Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards

The Lady with The Lamp

Whene'er a noble deed is wrought;

Whene'er is spoken a noble thought,

Our hearts, in glad surprise,

To higher levels rise.

The tidal wave of deeper souls

Into our inmost being rolls,

And lifts us unawares

Out of all meaner cares.

Honor to those whose words or deeds

Thus help us in our daily needs,

And by their overflow

Raise us from what is low!

Thus thought I, as by night I read

Of the great army of the dead,

The trenches cold and damp,

The starved and frozen camp,—

The wounded from the battle-plain,

In dreary hospitals of pain,

The cheerless corridors,

The cold and stony floors.

Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

pass through the glimmering gloom,

And flit from room to room.

And slow, as in a dream of bliss,

The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

Her shadow, as it falls

Upon the darkening walls.

As if a door in heaven should be

Opened and then closed suddenly,

The vision came and went,

The light shone and was spent.

On England's annals, through the long

Hereafter of her speech and song,

That light its rays shall cast

From portals of the past.

A Lady with a Lamp shall stand

In the great history of the land,

A noble type of good,

Heroic womanhood.

Nor even shall be wanting here

The palm, the lily, and the spear,

The symbols that of yore

Saint Filomena bore.

"Santa Filomena," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Miss Nightingale's headquarters were in the "Sisters' Tower," as it came to be called, one of the four corner towers of the great building. Here was a large, airy room, with doors opening off it on each side. In the middle was a large table, covered with stores of every kind, constantly in demand, constantly replaced; and on the floor, and flowing into all the corners, were—more stores! Bales of shirts, piles of socks, slippers, dressing gowns, sheets, flannels—everything you can think of that is useful and comfortable in time of sickness. About these piles the white-capped nurses came and went, like bees about a hive; all was quietly busy, cheerful, methodical. In a small room opening off the large one the Lady-in-Chief held her councils with nurses, doctors, generals or orderlies; giving to all the same courteous attention, the same clear, calm, helpful advice or directions. Here, too, for hours at a time, she sat it her desk, writing; letters to Sidney Herbert and his wife; letters to Lord Raglan, the commander-in-chief, who, though at first averse to her coming, became one of her firmest friends and admirers; letters to sorrowing wives and mothers and sisters in England. She received letters by the thousand; she could not answer them all with her own hand, but I am sure she answered as many as was possible. One letter was forwarded to her by the Herberts which gave a great pleasure not to her only, but to everyone in all that place of suffering. It was dated Windsor Castle, December 6, 1854.

"Would you tell Mrs. Herbert," wrote good Queen Victoria, "that I beg she would let me see frequently the accounts she receives from Miss Nightingale or Mrs. Bracebridge, as I hear no details of the wounded, though I see so many from officers, etc., about the battlefield, and naturally the former must interest me more than anyone.

"Let Mrs. Herbert also know that I wish Miss Nightingale and the ladies would tell these poor, noble wounded and sick men, that no one takes a warmer interest or feels more for their sufferings or admires their courage and heroism more than their Queen. Day and night she thinks of her beloved troops. So does the Prince.

"Beg Mrs. Herbert to communicate these my words to those ladies, as I know that our sympathy is much valued by these noble fellows.—Victoria."

I think the tears may have come into those clear eyes of Miss Nightingale, when she read these words. She gave the letter to one of the chaplains, and he went from ward to ward, reading it aloud to the men, and ending each reading with "God save the Queen!" The words were murmured or whispered after him by the lips of sick and dying, and through all the mournful place went a great wave of tender love and loyalty toward the good Queen in England, and toward their own queen, their angel, who had shared her pleasure with them.

You will hardly believe that in England, while the Queen was writing thus, some people were still sadly troubled about Miss Nightingale's religious views, and were writing to the papers, warning other people against her; but so it was. One clergyman actually warned his flock not to subscribe money for the soldiers in the East "if it was to pass through Popish hands." He thought the Lady-in-Chief was a Catholic; others still maintained that she was a Unitarian; others were sure she had gone out with the real purpose of converting the soldiers to High-Church views.

In reading about this kind of thing, it is comforting to find one good Irish clergyman who, being asked to what sect Miss Nightingale belonged, replied: "She belongs to a sect which unfortunately is a very rare one—the sect of the Good Samaritans."

