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R. SIDNEY HERBERT (afterwards Lord Herbert of Lea) was at this time
at the head of the War Department in
England. He was a man of noble nature
and tender heart, whose whole life was spent in
doing good, and in helping those who needed help.
He heard with deep distress the dreadful tidings of
suffering that came from the Crimea, and his heart
responded instantly to the call for help. Yes, the
women of England must rise up and go to that far,
desolate land to tend and nurse the sick and wounded
and dying; but who should lead them? What one
woman had the strength, the power, the wisdom,
the tenderness, to meet and overcome the terrible
conditions? Asking himself this question, Mr.
Herbert answered without a moment's
hesitation: "Florence Nightingale!"
He knew Miss Nightingale well; she was a dear
 friend of himself and his beautiful wife, and had
again and again given them help and counsel in
planning and managing their many charities, hospitals,
homes for sick children, and so forth. He knew that
she possessed all the qualities needed for this work,
and he wrote to her, asking if she would undertake
it. Would she, he asked, go out to Scutari, taking
with her a band of nurses who would be tinder her
orders, and take charge of the hospital nursing?
He did not make light of the task.
"The selection of the rank and file of nurses
would be difficult—no one knows that better than
yourself. The difficulty of finding women equal to
a task after all full of horror, and requiring, besides
intelligence and goodwill, great knowledge and
great courage will be great; the task of ruling them
and introducing system among them great, and not
the least will be the difficulty of making the whole
work smoothly with the medical and military
authorities out there. This it is which makes it so
important that the experiment should be carried out
by one with administrative capacity and experience."
He went on to assure Miss Nightingale that she
should have full power and authority, and told her
 frankly that in his opinion she was the one woman
in England who was capable of performing this
"I must not conceal from you that upon your
decision will depend the ultimate success or failure
of the plan. . . . If this succeeds, an enormous
amount of good will be done now, and to persons
deserving everything at our hands; and which will
multiply the good to all time."
It was a noble letter, this of Mr. Herbert's, but
he might have spared himself the trouble of writing
it. Florence Nightingale, in her quiet country home,
had heard the call to the women of England; and
even while Mr. Herbert was composing his letter to
her, she was writing to him, a brief note, simply
offering her services in the hospitals at Scutari. Her
letter crossed his on the way; and the next day it
was proclaimed from the War Office that Miss
Nightingale, "a lady with greater practical
experience of hospital administration and treatment than
any other lady in the country," had been appointed
by Government to the office of Superintendent of
Nurses at Scutari, and had undertaken the work
of organizing and taking out nurses thither.
 Great was the amazement in England. Nothing
of this kind had ever been heard of before. "Who
is Miss Nightingale?" people cried all over the
country. They were answered by the newspapers.
First the Examiner and then the Times told them
that Miss Nightingale was " a young lady of
singular endowments both natural and acquired. In a
knowledge of the ancient languages and of the
higher branches of mathematics, in general art,
science, and literature, her attainments are
extraordinary. There is scarcely a modern language
which she does not understand, and she speaks
French, German and Italian as fluently as her
native English. She has visited and studied all the
various nations of Europe, and has ascended the
Nile to its remotest cataract. Young (about the
age of our Queen), graceful, feminine, rich,
popular, she holds a singularly gentle and persuasive
influence over all with whom she comes in contact.
Her friends and acquaintances are of all classes and
persuasions, but her happiest place is at home, in
the centre of a very large band of accomplished
relatives, and in simplest obedience to her admiring
 One who knew our heroine well wrote in a more
"Miss Nightingale is one of those whom God
forms for great ends. You cannot hear her say a
few sentences—no, not even look at her, without
feeling that she is an extraordinary being. Simple,
intellectual, sweet, full of love and benevolence, she
is a fascinating and perfect woman. She is tall and
pale. Her face is exceedingly lovely; but better
than all is the soul's glory that shines through every
feature so exultingly. Nothing can be sweeter than
her smile. It is like a sunny day in summer."
Though well known among a large circle of
earnest and high-minded persons, Miss Nightingale's
name was entirely new to the English people as a
whole, and—everything else apart—they were
delighted with its beauty. Had she been plain Mary
Smith, she would have done just as good work, but
it would have been far harder for her to start it.
Florence Nightingale was a name to conjure with,
as the saying is, and it echoed far and wide.
