The Life of Florence Nightingale Volume I Part 14

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On the ocean no post brings us letters which we are compelled to answer. No newspaper tempts us into reading the last night's debate in Parliament. The absence of distracting incidents, the sameness of the scene, and the uniformity of life on board s.h.i.+p, leave us leisure for reflection; we are thrown in upon our own thoughts, and can make up our accounts with our consciences.--FROUDE.

Miss Nightingale and her party left London on, October 21.

Among those who saw them off was her cousin, Arthur Hugh Clough. The halts were made in Paris and Ma.r.s.eilles. At Paris, Miss Nightingale had hoped to recruit some Sisters for nursing service. She went to the headquarters of the Order of St. Vincent de Paul, furnished with letters from the British Government and the French military authorities, and accompanied by the British Amba.s.sador's private secretary in order to strengthen her application; but it was refused.[77] At Ma.r.s.eilles, with what turned out to be admirable forethought, she laid in a large store of miscellaneous provisions. Her uncle, Mr. Sam Smith, accompanied the party to Ma.r.s.eilles, and from his letters we obtain vivid glimpses of the expedition _en route_:--

"Kindly received everywhere," he wrote (Oct. 26), "by French and English. Still it was very hard work for Flo to keep 40 in good humour; arranging the rooms of 5 different sects each night, before sitting down to supper, took a long time; then calling all to be down at 6 ready to start. She bears all wonderfully--so calm, winning everybody, French and English."

[77] Letter to Captain Galton, May 5, 1863.

A correspondent wrote to the _Times_ from Boulogne, describing how the arrival of the party there caused so much enthusiasm, that the st.u.r.dy fisherwomen seized their bags and carried them to the hotel, refusing to accept the slightest gratuity; how the landlord of the hotel gave them dinner, and told them to order what they liked, adding that they would not be allowed to pay for anything; and how waiters and chambermaids were equally firm in refusing any acknowledgment for their attentions.

Lady Verney, in a letter to a friend, acutely noted a yet more remarkable thing, "the railroad would not be paid for her boxes."

At Ma.r.s.eilles the expedition excited lively interest, and its Chief was overwhelmed with attentions:--

"Where she was seen or heard," wrote the proud uncle, "there was nothing but admiration from high and low. Her calm dignity influenced everybody. I am sure the nurses quite love her already.

Some cried when she exhorted them at the last, and all promised well. Blessings on her! She makes everybody who joins with her feel the good and like it (instead of disposing them against it, as some well-meaning oppositious spirits do)."

And again in another letter:--

Words cannot tell Mrs. Bracebridge's devotion to Flo, nor Flo's to the cause. Neither sat down but for a hurried meal. Shopkeepers, visitors, nurses, servants, every single instant. Flo never crossed the threshold. There she was, receiving in her little bedroom (not at bedtime) the Inspector-General, the Consul and Agent, a Queen's Messenger, _Times_ Correspondent, and two or three shopkeepers with the same serenity as if in a drawing-room quite _des[oe]uvree_. Her influence on all (to captain and steward of boat) was wonderful.

The rough hospital nurses, on the third day after breakfasting and dining with us each day, and receiving all her attentions, were quite humanized and civilized, their very manners at table softened. "We never had so much care taken of our comforts before; it is not people's way with _us_; we had no notion Miss N. would slave herself so for us." She looked so calm and n.o.ble in it all, whether waiting on the nurses at dinner in the station (because no one else would), or carrying parcels, or receiving functionaries.

The Bracebridges are fuller than ever of admiration of her, as I am. She looked better and handsomer than even the day she sailed. I went back with the literary public of Ma.r.s.eilles, all full of admiration. It was very doleful sitting in Flo's deserted room.

She sailed from Ma.r.s.eilles on board the _Vectis_ on Friday, October 27, loudly cheered from an English vessel in the harbour, carrying with her, as a friend had written, "the deep prayers and grat.i.tude of the English people."


