Part 2 out of 4
"But when will he begin to crow?"
"Oh, roosters crow in the night, sometimes, when you are asleep."
Then my younger brother would break in with a shout of delight at
"I'll tell you when, goosie!--
'The next day after never;
When the dead ducks fly over the river.'"
But this must have been when I was very small; for I remember
thinking that "the next day after never" would come some time, in
millions of years, perhaps. And how queer it would be to see dead
ducks flying through the air!
Witches were seldom spoken of in the presence of us children. We
sometimes overheard a snatch of a witch-story, told in whispers,
by the flickering firelight, just as we were being sent off to
bed. But, to the older people, those legends were too much like
realities, and they preferred not to repeat them. Indeed, it was
over our town that the last black shadow of the dreadful
witchcraft delusion had rested. Mistress Hale's house was just
across the burying-ground, and Gallows Hill was only two miles
away, beyond the bridge. Yet I never really knew what the "Salem
Witchcraft" was until Goodrich's "History of the United States"
was put into my hands as a schoolbook, and I read about it there.
Elves and gnomes and air-sprites and genii were no strangers to
us, for my sister Emilie--she who heard me say my hymns, and
taught me to write--was mistress of an almost limitless fund of
imaginative lore. She was a very Scheherezade of story-tellers,
so her younger sisters thought, who listened to her while
twilight grew into moonlight, evening after evening, with fasci-
Besides the tales that the child-world of all ages is familiar
with,--Red Riding-Hood, the Giant-Killer, Cinderella, Aladdin,
the "Sleeping Beauty," and the rest,--she had picked up somewhere
most of the folk-stories of Ireland and Scotland, and also the
wild legends of Germany, which latter were not then made into the
compact volumes known among juvenile readers of to-day as Grimm's
Her choice was usually judicious; she omitted the ghosts and
goblins that would have haunted our dreams; although I was now
and then visited by a nightmare-consciousness of being a
bewitched princess who must perform some impossible task, such as
turning a whole roomful of straws into gold, one by one, or else
lose my head. But she blended the humorous with the romantic in
her selections, so that we usually dropped to sleep in good
spirits, if not with a laugh.
That old story of the fisherman who had done the "Man of the Sea"
a favor, and was to be rewarded by having his wish granted, she
told in so quaintly realistic a way that I thought it might all
have happened on one of the islands out in Massachusetts Bay.
The fisherman was foolish enough, it seemed, to let his wife do
all his wishing for him; and she, unsatisfied still, though she
had been made first an immensely rich woman, and then a great
queen, at last sent her husband to ask that they two might be
made rulers over the sun, moon, and stars.
As my sister went on with the story, I could see the waves grow
black, and could hear the wind mutter and growl, while the
fisherman called for the first, second, and then reluctantly, for
the third time:--
"O Man of the Sea,
Come listen to me!
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Has sent me to beg a boon of thee!"
As his call died away on the sullen wind, the mysterious "Man of
the Sea" rose in his wrath out of the billows, and said,--
"Go back to your old mud hut, and stay there with your wife
Alice, and never come to trouble me again."
I sympathized with the "Man of the Sea" in his righteous
indignation at the conduct of the greedy, grasping woman; and the
moral of the story remained with me, as the story itself did. I
think I understood dimly, even then, that mean avarice and self-
seeking ambition always find their true level in muddy earth,
never among the stars.
So it proved that my dear mother-sister was preparing me for life
when she did not know it, when she thought she was only amusing
This sister, though only just entering her teens, was toughening
herself by all sorts of unnecessary hardships for whatever might
await her womanhood. She used frequently to sleep in the garret
on a hard wooden sea-chest instead of in a bed. And she would get
up before daylight and run over into the burying-ground,
barefooted and white-robed (we lived for two or three years in
another house than our own, where the oldest graveyard in town
was only separated from us by our garden fence), "to see if there
were any ghosts there," she told us. Returning noiselessly,--
herself a smiling phantom, with long, golden-brown hair rippling
over her shoulders,--she would drop a trophy upon her little
sisters' pillow, in the shape of a big, yellow apple that had
dropped from "the Colonel's" "pumpkin sweeting" tree into the
graveyard, close to our fence.
She was fond of giving me surprises, of watching my wonder at
seeing anything beautiful or strange for the first time. Once,
when I was very little, she made me supremely happy by rousing me
before four o'clock in the morning, dressing me hurriedly, and
taking me out with her for a walk across the graveyard and
through the dewy fields. The birds were singing, and the sun was
just rising, and we were walking toward the east, hand in hand,
when suddenly there appeared before us what looked to me like an
immense blue wall, stretching right and left as far as I could
"Oh, what is it the wall of?" I cried.
It was a revelation she had meant for me. "So you did not know it
was the sea, little girl!" she said.
It was a wonderful illusion to My unaccustomed eyes, and I took
in at that moment for the first time something of the real
grandeur of the ocean. Not a sail was in sight, and the blue
expanse was scarcely disturbed by a ripple, for it was the high-
tide calm. That morning's freshness, that vision of the sea, I
know I can never lose.
>From our garret window--and the garret was my usual retreat when
I wanted to get away by myself with my books or my dreams--we had
the distant horizon-line of the bay, across a quarter of a mile
of trees and mowing fields. We could see the white breakers
dashing against the long narrow island just outside of the
harbor, which I, with my childish misconstruction of names,
called "Breakers' Island"; supposing that the grown people had
made a mistake when they spoke of it as "Baker's." But that far-
off, shining band of silver and blue seemed so different from the
whole great sea, stretching out as if into eternity from the feet
of the baby on the shore!
The marvel was not lessened when I began to study geography, and
comprehended that the world is round. Could it really be that we
had that endless "Atlantic Ocean" to look at from our window, to
dance along the edge of, to wade into or bathe in, if we chose?
The map of the world became more interesting to me than any of
the story-books. In my fanciful explorations I out-traveled
Captain Cook, the only voyager around the world with whose name
my childhood was familiar.
The field-paths were safe, and I was allowed to wander off alone
through them. I greatly enjoyed the freedom of a solitary
explorer among the seashells and wild flowers.
There were wonders everywhere. One day I picked up a star-fish on
the beach (we called it a "five-finger"), and hung him on a tree
to dry, not thinking of him as a living creature. When I went
some time after to take him down he had elasped with two or three
of his fingers the bough where I laid him, so that he could not
be removed without breaking his hardened shell. My conscience
smote me when I saw what an unhappy looking skeleton I had made
I overtook the horse-shoe crab on the sands, but I did not like
to turn him over and make him "say his prayers," as some of the
children did. I thought it must be wicked. And then he looked so
uncomfortable, imploringly wriggling his claws while he lay upon
his back! I believe I did, however, make a small collection of
the shells of stranded horseshoe crabs deserted by their tenants.
There were also pretty canary-colored cockle-shells and tiny
purple mussels washed up by the tide. I gathered them into my
apron, and carried them home, and only learned that they too held
living inhabitants by seeing a dead snail protruding from every
shell after they had been left to themselves for a day or two.
This made me careful to pick up only the empty ones, and there
were plenty of them. One we called a "butterboat"; it had
something shaped like a seat across the end of it on the inside.
And the curious sea-urchin, that looked as if he was made only
for ornament, when he had once got rid of his spines, and the
transparent jelly-fish, that seemed to have no more right to be
alive than a ladleful of mucilage,--and the razor-shells, and the
barnacles, and the knotted kelp, and the flabby green sea-aprons,
--there was no end to the interesting things I found when I was
trusted to go down to the edge of the tide alone.
The tide itself was the greatest marvel, slipping away so
noiselessly, and creeping back so softly over the flats,
whispering as it reached the sands, and laughing aloud "I am
coming!" as, dashing against the rocks, it drove me back to where
the sea-lovage and purple beach-peas had dared to root
themselves. I listened, and felt through all my little being that
great, surging word of power, but had no guess of its meaning. I
can think of it now as the eternal voice of Law, ever returning
to the green, blossoming, beautiful verge of Gospel truth, to
confirm its later revelation, and to say that Law and Gospel
belong together. "The sea is His, and He made it: and His hands
formed the dry land."
And the dry land, the very dust of the earth, every day revealed
to me some new miracle of a flower. Coming home from school one
warm noon, I chanced to look down, and saw for the first time the
dry roadside all starred with lavender-tinted flowers, scarcely
larger than a pin-head; fairy-flowers, indeed; prettier than
anything that grew in gardens. It was the red sand-wort; but why
a purple flower should be called red, I do not know. I remember
holding these little amethystine blossoms like jewels in the palm
of my hand, and wondering whether people who walked along that
road knew what beautiful things they were treading upon. I never
found the flower open except at noonday, when the sun was
hottest. The rest of the time it was nothing but an
insignificant, dusty-leaved weed,--a weed that was transformed
into a flower only for an hour or two every day. It seemed like
The busy people at home could tell me very little about the wild
flowers, and when I found a new one I thought I was its
discoverer. I can see myself now leaning in ecstasy over a small,
rough-leaved purple aster in a lonely spot on the hill, and
thinking that nobody else in all the world had ever beheld such a
flower before, because I never had. I did not know then, that the
flower-generations are older than the human race.
The commonest blossoms were, after all, the dearest, because they
were so familiar. Very few of us lived upon carpeted floors, but
soft green grass stretched away from our door-steps, all golden
with dandelions in spring. Those dandelion fields were like
another heaven dropped down upon the earth, where our feet
wandered at will among the stars. What need had we of luxurious
upholstery, when we could step out into such splendor, from the
The dandelions could tell us secrets, too. We blew the fuzz off
their gray beads, and made them answer our question, "Does my
mother want me to come home?" Or we sat down together in the
velvety grass, and wove chains for our necks and wrists of the
dandelion-sterns, and "made believe" we were brides, or queens,
Then there was the white rock-saxifrage, that filled the crevices
of the ledges with soft, tufty bloom like lingering snow-drifts,
our May-flower, that brought us the first message of spring.
There was an elusive sweetness in its almost imperceptible
breath, which one could only get by smelling it in close bunches.
