The Life of Florence Nightingale Volume I Part 22

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Mr. Sidney Herbert, who was supposed to be of the High Church persuasion, had scented the difficulty from the first, as we have heard, and Miss Nightingale was keenly alive to it. They had desired to make the first party of nurses representative of all the leading sects; but owing to the abstention of a Protestant inst.i.tution, the Roman Catholics and the High Church party were in a considerable majority among the thirty-eight nurses. This fact gave the alarm, and a sectarian hue-and-cry was immediately raised. It began, as I am sorry to have to say, in the _Daily News_; it was taken up, as goes without saying, in the so-called "religious press." On October 28, 1854, when Miss Nightingale was on her way to Scutari, an attack upon her was given great prominence in the first-named paper. It was signed "Anti-Puseyite," and it included the text of Mr. Herbert's letter which had somehow or other been obtained.[161] "Miss Nightingale recruited her staff of nurses from Miss Sellon's house [a High Church one] and from a Romanist establishment." This awful fact explained "the party spirit which actuated the choice of Miss Nightingale for this important and responsible office, and which set aside Lady Maria Forester"--a lady, it seems, of Evangelical principles. It was not yet too late to remedy the offence "if the feeling of the nation be at once aroused and expressed."

"A Reader of the Bible" and other correspondents followed, and the controversy raged furiously. Mrs. Sidney Herbert's intervention, with an a.s.surance that Miss Nightingale was somewhat Low Church, did not stop it. S. G. O. referred to it in his book. "I have heard and read," he wrote, "with indignation the remarks hazarded upon her religious character. Her works ought to answer for her faith. If there is blame in looking for a Roman Catholic priest to attend a dying Romanist, let me share it with her--I did it again and again."[162] An admirable avowal, but not calculated, I fear, to allay the anger of "No Popery" fanatics.

The publication of Queen Victoria's letter of December 6 (p. 215), showing the confidence which Her Majesty placed in Miss Nightingale, did something to stem the tide, but for many months the feud flowed on in the press.

[161] See above, p. 154 _n._

[162] _Scutari and its Hospitals_, p. 26.


Miss Nightingale's comment, when echoes of the storm reached her on the Bosphorus, was characteristic. "They tell me," she wrote to Mr. Herbert (Jan. 28, 1855), "that there is a religious war about poor me in the _Times_, and that Mrs. Herbert has generously defended me. I do not know what I have done to be so dragged before the Public. But I am so glad that my G.o.d is not the G.o.d of the High Church or of the Low, that He is not a Romanist or an Anglican--or a Unitarian. I don't believe He is even a Russian, though His events go strangely against us. (_N.B._--A Greek once said to me at Salamis, 'I do believe G.o.d Almighty is an Englishman.')" Excellent, too, was the answer given by an Irish clergyman when asked to what sect Miss Nightingale belonged. "She belongs to a sect which, unfortunately, is a very rare one--the sect of the Good Samaritan." Miss Nightingale was by descent a Unitarian, by practice a communicant of the Church of England; but she was addicted neither to High Church nor to Low. Her G.o.d was the G.o.d of Moral Law, a G.o.d of infinite pity and benevolence, but also One who worked out His purpose by the free will of human instruments. Her service of G.o.d was the service of Man, and her service of Man mingled efficiency with tenderness. She applied only one kind of test to a nurse: Was she a good woman, and did she know her business? To be a good woman, a religious woman, a n.o.ble woman was not in itself sufficient. "Excellent, gentle, self-devoted women," Miss Nightingale said in a note upon some of her staff, "fit more for Heaven than for a Hospital, they flit about like angels without hands among the patients, and soothe their souls, while they leave their bodies dirty and neglected. They never complain, they are eager for self-mortification. But I came not to mortify the nurses, but to nurse the wounded." Therefore if a nurse was a good woman and knew her business, it was nothing that she was Romanist, Anglican, High Church, Low Church, or Unitarian. If she was not a good nurse, the fact that she belonged, or did not belong, to this or that persuasion was no recommendation. Miss Nightingale was, it is true, desirous from the first to include Roman Catholics in her staff, and she did so, in spite of many difficulties, to the end. But her reasons therein were practical, not sectarian. In the first place, many of the soldiers were Roman Catholics; and, secondly, her apprentices.h.i.+p in nursing had shown her the excellent qualities, as nurses, of many Catholic Sisters. But here efficiency was the test, and a Protestant Deaconess from Kaiserswerth was all one to her with a Sister from "a Romanist establishment." And one practical advantage of vowed Sisters was that she did not lose them from marriage. One morning six nurses came in to Miss Nightingale, declaring that they one and all wished to be married.

