Part 3 out of 4
a day's ailment kept me at home from school; and I rather enjoyed
being a little ill, for the sake of amusing myself in that way.
The wish grew up with me; but there were no good drawing-
teachers in those days, and if there had been, the cost of
instruction would have been beyond the family means. My sister
Emilie, however, who saw my taste and shared it herself, did her
best to assist me, furnishing me with pencil and paper and
If I could only make a rose bloom on paper, I thought I should be
happy! or if I could at last succeed in drawing the outline of
winter-stripped boughs as I saw them against the sky, it seemed
to me that I should be willing to spend years in trying. I did
try a little, and very often. Jack Frost was my most inspiring
teacher. His sketches on the bedroom window-pane in cold mornings
were my ideal studies of Swiss scenery, crags and peaks and
chalets and fir-trees,--and graceful tracery of ferns, like those
that grew in the woods where we went huckleberrying, all blended
together by his touch of enchantment. I wondered whether human
fingers ever succeeded in imitating that lovely work.
The taste has followed me all my life through, but I could never
indulge it except as a recreation. I was not to be an artist, and
I am rather glad that I was hindered, for I had even stronger in-
clinations in other directions; and art, really noble art,
requires the entire devotion of a lifetime.
I seldom thought seriously of becoming an author, although it
seemed to me that anybody who had written a book would have a
right to feel very proud. But I believed that a person must be
exceedingly wise before presuming to attempt it: although now and
then I thought I could feel ideas growing in my mind that it
might be worth while to put into a book,--if I lived and studied
until I was forty or fifty years old.
I wrote my little verses, to be sure, but that was nothing; they
just grew. They were the same as breathing or singing. I could
not help writing them, and I thought and dreamed a great many
that were ever put on paper. They seemed to fly into my mind
and away again, like birds with a carol through the air. It
seemed strange to me that people should notice them, or should
think my writing verses anything peculiar; for I supposed that
they were in everybody's mind, just as they were in mine, and
that anybody could write them who chose.
One day I heard a relative say to my mother,--
"Keep what she writes till she grows up, and perhaps she will get
money for it. I have heard of somebody who earned a thousand
dollars by writing poetry."
It sounded so absurd to me. Money for writing verses! One dollar
would be as ridiculous as a thousand. I should as soon have
thought of being paid for thinking! My mother, fortunately,
was sensible enough never to flatter me or let me be flattered
about my scribbling. It never was allowed to hinder any work I
had to do. I crept away into a corner to write what came into my
head, just as I ran away to play; and I looked upon it only as my
most agreeable amusement, never thinking of preserving anything
which did not of itself stay in my memory. This too was well, for
the time did lot come when I could afford to look upon verse-
writing as an occupation. Through my life, it has only been
permitted to me as an aside from other more pressing employments.
Whether I should have written better verses had circumstances
left me free to do what I chose, it is impossible now to know.
All my thoughts about my future sent me back to Aunt Hannah and
my first infantile idea of being a teacher. I foresaw that I
should be that before I could be or do any thing else. It had
been impressed upon me that I must make myself useful in the
world, and certainly one could be useful who could "keep school"
as Aunt Hannah did. I did not see anything else for a girl to
do who wanted to use her brains as well as her hands. So the plan
of preparing myself to be a teacher gradually and almost uncon-
sciously shaped itself in my mind as the only practicable one. I
could earn my living in that way,--all-important consideration.
I liked the thought of self-support, but I would have chosen some
artistic or beautiful work if I could. I had no especial aptitude
for teaching, and no absorbing wish to be a teacher, but it
seemed to me that I might succeed if I tried. What I did like
about it was that one must know something first. I must acquire
knowledge before I could impart it, and that was just what I
wanted. I could be a student, wherever I was and whatever else I
had to be or do, and I would!
I knew I should write; I could not help doing that, for my hand
seemed instinctively to move towards pen and paper in moments of
leisure. But to write anything worth while, I must have mental
cultivation; so, in preparing myself to teach, I could also be
preparing myself to write.
This was the plan that indefinitely shaped itself in my mind as I
returned to my work in the spinning-room, and which I followed
out, not without many breaks and hindrances and neglects, during
the next six or seven years,--to learn all I could, so that I
should be fit to teach or to write, as the way opened. And it
turned out that fifteen or twenty of my best years were given to
BY THE RIVER.
IT did not take us younger ones long to get acquainted with our
new home, and to love it.
To live beside a river had been to me a child's dream of romance.
Rivers, as I pictured them, came down from the mountains, and
were born in the clouds. They were bordered by green meadows, and
graceful trees leaned over to gaze into their bright mirrors. Our
shallow tidal creek was the only river I had known, except as
visioned on the pages of the "Pilgrim's Progress," and in the
Book of Revelation. And the Merrimack was like a continuation of
I soon made myself familiar with the rocky nooks along Pawtucket
Falls, shaded with hemlocks and white birches. Strange new wild
flowers grew beside the rushing waters,-- among them Sir Walter
Scott's own harebells, which I had never thought of except as
blossoms of poetry; here they were, as real to me as to his Lady
of the Lake! I loved the harebell, the first new flower the river
gave me, as I had never loved a flower before.
There was but one summers holiday for us who worked in the mills
--the Fourth of July. We made a point of spending it out of
doors, making excursions down the river to watch the meeting of
the slow Concord and the swift Merrimack; or around by the old
canal-path, to explore the mysteries of the Guard Locks; or
across the bridge, clambering up Dracut Heights, to look away to
the dim blue mountains.
On that morning it was our custom to wake one another at four
o'clock, and start off on a tramp together over some retired road
whose chief charm was its unfamiliarity, returning to a very late
breakfast, with draggled gowns and aprons full of dewy wild
roses. No matter if we must get up at five the next morning and
go back to our hum-drum toil, we should have the roses to take
with us for company, and the sweet air of the woodland which
lingered about them would scent our thoughts all day, and make us
forget the oily smell of the machinery.
We were children still, whether at school or at work, and Nature
still held us close to her motherly heart. Nature came very close
to the mill-gates, too, in those days. There was green grass all
around them; violets and wild geraniums grew by the canals; and
long stretches of open land between the corporation buildings and
the street made the town seem country-like.
The slope behind our mills (the "Lawrence" Mills) was a green
lawn; and in front of some of them the overseers had gay flower-
gardens; we passed in to our work through a splendor of dahlias
The gray stone walls of St. Anne's church and rectory made a
picturesque spot in the middle of the town, remaining still as a
lasting monument to the religious purpose which animated the
first manufacturers. The church arose close to the oldest
corporation (the "Merrimack"), and seemed a part of it, and a
part, also, of the original idea of the place itself, which was
always a city of worshipers, although it came to be filled with a
population which preferred meeting-houses to churches. I admired
the church greatly. I had never before seen a real one; never
anything but a plain frame meeting-house; and it and its benign,
apostolic-looking rector were like a leaf out of an English
And so, also, was the tiny white cottage nearly opposite, set in
the middle of a pretty flower-garden that sloped down to the
canal. In the garden there was almost always a sweet little girl
in a pink gown and white sunbonnet gathering flowers when I
passed that way, and I often went out of my path to do so. These
relieved the monotony of the shanty-like shops which bordered the
main street. The town had sprung up with a mushroom-rapidity, and
there was no attempt at veiling the newness of its bricks and
mortar, its boards and paint.
But there were buildings that had their own individuality, and
asserted it. One of these was a mud-cabin with a thatched roof,
that looked as if it had emigrated bodily from the bogs of
Ireland. It had settled itself down into a green hollow by the
roadside, and it looked as much at home with the lilac-tinted
crane's-bill and yellow buttercups as if it had never lost sight
of the shamrocks of Erin.
Now, too, my childish desire to see a real beggar was gratified.
Straggling petitioners for "cold victuals" hung around our back
yard, always of Hibernian extraction; and a slice of bread was
rewarded with a shower of benedictions that lost itself upon us
in the flood of its own incomprehensible brogue.
Some time every summer a fleet of canoes would glide noiselessly
up the river, and a company of Penobscot Indians would land at a
green point almost in sight from our windows. Pawtucket Falls had
always been one of their favorite camping-places. Their strange
endeavors, to combine civilization with savagery were a great
source of amusement to us; men and women clad alike in loose
gowns, stove-pipe hats, and moccasons; grotesque relies of
aboriginal forest-life. The sight of these uncouth-looking red
men made the romance fade entirely out of the Indian stories we
had heard. Still their wigwam camp was a show we would not
willingly have missed.
The transition from childhood to girlhood, when a little girl has
had an almost unlimited freedom of out-of-door life, is
practically the toning down of a mild sort of barbarianism, and
is often attended by a painfully awkward self-consciousness. I
had an innate dislike of conventionalities. I clung to the
child's inalienable privilege of running half wild; and when I
found that I really was growing up, I felt quite rebellious.
I was as tall as a woman at thirteen, and my older sisters
insisted upon lengthening my dresses, and putting up my mop of
hair with a comb. I felt injured and almost outraged because my
protestations against this treatment were unheeded and when the
transformation in my visible appearance was effected, I went away
by myself and had a good cry, which I would not for the world
have had them know about, as that would have added humiliation to
my distress. And the greatest pity about it was that I too soon
became accustomed to the situation. I felt like a child, but
considered it my duty to think and behave like a woman. I began
to look upon it as a very serious thing to live. The untried
burden seemed already to have touched my shoulders. For a time I
was morbidly self-critical, and at the same time extremely
reserved. The associates I chose were usually grave young women,
ten or fifteen years older than myself; but I think I felt older
and appeared older than they did.