Its companion was the tiny four-cleft innocence-flower, that
drifted pale sky-tints across the chilly fields. Both came to us
in crowds, and looked out with us, as they do with the small
girls and boys of to-day, from the windy crest of Powder House
Hill,--the one playground of my childhood which is left to the
children and the cows just as it was then. We loved these little
democratic blossoms, that gathered around us in mobs at our May
Day rejoicings. It is doubtful whether we should have loved the
trailing arbutus any better, had it strayed, as it never did,
into our woods.
Violets and anemones played at hide-and-seek with us in shady
places. The gay columbine rooted herself among the bleak rocks,
and laughed and nodded in the face of the east wind, coquettishly
wasting the show of her finery on the frowning air. Bluebirds
twittered over the dandelions in spring. In midsummer,
goldfinches warbled among the thistle-tops; and, high above the
bird-congregations, the song-sparrow sent forth her clear, warm,
penetrating trill,--sunshine translated into music.
We were not surfeited, in those days, with what is called
pleasure; but we grew up happy and healthy, learning
unconsciously the useful lesson of doing without. The birds and
blossoms hardly won a gladder or more wholesome life from the air
of our homely New England than we did.
"Out of the strong came forth sweetness." The Beatitudes are the
natural flowering-forth of the Ten Commandments. And the
happiness of our lives was rooted in the stern, vigorous virtues
of the people we lived among, drawing thence its bloom and song,
and fragrance. There was granite in their character and beliefs,
but it was granite that could smile in the sunshine and clothe
itself with flowers. We little ones felt the firm rock beneath
us, and were lifted up on it, to emulate their goodness, and to
share their aspirations.
OLD NEW ENGLAND.
WHEN I first opened my eyes upon my native town, it was already
nearly two hundred years old, counting from the time when it was
part of the original Salem settlement,--old enough to have gained
a character and an individuality of its own, as it certainly had.
We children felt at once that we belonged to the town, as we did
to our father or our mother.
The sea was its nearest neighbor, and penetrated to every
fireside, claiming close intimacy with every home and heart. The
farmers up and down the shore were as much fishermen as farmers;
they were as familiar with the Grand Banks of Newfoundland as
they were with their own potato-fields. Every third man you met
in the street, you might safely hail as "Shipmate," or "Skipper,"
or "Captain." My father's early seafaring experience gave him the
latter title to the end of his life.
It was hard to keep the boys from going off to sea before they
were grown. No inland occupation attracted them. "Land-lubber"
was one of the most contemptuous epithets heard from boyish lips.
The spirit of adventure developed in them a rough, breezy type of
manliness, now almost extinct.
Men talked about a voyage to Calcutta, or Hong-Kong, or "up the
Straits,"--meaning Gibraltar and the Mediterranean,--as if it
were not much more than going to the next village. It seemed as
if our nearest neighbors lived over there across the water; we
breathed the air of foreign countries, curiously interblended
with our own.
The women of well-to-do families had Canton crape shawls and
Smyrna silks and Turk satins, for Sabbath-day wear, which
somebody had brought home for them. Mantel-pieces were adorned
with nautilus and conch-shells, and with branches and fans of
coral; and children had foreign curiosities and treasures of the
sea for playthings. There was one imported shell that we did not
value much, it was so abundant--the freckled univalve they called
a "prop." Yet it had a mysterious interest for us little ones.
We held it to our ears, and listened for the sound of the waves,
which we were told that, it still kept, and always would keep. I
remember the time when I thought that the ocean was really
imprisoned somewhere within that narrow aperture.
We were accustomed to seeing barrels full of cocoa-nuts rolled
about; and there were jars of preserved tropical fruits,
tamarinds, ginger-root, and other spicy appetizers, almost as
common as barberries and cranberries, in the cupboards of most
I wonder what has become of those many, many little red "guinea-
peas" we had to play with! It never seemed as if they really
belonged to the vegetable world, notwithstanding their name.
We had foreign coins mixed in with our large copper cents,--all
kinds, from the Russian "kopeck" to the "half-penny token" of
Great Britain. Those were the days when we had half cents in
circulation to make change with. For part of our currency was the
old-fashioned "ninepence,"--twelve and a half cents, and the
"four pence ha'penny,"--six cents and a quarter. There was a good
deal of Old England about us still.
And we had also many living reminders of strange lands across the
sea. Green parrots went scolding and laughing down the thimble-
berry hedges that bordered the cornfields, as much at home out of
doors as within. Java sparrows and canaries and other tropical
songbirds poured their music out of sunny windows into the
street, delighting the ears of passing school children long
before the robins came. Now and then somebody's pet monkey would
escape along the stone walls and shed-roofs, and try to hide from
his boy-persecutors by dodging behind a chimney, or by slipping
through an open scuttle, to the terror and delight of juveniles
whose premises he invaded.
And there were wanderers from foreign countries domesticated in
many families, whose swarthy complexions and un-Caucasian
features became familiar in our streets,--Mongolians, Africans,
and waifs from the Pacific islands, who always were known to us
by distinguished names,--Hector and Scipio, and Julius Caesar and
Christopher Columbus. Families of black people were scattered
about the place, relics of a time when even New England had not
freed her slaves. Some of them had belonged in my great-grand-
father's family, and they hung about the old homestead at "The
Farms" long after they were at liberty to go anywhere they
pleased. There was a "Rose" and a "Phillis" among them, who came
often to our house to bring luscious high blackberries from the
Farms woods, or to do the household washing. They seemed
pathetically out of place, although they lived among us on equal
terms, respectable and respected.
The pathos of the sea haunted the town, made audible to every ear
when a coming northeaster brought the rote of the waves in from
the islands across the harbor-bar, with a moaning like that we
heard when we listened for it in the shell. Almost every house
had its sea-tragedy. Somebody belonging to it had been
shipwrecked, or had sailed away one day, and never returned.
Our own part of the bay was so sheltered by its islands that
there were seldom any disasters heard of near home, although the
names of the two nearest--Great and Little Misery--are said to
have originated with a shipwreck so far back in the history of
the region that it was never recorded.
But one such calamity happened in my infancy, spoken of always by
those who knew its victims in subdued tones;--the wreck of the
"Persia." The vessel was returning from the Mediterranean, and in
a blinding snow-storm on a wild March night her captain probably
mistook one of the Cape Ann light-houses for that on Baker's
Island, and steered straight upon the rocks in a lonely cove just
outside the cape. In the morning the bodies of her dead crew were
found tossing about with her cargo of paper-manufacturers' rags,
among the breakers. Her captain and mate were Beverly men, and
their funeral from the meeting-house the next Sabbath was an
event which long left its solemnity hanging over the town.
We were rather a young nation at this time. The History of the
United States could only tell the story of the American
Revolution, of the War of 1812, and of the administration of
about half a dozen presidents.
Our republicanism was fresh and wide-awake. The edge of George
Washington's little hatchet had not yet been worn down to its
latter-day dullness; it flashed keenly on our young eyes and ears
in the reading books, and through Fourth of July speeches. The
Father of his Country had been dead only a little more than a
quarter of a century, and General Lafayette was still alive; he
had, indeed, passed through our town but a few years before, and
had been publicly welcomed under our own elms and lindens. Even
babies echoed the names of our two heroes in their prattle.
We had great "training days," when drum and fife took our ears by
storm; When the militia and the Light Infantry mustered and
marched through the streets to the Common with boys and girls at
their heels,--such girls as could get their mother's consent, or
the courage to run off without it.(We never could.)But we always
managed to get a good look at the show in one way or another.
"Old Election," "'Lection Day" we called it, a lost holiday now,
was a general training day, and it came at our most delightful
season, the last of May. Lilacs and tulips were in bloom, then;
and it was a picturesque fashion of the time for little girls
whose parents had no flower-gardens to go around begging a bunch
of lilacs, or a tulip or two. My mother always made "'Lection
cake" for us on that day. It was nothing but a kind of sweetened
bread with a shine of egg-and-molasses on top; but we thought it
The Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day were the only other
holidays that we made much account of, and the former was a far
more well behaved festival than it is in modern times. The bells
rang without stint, and at morning and noon cannon were fired
off. But torpedoes and fire-crackers did not make the highways
dangerous;--perhaps they were thought too expensive an amusement.
Somebody delivered an oration; there was a good deal said about
"this universal Yankee nation"; some rockets went up from Salem
in the evening; we watched them from the hill, and then went to
bed, feeling that we had been good patriots.
There was always a Fast Day, which I am afraid most of us younger
ones regarded merely as a day when we were to eat unlimited
quantities of molasses-gingerbread, instead of sitting down to
our regular meals.
When I read about Christmas in the English story-books, I wished
we could have that beautiful holiday. But our Puritan fathers
shook their heads at Christmas.
Our Sabbath-school library books were nearly all English
reprints, and many of the story-books were very interesting. I
think that most of my favorites were by Mrs. Sherwood. Some of
them were about life in India,--"Little Henry and his Bearer,"
and "Ayah and Lady." Then there were "The Hedge of Thorns;"
"Theophilus and Sophia;" "Anna Ross," and a whole series of
little English books that I took great delight in.
I had begun to be rather introspective and somewhat unhealthily
self-critical, contrasting myself meanwhile with my sister Lida,
just a little older, who was my usual playmate, and whom I
admired very much for what I could not help seeing,--her unusual
sweetness of disposition. I read Mrs. Sherwood's "Infant's
Progress," and I made a personal application of it, picturing
myself as the naughty, willful "Playful," and my sister Lida as
the saintly little "Peace."
This book gave me a morbid, unhappy feeling, while yet it had
something of the fascination of the "Pilgrim's Progress," of
which it is an imitation. I fancied myself followed about by a
fiend-like boy who haunted its pages, called "Inbred-Sin;" and
the story implied that there was no such thing as getting rid of
him. I began to dislike all boys on his account. There was one
who tormented my sister and me--we only knew him by name--by
jumping out at us from behind doorways or fences on our way to
school, making horrid faces at us. "Inbred-Sin," I was certain,
looked just like him; and the two, strangely blended in one
hideous presence, were the worst nightmare of my dreams. There
was too much reality about that "Inbreed-Sin." I felt that I was
acquainted with him. He was the hateful hero of the little
allegory, as Satan is of "Paradise Lost."
