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A very distinguished lady nurse, who has been in half the hospitals in Europe, once said to me: "To Florence Nightingale, who was my own first teacher and inspirer, we owe the wonderful change that has taken place in the public mind with regard to nursing. When I first began my hospital training, hospital nursing was thought to be a profession which no decent woman of any rank could follow. If a servant turned nurse, it was supposed she did so because she had lost her character. We have changed all that now. Modern nursing owes its first impulse to Florence Nightingale."
I don't suppose that any of my young readers have ever seen a hospital nurse of the now nearly extinct Gamp type; but I have. I have seen her, coarse-faced, thick of limb, heavy of foot, brutal in speech, crawling up and down the stairs or about the wards, in dresses and aprons that made me feel (although quite well and with a good healthy appetite) as if I would not have my good dinner just then. These were the old-fashioned "Sairey Gamps." But Florence Nightingale has been too strong for even the immortal "Sairey." Go now through the corridors and wards of a modern hospital; every nurse you meet will be neat and trim, with spotless dress and cap and apron, moving quickly but quietly to and fro, doing her work with kindness and intelligence.
It was in 1820, the year George the Third's long life quite faded out, that the younger of the two daughters of William Shore Nightingale was born at Florence, and named after that lovely city.
Mr. Nightingale, of Embley Park, Hampshire, and the Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, was a wealthy land-owner. He was of the Shores of Derbyshire, but inherited the fortune with the name of Nightingale through his mother. Lea Hurst, where Miss Nightingale passed the summer months of each year, is situated in the Matlock district, among bold masses of limestone rock, gray walls, full of fossils, covered with moss and lichen, with the changeful river Derwent now dashing over its stony bed, now quietly winding between little dales with clefts and dingles. Those who have travelled by the Derby and Buxton Railway will remember the narrow valleys, the mountain streams, the wide spans of high moorland, the distant ranges of hills beyond the hills of the district. Lea Hurst, a gable-ended house, standing among its own woods and commanding wonderful views of the Peak country, is about two miles from Cromford station.
At Lea Hurst much of Florence Nightingale's childhood was passed. There she early developed that intense love for every living suffering thing, that grew with her growth, until it became the master-passion of her life.
Florence Nightingale always retained her belief in animals. Many years after her name was known all over the world, she wrote: "A small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially." An invalid, in giving an account of his nursing by a nurse and a dog, infinitely preferred that of the dog. "Above all," he said, "it did not talk." Even Florence Nightingale's maimed dolls were tenderly nursed and bandaged.
Mr. Nightingale was a man singularly in advance of his time as regards the training of girls. The "higher education of women" was unknown to the general public in those days, but not to Mr. Nightingale. His daughter was taught mathematics, and studied the classics, history, and modern languages under her father's guidance. These last were afterward of the greatest use to her in the Crimea. But she was no "learned lady;" only a well-educated Englishwoman all round. She was an excellent musician, and skilful in work with the needle; and the delicate trained touch thus acquired stood her in good stead, for the soldiers used to say that a wound which Miss Nightingale dressed "was sure to get well."
She felt a strong craving for work, more even than the schools and cottages, the care of the young, the sick, and the aged (in which she followed her mother's example) could afford her at her father's home. Mrs. Browning tells us to
"Get leave to work
In this world; 'tis the best you get at all."
Florence Nightingale not only got leave to work, but did so, very quietly but very persistently. And so she became a pioneer for less courageous souls, and won for them also "leave to work." Taught by her father, she soon learned to distinguish between what was really good work and which mere make-believe. She had many opportunities, even as a child, of seeing really fine, artistic work both in science and art. She set up a high standard, and was never satisfied with anything short of the best, either in herself or others. It is a grand thing to know good work when you see it.
The love of work, however, with Florence Nightingale, always went hand in hand with that love for every living thing in God's world which was born with her and which was never crowded out by all this education. As she grew up she more and more felt that helpfulness was the first law of her being; but her reason and intellect having been so carefully trained, she was thoroughly persuaded that, in order to help effectually, one must know thoroughly both the cause of suffering and its radical cure.
The study of nursing had an irresistible attraction for her. Few people in England at that time valued nursing. Florence Nightingale was convinced that indifference arose from the all but absolute ignorance of what nursing should be, and she set herself to acquire the necessary knowledge to enable her to carry it out in the very best and most scientific way. She never lost an opportunity of visiting a hospital, either at home or abroad. She gave up the life of so-called "pleasure," which it was then considered a young woman of her position ought to lead, and after having very carefully examined innumerable nursing institutions at home and abroad, at length went to the well-known Pastor Fliedner's Deaconesses, at Kaiserswerth, where she remained for several months.
