Howe's Memories of a Hostess (1922)

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Howe's Memories of a Hostess (1922)


Fields, Annie, 1834-1915
Cushman, Charlotte Saunders, 1816-1876
Stebbins, Emma, 1815-1882
Political Affairs
Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960


Howe edited some of Annie Fields's diary entries. Some entries refer to some events and letters that are part of the Fields Papers, which can also be accessed in this collection.

The diary entries mention Stebbins as Cushman's "guest[]," and Cushman's "athletic but prejudiced mind." Annie Fields characterizes Cushman as "Seward-ite in politics" and describes how she "has made money during the war." Fields also speaks of Cushman's "greatness" and adds a review of Cushman performing Macbeth.


Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960


The Atlantic Monthly Press





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[page 123] December 7, 1871.--Last Sunday Charlotte Cushman dined here. Our guests asked to meet her were Mr. and Mrs. Lowell and Mr. Longfellow; Miss Stebbins and Miss Chapman, her guests, also came. We had a lovely social time, Lowell making himself especially interesting, as he always does when he can once work himself up to the pitch of going out at all. He talked a while with me about poetry and his own topics after dinner.
[pages 219-221] A portion of the notes relating to Charlotte Cushman will be the better understood for a preliminary remark upon a Boston event of huge local moment in the autumn of 1863. This was the dedication of the Great Organ, that wonder of the age, in Music Hall. The first public performance on the organ, at the ceremonies on the evening of November 2, were preceded by Charlotte Cushman's reading of a dedicatory ode, contributed, according to the" Advertiser" of the next day, by an "anonymous lady of this city." The secret of Mrs. Fields's authorship of this poem, which the "Advertiser" found somewhat too long in spite of its merits, must have been shared by some of her friends, though it was temporarily kept from the public. Sunday,

September 20, 1863.--In the evening Charlotte Cushman and her niece, Dr. Dewey and Miss McGregor, Miss Mears and Mr. W.R. Emerson, passed a few hours with us. Charlotte, always of athletic but prejudiced mind, talked busily of people and events. She is a Seward-ite in politics and called Dr. Howe and Judge Conway "ass-sy" because they said Charles Sumner had prevented thus far a war with England. She has made money during the war, but believes apparently not at all in the patriotism of the people. She is to give one performance for "the Sanitary" in each of the
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four northern seacoast cities, also for fun and fame. She can't endure to give up the stage. She is a woman of effects. She lives for effect, and yet doing always good things and possessed of most admirable qualities. She has warm friends. Mrs. Carlyle is extremely fond of her, gives her presents and says flattering things to her. "Cleverer than her husband," says Miss Cushman. I put this quietly into my German pipe and puff peacefully.

Saturday Evening, September 26, 1863.-- Charlotte Cushman played Lady Macbeth for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission to a large audience. Her reading of the letter when she first appears is one of her finest points. She moves her feet execrably and succeeds in developing all the devilish nature in the part, but discovers no beauty. Yet it is delightful to hear the wondrous poetry of the play intelligently and clearly rendered. It would be impossible to say this of the man who played Macbeth, who talked of "encarnardine," and "heat-opprest brain," for "oppressed," besides innumerable other faults and failures, which he mouthed too much for me to discover. Charlotte in the sleeping scene was fine - that deep-drawn breath of sleep is thrilling .... There has been an ode written to be spoken at the organ opening. No one is to know who wrote it. Miss Cushman will speak it if they are speedy enough in their finishing. This is of interest to many. I trust they will be ready for Miss Cushman.

Monday, November 2, 1863.--Miss Dodge and Una
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Hawthorne came to dine. At 7 o'clock we all started for the Music Hall. Miss Cushman read my ode in a most perfect manner. She was very nervous about it and skipped something, but what she did read was perfect. Her dress and manner too were dignified and beautiful. It was a night never to be forgotten. Afterward we had a little supper. Dr. and Mrs. Holmes, Mr. Ogden of New York, Dr. Upham and Judge Putnam and Mrs. Howe were added to our other guests. Charlotte Cushman left early the next day and Gail Hamilton and I sat down and took a long delicious draught of talk.

April 27, 1871.--Charlotte Cushman came to see us yesterday. Her full brain was brimming over, and her rich sympathetic voice is ringing now in my ears. She does not overestimate herself, that woman, which is part of her greatness, for the word does apply to her in a certain way because she grows nearer to it every day. J. de Maistre refused the epithet "grand" to Napoleon because he lacked more stature--but this hand-to-hand fight with death over herself (loving life dearly as she does) has strengthened her hold upon her affection for life, insensibly. She grows daily wiser and nobler.