I liked lessons that came to me through fables and fairy tales,
although, in reading Aesop, I invariably skipped the "moral"
pinned on at the end, and made one for myself, or else did
Mrs. Lydia Maria Child's story of "The Immortal Fountain," in the
"Girl's Own Book,"--which it was the joy of my heart to read,
although it preached a searching sermon to me,--I applied in the
same way that I did the "Infant's Progress." I thought of Lida as
the gentle, unselfish Rose, and myself as the ugly Marion. She
was patient and obliging, and I felt that I was the reverse. She
was considered pretty, and I knew that I was the reverse of that,
too. I wondered if Lida really had bathed in the Immortal
Fountain, and oh, how I wished I could find the way there! But I
feared that trying to do so would be of no use; the fairies would
cross their wands to keep me back, and their wings would darken
at my approach.
The book that I loved first and best, and lived upon in my
childhood, was "Pilgrim's Progress." It was as a story that I
cared for it, although I knew that it meant something more,--
something that was already going on in my own heart and life.
Oh, how I used to wish that I too could start off on a pilgrim-
age! It would be so much easier than the continual, discouraging
struggle to be good!
The lot I most envied was that of the contented Shepherd Boy in
the Valley of Humiliation, singing his cheerful songs, and
wearing "the herb called Heart's Ease in his bosom"; but all the
glorious ups and downs of the "Progress" I would gladly have
shared with Christiana and her children, never desiring to turn
aside into any "By-Path Meadow" while Mr. Great-Heart led the
way, and the Shining Ones came down to meet us along the road.
It was one of the necessities of my nature, as a child, to have
some one being, real or ideal, man or woman, before whom I
inwardly bowed down and worshiped. Mr. Great-Heart was the
perfect hero of my imagination. Nobody, in books or out of them,
compared with him. I wondered if there were really any Mr. Great-
Hearts to be met with among living men.
I remember reading this beloved book once in a snow-storm, and
looking up from it out among the white, wandering flakes, with a
feeling that they had come down from heaven as its interpreters;
that they were trying to tell me, in their airy up-and-down-
flight, the story of innumerable souls. I tried to fix my eye on
one particular flake, and to follow its course until it touched
the earth. But I found that I could not. A little breeze was
stirring an the flake seemed to go and return, to descend and
then ascend again, as if hastening homeward to the sky, losing
itself at last in the airy, infinite throng, and leaving me
filled with thoughts of that "great multitude, which no man could
number, clothed with white robes," crowding so gloriously into
the closing pages of the Bible.
Oh, if I could only be sure that I should some time be one of
that invisible company! But the heavens were already beginning to
look a great way off. I hummed over one of my best loved hymns,--
"Who are these in bright array?"
and that seemed to bring them nearer again.
The history of the early martyrs, the persecutions of the
Waldenses and of the Scotch Covenanters, I read and re-read with
longing emulation! Why could not I be a martyr, too? It would be
so beautiful to die for the truth as they did, as Jesus did! I
did not understand then that He lived and died to show us what
life really means, and to give us true life, like His,--the life
of love to God with all our hearts, of love to all His human
children for His sake;--and that to live this life faithfully is
greater even than to die a martyr's death.
It puzzled me to know what some of the talk I heard about being a
Christian could mean. I saw that it was something which only men
and women could comprehend. And yet they taught me to say those
dear words of the Master, "Suffer the little children to come
unto Me!" Surely He meant what He said. He did not tell the
children that they must receive the kingdom of God like grown
people; He said that everybody must enter into it "as a little
But our fathers were stalwart men, with many foes to encounter.
If anybody ever needed a grown-up religion, they surely did; and
it became them well.
Most of our every-day reading also came to us over the sea. Miss
Edgworth's juvenile stories were in general circulation, and we
knew "Harry and Lucy" and "Rosamond" almost as well as we did our
own playmates. But we did not think those English children had so
good a time as we did; they had to be so prim and methodical. It
seemed to us that the little folks across the water never were
allowed to romp and run wild; some of us may have held a vague
idea that this freedom of ours was the natural inheritance of
republican children only.
Primroses and cowslips and daisies bloomed in these pleasant
story-books of ours, and we went a-Maying there, with our
transatlantic playmates. I think we sometimes started off with
our baskets, expecting to find those English flowers in our own
fields. How should children be wiser than to look for every
beautiful thing they have heard of, on home ground?
And, indeed, our commonest field-flowers were, many of them,
importations from the mother-country--clover, and dandelions, and
ox-eye daisies. I was delighted when my mother told me one day
that a yellow flower I brought her was a cowslip, for I thought
she meant that it was the genuine English cowslip, which I had
read about. I was disappointed to learn that it was a native
blossom, the marsh-marigold.
My sisters had some books that I appropriated to myself a great
deal: "Paul and Virginia;" "Elizabeth, or the Exiles of Siberia;"
"Nina: an Icelandic Tale;" with the "Vicar of Wakefield;" the
"Tour to the Hebrides;" "Gulliver's Travels;" the "Arabian
Nights;" and some odd volumes of Sir Walter Scott's novels.
I read the "Scottish Chiefs"--my first novel when I was about
five years old. So absorbed was I in the sorrows of Lady Helen
Mar and Sir William Wallace, that I crept into a corner where
nobody would notice me, and read on through sunset into
moonlight, with eyes blurred with tears. I did not feel that I
was doing anything wrong, for I had heard my father say he was
willing his daughters should read that one novel. He probably did
not intend the remark for the ears of his youngest, however.
My appetite for reading was omnivorous, and I devoured a great
many romances. My sisters took them from a circulating library,
many more, perhaps, than came to my parents' knowledge; but it
was not often that one escaped me, wherever it was hidden. I did
not understand what I was reading, to be sure; and that was one
of the best and worst things about it. The sentimentalism of some
of those romances was altogether unchildlike; but I did not take
much of it in. It was the habit of running over pages and pages
to get to the end of a story, the habit of reading without caring
what I read, that I know to have been bad for my mind. To use a
nautical expression, my brain was in danger of getting "water-
logged." There are so many more books of fiction written
nowadays, I do not see how the young people who try to read one
tenth of them have any brains left for every-day use.
One result of my infantile novel-reading was that I did not like
to look at my own face in a mirror, because it was so unlike that
of heroines, always pictured with "high white foreheads" and
"cheeks of a perfect oval." Mine was round, ruddy, and laughing
with health; and, though I practiced at the glass a good deal, I
could not lengthen it by puckering down my lips. I quite envied
the little girls who were pale and pensive-looking, as that was
the only ladyfied standard in the romances. Of course, the chief
pleasure of reading them was that of identifying myself with
every new heroine. They began to call me a "bookworm" at home. I
did not at all relish the title.
It was fortunate for me that I liked to be out of doors a great
deal, and that I had a brother, John, who was willing to have me
for an occasional companion. Sometimes he would take me with him
when be went huckleberrying, up the rural Montserrat Road,
through Cat Swamp, to the edge of Burnt Hills and Beaver Pond.
He had a boy's pride in explaining these localities to me, making
me understand that I had a guide who was familiar with every inch
of the way. Then, charging me not to move until he came back, he
would leave me sitting alone on a great craggy rock, while he
went off and filled his basket out of sight among the bushes.
Indeed, I did not want to move, it was all so new and
fascinating. The tall pine-trees whispering to each other across
the sky-openings above me, the graceful ferns, the velvet mosses
dotted with scarlet fairy-cups, as if the elves had just spread
their table for tea, the unspeakable charm of the spice-breathing
air, all wove a web of enchantment about me, from which I had no
wish to disentangle myself. The silent spell of the woods held
me with a power stronger even than that of the solemn-voiced sea.
Sometimes this same brother would get permission to take me on a
longer excursion,--to visit the old homestead at "The Farms."
Three or four miles was not thought too long a walk for a healthy
child of five years; and that road, in the old time, led through
a rural Paradise, beautiful at every season,--whether it were the
time of song-sparrows and violets, of wild roses, of coral-hung
barberry-bushes, or of fallen leaves and snow-drifts. The
wildness of the road, now exchanged for elegant modern
cultivation, was its great charm to us. We stopped at the Cove
Brook to hear the cat-birds sing, and at Mingo's Beach to revel
in the sudden surprise of the open sea, and to listen to the
chant of the waves, always stronger and grander there than
anywhere along the shore. We passed under dark wooded cliffs out
into sunny openings, the last of which held under its skirting
pines the secret of the prettiest woodpath to us in all the
world, the path to the ancestral farmhouse.
We found children enough to play with there,--as numerous a
family as our own. We were sometimes, I fancy, the added drop too
much of already overflowing juvenility. Farther down the road,
where the cousins were all grown-up men and women, Aunt Betsey's
cordial, old-fashioned hospitality sometimes detained us a day or
two. We watched the milking, and fed the chickens, and fared
gloriously. Aunt Betsey could not have done more to entertain us,
had we been the President's children.
I have always cherished the memory of a certain pair of large-
bowed spectacles that she wore, and of the green calash, held by
a ribbon bridle, that sheltered her head, when she walked up from
the shore to see us, as she often did. They announced to us the
approach of inexhaustible kindliness and good cheer. We took in a
home-feeling with the words "Aunt Betsey" then and always. She
had just the husband that belonged to her in my Uncle David, an
upright man, frank-faced, large-hearted, and spiritually minded.
He was my father's favorite brother, and to our branch of the
family "The Farms" meant "Uncle David and Aunt Betsey."
My brother John's plans for my entertainment did not always
harmonize entirely with my own ideas. He had an inventive mind,
and wanted me to share his boyish sports. But I did not like to
ride in a wheelbarrow, nor to walk on stilts, nor even to coast
down the hill on his sled and I always got a tumble, if I tried,
for I was rather a clumsy child; besides, I much preferred girls'
We were seldom permitted to play with any boys except our
brothers. I drew the inference that our boys must be a great deal
better than "the other boys." My brother John had some fine play-
fellows, but he seemed to consider me in the way when they were
his guests. Occasionally we would forget that the neighbor-boys
were not girls, and would find ourselves all playing together in
delightful unconsciousness; although possibly a thought, like
that of the "Ettrick Shepherd," may now and then have flitted
through the mind of some masculine juvenile:--
"Why the boys should drive away
Little sweet maidens from the play,
Or love to banter and fight so well,--
That Is the thing I never could tell."