After leaving Kaiserswerth, Miss Nightingale was for a while with the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul, in Paris, so anxious was she to see how nursing was carried on under many different systems. It was during 1851, the year of the first Great Exhibition, that she was thus fitting herself practically for the great task that lay before her in the not very distant future.
On her return to England, Miss Nightingale found a patient that required all her time and help of every kind. This patient was none other than the Sanatorium in Harley Street for gentlewomen of limited means. Into the saving of this valuable institution Miss Nightingale threw all her energy, and for two or three years, hidden away from the outside world, she was working day and night for her poor suffering ladies, until at length she was able to feel that the Sanatorium was not only in good health, but on the high road to permanent success.
Florence Nightingale's own health, however, gave way under the long-continued strain of anxiety and fatigue; she was obliged to leave the invalids for whom she had done so much, and go home for the rest and change she so sorely needed.
Now, while Miss Nightingale had been quietly getting "Harley Street" into working order, the gravest and most terrible changes had taken place in the affairs of the nation, and not only in those of England, but in those of the whole of Europe. In 1851, when the first Great Exhibition was opened, all was peace--the long peace of forty years was still unbroken--people said it never was to be broken again, and that wars and rumors of wars had come to an end. So much for human foreknowledge. By the autumn of 1854, the horrors of the Crimean war had reached their climax. The Times was full, day by day, of the most thrilling and appalling descriptions of the hideous sufferings of our brave men--sufferings caused quite as much by the utter breakdown of the sanitary administration as by even the deadly battles and trenchwork; while every post was bringing agonizing private letters appealing for help.
Men were wounded in the Crimea, the hospitals were far off at Scutari, the wide and stormy Black Sea had to be crossed to reach them; the stores of food, clothing, and medicine that might have saved many a life were at Varna, or lost in the Black Prince; the state of the great Barrack Hospital at Scutari was indescribably horrible; everybody was frantic to rush to the relief; no one knew what best to do; public feeling was at fever-heat. How could it be otherwise when William Howard Russell, the Times correspondent, was constantly writing such true but heartrending letters as this:
"The commonest accessories of a hospital are wanting; there is not the least attention paid to decency or cleanliness; the stench is appalling; the fetid air can barely struggle out to taint the atmosphere, save through the chinks in the walls and roofs; and for all I can observe, these men die without the least effort being made to save them. Here they lie, just as they were let gently down on the ground by the poor fellows, their comrades, who brought them on their backs from the camp with the greatest tenderness, but who are not allowed to remain with them. The sick appear to be tended by the sick, and the dying by the dying."
Miss Nightingale, who was then recovering from her Harley Street nursing, deeply felt the intensity of the crisis that was moving the whole nation; but, whereas the panic had driven most of the kind people who were so eager to help the army, nearly "off their heads," it only made hers the cooler and clearer. She wrote, offering her services to Mr. Sidney Herbert, afterward Lord Herbert, the minister for war, who, together with his wife, had long known her, and had recognized her wonderful organizing faculties, and her great practical experience.
It was on October 15th that she wrote to Mr. Herbert. On the very same day the minister had written to her. Their letters crossed. Mr. Herbert, who had himself given much attention to military hospitals, laid before Miss Nightingale, in his now historical letter, a plan for nursing the sick and wounded at Scutari.
"There is, as far as I know," he wrote, "only one person in England capable of organizing and directing such a plan, and I have been several times on the point of asking you if you would be disposed to make the attempt. That it will be difficult to form a corps of nurses, no one knows better than yourself."
After specifying the difficulty in finding not only good nurses, but good nurses who would be willing to submit to authority, he goes on: "I have this simple question to put to you. Could you go out yourself and take charge of everything? It is, of course, understood that you will have absolute authority over all the nurses, unlimited power to draw on the Government for all you judge necessary to the success of your mission; and I think I may assure you of the co-operation of the medical staff. Your personal qualities, your knowledge, and your authority in administrative affairs, all fit you for this position."
Miss Nightingale at once concurred in Mr. Herbert's proposal. The materials for a staff of good nurses did not exist, and she had to put up with the best that could be gathered on such short notice.
On the 21st, a letter by Mr. Herbert, from the War Office, told the world that "Miss Nightingale, accompanied by thirty-four nurses, will leave this evening. Miss Nightingale, who has, I believe, greater practical experience of hospital administration and treatment than any other lady in this country, has, with a self-devotion for which I have no words to express my gratitude, undertaken this noble but arduous work."