From the moment when public announcement of her mission was made, she had, indeed, become a popular heroine. Though well known in Society, she had been as yet a stranger to public fame; so much so that the _Times_ itself, in printing the announcement (Oct. 19), said: "We are authorised to state that Mrs. Nightingale," etc. Delane cannot have kept his eye on the news-columns, for not until some days had elapsed was it discovered to the public that "Mrs." Nightingale was in fact "Miss." "Who is 'Mrs.'

Nightingale?" was a heading in the _Examiner_ (Oct. 28), and the question was answered in a biographical article. Some pa.s.sages of it deserve record here, for it went the round of the press throughout the world, and was the source from which, from that day to this, the popular idea of Florence Nightingale has been derived. The article stated succinctly, and with substantial accuracy, the course of her life; dwelt upon the facts that she was "young, graceful, feminine, rich, and popular"; enlarged, with less accuracy, upon her delight in the "palpable and heart-felt attractions" of her home; described her forsaking the "a.s.semblies, lectures, concerts, exhibitions, and all the entertainments for taste and intellect with which London in its season abounds," in order to sit beside the sick and dying; and concluded thus: She had set out for the scene of war

... at the risk of her own life, at the pang of separation from all her friends and family, and at the certainty of encountering hards.h.i.+p, dangers, toils, and the constantly renewing scene of human suffering, amid all the worst horrors of war. There are few who would not recoil from such realities, but Miss Nightingale shrank not, and at once accepted the request that was made her to form and control the entire nursing establishment for all sick and wounded soldiers and sailors in the Levant. While we write, this deliberate, sensitive, and highly-endowed young lady is already at her post, rendering the holiest of women's charities to the sick, the dying, and the convalescent. There is a heroism in das.h.i.+ng up the heights of Alma in defiance of death and all mortal opposition, and let all praise and honour be, as they are, bestowed upon it; but there is a quiet forecasting heroism and largeness of heart in this lady's resolute acc.u.mulation of the powers of consolation, and her devoted application of them, which rank as high and are at least as pure. A sage few will no doubt condemn, sneer at, or pity an enthusiasm which to them seems eccentric, or at best misplaced; but to the true heart of the country it will speak home, and be there felt that there is not one of England's proudest and purest daughters who at this moment stands on so high a pinnacle as Florence Nightingale.

The discovery by the public that the head of the Nursing Expedition was not "Mrs." Nightingale, a matron, but a young lady, "graceful, rich, and popular," added to the enthusiasm which her devotion called forth. Her services were rendered gratuitously; her necessary expenses were to be defrayed by the Government, and officialdom opined that no voluntary contributions, either in money or in kind, were needed. Happily for the comfort of our soldiers in the East, private individuals took a different view, and--in addition to the _Times_ Fund--donations were sent to Miss Nightingale personally, both by her friends and by the general public. An account rendered after her return[78] from the East shows that from the general public she received nearly 7000 in money.

This fund, added to the help which she obtained from the _Times_, and supplemented by expenditure out of her private purse, enabled Miss Nightingale greatly to extend the scope of her work. The statement that she was rich requires some qualification. Her father was rich, but the personal allowance which he had made to her, when she declared her independence in 1853, was 500 a year, and it remained at this figure for several years. During her mission to the East she devoted the whole of it to her work.

[78] The _Statement_ (see Bibliography A, No. 5).

Gifts in kind and offers of personal service also poured in. Now that Miss Nightingale was at sea, the task of dealing with such matters was undertaken by her sister and a friend. The Nightingale family had taken a house for the time in Cavendish Square (No. 4), which became the headquarters of a charitable bureau.

"I am well nigh writ out," wrote Lady Verney to Madame Mohl (Nov.

6), "170 letters to answer in the last fortnight, and very difficult ones, some of them. I should like you to hear a batch of the offers of all kinds we receive, some so pretty, some so queer.

Old linen is abating, I am happy to say; even knitted socks are slacker; but nurses, rabble and respectable, ladies, and _very much_ the reverse, continue to rain. It is tremendous; however, having reached No. 276, we are going to shut the door. Mary Stanley and I sit daily at the receipt of custom, and funny things do we see and hear! Human nature is a wondrous work, whether of G.o.d Almighty I sometimes begin to doubt."