Childhood, however, is not easily defrauded of its birthright,
and mine soon reasserted itself. At home I was among children of
my own age, for some cousins and other acquaintances had come to
live and work with us. We had our evening frolics and entertain-
ments together, and we always made the most of our brief holiday
hours. We had also with us now the sister Emilie of my fairy-tale
memories, who had grown into a strong, earnest-hearted woman. We
all looked up to her as our model, and the ideal of our heroine-
worship; for our deference to her in every way did amount to
She watched over us, gave us needed reproof and commendation,
rarely cosseted us, but rather made us laugh at what many would
have considered the hardships of our lot. She taught us not only
to accept the circumstances in which we found ourselves, but to
win from them courage and strength. When we came in shivering
from our work, through a snowstorm, complaining of numb hands and
feet, she would say cheerily, "But it doesn't make you any warmer
to say you are cold;" and this was typical of the way she took
life generally, and tried to have us take it. She was constantly
denying herself for our sakes, without making us feel that she
was doing so. But she did not let us get into the bad habit of
pitying ourselves because we were not as "well off" as many other
children. And indeed we considered ourselves pleasantly situated;
but the best of it all was that we had her.
Her theories for herself, and her practice, too, were rather
severe; but we tried to follow them, according to our weaker
abilities. Her custom was, for instance, to take a full cold bath
every morning before she went to her work, even though the water
was chiefly broken ice; and we did the same whenever we could be
resolute enough. It required both nerve and will to do this at
five o'clock on a zero morning, in a room without a fire; but it
helped us to harden ourselves, while we formed a good habit. The
working-day in winter began at the very earliest daylight, and
ended at half-past seven in the evening.
Another habit of hers was to keep always beside her at her daily
work something to study or to think about. At first it was "Watts
on the Improvement of the Mind," arranged as a textbook, with
questions and answers, by the minister of Beverly who had made
the thought of the millennium such a reality to his people. She
quite wore this book out, carrying it about with her in her
working-dress pocket. After that, "Locke on the Understanding"
was used in the same way. She must have known both books through
and through by heart. Then she read Combe and Abercrombie, and
discussed their physics and metaphysics with our girl boarders,
some of whom had remarkably acute and well-balanced minds. Her
own seemed to have turned from its early bent toward the
romantic, her taste being now for serious and practical, though
sometimes abstruse, themes. I remember that Young and Pollock
were her favorite poets.
I could not keep up with her in her studies and readings, for
many of the books she liked seemed to me very dry. I did not
easily take to the argumentative or moralizing method, which I
came to regard as a proof of the weakness of my own intellect in
comparison with hers. I would gladly have kept pace with her if I
could. Anything under the heading of "Didactick," like some of
the pieces in the old "English Reader," used by school-children
in the generation just before ours, always repelled me. But I
though it necessary to discipline myself by reading such pieces,
and my first attempt at prose composition, "On Friendship," was
stiffly modeled after a certain "Didactick Essay" in that same
My sister, however, cared more to watch the natural development
of our minds than to make us follow the direction of hers. She
was really our teacher, although she never assumed that position.
Certainly I learned more from her about my own capabilities, and
how I might put them to use, than I could have done at any school
we knew of, had it been possible for me to attend one.
I think she was determined that we should not be mentally
defrauded by the circumstances which had made it necessary for us
to begin so early to win our daily bread. This remark applies
especially to me, as my older sisters (only two or three of them
had come to Lowell) soon drifted away from us into their own new
homes or occupations, and she and I were left together amid the
whir of spindles and wheels.
One thing she planned for us, her younger housemates,--a dozen or
so of cousins, friends, and sisters, some attending school, and
some at work in the mill,--was a little fortnightly paper, to be
filled with our original contributions, she herself acting as
I do not know where she got the idea, unless it was from Mrs.
Lydia Maria Child's "Juvenile Miscellany," which had found its
way to us some years before,--a most delightful guest, and, I
think, the first magazine prepared for American children, who
have had so many since then.(I have always been glad that I knew
that sweet woman with the child's heart and the poet's soul, in
her later years, and could tell her how happy she had helped to
make my childhood.) Our little sheet was called "The Diving
Bell," probably from the sea-associations of the name. We kept
our secrets of authorship very close from everybody except the
editor, who had to decipher the handwriting and copy the pieces.
It was, indeed, an important part of the fun to guess who wrote
particular pieces. After a little while, however, our mannerisms
betrayed us. One of my cousins was known to be the chief story-
teller, and I was recognized as the leading rhymer among the
younger contributors; the editor-sister excelling in her
versifying, as she did in almost everything.
It was a cluster of very conscious-looking little girls that
assembled one evening in the attic room, chosen on account of its
remoteness from intruders (for we did not admit even the family
as a public, the writers themselves were the only audience), to
listen to the reading of our first paper. We took Saturday
evening, because that was longer than the other workday evenings,
the mills being closed earlier. Such guessing and wondering and
admiring as we had! But nobody would acknowledge her own work,
for that would have spoiled the pleasure. Only there were certain
wise hints and maxims that we knew never came from any juvenile
head among us, and those we set down as "editorials."
Some of the stories contained rather remarkable incidents. One,
written to illustrate a little girl's habit of carelessness about
her own special belongings, told of her rising one morning, and
after hunting around for her shoes half an hour or so, finding
them in the book-case, where she had accidentally locked them up
the night before!
To convince myself that I could write something besides rhymes, I
had attempted an essay of half a column on a very extensive
subject, "MIND." It began loftily:-
"What a noble and beautiful thing is mind!" and it went on in the
same high-flown strain to no particular end. But the editor
praised it, after having declined the verdict of the audience
that she was its author; and I felt sufficiently flattered by
I wrote more rhymes than anything else, because they came more
easily. But I always felt that the ability to write good prose
was far more desirable, and it seems so to me still. I will give
my little girl readers a single specimen of my twelve-year-old
"Diving Bell" verses, though I feel as if I ought to apologize
even for that. It is on a common subject, "Life like a Rose":--
"Childhood's like a tender bud
That's scarce been formed an hour,
But which erelong will doubtless be
A bright and lovely flower.
"And youth is like a full-blown rose
Which has not known decay;
But which must soon, alas! too soon!
Wither and fade away.
"And age is like a withered rose,
That bends beneath the blast;
But though its beauty all is gone,
Its fragrance yet may last."
This, and other verses that I wrote then, serve to illustrate the
child's usual inclination to look forward meditatively, rather
than to think and write of the simple things that belong to
Our small venture set some of us imagining what larger
possibilities might be before us in the far future. We talked
over the things we should like to do when we should be women out
in the active world; and the author of the shoe-story horrified
us by declaring that she meant to be distinguished when she grew
up for something, even if it was for something bad! She did go so
far in a bad way as to plagiarize a long poem in a subsequent
number of the "Diving Bell" but the editor found her out, and we
all thought that a reproof from Emilie was sufficent punishment.
I do not know whether it was fortunate or unfortunate for me that
I had not, by nature, what is called literary ambition. I knew
that I had a knack at rhyming, and I knew that I enjoyed nothing
better than to try to put thoughts and words together, in any
way. But I did it for the pleasure of rhyming and writing,
indifferent as to what might come of it. For any one who could
take hold of every-day, practical work, and carry it on
successfully, I had a profound respect. To be what is called
"capable" seemed to me better worth while than merely to have a
taste or for writing, perhaps because I was conscious of my
deficiencies in the former respect. But certainly the world needs
deeds more than it needs words. I should never have been willing
to be only a writer, without using my hands to some good purpose
My sister, however, told me that here was a talent which I had no
right to neglect, and which I ought to make the most of. I
believed in her; I thought she understood me better than I
understood myself; and it was a comfort to be assured that my
scribbling was not wholly a waste of time. So I used pencil and
paper in every spare minute I could find.Our little home-journal
went bravely on through twelve numbers. Its yellow manuscript
pages occasionally meet my eyes when I am rummaging among my old
papers, with the half-conscious look of a waif that knows it has
no right to its escape from the waters of oblivion.
While it was in progress my sister Emilie became acquainted with
a family of bright girls, near neighbors of ours, who proposed
that we should join with them, and form a little society for
writing and discussion, to meet fortnightly at their house. We
met,--I think I was the youngest of the group,--prepared a
Constitution and By-Laws, and named ourselves "The Improvement
Circle." If I remember rightly, my sister was our first
president. The older ones talked and wrote on many subjects quite
above me. I was shrinkingly bashful, as half-grown girls usually
are, but I wrote my little essays and read them, and listened to
the rest, and enjoyed it all exceedingly. Out of this little
"Improvement Circle" grew the larger one whence issued the
"Lowell Offering," a year or two later.
At this time I had learned to do a spinner's work, and I obtained
permission to tend some frames that stood directly in front of
the river-windows, with only them and the wall behind me,
extending half the length of the mill,--and one young woman
beside me, at the farther end of the row. She was a sober, mature
person, who scarcely thought it worth her while to speak often to
a child like me; and I was, when with strangers, rather a
reserved girl; so I kept myself occupied with the river, my work,
and my thoughts. And the river and my thoughts flowed on
together, the happiest of companions. Like a loitering pilgrim,
it sparkled up to me in recognition as it glided along and bore
away my little frets and fatigues on its bosom. When the work
"went well," I sat in the window-seat, and let my fancies fly
whither they would,--downward to the sea, or upward to the hills
that hid the mountain-cradle of the Merrimack.
The printed regulations forbade us to bring books into the mill,
so I made my window-seat into a small library of poetry, pasting
its side all over with newspaper clippings. In those days we had
only weekly papers, and they had always a "poet's corner," where
standard writers were well represented, with anonymous ones,
also. I was not, of course, much of a critic. I chose my verses
for their sentiment, and because I wanted to commit them to
memory; sometimes it was a long poem, sometimes a hymn, sometimes
only a stray verse. Mrs. Hemans sang with me,--
"Far away, o'er the blue hills far away;"
and I learned and loved her "Better Land," and
"If thou hast crushed a flower,"
and "Kindred Hearts."
I wonder if Miss Landon really did write that fine poem to Mont
Blanc which was printed in her volume, but which sounds so
entirely unlike everything else she wrote! This was one of my
window-gems. It ended with the appeal,--
"Alas for thy past mystery!
For thine untrodden snow!
Nurse of the tempest! hast thou none
To guard thine outraged brow?"
and it contained a stanza that I often now repeat to myself:--
"We know too much: scroll after scroll
Weighs down our weary shelves:
Our only point of ignorance
Is centred in ourselves."