But these grumblers were only a few, we must think. The great body of English people was filled with an enthusiasm of gratitude toward the "angel band" and its leader. From the Queen in her palace down to the humblest working women in her cottage, all were at work making lint and bandages, shirts and socks and havelocks for the soldiers. Nor were they content with making things. Every housekeeper ransacked her linen closet and camphor chest, piled sheets and blankets and pillowcases together, tied them up in bundles, addressed them to Miss Nightingale, and sent them off.

When Sister Mary Aloysius first began to sort the bales of goods on the wharf at Scutari, she thought that "the English nobility must have emptied their wardrobes and linen stores, to send out bandages for the wounded. There was the most beautiful underclothing, and the finest cambric sheets, with merely a scissors run here and there through them, to insure their being used for no other purpose, some from the Queen's palace, with the royal monogram beautifully worked."

Yes, and the rats had a wonderful time with all these fine and delicate things, before the Sisters could get their hands on them!

These private gifts were not the only nor the largest ones. The Times, which you will remember had been the first to reveal the terrible conditions in the Crimea, now set to work and organized a fund for the relief of the wounded. A subscription list was opened, and from every part of the United Kingdom money flowed in like water. The Times undertook to distribute the money, and appointed a good and wise man, Mr. McDonald, to go out to the East and see how it could best be applied.

And now a strange thing came to pass; the sort of thing that, in one way or another, was constantly happening in connection with the Crimean War. Mr. McDonald went to the highest authorities in the War Office and told of his purpose. They bowed and smiled and said the Times and its subscribers were very kind, but the fact was that such ample provision had been made by the Government that it was hardly likely the money would be needed. Mr. McDonald opened his eyes wide; but he was a wise man, as I have said; so he bowed and smiled in return, and going to Sidney Herbert, told his story to him.

"Go!" said Mr. Herbert; "Go out to the Crimea!" and he went.

When he reached the seat of war, it was the same thing over again. The high officials were very polite, very glad to see him, very pleased that the people of England were so sympathetic and patriotic; but the fact was that nothing was wanted; they were amply supplied; in short, everything was "all right."

Many men, after this second rebuff, would have given the matter up and gone home; but Mr. McDonald was not of that kind. While he was considering what step to take next, one man came forward to help him; one man who was brave enough to defy Red Tape, for the sake of his soldiers. This was the surgeon of the 39th regiment. I wish I knew his name, so that you and I could remember it. He came to Mr. McDonald and told him that his regiment, which had been stationed at Gibraltar, had been ordered to the Crimea and had now reached the Bosporus. They were going on to the Crimea, to pass the winter in bitter cold, amid ice and snow; and they had no clothes save the light linen suits which had been given them to wear under the hot sun of Gibraltar.

Here was a chance for the Times fund! Without more ado Mr. McDonald went into the bazaars of Constantinople and bought flannels and woolens, until every man in that regiment had a good warm winter suit in which to face the Crimean winter.

Did anyone else follow the example of the surgeon of the 39th? Not one! Probably many persons thought he had done a shocking thing, by thus exposing the lack of provision in the army for its soldiers' comfort. This was casting reflection upon Red Tape! Better for the soldier to freeze and die, than for a slur to be cast upon those in authority, upon the rules of the service!

So, though McDonald stood with hands held out, as it were, offering help, no one came forward to take it.

He went to Scutari, and here at first it was the same thing. He offered his aid to the chief medical authority over the hospitals; the reply was calm and precise: "Nothing was wanted!" He went still higher, to "another and more august quarter"; the answer was still more emphatic: there was no possible occasion for help; soldiers and sailors had everything they required; if he wished to dispose of the Times fund, it might be a good thing to build an English church at Pera!

"Yet, at that very time," says the historian of the Crimea, "wants so dire as to include want of hospital furniture and of shirts for the patients, and of the commonest means for maintaining cleanliness, were afflicting our stricken soldiery in the hospitals."

Mr. McDonald did not build an English church; instead, he went to the Barrack Hospital and asked for the Lady-in-Chief.

I should like to have seen Florence Nightingale's face when she heard his story. No help needed? The soldiers supplied with everything they needed? Everything "all right"?

"Come with me!" she said.

She took him through the wards of the Barrack Hospital, and showed him what had been done, and what an immense deal was yet to do; how, though many were comfortably clad, yet fresh hundreds were arriving constantly, half naked, without a shred of clean or decent clothing on their backs; how far the demand was beyond the supply; how fast her own stores were dwindling, and how many of the private offerings were unsuitable for the needs they were sent to fill; how many men were still, after all her labors, lying on the floor because there were not beds enough to go round.