One, day I thoughtlessly accepted an invitation to get through a
gap in the garden-fence, to where the doctor's two boys were
preparing to take an imaginary sleigh-ride in midsummer. The
sleigh was stranded among tall weeds an cornstalks, but I was
politely handed in by the elder boy, who sat down by my side and
tucked his little brother in front at our feet, informing me that
we were father and mother and little son, going to take a ride to
Newburyport. He had found an old pair of reins and tied them to
a saw-horse, that he switched and "Gee-up"-ed vigorously. The
journey was as brief as delightful. I ran home feeling like the
heroine of an elopement, asking myself meanwhile, "What would my
brother John say if he knew I had been playing with boys?" He was
very particular about his sisters' behavior. But I incautiously
said to one sister in whom I did not usually confide, that I
thought James was the nicest boy in the lane, and that I liked
his little brother Charles, too. She laughed at me so
unmercifully for making the remark, that I never dared look
towards the gap in the fence again, beyond which I could hear the
boys' voices around the old sleigh where they were playing,
entirely forgetful of their former traveling companion. Still, I
continued to think that my courteous cavalier, James, was the
nicest boy in the lane.
My brother's vigilant care of his two youngest sisters was once
the occasion to them of a serious fright. My grandfather--the
sexton--sometimes trusted him to toll the bell for a funeral. In
those days the bell was tolled for everybody who died. John was
social, and did not like to go up into the belfry and stay an
hour or so alone, and as my grandfather positively forbade him to
take any other boy up there, he one day got permission for us two
little girls to go with him, for company. We had to climb up a
great many stairs, and the last flight was inclosed by a rough
door with a lock inside, which he was charged to fasten, so that
no mischievous boys should follow.
It was strange to be standing up there in the air, gazing over
the balcony-railing down into the street, where the men and women
looked so small, and across to the water and the ships in the
east, and the clouds and hills in the west! But when he struck
the tongue against the great bell, close to our ears, it was more
than we were prepared for. The little sister, scarcely three
years old, screamed and shrieked,--
"I shall be stunned-ded! I shall be stunned-ded!" I do not know
where she had picked up that final syllable, but it made her
terror much more emphatic. Still the great waves of solem
sound went eddying on, over the hills and over the sea, and we
had to hear it all, though we stopped our ears with our fingers.
It was an immense relief to us when the last stroke of the
passing-bell was struck, and John said we could go down.
He took the key from his pocket and was fitting it into the lock,
when it slipped, beyond our reach. Now the little sister cried
again, and would not be pacified; and when I looked up and caught
John's blank, dismayed look, I began to feel like crying, too.
The question went swiftly through my mind,--How many days can we
stay up here without starving to death?--for I really thought we
should never get down out of our prison in the air: never see our
mother's face again.
But my brother's wits returned to him. He led us back to the
balcony, and shouted over the railing to a boy in the street,
making him understand that he must go and inform my father that
we were locked into the belfry. It was not long before we saw
both him and my grandfather on their way to the church. They came
up to the little door, and told us to push with our united
strength against it. The rusty lock soon yielded, and how good it
was to look into those two beloved human faces once more! But we
little girls were not invited to join my brother again when he
tolled the bell: if we had been, I think we should have promptly
declined the invitation.
Many of my childish misadventures came to me in connection with
my little sister, who, having been much indulged, too it for
granted that she could always have what she wanted.
One day we two were allowed to take a walk together; I, as the
older, being supposed to take care of her. Although we were going
towards the Cove, over a secluded road, she insisted upon wearing
a brand-new pair of red morocco boots. All went well until we
came to a bog by the roadside, where sweet-flag and cat-tails
grew. Out in the middle of the bog, where no venturesome boy had
ever attempted their seizure, there were many tall, fine-looking
brown cat-tails growing. She caught sight of them, and before I
saw what she was doing, she had shot from my side like an arrow
from the bow, and was far out on the black, quaking surface, that
at first upheld her light weight. I stood petrified with horror.
I knew all about that dangerous place. I had been told that
nobody had ever found out how deep that mud was. I was uttered
just one imploring "Come back!" when she turned to me with a
shriek, throwing up her arms towards me. She was sinking! There
was nobody in sight, and there was no time to think. I ran, or
rather flew, across the bog, with just one thought in my mind, "I
have got to get her out!" Some angel must
have prevented me from making a misstep, and sinking with her. I
felt the power of a giant suddenly taking possession of my small
frame. Quicker than I could tell of it, I had given one
tremendous pull (she had already sunk above her boot-tops), and
had dragged her back to the road. It is a marvel to me now how I
--a child of scarcely six years--succeeded in rescuing her. It
did not seem to me as if I were doing it myself, but as if some
unseen Power had taken possession of me for a moment, and made me
do it. And I suppose that when we act from a sudden impulse to
help another out of trouble, it never is ourself that does the
good deed. The Highest Strength just takes us and uses us. I
certainly felt equal to going straight through the earth to China
after my little sister, if she had stink out of sight.
We were two miserable looking children when we reached home, the
sticky ooze having changed her feet into unmanageable lumps of
mud, with which my own clothes also were soiled. I had to drag or
carry her all the way, for she could not or would not walk a
step. And alas for the morocco boots! They were never again red.
I also received a scolding for not taking better care of my
little sister, and I was not very soon allowed again to have her
company in my rambles.
We usually joined with other little neighbor girls in some out-
of-door amusement near home. And our sports, as well as our
books, had a spice of Merry Old England. They were full of kings
and queens, and made sharp contrasts, as well as odd mixtures,
with the homeliness of our everyday life.
One of them, a sort of rhymed dialogue, began with the couplet:--
"Queen Anne, Queen Anne, she sits in the sun,
As fair as a lady, as white as a nun."
If "Queen Anne" did not give a right guess as to which hand of
the messenger held the king's letter to her, she was contempt-
uously informed that she was
"as brown as a bun."
In another name, four little girls joined hands across, in
"I wish my father were a king,
I wish my mother were a queen,
And I a little companion!"
concluding with a close embrace in a dizzying whirl, breathlessly
shouting all together,--
"A bundle of fagots! A bundle of fagots!"
In a third, which may have begun with a juvenile reacting of the
Colonial struggle for liberty, we ranged ourselves under two
leaders, who made an archway over our heads of their lifted hands
and arms, saying, as we passed beneath,--
"Lift up the gates as high as the sky,
And let King George and his army pass by!"
We were told to whisper "Oranges" or "Lemons" for a pass-word;
and "Oranges" always won the larger enlistment, whether British
And then there was "Grandmother Gray," and the
"Old woman from Newfoundland,
With all her children in her hand;"
"Knight from Spain
Inquiring for your daughter Jane,"
and numberless others, nearly all of them bearing
a distinct Old World flavor. One of our play-places was an
unoccupied end of the burying-ground, overhung by the Colonel's
apple-trees and close under his wall, so that we should not be
too near the grave-stones.
I do not think that death was at all a real thing to me or to my
brothers and sisters at this time. We lived so near the grave-
yard that it seemed merely the extension of our garden. We
wandered there at will, trying to decipher the moss-grown
inscriptions, and wondering at the homely carvings of cross-bones
and cherubs and willow-trees on the gray slate-stones. I did not
associate those long green mounds with people who had once lived,
though we were careful, having been so instructed, not to step on
the graves. To ramble about there and puzzle ourselves with the
names and dates, was like turning over the pages of a curious old
book. We had not the least feeling of irreverence in taking the
edge of the grave-yard for our playground. It was known as "the
old burying-ground"; and we children regarded it with a sort of
affectionate freedom, as we would a grandmother, because it was
That, indeed, was one peculiar attraction of the town itself; it
was old, and it seemed old, much older than it does now. There
was only one main street, said to have been the first settlers'
cowpath to Wenham, which might account for its zigzag
picturesqueness. All the rest were courts or lanes.
The town used to wear a delightful air of drowsiness, as if she
had stretched herself out for an afternoon nap, with her head
towards her old mother, Salem, and her whole length reclining
towards the sea, till she felt at her feet, through her green
robes, the clip of the deep water at the Farms. All her elder
children recognized in her quiet steady-going ways a maternal
unity and strength of character, as of a town that understood her
own plans, and had settled down to peaceful, permanent habits.Her
spirit was that of most of our Massachusetts coast-towns. They
were transplanted shoots of Old England. And it was the voice of
a mother-country more ancient than their own, that little
children heard crooning across the sea in their cradle-hymns and
GLIMPSES OF POETRY.
OUR close relationship to Old England was sometimes a little
misleading to us juveniles. The conditions of our life were
entirely different, but we read her descriptive stories and sang
her songs as if they were true for us, too. One of the first
things I learned to repeat--I think it was in the spelling-book--
began with the verse:--
"I thank the goodness and the grace
That on my birth has smiled,
And made me, in these latter days,
A happy English child."
And some lines of a very familiar hymn by Dr. Watts ran thus:--
"Whene'er I take my walks abroad,
How many poor I see.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
"How many children in the street
Half naked I behold;
While I am clothed from head to feet,
And sheltered from the cold."
Now a ragged, half-clothed child, or one that could really be
called poor, in the extreme sense of the word, was the rarest of
all sights in a thrifty New England town fifty years ago. I used
to look sharply for those children, but I never could see one.
And a beggar! Oh, if a real beggar would come along, like the one
"Pity the sorrows of a poor old man,"
what a wonderful event that would be! I believe I had more
curiosity about a beggar, and more ignorance, too, than about a
king. The poem read:--
"A pampered menial drove me from the door."
What sort of creature could a "pampered menial" be? Nothing that
had ever come under our observation corresponded to the words.
Nor was it easy for us to attach any meaning to the word
"servant." There were women who came in occasionally to do the
washing, or to help about extra work. But they were decently
clothed, and had homes of their own, more or less comfortable,
and their quaint talk and free-and-easy ways were often as much
of a lift to the household as the actual assistance they
I settled down upon the conclusion that "rich" and "poor" were
book-words only, describing something far off, and having nothing
to do with our every-day experience. My mental definition of
"rich people," from home observation, was something like this:
People who live in three-story houses, and keep their green
blinds closed, and hardly ever come out and talk with the folks
in the street. There were a few such houses in Beverly, and a
great many in Salem, where my mother sometimes took me for a
shopping walk. But I did not suppose that any of the people who
lived near us were very rich, like those in books.