There was one anonymous waif in my collection that I was very
fond of. I have never seen it since, nor ever had the least clue
to its authorship. It stirred me and haunted me; and it often
comes back to me now, in snatches like these:--
"The human mind! That lofty thing,
The palace and the throne
Where Reason sits, a sceptred king,
And breathes his judgment-tone!"
"The human soul! That startling thing,
Mysterious and sublime;
An angel sleeping on the wing,
Worn by the scoffs of time.
>From heaven in tears to earth it stole-
That startling thing, the human soul."
I was just beginning, in my questionings as to the meaning of
life, to get glimpses of its true definition from the poets,--
that it is love, service, the sacrifice of self for others' good.
The lesson was slowly learned, but every hint of it went to my
heart, and I kept in silent upon my window wall reminders like
that of holy George Herbert:"
"Be useful where thou livest, that they may
Both want and wish thy pleasing presence still.
-Find out men' s wants and will,
And meet them there. All worldly joys go less
To the one joy of doing kindnesses;"
and that well-known passage from Talfourd,--
"The blessings which the weak and poor can scatter,
Have their own season.
It is a little thing to speak a phase
Of common comfort, which, by daily use,
Has almost lost its sense; yet on the ear
Of him who thought to die unmourned 't will fall
Like choicest music."
A very familiar extract from Carlos Wilcox, almost the only
quotation made nowadays from his poems, was often on my sister
Emilie's lips, whose heart seemed always to be saying to itself:-
"Pour blessings round thee like a shower of gold!"
I had that beside me, too, and I copy part of it here, for her
sake, and because it will be good for my girl readers to keep in
mind one of the noblest utterances of an almost forgotten
"Rouse to some work of high and holy love,
And thou an angel's happiness shalt know;
Shalt bless the earth while in the world above.
The good begun by thee shall onward flow.
The pure, sweet stream shall deeper, wider grow.
The seed that in these few and fleeting hours
Thy hands, unsparing and unwearied sow,
Shall deck thy grave with amaranthine flowers,
And yield thee fruits divine in heaven's immortal bowers."
One great advantage which came to these many stranger girls
through being brought together, away from their own homes, was
that it taught them to go out of themselves, and enter into the
lives of others. Home-life, when one always stays at home, is
necessarily narrowing. That is one reason why so many women are
petty and unthoughtful of any except their own family's
interests. We have hardly begun to live until we can take in the
idea of the whole human family as the one to which we truly
belong. To me, it was an incalculable help to find myself among
so many working-girls, all of us thrown upon our own resources,
but thrown much more upon each others' sympathies.
And the stream beside which we toiled added to its own
inspirations human suggestions drawn from our acquaintance with
each other. It blended itself with the flow of our lives. Almost
the first of my poemlets in the "Lowell Offering" was entitled
"The River." These are some lines of it:--
"Gently flowed a river bright
On its path of liquid light,
Gleaming now soft banks between,
Winding now through valleys green,
Cheering with its presence mild
Cultured fields and woodlands wild.
"Is not such a pure one's life?
Ever shunning pride and strife,
Noiselessly along she goes,
Known by gentle deeds she does;
Often wandering far, to bless,
And do others kindnesses.
"Thus, by her own virtues shaded,
While pure thoughts, like starbeams, lie
Mirrored in her heart and eye,
She, content to be unknown,
All serenely moveth on,
Till, released from Time's commotion,
Self is lost in Love's wide ocean."
There was many a young girl near me whose life was like the
beautiful course of the river in my ideal of her. The Merrimack
has blent its music with the onward song of many a lovely soul
that, clad in plain working-clothes, moved heavenward beside its
One of the loveliest persons I ever knew was a young girl who
worked opposite to me in the spinning-room. Our eyes made us
friends long before we spoke to each other. She was an orphan,
well-bred and well-educated, about twenty years old, and she had
brought with her to her place of toil the orphan child of her
sister, left to her as a death-bed legacy. They boarded with a
relative. The factory boarding-houses were often managed by
families of genuine refinement, as in this case, and the one
comfort of Caroline's life was her beautiful little niece, to
whom she could go home when the day's work was over.
Her bereavements had given an appealing sadness to her whole
expression; but she had accepted them and her changed
circumstances with the submission of profound faith which
everybody about her felt in everything she said and did. I think
I first knew, through her, how character can teach, without
words. To see her and her little niece together was almost like
looking at a picture of the Madonna. Caroline afterwards became
an inmate of my mother's family, and we were warm friends until
her death a few years ago.
Some of the girls could not believe that the Bible was meant to
be counted among forbidden books. We all thought that the
Scriptures had a right to go wherever we went, and that if we
needed them anywhere, it was at our work. I evaded the law by
carrying some leaves from a torn Testament in my pocket.
The overseer, caring more for law than gospel, confiscated all he
found. He had his desk full of Bibles. It sounded oddly to hear
him say to the most religious girl in the room, when he took hers
away, "I did think you had more conscience than to bring that
book here." But we had some close ethical questions to settle in
those days. It was a rigid code of morality under which we lived.
Nobody complained of it, however, and we were doubtless better
off for its strictness, in the end.
The last window in the row behind me was filled with flourishing
house-plants--fragrant leaved geraniums, the overseer's pets.
They gave that corner a bowery look; the perfume and freshness
tempted me there often. Standing before that window, I could look
across the room and see girls moving backwards and forwards among
the spinning-frames, sometimes stooping, sometimes reaching up
their arms, as their work required, with easy and not ungraceful
movements. On the whole, it was far from being a disagreeable
place to stay in. The girls were bright-looking and neat, and
everything was kept clean and shining. The effect of the whole
was rather attractive to strangers.
My grandfather came to see my mother once at about this time and
visited the mills. When he had entered our room, and looked
around for a moment, he took off his hat and made a low bow to
the girls, first toward the right, and then toward the left. We
were familiar with his courteous habits, partly due to his French
descent; but we had never seen anybody bow to a room full of mill
girls in that polite way, and some one of the family afterwards
asked him why he did so. He looked a little surprised at the
question, but answered promptly and with dignity, "I always take
off my hat to ladies."
His courtesy was genuine. Still, we did not call ourselves
ladies. We did not forget that we were working-girls, wearing
coarse aprons suitable to our work, and that there was some
danger of our becoming drudges. I know that sometimes the
confinement of the mill became very wearisome to me. In the sweet
June weather I would lean far out of the window, and try not to
hear the unceasing clash of sound inside. Looking away to the
hills, my whole stifled being would cry out
"Oh, that I had wings!"
Still I was there from choice, and
"The prison unto which we doom ourselves,
No prison is."
And I was every day making discoveries about life, and about
myself. I had naturally some elements of the recluse, and would
never, of my own choice, have lived in a crowd. I loved quiet-
ness. The noise of machinery was particularly distasteful to me.
But I found that the crowd was made up of single human lives, not
one of them wholly uninteresting, when separately known. I
learned also that there are many things which belong to the whole
world of us together, that no one of us, nor any few of us, can
claim or enjoy for ourselves alone. I discovered, too, that I
could so accustom myself to the noise that it became like a
silence to me. And I defied the machinery to make me its slave.
Its incessant discords could not drown the music of my thoughts
if I would let them fly high enough. Even the long hours, the
early rising and the regularity enforced by the cladgor of the
bell were good discipline for one who was naturally inclined to
dally and to dream, and who loved her own personal liberty with a
willful rebellion against control. Perhaps I could have brought
myself into the limitations of order and method in no other way.
Like a plant that starts up in showers and sunshine and does not
know which has best helped it to grow, it is difficult to say
whether the hard things or the pleasant things did me most good.
But when I was sincerest with myself, as also when I thought
least about it, I know that I was glad to be alive, and to be
just where I was.
It is a conquest when we can lift ourselves above the annoyances
of circumstances over which we have no control; but it is a
greater victory when we can make those circumstances our helpers,
when we can appreciate the good there is in them. It has often
seemed to me as if Life stood beside me, looking me in the face,
and saying, "Child, you must learn to like me in the form in
which you see me, before I can offer myself to you in any other
It was so with this disagreeable necessity of living among many
people. There is nothing more miserable than to lose the feeling
of our own distinctiveness, since that is our only clue to the
Purpose behind us and the End before us. But when we have
discovered that human beings are not a mere "mass," but an
orderly Whole, of which we are a part, it is all so different!
This we working-girls might have learned from the webs of cloth
we saw woven around us. Every little thread must take its place
as warp or woof, and keep in it steadily. Left to itself, it
would be only a loose, useless filament. Trying to wander in an
independent or a disconnected way among the other threads, it
would make of the whole web an inextricable snarl. Yet each
little thread must be as firmly spun as if it were the only one,
or the result would be a worthless fabric.
That we are entirely separate, while yet we entirely belong to
the Whole, is a truth that we learn to rejoice in, as we come to
understand more and more of ourselves, and of this human life of
ours, which seems so complicated, and yet is so simple. And when
we once get a glimpse of the Divine Plan in it all, and know that
to be just where we are, doing just what we are doing just at
this hour because it is our appointed hour,--when we become aware
that this is the very best thing possible for us in God's
universe, the hard task grows easy, the tiresome employment
welcome and delightful. Having fitted ourselves to our present
work in such a way as this, we are usually prepared for better
work, and are sent to take a better place.
Perhaps this is one of the unfailing laws of progress in our
being. Perhaps the Master of Life always rewards those who do
their little faithfully by giving them some greater opportunity
for faithfulness. Certainly, it is a comfort, wherever we are, to
say to ourselves:--
"Thou camest not to thy place by accident,
It is the very place God meant for thee."
THE pleasure we found in making new acquaintances among our
workmates arose partly from their having come from great
distances, regions unknown to us, as the northern districts of
Maine and New Hampshire and Vermont were, in those days of stage-
coach traveling, when rail-roads had as yet only connected the
larger cities with one another.