It is worth noting, in view of an unfortunate dispute that presently arose, that both Lady Verney and Miss Stanley distinctly understood that additional nurses would only be sent "if Flo asks." All applicants were so informed; but so keen was the desire to serve, that "many ladies," so Lady Verney wrote, "are undergoing hospital training on chance."


Miss Nightingale, meanwhile, was at sea on her way to Constantinople, revolving many things in her mind. She had been called to a mission upon which issues very near to her heart depended. If it succeeded, then, as Mr. Herbert had written to her, not only would an enormous amount of good be done now to the sick and wounded, but "a prejudice would have been broken through, and a precedent established, which would multiply the good to all time." And so, as we all know, it was destined to be.

But at the time the fate of the experiment was doubtful. It was Mr.

Herbert's conviction that no one except Florence Nightingale could make it succeed, but it was by no means certain that even she could do so.

She took in her hands the reputation of the Minister who trusted her, and her own; and not her reputation only, but the hopes, the aspirations, the ambitions which had ruled her life.

She determined to succeed, and she counted the difficulties which would confront her. Writing two years later and giving account of her stewards.h.i.+p, she paid her tribute of thanks to those "among the officials, medical as well as military, to whose benevolence, ability, and unselfish devotion to duty she was indebted for facilities, without which, in a position such as hers, new to the service, and exposed to much criticism and difficulty, she would have been utterly unable to perform the work entrusted to her."[79] She saw from the start that she would be exposed, in the very nature of the case, to some medical jealousy and much military prejudice.

[79] _Statement_, pp. 3-4.

The idea of employing female nurses at Scutari had been mooted before the army left for the East, but was abandoned, as the Duke of Newcastle explained, because "it was not liked by the military authorities."[80]

Of the military prejudice against the intrusion of women, even for the gentle office of nursing, into the rough work of war, some entertaining ill.u.s.trations are happily on record. Lieutenant-Colonel Sterling, afterwards Sir Anthony Sterling, K.C.B., was on active service during the Crimean campaign, first as brigade-major, and afterwards as a.s.sistant adjutant-general to the Highland division. He was an elder brother of Carlyle's John Sterling, and himself possessed of some literary skill. "A solid, substantial man," Carlyle calls him; he was also a man who loved to stand by the ancient ways. He wrote a series of lively letters during the campaign, and in his will directed that they should be published. Nowhere, so clearly as in Sterling's _Highland Brigade in the Crimea_, have I found contemporary evidence of the prejudices against which the experiment of Mr. Herbert and Miss Nightingale had to contend. During Miss Nightingale's visit to Balaclava in 1855, some dispute arose among the nurses. "Miss---- has added herself," wrote Colonel Sterling, "to the hospital of the 42nd; and will not acknowledge the voice of the Nightingale, who has written an official letter to Lord Raglan on the subject. I suppose he will order a court-martial composed of nurses, who will administer queer justice."

Our Colonel is something of a wag. He cannot help laughing at "the Nightingale," because, as he explains, he has such "a keen sense of the ridiculous." He is so pleased with his quip about the female court-martial that he returns to it in another letter. He is tickled, too, by a saying of the mess-room, that "Miss Nightingale has shaved her head to keep out vermin." One can almost hear the honest Colonel's guffaw as he wonders whether "she will wear a wig or a helmet?" Women, he supposes, imagine that "war can be made without wounds"; they will be teaching us how to fight next; and as for their ideas of nursing, why some of the ladies actually took to "scrubbing floors"! It amused him, but angered him no less. He has to admit that he believes "the Nightingale" has been of some use; but he bitterly resents her "capture"

of orderlies for mere purposes of nursing, and when he is asked, "When will she go home?" answers with Christopher Sly, "Would it were done."