Everybody about us worked, and we expected to take hold of our
part while young. I think we were rather eager to begin, for we
believed that work would make men and women of us.
I, however, was not naturally an industrious child, but quite the
reverse. When my father sent us down to weed his vegetable-garden
at the foot of the lane, I, the youngest of his weeders, liked to
go with the rest, but not for the sake of the work or the pay. I
generally gave it up before I had weeded half a bed. It made me
so warm! and my back did ache so! I stole off into the shade of
the great apple-trees, and let the west wind fan my hot cheeks,
and looked up into the boughs, and listened to the many, many
birds that seemed chattering to each other in a language of their
own. What was it they were saying? and why could not I understand
it? Perhaps I should, sometime. I had read of people who did, in
When the others started homeward, I followed. I did not mind
their calling me lazy, nor that my father gave me only one
tarnished copper cent, while Lida received two or three bright
ones. I had had what I wanted most. I would rather sit under the
apple-trees and hear the birds sing than have a whole handful of
bright copper pennies. It was well for my father and his garden
that his other children were not like me.
The work which I was born to, but had not begun to do, was
sometimes a serious weight upon my small, forecasting brain.
One of my hymns ended with the lines,--
"With books, and work, and healthful play,
May my first years be passed,
That I may give, for every day,
Some good account at last."
I knew all about the books and the play; but the work,--how
should I ever learn to do it?
My father had always strongly emphasized his wish that all his
children, girls as well as boys, should have some independent
means of self-support by the labor of their hands; that every one
should, as was the general custom, "learn a trade." Tailor's
work--the finishing of men's outside garments--was the "trade
learned most frequently by women in those days, and one or more
of my older sisters worked at it; I think it must have been at
home, for I somehow or somewhere got the idea, while I was a
small child, that the chief end of woman was to make clothing for
This thought came over me with a sudden dread one Sabbath morning
when I was a toddling thing, led along by my sister, behind my
father and mother. As they walked arm in arm before me, I lifted
my eyes from my father's heels to his head, and mused: "How tall
he is! and how long his coat looks! and how many thousand,
thousand stitches there must be in his coat and pantaloons! And I
suppose I have got to grow up and have a husband, and put all
those little stitches into his coats and pantaloons. Oh, I never,
never can do it!" A shiver of utter discouragement went through
me. With that task before me, it hardly seemed to me as if life
were worth living. I went on to meeting, and I suppose I forgot
my trouble in a hymn, but for the moment it was real. It was not
the only time in my life that I have tired myself out with
crossing bridges to which I never came. real. It was not the only time inmy
life that I have tired myself out with crossing brid,es to which I never
Another trial confronted me in the shape of an ideal but
impossible patchwork quilt. We learned to sew patchwork at
school, while we were learning the alphabet; and almost every
girl, large or small, had a bed-quilt of her own begun, with an
eye to future house furnishing. I was not over fond of sewing,
but I thought it best to begin mine early.
So I collected a few squares of calico, and undertook to put them
together in my usual independent way, without asking direction.
I liked assorting those little figured bits of cotton cloth, for
they were scraps of gowns I had seen worn, and they reminded me
of the persons who wore them. One fragment, in particular, was
like a picture to me. It was a delicate pink and brown sea-moss
pattern, on a white ground, a piece of a dress belonging to my
married sister, who was to me bride and angel in One. I always
saw her face before me when I unfolded this scrap,--a face with
an expression truly heavenly in its loveliness. Heaven claimed
her before my childhood was ended. Her beautiful form was laid to
rest in mid-ocean, too deep to be pillowed among the soft sea-
mosses. But she lived long enough to make a heaven of my child-
hood whenever she came home.
One of the sweetest of our familiar hymns I always think of as
belonging to her, and as a still unbroken bond between her spirit
and mine. She had come back to us for a brief visit, soon after
her marriage, with some deep, new experience of spiritual
realities which I, a child of four or five years, felt in the
very tones of her voice, and in the expression of her eyes.
My mother told her of my fondness for the hymn-book, and she
turned to me with a smile and said, "Won't you learn one hymn for
me--one hymn that I love very much?"
Would I not? She could not guess how happy she made me by wishing
me to do anything for her sake. The hymn was,--
"Whilst Thee I seek, protecting Power."
In a few minutes I repeated the whole to her and its own beauty,
pervaded with the tenderness of her love for me, fixed it at once
indelibly in my memory. Perhaps I shall repeat it to her again,
deepened with a lifetime's meaning, beyond the sea, and beyond
I could dream over my patchwork, but I could not bring it into
conventional shape. My sisters, whose fingers had been educated,
called my sewing "gobblings." I grew disgusted with it myself,
and gave away all my pieces except the pretty sea-moss pattern,
which I was not willing to see patched up with common calico. It
was evident that I should never conquer fate with my needle.
Among other domestic traditions of the old times was the saying
that every girl must have a pillow-case full of stockings of her
own knitting before she was married. Here was another mountain
before me, for I took it for granted that marrying was inevitable
--one of the things that everybody must do, like learning to
read, or going to meeting.
I began to knit my own stockings when I ways six or seven years
old, and kept on, until home-made stockings went out of fashion.
The pillow-case full, however, was never attempted, any more than
the patchwork quilt. I heard somebody say one day that there must
always be one "old maid" in every family of girls, and I accepted
the prophecy of some of my elders, that I was to be that one. I
was rather glad to know that freedom of choice in the matter was
One day, when we younger ones were hanging about my golden-haired
and golden-hearted sister Emilie, teasing her with wondering
questions about our future, she announced to us (she had reached
the mature age of fifteen years) that she intended to be an old
maid, and that we might all come and live with her. Some one
listening reproved her, but she said, "Why, if they fit them-
selves to be good, helpful, cheerful old maids, they will
certainly be better wives, if they ever are married," and that
maxim I laid by in my memory for future contingencies, for I
believed in every word she ever uttered. She herself, however,
did not carry out her girlish intention. "Her children arise up
and call her blessed; her husband also; and he praiseth her." But
the little sisters she used to fondle as her "babies have never
allowed their own years nor her changed relations to cancel their
claim upon her motherly sympathies.
I regard it as a great privilege to have been one of a large
family, and nearly the youngest. We had strong family resem-
blances, and yet no two seemed at all alike. It was like
rehearsing in a small world each our own part in the great one
awaiting us. If we little ones occasionally had some severe
snubbing mixed with the petting and praising and loving, that was
wholesome for us, and not at all to be regretted.
Almost every one of my sisters had some distinctive aptitude with
her fingers. One worked exquisite lace-embroidery; another had a
knack at cutting and fitting her doll's clothing so perfectly
that the wooden lady was always a typical specimen of the genteel
doll-world; and another was an expert at fine stitching, so
delicately done that it was a pleasure to see or to wear anything
her needle had touched. I had none of these gifts. I looked on
and admired, and sometimes tried to imitate, but my efforts
usually ended in defeat and mortification.
I did like to knit, however, and I could shape a stocking
tolerably well. My fondness for this kind of work was chiefly
because it did not require much thought. Except when there was
"widening" or "narrowing" to be done, I did not need to keep my
eyes upon it at all. So I took a book upon my lap and read, and
read, while the needles clicked on, comforting me with the
reminder that I was not absolutely unemployed, while yet I was
having a good time reading.
I began to know that I liked poetry, and to think a good deal
about it at my childish work. Outside of the hymn-book, the first
rhymes I committed to memory were in the "Old Farmer's Almanac,"
files of which hung in the chimney corner, and were an inexhaust-
ible source of entertainment to us younger ones.
My father kept his newspapers also carefully filed away in the
garret, but we made sad havoc among the "Palladiums" and other
journals that we ought to have kept as antiquarian treasures.
We valued the anecdote column and the poet's corner only; these
we clipped unsparingly for our scrap-books.
A tattered copy of Johnson's large Dictionary was a great delight
to me, on account of the specimens of English versification which
I found in the Introduction. I learned them as if they were so
many poems. I used to keep this old volume close to my pillow;
and I amused myself when I awoke in the morning by reciting its
jingling contrasts of iambic and trochaic and dactylic metre, and
thinking what a charming occupation it must be to "make up"
I made my first rhymes when I was about seven years old. My
brother John proposed "writing poetry" as a rainy-day amusement,
one afternoon when we two were sent up into the garret to
entertain ourselves without disturbing the family. He soon grew
tired of his unavailing attempts, but I produced two stanzas, the
first of which read thus:--
"One summer day, said little Jane,
We were walking down a shady lane,
When suddenly the wind blew high,
And the red lightning flashed in the sky.
The second stanza descended in a dreadfully abrupt anti-climax;
but I was blissfully ignorant of rhetoricians' rules, and
supposed that the rhyme was the only important thing. It may
amuse my child-readers if I give them this verse too:
"The peals of thunder, how they rolled!
And I felt myself a little cooled;
For I before had been quite warm;
But now around me was a storm."
My brother was surprised at my success, and I believe I thought
my verses quite fine, too. But I was rather sorry that I had
written them, for I had to say them over to the family, and then
they sounded silly. The habit was formed, however, and I went on
writing little books of ballads, which I illustrated with colors
from my toy paintbox, and then squeezed down into the cracks of
the garret floor, for fear that somebody would find them.
My fame crept out among the neighbors, nevertheless. I was even
invited to write some verses in young lady's album; and Aunt
Hannah asked me to repeat my verses to her. I considered myself
greatly honored by both requests.
My fondness for books began very early. At the age of four I had
formed the plan of collecting a library. Not of limp, paper-
covered picture-books, such as people give to babies; no! I
wanted books with stiff covers, that could stand up side by side
on a shelf, and maintain their own character as books. But I did
not know how to make a beginning, for mine were all of the kind
manufactured for infancy, and I thought they deserved no better
fate than to be tossed about among my rag-babies and playthings.
One day, however, I found among some rubbish in a corner a
volume, with one good stiff cover; the other was missing. It did
not look so very old, nor as if it had been much read; neither
did it look very inviting to me as I turned its leaves. On its
title-page I read "The Life of John Calvin." I did not know who
he was, but a book was a book to me, and this would do as well as
any to begin my library with. I looked upon it as a treasure, and
to make sure of my claim, I took it down to my mother and timidly
asked if I might have it for my own. She gave me in reply a
rather amused "Yes," and I ran back happy, and began my library
by setting John Calvin upright on a beam under the garret eaves,
my "make-believe" book-case shelf.