It seemed wonderful to me to be talking with anybody who had
really seen mountains and lived among them. One of the younger
girls, who worked beside me during my very first days in the
mill, had come from far up near the sources of the Merrimack, and
she told me a great deal about her home, and about farm-life
among the hills. I listened almost with awe when she said that
she lived in a valley where the sun set at four o'clock, and
where the great snowstorms drifted in so that sometimes they did
not see a neighbor for weeks.
To have mountain-summits looking down upon one out of the clouds,
summer and winter, by day and by night, seemed to me something
both delightful and terrible. And yet here was this girl to whom
it all appeared like the merest commonplace. What she felt about
it was that it was "awful cold, sometimes; the days were so
short! and it grew dark so early! " Then she told me about the
spinning, and the husking, and the sugar-making, while we sat in
a corner together, waiting to replace the full spools by empty
ones,--the work usually given to the little girls.
I had a great admiration for this girl, because she had come from
those wilderness-regions. The scent of pine-woods and checker-
berry-leaves seemed to bang about her. I believe I liked her all
the better because she said "daown" and "haow." It was part of
I tried, on my part, to impress her with stories of the sea; but
I did not succeed very well. Her principal comment was, "They
don't think much of sailors up aour way." And I received the
impression, from her and others, and from my own imagination,
that rural life was far more delightful than the life of towns.
But there is something in the place where we were born that holds
us always by the heartstrings. A town that still has a great deal
of the country in it, one that is rich in beautiful scenery and
ancestral associations, is almost like a living being, with a
body and a soul. We speak of such a town, if our birthplace, as
of a mother, and think of ourselves as her sons and daughters.
So we felt, my sisters and I, about our dear native town of
Beverly. Its miles of sea-border, almost every sunny cove and
rocky headland of which was a part of some near relative's
homestead, were only half a day's journey distant; and the misty
ocean-spaces beyond still widened out on our imagination from the
green inland landscape around us. But the hills sometimes shut us
in, body and soul. To those who have been reared by the sea a
wide horizon is a necessity, both for the mind and for the eye.
We had many opportunities of escape towards our native shores,
for the larger part of our large family still remained there, and
there was a constant coming and going among us. The stagedriver
looked upon us as his especial charge, and we had a sense of
personal property in the Salem and Lowell stagecoach, which had
once, like a fairy-godmother's coach, rumbled down into our own
little lane, taken possession of us, and carried us off to a new
My married sisters had families growing up about them, and they
liked to have us younger ones come and help take care of their
babies. One of them sent for me just when the close air and long
days' work were beginning to tell upon my health, and it was
decided that I had better go. The salt wind soon restored my
strength, and those months of quiet family life were very good
Like most young girls, I had a motherly fondness for little
children, and my two baby-nephews were my pride and delight. The
older one had a delicate constitution, and there was a
thoughtful, questioning look in his eyes, that seemed to gaze
forward almost sadly, and foresee that be should never attain to
manhood. The younger, a plump, vigorous urchin, three or four
months old, did, without doubt, "feel his life in every limb." He
was my especial charge, for his brother's clinging weakness gave
him, the first-born, the place nearest his mother's heart. The
baby bore the family name, mine and his mother's; "our little
Lark," we sometimes called him, for his wide-awakeness and his
merry-heartedness.(Alas! neither of those beautiful boys grew up
to be men! One page of my home-memories is sadly written over
with their elegy, the "Graves of a Household." Father, mother,
and four sons, an entire family, long since passed away from
The tie between my lovely baby-nephew and myself became very
close. The first two years of a child's life are its most
appealing years, and call out all the latent tenderness of the
nature on which it leans for protection. I think I should have
missed one of the best educating influences of my youth, if I had
not had the care of that baby for a year or more just as I
entered my teens. I was never so happy as when I held him
in my arms, sleeping or waking; and he, happy anywhere, was
always contented when he was with me.
I was as fond as ever of reading, and somehow I managed to
combine baby and book. Dickens's "Old Curiosity Shop" was just
then coming out in a Philadelphia weekly paper, and I read it
with the baby playing at my feet, or lying across my lap, in an
unfinished room given up to sea-chests and coffee-bags and spicy
foreign odors. (My cherub's papa was a sea-captain, usually
away on his African voyages.) Little Nell and her grandfather
became as real to me as my darling charge, and if a tear from his
nurse's eyes sometimes dropped upon his cheek as he slept, he
was not saddened by it. When he awoke he was irrepressible;
clutching at my hair with his stout pink fists, and driving all
dream-people effectually out of my head. Like all babies, he was
something of a tyrant; but that brief, sweet despotism ends only
too soon. I put him gratefully down, dimpled, chubby, and
imperious, upon the list of my girlhood's teachers.
My sister had no domestic help besides mine, so I learned a good
deal about general housework. A girl's preparation for life was,
in those days, considered quite imperfect, who had no practical
knowledge of that kind. We were taught, indeed, how to do every-
thing that a woman might be called upon to do under any
circumstances, for herself or for the household she lived in. It
was one of the advantages of the old simple way of living, that
the young daughters of the house were, as a matter of course,
instructed in all these things. They acquired the habit of being
ready for emergencies, and the family that required no outside
assistance was delightfully independent.
A young woman would have been considered a very inefficient being
who could not make and mend and wash and iron her own clothing,
and get three regular meals and clear them away every day,
besides keeping the house tidy, and doing any other needed
neighborly service, such as sitting all night by a sick-bed. To
be "a good watcher" was considered one of the most important of
womanly attainments. People who lived side by side exchanged such
services without waiting to be asked, and they seemed to be
happiest of whom such kindnesses were most expected.
Every kind of work brings its own compensations and attractions.
I really began to like plain sewing; I enjoyed sitting down for a
whole afternoon of it, fingers flying and thoughts flying faster
still,--the motion of the hands seeming to set the mind astir.
Such afternoons used to bring me throngs of poetic suggestions,
particularly if I sat by an open window and could hear the wind
blowing and a bird or two singing. Nature is often very generous
in opening her heart to those who must keep their hands employed.
Perhaps it is because she is always quietly at work herself,
and so sympathizes with her busy human friends. And possibly
there is no needful occupation which is wholly unbeautiful. The
beauty of work depends upon the way we meet it--whether we arm
ourselves each morning to attack it as an enemy that must be
vanquished before night comes, or whether we open our eyes with
the sunrise to welcome it as an approaching friend who will keep
us delightful company all day, and who will make us feel, at
evening, that the day was well worth its fatigues.
I found my practical experience of housekeeping and baby-tending
very useful to me afterwards at the West, in my sister Emilie's
family, when she was disabled by illness. I think, indeed, that
every item of real knowledge I ever acquired has come into use
somewhere or somehow in the course of the years. But these were
not the things I had most wished to do. The whole world of
thought lay unexplored before me,--a world of which I had already
caught large and tempting glimpses, and I did not like to feel
the horizon shutting me in, even to so pleasant a corner as this.
And the worst of it was that I was getting too easy and content-
ed, too indifferent to the higher realities which my work and my
thoughtful companions had kept keenly clear before me. I felt my-
self slipping into an inward apathy from which it was hard to
rouse myself. I could not let it go on so. I must be where my
life could expand.
It was hard to leave the dear little fellow I had taught to walk
and to talk, but I knew he would not be inconsolable. So I only
said "I must go,"--and turned my back upon the sea, and my face
to the banks of the Merrimack.
When I returned I found that I enjoyed even the familiar,
unremitting clatter of the mill, because it indicated that
something was going on. I liked to feel the people around me,
even those whom I did not know, as a wave may like to feel the
surrounding waves urging it forward, with or against its own
will. I felt that I belonged to the world, that there was
something for me to do in it, though I had not yet found out
what. Something to do; it might be very little, but still it
would be my own work. And then there was the better something
which I had almost forgotten--to be! Underneath my dull thoughts
the old aspirations were smouldering, the old ideals rose and
beckoned to me through the rekindling light.
It was always aspiration rather than ambition by which I felt
myself stirred. I did not care to outstrip others, and become
what is called "distinguished," were that a possibility, so much
as I longed to answer the Voice that invited, ever receding, up
to invisible heights, however unattainable they might seem. I was
conscious of a desire that others should feel something coming to
them out of my life like the breath of flowers, the whisper of
the winds, the warmth of the sunshine, and the depth of the sky.
That, I felt, did not require great gifts or a fine education.
We might all be that to each other. And there was no opportunity
for vanity or pride in receiving a beautiful influence, and
giving it out again.
I do not suppose that I definitely thought all this, though I
find that the verses I wrote for our two mill magazines at about
this time often expressed these and similar longings. They were
vague, and they were too likely to dissipate themselves in mere
dreams. But our aspirations come to us from a source far beyond
ourselves. Happy are they who are "not disobedient unto the
A girl of sixteen sees the world before her through rose-tinted
mists, a blending of celestial colors and earthly exhalations,
and she cannot separate their elements, if she would; they all
belong to the landscape of her youth. It is the mystery of the
meeting horizons,--the visible beauty seeking to lose and find
itself in the Invisible.
In returning to my daily toil among workmates from the hill-
country, the scenery to which they belonged became also a part of
my life. They brought the mountains with them, a new background
and a new hope. We shared an uneven path and homely occupations;
but above us hung glorious summits never wholly out of sight.
Every blossom and every dewdrop at our feet was touched with some
tint of that far-off splendor, and every pebble by the wayside
was a messenger from the peak that our feet would stand upon by
The true climber knows the delight of trusting his path, of
following it without seeing a step before him, or a glimpse of
blue sky above him, sometimes only knowing that it is the right
path because it is the only one, and because it leads upward.
This our daily duty was to us. Though we did not always know it,
the faithful plodder was sure to win the heights. Unconsciously
we learned the lesson that only by humble Doing can any of us win
the lofty possibilities of Being. For indeed, what we all want to
find is not so much our place as our path. The path leads to the
place, and the place, when we have found it, is only a clearing
by the roadside, an opening into another path.