A couple of days later there was a paragraph in the Times from Miss Nightingale herself, referring to the gifts for the soldiers that had been offered so lavishly: "Miss Nightingale neither invites nor refuses the generous offers. Her banking account is open at Messrs. Coutts's." On October 30th, the Times republished from the Examiner a letter, headed, "Who is Miss Nightingale?" and signed "One who has known her." Then was made known to the British public for the first time who the woman that had gone to the aid of the sick and wounded really was; then it was shown that she was no hospital matron, but a young and singularly graceful and accomplished gentlewoman of wealth and position, who had, not in a moment of national enthusiasm, but as the set purpose of her life from girlhood up, devoted herself to the studying of God's great and good laws of health, and to trying to apply them to the help of her suffering fellow-creatures.
From October 30, 1854, the heroine of the Crimean war was Florence Nightingale, and the heroine of that war will she be while the English tongue exists and English history is read. The national enthusiasm for her was at once intense, and it grew deeper and more intense as week by week revealed her powers. "Less talent and energy of character, less singleness of purpose and devotion, could never have combined the heterogeneous elements which she gathered together in one common work and labor of love."
I met the other day a lady who saw something of Miss Nightingale just before she went out to the East. This lady tells me that Miss Nightingale was then most graceful in appearance, tall and slight, very quiet and still. At first sight her earnest face struck one as cold; but when she began to speak she grew very animated, and her dark eyes shone out with a peculiarly star-like brightness.
This was the woman whose starting for the East was at once felt to be the beginning of better things; but so prejudiced were many good English people against women-nurses for soldiers, that Mrs. Jameson, writing at the time, calls the scheme "an undertaking wholly new to our English customs, much at variance with the usual education given to women in this country." She, sensible woman, one in advance of her day, hoped it would succeed, but hoped rather faintly. "If it succeeds," she goes on, "it will be the true, the lasting glory of Florence Nightingale and her band of devoted assistants, that they have broken down a 'Chinese wall of prejudices,' religious, social, professional, and have established a precedent which will, indeed, multiply the good to all time."
The little band of nurses crossed the Channel to Boulogne, where they found the fisherwomen eager for the honor of carrying their luggage to the railway. This display, however, seemed to Miss Nightingale to be so out of keeping with the deep gravity of her mission, that, at her wish, it was not repeated at any of the stopping-places during the route. The Vectis took the nurses across the Mediterranean, and a terribly rough passage they had. On November 5th, the very day on which the battle of Inkermann was fought, the ship arrived at Scutari.
Miss Nightingale and her nurses landed during the afternoon, and it was remarked at the time that their neat black dresses formed a strong contrast to those of the usual hospital attendants.
The great Barrack Hospital at Scutari, which had been lent to the British by the Turkish Government, was an enormous quadrangular building, a quarter of a mile each way, with square towers at each angle. It stood on the Asiatic shore a hundred feet above the Bosphorus. Another large hospital stood near; the whole, at times, containing as many as four thousand men. The whole were placed under Miss Nightingale's care. The nurses were lodged in the southeast tower.
The extent of corridors in the great hospital, story above story, in which the sick and wounded were at first laid on wretched palliasses, as close together as they could be placed, made her inspection and care most difficult. There were two rows of mattresses in the corridors, where two persons could hardly pass abreast between foot and foot. The mortality, when the Times first took up the cause of the sick and wounded, was enormous. In the Crimea itself there was not half the mortality in the tents, horrible as were the sufferings and privations of the men there.
"The whole of yesterday," writes one of the nurses a few days after they had arrived, "one could only forget one's own existence, for it was spent, first in sewing the men's mattresses together, and then in washing them, and assisting the surgeons, when we could, in dressing their ghastly wounds after their five days' confinement on board ship, during which space their wounds had not been dressed. Hundreds of men with fever, dysentery, and cholera (the wounded were the smaller portion) filled the wards in succession, from the overcrowded transports."
Miss Nightingale's position was a most difficult one. Everything was in disorder, and every official was extremely jealous of interference. Miss Nightingale, however, at once impressed upon her staff the duty of obeying the doctors' orders, as she did herself. An invalids' kitchen was established immediately by her to supplement the rations. A laundry was added; the nursing itself, was, however, the most difficult and important part of the work.
But it would take far too much space to give all the details of that kind but strict administration which brought comparative comfort and a low death-rate into the Scutari hospitals. During a year and a half the labor of getting the hospitals into working order was enormous, but before the peace arrived they were models of what such institutions may be.