I was proud of my literary property, and filled out the shelf in
fancy with a row of books, every one of which should have two
stiff covers. But I found no more neglected volumes that I could
adopt. John Calvin was left to a lonely fate, and am afraid that
at last the mice devoured him. Before I had quite forgotten him,
however, I did pick up one other book of about his size, and in
the same one-covered condition; and this attracted me more,
because it was in verse. Rhyme had always a sort of magnetic
power over me, whether I caught at any idea it contained or not.
This was written in the measure which I afterwards learned was
called Spenserian. It was Byron's "Vision of Judgment," and
Southey's also was bound up with it.
Southey's hexameters were too much of a mouthful for me, but
Byron's lines jingled, and apparently told a story about
something. St. Peter came into it, and King George the Third;
neither of which names meant anything to me; but the scenery
seemed to be somewhere up among the clouds, and I, unsuspicious
of the author's irreverence, took it for a sort of semi-Biblical
There was on my mother's bed a covering of pink chintz, pictured
all over with the figure of a man sitting on a cloud, holding a
bunch of keys. I put the two together in my mind, imagining the
chintz counterpane to be an illustration of the poem, or the poem
an explanation of the counterpane. For the stanza I liked best
began with the words,--
"St.Peter sat at the celestial gate,
And nodded o'er his keys."
I invented a pronunciation for the long words, and went about the
house reciting grandly,--
"St. Peter sat at the kelestikal gate,
And nodded o'er his keys."
That volume, swept back to me with the rubbish of Time, still
reminds me, forlorn and half-clad, of my childish fondness for
John Calvin and Lord Byron were rather a peculiar combination, as
the foundation of an infant's library; but I was not aware of any
unfitness or incompatibility. To me they were two brother-books,
like each other in their refusal to wear limp covers.
It is amusing to recall the rapid succession of contrasts in one
child's tastes. I felt no incongruity between Dr. Watts and
Mother Goose. I supplemented "Pibroch of Donuil Dhu" and
"Lochiel, Lochiel, beware of the day,"
with "Yankee Doodle" and the "Diverting History of John Gilpin;"
and with the glamour of some fairy tale I had just read still
haunting me, I would run out of doors eating a big piece of bread
and butter,--sweeter than any has tasted since,--and would jump
up towards the crows cawing high above me, cawing back to them,
and half wishing I too were a crow to make the sky ring with my
After Dr. Watts's hymns the first poetry I took great delight in
greeted me upon the pages of the "American First Class Book,"
handed down from older pupils in the little private school which
my sisters and I attended when Aunt Hannah had done all she could
for us. That book was a collection of excellent literary
extracts, made by one who was himself an author and a poet. It
deserved to be called "first-class" in another sense than that
which was understood by its title. I cannot think that modern
reading books have improved upon it much. It contained poems from
Wordsworth, passages from Shakespeare's plays, among them the
pathetic dialogue between Hubert and little Prince Arthur, whose
appeal to have his eyes spared, brought many a tear to my own.
Bryant's "Waterfowl" and "Thanatopsis" were there also; and
"There's a fierce gray bird with a bending beak,"
that the boys loved so dearly to "declaim;" and another poem by
this last author, which we all liked to read, partly from a
childish love of the tragic, and partly for its graphic
description of an avalanche's movement:--
"Slowly it came in its mountain wrath,
And the forests vanished before its path;
And the rude cliffs bowed; and the waters fled,--
And the valley of life was the tomb of the dead."
In reading this, "Swiss Minstrel's Lament over the Ruins of
Goldau," I first felt my imagination thrilled with the terrible
beauty of the mountains--a terror and a sublimity which attracted
my thoughts far more than it awed them. But the poem in which
they burst upon me as real presences, unseen, yet known in their
remote splendor as kingly friends before whom I could bow, yet
with whom I could aspire,--for something like this I think
mountains must always be to those who truly love them,--was
Coleridge's "Mont Blanc before Sunrise," in this same "First
Class Book." I believe that poetry really first took possession
of me in that poem, so that afterwards I could not easily mistake
the genuineness of its ring, though my ear might not be
sufficiently trained to catch its subtler harmonies. This great
mountain poem struck some hidden key-note in my nature, and I
knew thenceforth something of what it was to live in poetry, and
to have it live in me. Of course I did not consider my own
foolish little versifying poetry. The child of eight or nine
years regarded her rhymes as only one among her many games and
But with this ideal picture of mountain scenery there came to me
a revelation of poetry as the one unattainable something which I
must reach out after, because I could not live without it. The
thought of it was to me like the thought of God and of truth. To
leave out poetry would be to lose the real meaning of life. I
felt this very blindly and vaguely, no doubt; but the feeling was
deep. It was as if Mont Blanc stood visibly before me, while I
murmured to myself in lonely places --
"Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!
Who made you glorious as the gates of heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun
Clothe you with rainbows? Who with lovely flowers
Of living blue spread garlands at your feet?"
And then the
"Pine groves with their soft and soul-like sound"
gave glorious answer, with the streams and torrents, and my
child-heart in its trance echoed the poet's invocation,--
"Rise, like a cloud of incense from the earth!
And tell the stars, and tell the rising sun,
Earth, with her thousand voices, calls on GOD!"
I have never visited Switzerland, but I surely saw the Alps, with
Coleridge, in my childhood. And although I never stood face to
face with mountains until I was a mature woman, always, after
this vision of them, they were blended with my dream of whatever
is pure and lofty in human possibilities,--like a white ideal
beckoning me on.
Since I am writing these recollections for the young, I may say
here that I regard a love for poetry as one of the most needful
and helpful elements in the life-outfit of a human being. It
was the greatest of blessings to me, in the long days of toil to
which I was shut in much earlier than most young girls are, that
the poetry I held in my memory breathed its enchanted atmosphere
through me and around me, and touched even dull drudgery with its
Hard work, however, has its own illumination--if done as duty
which worldliness has not; and worldliness seems to be the
greatest temptation and danger Of young people in this genera-
tion. Poetry is one of the angels whose presence will drive out
this sordid demon, if anything less than the Power of the Highest
can. But poetry is of the Highest. It is the Divine Voice,
always, that we recognize through the poet's, whenever he most
deeply moves our souls.
Reason and observation, as well as my own experience, assure me
also that it is great--poetry even the greatest--which the
youngest crave, and upon which they may be fed, because it is the
simplest. Nature does not write down her sunsets, her starry
skies, her mountains, and her oceans in some smaller style, to
suit the comprehension of little children; they do not need any
such dilution. So I go back to the, American First Class Book,"
and affirm it to have been one of the best of reading-books,
because it gave us children a taste of the finest poetry and
prose which had been written in our English tongue, by British
and by American authors. Among the pieces which left a permanent
impression upon my mind I recall Wirt's description of the
eloquent blind preacher to whom he listened in the forest
wilderness of the Blue Ridge, a remarkable word-portrait, in
which the very tones of the sightless speaker's voice seemed to
be reproduced. I believe that the first words I ever remembered
of any sermon were those contained in the grand, brief sentence,-
-"Socrates died like a philosopher; but Jesus Christ--like a
Very vivid, too, is the recollection of the exquisite little
prose idyl of "Moss-Side," from "Lights and Shadows of Scottish
Life." From the few short words with which it began--"Gilbert
Ainslee was a poor man, and he had been a poor man all the days
of his life"--to the happy waking of his little daughter Margaret
out of her fever-sleep with which it ended, it was one sweet
picture of lowly life and honorable poverty irradiated with
sacred home-affections, and cheerful in its rustic homeliness as
the blossoms and wild birds of the moorland and the magic touch
of Christopher North could make it. I thought as I read--
"How much pleasanter it must be to be poor than to be rich--at
least in Scotland!"
For I was beginning to be made aware that poverty was a possible
visitation to our own household; and that, in our Cape Ann corner
of Massachusetts, we might find it neither comfortable nor
picturesque. After my father's death, our way of living, never
luxurious, grew more and more frugal. Now and then I heard
mysterious allusions to "the wolf at the door": and it was
whispered that, to escape him, we might all have to turn our
backs upon the home where we were born, and find our safety in
the busy world, working among strangers for our daily bread.
Before I had reached my tenth year I began to have rather
disturbed dreams of what it might soon mean for me to "earn my
BEGINNING TO WORK.
A CHILD does not easily comprehend even the plain fact of death.
Though I had looked upon my father's still, pale face in his
coffin, the impression it left upon me was of sleep; more
peaceful and sacred than common slumber, yet only sleep. My
dreams of him were for a long time so vivid that I would say to
myself, "He was here yesterday; he will be here again to-morrow,"
with a feeling that amounted to expectation.
We missed him, we children large and small who made up the yet
untrained home crew, as a ship misses the man at the helm. His
grave, clear perception of what was best for us, his brief words
that decided, once for all, the course we were to take, had been
far more to us than we knew.
It was hardest of all for my mother, who had been accustomed to
depend entirely upon him. Left with her eight children, the
eldest a boy of eighteen years, and with no property except the
roof that sheltered us and a small strip of land, her situation
was full of perplexities which we little ones could not at all
understand. To be fed like the ravens and clothed like the grass
of the field seemed to me, for one, a perfectly natural thing,
and I often wondered why my mother was so fretted and anxious.
I knew that she believed in God, and in the promises of the
Bible, and yet she seemed sometimes to forget everything but her
troubles and her helplessness. I felt almost like preaching to
her, but I was too small a child to do that, I well knew; so I
did the next best thing I could think of--I sang hymns as if
singing to myself, while I meant them for her. Sitting at the
window with my book and my knitting, while she was preparing
dinner or supper with a depressed air because she missed the
abundant provision to which she held been accustomed, I would go
from hymn to hymn, selecting those which I thought would be most
comforting to her, out of the many that my memory-book contained,
and taking care to pronounce the words distinctly.
