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MRS. JAMES K. POLK.
BY MRS. C. W. DENISOM.
Mrs. Sarah Polk was born in Buckingham County, Virginia. When she was quite young, her father, Major William Childress, a very respectable and wealthy gentleman, removed to Rutherford County, Tennessee. She had the misfortune, in early life, to lose her mother; and in the tender years of childhood, was much of the time away from home. She was a pupil at the Moravian Institute, and remained under the care of this quiet and remarkable people, two years. Here, probably, were formed many of those distinguishing traits of character, which have made her life, so far, brilliant with examples of loveliness, worthy to be imitated by all her sex.
Thrown, to some extent, upon her own resources, with no mother's guiding hand or approving smile, she early displayed an independence of mind, and a strength of will, joined to remarkable perseverance, which few acquire until the ripeness of middle age.
Soon after the completion of her education, she returned from North Carolina, and took up her residence at Murfreesborough, Tennessee; where, at the age of nineteen, she was married to Mr. Polk, he having been recently elected to the legislature of that state.
Mr. Polk was in 1825 chosen a member of Congress, and out of the fourteen sessions he remained at Washington, Mrs. Polk was with him thirteen. Many, who had then opportunities of knowing, and often meeting with her, testify to her uniform sweetness of disposition, her eminent piety, and the purity of her life and conversation.
Mr. Polk being chairman of several important committees, his house was much frequented by persons of high social and political distinction; hence his lady early made the acquaintance of many of the most illustrious characters of which our country can boast.
In 1834, when Mr. Polk was called to fill the office of Governor of Tennessee, Mrs. Polk exerted an excellent influence, even upon those members of the legislature who were among Mr opponents, by her social qualifications, her amiability, and devotion to the interests of her husband; and when, subsequently, he was elected President of the United States, she removed to Washington, remaining
with him the four years of his term, with the exception of the summer of '47, which she spent in Tennessee among her friends and acquaintances.
In that exalted station, Mrs. Polk was a sweet exemplification of lowliness. She was as retiring, as gentle, as though the public eye had never scanned her conduct, and the public tongue never sounded her praise.
The leading feature in her character is consistency.
Everywhere, and at all times, she is the same gentle, yet dignified woman and Christian. She possesses equanimity of temper in a remarkable degree; and her penetrating mind can readily read the motives that influence those with whom she comes in contact.
The angel of benevolence bides itself in her heart, like the lily, that seeks the deep shelter of the valley, to bless unseen. Many has she assisted, of whom the world knows not; for her charities fall as noiselessly as the snow. The trumpet voice of praise echoes them not, and the blessing of the poor is her only reward.
Never was an applicant for the promotion of useful knowledge, or of any truly charitable work, sent from her doors unaided. To objects really worthy of support, her donations were always munificent.
Mrs. Polk, though as far removed as possible from what would be called a politician, has yet taken pains to make herself well informed on public affairs. One who knows her intimately says, there are not twenty days in a year, that she does not spend a certain time each day, in reading the leading public journals— not those filled with trashy, 'fashionable' literature, but the solid productions of sterner intellects—the strong, argumentative, philosophic matter, which none but strong and reflective minds can comprehend, none other than healthy brains digest. Though perfectly acquainted with politics, yet with a rare judgment, and a comprehension of womanly delicacy, she seldom makes them a subject for conversation, and never takes sides in an objectionable manner.
Whatever was identified with the public career of her husband during his life, interested her. She made herself, on this account, familiar with much that would have burdened others. An aneedote is here in point.