Speaking of Miss Nightingale in the hospital at Scutari, the Times correspondent wrote: "Wherever there is disease in its most dangerous form, and the hand of the spoiler distressingly nigh, there is that incomparable woman sure to be seen; her benignant presence is an influence of good comfort even amid the struggles of expiring nature. She is a ministering angel, without any exaggeration, in these hospitals, and as her 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 these miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed, alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds. With the heart of a true woman and the manner of a lady, accomplished and refined beyond most of her sex, she combines a surprising calmness of judgment and promptitude and decision of character. The popular instinct was not mistaken, which, when she set out from England on her mission of mercy, hailed her as a heroine; I trust that 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."
Public feeling bubbled up into poetry. Even doggerel ballads sung about the streets praised
"The Nightingale of the East,
For her heart it means good."
Among many others, Longfellow wrote the charming poem, "The Lady with the Lamp," so beautifully illustrated by the statuette of Florence Nightingale at St Thomas's Hospital, suggested by the well-known incident recorded in a soldier's letter: "She would speak to one and another, and nod and smile to many more; but she could not do it to all, you know, for we lay there by hundreds; but we could kiss her shadow as it fell, and lay our heads on our pillows again, content."
"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.
"On England's annals, through the long
Hereafter of her speech and song.
A 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
In the following spring Miss Nightingale crossed the Black Sea and visited Balaclava, where the state of the hospitals in huts was extremely distressing, as help of all kinds was even more difficult to obtain there than at Scutari. Here Miss Nightingale spent some weeks, until she was prostrated by a severe attack of the Crimean fever, of which she very nearly died.
But at length the Crimean war came to an end. The nation was prepared to welcome its heroine with the most passionate enthusiasm. But Florence Nightingale quietly slipped back unnoticed to her Derbyshire home, without its being known that she had passed through London.
Worn out with ill-health and fatigue, and naturally shrinking from publicity, the public at large has scarcely ever seen her; she has been a great invalid ever since the war, and for many years hardly ever left her house.
But her energy has been untiring. She was one of the founders of the Red Cross Society for the relief of the sick and wounded in war. When the civil war broke out in America she was consulted as to all the details of the military nursing there. "Her name is almost more known among us than even in Europe," wrote an American. During the Franco-German war she gave advice for the chief hospitals under the Crown Princess, the Princess Alice, and others. The Children's Hospital, at Lisbon, was erected from her plans. The hospitals in Australia, India, and other places have received her care. A large proportion of the plans for the building and organization of the hospitals erected during the last twenty-five years in England, have passed through her hands.
The Queen, who had followed her work with constant interest, presented her with a beautiful and costly decoration. The nation gave #50,000 to found the Nightingale Home. In this home Miss Nightingale takes the deepest interest, constantly having the nurses and sisters to visit her, and learning from them the most minute details of its working. Great is evidently her rejoicing when one of her "Nightingales" proves to be a really fine nurse, such a one, for instance, as Agnes Jones, the reformer of workhouse nursing.
This was the high position Florence Nightingale conquered for her fellow-women. Hundreds have occupied, and are still occupying, the ground she won for them. "And I give a quarter of a century's European experience," she goes on, "when I say that the happiest people, the fondest of their occupation, the most thankful for their lives, are, in my opinion, those engaged in sick nursing."
Officials in high places, ever since the Crimean war, have sent Miss Nightingale piles, mountains one might say, of reports and blue books for her advice. She seems to be able to condense any number of them into half a dozen telling sentences; for instance, the mortality in Indian regiments, during times of peace, became exceedingly alarming. Reports on the subject were poured in upon her. "The men are simply treated like Strasbourg geese," she said in effect. "They eat, sleep, frizzle in the sun, and eat and sleep again. Treat them reasonably, and they will be well." She has written much valuable advice on "How to live and not die in India."
Children's hospitals have also engaged much of her attention. You cannot open one of her books at hazard without being struck with some shrewd remark, that tells how far-reaching is her observation; as in this, on the playgrounds of children's hospitals: "A large garden-ground, laid out in sward and grass hillocks, and such ways as children like (not too pretty, or the children will be scolded for spoiling it), must be provided."
Here, I am sorry to find, my space comes to an end, but not, I hope, before I have been able to sketch in some slight way what great results will assuredly follow, when Faith and Science are united in one person. In the days, which we may hope are now dawning, when these gifts will be united, not in an individual here and there, but in a large portion of our race, there will doubtless be many a devoted woman whose knowledge may equal her practical skill, and her love for God and her fellow-creatures, who will understand, even more thoroughly than most of us now can (most of us being still so ignorant), how deep a debt of gratitude is due to her who first opened for women so many paths of duty, and raised nursing from a menial employment to the dignity of an "Art of Charity"--to England's first great nurse, the wise, beloved, and far-seeing heroine of the Crimean war, the Lady of the Lamp, Florence Nightingale.