‘My spirit has been for almost two months the lowest it has ever been in my life, on account of the profound disappointment in the love which I had acquired for a girl, so pretty but so false.’ So wrote a young Lester Frank Ward, considered by some as the father of American sociology, with the very first entry in his diary a century and a half ago today. A few days later, he writes, ‘My girl I am going to abandon you eternally, you whom I have loved so deeply! It will kill me, but let me perish.’ A month later, though, all has changed: ‘And there we bathed ourselves in the passion of love until the crowing of cocks announced it was day.’
Ward was born in Joliet, Illinois, in 1841. Largely self-educated, he did study for a while at the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He married his ‘girl’, Elizabeth Bought (or Vought), in 1962, and he served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Thereafter, he moved to Washington DC, where, for 15 years, he was employed by the United States Treasury Department. During this period he studied at (what would become) George Washington University.
In 1882, he was appointed Assistant Geologist in the US Geological Survey. Thereafter, he was promoted to Geologist in 1883, and Paleontologist in 1892. He was also an Honorary Curator of the Department of Fossil Plants at the US National Museum between 1882 and 1905. After that he took a faculty appointment at Brown University. He died in 1913. For further information see The American Sociological Association, the City of Joliet website, or Wikipedia.
Although Ward was considered one of the foremost paleobotanists of his time, he is probably best remembered for his pioneering work in sociology. His 1883 book Dynamic Sociology was considered revolutionary. It argued that progress depended on a planned society guided by a benevolent government which provided universal education, freedom from poverty and happiness for all. When this book was first published, apparently, no US university was running courses in sociology yet by the time of the second edition, in 1896, they all were. Further important books followed: Outlines of Sociology (1898), Pure Sociology (1903) and Applied Sociology (1906).
As a young man, Ward, writing in French, kept a diary before, during and after his Civil War experience. The manuscript was found among an archive of his documents in Brown University library, translated by Elizabeth N Nichols, and published for the first time by G P Putnam’s Sons, New York, in 1935 as Young Ward’s Diary.
The book’s editor, Bernhard J Stern, says: ‘[The diary] is not merely an interesting psychological record through adolescence and young manhood, of the developing pattern of a unique personality. It is a sociological and historical document. Its chief value lies in the ingenuous manner in which it protrays the customs and mores of rural Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War, the life of a rank and file soldier during the conflict, and the post-war political and cultural scene in the nation’s capital.’
The first section of diary entries (according to Stern’s editing) ends in August 1862 when Ward becomes a soldier in the Union Army. Intriguingly, he seems to have got married and not even confided in his diary (despite the recording of many far more mundane matters). On 13 August he ends that day’s entry with ‘. . . I must go to bed with my wife.’ Until this entry, he has always written about his ‘girl’. And five days later, in his last entry of the section (as defined by Stern) he writes: ‘The day for setting out for the war is here. Five days of our honeymoon I have spent with my wife, but this morning I must leave her, perhaps for ever! - I must leave the sweetness of her company for the difficulties and fatigues of military camp. Terrible change! I am furious this morning because my father-in-law has discovered our marriage. I am afraid that he cannot keep it secret. I worked in his hay almost all the week. Saturday evening I had a letter from Hiram.’
Here are the earliest entries in Ward’s diary: some text from opposite the first entry, the first entry itself - from exactly 150 years ago today - and a few subsequent entries.
‘I have finally decided to write in French to practice it. I am just as struck with an idea which excites me. I am going to write a journal in French beginning with the fourth of July 1860, which was last Friday. I shall write at least as often as every Sunday, and every day as long as it is possible. What a good idea!’
Sunday 8 July 1860
‘In undertaking a journal of events which concern me, I shall record a few of the most interesting things which have transpired since the fourth of this month. Without further ceremony, then, I commence.
The morning of the Fourth, so memorable to this powerful nation, found me in a state of profound lethargy resulting from much fatigue. I had intended to arise at a much earlier hour to shoot a pistol which I had prepared the night before, but it was so late when I got up that I was ashamed to shoot it. My spirit has been for almost two months the lowest it has ever been in my life, on account of the profound disappointment in the love which I had acquired for a girl, so pretty but so false. I sent her a letter that day, telling her that I wish only to see her once more and to receive only one more letter from her. I procured a half dollar from Mr Owen on the Fourth, with which I bought two strings for my violin, which I enjoy very much.’
Monday evening 9 July 1860
‘I cultivated the corn this morning for the first time this year. I was a little annoyed with the horse’s not keeping to the row.
In the afternoon I gathered and bound sheaves.
When night came I had a fine time playing on the violin while Baxter played the tambourine. My heart was very light regarding the girl whom I loved, and whom I no longer esteem.
But everyone has gone to bed, and I must wash my feet before going myself.’
Wednesday noon 11 July 1860
‘I could not write last night because Baxter wished to write a letter. I bound the sheaves all day yesterday, and only got my supper very late, and it made me very tired. That was Tuesday night, and I went to the post office to look for the promised letter from the girl, but did not find it, so I came to the conclusion that I never wished to see her again. My heart is light. I was almost sick cutting the corn all morning.
My girl I am going to abandon you eternally, you whom I have loved so deeply! It will kill me, but let me perish.’
Thursday evening 12 July 1860
‘Since the last time I wrote in my journal much has happened to me. Erastus came here last night and game me a letter from the girl which she had sent me some time previously. It contained answers to several of my letters. She is annoyed with me for calling her nonchalant and cruel. I am going to answer it as soon as possible. [. . .]’
[. . .]
Sunday morning 19 August 1860
‘Hearing mention of an Episcopal meeting at six o’clock in the evening I decided to attend it. After having finished a letter I went to Sunday School and finally to the girl’s, taking her a music book. I talked with her for an hour or two, and she entertained me wonderfully - when I returned and got something to eat, I went to church.
Mr Douglas, the minister, after having gone through all the ceremonies which belong to this church (which were, incidentally, very interesting to me), preached a very practical and profound sermon. The girl was there, and as I passed her on the stairs which lead to the gallery I saw her standing on the steps. It was a very awkward manoeuver to approach her and ask for her company to another service.
But I accomplished it casually, and she could not refuse. We went at once to another church, chatting and enjoying ourselves marvellously. She fascinated me. I remembered my previous love. What a charming girl. If I could once more press my lips on hers and draw from them my soul’s satisfaction! We returned in the evening talking all the time but more gravely than before. We arrived at the door, I entered with her, she lit a lamp and we sat down together talking, but I could not keep myself from feasting my eyes ardently and with intensity on the object of beauty and attraction at my side. Girl, I thought, if you were true to me what a happy man I should be! I took the hand which I loved, and looked at it. We spoke little more from that moment, while I looked steadily at her face and was conquered.
I could no longer keep my place. Leaning forward I received her sweet and tender form in my arms and in an instant her face was covered with kisses. What a sublime scene! Who could have words to express my emotions?
And there we bathed ourselves in the passion of love until the crowing of cocks announced it was day.’