They were followed by six soldiers--sergeants and corporals--declaring their desire to claim the nurses as brides. This matrimonial deluge carried off six of her best nurses.[163]

[163] _Blackwood_, p. 232.


Such, then, was Miss Nightingale's position; and one can understand the amused contempt with which she heard of the picture drawn of her in certain quarters as a conspirator in a Tractarian or Romanist plot. But she was a practical person, and, though herself broad-minded, took stock of a narrower world as she found it. She was intensely desirous of making her experiment of woman nurses a success, and she felt acutely the danger of wrecking it by even the suspicion of sectarian prejudice.

This fact supplies a further explanation of the alarm with which she received the coming of the second party of nurses under Miss Stanley.[164] It included a batch of fifteen nuns. "The proportion of R.

Catholics," she wrote to Mr. Herbert, "which is already making an outcry, you have increased to 25 in 84. Mr. Menzies [the Medical Officer] has declared that he will have two only at the General Hospital, and I cannot place them here [in the Barrack Hospital] in a greater proportion than I have done, without exciting the suspicion of the Medical Men and others." The difficulty was ultimately adjusted, but only at the cost of infinite trouble and worry to Miss Nightingale. Her letters to Mr. Herbert are full of references to the subject, some of them very amusing, and perhaps it was her lively sense of humour that helped to carry her through this religious difficulty. "Such a tempest,"

she wrote (Dec. 25, 1854), "has been brewed in this little pint pot as you could have no idea of. But I, like the a.s.s, have put on the Lion's skin, and when once I have done that (poor me, who never affronted any one before), I can bray so loud that I shall be heard, I am afraid, as far as England. However, this is no place for lions; and as for, we have enough." One proposition made to her was that, as the doctors did not want many more woman nurses, "ten of the Protestants should be appropriated as clerical females by the chaplains, and ten of the nuns by the priests, _not as nurses_, but as female ecclesiastics. With this of course I have nothing to do. It being directly at variance with my instructions, I cannot of course appropriate the Government money to such a purpose." Miss Nightingale's own proposition was to allocate the party in various proportions to various hospitals; but the Superior of the new set of nuns objected that "it would be uncanonical" for any of her party to be separated from her. Then Miss Nightingale proposed sending some of the nuns, either of the first or of the second batch, back to England; but Father Cuffe said that to send them away would be "like the driving of the Blessed Virgin through the desert by Herod." "I believe it may be proved as a logical proposition," wrote Miss Nightingale in the midst of her religious difficulty, "that it is impossible for me to ride through all this; my caique is upset, but I am sticking on the bottom still." Three days later she still despaired.

"The fifteen New Nuns are leading me the devil of a life, trying to get in _vi et armis_, and will upset the coach; there is little doubt of that." However, she held her ground. She had started with a Protestant howl at her; she was now prepared to face "a Roman Catholic storm."

Happily the Reverend Mother of the first party of nuns was on her side, and strove to compose the canonical difficulty. To another Reverend Mother, who was less peaceably minded, Miss Nightingale often referred in her letters as "the Reverend Brickbat." In any case, Miss Nightingale was resolved, as she wrote, "not to let our little Society become a hot-bed of Roman Catholic Intriguettes." Ultimately it was arranged that five of the second party of nuns should go to the General Hospital, and ten to the newly opened hospital at Koulali. Miss Nightingale suspected some of the second party of a desire to proselytize; and presently she had to inform Mr. Herbert (Feb. 15, 1855) of "a charge of converting and rebaptizing before death, reported to me by the Senior Chaplain, by him to the Commandant, by him to the Commander-in-Chief." She promptly exchanged the suspected nun.

