September 12th, 1868
As you might imagine, I was quite surprised to see a notice in the Herald that you had returned to New York and opened your own practice. Congratulations! I do hope you are well otherwise. Indeed, the notice refers to a Mr. and Mrs., so double congratulations are in order. I am, myself, robust and quite sanguine over recent developments in my own practice, while having every expectation of further success here in Brooklyn. Regrettably, as of yet, I have not been so fortunate as to find my true helpmate.
I was disappointed at first that you had not been able to contact me straightaway, if only for advice, but now it has occurred to me that, sadly, you must have missed my previous letters and therein lies a better answer for your long silence and not some now forgotten slight.
I understand from our mutual school acquaintance, Harry Matthews, that you have been abroad attending several terms at the Royal College of Surgeons since your belated graduation. Europe often beckons to me as well. Your adventure was, I trust, fruitful. I do remember how much you had wanted to go to England during our days at Columbia and imagine the delay caused by your enlistment in the Army Medical Corps must have made that extended education far more difficult. I cannot help but believe a few years of practice first would have made that much easier. Do let me know how you managed there. I am curious to hear.
September 17, 1868
I am gratified to hear you are doing well. I regret my neglect in failing to write previously. As you might imagine, time burns furiously these days and leaves little reserve for etiquette. As it happened, little of the mail sent our way during the war reached the soldier it was intended for. And yes, my studies in London were enlightening. Many new ideas and methods—some I can only wish we had available to us on the battlefield. I try not to think about that horror these days. There is enough to do. I returned from London almost a year ago and have most recently been associated with the Lying-In Hospital close by my practice on Second Avenue. After the stench of battle death had finally cleared my nostrils I made the decision to devote myself to maternity care as an affirmation of new life, only to find the mortality rate at the Lying-in to be atrocious, and for exactly the same reason as it was in the field-tents of Virginia. This then is the ‘why’ behind my recently opened practice, even as I am so ill-prepared for the business of medicine. As you must know, the work is indeed daunting and I seldom have the chance to read the papers myself.
But I do wish you continued success in your own new practice.
September 21, 1868
Ah! I understand. Since receiving your answer to my query my mind has been flooded with memories of our school days. And I don’t miss them. Not a bit! Even to our being beaten at baseball by the those blackguard Broadway teamsters. But I do miss our discussions about science and practice. We should get together sometime and ‘chew the fat.’
But now, let me raise a new matter! As busy as you are, please humor me. While moving into my own offices many months ago, I came upon some notes I had made years before, in the Summer of ’64 to be exact, following a most extraordinary experience with a family of whom you might be aware. I do believe that it was your leaving school so suddenly the previous winter that precipitated my accepting the task of tutoring the son of Charles Humphrey, just as you had done the two previous summers. You must remember him! A pimpled and doughy young fellow. These notes were written immediately after the event and must now be taken as a faithful representation of the occurrences—keeping in mind, of course, the high grades I received at medical school as a direct result of the accuracy of my lecture notes. But you were there!
However, that singular history, and my experience since, has led me on to a wonderful new theory about men and mankind and with it a deeper understanding of human nature. As you were my chum and confident in college, and thus recalling our many late-night talkfests concerning the latest theories, and all those wild speculations, I thought you might be interested in this because of that particular connection. I have put the incident together as a sort of story to make my point.
Note, my postulate is simply this: small men have small natures! Yes! Perhaps obvious, but to my knowledge, not clearly stated elsewhere. Isn’t it true that the obvious is often overlooked? Hasn’t the Englishman, Charles Darwin, proved that?
It may be that men of smaller stature are no more likely to be petty of nature than larger men and that it is only the coincidence of their small mindedness and their physical size which resonates, but I have found it to be so often the case, that I have come to expect it, and in the person of the estimable Henry Dean, Charles Humphrey’s neighbor, I was not disappointed.
Now, of course, any man of lesser height who reads this will likely be offended, even though I have given ample qualification to my thesis. That is to be expected. I say, let him be, or let him show me to be wrong by his understanding of my ignorance of his exception, or his example to the contrary. Simply put, a mind can be brilliant and yet, still small. It is the stature itself that dictates the spiritual behavior, i.e., the nature of the subject. That is the point! In keeping with the latest theories concerning evolution, it is only that mother nature is protecting the small of stature in its own way. Too large a spirit might overwhelm the lesser physique! And this might also explain that most mysterious difference between men and women. But let me get on with my example.
