DAUGHTERS OF THE PURITANS
A Group of Brief Biographies
SETH CURTIS BEACH
Essay Index Reprint Series
BOOKS FOR LIBRARIES PRESS, INC. FREEPORT, NEW YORK
First published 1905 Reprinted 1967
CATHARINE MARIA SEDGWICK, 1789-1867 1
MARY LOVELL WARE, 1798-1849 43
LYDIA MARIA CHILD, 1802-1880 79
DOROTHEA LYNDE DIX, 1802-1887 123
SARAH MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI, 1810-1850 165
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, 1811-1896 209
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, 1832-1888 251
CATHARINE MARIA SEDGWICK
During the first half of the nineteenth century, Miss Sedgwick would doubtless have been considered the queen of American letters, but, in the opinion of her friends, the beauty of her character surpassed the merit of her books. In 1871, Miss Mary E. Dewey, her life-long neighbor, edited a volume of Miss Sedgwick's letters, mostly to members of her family, in compliance with the desire of those who knew and loved her, "that some printed memorial should exist of a life so beautiful and delightful in itself, and so beneficent in its influence upon others." Truly a "life beautiful in itself and beneficent in its influence," the reader will say, as he lays down this tender volume.
Catharine Maria Sedgwick was born at Stockbridge, Mass., in 1789, the first year of the presidency of George Washington. She was a descendant from Robert Sedgwick, major-general under Cromwell, and governor of Jamaica. Her father, Theodore Sedgwick, was a country boy, born in 1746, upon a barren farm in one of the hill-towns of Connecticut. Here the family opened a country store, then added a tavern, and with the combined industries of farm, store and tavern, Theodore, most fortunate of the sons if not the favorite, was sent to Yale college, where he remained, until, in the last year of his course, he managed to get himself expelled. He began the study of theology, his daughter suggests, in a moment of contrition over expulsion from college, but soon turned to the law for which he had singular aptitude. He could not have gone far in his legal career when, before the age of twenty-one, he married a beautiful girl whose memory he always tenderly cherished, as well he might considering his part in the tragedy of her early death. He had taken small pox, had been duly quarantined and discharged but his young wife combed out the tangles of his matted hair, caught the disease, and died, within a year after marriage.
Marriage was necessary in those days, his daughter suggests, and the year of conventional widowhood having expired, Mr. Sedgwick, then at the age of twenty-three, married Miss Pamela Dwight, the mother of his four sons, all successful lawyers, and his three daughters, all exemplary women. The second Mrs. Sedgwick was presumably more beautiful than the first; certainly she was more celebrated. She is immortalized by her portrait in Griswold's "American Court," and by a few complimentary lines in Mrs. Ellet's "Queens of American Society."
Theodore Sedgwick rose to distinction by his energies and talents but, as we have seen, he was of sufficiently humble origin, which could not have been greatly redeemed by expulsion from college; while at the age of twenty-three, that must have been his chief exploit. Social lines were very firmly drawn in that old colonial society, before the plough of the Revolution went through it, and there was no more aristocratic family than the Dwights, in Western Massachusetts.
Madame Quincy gives an account of a visit, in her girlhood, paid to the mother of Miss Pamela, Madame Dwight, in her "mansion-house," and says that her husband, Brig.-Gen. Joseph Dwight, was "one of the leading men of Massachusetts in his day." Madame Dwight was presumably not inferior to her husband. She was daughter of Col. Williams, of Williamstown, who commanded a brigade in the old French War, and whose son founded Williams College. A daughter of Madame Dwight, older than Pamela, married Mark Hopkins, "a distinguished lawyer of his time," says Madame Quincy, and grandfather of Rev. Mark Hopkins, D.D., perhaps the most illustrious president of the college founded by Madame Dwight's family.
The intermarriage of the Williamses, Dwights, and Hopkinses formed a fine, aristocratic circle, into which the Sedgwicks were not very cordially welcomed. "My mother's family (of this," says Mrs. Sedgwick, "I have rather an indefinite impression than any knowledge) objected to my father on the score of family, they priding themselves on their gentle blood; but as he afterwards rose far beyond their highest water-mark, the objection was cast into oblivion by those who made it."
A few years after this marriage, the war of the Revolution began. Mr. Sedgwick entered the army, served as an officer under Washington, whose acquaintance and favor he enjoyed, and from that time, for forty years until his death, he was in public life, in positions of responsibility and honor. He was member of the Continental Congress, member of the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House, Senator from Massachusetts, and, at his death, judge of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Judge Sedgwick was a staunch Federalist and, in spite of the fact that he himself was not born in the purple, he shared the common Federalist contempt for the masses. "I remember my father," says Miss Sedgwick, "one of the kindest-hearted men and most observant of the rights of all beneath him, habitually spoke of the people as 'Jacobins,' 'sans-culottes,' and 'miscreants.' He—and this I speak as a type of the Federalist party—dreaded every upward step they made, regarding their elevation as a depression, in proportion to their ascension, of the intelligence and virtue of the country." "He was born too soon," says his daughter apologetically, "to relish the freedoms of democracy, and I have seen his brow lower when a free and easy mechanic came to the front door, and upon one occasion, I remember his turning off the east steps (I am sure not kicking, but the demonstration was unequivocal) a grown up lad who kept his hat on after being told to remove it." In these days one would hardly tell him to remove it, let alone hustling him off the steps.
The incident shows how far education, prosperity, wealth, and forty years of public life had transformed the father of Miss Sedgwick from the country boy of a hill-farm in Connecticut. More to our present purpose, the apologetic way in which Miss Sedgwick speaks of these high-bred prejudices of her father, shows that she does not share them. "The Federalists," she says, "stood upright, and their feet firmly planted on the rock of aristocracy but that rock was bedded in the sands, or rather was a boulder from the Old World, and the tide of democracy was surely and swiftly undermining it."
When this was written, Miss Sedgwick had made the discovery that, while the Federalists had the better "education, intellectual and moral," the "democrats had among them much native sagacity" and an earnest "determination to work out the theories of the government." She is writing to her niece: "All this my dear Alice, as you may suppose, is an after-thought. Then I entered fully, and with the faith and ignorance of childhood, into the prejudices of the time." Those prejudices must have been far behind her when her first story was written, "A New England Tale," in which it happens, inadvertently we may believe, all the worst knaves are blue-blooded and at least most of the decent persons are poor and humble. Later we shall see her slumming in New York like a Sister of Charity, 'saving those that are lost,' a field of labor toward which her Federalist education scarcely led.
She could have learned some condescension and humanity from her mother who, in spite of her fine birth, seems to have been modest and retiring to a degree. She was very reluctant to have her husband embark upon a public career; had, her daughter says, "No sympathy with what is called honor and distinction"; and wrote her husband a letter of protest which is worth quoting if only to show how a well-trained wife would write her doting husband something more than a century ago: "Pardon me, my dearest Mr. Sedgwick, if I beg you once more to think over the matter before you embark in public business. I grant that the 'call of our country,' the 'voice of fame,' and the 'Honorable' and 'Right-Honorable,' are high sounding words. 'They play around the head, but they come not near the heart.'" However, if he decides for a public career, she will submit: "Submission is my duty, and however hard, I will try to practice what reason teaches me I am under obligation to do." That address, "my dearest Mr. Sedgwick," from a wife a dozen years after marriage, shows a becoming degree of respect.
We may be sure that this gentle mother would have encouraged no silly notions of social distinctions in the minds of her children. Even Mr. Sedgwick seems to have had a softer and more human side to his nature than we have yet seen. Miss Sedgwick enjoys repeating a story which she heard from a then "venerable missionary." The son of the village shoemaker, his first upward step was as boy-of-all-work of the clerk of courts. He had driven his master to the court session in dignified silence, broken on arrival by a curt order to take in the trunk. "As he set it down in the entry," says Miss Sedgwick, "my father, then judge of the Supreme Judicial Court, was coming down stairs, bringing his trunk himself. He set it down, accosted the boy most kindly, and gave him his cordial hand. The lad's feelings, chilled by his master's haughtiness, at once melted, and took an impression of my father's kindness that was never effaced."
The individual is so much a creature of his environment, that I must carry these details a little farther. Forty years in public life, Judge Sedgwick had an extended acquaintance and, according to the custom of the time, kept open house. "When I remember," says Miss Sedgwick, "how often the great gate swung open for the entrance of traveling vehicles, the old mansion seems to me much more like an hostelrie of the olden time than the quiet house it now is. My father's hospitality was unbounded. It extended from the gentleman in his coach, chaise, or on horseback, according to his means or necessities, to the poor, lame beggar that would sit half the night roasting at the kitchen fire with the negro servants. My father was in some sort the chieftain of his family, and his home was their resort and resting-place. Uncles and aunts always found a welcome there; cousins wintered and summered with us. Thus hospitality was an element in our education. It elicited our faculties of doing and suffering. It smothered the love and habit of minor comforts and petty physical indulgences that belong to a higher state of civilization and generate selfishness, and it made regard for others, and small sacrifices for them, a habit."
Just one word more about this home, the like of which it would be hard to find in our generation: "No bickering or dissention was ever permitted. Love was the habit, the life of the household rather than the law.—A querulous tone, a complaint, a slight word of dissention, was met by that awful frown of my father's. Jove's thunder was to a pagan believer but as a summer day's drifting cloud to it. It was not so dreadful because it portended punishment,—it was punishment; it was a token of suspension of the approbation and love that were our life."
These passages have a twofold value. They tell us in what school Miss Sedgwick was educated, and they give us a specimen of her literary style. Language is to her a supple instrument, and she makes the reader see what she undertakes to relate.
Judge Sedgwick died in Boston, in 1813, when Miss Sedgwick was twenty-three. The biographical Dictionaries say he was a member of Dr. Channing's church. As Miss Sedgwick relates the facts, he had long desired to "make a public profession of religion," but had been deterred because he could not conscientiously join the church of his family, in Stockbridge, with its Calvinistic confession, and was too tender of the feelings of his pastor to join another,—"unworthy motives," says Miss Sedgwick. Briefly stated, he now sent for Dr. Channing and received from him the communion. Later, Miss Sedgwick followed him into the Unitarian fellowship. She, and two distinguished brothers, were among the founders of the first Unitarian church in New York city.
Miss Dewey calls her volume "The Life and Letters" of Miss Sedgwick, but the Life is very scantily written. She has given us a picture rather than a biography. Indeed, to write a biography of Miss Sedgwick is no easy task, there was so much of worth in her character and so little of dramatic incident in her career. Independent in her circumstances, exempt from struggle for existence or for social position, unambitious for literary fame and surprised at its coming, unmarried and yet domestic in tastes and habits, at home in any one of the five households of her married brothers and sisters, she lived for seventy-seven years as a favored guest at the table of fortune. She saw things happen to others, but they did not happen to her. It was with her as with Whittier's sweet Quakeress:
"For all her quiet life flowed on As meadow streamlets flow, Where fresher green reveals alone The noiseless ways they go."
Of her outward career, Miss Dewey truly says: "No striking incidents, no remarkable occurrences will be found in it, but the gradual unfolding and ripening amid congenial surroundings of a true and beautiful soul, a clear and refined intellect, and a singularly sympathetic social nature. She was born eighty years ago"—this was written in 1871,—"when the atmosphere was still electric with the storm in which we took our place among the nations, and, passing her childhood in the seclusion of a New England valley, while yet her family was linked to the great world without by ties both political and social, early and deep foundations were laid in her character of patriotism, religious feeling, love of nature, and strong attachment to home, and to those who made it what it was. And when in later life, she took her place among the acknowledged leaders of literature and society, these remained the central features of her character, and around them gathered all the graceful culture, the active philanthropy, the social accomplishment, which made her presence a joy wherever it came."
It is not singular if she began her existence at a somewhat advanced stage. She was quite sure she remembered incidents that took place before she was two years old. She remembered a dinner party at which Miss Susan Morton, afterward Madame Quincy, was present, and to which her father and her brother, Theodore, came from Philadelphia. If you are anxious to know what incidents of such an event would fix themselves in the mind of a child of two, they were these: She made her first attempt to say "Theodore," and "Philadelphia," and she tried her baby trick of biting her glass, for which she had doubtless been reproved, and watched its effect upon her father. "I recall perfectly the feeling with which I turned my eye to him, expecting to see that brow cloud with displeasure, but it was smooth as love could make it. That consciousness, that glance, that assurance, remained stamped indelibly."
"Education in the common sense," says Miss Sedgwick, "I had next to none." For schools, she fared like other children in Stockbridge, with the difference that her father was "absorbed in political life," her mother, in Catharine's youth an invalid, died early, and no one, she says, "dictated my studies or overlooked my progress. I remember feeling an intense ambition to be at the head of my class, and generally being there. Our minds were not weakened by too much study; reading, spelling, and Dwight's geography were the only paths of knowledge into which we were led;" to which accomplishments she adds as an after-thought, grammar and arithmetic.
Nevertheless, when in 1838, six of the Sedgwick family travelled together through France and Italy, doing much of those sunny lands on foot, Miss Sedgwick was interpreter for the party in both countries, apparently easy mistress of their respective languages. It is remarkable what fine culture seems to have been attainable by a New England child born more than a hundred years ago, when Harvard and Yale were, as we are told, mere High Schools, and Radcliffe and Wellesley were not even dreamed of. Instead of Radcliffe or Wellesley, Miss Sedgwick attended a boarding school in Albany, at the age of thirteen and, at the age of fifteen, another in Boston, the latter for six months, and the former could not have been more than two years. Both, according to her, gave her great social advantages, and did little for her scholarship. Miss Bell, the head of the Albany school, "rose late, was half the time out of the school, and did very little when in it."
Miss Paine's school in Boston, let us hope, was better; but "I was at the most susceptible age. My father's numerous friends in Boston opened their doors to me. I was attractive in my appearance"—she is writing this to a niece and it is probably all true—"and, from always associating on equal terms with those much older than myself, I had a mental maturity rather striking, and with an ignorance of the world, a romantic enthusiasm, an aptitude at admiring and loving that altogether made me an object of general interest. I was admired and flattered. Harry and Robert were then resident graduates at Cambridge. They were too inexperienced to perceive the mistake I was making; they were naturally pleased with the attentions I was receiving. The winter passed away in a series of bewildering gayeties. I had talent enough to be liked by my teachers, and good nature to secure their good will. I gave them very little trouble in any way. When I came home from Boston I felt the deepest mortification at my waste of time and money, though my father never said one word to me on the subject. For the only time in my life I rose early to read French, and in a few weeks learned more by myself than I had acquired all winter."
It will be seen that she had the ability to study without a teacher, and that is an art which, with time at one's disposal and the stimulus at hand, assures education. Intellectual stimulus was precisely what her home furnished. "I was reared in an atmosphere of high intelligence. My father had uncommon mental vigor. So had my brothers. Their daily habits and pursuits and pleasures, were intellectual, and I naturally imbibed from them a kindred taste. Their talk was not of beeves, nor of making money; that now universal passion had not entered into men and possessed them as it does now, or if it had, it was not in the sanctuary of our home,—there the money-changers did not come."
The more we know of her home life, the less wonder we have at her mental development. She says that "at the age of eight, my father, whenever he was at home, kept me up and at his side till nine o'clock in the evening, to listen to him while he read aloud to the family Hume, or Shakspere, or Don Quixote, or Hudibras. Certainly I did not understand them, but some glances of celestial light reached my soul, and I caught from his magnetic sympathy some elevation of feeling, and that love of reading which has been to me an education." A modern girl is liable to nervous prostration without being kept up till nine on such juvenile literature as Hume and Shakspere at the age of eight; but Miss Sedgwick was a country girl who, in youth, lived out of doors and romped like a boy and, at the age of fifty, led a party of young nieces through France, Switzerland, and Italy, much of the way on foot and always at their head. Always fortune's favorite, she enjoyed among other things remarkably good health.
She thinks she was ten years old when she read Rollin's Ancient History, spending the noon intermission, when of course she ought to have been at play, out of sight under her desk, where she "read, and munched, and forgot myself in Cyrus's greatness."
A winter in New York, where she afterward spent so much of her time, was her first absence from home. She had a married sister there whose husband was in government employ, and her oldest brother was there studying law. She was eleven years old; the date was 1801; and her business in New York seems to have been to attend a French Dancing School of which at that era there was but one in the city. She saw her first play, and used to dry the still damp newspaper, in her eagerness to read the theatre announcements. She also experienced a very severe humiliation. She, with her brother, Theodore, attended a large dinner party at the house of a friend of her father. "Our host asked me, the only stranger guest, which part of a huge turkey, in which he had put his carving fork, I would take. I knew only one point of manners for such occasions, dear Alice,—that I must specify some part, and as ill luck would have it, the side-bone came first into my head, and 'Side-bone, sir,' I said. Oh what a lecture I got when we got home, the wretched little chit that compelled a gentleman to cut up a whole turkey to serve her! I cried myself to sleep that night." It was too bad to spoil that dinner party for the little girl.
Her mother died when Miss Sedgwick was seventeen; her father when she was twenty-three. All her brothers and sisters were married and living, three of them in New York city, one in Albany, and one, her youngest brother, in Lenox. With this brother in Lenox, Miss Sedgwick for many happy years, had her home, at least her summer home, having five rooms in an annex to his house built for her, into which she gathered her household gods and where she dispensed hospitality to her friends. For many years, New York city was generally her winter home.
Theoretically, we have arrived with this maiden at the age of twenty-three, but we must go back and read from one or two early letters. She is ten years old when, under date of 1800, she writes her father: "My dear papa,—Last week I received a letter from you which gave me inexpressible pleasure." This is the child's prattle of a girl of ten summers. She writes very circumspectly for her years of a new brother-in-law: "I see—indeed I think I see in Mr. Watson everything that is amiable. I am very much pleased with him; indeed we all are." The following is dated 1801, when she is eleven: "You say in your last letters that the time will soon come when you will take leave of Congress forever. That day shall I, in my own mind, celebrate forever; yes, as long as I live I shall reflect upon the dear time when my dear papa left a public life to live in a retired one with his dear wife and children; then you will have the pleasure to think, when you quit the doors of the House, that you are going to join your family forever; but, my dear papa, I cannot feel as you will when looking back on your past life in Congress. You will remember how much you have exerted yourself in order to save your country."
There was something in the relations of this Sedgwick family, not perhaps without parallel, but very beautiful. These brothers and sisters write to each other like lovers. To her brother Robert, Miss Sedgwick writes, "I have just finished, my dear brother, the second perusal of your kind letter received to-day.... I do love my brothers with perfect devotedness, and they are such brothers as may put gladness into a sister's spirit.... Never, my dear Robert, did brother and sister have a more ample experience of the purity of love, and the sweet exchange of offices of kindness that binds hearts indissolubly together."
There are three letters from Robert Sedgwick to show how he reciprocated this affection. He says: "I can never be sufficiently grateful to my Maker for having given me such a sister. If I had no other sin to answer for than that of being so unworthy of her as I am, it would be more than I can bear, and yet when I read your letters I almost think that I am what I should be. I know I have a strong aspiration to be such, and I am sure they make me better as well as happier." Again, he says: "Thanks, thanks—how cold a word, my dearest Kate, in return for your heart-cheering letter! It came to me in the midst of my Nol Pros., special verdicts, depositions, protests, business correspondence, etc., like a visitant from the skies. Indeed, my dearest Kate, you may laugh at me if you will for saying so, but there is something about your influence over me which seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil of earthiness; to be unmixed with anything that remains to be perfected; to be perfectly spiritualized, and yet to retain its contact with every part of its subject.... Lest I should talk foolishly on this subject, I will dismiss it, only begging you not to forget how your letters cheer, rejoice, elevate, renovate me."
Here is a love-letter from Theodore, her eldest brother: "Having this moment perused your letter the third time, I could not help giving you an answer to it, though there be nothing in it interrogative. Nor was it meant to be tender or sentimental, or learned, but like all your letters, it is so sweet, so excellent, so natural, so much without art, and yet so much beyond art, that, old, cold, selfish, unthankful as I am, the tears are in my eyes, and I thank God that I have such a sister." Let us revenge ourselves upon these brother and sister lovers by saying that perhaps they did not feel any more than some other people, only they had a habit of expressing their feelings. If that was all, we cannot deny that the habit was very beautiful.
Why did Miss Sedgwick never marry? We are not distinctly told; but she did not need to, with such lovers in her own family. Besides, how could she find any one, in her eyes, equal to those brothers, and how could she marry any one of lower merit? "I am satisfied," she writes, "by long and delightful experience, that I can never love any body better than my brothers. I have no expectation of ever finding their equal in worth and attraction, therefore—do not be alarmed; I am not on the verge of a vow of celibacy, nor have I the slightest intention of adding any rash resolutions to the ghosts of those that have been frightened to death by the terrors of maiden life; but therefore—I shall never change my condition until I change my mind." This is at the age of twenty-three.
Later in life, after many changes had come, she seems to have wished she had not been so very hard to suit. Fifteen years roll away, during which we see one suitor after another, dismissed, when she writes in a journal not to be read in her life-time, "It is difficult for one who began life as I did, the primary object of affection to many, to come by degrees to be first to none, and still to have my love remain in its full strength, and craving such returns as have no substitute.... It is the necessity of a solitary condition, an unnatural state.... From my own experience I would not advise any one to remain unmarried, for my experience has been a singularly happy one. My feelings have never been embittered by those slights and taunts that the repulsive and neglected have to endure; there has been no period of my life to the present moment when I might not have allied myself respectably, and to those sincerely attached to me.... I have troops of friends, some devotedly attached to me, and yet the result of this very happy experience is that there is no substitute for those blessings which Providence has placed first, and ordained that they shall be purchased at the dearest sacrifice." Those who have paid the price and purchased the blessings may have the satisfaction of knowing that, according to Miss Sedgwick's mature opinion, they have chosen the better part.
We might call this statement the Confessions of an Old Maid who might have done better. She closes her testimony with an acknowledgment that she "ought to be grateful and humble," and the "hope, through the grace of God, to rise more above the world, to attain a higher and happier state of feeling, to order my house for that better world where self may lose something of its engrossing power." This religious attitude was not unusual, nor merely conventional and unmeaning. All the Sedgwick family seem to have been constitutionally religious. The mother was almost painfully meek in her protest against her husband's embarking upon a public career; Mr. Sedgwick has been deterred from joining a church only by some impossible articles of puritan divinity, but cannot die happy until he has received the communion from Dr. Channing; "both my sisters were very religious," says Miss Sedgwick; while the letters I have quoted from two of her brothers, young lawyers and men of the world, have the devoutness of the psalms. "I can never be sufficiently grateful to my Maker for having given me such a sister," says Robert; and Theodore: "selfish, unthankful as I am, the tears are in my eyes, and I thank God that I have such a sister." Of course one can use a religious dialect without meaning much by it, but these Sedgwicks were cultivated people, who thought for themselves, and did not speak cant to each other.
Since it was a religious impulse that turned Miss Sedgwick's mind to literature, it is worth while to follow the thread of her spiritual history. This was written at the age of twenty when she was looking for a religious experience that never came, and would have considered herself one of the wicked: "On no subject would I voluntarily be guilty of hypocricy, and on that which involves all the importance of our existence I should shrink from the slightest insincerity. You misunderstood my last letter. I exposed to you a state of mind and feeling produced, not by religious impressions, but by the convictions of reason." Of course "reason" was no proper organ of religion; but besides this defect, her interest in serious things was liable to interruption "by the cares and pleasures of the world" and, perhaps worst of all, "I have not a fixed belief on some of the most material points of our religion." One does not see how a person in this state of mind should have anything to call "our religion." She seems to have advanced much further in a letter to her brother Robert, three years later: "I long to see you give your testimony of your acceptance of the forgiving love of your Master.
... God grant, in his infinite mercy, that we may all touch the garment of our Savior's righteousness and be made whole."
The editor of these letters tells us that Miss Sedgwick is now a member of Dr. Mason's church in New York city, having joined at the age of twenty, or soon after the letter in which she says she is not satisfied on certain points of doctrine. Dr. Mason is described as an undiluted Calvinist, "who then was the most conspicuous pulpit orator in the country—a man confident in his faith and bold to audacity." Miss Sedgwick stands the strong meat of Calvinism ten years, when we have this letter. "I presume you saw the letter I wrote Susan, in which I said that I did not think I should go to Dr. Mason's Church again.... You know, my dear Frances, that I never adopted some of the articles of the creed of that church and some of those upon which the doctor is fond of expatiating, and which appear to me both unscriptural and very unprofitable, and, I think, very demoralizing."
What perhaps stimulated the zeal of Dr. Mason to insist upon doctrines always objectionable to Miss Sedgwick, was an attempt then being made to establish a Unitarian church in New York city. She has not joined in the movement, but does not know but it may come to that. It is a critical moment in Miss Sedgwick's history, and it happened at this time she went to hear Dr. Mason's farewell sermon. "As usual," she says, "he gave the rational Christians an anathema. He said they had fellowship with the devil: no, he would not slander the devil, they were worse, etc." Very possibly this preaching had its proper effect upon many hearers, and they gave the "rational Christians" a wide berth, but it precipitated Miss Sedgwick into their ranks. She was not then a thorough-going Unitarian, saying, "there are some of your articles of unbelief that I am not Protestant enough to subscribe to"; a little more gentleness on the part of Dr. Mason could have kept her, but she could not stand "what seems to me," she says, "a gross violation of the religion of the Redeemer, and an insult to a large body of Christians entitled to respect and affection."
She joined the tabooed circle in 1821, and wrote from Stockbridge, "Some of my friends here have, as I learn, been a little troubled, but after the crime of confessed Unitarianism, nothing can surprise them"; she longs to look upon a Christian minister who does not regard her as "a heathen and a publican." An aunt, very fond of her, said to her, one day as they were parting, "Come and see me as often as you can, dear, for you know, after this world we shall never meet again."
These religious tribulations incited her to write a short story, after the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, to contrast two kinds of religion, of one of which she had seen more than was good. The story was to appear as a tract, but it outgrew the dimensions of a tract, and was published as a book under the title of "A New England Tale." It is not a masterpiece of literature but, like all of Miss Sedgwick's works, it contains some fine delineations of character and vivid descriptions of local scenery. It can be read to-day with interest and pleasure. As a dramatic presentation of the self-righteous and the meek, in a New England country town a century ago, it is very effective. "Mrs. Wilson" is perhaps a more stony heart than was common among the 'chosen vessels of the Lord,' but so the Pharisee in the parable may have been a trifle exaggerated. The advantage of this kind of writing is that you do not miss the point of the story.
Miss Dewey says The New England Tale gave Miss Sedgwick an "immediate position in the world of American literature." Her brother Theodore wrote, "It exceeds all my expectations, fond and flattering as they were"; her brother Harry, "I think, dear Kate, that your destiny is fixed. As you are such a Bibleist, I only say don't put your light under a bushel." That the book did not fall still-born is evident when he says further, "The orthodox do all they can to put it down." On the other hand, her publisher wanted to print a cheap edition of 3,000 copies for missionary purposes. I should like to see that done to-day by some zealous liberal-minded publisher.
The New England Tale appeared in 1822, when Cooper had only published "Precaution" and "The Spy." In 1824, Miss Sedgwick published "Redwood," of which a second edition was called for the same year, and which was republished in England and translated into French. It reached distinction in the character of Deborah Lenox, of which Miss Edgworth said, "It is to America what Scott's characters are to Scotland, valuable as original pictures." Redwood was reviewed by Bryant in the North American, in an article which, he says, was up to that time his "most ambitious attempt in prose." "Hope Leslie" appeared in 1827. It was so much better than its predecessors, said the Westminster Review, that one would not suppose it by the same hand. Sismondi, the Swiss historian, wrote the author a letter of thanks and commendation, which was followed by a life-long friendship between these two authors. Mrs. Child, then Miss Francis and the author of "Hobomok" and "The Rebels," wrote her that she had nearly completed a story on Capt. John Smith which now she will not dare to print, but she surrenders with less reluctance, she says, "for I love my conqueror." "Is not that beautiful?" says Miss Sedgwick. "Better to write and to feel such a sentiment than to indite volumes."
"Clarence" was published in 1830, and I am glad to say, she sold the rights to the first edition for $1,200, before the critics got hold of it. The scene is laid in New York and in high life. The story, said the North American Review, is "improbable" but not "dull." Miss Dewey says, "It is the most romantic and at the same time the wittiest of her novels," but Bryant says it has been the least read. "The Linwoods, or Sixty Years Since in America," appeared in 1835, and Bryant called it "a charming tale of home life, thought by many to be the best of her novels properly so called."
If Miss Sedgwick had written none of these more elaborate works, she would deserve a permanent place in our literature for a considerable library of short stories, among which I should name "A Berkshire Tradition," a pathetic tale of the Revolution; "The White Scarf," a romantic story of Mediaeval France; "Fanny McDermot," a study of conventional morality; "Home," of which the Westminster Review said, "We wish this book was in the hands of every mechanic in England"; "The Poor Rich Man and the Rich Poor Man" of which Joseph Curtis, the philanthropist, said, "in all his experiences he had never known so much good fruit from the publication of any book"; and, not least, "Live and let Live: or domestic service illustrated," of which Dr. Channing wrote, "I cannot, without violence to my feelings, refrain from expressing to you the great gratification with which I have read your 'Live and let Live.' Thousands will be better and happier for it.... Your three last books, I trust, form an era in our literature."
This was high praise, considering that there was then no higher literary authority in America than Dr. Channing. However, a message from Chief Justice Marshall, through Judge Story, belongs with it: "Tell her I have read with great pleasure everything she has written, and wish she would write more." She had gained an enviable position in literature and she had done a great deal of useful work during the fifteen years since the timid appearance of "A New England Tale," but she seems to have regarded her books as simply a "by-product": "My author existence has always seemed something accidental, extraneous, and independent of my inner self. My books have been a pleasant occupation and excitement in my life.... But they constitute no portion of my happiness—that is, of such as I derive from the dearest relations of life. When I feel that my writings have made any one happier or better, I feel an emotion of gratitude to Him who has made me the medium of any blessing to my fellow creatures."
In 1839, Miss Sedgwick went to Europe in company with her brother Robert, and other relatives. The party was abroad two years and, on its return, Miss Sedgwick collected her European letters and published them in two volumes. They give one a view of Europe as seen by an intelligent observer still in the first half of the last century. She breakfasted with Rogers, the banker and poet, with whom she met Macaulay whose conversation was to her "rich and delightful. Some might think he talks too much; but none, except from their own impatient vanity, could wish it were less." She had tea at Carlyle's, found him "simple, natural and kindly, his conversation as picturesque as his writings." She "had an amusing evening at Mr. Hallam's"; he made her "quite forget he was the sage of the 'Middle Ages.'" At Hallam's she met Sydney Smith who was "in the vein, and we saw him, I believe, to advantage. His wit is not, as I expected, a succession of brilliant explosions but a sparkling stream of humor."
In Geneva, she visited her friends, the Sismondis, and in Turin received a call from Silvio Pellico, martyr to Italian liberty. "He is of low stature and slightly made, a sort of etching of a man with delicate and symmetrical features, just enough body to gravitate and keep the spirit from its natural upward flight—a more shadowy Dr. Channing."
Soon after Miss Sedgwick's return from Europe, she became connected with the Women's Prison Association of New York City, of which from 1848 to 1863 she was president. An extract from one letter must suffice to suggest the nature of her activities in connection with this and kindred philanthropies: "It is now just ten, and I have come up from the City Hall, in whose dismal St. Giles precincts I have been to see a colored ragged school.... My Sundays are not days of rest.... My whole soul is sickened; and to-day when I went to church filled with people in their fine summer clothes, and heard a magnificent sermon from Dr. Dewey, and thought of the streets and dens through which I had just walked, I could have cried out, Why are ye here?"
A fellow-member of the Prison Association, who often accompanied her on her visits to hospitals and prisons, "especially the Tombs, Blackwell's, and Randall's Island," says, "In her visitations, she was called upon to kneel at the bedside of the sick and dying. The sweetness of her spirit, and the delicacy of her nature, felt by all who came within her atmosphere, seemed to move the unfortunate to ask this office of her, and it was never asked in vain."
Always a philanthropist, Miss Sedgwick was not a "reformer" in the technical sense; that is, she did not enlist in the "movements" of her generation, for Temperance, or Anti-Slavery, or Woman's Rights. She shrunk from the excesses of the "crusaders," but she was never slow in striking a blow in a good cause. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published in 1852, but its indictment of slavery is not more complete than Miss Sedgwick made in "Redwood," her second novel, twenty-five years before. A planter's boy sees a slave starved to famishing and then whipped to death. It hurt his boy heart, but he afterward became hardened to such necessary severity and he tells the story to a fellow planter with apologies for his youthful sentimentality. Does "Uncle Tom's Cabin" show more clearly the two curses of slavery: cruelty to the slave and demoralization to the master?
She sympathized with the abolitionists in their purpose but not always with their methods: "The great event of the past week has been the visit of the little apostle of Abolitionism—Lucy Stone." This was in 1849 when Mrs. Stone was thirty-one. "She has one of the very sweetest voices I ever heard, a readiness of speech and grace that furnish the external qualifications of an orator—a lovely countenance too—and the intensity, entire forgetfulness and the divine calmness that fit her to speak in the great cause she has undertaken." But in spite of this evident sympathy with the purpose of the Abolitionists, Miss Sedgwick declined to attend a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, saying: "It seemed to me that so much had been intemperately said, so much rashly urged, on the death of that noble martyr, John Brown, by the Abolitionists, that it was not right to appear among them as one of them."
Not even Lucy Stone, however, could have felt more horror at the institution of slavery. The Compromise Measures of 1850 made her shudder: "my hands are cold as ice; the blood has curdled in my heart; that word compromise has a bad savor when truth and right are in question." When the Civil War came, in her seventieth year, she had "an intense desire to live to see the conclusion of the struggle," but could not conjecture "how peace and good neighborhood are ever to follow from this bitter hate." "It is delightful to see the gallantry of some of our men, who are repeating the heroic deeds that seemed fast receding to fabulous times." Some of these young heroes were very near to her. Maj. William Dwight Sedgwick, who fell on the bloody field of Antietam was her nephew, Gen. John Sedgwick, killed at the battle of Spottsylvania, was her cousin.
As she was not in the Anti-Slavery crusade, so she was not in the Woman's Rights crusade. She wished women to have a larger sphere, and she did much to enlarge the sphere of her sex, but it was by taking it and making it, rather than by talking about it. "Your might must be your right," she says in a chapter on The Rights of Women, in "Means and Ends." Voting did not seem to her a function suited to women: "I cannot believe it was ever intended that women should lead armies, harangue in halls of legislation, bustle up to ballot-boxes, or sit on judicial tribunals." The gentle Lucy Stone would not have considered this argument conclusive, but it satisfied Miss Sedgwick.
In 1857, after a silence of twenty-two years, in which only short stories and one or two biographies came from her hand, she published another two-volume novel entitled, "Married or Single." It is perhaps her best work; at least it has been so considered by many readers. She was then sixty-seven and, though she had ten more years to live, they were years of declining power. These last years were spent at the home of her favorite niece, Mrs. William Minot, Jr., in West Roxbury, Mass., and there tenderly and reverently cared for, she died in 1867.
Bryant, who was her life-long friend, and who, at her instance wrote some of his hymns, gives this estimate of her character: "Admirable as was her literary life, her home life was more so; and beautiful as were the examples set forth in her writings, her own example was, if possible, still more beautiful. Her unerring sense of rectitude, her love of truth, her ready sympathy, her active and cheerful beneficence, her winning and gracious manners, the perfection of high breeding, make up a character, the idea of which, as it rests in my mind, I would not exchange for anything in her own interesting works of fiction."
MARY LOVELL WARE
Of all the saints in the calendar of the Church there is no name more worthy of the honor than that of Mary Lovell Ware. The college of cardinals, which confers the degree of sainthood for the veneration of faithful Catholics, will never recognize her merits and encircle her head with a halo, but when the list of Protestant saints is made up, the name of Mary L. Ware will be in it, and among the first half dozen on the scroll.
The writer was a student in the Divinity School at Cambridge when a classmate commended to him the Memoirs of Mrs. Ware as one of the few model biographies. It was a book not laid down in the course of study; its reading was postponed for that convenient season for which one waits so long; but he made a mental note of the "Memoirs of Mary L. Ware," which many years did not efface. There is a book one must read, he said to himself, if he would die happy.
Mrs. Ware's maiden name was Pickard. To the end of her days, when she put herself in a pillory as she often did, she called herself by her maiden name. "That," she would say, "was Mary Pickard." I infer that she thought Mary Pickard had been a very bad girl.
Her mother's name was Lovell,—Mary Lovell,—granddaughter of "Master Lovell," long known as a classical teacher in colonial Boston, and daughter of James Lovell, an active Revolutionist, a prominent member of the Continental Congress and, from the end of the war to his death, Naval officer in the Boston Custom House. Mr. Lovell had eight sons, one of whom was a successful London merchant, and one daughter, who remained with her parents until at twenty-five she married Mr. Pickard and who, when her little girl was five years old returned, as perhaps an only daughter should, to take care of her parents in their old age. So it happened that the childhood of Mrs. Ware was passed at her grandfather Lovell's, in Pearl St., Boston, then an eligible place of residence.
Mr. Pickard was an Englishman by birth, and a merchant with business connections in London and Boston, between which cities, for a time, his residence alternated. Not much is said of him in the Memoirs, beyond the fact that he was an Episcopalian with strong attachment to the forms of his church, as an Englishman might be expected to be.
Of Mrs. Pickard we learn more. She is said to have possessed a vigorous mind, to have been well educated and a fine conversationalist, with a commanding figure, benignant countenance, and dignified demeanor, so that one said of her, "She seems to have been born for an empress." Like her husband she was an Episcopalian though, according to the Memoirs, less strenuously Episcopalian than Mr. Pickard. She had been reared in a different school. Her father,—Mr. James Lovell—we are told, was a free-thinker, or as the Memoirs put it, "had adopted some infidel principles," and "treated religion with little respect in his family." The "infidels" of that day were generally good men, only they were not orthodox. Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Washington were such infidels. After Channing's day, this kind of man here in New England was absorbed by the Unitarian movement, and, as a separate class, disappeared. Mrs. Pickard was bred in this school and she appears never to have forgotten her home training. "She was unostentatious and charitable," says an early friend, "and her whole life was an exhibition of the ascendency of principle over mere taste and feeling."
Her religious attitude becomes interesting, because in an exceptional degree, she formed her remarkable daughter,—who was an only child and until the age of thirteen had no teacher except this forceful and level-headed mother.
With these antecedents, Mary Lovell Pickard was born in Boston, October 2, 1798, John Adams being then President. In 1802, Mary having passed her third summer, Mr. Pickard's business called him to London, where he resided with his family two years, so that the child's fifth birthday was duly celebrated in mid-ocean on the homeward voyage. In a letter of Mrs. Pickard, written during this London residence, she says, "Mr. Pickard is even more anxious than I to go home. Mary is the only contented one. She is happy all the time." There is so much that is sad in this record that, before we have done, the reader will be glad the little girl had at least a bright and sunny childhood to remember. It appears she did remember it. It may not be remarkable, but it is interesting, that the experiences of this early London life,—between her third and fifth year,—made an indelible impression upon her, so that twenty years later when she was again in England, much to her own delight, she "recognized her old London home and other objects with which she was then familiar."
A lady who was a fellow passenger of the Pickards on their homeward voyage was struck by the gentle management of the mother and the easy docility of the child. To say, "It will make me unhappy if you do that," was an extreme exercise of maternal authority, to which the child yielded unresisting obedience. This, of course, is told to the credit of the child, but the merit, probably belongs to the mother. Doubtless we could all have such children if we were that kind of a parent. A little tact, unfailing gentleness, and an infinite self control: with these, it would seem one may smile and kiss a child into an angel.
On arriving in Boston, Mrs. Pickard took her family to her father's, where she remained until her death, and where, we read, "with parents and grandparents, Mary found a home whose blessings filled her heart." Being an only child, with four elderly persons, Mary was likely to be too much petted or too much fretted. We are glad to know that she was not fretted or over-trained. In a letter of retrospect, she writes, "For many years a word of blame never reached my ears." An early friend of the family writes, "It has been said that Mary was much indulged; and I believe it may be said so with truth. But she was not indulged in idleness, selfishness, and rudeness; she was indulged in healthful sports, in pleasant excursions, and in companionship with other children."
Everything went smoothly with her until the age of ten when, rather earlier than most children, she discovered her conscience: "At ten years of age I waked up to a sense of the danger of the state of indulgence in which I was living"; but let us hope the crisis was not acute. It does not seem to have been. According to the testimony of her first teacher, she was simply precocious morally, but not at all morbid. Her school was at Hingham, whither she was sent at the age of thirteen. The teacher says that with her "devotedness to the highest objects and purposes of our existence, she was one of the most lively and playful girls among her companions, and a great favorite with them all."
There seems to have been really no cloud upon her existence up to this point,—the age of thirteen. I have had a reason for dwelling upon this charming period of her childhood, untroubled by a cloud, because from this date until her death, the hand of God seems to have been very heavy upon her, afflictions fell upon her like rain, and it required a brave spirit to carry the burdens appointed for her to bear. Happily, she had a brave spirit, did not know that her life was hard, "gloried in tribulation," like St. Paul, and was never more cheerful or thankful than when she was herself an invalid, with an invalid husband to be cared for like a baby, seven children to be clothed and fed, and not enough money at the year's end to square accounts. Ruskin tells of a servant who had served his mother faithfully fifty-seven years. "She had," he says, "a natural gift and specialty for doing disagreeable things; above all, the service of the sick-room; so that she was never quite in her glory unless some of us were ill." It will be seen further on that these were only a part of the accomplishments of Mrs. Ware. It is fortunate if a woman is so made that her spirits rise as her troubles thicken, but the reader of the story will be thankful that her life was not all a battle, that her childhood was more than ordinarily serene and sunny, and that not for a dozen years at least, did she have to be a heroine in order to be happy.
Mary had been in Hingham about half a year, enjoying her school-girl life, when her mother was taken ill, fatally ill as it proved, and the child, then at the age of thirteen, was called home and installed in the sick-room as nurse. This was the beginning of sorrow. The mother lingered through the winter and died in the following May. There remained of the family, the grandparents, one son of fine talents, but of unfortunate habits, and her father, "broken in spirits and in fortune, clinging to his only child with doting and dependent affection." We can see that it could not have been a cheerful home for a young girl of thirteen. Some thirty years later, she wrote to one of her children, "I think I have felt the want all my life of a more cheerful home in my early childhood, a fuller participation in the pleasures and 'follies' of youth." I put this reflection here, because it does not apply to the years preceding the loss of her mother while it exactly fits the period that now follows.
The year following her mother's death, Mary attended a girls' school in Boston. A passage from a letter written at this period will show something of her quality. It is dated February 27, 1813, when she was fourteen and a few months. Besides, she had been at school, six months at a time, a total of about one year. She had been mentioning two or three novels, and then discourses as follows: "Novels are generally supposed to be improper books for young people, as they take up the time which ought to be employed in more useful pursuits; which is certainly very true; but as a recreation to the mind, such books as these cannot possibly do any hurt, as they are good moral lessons. Indeed, I think there is scarcely any book from which some good may not be derived; though it cannot be expected that any young person has judgment enough to leave all the bad and take only the good, when there is a great proportion of the former." Perhaps I am wrong in thinking this an exhibition of remarkable reflection and expression in a girl well under fifteen, whether she had been at school or otherwise. Mrs. Ware was always a wonderful letter-writer, though, if we take her word for it, she had little of her mother's gift as a conversationalist. It seems to have been a life-long habit to see the old year out and the new year in, spending the quiet hours in writing letters to her friends. In one of these anniversary letters, written when she was fifteen, she says, "I defy anyone to tell from my appearance that I have not everything to make me happy. I have much and am happy. My little trials are essential to my happiness." In that last sentence we have the entire woman. Her trials were always, as she thought, essential to her happiness.
On this principle, her next twelve years ought to have been very happy, since they were sufficiently full of tribulation. The two years following her mother's death, passed in the lonely home in Boston, were naturally depressing. Besides, she was born for religion, and the experience through which she had passed had created a great hunger in her soul. Trinity Church, into which she had been baptized, had not yet passed through the hands of Phillips Brooks, and its ministrations, admirable as they are for the ordinary child, were inadequate for the wants of a thoughtful girl like Mary Pickard. The final effect was, she says, to throw her more upon herself and to compel her to seek, "by reading, meditation and prayer, to find that knowledge and stimulus to virtue which I failed to find in the ministrations of the Sabbath."
At this critical period, she returned to the school at Hingham, which she had left two years before, and there, in the Third Church, then presided over by Rev. Henry Colman, one of the fathers of the Unitarian heresy, she found peace and satisfaction to her spirit. Ten years later, she spent a week in Hingham, visiting friends and reviving, as she says, the memory of the "first awakening of my mind to high and holy thoughts and resolves." The crisis which, elsewhere, we read of at the age of ten, was a subordinate affair. This Hingham experience, at the age of sixteen, was really the moral event in her history.
As hers was a type of religion,—she would have said "piety",—a blend of reason and sentiment, peculiar to the Unitarianism of that generation, hardly to be found in any household of faith to-day, we must let her disclose her inner consciousness. One Saturday morning, she writes a long letter to one of her teachers saying that she feels it a duty and a privilege "to be a member of the Church of Christ," but she fears she does not understand what the relation implies, and says, "Tell me if you should consider it a violation of the sacredness of the institution, to think I might with impunity be a member of it. I am well aware of the condemnation denounced on those who partake unworthily." She refers to the Lord's Supper. It is to be hoped that her teacher knew enough to give the simple explanation of that dark saying of the apostle about eating unworthily. At all events, she connected herself with the church, received the communion, and was very happy. "From the moment I had decided what to do, not a feeling arose which I could wish to suppress; conscious of pure motives, all within was calm, and I wondered how I could for a moment hesitate. They were feelings I never before experienced, and for once I realized that it is only when we are at peace with ourselves that we can enjoy true happiness.... I could not sleep, and actually laid awake all night out of pure happiness."
After a few months, sooner than she expected, she returns to Boston and sits under the ministrations of Dr. Channing, to her an object of veneration. She writes that her heart is too full for utterance: "It will not surprise you that Mr. Channing's sermons are the cause; but no account that I could give could convey any idea of them. You have heard some of the same class; they so entirely absorb the feelings as to render the mind incapable of action, and consequently leave on the memory at times no distinct impression." I should like to quote all she says of Channing, both as a revelation of him, and of herself. She heard him read the psalm, "What shall I render unto God for all his mercies?" and says, "The ascription of praise which followed was more truly sublime than anything I ever heard or read." It must have been an event,—it certainly was for her,—to listen to one of Dr. Channing's prayers: "It seems often to me, while in the hour of prayer I give myself up to the thought of heaven, as though I had in reality left the world, and was enjoying what is promised to the Christian. I fear, however, these feelings are too often delusive; we substitute the love of holiness for the actual possession."
There her sanity comes in to check her emotionalism. She is reflecting upon another experience with Dr. Channing when she comes very near making a criticism upon him. She tells us that she does not mean him; he is excepted from these remarks, but she says, "There are few occasions which will authorize a minister to excite the feelings of an audience in a very great degree, and none which can make it allowable for him to rest in mere excitement." To complete the portraiture of her soul, I will take a passage from a letter written at the age of twenty-five, when death has at last stripped her of all her family, "I believe that all events that befall us are exactly such as are best adapted to improve us; and I find in a perfect confidence in the wisdom and love which I know directs them, a source of peace which no other thing can give; and in the difficulty which I find in acting upon this belief I see a weakness of nature, which those very trials are designed to assist us in overcoming, and which trial alone can conquer."
Mary Pickards were not common even in that generation, but this creed was then common, and this blend of reason and religious feeling, fearlessly called "piety," was characteristic of Channing, her teacher, and of Henry Ware, afterward her husband. It was the real "Channing Unitarianism." Pity there is no more of it.
Mary was sixteen years old,—to be exact, sixteen and a half; the serene and beautiful faith of Channing had done its perfect work upon her; and she was now ready for whatever fate, or as she would have said, Providence, might choose to send. It sent the business failure of Mr. Pickard, in which not only his own fortune was swept away but also the estate of Mr. Lovell was involved. Upon the knowledge of this disaster, Mary wrote a cheerful letter, in which she said: "I should be sorry to think you consider me so weak as to bend under a change of fortune to which all are liable." Certainly she will not bend, but she is obliged to quit school and return to the shattered home.
Before the summer was over, her grandfather, Mr. Lovell, died; whether the end was hastened by the financial embarrassments in which Mr. Pickard had involved him, is not said. Mrs. Lovell, the grandmother, followed her husband in two years,—for Mary, two years of assiduous nursing and tender care. Perhaps one sentence from a letter at this time will assist us in picturing her in this exacting service. She says that she is leading a monotonous existence, that her animal spirits are not sufficient for both duty and solitude, "And when evening closes, and my beloved charge is laid peacefully to rest, excitement ceases, and I am thrown on myself for pleasure."
With the death of the grandmother, the home was broken up, and Mary, trying to help her father do a little business without capital, went to New York city as his commercial agent. Her letters to her father are "almost exclusively business letters," and he on his part gives her "directions for the sale and purchase, not only of muslins and moreens, but also of skins, saltpetre, and the like."
Details of this period of her career are not abundant in the Memoirs, and the death of her father, in 1823, put an end to her business apprenticeship.
Apparently, she was not entirely destitute. At the time of his disaster, her father wrote, "As we calculated you would, after some time, have enough to support yourself, without mental or bodily exertion." That is, presumably, after the settlement of her grandfather's estate. As her biographer says, "Every member of her own family had gone, and she had smoothed the passage of everyone." But she had many friends, and one is tempted to say, Pity she could not have settled down in cozy quarters and made herself comfortable.
Indeed she did make a fair start. She joined a couple of friends, going abroad in search of health, for a visit to England. She had relatives on the Lovell side, in comfortable circumstances near London, and an aunt on her father's side, in the north of England, in straightened circumstances. She resolved to make the acquaintance of all these relatives.
The party arrived in Liverpool in April, 1824, and for a year and a half, during which their headquarters were in London, Paris was visited, Southern England and Wales were explored, and finally the Lovell relatives were visited and found to have good hearts and open arms. For these eighteen months, Mary Pickard's friends could have wished her no more delightful existence. She had tea with Mrs. Barbauld, heard Irving, then the famous London preacher, and saw other interesting persons and charming things in England. There is material for a very interesting chapter upon this delightful experience. It was followed by a drama of misery and horror, in which she was both spectator and actor, when young and old died around her as if smitten by pestilence, and her own vigorous constitution was irreparably broken.
This episode was vastly more interesting to her than the pleasant commonplace of travel, and much more in keeping with what seems to have been her destiny. In the autumn of her second year abroad, she went to discover her aunt, sister of Mr. Pickard, in Yorkshire. The writer of the Memoirs says that this visit "forms the most remarkable and in some respects the most interesting and important chapter of her life." She found her aunt much better than she expected, nearly overpowered with joy to see her, living in a little two story cottage of four rooms, which far exceeded anything she ever saw for neatness. The village bore the peculiarly English name of Osmotherly, and was the most primitive place she had ever been in. The inhabitants were all of one class and that the poorer class of laborers, ignorant as possible, but simple and sociable. Terrible to relate, smallpox, typhus fever, and whooping cough were at that moment epidemic in that village.
It will be impossible to put the situation before us more briefly than by quoting a passage from one of her letters: "My aunt's two daughters are married and live in this village; one of them, with three children, has a husband at the point of death with a fever; his brother died yesterday of smallpox, and two of her children have the whooping-cough; added to this, their whole dependence is upon their own exertions, which are of course entirely stopped now.... You may suppose, under such a state of things, I shall find enough to do."
The death of the husband, whom of course Miss Pickard nursed through his illness, is reported in the next letter, which contains also this characteristic statement, "It seems to me that posts of difficulty are my appointed lot and my element, for I do feel lighter and happier when I have difficulties to overcome. Could you look in upon me you would think it impossible that I could be even tolerably comfortable, and yet I am cheerful, and get along as easily as possible, and am in truth happy."
Evidently, all we can do with such a person is to congratulate her over the most terrible experiences. In a letter five days later, the baby dies of whooping-cough, and in her arms; a fortnight later, the mother dies of typhus fever; within another month, two boys, now orphans, are down with the same fever at once, and one of them dies. In the space of eight weeks, she saw five persons of one family buried, and four of them she had nursed. By this time, the aunt was ill, and Miss Pickard nursed her to convalescence.
This campaign had lasted three months, and she left the scene of combat with a clear conscience. She was allowed a breathing spell of a month in which to visit some pleasant friends and recuperate her strength, when we find her back in Osmotherly again nursing her aunt. It was the end of December and she was the only servant in the house. Before this ordeal was over, she was taken ill herself, and had to be put to bed and nursed. In crossing a room, a cramp took her; she fell on the floor, lay all night in the cold, calling in vain for assistance. She did not finally escape from these terrible scenes until the end of January, five months from the time she entered them.
Miss Pickard returned to Boston after an absence of about two years and a half, during which time, as one of her friends wrote her, "You have passed such trying scenes, have so narrowly escaped, and done more, much more, than almost any body ever did before." She went away a dear school-girl friend and a valued acquaintance; she was welcomed home as a martyr fit to be canonized, and was received as a conquering heroine.
In a letter dated from Gretna Green, where so many run-away lovers have been made happy, she playfully reflects upon the possibilities of her visit, if only she had a lover, and concludes that she "must submit to single blessedness a little longer." Our sympathies would have been less taxed if she had submitted to single blessedness to the end. Why could she not now be quiet, let well enough alone, and make herself comfortable? Destiny had apparently ordered things for her quite differently. One cannot avoid his destiny, and it was her destiny to marry, and marriage was to bring her great happiness, tempered by great sorrows.