The ingenuity of theological rancour was infinite. Having caught wind of the fact that there was some difference of view among the Roman Catholic Sisters, an Evangelical writer sought to fan the flame by denouncing the absurdity of "Catholic Nuns transferring their allegiance from the Pope of Rome to a Protestant Lady." One of the Sisters, on hearing of this diatribe, playfully addressed Miss Nightingale as "Your Holiness," who in turn dubbed the Sister "her Cardinal."[165] I hereby give notice, in case Crimean letters from Miss Nightingale should chance to be printed (such as I have seen) in which she says, "I do so want my Cardinal,"

that the expression signifies no dark and secret adhesion to any Prince of the Roman Church, but only a desire for the services of a particularly efficient nursing Sister. If a nurse was efficient, Miss Nightingale was on the friendliest terms with her, equally whether the nurse were Catholic or Protestant. Miss Nightingale herself was accused successively, and with equal absurdity in each case, of being prejudiced for, or against, Catholics and Protestants, and of being inimical to religious ministrations altogether.[166] The Protestant charges of proselytizing by Catholic nurses were of course met by counter-charges of attempts by Protestant nurses to convert Roman Catholic patients; and finally a chaplain solemnly appealed to the War Department in London to remove one of Miss Nightingale's staff on the ground that the nurse had been heard to avow herself a Socinian. Miss Nightingale protested successfully against any such disciplinary measure, urging that the lady, whether Socinian or not, was an excellent nurse. Much of all this perverse disputing was born of sheer ignorance and intolerance. One of Miss Stanley's ladies was accused by a certain chaplain of "circulating improper books in the wards." Particulars were asked, and it was found that the offending book was Keble's _Christian Year_.[167]

[164] See above, p. 192.

[165] _Grant_, p. 165.

[166] See the _Autobiography of a Balaclava Nurse_ (a Welshwoman), vol.

ii. p. 146.

[167] _Life and Letters of Dean Stanley_, vol. i. p. 492. There is a curious echo of "the Religious Difficulty" in Purcell's _Life of Manning_ (vol. ii. p. 53, 1st ed.), where a letter of Feb. 13, 1856, will be found from Manning to Cardinal Wiseman, discussing whether Roman Catholic chaplains should or should not encourage collections for the Nightingale Fund. The solution suggested was "to let the collection be _pa.s.sively_ made without any ecclesiastical recognition of it."

No sooner was any one phase of the religious difficulty adjusted than another appeared. There were Anglicans and Roman Catholics among the Nightingale nurses, and there were others selected from English hospitals, who, so far as their religious views were concerned, might be anything or nothing. But why, it was asked, were there no Presbyterians?

Representations were made to the War Office. "I object," wrote Miss Nightingale (Feb. 19, 1855), "to the principle of sending out any one, _qua_ sectarian, not _qua_ nurse. But this having already been done in the case of the R.C.'s, etc., I do not see how the Presbyterians can be refused. And therefore let six trained nurses be sent out, if you think fit, of whom let two-thirds be Presbyterians. But I must bar these fat drunken old dames. Above 14 stone we will not have; the provision of bedsteads is not strong enough. Three were nearly swamped in a caique, whom Mr. Bracebridge was conducting to the s.h.i.+p, and, had he not walked with the fear of the police before his eyes, he might easily have swamped them whole." The stout old dames were not Presbyterians; but, sad to relate, two of the Presbyterian party did turn out to be over-fond of drink, and Miss Nightingale had to return them to England.

I regret to say that there were similar cases, not amongst the Presbyterians.

The charges and counter-charges of proselytism were referred by the chaplains to the Secretary of State. Lord Panmure, in reply (April 27, 1855), had "to say in the first place, that he has perused the correspondence with great regret, and that he deeply laments to find that religious differences have arisen to such an extent as to mar the united energies and labours of those who are devoting themselves with such disinterestedness and heroic courage and success to the relief of the sick and wounded." The Minister then proceeded to promulgate instructions designed to prevent any proselytism by the nurses and Sisters. Unfortunately, his dispatch was so worded as to make things, from Miss Nightingale's point of view, no better, but rather worse. "The instructions," she wrote to Lady Canning (Sept. 9, 1855), "have been so completely misunderstood that they have been my difficulty.

The R.C.'s who before were quite amenable have chosen to construe the rule that they 'are not to enter upon the discussion of religious subjects with any patients other than those of their own faith,' to mean therefore with _all_ of their own faith, and the second party of nuns who came out now wander over the whole Hospital out of nursing hours, not confining themselves to their own wards, nor even to patients, but 'instructing' (it is their own word) groups of Orderlies and Convalescents in the corridors, doing the work each of ten chaplains, and bringing ridicule upon the whole thing, while they quote the words of the War Office." Lady Canning, who was at this time acting as Miss Nightingale's agent for the enlistment of nurses, had proposed to embody Lord Panmure's instructions in the printed Rules and Regulations. Miss Nightingale begged her to do no such thing. I doubt not that Miss Nightingale's own verbal instructions were less ambiguous. She was one who never failed to say exactly what she meant.