"However," he writes, "---- (presumably Sidney Herbert) is gone; and I hope there is not to be found another Minister who will allow these absurdities." Miss Nightingale read Sir Anthony's book when it came out in 1895, and made some severe _marginalia_ upon it; remarking upon his "absolute ignorance of sanitary things," noting the "misprints as a fair index to the whole," and finally dismissing the book as "one long string of Seniority complaints." But I protest that she need not have been so angry. And, indeed, perhaps she was not so angry as she seemed, for her caustic pen was not always a true index of her mind. For my part I take my hat off to Sir Anthony Absolute. His honest, old-fas.h.i.+oned outbursts let in a flood of light upon one side of the difficulties which were to confront Miss Nightingale upon landing at Scutari.

[80] _Roebuck Committee, Q_. 14625.

She pondered much also upon the possibilities of friction with the medical officers; and here, too, our Colonel has some light to give us.

"The Chief Medical Officer out here," he wrote, "ought to have been intrusted with Nightingale powers." The Service in all its branches stuck together, it will be seen, and no blame to it for that! But if a fighting colonel smarted under what he deemed a slight upon an army medical officer, how much more might the Medical Service itself be expected to resent any encroachment upon its appointed province! How keenly it did resent such encroachment may be gathered from the _Life and Letters of Sir John Hall, M.D._, by Mr. Mitra, whose book supplies us with the same kind of ill.u.s.tration in regard to the army doctors that we may gather from Colonel Sterling's in regard to the soldiers. Sir John, like Sir Anthony, thought the whole thing "very droll." He was stationed in the Crimea, and we shall hear something of the strained relations between him and Miss Nightingale, when we follow her thither.

But at Scutari also, there were some few medical officers who retained even to the last a ridiculous jealousy of any "meddling" by Miss Nightingale and her staff.[81] She foresaw this danger, and made up her mind to avert it by every means in her power.

[81] _Pincoffs_, p. 79.

And there was a third danger which she foresaw also. Not only had she to overcome military prejudice and to avert medical jealousy, but she had also to prevent religious disputation. This last task was beyond her powers, as it has ever proved beyond those of men, women, and angels; for by this cause even the angels fell. No work, however beneficent, has ever yet been found beyond the capacity of the _odium theologic.u.m_ to mar and embitter. Miss Nightingale's mission did not escape the common lot, as we shall hear; but she was keenly sensible of the danger.

Miss Nightingale pondered over all these things as the s.h.i.+p sped on its way to the Golden Horn; and the more she pondered, the more she was driven to decide upon a course of action, very different from what many people supposed that she would adopt, but entirely consonant with the bent of her own mind. She saw quite clearly that, if she was to avoid the rocks ahead of her, what was needed was not so much genial, impulsive kindness, reckless of rules and defiant of const.i.tuted authority, but rather strict method, stern discipline, and rigid subordination. The criticisms to which she exposed herself in the superintendence of her nurses were based, not upon laxity, but upon her alleged severity.[82] As for her own conduct, she supposed that her work, when she landed, would be that of the matron of a hospital. If, as it turned out, she became rather (as she put it) mistress of a barrack, it was because she found herself in the midst of conditions which the const.i.tuted authorities at home had not foreseen, and before which those on the spot stood powerless. Miss Nightingale was happily possessed of an original mind and a resolute will. She saw evils which cried out for remedies; and new occasions taught new duties.

[82] See on this point the references given below, p. 210 _n._



Dearth of creative brain-power showed itself in our Levantine hospitals, for there industrious functionaries worked hard at their accustomed tasks, and doggedly omitted to innovate at times when not to be innovating was surrendering, as it were, at discretion to want and misery. But happily, after a while, and in gentle, almost humble, disguise, which put foes of change off their guard, there acceded to the state a new power.--KINGLAKE.

Miss Nightingale reported the arrival of her expedition at Constantinople in a short note to her parents:--

CONSTANTINOPLE, _November_ 4, on board _Vectis_.--DEAREST PEOPLE-- Anch.o.r.ed off the Seraglio point, waiting for our fate whether we can disembark direct into the Hospital, which, with our heterogeneous ma.s.s, we should prefer.

The Life of Florence Nightingale Volume I Part 14

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