1852: Frederick Frothingham to Samuel Abbott Smith

Samuel Abbott Smith

This letter was written by Frederick Frothingham (1825-1891), the son of John Frothingham (1788-1870) and Louisa Goddard Archbald (1794-1843) of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Frederick wrote the letter from his father’s house, called “Piedmont” in Montreal, while on vacation from the Harvard Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1855. He had previously graduated from Harvard in 1849. He became a Unitarian minister.

Frothingham wrote the letter to his friend, Samuel Abbott Smith (1829-1865), the son of Rev. Abiel Abbott (1765-1859). He graduated forst in his class from Harvard in 1848 and also attended the divinity school.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. S. A. Smith, Peterboro, New Hampshire

Piedmont [Quebec, Canada]
February 24th 1852

My Dear Abbott,

“Piedmont” — where Frothingham wrote this letter

This date of mine is not exactly true inasmuch as I am writing the 25th, but true it is spiritually as I meant to begin last evening. My good intent was, however, frustrated by the appearance of my good pastor & friend Mr. Cordner whom, tho’ I did nothing to entertain him, I was obliged by the customs of society to remain idle in the presence of. I believe I actually went to sleep in my anger & rage & don’t know but what I vented ____ in a snore. Not anger & rage with the good person, you must know — for he is mine good friend, highly respected & well-beloved by me — but with the absurd requirements of society which destroy a man’s naturalness & put him so far away from nature that she takes revenge upon him by putting I’m to sleep. There, is not that a good socialistic gamble?

The fact is I am in a queer mood. I have only yesterday finished a lecture on Thomas Clarkson, which it is possible I may deliver here next week. If you will accept it, I give it. If not, I don’t till next winter by which time I shall, please God, follow it up with one or two others. The writing has interested me much & pained & excited me a good deal. But present facts are more painfully exciting  than past ones, however distressing. And I confess myself troubled not a little by the steps which the lawless violators of all law, human & divine, are taking now in regard to California. The idea that, after the glorious victory of freedom over slavery, slavery is again to raise up its accursed head in that fair & wealthy land, I cannot enjoy. And I fear yet the systematic, organized efforts of the friends of freedom may be too strong for the divided & careless energies of the wealth engrossed, self-concerning advocates of freedom. the latter, as the friends of the right too often do, rely too much upon God & too little on themselves — or perhaps would be more true to say, think too little either of Him or of their own well-being — look simply to the interest of the present ____ moment.

However, I will not give up in despair as yet. It is too bad a ___ to be seriously contemplated as to ___ — tho’ not too bad to be carefully guarded against. How marvelously active & energetic the slave power is! How cunning too! Here passes a final, as a “peace measure.” an act which outrages every right ____ of a freeman’s heart; roaring & threatens all sorts of ____ because men will obey conscience & will not obey Satan; that himself right round & deliberately going to work to violate the other provision included in the same act of settlement! I know that the look about the matter ____ a different point of view. I try to be honest & fair & candid. I wish to allow all the good that I possibly can. I am anxious when I can’t allow good, at least to support ignorance — but when I have given all the credit I can to all of these, there is a large supply left which I can attribute only to wickedness or madness. If the former, it is also the latter.  Though it may the latter & not the former. I cannot suppose you all fools. No! They have their object in view. It is an abominable one — tho’ it does not appear so abominable to them as to me — no, not nearly. They know, however, that it is not wholly right. THey wish to carry their point. Unable to carry it one way, they must carry it another. And so if they cannot get the sanction of a human law to encourage them, they will do without & act against it. It is the old story of the human heart, in it willful rebellion against God. They know the right & yet the wrong pursue.

It is one development of the evil feeling that dwells in the breast of each one of us; only as it is a most heathen & satanic development, and one affects most perniciously all that is valuable, desirable, & worthy in man, it is especially to be resisted & destroyed. Would to God I had a little more faith. Here is the glorious life of which I have been writing the outline to show to othershow a good true man & a divine cause have an inherent strength that cannot be resisted, how the latter will make the former mightier than armies, or gold, or political power. I am mourning & complaining because each little step in the onward march of Liberty is not secure for slipping back and doubting whether such a thing as final ruin is to be secured. So no, I don’t. I cannot doubt that. It must & will come.

Oh! that my eyes may be blessed with the glorious sight. Then would I indeed in accord with the sublime & eloquently expressed advice with which Clarkson closes his history of the abolition of the slave trade: Read! Thou are now acquainted with the history of the content! Rejoice in the manner of its termination! And, if thou feelest grateful for the event, retire within thy ____ & pour out thy thanksgivings to the Almighty for his unspeakable act of mercy to thy oppressed fellow creatures. Retire to my ____ & pour out my thanksgivings for such an act of mercy — not only to my fellow men but also to myself.

But, my dear brother, you will I fear hardly enjoy the strain. So like some of my strain in your Cambridge ____, it will seem common-place & trite to you. I must rejoice however one moment in the abolition of capital punishment in Rhode Island. One more blot snipped off our modern civilization. When once the Maine Liquor Law becomes the United States Liquor Law, you will another bigger blot shall be erased. It will be a glorious sight to see for once government at work not alone for the protection of property but for the protection of man’s moral nature. Govrenment will become somewhat spiritualized then. Then truly Moore’s words would begin to be realized:

So bright a dwelling should be our own
So warranted free from sigh or frown,
That angels would soon be coming down
By the neck or the ___ to take it.

By the bye, Abbott, why cannot you & I go & stump it on the great & truly national platform? T’would be a most worthy of us. And when it was done, Oh! would not all the little boys open their eyes & stare when ages hence their father’s & grandfathers shall tell, not tales of impossible hydras with head cut off by fabulous Hercules, but real tales of true human heroism, grows out of the lives & labors of such humble men as Sam’l Abbott Smith & Fred. Frothingham. Such a fame & such a reputation will be worth having which would cause the heaven-born innocence of childhood to glow with sympathy & relevance & admiration. Oh! that such a lot were mine. Not that I care for reputation farther than to have it good & such as shall cause no shame & grief to real friends. The reputation that I crave is that of knowing in my own soul that I am doing good. With that, I should be willing to be blotted out & utterly forgotten.

But enough of myself. Now for a little more. What have I done this vacation? Not so much perhaps as my good brother S. A. S. but more than I ever did in vacation before. That lecture is cut down, rewritten, & in a deliverable & readable — while I stand at the desk with it lying upon it so so that I can read it without sticking my nose on the paper — shape. Who now will dare to say that the English language is not as capable of combinations as the German, or any other tongue? I have written out Dr. Noyes’s Pentat___ Lectures. I confess yet his deluge argument is to me overwhelming — more of the anon. Then I have completed the translation from Schiller that I began last term, have gone a good way into the translation of Kuinoel’s Prolegemena to the N. T., which bear upon my exegetical subject & are valuable; have read aloud the most glorious poem in the English language — Milton’s Paradise Lost, Longfellow’s Golden Legend, and read Yeast — a very singular book by the author of Alton Locke — Tennyson’s In Memoriamm which I greatly enjoyed, and David Copperfield.

My dogmatic dissertation is untouched & I know not yet how to start it, the subject having not yet taken precise forming in my mind. I mean tho’ to try it next week. Besides this, I have wasted a good deal of precious time in bed and out, and at an auction sale of a theologic library where I bought, for about 60 dollars, one hundred & fifty dollars worth of books, including Lardner’s Works, Robert Hall’s works, Doddridge’s works, Horne’s Introduction, McKnight on the Epistles, Waddington’s Church History — all good English editions…then old books I got for a mere song. It was a very pretty bargain altogether & yet the books were not dirt cheap.

Mr. Cordner has been giving us a course of fine Sunday Evening lectures. Wiclif, George Fox, John Wesley, Mrs. Fry, he has already treated. Next Sunday Evening it is to be Channing — the hype of Modern Unitarianism. John Wesley was a grand character. One characteristic anecdote I cannot refrain to mention, It interested me so much. When Wesley’s mind awoke to the importance of religion, he resolved among other things to be as economic in life as possible. He found that he could live on 28 pounds per annum. He determined to do so & as his income was 30 pounds, he gave away 2 pounds to the poor. Next year it increased to 58 pounds. He still lived on 28 pounds & gave $32 to the poor. Next year it was 88 pounds; 28 pounds he lived on and gave 62 pounds to the poor. What think you of that? Does it not contrast some with our general Christian living? Then the lecture on Mrs. Fry was glorious. Oh! What and example of all womanhood.

So mild, so merciful, so strong, so good,
So patient, peaceful, loyal, loving, pure

was she. If you have not read her life, some day, & the not too far removed, you must read it. It was quite ___ a new life into one and so…

Frederick’s father, John Frothingham

As for the deluge, I confess to a strong sympathy with Dr. Noyes’s view. I cannot bring myself however to the view of the Old Testament as a collection of myths and legends. It is baptized in too many sacred waters for that. Tried by the severe rules of logic & common sense, many of its ___ must be admitted to be mystic & legendary. This conclusion I cannot escape at present, tho’ I should be willing to put it for the ____ so far within the region of unsettled points as to refrain from ___ any categorical opinion about it until I feel quite settled in my mind. But my mind turns i another direction & sees something which may keep all that is sacred & dear in the Old Testament and yet consist with reason. And that is a more true & hearty reception of the idea that all true history is God’s word to man, & of the idea of the immediate superintendence & presence of the Deity. This is the crowning glory of the Hebrew faith. The Hebrew followed the idea out logically to its ultimate & we find in consequence may be attributed to God from which our moral sense recoils with horror. And yet, despite all of these, men take and cling to the whole Bible & to the idea rather the sh__ the Bible to pieces & take out only the grains of gold. The idea is true, so true it makes man accept a deal of error with it, and we have but to take it & cherish it & use it to unlock some of the casket that will yoield to no other, and to lock some of the treasures which no other key will lock. All history is God’s word — only the Old Testament more truly & religiously refers every thing to God instead of to those atheistical nonentities ‘accident’ and ‘chance’ & ‘fortune’ & ‘luck.’ Read the life of any reformer in history of any reform & see & marvel at the number of lucky accidents! Providential actings rather.

But leave of the idea to you, I must say good bye. And am affectionately your brother, — Fred. Frothingham


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