MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY: A Biography of Julia Ward Howe by Deborah Pickman Clifford

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY: A Biography of Julia Ward Howe

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Biographer Clifford, historian (Middlebury) and descendant of Julia Ward Howe, rolls out the facts in the long life (1819-1910) of the lady remembered chiefly as lyricist of ""The Battle Hymn of the Republic."" There's more: drab, motherless growing-up with a rich, religious father; miserable marriage to the vain, tyrannical philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe, 20 years her senior, who opposed her at every turn and taught most of her six children to do the same; books of poetry and essays admired by Longfellow and Emerson; triumphal tours of lectures on ""Polite Society"" and travel; incessant work, in later life, for reformist causes from abolition to suffrage to worldwide peace. (In her seventies, elected president of the Friends of Armenia, she proposed to dispatch herself as emissary to Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas to urge them to take the Turks in hand.) She traveled widely, alone and with various permutations of family, from Jerusalem to Santo Domingo; and she moved often from house to house in three or four cities. It's all here. What isn't here is the presence of the lady herself, apparently a bundle of contradictions (listed separately like the answers to a multiple choice question): a racist who worked for abolition; an anti-feminist who campaigned for suffrage; composer of a battle hymn who devoted herself to (a) universal peace, and (b) righteous war; famous celebrity while married to a man who forbade her to have a public life; shaken survivor of a three-decade marriage trap who vigorously defended the institution against Elizabeth Cady Stanton's attacks; reputed intellectual who never had an original thought; abject, imperious, relentlessly high-minded, mean-tempered, known for her sense of humor, and probably for much of her life clinically depressed. But Clifford is a timid biographer. On the marriage: ""there had been fault on both sides. . . ."" On her husband's death: it ""affected Julia in a variety of ways."" And she rarely lets Howe speak for herself, in letters and journals, of thoughts not polite enough for society. The facts of Howe's life are important in themselves, but the good story is mostly between the lines.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1978
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown