith and love to the throne of grace? Reason would sternly answer, _No_, but the Spirit whispers, ‘Come out from among them!’ I am sure if I refuse the call of my Master to the Society of Friends, I shall be a dead member in the Presbyterian Church. I have read none of their books for fear of being convinced of their principles, but the Lord has taught me Himself, and I feel that He who is Head over all things, has called me to follow Him into the little silent meeting which is in this city.”
And into the little silent meeting she went,–little, indeed, as the only regular attendants were two old men; and silent, chiefly because between these two there was a bitter feud, and the communion of spirit was naturally preferred to vocal intercession.
When Angelina became aware of this state of feeling, and saw that the two old Quakers always left the meeting-house without shaking hands, as it was the custom to do, she became much troubled, and for several weeks much of the comfort of attending meeting was destroyed. “The more I thought of it,” she writes to Sarah, “the clearer became the conviction that I must write to J.K. (the one with whom she was best acquainted). This I did, after asking counsel of the Lord, for full well did I know that I should expose myself to the anger and rudeness of J.K., by touching on a point which I believed was already sore from the prickings of conscience. His reply was even harsher than I expected; but, though it did wound my feelings, it convinced me that he needed just what I wrote, and that the pure witness within him condemned him. My letter, I think, was written in conformity to the direction given by Paul to Timothy, ‘Rebuke not an _elder_, but entreat him as a father,’ and in a spirit of love and tenderness. His answer spoke a spirit too proud to brook even the meekest remonstrance, and he tried to justify his conduct by saying that D.L. was a thief and a slave-holder, and had cheated him out of a large sum of money, etc. I answered him, expressing my belief that, let D.L.’s moral character be what it might, the Christian ought to be gentle and courteous to all men; and that we were bound to love our enemies, which was not at all inconsistent with the obligation to bear a decided testimony against all that we believed contrary to the precepts of the Bible. He sent me another letter, in which he declared D.L. was to him as a ‘heathen and a publican,’ and I was a ‘busybody in other men’s matters.’ Here I think the matter will end. I feel that I have done what was required of me, and I am willing he should think of me as he does, so long as I enjoy the testimony of a good conscience.”
We cannot wonder that Angelina drew upon herself, as Sarah had done, the arrows of ridicule; and that taunts and sneers followed her, as she walked alone in her simple dress to her humble place of worship. But we marvel that one situated as she was,–young, naturally gay and brilliant, the centre of a large circle of fashionable friends, the ewe lamb of an influential religious society,–should have unflinchingly maintained her position under persecutions and trials that would have made many an older disciple succumb. That they were martyrdom to her proud spirit there can be no doubt; but, sustained by the inner light, the conviction that she was right, she could put every temptation behind her, and resist even the prayers and tears of her mother.
Her withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church caused the most intense excitement in the community, and every effort was made to reclaim her.
The Rev. Mr. McDowell, her pastor, visited her, and remonstrated with her in the most feeling manner, assuring her of his profound pity, as she was evidently under a delusion of the arch-adversary. Members of the congregation made repeated calls upon her, urging every argument they could think of to convince her she was deceived. Some expressed a fear that her mind was a little unbalanced, and shook their heads over the possible result; others declared that she was committing a great impropriety to shut herself up every Sunday with two old men. This, Angelina informed them, was a mistake, as the windows and doors were wide open, and the gate also. Others of her friends assured her with tears in their eyes that they would pray to the Lord to bring her back to the path of duty she had forsaken.
The superintendent of the Sunday-school came also to plead with her, in the name of the children she was abandoning. Some of the scholars themselves came and implored her not to leave them.
“But,” she writes, “none of these things turn me a hair’s breadth, for I have the witness in myself that I have done as the Master commanded. Some tell me this is a judgment on me for sin committed; and some say it is a chastisement to Mr. McDowell for going away last summer.”
(During the prevalence of an epidemic the summer before, the Presbyterian pastor had been much blamed for deserting his flock and fleeing to the sea-shore until all danger was past.)
By all this it will be seen that Angelina was regarded as too precious a jewel in the crown of the Church to be relinquished without a struggle.
But satisfied as was her conscience, Angelina’s natural feelings could not be immediately stifled. Though not so sensitive or so affectionate as Sarah, she was quite as proud, and valued as greatly the good opinion of her family and friends. She could not feel herself an outcast, an object of pity and derision, without being deeply affected by it. Her health gave way under the pressure, and a change of scene and climate was recommended. Sarah at once urged that she join her in Philadelphia; and, this meeting the approbation of her mother, she sailed for the North in July (1828).
In Sarah’s diary, about this time, we find the following entry:–
“13th. My beloved Angelina arrived yesterday. Peace has, I believe, been the covering of our minds; and in thinking of her to-day, and trying to feel whether I should advise her not to adopt immediately the garb of a Quaker, the language presented itself, ‘Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.’ So I dared not meddle with her.”