November 13, 1871.--We all went together to Charlotte Cushman's debut in Queen Katherine at the Globe Theatre. A house filled with her friends and a noble piece of acting. She spoke to every woman's heart there; by this I felt the high art and the noble sympathetic nature far above art which was in the woman and
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radiates from her. Much of the play beside was poor, but Mrs. Hunt was very amusing and we laughed and laughed at her sallies until I was quite ashamed. J.
went behind the scenes and talked with C. C. She was in first-rate condition.


Boston, US

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Secondary Texts: Comments

Susan Harris also comments on Howe’s account of Fields: "Mark DeWolfe Howe, whose Memories of a Hostess (1922) constructed the image of Annie Fields for most twentieth-century readers, suggests that James Fields engineered the relationship when he realized he was about to die" (Harris 15).
In terms of Annie Fields's diary entires, Harris argues that "Fields carefully refrained from the confessional, even though she herself at one point felt that she had allowed herself into the diary more than she should: 'Consulting this diary yesterday for notes of Hawthorne wh. I found very scanty--I made up my mind to write less than ever of personal matters and only turn reporter,' she wrote on November 18, 1870. Although she did not completely keep this vow, its echo sounded in the tone and perspective of the majority of her entries throughout the time she kept the diary. The conflict between selfless woman and self-creating writer that Fields articulates in her few confessional moments in the diary played out, in that document, in the victory of the recorder who effaced her ego in order tell a story about people and events that she deemed more important than herself" (Harris 46). Fields "avoided the intensely personal […], the purpose of a diary was to record the times and their place within the times; the intimate, the embodied, was the subject of conversations and, occasionally, of letters" (Harris 49).

Rita Gollin sheds some light on Cushman's reading of the above-mentioned Ode: "Annie had begun writing poems during the preceding decade, and Jamie published several that dealt with the war, among them her Ode Recited by Miss Cushman, at the Inauguration of the Great Organ in Boston, November 2, 1863" (38). The poem "marked Annie's public debut as poet" (Gollin 39).

"But ten days after the reading, a bombshell fell. On the front page of the Commonwealth of 13 November appeared a review titled 'How to Regard the Great Organ.' It disparaged the newly remodeled Music Hall and the organ itself, declaring that no organ could be as satisfying as an orchestra, and then lambasted the Ode Recited by Miss Charlotte Cushman. The ode 'had no characteristic of a poem other than phrase and rhyme' and 'no stamp of originality,' the author declared. 'Surely, among the literary men and women of Boston, among those who really could, might have been found some one who would have spoken the word for the hour which, whether in prose or verse, was what the public wanted to hear. For the Fieldses and their friends it was an open secret that the reviewer was one of their own--Julia Ward Howe, whose husband was then editing the Commonwealth. During Fields's two-and-a-half years as editor of the Atlantic, he had published two of Howe's essays and several of her poems including the The Battle Hymn of the Republic,' which had made her a national celebrity, and in 1853 he had published her first volume of poems. No doubt she counted herself among those who could have written a better poem than Annie's. Loftily, she declared that 'in criticism, as well as in poetry, there are necessities of conviction which put far from us the conventional phrases of compliment, and force us utter truths which are as unwelcome to us as they can be to those whom they arraign before the tribunal of opinion." She then blasted Annie's ode as poor work by an unpractised hand.' Fields spluttered with indignation. "Have you seen in the 'Commonwealth'/
Mrs. Howe's notice of Annie's Ode?' he asked Sophia Hawthorne four days later. That mistress of envy, scandal, and malice has cast the first stone at my wife's beautiful poem! Attributing the attack wholly to jealousy, Fields assumed Howe 'could not bear that the guild of Literature and Art should be wide enough to ad mit another of her own sex. He could not even entertain alternative hypothe ses-that Howe genuinely disliked the ode, for example, or that she was reveng ing herself on the editor who had not only rejected several of her poems but was publishing others only at what seemed like random intervals. Fields simply wrote Howe off as a "false-hearted woman," assuming she had "hardly a real friend left." Affecting disinterest, Annie vented the same conclusions in her journal: 'Julia Ward Howe has said and sung her last as far as Boston goes. Her jealousy of the Odist got the better of her judgment and she has written out her gall for the Commonwealth. Alas! Where was her good genius." (Gollin 40–41)

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Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960, “Howe's Memories of a Hostess (1922),” Archival Gossip Collection, accessed March 4, 2024,

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