Part 1 out of 4
A NEW ENGLAND GIRLHOOD
OUTLINED FROM MEMORY
By LUCY LARCOM
I dedicated this sketch
To my girlfriends in general;
And in particular
To my namesake-niece,
Lucy Larcom Spaulding.
Happy those early days, when I
Shined in my angel-infancy!
--When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity:--
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience by a sinful sound;--
But felt through all this fleshy dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
THE following sketch was written for the young, at the suggestion
My audience is understood to be composed of girls of all ages,
and of women who have not forgotten their girlhood. Such as have
a friendly appreciation of girls--and of those who write for
them--are also welcome to listen to as much of my narrative as
they choose. All others are eavesdroppers, and, of course, have
no right to critise.
To many, the word "autobiography" implies nothing but conceit and
egotism. But these are not necessarily its characteristics. If an
apple blossom or a ripe apple could tell its own story, it would
be, still more than its own, the story of the sunshine that
smiled upon it, of the winds that whispered to it, of the birds
that sang around it, of the storms that visited it, and of the
motherly tree that held it and fed it until its petals were
unfolded and its form developed.
A complete autobiography would indeed be a picture of the outer
and inner universe photographed upon one little life's
consciousness. For does not the whole world, seen and unseen
go to the making up of every human being? The commonest personal
history has its value when it is looked at as a part of the One
Infinite Life. Our life--which is the very best thing we have--is
ours only that we may share it with Our Father's family, at their
need. If we have anything, within us worth giving away, to
withhold it is ungenerous; and we cannot look honestly into
ourselves without acknowledging with humility our debt to the
lives around us for whatever of power or beauty has been poured
None of us can think of ourselves as entirely separate beings.
Even an autobiographer has to say "we" much oftener than "I."
Indeed, there may be more egotism in withdrawing mysteriously
into one's self, than in frankly unfolding one's life--story, for
better or worse. There may be more vanity in covering, one's face
with a veil, to be wondered at and guessed about, than in draw-
ing it aside, and saying by that act, "There! you see that I am
However, I do not know that I altogether approve of autobiography
myself, when the subject is a person of so little importance as
in the present instance. Still, it may have a reason for being,
even in a case like this.
Every one whose name is before the public at all must be aware of
a common annoyance in the frequent requests which are made for
personal facts, data for biographical paragraphs, and the like.
To answer such requests and furnish the material asked for, were
it desirable, would interfere seriously with the necessary work
of almost any writer. The first impulse is to pay no attention to
them, putting them aside as mere signs of the ill-bred, idle
curiosity of the age we live in about people and their private
affairs. It does not seem to be supposed possible that authors
can have any natural shrinking from publicity, like other
But while one would not willingly encourage an intrusive custom,
there is another view of the matter. The most enjoyable thing
about writing is that the relation between writer and reader may
be and often does become that of mutual friendship; an friends
naturally like to know each other in a neighborly way.
We are all willing to gossip about ourselves, sometimes, with
those who are really interested in us. Girls especially are fond
of exchanging confidences with those whom they think they can
trust; it is one of the most charming traits of a simple,
earnest-hearted girlhood, and they are the happiest women who
never lose it entirely.
I should like far better to listen to my girlreaders' thoughts
about life and themselves than to be writing out my own
experiences. It is to my disadvantage that the confidences, in
this case, must all be on one side. But I have known so
many girls so well in my relation to them of schoolmate,
workmate, and teacher, I feel sure of a fair share of their
sympathy and attention.
It is hardly possible for an author to write anything sincerely
without making it something of an autobiography. Friends can
always read a personal history, or guess at it, between the
lines. So I sometimes think I have already written mine, in my
verses. In them, I have found the most natural and free
expression of myself. They have seemed to set my life to music
for me, a life that has always had to be occupied with many
things besides writing. Not, however, that I claim to have
written much poetry: only perhaps some true rhymes: I do not see
how there could be any pleasure in writing insincere ones.
Whatever special interest this little narrative of mine may have
is due to the social influences under which I was reared, and
particularly to the prominent place held by both work and
religion in New England half a century ago. The period of my
growing-up had peculiarities which our future history can never
repeat, although something far better is undoubtedly already
resulting thence. Those peculiarities were the natural de-
velopment of the seed sown by our sturdy Puritan ancestry. The
religion of our fathers overhung us children like the shadow of a
mighty tree against the trunk of which we rested, while we looked
up in wonder through the great boughs that half hid and half
revealed the sky. Some of the boughs were already decaying, so
that perhaps we began to see a little more of the sky, than our
elders; but the tree was sound at its heart. There was life in it
that can never be lost to the world.
One thing we are at last beginning to understand, which our
ancestors evidently had not learned; that it is far more needful
for theologians to become as little children, than for little
children to become theologians. They considered it a duty that
they owed to the youngest of us, to teach us doctrines. And we
believed in our instructors, if we could not always digest their
instructions. We learned to reverence truth as they received it
and lived it, and to feel that the search for truth was one chief
end of our being.
It was a pity that we were expected to begin thinking upon hard
subjects so soon, and it was also a pity that we were set to hard
work while so young. Yet these were both inevitable results of
circumstances then existing; and perhaps the two belong together.
Perhaps habits of conscientious work induce thought. Certainly,
right thinking naturally impels people to work.
We learned no theories about "the dignity of labor," but we were
taught to work almost as if it were a religion; to keep at work,
expecting nothing else. It was our inheritance, banded down from
the outcasts of Eden. And for us, as for them, there was a
blessing hidden in the curse. I am glad that I grew up under
these wholesome Puritanic influences, as glad as I am that I was
born a New Englander; and I surely should have chosen New England
for my birthplace before any region under the sun.
Rich or poor, every child comes into the world with some
imperative need of its own, which shapes its individuality. I
believe it was Grotius who said, "Books are necessities of my
life. Food and clothing I can do without, if I must."
My "must-have " was poetry. From the first, life meant that to
me. And, fortunately, poetry is not purchasable material, but an
atmosphere in which every life may expand. I found it everywhere
about me. The children of old New England were always surrounded,
it is true, with stubborn matter of fact,--the hand to hand
struggle for existence. But that was no hindrance. Poetry must
have prose to root itself in; the homelier its earth-spot, the
lovelier, by contrast, its heaven-breathing flowers.
To different minds, poetry may present different phases. To me,
the reverent faith of the people I lived among, and their
faithful everyday living, was poetry; blossoms and trees and blue
skies were poetry. God himself was poetry. As I grew up and lived
on, friendship became to me the deepest and sweetest ideal of
poetry. To live in other lives, to take their power and
beauty into our own, that is poetry experienced, the most
inspiring of all. Poetry embodied in persons, in lovely and lofty
characters, more sacredly than all in the One Divine Person who
has transfigured our human life with the glory of His sacrifice,
--all the great lyrics and epics pale before that, and it is
within the reach and comprehension of every human soul.
To care for poetry in this way does not make one a poet, but it
does make one feel blessedly rich, and quite indifferent to many
things which are usually looked upon as desirable possessions. I
am sincerely grateful that it was given to me, from childhood, to
see life from this point of view. And it seems to me that every
young girl would be happier for beginning her earthly journey
with the thankful consciousness that her life does not consist in
the abundance of things that she possesses.
The highest possible poetic conception is that of a life
consecrated to a noble ideal. It may be unable to find expression
for itself except through humble, even menial services, or
through unselfish devotion whose silent song is audible to God
alone; yet such music as this might rise to heaven from every
young girl's heart and character if she would set it free. In
such ways it was meant that the world should be filled with the
true poetry of womanhood.
It is one of the most beautiful facts in this human existence of
ours, that we remember the earliest and freshest part of it most
vividly. Doubtless it was meant that our childhood should live on
in us forever. My childhood was by no means a cloudless one. It
had its light and shade, each contributing a charm which makes it
wholly delightful in the retrospect.
I can see very distinctly the child that I was, and I know how
the world looked to her, far off as she is now. She seems to me
like my little sister, at play in a garden where I can at any
time return and find her. I have enjoyed bringing her back, and
letting her tell her story, almost as if she were somebody else.
I like her better than I did when I was really a child, and I
hope never to part company with her.
I do not feel so much satisfaction in the older girl who comes
between her and me, although she, too, is enough like me to be my
sister, or even more like my young, undisciplined mother; for the
girl is mother of the woman. But I have to acknowledge her faults
and mistakes as my own, while I sometimes feel like reproving her
severely for her carelessly performed tasks, her habit of lapsing
into listless reveries, her cowardly shrinking from
responsibility and vigorous endeavor, and many other faults that
I have inherited from her. Still, she is myself, and I could not
be quite happy without her comradeship.
Every phase of our life belongs to us. The moon does not, except
in appearance, lose her first thin, luminous curve, nor her
silvery crescent, in rounding to her full. The woman is still
both child and girl, in the completeness of womanly character.
We have a right to our entire selves, through all the changes of
this mortal state, a claim which we shall doubtless carry along
with us into the unfolding mysteries of our eternal being.
Perhaps in this thought lies hidden the secret of immortal youth;
for a seer has said that "to grow old in heaven is to grow
To take life as it is sent to us, to live it faithfully, looking
and striving always towards better life, this was the lesson that
came to me from my early teachers. It was not an easy lesson,
but it was a healthful one; and I pass it on to younger pupils,
trusting that they will learn it more thoroughly than I ever
Young or old, we may all win inspiration to do our best, from the
needs of a world to which the humblest life may be permitted to
bring immeasurable blessings:--
"For no one doth know
What he can bestow,
What light, strength, and beauty may after him go:
Thus onward we move,
And, save God above,
None guesseth how wondrous the journey will prove."
I. UP AND DOWN THE LANE
II. SCHOOLROOM AND MEETING-HOUSE
III. THE HYMN-BOOK
IV. NAUGHTY CHILDREN AND FAIRY TALES
V. OLD NEW ENGLAND
VI. GLIMPSES OF POETRY
VII. BEGINNING TO WORK
VIII.BY THE RIVER
X. MILL-GIRLS' MAGAZINES
XI. READING AND STUDYING
XII. FROM THE MERRIMACK TO THE MISSISSIPPI
A NEW ENGLAND GIRLHOOD
UP AND DOWN THE LANE.
IT is strange that the spot of earth where we were born should
make such a difference to us. People can live and grow anywhere,
but people as well as plants have their habitat,--the place
where they belong, and where they find their happiest, because
their most natural life. If I had opened my eyes upon this planet
elsewhere than in this northeastern corner of Massachusetts,
elsewhere than on this green, rocky strip of shore between
Beverly Bridge and the Misery Islands, it seems to me as if I
must have been somebody else, and not myself. These gray ledges
hold me by the roots, as they do the bayberry bushes, the sweet-
fern, and the rock-saxifrage.
When I look from my window over the tree-tops to the sea, I could
almost fancy that from the deck of some one of those inward bound
vessels the wistful eyes of the Lady Arbella might be turned
towards this very hillside, and that mine were meeting hers in
sympathy, across the graves of two hundred and fifty years. For
Winthrop's fleet, led by the ship that bore her name, must have
passed into harbor that way. Dear and gracious spirit! The memory
of her brief sojourn here has left New England more truly
consecrated ground. Sweetest of womanly pioneers! It is as if an
angel in passing on to heaven just touched with her wings this
rough coast of ours.
In those primitive years, before any town but Salem had been
named, this whole region was known as Cape Ann Side; and about
ten years after Winthrop's arrival, my first ancestor's name
appears among those of other hardy settlers of the neighborhood.
No record has been found of his coming, but emigration by that
time had grown so rapid that ships' lists were no longer
carefully preserved. And then he was but a simple yeoman, a
tiller of the soil; one who must have loved the sea, however, for
he moved nearer and nearer towards it from Agawam through Wenham
woods, until the close of the seventeenth century found his
descendants--my own great-great-grandfatber's family--planted in
a romantic homestead-nook on a hillside, overlooking wide gray
spaces of the bay at the part of Beverly known as "The Farms."
The situation was beautiful, and home attachments proved
tenacious, the family claim to the farm having only been resigned
within the last thirty or forty years.
I am proud of my unlettered forefathers, who were also too humbly
proud to care whether their names would be remembered or not; for
they were God-fearing men, and had been persecuted for their
faith long before they found their way either to Old or New
The name is rather an unusual one, and has been traced back from
Wales and the Isle of Wight through France to Languedoc and Pied-
mont; a little hamlet in the south of France still bearing it in
what was probably the original spelling-La Combe. There is a
family shield in existence, showing a hill surmounted by a tree,
and a bird with spread wings above. It might symbolize flight in
times of persecution, from the mountains to the forests, and
thence to heaven, or to the free skies of this New World.
But it is certain that my own immediate ancestors were both
indifferent and ignorant as to questions of pedigree, and
accepted with sturdy dignity an inheritance of hard work and the
privileges of poverty, leaving the same bequest to their
descendants. And poverty has its privileges. When there is very
little of the seen and temporal to intercept spiritual vision,
unseen and eternal realities are, or may be, more clearly beheld.
To have been born of people of integrity and profound faith in
God, is better than to have inherited material wealth of any
kind. And to those serious-minded, reticent progenitors of mine,
looking out from their lonely fields across the lonelier sea,
their faith must have been everything.
My father's parents both died years before my birth. My
grandmother had been left a widow with a large family in my
father's boyhood, and he, with the rest, had to toil early for a
livelihood. She was an earnest Christian woman, of keen
intelligence and unusual spiritual perception. She was supposed
by her neighbors to have the gift of "second sight"; and some
remarkable stories are told of her knowledge of distant events
while they were occurring, or just before they took place. Her
dignity of presence and character must have been noticeable.
A relative of mine, who as a very little child, was taken by her
mother to visit my grandmother, told me that she had always
remembered the aged woman's solemnity of voice and bearing, and
her mother's deferential attitude towards her: and she was so
profoundly impressed by it all at the time, that when they had
left the house, and were on their homeward path through the
woods, she looked up into her mother's face and asked in a
whisper, "Mother, was that God?"
I used sometimes to feel a little resentment at my fate in not
having been born at the old Beverly Farms home-place, as my
father and uncles and aunts and some of my cousins had been. But
perhaps I had more of the romantic and legendary charm of it than
if I had been brought up there, for my father, in his
communicative moods, never wearied of telling us about his
childhood; and we felt that we still held a birthright claim upon
that picturesque spot through him. Besides, it was only three or
four miles away, and before the day of railroads, that was
thought nothing of as a walk, by young or old.
But, in fact, I first saw the light in the very middle of
Beverly, in full view of the town clock and the Old South
steeple. (I believe there is an "Old South" in nearly all these
first-settled cities and villages of Eastern Massachusetts. The
town wore a half-rustic air of antiquity then, with its old-
fashioned people and weather-worn houses; for I was born while my
mother-century was still in her youth, just rounding the first
quarter of her hundred years.
Primitive ways of doing things had not wholly ceased during, my
childhood; they were kept up in these old towns longer than
elsewhere. We used tallow candles and oil lamps, and sat by open
fireplaces. There was always a tinder-box in some safe corner or
other, and fire was kindled by striking flint and steel upon the
tinder. What magic it seemed to me, when I was first allowed to
strike that wonderful spark, and light the kitchen fire!
The fireplace was deep, and there was a "settle" in the chimney
corner, where three of us youngest girls could sit together and
toast our toes on the andirons (two Continental soldiers in full
uniform, marching one after the other), while we looked up the
chimney into a square of blue sky, and sometimes caught a snow-
flake on our foreheads; or sometimes smirched our clean aprons
(high-necked and long sleeved ones, known as "tiers") against the
swinging crane with its sooty pot-hooks and trammels.
The coffee-pot was set for breakfast over hot coals, on a three-
legged bit of iron called a "trivet." Potatoes were roasted in
the ashes, and the Thanksgiving turkey in a "tin-kitchen,"
the business of turning the spit being usually delegate to some
of us, small folk, who were only too willing to burn our faces in
honor of the annual festival.
There were brick ovens in the chimney corner, where the great
bakings were done; but there was also an iron article called a
"Dutch oven," in which delicious bread could be baked over the
coals at short notice. And there was never was anything that
tasted better than my mother's "firecake,"--a short-cake spread
on a smooth piece of board, and set up with a flat-iron before
the blaze, browned on one side, and then turned over to be
browned on the other. (It required some sleight of hand to do
that.) If I could only be allowed to blow the bellows--the very
old people called them "belluses"--when the fire began to get
low, I was a happy girl.
Cooking-stoves were coming into fashion, but they were clumsy
affairs, and our elders thought that no cooking could be quite so
nice as that which was done by an open fire. We younger ones
reveled in the warm, beautiful glow, that we look back to as to a
remembered sunset. There is no such home-splendor now.
When supper was finished, and the tea-kettle was pushed back on
the crane, and the backlog had been reduced to a heap of fiery
embers, then was the time for listening to sailor yarns and ghost
and witch legends. The wonder seems somehow to have faded out of
those tales of eld since the gleam of red-hot coals died away
from the hearthstone. The shutting up of the great fireplaces
and the introduction of stoves marks an era; the abdication of
shaggy Romance and the enthronement of elegant Commonplace--
sometimes, alas! the opposite of elegant--at the New England
Have we indeed a fireside any longer in the old sense? It hardly
seems as if the young people of to-day can really understand the
poetry of English domestic life, reading it, as they must, by a
reflected illumination from the past. What would "Cotter's
Saturday Night" have been, if Burns had written it by the opaque
heat of a stove instead of at his
"Wee bit ingle blinkin' bonnilie?"
New England as it used to be was so much like Scotland in many of
its ways of doing and thinking, that it almost seems as if that
tender poem of hearth-and-home life had been written for us too.
I can see the features of my father, who died when I was a little
child, whenever I read the familiar verse:--
"The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face
They round the ingle form a circle wide:
The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace,
The big ha' Bible, ance his father's pride."
A grave, thoughtful face his was, lifted up so grandly amid that
blooming semicircle of boys and girls, all gathered silently in
the glow of the ruddy firelight! The great family Bible had the
look upon its leathern covers of a book that bad never been new,
and we honored it the more for its apparent age. Its companion
was the Westminster Assembly's and Shorter Catechism, out of
which my father asked us questions on Sabbath afternoons, when
the tea-table had been cleared. He ended the exercise with a
prayer, standing up with his face turned toward the wall. My most
vivid recollection of his living face is as I saw it reflected in
a mirror while he stood thus praying. His closed eyes, the
paleness and seriousness of his countenance, awed me. I never
forgot that look. I saw it but once again, when, a child of
six or seven years, I was lifted to a footstool beside his coffin
to gaze upon his face for the last time. It wore the same
expression that it did in prayer; paler, but no longer care-worn;
so peaceful, so noble! They left me standing there a long time,
and I could not take my eyes away. I had never thought my
father's face a beautiful one until then, but I believe it must
have been so, always.
I know that he was a studious man, fond of what was called "solid
reading." He delighted in problems of navigation (he was for many
years the master of a merchant-vessel sailing to various European
ports), in astronomical calculations and historical computations.
A rhyming genius in the town, who undertook to hit off the
peculiarities of well-known residents, characterized my father as
Who, pointing to the stars, cries, Land ahead!"
His reserved, abstracted manner,--though his gravity concealed a
fund of rare humor,--kept us children somewhat aloof from him;
but my mother's temperament formed a complete contrast to his.
She was chatty and social, rosy-cheeked and dimpled, with bright
blue eyes and soft, dark, curling hair, which she kept pinned up
under her white lace cap-border. Not even the eldest child
remembered her without her cap, and when some of us asked her why
she never let her pretty curls be visible, she said,--
"Your father liked to see me in a cap. I put it on soon after we
were married, to please him; I always have worn it, and I always
shall wear it, for the same reason."
My mother had that sort of sunshiny nature which easily shifts to
shadow, like the atmosphere of an April day. Cheerfulness held
sway with her, except occasionally, when her domestic cares grew
too overwhelming; but her spirits rebounded quickly from
Her father was the only one of our grandparents who had survived
to my time,--of French descent, piquant, merry, exceedingly
polite, and very fond of us children, whom be was always treating
to raisins and peppermints and rules for good behavior. He had
been a soldier in the Revolutionary War,--the greatest
distinction we could imagine. And he was also the sexton of the
oldest church in town,--the Old South,--and had charge of the
winding-up of the town clock, and the ringing of the bell on
week-days and Sundays, and the tolling for funerals,--into which
mysteries he sometimes allowed us youngsters a furtive glimpse.
I did not believe that there was another grandfather so
delightful as ours in all the world.
Uncles, aunts, and cousins were plentiful in the family, but they
did not live near enough for us to see them very often, excepting
one aunt, my father's sister, for whom I was named. She was fair,
with large, clear eyes that seemed to look far into one's heart,
with an expression at once penetrating and benignant. To my
childish imagination she was an embodiment of serene and lofty
goodness. I wished and hoped that by bearing her baptismal name I
might become like her; and when I found out its signification (I
learned that "Lucy" means "with light"), I wished it more
earnestly still. For her beautiful character was just such an
illumination to my young life as I should most desire mine to be
to the lives of others.
My aunt, like my father, was always studying something. Some map
or book always lay open before her, when I went to visit her, in
her picturesque old house, with its sloping roof and tall well-
sweep. And she always brought out some book or picture for me
from her quaint old-fashioned chest of drawers. I still possess
the " Children in the Wood," which she gave me, as a keepsake,
when I was about ten years old.
Our relatives form the natural setting of our childhood. We
understand ourselves best and are best understood by others
through the persons who came nearest to us in our earliest years.
Those larger planets held our little one to its orbit, and lent
it their brightness. Happy indeed is the infancy which is
surrounded only by the loving and the good!
Besides those who were of my kindred, I had several aunts by
courtesy, or rather by the privilege of neighborhood, who seemed
to belong to my babyhood. Indeed, the family hearthstone came
near being the scene of a tragedy to me, through the blind
fondness of one of these.
The adjective is literal. This dear old lady, almost sightless,
sitting in a low chair far in the chimney corner, where she had
been placed on her first call to see the new baby, took me upon
her lap, and--so they say--unconsciously let me slip off into the
coals. I was rescued unsinged, however, and it was one of the
earliest accomplishments of my infancy to thread my poor, half-
blind Aunt Stanley's needles for her. We were close neighbors and
gossips until my fourth year. Many an hour I sat by her side
drawing a needle and thread through a bit of calico, under the
delusion that I was sewing, while she repeated all sorts of
juvenile singsongs of which her memory seemed full, for my
entertainment. There used to be a legend current among my
brothers and sisters that this aunt unwittingly taught me to use
a reprehensible word. One of her ditties began with the lines:--
"Miss Lucy was a charming child;
She never said, 'I won't.'"
After bearing this once or twice, the willful negative was
continually upon my lips; doubtless a symptom of what was dormant
within--a will perhaps not quite so aggressive as it was
obstinate. But she meant only to praise me and please me;
and dearly I loved to stay with her in her cozy up-stairs room
across the lane, that the sun looked into nearly all day.
Another adopted aunt lived down-stairs in the same house. This
one was a sober woman; life meant business to her, and she taught
me to sew in earnest, with a knot in the end of my thread,
although it was only upon clothing for my ragchildren - absurd
creatures of my own invention, limbless and destitute of
features, except as now and then one of my older sisters would,
upon my earnest petition, outline a face for one of them, with
pen and ink. I loved them, nevertheless, far better than I did
the London doll that lay in waxen state in an upper drawer at
home,--the fine lady that did not wish to be played with, but
only to be looked at and admired.
This latter aunt I regarded as a woman of great possessions. She
owned the land beside us and opposite us. Her well was close to
our door, a well of the coldest and clearest water I ever drank,
and it abundantly supplied the whole neighborhood.
The hill behind her house was our general playground; and I
supposed she owned that, too, since through her dooryard, and
over her stone wall, was our permitted thoroughfare thither. I
imagined that those were her buttercups that we gathered when we
got over the wall, and held under each other's chin, to see, by
the reflection, who was fond of butter; and surely the yellow
toadflax (we called it "lady's slipper") that grew in the rock-
crevices was hers, for we found it nowhere else.
The blue gill-over-the-ground unmistakably belonged to her, for
it carpeted an unused triangular corner of her garden inclosed by
a leaning fence gray and gold with sea-side lichens. Its blue was
beautiful, but its pungent earthy odor--I can smell it now --
repelled us from the damp corner where it grew. It made us think
of graves and ghosts; and I think we were forbidden to go there.
We much preferred to sit on the sunken curbstones, in the shade
of the broad-leaved burdocks, and shape their spiny balls into
chairs and cradles and sofas for our dollies, or to "play school"
on the doorsteps, or to climb over the wall 1, and to feel the
freedom of the hill.
We were a neighborhood of large families, and most of us enjoyed
the privilege of "a little wholesome neglect." Our tether was a
long one, and when, grown a little older, we occasionally asked
to have it lengthened, a maternal "I don't care" amounted to
almost unlimited liberty.
The hill itself was well-nigh boundless in its capacities for
juvenile occupation. Besides its miniature precipices, that
walled in some of the neighbors' gardens, and its slanting
slides, worn smooth by the feet of many childish generations,
there were partly quarried ledges, which had shaped themselves
into rock-stairs, carpeted with lovely mosses, in various
patterns. These were the winding ways up our castle-towers, with
breakfast-rooms and boudoirs along the landings, where we set our
tables for expected guests with bits of broken china, and left
our numerous rag-children tucked in asleep under mullein blankets
or plantain-coverlets, while we ascended to the topmost turret to
watch for our ships coming in from sea.
For leagues of ocean were visible from the tiptop of the ledge, a
tiny cleft peak that held always little rain-pool for thirsty
birds that now and then stopped as they flew over, to dip their
beaks and glance shyly at us, as if they wished to share our
games. We could see the steeples and smokes of Salem in the
distance, and the bill, as it desended, lost itself in mowing
fields that slid again into the river. Beyond that was Rial Side
and Folly Hill, and they looked so very far off!
They called it "over to Green's" across the river. I thought it
was because of the thick growth of dark green junipers, that
covered the cliff-side down to the water's edge; but they were
only giving the name of the farmer who owned the land, Whenever
there was an unusual barking of dogs in the distance, they said
it was "over to Green's." That barking of dogs made the place
seem very mysterious to me.
Our lane ran parallel with the hill and the mowing fields, and
down our lane we were always free to go. It was a genuine lane,
all ups and downs, and too narrow for a street, although at last
they have leveled it and widened it, and made a commonplace
thoroughfare of it. I am glad that my baby life knew it in all
its queer, original irregularities, for it seemed to have a
character of its own, like many of its inhabitants, all the more
charming because it was unlike anything but itself. The hill,
too, is lost now, buried under houses.
Our lane came to an end at some bars that let us into another
lane,--or rather a footpath or cowpath, bordered with cornfields
and orchards. We were still on home ground, for my father's
vegetable garden and orchard were here. After a long straight
stretch, the path suddenly took an
abrupt turn, widening into a cart road, then to a tumble-down
wharf, and there was the river!
An "arm of the sea" I was told that our river was, and it did
seem to reach around the town and hold it in a liquid embrace.
Twice a day the tide came in and filled its muddy bed with a
sparkling flood. So it was a river only half the time, but at
high tide it was a river indeed; all that a child could wish,
with its boats and its sloops, and now and then that most
available craft for a crew of children--a gundalow. We easily
transformed the spelling into "gondola," and in fancy were afloat
on Venetian waters, under some overhanging balcony, perhaps at
the very Palace of the Doges,--willingly blind to the reality of
a mudscow leaning against some rickety wharf posts, covered with
Sometimes a neighbor boy who was the fortunate owner of a boat
would row us down the river a fearful, because a forbidden, joy.
The widening waters made us tremble with dread and longing for
what might be beyond; for when we had passed under the piers of
the bridge, the estuary broadened into the harbor and the open
sea. Then somebody on board would tell a story of children who
had drifted away beyond the harbor-bar and the light-house, and
were drowned; and our boyish helmsman would begin to look grave
and anxious, and would turn his boat and row us back swiftly to
the safe gundalow and tumbledown wharf.
The cars rush into the station now, right over our riverside
playground. I can often hear the mirthful shout of boys and girls
under the shriek of the steam whistle. No dream of a railroad had
then come to the quiet old town, but it was a wild train of
children that ran homeward in the twilight up the narrow lane,
with wind-shod feet, and hair flying like the manes of young
colts, and light hearts bounding to their own footsteps. How good
and dear our plain, two-story dwelling-house looked to us as we
came in sight of it, and what sweet odors stole out to meet us
from the white-fenced inclosure of our small garden,--from peach-
trees and lilac-bushes in bloom, from bergamot and balm and beds
Sometimes we would find the pathetic figure of white-haired
Larkin Moore, the insane preacher, his two canes lain aside,
waiting, in our dooryard for any audience that he could gather:
boys and girls were as welcome as anybody. He would seat us in a
row on the green slope, and give us a half hour or so of
incoherent exhortation, to which we attended respectfully, if not
reverently; for his whole manner showed that, though demented, he
was deeply in earnest. He seemed there in the twilight like a
dazed angel who had lost his way, and had half forgotten his
errand, which yet he must try to tell to anybody who would
I have heard my mother say that sometimes he would ask if he
might take her baby in his arms and sing to it; and that though
she was half afraid herself, the baby--I like to fancy I was that
baby--seemed to enjoy it, and played gleefully with the old man's
flowing gray locks.
Good Larkin Moore was well known through the two neighboring
counties, Essex and Middlesex. We saw him afterward on the banks
of the Merrimack. He always wore a loose calico tunic over his
trousers; and, when the mood came upon him, he started off with
two canes,--seeming to think he could travel faster as a
quadruped than as a biped. He was entirely harmless; his only
wish was to preach or to sing.
A characteristic anecdote used to be told of him: that once, as a
stage-coach containing, only a few passengers passed him on the
road, he asked the favor of a seat on the top, and was refused.
There were many miles between him and his destination. But he did
not upbraid the ungracious driver; he only swung his two canes a
little more briskly, and kept breast of the horses all the
way, entering the town side by side with the inhospitable
vehicles--a running reproach to the churl on the box.
There was another wanderer, a blind woman, whom my mother treated
with great respect on her annual pilgrimages. She brought with
her some printed rhymes to sell, purporting to be composed by
herself, and beginning with the verse:--
"I, Nancy Welsh, was born and bred
In Essex County, Marblehead.
And when I was an infant quite
The Lord deprived me of my sight."
I labored under the delusion that blindness was a sort of
insanity, and I used to run away when this pilgrim came, for she
was not talkative like Larkin Moore. I fancied she disliked
children, and so I shrank from her.
There were other odd estrays going about, who were either well
known, or could account for them selves. The one human phenomenon
that filled us little ones with mortal terror was an unknown
"man with a pack on his back." I do not know what we thought he
would do with us, but the sight of one always sent us breathless
with fright to the shelter of the maternal wing. I did not at
all like the picture of Christian on his way to the wicket-gate,
in "Pilgrim's Progress," before I had read the book, because he
had "a pack on his back." But there was really nothing to be
afraid of in those simple, honest old times. I suppose we
children would not have known how happy and safe we were, in our
secluded lane, if we had not conjured up a few imaginary fears.
Long as it is since the rural features of our lane were entirely
obliterated, my feet often go back and press, in memory, its
grass-grown borders, and in delight and liberty I am a child
again. Its narrow limits were once my whole known world. Even
then it seemed to me as if it might lead everywhere; and it was
indeed but the beginning of a road which must lengthen and widen
beneath my feet forever.
SCHOOLROOM AND MEETING-HOUSE.
THERE were only two or three houses between ours and the main
street, and then our lane came out directly opposite the finest
house in town, a three-story edifice of brick, painted white, the
"Colonel's" residence. There was a spacious garden behind it,
from which we caught glimpses and perfumes of unknown flowers.
Over its high walls hung boughs of splendid great yellow sweet
apples, which, when they fell on the outside, we children
considered as our perquisites. When I first read about the apples
of the Hesperides, my idea of them was that they were like the
Beyond the garden were wide green fields which reached eastward
down to the beach. It was one of those large old estates which
used to give to the very heart of our New England coast towns a
delightful breeziness and roominess.
A coach-and-pair was one of the appurtenances of this estate,
with a coachman on the box; and when he took the family out for
an airing we small children thought it was a sort of Cinderella
spectacle, prepared expressly for us.
It was not, however, quite so interesting as the Boston stage -
coach, that rolled regularly every day past the head of our lane
into and out of its headquarters, a big, unpainted stable close
at hand. This stage-coach, in our minds, meant the city,--twenty
miles off; an immeasurable distance to us then. Even our elders
did not go there very often.
In those early days, towns used to give each other nicknames,
like schoolboys. Ours was called "Bean-town" not because it was
especially devoted to the cultivation of this leguminous edible,
but probably because it adhered a long time to the Puritanic
custom of saving Sunday-work by baking beans on Saturday evening,
leaving them in the oven over night. After a while, as families
left off heating their ovens, the bean-pots were taken by the
village baker on Saturday afternoon, who returned them to each
house early on Sunday morning with the pan of brown bread that
went with them. The jingling of the baker's bells made the matter
a public one.
The towns through which our stage-coach passed sometimes called
it the "bean-pot." The Jehn who drove it was something of a wag.
Once, coming through Charlestown, while waiting in the street for
a resident passenger, he was hailed by another resident who
thought him obstructing the passage, with the shout,--
"Halloo there! Get your old bean-pot out of the way!"
"I will, when I have got my pork in," was the ready reply. What
the sobriquet of Charlestown was, need not be explained.
We had a good opportunity to watch both coaches, as my father's
shop was just at the head of the lane, and we went to school up-
stairs in the same building. After he left off going to sea,--
before my birth,--my father took a store for the sale of what
used to be called "West India goods," and various other domestic
The school was kept by a neighbor whom everybody called "Aunt
Hannah." It took in all the little ones about us, no matter how
young they were, provided they could walk and talk, and were
considered capable of learning their letters.
A ladder-like flight of stairs on the outside of the house led up
to the schoolroom, and another flight, also outside, took us down
into a bit of a garden, where grew tansy and spearmint and
southernwood and wormwood, and, among other old-fashioned
flowers, an abundance of many-tinted four o'clocks, whose regular
afternoon-opening just at the close of school, was a daily
wonder to us babies. From the schoolroom window we could watch
the slow hands of the town clock and get a peep at what was going
on in the street, although there was seldom anybody in sight
except the Colonel's gardener or coachman, going into or out of
the driveway directly opposite. It was a very still street; the
front windows of the houses were generally closed, and a
few military-looking Lombardy poplars stood like sentinels on
guard before them.
Another shop--a very small one--joined my father's, where three
shoemakers, all of the same name--the name our lane went by--sat
at their benches and plied their "waxed ends." One of them, an
elderly man, tall and erect, used to come out regularly every
day, and stand for a long time at the corner, motionless as a
post, with his nose and chin pointing skyward, usually to the
northeast. I watched his face with wonder, for it was said that
"Uncle John" was "weatherwise," and knew all the secrets of the
Aunt Hannah's schoolroom and "our shop" are a blended memory to
me. As I was only a baby when I began to go to school, I was
often sent down-stairs for a half hour's recreation not permitted
to the older ones. I think I looked upon both school and shop
entirely as places of entertainment for little children.
The front shop-window was especially interesting to us children,
for there were in it a few glass jars containing sticks of
striped barley-candy, and red and white peppermint-drops, and
that delectable achievement of the ancient confectioner's art,
the "Salem gibraltar." One of my first recollections of my father
is connected with that window. He had taken me into the shop with
him after dinner,--I was perhaps two years old,--and I was
playing beside him on the counter when one of his old sea-
comrades came in, whom we knew as "Captain Cross." The Captain
tried to make friends with me, and, to seal the bond, asked my
father to take down from its place of exhibition a strip of red
peppermints dropped on white paper, in a style I particularly
admired, which he twisted around my neck, saying, "Now I've
bought you! Now you are my girl. Come, go home with me!"
His words sounded as if be meant them. I took it all in earnest,
and ran, scared and screaming, to my father, dashing down the
sugar-plums I wanted so much, and refusing even to bestow a
glance upon my amused purchaser. My father pacified me by taking
me on his shoulders and carrying me "pickaback" up and down the
shop, and I clung to him in the happy consciousness that I
belonged to him, and that be would not let anybody else have me;
though I did not feel quite easy until Captain Cross disappeared.
I suppose that this little incident has always remained in my
memory because it then for the first time became a fact in my
consciousness that my father really loved me as I loved him. He
was not at all a demonstrative man, and any petting that he gave
us children could not fail to make a permanent impression.
I think that must have been also the last special attention I
received from him, for a little sister appeared soon after, whose
coming was announced to me with the accompaniment of certain
mysterious hints about my nose being out of joint. I examined
that feature carefully in the looking glass, but could not
discover anything usual about it. It was quite beyond me to
imagine that our innocent little baby could have anything to do
with the possible disfigurement of my face, but she did absorb
the fondness of the whole family, myself included, and she became
my father's playmate and darling, the very apple of his eye. I
used sometimes to wish I were a baby too, so that he would notice
me, but gradually I accepted the situation.
Aunt Hannah used her kitchen or her sitting room for a
schoolroom, as best suited her convenience. We were delighted
observers of her culinary operations and other employments. If a
baby's head nodded, a little bed was made for it on a soft
"comforter" in the corner, where it had its nap out undisturbed.
But this did not often happen; there were so many interesting
things going on that we seldom became sleepy.
Aunt Hannah was very kind and motherly, but she kept us in fear
of her ferule, which indicated to us a possibility of smarting
palms. This ferule was shaped much like the stick with which she
stirred her hasty pudding for dinner,--I thought it was the same,
--and I found myself caught in a whirlwind of family laughter by
reporting at home that "Aunt Hannah punished the scholars with
There was one colored boy in school, who did not sit on a bench,
like the rest, but on a block of wood that looked like a backlog
turned endwise. Aunt Hannah often called him a "blockhead," and I
supposed it was because he sat on that block. Sometimes, in his
absence, a boy was made to sit in his place for punishment, for
being a "blockhead " too, as I imagined. I hoped I should never
be put there. Stupid little girls received a different treatment,
--an occasional rap on the head with the teacher's thimble;
accompanied with a half-whispered, impatient ejaculation, which
sounded very much like "Numskull!" I think this was a rare
occurrence, however, for she was a good-natured, much-enduring
One of our greatest school pleasures was to watch Aunt Hannah
spinning on her flax-wheel, wetting her thumb and forefinger at
her lips to twist the thread, keeping time, meanwhile, to some
quaint old tune with her foot upon the treadle.
A verse of one of her hymns, which I never heard anybody else
sing, resounds in the farthest corner of my memory yet:"--
"Whither goest thou, pilgrim stranger,
Wandering through this lowly vale?
Knowest thou not 't is full of danger?
And will not thy courage fail?"
Then a little pause, and the refrain of the answer broke in with
a change, quick and jubilant, the treadle moving more rapidly,
"No, I'm bound for the kingdom!
Will you go to glory with me?
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!"
I began to go to school when I was about two years old, as other
children about us did. The mothers of those large families had to
resort to some means of keeping their little ones out of
mischief, while they attended to their domestic duties. Not much
more than that sort of temporary guardianship was expected of the
good dame who had us in charge.
But I learned my letters in a few days, standing at Aunt Hannah's
knee while she pointed them out in the spelling-book with a pin,
skipping over the "a b abs " into words of one and two syllables,
thence taking a flying leap into the New Testament, in which
there is concurrent family testimony that I was reading at the
age of two years and a half. Certain it is that a few passages in
the Bible, whenever I read them now, do not fail to bring before
me a vision of Aunt Hannah's somewhat sternly smiling lips, with
her spectacles just above them, far down on her nose, encouraging
me to pronounce the hard words. I think she tried to choose for
me the least difficult verses, or perhaps those of which she was
herself especially fond. Those which I distinctly recall are the
Beatitudes, the Twenty-third Psalm, parts of the first and
fourteenth chapters of the Gospel of St. John, and the thirteenth
chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
I liked to say over the "Blesseds,"--the shortest ones best,--
about the meek and the pure in heart; and the two "In the
beginnings," both in Genesis and John. Every child's earliest and
proudest Scriptural conquest in school was, almost as a matter of
course, the first verse in the Bible.
But the passage which I learned first, and most delighted to
repeat after Aunt Hannah,--I think it must have been her favorite
too,--was, "Let not your heart be troubled. In my Father's house
are many mansions."
The Voice in the Book seemed so tender! Somebody was speaking who
had a heart, and who knew that even a little child's heart was
sometimes troubled. And it was a Voice that called us somewhere;
to the Father's house, with its many mansions, so sunshiny and so
It was a beautiful vision that came to me with the words,--I
could see it best with my eyes shut,-a great, dim Door standing
ajar, opening out of rosy morning mists, overhung with swaying
vines and arching boughs that were full of birds; and from beyond
the Door, the ripple of running waters, and the sound of many
happy voices, and above them all the One Voice that was saying,
"I go to prepare a place for you." The vision gave me a sens
of freedom, fearless and infinite. What was there to be afraid of
anywhere? Even we little children could see the open door of our
Father's house. We were playing around its threshold now, and we
need never wander out of sight of it. The feeling was a vague
one, but it was like a remembrance. The spacious mansions were
not far away. They were my home. I had known them, and should
return to them again.
This dim half-memory, which perhaps comes to all children, I had
felt when younger still, almost before I could walk. Sitting on
the floor in a square of sunshine made by an open window, the
leaf-shadows from great boughs outside dancing and wavering
around me, I seemed to be talking to them and they to me in
unknown tongues, that left within me an ecstasy yet unforgotten.
These shadows had brought a message to me from an unseen
Somewhere, which my baby heart was to keep forever. The wonder of
that moment often returns. Shadow-traceries of bough and leaf
still seem to me like the hieroglyphics of a lost language.
The stars brought me the same feeling. I remember the surprise
they were to me, seen for the first time. One evening, just
before I was put to bed, I was taken in somebody's arms--my
sister's, I think--outside the door, and lifted up under the
dark, still, clear sky, splendid with stars, thicker and nearer
earth than they have ever seemed since. All my little being
shaped itself into a subdued delighted "Oh!" And then the
exultant thought flitted through the mind of the reluctant child,
as she was carried in, "Why, that is the roof of the house I live
in." After that I always went to sleep happier for the feeling
that the stars were outside there in the dark, though I could not
I did firmly believe that I came from some other country to this;
I had a vague notion that we were all here on a journey,--that
this was not the place where we really belonged. Some of the
family have told me that before I could talk plainly, I used to
run about humming the sentence--
"My father and mother
Shall come unto the land,"
sometimes varying it with,
"My brothers and sisters
Shall come unto the land;"
Nobody knew where I had caught the words, but I chanted them so
constantly that my brother wrote them down, with chalk, on the
under side of a table, where they remained for years. My thought
about that other land may have been only a baby's dream; but the
dream was very real to me. I used to talk, in sober earnest,
about what happened "before I was a little girl, and came here to
live"; and it did seem to me as if I remembered.
But I was hearty and robust, full of frolicsome health, and very
fond of the matter-of-fact world I lived in. My sturdy little
feet felt the solid earth beneath them. I grew with the sprouting
grass, and enjoyed my life as the buds and birds seemed to enjoy
theirs. It was only as if the bud and the bird and the dear warm
earth knew, in the same dumb way that I did, that all their joy
and sweetness came to them out of the sky.
These recollections, that so distinctly belong the baby Myself,
before she could speak her thoughts, though clear and vivid, are
difficult to put into shape. But other grown-up children, in
looking back, will doubtless see many a trailing cloud of glory,
that lighted their unconscious infancy from within and from
I was quite as literal as I was visionary in my mental renderings
of the New Testament, read at Aunt Hannah's knee. I was much
taken with the sound of words, without any thought of their
meaning--a habit not always outgrown with childhood. The
"sounding brass and tinkling cymbals," for instance, in the
Epistle to the Corinthians, seemed to me things to be greatly
desired. "Charity" was an abstract idea. I did not know what it
meant. But "tinkling cymbals" one could make music with. I wished
I could get hold of them. It never occurred to me that the
Apostle meant to speak of their melody slightingly.
At meeting, where I began to go also at two years of age, I made
my own private interpretations of the Bible readings. They were
absurd enough, but after getting laughed at a few times at home
for making them public, I escaped mortification by forming a
habit of great reserve as to my Sabbath-day thoughts.
When the minister read, "Cut it down: why cumbereth it the
ground?"? I thought he meant to say "cu-cumbereth." These
vegetables grew on the ground, and I had heard that they were not
very good for people to eat. I honestly supposed that the New
Testament forbade the cultivation of cucumbers.
And "Galilee" I understood as a mispronunciation of "gallery."
"Going up into Galilee" I interpreted into clattering up the
uncarpeted stairs in the meeting-house porch, as the boys did,
with their squeaking brogans, looking as restless as imprisoned
monkeys after they had got into those conspicuous seats, where
they behaved as if they thought nobody could see their pranks. I
did not think it could be at all nice to "go up into Galilee."
I had an "Aunt Nancy," an uncle's wife, to whom I was sometimes
sent for safe-keeping when house-cleaning or anything unusual was
going on at home. She was a large-featured woman, with a very
deep masculine voice, and she conducted family worship herself,
kneeling at prayer, which was not the Orthodox custom.
She always began by saying,--
"Oh Lord, Thou knowest that we are all groveling worms of the
dust." I thought she meant that we all looked like wriggling red
earthworms, and tried to make out the resemblance in my mind, but
could not. I unburdened my difficulty at home, telling the family
that "Aunt Nancy got down on the floor and said we were all
grubbelin' worms," begging to know whether everybody did
sometimes have to crawl about in the dust.
A little later, I was much puzzled as to whether I was a Jew or
Gentile. The Bible seemed to divide people into these two classes
only. The Gentiles were not well spoken of: I did not want to be
one of them. The talked about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the
rest, away back to Adam, as if they were our forefathers (there
was a time when I thought that Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel
were our four fathers); and yet I was very sure that I was not a
Jew. When I ventured to ask, I was told that we were all
Christians or heathen now. That did not help me for I thought
that only grown-up persons could be Christians, from which it
followed that all children must be heathen. Must I think of
Myself as a heathen, then, until I should be old enough to be a
Christian? It was a shocking conclusion, but I could see no other
answer to my question, and I felt ashamed to ask again.
My self-invented theory about the human race was that Adam and
Eve were very tall people, taller than the tallest trees in the
Garden of Eden, before they were sent out of it; but that they
then began to dwindle; that their children had ever since been
getting smaller and smaller, and that by and by the inhabitants
of the world would be no bigger than babies. I was afraid I
should stop growing while I was a child, and I used to stand on
the footstool in the pew, and try to stretch myself up to my
mother's height, to imagine how it would seem to be a woman. I
hoped I should be a tall one. I did not wish to be a diminishing
specimen of the race;-- an anxiety which proved to be entirely
The Sabbath mornings in those old times had a peculiar charm.
They seemed so much cleaner than other mornings! The roads and
the grassy footpaths seemed fresher, and the air itself purer and
more wholesome than on week-days. Saturday afternoon and evening
were regarded as part of the Sabbath (we were taught that it was
heathenish to call the day Sunday); work and playthings were laid
aside, and every body, as well as every thing, was subjected to a
rigid renovation. Sabbath morning would not have seemed like
itself without a clean house, a clean skin, and tidy and spotless
The Saturday's baking was a great event, the brick oven being
heated to receive the flour bread, the flour-and-Indian, and the
rye-and-Indian bread, the traditional pot of beans, the Indian
pudding, and the pies; for no further cooking was to be done
until Monday. We smaller girls thought it a great privilege to be
allowed to watch the oven till the roof of it should be "white-
hot," so that the coals could be shoveled out.
Then it was so still, both out of doors and within! We were not
allowed to walk anywhere except in the yard or garden. I remember
wondering whether it was never Sabbath-day over the fence, in the
next field; whether the field was not a kind of heathen field,
since we could only go into it on week-days. The wild flowers
over there were perhaps Gentile blossoms. Only the flowers in the
garden were well-behaved Christians. It was Sabbath in the house,
and possibly even on the doorstep; but not much farther. The town
itself was so quiet that it scarcely seemed to breathe. The sound
of wheels was seldom heard in the streets on that day; if we
heard it, we expected some unusual explanation.
I liked to go to meeting,--not wholly oblivious to the fact that
going there sometimes implied wearing a new bonnet and my best
white dress and muslin "vandyke," of which adornments, if very
new, I vainly supposed the whole congregation to be as admiringly
aware as I was myself.
But my Sabbath-day enjoyment was not wholly without drawbacks.
It was so hard, sometimes, to stand up through the "long prayer,"
and to sit still through the "ninthlies," and "tenthlies," and
"finallys" of the sermon! It was impressed upon me that good
children were never restless in meeting, and never laughed or
smiled, however their big brothers tempted them with winks or
grimaces. And I did want to be good.
I was not tall enough to see very far over the top of the pew. I
think there were only three persons that came within range of my
eyes. One was a dark man with black curly hair brushed down in
"bangs" over his eyebrows, who sat behind a green baize curtain
near the outside door, peeping out at me, as I thought. I had an
impression that he was the "tidy-man," though that personage had
become mythical long before my day. He had a dragonish look, to
me; and I tried never to meet his glance.
But I did sometimes gaze more earnestly than was polite at a
dear, demure little lady who sat in the corner of the pew next
ours, her downcast eyes shaded by a green calash, and her hidden
right hand gently swaying a long-handled Chinese fan. She was the
deacon's wife, and I felt greatly interested in her movements and
in the expression of her face, because I thought she represented
the people they called "saints," who were, as I supposed, about
the same as first cousins to the angels.
The third figure in sight was the minister. I did not think he
ever saw me; he was talking to the older people,--usually telling
them how wicked they were. He often said to them that there was
not one good person among them; but I supposed he excepted
himself. He seemed to me so very good that I was very much afraid
of him. I was a little afraid of my father, but then he sometimes
played with us children: and besides, my father was only a man.
I thought the minister belonged to some different order of
beings. Up there in the pulpit he seemed to me so far off--oh! a
great deal farther off than God did. His distance made my
reverence for him take the form of idolatry. The pulpit was his
pedestal. If any one had told me that the minister ever did or
thought anything that was wrong, I should have felt as if the
foundations of the earth under me were shaken. I wondered if he
ever did laugh. Perhaps it was wicked for a minister even to
One day, when I was very little, I met the minister in the
street; and he, probably recognizing me as the child of one of
his parishioners, actually bowed to me! His bows were always
ministerially profound, and I was so overwhelmed with surprise
and awe that I forgot to make the proper response of a "curtsey,"
but ran home as fast as I could go to proclaim the wonder. It
would not have astonished me any more, if one of the tall
Lombardy poplars that stood along the sidewalk had laid itself
down at my feet.
I do not remember anything that the preacher ever said, except
some words which I thought sounded well,--such as
"dispensations," "decrees," "ordinances," "covenants,"-- although
I attached no meaning to them. He seemed to be trying to explain
the Bible by putting it into long words. I did not understand
them at all. It was from Aunt Hannah that I received my first
real glimpses of the beautiful New Testament revelation. In her
unconscious wisdom she chose for me passages and chapters that
were like openings into heaven. They contained the great, deep
truths which are simple because they are great. It was not
explanations of those grand words that I required, or that
anybody requires. In reading them we are all children together,
and need only to be led to the banks of the river of God, which
is full of water, that we may look down into its pellucid depths
Our minister was not unlike other ministers of the time, and his
seeming distance from his congregation was doubtless owing to the
deep reverence in which the ministerial office was universally
held among our predecessors. My own graven-image worship of him
was only a childish exageration of the general feeling of grown
people around me. He seemed to us an inhabitant of a Sabbath-day
sphere, while we belonged to the every-day world. I distinctly
remember the day of my christening, when I was between three and
four years old. My parents did not make a public profession of
their faith until after the birth of all their children, eight of
whom--I being my father's ninth child and seventh daughter--were
baptized at one time. My two half-sisters were then grown-up
young women. My mother had told us that the minister would be
speaking directly to us, and that we must pay close attention to
what he said. I felt that it was an important event, and I wished
to do exactly what the minister desired of me. I listened eagerly
while he read the chapter and the hymn. The latter was one of my
"See Israel's gentle Shepherd stands;"
and the chapter was the third of St. Matthew, containing the
story of our Lord's baptism. I could not make out any special
message for us, until be came to the words, "Whose fan is in his
That must be it! I looked anxiously at my sisters, to see if they
had brought their fans. It was warm weather, and I had taken a
little one of my own to meeting. Believing that I was following a
direct instruction, I clasped my fan to my bosom and held it
there as we walked up the aisle, and during the ceremony,
wondering why the others did not do so, too. The baby in my
mother's arms--Octavia, the eighth daughter--shocked me by crying
a little, but I tried to behave the better on that account.
It all seemed very solemn and mysterious to me. I knew from my
father's and mother's absorbed manner then, and when we returned
from church, that it was something exceedingly important to
Them--something that they wished us neither to talk about nor to
I never did forget it. There remained within me a sweet, haunting
feeling of having come near the "gentle Shepherd" of the hymn,
who was calling the lambs to his side. The chapter had ended
with the echo of a voice from heaven, and with the glimpse of a
descending Dove. And the water-drops on my forehead, were they
not from that "pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,"
that made music through those lovely verses in the last chapter
of the good Book?
I am glad that I have always remembered that day of family
consecration. As I look back, it seems as if the horizons of
heaven and earth met and were blended then. And who can tell
whether the fragrance of that day's atmosphere may not enter into
the freshness of some new childhood in the life which is to come?
ALMOST the first decided taste in my life was the love of hymns.
Committing them to memory was as natural to me as breathing. I
followed my mother about with the hymn-book ("Watts' and
Select"), reading or repeating them to her, while she was busy
with her baking or ironing, and she was always a willing
listener. She was fond of devotional reading, but had little time
for it, and it pleased her to know that so small a child as I
really cared for the hymns she loved.
I learned most of them at meeting. I was told to listen to the
minister; but as I did not understand a word he was saying, I
gave it up, and took refuge in the hymn-book, with the
conscientious purpose of trying to sit still. I turned the leaves
over as noiselessly as possible, to avoid the dreaded reproof of
my mother's keen blue eyes; and sometimes I learned two or three
hymns in a forenoon or an afternoon. Finding it so easy, I
thought I would begin at the beginning, and learn the whole.
There were about a thousand of them included in the Psalms, the
First, Second, and Third Books, and the Select Hymns. But I had
learned to read before I had any knowledge of counting up
numbers, and so was blissfully ignorant of the magnitude of my
undertaking. I did not, I think, change my resolution because
there were so many, but because, little as I was, I discovered
that there were hymns and hymns. Some of them were so prosy that
the words would not stay in my memory at all, so I concluded that
I would learn only those I liked.
I had various reasons for my preferences. With some, I was caught
by a melodious echo, or a sonorous ring; with others by the hint
of a picture, or a story, or by some sacred suggestion that
attracted me, I knew not why. Of some I was fond just because I
misunderstood them; and of these I made a free version in my
mind, as I murmured them over. One of my first favorites was
certainly rather a singular choice for a child of three or four
years. I had no idea of its meaning, but made up a little story
out of it, with myself as the heroine. It began with the words--
"Come, humble sinner, in whose breast
A thousand thoughts revolve."
The second stanza read thus:--
"I'll go to Jesus, though my sin
Hath like a mountain rose."
I did not know that this last line was bad grammar, but thought
that the sin in question was something pretty, that looked "like
a mountain rose." Mountains I had never seen; they were a
glorious dream to me. And a rose that grew on a mountain must
surely be prettier than any of our red wild roses on the hill,
sweet as they were. I would pluck that rose, and carry it up the
mountain-side into the temple where the King sat, and would give
it to Him; and then He would touch me with his sceptre, and let
me through into a garden full of flowers. There was no garden in
the hymn; I suppose the "rose" made me invent one. But it did
"I know his courts; I'll enter in,
Whatever may oppose;"
and so I fancied there would be lions in the way, as there were
in the Pilgrim's, at the "House Beautiful"; but I should not be
afraid of them; they would no doubt be chained. The last verse
began with the lines,--
"I can but perish if I go:
I am resolved to try:"
and my heart beat a brave echo to the words, as I started off in
fancy on a "Pilgrim's Progress" of my own, a happy little
dreamer, telling nobody the secret of my imaginary journey, taken
Usually, the hymns for which I cared most suggested Nature in
some way,--flowers, trees, skies, and stars. When I repeated,--
"There everlasting spring abides,
And never-withering flowers," -
I thought of the faintly flushed anemones and white and blue
violets, the dear little short-lived children of our shivering
spring. They also would surely be found in that heavenly land,
blooming on through the cloudless, endless year. And I seemed to
smell the spiciness of bay berry and sweet-fern and wild roses
and meadow-sweet that grew in fragrant jungles up and down the
hillside back of the meeting-house, in another verse which I
"The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweet,
Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets."
We were allowed to take a little nosegay to meeting sometimes: a
pink or two (pinks were pink then, not red, nor white, nor even
double) and a sprig of camomile; and their blended perfume still
seems to be a part of the June Sabbath mornings long passed away.
When the choir sang of
"Seas of heavenly rest,"
a breath of salt wind came in with the words through the open
door, from the sheltered waters of the bay, so softly blue and so
lovely, I always wondered how a world could be beautiful where
"there was no more sea." I concluded that the hymn and the text
could not really contradict other; that there must be something
like the sea in heaven, after all. One stanza that I used to
croon over, gave me the feeling of being rocked in a boat on a
strange and beautiful ocean, from whose far-off shores the
"At anchor laid, remote from home,
Toiling I cry, Sweet Spirit, come!
Celestial breeze, no longer stay!
But spread my sails, and speed my way!"
Some of the chosen hymns of my infancy the world recognizes among
its noblest treasures of sacred song. That one of Doddridge's,
"Ye golden lamps of heaven, farewell!"
made me feel as if I had just been gazing in at some window of
the "many mansions" above:--
"Ye stars are but the shining dust
Of my divine abode-"
Had I not known that, ever since I was a baby? But the light does
not stream down even into a baby s soul with equal brightness all
the time. Earth draws her dark curtains too soon over the
windows of heaven, and the little children fall asleep in her dim
rooms, and forget their visions.
That majestic hymn of Cowper's,--
"God moves in a mysterious way,"
was one of my first and dearest. It reminded me of the rolling of
thunder through the sky; and, understood as little as the thunder
itself, which my mother told me was God's voice, so that I
bent my ear and listened, expecting to hear it shaped into words,
it still did give me an idea of the presence of One Infinite
Being, that thrilled me with reverent awe. And this was one of
the best lessons taught in the Puritan school,--the lesson of
reverence, the certainty that life meant looking up to something,
to Some One greater than ourselves, to a Life far above us, which
yet enfolded ours.
The thought of God, when He was first spoken of to me, seemed as
natural as the thought of my father and mother. That He should be
invisible did not seem strange, for I could not with my eyes see
through the sky, beyond which I supposed he lived. But it was
easy to believe that He could look down and see me, and that He
knew all about me. We were taught very early to say "Thou, God,
seest me"; and it was one of my favorite texts. Heaven seemed
nearer, because somebody I loved was up there looking at me. A
baby is not afraid of its father's eyes.
The first real unhappiness I remember to have felt was when some
one told me, one day, that I did not love God. I insisted, almost
tearfully, that I did; but I was told that if I did truly love
Him I should always be good. I knew I was not that, and the
feeling of sudden orphanage came over me like a bewildering
cloud. Yet I was sure that I loved my father and mother, even
when I was naughty, Was He harder to please than they?
Then I heard of a dreadful dark Somewhere, the horror of which
was that it was away from Him. What if I should wake some
morning, and find myself there? Sometimes I did not dare to go to
sleep for that dread. And the thought was too awful to speak of
to anybody. Baby that I was, I shut my lips in a sort of reckless
despair, and thought that if I could not be good, I might as well
be naughty, and enjoy it. But somehow I could not enjoy it. I
felt sorry and ashamed and degraded whenever I knew that I had
been cross or selfish.
I heard them talk about Jesus as if He were a dead man, one who
died a great while ago, whose death made a great difference to
us, I could not understand how. It seemed like a lovely story,
the loveliest in the world, but it sounded as if it were only a
story, even to those who repeated it to me; something that had
happened far away in the past.
But one day a strange minister came into the Sabbath-school in
our little chapel, and spoke to us children about Him, oh! so
"Children," he said, "Jesus is not dead. He is alive: He loves
you, and wants you to love Him! He is your best Friend, and He
will show you how to be good."
My heart beat fast. I could hardly keep back the tears. The New
Testament, then, did really mean what it said! Jesus said He
would come back again, and would always be with those who loved
"He is alive! He loves me! He will tell me how to be good!" I
said it over to myself, but not to anybody else. I was sure that
I loved Him. It was like a beautiful secret between us two. I
felt Him so alive and so near! He wanted me to be good, and I
could be, I would be, for his sake.
That stranger never knew how his loving word had touched a
child's heart. The doors of the Father's house were opened wide
again, by the only hand that holds the key. The world was all
bright and fresh once more. It was as if the May sun had suddenly
wakened the flowers in an overshadowed wayside nook.
I tried long afterward, thinking that it was my duty, to build up
a wall of difficult doctrines over my spring blossoms, as if they
needed protection. But the sweet light was never wholly stifled
out, though I did not always keep my face turned towards it: and
I know now, that just to let his lifegiving smile shine into the
soul is better than any of the theories we can invent about Him;
and that only so can young or old receive the kingdom of God as a
I believe that one great reason for a child's love of hymns, such
as mine was, is that they are either addressed to a Person, to
the Divine Person,--or they bring Him before the mind in some
distinct way, instead of being written upon a subject, like a
sermon. To make Him real is the only way to make our own spirits
real to ourselves.
I think more gratefully now of the verses I learned from the
Bible and the Hymn-Book than of almost anything that came to me
in that time of beginnings. The whole Hymn-Book was not for me
then, any more than the whole Bible. I took from both only what
really belonged to me. To be among those who found in the true
sources of faith and adoration, was like breathing in my native
air, though I could not tell anything about the land from which I
had come. Much that was put in the way of us children to climb
by, we could only stumble over; but around and above the
roughnesses of the road, the pure atmosphere of worship was felt
everywhere, the healthiest atmosphere for a child's soul to
I had learned a great many hymns before the family took any
notice of it. When it came to the knowledge of my most motherly
sister Emilie,--I like to call her that, for she was as fond of
early rising as Chaucer's heroine:--
"Up rose the sun, and up rose Emilie;"
and it is her own name, with a very slight change,--she undertook
to see how many my small memory would contain. She promised me a
new book, when I should have learned fifty; and that when I could
repeat any one of a hundred hymns, she would teach me to write. I
earned the book when I was about four years old. I think it was a
collection of some of Jane Taylor's verses. "For Infant Minds,"
was part of the title. I did not care for it, however, nearly so
much as I did for the old, thumb-worn "Watts' and Select Hymns."
Before I was five I bad gone beyond the stipulated hundred.
A proud and happy child I was, when I was permitted to dip a
goose quill into an inkstand, and make written letters, instead
of printing them with a pencil on a slate.
My sister prepared a neat little writing-book for me, and told me
not to make a mark in it except when she was near to tell me what
to do. In my self-sufficient impatience to get out of "pothooks
and trammels" into real letters and words I disobeyed her
injunction, and disfigured the pages with numerous tell-tale
blots. Then I hid the book away under the garret eaves, and
refused to bring it to light again. I was not allowed to resume
my studies in penmanship for some months, in consequence. But
when I did learn to write, Emilie was my teacher, and she made me
take great pains with my p's and q's.
It is always a mistake to cram a juvenile mind. A precocious
child is certainly as far as possible from being an interesting
one. Children ought to be children, and nothing else. But I am
not sorry that I learned to read when so young, because there
were years of my childhood that came after, when I had very
little time for reading anything.
To learn hymns was not only a pastime, but a pleasure which it
would have been almost cruel to deprive me of. It did not seem to
me as if I learned them, but as if they just gave themselves to
me while I read them over; as if they, and the unseen things they
sang about, became a part of me.
Some of the old hymns did seem to lend us wings, so full were
they of aspiration and hope and courage. To a little child,
reading them or hearing them sung was like being caught up in a
strong man's arms, to gaze upon some wonderful landscape. These
climbing and flying hymns,--how well I remember them, although
they were among the first I learned! They are of the kind that
can never wear out. We all know them by their first lines,--
"Awake, our souls! away, our fears!"
"Up to the hills I lift mine eyes."
"There is a land of pure delight."
"Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,
Thy better portion trace!"
How the meeting-house rafters used to ring to that last hymn,
sung to the tune of "Amsterdam!" Sometimes it seemed as if the
very roof was lifted off,--nay, the roof of the sky itself--as if
the music had burst an entrance for our souls into the heaven of
I loved to learn the glad hymns, and there were scores of them.
They come flocking back through the years, like birds that are
full of the music of an immortal spring!
"Come, let us join our cheerful songs
With angels round the throne."
"Love divine, all love excelling;
Joy of heaven, to earth come down."
"Joy to the world! the Lord is come!"
"Hark! the song of jubilee,
Loud as mighty thunders' roar,
Or the fullness of the sea
When it breaks upon the shore!
"Hallelujah! for the Lord
God Omnipotent shall reign!
Hallelujah! let the word
Echo round the earth and main."
Ah, that word "Hallelujah!" It seemed to express all the joy of
spring mornings and clear sunshine and bursting blossoms, blended
with all that I guessed of the songs of angels, and with all that
I had heard and believed, in my fledgling soul, of the glorious
One who was born in a manger and died on a cross, that He might
reign in human hearts as a king. I wondered why the people did
not sing "Hallelujah" more. It seemed like a word sent straight
down to us out of heaven.
I did not like to learn the sorrowful hymns, though I did it when
they were given to me as a task, such as--
"Hark, from the tombs," and
"Lord, what a wretched land is this,
That yields us no supply."
I suppose that these mournful strains had their place, but
sometimes the transition was too sudden, from the outside of the
meeting-house to the inside; from the sunshine and bobolinks and
buttercups of the merry May-day world, to the sad strains that
chanted of "this barren land," this "vale of tears," this
"wilderness" of distress and woe. It let us light-hearted
children too quickly down from the higher key of mirth to which
our careless thoughts were pitched. We knew that we were happy,
and sorrow to us was unreal. But somehow we did often get the
impression that it was our duty to try to be sorrowful; and that
we could not be entirely good, without being rather miserable.
And I am afraid that in my critical little mind I looked upon it
as an affectation on the part of the older people to speak of
life in this doleful way. I thought that they really knew better.
It seemed to me that it must be delightful to grow up, and learn
things, and do things, and be very good indeed,--better than
children could possibly know how to be. I knew afterwards that my
elders were sometimes, at least, sincere in their sadness; for
with many of them life must have been a hard struggle. But when
they shook their heads and said,--"Child, you will not be so
happy by and by; you are seeing your best days now," I still
doubted. I was born with the blessing of a cheerful temperament;
and while that is not enough to sustain any of us through the
inevitable sorrows that all must share, it would have been most
unnatural and ungrateful in me to think of earth as a dismal
place, when everything without and within was trying to tell me
that this good and beautiful world belongs to God.
I took exception to some verses in many of the hymns that I loved
the most. I had my own mental reservations with regard even to
that glorious chant of the ages,--
"Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me."
I always wanted to skip one half of the third
stanza, as it stood in our Hymn-Book:
"Where congregations ne'er break up,
And Sabbaths have no end."
I did not want it to be Sabbath-day always. I was conscious of a
pleasure in the thought of games and frolics and coming week-day
delights that would flit across my mind even when I was studying
my hymns, or trying to listen to the minister. And I did want the
congregation to break up some time. Indeed, in those bright
spring days, the last hymn in the afternoon always sounded best,
because with it came the opening of doors into the outside air,
and the pouring in of a mingled scent of sea winds and apple
blossoms, like an invitation out into the freedom of the beach,
the hillsides, the fields and gardens and orchards. In all this I
felt as if I were very wicked. I was afraid that I loved earth
better than I did heaven.
Nevertheless I always did welcome that last hymn, announced to be
sung "with the Doxology," usually in "long metre," to the tune of
"Old Hundred." There were certain mysterious preliminaries,--the
rustling of singing-book leaves, the sliding of the short screen-
curtains before the singers along by their clinking rings, and
now and then a premonitory groan or squeak from bass-viol or
violin, as if the instruments were clearing their throats; and
finally the sudden uprising of that long row of heads in the
My tallest and prettiest grown-up sister, Louise, stood there
among them, and of all those girlish, blooming faces I thought
hers the very handsomest. But she did not open her lips wide
enough to satisfy me. I could not see that she was singing at
To stand up there and be one of the choir, seemed to me very
little short of promotion to the ranks of cherubim and seraphim.
I quite envied that tall, pretty sister of mine. I was sure that
I should open my mouth wide, if I could only be in her place.
Alas! the years proved that, much as I loved the hymns, there was
no music in me to give them voice, except to very indulgent ears.
Some of us must wait for the best human gifts until we come to
heavenly places. Our natural desire for musical utterance is
perhaps a prophecy that in a perfect world we shall all know how
to sing. But it is something to feel music, if we cannot make it.
That, in itself, is a kind of unconscious singing.
As I think back to my childhood, it seems to me as if the air was
full of hymns, as it was of the fragrance of clover-blossoms, and
the songs of bluebirds and robins, and the deep undertone of the
sea. And the purity, the calmness, and the coolness of the dear
old Sabbath days seems lingering yet in the words of those
familiar hymns, whenever I bear them sung. Their melody
penetrates deep into my life, assuming me that I have not left
the green pastures and the still waters of my childhood very far
There is something at the heart of a true song or hymn which
keeps the heart young that listens. It is like a breeze from the
eternal hills; like the west wind of spring, never by a breath
less balmy and clear for having poured life into the old
generations of earth for thousands of years; a spiritual
freshness, which has nothing to do with time or decay.
NAUGHTY CHILDREN AND FAIRY TALES.
ALTHOUGH the children of an earlier time heard a great deal of
theological discussion which meant little or nothing to them,
there was one thing that was made clear and emphatic in all the
Puritan training: that the heavens and earth stood upon firm
foundations--upon the Moral Law as taught in the Old Testament
and confirmed by the New. Whatever else we did not understand, we
believed that to disobey our parents, to lie or steal, had been
forbidden by a Voice which was not to be gainsaid. People who
broke or evaded these commands did so willfully, and without
excusing themselves, or being excused by others. I think most of
us expected the fate of Ananias and Sapphira, if we told what we
knew was a falsehood.
There were reckless exceptions, however. A playmate, of whom I
was quite fond, was once asked, in my presence, whether she had
done something forbidden, which I knew she had been about only a
little while before. She answered "No," and without any apparent
hesitation. After the person who made the inquiry had gone, I
exclaimed, with horrified wonder, "How could you?"
Her reply was, "Oh, I only kind of said no." What a real lie was
to her, if she understood a distinct denial of the truth as only
"kind-of" lying, it perplexed me to imagine. The years proved
that this lack of moral perception was characteristic, and nearly
spoiled a nature full of beautiful gifts.
I could not deliberately lie, but I had my own temptations, which
I did not always successfully resist. I remember the very spot--
in a footpath through a green field--where I first met the Eighth
Commandment, and felt it looking me full in the face.
I suppose I was five or six years old. I had begun to be trusted
with errands; one of them was to go to a farmhouse for a quart of
milk every morning, to purchase which I went always to the money-
drawer in the shop and took out four cents. We were allowed to
take a "small brown" biscuit, or a date, or a fig, or a "gibral-
tar," sometimes; but we well understood that we could not help
ourselves to money.
Now there was a little painted sugar equestrian in a shop-window
down town, which I had seen and set my heart upon. I had learned
that its price was two cents; and one morning as I passed around
the counter with my tin pail I made up my mind to possess myself
of that amount. My father's back was turned; he was busy at his
desk with account-books and ledgers. I counted out four cents
aloud, but took six, and started on my errand with a fascinating
picture before me of that pink and green horseback rider as my
I cannot imagine what I meant to do with him. I knew that his
paint was poisonous, and I could not have intended to eat him;
there were much better candies in my father's window; he would
not sell these dangerous painted toys to children. But the little
man was pretty to look at, and I wanted him, and meant to have
him. It was just a child's first temptation to get possession of
what was not her own,--the same ugly temptation that produces the
defaulter, the burglar, and the highway robber, and that made it
necessary to declare to every human being the law, "Thou shalt
As I left the shop, I was conscious of a certain pleasure in the
success of my attempt, as any thief might be; and I walked off
very fast, clattering the coppers in the tin pail.
When I was fairly through the bars that led into the farmer's
field, and nobody was in sight, I took out my purloined pennies,
and looked at them as they lay in my palm.
Then a strange thing happened. It was a bright morning, but it
seemed to me as if the sky grew suddenly dark; and those two
pennies began to burn through my hand, to scorch me, as if they
were red hot, to my very soul. It was agony to hold them. I laid
them down under a tuft of grass in the footpath, and ran as if I
had left a demon behind me. I did my errand, and returning, I
looked about in the grass for the two cents, wondering whether
they could make me feel so badly again. But my good angel hid
them from me; I never found them.
I was too much of a coward to confess my fault to my father; I
had already begun to think of him as "an austere man," like him
in the parable of the talents. I should have been a much happier
child if I bad confessed, for I had to carry about with me for
weeks and months a heavy burden of shame. I thought of myself as
a thief, and used to dream of being carried off to jail and
condemned to the gallows for my offense: one of my story-books
told about a boy who was hanged at Tyburn for stealing, and how
was I better than he?
Whatever naughtiness I was guilty of afterwards, I never again
wanted to take what belonged to another, whether in the family or
out of it. I hated the sight of the little sugar horseback rider
from that day, and was thankful enough when some other child had
bought him and left his place in the window vacant.
About this time I used to lie awake nights a good deal, wondering
what became of infants who were wicked. I had heard it said that
all who died in infancy went to heaven, but it was also said that
those who sinned could not possibly go to heaven. I understood,
from talks I had listened to among older people, that infancy
lasted until children were about twelve years of age. Yet here
was I, an infant of less than six years, who had committed a sin.
I did not know what to do with my own case. I doubted whether it
would do any good for me to pray to be forgiven, but I did pray,
because I could not help it, though not aloud. I believe I
preferred thinking my prayers to saying them, almost always.
Inwardly, I objected to the idea of being an infant; it seemed to
me like being nothing in particular--neither a child nor a little
girl, neither a baby nor a woman. Having discovered that I was
capable of being wicked, I thought it would be better if I could
grow up at once, and assume my own responsibilities. It quite
demoralized me when people talked in my presence about "innocent
There was much questioning in those days as to whether fictitious
reading was good for children. To "tell a story" was one
equivalent expression for lying. But those who came nearest to
my child-life recognized the value of truth as impressed through
the imagination, and left me in delightful freedom among my
fairy-tale books. I think I saw a difference, from the first,
between the old poetic legends and a modern lie, especially if
this latter was the invention of a fancy as youthful as my own.
I supposed that the beings of those imaginative tales had lived
some time, somewhere; perhaps they still existed in foreign
countries, which were all a realm of fancy to me. I was certain
that they could not inhabit our matter-of-fact neighborhood. I
had never heard that any fairies or elves came over with the
Pilgrims in the Mayflower. But a little red-haired playmate with
whom I became intimate used to take me off with her into the
fields, where, sitting, on the edge of a disused cartway fringed
with pussy-clover, she poured into my ears the most remarkable
narratives of acquaintances she had made with people who lived
under the ground close by us, in my fatber's orchard. Her literal
descriptions quite deceived me; I swallowed her stories entire,
just as people in the last century did Defoe's account of "The
Apparition of Mrs. Veal."
She said that these subterranean people kept house, and that they
invited her down to play with their children on Wednesday and
Saturday afternoons; also that they sometimes left a plate of
cakes and tarts for her at their door: she offered to show me the
very spot where it was,--under a great apple-tree which my
brothers called "the luncheon-tree," because we used to rest and
refresh ourselves there, when we helped my father weed his
vegetable-garden. But she guarded herself by informing me that it
would be impossible for us to open the door ourselves; that it
could only be unfastened from the inside. She told me these
people's names--a "Mr. Pelican," and a "Mr. Apple-tree Manasseh,"
who had a very large family of little "Manassehs." She said that
there was a still larger family, some of them probably living
just under the spot where we sat, whose sirname was "Hokes." (If
either of us had been familiar with another word pronounced in
the same way, though spelled differently, I should since have
thought that she was all the time laughing in her sleeve at my
easy belief.) These "Hokeses" were not good-natured people, she
added, whispering to me that we must not speak about them aloud,
as they had sharp ears, and might overhear us, and do us
I think she was hoaxing herself as well as me; it was her way of
being a heroine in her own eyes and mine, and she had always the
manner of being entirely in earnest.
But she became more and more romantic in her inventions. A
distant aristocratic-looking mansion, which we could see half-
hidden by trees, across the river, she assured me was a haunted
house, and that she had passed many a night there, seeing
unaccountable sights, and hearing mysterious sounds. She further
announced that she was to be married, some time, to a young man
who lived over there. I inferred that the marriage was to take
place whenever the ghostly tenants of the house would give their
consent. She revealed to me, under promise of strict secrecy, the
young man's name. It was "Alonzo."
Not long after I picked up a book which one of my sisters had
borrowed, called "Alonzo and Melissa," and I discovered that she
had been telling me page after page of "Melissa's" adventures, as
if they were her own. The fading memory I have of the book is
that it was a very silly one; and when I discovered that the rest
of the romantic occurrences she had related, not in that volume,
were to be found in "The Children of the Abbey," I left off
listening to her. I do not think I regarded her stories as lies;
I only lost my interest in them after I knew that they were all
of her own clumsy second-hand making-up, out of the most
My two brothers liked to play upon my credulity. When my brother
Ben pointed up to the gilded weather-cock on the Old South
steeple, and said to me with a very grave face,--
"Did you know that whenever that cock crows every rooster in town
crows too?" I listened out at the window, and asked,--