The summer was a peaceful and delightful one to Angelina. She was the guest of Catherine Morris, and was treated like a daughter by all the kind Quaker circle. The novelty of her surroundings, the fresh scenes and new ideas constantly presented before her, opened up a field of thought whose boundaries only she had until then touched, but which she soon began eagerly and conscientiously to explore. Two extracts from letters written by her at that time will show how strict she was in her Quaker principles, and also that the persuasion that she was to be given some great work to do was becoming even more firmly grounded.
To Sarah, who was absent from her for a short time, she writes:–
“Dear Mother: My mind begins to be much exercised. I scarcely want to converse at all, and believe it best I should be much alone. Sister Anna is very kind in leaving me to myself. She appears to feel much for me, but I do not feel at liberty to ask her what occasions the tears which at times flow as she throws her arms around me. I sometimes think she sees more than I do about myself. I often tremble when I think of the future, and fear that I am not entirely resigned to my Master’s will. Read the first chapter of Jeremiah; it rests much on my mind, and distresses me; and though I would wish to put far off the evil day, yet I am urged continually to pray that the Lord would cut short the work of preparation.”
Her sister Anna (Mrs. Frost) was one of those who thought Angelina was under a terrible delusion, and mourned over her wasted energies. But it is certainly singular that the chapter to which she refers, taken in connection with the work with which she afterwards became identified, should have made the impression on her mind which it evidently did, as she repeatedly alludes to it. This letter is the last in which she addresses Sarah as _mother_. Their Quaker friends all objected to the habit, and it was dropped.
In another letter she describes a visit she made to a friend in the country, and says:–
“I have already had reason to feel my great need of watchfulness here. Yesterday the nurse gave me a cap to tuck and trim for the baby. My hands actually trembled as I worked on it, and yet I had not faithfulness enough to refuse to do it. This text was repeatedly presented to me, ‘Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.’ While working, my heart was lifted up to the Father of mercies for strength to bear my testimony against such vanities; and when I put the cap into Clara’s hands, I begged her not to give me any more such work to do, as I felt it a duty to bear my testimony against dress, and believed it sinful in me to assist anyone in doing what I was convinced was sinful, and assured her of my willingness to do any plain work. She laughed at my scruples, but my agitated mind was calmed, and I was satisfied to be thought foolish for Christ’s sake. Thomas (Clara’s husband) and I had along talk about Quakers yesterday. I tried to convince him that they do not reject the Bible, explained the reason of their not calling it the word of God, and got him to acknowledge that in several texts I repeated the word was the Spirit. We conversed on the ordinances. He did not argue much for them, but was immovable in his opinions. He thinks if all Quakers were like _me_, he could like them, but believes I have carried all the good of Presbyterianism into the Society, therefore they cannot be judged of by me.”
On the 11th of November Sarah writes: “Parted with my dearly beloved sister Angelina this afternoon. We have been one another’s consolation and strength in the Lord, mingling sweetly in exercise, and bearing one another’s burdens.”
The first entry in Angelina’s diary after her return to Charleston is as follows: “Once more in the bosom of my family. My prayer is that our coming together may be for the better, not for the worse.”
Considering the agitation which had been going on at the North for several years concerning slavery, we must suppose that Angelina and Sarah Grimke heard it frequently discussed, and had its features brought before them in a stronger light than that in which they had previously viewed them. In Sarah’s mind, absorbed as it was at that time by her own sorrows and by the deeply-rooted conviction of her prospective and dreaded call to the ministry, there appears to have been no room for any other subject, if we except the strife then going on in the Quaker Church, and which called forth all her sympathy for the Orthodox portion, and her strong denunciation of the Hicksites. But upon Angelina every word she heard against the institution which she had always abhorred, but accepted as a necessary evil, made an indelible impression, which deepened when she was again face to face with its odious lineaments. This begins to show itself soon after her return home, as will be seen by the following extract:–
“Since my arrival I have enjoyed a continuation of that rest from exercise of mind which began last spring, until to-night. My soul is sorrowful, and my heart bleeds. I am ready to exclaim, When shall I be released from this land of slavery! But if my suffering for these poor creatures can at all ameliorate their condition, surely I ought to be quite willing, and I can now bless the Lord that my labor is not all in vain, though much remains to be done yet.”
The secluded and inactive life she now led confirmed the opinion of her Presbyterian friends that she was a backslider in the divine life.
I must reserve for another chapter the recital of Angelina’s efforts to open the eyes of the members of her household to the unchristian life they were leading, and the sins they were multiplying on their heads by their treatments of those they held in bondage.
Many things about the home life which habit had prevented Angelina from remarking before, now, since her visit among Friends, struck her as sinful, and inconsistent with a Christian profession. Only a few days after her return, she thus writes in her diary:–
“I am much tried at times at the manner in which I am obliged to live here in so much luxury and ease, and raised so far above the poor, and spending so much on my board. I want to live in plainness and simplicity and economy, for so should every Christian do. I am at a loss how to act, for if I live with mother, which seems the proper place for me, I must live in this way in a great degree. It is true I can always take the plainest food, and this I do generally, believing that whether at home or abroad I ought to eat nothing I think too