While Mr. Polk resided in Tennessee, a story was put in circulation, calculated to injure his reputation as a public man. He was, at the time of which we speak, several hundred miles away from home. A gentleman well known, who was then editor of a political paper, eager to vindicate his fair fame, repaired to Mrs. Polk, and made known the circumstances to her. She instantly led him into her husband's private office, and selecting different journals and manuscripts, referred immediately to the page and paragraph containing proofs of her husband's non-participation in the plot imputed to him. These were soon published to the world. Mr. Polk was then hurrying home. Rumours of these accusations had reached him, and he was anxious to confute them, before they were generally received. As he was crossing one of the rivers of Tennessee, he accidentally met with a paper, containing a oomplete refutation of the falsehood. In extreme, but delighted surprise, he turned to a friend, and remarked, "Why! this is indeed singular—who could have done it? No one but Sarah knew so intimately my private affairs."
Mrs. Polk possesses the faculty of making herself popular with all classes of people. None see her but to praise. The sweetness of her countenance, radiant with the impress of mind, and the affectionate warmth of her reception, inspire the beholder with the feeling that she is an uncommon woman.
I remember my own impressions, when, in company with some friends, I visited the White House, on the occasion of a public levee. An immense crowd had assembled, for it was the first day of the new year. The foreign courts were well represented, in the imposing splendour of official costumes and uniforms shining with gold. The audience-room was nearly filled. Many ladies, beautifully attired, stood near the wife of the President; but among them all, I should have selected her, as fitly representing, in person and manner, the dignity and grace of the American female character. Modest, yet commanding in appearance, I felt she was worthy of all the admiration which has been lavished upon her. She was affable, easy in her deportment, richly and most becomingly dressed. The thought involuntarily entered my mind, "You well become the high station which Providence has assigned you."
Much has been said about the discontinuance
of dancing at the White House during President Polk's administration. A company of ladies conversing with Mrs. Polk one day, alluded to the matter rather plainly.
"Why," said she, in reply to a question indirectly put to her on the subject, "/ wouldn't dance in the Praidmt't house, would you?"
This silenced them. They were, at once, struck with the propriety of an answer, so delicately intimating that the public ball-room, or the private drawing-room, were much more suitable places for such pleasures, than the residence of the chief magistrate of the nation.
Her religious views are extremely liberal. They commend themselves, in the loveliness of their charity, even to those who do not coincide with her. There is a perfectness in her character, a freedom from austerity and bigotry, that speaks louder than the most untiring efforts put forth by many to reform the erring.
She was always regular in her attendance on the ministrations of her pastor, while in Washington. Those who were members with her, and by whom she was recognised as a true Christian, testify to the uniformity of her example, her affectionate interest in their welfare, and her untiring solicitude for the prosperity of the holy cause, in which she has for so many years been engaged.
Her leave-taking of the church was mournful, yet tenderly solemn. The elements of the holy communion were administered to her, amid the silent weeping of gathered friends, waiting to bid her farewell. It was an impressive scene; few words were spoken, and those were uttered in the tremulous tones of grief, but the many prayers for her welfare, silently breathed by the sympathizing communicants, blended into one, as on the wings of love and faith they were wafted before the Eternal.
I have but faintly limned her virtues; suffice it to say that she is respected and loved by thousands who have never seen her. Her name has always been associated with good and holy things. As a wife, a benefactress, a friend, she is a model for every woman to imitate, whether of exalted or lowly estate. Her life has been unmarked by sorrow, until the bereavement which has so lately afflicted her.
Existence cannot seem so joyous to her now, since that dark hour. But she has an arm whereon to lean; an Almighty presence overshadows her path, to guide her, till the dawn of a purer day ushers her into the better land, where dwell her richest treasures.
LIFE IN THE NORTH.
BY FREDERIKA BREMER.
WRITTEN FOE S AETAIN'S MAGAZINE, AND TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL SWEDISH BY MARY HOWITT.