I was glad to observe that she listened to
"Come, ye disconsolate,"
"How firm a foundation;"
and that she grew more cheerful; though I did not feel sure that
my singing cheered her so much as some happier thought that had
come to her out of her own heart. Nobody but my mother, indeed,
would have called my chirping singing. But as she did not seem
displeased, I went on, a little more confidently, with some hymns
that I loved for their starry suggestions,--
"When marshaled on the nightly plain,"
"Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,"
"Watchman, tell us of the night?"
The most beautiful picture in the Bible to me, certainly the
loveliest in the Old Testament, had always been that one painted
by prophecy, of the time when wild and tame creatures should live
together in peace, and children should be their fearless play-
mates. Even the savage wolf Poverty would be pleasant and
neighborly then, no doubt! A Little Child among them, leading
them, stood looking wistfully down through the soft sunrise
of that approaching day, into the cold and darkness of the world.
Oh, it would be so much better than the garden of Eden!
Yes, and it would be a great deal better, I thought, to live in
the millennium, than even to die and go to heaven, although so
many people around me talked as if that were the most desirable
thing of all. But I could never understand why, if God sent us
here, we should be in haste to get away, even to go to a pleas-
I was perplexed by a good many matters besides. I had learned to
keep most of my thoughts to myself, but I did venture to ask
about the Ressurrection--how it was that those who had died and
gone straight to heaven, and had been singing there for thousands
of years, could have any use for the dust to which their bodies
had returned. Were they not already as alive as they could be? I
found that there were different ideas of the resurrection among
"orthodox" people, even then. I was told however, that this was
too deep a matter for me, and so I ceased asking questions. But I
pondered the matter of death; what did it mean? The Apostle Paul
gave me more light on the subject than any of the ministers did.
And, as usual, a poem helped me. It was Pope's Ode, beginning
"Vital spark of heavenly flame,"--
which I learned out of a reading-book. To die was to "languish
into life." That was the meaning of it! and I loved to repeat to
myself the words,--
"Hark! they whisper: angels say,
'Sister spirit, come away!'"
"The world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring."
A hymn that I learned a little later expressedto me the same
"For strangers into life we come,
And dying is but going home."
The Apostle's words, with which the song of "The Dying Christian
to his Soul" ends, left the whole cloudy question lit up with
sunshine, to my childish thoughts:--
"O grave, where is thy 'victory?
O death, where is thy sting?"
My father was dead; but that only meant that be bad gone to a
better home than the one be lived in with us, and by and by we
should go home, too.
Meanwhile the millennium was coming, and some people thought it
was very near. And what was the millennium? Why, the time when
everybody on earth would live just as they do in heaven. Nobody
would be selfish, nobody would be unkind; no! not so much as in a
single thought. What a delightful world this would be to live in
then! Heaven itself could scarcely be much better! Perhaps people
would not die at all, but, when the right time came, would slip
quietly away into heaven, just as Enoch did.
My father had believed in the near millennium. His very last
writing, in his sick-room, was a penciled computation, from the
prophets, of the time when it would begin. The first minister
who preached in our church, long before I was born, had studied
the subject much, and had written books upon this, his favorite
theme. The thought of it was continually breaking out, like bloom
and sunshine, from the stern doctrines of the period.
One question in this connection puzzled me a good deal. Were
people going to be made good in spite of themselves, whether they
wanted to or not? And what would be done with the bad ones, if
there were any left? I did not like to think of their being
killed off, and yet everybody must be good, or it would not be a
It certainly would not matter much who was rich, and who was
poor, if goodness, and not money, was the thing everybody cared
for. Oh, if the millennium would only begin now! I felt as if it
were hardly fair to me that I should not be here during those
happy thousand years, when I wanted to so much. But I had not
lived even my short life in the world without leading something
of my own faults and perversities; and when I saw that there was
no sign of an approaching millennium in my heart I had to
conclude that it might be a great way off, after all. Yet
the very thought of it brought warmth and illumination to my
dreams by day and by night. It was coming, some time! And the
people who were in heaven would be as glad of it as those who
remained on earth.
That it was a hard world for my mother and her children to live
in at present I could not help seeing. The older members of the
family found occupations by which the domestic burdens were
lifted a little; but, with only the three youngest to clothe and
to keep at school, there was still much more outgo than income,
and my mother's discouragement every day increased.
My eldest brother had gone to sea with a relative who was master
of a merchant vessel in the South American trade. His inclination
led him that way; it seemed to open before him a prospect of
profitable business, and my mother looked upon him as her future
stay and support.
One day she came in among us children looking strangely excited.
I heard her tell some one afterwards that she had just been to
hear Father Taylor preach, the sailors minister, whose coming to
our town must have been a rare occurrence. His words had touched
her personally, for he had spoken to mothers whose first-born had
left them to venture upon strange seas and to seek unknown lands.
He had even given to the wanderer he described the name of her
own absent son Benjamin. "As she left the church she met a
neighbor who informed her that the brig "Mexican" had arrived at
Salem, in trouble. It was the vessel in which my brother had
sailed only a short time before, expecting to be absent for
months. "Pirates" was the only word we children caught, as she
hastened away from the house, not knowing whether her son was
alive or not. Fortunately, the news hardly reached the town
before my brother himself did. She met him in the street, and
brought him home with her, forgetting all her anxieties in her
joy at his safety.
The "Mexican" had been attacked on the high seas by the piratical
craft "Panda," robbed of twenty thousand dollars in specie, se
fire, and abandoned to her fate, with the crew fastened down in
the hold. One small skylight had accidentally been overlooked by
the freebooters. The captain discovered it, and making his way
through it to the deck, succeeded in putting out the fire, else
vessel and sailors would have sunk together, and their fate would
never have been known.
Breathlessly we listened whenever my brother would relate the
story, which he did not at all enjoy doing, for a cutlass had
been swung over his head, and his life threatened by the pirate's
boatswain, demanding more money, after all had been taken. A
Genoese messmate, Iachimo, shortened to plain "Jack" by the
"Mexican's" crew, came to see my brother one day, and at the
dinner table he went through the whole adventure in pantomime,
which we children watched with wide-eyed terror and amusement.
For there was some comedy mixed with what had been so nearly a
tragedy, and Jack made us see the very whites of the black cook's
eyes, who, favored by his color, had hidden himself--all except
that dilated whiteness--between two great casks in the bold.
Jack himself had fallen through a trap-door, was badly hurt, and
could not extricate himself.
It was very ludicrous. Jack crept under the table to show us how
he and the cook made eyes at each other down there in the
darkness, not daring to speak. The pantomime was necessary, for
the Genoese had very little English at his command.
When the pirate crew were brought into Salem for trial, my
brother had the questionable satisfaction of identifying in the
court-room the ruffian of a boatswain who had threatened his
life. This boatswain and several others of the crew were executed
in Boston. The boy found his brief sailor-experience quite enough
for him, and afterward settled down quietly to the trade of a
Changes thickened in the air around us. Not the least among them
was the burning of "our meeting-house," in which we had all been
baptized. One Sunday morning we children were told, when we woke,
that we could not go to meeting that day, because the church was
a heap of smoking ruins. It seemed to me almost like the end of
During my father's life, a few years before my birth, his
thoughts had been turned towards the new manufacturing town
growing up on the banks of the Merrimack. He had once taken a
journey there, with the possibility in his mind of making the
place his home, his limited income furnishing no adequate promise
of a maintenance for his large family of daughters. From the
beginning, Lowell had a high reputation for good order, morality,
piety, and all that was dear to the old-fashioned New Englander's
After his death, my mother's thoughts naturally followed the
direction his had taken; and seeing no other opening for herself,
she sold her small estate, and moved to Lowell, with the
intention of taking a corporation-house for mill-girl boarders.
Some of the family objected, for the Old World traditions about
factory life were anything but attractive; and they were current
in New England until the experiment at Lowell had shown that
independent and intelligent workers invariably give their own
character to their occupation. My mother had visited Lowell, and
she was willing and glad, knowing all about the place, to make it
The change involved a great deal of work. "Boarders" signified a
large house, many beds, and an indefinite number of people. Such
piles of sewing accumulated before us! A sewing-bee, volunteered
by the neighbors, reduced the quantity a little, and our child-
fingers had to take their part. But the seams of those sheets did
look to me as if they were miles long!
My sister Lida and I had our "stint,"--so much to do every day.
It was warm weather, and that made it the more tedious, for we
wanted to be running about the fields we were so soon to leave.
One day, in sheer desperation, we dragged a sheet up with us into
an apple-tree in the yard, and sat and sewed there through the
summer afternoon, beguiling the irksomeness of our task by
telling stories and guessing riddles.
It was hardest for me to leave the garret and the garden. In the
old houses the garret was the children's castle. The rough
rafters,--it was always ail unfinished room, otherwise not a true
garret,--the music of the rain on the roof, the worn sea-chests
with their miscellaneous treasures, the blue-roofed cradle that
had sheltered ten blue-eyed babies, the tape-looms and reels and
spinning wheels, the herby smells, and the delightful dream
corners,--these could not be taken with us to the new home.
Wonderful people had looked out upon us from under those garret-
eaves. Sindbad the Sailor and Baron Munchausen had sometimes
strayed in and told us their unbelievable stories; and we had
there made acquaintance with the great Caliph Haroun Alraschid.
To go away from the little garden was almost as bad. Its lilacs
and peonies were beautiful to me, and in a corner of it was one
tiny square of earth that I called my own, where I was at liberty
to pull up my pinks and lady's delights every day, to see whether
they had taken root, and where I could give my lazy morning-glory
seeds a poke, morning after morning, to help them get up and
begin their climb. Oh, I should miss the garden very much indeed!
It did not take long to turn over the new leaf of our home
experience. One sunny day three of us children, my youngest
sister, my brother John, and I, took with my mother the first
stage-coach journey of our lives, across Lynnfield plains and
over Andover hills to the banks of the Merrimack. We were set
down before an empty house in a yet unfinished brick block, where
we watched for the big wagon that was to bring our household
It came at last; and the novelty of seeing our old furniture
settled in new rooms kept us from being homesick. One after
another they appeared,--bedsteads, chairs, tables, and, to me
most welcome of all, the old mahogany secretary with brass-
handled drawers, that had always stood in the "front room" at
home. With it came the barrel full of books that had filled its
shelves, and they took their places as naturally as if they had
always lived in this strange town.