A great obstacle with which Miss Nightingale's work in the East had to contend throughout was the scarcity at the time of properly trained nurses. She had long ago formed a resolve to remedy this defect; the seriousness of it was still further enforced upon her mind by painful experience in the Crimean War; and her resolve was the more strengthened. The religious difficulty--demanding that nurses should be selected, to some extent, not _qua_ nurses, but _qua_ sectarians--accentuated the obstacle of inadequate training, which, however, would in any case have existed. The case is excellently put, in terms which doubtless reflect Miss Nightingale's own views, in a letter from Lady Verney to Mrs. Gaskell (May 17, 1855):--

Until women have gone through a _real_ training, it is vain to hope that four or five weeks in a Hospital can fit them for one of the most difficult works that any one can be called on to undertake. I cannot tell you the details, you can guess many of them; but when I hear estimable people talking as if you could turn 40 women of all ranks, degrees of virtue, and intelligence, into a Military Hospital, with drunken orderlies, unmarried Chaplains, young Surgeons, &c., &c., and expect that they are not more likely to be unwise or tempted astray than the R.C. Sisters of Charity, who are bound by well-considered vows, love of their kind and the fear of h.e.l.l fire, then we feel that the "estimable people" have very little knowledge of human nature. F.'s form of Sisterhood is infinitely higher, I believe, than the R.C. and _will be carried out_, I doubt no more than in her own existence, but as it must exist without the checks and safeguards of the other and inferior form, so it requires higher elements in the actors and a more severe training and examination. Instead of which the loosest possible choice takes place by people most excellent but not in the least qualified to choose; goodwill and a "love of nursing" is enough for the Lady cla.s.s.

It is the fact, though it is not popularly known, that Miss Nightingale was at this time strongly opposed to "lady" nurses. She objected to them, not because they were ladies, but because they were unlikely to be well trained. Pious and benevolent ladies were more given, she said, to "spiritual flirtations with the patients," than apt at the proper business of surgical nursing. It was the trained hospital nurses that she preferred. There were among the 125 women who pa.s.sed through her hands in the East more efficient and less, and in so large a flock there were some black sheep. But amongst the band, in all and of all denominations, there were devoted and competent women, whose services deserve to be held in grateful remembrance beside those of their Lady-in-Chief. And as I have had to record Miss Nightingale's criticism upon some of the Roman Catholics among her flock, it should be added that of others she wrote to Mr. Herbert: "They are the truest Christians I ever met with--invaluable in their work--devoted, heart and head, to serve G.o.d and mankind--not to intrigue for their Church." To the Reverend Superior, who came out from Bermondsey with the first party of nuns, Miss Nightingale was particularly attached. "She writes," said Cardinal Wiseman, "that great part of her success is due to Rev. Mother of Bermondsey, without whom it would have been a failure."[168]

[168] Wilfred Ward's _Life of Wiseman_, vol. ii. p. 191. And see Miss Nightingale's own words given below, p. 299.

The aspect of Miss Nightingale's work, touched upon in this chapter, adds another to the acc.u.mulation of difficulties with which she had to deal. It was the one which troubled her most. "In this sink of misery, in this tussle of life or death," she felt the bitter futility of personal grievances and religious differences. It is worry, more than work, that kills; and the religious difficulty was perhaps the last straw which caused the Lady-in-Chief to break down, as we shall hear in the next chapter, under her heavy load of responsibility and care.



(May-August 1855)

For myself, I have done my duty. I have identified my fate with that of the heroic dead.--FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE (private notes, 1855).

In the spring of 1855 Miss Nightingale decided to leave Scutari for a while in order to visit the hospitals in the Crimea. The conditions at Scutari were now greatly improved. Sanitary works had been executed. The hospitals were better supplied. The pressure in the wards, caused by the terrible winter before Sebastopol, was relieved. There were only 1100 cases in the Barrack Hospital, and of those only 100 were in bed. The rate of mortality had fallen from 42 per _cent_ to 22 per _thousand_ of the cases treated. The siege was likely soon to be accompanied by a.s.saults, and the pressure might rather be in the hospitals at Balaclava, where the sick and wounded were if possible to remain, in order to avoid the sufferings of the sea pa.s.sage to Scutari.