"we discover throughout all nature an activity which knows no rest. That which appears to our eyes repose is merely a slow change." Thus says H. C. Oersted in his Philosophy of the Universal Laws of Nature; and not only to Nature, but to man, to nations, to the world, to all created things, do the words of the great naturalist apply. Therefore beautiful and fraught with meaning is the old northern myth regarding the Tree of the World, whose head, to prevent its withering, must every morning be afresh sprinkled with the waters of the Urda-brunn, or fountain of life. By this means, says the saga, its foliage greens ever anew, and from its leaves falls "dew into the valleys," the honey dew from which the bees collect their nourishment. True and beautiful! for the tree does not live through its great boughs alone, but it breathes through its smallest leaves. These convey the power of the sun and the nutritive principles of the air, by invisible channels, to the root, and the vigorous sap ascends also from the root to them. In this movement of exchanges all life moves both in heaven and upon earth. Friend in the South! I know that life in the North seems to thee scarcely more than a lifeless condition, like that of the bear in his winter sleep; like the slow movement of Uranus round the sun compared to the whirling waltz of Mercury—the life of the South. And this may be admitted, that life in the North, compared with life in the South, may be called a still life.
But the life of the developing plant, the ripening fruit, the ascending day, the advancing spring, is also a still life, and yet it is progressive, full of power. And such is the life of the North at this moment. I speak of the Scandinavian North. And as an auspicious star conducted me lately to that part of it where this life is in most activity, that is to Denmark, I will converse with thee a little about life as it is there. And yet, in its essential principles this is not different from that which is contemporaneously moving in Sweden and Norway.
Denmark! Thou knowest it, and yet thou dost not know it, this wonderful little islandkingdom, which stretches from the vicinity of the north pole, where the Greenlander tosses in his "kajack" amid the icy waves, and sees the spirits of his fellows hunt and play in the flames of the northern lights, where eternal Death seems in the Isse-fiords to have erected the pillars of its temple of never-melting icebergs, which still tremble and sometimes are prostrated at the sound of the human voice,* to the southern ocean, where, under the glowing line, the sugar-cane and the coffee-plant are cultivated by the negro, and the life of nature never ceases to bloom in magnificence. Between Greenland and Santa Cruz—eternal winter and eternal summer—lies an archipelago of islands subject to the Danish crown—Iceland, with the most ancient memories of the North, the voleanic cradle of the skalds; the Faro Isles, peculiar in scenery and people, where amid rocks and mists the sun portrays Ossianic shapes; the Halligs, where the men and the sea contend for the land; and many, very many more. But Denmark proper, the oldest and the original Denmark, that by whose cradle the Vala-songs resounded; that which, in common with Sweden and Norway, has a mythic lore, and in that a philosophy of life loftier than that of any other people on the earth; that
• They who havo not frequently seen these Fiords, may summon to their aid all the powers of their imagination, and even then will not be fully able to conocivo them. Imagino a tract of many miles full of icebergs, so huge that they descend from two to three hundred fathoms below the surface of the sea. In sailing past them, you see houses, castles, gateways, windows, chimneys, and the like. Some aro white, some blue, others green, accordingt as they are of salt or fresh water, whereby their illusion is greatly increased, especially when the powerful rays of the sun come in aid. They have an attractive power, which is, without doubt, in a great measure derived from currents, and by which lar^o ships arc in danger of being driven upon them. The Greeulanders are familiar with them, notwithstanding which many of them pay for this confidence with their lives. But as the seals are fond of their vicinity, they are obliged to seek them there, and fetch away bread or death. Echo is so strong among the icebergs, that when people speak in sailing under them, they not only hear their words distinctly returned from the summits, but if these are rotten, as it is there called— that is, loose—they are shaken by the sound, and plunge down headlong—and wo to those who arc near them.
from whose shores the Norman bands went forth throughout the world, with their heroes and their songs; Denmark proper, the motherland, consists of the great and fertile islands, where the beech woods murmur, where the stork, the sacred bird of Denmark, builds its nest, in whose azure creeks the Dannebrog, the national flag, floats—the beautiful islands of Zealand, Jutland, and Funen. There has the Danish people its home; the home of which Ingemann sings:
"Denmark with the verdant shore
By the sparkling floods,
And peace within thy woods.