As you must imagine—if you ever met Henry Dean yourself you would understand my conjecture immediately! But he was likely away for much of those previous summers when you would have been neighbors. I will say then that Henry Dean was perhaps the most brilliant mind I had met (allowing, of course, for your own possible future accomplishments). He had, as I understand, successfully managed two businesses, a farm, and a family, with time enough left to study geology with Charles Lyell, all while offering his own theories supporting the speculations of Mr. Darwin. You may also know that during the Great Conflict, he raised a small company of volunteers in our home state of New York and foolishly managed to fight alongside them until, wounded during the battle of Chancellorsville, he came home to convalesce. And, that is where I first met him there on Long Island, early in that summer of 1864—the summer of the year after you enlisted. Ah! How I was already missing our discussions by then, my friend. But let me here transcribe directly from my notes:
It was at that time that I was drawn out to Nassau County by Mr. Henry Dean’s close neighbor, Charles Humphrey, to tutor his ungifted son in math and English so that the boy might continue to the next grade at school. A fruitless task, I fear. Naturally, I was soon quite lonely there and desperate for some companionship. Mr. Deans’ daughter, Amy, was then eighteen and I will confess here and now that I was in love only moments after she spoke her first inauspicious words to me.
“Get the h—- out of my garden you idiot! You’ve just ruined two month’s work!”
Never minding the coarseness of it, I had never heard a woman speak so forcefully. It was thrilling! How could I have guessed that she had been cross-breeding carrots? I had pulled up at least two dozen while thinking they were part of Mr. Humphrey’s own garden after I was sent out to gather the ingredients for dinner. My sudden enchantment was only made the worse when she struck me with the handle of a hoe and knocked me cold.
But it was this good fortune, or what I immediately then took to be good fortune, that resulted in my invitation to dinner at the Dean’s residence the following day and my first real opportunity to become familiar with Amelia Prescott Dean, the most beautiful woman I have yet to encounter, despite a dangerous encumbrance of willfulness, pride, and an intelligence which would have been far more suitable to a man.
I arrived at the appointed hour to the generous greeting of Mr. Dean, his lovely wife, and his daughter—with the summer sun suspended in yellow brilliance well above the Long Island Sound; floating there as if against all time and tide, as I recall, and veritably dancing in the eyes of Miss Dean. Much was made of the unfortunate nature of my previous day’s mistake and many apologies offered over the bandage around my head and I was given a quick walk around the grounds before we went in to eat. Mrs. Dean was especially fond of her roses, of which she had cultivated some twenty varieties, if I remember correctly, most of them fully in bloom at that moment. The air was positively thick with their aroma.
Not surprisingly, the main course at dinner that evening seemed to be carrots. They were served slightly pickled as an entree, glazed as a side dish, mashed and buttered beside the roast duck, scalloped in a salad, and baked within a delicious cake with coffee as desert. It was something of a tour de force, meant, I am sure, to mollify me. What overwhelmed me most, however, as I found out only later when I overheard a conversation between two servants in the kitchen, was that Miss Dean had cooked it all herself as penance for letting her temper get the better of her.
Three sons of the family were still off to the war at that time. The youngest daughter was away at a beach in South Hampton with a camping party of school friends. With Miss Dean and myself, the rather large table seemed nearly empty but for a dark looking gentleman who sat across from me, and introduced as a Mr. Crais. I could not tell his nationality at first. The darkness of his skin led me at first to believe he was Polynesian. His English, what little he spoke, was difficult—a dialect I was unfamiliar with. He wore a black suit distinguished by a heavy gold chain looped from his watch pocket that swung gaudily when he rose to shake my hand. He was clean shaven, but his dark skin was heavily marked by the pox.
Henry Dean, his own beard cut short for the summer, sat at the head of the table with Mrs. Dean across from him at the far end by me. She, for her part was far more like her daughter and not a small woman, either in stature, or in accomplishment; as might be assumed for the granddaughter of a hero of the Revolution, daughter of a Captain of one of the first steam ships to cross the Atlantic, and already then the author of those children’s books we all remember too well from our own childhoods. Her true stature, however, can only be gleaned from the great pleasure of sitting beside her at dinner. She is a splendid conversationalist, unlike, I regret now to add, her daughter. It took her no time at all to find out almost my entire life history.
Amy Dean finally spoke up only when we were eating our salads.
She asked, “Do you notice any difference Mr. Bointon?”
I answered, “Between what, Miss Dean?”
She arched her brow, “Among the carrots you have been eating?”
I was at a loss. They were all delicious. But I chose to be bold.
“Perhaps this one is more pungent,” I said, holding one very orange example at the end of my fork.
She seemed pleased. “Pungent, indeed! You guessed correctly.”
Indeed, I was pleased as well. Mrs. Dean laughed, but did not tell us the source of her merriment. Mr. Dean spoke then for the first time since we sat down. It was obvious that his war injuries, a punctured lung, I was told, still made speaking difficult.