The man who was to share her happiness and her sorrows was Rev. Henry Ware, Jr., then the almost idolized minister of the Second Church, in Boston. Mr. Ware was the son of another Henry Ware, professor of theology at Harvard, whose election to the chair of theology in 1806 opened the great Unitarian controversy. Two sons of Professor Ware entered the ministry, Henry and William, the latter the first Unitarian minister settled in New York city. Rev. John F. Ware, well remembered as pastor of Arlington St. Church in Boston, was the son of Henry, so that for more than half a century, the name of Ware was a great factor in Unitarian history.
After Dr. Channing, Henry Ware was perhaps the most popular preacher in any Boston pulpit. One sermon preached by him on a New Year's eve, upon the Duty of Improvement, became memorable. In spite of a violent snow storm, the church was filled to overflowing, a delegation coming from Cambridge. Of this sermon, a hearer said: "No words from mortal lips ever affected me like those." There was a difference between Unitarian preaching then and now. That famous sermon closed like this: "I charge you, as in the presence of God, who sees and will judge you,—in the name of Jesus Christ, who beseeches you to come to him and live,—by all your hopes of happiness and life,—I charge you let not this year die, and leave you impenitent. Do not dare to utter defiance in its decaying hours. But, in the stillness of its awful midnight, prostrate yourselves penitently before your Maker; and let the morning sun rise upon you, thoughtful and serious men." One does not see how the so-called 'Evangelicals' could have quarreled with that preaching.
Mr. Ware had been in his parish nine years, his age was thirty-two, he was in the prime of life, and at the climax of his power and his popularity. Three years before, he had been left a widower with three young children, one of whom became Rev. John F. Ware. That these two intensely religious natures, that of Mary Pickard and that of Henry Ware, should have been drawn together is not singular. In writing to his sister, Mr. Ware speaks tenderly of his late wife and says, "I have sought for the best mother to her children, and the best I have found." Late in life, one of these children said, "Surely God never gave a boy such a mother or a man such a friend."
Miss Pickard engaged to be a very docile wife. "Instead of the self-dependent self-governed being you have known me," she writes to a friend, "I have learned to look to another for guidance and happiness." She is "as happy as mortal can be." Indeed it was almost too much for earth. "It has made me," she says, "more willing to leave the world and enjoy the happiness of heaven than I ever thought I should be. Strange that a thing from which of all others, I should have expected the very opposite effect, should have done this."
The year following the marriage of these saintly lovers,—one can call them nothing less,—was one of exceeding happiness and of immense activity to both. It is not said, but we can see that each must have been a tonic to the other. Considerate persons felt a scruple about taking any of the time of their pastor's wife. "Mrs. Ware," said one, "at home and abroad, is the busiest woman of my acquaintance," and others felt that way. Before the year ended, Mrs. Ware had a boy baby of her own to increase her occupations and her happiness. It lived a few bright years, long enough to become a very attractive child and to give a severe wrench to her heart when it left her. This experience seems to have a certain fitness in a life in which every joy was to bring sorrow and every sorrow, by sheer will, was to be turned to joy.
Of Mr. Ware, it is said that this first year "was one of the most active and also, to all human appearance, one of the most successful of his ministry." He put more work into his sermons, gave increased attention to the details of his parish, delivered a course of lectures, and undertook other enterprises, some of which are specified; and, during a temporary absence of Mrs. Ware, wrote her that he had hoped he had turned over a new leaf, "but by foolish degrees, I have got back to all my accustomed carelessness and waste of powers, and am doing nothing in proportion to what I ought to do."
But man is mortal, and there is a limit to human endurance. Mr. Ware could not lash himself into greater activity; but he was in good condition to be ill. In a journey from Northampton, he was prostrated by inflammation of the lungs, with hemorrhages, and after several weeks, Mrs. Ware, herself far from well, went to him and finally brought him home. This was the beginning of what became a very regular annual experience. I met a lady who was brought up on the Memoirs of Mary L. Ware, and who briefly put what had impressed her most, in this way: She said, "It seemed as though Mr. Ware was always going off on a journey for his health, and that Mrs. Ware was always going after him to bring him home"; if we remember this statement, and add the fact that these calls came more than once when Mrs. Ware was on the sick list herself, we shall be able greatly to shorten our history.
This was the end of Mr. Ware's parish work. He was nursed through the winter and, in early spring, Mrs. Ware left her baby and took her invalid husband abroad, in pursuit of health, spending a year and a half in England, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy. It was, she afterward said, the most trying period of her life. Mr. Ware alternated between being fairly comfortable and very miserable, so that these Memoirs say "He enjoyed much, but suffered more." Still the travels would be interesting if we had time to follow them.
Near the close of the first year abroad, Mrs. Ware's second child was born in Rome, and, although this was as she would have said, "providential," never was a child less needed in a family. Mrs. Ware had then two babies on her hands, and of these, her invalid husband was the greater care. In the following August, Mrs. Ware arrived in Boston with her double charge, and had the happiness to know that Mr. Ware was somewhat better in health than when he left home, a year and a half before.
His parish, during his absence, had been in the care of a colleague, no other than the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you remember the New Year's Eve sermon of Mr. Ware, it will be evident that he must have left behind him a very conservative parish, and you will not be surprised that in about four years, Mr. Emerson found his chains intolerable.
Mr. Ware had been invited to a professorship in the Harvard Divinity School, and it was to this and not to his parish that he returned. For the steady, one might say monotonous, duties of his professorship, Mr. Ware's health was generally sufficient. The lecture room did not exact the several hundred parish calls then demanded by a large city church, nor the exhausting effort which Mr. Ware and Dr. Channing put into the delivery of a sermon; and the lectures, once prepared, could be delivered and re-delivered from year to year. Real leisure was impossible to one of Mr. Ware's temperament, but here was a life of comparative leisure; and for Mrs. Ware, who shared all the joys and sorrows of her husband, the twelve years that follow brought a settled existence and very much happiness. Neither her own health nor that of her husband was ever very firm, and there was always a great emptiness in the family purse, but with Mrs. Ware, these were, as with Paul, "light afflictions" which were but for a moment, and she did not let them disturb her happiness.
Impossible as it may seem, they contributed to her happiness. She made them contribute to it. She says in a letter of 1831, "Of my winter's sickness I cannot write; it contained a long life of enjoyment, and what I hoped would be profitable thought and reflection." She repeats this statement to another correspondent, and says, with apparent regret, that the illness did not bring her "to that cheerful willingness to resign my life, after which I strove." You cannot send this woman any trial which she will not welcome, because she wants to be made to want to go to heaven, and she is as yet not quite ready for it.
Mr. Ware has been dangerously ill, and of course she could not spare herself for heaven until he recovered, but this trial did something quite as good for her: "My husband's danger renewed the so oft repeated testimony that strength is ever at hand for those who need it, gave me another exercise of trust in that mighty arm which can save to the uttermost, and in its result is a new cause for gratitude to Him who has so abundantly blessed me all the days of my life." It is good to see what the old-fashioned doctrine that God really is, and is good, did for one who actually believed.
That first baby, whom she left behind when she went abroad with her invalid husband, died in 1831; the mother fainted when the last breath left the little body; but this is the way she writes of it: "I have always looked upon the death of children rather as a subject of joy than sorrow, and have been perplexed at seeing so many, who would bear what seemed to me much harder trials with firmness, so completely overwhelmed by this, as is frequently the case."
After that, one is almost ashamed to mention the trifle that the income of this family was very small. Mr. Ware, after 1834 Dr. Ware, held a new professorship, the endowment of which was yet mostly imaginary. The social demands took no account of the family income; the unexpected guest always dropping in; at certain times, it is said, "shoals of visitors;" and the larder always a little scantily furnished. If one wants to know how one ought to live under such circumstances, here is your shining example. "There were no apologies at that table," we are told. "If unexpected guests were not always filled, they were never annoyed, nor suffered to think much about it." "I remember," says a guest, "the wonder I felt at her humility and dignity in welcoming to her table on some occasion a troop of accidental guests, when she had almost nothing to offer but her hospitality. The absence of all apologies and of all mortification, the ease and cheerfulness of the conversation, which became the only feast, gave me a lesson never forgotten, although never learned."
The problem of dress was as simple to Mrs. Ware as was the entertainment of her guests. "As to her attire," says an intimate friend, "we should say no one thought of it at all, because of its simplicity, and because of her ease of manners and dignity of character. Yet the impression is qualified, though in one view confirmed, by hearing that, in a new place of residence, so plain was her appearance on all occasions, the villagers suspected her of reserving her fine clothes for some better class." There are those who might consider these circumstances, very sore privations. What Mrs. Ware says of them is, "I have not a word of complaint to make. We are far better provided for than is necessary to our happiness." I am persuaded that this is an immensely wholesome example and that more of this kind of woman is needed to mother the children of our generation. In a letter to one of her daughters, she says she has great sympathy with the struggles of young people, that she had struggles too and learned her lessons young, that she found very early in life that her own position was not in the least affected by these externals, "I soon began to look upon my oft-turned dress with something like pride, certainly with great complacency; and to see in that and all other marks of my mother's prudence and consistency, only so many proofs of her dignity and self-respect,—the dignity and self-respect which grew out of her just estimate of the true and the right in herself and in the world."
We have seen enough of this woman to discover that she could not be made unhappy, and also to discover why. It was because her nature was so large and strong and fine. Sometimes she thinks Dr. Ware would be better and happier in a parish, "But I have no care about the future other than that which one must have,—a desire to fulfil the duties which it may bring." Surely that is being,
"Self-poised and independent still On this world's varying good or ill."