O'er the giants' barrow,
All the valley thorough.
Bloody Christian! Sweden's executioner, how couldst thou be born among this people, in this land!
It is a kindly and a noble land; a land of green and undulating fields, which, without mountains and rocks, but with fertile plains and beautiful woods, arises from the sea: Zealand, with rich corn-fields, old towns, with old, proud memories, cairns, and castles; Funen, with its orchards, its fine estates, its wealthy farms; Jutland, with its heaths, the Atlantie, Himmelberg, features of grand scenery, which are almost adored by those who have lived among them from childhood. Around the large islands cluster a wreath of small, often very small ones—which also abound with great recollections; some from the times of the sagas, some from later ages, and which have fostered many a great man for the common mother country. There breathes a fresh, kindly, vernal life over these islands, around which swell the waves of the North Sea, with the Cattegat, the Baltie, and the Atlantic. This harmonizes with the spirit of the people; for notwithstanding the solemnity of the memories of the ancient times—notwithstanding the Stamp of the northern spirit in the character of family and popular life, it cannot be denied that Scandinavia has in Denmark its link with southern Europe, and that the southern life shows itself amongst the Danish people, oombined with the natural liveliness of disposition and manners of the islanders. The Danes have, of late years, undergone a great change, yet without losing their peculiar character. They have been born to a new life, or rather, they have awakened to a consciousness of their own proper life.
There is a spring-time also in the life of the people, when the inner life, as it were, bursts its limits and blossoms forth vigorously. These are the times when a people feels itself
a People, a living unity; an eternal, undying genius, with a peculiar existence, a peculiar mission in the history of mankind. Such a time does not come all at once, as by a stroke of magic. No; silent streams from the wells of life, silent influences of the sun, quickening winds, storms, or zephyrs, prepare it long beforehand. So in this case. What pure patriotism, what a great love for the humanly great, what genius and virtue effected through the men and women of Denmark; what the great kings of this little country, its warriors and poets have accomplished through the past centuries for the honour of the nation, for the good of the people, for the advancement of this spring of which we speak,—all that, wo must leave here unnoticed; little indeed of that has the historian recorded: who on earth knows the sources of the Nilo? But we revert to these things that we may not be wanting in justice and piety. The spring is come—the spring which they nobly prepared; and I will now speak of its phenomena as they have developed themselves within the last century, and especially within the last twenty or thirty years, as I have seen them, and see them at this moment in actual life. Regard this sketch as a faint attempt to reflect impressions for ever stamped on the heart's memory.
On Christmas Eve, 1848, a chill and cloudy winter's evening, I found myself in Copenhagen, in a large hall, where more than a hundred children, boys and girls, sung, danced, and made a joyous clamour around a lofty Christmas Tree, glittering with lights, flowers, fruits, cakes, and sweetmeats, up to the very ceiling.
But brighter than the lights in the tree shone the gladness in the eyes of the children, and the bloom of health on their fresh countenances. A handsome, stately, middle-aged lady in black went round amongst the children, with a motherly grace, examining their work in sewing and handicraft arts, encouraging and rewarding them in an affectionate manner. The children pressed round her and looked up to her, all seeming to love, none to fear her.