Everybody who could write verses (and many who could
not), began instantly to write about nightingales.
Punch printed a cartoon showing a hospital ward,
 with the "ladybirds" hovering about the cots of
the sick men, each bird having a nurse's head.
Another picture represented one of the bird-nurses
flying through the air, carrying in her claws a jug
labeled "Fomentation, Embrocation, Gruel." This
was called "The Jug of the Nightingale," for many
people think that some of the bird's beautiful, liquid
notes sound like "jug, jug, jug!"
Not content with pictures, Punch printed "The
Nightingale's Song to the Sick Soldier," which
became very popular, and was constantly quoted in
Listen, soldier, to the tale of the tender nightingale,
'Tis a charm that soon will ease your wounds so cruel,
Singing medicine for your pain, in a sympathetic strain,
With a jug, jug, jug of lemonade or gruel.
Singing bandages and lint; salve and cerate without stint,
Singing plenty both of liniment and lotion,
And your mixtures pushed about, and the pills for you served out
With alacrity and promptitude of motion.
Singing light and gentle hands, and a nurse who understands
How to manage every sort of application,
From a poultice to a leech; whom you haven't got to teach
The way to make a poppy fomentation.
Singing pillow for you, smoothed; smart and ache and anguish soothed,
By the readiness of feminine invention;
Singing fever's thirst allayed, and the bed you've tumbled made
With a cheerful and considerate attention.
Singing succour to the brave, and a rescue from the grave,
Hear the nightingale that's come to the Crimea;
'Tis a nightingale as strong in her heart as in her song,
To carry out so gallant an idea.
Of course there were some people who shook
their heads; there always are when any new work
is undertaken. Some thought it was improper for
women to nurse in a military hospital; others
thought they would be useless, or worse; others
again thought that the nurses would ruin their own
health and be sent home in a month to the hospitals
of England. There were still other objections,
which were strongly felt in those days, however
strange they may sound in our ears to-day.
"Oh, dreadful!" said some people; "Miss Nightingale is a Unitarian!"
"Oh, shocking!" said others. "Miss Nightingale
is a Roman Catholic!" And so it went on.
 But while they were talking and exclaiming,
drawing pictures and singing songs, Miss Nightingale
was getting ready. In six days from the time she
undertook the work she was ready to start, with
thirty nurses, chosen with infinite care and pains
from the hundreds who had volunteered to go.
There was no flourish of trumpets. While England
was still wondering how they could go, and whether
they ought to be allowed to go—behold, they were
gone! slipping away by night, as if they were bound
on some secret errand. Indeed, Miss Nightingale
has never been able to endure "fuss and feathers,"
and all her life she has looked for a bushel large
enough to hide her light under, though happily she
has never succeeded.
Only a few relatives and near friends stood on the
railway platform on that evening of October 21,
1854. Miss Nightingale, simply dressed in black,
was very quiet, very serene, with a cheerful word
for everyone; no one who saw her parting look
and smile ever forgot them. So, in night and
silence, the "Angel Band" whose glory was soon
to shine over all the world, left the shores of
 But though England slept that night, France was
wide awake the next morning. The fishwives of
Boulogne had heard what was doing across the
Channel, and were on the lookout. When Miss
Nightingale and her nurses stepped ashore they were
met by a band of women, in snowy caps and
rainbow-striped petticoats, all with outstretched hands,
all crying, "Welcome, welcome, our English
They knew, Marie and Jeanne and Suzette. Their
own husbands, sons, and brothers were fighting and
dying in the Crimea; their own nurses, the blessed
Sisters of Mercy, had from the first been toiling in
hospital and trench in that dreadful land; how
should they not welcome the English sisters who
were going to join in the holy work?
Loudly they proclaimed that none but themselves,
the fishwives of Boulogne, should help the soeurs Anglaises. They
shouldered bag and baggage;
they swung the heavy trunks up on their broad
backs, and with laughter and tears mingled in true
French fashion, trudged away to the railway
station. Pay? Not a sou; not a centime! The
blessing of our English sisters is all we desire; and if
 they should chance to see Pierre or Jacques la-bas—ah!
the heavens are over all. A handshake, then,
and Adieu! Adieu! vivent les soeurs! the good God
go with you!
And that prayer was surely answered.