And no comrades are so dear as those who have broken with us a
pioneer road which it will be safe and good for others to follow;
which will furnish a plain clue for all bewildered travelers
hereafter. There is no more exhilarating human experience than
this, and perhaps it is the highest angelic one. It may be that
some such mutual work is to link us forever with one another in
the Infinite Life.
The girls who toiled together at Lowell were clearing away a few
weeds from the overgrown track of independent labor for other
women. They practically said, by numbering themselves among
factory girls, that in our country no real odium could be
attached to any honest toil that any self-respecting woman might
I regard it as one of the privileges of my youth that I was
permitted to grow up among those active, interesting girls, whose
lives were not mere echoes of other lives, but had principle and
purpose distinctly their own. Their vigor of character was a
natural development. The New Hampshire girls who came to Lowell
were descendants of the sturdy backwoodsmen who settled that
State scarcely a hundred years before. Their grandmothers had
suffered the hardships of frontier life, had known the horrors of
savage warfare when the beautiful valleys of the Connecticut and
the Merrimack were threaded with Indian trails from Canada to the
white settlements. Those young women did justice to their
inheritance. They were earnest and capable; ready to undertake
anything that was worth doing. My dreamy, indolent nature was
shamed into activity among them. They gave me a larger, firmer
ideal of womanhood.
Often during the many summers and autumns that of late years I
have spent among the New Hampshire hills, sometimes far up the
mountainsides, where I could listen to the first song of the
little brooks setting out on their journey to join the very river
that flowed at my feet when I was a working girl on its banks,--
the Merrimack,--I have felt as if I could also hear the early
music of my workmates' lives, those who were born among these
glorious summits. Pure, strong, crystalline natures, carrying
down with them the light of blue skies and the freshness of free
winds to their place of toil, broadening and strengthening as
they went on, who can tell how they have refreshed the world, how
beautifully they have blended their being with the great ocean of
results? A brook's life is like the life of a maiden. The rivers
receive their strength from the rock-born hills, from the
unfailing purity of the mountain-streams.
A girl's place in the world is a very strong one: it is a pity
that she does not always see it so. It is strongest through her
natural impulse to steady herself by leaning upon the Eternal
Life, the only Reality; and her weakness comes also from her
inclination to lean against something,--upon an unworthy support,
rather than none at all. She often lets her life get broken into
fragments among the flimsy trellises of fashion and convention-
ality, when it might be a perfect thing in the upright beauty of
its own consecrated freedom.
Yet girlhood seldom appreciates itself. We often hear a girl
wishing that she were a boy. That seems so strange! God made no
mistake in her creation. He sent her into the world full of power
and will to be a helper; and only He knows how much his world
needs help. She is here to make this great house of humanity a
habitable and a beautiful place, without and within,--a true home
for every one of his children. It matters not if she is poor, if
she has to toil for her daily bread, or even if she is surrounded
by coarseness and uncongeniality: nothing can deprive her of her
natural instinct to help, of her birthright as a helper. These
very hindrances may, with faith and patience, develop in her a
No; let girls be as thankful that they are girls as that they are
human beings; for they also, according to his own loving plan for
them, were created in the image of God. Their real power, the
divine dowry of womanhood, is that of receiving and giving
inspiration. In this a girl often surpasses her brother; and it
is for her to hold firmly and faithfully to her holiest
instincts, so that when he lets his standard droop, she may,
through her spiritual strength, be a standard bearer for him.
Courage and self-reliance are now held to be virtues as womanly
as they are manly; for the world has grown wise enough to see
that nothing except a life can really help another life. It is
strange that it should ever have held any other theory about
That was a true use of the word "help" that grew up so naturally
in the rendering and receiving of womanly service in the old-
fashioned New England household. A girl came into a family as one
of the home-group, to share its burdens, to feel that they were
her own. The woman who employed her, if her nature was at all
generous, could not feel that money alone was an equivalent for a
heart's service; she added to it her friendship, her gratitude
and esteem. The domestic problem can never be rightly settled
until the old idea of mutual help is in some way restored. This
is a question for girls of the present generation to consider,
and she who can bring about a practical solution of it will win
the world's gratitude.
We used sometimes to see it claimed, in public prints, that it
would be better for all of us mill-girls to be working in
families, at domestic service, than to be where we were.
Perhaps the difficulties of modern housekeepers did begin with
the opening of the Lowell factories. Country girls were naturally
independent, and the feeling that at this new work the few hours
they had of every-day leisure were entirely their own was a
satisfaction to them. They preferred it to going out as "hired
help." It was like a young man's pleasure in entering upon
business for himself. Girls had never tried that experiment
before, and they liked it. It brought out in them a dormant
strength of character which the world did not previously see, but
now fully acknowledges. Of course they had a right to continue at
that freer kind of work as long as they chose, although their
doing so increased the perplexities of the housekeeping problem
for themselves even, since many of them were to become, and did
become, American house-mistresses.
It would be a step towards the settlement of this vexed and
vexing question if girls would decline to classify each other by
their occupations, which among us are usually only temporary, and
are continually shifting from one pair of hands to another.
Changes of fortune come so abruptly that the millionaire's daugh-
ter of to-day may be glad to earn her living by sewing or
It is the first duty of every woman to recognize the mutual bond
of universal womanhood. Let her ask herself whether she would
like to hear herself or little sister spoken of as a shop-girl,
or a factory-girl, or a servant-girl, if necessity had compelled
her for a time to be employed in either of the ways indicated.
If she would shrink from it a little, then she is a little
inhuman when she puts her unknown human sisters who are so
occupied into a class by themselves, feeling herself to be
somewhat their superior. She is really the superior person who
has accepted her work and is doing it faithfully, whatever it is.
This designating others by their casual employments prevents one
from making real distinctions, from knowing persons as persons.
A false standard is set up in the minds of those who classify and
of those who are classified.
Perhaps it is chiefly the fault of ladies themselves that the
word "lady" has nearly lost its original meaning (a noble one)
indicating sympathy and service;--bread-giver to those who are in
need. The idea that it means something external in dress or
circumstances has been too generally adopted by rich and poor;
and this, coupled with the sweeping notion that in our country
one person is just as good as another, has led to ridiculous
results, like that of saleswomen calling themselves "sales-
ladies." I have even heard a chambermaid at a hotel introduce
herself to guests as "the chamber-lady."
I do not believe that any Lowell mill-girl was ever absurd enough
to wish to be known as a "factory-lady," although most of them
knew that "factory-girl" did not represent a high type of
womanhood in the Old World. But they themselves belonged to the
New World, not to the Old; and they were making their own
traditions, to hand down to their Republican descendants--one of
which was and is that honest work has no need to assert itself or
to humble itself in a nation like ours, but simply to take its
place as one of the foundation-stones of the Republic.
The young women who worked at Lowell had the advantage of living
in a community where character alone commanded respect. They
never, at their work or away from it, heard themselves contempt-
uously spoken of on account of their occupation, except by the
ignorant or weak-minded, whose comments they were of course to
sensible to heed.
We may as well acknowledge that one of the unworthy tendencies of
womankind is towards petty estimates of other women. This
classifying habit illustrates the fact. If we must classify our
sisters, let us broaden ourselves by making large classifica-
tions. We might all place ourselves in one of two ranks - the
women who do something and the women who do nothing; the first
being of course the only creditable place to occupy. And if we
would escape from our pettinesses, as we all may and should, the
way to do it is to find the key to other lives, and live in their
largeness, by sharing their outlook upon life. Even poorer
people's windows will give us a new horizon, and people's windows
will give us a new horizon, and often a far broader one than our
THERE was a passage from Cowper that my sister used to quote to
us, because, she said, she often repeated it to herself, and
found that it did her good:--
"In such a world, so thorny, and where none
Finds happiness unblighted, or if found,
Without some thistly sorrow at its side,
It seems the part of wisdom, and no sin
Against the law of love, to measure lots
With less distinguished than ourselves, that thus
We may with patience bear our moderate ills,
And sympathize with others, suffering more."
I think she made us feel--she certainly made me feel--that our
lot was in many ways an unusually fortunate one, and full of
responsibilities. She herself was always thinking what she could
do for others, not only immediately about her, but in the
farthest corners of the earth. She had her Sabbath-school class,
and visited all the children in it: she sat up all night, very
often, watching by a sick girl's bed, in the hospital or in some
distant boarding-house; she gave money to send to missionaries,
or to help build new churches in the city, when she was earning
only eight or ten dollars a month clear of her board, and could
afford herself but one "best dress," besides her working clothes.
That best dress was often nothing but a Merrimack print. But she
insisted that it was a great saving of trouble to have just this
one, because she was not obliged to think what she should wear if
she were invited out to spend an evening. And she kept track of
all the great philanthropic movements of the day. She felt deeply
the shame and wrong of American slavery, and tried to make her
workmates see and feel it too.(Petitions to Congress for the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia were circulated
nearly every year among the mill-girls, and received thousands of
Whenever she was not occupied with her work or her reading, or
with looking after us younger ones,--two or three hours a day was
all the time she could call her own,--she was sure to be away on
some errand of friendliness or mercy.
Those who do most for others are always those who are called upon
continually to do a little more, and who find a way to do it.
People go to them as to a bank that never fails. And surely, they
who have an abundance of life in themselves and who give their
life out freely to others are the only really rich.
Two dollars a week sounds very small, but in Emilie's hands it
went farther than many a princely fortune of to-day, because she
managed with it to make so many people happy. But then she wanted
absolutely nothing for herself; nothing but the privilege of
I seem to be eulogizing my sister, though I am simply relating
matters of fact. I could not, however, illustrate my own early
experience, except by the lives around me which most influenced
mine. And it was true that our smaller and more self-centred
natures in touching hers caught something of her spirit, the
contagion of her warm heart and healthy energy. For health is
more contagious than disease, and lives that exhale sweetness
around them from the inner heaven of their souls keep the world
I tried to follow her in my faltering way, and was gratified when
she would send me to look up one of her stray children, or would
let me watch with her at night by a sick-bed. I think it was
partly for the sake of keeping as close to her as I could--
though not without a sincere desire to consecrate myself to the
Best--that I became, at about thirteen, a member of the church
which we attended.