In the Crimea, besides the regimental hospitals, there were four general hospitals. There was the _General Hospital_ at Balaclava, established after the British occupation in September 1854. There was the _Castle Hospital_, consisting of huts on the "Genoese heights" above Balaclava, opened in April 1855. There was the _Hospital of St. George's Monastery_, also consisting of huts, intended for convalescent and ophthalmic cases; and, lastly, there were the _Hospitals of the Land Transport Corps_, again consisting of huts, near Karani. All these hospitals had a complement of female nurses, though the Monastery Hospital not until December 1855, and the Land Transport Hospitals not until 1856. In the spring of 1855, then, there were already female nurses at the General Hospital and the Castle Hospital, under their own superintendents, but all ultimately responsible to Miss Nightingale--as she apprehended, and as the War Office intended. She was now anxious to inspect these hospitals; to increase the efficiency of the female nursing establishments; and, in particular, to introduce those was.h.i.+ng and cooking arrangements which had been productive of so much benefit at Scutari. Her visit of inspection was approved by the War Office; and, by instructions dated April 27, she was invested with full authority as Almoner of the Free Gifts in all the British Hospitals in the Crimea.

But in other respects her position was somewhat ambiguous. The original instructions, issued by Mr. Herbert, had named her as Superintendent of the female nurses in all the British military hospitals _in Turkey_; and these words gave a standing-ground to her opponents in the Crimea. The intention of the War Office was to give her general superintendence, but to relieve her of direct responsibility for the nurses in the Crimea so long as she was at Scutari. The matter was not, however, cleared up till a later date,[169] and the indefiniteness of her position in the Crimea exposed her to infinite worry and intrigues.

[169] See below, p. 292.

On May 2, Miss Nightingale set forth from Scutari, where Mrs.

Bracebridge was left in charge:--

"Poor old Flo," Miss Nightingale wrote from the Black Sea, May 5, 1855, "steaming up the Bosphorus and across the Black Sea with four nurses, two cooks, and a boy to Crim Tartary (to overhaul the Regimental Hospitals) in the _Robert Lowe_ or _Robert Slow_ (for an exceedingly slow boat she is), taking back 420 of her patients, a draught of convalescents returning to their regiments to be shot at again. 'A Mother in Israel,' Pastor Fliedner called me; a Mother in the Coldstreams, is the more appropriate appellation. What suggestions do the above ideas make to you in Embley drawing-room?

Stranger ones perhaps than to me, who, on the 5th May, year of disgrace 1855, having been at Scutari six months to-day, am in sympathy with G.o.d, fulfilling the purpose I came into the world for. What the disappointments of the conclusion of these six months are no one can tell. But I am not dead, but alive."

Miss Nightingale was accompanied to the Crimea by the faithful Mr.

Bracebridge, willing as ever to serve her. Among the nurses was Mrs.

Roberts, whose exceptional efficiency and personal devotion to the Lady-in-Chief were soon to be called in need. Of the cooks, the chief was Soyer the Great, from whose cheerfully gossiping and pleasantly egotistical pages[170] some details are drawn in this chapter. The "boy"

mentioned in Miss Nightingale's letter was Thomas, a drummer, who, though only twelve years of age, used to call himself "Miss Nightingale's Man." He was a regular _enfant de troupe_, says M. Soyer, full of activity, wit, intelligence, and glee. He would draw himself up to his full height, and explain that he had "forsaken his instruments in order to devote his civil and military career to Miss Nightingale." She was attended also by a soldier invalided from the 68th Light Infantry, whom Mr. Bracebridge had picked out to serve as messenger. In 1860 he wrote a ma.n.u.script account of his experiences in the Crimea,[171] and this is another first-hand source from which particulars are drawn in the present chapter. The party arrived at Balaclava on May 5, and the decks of vessels in the harbour were crowded with spectators anxious to catch a glimpse of the famous Lady-in-Chief. There was no accommodation for her ash.o.r.e; so her headquarters were on board the _Robert Lowe_, and when that vessel left, on the sailing transport _London_.

[170] See Bibliography B, No. 15.

[171] Robert Robinson, on his return to England, was sent to school and an agricultural college by Miss Nightingale, and obtained employment on Lord Berners's estate in Scotland. Miss Nightingale was constantly befriending him, _e.g._ in paying his expenses for a visit to London to see the Exhibition of 1862, and in sending him ill.u.s.trated newspapers, and even the _Times_. There was another Crimean lad, besides Tommy, one William Jones, with a wooden leg.

See below, p. 304, where account is also given of another protege, Peter.


Miss Nightingale set to work immediately, and with characteristic energy. One of her first duties was a visit of ceremony to Lord Raglan.

The Life of Florence Nightingale Volume I Part 22

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