There they all stood again side by side on their shelves, the
dear, dull, good old volumes that all my life I had tried in vain
to take a sincere Sabbath-day interest in,--Scott's Commentaries
on the Bible, Hervey's "Meditations," Young's "Night Thouhts,"
"Edwards on the Affections," and the Writings of Baxter and
Doddridge. Besides these, there were bound volumes of the
"Repository Tracts," which I had read and re-read; and the
delightfully miscellaneous "Evangelicana," containing an account
of Gilbert Tennent's wonderful trance; also the "History of
the Spanish Inquisition," with some painfully realistic illus-
trations; a German Dictionary, whose outlandish letters and words
I liked to puzzle myself over; and a descriptive History of
Hamburg, full of fine steel engravings--which last two or three
volumes my father had brought with him from the countries to
which be had sailed in his sea-faring days. A complete set of
the "Missionary Herald"," unbound, filled the upper shelves.
Other familiar articles journeyed with us: the brass-headed
shovel and tongs, that it had been my especial task to keep
bright; the two card-tables (which were as unacquainted as
ourselves with ace, face, and trump); the two china mugs,
with their eighteenth-century lady and gentleman figurines
curiosities brought from over the sea, and reverently laid away
by my mother with her choicest relics in the secretary-desk; my
father's miniature, painted in Antwerp, a treasure only shown
occasionally to us children as a holiday treat; and my mother's
easy-chair,--I should have felt as if I had lost her, had that
been left behind. The earliest unexpressed ambition of my infancy
had been to grow up and wear a cap, and sit in an easy-chair
knitting and look comfortable just as my mother did.
Filled up with these things, the little one-windowed sitting-room
easily caught the home feeling, and gave it back to us. Inanimate
Objects do gather into themselves something of the character
of those who live among them, through association; and this alone
makes heirlooms valuable. They are family treasures, because they
are part of the family life, full of memories and inspirations.
Bought or sold, they are nothing but old furniture. Nobody can
buy the old associations; and nobody who has really felt how
everything that has been in a home makes part of it, can willing-
ly bargain away the old things.
My mother never thought of disposing of her best furniture,
whatever her need. It traveled with her in every change of her
abiding-place, as long as she lived, so that to us children home
seemed to accompany her wherever she went. And, remaining yet in
the family, it often brings back to me pleasant reminders of my
childhood. No other Bible seems quite so sacred to me as the old
Family Bible, out of which my father used to read when we were
all gathered around him for worship. To turn its leaves and look
at its pictures was one of our few Sabbath-day indulgences; and I
cannot touch it now except with feelings of profound reverence.
For the first time in our lives, my little sister and I became
pupils in a grammar school for both girls and boys, taught by a
man. I was put with her into the sixth class, but was sent the
very next day into the first. I did not belong in either, but
somewhere between. And I was very uncomfortable in my promotion,
for though the reading and spelling and grammar and geography
were perfectly easy, I had never studied any thing but mental
arithmetic, and did not know how to "do a sum." We had to show,
when called up to recite, a slateful of sums, "done" and
"proved." No explanations were ever asked of us.
The girl who sat next to me saw my distress, and offered to do my
sums for me. I accepted her proposal, feeling, however, that I
was a miserable cheat. But I was afraid of the master, who was
tall and gaunt, and used to stalk across the schoolroom, right
over the desk-tops, to find out if there was any mischief going
on. Once, having caught a boy annoying a seat-mate with a pin, he
punished the offender by pursuing him around the schoolroom,
sticking a pin into his shoulder whenever he could overtake him.
And he had a fearful leather strap, which was sometimes used even
upon the shrinking palm of a little girl. If he should find out
that I was a pretender and deceiver, as I knew that I was, I
could not guess what might happen to me. He never did, however.
I was left unmolested in the ignorance which I deserved. But I
never liked the girl who did my sums, and I fancied she had a
decided contempt for me.
There was a friendly looking boy always sitting at the master's
desk; they called him, the monitor." It was his place to assist
scholars who were in trouble about their lessons, but I was too
bashful to speak to him, or to ask assistance of anybody. I think
that nobody learned much under that regime, and the whole school
system was soon after entirely reorganized.
Our house was quickly filled with a large feminine family. As a
child, the gulf between little girlhood and young womanhood had
always looked to me very wide. I suppose we should get across it
by some sudden jump, by and by. But among these new companions of
all ages, from fifteen to thirty years, we slipped into womanhood
without knowing when or how.
Most of my mother's boarders were from New Hampshire and Vermont,
and there was a fresh, breezy sociability about them which made
them seem almost like a different race of beings from any we
children had hitherto known.
We helped a little about the housework, before and after school,
making beds, trimming lamps, and washing dishes. The heaviest
work was done by a strong Irish girl, my mother always attending
to the cooking herself. She was, however, a better caterer than
the circumstances required or permitted. She liked to make nice
things for the table, and, having been accustomed to an abundant
supply, could never learn to economize. At a dollar and a quarter
a week for board,(the price allowed for mill-girls by the
corporations) great care in expenditure was necessary. It was not
in my mother's nature closely to calculate costs, and in this way
there came to be a continually increasing leak in the family
purse. The older members of the family did everything
they could, but it was not enough. I heard it said one day, in a
distressed tone, "The children will have to leave school and go
into the mill."
There were many pros and cons between my mother and sisters
before this was positively decided. The mill-agent did not want
to take us two little girls, but consented on condition we should
be sure to attend school tile full number of months prescribed
each year. I, the younger one, was then between eleven and twelve
I listened to all that was said about it, very much fearing that
I should not be permitted to do the coveted work. For the feeling
had already frequently come to me, that I was the one too many in
the overcrowded family nest. Once, before we left our old home, I
had heard a neighbor condoling with my mother because there were
so many of us, and her emphatic reply had been a great relief to
"There is isn't one more than I want. I could not spare a single
one of my children."
But her difficulties were increasing, and I thought it would be a
pleasure to feel that I was not a trouble or burden or expense to
anybody. So I went to my first day's work in the mill with a
light heart. The novelty of it made it seem easy, and it really
was not hard, just to change the bobbins on the spinning-frames
every three quarters of an hour or so, with half a dozen othe
little girls who were doing the same thing. When I came back at
night, the family began to pity me for my long, tiresome day's
work, but I laughed and said,--
"Why, it is nothing but fun. It is just like play."
And for a little while it was only a new amusement; I liked it
better than going to school and "making believe" I was learning
when I was not. And there was a great deal of play mixed with it.
We were not occupied more than half the time. The intervals were
spent frolicking around around the spinning-frames, teasing and
talking to the older girls, or entertaining ourselves with the
games and stories in a corner, or exploring with the overseer's
permission, the mysteries of the the carding-room, the dressing-
room and the weaving-room.
I never cared much for machinery. The buzzing and hissing and
whizzing of pulleys and rollers and spindles and flyers around me
often grew tiresome. I could not see into their complications, or
feel interested in them. But in a room below us we were sometimes
allowed to peer in through a sort of blind door at the great
water-wheel that carried the works of the whole mill. It was so
huge that we could only watch a few of its spokes at a time, and
part of its dripping rim, moving with a slow, measured strength
through the darkness that shut it in. It impressed me with
something of the awe which comes to us in thinking of the great
Power which keeps the mechanism of the universe in motion. Even
now, the remembrance of its large, mysterious movement, in which
every little motion of every noisy little wheel was involved,
brings back to me a verse from one of my favorite hymns:--
"Our lives through various scenes are drawn,
And vexed by trifling cares,
While Thine eternal thought moves on
Thy undisturbed affairs."
There were compensations for being shut in to daily toil so
early. The mill itself had its lessons for us. But it was not,
and could not be, the right sort of life for a child, and we were
happy in the knowledge that, at the longest, our employment was
only to be temporary.
When I took my next three months at the grammar school, every-
thing there was changed, and I too was changed. The teachers were
kind, and thorough in their instruction; and my mind seemed to
have been ploughed up during that year of work, so that knowledge
took root in it easily. It was a great delight to me to study,
and at the end of the three months the master told me that I was
prepared for the high school.
But alas! I could not go. The little money I could earn--one
dollar a week, besides the price of my board--was needed in the
family, and I must return to the mill. It was a severe dis-
appointment to me, though I did not say so at home. I did not at
all accept the conclusion of a neighbor whom I heard talking
about it with my mother. His daughter was going to the high
school, and my mother was telling him how sorry she was that I
"Oh," he said, in a soothing tone, "my girl hasn't got any such
head-piece as yours has. Your girl doesn't need to go."
Of course I knew that whatever sort of a "head-piece" I had, I
did need and want just that very opportunity to study. I think
the solution was then formed, inwardly, that I would go to school
again, some time, whatever happened. I went back to my work, but
now without enthusiasm. I had looked through an open door that
I was not willing to see shut upon me.
I began to reflect upon life rather seriously for a girl of
twelve or thirteen. What was I here for? What could I make of
myself? Must I submit to be carried along with the current, and
do just what everybody else did? No: I knew I should not do that,
for there was a certain Myself who was always starting up with
her own original plan or aspiration before me, and who was quite
indifferent as to what people, generally thought.
Well, I would find out what this Myself was good for, and that
she should be! It was but the presumption of extreme youth. How
gladly would I know now, after these long years, just why I was
sent into the world, and whether I have in any degree fulfilled
the purpose of my being!
In the older times it was seldom said to little girls, as it
always has been said to boys, that they ought to have some
definite plan, while they were children, what to be and do when
they were grown up. There was usually but one path open before
them, to become good wives and housekeepers. And the ambition of
most girls was to follow their mothers' footsteps in this
direction; a natural and laudable ambition. But girls, as well as
boys, must often have been conscious of their own peculiar
capabilities,--must have desired to cultivate and make use of
their individual powers. When I was growing up, they had already
begun to be encouraged to do so. We were often told that it was
our duty to develop any talent we might possess, or at least to
learn how to do some one thing which the world needed, or which
would make it a pleasanter world.
When I thought what I should best like to do, my first dream--
almost a baby's dream--about it was that it would be a fine thing
to be a schoolteacher, like Aunt Hannah. Afterward, when I heard
that there were artists, I wished I could some time be one. A
slate and pencil, to draw pictures, was my first request whenever