Our minister was a scholarly man, of refined tastes and a
sensitive organization, fervently spiritual, and earnestly
devoted to his work. It was all education to grow up under his
influence. I shall never forget the effect left by the tones of
his voice when be first spoke to me, a child of ten years, at a
neighborhood prayer-meeting in my mother's sitting-room. He had
been inviting his listeners to the friendship of Christ, and
turning to my little sister and me, he said,--
"And these little children, too; won't they come?"
The words, and his manner of saving them, brought the tears to my
eyes. Once only before, far back in my earlier childhood--I have
already mentioned the incident--had I heard that Name spoken so
tenderly and familiarly, yet so reverently. It was as if he had
been gazing into the face of an invisible Friend, and bad just
turned from Him to look into ours, while he gave us his message,
that He loved us.
In that moment I again caught a glimpse of One whom I had always
known, but had often forgotten,--One who claimed me as his
Father's child, and would never let me go. It was a real Face
that I saw, a real Voice that I heard, a real Person who was
calling me. I could not mistake the Presence that had so often
drawn near me and shone with sunlike eyes into my soul. The
words, "Lord, lift Thou up the light of thy countenance upon us!"
had always given me the feeling that a beautiful sunrise does.
It is indeed a sunrise text, for is not He the Light of the
And peaceful sunshine seemed pouring in at the windows of my life
on the day when I stood in the aisle before the pulpit with a
group, who, though young, were all much older than myself, and
took with them the vows that bound us to his service. Of what was
then said and read I scarcely remember more than the words of
heavenly welcome in the Epistle, "Now therefore ye are no more
strangers and foreigners." It was like coming home, like stepping
a little farther beyond the threshold in at the open door of our
Perhaps I was too young to assume those vows. Had I deferred it a
few years there would have been serious intellectual hindrances.
But it was not the Articles of Faith I was thinking of, although
there was a long list of them, to which we all bowed assent, as
was the custom. It was the homecoming to the "house not made with
hands," the gladness of signifying that I belonged to God's
spiritual family, and was being drawn closer to his heart, with
whom none of us are held as "strangers and foreigners."
I felt that I was taking up again the clue which had been put
into my childish hand at baptism, and was being led on by it into
the unfolding mysteries of life. Should I ever let it slip from
me, and lose the way to the "many mansions" that now seemed so
open and so near? I could not think so. It is well that we cannot
foresee our falterings and failures. At least I could never
forget that I had once felt my own and other lives bound together
with the Eternal Life by an invisible thread.
The vague, fitful desire I had felt from my childhood to be
something to the world I lived in, to give it something of the
the inexpressible sweetness that often seemed pouring through me,
I knew not whence, now began to shape itself into a definite
outreach towards the Source of all spiritual life. To draw near
to the One All-Beautiful Being, Christ, to know Him as our
spirits may know The Spirit, to receive the breath of his
infinitely loving Life into mine, that I might breathe out that
fragrance again into the lives around me--this was the longing
wish that, half hidden from myself, lay deep beneath all other
desires of my soul. This was what religion grew to mean to me,
what it is still growing to mean, more simply and more clearly as
the years go on.
The heart must be very humble to which this heavenly approach is
permitted. It knows that it has nothing in itself, nothing for
others, which it has not received. The loving Voice of Him who
gives his friends his errands to do whispers through them
constantly, "Ye are not your own."
There may be those who would think my narrative more
entertaining, if I omitted these inner experiences, and related
only lighter incidents. But one thing I was aware of, from the
time I began to think and to wonder about my own life--that what
I felt and thought was far more real to me than the things that
Circumstances are only the keys that unlock for us the secret of
ourselves; and I learned very early that though there is much to
enjoy in this beautiful outside world, there is much more to
love, to believe in, and to seek, in the invisible world out of
which it all grows. What has best revealed our true selves to
ourselves must be most helpful to others, and one can willingly
sacrifice some natural reserves to such an end. Besides, if we
tell our own story at all, we naturally wish to tell the truest
part of it.
Work, study, and worship were interblended in our life. The
church was really the home-centre to many, perhaps to most of us;
and it was one of the mill regulations that everybody should go
to church somewhere. There must have been an earnest group of
ministers at Lowell, since nearly all the girls attended public
worship from choice.
Our minister joined us in our social gatherings, often inviting
us to his own house, visiting us at our work, accompanying us on
our picnics down the river-bank,--a walk of a mile or so took us
into charmingly picturesque scenery, and we always walked,--
suggesting books for our reading, and assisting us in our
The two magazines published by the mill-girls, the "Lowell
Offering" and the "Operatives' Magazine," originated with
literary meetings in the vestry of two religious societies, the
first in the Universalist Church, the second in the First
Congregational, to which my sister and I belonged.
On account of our belonging there, our contributions were given
to the "Operatives' Magazine," the first periodical for which I
ever wrote, issued by the literary society of which our minister
took charge. He met us on regular evenings, read aloud our poems
and sketches, and made such critical suggestions as he thought
desirable. This magazine was edited by two young women, both of
whom had been employed in the mills, although at that time the
were teachers in the public schools--a change which was often
made by mill-girls after a few months' residence at Lowell. A
great many of them were district-school teachers at their homes
in the summer, spending only the winters at their work.
The two magazines went on side by side for a year or two, and
then were united in the "Lowell Offering" which had made the
first experiment of the kind by publishing a trial number or two
at irregular intervals. My sister had sent some verses of mine,
on request, to be published in one of those specimen numbers.
But we were not acquainted with the editor of the "Offering," and
we knew only a few of its contributors. The Universalist Church,
in the vestry of which they met, was in a distant part of the
city. Socially, the place where we worshiped was the place where
we naturally came together in other ways. The churches were all
filled to overflowing, so that the grouping together of the girls
by their denominational preferences was almost unavoidable. It
was in some such way as this that two magazines were started
instead of one. If the girls who enjoyed writing had not been so
many and so scattered, they might have made the better arrange-
ment of joining their forces from the beginning.
I was too young a contributor to be at first of much value to
either periodical. They began their regular issues, I think,
while I was the nursemaid of my little nephews at Beverly. When I
returned to Lowell, at about sixteen, I found my sister Emilie
interested in the "Operatives' Magazine," and we both contributed
to it regularly, until it was merged in the "Lowell Offering," to
which we then transferred our writing efforts. It did not occur
to us to call these efforts "literary." I know that I wrote just
as I did for our little "Diving Bell,"--as a sort of pastime,
and because my daily toil was mechanical, and furnished no
occupation for my thoughts. Perhaps the fact that most of us
wrote in this way accounted for the rather sketchy and
fragmentary character of our "Magazine." It gave evidence that we
thought, and that we thought upon solid and serious matters; but
the criticism of one of our superintendents upon it, very kindly
given, was undoubtedly just: "It has plenty of pith, but it lacks
The "Offering" had always more of the literary spirit and touch.
It was, indeed, for the first two years, edited by a gentleman of
acknowledged literary ability. But people seemed to be more
interested in it after it passed entirely into the bands of the
The "Operatives' Magazine" had a decidedly religious tone. We
who wrote for it were loyal to our Puritanic antecedents, and
considered it all-important that our lightest actions should be
moved by some earnest impulse from behind. We might write
playfully, but there must be conscience and reverence somewhere
within it all. We had been taught, and we believed, that idle
words were a sin, whether spoken or written. This, no doubt, gave
us a gravity of expression rather unnatural to youth.
In looking over the bound volume of this magazine, I am amused at
the grown-up style of thought assumed by myself, probably its
very youngest contributor. I wrote a dissertation on "Fame,"
quoting from Pollok, Cowper, and Milton, and ending with Diedrich
Knickerbocker's definition of immortal fame,--"Half a page of
dirty paper." For other titles I had "Thoughts on Beauty;"
"Gentility;" "Sympathy," etc. And in one longish poem, entitled
"My Childhood" (written when I was about fifteen), I find verses
like these, which would seem to have come out of a mature
My childhood! O those pleasant days, when everything seemed
And in the broad and verdant fields I frolicked merrily;
When joy came to my bounding heart with every wild bird's song,
And Nature's music in my ears was ringing all day long!
And yet I would not call them back, those blessed times of
For riper years are fraught with joys I dreamed not of before.
The labyrinth of Science opes with wonders every day;
And friendship hath full many a flower to cheer life's dreary
And glancing through the pages of the "Lowell Offering" a year or
two later, I see that I continued to dismalize myself at times,
quite unnecessarily. The title of one sting of morbid verses is
"The Complaint of a Nobody," in which I compare myself to a weed
growing up in a garden; and the conclusion of it all is this
"When the fierce storms are raging, I will not repine,
Though I'm heedlessly crushed in the strife;
For surely 't were better oblivion were mine
Than a worthless, inglorious life.
Now I do not suppose that I really considered myself a weed,
though I did sometimes fancy that a different kind of cultivation
would tend to make me a more useful plant. I am glad to remember
that these discontented fits were only occasional, for certainly
they were unreasonable. I was not unhappy; this was an affect-
ation of unhappiness; and half conscious that it was, I hid it
behind a different signature from my usual one
How truly Wordsworth describes this phase of undeveloped
"In youth sad fancies we affect,
In luxury of disrespect
To our own prodigal excess
Of too familiar happiness."
It is a very youthful weakness to exaggerate passing moods into
deep experiences, and if we put them down on paper, we get a fine
opportunity of laughing at ourselves, if we live to outgrow them,
as most of us do. I think I must have had a frequent fancy that I
was not long for this world. Perhaps I thought an early death
rather picturesque; many young people do. There is a certain kind
of poetry that fosters this idea; that delights in imaginary
youthful victims, and has, reciprocally, its youthful devotees.
One of my blank verse poems in the "Offering" is entitled "The
Early Doomed." It begins,--
And must I die? The world is bright to me,
And everything that looks upon me, smiles.