“Mr. Bointon, if I may be permitted to ask, how old are you?”
I looked toward Miss Dean, but I regret to say, she did not answer my glance.
“And your service? Were you in the Army or Navy?”
“Neither sir. I have been in medical school at Columbia.”
There was a marked silence then. Mr. Dean put down his silverware and stared across the table in my direction.
“You have felt no obligation to serve your country?”
I was suddenly aware by his change of tone that I must defend myself.
“Certainly! I have paid handsomely to let some Irish wretch take my place. I have supported the cause from the beginning. And naturally, I am wholly against slavery as well. I’ve sent many letters to that effect to the papers. Some have been printed. Perhaps you have seen them. I sign them “Leo Longear” so that my family might not bare any retaliation for my boldness.”
“I don’t believe I have . . . You are aware that our Army is badly in need medical assistance. The wounded die each day for lack of the most simple care. The Sanitation Commission has again, just this week, called for volunteers.”
I protested, “I am. Quite. And as soon as I have completed my studies I will go South. That is when I might do the most good.”
“And when will that be?”
I stated my case. “I believe at this time that I have another year before my studies will be completed.”
( I must note here, my dear Philip, that I distinctly remember thinking of you at this exact moment, and of our many discussions of this very matter. Had I the opportunity, I would have brought your own counter argument into the discussion if for no other reason than to reveal to my host my own broad minded understanding of the topic.)
But in response he said only, “I see.”
Unfortunately I was not allowed to enjoy Mr. Dean’s presence again that evening as he then informed all that he was tired and went to his study. Mrs. Dean seemed so much more alert to the needs of her guests. Strangely, she patted the hand of the dark gentleman beside her and picked up the conversation saying, “It is suggested that the lack of support in the North for the war has prolonged it and made the suffering far worse. By size, by population, by industrial might, the North should not be at any disadvantage, yet the war goes on. Couldn’t you say, Mr. Bointon, that if all able bodied men went forth the sooner to do their duty, it would result in a blessing for all?”
Women seldom see the larger picture.
“But who would run the great engine, Mrs. Dean? Who would pull the levers? Some must stay to carry on.”
The dark gentleman, Mr. Crais, spoke then for the first time since we had been informally introduced upon sitting down.
“Do you not see a moral purpose, Mr. Bointon?”
I answered him directly. “Well, of course, that is a religious matter which should not influence public behavior,” It was then that his accent and appearance at last reminded me of a fellow I had seen at my father’s warehouse years before. This man was a mulatto; I believe they call them ‘Creole.’ I later discovered he was from New Orleans. I was more than a little shocked to realize Mrs. Dean had touched his hand in so familiar a manner. Perhaps he was an old family retainer come to visit. I cannot say. But his raising the issue of morality now sparked my own blood, even as the negro blood in his veins would make it impossible for him to understand the deep moral convictions I harbor. I continued, perhaps too vehemently, “Killing, by itself, is immoral, of course—forbidden by the Bible. I have taken up the profession of medicine to save life, not to end it. If I were of a higher moral purpose I would refuse the very idea of fighting in this horrible war. But I must humbly admit that I am weak, and have already promised my father that I will go forth when the time is right.”
Amy Dean looked at me with an expression of concern that touched my heart.
“And if your country is broken because of lack of support?”
For this I had a ready answer.
“For my country, mayhap, but not my President. The man is a naïf! This is Mr. Lincoln’s war! Lincoln is a monster to be sacrificing so many lives to so little purpose. Slavery would have ended on its own in time. Patience was required. It is hot heads who caused this war. It will be the cooler minds who end it. If the Union is broken, it will change little that was not already damaged before.”
Mr. Crais rudely interrupted me then, for I had more to say. He asked, “Even for those in chains?”
This was a distinctly narrow focus.
“I realize you may have an emotion stake in this that clouds your ability to see reason, but what are they to do? What are we to do? If we win this war, we will have millions of former slaves to care for. If we loose, that much will remain the problem of the Confederacy. It might be argued then that we should loose for our own good. I am not sure the position of the negro will improve one way or the other. I myself am against slavery on principle, but as a matter of simple fact, it exists everywhere. China, Arabia, India, Africa. Throughout the Americas. There is slavery the world around. Will the blood we are shedding in this war make a difference? Even the founding Fathers tried to avoid this issue. That is why they were mute on this very point.”
Miss Dean spoke up then, so suddenly, she surprised me. “As when they said, ‘all men are created equal?’”
I answered her calmly, though I had heard a touch of anger in her voice—something I had already encountered.
“I think it is clear that they were not speaking of the Negro. Why then did they discount the enumeration of those folk as well as the Indian. Surely they understood their own words.”