It was a charity-school in which I found myself; it was Denmark's motherly but childless Queen, Caroline Amalia, whom I here saw surrounded by poor children whom she had made her own. It was a beautiful scene; and what I here saw was also an image of a life, a movement, which at this time extends through the whole social life of the North. It is the womanly, the motherly movement in society, expanding itself to a wider circle, to the care of the whole raco of children beyond the limits of home; to the enfranchisement, the elevation of all neglected infancy. It is the maternal advance from the individual life into the general, to the erection of a new home. The asylum is an expanded embrace. There Christian love makes restitution for the injustice of fortune. There the child secms to escape from the faults and the calamities of its parents, to be preserved for society at large, and to be educated for its benefit. Silently proceeds the maternal power to give a new birth to the human race in its earliest years. But we rely on this power more than on any other on earth for the accomplishment of this work, if ever such a new birth is really to take place. And that the women of the North more clearly seem to accept this mission, and that the Queons of the North, Carolina Amalia in Denmark, and Josephina in Sweden, march at the head of this maternal movement, it is only a duty to acknowledge. Nor do these ladies confine themselves to the care of childhood; they extend their beneficent activity through a variety of channels to the children of misfortune, to the solitary, the sick, the old and neglected in society, who are sought out and assisted or consoled by the more fortunate.* Blessed is material help in the huts of the needy; but still more blessed is the intellectual result which is effected by the personal, affectionate sympathy of the rich, whether in intellectual or worldly wealth, for the poor in society.
To this, an activity not less on the part of the men associates itself, supporting it and continuing it where it ceases. We will merely give an example of this. About thirty years ago, there swarmed in the streets of Copenhagen a multitude of lads from ten to fifteen years of age, like those in Stockholm, who are called Jfamnbuaar, or ragamuffins; a repulsive race, in filthy garments, and with wild thievish eyes; the children of crime and misery, and growing up in all wickedness, for ever on the watch for robbery and mischief. A government officer, who about that time received an office in the police, Mr. A. Drewsen, was struck by the prevalence of this class, laid it to heart, and with other similarly disposed and philanthropic men formed a plan to extirpate this growing evil by a thorough and searching remedy. When he had matured his scheme, he called on his fellowcitizens for assistance. He did not call in vain. Liberal subscriptions flowed in from all sides;
• One of the most actively useful societies in Copcntuv gen ought to be mentioned, ''The Female Association of Nurses," under the patronage of the Queen, and the management of the chief Lady of the Court of the Queen, the oniveraally respected Mrs. Koaenorn.
and by their means the young criminals were speedily removed from the capital to the remote provinces, where they were placed in good and orderly families, chiefly those of farmers. Transplanted into a better soil, these young shoots of vice almost wholly changed their nature, and became good and serviceable members of society; while ever since this period the amount of crime in the capital has signally decreased,v and the public good has as sensibly improved under the continued culture of the before neglected youth. Very rarely now is the eye or the mind shocked in the streets of Copenhagen by the sight of mendicant children.
Here we have the Nile-sources in society, those which are concealed in the heart, and which go forth out of their silent deeps to constitute the stream of beneficence, and fill the land with good corn. There are also silent blessings. No voice proclaims them on earth, but they rest with a secret sun-power on the benefactors, whether the day is stormy or the night dark and oblivious.
Denmark's motherly women; men like Drewsen, V. Ostcn, Brink-Seidelin, and others; and the venerable Collin, the minister of two kings, and to whom his country and its people owe so much on many accounts, cannot be without such blessings.
For the rest, it can do us no harm to listen to the words of these men, in the report which they have lately made of their operations in the above-mentioned departments.
"Many," say they, "are the circumstances with which we have become acquainted by placing ourselves in connexion with the families whose children have been taken under our care, and we have through them arrived at the conviction, that the great objects which those who desire to improve the condition of the labouring classes, above all others, ought to aim at, are:—a stricter morality; a more conscientious education of the children; more steadiness in labour and for the individual development during it; a greater regard for the sacredness of marriage, and its importance in society; and a more universal taste for the enjoyment of domestic life. Guided by these convictions, our association has proceeded with the education of children. It will henceforth receive increased activity in this direction, and we are persuaded, that although at the present moment, other circumstances demand great sacrifices, the labours of the association will
* Another cause of this ought, however, to be taken into account; the more favourable circumstances of recent years in trado and cheapness of food, the consequence of which has been a growing prosperity amongst the working classes, plenty of employment and good wages, Ac. In Denmark there is no genuine proletariat.