Another poem is headed "Memento Mori;" and another, entitled a
"Song in June," which ought to be cheerful, goes off into the
doleful request to somebody, or anybody, to
Weave me a shroud in the month of June!
I was, perhaps, healthier than the average girl, and had no
predisposition to a premature decline; and in reviewing these
absurdities of my pen, I feel like saying to any young girl who
inclines to rhyme, "Don't sentimentalize!" Write more of what
you see than of what you feel, and let your feelings realize
themselves to others in the shape of worthy actions. Then they
will be natural, and will furnish you with something worth
It is fair to myself to explain, however, that many of these
verses of mine were written chiefly as exercises in rhythmic
expression. I remember this distinctly about one of my poems with
a terrible title,--"The Murderer's Request,"--in which I made an
imaginary criminal pose for me, telling where he would not and
where be would like to be buried. I modeled my verses,--
"Bury ye me on some storm-rifted mountain,
O'erhaliging the depths of a yawning abyss,"--
"Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle
Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime;"
and I was only trying to see how near I could approach to his
exquisite metre. I do not think I felt at all murderous in
writing it; but a more innocent subject would have been in better
taste, and would have met the exigencies of the dactyl quite as
It is also only fair to myself to say that my rhyming was usually
of a more wholesome kind. I loved Nature as I knew her,--in our
stern, blustering, stimulating New England,--and I chanted the
praises of Winter, of snow-storms, and of March winds (I always
took pride in my birth month, March), with hearty delight.
Flowers had begun to bring me messages from their own world when
I was a very small child, and they never withdrew their
companionship from my thoughts, for there came summers when I
could only look out of the mill window and dream about them.
I had one pet window plant of my own, a red rosebush, almost a
perpetual bloomer, that I kept beside me at my work for years. I
parted with it only when I went away to the West, and then with
regret, for it had been to me like a human little friend. But the
wild flowers had my heart. I lived and breathed with them, out
under the free winds of heaven; and when I could not see them, I
wrote about them. Much that I contributed to those mill-magazine
pages, they suggested,--my mute teachers, comforters, and
inspirers. It seems to me that any one who does not care for wild
flowers misses half the sweetness of this mortal life.
Horace Smith's "Hymn to the Flowers" was a continual delight to
me, after I made its acquaintance. It seemed as if all the wild
blossoms of the woods had wandered in and were twining themselves
around the whirring spindles, as I repeated it, verse after
verse. Better still, they drew me out, in fancy, to their own
forest-haunts under "cloistered boughs," where each swinging
"floral bell" was ringing "a call to prayer," and making "Sab-
bath in the fields."
Bryant's "Forest Hymn" did me an equally beautiful service. I
knew every word of it. It seemed to me that Bryant understood the
very heart and soul of the flowers as hardly anybody else did.
He made me feel as if they were really related to us human
beings. In fancy my feet pressed the turf where they grew, and I
knew them as my little sisters, while my thoughts touched them,
one by one, saying with him,--
"That delicate forest-flower,
With scented breath, and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this wide universe."
I suppose that most of my readers will scarcely be older than I
was when I wrote my sermonish little poems under the inspiration
of the flowers at my factory work, and perhaps they will be
interested in reading a specimen or two from the "Lowell Offer-
LIVE LIKE THE FLOWERS.
Cheerfully wave they o'er valley and mountain,
Gladden the desert, and smile by the fountain;
Pale discontent in no young blossom lowers:--
Live like the flowers!
Meekly their buds in the heavy rain bending,
Softly their hues with the mellow light blending,
Gratefully welcoming sunlight and showers:--
Live like the flowers!
Freely their sweets on the wild breezes flinging,
While in their depths are new odors upspringing:--
(Blessedness twofold of Love's holy dowers,)
Live like the flowers!
Gladly they heed Who their brightness has given:
Blooming on earth, look they all up to heaven;
Humbly look up from their loveliest bowers: -
Live like the flowers!
Peacefully droop they when autumn is sighing;
Breathing mild fragrance around them in dying,
Sleep they in hope of Spring's freshening hours:--
Die like the flowers!
The prose-poem that follows was put into a rhymed version by
several unknown hands in periodicals of that day, so that at last
I also wrote one, in self-defense, to claim my own waif. But it
was a prose-poem that I intended it to be, and I think it is
"BRING BACK MY FLOWERS."
On the bank of a rivulet sat a rosy child. Her lap was filled
with flowers, and a garland of rose-buds was twined around her
neck. Her face was as radiant as the sunshine that fell upon it,
and her voice was as clear as that of the bird which warbled at
The little stream went singing on, and with every gush of its
music the child lifted a flower in her dimpled hand, and, with a
merry laugh, threw it upon the water. In her glee she forgot that
her treasures were growing less, and with the swift motion of
childhood, she flung them upon the sparkling tide, until every
bud and blossom had disappeared.
Then, seeing her loss, she sprang to her feet, and bursting into
tears, called aloud to the stream, "Bring back my flowers!" But
the stream danced along, regardless of her sorrow; and as it bore
the blooming burden away, her words came back in a taunting echo,
along its reedy margin. And long after, amid the wailing of the
breeze and the fitful bursts of childish grief, was heard the
fruitless cry, "Bring back my flowers!"
Merry maiden, who art idly wasting the precious moments so
bountifully bestowed upon thee, see in the thoughtless child an
emblem of thyself! Each moment is a perfumed flower. Let its
fragrance be diffused in blessings around thee, and ascend as
sweet incense to the beneficent Giver!
Else, when thou hast carelessly flung them from thee, and seest
them receding on the swift waters of Time, thou wilt cry, in
tones more sorrowful than those of the weeping child, "Bring back
my flowers!" And thy only answer will be an echo from the shadowy
Past,--"Bring back my flowers!"
In the above, a reminiscence of my German studies comes back to
me. I was an admirer of Jean Paul, and one of my earliest
attempts at translation was his "New Year's Night of an Unhappy
Man," with its yet haunting glimpse of "a fair long paradise
beyond the mountains." I am not sure but the idea of trying my
hand at a "prose-poem" came to me from Richter, though it may
have been from Herder or Krummacher, whom I also enjoyed and
attempted to translate.
I have a manuscript-book still, filled with these youthful
efforts. I even undertook to put German verse into English verse,
not wincing at the greatest--Goetlie and Schiller. These studies
were pursued in the pleasant days of cloth-room leisure, when my
work claimed me only seven or eight hours in a day.
I suppose I should have tried to write,--perhaps I could not very
well have helped attempting it,--under any circumstances. My
early efforts would not, probably, have found their way into
print, however, but for the coincident publication of the two
mill-girls' magazines, just as I entered my teens. I fancy that
almost everything any of us offered them was published, though I
never was let in to editorial secrets. The editors of both
magazines were my seniors, and I felt greatly honored by their
approval of my contributions.
One of the "Offering" editors was a Unitarian clergyman's
daughter, and had received an excellent education. The other was
a remarkably brilliant and original young woman, who wrote novels
that were published by the Harpers of New York while she was
employed at Lowell. The two had rooms together for a time, where
the members of the "Improvement Circle," chiefly composed of
"Offering" writers, were hospitably received.
The "Operatives' Magazine" and the "Lowell Offerig" were united
in the year 1842, under the title of the "Lowell Offering and Ma-
(And--to correct a mistake which has crept into print--I will say
that I never attained the honor of being editor of either of
these magazines. I was only one of their youngest contributors.
The "Lowell Offering" closed its existence when I was a little
more than twenty years old. The only continuous editing I have
ever been engaged in was upon "Our Young Folks." About twenty
years ago I was editor-in-charge of that magazine for a year or
more, and I had previously been its assistant-editor from its
beginning. These explanatory items, however, do not quite belong
to my narrative, and I return to our magazines.)
We did not receive much criticism; perhaps it would have been
better for us if we had. But then we did lot set ourselves up to
be literary; though we enjoyed the freedom of writing what we
pleased, and seeing how it looked in print. It was good practice
for us, and that was all that we desired. We were complimented
and quoted. When a Philadelphia paper copied one of my little
poems, suggesting some verbal improvements, and predicting
recognition for me in the future, I felt for the first time that
there might be such a thing as public opinion worth caring for,
in addition to doing one's best for its own sake.
Fame, indeed, never had much attraction for me, except as it took
the form of friendly recognition and the sympathetic approval of
worthy judges. I wished to do good and true things, but not such
as would subject me to the stare of coldly curious eyes. I could
never imagine a girl feeling any pleasure in placing herself
"before the public." The privilege of seclusion must be the last
one a woman can willingly sacrifice.
And, indeed, what we wrote was not remarkable,--perhaps no more
so than the usual school compositions of intelligent girls. It
would hardly be worth while to refer to it particularly, had not
the Lowell girls and their magazines been so frequently spoken of
as something phenomenal. But it was a perfectly natural out-
growth of those girls' previous life. For what were we? Girls
who were working in a factory for the time, to be sure; but none
of us had the least idea of continuing at that kind of work
permanently. Our composite photograph, had it been taken, would
have been the representative New England girlhood of those days.
We had all been fairly educated at public or private schools, and
many of us were resolutely bent upon obtaining a better
education. Very few were among us without some distinct plan for
bettering the condition of themselves and those they loved. For
the first time, our young women had come forth from their home
retirement in a throng, each with her own individual purpose.
For twenty years or so, Lowell might have been looked upon as a
rather select industrial school for young people. The girls there
were just such girls as are knocking at the doors of young
women's colleges to-day. They had come to work with their hands,
but they could not hinder the working of their minds also. Their
mental activity was overflowing at every possible outlet.
Many of them were supporting themselves at schools like Bradford
Academy or Ipswich Seminary half the year, by working in the
mills the other half. Mount Holyoke Seminary broke upon the
thoughts of many of them as a vision of hope,--I remember being
dazzled by it myself for a while,--and Mary Lyon's name was
honored nowhere more than among the Lowell mill-girls. Meanwhile
they were improving themselves and preparing for their future in
every possible way, by purchasing and reading standard books, by
attending lectures, and evening classes of their own getting up,
and by meeting each other for reading and conversation.