The shadow of anger on her face seemed to turn then into a sort of sarcasm, totally inappropriate to a young woman.
“What definition of the word ‘all’ would lead you to that conclusion Mr. Bointon?”
I took no time to answer so as so to belittle her attitude.
“Common sense, of course.”
With this answer, Miss Dean finally seemed content. Her mother, however, did not seem to grasp the obvious. “It would seem then, Mr. Bointon, that you were against the entry of the Northern States into this conflict?”
“I think it has been demonstrated by the newspapers that most people have their doubts. I must confess, I have mine. The United States is less than 100 years old. There is little enough tradition behind our Union. Losing the unhappy South while gaining the golden West must seem a fair bargain.”
Mr. Crais spoke.
“Perhaps not such a good bargain for the natives of the western regions, then.”
I was not about to become sentimental over savages.
“Bringing civilization to the wilderness is a noble purpose. Besides, what are we to do with all of these emigrants that line our shores with every tide. Living in New York City can feel like living in a foreign country these days.”
The bandage on my head had slipped down as I spoke, revealing the cruel wound Miss Dean had left above my right ear with the handle of the hoe. Mrs. Dean reached over to adjust it, I think instinctively as a mother would, just as I raised my own hand. The collision of our hands caused me to strike the great bump there with such a blow that I could not help but wail.
She said, “My dear sir, I am sorry. Please forgive me,” but I swear, at that moment, there was at least the hint of a smile in the eyes of her daughter. Mr. Crais looked at me stolidly as if unaware that anything had happened—even taking another bite of his dinner, before speaking again.
“Are Negroes then not to be free when the war is over?”
I answered this, even while still tucking the end of my bandage away.
“Certainly, sir. But it is another question entirely to ask, free to do what? The Revolution gave us all freedom, did it not?
The dark gentleman spoke very much as some of the professors we had in college would do, but with his accent, his words seemed impertinent.
“No such fundamental change in the political well being of a Nation such as our Founders wrought could have been expected to be accomplished with so little bloodshed. Look at the French by comparison. Perhaps this war is only the final debt we must pay to earn for ourselves the rights of a Republic of free men.”
Comparing the two wars was ludicrous. I could only answer back as pedantically as possible.
“The revolution was won long ago, but it did not give us a clear map to follow in the exercise of our freedom. The Constitution was meant to do that. It has failed. This war we endure now is the best example. Now we must amend the Constitution. Should the states have a right to break away at will? The ending of slavery does not mean that those slaves should necessarily be a natural part of the social fabric. We need more laws to govern the circumstances we now face. We have already established an Indian territory in the West. Perhaps we should make a similar compound for the Negroes?”
This quieted him. I supposed I had made my point because conversation ceased. Dessert was enjoyed in relative calm with the most excellent coffee to go with a sweet carrot cake topped with honeyed coconut. I had three pieces. Amy is a wonderful cook.
Afterward I lingered in the hall as Mrs. Dean took care of some other matters. This was my opportunity to peek into the kitchen and glance at the library which seemed overfilled with books. I am even yet coming to the conclusion that too many books might be the cause of a great deal of the confusion the public feels these days over the simplest concerns.
When both mother and daughter bid me good evening at the door, I had every reason to think I had made a strong and positive impression. You can imagine my surprise when Mr. Humphrey, himself less than six feet tall, came to me the following day and asked me to leave his house. When I asked him for the reason, he spoke readily.
“Henry Dean has informed me of views you expressed at his table last night. You are aware that I have lost a son to cholera in the war and have another serving with General Sherman at this very moment. It must occur to you that you are out of place here.”
I kept my composure.
“I had thought it most comfortable, sir. I had thought that this was still a free country where I could speak openly, but I will leave if you wish. Good tutors are in short supply. I will find another position.”
He agreed with me on this point at least. Good tutors were indeed hard to find.
It was obvious then that the great Mr. Dean had somehow mistook some words of mine and, so much so, had informed his neighbor. Clearly he misunderstood my own sentiments but could that be an accident? This act of speaking behind someone’s back would only be expected of the smallest of minds. However, in my daily practice I have since noticed this quite often. The smaller the man, the smaller the nature of the man! Intelligence be damned!
Now that time has passed, I see that I was perhaps too honest in my opinions. But you know, my friend, that honesty was always my hallmark. And yet, now also and despite events, I would happily accept a second invitation if only to set eyes again on Miss Amy Dean once more!
September 27th, 1868
I am quite satisfied now that you are well the man I knew at Columbia.
Your encounter with Mr. Dean and his family has a familiar ring. I have actually heard the tale told once before, when my dear wife first heard that we had been roommates at school. Your theory has its points. It is indeed a large world but one where small minds abound.