In 1842, Dr. Ware's health became so much impaired that Mrs. Ware entertains an unfulfilled desire. It is to get away from Cambridge, which had become so dear to them all. "I scruple not to say that a ten-foot house, and bread and water diet, with a sense of rest to him, would be a luxury." The family removed to Framingham, where Dr. Ware died, a year later. Whatever tribulations might be in store for Mrs. Ware, anxiety on his account was not to be one of them.
Death came on Friday; on Sunday, Mrs. Ware attended church with all her family, and the occasion must have been more trying for the minister who preached to her than for herself. A short service was held that Sunday evening at six, and "Then," she says, "John and I brought dear father's body to Cambridge in our own carriage; we could not feel willing to let strangers do anything in connection with him which we could do ourselves." Think of that dark, silent lonely ride from Framingham to Cambridge! But here was a woman who did not spare herself, and did not ask what somebody would think of her doings.
After this event, the Memoirs tell us that a gentleman in Milton gave her a very earnest invitation to go there and take the instruction of three little children in connection with her own. In this occupation she spent six years of great outward comfort and usefulness. There is much in these years, or in the letters of these years, of great interest and moral beauty. Even with young children to leave, she speaks of death as serenely as she would of going to Boston. "I do not feel that I am essential to my children. I do not feel that I am competent to train them."
Of her last illness, one of her children wrote, "Never did a sick room have less of the odor of sickness than that. It was the brightest spot on earth." "Come with a smile," she said to a friend whom she had summoned for a last farewell, and so went this remarkable and exceptionally noble woman.
LYDIA MARIA CHILD
In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, few names in American literature were more conspicuous than that of Lydia Maria Child, and among those few, if we except that of Miss Sedgwick, there was certainly no woman's name. Speaking with that studied reserve which became its dignity, the North American Review said of her: "We are not sure that any woman of our country could outrank Mrs. Child. This lady has been before the public as an author with much success. And she well deserves it, for in all her works, nothing can be found which does not commend itself by its tone of healthy morality and good sense. Few female writers if any have done more or better things for our literature in the lighter or graver departments."
Mrs. Child began her literary career in 1824 with "Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times," and she closed it with a volume of biography, entitled "Good Wives," in 1871. Between these two dates, covering forty-seven years, her publications extended to more than thirty titles, and include stories, poems, biographies, studies in history, in household economics, in politics, and in religion. "Her books," says Col. Higginson, "never seemed to repeat each other and belonged to almost as many different departments as there are volumes"; and while writing so much, he adds, "she wrote better than most of her contemporaries."
If she had not done many things so well, she would still have the distinction of having done several things the first time they were ever done at all. It has been claimed that she edited the first American magazine for children, wrote the first novel of puritan times, published the first American Anti-Slavery book, and compiled the first treatise upon what is now known as "Comparative Religions," a science not then named, but now a department in every school of theology.
Mrs. Child's maiden name was Francis, and under that name she won her first fame. She was born in Medford, Mass., Feb. 11, 1802. Her father, Convers Francis, is said to have been a worthy and substantial citizen, a baker by trade, and the author of the "Medford Crackers," in their day second only in popularity to "Medford Rum." He was a man of strong character, great industry, uncommon love of reading, zealous anti-slavery convictions, generous and hospitable. All these traits were repeated in his famous daughter. It was the custom of Mr. Francis, on the evening before Thanksgiving to gather in his dependents and humble friends to the number of twenty or thirty, and feast them on chicken pie, doughnuts and other edibles, sending them home with provisions for a further festival, including "turnovers" for the children. Col. Higginson, who had the incident from Mrs. Child, intimates that in this experience she may have discovered how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. Certainly, in later life, she believed and practiced this doctrine like a devotee.
Mrs. Child began to climb the hill of knowledge under the instruction of a maiden lady known as "Ma'am Betty," who kept school in her bedroom which was never in order, drank from the nose of her tea-kettle, chewed tobacco and much of it, and was shy to a degree said to have been "supernatural," but she knew the way to the hearts of children, who were very fond of her and regularly carried her a Sunday dinner. After "Ma'am Betty," Mrs. Child attended the public schools in Medford and had a year at a Medford private seminary.
These opportunities for education were cut off at the age of twelve apparently by some change in the family fortunes which compelled the removal of Maria to Norridgewock, Maine, on the borders of the great northern wilderness, where a married sister was living. An influence to which she gave chief credit for her intellectual development and which was not wholly cut off by this removal was that of Convers Francis, her favorite brother, next older than herself, afterward minister in Watertown, and professor in the Divinity School of Harvard University. In later life, Dr. Francis was an encyclopedia of information and scholarship, very liberal in his views for the time. Theodore Parker used to head pages in his journal with, "Questions to ask Dr. Francis."
Dr. Francis began to prepare for college when Mrs. Child was nine years old. Naturally the little girl wanted to read the books which her brother read, and sometimes he seems to have instructed her and sometimes he tantalized her, but always he stimulated her. Years afterward she wrote him gratefully, "To your early influence, by conversation, letters, and example I owe it that my busy energies took a literary direction at all."
Norridgewock, her home from her twelfth to her eighteenth year, was and is a very pretty country village, at that era the residence of some very cultivated families, but hardly an educational center. As we hear nothing of schools either there or elsewhere we are led to suppose that this twelve year old girl had finished her education. If she lacked opportunities for culture, she carried with her a desire for it, which is half the battle, and she had the intellectual stimulus of letters from her brother then in college, who seems to have presided over her reading. What we know of her life at this period is told in her letters to this brother.
The first of these letters which the editors let us see was written at the age of fifteen. "I have," she says, "been busily engaged reading Paradise Lost. Homer hurried me along with rapid impetuosity; every passion that he portrayed I felt; I loved, hated, and resented just as he inspired me. But when I read Milton I felt elevated 'above this visible, diurnal sphere.' I could not but admire such astonishing grandeur of description, such heavenly sublimity of style. Much as I admire Milton, I must confess that Homer is a much greater favorite."
It is not strange that a studious brother in college would take interest in a sister who at the age of fifteen could write him with so much intelligence and enthusiasm of her reading. The next letter is two years later when she has been reading Scott. She likes Meg Merrilies, Diana Vernon, Annot Lyle, and Helen Mac Gregor. She hopes she may yet read Virgil in his own tongue, and adds, "I usually spend an hour after I retire for the night in reading Gibbon's Roman Empire. The pomp of his style at first displeased me, but I think him an able historian."
This is from a girl of seventeen living on the edge of the northern wilderness, and she is also reading Shakspere. "What a vigorous grasp of intellect," she says, "what a glow of imagination he must have possessed, but when his fancy drops a little, how apt he is to make low attempts at wit, and introduce a forced play upon words." She is also reading the Spectator, and does not think Addison so good a writer as Johnson, though a more polished one.
What she was doing with her ever busy hands during this period we are not told, but her intellectual life ran on in these channels until she reaches the age of eighteen, when she is engaged to teach a school in Gardiner, Maine, an event which makes her very happy. "I cannot talk about books," she writes, "nor anything else until I tell you the good news, that I leave Norridgewock as soon as the travelling is tolerable and take a school in Gardiner." It is the terrible month of March, for country roads in the far north, "the saddest of the year." She wishes her brother were as happy as she is, though, "All I expect is that, if I am industrious and prudent, I shall be independent."
At the conclusion of her school, she took up her residence with her brother in Watertown, Mass., where one year before, he had been settled as minister of the first parish. Here a new career opened before her. Whittier says that in her Norridgewock period, when she first read Waverly at the house of her physician, she laid down the book in great excitement, exclaiming, "Why cannot I write a novel?" Apparently, she did not undertake the enterprise for two years or more. In 1824, one Sunday after morning service, in her brother's study, she read an article in the North American Review, in which it was pointed out that there were great possibilities of romance in early American history. Before the afternoon service, she had written the first chapter of a novel which was published anonymously the same year, under the title of "Hobomok: a Tale of Early Times."
A search through half a dozen Antique Book stores in Boston for a copy of this timid literary venture I have found to be fruitless, except for the information that there is sometimes a stray copy in stock, and that its present value is about three dollars. It is sufficient distinction that it was the first attempt to extract a romantic element from early New England history. Its reception by the public was flattering to a young author. The Boston Athenaeum sent her a ticket granting the privileges of its library. So great and perhaps unexpected had been its success that for several years, Mrs. Child's books bore the signature, "By the author of Hobomok." Even "The Frugal Housewife" was "By the author of Hobomok."
In 1825, the author of Hobomok published her second novel, entitled, "The Rebels: a Tale of the Revolution." It is a volume of about 300 pages, and is still very readable. It ran rapidly through several editions, and very much increased the reputation of the author of Hobomok. The work contains an imaginary speech of James Otis, in which it is said, "England might as well dam up the Nile with bulrushes as to fetter the step of Freedom, more proud and firm in this youthful land than where she treads the sequestered glens of Scotland or couches herself among the magnificent mountains of Switzerland." This supposed speech of Otis soon found its way into the School Readers of the day, as a genuine utterance of the Revolutionary patriot, and as such Col. Higginson says he memorized and declaimed it, in his youth.