That they should write was no more strange than that they should
study, or read, or think. And yet there were those to whom it
seemed incredible that a girl could, in the pauses of her work,
put together words with her pen that it would do to print; and
after a while the assertion was circulated, through some distant
newspaper, that our magazine was not written by ourselves at all,
but by "Lowell lawyers." This seemed almost too foolish a
suggestion to contradict, but the editor of the "Offering"
thought it best to give the name and occupation of some of the
writers by way of refutation. It was for this reason (much
against my own wish) that my real name was first attached to
anything I wrote. I was then book-keeper in the cloth-room of the
Lawrence Mills. We had all used any fanciful signature we chose,
varying it as we pleased. After I began to read and love
Wordsworth, my favorite nom de plume was "Rotha." In the later
numbers of the magazine, the editor more frequently made us of my
initials. One day I was surprised by seeing my name in full in
Griswold's "Female Poet's;"--no great distinction, however, since
there were a hundred names or so, besides.
It seemed necessary to give these gossip items about myself; but
the real interest of every separate life-story is involved in the
larger life-history which is going on around it. We do not know
ourselves without our companions and surroundings. I cannot
narrate my workmates' separate experiences, but I know that
because of having lived among them, and because of having felt
the beauty and power of their lives, I am different from what I
should otherwise have been, and it is my own fault if I am not
better for my life with them.
In recalling those years of my girlhood at Lowell, I often think
that I knew then what real society is better perhaps than ever
since. For in that large gathering together of young womanhood
there were many choice natures---some of the choicest in all our
excellent New England, and there were no false social standards
to hold them apart. It is the best society when people meet
sincerely, on the ground of their deepest sympathies and highest
aspirations, without conventionality or cliques or affectation;
and it was in that way that these young girls met and became
acquainted with each other, almost of necessity.
There were all varieties of woman-nature among them, all degrees
of refinement and cultivation, and, of course, many sharp
contrasts of agreeable and disagreeable. It was not always the
most cultivated, however, who were the most companionable. There
were gentle, untaught girls, as fresh and simple as wild flowers,
whose unpretending goodness of heart was better to have than
bookishness; girls who loved everybody, and were loved by
everybody. Those are the girls that I remember best, and their
memory is sweet as a breeze from the clover fields.
As I recall the throngs of unknown girlish forms that used to
pass and repass me on the familiar road to the mill-gates, and
also the few that I knew so well, those with whom I worked,
thought, read, wrote, studied, and worshiped, my thoughts send a
heartfelt greeting to them all, wherever in God's beautiful, busy
universe they may now be scattered:--
"I am glad I have lived in the world with you!"
READING AND STUDYING.
My return to mill-work involved making acquaintance with a new
kind of machinery. The spinning-room was the only one I had
hitherto known anything about. Now my sister Emilie found a place
for me in the dressing-room, beside herself. It was more airy,
and fewer girls were in the room, for the dressing-frame itself
was a large, clumsy affair, that occupied a great deal of space.
Mine seemed to me as unmanageable as an overgrown spoilt child.
It had to be watched in a dozen directions every minute, and
even then it was always getting itself and me into trouble. I
felt as if the half-live creature, with its great, groaning
joints and whizzing fan, was aware of my incapacity to manage it,
and had a fiendish spite against me. I contracted an unconquer-
able dislike to it; indeed, I had never liked, and never could
learn to like, any kind of machinery. And this machine finally
conquered me. It was humiliating, but I had to acknowledge that
there were some things I could not do, and I retired from the
The two things I had enjoyed in this room were that my sister was
with me, and that our windows looked toward the west. When the
work was running smoothly, we looked out together and quoted to
each other all the sunset-poetry we could remember. Our tastes
did not quite agree. Her favorite description of the clouds was
"They seemed like chariots of saints,
By fiery coursers drawn; as brightly hued
As if the glorious, bushy, golden locks
Of thousand cherubim had been shorn off,
And on the temples hung of morn and even."
I liked better a translation from the German, beginning
"Methinks it were no pain to die
On such an eve, while such a sky
O'ercanopies the west."
And she generally had to hear the whole poem, for I was very fond
of it; though the especial verse that I contrasted with hers
"There's peace and welcome in yon sea
Of endless blue tranquillity;
Those clouds are living things;
I trace their veins of liquid gold,
And see them silently unfold
Their soft and fleecy wings."
Then she would tell me that my nature inclined to quietness and
harmony, while hers asked for motion and splendor. I wondered
whether it really were so. But that huge, creaking framework
beside us would continually intrude upon our meditations and
break up our discussions, and silence all poetry for us with its
Emilie found more profitable work elsewhere, and I found some
that was less so, but far more satisfactory, as it would give me
the openings of leisure which I craved.
The paymaster asked, when I left, "Going where on can earn more
"No," I answered, "I am going where I can have more time."
"Ah, yes!" he said sententiously, "time is money." But that was
not my thought about it. "Time is education," I said to myself;
for that was what I meant it should be to me.
Perhaps I never gave the wage-earning element in work its due
weight. It always seemed to me that the, Apostle's idea about
worldly possessions was the only sensible one,--
"Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content."
If I could earn enough to furnish that, and have time to study
besides,--of course we always gave away a little, however little
we had,--it seemed to me a sufficiency. At this time I was
receiving two dollars a week, besides my board. Those who were
earning much more, and were carefully "laying it up," did not
appear to be any happier than I was.
I never thought that the possession of money would make me feel
rich: it often does seem to have an opposite effect. But then, I
have never had the opportunity of knowing, by experience, how it
does make one feel. It is something to have been spared the
responsibility of taking charge of the Lord's silver and gold.
Let us be thankful for what we have not, as well as for what we
Freedom to live one's life truly is surely more desirable than
any earthly acquisition or possession; and at my new work I had
hours of freedom every day. I never went back again to the
bondage of machinery and a working-day thirteen hours long.
The daughter of one of our neighbors, who also went to the same
church with us, told me of a vacant place in the cloth-room,
where she was, which I gladly secured. This was a low brick
building next the counting- room, and a little apart from the
mills, where the cloth was folded, stamped, and baled for the
There were only half a dozen girls of us, who measured the cloth,
and kept an account of the pieces baled, and their length in
yards. It pleased me much to have something to do which required
the use of pen and ink, and I think there must be a good many
scraps of verse buried among the blank pages of those old
account-books of that found their way there during the frequent
half-hours of waiting for the cloth to be brought in from the
The only machinery in the room was a hydraulic arrangement for
pressing the cloth into bales, managed by two or three men, one
of whom was quite a poet, and a fine singer also. His hymns were
frequently in request, on public occasions. He lent me the first
volume of Whittier's poems that I ever saw. It was a small book,
containing mostly Antislavery pieces. "The Yankee Girl" was one
of them, fully to appreciate the spirit of which, it is necessary
to have been a workink-girl in slave-labor times. New England
Womanhood crowned Whittier as her laureate from the day of his
heroine's spirited response to the slaveholder:--
"0, could ye have seen her--that pride of our girls--
Arise and cast back the dark wealth of her curls,
With a scorn in her eye that the gazer could feel,
And a glance like the sunshine that flashes on steel!
Go back, haughty Southron! Go back! for thy gold
Is red with the blood of the hearts thou hast sold!"
There was in this volume another poem which is not in any of the
later editions, the impression of which, as it remains to me in
broken snatches, is very beautiful. It began with the lines
"Bind up thy tresses, thou beautiful one,
Of brown in the shadow, and gold in the sun."
It was a refreshment and an inspiration to look into this book
between my long rows of figures, and read such poems as "The
Angel of Patience," "Follen," "Raphael," and that wonderfully
rendered "Hymn" from Lamartine, that used to whisper itself
through me after I had read it, like the echo of a spirit's
"When the Breath Divine is flowing,
Zephyr-like o'er all things going,
And, as the touch of viewless fingers,
Softly on my soul it lingers,
Open to a breath the lightest,
Conscious of a touch the slightest,--
Then, O Father, Thou alone,
>From the shadow of thy throne,
To the sighing of my breast
And its rapture answerest."
I grew so familiar with this volume that I felt acquainted with
the poet long before I met him. It remained in my desk-drawer for
months. I thought it belonged to my poetic friend, the baler of
cloth. But one day he informed me that it was a borrowed book; he
thouht, however, he should claim it for his own, now that he had
kept it so long. Upon which remark I delivered it up to the
custody of his own conscience, and saw it no more.
One day, towards the last of my stay at Lowell (I never changed
my work-room again), this same friendly fellow-toiler handed me a
poem to read, which some one had sent in to us from the count-
ing-room, with the penciled comment, "Singularly beautiful." It
was Poe's "Raven," which had just made its first appearance in
some magazine. It seemed like an apparition in literature,
indeed; the sensation it created among the staid, measured lyrics
of that day, with its flit of spectral wings, and its ghostly
refrain of "Nevermore!" was very noticeable. Poe came to Lowell
to live awhile, but it was after I had gone away.
Our national poetry was at this time just beginning to be well
known and appreciated. Bryant had published two volumes, and
every school child was familiar with his "Death of the Flowers"
and "God's First Temples." Some one lent me the "Voices of the
Night," the only collection of Longfellow's verse then issued, I
think. The "Footsteps of Angels" glided at once into my memory,
and took possession of a permanent place there, with its tender
melody. "The Last Leaf" and "Old Ironsides" were favorites with
everybody who read poetry at all, but I do not think we Lowell
girls had a volume of Dr. Holmes's poems at that time.
"The Lady's Book" and "Graham's Magazine" were then the popular
periodicals, and the mill-girls took them. I remember that the
"nuggets" I used to pick out of one or the other of them when I
was quite a child were labeled with the signature of Harriet E.
Beecher. "Father Morris," and "Uncle Tim," and others of the
delightful "May-Flower" snatches first appeared in this way.
Irving's "Sketch-Book" all reading people were supposed to have
read, and I recall the pleasure it was to me when one of my
sisters came into possession of "Knickerbocker's History of New
York." It was the first humorous book, as well as the first