All these things good Mr. McDonald saw, and laid to heart; but he saw other things besides.

Perhaps some of you have visited a hospital. You have seen the bright, fresh, pleasant rooms, the rows of snowy cots, the bright faces of the nurses, here and there flowers and pictures; seeing two or three hundred patients, it has seemed to you as if you had seen all the sick people in the world. Was it not so?

In the Barrack Hospital (and this, remember, was but one of eight, and these eight the English hospitals alone!) there were two or three thousand patients; it was a City of Pain. Its streets were long, narrow rooms or corridors, bare and gloomy; no furniture save the endless rows of cots and mattresses, "packed like sardines," as one eye-witness says; its citizens, men in every stage of sickness and suffering; some tossing in fever and delirium; some moaning in pain that even a soldier's strength could not bear silently; some ghastly with terrible wounds; some sinking into their final sleep.

Following the light, slight figure of his guide through these narrow streets of the City of Pain, McDonald saw and noted that

"Wherever there is disease in its most dangerous form, and the hand of the Spoiler distressingly nigh, there is this incomparable woman sure to be seen. Her benignant presence is an influence for good comfort even among the struggles of expiring nature. She is a 'ministering angel' without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as the slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

"The popular instinct was not mistaken which, when she set out from England, hailed her as a heroine; I trust she may not earn her title to a higher though sadder appellation. No one who has observed her fragile figure and delicate health can avoid misgivings lest these should fail. . . . I confidently assert that but for Miss Nightingale the people of England would scarcely, with all their solicitude, have been spared the additional pang of knowing, which they must have done sooner or later, that their soldiers, even in the hospitals, had found scanty refuge and relief from the unparalleled miseries with which this war has hitherto been attended."

Look with me for a moment into one of these wards, these "miles of sick" through which the agent of the Times passed with his guide. It is night. Outside, the world is wide and wonderful with moon and stars. Beyond the dark-blue waters of the Bosporus, the lights of Stamboul flash and twinkle; nearer at hand, the moonlight falls on the white city of the dead, and shows its dark cypresses standing like silent guardians beside the marble tombs; nearer yet, it falls full on the bare, gaunt square of building that crowns the hill. The windows are narrow, but still the moonbeams struggle in, and cast a dim light along the corridor. The vaulted roof is lost in blackness; black, too, are the corners, and we cannot see where the orderly nods in his chair, or where the night nurse sits beside a dying patient. All is silent, save for a low moan or murmur from one cot or another. See where the moonbeam glimmers white on that cot under the window! That is where the Highland soldier is lying, he who came so near losing his arm the other day. The surgeons said it must be amputated, but the Lady-in-Chief begged for a little time. She thought that with care and nursing the arm might be saved; would they kindly delay the operation at least for a few days? The surgeons consented, for by this time no one could or would refuse her anything. The arm was saved; now the bones are knitting nicely, and by and by he will be well and strong again, with both arms to work and play and fight with.

But broken bones hurt even when they are knitting nicely, and the Highland lad cannot sleep; he lies tossing about on his narrow cot, gritting his teeth now and then as the pain bites, but still a happy and a thankful man. He stares about him through the gloom, trying to see who is awake and who asleep. But now he starts, for silently the door opens, and a tiny ray of light, like a golden finger, falls across his bed. A figure enters and closes the door softly; the figure of a woman, tall and slender, dressed in black, with white cap and apron. In her hand she carries a small shaded lamp. At sight of her the sick lad's eyes grow bright; he raises his sound arm and straightens the blanket, then waits in eager patience. Slowly the Lady with the Lamp draws near, stopping beside each cot, listening to the breathing and noting the color of the sleepers, whispering a word of cheer and encouragement to those who wake. Now she stands beside his bed, and her radiant smile is brighter, he thinks, than lamplight or moonlight. A few words in the low, musical voice, a pat to the bedclothes, a friendly nod, and she passes on to the neat cot. As she goes, her shadow, hardly more noiseless than her footstep, falls across the sick man's pillow; he turns and kisses it, and then falls happily asleep.

So she comes and passes, like a light; and so her very shadow is blessed, and shall be blessed so long as memory endures.